Britain has become rather different from the way it was when I left 20 years ago. It was decided recently, that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, would have to go because some considered him to have had a tenuous relationship with the truth — he could no longer be taken seriously. A handful of people (members of the Conservative Party and less than 1% of the British population) were given the pleasure of electing a new leader. In the end this came down to a choice between two individuals, and neither appeared much interested in the current environmental problems. Liz Truss was duly elected and the first time I saw her, I had a sudden memory of Liza Marie doing the Martian Girl walk in the 1996 film ‘Mars Attack’, although Ms. Truss was faster in her movements. This wasn’t necessarily a bad look, but it did suggest a certain lack of familiarity with the human condition. Critics noticed the problem mostly involved erratic movements of the arms — give her something to hold onto — a strapless bag perhaps — then everything will be alright… Apart from her policies of course.
The Queen died on the 8th of September, and the BBC covered the event and subsequent period of mourning as if there had been no other news: no war in Ukraine, no economic problems for the country; and this non-stop coverage helped stoke the grief that many people felt for a person they didn’t know, but thought they did.
People as important as the Queen are so regularly viewed on television and social media, they are considered by some to be part of the family, and many of those waiting in the long queue that would eventually file past the Queen’s lying in state in Westminster Hall definitely thought this: “She has been around all our lives and was like a grandmother to us”, was an often repeated comment … So much so, I was beginning to wonder if some had stopped visiting their grandmothers altogether and had just showed up for the funeral. As I watched the ancient rituals unfold on television it was clear the British tradition of queuing was alive and well. Emerging from the Hall many said they felt part of history, and I couldn’t help feeling this assumed relationship with the Queen was at best a fiction; and the idea that walking past a dead person’s coffin, even a queen’s, could make you part of history was delusional… Something odd was going on in Britain that I hadn’t witnesses since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Unlike many politicians hanging out at the Palace of Westminster, throughout her reign the Queen could be relied upon to begin and end a sentence without slipping into a different tense. A little education is a wonderful thing; above all else it hides inconsistencies common to politicians engaged in one of the few jobs that require no training or qualifications, and as was soon to be demonstrated, very little intelligence, which has lead to a greater percentage of halfwits controlling the system than is desirable.
King Charles lll‘s first speech as monarch came very soon after the Queen’s death and it was brilliant, but three hours after the announcement I was driving somewhere in Canada and people who knew nothing about the Queen were phoning in to a radio station, relating stories of relatives who had written to Her Majesty — one had even sent a recording of a song that she had composed: there had been a favourable reply from a lady in waiting and this had been dutifully framed. The woman concerned gave a rendition of her song and it was perfectly dreadful. Another wanted to tell a joke about the Queen. “Trust me she said… it’ isn’t disrespectful”, and then proceeded to tell a horse fart joke — the Queen had been dead for just a few hours, and the story clearly inappropriate. The woman was not however as quick off the mark as India. Reports were coming in that an official request had been made for the return of the ‘stolen’ Koh-i-Noor diamond that adorns the Queen Mother’s crown within 15 minutes of the announcement that the Queen had died.
In contrast to my Canadian experience, King Charles lll spoke quite brilliantly about his mother, but in fairness he has had plenty of time to practice. He spoke warmly and with great subtlety, at one point using a quote from Shakespeare that had also been used at the funeral of Princess Diana; and that should have been enough, but as the speech was nearing its end the new king could not resist giving close members of his family titles; and then went on to give this years proceeds from ‘The Duchy of Cornwall‘ to the many senior citizens who will otherwise die this winter because they will have to choose between heating their homes and eating. Sorry, I got carried away… I should have said that the king gave ‘The Duchy of Cornwall’ — a nice little earner, to his son, the future king, William, who I assume, would otherwise become destitute.
And then there was the bit about not needing more than 10 stately homes and castles to live in. At least one would be given over to his subjects — perhaps to those sleeping rough on the street because they can no longer afford to buy or rent a home… O.K. he didn’t say that either, but it does seem odd that any individual regardless of their inherited status should require quite so many places to live… and on such a grand scale.
With the mourning period completed the new Prime Minister and her Chancellor of the Exchequer — Kwasi Kwarteng, gave the richest people in Britain a tax break, with no obvious means of paying for it, assuring the public that the benefits would trickle down to the less fortunate. The problem is, trickle down economics has been attempted before in a previous century… and it didn’t work. Within 24 hours the pair had crashed the pound, but for some reason stuck to their guns, making it necessary for the Bank of England step in and bolster the pound, while The International Monetary Fund indicated that the policies had been poorly thought out and had no chance of success.
In consequence, Britain has been accused of behaving with all the pizzazz of a banana republic; and there was a whole raft of other issues. The mantra of the Prime Minister was that Britain’s future depended on three things: growth, growth and growth, which is based upon a property joke, where the three most important things are — location, location, location; but for anybody who understands the finite nature of natural resources, countenancing continuous growth is not a realistic option. Add to this, the new King being advised by the Prime Minister not to attend the COP27 Climate Conference and the decision making becomes very suspect, amplifying fears over Truss’s commitments to net zero.
King Charles’s previous record as a prince demonstrates that he has a genuine concern for the environment and will no doubt be disappointed, but my guess is that when the time comes, Truss will no longer be Prime Minister, and the King will attend. The Egyptian Government — host of the next U.N. climate summit warned the U.K. not to backtrack on the global climate agenda — such a suggestion coming as it does from Egypt was shocking. There are obvious concerns over a politician making decisions when she is not very good at explaining herself, and if, as some have suggested, not fully in control of her arms, she is unlikely to be in control of very much else. Her policies are questionable because they are extreme, and very much different from the ones that won her predecessor, Boris Johnson, a considerable majority.
14th October 2022: It has been difficult to keep up with events: during the writing of this paragraph, we have gone from a chancellor who yesterday said he would be here for as long as it takes; but today has been sacked — thrown under the bus by his Prime Minister for a policy that she instigated. Interest rates have shot up from 2% to 6% since the announcement of tax cuts for the rich; and while most people are struggling to pay ever increasing energy bills, they also find themselves unable to pay their mortgages, and their pensions are suddenly in danger of collapsing. With all the financial turmoil, many are facing ruin. The question is: when will the precarious state of the environment (which we rely upon for our very survival), reappear as a topic for consideration.
Given the state of the economy, there is also discussion as to whether the king and his consort should travel to the coronation at Westminster Abbey on 6th May 2023 in ‘The Gold State Coach’ at a time when there will likely be a financial crisis and enormous hardship. But never mind that, this ancient ‘fairy story’ coach is considered by the Royals one of the most uncomfortable means of transport on the Planet and they will do almost anything to avoid getting into it.
The royal family have the equivalent of the clown car because they rely on visuals — unlike the ‘not so far away’ politicians in the House of Commons the Royals aren’t supposed to comment on political matters. But if you want to see pantomime costume at its best, watch for any royal event that involves an outing onto the Buckingham Palace balcony.
It must have been something to stand at the gates of Buckingham Palace during celebrations for Victory in Europe on 8th May 1945 when the Royal family (including the Queen as a young woman) went with Winston Churchill, all dressed pretty much in everyday attire, onto the Buckingham Palace balcony.
In contrast, most royal appearances on the balcony are an absurd visual treat — the male member in particular having spent time selecting their outfits from the dressing up basket. In recent years there must have been several wars that I have missed, because some carry so many medals on their chests, that should they lean forward, they would be a danger of toppling into the courtyard.
In Britain politicians and the royal family now offer endless comic relief, ranging from Whitehall farce to all the colour of the circus; and now that Liz Truss has hammered the final nail in the coffin, the British will never again be taken seriously.
On 13th October the WWF’s Living Planet Report related a 69% decline in worldwide wildlife populations since 1970. I can remember how things were in 1970, when there was concern over the startling decrease in wildlife populations since the 1930s. Forty or fifty year increments seem a long time, especially when nothing changes to give hope that anything ever will. A spokesmen for the WWF said that the expansionist economic growth model we rely on is dead, and we must develop cyclical economies that do not rely on wholesale extraction of natural resources, but I haven’t heard a single politician speak about anything other than growth. It is as if they live on other planet.
This then is where the real story with Britain one of the most nature depleted countries in the World. The report studied 32,000 populations of 5,230 species including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish around the World to come to a figure of a 69% reduction in 50 years. Some habitats have done worse: species living in freshwater lakes and wetlands have suffered an 83% decline on average. Africa saw a 55% decrease. Asia was at 55%. These continents have done better than average, but considering how important they are for species diversity, the results are disappointing. Deforestation — often by fire, and climate change are the most important factors along with collection for bush meat and the pet trade. Add to this, the BBC when reporting, keep using the term ‘animals’ when they mean ‘mammals’, as if all other animals are something different — a small point but if the BBC doesn’t know how can the rest of us be expected to be any less ignorant.
Where I presently live in Canada the sun is shining, but only just, through a sickly haze. The weather has been uncharacteristically dry for the time of year, and several B.C. forests are on fire. Another reminder that we are facing a potential global catastrophe brought about by our own stupidity.
18th October 2022: back in Britain, Liz Truss could be gone tomorrow, in a weeks time, or in two years, but the last of these options is wishful thinking on her part. Politicians come and go, as they attempt the same old tricks over and over again with slightly different packaging. But how you package the wholesale destruction of the natural world is on a different scale from the present political meltdown in the U.K.; although if you can’t pay the rent or afford to eat, I do understand the priorities.
At some stage there must be a fundamental change in the way we do things. The question is when? Because it might already be too late; which is a shame because scientists have been warnings for years about the declining state of the Planet. Few of us seem bothered enough to demand change, but we don’t really have a choice. A great many short term solutions will be required to what are essentially long term problems; and it could be we have already gone past the point of no return.
The fear is that nothing will improve until economic imperative forces change, because we are tied to a system dominated by money. ‘Doing the right thing because it is the right thing’ clearly isn’t working, and if it were possible to add a financial incentive, it might encourage people act more proactively, and drive behaviours to more positive ends. However, the chances are, that it is already be too late to turn the inevitable tide of environmental destruction. With the Planet indifferent to our plight, livability on its surface continues to move steadily away. In the end, all that might be left to us, is the pointless recording of our own demise.
19th October: the Home Secretary steps down having been in the job for about a month. When a new one is appointed Britain will have had its third home secretary in eight weeks, along with the fourth finance minister in as many months Obviously increasing temperatures in the U.K. ‘growing bananas’ is now a viable option… Although ‘going bananas’ is a more accurate description.
I started recording this comedy of errors a month and a half ago with the longest reigning Queen in British history, and I finish with the shortest tenure of any serving British Prime Minister. On the 19th October, Liz Truss said in the House of Commons that she would not resign because she is a fighter, not a quitter; but within a day she had quit. Forty four days ago she was shaking hands with the Queen. Now both are gone. At the time of writing Ms Truss is entitled to claim the Public Duty Cost Allowance of up to £115,000 per year plus other perks. Presently, it is not known what she will claim… But this really doesn’t change anything — the World is still on fire; and many self-serving politicians don’t appear to be the least bit concerned.
27th October 2022: The loser of the battle to become Prime Minster just a few weeks ago, Rishi Sunak, is now the new, new Prime Minister… It was announced today that he is too busy to attend the ‘COP27 Climate Conference’.
2nd November 2022: The Prime Minister has been embarrassed into attending COP27, having been pressured by environmentalists and M.P.’s. The opposition said he had been dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing. A recent climate report has indicated that global temperature increases in Europe have been amongst the highest in the world at around an 0.5ºC per decade over the last 30 years — not very encouraging at a time when climate change has been described as catastrophic.