Praying for Boris

I have been praying for Boris Johnson to be retuned to health. The disease does not follow a narrative or a news cycle. It reflects frail humanity. It brings the reality of it home to see that the virus can strike seriously in anyone, even those who keep fit and strong, as Boris Johnson does.

I comforted myself that some have mild symptoms or none at all: the Prince of Wales blessedly sailed though at a senior age, but those in the flush of youth have succumbed. I keep fit and well and my children and young and strong and we thought that, if the disease were to come to our household then we will be all right, but then something like this happens and the doubts come. I am fit, surely, if you ignore the – ah, but you cannot ignore any gap in the armour, and there may be hidden vulnerabilities.

Boris Johnson keeps himself fit – but he has not escaped the heavy blow. I pray that he will recover swiftly his strength and energy, but I know it is not inevitable. This is a disease which strikes at the highest in the land just as the lowest.

There is genuine goodwill in the messages which have been pouring in for Boris, beyond those issued pro forma. It is not just sympathy, of which there has been much, but fellow-feeling and the knowledge in every writer of a letter that he or she or their mother or child could be next.

The patient himself if far more though than an archetype for the man on the street. He is himself. We need Boris Johnson, even from personally selfish reasons – the political world was convulsed to get us to the point when he could take back control, and sailing past Brexit, he keeps the show on the road. In a Parliamentary system, there should not be such dependence on one man, but that is what we have. Look at the fears for if the worst were to happen and you can see how indispensable he has become. We need Boris.

We will all get through this, or rather most of us will get through, and those who do will still have beloved family members they mourn for. We will come out stronger but not untouched. If all eyes are fixed on one man, it is both because he is indispensable and as a reflection of the perilous state in which each of us and our families exists.

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In a sentence, Her Majesty defines us

Endless pages of studies, papers and propaganda, and no one came up with a definition of what it is to be British until yesterday.

the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

Schools across the land are drumming into tender minds a set, defined list of “fundamental British values” but they are wrong. The listed ‘values’ (democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance of etc etc) were always the limp product of a committee. They are ideals of a particular class of the commentariat, reflecting dully some aspects of British identity but mainly written to drive forward an agenda which most of us do not share. They are not values. They are not even particularly British, which is unsurprising from a class of nowhere people frightened of being British.

Democracy is some form or other has been a British trait for centuries and we taught the world, and the rule of law is fundamental to a free society, but those are the mechanisms, not the values – these committee ideas leave no room for the actual values which shape the nation, such as freedom, defiance, humour, innovation, brilliance and modesty. The committees would have been shocked to be asked to write those in, but they would better reflect who we are. Their key idea, namely “mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith” is nonsense if put forward as an idea of some value we all hold, and they knew it. They knew it and yet they still wrote it.

You cannot be arrested, yet, for speaking against those allegedly fundamental values, but they inform the ‘Prevent’ system and may inform the enforcement of those ill-defined “hate speech” laws. They skew the adoption system – dissenters may not adopt children – and may catch us in many subtle ways. The list may look like a charter for tolerance, but it is a weapon in the hands of those who have the power to use it.

I recall reading of one Twitter exchange where a parent complained (as is her right) of some fault in the school only for the head teacher to accuse her of breaching fundamental British values of tolerance. I am not sure that tolerance of incompetence was meant, but this “tolerance” is a fine stick for a bully to use to beat his victims.

That said, some characterisation was needed to say what it is to be British in a multicultural milieu that has lost that shared common culture the land once had. You cannot have a nation which does not share some bond, and if multi-culture means no culture, there is no such bond. It is just that culture is a ground-up thing and cannot be invented by a committee, imposed by decree.

In then steps The Queen, one who better than anyone understands what it is to be British through the best part of a century of changes. It is in “self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling” that we recognise ourselves. No one has put it better.

Every so often some researcher will talk to people in the street or focus groups to find out what typifies some group f the population. Proud results come back from the north of what are particularly Scottish characteristics, and they turn out to be identical to those which their neighbours said were particularly English characteristics, and particularly Irish characteristics indeed. There are still things we share and which are not the same in less fortunate nations.

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Mr Internet’s Sunday Morning Service

We approach the second Sunday of the shutdown, and last week’s online sermon was a cracker.

The sapient sutlers of the Lord
Drift across the computer screen.
In the beginning was the Word.

With insincere apologies to Eliot, but the web reaches more homes than any one vicar can ever dream to, if congregants tune in, and it can draw more of a virtual congregation to expand the reach of the original: it is polyphilogenitive. It goes against the grain of a Protestant church minister to seclude himself away and talk to a camera as their whole calling is to reach out to real people, but it may actually seem a liberation.

To speak to a camera must be daunting if you are not trained to it – how many times will your voice drain to a mumble when uncertain of the line or wearied with it, when a congregation present before you keeps your oratory present and alive.

However the congregation may be a distraction too. A minister proclaiming to the congregation may be the fount of wisdom and a sure guide to the surest words of life, but those faces staring out have a silent echo back – the facial reactions of the speaker are picked up and the preacher counter-reacts, which breaks the planned flow. It may sow doubt about the emphasis or the theme, or the planning of the sermon, and those words of life and wisdom carefully planned in every nuance and pitched at a precise tenor begin to waver and stumble to try to regain the audience. That usually happens to me, though untrained, when addressing a secular gathering.

Freed of the critical faces of the congregants, the minister may speak as he planned. He may soar into heights of oratory, may use all those analogies and Biblical references that came to him and speak as it sounded in his head when he wrote his sermon. The preacher truly inspired who speaks as the spirit drives him, is guided then by the spirit and not driven back into himself in the face of the dark look from the third pew back.

He can even stop and re-record if he gets it wrong.

From the view of the congregation, we miss the company of the Body of Christ, but we can hear cracking sermons, the way they were always meant to be, and if we miss a bit or misunderstand, we can rewind and hear it again. (Also, we will have none of those cringing “Now form small groups and discuss” moments.)

If we happen to light upon a dull reverend, which is not a problem in our parish, we can switch to another, and there is now no shortage. There are quiet vicars in city churches, or firebrand Free Presbyterians in Ulster, and the Archbishops can come into our living rooms in virtual person.

Last Sunday, I am told, more people listened to our vicar than in his usual congregation, and he often fills the church. Maybe after the lockdown has passed, this will be our way to hear the Sunday sermon, thanks to the Reverend Dr Internet.

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Meanwhile, in Brussels

Nine months to go before the end of the Transition Period and the end of the customs union, and so many politicians and clerks distracted elsewhere. The news cycle has moved on: even so, the transition year is shortening and a trade treaty must be signed, and can be.

We were told on 9 March that the British negotiators would place draft legal texts on the table for the negotiating round due to take place on 18-20 March in London. That meeting was cancelled, but the European Commission did publish its own draft text. It is not unexpected and full of “non-regression” (the word appears 25 times in the text) and on the environment their “precautionary principle” that has done so much damage to the cause of innovation (“precautionary” appears 30 times). It is as if the European Union has learned nothing in the whole process, and it is fair to assume that it has not.

So where is the British text? I observed before how important it is to get your text on the table, because if we are negotiating from the Brussels text we will get nowhere and we are running straight into a dealless 2021.

The coronavirus outbreak and the reaction to it were shocks that have made many things grind to a halt. However, both Boris Johnson and Michel Barnier have had the disease and got out the other side, and Dominic Cummings is almost there, so they can be getting on with it: they can meet in perfect safety as they can neither contract the disease nor pass it on. If their teams are still vulnerable, there is remote working, but remote working must mean actual working. There are no more excuses.

A gradual assumption has been allowed to grow, and been cultivated by those with an agenda, that all the world’s affairs are suspended and there must be extensions and delays. In reality though, there is no reason at all for delay, and every reason to push on harder: the economy is failing, and Europe is hit the worst as their measures have been more extreme – failing to fix a trade deal will hurt the economies of both sides badly, but Europe is in the most desperation.

No, the world is not “on hold”. For Boris and Barnier, the epidemic is over. Any delay more is mere procrastination.

So, where is that British text?

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Brexit to blame for COVID-19

An exclusive report pinpoints the blame for the COVID-19 epidemic on Brexit. We will show Britain’s leaving the European Empire led directly and inevitably to the coronavirus epidemic in China and across the world, in which the Johnson government played a knowing role, suppressing reports that would have shown this as the inevitable outcome. The full scale of the scandal of ‘Project Pangolin’ is yet to be revealed.

Or we could do it as ‘pinpoints the blame on manmade Global Warming’. Or maybe ‘a worldwide capitalist plot against the workers’ as Jeremy suggested (and we know where those theories about international conspiracies lead, don’t we Jeremy?) Maybe if the right source comes up with the cash it can be ‘the nationalist government of the Ukraine (or Latvia perhaps)’: I’ve not run that one for a while.

Look, its hard getting by these days, so anyone who wants to sponsor us, just give us the cash and we’ll write the report you want. I’ve the template right here: I just need to slot in the relevant target for blame and we are ready to go: your cash and you choose the blame. It’s not as if XR is short of cash after all those donations the organisers pocketed, or a trade union that can be free with its members’ subscriptions maybe. We are not like Piers Corbyn, promoting mad theories for free – it’s all about money here. Come on, I’m just looking for a sponsor.

Would it help if this post were repeated in Russian?