Wednesday, 10th July, 2024 [Day 1577]

Wednesday is the day when our domestic help calls around but we were particularly pleased to see her this week as she had been off on holiday to Valencia. This holiday started off being anything but restful as the flight was diverted because of bad weather to Alicante some two hours down the coast by coach when it eventually arrived two and a half hours late. So it seems to have been a nightmare journey to get there and not particularly restful either. But before our domestic help arrived, I polished up our captains’s chairs with orange oil which removes dirt and dust and gives a lovely sheen. Our domestic help had not actually seen our latest acquisition which arrived two weeks ago but just after she had left us for the day so I explained how I had got it renovated and it now forms an almost matching pair with the one we bought as students in 1967, as far as I remember. This latest chair was actually intended for our lounge to pair with the desk where I have a laptop but the delivery time took so long that I espied the tub chair in the meantime. Now, though, I am quite happy for the newest chair to form a pair in the Music Longe and they actually do complement each other. After the carers had come and then gone, we had our normal chat with our domestic help and then I was ‘released’ so that I could spend a certain amount of time buying some non-food items I cannot get from my normal supermarket. But whilst on the High Street in Bromsgrove, I did acquire two more cushions, one being small and functional whereas the other has a squirrel motif, complete with a squirrel tail as an attachment if you can see what I mean. Whilst in the same same charity shop, I also acquired two more soft toys, one being a little teddy who has already the name of ‘Henry’ whilst the other is a little bunnikins upon whose name Meg has not as yet, decided. After I had got our lunch out of the way (the last of the cottage pie enhanced with other vegetables) we wondered how the afternoon was going to shape out. An ominous black cloud seemed to threaten and if we were to go anywhere, it would not be very far. In the event, I felt that the back lawn badly needed a cut and although the rain threatened, I got Meg in her wheelchair round to the back and thus I managed to het the back lawns cut after nearly a fortnight which was just as well. In the meanwhile, we seem to have acquired a goodly crop of purple leaved clover, so this, too, is crying out for attention as soon as the weather is fine and I feel I have the energy to do it.

The media today has been dominated by the brutal murder with a crossbow of the wife and two daughters of a racing commentator (who I shall not name) The commentator worked for both the BBC and also for Sky News so perhaps this helps to explain why the story has received so much prominence. But we are not talking about inner city violence here but murders in the suburban streets of Bushey, Hertfordshire which is not too far distant from whence my daughter-in-law was born and raised. The police have taken the unusual step of naming and publishing a photograph of their chief suspect and I suspect that this story is actually going to run and run.

The runners and riders for the expected contest for the next leader of the Tory party has begun in earnest. It appears that Kemi Badenoch has twice the support amongst members of Suella Braverman and naturally comes from the right of the Tory party. It is said that Kemi Badenoch, who is reputed to be hyper aggressive, would start a fight even if there was no one else in the room. But the more interesting story is the method of electing a new leader. There is quite a structural dilemma when political parties ask the membership to endorse or to vote upon the choice of party leader. The Tory constituency parties are always well to the right of the parliamentary party in the same way that the constituency parties of the Labour party are well to the left. So we have the situation, epitomised by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn where most of the parliamentary party do not support the leadership imposed upon them by the membership. The same situation might be mirrored in the Conservative party where many on the right, particularly in the ‘red wall’ seats lost their seats leaving a more centrist inclined parliamentary behind. So the question becomes whether the Tory party will try to amend their own rules before their next leader is selected as otherwise they may be saddled with a right winger (such as Badenoch) who although popular in the party as a whole does not command the support or indeed loyalty of members of the parliamentary party. Meanwhile, in Parliament, the task continues of the ‘swearing in’ of new members who can choose one of a range of religious texts upon which to swear including the New Testament or bible for Christians, the Tanakh for Jews, the Quran for Muslims and the Guru Granth Sahib for Sikhs. Jeremy Corbyn was caught on a Commons microphone giving his opinion ‘this is a load of nonsense’ whilst he was awaiting his turn to affirm or to take the oath. I feel that Corbyn diminished himself in my eyes by this statement, particularly when the new government is trying to develop higher standards of integrity than that exhibited in recent Parliaments. It will be interesting for us to observe in view of what Starmer may well have said to his newly appointed cabinet what the Labour party view is to be when one of their number fails to maintain the requisite standards of integrity that we would hope would become the new norm.

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Tuesday, 9th July, 2024 [Day 1576]

We always look forward to Tuesdays as it is the day when we meet up with our Waitrose friends. We had to keep a sharp eye open for the weather as there were some showers early on in the morning but fortunately they had largely ceased and did not impede our journey down the hill before we met up with our friendly crew at about 10.30am. Fortunately, we were under no time pressure this morning and so could make up the hill in a more leisurely fashion once after elevenses were over. On the way home, we received a telephone call from the manager of the care agency to ask if I could assist the one carer who was due to call later on this morning as they had some staff shortages. With this I concurred but once I had Meg home and settled and given her a ‘smoothie’ drink, I received another call from the manager of the car agency. It looked as though every road into Bromsgrove was gridlocked and therefore the scheduled carer would be delayed, as he was by half an hour. It looked as though there might have been a police incident (which might have been someone threatening to throw themselves off a pedestrian footbridge onto the dual carriage way below) which had caused a total close of the A38 trunk road that runs down the east side of Bromsgrove and which can create total traffic chaos if the traffic on it is disrupted. Today was, in theory, my Pilates day and I had in intended to make a quick visit to town to buy some essentials whilst the carer was sitting with Meg but in view of the traffic disruption and his lateness in arriving anyway we had to change our plans. So I cooked a lunch for Meg which was our customary fishcakes and some stir fry vegetables left over from yesterday. Today whilst in the supermarket, I decided to indulge ourselves with some oven chips which I doubt I have bought for a decade or so but which I suddenly fancied and thought that a small quantity of them would not cause us any significant harm. We had a wonderful of these with our lunch, served as the Dutch are liable to do with a dollop of mayonnaise (which sounds a bit bizarre but the Flemish cultures seem to like their chips this way)

There is an extraordinary post-election story emerging today. Reform UK are coming under pressure to provide evidence its candidates at the general election were all real people after doubts were raised about a series of hopefuls who stood without providing any photos, biographies or contact details. Reform insists every one of its 609 candidates on 4 July were real, while accepting that some were in effect ‘paper candidates’ who did no campaigning, and were there simply to help increase the party’s vote share. However, after seeing details about the apparently complete lack of information about some candidates, who the Guardian is not naming, the Liberal Democrats called on Reform to provide details about them. As the election was called at an unpredictable time, we knew that Reform UK being such a young organisation would have a real scrabble around to try to find candidates. I suppose the other political parties where Reform UK were standing could provide information to the Electoral Commission if an investigation is to made about the candidates who did not bother to attend for their own count and this might help to document how many of the candidates were real or phantom. But of all of the types of stories liable to arrive at election time, this is one of the more bizarre.

This evening, the Euro football competition will continue with France vs. Spain. being played tonight as the Holland vs. England match will be played tomorrow night. For some reason, the strongest European teams were all put on one side of the draw which is why we see a semifinals without Germany or Italy, the previous winners. The match this evening could well prove to be a more exciting contest than the final itself which will be played next Sunday and I wold not like to predict a winner. I expect Holland vs. England will be another nail biting contest but on the evidence of England’s play so far I would be amazed if they got past Holland. Sometimes the finals can prove to be of an anticlimax as both teams are nervous and a little tentative, not wanting to make a critical mistake and so sometimes the semi-finals present us with a more exciting spectacle. No sooner do we have the Euro finals out of the way than we will have our airwaves filled with news of the Olympics to be held in Paris.

Meg and I have started to watch the Parliament channel this afternoon as it is the first meeting of the newly constituted House of Commons. The very first job of the House of Commons is to elect a Speaker but before this takes place, an MP is selected to make a speech to the whole house before the Speaker is actually voted into his position by the House. The task of electing a Speaker starts off with a speech which, by tradition is given to a fairly junior but promising MP who, by tradition gives a very witty and amusing speech which is not interrupted but starts off the proceedings in a rather lighthearted fashion. This is always quite an entertaining tradition which is well worth watching but it is also the occasion in which the new Prime Minister makes his very first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons as a whole. Then follows the swearing in of each individual MP which evidently takes up quite some time. There are various procedures associated with a new Parliament one of which is to acknowledge and attest to the ‘Father of the House’ (the longest serving male MP) and also ‘Mother of the House’ who is the longest sewing female MP. The Mother of the House is actually Dianne Abbott which is quite fascinating given the way in which the Labour party to their shame kept her out of their fold for so long but she has now been restored to her rightful place in the Commons. Initial speeches are made both by the Father and the Mother of the house who pay tributes to their immediate predecessors and these speeches are also lighthearted and jocular in tone before the more serious business of politics resumes when the formalities have been completed.

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Monday, 8th July, 2024 [Day 1575]

And so Monday morning dawned but not after a particularly happy night last night. Meg had been put to bed at 8.00 pm in the evening but could not or would not go to sleep until about 12.30 in the morning. Having been kept all yesterday evening, I was not in the best of moods today as well as being desperately tired – when the carers called round for their late morning call, they had to arouse me because I had fallen asleep in the armchair through sheer exhaustion. But the day seemed quite a fine one so we managed to make our trip to the park for our elevenses. In comparison with the last two days, I went both down and back at a fairly leisurely pace and as it is a Monday, we did expect to see any our park acquaintances today. After the carers had made their late morning call, I busied myself with a small stir fry of onions, peppers and tomatoes to enhance the cottage pie which we started yesterday and we ate this with a portion of runner beans (said to be stringless but I could not resist a quick flash down the length of the beans with my very sharp peeler).

Today we are in the early days of the new Labour administration and the media (as well as I myself) are interested how the new ministers are approaching their tasks, given the enormity of the task facing them. Today is the day when Rachel Reeves as the very first female Chancellor of the Exchequer is making her first major speech in the role. It appears that an important part of the growth agenda is to stimulate more house building and local authorities are having targets first given to them (and then withdrawn) by the previous administration. In order to do this, extra attention is being paid both to ‘brown’ and also to ‘grey’ land. The latter category is land which is technically classified as green (e.g. as part of the rolling fields of the countryside) but is actually pretty scrubby and non-descript. So a planning revolution is being planned but this might not be easy as might be thought. On the one hand, there are always those who live in quite pleasant surroundings and whose last desire is for new housing, especially so called ‘social’ housing, on their doorstep so this constitutes one barrier to be overcome. The point is being made today is that Labour MPs who have traditionally represented urban and large city constituencies might now find themselves elected to a constituency with a largely rural hinterland. So the new tranche of Labour MPs themselves may find themselves in the middle of planning decisions where their party and government are eager to pursue one policy (new house building) but the constituents who have elected them, perhaps with quite a small majority, have some very different ideas. In addition to this, as is evidenced by the spate of new house building literally all around us in Bromsgrove (even the fields at the back of us now being developed), building new houses without the appropriate infrastructure of roads, schools, medical facilities, local retail outlets and the like is a recipe for disaster. So much new housing is built all around us but with no extra road provision for the 2.5 cars per household (Mum, Dad and eventually teenage children) that I envisage that in some 5-10 years time. Bromsgrove may be the first town in history to be utterly gridlocked during the rush hours. I can quite vividly remember about ten years ago walking down the Kidderminster road shortly after 8.00am in order to attend an early doctor’s appointment and, even then, I walked to the end of the Kidderminster Road reaching the end of it before the slow moving traffic (if I had been in a car) This situation has worsened in the last ten years and will worsen again dramatically when the new houses being built all around us come on stream. The official advice, by the way, from Worcestershire County Council who model the traffic flows and provide the data for planning applications, is that they are assuming that many people will walk or cycle rather than going by car and this is being built into their model. But there is no evidence that these behavioural changes are in effect occurring. I do not suppose that Worcestershire in general and Bromsgrove are very aberrant in this respect and I suspect that the situation in which I found myself (practically gridlocked into one’s own streets during rush hours) is mirrored in many if not most parts of the country.

If we thought that we had intractable political problems here in the UK, then France is about to undergo probably years of turmoil. President Macron called elections to ‘see off’ and neutralise the far right in the French political system. But what has emerged has been an electorate divided into a left coalition of about 160 seats, Macron’s centrist party of about 140 seats and the far right National Rally associated with Le Pen with about 120 seats. So whether a Prime Minister can be chosen who will command the support of the majority of the parliament and whether any legislation can be passed under similar circumstances is an open question. Most commentators are of the view that just before Paris (and France) hosts the Olympics, we have the spectacle of a major Western European society which is in political deadlock for weeks if not months. But Belgium survived for over a year I think without a functioning government and whereas the civil services in these societies can ensure that ‘normal’ life can carry on, major decisions that need to be taken are avoided. So far in France the PM has offered to resign but President Macron has refused to accept this so we have a ‘lame duck’ prime minister in power in our nearest neighbour for the for seeable future. And although the political scene in the USA looks increasingly unstable, Jo Biden is resisting all attempts to suggest that he should step down. One has to raise the question that were he to be elected and just about ‘compus mentis’ to be the next President of the USA, would he remain sufficiently robust both physically and mentally to serve for a further team of four years? There was a rumour that Michelle Obama was been called upon to run as one projected poll suggests that she could beat Trump by 11 percentage points. But so far, she has indicated no desire to enter the political arena but I do wonder if she could be persuaded.

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Sunday, 7th July, 2024 [Day 1574]

The weekends are characterised by the care workers coming to us 30 minutes earlier than usual which means that the minute I awake, some time after 5.00am it is time to get up and get things ready (like myself showered) before the care workers arrive. Today were two trusty workers but their conversation with each other is often dominated by how the day’s schedules are going to work as workers on zero hours contracts phone in as sick and therefore unavailable whilst one of the younger care workers has crashed her car for seems to be the umpteenth time. We did not mind a fairly early start because we can start to watch the political programs starting with Trevor Philips on Sky News and continuing with Lorna Kuennsberg on BBC1. There is a story going on the rounds that Laura Kuennsberg as a closet Tory was looking ‘sick to the stomach’ when it became evident that the Tories were being wiped out in the small hours of Friday morning. Perhaps stung by this criticism, she apparently had a go at a prominent Tory politician on her show this morning but I must confess I was asleep during most of it and therefore might try and view it on catchup. On BBC One’s Sunday the former health secretary – who is widely expected to put herself forward as a contender to be the next Tory leader – said the Conservatives needs to ‘act on those values’ in the party which voters support. Alluding to the meagre 121 seats the Tories took in the election, Kuenssberg asked Atkins: ‘What went wrong with your values then?’ Atkins replied: ‘We know that the country, actually, is instinctively Conservative, if you look, people want lower taxes.’ To this, Kuennsberg retorted ‘Do you think the country is still instinctively Conservative when they booted you out? You’ve got your worst defeat ever.’ I think the whole tenour of this exchange to be quite instructive. Most commentators are of the view that the Tory defeat (with the exception of the ‘Brexit’ election won by Boris Johnson with a majority of 80) is actually part of a long term trend in which the modern Tory party is losing touch with the electorate. Indeed, William Hague, the one time Tory ‘wonderchild’ and one time leader made the point in ‘The Times‘ on Saturday that if the electorate had been confined to those under the age of 60 then the Tories would have lost practically every seat in the country. But the Atkins view of the world is that is an aberration for anybody in the world to actually vote anything except Conservative and cannot start to imagine why they have lost support amongst most social groups in the country – apart from the retired population, of course, who have benefited from the ‘triple lock’ preserving the value of their pensions.

After we had breakfasted it was not too long before the Eucharistic minister came from our local church as she generally does each Sunday, when she can. Today, she and her husband were feeling a little distraught as they had lost two more of their very deep and good friends with whom they have treked up hill and down dale in their younger days. We commiserated with each other that this was a symptom of our position in the life cycle but I think she had two funerals that she felt she wanted to attend within the next week. At the same time as an organist and a cellist, she is quite heavily engaged in one or two concerts over the Bromsgrove festival period. As some of these performances are in the early evening rather than the afternoon, they are not really accessible to Meg and myself at the moment but, having said this, our 90 year old chorister friend that we meet regularly in Waitrose, was going off to attend an organ concert this weekend. We received a telephone call from our University of Birmingham friend on the strength of which we decided to go and meet with him for a coffee later on in the morning. This was a real bonus for us because the weather forecast seemed to indicate that we would have a succession of showers right throughout the morning and we did not wish to repeat the experience of yesterday when we were soaked to the skin. However, the day seemed to look as though it was set fare so we raced down the hill at a great pace of knots, had about twenty minutes with our friend and then had to be make it equally quickly up the hill in order to bee in time again for our carers. We then lunched on the wonderful cottage pie that our friends has prepared for us and delivered to us yesterday and then spent the early part of the afternoon watching some Michael Portillo ‘railway-cum-travelogue’ programs that are still reasonably interesting.

There is an interesting political point which I have not seen made elsewhere. Quite a lot is being made of the point that the Labour party despite having won 420+ seats did this on a vote share of (in round figures) 34%. The Tories share of the vote was 24% and the Liberal Democrats 12%. Some of the consequences of ‘FPTP’ or First past the Post’ or ‘winner take all’ approach in the current electoral system is that if a vote is spread widely and not concentrated upon particularly areas we have seemingly ridiculous consequences from the point of view of connecting votes cast with seats gained. So in this election, the Lib Dems secured 12% of the vote and 72 seats and Reform took 14%, but only five seats. The Green Party also emerged with four MPs, despite having 7% of the total vote. But the figure concentrating minds is the low vote share gained by the Labour Party with a huge majority of seats. But to mind, we are now living in a society in the ‘First past the Post’ system might suit a society such as 1950’s Britain where the political landscape was dominated by taw two huge monolithic parties of Tory and Labour. But we are now living in a multiparty democracy with two centrist parties, Labour being Centre-Left and the Tories being Centre Right. But we also have an overtly right wing party in Reform and a more left wing party in the Greens, together with nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and a smattering of Independents throughout the country. So we may now start to see the start of some serious discussions about voting reform and proportional representation but I am not holding my breath.

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Saturday, 6th July, 2024 [Day 1573]

Today we started off our day somewhat earlier than intended as the carers were scheduled half an hour later than is normal. But we got ourselves up and breakfasted and then started to look forward to the day ahead. On Saturdays, we normally meet up with some of our ‘granny gang’ of friends in Waitrose but the weather seemed rather gloomy and miserable. Nonetheless, we wrapped ourself up in waterproofs and prepared to make our our journey down the hill in a slight drizzle. Just as we were preparing to go, we received a telephone call from one of the parishioners with whom we often had a chat when we used to attend the evening service each Saturday evening. This is now beyond us but we were delighted to get the news from our friend who hails from the North East and whose Geordie accent serves to remind me that my mother went to a teacher training college in Newcastle upon Tyne where I visited her in my half term breaks from boarding school in Bolton in Lancashire. Shortly after our first telephone call, I received another from our friends down the road who had very kindly baked me a cottage pie. This will go in the oven tomorrow and will give us at least two servings of meals so was a wonderfully kind gesture. We made contact with two of our friends in the Waitrose cafeteria who, like ourselves, had braved the rain although it was quite tolerable on the way down. Whilst in the cafe, we also received a telephone call from some of the friends from our sojourn in Winchester and this was wonderful to receive. But there was a slight problem in that when I was chatting excitedly with my friend, the conversation could be heard by others in the cafe and I was informed by another patron, politely, that I should keep the phone close to my face so that the rest of the cafe were not forced to listen to our conversation. I was a little mortified by this experience as I, too, do not like to overhear telephone conversations either whilst I am on a train or, for that matter, in a cafe. So I made the hurried excuse to my friend making the call that I had to go and then apologised to my fellow coffee drinker explaining that I was receiving rather than initiating a call. However, one learns by experience and in future, unless the telephone call is short and vital, I will not any longer accept calls in the cafe. And so we prepared to make our way home, starting off a little late as we had been delayed by the phone call but half way back, the heavens opened and we both got absolutely drenched in an intense shower. I was glad that I had taken the precautions of us both getting clad in waterproof outer clothing but nonetheless when we arrived home, we were both pretty wet. Fortunately, the two carers for Meg helped her to change not only her outer clothing but also her underwear which the rain had penetrated and I needed to go and change into another pair of trousers. Nonetheless, I warmed Meg up with some tomato soup in a cup and then started to prepare the lunch. This was an altogether thrown together affair but turned out to be quite a delicious meal. We had some remains of stir fry vegetables plus remnants of spaghetti plus some remains of a tin of Irish stew which Meg and I had for dinner last night. Then I parboiled one large potato and one large onion, cut into small squares and then finished off with some olive oil and a blast of brown sauce. I do not know what you would call a mixture like this but it provided us with a very tasty meal, appropriate for a wet Saturday afternoon. After lunch, our friend popped around with the cottage pie that we had been promised and this was gratefully received. Our friends could not stop long as they were on their way out but it is always nice to receive a visit like this.

Whenever a new government is formed, the first job of the new Prime Minister is to form a cabinet. On this occasion, there were no real surprises and practically everyone slotted into the ministries that they had shadowed whilst in opposition. Today, the new Cabinet is due to meet for the first time and I am sure that it will be an educating experience for them all. I have often imagined that were I to be a newly elected Prime Minister in a Labour government, my very first act would be to inform the Cabinet that they had just been elected upon the rejection of the polls of a most sleaze and scandal-ridden government and therefore if there was the slightest whiff of scandal surrounding any of them, the new Prime Minister would not defend them whatsoever and they would be out of office before their feet could touch the ground. Now it appears that Keir Starmer had said just that or something very similar informing the cabinet they were elected to ‘serve and not to be self-serving’ which sounds like a slogan but no doubt is repeated often these days. There is a phrase attributed to New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, that one needs to ‘Campaign in poetry, govern in prose’ and many of the political commentators are eagerly awaiting he first pronouncements of the Prime Minister to see if he is making the successful transition from a campaigning politician to the new role of a Prime Minister. So far, I must say that all of Keir Starmer’s announcements seem absolutely ‘on the ball’. He announced that as Prime Minister of the four nations, he would be visiting each in the next few days before going off to a NATO meeting to be held in the US. Then he said that he would convene a meeting of all of the regional mayors, irrespective of political orientation, to work out how he could support them to regenerate their regions. He also made the point that he was not a tribal politician and intended to govern for the whole nation which you would expect all new Prime Ministers to say but might actually be carried into action in the new administration.

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Friday, 5th July, 2024 [Day 1572]

So yesterday being Election Day, the whole day was in effect a long wait until a few seconds after 10.00pm when the exit poll predicting the final result was published by all of the media simultaneously. The exit polls are normally very accurate but this year a new methodology was being deployed. Although the percentage of the electorate voting for Party X or Party Y can be forecast with a great deal of accuracy, mapping this onto the actual seats won is a much more complicated exercise. In this particular election, the Labour Party deployed a strategy to particularly good effect which was not to pile up votes in places like the traditional mining areas where extra votes did not mean extra seats. Rather, the strategy was to try to deploy the resources so that that seats were regarded as winnable got more resources. In the event, the model produced quite a good fit between the exit poll and the final result.

But this election was a momentous one. The Labour party have had a lead over the Tories of about 20 percentage points for about a couple of years now and nothing seems to have altered substantially, even over the course of the campaign, So the exit poll suggested a landslide and this is what eventually transpired. Naturally I watched the exit poll and shortly afterwards I was joined by my son and we watched the results unfold until we finally made it to be at just 5.00am this morning, just after the Labour party had actually gained enough seats to be guaranteed for becoming the next government. The end result was a really dramatic win for the Labour Party who gained 412 seats whilst the Tories slumped to 121, having lost 250 seats during the night. What really ‘did’ for the Tories was the fact that the electorate seemed determined to get rid of the Tories at any price. Hence the intervention of the Reform party helped to ensure that Conservative support was drawn away allowing the Labour candidates to flourish. Also, there was a dramatic collapse of the SNP in Scotland who were reduced to a rump of just 9 seats whilst the Liberal Democrats had their best showing for decades coming in with 71 seats. Several very high profile Tories failed to be elected including Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt, Jacob Rees Mogg and Liz Truss but Jeremy Hunt just about survived. I think 12 Cabinet members failed to be elected which was a record in itself.

Having crept into bed at 5.00am. I managed to get about an hour and a half’s sleep under my belt before I got up to start to prepare for the care workers. Then, after breakfast, we pushed Meg down the hill and we had a coffee with our University of Birmingham friend. The it was a case of getting up the hill in time for the carers, a quick meal of fish fingers and we settled down to watch the comings and goings along Downing Street. Immediately after an election, evidently the media interest is focused on which minister is to get which jobs. As expected, most of the shadow cabinet were appointed to the ministries that they had been shadowing for about the last year so this means that they can really hit the ground running. No great surprises have been forthcoming this afternoon but although we see would be cabinet ministers walking the walk to the front door of No. 10, it is only several hours later that the actual names of ministers appointed to individual jobs is released.

The new House of Commons is going to be a very interesting experience for everyone involved. First we might mention that with a really large majority, the possibility arises of all kinds of factions and groupings with the governing party, leaving apart the payroll vote. The payroll vote is generally of the order of about 100 and this means that five sixths of the much reduced Tory party will have a job shadowing the new government. Many of these shadow ministers will be inexperienced and one wonders what kind of job they will make of opposition. On the other hand, the Select Committees will now be dominated by Labour MPs as the select committees are chosen so that they roughly reflect the House of Commons as a whole. So I imagine that several of the investigations that the Select Committees will now undertake may make many of the ‘great and the good’ who come under the scrutiny of a select committee quake in their boots. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has now, at the eighth attempt, been elected as a Westminster MP and is threatening to do whatever further damage it can to the Tory Party. The Tory party itself is going to have the trauma of selecting yet another leader as Rishi Sunak will only stay on as leader until a successor can be appointed. The mood of the country is rather equivocal because on the one hand there was a massive desire to get rid of the Tories but there is no great love for the Labour Party itself. No doubt, the Labour Party will have a small period of grace but I suspect that goodwill towards the new government will very soon evaporate. The Labour Party, if it is sagacious, will attempt to explain to the electorate what a terrible mess has been bequeathed to them by the outgoing government now that they have had a chance to examine the books in great detail. But almost certainly, the new government will not be able to satisfy the many expectations for a radical change that many people are expecting. The reaction of business and the stock exchange itself will be interesting to observe once the markets fully reopen next Monday but the Labour Party has, so far, done a reasonable job in persuading the business community, that they can make a better job of managing the economy after the damage that ex-Prime Ministers such as Liz Truss managed to achieve. And, of course, how will the new government fare in relationships with the USA particularly is Trump is re-elected?

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Thursday, 4th July, 2024 [Day 1571]

And so, at long last, election day has dawned at last. Having said, I was mildly surprised that no comment of an overtly political nature was allowed by OFCOM rules on Election day itself, to try to ensure a completely level playing field across all the political parties. There is an argument which is gaining currency today, though, that if there is an evident interference for example through Russian ‘bots’ to display fake news about the election, then the BBC and other broadcasters should be allowed an instant rebuttal of the same. I had always thought that the newspapers, in particular, used Election Day itself to urge the electorate to use their votes in a particular way but it looks as though the application of the OFCOM rules means that all overt political comment must cease by the end of the eve of the election itself, only dates from a few years ago. This has led to a situation in which the really dramatic eve-of-election poll as published by YouGov last night can only have the most limited of impact. This particular poll is predicting the biggest majority for any political party since 1832 (about which claim I am sceptical by the way) but I suppose that any discussion of this result must be squeezed in the time slot between publication on the one hand (5.00pm on Sky News) and the timing when the Ofcom rules comes in to effect which I think is polling day itself i.e. 12.00 midnight. So the impact of any poll is subject to a seven hour window if my reading of the situation is correct. However, I have trawled the web using American search engines and they are reporting polls predicting a Labour victory in the greatest of details. There is even one detailing the seats in my immediate locality which are likely to ‘go red’ including the neighbouring towns of Redditch, Stourbridge and Worcester whilst Bromsgrove itself is predicted to be (just) a Conservative hold. David Dimbleby is reported as saying that election night exit polls are the worst thing ever to befall elections as all of the fun and excitement is removed from the night itself. I am inclined to agree but only partially – the pleasure that remains is seeing hated figures of the party that one did not vote for gradually losing their seats one by one throughout the night. It seems as though the whole world is waiting to see Liz Truss bite the dust but this might not happen and is scheduled for very late at night (i.e. about 4.00am) for when it is likely to happen.

Thursdays are my shopping day but when the carers arrived, Miggles our adopted cat, spied his opportunity and speeds like a greased lightning though the opened front door. So a topic of conversation with one of the carers this morning was household pets and I asked if she had any. The list started off with two dogs and then proceeded onto two ferrets, six ducks, one snake.. after this, I rather lost the will to live. I asked the carer if she had a small holding to house these animals but she had not so I have to assume this menagerie is housed within a normal domestic house. After I had got Meg up and I had got her breakfasted, we did not have too long to wait before the (Asian) carer came along to do her sit with Meg whilst I go shopping. We got onto the subject of Ravi Shankar and sitar music – Meg had the opportunity to go to see him play in Manchester when we were students but Meg had ‘flu’ at the time (and I scarcely knew Meg) But I do wish I could have known about and seized the opportunity to see Ravi Shankar whilst I could – I am talking about late 1965. So I left the carer and Meg listening to sitar music broadcast on YouTube whilst I went shopping and was amazed to see they had not had too much of it by the time I returned home from my shopping. Then it was a case of a gentle unpacking and more conversations with the carer. I generally ask the question to which I already know the answer, the question being What is your children’s favourite meal? To children of all genders and ethnicities, the answer always seems to be ‘pasta’ and we found the same to be the case when we were having a meal with our Spanish friends in Stratford, as I remember.

The weather is pretty variable today, making it somewhat difficult to ascertain whether or not we should have a walk outside this afternoon and if so, to where? We decided to resolve the situation by treating ourselves to an opera this afternoon and forgetting about a walk altogether. So we are currently listening to a version of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto‘ with astoundingly good singing. This is a very modernistic production with a minimalist set but very clever use of lighting and a few clever stage props. Now I am a bit divided about this. On the one hand, I do recognise that a minimalist set forces the attention onto the quality of the singing without any distractions, as it were. On the other hand, I am rather a traditionalist. The main scenes are meant to be set in a plush palace on the one hand and a run down inn by the water’s edge on the other and it is rather difficult to imagine these with a minimalist set. Also, whilst the heroine (Gilda) who is Rigoletto’s daughter is meant to be appear young and virginal, the soprano playing the part I suspect is east European but she rather looks as though in a previous career she might have thrown the discus in the reconstructed East Germany as she is so large. I do not intent to detract from the quality of her singing which is divine but opera is visual as well as auditory and one would hope that there is some semblance of connection between the two. Nonetheless, I am really enjoying the singing, conflicting though my emotions might be.

Fascinating things across the Atlantic are about to unfold. All kinds of pressures are being brought upon Jo Biden to persuade him to withdraw as candidate for President but he is receiving support from some quarters. There is a report late this afternoon that if Michelle Obama could be persuaded to stand, she could beat Donald Trump quite easily but she herself has long expressed the desire not to enter party politics. On the other hand, I wonder if the great and the good of the Democratic party could persuade her to stand to save the nation?

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Wednesday, 3rd July, 2024 [Day 1570]

Today we woke up to a gloomy day, it having rained during the night which ought to please all of us gardeners. We knew we would have a rather truncated this morning as our hairdresser was due to call around mid morning so we did not have any concrete plans for the morning. Knowing that the hairdresser was scheduled to call around, we utilised one of those ‘dry’ hair washing products that you can utilise when a normal washing is difficult. After the hairdresser called, we had to come to an assessment whether this product had actually worked or not but were only about 50% satisfied with the result. So we resolved to consult with our band of care workers to see if a more normal wash is possible on the days when the hairdresser is scheduled to call. We watched the Politics Today programme on BBC2 where at least one senior Tory, Mel Stride, is conceding that the Tories have probably lost the election and the Tory party needs to reconcile itself to a period of time in opposition. If the Labour party wins by a landslide, which some polls are predicting, then it takes a landslide to get rid of a landslide so it may well be that The Labour party may be able to enjoy two terms in power (and therefore the Conservatives, the similar amount of time in opposition) As over the decades, the Tories have been so often the governing party and the Labour party in opposition, it is an interesting question how far the Tory party can be an effective opposition – it is a role that hardly any of the Tory MPs that remain will have experienced and I suspect that to be cut off from the levers of power and all of the perks that go with it, Opposition might prove to be psychologically very difficult for the modern Tory party. Of course, there will be a change of leader and it will be interesting to see how many of the ‘hard right’ and ‘red wall’ seats survive the election. As most of the more liberal Tories were thrown out of the party by Boris Johnson when they refused to toe the line over Brexit, then what ‘flavour’ of Tory MP remains after the election is a very open question. The care workers were scheduled for a late call tis morning, so Meg and I squeezed in a meal of quiche followed by delicious yogurt before the care workers made their mid-morning call. Then because of scheduling which is all a bit bizarre, they were due to call back within the hour which would have been ridiculous. So after the care workers phoned in to their base, this was re-timed for one hour later which is a bit better for us. Meg and I decided that we would go down into the park for a little afternoon breath of fresh air and so this we did, although at the hour that we went, the park was pretty deserted and we had a fairly quick trip, a drink of cordial and some crunchy bars and then made for home.

Of course, we are very much in ‘the day before voting’ mode all today and the party leaders traditionally call upon their core voters to turn out and vote as well as trying to persuade last minute undecideds. It has emerged this after that ‘The Sun‘ has come out to endorse Labour which is the first since since 2005 i.e. 19 years ago so this is a turn up for the book. Even the ‘Sunday Times‘ was forced to admit, grudgingly at the bottom of the third paragraph of their Leader, that the Labour party ‘deserves to be given its chance’ so this was their endorsement. An election I remember very vividly was the election of October, 1964 which Harold Wilson eventually won with a majority of three. As I was then the office junior and one of my duties was to distribute newspapers around the offices of the Reference Division of the Central Office of Information which was the ministry in which I then worked,I could glance at all of the newspaper headlines and I remember what ‘The Times‘ had to say after 14 years of continuous Tory rule. The feeling then was very much what is the feeling is now i.e. after 14 years it was time for a change. ‘The Times‘ opinion for that crucial election was that the ‘Labour Party’ might be ‘the better but the riskier choice’ Tomorrow, no doubt, I will be able to read what ‘The Times‘ thinks of a similar situation some sixty years later. As it happens, I remember Election Day which I think was on about October 3rd, 1964, very vividly. This is because I had just started work at the Central Office of Information in London a week or so earlier and I was working in the Reference Library (which today would be called the ‘Information Centre’) Our boss actually had a portable radio on a strategically placed desk and we were all theoretically at work but in practice we were avidly listening to the results as they rolled in from the Tory shires all on that Friday afternoon. Immediately after the election of the Labour government, there was immediate speculation against the pound and a massive flight of capital as the government and the Bank of England desperately tried to save the currency with the necessity to undertake a devaluation. I remember that every night as I walked to the Tube Stations the news placards would read ‘Fight to save the £ – Latest’ and they were tense days indeed. The final YouGov projection has just been published by Sky News with the news that the Labour party may have a majority of 212 seats and have the greatest proportion of seats since 1832! I think this is probably an overstatement of the actual result but as I write there are less than 29 hours to go before the exit poll is announced a few seconds after 10.00pm tomorrow night.

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Tuesday, 2nd July, 2024 [Day 1569]

We were looking forward to today for two principal reasons. Tuesdays are the day when we meet up with our friends in Waitrose. Also we were looking forward to the journey down the hill using the new wheelchair recently supplied to Meg. As we suspected, the larger wheels at the back (12″ rather than 7″) both made the ride somewhat smoother and also made the negotiation of kerbs somewhat easier as well. We got down the hill in less than 20 minutes so the new chair must have made some kind of impact. But when we got to Waitrose, some kind of domestic engineering crisis had befallen the cafeteria and it was closed until the problem was resolved. We made the best of a bad job and fortunately finding some spare cups in the little bag we carry with us managed to avail ourselves of the free coffee that Waitrose offers to its customers on production of the store card. One of the friendly staff took pity on us and helped us negotiate some special arrangements but we were obliged to sit outside and we had the traffic noise with which to contend. Nonetheless, we had the opportunity for some social contact with each other, not under the best of circumstances and as we were all ready to depart, they got the cafe open again after an obligatory clean down. As the carers were due to make an earlier mid-morning visit this morning, we were obliged to leave a tad earlier than we had intended but still got up the hill in time. Then the carers called and after seeing to Meg, one of them stayed on as it was her Tuesday ‘sitting’ session. I had made Meg some chicken soup as she was complaining of the cold a little and persuaded the carer to have some as well as she had not had any breakfast. Then I went out on the road, as I needed to get some petrol for the mower and get some cash from an ATM. Getting the petrol was straightforward but for the mower, I always buy the highest quality and octane) that there is to reduce the ethanol addition which can absorb moisture and cause problems in petrol mowers. This having been done, I entertained the carer with a bit of my family history (which she was keen to know) and then pressed ahead with our normal Tuesday lunch which is haddock fishcakes and microwaved vegetables. Whilst I had been out, the wheelchair for which I had successfully bid on eBay before I had been informed hat the NHS were going to supply a wheelchair arrived incredibly well packed. I have unpacked this largely but it sill needs the footrests fitting in which may prove a little complicated but we shall see. The wheelchair happens to be exactly the same make and model as the NHS supplied one which is interesting as the manual supplied with the NHS model will cover both machines. The carer helped me to give Meg some lunch although Meg did not seem very hungry today and we did not manage to get much food inside her. After lunch, the weather seemed set fair and I had just bought the petrol I needed, I decided to squeeze in a cutting of the front lawns before the mid afternoon carers arrived. I was praying for them to be late and indeed they were as one of their jobs and schedules had been re-timed. Under the circumstances, though, I was delighted to get the lawns cut and the mower cleaned up before the carers arrived. Incidentally, I always spray the underside of the mower hood with a WD40 preparation and I have started to do this quite liberally as it seems to prevent the grass sticking on subsequent mows and this makes for a smoother and more trouble free mow all round.

Last night after Meg seemed to soundly asleep, I indulged myself a little by watching the last few minutes of the Portugal-Slovenia match in the Euro finals. Normally my sympathies are with the Hispanic teams (including Portugal) but today they seemed to be playing in rather a pedestrian fashion (like England) and the Slovenes seemed to be playing with more spirit and enterprise. So as the extra time progressed, my sympathies switched and now it was time for the penalties.In the penalty shootout, the Portuguese goalie was stupendously good saving each of the first three Slovenian penalties. I do not not think I can ever remember seeing a goalkeeper save three successive penalties before and the penalties were all good shots. But from this point on, Portugal could claim quite an easy victory all, when in all honesty, it looked as though Slovenia had played the better football. I joked with one of the carers today that when England play Switzerland over the weekend, they will probably play the better football and lose rather than playing their normal lack lustre game that they then go on to win.

We now only have a day and half of the election campaign yet to run. I saw a Treasury spokesman banging about tax as usual and their argument was that as Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor had not explicitly ruled out a particular tax then the Labour party must be intending to introduce it. Again, we got the £2,000 per household figure trotted out again together with some tax changes which the Labour party has already ruled out so the Newsnight interviewer was driven in exasperation to accuse the Try Minister of a lie which is a word not to be lightly used these days. There has apparently been an enormous increase in the numbers of postal votes this time around and there is quite an ugly situation in Scotland where postal votes have been sent out in the middle of a holiday period and there is a Royal Mail dispute to complicate matters so it is an interesting question whether these factors bubble away for a bit and then explode after the event, particularly of a seat is won by a handful of votes and the delayed postal vote would have made all the difference. I also think that non-registered voters attempting to vote on Thursday without photo ID may well prove to be quite a big story as the election analysis unfolds.

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Monday, 1st July, 2024 [Day 1568]

The day started off gloomy and we knew that we would probably have to stay at home for most of the morning as we anticipated that a wheelchair was due to be delivered to us this morning. After the care workers failed to arrive at the appointed hour, we received a telephone call from the care agency explaining that they were short of staff after a couple phoned in sick. We were offered the option of the manager himself if I were to assist him and since this constituted a wait of only half an hour instead of an hour and a half, this we readily accepted. So the care agency manager and I worked as a team and just before our tasks were completed, the wheelchair arrived. We had a minimal amount of unpacking of it to do and so we could hoist Meg into it. At first sight, it is probably going to prove to an excellent improvement for us. The diameter of the wheels on our current wheelchair is 7.5″ whereas the rear wheels on the newly supplied chair are 12.25″ which is some 60% bigger. This will mean that apart from the extra resilience of the tyres, the larger rear wheels will make the job of mounting/dismounting kerbs when they have not been dropped sufficiently so much easier. In addition, the new chair came complete with a pressure cushion and this lifts Meg that much higher on the ground, thus helping to keep her feet clear of obstacles. So far, we have only wheeled Meg around the house but tomorrow being a Tuesday will probably be the acid test when I wheel Meg down for one of our weekly coffee meetings. The chair is made locally and the materials used in its construction seem quite high so I am very grateful to the powers that be for supplying it. I have actually checked out that this is Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust which is evidently funded by the NHS and not by local authorities. However, I do intend to send a note of thanks to our doctor whose completion of the form evidently hit ‘all of the right buttons’ because once the form had been submitted, then the wheelchair was supplied relatively quickly. I had heard horror stories of a wait of up to 18 weeks and hence I am more delighted that the service has been provided so quickly. Having said that, I have found motorists and pedestrians to be remarkably accommodating when they have observed me pushing Meg in her conveyance up and down the local highways. I suspect that this tolerance is much more than might be accorded to young mothers with children in buggies as the children are so much lighter and the mothers so much younger and fitter than applies to Meg and myself.

Last night there was much excitement, if that is the right word, over the England v. Slovakia football match. Slovakia scored a goal in the first half whilst the performance of England, a step up from the recent past but not a great deal better, was generally regarded as dire. Six minutes of injury time were to be played and the commentators were all gloomily discussing the consequences of an early England exit from the competition having been well and truly beaten. For some reason, the England players do not seem to run at the competition and I wonder if they are really frightened by them all or do not have the skills or the speed to get past them. The English players constantly pass the ball sideways to each other in their own third of the pitch and progress up the pitch is painfully slow. The whole nation was just about reconciled to a humiliating England defeat when the almost local (Stourbridge) hero, Jude Bellingham, produced the most stunning overhead kick to score an equaliser. Then injury time was played and the England captain, Harry Kane, scored the winning goal with a header one minute into injury time. So we had the extraordinary spectacle that England has scarcely had a shot on goal for some 95 minutes and then produce two goals in two minutes to win the match. So the speculation that the England manager must go immediately was stilled for the moment but will no doubt start all over again at the point at which we will get beaten by the Swiss when we meet them in a few days time. This is must have been one of the greatest ‘get out of jail’ performances of all time and one wonders how long the England team can survive if they play as poorly as this.

The United States Supreme Court, stuffed full of Trump nominees have issued a ruling concerning whether Trump should be immune from prosecution for the attacks upon the Capital building after the last election. The Court have made a ‘non-decision’ which is actually a decision saying that Trump would be immune from prosecution for ‘official’ acts but not for ‘unofficial’ acts and the case is to be sent back to lower courts. This case will not get through the system before the presidential elections in November and has therefore played right into Trump’s hands. If re-elected and a further court case is decided against him whilst he is in office, he will just dismiss the charges against him. The separation of powers (between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government) are flagrantly not working in the American constitution as they should and it looks as though, once again, Trump has stared into the abyss and got away with it.

Beth Rigby, the renowned Sky News political correspondent, is arguing that the shape of the final results on Thursday will very much depend on how the recently formed Reform party fare. They are currently only some 4 percentage points behind the Tories (at 16% whilst the Tories are on 20%) but, of course, it all depends on how the vote pans out in individual constituencies around the land. There are only two and a half days left now for any bombshells to land and I am waiting for them to be launched shortly.

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