Tuesday 28 April 2020


The Mirror on line today was critical of Boris Johnson's address to the nation yesterday on two grounds. He talked about his government's 'apparent success' in tackling the Covid-19 crisis; the Mirror pointed out we were heading for the highest death rate in Europe. He didn't talk enough about the crisis in care homes. The rate of daily deaths in care homes is actually increasing. 

The Mirror is sounding a critical note, albeit still respectful in tone.

So far so good. The road to the place where the little boy says the emperor isn't wearing anything has to start somewhere.

The man who was sacked by the editor of the Daily Telegraph for lying

Tom Peck in the 'i' today was even stronger. Here's a taste.

'When Johnson went into hospital three weeks ago, there had been 5,000 fatalities from coronavirus. There have now been 20,000, at least, and countless more in care homes. (Countless not in the sense

Monday 27 April 2020


The man who knew his destiny was to be prime-minster dared the gods to do their worst and shook the hands of Covid-19 patients when he visited a hospital at the end of February. A few days later on 3 March 2020, he boasted about his actions accompanied by his medical and scientific expert who did not dissent from Johnson's statement that it was all about washing hands. Google 'Johnson shaking hands' and find the video performance of the buffoon. By early April, he had been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and spent two nights in intensive care. Today he is back, leading the nation.

Consider what is happening very carefully. 

Do you hear the mainstream media asking the questions that are crying out for answers?

I don't.

Why did you not move to lockdown earlier? 

There is little or no focus on such a vital matter. It is being 'nudged' out of the picture by a media intent still on colluding with this government of Tory neoliberal mediocrities.

Why did you not listen and act on the scientific and medical advice that you must have heard and rejected and instead opt for a half-baked, pseudo-scientific idea of achieving herd immunity? 

Did you do as little as possible in order to steal a market advantage on economic competitors?  

How do you feel now, Mr Johnson, when you got it so terribly wrong?

How do you feel now, Mr Johnson, with so much blood on your hands?

How do you feel now, Mr Johnson, knowing that your mad decisions have cost the lives of tens

Wednesday 22 April 2020


One of the many magnificent moments in 'Les Miserables' comes with the music and lyrics of the number: 'Do you hear the people sing?'

'Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men'

Angry men and women.

I feel angry right now. So angry. And this is an anger that demands justice. 

Les Miserables - The Song of Angry Men. 

We have been murderously misgoverned by buffoons who have put the pursuit of wealth before health. 

Scores of thousands of lives will have been lost in this Covid-19 pandemic due to the incompetence and inane ideologies of morally bankrupt politicians whose election left them holding the power of life and death over us. 

The Lyrics - The Song of Angry Men

These buffoons must face the legal consequences. Administrative malfeasance is one possible charge; so too is corporate manslaughter.  

The words of The Secret Medic in the 'i' newspaper today are apposite:

'By all accounts, it looks as if the UK is heading for one of the worst death rates in the world ... no one should be hindered from engaging in objective scrutiny of government policy. In a

Saturday 18 April 2020


The eleven days that have tragically cost the UK so much in the fight against coronavirus

I have copied this account by Dominic Minghella from the New Statesman webpage where it appeared yesterday, Friday 17 April 2020. It seems to me that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to read this - and consider what they should do in the light of the inaction of this government. My thanks to Dominic Minghella - press here for a link to his Wikipedia article. Dominic is the creative mind behind 'Doc Martin', otherwise known as Dr Ellingham, an anagram of the family name: Minghella.

'In a personal account, Dominic Minghella recalls the pre-lockdown period in which he and others were spreading Covid-19 across the UK.

Dominic Minghella - British television producer and screen writer - survivor of Covid 19

Ask yourself, as I have done, what those 11 fateful days in March cost us. You won’t like the answer. It has kept me up, my mind spinning like it does when I’ve had too much caffeine, half the night.
The days in question are 12-23 March, days in which the government decided to all but give up contact tracing and do, well, nothing. Mass gatherings were still allowed; concerts and racing and Champions League football; pubs and public transport. The over-70s, it must be conceded, were advised to avoid cruises.
Medics in Italy screamed: “Do something!” “Don’t make our mistakes!” “Look at what happens if

Thursday 16 April 2020


A Skwawkbox post this morning cries out for sharing:

UK government is nowhere near meeting World Health Organisation criteria for exiting lock-down

Labour leader Keir Starmer, in common with a number of right-wing commentators and lobbyists, is pushing for the government to publish an 'exit strategy' saying how and when the UK will come out of 'lock-down', in spite of continuing high numbers of deaths and the unfolding horror of a huge toll in the nation's care homes.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has six reasons why such talk is not only premature but entirely inappropriate - six tests that a nation should be able to meet before any 'exit' is considered.

And the UK is a long, long way from meeting any of them.

The WHO's tests are:

  •  1) transmission is controlled
  •  2) health system capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case - and trace every contact
  •  3) outbreak risks are minimised in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes
  •  4) preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools and other places where it's essential for people to go
  • 5) 'importation' risks can be managed
  • 6) communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the 'new norm'
Transmission is not controlled. The government's decision to close underground stations and reduce public transport


Here are extracts from pages 139 and 142 of my biography of Jago Stone:

'January 2017 was an especially rich period for the online detective agency. Alastair Mould sent me this email .... that added significantly to my understanding of the shape of Jago's circuit as the itinerant, gypsy artist. 

I thought I would drop you a line after reading Louise Donovan's experience of Jago wandering up the driveway and painting her parents' house. The same thing happened to me in 1973 at Park House, Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire when I was about 9 years old ....

Ashton Keynes  is a village in north Wiltshire …. and within the Cotswold Water Park ….

Alastair wrote that he had spoken to a friend of his, Dave, who had been living at another dwelling,  Cove House, in Ashton Keynes in 1973. Jago had painted that house too …. Jago and young Dave had talked together and, Alastair continued, 'Jago must have made an impression as Dave named one of his sons Jago, "after Jago Stone". How charismatic is that?!'

As last month drew to a close, that son of Dave named Jago made Facebook contact with me. That's Jago above. Here's Jago Hartland's email to me a day or so later, dated 1st April, 2020:  

  Hi Rob, 

   Thank you for your fast reply on Facebook. I was quite fascinated to discover your book about Jago Stone and the small mention in regards to my father and myself. Jago Stone had a large impression on my father which of course led him to name me after him - I was glad to discover the wonderful thought behind my name as I grew older! 

   I own a copy of 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion' and Jago and myself seemed to have a similar sense of humour. We also share a fondness for writing and art! I studied A Level Art and my father is an artist weirdly enough. I also published my first children's book in May of 2019 which has had a very good response also. 

   I plan to purchase your book soon and look forward to giving it a read. If you would ever like to have a chat about a possible feature or discussion about Jago then please do get in touch as I find this quite an interesting networking opportunity! 

Kindest regards,

Jago Hartland  

We're on the same wavelength, Jago! I bought Jago Hartland's book on Amazon and read it last

Tuesday 14 April 2020


Time flies - not least during a pandemic - but I think I discovered the genius of Byron Rogers as a writer around 2014, shortly after we arrived in St Ives. Our love of north Wales had already brought the poetry and life of R.S. Thomas within my sights; Thomas' s biography: 'The Man Who Went Into The West' by Byron Rogers (2006) was an irresistible read. Byron Rogers won the James Tait Black Prize for Biography for that life - 'a masterpiece' in the words of one reviewer.

I was hooked. Next I discovered the writings of J.L. Carr ('A Month in the Country'; 'The Harpole Report') and who should be Carr's biographer but none other than Byron Rogers (2003)  - 'The Last Englishman - the Life of J.L. Carr'. That too proved a 'life-affirming' read in the words of another reviewer.

One of my library shelves has most of the books that Byron Rogers has published, including his autobiography.  'Me - The Authorised Biography' by Byron Rogers (2009) is an unforgettable read. The man is a magician with words. I certainly feel influenced by him even if I cannot match the quality which comes from a lifetime playing with language.

Three book recommendations then to start with - and an explanation for my blogpost title that begins with 'Me'. I decided it would be 1) fun, and 2) useful to have my portrait painted by a talented local artist when the opportunity arose around the beginning of the year. A local art gallery and meeting place for those engaged in creative living - the Redwing Gallery in Penzance (see further details by pressing this link) - had launched a crowdfunded campaign to raise money for the next stage of its expansion. I owed the Redwing a debt of gratitude; more copies of 'The Road to Corbyn' have been sold through Redwing than any other outlet (do press this link here if you want to add a copy to your library or are looking for a present to give in these lockdown times). I donated £100 and qualified for one of the crowdfunding prizes: my portrait painted by Lee Stevenson.  

Me by Lee Stevenson (2020)

Lee Stevenson has a website - press here for the link. We squeezed in the sitting - on Saturday, 14 March 2020 - even as the pandemic began to take it's only too predictable hold.

I am thrilled with the oil painting that Lee has created. It sits on a music stand in my room and I can see it when I glance to the left. I have never fully grasped before the difference between a photograph

Monday 13 April 2020


Jacinda Ardern is the prime-minster of New Zealand. I have already sung her virtues in a previous blogpost last week - press this link here. Yesterday, I came across a post that my friend Leo Walker had shared which was written by Alastair Campbell, a former spin-doctor (1997-2003) for Tony Blair. Campbell is very far from where I am politically but I think the thrust of his article is worth sharing. I am indebted to  Scott Palmer for this text below from the msm news website:
Alastair Campbell says Ardern 'standout leader' during COVID-19 crisis 

Jacinda Ardern - New Zealand's prime-minister and leader

'Jacinda Ardern's leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic is being praised by UK journalist and political aide Alastair Campbell, who calls her one of the "standout leaders of this crisis".

Writing for The Independent, Tony Blair's former spin-doctor applauded the Prime Minister for her role in overseeing the relatively small number of cases and deaths here.

"Leadership matters in a crisis, and New Zealand's leader, Prime Minister

Saturday 11 April 2020


The question needs to be asked. Why can't the government of the UK get its act together? Is it incompetence? Or is the inaction deliberate? Or is the answer to the question to be found somewhere on the spectrum between these two possible positions?

Right from the start of this pandemic crisis, the UK government has been smart enough to take shelter behind the 'fact' that all their actions (or inactions) have been shaped by advice from medical and scientific experts. We can't be wrong, government ministers have been implying, because we are acting on what the truths of science and medicine tell us. For the purposes of television and other media images, they have even had the scientific and medical big-wigs standing behind their lecterns beside the prime minister as he leans towards his people behind his and proclaims the goodness of all things Tory under Boris.

Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty

One of those big-wigs is Professor Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer for Health since October 2019. Chris Whitty is Professor of Physic (the term for medicine when the post was first created in 1597) at Gresham College. I came across the name of Chris Whitty in a rather round-about way when my friend, Stephen Vranch, recently recommended the online Gresham Lectures and I began investigating what was on offer.

That's how I discovered - courtesy of a Chris Whitty lecture - Potts disease of the scrotum: an historically important and now, thank goodness, unknown disease. Who suffered from this? Boy chimney sweeps.  Boys as young as 4 were forced up chimneys to clean them; squamous cell carcinoma of the scrotum made its appearance when they reached puberty and had grown too big to continue their work. The Chimney Sweep Act of 1788 made parental consent a requirement and

Thursday 9 April 2020


My public duty is to use my skills as a blogger to shed light on what is happening now in this pandemic - and help explain how we got here. Reread my posts since January and everything the scientific and medical experts are now saying confirms the thrust of the Skwawkbox analysis that has shaped my blogposts. 

Here's one of those voices:

An Honorary Vice-President of the British Medical Association (BMA) - Dr Kailash Chand - has written this statement that appeared on Skwawkbox on Wednesday 8 April, this week:

Former BMA deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand writes:
Boris Johnson has spent a second night in intensive care. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
But his hospitalisation cannot be allowed to distract from the fact that the nation is in a total mess and asking many questions about how it was allowed to get there and how it will get out of it.
World-leading disease-data analysts have projected that the UK will become the country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, accounting for more than 40% of total deaths across the continent - even without the latest ONS revelations that the government has under-reported the figures by more than half.
I sincerely hope and pray the analysts' predictions are wrong. But this government needs to account for Johnson's initial 'take it on the chin' approach and his government's promotion of the idea of 'herd immunity' as a way out of the epidemic.

Dr Kailash Chand - speaking truth to power

That approach meant there was a delay in implementing physical distancing until 23 March, when there were already 54 daily coronavirus deaths. To say it was ignorance and stupidity would be an excessively charitable interpretation.
Johnson addressed the nation at a press conference on 3 March 2020. He claimed that the UK was 'extremely well prepared':
And let's not forget, we already have a fantastic NHS... we will make sure the NHS gets all the support it needs.
When doctors were asked about this in a Guardian survey by Guardian only 1% agreed that the NHS was in a position to cope with the COVID pandemic.
The shortage of doctors, nurses, beds and care packages for elderly patients meant that black alerts, trolleys in corridors and dangerous safety levels were at a peak even before the pandemic hit our shores. On top of that, social care services were and remain in a state of paralysis.
Johnson and his administration showed a total lack of understanding - or disregard for the consequences - of the disease and a shortage of protective equipment in the early weeks of the outbreak in January led to thousands of healthcare workers being infected while treating patients.
The availability of safe equipment is a little better, but still in very short supply and the UK ignored the simple message from the World Health Organisation (WHO)  to 'test, test, test'.
This means that to date we don't know how many people have been infected but have only developed a mild illness. The symptoms might not warrant a doctor's visit, but the infection can still be passed on and every country needs to know how many are infected and isolate those affected.

Test-Test-Test - that's the mantra to bring us health. So why hasn't been happening as promised?
And let's not forget Trace-Trace-Trace. We never hear of any attempts to plot the paths of infection. Why not?

Without comprehensive testing, we are fighting in the dark with no idea how many people in the community are linked in chains of transmission.
Remember, in early March while advising the general public on the virtues of social distancing, Johnson said that he was still shaking hands with everyone, including at a hospital treating coronavirus patients.
I couldn't agree more with Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet medical journal, that the response by this government to Covid is a 'national scandal".
In an editorial, Horton said he would testify to Parliament about a mismatch between "the urgent warning that was coming from the front line in China" and the "somewhat pedestrian evaluation" of the scientific advice to the government on the threat of the virus.
But once this crisis is over, the public will want to know how the NHS came to be left in this exposed position; how social care was stripped away to such a critical extent and how those in power exposed the nation to such a dreaded virus through a 'pedestrian' approach and a Darwinist ideology.
Nothing short of an independent public inquiry will do!  

And here's another Skwawkbox post from Wednesday 8 April 2020:

Arrogance, complacency, incompetence - you will struggle to find a better example of any of them

Health Secretary Matt Hancock talking arrogant nonsense to MPs

As the UK's ability to conduct coronavirus tests crawls questionably upward and his promise of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April looks ever more a perverse fairy tale, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his boss are rightly being criticised for their lack of preparation and their failure to act quickly when the opportunity was there and the need was unmissable.
But the arrogance, complacency and incompetence that underlies the Tories' reckless and lazy approach to what has become a horrific national crisis was plain in Hancock's statement to the House of Commons more than two months ago.
A blasé and pompous Hancock told MPs that:
  • the threat to the UK was 'low'
  • the UK was leading the world on testing
  • the country was 'well prepared' and 'well equipped' to deal with 'these types of outbreaks'
  • that clinicians were ready for diagnosis of the disease and for infection control
The UK's testing capacity, which Hancock and Boris Johnson failed to build up until the crisis was already here - and even now - is a sick joke compared to countries like Germany and South Korea, which actually prepared in advance and followed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance.
Infection control is even worse, with NHS staff left treating infected patients for weeks with utterly inadequate protective equipment and infected care home residents sent home from hospital to infect others just as vulnerable - entirely in line with the lethal 'herd immunity' strategy the government has supposedly abandoned.
Meanwhile, NHS staff who blow the whistle on the dangers, shortages and failures face disciplinary action as health bosses try to cover up the scale of the government's guilt and incompetence.
Nobody in the UK could credibly argue that the UK was ever 'well prepared' or well equipped' - and the mere fact that Hancock could even say 'these types of outbreaks' shows how desperately he had failed to grasp the scale of the threat, in spite of clear warnings from China and the WHO.
Even now, the Tories are ignoring WHO appeals to 'test, test, test' as the only way to defeat the pandemic.
Leading medic Dr Kailash Chand called today for an independent public inquiry into the Tories' handling of the threat and ensuing crisis. This video should be exhibit A - but criminal negligence and manslaughter charges for thousands of avoidable deaths would be more appropriate.'


On 23 March, the government announced that in order to protect the NHS, these measures were to be tightened further, with wide-ranging restrictions made on freedom of movement, enforceable in law,[28] resulting in the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and other similar statutory instruments covering the other home nations
In conclusion, here's a Skwawkbox account of the state of the pandemic in South Korea, one of the first countries to be infected after the outbreak in China. This is a tale of what might have been the case in the UK - and so sadly is not:

Shops open. Schools about to re-open. No healthcare crisis. Just 47 new cases - many of those returning from overseas. All without lock-down

Shops open as usual in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea has provided a damning indictment of the determination of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock to ignore World Health Organisations warnings and recommendations on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK has entered its third week of a lockdown that has gutted its economy and impoverished many of its people - and huge numbers of people continue to become infected, with hundreds dying daily.
And the NHS - already on its knees after a decade of Tory fragmentation and cuts - is in crisis, with front-line staff reduced to trying to hold their breath around infected patients and virus sufferers denied intensive care treatment and sent back home to infect others.
But in South Korea shops have stayed open, people are still working and economic meltdown has been avoided. There has been no 'lock-down' and no healthcare crisis - and the number of new infections in the country was just 47 in the last 24 hours, with a third of those involving people infected overseas and returning to the country. In the last fortnight, half of cases have been returners from abroad.
Because the South Korean government didn't ignore the World Health Organisation on either the seriousness of the virus - or on the need to 'test, test, test' and trace the contacts of every infected person to isolate them and break the chain of transmission:
In the early days of the global outbreak, the UK government dismissed its threat and even when it arrived here, Boris Johnson quipped about 'taking it the chin' as his advisers told the nation the aim was 'herd immunity' - a goal that has now been disguised, rather than abandoned.
Even as death numbers spiralled, the Tories only half-heartedly began to prepare - and the wasted weeks are costing huge numbers of lives: health workers in our crisis-hit NHS are both more likely to die and more likely to transmit the virus to their patients because of lack of testing and lack of protective equipment.
And the UK economy fell apart as workers lost jobs, businesses closed their doors or shut down completely.
While in South Korea, whose government actually listened and acted, life is returning to normal - and never 'locked down' in the first place.
The Tories are now reaching out to other parties in the hope of sharing blame when the UK tries to pick up the pieces shattered by their arrogance and incompetence.
The UK must understand how deep is the guilt of Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and their helpers - and must not be allowed to forget.
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