Monday, 9th January, 2023

[Day 1029]

Today dawned bright and clear and it has all of the potents of being quite a fine day. I had a good night’s sleep last night, partly due to the fact that I tried an experiment which worked really well. I have a little legacy Sony DVD/CD player bought many moons ago but not really brought into much use until now. But last night, I had Brahm’s German Requiem playing gently in the background. The trick always of course is to set the level of the music sufficiently high to hear it if one wants to but at a sufficiently low level to fall asleep and this seems to work like a dream, so to speak. The little Sony is rechargeable so there are no cables involved to trip over and it just gets recharged in the morning. Before breakfast, I tried to contact a bank (nameless, but a High Street brand) in order to activate and solve a query but I was informed that there would be a wait of about 20 minutes so I followed their advice to try again later. After we had breakfasted and seen to some routine emails, we went down into town to pick up our newspaper and also made a lightning visit into Waitrose to pick up some last minute supplies. Then there was a walk round the lake in the park but, as it was such a fine dy, it might have been better for us to have prepared a flask of coffee and occupied our normal park bench. Over the last week or so with the interruption of Christmas and the New Year, we have rather got out of our normal park walk activities as we have sometimes succumbed to having coffee in the Waitrose coffee bar. So we had our elevenses back home and then cooked ourselves a conventional Monday type lunch. As part of the more general New Resolutions package, I am trying (and not for the first time) to train myself to do without sugar (evidently) and sweeteners in any tea or coffee drink that I make for myself. I have to say that the tea I usually drink just tasted like so much hot water so I looked at the contents of our pantry cupbaords and discovered that I had some different teas to try out. We happened to have quite a large jar of ‘Rooibos’ tea (presumably Dutch/Afrikaans for ‘red bush’) which is not really a tea at all. It is caffeine free and a host of health benefits are claimed for it but these all tend to be at the anecdotal level rather than backed by any authoritative science. However, it probably does no harm and once you get used to the flavour, it is unquestionably superior to the alternative. So I will stick with this for a week or or to give it a good trial.

The Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, announced that the government intended to block book 2,500 places in residential homes and in hotels at a cost of about £200 million. Even in Parliament, Steve Barclay, was attacked by members from his own side when it was pointed out that other countries were coping with these winter pressures so why could not the UK? Another question raised in Parliament to which there was no real answer was that given the known shortages of staff in the care sector, where the extra staff was going to come from to cater for the needs of of those occupying the 2,500 places? There was some vague talk of increasing recruitment from overseas but presumably this would run foul of the Brexit philosophy and the notoriously underpaid social care sector would not meet the quite high income ‘bar’ that would be migrants would have to face. Another part of the policy that appeared farcical was the announcement that A&E departments could be augmented by ‘modular units’ which sounds suspiciously like a ‘PortaKabin’ solution to expand A&E bit without any plan to deal wth the staffing issue. The talks with the health sector unions to halt the next wave of strikes came to nothing and was not even mentioned by the Health Secretary in his statement to Parliament. This does sound more like a bit of sticking plaster to close a gaping wound. As the government are even now publishing plans to make certain industries (such as health) agree to Minimum Service Levels or to be sacked, then the prospect is being raised that instead of increasing staff levels, the Government solution to the crisis is to talk of sacking the striking nurses and junior doctors. Will this ever come to fruition, one asks oneself.

The other big story, largely as the result of an initiative by Sky News, is the publication of a large database indicating the sources of extra ‘income’ that accrue to MPs other than their Parliamentary salary. The information released is jawdropping as in the current parliament some £183 million has gone, quite legally, into the pockets of MPs. In one case, Sky News discovered that nobody had heard of a company donating hundreds of thousands to Labour MPs on a visit to its registered address, while the office of another company that donates to 24 Tory MPs was shut and apparently out of action. As Sky news say ‘More than £183m has flowed into the British political system during this Parliament, straight from wealthy individuals or companies, and into the bank accounts of political parties, all-party parliamentary groups, and the campaign funds and constituencies of government ministers and MPs from all political parties.’