Today was one of those nondescript days which, I suppose, is typical of November. The sky was overcast but it was not actually raining so we ventured forth and picked up our newspaper before our sojourn in the local park. We were half way through our coffee and comestibles when our good Italian friend hove into view and we exchanged pleasanteries and observations about the weather. Just then, our intrepid octogenerian walker came by on the first of his two laps of the park. He had been out with his family for Sunday lunch the day before and I made a mental note of the carvery which he had frequented so we might go there one weekend if we are entertaining. After a while our friend departed and it was time for us to make our way home and prepare lunch.
This afternoon was the day scheduled to a three hour debate called by the Liberal Democrats on the Owen Paterson ‘sleaze’ debate: Meg and I decided to sit through all of the three hour debate and it proved riveting (to us, at least) Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, sat on the government front bench and was the epitome of misery throughout. After all, it is a rare event for a Tory to have to sit and have abuse hurled at you from all sides but as Rees Mogg was not going to speak in the debate, he just had to sit there and endure it. MPs as a whole launched a blistering attack on an absent Boris Johnson during the emergency debate. Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of ‘giving the green light to corruption’ after his government tried to overturn the suspension of shamed former cabinet minister Paterson, before trying to shut down parliament’s standards committee entirely. The Tory benches were almost entirely empty (no doubt the Paterson ‘friends’ stayed away) and in the course of three hours, Paterson only had about two defenders in the whole of the three hour debate. The main Tory line of defence was that the verdict on Paterson by the Committee of Priveliges was flawed in the extreme because there was no appeal process with independent questionning of witnesses. The counter to this was that there was a quasi-appeal process built into the process because after the committee had concluded the outline of its report, the MP before the committee had the right to appear in person and to submit more evidence in writing. However, as Chris Bryant the (Labour) chair of the committee pointed out, there was hardly a need for an appeal process because Owen Paterson had denied any of the facts of the case and, indeed, said he would do the same again. The overwhelming view of the House of Commons in the debate was that Peterson was ‘guilty as charged‘, that natural justice had been done, and the government’s attempt to subvert the whole process by issuing a three-line whip to Tory MPs to reject the guilty verdict as evidence of corruption. To get the overall verdict on this, it will be interesting to see what ‘NewsNight‘ on BBC2 makes of all of this at 10.30 and ‘What the papers say‘ on Sky News at 11.30
One does get the impression that the government is starting to panic with the COVID situation as it is. For a start, there are still 4.5 million people who have not received even their first doses of the vaccine and only 10 million (out of 50 million?) have received the booster vaccine. A fact not much appreciated is that as the immunity offered by the vaccine wanes over time, then those who received their first jabs in September may have precious little immunity left six months later. People are being urged to book their second jabs as quickly as possible and already there are accounts that some hospitals are under extreme pressure, not least because they are understaffed and there is quite an absenteeism rate with COVID anyway. Laying bare the toll of the past 19 months on the profession, an investigation has showed nursing staff are needing more time off for mental health problems, respiratory illness and migraines than they did prior to Covid-19 and absenteeism rates are up a fifth on pre-pandemic times. Those absent with mental health or stress-related conditions has increased by about 40% over the last year. So the government is actually pretty worried that they are caught in the vicious pincer movement between an understaffed NHS on the hand hand and a mixture of winter-related seasonal illnesses with COVID on top on the other hand.
I am hopeful that tomorrow might continue to quite a fine day. Before the fine weather disappears almost completely, I want to get little bits of ‘routine’ gardening done at the rate of about 20 minutes or so a day. I know from bitter experience that if you start off the spring with a generally weed-free garden, you get off to a flying start – and vice versa.