2007 - 2021

State of Denial

I’m following Robert Macfarlane, the author of Underland, The Lost Words and much more and his Word of the Day is: “cantilevered” – ‘of a structure, situation or person, extended out over a void; held in place & kept aloft by support that can scarcely be seen; hanging on despite the downwards draw.

That’s where we find ourselves: extended over a void huddled around screens, baking our Shepherd Pies, working out with Joe Wickes, trying to connect on Facebook and Skype and Jitsi and Zoom.
Denial is a coping method and a well-worn one. It’s our default setting. We are used to shielding ourselves from the climate reality by pretending its not happening but this is proving more difficult to avoid.
Levels of denial about the scale of the problem differ, and the problem is not helped by a media that seems to think its purpose is to act as a cross between Vera Lynn and Nicholas Witchell. The BBC as a sort of cheerleader for the government isn’t a new phenomenon but its one of the many things that become more acute in the current crisis.
At times of 1000 death a day (a conservative estimate) and with our criminally under-funded NHS lacking the kit it needs, we need more than ever a critical media to hold politicians to account. At times this week it didn’t really seem clear who was running the country with the BBC News telling us that Boris Johnson was a “larger than life character” as if this was, somehow, relevant or appropriate in our global pandemic. The best they could do on Wednesday was to tell us that he was “conscious” as if this was some sort of great boost to all of us finding this difficult. “Oh well, times are hard, but at least the PM’s actually conscious”.
Good Morning Britain ran a piece about a fifteen year-old cadet in Cheshire called Chris who was making 30 protective visors a day to be supplied to NHS staff, including his aunt Joanne”.
What should be a badge of shame was turned into a good news story to cheer us up.
I don’t want to know about Boris’s “spirit” I want to know why we aren’t testing, I want to know why people are still flying into this country unchecked, I want to know where the fucking ventilators are, why they’ve not issued hand sanitiser to every household, where the PPE masks are and on and on. I don’t want to re-live the Blitz through the lens of some insane patriotic broadcast journalist interested in the nations morale.
What we face in this precarious position is a public health crisis that has a long way to go and that we know little about. It hasn’t fully hit the USA yet and the consequences of that experience landing on a deeply divided society with no public health system and a public armed to the teeth is terrifying.
We haven’t seen it sweep through the global south yet and the consequences of that are difficult to comprehend.
If the economic hit is as seismic as is being predicted, and there is no real reason to think otherwise, then we will have to support people to avoid destitution.
In this light we need to make some drastic cuts and reforms to pay for all of this.
In a report this week by Will Fitzgibbon and Ben Hallman explaining how #OffshoreFinance works and why it matters, they estimated that the World Health Organization’s budget is $4 billion and that each year, tax havens swallow up 200 times that amount.
They write:
“With the help of lawyers, accountants, white-shoe professionals and complicit Western governments, the wealthy and well-connected have avoided paying trillions of dollars in taxes. The rest of us cover the difference — or, more commonly, can’t, leaving treasuries bereft of monies needed to build roads, schools and tackle existential threats like climate change and global pandemics. Tax havens make it all possible. By some estimates, about 10 percent of the total output of all the economies in the world is parked in offshore financial centers, held by shell companies that exist only on paper. The cost to governments, in lost revenue, is estimated to exceed $800 billion a year.”
So the first and the most obvious reform we need to make is stop this grand-scale larceny. For that we’ll need a different set of politicians and political structures.
But the second thing we need to do is wake up from our state of denial and cancel a whole number of tragically stupid projects that should never have been commissioned in the first place.
In no particular order: the Trident replacement (£205bn), HS2 (£106bn), Hinkley nuclear power station (£22.5bn), Crossrail (£18bn), Brexit (Brexit is costing the UK £500 million a week – or £26 billion per annum, according to research by the Centre for European Reform), the Monarchy (£350m) and restoration of the Palace of Westminster at a cool £6bn+.
There. I’ve just found the country £383 billion down the back of the sofa.
We’ll need every penny.
These projects were ridiculous in a pre-covid world and they’re obscene in a post-covid world.
We are rightly obsessed with our immediate public health emergency but we must look to the future and the inevitable economic chaos that is coming. In a word where “security” and “defence” have completely different meaning, there is no role for weapons of mass destruction. The monarchy has been conspicuous by its absence other than a five minute broadcast by the Queen – described by Adam Ramsay as “a moment of royalist propaganda salivated over by the establishment media, and a moment of nationalist propaganda in the middle of a global crisis.”
If the crisis reveals the total failure of elite rule by those that govern us, the monarchy is the apogee of that broken hierarchy.
We’ll need to change the nature of the economy. But there are many things that these funds could be usefully channeled into. We can call this: Doing Everything that We Should have Been Doing Anyway.
From creating the re-localised resilient circular economy we only talked about, to reclaiming our food system to being fit for purpose, to creating a universal basic income scheme, to building public housing and creating a viable net zero economy. Proper zero-carbon transport systems, viable cities and an economy based on being rather than shopping will need some changes too.
The transformation ahead of us is something none of us have ever seen before, and the chronic failures and consequences of our denial culture have made it much more difficult than if we had faced these realities long ago. Instead we have jollied along with Casino Capitalism and we’ll have to do it all anyway. Let’s get on with it.

Comments (31)

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  1. Wul says:

    That picture of that submarine is chilling.

    We can make giant mechanical whales, that can swim around the world to launch enough poison to incinerate millions of other people, in cities hundreds of miles from the sea. Yet we can’t provide a plastic face shield to a nurse during an entirely predictable health emergency.

    1. Squigglypen says:

      Brilliant comment Wul.

  2. Stroller says:

    Hard-hitting stuf Mike, which is exactly what is required, so nothing at all like languid, laidback, easy come-easy go Hugh Pim of the BBC and the coterie of sycophants who pass for a press corps and their inane and wishy-washy questions…

    Other things we could cancel are, as George Monbiot alerted us to last week, 138 new F35 aircraft, part of the UK gov’s enhanced defense budget which should also serve to remind us that we are not fighting a “war against an invisible enemy” but a virus which military hardware is going to do nothing against at all – nor of course will it be of any use against climate change etc. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/08/national-defence-corona-pandemic-fighter-jets

    I read that in Africa, they have opted for the Asian method of dealing with the crisis – isolating, testing and tracing – because they simply do not have the hospitals for any other approach. They also have more experience than Europe from the Ebola crisis. So both Asia and Africa will probably come out of this a lot less damaged than Europe will, whose catatonic governments sat on their hands while neighbouring populations were struck down: Italy watched China, Spain watched Italy, Britain watched all three cases unfold, with death totals in the high hundreds, and did next to nothing.

    The lack of kit is I think espeically inexcusable… to see govt officials go on about “our wonderful NHS” and about us “all being in it together” while the death toll of health professionals rises each day sticks in the craw, Much more could and should have been done for NHS staff, and Hancock, who has the air of a holiday camp stand up comedian in my eyes, should be sacked as soon as the worst of this is over….

    Could the SNP govt have struck out and opted for a different approach to London given all the evidence? Would that have made scientific sense? Could we in Scotland have locked down earlier? I don’t know.

    Fintan O’Toole’s take on it is 100% right, (again in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/11/coronavirus-exposed-myth-british-exceptionalism) when he points out that the Tory government believed that it was more palatable to let thousands of people die than tamper with a few mythological “ancient English liberties” like going to the pub…

    …it beggars belief that this bunk could ever be given due consideration in formulating crucial public health policy affecting 60 million people, but there you have it. And obviously, Boris and his buddies thought they were immune to the virus themselves, it’s the kind of thing which only a “big girl’s blouse” would ever worry about…

    It’s like the “British values” obsession I mentioned on another page – from the descendants of an elite who looted and sacked two of the greatest civilizations on earth – India and China a mere 100 years ago – and who continue to think that they are the benchmark for “civilization” both in Europe and the world, when all the evidence suggests completely the opposite.

    British exceptionalism is to blame for everything from Brexit, to disorbitant defence spending and Trident, to the monarchy and the rabid tabloid press. This time though it is literally killing us… which makes a change from it killing people with brown or black skin in far off places…

    …at the very least, I suppose, there is always that.

    1. Thanks Stroller. Interesting what you say about Africa, I hadnt thought of it that way.

      1. Stroller says:

        Whether they’ll be able to contain it is another matter I guess. As for the health secretary at those daily press briefings, they should just go and call it Hancock’s Half Hour….with a touch of Paul Daniels thrown in as they ask him about kit and tests – “think of a number, any number you like….”…..

        1. Wul says:

          Spot on Stroller.
          I heard one of Boris’s cabinet tell us that, if he “knew anything about this PM” it is that “he will be back fighting, stronger than ever” after his brush with Covid 19.

          I’d been hoping that Boris might return to office with an acute sense of his own vulnerability, feelings of humility and a realisation that every one of us is dependant on other people for our survival.

          1. Stroller says:

            Boris is going to be knackered for months from what I have read about it….it takes the body months to fully recover…
            So in the meantime, we get this Raab/ Gove / Patel nightmarish hybrid three headed beast of ill omen running the country during the biggest national crisis since WWII. Just great.
            I saw Priti Patel trying to do sorry last night, an preternatural, uncanny sight….the woman has obviously never apologized so much as once in her life.
            If Keir Starmer gets his shit together, then Labour could make some real inroads here…

      2. Stroller says:

        The scientists still don’t understand the virus enough in any case, Bella. It seems to wreak havoc especially on men rather than women, BAME rather than white ethnicities, and second rate English comedians, with the Tim Brooke Taylor from the Goodies dying today after Eddie Large shuffled off this mortal coil just last week.

        Boris more or less fits into the latter category. And now that the man is not actually going to die, I think it is well worth pausing to have a good laugh at our PM who shook hands with Covid 19 patients and flagrantly breached his own government’s guidelines on camera… serves him bloody right.

        What of that snake in the grass Cummings? Might special government advisors be especially susceptible to the silent killer too?

        1. Stroller says:

          How exactly would you go about preparing a dish consisting of fresh bat? A soup? A stew? Grilled on the hot plate? A pie? Bat pie?

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Stroller, I think the question is not so much how many COVID-19 people Boris Johnson shook hands with, but how many healthy people he managed to infect.

          1. Stroller says:

            Well, there is a good chance he infected Cummings, so you’ve got to give him some credit I suppose….

            …it’s our Nicola I’m worried about, though presumably she would keep several meters away from a Tory like Boris, Corona virus or no Corona virus….

            Apologies for any offence caused by this attempt at light-heartedness, going into week 4 of lockdown and beginning to seize up / crack up….

          2. Alasdair Macdonald says:


            Sadly, there are a few people on pro-independence sites who would appear to be quite happy if the First Minister were to be incapacitated.

          3. Stroller says:

            Thanks Alasdair, and I’m afraid you’re righ about Sturgeon, though I wondered for a minute when I saw your reply if you weren’t in fact going to answer my question about how exactly you would prepare a bat dish in the kitchen….

            As a matter fo fact, I now have the answer to that query: batatoullie, which is exactly like ratatoullie, except instead of using rat, you use bat, right?

    2. Gordon McAuslane says:

      India and China are history. You should read what genocidal armed robbery is being carried out by the Anglophone nations today in John Pilger’s ‘The New Rulers of the World’! All sanctioned by the UN which they totally control. The Pandemic pales into insignificance compared to the millions of lives lost to British and American ‘interests’ in these poorly armed countries.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you. This was the piece I needed today.

  4. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Quite, Mike. Who ever thought Russia Today’s, Jesse Ventura, might suddenly become worthy of our attention.

  5. J Galt says:

    I think you’ll find the £18billion for Crossrail is already spent – it’s built and is currently being commissioned – two years or so late but that’s not bad going with projects like this.

  6. Edward D says:

    Whenever NHS underfunding is mention I always think of the 5 to £20 billion per year which is the cost of privatisation.

  7. Richard Easson says:

    I had a dream the other night of a trident-type submarine out on patrol with all the crew being affected by plague and all dying on board below the surface and having to be brought back to port (Faslane-like) under remote control.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    Indeed. Our rulers’ fair-weather ideologies break down in bad times (and often in good times), only to be propped up by anarchistic self-organizing (as happened after the Grenfell Tower fire, which activity was even lavishly praised by a BBC television reporter) and/or effective state socialism. It’s a broad malaise; people are still peddling fairweather crap like well-regulated and secure nuclear-powered cargo ships. Ideologies and technologies need to be tested against planetary realism.

    On establishment behaviour: hypocrisy and cant are traditional British values. Public virtue, private vice. Rulers not obeying their own (lockdown etc.) rules. It is a nod and wink. They talk the talk (cant) and then privately sin (hypocrisy) whilst the public impotently rails against them when they find out. The public are supposed to find out (from time to time, selectively), that is the point: to feel powerless, while the hypocritical ruler feels more powerful, having gotten away with something that lessers would not. By this kind of vice-signalling, they show who is in charge (parents beware of using this template).

    Different people champion the ant or the grasshopper. The ant, a conscientious worker, labours in summer to prepare for the bad times ahead, whilst the grasshopper… well, have a look at different versions and make your own minds up.

    You might think the British had learnt the lesson of relying on plans where everything has to go right, after Market Garden (interesting analysis in Antony Beevor’s book, where he says that the idea was to give the British a chance to punch above their weight before then end of WW2). Bristle with nuclear weapons — some under US control, gut the health service, feed the country through a straw; what could go wrong?

  9. Stroller says:

    It’s worth pointing out I feel that the Spanish health ministry and newspapers have been much better in terms of graphs and charts and PowerPoint displays than the Brits. Their charts look much better, better crafted, nicer colours and much more detail.

    Their daily press briefings are more technical and less political. The technical, sanitary aspect of the matter is divorced from the political side.

    Also, most importantly, they include a statistic which is absent from the UK breifings. Which is the crucial data of the contagion rate. This is the key underlying figure which offers some key information on the trend.

    So, at the beginning of the outbreak in Spain, the figures was 1/3. That is, every infected person was infecting another 3 people. Now the figure in Spain is 1/.08, so that each infected person infects less than one person, and the virus is dwindling over all. It is on the basis of this figure that some restrictions are being lifted tomorrow (a mistake I fear)…..

    Why does the UK gov never include this figure in It’s briefings…? It’s the key figure after all….

    1. Stroller says:

      Also, related to this, is this idea which Hancock and co put about again today for the nth time which is that nobody knows when the peak is going to come.

      Well, that is not what they said in Spain. In Spain, from the very start of lockdown, the public were given an approximate date when the peak was going to come, which anybody can work out more or less, which is three weeks into lockdown – symptoms taking up to two weeks to develop, and patients taking on average another week after becoming symptomatic to resort to going into hospital.

      So, by that rule of thumb, we should be at the peak about now, if Spain and Italy too – the Italians said the very same thing – are models to go by. It should be said that coming down from the peak is a slow process from what we are seeing in both Spain and Italy…

      But the idea that epidemologists don’t have a pretty sure idea about when the peak of a virus is coming is just untenable… they’re lying to us so people don’t go out and enjoy the fresh air I imagine.

      1. magrab says:

        Stroller, interesting comments about Spain, but “Their daily press briefings are more technical and less political.” The unliteral recentralization of health, security and now education without a blink to the regions is “less political”, on what scale? If Scotland’s government was treated this way, I’m fairly sure you’d call it political.

        “The technical, sanitary aspect of the matter is divorced from the political side.” Seen from Catalonia, the constant use of “together” is no coincidence. Everywhere, including TV ads, many state subsidised. Bemedalled generals at press conferences and deployment of army as opposed to consultation and coordination may not be political, but is certainly ideological. As is the haughty brushing off of regional expertise as inferior, basically on hierarchical grounds.

        The anecdote of the week is the use of a Covid briefing to announce “La @guardiacivil recupera 30 kilos de naranjas y limones que habían sido sustraídos y, gracias a Dios, los devuelve a sus dueños”. (Civil Guard recovered 30 k of stolen oranges and lemons , which thank God have been returned to their owners). They say this crisis is revealing what underpins each state – I’ll leave it to you to decide what currently underpins the UK.

        “Also, most importantly, they include a statistic which is absent from the UK breifings.” Well we’ve just seen the Catalan government adopt a scary new count method, while none of the 17 regions uses the same base, sadly reinforcing the stereotype that Spain is good at making rules, but they’re always meant for other people.

        Please keep the comparisons going, we all need to learn from other experiences. If that means seeing bottles half full or half empty, is in the eye of the beholder!

        1. Stroller says:

          I guess what I mean is that the Spanish epidemologist Fernando Simón cuts a better figure than the English ones who appear on The Matt Hancock Show each day at 5.00pm on British TV with Hancock’s rotating assortment of star guests from the world of UK medicine. When, I wonder, will the penny drop and they finally opt for a couch, armchair and lounge format which could do so much to boost ratings?

          Simón, he of the sandpapery, scratchy voice and gentle, mild manners, is quitely credible in a way that the UK epidemologists are not. They seem embarrassed most of the time to be so clueless about what is going on, and the last thing you want to see are so-called experts looking embarrassed.

          And in the UK they are always relcutant to give the R number. Though maybe there is a reason for that? How sure can you be of the retransmission rate when you don’t know how many asymptomatic people are walking about with the disease? The asymptomatics are the joker in the pack…

          The graphs and detailed information are better in the Spanish newspapers too, so that in El Diario I can see which neighbourhoods in Madrid have most cases (Leganés) not just a regional figure like in the UK. And I get the R number. I saw the R number for the UK was 1.2 yesterday in El Pais. I have never seen that number quoted in the UK press, for all that the BBC “is the best broadcaster in the world” etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah…

          It’s true in Spain you have those old rancid traits from Spain’s ancient past, meaning the pre-democratic era which ended 40 years ago. Fascist habits die hard in the Kingdom…

          One thing for sure, the Germans have made a better job of it than anybody, they have left the rest of Europe looking like suckers…

  10. Zoonotic Huawei says:

    Perhaps we have over extended our phenotype just a little. Perhaps we should give some habitat back to wild plants and animals. This would help to prevent the transfer of viruses from animals to humans. Perhaps we should finally acknowledge that loss of habitat is caused by an expanding human population.

  11. Alistair Taylor says:

    Bloody excellent article, Mike.
    Great comments, Stroller, Wul, SleepingDog.
    This is the sort of writing that needs to be shared far and wide.
    We’re into increasingly “interesting times”.

  12. George Gunn says:

    Great, but depressing article, Mike. Stroller asks “Could the SNP govt have struck out and opted for a different approach to London given all the evidence? Would that have made scientific sense? Could we in Scotland have locked down earlier?” The answer is yes. The other question is “Why didn’t they, as health is devolved?”

    1. It is a good question George. I assume they felt that as it unfolded a ‘four nation’ response made most sense, in terms of joint working, sharing and coordinating resources and avoiding the complication of having different policies across the border. That may or may not have been the right thing to do, but then as it unfolded it may have been difficult to change course from this as they see how disastrously the UK govt has handled this.

    2. Stroller says:

      I guess it would have been a hard sell to diverge back at the start of this from London Covid19 policy…
      I am more freaked out by the fact they won’t give us the contagion rate.
      Why are they not releasing that figure? They must have it.
      Unless they have released it and I’ve missed it?
      It’s the most important figure in terms of the near future by far.
      And it’s also what has kept people from going completely insane in Spain and Italy, to see the contagion rate drop from 3:1 to 2:1 to 1:1 over the course of several weeks despite the death rate climbing relentlessly…. and now at last the figure is finally below 1…
      What is the contagon rate in Scotland and the UK? It’s really basic stuff…

  13. Jim McGuinness says:

    Interesting and most relevant in its simplicity. Uncomplicated and direct. This article hits the point in so many ways while successfully laying out quite clearly to the reader a number of routes that could/should be adopted to boost the battered purse of the real important sectors within our society.

  14. Supporter of Boris. says:

    Utter Shite.

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