What did you think in 2020 daddy?

For the record I felt it necessary to set down my views on events during 2020. Not by way of aggrandisement but merely to illustrate my experience I set out my career. My blog is not widely available and it is the only place where it will be published.

I was born in 1946 shortly after the end of the World War II. My parents were involved in local politics from my teenage years, so while I may not even then have been sympathetic to their thinking, I was familiar with the debates. I would have been regarded as a conservative head boy at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, not especially academic and more interested in cricket and chess.

I was at Southampton University from 1965 to 1968 seeking a Law Degree but disinterested in the student demonstrations of 1968. I undertook articles with Sir John Donne in Brighton and then qualified as a solicitor in 1971 working in Brighton. I moved to the Legal Department of the London Borough of Camden in 1972, where during that decade I had my first close experience of politics. I played cricket at Hampstead, where I was regarded as a leftie, while my friends in the local authority, especially among the social workers with whom I worked, probably saw me as a right winger. On the one hand I had little sympathy for their strikes, or the later miners’ demonstrations, but on the other I recall furious arguments with my father about the demerits of Thatcherism. As an aside I note that at least she had principles and you knew what she was about.

Throughout the 1970s I was involved in the legal side of child welfare work, eventually writing with a leading academic, Professor Nigel Lowe, and developing multi-disciplinary activities, which included working with government departments, but in truth until the 1980s, although the political environment was part of my everyday life, the practice of it was a bit of a sideshow.

In the early 1980s I undertook research on children in care with Margaret Adcock, a leading social worker, and started training around the country, which increased my insight into the widespread shortcomings of services and provision for children and families. In the mid 1986 with Michael Sherwin I established a solicitors’ practice, which was to become a leading exponent of child law. About the same time I started work on children’s legislation which led to writing about the Children Act 1989. Later I chaired some dozen child death inquiries. Increasingly I was engaged with central and local government departments, politics and politicians and the mechanics of legislating and legislation, as well as the judiciary and professional organisations.

After implementation of the Children Act in 1991 I began to look towards judicial work and in 1994 was appointed as what later became known as a Tribunal Judge deciding cases relating to special educational needs. In 2008 my jurisdiction was extended to include appeals against Department of Work and Pensions decisions about welfare benefits. I continued as a Tribunal Judge until 2018.

So I have had a wide-ranging experience of the legislative, parliamentary and administrative systems of this country and held influential positions as a Judge, Honorary Professor of Law, Solicitor for many different types of client, Chair of professional organisations and author. My professional life has looked for coordination and resolution not confrontation.

That brings me to what has been happening in 2020. I have to start by stating that I am committed to the concept that the United Kingdom should operate within structures that align us with our nearest neighbours. I am probably influenced by having been born at the end of a war involving those neighbours and which had a malign effect on my early years. It is not an experience I would wish on future generations.

The 2016 Referendum asked the electorate to express a view on whether the United Kingdom should exit from the European Union. By a small majority they voted in favour of leaving. They were misled on issues about immigration, the bases of decision making in the UK and in the EU, described by some as sovereignty, and the economic consequences of remaining or leaving. The Government of the day, pressured by its right wing which has always been anti-European, decided to leave. In my opinion what has effectively happened over the last four to five years has been a right wing coup engineered by a small group of narrow-minded, politically powerful people who have taken the opportunity to advance their personal and financial interests. They have manipulated an uncomprehending population, with little understanding of the concept of sovereignty or how our state is managed. Many wanted a return to a Britain long since past. Many have long felt disenfranchised and saw nothing to lose by leaving the EU. Little did they know that things could get even worse.

I have concluded that in order to carry out this coup the last four years have been notable for the most dishonest and incompetent governing I have had the misfortune to observe in the fifty five years I have described above. In 2020 we have a Cabinet chosen solely for their adherence to the one guiding principle of removing the United Kingdom from the stable political environment in which it has flourished for forty years. Power has been centralised to emasculate any opposition there might be. Ministers all appear more concerned with the impact on their political futures than on the effects on the well-being of the population. Regrettably this has coincided with the most extreme and incompetent Opposition the country has known for a generation. They all know that the economic effect of of the guiding principle will be to lower living standards. On the fraudulent basis that the country will take back a sovereignty it had never lost, we move into national isolation and a reduction of international influence, so important to the way in which the United Kingdom has functioned for generations.

We have a Prime Minister best known historically for being a bounder, a chancer and a liar; a Foreign Secretary, who didn’t know where Dover was, a Home Secretary best known for being a bully, an ignorant, vacillating and pusillanimous Education Secretary, the Cabinet Minister whose political decisions vacillate depending on current ambition, a Minister of Justice not noted as being a man of action, an Attorney General willing to ignore the rule of law and a Health Secretary unable to manage the simplest of agencies within the NHS. All are willing to pay organisations enormous amounts of money to provide services about which they have no known competence. All have been under the sway of a self-important political appointee, only too willing to impose constraints on the populace at large, which he chose not to follow himself. I see no reason to trust what they say or adhere to what they dictate.

For four years these people have been wholly preoccupied by this political drive, to such an extent that other considerations have been put to one side, with the consequence that the country has been ill-equipped to deal with any difficulties. Into that environment steps Coronavirus, considered by many to be the worst health crisis facing the country in the last hundred years, with economic effects which are probably the worst since World War II. The pandemic has undoubtedly created problems which would have been difficult for a competent government with outstanding leadership to manage. We are unfortunate to have quite the opposite at this critical time.

I no longer watch government announcements or party political broadcasts about the virus. I see no reason to trust what they say or believe in their competence to make decisions about its management. I filter what I can from more reliable sources. I keep informed about government diktats but whether I follow them will depend on my and my family’s personal circumstances and a general desire not to risk wider transmission of infection. That is not to say that I have not followed guidance but my current circumstances are such that I have no reason to believe I have a real risk of exposure. I recognise that guidance has to be applied on the basis of benefit for the population at large, but given my observations of the lack of exercise of personal responsibility among large numbers of the general population or among politicians, their safety is secondary.

So in conclusion we have the most serious health crisis in a century and implementation of the most serious and contentious political decision in the last seventy years, when we have the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in my lifetime. It is all most regrettable. I am comforted only by the belief that honest, right-minded people will in due course thrive.

Richard White

31 December 2020

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