Let’s catch up with the news from Britain.
No, not the King Charles who looks like his mustache is trying to get away from him. That’s Charles I and he was killed in a long-gone civil war. Also not the King Charles who looks like Bob Dylan in his older, seedier incarnations. That’s Charles II. We’re talking about the bland looking and entirely mustacheless Charles III, who was supposed to go to France on a state visit and do I have no idea what there. Pose for pictures. Shake hands.
No. You don’t do that when you’re a king, do you? You get bowed to.
Would the president of republican France (revolution; La Marseillaise; you remember all that stuff, right?) bow to a king and what does the king do if he won’t? How many diplomats would it take to cut a way through that thicket?
Sadly, we’re not going to find out because the visit’s been called off. Too many strikes in France. Too many protests. It’s postponed until “calm returns.”
That’s doubly disappointing because unionized public sector workers had already announced that they wouldn’t be rolling out the red carpets or hanging the flags that a state visit demands, so we also won’t get to find out what a state visit’s like in the absence of red carpets.
But let’s use the moment to remind ourselves that a few very real somebodies really do have to roll out red carpets if they’re going to be in place at the right time. In this case, the somebodies work at France’s National Furniture Service and they–or at least some of them–are on strike and said in a statement, “We ask our managers to point out to the ministry of culture that any request for furnishings will be seen immediately by workers as a provocation.”
Their managers didn’t say anything like that, however. They said the carpets had already been delivered and nonunion workers would roll them out.
Who should we believe? We’ll never know how the story would’ve ended, but we could compromise and say that there might’ve been a bit of grandstanding on both sides.
I do like that line about any request being seen as a provocation, though. It lays the groundwork for quiet negotiations.
How different is it in Britain?
To the limited extent that I understand Britain after having lived here for 18 years, the country likes to think of France as a volatile, strike-prone, and generally unBritish sort of place, but the similarities are as striking as the differences lately. I got as far as asking Lord Google “who’s on strike…” and he intuited the rest of my question by adding (I couldn’t help but think, wearily) “…today in the UK?” So yes, we’re a tad strike-prone ourselves these days. The long-running strikes by nurses’ an ambulance paramedics’ are on hold while they vote on the government’s well-under-the-rate-of-inflation offer–an offer made after the government spent months swearing it wouldn’t and couldn’t offer more than a peanut butter sandwich and a bourbon cream biscuit.
But even in their absence, the list of late-March strikes (ongoing, upcoming, and recent) is long and included bus drivers, professors (a.k.a. university lecturers), junior doctors (they’re not all particularly junior, but that’s what they’re called anyway), rail workers, passport office workers, teachers, and–sorry, I’ve lost track. Others.
Most of those are government employees or people whose jobs are linked to the government tightly enough that when the government zips up its wallet, no settlement beyond the level of a bourbon cream is possible. And as the government keeps telling us, its wallet is staying firmly zipped because raising pay is inflationary, and they just can’t have that. We’re in a cost-of-living crisisl. This is no time to add fuel to the fire. People will learn to live on what they have.
So what have Members of Parliament learned to live on? Two of them, former health secretary and general laughing stock Matt Hancock and disgraced former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, told the representative of a non-existent South Korean company that they’d charge £10,000 a day to join its international advisory board and help its “clients navigate the shifting political, regulatory and legislative frameworks” in the UK and Europe.
Kwarteng also offered to set up a meeting with Boris Johnson, the “best campaigner you will ever see.”
A third MP, Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative Party’s powerful 1922 Committee, settled for a measly £6,000 a day plus £500 an hour, but he did say he wouldn’t be able to advocate for the company. On the other hand, he could offer it advice about who to approach in government.
Nothing about any of that is illegal as long as the MPs declare the income, the proper magic feathers are waved over the appropriate paperwork, and the correct formulas are spoken in broken Latin.
As the old song says, it’s nice (and completely non-inflationary) work if you can get it.
The sting was set up by the unpredictable and inspired campaign group Led by Donkeys.
How about Boris Johnson?
He wasn’t part of the sting–why bother?–but pound for pound he leaves these guys in the dust. In the (more or less) six months since he was run out of office, he’s pocketed just short of £5 million in outside earnings.
Outside of what? Why his £84,000 salary as an MP, of course. And hs assorted expenses. That puts his outside earnings at something like £25,000 a day, much of it for giving speeches.
Why would anyone want to listen to him? Sorry, the world’s a much stranger place than I can possibly take in, never mind explain, but I will say that paying the man to speak doesn’t guarantee that anyone listens.
Who else has outside earnings?
If you pile all our current MPs in a heap and empty their pockets (let me know in advance if you can; I’d love to take pictures), you’ll find that in the past year, collectively, they earned £9.6 million outside of their MPs salaries. That’s up from a mere £6 million in the 18 months prior to that.
Of this year’s take, 90% went to Conservatives.
You can sort the numbers out differently, though. If you look at how many MPs from which parties held second jobs in their desperate efforts to make ends meet in inflationary times, it works out like this: Among the Conservatives, some 43% work second jobs. Or at least, Open Democracy classifies the work as second jobs, although a lot of it looks like freelancing to me. Never mind. I’m quibbling. Among Labour MPs, that’s 38%. Among Scottish National Party MPs, it’s 34%. Among Liberal Democrats, it’s 57%, and among the Democratic Unionists it’s 37%.
Be gentle with those last two percentages, though. Open Democracy gave the last bits of data in absolute numbers and I turned to Lord Google for help in percentifying them. It’s risky, leaving me to transport numbers from one location to another, so I’m not offering money-back guarantees.
One of the mysteries of British editing is that not everyone seems to notice how useful it is to put statistics into parallel formats. I don’t get it. But never mind that. We’re close enough to see that the parties indulge roughly equally but that the big earners are the Conservatives.
None of those numbers include rental income or shareholdings, presumably because making money that way doesn’t take up an MPs valuable time or influence their policies, so it’s okay if they’re invisible. Or maybe gentlemen are expected to make their money that way, so no one keeps track.
But the government’s not standing idly by…
…while the country falls apart. It’s going to step forward decisively and ban the sale of nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas and give the police extra super-powers to test for it. Experts say the ban’s disproportionate and likely to do more harm than good, but what do they know? Something needs banning and by gum, this is indeed something.
In the meantime, elsewhere in the solar system
. . . an asteroid big enough to wipe out a city has slipped between the orbits of Earth and her moon without hitting either one. It was approached by representatives of a doomsday cult and invited–even begged–to make full physical contact, but after a brief study of Earth and its inhabitants declined to get involved.
An update on Hafiza
Afghan artist Hafiza Qasimi has arrived in Germany on a three-year visa and is preparing to take part in an exhibition of Afghan artists and spend three months living and working in an artists village. In these days when most of what we hear is the sound of relatively safe countries slamming their doors in the faces of refugees, I’m happy to celebrate the freedom and safety of one brave human being. I only wish the opportunity didn’t come to us so rarely.