Pandemic Underscores Need for British Health Reform

St Thomas Hospital London England
St Thomas’ Hospital in London, England, January 31, 2019 (iStock/Ray Lipscombe)

COVID-19 has overwhelmed all health-care systems, but few were as ill prepared as the British.

The National Health Service (NHS) has almost 100,000 job openings, including close to 40,000 for nurses.

The pandemic exacerbated the shortages; because doctors and nurses contracted the virus or quit in exhaustion while demand for health care went up.

Nonessential procedures have been delayed. To clear the backlog, and return to the maximum waiting time of eighteen (!) weeks for treatment, the NHS would need an extra 18,000 nurses on top of the 40,000 it is looking to hire anyway. Read more “Pandemic Underscores Need for British Health Reform”

Europe’s High Energy Prices, Explained

Eemshaven Netherlands power plant
Power plant in the Eemshaven of the Netherlands, April 17, 2020 (Unsplash/Untitled Photo)

Electricity prices are hitting records across Europe. In Portugal and Spain, wholesale energy prices have tripled from half a year ago to €178 per megawatt-hour. Italy is not far behind at €176. Dutch households without a fixed-price contract could end up paying €500 more this year. In the UK, prices peaked at €247 per megawatt-hour earlier this week.

The main culprit is the high price of natural gas, up 440 percent from a year ago. But Europe is facing something of a perfect storm involving accidents, depleted reserves and a higher carbon price.

Here are all the reasons prices are up — and what governments are doing about it. Read more “Europe’s High Energy Prices, Explained”

Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar

Gibraltar
Gibraltar at dusk (Shutterstock/Philip Lange)

Did the British not read the fine print when they signed their Brexit deals?

Not only do they regret agreeing to a lay a customs border down the Irish Sea to avoid the need for passport checks and inspections of goods on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border; they also have second thoughts about their agreement with Spain for Gibraltar. Read more “Britain Walks Back Commitment to Gibraltar”

Boris Johnson’s Blue Wall Starts to Crack

Boris Johnson Angela Merkel
British prime minister Boris Johnson and German chancellor Angela Merkel pose for photos at the G7 in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, June 11 (10 Downing Street/Simon Dawson)

British Conservatives woke up Friday morning to the news that a once-safe seat in Parliament was no longer blue.

Liberal Democrat Sarah Green overturned a majority of 16,000 in Chesham and Amersham, bordering the London Green Belt, with a remarkable 25-point swing away from the Conservatives. It is one of the largest swings away from the ruling party since the early 1990s, when Tony Blair launched New Labour.

Extrapolating from a by-election is risky. Britain has had many by-elections which were heralded as the dawning of a new political era that never arrived. But a center-right party losing the suburbs after lurching to the populist right sounds like a familiar story. Read more “Boris Johnson’s Blue Wall Starts to Crack”

Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough

Waverley train station Edinburgh Scotland
Waverley railway station in Edinburgh, Scotland (iStock)

This week, the British government published its long-awaited and somewhat delayed review into the British railway network.

The proposals — putting infrastructure, timetables, fares and tickets back into government hands but allowing private companies to run the trains — are a step in the right direction, but they would keep the network in a twilight zone.

British rail is neither fully private nor fully public, despite the government and the Treasury in particular having control over many aspects of the railway. Accountability is murky. Industry fragmentation — 29 train companies, fifteen leasing companies — has only made it worse. Read more “Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) during his five-year leadership and still his supporters refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude that he can’t defeat the Conservatives?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections

Bristol England
Aerial view of Bristol, England (Shutterstock)

Scotland’s will be the most closely watched election, but voters across the UK go to the polls on Thursday.

In addition to the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, all sixty seats in the Welsh Assembly, all 25 seats in the London Assembly, thirteen mayoralties and thousands of seats in 143 English councils are contested.

There is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool, which has voted Labour since the constituency was created in 1974.

Polls opened at 7 AM local time and will close at 10 PM. Due to coronavirus restrictions, many localities won’t start counting votes until Friday. Full results aren’t expected until the weekend.

Here are three things to watch: Read more “Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections”

The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Manu Bravo)

Scotland’s ruling National Party (SNP) has staked a second independence referendum on the outcome of Thursday’s election. If separatists defend their majority in the Scottish Parliament — in addition to the SNP, the Greens favor independence — they propose to hold another vote even over the objections of London.

Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against dissolving the United Kingdom in 2014. Nationalists argue Brexit has changed the calculation. 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in 2016. They were overruled by majorities in England and Wales. Polls found majorities in Scotland for leaving the UK and rejoining the EU through 2020 and early 2021. Unionists have recently closed the gap. But the SNP is still faraway in first place in election polls with up to 50 percent support.

There are many arguments for and against independence, and each one could be debated at length. I’ll summarize what I find to be the most persuasive ones. Read more “The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence”

EU Can’t Trust Britain to Keep Its Word

Boris Johnson
British prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, England, January 22, 2020 (10 Downing Street/Andrew Parsons)

How is the EU supposed to manage post-Brexit relations with a United Kingdom that won’t keep its word?

For the second time in six months, Britain has reneged on its Irish border commitments without consulting the EU or Ireland.

Northern Ireland is still in the European single market for goods under the EU-UK treaty. The rest of the United Kingdom is not, creating new regulatory barriers for British companies. They have struggled to cope. Supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland have gone empty. Parcels are stranded in Great Britain. The government of Boris Johnson has temporarily lifted the new rules to give businesses more time to adjust.

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a few more months of delay. But such a request should have been discussed in the Joint Partnership Council, which was created by the treaty on future EU-UK relations to manage precisely these situations. Instead, Britain acted unilaterally.

Not for the first time. In September, it weaseled out of its promise to respect EU regulations in Northern Ireland claiming it was breaching an earlier agreement with the EU in only a “specific and limited” way. As if that made a difference. Read more “EU Can’t Trust Britain to Keep Its Word”

Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
Flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”