Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

What is Politics all about in Sri Lanka?

2 mins read

For a Sri Lanka politician, for that matter any politician, what matters most is outcomes and delivery rather than process and ideology. But, to be successful, process must be married with energy, ideas, and political will of the Central Government.

The electorate will of course, give or willingly bestow time, most often, the benefit of the doubt, but no responsible Central Government can carry on regardless, without structural reforms, if it wants to survive.

We have seen this clearly in what is happening, or rather what has happened in the uprising of the people or the “aragalaya movement” that took to the streets in March 2022.

Can raising standards of living be indefinitely postponed?

Political theorists admonish that the performance of a truly national government cannot be separated from structural reforms if a Central Government has to survive. It looks that political reforms may be ‘flunked’ once again, as it has happened several times in the past 75 years, this time largely as a result of the Debt crisis.

Reports have emerged that the Government will be delaying an announcement on reforms, in fact, Local Elections until later after securing the IMF assistance package. (Déjà vu?)

Reports suggest that the President‘s favoured plan for funding reform – perhaps, a cap on military spending – faces two key objections from the Services. That the country can least afford, that it will cost too much in security concerns and that it may disproportionately benefit the enemies of the nation? Of course, the security of our nation comes first, but how long can the ordinary man on the street wait, when prices of essential goods and services, electricity tariffs are raised previously by 75% and soon by another 66% on the request of the IMF to secure the approval of its Extended Fund Facility (EFF). How long can we go on a begging bowl? Is it not time to cut unnecessary and extended expenses on anything and everything, that is now found when we are not on a war footing, to save our people from hardship for years on end?

Do these objections stack up?

First, let’s briefly remind ourselves how we got here. We got to the position we are in because of our vanity, and our wonton carelessness after 30 years of war. Can we really and economically afford a bloated service force the same as during a war? At the same time can we ignore the way how to secure our nation in peacetime?

Protection against any uprising in the future should not be ignored. How affordable is cutting the military’s budget? But, simultaneously, affordability shouldn’t be the only factor determining reform. Can the nation afford this cost of reform now and in the future?

Fundamentally, reform of the military services is to make it “fit for purpose for the 21st century,” which should be one part of the new system of security. Making this happen will require additional government time, planning and investment. But, reform of the military services is not unaffordable?

The Government can afford to provide a fairer and more generous society to live within its means and solve the debt crisis if we begin to live within our means. This is what is necessary, not further loans from the IMF to pay our existing loans.

The arguments are clearer and more logical. The question is the Government’s political will?

Beyond the China balloon?

1 min read

The flavour of the month is not Ukraine, but China, the pundits in the West, state Chinese State intelligence gathering has grown in ambition and scale, leaving the West to catch up.

The Chinese balloon which was first shot out of the sky off South Carolina on 4 February 2023 has now triggered a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Beijing. But the subsequent “hysteria” has led to at least three more unidentified being also shot down.

President Biden has said that the Yukon Territory, Canada and those taken down over, Deadhorse, in far Northern Alaska and Lake Huron in the US since the Chinese balloon incident, were not thought to be surveillance vehicles. They seem to be called UFO’s or UAP’s, perhaps sent up by balloon hobbyists in the US. Note the pun in “dead horse”.

Speaking in Japan, Liz Truss in her first public speech since her resignation addressing the Inter –Parliamentary Alliance on China has called on the international community to agree on a coordinated package of defence, economic and political issues on China’s back yard, Taiwan.

More hawkish Conservative MP’s have called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reclassify China as a threat, instead of a “systemic competitor”. P.M. Sunak has tried a new way to keep lines open with China for his own reasons, although he originally wanted to placate the hawks in his party,

According to Hindustan Times, China has specified American high altitude spy balloons have flown in Xinjiang and Tibetan skies as well, at unspecified times. China has also vowed to take counter measures against US entries, which undermine Chinese sovereignty,

What is all this spat about?

What the balloon crisis exposed, Washington’s heightened sense of alert as the standoff over the balloon delays were efforts to re-set bilateral relations, according to Reuters.

While US is blowing hot and cold with Vice President Kamala Harris warning against Chinese support for Russia in Ukraine, President Biden has said he does not believe relations between the two countries, US and China, were weakened by the incident.

We note that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who postponed a planned trip to Beijing over the balloon, is considering meeting Chinese top diplomat, Wang Yi in Munich this weekend.

At the same time Japan and China hold security talks on the side lines of Munich Security Conference on 18 February 2023.

In a word, the balloon incident is the over-reacting whether China is provoking a new war in the Indo-Pacific region, some say as evidence in the South China Seas off Philippines, on 5 February 2023.

A new world order is in the making?

A new axis of World Powers – China, Russia and Iran is coming into being. Although some analysts say it is a myth, we may soon see the formation of an informal “alliance of convenience” between these three nations, perhaps, not to join in the Ukrainian war, but for other reasons best known to themselves.

Sunak at No 10: Scotland’s Bombshell

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Nicola Sturgeon,52,surprise resignation as Scotland’s First Minister on 15 February 2023, was expected after the fortunes of Scottish Independence was dealt a death knell in November 2022 by the UK Supreme Court judgment blocking her bid to hold a second referendum. But, the question is why did she not soldier on until the next election?

She was a charismatic personality who after 8 long years in office as the first woman Scottish National Party Leader and the second leader of her party after Alex Salmon, had acknowledged the job was “rightly hard”.

She described her time in office as a “privilege beyond measure”. She insisted her decision was “not a reaction to short-term pressures, but came from “a deeper and longer-term assessment,” perhaps, a strategic assessment. She also said in her hastily convened televised press conference, that “the time was right for her to step down”.

What has shocked the British public?

It was the same day that former British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn decided to stand down as a Labour MP at the next General Election. There has been rumour doing the rounds that Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation was possibly a move to curry favour with the Labour Party’s lead in the polls, to get some sort of arrangement with Sir Keir Starmer“to
make an accommodation for Scotland”. We are not to know what was in her mind, but there was indeed something more than meets the eye?

Who will be Scotland’s next Leader?

It is not the public but the British and Scottish Press which has made many assumptions on who would follow her in the days, weeks and months ahead.

The Scottish Herald stated; “Just two weeks ago Sturgeon said there was still plenty in the tank!”

The Independent stated: “What does Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation mean for Scottish independence?”

The Telegraph stated:” By quitting, Nicola Sturgeon is leaving her trans (gender) mess for someone else to clear up”.

Public opinion felt her steady decline of late, most notably over the next UK General Election, which she pledged to turn it into a “de-facto” referendum on Scottish independence. Whilst the independence card played well for Sturgeon, the tide of politics has turned. Recent polls in Scotland gave a signal that the tide has turned in Scotland supporting a second referendum, following the first in 2014, especially after the energy crisis and the cost of living sky rocketing around the UK and most of all her failing initiatives on health care, after her brilliant handling of the COVID-19 pandemic vaccinations.

The debate over the Gender Recognition Bill has been a thorn in the side of those in Scotland not agreeing with Nicola Sturgeon’s incarceration of double rapist Isla Bryson.

What did Nicola Sturgeon contribute to Scotland?

Nicola Sturgeon’s dynamic campaigning led the SNP to a historic landslide victory in the Scottish constituencies as its share of seats in Westminster swelled from a mere 6 to 56, with nearly all of its gains at the expense of the Labour Party, for which Scotland had been its stronghold. Who knows, whether now the tide has turned back for Labour with Sturgeon’s exit? Nicola Sturgeon’s charismatic personality led the SNP to its third straight victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2016, but failed to obtain an outright majority at the last election, but chose to form a minority government instead.

Her legacy for the younger generation of Brits will be remembered, as she made University
Education is free for those wanting to enter and study at Scottish Universities.

Sturgeon and PM Rishi Sunak did not agree on the Gender Bill as Sunak said the law would undermine UK-wide legislation, a blow to residents in other parts of the UK do need to undergo a medical examination to change their gender. Sunak used that argument to prevent the bill which narrowly passed in Scotland’s Parliament from becoming law. Sturgeon will be forever remembered for stating that Sunak’s decision undermined Scotland’s democracy,

The shelf life of a politician around the world is limited. This is unlike in Sri Lanka, where Prime Ministers end up as Presidents, and cling on to power?

The Survival Instinct: What does it feel to be Prime Minister of 100 days in UK?

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak marked 100 days in 10 Downing Street on Thursday, February 2, 2023 pleading to restore trust, confidence, and integrity in politics. But how does it feel to be first among equals as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, today?

Mr Sunak’s premiership began on October 25, 2022 after former Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned after just six weeks. He was the runner-up in the summer Tory leadership race and was the only candidate to receive 100 supporting MPs in the second contest. Despite support among the Tory party, he has no public mandate, many state. “The Southampton-born former investment banker had served as an MP for his Yorkshire constituency of Richmond since 2015 and been a cabinet member for two years before becoming the youngest British Prime Minister in over 200 years and the first of Asian descent”.

The most pressing issue upon entering office was to stabilise the economy after Ms Truss left it in a volatile state, wiping £30 billion from it in less than three months. Alongside his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Mr Sunak has lowered inflation, despite its remaining high, and worked to increase growth and get public finances back on a sustainable path. Mr Sunak promised to clear up Tory sleaze but has still been faced with several issues. Last week Mr Sunak sacked his Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi over his tax affairs after an independent investigation. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is also the subject of a formal investigation into bullying”. This is called the “balancing act”.

He also is finding it hard to unite the Conservative Party, as there are rumblings within and outside.

Politics and Position in Britain

Being Prime Minister for 100 days today in Britain, is like being “top dog” for 100 years. Or so it seems?

 Many feel the position of Prime Minister of Great Britain is a poisoned chalice? Economically, the UK is viewed by some abroad “less a poisoned chalice and more a poisoned barrel”. By some assessments, the UK is already in recession with a massive hole gaping in its public finances. Soaring inflation is hitting the public and the Bank of England has raised interest rates to keep pace from 3.5% to 4% on 2 February, to bring inflation down to BOE official target of 2%. But it is a far cry, as inflation is in double figures today and not expected to come down until December 2023.

Higher energy costs are starting to hit households hard this winter. Gas meters have been compulsorily installed in homes of “the vulnerable” unable to pay their bills and there is a big hue and cry by Labour.  Meanwhile, there is nationwide industrial unrest, including in postal services and transport, nurses, ambulance drivers, doctors, even Civil Servants.

Like many fellow Conservatives, Sunak is suspicious of China. He considers it “the biggest threat, more than Russia” to the UK and has called for the shutdown of Confucius Institutes in Britain. Whether he will prosecute policies against the world’s No 2 economy as Prime Minister, remains to be seen.

No one will believe it if I say, a lucrative future awaits him in the United States, at any time of his choosing? That does not mean, he will jump ship anytime now, as he has many friends in the “business world,” who would egg him on to stay on at least until the next General Election in 2024.

Being Prime Minister is a stepping stone to returning to United States at some foreseeable future as he is quite young, capable, enthusiastic and willing to work to the bone.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, is watching and waiting in the wings to take it on, “as the “empire strikes again,” and if and when it becomes vacant?

What are some fallouts of Davos 2023?

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The annual meeting of world leaders including business leaders, at the World Economic Forum at the Swiss resort at Davos, included the usual topics of Trade, Tech and Climate Change, but this year Davos had far reaching implications, hardly contemplated.

Davos 2023 was the 53rd meeting this year, with the Forum President Borge Brende giving the closing remarks on 21 January 2023, summarising with the words: “We can shape a more resilient, sustainable and equitable future, but the only way to do so, is together.” The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterras stressed on 18th January, “There was no perfect solution in a perfect storm.” The sense of unity was contained in the messages, from Alain Berset (President Swiss Confederation) to Sanna Marin (Prime Minister,Finland) and Andrzej Duda (President of Poland) – all of whom expressed their continued support for Ukraine.

The need for collaboration is beyond Ukraine as global inter-world crises requires moral interlinked solutions, including supply chain disruption, with a looming global recession expected according to some economists later this year.

Kristina Georgieva, MD of IMF stated: “As we navigate an uncertain economic outlook about the future of work we need reskilling in order to prepare current and future workforces.

Agriculture and Food, Cybersecurity, Forests,Digital Economy, Trade and Investment also featured in the discussions among business and other leaders.

The Focus at Davos 2023

The focus was on the tension between quality and speed of action. There is the war in Ukraine, which has sent energy and food prices soaring. The resulting inflationary pressures have ignited a global cost of living crisis, leading to social unrest worldwide.

According to The Guardian, China may be forced to make friends again with the West.

This was seen at Davos, with Beijing hinting it may adopt a less hostile approach. Vice President of China, Liu He appeared at Davos to “assure foreign investors that after 3 years of COVID-19 disruption, China was open for business”. Proof of the pudding was when he stated: “We have to abandon the Cold War mentality, we must open up wider and make it work better.”

A number of themes also emerged from Davos. India’s Action, India’s Phenomenal Growth was reflected in responses from political and private leaders at Davos, this year. The Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) has predicted India will become the Third $10 Trillion economy by 2035, thanks to its demographic dividend. This was

also highlighted with top priority by India’s large delegation at Davos, during India’s current G20 Presidency until November 2023.

What was not stated but is now seen happening after Davos 2023?

About a quarter of the countries of the world are in debt, distress or on the brink of it. At Davos every one of the multilateral organisations that keep tabs on the financial fragility of poor countries did express concern on debt solutions.

As countries are having trouble paying their debts amid slower global growth, rising interest rates, urgent action was canvassed. In the case of Argentina and Brazil we are told are wanting to amalgamate their currencies. A new currency, the Austral may be introduced, which it is hoped will be more stable than the Argentinian Peso. The similarities between Brazil and Argentina debt problem is only skin deep. Argentina’s debt was mostly external; Brazil’s is mostly internal. Both sought Debt Restructuring by the IMF.

In the case of Sri Lanka both, India and China were “told to?” adjust with Sri Lanka in restructuring.

India pledged confirmation of its willingness to extend financial assurances as well as freeze debt for two years. India stated in its communique: “We hereby confirm our strong support for Sri Lanka’s prospective EFF (Extended Fund Facility) Support Plan and commit to supporting Sri Lanka with Financial/Debt Relief consistent with restoring Sri Lanka Public Debt Sustainability under the IMF Support Programme ensuring that the Programme is fully financed as projected by IMF Debt Relief. It is to be provided by Export Import Bank of India”.

China followed suit on 21` January 2023 and responded direct to Sri Lanka’s request on re-scheduling its Debt as a pledge to Bail Out by IMF, with an offer for a two year moratorium.

Japan and the Paris Club have already confirmed their financial assurances.

This gives Sri Lanka the potential for a total of $5 Billion that could be generated from these multilateral lenders. Davos was not the lever to this Bail out, it was World Public Opinion and Sri Lanka’s valid and reasonable request.

Three Ways to Restructure Debt?

“As to the debt problem itself, there are only three ways out:

1) An internal adjustment economically and politically within, a nation entailing a return to the free market system.

     2) An assumption of bad debt loss by the lending institutions, if a country is unable to repay its loans, or

 3) An assumption of risk on the part of the governments of creditor nations (and ultimately on their taxpayers.

The world’s biggest Tech Show at Las Vegas

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Tech titans and gadget geeks were all at Vegas last week January 5-8, 2023, for CES – The Consumer Electronics Show. It is the premier event of the entire technology eco-system. It is the world’s gathering for the business of consumer technologies and new innovations. Who would doubt that it has to be in “Las Vegas Convention Center”, Nevada, US ofA.

BMW Chairman and CEO, Oliver Zipse was there among many business moguls/ dignitaries, to showcase how the future of mobility by car can merge the real and virtual worlds and present BMW’s vision of the “ultimate digital driving machine”. I leave it to my readers to create rather than elucidate. In this short piece,

Capturing imagination

In a world full of uncertainty and imponderables, it is no longer enough to capture a consumer’s attention, you have to capture the public’s imagination and learn how inventions are winning the hearts and minds of their devoted fans but followers.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we are told the show was extraordinary, From the Robot “Wowwee” Dog, which has one million combinations of lights, sounds and personality traits, displaying texts and emoji’s when it wags it tail, to the colourful cars and fridges which changes colour to match your outfit or mood, BMW’s i-Vision Dee,(which stands for Digital Emotional Experience) the idea is to provide a more personal and customised driving experience, designed to push the boundaries between  physical with the virtual “digital perception” worlds. This so called, “fun model” will arrive in 2025. 

The CES Show, always has something utterly bonkers. This year the slot was reserved exclusively for “Withings U-Scan”, Wi-Fi connected, Urine Analyser, as you sit on your porcelain throne. Results are reported on the App – Alongside. The advert states it is an actionable tip to improve health.

The great thing about CES, in my opinion is discovering “Tech you never knew you needed”. This is shown in L’Oreal’s brilliant at Home Electronic Eyebrow make-up applicant. All you have to do is fire up the App ,Scan your face, choose the desired Shape, Thickness and Effect, say the instructions, then run it across your face,

But, for us men, it is LG brand’s Colour changing Cool Box –Mood-Up Fridge, to keep cans of beer, it can be customised to match your mood or your kitchen colour scheme.

It has a built in Bluetooth speaker, which will even sync with music for when you are in the party mood.

For the Laptop enthusiast, Lenovo “Yoga Book” 91, is completely rewriting the rules of portable computing, with multi-tasking, dual screen OLED Laptop, with No Key pad or Track Pad in sight. Instead, the Laptop comes bundled with a Bluetooth keyboard, stylus and stand, enabling it to prop up vertically on a desk or table. This seems to be the future of folding Laptops.

Life is but a dream?

Need I say that everything in the world of tomorrow. Is but a dream, an escape from reality. It is all about building your own connection, both physical as well as personal connection and community in a “Nonstop World”. To us oldies, it threatens “Reality”.

It seems as if we play life in a world of new experience. But it is not the world of tomorrow, but according to the CEO of Delta Airlines, USA, it will free Wi-Fi for all who fly their airlines from 1 February 2023.

How close to real life and health is all this experience?

Let us not be fooled, with all this “Americanism”. Visitors to the Show heard about the exploring ways that Technology Innovation is enabling, and in my view, impacting our health, in particular. We are warned that there is going to be a new model of patient care – one that blends in person care with virtual diagnostic and other tools for a more holistic and accessible patient experience, leading to better health outcomes.

My question is providing access to economic mobility, including physical mobility as we age, is the object for a changing world order, but how much of this commands everyone’s free choice and how much is imposed in the name of progress? This is an ethical question, which needs an ethical resolution?

What goes up, must come down!

2 mins read

Energy prices have shot up in recent months, but recent mild weather in UK and over Europe, according to The Guardian, is driving down wholesale gas prices. The milder conditions have reduced demand for heating and have contributed efforts by the Government, Business and particularly households, to cut their energy consumption and their bills.

Norway has helped the effort in UK to fill gas storage facilities with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Consolation for the hard pressed

The question on the minds of consumers is that if wholesale gas prices is sustained, consumers could reap benefits in a few months.

Britain has averted power cuts during one week of sub-zero cold snap in December 2022, without emergency measures. The rationale is that energy suppliers typically buy their Gas and Electricity in advance allowing them to fix some of their costs. This means wholesale price rises and falls are not immediately passed on to consumers. But, we cannot read much into this optimism.

How much have prices fallen?

On Wednesday, 4 January 2023, Gas price closed at 155p/per therm compared with 200p/per therm at start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Oil prices as the pumps have also come down with Brent crude $150 per barrel. But, this is no argument for delay of imposition of a “Windfall Tax” on oil companies. However, according to Exxon Mobil, such a tax would result in lower investment in fossil fuel extraction. What about Climate Change?

Noticeable change in mortgage rates and CPI

With the dawn of the New Year, mortgage rates which have increased exponentially over the past 12 months, peaked around 6.65% after previous Chancellor Kwarteng Mini Budget, have since come down to below 6% – 5.99% for a two year fixed mortgage and 5.78% for a 5 year fixed mortgage, When you consider a year ago in January 2022, it is miniscule.

The latest figures seem to suggest inflation has peaked as CPI fell to 10.7% in November 2022, from a 41 year high of 11.1% in October 2022.

What is the New Year tweaking?

“What goes up, must come down,” is a phrase often quoted by politicians, around the world. But just the other day, Halifax research has revealed that over the past 40 odd years house prices have gone sky high, making it impossible for young people wanting to get on to the property ladder in UK.

The days of owning a property in UK is beyond the reach of many who are unable to save enough in their working career to place the required 10% deposit for a house mortgage. The new mantra is “Shared Ownership” rather than outright mortgage.

The days of thinking of an Englishman’s home as his castle, is long over. Over the past years there has been a staggering +974% in house price increase seen since 1983.

Thus, while at present there is a drop in house prices in London due to cost of living pressures driven by higher food and energy cost, when viewed through a historical lens, a 10% or even a 15% drop over the next few months, would only represent a minor blip. House and Flats prices in London, in my opinion, would never ever reach a drop of more than 5% as house building has never met demand. We would very soon be competing with Europe, to be a nation of renters, not owners of property.

An erudite Buddhist Teacher, monk, and friend

1 min read

I was saddened to hear about the passing of a great teacher, a dear friend who I had known since 1984 in London, and who always welcomed me at the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre at Kingsbury, Brent, London NW7 1NB, without reservation.

The Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi Nakaya MahaThero passed away on 19 December 2022 at Northwick Park Hospital after a prolonged illness. The cremation takes place at Hendon Crematorium at 09.45 a.m. on 31 December 2022.

 The Ven. PiyadassiThero was a well-known, highly respected monk. He hailed from a dignified family, comfortably well-off in Sri Lanka. Entering monastic life must have indeed been, a difficult choice.

He came to London as a missionary from Sri Lanka, as a young monk, an understudy of the educationist, Late Most Ven. Saddatissa Thero, in early 1984, took over the ongoing missionary work, in a quarter of London which was much the favourite residential area of Sri Lankans, but without a Buddhist Temple.

It had been prepared ready for the teachings of The Buddha, but with the demise of one of the notable missionaries, NayakaThero, Ven. Saddhatissa in the late 1980s, there was a vacuum which had to be filled by a visionary, to carry on the onerous duties. of the late missionary,

It was also a time of much turmoil in Sri Lanka due to civil strife and the unease had spilt over to London and the UK. Many Sri Lankans were eager to congregate, but fear was understandably profoundly rooted in our psyche.

Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi Thero was a simple, trusting mind who brought home the message of The Buddha, in being able to perform a role of bringing solace and comfort to a broken community of Buddhists and also Sri Lankans.

As the years rolled by, Galayaye Piyadassi Thero was given the accolade by late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, elevating his service to citizens and country, by the award of the title, MBE, hardly ever before conferred on a Buddhist monk.

He continued his monastic work without fanfare and organised many functions for the Buddhist and Sri Lankan communities, including the Buddha Jayanti celebration and the annual remembrance of the World Peace Day of Prayer for Inter-religions as for the annual Tsunami Remembrance Day each December.

He will be sadly missed by not only the Buddhist community but by many Inter-Faith dignitaries in the Borough of Brent, for spreading the message of oneness. Hiscontinuedmission of being an unpublicised religious Visitor to nearby hospitals to comfort the sick, is legendary, before he became indisposed himself, over recent times.,

Sri Lankans in London had a mentor who will be sadly missed. At the same time, Buddhist temples in our homeland will lose the undivided contact due to his charitable and fundraising activities, which he silently carried on, even with his disability over recent years.

What was Christmas like fifty years ago in England and today?

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All I saw of snow before I landed in England some fifty years ago, was the scene of winter on a Christmas card. It was an experience I can never forget, of hands and ears frozen and people throwing snowballs for fun at each other, whilst building a snowman outside their homes and decorating the Christmas tree with fancy lights inside.

Christmas, as we know it today, resembles nothing of its past. A lot of what happened would shock us today. Binge eating and drinking, in many forms, rowdiness lubricated by alcohol on trains and the Underground on Christmas Eve, made travel a danger. Merrymaking would edge into making trouble. Today, there are cameras on trains and at stations and security is tight.

It was then mostly a family occasion. The gathering of family and friends the night before Christmas, for carols, mistletoe and mulled wine. Whilst on Christmas Day, 25 December, it was Christmas lunch, called “Dinner” with turkey and trimmings, served with cranberry sauce, mince pies and plum pudding for afters, shared with inner members of the family circle, with exchange gifts before the revelry.  

Christmas then and now, is a fusion of the pious and the pagan, the sacred and the profane. Most of its traditions are historical either borrowed or relatively recent.

According to the latest Census, in 2021 Britain is a minority Christian country, People of other faiths are now celebrating Christmas, more than the native population, which seems strange.

But besides the changing fashions of consumerism and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, there remains something that has outlived, outlasted centuries of pagan culture and the real enchantment of the spirit of fellowship, the good tidings at Christmas time and the love of God to be one amongst us.

Some of the things people hardly talk about now is the increasingly secularised holiday, marked by a season of good cheer and festive fun, punctuated by long-forgotten English superstitions or traditions of mistletoe and wine, Santa and the reindeer, the late Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Message, now King Charles III first Christmas TV Message and Pope Francis’“Urbi et Orbi” message to the world.

Understandably this year there is only hope of a subdued celebration with all the travel strike chaos and cost of living inconvenience.

Besides, divisions in life today and years past, go to the very heart of Christmas, to the gatherings at Midnight Mass, to the celebrations at the dining table with fun and frolic.

The shifting Christmas landscape

Times have changed in a big way in these fifty years. What would you do if you could get the time back that you spent shopping for gifts and for food for Christmas?

Back then, people thought it was weird to stop at one shop for everything you needed or wanted. You had the butcher for your meat and turkey, the bakery for your cakes, likewise, it was so-called specialist places where you did your shopping. You could do the “normal” thing and do your High Street shopping errands individually, going shop to shop.

There were no all-embracing Supermarkets for all your needs. Time was not at a premium then? What surprises most people today is; how much cheaper it was than going shop to shop, looking for bargains especially as Christmas presents, without today’s inflation.

What you now think might be a bargain at today’s Supermarket, could actually still be full of hidden costs. We then had value for money or at least thought we had, by shopping at Woolworth’s for value, now that choice has gone, disappeared with the passage of time? But we now have Prime Mart instead

What about other changes in these years?

Convenience and choice was lacking years ago. Today you can forget about the chore of meals and the joys of cooking your Christmas Family Dinner, with food delivered to your doorstep. Years ago we did not have the convenience of so-called “perfect selection” of measured portions of food, choice diets for vegans and vegetarians, and specialist counters for specialist health foods, less salt and less sugar diets. Today, we have “free from” food.

Today everything is wrapped up in measured units of calories and weight markings. This cuts out the stressful meal planning, as well as the wastage which makes it easier by selection of the meal type that is right for you. There is so much of choice today than in years past. Today, we have shelves stacked with varied variety. The choice is unbelievable. But, at the same time, there is a “cost factor”? Have we over the years become lazy?

What ways has Christmas changed?

The festive season may be packed with traditions, but Christmas is also an occasion which has changed with the times, but with religion focussed on the love of God for Man. It is down to world events, advances in people’s behaviour and perception, as well as technology or simply popular additions to the celebrations that never went away.

With the postal strike, people are resorting to sending “E-Cards” on the internet, instead.

With the rail strike people are staying at home instead of travelling.

With the Nurses and Ambulances on strike, we guess there would be less crowds at A&E?

With regard to the reflection of life in giving gifts, and toys, in particular, some companies are making toys more eco-friendly. Some companies are also cutting down on single-use plastic and boosting sustainability. Lego is a toy that is still very popular as a gift for children, but plant-based colours are now in use.

Parents are setting up cash Trust Funds for children this year, instead of gifting toys. Although Christmas will be very different for many this year, the spirit of Christmas will still linger on amidst the difficult times.

The Unions v The Government of UK

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The strikes up and down the country in the cold winter at end of 2022 and early 2023 as many would state, is to test the nerve of the Conservative Government.

It has been seen to be coming for many months, but Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, like his predecessor Margaret Thatcher, has painted the Trade Unions, as well as the Labour Opposition for supporting picket lines, as the enemies of ordinary hard working Brits, blaming them for causing the chaos in the run up to Christmas.

It has in one sense worked as 49% of the British public is opposed to some of the Unions, particularly, the RMT Rail Union as greedy. Some other unions like the Transport Salaried Staff (TSSA) last week voted to accept Network Rail’s offer of at least 9% for this year and next with Network Rail promising to make no compulsory redundancies until 31 January 2025.

Private Contractors have agreed pay offers with Unions

Other Unions, like Unite have also accepted an improved pay offer for the Ground Handling Staff at Heathrow Airport from their Private Contractor, Menzies. So have planned strikes by Security Guards on Eurostar to Paris on December 16 and 18th were similarly suspended while they considered a fresh pay offer from Contractor, Mities.

We read that Rolls Royce, a unit of Germany’s BMW, had agreed a very generous pay offer with the Union, Unite, on 16 December 2022, worth 14.8% and up to 17%, the largest single pay deal in the history of the factory at Goodwood, West Sussex,Southern England.

Another well-known name, EasyJet agreed to raise base pay by 7.5% in France and averted a French Cabin crew strike over Christmas.

While many Private Companies have seen it constructive to make peace with their Unions,

The British Government has been holding firm, even with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Is Nurses Pay more important in today’s political scene?

The two professions, one the Train Drivers (RMT) on an average salary of £59,000 pa with fewer vacancies and Nurses on just under £35,000, with 45,000 odd nursing vacancies across England, there is public sympathy (66% at a recent poll) with the Nurses.

The Sunak Government is left with little choice but to make a climb down in his fight with the Nurses, who are willing to also come to a reasonable deal.

It may be a “U Turn,” the second time in his recent six weeks that P.M.Sunak would have to cave in, similarly to his change on his housing agenda, on the building of onshore wind farms.

With MP’s salaries on £84,000 and some “moonlighting” there is a hue and cry to help the Nurses. The Big Issue is who deserves a pay rise at present, a Nurse or a Train Driver?

Can you compare Train Drivers to Nurses?  Train Drivers have six (6) months training inside the train cab, while Nurses need up to six (6) years training on the hospital floor. However, in a sense it is not comparing like with like and here is the difficulty from the Government’s standpoint.

We all know the NHS needs a major overhaul and an efficiency drive. But look at it another way, the average Nurse’s salary is four (4) times the State Pension. But, will we be better off rapidly reaching the “Cost of Insurance” based Health Care, like the United States, or Germany.

The main question on people’s minds is: “Will Private Medicine be a more effective service than the NHS, we have got used to over decades?

I leave it to you to decide, which is better?

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