Archive for Month: September 2020

Happy 85th Birthday to us – 24th Sept 2020

OK – it’s not a centenary but keeping a club thriving for 85 years is worth a mention – and in these strange times we do need something to celebrate!

The first meeting of the provisional club was held at the Wincott’s Café in South Bar on Friday 10th May 1935, and the Inaugural lunch was arranged for Friday 24th May at the same venue.

The Club’s Charter was signed making us an official Rotary Club on 24th September 1935.

 Five months had elapsed from the first meeting before the presentation of the charter at a formal dinner that was held at the Banbury Town Hall on 25th October 1935 – sadly the sort of function which at the moment we can only ream about!

 

Track Trace App Available – Sept 2020

Covid-19 infections are back in a state of near exponential growth. The daily infection rate over the last three weeks has gone from 3000/day two weeks ago to 6000/day last week and 10,000 a day this week. i.e near doubling every week.

Without appropriate action within a month it could be back towards the 100,000/day seen at the peak of the crisis.

Those two actions are:

  • more rigorous social distancing
  • isolation of those infected during the infectious stage.

To better achieve the latter the government / NHS has introduced its contact tracing app: the NHS COVID-19 app to install on your smartphone. You download it from the Apple App Store (i-phones) or Google Play Store (Androids.)

It’s the fastest way to see if you’re at risk from coronavirus. The faster you know, the quicker you can alert and protect your loved ones and community.

The app has a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. It uses proven technology from Apple and Google, designed to protect every user’s privacy.

Click here to visit details of the app on the NHS site.

Managing a Whitehall Crisis

You can see a fuller text of the talk here.

MANAGING A WHITEHALL CRISIS

On 18 September, Lord (Tim) Boswell of Aynho talked to the Club about managing a crisis in Whitehall and he said : “You have to start somewhere, and there can be no better introduction than ‘Yes Minister’. Most of us would describe it as inspired light fiction, but for insiders it was a documentary, and even sometimes a training video. I’ll offer two lessons from it. First every crisis is different in its own way – I think it was Tolstoy who said all happy families are happy in the same way but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Second, the programme captures perfectly the small world of ministerial offices and their counterparts. As an aside when I was very much on the bottom rung as a Junior Whip – all right we did inhabit No 12 Downing Street – I was taken by the Chief Whip to a meeting. ‘Where are we going to? Cabinet. Gosh!’ But that was only a one-weekend crisis, so no more of it.

I pretty much came cold into this world in the early 1980s (although I did a bit of Civil Defence Planning when still at school). I was farming in Aynho when the phone rang, and was put through to Michael Jopling who was then Minister of Agriculture, whom I had once worked with long before. ‘Tim, Europe has agreed to reduce the butter mountain by introducing milk quotas – would you like to come up to help us invent them?’ As Eric Morecambe would have said ‘There’s no answer to that’. So I took off my wellies, and went up to Whitehall officially for two days a week, to become what is now known, often rather notoriously, as a Special Adviser. I stayed on for the best part of three years, not just for milk quotas, but long enough to go also through the Chernobyl crisis (with radioactive sheep in the Lake District) and it all led to my going into politics, and eventually having some time as a Minister back in my old Department, with Sir Tony Baldry as a colleague, though he then took most of the strain on mad cow disease.

You might think it a bit tasteless to couple milk quotas, radioactive sheep and mad cows alongside the huge pandemic crisis Whitehall is now facing. Yet while the subject matter is very different, handling it is very much the same. I’ll deal first with the mechanism for getting through it, and then touch on some of the wider lessons to be learnt (or relearnt).  Incidentally, I think it makes little difference which Party is in Government, though personalities can be important.

The top tip for someone going into Whitehall is to make the best of the element of surprise. ‘Who’s that? A threat, or even a spy?’ By the time they have worked you out you are an established part of the scene, and if you can be civil and constructive, and not too bumptious, that’s a bonus. I used to think often of the academics and others recruited in 1939 for the war effort, and I hope and guess they were made as welcome as I was. And if you can bring a few extra perspectives to their problems, you have it made.

A second aspect in any crisis is that you never know where you are when you start out. An example; you may think you can dish out milk quotas to dairy farmers on the basis of past production, but you have to leave a reserve for hard cases like the young farmer who has only just started, or the farmer whose herd has been depleted by animal disease. We even set up a tribunal for the hard cases. So also with a health crisis- you start simply enough by trying to suppress the virus, and you immediately add an economic crisis and soon a social crisis, probably with a mental health element. And as a pandemic is by definition worldwide, so you cannot turn your back on what is happening in other perhaps less advantaged countries. There are many feedback loops, all seized on by litigious persons (think of insurance claims) arts lobbies (not to mention the culture war over the Last Night of the Proms) or disability interests. And now, which I never directly experienced myself you have all the apparatus of devolution and (slightly) different rules to explain.

Here is a prescription for coping:

  1. Pick a small team with one or two who know the subject(obviously doctors if it’s a health crisis)
  2. One or two people who can think imaginatively – a Whitehall crisis unlocks inner creativity.
  3. At least one lawyer who can also think outside the box
  4. Someone who likes strategy, thinking forward to the next hurdle.
  5. Someone checking implementation. So often you think or claim you have pulled the lever and nothing happens, or it gets caught up in something else.

This team needs to work frequently together and to bounce ideas off each other. I wonder whether my own claim to fame will have been to pioneer the introduction of colour in application forms – ‘Farmer Jones, just fill in the green one’

This team needs also to work closely with those who handle relationships. Part of this is traditional liaison, with No 10 and Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, including the devolved administrations, (previously) EU colleagues, and local authorities and stakeholders. Only then and in parallel the wider public, and not too much ‘spin doctoring or tweeting’! I think we forget Churchill and Attlee had served together in wartime, and Ministers need to keep a wary but real relationship with their ‘shadows’.

These teams can be fluid, but you do need a Minister in overall charge. As hinted above, I feel that the general public will respond to clear leadership. You have to navigate the tensions between evolving knowledge, explaining what you are doing about it, and deciding what the public needs to be told. The longer it continues the tougher it gets.

Let me say a few words from the other side of the coin, media in particular .This year has put great strain on them – how much of the schedule to allocate, how much to cover personal interest stories, and how to maintain some kind of balance? There is an implied steady state normally in public life where Government governs, whether or not you support it, and is only subject to a bit of grief from the media and parliament and the wider checks and balances in society like local authorities and trade associations. This breaks down in a crisis when people who would not normally worry too much about politics realise that there is a real threat, and that it is affecting them and their families.

To stimulate your thoughts, let me offer you what I feel should have been said at the beginning of the pandemic:

  • This is a new and serious health emergency affecting us all
  • We don’t know how serious yet, but we will try to use the best knowledge available to do the right thing
  • We will try to tell it straight and not over-claim
  • We will take responsibility for what we do, including inevitably mistakes
  • We will do our best for you and ask in return that you respond in the same way

Two thoughts finally. We should always make the best of a crisis and learn lessons, but you can’t ration the number of crises-try simultaneously COVID, BREXIT, floods and a cyber-attack on New Year’s Eve. Then cheer yourselves by reflecting on the Queen’s wisdom when she reminded us ‘We’ll meet again’ !”

Tim then fielded a series of questions which provided further insight into the mechanisms of Whitehall and the present issues regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Altogether a most interesting talk and question time.

Rule of Six = No Face to Face Meetings – 15 Sept 2020

The announcement made by the Prime Minister, and now contained in the official Government Guidance, is that the “Rule of Six” is now law and not guidance which is a change to previous Government guidance. The Rule of Six is effective from Monday 14th September 2020.

At its meeting on 15th September 2020, the Rotary Governing Council discussed the subject of clubs (and districts alike) returning to holding meetings face-to-face.  The message from the Governing Council is that until further notice, face-to-face Rotary meetings are not permitted (note: this also applies to district meetings).

The Sikh Contributions to WWI &II

Surinder Dhesi gave a talk about the contribution of Sikh and Indian soldiers during the first and second world wars noting how the contribution and sacrifices made by Sikhs and other non-European nations and communities can often be under-played.

At the start of World War I the Sikhs, who contributed disproportionately to India’s armed forces, were promised they would be granted an independent Sikh Kingdom. They suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front amongst the 130,000 Sikhs who took part.
After the end of World War I, within six months, the British Empire, which needed Sikhs so badly in 1914-18, turned its own machine guns on them in the 1919 JillianWara Bagh Amritsar Massacre.

In WWII a Sikh contingent proved vital backup to the British Forces in France in 1940 and when they were amongst those evacuated at companies were evacuated at Dunkirk. Sikh pilots also contributed to the Battle of Britain and subsequently in bombing raids over Germany.

Sikh regiments played a major part in the operations in Italy, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, East Africa and the Far East including Burma. By the end of the war fourteen Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Sikhs, whom fought on land, sky and sea and south Asian merchant seamen living around the ports of London, Cardiff, Liverpool and South Shields played a significant role maintaining supply lines to Britain.

In addition to meeting her own requirements, India’s new factories produced much of the textiles required by the military.

In 1946 Colonel Landed Saras-Field lamented and argued in agonising terms about the ‘Betrayal of the Sikhs’ during the grotesque and undemocratic British-Indian colonial ‘Transfer of Power’ of 1947. In a direct call to the British government, he protested about how the Sikh political and economic interests had been totally forgotten, carving up the two states of India and Pakistan and not living up to the promise of giving back Sikhs their kingdom in the Northern region of the Indian subcontinent.

History books, the school curriculum and TV movies usually offer but skimpy acknowledgement of the role of non-European soldiers in WW1 and WWII. This can be painful for British Sikhs whose forefathers fought and died on the front-line for the UK. Surinder expressed a hope that this country might move to greater recognition of the contribution of Sikhs and other ethnic minorities in the World Wars especially by acknowledging this more in what is taught in schools. For future generations to grow up with a more balanced understanding of the contributions of the Sikhs and others might help towards better understanding a for all.

Transition to Sustainable Transport – 28th Aug 2020

two white and red tesla charging station

Our speaker on Friday 28th August was our own Nigel Deakin who informed us of the rapid progress which is being made in the development of electric vehicles. Tesla has emerged as the market leader in this field, receiving many awards and accolades, including being named the safest cars on the road.

One of the disadvantages of electric vehicles up until now, for both cars and lorry’s, has been the limited mileage their batteries have achieve between charges.  However, battery technology is developing at an amazing rate. Many cars can now travel over 300 miles on a single charge and its forecast that within a few years this will increase to over 500 miles. And developments are afoot to drastically reduce the time it takes to recharge during journeys.

Tesla has invested heavily in battery development and manufacturing to the point where they produce more batteries than all other car manufacturers put together. Their mission statement is:

“To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport” – and Tesla’s patents are open to all.

With new high tech factories under construction for car assembly and battery manufacture, it’s predicted that prices will fall to more than match the cost of the current fossil fuelled vehicles we drive today.  Nigel’s enthusiasm for the subject took another step forward this week when he  drove a Tesla for the first time – and he’s sold on the technology.   

 

two white and red tesla charging station
Photo by Chad Russell on Pexels.com

Rotary feed thousands in Cape Town Covid – Sept 2020

Rotary has used the ‘infrastructure’ ot set up to end polio to help governments deal with Covid but they’ve also been engaged in addressing more basic poverty-related issues in third worl countries.  For example in Cape Town Rotarians have been feeding thousands: the photo above is of some of the food purchased by Rotarians to this end.

You can read more here.