A Dereliction of Duty

Recorded and knit together by WSM

“On an extraordinary scale”, said Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan between 2007-2018. “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame.” 

Again – I might add, as we continue shaking our heads at the inconceivable conceit of this government while trying to wrap our minds around the suffering, fear and deaths that are taking place in Afganistan this week.

It came quickly, to those who have been diverted from the Middle East by relief at getting through the Tokyo Olympics with some honour, and then the helpless sadness at the latest earthquake destruction in Haiti with the number of dead reaching 1500 and Storm Grace closing in on the country. I think back on the young firemen from California who flew in to help in the last earthquake and pray another wave are willing to take on that relay baton. 

Throughout the summer the BBC gives trial runs to hopeful new young newscasters. So on Sunday night a lovely young woman smiles her way through the news from Afganistan before going live to Kabul. But Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afganistan correspondent was not there. In his place is a clearly nervous, Malik Mudassir who has a hard time staying focused on the camera. Afganistan is the third most dangerous country for news reporters. The BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, was killed in the province of Khosa, earlier this year on a day which left nearly 40 people dead.

Ahmad Shah reporting

This evacuation remains a withdrawal of shambolic proportions that is ever changing as I write. There is no captain of the ship. No brave president Ashraf Ghani staying until the last. Ghani is gone. The Kabul airport seems to have been allocated an international zone and over 60 countries are operating from makeshift desks and computers at that site. The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, is there helping to process visa applications for over 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans. Dominic Raab’s office said the evacuation efforts will continue for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so”. Cordoned off by the US troops this area of the airport is – for the moment – a safe haven for some. There are literally thousands of citizens from countries around the world, each that held a little presence, for their own ‘special interests’ in Afganistan, now clamoring to reach the airport and a plane. Like players on a monopoly board, they are now all ready to sell their stock for a flight out of the country. Except for the Russian and Chinese embassies. They are staying in town for informal chats with the Taliban leaders as they form a new government. Russian’s Presidential envoy to Afganistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow would decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities.” Vladimir must be chuckling at the debortle that his ‘Lets make a deal’ orange puppet offered last May. Like a patient fisherman he can just keep warm, sitting on the banks of this river of history, watching his line bob and duck under the rippled water that is Afganistan today. History, repeating again, from the Coup of 1953 in Iran through to this moment. With Joe Biden’s stance, can or will America and western countries keep their sticky fingers out of other peoples pies? It is doubtful.

But it is possible that when Boris Johnson said, “There is no military solution to the ‘problems’ in Afganistan’ he may have been saying – finally – a long-overdue truth, in all senses of the word. In August, when the country ‘shuts up shop’ and goes on holiday, there is usually a flurry of silly activity to find the Prime Minister on his or her holiday and, in the best English journalistic way, make a mockery of their chosen hideaway. But this year all was strangely quiet. And now we know why. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, popped off for their summer holidays at the same time on Saturday. Johnson to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul. Neither had showed up for work for over a week. Boris Johnson’s departure on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been soundly criticized as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures and may well cost him those deep conservative votes and pockets he counts on.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.

The Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen called into the BBC, live on air “There will be no revenge  on the people of Afghanistan. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power. We assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country.”

Spokesman Suhail Shakeen. Photo from the Daily Express

On the Sunday night news screen, a middle-aged Afganistan woman, a teacher – of girls – spoke with bewilderment at her new reality, “I thought I was doing good, teaching.” On a phone from an empty room she looks about thoughtfully, now unsure what will become of her. And neither are we as posters and billboards depicting women in places of influence are blacked out throughout the cities of Afganistan.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Do as I say – not

Recorded and knit together by WSM

My Mother had a saying when I was a teenager.

“It’s not do as I do, it is do as I say.” She used the phrase frequently whih only helped to reinforce the knowledge I was learning at boarding school, that not all adults were to be trusted. It was a common enough phrase for those times.

This weekend our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, must have pondered this thought, actually for a full two hours and twenty minutes before – reluctantly – agreeing that he and his chancellor Rishi Sunak would self-isolate after coming into contact with their new Health Minister Sajid Javid now infected with Corona virus. Using the track and trace app that has been causing havoc up and down the country Javid then pinged his contacts, Johnson and Sunak, who must have been irked, ‘darn Javid, not playing by our rules but the rules we set out for the rest of the population.’ But the stakes of ducking this moment were too high and so, Johnson put out a tweeted video, tie knotted, hair as usual, after Sunak – always keeping his political plate clean – had previously tweeted: “I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” And what pilot is that anyone who was listening to Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics show – asked? The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick one of those smooth on the surface, soft as custard on the inside, conservative MPs, tried to explain: ‘it was an idea, looking into who, for the moment, would not need to self isolate’. Within an hour of the program ending several transport unions all issued  statements that the claims made by and for government on Sunday morning that such a scheme existed were “totally untrue”. The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “The reality is, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been caught red-handed trying to get round the rules they expect everyone else to follow. They must now apologise for their contempt for the British public and for needlessly dragging hard-working transport workers into their farcical cover-up.” Well good luck with that idea.

It is back to barracks for them all. Boris has retired to the Prime Minister’s country estate, Chequers, where he can roam in reasonable isolation over the 1500 acres of grounds

Chequers from the air. Getty Images

Monday was ‘Freedom day’ and COVID restrictions were eased with bars, night clubs and restaurants opening with no need for face coverings and social distancing and yet – most of us, even those who don’t go to bars, night clubs and discos will continue to wear face coverings, as the cases of COVID infections in England rise exponentially. No other country has taken such a risk and much of the world is watching. The National Health Service has issued its own guidance, face coverings and social distancing will still be required in all medical facilities.

Right on cue, Dominic Cummings (remember him?) has given a lengthy interview with the BBC’s political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, which is being broadcast, piecemeal, each evening. Like him or loathe him, Cummings is a strange duck whose beak is sharp and his quack persistent as he speaks his truth, which, the following morning, a Downing Street spokesperson naturally denied. 

With all this home-grown scandal and confusion, we but glance at the world around us. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, Africa, India and Cuba all left to fend for themselves as summer lassitude overtakes world governments with their own crisis of weather, pandemics and fear.

The flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the storms and fires in the Western States of the U.S. all tell us that the Earth is tipping on its axis. The moon’s monthly cycle happens every 18.6 years, when it wobbles into a slightly different orbit. The moon appears upset and due to have a heightened wobble with anxiety at the extent of our excesses and global warming. Sometimes the high tides are lower than normal and sometimes they are higher, something that those of us who live by the sea have seen over the years but maybe didn’t put down to the Moon, and her monthlies. The destruction and the mud seen in Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands is sobering. Houses and towns that have stood for centuries are gone. Close to 200 people are known to have died in Germany alone but there are still many, hundreds even who are missing.

Flooding in Luxembourg July 2021 by Tristan Schmurr

Quietly the British troops, along with the Americans, are leaving Afghanistan and the Afghan army to defend Kabul which may fall to the Taliban within months. The collapse, implosion, of the Afghan strategic forces has been faster than anyone anticipated and must leave the retreating troops with a sense of failure and even guilt at any number of poor decisions, even that of being in Afghanistan in the first place.

Now Britian has had its ‘grand opening’ and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have to stay at home, so hurriedly laws need to be changed – once more. But all is quiet in the village and everyone queuing for the post office counter is wearing a mask.

A woman is taking out her weekly bag of garbage. The bin men will come tomorrow. She is always dour, struggling with this small chore that one day will become too much for her. It is hot outside, hopefully her flat has a fan or a window open to the shade of the day. When she thinks nobody is watching she drops her garbage in someone else’s bin and is about to return home. But she is stopped by the scent from the lavender bed. She reaches out her hand, running it through the flower stalks before plucking a couple to hold, and bring to her nose. Inhaling the perfume her face breaks into a cautious smile before she hurries back home to her own loneliness.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Poor Man

“I’ve been speaking with your Health Secretary. He says things are getting better. Poor man.” So said the Queen, dressed demurely in a mauve frock, when, last Tuesday, after fifteen months, she met in person her current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. With the cameras rolling and clicking Johnson looked the unruly but chuffed school boy he is, standing with hands clasped behind him, before the Queen’s constant good manners.

“Yes, Yes.” The Prime Minister assures the Queen and that is all we see of that moment. 

Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Boris Johnson at an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, the Queen’s first in-person weekly audience with the Prime Minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture date: Wednesday June 23, 2021.

Until later in the week The Sun Newspaper hits the stands. There is Matty Hancock, Health Minister, clutching aide Gina Coladangelo in a clinch-hold on the front page, with the headline. “Face, Hands, Cock no distance” In the little-known dangers of University life, Matt and Gina first met at the Oxford University radio station. By Saturday evening, Hancock had resigned and Sajid Javid, previously chucked out as the Chancellor has been brought in as Minister of Health. A Cabinet reshuffle is not an empty phrase. Javid is a solid Tory man, called by some the First Son of Margaret Thatcher, and he will have to come up to speed quickly in this Health crisis brought about by this government.

Hello Javid

On his first day in office he said ‘Yes’ to every question put to him. Sometimes adding the unnerving, ‘Absolutely’. Back to hypocritical, humbled-for-the-moment Hancock, who made a public apology for ‘breaking the rules on social distancing’ and says he will continue to serve his country from the back benches. After lying to our Queen, ‘Things are getting better’ and taking his eyes from ‘working around the clock’. Opinions from the dustman to the politician run between – ‘long may he rot there’, to ‘how dare he show his face in Westminster’. His constituency of West Suffolk is none too pleased with their minister’s behavior and if not exactly cries, there are certainly mutterings of “Off with his head.” Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts was ahead of her time. Even with their budgetary caution, the BBC has added their voice to the clamor from Labour and opposition government parties with outcries of ‘shame’, Johnson should have fired Hancock. Johnson knows as well as any man, that when the little brain takes over there is not a lot of logic going on.

Anglican church memorial to British officers in the Afghan war. 1866

But wait – stuffed behind a bus stop in Kent – someone – who was that – happens to find a bundle of soggy classified documents from the Minister of Defence. Information on the HMS Defender trying out a quick sail through the Black Sea checking on Russia’s response to edging a wee bit close to the Ukraine and Crimea was laid out in those soggy pages. Russia made their position clear with a quick response. This is a shell game over the waters and one can only hope that the fish have something to say about it. As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan to its fate, Britain is thinking it might move in – again. While visiting India in 2004 we stopped at an old Anglican church. Along the nave, beside each pew, was a scabbard in which the British officers should place their swords. A memorial Cross stood outside to commemorate British officers who had died in the Afghan War – of 1865.

Following last week’s closure of the Apple Daily Newspaper in Hong Kong a seventh senior editor, Fung Wai-kong, was arrested as he prepared to leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom. Now another newspaper, Stand News, has removed all their past published Opinion pieces. The Chinese Government’s net is tightening its draw string.  

Meanwhile Alexander Lukashenko responded to the Western worlds imposed sanctions by sending plane-loads of Iraqi refugees to be unloaded in Lithuania while moving Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega from jail into house arrest. But this is no picnic or sign of safety for Roman, Sofia or any of the young people in Belarus, calling for a more democratic government. The IT industry that was booming in Minsk is disintegrating in the sewer of government impositions. Those young IT engineers that can, are leaving for the neighboring Ukraine.  

Angela Merkel is lobbying the European Union to adopt Germany’s ruling that everyone coming from Britain to Germany go into quarantine. She is to visit with Boris Johnson in England this week and then onto the US before she leaves office in the autumn. She may be being very sensible and cautious, but so far the rest of Europe is not going along with her idea. 

In this little island we are dealing with the crater-hole of one Minister falling on his sword and another picking it up out of the gutter. On Monday Chris Whittey, England’s chief medical officer, went to St. Jame’s Park for a little sit and think and was set upon by two men, angry, frustrated and feeling helpless in this continued uncertainty. Police were called to investigate, but will get no further than form filling.

Guillen Nieto with the Abdala Vaccine

But on another Island, Cuba, there is news that lifts the spirits with the development of their own Covid vaccine. Named Abdala – as a latin country would –  from a poem by José Martí. It has so far proved 92% effective and thus is on par with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. There is no attacking scientists or health workers in Cuba where political Isolation from the US embargo, their reluctance to take vaccines from China or Russia has kept the country poor and yet rich in its independence and humanity with a health system to be proud of.

This has been A letter from A. Broad

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org

Web support by murchstudio.com

Classroom Chaos to Lockdown

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Classed as a vulnerable senior, I was muddled as to where and when I could shop. But all that is clear now. A total lockdown has been announced across the United Kingdom lasting through to March. Thanks in part to pressure from the Teachers’ Unions that weighed in alongside the scientific community and made the government sit down and listen. As another, even more, virulent strain of the COVID-19 virus arrived from South Africa, the health minister Matt Hancock said ‘things are about to get harsh and complicated.’ and I’m almost feeling sorry for him. The view of the bumpy road has now become seriously clear. There are potholes of bankruptcy, illness, and death ahead.

Along with the national lockdown comes the news of the first Astra Zeneca vaccine being administered in Oxford. This, added to the Pfizer vaccine, is being delivered to care-homes, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Now it needs to get out to the public quickly. There is a tier system set in place and the beginning of a plan to administer the vaccine that could see the United Kingdom relatively safe, for the moment.

It was clear, as the Prime Minister began the New Year on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, each jousting with the other, that the Prime Minister had not done his homework of reading the June report that all of this – mutations of the virus strain, rising cases, and death tolls – was bound to happen this winter. Figures seem to be difficult for Boris and the absence of preparedness, one suspects, a life-long trait. That darn dog is always eating his homework. The BBC has to be a bit careful, so Andrew had to mind a P and a Q. But the director of the show has, I believe, a strong impulse to buck his traces and more than once showed a full-shot rear-view image of Boris at the round table. For a moment we were spared the frontal head of hair but now we see the look goes from top to tail and there are bare legs under rumpled sagging socks. It is a look that when Boris utters the words, “Believe me,” my response is immediately: ‘No’.

This week also brings up the case of the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. To avoid being sent to Sweden for sexual assault charges, always meaty fodder for the British tabloids, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. Sweden eventually dropped their charges but the US still wants him for WikiLeaks’s publication of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2010 and 2011. Assange has been in British custody since April 2019. His lawyers argued that to send Assange to the US would rewrite the rules of what was permissible to publish in Britain.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.” The judge ruled that the risk of ‘suicide’ should Assange be extradited to the US was high and that he should remain a guest of Her Majesty’s Government.

Which is of interest to journalists and filmmakers alike. Early on this program, you will have heard from Taghi Amirani and Walter Murch about the relaunch of the documentary Coup 53, the story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. Because of Covid, the film was released in 118 cinemas and digitally in August of 2020. There was – to put it politely – a huge outcry from the makers of Granada Television’s ‘End of Empire’ series which aired in the 1980s. Huge. To their immense credit, the Coup 53 team battled on fighting every false mud-sling that was thrown over the film. And good people have stood up beside them which is always reassuring and has made a serious difference to the film’s outcome. 

Which of course then takes us to Donald Trump and Georgia. Where to start with this one? It was unbelievable, that word again, when on the Ten o’clock BBC news we listened to the tape of Trump speaking with the Georgian Secretary of State. 

Seville Oranges, waiting

So where do we go for lighter news, sunshine and comfort? Why to Spain. As every English housewife knows, the only oranges to use for making marmalade are from Seville in Spain. With their rough skins, bounty of pits and high pectin content, they are the only oranges to use. Making marmalade in January is an ancient tradition and ‘older people’ (the youngsters a mere 75) write into the newspapers to say how much they have made this year. My mother made marmalade and now I do too. It is, though I should not say it, the best marmalade I know and, naturally, requires two piece of toast at breakfast rather than just one. 

In June of this year, Isambard Wilkinson reported for The Times on a delicate task that recently fell to the head gardener at the Alcázar royal palace in the southern Spanish city of Seville: Manuel Hurtado, a senior official from the palace confirmed that this was the first year of reintroducing this ancient custom of choosing the oranges for the Queen’s marmalade. This gift, is harvested from the Poets’ Garden and the Marqués de la Vega’s garden, whose trees bear the most and best oranges.”

From The Times. The Alcázar royal Palace and the Marqués de la Vega.

But now what will happen with Brexit? Well, that small little rock of Gibraltar is coming in very handy now. An ‘agreement’ has been reached whereby Spain and England can have congress in Gibraltar, and with that, Parma Ham and Seville Oranges may reach our shores once more.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.

Written and read for you by Muriel Murch 

First aired on Swimming Upstream –KWMR.org. Web support by murchstudio.com