"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"British army, at around 70,000 personnel, could fit in Old Trafford Stadium"
Chief of the British General Staff Gen. Patrick Saunders has stated that the U.K. is not ready for a war by suggesting forming a citizen army. His comments immediately sparked headlines that conscription is coming back. The resulting furore drew a swift rebuttal from Prime Minister Sunak that "a call-up was not under consideration." He added that "engaging in hypothetical wars was not helpful." Since then, Saunders has fallen silent.
Sunak may be correct about war talk, but as I've long pointed out, the British military is in a shocking state of readiness. The shortcomings are manifest, undermining the commendable individuals who elect to serve.
A year ago, a U.S. military commander described the U.K. forces as "barely second tier". And things have gone downhill since then. It's no good having fancy kits, like aircraft carriers, if you have no planes or crews. Likewise, self-congratulatory P.R. can't hide the truth; the ships have spent more time in the dock than at sea.
Then consider that the British army, at around 70,000 personnel, could fit in Old Trafford Stadium. If the war in Ukraine has proven anything, it is that the number of people deployed still matters. Despite all the new high-tech weapons, a war of attrition with regression to W.W. 1 tactics has emerged.
A leaked U.S. intelligence report in December 2023 indicated that 315,000 Russian troops were killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began in 2021. Some estimates suggest the Russians have lost over 6000 tanks. Currently, Britain has less than 200 operational tanks.
All things considered, I'm surprised any young person signs up, given that the U.K. government has broken the covenant with service personnel. Poor housing, sub-par medical care and underfunded welfare are disincentives. It's worth remembering that some units that fought in Afghanistan suffered more deaths from suicides after returning home than in battle.
Then you have the drive for so-called diversity, which, in effect, discriminates against white men. The RAF had to pay compensation to applicants kicked aside because of their colour and called "stupid white men."
Hence, white working-class men, who make up the majority of potential front-line recruits, having borne the brunt of policies designed to remove them from institutions, are unsurprisingly reluctant to die for an establishment that detests them. No wonder army recruitment is running 50% below targets.
But is something else going on? History gives us many examples of propaganda and false flag operations used to initiate wars or nudge sentiment. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is an example. Then you have the lies of Tony Blair and Alastair' Goebbels' Campbell that led to the pointless Iraq War. That shameful episode is not forgotten or forgiven.
Also seared in minds is the image of brave young soldiers standing in a sewage-filled ditch at Kabul Airport as the victorious Taliban forces ride into town—two decades of fighting, all for nothing. Meanwhile, the British foreign secretary Dominic Rabb opted to go on holiday. That's how much they care.
My father always said, "The establishment will only look after the working class when it needs our lads to fight wars." In that sentiment, he echoes Kipling's lines:
I went into a public 'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, " We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' " Tommy, go away " ;
But it's " Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
it's " Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.
Still, I believe many young people would benefit from a period of 'national service'. That could take the form of military service or something more community-based.
Research has shown that national service can enhance young people's sense of social incorporation, including social responsibility and citizenship. Further, such initiatives can break down class barriers in society. Indeed, that's a good thing.
Yet, it is evident that support for military service in the U.K., whether compelled or voluntary, is low. Polls from YouGov are revealing.
If, as some suggest, the general floated the idea of national military service to test the waters, the answer he got was "Get Stuffed."
“How can the proposals piggyback on the existing system, elements of which are informal, such as the folks who make a living from collecting discarded tin cans.”
Another delay in the scheme to charge us for disposing of rubbish: Why and what is happening? Well, for starters, do residents understand the scheme: how it will work, and what is their role? Indeed, I only became aware of the scheme's full intent because of the delay.
Hence, the prudent announcement by the Secretary for Environment & Ecology, Tse Chin-wan, of the extended delay. Yet, all this raises broader questions: was the scheme's planning, consultation and implementation adequate? The repeated delays would suggest not.
It's not a simple matter. But had officials bothered to consult the old ladies who collect cardboard, they may have gained some insights into the informal, evolved system that helps Hong Kong recycle.
It must be clear that there are significant risks in proceeding with a scheme that imposes itself on the existing rubbish collection, recycling, and disposal processes. Running trials can undoubtedly draw out some consequences, good and bad, but these only give limited insights.
For instance, there are reports that food waste processors are in demand at electrical appliance shops, and stocks are running out. These devices grind food to a mush that can then be flushed away. If many citizens opt for such a practice to avoid purchasing approved rubbish bags, we could create another problem. Is this trend going to strain our drainage system?
Also, can we expect a surge in fly-tipping? Plus, how are residents supposed to dispose of more oversized items? That's not clear to me.
Once again, adopting a 'red-team' approach could prove invaluable. By asking the so-called 'grass-roots' how the scheme could impact them, the 'what ifs' that get lost in committees, forums, and group discussions may be drawn out and aired.
If I landed the job of red-teaming this project, I'd be setting up many 'challenge teams'. These teams include residents, cleaners, building managers, refuse collectors, and recyclers. They would review the proposed processes to find flaws and possible difficulties and suggest solutions.
Giving ownership of the scheme to those implementing it is a no-brainer. It's not apparent this wide-ranging critical review has taken place.
Importantly, it will be essential to see how the proposals can piggyback on the existing system, which has informal elements. After all, thousands of folks make a living from collecting discarded tin cans. This approach is essential because evolved systems tend to have inherent efficiencies. We need to keep those.
Since we live in a rather unique high-rise environment with little storage space, implementing such a scheme in Hong Kong would never be straightforward. By default, that realisation has landed.
Lastly, the more significant issue remains how an economy based on consumption keeps its momentum in a world of recycling and discouraged consumerism.
That's a tough one long term issue faced by all societies.
(A simple guide to the scheme is here)
"No one is held to account. No one accepts responsibility."
At the top, Britain is a profoundly corrupt and rotten place. The fair-minded and tolerant people, the majority, don't deserve the awful ruling class that dominates in self-interest.
The rot runs through all the institutions, all the political parties, the courts, the police, the military, and the media. The list goes on. No one is held to account. No one accepts responsibility.
The two-decade Post Office scandal illustrates the woeful state of a society that has forfeited honesty and integrity. Only ideological narratives and Machiavellian incentives prevail.
The Post Office saga started in the late 1990s when self-employed sub-post masters had imposed upon them a Fujitsu IT system that, due to glitches, made it look like they'd stolen cash. The Horizon System was part of an initiative to computerise the Post Office—another bright idea driven by politicians keen to sell off a public service.
Sub-post masters are, in many ways, the pillars of the community, especially in remote areas. They are a focal point for isolated places, providing vital services through their shops. Plus, in an age when banks have withdrawn any physical presence from suburban areas, the sub-post masters have filled the gap.
Soon after its introduction, the Horizon IT system began to display errors. It indicated there might be discrepancies in the billing by many sub-post masters. But instead of seeing this sudden upsurge in alleged criminality as a possible system error, the Post Office accused the post masters.
In response, the Post Office deployed its private police force. Operating outside any scrutiny and using coercive interview techniques, they entrapped the accused, forcing them to plead guilty. In one instance, a female sub post master was locked in a room for six hours with no food or water and subjected to an interrogation while denied a lawyer.
Between 700 and 900 post masters faced convictions, and only 93 had those convictions overturned. Along the way, some have died, others committed suicide and many went to jail as their lives fell apart. They faced bankruptcy, loss of mortgages and savings, mental breakdowns and unjustified criminal records.
Computer Weekly began investigating the matter in 2004, and, by 2009, had gathered much evidence that the Horizon System was at fault. Still, the Post Office ignored the truth. Then, the Private Eye magazine covered the story for years, starting in September 2011. Meanwhile, the mainstream media didn't give full throat to the story although some tried.
Only last week, after a TV drama sparked public anger at the scandalous behaviour of Post Office leaders, have the media taken a full interest. And because of this reaction, the politicians came away from their usual banal Westminster games to address the issue.
There are several villains in this saga. Fujitsu, the Japanese tech company that supplies the Horizon software, allegedly knew about faults in the system yet covered them up. Paula Vennells, who ran the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, repeatedly denied the IT system was a problem when internal reports concluded it was.
During her tenure, the Post Office fought the sub post masters at every turn. They even sought to remove judges from cases when it was clear they'd they'd find for the post masters. So, here was an institution hell-bent on the cover-up and prepared to break the law to save face. Vennells departed the post with a huge bonus and a gong.
She continues to dodge the issue, offering only apologies. In a mealy mouthed statement as she handed back her CBE, she continues to blame the Horizon system.
To be clear, a human handled the vetting of the product at each step of implementing Horizon. And humans decided to pursue the post masters rather than recognise the malfunctioning system as the issue.
Vennells, who moonlights as an Anglican priest, has been described as "a cruel and incompetent leader" and slammed by a judge for fostering "institutional obstinacy". And yet, she's faced no consequences for her actions, poor judgment and lack of honesty, although she is now a hate figure.
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Party, as minister for postal affairs, did not investigate the matter when whistle-blowers contacted him. He stands accused of unquestioningly accepting assurances from Post Office management despite credible evidence that Horizon had gone Hal 2000.
Then there are the many Post Office managers, IT experts and lawyers who may be liable for perjury and fraud. It looks like they've engaged in a vast cover-up, including misleading the courts.
To understand how this came about, reading the book "Mistakes were made (but not by me)" may be helpful. The two psychologist authors set out how self-justification, conceit, arrogance, and entrenched bureaucratic systems combine to create an unwillingness to admit failings.
But the Post Office saga is only one event in a litany of institutional corruption that litter the British landscape.
Other instances of no accountability for officials in horrific events include the Rotherham Gang rapes, the BBC Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal and the many cases of sexual abuse of children by religious groups. How about the NHS perpetrated tainted blood outrage?
Who is answering for the malpractice around RAF recruitment that has dented the ability to attract quality staff by excluding white men?
Then consider the Covid PPE procurement wrongdoing, with a unique channel for the friends of politicians. And how many folks know about the ongoing dodgy dealings around Tees Freeport - a developing scandal? The list goes on.
Is it any wonder that Britain continues to slip down the international corruption index ratings. The UK has already dropped out of the top tier that includes Denmark, Singapore and Hong Kong.
As the saying goes, the rot starts at the head of a fish. This brings me to Prince Andrew, who remains unchallenged in court despite an apparent case-to-answer. And should Lord (Petie) Mandelson's close relationship with late sex offender Epstein be investigated? Mandelson remains an adviser to Labour leader Keir Starmer and sits in the House of Lords.
And while we are on the subject, why did Epstein have many telephone numbers for Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, and other prominent UK political figures? That includes their home numbers.
Likewise, allowing Boris Johnson to waltz away from parliament despite his evident lies is shocking. Behaviour which was once deemed disgraceful is now mainstream or at least acceptable, and those who get unsettled by it are portrayed as discriminatory and wrong.
That's it. I'm exhausted, and I've not scratched the surface of the corruption. It saddens me to say it, but Britain is now a silly country that only awakes to a massive injustice when it's on the telly.
At least an inflection point appears to have been reached, with sub post masters finally getting the fair hearing they deserve.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.