Covid-19

I returned from six months in the Philippines a week ago. The population of the Philippines is 109, 757,035 and as of August 11, they had experienced 143,749 cases of Covid-19 and had 2,404 deaths which is 22 deaths per 1 million of population.

The U.K. population is 67,926,890 and as of the same date had 313,798 cases and 46,706 deaths which is 688 per 1 million of population.

The U.S. population is 331,224,597 and has had 5,334,767 cases and 168,535 deaths which is 509 per 1 million of population.

Brazil has a population of 212,731,302 and has had 3,123,109 cases and 103,421 deaths which is 486 per 1 million of population.

Germany has a population of 83,814,910 and has had 219,648 cases with 9,269 deaths which is 111 per 1 million of population.

The world average is 96.1 deaths per 1 million of population.

In London, many people do not wear masks when out and about. I took a bus today and one is required to wear a mask on buses but a man got on in front of me with no mask and the driver said nothing to him. A single decker bus is restricted to just 14 passengers and a double decker to 30 passengers and many seats have tape across them to enforce social distancing.

In Manila, the police enforce mask wearing and there were checkpoints to enforce this. There were heavy fines if you disobeyed. When Malls reopened,  to enter them you had your temperature taken first and then you could enter. If you went to a restaurant, you had to fill out a form with your name, address, phone number and the time you were in the restaurant so you could be traced if someone proved to have an infection.

Many people would say that the Philippines is a third world country but they have handled Covid-19 better than many so-called first world countries like the U.K., the U.S., Brazil.

Germans obey Government rules in general but in countries like the U.K., the U.S. and Brazil – all governed by right wing politicians – they show a laissez faire attitude to this killer disease. Is that sensible? Why are the people allowed to put other people in danger by ignoring the rules?

The Unraveling of America  

Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era

Wade Davis holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. His award-winning books include “Into the Silence” and “The Wayfinders.” His new book, “Magdalena: River of Dreams,” is published by Knopf.

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Our interventions to date have largely focused on mitigating the rate of spread, flattening the curve of morbidity. There is no treatment at hand, and no certainty of a vaccine on the near horizon. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years. COVID-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is some evidence that natural infection may not imply immunity, leaving some to question how effective a vaccine will be, even assuming one can be found. And it must be safe. If the global population is to be immunized, lethal complications in just one person in a thousand would imply the death of millions.

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives. Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life. As companies eliminate or downsize central offices, employees work from home, restaurants close, shopping malls shutter, streaming brings entertainment and sporting events into the home, and airline travel becomes ever more problematic and miserable, people will adapt, as we’ve always done. Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.

To be sure, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. Hovering over the global economy for some time will be the sober realization that all the money in the hands of all the nations on Earth will never be enough to offset the losses sustained when an entire world ceases to function, with workers and businesses everywhere facing a choice between economic and biological survival.

Unsettling as these transitions and circumstances will be, short of a complete economic collapse, none stands out as a turning point in history. But what surely does is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria. Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis. At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock. Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

In the wake of the war, with Europe and Japan in ashes, the United States with but 6 percent of the world’s population accounted for half of the global economy, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. Such economic dominance birthed a vibrant middle class, a trade union movement that allowed a single breadwinner with limited education to own a home and a car, support a family, and send his kids to good schools. It was not by any means a perfect world but affluence allowed for a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of opportunity in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high tax rates for the wealthy, who were by no means the only beneficiaries of a golden age of American capitalism.

But freedom and affluence came with a price. The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

As America policed the world, the violence came home. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the Allied death toll was 4,414; in 2019, domestic gun violence had killed that many American men and women by the end of April. By June of that year, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. In wide swaths of America, the family as an institution lost its grounding. By the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages were ending in divorce. Only six percent of American homes had grandparents living beneath the same roof as grandchildren; elders were abandoned to retirement homes.

With slogans like “24/7” celebrating complete dedication to the workplace, men and women exhausted themselves in jobs that only reinforced their isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she will have spent fully two years watching television or staring at a laptop screen, contributing to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

Only half of Americans report having meaningful, face-to-face social interactions on a daily basis. The nation consumes two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs. The collapse of the working-class family has been responsible in part for an opioid crisis that has displaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing. Economic disparities exist in all nations, creating a tension that can be as disruptive as the inequities are unjust. In any number of settings, however, the negative forces tearing apart a society are mitigated or even muted if there are other elements that reinforce social solidarity — religious faith, the strength and comfort of family, the pride of tradition, fidelity to the land, a spirit of place.

But when all the old certainties are shown to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family is shattered as factories close and corporate leaders, growing wealthier by the day, ship jobs abroad, the social contract is irrevocably broken. For two generations, America has celebrated globalization with iconic intensity, when, as any working man or woman can see, it’s nothing more than capital on the prowl in search of ever cheaper sources of labor.

For many years, those on the conservative right in the United States have invoked a nostalgia for the 1950s, and an America that never was, but has to be presumed to have existed to rationalize their sense of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentments and lingering contempt for the social movements of the 1960s, a time of new aspirations for women, gays, and people of color. In truth, at least in economic terms, the country of the 1950s resembled Denmark as much as the America of today. Marginal tax rates for the wealthy were 90 percent. The salaries of CEOs were, on average, just 20 times that of their mid-management employees.

Today, the base pay of those at the top is commonly 400 times that of their salaried staff, with many earning orders of magnitude more in stock options and perks. The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets. The three richest Americans have more money than the poorest 160 million of their countrymen. Fully a fifth of American households have zero or negative net worth, a figure that rises to 37 percent for black families. The median wealth of black households is a tenth that of whites. The vast majority of Americans — white, black, and brown — are two paychecks removed from bankruptcy. Though living in a nation that celebrates itself as the wealthiest in history, most Americans live on a high wire, with no safety net to brace a fall.

With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.

COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind. With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths. The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

As the United States responded to the crisis like a corrupt tin pot dictatorship, the actual tin pot dictators of the world took the opportunity to seize the high ground, relishing a rare sense of moral superiority, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The autocratic leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, chastised America for “maliciously violating ordinary citizens’ rights.” North Korean newspapers objected to “police brutality” in America. Quoted in the Iranian press, Ayatollah Khamenei gloated, “America has begun the process of its own destruction.”

Trump’s performance and America’s crisis deflected attention from China’s own mishandling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, not to mention its move to crush democracy in Hong Kong. When an American official raised the issue of human rights on Twitter, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, invoking the killing of George Floyd, responded with one short phrase, “I can’t breathe.”

These politically motivated remarks may be easy to dismiss. But Americans have not done themselves any favors. Their political process made possible the ascendancy to the highest office in the land a national disgrace, a demagogue as morally and ethically compromised as a person can be. As a British writer quipped, “there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid”.

The American president lives to cultivate resentments, demonize his opponents, validate hatred. His main tool of governance is the lie; as of July 9th, 2020, the documented tally of his distortions and false statements numbered 20,055. If America’s first president, George Washington, famously could not tell a lie, the current one can’t recognize the truth. Inverting the words and sentiments of Abraham Lincoln, this dark troll of a man celebrates malice for all, and charity for none.

Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. The republic that defined the free flow of information as the life blood of democracy, today ranks 45th among nations when it comes to press freedom. In a land that once welcomed the huddled masses of the world, more people today favor building a wall along the southern border than supporting health care and protection for the undocumented mothers and children arriving in desperation at its doors. In a complete abandonment of the collective good, U.S. laws define freedom as an individual’s inalienable right to own a personal arsenal of weaponry, a natural entitlement that trumps even the safety of children; in the past decade alone 346 American students and teachers have been shot on school grounds.

The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.

How can the rest of the world expect America to lead on global threats — climate change, the extinction crisis, pandemics — when the country no longer has a sense of benign purpose, or collective well-being, even within its own national community? Flag-wrapped patriotism is no substitute for compassion; anger and hostility no match for love. Those who flock to beaches, bars, and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk, are not exercising freedom; they are displaying, as one commentator has noted, the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it. Leading their charge is Donald Trump, a bone spur warrior, a liar and a fraud, a grotesque caricature of a strong man, with the backbone of a bully.

Over the last months, a quip has circulated on the internet suggesting that to live in Canada today is like owning an apartment above a meth lab. Canada is no perfect place, but it has handled the COVID crisis well, notably in British Columbia, where I live. Vancouver is just three hours by road north of Seattle, where the U.S. outbreak began. Half of Vancouver’s population is Asian, and typically dozens of flights arrive each day from China and East Asia. Logically, it should have been hit very hard, but the health care system performed exceedingly well. Throughout the crisis, testing rates across Canada have been consistently five times that of the U.S. On a per capita basis, Canada has suffered half the morbidity and mortality. For every person who has died in British Columbia, 44 have perished in Massachusetts, a state with a comparable population that has reported more COVID cases than all of Canada. As of July 30th, even as rates of COVID infection and death soared across much of the United States, with 59,629 new cases reported on that day alone, hospitals in British Columbia registered a total of just five COVID patients.

When American friends ask for an explanation, I encourage them to reflect on the last time they bought groceries at their neighborhood Safeway. In the U.S. there is almost always a racial, economic, cultural, and educational chasm between the consumer and the check-out staff that is difficult if not impossible to bridge. In Canada, the experience is quite different. One interacts if not as peers, certainly as members of a wider community. The reason for this is very simple. The checkout person may not share your level of affluence, but they know that you know that they are getting a living wage because of the unions. And they know that you know that their kids and yours most probably go to the same neighborhood public school. Third, and most essential, they know that you know that if their children get sick, they will get exactly the same level of medical care not only of your children but of those of the prime minister. These three strands woven together become the fabric of Canadian social democracy.

Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.” Such a remark may seem cruel, but it accurately reflects the view of America today as seen from the perspective of any modern social democracy. Canada performed well during the COVID crisis because of our social contract, the bonds of community, the trust for each other and our institutions, our health care system in particular, with hospitals that cater to the medical needs of the collective, not the individual, and certainly not the private investor who views every hospital bed as if a rental property. The measure of wealth in a civilized nation is not the currency accumulated by the lucky few, but rather the strength and resonance of social relations and the bonds of reciprocity that connect all people in common purpose.

This has nothing to do with political ideology, and everything to do with the quality of life. Finns live longer and are less likely to die in childhood or in giving birth than Americans. Danes earn roughly the same after-tax income as Americans, while working 20 percent less. They pay in taxes an extra 19 cents for every dollar earned. But in return they get free health care, free education from pre-school through university, and the opportunity to prosper in a thriving free-market economy with dramatically lower levels of poverty, homelessness, crime, and inequality. The average worker is paid better, treated more respectfully, and rewarded with life insurance, pension plans, maternity leave, and six weeks of paid vacation a year. All of these benefits only inspire Danes to work harder, with fully 80 percent of men and women aged 16 to 64 engaged in the labor force, a figure far higher than that of the United States.

American politicians dismiss the Scandinavian model as creeping socialism, communism lite, something that would never work in the United States. In truth, social democracies are successful precisely because they foment dynamic capitalist economies that just happen to benefit every tier of society. That social democracy will never take hold in the United States may well be true, but, if so, it is a stunning indictment, and just what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he quipped that the United States was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.

Evidence of such terminal decadence is the choice that so many Americans made in 2016 to prioritize their personal indignations, placing their own resentments above any concerns for the fate of the country and the world, as they rushed to elect a man whose only credential for the job was his willingness to give voice to their hatreds, validate their anger, and target their enemies, real or imagined. One shudders to think of what it will mean to the world if Americans in November, knowing all that they do, elect to keep such a man in political power. But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.

The end of the American era and the passing of the torch to Asia is no occasion for celebration, no time to gloat. In a moment of international peril, when humanity might well have entered a dark age beyond all conceivable horrors, the industrial might of the United States, together with the blood of ordinary Russian soldiers, literally saved the world. American ideals, as celebrated by Madison and Monroe, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, at one time inspired and gave hope to millions.

If and when the Chinese are ascendant, with their concentration camps for the Uighurs, the ruthless reach of their military, their 200 million surveillance cameras watching every move and gesture of their people, we will surely long for the best years of the American century. For the moment, we have only the kleptocracy of Donald Trump. Between praising the Chinese for their treatment of the Uighurs, describing their internment and torture as “exactly the right thing to do,” and his dispensing of medical advice concerning the therapeutic use of chemical disinfectants, Trump blithely remarked, “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” He had in mind, of course, the coronavirus, but, as others have said, he might just as well have been referring to the American dream.

From Rolling Stone.

My last 12 months

Sometime ago I decided to leave the U.K. as it had become a country I no longer had respect for since the Brexit Referendum. I decided to go and live in the Philippines and marry my sweetheart over there.

Before doing that I thought I would do some travelling around Europe and in North America.

In early October 2019 I flew to Berlin which is a favourite city of mine and stayed in two very good hostels – first the EZPZ Backpackers Hostel near Zoologischer Garten and then at the Heart Of Gold on Johannisstraße at 19,50 Euros a night. I had been to Berlin many times and visited things I had missed on previous visits. I also visited Potsdam which is the last stop on the SBahn and went to Schloss Sans Souci. On the way back to Berlin I decided to stop off at Wannsee to visit the WannseeKonferenzHaus to see where the Final Solution was planned by Heydrich and other Nazi officials. It was closed but they had an exhibition in the Gardens.

On October 15 and 16 I visited Krakow in Poland which I found to be a delightful city. The real reason I went to Krakow was to visit Auschwitz-Birkeneau which is about an hour by train outside Krakow. One cannot fail to be moved by such a place.

I retuned to Berlin for one more night at the Heart of Gold Hostel and the following day I took the train to Freiburg im Breisgau in the Black Forest. I travelled right across Germany from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Freiburg Hauptbahnhof for just about 30 Euros. In Freiburg I stay at the always excellent Black Forest Hostel. I was in Freiburg for three nights and visited relatives and friends and one day the family and I took the train to Basel in Switzerland which is only an hour away. Basel is situated on the Rhine and we spent a lovely day there.

On October 21, I left Frieburg by train for Brussels via Aachen. I broke my journey in Aachen as I wanted to visit Aachen Dom (Cathedral) which was the home for Charlemagne – Karl der Grosse – one of two cathedrals I wanted to see before leaving Europe. I spent a few hours in Aachen and then resumed my journey to Brussels. On arrival in Brussels I made for my hostel – the Hotel Louise where I was booked in for two nights. It was so awful that I moved out after one night and went to another hostel which was far better. In Brussels I visited the European Parliament as well as the beautiful Grote Markt.

I left Brussels after two days and took the Flixbus to Paris where I was booked into the Young and Happy Latin Quarter Hostel for three nights. It was excellent and apart from the one hostel in Brussels I had good fortune in selecting my hostels. I love Paris. On one day I traveled to Chartres to visit the beautiful Chartres Cathedral and the town of Chartres was very pleasant. The next day was the second day of a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at Le Louvre and I went to that which was marvellous. Le Louvre is one massive art galley and I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo there in addition to the Leonardo exhibition. A great day.

On October 25 I took the overnight Flixbus from Gare Bercy to London Victoria to save money. It is not something I would recommend but it was cheap. Arriving at Victoria Coach Station I transferred to the National Express coach back to Exeter and home.

I moved out off my flat on November 21and on November 25 I travelled to Paris by Eurostar to stay one night at a hotel at Charles de Gaulle Airport. The reason I decided to fly to New York from Paris was because when I booked the plane was an A380 which was my preferred aircraft but after booking it was changed to another plane so no A380.

I arrived at New York’s JFK Airport and took a taxi to my friend Sara’s apartment in Brooklyn where I was going to stay for over month. Sara was not at home as she was looking after her ailing mother in Glen Cove on Long Island. I spent Thanksgiving there. Sara’s apartment is in Brighton Beach which is almost totally Russian/Ukrainian so the language one heard mostly were these two languages. The area’s nickname is Little Odessa.

In the shops all the labelling was in Russian so I ventured to another area to purchase food. On Sunday I wanted to purchase the Sunday New York Times but they carried no English language newspapers at all so I had to go into Manhattan to purchase the newspaper. I was going there anywhere I wanted to go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral which I did and the mass was celebrated by the Cardinal.

I went to Glen Cove a couple of times and slept over which was lovely and Sara visited me on a couple of occasions. I spent Christmas in Glen Cove.

My plan was to spend the New Year in Canada staying with a friend and visiting my two sons. The plan was to spend a month there but my friend was having a visitor so I had to depart sooner and return to New York as my son’s place was too small to allow me to stay over. Fortunately I got to see my two sons but not as long as I had hoped.

I returned to Paris on my return flight on January 24 and then travelled onto London. I stayed a few days at the Smart Hyde Park View hostel which was great and then stayed with friends and family until February 13 when I departed for Manila in the Philippines arriving on Valentine’s Day. How romantic!

The first month in the Philippines was stressful for me trying to get used to my new life and on three occasions I had fall outs with my beloved Wilma. After the third fall out, Wilma went to stay at a friends for a week to think over things. On her return she said that we would not get married. I was very upset because I felt this was my fault. She said I could stay there until I could return home to the U.K.

Then the Pandemic arrived and I was stuck in the Philippines. I had reserved a flight with Turkish Airlines to fly out in May but that flight was cancelled as were flights on June 1, June 10, July 1. My next flight was booked for August 3 and that got cancelled too but in getting touch with the airline they said there was a flight the day before so I accepted that. So I’m back in the U.K. now and in self-isolation for 14 days.

Despite the fact that Wilma and I were not going to get married we got along very well during my enforced layover in Manila. As I am over 60 I was not allowed to go anywhere from home but the family were allowed to go shopping for food. As I left the Philippines lockdown was till in effect. I have to say the Philippine Government have dealt with Covid-19 better than the U.K. Government.

I still love Wilma and we shall remain good friends always. I am 74 years old and she is 31 so perhaps marriage was unrealistic but I have no regrets.

Before lockdown occurred we got to go swimming twice – once in a river and the other in a resort. I was not able to visit any beach resorts due to lockdown so it was a little tedious having to stay in the family home.

Can Germany now hold the European team together?

Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash

The other day, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was sitting on a beach in the summer of 2030 and looking back on how Germany had saved Europe.

With what Hegel would call the cunning of reason in history, Germany’s long overdue shift was precipitated by a previously unknown virus of Asian origin and a ruling of the German constitutional court. The former made it clear even to a sceptical German public that south European countries were suffering from a disaster no one could say was their own fault, and therefore deserved economic solidarity. The latter, firing a warning shot over the bows of the European Central Bank, made it clear that everything could not be left to the monetary policy of the bank. A Europe-wide fiscal response was needed as well. Precisely as I dared to hope in a commentary earlier this year, Merkel has seized the opportunity with both hands. Hats off to her.

But there are also longer-term developments underpinning my hopeful dream. Berlin now has a critical mass of politicians, officials, journalists, thinktanks and foundations who are thinking hard about what Europe’s strategy should be – and not just for the current German presidency of the EU. If a black-green (CDU/CSU-Green) coalition government emerges from next autumn’s general election, that will only strengthen its European commitment. In the European Council on Foreign Relations’ recent EU-wide survey of foreign policy professionals, 97% of those asked said Germany is the most influential country in the EU and 82% identified it as the “most-contacted” country. In Europe, Germany is the indispensable nation.

Yet, awoken from my daydream by a cold shower of rain, something the British summer is always happy to provide, I see two major difficulties down the road ahead. Ever since the first unification of Germany, a century and a half ago, the country has wrestled with the problem of what Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, a federal chancellor in the 1960s, called its “critical size”. His near-namesake, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, put it more pithily: “too big for Europe, too small for the world”. Kissinger’s formulation is brilliant but not quite right. Germany is too big to be just another European country, but it’s not big enough to be a hegemon even in Europe, let alone in the world.

So however wise a German strategy may be, it cannot be realised without a set of international partners. The giant challenges of climate change and the emergent authoritarian superpower China – which is to the early 21st century world what Wilhelmine Germany was to early 20th century Europe – cannot be addressed unless you have the United States under a President Joe Biden returning to a constructive internationalism, and the strategic engagement of powers like Australia, Japan and India. Europe’s own problems cannot be solved without the active involvement not just of France and Spain but also of Italy (understandably preoccupied with its own internal problems), Poland (currently peddling an archaic anti-German line), the Netherlands and others. For foreign and security policy, Europe also needs the clout of Britain – which is the big strategic reason for Merkel to try to broker the Brexit deal which I believe still can be done this autumn.US to pull 12,000 troops out of Germany as Trump blasts ‘delinquent’ BerlinRead more

The other great unknown is German public opinion. On the face of it, there seems to be a solid pro-European, internationalist consensus in German society. But underneath, there are some worrying trends. The outside world is always alert to any possible revival of a greater Germany tendency, yet more prevalent is still the greater Switzerland tendency: just leave us alone to be rich and free. The German stereotype of south Europeans in the Eurozone scrounging off virtuous, hardworking north Europeans has not simply disappeared. The way electoral support surged for the xenophobic nationalist Alliance for Germany (AfD) following the refugee crisis was a worrying sign. So are well-documented reports of far-right sympathies in the military and security services. And contemporary Germany society has not yet gone through the test of really hard times at home.

To be denounced by Donald Trump as “delinquent” must be infuriating, but the emotional extremism of German alienation from the United States goes far beyond eminently rational anti-Trumpism. A real ideological and geopolitical myopia is revealed in the finding of a recent Körber foundation poll that only 37% of Germans think having close relations with the US is more important for Germany than having close relations with China, while a staggering 36% say it’s more important to get on with China and another 13% favour equidistance.

Germany cannot simply conjure up the necessary international partners, but this is something that’s in its own hands. As a distinguished former German ambassador to China, Volker Stanzel, has argued, foreign policy can no longer be left to the elites. It needs to be anchored in a much wider process of education and democratic debate. That’s all the more true because, due to the country’s “critical size” and the shadows of its past, the international role that the German public needs to understand and support is this historically unusual, difficult, carefully balanced one. For Germany can never be the prancing hegemon, just the steady, skilful football midfielder who keeps the whole team together – and doesn’t even get the applause for scoring goals. Yet sometimes those midfielders are the true heroes of the team.

• Timothy Garton Ash is a Guardian columnist

The Russia report’s real warning? Britain has given up protecting its democracy

Peter Geoghegan

Our political system is easily influenced by wealthy donors or hostile powers. The government seems

unwilling to defend it

Vladimir Putin (centre) and Boris Johnson (right). ‘When the rules say it’s fine for the wife of Putin’s former finance minister to pay £45,000 to play tennis with Johnson, don’t be surprised when the public loses faith in politics.’ 

The recent Russia report paints a grim picture of British democracy. Kremlin disinformation targeting our elections, a London laundromat cleaning dirty money, Russian elites buying their wayinto the British establishment.The Russia report points to wilful negligence by the British governmentDominic GrieveRead more

The 50-page dossier sparked questions about why successive Conservative governments repeatedly ignored evidence of Kremlin inference. Newspapers splashed with stories about leading Tories accepting donations from wealthy Russians with connections deep into Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. (As if we didn’t know this already.)

But buried in the middle of the intelligence and security committee’s reluctantly released report are two paragraphs that should be even more concerning. They reveal that nobody is in charge of protecting British democracy. Never mind Putin and Russia, it appears anyone with a wad of cash and a vested interest can buy access to our political process.

The parliamentarians don’t mince their words about the scale of the problem. Defending the UK’s democratic processes, the report says, is “something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead”.

It gets worse. Government agencies nominally charged with ensuring the integrity of our political and electoral system are not in a position to “tackle a major hostile state threat to our democracy”.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – responsible for tackling a torrent of political disinformation online – “is a small Whitehall policy department”. The Electoral Commission is “an arm’s length body”, embattled and under-resourced.

None of this was news to me. I have spent the last year writing a book about how anonymous money and undisclosed lobbying has warped British democracy. In my research I saw how Conservative party donors were able to sidestep transparency requirements to funnel hundreds of thousands of pounds into key Labour “red wall” seats during the 2019 general election. But I was still surprised to see a report bearing parliament’s portcullis insignia admit these failings admitted so bluntly.

It’s easy to fixate on potential Russian influence operations, but the reality is that our political system is ripe for abuse from all corners. The UK’s approach to regulating democracy is light touch to the point of invisibility. In the US, you can go to prison for breaking electoral law. (Just ask Michael Cohen.) The maximum fine our Electoral Commission can impose is £20,000, barely enough for a table at a Conservative party fundraiser. The Tories, incidentally, last year opposed strengthening the elections regulator so it could impose bigger fines.

In Britain, the laws that govern our politics are like taxes: to be paid only by those who don’t have the means to the bend the rules. Dominic Cummings – whose Vote Leave campaign broke the law before the Brexit referendum – repeatedly refused to appear before a DCMS select committee enquiry into “fake news”. He was still made a senior adviser by Boris Johnson.

Party funding is a permanent scandal waiting to happen. When the rules say it’s fine for the wife of a former finance minister in Putin’s government to pay at least £45,000 to play tennis with Johnson – as Lubov Chernukhin did this year – don’t be surprised when the public loses faith in politics. (It’s hardly a coincidence that dissatisfaction with democracy is highest in the UK and the US, two countries where money is a major feature of political life.)

On paper, Britain has a lobbying register to keep tabs on who is influencing our politicians. But the transparency requirements are so weak that corporate lobbyists can easily evade disclosure. There are almost no rules at all around online campaigning. The list goes on and on.

The Russia report should be a clarion call, a final warning about the degraded state of British democracy. As the report says: “Protecting our democratic discourse and processes from hostile interference is a central responsibility of government, and should be a ministerial priority.” Which is true. Defending democracy should be a priority for Johnson’s administration – but it clearly isn’t.

At almost the exact same time as the report was being released, the Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith was telling parliament that consolidation of Britain’s labyrinthine and outdated electoral laws beyond amending the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was “not a priority” for the government.

Johnson went even further, declaring that the imbroglio over the Russia report was a plot by “Islington remainers”. But it’s not. British democracy is indeed badly compromised. That should be a worry to us all, not just Russia hawks or those who would like to reverse the 2016 Brexit result.

Even more concerning, however, is politicians’ lack of appetite for reform. Senior government figures – such as Tobias Ellwood – have broken ranks to call for action on potential Russia interference, but there has been little talk of tackling the failings closer to home.

Politicians, of course, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. As the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, chair of a parliamentary working group on electoral reform, told me: “Political parties would rather stay with the broken system we have currently because they know how to maximise their advantage within it.”

The Russia report has revealed the ugly state of British democracy. It’s a system that is open to abuse again and again. But having won power on the back of a broken system, Johnson and his Vote Leave entourage within the Tory party would rather tilt at windmills than fix it.

  • Peter Geoghegan’s latest book Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics is published 6 August by Head of Zeus

The Russia report shows we have a security problem. He lives in No 10

Carole Cadwalladr

Carole Cadwalladr

The prime minister’s silence on the findings of the intelligence and security committee speaks volumes 

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, is it a duck? Or, more pertinently, at the moment, if Boris Johnson acts like a Russian asset and talks like a Russian asset, is he a Russian asset?

This isn’t a cute Johnsonian provocation. An “asset” in intelligence terms is not necessarily someone who actively works for a foreign state. It’s someone who’s used by a foreign state. It’s someone who acts – knowingly or unknowingly – to further that state’s interests.

I’m not making allusions to Johnson’s meeting at an Italian palazzo with the former London KGB chief weeks after Russia had released a chemical weapon on Britain’s streets, which I reported on last autumn, as gobsmacking as that was. Or his relationship with Alexander Temerko, a Russian oligarch, who happens to both try to influence Tory policy and give the party money. Because Johnson almost certainly does only what is in Johnson’s best interests.

It’s just that in the case of Russian interference in our elections, and specifically the EU referendum, Johnson’s best interests are Russia’s best interests. And it was in both of their interests last week to disregard the findings of the report published by the intelligence and security committee (ISC).PM accused of cover-up over report on Russian meddling in UK politicsRead more

“This is about pressure from Islington Remainers who had seized on this report to try to give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit,” Johnson said, in response to a question that had nothing to do with Brexit.

It doesn’t matter why Johnson who, until 2016 was an Islington Remainer, made these remarks. Or what motivated him or what he seeks to gain from them. But by politicising a report from the ISC he has done something dark and dangerous. Because the ISC does not act like other committees. It is scrupulously non-partisan and proudly independent. The findings of the report were endorsed by its current and previous Conservative chairs. And to reject its findings is not just a foreign policy win for Russia – and all other states that could benefit from interfering in our elections – it’s a fork in the road for Britain, the parliamentary democracy.

“This committee has been subject to unprecedented delay and dislocation,” Julian Lewis, the committee’s new chair, said on Tuesday. “This must never happen again.” But what can be done to prevent it? Nothing.

What did Johnson know, when? What role did he play in MI6’s lack of action? Is he negligent? Is he complicit? And will someone ask Sir Alex Younger, the head of MI6? Because in December 2016, a month after the US election, he made a rare public speech. The internet had changed everything, he said, and the “connectivity at the heart of globalisation” had created a “fundamental threat to our sovereignty”. It was a warning. But to whom? The prime minister, Theresa May? Or his boss? Boris Johnson.

It took nearly a year for any kind of response at all. Then, in November 2017, May made a landmark speech: “Russia, we know what you are doing,” she said.

The timing of this was not an accident. It was two weeks after the first of Robert Mueller’s indictments were unsealed. Many threads of his investigation ran through London. The Russian ambassador was a key conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in the summer of 2016, when Johnson was foreign secretary. And WikiLeaks, based in London’s Ecuadorean embassy, was revealed to be “Organisation A”, a channel for Russian intelligence. It was no longer credible to ignore British involvement in a transatlantic web of Kremlin-influenced operations.

And yet that’s exactly what we did. That’s the revelation of last week. “In stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” the report notes, “where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months.” Hundreds of FBI agents, lawyers and prosecutors worked for more than three years on Mueller’s investigation in the US. Here, on the other hand, when asked by the committee for its assessment on Russian interference in the referendum, MI5 initially handed over six lines. Six lines!

This has been staring us in the face for four years. We know the big tech platforms have created a vulnerability at the heart of our democracies. We can no longer feign ignorance. And yet we do. Perhaps at the heart of it all is the infected abscess that is the EU referendum. We need to understand what happened in it, the MPs said last week, to have any hope of protecting our elections in the future. This is an urgent matter of our national security, uncomfortably overlapping with our politics. Because what else might an inquiry find? The Russians stand accused of exploiting with disinformation and lies the same platform that Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, exploited with disinformation and lies.

Perhaps at the heart of it all is the infected pustule that is the EU referendum

And then there’s Arron Banks. Or “page 13, footnote 50”, as Kevan Jones, the MP for North Durham, told the press conference when asked if Banks was in the report. The only individual named in the 44 pages, as a tweet from Leave.EU pointed out, “and cleared”, and who had threatened to sue the committee before it had even published.

By the time Theresa May made her speech in November 2017, I’d been working for a year on my investigation into big tech and the EU referendum and was disturbed by the lack of investigation in Britain. That week, I wrote an angry piece: “Theresa May has finally acknowledged that Britain is not insulated from fake news and lies from the Kremlin, but what is the government going to do about it?’

Nothing, it turned out. Not a thing.

Earlier this year, I spent days writing a chronology of this investigation. It’s for the court case that Mr [REDACTED] footnote 50, p13 continues against me.

November 2017 was an inflection point, not just for me but Britain too. Just three months later, Russia would use a nerve agent on our streets and kill a British citizen. “Russia, we know what you are doing,” May said. But we didn’t. We still don’t. And, under Boris Johnson, we refuse to look.

This is a vital report that demands a response. That it hasn’t got one from the man who is leading the country is a source of profound disquiet. This is a critical moment and the decisions we make now will affect our future.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck. Britain has a national security problem. And his name is Boris Johnson.

• Carole Cadwalladr is a reporter and feature writer for the ObserverTopics

Microsoft woes – 2

In June Microsoft issued 129 patches for their products. In July there were 123 patches issued.

Patches are software to fix vulnerabilities in their software.

An analogy might be painting an old car with new paint.

If you are in the market for a new computer, I strongly recommend getting either a) a Mac or b) a Linux based computer.

Was there Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum? The Tories just didn’t care – The Guardian

Jonathan Lis

The Russia report confirms it: the government had reason to suspect a violation of our democratic processes, and ignored it

Brexit billboard in north London
 ‘The EU and UK were seen as rivals – and Brexit could have offered Vladimir Putin a chance to weaken both.’ Putin features on a Brexit billboard in north London. Photograph: Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images

The conclusion of the Russia report is damning not for what it says, but for what it cannot. Neither the British government nor intelligence agencies made any effort to investigate the alleged hacking of the UK’s most significant democratic event in generations.

The intelligence and security committee’s (ISC) Russia report does not hold back. It states that “we have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference … in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election”. Its press release is even more blunt, declaring that “the government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016”. The committee duly recommends that the intelligence services “produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum” and publish an unclassified summary.

Predictably, the government has rejected that advice. It has responded that “we have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum”, and given the lack of new information, “a retrospective assessment … is not necessary”.

We should note that many Russia experts doubt a coordinated interference in the Brexitreferendum. Some argue that it vastly overestimates, and indeed flatters, Russian power, casting Vladimir Putin as an omnipotent and organised super-villain, rather than the frequently stymied leader of a chaotic state bureaucracy. Many also note that Russia had both economic and political interests to maintain a strong EU – not least as a bulwark against the US. Much of the consensus suggests that interference was probably low-level and uncoordinated – a moderate nuisance rather than a major attack.

Nevertheless, allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum did not emerge from the ether and were not simply the online ramblings of conspiracy theorists. As the report notes, there is credible evidence that Russian actors have interfered in foreign elections over a period of some years, and the Russian state often views foreign policy as a zero-sum game. 

The prospect of Russian interference should therefore have been taken seriously, not dismissed as partisan theatre. As one expert put it to me, “the best way to counter Russia’s influence is to expose it, transparently, without political games”. A government that valued the integrity of its elections and institutions would make every conceivable effort to investigate and combat breaches. This government’s entire approach to the Russia report suggests that it instead privileged its own short-term interests.

Why has the government looked the other way? Frankly, it has simply been consistent. The referendum was compromised in a number of ways. Some, such as the allegations of misspending, were about laws. Others, such as the naked falsehoods published by Vote Leave, were about basic fairness. And yet early on, for whatever reason, the UK government decided that Brexit was the will of the people and that was the end of it. Under the stewardship of Theresa May, the referendum transformed from political moment to religious text. Brexit became our national creed and would not be questioned.

This approach has infected our body politic. As the ISC noted, MI5 has been anxious not to be seen as involving itself in “contentious” politics. Really this reveals the hyper-tribal nature of our modern political landscape. Nothing is, or is seen to be, neutral. Even well-meaning attempts at objectivity are slammed as political point-scoring. But to investigate the workings of the referendum is not to take sides in a political dispute, but to ensure the proper functioning of our democracy. That cannot rely on winning by any means necessary, and no democratic engine can survive without occasionally lifting the bonnet. A British government should not simply want to confirm the legitimacy of our elections. It explicitly needs to.

The fundamental point here is not that we would have remained in the EU if it hadn’t been for shady officials in Moscow, or troll farms in St Petersburg. Even if such a smoking gun exists, it will probably never be found. Rather, the government had reason to suspect a violation of our democratic processes and ignored it. An admission of such a breach would have caused embarrassment. It could have made life even more difficult on the global stage. Worst of all, it would have demanded greater justification for the national self-sabotage our government has resolved, at any cost, to implement.

The scandal revealed today, then, is not that our democracy was corrupted or voided by the actions of a foreign power – it’s that the British establishment didn’t care either way.

• Jonathan Lis is deputy director of the thinktank British Influence

Russia report reveals UK government failed to investigate Kremlin interference

Intelligence and security committee publishes long-delayed findings on Russian influence over UK politics

Dan Sabbagh Luke Harding and Andrew Roth in Moscow, The Guardian

Vladimir Putin (left) and Boris Johnson
 Vladimir Putin (left) and Boris Johnson. The prime minister sat on the report before the general election and only cleared it for release in December. Composite: Barcroft Media/EPA

The British government and intelligence agencies failed to conduct any proper assessment of Kremlin attempts to interfere with the 2016 Brexitreferendum, according to the long-delayed Russia report.

The damning conclusion is contained within the 50-page document from parliament’s intelligence and security committee, which said ministers in effect turned a blind eye to allegations of Russian disruption.

It said the government “had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes” at the time, and it made clear that no serious effort was made to do so.

“The report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know,” said Stewart Hosie, a Scottish National party MP who sits on the cross-party committee.

“The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”

The committee, which scrutinises the work of Britain’s spy agencies, said: “We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference”. It contrasted the response with that of the US.

“This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public.”

Committee members said they could not definitively conclude whether the Kremlin had or had not successfully interfered in the referendum that led to the UK quitting the European Union because no effort had been made to find out.

“Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe,” said the report.

After the government immediately rebuffed calls for a full investigation, Labour last night accused it of failing in its response to the security threat posed to UK democracy by Russia.

Speaking ahead of an urgent question in parliament on Wednesday, the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said that “on every level, the government’s response does not appear to be equal to the threat”.

“This report outlines the scale of the shortcomings of the government’s response to maintaining our national security in the face of what is clearly a growing and significant threat from Russia,” he said.

Drawn up by a cross-party committee of MPs and peers, the report is the product of 18 months’ work involving evidence taken from the UK’s spy agencies and independent experts. Although its long-delayed version is heavily redacted, the thrust of its conclusions – that insufficient attention has been paid to Russian infiltration in British politics and public life – was clear.

Committee members noted that publicly available studies have pointed to “the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories” on the Russia Today and Sputnik TV channels at the time of the vote, and “the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’” on Twitter, as evidence of Russian attempts to influence the process.

There was “credible open source commentary” that Russia undertook “influence campaigns” relating to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, but despite this, no effort was made to look at the Kremlin threat to British democracy until after the Brexit vote.

It was only after Russia hacked US Democratic party emails in July 2016 that any assessment appeared to have been made – and the document suggests that some sort of exercise was conducted after the 2017 general election.

“Had the relevant parts of the intelligence community conducted a similar threat assessment prior to the referendum, it is inconceivable that they would not have reached the same conclusion as to Russian intent, which might then have led them to take action to protect the process,” the report added.

An official UK government response said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum,” and added that there was no need to launch an inquiry because Britain’s spy agencies made “regular assessments” of the Russian threat.

“Given this long-standing approach, a retrospective assessment of the EU referendum is not necessary,” it said.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab rejected claims the government had “actively” sought not to delve deeper into the perceived threat of Russian interference.

“We’ve got a long period recognising the enduring, significant threat posed by Russia to the UK, including in cyber. Russia is a top national security priority,” he said.

But Hosie was scathing about the refusal by both Boris Johnson and Theresa May to look at Kremlin interference in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

“No one wanted to test this issue with a 10ft bargepole,” he said, adding that it was an “outrage” the report was not published before last December’s election. Downing Street “took its eye off the ball” over the Russian threat, the MP said, it underestimated the response required and was still trying to play “catch-up”.

Britain has also become “a favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money”, observed the committee, concluding they had become a corrupting force in British public life through their connections.

Citing no names, it also warned that it was “notable that a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state”. 

Marina Litvinenko, whose husband, Alexander, was murdered in 2006 in London by Kremlin assassins, said she was “very pleased” by the report, and its mention of Russian oligarchs making political donations.

She said the report demonstrated there was ample evidence of the threat posed by the Kremlin to the UK. “The government has no excuse for being naive. After what happened to my husband in 2006 and to Sergei Skripal in 2018 there are no excuses. There are too many suspicious deaths.”

Ministers had long claimed there were “no successful examples” of Kremlin interference in British politics but abandoned that position last week when Raab, the blamed “Russian actors” for spreading an illegally obtained dossier relating to US-UK trade talks that eventually ended up in the hands of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign.

Committee members complained that when they asked for written evidence from MI5 at the start of their inquiry about possible interference in the Brexit vote, the domestic spy agency “initially provided just six lines of text”.Advertisement

The report was completed last October, but was sat on by Johnson before the general election and only declassified and cleared for release by the prime minister in December. It could not be released until No 10 had nominated Conservative members to the committee, although its nominee for the chair, Chris Grayling, was ambushed by opposition members who voted instead for Julian Lewis.

Lewis then had the Conservative whip removed, but the newly independent MP was unrepentant as the report was published, accusing Downing Street of politicising the oversight of the intelligence agencies.

“This committee has been subject to unprecedented delay and dislocation. this must never happen again. the sooner normal relations are established between this government and the committee, the better for all concerned,” the committee chair said.

Russian officials angrily protested the conclusions of the report, accusing the UK of taking a “leading role in Russophobia” and claimed it cleared Moscow of attempts to influence the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“The charges are once again unfounded, unsubstantiated and unconvincing,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s federation council, a lawmaking body, in written remarks on Tuesday.

What does it say about our Government that they turn a blind eye to Russian interference? Power at any cost.

Greta Thunberg says EU recovery plan fails to tackle climate crisis

Exclusive: Activist says €750bn fund shows leaders not treating global heating as emergency

Matthew Taylor Environment correspondent, The Guardian

Greta Thunberg
 Greta Thunberg: ‘As long as the climate crisis is not being treated as a crisis, the changes that are necessary will not happen.’ Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters

Greta Thunberg has accused EU politicians of failing to acknowledge the scale of the climate crisis and said its €750bn Covid-19 recovery plan does not do enough to tackle the issue.

The climate campaigner said the package of measures agreed by EU leadersproved that politicians were still not treating climate change as an emergency.

“They are still denying the fact and ignoring the fact that we are facing a climate emergency, and the climate crisis has still not once been treated as a crisis,” Thunberg told the Guardian. “As long as the climate crisis is not being treated as a crisis, the changes that are necessary will not happen.”

EU leaders reached agreement on the recovery fund in the early hours of Tuesday and pledged that 30% of the package would go towards climate policies, but few details were given.

Thunberg, 17, and other leaders of the school strikes movement across Europe said the package was inadequate.Advertisement

Luisa Neubauer, 24, a central figure in Germany’s school strikes movement, said young people were becoming increasingly frustrated with politicians.

“We are asking our leaders to take care of the most fundamental thing: the safety of us, the safety of people around the world, the safety of our futures,” Neubauer said. “It is worrying on a democratic level when you ask for such substantial things, which seem so obvious, and yet you see how leaders are widely ignoring it, or not considering it to be as important as other things.”

Another prominent school striker, Adélaïde Charlier, 19, from Belgium, said politicians who adopted the language of climate action without following up with urgent policy measures were worse than climate deniers.

“When leaders minimise the climate crisis, I feel it is more dangerous than leaders that outright deny it … because then we actually feel we can rely on them and we are actually on the right path and that is dangerous and wrong.”

The group has written an open letter to EU leaders demanding they act immediately to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.

The letter, signed by 80,000 people including some of the world’s leading scientists, argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that most leaders are able to act swiftly and decisively when they deem it necessary, but that the same urgency has been missing in the response to climate change.

“It is now clearer than ever that the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business nor finance. And the longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today’s system … the more precious time we will lose,” it says.

The letter argues that the climate and ecological emergency can only be addressed by tackling the underlying “social and racial injustices and oppression that have laid the foundations of our modern world”.

Earlier this year the EU unveiled its green new deal proposals, which it said aimed to transform the bloc from a high- to a low-carbon economy without reducing prosperity and while improving people’s quality of life. The climate strikers dismissed the EU’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 as dangerously unambitious.

Thunberg, who this week was awarded Portugal’s Gulbenkian prize for humanity and pledged the €1m ($1.15m) award to groups working to protect the environment and halt climate change, said it was up to ordinary people to stand up and demand that politicians rise to the challenge.

“I see the hope in democracy and in people,” she said. “If people become aware of what is happening then we can accomplish anything, we can put pressure on people in power … if we just decide we have had enough then that will change everything.”