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I’d get everyone back NOW to save us from ruin, CHARLIE MULLINS 

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id get everyone back now to save us from ruin charlie mullins

That’s it. Furlough is over, at least as far as my company is concerned. I am not prepared to contribute to a culture where people sit at home and do nothing.

As the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, London‘s largest independent plumbing company, I’ve heard all the excuses – people are worried about catching Covid-19, or they’re afraid of infecting a vulnerable relative who is self-isolating.

But to any employee who tells me that they don’t want to come back, who wants to string out the furlough till the Government closes the scheme in October, I’ve got one thing to say: we don’t want you back. So far I’ve already told 30 former staff: ‘Don’t bother coming in, ever.’

People say I’m being heartless. In fact, I’m being compassionate, and of course I believe it’s imperative that anyone who genuinely needs to shield should be supported in doing so. However, I’m facing reality, and the rest of Britain needs to wake up and do the same. If we don’t all get back to work, we will face economic catastrophe on an unimaginable scale.

It was crazy of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce back in May that the furlough scheme would run till October

It was crazy of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce back in May that the furlough scheme would run till October

For if Britain does go bust, it’ll be the most vulnerable people who will be hit worst. I’m not exaggerating: the damage done to Britain’s businesses over the past four months is already incalculable. We won’t see the full effects for years.

And so we must put a stop to it now. Otherwise, when October comes, millions are going to discover that they don’t have a job to come back to – and that’s the toughest time of year to find yourself on the dole, with Christmas coming. Far better that people face reality now, and set about job-hunting, retraining, even embarking on a new career, in August.

It was crazy of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce back in May that the furlough scheme would run till October. Faced with an unprecedented situation, being battered by conflicting advice from all sides, the Government panicked and overreacted.

Once October was mentioned, Downing Street was in an impossible position. They couldn’t reverse the decision without causing national outrage. The fact was, people were scared of the coronavirus but they also liked furlough. Many were actually better off, despite getting just 80 per cent of their wages: not only did they pay less tax but there were no travel expenses and no need to buy work clothes. Even the cost of a daily coffee and sandwich soon adds up.

The Chancellor got his figures badly wrong. With furlough payments set at 80 per cent, millions have been treating the crisis as a paid holiday.

They’re milking the system. I had grave misgivings about furlough from the start. We had about 150 people working in our head office, and we did all we could to create a safe environment.

Of those 150, about two thirds took leave. One third continued to come in, without whom we might not have stayed afloat. Those people know how much I admire their spirit. They’ve got the right attitude.

We looked after them well, with a £20 daily bonus and free food and drink, ordered from outside caterers at a cost of £2,000 a week. Some have been working seven days a week.

They are heroes. I’ve always said plumbers are one of the emergency services, even if you can’t get us by dialling 999. My business is one of countless thousands that keeps Britain going. 

But if we don’t end the furlough, and get everyone back to work, I don’t know how much longer the country will cope. 

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Game of drones: Air corridor set up for flying postal service 

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game of drones air corridor set up for flying postal service

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a ‘flight corridor’ being created near Reading. 

The five mile long aerial highway, the first commercial route of its type in the world, will be set up south of the Berkshire town by the end of the year, according to the Times.

Drone pilots will be able to to control them beyond their line of sight, which is not normally the case under existing regulations.

A new air traffic control system for unmanned devices will monitor the corridor and feed automated instructions to the drones to keep them away from others or change path if they’re in danger of crashing.

The corridor, a third of a mile in width will operate in the same normal airspace used by commercial jets, helicopters and light aircraft.

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a 'flight corridor' being created near Reading

Ambitions of an airborne postal service have moved a step closer due to a ‘flight corridor’ being created near Reading

The move still needs to be rubber-stamped by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but it hoped to be live next year in the first large-scale trial of its kind.  

Small parcels, medical supplies and blood or tissue samples are examples of the kind of packages that could be delivered via drones in the controlled area.

Under current rules, drones must be flown away from built-up areas, within a pilot’s visual range, usually up to 1,600ft, and cannot soar higher than 400ft to avoid other aircraft.

However, the new system created by Altitude Angel, an aviation technology company based in Reading, monitors every drone movement and gives them the freedom to fly. 

The air traffic control system will be created by using radar and multiple tracking sensors within the corridor. 

Drone operators can send instructions such as ‘change flight path, hold, return or land’ but the control system is then able to intervene if the request is not followed for whatever reason.

The system will initially be tested using two drones, travelling in either direction simultaneously, before then being scaled up to create four drone lanes going each way and two or three highways at different altitudes.  

Richard Parker, founder and chief executive of Altitude Angel, told the paper: ‘The size of this step cannot be underestimated. 

‘Beyond visual line of sight automated flight in unrestricted airspace is a very significant barrier to overcome in order to realise the vision of mass-commercial drone usage.’

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ANDREW MARR tells how moral values of the Elizabethan age can lift us from our travails today

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andrew marr tells how moral values of the elizabethan age can lift us from our travails today

 Tuesday, June 2, 1953: Coronation Day. With London decked out to celebrate its 27-year-old Queen, there was only one story in town. Or rather, two.

Just four days earlier, with perfect timing, two men, hacking through the snow, had made it to the top of the world’s highest mountain. Edmund Hillary was a tall Kiwi beekeeper with a huge, goofy smile. And his companion, Tenzing Norgay, was a devout Buddhist who had lived a life of profound physical poverty as a mountain bearer.

Reaching the summit of Mount Everest was, in the early 1950s, an extraordinary achievement. So all Britain was keeping one eye on this record-breaking attempt. But would they be aware of their Herculean achievement by the time the new monarch was crowned?

That responsibility fell to the young correspondent of The Times, James Morris, waiting at base camp nearly 18,000ft up. It was Morris, scribbling against the clock, who sent a coded message via a physical runner to the Silk Road village of Namche Bazaar.

From there it went by wireless to the British Embassy in Kathmandu. And so, thanks to Morris, The Times had its story in time for a Coronation special, to inaugurate what people called the new Elizabethan age.

Cheer: A party in Northampton marking the Coronation in 1953

Cheer: A party in Northampton marking the Coronation in 1953

It sounds like a tale from a vanished era of old-fashioned heroism. But there was a twist. Even at the time, Morris was wrestling with an issue that has since become very familiar. Ever since he was three or four years old, when he remembered sitting underneath his mother’s piano while she was playing Sibelius, he had felt he had been born into the wrong body. He should have been a girl.

So it was that 20 years later, he made the transition from man to woman, first with drugs and then through perilous surgery in Morocco. James Morris, successful journalist, travel writer and historian, became Jan Morris, ditto.

Today, trans rights and gender fluidity are the most fashionable and contentious aspects of Britain’s fractious 21st-century culture wars. But Morris’s story is a reminder that our recent history was never as straightforward as it’s often painted.

It’s also a small example of how, by digging a little deeper into our national history through individual stories, we can recapture some of its lost freshness.

So in my new book, looking at how Britain has changed since the Coronation in 1953, I’ve tried to tell the story of change through the histories of people such as Jan Morris, from explorers and writers to artists, scientists, musicians and entrepreneurs.

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. We’re often told that it was racist, misogynistic and homophobic, and that we lived in a dim, gaslit pre-liberalism.

And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy.

The food was meagre and tasteless, the cities grimy, the clothes were unflattering, and industrial and domestic smoke hung in the air.

The moral atmosphere could be harshly censorious. This was still the Britain of the school cane, the hangman and the backstreet abortionist, who had wearily seen it all, knocking on the back door with her bag full of knitting needles and vinegar.

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy

It’s easy to caricature the lost world of the 1950s. And there is no doubt that aspects of post-war Britain were dingy

Many single mothers gave up their babies for adoption. Pauline Prescott, then a hairdresser in Chester, had her first child in a Catholic home for unmarried mothers. The baby boy was later adopted by a family living many miles away in Wolverhampton.

She only made contact with him again when he was in his 40s, after a long and honourable military career. By then she was married to Labour’s Deputy Prime Minister. But it was not an unusual story.

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper: ‘Wanted, home for baby boy aged one month: complete surrender’. She handed the baby over to a couple at Reading Station. The boy, David Sharp, had a happy childhood and grew up to work as a bricklayer.

He lived a few miles away from the famous novelist, without either knowing about the other’s existence for half a century. It is an extraordinary story, but not as rare as we might think.

And yet a moment of common sense reflection tells us that the British of the early years of the Queen’s reign must have lived their lives in full colour, not black and white.

The young were brimming with youth. Every variety of sexual experimentation was vigorously attempted. And despite the newsreel depictions of an endless grey winter, spring kept coming around more or less on time every April.

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper

The mother of the novelist Ian McEwan had her first baby during the war, while her husband was serving overseas, and placed an ad in her local paper

Britons may have more rights today, and be wealthier materially. But I don’t believe that necessarily makes us happier, more fulfilled or more virtuous.

Of course, there’s much we have lost. Churchgoing, for example, was once a genuinely collective activity.

Children attended Sunday school, where they were tutored in Bible stories and Christian morality. Their parents sat through sermons. Vicars, ministers and priests made regular visits to homes all over Britain, unannounced but expected.

But Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher; Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after leaving office; Gordon Brown is the son of a Church of Scotland minister; Theresa May is an Anglican vicar’s daughter.  

And among the rest of us, too, its legacy is far from dead.

Still, there’s no doubt that in the decades immediately after the Coronation, something changed. These were the years of the sexual revolution, the pushing back of the punitive state, the use and tolerance of drugs and an unmistakable decay in the social and religious hierarchies.

It was largely driven by a small group of Left-wing politicians, often inspired by their enthusiasm for America. A good example was the Labour and future SDP politician Shirley Williams, the daughter of the famous 1930s writer Vera Brittain.

 

Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher

Christianity’s influence has endured, not least in our politics. Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher

 As a prisons minister in Harold Wilson’s government in 1966, Williams persuaded the authorities to send her to Holloway women’s prison, her identity kept secret. When her cellmates asked what she was in for, she explained that she was ‘on the game’.

It’s hard to imagine one of Boris Johnson’s ministers doing the same today.

Like many of her friends, Williams was inspired by the informality and democratic optimism she had seen in America, and wanted to build a similarly sunny world, without the crabbed, confined divisions of the British class system. But as so often, things didn’t always turn out how the liberal reformers anticipated.

Her friend and colleague Tony Crosland, also an admirer of all things American, dreamed of reforming Britain’s schools on a truly egalitarian basis.

But instead of taking on private schools like his own alma mater, Highgate, he decided to attack the state grammar schools, which had allowed so many working-class children a ladder up.

In a celebrated and notorious scene, he told his wife Susan: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f***ing grammar school in England.’

But he failed. Today there are more than 160 selective, state-funded grammar schools left in England.

And the argument about school selection rages on to this day, like a football kicked from one end of the muddy pitch to the other, with no goals being scored.

Perhaps the most underrated change of the 1960s, though, was the collapse of our self-image as the workshop of the world.

Manufacturing had shaped the look, sound, smell and social structure of the country for more than a century.

When the Queen’s reign began in 1952, Britain produced a quarter of the planet’s manufacturing exports. Today we make just two per cent. We were a more sinewy people back then. The world of factory work disciplined generations of British men, toiling on hot and dangerous production lines under the watchful eyes of their managers and shop stewards.

But even as Shirley Williams and Tony Crosland were climbing the political ladder, things were beginning to go wrong.

A good example is the story of Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), then the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, but also famous for its Daimler and Lanchester cars.

Its managing director, Sir Bernard Docker, had succeeded his father Dudley in 1944. He married a Birmingham dance hostess, Norah, who became a national celebrity for her flamboyant, outspoken and provocative style. The doting Docker gave her a series of specially built Daimlers, such as the 1955 Golden Zebra, which sported an ivory dashboard and upholstery covered with zebra skin. As Lady Docker drily explained: ‘Zebra, because mink is too hot to sit on.’

But the Dockers were setting themselves up for a fall. Sir Bernard was spending too much time having fun and not nearly enough on the company.

And at a tumultuous meeting in London on a rain-soaked spring day in 1956, he was sacked as chairman for his extravagant expenses claims.

But it was too late. With its market share falling, BSA was sliding towards disintegration.

Daimler was sold to Jaguar four years later. By 1972, overtaken by cheaper and more reliable Japanese competitors, even the motorcycle business was defunct.

Not all British businesses fared as badly as BSA. The success of entrepreneurs such as James Dyson should remind us that we’re still the sixth largest economy in the world, with our GDP per capita about level pegging with the French and not very far behind Germany.

And in other ways, British innovators have changed the world. Think of Gerald Durrell, whose revolutionary zoo changed the way we think about animal welfare; or Anita Roddick, whose Body Shop led the charge for a more ethical capitalism.

But if we’re to thrive after Brexit, we’ll need to banish any trace of the Dockers’ complacency.

Our industries will need to be hungrier and harder, and take inspiration from our undoubted success in cultural and creative areas, and our ingenuity in computing and engineering.

Yet when I look back across our Queen’s reign, I’m reminded that there’s more to life than making money — important as that is. This has been the age of market values. Relentless consumers, we’ve been schooled to see most of our human exchanges in terms of price and profit. Too often we measure success by wealth, and confuse happiness with cool stuff.

But should we really judge our happiness by what we consume —holidays, consumer goods, large houses? And if a society comes to judge success by personal wealth, how can it deal with the large majority who will feel forever bruised and excluded?

Finishing this book during the coronavirus lockdown, I watched as we rediscovered the common notions of fairness, decency and mutual respect that were so familiar to our 1950s predecessors.

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS; or Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, who raised around £20 million to supply three million meals to vulnerable people, and persuaded the Government to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer.

Here, I believe, is where we can learn from our past selves — from the more consciously moral, frugal, hard-working and optimistic Britain Jan Morris knew so well.

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS

I was inspired by the stories of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore, with his record-breaking walk to raise money for the NHS

Yes, it was in many ways bigoted and rigidly hierarchical. But a decent future means taking the best of the past, ditching the mistakes and starting again.

Today, we have to learn to work harder, while being more generous in our global outlook, kinder to neighbours who look and sound different to ourselves, and more restrained in our personal tastes.

Does that sound impossibly pious? Or simply impossible? Then we should remember the struggles and achievements of our grandparents and parents. They were there first. They can teach us still.

n Elizabethans by Andrew Marr is published by William Collins £20. © Andrew Marr 2020. To order a copy for £17, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Offer price valid until October 3, 2020.

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US farming is tasteless, toxic and cruel – and its monstrous practices have no place here

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us farming is tasteless toxic and cruel and its monstrous practices have no place here

 British farming and food production are a remarkable success story. In recent years, this sector has been at the forefront of a revolution that’s transformed the quality of our food — and acted as a guardian of our countryside.

Through the vision and dedication of our farmers, Britain is increasingly a global leader in animal welfare, environmental protection and high standards of produce. Now all these achievements are at mortal risk. As we prepare to leave the European Union at the end of this year, our impressive agricultural system could soon be wrecked by ruthless competition and a flood of cheap imports.

The most serious threat comes from the U.S., whose vast and unwieldy farming industry is far less regulated than ours.

In the name of efficiency, it has built a highly mechanised, intensive and shockingly cruel approach which keeps animals in conditions so appalling it’s hard for us in the UK to grasp. Meanwhile, an arsenal of chemicals that are banned here are also deployed on these poor creatures.

It is not the sort of produce that should be allowed to swamp our own. When Brexit supporters spoke of ‘taking back control’, they did not envisage the destruction of British farming caused by mass-produced goods soaked in chlorine and cruelty.

In an attempt to prevent this grim eventuality, a last-ditch battle is under way at Westminster aiming to establish essential safeguards in post-Brexit Britain.

It’s all part of Britain’s deep and enduring compassion for animals. We have 25 million free-range hens here, more than any other country — and more free-range pigs than anywhere in Europe

It’s all part of Britain’s deep and enduring compassion for animals. We have 25 million free-range hens here, more than any other country — and more free-range pigs than anywhere in Europe

As the Agriculture Bill — which sets out a new domestic, post-Brexit alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy — makes its way through Parliament, MPs in the Commons and peers in the Lords have tried to impose amendments to keep Britain’s high standards of animal husbandry and environmental care. So far the Government has rejected all such proposals. Desperate to reach a trade deal, ministers seem unwilling to block the hugely influential U.S. food and agriculture lobby from gaining access to our market.

Their argument is that, in the brave new world of deregulation, consumers will enjoy more choice and, crucially, will have access to ‘cheap’ food. But cheapness will come at a huge cost to our health, our countryside, our rural economy and our animals.

The reality is that choice will be restricted — because British farmers and producers will find it impossible to compete. From the supermarkets to takeaways, this ugly juggernaut of American food will sweep all before it.

The Agriculture Bill is about to go to the final stage of its passage through Parliament. There is one last chance for legislators to stop a free-for-all from which our agriculture would emerge the loser.

As someone who has covered the food industry for 20 years presenting The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, I am deeply alarmed at the prospect of the advances British food has made in recent decades going into reverse.

Before Covid, British food was flourishing as never before. I think of the surge in high-quality bakeries, of our farmhouse cheeses beating rivals across the world — we produce more than France.

Even McDonald’s UK now uses free-range eggs and organic milk and recently won an RSPCA award for its animal welfare standards. I need hardly say it’s not how McDonald’s operates in the U.S.

It’s all part of Britain’s deep and enduring compassion for animals. We have 25 million free-range hens here, more than any other country — and more free-range pigs than anywhere in Europe.

In frequent talks with farmers, I have been struck by how they see themselves, not just as producers, but as custodians of the land, a vital role they fill with imaginativeness in an age of mounting concern about climate change.

The U.S. farming model is completely different. Its aim is not to work with nature but to dominate it. Industrialised and chemicalised, the entire system is a monument to the denial of biology.

I am not in any way anti-American — I’ve lived across that wonderful country in Indiana, California, Massachusetts and New York. I’m married to an American: my son and his family live in Pennsylvania.

It’s precisely because I visit regularly, and have seen at first hand the harshness of U.S. food production, that I feel so strongly.

The ‘chlorinated chicken’ has rightly become a symbol of U.S. farming at its worst, but few ask why poultry has to be washed in chlorine before it can be sold. It is because the birds are kept in such over-crowded squalor and so pumped with chemicals during their brief, unfortunate lives.

The same applies throughout American industry. Even the British Government’s farming Secretary George Eustice has admitted U.S. animal welfare law is ‘woefully deficient’. Pigs are reared in grotesquely inhumane battery farms. More than 60 million are treated with the antibiotic Carbadox, which promotes growth and is rightly banned in the UK.

Similarly, U.S. cattle are fed steroid hormones to speed growth by 20 per cent — the use of such chemicals has been illegal in Britain and the EU since 1989. And as the cattle are kept in vast confined feeding pens, they need regular antibiotics.

Incredibly, some staff processing carcasses at huge meatpacking plants wear nappies because they are not allowed time off to go to the lavatory. In arable production, pesticides are used on a scale far beyond anything in Britain. In recent decades, the U.S. has banned or controlled just 11 chemicals in food, cosmetics and cleaning products — the EU has banned 1,300.

Polar opposites: Cows in a British field, and in beef pens in Texas

Polar opposites: Cows in a British field, and in beef pens in Texas

In U.S. farming there’s almost no effort to mitigate climate change yet here the National Farmers’ Union is committed to achieving zero carbon production by 2040. What will happen to that commitment if cheap U.S. food floods in?

The U.S. genetically modified crops to be resistant to Roundup weedkiller — but after weeds grew resistant to Roundup and flourished, one U.S. farmer told me proudly crops were now engineered to be resistant to the infamous Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the U.S. military to kill vegetation in the Vietnam War.

Environmental devastation and health problems — including disabilities to as many as a million people — were caused in Vietnam by Agent Orange. Is this a road we want to go down in Britain?

The so-called cheapness of American produce is a delusion. These farming methods carry a heavy price in quality and health. A battery chicken is tasteless compared to an organic one, just as factory-farmed salmon has nothing of the flavour of wild.

Cheap, low quality foods have brought with them disturbing health problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The coronavirus crisis proved the need for resilient supply lines. But that cannot be achieved if we ruin our own domestic agricultural system and become reliant on imported food.

In World War II, when the survival of the nation was imperilled, the Government attached huge importance to domestic food output, reflected in the propaganda campaign ‘Dig for Victory’ and the Women’s Land Army. We need that collective spirit today.

It would be stupidity beyond measure to obliterate our farming industry for a short-term, unbalanced trade deal with the U.S.

A trade deal without agricultural safeguards would be a calamity for British farming and our prosperity. One in eight jobs in Britain is in food supply, while food exports brought in £9.6 billion to the economy. All that will be lost if cut-throat competition prevails.

And a vital part of our heritage will also be lost. From the robust imagery of John Bull as a yeoman squire to William Blake’s Jerusalem, with its evocation of our ‘green and pleasant land’, the countryside has always held a central place in our national soul. It must not be sacrificed on the altar of illusory cheapness or trans-Atlantic subservience.

n Sheila Dillon presents BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme.

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