Book Review: A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles

When you can’t travel anywhere, reading a book which takes you on a journey, both metaphorically and vicariously, is not a bad substitute; and Ned Palmer‘s wedge of the shared history of the islands and nations which makes up the British Isles made for an interestingly reflective companion during the period of Covid-19 lockdown.

Palmer’s work is part-travelogue, part-paean to cheese and part-reference work. Nine of the ten chapters record a different period in the history of these islands, each featuring a ‘signature cheese’ curated to illustrate different aspects of cheese-making thought to be typical for the period covered by the chapter but which, crucially, is very much a modern cheese. This lends a contemporary relevance to ancient history which is an effective way of relating the circular, repeated aspects of the story of our history. Part of the description of each chapter is a visit by Palmer to the farm, accompanied by some hands-on cheese-making alongside those who count among the leading makers of the cheese of that style. The tenth chapter, something of a catch-all series of more or less tasting notes for the author’s favourite cheeses that didn’t make it to signature designation, is a rapid catch-up with ‘post-modern’ cheese-making in which experimentation, innovation and small-scale production, and the tidal wave of choice, contrasts heavily with the lost, grey-brown years of wartime mass production and rationing.

This is a socio-economic history and a consciously non-kings-and-queens trawl through the shared history of these islands. It’s one for cheese-lovers, certainly, as Palmer carries the historical aspects of his work somewhat lightly, as well as with a degree of somewhat whimsical humour. That shouldn’t disguise the depth of research that has gone into the production of this work (there is a reference to the Rare Book Reading Room at the British Library), and there is quality in the observations for example of the impact of the Black Death of 1348-1350 on land prices, wages and the fortunes of the peasantry amidst the decimation of the population, as well as the subsequent reactions of the landed classes and the Church. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of unthreaded disconnectedness in how the tale is leavened, given that the author is not a trained historian (but a philosopher) and this sometimes means that some of the more astonishing aspects of the tale might almost be missed.

For instance, in dealing with the significance of the arrival of the railway, Palmer notes that the sudden ease of transportation that this brought, as well as the typically poor quality milk in London resulting from shortcuts in cattle feed and agricultural land being snapped up by developers, as well as a bout of disease, soon wiped out milk production in London to the point that there was no cheese-maker left in Derbyshire living within five miles of a railway line. This covers so much of importance, and which has continuing relevance to our contemporary history – the switch from agrarian to service economy (and, perhaps in the future, back again); the extent to which William Cobbett’s ‘Great Wen’ sucks everything in amidst the lack of an effective regional policy; the mistreatment of animals; the stupidity of an economy based on a market which makes it more profitable for farmers to sell milk rather than make cheese; the problems to production diversity of the relentless search for efficiency; and the ravages of an industrial development financed by private interests with little thought to the apparent wider implications of their self-serving investments – yet all this is conveyed in the matter of four paragraphs (pp. 243-244).

The notion of cream being skimmed off the milk to make butter for the rich, while the poor had to make do with Suffolk Bang – a virtually inedible cheese, being ‘rock hard and tasteless’ and made from the skimmed milk left behind, and which had to be warmed before it became edible, is clearly worth more than a sidenote in any history.

There are frequent references to the scale of cheese-making which, before the advent of factories, provides some hint as to the importance of cheese both in the diets of working people and to the broader economy (as well as armies), as well as to regular imports of cheese from Europe – a process which has been going on to supplement, or perhaps supplant, domestic cheese-makers for at least 500 years.

And don’t get me started on the implications of imports of agricultural products from the US, something which I was startled to find has a history of more than 160 years as the UK emerged from the Corn Laws and the Navigation Laws into a burst of misplaced, foolish enthusiasm for free trade. Look for Velveeta (liquid gold) on your shelves, coming soon – a cheese so good it has to have its own – magnificent – social media department.

Palmer certainly knows his cheeses, however – and I don’t doubt that he also knows his beer, too.

For some cheeses, as he acknowledges, beer is actually frequently a much better pair than the more traditional wine – but both cheese and beer share a history (and not just in the proper recipe for Welsh rarebit). Both were originally discovered six or so thousands of years ago by some happy accident – or, perhaps, were both the result of periods of experimentation with food which provide a circular note of interest given what is happening today; both provide some aspects of the reasons why humans stopped being hunter-gatherers and started to settle in particular locations; both feature in the religious history of these islands in which the rituals and predictability of monastic life lend themselves as well to brewing as to cheese-making; and both came to feature in more recent history as the role and preserve of women, with women and girls as dairyhands (until being squeezed out by men as dairies were professionalised (pp. 236-237)) and also as alewives (with, in the latter case, the better women brewers featuring displays of hops in their windows which were, in several respects, the precursors of pubs).

Furthermore, the production of cheese and beer featured, for thousands of years, an unknown, but key, ‘magic’ ingredient whose actual nature was not discovered until the work of Louis Pasteur until as recently as 1857. Pasteurisation itself has caused controversy in cheese-making as in brewing; while the modern diversity of cheese production, with hundreds of farmhouse manufacturers now present in the UK making a huge variety of cheese, can be easily compared with the surely unrivalled period of experimentation with flavour additions in brewing, and the explosion of small-scale craft brewers, which is now going on. Furthermore, both have recovered, hugely, from the nadir and threatened extinction of 1970s mass production, ‘government cheddar’ on the one hand and Watneys Red Barrel on the other, as the result of desperate campaigning activity by a handful of committed activist-organisers aware that the love of their lives was on its uppers.

No such similar book telling the tale of the British Isles through beer appears to be around – at least, none that I can find in the last ten years that have been significant enough to be reviewed by Roger Protz, at any rate – and I can feel more than a twitch of researcher/writer curiosity.

But that’s really rather beside the point here: Ned Palmer has produced a useful reference work which, while his enthusiasm for cheese and people lends itself rather more naturally keenly to more modern times, and the more practical aspects of cheese-making, nevertheless conveys a history of complexity and rich detail of the frequently disregarded socio-economic aspects of history.

Now, where again has my travel ID gone?

The Russia Report, politics and the corruption of democracy in the UK

The Russia Report was, after significant fanfare following the (mis-)handling of the process of the election of the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, finally released yesterday. On a first read through, there might indeed not be a lot of explosions in it, but that’s not to say that there’s no dynamite been planted. Indeed, and contrary to my earlier prediction, there was more than just embarrassment for the current UK government in its pages.

Remarkably, the text was released outwith the auspices of parliament.uk, which handles the publication of parliamentary business. After some searching, I found the page for the Committee on parliament.uk – but it is more or less blank, apart from listing the members of the committee (having been updated following the election of the chair). Indeed, this is a screenshot of what confronted me yesterday evening:

ISC page 21-7-20

Instead, the ISC has its own, entirely plain text website, including its history and publications, whose back-to-basics appearance initially made me wonder whether this was some spoof, malicious or otherwise. Furthermore, and remarkably, the report itself has been released through Google Docs. This I find quite extraordinary. A report on the highly sensitive question of interference in UK democracy, authored by a ‘joint other committee’ of parliament, having interviewed key witnesses some of whose evidence needs to be redacted, and seeking action from the UK government not least on the specific question of online harm, being released on Google Docs is, quite literally, incredible. More or less immediately on opening the report, Firefox informed me that it had blocked a pop-up window.

Perhaps there was not time, especially during the pandemic, to get the official parliament.uk webpages updated in time, and perhaps the page is already being updated (it hadn’t as of 2.45 this afternoon); or perhaps the Committee has chosen deliberately to emphasise its independence – the word is, after all, contained in the URL of its site – from the government (although all such committees are independent of the UK government: they have to be, to do their work properly in holding the government to account). But to release a report of this nature and dealing with such an issue as this through the medium of Google Docs is both astonishing and remarkable.

[EDIT 28 July: one week later and the ISC page on parliament.uk still looks the same – although of course the Report has been laid before parliament.]

The main points of the conclusions of the report are clearly now well into the public domain so I won’t waste any time in documenting them, other than simply pointing to the clarity of Foreign Policy‘s quick take; and to the Committee’s own press release (also on Google Docs…). I want here to explore just a couple of the implications.

First, this is clearly incredibly embarrassing for the current UK government. To have any independent criticism of its actions as being ‘asleep at the wheel’ while the democracy of the country that you govern is potentially interfered with ‘as the new normal’ is embarrassing enough. But – more than that, and of course the reason why we have a bystander government in the area set out by the report – is that it has been captured by one, or more (see below), foreign government(s). Russian oligarchs have been welcomed ‘with open arms’ as investors with tier one visas into the ‘laundromat’ of London (actually since 1994) and they have grown close to this government (and, indeed, to leading figures in previous ones). It is no coincidence that Johnson celebrated the 2019 election result the following day at a party hosted by the Lebedev family; the Tory Party has, over a period of time, accepted significant donations from Russian oligarchs seeking to build patronage and extend influence but to do so covertly. There is, of course, a reason that these oligarchs have become very rich and are able to live long enough to enjoy the wealth they have been given. And, if your state aim is to invest in disinformation and to further the goal of disruption, who better to invest in than today’s Tory Party? It’s not as though as it’s come particularly expensive.

Second, the report is, so far, a little short on recommendations, although the Committee may see this as the target of its future, continuing work. Nevertheless, it quite clearly identifies the lacuna which has been government action as regards the UK being a target for disinformation and influence campaigns going back at least as far as the independence referendum in Scotland in 2014. It is a disgrace that this report – which does not appear to have been added to under the new Committee – was not published prior to the last election: although, of course, there is a reason for this. That all parties – government itself, as well as the intelligence agencies – see the potential for external influence in the UK’s electoral processes not so much in the balloting but in the campaigning as too much of a ‘hot potato’ is damning enough. That no-one cares sufficiently about democracy is, ultimately, the reason why it dies – but it is astonishing that none of the agencies seems to have wanted to take some initiative in this area.

Partly, of course, this is because the agencies have come to see defending democracy as a political task. Astonishing as this, it is of course a product of the polarisation and the intensity of feeling that our referendums-based politics of recent years has engendered, and it is also a product of the opprobrium that official bodies – including, of course, the Electoral Commission – receive when they seek to go about their job. Here, as a sidenote, our democracy is lucky to have campaigners and whistle-blowers such as, for example, Carole Cadwalladr prepared to take the abuse to get some of this stuff into the open. For, make no mistake, the leaders and financiers of mobs such as these have, at the very least, no interest in preserving democracy.

At the same time, the reason for lack of action on the government side, apart from it being in hock to vested interests, is quite simple. It would be easy to state that, as a Vote Leave (Continuity) government, it has no interest in looking at the potential for disinformation campaigns to succeed since it has no reason in encouraging anything that might discredit the outcome for which it fought. That’s true, of course, but the truth is also a little deeper that that: this is, in style, a campaigner government, and on a single issue, and one that is, therefore, singularly ill-equipped to grasp the thorns of the detailed policy development work that is required of governments. It is not interested in doing the hard yards of a trade deal with the EU; it is not interested in the tough slog of developing a practical response to a pandemic; it is not interested in taking action when its senior adviser breaks rules which apply to all, or in its ministers dining with donors before planning decisions or engaging in pork barrel politics; and it is simply not interested in objective criticisms of its bystander nature.

This is not only because the government adopts the disinterested, lazy, irresponsible and fatuous character of its leader, or because its leading ministers are appointed not because of their actual capabilities but on the basis of their essential adherence to the One True Faith and their ability therefore to be co-opted into going along with anything which doesn’t disrupt that objective. This government is only interested in, and only capable of achieving, the campaign-based objective which brought it into office and in facilitating as much anarchic disruption as it can. Brexit now having been achieved, and the free trade deal with the EU either having been scuppered or else realised in only a minimal silhouette of an agreement, there is actually no reason for it to be any longer in office. As a Labour supporter, committed to social and economic justice and in redistribution to achieve those aims, and in facilitating a just transition to a sustainable, green economy, I would say that, I guess. But, objectively speaking, this government’s job under our current electoral system is done and it needs to get out.

Third, the Committee has done invaluable work in pointing out that:

The UK Intelligence Community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum [i.e. to that in the US conducted by the Director of National Intelligence] and that an unclassified summary of it be published. (para. 47)

Given the careless approach of this government, as well as its immediate reaction in reiterating that it has seen no evidence of interference and that no such enquiry was necessary, it will need to continue to hold the government’s feet to the fire on it and to commit the necessary resources so that the agencies can make such an assessment. This is, by the way, a requirement of all select committees for as long as this particular government stays in office, and not only because it has a ridiculously large majority. Holding the government accountable within parliament is not only an essential pillar for democracy in ordinary times, it is, at this time, a vital task in keeping that democracy alive. Making it ‘illegal’ for spooks to be in the country unless, ludicrously, they have identified themselves as such spectacularly misses the point of the problems to which the Committee is pointing, i.e. of (dis)information activity having moved online. What action is required is to think more closely and much less casually about the use of social media platforms, particularly during plebiscites, in undermining democracy and in achieving the aims of foreign governments. It is good that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is pressing the government on online harm; and it needs to keep on doing so.

Do I think that such an enquiry should lead to the 2016 referendum being re-run? No, I don’t – and that is of course not what the Intelligence and Security Committee is calling for. Digging in on this, as the government did yesterday, simply reveals that it fears it has something to hide. We are already out of the EU and so re-running the referendum is not only pointless, it is practically impossible. The issue of the UK’s membership of the EU is dead for a generation – much as I deeply regret this, we can’t now revisit it. Furthermore, this is not only now a question for the UK – it’s one for the rest of the EU, too. But the issue is also bigger than this partisan issue – we are all, on whatever side we stand, damaged when our democracy is attacked. If it requires an acknowledgment that there is no revisiting 2016 to make this government order an enquiry to assess how potential interference can – and should – be combated in the future, then it is a price worth paying.

I would like to see the closing of the Pandora’s Box of the use of referendums in ‘settling’ issues of national importance but, more than that, what has become clear from the Committee’s work is that we need to reform our electoral system to rebuild democracy. We probably do need state funding for political parties. We probably do need electoral reform: I was never particularly committed to this – indeed, I voted against in the 2011 referendum, albeit mostly because I was not in favour of the Alternative Vote system being proposed – but it is clear that our current, tribal winner-take-all politics is incapable of handling the nuances of modern political life and the task of rebuilding the country post-Brexit and post-pandemic, as well as in the face of the external pressures being put up against it. We can’t again have an extremist government elected with a sweeping mandate but whose actual capability is so poor; and neither again can we have the position where the leader of one small opposition party can block the efforts of all opposition parties to work together in the national interest, as was the case last autumn. And certainly we need to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an upper chamber which evenly balances representation from all the countries of the UK and in which the voices of all the other countries can be heard and respected.

And, one final point, neither is this just about Russia. The Russian state might have had much to benefit from the disruption of the UK, in 2014, and then the EU as a result of Brexit (and, we might add, in extending war in the middle east when the migrants that action produces head for the EU); and certainly the hands of its agents are all over the Tory Party. But, to analyse the source of the funding of the campaign to leave the EU and the benefits this has, for some, and all the other tentacles of the Tufton Street network – the source of that is quite clearly the other side of the Atlantic. Our democracy needs protecting from the US, too.

Ludicrously happy to record that 2020 has seen my wee blog get more visitors and, now, more page views than in any other year of its life so far (since late 2016). And it’s not even the end of July, yet.

With grateful thanks to all those who read, like, comment, retweet or re-blog any of my posts. I heart you all!

Huawei – the UK malaise and what can be done about it

My spring 2020 column for BECTU, the union for creative ambition within Prospect, addressed some of the issues behind the January announcement in the government’s Telecoms Supply Chain Review.

You can read that post directly below, or via the separate page link over on the left, but it has now been superseded by yesterday’s announcement that Huawei equipment must be removed from telecoms networks in the UK by 2027. This stems from fresh advice from the National Cyber Security Centre that it could:

No longer offer sufficient assurance that the risks arising from the use of such post-sanction manufactured equipment can be mitigated (para. 18).

What has changed in the meantime is that the US, in reaction not least (although clearly not only) to the UK’s decision in January, decided in May to block Huawei from buying semi-conductors made by US manufacturers – this is the sanction to which the NCSC refers. The critical importance of this in yesterday’s decision is recognised by the NCSC in the title of its collection of pages on the subject. As neatly explained by Gordon Corera in his interview for the BBC’s Newscast (the news item, with three different interlocutors, covers most of the programme starting from 03:45; but see, in particular, Corera’s segment starting from 6.00), what this essentially means is that, firstly, Huawei needs to find a new source of semi-conductors; and, secondly, that the UK’s intelligence services, which examines Huawei’s equipment regularly, would as a result not be able to guarantee they could give the equipment the same security vetting.

I’m by no means a technical expert, so take this with the requisite amount of salt: but I simply don’t buy this as an explanation. The notion that the UK’s intelligence services are unable to investigate the security of alternative (non-US) sources of semi-conductors, as a part of their regular examination of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s communications equipment, and then to vet their use, appears on the face of it to be an extraordinarily lazy, sloppy claim entirely unworthy of the men and women in the NCSC. But, like I say, I’m no expert here.

There are, of course, many reasons to be careful of dealings with China, new security law in Hong Kong and its internment of Uighur Muslims (China says that the camps are closed, former detainees having ‘graduated’) being but two.

What the decision does do, of course, is tie the UK (now ‘liberated’ from membership of the European Union) very firmly into the US orbit, and quite specifically a Trumpian view of the world. Whatever the technical and security aspects of the decision, such a decision is highly favourable to Trump and the UK has thus been heavily leaned on, Trump’s self-congratulatory pleasure at the decision doing nothing to minimise such a conclusion. It couldn’t be clearer, at this point in the UK’s history, as to where this country’s political elites see its future, regardless of the likelihood of Trump losing the forthcoming election and US foreign policy changing as a result. China has reacted angrily, foreshadowing ‘public and painful retaliation’ as a means of preventing China from being seen to have been bullied. At this point, I’m very much reminded very much of this wonderful cartoon, copyright of the New Zealand Herald:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EbnRsjQXkAEuqjl?format=jpg&name=900x900

Cartoon by Guy Body, NZH cartoonist.

And, once China has done for us, we’re likely to find the US agricultural industry next donning the guise of Uncle Sam.

Politics apart, the roots of the malaise in which the UK has now come to find itself, as a consequence of a decision which is likely to put back the broadband connectivity timetable, not least in rural and small towns, can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher, as my colleague Keith pointed out back in January. Decades-long reliance on ‘the market’, on privatisation and on an abandonment of industry and long-term investment in favour of profit-taking has left the UK exactly the sort of state which is not only reliant on the cheapness of foreign goods but which has come to see price as the ultimate determinant of decision-making. Be in no mistake, whatever the quality or advantages of Huawei kit, this country’s telecoms firms are using it because it is the cheapest around – as a result  not least of extensive R&D investment by the Chinese government – and because its deployment therefore maximises the return to shareholders.

Indeed, telecoms companies are now faced with greater costs as a result, not so much in having to strip out kit because the likelihood is that much of this is likely to have been replaced by 2027 anyway as a part of the continual upgrading of the network, but in terms of the likely greater expense that a removal of one of the three major players will entail, as Rory Cellan-Jones goes on to explain in his contribution to Newscast (from 11.40 and see, in particular, from 15.00). Nokia and Ericsson were already more expensive; they may yet get more so as a result of the narrower telecoms equipment supply market the exclusion of Huawei means. On top of this, there is the impact of the likely post-Brexit lack of a deal on trade in goods with the EU, judging by the current state of negotiations, as well as the continuing decline in the exchange rate (the £ has slipped by 6.2% against the euro since 1 January alone, standing today at just €1.10).

The decision raises a substantial number of policy questions, chief among which would appear to be these.

Firstly, there is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which gives private companies from one signatory state the right to sue governments of another when policy changes. This has a controversial history and was the cause of the EU (eventually) dropping negotiations with the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal. The failure of the EU to tie up many free trade deals was, of course, one of the arguments mounted against it by Brexiteers, though we should note the involvement of trade unions and other civil society actors in persuading the European Parliament to put pressure on the Commission to drop the deal. The US (inevitably) is a fan of ISDS and we’re thus likely to see it included in US demands of the UK as part of a free trade deal. Representatives, activists and negotiators need to be prepared for that. In this context, China’s open question as to whether the UK can ‘Provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries‘ raises substantial, and reverberative, questions.

Secondly, BT reckons that the additional costs of this decision can be absorbed within its estimates of the cost of the original January decision (£500m). That may or may turn out to be so – it looks somewhat optimistic – but, equally, BT is not the only telecoms company. The potential costs of £6.8bn identified by Mobile UK in April last year look geared towards a somewhat different set of circumstances, but costs there will be. It is extremely unlikely that we will see UK companies sue the UK government for a change in policy affecting the climate of business decisions, in a kind of internal ISDS, but there will, instead, be substantial lobbying for other mechanisms under which these additional costs can somehow be recouped (in terms of forbearances on network roll-out, more favourable terms for investment, etc.). Those costs will, therefore, be born in the end by UK citizens.

Thirdly, and going back to the reasons why UK telecoms companies find themselves in the position of buying Huawei kit, there is the interesting context of the UK’s industrial policy. Non-existent since the time of Thatcher, which has seen all manner of technological companies either fail or sold off ahead of their time, from Marconi to ARM Holdings, while the UK government stood on the sidelines preaching about ‘the market’, industry policy seems to have gained a new focus. In this light, the publication last week of a policy paper on the UK’s Research and Development Roadmap looks like a step forward. This is, of course, Cummings’s grand plan. A commitment to spending £1.5bn more on R&D each year on average, taking the total to £22bn by 2024/25, to make the post-Brexit UK a global centre for science and innovation, certainly looks ambitious, not least in the face of governments’ deliberate act of vandalism in running down engagement in such areas and their encouragement of a privatised, share option focus to the rewards which such innovation ought to bring.

Now, this blog is no fan of Dominic Cummings, as readers might well be aware. But there is at least significant potential in this, not least in terms of establishing a route out of the malaise into which the lack of industrial policy has led us. There are questions that arise, including the extent to which public sector money can generate further private sector investment as well as, most critically, the ways in which this can generate, in non-military areas, a sustainable, zero carbon economy. The question of collaboration, across Europe, is also critically important to such a vision.

But what is also important is the question of ownership and the retention in the public sector, for the long-term benefit of everyone in this country, of what has been generated by public money. Capitalism, based as it is on inequality and exploitation, cannot generate a green economy nor, in the current context, a recovery which is geared towards sustainability. That needs planning and design, improved democracy, and it implies a key role for the public sector in the launch of a Green Recovery Act for which Common Wealth, a think tank supported, among others, by the Communication Workers Union and the Trades Union Congress, has recently called. Organisationally, it means democratising the workplace so that everyone has a stake in, and shares, the wealth that their labour is creating.

This is probably an issue which is not on Cummings’s horizon nor that more widely of the party actually in government, but it needs to be. The focus on short-term profit, and the focus on the supposed primacy of the private sector, have both had their day.

The route out of any malaise is – as with any pit – firstly to stop digging; and then to turn attention to thinking on how to build a ladder. If the Huawei decision means that we have indeed now stopped digging – and that is a big ‘if’ – it may be that the Roadmap, allied to a Green Recovery Act, provide some of the rungs of the ladder. Ultimately, however, we can’t build a new, bottom-up industry policy which puts right the problems ever since the Thatcher revolution without addressing that key question of ownership.

Edit 16 July: Worth noting in the context of the security concerns over Huawei that the European Court of Justice has this morning struck down the EU’s ‘privacy shield’ arrangement with the US on the grounds that US surveillance of data transferred to its territory (e.g. by Facebook) is ‘not limited to what is strictly necessary’ – i.e. that US data surveillance of communications is over-obtrusive.

The Huawei controversy – a symptom of a deep malaise

This is the text of my spring 2020 column for Stage, Screen & Radio – the quarterly magazine for members of BECTU, the media and entertainment union and a part of Prospect.

Note that some of the most recent developments in this story, including the ban on the use of Huawei kit, announced in the Commons yesterday, are now covered in a separate post above.

At the end of January, the government made its long-awaited decision on the third aspect of its Telecoms Supply Chain Review – addressing the security challenges posed by using network infrastructure supplied by so-called high-risk vendors.

Chinese company Huawei’s equipment will be allowed to account for 35% of kit used in the non-core part of the UK’s 5G network, despite pressure from US president Donald Trump to block the firm altogether. This includes being banned from supplying kit to “sensitive parts” of the network and excluded from areas near military bases and nuclear sites.

Huawei is not the only vendor of telecoms equipment regarded as “high-risk” – so, too, is ZTE, also Chinese. But it is the only one for which the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has a mitigation strategy designed to manage the risks raised by operators choosing to use Huawei equipment.

Prospect has members in Huawei and we will continue to articulate their interests as the outcomes of the review are worked through.

The details of the decision have been well-publicised. Essentially, they boil down to first, the desirability of the equipment of “high-risk” vendors being embedded in the communications networks on which we increasingly depend; and second, the problems posed by one equipment supplier coming to a position of market dominance.

Both represent different aspects of the risks in relation to Huawei; but I want to focus on the second.

A blog post by Dr Ian Levy, NCSC technical director, and published as a part of the package of materials released at the time of the review, is key.

Dr Levy acknowledges that “the market is broken”, for reasons due predominantly to low margins at a time of high research and development (R&D) demands.

Prospect has been banging this particular drum for years and it is good to see this being recognised, at least in the equipment supply segment of the communications sector.

The solutions to which the review is directed are, at heart, a new test lab to de-risk the costs of market entry, allied to the government working with industry, and internationally, to increase the extent to which equipment from different vendors can be used seamlessly. Allied to this are questions of spectrum management and intellectual property.

All the above needs to happen, but also encouraging new market entrants, and facilitating market entry for those suppliers not currently operating here. However, this is a (very) long-term objective, so other solutions also need also to be considered.

There are few operators currently supplying the UK market. Nokia and Ericsson are the two most likely alternatives.

But they are already more expensive and, should there be no Brexit deal on goods, the cost differential after 31 December 2020 will rise further.

BT, whose compliance bill for limiting Huawei equipment is estimated by the company itself at £500m, may as a consequence face greater exposure in relation to costs.

Furthermore, the same problems are likely to arise in the future on batteries for electric cars. There are few operators of scale able to supply electric batteries at European level and, globally, those that are? Well, they’re Chinese, not least as a result of that government’s extensive backing for R&D.

We are beginning to reap what we have sown from our decades-long reliance on the market, privatisation and an emphasis in communications on price competition. The question that remains is how far the UK government is prepared to go to support the levels of R&D that “global Britain” will surely require.

Brewday: Hefeweizen

‘Finally!’ say my German readers as I got around over the weekend to brewing the hefeweizen I’ve had in my cupboard (and my plans) for the last two months.

IMG_5726 (2)

Hefeweizen is a cloudy beer originating in Bavaria brewed with a fair proportion of wheat (up to fifty per cent) –  although I don’t know the exact proportion between wheat and barley here as I’m using a pre-prepared kit – and with a type of yeast that tends to remain in suspension when it’s done its job rather than fall to the bottom of the fermenter. This gives the beer, once bottled, a fair amount of yeast sediment, as well as a style and ritual of its own when being poured. Legally, apparently, a weizen has to be brewed with a top-fermenting yeast, making it clearly an ale rather than a lager. It’s a light (‘white’) beer which, sat in my fermenter, has a light caramel colour reminiscent of the banana flavours which the yeast will impart – being less keen on these, I’ve under-pitched my yeast since the-bible-according-to-James tells me that this will give me a clove-heavy beer, in terms of aroma, while nevertheless leaving ‘some banana at the back end’. As you can see from the size of the hops sachet – again endearingly packaged in a white pick’n’mix paper bag before being vacuum sealed – there’s not a lot of hop flavour on offer and, for the style, that’s exactly how it ought to be.

IMG_5729 (2)

Hefeweizen in the fermenter two days after brewing, with the extent of the krausen much in evidence (especially yesterday evening when the beer got a little warm), although now subsided following intervention. Note my particularly high-tech stopper solution. It’s now back under the office desk and underneath a towel for good measure, alongside my ‘session’ pale ale (which may after all turn out to be a bit less sessionable), which is due for bottling this weekend.

This is the third and final recipe in this current batch from Edinburgh’s Brewstore, and following a bit of e-mail to and fro in relation to the previous kit beer I brewed from there, I’ve learned to treat their recipes as a starting point, as the basis from which to brew, rather than setting out measurements which are particularly precise. (In short: they stand by the hops in their recipe – which gives me an interesting decision to make about dry hopping my pale ale, which stage is due today or tomorrow – while I know that it’s wrong.) But then, a lot of brewing is like that – if you get five brewers in a room you’ll get at least six different ways of brewing the same beer – and part of the enjoyment is the research and the consultation with others who’ve been there before. And, it also matters quite a lot how good is your process and set-up. Furthermore, it absolutely won’t stop me ordering from there again: what matters to the quality of a beer is, apart from your own process management and decision-making skills, fresh ingredients and I’ve been impressed with the quality of the malt and the hops on offer; and the staff also include a fair proportion of brewers too.

So, the beer shelf in the store cupboard is now bare (though there’s a mini collection of opened packets of dried yeast sealed up and happily chilling in the fridge). Next step from here is the capacity to brew larger amounts of beer than 4.5L in one go and, given the practical difficulty of boiling more than about 10L of liquid on a stovetop, that means a bit of investment in a system of one type or other. Final research is still being done on that, while Covid-19 is evidently causing a few complications to manufacture and delivery there, too. So, watch this space.

In the meantime, all my beers up to now have been straightforward ones. They’ve placed different technical and processual demands at different points, but there have as yet been no customisations. So, while I’m finishing off my research and waiting for delivery, I’m quite tempted to grab a load of dark malts to brew a few short-run (4.5L) stout/porter specials and (fans of the Reinheitsgebot look away now) use some fruit, chocolate, coffee, etc. to extend my skills there, too. Food for thought, anyway.