Lost, but never forgotten

Catching der Geist seiner Zeit (that’s yer proper Georg Hegel, that is — we give full value here at Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service), the BBC website has a quick potted history of commercial aircraft downed by “enemy action”.


In addition to the on-going crisis over MH17, the piece cites just five other examples since 1954.

May I suggest a sixth?

Aer Lingus Viscount EI-AOM, St Phelim, which crashed into the sea off the Tuskar Rock, on 24th March 1968. All 61 on board — 57 passengers and four crew — were killed.

The official report concluded:

There is not enough evidence available on which to reach a conclusion of reasonable probability as to the initial cause of this accident. 
The probable cause of the final impact with the sea was impairment of the controllability of the aircraft in the fore and aft (pitching) plane.

For thirty-odd years there was speculation that the missile research base at Aberporth was just too conveniently nearby, and a rogue missile may have been involved — not necessarily as a direct hit, but close enough to upset control of the Viscount.

Oddly enough, as late as 1999 the Aberporth records were recovered, to show (what a surprise!) no test firings that day. We should not speculate on how some British government records may be helpfully unearthed, while others — less convenient — remain missing.

Then in 2007 came this:

A retired British air force flying instructor claims that the 1968 Tuskar Rock Aer Lingus Viscount plane crash was caused by a collision with a French-built military aircraft which was training with the Air Corps.

The aircraft struck each other accidentally while the Fouga Magister trainer was responding to a request to check the Viscount’s undercarriage, RAF Squadron Leader Eric Evers maintains.

All 61 people, including the four crew, on board the Aer Lingus Viscount Cork-London Heathrow flight died in the subsequent crash off Tuskar Rock, but the two pilots in the trainer survived by ejecting and parachuting to safety, he claims. Both the French and Irish authorities colluded in a subsequent cover-up, he says, and the Fouga Magister wreckage may still be on the seabed off Co Wexford.

“Curiouser and curiouser” cried Alice, though here re-enacted by Lorna Siggins of The Irish Times. For, as you may or may not see:

A Defence Forces spokesman described the claims as “spurious” and said there was no evidence that an Air Corps plane was in the vicinity at the time.

The spokesman said that Fouga Magisters did not “come into service” with the Air Corps until 1976. He could not comment on why a Fouga Magister was listed as one of the Air Corps aircraft in service in 1968, as stated in appendix 5.2.g of the 2002 report.

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Filed under air travel., Britain, History, Ireland, Irish Times, Wales

A more dangerous place

No doubt about it: the last few hours have hotted up international relations.

If flight MH17 was (as reports suggest) blasted by a ground-to-air missile and by the pro-Russian separatists at that, where did that nasty bit of military hardware originate? Hmmm? The lights will burn late in the Kremlin tonight.

Now, on the express instruction of  Netanyahu, the Israeli “Defence” Force is launching its expected ground attack on Gaza. This can only end in more tears, on both sides. Prediction: after a few days, or even hours, the Israelis realise one their soldiers is missing. To bring him (or possibly her) back, a deal will be struck. After all, the body count as of now, and for just this round of an ongoing tragedy, is in the region of 230 to one. Not all lives and deaths are equal.

Either, or both of those horrors reminded me that, between 1739 and 1748 we went to war with Spain over the little matter of a merchant ship captain’s severed ear.  As of this week, Parliament is off for the summer hols, and — short of a recall — our foreign policy is in the unencumbered hands of David Cameron and Philip Hammond. How reassuring is that?

All this, by the way, illuminates Dominic Cummings’ aide-memoire, 17 points of a 2010 “war-game” of how the Coalition government would succeed or fail:


Liam Fox did, in fact “blow”. At PMQs yesterday several commentators noticed him in cahoots with “sacked” Owen Paterson. Soon there will be calls for Cameron and Hammond to “get a grip”. Heaven help us, the poor bloody infantry, and the fly boys in their Lincolnshire sheds.

Only one thing left: a bit of spiritual uplift. Or, if the bottle is empty, something like this:


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Filed under air travel., Conservative Party policy., Music, Naval history, Tories.

Lost and gone, and well forgotten

Martin Kettle starts his Guardian piece:

Commentators often fail to discern the essential insecurity of politicians. Yet somewhere beneath even the most confident MP’s veneer is the sleepless fear of oblivion.

I found that reassuring. I know my memory is not what it should be, and used to be — too much Cabernet Sauvignon, too often. Still, I wonder how many others of my vintage would recognise the names on this list:

Mac the Knife

That’s “Vicky ” for the London Evening Standard, exactly fifty-two years ago (17th July, 1962). There are, it seems, two versions of this cartoon. The early editions of the paper may have had just the seven top names, with the other nine, the junior ministers, were added in the later effort.

Kettle’s point, about “oblivion” made me wonder how many of the names on Mac’s “Little List” have any resonance these days. Does anyone hanker for David Eccles at Education (1954-7, 1959-62) or at the dead-and-gone Board of Trade (in the intervening gap)? Do we remember Harold Watkinson for his time at Defence (1959-1962) or as Chairman of Cadbury Schweppes (1969-74), or neither?

Just two characters there deserve a bit of immortality

Selwyn Lloyd (sacked as Chancellor by Macmillan) was rehabilitated as Leader of the Commons by Alec Douglas-Home, and imposed by the Heath majority as Speaker in 1971.

Kilmuir was the Lord Chancellor, formerly David Maxwell Fyfe.

I’d not be surprised if, in the near future, his name doesn’t appear more often than it has these forty odd years since his death. He was wrong about not reprieving Derek Bentley in 1953 (allegedly because a hanging would strengthen his chances to elbow Eden aside in Churchill’s succession). He justified the Suez intervention in 1956. He set up the Wolfenden Committee, and then in the House of Lords opposed its recommendations and badger-stroker Lord ["Boofy" Gore] Arran’s Sexual Offences Bill. Kilmuir remained a firm defender of the death penalty.

What may yet give Kilmuir some posthumous notice is his claim in the House of Lords, 24th May 1965:

I have in mind the proselytisation which goes out from sodomitic societies and buggery clubs, which everybody knows exist.

I cannot find another reference for this, but Geraldine Bedell, in a 2007 piece for the Observer had:

For the opposition, Lord Kilmuir warned against licensing the ‘buggers’ clubs’ which he claimed were operating behind innocent-looking doors all over London. But Arran, supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, won his third reading by 96 votes to 31.

The term buggers’ clubs, as there, seems always associated with Kilmuir. Properly it belongs to Lord Chief Justice Goddard:

There is no judge who has to go on circuit, as I did for many years, who does not from time to time find that in various parts of the country—in quite different parts of the country—there are what are generally referred to among the people who practise these things as “buggers’ clubs” or associations or coteries of people who are given to this particular vice. They are often careful to see that they keep out young boys, because they know that they get very heavy sentences if they are found out; but at these coteries of buggers, the most horrible things go on. As a judge, one has to sit and listen to these stories which make one feel physically sick.

If this Bill goes through, so that buggery is no longer a criminal offence provided it is done in private and with no boys concerned, then it will be a charter for these buggers’ clubs. They will be able to spring up all over the place. I can assure your Lordships that it is a very real risk.

Goddard is now remembered for his other proclivities and his trousers. Which is one way of escaping public oblivion.

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Filed under Evening Standard, Guardian, History, homosexuality, Law, Observer, politics

Nicky, nukey, Organ and Cosher

All hail the groceress!

[Fret not: that reference becomes clearer in about 250 words time.]

The newly-enstooled Education Secretary (how much damage can she do in three trimesters?) has the making of a right one.That’s capital-R Right. Also religious Right. And right from wrong, no doubt (especially on the topic of single-sex marriage).  One is entitled to muse on her agenda when she so definitively asserts she defines her constituency and parliamentary duties in the context of  “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.”

That’s likely to be of particular interest when, after the summer recess, she has to explain her Department’s rôle in the small and on-going business of extremists in schools.

I hope someone teases out why, in an Islamic context, we are meant to shiver, but evangelical Christians get away with it. In case you missed it, the Goveian edict forbidding the indoctrination of creationist rubbish went out … just a month ago. A stable features in the Authorised Version, but shutting the door took a trifle longer.

Rhyming Secs

Laura McInerney picked it up from the Great Education Secretaries blog. John Rentoul was quickly on the case, and referred us to rhymezone.com. Unfortunately many of the suggested rhymes for “Morgan” seem to have genital associations. So, if we are to take up the challenge of rhymes for Mrs Morgan we have a problem keeping the matter clean, decent, and New Testament (St Paul eschews all that Old Testamental of-the-earth-earthy stuff).

Alas, Dylan Thomas had already set the bar:

First Voice: Mrs Organ Morgan, groceress, coiled grey like a dormouse, her paws to her ears, conjures …
Mrs Organ Morgan: Silence.
Second Voice: She sleeps very dulcet in a cove of wool, and trumpeting Organ Morgan at her side snores no louder than a spider.

The traditional Malcolmian aside:

In passing, I’d have thought the Great Education Secretaries blog comes down to very few names:

  • R.A.Butler (1944-5);
  • Ellen Wilkinson (1945-7);
  • David Eccles (1954-7 and 1959-62);
  • Sir Edward Boyle (1962-64);
  • Edward Short (1968-70)

and the rest are also rans.

I’d happily reckon that reflects my belief everything headed down-hill with Thatcher, first at the Department and then overseeing from Downing Street. By the time that lady was wrestled out of office, happily in tears, a school could expect to be repainted every seventy years or so. Kenneth Baker, Thatcher’s obedient Mini-Me, was the nadir, and his National Curriculum the end of liberal education in this land. At least under Blunkett there was money in the system (for which Tories have never forgiven him, Blair and Brown).

 Still with things Gwalian

After that wander from Cwndonkin Drive, my mind wandered to another famed Welsh context.

pp14be7183Once upon a time (actually round about 1965 to 1967) alternate Saturdays between September and April seemed to involve away fixtures between Tyneside and North Yorkshire. The Art of Coarse Rugby (now out of print, so may the fleas of a thousand camels infest the burnoose of he who fecked my irreplaceable first edition, as right) must include the post-match return.

The IV’s game was probably played on a cow-pasture, inevitably lost: aches dulled in the communal bath, and drowned in the club bar. Then the Grand Return. The crates of Nukey Brown are rescued from the bus boot. Time for the sing-song, celebrating Dinah, or the ornithological hazards of Mobile, and musing on If I were the marrying kind.

Filth aside, there might be a few choruses of Cosher Bailey. Those were the days of The (Liverpool) Spinners, who invited verses for this one from the audience. The rugby connection may have been spawned through Max Boyce (who also did — in this context — The Ballad of Morgan the Moon), but the Ur-version was probably Ewan MacColl:

Crawshay Bailey

I cannot recall where I came upon the gem, but “Cosher” was a derivative of a real person, not of sufficient significance to feature in the Dictionary of National Biography (unlike Catherine “Skittles” Walters/Bailey, inamorata of many — including the future Edward VII). However, Crawshaw Bailey (1789 - 1872) now appears in wikipedia, but more authoritatively — so, note the discrepancies — on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

While Bailey was an iron master and railway pioneer in South Wales, he was also a virulent opponent of Trades Unions (which may  explain how he became the headline act in this bawdy context).

During 1835 , when the Calvinistic Methodist Association of South Wales held its quarterly meeting at Salem , Nant-y-glo , Crawshay Bailey , who was an Anglican , provided hospitality for the moderator and five leading ministers , possibly in gratitude to the denomination which had decided in its Association at Tredegar , 19 Oct. 1831 , the year of the riots at Merthyr , that no trade unionist could be admitted to church membership.

He may have some affinities with Mrs Nicky Morgan:

She wrote: “I would also like to see the culture of individuals taking responsibility for their actions taking root throughout our public services. NHS staff, teachers, civil servants and many more all need to take individual responsibility for ensuring they offer the best patient care, the best education experience and the most helpful and efficient customer service they can to the public. Many already do but I am getting very fed up with hearing about problems which were ‘not picked up by the regulator’. If we all take more responsibility for our own actions and monitor those around us I believe we can end up with a stronger society and, who knows, we might even spend less on those regulators.”

Note: “individuals”, not professional associations or unions. Ho, hum.

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Filed under Conservative family values, education, folk music, History, Michael Gove, Rugby, Tories., Wales

“A flawed, toxic figure”

Rebekah Brooks walked on air from the Old Bailey:

An emotional Rebekah Brooks has given her first statement since she was acquitted of all phone-hacking charges, declaring she was “vindicated” by the unanimous verdicts of the jury.

With her husband, Charlie, by her side, and her voice breaking, Brooks tried to strike a note of contrition as she said she hoped she had learned some “valuable lessons” from the long trial.

OK: vox populi, vox Dei, etc.

Paul Hoggart (son of, brother of, father of) had it aright for me:

The not guilty verdict will leave many scratching their heads. How could a woman of such intelligence and astuteness rise to the top in a male-dominated cutthroat industry and yet be so naïve or incurious not to want to discover how her underlings were sourcing their juiciest stories? Did she never ask, as any good editor would ask, where did this come from? Brooks repeatedly told the court she knew little about phone hacking, claiming she was not aware of the fact that a private investigator was being paid more than many of her senior reporters to illegally access cell phone voice mails. To be so ignorant of the criminal ruse that put her newspaper so consistently ahead of its rivals would seem to be beyond belief.

That’s not-too-far from where we find the huffing Heffer this morning:

Cameron knew perfectly well that during the time when Coulson edited the News of the World, the paper had become a criminal enterprise, hacking people’s phones, and that he had been forced to resign after one of his senior staff was jailed.

The day after Coulson’s astonishing appointment as Tory press spokesman in 2007, I wrote about Coulson’s claim that he had been unaware his staff had been paying more than £100,000 a year to a man to hack phones. I suggested this proved that either he was spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Though, perhaps, that needs a grain-or-two of salt: wasn’t Heffer’s name in the frame for Coulson’s job with Cameron? Doesn’t Heffer (self-proclaimed purloiner inventor of “Essex Man”) perchance resent Coulson as the onlie-true begetter of all things Essex and prole?

Let us press Heffer’s argument a stage further: the News of the Screws didn’t invent phone-hacking, and the worst examples of its use happened before Coulson was editorially enstooled in Brooks’s place. Yet Brooks maintained in Court she had no knowledge of the operations, or of it practioners. So, by Heffer’s definition, she too must be spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Paul Hoggart puts it as succinctly as anyone:

Brooks became a victim of her own tabloid methods. Although technically exonerated, she remains a flawed, toxic figure who at the very least allowed the company she was managing to suffer a profound public relations disaster which forced it to split in half and from which its press division may never recover.

Now to Tom Watson on LabourList, who lists Nine Remarkable Revelations From the Hacking Trial. These include much unfinished business, not least:

While being edited by Brooks, The Sun paid a defence official for exclusive stories about the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan, military scandals and titillating examples of indiscipline in the ranks. In all the Sun paid £100,000 paid to Bettina Jordan Barber, a mid-ranking official at Ministry of Defence who liaised with the MoD’s press bureau, between 2004 and 2012. The resulting headlines included: “Mucky major’s a sex swinger,” “Major feels privates’ privates” and “The Lust Post.”.

Hmmm … bribery, suborning, corruption — take your pick.

Cost/benefit analysis

The Hacking Trial may have cost the public purse some £35 million, in Roy Greenslade’s accounting:

The real cost of the trial to the taxpayer is not £110m

Let’s deal with the money first. The total includes the massive defence fund provided by Rupert Murdoch. It is estimated that the cost to taxpayers will be £35m.

Anyway, the police and the prosecuting authorities were taking on a powerful international company that had, for years, deliberately denied the existence of hacking and later defied attempts by the police to investigate it.

The investigation proved to be complex, involving many, many hours of painstaking research into computer files. It was bound to cost money. Can anyone imagine how the rest of the press would have howled if the police had simply thrown up their hands and said it was too expensive to carry on?

Draining the swamp” is, in another context, the phrase of the moment. I happen to think £35 million (perhaps just one-tenth of what Murdoch’s Sky TV annual ad costs are) is good value for essential public hygiene and sanitation.

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Filed under advertising., crime, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, human waste, LabourList, leftist politics., Murdoch, sleaze., smut peddlers, Tom Watson MP

Hold it right there, Mr Coulson

Bagehot in this week’s Economist:


That, in itself, is not revelatory: most of the UK commentariat has been making much the same noises.

Except … security types were impressed by his grasp of strategy.

The one thing we do know is that Coulson’s security clearance is a very grey area. The closest we have to certainty is the “addendum” from the Cabinet Office (anonymous) “Departmental Security Officer” to the Leveson Inquiry. It’s worth reading in full:

During Lord O’Donnell’s evidence session on 14 May 2012, in response to questions about whether previous holders of Mr Coulson’s post had DV (Developed Vetting), he agreed to provide “information on precisely when previous occupants of the office were DVd.” I am replying as I am the official responsible within the Cabinet Office for security vetting of Cabinet Office staff.

I am replying in respect of both Directors of Communication and PMs’ official spokesmen (6 postholders between January 1996 and May 2010). Three previous holders of the posts (civil servants) already had DV granted by their previous department on taking up their post in No10. Of the others, two (one special adviser and one civil servant) had DV granted around 3 months after taking up post and one (special adviser) had DV granted just over 7 months after taking up post.

There are two categories of clearance for access to sensitive national security information: SC (Security Check) and DV (Developed Vetting).

SC allows long-term, frequent access to secret material, or occasional/controlled access to top secret material. Staff who have long-term, frequent/uncontrolled access to top secret rfiaterial must undergo DV.

Therefore, in practice staff who are undergoing DV will, provided they hold SC, be occasional/controlled access to top secret material.

More generally, special advisers (and other civil servants) around Whitehall are DVd justified for business reasons, and this level of clearance is exceptional.

What that seems to imply is that Coulson did have access to top secret material, albeit occasional (how often is that?) and controlled (by whom?). Yet, according to Bagehot, it was sufficiently often to impress security types.

The other mystery is why every one of Coulson’s predecessors (count the six in the above) required “Developed Vetting”, but Coulson himself didn’t. The only reason that comes to mind immediately  — hat-tip here to Political Scrapbook — is that Coulson “dodged the soap”, knowing that DV would reveal the affair with Rebekah  Brooks (or some other peccancy), which would be potentially open to blackmail.

Or, possibly, just possibly “someone” protected Coulson from the DV process, knowing or guessing that such a revelation was in the offing.

And that really would be the “smoking gun”.



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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Economist, Political Scrapbook, politics, Tories.

Still, just, on the rails

The problem with magazines (and I’m an addict) is the Chinese meal one: you have one, and an hour later you need another. I may take a newspaper (or two) on a train journey; but I know it/they won’t keep me going the full distance, two hours or so between King’s Cross and York.

Back TrackA bit back I splurged on the last-but-one Back Track, “Britain’s leading historical railway journal”. What prised the £4.20 out of my wallet was Michael H.C. Baker on Dublin to Belfast, half-a-dozen close-printed pages on the old Great Northern line. My experience of that route started in the days when the Ulster Transport Authority and Córas Iompair Éireann had taken the line over, but when steam locomotives were still in use. Soon after steam gave way to diesel. To this day, you find many, if not most still refer to the service by the 1950s name, “The Enterprise”.

In all honesty, the trick was to arrange for one of the CIE services: the catering was superior.

As Baker’s conclusion admits, the rail link between Belfast and Dublin is under a cloud, if not under direct threat:

Not so long ago there was serious talk of electrification and an hourly service but rail travel in the Republic has fallen by 25% of late. Ireland now has a motorway and road network which means that almost all journeys between Dublin, Belfast and the principal cities and towns are quicker by road than rail and long-distance coaches have made great inroads into railway revenues. The ’201′ Class has not proved to be the most reliable of locomotives, chiefly on account of the fact that they have to provide all the heating, air conditioning and other auxiliary power for the carriages, although converted BR-built Mk 3 generator vans now do the job which should overcome the problem.

In March 2011 the Northern Irish Minister for Regional Development listed 32 permanent speed restrictions — the permitted maximum south of the border is 90mph — between Dublin and Belfast. £40 million of upgrading had been scheduled just for the section between Lisburn and Lurgan but this was “now deferred indefinitely due to budget constraints”. Worse, Northern Ireland Railways have said that £500 million is needed to bring the ‘Enterprise’ service up to “an acceptable standard” and it has “so frequently broken down that it is no longer fit for purpose”. Its average speed of 43mph (69km/h) is very nearly the slowest inter-city route in Western Emope. Oh dear, of dear! Some of these statements are a perhaps understandable plea for an ideal which can never be obtainable and an inter-city route of less than 120 miles with a number of stops is never going to rival, for instance, Paris to Marseilles or London to Edinburgh. I always enjoy my journeys between Dublin and Belfast and no doubt will in the future. One minor, not very expensive, outlay could be in the buffet car where a replacement for the seats which must be left over from the Spanish Inquisition would not come amiss!


That any kind of rail transport still exists across Northern Ireland is despite the ingrained prejudices of years of Unionist government. Let’s not pretend: the UTA closures of the 1950s and into the early 1960s were, in part, sectarian politics: too many of the old GNR railmen were Roman Catholic. When the Benson Report of 1963 proposed the closure of all links to Derry, it was the old Northern Counties Committee line, through largely Unionist country, that survived, and the “Derry Road”, from Portadown and on through Catholic country, which was axed.

There are, today, just four lines remaining: to the Border (and therefore on to Dublin), the NCC track to Derry, with a spur to Portrush, (most of which is spectacular, but single-track — and the station at Derry is inconveniently the wrong side of the Foyle), and the two commuter lines — the Bangor line along the Gold Coast of County Down (which ought to service George Best Airport, but contrives not to) and the Larne line (which once linked to the ferries to Stranraer).

The obvious missing link is the mothballed Ballinderry link from Lisburn and Knockmore, past the back of Aldergrove (Belfast International Airport) to join the Derry Line at Antrim. Reviving that is the ever-rumoured, oft-promised, never-delivered story, most recently just last month:

Northern Ireland could finally get a rail link to Belfast International Airport.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has proposed a series of feasibility studies which could eventually mean the first major track extensions to the rail network since the wholesale closures of the Sixties.

In a new document outlining the future of rail investment for the next 20 years and beyond, the minister proposed looking at the potential to create a new route serving Belfast International Airport.

Add a spur to Dublin Airport (which was implicit in the original proposal for Dublin’s Metro North) and the two main runways of Ireland are directly connected, and as adjacent as Heathrow is to the West End. That, of course, involves a degree of finance, and a lot more imagination.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Railways, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, prejudice, railways, reading