It’s Thursday evening.
That’s a litre of Malibu. We’re onto the hard stuff now.
It’s Thursday evening.
That’s a litre of Malibu. We’re onto the hard stuff now.
Everyone knows the old Ulster crack:
“Are you a Prodasdant atheist or a Carthlick one?”
Professor Roy Greenslade, journalist supreme and former newspaper editor, went to Rath Mealtain, a.k.a. Ramelton, on Lough Swilly, to bury his atheist mother, Joan. Commiserations all round.
Then the fun began.
A humanist funeral service for Joan Greenslade took place last Monday but, her son told The Irish Times, that “according to the church people I approached — and underlined by the undertaker — an atheist cannot be buried (in Donegal) because the churches, Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian, own the graveyards. Therefore, unless one is willing to compromise one’s beliefs by agreeing to a religious service, it is impossible to be buried.”
He spoke to a former Church of Ireland rector on the matter who advised him it was “out of the question” for his mother to be buried in a Church of Ireland graveyard there.
His mother was buried in Derry on Tuesday.
The city council’s cemeteries department, when asked if they could bury an atheist, said they had different areas in the municipal graveyard for Catholics, Protestants and even Muslims.
Asked whether they were starting an atheist section for Mrs Greenslade the reply was: “No, we’re putting her in with the Protestants.”
Now let the exculpations begin:
Nineteen worthy souls (15 mean men and 4 worthy women) swam the seven miles from Rathlin‘s Church Bay to the mainland at Ballycastle Bay. Well done, gals ‘n’ guys, rather you than Malcolm (he says).
It is an estimable effort on everyone’s part to raise consciousness on Green issues (and a damn sight more sensible and practical and cost-effective than sticking a mini-turbine on your Notting Hill roof).
That apart, it makes Malcolm aware of the on-going transport problems facing the people of Rathlin (who should be the main consideration here), the Northern Irish Department for Regional Development (whose performance in this the mess has been dismal, and anyone else in the loop). The heroes of the Westlink Broadway Underpass (see right) maintained their track record. Ministers have been forced to resign, officials lynched, for less.
The story, even saga, is best told serially by Nevin on the outstanding NALIL website.
Ignore the recent panegyric from Declan O’Loan.
Consider instead that this contract, which may be working this week, was supposed to be up-and-running on 1st June.
Since then, pretty well every aspect of the in-coming contractors’s promises seem to have been manipulated or subtly adapted.
And we still don’t know how the payments may have — equally subtly — have been modified, why the local people have been kept in the dark, and why there has been a wholesale supply of porky-pies.
The Scottish tourist organisation are running a promotion for “a perfect day“. And good luck to them.
They have a small, but perfect in every detail, advertising film to go with it.
Our young average, but very well-scrubbed, fit and photogenic couple emerge from the [Notting Hill] Gate Cinema (which just happens to be screening Whisky Galore and Local Hero — as if). A 148 bus for Shepherd’s Bush passes.
Cue Lou Reed:
Oh, it’s such a perfect day –
I’m glad I spend it with you.
Oh, such a perfect day:
You just keep me hanging on,
You just keep me hanging on …
Well, no actually. That’s too depressingly Trainspotting, and not the real Scotland (or, rather, the one they’re selling). What we get is the Waterboys:
I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin’ on the seas,
Far away from dry land and its bitter memories,
Casting out my sweet line with abandonment and love –
No ceiling bearin’ down on me, save the starry sky above,
With light in my head, you in my arms,
As fast as one can Woo! our pair are off, through an anonymous airport, and coming into land on the strand at Barra. Quick plug for British Airways (though that’s a Loganair service in drag).
More clichés to come, all from Vatersay: kayaking with seals, a passing dolphin, running on the sands, fish fresh off the boat, a passing eagle, a barbie on the beach.
A quarter of a century back, Malcolm, his lady and children were in Oban. It had rained for the last squelching week. Wednesday (why does he remember it was a Wednesday) was promised to be, and dawned bright and fine.
Away on the morning ferry to Mull. Across Mull to Iona, then over crystal water where the fish were clearly visible fathoms below. The Abbey and the burial place of the ancient Kings (and, now, of John Smith, the lost leader). Still a clear day, so on to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave with a low tide.
It takes just one term, an adjective, or an appellation to undermine and ultimately demolish any politico.
The other side of the lake, NIxon was “tricky”, Adlai Stevenson an “egg-head”, Clinton “slick Willy”, John Kerry saddled with “Lurch” … and worse (but Malcolm will come to that shortly).
Over here, John Prescott was “Two Jags” or even “Luigi”: that one, apparently from Nicholas Soames, taunting Prescott with his former occupation as a ship’s steward. Soames, in return, is “Fatty” or “Billy Bunter” (even more damaging: an old flame, asked about Soames as a lover, answered that it was like having a wardrobe fall on you, with the key sticking out). Neil Kinnock was, infamously, the “Welsh Windbag”, though since that also applied to Lloyd George, it was even in part complimentary. Tony Blair was at first “Bambi”, which did him little harm: only when the LibDims recycled “Bliar” from the Socialist Workers did it hurt.
That clacking of Jimmy Choos, as the bookshops opened this morning, was likely to be the Tamsin Lightwaters of Tory Central, dispatched to clear the shelves of any trace of Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones.
The reviews were hardly “mixed”: undiluted contempt comes closer. Johann Hari, in a useful essay for today’s Independent, Cameron is wily but he’s beatable, quickly dismisses the book as “mostly sycophantic swill”.
Gaby Hinsliff in The Observer, had a similar view, if too earnest and precious:
This is an elegantly hollow book; better hope the hollowness does not come from Cameron himself.
Cameron has views on the recent history of his party. They go like this: Margaret Thatcher, of course, was a great leader, and he can’t find fault with John Major; William Hague was also a great leader; Iain Duncan Smith was ahead of his time; and Cameron admires Michael Howard “a lot”.
All we see is that seamless, shiny veneer. Try this. “Are you middle- or upper-class?” [Cameron] is asked. “I don’t really buy these labels.” “Come on, gun to your head,” Jones insists. “Gun to my head, I suppose I’d describe myself as well-off.” And this: “You’ve been described as a cautious man. Are you?” “Well, I’m a mixture of sometimes being quite radical and wanting changes, and on the other hand being cautious and thoughtful about how to bring it about.”
If you like this sort of thing, as the old saying has it, then you will find it is the sort of thing you like.
‘… Dave, how about that time when that bloke in the white van tried to knock you off your bike? It’s the Broken Society, innit? Your big thing. Thugs! Hoodies! That geezer wanted you dead!’
Etc. ‘I slowed down and sort of pulled in behind a line of parked cars,’ is how the latter appears, as only one of, presumably, many thrilling bicycling stories in Jones’s Cameron on Cameron. ‘As this van drove by this hand came out and just bashed me in the back, with the aim of pushing me in front of the car. Luckily I managed to put the brakes on.’
It’s a good story. And bang on spec, too. The streetwise Tory. He gets around, green, but he knows it’s dodgy out there. It’s the Broken Society. Can he fix it? Yes he can.
Matt Rudd in the Sunday Times collects the biscuit, as he hesitates half-a-step back from homophobia:
The conversations took place in various campaign-trail cars, at Tory HQ, in Blackpool bars, in Cameron’s “typically middle-class” kitchen, but they could just as well have been played out in a men-only sauna, Jones gently cupping Cameron as they exchange sweet nothings…
All Cameron on Cameron shows is two men indulging their forbidden love, Jones for Cameron and Cameron for himself.
The swift-boating did for Kerry among the redder of neck. It was one word, “metrosexual”, that got to the next social tier or two. That is why the Tory Tamsins were busy this Bank Holiday morning, why the book is for pulping if Tory Central has its way.
There is out there, like Yeats’s rough beast, a word, an expression, waiting for its hour to come round at last. It may not be “metrosexual”, but it will be something that starts the rot from within, disaffects the still-unconvinced Tory right. When it slouches into the public ken, it will destroy Cameron and his whole project as surely as a silver bullet, a stake through the heart.
There’s no point in beating around the bush: here’s the essence:
“This is a massive failure of duty. It is not the first time that the government has been shown to be completely incapable of protecting the integrity of highly sensitive data,” was Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve’s response to the news that a computer memory stick containing highly confidential data of 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales has gone missing.
But in his attack Grieve fails to mention one very important point. It wasn’t the government which lost the data, but a private company, PA Consulting, a sub-contractor to the Home Office
Thus Neil Clark in The First Post, stating the blindingly obvious; and copying all the Quality papers.
What Clark then goes on to say, that others shied away from, is that the answer is simple: government no longer sub-contracts sensitive business:
… after this latest fiasco is there anyone still willing to argue that the increased involvement of the private sector in the business of government has led to greater efficiency?
It is logical to assume that the more outside agencies that handle government data, the greater the likelihood of it getting lost. But logic, it seems, goes out of the window where Britain’s political elite and their blind attachment to neo-liberal dogma is concerned.
The reverse-ferret, currently being performed by the London Press against Blasted Boris, is a truly instructive exercise.
Barely days ago, at the end of his first trimester, we were regaled with some nice puffs about Boris’s doings at City Hall.
Admittedly, achievements remain few and far between; and many serious issues (gun and knife crime, indeed the whole matter of policing; his obsessive detestation of “bendy” buses, and with it the future of surface transport; the London Underground, PPP schemes, and the development of mass transit systems; the congestion charge; the 2012 Olympics and their finance) are unresolved:
I am very proud of things we’ve done and hugely proud that a year ago this was something that nobody thought we could win and here we are almost three months in now, today and we’ve installed, in the government of London, a team of the top, made up of people, many of whom are Conservatives, who are running very well, in my view, a huge, diverse, cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic city. And I am very pleased at the way we were able to make that happen so smoothly.
etc., etc. Yadder, yadder.
There was a third resignation from the inner team. One for racialism, one for lying, now one — the most senior, the ultimate asset-stripping Tory businessman, a hard-nosed minder imposed from Tory Central — because he was supplanted.
Malcolm here passes over a peculiarly hostile piece in today’s Independent, which feels way ahead of the pack. This says Parker was “defenestrated”, sorry …
thrown to the crows from the eighth floor of City Hall.
Here goes with the commentary:
The reason that the chaos in the Court of King Boris is bad news for the Conservatives nationally is that it was Tory Central Office who put most of the key players in post. “During the election campaign, no one had much time to think what would happen if they won,” said one senior member of the Mayor’s campaign. So it was left to senior Central Office figures, among them Nicholas Boles, Lord Marland, and the then party chairman, Francis Maude, to choose a “transition team”.
All of which is why this week’s Economist is so very instructive:
The early signs—Mr Johnson was elected in May, beating the Labour incumbent, Ken Livingstone—have been mixed. On August 19th Tim Parker, a businessman whom Mr Johnson had appointed first deputy mayor, resigned. The pair had agreed that the job of chairing Transport for London, which runs the capital’s buses and the Tube, should go to the mayor rather than Mr Parker, as originally intended. Shorn of that role, Mr Parker did not have much to stick around for, although he will continue advising the mayor.
That is under the helpful sub-title of:
If the capital is a Tory test-bed, the early results are mixed
The Economist habitually adopts the rôle of candid but critical friend, even when supping with the devil. The only known exceptions are Afro-Asian dictatorships and Silvio Berlusconi.
Well, for a start, the Economist was quite warm towards Ken Livingstone:
Mr Livingstone, who won office as an independent in 2000 and retained it for Labour in 2004, has done better than many expected. He introduced a congestion charge in the centre of town (piquing the interest of other cities) and a more efficient ticketing system for public transport, expanding the bus service. He has enjoyed good relations with city financiers while redistributing wealth through planning decisions: developers are allowed to build in return for including affordable housing and other goodies for the poor. He also helped secure the 2012 Olympics for London and cash from the central government for a new cross-city train service.
Nor was the paper any cheer-leader for BJ:
the Tories’ choice of candidate to run against [Livingstone] is a risky one. Mr Johnson’s journalistic career was stellar (he was editor of the Spectator, among other jobs) but punctuated by controversy. He became an MP, but concealing an affair led to his removal from the Tory front bench in 2004 by Michael Howard, the party’s leader; David Cameron, Mr Howard’s successor, restored him. His sense of fun knows few bounds (Mr Paddick calls him a “clown”), which critics say equips him ill to run a city with dire social problems.
There are other straws in the wind. Even chief bridesmaid, “It-was-Andy-wot-won-it!”, Gilligan at the Evening Standard is taking a pace or two back:
… the buck does stop with the president. He is still on honeymoon with the voters and will probably get away with Tim Parker, but it may be the last time.
Whether he likes it or not (and I think he increasingly likes it) Boris has been elected to the most presidential job in British politics. As he has belatedly realised, there is only one person who can do the job: him. Without the right backup, he will fail.
That has two implications:
A further example is over at the Spectator, where Fraser Nelson is having difficulty clinging to the party line while decrying:
Boris talking about “the politicians” as if he’s forgotten he is now one of them.
If not within the belly of the Beast, some Tories of Malcolm’s acquaintance at least imply they have bum-sniffing rights. Particularly after the third G-’n-T, these worthies seem to be suffering disgruntlement. Increasingly their muttering takes the form of “… but Boris wasn’t supposed to win!” This, of course, sound like:
Nobody at Tory Central will have reached two-ulcer gripings yet.
The odd facial tic and frowned forehead will be provoked by the Economist‘s reflection on BJ’s actions and intentions
offering a perturbing prospect for some Tories.
Especially so, when the article concludes, rather awkwardly for such a refined organ:
it would be wrong to infer much from Mr Johnson’s performance about how the Tories may behave in office. He has fewer powers than a national government. The London Assembly is a weaker check on his power than Parliament is for a prime minister. And though he resembles David Cameron, the Tory leader, in age and background [note that! see below], he is not his ideological clone. On August 19th he mocked the notion of social breakdown—one of Mr Cameron’s main themes.
Watch for new Tory minders to be dispatched, quam celerrime, as BJ would say, to City Hall.
Ponderings will become even more brooding after the Economist‘s other article, on “fairness” as the new political buzz-word, when taken from the mouth of George Osborne. BJ’s populist rhodomontades helped him him his mayorship; but similar vaunts could return to torment a hypothetical Tory Chancellor:
This line of attack may make it somewhat harder for Mr Brown to borrow yet more money to pay for policies in his autumn relaunch. But it still won’t spare Mr Osborne the inheritance of potentially dire public finances if the Conservatives win the next election.
For a final moment, though, Malcolm cannot resist squeezing a pip or two, curiously related in zest to that Economist article, from the Independent hate-piece:
Some in David Cameron’s inner circle are pleased at the clear blue water opening up between the Mayor and their boss. If a sense of failure at City Hall rubbed off on the Tories nationally, that would be bad news for them. “Boris and Cameron are very different types; they went to the same school but that’s where their similarity ends [see above],” said one top Conservative. “But if Labour can pin on us the idea that this is what happens when inexperienced Tories get into power – they couldn’t run a whelk stall – it could be very damaging.”
Mr Cameron’s best bet is to do with Mr Johnson what Tony Blair did with Ken Livingstone: claim credit for Labour when there was a success, and, when failure loomed, shrug that Mr Livingstone was, like King Boris, “just a maverick”.
London mayor Boris Johnson doesn’t have the best of luck with plane journeys. Yesterday he touched down in Beijing looking – and feeling – frazzled following a gruelling nine-hour journey in “cattle class”, after being denied an upgrade to business class by British Airways. City Hall aides are understood to have requested that the mayor be bumped up, but were turned down. A BA spokesman refused to comment or reveal whether the flight had been too full to accommodate the request.
The Daily Mail has the same story, apparently word-for-word. Curious that.
All-in-all, a strange story, with one more implausibility. So:
Boris Johnson arrived in Beijing today looking tired and dishevelled after a cattleclass flight from London.
Last Saturday, Diddy Dave Cameron upped and flew to Tbilisi: to no great effect except as personal-image burnishing. There was even a sequin of foreign policy with which to dazzle us:
Cameron adopted a more robust, anti-Russian stance than the government has. He called for Russia to be suspended from membership of the G8 group of industrialised nations and for Georgia’s entry into Nato to be brought forward.
Yesterday, more discreetly, the Tories were trying to unscramble their lines over cooperation in the Council of Europe. By the by, Denis MacShane played a blinder on their confusions:
Denis MacShane, the Labour former Europe minister, said it was hypocritical for Cameron to pose as anti-Russian in Georgia when Conservative MPs were sitting alongside parliamentarians from Putin’s United Russia party in the Council of Europe …
MacShane told guardian.co.uk that it was hypocritical of Cameron to advocate firm anti-Russian policies “when he leads the only major European party that works with the Kremlin in the Council of Europe”.
The bottom line there is that Tory Euroscepticism prevents the natural alliance with respectable European parties. Instead they have lumbered themselves with the “European Democrat Group“, which is hardly “European” in any positive sense, and its other members, largely from Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic, on only vague nodding terms with “democracy”.
The constitution of the EDG tells us most of what we need to know:
7. The Group believes that free market economics, the pursuit of free enterprise, private ownership and minimal government have proved to be the principle [sic] catalysts to individual freedom and a growing source of both personal and national prosperity; that the wealth of nations grows with individual enterprise and the inheritance of generations; and that it is the ambition of parents for their children to be richer and freer than they.
8. The Group believes that citizens should be encouraged to exercise ever greater private responsibility in the provision of education, health, social services, security in old age and employment. The role of the State is to guarantee provision of those services for all.
Then, suddenly, out of the darkest blue, the Tories changed tack:
A spokeswoman said: “Given the recent events in Georgia, we do not believe that the current arrangement in the European Democrat group in the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly can continue as it is.
“We are already in the process of consulting our partners within the group, such as the Polish Law and Justice party and the Czech Civic Democrats about the way forward.”
She said that talks about a new grouping had been going on for some time and were not just prompted by the “hypocrisy” allegations. She also said that, because negotiations were under way, it was not possible yet to say what the outcome would be.
You won’t be if you address yourselves to the Ratbiter column (not on line) on page 8 of the current issue (i.e. 22 Aug – 4 Sep) of Private Eye:
The party of the thoroughly modern David Cameron ought to be able to work with those other successful centre-right politicians Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. But because Sarkozy and Merkel support greater EU integration, the Tories will have nothing to do with them. They ally instead with assorted deadbeats and nutcases from fringe nationalist parties in the European parliament. When they move beyond the EU, they cut deals with Putin’s far more formidable and far more dangerous United Russia Party and try to advance the careers of its apparatchiks …
There then follows six more paragraphs, detailing how Tories in the Council of Europe pushed a former KGB man for president, tried to prevent Saakashvili of Georgia speaking at Strasbourg, and generally acquired the reputation of being Putin’s pawns.
Back in June, John Redwood flew a kite about Cameron and Obama maintaining the “special relationship”:
I think David Cameron would get on fine on a personal level with [Obama]. The policy disagreements on economic and tax matters would not, on the whole, matter, as they are largely domestic decisions in each country. I suspect an Obama presidency would end up looking more like a Bush presidency, once the Pentagon had sucked him in to their more warlike view, and once the Treasury and Commerce Departments had explained to him the advantages of freer trade. McCain still has plenty of room to push for victory, and the McCain relationship has been developed by David Cameron in Opposition.
In yesterday’s Telegraph, Irwin Stelzer took the notion a stage further. He was comparing the merits of Brown versus Cameron and McCain versus Obama in terms of the UK/US connection:
In foreign affairs, Britain needs a leader with the best chance of retaining the nation’s historic ability to punch above its weight – to borrow Douglas Hurd’s phrase.
However, Brown has:
… low standing in Washington. Brown’s refusal to allow British troops to come out of their airport sanctuary to help tame Basra is something a McCain administration will remember when deciding which allies it can count on.
Miliband is even more despised:
“spineless” is a word bandied about by those least impressed with this David’s ability to take on the Russian Goliath.
But here comes the new hero:
David Cameron has managed to remain a blank page in the book of America’s foreign friends. But US policy-makers know that his foreign secretary-to-be, William Hague, has made it clear that he regards Britain’s relationship with America as central to Britain’s foreign policy.
So, if you believe that one of the keys to Britain maintaining a voice that will be heard in foreign affairs is its close relationship with the US, Cameron is your best bet.
For news of an accident boding to happen, try today’s Financial Times leader, which starts:
There are active philosophical debates about what “fairness” means. The UK Conservative party has little time for such niceties. For the Tories, “fairness” is what they want to do. “Unfairness” is what the government does. Launching a campaign called “Unfair Britain”, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, has landed some solid blows on the government, but he has also highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
This fine and upstanding journal goes on to make specific points, in a way and directness that Government ministers should well study:
- Mr Osborne complains about inflation, but he intends to keep the government’s monetary policy framework. He frets that pensioners are too poor, but has no intention of giving them more money…
- The most glaring weakness in the Tory critique concerns the tax credit system. The Conservatives rightly note that the system is impossible to administer and the ensuing effective tax rate on many poorer workers is far too high… Serious reform would mean the Tories deciding which group of people they want to keep in work – an unappetising choice.
- Mr Osborne complains that the UK is missing its targets on carbon emissions, that the cost of motoring has risen and that the poor are paying more tax than ever. If he is serious about climate change, he will need to introduce a carbon price. This would mean that driving would become more expensive and poor people would pay more tax. Which is it to be?
ideas, as Mrs Thatcher showed, do matter.
The Tories need to offer a greater sense of strategic direction rather than endless micropolicies.
There’s a degree of rewriting history there: for example, it took Thatcher some way into her first administration to achieve achieve full knee-biting mode, with any “ideas” or “strategic vision”.
Malcolm’s recollection (which just stretches back to the 1959 calamity) is that the UK electorate has repeatedly sniffed out each and every incoherence in manifestos and platforms, election after election. In that tradition, the wheels could so readily be coming off the Cameroonie band-wagon, despite all the “implementation” committees, in the run-up to whenever.