Harry Chapman Pincher

There are going to be an ample sufficiency of obituaries for the guy over the next few days: all the “heavies” have been anticipating his demise this long while — typically he kept them waiting for the copy.

I would remember him, probably unfairly, in one particular context.

My parents took the Beaverbrook Daily Express, and in North Norfolk I grew up with a morning ration of Rupert the Bear and Giles cartoons.


As the Bobster has it:

Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

Alas: I only learned that much older and later.

Howeversover …

I can now reconstruct precisely where I was and what I was doing around 10 a.m. on 15 March 1963

Mum and Dad had gone to work. I was the bone-idle university student struggling out of my pit. Around 10 a.m. I was yawning over my parent’s Express, and puzzling over the curious proximity of what ought to be two very different stories, presented side-by-side in parallel columns.

I wasn’t in the loop, like 50-odd million other Brits. Yet, clearly, I was being told something: what was the link between a Jamaican drug-dealer with a gun, and the  Secretary of State for War — oh, and why was this Miss Keeler involved? At this distance I do not recall if she got the customary bosom shot.

Nor do I not recall Chapman Pincher’s name on either story. I do know that I suddenly realised the Express, as edited by Robert Edwards and his acolytes, had the entrée to another, hidden world.  Thus I became addicted.

Pincher did get by-lined on many, many other stories. They were clearly inconsistent, but obviously had “connections”. Only later did we learn he was being fed by the likes of Peter “Skycatcher” Wright.

Even then it took a leap of intellect to recognise a very right-wing cadre was at work here. The chain was:

Ambitious MI5 second-tier operatives
➪  let’s do for the boss, Roger Hollis
➪ let’s get Harold Wilson
➪ channels though Tory MPs, such as Jonathan Aitken
➪ Pincher
➪ let’s screw the Labour Party, using what we know about (e.g.) Tom Driberg
➪ Airey Neave
➪ Margaret Thatcher.

Whatever Nixon’s plumbers did at the Watergate, it was prototyped by the likes of Wright who:

bugged and burgled our way across London at the State’s behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way.

Some of what the buggers and burglars uncovered dropped into the lap of Chapman Pincher.

Perhaps posthumously other ordure may be dropped.

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Filed under Daily Express, Harold Wilson, sleaze., Tories.

Warsi, Cameron and realities

A minor Tory name resigns her non-ministerial position (Whip in the un-Whippable Lords?). No earthquake. This is the week of the old August Bank Holiday: the silliest point in the silly season. Therefore Barnoness Warsi, for all her unworthiness, gets her headlines.

The Spectator had to have a holding piece while the Great BoJo Revelation came through — and the evidence suggests they had prior warning to get that cover ready for this week’s edition:


Presumably, that diminutive figure under BoJo’s approaching arse is “Gids” Osborne, the heir presumptive. From whom (or from those ever-present “sources close to the Chancellor”) we shall soon be hearing more. It”ll be worth watching if Johnson’s parachuting into the safest of seats is trouble-free. My guess is not: he has too many undeclared enemies, and too many fair-weather friends.

In patient expectation of the new Caesar coming in triumph over Pompey’s blood, the holding job on the Spectator blog’s was Rod Liddle’s: Baroness Warsi – commendable but stunningly wrong.

I couldn’t give a toss whether Baroness Warsi is right (well, most of her views are), wrong, or “stunningly” so. What matters more is whether David Cameron is.

Let’s backtrack to 21st July and Hansard on the Ukraine (Flight MH17) and Gaza exchange.

I thought at the time that David Cameron’s line was inadequate, even one-sided. I wondered how long could this official line be held:

What is happening in Gaza is absolutely heartbreaking. We have to be clear, though, about how this could most quickly be brought to an end: that is for Hamas to stop the rocket attacks on Israel. If they stop those, all the other things that we need—the end of the Israeli operation, and the ceasefire—would be in place.

It didn’t ring true. It wasn’t the authentic bell metal.

Still, Cameron repeated that at least six times in answering questions. Each iteration suffered serial elision until the essential message became:

… we believe in Israel’s right to defend itself, we believe that it needs to exercise restraint, to avoid civilian casualties and to find ways of bringing this to a close. But the best way to bring this to a close is the fastest way, and that is for the rocket attacks to stop.

I didn’t see then, and don’t see now that the IDF’s actions are entirely limited to “defending itself”. The Gazan death toll alone, now approaching 2,000, underlines that is is a campaign of aggression, not “defence”.

If I read Netanyahu’s statements correctly, that isn’t his position either:

What is about to end is the IDF’s treatment of the tunnels, but this operation will end only when quiet and security are restored for Israeli citizens for a prolonged period… We don’t have any intention of hurting the residents of Gaza. It’s Hamas who is actually hurting them by preventing humanitarian aid. I think the international community needs to condemn Hamas. [That's lifted from Monday's WSJ].

To that extent, Lady Warsi has a valid point — and the Prime Minister has mislaid any he had.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Conservative family values, David Cameron, politics, The Spectator, Tories.

The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife

What is the function of the political cartoon?

It occupies prime position on the editorial page. It frequently diverges from, even collides with the editorial stance.

I have several collections here from past masters. I’d suggest the present batch are more than holding their own by comparison.

I have to admit Gerald Scarfe, who was once the cutting-edge, isn’t doing it for me anymore: today’s in the Sunday Times, the limping dove-of-peace against the background of what looks like napalm, could have been recycled (and possibly is) from Vietnam or wherever.

Take, for comparison, four other views on the Gaza horror.

Chris Riddell, in today’s Observer, goes international for a change of scene, and comes up with:

Chris Riddell-Israel-Gaza-war

Look twice and you see not just the present, but  — in the second row — an anticipation of a continuing future.

If this (and it’s already up on the web-site) is tomorrow’s Independent, it’s a considerable improvement on Scarfe’s cliché:


Martin Rowson, for Saturday’s Guardian, and Dave Brown for the same day’s Independent, both conflate 1914 and 2014:

martin rowson cartoon 1.8.14


That second one derives from John Singer Sargent:


Sargent was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information: it was for a Hall of Remembrance. It derived from Sargent’s visit to the Western Front in July 1918, but was completed only in 1919. Before the Armistice, such a depiction would have been as welcome as rats in the Commons’ dining rooms. Now it hangs (2.3m by 6.1m — that’s twenty imperial feet long) in the Imperial War Museum.

Virginia Woolf mused on this one, which she seems to have seen at the Royal Academy:

A large picture by Mr Sargent called ‘Gassed’ at last pricked some nerve of protest, or perhaps of humanity. In order to emphasise his point that the soldiers wearing bandages round their eyes cannot see, and therefore claim our compassion, he makes one of them raise his leg to the level of his elbow in order to mount a step and inch or two above the ground. This little piece of over-emphasis was the final scratch of the surgeon’s knife which is said to hurt more than the whole operation.

The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife: that’ll do for me: it defines remarkably the point and purpose of the editorial cartoon.

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Filed under Dave Brown, Guardian, Independent, Literature, MArtin Rowson, Sunday Times

I am the door …

9781473511040-large… by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. [John: 10,9]

Let there be no misunderstanding here:

I am no poet.

There are a number of good reasons for that:

  • I lack the talent;
  • I lack the patience;DOOR
  • Over fifty years ago, the editors of TCD’s undergraduate literary magazine, Icarus, made my inadequacies abundantly clear.

The editors of Icarus of that era were two names better known now than they were then: Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. I recall it was the latter who initialled my first rejection slip.


Scanning Kate Kellaway’s pre-publication review of Longley’s latest collection, The Stairwell, I felt I had just had the kind of momentary domestic revelation of which Longley is master.

Lunchtime, Saturday, my autistic grandson had been in the house. Once inside, I noticed him fingering the panels inside the front door, touching each one, in turn, all sixteen.

As he ate his pizza, and drank his soda, he was drawing. It was a remarkably accurate diagram of those sixteen panels, including the shape of the top pairs.

In that moment I found the solace of a pasture, if not a poem.

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Filed under Belfast, Dublin, Ireland, Literature, Observer, Trinity College Dublin

“Keeping the lights on?”

Diligent readers of Private Eye (of whom I have been one these fifty years) will recognise I have borrowed my headline from ‘Old Sparky’.


One of his frequent observations is how close our successive governments have scraped to the point when demand outstrips production capacity, and, as Sir Edward Grey didn’t quite say:

The lamps are going out all over Britain, we shall not see them lit again in this government’s life-time.

It did for Ted Heath in February 1974, after all.

And so, what about Ferrybridge?

In a statement, the power station said: “At around 2.00pm today a serious fire impacted Units 3 and 4 of SSE’s Ferrybridge C power station in West Yorkshire…

“SSE will be undertaking an investigation to establish the full extent of damage in due course.  Early indications show the fire itself started in unit 4 but also had some impact on Unit 3.  Currently we do not expect Unit 4 to return to service in this financial year.  Unit 3 is not expected to return to service before 1 November. Our immediate priority is to manage the incident and to ensure the safety of staff, contractors and the general public.”

That’s from this evening’s York Press, updated on line.

So, it looks as if we could be one of the four 500 MW units down for the winter, and a full GW down when the clocks go back.

At the very least, since the centre of the fire seems to have been where the flue-gas is washed for sulphur (the issue that, under the Large Combustion Plant Directive, would close this whole coal-fired operation by 2023), we can expect some foul air and asthma in South Yorks, followed by swinging fines from the EU. Perhaps even a few trees in Scandinavia killed by sulphuric acidic rain.

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Filed under economy, Yorkshire

How you spin ‘em, number 94

Anthony Wells, yesterday:

Over the last couple of days the Evening Standard have been reporting the contents of a new YouGov London poll – yesterday here and today here.

YouGov found London voting intentions of CON 35%(nc), LAB 45%(+3), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 8%(-2), GRN 4%(nc). Labour are up three since June, but this poll would still suggest Labour doing slightly worse in London than elsewhere (a ten point lead for Labour in London is a 4 point swing since the general election, whereas GB polls are currently showing a 5 1/2 point swing to Labour.)

For the record, London voting in the 2010 General Election went:

Labour 36.6% (down 2.3% since 2005) and 38 MPs;
Tories 34.5% (up 2.6%)  and 28 MPs;
Lib Dems 22.1% (up 0.2%) and 7 MPs.

By consensus Labour:

  • did better in London than across the UK (vote down 6.2%), and
  • far better than England taken together (vote down 7.4%).

These things have the characteristic of a rubber band: they stretch, but only so far — and the Labour vote inevitably has natural limits: even in the wonder year of 1997 the vote in London was

  • 49.5% Labour, 31.2% Tory, 14.6% Lib Dem.

One other figure worth mentioning is the 2014 London Borough elections (the most recent proper poll). This, on a smaller turn-out, which itself tends to count against Labour, had:

Labour 37.33% (up 4.83%  on 2010 Borough Elections),
Tories 26.32% (down 5.42%) and
LibDems 10.63% (down 11.73%).

Were we to take that Evening Standard/YouGov poll as total Gospel, Labour is way ahead, even from May, the Tories are a trifle restored (thanks to the UKIP decline?), and  the LibDems still barely bog-snorkelling.

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Filed under Elections, Evening Standard, Labour Party, Lib Dems, London, Tories., ukpollingreport

“A degree of hardship for poor kids”

That was a short opinion piece, which I caught up with only in re-scanning yesterday’s Observer. Barbara Ellen (whose name sounds remarkably close to a song on the second Joan Baez album, and now is a page I regularly skip) has this:

It seems that poorer disadvantaged students have been applying to university in “record” numbers – up 1.3 percentage points from last year – which some have hailed as a vindication of the tuition fee increases. What baloney.

It’s good that these students have not been put off by the fees hike, but that’s all credit to them, not the ridiculously unfair system they are forced to navigate. Not only do such candidates remain far outnumbered by their middle-class counterparts, there have been reports about how the university funding system is in absurd disarray.

Why are all these young people applying to university in droves anyway? Of course, many just want to, and good luck to them. However, for others, it could be a case of what else are they supposed to do? Low-paid unskilled work for ever more, or an unpaid internship, which most could not afford to do without strong parental financial support? In such circumstances, university, even with the burden of enormous fees, could look like the best option

Ironically, it’s now middle-class students, with the safety net of long-term financial support from their parents, who can afford to go straight into work, and “wing it”, avoiding university fees altogether if they wish. By contrast, disadvantaged young people are between the proverbial rock and hard place – they can’t really afford to go to university, but they can’t afford not to go either.

It’s easy to imagine some of these young people sitting hard times out in university, almost as a kind of civic sanctuary, hoping that things will have improved by the time they emerge. They are the nervy, watchful “wait and see” academic generation – and putting them in that stressful, insecure position is nothing for this government to crow about.

I quote that in full, because a straight search on the title gets one nowhere.

And also because it bangs home more nails into the coffin of this ConDem government.

In the old days (circa 1980) those of us sitting on Labour-controlled education authorities shamelessly finagled local authority resources as “positive discrimination”. Our opponents condemned this as “social engineering”. The late Michael Gove, now defenestrated from education to keeper of  the Black Book on kiddy-fiddling MPs and other low-lifes, has been as much into “social engineering” as anybody. For that is what is involved in:

  • the quest for “rigour” (making exams more formal, penalising any menstruating girl by minimising coursework and anything else that couldn’t be validated sitting at a desk for two or three hours straight);
  • reinforcing those essential upper- and middle-class cultural values — what we used to think of it as forelock-tugging, by — for one example — specifying that history teaching should inculcate a sense of national identity;
  • setting up those heavily-resourced “free schools” in bourgeois enclaves where there was “demand” (the demand being to keep little Hermione well away from the Chavettes);
  • all purpose teacher-bashing, not only by slighting rebukes but also by making sure such pay-limited professionals in the public sector could no longer afford to buy into “naice” areas.

Already the skies darken with chickens coming home to roost. Shortly after, as Vince Cable already expects, the Student Loan racket becomes an ever-greater burden on the Exchequer.

So, good luck to those poorer disadvantaged students who make it far enough to work the system to their own benefits.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., education, History, Michael Gove, Observer, schools, social class, Tories.