No ‘happy juncture’ for Elphicke

There’s Enoch Powell’s celebrated axiom:

All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.

That comes from his biography of Joseph Chamberlain. Or, more properly, less a full biography and more a peg to hang a lot of Powell’s headgear.

Sad that Powell is now remembered, when he is, for just that bit of pith and ‘rivers of blood’. For he was a cultured man,  the rarest of academics with a double starred Cambridge first, the authoritative editing of several classical texts, did the intelligence for the North Africa campaign, voted Labour in 1945, joined the Tories, earned himself a safe seat and a plurality at Wolverhampton South West, and in due course entered the Cabinet.

But that axiom holds true. It also gives those of us ‘also ran’ Slow Horses a little bit of inner warmth, as we reflect on what we missed. Along with grinding chagrin that we can’t match the likes of Mick Herron or Le Carré or a shelf-full of other prose artists.

Which brings me to the political demise and exequies for Charles Brett Anthony Elphicke, a.k.a. a right Charlie. Nine and a half years as MP for Dover and deal, most of them as a Tory. Most recently the star of a nasty little court drama, ending in a forthcoming sentence for sexual assaults. Note: plural (the Court chalked three to his dishonour).

What  remember Cheeky Charlie for? Quite possibly for chasing his prey around the sofa, Whitehall farce fashion, view-hallooing ‘I’m a naughty Tory!’ Perhaps, too, for the despicable way he was re-admitted to the Tory Whip, while under those charges, to keep Theresa May’s leadership afloat. Among the small group of women MPs who witnessed his activities, the pain will endure.

How about this from The Guardian‘s report today:

Some speak of a colleague who was described as “bombastic” and was inclined to swim at the top of the current.

One other woman who had been an MP recently told the Guardian of Elphicke: “Smarmy bugger, suspect where there is smoke, there is fire. Tried it on with me a bit.”

As the father of three daughters, there’s a lady who speaks to me.

One other aspect: the curious behaviour of the wife in the nightmare. That was meant to be a sideways reference to Arthur Conan Doyle and The Adventure of Silver Blaze:

I saw by the Inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused.

“You consider that to be important?” he asked.

“Exceedingly so.”

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

I have a lurking suspicion that the one-time Mrs Elphicke, née Natalie Ross, is a sharper customer than her husband. She has certainly done the Tory-wife thing, standing loyally (well, almost) by him through his months — nay, years — of trial, hand-in-hand with him as far as the courtroom steps (the convention is the cosy image at the garden gate). Then, after the verdict, coolly announcing the marriage was over.

For she is now the legatee of Charlie’s majority at Dover and Deal, almost doubling his 2017 majority. As she glided so neatly into his disgraced place, I have to wonder at the sub-rosa doings of the local Conservative Association.

imageLast 24 August we were at the Lyttelton for the Lindsay Duncan/Alex Jennings essentially two-hander, Simon Woods’s Hansard. The script is very clever — this bit (classical Enoch might have termed it hemistichomythia) emerges from a fox’s depredations of their Cotswold garden:

Diana: Ravaged like that —

Robin: Exactly —

Diana: Decimated —

Robin: Yes —

Diana: Whole country in tatters —

Robin: What?

Diana: And yet for some extraordinary reason they all keep voting Conservative!

Dazzling smile.

Whole way through, one is assuming ‘Robin Hesketh’ has had his bit-on-the-side. Only seconds from the curtain comes the other secret, and we are told why and where ‘Robin’ has been going AWOL.

And a strange moment of redemption.


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Sagittarius Rising, revisited

John Bull (@garius) is editor of London Reconnections. He also provides all kinds of tweeted distractions. Today, for instance, he set us up with a thread on wing-walkers. Wing-walking, of course, was seriously impaired when biplanes were no longer the thing.

However, his references to wing-walkers (in this case, particularly females of the species) drove me back to one of the earliest books I have on flying. Cecil Lewis wrote Sagittarius Rising in the mid-1930s — and it’s still in print (as right). By then he had a wide reputation. Apart from his MC, he had been one of the first executives for the embryo British Broadcasting Company (and an innovator of its Children’s Hour). He would serve as a squadron leader in the second unpleasantness, and live into his nineties to be the oldest survivor of the RFC.

Cecil Lewis enrolled in the Royal Flying Corps at an illegal early age. He survived two years of war-time operations:

Did I, in fact, fly all through the long months of the Somme battle? Did I dive headlong, guns stuttering, into the Richthofen Circus that night Ball was killed? Did I range over darkened London, nervous under the antennae of her searchlights, hunting for Gothas? And did I, all that behind me, celebrate my twenty-first birthday four months after the Armistice? It seems I did.

Two episodes in Sagittarius Rising continue to catch my mind.

The first is the opening of the Battle of the Somme.

July the 1st, the zero day of the Somme offensive, dawned misty and bright. Before it was light I was down in the sheds looking over my machine — an extra precaution, for I had been over it minutely the evening before. I was detailed for the first patrol, and soon we got the machine out and ran it up.

We were to watch the opening of the attack, co-ordinate the infantry flares (the job we had been rehearsing for months), and stay out over the lines for two and a half hours. Before we left, a second machine would overlap us, stay out its two and a half hours, and so continuous patrols would run throughout the day.

We climbed away on that cloudless summer morning towards the lines. There was a soft white haze over the ground that the sun’s heat would quickly disperse. Soon we were in sight of the salient, and the devastating effect of the week’s bombardment could be seen. Square miles of country were ripped and blasted to a pock-marked desolation. Trenches had been obliterated, flattened out, and still, as we watched, the gun fire continued, in a crescendo of intensity. Even in the air, at four thousand feet, above the roar of the engine, the drumming of firing and bursting shells throbbed in our ears.

” Keep clear of La Boisselle” were my orders. There was a small but heavily fortified salient there. It was to be blown up. Two huge mines, the largest ever laid, were to lift it sky-high at the moment the attack was launched. Weeks before, I had taken the officer in charge of the tunnelling up over the spot, and had heard stories of how the men worked down there in the darkness with pick and shovel, stopping at intervals to listen whether” Keep clear of La Boisselle ” were my orders. There was a small but heavily fortified salient there. It was to be blown up. Two huge mines, the largest ever laid, were to lift it sky-high at the moment the attack was launched. Weeks before, I had taken the officer in charge of the tunnelling up over the spot, and had heard stories of how the men worked down there in the darkness with pick and shovel, stopping at intervals to listen whether enemy miners were tunnelling under their galleries. But all was well, the mines were complete, wired, the troops had been retired clear of them, and the officer in charge was waiting, hand on switch, to set them off. Once they were fired, the infantry were to sweep through Boisselle and on up the Bapaurn road to Pozieres, their first day’s objective.

Now the hurricane bombardment started. Half an hour to go! The whole salient, from Beaumont-Hamel down to the marshes of the Somme, covered to a depth of several hundred yards with the coverlet of white wool-smoking shell bursts! It was the greatest bombardment of the war, the greatest in the history of the world. The clock hands crept on, the thrumming of the shells took on a higher note. It was now a continuous vibration, as if Wotan, in some paroxysm of rage, were using the hollow world as a drum and under his beat the crust of it was shaking. Nothing could live under that rain of splintering steel. A whole nation was behind it. The earth had been harnessed, the coal and ore mined, the flaming metal run; the work-shops had shaped it with care and precisio ; our womenkind had made fuses, prepared deadly explosives ; our engineers had designed machines to fire the product with a maximum of effect; and finally, here, all these vast credits of labour and capital were being blown to smithereens. It was the most effective way of destroying wealth that man had yet devised ; but as a means of extermination (roughly one man for every hundred shells), it was primitive and inefficient.

Now the watch in the cockpit, synchronized before leaving the ground, showed a minute to the hour. We were over Thiepval and turned south to watch the mines. As we sailed down above it all, came the final moment. Zero!

At Boisselle the earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earthy column rose, higher and higher to almost four thousand feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like the silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris. A moment later came the second mine. Again the roar, the upflung machine, the strange gaunt silhouette invading the sky. Then the dust cleared and we saw the two white eyes of the craters. The barrage had lifted to the second-line trenches, the infantry were over the top, the attack had begun.

At 7.28am Captain James Young of the 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers, detonated two mines, a total of sixty thousand pounds of ammonol, to form the Lochnagar Crater.

The second is the following year:

One jolly June morning the peace of London Town was disturbed by the unexpected arrival of about twenty German bombers, who laid their explosive eggs in various parts of that comfortable metropolis. They did not do very extensive damage; but their appearance was quite enough to scare the civilian population very thoroughly, and raise an outcry. Barbarians! Dastards! Bombing open towns! Waging war against defenceless women and children! The daily hymn of hate rose to a frightened scream. England was, as usual, un- prepared. The arrangements made for home defence were quite inadequate. True, a few old 2c’s had staggered into the air to attack, but they could not climb up anywhere high enough. They might be all right for Zepps; but against Gothas they were a joke — worse than useless! The complete German squadron returned home triumphant.

Agitation in the press! Scandalous neglect of the defence of dear old England ! Questions in theHouse! Panic among the politicians! Lloyd George acting quickly ! Result: a crack squadron to be recalled for the defence of London immediately, and twelve elated pilots of 56 Squadron packing a week’s kit into our cockpits. God bless the good old Gotha!

That first raid was on 13 July 1917. The SE-5 aircraft, withdrawn from France, and improved early-warning systems, inflicted growing casualties on the Gotha G-IVs, forced the Germans into night raids. Accidents and anti-aircraft fire ensued caused after 61 losses, and the raids were abandoned by May 1918.

The Ulster Museum has a John Lavery painting, Daylight Raid from My Studio Window, 7 July 1917:

Lady Hazel looks none too perturbed.

Lewis’s account of flying over London by night deserves repetition:

In the starlight the earth was almost featureless, a black opaque expanse against the blue-black translucent sky. The flares on the aerodrome dropped below as I circled, climbing steadily to get on my beat. Other pin-points of light shone from neighbouring aerodromes and witnessed that they too were in action. To the east, far down the Thames estuary, two searchlights roved the heavens, impatiently hunting for that white flash in their beams — the wings of an enemy machine. Evidently the invaders were just crossing the coast. Flashes of anti-aircraft bursts could be seen winking for a second like yellow low-hung stars. London was dark and silent, not a searchlight showing, but presently, as if at some order, a number of them opened up together. Their long stiff tentacles began combing the night sky.
Archie began to get busy. The Gothas were evidently passing through that belt of country between the outer and inner ring of Home Defence, and were running the gauntlet of the barrage.
I was now all eyes, peering through the night trying to spot the black silhouette of an enemy, but it was futile; like trying to see a fly in a dark room. Soon the barrage grew heavier: thirty or forty batteries on both banks of the river were speaking; pin-points of greenish-gold on the ground, and, after about fifteen seconds, a smoky yellow flash a bit below me in the sky. The gunners were as blind as I; but they at least had the advantage of being able to hear the Gotha’s engines. I wished I could hear those engines, but the roar of my own made such a thing impossible.
Now the anti-aircraft batteries in London proper were beginning to open up, and suddenly a big flash — Crrrrrump! — down in the city told that the Hun was dropping his eggs. The searchlights were wheeling and flickering excitedly like the antennae of monstrous butterflies, but they failed to locate the raiders.
More bombs! Smouldering heavy flashes down by the river. Suddenly I realized that the only person I cared about was down there somewhere in that blackness among those gun flashes, behind that grille of light beams, and that perhaps one of those bombs might fall on her. For the first and only time in the war, I saw red. I wrenched over the stick, and went in, through the gun fire, right off my patrol beat, to get into the centre of things where those bombs were falling. I was, for about two minutes, mad with rage, mad with the impotent rage of a blind man who knows his enemy is near and cannot find him. I circled over London, while Archie, thinking I was a Hun, took pot shots at me. But I could find no Gothas, so I wheeled sharply and swung off down to the river, thumb on the triggers of the guns, grinding my teeth. How ludicrous it sounds l A single madman, alone, up there in the darkness, bent on vengeance for one among those millions who cowered in the roots of the lights below! But it was all useless. I could find nothing, so I wheeled north again, back on to my beat. The A.A. fire grew less.
My anger wore itself out. If she had been killed, well, there it was. Some one had to be killed by falling bombs. If she had escaped, so much the better. Anyway, I could do nothing about it. Now I was tired. For two hours I had been at strain, peering into darkness, screwed up for an emergency. It had not come. Mental alertness could not last at that pitch. Petrol was running low. I was cold, and seeing, far below, the welcome ” L ” of the flares, shut off, and came down.
“Any one have any luck?” I asked my sergeant rigger.
” No, sir, no one ain’t seen nothin’. But ,judgin’ by the row, them Huns must have been goin’ through it good and proper.”



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The state of the States

The current issue of The London Review of Books arrived this morning. So far I’ve picked at Francis Stonor Saunders’ essay on her father’s suitcase (been there myself) and James Lomax’s Diary of trying to get into and out of Turkmenistan (somewhere between dystopia and corrupt farce). So much more to come …

What stopped me in my tracks were the first thirteen paragraphs of Randall Kennedy’s review of Eric Foner’s Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (2019). This part of the review is, quite frankly, as neat a summary of how the United States failed to cope with its racial problem over a critical century.

From now on I shall cite, as I never have recognised before, this horrible truth:

The leaders of the Confederacy, explicitly repudiating Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that ‘all men are created equal,’ had committed themselves to racial hierarchy. ‘Our new government ... rests,’ the Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, observed, ‘upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.’

Kennedy then continues to explain who and how Lincoln failed to address that essential issue — because he couldn’t. He didn’t have the power, even as Commander-in-Chief to end slavery — except as a war measure, and in the territories controlled by the Confederacy. Hence the Emancipation Proclamation:

contained no criticism of slavery and did not free all slaves; the legal status of at least 800,000 slaves was not affected. The proclamation did not free those held in bondage in the four slave states that remained loyal to the Union: Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky and Maryland. Nor did it free the slaves in certain Southern territories already under Union control.

Then comes a pointed comparison:

The proclamation announced that freedmen would now be allowed to join the United States military. Many enlisted. By the end of the Civil War 180,000 had served – about a fifth of the country’s black male population aged between 18 and 45. In the Revolutionary War of 1775-83, when the 13 American colonies sought to secede from Britain, most African Americans who took up arms did so on behalf of King George III (having been promised emancipation for doing so). By contrast, in the Civil War, the overwhelming majority who took up arms fought for the United States (the Confederacy having stubbornly resisted proposals to arm slaves until the very eve of its collapse).

That balances, for me, the jokey treatment given Farmer George in Hamilton.

After that we are into the topic of Foner’s book: reconstruction, how it was misconceived, how it was wholly subverted, and how it was negated. Starting with:

Although Lincoln planned to readmit the Confederate states into the Union quickly, on generous terms, he also seemed open to granting the vote to some black men – ‘the very intelligent and ... those who serve our cause as soldiers’. When the actor John Wilkes Booth heard that remark he warned: ‘That means nigger citizenship! Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.’ Three days later, on Good Friday, Booth made good on his threat, shooting Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.

Got that chaps? Lincoln’s notion of emancipation was severely limited. But then, again, the whole electoral system of the United States was, and remains, a restricted franchise. As long as large sections of the populace are denied equal and free opportunity to vote, ‘democracy’ is not complete. Gerrymandering? Inaccessible polling stations? Restrictions on voter registration? They are all there, to this day.

Moreover Wilkes Booth delivered:

Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was a fierce racist who militantly opposed giving African Americans an equal legal status to whites. He supported the ending of slavery but wanted blacks to be confined to a subordinate caste. That is one of the reasons Radicals in the Republican Party – Lincoln’s party – despised Johnson, who was a Democrat, and attempted to remove him from office by impeachment.

Reconstruction failed:

Reconstruction was under attack from the outset. There was never a consensus on its legitimacy, and in the end it sank under the weight of racism, indifference, fatigue, administrative weakness, economic depression, the ebbing of idealism, and the toll exacted by terrorism, as its enemies resorted to rape, mutilation, beating and murder to intimidate blacks and their white allies. […]

By 1877 every Southern state had been ‘redeemed’ – that is, was under the control of people who aimed to reimpose the norms of white supremacy. Enemies of Reconstruction removed blacks as a factor in politics and consigned them to a degraded position within a rigid pigmentocracy. The constitutional amendments survived untouched. But, at least with respect to racial matters, they were narrowly construed, if not ignored altogether. By 1900 Reconstruction had been demolished, an experiment almost wholly repudiated.

It has taken the work of Foner (says Kennedy) and his followers, to reconstruct Reconstruction. He emphasises the positives of the three Constitutional amendments that changed the United States:

The Thirteenth Amendment ordered emancipation without compensation and was the first occasion on which the constitution expanded the power of the federal government, creating ‘a new fundamental right to personal freedom, applicable to all persons in the United States regardless of race, gender, class or citizenship status’. Few countries, Foner observes, ‘and certainly none with as large a slave population, have experienced so radical a form of abolition’. The Fourteenth Amendment’s creation of birthright citizenship, he writes, represents ‘an eloquent statement about the nature of American society, a powerful force for assimilation ... and a repudiation of a long history of racism’. […]

The Fifteenth Amendment bars states and the federal government from using race as a criterion for voting.

Here am I, reclining and meditating on this review.

In truth, I cannot believe that the intentions of the Reconstruction Amendments have yet been properly applied.

On 26 June 2013 the US Supreme Court:

issued one of the most consequential rulings in a generation in a case called Shelby county v Holder. In a 5-4 vote, the court struck down a formula at the heart of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get changes cleared by the federal government before they went into effect.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this decision. The power of the Voting Rights Act was in the design that the supreme court gutted – discriminatory voting policies could be blocked before they harmed voters. The law placed the burden of proof on government officials to prove why the changes they were seeking were not discriminatory. Now, voters who are discriminated against now bear the burden of proving they are disenfranchised.

Immediately after the decision, Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina – two states previously covered by the law – moved to enact new voter ID laws and other restrictions. A federal court would later strike down the North Carolina law, writing it was designed to target African Americans “with almost surgical precision”.

Clearly nothing will change as long as Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, remains a prime arbiter.

A good, thoughtful and provocative review. A major issue.

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He might have bought me at a common price

— Diana in All’s Well that Ends Well [V.iii., if anyone cares to check me out].

How come I ended up with two copies of Mick Herron’s The Drop?  Or of Alan Johnson’s The Long and Winding Road? Or the odd Alan Furst? Or of Peter Stanford’s Pope Joan? Actually, that last is forgivable: it’s American and UK editions of same text, under different titles. Aha! There’s the clue: hard-back and pper-back: sea book, different appearances — different shops.

Then I got half-a-dozen pages into Malcolm Pryce, The Case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste. Something familiar here? Head turns right, and to top shelf: next to Thomas Pynchon (strange bed-fellows, indeed). And that in hard-back (both the Pryce and the Pynchon).

It would irritate, were it not for the seven editions of Hamlet, and the six of Lear. But in those cases, the editing all.

Then, further right, next to the door, Yeats, Auden and Heaney (perhaps others) in various editing and editions. All those anthologies tend to be repetitive.

At least I can claim to be keeping the publishing industry afloat. With overspill to Oxfam Books.

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26 July 1945: the greatest day in Labour history

  • This is lifted directly from RB McCallum and Alison Readman: The British General Election of 1945, chapter XIII The Forecasts and the Result (the first of the Nuffield Studies).

And my copy is an original, as sold (says the wee sticker on the back of the front hard-back) by Collet’s London Bookshop Ltd. 66 Charing Cross Road, W.C.1 Temple Bar 6306.

On 25 July … the ballot-boxes were opened and the service votes and proxy votes verified. The counting staffs were sworn to secrecy and although in many places they must have gained a fair idea of how the voting had gone, the secret was kept. If it was known that night in Fleet Street, it was not even hinted at in the next morning’s press. Since the verification of the service and proxy votes had enabled each ballot-box to be checked, there was less to do next day. It was only necessary to separate the votes according to the candidates voted for and to count them. Results therefore were expected early in the day. The BBC arranged to give the news hourly from midday on the Home Service. On the Forces programme, however, there was a news bulletin at 11.0 a.m. and those who listened in to that had the first inkling of the results, which showed startling Labour gains. The news was also published in frequent editions of all evening papers and, in clubs and such places, on tape machines.

The Daily Express of Friday, 27 July, devoted nearly a page to an admirable and dramatic description of how the results reached its office. Shortly after ten o’clock in the morning the first result came in. South Salford was a Labour gain. Kingston-on-Thames followed, Conservative, no change, but Manchester Exchange was a Labour gain. Two more Socialist gains in Lancashire followed, and Rotherham and Burnley were held for Labour with vastly increased majorities. By 10.25 the first Cabinet Minister had fallen: Mr. Harold Macmillan was out at Stockton-on-Tees by 9,000 votes; Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook’s son, held Holborn but only by 925 votes. By 10.40 the most significant news of the whole election was reaching the office. Birmingham was going Labour. A little later, Sir Percy Harris, the Liberal Whip, was known to have been defeated in Bethnal Green after twenty-three years’ membership. The BBC news to the Forces at 11.0 showed a tremendous swing to Labour. Actually it exaggerated it. A rough calculation at 11.0 suggested that the Conservatives would be reduced to a figure not much over 100. Mr. Brendan Bracken’s defeat was known shortly before 11.0. At 11.15 Mr.Lyttleton was reported to be in at Aldershot, an important survival for the Conservatives. By 11.30 Mr. Ernest Bevin and Mr. Attlee were known to be returned. At the same time news of more Conservative defeats was arriving from Birmingham, where Mr. Amery, the veteran Conservative Minister, had been defeated. By 12.0 o’clock it was clear that the London suburbs were going strongly Labour. The Government had lost 50 seats and the Socialists had gained 55 , the difference being made up by Liberal seats lost to Labour. Just after 12.0 Mr. Morrison was returned at East Lewisham, with a majority of 15,000 , in spite of Mr. Churchill’s visit to the division and his special plea to turn Mr. Morrison out. Sir William Beveridge’s defeat at Berwick was heard of next, and Sir Richard Acland’s in Putney followed. At about 12.20 Mr. Churchill’s return at Woodford was known.

By 1.15 the state of parties was: Labour 196, Conservatives 58. Labour gains 106. Scottish results, nearly always later than English, began to arrive after 1.0. The Liberal National leader, Mr. Ernest Brown, was defeated at Leith. Sir Archibald Sinclair’s defeat in Caithness and Sutherland was not known till 2.15. By 2.30 as many as 544 results were known, and the magnitude of the Socialist victory was clearly evident. The flow of results began to slow down, ending with the Hornchurch division of Essex at about ten o’clock in the evening. The universities had still to come, but they could not affect the general political situation.

Smug Clem & cautious George

When one party decisively defeats another at a General Election, and reverses the situation in Parliament, constitutional practice prescribes that the defeated ministry should resign without delay. Disraeli set this precedent after his defeat by Gladstone in 1868, and Gladstone followed the same course when defeated in 1874. Before 1868 it had been usual for the ministry to wait and meet Parliament, which would record a vote of no-confidence through the House of Commons. A ministry which has lost its majority in the House, but with no other party holding a clear majority, may delay until Parliament meets and gives its decision. Mr. Baldwin followed this course very reasonably in 1923 . But for Mr. Churchill the verdict was clear. The strength of parties in the House had been almost reversed as the result of the Election, and the Liberals, who might have been a balancing factor, reduced to only twelve members. Mr. Churchill decided not to wait even until next day, thereby establishing a new record in speed of resignation. The times were pressing and dangerous, and it was of high public importance that the new ministry should be formed without delay, in order that Mr. Attlee might be free as soon as possible to go to Potsdam to continue the conference with President Truman and Marshal Stalin. Mr. Churchill had heard the results in the map room of the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street. At seven o’clock in the evening he went in a car to Buckingham Palace. He left it at 7.25 having tendered his resignation to the King. Five minutes later Mr. Attlee drove into the Palace court-yard to be received in audience, and to kiss hands on his appointment as Prime Minister. One of the greatest reversals in our political history produced the speediest change of government ever known, and a remarkable example of the continuity of constitutional authority.

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The Economist does a push-me, pull-you on Ireland

Before I get to the crunch, let me say I find llamas and alpacas, at a safe distance, quite charming. On Friday, we passed a parked pack of pert alpacas. Alliterative plosive word-plays lasted all the way to the Dawnay Arms, to growing fury among womenfolk forced to endure them.

In this week’s edition, Charlemagne discusses How Ireland gets its way:

  • Ireland’s political heft —
Every St Patrick’s day, Ireland’s ministers partake in a long-held Irish custom: they leave the country. Ministers are packed off to far-flung destinations to preach the virtues of the homeland. The prime minister always heads to America, but other bigwigs find themselves farther afield. In 2018 the housing minister was sent to South Korea, while the minister for higher education ended up in Oman. This year, as covid-19 raged through Europe and Irish politics stood still during coalition negotiations, things were scaled back. Only the trip to Washington went ahead. Ireland, a country of 5m people, had to settle for an audience with the president, a breakfast with the vice-president and a lunch with practically every senior member of Congress.​

The chagrin there can be smelled a long, long way from SW1. Get over it, chaps: the End of Empire can be precisely dated, 23 June 2016. Remember David Cameron wanted to be Prime Minister because he thought he would be good at it.

Paschal Donohoe, last week won the race to become president of the Eurogroup, the influential club of euro-zone finance ministers, despite the French and German governments backing another candidate. In June Ireland won a seat on the UN Security Council, fending off Canada, another country often flattered by comparison with a bigger, sometimes boorish, neighbour. Barely a decade after a financial crisis saw Ireland bailed out, Philip Lane, the former head of Ireland’s central bank, is the main thinker at the European Central Bank. In Brussels, Ireland’s commissioner Philip Hogan is in charge of trade, one of the few briefs where the European Commission, rather than EU governments, is supreme. And the EU’s position on Brexit was shaped by Irish diplomats.​
All true; and more of the same. In large part, a recognition of genuine talent. On the other hand, the UK, another … bigger, sometimes boorish, neighbour, excludes itself, operates a Brexiteers-only selection criterion, nominates also-rans (why does Liam Fox come to mind?), or tits around for points an’ ha’pence.
  • You knew this one was coming: the diaspora
Ireland has some natural advantages. A history of emigration blessed it with a huge diaspora in America, which unlike say the German diaspora, is vocal about its heritage. That ensures an audience in the White House and sway on Capitol Hill. It is a small, English-speaking country with diplomats able to focus on a few clear aims. A policy of neutrality helps it avoid unpopular military entanglement. Unlike most rich European countries, it carries no imperial baggage. Indeed, Ireland’s history as a victim of colonialism still provides a useful icebreaker with countries once coloured pink on Victorian maps.​

No recognition of why the ‘diaspora’ happened: to do so would mean acknowledging the Great Famine, and Transportation, baggage all the way back to Cromwell and beyond. In truth, Ireland and the Irish (especially the Anglo-Irish) were totally complicit in British imperialism. We just learned not to talk about it.

Then come the other gripes:

  • Ireland somehow exploited EEC/EC largesse to become among the richest countries in the bloc. The UK, it is argued, contains seven or nine (depending on source) of the ten poorest regions of the EU. The UK, though, took a dim view of regional aid, even seeing it as a confession of national inadequacy.
  • Ireland is not one of the EU’s Big Five, and has emerged as a natural leader for the smaller EU nations. Ireland, of course, cheats because it has an embassy in every EU country.
  • Ireland has been the perfect neo-liberal poster child:
Ireland was not always so influential. At the start of the decade, the country’s reputation was shot. A banking crisis led to an embarrassing €85bn bail-out. Rebuilding that reputation has been a decade-long task. Among the bail-out countries, Ireland became a star pupil, enacting reforms with almost masochistic relish, while other countries in a similar position complained. For a country whose prosperity is based on economic openness, foreign policy starts with economic policy.​

We are, of course, reading The Economist, where realpolitik begins and ends in the national treasury. Which gives us the punch-line: all is not well in this best of all possible lives:

When it comes to tax, kind words about the Irish disappear. At 12.5%, its corporation tax is the second-lowest in the eu. Often companies do not pay even that. In 2016 the European Commission demanded that the Irish government collect €13bn in back-taxes from Apple. On July 15th the European Court of Justice annulled the decision. Ireland’s tax policy was legally vindicated (although its coffers were less full).​

Odd, one might think, that The Economist complains about low regulation, low tax.

And then speculative vengeance:

Now plans are afoot to clamp down on unpopular tax policies using methods that would bypass this veto. The only way of stopping such proposals would be via an alliance of countries able to amass a blocking minority. It is lucky Ireland has skilled diplomats. It will need them.​
There is something circular about this thesis. One reason why Ireland has been diplomatically successful is because we inherited a tradition of British expertise:
  • Robert Erskine Childers went from being a House of Commons clerk to secretary of the Sinn Féin delegation at the Treaty negotiations.
  • Joseph Walsh steered the Department of External Affairs from 1923 to 1946.
  • Garret Fitzgerald, fluent Francophone, steered the entry into the EU.
  • Éamon de Valera exploited international fora (notably the terminal League of Nations) to give a distinctive Irish voice.
  • Seán MacBride, for all his many faults, continued in the same tradition.
  • Conor Cruise O’Brien (yes: I number him in the song) was an effective operator in his days at the Department (one version is that he did the nasty on Charles Bewley).

Essential message:

Get over it.

It’s the alpaca way to political progress.



Filed under Economist, EU referendum, Europe, History, Ireland, Irish politics


Today’s Guardian has an obituary for Zizi Jeanmaire. In itself it tells us something of the hatching, matching and — in this case — despatching pages of the press. The obituary is signed by Judith Cruickshank, who herself has been dead since 2016.

What the obituary omits, sadly, is Zizi’s place in late 1960s popular culture. That was entirely thanks to Peter Sarstedt’s ballad, Where Do You Go To?


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Seafarer, revisited

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux   
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice,   
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.

Dear Old Dad was a strict observer of the midnight shipping forecast, followed by the metronomic repetition of Sailing By, followed by sleep. As Dad became deafer, so the volume increased: nobody in the house would miss out.

Dee-dee-dum-dum, de dee-dee-dum-dum, de dee-dee-dum-dum, de dee.

So we had it played as the fade-out music at the end of Dad’s crematorium service. And why, perhaps, in due course it may see me out, too.

It’s been with us a long, long time. The schedule for the first day of Radio 4, on 30 September 1967, has an entry from 2345 to 2348, describing a “forecast for coastal waters”. It’s the nearest thing to a bedtime story, a lullaby, BBC Radio does.

The shadow of the Shipping Forecast is vast: wikipedia lists a sequence of reference in pop music.

Revert to the Glanmore Sonnets of Famous Seamus:

There’s a lot going on here. Heaney had removed to Wicklow from Belfast, north to south, city to countryside. Above all, it is Heaney rooting himself in a very Irish context — arguably Dublin D4.

He acknowledges the duality of his own tradition. There’s something of a nod at Paddy Kavanagh‘s sonnet sequence Temptation in Harvest, which reflects Kavangh’s removal from Inniskeen to Dublin:

I turned to the stubble of the oats,
Knowing that clay could still seduce my heart
After five years of pavements raised to art.

Heaney’s Sonnet X has:

And in that dream I dreamt — how like you this? —
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss

Which is a conscious rip of Thomas Wyatt (the pioneer of the English sonnet):

She caught me in her arms long and small
There with all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said dear heart, how like you this?

At the other end of the sonnet tradition is Wordsworth, again invoked by Heaney:

I had said earlier, ‘I won’t relapse   
From this strange loneliness I’ve brought us to.   
Dorothy and William —’  She interrupts:   
‘You’re not going to compare us two…?”
Heaney also references Joyce (‘inwit’ in Sonnet IX), and Shakespeare (inevitably, perhaps) and Wordsworth.


Back to the Glanmore Sonnets

The more I read and re-read the Glanmore Sonnets, the more I see the antitheses: some going back to the very origins of English verse: land and sea, Anglo-Saxon past (keel-road, whale-road). Which is why I am posting this (recycled from one of my first efforts), out of respect to Terence Patrick Hewett’s additions to a previous post.

þær ic ne gehyrde
butan hlimman sæ,
iscaldne wæg.

There I heard nothing/ but the roaring sea, /and the ice-cold wave.

Early English isn’t so hard when one listens to it.

Heaney doesn’t explicitly reference The Seafarer

It seems to be there, just beyond the midnight pane, as Heaney hears the Shipping Forecast:

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux   
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice,   
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise   
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize   
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.   
L’Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène   
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay   
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous   
And actual, I said out loud, ‘A haven,’   
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky   
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

Midnight and closedown, storm and shelter, gale-warning, deepening and clearing, the French and the English names. Above all Heaney is reminding himself, then us, of the instabilities of life, particularly of emotional life, which perversely repeat into an eternal pattern of continuity. None of the modern attempts at The Seafarer quite work. Ezra Pound had a go: close but no cigar. Perhaps Auden might have managed it: his effort at The Wanderer is none too dusty.

Over to Duffy

I find the metronomic BBC rendering of the Shipping Forecast near perfect a piece of Standard English oratory: on a stormy night the perfect reminder of The Seafarer‘s cold feet. Above all, we all seek a full-stop, a closure to each episode, to each day. And that is the wider signification of the post-midnight shipping forecast. It is a sonorous formula of some 350 words, which follows a ritualistic order. The shipping areas, as they are recited, form a clockwise pattern around the British Isles: the names visualised on a chart following a clock’s hands from 12 o’clock all the way round the face of the dial. It is delivered almost at dictation speed. It is comforting, especially in the warmth of a bed, while, however briefly, musing on the lot of all poor souls at sea. It is full of marvellous names, real and metaphoric: the mundane rivers (Tyne, Humber, Thames, Shannon) and the islands (Fair Isle, Wight, Lundy) rubbing along with the romantic (Hebrides, Trafalgar, Fitzroy — formerly Finisterre). And for the older contingent (including me) the mysteries: where did Utsire come from? where did the Minches go? the significance of ‘veering’ versus ‘backing’?

Carol Ann Duffy uses the shipping forecast to illustrate and conclude her sonnet, Prayer (a bane in many a GCSE English candidate’s studies, inevitably juxtaposed with George Herbert, from which it borrows):

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Again the contrasts: prayer but faithless, console but pain and loss, the anonymous simplicity and distance of Grade 1 piano scales with the personal complexity and empathy of the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. It is held together by two conceits: the metaphor of prayer as a natural, non-religious ritual, and the unexpected and ordinary universality of music.

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Filed under BBC, Ireland, Literature, Seamus Heaney

Some day my prints will come …

A weird morning.

The Spectator, rancid with neo-liberal, neo-fash crap, is asking What is the point of the New York Times? Let’s be honest here: the Gray Lady is one of the few pillars of rectitude in US media. The Speculator is not in the same Eighth Avenue. I have to assume that any criticism of the Orange Peril makes the Times liable to any and every right-wing frothing going. Since the ‘intellect’  behind the fingers on the keyboard is Douglas Murray — a racist prick who hides his bigotry very well behind a cultured persona & a posh accent [David Packman, as I recall] — least said, soonest mended. Except, predictably, Murray’s gripe comes down to the Times having a realist, and therefore jaundiced, and therefore untrustworthy view of Brexit.

No: I shall not be buying the Barclay Brothers’ scandal sheet.

But, more to the point, I woke early — the weather here in York seems on the change, normal for this most changeable of ‘summers’ — and dozed. Then ensued one of the oddest waking dreams: I was back as a student, researching ‘What is the value of prints?’ Not ‘public prints’ as with the Times and Spectator, but prints for framing and for walls. It amounted to an extended dialogue with my self and my alter ego discussing if, and why a print has value. Value as art-work? Value as an autographed work?

I only wish I had kept the debate on record. It would have filled this entry nicely.

Meanwhile …

Having filled this lacked-down cott with a different voice, the Pert Young Piece today heads back to the Smoke:

Give my regards to Broadway,
Remember me to old Crouch End …

Oh, and I seem to have picked up a small but unnecessary piece of wanna-be-malware on this machine. Nothing serious — it amounts to unexpected misdirections from my search engine. So a general clear-out will occupy me for a while. If anyone knows what


is all about, I’d be grateful. Then I can send the boys around.

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Filed under New York Times, The Spectator

Outings and downings

The youngest came up to York from London. It’s her first escape, since March, from a small flat. Her current life-style (not much life, and damn all style) has work-files under her bed and a laptop on the kitchen table.

She came up the M1, reflecting that a Dominic Cummings trip, all the way to Durham, with sick wife and young child, without a toilet break, is total surrealism.


But the true joy was sitting for an hour, outside a boozer on the fringes of York, to quaff, slowly, a couple of pints of decent IPA.

I can expatiate on IPAs (especially since this is my blog). Most should be banned.

An obvious example: the basic Greene King IPA should be regarded as a national catastrophe — but that’s what you get, in a plastic sleeve, at too many sporting events (cricket, rugby). It comes, at best, at 3.6% alc. by volume. It’s tart. Quite horrible. It may wean some off lager, but it serves no other useful function.

Similarly the York Brewery Guzzler (again 3.6%) is a disgrace. It always seems to me watery Black Sheep (which is 4.4%).

In both cases, the breweries turn out a proper beer: Greene King’s Abbot and York Brewery’s Terrier. Either will satisfy, but neither is perfect. The key, though, is gravity. For me, a decent draft comes at 5% or a trifle stronger.

Beer in the open

It’s what the English summer is all about. There ought, by ordinance, to be village teams playing twenty-over cricket within earshot. Plock!

Today was my first outing, first drink au naturel, since a warm Saturday in March at the harbour in Pafos, swilling 4.5% Leon — we, that’s the aforesaid youngest and myself, came to prefer it to the all-purpose Keo

If nothing better comes along, this will be the memory of the Covid summer: slow imbibing, and watching the breeze swashing the wild barley. With safe social distancing.

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Filed under Beer, York