Monthly Archives: March 2007

No more cream for pussy

The Economist has, as its final leader, Now for the hard part, a pertinent peroration on the Northern Irish settlement (here, but subscription required):

The next step to a normal Northern Ireland

Over the 40 years of the troubles, the place has become a subsidy junkie that receives from Westminster £5 billion ($10 billion) more than is raised locally by taxation. More than a third of the 770,000 people in jobs are directly employed by the public sector (which accounts for nearly two-thirds of economic output), while half a million are officially classed as inactive. Part of the problem is the scarcity of private-sector investment, which is crowded out both by the omnipresent state and the large black economy that “peaceful’ paramilitaries on both sides of the religious divide hold sway over.

Gordon Brown, as chancellor now and prime minister when Mr Blair goes, will be under pressure to keep the subsidy taps gushing. But what Northern Ireland needs now is a home-grown economic miracle of the kind achieved in the south. Easier said than done, but then getting Mr Paisley and Mr Adams to work together wasn’t easy either.

Malcolm has been niggling around this topic for a long while; and he confidently predicts it will continue to occupy his thoughts and those of the great and the good. Once upon a time, Harold Wilson voiced a complaint similar to that of the Economist. Here’s a nicely-done bit by Eoghan Mac Cormaic in An Phoblacht, rootling in his treasure-chest of political souvenirs:

The first spontaneous symbol in my box was invented by Ian Paisley. Back in 1974, at the time of the UWC strike, Harold Wilson had gone on TV to accuse Unionists and Loyalists of being spongers on the British Taxpayer. The Supreme Sponge was, naturally enough, irate and duly appeared on TV the next day with a piece of sponge in his buttonhole. Many unionists followed his example and for weeks we had the unsightly spectacle of unionism parading about with its brains pinned to the lapels of its coat. It wasn’t a great campaign: the design features didn’t lend themselves well to the grey skies of the Six Counties. One good shower and the sponge-soaked lapel of Unionism was sagging to its waist. Another heroic failure in the badge department, and another addition to my biscuit tin.

That resonates with Malcolm because he defended Wilson to a Unionist. It took thirty-odd years for Malcolm to learn that, as a result, this had caused a rift, and Malcolm and his inamorata were “not being spoken to”.


In the same Slugger O’Toole thread that Malcolm mentioned in his previous posting, “Watchman” objected to Malcolm use of the term “closure”:

It’s a good idea to play the ball not the man. However, in Hain’s case, his actions are so closely related to personality, it’s hard not to break the rule. For what it’s worth, Heffer sums Hain up very well.

“Closure”? I don’t think so. This particular game has a long time to run yet.

To which Malcolm replies, yes “closure”.

Feeling tiggerish

Malcolm, though, wants to stick with the Economist, particularly the punch-line:

what Northern Ireland needs now is a home-grown economic miracle of the kind achieved in the south.

Set that up alongside how Diarmaid Ferriter defines the “Celtic Tiger”:

It is still jolting to read the opening line of one of the books that sought to explain what became known as the ‘Celtic Tiger’: ‘Ireland has had the fastest growing economy in the world in the last years of the twentieth century’ [129]. After decades of under-development and stagnation, ‘Ireland’ had become rich …

External observers were capable of marvelling at and praising the wealth creation, but were also stinging in their end-of-century rebuke of misplaced priorities. A human-development report of the United Nations Development Programme, based on data collected in 1997, and published in 2002, observed that Ireland had the highest level of poverty in the Western world outside the United States and was one one of the most unequal among Western countries, with the richest 10 per cent of the population 11 times wealthier than the poorest 10 per cent … It was estimated that 15.3 per cent of Irish people were living in poverty, largely caused by the fact that 23 per cent of the population was functionally illiterate. [131]

Those footnotes in the original are:

[129] Paul Sweeney, The Celtic Tiger: Ireland’s Economic Miracle Explained (Dublin, 1998), p.1

[131] Irish Times, 24 July 2002.

Eyes on the ball, chaps

What the Economist is saying, and what we shall hear with increasing volume for the future, is that the mainlanders have paid the course-fees for all, picked up the ball, packed their kit, and are off to R&R. The irredentists may feel, in Slugger’s metaphor, their game has “a long time to run yet”, but it’s going to be solitaire.

Read the runes. The BBC for London and the South-East ran a series of features on the cost of living in London. This was underlined by another of those pointless-but-for-the-PR “business” conventioners whinging about the differential Government expenditure on the Capital versus that on Scotland. And, of course, Northern Ireland is (to English eyes) even more costly than Scotland.

Plan B or C for Northern Ireland would now have to be harsher than water charges. While the Six Counties was gorged on subsidies, Westminster was prepared to devastate the coal-fields of the north of England; tens of thousands lost jobs in the privatised industries; the iron works went; ancillaries in health, social care and local government were sold into low-pay and minimal benefits in the private service sector. How many cars come out of Coventry and Longbridge? What happened to ship-building? What remained for too many skilled men and women were MacJobs, Tesco shelf-stuffing, call-centre broiler-houses.

This is the formula to create a “tiger” economy: wealth is concentrated: the city-slickers get their annual mega-bonuses; the rich get their multimillion-pound houses in the suburbs. Once they’ve got them, they’re going to keep them. It’s the rich what gets the gravy; it’s the poor what gets screwed.

Times are gettin’ hard, boy

Let’s assume that the Tory-ultras (like Heffer) really get up a head of steam. Their issue, above all, is tax-cuts: witness a fringe debate on 2nd October 2006, with Heffer and Norman Tebbit going against official Tory policy and winning a vote 60-40 that “The Conservative Party should make tax cuts a priority at the next general election.”

Reckon they’ll find money in the kitty for bailing out the North again? Particularly if (when) the SNP make it easy for them by unpicking the Union.

Let’s change the metaphor.

The Brits have posted back the ring. The North is getting Gordon’s billion, plus a sub from Dublin. That’s the divorce settlement, like it or not. Now newly-single, Ms Northern Ireland needs to stop waving, avoid drowning, and build a new life.

Forthcoming attractions

That’s why the really interesting nominations in the N.I. Assembly “cabinet” will not be who gets education and social welfare. Those will probably be the SF prime picks because the soft spending buys cred with their electorate. (Expect Malcolm to come back to the grammar schools issue in due course.)

Instead, Malcolm will be watching who gets the economic briefs. That’s going to be where the hard choices will have to be made; and Malcolm expects these to be retained by the upholders of the “Protestant work ethic”.

So there is instant scope for conflict: spenders versus savers; consumers versus creators. The up-side of this is the faint possibility of a cross-community two-party system evolving.

But that, perhaps, is too much to hope for.

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An arse by any other name

The magnificent Slugger O’Toole site, of which Malcolm is an assiduous reader and occasional, ignorant and ignored commentator, inevitably chewed over Simon Heffer’s attack on Peter Hain.

Malcolm had a nibble on Thursday.

Slugger’s essential thread was whether Heffer was applying coarse rugby’s tried-and-tested tactic of playing the man rather than the ball. One correspondent, “Alex“, concluded that Heffer is just an “arse”. Delicate Anglian souls may not fully appreciate the wealth of meaning that the term has in its original Hiberno-Saxon.

Malcolm now recycles his view that Heffer is not just an arse, he is a pompous and flatulent one.

Item: Heffer’s carefully trimmed wikipedia entry. Malcolm wagers that it needs as much attention as a Playboy Brazilian (sorry about that Metrosexual reference: it’s probably lost on good-living souls in God’s Own Province).

Item: And he’s a thieving git. He repeatedly claims and is cited as “the author of the phrase ‘Essex man’”. He nicked it from an October 1974 article by the political correspondent of the Financial Times. The term “Upminster Man” (geddit? Look up where Upminster is) appeared in the Pink ‘Un’s review of the Havering-Upminster line-up for the second ‘74 General Election. Not many people know that.

And, be brutally honest, Hain pulled it off. A dexterous use of carrot-and-stick by the Blair/Hain partnership achieved closure (see last Sunday’s Observer for a fair statement of where Malcolm stands). For the first time ever we’ve got the two gargoyles inside the tent pissing out (© LBJ). [By the way, nice cover on the latest Private Eye: the ruler-of-Malcolm’s-heart says she’s going to frame it].

Back to the point, however. Tory Balubas (see footnote), inspired by the syphilitic Randolph Churchill, got us into this mess a century ago. The last thing we need is them dragging us back into la merde.

However, they do have just such a need, if only for short-term intra-party reasons.

As Malcolm has already maintained, Hefferlump should be read as part of the developing sally by the UKIPist/fogeyite faction on the traditional Tory right against the trimming, ducking and diving of the Cameroonies (see also Hitchens’ C4 prog on Monday). In other words, it has more to do with the London-Brussels axis than Westminster-Stormont.

That promised footnote:

By-the-by, sad to notice another useful metaphor seems to have slipped out of use. Back in 1960, on the first occasion Irish troops were deployed in a United Nations task-force. In February 1961 a group of Irish were ambushed and suffered fatalities. The bodies were returned to Ireland and there was a right shin-dig of a funeral procession down O’Connell Street.

Typical of Dublin humour, “Baluba” soon came to mean any troublemaker. The Press specifically applied it to the wild backwoodsmen of Fianna Fáil, who emerged from the lunatic undergrowth, complaining of any backsliding or failure to uphold the true republican ideal, at the Party’s Ard Fheis.

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Counting the St Andrews bawbees

I work all night,
I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay.

Ain’t it sad?

And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me.
That’s too bad!
In my dreams I have a plan:

If I got me a wealthy man,

I wouldnt have to work at all,
I’d fool around and have a ball…

Fancy a three-day break beside the sea? You bet!

The Kingdom of Fife in breezy mid-October? Well … suppose so.

Funny nobody this side of the water spotted the collateral cost of the The St Andrews Agreement (a.k.a Comhaontú Chill Rímhinn):

  • Accommodation and room hire: £121,834.50;
  • Transport: £85,755.86;
  • Hiring the conference facilities and catering: £64,722.40;
  • Catering for police providing the security: £27,966;
  • Catering for the reptiles of the press: £7,506.13.
  • Grand total of £391,783.

The .pdf of the details is available at the Northern Ireland Office. The original heads-up came from the BBC website.

Money, money, money –
Must be funny

In the rich man’s world.
Money, money, money,

Always sunny

In the rich man’s world.

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Snakes in the grass?

Malcolm’s mis-spent youth, touring the flea-pits of Dublin for the movies nobody else bothered with, tells him what to expect. There’s always the threatening drums in the distance, the python slithering under the flap of the female talent’s tent, the dusky face and blowpipe peeping out of the shrubbery. Standard back-lot B-movie stuff.

Well, here it comes again. There was Hitchens on Monday night (see previous posts). Simon Heffer diverting from his usual snipes at the Cameroonies to have a go at Hain (and, see below, this may be a surrogate target). Today, Thursday, the restlessness among the natives seems to have spread to The Times: as instanced by:

Let Malcolm chew over Heffer first.

Of his eight outings so far this month, Heffer used three as blatant attacks on Cameroonery:

This is ostensibly having a justified go at Vince Cable. Cable had said (and Malcolm feels it is quite a modest proposal):

One specific proposal we are investigating is an annual levy – say 1% – on residences worth over £1m: to be used for tax cuts for the less well-off.

In Heffer this became something far more bloodcurdling, a “monstrous suggestion”.

Heffer let Cable off quite lightly, in a way that reveals more about Heffer than Cable:

Dr Cable is a man of erudition. He once had a proper job, as an oil industry economist. Not for him the legion vices of his fellow Lib Dems. The Member for Twickenham has no difficulties with the bottle, or with rent boys. You can tell at a glance that he would never brook such sexual practices as require a working knowledge of Attic Greek, or a multi-volume dictionary, to understand.

And that let-off is because Heffer now tracks onto his real target:

We expect no better of the Lib Dems, the hard-Left party in our politics since the dawn of Blairism. But we need to expect better of the Tories, who seem embarrassed by wealth – which is why they are, I fear, so reluctant to give any back to oppressed taxpayers, to spend as they see fit. The Victorians had a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. If it helps the Tories, let them have one now between the deserving and the undeserving rich. For it is the former, comprehensively, who stand to be bled white by Dr Cable, unless someone finds the guts to speak up against him.

Ah, yes. And so to exhibit 2:

Well, there’s no difficulty in deciding where that’s coming from, or going to:

The Tories are locked into a desperate pursuit of young people who, they are convinced, spend their waking hours worrying about the planet, hugging trees and bunnies, and recycling like mad. Maybe they do. But people with such a commitment are already entrenched voters for parties with a long record of environmental concern. It will take more than a tax on flights to Benidorm to make them vote for Dave. Meanwhile, those who might vote for him are being hectored and lectured about their behaviour and, should he come to power, warned they will have their pockets picked.

And the boot goes in again:

this stunt-driven approach to politics has become Dave’s trademark. And, as he has shown this week, he pursues the style with utter recklessness, and a complete disregard for its consequences. No bandwagon can now roll past him without his jumping on it. That is why I fear the new furore about food will, if you can pardon the phrase, be meat and drink to him: any sign that the Left might want to come down hard on food waste will have Dave coming down even harder first. There are many issues that could lose him the next election, but I think he might unwittingly have hit on the daddy of them all.

Malcolm does not feel any of that deserves glossing, so let’s move on to exhibit 3:

On the budget, Heffer feels:

The message is simple: the Tories are now the party of high taxation, Labour is the party that gives you tax cuts. And image, as “Dave” knows, is everything now. Oh dear.

Notice that: the Telegraph‘s premier columnist is dishing the Tories, and specifically:

The cosy cadre of Old Etonians around Mr Cameron [who have] been good at coming up with the odd slogan, and better at ensuring that his image prevails over anything so vulgar as a policy.

For anyone missing the point, Heffer names the guilty:

As David Cameron and George Osborne banged on for months with their silly little catchphrase about “sharing the proceeds of growth”, we could all see the hostage to fortune. A tax cut by Mr Brown, even one with more downright prestidigitation than would normally be found at a convention of the Magic Circle, would make the Tories look incredibly dumb. And, lo, it came to pass.

And, now today’s contribution, as promised:

Surely, this is straightforward Labour-bashing? Well, says Malcolm, not quite: look at the major premise:

There has been so much lying, jobbery, sleaze, depravity, deceit, impropriety and failure (moral and political) that few of us have the energy to express what we might feel about further episodes of it.

Malcolm reads Heffer intending that as a general, not a partisan point. The minor thesis is:

If you seek the personification of this repellent political climate, you need look no further than the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain. It could have been predicted from, as it were, his earliest youth that Mr Hain would turn out as he has. He began life as a semi-professional student agitator. For 15 years he worked for a trade union. Always greasily ambitious, he rose to the top of the Young Liberals. Not being a stupid man (contrary to the impression he quite consistently gives), he then deserted them for the Labour Party, and 16 years ago was elected an MP.

Hold on, says Malcolm. Let’s do some textual analysis on that. Does this remind one of someone else, who oozed his way through party and other patronage, worked in PR, is obviously “greasily ambitious”, has a flexible lack of principles, and is a “come-lately” to his chosen party, someone who:

is big on sustainable communities and all environmental concerns.

And Heffer’s punch-line is Miliband for PM, a nagging thread in the Telegraph of late:

David Miliband is becoming the candidate the Tories least want. If, by some miracle, Labour were to elect him, it would recover much of the territory ceded to David Cameron. Voters warm to Mr Cameron’s charm, impatience with ideology, working wife and young family. They contrast him with gloomy Gordon Brown, who presents his last Budget on Wednesday (and who has developed an unnerving habit of smiling at every fifth word). Stretch Mr Cameron out alongside Mr Miliband, however, and these advantages disappear. Mr Miliband is the same age as the Tory leader. He, too, has an independent wife and a young child. And he is undogmatic: witness his desire to tackle climate change by extending markets.

Any chance that leader came from the fine italic hand of “associate editor” S. Heffer?

After that, today’s Times seems tamer stuff…

Crampton, for no obvious reason, retreads old territory: Tackle a hoody—like Dave doesn’t.

Crampton’s point is the difference between what Cameron has said about interacting with hoodys/hoodies (choose your own variation) and what he does:

He has not, I think, personally confronted anyone over their bad behaviour, because bluntly he is too frightened.

Although Crampton keeps the tone light, the implication is heavy:

No doubt there are many things to be done at the national, local and neighbourhood level (although Blair has given many of them a go already) but in terms of individuals acting rather than not acting, which is what Cameron is exhorting us to do, then, unless it’s just more hot air, ultimately he, me and lots of chaps like us have to get better at fighting. Home-Office-funded sparring sessions? Tax relief on protein shakes? Subsidised dumbbells? Come on, Dave, you need a few policies.

… or is it?

Then it all becomes more complex when Sieghart attempts a double-bluff:

opponents of David Cameron have become so obsessed with his upbringing.

OK, we got that: so the way to ignore we ignore what Sieghart deems “inverted snobbery” is to write about it? And who is responsible for this “class hatred” (Sieghart’s own term in her opening sentence):

The Daily Mirror uses the words “Tory toff” as a prefix almost every time the Conservative leader’s name appears.

Gosh, that really must hurt. And?

… now the attacks on Cameron are coming from the Tory Right, too. This week, Peter Hitchens, a fanatically conservative columnist, presented a Channel 4 programme that even called itself Cameron: Toff at the Top. Hitchens is miserable because Cameron has embraced social liberalism, which he despises. Now he has no one to vote for. Poor chap.

Then comes a warm defence of Cameron because:

When his first son was small, he brought him along to meetings in a Moses basket and bottle-fed him. This wasn’t ostentatious New Mannery but what you do when you are having to share the care of a fragile child with a wife who also has a demanding job. Where Cameron went to school has no relevance to the family pressures he faces now.

Well, actually, Mary Ann, being grandson of an American grain-magnate, from a line of stockbrokers, related to royalty and the Duff-Coopers, married to an heiress who (by mummy’s remarriage) is linked to the Astors, suggests one might afford the daycare, rather than, like us peasants, being:

so brutally acquainted with Britain’s public services.

This is not particularly convincing stuff. Sieghart is a bright lady, despite Private Eye‘s mockery. Here she manages no real defence of a Cameron who can bestride the world like a Colossus. This stuff is not going to play with the readers of the Sun.

So what’s her game?

Public Information Research shows Sieghard’s personal network:
There’s the band of obvious suspects from the BBC (Evan Davis, Margaret Hill, Naughtie and Paxo) and the girls-together-in-journalism support group (Bronwen Maddox, Anne McElvoy). And Julia Hobsbawm was Sarah Macauley’s (i.e. Mrs Gordon Brown’s) PR partner. [And if anything thinks all this evidences Malcolm’s perennial persecution-complex, Cristina Odone got there first.]

Then we notice former Ministers (Robertson and Mandelson) and tentacles into the bowels of Downing Street (Alastair Campbell, David Hill, Jonathan Powell, Allie Saunders).

Robertson ran NATO. Michael Maclay was briefing for IFOR in Bosnia; Bob Stewart was British General in Bosnia, and Matthew Rycroft is HM Ambassador in Bosnia. James Sherr is big in the UK Defence Academy (well known institution, that).

Down and dirty

Malcolm’s nostrils are perceptibly twitching. Christopher Meyer ran the political section of the Embassy in Moscow in the early ’80s, long before he was Blair’s Ambassador at the court of Bill Clinton and Dubya. Phil Bassett’s name came up as an active e-mailer in the Hutton Enquiry. James Eberle is a colourful addition: formerly Admiral and royal briefer during the Falklands campaign, later head of Chatham House (and forced to deny being a Stasi mole, but admitting providing a Chatham House laptop to a prostitute of his acquaintance).

Malcolm is naturally suspicious, particularly so when he suspects spookery and skull-duggery.

But just look at who is at the end of the alphabet! None other than Alan Lee Williams and Paul D. Wolfowitz. The former was once Labour MP for Hornchurch, but best known (alleged as the CIA’s man) policing the Young Socialists: fierily pro-Europe from the start, and an “Atlanticist” at the time of Vietnam and subsequently. Needless to say, he defected to the SDP in 1980. And, the pearl in the oyster: Paul Dundes Wolfowitz, President of the World Bank, but also chief architect of the Bush Doctrine which gave us the invasion of Iraq.

Being paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you

But, today, Malcolm’s focus is on Cameron.

Cameron seems to be a plasticine figure, moulded by whoever comes by: that he bears the imprint of the last arse to sit on him. The “old right” of the UKIPites and old fogeys of the Mail and the Telegraph are out to nail him, presumably because they can’t get gluteal traction on him. They want rid of him, in the short or long term, and in the Tory Party that usually means something to do with Britain-in-Europe. Cameron’s one real move on Europe (to pull out of the European Peoples Party) was a sop to the right in his campaign for the leadership, but has proved to be farcical (a liaison with Czech rightists and a single Bulgar). And, in that context, consider again the opinions of Mary Ann’s dinner guests: does that help?

The Tory ultras are adding to the noises in the jungle that Miliband is the one to see Cameron off, that Gordon isn’t up to it. Those critics are not doing it to create mischief in the Labour Party (Mandelson is up for that on his weekend trips to London): they seem genuinely set on securing a trouncing for Cameron in 2009.

So what’s with the Miliband thing? Well, apart from the obvious, he has cred with the cousins: a Kennedy Scholar at MIT (and an American-born son), no less. He is “sound” on the environment: presumably that means not bashing the oil companies until they’ve had time to ramp up on biofuels, not penalising the airlines, not flip-flopping on wind power and nukes. That’s ticked two key boxes: the CIA and Big Business. More, much more on this as events transpire.

Or is it because Gordon is not quite so America-friendly, that after the take-over the relationship with Washington may not be so cosy? Where’s George Smiley when he’s needed?

Hitchens had the story that Cameron only got the job at Central Office because of a ‘phone call from Buck House. Perhaps that call was re-routed from Langley.

“And now back to our feature film”

In the last reel, rifle-in-crook-of-arm, white-hunter Stewart Granger gets the girl; the revolting natives are grateful to have been put in their place and so sporran away their blow-pipes till the sequel; evil is driven from the land, and all the wrongs are righted. The python, alas, bought it twenty minutes back.

The plot of this one may not be so predictable.

No reptiles were hurt in the making of this blog.

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Malcolm read the telly critics with interest:

What would be the take on Hitchens’ demolition derby around the Cameron circuit?

As predicted, Andrew Billen in The Times was distinctly sniffy:

That Cameron is a chameleon in a PR man’s suit is beyond dispute. But a hypocrite? Hitchens was in no mood to consider the alternative proposition that the electorate’s thrice-delivered rejection of the Tory Right might just have persuaded Cameron not only that the old polices were keeping him from office but were Wrong. People change their minds, as a former Trotskyite currently now keeping up the spirits of The Mail on Sunday readers recalled. As for the peril posed by the coalescence of British parties in a mushy liberal centre, isn’t the greater threat to democracy having an Opposition that’s pathologically unelectable? Hitchens’s argument suffered from not having bothered to define what Conservatism stood for, a definition worth attempting since, in my memory, it has been at various times, free-trade and protectionist, appeasing and belligerent, pro-market and corporatist, for Europe and against it.

Then there is Sam Wollaston in The Guardian, nicely acidic in the Nancy Banks-Smith slot:

It’s a pity Dispatches: Cameron – Toff at the Top (Channel 4, “the liberal elite’s favourite TV station”, as Pete once called it) is written and presented by Hitchens, a man with all the charm of Gollum. Because if you can stomach it, and the hypocrisy, there’s some interesting stuff in there; and it’s high time the media-Cameron love-in ended and he got a bit of a kicking. Not only will Dave leap, lordily, on to any bandwagon that’s passing, but he actually doesn’t believe in anything at all. According to Hitchens, he’s an opportunist, a chancer, a politician who has never actually been interested in politics. And by attempting to copy New Labour he has essentially eliminated voter choice.

Worse still, he’s a horrid toff, and was once a member of the Bullingdon Club, a bunch of braying Hooray Henries (no Henriettas allowed) at Oxford who dress up, get horribly drunk, smash places up, then get Daddy to send a cheque to take care of the damage. Never mind the U-turns, or the lack of policies, surely the photograph of him, puffed out like a peacock with his public-school Bullingdon chums, will be enough to ensure he never gets anywhere near Downing Street.

Yes! That’s nearer the flavour we want.

However, what intrigued Malcolm was how the Daily Mail would take it. The Mail was far from a cheer-leader for Cameron in the leadership election; and not much has apparently changed. A small, but significant problem: the only way Malcolm would allow that fascist rag into the house is as cat-litter (and, since Malcolm is ailurophobic, Redfellow Hovel is a feline-free zone). So, he sneaked a look at the on-line edition.

He discovered no review (at least that he could find) but something better. Peter Hitchens, of course, is a Mail on Sunday columnist; and he used his column this week to trail the programme.


Gold dust. Let’s start with two magnificent portraits of the great man.

The first is Cameron after losing a Conservative seat at Stafford in 1997 on a 10¾ swing (slightly above the national swing?), and obviously practising for 2009. It doesn’t help us to resolve the mystery of the migrating hair-parting, alas.

It can’t get better! Or can it?

Next up is young Dave, still up at Oxford, but not in his Bullingdon Club waistcoat-and-tails. Here he is holidaying in Kenya, snapped by his then girl-friend.

Now all Malcolm wants for his birthday triptique is Dave in plus-fours, shooting at Glenarm Castle, County Antrim. Any sightings of that one?

That’s the hors d’oeuvre. Now for the real meat.

Malcolm has to hand it to the brothers Hitchens: they are magnificent haters. Pete vs Cameron. Chris vs Galloway. For some time Pete vs Chris, and vice versa. Well, actually, Chris vs pretty well anyone. And yet Malcolm finds it hard to disagree all the time with either.

So to the Mail on Sunday trailer for the dump on Cameron:

Principles, old boy? What are they? The poor dears [i.e. Tories] just feel unsettled and unhappy when they and their old friends from Eton aren’t Cabinet Ministers, much as they feel uneasy and upset about the banning of foxhunting – which arouses the only true political passion most of them have. They are angry and impatient about being deprived of their birthright. So angry that they are prepared to do almost anything, and spend almost anything, to scramble back into Downing Street.

David Cameron is their revenge. And that’s one of the reasons why his toffishness and extraordinary, semi-aristocratic background is such a big theme of the programme I’ve made …

Hitchens is quite positive in this polemic:

Proper conservative politics come from the suburbs, not from the broad acres. The gentry have no idea how much New Labour’s policies hurt us down in Acacia Avenue. They’ve never been there and regard our privet hedges and semi-detached homes with just as much horror and disdain as the Islington Left do.

The Mail piece inevitably is a far more effective synopsis than Malcolm attempted last night (and Malcolm feels embarrassed not to have seen it aforehand). There are significant differences in the conclusions made in the Mail and on Channel 4.

The first is this:

The current storm of personal abuse directed against Gordon Brown is a coded way for New Labour people to endorse the new Tories, in whose hands the Blair legacy of political correctness and high taxation will be quite safe. I predict high-level defections from New Labour to the Tories in the next 18 months.

Well, there’s always a Reg Prentice. But who now remembers him? As for “high-level defections”, things are rarely as simple as that. Malcolm remembers the dark early ’80s, when Bill Rodgers was playing siren for the SDP while the London Labour Briefing were being thought-police (a pushmi-pullyu double act). Personal experience, over many years on the close fringes of things, tells Malcolm that far more “defections” are the consequence of short-term ambition and personal grievances (both grieving and being grieved against) than anything ideological.

Hitchens, pace Billen above, came from being a university Trot to his present posture. His grasp of dialectics assumes that, just as Butskellism crashed into Thatcherism, so “the Blair legacy of political correctness and high taxation” must also meet its inevitable antithesis.

The other is the way Hitchens finished his programme, by hanging a hat on Richard Neville’s “inch of difference”. Malcolm suspects few younger Brits quickly call to mind Neville, who breezed in and invented Oz (a magazine and then a moniker) and went to gaol for it. He’s still about, as Quixotic as ever, describing himself as a “futurist”. And, as far as Malcolm recalls, the original quotation was:

there may be only an inch of difference between Wilson and Heath but it’s in that inch that we live…

It achieved currency largely from the lips of John Lennon in an interview with Robin Blackburn and Tariq Ali for Red Mole.

Hitchens was arguing that Tories must be different: this used to be the “clear blue water” of John Major and Michael Howard. Hitchens’ platform, it needs to be remembered, is to look for a realignment on the right of British politics, and the demise of the present conservative party. He maintains that, by being a Blair-clone in the mushy middle, Cameron:

  • puts opportunism above any principle. [How true, how very true.]
  • leaves the right wing open for occupation by others. That presumably means the BNP, particularly so if UKIP is dying the death. UKIP seems to be where Hitchens belongs, with his anti-EU rhetoric and his social attitudes. And couldn’t UKIP do with him—and, in a perfect world, the Mail. Though, admittedly in the Northern Ireland Assembly election a sole UKIP candidate took 2.7%: that made the total NITory haul of o.5% as derisory as it deserved.
  • disenfranchises natural Tories (in the same way “New Labour” has disenfranchised socialists, perhaps).

In other words, Hitchens is a Whig, a free liberal (NOT Lib-Dem). He distinguished himself from Thatcherism some time ago:

she failed to fight the Left on the equally important battlefields of education, the family, morality and culture, a terrible waste of a unique and unrepeatable opportunity. She spectacularly failed to reform the BBC in a way that would benefit the country. And she had a thoroughly unconservative contempt for institutions and traditions. She was also far too presidential, and some of her actions opened the way for Labour’s much greater attack on the constitution. Her economic policies were far from perfect, and did much unintended damage to British manufacturing industry. And she allowed herself to be browbeaten into joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a surrender that did not save her

So, in hopes of further Hitchens’ squibs, Malcolm (borrowing Norman Clegg‘s words again) seriously entertains hope that this one will continue to be potty on a full-time basis.

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Hitchens on Cameron (part three)

Hitchens starts with the cricket-team-and travelling-reserves that makes up the Old Etonian contingent of the Tory Front Bench. He suggests that Cameron is already thinking of burying this disproportionate presence, at least until an election is out of the way.

Then on to the failure of Cameron’s (i.e. Steve Hilton’s) “A-list”. He makes a telling point that, by promoting the potential candidates acceptable to London Metrosexuals, the Tories were actually reducing the diversity and depth of talent available. He also points out that, despite his stated support for women candidates, Cameron remains a member of White’s, which is still unisex.

So Hitchens then addresses what he calls Cameron’s “character transplant”, as evidenced by:

  1. The photo-opportunity with huskies. This is contrasted with George Monbiot relating his “dismal experience” at the Tory Conference, which he found “as lively as a catacomb”. When Hitchens puts to Michael Gove the contrast between Cameron’s famous windmill, and his previous description of windfarms as “gigantic birdblenders”, Gove says this proves Cameron’s “great sense of humour”.
  2. The “hug-a-hoodie” moment. This, argues Hitchens, at one stroke destroyed the Tory reputation for toughness on crime. Again, he contrasts what is acceptable at “the fashionable dinner tables of London” with the reality of life in Rockferry, Merseyside. He calls in aid no less than Frank Field, who makes a telling point that, by deserting the path of rightness, the Cameroon Tories are leaving positions open to “extremist parties defending law and justice”.

Norman Tebbit is set up to repeat his usual dislike of Cameron’s reformism, and we are moving into the peroration.

Hitchens states his essential thesis: that the Tory Party has been captured by an “ambitious cabal” possessed of “remarkably flexible views”, and this amounts to a wholesale “abandonment of party principles”.

Gove attempts to defend Cameroonery: it has “modernised the party”; modern Toryism is cautious and small-scale, committed to free enterprise and support for the family.

Hitchens is implacable in his end-note, quoting Richard Neville’s “inch of difference”. If there is only “an inch of difference” between the two main parties, then “that is where we all live”. If there is no difference, there is no choice; and when there is no choice, there is no liberty. It was worth sitting through for that dictum alone.

All this is Malcolm’s unaided and instant reading. Others may have seen something different.
However, to Malcolm, this was an involving and important piece of television. It was refreshing to see a Daily Mail rightist like Hitchens underscoring every prejudice that lefty Malcolm has about the Cameroonies.

It will be interesting to see how tomorrow’s reviewers treat the programme. Malcolm suspects it will have come too close to the bone for many. Doubtless, the egregious snake-like Steve Hilton, “the shadow leader of the opposition” and Cameron’s “Rasputin” will already have greased the relevant wheels. So expect few squeaks.

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Hitchens on Cameron (part two)

It gets better.

Hitchens opens up some new ground: how Michael Howard delayed his departure to allow Cameron to establish a presence; and the significance of Steve Hilton, another PR slug, as Cameron’s Svengali.

Hitchens attributes Cameron’s progress, against the flow of Toryism, to his “membership of the media class”.

The segment closed with the promise that the third part would address Cameron’s need to reform “the elderly unloved besat that is the Tory Party”.

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