Monthly Archives: February 2008

A Tale of Two Petes


Pete Bellamy was a year behind Malcolm at Fakenham Grammar School. Aged 15 or 16, Pete and Malcolm became acquainted on an archaeological dig at Walsingham Priory. When it rained (which was frequently) they retreated to the coal hole of the Shirehall (then the local Magistrates’ Court), which was being used as the nerve-centre for the dig. With a battery-operated record-player in the coal-hole, Pete and Malcolm ran through their severely-restricted collection of discs.

Thus was started two life-long interests (for Pete a sadly abbreviated life).

Malcolm got Louis Armstong’s Hot Five from Pete, and Pete got folk music from Malcolm. It was a fair exchange. In those days, Pete Bellamy was not so purist about his folk-music as they sang along with Seeger and the Weavers in the coal-hole.

Malcolm had already latched on to the Weavers (which he had bought second-hand in St Andrews Street, Norwich, and still has — though in an unplayable condition). That means one of the tracks with which they harmonised in that coal-hole was Banks of Marble.

Les Rice was a farmer from Newburgh, New York State, near to Pete Seeger’s home. Seeger took the song from him, as a sleeve note says:

Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertilizer, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.

By 1949 the song was in the Weavers’ repertoire, and from there into various union song-books:

I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.

The song lives on: two more recent versions are by Leo Kottke and Iris DeMent.

Now (Hosannas!) the Labour Government has nationalised a bank: it didn’t want to, and sees it as an embuggerance. However, it has done the deed, albeit reluctantly and shamed of face. Malcolm sees it as a small but significant moment of socialism. Inevitably, the Euro-capitalists are poking fingers at the whole deal, and snorting down patrician noses.

Yesterday, the first question to the Prime Minister was from Kelvin Hopkins, the MP for Luton North. Hopkins saw off John Carlisle at the 1997 Election. Since Carlisle was a notorious right-winger, and cheer-leader for white supremacists in southern Africa, that was a double-victory for socialism. Hopkins’s question had as many barbs as a porcupine:

Last week the parliamentary Labour party was united in voting enthusiastically to nationalise a bank. On Friday two thirds of the parliamentary Labour party stayed in Westminster to vote for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston [Andrew Miller]. After that vote we gathered in New Palace Yard for a team photograph and sang “The Red Flag”. Does my right hon. Friend accept that with more of the same, he will lead us to a famous victory at the next election?

Hopkins thereby ensured his disqualification for any job in any Brown Government (not that he would want or take one).

Back in 1912, Malcolm’s Yorkshire miner Grandfather was on strike to keep a 12/6d (that’s 62½p to the younger element) minimum wage per week. Out of that came a home-made stool (which Malcolm has and treasures), made to occupy the time, and the naming of his late Aunt Minima.

So Malcolm cheers on Kelvin Hopkins, and those few real socialist MPs left. They won’t change much, but it does no harm to remind the rest from whence we came. So, two Petes and a twelve-string accompaniment in his memory, Malcolm sings a further verse:

I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin’,
Got no coal to heat the shack.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.

The punch-line, though, should belong to Pete Bellamy. He produced a fair number of original songs; and his edits of received traditional ones are quite inspired. His Farewell to the Land (which borrows a melody from the Copper Family) is, probably, his best. It harkens back to growing up in the farm-bailiff’s cottage in Warham, and addresses the inequalities which Seeger, Lee Rice and the likes of Kelvin Hopkins, in their different ways, deplore and contest:

Now I raise my sons in an old caravan,
For the cottage where my roots were put down
Has been sold by the farmer to a rich city man,
Where he spends a few weekends from town.

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Filed under Pete Seeger, socialism., Wells-next-the-Sea

Peadar O’Donnell on “The Orangeman” (1953)

Malcolm’s latest

* * * *

four-star posting

is on

Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service

Attached is the text of an essay by Peadar O’Donnell, from The Bell, of December 1953.

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Filed under Ireland, Northern Irish politics

Ask not for whom the Bell tolls

The metaphor linking the political arena with a battlefield applies in one special case.

Ex-politicians are like unexploded munitions.

Eileen Bell came into Northern Irish politics through the Peace People. From there she migrated to the Alliance Party, as General Secretary. She went into Stormont as a “top-up” candidate in 1996, and took a seat in North Down in 1998, which she held in 2003.

In 2001 Alliance was riven by debate over its future direction, which led to the resignation of Seamus Close as Deputy Leader. Bell was appointed to his place. When Sean Leeson departed the Leadership, Bell went for it. Her competition was David Ford; and it came down to the essential question of “Alliance? For heaven’s sake, why?” Bell was the builder of bridges between the communities: Ford’s LibDemery is more ideological. Ford took the leadership, effectively 2 to 1, and Bell remained his Deputy.

In 2005 she announced she would stand down, but her consolation prize was to become Speaker of the Transitional Assembly, and so she opened the new Assembly in May 2007, before handing over to William Hay.

All of which would make her, with a CBE for services rendered, a very small footnote to recent history.

Hold the front page! Politicians on the take!

The BBC’s Good Morning Ulster shrewdly interviewed Bell about the recent Stormont “sleaze”. At first this schemozzle had been a spin-off from the Derk Conway business, but has achieved a life of its own, and with good reason.

Westminster rules preclude MPs pushing money for office rental onto relatives. Not so at Stormont.

Particular attention became focused on the intricate financial arrangements of the Paisley clan. The Reverend Doctor was paying his son (already in receipt of £43,201 as an MLA and £19,609 as a Minister) to be his research assistant. They were renting their constituency offices, at £62,500 a year, from Junior’s father-in-law, James Currie. All of this, of course, was coming from the public purse. Even more curiously, that same office had been bought by Seymour Sweeney (of Causeway Visitors’ Centre fame, property developer, beneficiary of Junior’s lobbying at St Andrews, DUP member and — doubtless — general good guy) before being assigned to Currie.

Then an even more curious arrangement became public gossip. This time the cynosure of all eyes was that pillar of Presbyterian morality, Gregory Campbell, who twin-tasks as DUP MP and MLA for East Londonderry. He needs two constituency offices, so he rents one (acquired for the occasion) from his wife. Using his Stormont allowance, he pays £12,600 a year for the facility (which must set something of a record for premises in Bushmills Road, Coleraine). He then employs the same wife (nothing polygamous about our Gregory) in that office.

Danger! UXB!

Enter, stage centre, Eileen Bell.

Back in 1998 she had been instrumental in drafting the Stormont Code of Conduct. Yesterday, she was saying the Code had been “abused”. She pointed to, and read out a key extract:

“Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.”

The morals of this story:

There is no such animal as a “harmless”, “nice” politician. All can, and do bite.

While you keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, there are no “friends”, only clients, in political life. Hence the regular supply of Committees of Enquiry to keep your cast-offs busy and dependent.

No politician is dead until memorial service and memoirs are safely concluded, and mine-disposal has cleared the grave for use as a dance-floor.

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Northern Rock, part deux

The London press were in full cluster-fuck mode this morning, over the Northern Rock business.

Pressed for new dimensions, new sources of ammunition, there were and continue to be strange goings on. It almost looks like a defence-mechanism.

Nick Robinson of the BBC, usually almost reliable, was reduced to  “Bad Journalism 101” dirty tricks:

Take words out of mouth A, insert in mouth B by some form of osmosis. Dine out on it.

By any standards, the early morning BBC radio and BBC24 reporting were quite astoundingly partial. The 10am summary was effectively an anti-Government diatribe, unmatched by anything Malcolm can recall since the Junta invaded the Falklands. Well, of course, there was the strange “murder” of David Kelly, but nobody (save an odd, very odd, LibDem MP) really found that one credible.

And, Mr Robinson, most definitely no: it isn’t the “N”-for nationalisation word that is the great unmentionable. It is the “JR” term. But, of course, the one thing Opposition and their pandering journos need not fear is Judicial Review.

Why can nobody recognise that the dead hand of the Law Courts is the real reason for delay here? Why every possible alternative avenue had to be explored with forensic care and attention? And does anyone have the slightest doubt that their Lordships will be crawling over and second-guessing the whole caboodle?

Our noble seekers of truth eschew one further topic which should be of major public concern.  How many of their reporting brethren and sistren have been in receipt of lunches, taxi-rides and other “essentials” to their trade, courtesy of the hedge-funds, commercial interests and other vultures eyeing the Northern Rock carrion? Why else were all those “informed” pieces that flooded across the public prints in recent days so misguided, so one-sided, so biased?

Can we expect better of the Fourth Estate as long as the expense accounts of the private financiers are so much more generous than that of the Treasury?

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National Rock

Now it is clear: Northern Rock will be (in some shape or form) taken into national control.

This has been on the cards for some time, though Vince Cable (who has been advocating the move for some time) was perhaps premature in his correct call.

The Treasury, and A. Darling (prop.) are properly in the driving seat because:

  • All other options have been publicly and thoroughly explored. They have been weighed, measured and found wanting.
  • Above all, the politics are now ripe: the Tories will have to stop sniping and come out with some feasible alternative. That should give the 18th Baronet Osborne to-be a few chewings of those exquisitely-manicured nails this chilly evening.

Malcolm’s reading of the Sundays convinced him that Andrew Rawnsley was nearer the mark than most, particularly in the Brown Government’s potential to

put the Tories on the wrong side of both the argument and history.

A more stable period for the government has coincided with stirrings of anxiety and agitation within the Conservatives about their story and their strategy. We’ve again been reminded that a significant element of the Tory party still doesn’t buy into the Cameron approach.

Rawnsley homes in on the weakness of any Opposition party:

  • make a pledge this far out from a General Election, and it comes back to bite you;
  • however, defer making commitments, and you appear to be ineffectual.

Osborne’s biggest problem is the banshee screeches from the Tory Right for commitments on tax-cuts. This is a constant septic seepage into the rent raiment of ConservativeHome and other partisan websites. Rawnsley rubs salt into the running sore:

[Osborne] did, though, try to placate the dissenters by announcing a review of tax policy, this one to be conducted by Lord Howe of Aberavon, Geoffrey Howe as he was when he was Margaret Thatcher’s first Chancellor more than two decades ago. This follows an earlier Tory economic review by John Redwood which itself followed a tax review by Michael Forsyth. And the Tories like to mock Gordon Brown for dithering by review.

The announcement on taking control of Northern Rock shows just how shallow has been so much of the recent financial commentary.

There are 134,000 Google “hits” for a combination of “Northern Rock” and “hedge-funds”. Altogether, we are little the wiser. Two such vulture-funds (RAB Capital and SRM Global) have been the prime-movers in trying to keep some pretence of a future for Northern Rock (i.e. attempted blackmail of tax-payers).

What would be interesting, in these days of  post-Conway “transparency”, is to know how many journo’s lunches and other “opportunities” have ended up on those same funds’ PR and expense accounts.

Meanwhile, a grateful nation waits for tomorrow’s Commons session. It could go some way to testing Rawnsley’s conclusion:

Gordon Brown takes comfort from his troubles by telling friends that the Tories are not doing well enough. He is right about that. Funnily enough, I suspect that David Cameron thinks so too.

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There now follows a Service Announcement

jiminy.jpg

Malcolm’s equivalent of Jiminy Cricket is Our American Cousin.

OAC keeps Malcolm on the straight-and-narrow through occasional, but always pertinent questions and comments.

One of his more recent was to wonder why Malcolm was running a parallel blog on WordPress.

A valid question, indeed.

The only valid reason, then, was “it seemed a good idea at the time”. Malcolm was finding some of the blogger operations a trifle crude and complicated. For one example, the interface had defaulted to German for no obvious reason. And now the paste function does not seem to work to give hyper-links. Ughh.

The WordPress interface, though more complex and even (at first flush) cruder still , seemed worth a bash.

Once up-and-running, it all provoked Malcolm into a re-think.

He wanted to continue his mutterings and maunderings, but in a more organised manner.

Moreover, after some eighteen months, he was no longer “revivus”. Even Lazarus had to move on.

So, what seems to be happening is a division of topics. The other one, via Blogger, will be more concerned with Global politics. This WordPress effort becomes the domestic site.

He’s going to give it a try, anyway.

And the tag-line in the header?

For those who do not recognise it, that’s a marvellous line given by Robert Graves to King Herod Agrippa, advising Clau-Clau-Claudius in I, Claudius.

With good reason, it survived into Jack Pulman’s telly-script.

In passing, could Graves ever have imagined that his pot-boiler, plagiarised from Latin writers, to pay the bills for the Graves-Laura Riding ménage in Majorca, would one day be hailed as one of the Top 100 English-language novels?

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Going nuclear

To celebrate fifty years since the founding of CND, there was a Global Summit for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (16th February) at London’s County Hall.

Malcolm was (and in his heart remains) supportive of the ideals of CND. Today, though, any committed nut, panting for his seventy-two paradisal virgins, needs only the odd kilogram of plutonium to get his bang. That tends to change the odds, even if the nut gets (to his eternal frustration), in the alternative reading, just seventy-two white raisins. And, surely, with the recent surge in demand, way-up-yonder must as short of nubile maidenhood as the English aristocracy.

Meanwhile, back to County Hall.

The Guardian celebrated the occasion with a full-page article (only page 21, but it’s the thought that counts). After a thousand-and-a-few words, the authors, Duncan Campbell — now there’s a surprise — and Rachel Williams might have been tiring. Or the sub-editor could have nodded off. Either way, the penultimate paragraph came out like this:

Sergio Duarte, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, will speak at today’s summit, as will a survivor from the Hiroshima atom bomb and Bianca Jagger.

Hmm, either tighter punctation or a subtle re-phrasing needed there. In its present form, it unfortunately seems to have a smack of Eccentrica Gallumbits, “the best bang since the Big One”.

The side-bar of the same Guardian piece did a neat “who-was-was” of the anti-nuclear movement, including its last survivor:

Pat Arrowsmith
Began a lifelong career of political activism as a student at Cambridge. Has been jailed 11 times for her protests over the years. Continues to do voluntary work for CND. Aged 77.

Pat lives in Crouch End, so Malcolm sees her from time-to-time in the locality. Last week, he followed her onto a W7 bus heading up to Muswell Hill. He forced himself into her company, and addressed her for the first time since June 1961, when, as a student who had just finished his TCD Entrance Scholarship exam, he had joined the last stage of the CND march to the Holy Loch. Malcolm found Pat so little changed, still revelling in the expectation of yet another raid by the bailiffs to non-payment of fines, and off to do a stint for Amnesty.

What Malcolm most remembers, though, is her announcement to the scruffy ‘Erberts who comprised the marchers. Overnight was a kip in a church hall. The diminutive, hickory-strong Arrowsmith, in her incisive and cultured voice, addressed the parade thus:

The ladies will sleep in here. The men will sleep in there. And the women will sleep with the men.

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