Monthly Archives: May 2008

Special blanch

The BBC website has a quite extraordinary take on London’s Vietnam demonstrations of 1968, which it now attaches to its preview of the programme on bluenose (though now, more positively, redesignated as “filthbuster“) Mary Whitehouse.

He’ll get to that in a while, but, for a start, Malcolm was somewhat surprised by this:

The anti-Vietnam war demonstration of March 1968 was a turning point in post-war politics: it turned violent right in front of the world’s media; the police were shown throwing punches into the faces of already arrested students, and in general losing control. The police files from that event are considered too sensitive to release.

There’s a lot about that period that will remain hidden as long as blue-pencils, with-holding orders and document-shredders exist.

We might start with Peter Wright‘s formidable testimony:

And we did have fun. For five years we bugged and burgled our way across London at the State’s behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way.

Clearly, as Wright implies, a main thrust of MI5 at this time was against student militancy:

student militancy in the 1960s gave way to industrial militancy in the 1970s … intelligence on domestic subversion became the overriding priority.

David Shayler, not necessarily a wholly discredited witness:

was charged with passing documents and information to the Mail on Sunday. On August 24 1997, a year after he left MI5, it published his allegations that MI5 held files on Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw, John Lennon and others it once considered to be subversive.

The other “subversives” included — gulp, swallow, choke of incredulity — Harriet Harman.

Piles of files

With supreme irony, it was Jack Straw as Home Secretary who gave a written reply on 29th July, 1998. Spookhunters, if they do not already have it by heart, should refer to its entirety. For now:

The Security Service currently holds in total about 440,000 files which have been opened at some time since its establishment in 1909. Of these, approximately 35,000 files relate to Service administration, policy and staff. A further 40,000 concern subjects and organisations studied by the Service. About 75,000 files relate to people or groups of people who have never been investigated by the Service, such as those who have received protective security advice. This leaves about 290,000 files relating to individuals who, at some time during the last 90 years, may have been the subject of Security Service inquiry or investigation. Of this 290,000, some 40,000 have been reduced to microfilm and placed in a restricted category to which Security Service staff have access only for specific research purposes…

To place it in context, this compares with about 5.7 million records on individuals on the Police National Computer

It has long been the policy of the Security Service to review its file holdings and to destroy those files which it no longer requires for operational purposes and which do not merit retention on grounds of historical interest. In the period between its formation in 1909 and the early 1970s, the Service destroyed well over 175,000 files. The destruction programme was then halted in response to concern that it had impeded investigations into espionage cases. In the early 1990s, following the collapse of Soviet communism and the associated decline in the threat from subversion, the review and destruction programme was reinstated. Since then, more than 110,000 files have been destroyed or have been earmarked for destruction.

That’s worth recapitulation:

  • 290,000 files which, in 1998, were sufficiently valid to be “active” or retained.
  • A further quarter-million-plus which had been shredded (either for their irrelevance or embarrassment factor) during purges.
  • A passing, and deliberately confusing reference to the Police having separate files covering a tenth of the population. Anybody who has written multiple-choice exam papers will know the “distractor”.

Going on the “offensive”

Malcolm, like others on the Left, was only too conscious of the tendrils of the state apparatus. It was quite remarkable how, for any employment in the public sector (and indeed, by reputation, with the major industrial concerns), interviews took strange turns.

So, back to the original point at issue, and for something new, different and very, very shocking:

Newsnight has obtained, under Freedom of Information, a stack of police files relating to the much bigger anti-war demonstration of October that year… they tell a story of rising panic in the establishment: the creation of Britain’s first bomb squad; an intelligence feedback loop between Special Branch and the press that ramped up the tension; and, farcically, the rock group The Doors being mistaken for a group of foreign revolutionaries…

… we now know, from the Secret files, that the London Division of the British Army offered to assist the Met during the so called “Autumn Offensive”. An offer that was declined, though it was discussed also at Cabinet level.

In the run up to the demo panic was sparked by press reports that demonstrators were planning to seize key buildings in London, defend them with Molotov cocktails, paralyse London, bringing about the total downfall of law and order and the subsequent collapse of Britain as a financial centre…

Enter the gentlemen of the fourth estate: newspaper articles appeared which gave credence to the prospect of a violent seizure of key installations; the list of “targets” grew – from the BBC, to MI5, the Telecoms tower and even the Playboy Club. When the Times reported the prospect of a violent seizure, Home Secretary Jim Callaghan was grilled in the Commons. The police, reviewing the press reports, concluded privately that they were over the top, a “carefully constructed pastiche of information” based on inspired guesswork and with no proof whatsoever.

Whole sections of the documents were redacted when the Met released them to us this year – so we don’t know what they thought were the source of the information. But we now know exactly where it came from. Brian Cashinella, crime reporter on the Times, told [Paul Mason] the whole story had been briefed to him by Special Branch; “not any old plod but a senior fellow; he met us two or three times a week for three weeks”. Cashinella says that, after a meeting with Jim Callaghan, his then editor William Rees Mogg assured him that the stories were genuine.

We now have all the little ducks in a neat line: the Met Police and Special Branch, MI5, The Times, and, inevitably, “Mystic” Smug.

Which leaves only two questions:

Why is the BBC soft-pedalling this hard-core story, under a “plain cover” of The Doors and the ineffable Mrs Mary Whitehouse?

Then and now, cui bono?


Filed under BBC, leftist politics., security, Times, Uncategorized

A word to the wise

Malcolm (whose mind has been on matters other than serious bloggery this last week) did not believe the picture in today’s Times.

Unfortunately, the on-line version omits the critical photograph:

Crook & Blight are, indeed, estate agents, auctioneers, valuers and property managers of Newport and Caerleon. But Malcolm had to check it out to be convinced.

He hereby proposes this for the title of most appropriate trading name, since the world-famous Argue & Phibbs, Solicitors, of Sligo Town, ceased practice nearly two decades gone.

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Back to Wells: Malcolm revealed

A “comment” came through on a previous posting:

Well, Malcolm can only be **** “Porky” *******, son of the cricketing Yorkshire-born policeman Jack and my primary school classmate and sometime fellow choir boy at St. Nicholas church.

There is a picture of us in in the family album in the back yard of my parents’ house… , aged about nine I would say. My father’s ashes are scattered on the cricket pitch in front of Holkham Hall, just short of a length at the Obelisk end, as befits a socialist fast bowler…

So far, young A.T., so good. Don’t push your luck, especially in the matter of unfortunate nicknames inherited from Uncle Frank Pigott.

That last bit, about cricketer’s ashes, rings painfully true.

In recent years, Malcolm has twice had the experience.

First up to the crease was cousin Ralph Copley of Aston, near Sheffield, hawk-eyed and one of the hardest drivers of a cricket ball to be seen. Ralph died untimely early; and his ashes went onto the wicket of Aston Hall Cricket Club.

Ralph was a good, unvarnished South Yorkshire Labour man. His Dad had been Secretary and President of Waleswood Colliery NUM; and it was at his Uncle Ernest’s house, in 1963, Malcolm read of the death of Hugh Gaitskell. That’s a recollection that comes back every time Malcolm passes up Church Row in Hampstead, brushing past Gaitskell’s grave (see left).

Ralph, despite his impeccable political credentials, always read the Daily Telegraph. When taxed on this deviation from the path of true enlightenment, Ralph would tap the side of his nose:

“Tha’s got to knoo wha’ t’enemy’s theenkin’. Tha’ knows.”

To which his long-suffering wife would append, sotto voce, “It’s because of the racing tips.”


Then came Malcolm’s own father, Jack, acknowledged in A.T.‘s “comment”.

In those last days, across a hospital bed, Jack’s memories came painfully, one by one. There was a precise recollection of the other father, now bestowing a quick-bowler’s socialist grace to the Earl of Leicester’s modest spread. Let’s call him “Alan”, for such was indeed the hero’s name. Jack had a gripe, long nurtured against Alan; and now, in extremis, it was finally voiced.

Jack had bowled through the innings, and now had nine wickets for a modest score of runs against. On the tenth and final wicket, Alan, bowling freom the other end took a simple caught-and-bowled.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I just couldn’t drop it.”

And so, some fifty years on, it provided a memory for a dying man: “I forgive him for it … now. But he did the right thing. He couldn’t help it.”


A.T. had read Malcolm’s memory of Peter Bellamy, the folk-singer. It’s curious how certain postings achieve a cyclical repetition: that same one turned up on Slugger O’Toole, as proof positive of Malcolm’s disreputable youth.


Pete Bellamy’s father was a different sort of socialist, he had his brown shirt uniform from Oswald Mosley’s mob hanging in a glass case inside the front door.

A further fascist relic may be seen on the house wall opposite Stiffkey Village Hall – the two SS lightning flashes painted there by Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter etc., when he lived there during World War 2.

For what it’s worth, Williamson has his Blue Plaque on Stiffkey’s Old Hall Farm, which he worked from 1937-45. Part of the old farm complex, but now dignified as “Fox Cottage”, is available as a holiday let. As for the SS symbol, Malcolm takes that on trust.


Decent folk may prefer to associate Stiffkey with its delinquent rector, Harold Davidson. By one of those coincidences, Williamson arrived in Stiffkey just as “Little Jimmy” Davidson was terminally leaving it: Williamson photographed Davidson’s funeral.

Depite the media frenzy about Davidson, he was locally held in some regard. Not least by Malcolm’s then-teenaged mother. When Davidson was making his Monday morning escape to London, preparatory to another week spent caring for his “fallen girls”, “Little Jimmy” would in turn be fallen upon gratefully by the girls travelling on that same train, from Wells to Fakenham and its Grammar School. Thus would the weekend’s Maths homework be sorted as the train juddered those ten miles.


And so, this brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to fifty years gone, with A.T. and Malcolm in their plum blazers and caps off to Fakenham, at first behind one of the sadly-neglected D16 4-4-0 Claud Hamiltons, then on the new DMUs.

Tempus mutantur et mutamur in illis

so thanks for the comment, A.T. :

good to know you’re still there.

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Filed under blogging, Wells-next-the-Sea

Burnishing the blue lamp

Very definitely worth a look:

Heather Brooke, of “Your Right to Know” (who was the star of the MP’s expenses disclosure), has now turned her attention to PR spending by the different police authorities. This has resulted in two articles in today’s [London] Times:

Your starter for ten: Guess which force is top of the list?

Here’s Ms Brooke:

We found that police forces across the UK are spending £39m each year on press and PR – enough to fund an extra 1,400 full time officers and more than enough to cover the annual police pay rise withheld by the Government. The force at the top of the league (Police Service Northern Ireland) spends eight times more per person on PR than the lowest (Derbyshire). Meanwhile, forces spend nearly ten times more on PR (what police want us to know) than on FOI (what we want to know).

Also while resources are pumped into PR, we found a distinct lack of interest in responding to our FOI requests. Only 19 of 53 forces responded to our requests on time. All the rest broke the law. They had a variety of explanations though some offered none at all. Police Service Northern Ireland had the most novel excuse – their FOI officer was on an advanced driver training course. It had no affect in speeding up their tardy reply which came more than a month late.

In passing, Malcolm reckons that means that the PR spend (which is under the control of the separate police authorities, not directly of the Government) could have taken the strain of the “cut” in the police pay award (which is under the Government’s control, and for which the Government took the PR hit).

As the other Old Bill might have said: “Shurely shomething wrong.”

The list is standardised on a “per hundred thousand population” basis:
Police Service Northern Ireland £99,501.01
Metropolitan Police Force £85,629.10 etc.

So did everyone in the Noth of Ireland,

down to the merest babe in arms,

get their individual full quid’s worth last year?

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Old Possum reads the polls.

If there ever was proof positive that most political opinion polls are arrant twaddle, it surely is here:

That’s ICM’s telephone poll of 1,004 people from Crewe on 7th-8th May.

Ask two similar questions of the same panel, and get an instant “swing” of 5½% against the Tories!

So, it all comes down to the phrasing of the question, as we knew all along. In this case, it’s the difference between:

a hypothetical “how would you vote”
and an actual “how will you vote”.

The questions to be asked in a poll are stipulated by the commissioning newspaper.

The pollsters then “discover” whatever the contract required of them.

The editorial hacks then pontificate on the “findings” of the polls.

This is the land of the Hollow Men:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow


The “shadow” in this case being …

the actuality of casting a vote for the Tories.

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The death of local politics?

Malcolm starts with an aside:

The Internet is close to death by self-strangulation.

Those that live by the Net will soon be throttled by it, like Secutor enmeshed by Retarius.

There was an example last evening when Malcolm tried to see what was happening in the world of political froth, and obviously went to Iain Dale. Dale is cursed by the need to be an early-adopter of every latest mode, neglectful of the implicit advice in Acts 17:21:

For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.

On which Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible pertinently remarks:

… none are more childish and superstitious, more impious, or more credulous, than some persons, deemed eminent for learning and ability. … Great talkers are always busy-bodies. They spend their time in nothing else, and a very uncomfortable account they have to give of their time who thus spend it. Time is precious, and we are concerned to employ it well, because eternity depends upon it, but much is wasted in unprofitable conversation.

So, because Dale feels impelled to prove his new-cybermanhood by on-line natter, he effectively takes up all his available band-width. The sheer inanities of an “on-line” discussion crowd out any other message he might have to offer.

In short, the site was inaccessible because of this trendy and trite nonsense.

It is also regrettable, because Dale has a couple of interesting topics open at the moment.

One is:

Whatever Happened to By Election Reporting?

This is a piece of blatant piracy (nothing wrong with that: Malcolm lives on the crumbs from the banquets of others) from the penultimate paragraph of Charles Moore’s Spectator’s Notes:

It would be nice if the interest in electoral contests, renewed by last week’s events, would revive the reporting of by-elections. By-election campaigns were well reported by newspapers in the past. They would send star journalists to the constituency for two or three weeks before polling. Their dispatches were a readable way of interleaving national concerns with local issues, which is how voters think about things. They taught the reader a great deal about the texture of the nation. In recent years, these reports have died away, partly because, thanks to better medicine, there are far fewer by-elections than in the past, and partly because the results had become much more predictable than in the days of the great upsets of the Sixties and Seventies. Two by-elections are now pending. One result — in Boris Johnson’s Henley — is almost a foregone conclusion, but the other, and more imminent — in the late Gwyneth Dunwoody’s Crewe and Nantwich — will be exciting. Please let us read the story as it unfolds.

To which Malcolm appends a personal cheer.

Dale’s second item was, in its own way, closely related.

The gossip had ran through the political village that the Times had a big story for its Saturday edition, which was being held back from the earlies lest the lesser lights cloned it. Here’s how Dale treated it:

This BIG story is apparently the Times front page lead… Still no idea what it is though.

Andrew Pierce in the Telegraph has a good story about Cherie slagging off Gordon. Doubt whether that’s it though.

UPDATE: It is indeed that. So the Telegraph scoops The Times on their own splash. Love it! The main thing is that Blair has been advising Brown on how to win the next election. Not doing a very good job, is he?

If we accept (and Malcolm does) Charles Moore’s belief that the reporting of by-elections and similar “provincial” news matters, then we have a case-study of the why and how things are going wrong in the Cherie Blair story.

  • Why are the views of the unelected wife of an ex-politico a significant above-the-fold front-page story?

  • Why should this parochial gossip be of more importance than the price of fish?

However, it goes to show Moore’s and Dale’s essential assumption is sound: political comment has been institutionalised (Malcolm intends that ambiguity) in the Westminster hot-house. What happens beyond that Pale is small beer.

In part that is a consequence of Press economics: the competent regional stringers are no longer out there; the bean-counters want out-of-town expenses properly authorised.

It is also an inevitable consequence of the soap-opera that is political TV. An example, as Malcolm tried to demonstrate [see the posting immediately below this one] is in this week’s PMQ exchange between the Party Leaders. It amounted to:

  • Brown: 592 words, including a dozen asserted “facts”.
  • Cameron: 771 words, of which just 127 seem to constitute formal “questions”, all based on just four asserted “facts”

This is, after all, “Questions to the PM”.

Both sides now openly contemn and by-pass the spirit and letter of Standing Orders: to a large extent, the Speaker must be held to blame. We are invited then to judge the “winner” of a gladiatorial zero-sum game. And this, for too many, is the entire weekly diet of Parliamentary “politics”.

The end of “local” politics

Meanwhile, in Parliamentary terms, there are no longer “local” contests. By-elections have been nationalised. Party websites urge their supporters to go and spend a few hours “canvassing” in a particular contest. So wannabes are rounded up, and shipped up and down the motorways for a brief stint as extras in a photo-opportunity, duly reported by media national and local. It is similar in intent to Commons “doughnutting“.

Let’s be honest here.

None of the Parties in by-elections deliver a 100% canvass. Even so, the LibDims will stick a poll-checker in front of most polling stations: daft, because it’s merely gesture politics — there is no chance of a “knock-up” based on non-existent returns.

A grey-beard reminisces:

Malcolm’s electoral blooding was in 1965, in the Dublin North-Central seat, under Irish STV.

An amateur agent, Bob Mitchell, managed a 300% canvass for his successful Labour candidate, Michael O’Leary. Perhaps Bob and his children’s crusade need not have bothered: O’Leary was an opportunist lecher, twice Tánaiste — Deputy PM — but for two different Parties. Malcolm is on safe ground here: it’s not actionable, for the best of reasons:

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone; it’s with O’Leary in the grave.

What was remarkable was that Bob not only got O’Leary onto the slate, by some very dubious Ward-heeling, but then saw off the two other better-established Labour names on the ballot, by a handful of votes on a recount of the 11th redistribution. That remains Malcolm’s high-tide mark in the art of coersive canvassing.

Similarly, when Malcolm stood in the 1970s, twice, for Westminster, his agent was able to tell him, within 200 votes, by how much he had lost. The advice was based on a sound canvass; and was right on both occasions. At a deficit of under 700 votes, Malcolm was was offered a re-count. He trusted his agent, and the paper on the tables, and declined. The agent nodded in agreement.

That was then: this is now.

Today, of course, there would be a “minder” from HQ.

The decision would not be left to the Candidate, without “advice” from higher up the food chain.


Filed under blogging, leftist politics.

“… a Conservative party that just talks.”

Here, as a public service, Malcolm reproduces

the exchange between David Cameron and the Prime Minister

at Prime Minister’s Questions (yes — “questions”) on Wednesday.


Malcolm has tried:

  • to identify any facts (in blue) and
  • real identifiable, grammatical questions (in red):

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Trooper Ratu Babakobau, who was killed in Afghanistan on Friday.
The whole House will also want to send our condolences to everyone caught up in the Burmese cyclone. The Prime Minister knows that he will have the full support of those on the Opposition Benches in any action needed for the aid and assistance that clearly will be necessary.
I join the Prime Minister in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on his magnificent victory. I am sure the Prime Minister has always secretly wanted to see the back of Ken Livingstone, and I am sure he will have a fruitful relationship with my hon. Friend. [An Hon. Member: “Will you?”] Indeed. Following Thursday’s elections, the Prime Minister said that he would listen and lead, so let me start with an issue of leadership. Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, says that there should be a referendum now on Scottish independence. Does he agree with her?
The Prime Minister: That is not what she has said. The Conservative party, the Liberal party and the Labour party have joined together in setting up the Calman review, the commission on devolution. I hope that we can see progress in that commission, and we will review the progress before making any further decisions. I thought that that was the policy of the Conservative party, which supported the commission.
Mr. Cameron: I think the Prime Minister is losing touch with reality. This is what Wendy Alexander said:
“I don’t fear the verdict of the Scottish people,”
she told BBC Scotland on Sunday,
“Bring it on.”
What else could that possibly mean? Can I ask the Prime Minister again? Does he agree with Wendy Alexander or not? It is not much of a leadership if no one is really following him.
The Prime Minister: The Calman commission has been set up to review the progress of devolution. I believe that all parties in the House will welcome the fact that it is looking at all these issues. When we review the progress of the Calman commission, we can make further decisions.
What the leader of the Labour party in Scotland was pointing to was the hollowness of the Scottish National party, which said that it wanted independence, said that it wanted it immediately, and now wants to postpone a referendum until 2010-11. That is what she was pointing out. She was making it clear that what the Scottish National party was doing was against its election manifesto.
Mr. Cameron: The one thing that people thought about this Prime Minister was that he was quite a good political fixer—and he has now lost control of the Scottish Labour party. So there has been no leadership on the Union.
Let us turn to listening. People want to know whether this is a genuine listening exercise, or just another relaunch. In London, where we now have a Conservative Mayor, one of the biggest issues at the election was crime. Under this Government’s early release scheme, nearly 24,000 prisoners have been released early from prison. The last Prime Minister, who introduced the scheme almost a year ago, described it as “very temporary”. If the current Prime Minister is serious about listening to people, will he now scrap it?
The Prime Minister: We are building up the number of prison places. We have made an announcement about the new prison places that we are going to create this year and in the next few years. When we have built up the number of prison places from the 60,000 that we inherited—now 80,000—to 82,000 and then 86,000, we will make our decisions on the right thing to do about early release. But it is important to have a situation where we have built enough prison places and that is what we are going to do. Again, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman supported us on the building of prison places—and so he should.
Mr. Cameron: So that is a no, then—no action to stop the early release of prisoners. Every week, more prisoners are going to be released under the Prime Minister’s early release scheme. He is not going to listen to people when it comes to crime.
Up and down the country, people told the Government in the clearest possible terms that they wanted to keep their local post offices. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)— [Interruption.] They should listen to the former Home Secretary; he always has something helpful to say. He said that the current review was “over-bureaucratic” and should be suspended. So will the Prime Minister listen to people and halt the closure programme for the post offices?
The Prime Minister: Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to spend money that he does not have. He knows perfectly well that we are putting £1.7 billion into post offices. That is to keep as many post offices open as possible. The London results of the review have just been published, and it has saved some of the post offices in London. But the fact of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman has no money to be able to keep further post offices open, and he should stop misleading the electorate about what he can and cannot do.
Mr. Cameron: So that is another no, then—he is not listening to people about post offices. When it comes to post offices, when it comes to releasing criminals and when it comes to taxing the low paid, people will just conclude that this whole listening exercise is just empty words.
Seven months ago, the Prime Minister called off the general election and said that he wanted more time to set out his vision. Since then, we have had nearly 130 White and Green Papers, 34 Government Bills and 7,457 Government press releases. If he had a coherent vision, would not people have heard it by now? Should not everyone conclude that we have a Government who just lurch from one relaunch to another? Should they not conclude that what is missing is what is really needed—that is, a clear vision and some strong leadership for Britain?
The Prime Minister: The choice in this country is between a Government who have created jobs, stability, growth and public services and a Conservative party that has absolutely nothing to offer the people of this country. When I look at what the Conservative promises are, I see £10 billion of tax cuts, a black hole in public spending, risk to the economy and going back to the situation that we had in the early ’90s. No amount of slick salesmanship can obscure the fact that there is no substance in anything the Conservatives are saying.
Mr. Cameron: People expressed their view on the choice last week. The Prime Minister talks about salesmanship. We all know his brilliant salesmanship—this is the man who sold gold at the bottom of the market. That is the problem with the Prime Minister—he has got nothing to sell and he is useless at selling it. While we are at it, I have got a bit more advice for him. This is the Prime Minister who went on “American Idol” with more make-up on than Barbara Cartland; this is the Prime Minister who sits in No. 10 Downing street wondering— [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Mr. Cameron: He sits in No. 10 Downing Street waiting for Shakira to call and waiting for George Clooney to come to tea. I have got a bit of advice for him: why does he not give up the PR and start being a PM?
The Prime Minister: This is a man who tries to lecture us on presentation, this is a man who tries to lecture us on style, because there is no substance in any of his questions. The choice is between a Government who have raised the minimum wage and a Conservative party that opposed the minimum wage. The choice is 

between a Government who have taken a million children out of poverty and the Conservative party that trebled poverty. No amount of presentation from the Conservative party can obscure the vital question that the choice in this country is between a Labour Government who deliver and a Conservative party that just talks.

The sum of all that is:

  • Brown: 592 words, including a dozen asserted “facts”.
  • Cameron: 771 words, of which just 127 seem to be formal “questions” (and this is, after all, Question Time), all based on just four asserted “facts”.


  • What is the point of Prime Minister’s Questions if all it provides is a space in which the Leader of the Opposition can spout?
  • What is a Parliamentary “question” any more?
  • Why does Mr Speaker not insist that the Leader of the Opposition conforms to the same restrictions that apply to every other Member? A question is not a speech.
  • Why do the British media condone — indeed encourage — Cameron in these regular, high-octane rants?
  • Is any of this “holding the Government to account”?
  • If not, in what way does a diatribe become meaningful “opposition”?
  • What does it say about the intellectual level required for an Oxford “First” in PPE, and the oratorical skills to become a Leader of the Conservative Party?

Finally, does anybody recall this?

And we need to change, and we will change, the way we behave. I’m fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.

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Filed under David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tories.

Oh, er, missus …

It started with the BBC website. There a headline promised:Malcolm the twitcher

Great tits cope well with warming

Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service reported the story internationally. It had already been duly noted and appreciated in Denver, Colorado.

Malcolm then discovered Nich Starling, at Norfolk Blogger, had been similarly taken; and elected this his “headline of the week”.

A further comment from Harry Hook recalled that “tits like coconuts but sparrows prefer breadcrumbs”.

Which, in turn, reminded Malcolm that the consensus is this great ornithological truth was revealed by Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith.

Jones, Welsh-born but brought up in Essex, has a dark secret:

his father had a boat in West Mersea, which they would sail around the coast of Suffolk and into The Broads.

Notice the pattern developing here:

Is there some Normal-for-Norfolk breast-fetish syndrome?

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Two rites make many wrongs

Sir Edward Carson came to regret his treacherous plotting over Home Rule.

He was a deserving recipient of the old curse:

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

He was a “southern Unionist”, born in Dublin’s Harcourt Street, educated at Wesley College and Trinity, Dublin, where he was in the hurley team. Indeed: don’t tell the GAA.

He was called to the Irish Bar, and became Solicitor-General for Ireland. He sat in Parliament for the Dublin University seat. One can recognise his like, to this day, in the Universities Club, overlooking Stephens’ Green, or at the trough in the Shelbourne.

It was only in 1893, nearly aged forty, that he joined the Middle Temple and became a member of the English Bar.

He was not enthusiastic about the Orange Order (though he joined while at Trinity) but his oratory made him the frontman for the Craig Cabal. So his signature was the first on the 1912 Ulster Covenant; and he was a prime mover in the Ulster Volunteers. His finger-prints were all over the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which created partition and set up the Stormont Parliament. Even the Times wrinkled its nose at the brazenness of this measure:

… the bill as presented to Parliament , bears … evidence of painstaking adjustment to the susceptibilities of Sir Edward Carson and his followers.

Once he was able to stand back, and contemplate what he had wrought, he recanted. His cry of anguish was Promethean:

I did not know, as I know now, that I was a mere puppet in a political game .. I was fighting with others whose friendship and comradeship I hope I will lose from tonight, because I dod not value any friendship that is not founded upon confidence and trust. I was in earnest. What a fool I was! I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power …

The Conservative Party never yet took up a cause without betraying it in the end.

Too late!

The Ulstermen had their statelet. Carson, and the other southern Unionists were shrugged off.

This can be exemplified by a little spat in 1933. Major John Henry McCormick, Unionist MP for Belfast, St Anne’s, went to the Twelfth at Newtownbutler. He relieved himself of a nice piece of bigotry:

Too many Protestants were giving employment to Roman Catholics … the Protestant who did so was a traitor to his country and his Protestantism was virtually lost.

Just over the Border, in Cavan, the Reverend W.J. Mitchell remonstrated gently, in a letter to the Irish Times:

Speakers seemed to have little or no consideration for their Protestant brethren across the Border … where many of the lads and lassies were depending for their livelihood on Roman Catholic employers. As an Orangeman [I feel] their Six-County leaders should be more considerate of their brethren across the Border.

Mitchell was skewered by the full Jovian thunder of Basil Brooke:

Mr Mitchell was probably correct when he said that Protestants in the Free State were getting a square deal … but the question was an entirely different one in Northern Ireland. In the Free State Protestants were in a minority and the Roman Catholics could do what they liked with them … On the other hand, Roman Catholics were increasing in the North … Ninety-seven per cent of the Roman Catholics in Ireland politically were disloyal and disruptive and if they in the North would increase their power by employing such people, in a few years Ulster would be voted into the Free State.

12 July 1933 in small-town Newtownbutler, but 26 June 1933 in big-city Munich’s Völkisher Beobachter:

We must build up our state without Jews. They can never be anything but stateless aliens, and they can never have any legal or constitutional staus. Only by this means can Ahasuerus be forced once again to take up his wanderer’s staff.

Spot the difference between Major McCormick and Reichsminister Goebbels.

We might also pause for a moment to recall the curious doings at Fethard-on-Sea, in the County Wexford, in the summer of 1957.

This started with what the Police would term a “domestic”. A Protestant wife left her Catholic husband, following a disagreement. One of the issues between them, the one who featured in the Press, was the education of their children. The wife upped and headed to Belfast.

Few situations fail to be exacerbated by the soothing words of clergy.

Fortunately the fearsome and high-principled Dr Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway, was in Wexford, ready at hand:

There seems to be a concerted campaign to entice or kidnap Catholic children and deprive them of their faith.

The broad-minded citizens of Fethard instigated a boycott of Protestant businesses. This had Bishop Browne’s unqualified approval:

Non-Catholics do not protest against the crime of conspiring to steal the children of a Catholic father, but they try to make political capital when a Catholic people make a peaceful and moderate protest.

Taoiseach de Valera was more emollient:

I can only say, from what has appeared in public, that I regard this boycott as ill-conceived, ill-considered and futile for the achievement of the purpose for which it seems to have been intended; that I regard it as unjust and cruel to confound the innocent with the guilty; that I repudiate any suggestion that this boycott is typical of the attitude or conduct of our people; that I am convinced that ninety per cent of them look on this matter as I do …

I would like to appeal also to any who might have influence with the absent wife to urge her to respect her troth and her promise and to return with her children to her husband and her home.

Malcolm doesn’t see that working with the feminists of his acquaintance.

Sadly, Fethard was a symptom, not an anomaly.

The root of the problem was Pius X’s Ne Temere decree. It gave priests the power to deny marriage to mixed-faith couples, unless the obligation was accepted for the children to be baptised and brought up as Catholics. It might also be required for the non-Catholic partner to accept instruction with a view to conversion “from heresy“. Hence accounts like:

At that time the Catholic Church insisted on people in mixed religion marriages getting married not only in a Catholic church, but at a side altar therein, preferably early in the morning when no one was around to witness the ceremony. Prods, after all, could not get into heaven. I had to take the Ne Temere decree …

In 1952 the matter came to court in the case of Tilson v. Tilson, when Judge Gavan Duffy tried to reconcile Ne Temere and de Valera’s 1937 Constitution:

… an order of the court designed to secure the fulfilment of an agreement peremptorily required before a mixed marriage by the Church, whose special position in Ireland is officially recognised as the guardian of the faith of the Catholic spouse, cannot be withheld on any ground of public policy by the very State which pays homage to that Church.

The result was the flight of the Protestants.

By the end of the 1960s, they totalled just 130,000 out of nearly 3 million.

Malcolm now adds a contemporary footnote to the the sad story, courtesy of the Londonderry Sentinel:

‘Donegal Protestants abandoned’

A DONEGAL Protestant business owner forced to flee Letterkenny in the 1970’s has told the Sentinel he fears his Northern Ireland co-religionists are going to face the same fate as he did.

Joe Patterson who has resided in Canada since 1974, lost his thriving meat business after an industrial dispute with workers escalated into vicious sectarianism at the height of the troubles.

Mr Patterson claims that not a single law or justice agency came to his aid in the republic at the time, forcing him to relocate to Vancouver. He also alleges irregular practices by union officials, senior politicians, the police and law practitioners leading to the supposed ‘burying’ of his case

“Northern Ireland unionist politicians turned their backs on Protestants south of the border in 1922. From 1922-1974 the Protestant population dropped from 20 per cent in 1922 to 2 per cent in 1974. From 1960-1973 37 Church of Ireland churches were closed.
“The refusal of Northern Ireland unionist politicians to expose the fate of the Republic of Ireland Protestants only guarantees the same fate for their own supporters in Northern Ireland,” Joe Patterson said.

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Filed under civil rights, Ireland, Northern Ireland, prejudice, Trinity College Dublin

The belles of the Woodstock Road

Malcolm does worry about those young Tories.

Far too many of them obsess about Polly Toynbee. OK, she’s bright; she’s well-preserved; she’s presents herself very well. She’s got all her faculties, nurtured by Holland Park and St Anne’s, still intact. But, let’s admit it, — well, you know — she’s old enough to be their granny.

It’s almost as if they want to embrace and protect her, because the word “Guardian” always appears in the same sentence, and — worryingly, often in rather brutish tones.

It’s all a trifle creepy: they, well, almost cyber-stalk her.

Compare that with the view from the other end, the sane end of the political spectrum.

We certainly have no similar feelings about the likes of Melanie Phillips (even though the Mail’s mug-shot glams her up beyond any Muswell Hill reality).

Now there’s not too much wrong with Mel, on the whole: Putney High School and St Anne’s (snap!) did well enough by her. It’s just that she’s fallen in with some distasteful “journalistic” company (using the j-word loosely: it is the Daily Mail, after all).

So, on pain of bringing the purple ink, net-curtains-and-doilies brigade down upon your head, under no circumstances mention the Islamics.

So we’ll soldier on, in hopes that Mel slips no further into bad ways and dottiness. Eventually, alas, we may have to look out for her, like any other daft old bat, hoping she does herself no lasting injury before Care in the Community take charge.

Meanwhile, we do our best to ignore her.

In all truth, neither Mel nor Polly are any great menace to society. Their several contributions may even add to the general vigour and tone of the public agora (Malcolm apologises for that strangled and pretentious expression: he blames the pernicious influence of London’s new Mayor).  In any case, what they write today will be cat-litter by the weekend.

The real problem lies elsewhere.

It’s those braying young men, old before their time, with their loutish behaviour, limited intelligence, poor grammar, foul language, affected voices and City suits that clearly need sedation.

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Filed under Tories.