Monthly Archives: November 2008

Normal service will be resumed …

… sometime after a domestic crisis.

At around 11pm on Thursday, 27th November, three thugs forced entry into the Portadown, County Armagh, home of an elderly widow-lady, living alone, aged 87.

She was stiffled, and held, while the others ransacked the house. Quite what was taken (apart from the predictable banking information) is uncertain.

Since the lovely, harmless, elderly lady was Malcolm’s mother-in-law, he is otherwise engaged.

So much for “Peace and Justice”.

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Idle questions

Perhaps, on reflection, the attempt at a punch-line in the previous post was unfair; and therefore Iain Dale’s response (see comments thereon) has merit.

Malcolm’s only excuse is his contempt for the overwheening arrogance of Tory bloggers. For months we have been assured that the second coming is just around the corner, that a General Election could be foregone as a mere inconvenient formality, that the Bullingdon boys are reincarnations of Demosthenes and Cicero.

stripper-fronts

To be honest, Malcolm finds the weekly Wednesday tournament a bit of a bore. It somehow reminds Malcolm of that New Statesman competition, many years ago. The task was to invent desperate small-ads for The Stage. These used, in Malcolm’s recollection, to fill a complete page, as variety entertainers burnished limited, provincial talents with a name and a slogan. One of the Statesman‘s prize-winners was the imaginary performer whose vaunt was:

Sixty years a stripper.laurence8-7749

When Malcolm first took an interest in PMQs, the star-act was Harold Macmillan, who seemed, towards the end, a potential understudy for Laurence Olivier’s Archie Rice. Or, more properly, since The Entertainer was received as a satire on the state of Britain in 1960, a case of life imitating art imitating life.

Wilson chewed up Home twice a week. Wilson and Heath would have been declared a mismatch by the Boxing Board of Control; but it was obvious that both were merely working through, and often against their assumed personae. By then, the idea of “questions” had long been subsumed into sound-bites. Callaghan did his twice-weekly “Sunny Jim” show, with mixed success. Thatcher screeched, bludgeoned, and surfed on Whip-induced waves of Tory adulation. Major could occasionally be as endearing as he could generally be pathetic. Blair was, perhaps, the greatest ham-actor of them all.

No: PMQs rarely becomes a memorable parliamentary occasion. Even more rarely is any useful light shed.

Malcolm noticed that his own critique of today’s matinée was not dissimilar to that of Nick Assinder at politicshome. Assinder built a workmanlike literary conceit:

As bombshells go, that was a bit of a disappointment. Like the bonfire night “Vesuvius” that squirts with the power of a damp match rather than erupting with a force capable of destroying whole civilisations.

He concluded that the froth and frottage amounted to:

the now well rehearsed election campaign slogans – as this is surely what they will become – that Mr Brown is to pay for his borrowing binge with a tax bombshell, and that Mr Cameron is the do nothing leader of a do nothing party.

But it was all a bit like resorting to the sparklers when the bigger display had failed to set the world alight, as it were.

Bring down the curtain.

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True-love Tories’ tonsil hockey with forked tongue

How to recognise a truly bad PMQ performance by Diddy Dave Cameron?

“Solid”: umm. Why, subliminally, does that come across with the implication “thick as a brick”?

Meanwhile,

Notice the hesitant “rather” in there. Equally, Dale seems not to have caught the economic zeitgeist of Oxford Street: the URL for that post confuses “same” and “sale”. He rapidly follows with this:

  • I think both David Cameron and Nick Clegg make one fundamental mistake in their approach to PMQS. Their questions are more like statements and they take too long to ask. This means that Gordon Brown has plenty of time to think about an answer.

Gosh, two Party Leaders and only one “fundamental mistake”.

Of course, the fundament could be the organ emitting such stuff.

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Storm among the troopers

thor-paintingBlog-artists across the political spectrum will be mining the “leaked” list of BNP members. Malcolm was in there like a ferret faced with a trouser-leg.

Among the list’s headline stars was the reverent gentleman of curious plasticity, who has already moved on:

Activist. Ex-Conservative and then Lib-Dem councillor, ex-chairman of local Green Party and UKIP member
Minister of Religion. Cert. Ed. Hobbies: steam railways

This character is easily identified as John Stanton, thanks to the Southend Echo:

A FORMER council chairman and church leader who joined the British National Party as a local organiser has dramatically turned his back on the far-right party.

The Rev John Stanton, who was Lib Dem chairman of Rochford District Council in 1997, admitted he was “stupid” for not knowing what the BNP really stood for when he signed up to the party about a year ago.

In yesterday’s Echo, Mr Stanton, 75, who was the BNP organiser for Rochford District, said he joined the party because he agreed with their positions on Europe and immigration.

But he has now said: “I have ended my involvement with the BNP after finding out more about them at the weekend.

“It was very stupid of me, but I only read what they said about themselves, which I agreed with.

“Friends have contacted me to say: Those people are nasty.’ My daughter rang me sobbing and said: What have you done?'”

Both Mr Stanton’s political and religious affiliations seem somewhat indeterminate. Again, from the Echo newspaper group:

Mr Stanton spent four years as a Lib Dem councillor in Rochford in the Nineties, having been a Tory councillor five years in the Seventies.

He said he saw no conflict between his Christian beliefs and his politics.

He said: “The BNP is very Christian-based and it gets very frustrated at the way Christianity is side-lined…”

He seems to have some passing connection with the local Methodists, but apparently his main outlet is:

an obscure house church named Rock Dene Christian Fellowship, which does not appear to have a website.

All in all, Mr Stanton seems of that solid timber from which English novelists have chiselled a sequence of grotesques. Chaucer would have recognised him. Dickens would use him as a template for another Chadband. He is often harmless, but self-harming. Rowan Atkinson would play him in the film adaptation.

There may be a clue in that preening “Cert Ed”. Stanton’s age suggests he could be one of those emergency two-year trained teachers who made possible the Butler Act of 1944. We know nothing of Stanton’s other education, if indeed he has a theological college background. Even then, divinity schools are not known for academic rigour: one more cynical than Malcolm might wonder how they could be, when there is just the single course text.

Enough of such frivolity!

That list is reeks with far more offensive odours.

There is Mr James W****** of Harrogate, who has elected to have the email address totenkopf_88@hotmail.com. Ummm. Mr W****** may well share an interest in military history with

  • Mr Chris M**, whose email is panzerm**@yahoo.co.uk
  • Mark S****, whose hobbies embrace “WWII re-enactment, military buildings”
  • Mr M***** who is listed as “HM Forces (3 tours N.I). Rho[d]esian Security Forces. Freelance security: Africa/South America/Europe. Hobbies: military history.”
  • Mrs McC*****, the “retired hotel housekeeper” with her ” Certs in skin/nail care. Hobbies: sewing crafts, knitting, animal welfare, military history”
  • Mr M**** of Worcester, a plumber and paint-sprayer, and hobbies of “shooting, wargaming, military history”
  • the “Vera Lynn act” and her “military vehicles – owner of a WW2 jeep”
  • the very busy Suffolk “Accounts assistant” and “Public speaker”, whose hobbies are “military history, martial arts, philosophy & economics.”
  • the Mr Griffin (no relation) who is a “military/social historian”.

Another email address pregnant with meaning is that of Mr Karl Newman, an “activist” for the BNP, found at ukkubelwagen@aol.com. Of whom:

MIDLAND BNP candidate who likes to dress up as a German trooper to re-enact World War Two battles, has denied having any sympathy with Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.

Double glazing boss Karl Newman, aged 48, who is standing as a BNP candidate for Redditch in Thursday’s local elections, collects and sells Nazi memorabilia on his website.

“If I thought there was any link between the BNP and Nazis, I would resign tomorrow,” said Mr Newman.

That’s from the Birmingham Mail, who also have a very fetching photo.

Malcolm noted that, British and German military connotations apart, other forces were not popular — though the Northen Irish location for

chevalier_de_la_croix_rouge@yahoo.co.uk

is, at least, intriguing.

All 6131 email addresses listed are, in the short term, available on line (even though the main posting has been taken down). A number of other email addresses have militant tendencies:

  • boudicawarrior@yahoo.co.uk
  • pagan-warrior@hotmail.co.uk
  • odinswarrior@fsmail.net
  • odinswarrior@fsmail.net
  • gingernut@wheelchairwarrior.com
  • warriorgunner@yahoo.co.uk

Other Nordic types include:

  • odinthor@comcast.net (Mr David Watson is a member of the Manteca, California, cell of the BNP)
  • odin8@instantemail.t-mobile.co.uk
  • Mr Slack, who is an active Odinist/member of Pagan organisations.
  • paul.valhalla@hotmail.co.uk

Or what about Mr David T*******, down there in the West Country, who was not renewing membership for 2007 because he was “unhappy with an Excalibur order”? Now, there’s some scope for explanation.

Then there’s the downright sinister: Clive Jefferson, “previously known as Clive Aitken, a man infamous in the Workington area“, who stood for the BNP in St John’s Ward, Workington, earlier this month. He is in the list with the contact of

cumbriasecurity@bnp.org.uk

and with the additional comment:

Activist. Gold badge mislaid: replacement sent 14/11/07
Convictions – monitor

Lancaster Unity have more on this one: look for the posting date of January 28, 2008. There is also a “Clive Aitken”, posting on sites such as the Telegraph.

Malcolm’s attention then fell on one other deserving name

Mr Sean Pearson is another small-time public figure, who stood for the Tories in Glyndon Ward, Greenwich 2006 (polling eighth of the nine candidates). He was formerly a chairman of the Swinton Circle, until he resigned in January 2007, to be replaced by one Alan Harvey.  The heavy-lifting in this sub-topic has been done for us by Richard Bartholomew of barthsnotes, picking up from Hugh Muir in the Guardian diary:

Back with discomforting news about discord within the Swinton Circle, the group that inhabits the murky ground between the crazies on the far right and the outer reaches of David Cameron’s Conservative party. Many from the circle met recently in central London, the better to plot the demise of the EU and multiracial Britain. By all accounts, things didn’t go well. There was, it seems, a furore about the alleged infiltration of the meeting and of the group itself by NF/BNP types who only serve to lower the tone.

Bartholomew makes the link between the BNP infiltrators, the Swinton Circle and the Springbok Club, via that same Alan Harvey. Then comes this:

Harvey’s main antagonists are Gregory Lauder-Frost and Mike Keith-Smith of the Conservative Democratic Alliance; the current spat flared up when Harvey objected to Lauder-Frost’s presence at a Swinton Circle meeting.

A quick segue to the BNP membership list throws up:

Mr Gregory Lauder-Frost of 58 Coleshill Flats, Pimlico Road, London, SW1W 8LL

who was previously number 7821 (03).

Now, let’s be serious here: the Springbok Club objects to the BNP, while the BNP is in bed with the Conservative Democratic Alliance, the “authentic voice of conservatism”?

For sheer venom, this little nexus deserves rankings alongside any Trottery.This from a poster (“John Bolton”, no less) to the CDA chat-room:

Gregory Lauder-Frost was campaigning with the Monday Club to support European rule in South Africa for as long as I can remember. His credentials as a right-wing Tory have never been in doubt, have they?

What do we know about Harvey? Here are things that I have picked up from the various forums: he is badly dressed and smells; he was a former member of the National Front; he behaves badly in meetings; he refuses to have anything to do with those whodisagree with him; he picks fights with people; he is pompous and arrogant; he spins yarns; he has apparently recently been a ‘feeder’ for the Communist “Searchlight” anti-fascist group (who seem happy to overlook Harvey’s own fascist past) and so is a traitor to anyone remotely right-wing.

Oooh! Ethel! (that clipping appears under the heading Transvestite at Swinton Circle meeting! , a thread which has now attracted well over 400 contributions).

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Ipsos MORI @ 39-39-12?

imagesThe Ipsos MORI poll is quite staggering, showing a 6% swing to Labour, and the notional Tory lead cut to just 3%. Moreover, this is a poll of likely voters.

Even more bewildering is that MORI had a Tory lead of 28% as recently as September.

But the absolute blinder was Mike Smithson (of politicalbetting.com) digging further.

Smithson (who has a hot line to the panjandrums of polling) notes that MORI temporarily withdrew from publishing political polls after their perceived lack of accuracy at the time of the London mayoral election. Methodology was re-appraised, and one conclusion was the samples were biased by a preponderance of public-service workers, thus producing a Labour slant.

The punchline in Smithson’s follow-up piece is, with good reason, highlighted:

… if this poll had taken place before the Boris-Ken reforms then the top-line voting intention figures for those certain to vote would have been C39-L39-LD12.

Once again, Malcolm finds himself offering to rearrange into a well-known phrase or saying:

politics a long week is a in time

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Sock it to me, puppet

sockpuppet300x386The Tory Troll, Adam Bienkov, did a terrific job of work on Andrew Gilligan’s sockpuppetry. The story was quickly picked up by boriswatch (concluding in a devastating analysis of Gillgan’s style, content, manipulations and untruths by “Tom” last Thursday). The result was Gilligan and his clones disappearing from the Guardian‘s Comment is Free website.

Now, we know that Gilligan takes much of his “thought” directly and unattributed from Policy Exchange, who also have Boris Johnson on a leash.

Malcolm is wondering if this vast right-wing conspiracy (ahem: there may be a faint hint of irony in there) has woollen tendrils elsewhere.

Example:

This morning, Simon Carr put up his Parliamentary sketch for the Indy, under the come-on headline:

Mr Keynes’ funny farm… a bullock outfoxes the fox

Carr prides himself on being “the most vicious sketch writer working in Britain today” (cited to Tony Blair) and “poison” (cited to Charles Clarke). He is also one of the internet’s idlers: he has a blogsite, which was last updated in May (after what appears to be just eight posts). His whole piece today made no particular point about Gordon Brown’s mental state, except for this:

The intensity of his politicisation of the situation is, frankly, psychotic. He is creating his own reality. He’s on the way now – but it suits him.

That released the flood-gates:

  • Brown is gripped with a manic delusionional aggitation that unfortunately can make him, like many psychotics in the grip of mania, very persuasive. [sic] [sean malone @ 09:31 a.m.]
  • Brown is a sociopath. That’s why he’s able to brush off all criticism of him and his reckless policies. [alan @ 10:50 a.m.]
  • The vast majority of people who are mentally ill do not understand that they are mentally ill. It is everyone else, not them, damn it!  That’s Mr Brown’s position. [Martin @ 12:47 p.m.]
  • You are forgetting that a general definition of madness is that which is perceived to be abnormal, Browns stance is that we are all now living in abnormal times (and thanks to him its true), so if you don’t gibber and dance with the Boys of Bedlam, why there must be something strange about YOU. [Benjamin-the-Donkey @ 2.27 p.m.]

Notice a pattern developing?

A suspicious soul, not an benign innocent like Malcolm, might spot the curious regular fag-break intervals there, the use of forenames, a certain similarity of phrasing…].

The content’s the nonsense that Paul Staines (by name, by nature … see below) fosters among his “window-lickers” (again, see below). It should not be the done thing for a respectable, if seriously broke, publication like the Independent to acquire the meme from so shamelessly from Staines [© Sunny Hundal @ Liberal Conspiracy].

The other mystery is why Carr of the Indy (ABC circulation: 165,764 — of which just 94,141 are bought at cover-price) has such a following. Meanwhile, over at the Daily Mail (circulation 2,184,165 — of which 1,774,959 are full rate), Quentin Letts was just as colourful, but (as of the time of this posting):

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts?

There couldn’t be a simple explanation, could there?

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Lynch-mob politics

“Something must be done about it”guillotine

Fingers must be pointed. A culprit must be “exposed”, preferably a new and different one daily, until the cause célèbre fades from the 200-point headlines.

So, roll out the tumbrils, sharpen the blade, grease up the guillotine. The Fourth Estate’s self-appointed Committee of Public Safety, led by Citizen Dacre of the Daily Mail, has spoken.

Bloggerdom will follow the curve. And so we have those, usually quite sensible types, like Nich Starling (of Norfolk Blogger) waxing delirious:

David Cameron asked some serious and purposeful questions about the handling of the latest sorry case of child murder in Haringey (and am I the only one concerned that these child murderers seem to be able to remain anonymous ?).

Gordon Brown, could not answer a simple question on the subject and instead levelled accusations of making it a “party political issue” at Mr Cameron. Actually, I didn’t see it that way, and the only person who chose to make it a party political issue was Gordon Brown.

If politicians are not allowed to ask serious meaningful questions of the Prime Minister in PMQs, what is the point of PMQs at all, then again, we might ask what is the point of Gordon Brown.

Starling is no frothing Guido Fawkes, though often tending to the sensational and emotional, but here is a typical mouthpiece of the Appalled-of-Attleborough and Dismayed-of-Diss school of internet hyperbole. His ill-liberal offering appears under the hardly-impartial heading “Beneath contempt”.

And yet …

There are two not-wholly-related issues here:

  • the problem of what Haringey Social Services did or did not do;
  • the Parliamentary furore that ensued on Wednesday.

So Malcolm considered.

First, nothing like the whole nasty story (and, no, Malcolm does not know it either) is yet generally available. It appears that further legal actions are under way, and there will be even more salacious revelations. Since the dogs will have barked themselves to a croak, the caravan moved on to pastures new, these findings will be relegated to page 16, below the fold.

Second, given the alternative of a billet in a less-demanding and better-heeled locality, one would have to be truly dedicated or a charlatan to work in Haringey’s Social Services. The Wards in the east of the Borough are not just among the most-deprived in the country, they lead the pack. The Borough reviews a dozen section 47 child-protection cases each and every working week. None of that assures us that the system is working perfectly: it is, however, working.

Curious, isn’t it, that those who winge about the “nanny State” and government interference, are those demanding that the State take over the local Social Services Department, and that it be micro-managed from the Minister’s desk?

Now for the shot-and-shell of the Parliamentary front-line.

Unlike most other instant pundits, Malcolm listened carefully to what was being said at Wednesday’s PMQs. He then refreshed his hearing by referring to the Hansard transcript. The following is the full version of the moment-of-ignition between Cameron and Brown:

Mr. Cameron: I tell you what is shameful, and that is trying to shout down someone who is asking reasonable questions about something that has gone wrong. Let us be honest: this is a story about a 17-year-old girl who had no idea how to bring up a child. It is about a boyfriend who could not read but who could beat a child, and it is about a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children. That is what this is about.

In the case of failing schools, we take them over. In this department in Haringey, one in four positions for social workers is completely vacant. It does nothing to help struggling local schools that are failing, and another child has been beaten to death. I do not expect an answer now, because we never get one, but will the Prime Minister at least consider whether the time has come to take over this failing department and put someone in charge who can run it properly for our children?

The Prime Minister: I think that we are both agreed that this is a tragic and serious loss of life that has got to be investigated properly so that all the lessons can be learned. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that appointing Lord Laming to go around the country and look at what is happening in each area so that we are assured about what is happening is the right thing to do. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has to accept that the executive summary, which has already been published, from the inquiry done in Haringey shows that weaknesses exist. There is an admission of weaknesses that have to be addressed. We have received the full report this morning, and we will act on it quickly. We will do it in the right way so that we come to the judgments that are necessary to protect children in the future. I regret making a party political issue of this matter— [ Interruption. ] I do regret that, because I think— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister is in order.

The Prime Minister: I think that the whole country shares the outrage, wants to see action and will support the action that is taken both nationally and in relation to Haringey.

Mr. Cameron: I think that what the Prime Minister said just now was, frankly, cheap. I am not making— [Interruption.] I asked some perfectly reasonable questions about a process that is wrong, and I would ask the Prime Minister to withdraw the attack that that was about party politics.

One has to notice how cavalier Cameron is with the most basic facts (“a 17-year-old girl”). Then there is his low blow about “a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children”: the sum of money, surely, is a marker of assessed need, not of public extravagance.

More disgraceful is what the commentators did with Brown’s reply. Here, for example, in Thursday’s Guardian, is Simon Hoggart:

Mr Brown returned. He would do things “in the right way”. Meanwhile, he said, fatally, “I do regret [him] making a party political issue of it.”

At this, the Tories erupted themselves. “Cheap! Disgraceful! Withdraw!” they bellowed, baying and booming, a ferocious blend of genuine and mock outrage. Mr Cameron demanded that the prime minister withdraw.

Compare that with Hansard above, and notice the interpolated “[him]”. A casual reader might think this is Hoggard interpretion “you” or “the Rt Hon gentleman” for the sake of clarity or grammar. No: it is a clear interpolation. It changes the whole meaning. Brown made a general point: this is not a suitable matter for party politics. The Speaker heard just that: “The Prime Minister is in order.”

Cameron either misheard or chose to hear Brown making a personal attack.

Hoggard chose then, more sinister still, to tell us not what was said, but, as unvarnished truth, what Cameron wanted to hear.

Thank goodness, then, that the Guardian has a cooler, more honest, head in Michael White: his blog piece today, Where does the buck stop in Baby P case?, is excellent and balanced.

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