Monthly Archives: January 2009

Blitzed

Any one spared the front page of today’s Times escapes this image:

times1

Now, we all recognise that the Press has an agenda. It amounts to a demand for a constantly-changing cast of characters, like some continuing soap opera. Personalities are invented, built up, then slaughtered, that a new face might then be introduced to continue the drama.

Politics is treated like a Moebius strip. In Britain, though, the same side has been in focus for more than a decade. In David Cameron the Press have discovered one of their own, one with whom they can readily identify: the former PR smoothie of a failed television company. Here is a new leading light, a metropolitan face, to be enhanced, photoshopped and deified: only then can his feet of clay be chipped away.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Murdoch’s Morning Moan.

1946 and all that

The hyperbole of this image is breath-taking. There are no points of recognition between the Britain of 2009 and that of sixty-odd years previously.

To suggest a parallel is to belittle the intellect of a reader.

It simply overdoes the doom and gloom.

Now, let’s strike an equally relevant comparison. This is another image of London in 1946:

londonpride

Malcolm has commented, at length, on this one before. It is as propagandist as that picture used by the Times. It is as positive and upbeat as the other is negative and defeatist.

What further irritates is that the Times story is predicated to the IMF forecast, published on Wednesday (yesterday). Now, IMF forecasts tick along with metronomic regularity: how many of us check their subsequent accuracy?

For example, last November the outlook for the UK was growth for 2008 at 1% (down from its earlier shot of 1.8%) and -0.1% for 2009 (down from +1.8%). Around the same time, the IMF was predicting average oil-prices for this year at $68 (down from a previous guess of $100): yesterday, oil closed at $42 or so.

This is Mystic Meg stuff, with as much value as a fortune cookie. Just because it’s got a fancy label, doesn’t make it Château Lafite. Just because it has the IMF good-housekeeping seal of approval doesn’t make it come true.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Malcolm returned from the local supermarket. Within a hundred paces of his front gate are eight — no, count them again, nine — tradesman’s vans. Garden walls are being built. Kitchens replaced. Double-glazing installed. Blockwork is being ground for paths and driveways. Here is an electrician. There a plumber. Someone is upgrading their tv reception. It was on a Thursday morning that the gas-man came to call.

The immediate neighbourhood of Redfellow Hovel is a hive of activity, and paid and productive labour.

[A version of this post will also appear on Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service.]

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Unrepresentative government – encore! encore!

Now, Malcolm thinks he has this right, but is open to correction.

The SNP first bought the Tories’ 17 votes. It cost £60 million for city-centre regeneration. That’s a smidgeon over £3.5 million a vote. Annabel Goldie seems to have been easily satisfied.

At some stage, Margo Macdonald was brought on board the good ship Salmond. Her stated price was money for housing in Edinburgh, in effect the lion’s share of the £20 million to be divided between Edinburgh and Glasgow. During the budget debate, John Swinney said he had given her what she asked for — whatever that means. Either way, she didn’t sell her honour as cheaply as La Goldie‘s

Then the SNP had to buy the two Green votes of Harvie and Harper. The opening bid was £22 million for home insulation. Or £11 million a vote. Which suggests even more that Annabel Goldie had obliged the nice gent for a bargain price.

The SNP conceded that, only to find that the Greens had already upped the ante. Their going-rate was now £33 million. A vote was now worth £16½ million.

The SNP agreed that again — no humiliation too great — , only to find the Greens were also requiringthe Holyrood budget to underwrite any shortfall at local council level. By this stage the Greens were talking of £100 million a year: £50 million a vote.

Even the pliant SNP choked on that.

So, at least in the short-term, the two Green votes went walkabout.

All of this is full public view of television, reporters, the public gallery …

To think, too, that the two Greens are not directly elected: they’re only there as a consequence of the “top-up” lists.

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Filed under Green Party, Scotland, SNP, Tories.

Unrepresentative government (encore)

Labourlist is now getting into its stride.

Malcolm caught up with a passing reference to a couple of paragraphs in the Indy‘s profile:

But [Cameron] does pledge a better system so that inevitable problems stemming from the dangerous cocktail of politics and money are “found out and rooted out”. He adds: “We have to be realistic. Money and politics is like water running down a street. It always funds a crack in the pavement. We have to be perennially vigilant.” The Lords, he argues, is the weak leak in the chain. MPs have put a lot of effort into cleaning up the Commons, but not the second chamber, despite its extensive work on revising legislation and influence, because Labour does not enjoy an overall majority in the Upper House.

[Cameron] said tougher rules would in future cover promises by those awarded peerages, such as to live in Britain and pay taxes here. This is potentially tricky territory. Lord Laidlaw, a Tory donor, had the party whip withdrawn after failing to honour his commitment to bring his tax affairs back to Britain. Lord Ashcroft, who remains a donor and a Tory deputy chairman, made a similar promise. What about his tax status? “You ca ask him. I’m sure he will tell you,” says Mr Cameron. (In fact, he won’t, since his spokesman always argues that it is a private matter.)

Meanwhile, that gives LabourList the chance to nominate its:

ZERO of the day: Lord Ashcroft, for refusing to obey David Cameron and reveal his tax status. We’ll be following that up shortly.

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Unrepresentative government

Since the start of the year, Jonathan Isaby has been running a distasteful little campaign at conservativehome:

peers_graphic_2

The apparent argument is that Cameron, as hypothetical Prime Minister (be still, my beating heart!) would need to beef up the Lords with a stack of nominated peers:

we hope this exercise will demonstrate the considerable pool of talent from which David Cameron will be able to choose when he gets the opportunity to swell the Tory ranks in the Upper House.

Malcolm invites all to note:

  • the hubris of that “will” (rather than the logical and grammatical “would”);

and

from-clipboardHealth warning!

Public safety requires a preface to this farrago.

Isaby was the loon who thought it would be a “neat” idea to wander Islington with a home made tee-shirt. It was predicated to the weirdness of “Sarah Palin for VP”. It pictured herself looking down the sights of her rifle, over the slogan “God Guns Guts”. As can be seen [right], Isaby bodes to XXL in one of these characteristics.

Why, for heaven’s sake? Well, apart from being a Telegraph piss- blog-artist, Isaby reckoned that:

The Che Guevara T-shirt remains an essential accessory for Left-wing students …

Yeah, right-on with the fashion-awareness, too.

So far, Isaby and his talent scouts have proposed two dozen worthies for ennoblement.

The list so far:

  1. Howard Flight, defenestrated by Michael Howard for admitting that the secret agenda of the Tory Party included vast public expenditure cuts.
  2. Richard Balfe, Labour MEP defector, thereby Cameron’s emissary to the Trade Union movement, and general nonentity.
  3. Charles Moore, moved on from the Telegraph (nothing to do with falling sales, of course) to write Thatcher’s hagiography. So Isaby has no personal interest there.
  4. Richard Evans: no, not the distinguished historian (who was an expert witness against David Irving, and would ornament the Lords), but deputy head of a Brent secondary school, and another Thatcher acolyte.
  5. Mimi Harker, a local councillor on Chiltern District Council, whose blog strongly tends to excess of !!!! Her citation notes she saved the 8.12 Marylebone train “so parents had time to drop off their children to childminders and still be able to get to work on time”. Now, she is campaigning for M&S knickers in Amersham-on-the-Hill. So she’s not just arm-candy!!!!!!!
  6. Rod Bluh: another shining light of Tory local government (in this case, Swindon: main achievement, banning speed cameras).
  7. Ruth Lea, now the voice of the Institute of Directors, a persistent critic of exam “grade-inflation” (she may be correct, but shows she has little clue about criteria-referencing). She seems way out-of-step with Cameron on the Government’s banking bail-out.
  8. Algy Cluff: former owner of the Spectator, serial millionaire from oil, rubber, gold …
  9. Frederick Forsyth: originally a foreign reporter for the Beeb (sacked for falsifying stories to suit his ideology), exploited this talent in escapist fantasies, venturing further and further into the undergrowth of rightist neuroses.
  10. Robert Edmiston: rich West Midlands car man, whose previous nomination to a Tory peerage (after a “loan” of £2M) attracted the notice of PC Plod.
  11. Andy Street: Head bod of John Lewis who is “never knowingly underpaid“.
  12. Sir Tim Rice: writes ditties.
  13. Simon Wolfson, chief bod of Next. He believes “Gordon Brown’s bank rescue package has proved effective thus far“, but that the recession must take its course.
  14. Andrew Roberts: High — nay, stratospheric — Tory, Churchillian historian, but didn’t guess the white supremacist Springbok Club was racist.
  15. Sir Simon Milton: rose phoenix-like from the Porter scandal at Westminster to become Blasted Boris’s batman.
  16. Matthew Parris: smoothie columnist for the Murdoch press.
  17. Tony Caplin, telco millionaire
  18. Sir Desmond de Silva, QC: international lawyer of considerable merit, married into Yugoslav royalty.
  19. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield: Northern Ireland civil servant, IRA target, and campaigner for grammar schools.
  20. Professor Karol Sikora: cancer specialist and NHS reformer. One of the few misplaced among such dross.
  21. Brian Walden: another Labour defector. A crusty tv-performer and fox-hunter.
  22. Don Porter, CBE: salesman for BA, and wunderkind for Lloyds. ‘Nuff said, then.
  23. Sir Graham Bright: not really so — Essex man who rose to be John Major’s bag-carrier.
  24. Stuart Wheeler: casino-operator (well, spread-betting); Tory bank-roller (but only when his say-so goes); vexatious Eurosceptic litigent.

Such a glittering array of talent!

or as Disraeli had it:

You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest.

______________________________________________________

Postscript:

At least six hours later, the considered view comes down from Iain Dale’s Diary:

The ConHome list of 100 Tory Peers gets more bizarre by the day. Today’s offering? Stuart Wheeler. Jeez.

Succinct, but spot on.

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Route canal work

Nice to see that the rear-end of today’s Times (though, worryingly, sandwiched between finance and obituaries) managed to find two whole pages to devote to Britain’s canals, and their success. [As far as Malcolm can see, the piece by Simon Midgley is behind the subscription wall.]

Simon Midgley produces a panegyric of the achievements of British Waterways (under the constant pressure of amenity and environmental groups, of course) in restoring our canals. Not only are 2,200 of the original 5,000 miles now operating, 200 miles have been added in the last decade. There are a further 600 miles still in need of restoration.

The article makes it clear that the canals are not simply a leisure provider: they still carry freight, and a growing amount of it. Canal beds are channels for fibre-optic cables, and tow-paths (now mainly used by cyclists and joggers elbowing aside the casual walker) are often conduits for electric cables. They are important simply as water-courses, for providing tap-water and for flood relief. They are highly desired as locations for residential development: where development does not happen, they are havens for wild-life.

It is difficult to find any real way of not enjoying and applauding canals:

The narrow boat, that familiar denizen of Britain’s canal network, was recently voted the third most iconic image of England in a Campaign to Protect Rural England poll. Pub signs and post boxes took first and second place.

Presumably, that makes sitting at a canalside pub, writing a postcard, the ultimate enjoyment of the British countryside. Malcolm hopes so: he has happy memories of the likes of several such hostelries, and unpleasant recollections of none. He cannot recall finding time there to waste on postcards, when he was busily occupied watching boats travelling at two miles-an-hour, sweating bodies toiling at lock-gates, and the froth-level sliding down the pint glass.

Only one passing notion dimmed his uninterrupted delight in this article. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the rumoured privatisation of British Waterways, could it?

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Dialogue with the death

At the weekend, Malcolm expended some idle moments reflecting on a passing comment by Nich Starling, the admirable Norfolk Blogger.

Starling had been intrigued, and rightly repulsed by the story of the teeny matador and his six butchered calves. He chose to introduce the story by animadverting to an equally nauseating one from his home turf. Here is the original of that, as retailed by the BBC:

Five youths arrested over the death of a heavily pregnant ewe who was kicked and stabbed with a pitchfork in Norfolk have been released on police bail.

The sheep was taken from Polka Road, Wells-next-the-Sea, and dragged through the town before its body was dumped in a wheelie bin.

Police arrested the five teenage boys in the early hours of Sunday after following a trail of blood.

The boys have been released on bail pending further inquiries.

Malcolm in no way sought to exculpate. He did want to explain, and understand. In part, this was provoked by memories of having run across just that field, on the daily way to catch the train to school.

So, for the record, here’s the edited and improved reprise.

Once upon a time, the youth of Wells faced real challenges.

They could go out onto the marshes, with a sharp eye on the tide, squelching their wellies through the sea-lavender and samphire. And knowing that they were doing something dangerous.

In those days (early 1950s), the local constabulary would bicycle up from Church Plain to the old Primary School. The address would go something on these lines:

“I know your Mawtha tells yew not a gow on the marshes. And I know yew do. What I wanna tell yew is, if yew see any wires or stuff sticking out, don’t chew pull at ’em. Roight?”

This, of course, was before the days of dodgy gents in Rovers and Wolseleys, offering lollipops and rides home.

The constable’s point was a real one. Those marshes had been under the flight-path out of several USAAF war-time bases. If the aircraft wasn’t going to make the round-trip, the bomb-load was jettisoned — and, as far as Malcolm ventures a guess, still there. Later, as a hole in a field south of Wells once evidenced, Sculthorpe RB-47s allegedly took to doing the same trick with nukes.

As for blood sports, the youth of Wells then had a choice.

In late July and early August, they could each cut a stick and stand around the cornfield. As the reaper-binder reached the centre of the field, the rabbits made a run for it. The young ‘uns stood round the perimeter, coursed and hoped to kill the fleeing rabbits: woe betide any youth not fast and effective enough — it was bunny or severe mockery. A successful hunter-gatherer then slit one leporine rear leg, passed the other through it, attached the corpse to the end of his stick, and carried the trophy home.

Rabbiting added to the protein intake for a fair number of that post-war generation: the sport ended when the farmers imported myxomotosis. the rabbits no longer had a sporting or Darwinian chance.

Then there was Malcolm’s neighbour and mate Barry, a.k.a. “Salts”. He invariably wore a long overcoat, with his hands deep in the pockets. Malcolm recalls watching “Salts” take a partridge on the wing, a single balletic movement involving catapult and a ball-bearing. Silent. Deadly. The game was in the poacher’s pocket within seconds. No-one else the wiser.

Or the young could hunt down grey squirrels. Take the tail to the police station and receive a bounty of half-a-crown. A good return on that eighteen-penny catapult bought at Thurgar’s.

Sheep rustling (or the odd deer from the Holkham estate), was not unknown either.

Oh, and when the abattoir on Ramm’s Marsh was slaughtering, Wells harbour was red with the blood.

That was then. Malcolm, sitting now in his centrally-heated, well-fed bourgeois repletion, invites all and sundry to review the modern demographics and statistics for Wells. It might explain a bit of creative poaching (though not, let Malcolm repeat) gratuitous alcohol-fuelled cruelty.

Wells is the nearest thing Norfolk currently has to a gulag.

There are three roads out, plus the B1105 “Dry Road” — the quickest route, but least convenient: it is dry because, for ten miles to Fakenham, there are no pubs.

Mrs Self’s top-class at Wells County Primary, which included the young Malcolm, were a highly-talented cohort. Half of them “passed” the 11+, and went on to Fakenham Grammar. From there to higher education and professions. Few returned. They had taken those roads out.

For much of the rest, the bulldozer and “slum-clearance” came. At the time this was a welcome re-development. Many of those long, narrow Yards and Lanes, which had been there since Danish times, were excised surgically. In retrospect, if “they” had left them, the two-ups, two-downs of the Yards would be as desirable as (and a lot more affordable than) Mermaid Street in Rye . But “they” knew better.

“They” then pulled away the ladder, pulled the plug on that grammar-school escape route. “They” mechanised farming, killed off whelking, and so deprived Wells of its natural employments: consider the town badge (which quarters sheaves of corn and cockle shells) for that. Beeching saw to transport: today, over a quarter of Wells-folk still have no private transport. Yes, one can catch the occasional bus out of town; but the last return is about six in the evening.

In return, “they” gave second-homes and yotties. That did for affordable housing, and provided plenty of room for envious comparisons.

When did hope, too, take the Dry Road?

Recently OCSI did a survey on Wells, as an exemplar of rural deprivation, using 2006 statistics.

Wells today is smaller than at any previous historical moment. This is especially so for the young: barely 12½% of the population of Wells is up to age 16, when the national percentage is around 20%. The over-65s are twice the national average. Take out the professional commuters, and “elementary occupations” (nice one, OCSI!) are pretty well all that is left.

One of the most telling of those cold statistics is the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI): in Wells it was 21½% — over a third above the national figure.

As for employment, well — that’s a good one. What’s the biggest single employment in Wells? Yes! Shops! And after that? Hotels and catering! nearly 15%. That’s a good, all-year-round occupation on the North Norfolk coast, right? Especially in February. And the fifth main employment is … wait for it! … estate agencies. Hmm, well, let’s not mention that in the present climate.

Now, Nich Starling is (as Malcolm was) a teacher. Both must be taken aback that over 40+% of the population of Wells lacks any educational qualifications at all. Nobody should rush to look it up: that’s a full third above national averages.

Nich and Malcolm are both political. Malcolm remembers the great President Bartlet’s magnificent ex-tempore speech on the virtue of education. It’s relevant to a dead sheep. It’s there on YouTube:

For those who haven’t passed this way before, the context is the aftermath of a Columbine-style atrocity. Bartlet preaches, even using a text from Psalm 30:5: “Joy cometh in the morning”:

Thank you. “Joy cometh in the morning,” scripture tells us. I hope so. I don’t know if life would be worth living if it didn’t. And I don’t yet know who set off the bomb at Kennison State. I don’t know if it’s one person or ten, and I don’t know what they want. All I know for sure, all I know for certain, is that they weren’t born wanting to do this. There’s evil in the world. There’ll always be, and we can’t do anything about that. But there’s violence in our schools, too much mayhem in our culture and we can do something about that. There’s not enough character, discipline, and depth in our classrooms. There aren’t enough teachers in our classrooms. [applause] There isn’t nearly enough, not nearly enough, not nearly enough money in our classrooms, and we can do something about that. We’re not doing nearly enough, not nearly enough to teach our children well. And we can do better, and we must do better, and we will do better. And we will start this moment today! They weren’t born wanting to do this.

To which Malcolm, and all good liberals, would surely intone: “Amen!”

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Filed under education, equality, leftist politics., Uncategorized, Wells-next-the-Sea

What ish my nation?

What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?

That’s Captain Macmorris in Henry V, Act III, scene ii.

Malcolm has repeatedly referred to this.

So, two exemplars.

First, a long time ago, in short order Malcolm was dumped by two young desmoiselles (who, doubtless, went on to better things). One, who was from South Dublin, took time to to take umbrage that he was English. The other,  based in the County Durham, with less consideration, discarded him because he was Irish. Neither seemed motivated by choice of aftershave or predilections for Hunnish practices.

Second, there is a curious sequence of references, what a lawyer might feel is that crucial “chain of evidence”:

  • Norfolk Blogger, Nich Starling, made moan about the Aviva advertising, which decried the original link to Norwich Union. As a comment thereon, Malcolm attempted a preliminary draft of his own complaint.
  • Malcolm (born and raised in North Norfolk) was presented, in The Economist, with a peculiarly repulsive variation on the Aviva theme. He waxed lyrical, though acknowledging Starling had initiated the matter.
  • Nich Starling graciously picked up Malcolm’s reference again.
  • Iain Dale, last Sunday, being of the same incestuous advertising circle as Starling, mentioned Malcolm’s pain as one of his “Daley Dozen”.
  • On Tuesday Malcolm’s attention was otherwise occupied by a certain Inauguration and a daughter’s birthday. He therefore failed to spot, until now, that the reference had reached Martin Waller’s City Diary, in the Times.

Waller says, quite reasonably:

The [Aviva] ads are a little undiplomatic, it must be said, describing it unkindly as “a small corner of England”. One local blogger has rushed to the city’s defence.

Malcolm Redfellow says that Norwich Union even used the famous spire of its cathedral in its logo. He points out that in 1549, in the so-called Kett’s Rebellion, dissidents occupied the city. It took an army of 14,000 to suppress them.

Which raises Malcolm’s headline problems:

Malcolm, over many hundred posts, has been explicit.

He is Norfolk born (with parents from Yorkshire and East Anglia), Dublin educated, London resident. He feels largely deracinated, and has interests across two continents, a range of academic disciplines, and several languages. He has republican, egalitarian and socialist instincts. He has tried to derail those “ethnic origin” questionnaires by permutations on “Anglo-Irish” and the like.

  • So, what is his “nation”?

and, in view of the “chain of evidence” listed above,

  • Whose pint does he pay for?

____________________________________________________

A meditation on Captain Macmorris

This is, to Malcolm’s instant recollection, Shakespeare’s only explicitly-“Irish” character. He appears in just one scene of Henry V. In that, Shakespeare may merely be being “newsworthy”: the Prologue to Act V makes a connection to Essex’s futile excursion to Ireland in 1599:

… by a lower but loving likelihood,
Were now the General of our gracious Empress —
As in good time he may — from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit
To welcome him!

That’s useful to literary historians

Essex left London on 27th March 1599. He arrived on 15th April (modern travellers on the old LMS line might envy that speed, especially if it avoids any involvement with Virgin Trains). His mission, of 16,000 troops, and 1,300 horse, with a small flotilla of five ships, had a budget of £290,000: so he most definitely was not reliant on Virgin fares.

Despite the Queen’s explicit order, Essex bunked from Dublin on 24th September, and was back in London four days later. He kept his head for another eighteen months or so.

Which Bardologists feel amounts a precise timescale for Henry V.

On the fateful afternoon of 24th February 2007, Malcolm sat in a pub in Dundrum, County Down, to watch rugby. The lounge was packed: the audience were several genders, and a range of social classes. A late-comer, a tweedy lady of certain years, announced herself with a English girls’ school refined accent. She needed to know the answer to the Great National Question: “Did they play the national anthems?”

Duly satisfied, she, then, like everybody else, settled to watch the Conquest at Croke Park — and cheer for the men in green. After eighty minutes of play it was Ireland 43, England 13. In that most West British part of Northern Ireland it was regarded as a national triumph: and why not?

What ish my nation?

The question persists, since Shakespeare posed it in 1599. In purely military matters, some went one way:

  • Wellington,
  • Montgomery,
  • Alanbrooke and Alexander were almosts, as well,
  • and thousands more, in both World Wars and since.

Meanwhile, some went the other route:

  • James Connolly,
  • Con Markiewicz,
  • Maud Gonne.

Cathal Brugha and Pádraig Pearse were products of mixed marriages (English/Irish; Protestant/Catholic). Let’s not speculate too much about the origins of Éamon de Valera.

All these are confused loyalties. Were they merely “mercenaries”? If so, was Jackie Charlton one as well?

Conclusion:

We are what we feel. That feeling can change over quite a short time. An Englishman can become Mayor of a French commune, and be respected for it. German princelings can aspire to be British royalty. Malcolm can equally be Norfolk-born, Anglo-Irish, a true son of Ulster (by marriage), a worthy Yorkshireman by descent, a good Brooklyn Democrat (absorbed from his son-in-law), and a veritable Londoner.

It depends on the context.

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Filed under Ireland, nationalism, Norfolk, Quotations, Shakespeare, Uncategorized