Monthly Archives: April 2009

Cheers!

Willing to help out!

In a parliamentary answer, Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said [the Government] holds 39,500 bottles of wine, spirits and liqueurs valued at around £792,000.

Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said ministers should not spend any money on restocking the cellar in 2009…

“Given the tough economic conditions, they should commit to spend nothing on it this year and start using up some of the stock instead.

Malcolm will drink to that!

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Thanks, Nich: come back soon

new-blog-heading

The Norfolk Blogger, Nich Starling’s apparent, if temporary, resignation from the Blogosphere is another good man lost and gone.

Nich has a regional eye for things Norwichian and Norfolkian, which was and is why Malcolm excused his lamentable addiction to LibDimmery.

On matters political Nich has rarely stayed far from his chosen partisan line; but he has been fair in doing so. LibDims, apart from their two-faced double-dealing war-to-the-knife in elections, tend to be recognisably human. Of late, a certain strain has crept into Nich’s postings: they have become somewhat tired and predictable compared to his past best.

On matters to do with schooling (like all good teachers Nich tends to leave grand strategic presumptions about “education” to our political masters) he is sound, sensible and thoroughly reliable. If indeed he is an ex-blogger, Malcolm will miss that element above all.

Malcolm hopes that Nich’s present mood is simply the result of surviving the Spring Term, the ennui and knackerment of the long winter of pedagogy. The period between the clocks going back in October and the arrival of warm sun on a secondary teacher’s back, as the public exam season finally starts, can be grinding and growing misery. It is a period of increasing tension. The committed classroom teacher expends all reserves of energy in trying to generate enthusiasm. Just when the sponge is wrung thoroughly dry, Ofsted come calling.

It is a mood that passes with the imminence of the summer break, and the evolving cricket season.

Malcolm’s driving licence can testify to that. Along Ferry Lane, Walthamstow, astride a nice German bike, he felt the onset of that sunny moment. He opened the throttle. He swung elegantly and masterfully past the artic. Straight into the waiting clutches of a police radar check-point. They said 47 mph: Malcolm reckoned he’d got off very lightly.

So, Malcolm looks back on Nich Starling’s quite creditable performance over some long time. The word which Malcolm has been seeking to avoid, but which sums up the man and his work is “decent”.

So Malcolm hopes for and looks forward to a rejuvenated Norfolk Blogger in the future.

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It droppeth …

nemo_seagulls1

as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath
.

The BBC News website streams headlines in a banner across the top of the page. Writing those summaries must need snap judgement and a cute editorial sense. So, although it’s a constant source of innocent amusement, perhaps one should feel sorry for that poor soul.

Like this afternoon:

An MP calls for crackdown on the number of seagulls in urban areas

Now, Malcolm was warned about the dangers implicit in a stale metaphor back in Mr O’Gorman’s English classes at the High School. Here is a fair example. How does one “crackdown” on a seagull? Usually the “cack-down” or “crap-down”, by seagull or pigeon, is done the other way round.

First, let’s be clear. It’s not a government responsibility. It is a matter for the local authority.

When we reach the full story, that is exactly what we find:

An MP is calling for action to control the number of seagulls in urban areas saying they pose a “serious problem” for residents, tourists and businesses.
Don Foster, Lib Dem MP for Bath, will use an adjournment debate in Parliament to call on ministers to take the threat of growing gull numbers seriously.
He said they were anti-social, noisy and in some cases, aggressive.
The Department for the Environment said councils had powers to deal with gulls and urged people not to feed them.

Now consider the further context. Don Foster is not in the running to be the daftest MP, nor even the battiest LibDem (in Malcolm’s book, that’s a two-horse race between Featherstone and Öpik, with Baker capable of coming up on the rails). He is, however, the MP for Bath.

The local authority there is Bath and North East Somerset (hence the usual local chat about the BANES of our lives). Until recently, when the Tories edged them out, the biggest faction on the Council was … the LibDems. So, presumably the birds flew in only when the Tories became cocks of the dung-hill in 2007.

That doesn’t answer the obvious question:

Why isn’t Foster using the strong LibDem presence (26 Councillors) to make the point in the Council Chamber?

Now to Malcolm’s other, more personal, grief

It’s that “crackdown” cliché.

It’s a clone of those tabloid headline words: “slam” (which may have gained its commonest currency from John Irving’s The World of Garp) and “blast” (a respectable provenance here, all the way back to Michael Drayton in the early Seventeenth Century). These two seem to have acquired loaded weighting in partisan reporting of political debate. Similarly. “crackdown” is a favoured term for those adherents of Laura Norder, such as shelter behind the Daily Mail.

Whence came this excrescence? It is, perhaps inevitably, an import from the United States; but it has subtly changed meaning in the transAtlantic crossing. It first showed up in the Washington Post in 1935, mentioning:

A threat of a ‘crack-down’ by the middle class group against those who put forward the legislation for abolishing public utility holding companies.

That suggests something like a “back-lash”, which, curiously and refreshingly, is a metaphor from mechanical engineering: and there was Malcolm expecting something on the lines of the Rhodesian Ian Smith‘s “I think the black man should get a fair crack of the whip”.

Notice, too, the WaPo‘s embarrassed inverted commas around the term. So, similarly, Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, in their attempt at a social history of the inter-War years, The Long Week-End [1940, and, amazingly, still in print], describe the repressive use of DORA to maintain social control after 1918:

The police had ‘cracked down hard’ on the London night-clubs.

All in all, though, Malcolm concludes that Don Foster and the good folk of Bath should be grateful that pigs can’t fly.

And the BBC headline writer should sharpen both wits and pencil.

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Mouths of babes and sucklings

Note: some of the following may seem repetitive if the reader has already seen the posting, The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 14 , on Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service.

________________________________________________

It’s not a comic to which Malcolm would regularly turn. He would admit that Brian Feeney’s Wednesday column is worth a scan, if only for gems like:

What we need here, and soon, is a rallying statement describing the financial circumstances of the north and explaining in terms what’s going to be done. Unfortunately it’s likely to come from Depooty Dawds, a man as dour as Alistair Darling and with as much charisma as a potato.

In other words, any analysis of the present state of affairs will be as uninspiring as a session with the speaking clock.

Those outside the eclectic circle of Northern Irish “politics” (Malcolm realises he is using the word very loosely) might not instantly recognise the peculiar Derry drawl of Nigel Alexander Dodds, OBE, MP, MLA, BL, the double-jobber who is the twelfth highest taker on the Westminster gravy-train, and (perhaps no coincidence since he knows the system so well) recently on the Members’ Allowance Committee.

Avanti, Malcolm!

Indeed. The Feeney delights were not Malcolm’s topic of choice today. It was this gloriously-ironic headline:

Adams warns dissidents ‘not to hijack IRA name’

Well, neither a borrower or a lender be. Yet, how many IRAs have there been? How many splits have provided more and still more claimants to the name?

Let’s recapitulate the origin of the name.

As Malcolm has discussed elsewhere, it was essentially a product of the realignment in Irish nationalism, picking up the pieces after the executions and internments of 1916.

By 1918 the Volunteers had been also re-formed; and were now directed by IRB men, Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy in particular. The IRB tradition went back to St Patrick’s Day, 1858, when it was originated by James Stephens and Thomas Clarke Luby. It had representation in cells in every parish of Ireland (and many in the Irish diaspora). The IRB constitution (to which the IRB adherents swore their oath) maintained that:

  • The Supreme Council of the IRB is declared the sole Government of the Irish Republic.
  • The President of the IRB shall be in law and in fact the President of the Irish Republic.

The Sinn Féin Féis of October 1917 asserted its aim of achieving international recognition of an independent Irish republic. One of the limitations on phrasing that aim was to bring on board the IRB hardliners who saw James Stephen’s provisional government of February 1867, rather than Pearse’s executive of Easter 1916, as the moment of incitement for the independent republic. Another concern was to close down the “dual monarchy” notion stemming from Arthur Griffith’s The Resurrection of Hungary [1904].

A potential impasse

Was the open republican democratic Sinn Féin dog going to wag, or be wagged by the clandestine IRB and its Volunteers? Again, this is something Malcolm has reflected on elsewhere.

In fact it was the IRB who blinked, twice, and de Valera and Cathal Brugha who prevailed:

  • In the August 1918 issue of the IRB’s periodical, An tOglach, it was laid down that The Irish Volunteers are the Army of the Irish Republic. This, in effect, establishes the use of the term “IRA”; and with it … advantage Sinn Féin.
  • In March 1921 the First Dáil, under de Valera’s direction, formally accepted responsibility for the actions of the Volunteers. De Valera then stated that the Volunteers were “under the Civil Control of elected representatives, and that their officers held their commissions from these representatives. The Government therefore is responsible for the actions of this army.” Thenceforth, the term used by the Dáil, by ministers, and by Sinn Féin at large is “IRA”, so conveniently adjacent to “IRB”.
  • Then, again in the playing-footsie period, leading to the start of Treaty negotiations in 1921, it was again vital for the IRB/Volunteers to be kept on a leash. There was now a Dáil and a ministry: the IRB had no alternative but to recognise what was, in large part, its own creation. So the IRB discarded its claim that the President of the IRB was also president of the Republic, and went on to accept that Dáil Éireann was the “duly elected public authority competent to declare the will of the Irish people. Almost game, set and match.

Now comes a remarkable inversion

With the Treaty, the “republic” is subsumed into a “Free State” which, in law at least, recognises a King. Only one member of the IRB Supreme Council votes against the Treaty — Liam Lynch. The anti-Treatites, at a Convention held at Dublin’s Mansion House on 26 March 1922, claimed the right to the name of the IRA, and established a sixteen-man executive. The Free State censored any use of the term “IRA”, preferring pejoratives such as “irregulars” and “rebels”.

The bottom line

… is most effectively summed by Tim Pat Coogan (and originally from 1971):

From the end of the Civil War until the present day a debate on the use of force has continued within the IRA and the Republican movement generally. At some stages in the IRA’s development the debate takes the form of Force v. Six Cos., or Force v. Free State; at other times it is Force v. England or Force v. Six Cos.; and sometimes it is Force v. a concentration on economic and social issues.

The use of force is a dilemma which the movement can never solve. The guns, the excitement and the secrecy attract new members thirsting for adventure. The guns go off and the authorities act. Take away the guns and the excitement and how do you offer a credible possibility of achieving the IRA’s objectives and so attract new members?

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Filed under democracy, DUP, Gerry Adams, Ireland, Irish politics, nationalism, Republicanism

The law of the wolf-cub pack

plabour2One of the more-entrenched bits of modern mythology, one even peddled by the man himself, has the late George Best at the Savoy, in bed, slurping champagne with at least one beauty-queen.

Room service delivers yet more supplies of fizz, addresses himself to Il Maestro and says, “Ah, George! George! Where did it all go wrong?”

Ditto the Labour Government

If we are to believe the opinion polls, the Great British Public has fallen out of love with Labour. The doom-sayers (and they are everywhere) take the next general Election as a foregone conclusion. Why bother with the democratic niceties, they imply?

Yet, when the sands of time run out, and the temple is laid low, what will be the historical retrospect on these dozen years? Will it be the memory of those first two years, when conservative inertia was the order of the day? Or the scars of George Bush’s ignorant war? Or the current obsession with trivia, the “sleaze” factor of MPs, of all parties, at the trough?

Or will it be the decencies that have been achieved? The rise in living standards across the whole community? The constitutional changes that devolved power to the other nations of the UK? The Northern Ireland settlement? The (yes, still incomplete) reform of the House of Lords? Minority rights? The restoration of some pride, purpose, local politics and progress in our metropolises? The minimum wage, the investment in the basic public services of health and education? The quantifiable facts that more people are living longer and healthier, and being better educated? The partial rescue of public transport from the hands of private exploiters?

What it won’t be is the obituary that was the mantra back in 1964, when Malcolm was first involved in electioneering for Labour: thirteen wasted years of Tory rule.

Aw! yawn! Why bother?

As Joni said:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you dont know what you’ve got
Till its gone ..

And, on past performance, Tories will soon have:

… took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A leg and a half just to see ’em.

It’ll be dressed up as an “economy measure”, with arguments that “there’s no reason why the public purse should subsidize tourists and rubber-neckers”. But it will, once again, be discriminatory and part of their class war.

Malcolm hears it already, breathed through the G’n’T fumes at the suburban golf club:

Dammit, why should the standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons have access to our culture?”

How long did it take the “liberal” Ted Heath of the mid-’60s to regress to being Selsdon Man? And the Selsdon Group is still out there, true blue in tooth and claw, presided over by John “Vulcan” Redwood.

It took Thatcher some time, for all of the later rewriting of history, to achieve full spittle-frothing neo-connery, and not without considerable opposition from within her own Party. It is worth recalling that she was talking to the 1980 Conference, eighteen months after first occupying the pottie of state, when she resorted to Ronald Miller’s script:

“You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!”

The John Major government was just five months old when “Black Wednesday” brought down the economic shutters. When, with the Budget later today, Tories scream for blood over the Keynesian policies of recent months, let it be remembered that in August and September 1992, the Tories spent £27 billion of foreign reserves in trying to save Major’s arse.

Perhaps, then, all Tory Government revert to type.

And that is why Malcolm put that J.P.Horabin poster from 1931 at the top of this post.cu-cs-moa

Essentially, the division between the two Parties is, as it always was, common humanity versus the cult of the individual. Just as young Malcolm did each week, long years ago in Wells Church Hall, both sides may have recited the Cub’s Promise to Akela:m-cs-mb

I Promise to do my Best,
To do my Duty to God and the Queen,
To keep the Law of the Wolf Cub pack,
And to do a good turn to somebody every day.

The difference is that the Tory-to-be heard the cry of the opportunist lone wolf: the young socialist endeavoured to do that good deed every day.

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Take a deep breath …

oconnellmud… before you consider the BBC website’s headline:

O’Connell handed Lions captaincy

Note that “handed”.

Paul O’Connell, the chief engineer running Ireland’s magnificent engine-room this season, earned his pick. Arguably, he is the finest forward in the Northern hemisphere. But, as the Beeb have it, he was merely “handed” the captainship.

The only alternative would be the mercurial Brian O’Driscoll, BOD or GOD himself. Now consider two things:

  • Who will be around next time?
  • What sort of campaign will be fought — yes, fought — in South Africa?

There are quite a few young players in this touring party: Ian McGeechan and whoever has been whispering in his ear have evidently looked to the future. At last someone has done so. Then again, this isn’t going to be an easy tour. No Lions tour is; but the bottom line is:

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree added: “It’s important that we took some physical animals. Because that’s what South Africa are.”

A good choice. On merit.

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Professional smear-job: how to

The Sunday Times, front page headline:

Balls ‘ran’ Labour’s smear unit.

The whole subsequent story, by “Isabel Oakeshott, Deputy Political Editor”, amounting to (at a quick guess) as near a  dammit a thousand words, is based upon one — count them — one mysterious individual:

a Downing Street whistleblower … a No 10 insider … He claims … The insider said … The whistleblower, who has had a ringside seat on the power struggles inside No 10, claims … The whistleblower claims … The whistleblower, who has never spoken to the media before, was prompted to speak out through loyalty to Brown and the Labour party … According to the insider, … The insider claims … The whistleblower revealed … The whistleblower accused …

Got all that?

Let’s try it again, from William Goldman’s classic script:

BRADLEE: Bernstein, are you sure on this story?
BERNSTEIN: Absolutely….
BRADLEE (to WOODWARD): What about you?
WOODWARD: I’m sure…
BRADLEE: I’m not sure, it still feels thin … get another source.

For the Sunday Times, there is no other source. Even so, it is good enough for a full double, centre-page spread (pages 14 and 15) and the first editorial (page 18).

At some point the wish becomes the deed:

Mr Balls’s devout wish is to be prime minister and he has worked out a way of reaching his goal: replace Alistair Darling as chancellor this year, get himself elected party leader after the likely defeat of Labour at the next general election, harry the Tories as they slash public services to save Britain from bankruptcy and then march triumphantly into Downing Street in five or six years’ time.

Such a plan is the kind of scheme every aspiring prime minister may scribble, whether in a school exercise book or on the back of an envelope, as Michael Heseltine was once said to have done. What makes Mr Balls’s ambition unacceptable is the method he is alleged to be using to pursue it. As we report today, not only was he the power behind the now disgraced Damian McBride but he is also using his relationship with Gordon Brown to run a shadow dirty tricks operation from inside Downing Street. It has simple objectives: keep Mr Brown in power until the general election and then ensure Mr Balls becomes leader of the opposition.

Notice: the “whistleblowing” allegation, the suggestion, the unverified slur of page one has now become the “factoid” of page 18.

Inevitably, the window-lickers and their lick-spittle facilitators pile in:

Ed Balls Ran Labour Dirty Tricks Unit

The Sunday Times is claiming that Ed Balls was the man in charge of the Downing Street dirty tricks unit. He chaired meetings which planned the wholescale ‘dark arts’ operation against fellow Labour politicians.

That’s the Iain Dale starter for whatever he can get last evening. No suggestion or weaseling use of quotatation marks bothers Dale: it’s the lie direct. His punch-line, almost inevitably, is to cry havoc against the BBC for knowing the difference between froth-blowing and the real Adnam’s Broadside (which, this afternoon, was on top form, as always, at The King and Tinker):

None of this, or the contents of the previous post have made the BBC news headlines.

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