Daily Archives: July 3, 2010

A daily wail

Sometime in the twentieth century a wordsmith generated the phrase “love-hate relationship”, and doubtless felt smug about such originality.

Pity: the Roman poet Catullus (and even he was borrowing a concept from the Greek poet Anacron, five centuries earlier still) got there two millenia previously:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.

That generally translates as something along the lines of “I Hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why that is so. I don’t know, and that’s why I am tormented.”

Catullus was lamenting his feeling for “Lesbia”, who was Clodia, an original merry widow, who shared her favours too promiscuously for Catullus’s peace of mind.


Clodia is just the kind of gal who would get frequent mentions in the Daily Mail. The paper prides itself, with some justice, in being a “mid-market” tabloid: decently up the market from the red tops, but not as demanding as the “qualities”. The Mail’s success is to have consigned the Express to near oblivion, and requiring the Telegraph‘s pale imitation.

The Mail consistently delivers a curious and toxic admixture of sensation and shock-horror. It provides “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” with an ambiguous daily dose of provocation and empathy, of titillation and disapproval.

Same old bag

A prime example was yesterday’s piece, credited to (better believe it) Gerri Peev:

For the MPs gathered in the Commons to debate the possibly rather dry subject of the Energy Bill, it was an unexpected interruption.

One minute Louise Bagshawe, a newly-elected Tory and ‘Cameron cutie’, was discussing solar batteries.

The next she was happily plugging her new novel Passion, written as part of her other career as a successful author of ‘chick-lit’ fiction.

The 39-year-old mother of three told MPs to buy her book, which, she reminded them, had just won a literary award for romantic fiction.

We are then treated to a short and sweaty extract from the said “novel”. Nobody should feel obliged to read Ms Bagshawe: Malcolm never has. He is prepared to believe John Crace’s parody adequately gets the flavour.

The problem

Ms Bagshawe is in the Commons in large part (as suggested above) because she was and is Dave Cameron’s sort of person: flashy, superficial, and ornamental.

So, despite any distaste Ms Bagshawe may provoke, criticism within the Tory Party will be quelled by another thought.

Disapproval of metrosexual “smartness” is likely to have one rusticated to join the Turnip Taliban.

So sit on your hands. Bite your tongue. Bide your time.

Similarly, Catullus despaired at the condition of contemporary Roman politics in Carmina 52:

Quid est, Catulle? quid moraris emori?
sella in curuli struma Nonius sedet,
per consulatum peierat Vatinius:
quid est, Catulle? quid moraris emori?

[What’s up, Catullus? Why not just roll over and die?
That pustule Nonius sits in a magistrate’s chair,
Vatinius perjures to get to be consul:
What’s up, Catullus? Why not just roll over and die?]

Malcolm acknowledges the Lady in His Life as the immediate source of the Daily Mail story, above.


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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Mail, David Cameron, Guardian, human waste, Literature, Tories.


It’s one of those triplets — positive, comparative, superlative:

I’m self-assured. You’re arrogant. He’s Peter Oborne.

As with this from his column in today’s Mail:

Whatever the result of the plebiscite [on the alternative vote] (the first of its kind since Britons voted to remain in the Common Market in 1975), one of the coalition partners will feel aggrieved. Either the Lib Dems will feel cheated if the ‘first past the post’ arrangement is maintained. Or Tories, who oppose any tinkering with a system that has worked successfully in Britain since time immemorial, will be furious if a new way of voting is approved.

Well, two sentences, six dozen well-honed words, and just two howling errors. About par for the Oborne course.

Or possibly even a third: Oborne uses plebiscite (which suggests a vote which may not be binding) rather than referendum (which most certainly is). Wikipedia makes a similar error in assuming straightforward and exact similes. Check out the OED to see that Malcolm has it to rights (and he assuredly has). Oborne may, in fact, be more correct here. In the British Constitution no legislation is permanently binding: a referendum decision could be subsequently overturned without a further popular vote. It would be a brave government that tried it, however.

Now those other two errors.

1. the first of its kind

Oborne is also correct in one interpretation: the 1975 EU referendum was the only time that the entire UK electorate has been polled on a single issue. Below the national level there have been no fewer than nine referenda: those on:

  • devolution for Scotland and Wales;
  • the creation of a London mayor, and of regional assemblies;

and, most emphatically, on

  • the status and administration of Northern Ireland.

Only a metropolitan, blind to anything north and west of Watford, would ignore the significance, vitality and importance of those votes.

2. worked successfully in Britain since time immemorial

Here is an astounding claim: that the UK voting system has been fixed in adamantine stone since the dawn of memory. When would that be, Mr Oborne? Pitheas putting the island on the map in the 4th century, BC? Caesar dropping in, 26th August 55BC? The Harmsworth brothers getting the first Daily Mail off the press, 4th May 1896? Peter Oborne entering the world to give it an axis, 11th July 1957?

Even if we take the last of those epochal dates as the starting point, the voting system has altered repeatedly: there have been four Representation of the People Acts in his life-time:

  • in 1969 the suffrage was extended to those aged between 18 to 21;
  • in 1983 the right to vote was removed from those in prison;
  • in 1985 some half-million ex-pats were enfranchised;
  • in 2000 postal voting on demand was initiated.

As recently as 2006 the Electoral Administration Act, still to be fully implemented, introduced a whole slew of changes, affecting registration, eligibility and even the design of the ballot paper.

Then, of course, the simple one person/one vote “First Past The Post” is now largely confined to Westminster elections:

  • In local elections we are used to multi-member wards (typically voting three times on the same ballot).
  • In London we have the “additional member system”, thus ensuring the direct FPTP does not shut out minority parties.
  • Similarly, The Welsh Assembly mixes direct constituency representation (on FPTP) with a regional closed list of additional members.
  • Scottish and Northern Irish Assemblies are elected by a single transferable vote.

All of which is water under London Bridge for Oborne.

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Filed under Britain, Daily Mail, Elections, History, Peter Oborne