Monthly Archives: September 2010

For the record

Tim Montgomerie at ConHome is retreading the piece he did for the New Statesman. The “intellectual thrust” amounts to this:

I’ve been careful to say that we should not underestimate Mr Miliband but attempting to define a new leader in his/her early days should be the priority of any effective political operation. First impressions matter and last night’s YouGov poll suggests that the Tory and newspaper onslaught is having some success. “Red Ed” got no bounce from his speech on Tuesday and nearly three times as many voters think he is taking his party Leftwards rather than to the centre.

Notice, for starters, that Montgomerie accepts there is some alignment of the Tory and newspaper onslaught. The obvious subtext there involves Coulson co-ordination of the Murdoch press, with the cyberTories brought in for flanking cover.

Montgomerie then re-hashes from the New Stateman three of his identified ten weaknesses in Ed Miliband’s politics:

  1. Deficit denial;
  2. A leftward drift;
  3. Odd Ed.

The first of those is the length-and-breadth of current ConDem rhetoric. It is intended to justify imposing austerities on the middle- and lower-orders to pay for the excesses of the unregulated banking plutocracy. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is not just betting-the-farm, it’s also playing fast-and-loose with current credit:

  • There has a been a significant decline in the €/£ valuation in recent weeks:
  • This is curious in one respect: the EU is about to fork out the UK’s receipts under the Common Agricultural Policy, which is a substantial sum and ought to bolster sterling.
  • It is instructive in another way: it took one speech (in Hull, of all places) by Adam Posen to knock sterling down a whole percentage point. In other words, despite major strikes across Europe, despite the obvious weaknesses of several European economies already slipping into the dreaded double-dip, the money markets have no solid faith in the ConDem nerve holding.
  • George Osborne is now trapped by his own over-inflated doomsaying, and so in a lose-lose situation. If he tempers the wind to the shorn lamb (there’s a cliché, to which Malcolm will revert in another post, but also commonsense at this uncertain juncture), he will be judged a “bottler”; and the markets will react accordingly. If he goes the full distance, consumer confidence collapses, and half-the-High-Street, and its supply chain, shuts down: no expected recovery there.

The second, that “leftward drift” is arrant tripe. Labour must re-occupy the small-l liberal centre ground anyway: hence the baggage on ID-cards, 90-days and other oppressive measure are already in the WPB. More tiresome restrictions will follow. In matters economic there is no need to drift leftwards: the ConDem coalition has shunted so far rightward that anything outside the Chicago School is adventurous. Just watch the collective wisdom of economists shift if/when the great upsurge of the private section fails to materialise.

That leaves us with “Odd Ed”. So let’s take Montgomerie in full on that:

The new Labour leader isn’t so much Red Ed as Odd Ed. Only 36% think he is prime ministerial, according to a poll conducted for the Conservative Party. Is it the staring eyes? That he hasn’t done anything outside politics? His claim that he was “too busy” to register as his child’s father is certainly odd.

That is as cleaned-up, family-friendly, epicene a version as one might get of the filth being spewed out by the Tory muck-machine. What it amounts to is a job-spec for leadership which prescribes superficial metrosexual, media-friendly, cosmetically-enhanced, Photoshopped, Notting Hill glam. No “one-eyed Scottish git“, no “mutt like me“, no “Swabian housewife“, no “hidden dwarf” need apply.

This all prompted Malcolm to go on Record at ConHome:

Malcolm Redfellow said…

Even the most entrenched Tory must admit that some of the ordure recently sent airborne has been a trifle odorous.

The paternity slur, floated by the Mail on Sunday and s-o-o convincing it needed a second outing here, with added authenticity from the head of CPS? What “policy”, what “study” was involved there? [a.k.a. the “When did you last see your father?” theme]

This got added extra vitamins, courtesy of the London Evening Standard: “Familial ties are essentially a bourgeois concept so presumably the Marxist Miliband household was not too weighted down by them.” Yeah. OK. If you say so. So, nothing creepy there.

The curiously co-ordinated “Red Ed” meme? The Guido Fawkes posting on this (22nd Sep) seemed to imply there was input from CCHQ on that one. Was there?

Most disgraceful, the Jew thing? [a.k.a. the Jud Süß theme of self-styled Archbishop Cranmer, with verification cited from Radio Islam]

And, again as here: “Oh! doesn’t he look funny?” (or is that as above?)

I’ve repeatedly quoted, with approval, David Cameron’s 2005 Conference speech, including his deploring “the shouting, finger-pointing, backbiting and point-scoring”.

Surely, surely, we can all agree with Cameron that our politics deserve something better than this nonsense?

September 30, 2010 at 01:05 PM

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, economy, Ed Miliband, leftist politics., Lib Dems, Murdoch, politics, prejudice, sleaze., Tories.

Astringent Ms Davis and prospering Mein herr de Worde

Malcolm has followed Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco these twenty years. This is a time-span Malcolm finds slightly frightening.

She has been loyal to her creation, taking him, Helena and their growing family, not forgetting Nux the dog, across the length and breadth of the first-century Roman Empire. She deviated only to do a “biography” of Caenis, the hapax legomenon who was the Emperor Vespasian’s companion and mistress.

And then came Rebels and Traitors, which (as Malcolm almost explained in yesterday’s post) is the Old Boy’s current reading. Late last evening, having reached page 155, Malcolm came on this typical piece of Davisonian wisdom:

During his apprenticeship, Gideon had absorbed the history of printing in London. He knew how William Caxton had first set up in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, producing legal and medical texts,, then Caxton’s successor, Wynkyn de Worde, moved to Fleet Street, to be close to his lawyer customers. From early days the principle applied that authors should not attempt to make a living from writing; their role was merely to keep printers and booksellers in business.

The emphasis is there in the original.

Ms Davis never fails to provide us with wise saws and modern instances. Malcolm raised a wry eye when she smuggled Falco 12, Ode to a Banker, past her long-suffering editor: it puts a delicate bootee into the world of “Roman” banking and publishing.

Wynkyn de Worde? A literary joke, yes?

So Malcolm, too, half-imagined when (many decades since) he encountered the name.

This was, though, a real guy, about whom we know quite a bit, thanks to legal and ecclesiastical records. He and his wife Elizabeth were renting a tenement from Westminster Abbey in 1476. In reprinting a Caxton edition, he notices it originated in Cologne in 1471: this knowledge might explain how he came to be associated with Caxton, and return with him, via Bruges, to London around 1475-6.

Wynkyn’s  “surname” obviously indicates his place of origin. When he is “naturalised” in 1496, he is described as “originating in the duchy of Lorraine”: that implies (with a bit of historical and geographical haziness allowed) he may have been born in Woerth-sur-Sauer or Wörth am Rhein.

After Caxton’s death in 1492 he had taken over the business. He and Elizabeth are on the parish roll of St Margaret’s, Westminster, until her death in 1498. The rent on his shop next door to the Abbey continues until the winter of 1499-1500. Then, as Lindsey Davis says, he establishes himself in Fleet Street, at the sign of the Sun, in St Bride’s parish. By 1509 he has a second shop at St Paul’s Churchyard. Later still, he builds a distribution network by linking up with other book-sellers in York, Oxford, Bristol, the Low Countries and France.

When he died, sometime in 1534-5, he was a person of wealth and importance, requiring that he be buried before the altar of St Bride’s.

Wynkyn has a different, and more ambitious business plan than Caxton. His publications invariably are illustrated with woodcuts. He branches into sermons and books of “self-improvement”, poetry and romances. He boasts the patronage of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, whose accounts show she was a regular customer. This might suggest he was cultivating the more-serious equivalent of the “chick-lit” market. It also says something about the extent of literacy among the wives of London guildsmen and their betters. This clearly worried the authorities: in October 1524 he was among the London printers given a severe bollocking by the Bishop of London over heretical texts. The following year Wynkyn was obliged to pulp John Gough’s translation of The Image of Love; but not before the nuns of Syon and the two Universities had received copies.

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Filed under Lindsey Davis, Literature, London, reading

Who flung dung?

Or, Called to ordure.

Neither original titles, as Malcolm freely admits. Both attempt to describe the frenetic state of the right-wing UK media, mainstream and the blogosphere, at this moment.

What we need to ask is, to what extent is it concerted?

Consider just some of the evidence:

¶ Item: the Red Ed meme

This appears to be a collective effort of Murdoch’s Sun and Paul Staines-by-name-and-by-nature. There might well be a clue that this is (as rip-offs generally say) “as suggested by” Tory Central. Read Fawkes/Staines (this from 22nd September) carefully:

  • Notice that precedes the declaration of the leadership ballot.
  • Notice that, until this point, Fawkes-Staines had been content with his “Mili-D”/”Mili-E” conceit, which at higher bidding is instantly discarded.
  • Notice that Fawkes-Staines claims an “impression” of what Tory Central want of him. Since Fawkes/Staines declares he is the natural home of plots, rumours and conspiracy, we might well take him at his (heavily-discounted) word.
  • Notice the none-too-subtle stalinist suggestion of the image. Presumably it derives from folk-memories such as that to the right. All that is missing is an overtone of Trotsky (and Trotsky, shudder, shudder, was Jewish! To which we shall return in short order.)

This we may designate the Senator Joe McCarthy memorial theme. (hereinafter SJMMT).

¶ Item: “I’m not anti-semitic, but …”

Archbishop Cranmer“, it says here, is:

ranked the 22nd ‘most influential political blog’ and the 24th most ‘influential blog’ in the UK by Wikio.

The views expressed are palaeoconservative and ultramontanist: it would be no surprise were “Cranmer” to approve of both descriptions. “Cranmer” has taken a particular line on the Milibands:

The only thing that is certain about the nail-biting contest to lead the Labour Party is that a Jew will win. In this ‘aggressively secular’, enlightened 21st century, it is supposed not to matter.

But, of course, it does.

By his friends shall you know him. Interesting that link to “Radio Islam”, and its June 2009 piece deploring that both the UK and France:

have Jewish Ministers of foreign affairs. In France Bernard Kouchner acts as France´s representative abroad and directs France´s foreign policies including its stance on Israel, the Arab world and Iran (in cooperation with his Jewish boss and President, Nicolas Sarkozy). In Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown – who according to Jewish sources has Jewish economic backing – has chosen a Jew in the form of David Miliband to take over the rudder of Britain´s foreign policies. In the case of Britain one should note that the predecessor of Miliband also was Jewish, the Labour-Jew Jack Straw.

So no paranoia there.

In passing, that reminds Malcolm of the celebrated exchange between Dick Nixon and Golda Meir. Nixon tried to cosy up to Golda by remarking their administrations had a similarity: both included Jewish foreign ministers (Kissinger and the eminently civilised, Cambridge triple-First, Abba Eban). Golda, whose intonation never moved far from South Lawndale Avenue, Chicago, grated back, “But mine speaks better English.”

The dog returns to its stale vomit

“Cranmer” thrives on sensationalism (which presumably why Staines/Fawkes scorns a toiler in the same vineyard). So, a bit of Photoshopping produced this chortle:

Why not go the whole … err … pure-Arian hog, Your Grace? There’s a fine precedent (as, and appropriately so, right).

So, accepting possible invocation of Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, Malcolm feels he might fairly term this the Der Stürmer thread (hereinafter DST).

¶ Item: “When did you last see your father?”

So Malcolm finally gets around to that W. F. Yeames painting at the head of this post (the original is in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery).

This bit of slime began with a piece by Glen Owen in the Mail:

As the son of a North London Marxist intellectual, you might expect Ed Miliband to have a less than conventional approach to traditional family values.

And the birth certificate of his 15-month-old son, Daniel, would appear to bear this out, as it includes everything except any mention of the boy’s proud father.

Although the section headed ‘Father’ is blank, Daniel’s mother Justine Thornton is named, along with her Manchester birthplace and profession, barrister.

But then, of course:

There is no suggestion that Ed Miliband is not David’s father …

No, no! Of course not! Perish the thought! How could anyone have such a silly idea! Just as there are no insinuations in “North London Marxist intellectual”.

A good whine needs no bush?

No, but it never hurts to give it another shake. And we wouldn’t want a good smear to go to waste, would we?

So Jill Kirby was traipsed out on ConHome to repeat it:

Ed Miliband’s curious failure to register as the father of his first child is surprising in all sorts of ways.

“Too busy” is just not plausible –  we know this guy is ambitious, but no-one is so preoccupied with ascending the political ladder with that he can’t find time to carry out this basic token of parental commitment. Or is he?

His partner Justine Thornton took the decision to register the birth alone-  yet presumably she was quite busy too, having recently given birth? …

Most of us assumed the legislation’s purpose was to stem the rise in welfare dependent mums and deadbeat dads. But maybe it was also about reminding career-obsessed left-wing politicians that there are some things in life for which “too busy” is not an acceptable excuse?

And with that hint, the frothing commenters were away in full hue-and-cry.

Let us not overlook Ms Kirby’s enstooled position as Director of the Centre for Policy Studies (originally the construct of Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph). There’s no “policy” not any “study” in Ms Kirby’s little effort … but, hey!, a little log-rolling does no harm. Perhaps the difference between a “think-tank” and a sewer is a sniff of power.

Once is happenstance.
Twice is circumstance.
Three times is enemy action!

Malcolm has little difficulty in seeing a concerted campaign here. If so, the logic takes us back to Andy Coulson, perhaps extracting a bit of Respect & Retaliation, and equally perhaps because of this:

A cloud will hang over Downing Street until there are clear answers about Andy Coulson’s knowledge of phone hacking, Ed Miliband has said.

Speaking to, the Labour leadership candidate said the director of communications in Downing Street needed to answer the allegations being made against him by former colleagues at the News of the World.

“There are very serious questions to answer, very serious questions to answer,” Mr Miliband said.

“You’ve got a very respected global newspaper, the New York Times, which is making serious allegations against someone who is the most senior communications person in Downing Street and I don’t think they can be just laughed off or brushed off by the Conservative party.

Is that too complex? Too Machiavellian?

If it’s not orchestrated SJMMT and DST, with a bit of paternity-allegation chucked in for added spice, can it simply be that:

the natural Tory instinct is to get down-and-dirty on the dung-pile?

And here’s one we missed earlier:

Sarah Sands does the Comment column for the London Evening Standard (Tuesday 28 September):

Familial ties are essentially a bourgeois concept so presumably the Marxist Miliband household was not too weighted down by them.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Mail, Ed Miliband, Labour Party, Murdoch, Paul Staines, politics

Feet of clay

Was it simply age that collapsed Ozymandias from his vast and trunkless legs of stone? Whatever. Malcolm finds sympathy.

On Friday and Saturday last, the Redfellow menage (the Lady in his Life and our guide, philosopher and friend) drove from the County Armagh to Norf Lunnun. That also involved the loading and unloading of a chest-of-drawers, fully-packed, and other boxes of pickings. And a very cramped space in the passenger seat.

On Saturday Malcolm was having twinges. Shoes did not fit. One foot needed elevating. Pain-killers were consumed.

By Monday the situation was little improved.

A visit to the GP ensued. Gout? hardly. Ah! cellulitis! Take these antibiotics four times a day. Lay off the Ibuprofen, it can inflame the situation. Come back if it doesn’t cure.

Quick, neat and helpful.

Now, why does an aching foot so discommode the intellectual processes?

However, it permits knocking off John le Carré in short order. Keep reading to the very end: the acknowledgement to Al Alvarez effectively explains the text’s familiarity with modern poetry and with the mechanics of rock-climbing.

Furthermore, let Malcolm disagree profoundly with Leo Robsons review in the New Statesman, which complains about the looseness and crudity of this novel:

In Our Kind of Traitor, the chat blocks the plot. Instead of restricting himself to describing the circumstances preceding Perry and Gail’s interrogation by Luke and Yvonne and its narrative consequences in London, Paris and Switzerland, le Carré is interminably distracted by the inner lives and backstories of characters we may be encouraged to root for, but are unlikely ever to care about.

Actually, Robson, the chat is the point.

Most of the first half of the story is indeed told in first-person revelation. And through dialogue.

Not too long ago, Malcolm was bewailing his own inability to produce valid dialogue. Le Carré, though, is the master. How else would he properly represent a detailed de-briefing and snatches of internal monologue? What better way to evidence the inchoate Perry and why Gail can empathise with the 16-year-old Natasha?

A Tuesday problem

Malcolm’s dilemma amounted to “what next?”

He had expected le Carré to last a little longer, to be a little tougher: perhaps, on reflection, that is the root of Robson’s problem — this one is above all a “page-turner”. Moreover, Malcolm was effectively confined to quarters: no nipping off to the bookshop for reinforcements. So it was the pick of the bedside unread pile.

The vague drowsiness induced by antibiotics and strong (approved) painkillers precluded the heavier histories. Neither Colin Smith’s England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42 nor Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 – The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance deserve to be characterised as “heavy”. Both sit, invoking feelings of guilt at their half-read condition, but do not fit the Redfellow need on this occasion.

What else?

Well, there’s another of Jean-Francoise Parot’s Nicholas le Floch series and Lindsey Davis’s Rebels and Traitors. Pre-revolutionary Paris or Civil War England? Decisions! decisions!

At least Davis comes without documented foot-notes.

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Filed under fiction, History, Literature, London, Northern Ireland, reading, travel

Time for a breather?

OK, that’s Sansom ticked off: terrific stuff. Rapidly followed by numbers five (Sidetrackedthough what Anglophone can avoid a grin at the German title Die falsche Fährte) and six (The Fifth Woman) of the Wallander novels. Two more, and the book of short stories outstanding, and another series complete.

But, look what’s here!

The new John le Carré! Complete with stickers on the cover: “Half Price at Waterstone’s” and “Signed by the author”. Yum, yum!

There’s less good news there: a film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Why not re-run the 1979 BBC series (Alec Guinness archetypical as Smiley) repetitively? Malcolm sees the series is still available as a DVD. Since it is common for such material to be withdrawn before the new film release (too avoid odious comparisons?) , he will act swiftly.

And in the pipeline …

There’s Jasper fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer out in November: his first children’s book (as if The Fourth Bear and so much more fforderama were not for the inner child in all of us). That settles a couple of Christmas presents, but one of the grandsons will be getting a pre-read copy.

But,  some more good news, too!

Biggies get a new Thursday Next in the New Year. Pant! Pant!

Yet, where and when is the next episode in the Shades of Grey saga?

Martin Cruz Smith

The latest, and seventh (if Malcolm counts correctly) Arkady Renko is to be found out-in-the-wild in the US of A. Now, until recently, it had seemed likely the Lady in his Life and Malcolm would be Thanksgiving in Noo Joisey. Decisions, decisions: assume that will still happen; order from the US; or wait for domestic publication?

Michael Connelly

Then there’s The Reversal, in which (apparently) Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch get it off together. That’s just three weeks down the line.

Busy, busy.

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Filed under C.J.Sansom, crime, Literature, reading

Parallax views

One for the lexicon:

Parallax is an apparent displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines. The term is derived from the Greek παράλλαξις (parallaxis), meaning “alteration”. Nearby objects have a larger parallax than more distant objects when observed from different positions, so parallax can be used to determine distances.

“Parallax” is what caused you to look through the camera’s viewfinder, and still manage to decapitate your subject.

The Parallax View is also, of course, a decent Alan J. Pakula conspiracy movie from 1974.

On elections, an “expert” view:

From the Wintour and Watt blog on the Guardian site:

Lady Warsi, the Tory chair, issued a statement saying what the party really thinks:

Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of his MPs, wasn’t the choice of Labour party members but was put into power by union votes. I’m afraid this looks like a leap backwards for the Labour party.

The Tory line of attack shows that Ed Miliband will need, as a matter or urgency, to show the unions can expect no favours under his leadership.

Just who elected Sayeeda Warsi to anything, ever?

Now consider the Union (singular)

On that David Cameron (4th May 2010) was emphatic:

We are not just saying that we are the party of the union, we are showing that we are the party of the union, the party of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England – with candidates standing in every part of the United Kingdom…

“I will never be neutral on the Union.

“We passionately believe that England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are stronger together, weaker apart – and the union of our two parties strengthens those bonds.”

Since then:

Scottish party leaders have been virtually shut out of all decision-making roles and they are no longer invited to top-level strategy and policy meetings.

Indeed, the isolation of the Scottish party has reached such a pitch that Scottish leader Annabel Goldie has not spoken to David Cameron since the election, while SNP First Minister Alex Salmond has held five conversations with the Prime Minister since he took office.

Tom Elliott has become the 14th leader of the Ulster Unionist Party after around 1,000 delegates cast their votes at the Waterfront Hall on Wednesday night.

Following his decisive victory over self-styled outsider Basil McCrea, the 46-year-old Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA officially stated the end of the electoral link-up with the Conservatives, under the UCUNF banner.

Those, by the way, are successive and opening paragraphs to the UTV story, which might, just might suggest the stench that “UCUNF” acquired in its short and unlamented (but expensive) life.

Perhaps “unions” are not a topic that the Tories should be pushing.

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Filed under Britain, British Left, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Devolution, Ed Miliband, Elections, films, ITV, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, politics


Fly in to Belfast City (and didn’t the lad, doing the driving, stunt around to find the final approach path!). Catch the train from Sydenham (right across from that WW1 mural: this is Peter Robinson’s home patch) through to Portadown. Have an extended drink in McConville’s (what’s the story about the fire overnight?) Load the car. Drive back through Stranraer. Malcolm’s week so far.

Even once across of the ferry, it’s four hundred and forty miles, plus, from Stranraer to Redfellow Hovel. The long hike that is the A76 (gradually being improved, but you’ll be viewing the back end of the artic ahead for dozens of miles). Then the unhappy chunk which involves the static hell of the M6 past Manchester.

So, somewhere in between, an overnighter at a suitable hotel.

Which was the fun bit. For a start the “tinkling stream” outside the front door (well, across a substantial carpark) was a raging flow. We only rarely have rain in England which is “torrential”, but it rained solidly across the north and the Borders all day Thursday. Hence the stream a yard higher on Thursday evening than it was on Friday morning, and milky cocoa instead of its usual Liffey brown. Even the sheep were miserably shaking their fleeces.

Furthermore, Malcolm over-ruled the bossy Satnav lady, believed a roadside marker and took the back route in. This was along a track so insignificant the satnav gave up and showed a trip across open fields. On such occasions, when Malcolm blows the map-reading bit, any Redfellow family member in the car is expected to chant (to the original Batman theme): Dadadda, dadadda, dadadda dadadda da! Satnav!

Then there still exist hotels in the backwoods which are Agatha Christie locations pure and simple.

This is one.

The first killing would likely be scalded to death under a boiling shower, because the cold water unaccountably jammed. Curiously: it worked perfectly the next morning. Obviously Widow Whyte with the washing in the wet-room.

The second would be one of the OAP coach party done to death: Parson Prune with a pepper-pot pistol in the parlour?

On the other hand, Malcolm forgets there are still parts of Britain where the water runs silky soft from a moorland reservoir, where the nights are stony silent (no traffic, no helicopters), where red squirrels roam and come to be fed each morning, where the beds are soft, the beer is nutty brown, and the portions are more than adequate. And hotel staff are obliging.

The Shap Wells Hotel deserves its mention.

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Filed under Britain, Northern Ireland, Portadown, pubs, Ryanair, travel

Ex America semper aliquid ridiculum

A couple of American academics traced the Ex Africa … cliché back to Aristotle, pointing out for starters that the original context was the weird and wonderful wild-life the continent seems to provide.

Similarly, for all the eccentricities of our British political scene, it’s only in the land of the freebie and the former home of the Braves that we cross the frontier of certifiable insanity, when gut politics becomes the belly laugh.

Just as we were just about — well, almost, to stretch a point — coming to accept Momma Grizzly, Sarah Palin, as a “serious politician”, along comes a freakshow further out into unreality. Yes, here comes Christine O’Donnell:

LINCOLN, Del. – Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is making light of comments she made more than a decade ago when she was in high school about having dabbled in witchcraft.

“How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?” she asked fellow Republicans at a GOP picnic in southern Delaware on Sunday…

“One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn’t know it. I mean, there’s little blood there and stuff like that,” she said. “We went to a movie and then had a little midnight picnic on a satanic altar.”

In just a couple of days, Ms O’Donnell+witchcraft has acquired nearly 300,000 hits on Google. They are all based on this:

Charles Krauthammer, a thinking conservative (they do exist), does his regular op-ed piece for the Washington Post. Last Friday he kicked off with this:

Tuesday in Delaware was a bad day not only for Republicans but also for conservatives. Tea Partyer Christine O’Donnell scored a stunning victory over establishment Republican Mike Castle. Stunning but pyrrhic. The very people who have most alerted the country to the perils of President Obama’s social democratic agenda may have just made it impossible for Republicans to retake the Senate and definitively stop that agenda.

Bill Buckley — no Mike Castle he — had a rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.

A timeless rule of sober politics, and particularly timely now.

The emphasis is in Krauthammer‘s original.

Back to 1964

The Republicans went into the 1964 Presidential election in as hopeless a condition as they seem to be engineering for 2012. They were fighting the ghost of John Kennedy and one of the slickest operators to come out of the snake-pit of Texas politics: Lyndon Baines Johnson. Before anyone jumps on Malcolm there, and says “but what about 1968?”, Malcolm would partly agree, but add that Vietnam properly was Kennedy’s war, and even Hubert Humphrey came close to upsetting the Nixon election.

In 1964 the Republicans got themselves a decent man as their candidate: Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater came with a load of conservative baggage, which the Johnson campaign mercilessly exploited.

Bob Schieffer, the CBS Chief Washington correspondent, has been round the block and the beltway a few times in his thirty years of reporting and comment. He is best recognised nationally as the front-man of Sunday Night’s Face the Nation. Over the last week Schieffer has made several comments comparing the present republican condition to that of the Goldwater candidacy as here on Wednesday’s CBS evening news:

Oh, I think it very much is just that. I mean, it is very much like 1964. In 1960, Republicans lost narrowly with an establishment candidate, Richard Nixon. They got to 1964, they threw out all the establishment candidates, they threw out their party leaders and they nominated Barry Goldwater who – fine man – but he was far to the right of most of the people in his party, and they lost in a landslide. And that’s why you have establishment Republicans worried about what’s going to happen now in November.

In 1964 Democrats outpolled Republicans 61 to 38%, even more unbalanced than the 1984 Reagan-Mondale election (Mondale took just 41%, his own State and D.C.).

The Obama presidency has been, at best, a  mixed blessing. The Democrat arm-lock on Congress ditto. The status quo needs a more rigorous testing than it is likely to get from the likes Sarah Palin and the fruit-and-nut cakes of the Teaparty Movement.

In Robert Buckley’s terms, this shower are not credible, they are not ‘electable’


It seems that New York Mayor Bloomberg also sees the writing on the wall. Here from today’s New York Times:

Mr. Bloomberg described the Tea Party movement as a fad, comparing it to the short-lived burst of support for Ross Perot in 1992. The mayor suggested that the fury it had unleashed was not a foundation for leadership.

“Look, people are angry,” he said. “Their anger is understandable. Washington isn’t working. Government seems to be paralyzed and unable to solve all of our problems.”

“Anger, however, is not a government strategy,” he said. “It’s not a way to govern.”

Perot took 19% of the vote.


Filed under History, New York City, New York Times, US Elections, US politics

Creepy, or what?

One of Malcolm’s small joys in life is the mug-shots that accompany ConHome‘s contributors. And the pick of the bunch appear on the local government page.

For a good start there is the cadaverous Harry Phibbs. He is one or other of the fetching portraits here to the right.

Apart from the photogenic Phibbs, there are all the others.

Too many are awful warnings not to go out alone on a dark night, without crucifix, garlic and ash stake.

All cheap shots, no doubt. The problem is their political opinions are frequently as troglodytic as their images.

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Conscription and consequence

One of the many reasons Malcolm could not write a novel is his inability to manage convincing dialogue.

Parliamentary language

In a different context, he came across a very telling example from real life. That exchange on Slugger O’Toole had worked round to the topic of conscientious objectors in the two World Wars, and that since conscription wasn’t applied in Ireland, there were no Irish conscientious objectors.

If anyone needed further proof positive of the obtuseness of the Northern Irish administrations run by Craig and Andrews, then the Unionists’ gung-ho enthusiasm for conscription amply provides.

First, before Malcolm recapitulates the story so far, here is that piece of actualité, taken from parliamentary questions of 20th May 1941:

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (MP for Hexham): asked the Prime Minister whether he will reconsider the question of conscription for Northern Ireland; and whether he can make any statement about it?

Sir Annesley Somerville (MP for Windsor) asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the strong feeling in Ulster in favour of conscription, he will consider the desirability of introducing this measure?

Mr Henry Harland (MP for East Belfast) asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty’s Government will reconsider the policy of not applying military conscription to Northern Ireland, in view of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of this course?

The Prime Minister: This question has for some time past engaged the attention of His Majesty’s Government, and I hope to be in a position to make a statement about it on the first Sitting Day after this week.

Sir A. Somerville: Does not my right hon. Friend remember that the people of Northern Ireland regard this negative policy up to the present as a slight on their patriotism, and also that one frightful result of it is that the good men volunteer while the less good men get their jobs?

Sir Hugh O’Neill (MP for Antrim): Would my right hon. Friend agree that the reason conscription was not originally applied in Northern Ireland was that strong representations were made to the British Government by Mr. De Valera against it, and that Mr. De Valera stated that if it were imposed, it would lead to strong opposition from the minority in Northern Ireland? Is not the present time, when people of all classes and parties in Northern Ireland are mercilessly bombed, a good opportunity for reconsidering the whole matter?

The Prime Minister: The facts are, I believe, as stated by my right hon. Friend, but I hope to be in a position to make a statement on the whole subject shortly.

Mr George Buchanan (MP for Glasgow, Gorbals): Seeing that the Prime Minister of the Irish Free State did make representation, will the right hon. Gentleman agree that before he makes any statement on the matter, any new representations which Mr. de Valera may make will be considered also?

The Prime Minister: Representations which reach His Majesty’s Government from any quarter are always considered.

Professor Douglas Savory (MP for Queen’s University of Belfast): Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the Cabinet of Northern Ireland were unanimous in 1939 in pressing that conscription should be applied to Northern Ireland?

The usual image of Churchill is one of pugnacious bombast: in this exchange we see him being measured, shrewd and reticent, even evasive. He is being harried by aggressive questioners, men of some intellect, but here blind to the consequences of their intent. In all of the comings-and-goings over conscription for Northern Ireland Malcolm senses dissimulation: the Unionists are kept on side, the differences in the Northern Ireland cabinet allowed to simmer on, de Valera kept on the hop: the issue is kept bubbling, but never allowed to boil over. To what extent was this a deliberate, if tacit, policy from London?

Here, Malcolm feels, is a moment of pure theatre. It has a particular context, too, which makes the singlemindedness of the Unionists more understandable: this was in the shadow of the Belfast Blitz of Easter Tuesday, 15th April, 1941, with a thousand dead and nearly a quarter of the city’s population homeless.

A brief bit of history

Malcolm found his shelves had few immediate sources. Jonathan Bardon seems to address it just the once:

‘Is it credible’, the Daily Mirror asked in May 1939, ‘that the British government can even dream of enforcing conscription in any part of Ireland?’ Freshly returned from a long Pacific cruise, Craigavon announced in the spring that he wanted his people to make an equal sacrifice in defence of the realm. De Valera was outraged and declared that as his constitution claimed all Ireland to be part of Éire’s territoty, conscription in Ulster would be nothing short of ‘an act of aggression’. ‘I have just read a speech by de Valera, the Irish Taoiseach,’ Hitler told the Reichstag, ‘in which … he reproaches England with subjecting Ireland to continuous aggression.’ Next day the Manchester Guardian reminded its readers ‘that Herr Hitler, as he sarcastically reminded us yesterday, keeps a sharp eye on this rather vulnerable spot in our heel’. Determined to show that his people were prepared to accept the burdens as well as the benefits of the Union, Craigavon travelled to London in May in a high state of agitation. There Chamberlain gently and skilfully forced the premier to back down, as Lady Craigavon records in her diary:

The British Government were frightened of the issue being complicated by de Valera kicking up a dust, though Ulster affairs have nothing to do with him … J. was asked flat out by Chamberlain, ‘Is Ulster out to help Britain in her war effort?’ to which, of course, he answered, ‘You know we are …’ Chamberlain then said, ‘If you want to help us, don’t press for conscription. It will only be an embarrassment.’ What else could J. do than say, ‘Very well, I won’t!’

Craigavon faced sharp criticism from his cabinet colleagues when he returned and Brooke recalled that the premier felt ‘resentment, anger and hurt pride’. Craigavon’s response was that, in compensation, he had pressed strongly for an increased share in rearmament work.

Again, a passage pregnant with hidden messages. We are used to the neat conflation of the six counties with “Ulster”; but might usefully muse on Craigavon’s reference to “his people”.  And, of course, the compensation for forgoing the gesture of conscription is improved employment for the loyalist urban workforce.

The topic is much more complex even that that. Brian Girvin, in The Emergency addresses it over a couple of pages. The British conscription law applied to Irishmen who had been resident in Britain for two years or more. There was an opt-out for anyone returning to Ireland, and staying there for the duration. It seems to exploit this bolt-hole, one needed an address in Ireland to which to return, and John Dulanty, the High Commissioner in London, was selective in issuing certification. Girvin has a couple of exemplary anecdotes:

  • In one case the Department of External Affairs tersely and explicitly told a Mrs Curran that her English-resident son had obligations under the 1939 Act, and the Department had no control.
  • In another, a Mr Faulkner in Paisley had a certificate from the High Commissioner, but hadn’t applied for an exit visa. He expected to fight conscription on the basis of his citizenship, but was sadly disappointed by the Scottish courts. This led to a review and clarification at the highest levels. It didn’t prevent further actions, which went all the way to a ruling of the British Lord Chief Justice, and a response by de Valera.

Reading even these cursory accounts, it is patent that both sides sought to avoid confrontation, anything that would obstruct the flow of volunteers, both combatant and civilian, to Britain.

Enter Uncle Sam

Tim Pat Coogan quotes at some length a cable David Gray, the US minister in Dublin, sent (24th May, 1941) to Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State. One might, just might detect a whiff of overheated panic:

Opposition leaders informed me that conscription without a conscientious objector’s escape clause for minority Catholic nationalists will constitute a major and probably fatal political blunder at this time and play directly into de Valera’s hands with grave possibilities for American interests. They predict draft riots, the escape of draft dodgers to Southern Ireland who will be acclaimed as folk martyrs by three-quarters of the population and the fomenting of trouble by Republicans and Fifth Columnists. The clearest headed leader predicts that de Valera will seize the opportunity to escape from economic and political realities by proclaiming himself the leader of the oppressed minority and with the blessings of the Cardinal will arouse anti-British feeling and call a Holy War. I think it a very likely prediction. All classes of opinion here unite in condemning the move as calamitous. It appears to be a repetition of the same blunder made during the last war. The weak and failing Ulster Government is probably seeking to sustain itself by provoking a crisis. Unless Great Britain is prepared from a military point of view to seize the whole country it appears to be madness. So little can be gained and so much lost.

Had conscription been imposed, much of Gray’s predictions seems reasonable. One has to wonder who were his sources in the Northern Irish “opposition”: could they include Tommy Henderson, the independent and highly critical Unionist (Gray’s avoidance of word “nationalist” is suggestive of something)?

Gray was not alone in that rush of blood to the head. De Valera sent a strong complaint to London. The US Ambassador in London, John Winant, had extended sessions with Churchill and the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Churchill eventually sent Hull  a cable of concession:

The Ulster Government has weakened considerably over the weekend and in consequenc the Cabinet is inclined to the view it would be more trouble than it’s worth to go through with conscription …

Coogan’s reading of that is:

Andrews had drawn back leaving Churchill with no option but to call off the attempt. Andrews apparently took the RUC’s estimate of the situation more seriously than did the hard-liners in the cabinet, notably Sir Basil Brooke …

It is equally possible that Churchill was merely playing with Andrews, de Valera and the Americans: he was not above such machinations. On many occasions, despite public eruptions and mutterings, his dealings with things Irish were well-intentioned. Soon after, in July 1941, the imprisonment of Cahir Healy under Defence Regulation 18B gave the Unionist a consolation prize.

Matters would proceed without too much friction until the US forces started to arrive in Northern Ireland. They noticed that the local citizenry, unlike themselves, were immune to conscription. This raised eye-brows and GI hackles.

Churchill, either seriously or as a palliative gesture, again raised the matter with Washington, declaring he his sympathy for

young Americans taken by compulsion from their homes to defend an area where young fellows of the locality loaf around with their hands in their pockets.

FDR showed no enthusiasm to impose conscription; and Churchill let the matter lie. Again he had shown concern, but no great intent. By then the tide had changed, passions cooled, and conscription for Northern Ireland was quietly dropped.


Filed under Britain, De Valera, Dublin., History, Ireland, nationalism, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, politics, Tories., World War 2