Monthly Archives: February 2011

Confession of the day

Fianna Fáil minister Conor Lenihan has conceded defeat in Dublin South West. “Unfortunately we are going to lose both seats here,” he told RTÉ television. “It’s not entirely a dishonourable place to be. Clearly the tide is out for Fianna Fáil in Dublin and naturally 15% is not a party that’s going places,” he said.

On the Irish Times election blog (@ 14.36)

Not wholly wrong there, Conor. You may not be going anywhere. The rump of the Soldiers of Destiny are heading for opposition (and the rag-bag of history?).


Filed under Fianna Fail, Ireland, Irish politics, sleaze.

Is there still a valid Voice in the Village?

Once upon a time, before the internet, the deep, dark soul of New York was exposed on a weekly basis by the Village Voice.

It was frequently an essential read (except for concerts and … err … the small ads), not because it was a great source of “news”, but because its commentary was often devastating.

To the fore was Wayne Barrett, who yesterday was profiled in the New York Times as The (Ex) Voice of the Village:

In 37 years of prolific writing for The Voice — 32 of them as an investigative columnist — and in four books, Mr. Barrett has become the unrivaled master of long, dense articles about the unsavory side of New York’s political culture. He has passed decades digging through government archives, court transcripts, property records, police blotters and campaign filings, weaving tales of corruption and hypocrisy involving union leaders, neighborhood power brokers, real estate developers, mayors and governors.

That ended in December, when he was laid off without explanation (he suspects budgetary reasons), prompting laments about the future of The Voice, of the city, of journalism itself.

Those laments seem fully justified when the headline on the web version of the Voice is The Ten Cutest Things on the Internet. Just how much irony can be extracted from a piglet in wellies?

Perhaps all is not quite lost. Nat Hentoff (going strong at 85 years of age) has begun a series gunning for Cathie Black (chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education) and beyond her for Mayor Bloomberg:

This is the first of an intermittent series of columns on the collapse of the public school system that Black is utterly incapable of dealing with: the dramatic rise of student suspensions, mostly affecting black children and students with special needs; the thousands of students being denied, against the law, second-language instruction with more cuts in the budget; kindergarten classes more overcrowded than in the past decade and tighter squeezing in other classes.

There’s more, and, obviously, this isn’t Cathie Black’s fault. She just came on board this severely listing ship. There are New York schools enabling lifelong learning—like in Steven Thrasher’s precise Voice reporting on the charter school Bronx Success Academy (February 2). But the large-scale systemic failures were wholly left out in a February 9 Daily News article by none other than Cathie Black (“On College Readiness, Let’s Get Real”).

Black was a sudden, and strange appointment. Her predecessor, Joel Klein, departed to serve under Rupert Murdoch ($2 million a year, plus perks and bonuses,  as “director of educational technology”). Black was recruited from the Coca-Cola Corporation and the Hearst chain. Sub-texts:

  • we don’t want anyone who “knows” about education [*];
  • we do want to run education like any other corporation.

There is something seriously wrong with any schools system where the needs of the students and the needs of the teachers cannot be reconciled; but the corporative spirit can be.

Hentoff and the emasculated Voice may be able to help yet,


[*] A long while ago, when the world was young, Malcolm was told by the Labour Councillor appointed to the Chair of Education, and the wife of a prominent left-wing Labour MP, that she didn’t want anyone on her Committee who “knew about education”.

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Filed under education, leftist politics., New York City

And “ginger rodent” offended?

Paul Waugh was, until recently, one of the few reasons for the existence of the London Evening Standard. Then he hauled off his tent to “Lord” Ashcroft’s vanity project, PoliticsHome.

What we don’t expect from Paul Waugh is contemptuous offensiveness, even when (as in this case) it is singularly deserved. This morning Waugh managed a bit of bile for the grossly over-promoted ex-PR man for an outdoor pursuits centre, given added dynamic by a telling image of Alexander (as right):

A little bird tells me that Danny Alexander has pulled out of the Andrew Marr prog this Sunday.

If so, one has to ask why?

Surely it couldn’t it be to avoid tricky questions about his boss’s embarassment over who was ‘in charge’ this week?

Surely it can’t be to avoid tricky questions about the fact that growth has just been revised down to -0.6%? (After all he’s available today respond to the GDP figs).

Waugh, being a gentleman, was later adding that Alexander’s understudy would be Philip Hammond, who:

has a policy announcement next week. As I write, it may well change again with Hague on Marr again, given the huge interest in foreign policy and Libya.

Quite frankly, if Hague isn’t up for taking the flak on Libya, there’s something very seriously adrift. Well, of course there’s a whole slew of things wrong with the UK actions over Libya; but let’s not gloat over a continuing train smash.

What was truly, delightfully, indulgently smile-making about Waugh’s original piece, which remains significantly uncorrected, is the headline:

Beaker pulls out

Waugh is following the meme established by Martin Rowson’s cartoons for The Guardian, as here:

There’s the wee fellow, as always with his fearful ferrety face, a spear-carrier in the great Roman tragedy through which we are living. Harriet Harman too was tempted, and fell

because Scotland deserves better.

Those who do not remember Beaker may need a reminder of Doctor Bunsen Honeydew’s unfortunate assistant:

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Filed under human waste, London, Paul Waugh, politics, politicshome, Scotland, Tories.

Brown Windsor

For reasons that involve the mellifluously-fluting Lucinda Lambton and a rather special doll’s-house, the Lady in Malcolm’s life and the Pert Young Piece were in Windsor yesterday afternoon.

Malcolm arranged to meet them after their tryst with Perry Worsthorne’s missus. That gave him the opportunity of exploring the public transport system a bit further: the senior travel pass (one of the many benefits Gordon Brown finagled for ordinary Brits) should mean the journey could be done for free.

There are numerous ways of travelling from Malcolm’s perch in Norf Lunnun to Windsor. On this occasion Malcolm got it seriously wrong.

Out of Redfellow Hovel soon after 3 p.m. It was a 43 bus to Holloway Road, catch the Piccadilly Line. Then a long trundle through the western suburbs to Heathrow.

Gripe the first

Heathrow was, is and (unless a miracle ensues) always will be a aeronautical slum. There are several ways of getting to and from:

  • One can be scalped by the cab drivers (who have a hell of a time anyhow, so not all the blame is theirs).
  • Just below that 24-carat extravagance comes the Heathrow Express, allegedly mile-for-mile the most exorbitantly-overcharged rail journey in the world, as well as having the most complex fares structure.
  • Just below that again is the stopping train out of Paddington: it does exactly the same trip as the Heathrow Express at half the price, and takes all of ten minutes or so longer.

The problem with both those latter options is Paddington, which (Marylebone apart) is the terminus least accessible from central London. That, we are assured, may improve with the Crossrail project; but not until the back-end of this decade.

  • Beyond that it’s the ‘Dilly line, where we are truly at one with our neighbour: at rush-hours sardines have more personal space. The near forty-year-old rolling stock was due for replacement in a couple of years’ time, but became embroiled in the collapse of Tube Lines, and so one of the first of the Tory-led coalition cuts.

To add to the Heathrow mess, there is the continuing confusion of terminals, particularly when airlines with a smaller presence seem perversely to switch from one to another.

Terminal Five

After teething troubles, very well-publicized, the monster seems to have settled into a good operating condition. Passengers seem almost happy.

It certainly is an impressive structure. The medievals built cathedrals: we build airport terminals. We’re almost getting good at doing so. Those medieval cathedrals coped with a few thousand annual “foot-falls”. Terminal Five is prepared to deal with 35 million.

The last stage of Malcolm’s odyssey was from the Cave of the Winds (see below) on the other 77 bus (there’s the better-known 77 from Tooting to Waterloo).

Gripe the second

Terminal Five’s bus terminal is ground level and out the back (vaguely in the direction of the Sofitel hotel). Perhaps the original intention was to have a drive-through for jumbo jets. It is a vast, open tunnel of a soul-less place. Particularly so when, as Malcolm, you just missed the previous bus and it’s a half-hour wait, with a chilling draught through the tunnel.

Not in Kansas any more …

Suddenly the buses are Slough (actually First Group) blue.

A bus is a bus is a bus. This one’s route takes the sightseeing Malcolm through the delights of twilit Slough:

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough
The cabbages are coming now
The earth exhales.

Those cabbages are likely to be found in the ginormous Sainsbury’s supermarket passed along the route. Immediately followed by as sprawling a Tesco’s. Concrete and glass find a spiritual home here. Beautiful it is not.

Once out and under the M4 the 77 speeds up, and fairly shifts through the old watermeadows around Eton. Then it’s across the bifurcated Thames to the Maidenhead Road roundabout, past the “artisan’s cottages” of Arthur Street, and, with a bit of juggling, into the bus stop at the marvellously-named Peascod Street (“It used to be all fields round here, you know!”).

Something like three-and-a-half hours, end to end, time passed courtesy of an Irish Times (read thoroughly, an excellent edition) then 100+ pages in the chilling company of Harry Hole. The reading was the only consolation of an afternoon thoroughly wasted.

The Carpenters Arms

Things were about to improve considerably: Malcolm was pledged to meet aforesaifd Lady in his Life and the Pert Young Piece in the Carpenters Arms in Market Street (and that’s as close to the main gate of the Castle as any good republican would wish to be).

Better believe it: there are pubs in Windsor which are not dedicated to fleecing every passing day-tripper; and are worth the visit. They just need hunting out. Pride of place in this select list has to be the Carpenters. It cannot be just a quiet(ish) evening in February that gave the instant impression of a well-run and well-patronised place. It’s a Nicholson’s house, which should convey an atmosphere of well-bred, late-Victorian solidity, moving adequately but not precipitately with the times. Nicholson’s probably buy their (old-style) Brasso by the tanker-load.

Malcolm was late in arriving: fortunately the females were later still. On the pumps five ales. Apart from the reliable stand-bys (London Pride and Doom Bar) there were three exotics (as right).

As a general rule Malcolm is none too keen on frolicksome beers, be they Belgians dunking cherries and strawberries or attempts at imitating foreign stuff. That quickly eliminated the Ginger Beer and the Vicious IPA: had he been in any doubt, two guys at the bar anxiously dissuaded him from either (they had obviously been that way before). One of them was on Pride: fair enough. The other wasn’t.

Malcolm was hesitating between the Fuller’s and the Sharp’s: London Pride or Doom Bar? It was the dark, beyond-brown-to-black contents of the second guy’s pint glass that made Malcolm look closer at that third exotic: Thornbridge Wild Holly.

Thornbridge is a craft brewery, based in Bakewell, Derbyshire, with a growing reputation. There’s been a small surge of these heavy winter ales in the last year or two. Once upon a time “winter warmers” were universal, and by late February are on their last knockings. Most are worth a second go. Malcolm gave Wild Holly a first go; and happily came back for more.

When the women arrived (Doom Bar for the Pert Young Piece, a well-raised child, and a decent Chilean red for the Lady), it was rib-eye steaks all round; and damn the consequences.

By general consent, the Carpenters Arms ticked all the boxes. Very highly recommended.

Home, James, …

… and don’t spare the horses.

The return journey, in less than half the time of the outward one, was Windsor and Eton Riverside to Waterloo, by South West Trains, then Northern Line.

Malcolm may be long-suffering; but he is no masochist.

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Filed under air travel., Beer, Belgium, Britain, CAA, Detective fiction, Irish Times, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, travel

The not-so-great and the not-so-good, no:22

Gosh, it’s a long while since we had one of these. The last (as Malcolm’s fallible memory goes) was Lia Clarke, eighteen months back.

This one might, semi-usefully, be sub-titled

Eat …  even your heart out, Mike Hancock.

However, Malcolm goes with the flow and submits:

Edmund Hope Verney (6 April 1838 to 8 May 1910)

Fret not, our singular and regular reader: this one has a (vaguely) Irish connection.

Verney came to Malcolm’s attention this Wednesday with lot 1290 of Sworder’s auction sale of:

John Diller, Marlborough Street, London, an oak cased instrument set, in two sections, with an engraved plaque, ‘Edward Hope Verney RN’, with compasses, rules, and a large brass rule, label reads ‘For Travelling, Writing and Dressing Cases’

Sworders placed an estimate of £150-200 on the lot: it sold for £170.

Sworders added a catalogue note:

Edmund Hope Verney (1838-1910), from 1885 Liberal MP for North Buckinghamshire, in 1891 expelled from Parliament and sentenced to one year imprisonment for a misdemeanour (procuring a girl under the age of twenty one for immoral purposes), 1877 captain on the Royal Navy, 1884 retired. [sic]

Somebody got a bargain.

There is a biography in the DNB, though it is discreetly subsumed under that of his wife, Lady Margaret Verney (1844-1930, the protagonist of Welsh higher education and historian of the Verney family). On this occasion, the wikipedia version is not only more accessible, but more pertinent.

Edmund Verney, RN

Verney joined the Navy from Harrow School, aged fourteen. That took him to the Crimea and to the Indian mutiny, in both of which he distinguished himself and was decorated.

His recollection of the Indian business were published as The Shannon’s Brigade in India (1862). One might fairly speculate what Verney was up to with this (apart from publicising Lieutenant Verney of the Shannon): it is essentially a hero-worshipping of the meteoric Captain Sir William Peel, third son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, a fellow Old Harrovian, winner of the Victoria Cross in the Siege of Sebastopol, with the Guards at the Battle of Inkerman, wounded at the Relief of Lucknow, and dead at Cawnpore at the age of thirty-four.

He even found time to build a branch line to link the family estate to the Great Northern Railway.

Then Verney was off to the west coast of Canada between 1862-5, which must, at that moment, have been a sensitive posting. Canada was working up to Confederation. The frontier with the United States (including that with Alaska) was still being tested. His letters from this posting, too, were published, and Verney found the country more interesting than the people. The odd bit of plunder found its way back to the British Museum.

Then to his final naval posting, on the West Coast of Africa. Nor would this one be a “cushy” billet: there were still slavers (carrying cargo to South America) to be frustrated. Meanwhile Verney had been wounded in a shooting accident, back home on the Sandy, Bedfordshire, estate, which left him partially disabled, and caused his retirement from active service. He was appointed to the coastguard in Liverpool (1875), and eventually was raised to Captain (1877).


Verney’s public interest in Liberal politics seems to coincide with his engagement to and then marriage with Margaret Maria Williams (right), who was developing into one of those formidable do-gooders who represent all that David Cameron would wish his “Big Society” to be. She was particularly involved in education and heathcare, both in the Verney feudal fief of Bedfordshire and in her family’s perch in Anglesey.

In 1868 Verney was the Liberal also-ran for the Great Marlow constituency, where he was seen off by the Tory scion of the Wethered brewing dynasty. In 1874 in Anglesey (that Williams connection) and at Portsmouth (the naval one) he also failed, until he entered the Commons as MP for Buckinghamshire (1885-6 and 1889 until he was unseated). He was simultaneously a London County Councillor for Brixton. He had laid down a marker by publishing Four Years of Protest in the Transvaal, A Poem from the South African in 1881, which was no verse but a tract against imperialism. Verney was on the side of the angels in the matter of Irish Home Rule; though, his voting record apart, the only parliamentary utterance Malcolm has so far found is a small clash with A.J.Balfour over police “shadowing” (i.e. heavily accompanying Home Rule suspects, in this case in Tipperary).

Dish the dirt!

In October 1890 a warrant was issued for the arrest of a “Mr Wilson” on a charge that he counselled and procured, and conspired to procure, a female for immoral purposes, so in breach of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

We may need to note this Act further, perhaps in an addendum to this post.

“Wilson” had been named, and the arrest warrant issued, as a result of the trial of Madame Eugenie Rouillier, who had been charged with attempting to procure a 19-year-old, Nellie Maude Baskett for immoral purposes. Miss Baskett was whipped off to Paris (as Mme Rouillier’s “travelling companion”) and introduced to various gentlemen. In giving evidence, Nellie reckoned that “Wilson” conducted himself in such a manner that she realised what his intentions were; and nipped back home to London next day.

The following April Nellie was with her mother in Westminster where she recognised Verney: she clutched her mother’s arm and said ‘Mother, there is the beast Wilson!’ Henry Labouchere’s journal (for whom, see addendum below) Truth was forward in publishing the juicy details.

Faced with a succession of witnesses who indentified Verney as “Wilson”, Edmund Verney pleaded guilty on all charges, and on 6th May 1891 was sentenced to twelve months. On 12th May he was expelled from the House of Commons.

After release, Verney retired to the family estate at Claydon, where he occupied himself collecting Bibles (there were a couple — a 1640 Puritan Bible, sold for £330, and a Breeches Bible of 1603, sold for £200 — at that same auction sale on Wednesday). He inherited the baronetcy in 1894. His wife, Lady Margaret Maria Verney, continued her good works in North Wales and Buckinghamshire long after Verney was dead.



What are you doing with that hand, Henry?

That Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 is notable for the Labouchere Amendment, named in “honour” of the MP who proposed it. In more general parlance it was “the blackmailer’s charter”. It was the clause under which gay men could be, and were, prosecuted. It was the clause under which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned; and it also did for Edward de Cobain, MP for Belfast East the year after Verney was sent down.

Henry Labouchere (right) was one of the more expert politickers of his day: a journalist and radical Liberal (and a closet agnostic, who was able to deign himself “the Christian member for Northampton”, since his fellow MP for the city was Bradlaugh). He invented Gladstone as “The Grand Old Man”. His great contribution to Anglo-Irish affairs was active support for Home Rule, and unmasking Richard Pigott as the forger behind the Parnell stitich-up. Queen Victoria vetoed his appointment to the Cabinet because his journal Truth was so scabrous.

The (in modern terms) stain on Labouchere’s record is his homophobia. His amendment to the 1885 Act poisoned British society for many subsequent decades. His only regret about Oscar Wilde’s sentence was its brevity: his original amendment suggested a seven year sentence.

Edward de Cobain

Edward Samuel Wesley de Cobain was Tory MP for Belfast East 1885-1892 (in the 1886 General Election he took 80% of the vote over a Nationalist).

In April 1891 a warrant was issued for his arrest, charged with the commission of unnatural offences in Belfast. He was already out of the jurisdiction, having taken a boat from Goole to the Continent.

de Cobain was “invited” to resign his seat in the Commons; but refused to do so, on the grounds that it would be a confession of guilt. He let it be known that the charges were political, machinated by a cabal in Belfast and by the Tory administration (not a lot , then, has changed on the Belfast political scene in the last century). de Cobain was expelled from the Commons on 26th February 1892. Gustav Wolff (indeed!) was elected at the by-election, and was unopposed for the next five parliaments.

The fugitive was seen in Bilbao and in Boulogne, before arriving in New York, where he was organising revivalist meetings. Back in Belfast (February 1893) he was arrested and put on trial. His defence was that a young man named Haggie with whom:

he had conversed … at several temperance demonstrations, and subsequently treated him with courtesy and familiarity. Taking advantage of this intimacy, the young man asked for a considerable sum of money, which he had refused.

The jury chose not to believe de Cobain: sentence: twelve months with hard labour.

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Filed under Belfast, bigotry, Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, crime, education, Elections, health, History, Ireland, Irish politics, politics, Private Eye, railways, sleaze., Tories.

Josh Lyman is da man!

Hizzoner the Mayor of Chicago:

  • 1955 to 1976: Richard Joseph Daley;
  • 1989 to 2011: Richard Michael Daley;
  • 16th May 2011 to ?: Rahm Israel Emanuel.

Those of us who remember the 1968 Democratic Convention, may still learn to forgive, if we can’t forget.

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Filed under The West Wing, US Elections, US politics

Whitewashing the sepulchre

Ms Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, junior minister for “equality” (and so singing from a Tory-led coalition song-sheet), is circulating an email.

It is her alternative budget for Haringey.

Malcolm knows full well the officers and elected members of Haringey have been sweating blood on this one for months. Yet Ms Featherstone (qualified from a design course, Oxford Polytechnic) can dash it off in moments. Such is the mark of one truly gifted.

An economic genius writes:

After the statutory blaming of the previous administration (even though her party thought those measures were too moderate), she nails the blame:

Here in Haringey, funding to the Council has been reduced by 7.9% next year. After this reduction, the Council still has £280 million to spend on its priority services in 2011/12.

The weasel words there, of course, are that value judgement: priority services.

She means, in straight terms, Westminster (i.e. Eric Pickles) knows what’s good for all of us. This comprehensively ignores any difference in viewpoint from Ms Featherstone’s well-feathered nest in Highgate  to that in South Tottenham.

Hmm: how does that fit with Lib Dem localism?

However, Ms Fetherstone believes this 8% cut is, as she so positively affirms, a welcome change.

Slippery numeracy there (Ah, that Oxford Poly degree!):  the actual cut was … wait for it .. 13%. That’s £46 million this year, and £85 million (heavily front-loaded) over the next three years. Perhaps Ms Featherstone’s superior intellect could correct those numbers.

Ms Featherstone’s alternative budget:

In her own words:

But there are other options.

My Liberal Democrat colleagues have alternative proposals that will reverse Labour’s closure of our older people’s day centres, drop-in centres and luncheon clubs, will put £900,000 back into youth services, £700,000 to protect the voluntary sector and £750,000 into tackling crime and worklessness.

Liberal Democrats have chosen instead to tackle the Council’s huge expenditure on IT and senior management with additional savings in council departments’ communications, policy and performance.


  • Do for I.T.! Great for a modern operation: let’s reinstate steel-nibs and bring back Bob Cratchit from retirement.
  • Yeah: no nine-figure operation needs a senior management. It’ll run itself!
  • Communications? As Kingsley Amis pointed out in the ’50s, Thinking? — we leave that to our supervisors. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Many of the valid criticisms (and there have been lots, not least from Ms Featherstone on the stump) of Haringey operations are that information does not flow through the systems.

Yeah: easy!

Of course, Ms Featherstone applies all of these principles to her own operations.

So, for example, in 2008/9 (the most recent year reported by on top of Ms Featherstone’s  office and staffing costs were a smidgeon under £121,000. That’s around twice her salary as an M.P.

Nor does she starve herself and her office of materials. Over three years (2005 to 2008) she needed over £3,300 of computer equipment and (2005 to 2009) close on £36,500 of stationery and postage. That does not, of course, include the famed Featherstone raid on the stationery cupboard (just before it became rationed) when she was ordered to return the £22,000+ of Commons paper she lifted in  just one month.

A high-maintenance lady, who seems not to practise what she preaches.


Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Lib Dems, London, Lynne Featherstone, Tories.