Monthly Archives: May 2011

The return of the bastards

Surely one couldn’t forget John Major’s “bastards”? —

John Major’s rage and frustration with rightwing Tories boiled over this weekend when, in an outburst, he called three of his own cabinet members “bastards”. The onslaught against the Eurosceptic ministers not named, but almost certainly Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo came within minutes of the vote of confidence on Friday which kept him in office.

His obvious anger, and contempt for Tory opponents, is certain to keep open the party’s wounds after the Maastricht furore. It will help convince rightwingers that Mr Major is even more embittered against them than he has admitted.

Further to that previous post, there’s a bit more poison, courtesy of  Tim Montgomerie at ConHome (Tha’needs t’ knoo wha t’enemy’s thinkin’ — Malcolm’s cousin Ralph, circa 1964).

Montgomerie is trailing a piece by Rachel Sylvester for tomorrow’s Times:

For the Tory modernisers, the Lib Dems are the ideal weapon to ward off the enemy within. The news that some of the so-called “Tatler Tories” have been dumped from the list of prospective parliamentary candidates is evidence that the leadership does not think that the modernisation of the party is yet complete. The Prime Minister is pleased to have political cover for keeping the 50p top rate of tax, abandoning the “prison works” approach to crime, avoiding a return to grammar schools and retaining the ring-fence on aid — all policies that infuriate the rightwingers. “The traditionalists are just not on planet Earth,” says one Cameroon.

There are many ways of reading that.

Up straight it says no more than the LibDems being the Tory protection squad.

Beyond that, the “Tory modernisers” are under threat, that the Tory rabid Right are on the march, and it’s all to play for.

The rest, you can work out for yourselves.

Since we’ve already got a government that is split from top-to-bottom, further splits in the main ConDem wing are serious stuff. It’s not far off the “unfit for purpose” condition. Why does nobody notice?

We now have a unique tripartite (perhaps even more factions could be counted) government, forming alliances as and when each contentious issue floats to the top of the witches’ cauldron:

  • LibDems + Cameroons = NHS non-privatisation;
  • Right wing Foxites + Cameroons = defence;
  • and so on.

What if … what when .. the whole European issue turns s(c)eptic again?

Which is another scab which Montgomerie and co. constantly scratch.

The good news, for reasonable folk, is that — were the roof to fall in — William Hague (the nearest thing to a sane, intelligent,  if right-of-centre, Tory in sight), is currently not hors-de-combat, having survived that grubby little shared-bedroom thing.

Were this anything other than a Tory government (with natty little LibDem knobs on) the great British press would be screaming about splits, all the way to a demand for an immediate General Election.

One thing is guaranteed: Montgomerie is not going away. Peace is not likely to break out soon.

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Lib Dems, politics, Tim Montgomerie, Times

Death by a thousand c….

Ah, “Big Society” — we knew you well.

After umpteen “re-launches” — most commentators count up to six — we should do.

You were maimed at birth, unable to be called by a real name. “Social contract” was already taken. “Great society” was patented. Both were not the Right side of the fence.

Anyway, the Tory Right saw anything “Big” or to do with “Society” (“there is no such thing as society”) as dangerously middle-of-the-road.

It was allowable as long as it remained one of Dave’s mild flirtations.

Now The Economist’s “Leviathan” — oh, come one, Anne! We know it’s you hiding behind that “A. McE” — puts the delicate court shoe in:

IT WOULD appear that association with the Big Society is something of an albatross. As eagerly as David Cameron has ridden in to re-explain the idea, few in the inner counsels of government now think it will be something to boast about when the time for re-election draws near. Lord Wei, the former management consultant sent to the Lords to be a figurehead for the project, has just announced his resignation to work for a charity. A spokesman told the Guardian that Lord Wei had completed the task of developing the policy—and thus there was no need to replace him. This is akin to saying that Andrew Lansley has completed a task of developing health policy, and so there is no need to replace him either. Not many at Westminster would take bets on that.

So let’s go for it:

‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!


There was a whiff of social conservatism —

  • the kind of thing that made the Women’s Institutes great,
  • that inspired the ladies from Great Houses to dispense soup to the deserving poor —

about the “Big Society”. For just a nano-second one could be deceived to believe Dave was a whit more than a PR-guy.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Economist, social class, Tories., Uncategorized

Bardfest? Yikes!

In yesterday’s Observer there was Vanessa Thorpe noting that, predictably, the 2012 London “cultural Olympics” has its regular star:

This country may be the birthplace of Chaucer, Milton, Austen, the Brontë sisters and Dickens, but Britain has only one dominant calling card on the global cultural scene: William Shakespeare. It is now clear that the Bard and his works will loom large in the British arts festival that is planned to run alongside the Olympic Games in London next year.

It is a dozen paragraphs down before we reach the statutory “on the other hand”, and the usual gurus are trotted out to name-check Dickens, Chaucer and Austen.

So here’s a thought:

What about a Lost the Will to Live anti-fest Fest?

  • Keep it cheap and cheerful!
  • The local library hosts Chaucer’s General Prologue, read with accents and  with back-projection of the characters from the Ellesmere Manuscript and from other sources.
  • Rostrum reading (with gestures) of non-Shakespearean texts. One might be the most stageable Marlowe — Doctor Faustus — with a walk-on by a local trollop, suitably unclad, as Helen launching a thousand ships and burning the topless towers of Ilium. Malcolm quite relishes the role of Mephistopheles for himself. With an optional extra: a screening of George Abbott’s update, Damn Yankees!
  • Love poems which aren’t Sonnet 18. Bring out your Marvell, Clare, Barret Browning, whoever … Definitely suited to a pub, all comers welcome.
  • Mister Men for the under Sevens, with coloured drinks and fairy cakes. Like a children’s party, but everyone gets to help clean up.
  • Do it yourself rip-off of Richard Thompson’s 1,000 Years of Popular Music, perhaps in the form of Many Centuries of London Music.
  • Cricketing poems? (or any other suitable sport). Railway poems and readings? Beer? An endless number of possible theme nights!

Every library, pub, leisure centre should be in on the act, in a true “Big Society” spirit.

Good grief! If Edinburgh can have an ever-expanding fringe, so can London for its one-of cultural olympiad.

Bring out your dead writers! And a few live ones, too.

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Filed under Beer, Britain, Charles Dickens, cricket, culture, Literature, Observer, pubs, railways, reading, Shakespeare


Is there not something inherently wrong with a sport management authority, “for the good of the game“, which needs an “Ethics Committee”?

How unlike the game’s noble origins:

The aims of the Club are to promote fair play and sportsmanship, to play competitive football at the highest level possible whilst remaining strictly amateur and retaining the ideals of the Corinthian and the Casuals Football Clubs.

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Filed under Ethical Man, History, policing, sleaze.

Eddikashun by numbers

Elizabeth Truss is the Tory MP for South West Norfolk. Her earlier “greatest hits” involve a spat with the “Turnip Taliban“, who objected to her leg-over situations with another Tory.

Now she has a hummer of an idea:

every state school’s top 10 most able pupils shd appy to Oxbridge to raiseObama-esque aspiration

Well, you cannot encapsulate gt filosofy in the scope of a tweet.

Not nine, not eleven. Just ten. Presumably in rank order.

Makes one wonder why we bother about external examination.

On the other hand …

A similarly named Elizabeth Truss has written a commendable paper for Centre Forum which argues for greater mobility in the education system, with able students focused on key “core subjects”. In other words, A-level Economics, English, Maths and stuff — rather than the “History of Art” and “Economics with Politics” (i.e. leaving out the hard sums bit) which got David Cameron into Oxford.

Can the two Trusses be related?

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Filed under blogging, Britain, broken society, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, education, Norfolk, sleaze., Tories.

The beginning of the ConDem end

As far as Malcolm can see, it began with Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 News political editor, posting his blog entry on Tuesday morning:

How does the Coalition end? It is a frequent topic of conversation amongst Tories and Lib Dems at all levels. If you believe the Lib Dems need to be “equidistant” from both main parties in the general election (and most Lib Dem MPs do) then how do you pull that off if you sit in government with the Tories and you are led by Nick Clegg right up to the election wire? It just won’t work like that, some Lib Dems say.

In “The Coalition and the Constitution”, Vernon Bogdanor (David Cameron’s politics tutor at Oxford) points out “a little-noticed corollary of the Liberal Democrat argument for a principled coalition of co-operation (i.e. joining a coalition for the good of the nation not because you are aligned with one party or another) is that the party should leave the coalition some time before the next general election in order to re-establish an independent identity and the freedom of action needed to choose between the major parties”.

“Little-noticed” it may be, but it has been clocked by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, I am told. Some time ago he asked for civil servants to take another look at the original files drafted ahead of the 2010 general election. In those papers there were scenarios outlined for minority government, full coalition and “confidence and supply,” a downgrade from coalition, more like the Lib-Lab pact that David Steel and Jim Callaghan operated between 1977-78. Sir Gus, I’m told, wants to make sure that, though it might be some time off, civil servants are prepared for the Lib Dems downgrading cooperation to something way short of a coalition before 2015.

That’s as comprehensive an account as most of us need.

Next out of the traps, on Wednesday, came Paul Goodman recycling much of that for Conservative Home’s Tory Diary. Goodman added a cherry to the confection by plausibly proposing:

Why the Coalition will stop working in three years to this month

Roll forward the clock by three years to 2014, and imagine that the Coalition has survived.  There is a year before the next election.  The two Coalition partners are already looking ahead to it.  Policy work is being done.  The manifesto process for both parties is under way.  The polls show whatever they show.

But whatever they show, the Liberal Democrats won’t have given up hope of holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament, even if their Commons representation looks to be decimated.  They have no other short-term strategic aim (and no medium-term one either, given the AV referendum result).

In four years’ time, then, if not earlier, Liberal Democrat members of the Downing Street policy unit will have little motivation to work on new Government policies – since they can’t be implemented within the remaining twelve months.

They will start looking for other job opportunities.  So will other Liberal Democrat functionaries within the Government, such as special advisers.  Their Conservative equivalents will do likewise, especially if the polls are bad for the party. You may say: this sort of thing happens before every election, so what’s different?

What’s different is that this is a Coalition Government, which means that Ministers will also head for the hills – or at least prepare to do so.  In particular, Liberal Democrat ones will be looking for a possible coalition with Labour after the 2015 poll.
 Then, this morning, Andrew Grice, for the Indy, went with refrying the beans:

Holding the Coalition together is suddenly much harder work. It is not coming off the rails. But the new phase has provoked speculation about how and when it will end.

The Tory backbench rumour mill suggests that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, is dusting down the rules about how a “confidence and supply” arrangement would work. This would mean Liberal Democrat ministers leaving the Government and Mr Clegg’s party supporting the Tories in crucial Commons votes in return for an agreement on key policies. Ending the Coalition would not mean an immediate general election. A Bill is going through Parliament that should ensure it takes place in May 2015, which suits both parties.

The Tory grapevine suggests the Coalition could be scaled down to a “confidence and supply” deal a year or even 18 months before the election. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, a symptom of Tories’ frustration at the Liberal Democrats calling the shots on health.

Yet Liberal Democrat strategists, who had drafted a “confidence and supply” agreement for either Labour or the Tories before last year’s election, admit the idea could be revived for the “decoupling phase” ahead of the next one. On the one hand, it might help their product-differentiation drive. On the other, it might allow the Tories all the credit for a tax-cutting eve-of-election Budget.

“It is an end-game question, a long way down the track,” said one Clegg ally. For now, the two party leaders have their hands full making sure the uncontrolled explosions do not blow the Coalition show off the road. But there are growing signs it might end before the 2015 election.

Finally — for the time being — Sunder Katwala hashes it all up, yet again, for his Fabian Society blog at Next Left (with a painting-by-numbers version on Liberal Conspiracy). He even looks at the personaliy issue:

In this endgame scenario, the post-Coalition Liberal Democrats would naturally need new leadership in order to seek to differentiate themselves from their erstwhile partners in government.

That makes it impossible to see how the Liberal Democrats can attempt an amicable divorce without current leader Nick Clegg having previously made his own decision that he would prefer a new challenge on the international stage to defending Sheffield Hallam at the next General Election

Chris Huhne’s availability is now in doubt, making Tim Farron the likely frontrunner for a party looking for new direction and leadership.

How to achieve that within 12-18 months is more difficult. So the risk is that the party might do even worse if it seems to be running away from its record in government, rather than running on it, so exacerbating the damage of having been in the government during its most unpopular phase, and then absent when the war-chest is unlocked.

If it looks like a case of ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ then that conundrum will be causing plenty of headaches among Liberal Democrats at Westminster.

Now, Malcolm speculates, which Sunday paper pundits have already blocked out game-plans for release tomorrow?

Or, to look at it from another view, it’s easier to gain access to the Funny Farm than it is to get out.

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Filed under blogging, Britain, Channel 4 News, ConHome, Conservative Party policy., Independent, leftist politics., Lib Dems, Nick Clegg


Yesterday there were ululations over the appearance, at last, of an almost-functioning Borisbus. With some reason, Brian Walker saw the silver lining for Slugger O’Toole, as Our slice of a new piece of London heritage. After all, the bolting together is a product of Wrightbus of Ballymena.

Malcolm, as sour as ever, failed to see the unqualified benefits of £55 million of Londoners moolah being directed to this vanity vehicle.

Here, for the record, beginneth the grump:

The last time the good people of London made an investment of this size in Ulster they got 2,000+ km² of rolling Derry countryside for their money. Much good it did them.

This time we get a trio of buses.

Now, back in 2009 Blasted Boris promised that

¶ the cost of that development of that new bus will be borne by the industry
¶ If you look at the current cost of a bus, £250,000, roughly speaking, buys you a new bendy bus. We think that we can get a wonderful new bus for London which will be considerably cleaner, greener, lighter and exactly what this city needs for much less than that…

Very little of the technology in this behemoth is new. It’s effectively a big bugger of a self-powered electric cart. Even that iconic (and very expensive, and rather ugly, and inconvenient — ever worked out why the backs of buses are square?) rear window is beyond UK technology. We’re paying the Italians for that.

Which raises the question: why pay a designer/architect to sketch out a bus? Wouldn’t an engineer be better?

The rear platform means a second member of staff is required. That is why most of the time the rear platform will be closed and locked. Remind me why one-man operation was so desirable and cost-efficient.

It carries far fewer passengers than a bendy, but is hardly more street-friendly: the trade-off of passenger-numbers versus pollution is not yet published. It is not disabled-friendly. Notice how Blasted Boris’s rhetoric now features a Boris-boggler in Oxford Street. Now what Oxford Street really, really needs is something built on these proportions. The rest of London needs a far wider mix of vehicles (many of which already come from the Wrightbus stable).

Most of Boris’s previous traffic initiatives have been polluting (Western extension?). This at a time when London consistently breaks EU pollution regulations.

So, by Thursday 3 May 2012 [Malcolm] confidently predict[s] Blasted Boris will be touring the outer green suburbs in his Big Red battle bus. That’s what it’s all about. Perhaps by that stage TfL might have sorted out the glitches in the (highly costly) Borisbike scheme (the ongoing cock-up of the tube system is a truly hopeless case). Meanwhile Blasted Boris will still be pork-pieing about crime and policing figures.

And the miracle is he gets away with it.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, London, Northern Ireland, policing, politics, Slugger O'Toole, Tories.

Normal for Norfolk

From today’s Times (side bar, page 13):

Hands-free driver

A motorist has been arrested after steering with his knees while using two mobile phones. Police saw the man driving along a section of the A47 at Blofield, near Norwich, with one phone at his ear while he texted on a second phone. A police spokeswoman said, “Using one mobile phone is silly, but two is amazingly silly.”

At least the Norfolk Constabulary are taking the use of mobile phones while driving seriously:

More than 70 drivers were caught using their mobile phones while behind the wheel in the first week of a crackdown in the county.

A two-week campaign urging motorists to ‘zip it behind the wheel’ has so far seen 72 people caught flouting the law by using their phones while driving.

The campaign, run by the Think! Norfolk Partnership, has caught drivers texting while overtaking an unmarked police car, an HGV driver using a phone while driving and a driver pulling out of a junction whilst on the phone.

The people who have been caught by Norfolk police officers will have to appear in court to face a £60 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on their licence, or will have to agree to undertake a “re-education programme” to avoid those penalties.

Iain Temperton, chairman of the Think! Norfolk Partnership, said: “Unfortunately there is a small minority who continue to ignore our advice and use a mobile phone whilst driving.

“It is important to remember that this type of distraction could be a conversation killer.”

In London the Met Police are just too busy to bother. Especially when it involves the News of the World.

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Filed under Law, Metropolitan Police, Murdoch, Norfolk, policing, sleaze., smut peddlers

Too long, but not too late

Story of the day:

Ex-children’s services director Sharon Shoesmith says she is “thrilled” to have won a Court of Appeal battle over her sacking after Baby Peter’s death.

Judges said then education secretary Ed Balls and her employers, Haringey Council, had been “procedurally unfair” when they sacked her three years ago.

The education department and Haringey plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Not much surprise among informed circles, one feels. Despite the dissimulation of Ed Balls, the way the dismissal happened seemed guaranteed to ensure that, somewhere down the line, justice would be done. Even at the time, it felt like kicking the ball into the longest grass in sight.

The BBC’s Alison Holt, Social Affairs Correspondent, (on the same web-page) opens the can of worms:

Sharon Shoesmith was a Director of Haringey Children’s Services, a statutory role set up after the murder of Victoria Climbie more than a decade ago.

It aimed to place a line of responsibility drawn directly from the social worker visiting the child to the senior manager making decisions about the service.

There were undoubtedly serious mistakes made in the handling of Peter Connelly’s case, but those mistakes were made by many of the agencies involved.

In the white heat that the case created, Sharon Shoesmith has always said she became a convenient scapegoat.

When her head rolled, it is argued, it turned scrutiny away from others, including the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls.

Many senior managers who run children’s services will be very relieved by this ruling.

They claim the way in which Sharon Shoesmith was sacked did nothing to ensure people learnt from this tragedy.

What that hides (“the white heat”) is the unbridled ferocity of the red-top tabloids. The Sun in particular worked itself into paroxisms — Blood on their hands was the front-page screech — barely matched since Julius Streicher patented the art in Der Stürmer.

… the Sun newspaper delivered a petition and tens of thousands of letters to Downing Street, demanding Ms Shoesmith’s removal, with Mr Balls agreeing to be photographed receiving them gratefully.

Balls is now back in the spotlight, both fairly and unfairly. He was taking the only route possible at the time, but leaving scope for subsequent reversal. Malcolm is reminded of the Inquisitor’s cynical comment, towards the end of Shaw’s St Joan:

We have proceeded in perfect order. If the English choose to put themselves in the wrong, it is not our business to put them in the right. A flaw in the procedure may be useful later on: one never knows. And the sooner it is over, the better for that poor girl..

No one was more “political” in the Shoesmith business than David Cameron’s opportunist intervention at PMQs, against an unbriefed Gordon Brown. It was the lowest form of pupulism, but no more than we have learned to expect from that “gentleman”.

No one was more culpable than the Haringey LibDems, who illiberally and undemocratically, machinated to exploit the furore for by-election purposes. There was a disgraceful bullying of Labour Councillors, including (as one reliable report has it) the waving of a noose. To the fore in all of that, as photographs testify, was the LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

So the most satisfying outcome would be at Home Office questions, with the junior Minister responding on a matter of “equalities”.  Over to you, Ms Featherstone.

Now we await the lyrical reason of The Sun on the decision.

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Filed under David Cameron, Ed Balls, Law, Lynne Featherstone, Murdoch, prejudice, Quotations

What did you do in the War, Grand-dad?

Not even turned thirty, in the early 1970s, Malcolm’s alter ego was teaching. He had to explain the word “abdication”. Being Malcolm, the exegesis was exhaustive, to the point of being tiresome, including an account of the events of 1936.

A hand went up (kids were polite in those pre-Thatcherite days):

“Do you remember it, sir?”


Similarly an e-mail from a grandson:

I would like to ask you some questions about WWII
Do you remember anything?
Did you go in an air raid shelter?
What was it like? Did you wear a gas mask?
Were you evacuated?
What was it like in the Blitz (if you were in it)

Do you have any items from WWII I could show in class?

So a quick dig in the attic found great-granddad’s album

And the email went back with a selection therefrom:

So we know where Great Grand-dad was around the 10th of October, 1944.

Back at base in Alexandria, there were “outings” to dry (and wet) places of recent interest:

One of Great grand-dad’s stories involved refuelling at Castelrosso, in neutral Turkey. This involved queuing up and pointedly not noticing the German E-boat ahead in the queue, then racing off out of national waters — for the time being — in opposite directions:

The young idea was supplied with more of the same, and yet more for the asking.

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Filed under education, World War 2