Monthly Archives: May 2012

Say it isn’t so

OK: you thought you’d be getting one or other:

Well, you hit lucky. Almost.

To think:

  • the magnificent Billie Holiday did it,
  • the impressive Julie London did it,
  • the ear-bustin’ Aretha Franklin (side 2, track 1) did it.

That’s a list in declining order of Malcolmian preference, by the way.

… and we might be reduced to Bon Jovi.

But, no! We’re saved! There’s  the delectable Miss Dinah Washington:

That, alas, was merely a Malcolmian animadversion on the main event:

Andy Coulson to ‘vigorously contest’ Sheridan trial perjury charge

Prime Minister David Cameron’s former director of communications Andy Coulson is to “vigorously contest” a perjury charge over the Tommy Sheridan trial.

Aw, shucks!

Just think of the fun missed if he’d simply said, “It’s a fair cop, guv!”

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Filed under BBC, Conservative family values, Jazz, Law, Music, sleaze., Tories.

Mmmm … bitchy!

If there’s any of you still left out there, nurturing  that cherished belief about loyalty being the Tory secret weapon, you’d better take a quick hike.

You can still catch catch Fraser Nelson at The Spectator’s Coffee House blog.

He’ll scratch your eyes out!

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Filed under Fraser Nelson, politics, The Spectator, Tories.

Masque of Death by emails

Today we witnessed Jeremy Hunt entering the after-life.

When James Kirkup can headline a story:

Jeremy Hunt’s only remaining job is to catch political bullets for the Prime Minister

the game is well and truly up. It’s next stop the political graveyard. No amount of Prime Ministerial life-support can prevent the inevitable.

What happened on the afternoon of 21st December 2010 is devastating — for Hunt, and for any pretence that the Cameron government had any detachment from the needs of Murdoch. That was the day when Vince Cable had been done over by the Telegraph belles. Here is Martin Hickman checking out the rest for the Indy:

By then, the bid had run into a hitch. Although the EU had cleared it, Mr Cable had referred it to the media regulator Ofcom, which wanted to pass it to the Competition Commission, which would have meant a lengthy delay. Mr Cable would clearly have to be stripped of the decision and it was most likely to go to the Culture Secretary, Mr Hunt.

At 12.57pm, Mr Hunt texted James Murdoch saying: “Great news and congrats on Brussels Just Ofcom to go.”

At 4pm, he had a phone call with Mr Murdoch.

At 4.08pm, he texted the Chancellor, George Osborne, to say he was “seriously worried we are going to screw this up.”

At 4.58pm, Mr Osborne texted back: “I hope you like our solution.”

At 5.45pm, the “solution” became clear: the Prime Minister David Cameron handed Mr Hunt control of the bid, despite knowing he had sent a memo to No 10 the previous month giving it his strong support.

Two tweets on the BBC rolling feed were very apt:

  • Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News tweets: (will anyone in Westminster ever text anyone again?)
  • Toby Young, writer tweets: Stupid question, but how come all these text messages were preserved? Why didn’t Hunt & co simply delete them after reading?

For the same reason, Mr Young, that Nixon kept all those tapes, perhaps.

So, we now have James Murdoch, Jeremy Hunt, “Gids” Osborne and Cameron himself, in a square dance of death.

Cue, with small emendation, Edgar Allan Poe:

And now was acknowledged the presence of the True Blue Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice held illimitable dominion over all.

Afterthought:

Brilliant survey by Tom Watson, by the way.

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Filed under Comment is Free, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, fiction, films, George Osborne, Guardian, Independent, Jeremy Hunt, Law, Lib Dems, Literature, sleaze.

With an “e”

Frank McNally has appeared for repeated approbation here at Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service. Not, of course, that the Magnificent Frank needs such trifles.

Today’s Irishman’s Diary, though, is a special treat.

Kilbeggan

Until the M6 was built, this was the cross-roads of the Dublin-Galway N6 (which took one down Bridge Street, and past the distillery) and the Nenagh-Dundalk N52. Now you turn off the motorway onto the Tullamore Road.

The gift wrapping for McNally’s offering is the Kilbeggan Distillery, in the County Westmeath. That was originally the Brusna Distillery (because it sits on the River Brosna, and has a water-mill — soon again to be functioning). The original licence is dated 1757; and so claims to be the oldest continually licensed distillery in the world. Let us remember that every bottle of Bushmills boasts a 1608 licence from James I to distil uisce beatha … in the territory of the Rowte (Rowte = rout, the area controlled by the private army of the MacQuillans), and that  the Old Bushmills Distillery was recorded in 1743.

Malcolm will happily drink to either claim.

The original Brusna distillery was set up and owned by the McManus family, and control passed to the Codd family in 1794. The distillery manager was John McManus, who was also a colonel in the United Irishmen, and who ended his life, condemned for treason (and apparently for breaching the curfew), on the gallows at Mullingar in the aftermath of 1798.

In 1843 the distillery was taken over by John Locke and Sons, by which name it became better known until Locke’s closed down in 1959. That led to one of those typically Irish shenanigans: the assets — which amounted to the run-down property in Kilbeggan and some 60,000 gallons of mature whiskey — had been “acquired” in 1947 by The Transworld Trust, based in Switzerland. To nobody’s great surprise The Transworld Trust, and its £305,000 was a wide-boy operation. From the start Oliver J Flanagan was asking awkward questions. As McNally puts it succinctly:

A subsequent tribunal of inquiry found that Flanagan had over-egged the allegations, somewhat. Even so, a bad smell lingered. And the Locke’s scandal helped usher De Valera out of power after 16 years, to be replaced by the first inter-party government.

… which all sounds dismally familiar

Inside this wrapping, McNally rattles through a broad view of what went wrong for Irish whiskey. His account boils down to:

1. Coffey

In 1830 a Dublin-born (the DNB prefers Dublin to the alternative of Calais) exciseman, Aeneas Coffey (left), came up with an alternative to the ancient alembic:

The Coffey still (a.k.a columnar still) consists of three interconnected towers equipped with perforated trays stacked at intervals of approximately 20 – 30 centimetres. Each tower has to inlets; one for the alcohol-containing liquid the other for pressurized steam. The ferment is fed through the top inlet and the steam from the bottom. As the liquid trickles down the steam rises and literally strips the alcohol from it at a high temperature and speed. The vaporized alcohol travels to the top of the tower and to the next tower to undergo the same process. The third tower usually shorter distils a smaller quantity, as the volume is now much smaller than at the beginning of the process. 

At the end of the run, a highly purified (90 percent ABV) alcohol is obtained which is, regardless of the base material, tastes the same -colourless, and tasteless much like vodka or industrial food-grade alcohol. This alcohol consists mainly of ethyl alcohol and very little, lethal methyl alcohol.

The result was a lighter distillate, cheaper to produce. The Scots took up the invention: the Irish stuck with traditional methods, or as the DNB has it:

Initial production problems and the conservatism of Irish distillers meant that Coffey had little success in introducing his apparatus in Ireland, and in 1835 he moved his business to St Leonard’s Street, Bromley by Bow, Middlesex. From the 1840s his patent still gained in popularity, notably in Scotland. During his tour of 1887 Alfred Barnard found Coffey stills in all the major Scottish distilleries. Improved versions are widely used in the manufacture of grain whisky, gin, and other potable and industrial spirits.

2. Prohibition

The Volstead Act (the National Prohibition Act of 1919) implemented the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Instantly Irish whiskey lost its main export market.

Worse still, the Locke’s brand and others were so well known they was counterfeited for hooch. By 1928 whiskey production in the Free State was 36.6% down, to 560,000 barrels.

When prohibition was repealed in 1931, the reputational damage had been done.

3. Independence

Sales in Britain of all things distinctly “Irish” were damaged by the War of Independence.

In 1932 the incoming  Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera ramped up tariffs on imported goods, which in those days were mainly British exports. In retaliation Irish whiskey went AWOL across the British Empire.

4. Overpaid, over-sexed and over here

There should have been a reprieve when the GIs arrived, during the Second Unpleasantness.

Alas, thanks to a combination of the above factors, the American occupation developed a taste for Scotch, in McNally’s racey account:

Dev’s economic war with Britain was a disaster, and neutrality didn’t help much either. All those US troops stationed in the UK were a whisky marketer’s dream, bringing their newly acquired taste for Scotch home with them after the war.

… and a round finish

They are back distilling at Kilbeggan: production restarted in 2007, and will be on the market in a couple of years time.

Meanwhile the Cooley Distillery (now yet another subsidiary of the Jim Beam operation) in the County Louth will offer substitutes: Kilbeggan, Locke’s Blend and Locke’s Malt. The link with Kilbeggan, for the moment, is that the maturing process takes place in Locke’s old granite bond-store.

Sláinte

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Filed under De Valera, Dublin., economy, Frank McNally, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, politics, Scotland, World War 2

Wood from the trees

By the look of it, (the late) Jeremy Hunt is having a hard time at Leveson. Which prompts the echo:

Slartibartfast: Come. Come now or you will be late. 
Arthur: Late? What for? 
Slartibartfast: What is your name, human? 
Arthur: Dent. Arthur Dent. 
Slartibartfast: Late as in the late Dentarthurdent. It’s a sort of threat, you see. I’ve never been terribly good at them myself but I’m told they can be terribly effective. 

Even the stoniest of hearts … well, not really.

For example, there’s this (from the BBC running blog):

1013: 

Mr Hunt denies hiding behind a tree to avoid being spotted by Wall Street journalist on the way to a dinner with James Murdoch. He says he spotted a large group of journalists and thought it was “not the time to have an interview so moved to another part of the quadrangle”.

Three stops beyond Barking

[For non-Londoners: It’s a well-worn old joke. Start with the notion of “barking mad”. Out in the sticks, the District Line of the London Underground reaches Barking. Three stops beyond Barking is Dagenham Heathway. Hence, “he’s not just barking, he’s all the way to Heathway”. Six stops beyond would be Hornchurch — but insanity on that level is truly exceptional.]

The fuller version of the evening of 20th May 2010 was related, at some length and highly divertingly, by Iain Martin for the Sunday Telegraph. Murdoch fils had been giving a long, impenetrable and thoroughly boring speech (available for reading hereto launch something at UCL called “The Centre for Digital Humanities”. Martin was not impressed:

I snaffled a drink, wandered around for 20 minutes or so, talked to a few people I knew, was introduced to James Murdoch’s charming wife and then decided to go out to get some air and make a few calls.

It was then, as I stood on the steps with my Blackberry, that I spotted the then new Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt in the middle distance, walking across the square. He was walking fast and was glued to his mobile phone. He was heading in my direction, towards the Murdoch drinks party. I don’t know whether he saw me, or if something else diverted him, but he suddenly changed direction and darted to the side of the square and over towards a large tree.

I know Hunt, he’s a thoroughly decent man, and thought about going over to help him with directions. He was obviously looking for the Murdoch drinks party and I could help point him towards it. But he was deep in conversation on his mobile, although he kept looking over towards the door, and the party, behind me. So I decided to just stand there and see what happened. Hunt then moved himself behind the tree so that he was partially obscured.

I wandered back into the party and ran into one of the organisers. The Culture Secretary is out there hiding behind a tree, I said. We know, came the response, but he doesn’t want to come in because all the media correspondents are here.

Clearly the journos love all this:

James Macintyre, Politics editor of Prospect tweets: Hilarious. Hunt confirms @iainmartin1 story abbbt him hiding behind trees to avoid media journalists.
 What was that about a politician being able to survive anything except ridicule?

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Filed under Jeremy Hunt, Leveson, London, Murdoch, politics, railways, Tories.

All for want of a nail

Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, revisited the trial of Roger Casement, in search of a comma.

Roger Casement was tried, found guilty, sentenced and executed under the Treason Act of 1351. That was, and is (for it remains in force in English law to this day) quite an enlightened piece of legislation, in that it attempts to define and circumscribe what is involved in an act of treason. Essential to the conviction  was whether or not Casement had been

adherent to the King’s enemies in his Realm, giving to them aid and comfort, in the Realm[,] or elsewhere.

Notice that critical second comma: if it’s there, Casement was indeed guilty, and Mr Justice Darling was entitled to read that “giving aid and comfort” were words of apposition: that is to say, if one took the side of the king’s foes, one was a traitor irrespective of whether one was in or out of the kingdom. On the other hand …

Casement had done his stuff in Germany, not in the lands of George V. Once back in Ireland, still part of the United Kingdom, he had behaved impeccably, surrendering to the police, and obeying the law. Serjeant Sullivan, imported for the occasion and a stranger to English courts, argued the 1351 Act:

neither created nor declared an offence of treason by adherence to the King’s enemies beyond the realm.

The precise wording meant:

the giving of aid and comfort outside the realm did not constitute a treason which could be tried in this country unless the person who gave the aid and comfort outside the realm, in the present case in the Empire of Germany, was himself within the realm at the time when he gave the aid and comfort .

It took the keen eyes of two learned judges, and a trip to the Public Record Office, to spot there might, just might, be a second comma. Anyway, the mood of the time probably made Sullivan’s nit-picking pointless, and so Casement was condemned. Presumptions of innocence and guilt tend to get a bit clouded when matters are so politically polarised, as they were in 1916.

A Malcolmian aside

That picture has a history in itself.

The presiding judge, Sir Charles John Darling, invited Sir John Lavery into the Court. Lavery had to keep his materials out of sight while he sketched. The finished version (above) was not completed until 1931, and remained in Lavery’s studio until the artist’s death in 1941. Casement is put at the centre, straight in front of the viewer, who is thus rendered judge and jury.

The painting became part of the Irish National Collection, and is generally to be found at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin, though it came to London for restoration work in 2003 — which was its first display in the United Kingdom.

Yeats, however, put the painting (or was he thinking of some sketches for it?) in The Municipal Gallery Revisited as early as 1938:

Around me the images of thirty years:
An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side;
Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars,
Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride …

How might this apply to the arrest, for perjury, of Andy Coulson?

Well, it might come down to a similar piece of pettifogging.

Another Malcolmian aside:

from the OED:

pettifogger, n.1

1. Originally: an inferior legal practitioner who dealt with petty cases; formerly occas. also as a professional name … (now hist.). Hence: a lawyer who engages in petty quibbling and cavilling, or who employs dubious or underhanded legal practices; a lawyer who abuses the law. Usu. derogatory.

Consider:

  • Tommy Sheridan represented himself at his perjury trial.
  • He called Coulson as a witness.His crucial question to Coulson was: Did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?”
  • Coulson replied, “Not to my knowledge”.

Coulson could answer no other way: he would have been incriminating himself, for corruption law makes both briber and bribe-taker guilty.

But, even now, Coulson has a get-out: it may be the NotW didn’t pay off “corrupt” coppers, but honest ones. The NotW had no knowledge whether the individuals receiving dosh were “corrupt” or not. The paper was serving the wider good,covered by the public-interest defence: a small technical offence to expose a greater one, etc., etc. And with one bound our hero is free!

Coulson the escapologist

Sheridan also questioned Coulson on why he had left the NotW. As always, he gave the noble answer.

There had been a crime committed by a member of the NotW staff: Clive Goodman had been done for intercepting Clarence House telephone messages, and for that went inside on a four-month stretch. At that stage the NotW management were maintaining that Goodman was the single “bad apple”.

Coulson had accepted “taken the ultimate responsibility and stepped down” for this “illegal phone hacking”, even though —perish the thought! — he had “no knowledge of it”.

That has been Coulson’s consistent stated position. Sheridan had pressed him further, particularly over Goodman’s connection with Glenn Mulcaire, he of the numerous records. Coulson denied he had any awareness at all of Mulcaire, did not even know the name until Mulcaire’s arrest: “I never met him, spoke to him or emailed him.” The £105,000 the NotW paid Mulcaire was inexplicable to Coulson: this, and other outgoings, had been “made without my knowledge”. Coulson believed that just “five other people” had had their voice-mails hacked. We now know (and many of us studying the US press had wind at the time — read down to Malcolm’s comment) Coulson was out by an underestimate by about 2,668.6%.

We also now know that, included in multitude of victims, was a wide swathe of Sheridan’s family and associates, all targeted by Mulcaire. The extended as far as Sheridan’s mother and Joan McAlpine (who co-authored  with Sheridan a book on the Poll Tax Revolt).

All of this, and far more, will be revisited if, and when Coulson is tried for any perjury. It is worth noting that, in the Scottish system, an arrest is not made until a pretty-convincing case has been prepared. Coulson has, most definitely, been arrested and charged.

What adds to the drama is that the Sheridan trial, and any wrong-doing by Coulson in that court, happened while Coulson was on the 10 Downing Street pay-roll. In other words, while Cameron was giving Coulson his “second chance”.

Meanwhile — and it must, surely, be coincidence — Cameron is also given a convenient let-out: he cannot answer any pointed questions at Leveson, for fear of muddying the waters of Strathclyde.

Malcolm’s headline

So, has Coulson been nailed this time?

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The earliest versions of that date from around the time Edward III’s legal team was formulating his Treason Act.

It was already proverbial when John Gower used it in Confessio Amantis, around 1390.

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Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, David Cameron, democracy, Dublin., History, Ireland, Law, leftist politics., Scotland, sleaze., Tories., WB Yeats

Do you want sleaze with that pasty, sir?

Had one read the Western Morning News last Saturday, you’d have had the first sniff of a small, but potentially explosive Cornish pasty.

For the record, the Western Morning News is a Northcliffe product, and operates from Plymouth.

The essential story is that, after “Gids” Osborne imposed his pasty tax through the last Budget, the director of Ginsters pasties made £100,000 of political donations:

  • £90,000 to Tory Central;
  • £5,000 to Rutland and Melton Tory party (Alan Duncan, MP, junior at the Ministry of International Development);
  • £5,000 to Rushcliffe Tories (Ken Clarke, MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice).

Surprise! Surprise!

That VAT impost has, of course, been one of the latest, but by no means the last, of the ConDem U-turns.

Let’s accept that Rutland and the southern suburbs of Nottingham are a long way from Ginsters of Callington, on the Cornish border. Fret not: Ginsters are an outpost of Samworth Brothers, whose home base is Leicestershire (a lot closer to Nottingham and Rutland) and whose other product line is Melton Mowbray pork pies. More to the point, Samworth Brothers are cooking up a new marketing ploy:

“Over the past 18 months, Ginsters has been rolling out a hot pasty concept ‘Have me hot’ in service stations, on the rail network and coffee shop locations and this is a developing business for us with more than 200 outlets.

“We also sell paninis and toasties at ‘Have me hot’, which are also affected by the tax. Other of our businesses provide heated food products for retailers.

Whether or not all that deserves the treatment it has received on Political Scrapbook is in the eye of the beholden/beholder.

Either way, cheap — dirt cheap and nasty — at the price.

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Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, politics, sleaze., Tories.