Monthly Archives: January 2013

A small puff

Ooops! here we go for a slight boost in Malcolm’s derisory stat-porn (© either Iain Dale or Guido Fawkes — who cares, anyway?).

For why?

There’s a BBC page on 20 of your songs that changed the world, of which perhaps half-a-dozen get the Malcolmian seal of approval.

Furthermore, Nena’s one-hit wonder, 99 Luftballons is in the list. Quite properly:

Europop doesn’t come much better. Not that there’s huge competition in that category.

Nearer home:

Malcolm worked that one into a rumination on a DARPA experiment and a trip to the Sloany Pony in Parsons Green. Quite which aspect there keeps pulling in the gongoozlers he doesn’t know: it remains, however, one of the 1678 (officially) posts on Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service that still drags ’em in.

Here’s another, older but perhaps better:

A week ago the Pert Young Piece dragged the Lady in Malcolm’s Life and the man himself to Berlin’s Warschauer Strasse S-Bahn station. From there down to Mühlenstrasse, to walk the mile long East End Gallery — the well-graffitied remaining stretch of the Wall. Damn cold; but not to be missed.

The Wall has been expunged for most of it length — though a keen eye tells the lingering architectural and other differences between the old East and West. On tatty, crappy Warschauer Strasse there can be no doubt.

Which brings us to another song that should have changed the world. Alas, back in 1962 (when Wayne Shaklin gave it to his wife Toni Fisher) we’d be waiting over half-a-century for the abomination to be ripped down:

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Filed under BBC, Europe, History, leisure travel, Music, Sounds of the Sixties

The sky is falling! (selectively)

Murdoch’s Times not only went tabloid, it has acquired some down-market degeneracies with it.

A couple of posts back, Malcolm was whining about the comic’s fullest fluffy Murdochian populism. He now bemoans a parallel ghoulish, blood-chilling, thrill-seeking sensationalism.

The Melanie Phillips memorial meme

What provoked this was the third Comment article in yesterday’s fish-n-chip wrapper. After Finkelstein (a contract artist, so comes with the fixtures and fittings) on the holocaust, and the German Foreign Minister soft-soaping the chasm between Cameron and Merkel, comes Maajid Nawaz:

Muslim patrols are s sign of things to come

We should worry that battle-hardened fanatics could impose their dogma on Britain’s streets

Then — yawn! — his opening tries to draw straight-lines across a very uneven surface:

On the streets of Greece supporters of the far-Right Golden Dawn party patrol neighbourhoods, attacking anyone who looks like an immigrant. In Denmark a group calling itself Call to Islam has declared parts of the country to be “sharia-controlled zones” and its “morality police” confront drinkers and partygoers. In France right-wing vigilantes ran Roma families out of a Marseilles estate and burnt down their camp. In Spain nine Islamist extremists recently kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery under sharia and attempted to execute her before she managed to escape. And here English Defence League thugs march in towns and cities “reclaiming” the streets from Muslims.

Something very worrying is spreading across Europe. Fascist and and Islamist extremists alike are copying what Hitler’s Brownshirts excelled at — enforcing with threats and violence their version of the law in neighbourhoods, And the moderate middle is left gawping.

Well, well: if that had appeared in any inter chat chat-room, Mike Godwin would be invoked:

It was back in 1990 that I set out on a project in memetic engineering. The Nazi-comparison meme, I’d decided, had gotten out of hand – in countless Usenet newsgroups, in many conferences on the Well, and on every BBS that I frequented, the labeling of posters or their ideas as “similar to the Nazis” or “Hitler-like” was a recurrent and often predictable event. It was the kind of thing that made you wonder how debates had ever occurred without having that handy rhetorical hammer…

I developed Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Then there’s the other matter: proportion. The European Union embraces a population of nigh on half-a-billion. Let’s be generous to Maajid Nawaz: he has identified, at most, a few hundred ne’er-do-wells. His nine Spanish Islamists amount to 0.00000019% of the people of Spain. Similarly, there’s a Grand Canyon of difference between the hysterical:

The complete Islamification of Tower Hamlets continues, as anyone who dares to “look like a fag” or drink alcohol in their declared republic now risks harassment walking in the street.

and the factual:

A small group of individuals were recently seen harassing members of the public in East London, and the council is proactively working with partners in the community and police to monitor for further incidents and take appropriate action.

And the marauding Muslim hordes of E1 amounted to precisely

A fifth person has been detained after a video of a ‘vigilante Muslim gang’ tormenting members of the public in east London was released on YouTube.

The 17-year-old boy was questioned at a police station in Walthamstow in relation to incidents that were posted on the video sharing website on January 12 and 13.

The pillars of bourgeois society have not even been vibrated. The events Maajid Nawaz wants to daisy-chain are, taken one by one, not insignificant — but on a continental scale do not register on the Richter Scale of earth-shakers.

Another small country about which we know nothing

Curiously, though, Maajid Nawaz omitted one obvious civil disruption.

We have had some eight weeks of continuing street riots in East Belfast, orchestrated by the local UVF. Arson-attempts, especially on Roman Catholic targets, are regular events. The Police Service have reported dozen of officers injured, truing to contain the almost-nightly excursions. Numerous arrests have been made. The cost is now running towards eight figures. And the machinators are known to all:

A small number of senior UVF men are directing the riots in east Belfast that have brought shame on Northern Ireland.

Two senior henchmen of the UVF chief in east Belfast have ignored warnings from the organisation’s leadership to bring an end to the violence which has left dozens of PSNI officers injured and cost millions of pounds.

And while the UVF’s leader in the east of the city — as the ‘Beast from the East’ — could end the rioting immediately, he has failed to bring his men under control.

Even Andrew Gillian, at the [London] Daily Telegraph knows where to go calling:

What East Belfast, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey do have in common, however, are maverick factions of the Loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

“We’ve got no doubt whatever that this is coming from the UVF,” says Terry Spence, leader of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland.

The East Belfast leader of the UVF – the so-called “Beast from the East” – was not at home to callers when The Telegraph dropped in to his small terraced house in a quiet side street.

His white reinforced front door doesn’t have a knocker or a bell, but there are five CCTV cameras just in case anyone tries to murder him again.

Two of his lieutenants have been spotted in the background helping direct the main East Belfast riots.

Security sources say they are acting with the Beast’s consent, if not the UVF leadership’s active involvement, and he could end the trouble in the area whenever he wanted.

Ugly Doris

If you go to those-in-the-know, you’ll hear a lot about this reclusive figure. Here’s an Analysis from the Irish Times, eighteen months ago:

THE SO-CALLED “Beast from the East” took over the Ulster Volunteer Force in east Belfast about six years ago and has strengthened his power base since then, according to well-placed loyalist sources. He and some of his senior lieutenants are chiefly responsible for the violence in east Belfast over recent days, they say.

He makes his money mainly from “gangster-on-gangster or bad-on-bad crime”, which is chiefly about drug dealing and extorting other criminals – while also managing to maintain some distance from these activities to keep him, so far, out of prison. How to clip his wings is the challenge for the police and also for other members of the UVF…

… what is happening in Short Strand and on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast these past dangerous nights is not about the dissidents. It is about the UVF, which is fomenting the disturbances. And it is primarily about the UVF leader in east Belfast nicknamed the Beast from the East or “Ugly Doris”. The first nom de guerre relates to his east Belfast bailiwick and the second refers to the late Jim Gray, the UDA east Belfast leader or “brigadier” murdered by his own people. He was called Doris Day because of his blond hair and his fondness for Hawaiian shirts, pink jumpers and gold jewellery. The UVF leader is said to resemble Gray only in his strands of blond hair – hence Ugly Doris.

According to senior loyalist sources, the new man, who is in his 40s, has “lost the run of himself” and is becoming increasingly dangerous and, some fear, almost unstable. “He is creating a little empire for himself in east Belfast and is now flexing his muscles,” said one loyalist insider. “He is also partial to cocaine and likes to party . . . He believes he is untouchable.”

The Belfast Telegraph identified the East Belfast UVF as:

… the most powerful paramilitary faction in Northern Ireland.

With a fiefdom stretching from the Lagan’s edge on the Newtownards Road to Millisle, Donaghadee and beyond, it struts a swathe of territory no other loyalist element can match.

It has dwarfed the UDA in east Belfast and the Ards Peninsula to the point where seasoned paramilitaries declare a ‘no contest’ between the two loyalist terror groups.

Note that didn’t say most powerful Loyalist paramilitary faction in Northern Ireland. Nor are we considering a handful of self-advertisers in Brick Lane, or even a tight little gang of perverts in Malaga. This is something far bigger, far nearer to the dystopia with which Maajid Nawaz would wish to chill us.

What you don’t find in those columns, usually, is a given name for the Beast a.k.a. Ugly Doris. He is (pace Susanne Breen) A former prisoner from a well-known loyalist family. His code-title is “S” [the UVF just lurve these Ian Flemingesque touches]. Look a bit further and you’ll find the name of Stephen Matthews.

Now there’s a candidate for Maajid Nawaz’s little black book.

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Filed under Belfast, bigotry, broken society, crime, Irish Times, Northern Ireland, Religious division, Times

Constitutional reform only happens if …

… it suits the interests of those implementing it.

Not just an historical truth, indeed an axiom, but the punch-line of a beta++ effort by Steve Richards for Independent Voices.

Let’s take on face value Richards’ headline:

Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs

Our Chief Political Commentator says that Conservative MPs can plot and stir because the next election is still years away

Hold on! Surely that’s what a true Independent would wish? And … err … yes, it somehow reminds Malcolm of …. Ah, yes!

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…

If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

Indeed, the authentic Burkean voice from the College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin (founded 21st March 1770), of which — much later, and far less oratorically polished — Malcolm’s alter ego was once a minor officer.

Richards’ Big Thing amounts to this:

The current parliament is already nearing the end of its natural life. Symptoms of mortality take many forms. In terms of policy Cameron has made waves recently with two big announcements. Both apply to the next parliament and not this one. His proposals for a referendum on Europe and high speed rail take effect after the next election. The more immediate agenda in the Commons is of little significance compared with those post-election policies and the near revolutionary measures placed before MPs in the Coalition’s early unprecedented flurry of reforming zeal.

In other words, the health of the body politic depends on a renewal of the parliamentary mandate in the short term, not in May 2015.

Yet, as he makes clear, with little to do, and at a time when MPs should be honing their knives for re-election, it’s all gone deadly, flatly dull. The death of the Bill to change boundaries was the last straw, which is why (even after Clegg slit its throat) the Bill was kept in suspended animation while all kinds of pressures were brought to bear:

  • Over the weekend, were the DUP really told they could exempt Northern Ireland, if only …
  • Why does James Kirkup (who should know better) and other susceptible post-adolescents keep afloat the notion that the Bill can be revived?

And, for the Satan’s Blood (“800,000 Scoville units”) in your political chilli, muse on what MPs get up to, when otherwise not exerted. Why, they plot, of course! Or, as Richards renders it:

There will be no election in 2014. After the next 12 months there will be another whole year before the election moves fully into view. There is still plenty of time to be disloyal, to speak up for principled conviction, to plot and plan against a leader. This has some danger for Clegg. But Cameron is the main victim as news surfaces of a plot to install a successor … if he loses the election. Such plots happen for many reasons. One is that Conservative MPs have time on their hands, lots of it. They will rally round next year, but not this. The fixed-term has made prime ministerial life less secure rather than more.

Even so, Malcolm has another gripe with Richards’ piece, particularly so in the rest of that final paragraph:

Constitutional reform only happens if it suits the interests of those implementing it. Presumably Cameron thought that in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. But most fixed-terms in other countries last a maximum of four years. Five years is far too long. And of those five this is much the most dangerous for leaders hoping to flourish when the still distant election finally arrives.

As Malcolm recalls, the LibDems, suspicious that Cameron and Osborne would dump them were an electoral opportunity to open, inserted the time element in the coalition agreement. Now, what could possibly have provoked that partisan fear into the pre-nup?

Second, Richards is absolutely correct. Five years was, is and always will be too long. Malcolm’s Pert Young Piece had considerable difficulty in  explicating the five-year term, at the Anzac Cove gathering, 2012, to a band of highly-dubious antipodean democrats. It’s also been commonly accepted, nearer home, ever since the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill was first out there in the wild. Anyway, consider:

  • The “ones-we’re-bound to lose” (Macmillan-Home in 1959-64; Wilson-Callaghan in 1974-79, Major in 1992-97; Blair-Brown in 2005-10) went into a fifth year;
  • To which might be added the “one we miraculously didn’t lose” (Major, 1992) which also went to the wire.


  • the ones “we can win” (Thatcher in 1983, 1987; Blair in 2001, 2005) which took advantage of the opportunistic electoral windows.

On that basis alone, the 2010-15 government had given away its main electoral advantage: the chance for any prime minister to exploit a particular moment, one when the economic and electoral cycles could be matched. So, a Malcolmian prediction, when the next parliament assembles, if there’s a majority government, the 2011 Act will be repealed in short order and shall hear no more of fixed -terms.

In short, there’s that gross misunderstanding: in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. Richards, wisely predicates that with the weaselly “presumably”. Consider the normality of UK politics: in the forty years from Wilson to Cameron we will have had just three governments defenestrated — in 1979, 1997 and 2010. The success of Gordon Brown was that the expected Tory take-over didn’t happen (and, in Malcolm’s book, history will be very much kinder to Brown than current poison has it).

Burke, whom we had above, had the Fixed Term Parliaments Act bang to rights, and as far back as 1780:

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. In such a country as this they are of all bad things the worst, worse by far than anywhere else; and they derive a particular malignity even from the wisdom and soundness of the rest of our institutions

Let’s add a word to the wise:

The people can recognise them. And resent them

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Edmund Burke, History, Independent, Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, politics, Quotations, reading, Steve Richards, Tories., Trinity College Dublin

60 years on: lest we forget

Malcolm did this one as much credit as he could manage, a long while back.

Allow a reprise:

That’s Wells (or, should you prefer, Wells-next-the-Sea) photographed from the air next morning, Sunday 1st February, 1953. Malcolm’s down there somewhere, probably just left of the Church. We’re looking a bit south of west from this angle.

… late that evening, nobody knew it was coming. There had been no warning. In those days there probably was no efficient way of conveying a warning, apart from the war-time air-raids sirens and the Lifeboat maroon.

Electricity had only come to Wells a handful of years previously. And with the electric light came the blessedness of mains sewage (our society will collapse when the sewage pumps pack in). The nearest television transmitter was at extreme range (Tacolneston, near Norwich was not broadcasting until 1955): there may have been a couple of TV sets in town at best. To most 21st century bods, that must seem primeval.

Then, on a Saturday evening, the norm was to listen to “Sports Report” on the Light Programme for the football results (Norwich City had played a score draw with Coventry in the Third Division, South) then go to the Regal Cinema or to the pub, or just to doze at home. It was a foul night, squalls and gales, so the third choice appealed to most.

Around nine o’clock the film at the Regal stopped. This was not unusual with the temperamental equipment available, and evinced the customary groan and derisive whistles. The cinema manager came on the proscenium “stage”, and, after a moment or so, was heard in something like silence. The tide was over the quay wall, he said, and the police were advising the closing of the cinema and all and sundry to go home…

There was an loud buzz of conversation as the audience made their way out.

Malcolm’s younger self tried to make it down to the Quay, but the waves were already washing up Staithe Street, well past the “Golden Fleece”. By the time he made it back to Church Plain, doubling back round the alley-ways, there was sea-water in Marsh Lane, blocking off the railway station in the dip at the bottom of Standard Road and the Polka. Until then nobody had pointed out this delineated the old medieval coastline before the seawalls had gone up, and that Ramm’s Marsh was restored to just that.

Fred Hunt’s chicken-run (that’s his house next to St Nicholas’s, in Church Street), was going from soggy to drowned. A lot of poultry would be lost that night: curiously, when the compensation was announced, they were all prime birds just coming into lay.

There was more than a trace of dampness on the floor of the cellar at the “Bowling Green”, where Steward-and-Patteson mild-and-bitter was still drawn by hand. There would still be “K” winter ale available at that time of year.

The avatar that lies behind Malcolm (one wonders if there is a Sir John Wotton ambiguity in there) was told firmly to stay indoors. When he was not noticed, he slipped into his wellington boots and out the back-door (a zeugma, no less!). This was too good to miss.

By the time he got round the corner to the Church Hall, the choppy water was into his boots. There were many people in the street, all of whom knew him and ordered him home.

His personal hero of the night was Peter Sillitoe, who tried repeatedly to swim into his own house to rescue his sister Una’s dolls. [A few years later Malcolm inherited a Lambretta LD150, registration YPW636, from Peter — Malcolm’s first bike.]

After that the memories are more sketchy.

He recalls the north side of Freeman Street with the houses reduced to fascias, behind which was a foetid grey stew of broken possessions and wood. The old sea wall would have to be deliberately broken to allow that trapped water to escape.

The mile-long sea-wall, leading down to Wells beach, was broken into two places, muddy gaps a hundred yards wide, through which the tides would continue to pass for weeks to come.

Later the rescue services arrived. There were jet engines on trolleys used to try to dry out the old flint cottages: these would probably do more harm than good.

Months later the whole primary school was lined up in the playground and each child received a dole of coffee and currants. The currants were from California, and the coffee from the Emperor Haile Selassie. Yes, Malcolm and his fellows received food-aid from Ethiopia.

The whole story of the East Coast Floods is on the Eastern Daily Press website.


What Malcolm didn’t put into that post, and should have done, is that the total death roll in Britain was about 307. A further 230 or so died at sea and in the sinking of the Princess Victoria, of which Malcolm once gave a cursory account, but Jack Hunter’s account is unbeatable.

If East Anglia and those on the ferry in the North Channel had it bad (and they did — what was happening at Canvey island, in particular), then the Sheldt Estuary was far, far worse. 1,836 Dutch died — and another 22 in Belgium.

At this distance in time, we can approach the disaster in the cool light of an academic study. Those, like Malcolm, who were closer to the event to this day find such abstraction difficult.


Filed under East Coast floods 1953, Eastern Daily Press, History, Wells-next-the-Sea

Are your dogs barking?

We’ve been stuck since 1892 with that now-exhausted metaphor:

Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of my companion’s ability, but I saw by the Inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused.

“You consider that to be important?” he asked.

“Exceedingly so.”

“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

 “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Lloyd Evans’s PMQ sketch for the Spectator sought imaginative ways round (here’s another dead’un) that elephant in the room:

It was the croc that didn’t snap, the firework that failed to fly, the jeroboam that refused to go pop. Last week, David Cameron’s speech on Europe was supposed to heal a two-decade rift within the Tory family and to set Britain on a bold new course in our relationship with the continent. A week later and the great In-Out gamble didn’t rate a mention at PMQs. Not a peep. Not a syllable. Not a whisper. Ed Miliband didn’t bring it up either.

Once past the ritual exchange of abuse (or rather Cameron’s abuse when confronted by Miliband’s profession of reason), the main meat of PMQs:

  • included two excellent questions (one historical, one equine)


  • concluded with a poor ad-hominem response by Cameron to Gorgeous George Galloway’s ad-rem on double standards of foreign policy.

Let’s deal with the last of those first, here as Lloyd Evans saw it:

The session ended with a blood-soaked question from George Galloway. Referring to the latest troop-surge in Mali, he invited the PM to ‘adumbrate the differences between the throat-slitting jihadists’ of north Africa and ‘the equally bloodthirsty jihadist’ in Syria. Easy to answer convincingly but Cameron descended to mere abuse. ‘Wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of the right honourable gentleman.’

A pity he served up a slur rather than an argument against Galloway who, if nothing else, is a formidable debater.

 When the Speccie disses Cameron, as it does on a regular basis, there’s usually a grain of good sense involved somewhere. Though, but naturally, not on the visceral issues of Europe or renewables.

Galloway’s barb went home, and will fester. Because it came from Galloway, Cameron may endure it — at least until the Hercules descends at RAF Brize Norton and more body-bags from North or West Africa are delivered to Cameron’s back-door. Another, perhaps more dangerous wound was delivered from over Cameron’s shoulder.

Pontifical Sir Peter

Simon Hoggart, the wittiest of the lobby reporters and sketch-writers, has a regular vamp about Sir Peter Tapsell. Here, for example, from September 2011:

Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address. I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched deep so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.

Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.

When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister’s questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always, is by a hushed and expectant silence.

Malcolm will  be disappointed if tomorrow’s Guardian fails to include mention of lapidary inscription, or — at the very least — quills and vellum. Fortunately for the mirth and instruction of the nation, as Father of the House (the longest serving Member) Sir Peter has a proprietary right to be called at question time. So to today:

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): As my right hon. Friend sets forth on his pacific mission to Algeria, will he, with his great historical knowledge, bear in mind that when Louis Philippe sent his eldest son to Algeria in the 1840s on a similar venture, it took a century, massive casualties, the overthrow of the Third Republic and the genius of General de Gaulle to get the French army back out of the north African desert?

Hon. Members: Answer!

Mr Speaker: Order. We want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer to this question.

The Prime Minister: I can reassure my right hon. Friend that I am planning only to visit Algiers. I am sure he put down an urgent question at the time of the events to which he referred, and got a response.

Two things don’t come out in that bare Hansard transcript:

  • Only those backbench and the Speaker’s interruptions saved Cameron, gave him recovery time.
  • This was the second, in a row, of very effective questions. Cameron hadn’t done very well on the previous one, either:

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): On the subject of food safety, can the Prime Minister confirm that traces of stalking horse have been found in the Conservative party food chain?

The Prime Minister: Somewhere in my briefing, I had some very complicated information about the danger of particular drugs for horses entering the food chain, and I have to say the hon. Gentleman threw me completely with that ingenious pivot. The Conservative party has always stood for people who want to work hard and get on, and I am glad that all of my — all those behind me take that very seriously indeed.

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Guardian, politics, Simon Hoggart, The Spectator, Tories.

More than one way out

 does a banking blog — subversively sub-titled Going native in the world of finance —  on the Guardian‘s Comment is Free.

Today he has escaped onto the main editorial page:

Queen Beatrix’s abdication: too ‘typically Dutch’ for the Windsors?

The abdication of a monarch comes naturally to the Dutch, while the British maintain a martyrish attitude to succession

Is there something unhealthily martyrish about the British “Queen for Life” system? I can’t be the only foreigner who wasn’t even aware that the British queen is like the Catholic pope; only death gets you a new one. But then on Monday, Queen Beatrix of my native Netherlands announced her abdication, and now British people are asking me if the Dutch will consider this a dereliction of duty. Will this damage the monarchy?

Malcolm on the subject of monarchs? Shome mishtake, shurely?

No, it’s the dodgy history and the British queen is like the Catholic pope; only death gets you a new one.



  1. the Empress Matilda, effectively Queen of England from 7th  April to 1st November, 1141. Went on another quarter-century before her death at Notre Dame du Pré, Rouen. Whatever dispute historians may have about her right to the title, the Lady of the English had few doubts.
  2. Louis le Lion was offered the throne by the English barons and invaded Kent in May 1216. A month later he held the old Saxon capital of Winchester, and controlled the southern half of England. Only on the death of King John did the regent William Marshall rally the barons to support the infant Henry III. After being defeated in battle at Lincoln (20th May 1217) and at sea, off Sandwich, (24 August 1217) was Louis bought off. he got 10,000 marks to go away and be a good King of France  — which he probably wasn’t, as Louis VIII, from 1223 to 1226.
  3. Richard II was nominally King from 1377, though Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster did the business for much of the time. Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, invaded England in 1399 and soon deposed Richard. Out of a job, Richard was accommodated in the Tower of London and then at Pontefract Castle (where he allegedly spent time starving to death). His body was brought from Pontefract,  and displayed in old St Paul’s on 17th February 1400.
  4. In 1422 Henry VI got the job as a babe-in-arms, on the death of his father. He was deposed by Edward IV in March 1461, and only regained his position — very briefly, before the Yorkists did for him and Edward IV was re-enstooled, in 1470-71.
  5. 160px-Coat_of_Arms_of_England_(1554-1558).svgPhilip II of Spain became, in law, King of England when he married Mary I at Winchester (25 July 1554). Coins were issued, parliament summoned,  Acts of Parliament dated in their joint names. The royal arms (as right) represented the joint monarchy (Philip as male taking the priority). When Mary died (17th November 1558), his tenure was concluded. He lived on as King of Spain until 1598.
  6. Should we not include Richard Cromwell? He became Lord Protector on his father’s death (3rd September 1658) and received the title “His Highness”. Unfortunately for ‘Tumbledown Dick’ the Army took umbrage at his lack of military experience, and not being paid because of the financial crisis (the Commonwealth was £2 million in debt). So Richard Cromwell found himself  under house-arrest. The French Ambassador offered him military support (which he refused) and Richard resigned as Lord Protector on 25th May 1659. He exiled himself in France ( 1660 to 1680/1) and lived on, largely forgotten but with a state pension and a private income from his diminished estates, until 1712.
  7. Aha! here’s a good’un. James II & VI inherited the throne from his brother in February 1685, and was deposed (this will get another mention later) in the Glorious Revolution of December 1688. He lived, as a dependent of the French King Louis XIV, as ‘The Old Pretender’ until 1701.
  8. After that, and the formal union of the English and Scottish crowns, we have only one further candidate: Edward VIII. He succeeded on 20th January 1936 and abdicated 11th December the same year. He and the much-married Mrs Simpson then became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He died near Paris, 28 May 1972, and his body was returned for burial in the Royal Plot at Frogmore.

So, Meinherr Luyendijk, you generalise about death being the only way out. Wrong: there have been other methods: not quite one a century; but Britain has been somewhat lax in dispensing with redundant royals since we brought in the Germans.

One further wrinkle from that Comment is Free piece:

So should Britain allow and encourage its monarch to retire? That’s up to the British people, of course, but I’m quite sure that the House of Orange is more than happy with the status quo. With all its spectacular dysfunction, the British royal family makes for fantastic spectacle. Meanwhile, royals all over the world will be thinking: thank goodness for the House of Windsor, they make us look almost normal.

Did you spot it?

Willem III van Oranje was Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel from July 1672 until his death on 8th March 1702. He arrived with his Dutch and mercenary army at Brixham, in Devon, on 5th November 1688 (curiously, several days before he’d left the Netherlands — because of the conflict of the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar still in use in England). On 11 April 1689 he and his wife were crowned at Westminster Abbey as William II and Mary II.

So, never let it be said the House of Orange was always more than happy with the status quo.

Nor is a good republican, such as Malcolm.

[Thanks to a useful poke from Doubting Thomas, Malcolm would add two more candidates to the list. See Comments, below.]


Filed under Britain, Comment is Free, Guardian, History, Republicanism

Divided loyalties: being Hiberno-English

A long while since (5th September 2008, since you didn’t ask), Malcolm put up a post on being Anglo-Irish. For some reason, that still attracts a fair number of “hits”. This, then, may be the logical  counter-part.

J’ai deux amours

Josephine Baker famously had two loves:

J’ai deux amours
Mon pays et Paris.

If Freda McDonald — barely two generations from slavery — had a hard life, growing up in St Louis, she found fame, fortune and a distinguished personal history as Josephine Baker in her adopted France.

Therein lies the rub

In this 21st century, many of us have two identities: one on the birth certificate, and one in the life we live. There’s little particularly “new” in this:

  • Arthur Wellesley got himself born in what is now the Merrion Hotel, Dublin — but is the archetypal English Iron Duke;
  • David Lloyd-George arrived in the world in the Manchester suburbs, but is forever “the Welsh Wizard”;
  • Éamon de Valera originated in New York, but re-made an Ireland in his own image;

— and so on.

Malcolm’s eldest has a surfeit of air-miles and is quadri-lingual in English and American, Tottenham and Noo Joisey. Even daughter number 2, the Earth Mother, manages to switch effortlessly between south Saxon RP and narrow-vowelled Anglian North Yorkshire.

Your nationalism quiz




at its fullest fluffy Murdochian populism, was rattling on:

A new version of the Life in the United Kingdom handbook, published yesterday, aims to prepare would-be Britons for the citizenship test. The guide focuses on history, tradition and what it means to be British and has ditched more mundane sections on the practicalities of life in the UK …

The 180-page guide, costing £12.99 is unashamedly patriotic, with a red, white and blue cover and pictures of the Queen and of crowds waving the Union flag at the Last Night of the Proms and on the Mall. Sir Winston Churchill is pictured alongside quotes from his wartime speeches but only two post-war prime ministers receive separate biographies: Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

The new edition finds a place for Monty Python, Morcambe and Wise and Torvill and Dean, but migrants will also be expected to know about important figures of English literature including Sir Kingsley Amis, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K.Rowling.

Pass the sick-bag, Alice.

On the other hand, the side-bar was a Commentary by Matthew Syed, and it went a way to re-entering normality. Syed refers back to background:

My father arrived on these shores in 1966 as a Muslim, Pakistani, and harbouring deep suspicions about British cultural assumptions. Almost half a century later, he is a monarchist, Radio 4 aficionado and just about the most patriotic Brit I know. With the exception of his Christianity, to which he converted, Britishness is perhaps the most important and cherished affiliation of his life.

My maternal grandfather, who died last week at 98, lived a very different life to my father. Born in the Rhondda Valley at the outset of the Great War, he worked down the pits from 14 then spent a lifetime serving others, first at a home for deprived children and then as warden of an old people’s home. the one thing he shared with dad was a deep love of nation, but he interpreted Britishness in a fundamentally different way.

Not deep. Not philosophical. But neither, reading between the lines of that Times piece, is Life in the United Kingdom [£12.99 at all good bookshops, or around £7.99 if you’re Brit enough to order on-line — a nationality test in itself]. Syed scores by being domestic, humane, direct, down to earth — even dignified, in the best sense. All the good things the official line seems to miss.

For an example, today’s Clare in the Community (Harry Venning’s unfailingly reliable weekly cartoon for the Guardian‘s Society section) is an instant education in ‘Britishness’, and — unlike the nostrums in Life in the United Kingdom — transcends the regional cultural divides that Syed glosses in that final phrase above:

Clare in the community cartoon

What are little boys made of?

Everyone differs: we are an unregimented, frequently-bolshie and mutually-incompatible lot, each with our peculiar passions. What is it that makes Malcolm’s academic and professorial Little Brother traipse out fortnightly to stand with perhaps 5,000 other stalwarts and watch Notts County? The heterogeneousness is an essential part of belonging anywhere on this archipelago.

Unlike Syed, Malcolm was denied personal knowledge of either of his grandfathers: one tends his plot eternally in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 2; the other died of miner’s lung around the time the (first) Great Slump arrived. Did either of those have a deep love of nation, an overwhelming sense of being “British”?

As for the royalist thing, Malcolm recalls (and can date) 15th February, 1952. He doesn’t remember the funeral of George VI — apart from the oddest early-adopter, television hadn’t penetrated north Norfolk. He does know it was a day of national mourning, and so a Friday off school. Dear Old Dad spent much of the day double-digging the long vegetable garden, and none too chuffed. When pre-adolescent Malcolm murmured a triteness about it being “Sad about the King”, the parental snort was followed by “Why, what did he ever do for me?”

Was that the germ of a young republican?

Two loves? Well, two affections.

For Malcolm neither north Norfolk nor dirty Dublin quite amount to “‘loves”. The former has changed, not wholly for the better, over the years as the have-yotties and weekenders made the coast a transplant of Camden Town — Hampstead-by-the-Sea is further south, at Southwold. Dublin has changed even more, though there remain vestiges of the old scruffiness. West Cork has gone the way of the gentrified English coast. Once away from the “gold coast”, the rest of County Down is not wholly spoiled — but could one transplant and enjoy living there?

Despite all the confusions, that double pull recurs and endures. After all, when GCE English History and English Literature immediately leads into the Irish Leaving Certificate, a cultural trauma persists for life.

Par eux toujours,
Mon coeur est ravi.

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Filed under Britain, County Cork, Dublin, East Anglia, High School, History, Ireland, nationalism, New Jersey, Norfolk, Times, Wales, Wells-next-the-Sea, working class, Yorkshire

Before I sleep ….zzzzz

Here’s a magnificent pun that Malcolm will treasure:

Meet Ron Johnson, the Randiest of the Ayn Rand Republicans

It’s John Nichols at The Nation, celebrating the Senator from Wisconsin.

Nichols vamps lightly on the propensity of GOP figures for trite “Objectivism”:

Rand’s books serve as an ideological touchstone for a new generation of Republican politicians who have built their politics around the writer’s cold delineation of distinctions between idealized “makers” and disdained “takers.”

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, peppers his remarks with Randian references and once admitted, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann employed the Rand lexicon during her 2012 presidential run. California Congressman John Campbell gives interns copies of Rand’s opus, Atlas Shrugged, whileHouse Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California, tweets: “Still reading Atlas Shrugged—it’s quite the read.”

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul says he’s really a “Randy”—not a namesake of the author. “But,” he adds, “I am a big fan of Ayn Rand. I’ve read all of her novels.”

Malcolm admits to a total reading block here. He’s tried. He’s failed. Repeatedly. Life is too short for such stuff. He reaches page 10 and the heat death of the universe totally overwhelms him.

Nichols — bless his little cotton socks — deconstructs the effete Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party favourite — after Johnson had been cut down to size by Secretary of State (as he now is) John Kerry.

However, Malcolm interposes one small quibble against Nichols, who writes:

While Johnson may not be prepared for Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, he’s entirely up to speed on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. Never mind that Dorothy Parker said of the book, ”This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Ron Johnson thinks Atlas Shrugged contains 1,168 pages of life lessons.

1,168 pages to grind through! How does anyone manage it? Is life that long, or does it just feel eternal? Meanwhile, Malcolm is currently pecking and picking, yet again, at Tristram Shandy — some 700 pages in this delicious Visual Editions version — and that is something that could, and should go on for ever.

That isn’t Malcolm’s grief over Nichols: it’s that gratuitous involvement of the Dorothy Parker. The oft-quoted, and most often mis-attributed quotation was produced as a review of Benito Mussolini’s The Cardinal’s Mistress. That was originally published, in 1909, as a pull-out serial in La Vita Trentina  as Claudia Particella, l’Amante del Cardinale: Grande Romanzo dei Tempi del Cardinale Emanuel Madruzzo.

Nichols’s  punch-line pays for all:

Paul Krugman reminds us, “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Which came originally from a 2009 blog by Kung Fu Monkey.

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Filed under blogging, fiction, Laurence Sterne, Literature, reading, US politics

Don’t KBW

KBW? That used to be the wall-daubing of local racists — “Keep Britain White”.

The generality of the UK public would not agree these last couple of weeks. Still, it did provide one of those spectacular NASA images:


Let’s check the places to be: Muswell Hill, Brighton, the Isle of Wight(which, phonetically, isn’t), Thurso …

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Filed under BBC, Britain, Muswell Hill, weather

Abominable Cllr Phibbs: appalling arithmetic

More Harry Phibbs:

The defeat of boundary reform this afternoon, by 334 votes to 292, is not only bad for the Conservative Party but also for democracy.

The average annual cost to the taxpayer of a Member of Parliament is £590,000 a year (a peer costs us £130,000 on average while a Euro MP comes in at 1.79 million a time.) Of course it could be argued that reducing the cost of politics by reducing the number of MPs by 50 and saving a few million a year is modest set against state spending £700 billion. You could say the same about that element of our bill which covers MPs expenses. Yet it still matters. There is a question of MPs setting an example when the size of the rest of the public sector workforce is being cut.

That’s another of those waffles that seems superficially OK, but falls apart under any kind of scrutiny. After all, it is largely a direct rip from that journal of dubious record, the Daily Mail.

More to the point

David Cameron has created more peers more quickly than any of his predecessors: 126 since May 2010. That’s a bit more than one every eight days. So, taking Phibbs’s accountancy at face value (which is more than it’s worth), Cameron’s inflation of the Lords has cost the nation £16,380,000 a year. There’s a bit of off-setting available, then.

There are currently in excess of 800 members of the Lords. The Clegg proposal would have reduced this to 450. Again, accepting Phibbs’s back-of-fag-packet arithmetic, Clegg’s proposed changes could have put some £40-45 million annually into the nation’s back pocket. Every little helps.

For the record, for his services in 2011-12, Cllr Phibbs, received £32,898 (about the fourth  highest dibs among the 46 members) from the grateful Council Taxpayers of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

The Euro-phantasma

The EU is not perfect. One of the smaller changes that need to happen is the agreement that the European Parliament has a single seat, and doesn’t flit between Brussels and Strasbourg — and even Luxembourg. In point of fact, the EU Parliament has agreed just that. Not surprisingly, France has vetoed the desirable plumping for Brussels. Let it rest that the vast majority of MEPs would opt for Brussels; but that the Council of Ministers (i.e. Dave Cameron and his twenty-six mates) cannot get their acts together.

That should undermine the notion that a Euro MP comes in at 1.79 million a time. She or he doesn’t: the incompetence of national governments — not excluding our, and that of Cllr Phibbs — does.

What should concern us far, far more is the ‘democratic deficit’ — the lack of any direct constraints on EU administration. The same could be said for a UK government which can fix its own terms without reference to any mandates. Yes, Cllr Phibbs, we didn’t hear your affronted shrieks when the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill went through on Tory votes. Have a chat to our antipodean cousins (who believe a couple of years is enough to avoid corruption) and explain that one.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative Party policy., Daily Mail, Europe, London, Nick Clegg, politics