Monthly Archives: November 2013

Objects, orts and imitations

Hugo Rifkind — well-known son of a famous father (almost dynastic, you may think) — did his regular vamp for The Times:

Tories should want us all to be middle-class

Yes: it that old crowd-pleaser on social class. The old ones are the best-selling ones. As with this clip:

Although many Tories do care about social mobility (Mr Cameron, presumably, among them), they often end up looking as if they don’t. Instinctively — deep down, almost before thought — a Tory believes that success in life involves ending up looking like a Tory. When Mr Cameron speaks of his desire to “increase diversity in the national elite”, he is at once wholly sincere and speaking a half-truth. What he means is that a far more diverse group of people should be able to end up being quite a lot like him.

This is a malign desire only if you fetishise class. Conservativism, perhaps contrary to popular opinion, and at least when it has its wits about it, does its utmost not to. 

Enough spoonsful of saccharin to slide that medicinal down. It’s only when you start exploring the after-taste it becomes suspicious.

Let’s start with fetishise.

It appears in the OED as fetishize. The -ise form seems a peculiarity of the computer spell-check, but it has reason on its side. The -ize suffix, as Malcolm’s classical (and definitively middle-classical) education had it should properly go with terms of Greek derivation. The OED, at its densest, most helpful and authoritative, has a complex set of six guidelines for when -ize should be preferred to –ise (and here considerably abbreviated):

1. Words that have come down from Greek, or have been at some time adopted from Greek, or formed on Greek elements.
2. Words formed (in French or English) on Latin adjs. and ns. (esp. on derivative adjs. in -al-ar-an, etc.), mostly with the trans. sense ‘to make (that which is expressed by the derivation)’.
3. Words from later sources, as bastardizeforeignizejeopardize,villanizewomanize trans., gormandize, and such nonce-words as cricketizepedestrianizetandemize, intr.
4. Words formed on ethnic adjs., and the like, chiefly trans. but sometimes intrans., as AmericanizeAnglicizeGallicizeGermanize,LatinizeRomanizeRussianize.
5. Words formed on names of persons, sometimes with the intrans. Greek sense of ‘to act like, or in accordance with’.
6. From names of substances, chemical and other; in the trans. sense of  ‘to charge, impregnate, treat, affect, or influence with’.

Err, yes. Probably. Perhaps. Arguably.

The OED citations for fetishize tell a tale in themselves:

1934   in Webster Dict.  
1961   I. L. Horowitz Philos., Sci. & Sociol. of Knowl. v. 57   Present metaphysical attitudes fetishize private intuition.
1973   Screen Spring–Summer 198   The only way to avoid fetishising cinematic specificity is to examine it, as Metz has done, in a systematic and relative way.
1986   S. Orbach Hunger Strike i. 23   The preoccupation with food is linked with a fetishizing of the female form.

Got that? It decodes as Americanism ➪ abstruse academicism ➪ poncy film-buffery ➪ feminist claptrap.

And so to Hugo Rifkind.

Which should all make us wonder at “fetish”

This one sneaked into English usage from French fétiche, which was a borrowing from Portuguese feitiço. Its original sense was a charm, a sorcery. Again, let’s take the OED’s definitions:

1. a. Originally: any of the objects used by the indigenous peoples of the Guinea coast and the neighbouring regions as amulets or means of enchantment, or regarded by them with superstitious dread.

b. By writers on anthropology (following C. de Brosses, Le Culte des Dieux Fétiches, 1760) used in wider sense: an inanimate object worshipped by preliterate peoples on account of its supposed inherent magical powers, or as being animated by a spirit.

fetish (in sense 1b) differs from an idol in that it is worshipped in its own character, not as the image, symbol, or occasional residence of a deity.

Got that? Portuguese explorers (think Prince Henry the Navigator, and specifically Álvaro Fernandes) were into the Guinea coast by the mid-fifteenth century. So the word comes with implicit history.

But can one, as Rifkind warns against, fetishise class?

Try the Preface to Shaw’s Pygmalion:

It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.

— an axiom ingrained in the native psychology. When Tony Blair, or George Osborne strayed into the demotic, that became a matter of major critical debate.

A while back the BBC web-site produced a Great British class calculator: What class are you?

Malcolm emerged (to his horror) as:

Technical middle class

This is a small, distinctive and prosperous new class group. According to the Great British Class Survey results, lots of people in this group:

  • Mix socially with people similar to themselves
  • Work in research, science and technical fields
  • Enjoy emerging culture such as going to the gym and using social media

This, despite having no “science or technical” qualification beyond O-level General Science (1958) and going nowhere near a gym. However, the definition includes:

  • They tend to live in suburban locations, often in the south east of England
  • They come from largely middle class backgrounds


Let’s persist with young Master Rifkind a moment longer, continuing directly from the first quotation:

John Major himself used to speak of “the classless society” — in essence, a middle class so big as to include everybody. Even today, the more coherently ideological Conservative policies have the same idea at their core. Free schools and academies, for example, are best understood as a desire to re-create the benefits of a private education for people who couldn’t possibly afford one. Underneath, always, lurks the presumption that the middle-class way is the way things ought to be.

Notice the illogical leap from the former two sentences (which Malcolm finds quite acceptable) to the third.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The whole point of those Free schools and academies is they are Statist, responsible directly and only to the self-anointed Secretary of State for Education.

If we accept Rifkind’s notion there, we are assuming that class is something which can be imposed, a top-down social reorganisation.

Now that really is fetishistic worship of supposed inherent magical powers.

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Filed under David Cameron, George Osborne, Times, Tories.

What if I only want one?


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November 12, 2013 · 5:03 pm

Beaker amid the beavers

There surely has to be irony in the Twitter strap line currently on politicshome:



And, because we give added-value at Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service, there’s the little matter of a Ginger Rodent at a Beaver Trial.

Pick the odd one out

Pick the odd one out

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The magic bullet

The Times assures us Chris Christie won re-election in a Republican “landslide”.

Odd that.

Where Malcolm sits (currently, that’s the Last Drop Inn in old York), it looked more like grudging respect for being almost competent. Competence is not a characteristic too often found in the American politician class.

Oh, and NJ Democrats wanting to annoy the GOP hierarchy, as Christie literally did by embracing Obama at the time of “Superstorm Sandy”.


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The “country was founded on conservatism”?

But there is a reason hardline Republican[s] stand firm. Many of their supporters want them to hang tough. One man, selling bread and vegetables, told me: “I hope he wins, I don’t want a Democrat in, the people in power now are extreme lefties, our country was founded on conservatism.”

So Mark Mardell, reporting on the Virginia gubernatorial, for the BBC.

In itself, that is worth a moment’s historical reflection:

  • upending one’s whole lifestyle, to sail across the wild Atlantic, in hope that the new colonies offer a better life than Stuart England?
  • revolting against the Hanoverian monarchy, looking to evolve a better form of government?
  • heading out, across the Appalachians, through the Great Plains, across the deserts and mountains, from sea to shining sea?
  • building a Republic, based on original principles that all men are created equal, entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?

Such radicalism (radix implying deep-rooted change) is “conservative”? Even in the squirarchical Old Colony?

No: that doesn’t quite tally with the reality.

Yet it goes further.

In the fastnesses of the (old) York night, Malcolm was wakeful. Sometime after 2 a.m. (GMT) he found himself watching the Washington Post‘s minute-by-minute update of the Virginia race.

At the beginning of his watch, Ken Cuccinelli was ahead by a margin of just a couple-of-percentage points. The big (and the big-for-the-Democrats) precincts were just checking in. With each update, the margin narrowed.  Around 2:25, with Cuccinelli still nominally ahead, Fox News called it for Terry McAuliffe. ABC and NBC followed. By 2:45 or so, the lead changed. Only then did the Post call it for McAuliffe. By the English dawn’s early light, McAuliffe was two-and-a-half percentage points clear. This, the Post maintains, is a “narrow” victory.

As Malcolm has said before, his addiction to US Elections goes back to that long night of 9th November 1960, in a Dublin basement flat, trying to decode, through the AM atmospherics, what AFN was reporting as results came in.  Even that was foreshadowed back in 1953, when his Dear Old Dad explained his interest in the Presidential: “This is important”.

If neck-hairs now bristle, you’re an addict

There is that purple-prose opening of T.H.White’s classic account, The Making of the President:

How well worn is yours?

How well worn is yours?

… though the powers of the office are unique, even more spectacular and novel in the sight of history is the method of transfer of those powers-the free choice by a free people, one by one, in secrecy, of a single national leader.

Whether Americans have chosen this leader well or badly is of the most immense importance not only to them but to the destiny of the human race. Yet, well or badly done, no bells ring at any given hour across the nation when the voting is over, nor do any purple-robed priests wait that night to anoint the man who will soon be the most powerful individual in the free world. The power passes invisibly in the night as election day ends; the national vigil includes all citizens; and when consensus is reached, the successful candidate must accept the decision in the same rough, ragged, and turbulent fashion in which he has conducted the campaign that has brought him to power.

White’s metaphors ring true. There is a mystic element as any great, free election winds its course to a conclusion: the collective of individuals making a choice. It is, perhaps, Jungian:

51M4XENZ0JL._SY445_… in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.

Vox populi, vox dei

The voice of the people is the voice of God? We can quibble, as wikipedia does, whether that was William of Malmesbury or Alcuin to Carolus Magnus — though that latter is actually a denial:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.

[Don’t pay attention to those who say “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, for the unstable masses are ever on the verge of madness.]

Nice word, that tumultuositas. It goes beyond the more usual Latin word tumultus. It implies something more than “commotion”. When Cato uses the adverb tumultuose, it may need to be rendered as “with panic and wild alarm”.

Alexander Pope, another Tory, brought Horace’s Epistles into the eighteenth century (though here referring to theatrical claques) and went with Alcuin:

All this may be; the people’s voice is odd,
It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
To Gammer Gurton if it give the bays,
And yet deny the Careless Husband praise,
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
Why then, I say, the public is a fool.

That view, that the popular view was not to be trusted, persisted down to the last century and beyond (hence the resistance to plebiscites, with some justification). The US Electoral College (a vestige of the old post-colonial oligarchy) still filters the popular will. After all, Al Gore in 2000 had a half-million majority in the national popular vote.

Get stuffed!

There were two Vox Pop reactions to the Virginia election which, to Malcolm’s mind, seemed a trifle bizarre.

  • First, there was the GOP spokesman who went public to blame his party’s performance on the “polls”.

Well, yes. People are, as Alcuin deplored, unreliable. However, we may infer that the complaint was more about the public opinion polls, particularly those in the Washington Post, publicised in the run-up to the election. If so, Physician, heal thyself. Those polls were reflecting response to the government shut-down, engineered by the Tea-party types in Congress, and endorsed by candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

  • Then there was the lady, bewailing the way the numbers were slipping away from Cuccinelli, who declared she was “praying for Virginia”.

Ho hum, my dear! Even in your philosophy, any divinity out there has her/his universe to run. Stuffing ballot-boxes doesn’t appear in the job-description.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., culture, History, politics, polls, Quotations, Republicanism, United States, US Elections, Washington Post

Transport, but not of delight

You wait days for a post to come along on Boriswatch (a scandalously underused vehicle), then two come along together.

Both are by “Tom”, who does much of the heavy-lifting in those parts, both posts are excellent, and based on detailed analysis of the numbers.


The first was about the bit of wire that goes nowhere (well, not-quite close to the Greenwich Dome) to the unscenic beauties of somewhere else (not quite the DLR at Canning Town). The wikipedia picture gives a decent flavour of its essential pointlessness:


The Emirates Air Line ( a poncified cable car) is in trouble. Tom’s graphic tells the sad tale:


That Year 1 peak, of course, represents an initial flush of curiosity, coinciding with the Olympics down the road.

Where this is taking us is a massive subsidy from other transport modes to the dangle way. As Tom has it:

… what’s worse is that the newt fancier’s train set, London Overground, is bailing Boris out on this with much stronger income than expected:

This strong Overground performance has led to an increase of £12m in the full-year forecast, partially offset by a £4m reduction in Tramlink and Emirates Air Line Income.

Just think what £65m could have bought in the way of Overground extensions, new trains and so on, taking people places they actually want to go.

A pain in the bum

Then Tom turned his eyes to Borisbikes, again with  a dismal indication of weekly usage:

Cycle_Hire_Year_On_Year_Weekly-1024x647Those figures should not be treated as nice comparisons of year-on-year. Rental charges were doubled last January. The scheme has been greatly expanded: nearly doubled from the 5,000 bikes and 315 docking stations at the outset. There’s further expansion,  “sarf uv der riva” due in the New Year. Yet usage seems to head ever lower.

Malcolm is more charitable here. He is prepared to believe that cycling in central London and total abstinence may be both “a good thing”. Yet (as Alan Coren said, a day before she encountered Pillar 13, and in the context of Princess Diana and land mines) he does know you poke either at your peril.

Overall, Tom has calculated the cost of the scheme:

TfL have finally accepted that the scheme will always require subsidy and will never cover its costs:

Operating costs in 2012/13 were £24m, of which about £5m was covered by Barclays’ sponsorship and £8m by user charges, leaving an £11.1m shortfall. 

So user charges cover barely 33% of the cost of running the scheme, Barclays barely cover 30% of the remaining 16m leaving the rest of us on the hook for more than twice what the bankers whom Boris is always praising chip in.  He should be thanking us, about twice as often.  Still, we can now estimate the subsidy per ride; 2012-13, Olympics included, saw 9.3m hires, so for each bum on a saddle we have the following:

  • Cost to provide saddle: £2.60
  • From Barclays: £0.53
  • From the user: £0.86
  • From TfL’s increasingly strained revenue subsidy: £1.20

Let us also recall that the scheme was supposed to be self-financing, or better, in three years:

Setting up the bike hire scheme is set to cost £140m over six years. TfL expect it will cover its operating costs within two to three years and will then be able to contribute to its implementation costs. Charlie Lloyd from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) said:

“It is very likely they will make some kind of profit on this, and you have to bear in mind that London Transport makes a loss on every single bus and tube journey. So this is a good value transport investment.”.

Yet, on Tom’s figures:

For comparison, the bus subsidy, which is reducing as Osborne slashes the revenue grant that pays for that £1.20 per bum per saddle, is about 17p [per passenger] according to Sir Peter Hendy’s evidence to Parliament recently, down from 25p when Boris was first elected.  By any standards cycle hire is extremely poor value for money in comparison, yet is getting expanded while the bus network, which is how London gets to work and which is increasingly overcrowded (particularly in south east London where there are zero plans to expand anything), stagnates, with money that could go into expansion going into the vanity lardbus.

Well said, sir! Credit where it’s due.

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The cut of a certain courtier’s beard

I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous. If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

Touchstone, of course, in As You Like It.

Even the Lie Direct:

… you may avoid that too, with an If.

Which brings us to the Arachnes of the PR-spinning business:


Let us revisit Arachne and her deserved fate.

We read her story in Metamorphoses VI and in the Georgic IV. She was the daughter of Idmon of Colophon. She became overweeningly proud of her skills, so much that she challenged the goddess Athene to a weaving competition. Athene depicted the gods and goddesses, in majesty: Arachne went for the sensational and sordid News of the (mythological) Screws — gods pursuing their amorous prey. Athene took affront, ripped up Arachne’s work, and transformed her into the spider.

Any modern parallels exist only in the imagination.

Which might bring us to …


… PR guru Matthew Freud’s 50th birthday on Saturday: he and his wife, Elisabeth Murdoch, hosted a fairly lavish party. But would Westminster’s finest attend?

Guests were struck to see the Prime Minister and the Chancellor both in attendance, evidently quite happy to rejoin the social set that they have both kept clear of in recent years. Tony and Cherie Blair were also tripping the light fantastic. It was, after all, a Noah’s Ark theme and they came in twos: PM and Osborne, Blairs, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Perhaps the Chancellor is so confident that his pre-Budget report will be a festival of good news that he feels he can start partying again.

Thus The Spectator gossip column.

Except that wasn’t the first draft of this little piece of history. The Daily Telegraph gossip, Mandrake, had a variant reading. Key members of the Chipping Norton set were not among the festive throng at Burford Priory:

Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, who famously attended Freud’s last big bash in 2011, days before the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal broke, was nowhere to be seen …

David Cameron, too, kept his distance from the group and was absent from the celebrations. Since the phone hacking scandal erupted the Prime Minister has gone to great lengths to diassociate himself from Brooks. Freud confirms to me that neither were present.

Note, carefully, that the “confirmation” allegedly came to the Torygraph from Freud himself. “Steerpike”, that Speccie observer of the passing social scene, was keen to put his record straight:

Elizabeth Murdoch’s husband Matthew Freud has ‘clarified’ that Cameron and Osborne were actually at his birthday party on Saturday, as described by Mr Steerpike yesterday. Initially, Mr Freud said that the PM had not attended.

Ditto Tim Walker at the Telegraph, just today:

When I asked Matthew Freud, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, if David Cameron had attended his 50th birthday party in Oxfordshire over the weekend, the PR man answered: “no…. please let me know if you would like a more explicit clarification.”

“Clarification” came, however, 24 hours later, when, after I posed the question again, one of Freud’s associates got in touch to “clarify” that the PM, had, in fact, been there. He said that George Osborne was also a guest.

Walker’s tone may imply some asperity. He goes out of his way to dig a bit more dirt:

Among public relations professionals, there often appears to have been a reticence about talking about Murdoch-related matters: one thinks of the belated statement about the horse that Cameron rode that was lent to Miss Brooks by the police, and the Christmas party he attended at her home in 2010, along with James Murdoch, as News Corp was trying to take over BSkyB.

“Reticence” may be the Retort Courteous, but Freud went for the Lie Direct. Back to the punch-lines of As You Like It, Act V, scene 4:

Jaques: Is not this a rare fellow, my lord? he’s as good at any thing and yet a fool.

Duke Senior: He uses his folly like a stalking-horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.

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