Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Very flat, Norfolk”

Thank you, Noël, dear boy … Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Then there’s a property-page puff-piece from Max Davidson in the Torygraph:

Property in Norfolk: the perfect time to buy?

The Royal family and Bill Bryson aren’t the only people to love Norfolk: prices in the county are bouncing back

There are several oddities therein.

The main focus seems to be on North Norfolk, which is what had us salivating for insight:

Property prices are bouncing back, particularly in North Norfolk. This could be good news for ordinary home-owners. In fact, this may be the perfect time to buy, with temptingly priced properties in every price bracket.

“North Norfolk is certainly recovering quicker from the recession than the county as a whole,” says Tim Hayward of Jackson-Stops and Staff. In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent. In June alone, prices in the area rose by 2 per cent.

From King’s Lynn to Cromer, the green shoots of recovery are clearly visible. Buyers are drawn not by the fads of the market, but by more traditional values.

Everything you wanted to know about estate-agent talk …

Let’s take that slowly: “In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent.” That’s historic:

  • Why quote first-quarter of last year as if it’s the latest property news?
  • Then there are fewer than 500 dwellings in Burnham Market. Refer to, and we find just five property sales listed for the first quarter of 2013. So what, exactly, underpins that “up by 38%” assertion?
  • Did Jackson-Stops and Staff manage to sell one-and-a-third more properties in that quarter?
  • Compared to what time-span?
  • Or, if it’s on price-achieved, how long back was the base price that has now shot up so significantly?
  • Are the properties sold in 2013 strictly comparable with those sold in that unspecified previous period?

Then there’s a geographical issue

We are regaled with two dozen paragraphs on North Norfolk (in which royal celebs get more than their proper share of gush). The final ten “points” of advice are all specific to North Norfolk. In between, unaccountably, the focus changes.

Aylsham is as near to Norwich as it is to the coast. It is in the patch of Broadland District, yet wikipedia places it in North Norfolk, and, sure, he is an honourable man. So we’ll let that pass.

But what can be said for “a converted windmill near Acle in the Norfolk Broads”? Or the sudden glissade into holiday rentals?


Take this one:

Hindringham is not exactly Manhattan: the population hovers between 400 and 500 souls, fewer in winter. But if you treasure peace and seclusion, it offers them in spades.

Closer to 400 than 500, actually (the 2001 Census gives 431). The last village pubs, the Duke’s Head, closed in 1965, and the Red Lion, closed in 1969, are long gone. What’s left (or rather revived, thanks to a bit of communal effort) is the football club’s Pavilion.

Then there’s that weasily “fewer in winter”. Which means, in plain English, there are too many weekenders around, who stay at (first) home once the dark nights set in.

Feeling the draught

No, not the beer (though that has improved immeasurably since the Watney monopoly was broken). North Norfolk faces … north. Go for your walk at Holkham — “The combination of big skies and sandy beaches that stretch for miles and miles … seen to exquisite effect at the end of Shakespeare in Love, is irresistible.” Face out to sea. Due north — which is where that biting winter wind is coming from, the next bit of solid land is probably the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the only bit of Russia in the Western Hemisphere. [Oh, work it out for yourself!]

There’s useful advice towards the end of Max Davidson’s effort:

Don’t buy a property unless you have seen it in winter as well as summer – North Norfolk in January can be an acquired taste. 

Note well.

Note, too:

Many of the most popular leisure activities in North No[r]folk, from sailing to links golf to bird-watching, have the sea as their focus.

Especially these last few weeks:

Homeowners have been left in tears as flood waters have crept towards their homes in north Norfolk – while Cromer seafront suffered major damage from the surging sea…

At Blakeney sea water rushed up Westgate Street, Blakeney, leaving pavement and roads under inches of water…

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

As for that golf course at Brancaster (“One of the Top 100 in the world”, no less), it may not have a long-term future:

The Environment Agency boss revealed yesterday that he is weighing up whether to reinstate flood defences in Brancaster, Blakeney and Salthouse, after they were breached last month.

Paul Leinster, who was hauled before a committee of MPs 
following the prolonged winter floods, said his agency is questioning whether or not to try to re-establish freshwater habitats, or let the sea water through permanently…

Mr Leinster told the committee that some flood defences were still under water, but went on to say: “In other places we will have discussions with Natural England and others as to whether we are going to reinstate those flood defences, or whether we will allow the water that has now broken through to remain.”

He added: “The question has to be, do we reinstate those defences and then allow freshwater habitat to re-establish, or allow inter-tidal habitat to establish?”

Max Davidson was particularly enthusiastic:

The odd grand period house does come on the market in North Norfolk, with a suitably hefty price tag. Appletree House in Brancaster, overlooking the West Norfolk golf course, was built in the 1920s and boasts magnificent views of the sea over manicured formal gardens. It is on the market for £4.5 million with Knight Frank (

Take those last two quotations together, and it might go some way to explaining this:


Dring! Dring!

“Yes, Mr Coward, what can we do for you this time?”
“Norfolk, old chap …”
“Hmm. Thought we dealt with that a while back. You said Norfolk was flat.”
“That was no reflection on her, unless she made it flatter.”
“Your voice takes on an acid quality whenever you mention her name.”
“I’ll never mention it again.”
“So, goodbye, Mr Coward. Always a pleasure …”

[Compare the infamous exchange between Elyot and Amanda, Act One of Private Lives.]

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Filed under Daily Telegraph, House-prices, Norfolk, pubs, Theatre, Wells-next-the-Sea

More pandas than MPs


Yes, that’s the chortle about Scotland and its Tories.

A declining asset

It’s also a commonplace to remark that, as recently as the 1955 general Election, Scottish Tories took over half the total vote (50.1%) and half the MPs (36 of 72).

Since then, it has been continuing attrition:

Tory vote

Notice how the Poll Tax, enforced in Scotland from 1989/90, a year before the rest of the UK, is a critical factor. There were eleven Scottish Tory MPs elected in 1992, and none in 1997.

Not just missing MPs: missing voters?

There was another consequence of the Poll Tax:

Our findings suggest that as many as 500,000 voters did not register because they wanted to avoid paying poll tax. The gain to the Conservatives’ lead in overall votes was only 0.5 per cent, however. This is enough, in theory, to have cost Labour as many as seven extra seats and the Liberal Democrats three, but only if one makes some heroic assumptions about the distribution of the votes.

Even accepting the “0.5 per cent, however”, the Tax had applied in Scotland for a year longer. Logically, then, the “de-registration” was more advanced in Scotland than elsewhere. Equally, we might expect the de-registration to be concentrated in those groups more inclined to be non-Conservative.

Perhaps we should then look at the numbers, and wonder if something funny isn’t going on:


We know that the population of Scotland is increasing. We know that the population is ageing. We know that older folk tend to vote more than the younger ones. And yet …


John Masefield’s 1926 novel, a prequel to Sard Harker.

Iain MacWhirter did a piece, That Bloody Woman, for the New Statesman in 2009, looking at how Scotland had turned against the Tories. He laid the blame (if blame there be) on Thatcher and the Poll Tax (i.e. the One Damn Thing):

It was the poll tax, more than any other facet of Thatcherism, that ensured the disintegration of the old unitary British state. Scots complained that the poll tax legislation was pushed through Westminster on the strength of English MPs co-opted on to the Scottish standing committee to make up the numbers. It was the West Lothian question in reverse. The poll-tax row finally persuaded Labour’s ultra-cautious shadow Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar, to join the cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988 and sign its “Claim of Right” document, which called for a repatriation of Scottish sovereignty. Ironically, the Scottish National Party boycotted the convention, making itself politically irrelevant for the next decade and a half.

In 1997, after every single Scottish Conservative seat was lost, Labour held its promised second referendum on the constitution. Scots voted by a decisive three to one in favour of a Scottish Parliament with tax powers, bringing to an end three centuries of debate about home rule. Since the election in 1999 of the first Scottish Parliament in 300 years, the process of constitutional disengagement has speeded up, with the Scots electing their first Nationalist government in May 2007. But it might never have happened if it had not been for Margaret Thatcher.

History repeats itself …

In the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, Iain Duncan Smith’s punitive bedroom tax (i.e. After Another) has handed a fresh tawse to any Scottish voter who wants not punish English arrogance. Hence:

The UK government should abolish the bedroom tax or hand the Scottish Parliament powers to scrap the controversial policy, Holyrood’s welfare reform committee has said.

 A report from the committee criticised the tax as “iniquitous and inhumane” in one of the most scathing attacks from Holyrood on the UK Tory-Lib Dem government’s policy.

The measure means social housing tenants with spare bedrooms must move to a smaller home or lose up to 25 per cent of housing benefit.

Westminster ministers who hold powers over the tax should scrap the policy as the solution to a “bad law”, the cross-party welfare reform committee said.

MSPs said many Scots were “trapped” into paying the “bedroom tax” and were left with nowhere to move due to a shortage of social housing properties in Scotland.

The report said the tax “may well breach” the human rights of tenants, because of the financial penalties faced by residents and the threat of effectively being forced to leave their homes.

So, if it all goes sour for the “Union” on 18th September, we know upon whom to unload the ordure.

I want to be alone

By a small coincidence, perhaps, that would be Greta Garbo’s 109th birthday. And we all know her most famous line:

Though she subsequently claimed she said, “I want to be let alone”

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Filed under Conservative family values, Devolution, Elections, films, History, nationalism, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, Tories.

“Compare and contrast” (again!)

Exhibit 1:

No wonder the Labour party’s opinion poll lead has been reduced to one vulnerable point.

Source: The Spectator spinning that monthly ComRes telephone poll for the Independent.

Exhibit 2:

YouGov/Sun poll tonight – Labour lead jumps to 10 points: CON 32, LAB 42, LD 8, UKIP 12

Might we, just might we suspect it’s all only a story?

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Filed under Labour Party, politics, polls, Tories.

Putty medal to Yvette

On Tuesday, when Gids Osborne was shafting Ed Balls — to loud approval from his backbenches, everything was fine-and-dandy.

By PMQs on Wednesday, the shaft was thrusting the other way — to the extent that Quentin Letts had to construct a Mail sketch wholly ignoring the headline act.

Advantage, Dominic Raab

Then, today, total Tory chaos ensued with Dominic Raab (himself a distinguished lawyer) putting an amendment to the Immigration Bill. With its explicit and deliberately-intended ECHR-illegality, this was nearly wished upon Theresa May. A messy bit of on-off Tory whipping (allegedly the party line was changed five times during the morning) ended up with mass abstention by the pay-roll vote, and 87 Tory and 10 Labour votes in favour. Labour and LibDem votes saw the Home Office off this hook, for the time being.

We await, with some interest, how all this can be spun to the lasting credit of Tory HQ, Downing Street, the Home Office, and sold to the loyal Tory press.

Cue, Paul Waugh

Then we had this (continuing) exchange:

Twitter spat

 Kudos, Yvette Cooper

Earlier, Paul Waugh had been tweeting:

I suspect EdM, not Cooper, made the final call on Lab voting against Raab. Echoes of Liam Byrne kneecapped to vote against Benefits cap?

Whatever the truth there, Yvette Cooper was able to take chunks out of Theresa May and the Home Office — seemingly to enjoy herself thoroughly.

Of course, it will hardly be a lasting achievement. Somehow the amendment, had it been carried would have been mislaid somehow, somewhere, or sucked into the Black Hole that is the House of Lords. Had Labour been truly, deeply nasty, also abstained, let Raab have his wicked way, it could even have transpired (knowing the ironies and delays of these things) that after 2015 a future Labour Home Secretary would be paying good lawyers good money to defend this abomination before the ECHR.

Hence Ms Cooper deserves only a “putty medal”. Let’s consult the OED:

putty medal   n. humorous a worthless reward for insignificant service or achievement.

To which is appended a citation:

1893 Times 26 July 11/6 (advt.)  Our as far removed from the little five and ten pound systems of dealing as is a genuine sovereign from a putty medal.

Malcolm’s Dear Old Mum had the expression too often for Malcolm’s self-esteem, but it seems to have lapsed in usage subsequently.

Welcome, Betty Martin

When the dust settled, the Raab amendment had been rubbished by 241 Nays to those 97 Ayes. In the run-up we had Norman Smith doing his impartial BBC bit:

No 10 say “relaxed” about Tory ‘rebel’ vote on Immigration Bill


No 10 say “not that far apart” from Dominic Raab over his ‘rebel’ motion but do not think it is is workable

Spinning away there, the afternoon press briefing.

Of which one can cheerfully say:  all my eye and Betty Martin. Let’s help the OED here, which simply calls it a noun, with no great explanation except the citations. Its modern equivalent would be along the lines of

“a load of old cobblers”

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, George Osborne, Labour Party, Oxford English Dictionary, Paul Waugh, politics, politicshome, Theresa May, Tories.

The Redfellow converse

We all know of Mike Godwin’s famous Law of Nazi Analogies:

Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin put forth the sarcastic observation that, given enough time, all online discussions—regardless of topic or scope—inevitably end up being about Hitler and the Nazis.

Godwin’s law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the widespread Reductio ad Hitlerum form. The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.

Various corollaries have been proposed, but — as far as I know — its converse has not found any similar recognition.

So here it comes

The concept arose from a thread on the death of Pete Seeger. We actually got as far as the sixth posting before the inevitable:

Amusing song which was inspired partly by Pete Seeger’s band The Almanac Singers who had issued an album in 1941 attacking Rooseveldt as a war mongering fascist. When the Stalin/Hitler Pact broke down they requested anyone who had bought it to destroy it as it no longer reflected the CPUSA line! They then cut a new album full of songs praising Rooseveldt 

Seeger eventually admitted that Stalin might not have been an all round good egg in 1987.

Note, too, that suggestive mis-spelled — twice — surname of the 32nd President. Added to which, the Almanac Singers were in no wise “Pete Seeger’s Band”: if anything Seeger was the junior recruit.SongsOfTheWobblies_thumb

For what it’s worth, Bill Friedland and Joe Glazer were associated with the IWW, the definitely non-Stalinist “Wobblies”. More of their work is on-line, and legitimately free here. They were by no means the only lefties who mocked the gyrations of Communists and fellow-travellers trying to adhere to the varying agitprop of the day.


The Redfellow Converse

The more sincere the on-line discussion, the more likely right-wing trolls will seek to subvert it. Inevitably one will mention Stalin, and will thereby claim victory and vindication.

There may even be a corollary:

Stalin will inextricably be the epitome of “socialism”.

This, of course, is as asinine as using “Mormonism” as a synonym for Christianity, or representing Wahhabism as the essence of Islam.

Equally, all deaths that occurred in the Soviet Union, before and during the Great Terror will be ascribed personally to Stalin — and a number will then be conjured out of historical bodgery:

In February 1989, two years before the fall of the Soviet Union, a research paper by Georgian historian Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev published in the weekly tabloid Argumenti i Fakti estimated that the death toll directly attributable to Stalin’s rule amounted to some 20 million lives (on top of the estimated 20 million Soviet troops and civilians who perished in the Second World War), for a total tally of 40 million.

For the record, and lest any passing troll sees this post as a lamp-post and wants to make a mark, I accept the horrific numbers Robert Conquest proposed in The Great Terror:9780195317008

Arrests, 1937-1938 – about 7 million
Executed – about 1 million
Died in camps – about 2 million
In prison, late 1938 – about 1 million
In camps, late 1938 – about 8 million

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Filed under blogging, folk music, History, human waste, Ireland, IWW, leftist politics., politics

Rallying the troops

The Spectator has always been “on the Right”, but in its present iteration it is increasingly relaying the version as approved by Tory HQ. And more infallibly papal than the Pope.  As in this magisterium:

Things could scarcely be going better for the Conservatives. Every week seems to bring more news of the recovery. High street tills are ringing, employment is at an all-time high and Britain’s economy is growing faster than that of any major country. No wonder the Labour party’s opinion poll lead has been reduced to one vulnerable point. Two years ago, the Conservatives had almost given up hope of winning the next election. Now, it looks within their grasp — if they keep it together. And therein lies the problem.

Which leads into a plea, a demand, an injunction — nay, a commandment — for strict toeing of the party line. No more EU-line dancing.

Let’s Fisk those assumptions:

Is the “recovery” doing that well?

The City slickers may be happy in their work and bonuses; but there is precious little evidence of “trickle down”, especially in the blighted provinces, and north of Watford.

Has anyone heard the tills the length of the High Street all a-ringing?

Marks & Spencer suffered its third Christmas of declining clothing sales, increasing the scrutiny on the high street bellwether. Tesco  said UK Christmas sales fell 2.4pc like-for-likeMorrisons warned full-year profits will be toward the bottom of expectations after like-for-like sales dropped 5.6pc.

What most of us notice about the High Street is the increase in closures and voids, and infilling by charity shops.

Is Britain’s economy “growing faster than that of any major country”?

Well, provided we exclude China (+7.7%), India (+4.8%), Indonesia (+5.6%), Malaysia (+5%), Nigeria (+7.7%), Pakistan (+3.6%), the Philippines (+6.9%), Saudi Arabia (+3.1%), Singapore (+4.4%), South Korea (+3.9%), Taiwan (2.9%), and Turkey (+4.4%) from any list of “major” countries.

Oh, and news just in:

The US economy grew at a 3.2% annual rate for the final quarter of 2013, according to the country’s Commerce Department.

So, another to add to that list of not “major” countries.

The Labour party’s opinion poll lead has been reduced to one vulnerable point

Got that. But only in the ComRes telephone poll for the Independent. As Anthony Wells continues:

Populus’s Monday poll was also conducted after the 50p pledge, at roughly the same time as ComRes, and they show Labour’s lead still at seven points. Even without that, we know polls jump about from day to day, YouGov have already shown a couple of 3 point leads this month that turned out to just be normal sample variation.

Still, The Spectator has ornithological leanings, and one swallow may make its summer.

Now all that is required is:

  • the Tories not to panic about the Kippers and Faragista incursions into home territory, even when the Euro-elections go all Penny Mordaunt belly-flop for them,
  • for the disappointed and disaffected backbenchers not to go ape when the Wharton Bill finally fails,
  • for the ConDem divorce to take place painlessly and without rancour,
  • for there not to be any scandal (financial, sexual, whatever) to titillate the yellow press,
  • for Downing Street not to be even peripherally implicated in the continuing trial of Coulson and Brooks,
  • for shit not to happen during the next sixteen months …

Not asking a lot!

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Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, polls, The Spectator, Tories.

A second draft of journalistic history

George_Helgesen_Fitch_circa_1915Back in 1914, George Fitch (right) defined the job of “The Reporter” for the George Matthew Adams Newspaper Service:

A reporter is a young man who blocks out the first draft of history each day on a rheumatic typewriter.

As always, re-drafting is the allied skill.

So, here comes a recent one, from the current issue of Private Eye‘s Street of Shame (page 7):

THE Sunday Times likes to boast that its foreign correspondents — figures such as Hala Jaber, Christina Lamb, the late Marie Colvin — have between them won pretty much every press award going over the past decade. Privately, however, it doesn’t seem to treasure them quite so dearly.

First the hacks were told that from now on they should travel everywhere by Easy Jet. This provoked a mutiny by Lamb, who was about to spend two days with President Shimon Peres in Israel: she flatly ignored the foreign desk’s advice that she fly overnight on the budget airline and go straight to the presidential palace.

The next edict was that war correspondents could no longer claim cabs to the airport — at which the hacks demanded how they were supposed to get there , given that they have to carry heavy flak jackets and helmets, huge boxes of medical kit, laptops , satphones and hiking boots, etc, quite apart from normal luggage. Unabashed, the beancounters have now come up with their most ingenious cost-cutting wheeze yet — issuing foreign correspondents with tents so they needn’t stay in hotels. Camping in Helmand, anyone?

Now, where did we see the first draft of that?

Scoop_coverAh, yes! Here it is! Well-thumbed, seriously foxed, “Reprinted 1961” — which quite probably makes it about the best, and most enduring half-a-crown expended that year.

Chapter 3, pages 44-45 (which amounts to an 80-times price hike on that earlier copy).

We meet William Boot, now “Boot of The Beast” collecting the kit recommended by Lord Copper, just after he has sorted the problem of the cleft sticks:

William, hesitating between polo sticks and hockey sticks, chose six of each; they were removed to the workshop. Then Miss Barton led him through the departments of the enormous store. By the time she had finished with him, William had acquired a well-, perhaps rather over-, furnished tent, three months’ rations, a collapsible canoe, a jointed flagstaff and Union Jack, a hand-pump and sterilizing plant, an astrolabe, six suits of tropical linen and a sou’wester, a camp operating table and set of surgical instruments, a portable humidor, guaranteed to preserve cigars in condition in the Red Sea, and a Christmas hamper complete with Santa Claus costume and a tripod mistletoe stand, and a cane for whacking snakes. Only anxiety about time brought an end to his marketing. At the last moment he added a coil of rope and a sheet of tin…

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Filed under Evelyn Waugh, Private Eye, Quotations, Sunday Times

The enemy of the good is the “best”

That headline is, I believe, inverted from  American football. Since I’ve never understood that game, I tend to settle for the “good”, especially when it’s near and available.

Well, I know one thing, derived from the columnist George Frederick Will: “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

And now (another Ta-Dah!) I learn:

A family-run takeaway on the Yorkshire coast has been named the UK’s best independent fish and chip shop.

Quayside in Whitby won the flagship award at the National Fish and Chip Awards 2014 in London, as well as the award for marketing innovation.

Earlier this evening, in the absence of our yet to be installed kitchen, the Lady in My Life and I were forced — forced! I tell you! — to seek yet another pub meal. It involved a (passable) cod and (very decent) chips, washed down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and draught pale ale. Say no more.

So, what is O.K., or “good”, or “excellent” or “the best”?

Surely that depends on circumstance. A breezy day along the front, or a clamber up-and-down from Whitby Abbey, and I’ll grant you, for the occasion, “excellence” at  the Quayside. Have the world, his wife and their tired, screaming brats filling every table around me (particularly numerous after this bit of puffery), and I’ll revise my estimate.

It’s all subjective. It’s all a bit of valid marketing.

Myself? In that part of North Yorkshire, on a decent day, I’d be heading a bit up the coast and hiking down High Street from the car-park to the Cod and Lobster, on the Harbour Front, at Staithes. But, that’s just a personal choice of  a “good” moment.


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Filed under leisure travel, pubs, Yorkshire

Double standards in black and white?

Here’s one that’s been niggling.

Let’s start with Tuesday’s Evening Standard:

Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend Dasha Zhukova apologises for ‘black woman’ chair photo


The partner of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich today apologised after she was pictured sitting on a chair designed to resemble a half-naked black woman.

Dasha Zhukova, 32, who has two children with the Chelsea owner, was caught up in controversy after an online magazine published a photo of her perched on the artwork.

Buro 24/7 used the image of Ms Zhukova yesterday, which was Martin Luther King Day, to illustrate an unrelated interview about the former model’s new magazine, Garage.

Ms Zhukova said: “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an artwork intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics.

“I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image.”

The artwork by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard is one of a series that “reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics”, said a spokesman for Ms Zhukova

Miroslava Duma, the blog’s editor, also posted the photo on Instagram.

Duma quickly deleted the picture from Instagram and cropped out the chair on Buro 24/7.

Campaign group Organizing for Women’s Liberation criticised the picture after it circulated on the internet.

The chair is similar in style to a famous piece by Lond[o]n pop artist Allen Jones, whose 1969 fibreglass work “Chair” was made to resemble a white woman.

Leaving aside the hypocrisy of the cropping, I think we get it: it’s a kind of irony, “a commentary on gender and racial politics”.

However, there’s still a glaring inconsistency here: why does it matter if the female form is “a half-naked black woman”?

If it’s “offensive” when “re-interpret[ed] … by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard”, why was it cutting-edgy “by Lond[o]n pop artist Allen Jones”? Why is the skin-pigmentation the difference?

I have to admit I found Allen Jones embarrassing forty-odd years ago. Jones was in the business épater le bourgeois (find the English equivalent for that, @JohnRentoul) — and Jones certainly managed it with this particular bourgeois. He also seems to have made quite a career out of it, and it got him into the Tate:

Chair 1969 by Allen Jones born 1937

A trifle sticky?

Should we not admit it was naff in 1969, and — “re-interpret[ed]” — it is doubly naff in 2014?

As for Ms Dasha Zhukova, she clearly has more money than taste. But then Dickens skewered all noveau-riche (again, no apology @JohnRentoul) Veneerings, back in 1865:

Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from the Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.

For, in the Veneering establishment, from the hall-chairs with the new coat of arms, to the grand pianoforte with the new action, and upstairs again to the new fire-escape, all things were in a state of high varnish and polish. And what was observable in the furniture, was observable in the Veneerings — the surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.

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Filed under Evening Standard, London, sleaze.

Sartor resartus: new clothes for the “magic circle”

That’s a tricky title, unless your Latin is up to scratch. It’s “the tailor re-tailored”, and it’s a novel from 1836 by Thomas Carlyle — little read except as an academic study. A topic for another day, perhaps.

For the moment, the point here is that Carlyle puts his story in the form of a book-review of a fictional book by a fictional writer.

17.01-331x413Similarly, The Spectator has Vernon Bogdanor re-viewing and revisiting what, ostensibly, was a book-review itself. In the 17th January 1964 edition of The Spectator, the magazine’s then-editor, Iain Macleod, was running his blue pencil over Randoph Churchill’s account of how Lord Hume emerged as Tory Leader (and Prime Minister) in succession to Harold Macmillan:

In those days, the Conservatives did not choose their leader by ballot, but by ‘customary processes of consultation’, soundings conducted both inside and outside Parliament. These soundings were carried out primarily by five grandees, four of whom had been to Eton. So had Macmillan and Home. They constituted what Macleod, in a deadly phrase, christened a ‘magic circle’ that ruled the Tory party. The Spectator had exposed an establishment stitch-up — or so it seemed.

The article succeeded in casting serious doubt on the legitimacy of Home’s succession — and, ergo, his leadership. With a general election due within nine months, and some way behind in the polls, the Conservatives desperately needed to unite around Home. Instead, Macleod used his Spectator article in a way designed to reopen wounds which had been beginning to heal.

Macleod was that most unlikely of Tories: someone genuinely “bright” (though not academically) — indeed, so much so that he was deemed “too smart for his own good”.

The question has always been whether Macleod’s killer piece, denouncing the “magic circle” of Old Etonians who “fixed” the succession for Home, was what did for the Tory election campaign of 1964. Certainly, Harold Wilson — possessed of as sharp a tongue as Macleod — exploited the conceit ruthlessly.

And now?

That is all historical curiosity, except it may have been a factor in excluding Old Etonian toffs from the top job for the next four decades, all the way to David Cameron’s enstoolment:

The effects of Macleod’s Spectator article resonated down the years. The idea of a ‘magic circle’ was so potent that until the advent of David Cameron, an Etonian education was seen as a handicap rather than an advantage (as Douglas Hurd discovered when he stood for the leadership in 1990). Home was the last public school leader of a major party until the arrival of the Fettes-educated Tony Blair in 1994.

That’s a bit dodgy as a generalisation. It wasn’t a “public school education” which denied Tony Benn (Westminster School) the leadership “of a major party”. It also assumes that Leighton Park, the independent Quaker school in Reading — and the Alma mater of Michael Foot, does not provide that “public school education”. Jeremy Thorpe and Jo Grimond were Old Etonians, David Owen went to Bradfield, Shirley Williams to St Paul’s, but presumably their Liberal and Social Democrat Parties were not “major”.

Which brings us to David Cameron’s own “magic circle”

That includes the repetitive put-down that Ed Miliband always has to hand — and Mark Ferguson sees as his “safety blanket“, as at today’s PMQs:

… when Miliband moved onto the economy, he found it far more difficult to keep his tone civil. Tories cheered him saying unemployment had fallen while a confident Cameron took every chance to remind Miliband of just how positive the figures were. This prompted the rather Punch and Judy line from Miliband that Cameron was doing ‘his Bullingdon Club routine.’

Similarly, George Eaton in the New Statesman notes:

Having maintained his new restrained style up to this point, Miliband lapsed into traditional PMQs rhetoric when he accused Cameron of doing “his Bullingdon Club routine”, a sign of his frustration at failing to land any blows.

That leaves us with the lurking qualm that “Bullers” bully-boy stuff may actually work. If so, Iain Macleod — a stiletto, not a bludgeon man — would have been severely disappointed.


Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, education, History, LabourList, politics, politicshome, social class, The Spectator, Tories.