Monthly Archives: April 2014

Morning joy

A delightful mini-interview (actually three minutes direct to camera) with Bob Mankoff.

Who he?

The great arbiter of the funnies in the New Yorker, that’s who.

He looks the part of “the cartoon editor of the New Yorker”.

He talks the part. This, fellow Brits, is the epitome of the smart Noo York dude.

His gestures are superb, theatrical and pointed.

To cap it all, “I had a complicated relationship with my mother”.

A consistent tradition

mTv3Yhtk-N7huz2n0f4pjvAThe true joy is Mankoff’s collection of New Yorker cartoons, first published for the magazine’s 80th anniversary (and more recently up-dated). By no coincidence, the accompanying double CD — which had the entire oeuvre of 68,647 images — seems to have been ‘borowed’.

The punchiness of too many remains painfully true — what Mankoff calls “the right amount of wrong”. There is, for a prime example, this one by Al Frueh, from that dismal year 1932:

Frueh 1932

I have never quite got the fascination with Thurberesque seals (an Algonquin in-joke?). That apart, many of these simple drawings are appealing, simple and have hidden depths. Here, for example, is an Alan Dunn from May 1946:

Alan Dunn May 46

It implies much the same as Norman Rockwell’s Willie Gillis in College [which I think is a magnificent concoction], the Saturday Evening Post front cover spread later that year:

Wiilie Gillis at college



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A Gimson parliamentary goodie

Andrew Gimson (husband of the formidable Sally), discarded by the Torygraph, and now depping for ConHome, has been wrong over the Maria Miller affair. He makes good by decorating his PMQs sketch with a teaser:

David Cameron made an admirably provocative statement as he tried to defend his handling of the Maria Miller affair: “This is a good and honest Parliament with good and hard-working people in it.”

Many people will at once reject this assertion. There is a widespread view that MPs are a bunch of greedy and corrupt scoundrels. It seems unlikely this will become known to history as the Honest Parliament. The names we have given to particular Parliaments have most often been uncomplimentary: they include Addled, Barebones, Drunken, Dunces, Mad, Mongrel, Rump, Unlearned and Useless.

Parliament-The-Biography-VolI suspect that means Mr Gimson is getting to Chris Bryant before I have.

So, a bit of self-testing:

The Addled Parliament

That was 1614, when it all went sour between James I and parliament.

The influence of the Puritans was increasing. One of its earliest decisions was to debouch, en masse, to St Margaret’s, Westminster, and defiantly by-passing the High Anglican celebrations at the intervening Abbey:

The Communion to be received … not at the Abbey, but at the Parish Church. That in the Abbey they administer not with common bread contrary [to the] 20th Canon and the Book of Common Prayer.

That’s from the Commons’ Journals for 13th April, 1614; and it marks the moment from which the traditional link between the Commons and St Margaret’s dates.

Along with suspicion of a Catholic plot (it’s only a few years since Guy Fawkes & co.), the running sore was royal expenditure. James I was in debt. The war with Spain had been concluded by the Treaty of London; and the Commons were objecting to expenditure on the royal favourites.

The Barebones Parliament

Another easy one, also known as “the Parliament of Saints”. The independent congregations in each county were asked for nominees. Cromwell’s Council of Officers then selected 140 persons “fearing God and of approved fidelity and honesty”, who were summoned in June 1653. One precedent was set here: five of the chosen were representatives from Scotland (see also next entry), and six from Ireland.

This motley crew duly announced themselves a parliament, elected a Council of State (adding eighteen of their own to Cromwell’s existing Council of thirteen), and created a Byzantine complex of twelve great committees to set about redressing grievances and reforming the body politic.

What went wrong is a majority were provincial gentry who could not afford constant attendance at Westminster, whereas the more extreme elements were only too ready to attend regularly, and push through ‘extreme’ measures: civil marriage, registration of births, marriages and deaths, reform of imprisonment for debt, and a more enlightened treatment for lunatics and the mentally-incompetent. Since there were no lawyers in the Commons, laws made by amateurs might have been simple, but they were not fool-proof.

The moderate majority lost patience, arrived in force on 12 December 1653, and moved to vote themselves out of existence. When the extreme faction turned up, the Speaker and his moderate supporters hiked out to abdicate. The residue was inquorate, and had to be persuaded by the arrival of a couple of colonels and a force of musketeers. In the end eighty, a clear majority, signed the deed of abdication.

Cromwell was left the absolute power in  the country.

The Drunken Parliament

I needed a nudge with that one.

If one had been near Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross on 4th February 1652, one would have heard eight trumpeters go full blast, followed by the bizarre Norman-French repeated cry of Oyez!

The English Parliamentarians had sent a “Tender of Union” to the eighty-nine parliamentary constituencies (thirty-one shires and fifty-eight royal burghs) of Scotland. This “Union” was enforced by occupation and General Monck’s army — it took an entire regiment to cow Glasgow. The Scottish parliament was abolished. The Scottish Privy Council was supplanted by English commissioners and their dupes. The judiciary was replaced by effective Cromwellian army officers.

Come the Restoration, the Earl of Middleton came north as Commissioner to the restored Scottish Parliament. On New Year’s Day, Middleton rode up the Royal Mile to open Parliament. For the record, Parliament Hall, beside St Giles Cathedral, is the oldest purpose-built parliamentary building in these islands.

The contemporary accounts have Middleton in his usual intoxicated condition. Charles II appointed as  Secretary of State for Scotland John Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale. Once a Covenanter and moderate Presbyterian, Lauderdale had spent a decade in English prisons after the Battle of Worcester: not surprisingly, the experience had turned him to drink.

The Drunken Parliament then rescinded all laws passed since 1633 (the year of Charles I’s coronation in Edinburgh), killed the settlement of 1639-41, restored all the royal prerogatives, made the Covenanters illegal. All office-holders had to swear loyalty to the new régime. The nobility had their jurisdictions and patronages restored. The Episcopacy was re-established, and all parish ministers appointed since 1649 would have to seek patronage and the bishop’s confirmation (a third of the ministry, mainly in the west and south-west of Scotland, were dispossessed. Their replacements were derided as “king’s curates”, and the former ministers set up in new “conventicles”.

Officialdom finally realised things were going too far. Middleton was sent off to be Governor of Tangier (where he died in 1674, falling down stairs dead drunk) and replaced by John Leslie.

It inevitably all ended in tears, and the Pentland Rising of 1666.

The Dunces Parliament

Wa-hey! We’re heading back here, all the way to 1404.

In the middle of his troubles with the Percies, Henry IV summoned parliament to Coventry. He deliberately excluded any lawyers: the legal writers of London had just unionised themselves  (the Inner and Middle Temples have records from 1388), to general disapproval:

DICK: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man?

The Mad Parliament

Even further back: 11th June 1258. We are even at the birth of parliaments in England.

I think the name may have come, and certainly was given notice, from David Hume, writing in 1761:

This parliament, which the royalists, and even the nation, from experience of the confusions that attended its measures, afterwards denominated the mad parliament, met on the day appointed; and as all the barons brought along with them their military vassals, and appeared with an armed force, the king, who had taken no precautions against them, was in reality a prisoner in their hands, and was obliged to submit to all the terms which they were pleased to impose upon him. Twelve barons were selected from among the king’s ministers; twelve more were chosen by parliament: To these twenty-four, unlimited authority was granted to reform the state; and the king himself took an oath, that he would maintain whatever ordinances they should think proper to enact for that purpose.

Edward II had summoned parliament, in part because he was at his (limited) wits’ end in dealing with bumptious barons, in part because he hoped for supply to finance the Pope’s offer of a kingdom in Sicily. What he got were the Provisions of Oxford (still with Hume here):

… three sessions of parliament should be regularly held every year, in the months of February, June, and October; that a new sheriff should be annually elected by the votes of the free holders in each county; that the sheriffs should have no power of fining the barons who did not attend their courts, or the circuits of the justiciaries; that no heirs should be committed to the wardship of foreigners, and no castles intrusted to their custody; and that no new warrens or forests should be created, nor the revenues of any counties or hundreds be let to farm. 

The consequences of all that were bloody, and need not detain us here.

The Mongrel Parliament

Whoops! Back to the seventeenth-century.

This was Charles I’s last attempt at any kind of P.R.

The Long Parliament had split into “royalist” and “parliamentarian” factions and, by 1642 had arrived at a state of civil war. Visit the Round House pub and restaurant in Nottingham to be on the spot where Charles  raised his Royal Standard on 22 August 1642.

In 1644 Charles summoned a parliament at Oxford. It met just the once. Meanwhile, the parliamentarians were still in London, still the “Long Parliament” and about to be reduced to:

The Rump Parliament

In December 1648 Colonel Pride forcibly evicted 110 moderate members (forty arrested, seventy more barred) . The Rump was now just a sixth of the membership of 1640, and a tenth of the original 1640 MPs . It now voted for the king’s execution.

The Unlearned Parliament

We’ve visted here before. This is a variant on the Dunces’ Parliament of 1404 , so see above.

The Useless Parliament

Charles I’s first parliament, which sat from July 1625, decamped to Oxford on 1st August because of the plague, and was dissolved on 12th August.

Charles was asking for revenue for a war with Spain. This amounted to a life-time income from the duties of tonnage and poundage (that is, import and export taxes, and a royal right which had existed since 1414), for the length of this reign. Parliament were prepared to make the grant for only a year at a time. Since this was unacceptable to Charles, he had Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, block the Commons bill in the Lords. The Commons then moved to impeach Buckingham. Charles dissolved parliament, and entered into an attempt at absolute rule.

The real moment of interest was the MPs holding the Speaker, John Finch, in the chair until they had declared any payment of tonnage and poundage to be illegal.

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An embuggerance

Someone had to get the tar-baby:

Conservative MP Sajid Javid has been named as the new culture secretary.

The MP for Bromsgrove has been promoted from his current role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

 I find that interesting for a number of reasons:

  • The gossip had been Andrea Leadsom was in line (in stead, she got the Economic Secretary to the Treasury post):


  • Which would have meant not only a one-for-one woman Cabinet replacement, but also a mother-for-mother. Mrs Leadsom has not only a clean record on expenses:

If I am elected as the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire, I will:

i) publish my expenses on the internet each month.

ii) minimise my use of taxpayer funded allowances.

iii) never claim for groceries or other expenses that are not justifiably incurred in doing my job.

 These pledges are not the result of the scandal that has engulfed politics in the last few weeks – they are just common sense, and are no different to how I viewed my expenses during my 25 years working in business and in the charity sector.

 Any FTSE company could provide guidance to the House of Commons on expenses policy – it’s really not difficult, and there is no excuse for dithering over getting it sorted.

She also is mother to three children.

Nicky Morgan, who voted against equal marriage, as Minister for Women.

Mr Javid replaces Maria Miller at DCMS, with Ms Morgan stepping up a rank in the Treasury and attending Cabinet as Minister for Women. 

Gloria De Piero MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said: “David Cameron’s decision to replace Maria Miller with Sajid Javid means that there is now no full member of the Cabinet speaking for women. There are now just three women running Government departments out of a possible twenty two, demonstrating that when it comes to women, it’s out of sight, out of mind for this out of touch Government.”

  • Mrs Morgan, who does come encumbered with a son, might even be considered ‘deserving’.
  • Her constituency, Loughborough, is one of the ‘bellwether” seats that tend to go with changes of government. Her majority (3,744 or 7.1%) was bolstered by a higher-than-national voting shift from Labour to LibDem over the years of the Labour government: there are over 16,000 students at Loughborough University.

Javid is interesting himself, for any number of reasons:

Javid joined Chase Manhattan Bank in New York immediately out of university, working mostly in South America. Aged 25, he became the youngest Vice-President in the history of the bank. He relocated to London in 1997, and later joined Deutsche Bank as a Director in 2000. In 2004 he became a managing director at Deutsche Bank and, one year later, Global Head of Emerging Markets Structuring. In 2007 he relocated to Singapore as head of Deutsche Bank’s credit trading, equity convertibles, commodities and private equity businesses in Asia, and was appointed a board member of Deutsche Bank International Limited. He left Deutsche Bank in 2009 to pursue a career in politics. His earnings at Deutsche Bank would have been roughly £3m a year at the time he left.

  • His ministerial experience, so far, is Treasury-based. We can assume, then, he is a “friend of George“. What he can contribute to his new brief in “Culture” remains to be seen.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, culture, Guardian, politics, politicshome, Tim Montgomerie, Tories.

Odds on morning after

I find that yesterday’s papers are where you find the gems … and the dross.

Yesterday The Times had a story:

High St ‘clusters’ of betting shops face clampdown

On line that became:

High streets ban for ‘clusters’ of betting shops

As far as I can see, the rest remains unchanged:

The proliferation of high street betting shops is to be curbed with ministers ready to give town halls powers to block “clusters” of bookmakers.

David Cameron is also convinced that greater restrictions are required on casino-style fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBT) to “minimise harm” and prevent the spread of problem gambling.

Inevitably, it has to be the former Labour government’s fault:

Successive governments have relaxed the regulations, notably Labour in 2005, when it said that gambling should be viewed as an entertainment.

Where that falls down is:

  • FOBTs only originated in 2002.
  • In 2005 they were still a disaster waiting to happen.
  • At the time of the 2005 Gambling Act, both Labour and Tories had been under pressure from the betting industry to permit their introduction. John Whittingdale, for the Tories, seemed an outright enthusiast:

For 30 years, the UK industry has been a model of responsibility. It has been largely free of organised criminal activity and the level of problem gambling is much lower in this country than elsewhere. It was for that reason that the previous Conservative Government felt able to introduce measures to liberalise the rules…

The Government’s attitude towards fixed-odds betting terminals remains uncertain. Will those machines be treated like other category B machines and allowed in adult gaming centres and bingo halls? Having listened to the Secretary of State’s speech this afternoon, that concern will grow because she appeared unwilling to accept the agreement between the Association of British Bookmakers and the Gaming Board…

  • In 2005 the then Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, Richard Caborn, said:  “High stake slot machines, including FOBTs, remain on probation and we will continue to adopt a cautious approach. Government will not hesitate to act should there be sound evidence of harm.”

Change and decay in all around I see…

Since then it has all got very gory.

There are now over 33,000 of these FOBTs across Britain. Since the limitation is “number of machines per premises”, the betting businesses have increased their penetration by multiplying the number of betting shops. Incredible as it sounds:

... bookmakers are categorised as “financial services”, so converting a former bank or estate agent into a betting shop requires no planning permission. When applications are required to change use, such as when a shop has become vacant, councils are reluctant to turn down bookmakers in case they are taken to court.

Now to my puzzlement about the other numbers in that Times piece:

The number of betting shops has grown only slightly since the recession, by about 600 to 9,000. However, it is the clustering on the high street that many councils and residents detest. Newcastle city centre has 16 within a few hundred yards. Overall, bookies account for 9 per cent of high street floor space, up from 4 per cent in 2008.

Presumably that depends on when the “recession” is supposed to have begun. Even so, an increase of 600 is over 7% — but a leap from 4% to 9% of high street floor space is more than a doubling. The numbers, as they say, don’t add up.

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Around the turn of the year Labour — and the estimable Tom Watson in particular — had a fit of the vapours over FOBTs:

We’re in the grip of a new addiction – high-speed, high-stakes gambling.

What’s fuelling this destructive habit is the fixed odds betting terminal(FOBT), a machine that allows people to bet £100 every 20 seconds for 13 hours a day.

These digital roulette terminals are making millions for the gambling industry, and making losers out of those who can least afford to lose.

And there’s also growing evidence that they’re turning bookies from places where people have a flutter on the horses into criminal dens linked to money laundering.

That’s why I want FOBTs curbed and the government to get a grip of this disgraceful situation. David Cameron must stand by his pledge to me at prime minister’s question time that the government will take a “proper look” at FOBTs.

This was all to the considerable distress of, for one, Freddy Gray in The Spectator, who instantly saw it all as a political plot:

A FOBT ban could be terminal for high-street bookies – and great for a Labour donor

The Daily Mail likes to call FOBTs the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, which makes them sound much more fun than they are. Campaigners claim that gaming companies use FOBTs to prey on ‘the most vulnerable’, by which they mean the feckless poor.

Miliband, a puritan at heart, wants to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. David Cameron, for his part, says that he wants to see ‘empirical evidence’ before he takes action, but he does believe that there are ‘problems with the betting and gambling industry’ and that it is his job to stamp them out.

And the Labour gain here is, precisely?

A FOBT ban on top of the new [Point of Consumption] tax could be a crippling double blow, even for giants such as William Hill and Ladbrokes. The most obvious beneficiary, however, would be Bet365, Britain’s biggest online operator. Interestingly, Bet365’s owners, the Coates family, have given the Labour party more than £400,000 over the last decade. I wouldn’t bet against them soon becoming Britain’s leading bookies.

Tom’s position was quite straightforward:

So how do we stop the growth of FOBTs, which continue to invade our high streets like Japanese knotweed and with the same destructive force? It’s simple. We reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2. No other country in the developed world allows £100-a-spin machines on the high street.

Hmm: Knotweed doesn’t appear too frequently in the well-trodden streets of old York, but I’ll take Tom’s word for it. And in all truth, the official Labour proposal was very modest, even “localist” (which was, at least back in 2010, an essential principle of this ConDem arrangement):

Labour would empower local councils to ban fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from high streets, Ed Miliband has confirmed.

The Labour leader claimed the FOBTs, which let gamblers bet £300 a minute or £18,000 an hour, were being targeted at poor people.

Councils would be given a range of powers including stopping the spread of FOBTs, reducing their number or banning them altogether. On a visit to Kilburn in north London, Miliband said: “In towns and cities across Britain today, you can see how the old bookies are being turned into mini casinos. In the poorest areas, these are spreading like an epidemic along high streets with the pawn shops and payday lenders that are becoming symbols of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis.

“In Newham [east London] there are 87 betting shops with an estimated 348 machines and across the five Liverpool constituencies there are 153 betting shops with around 559 FOBTs.”


By the way, The Spectator‘s position was unreconstructed as late as mid-March:

Ed Miliband and Tom Watson, among others, want to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. That seems fundamentally illiberal. But Watson is right to say that the government’s latest levy on FOBTs means that the Treasury will ‘profit from the problem rather than deal with it.’ Once a government starts making huge sums of money from a frowned-on thing — like booze, cigarettes, and gambling — it is hard to taken them seriously when they express concern about the impact. Taxing vices is not in and of itself a virtue. Quite the opposite.

Another indecisive Cameron decision

The Times story, from which this post has derived, was little more than a spoiler (including ‘borrowing’ the numbers). The Guardian had already splurged the ‘leak’:

Downing Street is poised to announce a crackdown on high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines, with fresh penalties for bookmakers if they fail to enforce new limits on playing times and betting losses, the Guardian has learned…

This week Cameron is due to announce a clampdown on the terminals, with a range of regulatory and planning powers to curb the clustering of shops. These moves come a month after the chancellor’s surprise 5% tax increase on the betting machines in the budget.

The prime minister’s personal interest in the matter has rung alarm bells in boardrooms. In the letter, Cameron questioned whether the industry limits were too high and asked the Gambling Commission, the regulator, to see whether they should be reduced.

He also proposed making the strengthened measures part of the operating licence – essentially making the new code mandatory rather than voluntary, as the industry had wanted.

Excuses, excuses

What remains unexplained here is why Cameron & co. resisted the reasonable proposals of Miliband, Tom Watson & co. at start of the year, but now seek to impose centralised regulation.

We are about to find it was all her fault, again:

The betting industry had been prepared for an announcement this week, but it has been delayed, possibly because Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and minister in charge, is the subject of a ferocious row over her parliamentary expenses. Mr Cameron fears that the announcement would be obscured by questions about her future.

Remember, folks: when you through someone under a bus, make sure you attach as much baggage as possible.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., culture, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Fraser Nelson, Guardian, The Spectator, Times, Tom Watson MP, Tories.

Verbal retail therapy

Here in “old” York we are about to get yet another out-of-town retail park — a promised:

… top retail destination in York.

A total of 339,000sq ft of retail and restaurant accom[m]odation 

Such things need imaginative naming (and — see above — loose spelling). This one, for no obvious reason, is to be “Vangarde” — a variant spelling not known in English since the reign of Henry VII— though Gavin Douglas came close:

And Podalirius with drawyn swerd list nocht ces
Alsus the hird to persew throw the pres,
Quhilk ruschis abak for feir, his life to save,
In the vangart throw mony a poyntit glave.

Let’s go shopping!

A cry that brings pain and grief to many a male heart.

Yet, whence came “shops”? Presumably, in the days before manufacture and “retail” went their separate ways, “shops” were places where manufacture, display and sale were not segregated. Where they still exist (craftsmen furniture makers, for an obvious example) they are worth the visit. We may even be returning to that mode, with on-site craft breweries and the like.

Even by the time of John Dryden, there was a whiff of sulphur about “shops”:

In Gospel phrase their Chapmen they betray;
Their Shops are Dens, the Buyer is their Prey.
The Knack of Trades is living on the Spoil;
They boast e’en when each other they beguile.

Then we come to the verbal-noun, defined by the OED as:

The action of visiting a shop or shops for the purpose of making purchases or of examining the goods exposed for sale. 

The OED finds its first usage in:

1764   Zeal Seasonable Alarm London 13 (note) ,  Ladies are said to go a Shoping, when, in the Forenoon, sick of themselves, they order the Coach, and driving from Shop to Shop [etc.].

That’s a new one on me, so a moment’s googling provided the answer:

A Seasonable Alarm to the City of London, on the Present Important CrisisShewing, by Most Convincing Arguments, that the New Method of Paving the Streets with Scotch Pebbles; … Must be … Pernicious to the Health and Morals of the People of England. By Zachary Zeal, Citizen

From which, I guess, we are in the area of eighteenth-century contrived satire. Sure enough, Citizen Zeal proves to be a prototypical Little Englander/UKIPper (here without his long “s” and emphatic italicising of all key proper nouns):

ZealA great Commoner once said, America was conquered in Germany; and I can, with equal truth, affirm that England will soon be lost in America: of this, can there be a more striking and melancholy Proof, than that Carelessness and Indifference, that total want of true old English patriotic Concern, with which most of our Countrymen site tame and listless Spectators of the dreadful Devastation, occasioned by the Introduction of Scottish Administration, and of Scotch Pebbles, into this Metropolis. Not content with the Ascendant, they have so unduly obtained over us, they take this method of publishing it to the World, by razing our Streets, and pulling down our Signs; so that in a short time we shall not have a Foot of English Ground to walk upon, not will there be a Sign of an Englishman left, in the Metropolis of England.

The faithful Pen of History records, that Conquerors, in antient [sic] times, used to throw down the Houses, and to plough up the Streets of the Cities of the subdued Land: The Scots have not yet proceeded so far: Thank Heaven  we have still our Houses to live in; but these Houses so bared, so spoiled of their Ornaments, that many of our Streets seem not the same they were six Months ago; and they are perhaps left standing, only in the hopes, that they may in time be inhabited by these Emigrants, or their Posterity; who,  as the Goths and Vandals over-ran Italy, will, I am afraid, at length overspread and ravage this unhappy Land.

Citizen Zeal anticipated Thackeray, whose pen had a somewhat lighter touch:

vanity-fair… the life of a good young girl who is in the paternal nest as yet, can’t have many of those thrilling incidents to which the heroine of romance commonly lays claim. Snares or shot may take off the old birds foraging without—hawks may be abroad, from which they escape or by whom they suffer; but the young ones in the nest have a pretty comfortable unromantic sort of existence in the down and the straw, till it comes to their turn, too, to get on the wing. While Becky Sharp was on her own wing in the country, hopping on all sorts of twigs, and amid a multiplicity of traps, and pecking up her food quite harmless and successful, Amelia lay snug in her home of Russell Square; if she went into the world, it was under the guidance of the elders; nor did it seem that any evil could befall her or that opulent cheery comfortable home in which she was affectionately sheltered. Mamma had her morning duties, and her daily drive, and the delightful round of visits and shopping which forms the amusement, or the profession as you may call it, of the rich London lady. Papa conducted his mysterious operations in the City—a stirring place in those days, when war was raging all over Europe, and empires were being staked; when the “Courier” newspaper had tens of thousands of subscribers; when one day brought you a battle of Vittoria, another a burning of Moscow, or a newsman’s horn blowing down Russell Square about dinner-time, announced such a fact as—”Battle of Leipsic—six hundred thousand men engaged—total defeat of the French—two hundred thousand killed.” Old Sedley once or twice came home with a very grave face; and no wonder, when such news as this was agitating all the hearts and all the Stocks of Europe.

The Yorkshire connection

If we started with the Vangarde Retail Park, York, we have arrived — by association — about twenty miles away.

Hampsthwaite 01

A couple of years back, I spent Christmas in a cottage (about where the gent with the hat stands, above) in the village of Hampsthwaite. It’s just on the edge of Nidderdale, and noted for having a record succession of six consonants in its name.

A few doors down, also facing the village green (where the finger post, or its later successor, still stands), is the alleged family home of the Thackeray family. The family seem to have been hereditary parish clerks of Hampsthwaite during the late 17th to the early 19th centuries. William Makepeace T’s dad was Richmond Thackeray (that forename is a declaration of good Yorkshire roots, surely).

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The really nasty party

I had my suspicions when I read the opening of The Times first leader:

A year and a half ago reporters working for another newspaper found themselves speaking to a special adviser working for Maria Miller, who was then (and at the time of writing still is) the Culture Secretary. Their conversation concerned the discovery that what Mrs Miller had described as her second home, for which she had claimed more than £90,000 in allowances, was also the home of her elderly parents.

“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment,” was the response of Jo Hindley, the adviser, “so I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about.” Miss Hindley went on to suggest that the reporters should speak with “people a little higher up your organisation”. Shortly afterwards she herself contacted a senior executive at that newspaper group to complain.

That’s nasty — though the argument in The Times goes on to whinge about press regulation, which is not the relevant point.

Moreover, the Telegraph‘s full reveille is on-line for all to see, from December 2012.

So, as expected, to the real dirt:

David Cameron’s director of communications earlier denied putting pressure on the Daily Telegraph over the expenses story.

The newspaper’s former editor Tony Gallagher used an interview with the Today Progamme to repeat claims that he had received a call from Craig Oliver in 2012, warning that the Culture Secretary was “looking at Leveson”.

In a statement to the BBC, Mr Oliver said: “It is utterly false for Tony Gallagher to suggest he was threatened over Leveson by me in any way. My conversation with him was about the inappropriate door-stepping of an elderly man.”

But Mr Gallagher hit back this afternoon, telling the Daily Politics that Mr Oliver hadn’t addressed “the key issue” of his complaint.

“In rushing out a denial he’s made the story about Craig Oliver, rather than about the far more substantive point which is this all about press freedom and the threats to press freedom,” Mr Gallagher said.

I have to admit I missed the Today programme: blame it on those bottles of Caberet.

A Malcolmian aside

To be honest, I doubt that the crux of the issue is just “press freedom”. The glory of innovations like Twitter and this platform is that, sooner rather than later, the whistle blows, the gun smokes, the gilt comes off the gingerbread. We all could all (and some of us did) remember a story in The Guardian in 2009. The Guardian wrapped it up a bit (doubtless for the lawyers), but the New York Times read the runes, and spelled it out:

The Guardian said confidential files compiled by Britain’s official information commissioner showed that one private investigator tracked down by the police had received a total of 13,343 requests, from 305 reporters, for information that typically required hacking into confidential databases, including tax returns, phone records, social security data, bank statements, records of drivers’ licenses and information on police computers.

Mr. Yates, named in April as the chief of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard, said the practices reported by The Guardian had been subject to “careful investigation by senior detectives” and by the Crown Prosecution Service, which is responsible for filing criminal charges, during a wide-ranging investigation in 2006. The inquiry was prompted by a case involving a News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, who received a four-month jail term in 2007 for hacking into more than 600 messages left on cellphones belonging to three members of Britain’s royal family.

“No additional evidence has come to light since this case has concluded,” Mr. Yates said. He said that his checks on Thursday indicated that many of the cellphone-hacking cases cited by The Guardian in its chronicle of breaches by The News of the World, including the case of John Prescott, a former deputy prime minister who was embroiled in a scandal involving an affair with an office assistant, never actually resulted in the tapping of the cellphones that were targets of hacking.

Assistant Commissioner John Yeats, the News of the World, where are they now?

So, even before the New Dispensation of  Maria Miller, or whoever, these things would come to light. There are, thank goodness,  a few dirt-diggers and successors to the reptiles that used to frequent the dives behind Fleet Street.

To come to conclusion:

Mrs Maria Miller is a cheat. The Independent Standards Commissioner reckoned she had over-claimed on her mortgage payments by £45,000, which should be repaid. The Committee on Standards reduced Mrs Miller’s pay-back by a trifling 88%. For the record:

Mr Chope also used his additional costs allowance (ACA) to fund the £10,377 repair of the roof of the 200-year-old London house that he jointly owns with his wife. He kitted out the property with a bathroom costing more than £2,600 to buy and install – again on the taxpayer.
In March last year the MP submitted the bill for £881.25 to strip down and recover the Chesterfield sofa. The Dorset craftsman sent the invoice to Mr Chope’s constituency home even though he claimed the cost for his second home.

  • Nick Harvey,the Lib Dem MP for North Devon, had an interesting moment when he attended a Remembrance Day commemoration:

Ex-Wren serves Nick Harvey an envelope

Yes: upstanding personages, well capable of adjudging what is a justified parliamentary expense.

To which we can now fairly add:

Mrs Maria Miller would like to be a bully.

She’s just an incompetent one.

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Sing when you’re winning …

… spin like hell when you’re not.

cities_in_flightThe Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator under Downing Street must be at full stretch:

The spindizzy field was up. It was invisible in itself, but it was no longer admitting the air of the Earth.

The myth…

Everything in the Tory garden is lovely. And is under strict instruction to remain so for the next fourteen months.

Anticipating All Fools’ Day, yesterday we had Gids Osborne anticipating “full employment”. We can expect to hear more, much more of such twaddle over the next year.

Dress it up and it looks like this:


Note the little ConHome symbol in the bottom left corner. Consider what that graph would look like were it framed less narrowly.

However even ConHome are not wholly convinced:

it’s worth noting that “full employment” doesn’t actually mean having everyone who can work in work. In truth, it kinda means whatever you want it to mean. Some take “full employment” to mean an unemployment rate of around 5 per cent. Some prefer to see it as an employment rate of 80 per cent. Some think it’s got something to do with phases of the moon and ley lines.

51pnFR8xNcL._SY300_Should anyone think “full employment” means what it used to mean — the Beveridge’s 1944 notion of 3% natural churn — forget it. Even Osborne (and we’re still with ConHome here) doesn’t quite mean “full employment” when that is what he says :

So what is Osborne’s definition? He spelt it out pretty plainly in his speech. “To have more people working than any of the other countries in the G7 group,” he said, “That’s my ambition.” Which means, in effect, overtaking the employment rates of Germany (73.5 per cent), Canada (72.4 per cent), Japan (72.2 per cent). We’re currently languishing in fourth place, on 71 per cent.

The zero sum game

What we don’t know is more telling that what we are told in the hum of the Spindizzies: how many of these jobs are full-time? How many are zero-hours contracts?

Well, perhaps we have some sort of idea for that:

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, attacked the government after the figures released by the Office for National Statistics found that 582,935 workers were on the contracts in 2013.

The big increase in the figures, which is three times higher than the number given for the year the coalition was formed in 2010, follows a change in the way that the ONS assesses zero-hours contracts last summer. This meant that it increased its estimate for the number of workers on the contracts in 2012 from 200,000 to 250,000. The new methodology helped to produce the high figure for 2013.

Even that may not be the full accounting:

There is suggestion that the ONS might still be underestimating the figure. Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, has cited research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which has said that 1 million workers are on the contracts. Dilnot instructed the ONS to examine the CIPD work in its new assessment. The union said: “Unite believes that, in general, zero-hours contracts are unfair, creating insecurity and exploitation for many ordinary people struggling to get by.”

If getting real numbers for zero-hours is difficult, having the ConDem government to recognise realities is far more so. Yesterday’s Hansard:

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): Thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, youth unemployment is falling. I am particularly pleased that long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 38,000 over the last year…
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Of the young people the Minister just mentioned who have a job, how many have gone on to work on zero-hours contracts?
Esther McVey: As the hon. Lady will know, the number of zero-hours contracts has remained fairly stable since 2000. They are called zero hours or casual hours, and they are used by Liverpool city council and Wirral council, which are Labour run. The worst council for using them is Doncaster.
We are having a full review of zero-hours contracts, and if they are exploitative we will bring about changes. Our report is due in July—something that Labour did not do for 13 years.

Pants on fire

article-2455471-18ACD5CC00000578-288_634x672-1On the contrary, Miss McVey (as left), the number of zero-hours contracts has increased disproportionately.

A report by Matthew Pennycook and others, for the Resolution Foundation, argued:

Establishing a precise estimate of the scale of zero-hours contract use is extremely difficult. Statistics relating to zero-hours contracts are not only likely to suffer from a significant degree of reporting error (many of those working under such contracts fail to accurately self-identify themselves as such) but there is also widespread ignorance among those on such contracts about their precise contractual situation.

There are two main sources of statistics on zero-hours contracts: the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS). According to LFS estimates from the three-month period October to December 2012, 208,000 people reported that they were on a zero-hours contract (0.7 per cent of the workforce). This was up from just over 134,000 (0.5 per cent of the workforce) in 2006. Given the data limitations detailed above and strong evidence to suggest extensive use of zero-hours contracts in particular occupations and sectors (the National Minimum Dataset for Social Care, for example, estimates that 150,000 domiciliary care-workers alone are employed on zero-hours contracts7) it is clear that these headline figures are likely to be an extremely conservative estimate. Yet even on the basis of conservative estimates a clear upward trend, as shown in Figure 1 below, is apparent. 

So let’s have Figure 1:

Zero-hours growth

The Pennycook Report erred by deriving the available “official” statistics. As we saw above, the latest ONS figure is 2¾ times that again: 582,935.

Truth or Consequences

 Once known as Hot Springs, Truth or Consequences New Mexico is a small resort town with a year-round population of slightly more than 6,000.

Nearer home, the consequences of the banking Crash and the subsequent Slump it induced is:

Nearly half the jobs in parts of Britain pay less than the living wage, theTUC has said, as it steps up its campaign on Tuesday for workers to earn enough to cover the basic costs of living.

The TUC said a breakdown of official figures showed that on average around 20% of workers are earning less than the living wage – an informal and unenforceable benchmark – but that this rose to almost 50% in some parliamentary constituencies.

Designed to top up the legally-binding national minimum wage, the living wage is set at £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 for the rest of the country. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, says he wants to include the idea as part of Labour’s 2015 manifesto, while David Cameron says he supports a living wage in principle.

The TUC said that in total around 5 million people were being paid less than the living wage, with some of the areas with the greatest concentration of the low paid seen in parts of outer London.

What Osborne doesn’t say

There may have been good reasons, back in 2008-9, to spread the jobs around. Half-a-decade on, what we have is a low-wage, low-productivity economy.

The Financial Times‘s post-budget analysis was scathing:

… by far the biggest cloud hanging over the UK economy remains the productivity crisis.

While output per hour worked used to grow annually by about 2 per cent, it has not expanded at all since 2007. Without this productivity growth, there is no means of raising living standards except in the short term if people spend more than they earn.

The puzzle of why productivity appears to have stopped growing is no closer to being solved and it casts a shadow over Mr Osborne’s Budget. Even in the Autumn Statement last December, which included the economic revival in its forecasts, the picture of the longer-term outlook for the public finances was worse than last March. The deficit would certainly be lower with faster growth, but without productivity improvements, the OBR could not honestly predict the economy would keep expanding at its current pace for the next five years.

So, what exactly does Osborne’s “full employment” amount to?

If it is more of the same — low-paid, low-quality, labour-intensive, poor-productivity jobs — that is promised continued misery for millions. There will also be a short-fall in tax take, which means a squeeze on welfare and services.

It means, too, a weaker Britain, because Britain is no longer making it any more. Our marker of failure is that a quarter of all the containers going out of British ports came in full of goods, and are going out full of air.

Take a bit of historical perspective, from Larry Elliott in The Observer:

Forget Harold Wilson and the jumbo jets that allegedly cost Labour the 1970 election. Forget Nigel Lawson and the import binge of the 1980s. Britain has never seen bigger current account deficits than those it is notching up right now.

Back in the 1960s, a deficit of 1% of national output would have been seen as dangerously high. A 3% deficit would have had investors heading for the exits, prompting a run on sterlingThe shortfalls in the third and fourth quarters of 2013 averaged 5.5% of GDP, we learned last week, and yet the pound is seen as a safe-haven currency.

Which all might explain why I’m looking for hidden meanings in Blish’s Cities in Flight:

There was money aboard the city, but no ordinary citizen ever saw it … It was there to be used exclusively for foreign trade — that is, to bargain for grazing rights, or other privileges and, supplies which the city did not and could not carry within the little universe bounded by its spindizzy field.

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