Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Keeping the lights on?”

Diligent readers of Private Eye (of whom I have been one these fifty years) will recognise I have borrowed my headline from ‘Old Sparky’.


One of his frequent observations is how close our successive governments have scraped to the point when demand outstrips production capacity, and, as Sir Edward Grey didn’t quite say:

The lamps are going out all over Britain, we shall not see them lit again in this government’s life-time.

It did for Ted Heath in February 1974, after all.

And so, what about Ferrybridge?

In a statement, the power station said: “At around 2.00pm today a serious fire impacted Units 3 and 4 of SSE’s Ferrybridge C power station in West Yorkshire…

“SSE will be undertaking an investigation to establish the full extent of damage in due course.  Early indications show the fire itself started in unit 4 but also had some impact on Unit 3.  Currently we do not expect Unit 4 to return to service in this financial year.  Unit 3 is not expected to return to service before 1 November. Our immediate priority is to manage the incident and to ensure the safety of staff, contractors and the general public.”

That’s from this evening’s York Press, updated on line.

So, it looks as if we could be one of the four 500 MW units down for the winter, and a full GW down when the clocks go back.

At the very least, since the centre of the fire seems to have been where the flue-gas is washed for sulphur (the issue that, under the Large Combustion Plant Directive, would close this whole coal-fired operation by 2023), we can expect some foul air and asthma in South Yorks, followed by swinging fines from the EU. Perhaps even a few trees in Scandinavia killed by sulphuric acidic rain.

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Filed under economy, Yorkshire

How you spin ’em, number 94

Anthony Wells, yesterday:

Over the last couple of days the Evening Standard have been reporting the contents of a new YouGov London poll – yesterday here and today here.

YouGov found London voting intentions of CON 35%(nc), LAB 45%(+3), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 8%(-2), GRN 4%(nc). Labour are up three since June, but this poll would still suggest Labour doing slightly worse in London than elsewhere (a ten point lead for Labour in London is a 4 point swing since the general election, whereas GB polls are currently showing a 5 1/2 point swing to Labour.)

For the record, London voting in the 2010 General Election went:

Labour 36.6% (down 2.3% since 2005) and 38 MPs;
Tories 34.5% (up 2.6%)  and 28 MPs;
Lib Dems 22.1% (up 0.2%) and 7 MPs.

By consensus Labour:

  • did better in London than across the UK (vote down 6.2%), and
  • far better than England taken together (vote down 7.4%).

These things have the characteristic of a rubber band: they stretch, but only so far — and the Labour vote inevitably has natural limits: even in the wonder year of 1997 the vote in London was

  • 49.5% Labour, 31.2% Tory, 14.6% Lib Dem.

One other figure worth mentioning is the 2014 London Borough elections (the most recent proper poll). This, on a smaller turn-out, which itself tends to count against Labour, had:

Labour 37.33% (up 4.83%  on 2010 Borough Elections),
Tories 26.32% (down 5.42%) and
LibDems 10.63% (down 11.73%).

Were we to take that Evening Standard/YouGov poll as total Gospel, Labour is way ahead, even from May, the Tories are a trifle restored (thanks to the UKIP decline?), and  the LibDems still barely bog-snorkelling.

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Filed under Elections, Evening Standard, Labour Party, Lib Dems, London, Tories., ukpollingreport

“A degree of hardship for poor kids”

That was a short opinion piece, which I caught up with only in re-scanning yesterday’s Observer. Barbara Ellen (whose name sounds remarkably close to a song on the second Joan Baez album, and now is a page I regularly skip) has this:

It seems that poorer disadvantaged students have been applying to university in “record” numbers – up 1.3 percentage points from last year – which some have hailed as a vindication of the tuition fee increases. What baloney.

It’s good that these students have not been put off by the fees hike, but that’s all credit to them, not the ridiculously unfair system they are forced to navigate. Not only do such candidates remain far outnumbered by their middle-class counterparts, there have been reports about how the university funding system is in absurd disarray.

Why are all these young people applying to university in droves anyway? Of course, many just want to, and good luck to them. However, for others, it could be a case of what else are they supposed to do? Low-paid unskilled work for ever more, or an unpaid internship, which most could not afford to do without strong parental financial support? In such circumstances, university, even with the burden of enormous fees, could look like the best option

Ironically, it’s now middle-class students, with the safety net of long-term financial support from their parents, who can afford to go straight into work, and “wing it”, avoiding university fees altogether if they wish. By contrast, disadvantaged young people are between the proverbial rock and hard place – they can’t really afford to go to university, but they can’t afford not to go either.

It’s easy to imagine some of these young people sitting hard times out in university, almost as a kind of civic sanctuary, hoping that things will have improved by the time they emerge. They are the nervy, watchful “wait and see” academic generation – and putting them in that stressful, insecure position is nothing for this government to crow about.

I quote that in full, because a straight search on the title gets one nowhere.

And also because it bangs home more nails into the coffin of this ConDem government.

In the old days (circa 1980) those of us sitting on Labour-controlled education authorities shamelessly finagled local authority resources as “positive discrimination”. Our opponents condemned this as “social engineering”. The late Michael Gove, now defenestrated from education to keeper of  the Black Book on kiddy-fiddling MPs and other low-lifes, has been as much into “social engineering” as anybody. For that is what is involved in:

  • the quest for “rigour” (making exams more formal, penalising any menstruating girl by minimising coursework and anything else that couldn’t be validated sitting at a desk for two or three hours straight);
  • reinforcing those essential upper- and middle-class cultural values — what we used to think of it as forelock-tugging, by — for one example — specifying that history teaching should inculcate a sense of national identity;
  • setting up those heavily-resourced “free schools” in bourgeois enclaves where there was “demand” (the demand being to keep little Hermione well away from the Chavettes);
  • all purpose teacher-bashing, not only by slighting rebukes but also by making sure such pay-limited professionals in the public sector could no longer afford to buy into “naice” areas.

Already the skies darken with chickens coming home to roost. Shortly after, as Vince Cable already expects, the Student Loan racket becomes an ever-greater burden on the Exchequer.

So, good luck to those poorer disadvantaged students who make it far enough to work the system to their own benefits.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., education, History, Michael Gove, Observer, schools, social class, Tories.

Overwhelmed by the sheer volume

Right, folks:

It has a smack of the true Banned List @JohnRentoul, which is turning into a style-guide for the ever-changing Zeitgeist (and there’s probably three examples in this sentence already).

I have already whinged over this one. Here it comes again:

Southern Water said “torrential rain fell across Sussex” leading to some sewers becoming “overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water”.

Like The L&N, the buck Don’t Stop Here Anymore

As, c’mon! You knew I couldn’t miss that Malcolmian aside.

Admit it:this one is better than the usual — 

Back in Sussex…

… the drains flooded.
As they do.
More often than not, excessive rainfall is involved.

The water companies can achieve the same result, failing to maintain their infrastructure (i.e. pipes and sewers), because shareholder dividends and managerial bonuses are a higher priority:

Southern Water has seen its operating profit increase 21.9 per cent on turnover of £778.7 million as it reports its financial results for the year ended 31 March 2013…

Profit after taxation for the company nearly doubled, up to £156.9 million from £79.9 million a year before.

While we find something else in the Portsmouth Evening News (9th October 2012):

According to the paper, Southern Water had been taken to court and prosecuted 40 times in the past nine years for pollution offences. Last year it was fined a total of £150,000 for sewage leaks and is one of the biggest polluters of rivers and beaches in the country.

Last year there were 47 leaks into Langstone harbour, an area which is a site of scientific interest and attracts many different species of migrating birds every year. Seals have also been known to use the harbour.

Southern Water made £79.9m profit after tax in the last financial year – more than double the profits the year before.

Sheer hypocrisy?

Another general benefit of privatisation is that, in any case, ministers are off-the-hook, for, like the Albertophage Wallace:

The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame 
He said that he hoped the water-cump-nies
Would add further sums to their name.

Let us recall how, last winter, with the Somerset Levels drowned,  Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and his understrappers sloughed responsibility onto the Environment Agency.

When Chris Smith remarked that the government had cut £100 million for the budget, and ensured the sacking of a quarter of the workforce, and this might, just possibly, be a factor, he was instantly the embattled boss of the Environment Agency.


This is another of those over-worked words. The OED has it as two different nouns, an adverb, an adjective, and four verbs. That’s before we go into derivatives and compounds, the choicest of which (for me) is:

Sheer Thursday: the Thursday in Holy Week, Maundy Thursday.

with allusion to the purification of the soul by confession (compare Shrove Thursday, French jeudi absolu), and perhaps also to the practice of washing the altars on that day.

Even then, I have to scroll down tho usage 8 of the adjective to find this one:

Neither more nor less than (what is expressed by the noun); that and nothing else; unmitigated, unqualified; downright, absolute, pure.

“Pure” is not what I’d be looking for, in the matter of flooded sewers or the Euston Road at rush-hour.

Despite the nine citations the OED finds (dated from 1583 to 1885), I’m unconvinced that the word adds anything— not even a useful reinforcement — in expressions like the sheer volume of water/traffic.


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Filed under BBC, Conservative Party policy., folk music, Music, Oxford English Dictionary, politics, Tories.

Lost, but never forgotten

Catching der Geist seiner Zeit (that’s yer proper Georg Hegel, that is — we give full value here at Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service), the BBC website has a quick potted history of commercial aircraft downed by “enemy action”.


In addition to the on-going crisis over MH17, the piece cites just five other examples since 1954.

May I suggest a sixth?

Aer Lingus Viscount EI-AOM, St Phelim, which crashed into the sea off the Tuskar Rock, on 24th March 1968. All 61 on board — 57 passengers and four crew — were killed.

The official report concluded:

There is not enough evidence available on which to reach a conclusion of reasonable probability as to the initial cause of this accident. 
The probable cause of the final impact with the sea was impairment of the controllability of the aircraft in the fore and aft (pitching) plane.

For thirty-odd years there was speculation that the missile research base at Aberporth was just too conveniently nearby, and a rogue missile may have been involved — not necessarily as a direct hit, but close enough to upset control of the Viscount.

Oddly enough, as late as 1999 the Aberporth records were recovered, to show (what a surprise!) no test firings that day. We should not speculate on how some British government records may be helpfully unearthed, while others — less convenient — remain missing.

Then in 2007 came this:

A retired British air force flying instructor claims that the 1968 Tuskar Rock Aer Lingus Viscount plane crash was caused by a collision with a French-built military aircraft which was training with the Air Corps.

The aircraft struck each other accidentally while the Fouga Magister trainer was responding to a request to check the Viscount’s undercarriage, RAF Squadron Leader Eric Evers maintains.

All 61 people, including the four crew, on board the Aer Lingus Viscount Cork-London Heathrow flight died in the subsequent crash off Tuskar Rock, but the two pilots in the trainer survived by ejecting and parachuting to safety, he claims. Both the French and Irish authorities colluded in a subsequent cover-up, he says, and the Fouga Magister wreckage may still be on the seabed off Co Wexford.

“Curiouser and curiouser” cried Alice, though here re-enacted by Lorna Siggins of The Irish Times. For, as you may or may not see:

A Defence Forces spokesman described the claims as “spurious” and said there was no evidence that an Air Corps plane was in the vicinity at the time.

The spokesman said that Fouga Magisters did not “come into service” with the Air Corps until 1976. He could not comment on why a Fouga Magister was listed as one of the Air Corps aircraft in service in 1968, as stated in appendix 5.2.g of the 2002 report.

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Filed under air travel., Britain, History, Ireland, Irish Times, Wales

A more dangerous place

No doubt about it: the last few hours have hotted up international relations.

If flight MH17 was (as reports suggest) blasted by a ground-to-air missile and by the pro-Russian separatists at that, where did that nasty bit of military hardware originate? Hmmm? The lights will burn late in the Kremlin tonight.

Now, on the express instruction of  Netanyahu, the Israeli “Defence” Force is launching its expected ground attack on Gaza. This can only end in more tears, on both sides. Prediction: after a few days, or even hours, the Israelis realise one their soldiers is missing. To bring him (or possibly her) back, a deal will be struck. After all, the body count as of now, and for just this round of an ongoing tragedy, is in the region of 230 to one. Not all lives and deaths are equal.

Either, or both of those horrors reminded me that, between 1739 and 1748 we went to war with Spain over the little matter of a merchant ship captain’s severed ear.  As of this week, Parliament is off for the summer hols, and — short of a recall — our foreign policy is in the unencumbered hands of David Cameron and Philip Hammond. How reassuring is that?

All this, by the way, illuminates Dominic Cummings’ aide-memoire, 17 points of a 2010 “war-game” of how the Coalition government would succeed or fail:


Liam Fox did, in fact “blow”. At PMQs yesterday several commentators noticed him in cahoots with “sacked” Owen Paterson. Soon there will be calls for Cameron and Hammond to “get a grip”. Heaven help us, the poor bloody infantry, and the fly boys in their Lincolnshire sheds.

Only one thing left: a bit of spiritual uplift. Or, if the bottle is empty, something like this:


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Filed under air travel., Conservative Party policy., Music, Naval history, Tories.

Lost and gone, and well forgotten

Martin Kettle starts his Guardian piece:

Commentators often fail to discern the essential insecurity of politicians. Yet somewhere beneath even the most confident MP’s veneer is the sleepless fear of oblivion.

I found that reassuring. I know my memory is not what it should be, and used to be — too much Cabernet Sauvignon, too often. Still, I wonder how many others of my vintage would recognise the names on this list:

Mac the Knife

That’s “Vicky ” for the London Evening Standard, exactly fifty-two years ago (17th July, 1962). There are, it seems, two versions of this cartoon. The early editions of the paper may have had just the seven top names, with the other nine, the junior ministers, were added in the later effort.

Kettle’s point, about “oblivion” made me wonder how many of the names on Mac’s “Little List” have any resonance these days. Does anyone hanker for David Eccles at Education (1954-7, 1959-62) or at the dead-and-gone Board of Trade (in the intervening gap)? Do we remember Harold Watkinson for his time at Defence (1959-1962) or as Chairman of Cadbury Schweppes (1969-74), or neither?

Just two characters there deserve a bit of immortality

Selwyn Lloyd (sacked as Chancellor by Macmillan) was rehabilitated as Leader of the Commons by Alec Douglas-Home, and imposed by the Heath majority as Speaker in 1971.

Kilmuir was the Lord Chancellor, formerly David Maxwell Fyfe.

I’d not be surprised if, in the near future, his name doesn’t appear more often than it has these forty odd years since his death. He was wrong about not reprieving Derek Bentley in 1953 (allegedly because a hanging would strengthen his chances to elbow Eden aside in Churchill’s succession). He justified the Suez intervention in 1956. He set up the Wolfenden Committee, and then in the House of Lords opposed its recommendations and badger-stroker Lord [“Boofy” Gore] Arran’s Sexual Offences Bill. Kilmuir remained a firm defender of the death penalty.

What may yet give Kilmuir some posthumous notice is his claim in the House of Lords, 24th May 1965:

I have in mind the proselytisation which goes out from sodomitic societies and buggery clubs, which everybody knows exist.

I cannot find another reference for this, but Geraldine Bedell, in a 2007 piece for the Observer had:

For the opposition, Lord Kilmuir warned against licensing the ‘buggers’ clubs’ which he claimed were operating behind innocent-looking doors all over London. But Arran, supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, won his third reading by 96 votes to 31.

The term buggers’ clubs, as there, seems always associated with Kilmuir. Properly it belongs to Lord Chief Justice Goddard:

There is no judge who has to go on circuit, as I did for many years, who does not from time to time find that in various parts of the country—in quite different parts of the country—there are what are generally referred to among the people who practise these things as “buggers’ clubs” or associations or coteries of people who are given to this particular vice. They are often careful to see that they keep out young boys, because they know that they get very heavy sentences if they are found out; but at these coteries of buggers, the most horrible things go on. As a judge, one has to sit and listen to these stories which make one feel physically sick.

If this Bill goes through, so that buggery is no longer a criminal offence provided it is done in private and with no boys concerned, then it will be a charter for these buggers’ clubs. They will be able to spring up all over the place. I can assure your Lordships that it is a very real risk.

Goddard is now remembered for his other proclivities and his trousers. Which is one way of escaping public oblivion.

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Filed under Evening Standard, Guardian, History, homosexuality, Law, Observer, politics

Nicky, nukey, Organ and Cosher

All hail the groceress!

[Fret not: that reference becomes clearer in about 250 words time.]

The newly-enstooled Education Secretary (how much damage can she do in three trimesters?) has the making of a right one.That’s capital-R Right. Also religious Right. And right from wrong, no doubt (especially on the topic of single-sex marriage).  One is entitled to muse on her agenda when she so definitively asserts she defines her constituency and parliamentary duties in the context of  “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.”

That’s likely to be of particular interest when, after the summer recess, she has to explain her Department’s rôle in the small and on-going business of extremists in schools.

I hope someone teases out why, in an Islamic context, we are meant to shiver, but evangelical Christians get away with it. In case you missed it, the Goveian edict forbidding the indoctrination of creationist rubbish went out … just a month ago. A stable features in the Authorised Version, but shutting the door took a trifle longer.

Rhyming Secs

Laura McInerney picked it up from the Great Education Secretaries blog. John Rentoul was quickly on the case, and referred us to Unfortunately many of the suggested rhymes for “Morgan” seem to have genital associations. So, if we are to take up the challenge of rhymes for Mrs Morgan we have a problem keeping the matter clean, decent, and New Testament (St Paul eschews all that Old Testamental of-the-earth-earthy stuff).

Alas, Dylan Thomas had already set the bar:

First Voice: Mrs Organ Morgan, groceress, coiled grey like a dormouse, her paws to her ears, conjures …
Mrs Organ Morgan: Silence.
Second Voice: She sleeps very dulcet in a cove of wool, and trumpeting Organ Morgan at her side snores no louder than a spider.

The traditional Malcolmian aside:

In passing, I’d have thought the Great Education Secretaries blog comes down to very few names:

  • R.A.Butler (1944-5);
  • Ellen Wilkinson (1945-7);
  • David Eccles (1954-7 and 1959-62);
  • Sir Edward Boyle (1962-64);
  • Edward Short (1968-70)

and the rest are also rans.

I’d happily reckon that reflects my belief everything headed down-hill with Thatcher, first at the Department and then overseeing from Downing Street. By the time that lady was wrestled out of office, happily in tears, a school could expect to be repainted every seventy years or so. Kenneth Baker, Thatcher’s obedient Mini-Me, was the nadir, and his National Curriculum the end of liberal education in this land. At least under Blunkett there was money in the system (for which Tories have never forgiven him, Blair and Brown).

 Still with things Gwalian

After that wander from Cwndonkin Drive, my mind wandered to another famed Welsh context.

pp14be7183Once upon a time (actually round about 1965 to 1967) alternate Saturdays between September and April seemed to involve away fixtures between Tyneside and North Yorkshire. The Art of Coarse Rugby (now out of print, so may the fleas of a thousand camels infest the burnoose of he who fecked my irreplaceable first edition, as right) must include the post-match return.

The IV’s game was probably played on a cow-pasture, inevitably lost: aches dulled in the communal bath, and drowned in the club bar. Then the Grand Return. The crates of Nukey Brown are rescued from the bus boot. Time for the sing-song, celebrating Dinah, or the ornithological hazards of Mobile, and musing on If I were the marrying kind.

Filth aside, there might be a few choruses of Cosher Bailey. Those were the days of The (Liverpool) Spinners, who invited verses for this one from the audience. The rugby connection may have been spawned through Max Boyce (who also did — in this context — The Ballad of Morgan the Moon), but the Ur-version was probably Ewan MacColl:

Crawshay Bailey

I cannot recall where I came upon the gem, but “Cosher” was a derivative of a real person, not of sufficient significance to feature in the Dictionary of National Biography (unlike Catherine “Skittles” Walters/Bailey, inamorata of many — including the future Edward VII). However, Crawshaw Bailey (1789 – 1872) now appears in wikipedia, but more authoritatively — so, note the discrepancies — on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

While Bailey was an iron master and railway pioneer in South Wales, he was also a virulent opponent of Trades Unions (which may  explain how he became the headline act in this bawdy context).

During 1835 , when the Calvinistic Methodist Association of South Wales held its quarterly meeting at Salem , Nant-y-glo , Crawshay Bailey , who was an Anglican , provided hospitality for the moderator and five leading ministers , possibly in gratitude to the denomination which had decided in its Association at Tredegar , 19 Oct. 1831 , the year of the riots at Merthyr , that no trade unionist could be admitted to church membership.

He may have some affinities with Mrs Nicky Morgan:

She wrote: “I would also like to see the culture of individuals taking responsibility for their actions taking root throughout our public services. NHS staff, teachers, civil servants and many more all need to take individual responsibility for ensuring they offer the best patient care, the best education experience and the most helpful and efficient customer service they can to the public. Many already do but I am getting very fed up with hearing about problems which were ‘not picked up by the regulator’. If we all take more responsibility for our own actions and monitor those around us I believe we can end up with a stronger society and, who knows, we might even spend less on those regulators.”

Note: “individuals”, not professional associations or unions. Ho, hum.

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Filed under Conservative family values, education, folk music, History, Michael Gove, Rugby, Tories., Wales