Monthly Archives: April 2015

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff

There’s something very odd about the present Tory excesses against Ed Miliband.

Promoting him from “useless” (Cameron at PMQs, passim) to the most dangerous species in the known universe, and that in only a few days, isn’t so much a “reversed ferret” as a weasel in fast rotation. The two concepts are so opposite, we are seeing an assault on recent memory, and an experiment in mass-psychology, otherwise found only in Orwellian 1984:

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable what then? 

What I don’t grasp is:

that gruff Australian forcing the Conservatives to adopt foreign — and tackily blunt — policies, a win-at-all-costs strategist who is a short-term blow-in.

To his fans — including some of the country’s most senior Conservatives, from Cameron to Chancellor of the Exchequer ­George Osborne and Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, touted as the next Tory leader — he is the election messiah who can keep the party on message and on track.


  • whether senior ministers have gone off-message and into shroud-waving mode, in pursuit of something more, and something even more spine-chilling.

Take an earlier model: Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. This character, as Home Secretary, fancied his chances in the succession to Churchill. Maxwell Fyfe was by no means the worst, most shell-backed Tory of that time. Yet, when presented with a petition from a third of the Commons to reprieve Derek Bentley, he still sent that unhappy young man to the gallows in Wandsworth Prison. The main justification for that appalling act still seems to be Maxwell Fyfe buffing his Laura Norder creds with the Tory right-wing.

So, consider:

Whether the Tories come out of this Election as “largest party” with, or without “largest share of the vote” is immaterial, if — as generally expected — Cameron cannot then form a government.

Two things then happen:

  • Cameron goes, or is pushed;
  • The Tory Party, in and out of Parliament, swings further right.

If Dave is trashed, can his close mate, Gids, be far behind? Thus there is a third likelihood: George Osborne, being seen to have inadequately sugared the pre-Election budget pill, is nominated as co-can-carrier. His aura of smart-arsedness gone, he is no longer a runner in the leadership handicap. Which leaves BoJo and May or A.N.Outsider.

Who might be calculating their chances in a post-Dave set-up? It isn’t just the “Leader of the Opposition” job on offer. It’s a place at the Shadow Cabinet table, and well above the salt as well. Hence it will be necessary to have had “a good war” in 2015 Election terms. Just as Maxwell Fyfe woke up to realise he wasn’t getting Anthony Eden’s post, he settled for Lord Chancellor — but still had to put in the work to impress the selectors.

Does that, possibly, explain why Michael Fallon, normally mild of manner and moderate of tone,  has upped the ante?


Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, George Osborne, History, Times, Tories.

None of the best were just that

Well, it started here


Bears in woods? Papal denomination? Politicians moving lips?

By one of those iTunes mind-reading quirks, this was playing:

It could have been the well-smoked, mature voice, in a different context, and a different key:

Sad, isn’t it? when everyone and everything has to fit one particular narrow category?

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Filed under folk music, Music

… until they bite your finger off

Ferrets can look quite pleasant. They are evil little buggers.


Keep away. Don’t stroke. Your digital extremities are at risk.

Similarly with journalists. You cannot, must not trust them. Ever.

I mean, there was I, quite confirmed by the Daily Mail on the object of today’s Two Minutes’ Hate — that wicked Anglophobic minx, Nicola Sturgeon. I was ready to do my bit for the cause!

Oh, c’mon, you know the routine:

It was nearly eleven hundred, and in the Records Department, where Winston worked, they were dragging the chairs out of the cubicles and grouping them in the centre of the hall opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minutes Hate.

So, I slipped out for a pub lunch. A hour with a burger and today’s papers.

I came back, and … Lo! … the world had changed. The Daily Mail ferret was being reversed. Consider before and after:


For long-standing chromosomic reasons, I now know I can never be nominated as the Mail‘s “most dangerous woman in Britain”. It’s not an honour anyone ever holds for more than an edition or two — sadly there’s always another coming down the primrose path to tabloid perdition. Still, I had hopes that one or other of my daughters might qualify. The Pert Young Piece was, and may yet be the prime contender. After all, she is in party politics, and a party which the Mail holds in deep distaste.

That would be appropriate, because (we have reason to believe) she and her sisters are in direct descent from Sir Richard Rich (1496-1567), who celebrated the millennium by being nominated by the BBC History magazine as the most evil man in English history.

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Filed under Daily Mail, History, smut peddlers, SNP

British journalists, political bombshells and forgeries

I used to ascribe it to Hilaire Belloc, because I have a liking for Belloc’s epigrams. It was, in fact Humbert Wolff, a civil servant with the Ministry of Labour, a translator and writer.

You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

Good Friday

Which leads us to this extraordinary business when a secret document, presumably via the Foreign Office (prop: the Rt Hon Philip Hammond, as in very Right and oh-so-honourable), finds its way to the Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Telegraph has seen the official British Government memorandum which includes details of a private meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to the UK. 

The memorandum which was written by a senior British civil servant, dated March 6th, states: “Just had a telephone conversation with Pierre-Alain Coffinier (PAC), the French CG [consul-general]. He was keen to fill me in on some of the conversations his Ambassador had during her visit to Scotland last week. All of this was given on a confidential basis.” 

It continues: “The Ambassador….had a truncated meeting with the FM [Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister] (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats… that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material).”

The thought has to be “just too convenient”. Note the incriminating fingerprints:

  • the Torygraph has “seen” the document;
  • it is then a “leak” of a memo of a telephone conversation and all at third hand — Bermann☞Coffinier☞unnamed UK official;
  • the information was “on a confidential basis”, so its revelation is an embarrassment to both national governments;
  • rashly, an adverb one might not ever readily apply to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister got personal, down and dirty;
  • the document emerges late on a Friday, a Bank Holiday Friday, when government officials have departed for a long weekend. Fridays play quite a rôle in what follows.

And we can, of course, trust the Torygraph?

Well, let’s consider how George Galloway was stitched up. You’ll find the term “forgery” twenty-one times in that account. It’s a long read, so I’ll leave you to enjoy. One thought before we swiftly pass on: even were the document no forgery, there remains the further oddities of how the Torygraph got it, and used it with malevolent intent. We need not speculate on why. And, in the present case, we have confirmation: Private Eye And the Daily Mail is an impeccable source? MailwailA bit self-regarding, don’tcha think, of the Mail to harken back to 1924 — for, ahem, there is the small matter of the Zinoviev letter, presumably concocted by White Russians, and deployed by the Tory Party at a convenient moment in the 1924 General Election. And published by … the Daily Mail. I like this one because it has a parallel existence to the Sturgeon canard. The language that Gregor Zinoviev uses (27 October 1924) almost echoes Sturgeon’s denial. Compare and contrast:

The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. … The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter.

Friday, bloody Friday

The exchange between Coffinier and the unnamed British official took place on a Friday (a French official at his desk on a Friday?) Sturgeon sent a public tweet: Sturgeon

… to the Telegraph’s Scottish political correspondent Simon Johnson read: “.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue…which I’d have told you if you’d asked me at any point today.”

Johnson didn’t reply to the First Minister.

The French Embassy has since backed up Sturgeon’s version of events in a statement.

It read: “While the ambassador and the First Minister, some time ago, have discussed the political situation, Ms Sturgeon did not touch on her personal political preferences with regards the future Prime minister.”

Which has more of the “look-and-feel” of the canny Scots lawyer we know Sturgeon to be.

The Tory game-play here mirrors the Zinoviev letter: then the target was the wavering third-party Liberals, now it’s the third-party SNP.

And further back, does another event come to mind?

Ah, yes! The Grand-daddy of them all — The Times and Richard Pigott’s forgeries of Charles Stewart Parnell. The original articles are here.

For and on the present kerfuffle:

Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a civil service inquiry into the leaking of a memo which claimed she privately wanted to see Conservatives remain in power following the May 7 General Election. 

The Scottish National Party leader described the allegation as “100% untrue” and said she had written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to demand a Whitehall probe into how the account of her conversation with the French ambassador was obtained by the Daily Telegraph. 

She said the story was a sign of “panic” in Westminster over the surge in support for the SNP, and issued a challenge to Labour leader Ed Miliband to state publicly that he would work with the SNP to “lock out” David Cameron from Downing Street in the event of a hung parliament.

 Only around the tenth to twelfth paragraph, even in this “updated” version, do we get to the caveats and Nicola Sturgeon’s firm denial. Odd, that.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, sleaze., smut peddlers, SNP, Times, Tories.

Richard Lingeman introduces Molly Ivins

91tzMbFEaZL._SL1500_The Nation is a fine journal, and a deserving cause. It publishes some nice e-books, one of which includes seventeen columns by Molly Ivins.

Writing a preface to the Great Moll must be as taxing as buffing up a Rembrandt [that’s OTT, Redfellow: try “gussying up a Gillray”]. So I had to admire Richard Lingeman:

In 1976, the New York Times beckoned to her as part of a feminization drive at the newspaper. There also seemed to have been some hope that her humor-brightened reportage would liven up the Gray Lady of West Forty-third Street.

As it turned out, her career with the Times was not a happy one, though she started off covering big stories like the Son of Sam murders. But she didn’t really fit in. Maybe that all started when she showed up in the newsroom wearing jeans and trailed by her dog, Shit. The story goes that when she was serving as Rocky Mountain bureau chief in Denver (comprising a staff of one), she filed a story about the annual chicken slaughter in Corrales, New Mexico, which she referred to as a “gang pluck.” The Times’s executive editor Abe Rosenthal, who hated what he deemed to be wise-ass reporters who fooled with the news or snuck in double entendres, called her into his office and confronted her.

“Molly,” he said, getting right down to the obvious, “you are going to make readers think of a gang fuck.”

“Abe,” she replied, “you’re a hard man to fool.”

He consigned her to purgatory—covering City Hall—which left her little to do. Eventually she resigned. “Abe was a hard man to fool,” she commented.

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Filed under advertising., New York Times, United States

Today’s revelation: “to scamper”

The OED — bless its darkest-blue-covered heart — is a trifle iffy about the word:

Etymology:  Of uncertain origin.

Then we are given clues:

Not improbably the word was originally military slang, either from obsolete Dutch schampen ‘to escape or flie, or to be gone’ (Hexham 1660), which is < Old French escamper to decamp, or from Italian scampare to decamp, run away: see discamp v. A less likely, though possible, supposition is that it represents a Middle English derivative of the Old French word, preserved in some non-literary dialect.

I’m happy with the military bit, the “discamping”, particularly so because Smollett employs it in a particular context:

O Molly! the sarvants at Bath are devils in garnet. They lite the candle at both ends—Here’s nothing but ginketting, and wasting, and thieving and tricking, and trigging; and then they are never content—They won’t suffer the ‘squire and mistress to stay any longer; because they have been already above three weeks in the house; and they look for a couple of ginneys a-piece at our going away; and this is a parquisite they expect every month in the season; being as how no family has a right to stay longer than four weeks in the same lodgings; and so the cuck swears she will pin the dish-clout to mistress’s tail; and the house-maid vows, she’ll put cowitch in master’s bed, if so be he don’t discamp without furder ado—I don’t blame them for making the most of their market, in the way of vails and parquisites; and I defy the devil to say I am a tail-carrier, or ever brought a poor sarvant into trouble.

Consider: armies are usually bodies (indeed: many about permanently to be) of young men. Men, that is, without women. Which missing ingredient has traditionally been supplied, legitimately or mendaciously by … camp-followers.

On the whole, the army structure disapproves of the individual soldier betaking himself off in search of a pressing need. Which may therefore require an unauthorised excursion out of camp. Or, in (very-)late Latin, that would be something like ex-campare (which certainly doesn’t appear in my Lewis and Short, with its equally darkest-blue-covered heart) and which, in French, becomes that  escamper to decamp.

Continuing in the same theme, we arrive at—


The OED has just one citation from before the First World War for:

Ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to or characteristic of homosexuals.

The source for that is:

James Redding Ware, Passing English of the Victorian era: a dictionary of heterodox English, slang, and phrase; 1909.

Ware, by the way, deserves recognition for creating (under the pen-name of ” Andrew Forrester”) “Miss Gladden”,  one of the earliest female detectives in fiction.

Sonntag, bloody Sonntag

Back in 1964, the young Susan Sonntag wrote an essay, Notes on “Camp”, and tried to provide an all-embracing description:

Random examples of items which are part of the canon of Camp:

Zuleika Dobson
Tiffany lamps
Scopitone films
The Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA
The Enquirer, headlines and stories
Aubrey Beardsley drawings
Swan Lake
Bellini’s operas
Visconti’s direction of Salome and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards
Schoedsack’s King Kong
the Cuban pop singer La Lupe
Lynn Ward’s novel in woodcuts, God’s Man
the old Flash Gordon comics
women’s clothes of the twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded dresses, etc.)
the novels of Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett
stag movies seen without lust

Err … yes. And no, because many of those mean very little to me.

Still, the essay is worth the study, if only because it strings together a quick history of the pretentious:

The late 17th and early 18th century is the great period of Camp: Pope, Congreve, Walpole, etc, but not Swift; les précieux in France; the rococo churches of Munich; Pergolesi. Somewhat later: much of Mozart.

I can take that, or leave it, but feel she is nearer the bone with this:

This [“the thing as pure artifice”] comes out clearly in the vulgar use of the word Camp as a verb, “to camp,” something that people do. To camp is a mode of seduction — one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders. Equally and by extension, when the word becomes a noun, when a person or a thing is “a camp,” a duplicity is involved. Behind the “straight” public sense in which something can be taken, one has found a private zany experience of the thing.

 “To camp is a mode of seduction”

Right on!

Which puts us into the seduction of advertising, and all — scamper, camp, the meretricious and the mendacious — became clear: —


There you have a complete definition: the gaudiness, showmanship, excess, lack of taste: not to omit a prime exponent, Richard Branson.

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Filed under advertising., Oxford English Dictionary, Quotations