Category Archives: Autumn

The end of Swiveleyesation as we know it?

Another magnificent coinage by the great Steve Bell:

Steve Bell 21.05.2013

Yesterday Malcolm was attempting to find some kind of historical context — or, failing that, the comedy of errors — which has led to the present Great Tory Bad-Hair Day.

Today Benedict Brogan writes his Morning Briefing for the Telegraph blogs, and sweepingly assumes it’s all water down the sink. Happy Days are Hair Again. The skies above are clear again. So we’ll sing a song of cheer again:

Well, almost:

Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

200px-Candide1759The rest of Brogan’s musings stretch for, but don’t quite reach a Panglossian optimum:

Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

[For the record, Voltaire in 1759 is parodying Leibnitz of 1698: not many people know that.]

Legacy issues

Such was the vein into which history-mining Malcolm was driving his shaft with yesterday’s piece. Let us then consider what rich ore Brogan has found:

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Really? Really! It’s all those gays? Hardly!

Brogan concludes by passing us and the tar-baby onto Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Ganesh asserts it’s 2010 and All That:

… the election that should detain David Cameron is the last one. The prime minister’s estrangement from his party has many causes – the inexhaustibly vexed question of Europe, the same-sex marriage bill he takes to Parliament this week – but the rancour really set in with his failure to win in 2010. This original sin led to coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a political miscegenation that turns Tory stomachs, and broke the unspoken covenant that allows a leader to be as autocratic as he likes as long he delivers. Last week, a prime ministerial ally was reported to have disparaged the party’s grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons”. “Arrogant losers” tends to be the rejoinder.

Ganesh then reprises the course of the 2010 Tory election campaign, concluding:

For all the campaign’s haplessness, the Tories ended it with roughly the same poll lead over Labour as they began it. Mr Cameron was still preferred by voters to his party. The campaign was a non-event, as they usually are. The real reason for the Tories’ failure had more to do with the economic insecurity that nagged at voters when shown blueprints for austerity by a party they already mistrusted. That the economy was slithering out of recession at the same time hardened their risk aversion. Fiscal clarity made for bad short-term politics, and yet the blame has somehow gone to other, softer aspects of the Tory offering.

The Conservatives did not fail because they were seen as high-minded metropolitans, but because they were too redolent of the same old Tories. They had changed too little, not too much. The people who should have been vindicated by 2010 were the modernisers. But their chronic passivity, their lordly distaste for a fight, has allowed a misremembered version of that election to become the definitive history. This is undermining Mr Cameron and shaping a future in which only the ideologically orthodox can lead the Tories.

That is indeed the “high-quality journalism” that the FT prudently reminds low-life, thieving types (like Malcolm, shamelessly ripping of those extracts) needs paying for. [Again, for the record, Malcolm happily pays for the print edition, especially at weekends, if only to pre-empt what he knows the Sundays will regurgitate as original thought.]

Two small details (1):

Those televised debates (and Cameron’s foolish participation in televised debates that he flunked) really screwed up the opinion polls. In a different context (to which we may come in a moment), Malcolm was reviewing just how the 2010 polling went. The answer is not very well:

2010 polling

Got that? The main impact of the televised debates was to flatter the LibDem vote by anything between 3% and 6% (which amounts to gross “data artifact“), while under-rating Tory support just slightly, and Labour’s quite significantly. One might feel that Cameron & co. have been blinded by those errors ever since.

Two small details (2):

On their perception of the election result, and of the “reliability” of the LibDems, the Cameron & co. “modernisers” entered their Mephistophelean pact with Clegg & co. — two capitalist combines monopolising the market for their short-term profit. Let’s have another 18th-century great intellect’s view on that:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (see page 111 in this e-text)

An alternative history

Wind back to Friday, 7th May, 2010, with the last of the 649 results coming in (the 650th, a safe Tory seat — Thirsk and Malton, was delayed by the death of a candidate). This is what we saw:

  • Tories: 305 (and bound to be 306);
  • Labour: 258, plus Caroline Lucas, the Green for Brighton Pavilion, and Sylvia Herman, likely to attend infrequently but then vote with Labour (so call it around 260);
  • Lib Dems: 57, plus Naomi Long for Alliance in East Belfast (so 58 at a pinch);
  • DUP: 8;
  • SNP: 6;
  • SDLP, Plaid Cymru: 3 apiece.

The Speaker is neutral, though votes for the government in a tie, and Sinn Féin are non-attenders (so, n=650-6). A cynical calculation is the cash-strapped sand bruised Labour and LibDem contingents aren’t too keen on a quick re-run; but, more to the point, there are at least a score of odds-and-sods turkeys there who can’t afford to vote for Christmas (sayn n=650-26). The most basic “working majority” would be, in practice, well short of the nominal 326 (the calculation above suggests 312 at most)— and Dave’s Tories are within a spit of just that.

So, in the short term, Dave’s Tories could talk the talk, cobble a “confidence and supply” arrangement with even the DUP (306+8=314), and walk the walk through until a second election in the autumn. By which moment Tory coffers, uniquely among the main operators, would be topped up by the grateful and expectant clique of bond-traders and hedge-funders.

A second election, please note, that could have been contrived by losing a vote of confidence on some populist issue (immigration?). A second election, too, in which the Tory economic record would be buffed up by the tail-end of Alistair Darling’s economics (it was only in the autumn of 2010, thanks to Osborne’s austerity, that the UK economy went into flat-lining).

In short, had Cameron done the right thing, the Tory thing, he would now likely be sitting on a secure Tory majority, and figuring his way to calling the next election at his choosing, on his terms, and not on those of the LibDem dictated Fixed-term Parliaments Act. He would also have enjoyed the benefits of a greater patronage for Tory backbench nonentities, not having to service the self-esteem of LibDem nonentities.

All the Tory back-benchers, and the wannabes out in the cold have done that math. The iron has entered their souls.

One last thing

We were looking there at how the polling companies had cocked it up. Enter the new-boy on the block, Survation. Ben Brogan (see above) gave that a nod in passing:
The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Look closer, and we find The Guardian, doesn’t give Survation more than the time of day.

Andrew Sparrow counters with the YouGov/Sun numbers:

Last night Survation released a poll showing the Tories just two points ahead of Ukip.

Here are the figures.
Labour: 39% (down 1 from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 31% (up 2)
Ukip: 14% (no change)
Lib Dems: 10% (up 1)
Labour lead: 8 points (down 3)
Government approval: -34 (up 5)

Finally, let’s hear it from Anthony Wells (whose shock-factor is also set to minimum):

Survation have put out a new poll, the topline voting intention figures are CON 24%(-5), LAB 35%(-1), LD 11%(-1), UKIP 22%(+6). The 22% for UKIP is the first poll to show them breaking the twenty percent mark.
In many ways the high UKIP score here shouldn’t come as a surprise, for methodological reasons Survation tend to show the highest levels of UKIP support so if ICM have them at 18% and ComRes at 19% I would have expected Survation to have them in the low twenties. Striking it may be, but the increase in UKIP support is actually in line with what weve seen elsewhere, just using a method that is kinder to UKIP.
More interesting is the drop in Tory support, down five points on Survation’s poll in April. The poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday so at least partially after the “swivel eyed loon” story broke (it came out in Saturday’s papers, so broke about 10pm on Friday night). All the usual caveats I apply to any poll showing sharp or unusual results apply. Sure, it might indicate a shift in support, but just as likely its a blip – wait to see if it is reflected in any other polling. As Twyman’s Law of market research says “anything surprising or interesting is probably wrong”.

As Wells implies, there, swallowing Survation might not produce the glorious summer the Kippers expect. More likely, “up like the rocket, and down like the stick”: UKIP is hardly the best-presented pyrotechnic in the box.

Swiveleyesation may endure yet.


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Filed under Alistair Darling, Autumn, BBC, blogging, Britain, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, democracy, DUP, economy, Elections, fiction, George Osborne, Green Party, Guardian, History, Homophobia, Literature, policing, polls, Steve Bell, Tories.

Media hysteria revisited

Doubting Thomas‘s early morning thoughts from North Britain should not remain lurking in the comments locker:

Indeed you might also add that the track of the depression is towards the north of Scotland and the Northern isles where, probably unbeknown to many southern folk, gales are a normal part of our weather, especially during September around the equinox. Their effect is to do the trees here what autumn does further south and remove the leaves ready for winter.

That is the obverse of the same coin that Malcolm was spinning in the preceding post.

In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire hurricanes hardly happen

Newsworthiness is a variable: a strong gust or two in the Home Counties equals any King Lear cataclysm:

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!

The Great Storm of 1987 was, in Beaufort Scale terms, a Force 11 at most. The very worst experienced in Britain was at Gorleston, in distant Norfolk [irony alert!] where gusts did reach Hurricane Force 12. Yet what got most of the media’s coverage was the damage to trees in such locations as Kew Gardens and Sevenoaks, along with the power cut that took the BBC’s Lime Grove studios out-of-the-loop. It was the strongest winds the south of England had experienced since 1703 — which explains why so many mature trees were “weeded” out.

Doubting Thomas might usefully underline his observations by recalling the death of Lord Kitchener and seven hundred other good men and true, when HMS Hampshire foundered — officially mined or torpedoed — somewhere off Sule Skerry in a foul Orcadian north-easter.

Time to sacrifice the Green Man

To be honest, Malcolm realises he had never fully decoded — even when he had to teach it — the presence of the Green Man in Dylan Thomas:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower   
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees   
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

That reproduction of the Green Man from the main porch of Gloucester Cathedral now catches Malcolm’s eye from the landing windowsill.

Or that the “Harvest Festival” at the parish church was orthodoxy imposing itself on far-earlier pagan traditions.

Weather or not, this is one of the turns in the year.

Doubting Thomas has it spot on. We are coming to the period of the mythical equinoctial gales — but note how Doubting Thomas knowing avoids the expression. Philip Eden has that one nailed on his WeatherOnline site:

Many Septembers bring settled late-summer weather during the first half of the month, giving way to much more disturbed conditions with rain and rough winds during the second half. If this changeover should happen within, say, a week of the autumnal equinox (on or around the 22nd) mariners will talk knowingly of “equinoctial gales”. Both the spring and autumn equinoxes have long been associated with stormy winds, and over many centuries seafarers came to fear violent gales in British coastal waters during the latter parts of March and September.

Early in the present century these general observations became perverted into a belief by some that gales occurred more frequently at the equinoxes than at any other time of the year. The statistics do not support such an idea. What the records do show is that there is quite an abrupt increase in the frequency of high winds in British waters during the second half of September, and a more gradual decrease in late-March and early-April. Meteorologists suspected way back in the 19th century that some autumn windstorms were somehow linked to tropical hurricanes that had been reported several days earlier on the other side of the Atlantic. But they could not be certain because there was insufficient observational data over the ocean to enable the production of proper daily weather charts which would have allowed such a storm to be tracked from day to day.

Eden’s explanation of what is happening with [ex-]Hurricane Katia compares superbly against Malcolm’s amateur effort.

Caledonia, stern and wild …

Malcolm defers to Doubting Thomas on experience of the rudest Scottish weather: the nearest being one gruesome and extended four-hour crossing on the Larne-Stranraer ferry, while lorry-drivers recycled late breakfasts for the seagulls. Beyond that Malcolm’s forays north involve only penetrating Lowlands chill at Hogmanay and many grim dreich days.

Malcolmian aside:

Here’s another example of southern bias.

The Oxford English Dictionary cannot be arsed to give that perfectly guid Scots word a separate reference. You need to hunt it out under dree or dreigh. Even then it’s tagged as Now Sc. and north. dial. or arch. So, once again, we have the superior Saxon scorning the provincial Angle. The OED has the decency to track the etymology back to Old Norse drjúgr.

Yet Malcolm does recall the power of a thundering south-westerly smashing into West Cork: it isn’t called Roaring Water Bay idly. And the Atlantic rain coming in horizontally and at full pressure in Drumcliffe Churchyard [where] Yeats is laid, with the air suffused with spindrift. And breasting the wind at Castlerock in the County Londonderry as clouds ripped across from Inishowen towards Benbane Head.

A Cornish rhapsody?

Last week the Lady in his Life and Malcolm took a gentle stroll around Mullion Cove, in West Cornwall. Their just reward was a civilised late lunch at the Mullion Cove Hote, and observing a bright, breezy fine day which justifies all the soft-selling of an evening glow:

However, heavy shutters to close and protect the windows of the houses nearer the shore-line tell another story.


Malcolm’s late uncle had grown up on the North Norfolk coast, and was no stranger to harsh northerlies.

His career in the Royal Navy took him across (and under) the Seven Seas.

Even so, he once admitted never seeing anything to match his first posting as a wartime boy-entrant: to HMS Tern — or, as Doubting Thomas may know it, the Royal Naval Air Station at Twatt on Mainland, Orkney.


Filed under Autumn, BBC, Britain, County Cork, culture, History, Northern Ireland, Scotland, shipping forecast, travel, weather, World War 2

Back to porridge and old clothes

A week spent 275 miles (or so) from home in London clears the head marvellously. For a start it makes all this blogging lark seem irrelevant. So Malcolm needs a while and some grief to get back up to speed.

That 275 miles (or so) takes one down the M3, the A30, the A303, the A390 and the A3078 to the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall. On the way we pass the builder’s rubble they call Stonehenge, all the sheep that made the monasteries of the Middle Ages so wealthy (and are still looking up), swing past Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, catch a glimpse of the St Austell Alps, and finally sniff the ozone.

The London papers celebrated the end of the silly season (this year so conveniently filled by murder, mayhem and mystery in Africa Proconsularis) with the traditional lamentations about the English weather. To total bestaggerment of the newsrooms, this moist maritime island, in direct line of the south-westerlies coming a couple of thousand miles across the North Atlantic, once again experienced a damp summer. Well, last week for Malcolm’s benefit, they turned off the taps except for a couple of convenient night-time wettings, and the Roseland experience was at its best.

So it was all hunkey-dory in the magnificent Eden Project, at the elegant, evocative and unpolished film-set that is Charlestown (right), through all those small fishing harbours turned mini-resorts from the Pentewan Valley to the Fal Estuary. It came with added zing! from frequent samplings of the local brews — Sharp’s Special @ 5% a.b.v., St Austell Proper Job @ 4.5% for evening wear and Skinner’s Betty Stogs @ 4.0% for daytime use (doubtless more of that later).

For a London resident there are three quite devastating experiences:

  • winding minor roads between high hedges and banks, through which the locals drive at hair-raising speeds. It must keep the manufacturers of brake-linings and the body-work shops in full employment.
  • night-time silence with the absence of traffic noise;
  • reconnecting with starry, starry nights. Yes, it’s not a myth: there is a milky Way up there; and it is crushingly devastating of the ego — and hard on an elderly neck.

And people live here. All the year round.

Far too much of the built environment (that’s planner-ese for “houses”) is either second-homes or holiday apartments. Equally, far too much of the economy is tourism-based — which means that, come the end of the school summer holidays, much shuts down for a long, long winter. Housing is expensive, and well out of the reach of folk dependent on service and seasonal employments.

There are pluses to all that. Here are three thoughts:

  • Since Malcolm first came to these parts the provision of services has improved out of all proportion. All the chain stores and supermarkets have populated the old market towns.
  • Then there are the conveniences and amenities. The shower unit in the cottage Malcolm & co had rented for the week was superb — matched in power and effectiveness, though not in elegance and arty-fartiness, only by one encountered in (of all places) Lucca.
  • A small but notable moment: one evening the Lady in his Life and Malcolm went to collect the Pert Young Piece from the evening train, arriving in Truro around 10:30. While waiting they indulged in a common-or-garden pizza. It wasn’t one of your mass-produced pre-frozen jobs. It was authentic and cam with a distinct Neapolitan accent — one that didn’t come solely from the muzak.

Still, life can be hard, and in all kinds of unforeseen ways. That was evident from a conversation with a young man, about to go up to university. He had walked two miles along a farm track to and from the bus pick-up for his junior school years, then twice as far to catch the service to his secondary school. His chosen degree was in philosophy, and truly philosophic he needed to be.

Yet, what can be better than sunny days under cloudless skies? What can be more exciting than a storm so thunderous that the rocks beneath one’s feel tremble?

Now it’s back to real London life. A lawn to be mown. Books to be read. Clutter to be tidied. Back, too, to the aggravations of the ConDem coalition staggering from crisis to crisis. And back to fantasies of escape and  the property porn on the various web-sites.

So, until the keyboard gets another bashing, for the time being:

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Filed under Autumn, Beer, blogging, Britain, economy, Eden Project, leisure travel

Reasons to be cheerful?

Autumn came suddenly to Redfellow Hovel.

With another grey, greasy, gloomy day, Malcolm’s spirits fell flatter than a Tory Shadow Chancellor’s magic panacea. And it’s too early in the winter to be stricken by SAD.

Even pontificating on the ills and sins of the world comes hard to him today.

There was a small moment of schadenfreude to discover that Miami was flooding because of too much rain.

Heh, heh!

Ooops, be careful, Malcolm: remember that the wrong sort of snigger is a political and personal liability:

HENS CACKLE. So do witches. And, so does the front-runner in the Democratic presidential contest.

Former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris recently described Hillary Clinton’s laugh as “loud, inappropriate, and mirthless. . . . A scary sound that was somewhere between a cackle and a screech.” Politico’s Ben Smith referred to Clinton’s “signature cackle.” Conservative radio hosts routinely play Clinton’s “cackle” on their radio shows.

Thank you, Joan Vennochi for such a show of sisterly support.

However, Hillary has a 20 per cent buffer in the New Hampshire primary to chuckle, even cackle over.

Then, back down south, Malcolm noticed that the current temperature in Miami was 79 degrees, and promising to go to 88. Still, at least he was able to catch up on Carl Hiaasen’s column, and enjoy a rather nice Jim Morin cartoon:Which reminded him of a somewhat-disturbing remark, by a returning daughter, just back from being adjacent to the 2004 Convention in Boston:

Democrats are sexier than Republicans; when do you hear of a nice piece of elephant?

Next up, it seems that Hollywood script-writers are going on strike:

Unions representing 12,000 screenwriters asked members on Monday to authorize a strike at any time after their contract expires at the end of this month.

If granted, authorization would set the stage for Hollywood’s first industrywide walkout since writers struck in 1988.

That, according to the New York Times, is categorised as “business”, not “entertainment”.

There is something else ludicrous here. There are 9,ooo script-writers in Hollywood. There are another 3,000 on the east coast. That totals up to the population of a small town: somewhere like Marlow or Ilfracombe. All those busy fingers, attached, however feebly, to what once may have been fertile intellects. And they still need canned laughter. And manage to produce about two decent movies and one passable TV series a twelvemonth.

This seems to raise the matter of how many script-writers it takes to change a lightbulb. To which the answer seems to be ten:

1st draft: Hero changes lightbulb
2nd draft. English villain changes lightbulb.
3rd draft. Hero fights villain to prevent him changing lightbulb. Villain falls to death.
4th draft. Lightbulb out of the plot.
5th draft. Lightbulb back in. Fluorescent instead of tungsten.
6th draft. Villain breaks bulb, uses it to kill hero’s Afro-American side-kick.
7th draft. Fluorescent not working. Back to tungsten.
8th draft. Hero forces villain to change lightbulb.
9th draft. Hero has childhood flashback of light bulb. Doesn’t change it.
10th draft. Hero changes light bulb.

Which illustrates just how low Malcolm has stooped today, in his depression.

And then, out of the depths, comes a memory, a childhood flashback, no less.

Malcolm suddenly recollects that he knows exactly where he was at 11 p.m. on Saturday, 5th October, 1957.

He was under the bedclothes, with a handbuilt crystal set, trying desperately to locate the signal of Sputnik 1, which had been launched the following morning. For a few seconds he found it, or thought he found it: a faint beep… beep. Almost the chirp of a new-born kitten or chick.

It was a mile-stone in a life.

Looking back, he cannot remember whether he found it was something to cheer or to fear. The Dan Dare reader in him would have uplifted and enthused. The lowering, saturnine image of Wernher von Braun, and what he had done to London, would have pulled the other way.

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