Category Archives: ConHome

“Bad” King John ?

I feel provoked into this by Martin Rowson:


51hN3TGP63L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_That is his rendering of King John as an utter prick. And, yes — since you didn’t ask — I have the book on order.

The Ott v. Lydon, c.1962

There was, in my days at TCD, a cleavage of opinion over John. Two of our academics held violently opposing views on him and his reign. Examinees learned to check which one was setting the examination paper, and tailored answers accordingly.

The dispute goes back to Stubbs versus Green. Stubbs in 1873 held:

What marks out John personally from the long list of our sovereigns, good and bad, is this — that there is nothing in him which for a single moment calls out for our better sentiments; in his prosperity there is nothing we can admire, and in his adversity there is nothing we can pity … John has neither grace nor splendour, strength nor patriotism. His history stamps him as a worse man than many who have done much more harm, and that — for his reign was not a period of unparalleled or unmitigated misery to his subjects — chiefly on account of his own personal share in the producing of his own deep and desperate humiliation.

Phew! But did you notice the small caveat: his reign was not a period of unparalleled or unmitigated misery to his subjects? It almost makes one muse what, from the view down below, a medieval monarch was useful for.

Almost at the same moment, publishing in 1874, along came J.R.Green:

the ablest and most ruthless of the Angevins … In the rapidity and breadth of his political combinations he far surpassed the statesmen of his time.

Green’s was the view that predominated for much of the twentieth century. So we find A.L.Poole, for the fourth (originally third) volume of the Oxford History of England:

He was cruel and ruthless, violent and passionate, greedy and self-indulgent, arbitrary and judicious, clever and capable, original and inquisitive. He was made up of inconsistencies.

We’d also need to remember that almost all the contemporary opinions of John come through churchmen and the chroniclers — if one likes, a synthetic view.  Doris Stenton wrote (page 46) of that:

No chronicler should be believed who is not strictly contemporary, and is not supported by record evidence when he makes extravagant claims about the King’s evil deeds.

And John was no dutiful, obedient follower of the church. The records, though, suggest a different creature — and, should one like to characterise it, an analytic approach. The second shows us a king who knew the law, and applied it (arbitrarily, but that is the mark of the times).

The great script writer

William Goldman did more for my appreciation of “Bad’ King John than all the lectures and books.

This from The Lion in Winter:

Henry II: Power is the only fact. (indicating Richard) How could I keep him from the throne? He’d only take it if I didn’t give it to him.

Richard: No, you’d make me fight for it. I know you. You’d never give me anything

Henry II: True, and I haven’t. You get Alais and the kingdom, but I get the thing I want most. If you’re king, England stays intact. I get that. It’s all yours now… the crown, the girl, the whole black business. Isn’t that enough? (He exits) 

Alais: I don’t know who’s to be congratulated. Kings, queens, knights everywhere you look, and I’m the only pawn. I haven’t got a thing to lose. That makes me dangerous. (She exits)

Eleanor: Poor child.

John: Poor John. Who says, “poor John”? Don’t everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames, there’s not a living soul who’d pee on me to put the fire out.

Richard: Let’s strike a flint and see.

John: You’re everything a little brother dreams of. You know that? I used to dream about you all the time.

Eleanor: Ah, Johnny.

John: I’ll show you, Eleanor. I’ve not lost yet.

Goldman wasn’t finished with John there.

I have here his 1979 novel (now badly decayed), Myself as Witness. It covers the period of 1212 to 1219. The first-person narrator is a version of Giraldus Cambrensis (who, in reality, was already retired to Lincoln). It remains one of my favourite historical confections. Goldman is unashamedly positive about John. Here, from the introductory A Note to the Reader is Goldman’s near-apologia:

I have written about King John before; he makes appearances in both The Lion in Winter and Robin and Marian. Following the mainstream, I conceived him as a violent, unstable person with no principles at all. Not so this time around. Several years ago, this completely villainous King John began to seem increasingly improbable to me. He was too black, too terrible. And so I went back to the history books, and the more I read the more it seemed apparent that tradition had it wrong: a very different John must have existed. What had begun as an emotional conviction gradually seemed to be substantiated by the facts.

What are the facts? Remarkably little survives that was written while John was alive, and the picture of him that emerges from these scattered sources is surprisingly complimentary. The evil monarch we have come to know begins to appear in chronicles written a generation or more after his death. On top of which , the writing of history was a curious procedure in those days, and the chroniclers on whom we have relied give us reports of devils and dragons with the same conviction and seriousness that they accord verifiable political events.

Why these chroniclers made John into a monster is an unanswerable question. Possibly because England had had enough of Henry and his children, possibly because John’s reign saw more defeats than victories, possibly in response to political pressures of the moment.

 I think that’s where I came in here.

Those chronicles on which much history has been based are:

  • Roger of Wendover, about 1225;
  • Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall, who cannot be writing before 1221;
  • the Barnswell chronicler, again writing in the 1220s and adding to the record until 1232 or so;
  • the biography of William Marshal was started in 1221 and not finished until 1225-6;
  • the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie ends in 1220, and was probably written at or after that date;
  • the Margam annals must be even later in the thirteenth century;
  • the annals of Burton are found only in late-thirteenth century copies.

All good sons of Mother Church (which John was not). All good retainers of the baronial class (which John tried to contain). Let us now conceive — for an analogy — that any future account of the Labour government of 1997-2010 will derive from the Murdoch press of and after the second half of the present decade (2015-20+).

I see here [page 290]:

Three aspects of John particularly appeal to a modern sensibility. First, his love of books. He had a small library which he carried round with him on his restless travels and often swapped titles with the abbot of Reading; we hear of John’s interest in Pliny and in the history of England — not something we can ever imagine Richard bothering with. In an age when personal hygiene did not rank as one of the human priorities, John was positively oriental in his liking for baths and cleanliness; the records show that between 29 January and 17 June 1209 he took eight baths at different places on his itinerary and even possessed a dressing gown. Yet what most intrigues the historian of the early twenty-first century is John’s alleged atheism.

What’s not to like?


Leave a comment

Filed under Andrew Gimson, History, MArtin Rowson, Trinity College Dublin

As I said earlier …

Andrew Gimson got his regular place in the PoliticsHome strap line, with his Glasgow shout for ConHome.

Don’t get me wrong: Andrew Gimson is one of the saner Tories. He is spoiled by being corralled into that particular nest of iniquity. His piece, today, is typically impressionistic — much of it little more than vox pop stuff:

Three things shocked me as a Unionist visiting Glasgow. The first was the realisation that although, in the course of several hours’ conversation in George Square yesterday afternoon, I met a considerable number of people who are going to vote No on Thursday, the people who are going to vote Yes are on average younger and better looking. This is always a good sign for a campaign. Success, fashion and beauty generally go together. Many wearers of the Yes badge made it look quite chic.

Let’s get his third point out of the way. Well established for anyone who has half an ear has been:

… the vindictive tone of some of the speakers. Like every other commentator, I do not know what will happen on Thursday. But if there is a No vote, the most difficult task may only just be beginning: to find some way of calming the passions which motivate so many Yes voters. For many of them, this referendum represents a longed-for and unexpected chance to take revenge on the hated Thatcher and Blair.

These Yes voters want so much to believe that their egalitarian, state-directed version of ethical socialism can work in Scotland, although the English are not even prepared to try it. Who can convince them that such policies would lead to economic collapse? Or must the perilous experiment be tried?

There’s a dangerous conflation there: to be opposed to  the hated Thatcher and Blair does not put one anywhere near an egalitarian, state-directed version of ethical socialism. On the contrary: it makes one an unthinking reactionary bigot. That, though, is how the SNP has framed too much of its argument.

His second point is the one that needs unscrambling:

In Glasgow, the greater [than “nationalism”, per se] threat to the Union comes from socialism, and from people who think of themselves as socialists. Romantic love of socialism remains strong. This is a painfully obvious point, but one I had managed to miss while following events from London.

redcoverMy, my: Mr Gimson seems not aware of the legacy from the likes of (in alphabetical order) James Connolly, Helen Crawfurd, Willie Gallacher, Keir Hardie, Tom Johnston, Davie Kirkwood, Ramsay Macdonald, James MacDougall, Agnes and John Maclean, Jimmy Maxton, Jimmy Reid, Manny Shinwell, John Wheatley … and a cast of thousands. He should betake himself to a decent bookshop, or library and spend a couple or three hours with Maggie Craig on the history of Red Clydeside.

Let me concede that Andrew Gimson may have a point with:

the greater threat to the Union comes from … people who think of themselves as socialists.

But he should have a word with his redoubtable Missus before he fills that omitted [ … ] with: from socialism.

Had he looked further he would have found the Left in Scotland is not voting “Yes”. Try the leaflet illustrated here, and he — and readers of ConHome — might find bits with which they are surprisingly in agreement.

Similarly, there are many Scots who have heard of James Connolly, and even read his stuff. In this context, a true socialist would hark back to Connolly’s 1897 essay:

If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

The main difference, of course, is that — even absent those evil “English” “capitalists” — El Presidente Salmond is already sold out to Murdoch, Trump, Russian plutocrats buying enough real estate to earn a passport, Asian millionaires renting by the week the Highland deer-stalking experience, Texan oilmen …

But, you’ve heard all that before.

Leave a comment

Filed under ConHome, nationalism

Stroke, counterstroke, spoke, wheel

Yep: sure enough! Here it comes!

UnknownThe “Stop BoJo” wagon, as predicted, is beginning to roll. Quick chorus of Three Wheels on my Wagon (Burt Bacharach for the New Christy Minstrels, 1961 — if my memory serves). Mayor Johnson will need to heed:

Them Cherokees are after me
Flaming spears
Burn my ears
But I’m singing a happy song!

As I see it, we can count:

Wheel One:


The Guardian has that one.

It’s the old story of adversarial politics: your opponents are over there; you enemies are behind you.

All the evidence is the Tory ship is not a happy one. It’s not just the long-festering EU-thingy (and BoJo has swung both ways on that), it’s pent-up ambition and resentment:

  • Cameron has overlooked talent — every Tory back-bencher feels she/he has a need for, deserves one of those red boxes.
  • Dammit! Those unworthy LibDems have their share of that elusive prize.
  • Cameron, despite keeping his enemies close, has kept his friends closer. He has discarded a few too many adept political dagger-men. They will not forgive and forget.

Consequently there are two schools of thought on BoJo (who, for all his numerous faults — to which we come in a moment — is an operator):

  1. The Tories are likely to lose in 2015, That will necessitate a change of leader. That opens opportunities for new talent to be discovered, old talent to be refurnished. Let’s get on board early!
  2. We have all the talent we need, thank you. Even if we do lose in 2015, we don’t need more flashy competition in the next talent-show.

Among the second group are the Friends of George, and it is the Osborne faction whom we need to watch. They are not Friends of BoJo.

Wheel Two:

MailThe Daily Mail, of course.

First thing to consider in that case: the Daily Mail is no convinced fan of Cameron.

Then again, are the constituencies really Stompin’ at the Savoy to have BoJo as their prospective parliamentary candidate? The blue-rinse ladies may coo over him … then nudge each other in the ribs and recall how he treated poor Petsy. Among others. Constituency chairmen may harbour ambitions of their own, or for someone local, or who is mouldable in the right image: Johnson doesn’t fit anyone’s mould. Nor does Johnson have any reputation for being “a good constituency MP”. His attendance at local functions was notoriously erratic. Max Hastings, also in the Mail, nails a lot of the rest:

… he is also capable of creating mayhem. He is an egomaniac with a strand of recklessness, a loose cannon capable of holing his own side’s ship. He was, don’t forget, a member of that silly Oxford Bullingdon Club group with Cameron and George Osborne.

John Dryden, back in 1681, described the 1st Earl of Shaftsbury in similar terms:

A daring pilot in extremity,
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,
He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide…

Being BoJo’s Constituency Committee, and therefore licensed keeper, would never be an easy job. Yes, the next 2015 Election will involve a huge media attention … and then? And there’d always be the fear of a late-Saturday evening telephone call, and a reptile for one of the sensational Sundays looking for an instant quote on the latest doing. Oh, and Lock Up Your Daughters.

Wheel Three:

TimesThe simple matter of orthodoxy.

Truth to tell, Tory orthodoxy is Euroscepticism, even to the ultra utterance. Let’s go to the Times next (as right):

Last night Eurosceptics said they saw Mr Johnson’s decision as a boost to their campaign to take Britain out of the EU. His announcement of a return to the Commons came after a speech in which he said that Britain should not be afraid of life outside the EU.

Yet, Johnson carefully tailors his remarks to his audience. What he says about leaving the EU is always balanced with City-friendly qualifications about “reform” of the EU. Try that recent Bloomberg speech:

… for 15 years after the fall of the wall, it was the EU that served as a beacon and an objective for Poland and other former communist countries. It was the EU’s insistence on market reforms that has transformed those economies, and helped provide the British speedway fan with the friendly cafes and prompt service, ice cream and all the stuff that you would not have expected under communism.

And as we, this week, mark a century since the outbreak of the First World War, we should reflect that for 70 or almost 70, of those 100 years, there has now been peace in western Europe, probably the longest uninterrupted absence of war since the days of the Antonine emperors; and of course there are probably all sorts of reasons for that peace

Then come the Eurosceptic “buts”, starting with  “economic underperformance” and “collapse of political trust”. Both those sound capable of remedy. That’s the third section of his speech, pointedly sub-headed The solution: reform and referendum. For all the eurosceptic spin, most of this speech could have been delivered (absenting the mock-intellectual stuff about Roman history) by a David Cameron acolyte.

So, the problem with BoJo’s third wheel is one never knows which way he will spin it.

The spare wheel

Johnson comes with so much excess baggage. He is a foul-mouthed, adulterous, lying, racist bigot. Note that I have hot-linked each of those terms.

When Michael Howard (who, remember, went along with those dog-whistle Tory posters in 2005) sacked Johnson from his Front Bench, it wasn’t for the adultery:

Howard said the sacking was because Johnson had lied over the affair. It had nothing to do with morality.

That remains one of my favourite definitions of Tory family values.

Finally, let’s consider Johnson as a parliamentary candidate for Uxbridge, which seems to be a prime choice:

He is now expected to seek the safe seat of Uxbridge & South Ruislip where the Tory MP, Sir John Randall, who has a majority of 11,000, has announced that he will not run again.

However, local sources said that huge interest in contesting the seat meant that Mr Johnson faced a race against time if he hoped to secure it. Tory HQ is expecting as many as 100 applicants, according to insiders, meaning that Mr Johnson needed to make his intentions known very soon.

A source said: “Things have moved on quickly. The selection process is now set in motion. We’re gearing up for it and the association will make a final choice on September 12. So if Boris wishes to apply for the constituency, he’s got to get his intentions known to central office pretty quick. If he wants to throw his hat in the ring, he’ll have to do it over the next week or so.”

Now, let’s wait for Johnson to backtrack on what he has committed to with HS2, Heathrow, and urban motorways — for none of his previous stands would sell in Uxbridge. That’s baggage not wanted on voyage.

All of which will be oozing into the Press through though “Friends of George”.

A Favourite has no friend

Bottom line — if :

Boris Johnson is the early favourite among grassroots Tories to succeed David Cameron as leader, according to a poll conducted by Conservativehome.

That may be historical (2012) but Paul Goodman and ConHome are still, today, in the same groove:

If Cameron is Prime Minister after next May, Boris can serve in Cabinet when his mayoral term ends.  And if he isn’t, Boris can contest the consequent leadership election, as he has every right to do.   After all, he repeatedly comes in first or second in this site’s polls among Party members of future leaders.

Johnson should remember the fate of Thomas Gray’s Selima, Drown’d in a Tub of Gold Fishes, complete with those Classical allusions:

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
   Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
   A Favourite has no friend!
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
   And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
   Nor all that glisters, gold.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boris Johnson, ConHome, Conservative family values, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, Guardian, London, politics, Times, Uncategorized


There is something very, very wrong with the Tory appreciation of things political.

Time and again we are assured that everything economic is for the best in the best of all possible economic worlds. The sub-text is that nothing can possibly go awry between now and the fixed General Election next May.

As for Cameroonian self-basting admiration, let’s interpose a bit of Alexander Pope here:

Proud as Apollo on his forked hill,
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff’d by every quill;
Fed with soft dedication all day long …

So, in yesterday’s PMQs the Prime Minister brushed aside concerns about the passport office and school governance: such trivialities do not register when unemployment numbers are so, so magnificent.

Those figures for employment are remarkably slippery. Quoting numbers of “employed”, of “unemployed”, as “on benefit”, as “seeking work” gives very different results. Or go beyond the crude numbers and consider, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau recent summary of its involvement:

Record numbers of people are seeking help online around employment issues the charity has revealed, with basic rights at work being the most popular topic people are concerned about.

 In the past twelve months 16 million people sought help from Adviceguide—equivalent to over a third (37 per cent) of the UK’s online population:

    • 16 per cent of all help sought from Adviceguide was from employment-related pages
    • 40 per cent more people looked for help around employment related issues in 2013/14 than in 2012/13.
    • ‘Basic rights at work’ is the most popular advice page on the site—with over 576,000 people referring to it
    • 16 per cent more people looked at ‘Basic rights at work’ on Adviceguide in 2013/14 than in 2012/13.

A couple of “ishoos”

Daily_Mail_12_6_2014Anyone who believes the passport thing doesn’t resonate is a blinkered fool. See today’s Daily Mail front page.

The Mail, for all its many faults, is not with Alexander Pope’s:

… well-bred Spaniels [who] civilly delight
In mumbling of the Game they dare not bite.

Once the paper’s line has become established, and its gnashers are well into the calf-muscle (as has happened over the Passport Office):

Let Sporus tremble — “What? that thing of silk,
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk? …”

Then, again, the governance of schools (which doesn’t seem to have registered with most of the commentariat) is a “sleeper” issue. It only becomes explosive when, inevitably and in usual process of embuggerance, something goes wrong.

Mr Cameron’s assurance was:

… where people should go if they are concerned about what is happening in their schools, they should go first to the head teacher and the chair of governors.

As I said, the first port of call is the head teacher and the chair of governors. However, if people believe that there is a real problem, there is one organisation that has responsibility for checking standards in all these schools, and that, of course, is Ofsted. That is why what the Education Secretary has said about no-notice inspections is so important. The Leader of the Opposition asked how intervention could happen quickly; well, it will happen quickly if we have the no-notice inspections.

In the light of Birmingham’s academies, that first utterance was quite fairly received with snorts of derision (and not just by the Labour Opposition). Cameron must have registered that, so the fall-back to Ofsted and “no-notice inspections”.

What government, of any complexion, has to recognise is that the school system has effectively been nationalised. Academies and now Gove’s “free schools” exist at arms-length from only the Department of Education. What we do not have installed are proper checks-and-balances. So some numbers:

  • There are 8.2 million pupils across England.
  • They are attending 24,372 schools in the public sector.
  • There are just 245 active HMIs out-and-about.

That’s an awful lot of “no-notice inspections” by limited personnel. As recently as March, the Chief Inspector was recognising the scale of the problem, and proposing economies:

Up to 60% of England’s schools could no longer be subject to full inspections under new proposals from the head of Ofsted.

Sir Michael Wilshaw used a speech to head teachers to address concerns about the current Ofsted system head on.

Full inspections would be reserved for struggling schools, or those on the verge of being rated “outstanding”.

He also wanted to recruit more heads to be inspectors and to end the “outsourcing” of school inspections.

Even such a reduced operation cannot be directed on the assumption that the Man in the Ministry knows best. Especially when the Secretary of State and the Chief Inspector talk different languages.

1 Comment

Filed under ConHome, Conservative Party policy., Daily Mail, David Cameron, economy, education, Elections, Michael Gove, schools, Tories.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under ConHome, History, politics

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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, ConHome, economy, fiction, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Observer, politics