Category Archives: David Cameron

A farrago revisited

I think this is the third occasion I’ve had to point this out.

Today BBC2’s Daily Politics featured the unspeakable Nigel Farage. I was musing that Andrew “Brillo” Neil was giving the unspeakable an easy ride, when he concluded with that business between Ben Bradshaw and David Cameron over the unspeakable’s poncey pronunciation:

Neil then invoked the Oxford Dictionary’s expert, who got herself off the hook by saying the Dictionary didn’t include proper names per se. Since the unspeakable isn’t a vacuum cleaner or a move in ice-skating or an Irish land-agent involved in evictions he isn’t yet an eponym.

Yet far(r)age is in the OED. And here it comes:

Farrage

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Filed under Andrew Neil, BBC, David Cameron, Oxford English Dictionary, politics, reading, UKIP

Adopts Mrs Merton voice …

So, David Cameron, what first attracted you to Michelle Mone as your new entrepreneurial czar?

Mone

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Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, sleaze., Tories.

A brush with greatness and a national treasure

Last week I emailed the Great Lallands Peat Worrier, in faint hope of a clear view of David Cameron’s Syrian wet-job:

Be nice to have your view on Reyaad Khan’s termination. Would it chime with Carl Gardner and @Joshua Rozenberg?

I now receive a gracious response:

Many thanks for the email and apologies for my tardiness in responding to it. On the international law — the basic principles seem tolerably well-established — proportionality, necessity, and self-defence. Where it all gets sleekit — as usual — is how these principles relate to the particular instance of Reyaad Khan and the – undisclosed – facts concerning his threat to the United Kingdom and perhaps Iraq. 

As these will never be publicly disclosed, we enter a legally gyroscopic situation where the appropriate nostrums and legitimating concepts are repeated, but we’re left in the dark about whether they properly apply to the deceased. Invidious, really.

Succinct and as definitive as these things ever get.

By the by, the Peat Worrier’s observations on the dramatisation of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark are well worth the trip. At which point, I pause and note my 1982 paperback (a year after the original hard-back appeared) is well-worn and seriously foxed — Gray sits on the fiction shelf between Graves and Greene. If books could talk … there’d be no peace around here.

Scottish fiction has some very obvious land-marks. Anthony Burgess opined:

It was about time, Scotland produced a shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom. This is it.

Burgess had Gray as:

the first major Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott.

There might, though, be an egg or two too many in that particular pudding.

The trouble is every single Scottish novel, and its author (including Gray himself) , since Lanark, has been measured and thereby lessened against that marker. I’m less than convinced. Joyce claimed that Dublin, destroyed, could be rebuilt from his descriptions. Lawrence Durrell engendered an Alexandria in his Quartet (now there’s a text which has been a victim of fashion). Gray creates Duncan Thaw and Lanark, who inhabit cities called Glasgow and Unthank. He produces a miasma, clouded further by all those clever-clever sidebars and annotations. It;s all fair game, but a game on the reader.

So I was much taken by Peat Worrier’s observation:

I am always bemused when women say Lanark is their favourite book, and disturbed when men reach the same conclusion. 

Then adding swiftly:

Lanark is a book of blistering misogyny. Lanark is a book in which women are cyphers. It is a teenaged book, emotionally. A book shot through with those all too familiar sinister twins of men’s desire for and hatred of women.

I am aware that all novels are exploitative. When I made the end of Lanark, after some hard graft, over three decades ago, I knew I had been exploited.

The good news is the sales of Lanark continue; and must be one good reason why the publishers, Canongate, flourish.

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Filed under Alasdair Gray, David Cameron, Literature, Scotland

More than hitting the buffers

If you were expecting the 1895 Gare Montparnasse locomotive-dangling-through-wall image, sorry to disappoint. This is “nearer home”: Hatch Street, Dublin, 1900, round the back of Harcourt Street (into which I commuted for a year or so, while at the High School):

Harcourt St

History does, indeed, repeat itself. Here’s Aliso Street, Los Angeles, 1948:

Aliso St

 

And yesterday the whole of UK charity-welfare came equally-adrift.

The whole thrust of Tory “Big Society” is that the “voluntary” sector and charities can substitute for properly-run “official” services. The total failure of Kids Company proves the fallacy there. Government (national and local) cannot hand over cash and expect do-gooding to make good.

If it is an “essential” welfare service — and anything to do with the health, welfare, protection and development of the nation’s young should be “essential” — then it is too important to be left to colourful self-promoters. Or to the whims of self-preening philanthropists.

Any local authority, attempting to operate on the kind of pattern Ms Batmanghelidjh promoted, would have been exposed and closed down within hours. Which is why Ms Batmanghelidjh’s latest is worth the study:

Kids Company has become “a football for the media and the civil servants”, the charity’s founder has said. [1]

Camila Batmanghelidjh told the BBC the charity had run out of money because the government had not taken responsibility for child protection. [2]

Kids Company closed on Wednesday after ministers said they wanted to recover a £3m grant given to the charity. [3]

The Cabinet Office said it believed conditions attached to the use of the money had not been met. [4]

Ms Batmanghelidjh told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Kids Company had been subjected to a “trial by media” based on “rumours and conjectures”. [5]

[1] The football cliché has to be high on @JohnRentoul’s “banned list” (and, before him, George Orwell’s). Pause, though, to muse: the popular media (the market-place where Ms Batmanghelidjh and her like sell themselves) is obsessed with football: therefore, to invoke another dead metaphor it’s heat/kitchen.

We often hear the expression deployed defensively. It is the complaint of the affronted, when a demand comes in for accountability or merely answerability. When public money (and in Kids Company that’s at least £37 million or, in another count, over £40 million) is involved, we need accounts and answers.

[2] Note the logical disconnect. If the government is responsible for “child protection” (and there’s a term needing full definition), why does more government money handed out to the well-meaning assure better “protection”?

What might go some way is ensuring there are enough professionals out there, doing and being answerable for the job. What we find, though, is something different. There’s a small item In the Back of the current issue of Private Eye:

PE

Not just “a challenge too far” but one that is too expensive, but can be plastered over with well-intentioned amateurs (doubtless, on minimum wage, until the “voluntary-sector” provider goes spectacularly bust.

 

[3] Here we hit another buffer. Why should the public purse be paying the wages and on-costs of these “volunteers”? Yes, of course, there has to be a professional in-house staff. Yes, too, they should be paid the rate for the job. No, they shouldn’t be — by extension — civil and public servants, unless they are prepared to accept the scriptures that go with the office.

Billy Kenber and Jill Sherman’s story in today’s The Times has this:

An audit commissioned by the Cabinet Office last year said that cashflow problems were a “key financial risk”. Auditors said this meant that “it is not possible to build reserves and invest in new activities and locations”.

On at least two occasions, the charity has been unable to pay employee tax contributions to HM Revenue & Customs. In 2002 it failed to hand over almost £700,000 in national insurance contributions. In a highly unusual agreement the following year, the taxman agreed to waive the funds in exchange for a £100,000 donation, which was paid by a supporter of the charity.

Senior staff at the charity blamed such problems on the large numbers of vulnerable children who needed its services and said that a shortage of funds did not indicate poor management.

Downing Street support

The tax deal in July 2003 was an example of the political support Kids Company enjoyed. Critics say that it was because of support at the highest level of government that it survived for so long. Gordon Brown was a supporter and David Cameron once invited Ms Batmanghelidjh to attend his cabinet.

Mr Cameron overruled the concerns of Department for Education officials who wanted to end a multimillion pound grant to the charity in 2012 after Ms Batmanghelidjh wrote a personal plea to him, according to sources.

The department secured Mr Cameron’s agreement for a civil servant to be seconded to the charity to report on what was causing the dysfunction.

At several points in that, any “hands-off” approach ceased to work. Kids Company was breaking the law, was effectively — and successfully — blackmailing the Treasury for support, and had at least one civil servant at the heart of the operation. Imagine the parallel: not the British Prime Minister manipulating HMR&C, but an American President forcing the arm of the IRS — a guarantee of impeachment would follow.

[4] See [3] above. But also notice how the civil service behaved ethically, and insisted on a (very rare) political directive. And got it.

Then we start the ministerial blame-game. It looks as if Michael Gove, when he was at Education, covered himself. Currently two ministers —  Matthew Hancock and Oliver Letwin — have their names in the frame. All the “noise”, though, is they were directed to do the deal by “Downing Street”. If “lessons will be learned”, then “heads may roll”.

[5] Ah, yes! Another of those convenient clichés. It usual implies that someone, somewhere with a soapbox has uncovered a festering cell-pit, and is exploiting it in the medis greasy-poll contest.

On the other hand, the bigger the “exposure”, the larger the potential libel damages. Or not, if the ligament recognises the verity of the accusation.

Anyway, the press and other media are fully entitled to enquire how public money, and charitable donations are expended.

What they mayl be slow to question is why we as a society are out-sourcing essential welfare, delegating key services to amateurs.

A foot-note:

Over my years I have observed a whole series of self-promoting exploiters of the British public. I still have my wallet and pensions intact.

The first that I recall was John Bloom, who allegedly got the better of Bernard Levin, and then (1963-4) was done down by the bigger fish in the “white goods” market. Undoubtedly there was a cartel of the manufacturers up against him, but a lot of decent “little people” lost money because he was an exploiter.

Let us quickly pass over the likes of Sir Freddy Laker, intruders like John DeLorean, and (the daddy of them all) Robert Maxwell.

Actually, no: let’s not pass over Maxwell. He is, after all, the ultimate exemplar.  I recall a conversation with a guy who had worked as an agent for Maxwell in his 1964 Buckingham constituency election. The anecdotes and warning were ominous: many others in politics and business knew of Maxwell’s ability to cut corners and exploit. But he got away with it until 1991.

There’s, then, a tradition of colourful characters whose colours mask shady doings.

And we get caught time and again.

The difference, this time, could be:

The buck stops … where?

 

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Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, History, sleaze., Tories.

“David Cameron looking like a class-A wanker”

That grating noise, everywhere but Tory News Central (who have other griefs), comes from the grinding of teeth by every reptile who didn’t peek down the back hall of Ede & Ravenscroft, the Oxford branch of the supplier of gowns to the lawyering and academic classes.

For — lo and behold! — there  @NickTMutch and @VERSAoxford found this:

article1430874066

Yes, that pneumatic chest, all pumped up, belongs to none other than David William Donald Cameron, then an ornament of Brasenose College, Oxford. Now disgracing himself nationally and internationally. Soon, I hope, to have much more time to spend contemplating a misspent past.

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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.

Or:

  • 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?

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

The New Yorker may have hit the spot

There’s a piece by John Cassidy currently on the web-site of The New Yorker. Viewed from a comfortable distance, he still finds: An Exciting Election Beckons in the U.K.

His thesis amounts to:

The outcome of the election will therefore offer some indication of whether the shift toward conservatism that much of Europe experienced in the wake of the Great Recession was a temporary reaction to hard times, or something deeper and more disturbing.

I question that on a number of (equally-superficial) grounds:

  • Has there been a shift towards conservatism … across much of Europe? What about the election of a socialist President of France? The success of Syriza in Greece? Podemos in Spain (Giles Tremlett does a long essay on that in today’s Guardian)?
  • Is this shift towards conservatism (if has happened) something deeper and more disturbing? Could it not also be interpreted as a revulsion against Big Capital, Big Government and Mr Big in general? I, for one, see in UKIP a kind of local Poujadism.
  • Why should whatever happens in a British General Election have wider applications than the local ones?

Did I lose you there with “Poujadism”? I reckon my definition has moved on from that given by the OED:

The political philosophy and methods advocated in France during the 1950s by Pierre Poujade, who in 1954 founded a populist right-wing movement for the protection of artisans and small shopkeepers (Union de Défense des Commerçants et Artisans), protesting chiefly against the French tax system then in force. Now also: any similar populist movement of the right identifying itself with the interests of small businesses.

Wikipedia is closer to my appreciation:

In addition to the protest against the income tax and the price control…, Poujadism was opposed to industrialization, urbanization, and American-style modernization, which were perceived as a threat to the identity of rural France. Poujadism denounced the French state as “rapetout et inhumain” (“thieving and inhuman”). The movement’s “common man” populism led to antiparliamentarism (Poujade called the Chamber of Deputies “the biggest brothel in Paris” and the deputies a “pile of rubbish” and “pederasts”) a strong anti-intellectualism…

Compare that, say, with The Observer Magazine profile of Nigel Farage.

Later in Cassidy’s account is this:

Amid signs of nervousness in the Conservative camp, Cameron visited the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Monday, and subsequently promised to campaign in ”all four corners of all four nations of the U.K.” over the next thirty-eight days. Moving to quash rumors that he was already thinking about retiring to his country house in Oxfordshire, Cameron also promised to serve a full five-year term if he wins, saying that he wanted to “see the job through.” Miliband, meanwhile, launched Labour’s business manifesto, pledging to keep Britain inside the European Union and describing the Conservatives’ plan to hold a referendum on E.U. membership (a position it adopted in response to by-election gains by UKIP) as “a clear and present danger” to British jobs.

I’ll have to confess I missed the ”all four corners of all four nations of the U.K.”. I look forward to Cameron tripping through the western reaches of the County Fermanagh — perhaps Beleek — which is about the westernmost “corner” of the Saxon Empire, before it dissolves into  … outer darkness.

 

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Filed under David Cameron, New Yorker