Category Archives: EU referendum

Yurrup in York

I’m just returned from a public meeting, held by the Labour MP for York Central.

Rachael Maskell is a decent lass — a physio by trade,  a trade union official by experience. She is doing her best.

Because of the upsets in the parliamentary party, she chose to side with the leadership (pro tem.). As a consequence of being one of the “stickies”, she ended up, over-promoted, with barely a twelve-month Commons experience, as the fully-fledged  Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary. Again: she is clearly doing her best.

Both locally, and in the national press, she has let it be known — or any least not denied — she has difficulties with the Three-line Whip on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote. Equally, in her response to this evening’s meeting, she indicated she felt she needed to huddle close to the centre of what goes for “power” in the parliamentary party.

So to the meeting itself.

Rachael began with a (over-)long account of where she felt we were. I have to admit, try as I could, I had heard it all before. It was largely read from a script — which itself raises certain questions.

The followed a long string of speakers from the floor.

What was evident was:

  • without exception, the tone went beyond regret and remain, into the pain and the angst of the thinking middle-classes;
  • very few “new” points or issues arose;
  • nobody was prepared to come out and defend the “leave” option;
  • there was considerable distaste that the whole #Brexit charade had over-written, and was continuing to expunge the real problems of British life, welfare and economy.

More to the crunch:

  • even the odd speaker who declared “support” for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did so with regret and reluctance;
  • more usually, there was complete scorn  for the present leadership: this was met with more enthusiasm than much else on offer.

If Rachael was assuming there were Brownie-points for loyalty to the current leadership, this alone should have disabused her.

At some personal pain, I remained silent: not my usual posture at such gatherings.

Had I been disposed, my extended thoughts would go on these lines (though, for public consumption, a lot more abbreviated):

A Burkean bit

First I bear the tradition of Dublin University’s College Historical Society. When I was elected as Librarian (a pure honorific), I discovered I had responsibility for a series of well-locked glass cabinets. In there were the minutes and records of the “Hist”, back to its foundation. Which was back to “Burke’s Club” of the 1740s. The “Burke” in this context being none other than Edmund.

I find Burke a rank Tory, and eminently readable. At this juncture, nothing of his is as relevant as his Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3rd November 1774). His opponent had just promised to accept mandates from the electors.

Burke responded:

... government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination …

… authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, — these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

In the core of that great speech is the well-known maxim:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Which is why I feel enormous sympathy — even some pity — for each and every MP who now has to choose a way through this mire.

Which leads into a second thought.

A horror from recent history

On the substantive motion of 18th March 2003, the House of Commons gave authority to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair’s government majority there was 263 (412 to 149). 84 Labour MPs voted against, a further 69 abstained.

Had there been a referendum at that moment — and for months after — the British public would have largely backed Blair: YouGov polling, over 21 samplings, suggested 54-38 in favour of war. After all, the Tory media had told them to do so.

Yet we are now asked unquestioningly to “respect” a 51.9/48.1 Brexit split.

Two conclusions

  1. There are arguments against a “Nay” vote on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote; but they more to do with parliamentary procedures than rights-and-wrongs. To vote “Nay” may apparently inhibit such voters from amending the Bill at a later stage. I’ll accept, too, that such a vote can be construed as a two-finger sign to the “Leavers” — and they have yet to learn the full consequences of their expressed wish.

2. However, to vote “Aye” is more perverse. None of us was clear last June what “Leave” might entail — except the dizzy promises of “£350 million a week for the NHS” and “Take back control”. We are still very much in the dark.

However, Theresa May has helped us to recognise what she expects. It amounts to:

  • either the 26 members of the European Union bow to her will;
  • or she kicks over the table, and walks out;
  • and we are left to pay for the tantrum.

Bottom line:

Abstain. Find an urgent family crisis in Aberystwyth. Be on a reciprocal to central Africa. Whatever.

But abstain. Even at the price of a Shadow Cabinet seat.

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Filed under EU referendum, Europe, History, Labour Party, York

No change, but only decay in all around I see …

I’ll get to that promised Sir John Poo Beresford thing, later rather than sooner. I promise.

Meanwhile, a sad thought from a long weekend.

The trip to the Lady in my Life’s ould sod was very curate’s eggy.

Good to see relatives, in fine form. Good to see Belfast bustling in some kind of consumer frenzy. Grand to have another Ireland win (though, was that really the Australian 1st XV?).

And a night, just one, at the gorgeous Bushmills Inn.

The gloom was seeing the slow dying of the towns of north Antrim.

The main street of Bushmills itself is an object lesson. Decent terraced houses selling (or rather not) for the price of a basic SUV. Pretend vinyl shop-fronts masking the gaps in the Main Street. Fine older buildings lying derelict.

And the finest of all has to be the Old Court House, built — as far as I can determine — shortly before Victoria acceded to the throne, with prison cells and apartments above for the peelers.

A bit further north along Main Road, sitting a bit back from the street, a fine “gentleman’s property”, boarded up, rank with the smell of decay.

Of course, north Antrim was never exposed to universal prosperity; but this is depressing in the extreme.

There is an indicator of worse to come: so many of the “improvements” across Northern Ireland (including the Bushmills Inn) come with a tag: European Structural and Investment Fund Programmes in Northern Ireland.

Yet the brain-dead of the DUP (who paradoxically do well in these parts) were loudly for #Brexit.

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The not-so-great and the not-so-good, revisited: an extended intro

A while back I attempted a succession of these: blog-efforts on rediscovered and overlooked characters, mainly from Irish history. Many of them were scions and by-products of the Ascendancy.

But first the prologue (the main event is the next post):

The Tory-people-friendly UK government press offices put out a couple of images of the Chancellor:

cx8rag4weaaauib-jpg-large cx8ze-pxaaa_mfd

Th estimable @JohnRentoul nailed one of the portraits:

William Pitt the Younger on the left, I think. Who’s on the right?

While I was rootling madly through the Government’s Art collection, the answer came from elsewhere:

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the 'Edinburgh Review'; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-george-cornewall-lewis-18061863-2nd-bt-chancellor-of-the-exchequer-editor-of-the-edinburgh-review-28284

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’.

Not a “well-known” name, but Lewis deserves a bit of a boost — around 1862 — stone-walling the ultras who wanted the UK to go for the Confederates in the American Civil War.

His origins were in the Welsh Marches, but his Irish connection was a worthy one.

As  a young, rising, and talented lawyer, freshly-minted by the Middle Temple, with an interest in the “public service”, in 1833 Lewis  became “an assistant commissioner of the inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of Ireland”. He spent some time in 1834 researching the problems among the Irish diaspora across the developing industrial towns of England. Then he turned to the state of Irish education, which took him into heavy reading on the land question and on the Irish established church.

Out of that, in 1836, came a substantial document:  On Local Disturbances in Ireland; and on the Irish Church Question:

title-page

Don’t rush past that: note the dedication. Charles Sumner was in England in 1838, as part of a European tour. Sumner would go on to be a potent force in American politics, as an abolitionist, founding member of the Republican Party, and Radical during the Reconstruction.

Lewis’s book was seminal in looking to balance the ecclesiastical situation in Ireland, by ‘concurrent endowment’ (he invented the term), and in advocating ‘a legal provision for the poor’, which amounted to applying to Ireland the principles of the 1834 English poor law. It doesn’t need a genius to spot where that one would go adrift in the Great Famine, particularly as Lewis was also rejecting ‘the principle that it is the duty of the state to find employment for the people’.

Rapid promotion

lewisLewis became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a wholly mid-Victorian manner.

His father died in January 1855, and Lewis inherited the baronetcy and, on 8th February 1855, unopposed, the seat as MP for the Radnorshire boroughs. On 22nd February he became Gladstone’s successor at the Treasury, and on 28th February a Privy Councillor.

We might wonder at Phillip Hammond’s choice of such a figure, to look over his shoulder in the study of Number 11, Downing Street.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, am I wholly adrift in seeing some facial similarities between the image on the right, and Hammond, himself?

Second, Lewis came to the Chancellorship in a moment of financial crisis — how to pay for the Crimean War. Hammond has even greater problems, in the aftermath of the #Brexit vote.

Allow me to filch from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Lewis remained chancellor until the government was defeated in February 1858. Gladstone at first was helpfulness incarnate to his successor, but Lewis deviated from Gladstone’s canons of financial rectitude, especially with respect to the question of whether to finance the Crimean War by taxation or by loans. Lewis faced a severe crisis in the nation’s finances, brought on by a war more prolonged and expensive than anyone had expected. His first budget, on 20 April 1855, had to meet a deficit of £23 million. Lewis raised £16 million by a loan, £3 million by exchequer bills (later increased to £7 million), and the remaining £4 million by raising income tax from the already high 14d. to 16d. in the pound and by raising indirect taxes. The £68 million thus raised was easily the largest sum raised up to this time by a British government. Lewis’s budget set aside the Gladstonian view that war abroad should be met by corresponding taxation-pain at home but, in terms of practical politics, financing by loans (to which Lewis resorted again in his second budget of 19 May 1856) was probably unavoidable if Palmerston’s government was to survive. In 1855 Lewis carried through the Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, an inheritance from Gladstone and an important step in repealing the ‘taxes on knowledge’ (as the duties on newspapers and paper were called). Lewis’s policy of loans meant excellent commissions and profits for the City of London, which greatly preferred him to Gladstone.

Such parallel: almost uncanny.

 

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, History, Ireland, John Rentoul, Tories., United States

Prerogatives derogated

In that previous post I found myself saying:

I can just about conceive circumstances in which “Royal Prerogative” might need to be invoked — short of a declaration of War. Say the administration of a devolved Assembly became totally unmanageable …

That post was already over-long, so I omitted the small matter of:

prerog

This is an interesting document, because (at the end of the last Labour government) it attempted to identify where the Royal prerogative persisted; and even where it should be going.

Not entirely surprisingly, once Tories are running the show, that script-line gets lost. We haven’t entirely overcome the ancient Royalist and Roundhead cleavage.

One surprise, though, was just how restricted the Prerogative had become:

para12

All of a sudden, it looks “containable”, though there’s an obvious (and very relevant in the context here) quibble in the final sentence there.

When we arrive at the “summary” of the document’s purpose:

to provide an overview of areas where ministerial prerogative powers are exercised, or have been exercised recently

Here again we encounter an account of Prerogative with a particular significance in the #Brexit context:

foreign

Happily, on that basis, Messers Boris Johnson, Neil Fox and David Davis (messers all), with Madame May “directing”, can carry on diplomatically. Not that diplomacy seems to have been the name of their recent games.

May be I’m being picky (what’s new?) but then I have to see something awry:

The “Power to make and ratify treaties” doesn’t logically extend  to abrogating them.

And that’s what Article 50 does.

 

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1014 and All That

Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle

Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle

We have just had one of those moments when everyone brushes up on the English Constitution.

The High Court has pronounced on #Brexit; and dropped a great dollop of whoops-oh-nasty onto the May Government. The May Government will now try to appeal to the Supreme Court. For in law, as no where else, the Siphonaptera applies:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

With some small joy, the BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg (herself only two generations descent from one of the great Scottish jurists) was relishing that the High Court had cited a precedent from 1610:

27. Sir Edward Coke reports the considered view of himself and the senior judges of the time in The Case of Proclamations (1610) 12 Co. Rep. 74, that

“the King by his proclamation or other ways cannot change any part of the common law, or statute law, or the customs of the realm”

and that :

“the King have no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him.”

So, phooey to you, Theresa May and your claims of “prerogative”.

There’s a nice extra bit in quoting Coke on the customs of the realm, because that takes us so far back behind the veil of history.

The Lady in My Life’s tattered paperback copy of G M Trevelyan’s Shortened History of England seems to have gone AWOL, so I’m having to pull this bit from Wikipedia:

The Scandinavians, when not on the Viking warpath, were a litigious people and loved to get together in the ‘thing’ to hear legal argument. They had no professional lawyers, but many of their farmer-warriors, like Njal, the truth-teller, were learned in folk custom and in its intricate judicial procedure. A Danish town in England often had, as its main officers, twelve hereditary ‘law men.’ The Danes introduced the habit of making committees among the free men in court, which perhaps made England favorable ground for the future growth of the jury system out of a Frankish custom later introduced by the Normans.

Trevelyan then moves on to remark on Æthelred (the Redeless/ the Unready — yes, him).

51njn6gh8nl-_sx331_bo1204203200_That sent me to Maddicott: The Origins of the English Parliament of which a clean, crisp copy I do have here. Because I knew there (on page 37) I would find this:

The turning point came in 1014: a year of disasters in which the victories of the Danish king Swein, culminating in his capture of London, had forced Æthelred to take refuge overseas. What followed set a precedent for future bargaining between kings and councils. Æthelred was recalled from a brief exile in Normandy by ‘all the councillors (þa witan ealle) who were in England’. In advance of his return he promised to be a gracious lord to his people and to reform what they all hated, on condition that they gave him their unqualified allegiance. John of Worcester adds that he also undertook to fall ion with their advice. These terms were clearly imposed by the councillors as the price of Æthelred’s restoration. As Sir Frank Stenton long ago pointed out, they are ‘of great constitutional interest as the first recorded pact between an English king and his subjects’.

If anyone is still in doubt: the whole government case for being able to invoke Article 50, without prior parliamentary approval, lies in a claim that the Prime Minister has the residual Crown prerogative.

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Cato-tonic economic sabotage

There are different ways to lose one’s head.

Shortly after 9/11 the Washington Post published a piece by Richard W. Rahn of the Cato Institute.

Sorry: did that sets off every fruitcake-warning klaxon? Cato describes itself as:

dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. 

One of its main thrusts is to brief the Supreme Court on its view of what the Founding Fathers would have made of any modern dilemma. The Cato Institute doesn’t blush too deeply when identified as “libertarian” (which worries me none too much), but is a renaming of the erstwhile Charles Koch Foundation, which ought to re-charge and re-energise all those klaxons.

Joseph_Addison_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt_cleanedMore positively, by the name-change the Foundation/Institute was wrapping itself in the toga of Joseph Addison, the supreme Whig essayist of the early eighteenth century.

When I was a student, working towards the Irish Department of Education Leaving Certificate, the essays of Addison, and his mate Richard Steele, were prescribed to us as models for comment, criticism and imitation. That was doubtless derived from the opinion of Doctor Samuel Johnson:

Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.

There’s the “Kit-Kat” portrait of the man himself, by Godfrey Kneller, to the right here.

Addison’s five-act drama, eponymously on Cato the Younger, was the West End hit of 1713 — and went on to even greater success and longer-lasting fame in the American Colonies. So much so, it became a fave of George Washington, who had it performed for the delectation of his troops at Valley Forge, and serially cited it in his orations.

To the main point, Redfellow!

Much of Kahn’s argument could flow as easily from the Taxpayers’ Alliance (which are a styrofoam assemblage, merely right-wing fellow-travellers, without the intellect or clout of the Cato Institute). Let me focus, though, on Kahn’s punchline for that 2011 essay. It was:

Economic saboteurs can only succeed when the public is kept ignorant of their actions by a compliant press and timid foes. It is important that good people be as steadfast in defeating the economic saboteurs as they are with the terrorists.

The economic saboteurs of #Brexit were (and are) the ignoramuses of the Out! campaign who propagated arrant nonsense and deliberate untruths — none more grotesque than the “£50 million a week for the NHS”. That was so blatantly a lie its sponsors were denying it even as the votes were being counted. Beyond the BoJos, the Goves, the Farridges (English: rectè), it took the self-interests of the press lords and lords-in-waiting to perpetrate a stupendous, xenophobic fraud on the general populace. And they all got away with it.

By the way — no: I’m not suggesting the other side were without sin. However, the Remainers were singularly “timid” (Kahn’s word) in answering the excesses lobbed across by the Outers. Even the BBC, in the misguided pursuit of “balance” were reticent in calling the lies for what they objectively were — and are. To describe the Leader of the Opposition as “supine” is a slur on any horizontal human.

In the 1950s, East Germany (then under the jackboot of another ideological cadre) introduced the crime of “economic sabotage”, with the ultimate capital punishment of beheading. Just saying.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, economy, EU referendum, High School, History, Literature, Tories., Washington Post

Conundrum of the day.

This was all kicked off by Steve Baker accusing Europe Minister, David Lidlington (who always strikes me as a bit herbivorous):

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): This in-at-all-costs deal looks and smells funny. It might be superficially shiny on the outside, but poke it and it is soft in the middle. Will my right hon. Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?

Mr Lidington: No, and I rather suspect that, whatever kind of statement or response to a question that I or any of my colleagues delivered from the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend was polishing that particular question many days ago.

Baker must have refined his cloacal knowledge in the RAF training scheme, in Lehman Brothers, or in the St Cross College for unattached mature students. One suspects, though, the expression was sweated to fly as close to Erskine May as possible.

Yet, “poo” is just so naff.

So I approved Paul Waugh, this morning:

Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ — the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ — isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.

Waugh managed to pack “manure to be lobbed” and “the poo won’t stick” into proximity.

Where I differ is I’m not convinced “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter” is “the original line”. It certainly appears here:

I reckon the conceit goes far further back, in the Glaswegian expression “a polished jobbie”.

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200Look what just happened there!

This opinionated Mac predictive-spellcheck “corrected” to bobbie.

Which is instructive, in a way, because I was reckoning to find “polished jobbie” (did it again! and again!) in the works of Christopher Brookmyre. I thought I remembered it from the first chapter of his Quite Ugly One Morning, which I rate as one of the best, and funniest openers in any ‘teccie.

Wrong, Malcolm!

boiling_frog_UK_hb_200You’ll find it in Boiling a Frog (at least three times, including):

there was only so much that news management could achieve, and brainwashing wasn’t part of it. People had to be receptive to a certain point of view in the first place: otherwise you weren’t so much spinning as polishing a jobbie.

Your memory misled you from the back end of Chapter 1 of Quite Ugly One Morning.

Inspector McGregor has arrived at the puke-skating scene of the crime:

There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn’t be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
Too late.
‘Heh, there’s a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,’ announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn’t complain about policing the Huns’ next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
‘Jesus, it’s some size of loaf right enough,’ remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
‘Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,’ she said acidly.
‘I suppose we’ll need a sample,’ Callaghan observed. ‘There’s a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.’
‘Maybe we should send Skinner there then,’ muttered Dalziel. ‘See what they can tell from him.’
‘I heard that.’
‘Naw, seriously,’ Callaghan went on. ‘They could even tell you what he had to eat.’
‘We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,’ Skinner observed.
‘But we don’t know which one’s sick this is,’ Callaghan retorted.
‘We don’t know which one’s keech it is either.’
‘Well I’d hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.’
‘That’s enough,’ said McGregor, holding a hand up. ‘We will need to get it examined. And the sick.’
‘Bags not breaking this one to forensics,’ said Dalziel.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else’s day ruined as well.
‘Forensics can lift the sample then,’ said Callaghan.
‘No, no,’ said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. ‘I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,’ he barked, turning round. ‘This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.’

To conclude:

Frans Boas is the source for the (arguable) belief that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. From my (excessive?) study of modern Scottish fiction, I begin to feel Glaswegians can manage similar  for “taking a dump”.

Mr Steve Baker needs to up his game.

 

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Filed under Christopher Brookmyre, Conservative family values, Detective fiction, EU referendum, politics, Quotations, reading, Scotland, Tories.