Category Archives: Herald Scotland

The legend of Black Tam

Tam Dalyell, who died this week, was a kind of Mizen Head: one of those parliamentary markers to navigate by. Which is also to say — stay clear of. He was, for most of his more-than-four-decades in the Commons, individualistic, almost unclubbable, the cat who walks alone.

1962 and All That

Anyone who had the pleasure of that baritone timbre would be wafted back to the Learig Bar, Bo’ness, preferably in the days before the 1962 West Lothian by-election.

Everyone in sight knew that “Black Tam” would take it easily. His worthy Scot Nat opponent — then and for the next six contests — was Billy Wolfe. 1962, though, was the first Scot Nat showing in such parts. Wolfe was the more “lefty” of the two. Since the Communist candidate was Gordon McLennan, then of the mind-set we would later recognise as “unreconstructed tankie”, that might make Wolfe the “vote-as-left as-you-can-get” ticket. Alas! That was also a time when the Scot Nats could be dismissed as “tartan Tories”: 1962 and Wolfe were the moment that changed.

Both men were — in their different ways — noble figures.

They were a crucial decade apart in years.

William Wolfe had a background as an owner and manager in heavy metal-bashing industry. Wolfe had had “a good war”.

Tam was Old Etonian, Cambridge University, would inherit his mother’s family baronetcy, and become Sir Thomas of the Binns. Tam had learned as a squaddie in National Service to relate to the lower orders.

After an evening of canvassing the plebs, all and sundry would gravitate to the Learig Bar. Lesser, lower beings and bag-carriers hugged their pints of heavy and looked on.

If you hunt hard enough, long enough, you may yet find a tattered original of The Rebels’ ceilidh song book, published by the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society.

Therein (provided it’s a first edition) you will find The Ballad of the Learig Bar, with the chorus:

Billy Woolf will win, will win,
Billy Woolf will win.

He didn’t. But it was a great effort all round.

Ireland intrudes

I found myself on politics.ie, trying to answer:

Could never understand [Dalyell’s] desire for Ireland to get its freedom but not Scotland.

Apart from the dubious assumption that an interest in the Troubles of Northern Ireland amounts to a desire for Ireland to get its freedom, I tried to say Dalyell’s motivation, above all, was his opposition to colonialism. That’s what radicalised him, at the time of Suez. It was one of the few postures he maintained consistently. Hence — no doubt — being sucked into the “Troops Out Movement”.

The West Lothian Question: still “tricky”

I’m of the view Dalyell was quite sincere about his “nationalism”.

He set out his objections to the Scotland Bill quite clearly, and — as the preface to the Herald Scotland obituary notes:

Tam Dalyell … was … the first to pose the still-tricky West Lothian Question about Scottish representation at Westminster.

The “West Lothian Question” was not Dalyell’s. His own term was “the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem”. It was, however, the term Enoch Powell applied to Dalyell’s reasoned point:

… the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem is not a minor hitch to be overcome by rearranging the seating in the devolutionary coach. On the contrary, the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem pinpoints a basic design fault in the steering of the devolutionary coach which will cause it to crash into the side of the road before it has gone a hundred miles.

For how long will English constituencies and English hon. Members tolerate 123 not just 71 Scots, 36 Welsh and a number of Ulstermen but at least 119 hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Ireland? Such a situation cannot conceivably endure for long.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East [Gordon Wilson] said that members of his party would not vote on English matters, but that does not face up to the problem of the need for a Government to be sustained. The real problem is that of having a subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.

Out of that comes four thoughts:

  • Had Dalyell the acid wit, quick mind and oratory of Powell, he could have been far more dangerous.
  • Dalyell was complicit in squirrelling into the 1977 Act the 40% clause, which self-detonated and destroyed that limited devolution. It consequentially brought down the Callaghan government in 1979.
  • When devolution did come, Dalyell answered his own “problem” by never voting on exclusively-English matters. To that extent, he was as good a Scottish “nationalist” as any other.
  • Let’s not quickly pass over the Enoch Powell connection. In 1977 how the UUP had given succour to the Tory opposition in 1964-66 was still a thorny matter. Powell (by 1977 the MP for South Down) joyfully exploited that, rubbing Unionist grit in the wounds all the way back to the 1920s.

Where the “West Lothian Question” still festers is the so-called “Sewel convention” (for a full explication see the Peatworrier passim[/I]), which was thought to define the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It was thought the 2016 Scotland Act enshrined these conventions into UK law.

As a concomitant of the Supreme Court judgment of 24th January 2017, those certainties are now much more clouded. In particular there’s paragraph 148 of the judgment, suggesting Westminster — by accident or malign design — has been weaselling:

…the UK Parliament is not seeking to convert the Sewel Convention into a rule which can be interpreted, let alone enforced, by the courts; rather, it is recognising the convention for what it is, namely a political convention, and is effectively declaring that it is a permanent feature of the relevant devolution settlement. That follows from the nature of the content, and is acknowledged by the words (“it is recognised” and “will not normally”), of the relevant subsection. We would have expected UK Parliament to have used other words if it were seeking to convert a convention into a legal rule justiciable by the courts.

Any distant rumble is “Black Tam” having a posthumous chuckle.

Above all, Dalyell (“the only member to own white peacocks”) was supremely individualist and not-to-be-confined by any passing group-loyalty. He was impossible to corral in any political grouping. He was apparently incapable of anything like “humour”. Yet he did his research: when he spoke, he knew his stuff. He gave a hard time to each and every minister dished up for his tormenting: Thatcher in particular.

Belgrano: hunting for truths.

He was against the whole Falklands adventure. He detailed that in his Falklands Polemic for the London Review of Books.

From that developed his ceaseless hounding of Margaret Thatcher, over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano. Dalyell’s dogged persistence was itself the stuff of legend. In retrospect, it seems partly a piece of self-justification. It was, however, much needed: particularly so when he was able to show that the thirty hours while HMS Conqueror trailed the Belgrano proved — rather than the vessel being some naval threat — the delay was political, over Peruvian attempts to cobble peace proposals.

The main event

Then we might usefully read Dalyell’s own “last word”: The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After.

There Dalyell argues what Scotland needs is not “self-government” so much as “good government”, and primarily ” good local government”. There’s a lot of point-scoring in it: Dalyell offers a cogent argument why Labour failed. He is caustic in his treatment of Donald Dewar — the spiralling costs of the new Scottish Parliament building — and Dewar’s denials — being one main grievance. Dalyell won, Dewar nil.

Now both Billy Wolfe and Black Tam are gone. Both were imperfect. We shall not see their likes again.

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Herald Scotland, History, Labour Party, Law, leftist politics., London Review of Books, nationalism, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP

Hidey holes

I blame it on Dr Ralph Reynolds, my Headmaster at the High School, Dublin.

He set the scholarship sixth a weekly essay, with a word limit. To impress, I attempted to improve style, and let the content take care of itself. So, there am I, practising tripartite Ciceronian phrasing, buffing the duff, unscrewing the inscrutable.

I’d also learned that a flashy way to impress was the ornament of a quotation: what oft was said, but ne’er so well expressed.

I was studying the art of prompting that supervisory cliché, “Knows little, but writes well”.

Somewhere brevity went out the window.

Which is why my great intellect goes unregarded, unrewarded. Or something.

Compare and contrast Andrew, the :

Peaty

Thus, in fewer than three dozen words, neatly skewering Tom Gordon’s piece for the Sunday Herald, and the whole thrust of Andy Wightman‘s efforts.

I’m an expressed admirer of all three bods: Wightman and his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, deserve much respect, as I’ve cursorily acknowledged here before.

As ever, such matters of moment provoke the Mrs Ramsbottom in all of us:

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said “No! someone’s got to be summonsed”-
So that was decided upon.

As ever, too, the official response:

The Magistrate gave his opinion
That no one was really to blame
And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

That is what we have here. The ‘s conflates the argument against the Green amendments (which are largely Wightman’s) to the Land Reform Bill. Here is Tom Gordon‘s Ciceronian version:

SNP ministers rejected the plan, arguing it could breach EU law on the free movement of capital, could prompt landowners to use ever complex structures to conceal ownership, and noted some EU countries such as Luxembourg were also seen as tax havens.

The government said the change would not achieve the desired aim of more transparency.

Land reform (read Wightman’s book!) is as thorny an issue as the Scots have so far failed to deal with. Transparency of ownership is only the start.

I guess: were I seventeen years old again, spending Sunday afternoon cobbling a quicky for Dr Reynolds, I’d be vamping feudalism, damning the capitalist system, and nationalising the lot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Herald Scotland, reading, Scotland, SNP, social class, socialism.

Sham bollocks

5489733968_0dc3f6e6a1_bAs far back as October 2015 the respectable Scottish Press (wait for incoming from cyber-Nats against the Herald) were making serious noises about SNP Sleaze, cronyism, conflict of interest, ministerial double-dealing. Matters have worsened since.

So far we’ve had :

And now:

  • Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute), with his private TV production company — though, at first sight, this one looks more technical and ignorant than much more.

Let’s put aside the worst assumption, that the whole SNP is a gigantic fraud on the public. That leaves the obvious conclusion that due diligence on candidates for the 2015 General Election was severely wanting. In the present context, especially after the expenses scandals, every party should be briefing all publicly-elected and wannabes about their obligations, requirements and duties: if an individual then transgresses, there should be no excuses.

What ought to be made clear before the 2016 Scottish Parliament election is how the Augean Stables have been given a good dose of Jeyes Fluid.

Leave a comment

Filed under Herald Scotland, politics, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, sleaze., SNP

Trusted truths

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Psalm 146, a chorister’s favourite (it has just ten verses — and that could be one of few verifiable truths in this post).

And so, by a natural progression, to Anthony Wells at ukpollingreport.co.uk.

Wells had spotted an oddity in the ICM/Guardian poll:

More unexpectedly the ICM poll also found a jump in support for the BNP, up to 4%, the highest any poll has had then at for years. This is strange. The BNP have certainly not had any great publicity boost, at the local elections they seemed essentially moribund. It may just be an odd sample, or perhaps as Tom Clark suggests it is just a case of confusion amongst respondents, with some people getting the names of the BNP and UKIP mixed up.

ICM also asked about voting intention in an EU referendum, finding voting intention fairly evenly balanced – 40% would vote to stay in (22% definitely, 18% probably), 43% would vote to leave (32% definitely, 11% probably).

UPDATE: ICM tabs are up here. Topline figures without reallocation of don’t knows would have been CON 27%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 19%, BNP 5%.

That strange boost of support for the BNP is almost wholly amongst women, almost wholly amongst C2s, almost wholly amongst over 65s and almost wholly in Wales. The unweighted number of 2010 BNP voters in the sample was 1, increased to 18 by weighting. What that strongly suggests to me is that there was one little old C2 BNP-voting Welsh lady who got a very high weighting factor, and probably makes up almost all of that 4%! Such things happen sometimes, but it means the BNP blip is probably just a data artifact that can be ignored.

A euphemism newly minted

Now, there’s a nice one: “just a data artifact”. Try typing that, and most spell-check utilities flag up an error. That’s because the preferred version is subtly different, another form of “truth”.

It’s also a prime example of word-drift. Once upon a  time there was:

artefact: An object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes.

At some point the alternative spelling seemed to be the norm for an alternative signification:

artifact: Science. A spurious result, effect, or finding in a scientific experiment or investigation, esp. one created by the experimental technique or procedure itself. Also as a mass noun: such effects collectively.

As a point of fact, Mr Chairman, the entire public opinion polling business is based on such “data artifacts”. Notice, even in what Wells says there, how an eight-point Labour lead (35-27) is manipulated down to just six points (34-28) for a headline figure.

Today there are two types of truth …

That’s the start of page 40 of the current Private Eye (#1340, 17th-30th May, so verifiable, if not a “truth”). It becomes an exposé of a criminal Yorkshire property developer who is running the usual rings around the Serious Fraud Office, but begins with a telling generalisation:

Today there are two types of truth. Electronic truth — provided via the ever expanding knowledge universes of the internet. And historic truth — provided by those facts not yet or no longer recorded on easily searchable internet databases.

An American truth

There is a poem by the American romantic, Professor John Russell Lowell, which Malcolm has always assumed to be essentially anti-slavery and pro-“freedom”. Its best-known snippet is the eighth stanza:

Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

A bit too theist for Malcolm, but he appreciates the sense and sensibility.

[For the record, Lowell was President Chester Arthur’s appointee as US Ambassador in London. Here he was a literary lion, running Henry James around the Bloomsbury salons, and becoming Virginia Woolf’s god-father.]

Trussed truths

Electronic “truth” contains too many “data artifacts” for comfort. Pseudo-statistics (those perpetrated by serial-offending politicians as much as by their natural allies, the opinion-pollsters) are just one source of this creeping corruption.

Psalm 146, of course, prefers the eternal (and unprovable, and frequently controvertible) truths:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:
The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

Therein you may find your “truth”. If so, it is where you find all you need to know about:

2 Comments

Filed under BBC, bigotry, Britain, education, films, Guardian, Herald Scotland, Labour Party, Literature, politics, polls, poverty, prejudice, Private Eye, Quotations, Racists, reading, Tories., ukpollingreport, US politics

Dead? Mad? Forgotten all about it?

Malcolm went hunting through Eminent Victorians, and didn’t immediately find the reference. Still, Lytton Strachey is generally purported to quote Palmerston on the Schleswig-Holstein Question:

Only three people have ever really understood it – the Prince Consort, who is dead – a German professor, who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.

Malcolm feels the same way about the legal position of  Glasgow Rangers and the club’s Byzantine negotiations with the various Scottish football authorities. Hats off, then, to Stephen Halliday in The Scotsman, for some degree of clarification:

RANGERS were last night finally given the go-ahead to start the new season this weekend after often tortuous negotiations between the newly constituted Ibrox club and the Scottish football authorities reached an agreement.

Shortly after 9pm, a joint statement was released by the Scottish Football Association, Scottish Premier League, Scottish Football League and Rangers chief executive Charles Green’s Sevco consortium confirming that SFA membership will be transferred from the oldco to the newco.

The membership is conditional initially, allowing Rangers to begin their new era against Brechin City at Glebe Park tomorrow afternoon in a Ramsdens Cup first round tie. Full membership will then be completed when Rangers’ share in the SPL, still held by their administrators Duff and Phelps, is transferred to Dundee next week. It will allow Dundee to begin the new SPL campaign on 4 August, while Rangers will start life as a Third Division club the following week.

You understood that, didn’t you, all about “oldco”, “newco” and “Sevco”? If so, answers on a postcard, please …

If you did, or even if you didn’t, Michael Grant’s somewhat more partisan view in HeraldScotland might appeal. Perhaps. Ummm …

Now we can look forward to Ibrox (capacity 51,000) hosting visits from Montrose (average attendance: 3292) and Peterhead (average attendance: 3250). Not to overlook a sellout return fixture on artificial turf at East Stirlingshire (currently playing at Stenhousemuir‘s Ochilview Park: capacity: 1880 — unless the car-park is also used for overflow standing).

Rangers take over the Division 3 fixtures previously due to that other great club, Stranraer.

Be still, my beating heart.

Leave a comment

Filed under Herald Scotland, Scotland

J is for sweet Jingoism, that the Tories all think of the first

Here’s the foreshadowing of where Malcolm is heading with this post:

Any pop-ups you get with that hot-link are entirely your own problem. Ms Davidson is already taken (by Saskia Halcrow).

Meanwhile, the headline.

Last Saturday Malcolm trogged across London to Richmond, for Northern Stage and Live Theatre’s Close the Coalhouse DoorIt’s currently touring rep theatres (which includes the National, where the production values went on steroids)  across the country; and it’s as good as it was in 1968.

In passing, if there were to be Paradise, some Elysian Fields, Malcolm hopes there to find an ethereal and eternal Richmond Green, on a sunny Spring day, complete with decent pubs (the Cricketers for Greene King, the Prince’s Head for Fullers, the Britannia) and a proper working late Victorian theatre (as above).

But … Jingoism?

Well, Jingo started, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as:

A conjuror’s call for the appearance of something: the opposite of hey presto!, by which a thing is bidden to be gone. Hence, an exclamation of surprise at the appearance of something. Obs.

It then slithered [By Jingo!] into one of those oath-substitutes that can be decently used in respectable fiction. Then into MacDermott and Hunt’s music-hall song applauding Beaconsfield, in 1878, who had despatched British warships into Turkish waters, to forestall a Russian advance:

We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too!
We’ve fought the Bear before and while we’re Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

Well, they had to wait a bit, but today Russians and their money are welcome in the Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Just look for the multi-language signs, observe the linguistic pecking order, and draw your own conclusions.

With the end of Empire, we haven’t heard “Jingoism” trotted out so often, recently. Malcolm looked, in vain, at the index of Paxman’s book, and found it omitted.

Jingo lives!

The spirit of Jingo, though not the term itself, continues in one particular connection: Anglo-Scottish relations. Even more specifically, in the way the Tory Party treats its  branch-offices in the occupied territories.

Now, don’t get Malcolm wrong here: he is incapable of making a case for Tories of any description. Yet there is a certain “lost puppy” appeal about successive leaders of the Scottish Tories, and the way they have serially been dumped on by Tory Central.

For six years Annabel Goldie struggled to make any kind of advance. She didn’t have much support from across the Border, which — in all truth — might be the best thing to happen to Scottish Tories. In September 2010, the autumn after the spring General Election, there was this:

Scotland on Sunday has learned that, since the general election, senior figures in the UK Conservative Party no longer consult or communicate with their Scottish colleagues.

As a result, Scottish party leaders have been virtually shut out of all decision-making roles and they are no longer invited to top-level strategy and policy meetings.

Indeed, the isolation of the Scottish party has reached such a pitch that Scottish leader Annabel Goldie has not spoken to David Cameron since the election, while SNP First Minister Alex Salmond has held five conversations with the Prime Minister since he took office.

One party insider said the Scottish leadership had been “cast adrift” by Westminster, which had ceded political control of the country to its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

Malcolm blogged that one at the time, since he relished Alex Massie’s gloss on The Most Useless Political Party in Europe. With friends like that (in this case, The Spectator), who needs enemies?

Once is happenstance, twice is circumstance, three times is enemy action

Ah, yes: the wit and wisdom of Auric Goldfinger.

Well, it looks as if Cameron, having happenstanced Goldie, having circumstanced the Ulster Unionists, is now also doing for Goldie’s successor. So to today’s Herald Scotland:

SCOTTISH Tories last night accused David Cameron of undermining the party’s leader north of the Border after the Prime Minister’s U-turn on the independence referendum date.

Despairing MSPs said the party in Scotland was “not even on his radar” and accused Mr Cameron of hanging Scots leader Ruth Davidson “out to dry”.

The angry comments came after the Prime Minister told a reception at the Scotland Office in London on Tuesday night he was not “too fussy” about the timing of the referendum – effectively conceding to the Nationalists’ wish for a vote on separation in the autumn of 2014.

He made his comments even though Ms Davidson has fought to hold the public line that delaying the referendum date for more than two years is unacceptable.

Last night Mr Cameron was accused of having no regard at all for the views of the Scottish party.

One senior MSP told The Herald: “The real significance of this is David Cameron clearly doesn’t think he has done anything wrong because the Scottish Tories are such an irrelevance we are just not on his radar. This was not wilful or deliberate or even careless. It just showed it did not occur to him the view of the Scottish party or its leader might even matter.”

Sweet Jingoism!

Crooked nose” Cameron has, in effect, sent a gunboat into Scottish territorial waters. Its “friendly fire” has just blown out of the water the Scottish Tories.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer political band of brothers and sisters.

Last word to Alex Glasgow, from the First Act of Coalhouse Door:

A is for Alienation, which made me the man that I am,
B is the Boss, who’s a bastard, a bourgeois who don’t give a damn.

2 Comments

Filed under Britain, ConHome, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Devolution, films, Guardian, Herald Scotland, London, nationalism, Naval history, Northern Irish politics, politics, pubs, Scotland, SNP, Stormont, The Spectator, Theatre, Tories.

The new co-ordinate

You may have had your demoiselle , sprig or sprog bring home a maths homework. Something like this:

The pour little brat then has to work out a whole series of pointless (indeed!) co-ordinates.

A year or two later, the geography teacher sends home the same exercise. Bit bigger brat has to interpret co-ordinates on a map. Since the maths and geography teachers are daggers drawn, the school doesn’t have an effective curricular map, and the National Curriculum doesn’t specify how to make the connection, it’s Yogi Berra’s déjà vu all over again.

Applying today’s lesson to political commentators

It used to be simple: left and right, readable and turgid.

Suddenly it’s got much more complicated.

Consider Iain Martin, usually to be found stabled at the Telegraph or, in his even more demotic moments, at the Mail (right, readable — somewhere around “A” on the matrix above). As a result of a useful piece on the highly-enjoyable, enforced self-defenestration of Chris Huhne, Martin is in some small spat with Mike Smithson at Political Betting (right, barely readable — let’s say “B” as above). Then there’s also John Rentoul at the Sindy tending away from Martin (Rentoul could possibly be “C”. Which, by default, leaves Malcolm at “D”. Hmmm …)

The tissue/issue before us is …

Will the ConDem coalition survive for the full five years? Will election day, as promised, be 7th May 2015?

Behind the public verbiage, Malcolm has the distinct impression that the Labour Party types have, quite literally in view of funding problems, been banking on precisely that. In that view, it oesn’t matter whether Ed Miliband cuts the mustard right now. Any opinion-polling is, at best, no more than trending; and at current percentages of 41, 40, 10  that’s one heck of a long way up from 29, 36, 23 in May 2010.

What matters is getting the little ConDem ducks in a line in forty months time.

So Martin’s thesis matters.

What put this into Malcolm’s [-3,-4] mind was (as they say on all the best ballot papers) “none of the above”. It was off-stage left, above the fold (a trifle populist, but say -2, +4) Kenny Farquharson in Scotland on Sunday. Farquharson uses the marital analogy to suggest:

What happens when marriages of convenience become inconvenient? No, this isn’t a question about the torrid revenge saga of Chris Huhne, his lover and his ex-wife.

This is a different marital conundrum, about a relationship at the heart of British politics that’s clearly in trouble. I believe David Cameron will decide well before the end of his five-year marriage of convenience with the Lib Dems that he wants out early. No doubt he will explain himself to Nick Clegg in the time-honoured way: “It’s not you, dear – it’s me.”

Looked at from a narrow Tory point of view – go on, try it – there’s a case for arguing the coalition has served its purpose. It was necessary in 2010 to put a Conservative prime minister into Number 10, but why prolong it? There will have to be a parting of the ways – politically, at least – in the run-up to a general election. So why not short-circuit the process and go to the country earlier?

That puts the grub on the table as robustly as one might expect in any Dundonian household.

Meanwhile the Tory press was queuing up this Sunday morning to put the same boot in. The Sunday Times bewailed that:

The Prime Minister’s problem is more basic. People no longer know what he stands for, if they ever did, and he is radiating weakness from Downing Street.

Actually, the whole Murdoch machine seems to be working up a fine froth over bankers’ bonuses, and how despicably wrong Downing Street has been not to ladle out mega-bucks. Sallies against Cameron should be read in that light. Watch for the Boris Johnson juggernaut’s wheels to be well greased in weeks to come, provided BoJo remains sound on boardroom lucre.

True Kremlinologics should be applied to the Sunday Telegraph‘s editorial (remembering that Iain Martin’s seminal piece appeared adjacent). It starts well for Bullingdon Dave:

David Cameron’s leadership of the Coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats has in many ways been outstandingly successful. The partnership is in good shape. There have been resignations from the Cabinet, such as Chris Huhne’s last week, but they have happened for personal rather than political reasons. On the whole, Mr Cameron has kept Conservatives and Lib Dems united, and prevented party divisions, historically the bane of coalitions in Britain, from damaging the Government.

Note the On the whole. Rapidly followed by up to a point and growing concerns. There are no fewer than seven concerns in this piece. Apart from that one and the sub-headline’s omnibus growing concerns among his supporters about the direction of his leadership, they deal with:

  • foreign aid;
  • the wider message the Government is sending to wealth creators (boardroom billionaires to you and the rest of humanity: see the wit and wisdom of Old Man Murdoch, above);
  • wind-farms (albeit in a comment);
  • nukes (ditto);
  • his habit of watering down, or even ditching, proposals that he has brandished or actually put in place (ditto repeat, as Malcolm’s Mum would have said. That one has Europhobic undertones, of course).

Which covers an awful lot of waterfront.

What about Ben Brogan?

Well, Malcolm puts Brogan’s co-ordinates around +3, +4. He had a very Broganish piece earlier this last week, which may be the seed-bed from which these other commentators have plucked the thinnings. Brogan was essentially arguing that Cameron was intending to steal the middle political ground:

Backbenchers are nervous because they see the Liberal Democrats picking at the ties that bind them to the Coalition. Nick Clegg is pursuing a deliberate strategy of differentiation, to make sure voters notice his party. When, some Tories ask, is David Cameron going to do the same and reveal himself to the voters as a Conservative? When are we going to see some Tory differentiation?

Three events this week underscore why there is unmistakeable unease on the Tory side. The first was Mr Cameron’s equivocation on the issue of the £1 million bonus offered to the RBS boss, Stephen Hester. To Conservatives who believe in the basics of contracts, capitalism and confidence in the City, the Prime Minister’s intervention on the side of popular opinion driven by the anti-capitalist Left looked opportunistic and weak. Above all, it looked like pandering to the campaign against wealth being waged by Mr Clegg. Second, last night’s calculated stripping of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood will compound that impression of a Conservative doing fundamentally un-conservative things. And the third culminated yesterday in Mr Cameron’s statement to the Commons on the outcome of the eurozone negotiations. Tory backbenchers competed to ask him why he had given ground substantially on the workings of the new treaty, just weeks after vowing to stand firm. Again, the charge in the air was pointed: having basked in their support when he delivered his “No!” to the EU, he now preferred to curry favour with Mr Clegg by compromising.

Re-reading that suggest the true Tory requires big bucks for bankers, respec’ for the honours system, staunch and unbending Euroscepticism, and heavy dissing of the LibDems and the anti-capitalist Left (on which latter point Malcolm mutters, “If only …”.

The Big One

Malcolm remains convinced what will break the ConDems is Europe.

So Malcolm will be watching one spot with considerable interest. For convenience, he happily lifts this summing up  from a New Statesman piece by Samira Shackle:

George Osborne has said that Britain could provide more funds to the IMF if there is a “strong case” for an increase. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Chancellor said that he would consider increasing Britain’s contributions above the £10bn extra already pledged, if there were adequate reassurances.

This is nothing new: Osborne has been laying the foundations for an increased British contribution for a while. It’s vital for Britain that the IMF has enough cash to help struggling eurozone countries, because of our geographical position and trade links with Europe. But David Cameron gained some serious brownie points with his party when he opted out of further contributions to the eurozone bailout, and it will be difficult for the government to sell this as anything but propping up the eurozone by another name.

There is no way that cannot go before the Commons. On what has been already said, there is little chance of Labour not opposing any transfer to a eurozone support-fund, however it is filtered through the IMF. The Tory press will not wear a bail-out either. The Tory Whips will have sleepless nights. On this one Clegg and the LibDems have a magnificent chance to “differentiate” themselves from the Tory revanchists.

Memo to self:

On 25th October 2011, 79 Tories voted against the Whip for an EU referendum. Add two tellers. A further fifteen abstained. That’s half the backbench parliamentary party.

The next General Election may be sooner than we have thought.

Leave a comment

Filed under banking, Boris Johnson, British Left, Conservative Party policy., Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Elections, EU referendum, Europe, George Osborne, Herald Scotland, John Rentoul, Labour Party, Lib Dems, Murdoch, Nick Clegg, politics, Sunday Times