Category Archives: leftist politics.

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!

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

A further truth to be told

David Conn’s extended piece for today’s Guardian, on the Hillsborough cover-up, is journalism at its best, and the exemplar why some of us will support, buy and read that great newspaper until the end. Even at £2 a throw.

The on-line presentation is less cogent than what is in the printed version. For example, in the paper we find this:

Later that day, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visited Hillsborough. [Chief Constable Peter] Wright briefed them. Ingham has always since said of Hillsborough that he “learned on the day” it was caused by a “tanked-up mob”. Ingham, later given a knighthood, has confirmed to there Guardian this was what police told Thatcher.

Good enough? That lets Thatcher off the hook?

Well, not for this blogger.

The culture of South Yorkshire police was “institutionally” corrupt. As Conn, also in the print edition, describes:

The evidence built into a startling indictment of the South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct — a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the1980s, the police had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”. with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by an “iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes. The dominance of Wright, a decorated police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frightening, authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody dared debate.

Those of us who had to drive down the A1 during the grim days of the miners’ dispute remember Check Point Charlie at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout, south of Ranby, where the A1 veers south-east. The lay-by (now by-passed by recent road-works) was where — day and night — a detachment of the Finest were posted, lest South Yorkshire miners escaped south to wreak havoc and mayhem.

CoulterJim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker produced a damning report (November 1984): A State of Siege, Politics and Policing of the Coalfields:  Miners Strike 1984. It was, but of course, just another loony lefty whinge — but it still stands up to scrutiny. The facts therein speak for themselves. The opinions have been proven by dint of experience;

It is important to understand the politics behind the policing because through the politics we can see what the Conservative government are pursuing is not the ‘rule of law’ but the ‘law of rule’; brute force and violence.

Rather than policing being an incidental spin off from the dispute it is at the very heart of it. [page 5]

Don’t believe me. Try ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker:

Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.

As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.

She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.

I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer.

She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.

That was never more clear than during the miner’s strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.

She decided that “her” police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss…

We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, “of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice”.

miners-strike-orgreaveThe “morgue” (the libraries of newspaper clippings, from before the days of the internet and electronic documentation) of any proper media operation will thrown up evidence that it was Thatcher’s wish and intention to create an “officer corps” to run “her” police service.

The ethos of the Thatcher era was an unremitting war against the “enemy within“.

At Hillsborough the enemy were the “animals” (yes: you will find that term used, and quoted in the subsequent Commons debate) who had to be caged. Five years earlier it had been the miners and their families whose liberties were revoked, whose homes invaded, who were strip-searched and violated.

When Thatcher and Ingham dropped in on the South Yorkshire Chief Constable, after Hillsborough, it wasn’t just a convivial visit. Whatever impression Wright foisted on Thatcher, she was more than a willing dupe.

The guilt doesn’t stop, conveniently, with Wright and his subordinates.

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Filed under Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, culture, History, Law, leftist politics., policing, politics, reading, rightist politics, Tories., underclass

Why I’m voting ABC

Anyone but Corbyn.

It’s a grudge from a personal knowledge of the man and his works.

My alter-ego, whose oldest Labour Party card is dated 1962, was a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, 1978-82.

Corbyn was already ensconced, and had his coterie — nearly half the Labour Group. That meant there was constant tension between the Corbynites and the rest. The Corbynites were often entryists: the IMG and other assorted Trots — nothing wrong in itself, but they had other priorities than the Labour Party.

Corbyn would convene his groupule in the Hornsey Labour Party offices in Middle Lane, on a Sunday before a Labour Group meeting, and lay down the “lines” to follow.

Corbyn was not only Constituency Secretary but a full-time trade union officer. There’s something seriously wrong when an official of the public employees union is also chairman of works committees and reviewing pay levels. That was Corbyn’s double role in 1978-9, and it was costing the Borough, and the rate-payers, a small ransom.

One or two of the Corbynites didn’t bother with dialectics: when you were thrust to the wall of the Council ante-chamber, and told “We’ll fucking get you” (as I was), you know you had offended and they meant it.

Then, of course, you would be liquidated, deselected, refused nominations, your party membership would mysteriously “go missing” from the records. Go on summer vacation, and on your return you would find the local press had reported your “defection” to the SDP (I traced that one back: it seemed to be been sourced via Bernie Grant).

ABC.

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A fissiparous state

Fakenham Grammar School, Norfolk, mid-1950s: looking down a microscope to witness an amoeba dividing. Odd how these memories come back to haunt, and intrigue.

It’s one of those Victorian words, when intelligent folk were getting into the new science of “biology” — itself a definition which was only then coming into use.

“Fissiparous” (reproducing by splitting) is a very useful and adaptable term. John Morley was rendering it as a metaphor by 1886:

… a false opinion, like an erroneous motive, can hardly have even a provisional usefulness. For how can you attack an erroneous way of thinking except in detail, that is to say through the sides of this or that single wrong opinion? Each of these wrong opinions is an illustration and type, as it is a standing support and abettor, of some kind of wrong reasoning, though they are not all on the same scale nor all of them equally instructive. It is precisely by this method of gradual displacement of error step by step, that the few stages of progress which the race has yet traversed, have been actually achieved. Even if the place of the erroneous idea is not immediately taken by the corresponding true one, or by the idea which is at least one or two degrees nearer to the true one, still the removal of error in this purely negative way amounts to a positive gain. Why? For the excellent reason that it is the removal of a bad element which otherwise tends to propagate itself, or even if it fails to do that, tends at the best to make the surrounding mass of error more inveterate. All error is what physiologists term fissiparous, and in exterminating one false opinion you may be hindering the growth of an uncounted brood of false opinions.

Morley was a classical liberal, and Liberal, and that final sentence (even if you wisely skipped the build-up) is an eternal political truth worth cherishing.

A phrase from The Times, 21 November 1891, appears as one of the OED‘s citations for “fissiparous”:

 Scotch Home Rule and, perhaps, half-a-dozen other fissiparous developments of ‘national life’. 

As then, now still with us.

Out of the peaty fog

Sticking to the problem of “devolution” (which I’ll be redefining in a moment), I was much taken by the latest entry on the sage Andrew Tickell’s blog. One might not expect excitement from a constitutional lawyer, but that prejudice fails when your piece is entitled Jockophobia and kicks off with:

The Scottish people may have a right to self determination, but as a matter of international law, we have no right to secede from the United Kingdom.

Cat: meet pigeons.

Much of the Lallands Peat Worrier‘s short essay is then directed at the way in which Scottish devolution has been “weaponised” by our local English Tories:

Although the Nats are the explicit target of these Tory diatribes, their real objective is to pre-emptively de-legitimise the idea of a minority Labour government taking office with Nationalist votes, even if such a government would command stronger support in the Commons than a Tory minority.  The real victims in all of these antics are not the SNP—but the pigeon-hearted Labour Party, who predictably enough, seem content to go along with their own annihilation at the hands of Fleet Street and Conservative Central Office.

pack-blueTickell, as a straight-speaking ScotNat is fully entitled to that dig at Labour. My own take is that, could we overcome a long legacy of mutual antipathy, we’d be having to force Rizla papers between the “rival” social policies of Nicola Sturgeon and proper-thinking democratic socialists both sides of the Border. When we have overcome the present short-term difficulties (i.e about Sunday 10th May, 2015), such a meeting of minds is inevitable. In exterminating one false opinion (on a fallacious division of the left-of-centre over a non-issue and the canker of “nationalism”) we might avoid an unnecessary uncounted brood of false opinions. 

“Devolution”

Only a historian, in some remote future, will determine whether more good or ill fell out of #Indyref. And, we can be sure, that opinionated historian will be promptly shot down by other historians and their contrary notions.

As things currently stand, what hasn’t emerged so far is any serious consideration of “devolution”. What we have are loud, insistent and narrow nationalisms. These “nationalisms” are voiced by self-serving politicians, and summed into crude monetary terms. Just today, Plaid Cymru launch a manifesto:

Plaid Cymru wants the devolved Welsh government funded to the same level per head of population as the Scottish government – which it says amounts to £1.2bn extra a year.

Earlier this week, to the great delight of the Daily Mail, under the headlineSalmond holds Ed to ransom“:

One of the SNP’s many demands is to delay plans to tackle Britain’s deficit by spending an extra £180 billion over five years on the country’s credit card. Treasury chiefs have warned that it would drive up debt.

Filthy lucre to be dispensed at the behest and whim of national politicians to their grateful, obedient and bought clients.

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Filed under blogging, Daily Mail, democracy, Devolution, History, Labour Party, leftist politics., Salmond, Scotland, SNP, Tories.

Another day …

Yesterday, with Archbishop Ussher’s chronology and the sainted expatriate Donagh, the blog may have pleased one or two passing strangers. The Pert Young Piece, however, reckons her Canadian beaver has gone AWOL (which probably means it’s in a plastic crate in my loft).

What today, Malcolm?

Well, the Lady in My Life and I cruised across to Scarborough and  for Northern Broadsides’  She Stoops to Conquer. Note, again, the TCD connection: these things are not all three-star delights, you know — sometimes there ‘s a duty to be honoured.

All credit to the excellent Stephen Joseph Theatre: they do a good show on an open stage. O.K. the restaurant needs to be sharpened up, but beyond that, what not to be liked? I mean, what looked like a sell-out performance to the grey-hairs of the Yorkshire coast on a Thursday afternoon …

Meanwhile, I have to admit I’d need a lot of persuasion to fall into mild affection for Scarborough itself. It is very much the end of the line (and that’s the choice between Trans-Pennine Express — which, most definitely, is no express, and today ran well late — or Northern Rail irregularly poddling down to Hull. The really bad news there is you may see-saw down to Hull in a Pacer, which must qualify as one of the least successful locomotive experiments on record — an experiment 35 years on.

And then there are the pubs. There must be good pubs in Scarborough. There are several, mainly on the outskirts (see beerintheevening.com), but late October is obviously out-of-season. So one effort had Timothy Taylor Landlord on a pump (yeah!) but no proper draught actually available. Another had nothing but fizz. Shocking!

And what of today?

The main event has to be the scheduled departure of the swallows from Capistrano. The little buggers cleared off from North Yorkshire about the start of September. Still, let’s wallow in 1940s nostalgia with the Ink Spots:

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Filed under leftist politics., Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, Yorkshire

The News from Elsewhere

The three of them seemed a bit isolated, at their stall between the Royal Scottish Academy and Princes Street Gardens. So I gave them the time of day. We spoke briefly. We shook hands. The struggle continues. They gave me a leaflet:

CP leaflet 1

 

CP leaflet 2

Makes perfect sense to me.

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“A flawed, toxic figure”

Rebekah Brooks walked on air from the Old Bailey:

An emotional Rebekah Brooks has given her first statement since she was acquitted of all phone-hacking charges, declaring she was “vindicated” by the unanimous verdicts of the jury.

With her husband, Charlie, by her side, and her voice breaking, Brooks tried to strike a note of contrition as she said she hoped she had learned some “valuable lessons” from the long trial.

OK: vox populi, vox Dei, etc.

Paul Hoggart (son of, brother of, father of) had it aright for me:

The not guilty verdict will leave many scratching their heads. How could a woman of such intelligence and astuteness rise to the top in a male-dominated cutthroat industry and yet be so naïve or incurious not to want to discover how her underlings were sourcing their juiciest stories? Did she never ask, as any good editor would ask, where did this come from? Brooks repeatedly told the court she knew little about phone hacking, claiming she was not aware of the fact that a private investigator was being paid more than many of her senior reporters to illegally access cell phone voice mails. To be so ignorant of the criminal ruse that put her newspaper so consistently ahead of its rivals would seem to be beyond belief.

That’s not-too-far from where we find the huffing Heffer this morning:

Cameron knew perfectly well that during the time when Coulson edited the News of the World, the paper had become a criminal enterprise, hacking people’s phones, and that he had been forced to resign after one of his senior staff was jailed.

The day after Coulson’s astonishing appointment as Tory press spokesman in 2007, I wrote about Coulson’s claim that he had been unaware his staff had been paying more than £100,000 a year to a man to hack phones. I suggested this proved that either he was spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Though, perhaps, that needs a grain-or-two of salt: wasn’t Heffer’s name in the frame for Coulson’s job with Cameron? Doesn’t Heffer (self-proclaimed purloiner inventor of “Essex Man”) perchance resent Coulson as the onlie-true begetter of all things Essex and prole?

Let us press Heffer’s argument a stage further: the News of the Screws didn’t invent phone-hacking, and the worst examples of its use happened before Coulson was editorially enstooled in Brooks’s place. Yet Brooks maintained in Court she had no knowledge of the operations, or of it practioners. So, by Heffer’s definition, she too must be spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Paul Hoggart puts it as succinctly as anyone:

Brooks became a victim of her own tabloid methods. Although technically exonerated, she remains a flawed, toxic figure who at the very least allowed the company she was managing to suffer a profound public relations disaster which forced it to split in half and from which its press division may never recover.

Now to Tom Watson on LabourList, who lists Nine Remarkable Revelations From the Hacking Trial. These include much unfinished business, not least:

While being edited by Brooks, The Sun paid a defence official for exclusive stories about the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan, military scandals and titillating examples of indiscipline in the ranks. In all the Sun paid £100,000 paid to Bettina Jordan Barber, a mid-ranking official at Ministry of Defence who liaised with the MoD’s press bureau, between 2004 and 2012. The resulting headlines included: “Mucky major’s a sex swinger,” “Major feels privates’ privates” and “The Lust Post.”.

Hmmm … bribery, suborning, corruption — take your pick.

Cost/benefit analysis

The Hacking Trial may have cost the public purse some £35 million, in Roy Greenslade’s accounting:

The real cost of the trial to the taxpayer is not £110m

Let’s deal with the money first. The total includes the massive defence fund provided by Rupert Murdoch. It is estimated that the cost to taxpayers will be £35m.

Anyway, the police and the prosecuting authorities were taking on a powerful international company that had, for years, deliberately denied the existence of hacking and later defied attempts by the police to investigate it.

The investigation proved to be complex, involving many, many hours of painstaking research into computer files. It was bound to cost money. Can anyone imagine how the rest of the press would have howled if the police had simply thrown up their hands and said it was too expensive to carry on?

Draining the swamp” is, in another context, the phrase of the moment. I happen to think £35 million (perhaps just one-tenth of what Murdoch’s Sky TV annual ad costs are) is good value for essential public hygiene and sanitation.

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Filed under advertising., crime, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, human waste, LabourList, leftist politics., Murdoch, sleaze., smut peddlers, Tom Watson MP