Category Archives: London

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

One last 1970/2016 thing … Lola!

Four New Years since I was in the Bald Faced Stag in East Finchley. The boozer was crowded: a ticket-only affair.

It wasn’t going too well. The DJ had tried several rabble-rousers; but the rabble remained unroused. So he went therm0-nuclear: played The Kinks’ Lola.

The joint was suddenly jumping. It helped that the Davies brothers sprang from half-a-mile back up Fortis Green.

The clip above is from the Jools Holland Hootenanny a couple of years back. It’s Ray Davies solo — but, if you’re so dumb not to have numerous versions already saved (and I’ve half-a-dozen at least on just one iPod), YouTube will oblige.

So: I’m back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun for this New Year (though not at the Stag); and confidently expect Lola to show up.

One last mystery: how the heck can a narrative of not the wold’s most physical guy being picked up in a clip-joint by a tranny sell so well, everywhere?

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Filed under Kinks, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, Quotations

Dahn ter da Smoke and a Sicilian Vesper

Country-people when going to the Metropolis say they are on their way to the Smoke. [JC Hotten, 186o]

Tomorrow it’s hit the A64 for the A1. It’ll be the first time in quite a while that we’ve done it by road. Since our point of interest in Norf Lunnun is right beside the 91 bus route, and there are excellent trains (Virgin Rail permitting) from York to Kings Cross, that’s been the norm.

360_d21cd0280364a3b5cd55ce2f4a5ea346This time, though, we’re bringing back a Habitat chair and sofa, and it’s the rational way.

The real reason for doing so is this was the first major purchase we made, when we first married. That means the things are almost through their fifth decade — which counts as half-way to official antique status. When — perhaps that should be “if” — we get them home here, some restoration is needed.

Note I said “first major purchase”. The very first acquisition was a revolving bookcase, and that cost (as I recall) all of about six pounds. The Pert Young Piece has that.

On the trip I want to catch the revival of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Lyttelton. This will be my first viewing since one in Dublin. The reviews suggest the National Theatre production might, just might be a bit more polished than last time.

Then there are two promising exhibitions at the British Museum.

One is based on the discoveries of two drowned cities — Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus — at the mouth of the River Nile. For the last twenty years an underwater team, led by Franck Goddio, have been exploring these sites. What adds interest (at least for me) is one of the cities, Thonis-Heracleion, was a trading port, while the other, Canopus, was more of a religious site. As I understand, the main focus isn’t the Egypt of the ancient Pharoahs: it’s much more getting towards the “Hellenistic period”. In terms of Egyptian history that means it runs from the conquests of Alexander the Great into the Ptolomaic dynasty. For any passing ignoramus, after Alexander’s death, one of his generals (Ptolomy) declared himself Pharaoh; and his descendants ruled until the Romans took over in 30BC — the last of that lot was Cleopatra. Got that? Cleo was a Greek, not Shakespeare’s gipsy or Antony’s serpent of old Nile.

There’s another exhibition at the BM on Sicily, due to close in a week or so time, which I like to catch. What I know of Sicilian history comes essentially from John Julius Norwich.

iuPause there for a moment.

There’s a nicety about how that book is differentially sold. In the American market the sub-title is An Island at the Crossroads of History. That reflects the layer upon layer of different cultures over the millennia: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire, Arabs from North Africa, and the Normans of Robert Guiscard (that cognomen being a distortion of the Latin for weasel). So there’s layer upon layer of different cultures. Meanwhile, for the British book-trade, John Julius is subtitled A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra.

One needs to read John Julius with close attention. For example (page 77 of my paperback):

King Roger II of Sicily — there was no King Roger I — was duly crowned on Christmas Day, in Palermo Cathedral.

Absolutely correct. Roger I was merely the Great Count of Sicily, brother and understrapper of the Weasel, and the subject of John Julius’s preceding half-dozen pages.

Let joy be unconfined

Beyond all that, the chief delight of a few days in London is access to a wide choice of book-sellers.

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Filed under History, London, reading, Theatre

There are times …

… when the excesses of the Murdoch press are so grotesque, they defy imagination.

Today’s very-shady Sun has this, from the Honourable Toby Young [1]:

If the new Prime Minister is serious about taking us out of the EU, we need a Foreign ­Secretary who’s upbeat about Britain’s post-Brexit future, not another doom-monger. [2]

It will be the job of Britain’s 150 ambassadors to sell this new vision of the UK to the rest of the world, so it makes sense they should be led by someone who believes in it. [3]

Boris is a pretty good salesman in his own right. As Mayor of London, his main job was to attract business and investment to our capital — and the transformation of the city’s skyline [4] is testament to how effective he was. If he can do the same for UK PLC, Britain’s depressed northern cities will be lit up like Las Vegas. [5]

[1] Toby Daniel Moorsom Young is the son of Baron Young of Darlington, major contributor to the 1945 Labour Manifesto, and a distinguished sociologist. The Moorsom is for his mother, Sasha, who kept the BBC Third Programme and elsewhere culturally sound, and wrote a couple of decent books herself. As such, the offspring is entitled to be an “Hon”.

This fruit has fallen far, far from the Muswell Hill tree.

[2] Up to a distant point, Lord Copper.

It obviously hasn’t dawned on the Honourable Toby that Theresa May, in her wisdom, has made quite sure BoJo will have little to contribute on #Brexit. Were he even considering so doing, he would collide forcibly with the adamantine David Davis, Secretary of State for #Brexit. That would be an event where it would be would be worth having the popcorn franchise. Essential differences are that Davis does his homework, knows his stuff and is licensed to kill.

[3] Even further from the point, Lord Tinplate.

Theresa May has delegated International Trade to Liam Fox, the one Tory outstanding for being more devious, more self-seeking, more duplicitous, more venomous than BoJo. If Davis leaves a bloody BoJo corpse at the Cabinet table, Fox can be guaranteed to boot it on the way out.

[4] Ah, yes.

Generations yet unborn will hail BoJo for his architectural significance. He did more for the London skyline than the Luftwaffe. His greatest hit [sic] ought to be the car-killing 20 Fenchurch Street, a.k.a. the Walkie-Talkie.

[5] Either the Honourable Toby has smuggled an irony past the Sun sub-editors, or this has to be further proof of the man’s excellence in crassness.

The architect of Carbuncle-of-the-Year is Rafael Viñoly. A previous “commission” (read that as you please) was the Vdara Hotel and Spa in Las Vegas. This was Viñoly‘s previous attempt to build a death-ray. The curved frontage, as at Fenchurch Street, focuses the sun, with the result that sun-bathers can have their hair scorched and their loungers melted.

 

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Filed under Boris Johnson, London, Murdoch, Muswell Hill, Tories.

The odour lingers

Remind me: which of the local elections in the late 1960s, when it went pear-shaped for Labour, was blamed on some utterance by Richard Crossman? Dick Crossman, being an honourable type (much of the time) took the blame. All those defeated candidates, who felt they had been crapped on, were not forgiving.

Cue Brutus:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar, Act IV, scene ii

Suddenly, thanks to Ken Livingstone (and if one takes on trust the “findings” of the Sunday punditocracy), Sadiq Khan’s remarkably-successful campaign for the London Mayoralty, Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

If it goes sour overnight next Thursday (indeed, if the count becomes a damn close-run thing which the Duke of Wellington didn’t actually say), guess who will be held to blame. And quite deservedly.

For some public figures:

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come.

For his brief moment, Tony Blair was one such. Blair was wrong on many things, but in the first Mayoralty election in 2000, he had Ken bang-to-rights.

Others enter with more than a whiff of brimstone.

Such has been, for a long political life, Ken Livingstone. He will not be missed.

 

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Filed under History, Ken Livingstone, Labour Party, London, politics

A metropolitan mindset

Finally caught up with Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times. No; not neglect. Simply because the Lady in my Life purloins Murdoch’s neoCon rag, and leaves me with my preferred Guardian.

Today, then, we browse on Parris’s New-look Ukip threatens Cameron’s legacy.

Before we proceed: muse on whatever “Cameron’s legacy” might be. Apart from the constant lay-offs of steel-workers, retail-workers, and the ever-constant national divisiveness (e.g.#IndyRef; #EURef), we might nod at the lousy productivity, a decade of “austerity” (which, like taxes, is only for the “little people”), and the constant war on public services.

Then to the conceit of the Kippers changing their wardrobes. Apart from their penchant for serial silly neckwear, this is another distraction. It gets even more lunatic when the proposal is:

Ukip’s blue-sky thinkers covet the huge penumbra of soft support that the Corbynite wing of the Labour party finds among its £3 non-member “supporters” club.

Ukip and “thinkers” in the same phrase! Now, that‘s original.

Paris properly coughs, ahems, but resists the opportunity to mock, merely continuing:

 My guess is that fishing in cyber waters, you net an (on average) younger, cooler and more generally switched-on crowd. Corbynite Labour has done so, but is there the same untapped support for the populist right out there on the internet, for @nukip to tap?

Where the whole thing, even the normally-sane Parris, completely leaves the tracks is here:

 The most vigorous and successful Britain-wide party today is the Conservative party, but it is haunted by a philosophical divide between progressives and reactionaries.

Note the quibble: “Britain-wide”. The notion that the Tory Party is vigorous and successful ignores the ever-decreasing geriatric membership, the hollowed-out non-functioning Associations. Any success, local or nationally, is based on statistical freaky. Consider:

Graph

That, folks, is “success”: a downward general decline, a lower hike than Labour in the annus mirabilis of 2015 — and even that achieved by two bits of nasty:

And

  • second, the tartan dead-cat on the table.

No: the most vigorous and successful party, even Britain-wide party, is the SNP.

After all, it was the SNP steam-roller that denied Labour dozens of seats in Scotland, and Lynton Crosby’s  Jockophobics that impacted on Labour in the rest of the UK. Remember this:

2e3f4b0f-f8db-4aae-8e61-42affc16f61a-bestSizeAvailable

Put together what little there is in all that, and I end up with Macbeth:

… in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.

Act I, scene vii.

Chesterton, that old demi-semi-fascist (don’t the fascists love to claim him) and overt anti-semite, warned:

we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.

Well, he was wrong. The people of England speak at elections, and every few decades they turn vicious: then it’s heave-ho for the established order: 1906, 1945, 1964-66, 1979, 1997. We are coming due for another such upset.

We are about to witness the electors of London spitting on the mayoral grave of Boris Johnson. Already the wannabe Lynton Crosbys of Tory Central are briefing their clients in the national press that what matters — really, really matters — is how Labour does or doesn’t do in Eatanswill:

Eatanswill

[The extra irony being that Tories recruit their canvassers with promises of eating and swilling.]

In fact, by 6th May, Sadiq Khan will be the most significant person in Labour Party and local government politics.

Paris concluded his piece:

So I’ll end by repeating what Mr [Arron] Banks said: “I’ve got a weird feeling that British politics will be realigned after the referendum.” So have I.

Agreed. But, two things more:

  • the #Brexit thing has proved that UKIP existed more as a threat to Tory peace-of-mind than in any wider dimension;

and

  • we won’t need to wait till the end of June for a cloud no smaller than a bus-driver’s son’s hand.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Labour Party, London, Matthew Parris, SNP, Times, Tories., UKIP

Scott-free

I made a special trip (all the way round the corner, after a long, liquid lunch at the Eagle and Child) to York’s Waterstones.

I was looking for a copy of Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet, which I first read as a pre-teen in a Dent’s Classics edition. On second thoughts, it could have been a Black’s edition. Or, upon third thoughts, any other publisher pushing stuff out in the same format: hard-back, near pulp paper, colourful wrapper and five or six colour illustrations (just made to be razored out, framed and hung on pub walls): with Woolworths charging at most a whole two bob-a-nob. I’d bet those did more for juvenile literacy (they did for mine) than any government initiative.

Today Amazon will do you a copy, as I now discover, through a Kindle app, and all for free!  Somehow, though, it isn’t as emotionally satisfying as having, seeing and reaching for a hard copy on the shelf.

What Scott did in Redgauntlet was to stretch his usual historical fiction into what we might today call “alternative” or “speculative history”. It hypothesises a third Jacobite Rising in the mid 1760s. As many commentators have pointed out, a central character, Alan Fairford, seems very autobiographical.

My interest in Redgauntlet, apart from its inherent literary merit,  is twofold:

  • this is the anniversary of Culloden, in 1746, which ended any chance of a Jacobite restoration;
  • to evaluate the various stories around what “Charles Stuart did next” (one of which was to be touted for the monarchy of the revolting American colonies).

One particular aspect of the latter depends from William King’s Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Times (the .pdf reproduction of that is very corrupt), which was also a Scott source for the Redgaunlet romance. King, in his own way, is as gossipy and delightful as Aubrey or Evelyn, but nowhere as well known. What King relates is that Charles Stuart, in disguise, returned to London in September 1750:

follower_of_allan_ramsay_portrait_of_anne_drelincourt_lady_primrose_ha_d5714565hSeptember 1750, I received a note from my Lady [Anne] Primrose [as right], who desired to see me immediately. As soon as I waited upon her, she led me into her dressing-room and presented me to ______. If I was surprised to find him there, I was still more astonished when he acquainted me with the motives which had induced him to hazard a journey to England at this juncture. The impatience of his friends who were in exile had formed a scheme which was impracticable, but although it had been as feasible as they had represented it to him, yet no preparation had been made, nor was anything ready to carry it into execution. He was soon convinced that he had been deceived, and therefore, after a stay in London of five days only, he returned to the place whence he came.

A page or so later we have a footnote:

He came one evening to my lodgings and drank tea with me: my servant, after he was gone, said to me “that he thought my visitor very like Prince Charles.” “Why,” said I, “have you ever seen Prince Charles?” “No.sir,” replied the fellow, “but this gentleman, whoever he may be, exactly resembles the busts which are sold in Red-lion-street, and are said to be the busts of Prince Charles.” The truth is these busts were more taken in plaster of Paris from his face.

The history behind that becomes clearer from the DNB:

In 1750 Charles got together thousands of weapons at Anvers in preparation for an English rising, and obtained from James a renewal of his regency. Letters with fake dates were sent to Elisabeth Ferrand which, if intercepted, would mislead espionage. On 2 September he left Luneville, proceeding via Antwerp and Ghent to Ostend, whence he sailed in disguise with John Holker on the 13th, landing in Dover and arriving in London three days later. Charles went to Lady Primrose’s house in Essex Street off the Strand, and subsequently held a meeting with fifty leading English Jacobites, including the duke of Beaufort, Lord Westmorland, and William King in a house in Pall Mall. They were discouraging. After touring London with a view to a coup, Charles attempted to promote his flagging cause by being received into the Church of England, probably at a service at which the nonjuring bishop Robert Gordon officiated. After a further meeting with King—at which his ‘servant remarked on the extreme likeness between the visitor and the busts of the “Young Pretender” on sale in Red Lion Street’ (McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart, 399)—Charles left London on 22 September, sailing from Dover the next day.

About the most remarkable thing there — apart from the Hanoverian informers being ignorant of the Pretender’s presence —  is that busts of the Young Pretender were on sale, and  on public display, in London. And in Essex Street we still find this memorial:

45336

Anyone in doubt just how hare-brained the Jacobites were at this stage should refer to the Elibank Plot.

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Filed under fiction, Literature, London, Scotland