Category Archives: politics

Second-hand signings

I brushed past John Rentoul’s recent Top Ten:

This list started when Laura McInerney‏ asked: “Has there ever been a transport secretary who once worked in transport?” I said that John Prescott, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions 1997-2001, had been a steward in the Merchant Navy. Mr Memory added that Harry Gosling, Labour’s first Transport Minister in 1924, had been a waterman. 

Down at number 4 was:

James Callaghan, Chancellor 1964-67, was an Inland Revenue tax inspector. Thanks to Jon Clarke. Norman Lamont, 1990-93, is one of only two chancellors who had an economics degree (no, PPE doesn’t count). The other was Hugh Dalton, 1945-47, who lectured in economics at the London School of Economics. Hugh Gaitskell, 1950-51, lectured in economics at UCL, although his own degree was in PPE.

Years ago I set about collecting Left Book Club editions, and similar stuff that mainly came out of Gollancz.

For all of a few pre-decimal pence I thereby acquired Hugh Dalton’s signature. So he would be in my personal Top Ten, around me here on these shelves. In at number 8 of John Rentoul’s list is:

Alan Johnson, Trade and Industry Secretary 2005-06, which included the Royal Mail in its responsibilities, was a postman.

Since I have the complete (to date) Johnson memoirs, signed by the author, they must qualify. Johnson, though, is a prolific signer — so, in due course, like Ted Heath, the unsigned copies may be the ones that retain any value.

My copy of Michael Foot’s The Pen and the Sword (an original edition from 1957, at that) had a small history: it is signed by a distinguished industrial correspondent for the Daily Express (at a time when Beaverbrook’s Express was still a newspaper and a power in the land) who would have worked alongside the journalist Michael Foot. It came to me, not quite directly from him, at a time (late ’60s) I was putting myself around in Bury St Edmunds Labour Party.

Many of these inscriptions and declarations of ownership are enigmatic:

Philip Williams’ biography of Hugh Gaitskell came my way a few months back. The inscription is “To Jack. Happy Memories and our very best wishes for the future. Ben and Sheila December , 1979”. Since the book was only recently published then, I might assume somewhere in there are decent socialists. (Philip Williams was a follower of Gaitskell and the Campaign for Democratic Socialism, had dealings with Tony Crosland, and was involved in the creation of the SDP.)

Many are worth the decoding.

Just this week York’s Oxfam Books threw up David C Douglas, The Norman Achievementbut in an American edition, published by the University of California, yet “Printed in Great Britain”, and a dead ringer for the Eyre and Spottiswoode UK edition. Consider the former owner “Elizabeth Muir Tyler”, who monikered the book “June 30, 1987 Philadelphia”. Professor (another “no less”) Elizabeth Muir Tyler ended up as  a considerable ornament to literature and history at the University of York . Did Professor Tyler have it already second-hand from the (stamped) “Library of Georgianna Ziegler”? For Georgianna Ziegler was Curator at the Horace Howard Furness Shakespeare Library, University of Pennsylvania, and then a major figure at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Another one is a grandiose book-plate in That Great Lucifer, A Portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh (see right). A quick google turns up an obituary of:

Former consultant psychiatrist Manchester (b Todmorden 1912; q Manchester 1937; MA, DPM, FRCPsych), d 7 January 2003.

Northage Mather was of a generation whose careers were interrupted by war service. He was a medical officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve before taking the Diploma in Psychological Medicine in 1946. He was soon appointed consultant psychiatrist at Crumpsall Hospital, Manchester (now North Manchester General Hospital), and remained there for 30 years, building up a well known department. He had a special interest in forensic psychiatry, was involved in more than 300 murder trials, and was later a member of the Parole Board. A man of wide interests, including music and literature, he leaves a wife, Mabel, and two children.

He “was involved in more than 300 murder trials”. Say no more.

 

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Filed under History, politics, reading

The Archimedes principle

Compare and contrast:

1. Wart meets Archimedes (The Sword in the Stone):

Merlyn took off his pointed hat when he came into this chamber, because it was too high for the roof, and immediately there was a scamper in one of the dark corners and a flap of soft wings, and a tawny owl sitting on the black skull—cap which protected the top of his head.

‘Oh, what a lovely owl!’ cried the Wart.

But when he went up to it and held out his hand, the owl grew half as tall again, stood up as stiff as a poker, closed its eyes so that there was only the smallest slit to peep through – as you are in the habit of doing when told to shut your eyes at hide—and—seek – and said in a doubtful voice:

‘There is no owl.’

Then it shut its eyes entirely and looked the other way.

‘It is only a boy,’ said Merlyn.

‘There is no boy,’ said the owl hopefully, without turning round.

2. Rafael Behr (a.k.a. “Contributor Namy”) in today’s Guardian:

The heckles in the House of Commons can be as revealing as the speeches. When the prime minister was taking questions about her Brexit plans on Monday, Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, asked about the no-deal scenario – whether the UK would “jump off the cliff”. At which point a male voice, dripping with derision, chimed in: “There is no cliff!”

Behr’s article is worth the trip, for illuminating us on the desiderata of the Tory head-bangers:

Interrogate the Brexit no-dealers on detail and they concede that their plan hinges on a doctrine of pain for gain. They advocate the abandonment of tariffs, inviting the world’s exporters to flood Britain with their wares. Thus would a beacon of free trade be lit on Albion’s shores, inspiring others to repent of their protectionist tendencies. This might bring cheap produce to supermarket shelves (consumer gain) but sabotage UK farmers, who would be undercut by an influx of American and Antipodean meat (producer pain).

Manufacturers would suffer too, but that is an intended consequence of opening the doors to invigorating winds of competition. The whole point is to sweep away inefficiency and blow down zombie businesses while fanning the flames of innovation. In this model, the UK economy is a vast pre-Thatcher coalfield that refuses to accept its obsolescence and must be made to confront it by force. If the timid will not jump into the future, they must be pushed.

Sadly that would take down the Irish economy with that of the UK. In the small matter of €1.3 billion of Irish exports to the UK each month, a fair chunk is essential chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

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Filed under Comment is Free, Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, Europe, fiction, films, Guardian, politics, Tories.

Hammond organ

Whatever I do this day must start with a sigh of gratitude.

I wake. I reach for the iPad (to see if the orange-haired one has gone thermo-nuclear yet) and expect to find the e-mail morning briefings, which invariably come with tortuously-punned headlines.

Much of the time Stephen Bush, for the New Statesman, delivers the most groan-worthy. Paul Waugh, batting for HuffPo’s Waugh Zone, is always a worthy contender, and seems lately to have upped his always-fine game.

Today, though, Waugh rescued me (don’t even try, Fontella!) from a continued irritant-verging-on-agony. Hence the gratitude.

The story starts here:

As I became progressively hard-of-hearing, I compensated with internalised sound. That and ever-more-expensive headphones (currently a pair of Sony MD-R noise-cancellers).

By Monday morning I had a severe dose of the ever-threatening ear-worm. This was Cast Your Fate to the Wind.

That was OK by me in itself. Except I kept trying to keep on the proper channel to the authentic Vince Guaraldi original:

When I go, I wanna go like … well, if not Elsie, at least like Vince, or Monk, or Joe and Cannonball or whoever is titillating the ossicles at that terminus ad Queen.

However much I tried to keep on track with Guaraldi, it kept jumping to that soft-core version, done in a London studio by studio musicians, and — even then — far, far too good for the pop market:

Desperate measures needed. So I tried to switch to Quincy Jones having a bash:

That almost worked, until I arrived at the insistent Dum-Dum-Dum riff. Unless it is done as subtly as Guaraldi did, I hear morse-code Dah-dah-dah (the letter “O”) — and I’m back with Sounds Orchestral.

Ta-rah! Waugh to the rescue!

There matters rested, repetitively until this Wednesday morning. Here comes Paul Waugh’s opener: he’s speculating on PMQs, and a possible response to the Chancellor:

Philip Hammond’s new Times article in which the Chancellor warns Brexiteers he won’t necessarily dole out huge sums on ‘no deal’ preparations. “We will only spend it when it’s responsible to do so,” he says. No.10 sees this as a statement of typical Treasury caution ahead of a Budget, but others see Hammond smacking down Cabinet colleagues who told the Sun yesterday they wanted billions to spend on things like new port facilities at Dover. Boris allies will want to know why Hammond’s been allowed to stir things up again, while their man is sat on.

That didn’t sort out the acoustics, until Waugh cracked it:

Hammond sounds like he’s egging on the PM to face down the no-dealers, while simultaneously offering them the illusion of preparations. Indeed, Brexit sometimes reminds me of the Beatles’ song ‘Yesterday’, the melody of which appeared to Paul McCartney one night in a dream. He had no lyrics, so came up with the working opening of ‘Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/’. Brexit is currently a tune without lyrics. But the words are going to have be written soon if it’s to become an enduring British classic.

Which has caused the new ear-worm problem.

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Filed under Jazz, Music, Paul Waugh, politics

Monday, 11th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To be honest, not much.

A need to do an appointment at the other end of  York’s throbbing centre, which took all of an hour. This being Monday, in school term, before the students flood back, the streets are not chokka. Tourists and trippers are less in evidence. Even the usual “musicians”, who come to York so their music may die here, are hardly as numerous.

So a gentle amble there, and a Mercedes Citaro back.

Beyond that, time expanded to fill the void, with the wonders of cyber-space, and a small fret whether my repeat medication prescription has gone through. It has; so I can be dosed up for Helvetian exploration later in the week (watch this space).

There was a quick belt or two in a thread on politics.ie.

Oh, and ordered the new John le Carré from Amazon.

Carte du jour:

Apart from morning muesli, lunch-time Cheddar, and endless tea and coffee, a nice evening repast prepared by the Lady in my Life. It involved baking bits of chicken breast, and miscellaneous root-veg. I try not to get too involved in the process.

Booze of the day:

A definitely worthwhile New Zealand Chardonnay. Those antipodean grapes gave their all in a good cause.

Quote of the day:

The Guardian filleted yesterday’s Mail-on-Sunday for Tom McTague and Tim Ross writing about the 2017 Election Campaign:

The authors also reveal that May rarely visited party workers, fearing that Conservative HQ was “a pit of germs”. “There were quite a lot of germs flying around,” one Conservative source said.

How true. How very true.

Meanwhile, in his fortnightly column for the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen seems to be plotting his next novel (or even recycling the essential grief in every one of his novels) :

The aftermath is the most predictable part of any major hurricane encounter. That’s when people desperately turn to the big, bad, bumbling U.S. government.

It’s happening now in Texas, following the heart-crushing devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, who built their careers ranting against the federal bureaucracy, are now singing a different tune: Help!

More than 570,000 Texans have already applied for FEMA grants. Unfortunately, the agency’s Emergency Response Fund will run out of money by the time this column is published, unless Congress (for once) moves fast.

Ironically, the cry for Harvey relief is being led by none other than President Trump, who recently proposed slashing FEMA’s budget by $600 million. Now he’s seeking almost $8 billion in aid for Houston and other flooded communities.

This is typical blow-hard hurricane politics, which is tolerable if the result is getting crucial assistance to the victims.

Cruz’s sneering opposition to the Hurricane Sandy relief package has come back to haunt him. Another hypocrite who voted against the New Jersey aid bill was our own Marco Rubio, who’s already pleading for federal dollars to help Floridians in Irma’s path.

Lingering question of the day:

If the Corbynistas’ shibboleth for selection/nomination is “Are you loyal to Jeremy?” (and I have a definite assurance that is so), have we not arrived at peak cultism? Isn’t that kind of dumb zealotry the slippery slope to drinking the Kool-Aid?

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Filed under Guardian, Labour Party, politics, politics.ie, York

Sunday, 10th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Home, James! And don’t spare the InterCity 125!

But first, breakfast at Monkeynuts. Because that’s what we do on such occasions. The breakfast plate (not the veggie option, thank you!) and two mugs of latte.

Then the 91 down to King’s Cross. Since it’s Sunday morning, that’s a whizz all the way.

Hang around for Virgin East Coast to flag up the platform number. A scamble through to platform 3. It’s the Inverness train, so it’s a diesel 125, not the electric jobs. On the other hand, it’s first stop York, and nominally a shade off two hours. Plus those refurbished Mark 3 coaches are still as good as it comes (the Mark 4s seem to have more cramped seating and less leg-room).

There’s a bit of hanging around in the north midlands, but else it’s Warp Speed, and we arrive almost on time — and that’s not the norm for a weekend service.

The York Citaro bendy-bus from the station to the top of our road: barely a hundred yards and we’re in the house.

And that’s it.

Carte du jour:

As above for Monkeynuts.

Tea from our own pot. The daughter and grand-sons paid an overnight visit and left milk in the fridge. But also, we find, clothes in the washing-machine.

The lightest of evening meals.

Beers of the day:

Give it a rest! Tea and Adam’s Ale (with orange cordial).

Quotes of the day:

Almost anything from Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column, but his last bit seems portentous:

It is one of the paradoxes of minority governments that they can be both acutely vulnerable and remarkably durable. They are easy to wound, but much harder to kill. This could be a long fight.

Those of us who lived thought the examples Rawnsley cites (Callaghan’s long years’ journeys into the Thatcherite night, and the dark extended tea-time of John Major’s soul-less trek) would recognise that. This time, though, it could be even worse.

Rawnsley must be read alongside the opposite, editorial page. The two go together like stewed rhubarb and custard:

Britain has a Tory problem and, as the clock ticks, it is growing critical. The irresponsible behaviour of many Conservatives at this fraught juncture in the country’s affairs is nothing less than a national disgrace. How can May and her senior colleagues hope to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU when, leaking and briefing against each other, they cannot agree on handling even the most basic issues? How dare David Davis, the Brexit minister, repeatedly try to mislead parliament and the public with his patronising, faux-cheery accounts of the Brussels negotiations, claiming falsely that useful progress is being made? Such breathtaking disingenuousness echoes last year’s mendacious Leave campaign. It is equally objectionable.

By what twisted reasoning do Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg and fellow hard-Brexit Tories claim a mandate for foisting their extremist minority views on the majority of voters? Whether or not they backed Brexit 15 months ago, most people rightly fear a 2019 cliff-edge meltdown damaging livelihoods, incomes and their children’s and grand-children’s futures. Fox, minister for trade deals sans trade deals, embarrassed Britain, his hosts and himself during a recent visit to Japan by accusing the EU commission of blackmail. It was an ill-judged jibe that said more about the chaos characterising the government’s ineffectual stance than it did about Brussels.

Grief! We live in benighted, squalid, little country!

Ear-worm of the day:

In the RV1 bus last evening, coming back over Waterloo Bridge, with a bright sun lowering up the river. Trum-twiddle-trum-twiddle-trum-trum:

What else?

 

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, Kinks, London, Observer, politics, travel

Going critical

The world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction took place in the west stands, Old Stagg Field, of the University of Chicago on 2nd December 1942. Which means that I was born in the atomic age. Just about.

I blanch at Enrico Fermi’s confidence in his own expertise, that one of the most (ahem!) explosive experiments in all science was undertaken alongside East 55th Street.

Coitus interruptus

Translate that to national economics, and today an experiment of comparable magnitude is happening next to Westminster Bridge. The (erstwhile) “Great Repeal Bill”, then down-rated to mere “Repeal Bill”, has now slithered into the light of parliamentary day as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

The Mayo Clinic reckons the withdrawal method of “contraception” has, in practice, a failure rate of 22%.

It’s hard, ain’t it hard?

Of course, today is only the First Reading, so little more than a nod-and-a-wink.

The real event will be the Second reading; and there we can expect the Labour Opposition to lay amendments, and vote against any substantive motion. With a nominal majority of a bare dozen (and that’s only achieved with the mercenary aid of the DUP), the work of the government whips will be severely taxing. This is where the business of minority government becomes progressively more onerous. All the Opposition has to do is keep the powder dry, and a cohort floating in and around the Commons chamber, and every single Tory (and paid DUPper) has to available for instant voting service.

The nearest to living through the dying months of the Callaghan Government is James Graham’s drama This House. I saw that in its original at the Cottesloe Theatre, so that must have been in the late autumn of 2012. Philip Glenister (yes, DCI Gene Hunt of Life on Mars) humanised the (more-brutish-in-real-life) Labour Whip, Bob Mellish. The best rôle was Charles Edwards as the Tory Whip (and later Speaker of the Commons) Jack Weatherill. The play was revived in the West End over the past winter. Next tour it will be on tour around the provincial theatres. It’s not just a good (arguably, great) play: it is supremely relevant to our present political predicament.

For anyone with socialist/anarchic tendencies (like myself), the progress of the Brexit legislation is going to somewhere between fascinating and a-laugh-a-minute. There are few things more delightful than watching the natural enemy impaled on a cross of his (or, in this case, her) own construction. As the BBC web-site summarises:

MPs must “work together” on Brexit, the minister in charge of the UK’s EU exit has said, as he published a bill to convert EU law into British law.

The legislation, known as the repeal bill, will ensure the same rules apply in the UK after Brexit, while giving UK parliaments the power to change them.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said he will “work with anyone” to make it a success, but he faces opposition.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the government: “This will be hell.”

Labour vowed to vote against the legislation unless there were significant changes to the details previously set out, while the SNP said there needed to be “clarity” over which powers repatriated from the EU should go to the devolved nations.

The Conservatives are relying on Democratic Unionist Party support to win key votes after losing their Commons majority in the general election.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there could be “parliamentary guerrilla warfare” on the bill.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “For opposition parties and for Remainer Tories there is a sense today of ‘here we go’. This is government critics’ first big chance, bit by bit in Parliament, to try to put their version of Brexit, not Theresa May’s, on to the statute book”.

Formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the draft legislation is a key plank of the government’s Brexit strategy.

Note therein: government critics’ first big chance, bit by bit in Parliament, to try to put their version of Brexit, not Theresa May’s, on to the statute book. This is why Theresa May was induced to go for that General Election, which was supposed to bring in a phalanx of Tory Brexiteers, all grateful to the all-powerful Theresa May for giving them their seat. This is why the Labour Opposition (who, where it counted, exploited the Remain tendency) feel the political wind behind them. This is why the SNP and Lib Dems feel they have a chance to regain lost ground. This is why, for all the Corbyn bounce and froth, the combined Opposition may not — yet — want to bring the whole thing crashing down. Better to watch, wait, and relish the Tories in a terminal agony.

The Tory press

What allowed Fermi’s reactor to “go critical” was withdrawing the control-rods:

A simple design for a control rod was developed, which could be made on the spot: cadmium sheet nailed to a flat wooden strip … The [thirteen-foot] strips had to be inserted and removed by hand. Except when the reactivity of the pile was being measured, they were kept inside the pile and locked using a simple hasp and padlock …

(Herbert Anderson, a research student at Columbia, under John R Dunning, who became Fermi’s assistant at Chicago, quoted by Richard Rhodes, pages 433-4)

The extent to which the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill goes critical, and toxic for the Tories, depends on how the public prints moderate the reaction. The analogy of those cadmium strips is how the “papers of record” record it. Since the UK press is heavily dominated by foreign and Brexiteering owners, I have little faith the delivery will be as honest (and inflammatory) as it should be.

Take, for an example, Iain Martin in today’s The Times.

His main thrust is:

Negotiating Brexit terms with a nascent superstate will require leadership that Theresa May is not equipped to provide

Out of the traps, one recognises a frothing Brexiteer by the travesty of the EU as a nascent superstate. It isn’t. It is a working model of 27 proud and separate nations who have chosen to subsume some aspects of sovereignty in a common enterprise. Martin even goes so far as to nominate the next Tory Prime Minister:

Of the available candidates the Brexit secretary David Davis looks to me the best choice and Boris seems done for. But the chancellor Philip Hammond could emerge, or a compromise candidate such as the home secretary Amber Rudd or Priti Patel, the international development secretary.

We can see we have wandered further into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land when Priti Patel (few come harder rightist) can be suggested as a compromise candidate.

Go forth, or fourth, and stupify

In the middle of Martin’s musings comes this:

Right now, Britain does not have any leadership: it must find it soon or lose badly.

Partly this is because voting to leave a superstate in the making is, it turns out, much easier than actually leaving. The hard Brexiteers had given too little thought to how it would be done, certainly. The softer Brexiteers (me included) cannot agree on what a compromise looks like. And gleeful ultra-Remainers want to try the experiment of telling the voters that last year’s referendum doesn’t count.

Martin elides any distinction between the Tory Party and the wider nation. If Theresa May is not up to the job, the whole national enterprise is rudderless, without leadership. Not so, unless we have truly evolved into an “imperial presidency”. The power in the land should be the collective will of the Commons. If there isn’t a dominating political majority, the various views represented in the Commons have to be sifted until a consensus (actually, no more than a general will of over 320-0r-so MPs) is arrived at.

But Martin’s worst bit of journalistic legerdemain is to assert there are only three possible viewpoints: hard Brexiteers, softer Brexiteers and gleeful ultra-Remainers. The 48% (or, as recent polling suggests, now nearer the mid-50s %) are all gleeful and, like the Irriducibili football hooligans of Lazio, ultras? Catch herself’ on, Iain!

Outside the foetid world of Tory tabloids, one general opinion is closer to a fourth category: soft Remainers.

These are the folk who, regretfully, accept what came out of the 23rd June 2016 referendum,

  • whether or not it was fairly run (the electorate was appropriately pruned),
  • whether or not we voters were told truths, half-truths, or diabolical lies,
  • whether or not a 48.1/51.9 split is final and decisive’
  • whether or not it multiple subsequent interpretations anyhow approximate to what was argued beforehand.

And “soft Remainers” are going to be the crucial mass of MPs and their noble Lordships who will be the equivalent of those cadmium rods, and determine the final shape of  the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

One practical example

What happened at Stagg Field has had consequences over the intervening three-quarters of a century (Grief! Am I that old?). It led to:

  • Hiroshima, and Nagasaki;
  • deterrence theory, and MAD;
  • some 500 nuclear power plants across thirty countries around the world;
  • Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl;
  • the production of 11 or 12% of global electricity supplies;
  • nuclear and isotopic medicines and advances.

One thing that has been universally agreed is that nuclear power should be controlled and regulated internationally. After various failures (the Baruch Plan, UNAEC, attempts at non-proliferation treaties), for sixty years we have had the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Not perfect, not wholly world-wide, but it largely works.

Gone critical

Across Europe and 29 nations we have Euratom. Originally Euratom was somewhat aside from the Coal and Steel Community, but was pursued as a discrete operation and source of energy. For convenience, Euratom was folded into the 1965 Merger Treaty of the EEC. Even after Maastricht in 1993, Euratom remained a separate entity, not under direct EU control. There is, logically, no reason why the UK should not remain as associated as Switzerland — except the bone-headedness of one, Theresa May, as the thrall of the Tory head-bangers. The objection by these types is the European Court of Justice’s

rare and arcane judgments on nuclear matters… Rules on nuclear energy are not politically sensitive and were not an issue in the referendum campaign. The government does not need to take such a rigid position on the ECJ in this domain.

(The Times, second leader, 12th July 2017.)

In recent days, all and sundry have recognised that the UK needs supplies of isotopes (for which we have no production facilities) through Euratom (which also gives access to 71% of world uranium production).

Then there is the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. It will be owned and un by EDF Energy. That is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Électricité de France. Which, some may think, raises intriguing questions of Euratom oversight.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, Conservative Party policy., DUP, EU referendum, Europe, health, History, Law, Music, Nuclear power, politics, Theresa May, Times, Tories.

How socially-prejudiced is that?

Yesterday our local political discourse was enhanced by an otherwise-unremarkable Tory back-bencher [*]

A Conservative MP has been suspended from the party after it emerged she used a racist expression during a public discussion about Brexit.

Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, used the phrase at an event in London to describe the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

She told the BBC: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”

The Conservative Party later confirmed she had had the whip withdrawn.

Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “completely unacceptable” language.

“I immediately asked the chief whip to suspend the party whip,” she said in a statement.

I was much taken by Stephen Bush (of the New Statesman) instantly producing a 26-point check-list, notably this bit:

10. How on earth do you become an MP while being so stupid as to use the N-word at a public event?
11. I mean, surely, even if you are an honest-to-God, white sheet-wearing KKK racist, your basic self-preservation instinct kicks in and goes “Hmm. Wait a second. I wonder if this might possibly backfire?”
12. I mean, come on, aren’t these the same people who go on about political correctness gone mad?
13. Anne Marie Morris presumably had to defeat at least one other person to be selected as the Conservative candidate.
14.Imagine how rubbish you must be to lose to someone who uses the word “n****r” at a meeting in 2017.
15. Anne Marie Morris is 60.

Some of the follow-ups have come close to that. There was Paul Waugh’s Waugh Zone for HuffPo, which deserves repetition:

Given the damage done, it’s hard to see how Morris can regain the Tory whip, no matter what the ‘investigation’ by Tory campaigns HQ concludes. Which raises the issue of whether she will be booted out for good, and whether she would quit to trigger a by-election. Her majority in her west country seat is 17,000.  But as this year has taught everyone, electoral norms can be upended.

Morris had already been forced to distance herself from her electoral agent and partner Roger Kendrick last month, after he claimed “that the crisis in education was due entirely to non-British born immigrants and their high birth rates’.” Kemi Badenoch, the Tory MP for Saffron Walden, told the Telegraph she spoke to the Chief Whip “to express my dismay, and I am pleased that decisive action has been taken”. Maidstone MP Helen Grant said she was “so ashamed” that a fellow Tory could use the phrase without knowing its history (and it’s an awful history) or impact.

[*] Lest we forget, Matt Chorley, for The Times Red Box categorised the lady:

Anne Marie Morris – who until this point was best known in the Commons for waving a sling around while wearing Deirdre Barlow’s glasses – used the n-word yesterday at a public meeting.

All of which stirred the Redfellow Hippocampus to two thoughts:

1. How far we have come in my lifetime.

I became politically active in the 1960s — by which I mean I discarded the political attitudes I inherited, and adopted an alternative set. Whether that also means I “started to think for myself” is more debatable.

What did shock was what happened in the 1964 General Election for the Smethwick constituency. It wasn’t that the Tory — against the national swing — took the previously Labour seat. It was how it was achieved. There have been any number of re-drafts of that bit of unpleasantness. At the time it was generally accepted that

  • there was effectively a colour-bar being operated for social housing in the borough, in pubs, youth clubs and social centres;
  • that, officially or not, the Tory campaign was sustained by propaganda such as the leaflet (right) — note that it comes without the “imprint” required by electoral law;
  • that Harold Wilson was entirely justified in declaring the elected Tory a parliamentary leper. Many Tories were deeply uncomfortable about the elected MP as a fellow: even Enoch Powell (whose “rivers of blood” speech came two years later) refused to campaign with him.
  • that the local Trade Union branches and whatever were not beyond reproach.

In our innocence, we — and I include myself explicitly — believed such horrors had gone away. As if …

2. Just how racist is our language?

Put the woodpile (above) aside.

We could quibble about “nitty-gritty” (and many have done). Indeed, almost any use of “black” and “white” could be construed as a racist offence, if one was so determined.

And then there is (sharp intake of breath) “calling a spade a spade”. However that one dates from 1542, and Nicholas Udall translating Erasmus Apophthegmes ii. f. 167:

Philippus aunswered, yt the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.

Erasmus, in turn, was translating Plutarch’s Greek into Latin, and hesitated over a literal rendering of to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough, which some ascribe to Aristophanes. His hesitation might plausibly because “fig”, as the Oxford English Dictionary has as the second meaning:

Obs.
A contemptuous gesture which consisted in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers or into the mouth. Also, fig of Spain, and to give (a person) the fig.

Which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Pistol (Henry V, Act III, scene vi):

Pistol: Die and be damn’d! and figo for thy friendship!
Fluellen: It is well.
Pistol: The fig of Spain!
Exit

Preferring the epicene, Udall goes for the horticultural reference. The racial slur dates only from the 1920s, and apparently from New York, and specifically Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1927).

And one more to finish

What about “beyond the Pale”?

Note the capital “P’. Any delineated space could be a “pale”. In Ireland it had a specific connotation:

The area of Ireland under English jurisdiction (varying in extent at different times between the late 12th and 16th centuries, but including parts of modern Dublin, Louth, Meath, and Kildare).

By implication, anything “beyond the Pale” would be among the wild Irish. As one who has frequently been called a “West Brit”, I know we have our archipelagic variant of Crow Jim.  Now consider all those places with a district “Irishtown” or even “Irish Street”. Without exception, they will be less favoured, and more down-market. In medieval Dublin, Irishtown was the bit outside the city walls, down to the slob-lands of the River Dodder. Only last week, the Irish Times had this:

A plague of flies of “biblical proportions” has descended upon the Dublin 4 suburbs of Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown, according to residents and local businesspeople.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys said he had received “hundreds” of complaints from locals in recent days over the fly infestation, which has forced people to keep their windows shut and resulted in the closure of some businesses.

Tony “Deke” McDonald, who runs Deke’s Diner at the Sean Moore Road roundabout in Ringsend, said the infestation was the worst he had ever seen.

“It started around four or five days ago with a swarm of biblical proportions. People would be used to flies in the summer, but I’ve been running the diner 17 years next week, and I’m 30 odd years in the area, and I’ve never seen the like of it. There [were] hundreds of them.”

It didn’t take more than moments for Dublin wit to crack in, saying Ringsend and Irishtown deserved all they got, for social-climbing and pretension to post-code D4.

Then there’s Louis MacNeice describing:

…. Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
   The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scots Quarter was a line of residential houses
   But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt. […]

I was the rector’s son, born to the anglican order,
   Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
   With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.

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