Category Archives: Times

Quentin Letts, apart, …

No: not an invitation to dismemberment (though it’s worth considering): the Daily Mail craparama apart, The Spectator manages the most one-eyed political sketch in town. And here’s the latest effort for Fisking.

Cuts, queues and death dominate PMQs

Lloyd Evans

Cuts, queues and death. These motifs dominated the New Year instalment of PMQs [1]. At the end of the last episode, shortly before Christmas, there were 12,000 patients lying in ambulances in hospital car parks. Two weeks later, according to Mr Corbyn, the figure stood at 17,000. Excellent news for Mr Corbyn because it sounds as if the queue has got nearly 50 per cent longer. But has it? [2] In fact, the 12,000 pre-Christmas patients have been treated and sent happily on their way [3]. The new figure represents the post-Christmas blow-out casualties [4]. But Mr Corbyn obscured this point. And he created the impression that a patient in a nice warm ambulance [5]  is in fact languishing in a torture-unit from which few emerge alive. Mrs May warned him against suggesting that the NHS ‘is failing everybody that goes to use it.’ [6]

Our system, she said, ‘has been identified as the number one system in the world’. By who? Health tourists? [7] She reeled off a list of rich-sounding countries, (the US, Sweden, Germany) with worse systems than ours. But which of these failed-states is about to copy the NHS from scratch? [8]

She turned to her favourite Labour-bashing device: Wales. The Labour government in Cardiff keeps fluffing its NHS targets. Mr Corbyn blamed Wales on the Tories. They’ve slashed Welsh budgets, he cried. Mrs May reproved him icily. ‘This government gave more money to Wales.’ [9]

Ian Blackford got similar treatment over Scotland. Mr Blackford is a devout foe of Scottish independence and he wants his country ruled by foreigners, any foreigners, just as long as they’re not English. His long-term goal is to secede from the UK and then complete the Anschluss with Brussels. He asked Mrs May about the Brexit bill, which he wants to scupper, and he added a side-swipe at Mrs May’s stinginess. The Tories, he said, ‘promise Scotland everything and deliver nothing.’ This irked Mrs May. She tartly reminded him that a bung of two billion smackers had been parcelled up and despatched to Scotland in the budget. [10]

Then the NHS reappeared. Emma Hardy said that patients in agony were being denied pain-killers because of ‘budget cuts’. Mrs May replied crossly that it was ‘plain wrong,’ to talk of ‘cuts’ when her government had raised NHS funding. [11]

Luciana Berger upped the stakes by claiming that ‘terminally ill cancer patients’ were having chemo sessions cancelled due to a lack of nurses. Accusations don’t get much graver than this. Her allegation is that the health department is sentencing patients to an early death. Mrs May denied that patients had had their chemo sessions withdrawn. [12] And that was that. Hardly a satisfactory exchange. MP: ‘You’re a murderer.’ PM: ‘No. I’m not. Next question.’ [13]

Mrs May claimed in her defence that cancer survival rates are increasing. Seven thousand patients are alive today who would otherwise have died, she said.

Andrew Murrison got up to shed some light on the ‘number one system in the world’. He’s a doctor, and a Tory. But he might have been reading from a Momentum press-release. Dr M told us that for heart attacks we are ‘in the bottom third’ globally. And for cancer survival ‘our closest match is Chile and Poland’. Which sounds terrible. But Dr M offered us a silver lining. A great brainwave has occurred to this eminent physician and he set forth his grand scheme to end the NHS’s troubles forever. He wants a royal commission on health and social care. [14] What an idea! And who might lead such an august panel of highly-paid experts?

Dr M didn’t quite go as far as to propose himself but his job application has been noted.

[1] Death? Well, that’s laugh -a-minute stuff at the Speccie. After BoJo and Tobes Young, and with Taki as a regular feature, what else is there to titivate?

[2] When I did O-level Maths, round about the mesolithic age, going from 11,000 to 17,000 was an increase of 65%. But mine wasn’t quite the knob-polishing private education enjoyed by Speccie types.

[3] Most may have been, But “bed-blocking” (presumably why Hunt got the extra handle to play with) is a fact of hospital life.

[4] FFS! Here we see the Speccie class-consciousness cutting in. Sickness and injuries have to be the natural consequences of an over-indulgent life-style.

[5] Confession time. 16th December 2017 I was diagnosed (incorrectly, it transpired) with suspected pneumonia. This resulted in an ambulance trip to my local hospital. From that experience, I can assure Lloyd Evans that, on a freezing night, an ambulance is not “nice” and not “warm”.

[6] Whatever Jezza’s failings, he wasn’t doing any such thing. On the contrary …

[7] That qualifies as the worst kind of Daily Mail or The Sun xenophobic sneer.

[8] None, Lloyd Evans, because in 2018 nobody, anywhere, would start from a 1947-8 “scratch”. The NHS has, fortunately, evolved.

Anyway, as I recall, the comparison hasn’t been identified as the No. 1 health system in the world. The comparison I remember is on the lines of “best-value health system in the world”. Check it out here: England is ranked sixth.

[9] It always helps to quote crude numbers, and ignore falling real value. In truth, all authorities, including the devolved assemblies, have seen real value cuts. It helps, of course, if you’re the DUP and have ten essential parliamentary votes to sell.

[10] It all depends on how you tell ’em. Compare:

the Scottish government’s direct funding from the Treasury could fall by as much as £1.6bn in real terms by 2020-21, as the UK government continues to pursue its deficit reduction plans

[11] Another one to check out. Emma Hardy had said no such thing. Her reasonable question was:

I have been contacted by 11 constituents who are frightened, many of them suicidal, because they have been told either by Hull clinical commissioning group or by East Riding of Yorkshire clinical commissioning group that their desperately needed pain infusion treatment will be stopped. This is the cruel reality of the NHS having to ration treatment due to funding cuts. Will the Prime Minister personally intervene to ensure that the Hull and East Riding CCGs review their decisions and guarantee my constituents the additional funding that will allow this treatment to be delivered?

Note Lloyd Evans neatly slithering from pain infusion treatment to a paracetamol tablet.

[12] What is going on at the chemotherapy at Churchill Hospital in Oxford is more complex than that. The Times had the original story, which is not being denied. Here’s the BBC version:

Theresa May was asked to apologise to cancer patients by Labour MP Luciana Berger, who challenged her over the memo at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier.

In response, she said the hospital had “made clear there are absolutely no plans to delay the start of chemotherapy treatment or reduce the number of cycles of treatment”.

Dr Weaver wrote the hospital did not have enough nurses trained to deal with medication at its day treatment unit.

“As a consequence we are having to delay chemotherapy patients’ starting times to four weeks,” he wrote.

[13] Total fantasy. If the Speccie can follow the actuality, just invent.

[14] The notion of a cross-party Royal Commission has been the Tory funk-hole for some weeks. Andrew Murrison wasn’t reading from any Momentum crib: it probably had been stuffed in his hand as a sheet-sheet by a Tory Whip.

This, ladeez and gennelmen, is what passes for “quality” journalism on the right wing.

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Ridiculous mouse

It was Horace, teaching The Art of Poetry (line 139, if you want it), who borrowed that from Aesop.

The Department for Transport, in turn, borrows from Horatius and produces a shiny new apologia on how, one day, the railways of England and Wales will be again the wonder of the age. Note Scotland had the sense to run their remaining network as an integrated unit, and are already expanding.

At one level it’s all about undoing some of the damage privatisation and franchising did:

sweeping proposals aimed at creating joined up teams running track and train will make the railway more reliable for passengers and ensure that it works as one to deliver for its customers.

Hint: that’s what we had before the “poll tax on wheels“.

At another level it’s a response to the McNulty (2011) and Shaw (2015) reports. The paper mills of the DfT grind slow — and also exceeding small. Having failed to electrify, there’s always the magical incantation: “digital”. Sure enough, here comes the fairy dust:

The vision also pledges to introduce digital rail – new technologies that have the potential to reduce crowding and improve train punctuality for passengers – across more of the country.

The DfT is so advanced in thinking for the “digital” age, when one accesses the document, one is warned:

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology

Wait for it! — when we arrive at paragraph 2.23 we get “schemes”:

Rail services have the potential to unlock housing growth, as part of a wider transport network. New connections and stations can support locally-led development and help deliver more housing. There are also strategic opportunities to change local transport patterns, and provide communities and people with new opportunities.

Away we segue into a  surfeit of subjunctives and hypotheticals:

  • a new station could provide direct rail links
  • also potentially generate additional housing opportunities in high-demand locations
  • Construction is expected to start in late 2017 and to be completed by 2021. (The back-end of November is “late 2017”: is it happening yet?)
  • a station has the potential to unlock 7,500 jobs and 1,500 homes
  • the challenges of poor East-West connectivity need to be addressed (rather like the Hull-Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool corridor, which ought to be national priority #1 — but won’t be as long as it lies outside London and the South-East commuter belt).

More subjunctives (“may run”) and hypotheticals (“possibles”): The Times has identified the proposals to re-open lines Beeching axed:

From the top there:

  1. The Ashington, Blyth and Newcastle (ABT) line is there, running freight (providing essential links for the Alcan plant and the waste disposal at Butterwell), and Northumberland County Council has primed the pump with £5 million. Much of the expected cost is in peripherals: new stations, car-parks (there’s an irony!), and connections to other existing transport links (including Shanks’s pony and cycling).

2. Skipton to Colne is less than a dozen miles. It is abut as logical a link, a no-brainer, as could be imagined:

 

This one was not even proposed for closure by Beeching: it happened, none the less, in 1970. The Leeds and Bradford Railway saw the potential as early as 1848, and built it. Several studies (in 2003 and 2007 to my knowledge) have suggested considerable benefits. The route is protected by the planning authorities. Railtrack have agreed, but could make no progress without external finance. The whole scheme is complicated by the road lobby cooking up a route which parallels the railway: odd, that — a need for a road link where the basis for a rail one is staring all in the face.

Anyway, previous announcements — most recently a squeak before the June 2017 Election — amounted to more than a wink-and-a-nod.

3. The Kings Norton link is beyond me. There’s already a link into Birmingham, via Edgbaston. At first I wondered was this an error for the Kings Norton next to Leicester Airfield. Could it be because the housing developments in this patch are in desperate need of a fillip? Three Labour constituencies, all reasonably safe, cover the ground — so the “party advantage” motive doesn’t apply. On the other hand, the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, is a Tory, and has been raising smoke about transport expenditure in his fiefdom being a third, per-capita, of London.

4. Wisbech to March — oh, but this one could be fun!

The Wisbech to Outwell stretch never was more than a tramway:

Once a bus service arrived, the passenger line was closed — and that was as far back as 1927. The line functioned for agricultural produce until Beeching. Because the whole thing was so ramshackle, rustic and “quaint”, it has been a staple for model railway builders.

What is being talked of here is the “Bramley Line”. This wasn’t a Beeching cut so much as a shrivelling of the Fen links: this one survived for freight until the turn of the Millennium, because of the Metal Box and Nestlé factories (the latter did pet-foods, and seemed to me to specialise in odd smells). It’s all of — what? — eight miles. Re-opening would be more about overspill housing from Cambridge and Peterborough than much else.

Relevant or not, South-East Cambridgeshire is a relatively safe Tory seat. There was a sniff of rampant UKIPpery none too long ago, which provoked warm utterances from David Cameron for local development and investment.

5. The “Varsity Line” between Oxford and Cambridge should never have been closed. It wasn’t on Beeching’s list. Long stretches remain in active use. The main “missing link” is between Cambridge and Bedford, where — criminally — housing developments have been permitted over the rail route. Since 2010 there have been repeated announcements and promises of government funding — so this is yet another iteration.

Look carefully at that sketch map, and spot Verney Junction. Those who, like me, still dote on John Betjeman may recall this was where he found the end of his Metroland:

The houses of Metro-land never got as far as Verney Junction.
Grass triumphs, and I must say I’m rather glad.

Until 1936 it was possible for the rustics of Lord Verney’s estate at Clayton House to take the Metropolitan Railway all the way to Baker Street. Which also explains that pseudopod of the London Underground map which still extends into (nay, invents) Zones 8,9, and 10.

This is another case where housing is a significant factor. Reopening the route makes the Bletchley-Bedford stretch an obvious candidate to become a major development, up to city size. With houses at Verney Junction. And in an essentially Tory backyard, too.

6. Portishead to Bristol amounts to re-opening just over three miles of track. Since 2009 Network Rail has been muttering about doing the business, and MetroWest have it as a work-in-progress. All that is required is sorting out a level-crossing at Ashton Vale and building the new station at Harbour Road in Prtishead. Since the alternative is some very heavy improvements to the A369 into Bristol, this again represents a triumph of common sense over numbskullery.

7. Uckfield to Lewes, the Wealden Line,  came close to agreement as far back as 2008. Since 2013 (as a spin-off from the ConDem coalition) there have been real moves to “do something”: government urged Network Rail into motion, the station site at Uckfield was bought back from (believe it!) the residuary British Rail Board.

Currently 42 miles (by road) from Lewes to Westminster takes an hour and a quarter by train. The truly-astounding thing here is that the natives of  East Sussex have not risen in righteous revolt against Southern Rail. Even so, the rumblings of discontent along the whole Costa Geriatrica are impacting on traditional party loyalties — and that’s not good for Tories.

8. Exeter to Okehampton, last but not least.

Another one that has me puzzled. As I recall, this service — the Dartmoor Railway — was to be re-opened in 2010. Although passenger services ended in 1972, there were Sunday excursions after 1997.

What would make total sense is restoring the link from Okehampton to Bere Alston, which creates a second route to Plymouth and the South-West. That was seriously touted as the alternative when the line at Dawlish was washed away in February 2014.

So the sting in the tail is that the alternative route to the South-West, through Okehampton could threaten the South Devon line, were there to be more bad weather. Even now maintaining the Dawlish stretch needs half-a-million a year, and services are liable to suspension in bad weather at high tide.

I started with Horace’s “ridiculous mouse”. I conclude by marvelling that Chris Grayling, the disaster to befall one government department after another, has got away with this pip-squeak of a policy announcement.

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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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Come in, number 10! Your time is up!

Matt Chorley for the Times “Red Box” morning briefing:

It has been 106 days since Theresa May flipped the egg timer and triggered Article 50, beginning the two-year countdown to Brexit.

It is hard to argue that the last four months, or indeed the last year, have been productively spent.

Since 2018 is not a Leap Year, the UK has just 624 days to get it sorted.

Shouldn’t be a problem for this dynamic, cohesive, song and stable Tory team.  Errr …

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A quick fisking

Two prefatory notes:
1. Each week-day morning I get three emails:

    • The Times is usually first out of the traps with Matt Chorley’s Red Box;
    • Paul Waugh shrewdly chips in with Waugh Zone, the political lead of HuffPo UK;
    • and, trailing the rear, because he has been mulling yet another excruciatingly-brilliant punning headline, comes the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush.

2. Back in the days of yore, when social media were in their infancy, we took umbrage at the utterances of Robert Fisk. Because we were so much more intelligent than Fisk, we would “fisk” his columns, with counter arguments.

So, this grey Yorkshire morning, I’m fisking Paul Waugh.

REALITY BITES

Way back in 2010, David Cameron made the Liberal Democrats “a big, open and comprehensive offer” to join him in Government. Tomorrow, Theresa May will make what looks to Labour like a small, closed and limited offer to prop her up in power.

Without exception — and for once even the Torygraph is on board — the commentariat do not like the idea.

May’s relaunch speech has been well trailed overnight and includes a line that she will accept “the new reality” of her loss of a Parliamentary majority. But given her lifelong instinct of trusting only a tight-knit team around her, can May reach out to her own party, let alone Labour and others? May rightly wants to build consensus on areas like social care, but just ask Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham how open to cross-party working she has been in the past. On the Today programme, even the impeccably moderate Damian Green underlined the difficulties of any cross-party working, ridiculing Angela Rayner over the cost of wiping out all student debt. No wonder Labour’s Andrew Gwynne dismissed May’s olive branch, saying “they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour”.

We are not — heaven forfend! — to see this as a “relaunch”. Such lèse-majesté would deny the glory of Number 10.

The rest of that paragraph amount to a recital of so many current metropolitan political memes. Memes they may be; but they seem copper-bottomed. The jibe about student debt should not be over-looked: all sides are now coming around to recognising what a total disaster, educationally and financially — as well as electorally, the ConDem government inflicted by cranking up student fees and debt to the highest in the developed world. Predictably, the Tories continue, officially, to impale themselves while, behind the arras, scratching around for a way to climb-down.

If the UK were Germany, we might have seen some sort of ‘grand coalition’ in the wake of the snap election, driven by a sense of national mission to deliver a consensual Brexit (I remember Gisela Stuart floating the Tory-Labour coalition idea if the 2015 election had seen a hung Parliament). But we are not Germany and it takes world wars, rather than impending trade wars, to make our opposing parties work together on that level.

The essential differences between English and continental political practices derive from:

  • the shape of the Commons chamber, itself a distant legacy from the choir-stalls of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster. Once there are two sides, each individual member of the Commons had to decide whether he (and it was always a “he”) was right of the Speaker (the Administration) or left (Opposition). Not for nothing are the two front benches traditionally two swords’ lengths apart.
  • over the centuries, the main supply of parliamentarians has been the Law, they are a contrarian, disputatious and forensic lot. Each argument has to be set against a counter-argument. Remember Swift’s satire of the Little-Endians versus the BigEndians.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far has been built on vigorously opposing the Tories, not working with them. And everyone in Parliament remembers just how badly burned the Lib Dems were by the Tories in coalition, never given credit for the good stuff, blamed for the bad stuff. May will say tomorrow that through cross-party working, “ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found”. But in fact she’s admitting the reality that just 7 Tory MPs is all it takes to defeat the Government. And critics will say the only true way to get her to make concessions is to threaten rebellion after rebellion.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far“: notice two presumptions there. “Success” in practice amounts to gaining 30 seats when all the indicators were for a possible loss of as many as sixty. However, in all truth, Labour opposition has been remarkably limited: in particular on the #Brexit thing. When 49 Labour MPs voted against the Government to keep the UK in the single market, they were abused and worse by Corbynite supporters.

One person who could more credibly make a genuinely big, bold offer to Labour is David Davis, precisely because he would be trusted by his own side not to sell out on the big principles, while being pragmatic enough on how to deliver them. I’ve said before that DD is the Martin McGuinness of the Brexit movement, capable of compromise without abandoning his supporters’ main strategic goal. And despite errors from key allies like Andrew Mitchell, he looks increasingly like the favourite in any Tory leadership race. Green this morning reiterated David Lidington’s line about “the warm Prosecco problem” of Tory MPs gossiping about the leadership. But Mitchell’s parties feature only the finest Champagne, and DD himself likes a pint of bitter. That’s the kind of cross-class, party consensus that May will need to worry about most.

For little obvious reason — but mainly, one has to suspect, for want of a better — David Davis has emerged as the Tory front-runner for a new leader (and, in the present dispensation, Prime Minister). I cannot help musing the Waugh over-eggs his pudding with the “trusted by his own side”. The ultras on the frothing right of the Tory Party trust no-one but themselves — which is why Theresa May keeps head-bangers and second-raters like Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom as household pets. As of now, Davis’s key strength is keeping in line. Were he to go rogue, he could easily bring down the whole shebang.

One final, dislocated thought:

John Rentoul (another commentator of value) is, but of course, cocking an ironic eye there. Irony on irony: that Paul Staines (by name and by nature) felt moved to protect “the establishment”.

On Saturday I was at the Big Meeting, the Durham Miners’ Gala. The Red Banners flew free. The Red Flag was sung, and — uniquely — the singers knew more than the first verse and chorus.  Tee-shirts proclaimed ¡No pasarán! and La lutte continue! I even heard a scratch band bash out The Internationale. I could have bought books, badges and posters celebrating Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly.

It was all festive, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. For all the revolutionary ardor, these subversives were set on little more than getting down the next pint.

And yet, according to Guido Fawkes: they had already won! These north-easterners had voted #Brexit. They were successfully challenging the Establishment.

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Filed under Beer, Britain, British Left, Conservative Party policy., democracy, Europe, Guido Fawkes, International Brigade, John Rentoul, Labour Party, leftist politics., Paul Waugh, politics, socialism., Spanish Civil War, Theresa May, Times, Tories., Vince Cable

Serving us right

I have here one of those catch-penny “anthologies”, what more precisely could be a “bog book”.

51es1w31oplIt’s by Matthew Parris, and entitled: Scorn: The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History.

Like many of its kind, it disappoints more than it illuminates. You will already have knowledge of many — if not most — of the entries; and among the rest there are several that leave you puzzled. The best that can be said of it is that a purchase would ensure the continuing comfort of Mr Parris (a “national treasure” wannabe) and his llamas.

This was the point at which severe doubts arose in my mind:

Democracy has been served – the people have spoken, (sotto voce) the bastards.
Wendell Willkie on hearing of his defeat by President Roosevelt

The quotation is well-known enough. The attribution seems plain wrong.

A more proper, and credible attribution would be to Dick Tuck, the Democrat Party fixer and constant irritant to  Tricky Dicky Nixon:

It may be that Dick Tuck has angered Richard Nixon as much as any other man alive. As relentlessly as Inspector Javert trailed Jean Valjean, as doggedly as Caliban followed Prospero, as surely as a snowball seeks a top hat, Prankster Tuck stalked his quarry from one campaign to the next. “Keep that man away from me,” Nixon ordered his staff, who were seldom able to oblige. Ultimately, Nixon paid his adversary the highest compliment: in the 1972 campaign, the White House decided to employ a Dick Tuck of its own.

all_the_presidents_men_book_1974Since the Nixon White House’s “Dick Tuck of its own” was Donald Segretti (for more on whom, see the Woodstein masterpiece, All the President’s Men), I’d reckon Tuck won hands down.

Tuck had made many a play on Nixon until, in the 1966 mid-terms, he made a primary run for the Democrat nomination for the California Senate. He came third out of eight. Tuck was a favourite of the press reptiles, because he was ever-ready with a zinger. When he had lost the nomination he was asked his reaction. That was the cause of  “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

Willkie, by the way, might be seen as the prototype for the Donald Trump — as decent as the latter is nauseating. He was the previous time the GOP had put a businessman on the Presidential ticket. As FDR’s opposite number for the crunch election of 1940, he was almost a titular figure — but he did remarkably well, taking 45% of the vote (though only ten States for 82 votes in the Electoral College). Roosevelt obviously liked and respected Willkie, and used him as an unofficial ambassador to wartime London.

All that apart, I frequently nod along in agreement with Matthew Parris’s liberal Tory columns for The Times. Which is another reason why I find this book unworthy.

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Filed under History, Matthew Parris, sleaze., Times, US Elections

All gloom and doom

Expressing what I feel about the state of the Labour Party comes easier vocally. Putting it into words here is more difficult, because a stream of blasphemies and obscenities doesn’t adequately suffice.

So let me start a distance back, and take a run at it.

First there was Peter Bradshaw on screen villains in today’s Guardian G2. This on Lotso-Huggin’-Bear from Toy Story 3:

… the “loveable” Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, richly and warmly voiced by Ned Beatty. He is the senior prisoner and everyone appears to respect him as a sweet, grandfatherly figure — but, in fact, he is an insidious and creepy bully, almost like a cult leader, who rules with henchmen enforcers. That name, and the character’s bland cuddly teddybear face are both highly effective at putting across Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear’s parasitic villainy.

Remind you of anyone?

Meanwhile, the stiletto’ed arm of the Murdoch Empire, The Times, has been assiduous in rooting out the excesses of the Corbynist/Momentum Tendency. Anyone have any notion what that motive might be?

Sure enough, Lucy Fisher, “Senior Political Correspondent”, gets her by-line as the main item on today’s page 2. She starts by reporting that:

Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, improved her security after an internet troll sent her pictures of a woman impaled by a spear upon which her face had been superimposed.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing around, but  — be assured — it’s absolutely nothing to do with the pro-Corbs lot. As they rarely desist from telling us.

Then Lucy Fisher, “Senior Political Correspondent”, comes up with something quite astounding:

Another Labour MP yesterday accused Momentum, the left-wing network of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, of planning to film constituents visiting his advice surgery in what he said was a bid to intimidate them.

Neil Coyle, the MP for Southwark, asked on social media why the group’s “cronies” were allegedly targeting his surgery. He said he had seen 50 per cent fewer constituents since Momentum protested outside his office several weeks ago.

On Wednesday night a left-wing activist posted on a Facebook group for Southwark Momentum details of the time and place of Mr Coyle’s next surgery. Another man on the thread, which was seen by The Times, wrote: “Be firm but polite and make sure someone is videoing.”

Mr Coyle said: “The intention to protest, the consequent police presence and the cameras outside stop people coming to see me. You don’t visit your MP unless you’ve got a significant problem — often it’s benefits issues, housing pressure, immigration concerns. People coming about these serious things are not in a mood to be filmed.”

Mr Coyle said that after he contacted Southwark Momentum, the post encouraging video cameras to be used outside his office was taken down. A Momentum spokesman said Mr Coyle’s claim that activists linked to the group were trying to intimidate his constituents was nonsense.

You see! As sure as night follows day, there’s the blanket Momentum denial. It’s nuttin’ to do wit’ us, guv! Honest!

And yet …

It all sounds terribly familiar.

My alter-ego (who must be well-identified by anyone in the know) has been there, and bears the political scars. I have mentioned them here in previous posts, and I don’t retract from them one iota.

In my case, in that lobby to Haringey Council Chamber, the push to the wall, the clenched fist waved in front of the face, the crude threat with the expletive, was made by one Councillor Ron Blanchard, a close acolyte of the Blessed Jeremy Redeemer. But, of course, there was no third-party witness. So it couldn’t have happened. Could it?

And here we are …

The whole Party mechanism has been put into cold storage, for fear of those regimented hordes of infiltrators, for fear of personal abuse, and worse. But it’s all  MI5 plotting against the Sainted Jeremy and his variant of “democracy”.

44 Labour women MPs (that’s out of a total of 99, with one murdered already) have complained of continuing on-line personal abuse. They put their grievances in a formal letter to the Party Leader:

Rape threats, death threats, smashed cars and bricks through windows are disgusting and totally unacceptable in any situation.

This is acknowledged by all factions, yet the simple words of condemnation offered in response are inadequate.

We expect swift and tangible action against those who commit such acts.

Response: oh, well, the abuse goes with the job. And anyway, it’s gotta be some other lot. It’s nuttin’ to do wit’ us, guv! Honest!

This way madness lies …

If ever there was proof positive that a point-of-view was plain wrong, it has come from the mouth of Diane “unsuitable blonde, blue-eyed Finnish nurses” Abbott.

Here she is, given her hat-stand and rope-to-hang-her-arguments-from by The Times:

… it is interesting to compare and contrast Corbyn and Sanders. Their political programmes are very similar. Like Sanders, Corbyn is proud to call himself a socialist. In fact Sanders calling himself a socialist is remarkable in a country where, in living memory, using such a term was enough to get you witch-hunted out of public life. Even in Britain, under New Labour, calling yourself a socialist was forbidden to anyone with serious political ambitions…

Both are treated with cool disdain by their political establishments. Email leaks this week revealed how antagonistic Democratic bigwigs were to the Sanders campaign. As a result the chairwoman of the Democratic national committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had to resign. Goodness knows what the leak of similar emails by the Labour Party would reveal. But it is easy to guess

But the big difference between the two is the way they have been treated by their respective country’s media. Mainstream media in the US has been very sceptical about Sanders’ policies, particularly his signature policies on healthcare. This has been bruising, but fair.

By contrast the British media has scarcely discussed the policies on which Corbyn campaigned. Instead they have concentrated on tearing him down as a man and delegitimising  him as a political actor.

For the record, as long ago as 1974, when my alter-ego put out an election address  and described myself as a “socialist”, eye-brows raised. Even Tribune, which was my spiritual home in many ways, felt the usage worth notice.

What we need to underline (as I do above) is the paranoia that Diane Julie, M.A. (Cantab) radiates. Len McCluskey knows it has to be MI5. Diane Julie sees pale-pinkos machinating against the Blessed Apostle in the National Executive.

Is it all hopeless?

Well, it’s going to be hard to drain the swamp while we are up to our arses with rabid alligators. But for the sake of having a real Opposition, delivering for the people (not just the mouthy student types) Labour has properly sought to represent these hundred years and more, it has to be done.

Owen Smith may not be the instant solution. He’s an improvement on the Corbs lot, and I’ll be doing my bit in the cause. And if Smith doesn’t hack his way through the swamp of Momentum dis- and mis-information, we’ll have to try again.

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