Odd man out

Unlike every pollster, snake-oil salesman, journalist, bean-counter and Uncle Tom Cobbley, I haven’t a clue what transpires after Thursday’s General Election.

I somehow suspect Sinn Féin will cling on in West Belfast, Labour in Liverpool, Walton, and the Tories in Richmond, Yorkshire. I like to think North Down kept Lady Sylvia as their elected Member. Beyond that, all is speculative.

What I do know is that stuff like this is wind-and-piss:


There are two precedents here.

The first was 1945.

The result then came through during the Potsdam Conference. Attlee, as the new Prime Minister, and his equally-new Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin (not, as generally expected, Hugh Dalton — and there are several stories in that), flew into Berlin prontissimo. Only a handful of senior Cabinet posts had been filled; and Attlee instructed the pro-tem Tory ministers, occupying the lesser posts (including some of Cabinet rank) to stay put, and carry on. It comes as a small shock to find that, as the War in Europe wound down, as the atomic age began, as hostilities continued in the Far East, the Commons did not meet between 15th June and 1st August, 1945.

The British Civil Service, at its best, ensured continuity.

Then, the most recent, 2010

By the dawn of 7th May, 2010, we all knew the Labour Government of Gordon Brown looked unlikely to survive. The BBC finally wrung its withers and declared, at breakfast time, we had a hung parliament.

Then the fun began.

The Cabinet Secretary became the ring-master, and in effect ordered Gordon Brown to stay put. Brown did so until the evening of 11th May, formally went to the Palace, tendered his resignation, and advised the Monarch to send for David Cameron.

That weekend there was a quite-extraordinary, and duplicitous campaign against Brown by the Tory press. Th Cabinet Office had briefed all and sundry on the state-of-play, and why it was a constitutional obligation for Brown to rest in his place. That didn’t quell the shrieks that Brown was a “squatter in Number 10″:


 Can’t Ya Lova Plurabumma


A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to

another arm of Murdoch’s grasping media- octopus, and today’s Times first leader:

Occupy Downing Street

If Ed Miliband tries to oust David Cameron from No 10 with SNP supportthe public will cry foul. The prime minister is right to warn he will stay put

David Cameron is defying Ed Miliband to book removal vans. That is the logistical significance of Conservative signals at the weekend that Mr Cameron plans to stay in No 10 even if he has no overall majority. The political significance is that he is staking an advance claim on legitimacy, because that is what the post-election battle will be about.

And the only response is any thinking Gofer’s:

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper”

The point being when the parliamentary arithmetic is >323, Cameron (or Ed Miliband) has lost it. However, any party leader able to mobilise those 323 votes is legitimate. But until then. over a long-drawn out political argy-bargy, whether the Tory Press like it or not, public opinion wouldn’t wear it. If Cameron tries to sit it out, all the way to a defeat over a Queen’s Speech at the end of the month, he will discover the painful truth:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

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Filed under Britain, Elections, Labour Party, Murdoch, Quotations, Shakespeare, Sinn Fein, Times, Tories.

Lunch at the Bull

Sunday for a family lunch to the Bull at Broughton.

This was not the best day for admiring the glories of North Yorkshire, past Wharfedale, up over the one-time “Long Causeway”, round Skipton, all the way along the A59 to Broughton. Wet mistiness clouded the higher hills, as the ewes munched, and the lambs lay around and wondered.

the-bull-carouselThe pub itself was a delight: that promotional image on a far better day. The general effect is stone: walls and floors. Then there’s an extended version of the usual Sunday pub lunch, and — in my case — roast beef to die for (that cow must have been a singularly contented beast). All washed down with a decent house red.


And four beers on draught — none had travelled too far. I went, in order, for the Dark Horse (before) and the 1709 (after: the significance is the date claimed for the original pub). One way or another, both these beers can claim to be very local, and not just in flavour — Hetton is as isolated as well-trimmed gets, over 500 feet up the dale, half-way to Grassington, with the Angel Inn its star attraction.  The “W.R.” is a memorial that once the historic West Riding of Yorkshire extended this far. Perhaps we should pause for a moment’s meditation about how the perquisites of bourgeois civilisation have penetrated what were, until the fairly recent past, benighted and bucolic wildernesses. [Irony alert!]


Back of the Bull’s car-park the land drops down to the small stream, here known as Broughton Beck, which joins the River Aire a couple of miles to the east.


Across the beck is the grander pile of Broughton Hall, the seat of the Tempest family since the fifteenth century.


Quite how the Tempests rose to prominence (and then kept it for so long) is one of those wrinkles of English history that deserve probing.

In the beginning there were a couple of useful and profitable marriages. Sir Richard Tempest (his dates are usually given as about 1480 to 1537) nailed an heiress, Rosamund Bowling, and thus came into possession of estates across Craven. It helped that Richard Tempest was on nodding terms with both Tudor Henrys, fulfilling various ceremonial duties and attendance at events such as the Cloth of Gold, and all the time hoovering up any lands going begging. He acquired the reputation of being something of a thug, putting the muscle on various officials (the Tempests were accused of at least nine murders). So he came (with help from his dedicated enemies in the Savile family) to the attention of Henry VIII’s heavy, Thomas Cromwell. When Tempest went to London, presumably to defend himself against the Savile calumnies, he was clapped in the Fleet prison, where he died. Tempest’s younger brother, Nicholas, was implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and was beheaded in 1537.

That left Sir Richard’s son, Thomas Tempest, to pick up the threads. Thomas Tempest had kept the Lincolnshire estates in the family by marrying a cousin. He did his bit for the Tudors in the Scottish wars, but carried on the family strong-arm traditions: he was responsible for the odd murder (the land-agent of the Prioress of Esholt) and occasional assassination (notably, of John Jepson at Wakefield had complained to the Council about Tempest’s brutal ways). Thomas tempest then died childless, and the properties fell to a younger brother, Sir Kohn tempest, who seems to have been as incompetent as his siblings were thuggish, and ended in considerable debt.

After which, subsequent Tempests tended to keep out of the public eye. The dynasty ended with a Richard tempest, who served as a royalist colonel of horse in the Civil War, and was serially captured by the Parliamentarians.

What is of interest in all that is how the Tempests held to their Catholic faith, despite the suspicions thereof, all the way down to the 31st generation who still own the Hall.

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Ambition should be made of sterner stuff

There’s something very odd about the present Tory excesses against Ed Miliband.

Promoting him from “useless” (Cameron at PMQs, passim) to the most dangerous species in the known universe, and that in only a few days, isn’t so much a “reversed ferret” as a weasel in fast rotation. The two concepts are so opposite, we are seeing an assault on recent memory, and an experiment in mass-psychology, otherwise found only in Orwellian 1984:

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable what then? 

What I don’t grasp is:

that gruff Australian forcing the Conservatives to adopt foreign — and tackily blunt — policies, a win-at-all-costs strategist who is a short-term blow-in.

To his fans — including some of the country’s most senior Conservatives, from Cameron to Chancellor of the Exchequer ­George Osborne and Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, touted as the next Tory leader — he is the election messiah who can keep the party on message and on track.


  • whether senior ministers have gone off-message and into shroud-waving mode, in pursuit of something more, and something even more spine-chilling.

Take an earlier model: Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. This character, as Home Secretary, fancied his chances in the succession to Churchill. Maxwell Fyfe was by no means the worst, most shell-backed Tory of that time. Yet, when presented with a petition from a third of the Commons to reprieve Derek Bentley, he still sent that unhappy young man to the gallows in Wandsworth Prison. The main justification for that appalling act still seems to be Maxwell Fyfe buffing his Laura Norder creds with the Tory right-wing.

So, consider:

Whether the Tories come out of this Election as “largest party” with, or without “largest share of the vote” is immaterial, if — as generally expected — Cameron cannot then form a government.

Two things then happen:

  • Cameron goes, or is pushed;
  • The Tory Party, in and out of Parliament, swings further right.

If Dave is trashed, can his close mate, Gids, be far behind? Thus there is a third likelihood: George Osborne, being seen to have inadequately sugared the pre-Election budget pill, is nominated as co-can-carrier. His aura of smart-arsedness gone, he is no longer a runner in the leadership handicap. Which leaves BoJo and May or A.N.Outsider.

Who might be calculating their chances in a post-Dave set-up? It isn’t just the “Leader of the Opposition” job on offer. It’s a place at the Shadow Cabinet table, and well above the salt as well. Hence it will be necessary to have had “a good war” in 2015 Election terms. Just as Maxwell Fyfe woke up to realise he wasn’t getting Anthony Eden’s post, he settled for Lord Chancellor — but still had to put in the work to impress the selectors.

Does that, possibly, explain why Michael Fallon, normally mild of manner and moderate of tone,  has upped the ante?


Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, George Osborne, History, Times, Tories.

None of the best were just that

Well, it started here


Bears in woods? Papal denomination? Politicians moving lips?

By one of those iTunes mind-reading quirks, this was playing:

It could have been the well-smoked, mature voice, in a different context, and a different key:

Sad, isn’t it? when everyone and everything has to fit one particular narrow category?

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… until they bite your finger off

Ferrets can look quite pleasant. They are evil little buggers.


Keep away. Don’t stroke. Your digital extremities are at risk.

Similarly with journalists. You cannot, must not trust them. Ever.

I mean, there was I, quite confirmed by the Daily Mail on the object of today’s Two Minutes’ Hate — that wicked Anglophobic minx, Nicola Sturgeon. I was ready to do my bit for the cause!

Oh, c’mon, you know the routine:

It was nearly eleven hundred, and in the Records Department, where Winston worked, they were dragging the chairs out of the cubicles and grouping them in the centre of the hall opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minutes Hate.

So, I slipped out for a pub lunch. A hour with a burger and today’s papers.

I came back, and … Lo! … the world had changed. The Daily Mail ferret was being reversed. Consider before and after:


For long-standing chromosomic reasons, I now know I can never be nominated as the Mail‘s “most dangerous woman in Britain”. It’s not an honour anyone ever holds for more than an edition or two — sadly there’s always another coming down the primrose path to tabloid perdition. Still, I had hopes that one or other of my daughters might qualify. The Pert Young Piece was, and may yet be the prime contender. After all, she is in party politics, and a party which the Mail holds in deep distaste.

That would be appropriate, because (we have reason to believe) she and her sisters are in direct descent from Sir Richard Rich (1496-1567), who celebrated the millennium by being nominated by the BBC History magazine as the most evil man in English history.

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Filed under Daily Mail, History, smut peddlers, SNP

British journalists, political bombshells and forgeries

I used to ascribe it to Hilaire Belloc, because I have a liking for Belloc’s epigrams. It was, in fact Humbert Wolff, a civil servant with the Ministry of Labour, a translator and writer.

You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

Good Friday

Which leads us to this extraordinary business when a secret document, presumably via the Foreign Office (prop: the Rt Hon Philip Hammond, as in very Right and oh-so-honourable), finds its way to the Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Telegraph has seen the official British Government memorandum which includes details of a private meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to the UK. 

The memorandum which was written by a senior British civil servant, dated March 6th, states: “Just had a telephone conversation with Pierre-Alain Coffinier (PAC), the French CG [consul-general]. He was keen to fill me in on some of the conversations his Ambassador had during her visit to Scotland last week. All of this was given on a confidential basis.” 

It continues: “The Ambassador….had a truncated meeting with the FM [Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister] (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats… that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material).”

The thought has to be “just too convenient”. Note the incriminating fingerprints:

  • the Torygraph has “seen” the document;
  • it is then a “leak” of a memo of a telephone conversation and all at third hand — Bermann☞Coffinier☞unnamed UK official;
  • the information was “on a confidential basis”, so its revelation is an embarrassment to both national governments;
  • rashly, an adverb one might not ever readily apply to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister got personal, down and dirty;
  • the document emerges late on a Friday, a Bank Holiday Friday, when government officials have departed for a long weekend. Fridays play quite a rôle in what follows.

And we can, of course, trust the Torygraph?

Well, let’s consider how George Galloway was stitched up. You’ll find the term “forgery” twenty-one times in that account. It’s a long read, so I’ll leave you to enjoy. One thought before we swiftly pass on: even were the document no forgery, there remains the further oddities of how the Torygraph got it, and used it with malevolent intent. We need not speculate on why. And, in the present case, we have confirmation: Private Eye And the Daily Mail is an impeccable source? MailwailA bit self-regarding, don’tcha think, of the Mail to harken back to 1924 — for, ahem, there is the small matter of the Zinoviev letter, presumably concocted by White Russians, and deployed by the Tory Party at a convenient moment in the 1924 General Election. And published by … the Daily Mail. I like this one because it has a parallel existence to the Sturgeon canard. The language that Gregor Zinoviev uses (27 October 1924) almost echoes Sturgeon’s denial. Compare and contrast:

The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. … The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter.

Friday, bloody Friday

The exchange between Coffinier and the unnamed British official took place on a Friday (a French official at his desk on a Friday?) Sturgeon sent a public tweet: Sturgeon

… to the Telegraph’s Scottish political correspondent Simon Johnson read: “.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue…which I’d have told you if you’d asked me at any point today.”

Johnson didn’t reply to the First Minister.

The French Embassy has since backed up Sturgeon’s version of events in a statement.

It read: “While the ambassador and the First Minister, some time ago, have discussed the political situation, Ms Sturgeon did not touch on her personal political preferences with regards the future Prime minister.”

Which has more of the “look-and-feel” of the canny Scots lawyer we know Sturgeon to be.

The Tory game-play here mirrors the Zinoviev letter: then the target was the wavering third-party Liberals, now it’s the third-party SNP.

And further back, does another event come to mind?

Ah, yes! The Grand-daddy of them all — The Times and Richard Pigott’s forgeries of Charles Stewart Parnell. The original articles are here.

For and on the present kerfuffle:

Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a civil service inquiry into the leaking of a memo which claimed she privately wanted to see Conservatives remain in power following the May 7 General Election. 

The Scottish National Party leader described the allegation as “100% untrue” and said she had written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to demand a Whitehall probe into how the account of her conversation with the French ambassador was obtained by the Daily Telegraph. 

She said the story was a sign of “panic” in Westminster over the surge in support for the SNP, and issued a challenge to Labour leader Ed Miliband to state publicly that he would work with the SNP to “lock out” David Cameron from Downing Street in the event of a hung parliament.

 Only around the tenth to twelfth paragraph, even in this “updated” version, do we get to the caveats and Nicola Sturgeon’s firm denial. Odd, that.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, sleaze., smut peddlers, SNP, Times, Tories.

Richard Lingeman introduces Molly Ivins

91tzMbFEaZL._SL1500_The Nation is a fine journal, and a deserving cause. It publishes some nice e-books, one of which includes seventeen columns by Molly Ivins.

Writing a preface to the Great Moll must be as taxing as buffing up a Rembrandt [that’s OTT, Redfellow: try “gussying up a Gillray”]. So I had to admire Richard Lingeman:

In 1976, the New York Times beckoned to her as part of a feminization drive at the newspaper. There also seemed to have been some hope that her humor-brightened reportage would liven up the Gray Lady of West Forty-third Street.

As it turned out, her career with the Times was not a happy one, though she started off covering big stories like the Son of Sam murders. But she didn’t really fit in. Maybe that all started when she showed up in the newsroom wearing jeans and trailed by her dog, Shit. The story goes that when she was serving as Rocky Mountain bureau chief in Denver (comprising a staff of one), she filed a story about the annual chicken slaughter in Corrales, New Mexico, which she referred to as a “gang pluck.” The Times’s executive editor Abe Rosenthal, who hated what he deemed to be wise-ass reporters who fooled with the news or snuck in double entendres, called her into his office and confronted her.

“Molly,” he said, getting right down to the obvious, “you are going to make readers think of a gang fuck.”

“Abe,” she replied, “you’re a hard man to fool.”

He consigned her to purgatory—covering City Hall—which left her little to do. Eventually she resigned. “Abe was a hard man to fool,” she commented.

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