Thursday, May 31, 2007

How beastly the bourgeois is ...

... though D.H. is not really appropriate here, because the utterance originally came from the female of the species, and she was an Essex nimby:

A spokesman for the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign told BBC News: "If Stansted were permitted to expand to maximum use of the existing runway, the local environment would suffer, the national economy would suffer and we would have taken a giant step backwards in the battle to combat climate change."

Carol Barbone, from the campaign group, said the expansion would not help the economy because it was encouraging people to go on holiday abroad.

Malcolm, with his usual perceptiveness, read the sub-text: it's all fine and dandy to have a convenient airport for us business types, but — my goodness! — the lower orders are getting above themselves! Going orf to Spain and Ibiza when they should be quite happy at Cleethorpes or Whitley Bay.

The point is reinforced by the delicate tendresse with which the BBC treats its chosen few:
Protesters lobbied the first session of a public inquiry into expanding Stansted Airport. But the campaigners from nearby towns and villages were far from the stereotype of green activists.

They wore Barbour jackets rather than camouflage gear, and sensible brogues in place of Doc Martens.

Not so much a protest, more a Daily Telegraph fashion parade.

There is, of course, nothing new here. The class system is based upon such things. Wordsworth, recently appointed as Poet Laureate, wrote a letter to Gladstone, the President of the Board of Trade, on October 15th, 1844, asking him to prevent the railway coming to Kendal :
We are in this neighbourhood all in consternation, that is, every man of taste and feeling, at the stir which is made for carrying a branch Railway from Kendal to the head of Windermere.
He could have been as well standing at Stansted in his Barbour and brogues to declaim his accompanying sonnet:
And is no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and ‘mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown,
Must perish; — how can they this blight endure?
And must he too his old delights disown
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure
‘Mid his paternal fields at random thrown?
Malcolm finds it remarkable, and depressing, that the mind-set, the attitudes, the prejudices and even the vocabulary of English Toryism passes unchanged through generations. So, appropriately, back to Lawrence:
Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty—
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp England
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The block's wee wood chip

The Ulster sense-of-humour gets to Malcolm (when, eventually, he deciphers it). For example, the son of "Mad Dog" must be "Mad Pup". And there's the one about the bomb in the pet-shop: "You're not giving the tortoise much of a chance". Or the bucket of manure: "We're decorating the wee fella's room: he get's out o' the Kesh next week." Sorry, you've heard them all.

Therefore Malcolm was delighted to see Ian Paisley, Junior, maintaining a long tradition. It must be traumatic to one's self-esteem forever to be son of the "Big Mon", meaning one is doomed to be the "ween". Or, worse still, "Baby Doc". Tough.

So, let us turn to the BBC website:
Mr Paisley is quoted as saying: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong.

"I think that those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society.

"That doesn't mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do."

The proverbial ton of bricks duly arrive, generously lobbed by Sinn Féin ("dangerous homophobia") and SDLP ("extreme personal views") alike.

Junior is a "junior minister" in his father's Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (notice the neat symmetry there). A main function of the Office is promoting equality. This includes a legacy from Direct Rule, delivering the Single Equality Bill:
The legislation aims to harmonise existing anti-discrimination and equality legislation as far as is practicable and will update and extend existing provisions where appropriate.
It's the way you tell them, indeed.

Malcolm wonders whether and, if so, why this outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease was greeted wholly chortle-free in the Peter Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson households.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sinn Féin's election: the dog that didn't bark?
The Irish groan and shout, lads,
Maybe because they're Celts,
They know they're up the spout, lads,
And so is everyone else.
Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Trouble is on the way.
Thank you, Noel: don't call us, we'll call you.

At Slugger and elsewhere (, and now at Mick Fealty's other home, comment is free, for examples) there is some serious debate going on (provided one tiptoes round the usual exchange of ritual insults) about:
  • why Sinn Féin fell so far short of expectations in the Irish General Election
  • where they go from here.
The general consensus seems to blame the disaffection of the Republic's electorate with all things to do with the Black North, but identify Gerry Adams's performance in the also-rans debate as a special factor. Those pesky dogs, the critics and pundits, are snapping at his heels.

Malcolm feels that this debate has a long way to go.

It wasn't only SF that underperformed: all the radical parties suffered similarly. So that we all know what we're talking about, here's the meat:
FF 78 (-3);
FG 51 (+20, neatly restoring their position in 2002);
Labour 20 (-1, and still going nowhere);
PD 2 (-6, and effectively wiped out, except as an adjunct to FF);
Greens 6 (no change);
SF 4 (-1, after barking big, a very small bone);
and the odds-and-sods 5 (-9).
It isn't quite a two-party system, but it's getting pretty close.

Now, in hindsight, the outcome should not greatly surprise. The electors were asked if they liked prosperity, a housing boom, full employment, and, after a nanosecond of thought, decided "It's the economy, stupid".

Seán O’Faoláin, writing in 1969, noted:

time was when common words on every lip in every Irish pub were partition, the civil war, the republic, the gun. The vocab of the mid fifties and sixties was very different — the common market, planning, growth, rates, strikes, jobs, education opportunities or why this factory failed and that one flourished.

That’s why the RoI moved on, while too many in NI didn’t, and still haven't. Forty years on from O’Faoláin, the “vocab” of SF and anyone else trying to occupy the radical left, north or south, needs to adapt again.

He didn’t recognise it at the time, but Malcolm, sitting in the public gallery of the Dáil of the early ‘60s, might have observed O’Faoláin's change: the old men were still challenging each other about which side they and their fathers had fought in 1922: the younger sparks (and newspaper columnists) were rolling their eyes, and backing the Whitaker Plan.

That produced a step-change in the growth of the Irish economy, directly accountable to successfully attracting foreign investment and dismantling the protection racket that was the Irish economy. Exports, especially to the European market, rose; and the Irish
economy continued to grow throughout the 1970s (and began to free itself from dependency on Britain). Despite two oil crises in 1973 and 1979, high public spending kept the supply side of the economy buoyant, with the GDP growing at 4% a year. The cost was a structural deficit.

By the 1980s, though, the RoI was back in the mire. GDP growth fell back to 1.5% a year. Unemployment soared: by 1987 it reached nearly 17%, and emigration was back. Worse still, this emigration was mainly of the educated and talented. A consensus emerged between government, employers and unions: the new policy was tax-breaks to suck in the investment, expenditure on education and training, and industrial harmony. By 1992, some 37% of US investment into the European market was coming to Ireland. By 2003 unemployment was down to 1.5%, and 65% of the population were working.

So, in 2007, with Ireland one of the top-four burgeoning economies, the last thing on the popular agenda was “change”. But:

… the present pleasure,
By revolution lowering, does become
The opposite of itself.
And what then?

There should be an opportunity for any party which can cobble a convincing programme to cope with after-the-boom, when the appetite for “prosperity” is sated, when the economy turns. At that point, the place to be is outside the tent pissing in. Which party is capable of that posture?

On the other side of the fence, SF, the Greens and the Trots are the only parties who have been left off the roundabout of power all these years (though both SF and the Greens would love to be invited aboard). Therefore they have been the only parties credibly capable of arguing for “change”.

And that is why Malcolm's reading of Adams in the also-rans debate was somewhat different. Adams seemed not to have, or didn’t know, an economic policy. He vainly tried to shift the argument to social policy. (SF’s social policy looks somewhat threadbare too, but Malcolm leaves that thought aside.)

There is a case to be made for a new social programme: social inequality is growing; there is a two-tier health service; Ireland (pace the UN Development Programme) has the highest level of poverty in the Western world, behind only the US; a fifth to a quarter of the population are functionally illiterate; and Ireland is observably becoming a less tolerant society. (Malcolm, generous to a fault, omits corruption from that list.)

The opportunity is going to be there. Malcolm despairs that any party, least of all the factional, and provincial party that is SF, is presently capable of grasping it.

As in 1957, with Lemass, and 1987, when Haughey effectively picked up the policies of Garrett Fitzgerald, reform will probably be left to opportunist politicians. It will come slowly as the mainstream parties apply balm and healing salve, just enough for their own survival, declaring that it is all in "the national interest."

When Truman Capote complained about a bad review, André Gide replied with a proverb (now a cliché) from the Arabic: The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. It presently looks that the SF caravan, at least south of the border, is going nowhere.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Doublin yer mumper

Just when we all thought the thing was done and dusted, a cloud no bigger than the High Court's hand...

It seems that the hot money is on the Ahern Government continuing with the rump of two Progressive Democrats brought on board by offering Seanad seats to departed brethren. That makes 80 seats. The Independents, who never like short Dails, will tend to support a Fianna Fáil government anyway. Two of those Independents are former FF members: Jackie Healey Rae in Kerry South, and Beverley Flynn of Mayo. Ahern and FF are thus one further seat short of a bare majority. The two Dublin Independents, Finian McGrath in North Central and Tony Gregory in Central, are both making frantic signals that they wish to snuggle up to FF. FF can ease the wheels of democracy further by having a Ceann Comhairle from FG or (more likely?) Labour. So that's fixed.

Except ...

There's a story in today's Sunday Tribune that might disturb this arithmetic:

[Beverley] Flynn sued RTÉ over broadcasts in 1998 reporting that she had assisted tax evasion by setting up bogus non-resident accounts while working for National Irish Bank. She lost the High Court case in 2001 and costs estimated at 1.5m were awarded against her.

According to court documents filed by RTÉ last week, she owes the station 2.84m in taxed costs, including interest, for the longest-running libel case in Irish legal history.
And RTÉ are now filing to have her declared bankrupt. An undischarged bankrupt is not eligible to be a TD. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Dad: this one's on you"

Malcolm's Yorkshire Dad is presently rumbling round Harrogate Crem.

He spent the last decade of his life in a wheelchair: a double disability for a man for whom sport (football, cricket, and later crown-green bowls) was vital. This was a man for whom the Elysian Fields were Yorkshire Cricket Club's posthumous away game.

Only towards the end of the Old Boy's life did Malcolm discover that Dad (and his mate) had been offered a Yorkshire trial. They turned it down: it would have meant a day off work from the LMS shops at Sheffield Brightside. Instead, they served their time, collected their cards, and went to London. The Met Police needed lads capable of playing a decent game at Inside Right, or bowling consistently at Canterbury Cricket Week.

Then there was the story about turning up at White Hart Lane to play the Army (by then it was wartime: professional football had been suspended; Highbury was, appropriately, a boot camp). At the last moment, Denis Compton turned up, borrowed a pair of boots, to play for the Army. Dad was, in effect, up against an England front five. He never disclosed the score.

But the Headingley Test was always something different. Once, he calculated how far his electric wheelchair could make, but was defeated by the trip home. He would not stir from watching the screen. The Old Boy liked vision from the TV, supplemented by the radio commentary (at maximum volume: the ears had gone, in part a legacy from tending three Packard engines on a war-time MTB up the Aegean).

Today he would have relished. He would have been psyched up by Vaughan's ton yesterday ("The least he could 'a done. He's Lancashire, ye know."). Then, today: Pietersen ("Bloody South African!") playing like the reincarnation of Compton in his pride, Viv Richards in his style (a comparison already made by Graham Gooch). And, for the cherry-on-the-cake (alas: Dad was diabetic), Yorkshire-reject Ryan Sidebottom pitching it up, line-and-length.

At stumps, the Old Boy would have tended his pipe, and muttered something about "Hope to see sumthin' better tomorrow, before rain sets in." We knew that was praise indeed.

Thanks, Kev. Thanks, Arnie. Have a pint on Dad. Sphere: Related Content

How many shades of green?

Malcolm was amused and repelled by the story of the Arklow jobbies. It gets worse. And, bless their little cotton socks, Sinn Féin tried to make it an election issue.

It seems that Dublin City Council (in Malcolm's day, it used to be the "Corporation") export their "human waste" to be spread across the countryside.
This practice is illegal in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. More northern Irish county councils (Cavan, Meath, Offaly and Roscommon) are also forbidding it. So, the muck-merchants move on, and over 8,000 tons were added to the County Wicklow landscape last year.

Here's how to do it: take your crap, add lime (which is supposed to kill the bacteria, but doesn't — e.coli persists at fifteen times the permitted level), mix with liquid leached from landfill (lots of lovely heavy metals), spray over farmland. There are three companies involved in this practice:
  • Land Organics of Kilkenny. Last year, this firm was denied permission to build a "waste-recovery facility" for 20,000 tonnes a year of "human sludge" near Portlaoise. The crap of Portlaoise amounts to about a tenth of that. Then, this April, the Galway village of Eyrecourt got the sludge spraying treatment, to considerable local disquiet.
  • SEDE Ireland, Ltd., of Tallaght. This is part of the Proxiserve Group (based in the southern suburbs of Paris), which in turn is a subsidiary of Veolia Eau, a Paris-based multinational.
  • Quinns of Baltinglass, a decent family firm which began in seeds and fertiliser (indeed!) and has branched into a pub and a supermarket.
Nor can Malcolm neglect Louis Moriarty. Mr Moriarty traded as Dublin Waste, which was a pseudonym for Swalcliffe Ltd (though why a fine and ancient Oxfordshire village should be invoked defies reason):
Louis Moriarty, a staunch Fianna Failer, has been involved in a number of court actions over illegal dumping by his former business, Swalcliffe Ltd, trading as Dublin Waste.
Malcolm will worry at that in a moment. Meanwhile, let's stick with the court action against Swalcliffe for illegal dumping:
Wicklow County Council prosecuted Swalcliffe and the Moriartys last year [2002] to recover the cost of cleaning up a twoacre site at Coolnamadra, Donard, near the Glen of Imaal.

The council found that the Moriarty's company had illegally dumped about 8,000 tonnes of waste, including bloodstained bandages, scalpels and laboratory waste.

The council estimates that it will cost €20 million to clean the site but Swalcliffe's accounts for the year to April 30, 2002 say that "the estimated cost of remediating" the land and associated costs is €1.65 million...

In 2001, Wicklow Co Council discovered two major illegal dumps and commenced investigations along with the Gardai. Court proceedings were also issued against Swalcliffe Ltd.

The company was fined a total of IR£7,500 and ordered to pay IR£8,000 in costs for illegal dumping.
A hearing in Dublin District Court was told there were discrepancies of up to 8,500 tonnes per month between the amount of waste that Dublin Waste said it was disposing of and the amount received from it by two dumps approved by the Environmental Protection Authority.

But Mr Moriarty has friends in high places: it's that
"staunch Fianna Failer" thing. While the case against Swalcliffe was in process, Moriarty solicited his T.D. for help with obtaining a waste permit:

The Taoiseach was lobbied three years ago by the businessman with whom he was photographed in Kerry earlier this week.

Louis Moriarty, whose €20 million hotel development in Sneem Bertie Ahern visited on Tuesday, is at the centre of a series of investigations into illegal dumping.

Mr Ahern's constituency office also contacted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the activities of Mr Moriarty who is a constituent of Mr Ahern and who lives on Griffith Avenue close to Mr Ahern's home.

There is more, much more on this at, including the rocky road from Griffith Avenue to Sneem.

Moriarty quickly rid himself of Swalcliffe. It was sold to Greenstar for €5M, which apparently went to finance the €20M Sneem hotel in Mr Moriarty's native Kerry, which was later graced by a visit and photo-op by Taoiseach Ahern. Thereby hangs another tale:

Greenstar is 88 per cent owned by National Toll Roads, the multi-million-euro company owned and controlled by Tom Roche and his family.

Ah, yes, sooner or later we get back to the late Tom Roche:
A legendary figure in Irish business ... a Fianna Fail mover and shaker of the Haughey era ... started off making blocks and selling coal from the back of a truck with a £250 investment from his mother. His connections with Charles Haughey enabled him to establish a cement monopoly in the Irish state.
CRH (Cement Roadstone Holdings) control the concession, NTR, which milks the Dublin toll roads and bridges. The money from NTR has financed the move into waste disposal, that is Greenstar, and thereby into electricity generation from waste.

Malcolm pauses to reflect upon the record of CRH:
Two men charged last week with illegal dumping and pollution on Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH) sites have been described by An Taisce as “fall guys” for the company’s poor environmental record.

John Healy from Blessington and his son Francis were charged with illegal dumping in relation to incidents in January 1997 and December 2001 when they are accused of disposing “lorryloads of waste without a waste licence”. A second charge was brought for dumping “in a manner that caused or was likely to cause pollution”.

Frank Corcoran, chairman of An Taisce, said the decision by James Hamilton, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), not to bring criminal charges against CRH, the owners of the land, is clearly contrary to European Union environmental law...

The two men charged last week are directors of Blessington Plant Hire, which was contracted by CRH to dredge pools used to clean gravel extracted from the Wicklow quarry. They are also directors of Blue Bins, a sewage and refuse disposal company. The plant hire company had unlimited access to CRH sites for several years.

During the course of the investigation, environmental investigators from Wicklow county council discovered eight separate illegal dumping sites by overflying the 600-acre site with thermal-imaging equipment that spots the higher temperatures of decomposing waste. Three of the sites were described as having “substantial” amounts of waste and three more as in need of remediation.

Half the estimated 100,000 tonnes of dumped material found by investigators was domestic and the rest was construction and demolition waste. Wicklow council has ordered CRH to remove the waste, but the Environmental Protection Agency must issue a licence.

Which brings us back to the topic of the day: coalition partners for Fianna Fáil. As "Dewey Finn" said "Read between the lines":

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent, who looks set to head a total of six Green TDs in the Dáil, said that once his party had clarified and focused on the issues in hand, they would "definitely" be discussing with other parties the possibility of forming a stable government.

However, Mr Sargent insisted that Green Party policies needed to be discussed before any such arrangement was reached.

He said banning corporate donations would be high on his party's agenda if it was to enter into a government with Fianna Fáil. His party's decision would depend on how serious other parties were about forming a stable government.

Mind where you tread! Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 25, 2007

Thanks, Ethical Man!

Malcolm involved himself, again, in the mud-wrestle that is Slugger O'Toole's comments.

This should be regarded as a mistake, because it is as inevitable as an English team losing on penalties that the "discussion" will come down to a slanging match. Usually it is orange versus green, and everybody knows for which side to shout.

One of today's side-dishes (the main course being the Irish General Election: two submissions, a knock-out or a twelfth recount to win) was City of Derry Airport. Much of Malcolm's submission has already appeared here. Later, he found himself defending the City Council's involvement in fostering Eglinton thus:
  • Private enterprise has not been much in evidence in the Province in recent decades.
  • The notion that the whole of Ulster (yes, Ulster) can be properly served, now and for the future, through Aldergrove and Dublin seems fallacious. That's not in the local, provincial, national or European interest.
  • Demand is increasing at at astounding rate, passenger traffic at regional airports doubles every 15 years (at Eglinton that has happened, albeit from a low base-line, in just two years).

Malcolm also knows there are many, and good arguments against airport expansion: they all receive endless publicity. Nevertheless, people, however much they intellectually are convinced by those arguments and publicity, still emotionally want to fly. Malcolm's essential liberalism means he finds distasteful all the Green nay-saying which amounts to arguing that someone, somewhere must stop this Gardarene rush, deny ordinary folk their wish to holiday in Spain, inconvenience them, force them to conform, deny them occasional pleasures.

Malcolm felt just a trifle sweaty maintaining this, knowing the pressures of global warming and the consequent death of his beloved beech tree were somehow involved.

So, hooray for Justin Rowlatt, the BBC's Ethical Man! He writes a delightful (and informative) blog at the Newsnight site:
here’s the good news: when you look at the numbers, modern jet aeroplanes are actually a very efficient form of transport.

Indeed, the jet engine is one of the most effective ways to convert the energy from fuel into thrust. The best jets are 37 per cent efficient. By contrast it seems modern petrol engines are around 25 per cent efficient while a finely tuned diesel will achieve, at best, 32 per cent efficiency...

The average jet plane now uses around 4.8 l/100 km per passenger – just a little worse than a Prius with no passengers. But the manufacturers say that modern jets are much more efficient.

Collooh! Callay! Malcolm chortled in his joy.

Now, of course, that does not mean we should belt around the planet for the sheer hell of it (a couple of hours as hostage of Ryanair would cure that affliction, anyway). Nor does it means we need Heathrow Terminal 19. It does mean that a bit of balance might, just might be reasserting itself. Sphere: Related Content
Going through the motions

Now, here's a story by Olivia Kelly which, for all sorts of reasons — but mainly because of an anal-retentive sense of humour, Malcolm feels should not lurk unnoticed behind the
Irish Times need to register:
Outcry over discharge of raw sewage into river

A poster protesting against the discharge of raw sewage into the Avoca river in Arklow, Co Wicklow, and the lack of any sewage facilities for the town, has been placed in the middle of the river.

The poster erected by Independent town councillor Peter Dempsey, shows a cartoon figure sitting on a toilet alongside the words: "Cut the crap, stop the objections, Arklow needs its sewage plant now."

A sewage treatment facility was originally planned for the town 14 years ago, but its development has been held up because of the council's site selection.

An Bord Pleanála finally granted permission for construction of the plant at Seabank, on the coast near Arklow town, in January 2005; however, the decision was appealed to the High Court by Arklow Holidays Ltd, a company that owns a caravan park at Seabank.

The case will come before the court again on July 10th and work cannot commence on the plant unless the court besides against the appellants.

Mr Dempsey said the delays were unacceptable. "While this is being dragged through the courts, turds are running down the river less than 30ft from people's front doors," he said.

The smell from the river was particularly bad during the summer months, he said, in addition to the public health risks posed by raw sewage.

"The stink is absolutely vile. We're going to have a typhoid epidemic on our hands unless something is done about this."
Hark! As Malcolm croons Tom Moore:
Sweet Vale of Avoca! How calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world would cease

And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.
Sphere: Related Content

Londonderry Air

It began with a quick check of the news:
The City of Derry Airport is being shut by the flight regulator until further notice because of safety concerns.

The Civil Aviation Authority decided to provisionally suspend its licence following an inspection this week.

Problems found include lack of an effective bird control plan, unsuitable temporary repairs to the area where planes park and poor runway drainage.

So Malcolm considered Eglinton, which has suffered the political equivalent of the Drigg/ Windscale/ Calder Hall/ Sellafield syndrome: successive name-changes for ulterior motives.

Strategy Foyled

Eglinton was one of three airfields (Eglinton, Ballykelly and Maydown) built during the early part of WW2, when this area was on the front line:

On two occasions in it's [sic] history the city of Londonderry has played a pivotal part in the history of Europe. The first was the ‘great siege’ of 1689 when, over 105 days, the constitutional future of the British Isles and of Europe was decided in and around the city. The second occasion was even more important. In June 1940 the city became a naval base and was destined to become the Allies’ most important escort base in the Battle of the Atlantic. Not only did Europe’s future depend on this base but so also did the political shape of the post-war world.

Had the Allies lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the Nazi domination of Europe could not have been broken and Hitler’s dictatorship would have continued. Winning the Battle of the Atlantic allowed the western Allies to invade Europe and led to the final defeat of Nazism. The naval base at Derry – shared by the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the United States Navy – was vital to the protection of convoys in the Atlantic and, at one time, 140 Allied escort ships were based on the Foyle.

The Foyle was the advance base of Western Approaches command, and so 'Derry (stuffed with service personnel) was a prime target. Much of the blame for the neglect of air defence (one of many derelictions) in the Province should rest on the Unionist government in Stormont, and in particular the moribund Craig and the incompetent Andrews:

Due in large part to earlier ministerial neglect and prevarication, local defences were hopelessly inadequate, and the public were physically and psychologically unprepared for the blitz. In September 1940, both Belfast and Londonderry had been provided with a light balloon barrage, which was marginally reinforced six months later. By the spring of 1941, the strength of the anti-aircraft barrage in Northern Ireland had risen to 24 heavy guns and 14 light guns. Twenty-two of these were located in Belfast (6 light and 16 heavy). Four were sited at Londonderry; more were to be transferred from Cardiff, but the Luftwaffe arrived before the guns did.

The Churchill Government in Westminster were not so lax. Since only Operation Barbarossa forestalled an inevitable Blitz of 'Derry, by 1942, there was an over-provision of airfields.

A regional airport

Londonderry County Borough acquired the site in 1978, though for the next twenty years only Loganair operated there. European Regional Development money upgraded the facilities in the early '90s. The newly politically-correct "City of Derry Airport" opened in 1994, but it took until 1999 for
Falcon Holidays to begin charter flights and Ryanair to begin a scheduled service. This was not entirely neglect: climate and location suggest that, for all-year operations, aircraft need to have a certain size about them.


By objective standards, the airport has been something of a success: it is well on the way to half a million passengers a year. This is Northern Ireland, so there has to be controversy. A quick flick to Slugger O'Toole tells us that “Truck loads of money have been thrown at this airport”; and refers to “the squillions squandered”.

Now compare that with the reality:


“The European Commission has authorised, under EC state aid guidelines, a plan to fund a number of essential infrastructure improvements at the City of Derry Airport. The plan involves joint financing of the infrastructure by the UK and Irish governments together with Derry City Council, the airport’s owner.

“The proposed financing was considered compatible with the European common market as it satisfies the criteria laid down in state aid guidelines; it constitutes essential infrastructure designed to achieve a clearly defined objective of general interest without leading to undue distortion of the market.

“The measure in question concerns the intention of the United Kingdom and Irish governments to provide over £10.4 million (EUR 15.2 million) of financial assistance to Derry City Council to meet 75% of the cost of two capital development projects at the airport. Each government will pay 37.5%, approximately £5.2 million (EUR 7.6 million) of the expenditure, while Derry City Council will contribute the remaining 25%, approximately £3.48 million (EUR 5 million).”


Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs, said: “City of Derry Airport serves the entire North West region. Recognising its strategic importance, the Government has decided to increase its funding to allow the completion of development works at the Airport.”

“The Government will contribute a total of €10.87 million to works at the Airport. The Government’s contribution is matched by the British Government under the co-funding arrangements agreed by the two Governments in March 2005.”

The airport's critics (and they are many) have a couple of common characteristics: they tend to be from the east of the Province (and the mental distance from Belfast to 'Derry can be immense) and they tend to have the usual "Stroke City" sectarian objections. Four main issues seem to arise, and are often confused:

[1] The financing of desirable and necessary upgrades to the airport (a process which, in fact, is open and transparent, necessarily so because of the tripartite involvement of two Governments and the EC).

[2] The smaller (and, sadly, less open and transparent) issue of the subsidy to Ryanair:

The agreement struck in 1999 guaranteed Ryanair £250,000 (€380,000) a year from a consortium of four state-funded authorities on both sides of the Irish border to promote its Derry to London route. A range of other taxpayer-subsidised benefits included free landing, navigation, air control, security, baggage and passenger charges, were also given.
[3] The deficit on operating the airport:
Its operating costs are around £3.5m a year, but revenue is about £2m. The losses are met by the council.
To put this into proportion, it need to be compared with:

  • the Derry city budget as a whole (a bit less than £31M);

and expenditure on other local transport, for example

  • the announcement from Conor Murphy of £12M extra for roads in Derry City this year.

[4] On the lunatic fringe, the SEA [i.e. Eamonn McCann's eccentric local Trottery] protesting the Donnybrewer Road houses, and attempting to elevate it into an extension of the Land War.

A soft landing

The CAA's inspection (and closure order) seem to be confined to
three points:
concerns about the drainage of the runway, the facility for parking planes and its bird control plan.
None of these seems insuperable (and it seems that the CAA took over a week between its inspection and issuing the order, which hardly implies urgency). Drainage can hardly be a recent problem, for it was recognised in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica:
The excessive rainfall and the cold and uncertain climate are unfavourable for agriculture.
The aircraft parking seems to amount to dissatisfaction with recent temporary repairs to the hard standings, and "bird control" invites Malcolm to invoke the Duke of Wellington:
"Try sparrow-hawks, Ma'am."
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Darkening my clear sun

It didn't start with BBC4, but Malcolm was brought up short thereby. The BBC digital station started with ten minutes of Sounds of the Sixties. Malcolm was in time to catch the Kinks and the Moody Blues. Malcolm, who was really looking for Channel 4 News, paused, watched, was entranced by memories of a long, lost past. Since Sounds of the Sixties is recycling stuff off old tapes, Top of the Pops and similar, Malcolm found himself talking 'bout his generation, as they were: the males in their high-buttoned jackets, the females ... well, pert and perky. Sigh.

There is a direct link from there to Malcolm's main theme. The previous evening, for reasons too complex to narrate, Malcolm had been sitting in the same room as ITV2' showing Ten Things I Hate About You. And there the hook was the divine Allison Janney (a.k.a., for ever and for good reason, CJ Cregg) playing "Ms Perky".

Now Ten Things I Hate About You is supposed to be derived from Taming of the Shrew (to which we may return). Ah, yes, Malcolm knew that. To keep the pseudo-cognoscenti happy, there are the superficial references to the original, though (wisely) the script kept those to a minimum, and broke from the precursor as readily as it could. However and alas (those redundant conjunctions that Malcolm's English teacher, all those years ago, tried to suppress), one quotation had Malcolm fazed:
Hates him with the fire of a thousand suns.
To his irritation, Malcolm could not place the reference. Soon, his mind evolved a fuller version:
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one ...
Definitely not Shakespeare, closet Catholic or not.

So, let's Google!

And the first citation is ... The Bhagavad Gita? Oh, come on! But wait ...
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One... I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds.
Yes! YES! So, who? WHO?
J Robert Oppenheimer, Quoting "The Bhagavad Gita", Alamogordo, New Mexico, 1945
Of course! Malcolm could now reconstruct his mental process. It was a book, a paperback, a Penguin edition, now out-of-print, and its content long outdated by the fall of the Wall. And so, Malcolm was able to retire to bed, happy with another small mystery solved.

In the small hours, though, the problem recurs:
Out of the darkness,
Brighter than a thousand suns
Bury your morals and bury your dead
Bury your head in the sand
E=MC squared you can't relate,
How we made God
With our hands.
Only with the new day does Malcolm link that to Iron Maiden. Sphere: Related Content

The realities of power

Malcolm has long been intrigued by the curiosity which is First Post. It is worthy enough (if innately conservative, with or without an initial capital); but it suffers from one inexcusable fault — detail and depth are sacrificed to brevity. The desire to have a one-page, no scrolling story makes almost every story trite and trivial. First Post pops into Malcolm's in-box with monotonous and commendable regularity late each morning. It rarely says anything new, but it has an odd stable of columnists.

Most days, Malcolm scans its headlines, and quickly commits it to Trash (since Malcolm is a Mac-man, we have no truck with the "recycling bin" here).

From Bernard...

Today, one story caught Malcolm's attention:
Safe, clean and cheap: the case for nuclear energy.
Nuclear power has a powerful friend in Bernard Ingham, says
Margareta Pagano.
The story does not move the debate forward. It is interesting because it reminds Malcolm that all volcanoes are not extinct, it links names, and makes a useful propaganda point.

The dormant volcano is, of course, Bernard Ingham, Thatcher's press secretary and general arse-kicker, and one-time [1965] Labour candidate. He now enjoys an active retirement, including being secretary of SONE (Supporters of Nuclear Energy).

Malcolm will already be double-damned by the Greenies for even venturing onto such territory. The names associated with SONE admittedly include the usual suspects: McAlpine, Jack Cunningham, Gavin Laird, Dick Taverne and co. But there are some more respectable additions: Dennis MacShane, Fred Holliday, James Lovelock, John Edmonds. For the poor, struggling pursuer of balance, the SONE website is a ready source of information and links.

However, Malcolm commends the First Post piece for this:
Ingham is not anti-green. What he can't abide is the "delusional myth-making and nonsense" talked about alternative energy supplies. "We need the lowest cost and the lowest carbon output consistent with a viable economy," he argues.

While Ingham has grudging respect for Labour's attempts at a grown-up energy policy, he has little time for David Cameron and his policies: "Hugging huskies and misplacing a wind turbine on your roof does not encourage me to think that the Conservatives are closer to reality."

The first of those paragraphs is Ingham's usual bluntness (would that present "spinners" could make the point so effectively), the second his commendable debunking of Tories (he was always harder on the Tory back-sliders than on his nominal opponents).

The punch-line is:
While the UK procrastinates, he warns, the rest of the world is moving ahead. Globally, there are 250 nuclear reactors being built to add to the existing 435 - providing 17 per cent of the world's electricity.
... to Bravefart

Which brings Malcolm to his second topic: the continuing slipperiness of ScotNattery.

The SNP campaigned on an anti-nuke platform. Salmond achieved his enstoolment by breaking bread with the Greens. During the campaign, Salmond and his crew were preaching that Scotland had a third of the wind and wave potential for all Europe: therefore the nuclear power stations could be consigned to history. Once in their Holyrood offices, the SNP masters had to address reality. And reality is that 40% of Scottish electricity is nuclear-produced. So, yesterday, it was officially recognised that Torness could be operating and producing power into the fourth decade of this century. Alistair Darling must have enjoyed his comment:

"There is going to be nuclear power in Scotland for the foreseeable future," said Alistair Darling, the Westminster industry secretary.

"Torness will be around long after Alex Salmond is gone."

Whether the domestic harmony between the SNP and its two tame Green MSPs lasts is less predictable.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Of wallies and ding-bats

Yesterday the media found time and space to froth about the Howard School in Rainham, Kent:
A secondary school has apologised after a confidential report book which called pupils names like "ding bat" and "wally" was found lying in a street.

The booklet, produced by The Howard School for boys, in Rainham, Kent, carried a specific message on its front page - "Do not leave lying around".

Well, you wouldn't want that "lying around", would you? Mega-embarrassment. Some aggrieved parents looking for (financial) retribution, one expects. Several young souls with instant added playground kudos, one does not doubt.


Every school, probably every place of employment and many places of leisure would use similar shorthands. So it's more a case of "bloody loony, as we professionals say". Which, in his decades of teaching, Malcolm frequently did. As did the GP whose annotation "NFN" against his patients indicated "normal for Norfolk", and spawned an industry, a book, a comedy routine, and a film.

At bottom, the use of such devices amounts on one level to professional code, and on another to a mechanism for coping with the pressures of an up-close-and-personal job. It is efficient communication: there are precise distinctions between "drongo" and "dingbat", "dim" and "dozy". A similar, more verbose, code appears in Ofsted's definition of the Howard School:
The Howard has a combined (bilateral) entry: the vast majority of the pupils do not qualify for a grammar school place; about four per cent do. On entry pupils' attainment is about average... About a quarter of its pupils have special educational needs, more than in most schools. Pupils come from areas with lower levels of financial difficulty than most, but with fewer families who have benefited from higher education. Slightly more pupils than usual have a home language that is not English. The school supports a small number of pupils at an early stage of English fluency and also a small number of vulnerable pupils.
Ofsted's clincher, enough to frighten any in-two-minds applicant for a post, is:
The school no longer has serious weaknesses.
Those very journos who ridicule or traduce the Howard School will then happily turn and use similar derogatives for their colleagues, bosses and readers (doubters should try the urbandictionary).

Then there's the Paul Flynn version of the well-known story:
One Tory MP had a dangerous surgery habit.

As an aide memoir he appended brief personal descriptions of the constituents who attended his surgery. The notes were useful in tying in the person to the complaint when replies came weeks later. He could remember ‘tall man with beard’, or ‘slim women with red hair.’

In his absence his secretary drafted an urgent reply that had arrived. She had difficulty deciphering the MPs notes and deciding what the women’s name was.

She was concerned that the note was unclear and the name unusual. But the matter was important urgent and a reply was sent clearly addressed : Dear Mrs Horseface,
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 21, 2007

A profitable weekend

Once upon a time Malcolm would have been easily satisfied by the lesser things in life: world peace, or the arrival of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now, in the autumn of his span, he looks for something more: a decent bottle of wine for a reasonable cost, a good book, a nice surprise.
Well, this weekend, two out of three can't be bad.

The book

The book is C.J.Sansom's
Winter in Madrid. Obviously Malcolm has taken some eighteen months to get around to this one. That is a function of an antipathy to rave reviews, and lasting disillusion with historical whodunits (Sansom's previous speciality). However, eventually the combination of a Spanish Civil War background and a three-for-two offer at Waterstone's got him. Wowza! There are enough synopses and tasters on the Web for Malcolm to be excused the task of summarising. Nor is it a particularly complex story: it amounts to a series of interlocking emotional triangles. The essential theme is loyalties. Three factors make it different: a disordered time sequence, characters overcoming childhood crises, a superbly-realised and atmospheric background.

It was Chapter 10 when Malcolm came to this:
There was a susurrating murmur from the crowd. At the far end of the hall a door opened and a bevy of flunkeys bowed in a middle-aged couple. Barbara had heard that Franco was a small man but was surprised how tiny, even delicate, he looked. He wore a general’s uniform with a broad red sash around his paunchy middle. He held his arms stiffly at his sides, moving them back and forth as though leading a parade. His balding head gleamed under the lights. Doña Carmen, walking behind, was slightly taller than her husband, a tiara in her jet black hair. Her long haughty face was made for the regal expression it wore. There seemed something posed, though, about the stoniness of the Generalísimo’s face, the little mouth set hard under the wispy moustache, and the surprisingly large eyes staring ahead as he marched past the stage.

The Falangists in the audience sprang to their feet, stretching out their arms in the Fascist salute. ‘¡Jefe!’ they called out. The rest of the audience and the orchestra followed.
[Sansom admits in his end-note:
I have also invented Franco's attendance at the first performance of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, which was actually in Barcelona.
And where else than the Palau de la Música Catalana, on 9th November 1940. The first Madrid performance did not happen until December 11th (which would be too late for Sansom's chronology).]

Sansom's description is, for Malcolm, quite spine-tingling. In terms of skewering the characterisation and the
zeitgeist, it is as effective as, say, Dickens doing for the Veneerings. It is also less arch, less baroque, which adds to the noir sinisterness. Malcolm knows that it is essential for the writer of any critique or blurb to stretch for comparators. The Independent's reviewer (Barry Forshaw) invoked Greene (as did Michael Arditti in the Mail) and Hemingway; the Telegraph invoked Julian Mitchell; the Express threw in Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafón (the latter perhaps simply because of the cover design and the Spanish location). Malcolm has already thrown in Dickens (if only for the complexity of the plotting), but would add Alan Furst (if only for the setting and the mood).

Incidentally, Furst's latest The Foreign Correspondent is out in paperback in the US, but not in the UK until the end of the year. Seems a good way to exploit the exchange rate.

The nice surprise

Malcolm has already mentioned Our American Cousin in these drivellings, and has come to rely on OAC for guidance through the maze of song-writers, particularly those from Texas. OAC severely counselled Malcolm on his ignorance of, among others, the late Townes Van Zandt. Now Malcolm is not entirely ignorant in these matters, but his knowledge of Van Zandt extended little further than his credits on a stack of fine songs and for Dead Flowers on the soundtrack of the final scene of The Great Lebowski. Then there was a worthwhile essay by Anthony Decurtis in Rolling Stone some years ago: the essay had Van Zandt's name in the title, but was mainly about Willie Nelson (which is how Malcolm came to it). RS's last review (or the last one Malcolm can see) of Van Zandt was pretty hot:
with the market flooded with all-too-often mediocre singer-songwriters, it would be very easy to overlook Townes Van Zandt. But it would be a mistake, because Townes is one of the very best... Townes' quiet, unassuming voice and guitar come across like a fresh prairie breeze. And if there were any justice in this world, he'd be a star, not just the property of a tiny band of followers who count his records among their most prized possessions.
So Malcolm put on his frog-suit and went a-courtin', and came back with the inevitable Best of ...

Not quite an instant revelation, but a growing recognition. This culminated by the 13th track: The Ballad of Ira Hayes. In common with anyone else still breathing, Malcolm knew this one mainly from Johnny Cash's version: upfront, quite up-tempo and bristling with anger. Let us equally celebrate that Cash, when asked to sing for Nixon, chose this and What is Truth? as alternatives to the President's choice of Okie from Muskogee.

Van Zandt makes Ira Hayes much more elegaic, more thoughtful, driving the message more subtly. As Michelin would say, "worth a special journey". And the song really belongs to neither Van Zandt nor Cash: it is by Peter La Farge.

So, another strike for Our American Cousin.
___________________________ Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Life on a knife-edge majority

It's going to be endless fun and games until:
the first Thursday in May in the fourth calendar year following that in which the previous ordinary general election was held.
Malcolm reckons that to be 5th May, 2011.

And here comes the next wee problem for First Minister Salmond:
Angela Constance, the representative for Livingston, is due to give birth to her first child in October.

Her expected absence will mean the SNP and Labour will have the same number of MSPs. This means that even with support from the Greens and either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives, the new government would be one vote short of a majority at Holyrood.

The situation could leave independent MSP Margo Macdonald in a particularly powerful position.

Yesterday, the opposition was cautious not to be seen to criticise Mrs Constance but admitted they would take advantage of the situation.
Malcolm wonders:
  • on what possible basis could Ms Constance be criticised?
  • on what basis The Scotsman refers to her as "Mrs" Constance? Her husband is a Mr Knox.
Of course, the SNP, with its usual finesse, brought the problem on itself by abandoning the pairing system some time back.

More irony, too: be careful what you wish for: you might get it.

It was back on 28th March, 1979, that the 11 SNP MPs supported a Tory vote of censure on the Callaghan Government. At that point, the Labour majority was one very sick MP, Alfred Broughton, in hospital with five days to live. Because the Tories and other parties called off all pairing arrangements, and because Jim Callaghan refused to bring a dying man two hundred miles to be "nodded through", the Government fell.

Callaghan's decision and Broughton's willingness to travel to London, despite all medical advice, were the about the extent of honourable behaviour in that affair. A special circle of Hell should be reserved for Frank Maguire, the Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who left his bar for the occasion, and travelled to London to "abstain in person". He, too, got what he wished for -- Margaret Thatcher's Government.

Is anyone taking bets on whether the Salmond administration survives these next 1446 days? Sphere: Related Content
.... something stirs

Malcolm was going to start this item with the metaphor of rustling in the shrubbery becoming too obvious to ignore. He was distinctly narked to find that bloody Wilby in the Old Staggerer had got there first.

So to John Kampfner in Friday's Daily Telegraph, no less. And this from the paper, more than any other, which has trashed David Willetts on selection, and Cameron's handling thereof:

Brown's launch last Friday was marred by the autocue ... , but apart from that one mistake (which they cleverly spun as the first example of "anti-spin") it has been seamless. His trips around the country have received steady coverage, particularly in local media, while his acceptance speech in the City yesterday was accomplished.

But there is a more subtle, and perhaps more enduring, reason for his camp's confidence. Brown has managed to push the agenda on to the issue of "aspiration". This is a nebulous term, but in short it means: "I will be the true defender of the struggling middle classes of Middle Britain." In so doing, Brown is seeking to distance himself not just from the Left but also from the Blairite obsession with the rich.

He is talking about families earning anything from £25,000 to £50,000, mortgaged to the hilt, worried about their choice of school and annoyed that they can't see their GP when they want to. They are not in any way poor, but nor do they consider themselves in any way pampered.

They are politically aware, but not necessarily engaged; increasingly worried by global warming, but not necessarily prepared to make personal sacrifices. These people are more than the floating voter. They are, according to strategists in all the parties, the voter.

That is why David Cameron's intervention on Wednesday's World at One was so telling. The Conservative leader, speaking from the school where he has been helping out, sounded rattled (politicians should always avoid scratchy telephone lines for interviews) when confronted about his party's U-turn on grammar schools.

Malcolm apologises for the undue length of that quotation. He feels it is necessary to get the full flavour.

The first thought is the curiously-touching meeting-of-minds between the editor of the New Statesman and the journal-of-choice of Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells. This is something more than Kautilya's principle of "My enemy's enemy is my friend".

What puzzled Malcolm was the curious symmetry of views, which amounts to:
  • the beatification of the late Robin Cook;
  • the need for Gordon Brown to realign with the liberal left across the country;
  • Brown courting the Daily Mail and Murdoch;
  • who wears a tie any more (Alan Johnson and John Prescott do, which proves their working-class credentials; but Blair and Cameron don't, which proves they are toffs).
So, what's going on?

Fortunately the Staggerer's Peter Wilby was able to explain all:
Consider this headline from the Daily Telegraph business section: "The backlash has started against income inequality". Or this, from the Daily Mail leader page: "I deplore the millionaires who contribute so little to Britain." Or this, from the Washington Post: "Free trade's great, but offshoring rattles me." That last one doesn't seem so startling until you know that the article beneath it is written by Alan Blinder, a Princeton economics professor and former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve. A rough equivalent would be: "God's great, but the Resurrection rattles me."
The essence is that the British middle class has woken up to the chilling fact that they (just like the downtrodden workers) are potentially redundant. It's a long while since Clive Jenkins was fruitily banging on about this, but it could be that even his worst fears are about to be exceeded. Thanks to the web, we can all be replaced by tele-dildonics based somewhere in the developing world:
We'll be richer, and so will India and China. But think of all those programmers and accountants who got themselves educated and trained as they were told to do, and don't find their skills make them any more employable than assembly-line operatives.
This, lest we forget, is the obverse of the "Education, education, education" coin. It is all fine-and-dandy for the high minds of the Economist to preach the virtues of liberalising world markets, but in the short term, the rich get richer, and the middle-class (who buy the broadsheets and mid-weight press) get shafted.
That is what lies behind those headlines in the Mail and the Telegraph, which might have been taken from the New Statesman. The Mail writer notes that "under new Labour, the worth of the 1,000 richest people in the country has soared by 263 per cent" and that many of them are foreigners. The Telegraph columnist complains : "The politically influential middle classes are missing out most. They pay proportionately more in taxes and are failing to benefit from the massive increase in salaries enjoyed by the super-rich."
It's just as well some of us saw this coming, otherwise we would be reduced to Wilby's bleat of a conclusion:
Globalisation and the super-rich: for ten years it has been heresy in new Labour's eyes to resist either. But these issues will shape the next decade, and [Gordon] Brown cannot escape them.
Or, as the pre-adolescent essay-writer (or Dallas script-writer) ends: "... and then I woke up."

Alternatively, there is a more cogent analysis, and it is Meghnad Desai's:
I want to argue that in the triumphant resurgence of capitalism -- and, indeed, its global reach -- the one thinker who is vindicated is Karl Marx. Not only that. The demise of the socialist experiment inaugurated by October 1917 would not distress but cheer Karl Marx if, as an atheist, he occupies any part of Hell, Purgatory or Heaven. Indeed, if it came to a choice between whether the market or the state should rule the economy, modern libertarians would be as shocked as modern socialists (social democrats et al.) to find Marx on the side of the market.
Malcolm feels somewhat discomforted in the presence of member of the Tribune board, a paid-up socialist and secularist, who is also a noble lord. However, Lord Desai's is an optimistic treatise. In its most simplistic form it is proposing that the market's positive end is the elimination of scarcity: after all, the crisis of capitalism is overproduction. In global terms, though, we have underproduction, dearth, poverty and famine. This is because the system is distorted by rich economies deploying huge agricultural subsidies. And our small domestic system is further distorted by the plutocrats and "have-yachts":
... a middle-class couple’s combined income of well into six figures seems to disappear into thin air before either of them has bought even a tube of toothpaste.

... our healthy pay cheques vaporise in a puff of smoke, leaving us prowling Waitrose for food past its sell-by dates and popping into Oxfam to refresh our wardrobes

. you now have to be a hedge fund manager, an oligarch or a private equity magnate at the very least to be able to afford the lifestyle that my parents were able to supply me and my ingrate siblings with three decades ago...

You can’t even be just averagely rich or reasonably well off any longer. A Halifax survey found that only nine professions could afford private school fees in London in 2005, compared with 19 in 2000. Oh, no: you have to be a have or a have-yacht.

Oh, the pain and shame of it!

So this, all agree, is Gordon Brown's opportunity to take or lose. The Cameroonie oven-ready recipe, sooner or later, will be to revert to the Hefferite tv-dog's-dinner. At least Heffer has been consistent:
The battleground of the next [2005] election will be taxation, the public services, immigration and law and order. The Tory party must be as distinct as possible from Labour, and determined not to be influenced by its social vision. So the first thing Mr Howard has to do is get radical with spending. Instead of fearing Labour accusations of cuts, he should boast about those he plans to make — in the non-frontline staff who have been the public sector employment boom of the last seven years. Sadly, Mr Howard is still apparently of the opinion that spending more is good. He has to persuade the public to rediscover the concept of value for money and stop thinking of spending as a good in itself. He needs to tell the country that without sacking a single doctor, nurse, teacher, police officer or carer he can cut the public sector wage bill and, with it, taxation.
Until Cameroon heeds that, and returns sheepishly to the fold, Heffer, the Mail and its ilk will deny him their cupboard love.

This issue was (and may still be) smouldering on and long may its lum reek, not just because it is a Tory ailment, but because it addresses the future role and ideology of any Tory Party.

We lefties should not be blind to the seduction of quick-fix tax-cuts. And that is the real challenge for Prime Minister Brown. He has already anticipated the pendulum of opinion, and this is the strategy behind the rhetoric of "aspiration". Public expenditure will not continue to grow at its previous rate. Public services will be more accountable. Once the interest rises of 2007 have worked through the system, the fiscal wind will be tempered to the shorn lambs of suburbia. That should address the domestic agenda. The usual vested interests, denied their recent surfeit, will inevitably have the LibDem soft-shoulder to weep on, and the Staggerer to voice their agony (witness the deprived arts lobby whinge about the cost of social engineering piggybacked onto the 2012 Olympic budget).

Internationally, Brown has the track-record to continue to challenge protectionist policies in the EU and across the world (which should resonate with any US President elected in 2008). And on all this, doubtless, Malcolm will pronounce further at some later date.

Meanwhile, keep an ear tuned to that shrubbery. And hope that Gordon keeps his tie on. Sphere: Related Content
Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites