Monday, May 31, 2010

Dreary steeples: 2

Fermanagh & South Tyrone ... yet again

If there is a competition for the most MPs (some eleven — which might yet reach the round dozen — over six decades) elected by a single constituency, in the shortest period of time, this one deserves consideration.

It is a vast rural stretch (see wikipedia's diagram, right). To the east it oh-so-nearly doesn't quite touch Lough Neagh. At the other end a finger-tip stretches for Bradoge Bridge, where the townland of Manger is the UK's Wild West (apart from sweet Rockall). In that fastness we are barely a spit-and-jump out of Bundoran.

Equally, politics is a weird business, wherein strange near-approximations to human life survive and prosper. But, for a prime selection of bizarre candidates over the years, this one has to be a runner. As Gawin Douglas said of his Eneados of 1513 (and Burns prefixed as the text above Tam O'Shanter):
Of Brownyis and of Bogillis full is this Buke.
Here's the sequence:
  • 1950 General Election: Cahir Healy (an interesting character, who will inspire a subsequent post).
  • 1951 General Election: still Cahir Healy, holding the seat on an increased majority of 2,635 out of 62,797 votes (an astounding 93.4% turn-out).
  • 1955 General Election: Philip Clarke taking the seat for Sinn Féin by 261 votes in a straight fight;
  • August 1955: an electoral court disqualified Clarke as a convicted felon (doing time for IRA activities) and awarded the seat to his defeated opponent, Lord Robert Grosvenor (later the 5th Duke of Westminster).
  • 1959 General Election 1959 Grosvenor held the seat with a huge majority over Sinn Féin.
  • 1964 General Election: James Hamilton, the Marquess of Hamilton (cousin of Grosvenor, and a major landowner in the constituency) saw off Aloysius Mulloy, standing as an "Independent Republican". NILP and Liberals split the vote.
  • 1966 General Election: the nationalist vote was split by a "Unity" candidate (J.J.Donnelly) and Sinn Féin's Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. Even so, Hamilton was back on a plurality.
  • 1970 General Election: Frank McManus stood as a "Unity" candidate, and took the seat off Hamilton. There was again a remarkable turn-out: over 92%. Not many were deceived by MacManus's anodyne party label: one brother, Pat, was killed in an IRA "own-goal" bombing in 1958; another is Father Seán McManus of the Redemptorists, founder of the Irish National Caucus.
  • In the first election of 1974, the nationalist vote was shared pretty evenly between McManus and Denis Haughey (the SDLP's long-term, all-purpose man-beyond-the-Bann). This let the sulphurous Harry West in for the Unionists.
  • October 1974: Frank Maguire (an "Independent Republican") cleaned up, 2,500 ahead of West, with a nugatory Maoist in for a laugh. Maguire had been the IRA Commander in Crumlin Road gaol, during internment. Even so, he was not a total abstentionist: famously he attended the last rites of the Callaghan government in 1979, to "abstain in person".
  • 1979 General Election: Maguire was returned despite a four way split (with an Alliance candidate making up the numbers). Austin Currie, as an "independent SDLP" candidate creamed off over 10,000 nationalist votes, but Ernest Baird, the chemist and hatchetman for the Vanguard Unionist rump, did the same for the unionist vote.
  • Frank Maguire's death in March, 1981, caused a famous by-election. Bobby Sands, on hunger strike in the H-blocks, squeezed past Harry West in a "straight" fight (thoughthere was little straight about the campaigning). Sands was dead four weeks later.
  • So a further by-election was held in the August. Since the law had changed, to prevent prisoners being nominated as candidates, Owen Carron (who had run Sands's campaign) won as the Anti-H blocks candidate (and as an abstentionist) over Ken Maginnis.
  • 1983 General Election: the SDLP put up Rosemary Flanagan, split Carron's nationalist support, and let Maginnis in. With SDLP continuing the split for the next four elections (the Unionist mass resignations causing 1986 by-elections and then the 1987, 1993, 1997 General Elections) Maginnis was re-elected, until he stood down for 2001 and went to the Lords. Perhaps Maginnis was recognising that the 1997 redistribution had moved the constituency fractionally in favour of the nationalists.
  • In 2001, again on a four way split, Michelle Gildernew was the faintest scintilla of a nose (just 53 votes) ahead of James Cooper for the UUP. That was despite the ever-present GAA-man Tommy Gallagher putting up for the SDLP (his third of four successive runs) and hoovering up ten thousand votes.
  • 2005 General Election: Michelle Gildernew had an easy ride, and a 4,500 majority, for Sinn Féin. This was because Arlene Foster inervened to take 14,000 for the DUP, pushing the UUP Councillor Tom Elliott MLA (who had been Cooper's agent in 2001, and should have known better) into third.
  • This time round, 2010, was the cliff-hanger. After much pushing-and-shoving, the DUP and UUP agreed Rodney Connor as an "independent Unionist". Since Cameron had made his daft commitment that the Tories be represented in every constituency, this involved a face-saving formula of words, that Connor would take the Whip on all non-constityency matters. Meanwhile, Fearghal McKinney, a transplant from Derry (not always a route to popularity in these parts) and local journo, thrust himself forward as the the SDLP candidate. Predictably he was squeezed out of serious contention. Even so, his 3,500 votes threatened Gildernew. After multiple recounts Gildernew was elected by just four votes. Connor was incandescent at the declaration, and is now pursuing his complaint through an electoral court.
Little of that will come new to anyone interested in this neck of the backwoods. Fermanagh & South Tyrone's shenanigans go through west-of-the-Bann political life the way letters go through seaside rock. Such recitals, though, help memory to be refreshed.

Malcolm, at the head of this posting, reached for Burns's Tam O'Shanter and Gawin Douglas on his Aeneid. That conceit now seems appropriate, for all sorts of reasons (some geophysical, some personal) when:
We think ... on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
In Fermanagh & South Tyrone, even more than the generality of Northern Ireland's politics, wrath is warm, and revenge is eaten cold.
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dreary steeples: 1

Mark McGregor has a neat reflection on Slugger O'Toole.

There, he does a think about the attempt by the "agreed" Unionist in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to have Michelle Gildernew's election (by four votes) overturned by the Courts. He notes that we went the same way in 2001, when James Cooper (for the UUP) failed. McGregor has the pertinent obiter dicta of Justice Carswell. All worth the trip: a Michelin 3-stars.

Mid Ulster, 1955

When Malcolm went into that thread, nobody had recollected the Mid Ulster shenanigans after the 1955 election.

In a straight fight, Tom Mitchell saw off Charles Beattie by 806 votes (with near on 60,000 ballots on the table). Mitchell was in chokey in Belfast: he had been done for the IRA raid on Omagh barracks. So, the Commons voted 197-63 to unseat him as a felon, giving the election to the also-ran. Not end of story.

The defeated Beattie, now enstooled as MP, was an Enniskillen auctioneer and general Unionist busybody. As a newly-minted MP he turned up and voted for the Tory government on numerous occasions. He seems never to have made a maiden speech: in Anglo-Tory terms, that must make him the perfect Ulster Unionist.

Alas! Beattie had been for many years a Unionist nominee on a whole splatter of appeal tribunals, which paid expenses. This trifle was then raised in the Commons. So, over the Christmas period of 1955-6, the wheels of parliamentary administration were grinding slow, but their pernicious smallness adjudged Beattie to have held “offices of profit under the Crown”. He, too, got the heave-ho.

Malcolm can assure all-comers the whole shebang merely reinforced the impression in Dublin that Northern Ireland was a very, very racketty joint.

What fun! What mirth! Now for Dick Martin!

Those who relish MPs’ elections being overturned on judicial appeal might care to refer to Richard Martin (1754-1834), MP for Galway (and one of the founders of the RSPCA).

He became popularised as “Humanity Dick” (let's have no Sid-the-Sexist snarfing, please!) after “Martin’s Act” of 1822, the world’s first legislation penalizing cruelty to animals.

When he was challenged on why he devoted so much time and energy to the cause, he responded: ‘Sir, an ox cannot hold a pistol!’ (there is an element of threat in that: his other moniker was “Hairtrigger Dick”, earned on the basis of fighting around a hundred duels, with both sword or pistol).

His significance here is that his re-election in 1826 was overturned on the ground of “illegal intimidation” (legal intimidation being, presumably, part and parcel of the business of politicking). Having lost his parliamentary immunity, he escaped his creditors by fleeing to Boulogne.

And, in another post, Malcolm will address the neighbouring constituency. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Malcolm's heroes of the day ...

are Ana M. Garcia and the team of researchers from from the the University of Valencia, the Generalitat Valenciana, and the Institut Municipal d'Investigació Mèdica, Barcelona:

Malcolm came across this first in today's Guardian:
Alcohol cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, especially among women and non-smokers, and drinkers are at lower risk than teetotallers, according to researchers from Valencia University in Spain, writing in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

"Our results for alcohol consumption generally point to a protective effect, especially light and moderate drinkers."
Or, from the original press release:
"Our results suggest a protective effect of alcohol consumption, mostly in nonsmokers, and the need to consider interactions between tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as interactions with gender, when assessing the effects of smoking and/or drinking on the risk of AD," according to lead investigator Ana M. Garcia, PhD, MPH, Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Valencia.

"Interactive effects of smoking and drinking are supported by the fact that both alcohol and tobacco affect brain neuronal receptors."
Since a previous study indicated:
Alcohol cuts the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by up to 50%
it's all A-OK.

Cheers, Ana! Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 24, 2010

Essential reading

Carl Hiaasen on a roll:
It's fashionable to be mad at the government these days, but many folks are unclear about how to join the movement.

The first step is to master the idiom of outrage. It's not just government, it's Big Government. Or even better: Big Guv'ment.

Huge, clunky, intrusive, exorbitant -- that's Uncle Sam. Get off our backs, get out of our lives and let go of our wallets!

The sentiment has been around for 234 years, but never before did we have the Internet to make it feel so fresh and original. Every red-blooded patriot should aspire to a life that's more or less free of government, which apparently can't do anything right.

Get the rest (What did the Romans ever do for us?) at the Miami Herald site. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A glorious day ... what to do?

Find a decent pub and drink in the sun, obviously.

The Duke of York is quite a fine-looking building. Once upon a time it was the natural watering hole between Barnet and Potters Bar, on the old North Road. Today it is just out of earshot of the M25, a spit beyond the Greater London boundary line into Hertfordshire.

When the Lady in his Life and Malcolm started visiting here, it was little more than a roadside steak bar. It has brightened, expanded and now puts on a decent appearance. A bit suburban golf-clubby perhaps, but none the worse for that. A mixed clientele makes it a bit more appealing than the norm in these parts.

On draught three good beers, London Pride and Doom Bar as regulars. A grill and a bottle of Cab in between partakings. Then a long, leisurely sit in the pleasant beer-garden.

More out of cussedness (and a wish for both parties to drink) meant the Lady in his Life and Malcolm undertook the hike on public transport. The 84 from New Barnet all the way to St Albans is as far out as the London red buses venture: London travel passes seem to work as far as Potters Bar.

What's not to like? Sphere: Related Content
When friends fall out

The Spectator was Boris Johnson's plaything, the launch-pad for his campaign for the London mayorality. It is therefore enlightening to see this week's cover article:
Has Boris lost his grip?

The article that depends from this presumption is, sadly, hidden behind a subscription wall.

So, as a public service, here is what it says:
Must do better: Boris Johnson’s half-term report

Mira Bar-Hillel says that the lovable London Mayor was once a lodestar for the Tories nationwide, but his intellectual laziness and a tendency to listen to bad advice is leading him astray.

On Question Time last month, Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, was asked about his plans to build a new airport in the Thames estuary: an idea seen as reasonable by some and insane by others. As he blustered amiably away, saying not very much, a lady interrupted and asked: 'Why can't you just admit it when you are wrong instead of waffling on?' The audience roared with approval.

It was an Emperor's New Clothes moment. The innocent questioner had put her finger on Boris's fatal flaws: he can't admit he's wrong, but he's a little too lazy to do his homework properly, and that often leaves him intellectually denuded. The Mayor of London giggled, then drifted into silence; the cameras kept rolling and a question began to form itself in viewers' minds: just how well suited is Boris to power?

The questions that first arose in that silence echo even louder now, after the coalition deal. For unhappy Tory back-benchers and for the disgruntled membership, Boris is the Prince over the Water. His sister Rachel spoke for many when she tweeted — as the results came in — 'It's all gone tits up! Send for Boris.' And Boris has never made much of a secret of his rivalry with David Cameron. He has opposed his party leader on major contentious issues: amnesty for illegal immigrants (Boris is in favour), taxing bankers' bonuses and the 50p tax (Boris is against), the Tories' refusal to commit to funding the new airport Boris wants in the Thames estuary. The relationship between BJ and Dave is one of jovial, almost fraternal opposition. But if the Lib-Con pact falls apart, if Cameron falls under the number 59 bus, then the party may well be tempted to 'send for Boris' and find him a safe seat somewhere.

But before the grass roots start growing around Boris, it's worth taking a careful look at what sort of Mayor he is. Having served two of his four years, it is no longer premature to ask if this lovable, quotable Mayor can actually deliver. And I'm afraid the verdict on his mayoralty is the same verdict given by most newspapers to his new Routemaster bus unveiled on Tuesday: nice idea, good intentions, but shame about the bungled execution.

I first met Boris Johnson after his mayoral candidacy was announced in the autumn of 2007. I was desperate to see Ken Livingstone gone from City Hall for reasons too numerous to mention and couldn't wait for his replacement. I was keen to discuss with Boris the issues I had been covering for the London Evening Standard for over 25 years, and which I knew mattered deeply to the electorate: planning and housing. As he was MP for Henley at the time, we met in his parliamentary office and we chatted for two hours. He was charming, highly intelligent, quick-witted and sincere. The London he wanted to lead was, for him, a city of brick, stone, slate and tile, where the traditional streetscapes worked best and where Ken's towers were unwelcome and unwanted, apart from in the business centres of the City and Canary Wharf.

It was music to my ears and we parted with a warm handshake. I was then summoned to join Boris's election 'planning task force'. The session was a bit chaotic, but I clearly recall urging Boris to end Ken's eight-year war with the London boroughs and promise not to interfere with their democratically made planning decisions unless it was absolutely necessary. He agreed, and this message, especially to the mainly Tory outer boroughs, was acknowledged as one of the election tactics which helped win him the crucial suburban vote.

Boris also expressed strong opposition to skyscrapers in predominately low-rise suburban centres, with a specific mention of the 'penny whistle' at Ealing Broadway. I looked forward to a second meeting, where I hoped to raise the subject of London's massive housing crisis, which Livingstone had shamefully allowed to grow and fester. It never happened. The 'task force' proved a nine-minute wonder, but I remained optimistic.

After Boris was elected, I went to City Hall to brief officials about planning and housing and spoke to Richard Blakeway, an able and willing young man who didn't know very much but seemed keen to learn and took copious notes. In July I was approached by a firm of headhunters. They were, they said, looking for a Deputy Mayor for Housing and wanted to interview me as soon as possible. But after the interview, I was then told by the nice chap who had questioned me that the position of Deputy Mayor for Housing had been, er, abolished, and would I be prepared to be put forward as Director of Housing Policy instead? OK, I said, what the hell.

The poor man was too embarrassed to then tell me, some days later, that this position had also mysteriously disappeared, and I received an email instead. It was all very Boris. Oh, and it was eventually announced that the Mayor's housing adviser would be ... Richard Blakeway. The result, I regret to report, is that London has no housing policy.

Having laid my cards on the table, I am of course open to accusations of sour grapes. So be it. But my point here is not to suggest that Boris should have listened to me so much as to identify a pattern which he has established over these last two years: well-meaning enthusiasm, followed by listening to bad advice, several U-turns, and an unsatisfactory result.

In the past year I have crossed swords with the Mayor's office on several issues, some with Boris's direct involvement. And my sad conclusion is that, while I am still convinced that Boris is hard not to like and that his intentions are for the most part genuinely good, he (like Prince Charles) is too weak, too lazy and too ill-advised at the highest level to implement his policies. He lacks attention to detail and, because of his desire to be liked and to avoid confrontation with City Hall staff and agencies, he is all too easily fobbed off. And, as the Question Time woman revealed, he will not admit mistakes. Remember the ‘inverted pyramid of piffle’ — as he described the truthful reporting of one of his marital infidelities.

Worst of all, he seems to have fallen among thieves. No fewer than five of his top ‘aides’ have famously been forced out of office in lamentable circumstances, severely damaging the reputation of the man who first appointed them and then — in some cases — allowed them to stay in post long after it was no longer tenable. In March he had to sack Bertha Joseph, deputy chairman of the London Fire Authority, who had spent £900 of charitable donations on two ballgowns — but only after rejecting earlier demands to do so. He also waited far too long before dismissing the appalling Deputy Mayor Ian Clement, who was then convicted of misusing a City Hall credit card. It really makes you wonder who he consults before making his appointments.

A few weeks ago, an Audit Commission Report condemned the useless London Development Agency (LDA) for having ‘failed to meet the minimum requirements to manage its finances to deliver value for money'. The LDA was the anti-Conservative creature of Ken and his cronies and Boris should have dealt with it decisively and severely from day one. Instead he continues to rely on it for advice and has allowed it to mishandle the Olympics land budget to the tune of £160 million.

Then there's the cost of the Olympics Village (where athletes will be crammed to flats in blocks resembling 1960s council estates which no one will want to buy when the games are over) which is around £300 million more than can be justified. Boris seemed genuinely worried about this at first, but then allowed himself to be fobbed off by the Olympics Delivery Authority.

Another example of Boris's devotion to high-profIle projects and wilful blindness their consequences, is Crossrail. Boris is essentially a kind man and a natural defender of victims — so why hasn't he managed to curtail Crossrail's awful bullying of the residents and businesses standing in its way? St Patrick's Church in Soho Square is a listed building. It houses a soup kitchen which feeds and cares for some of London's most vulnerable inhabitants, but it is still waiting for assurances from Crossrail that it will be fully compensated for any damage done to it by the project. Its priest, Father Alexander Sherbrooke, has approached Boris but warm words have so far yielded no discernible results.

Even on what I believed to be heartfelt opposition to skyscrapers in unsuitable loca¬tions, Boris has been flip-flopping alarmingly. Almost immediately after his election, he failed to oppose an LDA-backed tower on the South Bank in spite of its negative impact on historic views. Having objected to the massive 'three ugly sisters' scheme at Waterloo, he inexplicably changed his mind and approved it — only to see it rejected as 'fundamentally unacceptable' by the former communities secretary John Denham. And what about the Ealing 'penny whistle' tower that Boris singled out for attack before he was elected? Well, another U-turn made him give it the thumbs up — but only to see that plan also rejected by John Denham, on the grounds that it would have had 'a dominant and overbearing impact' which would damage the area — which is precisely what Boris said back in 2007.

On 1 May 2008 Boris defeated Livingstone by a large margin and he still enjoys personal popularity, but his track record leaves too much to be desired, and Ken Livingstone is already hovering like Banquo's ghost. In the capital, congestion on roads and bridges is set to worsen, while the state of the Tube means that public transport is increasingly a hit-and-miss affair, especially at the weekend. Hundreds of overpaid folk at the Mayor's Transport for London are unable to mitigate the chaos, yet the man officially in charge of it offers little but mumbled apologies.

Boris must accept his organisational and administrative shortcomings and his reliance on key staff. He must therefore replace those who are letting him — and us — down, putting aside misplaced loyalties. He must clarify his priorities and insist that his lieutenants implement his agenda, not their own. If he does, his engaging personality could carry him through the tough economic times which lie ahead. If he fails, a different Mayor could be on the world stage, opening those 2012 Olympics — and a different Conservative PM will reunite the party in the post-Cameron era.
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 21, 2010

The sordid side of a rustic retreat

To learn something of the story the estate agent isn't telling, go to Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service.
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 17, 2010

Recipe for depression: number two

As the new barbarism (with value added tax at 20%) closes in, we have to wonder how much the Arts will suffer under the new "modernising" tendency. One looks long and hard for the cultured, the erudite, the reader among our new Master Race.

So, today, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm betook themselves on an outing, before the darkness closed in.

It started with a very pleasant lunch, reasonably-priced because it was just far enough away from the tourist-trap that is London's Covent Garden, accompanied by a rather nice bottle of red Cab. Then on to the National Theatre for the crusties' mat-in-ay of The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett's invention of an end-of-life encounter between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten. There are enough reviews around for passers-by to check it out:

Chirstopher Hart [sic] in the Times gave it four stars and reckoned it was sub-Brechtian:
Nicholas Hytner’s direction is a perfect match for Bennett’s charm here, and the performances are a treat. Frances de la Tour as Kay the stage manager is hilarious, for ever having to reassure her actors, to soothe their little tantrums and wipe away their tears. The only real weakness in the piece is the introduction of a rent boy called Stuart, an unconvincing shovelling of A Sympathetic Member of the Working Classes into these cosy proceedings, to make some point about inequality, social injustice and so forth. It’s all as woolly as a Marks & Spencer cardie.
In the Guardian, Michael Billington, also on four stars, is more to the point:
Bennett's play is at its strongest when it deals with the theme implicit in its title: the idea that, for the artist, creativity is a constant, if troubling imperative. We see this in the beautifully written encounter between Britten and Auden. Temperamentally, the two men could hardly be more different: the one a model of restraint, the other an apostle of sexual freedom and something of an intellectual bully. But Britten's anxieties about Death in Venice, and his fear that it may be an act of self-revelation, are movingly countered by Auden's desperate desire to be involved in the libretto. It never happened; but it acquires an imaginative plausibility and shows two great artists, towards the end of their lives, united in their belief in the power of the creative impulse. As Auden himself says, "what matters is the work".

A play that could easily seem tricksy is also given a superbly fluid production by Nicholas Hytner and is beautifully acted. Richard Griffiths bears no physical resemblance to Auden but he becomes a vivid metaphor for the poet. At the same time, Griffiths reminds us of the tetchy actor who is simply playing a role. Alex Jennings offers an equally potent echo of the angst-ridden Britten, spitting out the name of "Tippett" with calculated asperity. Adrian Scarborough as Carpenter and Frances de la Tour as the stage manager are no less magnetic.
Paul Taylor for the Indy was more positive, seeing the play as a personal "coming-out" by Bennett:
Nicholas Hytner directs with an unerring instinct for the volatile nature of the material in a cracking production that flirtatiously keeps the audience up to speed with the outrageous amount of information and allusion. The play-within-the-play is replete with potty, poetry-spouting personifications of, say, Auden’s fabled Wrinkles who kvetch about the strain of working on a face that, as Hockney once remarked, made you wonder how on earth his scrotum looked. The pastiche is always superbly pointed. I loved the moment when Britten, barking avuncular orders at one of his beloved boy sopranos, pounds strenuous pianistic dissonance into one of his nursery rhyme settings. The outer play is full of lovely observant comedy about the protocols of the rehearsal room, especially from Frances de la Tour all dryly witty, battle-hardened, managing motherliness with the egos who have landed in Rehearsal Room One. Hytner revealed at a press conference that Bennett at one stage wanted to call the play Caliban’s Day and you can see why. For just as The Sea and the Mirror, Auden’s poetic meditation on The Tempest gives the last word to the low-class monster, so Bennett allows the rent-boy to speak up at the conclusion for the culturally excluded bit-players who service the educated but don’t get a look-in at life’s ongoing arts festival. “I don’t even know what I don’t know,” he complains. “I want to get in. I want to join. I want to know”.
For a comedic romp which has an interlude inside a play inside a play, on a set which is both spare and cluttered, which is referential to drama, music, poetry, criticism and Oxford life (high and low), and has both Richard Griffiths and Francis de la Tour (previously together on stage here with The History Boys), it was all a fine way to spend an afternoon.

And so home, in the rain of mid-May, another bottle of something red, and a rather nice pie made by the Pert Young Piece. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Recipe for depression: number one

Now we enter the dog-eat-dog days.

The Tories are already digging out the Karl Rove troupes. Let's recall one of his greatest hits: the departing Clinton staffers vandalising the computers in the White House. Allegedly, they removed all the W keys. The truth was 62 missing keyboards: out of how many, please? How many has the average blogger trashed with a loose coffee cup? Rove's apparatchik proposed enormous damage. $20,000 covered the lot: keyboards, 26 missing cell phones, two cameras, ten antique doorknobs and several presidential medallions and office signs. Not bad wear-and-tear for eight years occupation.

Despite Rove's quick-to-the-press room allegations, the Government Accounting Office took thirty months to conclude ... not much had really happened.

Today, predictably, the Cameroons are played the same game. They have fed their tame mouth-piece, the Sunday Times with this:
David Cameron fury at Labour's 'scorched earth' debts

David Cameron readied Britain for deeper spending cuts and higher tax increases today, accusing Labour of making crazy spending decisions during its final period in office.

The new coalition Government will tomorrow call in independent auditors to establish the true scale of official debts, the Prime Minister said.
There's a good old Wobbly song, with a resounding chorus, which Malcolm will be singing repeatedly, each and every time he comes across one of these tawdry little turd-slingings.

It goes like this:
Put it on the ground,
Spread it all around,
Dig it with a hoe:
It'll make your flowers grow!
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 14, 2010

An illustrated and allusive guide to Noto55

Malcolm is frequently convinced that his iTunes feed is hexed: its degree of appropriate prescience is inspired.

He was about to post on the iniquitous 55% rule (see previous posts below) when John Cash started to belt out Remember the Alamo:

Tangentially relevant: Noto55 is a small Alamo. We may not win; but it is a strike for a significant freedom. Anyway, Cash is worthwhile at all times, any pretext to drag him into the discussion should be snaffled. And he is a one heck of a lot more impressive than the dismal prospect of Marty Robbins chirruping up on the same topic, with Paul Francis Webster's doggerel (he did much better elsewhere) to Dmitri Tiomkin's tune:
In the sand he drew a line with his army saber
Out of a hundred eighty five not a soldier crossed the line.
With his banners a dancin' in the dawn's golden light,
Santa Ana came prancin' on a horse that was black as the night ...
Well, we're not that far gone yet. But there is a line-in-the-sand. And, according to the Daily Mail, we have our Colonel Travis:
... a number of MPs want to retain the right to kick out a government by a simple majority of one, in a no confidence vote.

David Davis - once Mr Cameron's leadership rival - is understood to be among a growing number of politicians of the Left and Right opposed to the 'stitch-up'.
Davis is a Tory, and a rank one (so that's two strikes against him in Malcolm's elephantine memory). He is, however, an honourable man. Malcolm had to respect him when he went on his Quixotic by-election campaign against ID-cards and the rest of the surveillance society.

Notice that the iTunes playlist has now segued to equally-magnificent Jacques Brel:

If Davis is mustering, in the backwoods of Tory opinion something stirs. Over on Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service, our guide, philosopher and friend is noting two Tory grandees girding for a punch-up on the same issue.

Good on them all. Sphere: Related Content
The Pert Young Piece opines:

Regulars will previously have encountered Malcolm's daughter, the Pert Young Piece.

Her reaction to Noto55:
The coalition want 55% and we will have the power to recall corrupt MPs.

Well, surely any MP — Tory or Lib Dem —who votes for 55% is offending democracy and corrupt. So, let's recall them all, the day after the vote.

Sent from my iPhone
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The 55% rule

For the record, this was Southsea Expat's comment on Iain Dale's Diary:
The requirement for a no confidence motion to bring down the Government will remain 50% +1. The new 55% requirement is for a vote to bring about the dissolution of Parliament — a completely separate thing. It is standard practice in other countries which have fixed term parliaments — to prevent the party in power from getting round the fixed term by voting against itself and thus bringing about an election at an advantageous time of its own choosing. So it is a necessary part of the move to a fixed term parliament. Under the proposed new system the government could lose a confidence vote if 50% +1 voted against them. The Prime Minister would then have to resign and the Queen could invite the leader of another party to form a government. What the Prime Minister could not do would be to use a no confidence vote to trigger a general election. The actual dissolution of Parliament would require a 55% vote. This paper from the Constitution Unit at University College London explains the issue. You will see that the Liberal Democrat Manifesto pledged to
introduce fixed-term parliaments to ensure that the Prime Minister of the day cannot change the date of an election to suit themselves
whilst the Conservative manifesto pledged to make
the Royal Prerogative subject to greater democratic control so that Parliament is properly involved.
Since the Labour manifesto also contained a pledge to bring in fixed term parliaments, I am not sure why any of the parties are getting so upset about this.
All of that is fair; and above board. Except:

The 55% rule

There are (nominally: the following assumes Thirsk & Malton votes Tory) 650 seats. the outcome was:
  • Conservative: 306
  • Labour: 258
  • Lib Dem: 57
  • Democratic Unionist: 8
  • SNP: 6
  • Sinn Féin: 5
  • Plaid Cymru: 3
  • Social Democratic and Labour: 3
  • Alliance: 1
  • Green: 1
  • Independent Unionist: 1
  • The Speaker: 1
Now: 55% of that ConDemLib majority is:
(306 + 57) = 363
Whereas 55% of the Commons is:
So 358, curiously enough, is about the only round number which would guarantee a ConDem majority against all eventualities. In effect, the ConDem government is reckoning to lose just half-a-dozen by-elections in a five-year parliament. [See below.]

Were there more losses, or a few defections, would the 55% rule be suddenly adjusted upwards?

Bottom line:

There are two different issues here:
  1. does an administration have the confidence of the House of Commons?
  2. does the lack of confidence require the government to renew its mandate by seeking a popular vote?
Until this moment, those have been regarded as inseparable. This coalition seeks to perpetuate itself, for an unconscionable five years, by separating the two.

For a start, five years is above the normal quota: in practice in the UK, by legislation pretty well everywhere else. Four years (as for the devolved Assemblies) might, just might be more reasonable.

Consider that fifth year: a lame-duck parliament. It is in the interest of every non-government party, for sheer electoral reasons, to vote solidly against the administration. "Pairings" and other arrangements would go by the board. Many of those votes will be lost by the administration. In effect, for a year, the government is by that 55% rule.

Any, and every government is, to some extent, a coalition. Some are explicit. Others, even most, are not. This one, against all tradition is trying to impose a rule which suits only itself.

That is the breach of democratic principle involved. Sphere: Related Content
Fair play for Lord North!

The previous post sent Malcolm in search of what brought down Lord North's government. He was vaguely sure that it wasn't a full-blown vote of confidence (and, even if it were, in those days if that would have been terminal).

So here's the key bit from the DNB, written by Peter Thomas (who published the still-current biography in 1976:

The last act of North's ministry was played out on the appropriate stage of the House of Commons, during February and March 1782. Only once, on 27 February, was the ministry defeated, over a motion to end offensive war in America. The vain hope that George III would allow North to negotiate peace kept him from resigning, but he now lost the backing of MPs who had supported his stand against American independence. After his majority fell to nine on 15 March, a group of independent MPs informed him they were withdrawing support, and, facing defeat on the next vote of confidence on 20 March, he thereupon informed the king that he must resign:
The Parliament have altered their sentiments, and as their sentiments whether just or erroneous must ultimately prevail, Your Majesty, having persevered, as long as possible, in what you thought right, can lose no honour if you yield at length, as some of the most renowned and most glorious of your predecessors have done, to the opinions and wishes of the House of Commons. (Correspondence of George III, 5.395)

Only with ungracious reluctance on 20 March itself did George III accept this constitutional lesson, accusing North of desertion. He, by contrast, in his Commons resignation speech that day, behaved with ‘equanimity, suavity and dignity’, diarist Wraxall recalled, thanking the house for its long and steady support, and declaring his readiness to answer for ‘his public conduct’.
On the other hand, North was a rank and unreconstructed aristocratic bastard: both his American and Irish policies were disastrous.

So, let's not take this "fair play" thing too far. Sphere: Related Content
Free the Prime Ministerial Eleven!

Clearly, the Torygraph hasn't relented on its anti-Cameron campaign. The last couple of days brought huge doses of urine from Simon Heffer (not surprisingly) and little enthusiasm from Benedict Brogan. Today, on its blog-pages, Gerald Warner was licensed to bite the legs off Theresa May, the incoming Home Secretary, a.k.a. Commissar for Wimmin and Equality on the grounds that:
May is a one-woman disaster area, a ticking time-bomb of incompetence waiting to detonate in one of the more sensitive departments of state...

May is the archetypal moderniser, the Cameronian revolution’s Goddess of Reason. As shadow Transport Secretary she distinguished herself by failing to lay a glove, over months, on the mortally wounded Stephen Byers. At the Conservative Party’s 2002 conference she coined the ricochet phrase “the nasty party”, which damaged the Tories more than any demonising slogan that Mandy, McBride et al. could devise. At the 2005 conference she strutted the stage with kitten-heeled arrogance and lectured the assembled voluntary workers: “There is no place for you in our (sic) Conservative Party”, as she promoted the kamikaze modernising agenda. That was the first notification the party faithful had that ownership of the party had passed from them to a clique of the Entitled Ones.

As the “nasty party” example demonstrated, May has always possessed an uncanny capacity to damage the Tory Party. In the office of Home Secretary she will now have unrivalled scope to exercise that talent. She occupies the post because Chris Grayling who shadowed it, in a moment of fatal candour, confessed to a modicum of sympathy for B & B owners compelled to allow homosexual activity within their own homes.

That was enough to destroy his career: in the Compassionate Conservative Party the slightest hint of compassion for ordinary, non-metrosexual Britons – still worse, for Christians – is a ticket to oblivion.
Come on, Gerald! You can do better than that!

And, sure enough, he did. On a topic that needs far more attention than Ms May:
... there is the proposal to raise the bar for voting down a failing government on a vote of no-confidence to 55 per cent of MPs. At present, 50 per cent plus one is sufficient. This measure would preserve in power governments that had lost the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons as large as 54 per cent. Since the first vote of no confidence brought down Lord North, on account of certain little local difficulties in the American colonies in 1782, a total of 11 Prime Ministers have been ejected from office in this way.
In other words:
  • Lord North lost the confidence of Parliament along with the American colonies.
  • Jim Callaghan lost the confidence of the Commons because, honourably, he prevented the Whips dragging in the dying MP, Alf Broughton (while Frank Maguire, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, turned up to "abstain in person").
In point of fact, Lord North went before he was pushed. But let's not undermine a good story.

Suddenly now a "majority" of the Commons no longer means (Number of MPs voting)÷2 + 1 (which, in practice means about 310 "nay" votes).

No: it's 55% of (Number of MPs voting) + 1. Which means something like 630 or 631.

ConDems in action. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old verse revisited:

... for by many stories,
And true, we learn the LibDems are now

Compare: Byron
The Vision of Judgment
Lines 207-8
Sphere: Related Content
Old slogans revisited

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Harrods fit for humans again?

The BBC (along with others) is reporting that Mohammed Al Fayed has sold Harrods:
The department store Harrods has been sold for a purchase price of about £1.5bn, the BBC can confirm.

Owner Mohammed Al Fayed has agreed to sell the exclusive west London store to Qatar Holdings...

A colourful and controversial figure, Mr Al Fayed acquired Harrods in 1985 following a £615m takeover bid.
On the basis of those figures, and allowing for inflation over 25 years, it looks as if Al Fayed has just about broken even. Despite the spiral of London property values. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 7, 2010

From the BBC News website:

BREAKING NEWS We have a hung
parliament. There is now no chance of the
Conservatives winning a Commons

At the behest of the late Reverend John Ebenezer Brown, the congregation will now rise and sing:
Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices ...
Perhaps, after all, the British are ready for Home Rule.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Sunday, 2nd May, 2010: the ever-mirthful IKEA catalogue

IKEA sell a skirt-hanger:

Why did that cause Malcolm's chortle?

Sphere: Related Content
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