Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ashcroft update

In day, wait is it 4? of the world-shattering Ashcroft biography, the bitter billionaire noble searcher for truth accidentally reveals the guiding philosophy of his book:
But it’s easier to accuse Cameron of [fill in blank here] than to find any concrete evidence for it.
Easier to still to ignore the evidence and just print the accusations!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The astonishing revelations continue!

Ashcroft and Oakeshott, the Woodward and Bernstein de nos jours, continue their amazing run of maybe true anecdotes today. Here are just some of the astonishing stories that warrant inclusion in an unprofessional hatchet job a work of serious political biography.

David Cameron went to a party.
By the time the PR Matthew Freud and his wife, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, sweep in, the party is in full swing — loud, boozy and perhaps not entirely free of class-A drugs.
That is almost as weaselly as the 'I'm not sure I believe this story but I'm going to include it anyway' one we had yesterday. "Perhaps not entirely free of class-A drugs"? Yassus.

David Cameron once lost his mobile phone
‘He was wandering around drunk, asking if anyone had seen it. I couldn’t believe it,’ says the guest.
David Cameron once had a conversation with Jeremy Clarkson
‘There was a huge marquee full of ladies with big hair and even bigger jewellery. The entertainment for the evening was Dave in conversation with Jeremy Clarkson, who seemed to be smashed off his face.
There's a photo of David Cameron riding a horse
It was taken at the final gathering of the Heythrop Hunt before the ban came into effect, a few days after Christmas 2004. Cameron can be seen on a fine bay mount, looking a little nervous, as horses assemble in the square in Chipping Norton.
Sadly for everyone after yesterday, he's only going hunting on it.

David Cameron once wrote a letter in support of a constituent
Did the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) go easy on Barnfield after pressure from Cameron? It seems more than possible.
The pressure consisting of a letter as Leader of the Opposition to the Attorney General.

Stay tuned for more indiscreet trivial gossip searing revelations!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Piers Gav

As a quick follow-up to that last one, the founder of the Piers Gaveston had this comment:
‘It is a ridiculous story,’ he says. ‘As far as I know David Cameron was never a member of the Piers Gaveston Society, so there would have been no need for an initiation ceremony. He may well have attended one of their parties, but the pig’s head story is purely malicious gossip.'
The problem is that this is all much too late: that the whole saga will end up on Snopes in 25 years' time is probably about the best Cameron can hope for.


It's extremely hard not to start this with a cliche of some variety. Hell hath no fury like a billionaire tax exile scorned? That apocryphal LBJ story about pretty much exactly this?
The race was close and Johnson was getting worried.  Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested.  “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”
Whatever. Lord Ashcroft has made the claim in his book, and it's all anyone will talk about for the next few days. The damage has basically been done now (what does anyone remember about Catherine the Great after all?), but this strikes me as an astonishingly shitty piece of work by Ashcroft. Look at how the story is stood up:
A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig.
So, an unnamed source claims David Cameron was initiated at the Piers Gaveston and stuck his penis in a dead pig's mouth. Crikey. That's kind of an extraordinary claim. What was it that Carl Sagan said about extraordinary claims? I didn't even think Cameron was a member of the Piers Gav, but I'm sure our unidentified informant knows better - after all he was there. Wasn't he?
The source — himself an MP — first made the allegation out of the blue at a business dinner in June 2014. Lowering his voice, he claimed to have seen photographic evidence of this disgusting ritual.
Oh. He wasn't there. So in fact we have a single anonymous second hand source who claims to have seen a photograph of David Cameron sticking his cock in a pig's head.  So what's the evidence - can we see the photo?
The MP also gave us the dimensions of the alleged photograph, and provided the name of the individual who he claims has it in his keeping. The owner, however, has failed to respond to our approaches.
No, we can't see the photo - and nor did Ashcroft before running with the story. So we have a single anonymous second hand source who claims to have seen a photograph of David Cameron sticking his cock in a pig's head but doesn't have any corroborating evidence to back up his word. Right. The word of an MP.
MPs and peers are the worst gossips of all. In 15 years in Westminster I would be told increasingly lurid tales about their rivals’ secrets. The MP who was too friendly with her pet pooch? The peer who dressed as a schoolgirl? None of them were provable and none of them were printed. Most were simply lies.
 As Ian Kirby says in that piece:
It is in the book because Lord Ashcroft has made the (probably correct) assumption that the Prime Minister has more on his plate than to sue him for libel over an unprovable allegation from 30 years ago.
If this story is at all representative of the book as a whole, it's an illustration of the point that out-and-out hatchet jobs are usually rubbish.

Friday, September 18, 2015

There's nothing funny about that!

Look, I don't want to interrupt private grief, so I've kept Corbyn coverage to a minimum here (apart from anything else, I simply don't understand what's just happened to the Labour party so have little to add other than a dropped jaw). However, this article about whether it's even possible to make fun of such a saintly, perfect figure does call for some form of response.
Probably this will remain a default Corbyn characterisation – that he’s a joyless socialist calculating machine who’s swallowed a copy of Das Kapital. That’s a lefty caricature bordering on cliche.
"A left caricature bordering on cliche" is about as good a thumbnail description of Jeremy Corbyn as I can think of, offhand. This is a man with a beard who wears vests. A privately educated man whose first wife divorced him because he spent his evenings photocopying pamphlets for the Labour party, and who divorced his second wife because she wanted to send their children to a grammar school. A man who appointed an IRA apologist as Shadow Chancellor and a vegan as Shadow Agriculture Minister.

A man who not only had an affair with Diane Abbott, but went on a socialist motorbiking holiday to East Germany with her (there's a fly-on-the-wall sitcom just begging to be made). A man whose hobbies include signal boxes,

And photographing manhole covers,
“My mother always said there’s history in drain covers,” he said. “I take pictures of them. People think it’s a little odd but there we are.”
It's as though in his formative years he watched I'm All Right Jack and thought, 'you know, that Fred Kite is a real role model'. If satirists really genuinely can't find anything to laugh at here, it's less because he's "too nice" and more because Corbyn already looks like a satirists creation without the need for invention.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A socialist fairyland!

This isn't a post about Jeremy Corbyn, although the title makes it sound lime one. It is in fact about a piece in the Guardian all about the Islington of Asia, North Korea. It's mainly about the architecture of Pyongyang, with a sideline in the city as a whole. It also reads as though it's been filed from Pyongyang itself. Try this:
“Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland!” urges another of this year’s official slogans. From the top of the Juche Tower, a gigantic candle-like obelisk that stands beside the river in the centre of Pyongyang, the capital does indeed unfold as a fairytale landscape – a sea of pastel-coloured apartment blocks, painted in chalky pinks and yellows, baby blue and teal, punctuated by lush green parks, and with a variety of futurist forms poking up on the horizon.
“It’s always a breath of fresh air to arrive here after Beijing,” says Bonner. “It is probably one of the greenest cities in Asia, and it’s now busy doing, on a much smaller scale, what Barcelona did – with a big emphasis on improving the landscape and recreation spaces.” It’s not quite Las Ramblas, but it is a bold initiative, evidenced by the crowds of volunteer women we see swarming along the riverbank, busy shovelling mounds of sand in preparation for a new waterfront promenade.
Lovely, pretty buildings and green spaces - wait a minute, what was that last bit?
it is a bold initiative, evidenced by the crowds of volunteer women we see swarming along the riverbank, busy shovelling mounds of sand in preparation for a new waterfront promenade.
Volunteers huh? Someone's been drinking the kool aid.
After a few days in Pyongyang, I find myself always looking out for the cheery leaders, forever offering a toothy grin, depicted standing before ever more spectacular landscapes. The few buildings without portraits or statues begin to feel bereft.
There's then a lot about the theories of North Korean architecture (helpfully articulated by Kim Jong-il in his 160-page treatise On Architecture, published in 1991) before the author hints that he might not be getting quite the entire story.
Outside the pleasure dome, in zones off-limits to foreign visitors, most of the socialist fairyland still suffers from frequent power shortages, chronic food insecurity and deteriorating standards of healthcare and education – realities that are safely obscured inside Pyongyang’s candy-coloured mirage.
He's actually summed up the story already, without quite noticing it.
“National in form, socialist in content,” explains our guide.
National socialist. Sounds about right.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Are you a Good Person?

Well, are you? Are you a member of the human race? Does seeing other people suffering not spark your compassion? Look at this:

Not graphic enough? What about this:

Convinced yet? I'm not going to post the next picture in the sequence, because we all know what it is already. I have two little girls aged six and four, and every time I see that photo I want to cry.

But we're all Good People here aren't we? And now that the refugee crisis in the Middle East, which has been going on for 3-4 years, has now been sufficiently illustrated it's important that we all demonstrate what Good People we are by decrying our Government for Not Doing Enough, and shout loudly that Something Should Be Done. It's important when doing this to shout loudly that Britain has only taken 216 Syrian refugees, while Germany has taken 800,000.
It's basically irrelevant to this argument that Britain has actually taken in about 5,000 Syrian refugees, or that the figure for Germany is total applications expected this year, rather than those accepted from one country. Details aren't the point here - righteous anger is.

I understand this (I feel it too, because I am a Good Person, just like all of you). But because it's Friday I'm going to take things a step or so further. First things first. When you see desperate refugees fleeing a brutal civil war between brutal authoritarian fascists on one hand, and things that are even worse on the other, the natural immediate impulse is to help. Britain has a history of welcoming refugees, and even where that history is less pure than we might like, the impulse to help has always been there.

So the obvious response is for Britain to accept many more refugees from Syria and either to accept them as permanent residents here, or to provide long-term refuge until and unless Syria can be stabilised sufficiently for them to return home. There are thousands of refugees at Calais desperate to get to Britain. We could start there. There are thousands more rescued in the Mediterranean by the Royal Navy. They could come too. Lastly there are hundreds of thousands in Greece, Italy and Hungary escaping by land and sea. We could take our share of them too.

The question that should be asked at this point though is what our actual aim is. Is it to minimise loss of life among the refugee population? Is it to reduce the numbers risking their lives on rickety and overcrowded ships on the Med? Is it to do everything we can to assist in the rebuilding of Syria once the war ends? Or is it to give ourselves a pat on the back and a nice glowy feeling of having done the right thing?

Because if our actual intention is any of the first three, then concentrating on the actual numbers taken in by Britain is counter-productive thing. If we rescue people from the Med, scoop them up out of the water and take them to the UK, what message are we sending? Obviously, that the way to get to Britain is to get on a boat. Equally, if we take in refugees that have made it to continental Europe, then the message is that the way to get to Britain is to get to Europe first. That is the journey, from Turkey, from Egypt, from Libya that is killing people. A primary policy should be to reduce the number of people wanting to make that journey, not increase the incentives for making it.

A policy that has a fair chance of actually saving more lives is to increase funding for the refugee camps in the region, and to grant asylum to people from those camps. This is, incidentally, more or less exactly what the UK has been doing, providing more money in aid than any other EU country (and as much as Germany and France combined). To the extent that Britain resettles more Syrian refugees (and for what it's worth I think they should, because I'm a Good Person, remember?) then these refugees should be taken from the refugee camps already established in the area. Not least because the idea that the best place to gain asylum to Europe is from a refugee camp is an idea that we want to take hold.

A lot can and should be done to make these camps better, and to ensure that people can work, that children can learn and that society can endure within them. But sometimes the clear, obviously morally right thing to do isn't the best thing to do at all.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Worst King Evah

Well this is a load of old bollocks isn't it?
More than 60 writers were surveyed by the Historical Writers Association (HWA), with Henry VIII taking 20% of the vote to find the worst monarch and criticised for a wide range of crimes: he was “obsessive”, “syphilitic” and a “self-indulgent wife murderer and tyrant”, according to respondents.
Henry may have been all these things, but they make him (in the useful shorthand of 1066 and all that) a Bad Man, rather than a Bad King. Henry's reign was definitely chequered - his debasement of the coinage was a far more serious fault than any mentioned above - but there were achievements to put in the balance against the flaws. His generally disastrous foreign policy can be set against his work in establishing the Royal Navy as a permanent force. His break with Rome may have been largely accidental, but in establishing the Church of England Henry ranks as one of our more consequential monarchs.

In short, Henry VIII may not be the best monarch (or even one of the best) but he is definitely not the worst. The reason he's ranked there, I suspect, is that he's well known and has eye-catching personality flaws. So, who is the worst English monarch? I used to be a historian, so I'll start as all historians should: by defining the terms. What it shouldn't mean is whether you are a bad person (it doesn't matter, and for the most part we don't know). What it should mean is the impact and effect the monarch had on the country.

This is why I really don't understand the HWA list, which includes entries such as:
 “Though never crowned, [Matilda] was effectively Britain’s first female king, and refused to conform to expectations demanded of the ‘gentle sex’,” said Liberty’s Fire author Lydia Syson.
Girl power and all that, but Matilda (although nominated as heir) was never King of England and was certainly not Britain's first female king (that would be Aethelflaed) . More importantly, the period when she claimed the throne was a total disaster for England - civil war raged between Stephen and Matilda for 20 years, law and order broke down completely and the country was impoverished. That really should be criteria for naming her (and Stephen to be fair) as among England's worst ever monarchs despite her having a vagina.

Anyway, my pick for worst English monarch is Richard I. Despite the romantic nickname, and military genius his reign was a disaster for England. For a start he was almost entirely uninterested in England except as a source of taxes to pay for wars in France and crusades in the Holy Land. It's estimated that he spent about 6 months as King in England in his 10 year reign mostly to arrange his coronation (marked by a pogrom against the Jews). To wage his wars in France he raised taxes to an eye-watering level (despite the coffers having been full on his accession, thanks to Henry II's Saladin tithe). Then, to top it all off, he got himself captured in Europe and England was compelled to stump up a ransom of 150,000 marks.

This ransom is usually given as £2-3bn in modern money, but that entirely fails to convey its scale. A better way of looking at it is that 150,000 marks was about 3 times England's annual revenue, and that to raise it, a tax was levied that confiscated a quarter of both clergy and laymen's wealth. A more comparable figure might therefore be the equivalent of 3 times the UK's annual revenue - so very roughly £1.5 trillion.

Richard I bankrupted England, while not caring a tuppenny damn for the place. I'm open to suggestions, but he sets a very high standard for worst English monarch. I agree with William Stubbs:
A bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler, and a vicious man.