Friday, January 31, 2020


This is an absolutely lovely piece about the Harare Sports Club by Liam Brickhill - whose father I am sure appears in my copy of Di Mitchell's Gook Book (technically "African nationalist leaders in Zimbabwe: Who's Who 1980", but that was too much of a mouthful for the Rhodies).

The only time I went to the HSC was to watch an indescribably tedious day of a Test between Zimbabwe and New Zealand watching Grant Flower grind out 150 with 8 men out on the boundary as the Kiwis tried to slow things down. The poor girls we'd taken with us tried very hard to keep watching (when not ogling Chris Cairns), while the rest of us got cheerfully smashed in Castle Corner.

Still, second best memory of cricket in Zimbabwe, shortly behind taking a screaming catch in the gully off a chap called Dion at the Mutare Sports Club only to find that the ball had come straight off the side of his head.


John Kampfner in today's Times asks why the UK doesn't have a second city that matches London:
Compare the UK with other equivalent countries. Spain has two major centres: Madrid and Barcelona. Italy’s are Rome and Milan. Russia would cite Moscow and St Petersburg. Australia: Sydney and Melbourne. Germany has several, as has the United States. The only country of similar size and weight that is as over-centralised as Britain is France.
There are perfectly good historical reasons why this should be the case. Spain is the result of the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, with Madrid and Barcelona the respective capitals. Italy only became more than Metternich's geographical expression in the mid 19th Century, and unification was only completed in 1870 - Milan and Rome were two of the many principal Italian cities. Russia has moved the capital between Moscow and St Petersburg more than once, and Germany, the USA and Australia all have their origins as unions of more or less independent states. 

The UK and France are nation states (England so dominates the UK that the capitals of Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland are inevitably over-shadowed), without the history of amalgamation that all Kampfner's examples share. It's pretty much inevitable that if a city is a nation's capital for a thousand years it will dominate culturally, politically and economically.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Getting to the heart of the matter

Poor old Raphael Behr. As someone who has hit 40 and is still accelerating, I am naturally sympathetic to anyone struck down while exercising. But there does seem to have been a slight silver lining in that he has put his finger on the biggest problem with the entire Remain referendum campaign, and continuity Remain guerilla campaign:
Remainers lost the argument with arch, eye-rolling negativity. In 2016 the pro-European case was made exclusively in terms of loss – forfeited growth, shrunken prestige, jettisoned jobs – while the leavers advertised gains. After the referendum, those Brexit promises were assailed by fact-checkers, myth-busters, expert debunkers, but what was the counter offer? What would leavers get in exchange for surrendering a prize for which they had voted, to which they were democratically entitled and which they had not yet received? 
On we went, rubbishing the idea that Brexit was a bounty of freedom, sovereignty and control, irritating more than we converted, until Boris Johnson came along to lift the siege. By December, the liberation he could realistically offer voters wasn’t from Europe any more, it was from the argument encircling them. It was from us, the remainers.
I was a Remainer, and still think that the wrong decision was made in 2016. But the overwhelming tide of sneering negativity has done more than anything else to change my mind. The lack of any positive message destroyed the pro-European movement. All it has now is Terry Christian hoping that old people die.

The persistent miserabilism of the left, coupled with their self-righteous sanctimony, has been a real obstacle for them gaining power. If you want to persuade people to support you or your point of view, it's not a great idea to start by whingeing on about how awful they are, and how much you look forward to their death...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Delusions of relevance

British politics has been in a strange state really since 2010. The run of Governments with respectively a coalition, a tiny majority, a confidence and supply arrangement and no majority at all has meant that the role of Parliament has been greatly increased, and the function of the Opposition has been elevated from its traditional ineffectiveness to an influence that almost equates to limited power.

I think it's probably in that context that you have to read Dawn Butler's article in the Guardian this morning.
As Labour’s deputy leader, I would repeal draconian anti-trade union laws
On day one of a Labour government, as deputy leader, my priority would be to ensure the repeal of draconian anti-trade union legislation. The workplace needs to be fit for the 2020s and I would campaign to bring in more flexible working and to ban zero-hours contracts, which often result in lower-income workers being exploited, without holiday, sickness or maternity provision.
Let's face it, in the unlikely event that she's ever in a position to follow through on this, the 2020s will long since have faded in the rear-view mirror. The Labour Party needs to adjust to the fact that it's not going to be the story for the next few years - even if the Tories can't maintain their honeymoon period for long (and the twenty point lead in today's poll is surely much too good to last) Labour are so far behind that it'll take a world war or a black swan to get them back in less than two elections. Until then, shouting about the legislation they'll introduce is really nothing more than make-believe.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Flexible conventions

Bercow sowing: "Haha fuck yeah!!! Yes!!"

Bercow reaping: "Well this fucking sucks. What the fuck."

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at this one. John Bercow, John actual Bercow, whinging that his non-elevation to the Lords breaks "a centuries old convention". It's hard to improve on the response of the No 10 spokesman:

Asked why Downing Street had ignored the convention that Speakers are elevated to the Lords after they step down, a No 10 source said: “The Speaker was not always a fan of convention.”
I'm on the Government's side on this one. The long-standing convention that ex-Speakers are ennobled is enough by itself to brush past the inconvenient fact that Bercow is a self-aggrandising malignant tit of the first water. It's also enough to get past the fact that he scandalously misused a position that has always (both by convention but more importantly be design) had impartiality as its raison d'etre to push one side of the most contentious political debate the UK has seen in decades. It isn't enough, however, to get past the fact that he has been repeatedly accused of bullying his staff, as well as observably bullying MPs in the Chamber itself.

Any question of elevation to the peerage not only can legitimately be put on hold, but actually should be on a moral basis until a proper investigation into all these allegations has been carried out. Personally, I'm looking forward to him being dragged before a Select Committee to answer questions on it without being able to hide behind his status as Speaker.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

No Cummings, no goin's

Bad Al Campbell's rule was always that the adviser should never be the story - something he signally failed to live up to in those last frenetic days of his regime. On that basis, the fixation that most of the press have for Dominic Cummings should be a bit concerning. Whether it's his dress sense, his book-length blogposts (something I remember writing about back in 2013) or his relationship to nefarious electoral shenanigans there's something about him that fascinates hacks.

Generally speaking, advisers are less important than their reputation suggests. So long as their instincts and views align with their boss's, they are fine. When, as with Steve Hilton, they get out of synch they are gone. Even when taking this coverage with a pinch of salt, however, there is something about Dominic Cummings that catches the eye. I suspect it's the iconoclasm - in his first talk to special advisers after Boris's leadership win, he led on the excellent advice "don't be shit" - and the sense that even if his approach doesn't work, at least it will fail in new and interesting ways.

The overwhelming impression of the Theresa May Government was of a reactiveness that amounted to total inanition. Reading accounts of that period is like looking at the French army in 1940 - hundreds of reasons why action was impossible, and nobody prepared to do anything about it. Whatever his faults, Boris generates an atmosphere of oomph.

One of my great frustrations over the last few years was that even where the Tories had a respectable product, no-one seemed interested in selling it. Boris, more than anything else, is a political salesman. Even the best salesmen need proper logistical, administrative and strategic support from the base. Cummings looks very unlikely to tolerate drift.

Friday, January 10, 2020


One of the many things I couldn't understand over the last couple of years was Donald Trump. What was he trying to do? Was there a plan? Why is he that colour?

I think it's time to acknowledge that the reason I couldn't understand him was that there isn't anything to understand - there's nothing behind the curtain except an old man who approaches the job of President of the United States with all the restraint and expertise of a toddler with a Patek Phillipe watch and a claw hammer.

He's basically the political equivalent of a natural disaster - while there's little point examining the causes or reasons, you can still profitably examine the results. Oh, and he'll probably win again in 2020 so there's that.

Bloody Hell

Blimey. Did I miss much?

The biggest reason that I stopped posting after the 2017 election was that I had simply stopped understanding politics. Nothing seemed to make any sense anymore, and I couldn't see why people were doing what they were doing, or what they expected to be the result.

As such, I didn't have much of an incentive to write anything down. Oh, and Twitter has killed blogging anyway.

But Boris. Boris I understand. I have done ever since I recommended him as the London mayoral candidate back in July 2007 (Christ I'm old). It's why I would have voted for him as leader back in 2016, and why I did vote for him as leader in 2019. Boris may look chaotic and unplanned, but the unplanned chaos is itself a plan. And as soon as he became leader, I knew what he was trying to achieve.

This is all old hat now, and after-the-event-wisdom at that so I won't linger on it, but the Tories' only chance of survival at the end of last Summer was if they could, in short order, unify the party, neutralise the Brexit Party and bring Brexit to a head so that an election could be called in circumstances that could be sold as Brexit vs. No Brexit. In the event, he was able to get a Deal, which made the election campaign much much easier (and entirely shafted the Lib Dems into the bargain).

But everything he did on becoming leader (turfing out the 21 rebels, appointing a wildly pro-Brexit cabinet, proroguing Parliament and making his "die in a ditch" pledge on leaving the EU on 31 October) was predicated on uniting the rest of the Party and killing off Farage. It wasn't all successful, it certainly wasn't guaranteed success, but at least it was coherent, and I could understand what he was doing and why.

So, now politics has returned to comprehensibility I might even start posting stuff here again!