Category Archives: politics

Blasting & Blessing: a long overdue edition

Hadrian's Wall, between Milecastle and Housesteads, summer 2010

So, that’s summer 2010 done, then. And while, over the past three months, there are plenty of things I’ve done — travelled as far afield as Haltwhistle, Bedford and Bracknell; refinished precisely one third of the staircase leading down to the kitchen; bruised a toenail while walking along Hadrian’s Wall; eaten a mulberry; bought a copy of World of Interiors; read a small book by Roger Scruton; sewed name-tapes onto school uniforms while listening to William Walton’s music for Henry V; daydreamed ineffectually about planting apple trees and harbouring rescue hens; cat-napped — there are also plenty of things that I haven’t done.

This latter category is, alas, both large and highly relevant to Fugitive Ink, including as it does not only writing and large-scale reading, but also engaging in sustained mental exertion of any sort, productive or otherwise. I suspect I’ve totally forgotten how to write. How better to encourage what’s left of my blogging skills to creak back into something resembling working condition than with a brief bout of blasting & blessing?

First of all, most obviously and urgently, let’s blast this whole William Hague business. As implied in at least one previous post, our present fascination with the details of our elected representatives’ expense claims, hiring policies and overall extra-curricular deportment seems to me as radically tiresome as it is fundamentally misguided. For heaven’s sake — if we’re forced to trust these wretched men and women to make serious decisions affecting virtually every aspect of our lives, as the current version of democracy seems to suggest we must, then do we really need to micro-manage every nuance of their public and private behaviour as well? Might it not be a better idea just to give them each a set sum of money — possibly a bit less for backbench MPs, a bit more for ministers — and then just let them get on with it, judging them ultimately not on the process of governing itself, but rather on results? For whether they choose to spend the money on duck houses or moats, expertise or companionship, baseball caps or worse, it’s still the same money being spent — and still the same irrelevance to the basic question of whether or not they deserve our confidence or, as far as that goes, our electoral support.

Finally, sentimentally fond though I am of Guido Fawkes, surely he shouldn’t be wasting his malice on obscurely under-qualified special advisors when real trophy targets like Andy Coulson are there for the taking? You know, Guido, the sort of targets who commit actual crime, not mere silliness? Just a thought …

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On the Saville Report

One of the few house rules operative here at Fugitive Ink is a prohibition on posts that merely re-duplicate an obvious point almost certainly made better elsewhere. The web, we all know, is too cluttered already. Why advert to the defects of CGT, for instance, or deplore the persecution of David Laws MP, when there’s scope for a 20,000 word piece on some dead diarist’s minor intellectual inconsistencies instead?

All the same, however, despite several hours of trying, I can’t quite stop myself from posting a few quick lines on the Saville Report, published yesterday — less because I have anything distinctive to say about it, than because the obvious things to be said about it are so crucially important, both for our understanding of recent history and for what civilian commentators believe to be the case about our own armed forces, both then and now.

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Strange bedfellows: on the prospect of a Con-Lib pact

By the time tomorrow dawns, the Conservative Party may well wake to find itself curled up in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Is this a good or a bad thing?

Gradually, having caught up on that lost sleep — can anyone remind me why it seemed at good idea to stay up in order to watch Ed Balls being charmless yet again? — the Tory commentariat has begun to acclimatize itself to the realities of a hung parliament, at least to the extent of organising itself into semi-predictable factions.

Both Guido and Iain Dale, for instance, are four-square behind full entanglement, rebranded as something called the Change Coalition. In Guido’s case, this involves making common cause with the more libertarian adepts of the Orange Book in order both to ‘open up politics and government, to roll back an authoritarian state’, but also ‘to destroy the Labour Party as a party of government forever’. Quite why the Labour party would somehow be ‘destroyed’ by the opportunity to select a new leader, to sit out what will inevitably be a period of deeply unpopular spending cuts and public sector contraction and to establish itself anew as the only credible left-of-centre party on offer, remains unclear to me. Iain Dale, in contrast, substitutes for argument the lapidary assertion that ‘it’s no good following Norman Tebbit’s logic and sticking your head in the ground like an ostrich and ignoring the realpolitik of the situation’ — which at least is quite funny, what with the implication that e.g. Oliver Letwin, one of Cameron’s key coalition negotiators, is a more reliable practitioner of realpolitik than Lord Tebbit — Continue reading

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On David Cameron and the Big Society

There is one feature of David Cameron which, it occurred to me while watching the television coverage of the speech he gave in Kennington today, bothers me more than any other.

No, it isn’t Mr Cameron’s allegiance to George Osborne, although for the record, the Ugly Bridesmaid syndrome isn’t exactly improved by transposition to the long-aisled nave of general election politics. It isn’t his distinctly unreliable grammar, disappointing though this must be in the context of what passes these days for a classical education. Nor is it even the weirdly hectoring, bad-tempered tone he invariably adopts in public discourse, although I find this distracting enough, as it always makes me wonder what he’d sound like if — and, admittedly, it’s a counterfactural one struggles to entertain for any length of time — he wasn’t talking down to someone he didn’t much admire in the first place.

No, the worst thing about David Cameron is the way in which he’s always threatening to ‘give’ things to people.

Admittedly, the gift of the moment varies. On some days, Mr Cameron is going to give ‘power’ to us. On other occasions, in contrast, we are to be given ‘opportunities’, or sometimes even ‘rights’. The precise choice of gift, needless to say, is up to Mr Cameron and the clique, err, circle of wise, disinterested, all-but-omniscient folk who advise him. Continue reading

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That debate again: picking over what’s left

Good news. As of Monday morning, the ravens had not yet deserted the Tower of London. They were, in fact, on notably frisky form, hopping and cawing and picking combatively at long-dead scraps of meaty-looking detritus as only ravens can.

Their slightly ghoulish cheerfulness seems to match the public mood, or at very least my own. Having recently despaired of the present general election as tiresome beyond words — see here — I’ve now decided that it’s actually quite entertaining.

The thing that changed my mind was, of course, last Thursday’s debate, to which my responses were uncharacteristically mainstream. Which is to say, once I’d stopped distracting myself by trying to figure out which shade of Farrow & Ball Estate® Emulsion most closely matched the strangely immobile surface of David Cameron’s face — in the end I plumped for Ointment Pink®, although admittedly this is a point upon which reasonable bloggers might, with honour, differ — I fell in with the general view that Gordon Brown looked old and tired, Cameron stiff and anxious, while Nick Clegg — hands in his pockets, eye-contact firmly established, making at least some of us wish that we were called ‘Jacqueline’ — positively shone, at least in relative terms.

Of course, television is an intrinsically stupid medium. Televised debates are, at best, an acceptable test of how well someone performs in a televised debate — nothing more. Most people who are really good on television couldn’t be trusted to run to the shops for a pint of milk, let alone tasked with negotiating the trackless and hazardous landscape of coalition government. So to that extent, the debate shouldn’t have mattered much at all.

And yet it’s transformed the mood of campaign. Where once there was the joyless run-up to a cheerless coronation, now, at least as far as CCHQ is concerned, we must surely be enjoying the beginnings of a bloodbath. Continue reading

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On the 2010 General Election

Inscribed strip and mounts (image courtesy of the excellent Staffordshire Hoard website at http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/ )

Now that spring is here — dark winter mornings driven away by dawns deafening with birdsong, that bout of pneumonia more or less gone, spindly primroses making a stalwart effort to flourish in unreliable sunshine, the 2010 general election finally underway — my son’s school holidays find us, with a degree of inevitability, spending yet another day exploring the British Museum.

The visit, it turns out, is more worthwhile than ever. At present, a handful of artifacts from the Staffordshire Hoard is on show at the British Museum (until 17 April 2010), after which they’ll return to the Midlands, following a successful appeal to retain these treasures, legacy of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, near the fields in which they were found last year. There’s also a handsome little booklet — £1 of the modest £4.99 purchase price goes to fund the appeal — setting out what little is known thusfar about this recent, remarkable discovery.

There’s something terribly moving about these tiny golden objects, the intricate intertwined forms and cloisonné settings still caked with the clay of their Staffordshire fields, blood-red garnets smeared with mud, crushed outlines not yet smoothed or rationalised — a riddle of riches and violence with its mystery still intact. How, one wonders, did more than 1,600 individual items, some of them absolute masterpieces of metalwork, come to be buried and found together? In truth, although ideas abound, no one is quite certain.

That there’s a provisional quality, however, to the presentation of this treasure does nothing to detract from its fascination. In mediating with impeccable professionalism between tidied-up past and infinitely messy present, museum displays can have the effect of making history look finished — literally done and dusted — reposing slightly outside our own experience. Whereas, the present display of the Staffordshire Hoard implies instead that under every nondescript field, scruffy building-site or suburban garden might lie something unsuspected, surprising, ancient, important, perhaps even staggeringly beautiful. The legacy of the past, in other words, may turn out to be closer than we think.

And indeed, this encouraging message could hardly have turned up at a better time, since the present is, at least at the level of public policy, under-performing to quite a remarkable degree. Is it just me, or is the 2010 general election coverage thusfar literally unwatchable? Continue reading

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On the IEA and Mark Littlewood

Biscuits

For years, whenever I set foot in Italy, our UK Conservative Party used to experience, with what became an almost gratifying regularity, some minor spasm of leadership crisis. These were rarely more than a surprise resignation or sly bit of positioning, admittedly, but welcome all the same, providing as they did enough good, unwholesome fun to avert post-holiday blues.

So having recently spent three days in Venice, gazing thoughtfully at scraps of Byzantine stonework and nibbling oddly-shaped Venetian biscuits, what did I find upon my return? Only that forensic Googling has usurped the traditional duties of selection panels, and that Mark Littlewood has been appointed as Director-General of the IEA. Ciao!

It’s this last piece of news, irrelevant though it is to the Tory Party’s sorrows, that’s done most to drive away lingering longings for the so-called Lesser Islands, motoscafi and lagoon-lapped leisure. Not least, it’s a bit of a shock. For who would have predicted, as the obvious successor to Lord Harris of High Cross, Graham Mather and John Blundell, a chain-smoking 37-year old ex-spin doctor for the Liberal Democrats, albeit one with a reputation within his own party as a right wing extremist, no shyness in waging the battle of ideas — not always figuratively, either — and sporadic links to Lord North Street’s ancien régime? Continue reading

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