Tag Archives: politics

Fake politics


What are we to make of Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire variously operating as media magnate, financier, real estate tycoon, owner of A. C. Milan, miscellaneous entrepreneur, frequent Prime Minister and probable future President (once he gets the rules changed, Putin-style) of the Italian Republic?

For the more incurious sort of British observer, it’s safe to embrace Sr Berlusconi as the basically satisfying punchline to the long-running joke that is, at least to those whose working model of international relations runs entirely off lazy national stereotypes, Italian postwar politics. On the more thoughtful Left, Sr Berlusconi is regarded with exactly the sort of enjoyable, companionable terror with which older children exchange grand guignol tales of serial killers — ‘the eagle of fascism soars‘, apparently, although it must be said that eagles are, by nature, rather more conspicuously monogamous than Sr Berlusconi. And on the Right, Sr Berlusconi gives pleasure through the consistency with which he stops Communists from winning elections, the temptations that he offered David Mills and — it’s an admirable trait which he shares with Lady Thatcher and shared with Ronald Reagan, but one that few these days even attempt to pull off — his ability to upset, to the point of hysterical derangement, the more plangently excitable left-of-centre commentariat. Continue reading


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Blasting and blessing: a Lemsip edition

It’s Friday. High-spirited young men with a gift for sponteneous song have been sent by Thames Water to excavate the pavements outside our house. Meanwhile, no amount of coffee, medication or indeed George Osborne-induced indignation seems likely to liberate me from the constraints of a cold that is, as you may soon have cause to observe, acting as noticeably upon my ability to tap out words in re-cog-nis-able En-glish as it is on my sinuses, lymph nodes and generalised will to remain upright. So, well, Palladio can wait. For today, this is will have to do.

The laziest bit of public art commissioning in living memory. Having complained about it when it seemed only likely to happen, the defects of this project are no more venial on account of their sheer predictability. Of course the availability of sponsorship money from News International should surprise no one, as One and Other is, ultimately — the hallowed all-old rhetoric notwithstanding (says the artist: ‘My project is about trying to democratise this space of privilege, idealisation and control’, although if he hadn’t said it, everyone would have assumed he had anyway) — little more than a machine for generating outrage — and where there’s outrage, there’s publicity, right? Personally, I’d rather have spent the money on a pension for some ex-RBS hate-figure, if only because I truly don’t believe that there’s a banker on earth who’s as cynical as our Mr Gormley.

A good decision. Well, clearly there was something a bit manipulative in the fact that it coincides with this, which may or may not be a good decision — I’ll leave that for people who know more about it all than I do. But these are lean times, as we’re learning, and so we’ll take our moments of admiration for the Obama administration where we can find them.

Most of the human race, commentariat included, for treating this whole nonsense with the contempt it so lavishly deserves. Continue reading


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Jacobinical hyenas, we’re watching you

Samuel Palmer, 'The Herdsman's Cottage' (1850)

Samuel Palmer, 'The Herdsman's Cottage' (1850)

“The ricks burnt around Shoreham, within sight of Palmer‘s house, under the moons that he had painted broad and full. The moons charmed away neither fire nor reform, and on June 4th, 1832, the Reform Bill was passed the House of Lords. The anti-Reformers still saw some last hope in the General Election which followed in December, and while purple banners were being stitched for the Tory candidate in West Kent with the arms of the county, St. George and the Dragon and ‘King and Constitution’, Palmer left painting to gesticulate in print against the change and the future. Continue reading

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On not writing about politics

Somewhere in this study, hidden under piles of other books and papers, lurks my copy of The Abbess of Crewe, Muriel Spark’s feline, semi-funny Watergate novel. Since, however, I can’t find it anywhere — although I did, at least, find a fat hardback by Peter Fuller that I’d forgotten I owned — a paraphrase of the relevant passage will have to suffice.

There’s a point, early on in The Abbess of Crewe, where the elegant, Machiavellian, vaguely tragic abbess of the title rings up gruff-voiced, globe-trotting, Kissingeresque and not entirely reliable Sister Gertrude, seeking advice on some pressing problem. ‘A problem you solve,’ crackles the answer down the line, before explaining that the situation troubling the Abbess is, instead, a paradox. ‘Have you time for a very short seminar, Gertrude, on how one treats of a paradox?’ asks the Abbess, as sweetly as she can manage. ‘A paradox you live with,’ replies Sister Gertrude, before ringing off.

Thus in the right sort of mood it should be possible to construe the omission of any overt political content on this notionally right-of-centre blog — an omission that’s been particularly acute over the past six months — less as a problem than, well, a paradox.

Some readers will, perhaps, insist that the paradox is more apparent than genuine, if only because it’s almost impossible to write anything without expressing a hierarchy of preferences that’s inherently susceptible to translation, accurately or otherwise, into the language of politics. Even omissions can thus be made to stand as credos. Or to put it another way, if the spectre of Mrs Thatcher surfaces in my art-related writing rather more than some might regard as entirely healthy, then it’s worth remembering that the Cambridge of my youth was a place in which even the most basic facts of late medieval and early modern English history could only be transmitted, or so it appeared, if intercut at every possible point with effusions of the rawest sort of Thatcher-hating rhetoric — attributions of selfishness, callousness and philistinism which construed these as necessarily conservative errors, self-evidently absent elsewhere across the political spectrum — so that, even now, invoking Mrs Thatcher without simultaneously saying something unpleasant about her still counts as a political gesture, a wilful step outside the pale of civilised cultural discourse, an exercise in outing oneself as culpably ‘right wing’. All of which is, of course, why I do it as often as possible. Continue reading


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A very guilty pleasure: Caroline Spelman’s nanny scandal

Even more exciting than the decade-old details of a fairly obscure MP’s childcare arrangements (and anyone who wants to argue that, in the general scheme of things, the chairmanship of the Conservative Party is, per se, a major claim to public recognition really needs to shut down the web-browser now and start getting out just that little bit more) is the rift that’s developed on the right-of-centre end of the blogosphere, over the past 48 hours, regarding the matter of Caroline Spelman MP: her probity, her culpability, the embattled cul-de-sac that is her short-term political future.

On one side of the rift, exemplifying Mrs Spelman’s defenders, is Iain Dale, who, despite hardly knowing her, is confident enough of her merits to pronounce her a Decent and Honest Woman. The basic line he takes is Voltaire’s durable tout comprendre, c’est tout pardoner one: Mrs Spelman was under a lot of pressure, she meant no harm, and anyway she regularised her secretarial arrangements as soon as it was pointed out to her that it did rather look as if she was using public funds to subsidise her nanny’s salary. Continue reading

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Sunshine now, clouds later

In London this morning, something’s definitely changed. One can feel it in the air. For the first time in weeks, the sky is bright blue beneath the softest veil of clouds and the sun is shining fearlessly, while the slightly damp air is warm enough, just, to presage the onset of our much-delayed spring.

The peaceful transfer of political power is, I suppose, so basically counterintuitive as to drive any susceptible observer, from time to time, into the arms of the pathetic fallacy. Why is it, though, that the weather on the day of any significant British election result is always beautiful? So incandescently bright and sunny, for instance, was the morning of New Labour’s apotheosis on 2 May 1997 — a sort of public holiday declared by Nature herself, apparently, to mark the long-awaited climacteric — that even Alastair Campbell, not given to gratuitous scene-setting, fought free of his own self-imposed rhetorical mode long enough to confess to his diary that this was ‘another lovely sunny day’, as indeed it was. For the losers, on the other hand, for the Tories as we wandered through that magnificent morning, bewildered and outraged and heartbroken, the sunshine only added to the air of disorientation. ‘It was not a thing done in a corner,’ the regicides said of the judicial murder of Charles I; in 1997, it was as if the consummation of New Labour’s various ambitions, more and less obvious, could only take place in very bright daylight indeed. Continue reading


Filed under London, politics, Tory things

Blasting & Blessing: a vernal edition

The Diana Inquest. Did we need to spend nearly £7 million in order to be told that, no, really, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh didn’t actually order the late Princess’s execution? And yet conspiracy enthusiasts will doubtless continue to reassure each other that the inquest was an establishment stitch-up, while that arch-delusionalist Fayed, no stranger to making up unhelpful tales that ruin lives, will only have had his pitiable fantasies encouraged by this whole costly pageant. The unfortunate bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, though, really ought to sue Fayed for some of his madder accusations, if only to show him — and perhaps even the rest of us — that there really are limits to all this nonsense.

Carla Sarkozy, not only for that charming curtsey, but also for making the case for flat shoes, simple lines, shares of darkish grey and, perhaps most significantly, the importance of impeccable manners, even for the extremely beautiful. What does it portend, though, that this startlingly successful ambassador for all things tres chic is in fact the product of northern Italy, not France?

The Olympics. No, it’s not just track-record regarding evil totalitarian regimes, the drugging or the monopolisation of media coverage for weeks at a time. The basic concept’s wrong. Let’s scrap the present format and get back to basics: aristocratic young men, naked and glistening with oil, declaiming hymns and engaging in a bit of light sport on an enchanting hillside in Greece.

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Invitation to a beheading: From Russia and its critics

Under normal circumstances, art critics are the last people to whom one would think to turn for moral guidance.

This is as true of the mass circulation sub-species as it is of their more plentiful, perhaps even less responsible academic cousins. Exceptions do, of course, exist. Robert Hughes, art critic at Time magazine for nearly four decades, has long proved incapable of stopping streams of engagingly old-fashioned, impeccably haut bourgeois liberal prejudice from leaking everywhere amongst the folds of his luscious prose. For the late Peter Fuller, Continue reading


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Dark matters: on Jacqui Smith’s refusal to walk at night in London

Having previously assumed that our Home Secretary was a tough sort of creature — her no-nonsense school-teacher stare, proudly wonky teeth and assertive décolletage suggesting as they do reserves of self-confident robustness unavailable to a mere Willie Whitelaw or Michael Howard — she now reveals herself as a delicate soul, frightened to venture out onto the streets of smart Kensington, let alone Hackney, after dusk has fallen.

Who are we to question her judgement? Strictures of personal safety are, inevitably, intuitive in nature, predicated more on ‘what feels right’ than on reason, less on the rational stuff of facts and figures than the proliferation, locally, of those yellow signs that the police erect in the wake of rapes, assaults and murders. Such decision relate, more than anything, to issues of personal vulnerability, the chance that some really bad thing that almost never happens to anyone might, could, should in fact happen to you. Continue reading

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