Tag Archives: UK 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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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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Filed under archaeology, history, politics, Tory things

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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Out to lunch

Out to lunch

Via Guido Fawkes, news reaches us that shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey MP has been spotted lunching at Scotts of Mayfair — for an heroic, credit crunch-busting three hours, apparently — in the company of the accomplished Channel 4 television interviewee, fashion icon and occasional jobbing BritArtist, Tracey Emin.

Like any successful work of art, this is a story that can be enjoyed at a variety of levels. Guido’s readership, baying companionably at each other in the comments section, seem largely to have appreciated it on the level of ‘bloody fat troughing hoon, we’re paying his salary, how dare he, let’s burn something down’. Guido himself, I strongly suspect, took pleasure both in the spectacle of his own apparent omniscience — rather like the Eye of Providence on the back of Great Seal of the United States, but with rather more wi-fi access — and the happy fact that its target was, on this occasion, that rare creature in politics, someone who’s good at being teased.

For me, however — always the contrarian, except of course on those occasions where being a contrarian would be the obvious thing to be — the chief interest of the Vaizey-Emin lunch lies in what it seems to imply regarding the direction of Conservative arts policy. The conclusions it prompts are, alas, indigestible ones. Continue reading

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Manchester blues

That's enough Dave for now (ed)

Heaven knows, I really did try to write about Conservative Party Conference last week, back when it was topical. On Monday, though, I ended up doing a lot of dusting, particularly those disregarded places just under the hinges of doors, and the bits of banisters that no normally-configured human being ever actually sees. On Tuesday I bought some boots, learned a little more about medieval Islamic manuscript illumination and picked up the dry cleaning. On Wednesday, I think, it rained a lot. On Thursday I made the mistake of reading the Guardian. And by the time I bounced back on Friday, the week was nearly over. Lucky escape, eh?

Well, not quite, if only because there clearly was something more than the usual combination of laziness, disorganisation and first-class distractions nudging me away from the public contemplation of Cameron’s Conservatives poised on the threshold of government, and I remain puzzled, up to a point, as to why exactly that was so.

Laziness was, inevitably, part of the problem. That comes with the territory here. Yet the strand of laziness in question was, in this case, a specifically Cameroonish one — the fruit of boredom, sired by indifference out of long-congealed dislike. Put bluntly, I only find being Conservative truly difficult when I have to think about Dave, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling, Theresa May, the words ‘compassionate’, ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’, that stupid tree logo, the continuing existence of Policy Exchange, people who ‘get it’ or ‘care’ or wish to ‘seal the deal’, prohibitions on hunting or drinking champagne or indeed smiling in an incontinent manner. The rest of the time, though, it’s really easy. Continue reading

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On forgiveness

For all the calumny so regularly and indiscriminately heaped on it by Conservative commentators, the BBC does sometimes earn its keep. For instance, by accident this afternoon, washing up after lunch and half-listening to the news, I stumbled over this, in which BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner interviews Lord Tebbit on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Brighton hotel bombing.

Gardner, who in 2004 while on a routine reporting assignment in Saudi Arabia was shot and left for dead by al-Qaeda gunmen, remains paralysed from the hips downward — none of which has prevented him from continuing to pursue a demanding career. His book about all of this, Blood and Sand, is significantly more interesting than the money-spinning disability misery-memoir one might reasonably have expected under the circumstances.

As for Lord Tebbit, his own serious injuries sustained in the Brighton Hotel bombing — an atrocity that killed five people outright, and caused great suffering to many more — have done little to constrain the energy, forthrightness and courage with which, as even plenty of those who don’t always agree with him ought to concede, he engages with the great issues of our day. The bombing did, however, change his world, leaving his wife, Lady Tebbit, permanently disabled, requiring round-the-clock care.

About a decade ago, I happened to see the Tebbits out together, shopping for a birthday card in a big London department store. Lord Tebbit pushed Lady Tebbit’s wheelchair, paused in front of the display of cards and discussed various likely options with her. Quiet, unflashy, in some sense totally unremarkable, the scene has stayed with me ever since, both as a vision of what real, serious, until-death-do-us-part married love ought to mean — and as testament to what terrorism all too often does mean in practice. (Department of silver linings: the disaster also forced Lord Tebbit to learn to cook, and my carnivorous family members assure me that his recent game cookbook, rather beautifully illustrated, turns out to be very useful, too.)

Anyway, in the interview about, Gardner and Lord Tebbit discuss quite a lot — not just what terrorism means, or who should be held responsible for it, either, but also the extent to which forgiveness is truly possible, especially where the terrorist still, in effect, holds that what he has done was justified. These aren’t simple questions, nor can they be answered easily, even by those in position to say something particularly interesting about them. Thanks, then, to the BBC for providing an interview which never slips away from moral complexity into mawkishness or sentimentality — perfect viewing, anyway, for a rainy Sunday evening, and highly recommended.

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