Britain

“No longer fit for purpose” is no longer fit for purpose

Saturday, 27 July, 2019

A list of rules has been sent to the staff of the new Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, asking them to stop using words such as “hopefully” and phrases such as “no longer fit for purpose”. The guidelines, obtained by ITV news, were drawn up by the North East Somerset MP’s constituency team years ago, but have now been shared with staff in Westminster. It should be noted that as chair of the European Research Group, a hard-Brexit Tory backbench alliance, Rees-Mogg has become increasingly influential in Parliament in recent years.

Much ridiculed already by the PC crowd, the Rees-Mogg guidelines contain a vital call for accuracy. Staff are told: “CHECK your work.” Other directions include “Organisations are SINGULAR” and a request for no comma after the word “and”. Among the words and phrases considered unacceptable are: “very”, “due to” and “ongoing”, as well as “equal”, “yourself” and “unacceptable. “Rees-Mogg’s aides are also barred the use of “lot”, “got” and “I am pleased to learn”. Much of this is admirable, much is personal taste, but a double space after a full stop made more sense when people used typewriters. Still, much can be clarified and communications can be improved if a style guide, especially one that’s fit for purpose, is used from the outset in an important office.

Jacob Rees-Mogg style guide


Boris Johnson and the rich

Tuesday, 23 July, 2019

British politics is about to get an injection of passion when Boris Johnson becomes the new leader of the Conservative Party today. Instead of the dullness of doctrinaire Corbynism and the snot-green provincialism of OTooleism, the next Prime Minister will bring wit to where there is staleness and badly-needed energy to where there is lethargy. As we await the opening of the envelope, here’s Boris on the very rich:

“We should be helping all those who can to join the ranks of the super-rich, and we should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools…

…There is no point in wasting any more moral or mental energy in being jealous of the very rich. They are no happier than anyone else; they just have more money. We shouldn’t bother ourselves about why they want all this money, or why it is nicer to have a bath with gold taps. How does it hurt me, with my 20-year-old Toyota, if somebody else has a swish Mercedes? We both get stuck in the same traffic.”


The Great Media Disconnect

Wednesday, 19 June, 2019

Everyone knew that Rory Stewart didn’t have a chance in the Tory leadership contest, but it was almost impossible to read about any other candidate during the past few days. The great media disconnect is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times. What’s happened to political journalism? When did it become so debased? Why?


May was histrionic. June could be historic.

Saturday, 25 May, 2019

When Prime Minister Theresa May stepped up to the lectern outside No. 10 Downing Street yesterday to announce she was stepping down as Tory leader on 7 June, a weary press and public exhaled a sigh of relief. Yes, there were pious expressions of sympathy from pundits declaring to be moved by her emotional statement, but their tears, unlike those of the genuinely upset Mrs May, were of the crocodile kind. Theresa May will be judged as one of the UK’s worst leaders. That’s the harsh reality. She took office at a time of crisis, but also opportunity. The Brexit vote was a democratic demand for change, but she wasted that opportunity, and then drove Great Britain deeper into crisis.

Theresa May was a technocrat, and the kind of politics preferred by technocrats is best exemplified by the Brussels bureaucracy. Not everyone wants that kind of politics, though. So, what next? Brexit means Boris writes Stephen Robinson in The Spectator. This bit will strike a chord with all those members of the typing class who have struggled with deadlines:

“I can’t say I know Boris well, despite our once having been Telegraph colleagues, mostly on different continents. I cannot say I even like him that much. I resented him when I edited the paper’s comment pages for filing his column three hours late, which meant I couldn’t get home to see my infant children.”

In the end, May was histrionic. June could be historic.


Brexit and backstop, Britain and Ireland

Tuesday, 15 January, 2019

“The misunderstandings are too many,” noted the Irish writer Frank O’Connor, and he was convinced of where the blame lay. “Ultimately, perhaps, all the misunderstandings can be traced to sixty miles of salt water which stretches between Britain and Ireland.”

O’Connor was writing in in Cork in 1940 and, one hundred years earlier, Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall embarked upon their three-volume opus Ireland, its Scenery, Character, etc. Their journey, as we say today, began with a purgatorial crossing to Cork, and their thoughts pre-echoed those of O’Connor:

“It was not alone the miserable paucity of accommodation and utter indifference to the comfort of the passengers that made the voyage an intolerable evil. It was once our lot to pass a month between the ports of Bristol and Cork; putting back, every now and then, to the wretched village of Pill, and not daring to leave it even for an hour, lest the wind should change and the packet weigh anchor.

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that comparatively little intercourse existed between the two countries or that England and Ireland were almost as much strangers to each other as if the channel that divided them had been actually impassable.”

The “wretched village of Pill” mentioned by the Halls there is actually Pillgwenlly, which is now a parish in the Welsh city of Newport. And Wales, as we know, voted for Brexit. The misunderstandings are too many.


The Shamrock Shore before the backstop

Wednesday, 31 October, 2018

How the Irish border backstop became Brexit’s defining issue” was the title on yesterday’s Financial Times Brexit feature by Alex Barker and Arthur Beesley. It’s a vexed matter, the backstop, and it has the potential to do significant harm to all the actors in this drama. Brussels is playing with fire here as it ignores the fact that the UK has long supported open borders with the Republic of Ireland and it continued to allow travel to and from Ireland without a passport, even when IRA terrorists were bombing British cities and murdering shoppers and commuters, police and politicians.

Whether a new border, patrolled on land by French gendarmes or by the German navy in the sea, will be set up in or around the “Shamrock Shore” in case of a “no deal” Brexit remains to be seen, but the issue highlights the never-ending debate about the rights and wrongs in the historic relationship between the islands. The Acts of Union 1800 are a case in point. The loss of the Irish Parliament was greeted with dismay in Dublin and most subsequent disasters were blamed on that pivotal legislation.

All of this was aired in April 1976 when Paul Brady sang a wonderful, unaccompanied version of The Shamrock Shore ballad in the village of Clondra in Longford. The verses are filled with poignancy and what’s especially poignant is that the person seated to Paul Brady’s right in this clip is the magisterial piper Liam O’Flynn who died of cancer on 14 March this year. Our grief at his loss remains unabated.

“John Bull, he boasts, he laughs with scorn
And he says that Irishman is born
To be always discontented for at home we cannot agree
But we’ll banish discord from our land
And in harmony like brothers stand
To demand the rights of Ireland, let us all united be
And our parliament in College Green
For to assemble, it will be seen
And happy days in Erin’s Isle we soon will have once more
And dear old Ireland soon will be
A great and glorious country
And peace and blessings soon will smile all round the Shamrock Shore”


Great get from The Sun

Friday, 13 July, 2018

It’s the lead story on Bloomberg, the BBC, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and lots of other global media outlets. It’s President Donald Trump’s “world exclusive” interview with Tom Newton Dunn of The Sun. This is classic tabloid stuff filled with one-sentence paragraphs that snap, crackle and pop:

In an extraordinary intervention timed to coincide with his UK visit, Mr Trump said Theresa May ignored his advice by opting for a soft Brexit strategy.

And he warned her any attempts to maintain close ties with the EU would make a lucrative US trade deal very unlikely.

Mr Trump said: “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.”

The Sun


Harry and Meghan and the Whit Wedding

Monday, 21 May, 2018

Once upon a time, Whit Saturday was a popular day for weddings in the UK. This historical fact, however, was unnoticed by the Reverend Michael Curry in his sermon during the Royal Wedding as Whit Saturday was turned into Windsor Saturday. The British poet Philip Larkin would have been bemused.

The Whitsun Weddings is one of Larkin’s best-known poems and it was published in 1964, the year The Rolling Stones released their debut album. Larkin, who was more of a Beatles man, describes a train journey on a hot Whit Saturday. The windows are open and he becomes aware that the passengers boarding the train at its several stops are members of Whit wedding parties. He observes the people and imagines the venues where the wedding receptions have been held. As the train approaches London, his thoughts turn to the meaning of what the newly-weds have done.

The Whitsun Weddings

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
— An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl — and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Today, Whit Monday, was declared a bank holiday in the UK in 1871 but it lost this status in 1972 when the Spring Bank Holiday was created in its place.


Prince Hal

Saturday, 19 May, 2018

Stories about young Prince Harry’s wild life were legendary. According to the English chronicler Thomas Elmham (1364 –1427), “He fervently followed the service of Venus as well as of Mars, as a young man might he burned with her torches, and other insolences accompanied the years of his untamed youth.”

Some 150 years after Elmham’s death, William Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part I. Here, in Act 1, Scene 1: Falstaff addresses Hal:

Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not
us that are squires of the night’s body be called
thieves of the day’s beauty: let us be Diana’s
foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the
moon; and let men say we be men of good government,
being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and
chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

And Prince Hal says:

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Royal Wedding


Morrissey Spent the Day in Bed

Sunday, 19 November, 2017 0 Comments

Morrissey began the Twitter phase of his career two months ago. On 18 September, at 10.39 pm, he tweeted “Spent the Day in Bed.” Spent the Day in Bed is also the title of the first single from his new album Low In High School. In recent years, Moz has taken to saying things that people don’t want to hear and he’s not for turning now.

“Spent the day in bed
Very happy I did, yes
I spent the day in bed
As the workers stay enslaved
I spent the day in bed
I’m not my type, but
I love my bed
And I recommend that you

Stop watching the news!
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn’t your own.”


Europe sans platforms

Wednesday, 15 November, 2017 0 Comments

Internet platforms are eating the world and the value of the top US platforms now exceeds $1.8 trillion. Europe, meanwhile, has no internet platform and neither does it have a single tech company in the list of the global top 50 firms. Martin Wolf of the FT examines this sad and humiliating state of affairs.

The platforms