mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
[ Originally posted 21 October 2013. Last updated 16 July 2016. ]

In the hagiography that greeted Mrs T's death, other politicians of her era emerged out of the woodwork. I was intrigued. How many of these old fogeys were still knocking about? The oldest I was certain of was Tony Benn (88). I also knew
Peter Tapsell, Douglas Hurd, Shirley Williams, Norman Tebbit (all 83), Dennis Skinner, Nigel Lawson (both 81),
Roy Hattersley and Michael Heseltine (80), were still alive. But who else? My findings threw up some interesting names...

Read more... )
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
The problem with British politics is that there are two centre-left parties competing against each other in a first-past-the-post voting system, rather than forming an electoral alliance to defeat the Tories at any cost. Ideally, the Liberal Democrats would not even exist under present circumstances, and I say that as someone who has almost always voted for them and whose political philosophy most closely matches mine. But it cannot be denied, a vote for the Lib Dems in Labour-Tory marginals is an indirect vote for the Tories. And who suffers? The people who want and need a centre-left government.

Given the extreme unlikelihood of the Lib Dems dissolving anytime soon and despite their recent electoral woes, anyone who seeks an alternative to a Tory government should encourage an electoral pact. The pact needn't cover the entire country, simply the constituencies where either party can defeat the Tories. A similar pact could be struck with Plaid in Wales and SNP north of Hadrian's Wall. The idea of a pact is nothing new, even in Britain, but it gained traction in my mind after the recent French elections. The Front National were resoundingly defeated in the second round after the Socialist Party withdrew some of its candidates. This enabled Sarkozy's centre-right party to win instead: the lesser of two evils. Such emergency measures can be viewed as the political equivalent of gamesmanship, going against or rubbing disturbingly close to the boundaries of fair democratic play. But in politics as with life, one must constantly make choices and in this instance, the choice was between explicit racist extremists and a more preferable, though not entirely tolerable lot. We should learn from them.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
2015 - 24.4% - T
2010 - 38.5%1 - T+LD
2005 - 21.6% - L
2001 - 24.2% - L
1997 - 30.1% - L
1992 - 32.5% - T
1987 - 31.8% - T
1983 - 30.1% - T
1979 - 33.4% - T
1974 - 28.6% - L
1974 - 29.3%2 - L
1970 - 33.1%3 - T
1966 - 36.2% - L
1964 - 34.0% - L
1959 - 38.8% - T
1955 - 38.1% - T
1951 - 39.3%4 - T
1950 - 38.6% - L
1945 - 34.9% - L

Although one shouldn't compare apples and pears, it is worth noting that this government intends to impose a 40% win threshold on balloted strikes affecting essential public services. In addition to this, a majority of the union's members would have to participate in such an action, unlike the present situation in which there are no participation thresholds and a simple majority of balloted members is sufficient to carry out a strike. Such proposals have form on both sides of the political divide, as the then Labour government under Jim Callaghan imposed a 40% win threshold on the Scottish referendum of 1979. Even though a majority voted in favour of implementing the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978, they fell 7.1% short of the threshold. Soon afterwards the Scottish National Party withdrew its support to the government, resulting in a vote of no confidence, a general election and eighteen years in the wilderness for the Labour Party. And by how many votes did the government lose the no confidence motion to trigger the general election? Just the one (311-310).

1 This is a combined figure for the Tories (23.5%) and Lib Dems (15.0%).
2 Labour secured the most seats and formed the government, but the Tories won the popular vote.
3 The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
4 The Tories secured the most seats and formed the government, but Labour won the popular vote.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
This is what I wrote on Facebook yesterday afternoon:

"Gutted about the result but congratulations to the Tories for an extraordinary victory. Did not see that coming at all. An absolute bloodbath in political terms for the opposition. A country divided unlike ever before. A broken electoral system. And an impending escalation to the austerity programme. I do hope the vanquished dust themselves off quickly and work together in every way possible to fight for the cause of social democracy. Unfortunately, the voices of liberalism are all but dead in this Parliament and worse still, perhaps for another generation."

Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy, Charles Kennedy, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, David Laws, Ed Balls, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. It felt like the political equivalent of that climactic scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone ordered all those assassinations while attending his nephew's christening. Lynton Crosby, like Clemenza before him, had carried out all the dirty work, leaving Don David Cameron to take all the credit and assume absolute control.

Five years ago I voted for the Lib Dems and I did the same again on Thursday night. We've gone from our first stint in government since the War to the edge of obscurity. There will be a lot of soul-searching in the years ahead. The legacy of Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy lies in tatters. The rise and fall of Nick Clegg feels like a modern adaptation of an ancient Greek tragic hero. Yet, the optimist in me believes our day will come again. I sincerely hope so, particularly for the cause of British liberalism.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
You may remember this entry from about a year ago. I've updated it with today's news of Jeremy Thorpe's passing and added a couple other names that were missing from the original list: Peter Lilley, the Tory MP, and Winnie Ewing, the SNP MP who shot to prominence in the 1967 Hamilton by-election. I've also bumped it to the top of my journal by post-dating it. Hopefully that should make it easier to find and edit.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)


Keen listeners of this delightful programme would not have been surprised to hear the contents of the recorded conversation between Thatcher and Reagan from 1983 that has just been released. The Radio 4 programme was broadcast in August last year, and we learnt from it via the Downing Street note of the conversation, that Reagan initially tried to defuse the situation, by suggesting he would first throw his hat into the room if he was in London, before walking in. We also learn that Reagan used the phrase 'zero hour' before he could do anything about it. Exactly as it is in the recording. If you've got 8 minutes, it's worth listening from about 3:40 to the whole section on Grenada from the UK Confidential episode. It includes a brief interview about the declassified documents with Lord Owen (former British Foreign Secretary) and an American diplomat who was working in the US Embassy (in London) at the time. It is rather instructive that the American diplomat had dinner with Geoffrey Howe (the then British Foreign Secretary), the night before the invasion, and yet neither knew anything about it! It is also worth noting that the American diplomat refers to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, that killed nearly 300 American and French servicemen just a couple days before the invasion, as a tragedy so severe that it may have resulted in the invasion as a diversion.

On the recording, Reagan says he wanted to inform Thatcher of the invasion before some rogue informant did, but in an interview with the US President's authorised biographer on the wireless last night, this was quickly dismissed. The biographer was convinced Reagan was fibbing and had intentionally delayed informing her before it was too late (about 8 hours). However, the biographer also added that on two counts, Thatcher was somewhat embarrassed. One, was not responding to the situation in Grenada, having been requested (along with the French) to do so by their government, and two, she found herself in a similar situation to that of Reagan after Britain's own invasion of the Falklands, a year earlier. Yet despite these two foreign policy setbacks, they still seemed to share a politically intimate relationship. A point driven home by the biographer's final anecdote about a poster* Reagan kept in his stable, recreating the famous Rhett Butler-Vivien Leigh pose from Gone With The Wind, with the two of them on it instead. The biographer asked if he had shown it to Thatcher, to which Reagan said no-way, she'd get upset. The biographer apparently told him, on the contrary, I think she'd rather like it, mischievously adding that it was probably her ultimate fantasy... 

I also found it interesting that the biographer seemed to suggest that the Americans were justified in their actions on the pretext of protecting the 500 or so American students on the island. In contrast, Lord Owen suggests that the students didn't seem worried at all, lending credence to alternative theories. Either way, the release of the recording has thrown further light onto an important episode in the history of Anglo-American relations. One just wonders what else will be released to us in days, weeks, months, years...even decades to come, 

(* I don't think the picture above is the exact poster. This seems to be some anti-war poster from the 1980s, but I suspect it looked something like this.)

mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)

Paul Dacre, speaking passionately against press regulation in October 2011.

A fortnight ago, I couldn't even picture the man running Britain's second biggest-selling newspaper, The Daily Mail. I knew who Paul Dacre was, and I had (irrationally) grown to dislike him, but beyond that, I didn't know anything about him.

I had absolutely no idea about his life, what he sounded like, or whether his own views coincided with the controversial ones propagated by his middle-market tabloid. He was an enigma. A hidden sort of satanic figure, an imaginary Norman-Tebbit-Spitting Image-like-puppet machinating in the background. Now, a fortnight later, and the devil has been unmasked.

It began with BBC Radio 4 profiling him, as a response to the furore caused by a Daily Mail article written by Geoffrey Levy at the end of last month, provocatively headlined "The Man Who Hated Britain", referring to Ralph Miliband, the late father of Labour Party leader - and Daily Mail bete-noire - Ed. Then, yesterday, Dacre ventured into the dark side himself by writing in The Guardian, his rag's arch-nemesis in the eyes of his mob, sorry, readers. Sound a bit dramatic? It certainly felt surreal.

Throw into that mix a running feud between The Mail and Auntie, the post-Leveson repercussions, the Snowden revelations, and you have the perfect ingredients for a box office blockbuster. And best of all, we still don't know how it'll end yet.

For what it's worth, I'm with Paul Dacre on press regulation. I do believe that along with certain other things, such as: parliamentary privilege, free, fair and secret ballot elections, and an impartial judiciary wedded to the rule of law; a free press, warts and all, is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy. Dacre is right to point out the disproportionate coverage by the BBC over the Ralph Miliband story, in comparison with the Guardian's revelations of the Edward Snowden documents.

As much as I am Auntie's cheerleader and part-time Guardianista, I would rather live in a country that allowed all views to be aired freely, even ones that disgust me. That does not mean the press can publish whatever they want. Nor should they be limited by a Royal Charter or even self-regulation. The solution lies in the application of existing laws on defamation, contempt and other relevant crimes as and when necessary. Some of the existing laws are already too stringent, particularly those relating to the freedoms of expression and privacy as embedded into English law by the Human Rights Act, via the European Convention. Even so, I would still prefer judges to recalibrate the imbalance on a case-by-case basis, rather than a regulator.

In any democracy worth its salt, there needs to be a clear separation of powers between the legislature, executive, judiciary AND (especially) the press. Many constitutional law textbooks do not include the press as an organ of government, and perhaps rightfully so, as it does not directly partake in the law-making process. However, it is precisely because of that unofficial status, it should be able to remain independent and hold the State to account. The last thing we need is for an official branch of government to interfere with a centuries-old institution, that has done more good than harm. Let those who break the law be held to account by the courts, and let the Great British public decide for themselves who deserves their readership or not.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
Why UKIP is a party of extremists

It's not often one agrees with a Tory, or worse still, freely and publicly admit to it. But on this occasion I've made an exception because Matthew Parris has largely articulated what I think of the Great British public's latest political squeeze:

"The spirit of Ukippery is paranoid. It distorts and simplifies the world, perceiving a range of different ills and difficulties as all proceeding from two sources: foreigners abroad, and in Britain a ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ (typically thought to be in league with foreigners). None of the problems it identifies (with immigration, with EU bureaucracy, with the cost of the EU, with the ambitions of some Europeanists, with political correctness, with health-and-safety, with human rights legislation etc) are anything less than real; but to the un-extremist mind they need to be tackled ad hoc, one by one, rather than seen as the hydra-headed expression of a single monster.

Very well, you ask, if immigration/foreigners/Brussels are not the overwhelming cause of the problems of modern Britain, what is? I would reply that there is no overwhelming cause, but many: some insoluble. I’d number among these a general decadence arising from nearly 70 years of peace, security and rising incomes. The uncompetitiveness that renders us easy prey for the manufactories of, not Europe, but China and the developing world; the levels of welfare provision that rob indigenous Britons of hunger to work (not the poor immigrants who then take the work)… but this analysis lays many of our problems at the door of many of the voters attracted to Ukip, and is of less interest to the party.

It is the single-cause, single-prism, single-root-explanation way of interpreting the world and its sorrows (a way of thinking and seeing that has its attraction to all human beings) that leads to (or is the fount of) extremism: it is one of the reasons religion, with its forces-of-evil focus, has so often led people that way."

You can read the rest of the article here. To me, UKIP is the acceptable face of xenophobia. And because it's the first such party to shake up mainstream politics, in a way that the far-right could only dream of, it's attracted many of their supporters. Those of us who do not identify with such politics should be worried, because UKIP is led by an ambitious, able and articulate leader, Nigel Farage. To outward appearances, he seems a perfectly reasonable English gentleman. Only some of that is true. He's certainly English and he's probably a gentleman, but he's definitely not reasonable. He may not be preaching to the lowest common denominator, but it's awfully close to it. It's still demagoguery and it appeals to our worst instincts.
mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)


I watched this video for the first time a few days ago and it inspired me to make an entry about the interviewee, Enoch Powell. Little did I know that I'd be posting it here tonight because of the interviewer, Sir David Frost. At the moment I read the news on Sunday morning via a tweet, I felt numb and disoriented. Only a few hours earlier I had watched the latest episode of Al Jazeera's The Frost Interview, with Marc Andreessen, Silicon Valley software pioneer and co-founder of Netscape browser. I hadn't watched the Qatari-based news channel in many weeks, and I wasn't really paying attention to the telly when I switched over to it. Until I thought I heard a familiar voice. As I turned around I realised it was only a voice-over, which made me a tad hesitant that it was really him, but within a few seconds he appeared on screen and removed all doubt. It felt like a reminder to finalise that entry on Enoch Powell. Turns out dad watched the same programme last night as well.

Sir David was my favourite political interviewer, but unlike most Brits, Americans and Australians, who may have had the pleasure of growing up with him in one form or another, I didn't really get to know him until I moved to Montreal for university in 2002. Until then, I had been fed scraps from his Breakfast with Frost programme that was broadcast on the BBC World channel that we received in Oman. However once I had access to high speed internet and the freedom to do as I please, I was able to watch every episode of Breakfast with Frost, in full, via the BBC website. In those days, a number of Auntie's political TV programmes were available internationally. However, by the summer of 2004, several were made unavailable. But not Breakfast with Frost. Those were the heady days of the Iraq War and Frost's interviews with Bush, Blair and other prominent politicians, made for gripping as well as entertaining viewing from across the pond. I was struck by his warm and charming interviewing manner, in which his guests were lulled into a false sense of security, before he delivered a knock-out punch. He was the smiling assassin. He always seemed so interested in what the interviewee had to say. Whether he meant it or not was irrelevant, because he seemed to be at pains to make the participant feel at ease. And he was obviously so knowledgeable. He struck me as a conversationalist with the gift of listening. He could be cocky and witty too.

By the time I moved here in the summer of 2007, I had become aware of the Frost/Nixon play, and thanks to YouTube, I was able to play catchup with what I'd missed. Then came the Frost/Nixon film in the autumn of 2008, and a programme in 2010 on BBC Four, presented by him on the history of satire on TV. As a massive fan of political satire and history, it was more than I could've asked for. But it was not until the satire documentary that I realised his original connection with America, nor how big he became there over the years. In more recent months I came across a YouTube account of TV-am clips from the moment of its inception in the 1980s. Until then I had never realised Sir David's role in it, nor how he was almost solely responsible for introducing breakfast television, which we all take for granted today, into these Isles. I also never realised his connection with Australia as a result of that venture. The more I watched of him, the more I grew to like him. In particular I loved his style in front of the camera from programmes such as That Was the Week That Was. I think it's fair to say he was a lot more cocky and direct in those days, and although he may have mellowed in later years, he never lost that knock-out punch technique which floored many an interviewee. His was a stellar career spanning over fifty years, spread over four continents. He was perhaps the best known British journalist outside these Isles until BBC World arrived in the 1990s.

And then there's the hour-long interview with Enoch Powell from 1969, a year after Powell's explosive speech about immigration. As I watched the interview I was impressed with how well Powell kept his cool, despite Sir David's provocations. I doubt any modern politician or their media minder would allow someone to get away with such style of questioning today, but there was still something charming and witty about it. None of his modern successors are a patch on him. Not Paxo, not Andrew Neil, nor Jon Snow. The nearest equivalent is perhaps Eddie Mair. Frost was certainly one of a kind. A man of many talents, who paved the way and brought new ideas. In his tribute on the radio a couple hours ago, Barry Cryer described him as a practicing catalyst. He was certainly that. And although oft overused, he was certainly a legend too. We may never see the likes of him again and for that, he will be sorely missed. Farewell, good night, and thank you for the memories.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)


I consider this speech one of the greatest ever and I remember the goosebumps I felt when I heard it for the first time ten-and-a-half years ago. Even after several dozen viewings a decade later, it doesn't fail to induce the same feelings. As the West prepares to attack Syria in the coming days, it's worth reminding ourselves of the arguments against military intervention without international agreement or domestic support. Robin Cook's passing was a great loss to British politics.

EDIT @ 16.30, AUG 28:
Does anybody recognise the other politicians, besides Cook and Corbyn, in that still-image of the video? I feel like I should know the names of the chap sitting immediately to Cook's right, and the chap sitting immediately behind him to his left (with hands crossed), but I haven't been able to figure it out in ten years, leaving me with little chance to figure out the others either. The chap on the top left of the screen reminds me of Richard Griffiths.

Syria

Aug. 28th, 2013 09:35 pm
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
Well done Labour, if indeed they were instrumental in securing two votes in the Commons. The second is the crucial one on military action, but it won't take place until the on-site UN weapons inspectors have reported back their findings. My views on Syria are still fairly fluid given the complex nature of the conflict, however if chemical weapons have been used (regardless of whether it was the government or the rebels), then I think I would support a limited air strike, merely to dissuade either party from engaging in that type of attack again. But only on one mandatory condition, that we had UN (and possibly even Arab League) support, just as we did with Libya. Surely that's the most important lesson to draw from the Iraq War fiasco. I don't think we should (ever) engage ground troops or take sides in this conflict because I think they're as bad as each other. If the rebels were to come to power, I'm fairly confident they would wipe out the Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs. Sad as it is to digest, pre-Arab Spring, Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, had largely maintained the peace (albeit fragile) between the various communities. Both belong to minorities, just as the Sunni rulers do in Shiite majority Bahrain. I suspect the best solution for Syria, would be to broker a deal between the warring factions, with the support of Russia. The last thing we need is to meddle in another regional conflict that is essentially a Greater Game being contested between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet I suspect between Iran's sabre-rattling over Israel, the Anglo-American Jewish lobbies, Iran's nuclear enrichment, and rising oil prices, my advice will eventually be ignored.
mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
Here's an excerpt from the speech of a most fascinating politician, that eventually paved the way for the formation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981, and eventually, New Labour in the 1990s. At the time, Jenkins had been out of Parliament for three years and was working in Brussels as Britain's first and only (to date) President of the European Commission. Charles Kennedy later said of the lecture: "Every so often in life, you hear someone articulate your own thoughts - and they do so with an elegance and eloquence which make you wish you had been able to say it yourself. Roy Jenkins's Dimbleby Lecture of 1979 had that effect on me." Even today, this particular passage rings true as much as it did back then:

"The paradox is that we need more change accompanied by more stability of direction. It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Too often we have superficial and quickly reversed political change without much purpose or underlying effect. This is not the only paradox. We need the innovating stimulus of the free market economy without either the unacceptable brutality of its untrammelled distribution of rewards or its indifference to unemployment. This is by no means an impossible combination. It works well in a number of countries. It means that you accept the broad line of division between the public and the private sectors and don't constantly threaten those in the private sector with nationalisation or expropriation.

You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade without being replaced either by an aggressive and intolerant proletarianism or by the dominance of the brash and selfish values of a "get rich quick" society. You want the nation, without eschewing necessary controversy, to achieve a renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose."

You can read other extracts of the speech here and here, but I'm not sure if the latter link is a copy of the whole lecture. If anyone knows of a better link or has access to the full speech, I would much appreciate it.
mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
Every Sunday at 10pm, Carolyn Quinn presents Westminster Hour on BBC Radio 4. For the past five weeks, she has filled a fifteen minute segment before What the Papers Say, with a fascinating profile into the careers of five 20th-century British politicians who "made the weather". The phrase was invented by Winston Churchill in reference to Joseph Chamberlain, the former Colonial Secretary, of whom he wrote, that although he never became Prime Minister, he still managed to play a crucial role in shaping the political agenda of his day. The profiles have been chosen by Vernon Bogdanor*, one of Britain's foremost constitutional experts, as part of a lecture series under this entry's subject title, at London's Gresham College.

Founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, an English merchant and financier who founded the Royal Exchange in 1568, the College plays host to over 140 free public lectures each year. In this six-part series, Bogdanor has profiled the political careers of Aneurin Bevan, Iain Macleod, Roy Jenkins, Enoch Powell, Tony Benn and Sir Keith Joseph. All the lectures at the College have already been delivered, while the last segment on Joseph will air this Sunday on Radio 4.

Depending on your interest and/or time, you can listen to the condensed segments from Radio 4 here, if not you can watch, listen, download and even read the full-length lectures at Gresham College here. As a keen student of British politics, these lectures have been thoroughly informative and enjoyable. Bogdanor is undoubtedly an engaging and fluent speaker. He has also clearly researched his material thoroughly. Without giving too much away, one of the most fascinating things I learnt was how Tony Benn had started off as a Labour-centrist or even Labour right-winger, actively supporting and voting for Hugh Gaitskell to become leader in the 1950s, before gradually shifting (permanently) to the hard-left only in the 1970s.

On a more general note, it is indeed incredible the amount of free and easily accessible online multimedia content that we have at our disposal on our politicians. Whether it be a peek into their personal lives on Desert Island Discs, a meeting with their younger self through Archive on 4, their biography by an admirer on Great Lives, a secret memo released via UK Confidential, or a BBC Archive recording, there is an incredible body of material to choose from. And that's just radio content. Add to it these lectures, other Gresham College lectures, other freely available public lectures, BBC documentaries, Channel 4 documentaries and the BBC Parliament channel, and you've got a lifetime's worth of political programming.

(* Bogdanor's most famous former student at Oxford University is the current PM David Cameron, whom he has described as "one of the ablest" students he has taught, whose political views were "moderate and sensible Conservative".)

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