26 September 2011

Peter Oborne and the 'Guilty Men'

On 22 September David Cameron told the Canadian Parliament that “… the problems in the Eurozone are now so big that they have begun to threaten the stability of the world economy.” Earlier in the month, George Osborne, according to the Daily Telegraph, had concluded that a replacement for the Lisbon Treaty would:
be in place by 2013, on top of a minor amendment to create a permanent bail-out fund later this year. "I think it is on the cards that there may be a treaty change imposed in the next year or two, beyond what has already been proposed," said the Chancellor. "This would be for the eurozone, this would be to further integrate the eurozone, further strengthen fiscal integration."
Like the other EU states, the UK would have to endorse a new Treaty and the process of doing so could prove challenging for the Coalition. Some Tories would rather that the UK left altogether, while others would expect concessions in our favour in return for agreement. Either approach would dismay most LibDems. It is therefore not entirely surprising that the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS, a right-wing think tank founded in 1974 by Keith Joseph with support from Margaret Thatcher) published on 23 September a report by Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, Guilty Men, which ‘details how the political class sought to tie the fortunes of the British to the Euro.’ Coincidentally, the next day Lady Thatcher made a rare public appearance at Liam Fox’s 50th birthday party.

Oborne is an incisive journalist who has also made controversial documentaries for Channel 4 Dispatches, including on 4 October last year, Tabloids, Tories and Phone Tapping. His latest, due on 26 September, The Wonderful World of Tony Blair, may also cause a stir.

In Guilty Men Oborne directs his polemic at the institutions which he sees as having pushed British membership of the eurozone.  At the same time they often made unscrupulous attacks on anyone who was opposing what is now clearly seen as a disaster which the UK was lucky to avoid. Particularly in his sights are the BBC, the FT (with some distinguished exceptions among its columnists), and the CBI. He is also unsparing of many of his fellow members of the commentariat, some of whom, like Andrew Rawnsley and David Aaronovitch, are still unashamedly opining on major issues of the day. Oborne is fair enough to allow that ‘there is no question that [Gordon Brown’s] opposition from inside government was an essential factor in keeping Britain out of the single currency.

Oborne and Weaver confine their paper to the euro and avoid the wider issue of the UK’s membership of the EU. But Peter Jay in his lengthy Foreword lays the issue firmly on the table. In particular, he gives vent to some of the most Francophobic remarks that I have read for some time, and which I will quote as a foil to the Francophilia some might think implicit in this blog:
Looking back [in 1945] we felt deep pride in the achievements of the long struggle – from the defeat of the Armada by way of Marlborough’s defeats of Louis XIV’s armies, Chatham’s strategy in India and North America, Nelson’s and Wellington’s defeats of Napoleon and Churchill’s defiance of Hitler – to preserve that independence in the face of threats to create a continent-wide despotism on the European mainland and to impose its power on Britain.

I met [the great French diplomat and technocrat, Jean Monnet] at a small lunch in 1952 in Paris hosted by William Hayter of the British Embassy for my father, then a member of the Labour Opposition’s front bench Treasury team. I was 15 and kept my mouth shut, but my ears open. I have never forgotten v what I heard. For, it was the truth about the European strategy which he had devised and sold to French political leaders.
France was humiliated by the fact that its representatives were no longer treated by other nations in the way they once had been. Only super-power diplomats were taken seriously. To recover this prestige and standing France must become a superpower like America and Russia with a continental economy to support a continental industrial production and tax base sufficient to deploy or threaten the military might that alone delivers diplomatic weight.  
Europe must be welded into such an instrument, by implication, though this was not spelt out, to be dominated and guided by the especially civilised leaders and diplomats which France alone could produce

It was a direct route back to that world, but under a new flag, that of “Europe” (whether or not Greater France would have been a more candid name). It was Bonapartist, even if with a twentieth century face.

To a Euro-nationalist (otherwise a French Third Empire-builder such as Valéry Giscard D’Estaing) to admit Turkey [to the EU] would be a dangerous dilution of the purity and cohesion, and therefore the strength, of Europe as an ethnically, religiously, geographically and culturally homogeneous political actor and as a new power in the world.

Despite the accident of the horse-shoe model of the French constituent assembly in 1789 at Louis XVI’s Versailles whence the terms left and right derive, there is absolutely no objective basis for arranging political choice along this one-dimensional spectrum. Still less is there any reason to regard support for “Europe” – more especially a Europe modelled on the Bonapartist tradition – as in any sense a centrist or moderate position.

My only complaint was that neither of [the two greatest economic journalists of this time, Sir Samuel Brittan and Martin Wolf at the Financial Times] fully saw that it was the very dysfunctionality of the Euro which was its chief attraction to the Bonapartists. They could safely rely upon it to cause the periodic acute crises which then supplied the political context for the next great leap forward in Eurocentralisation, edging ever closer to one country, be it Third Empire or Fourth Reich, enshrining Monnet’s City on the hill from which French diplomats could go forth with German cheque books in their baggage to strut their hour upon the world stage.
and for the sort of people who have vines as Backgrounds to their blog:
The groups who have most particularly betrayed Britain’s independence and support for a multinational shared management of our real global problems in favour of merging Britain into an old-fashioned power-seeking country called “Europe” have been mainly motivated by muddled thinking and immature sentiment. The number of people who in their early youth just thought of Europe as a nice place for culture, sunshine, wine and skiing and made this the foundation of their view of the political and economic architecture being imposed on the UK is pathetic and shocking.
Ouch – but I don’t really agree with Jay. French politicians of his age (74) - Giscard D’Estaing, amazingly, is 85 - or more or less of the same generation, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn (62) may think as chauvinistically as he alleges, but from my limited knowledge, younger people in France, inside and outside politics, are as aware of the challenges from China, Brazil, India etc as their contemporaries in the UK. What Jay doesn’t address is how countries of the size of France and the UK could fit into the world order, if not as part of a weightier grouping like the EU.  Dominique de Villepin (former French Prime Minister, 57) addresses just that issue in his Notre Vieux Pays, published in France last month. My French isn’t good enough to do it justice, but he obviously realises the challenges posed to the French values by globalisation, de-industrialisation, l’iPad etc – I’m not sure he has any solutions. No mention, as far as I could see, of how les anglais are having to deal with similar problems!

Osborne and Weaver state that ‘The title of this short work – Guilty Men – is drawn from the book written in the summer of 1940 as Britain awaited Nazi attack in the wake of Dunkirk. The intention of that famous book was to call to account the architects of the policy of appeasement who had betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.'

Their analogy is possibly a little over the top. The UK may have mistakenly pursued appeasement in the 1930s but we didn’t join the euro in the 2000s.  The indicted in the first Guilty Men included Baldwin and Chamberlain, but as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1930s they were instigators, albeit reluctantly, of the rearmament programmes which began in 1934 (touched on in my ‘aerodrome’ post in August).  Historians will probably debate for ever whether Chamberlain (by then Prime Minister) was right to make an agreement with Hitler at Munich.  One uncertainty seems to be the extent to which the UK would have been able to rely on France, in particular its army in confronting the Nazis in 1938.  The French military capabilities on air and land were little improved by 1940, whereas the RAF had been substantially strengthened in the same period.

Still, Osborne has a history degree so presumably is confident about the grounds for the parallel he is making.  The matrix diagrams below try to show how difficult it is, however the columns and rows are arranged, to draw coherent comparisons between Mosley and New Europe (as was attempted - see Oborne and Weaver, page 22) or for the Europhobes to lay claim to Churchill as one of theirs.

20 September 2011

Stevie Smith

The English poet Stevie Smith was born on 20 September 1902.

The description ‘not raving but droning’ under the Western Independent title was intended as a riposte to the views about blogs expressed by Andrew Marr: “… the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. … Most of the blogging is too angry and too abusive. “

It was also an attempt at a play on words in the title of Smith’s well-known poem, Not Waving but Drowning, published by Deutsch in a collection of the same name in 1957.    Here she is reading it.

Smith died of a brain tumour in March 1971. A play about her life, Stevie, was staged in 1977 and made into a film the following year. Smith was played in both by Glenda Jackson, now an MP and by coincidence the subject of a post here earlier this month. The film was well-regarded at the time and later appeared on VHS, but has never been available as a DVD. Hopefully the British Film Institute will find a place for it in their programme of Flipside releases.

18 September 2011

Euro Breakup – an aide-mémoire

Although the Eurozone coming apart is widely-discussed, understanding the scale is not something I find easy. So here is a first stab at an aide-mémoire, based on the nations' GDPs in 2010, and accepting that the problem is about debts which, in some cases, exceed GDP.
EU GDPs 2010, Millions of euros
The exploding Pie Chart (appropriate for once) divides the total GDP of the 27 EU countries (12,268,996 million euros) into seven elements, corresponding to:
  • The UK*
  • Nine other countries (BG, CZ, DK, HU, LV, LT, PL, RO, SE) which are not part of the Eurozone ('Rest non-euro')
  • ThePIGS, the most problematic economies within the Eurozone (PT, IE, EL, ES)
  • The EuroDeutschmark ('EuroDM') is a lumping together of DE (66%) and four economies (AT, BE, LU and NL) (34%) which are closely linked to it.
  • The six other members of the Eurozone (CY, ES, FI, MT, SK, SI) ('Rest euro')
  • FR
  • IT
The Column Chart below presents the GDPs for these seven elements and also the PIIGS (PIGS and IT).

One question which arises is whether, assuming the PIIGS were to leave the Eurozone, the EuroDM would be worth constructing without FR.

*The two-letter country abbreviations are in the table below.


I first touched on France returning to the franc in a post back in August, and the issue was implicit in what I wrote above. It may be significant that yesterday the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, announced the decision that France should adopt the same age for retirement as Germany, 67, by 2030. This would be the first of various steps towards social convergence:
une convergence progressive de l'organisation économique et sociale de nos deux pays, car c'est la clef de la survie et du développement de la zone euro et du continent européen
a gradual convergence of economic and social organization in both countries because it is the key to survival and development of the euro area and the European continent
The Left have criticised Fillon’s proposal, as they did the earlier rise in the retirement age from 60 to 62.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the “cosy elite”, who run France, currently intend being part of the ‘EuroDM’ above.

14 September 2011

Replacing Glenda

After the 2010 election, the Westminster MP with the smallest majority was Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, member for Fermanagh & S Tyrone, who had two more votes than the Social Democratic and Labour candidate. On the mainland, the smallest majority was in London's Hampstead and Kilburn where the results were:

Glenda Jackson was well-known as an actress from the 1960s to the 1990s when she entered politics. In June this year she announced (not as yet on her website) that she will stand down at the next election – in 2015 she will be 79. On 22 July Richard Kay had a story in the Daily Mail, ‘Will Fiona Millar be MP for Labour's luvvieland?’.  Ms Millar is the partner of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications and Strategy, who has previously been the subject of posts here.
Mother-of-three Fiona, 53 … is in line to replace the double Oscar-winning actress Glenda Jackson as Labour’s next candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. And unlike Glenda … Fiona has the happy distinction of already living close to hand. The fashionable North London constituency, which is home to dozens of rich Labour luvvies, is the second most marginal seat in the country.

One figure key to Ms Millar’s ambitions is Melissa Benn, feminist daughter of veteran Left-wing firebrand Tony and the woman who is expected to run Fiona’s election campaign when Glenda retires in four years’ time. The two women share a passion for education — they are in favour of comprehensives and against academies, grammar and public schools. A one-time journalist, Ms Millar founded the Local Schools Network to promote state education and is said to have cold-shouldered friends who have sent their children to be educated privately.
Shortly afterwards, Ms Millar told a local newspaper that “I haven’t got any plans to stand”, a well-known form of words for a non-denial, not being equivalent to “I will never stand”. But this was understandable, given that the Boundary Commission for England had embarked on its 2013 review.  This review is intended to produce parliamentary constituencies with no more than 5% below or above 76641 electors (based on the December 2010 registers) and will lead to a reduction from 533 to 502 constituencies in England. The Commission has now produced its initial proposals under which London would lose five of its current 73 constituencies, with only four being unaffected. The proposals include:
45. In Camden, we noted that the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, which contains wards from the boroughs of both Brent and Camden, had an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota. However, with the inclusion of the Fortune Green ward in the Finchley and Golders Green constituency, it was necessary to alter the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. We propose that it should contain only two Brent wards (Kilburn and Queens Park) and eight wards from Camden, including three (Gospel Oak, Highgate, and Kentish Town) from the existing Holborn and St Pancras constituency. The seven remaining Camden wards, including one (Belsize) from the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, form a Camden and Regent’s Park constituency, together with four wards from the north east of Westminster.
Some heroic number-crunching by the Guardian Datastore has attempted to analyse the impact of the changes, with the caveat that their work is “Based on a crude analysis of the composition of the new constituencies, using the 2010 election results in old ones. Assumes uniform vote across old constituencies”.

This analysis seems to suggest that Hampstead and Kilburn would become a less marginal Labour seat in future, and that for a Labour candidate adoption would be a prize worth having. Apart from those lucky enough to have London seats, most Labour MPs have to travel some distance to their constituencies which tend to be concentrated in South Wales, North East and North West England and Scotland.

However, even if at the next election Ms Millar were elected in Hampstead and Kilburn, her victory might be Pyrrhic. If the boundary changes are implemented, Labour will need a bigger lead over the Conservatives than in the past to form a government (UK Polling Report assessment). However, as Daniel Finkelstein pointed out in The Times (£) on 14 September:
One way in which this [fewer seats, especially safe ones] all might play itself out is simply that MPs band together to prevent the new boundaries being put in place. There are serious figures in Downing Street who think that the review will never be implemented because it is too radical.
Even assuming that there is a Labour government in 2015, Ms Millar may face another problem in recasting the educational system to be more comprehensive. This would be the consequence of another Commission, one to address the ‘West Lothian question’. As the FT reported on 9 September:
Ministers are to ask a commission of independent experts to address one of the toughest questions thrown up by devolution: should Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs be allowed to vote on legislation that affects only England?
The so-called “West Lothian Question” – named after the constituency of Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who first raised the issue – has led to growing calls for “English votes for English laws”, since Scotland and Wales were granted devolution in the late 1990s.
English MPs are not allowed to vote on many matters that are now devolved to other UK assemblies and there has been a long-running debate on whether equivalent restrictions should apply to Scottish and Welsh MPs.
Education and health are the two major devolved issues. If Labour MPs from Wales and Scotland were to cease to vote on English educational matters, a Labour government might well not have enough English MPs to carry votes on major changes such as placing academies and free schools under local education authority control.

Before becoming an MP, Ms Millar would have to be selected as prospective candidate. Her partner is not exactly popular in, to use Richard Kay’s words, the ‘fashionable North London constituency, which is home to dozens of rich Labour luvvies’. One elite Hampstead resident’s views of Campbell might not be unrepresentative:
"a Burnley-crazed apparatchik churning out propaganda for a dead political regime – one whose own name is a byword for bullying and mendacity"
So said playwright Sir David Hare, according to the Sunday Times (£) in 2008, after Campbell had referred in his diaries to Tony Blair “looking like a prat” in a Nicole Farhi sweater. Nicole Farhi is Lady Hare – of course, the Hares may or may not be Labour party members with a say in the choice of candidate.

Ms Millar might, in the end, look for adoption in the other Camden constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, currently held by Frank Dobson, who will be 75 in 2015, or, if the boundary changes are implemented, in the new Islington North constituency. Both are safe Labour seats according to Guardian Datastore:

Meanwhile, if David Cameron manages to pull off both the boundary changes and the removal of Welsh and Scottish MPs from English parliamentary business, he will probably have done more for the Conservative party’s influence than any of his predecessors since Joseph Chamberlain.


The above may have underestimated David Cameron. According to the Guardian on 15 September, a government white paper published in the summer is proposing the introduction before the 2015 election of individual electoral registration rather than household registration.
The policy has been described by Jenny Russell, the chair of the electoral commission, as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of the universal franchise. … Russell warned: "It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90%completeness that we currently have to 60-65%."

Tristam Hunt, a Labour [political and constitutional reform select] committee member, said: "These plans show how little this government really cares about democracy or fairness. If they get away with it, the effect on the 2020 general election will make the chaotic boundary review published this week look minor. This is designed to wipe the poor and the young off the political map. "We are moving from a notion of registering as part as a civic duty to something akin to personal choice like a Nectar card or BA miles."

Roger Mortimore from pollsters Ipsos Mori warned: "It is a very dramatic change and I am opposed to it. So far there is a political effect, it is most likely to disadvantage Labour", because "people that are least engaged in politics — the poor, the young and the ethnic minorities and all those groups, when they do vote at all are more likely to vote Labour".

8 September 2011

British Writers and British Art

On 28 August BBC2 screened the thriller, Page Eight, written and directed by the eminent British playwright and screenwriter, Sir David Hare. The film’s central character, Johnny Warricker (played by Bill Nighy), is a senior MI5 officer (a deputy to the Director General apparently). To gain any insight into the real work of the security services, it would be better to accept that Hare’s work is set in a different Realm from Christopher Andrew’s, and listen to the last three of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures. But in the film, not only does Warricker have a daughter, (Felicity Jones) described by Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent as:
an artist who paints graphic and harrowing images of Guantanamo Bay-like torture victims. (Ironically, some of her work has found its way into the Government's art collection. One of her paintings hangs in the MI5 boardroom.)
but he has an extensive art collection in his flat. This serves to demonstrate the taste and values of the last-century English patriot that Hare has in mind. Two artists get a mention: by the end of the film Warricker has given away a painting by Mark Gertler and sold another, by Christopher Wood, to an art dealer in Saffron Walden for £60,000 in cash. The dealer kept the money in an antique-looking safe at the back of her shop and Warricker takes it away in a Waitrose carrier bag. He also discovers that his daughter is pregnant after a one-week affair with a Conceptual artist (pun intended, presumably) – not exactly Warricker’s taste in art.

The film’s art department and set decorator did a good job with Warricker’s collection. (The Christopher Wood looked a bit like The Card Players from Lord and Lady Attenborough’s collection as sold by Sotheby’s in 2009 for about twice as much as Warricker could raise.) Hare, as the screenwriter, must have had his reasons for lighting on Gertler (1891-1939) and Wood (1901-1930).  

Gertler was a contemporary of Stanley Spencer at the Slade. Wood, who had trained in Paris, was in St Ives when Ben Nicholson encountered Alfred Wallis. Both died young and by suicide, in Wood’s case under a train at Salisbury station in a state of opium-induced paranoia. I did wonder how even a senior public servant, particularly with several divorces behind him, could afford so many pictures,. A Gertler might be more attainable, one of his late works, The Barn, surprisingly fetching only about £5000 last year at Bonhams.

It reminded me of Ian McEwan’s novel, Solar, published in 2010. The main character, Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is about the same age as Warricker (and Hare, McEwan and Nighy) and has also had costly troubles with a succession of women. His latest is Melissa:
She owned a string - if three was a string - of shops across north London selling dance clothes.

Like many slobs, Beard was appreciative of the order that others created without effort, or any that he noticed. In Melissa's flat, which was spread over two floors, he was particularly happy. She lived such an uncluttered life at home. There were open perspectives untroubled by furniture. The foot-wide beeswaxed floorboards recovered from a Gascony chateau shone with dull perfection. There were no loose objects, all the books were on the shelves in the right order, at least until he visited, and the art on the walls was sparse lithographs, mostly of dancers. There was a single statue, a Henry Moore maquette.
Very nice too, but a work of that type by Moore, Maquette for Reclining Figure, went for about £25000 in Bonhams in June this year.

Obviously Melissa and Warricker were being depicted as people of taste, and their creators didn’t intend them to be case studies for amateur financial advisers. But I can’t help thinking that Henry Moore maquettes and Christopher Wood oils are more likely to be found in the handsome houses of successful writers like Hare and McEwan (in London’s Hampstead and Fitzrovia, respectively) than in the humbler dwellings of civil servants and minor retailers.


Visiting Bristol Museum and Art Gallery recently I took the opportunity to see Eric Ravilious’ tempera triptych Tennis.

The panels were commissioned to decorate the door of Sir Geoffrey Fry’s music room in London. Notwithstanding my remark above, Fry was a civil servant and a distinguished patron of the arts. He served as Private Secretary to Stanley Baldwin when the latter was Prime Minister. Fry, however, came from a wealthy Bristol family, and he and Lady Fry donated Tennis to the Museum in 1945.

4 September 2011

Stanley Spencer at Compton Verney

In May I posted about Compton Verney and their Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition. Compton Verney’s current shows include Stanley Spencer and the English garden which runs until 2 October, and is well worth seeing.

'Wisteria, Cookham'
Spencer (1891-1959) is well-known for his First World War murals for the Memorial Chapel at Sandham (near Burghclere, Hampshire), which belongs to the National Trust, and for his monumental series of Second World War paintings, Shipbuilding on the Clyde. These are owned by the Imperial War Museum and, although recently restored, have no permanent exhibition space. A selection can be seen until 15 January 2012 at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham, Berkshire, Spencer’s birthplace.

Spencer was always deeply rooted in Cookham, and even when a student at the Slade before the First World War preferred to commute to London daily. He chose Cookham and its inhabitants as the subjects for his biblical scenes, probably the most famous being The Resurrection, now in the Tate Britain collection. Because of their settings, the religious paintings often include domestic gardens, but, as this exhibition shows, Spencer’s execution of detail comes to the fore in his paintings of flowers, or more prosaically a bunch of onions. Even in the apparently secular scenes, the white picket fences seem to be echoing the crosses at Sandham.