28 February 2012

The Blue Angel: Talking up Gove again

Not quite what Marlene Dietrich sang* in The Blue Angel:

but it seems to be the tune coming from the UK commentariat. For example, Toby Young, in the first Sun on Sunday on 26 February:
… Up until now, the only other senior Conservative identified as a potential successor to Cameron is George Osborne and all the talk has been of a Boris v Osborne bun fight in the next Parliament. But could Michael Gove be emerging as a dark horse candidate? We learned on Friday that more than 300 volunteer groups have applied to set up free schools next year, adding to the 96 that have already been approved.
… It's precisely because the policy has been such a success that Michael Gove is now being talked about as a future Prime Minister. Of course, it won't do him any favours with his Cabinet colleagues – he might as well paint a big fat target on his back. …
… in a three-way contest between Boris, Osborne and Gove, my money would be on Gove.
The day before, Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph had heaped praise on Gove (“a highly intelligent and resilient man”) and his education reforms, but had made only a very oblique comment on his political prospects:
Mr Gove offers an attractive combination – complete loyalty to the Cameron modernisation, but a Thatcher-era conviction politics as well. It is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, in the present Cabinet, it is virtually unique.
Anyway, Young wasn’t right to say “Up until now”. Another Gove enthusiast, John Rentoul in the Independent, seems to think that a Bagehot article last summer in The Economist marked the start. It was, apparently, written by Janan Ganesh, familiar to some from BBC1’s Sunday Politics. But August is a difficult time for commentators to find something to write about, and “what if the PM went under a bus” is a long-established column-filler. As August, so early January, but, nonetheless, Rentoul sees Patrick O’Flynn’s piece in the Daily Express, Michael Gove has suddenly become the heir apparent to David Cameron, as another straw in the wind.
Since then the wind has turned into a gale. Iain Martin headlined an interview with Gove for Standpoint magazine, Will Michael Gove Go All the Way to No 10?, and then, on 22 February, followed it up with a post for his blog, The Rise of the Iron Laddie Can Gove get to Number 10? (Ironically, Private Eye had made the same pun about Cameron nearly a month earlier: Issue 1306 page 22). At the same time, John Rentoul blogged Michael Gove could be prime minister, describing Iain Martin’s post as “a superb write-up”. Another Rentoul post, surrealistically titled Why Gove must be reincarnated as an olive, followed on 26 February, together with his column in the Independent on Sunday. The latter took a slightly less hyperbolic view, drawing attention to the deficiencies of the other leading Conservative members of the Cabinet, and concluding that:
Compared with all these, Michael Gove is the most successful minister.
A clue to his appeal to Rentoul (Blair’s biographer) follows:
In a virtuoso speech to the parliamentary press gallery last week, without notes, he said he was proud to be a Blairite, a species that could survive only in the hothouse of government, and which was "now extinct in the wild – that is, in the Parliamentary Labour Party".
Against all that, he has one weakness. He is not a retail politician on television. But if he goes on doing a good job of government, that is the kind of perception that can be turned round, and his peculiarities of manner could become strengths of "a character".
and Rentoul concluded:
… The other day I suggested that Gove should be moved to sort out the disaster of NHS reform. But that may not be the limit of what he can achieve.
Playing to the gallery seems to have paid off, with conservativehome’s Left Watch in the form of Paul Goodman leaping to Gove’s defence, The Left's next target is Michael Gove, after an article in the Guardian, also on 27 February, by David Leigh: The schools crusade that links Michael Gove to Rupert Murdoch, "The education secretary has close ties to Rupert Murdoch and would be a key figure if he attempts to move into the UK schools market".

Most people recognise Murdoch’s astuteness about the possibilities of innovation, and would want his advocacy of new technology in the classroom to be considered, but the teachers among the Guardian’s readership may be less enthused.  Whether Gove is wise to have got as close to Murdoch as the article suggests is another matter. Then, as David Davis’ article, Crony Capitalism, in the current Prospect Magazine shows, this has been habitual behaviour at the top of the British political class.  Goodman concludes:
Guardian and New Statesman journalists would be asleep on the job were they not criticising Tory Cabinet Ministers. So this is not a complaint but an observation. It is also, in its way, a warning. Gove is currently what the Australians called "a tall poppy". While Andrew Lansley trudges on with his health bill, the Education Secretary seems to soar skywards. There is no shortage of those who would like bring him down.
And by later in the day things had been cooled down a bit, with Fraser Nelson on the Spectator Coffee House explaining that Gove had told him in 2008 “I’d never run for leader”, and Tim Montgomerie, back on conservativehome’s ToryDiary, assuring his readers that “Michael Gove rules out leadership bid, concluding he doesn't have "right sort of character" for the job”. Apparently Gove was going to give a major speech on 1 March “on social mobility. However, he cancelled it because of the growing leadership chatter. He didn’t want this.” according to “his closest adviser”.

Rentoul went so far as to put a meme on Twitter, #MG4PM, but it seems to be a long way from trending and we will just have to wait and see whether Gove-mania gets a second wind. The man himself may well be left wondering if, with friends like these, he needs enemies. In the meantime, it might be worth rereading Bagehot/Ganesh’s conclusion about Gove:
The last politician to mix conservatism and cosmopolitanism so vividly was Michael Portillo, the former Tory minister who, neatly, was the subject of a sympathetic biography by Mr Gove in 1995.  That book was called “The Future of the Right”; there are some who see Mr Gove as the inheritor of that mantle. They worry that other candidates to lead the Tories one day, such as Mr Osborne and Mr Johnson, share with Mr Cameron a patrician incomprehension of the striving classes. But Mr Gove forswears any such ambition. Even if he did not, his conspicuous intellectualism and uncompromising worldview might count against him. Some politicians are just too interesting to reach the very top.
Harking back to a post here last August on birth order in top politicians, it may be worth remembering that the the last first-born child to lead his party to win a general election was Harold Wilson in 1974. According to the Economist: “Mr Gove was adopted when he was four months old. All he knows about the woman who bore him is that she was a student.” It isn’t clear whether there was an older child in the family. Gove worked as a journalist, which might help explain the enthusiasm of the commentators for one of their own.  But as far as I can tell, the last PM to have been seriously engaged in journalism was Winston Churchill!

More seriously, it’s worth considering one of the points made by Toby Young:
I'm a big believer in free schools, having led the efforts of a group of parents and teachers to set one up last year. The distinctive characteristics of our school – strong discipline, small class sizes and traditional subjects – have proved a winning formula, with more than 2,000 parents applying for our next 120 places. It's precisely because the policy has been such a success that Michael Gove is now being talked about as a future Prime Minister.
Well, up to a point Lord Copper. The fatal problem with the grammar schools was their 35% or less participation rate. Of course this didn’t mean 65% disappointment – some parents wouldn’t have been concerned and anyway didn’t “apply” in Young’s sense. But his data suggests that there will be over 1880 disappointed applicant parents, ie about 95%. Raising large-scale expectations which can’t be met might be regarded as a risky undertaking for any politician, even one so "highly intelligent and resilient".

*In Josef von Sternberg’s first talkie, Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930), Marlene Dietrich plays Lola-Lola, a cabaret singer at the eponymous nightclub who causes the downfall of a hitherto respected schoolmaster at the local gymnasium (academy).  A plot which is very unlikely to appeal to the Education Secretary.  In the English version of the film, The Blue Angel (1930), Dietrich sings:
Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can't help it


ADDENDUM 4 March 2012

Now here’s a strange thing in the form of a Tweet on 3 March from John Rentoul. I will use the method the Modern Language Association recommends for citing a tweet:
Rentoul, John (JohnRentoul). “"Being somewhat peculiar myself, I sympathise with people who are a little bit odd" Toby Young http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100106034/yet-another-attempt-to-smear-michael-gove-by-his-nemesis-on-the-ft/” 3 March 2012, 5:19 p.m. Tweet.
Gove has been in an argument with the Information Commissioner about the release of emails under the Freedom of Information Act, following a story in the Financial Times on 20 September 2011. Their education correspondent, Christopher Cook, was the subject of Young’s post on his Daily Telegraph blog (as Rentoul’s Tweet) later that day. A month earlier Cook had written a profile of Young in the Lunch with the FT series. Young’s comment quoted by Rentoul was about Cook, (not Gove!) and his blog ended:
I met Cook at last year's Conservative Party Conference, an encounter that led to him penning a profile of me in the FT. I have to confess, I find his weird, stalker-ish obsession with Michael Gove almost endearing. Being somewhat peculiar myself, I sympathise with people who are a little bit odd. But his journalism should be taken with a large dose of salt.
Something Young wrote interested me:
Cook abandoned his fledgeling political career soon afterwards, joining the FT in 2008, but he remains close to Willetts and worked on The Pinch, his book about the baby boom generation published in 2010.
because David Willett's The Pinch was the subject of a post here last year.

26 February 2012

Could Ken Livingstone really bring Ed Miliband down?

Toby Young, now at the new Sun on Sunday, wrote a piece on 26 February about Michael Gove’s prospects of leading the Conservative party which began:
THERE'S a good deal of speculation in Westminster about who might succeed Ed Miliband if Labour don't start performing better in the polls. The next big test of his leadership will be the London mayoral elections on May 3. If Boris beats Ken, it will be one more nail in Ed's coffin.
The polling so far this year certainly suggests that the race is neck-and-neck between Boris Johnson (Conservative) and Ken Livingstone (Labour), most recently, according to YouGov, at 51% and 49% respectively, when the other candidates have been eliminated. Before that, Boris gets 46%, Ken 45%, Hugh Paddick (LibDem) 6% and others 3%. But as UK Polling Report points out, the YouGov poll shows that in a national election the same Londoners would vote 35% Conservative, 47% Labour and 9% LibDem, a slightly bigger swing towards Labour since the general election than nationally.

Obviously, it would be better for Labour nationally if Ken were to win, but I really can’t see the  party wanting to blame Ed Miliband (42) for the inability of Ken Livingstone (66, a generation older) to stop some of Labour's natural vote defecting to Boris Johnson or to discourage a greater proportion of the LibDems from making him their second choice. Nor is Ed Miliband likely to be blamed for not attempting to obstruct Ken’s adoption as Labour candidate in the first place.

21 February 2012

Rachel Sylvester Reports

From the online Oxford English Dictionary:
report, n.
I. Information provided or conveyed, and related senses.
1. a. An account of a situation, event, etc., brought by one person to another, esp. as the result of an investigation; a piece of information or intelligence provided by an emissary, official investigator, etc.; a notification of something observed.
III. Repetitive sound, and related senses.
7. a. A resounding noise, esp. that caused by the discharge of a firearm or explosive.

An article by Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) on 7 February about the Health Bill, Is Lansley the exception to the no-sacking policy?, reverberated for days. In it she reported that:
There is deep frustration in No 10 about the Health Secretary’s handling of the “pause” in the passage of the Bill — which was announced last April in an attempt to show that the Government was listening. Strategists have watched in dismay as, far from attempting to win over his critics, the Health Secretary has used the time to further annoy NHS staff and alienate voters. …
He seems emotionally incapable of showing any understanding of other people’s concerns and intellectually unwilling to consider alternative ideas. …
“Andrew Lansley should be taken out and shot,” says a Downing Street source. “He’s messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.”
The next day at PMQs David Cameron was goaded with this by Ed Miliband:
… In his heart of hearts, the Prime Minister knows that the Bill is a complete disaster. That is why his aides are saying that the Health Secretary should be taken out and shot, because they know it is a disaster. …
giving Cameron the chance to respond with:
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that the career prospects of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary are a lot better than his. …
which remains to be seen.

Until reading the first volume of Chris Mullins’ diaries a couple of years ago, Rachel Sylvester meant little more to me than an image which seemed to match the adjacent sharply-written opinion piece. But in A View from the Foothills, Mullins, who on the whole takes a tolerant view of his fellow men and women, has this entry for Wednesday 18 July 2001:
… A call from Rachel Sylvester wanting an interview for Saturday's Telegraph. I declined on the grounds that many of her interviews with Labour politicians tend to become the subject of front page news stories based on a sentence twisted out of all recognition.
‘Not always,’ she said.
So I wasn’t altogether surprised recently when, in David Blunkett’s monumental The Blunkett Tapes – My Life in the Bear Pit, I came across something recorded in October 2000:
Thursday’s article in the Daily Telegraph by Rachel Sylvester has an unnamed colleague who apparently ‘would rather blow themselves up’ than allow me to become Home Secretary. (page 125)
- a post which Tony Blair gave Blunkett in June 2001, but without it leading to resounding noises in Westminster.

20 February 2012

Lucien Freud Portraits at the NPG

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London is currently showing Lucien Freud Portraits, the first major retrospective of Lucien Freud (1922-2011) since Tate Britain’s in 2002. So much is available about Freud and his work that it needs little description here. Martin Gayford’s description of his experiences sitting for Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, is fascinating and informative, and the resulting work, Man in a Blue Scarf (2004) is in the NPG exhibition. David Dawson worked for over 20 years as Lucian Freud's assistant, occasionally his model, and was able to take many revealing photographs of the artist at work. He discusses these at The Economist and also his own work at the BBC.

As with the Tate retrospective (with which there is an inevitable overlap), the works on display at the NPG clearly show the change in technique from fine sable brushwork to the heavy application using hog bristle which Freud settled on the late 1950s. Two of the Freud paintings on show were made with explicit reference to other artists (see below).

One of the NPG’s publications to go with their show is Painting People. This might have been more accurate description than Portraits, given that some of the subjects are as much concerned with the human form as portraiture. But there are many conventional portraits whch clearly demonstrate Freud’s ability to capture his sitter’s personality.

Lucien Freud Portraits continues at the NPG until 28 May. Without hesitation, my ‘Anticipointment Index’ rating (out of 5, the lower the better) is 1.

15 February 2012

Is Ed Miliband Fukuyama’s Scribbler?

Not everyone who is directed here by Google will know as much about Ed Miliband as they do about Francis Fukuyama, or vice versa. So, at the outset and in alphabetical order:
Francis Fukuyama is Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. A third-generation Japanese-American, he was trained as a classicist, but turned to political science. As well as being in government, before Stanford, he was at Johns Hopkins, RAND and Harvard. He is probably best-known in the UK as the author of an essay, The End of History, written in 1989 at the end of the Cold War, an event which he saw as bringing about universal liberal democracy. The essay led to considerable debate, much of it critical, and Fukuyama’s views have evolved since, including his comment, "there can be no end of history without an end of modern natural science and technology".
Ed Miliband is the leader of the UK Labour party and hence Leader of the Loyal Opposition to Her Majesty’s Government, currently led by the Conservatives in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Like many British politicians he graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford (PPE), and he has also spent time at Harvard. He gets to put six questions to Prime Minister David Cameron (also a PPE graduate) at the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesdays, a session closely watched by British political wonks. Miliband became Leader of the Opposition after defeating his older brother, David, (another PPE graduate) who was the favourite in the contest held in 2010 after Labour lost the election. Of late (early February 2012) there is a grudging admission that he has been getting better at a difficult job, but commentators speculate on his replacement by his brother, or Ed Balls or Balls’ wife, Yvette Cooper, who both, guess what, have PPE degrees. Certainly, it would seem from the opinion polls that Miliband still has much to do before the voters regard him as a potential PM.

The question posed in the title of this post stems from a January 2012 article by Fukuyama and a February speech by Miliband on similar themes. The article, The Future of History Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?, appeared in Foreign Affairs, and, as far as I can tell, has not received any attention in the UK. So, I will attempt to summarise it by drawing on the author’s words, starting with the key proposition he made at the start:
… despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. … Something similar is true in Europe as well, where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move. There are several reasons for this lack of left-wing mobilization, but chief among them is a failure in the realm of ideas. For the past generation, the ideological high ground on economic issues has been held by a libertarian right. The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy.
He then offered a historical perspective on what has happened:
The first major secular ideology to have a lasting worldwide effect was liberalism, a doctrine associated with the rise of first a commercial and then an industrial middle class in certain parts of Europe in the seventeenth century. (By “middle class,” I mean people who are neither at the top nor at the bottom of their societies in terms of income, who have received at least a secondary education, and who own either real property, durable goods, or their own businesses.) …
The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, the same year that revolutions spread to all the major European countries save the United Kingdom. And so began a century of competition for the leadership of the democratic movement between communists, who were willing to jettison procedural democracy (multiparty elections) in favor of what they believed was substantive democracy (economic redistribution), and liberal democrats, who believed in expanding political participation while maintaining a rule of law protecting individual rights, including property rights.
At stake was the allegiance of the new industrial working class. Early Marxists believed they would win by sheer force of numbers: as the franchise was expanded in the late nineteenth century, parties such as the United Kingdom’s Labour and Germany’s Social Democrats grew by leaps and bounds and threatened the hegemony of both conservatives and traditional liberals.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, there was a strong consensus on the progressive left that some form of socialism—government control of the commanding heights of the economy in order to ensure an egalitarian distribution of wealth—was unavoidable for all advanced countries. …
Yet even as the great ideological conflicts of the twentieth century played themselves out on a political and military level, critical changes were happening on a social level that undermined the Marxist scenario. First, the real living standards of the industrial working class kept rising, to the point where many workers or their children were able to join the middle class. Second, the relative size of the working class stopped growing and actually began to decline, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, when services began to displace manufacturing in what were labeled “postindustrial” economies. Finally, a new group of poor or disadvantaged people emerged below the industrial working class—a heterogeneous mixture of racial and ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, and socially excluded groups, such as women, gays, and the disabled. As a result of these changes, in most industrialized societies, the old working class has become just another domestic interest group, one using the political power of trade unions to protect the hard-won gains of an earlier era. …
There is a broad correlation among economic growth, social change, and the hegemony of liberal democratic ideology in the world today. And at the moment, no plausible rival ideology looms. But some very troubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood. …
… what if the further development of technology and globalization undermines the middle class and makes it impossible for more than a minority of citizens in an advanced society to achieve middle-class status? There are already abundant signs that such a phase of development has begun. Median incomes in the United States have been stagnating in real terms since the 1970s. The economic impact of this stagnation has been softened to some extent by the fact that most U.S. households have shifted to two income earners in the past generation. … Americans may today benefit from cheap cell phones, inexpensive clothing, and Facebook, but they increasingly cannot afford their own homes, or health insurance, or comfortable pensions when they retire.
A more troubling phenomenon, identified by the venture capitalist Peter Thiel and the economist Tyler Cowen, is that the benefits of the most recent waves of technological innovation have accrued disproportionately to the most talented and well-educated members of society. This phenomenon helped cause the massive growth of inequality in the United States over the past generation. In 1974, the top one percent of families took home nine percent of GDP; by 2007, that share had increased to 23.5 percent. …
The other factor undermining middle-class incomes in developed countries is globalization. With the lowering of transportation and communications costs and the entry into the global work force of hundreds of millions of new workers in developing countries, the kind of work done by the old middle class in the developed world can now be performed much more cheaply elsewhere. Under an economic model that prioritizes the maximization of aggregate income, it is inevitable that jobs will be outsourced.
Smarter ideas and policies could have contained the damage. Germany has succeeded in protecting a significant part of its manufacturing base and industrial labor force even as its companies have remained globally competitive. The United States and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, happily embraced the transition to the postindustrial service economy. … There was a lot of happy talk about the wonders of the knowledge economy, and how dirty, dangerous manufacturing jobs would inevitably be replaced by highly educated workers doing creative and interesting things. This was a gauzy veil placed over the hard facts of deindustrialization. It overlooked the fact that the benefits of the new order accrued disproportionately to a very small number of people in finance and high technology, interests that dominated the media and the general political conversation.
Fukuyama then expanded on his original proposition:
One of the most puzzling features of the world in the aftermath of the financial crisis is that so far, populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one. In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. …
It has been several decades since anyone on the left has been able to articulate, first, a coherent analysis of what happens to the structure of advanced societies as they undergo economic change and, second, a realistic agenda that has any hope of protecting a middle-class society. …
Over the past two generations, the mainstream left has followed a social democratic program that centers on the state provision of a variety of services, such as pensions, health care, and education. That model is now exhausted: welfare states have become big, bureaucratic, and inflexible; they are often captured by the very organizations that administer them, through public-sector unions; and, most important, they are fiscally unsustainable given the aging of populations virtually everywhere in the developed world. Thus, when existing social democratic parties come to power, they no longer aspire to be more than custodians of a welfare state that was created decades ago; none has a new, exciting agenda around which to rally the masses.
He then considered what might be required:
Imagine, for a moment, an obscure scribbler today in a garret somewhere trying to outline an ideology of the future that could provide a realistic path toward a world with healthy middle-class societies and robust democracies. What would that ideology look like?
It would have to have at least two components, political and economic. Politically, the new ideology would need to reassert the supremacy of democratic politics over economics and legitimate anew government as an expression of the public interest. … The ideology would need to somehow redesign the public sector, freeing it from its dependence on existing stakeholders
Economically, the ideology could not begin with a denunciation of capitalism as such, as if old-fashioned socialism were still a viable alternative. It is more the variety of capitalism that is at stake and the degree to which governments should help societies adjust to change. Globalization need be seen not as an inexorable fact of life but rather as a challenge and an opportunity that must be carefully controlled politically. …
It is not possible to get to that point, however, without providing a serious and sustained critique of much of the edifice of modern neoclassical economics, beginning with fundamental assumptions such as the sovereignty of individual preferences and that aggregate income is an accurate measure of national well-being …
The ideology would be populist; the message would begin with a critique of the elites that allowed the benefit of the many to be sacrificed to that of the few and a critique of the money politics, especially in Washington, that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy.
... It is possible that the developed world is on the cusp of a series of technological breakthroughs that will not only increase productivity but also provide meaningful employment to large numbers of middle-class people.
But that is more a matter of faith than a reflection of the empirical reality of the last 30 years, which points in the opposite direction. Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to think that inequality will continue to worsen. The current concentration of wealth in the United States has already become self-reinforcing: as the economist Simon Johnson has argued, the financial sector has used its lobbying clout to avoid more onerous forms of regulation. Schools for the well-off are better than ever; those for everyone else continue to deteriorate. Elites in all societies use their superior access to the political system to protect their interests, absent a countervailing democratic mobilization to rectify the situation. …
That mobilization will not happen, however, as long as the middle classes of the developed world remain enthralled by the narrative of the past generation: that their interests will be best served by ever-freer markets and smaller states. The alternative narrative is out there, waiting to be born.
Is Ed Miliband, starting to address the “failure in the realm of ideas” which Fukuyama identified? The inaugural lecture he gave on 9 February to open the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute suggests that he might be trying to. Again excerpting:
There has never been a better time to open a centre which thinks about the challenges posed to our economy and our politics by the financial crisis. As a society, we must respond to the deep lessons of the crisis and find new answers, including by learning from historical and international experience, …
My argument is that to command consent and to be sustained, the political economy of the country must deliver for the working people in this country. Tonight, I want to make the case that failure to do that has since the war led to radical transitions in the political economy of our country.
The 1945 welfare state settlement was built in response to the failures of the 1930s.
The 1979 market settlement was a response to the failures of the 1970s.
What you might call the 1997 settlement was a response to the failures of part of that settlement when it came to the public realm.
And now in the period after the financial crisis, we face such a challenge once again. The failures that led up to the financial crisis of 2007 and with which we are still living today demand a new settlement.
For non-UK readers: in 1945, the Labour government put in place a welfare state, in particular the National Health Service. After 1979, the Thatcher government took the UK in a different direction, which other EU countries tend to regard as the anglo-saxon model of capitalism. New Labour came to office in 1997 with policies which were intended to ameliorate Thatcherism rather than reject it. However
… the new settlement was incomplete. After the banks crashed, and the boom years turned into the toughest times for working people in a generation, a whole set of challenges were exposed.
The first is that working people are being squeezed between stagnant incomes and rising costs. For thirty-odd years, the bargain had been clear: Let the economy grow, and everyone, including the low paid, would get richer.
And it worked for a time, partly because of greater productivity, and partly because of changes like more and more women coming into the workplace. But working peoples’ rise in incomes and living standards over those years was also supported by particular factors – the rise of credit, cheap imports from Asia and tax credits. But by 2007, it was clear that these factors were not enough to sustain rising living standards for working families.
The basic promise of the 1979 era, that those at the middle would benefit as well as those at the top, began to unravel. For the five years before the last recession, the economy grew by 11%, but the wages of everyone earning less than average incomes stayed the same. And on current forecasts, the average worker will be earning the same in three years’ time as they were ten years ago.
Miliband then started to “scribble”:
… anger at the old system’s flaws is not enough to produce change. It needs the ideas and the political movement to transform discontent with the old settlement into consent for a new one.
Stage by stage, we are taking on this project in Opposition. Identifying the issue itself, and beginning to set out solutions. This is the subject of our ongoing policy review, but let me today give some brief pointers to Labour’s agenda. We know the limits of the previous settlement: just getting the government out of the way won’t work. We know the economic climate will be far tougher: there will be less money to spend. And we know that in any case, if Labour wins the next election, it will not be good enough to simply rely on spending money to patch up the failures of the economy we inherit. A more fundamental change is needed. From the ashes of the kind of irresponsible capitalism which led to the crash, we need to build a new kind of capitalism, a responsible capitalism.
A capitalism based on long-term productive behaviour with a fairer distribution of rewards based on a new set of principles:
Long-termism not short-termism.
A fairer sharing of rewards not growing inequality.
An understanding that successful firms are those that invest in their people rather than neglecting them
And that the environment is not an enemy of economic progress but essential for it.

So what does this mean in practice?
First, Britain needs a new era of long-term wealth creation. Both to pay its way in the world and to create fairness in tough times.
We need to use the power of government in new ways. To set new rules that promote the long-term and fair wealth creation we need.
To share a vision with British industry of how we pay our way in an ever more competitive world with an active industrial policy. That’s why we are looking at plans for a British Investment Bank so small businesses can invest and grow.
That’s why we will need new leadership from industry, undertaking their responsibilities to bring on the next generation. As a first step, we say no major government contract should be awarded unless companies offer apprenticeships.
We must tackle the historic British problem of short termism in our corporate life. And it is why we have to end the situation where we have rewards for failure at the top, harming both the company and its workforce. That’s why Labour has suggested a number of reforms, including an employee on every remuneration committee.

Across the economy we need executives to recognise that exceptional rewards should only be for exceptional performance. Tackling excessive executive pay and bonuses is not an end in itself but a necessary first step towards a bigger change in our economy in which people get fair rewards for their contribution at every level of society.
Secondly, standing up for the squeezed middle today also means challenging the powerful vested interests which are squeezing working people in this country for every penny they can. It means standing up to the banks, the train operating companies, and the electricity firms with simple measures to cap fare increases, lower electricity prices, and guaranteeing the cheapest power for the most vulnerable. …
Third, standing up for the squeezed middle also means always making sure there is a fair tax system and a fair benefits system. That means everyone paying what they are supposed to, including those at the very top. It means cutting the 50p tax rate is the wrong priority. And it is why, for example, I have spoken out about offshore tax havens.
And on welfare, I believe in a welfare state based on contribution as well as need. We need a better welfare state when it comes to issues like childcare and social care. But we cannot deliver it, unless we continue to reform the welfare state so it delivers high employment and demands responsibility from all.
So did Miliband begin to provide the alternative narrative Fukuyama thinks is needed? Well he certainly wasn’t offering “a serious and sustained critique of much of the edifice of modern neoclassical economics” in this lecture, anyway. But perhaps that isn’t as necessary in the UK, where the political centre has always been to the left of that in the US and many voters are far from “enthralled by the narrative of the past generation: that their interests will be best served by ever-freer markets and smaller states”. More seriously though, he didn’t address whether Fukuyama’s careful political control of globalisation would be needed if industry is to be expanded or the need to “redesign the public sector, freeing it from its dependence on existing stakeholders”. So there's plenty more to do, but if Fukuyama's prescription is right, Miliband seems to be making a start in providing Labour with the message that it would need to win an overall majority in 2015.

Gillian Ayres in Bath and on tour

Andrew Lambirth recently expressed his disquiet at David Hockney’s being designated as our Greatest Living Painter following the death of Lucien Freud:
If there must be the title of Greatest Living Painter, then award it to someone who actually uses paint in an inventive and interesting way: to Leon Kossoff, Gillian Ayres or Frank Auerbach. The publicity-hungry Mr Hockney does not deserve it.
Now there is an opportunity to assess Gillian Ayres’ work in the form of a selection of prints (and a small number of paintings) making up a selling show at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, Gillian Ayres RA Paintings and Prints 1986 to 2011. The boldly colourful abstract pieces on show (Song Beneath the Stars, below) are probably too narrow in range to be able to bear out Lambirth’s suggestion, certainly by comparison with those in the Tate’s collection.

Ayres, who was born in London in 1930, has strong links with SW England having taught at the Bath Academy of Art (at Corsham Court) in the 1960s and lived in north Cornwall since 1987. Not long after arriving there she was interviewed by Art Cornwall, and in their film provided some interesting views on her form of Abstract expressionism which introduces representational forms. She collaborated with a local printmakers’ collective, 107 Workshop in Melksham, Wiltshire, to produce the limited editions on sale.

Gillian Ayres RA Paintings and Prints 1986 to 2011 continues at the Victoria Art Gallery until 21 March. Bath is the first stop on the exhibition’s tour and the Alan Cristea Gallery website will no doubt have details of the later venues in due course.

10 February 2012

Alexander Payne’s ‘The Descendants’

George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer who is responsible for his family’s valuable land inheritance - hence the film's title. His wife has suffered a water skiing accident and is in a terminal condition on life support. Matt and his two daughters, Alexandra and Scottie, have to cope with this tragedy. Also, Alexandra tells Matt that her mother had been having an affair. He has to come to terms with this, rebuild neglected relationships with his daughters and complete the land deal.  The Descendants is based on a first novel of the same name by a Hawaiian writer, Kaui Hart Hemmings (she appears in the film briefly as King's secretary).

Payne’s Sideways (2004), filmed in the photogenic Californian vineyards, didn’t make me want to drink pinot noir, and The Descendants would not induce me to go to Hawaii. One of the underlying themes is that even if something looks like paradise, life there can be as harsh as anywhere else. Moreover, much of this a paradise long lost to rampant development.

Alexandra, very well-acted by Shailene Woodley, undergoes too rapid a transition to be credible from teenage tearaway to maturity after being brought back from Napoleonic exile at boarding school on another island. Also unlikely is Matt’s acceptance of Alexandra’s non-negotiable boyfriend, Sid. His presence is invaluable, though, to the mechanics of splitting up the father daughter trio essential for some of the scenes to work.

In fact, all the acting was good. Clooney has an Oscar nomination and seems to be the type of superstar who can bring out the best in other actors. Indeed his acting skills and personal attractiveness probably make one overlook some of the film’s weaknesses. For example, too much voice-over (by Clooney) as a consequence of avoiding flashbacks, too much Hawaiian music and some dodgy editing – what was the grave (bottom left when they approach the inheritance on Kauaʻi) going to be about? The film, to my eyes, doesn’t really merit a nomination; Clooney’s own Ides of March is better, certainly better shot.

Before seeing this film, it might help those of us ignorant of US geography and history to look at Wikipedia’s entries for Hawaii and the Hawaiian Islands.  I never knew the Hawaiian state flag incorporated the UK’s Union Flag, or that Captain Cook called them the Sandwich Islands.  The film provides maps to assist. 

Anticipointment Index – the publicity has been rather flattering, so not a good mark at 3 (out of 5, the lower the better).

7 February 2012

Would Scotland’s loss be the South West’s gain?

January 2012 marked the beginning of a long debate in Britain on Scottish independence, which will conclude with a referendum in 2014. Some complex problems are starting to emerge, among them an independent Scotland’s EU membership and what currency it would use. Another is the future of Scotland as a base for the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines and the Trident nuclear deterrent. The four Vanguard class submarines with Trident operate from Faslane, part of Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde in the Firth of Clyde. Their nuclear warheads are currently stored at a facility at Coulport, nearby. The MoD is constructing a jetty at Faslane for use by the Astute-class submarines after 2017. The deterrent issue was discussed at some length by William Walker, Professor of International Relations at St Andrews University, in an article in Scotland on Sunday on 8 January. He concluded:
A Conservative-led government will be inclined to take no chances. Preserving the nuclear deterrent and Westminster’s absolute power of decision will, when attention focuses, strengthen desires to engineer the Scottish government’s resounding defeat in the referendum. But it cannot fight its corner by arguing that Trident’s survival in Scotland is cause for rejecting independence. Nor can it argue that it will impose its will, come what may.
The nuclear issue, therefore, contains political traps for both Scottish and UK governments. Don’t be surprised if they treat it warily in the referendum campaign.
A few days later in the Financial Times (£), James Blitz reported a Ministry of Defence official as saying:
Coulport is a major piece of infrastructure and it would cost billions to replace. There would certainly have to be discussions about the cost of moving that infrastructure, which would be phenomenal.
The FT also quoted Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute as saying that one of the biggest concerns facing the MoD after independence was that it would take about 10 years to build a replacement storage facility for the Trident warheads. He believed that London would have to ask the government of a newly independent Scotland to continue maintaining the deterrent at Faslane and Coulport for up to a decade.

The MoD seems to be reaching similar conclusions, according to James Kirkup in the Daily Telegraph on 27 January:
The Scottish naval base currently used to arm submarines with Trident nuclear missiles is the only site suitable for the task and building another could take up to a decade, ministers have been told.
… The MoD believes Faslane’s facilities could be replicated at an existing English naval base. But the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport is unique in the UK. It is equipped with highly specialised and sensitive equipment for safely moving missiles and warheads and incorporates hardened concrete bunkers to store them. A source said: “Berths would not be a problem – there are docks on the south coast that could be used without too much fuss. But there simply isn’t anywhere else where we can do what we do at Coulport, and without that, there is no deterrent.”
Though, to make sense of the first sentence above, presumably Kirkup’s source meant “there simply isn’t anywhere else [at present]”.

In 2001 Chalmers and Walker authored Uncharted Waters - The UK, Nuclear Weapons and The Scottish Question, which anticipated the problems which are now emerging (they thought independence would arise “in the next ten or twenty years”, page161). Trident is based on the Clyde because of decisions made in the early 1960s about its predecessor, Polaris. Their book was able to draw on documents released in the 1990s by the National Archives (formerly the Public Records Office) to explain why Polaris had been located at Faslane and Coulport, and why other locations on the UK’s Atlantic seaboard had been rejected. Among the latter were Portland, Devonport and Falmouth in South West England and Milford Haven in Wales, the rest being in Scotland. In this light Chalmers and Walker went on to examine the problems posed by relocating Trident outside Scotland after independence.

Chalmers and Walker concentrated on Devonport and Falmouth as the only possibilities. Devonport would take on the Faslane role with the Coulport capability being reproduced either there or near Falmouth. Drawing on the 1960s Polaris work, they anticipated considerable safety and planning problems at both locations and estimated the cost to be at least £B2 at 2000 prices. Having ruled out overseas basing, they came to the conclusion that relocation was implausible (page 120) and turned to examining continuance in Scotland and nuclear disarmament as the only options.

At this point it is worth noting that when Chalmers and Walker were writing, shortly after the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the UK intended to hold a stockpile of less than 200 operationally available warheads (previously a maximum of 300). In the Blair government’s 2006 Defence White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent, Cm 6994, this figure was reduced to fewer than 160, and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review cut it further to no more than 120. There might therefore be scope for any replacement for Coulport being on a reduced scale in comparison to the current facility. As civil engineering projects go, it would be a much smaller undertaking than HS2 or a new airport in the Thames Estuary, “Boris Island”. Again encouragingly, The Times on 7 February (£) reported that senior civil servants will be required to attend a major projects leadership academy
:“The leadership academy will provide them with the skills and tools they need to manage these programmes successfully, ensuring they are delivered on time and on budget,” [Sir Bob Kerslake, the new head of the Home Civil Service] added. The academy will be managed by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority, which was set up in 2010 to oversee big schemes. It now looks after 200 projects that are worth about £400 billion.
One might wonder if acquiring these useful skills will reduce or increase staff turnover in the civil service, given recent data from the Institute for Government.

Returning to the question posed by this post’s title, obviously, if a long-term agreement to continue basing Trident in Scotland could be secured, there would be no possibility of any benefit to South West England. However, the Scottish National Party (SNP), in its booklet Your Scotland, Your Future, states:
We’ll get rid of nuclear weapons here in Scotland as part of our commitment to a world free of the nuclear threat.
We’ll fund and supervise the full range of public services, preserve and develop equality and human rights, and be responsible for our own foreign affairs, defence and security. That means we can remove nuclear weapons from our shores …
One can only wonder about the external diplomatic pressures that might be brought to bear on the SNP. France, like some other European countries, for domestic reasons has little sympathy for secessionist movements anyway. If Whitehall, as a consequence of Scottish independence, had to move towards nuclear disarmament, it would leave France as the only nuclear weapon state in Europe, a status which other countries like the US and Germany, and possibly France itself, might not welcome.

So, if the SNP secured a majority for independence and entered into negotiations, they might at least offer some form of transitional period for Whitehall to make other arrangements. But the RN remaining permanently would require the SNP to offer HMNB Clyde a status akin to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas (a model not considered by Chalmers and Walker). Even then, Trident replacement is expected to be in service until 2055 or so (Cm 6994 Table 7-1) and the question arises as to whether an independent Scotland might one day change its mind and renege on an agreement made back in 2015. Such a prospect might lead Whitehall to conclude that a new Trident base within 10 years was an unavoidable consequence of Scottish independence.

Implicit in Chalmers and Walker’s assessment was that Trident basing in the South West would be unpopular on safety and environmental grounds and that it might be detrimental to tourism, particularly in the Falmouth area. They conceded that:
The traditional association of Plymouth and Devonport with the Royal Navy could make sustained protest from local people less likely than at an alternative site. (page 111)
However, they made no assessment of the employment opportunities which rebasing might bring. According to Wikipedia, HMNB Clyde is the base for “3,000 service personnel, 800 of their families and 4,000 civilian workers”. [All] Some [-FIRST COMMENT BELOW] of these people (certainly their jobs) would move south along with the submarines they support. In the independence negotiations Scotland might aspire to a navy the size of Denmark’s, which, if half were based on the West Coast, could have about 1500 service personnel at Faslane (IISS The Military Balance 2011, page 100). So the apparent gross gain to the South West might have to be offset by the allocation of some RN elements, not all from HMNB Devonport, to the new Scottish Navy. Nonetheless the balance would be a considerable boost to the local economy in the South West which has suffered over the last twenty years from the reductions in defence expenditure after the end of the Cold War.

One consideration which, as far as I can tell, has not been much discussed, is the situation which David Cameron would be facing as Prime Minister in 2015, just before an election, if the 2014 referendum were to favour Scottish independence. The dissolution of a union going back to 1707, however historically significant, might in fact not carry a major political price. None of the other Westminster parties will have any alternative to offer and the English (and Welsh) electorates may  not be too sorry to see the back of the Scots by the end of the independence campaign. However, over the years opinion polls have shown a majority of the population believing that the UK should retain a nuclear deterrent. A Conservative PM would almost certainly want to avoid UK nuclear disarmament on his watch and brought about almost by default. He might be expected to pursue, or at least wish to be seen to be pursuing, whatever rebasing options are available.

There are, of course, other possibilities.  However, as Walker pointed out in his January 2012 article:
… the 2007 decision to replace Trident with a “like-for-like” system is already being reconsidered in Whitehall, creating options for relocation. A Cabinet Office study of alternative systems, presided over by a Liberal Democrat minister, is under way. But it lacks sincere backing across government. For the Conservative Party, it is a harmless concession to coalition partners uncomfortable with the replacement decision. In any case, its recommendations are unlikely to affect the nuclear force’s location. The options receiving most attention – a slimmed down Trident (three boats rather than four) and adaptation of the Astute-class submarines to take “dual-capable” missiles (carrying conventional and nuclear warheads) – would not rid Scotland of nuclear weapons.
And then there is the local political situation. The westernmost part of the South West England peninsula has long provided a core of seats for the Liberal Democrats, the other constituencies, with two exceptions in Plymouth and Exeter, returning Conservatives in the 2010 election. Proposed boundary changes would have been to the LD advantage in 2010, according to number-crunching by Guardian Datastore, (below).

If the LDs go into the next election with lower poll ratings than in 2010, the Conservatives will expect to take some of their seats. How the two parties would choose to play the possibility of Trident rebasing at Devonport to their own advantage is not easy to assess. On this particular issue, voters may be pulled one way by expectations of jobs and economic benefits and the other by their perceptions of the environmental impact and nuclear safety.  For sure, by then the LDs can be expected to be looking for opportunities to differentiate themselves from their coalition partners.

Coincidentally, David Cameron visited Plymouth on 3 February. According to the local paper:
About 150 Dockyard and Naval Base workers attended a ‘PM direct’ session where they put questions to Mr Cameron. He told them: “I am a strong believer in the nuclear deterrent. The work you do here is vital.” ...
Amid moves towards a Scottish independence referendum, the Prime Minister said: “Obviously I want Scotland to vote to stay in the United Kingdom. But if Scotland wasn’t in the United Kingdom, then defence facilities would have to be based within the United Kingdom, if I can put it that way.”
… the Prime Minister’s visit halted refit work on the Trident submarine HMS Vigilant. David Cameron and his party were allowed to tour the submarine in 9 Dock without safety equipment including hard hats, after work was stopped in some areas.
So, “Would Scotland’s loss be the South West’s gain?” Recent polling suggests that a majority of voters in Scotland do not want independence and, if this is sustained until the referendum, the possibility of any gain would not arise. Otherwise, if the UK sans Scotland is to continue to be a nuclear weapon state, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative to Trident at some point in the future operating from HMNB Devonport. A suitable armaments depot would have to be constructed there, or possibly in Cornwall, say by 2025. If this turns out to be not so much ‘implausible’ as impossible, something more radical might be adopted, but probably would not be revealed until after the 2015 election. Otherwise Trident’s removal from the Clyde ought to be of considerable long-term net benefit to the economy of the South West in the form of jobs, and expenditure by households and on base support.


On 16 February David Cameron gave a speech in Edinburgh making the case for the Union. The Times (£) report the following day included the following:
… The Prime Minister’s gambit of promising Scots more devolution came amid warnings that Britain’s nuclear deterrent would be put at risk if Scotland voted for independence. The cost of moving Britain’s four nuclear submarines from the Faslane base on the Clyde, along with stockpiles of warheads and missiles, could be £2.5 billion, according to former senior military commanders.
Admiral Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, said that the enormous logistical challenge would help those arguing that the £20 billion Trident renewal should not go ahead.
“There must be a real possibility that it would be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back in keeping an independent deterrence,” he said. …


A newer post looks at the cost issue further.


Also see http://westernindependent.blogspot.com/2012/10/update-on-royal-navys-trident.html

4 February 2012

The travels of the Mona Lisa

In the 4 February Daily Telegraph Clive Aslet, Editor at Large of Country Life, states:
It was Giorgio Vasari, Mannerist painter and the first art historian, who served as the Mona Lisa’s Simon Cowell, launching her career of stardom in his Lives of the Artists. In a five star review, he described how Leonardo would employ singers and jesters to stop his sitter lapsing into melancholy – only he had never actually seen the work. By his time the Mona Lisa had moved to Fontainbleau.
The painting has stayed in France ever since …
Well, since 1574*,actually it hasn’t.The Mona Lisa went missing between 1911 and 1913, stolen by a Louvre employee who eventually tried to sell it in Florence. Its first official excursion outside France was to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC in 1963.

Left to right: President Kennedy, Mme Malraux, French Minister of Culture André Malraux,
Jackie Kennedy and Vice President Johnson

Lisa Liebman’s article, Jackie, JFK and the Art of Diplomacy, in Tate etc Spring 2006 explains how this loan came about. No doubt there is more in Mona Lisa in Camelot, by Margaret Leslie Davis, which I haven’t seen but was excerpted in Vanity Fair in November 2008. Later on in 1963, the painting went to New York. In 1974 there were loans to the Tokyo National Museum and to Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

Recently there has been talk of a loan to Florence in 2013, or even to one of the Gulf states in support of French diplomatic soft power. Given current uncertainties, neither possibility seems very likely.

*(Giorgio Vasari, 1511-1574)

2 February 2012

David Hockney at the RA

So bad is the economy round here that even the second-hand bookseller has been having a sale – all stock £2 – so I bought a copy of David Hockney’s paper pools, published in 1980 when he was 43. This is an account of his experiments in a workshop near New York with compressing brightly coloured paper pulp to produce swimming pool images composed from six (three by two) or more sheets. As well as pen and ink drawings of his co-workers, the book includes photographs of the processes involved, taken with colour Polaroid which had become popular in the 1970s.
Hockney is an enthusiastic adopter of technology and around 1980 made use of collages of multiple Polaroid images (“joiners”) for portraits and landscapes. In the late 1990s he put considerable effort into investigating the use of cameras obscura and other optical devices by the Old Masters, although the arguments he advanced in his 2001 book, Secret Knowledge, remain contentious. Most recently he has taken to using an iPad with the Brushes app.

In the last ten years many of his works have been landscapes, particularly of his native Yorkshire. In the winter of 2005/06 I saw his Midsummer in East Yorkshire 2004 (made up of six by six works) on display at Somerset House. This met with a slightly condescending reception from the critics, for example, Serena Davies in the Daily Telegraph:
… although 2004's summer was one of exceptional heat, one distrusts the effect here: everything seems a little overexposed, steeped a little long in Hockney's pot of nostalgia. … these are images painted with consummate ease, but they don't strike one as works of genius. Pretty, decorative, joyful, not a lot more. It's a struggle to see them as a call for watercolour landscape to be taken seriously: they are too personal. But if they are left as something humbler - an artist nearing 70 painting what he loves - they are delightful.
and Caroline Boucher in the Observer:
Never one to stand still stylistically, David Hockney, having dismissed his photographic phase as too limiting, spent the summer of 2004 in his native Yorkshire painting watercolours. The irony of returning to this most traditional and neglected of English painting traditions will not have been lost on him.
So here they are, 36 equally sized pictures displayed on one wall in neat rows of six. We can see from the little video playing on the opposite wall that Hockney painted both plein-air and from the front seat of the car, that he used mixed paints from pots and quite often smoked at the same time.
… They're lovely watercolours from a talented man, but if one came up in an auction next year, you'd be hard pushed to recognise it as a Hockney.

Hockney moved on to oils and the RA Summer Exhibition in 2007 gave a wall over (above) to Bigger Trees near Warter, or/ou Peinture sur le Motif pour le Nouvel Âge Post-Photographique, made up from 50 canvases. The current RA exhibition, David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, is largely given over to his Yorkshire landscape works, but frames these with some earlier and some very recent pictures made in the USA.

Winter Timber 2009 (oil on three by five canvases)
I preferred the 2004 watercolours and the oils from a year later to some of his latest, larger and more brightly coloured works (at the extreme, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), described as an oil on 32 canvases … one of a 52-part work - see the RA banner above). The preparatory charcoals on paper (Big Trees near Warter, 2008) demonstrate Hockney’s skill at drawing. His variations of Claude’s Sermon on the Mount are perhaps best-regarded as an opportunity to observe the way in which he explores one of his enthusiasms, and to envy the energy he brings to bear on them in his 70s. But I’m not sure any digital technique can remove black from an image (of the fire-blackened original in the Frick), as the RA description states, without some human judgement as to its replacement. Some of the enlarged iPad prints work better than the others, as might be expected when a new medium is being explored. Again, Hockney is generous in allowing the public to observe him undertaking the hard work of innovation, rather than providing a polished fait accompli.

Most of the critics seem to be more enthusiastic about this show than the two above were six years ago. I don’t always accept Brian Sewell’s views in the Evening Standard (for example his acerbic opinion of Grayson Perry at the British Museum) but I can see why in this case he takes the stance he does. The reservations expressed by Andrew Lambirth in his Spectator review certainly deserve consideration. There is an argument for putting Hockney in the mainstream of British landscape painting as the comparison below with the Harold Gilman, (in the Exeter museum, SW England) suggests.

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture continues to 9 April and then moves to the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (May to September) and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (October to February 2013). Tickets are £14, full price, but the RA has ensured that the exhibition is not over-crowded.

My Anticipointment Index rating (out of 5, the lower the better) is 4, perhaps 3 recognising the quantity of work displayed. There has been much advance coverage of this show (on BBC1 in particular) and David Hockney seems to have acquired ‘national treasure’ status, together with his OM and CH, which probably exempts him from the expression of criticism.


David Hockney is now back in California - post here.