29 June 2012

Marching on the Moscow Criterion

On 30 May 1962 Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, remarked in a speech in the House of Lords that:
Rule 1, on page I of the book of war, is: "Do not march on Moscow".
Fifty years later it seems that the Liberal Democrats in the UK’s coalition government have decided not to invade Russia but to march on the “Moscow Criterion” instead. In the Financial Times on 18 May under the heading Trident divides coalition partners, James Blitz reported that:
Inside the coalition, David Cameron and the Conservatives have already made their decision. It is that the UK should fully replace the current submarine-based system which launches the Trident D5 ballistic missile. The Liberal Democrats, however, are searching for different options. They are committed to Britain keeping a nuclear deterrent. But instead of spending £20bn rebuilding Trident, they want to explore whether cheaper alternatives – such as launching a warhead from aircraft or from Astute class submarines – could be adopted instead. Nick Harvey, the armed forces minister and a Lib Dem, will soon complete a year-long review inside the Ministry of Defence exploring the alternatives. This review is secret. But it has emerged that Mr Harvey wants Britain to abandon the “Moscow Criterion” – a cornerstone of nuclear weapons doctrine for the past four decades – that defines what the UK’s nuclear capability should be. Under the criterion, UK planners assume if a major world power, such as Russia, were to attack the UK, Britain should be able to retaliate by destroying the independent capability of that aggressor, by destroying targets deep inside that country. The UK therefore needs a nuclear weapons system as expensive and elaborate as the Trident model. It must be undetectable at sea. It must also be able to launch a sufficient number of warheads to overcome the elaborate air defences around a city such as Moscow.
This was backed up with another piece by Blitz and George Parker (the FT’s political editor), UK in cold war doctrine rethink, which stated:
In an internal debate with far-reaching implications for Britain’s future nuclear capability, Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat armed forces minister, is questioning the so-called Moscow Criterion, which some see as a relic of the cold war. Britain’s deterrent policy has been based, since the 1970s, on a principle that the nation would possess the nuclear capability to overwhelm the opposing capital’s air defences and destroy its government and military command centre. However, Cabinet Office officials are considering whether the UK’s deterrent threat should be more limited in scope, arguing that Britain could still inflict unacceptable damage on a foe by wiping out smaller cities or military facilities.
In an accompanying opinion piece the senior Liberal Democrat backbencher, Menzies Campbell (a former party leader and foreign affairs spokesman), argued:
[the Moscow Criterion’s] current relevance is undermined first by the end of the cold war and second by the UK’s adoption of the nuclear doctrine of last resort and minimum deterrence. … when the political context provides safe opportunities to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons we should take them, if necessary by “independent” decisions. Britain should take such a decision now, by publicly renouncing the Moscow criterion at this weekend’s Nato summit in Chicago.
He concluded:
Abandoning the Moscow criterion would inevitably affect the current debate about a replacement for Trident. It would underline the question of whether a like-for-like replacement of Trident is necessary or whether minimum deterrence can be provided in some other way. It is no longer enough to plan as if the cold war had never ended and mutually assured destruction, or a variant of it, were still necessary. The answer to the question must reflect the realities of the time.
Not surprisingly the statement Campbell wanted was not made at the NATO summit. In fact, on 18 June the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, announced a £B1.1 contract with Rolls-Royce for the supply of nuclear submarine reactors, and told the House of Commons that:
The Government’s policy is that the Vanguard class will be replaced at the end of its life in the late 2020s by a successor strategic missile submarine carrying the Trident missile, subject to a main gate investment approval for the project in 2016. In the meantime, long-lead items and design work for the successor submarine have been commissioned. I have today announced by written ministerial statement that we are investing £1.1 billion over the next 11 years in a programme of work which includes redeveloping the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby where all our submarines’ nuclear power plants are designed and built, and in maintaining the skills necessary to do so.
In the first FT article the Moscow Criterion was described as “a cornerstone of nuclear weapons doctrine for the past four decades” which is to say since 1970. A recent post here touched on the dates of the Cold War and concluded that 1947-1989 was probably right, so it seemed odd that such a significant benchmark appeared so late on. An obvious source for an explanation is the works of Peter Hennessy, so I consulted the second edition of his The Secret State, published in 2010. Although it contains a wealth of information about “preparing for the worst”, the emphasis is on what could happen to the UK rather than on the response. However, his Cabinets and the Bomb, published in 2007, is more forthcoming and includes a chapter Moscow Criterion 1967-77. Hennessy observes that Harold Macmillan in 1962, very shortly after securing the supply of Polaris missiles from the United States, had stated that “the latest developments in the field of anti-ballistic missile defence made the manufacture of an offensive warhead a very difficult and complicated business”. By 1967 this problem was (in Hennessy's words):
… very much on the horizon. Could and should the Royal Navy’s Polaris missiles be made capable of penetrating an ABM screen around Moscow – a question that became known as the ‘Moscow Criterion’.
Hennessy’s book reproduces many declassified government papers (this chapter alone is over 100 A4 pages) which show the deliberations at the highest levels of government as to whether the improvements to Polaris should be undertaken, as eventually they were. Although none of these documents seems to use the exact expression ‘Moscow Criterion’, the underlying issue of penetrating ABM defences seems to have been of concern for at least five decades rather than four. The FT articles refer to “air defences” but presumably mean the Moscow ABM defences which Macmillan was referring to in 1962. In fact, the warheads from ballistic missiles re-enter the earth’s atmosphere as they approach their targets. Air defences, in the form of surface-to-air missiles like the Russian S-400 and S-500, are more of a problem for weapons like cruise missiles. Anyway this distinction may well be irrelevant because Richard Norton-Taylor reported in the Guardian on 22 June, after Hammond’s statement, that:
Harvey is conducting a review into alternatives to Trident, part of the original coalition agreement. The review is due to be completed by the end of the year. LibDem leaders have been suggesting that Britain should abandon the so-called "Moscow criterion" - ie that the UK should no longer have the capacity to destroy the Russian capital with a nuclear strike. Yet Britain's existing nuclear missiles are unlikely to have had that capability for a very long time.
Whether the Harvey review will ever be published, even in a sanitised form, remains to be seen but leaks and media lobbying, particularly from LibDems, look likely to go on for some time. The coalition agreement stated:
The Government will be committed to the maintenance of Britain's nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives.
which tends to dash any hope of the issue being concluded in 2012. An example of the consequences of this sort of indecisiveness was Rachel Sylvester’s article in The Times on 26 June:
Meanwhile, the controversial question of the nuclear deterrent is looming. The Conservatives have always seen the commitment to replace the Trident nuclear submarines as evidence that they are hard-nosed on defence. But in fact, the chiefs of staff have little time for “boys’ toys” that are far more about politics and diplomacy than military might. They would prefer the Government to commit extra resources to conventional equipment and troops instead of spending £20 billion on replacing Trident. It may be no coincidence that an internal MoD review is beginning to reach the conclusion that there may be a viable alternative to large dedicated nuclear submarines. One option, which is being looked on favourably by Nick Harvey, the Lib Dem Defence Minister, is to put cruise missiles on the new generation of Astute-class submarines. Although these would have a smaller range than the intercontinental missiles that are used on Trident, they could also allow more speed and flexibility. With a decision not due until 2016, this could easily end up as another area of manifesto “differentiation” between the Tories and the Lib Dems, with the Conservatives on the opposite side to the Armed Forces.
Sylvester didn’t explain how cruise missiles have more “speed and flexibility” than “the intercontinental missiles that are used on Trident”. Doubtless Harvey’s review team has a better understanding of these things than appears in the press.


Harvey was the subject of an interview ("Resolutely down to earth, he’s definitely more Nick Harvey than Harvey Nicks") in 28 June’s The House magazine produced by PoliticsHome:
Harvey is fully signed up to the coalition of the willing that is the current Lib-Con Government. But when he was appointed as the Lib Dems’ man at the Ministry of Defence, one immediate headache was to shape a collective policy on whether to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent. With his own party’s long opposition at loggerheads with Conservative support, a final decision on whether to increase Trident’s lifespan was conveniently delayed until 2016.  
In the interim, Harvey is leading an 18-month review, which, he says, is “looking at alternatives to a submarine- based system, alternative submarine-based systems, and alternative postures.” Harvey envisages the review, which he will sign off on at the end of the year, “provoking a national debate from early next year through to an election in 2015 and a decision by the government of the day in 2016”, but he refuses to drop any hints as to its recommendations.  
However, he suggests there may be some truth in reports that military chiefs are coming round to the Lib Dem side of the argument. “The Chancellor made it clear at the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review that the future deterrent will be paid for out of the defence budget” Harvey warns, adding. “I would imagine that the armed forces will be viewing this, when it emerges, with more interest for the future if they’re thinking in terms of the opposing costs between what we spend on a future deterrent and what we can spend on the rest of the armed forces.”

(My emphasis above.)
ADDENDUM 5 September

David Cameron, presumably consulting with the Lib Dem deputy PM, Nick Clegg, as appropriate, reshuffled the Coalition cabinet and other ministers on 4 September, an event which Patrick Wintour covered the following day in the Guardian. His report included the following:
It is also strange that Nick Harvey – the respected Lib Dem armed forces minister – has been sacked by Clegg, meaning they have vacated the defence department entirely. Harvey's dismissal came out of the blue and has hit him hard since he was intimately involved in drawing up a policy on the replacement for trident nuclear submarine programme [sic] due to be published next year.
Harvey had good relations with the defence secretary Philip Hammond, but was told by Clegg that he wanted to focus his finite ministerial resources on those departments from which they could get most media traction, and argued it was more important for a green party such as the Liberal Democrats for the first time to have a minister at the department of environment.
The stronger counter argument is that with Davey as energy secretary, the Lib Dems' green agenda was well covered, and Harvey was using his base to propose a serious alternative to Trident renewal. 
Harvey expressed some of his unease, telling the Guardian: "I hope very much that the absence of a Lib Dem voice in the Ministry of Defence does not make it more difficult to ensure that the review comes up with the options we would like".  
Clegg has told Harvey that he will personally oversee the review through the cabinet office where David Laws will also be present. Harvey regarded Trident, and the knowledge base of the ministry of defence, as critical to the Liberal Democrats.
ADDENDUM 6 September

It was the FT back in May that revealed Harvey’s taking aim at the Moscow Criterion. So their account today (£) of his departure (by Blitz again and XX) is obviously of interest:
Senior Liberal Democrats have criticised Nick Clegg for pulling his ministers out of both the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, warning that it may jeopardise the party’s attempts to find an alternative to replacing Trident missiles.
… One senior MP said: “It appears that Nick Clegg is not as interested in Trident as we thought.”
… Mr Harvey had been leading the Lib Dem review, and was due to make his recommendations early next year. Following his departure, the review will be taken over by David Laws, who has returned to government as an education minister and roving adviser to Mr Clegg. The senior Lib Dem MP said: “David Laws and Nick Clegg will have a lot on their plates. I am not sure either of them have the time to man-mark this issue or prosecute it.”
… Concerns over Trident reflect a broader worry that the party is retreating from security policy. Mr Clegg chose to sacrifice his ministers in the Foreign Office and the MoD in return for one in the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs department and one in the Department for International Development. One Lib Dem minister said: “This could be seen as a promotion of parochial interests. We won’t be in either of the key departments if we decide to go to war, for example. But the truth is we need to focus on winning rural seats, which is why we wanted a minister in Defra.”  
… A spokesman for Mr Clegg said: “The decisions on defence, on Trident, on Europe, on all big important foreign affairs issues, are taken by Nick Clegg. The idea that we are going to retreat from those issues is frankly absurd.”
Somehow I wouldn't be at all surprised if  the "senior Lib Dem MP" turned out to be Menzies Campbell!





24 June 2012

Tony Blair on The Marr Show

BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show this morning included an interview with Tony Blair who had left office as Prime Minister almost five years ago (27 June 2007). It is worth watching (42 minutes in):

to hear his views on the euro crisis and its implications for the UK. He was also asked about the Independent on Sunday’s splash ‘How Blair misled Cabinet on Iraq’Subsequently a BBC news webpage covered both topics, stating on the latter:
The former PM also said there was nothing new in the suggestion, in Sunday's Independent, that he had stopped the attorney general telling the cabinet the full detail of the legal concerns ahead of the Iraq war in 2003.  
"No, it's absolutely not true... the notion that Cabinet never discussed this issue is absurd... there is no great hidden conspiracy about this, it was a decision (to go to war). Now some people agree with it, some people disagree with it," he said.
The IoS had based its story on the latest (4th) volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, much to the latter’s irritation - according to his blog:
I went into rebuttal mode with reporter Jane Merrick on twitter, pointing out that the text she quoted did not remotely justify the headline.
Marr had started the programme by introducing his paper reviewers, Dambisa Moyo and Mary Anne Sieghart (right below):

followed by a glimpse of Blair about 30 seconds later:

This was an intriguing conjunction for fans of Campbell’s diaries because, on 21 April 1977 (Volume 1), he had entered:
We left for Bury and Bolton and had the creepy Mary Anne Sieghart on the bus, who gave TB a card from her daughter to CB’s annoyance. [*]
followed on 30 April by:
Mary Anne Sieghart had taken to bringing her daughter to the press conferences and she was trying to ask a question. GB ignored her though the two of them [Blair and Brown presumably] went over to talk to her afterwards.
Blair took office on 2 May 1997 (at which point Volume 2 of the diaries starts), and on 9 June Campbell recorded:
I went to [Rupert] Murdoch’s [Head of News Corps] do. There were a few ministers – GB, Nick Brown, Frank Field, DB. JP didn’t want to go. CB was clearly giving the cold shoulder to Mary Anne Sieghart [Times].
Subsequent mentions of Sieghart are merely incidental in this volume and Volume 3. However, in the latest we read that, on 4 October 2002, Campbell
… got a message from Cedric that Charles Reiss [Evening Standard] was picking up a line from Mary Anne Sieghart's [Times] column that GB was ‘insanely jealous’ of TB. TB wanted us to put out a very pro-GB line and make clear he would never sanction such a statement being made. But it was worrying, given he had said those very words, and I wondered to whom as well as to me.
So do we, Alastair, so do we.

By the way it was Sieghart who selected the IoS story for discussion during The Marr Show paper review.

*For normal people: TB = Tony Blair, CB = Cherie Blair; GB = Gordon Brown; and also JP = John Prescott, DB = David Blunkett.

21 June 2012

Post-War British Design at the V&A

I suppose it must have seemed a good idea at the time – a survey of British design in the years since the last time the Olympic Games were in London, 1948. And so came about BRITISH DESIGN 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, now on at the V&A. It’s in the same space used for Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990 last year, which perhaps explains any feeling of ‘déjà vu all over again’.

The new show is in three overlapping sections. The first, Tradition and Modernity, covers the period from the end of WW2 to the mid-1960s, more or less. The second, Subversion, runs from the 1960s onwards but doesn’t show much after 2003. The last, Innovation and Creativity, is spread over the “last half century” or so. And at this point I ought to admit to being someone who grew up in the first period and saw the rest of it through adult eyes at the time. Perhaps that was why for me the first section (view below) worked best:

To the left of Henry Moore’s Harlow Family Group (1954-55) is part of Reg Butler’s Woman Resting (1951). The painting above is William Gear’s Autumn Landscape of the same year. Further to the left and not visible is a fine Lynn Chadwick maquette of 1951 for Stabile Cypress. At the entrance is part of The Englishman’s Home mural (left) by John Piper made for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and his 1962 work (with Patrick Reyntiens) for Coventry Cathedral’s baptistry window appears nearby. After an austere post-War start we move on to a more consumerist society in the form of Terence Conran’s Habitat and the Country House-style of Laura Ashley. Although the exhibition ties these influences to the 1960s, neither seems to have disappeared since. This section ends with a Mini (sadly with a slight dent over the nearside rear wheel arch, but otherwise immaculate). 

Then comes Subversion. The art here includes one of David Hockney’s Walt Whitman-inspired works, We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961, right), and others by Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi. The over-whelming impression however is of fashion and pop with costumes for David Bowie and others and contributions from Mary Quant and Alexander McQueen. The YBAs are represented by a section of Damien Hirst’s restaurant/art installation Pharmacy. Only once did an exhibit label make a reference to ‘postmodernism’. 

On to Innovation and Creativity, though the first and most striking objects (see below):

are an E-type Jaguar and Concorde, both more the product of function than of form. It would have been of value to see some of the china, glass and cutlery designed for BA's Concordes.  The aircraft was, of course, an Anglo-French project and at this point the reality of globalisation becomes apparent.  Jonathan Ive rightly appears for his role in designing Apple products, but not Martin Smith for his Audi Quattro. The statement on one of the panel texts:
Innovation has characterised British design from the introduction of spinning machines in the 1780s and the engineering of ships and bridges in the 1840s to the development of computer codes after the Second World War and the invention of the worldwide web in the 1980s.
seems facile, given that Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN when he proposed the web and brought together hypertext and the internet, both originating in the US. This is not to belittle his achievements, but can they reasonably be labelled “British”?

The exhibition finishes with some complimentary remarks about British architecture and a model of 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin to most of us), but the most dominant new building in London is Shard London Bridge designed by an Italian, Renzo Piano. Its observation platform will open to the public next month. In 2012 it seems strange that there is no mention of Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond's ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture at the Olympic Park, surely creative and innovative, albeit controversial.

Innovation in the Modern Age continues until August 31.

19 June 2012

With no particular place to go

So near and yet so far: Goering and German top brass regard the
White Cliffs of England from the French coast on 1 July 1940
Max Hastings could never fairly be accused of over-optimism. Writing in today’s Daily Mail he contrasts his family’s recent enjoyable day on a Devon beach with Europe’s being, as he sees it:
… in the early stages of what will probably prove its gravest and most frightening tumult of our lifetimes. Our political leaders have not mentioned this, not told us Europe is up the creek without a paddle, because half of them are in denial about what is going on, and not one has a sensible idea what to do about it.
Turning to where it leaves Britain, he concludes that:
I seldom pity politicians, but ours deserve some sympathy, as almost impotent spectators of unfolding disaster. Since we are not eurozone members, there is little a British Government can usefully do or say.  
… My own strong hunch — and I say this without any pleasure — is that within a decade Britain will find itself outside the European Union. … The bust-up could come quite swiftly if Chancellor Merkel persists with her determination to impose a Europe-wide financial transaction tax to fund the next stage towards eurozone integration. This, in turn, would devastate the City of London.  
… Though our separation from Europe looks increasingly plausible, I do not share the enthusiasm of those of UKIP’s persuasion, who see this as a glorious liberation. The Germans at the conference I attended in April warned repeatedly that we would find life alone, out in mid- Atlantic, remarkably chilly. On this they are probably right. In a world of giant economic blocs, and especially up against China, Britain looks ill-fitted to compete on its own. But what else can we do if a statist, over-regulated, undemocratic and unaccountable Europe remains bent on economic and political suicide in a mindless, obsessive pursuit of the euro-ideal?
An alternative to the metaphorical mid-Atlantic might be to move even closer to the US East Coast; in the extreme, as David Aaronovitch suggested at the end of 2011, “the nations of the United Kingdom become the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th states of what might be known as the United States of America and the East Atlantic.” Though I doubt whether Hastings would find that prospect particularly attractive. In a previous Mail columnTurning our backs on Britain's fallen: How a new generation believes it was just U.S. troops that won World War Two thanks to Hollywood” (as much a précis as a header), he clearly approved of how on the anniversary of D-day:
François Hollande made a gesture of reconciliation with ‘Perfidious Albion’. He became the first ever French president to visit a British cemetery in Normandy.
He concluded that article:
We should learn to value our heritage, as French governments cherish theirs. The Continent today is threatened not by war, but by greater turmoil and dissension than it has known for half a century. Only by knowing and understanding its past history, and our part in it, can we hope to come to terms with its present and future.
A debate on the viability of a “mid-Atlantic” United Kingdom (with or without Scotland) is probably overdue. Are we trapped in the invidious position, primarily in population terms, of being too large to occupy a niche, but too small to be a player? Or are there ways in which the UK could make itself too big to ignore? Perhaps this would be by leveraging our time zone and language advantages. We could also adopt a ‘smart’ and selective policy for immigration which would allow entry to talented and skilled people from anywhere, but particularly Europe if the train wreck anticipated by Hastings actually happens. This could in the short to medium term help overcome the deficiencies of our educational system. The UK could also take advantage of its status as a (relatively) ‘safe haven’ and sell gilts to fund infrastructure such as very high speed broadband and develop the regions to compensate for the over-development of the South East.

20 JULY 2012 - An update to this post is here.

18 June 2012

Portrait Sculpture at Holburne Bath

Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture, now on at the Holburne Museum in Bath is a small but cleverly selected exhibition exploring whether sculptors are pursuing realism or idealisation when they create solid portraits. The show starts with an immediate challenge in the form of a waxwork of Henry Moore (left), who rejected sculpture as portraiture, then moves on through classical sculpture and death masks to posthumous representation in the form of various busts of Shakespeare. These may have been tenuous as likenesses but were considered appropriate for Britain’s greatest literary figure.

Some fine 18th century busts (in particular Louis François Roubiliac’s of fellow-sculptor Joseph Walton) lead on to more modern pieces. Two sculptors’ depictions of their wives, Conrad Dressler’s 1898 coloured bust and Don Brown’s full-length Yoko XXI (right), may be 110 years apart but raise similar issues over artistic objectivity. The latter inevitably contrasts with the demure bronze Degas dancer nearby.

The 20th century is represented by portrait busts from the 1920s by Epstein and Frank Dobson (Sacheverell Sitwell, left) and later, and even less figurative, works by Giacometti and Brancusi. Contemporary works by Daphne Wright (double portrait Sons’ Heads) and Ron Mueck’s over-sized self-portrait Mask II (below), like Brown’s, raise in different ways the possibility of being too realistic to be true.

This thought-provoking show continues until 2 September .

17 June 2012

Nikolaj Arcel's 'A Royal Affair'

In the last year or so Scandinavian noir has become fashionable in the UK, partly because of the success of Sieg Larrson’s ‘The Girl with/who …' Millenium trilogy but also encouraged by the astute BBC4 purchase of Danish broadcasting’s Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Borgen series. It will be interesting to see if this taste extends to A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære*), a costume drama set in 18th century Denmark. (Strictly speaking it is a Danish, Swedish, Czech and German co-production)

A Royal Affair is handsomely filmed and told in an unhurried straightforward way which reminded me of the films of the now almost forgotten Bo Widerberg. Mads Mikkelsen plays the part of Struensee, the German doctor called to treat the madness of King Christian of Denmark, well played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. Struensee and Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander) fall in love – a meeting of Enlightenment minds which ends tragically for them both. The background of social change and palace politics (Borgen circa 1790) makes the film all the more involving. Fans of the Danish TV series may spot one or two familiar faces.

Tactfully A Royal Affair was released in the UK the week after the Royal Jubilee – not that anyone would draw parallels, and if they could –“Off with their heads!” as the Queen of Hearts would say.

*It took 163 posts before I needed an (e-umlaut or diaeresis) 'ë' and then an ‘æ’ and an ‘ø’ come along at 164!

12 June 2012

Bauhaus at the Barbican

Over 30 years ago, just as postmodernism got going, Tom Wolfe wrote his critique of modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House,. He observed:
Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery. I once saw the owners of such a place driven to the edge of sensory deprivation by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & spareness of it all. They became desperate for an antidote, such as coziness & color. They tried to bury the obligatory white sofas under Thai-silk throw pillows of every rebellious, iridescent shade of magenta, pink, and tropical green imaginable. But the architect returned, as he always does, like the conscience of a Calvinist, and he lectured them and hectored them and chucked the shimmering little sweet things out.
Not many of ‘Our Houses’ in Britain are truly modernist, although one of the first was at Dartington in SW England (top, right) and a post here earlier this month mentioned a more recent Mies van der Rohe-style home in Wilmslow. But whether they find it a homely style or not, anyone who wants to learn more about one of the sources of modernism should visit Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican Art Gallery, a show which mostly lives up to its official description:
The biggest Bauhaus exhibition in the UK in over 40 years presents the modern world’s most famous art school. From expressionist beginnings to a pioneering model uniting art and technology, this London exhibition presents the Bauhaus’ utopian vision to change society in the aftermath of the First World War. Bauhaus: Art as Life explores the diverse artistic production that made up its turbulent fourteen-year history and delves into the subjects at the heart of the school: art, culture, life, politics and society, and the changing technology of the age.
Carpingly, I thought that an exhibition in London might have described the influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement on the Deutsche Werkstätte and Werkbund which preceded the Bauhaus. (I couldn’t see an explanation of the word bauhaus – construction house, literally, I think.) Also, among the later influences, there was enough information to deduce something about that between De Stijl and the Bauhaus, but the links to Constructivism weren’t at all clear. The large model of the Dessau building (top, left) lacked any indication of the direction of north – relevant to natural light in studios. I would have liked to have seen more Bauhaus-influenced objects, even if that meant showing fewer photographs. Finally, there was no rationale for the omission of the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition and its famous chair, although their co-designer, Mies van der Rohe, was the Bauhaus director of architecture at the time. However, there is much of interest and the show provides an opportunity, rare in the UK, to see works by Wassily Kandinsky (Circles in a Circle (1923) below, right) and Paul Klee, as well as Paul Citroën’s Metropolis (1923) (below, left), apparently the inspiration for Fritz Lang’s film.

The exhibition concludes at the point when the Bauhaus was in effect closed down by the Nazis in 1933. The subsequent achievements of its leading lights, Gropius, van der Rohe and others, many of whom emigrated, are well-known. But it would have been interesting to learn about the careers of its young graduates, whose student days feature in so many of the photographs (‘young people come to the bauhaus’). One imagines that from 1933 to 1945 having trained at the Bauhaus would hardly have enhanced a CV. But presumably those graduates who survived the war, particularly the Holocaust or the Eastern Front, would have played a role in German post-war reconstruction and the Wirtschaftswunder. Was it their influence that we still see in the clean lines and typefaces associated with German products like Bosch, Braun and Neff, and extending to the modernist showrooms favoured by BMW, and VAG? What happened to the Villa Sommerfeld? And very oddly, why is there no mention of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation which preserves the buildings and has restarted the bauhaus magazine?

Railing against exorbitantly-priced exhibition catalogues, I can only advise anyone who has to buy a copy to look for it on Amazon where, at £24.50, at least it’s 30% off. For most of us, Magdalene Droste’s Bauhaus 1919-1933 (a Taschen 25th anniversary bargain) will be more than adequate – just make sure you get it in English! In his review in the London Evening Standard (far more worth reading than anything I’ve got to say), Brian Sewell remarked that:
I have only one adverse criticism, and this is of the catalogue: thirty-eight essays are all very well, but the newcomer to the Bauhaus needs the more basic instruction of a chronology, not only of the Bauhaus itself, but of related or parallel movements and the German politics of the day; he also needs brief biographies of the participants; and with the catalogue in its present form he needs, above all, an index.
If nothing else, the Barbican’s Learning Resource for the exhibition provides brief biographies and can be downloaded for free.

Bauhaus: Art as Life continues until 12 August. Despite some of the remarks above, my 'Anticipointment Index' mark out of 5 is 2, pretty good – the higher the mark, the worse the anticipointment.


1926 footage of Wassily Kandinsky at work filmed in Berlin.

7 June 2012

Après elle, le déluge?

Apart from a tongue-in-cheek post last year about the Queen retiring at 90, I’m not much interested in the Royal family. So this post is another exception to the norm and also an excuse to upload an image the Bristolian street artist Banksy has donated to the public domain.

On 6 June Britain went back to work after four days of Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities. Even so, The Times that morning, as well as pull-outs and wrap-overs, gave pages 1 to 13 over to Jubilee reporting. Reality finally intruded on page 15 under the headline, Germany must take action to save world economies, warn finance ministers.  Any irony in its being the anniversary of D-day (6 June 1944) was avoided since the media coverage of the latter was minimal.

Whether the additional public holiday on Tuesday 5th (Monday’s Bank Holiday, as they are called in the UK, was part of the normal quota) was really needed to celebrate appropriately, or even sensible given the country’s economic situation, doesn’t seem to have been the subject of much debate. Last year an extra Bank Holiday was thought necessary to mark the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Perhaps we can manage for the next few years with the usual public holidays and avoid worrying about the impact of any extra ones on economic growth.

The media coverage of the Jubilee and its royal participants was mostly fawning and shallow, so Max Hastings’ cooler view in the Financial Times on 2 June was an exception. Headed Long may she reign – with dignity and endearing dullness, (and subheaded Many want her to go on and on; some fear for what is next, in the paper but not on the website) it made the point that:
Most of Queen Elizabeth’s subjects want her to reign for ever, partly because they cherish the continuity she represents in a turbulent age, and partly because of unease about what might follow if her son succeeds her. The Prince of Wales conspicuously lacks his mother’s discipline and discretion; he pursues eccentric causes with messianic zeal. Courtiers assert soothingly that if he assumes the crown he will relapse into Trappist silence, accepting its constraints. But there seem grounds for doubt whether, as a sexagenarian, he will suddenly acquire the prudence that characterises his mother. If he attempted to change the character of the monarchy, to make himself more assertive, trouble could quickly follow. It seems mistaken to confuse widespread public respect for the Queen with inalienable support for dynastic rule. History shows how suddenly and dramatically hostility to the royal family can erupt, if its members behave unwisely. …  
[The Queen] has understood the most important thing about a modern constitutional monarch: that he or she is judged for what they are, rather than for what they do. This is something that the Prince of Wales, forever eager to tackle huge issues beyond his intellectual capacity, has never grasped. While it is true that he sometimes puts himself on the virtuous side of public controversies, the proper function of the royal family in a constitutional monarchy is to stay out of controversy altogether. … the Queen’s successor will do well to consider her conduct a template for his own, rather than indulge perilous notions about creating a “new-style” monarchy.
Not that Hastings is the only commentator in the last few years to express some apprehension about Prince Charles’ future kingship. But there may be a more fundamental problem lurking in the background. A couple of days after Hastings’ article, the FT reported Luxury market set to hit $1.5tn and explained:
The market for luxury, such as yachts, frocks and safaris, is set to hit $1.5tn this year, roughly matching the entire economic output of Spain or Australia, as the income inequality gap widens across the globe. … money is increasingly going on luxury experiences, from spas to safaris, rather than tangible products. Spending on experiences grew 50 per cent faster than on goods last year, according to Boston Consulting Group. The management consultancy expects the overall luxury market to expand 7 per cent this year, a deceleration on the past two years’ 12 per cent but still comfortably ahead of projected growth in global economic output.  
“The gap in income inequality is growing, which is unfortunate, but as a result there are more and more millionaires every year,” said Jean-Marc Bellaiche, a senior partner at BCG and co-author of the latest report. Millionaires, he adds, account for an estimated 45 per cent of the market. Some analysts have questioned how long the inexorable rise of luxury can continue as swaths of Europe are engulfed in economic and financial turmoil and the US remains fragile. …
A major challenge for Western politicians is likely to be finding a suitable response to increasing tensions between the few percent who are on the right side of the ‘income inequality gap’ and the rest of us on the ‘unfortunate’ side. Although the Queen appears in the Sunday Times Rich List (257th equal at an estimated £300m), her wealth has never seemed to be an issue which provokes popular ill-feeling. No doubt this is partly because, as Hastings describes,
Always financially prudent, she has swallowed economy measures at her palaces, together with the scrapping of the royal yacht without replacement, and agreed to pay income tax on her private fortune.
Also, the Queen appears to share an austere streak with many other people who experienced life in Britain during World War 2 and the difficult years which followed it and shows little inclination towards extravagances out of keeping with her role as head of state. However, some of the younger royals, and there are quite a few, seem to have more of a taste for the clothes, cars, houses, holidays and other things that make up the luxurious ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’. That this could alienate many of the public if times get much harder for the majority is obvious.

Robert Hazell, Professor of British Politics and Government and Director of the Constitution Unit at University College, London (no less), surfaced on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 7 June to explain ‘the significance of the balcony photograph conceived by Buckingham Palace as the last image of the Jubilee celebrations’. He seemed to think that it signalled a focussing on the core members of the royal family, those in the line of succession. Although he didn’t say so, reducing the public profile of the rest could be a sensible precaution. A similar line came from The Times (£) the same day in an unctuous piece about Prince Charles by Valentine Low, which concluded:
If Charles’s speech was one of the significant moments of the Jubilee weekend, so too was the balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday afternoon. The slimmed down team that went out to wave to the crowds, just six of them including the Queen, was an obvious attempt to concentrate on the core members of the Royal Family. As such, it chimes in exactly with Charles’s view that the Royal Family should be pared down to a much smaller team than it is at present. Buckingham Palace would, no doubt, like people to believe that all such decisions were taken by the Queen. The Prince of Wales, however, is not to be ignored. And increasingly he won’t be.
So perhaps Hastings’ misgivings about Charles are ill-judged, and certain problems a future Prime Minister could well do without will never arise.

3 June 2012

Chatsworth: Caro and the Cohen Collection

Caro at Chatsworth

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the home of the Duke of Devonshire, is one of Britain’s most magnificent country houses, architecturally and in its setting. The Duke has a keen interest in modern art and works from his collection are on loan at present to the Lucien Freud exhibition at the NPG. Currently 15 sculptures by Sir Anthony Caro are on display at Chatsworth, sited around the Canal Pond and its famous Emperor Fountain, in front of the south façade. The works which date from 1960 to the mid-1990s are on loan from the sculptor.

Goodwood Steps (1994-6)
Caro started studying sculpture in London in 1947 and until 1953 worked as a part-time assistant to Henry Moore in Hertfordshire. His early work was figurative, bodies modelled in plaster and cast in bronze. In the US he encountered the abstract expressionist work of David Smith (CubiXVIII (1958), left) and turned to constructing sculpture from industrial metals, primarily steel and aluminium. His work, which began to receive attention in the 1960s, contrasted with Smith’s in being closer to the ground and without plinths, and planar and horizontal. It also took a ‘New Generation’ of British sculpture in a direction away from the concerns of Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

In the catalogue (good value at £10) Martina Roth from the Yale Center for British Art explores the relationship of Caro’s work with that of Smith and Moore. She also considers his somewhat ambiguous preferences for his work to be “unpublic” and to be seen “indoors” - which would be more like his Early One Morning (1962) when shown at the RA last year:

than Sculpture Seven (1961) at Chatsworth:

and clearly was never his intention for Goodwood Steps. Other works are representative of his ‘flat’ style of the 1970s and his later more solid pieces (Cliff Song (1976) and Forum (1992-4) below, left and right).

Caro at Chatsworth continues to 1 July.

Frank and Cherryl Cohen at Chatsworth

Inside Chatsworth House, in the New Gallery, but unfortunately only until 10 June, is the first public display of Frank and Cherryl Cohen’s collection of modern British art built up during their 40 year marriage.

In a post here last March, Social Mobility and the Conscience of the Rich, I commented on some work done by the Resolution Foundation, and concluded:
What should rich men with a conscience and a broader interest in society than making money out of it do with their money? Of course it’s up to them if they want to set up think tanks to investigate hobby-horse issues. (Personally I would want to emulate Bryan Ferry and collect modern British art!)
It’s difficult to imagine someone being more upwardly mobile than Frank Cohen who started on a market stall and now mixes with leading artists and the Duke of Devonshire. He and his wife have lent 40 paintings and sculptures from their collection for the exhibition at Chatsworth. Among the items on display which I admired are Stanley Spencer’s Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Conversation between Punts (1956), Sickert’s The New Bedford (1915), and Auerbach’s Head of William Feaver (2010). John Minton’s Cornish Coast (1945) (left) has an obvious SW England connection.

The catalogue is excellent value at £9.95 and includes an Introduction by Howard Jacobson (excerpted in the Daily Telegraph) and an account of a conversation between the curator of the show, Robert Upstone, and the Cohens (left). No doubt they will be pleased to see their collection back in Wilmslow in their Mies van der Rohe style house (interview with Jackie Wullslager in the Financial Times (£)).  But hopefully some or all of it will be lent again in the coming years.  An ideal gallery would be Bath’s extended Holburne Museum, which would allow more space for the larger works to be appreciated than the New Gallery at Chatsworth could provide.

2 June 2012

Rural roads will soon be leading only to rack and ruin

These high wild hills and rough uneven ways
Draws out our miles, and makes them wearisome,
Richard II Act II Scene III

It’s surprising that the state of rural side roads has not become more of an issue. Although many people live in towns, even in counties thought of as rural (see some data in a recent post), they take an interest in the countryside (BBC1’s Countryfile had an audience of over 4 million on 27 May) and they like to make use of it at weekends. A combination of recent hard winters and expenditure cuts on maintenance has led to an alarming rate of deterioration in country roads. Not just in the South West where these photographs were taken, but across the UK, minor roads are now starting to disintegrate. The photographs below show how deep some potholes are:

And on the same road further on, the surface has disappeared altogether:

After the Queen’s Speech (setting out future government legislation) last month, the Guardian reported that:
Aid groups have criticised the UK government for a "missed opportunity" in failing to press ahead with a bill that would enshrine in law plans to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on development aid.
There are moral reasons, and some self-interested ones, for a relatively affluent nation like the UK to spend public money on foreign aid. But the fixation with keeping it shielded from the cuts that any government is going to make over the next few years (see data in another recent post) seems unreasonable in the face of evidence that parts of our own infrastructure are declining towards third-world levels. People who live in the countryside, where public transport is sparse or non-existent, have always had to put up with the high cost of fuel, but roads like these cause additional repair and tyre bills. They also affect the vehicles that provide transport to school and hospital and make the journeys which are necessary if elderly people are to be supported in their own homes.

The UKIP policy on foreign aid is “Make real and rigorous cuts in foreign aid and replace with free trade.” If they were to commit to diverting some foreign aid funding to maintaining rural roads in the UK, it might well help them take further support from the Conservatives in what are traditionally the latter’s safest constituencies.