29 March 2013

Cockerell’s Life of Johnson

On Monday 26th March BBC2 showed Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise, a one-hour documentary by Michael Cockerell, the latest in his long series of political profiles. It had been preceded by an interview on Sunday 25th’s The Andrew Marr Show, hosted in absentia by Eddie Mair. The interview was a little abrasive but Mair regularly lurches from the whimsical to the brusque as host of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. Having revisited some of Johnson’s less glorious moments, Mair asked:
Aren’t you in fact, making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted? You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?
Not so surprising then that the interview generated nearly 600 complaints to the BBC, according to the Press Association.

Before transmission Cockerell provided an account of the making of his programme to the Daily Mail and afterwards he discussed it with Johnson’s Deputy Mayor of London, Munira Mirza on BBC2’s Daily Politics. Having read two biographies (see below) of Boris Johnson, I didn’t feel I learnt very much from The Irresistible Rise. Cockerell seemed to have succumbed to the charm of the Johnson clan and their never-before-seen (or even developed according to Cockerell) home cine-films. The time spent on Johnson’s childhood and days at Eton and Oxford was at the price of only a cursory examination of his time as Mayor of London, and even that emphasised the 2012 Olympics. Whether the “Boris bikes” (Barclays Cycle Hire) have been as good for Londoners as for Barclays, and the value of the “cable car” (Emirates Air Line) never came up.

I did notice that Cockerell referred to Boris’s father, Stanley Johnson’s involvement with MI6 (SIS) which sent me back to the biographies. Andrew Gimson in Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson (2006 and 2012) said:
Stanley took a second degree in agricultural economics, and in the spring of 1965 he also joined the Foreign Office from which he resigned in the autumn of the same year, because ‘by then the World Bank had come through with an offer for me to go to Washington’. (page 14).
Whereas Sonia Purnell in Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition (2012) was slightly more explicit:
… [Stanley] struggled to launch a career that would put food on the table for his new family. He had tried his hand unsuccessfully at teaching and studying for a Masters in Agricultural Economics before apparently being recruited as a spy and offered, according to his own account, ‘the most intensive training in clandestine techniques known to man’. (Chapter 1)
Purnell referenced Johnson père’s Stanley I Presume, (2009) which I haven’t read and probably won’t. However, he seems to be quite open about his time in SIS, for example, to the Exeter and District (Devon, SW England) branch of the English Speaking Union in February 2012:
Stanley Johnson, our guest speaker, gave a highly entertaining account of his life from his days at Sherborne School and Exeter College, Oxford, to the present day. After leaving school he travelled alone through South America and as an undergraduate rode 4,000 miles on a motorcycle along the Marco Polo route to Afghanistan. Having won a poetry prize at Oxford and being award a Harkness Fellowship to the United States, Stanley embarked on a fascinating career, training as a spy with MI6, working at the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union.
In the 2005 general election Stanley stood unsuccessfully as Conservative candidate for the nearby Teignbridge constituency.

Reaction in the media to Johnson’s BBC double exposure suggests that nothing much has actually changed - the enthusiasts’ faith didn’t waiver and the unconvinced remained so. Usually the London Evening Standard is firmly enthusiastic, but Simon Jenkins sounded a sceptical note on 26 March:
London’s golden boy is soaring too near the sun. Boris Johnson has been flapping his Icarus wings on television these past two days in his frenetic bid for the Tory leadership. But Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show and last night’s documentary ignored his achievements — or lack of them — as London Mayor, to portray him as a variously flawed celebrity, oozing ambition. As the cameras glared and the questions grew hot, we saw the wax melt and the feathers start to fall. As they fell, I began to wonder whether any clear political ideology motivated England’s most famous “toff on the make”.
And in the same paper the next day, Andrew Neather was harsher:
He could fudge the awkward timing of his mayoral term finishing in 2016: I expect him to pick up a safe seat in 2015 (Paddy Power is offering odds on which one) and fob Londoners off with the fiction that he can do both jobs for a year. But as Johnson proved when he was an MP, he doesn’t have time for the hard graft or detail of the Commons. He is the opposite of a team player: he failed to build the alliances any leader needs, while proving an embarrassment even in the Westminster McJobs of shadow arts and higher education minister. And the sorts of failings that he manages to laugh off in City Hall, with its minimal media scrutiny and paucity of heavyweight opponents, would quickly ensnare him on the front benches.  
In fairness, some Conservative MPs realise this. He can expect a vigorous “Stop Boris” campaign. That will not prevent plenty of Tories backing his blond ambition: he is the darling of the party’s grassroots and media supporters. But if the Tories think Boris is the answer to their problems, they’re asking the wrong question.
On 28 March the Standard seemed to pull itself together behind its chosen one, with a front page story by Joe Murphy, Voters say Boris Johnson must lead Tories. Boris Johnson would smash Ed Miliband’s lead in the opinion polls if he took over as Conservative leader, an exclusive poll reveals today. Though the poll data below quoted by the Standard (LES) from a YouGov survey of 1,867 adults online from March 26-27 didn’t exactly bear this out:

According to the Standard “A Boris leadership would lure a third of Ukip supporters to the Tories from Nigel Farage’s party” but there were no statistics provided to support this. Another poll of 1867 adults carried out by YouGov on the same dates and reported in the Sun showed the above “Headline Voting Intentions” (for which presumably those polled are not reminded of the current leadership’s names) with the now usual double figure Labour lead. In this poll within the 19% ‘Other’, 13% were Ukip, 4% SNP or Green and 1% other ‘Other’.

One of the shrewdest comments about Boris Johnson that I’ve read so far comes from Rod Liddle in the Spectator (30 March issue):
To give the bloke credit, at least Boris doesn’t pretend that he is One of Us, that he has had to struggle to achieve the position in life he now occupies — i.e., Mayor of London and heir to Downing Street. Because of course he hasn’t — and neither has Clegg, or Cameron, or Osborne or any of them; it has been a gentle and easy elision from top public school to Oxbridge to running the entire country, the passage eased by immense affluence, ready-made connections and, often enough, when all this has proved insufficient, a little bit of -Daddy’s help. This stuff, the Eton-Bullingdon-king-of-the-world business, bothers me, and it may well do for Boris in the end, when the people of the country have had enough of it all. It is not a good way to run a country, as indeed we are now seeing.  
But still, as a person, and shorn of all this stuff — if that’s possible — Boris is a more likeable politician than most we have around at the moment. If the chaotic buffoonery is all an act, then it is a good act, and an endearing act. He seems to me a less nasty piece of work than most of his Conservative political rivals.
What doesn’t seem to have appeared so far is an informed logical analysis of the timing issues. Presumably if the Tories are going to change leader before the 2015 election, they almost certainly have to do it by the end of this year. So how does Johnson get to be an MP before then? If he leaves it any later, he has to wait for the outcome of that election whether he stands as an MP in 2015 or not. 

If Cameron wins in 2015, or even continues in a coalition, he will almost certainly go when he chooses, say 2016 or 2017. And his successor will probably be someone who has played a part in achieving what looks at present to be an unlikely success and will almost certainly be someone who was an MP between 2010 and 2015.

If the Tories lose they will have to choose a leader who has the stamina to be an effective leader of the opposition to a Labour government, or Labour/ Lib Dem coalition, for five years and lead them to victory in 2020 (when Boris will be 56).

Can Johnson be both Mayor and MP at the same time? If he does try that on, would there be a backlash at the next mayoral election in 2016 or even in the London parliamentary seats in 2015? If he stands down as Mayor, who takes over - Munira Mirza? Or does there have to be a mayoral by-election which Labour could end up winning in the run-up to 2015? Mirza, who has a PhD in sociology, to judge from her showing on the Daily Politics (see above) could go far, but has a low profile so far.


Johnson's two biographers debate his chances in today's Independent on Sunday.

24 March 2013

Schwitters at Tate Britain

Schwitters in Britain at Tate Britain is comprehensive, chronological and, even better, turns out to be modestly titled. It is in fact a near-retrospective of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), an artist who is not so popular as to guarantee that the show is unpleasantly crowded.

Although close to Dada and other avant-garde art movements in Europe after World War I, Schwitters, perhaps because of his relative isolation in Hanover, developed a movement of his own, MERZ. He alighted on these letters as a residue when cutting up a newspaper printed with the word COMMERZBANK and took them to mean art, sculptures or even buildings, Merzbauten, which could be assembled from anything. Perhaps not surprisingly many of the exhibits surviving from the years before he came to Britain are collages, often incorporating three-dimensional found objects. Inevitably, these do not reproduce well on the printed page (or LED screen) and have to be seen to fully appreciate the subtlety of their composition and colour - Merzbild 1a (The Psychiatrist) 1919, above.

Schwitters had decided to leave Germany for Norway in January 1937 before the exhibition in July that year of what Goebbels and others labelled degenerate art. He probably never wished to come to Britain but three years after arriving in Norway, the Nazi invasion meant that he, his son and daughter-in-law had to leave. The British authorities eventually interned Schwitters on the Isle of Man with many other mittel-European intellectual refugees until he was released in November 1941. After a brief sojourn in Paddington where he met his companion, Edith ‘Wantee’ Thomas, he spent the rest of the war in Barnes, SW London, at 39 Westmoreland Road, whose owners probably now have a good case for a Blue Plaque should they want one  (Relief in relief 1942-5 right).  During this period he made contact with old friends who were also refugees like Naum Gabo and encountered British artists like Ben Nicolson.

After the end of the war Schwitters moved to Ambleside in the Lake District where he started to construct the Merzbarn, the interior wall of which is now preserved in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle. Its exterior was reproduced in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in 2011 as part of the exhibition Modern British Sculpture.

While happier making Merz collages and reliefs, Schwitters would turn his conventional artistic talent to more readily sold landscapes and portraits. Examples of the latter are Untitled (Portrait of Klaus Hinrichsen) 1941 (left), from his time on the Isle of Man, and Untitled (Portrait of Henry Pierce), painted in Ambleside in 1947, the same year as he made En Morn, detail in the Tate’s banner above.

Brian Sewell’s review of the exhibition is well worth reading and, among other things, draws attention to Schwitters as a link between Dadaism and the emergence of British Pop Art in the years after his death. Sewell suggests that the word MERZ to Schwitters was “irresistibly akin to the French merde, slang that he translated as rubbish or garbage, but that is better known as shit.” Certainly Schwitters served in the German infantry in the First World War and may well have picked up some French obscenities.

Schwitters in Britain continues until 12 May and will be at the Sprengel Museum Hannover from 2 June to 25 August.

21 March 2013

Private Eye, Guido Fawkes and blogging

I have read Private Eye off and on for most of its existence. So perhaps it’s not surprising that criticism of the Eye from Guido Fawkes’ “blog of plots, rumours and conspiracies”, Order-Order, has seemed to me a bit like the sort of obstreperousness to be expected from a new-kid-on-the-block. In particular, Guido has repeatedly chided the Eye for being behind with the news, playing to the advantage that his website-based product has over a fortnightly magazine. Furthermore, the Eye seems to see the internet primarily as a means of selling merchandise and subscriptions.

But the juxtaposition of two stories (above) on page 5 of the new Private Eye (Issue No. 1336, 22 March 2013) suggests that it needs to try a bit harder sometimes. I can understand why Ian Hislop, Private Eye’s editor, is exercised about the post-Leveson arrangements for press regulation. But Grant’s tweet was about a rumour that he had heard. Is the Eye’s point that because rumours can’t be fact-checked, none should never be reported? If so, it seems like an oblique way of criticising a blog of rumours. The Eye argument went uneasily with the other story just 8cm away on the same page. On the other hand, the Eye’s Huhn-Pryce coverage on pages 5 and 7 of the same issue are worth the £1.50 alone and far better than a lot of the stuff on Order-Order.

By the way, as far as press regulation is concerned, the current New Statesman editorial contains this warning:
The definition of “publisher” covered by the new regulator was set out as not just either a newspaper or a political and cultural magazine, such as the New Statesman, but also “a website containing news-related material”. This threatened to drag in personal blogs and social media accounts; in effect, it would try to “regulate the internet”, a completely impossible task, and one not covered by Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry or recommendations. Downing Street once again tried to brief that this was not the case but failed to explain exactly what was meant by “news-related material”. The danger is that bloggers will now find themselves subject to “exemplary damages”, imposed by a regulator that they were never originally supposed to join.
Not surprisingly, Guido Fawkes, despite Order-Order apparently being Ireland-based and with its servers in California, is watching this development closely and supports the Blog-off campaign. Whether I will be able to risk continuing with this little blog, given that its interest in current UK politics is by definition news-related, remains to be seen. Come to that, are my jejune, but possibly irritating to some, comments on current art exhibitions news-related?


Wine growers bonanza postponed?

The other day, the Lex column in the Financial Times (£) speculated about the consequences of China cutting the import duty it currently imposes on wine (48% by value):
Presumably the Chinese, who currently drink about a bottle per head per year, would not suddenly become Vatican-level topers, who lead the world table at 73 bottles annually, according to data from California’s Wine Institute. Even British (29 bottles) or American (13 bottles) habits would seem a stretch. The Japanese, after all, consume fewer than three bottles a head. Still, even if China started drinking at that rate the country would suck in another 3bn bottles from the international market, or about a sixth of the world’s current production excluding China’s own output, from the 3 per cent it drinks now. And what if mainland China suddenly took to wine like Hong Kong, at nine bottles a head? In that scenario more than a third of the world’s wine supply would be needed.
This argument seems to ignore the fact that the GDP per head in Japan is rather higher than in China at present – according to the IMF US$ 45,870 and US$ 5417 respectively in 2011 according to the IMF. Without getting into the technicalities of this particular statistic and the pitfalls of purchasing power parities etc, it seems reasonable to assume that the majority of adults in Japan who want to drink wine probably can do so, whereas in China many people at present earning about a US$ a day could not afford to open a bottle of wine, even if it were widely available.

In The Times (£) recently, David Miliband, currently exercised about fish stocks and as a former Foreign Secretary having such things at his fingertips, said “there are 300 million people in the middle class in China”. So it seems fairly likely that it is these people, about 25% of the population, who are consuming most of the wine, and at a rate of between four and five bottles a year per middle class head, which is closer to that of their kin in Hong Kong, where they are keener on the stuff than the Japanese.

To explore this argument further I downloaded the data which seems to have underpinned the Lex article, in the form of wine consumption and production statistics for 2010 from the Wine Institute (WI) of California. As far as wine consumption per head is concerned for the countries mentioned by Lex, these figures have been extracted from WI’s Table 7 (adjusting their “Liters” to the equivalent 75cl bottles) and are shown below together with Lex’s interpretation:

However, Lex’s figures regarding China’s consumption under different scenarios (labelled A to C here) are more difficult to reconcile. WI’s Table 3 states that China’s population is 1,338,612,968 and that in 2010 China produced 425 million litres of wine out of a world total of 26,384.872 million litres. On that basis the tables below can be constructed. For both Japan and Hong Kong the WI actual litres consumption figure (B1 and C1) and Lex’s bottles consumption as a rounded figure (B2 and C2) are shown.


Taking Lex’s assertions in turn:

"the 3 per cent it drinks now"
China drinks 3.5% of world production but its imports represent less than 2% (A)

“if China started drinking at [the Japanese] rate the country would suck in another 3bn bottles from the international market, or about a sixth of the world’s current production excluding China’s own output”
At a rounded three (B2 rather than the actual 2.51 at B1) bottles per head China would need to import an extra 2.8 bn bottles (actual 2.1 bn) which would be 10% (actual 8%) of world production excluding China’s own.

“China … like Hong Kong, at nine bottles a head … more than a third of the world’s wine supply”
At the actual 8.63 Hong Kong level (C1) or the rounded nine bottle per head level (C2), China would be consuming close to but less than a third of world production excluding China’s own. Only at the rounded nine bottle per head level (C2) and measured as a percentage of global production including China’s own would the figure exceed 33.3%.

Returning to the point above, if current wine drinking in China is assumed to be confined to the 300 million “middle class”, their per head consumption must be just over three litres per head (D1). If these people moved to actual Hong Kong levels of consumption (D2) just over 8% of external global wine production would be required. If the middle class doubled in size to 600 million and drank wine at the Hong Kong rate (D3), just over a sixth of global wine production would have to be imported.  So the Lex bonanza for wine producers may be a little way off as yet.

As always, there are other factors to be considered. Firstly, Chinese domestic wine production is on an upward trend, growing by over 10 million litres a year between 2007 and 2010 according to the WI. Secondly, however, Chinese wine is being exported and is now available at a price from Berry Brothers and Rudd in London (much in half-bottles!). Thirdly, Chinese investors have been buying out producers in France, (and no doubt elsewhere), as Nick Stephens has been monitoring in his Bordeaux Undiscovered blog.

Chateaux Latour-Laguens purchased by Longhai International in 2008

13 March 2013

Picasso 1901 at the Courtauld

The current show at the Courtauld Gallery in London, Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, may focus on only 18 paintings but what a selection - definitely worth seeing. That year was probably one of the most significant in Picasso’s long and eventful artistic life (1881-1973). He had first arrived in Paris in 1900 but returned to Spain for most of the first half of 1901. In February, back in Paris, Picasso’s artist friend and fellow Spaniard Carles Casagemas committed suicide. Ambroise Vollard (Cézanne’s dealer) had organised a solo exhibition for Picasso in June and July, so on his return he took over Casagemas’ studio in Monmartre and set to work.

The small first room in the exhibition show the more transitional works of early 1901 with contemporary influences like Japanese prints and Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas (At the Moulin Rouge, left). In the larger room are some of the works produced for the Vollard show. As well as those concerning Casagemas’ death, these include early Blue period pieces with harlequins (below), Child with A Dove, which was for so long on loan to the Courtauld but may not be seen again in London for some time, and the striking self-portrait of the artist, Yo Picasso (below left).

Seated Harlequin and Harlequin and Companion

The £6 admission is good value for a small exhibition given its quality, but the catalogue at £25 for a 160 page paperback seems dear. Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 continues until May 26.

And afterwards why not a brief walk to Two Temple Place to see English plein air painting from just a few years earlier (until 14 April, not Mondays, free admission).

12 March 2013

Damian McBride’s “100 or so”

Damian McBride was a Whitehall civil servant who became Head of Communications at the UK Treasury and then, from 2005 until he resigned in April 2009, was special adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He is now Head of Communications at the Catholic aid agency CAFOD and recently appeared as a witness before the House of Commons Public Administration Committee examining The Future of the Civil Service. McBride posts on his blog every few weeks on topics relating to his experience in government.

His most recent post, Going To The Mattresses: the art of surviving a coup, concerns the various ways a Prime Minister whose position is under threat can foil his colleagues’ attempts to oust him:
… if they [No10] want to know what it takes to get through an attemped coup, they could do worse than study the record of Gordon Brown – the Charles De Gaulle of Downing Street when it came to surviving assassination attempts. Based on the Brown survival manual, I would ask them the following five key questions …
For the full questions and answers see McBride’s post! But here is one gem:
With David Miliband’s various abortive coups, there was a certain crude art to inducing their failure. I was often personally criticised for over-reacting to some new Miliband manoeuvre, ‘ramping it up’ as people would say. But given David’s tendency to treat rebellion like a reluctant bather inching his way into the sea at Skegness, it made sense to push him right in at the outset, on the grounds that he’d run straight back to his towel, and not try again for at least six months.
I thought the answer to one question gives some insight into the way people at No10, at least in Brown’s day, see the world
4. How’s your relationship with the media these days?  
As I’ve said, momentum is everything in an attempted coup: to succeed, the plotters must keep pushing the leader towards the cliff. The media are crucial in determining that momentum: if they say it’s fizzled out, then it has; if they say one more bad day will make the leader’s position untenable, then it will. But, even for the BBC, this is not an objective, scientific process; it’s about 100 or so very influential people at different media outlets forming a view based on their conversations with each other and with key players on either side of the plot, as well as, to some extent, on public attitudes. That is why, no matter how bad the coverage of Gordon Brown’s Premiership became, it was still vital for us to maintain strong and friendly relationships with those 100 or so people.
So who are these “100 or so” (my emphases above)? I doubt if anyone, including McBride, has ever had a definitive list while at the same time there are probably a couple of hundred who would like to think themselves as being on one. As for the comment “even for the BBC”, here is an extract from the Pollard Review into the way BBC2 Newsnight handled the Savile story:
43. In addition to the overall structure of the BBC, it is also helpful to provide some background as to the structure of the BBC News Group, and the relevant reporting lines within this group.  
44. The head of the News Group is the Director of News. Throughout the period considered by this Review, this was Helen Boaden.  
45. … in November 2011 .... Ms Boaden’s reporting line was vertical – to the Director General. The Director General’s own reporting line is to the BBC Trust and its Chairman Lord Patten.  
46. Beneath the Director of News sits a Deputy Director of News. Throughout the period considered by this Review, this was Stephen Mitchell. Mr Mitchell is also Head of News Programmes. As Deputy Director of News, Mr Mitchell reports to Ms Boaden and is, in that role, involved in dealing with a range of strategic issues affecting the whole of BBC News. As Head of News Programmes, he is responsible for a wide range of national radio and television news and current affairs programmes, including Newsnight and Panorama.  
47. Beneath Mr Mitchell sit the editors of the news programmes. Thus Mr Mitchell is the line manager of Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight (who stepped aside from his post in October 2012). There was thus a direct reporting line from Mr Rippon to Mr Mitchell (and then in turn from Mr Mitchell to Ms Boaden).  
48. Beneath the editors are their deputy editors. Mr Rippon’s deputies in late 2011 were Liz Gibbons and Shaminder Nahal. They reported to Mr Rippon, whose own reporting line went to Mr Mitchell (and so on) as set out above.  
49. Beneath the deputy editors are the programme presenters, reporters, and journalists, such as Jeremy Paxman, Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean.
Leaving the BBC teams aside (11 in the above alone) it is possible to start guessing who some of the “100 or so” might be. A quick scan of the Labels used just on this blog since October 2010 comes up with:
Alice Thompson, Andrew Marr, Andrew Rawnsley, Benedict Brogan, Charles Moore, David Aaronovitch, Fraser Nelson, George Parker, Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines), Iain Martin, Isabel Oakeshott, Janan Ganesh, Jim Naughtie, John Rentoul, Lionel Barber, Mary Anne Sieghart, Patrick Wintour, Peter Oborne, Polly Toynbee, Rachel Sylvester, Sarah Sands, Simon Jenkins, Tim Montgomerie, Toby Young.
Another 76 or so to go then, and of course, not all the names would be common to Tory, Labour or Lib Dem lists of “100 or so”.

One of the above, Andrew Rawnsley, explains in Chapter 37 (Chamber of Horrors) of his The End of the Party the circumstances (the contents of some emails obtained by Guido Fawkes, also above) which led to McBride’s resignation from Brown’s team, and casts some light on his modus operandi:
… McBride had been Brown's chief propagandist for six years. He was also extremely tight with Ed Balls, closer some thought than he was to the Prime Minister. Balls, knowing that he would be spattered by association, raged at his friend: 'I can't believe you have been so f[xxx] stupid.  
The more scrupulous members of Brown's staff had long been horrified by what they saw of McBride at work. His modus operandi was to offer 'trades' to journalists who boosted Brown or killed stories that Number 10 didn't want published. Brown had ignored repeated warnings … to get rid of him. McBride was not a lone wolf; he was one razor-toothed but sloppy dog in the Brown pack with a licence from the Prime Minister.  
The e-mails were an extreme example of the macho and nasty tactics that had been employed on Brown's behalf by members of his cabal for many years. McBride operated in the dark side of Downing Street which was an expression of the dark side of Brown's personality. …(page 638)
Alistair Darling in Back from the Brink describes the aftermath of giving a bleak account of the UK’s economic prospects at odds with Brown’s views, to the Guardian:
… It was the briefing machine at No. 10 and Gordon's attack dogs, who fed the story and kept it running. I later described it as like 'the forces of hell' being unleashed on me. That's what it felt like. Damian McBride was no fan of mine - he clearly disapproved of Gordon's decision to appoint me as Chancellor. He used to look at me like the butler who resented the fact that his master had married someone he didn't approve of. I'm not sure that he ever spoke to me. He would give me a curt nod, nothing more. He had a group of journalists whom he briefed regularly, and when Catherine Mcleod [Darling’s Special Adviser] finally managed to meet with him, after repeated requests, he told her which journalists she should talk to and which not.  
… The attack dogs set about another colleague that summer. At the beginning of the summer recess, after the loss of the Glasgow East seat, David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary, had written an article for the Guardian in which he set out the need for a coherent political strategy to recover lost ground. It was a thoughtful piece, but it was interpreted by the inner circle as an attack on Gordon and a signal that David might launch a leadership attempt. Gordon was told by his team left behind at No. 10 that he should be relaxed about it. They were right. The article would have died a death had a cack-handed press operation not been mounted to trash David. (pages 106/7)
Darling also describes the emails which led to McBride’s resignation as:
… an all too predictable political catastrophe in No. 10, this time involving one of Gordon s spin doctors. Throughout his time in government, Gordon had relied heavily on these attack dogs, first Charlie Whelan, then Damian McBride. McBride had been caught out briefing against deputy leader Harriet Harman at party conference in October 2008 - by Harriet herself, who had overheard him. Rightly, she threatened to report him to the Cabinet Secretary unless Gordon did something about him. He promised to move McBride to where he could cause less trouble. It was to no avail. McBride's briefings against me to senior journalists and political editors were faithfully reported back. Gordon refused all entreaties by cabinet colleagues to let him go and tethered him instead in an office in No. 10. It was another flawed fix, and he continued to roam.  
Things finally came to a head when emails were published showing that McBride was involved in a shabby exercise to damage opposition figures and, in one case, the wife of a shadow minister. This time he had to go. Unfortunately, the disgrace did not leave with him. The repercussions for Gordon were disastrous. People had daily questioned our competence and our ability to control events. Now they had confirmation of what they suspected: we were a nasty party too. The perception was that our moral compass had irremediably lost its bearings. The McBride affair further destabilized the whole No. 10 operation.
In his post McBride mentions one of my Labels above:
If that instinct for survival – and everything that goes with it – is lacking in No10 at present, then it may point to a wider problem; with apologies to John Rentoul’s Banned List, something of an existential crisis.
who tweeted just after the post appeared:

I was surprised that the überpedant Rentoul should describe it as beautifully written. There were three howlers that even I could spot:

consiligieres instead of consiglieri
Charles De Gaulle instead of Charles de Gaulle
and “about 100 or so” is a redundancy.

But I may well make use of the “100 or so” label in future posts.

9 March 2013

Artists in Cornwall at Two Temple Place London

Previous posts here have touched on the artists working in and around Newlyn, Cornwall (SW England) at the end of the 19th century and on Stanhope Forbes’ en plein air realist masterpiece, Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach 1885 (detail in the poster above) which was lent last year to Compton Verney. This work and many others by artists based in West Cornwall from the 1880s to the 1920s feature in Two Temple Place’s exhibition Amongst Heroes: the Artist in Working Cornwall.

The Bulldog Trust’s intention is to bring publicly-owned art from around the UK to Two Temple Place, the opulent late-Victorian mansion built by William Waldorf Astor on London’s Embankment. This show draws on key works from the Royal Cornwall Museum and Penlee House Gallery and Museum and other public and private collections in Conrwall and elsewhere.


The successive galleries present a fine selection of paintings, many of them unfamiliar, and some other items dealing with various aspects of the work of the ordinary Cornish people of the period: fishing (Charles Napier Henry  Pilchards 1897, above)  crafts, agriculture and mining (Harold Harvey A China Clay Pit, Lewidden c1922, below), as well as individual portraits (Henry Scott Tuke Portrait of Jack Rowling 1888, right).

The exhibition is a delight if you are at all interested in art of this kind. Furthermore, admission is free and the catalogue a very reasonable price (though the quality of its reproductions is a little disappointing). ‘Anticipointment’ rating: a rare 1 out of 5, the lower being the better.

Amongst Heroes: the Artist in Working Cornwall continues until 14 April.

Quite different, but only a short walk away, is the Courtauld Gallery's Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901.

8 March 2013

The Tory Party at Prayer

I am always interested when people are prepared to make a prediction (and put the best in the first post of the year) and the more precise the better. So I was intrigued by an article in the Guardian’s Comment is free by John Ross, The Tories will get 30.3% at the next general election. Here's why. Ross has calculated that since the 1930s the Tory vote has declined at 0.2% a year. Superimposed on this long-term secular decline are upticks in popularity when there has been a Conservative majority at a general election, but:
Typically, the Conservative vote, each time the party won a general election, was lower than the one it won previously, and each time it lost an election its vote fell to a lower level than the previous defeat.
Because of the long-term decline Ross forecasts:
… if the Tories won the next election, they would get 34.6% of the vote, and if they lost they would get 30.3% of the vote. As there is no doubt at present that the Tories will lose, they will get 30.3% of the vote. As always there is a bit of statistical noise in any calculation, so 29.3% to 31.3% would be a reasonable range, but 30.3% is the central figure.
Ross has used this approach before. In the Guardian in May 2010 on the same basis he predicted:
If this trend were extrapolated to the current election the Tories would receive a maximum 39% if they were to win and 33% if they were to lose.
In fact the Conservative share was 36.1%. Ross is Visiting Professor at Antai College of Economics and Management, Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, and his blog, Key Trends in Globalisation, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, subtitled "Seek truth from facts - 实事求是 Chinese saying originally from the Han dynasty". However, extrapolation is one thing, explanation another. In his recent Guardian article Ross identifies:
a social process – the progressive collapse of the Tory party back into its south-east England heartland. The Tories have declined from a "one nation" to a "half a country" party.
It seems likely that underlying this observation some deeper social changes are taking place. Previously on this blog I have mentioned the fact that:
The educational experiences of different age groups reflect the continuing expansion of opportunity over recent decades. Among the over 55s, about half finished full-time education before the age of 16, whereas about a third of the under 35s had finished under 18.
But another perspective stems from the observation by a suffragette, Maude Royden, in 1917:
"The Church [of England]* should go forward along the path of progress and be no longer satisfied only to represent the Conservative Party at prayer."
which led to the often-repeated jibe of the Church of England being the Tory party at prayer.

But is it still? Looking round for some relevant statistics, I discounted church attendance, which has a marked seasonal (ie Christmas) variation and is probably enhanced by parents wanting their small children to enter C of E primary schools. Instead I selected Figure 6 from the publication Church Statistics 2010/11 the numbers being confirmed, (the upper chart below) as indicative of a deeper commitment to the C of E. The lower chart is from Ross’s Guardian article with the timescale stretched to align with the upper one.

I was surprised by the extent of the match, for example the temporary revival of both the Tories and the C of E in the 1960s - somewhat at odds with that decade’s reputation, though perhaps the Sixties started for most people after 1970.

I can’t help feeling that the other prediction which caught my eye this week is somewhat optimistic. Tim Montgomerie told readers of The Times (£) on 4 March in the wake of Ukip’s good showing in the Eastleigh by-election that:
Conservative strategists are confident that Labour support can be capped at about 35 per cent once the big guns are pointed in Mr Miliband’s direction. If Mr Cameron can use the next year to rebuild relations with the once loyal Tory press, Mr Miliband will face the biggest demolition job since Neil Kinnock was destroyed in 1992. The central Tory message at the next election will be that middle Britain will face huge tax increases if Ed Balls gets back into power and is allowed to finish building Gordon Brown’s sprawling welfare state. But the problem for Mr Cameron is that, because of Britain’s electoral geography, Mr Miliband can become Prime Minister on the back of 35 per cent of the national vote if the Right of British politics is divided — and it is.
Is it really Ukip, whose support may well be much smaller in a general election than in Eastleigh, that is the Tories’ problem, or is it something more fundamental? David Cameron’s recognition of the need to modernise the Conservative party and widen its appeal has been in the face of a long-term decline which makes more sense to me.


7 March 2013

Henry Moore’s ‘Memorial Figure’ at Dartington Hall

I took the opportunity during a recent visit to Dartington Hall in Devon (SW England) to seek out Henry Moore’s Memorial Figure 1945/46 in the gardens. This is one of Moore’s major works, as described by his biographer, Roger Berthoud, in The Life of Henry Moore:
… Having drawn heavily on his positive, tender or Apollonian vein for his madonnas and family group studies, he now had every reason to give expression to the darker, tougher, and more Dionysiac side of his artistic character.  
Starting in autumn 1945, he was to work for the next year in parallel on two carvings which reflected both aspects of his nature. The 'tough' one was his fourth major elmwood reclining figure, the 'tender' one a stone memorial to Christopher Martin, a gentle friend who had died in 1944 of TB after ten years as head of the Arts Department at Dartington Hall in Devon. It was commissioned by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, the New York heiress and Yorkshireman who had created at Dartington a community embracing light industry, agriculture, education and the arts, with a fourteenth-century manor house as its focal point. Henry's initial contact seems to have been through Kenneth Clark and Philip Hendy whom he had assisted in a Dartington-backed inquiry into the prospects for the arts in Britain.  
The fifty-six-inch-long Memorial Figure, as it was called, is perhaps the most serene and elegiac piece of Moore's entire career, perfectly balanced and harmonious from the unusually detailed head with its far-seeing gaze down through the rhythmically handled drapery and up to the sharply raised hill of the right knee. The position of the figure has something in common with the Leeds Reclining Figure of 1929, with its Chacmool parentage, but the mood could scarcely be more different. Seen in situ, the Dartington figure is the more poignant for the striking beauty of its surroundings, especially when viewed against the background of a giant Scots fir which frames the grassed and terraced tiltyard and the austerely handsome Hall. As George Wingfield Digby nicely observed, it ‘seems to lie in the womb of time with quiet assurance'. Thirty years have given the Hornton stone a patina of lichen growths, and there has been some erosion caused by rain dripping from the overhanging trees. Happily there are no scars from an incident in 1968 when someone drew in eyes and a cigarette.
The passage of another thirty years has made the patina more established and the erosion more marked. One day some difficult restoration may be thought necessary. The complementary ‘tough’ Reclining Figure 1945/46 is shown below. Purchased by Wendell Cherry in 1982, its present whereabouts seem to be a mystery. Cherry also owned the self-portrait Yo-Picasso 1901, currently in an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, London.


I visited Dartington again recently in better weather with a better camera so this may be worth adding:

3 March 2013


At the end of last month The Economist’s Debate on offshoring and outsourcing ended with the motion “Do multinational corporations have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries?” winning by 54% to 46%. (The Economist Debate winners seem to range from just 51% to as much as 61%). So I was interested to read in The Times (£) on 26 February an article by Sir James Dyson, (who has provided the topic for posts here before, most recently in November 2012), Why we invent in Britain, but build abroad. In it he gives some background on his company having just opened a manufacturing plant in Singapore:
For the past 15 years Dyson’s highly skilled engineers have been developing a tiny revolution in our laboratories. It is a new motor a third the size of a traditional one, but which can spin 100,000 times a minute — five times faster than a Formula One engine. Making 6,000 adjustments a second for optimal performance, it can supercharge prosaic machines.  
… Our new motor performs like no other — and because we are developing it in our own laboratories, with our own people, no one else can get their hands on it (despite trying). This is good for Dyson, but also for Britain. The intellectual property is owned here and all the profits will flow back to the UK, where we pay more than 85 per cent of our global tax. But last week Dyson opened a new £150 million motor manufacturing facility in Singapore. Why?  
… Building a complex motor with minute tolerances requires the precision of a fully automated production line. The highly skilled workforce, the tax incentives and the nearby supply chain make Singapore appealing for us. We will make four million motors in 2013, increasing our production capacity by 100 per cent to meet rising demand, particularly from Japan and America. We source the motor’s 22 components from across Asia, so it makes little sense to ship them to Britain, only to export the finished motors back again. So Singapore is the obvious place for production.
Presumably many of these motors will be fed into the production line of the Dyson factories in Malaysia to which manufacturing was transferred from Malmesbury ten years ago. I hope that his confidence that his intellectual property will be safe in Singapore is not misplaced. The FT (£) recently touched on the island state’s place at the forefront of technology. Dyson would no doubt argue that he is committed to a “strong presence in [his] home country” because:
At Dyson we invest heavily in our ideas and develop all of our technology in Britain: all our research takes place in Malmesbury, where we employ 850 world-class design engineers and scientists — about a third of them recent graduates.
He thinks:
Britain should focus on generating ideas and patenting them, that is the high-value part of the process that will earn our country a competitive advantage. We must focus on being the best problem-solvers in the world, developing technology and then exporting it.  
Thankfully, Britain is moving in the right direction and there is a renewed desire to develop technology on our shores. After my Ingenious Britain report, David Cameron increased the research and development tax credit — which supports companies that take risks and invest in developing ideas for the future — to 225 per cent. As a result, patent applications rose 29 per cent in 2011 and investors have reacted positively. But we still have a deficit of 60,000 engineers.
which is a big “But”. What worries me about Dyson’s model for Britain is that it ignores the reality of there being a considerable spread in human abilities. Even with a perfect education system which develops the abilities of individuals to the full, not everyone is cut out for the rigours of STEM education. The validity of the IQ-based analysis of educational achievement used by Charles Murray is open to argument but most people would agree that only a minority of the population have the ability to function as “world class design engineers and scientists” – assuming men and women with such talents don’t chose other career paths.

So what do the lesser mortals do? The jobs at Dyson Malmesbury up to 2003 would have made use of more people with a broader range of abilities, skilled and semi-skilled, for manufacturing than are now needed for research. The most skilled would presumably have found similar work fairly easily – for example, Renishaw plc, not far from Malmesbury, undertakes manufacturing of very high technology. But in general employment opportunities for those not capable of more than semi-skilled work are probably less attractive and are poorly rewarded, as in fulfilment centres and retail.

And this seems to be the residual problem with offshoring the manufacturing base for a lot of consumer products, although the commercial logic of global markets and supply chains is unarguable. I think that the societal advantages which the UK and other advanced economies once possessed of a wide range of employment skill levels which accommodated the spectrum of ability in their citizens are being transferred elsewhere. Conversely, the recipient countries are unlikely to be content for long with just operating production lines. To quote from Dyson’s Ingenious Britain report (page 26):
Students from outside the UK now make up more than 70% of all engineering and technology postgraduates. Although their numbers have risen by almost 20% in the last five years, the growth has almost entirely been made up of overseas students. In other words, of the additional 3,825 students in postgraduate engineering education in 2008, only 70 came from the UK.
He doesn’t say how many of the 3,750 overseas postgrads came from Singapore or Malaysia!

2 March 2013

Man Ray Portraits at the NPG

Man Ray was an American who spent most of his adult life (1890-1976) in Paris, so perhaps it isn't so surprising that in the UK many people’s first encounter with his work is through that of Lee Miller, the American photographer who married a Briton, Roland Penrose, who she first met in Paris.  Miller’s famous 1937 image of a picnic on the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, includes Man Ray and his amour of the time, Ady Fidelin. The two of them are in another photograph from the same holiday which is the cover of Peter Calvocoressi’s Lee Miller Portraits from a Life (left), in which the picnic photograph can be found, too.

Miller’s fascinating life and photographic work has been the subject of many exhibitions in the UK in recent years, owing much to the efforts of her son Antony Penrose and the energetic team at Farley Farm House. I knew that she had been Ray's assistant, model and lover in Paris in the 1930s and that she seemed to have had a key role in the discovery of a photographic technique, solarisation (see Ray’s 1929 image of Miller in the National Portrait Gallery poster, left), while she was with him. However, it wasn't until I saw a US DVD about his work that I began to appreciate the extent of Man Ray's achievement not just as an outstanding photographer but as an artist and as a contributor to Dada and Surrealism (eg Le Violon d’Ingres 1924, with his lover at the time, Kiki de Montparnasse, below). His most productive period was spent in Paris from 1921, when he arrived from New York under the aegis of Marcel Duchamp, and 1940 when Ray had to return to the US as the Nazis advanced across Europe.

Ray seems to have mixed with and photographed most of the Parisian inter-war avant garde (think Woody Allen’s cast from Midnight in Paris and many more). The NPG show includes portraits from this period of Gertrude Stein (but see this later post), Dali, Picasso, Miró, Cocteau, Hemingway, Joyce, Vlaminck to name but some, and, of course, Duchamp and Miller. There are also photographs from his time in New York before leaving for France. The show ends with Ray’s portrait work in Hollywood in the 1940s and after his return to Paris in 1951, all of which seems a little uninspired in comparison with the 1920s and 30s.

With over 150 works in a fairly confined area, this exhibition is best avoided at busy times when the admission of £14 may seem a high price to be paying. If the NPG’s catalogue seems unaffordable at £35 (£25 paperback at the NPG), the Tate’s Man Ray in Paris by Erin Garcia, which ranges more widely than portraits, might be worth buying at £14.99. Interestingly she points out that, although it was portraiture that Ray relied on financially and made him well-known to tout Paris, he found it frustrating and artistically unrewarding!

Man Ray Portraits continues at the NPG until 27 May.


The ArtFund has produced this to show the “weird and wonderful connections between [Man Ray’s] most famous subjects".

1 March 2013

Labour’s Trident problem realised

In a post here at the end of January, I suggested that the Lib Dem interest in an alternative to Trident might pose a problem for Labour if a left of centre coalition had to be formed after the 2015 election. In so far as the results of 28 February’s Eastleigh by-election can be interpreted at all, Labour’s indiffferent showing suggests that they will not find it easy to pick up seats in the South. On the other hand, the Lib Dems demonstrated their ability to hold on to what they have. Certainly the odds against a Labour/Lib Dem coalition after 2015 have not gone up. But the shape of Labour’s Trident problem is beginning to surface like a submarine at the end of its patrol.

On 27 February, Lord West, former Chief of the Naval Staff and Minister for Security and Counter Terrorism in Gordon Brown’s Government of All the Talents, provided an opinion piece in the Independent, Discarding Trident would not aid global nuclear disarmament; it would only imperil UK security, which made it clear that in his view:
A debate is emerging within the Labour Party over its position on the nuclear deterrent. It is imperative that such discussions should be driven by national security needs and not short-term political considerations.  
… Numerous studies over the past 40 years have reaffirmed that a submarine based ballistic missile system is the best option if UK is to remain a nuclear weapon state. Having looked at other options in detail it is quite clear that none of them are as cheap or practical as their supporters claim. Labour must not lapse into the belief that an alternative to Trident is better at all costs. I firmly believe that any alternative would undermine our national security. The options of land or air-based systems need hardly be taken seriously. Both are highly vulnerable to pre-emptive strike and would entail massive infrastructure and platform, delivery and weapons development costs. Similar concerns over cost and vulnerability make a surface ship-based system another thing of foolish fantasy.  
… What seems a seductive plan for Labour with a post-2015 coalition in mind is in fact highly dangerous. Nuclear deterrence is too important to get wrong. Trident has been underwritten by the US until 2042 and provides the most effective, affordable option for the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability. The sooner the Labour Party agrees the better.
An Independent news item on the same day by Andrew Grice followed suit:
Labour will fight the next general election on a pledge to retain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, senior party sources have said. Although some advisers to Ed Miliband want him to opt for a scaled-down, cheaper alternative to the current Trident system, there are growing signs that Labour will join the Conservatives in backing a £25billion "like-for-like" replacement.  
… Lord West, who was directly responsible for Trident as head of the Navy, believes such [Lib Dem alternative] options are deeply flawed. But he is worried that Labour might be tempted into taking a decision based on short-term political calculations – building bridges with the Lib Dems – and making savings that would not materialise.
Predictably the Independent’s revelation was not greeted with joy in some Labour circles and by the end of the day, Sunny Hundal posted reassurance, Has Labour already committed to renewing Trident? No, on the Liberal Conspiracy blog:
The Independent today had a big ‘exclusive’ story titled: ‘Labour to join Tories in backing a £25bn deal to renew Trident fleet‘. … The story was unsurprisingly picked up by many across the left and criticised from within the party and outside. But the actual contents of the story didn’t seem to match the headline, so I made a few calls. A source from the the shadow defence team told me that the headline was essentially jumping the gun: no final decision had been made.  
… Labour say the decision on whether to renew Trident will be based on three factors: capability of such a deterrent, whether it is cost-effective and save money on the current Trident bill, and thirdly – allow the UK to downgrade our current stockpile and warheads deployed. The Labour spokesperson said Labour’s decision will also be based on the work that Des Browne is doing on the matter.
(For Browne’s likely views, see the 6 February update to my January post.)
So why the Independent article? It seems to have been prompted by Lord West raising concerns about the alternatives to Trident. How seriously that intervention should be taken is up for debate. But I was told in no uncertain terms that a decision had not been made on like-for-like renewal of Trident. So when will a decision be made? That depends on when the Trident alternatives review is published (which should be this spring, and could be as late as September).  
It also depends on what the review says. If it says there aren’t many viable and cost-effective alternatives then Labour may be backed into a corner. If, however, the review offers a range of alternatives and sufficient level of detail on how they could work, there would be more momentum to opt for an alternative.
On 1 March, Labour’s difficulties in accommodating the Lib Dems were made more acute by another opinion piece, this time in the Daily Telegraph, from John Hutton and George Robertson, both former Labour defence secretaries: There is no magic alternative to Trident – Britain has got to keep it. Pointing out that:
The Russians, as one example, are now deploying two new types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a new class of ballistic submarine, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, a new bomber and long-range cruise missiles. With this in mind, the question we should address is long term: “What kind of deterrence should we maintain for the next 50 or 60 years?”
They warn:
… let us not deceive people with false promises. Developing an alternative weapon system to Trident – such as a submarine-launched cruise missile – would be much more costly. Trident remains the most cost-effective system for the UK.  
The option of continuing with a Trident replacement programme but abandoning our continuous at-sea deterrent doctrine (CASD) would be equally unwise. CASD provides a deterrent that is immune to any first strike and so provides the maximum amount of assurance against the risks of either nuclear attack or blackmail. There is no use having this insurance policy if it only applies for some of the time. The idea that at times of tension we could scale up our patrols is also flawed. Such an escalation in the UK nuclear posture would itself only serve to heighten tensions both at home and abroad. Dropping CASD could have serious operational implications for the Royal Navy, too. This could easily contribute to a decline in the vitally important professionalism and expertise of our nuclear-equipped forces.
and conclude:
… One fact is absolutely clear: nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to our country. We must have the ability to deter such threats now and in the future. If we lose this ability, we will have fundamentally compromised our entire defence and security policies. That is a risk too far.
But a successor to Trident with enough submarine hulls to ensure CASD will not come cheap. Professor Malcolm Chalmers has been examining future defence expenditure for the RUSI think tank. He thinks that:
From 2016/17, the MoD will face a sharp rise in annual spending on the new class of nuclear missile submarines, a level of spending which will then be sustained through to the late 2020s. In contrast, procurement spending on combat air, air support, helicopters and surface ships is due to fall significantly. In order to fund increased successor spending up to 2025/26, while maintaining investment in new conventional capabilities, it may be necessary to extend the government’s commitment to annual real increases in equipment spending (a commitment that currently expires in 2020/21).
and that:
If the defence cuts announced in the 2013 spending review [due to be completed by June] are nearer to the pessimistic level of expectations, some may argue the case for a ‘mini- SDSR’, revisiting the capability plans made in 2010 in order to bring the defence plans back into balance with the reduced budget. Such a review would show that the government was prepared to take the hard decisions that are necessary in order to prevent a return to the over-programming that blighted defence planning until recently.  
Yet holding such a review in the latter half of an electoral term, while still retaining the commitment to a further post-election SDSR in mid-2015, would create its own uncertainties. It could, moreover, risk refocusing attention on the successor deterrent programme, a subject on which there is no prospect of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreeing before the next general election.
And cloudy prospects of a Labour and Lib Dem agreement after!

UPDATE 10 March

Mary Riddell “keeps a watchful eye on centre-left politics” for the Daily Telegraph. On 6 March e most of her article about future Labour policy, How Labour can fire a missile the Tories’ way in this cuts war, was given over to Trident replacement:
… If Labour is to ring-fence the NHS and overseas aid, as Mr Balls has undertaken, and if it will not plunder the welfare budget, then it must stray into the areas that the Tories will not touch. One obvious example is staring it in the face. Between now and 2016, Britain must decide whether to spend £25 billion replacing the four submarines that carry nuclear-tipped Trident missiles. If that like-for-like replacement goes ahead, it will swallow at least one third of the defence budget after 2020.  
While this lavish project has attracted some cross-party criticism (the former Tory defence secretary, Michael Portillo, calls it “a tremendous waste of money… done entirely for reasons of national prestige”), Labour’s view is coloured by a unilateralist, CND-badged past that it would rather erase. Despite that blip, every Labour government since the Second World War has backed the nuclear deterrent. Ernest Bevin’s endorsement of a British bomb – “We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs” – has become an article of faith for all his party’s leaders. Mr Miliband may be about to break with that.  
The Trident question is preoccupying Labour. With the Lib Dem review on alternatives due this month, protagonists are speaking out. Lord West, the “simple sailor” who advised Gordon Brown, deems the full replacement programme essential. The same case has been made in these pages by two former Labour defence secretaries, Lord Robertson and Lord Hutton. The latter is the one-time MP for Barrow, where the Vanguard submarines would be built.  
Meanwhile, a third former MoD incumbent, Lord Browne, argues that like-for-like replacement is neither strategically sound nor economically viable. Lord Wood, one of Mr Miliband’s senior strategists, has made an excellent Lords speech explaining why “multilateral disarmament is… vital to the world’s safety and security”. Assorted military figures think it beyond madness that, in an age of stateless terrorists and cyber-warriors, Britain insists on having a Cold War reliquary of armed submarines constantly at sea, their never-to-be-used missiles targeted at nothing, when even Russia has abandoned such extravagant posturing and President Obama is looking to slash the US missile stock. Lord Browne is not proposing that Trident be scrapped or that any Lib Dem plan for bargain-basement nukes be embraced. His modest suggestion is that Britain should look again at the need for Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). Defence experts say that were that requirement to be reduced, the lifespan of the current fleet might be extended and Britain could ultimately make do with two new Vanguards instead of four.  
With the clashes growing more heated, Mr Miliband is reported to be signed up to backing Tory replacement plans. I am told that is “categorically” not the case. Although no decision has been taken, the Labour leader is said to be sympathetic to the ideas of Lord Browne. The Browne proposal, with its multilateralist insistence that a credible deterrent be maintained, should satisfy shadow cabinet members, defence spokesman Jim Murphy included, who proclaim themselves open to sensible alternatives.  
Trident may yet prove a defining issue, offering savings far beyond the symbolic to a leader aware that he must counter public indifference on a range of issues.  
… With the regular soldiers in the British Army reduced to the lowest number since the Napoleonic Wars, Labour might more usefully promise golden elephants on plinths for every barracks than pledge to match the Tories’ nuclear bonanza. A more modest Trident programme, though only a start, would signal that Mr Miliband can avoid the fate of social democrats, such as France’s François Hollande.
No doubt Riddell has good sources in the Labour Party, but she is less well-informed when she says that “Russia has abandoned such extravagant posturing”. Although the Bulova missile and a new class of submarines have been some time coming, these new Russian systems are now in operation.  Whether its is possible to make significant savings in the Trident replacement programme and still put to sea a deterrent worth having remains to be seen.