23 August 2014

Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern has been such a well-publicised show since it opened in April that there is little for me to add here. Matisse (1869-1954) was suffering from ill-health in the 1940s to such an extent that he had to give up painting. He turned to mounting cut-out pieces of gouached paper (découpages in French) , a technique which he had previously used to work out arrangements for paintings, as in Still Life with Shell, (1940, Nature morte avec coquillage, below top as a cut-out, below lower as an oil):

This is the starting point of the exhibition and is followed by The Lyre (La lyre, 1946, below left), as the first intentioned Matisse cut-out – later comes one of his last paintings, Interior with Black Fern (Intérieur à la fougère noire, 1948, below right):

Then comes the original set of 20 cut-out maquettes, mostly of circus subjects, which Matisse made during the Occupation and  hung above the corresponding pages of the art book, Jazz, eventually published by Tériade in 1947; The Horse/, the Rider and the Clown, plate 5 (Le cheval, l’ecuyere et le clown, 1943 below left) and Icarus, plate 8 (Icare, 1943/44 below right):

It is interesting to see the flattening of appearance and colour shift which resulted from the stencil-printing (“… the transposition, which removes their sensitivity” as Matisse put it).

There are of the order of 100 works in this show. Among the highlights are magazine and book covers, Cahiers d’Art, 1936 (below top) and Henri-Cartier Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, 1952 below lower): 

... the designs for the Dominican Chapel at Vence (Alpes Maritimes department, SE France), Zulma (1950, below left) and, rather smaller, some of Matisse’s best-known images such as the Blue Nudes, (all four brought together), (Nu bleu II, 1952, below right):

... and Tate’s Snail (Escargot, 195x, below left) and The Sheaf (La grebe, 1953), below right):

This is a spectacular exhibition which, as one of its curators points out, is unlikely to be repeated and it has an appropriately fine catalogue. Visitors should be able to take away lasting impressions of Matisse’s mastery of form and colour, the latter being particularly welcome during a disappointing London summer and probably even more so during New York’s next winter - Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs will be at Museum of Modern Art from 14 October to 15 February. It closes at Tate Modern on 7 September. Most, but not all, works appear in both London and New York - exceptions include The Swimming Pool (La Piscine, 1952, below) which has not left MoMA – but it is 1.85m x 16.4m:

18 August 2014

Rex Whistler and Laura Knight at Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, is described in Pevsner’s Buildings of England for the county as:
… the English castle par excellence, not the forbidding fortress on an unassailable crag, but the large, rambling, safe, grey, lovable house of knights and their ladies, the unreasonable dream-castle of those who think of the Middle Ages as a time of chivalry and valour and noble feelings. None other in England is so complete and convincing.
Simon Jenkins, in his England's Thousand Best Houses, puts it in the top 20 with 5* (out of 5):
Haddon is the most perfect English house to survive from the Middle Ages. …. It has not changed because it never needed to change. … Those aristocratic curses of extravagance and infertility have not visted Haddon. The place is still owned by the Manners family, the Dukes of Rutland. To wander up the slope to the worn gatehouse steps and enter the ancient courtyard is as agreeable an experience as England can offer.
And he explains:
Through the 18th and 19th centuries, the Rutlands neglected Haddon in favour of the seat of Belvoir (Leics). This saved it from the drastic alterations that occurred to most houses over that period. Haddon’s restoration by the 9th Duke after 1912 and recently by his grandson have been deferential.
So it was a surprise during a recent visit to Haddon Hall to encounter work by two twentieth-century British artists, Rex Whistler and Laura Knight, and a reminder of the extent of aristocratic patronage, even in the 1930s.

The 70th anniversary last month of Rex Whistler’s death in combat during the Normandy campaign seemed to have passed without note. He was 39 and had had early success. Henry Tonks, his Professor at the Slade, remarked that he had only ever known three or four people with a natural gift for drawing, and Rex Whistler was one of them. Thanks to Tonks’ sponsorship, Whistler was able to produce one of his best known works, the mural The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, for the restaurant at Tate Britain when he was only 23. Various commissions followed from the wealthy and fashionable, so when in 1933 the 9th Duke of Rutland wanted to celebrate the end of his restoration work at Haddon he secured Whistler’s services to paint a landscape featuring the Hall to go over the fireplace in the Long Gallery. It shows the Duke and his son looking over their Arcadia:

Whistler completed his longest mural in 1937 for the Dining Room at Plas Newydd, A Capriccio (short title), commissioned by Charles, 6th Marquess of Anglesey. The Marquess’s wife was one of the daughters of Henry Manners, 8th Duke of Rutland. In 2013 a biography, In Search of Rex Whistler: His life and work by Hugh and Mirabel Cecil was reviewed admiringly and at length for The Times Literary Supplement by Matthew Sturgis. He points out:
The suggestion that Rex Whistler was the model for Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is properly dismissed here by the Guinnesses. Nevertheless, that sense – so well delineated in the novel – of a modest, conventional middle-class young man of talent and charm being drawn into an enchanted and perhaps emotionally dangerous aristocratic world does have strong echoes in the story of Whistler’s life.
Just after the Long Gallery, in the Great Chamber, is this ‘sketch’ by Laura Knight, seen a year ago at the National Portrait Gallery:

It was drawn in 1934 in preparation for an oil painting of Kathleen Manners, the 9th Duchess of Rutland. The painting is at Belvoir Castle, presumably on view to visitors. Although the NPG show made do with the sketch, perhaps the painting will be made available to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for the Laura Knight exhibition planned for the winter of 2015-16 and marking the 50th anniversary of her Royal Academy retrospective.


This Penguin Guide to Derbyshire and the Peak District, “Revised and Reprinted, 1949”, says about Haddon Hall that it “is considered by some to be the most lovely medieval house in England. The house is now open to the public daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, admission 2s”. For current opening times please consult the Haddon Hall website and also note that the basic admission price is now £10 (“2s” or Two Shillings is the pre-decimalisation equivalent of £0.10, so a 100-fold increase in 65 years ). Actually, £10 is good value, given the quality of the house and its contents and the gardens. On the other hand, the equivalent of £10 for a paperback of 169 pages, with maps but no illustrations, certainly was not!

15 August 2014

The cleverest of the cleverest

When somebody tweets something that reinforces your own opinions and prejudices, it’s probably wise to take a closer and sceptical look. For example this from Dominic Cummings (former SPAD* for the former education secretary, Michael Gove) aka @oddyseanproject:

"DATA the cleverest of the cleverest do math/phys/engineering; the thickest of the cleverest do education & business"  

Naturally I’ve thought this for years and, of course, also believe that anything which comes from xxx.blogspot.co.uk or yyy.blogspot.com must be wisdom incarnate. Better still, the post a year ago on Psychological comments, Dr James Thompson’s blog, included this chart, well-matched to the math/phys/engineering way of looking at things:

But what exactly is going on here? Thompson took the chart from a paper in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 2009 (I’ve reproduced Figure B1 in the paper rather than Thompson’s for clarity). V, S and M stand for Verbal, Spatial and Mathematical Ability. As I understand the paper, and I am no expert, V,S and M are composites, eg V is made up of three weighted measures: Vocabulary, Reading and English, the last of these being itself a composite of items measuring capitalization, punctuation, spelling, usage, and effective expression. S and M are similarly constructed from appropriate sub-measures.

So the vertical axis, Specific Ability Level, is the measurement of V, S and M for nine disciplines spread along the horizontal axis (the blobs, ha-ha). The lines join up V, S and M scores for three levels of educational attainment in those disciplines: Bachelor, Master, Doctoral. The order in which the disciplines appear along the horizontal axis corresponds to their General Ability Level which is “the average of S+M+V” (presumably the mean of S, M and V). To dig deeper, look at Appendix B of the paper. The numbers behind some of the blobs are small eg 71 engineering doctorates, 57 maths/computer science.

The purpose of the paper was to argue the case for spatial ability as a predictor of talent in STEM subjects. It was Thompson who suggested “Draw your own conclusions about the levels of intellect required in each discipline.”, something which Cummings choose to do, surprisingly given that he has a humanities degree. However, I think there are two points to be made. Firstly, we are looking at “the cleverest” to use his words, who all have more “Ability” to get higher scores in tests than the average person – beware the vanity of small differences among a select group. Secondly, if your occupation doesn’t require spatial abilities, and many don’t, or numeracy, but does require high verbal abilities, the average arts or humanities graduate has the edge over STEM types, as the chart shows. This was the point of a post here two years ago, OK techies have their limitations.

I can’t imagine an occupation with much lower spatial ability requirements than being a SPAD (*special political adviser) – perhaps Cummings knows how many of the current 100 or so actually have “math/phys/engineering” qualifications.

12 August 2014

Moore Rodin at Compton Verney

Henry Moore has been mentioned in 13 previous posts here so I am obviously an admirer of his work. Last October I posted about Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and have now seen Moore Rodin at Compton Verney, another show contrasting the work of two great artists*. The Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green is one of the two co-sponsors and, after being shown there in 2013, Moore Rodin is currently at Compton Verney House whose Trust is the other co-sponsor and celebrating its 10th anniversary. Not surprisingly, the Musée Rodin in Paris also played a major role in making it all happen.

Compton Verney is quite rightly proud of its ‘Capability’ Brown landscape which makes a fine setting for eleven large pieces of sculpture. Moore’s work particularly benefits from being seen in the open (examples previously referred to here were at Kew Gardens, Dartington Hall, and Perry Green and this is no exception; Moore’s The Arch (1969, Fibreglass, below):

There is also the contrast of the 19th and 20th century sculptures with the House’s 18th century facades ; Rodin’s Walking Man on a Column (1900, left) and Moore’s Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae (1968, right):

and between sculptures positioned at a distance; Moore’s Seated Woman (1958-59, left) and Rodin’s Jean d’Aire , Monumental Nude (1887, right):

There is also the chance to see details such as Moore’s characteristic scratch marks on The Arch (below left) and to appreciate the viewer’s perspective which Rodin intended for Monument to the Burghers of Calais (1889, below right) but which will no longer be available after its return to Victoria Tower Gardens (Westminster, London, only a few metres from Moore’s Knife Edge Two Piece (1962–65) at Monument Green):

Inside Compton Verney House around 160 smaller items, many of them works on paper, are on display in the galleries and encourage the visitor to make comparisons and seek contrasts between the artists’ subjects, materials and methods of working. Various themes are explored including interlocking forms, mother-and-child embraces, Moore’s shelter drawings from London during World War 2 and Rodin’s ‘black drawings’ made in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war. Moore’s daughter, Mary, has curated a fascinating selection of objects from both artist’s personal collections, Rodin’s being primarily classical and Egyptian while Moore’s was more eclectic including ethnographic and found objects - bones and stones.

It is for this part of the exhibition that the guide by its curator, Anita Feldman, is particularly helpful. It includes a transcript of a conversation about Rodin between Moore and Alan Bowness in 1966. Moore admits to not having been much interested in Rodin in the 1920s but that his admiration grew subsequently. Part of their dialogue:
AB: Like many of the drawings, the Dancers and the Walking Man are all very much concerned with the idea of movement. This is clearly of the greatest importance to Rodin, and it links him with the impressionist painters, just as other aspects of hi work link him with the symbolists who were also his contemporaries. But how far do you think that the representation of movement is a proper concern of sculpture? 
HM: This is one of the ways in which my generation does stand for a reaction against Rodin. One of my points is that sculpture should not represent actual physical movement. This is something I have never wanted. I believe that sculpture is made out of static, immovable material. 
AB: What about the Balzac [right] then? Do you think as many do that it's the culmination of Rodin's work, or do you find it less interesting, because it's clothed for one thing? 
HM: No - because underneath one can see that there is the nude figure, and that it's been clothed. It’s the same with the Burghers. What makes Rodin the great sculptor that he is, is his complete understanding of the body s internal structure, his ability to feel inside into the sculpture. This is so intense - even the late work has got behind it all that other observation and knowledge of the human figure. He couldn't have simplified the Balzac - he couldn't have started with the idea of a draped figure. Think of all the studies that he had to make first. (pages 129-130)
Earlier on the theme of Finished/Unfinished, Feldman observes:
… with Rodin's bronzes, the physicality of the body is heightened by the impression of his own hands having modelled it initially in clay. Witnessing Rodin at work, Paul Gsell wrote: 'The clay figure was taking shape. Rodin's hands came and went, adding bits of clay, gathering it in his large palms, with swift, accurate movements; then the thumb and the fingers took part, turning a leg with a single pressure, rounding a hip, sloping a shoulder, turning the head, and all with incredible swiftness, almost as if he were performing a conjuring trick.'' Moore on the other hand was more of a carver than a modeller, preferring to pare down the surface of a material rather than build it up. Thus tool marks are often evident in his bronzes, cast from plaster originals where the surfaces have been vigorously hewn with chisels, files and cheese graters. 
Finally, both Moore and Rodin took the concept of finished/unfinished a stage further by introducing evidence from industrial fabrication; for example, by allowing the runners, weld marks, pointing marks or joins from the casting process to remain visible rather than 'finishing' the bronzes by filing these down. Rodin relished the accidents which resulted from the piece mould casting process - seams, air bubbles and dollops of liquid plaster, supporting mounds, and finger and cloth imprints. (page 93)
Moore's Draped Torso (1953, left)

Moore Rodin ends at Compton Verney on 31 August.

* Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Henry Moore (1898-1986); they never met.

10 August 2014

Could David Miliband do a Boris?

On Thursday 7 August, The Times gave some of its front page and the whole of page 4 over to a “Boris bombshell” story, Boris Johnson having announced the day before that he wanted to stand for Parliament in the 2015 election. I have doubts as to whether Rupert Murdoch is particularly keen on Johnson. Certainly some of News Corp/News UK’s papers have their reservations. Later that day Simon Nixon posted a very critical piece, Boris Johnson Is Talking Piffle, on WSJ Blogs, and on 9 August in The Times, Matthew Parris, opinion columnist and former MP who has observed Johnson, commented about
… the Boris I’ve observed for years. He has some of the qualities of a great and inspirational leader — a political transcendent — and some of the qualities of a hideous car crash waiting to happen. 
I’m glad he wants to come back. He’ll be fun. He’ll enliven the Tory campaign, help in places, hurt in places, entertain everywhere and make little difference outside London. He’ll be a persistent irritant on the question of the Tory leadership, but he probably won’t ever be leader.
The leadership question had come to the fore in an analysis of Johnson’s strategy by John McTernan the previous day in the Scotsman, Riding to the rescue or a Tory car crash?:
The fact no-one wants to mention is that Boris’ return is predicated on a Tory defeat at the next election. … He can only be the leader if there is a vacancy. There can only be a vacancy if there is a defeat. 
… some argue that Cameron will win a majority, hold a referendum, win it and then gracefully hand over in 2018. If you believe that, do you mind sending me you bank details, your PIN and your mother’s maiden name. 
David Cameron is born to rule, and if he wins a majority next year – the first Tory majority in 23 years – he will enjoy every day of his five years in power. … If he can stay in power he will – whether an understanding with the DUP or supply and confidence with the Liberal Democrats. You will have to prize the code for the No10 flat from his cold, dead hands. 
No, Cameron goes when the Tories lose power. A triumphant Dave – in whatever form – kicks the leadership election beyond 2020, and then Sajid David will have shown us his paces.
But another politician (with grinning selfie) was spread over two pages by The Times on 7 August, David Miliband:

Rather a tale of woe:
Behind the smile, however, is a more fraught reality and fears that, despite moving to New York, Mr Miliband  remains a man at best in limbo, and at worst floundering. 
… Friends concede that it has not been an easy move [to run the International Rescue Committee] for the family. His wife, although American, was less than enthusiastic. 
… A friend adds that the two boys also found it difficult to settle. 
… The family spent the first holiday after the move not exploring the US, but visiting their old home in South Shields, his former constituency in the northeast. 
… Shortly after his arrival it was reported by The New York Times that “the plan is that with his international experience and gold-plated virtual Rolodex, Mr Miliband can bring in new sources of funding as well as raise the group’s profile”. Britain’s former foreign secretary has interpreted this job spec in a way that has increased tensions with some senior staffers at the IRC, his allies admit. 
… A couple of months after he started at the charity in earnest, The New York Times described how “some long-time IRC staff members responded to news of his appointment with a certain wariness, mainly because of Mr Miliband’s foreignness, his celebrity, his lack of experience running non-profit agencies and because they did not know what his management style would be.” 
… The US staff are said to find Mr Miliband aloof and arrogant.
And so on, with his lightweight social and public profile in the US, unlike Boris Johnson! And then:
There is no sign of a full — or even partial — reconciliation. Ed Miliband did not make a detour to see his brother during his trip to Washington last month. David Miliband did not see Ed when he was over in the Britain for a recent IRC conference in Windsor. In fact it is Louise Shackleton who remains the most unforgiving about Ed’s displacement of his brother, her husband. 
… Despite being in the midst of a complex and difficult reorganisation of a big international charity, as well as the usual problems of settling a family into a foreign city, Mr Miliband still pays close attention to British politics down to the fine details. “He knows far too much about canvass returns in Stevenage than he should,” one intimate says. It would be inhuman of Mr Miliband to want his brother to win handsomely, suggests another. In private, he is critical of Ed’s strategy and his narrow lead in the polls. He believes that the lead should be much greater given the collapse in most people’s living standards under the coalition government, and that the gap will inevitably narrow as the election approaches.
The article goes on to say that David Miliband is totally committed to the IRC and to speculate, rather unconvincingly, about how he might benefit from a Clinton victory in 2016.

An attempt was made to counter the “fraught reality” in the Observer on 10 August in an “exclusive interview” granted to Jon Swaine, David Miliband: 'I want Ed to succeed. I'm sure he feels the same about me':
… Miliband likes Italian food. His American wife, the violinist Louise Shackelton, prefers Japanese cuisine. Eating out is one of the best things about their new life, he said, denying rumours that they are not enjoying life in New York much at all. Soon they will be holidaying in Cape Cod. 
… "I'm absolutely convinced this is the right place to be for us," … "I wouldn't be happy if my family wasn't happy. That's a big thing. My kids are OK. Louise is OK." 
… Miliband said he was brought in to make the IRC "think, act, speak, like a $500m organisation, not like the much smaller one it used to be". Asked for a concrete change he'd made, he said: "We have galvanised the organisation to think ambitiously about its strategy for the future." Longer-serving IRC managers, apparently worried about risks to staff on the ground, reportedly fear creeping politicisation under Miliband, adding to the pressure they feel they are under to stay neutral. He denies any such clash. 
… He claimed that he doesn't follow "every twist and turn" of British politics, before saying he had watched the TV debate on Scottish independence the night before [6 August on STV, which would have been at 15:00 EST], and followed criticism of the wreath laid by his brother at a service to mark the centenary of the first world war. 
… In a telephone conversation later, following a report [presumably The Times above] that he privately wants his brother to fail, Miliband was asked [by whom, presumably not Swaine?] whether he thought he would be doing a better job. 
"Both Ed and I want the other to succeed," he said. "Strongly, passionately. And we also both work hard to keep personal lines open and private. I'm focused in succeeding in my job … and I want him to succeed in his job. And I'm sure it's the same for him." 
Yet on the subject of whether the Ed-led Labour party will win next year's election, he was not emphatic: "I think that it's really open. I think we can." Then he hedged. "I never say we will win. Because I'm a protagonist, not a commentator."
That there are parallels between David Miliband’s position and Johnson’s is obvious. If Ed M loses in 2015, and there is a leadership contest, the candidates would have to come from the Labour MPs who will be returned in the 2015 election. It wouldn’t be a much of a surprise to anyone who had read The Times article to hear that David M was looking for a seat (assuming the arcane rules and selection processes of the Labour party don’t make that impossible). And, no doubt one among several, Frank Dobson has just announced that he will be standing down in Holborn and St Pancras where he had a majority of nearly 10,000 in 2010.


An innovation at The Times which started this week is a daily political briefing, Red Box, sent by email at about 8 am London time. This morning it included the following:
Send David to Washington, Ed Miliband urged by MPs 
Labour MPs hoping to bring David Miliband back into the fold have an idea for his brother Ed. 
They say that Ed should make David British ambassador to Washington if he wins the general election, as reported in The Times Diary this morning. 
It would be the ideal way of rehabilitating him, paving the way for a later return to British politics after a spell in the US capital, they say. 
The idea of appointing David Miliband to the post was considered, then rejected, by Downing Street after the 2010 election. Sir Peter Westmacott is currently our man in Washington. 
The brother of the Labour leader currently lives in New York, where he heads the International Rescue Committee charity. 
As foreign secretary he forged good personal relations with Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to run as the Democrat candidate in 2016. He would also be a voice trusted by the Obama administration in its final months. 
"What could be better?" a senior Labour politician told me. "It would be terrific for Ed to have David over in Washington, whoever takes over from Obama. And it would be a route back for David." 
Recently figures in the camps of the two Milibands have pondered how he might be brought back. They agree that if Ed wins the election his decision to stand against his brother in 2010 would be finally vindicated. He would be in a position to offer a role to his brother, and his brother should be prepared to take it.


David Miliband's situation has again been the subject of speculation  after an article appeared in the Financial Times earlier this month - see this post.  Keir Starmer has been selected as Labour candidate for Holborn and St Pancras.

8 August 2014

UK Trident: Summer 2014

Every so often there is a post here about the public debate about the UK’s future nuclear deterrent which, on current plans, will be based on Successor SSBNs carrying Trident missiles. Three recent items seem to me to be worth recording.

Labour’s National Policy Forum

This Labour Party Forum has 198 members who met in private for three days in July. According to the Guardian:
A full report of what was agreed at the NPF will be published at the time of Labour's annual conference in the autumn and it will form the foundation of the party's election manifesto.
The LabourList website's Mark Ferguson liveblogged the NPF and reported “the wording delegates agreed on Trident (as per last night’s late night deal)”:
With other nations possessing nuclear weapons, and nuclear proliferation remaining a deep concern, we can never be absolutely certain as to what the future security landscape will look like. In July 2013, the current government published its Trident Alternatives Review which examined alternative defence systems and postures for the UK’s deterrent. Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body of evidence for us to change this belief. 
Labour recognises the importance of Britain leading international efforts for multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Following the action we took when in government, Labour would actively work to enhance momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, looking at further reductions in global stockpiles and the number of weapons. This would be done in line with our assessment on the global security landscape. 
Labour would continue to take a leading role internationally to push the agenda of global anti-proliferation with nuclear and non-nuclear states. This is a vision shared by President Barack Obama and Labour would work with the United States and other allies, such as France, to advance ‘Global Zero’, which seeks to advance an action plan for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Labour recognises that the success of past international bans on weapons of mass destruction such as landmines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons. 
The NPT Conference 2015 will be a key moment for a Labour government to show leadership in achieving progress on global disarmament and anti-proliferation measures. 
Labour has said that the process and debate leading up to the next Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 needs to be open, inclusive and transparent, including examining all capabilities, including nuclear. It must also examine the cost implications as well as the strategic necessities, recognising the importance of the defence sector to the UK economy, and the need to protect and develop a highly-skilled workforce. To this end, a Labour government will have a continuing consultation, inviting submissions from all relevant stakeholders, including Labour Party members and affiliates, on the UK’s future defence and national security issues.
RUSI On Warheads

Back in March, I posted about a paper produced under the auspices of the RUSI think tank which aimed to debate Continuous At-Sea Deterrence. Its author, Hugh Chalmers, has since written The Bang Behind the Buck, Replacing the UK’s Nuclear Warheads which centres on the proposition that:
… the next Parliament may have to start considering a replacement [for the UK’s nuclear warheads] towards the end of its term if a replacement were to be needed by the latter half of the 2030s. (page 1)
and is consistent with the 2010 SDSR statement about replacement warheads:
3.12 Since 2006, work has been progressing in order to determine the optimum life of the existing warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options. Under the 1958 UK-US Agreement for Cooperation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes (the ‘Mutual Defence Agreement’) we have agreed on the future of the Trident D5 delivery system and determined that a replacement warhead is not required until at least the late 2030s. Decisions on replacing the warhead will not therefore be required in this Parliament. This will defer £500 million of spending from the next 10 years.
if “by the latter half of the 2030s” and “at least the late 2030s” are taken as meaning the same thing. The RUSI paper thinks the need for replacement may arise because:
… it is unclear whether it [the UK’s current arsenal of nuclear warheads] will continue to age gracefully. The complex array of interconnected components that make up the UK’s warhead deform and decay over time, affecting its behaviour and thus the reliability of the warhead. … Eventually a fault may arise that cannot be easily remedied, and replacing original parts with alternatives gradually alters warheads from their original tested design, introducing uncertainty into their functioning and effectiveness. (page 1)
But unpromisingly for the reader:
Despite being pivotal to the long-term operation of the UK’s nuclear force, very little information has been made available as to what replacing a nuclear arsenal actually involves and how a replacement decision will ultimately be made. This is because most details of the UK’s nuclear arsenal and the methods used to maintain it are understandably classified. This paper draws upon what open sources are available to shine some light onto this issue by outlining the composition and status of the UK’s nuclear arsenal, and describing how it might ultimately be replaced or renewed. (page 2)
And the reality of the UK’s situation is that:
The origin of the current Trident warhead, and indeed most of the UK’s past nuclear warheads, can be traced back to the 1958 MDA with the US. This agreement, forged in the shadow of the Soviet Union’s burgeoning intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability, ended twelve years of nuclear separation between the former wartime collaborators and gave the UK access to more advanced nuclear expertise and capabilities from across the Atlantic. (page 2)
So it’s not surprising when, nine pages later and towards the end of the paper, we are told:
The future of the UK’s nuclear arsenal is therefore inextricably linked to that of the US. (page 11)
and that in summing up the Future of the UK’s Nuclear Stockpile:
If indications emerge within the next parliament that the UK’s nuclear stockpile may not survive past the late 2030s, the government at the time will be faced with a dilemma. Without a clear steer from the US, the UK may have to choose between developing a replacement warhead with an uncertain supply of components (and over time, missiles), or retaining an arsenal of suspect reliability. In the case of the former, the UK might embark on a pathway that, at best, produces limited results, and, at worst, risks jeopardising the much-valued exchange between the two nuclear partners. Given this tough choice, pressure to replace the UK’s warhead may meet equal and opposite pressure to delay until a clear pathway can be developed in collaboration with the US. (page 12/13)
In this paragraph there are three ‘may’s, one ‘if’ and one ‘might’ and by my reckoning there are 39 ‘mays’, 21 ‘if’s, 16 ‘might’s, 10 ‘could’s and 10 ‘were’s (as a subjunctive) in the whole paper, reflecting its subject’s inherent uncertainties: to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it has too many known unknowns and unknown unknowns. One of the few official statements on the subject was in the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review (TAR) which is correctly quoted as stating “that replacing the UK’s [Trident] nuclear warheads would take approximately seventeen years for the first unit at an estimated cost of around £4 billion in 2012 prices” (page 1), although the 50% confidence associated with this figure (TAR paragraph 25) was not included, nor was the interesting remark at TAR paragraph 5.12:
Analysis of the timescales likely to be associated with delivering a new warhead was conducted, using as a baseline studies that supported the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and ongoing studies for a possible new Trident warhead (should one be required).
Most readers will conclude that the author has done as good job as could be expected in the circumstances. This paper is better written than its predecessor; indeed the author thanks six named individuals and “a number of experts”. The conclusions it reaches, given the nature of the Mutual Defence Agreement, are perhaps not that surprising. A cynic might say that it could just as appropriately been called The Buck Behind the Bang.

BASIC's Trident Commission Concluding Report 

Launch of the Concluding report in July 2014
BASIC, the British American Security Information Council, describes itself as “a small but influential think tank with one very large idea: we want a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons”. It set up the Trident Commission in 2011 as an inquiry into Britain’s nuclear weapon policy and the issue of Trident renewal with a membership of eight from appropriate ranks of the great and the good. I won’t list them all here, but will note that they include a former Conservative defence and foreign secretary (Rifkind), a former Labour defence secretary (Browne) and Professor Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (Peter Hennessy, as he is disrespectfully labelled in posts here).

Anyone who wants to go into the Commission’s activities over the last three years should start with their webpage and read on to locate Evidence Received and Background Briefings. The papers in the latter were by BASIC staff with one, Alternative delivery systems and their platforms, by Matt Cavanagh, a former Labour SPAD who worked on defence issues.  The Commission focused on three questions in particular, namely:

Should the United Kingdom continue to be a nuclear weapons state?

If so, is Trident the only or best option for delivering the deterrent?

What more can and should the United Kingdom do to facilitate faster progress on global nuclear disarmament?

Whatever BASIC may have expected or hoped for, the Commission’s answers to these questions in the Summary Conclusions tend to endorse the status quo. So, on the first:
Based upon the two key specific considerations, namely national security concerns and responsibility towards the Alliance, the Commission has come to the unanimous conclusion that the UK should retain and deploy a nuclear arsenal, with a number of caveats expressed below. Most notably, it remains crucial that the UK show keen regard for its position within the international community and for the shared responsibility to achieve progress in global nuclear disarmament.
We are conscious that our conclusion — that the UK should retain and renew its nuclear deterrent — must be weighed against the considerable cost of renewing and operating Trident, a cost that is a rising proportion of the defence budget (as capital spending on the project increases and as spending on other defence capabilities reduces). Over the life of the project, it can be expected that capital, running, and decommissioning costs associated with the nuclear weapons project account for roughly 9-10% of the overall defence budget, though into the 2020s we will experience a higher spend, and after that a smaller amount. However, we believe that cost must be of secondary importance to the judgment over whether forsaking the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability could open the country to future strategic risk. (page 6, L-HC)
On the second question:
The government’s Trident Alternatives Review considered the technical case for alternative platforms and delivery systems, concluding that at present there were no benefits to be had from choosing a different nature of system at this stage. The Trident SSBN (Ballistic Missile Submarines) system meets the criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach and readiness. Whilst the Commission is not in a position to interrogate in depth the information and assumptions underpinning the Review, we are opposed to proposals to develop alternative platforms and delivery systems, with new warheads, simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings. The choice of system and posture must be credible when considering national security and alliance relationships, and must embrace the UK’s responsibilities to stability and the wider international community. Whilst dual-use systems have the benefit of adaptability to circumstances, we have serious concerns about their capacity to increase strategic ambiguity, which would both complicate arms control and cause confusion in crises. (page 7, R-HC)
The third question is addressed on pages 8 and 9 of the Summary Conclusions and in Chapter 3 and anyone interested in diplomacy, non-proliferation and the “disarmament ladder” should consult those. Suffice it to say that the Commission is in favour of progress on nuclear disarmament and outlines constructive steps which the UK could take.

The Commission gave careful consideration to CASD and list reasons for and against its continuation and possible alternatives in Chapter 2 (pages 30 to 32). The Summary Conclusion was:
Some see a CASD posture as essential to any credible seaborne nuclear deterrent that would meet the UK’s needs into the foreseeable future. As a Commission looking ahead into a rapidly-changing world picture, we believe there are further steps that could be considered between the current posture and full disarmament, when the strategic conditions allow, with relaxed CASD as one of those steps. We are, however, divided over whether the UK could take this step independently, or only multilaterally with other nuclear weapon states. 
Some of us believe that CASD should be maintained for the foreseeable future and that we must wait for improvement in the security environment, specifically a reversal of the current trends in the modernisation of nuclear arsenals elsewhere and stronger indications of a matching intent to disarm. Some of us believe that the strategic environment today, which does not involve a current or near foreseeable strategic military threat to the UK and its vital interests, enables us to drop continuous patrolling and retain instead the capacity to increase patrols should crisis threaten. 
There is in any case an opportunity to initiate a full conversation with the United States and France on the conditions that could allow the allied nuclear weapon states to consider closer coordination of their continuous patrolling posture. (page 8)
The question of the number of Successor SSBNs is addressed in Chapter 2:
The Ministry of Defence assumes that the UK will still require a four submarine fleet to have a high confidence of maintaining an indefinite CASD posture, though decisions on this will be taken later*. This is because, even with the modernized PWR3 reactor that no longer requires mid-life refuelling, the new submarines are still expected to need complex mid-life overhauls for other components that could last several months. We do not have sufficient information to come to a definitive view on whether three submarines would be sufficient for a CASD posture, or whether replacing the four existing Vanguards with four successor submarines represents an increase in patrolling capabilities because of the higher reliability of new technology.
* Refers to the TAR paragraph 3.36, p.29 which reads:
Classified analysis about attempting to maintain continuous at sea deterrence with a 3-boat SSBN option showed that the risk of unplanned breaks relates directly to the number of submarines available for operational deployment, which in turn relates directly to the total number in the fleet. The modelling suggests that, over a 20 year period, a 3-boat fleet would risk multiple unplanned breaks in continuous covert patrolling as well as requiring regular planned breaks for maintenance and/or training. Experience to date with the Resolution-class and Vanguard-class SSBNs is that no such breaks have occurred or been required with a 4-boat fleet.
The TAR mentions PWR3 once (paragraph 5.19) and then only as being the reactor costed for the SSN(Vertical Launch) option. However, the Trident Commission’s Background Briefing Paper 3, Measuring the financial costs, states on page 22 that:
… the Successor submarine will be using PWR3 technology, so that mid-life refuelling will not be necessary …
At this point it is worth noting that the RUSI paper could only have been improved by consideration of and reference to some of the material prepared for the BASIC Trident Commission.

Summing Up

None of the above, Labour’s policy, the RUSI and BASIC reports, is advocating any significant changes to the current plans for replacement of the UK’s Trident SSBNs. The only issue of substance seems to be the number of submarines. In 1908/1909 during the Anglo-German arms race, the slogan popular among enthusiasts for the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought battleships was “We want eight, and we won’t wait”. Over a hundred years later, the number of the Navy's Successor SSBN’s is unlikely to be an issue in the 2015 election, let alone be the cause of a slogan – what would it be - “Three or four, but certainly no more”, perhaps?

As for CASD, it’s probably egotistical even for a blogger to quote himself, but this is what I said last time, and nothing I’ve read since makes me want to revise it yet:
My guess is that at some point in the future a Conservative or Labour National Security Council, or some ministerial subset of it, will meet to decide whether to order the third and fourth Successor submarines. They will know things that we don’t, like the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum and the extent of the recovery of the UK economy, and many things we probably never will, like the maintenance requirements of PWR3. One can imagine that if extensive analysis by the RN and the Ministry of Defence shows that CASD can be maintained for a very high proportion of the Trident Successor in-service life (ie to the fifth or sixth decade of this century) with three submarines, there might be reluctance to order a fourth. However, if the fourth Successor makes the difference between sustainable CASD and any of the alternative postures identified so far, it would have to be a group of politicians with a high degree of confidence in their ability to manage a crisis who would decide to spend the money on something else.

4 August 2014

Radev Revisited

Two years ago a post appeared here about The Radev Collection: from Pissarro to Picasso at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, an exhibition during the Collection’s 2011-13 UK tour. Now on at the same location is The Radev Show 2, and again visitors can be sure to find something they will like. There was some background to the Collection’s formation in the previous post, so I won’t repeat it here.

Some of the works on show last time have come back to Bath, like Modigliani’s Portrait of Soutine and Jawlensky’s Blaue Strasse c1916 (below, left and right):

Others are having a first showing: Vanessa Bell, Vase, Hat and Flowers, 1910 and a couple of Duncan Grant ceramic table-tops c 1950 (below, top and lower):

One of the originators of the Collection was Eardley Knollys, co-partner in the Storan Gallery in the inter-war period. Two pictures now in the Tate Gallery which were purchased from the Storan originally have been leant for this show, Maurice Utrillo’s Eglise de St Hilaire (Church at St Hilaire, c 1911, below left) and Chaïm Soutine’s La Route de la colline (Vence) (The Road up the Hill, c1924, below right):

However, as in 2012, most of the works in the exhibition are by British artists (more Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis!) and, as I said then, “Anyone interested in British 20th century art should try to see it” – again, possibly. The Radev Show 2 ends on 31 August. There might be a clue as to why the Radev Collection has returned to Bath towards the end of this post.

3 August 2014

By their tweets …

On 31 July the new UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond gave his first newspaper interview to the Sunday Telegraph which reported his remarks on 3 August, concentrating on the situation in Gaza. Notably:
“The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed — and we [the UK government] agree with them.”
He was also quoted as saying that:
The British public is “deeply disturbed” by the suffering of the people of Gaza …
Judging by some of the heated remarks on the normally calm parts of Twitter which I follow, he is probably right, and not just the British public. Perhaps people are being led into saying things they normally wouldn’t, or are just being careless about what they are saying. I couldn’t help being struck by this tweet (2 August, 16:02), one of many about Israel and Gaza from Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch):

Two questions came into my mind reading this. Firstly, why “know” as opposed to “expect” or “suspect” or “wouldn’t be surprised if”? Secondly, why Shin Bet? This, as far as I understand, is Israel’s internal security service, as opposed to Mossad which operates externally.

Given its formidable reputation, I would be surprised if Mossad wasn’t aware of Mensch: a former Conservative MP retaining a keen interest in UK politics, living in New York with a Jewish husband, and writing a column for a Murdoch newspaper would seem to tick quite a few boxes as a person of interest. 

Her tweets often form part of a dialogue with others which can be combative at times. One of those with a different viewpoint from hers currently about Israel and Gaza is Richard Kemp (@COLRICHARDKEMP) who came up with these two among many others (2 August, 18:36 and 18:42):

“So-called” or “self-styled”? No matter. Kemp is a bit of an international man of mystery to judge from his single-page personal website:

but the website of his book, Attack State Red, is more informative and the description it provides would seem to support this particular point during a later exchange with Mensch:

but to be fair to both parties, their dialogue should be read in full.