What the Papers Say

For many years the broadcasters on radio and later on television have allocated broadcasting space to reviews of the contents of the newspapers.

Holdenforth has thus far distanced itself from this activity but on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, January 9 and 10, the Times and The Daily Mail gave many column inches to accounts of and opinions on three separate but not wholly unrelated stories.

These stories were:

  • The gender pay gap at the BBC.
  • The performance of Mrs May as she sought to refresh her administration.
  • The decline and fall of Mr Toby Young.

The opportunity to comment was too good to miss – so – here goes.

There are, as the saying goes, lessons to be learned from all three stories, although not everyone will have learned the same lessons. As a bonus and given that Holdenforth is both a campaigning blog and a fertile source of suggested remedies for the various problems under discussion – solutions will be put forward  where appropriate.

The gender pay gap at the BBC

“Lawyers advise women on BBC pay row”
“The BBC’s failure to treat women fairly beggars belief” – Giles Whittell
Headlines in The Times – January 9, 2018

“Male BBC stars face salary cuts as equality row flares”
Headline in The Times, January 10, 2018

“The BBC does not exist”
Headline above a piece by Matthew Parris, The Times, January 10, 2018

Well – up to a point, young Matthew.

I suspect that Lord Hall would second this puzzling assertion on the grounds that it might afford temporary relief to his very real and sadly beleaguered organisation.

 “BBC begs Huw to cut £600k pay cut.”
“Radio 4’s Flagship Show imploded in a soggy morass of smuggery”
Daily Mail Headlines on January 9, 2018   

(The last quotation is included not for its topicality but for its relevance.)

This particular spat was triggered by the resignation of Carrie Gracie from her BBC job as its China Editor. The gist of her complaint against the BBC was that it was and is acting in breach of the law which states that equal jobs should receive equal pay.

The problem was by no means a new one and resentment by the fair sex against the other sex had been simmering since the BBC had been required to publish pay bands for its highest paid employees. This information was sufficiently informative to trigger resentment amongst significant numbers of female household names.

This observer was startled only because these household names had been all too ready to pretend to exercise their investigative and forensic skills to expose inequalities around the world but also that they were seemingly unaware of what the man sitting next to her was being paid – considerably more as it turned out.

Options open to the BBC were said to be just two:

  1. Bring the rewards paid to the men down to the rewards paid to the women.
  2. Bring the rewards paid to the women up to the level paid to the men.
  • For obvious reasons the top boys in the BBS were less than enthusiastic about option 1.
  • For equally obvious reasons the ladies were prepared to settle for nothing less than the going rate for the men?

At first glance the solution is obvious – obey the law and pay the same rate for the same work.

Listeners to Radio 4’s flagship Today programme had a field day as the various problems were debated between John Humphrys and a most unhelpful Ms Frostrup who was said to be fuglewoman for the cause of the downtrodden females.

During their lively altercation Carrie Gracie was sitting at the next desk but taking no part in the proceedings.

“Women fume as Humphrys jokes about BBC pay”
Times headline, January 12, 2018

The widespread ineptitude at the BBC has evidently been passed to John Humphrys – during the Today programme in question the following exchange between Mr Humphrys in London and Jon Sopel in America was recorded.

Remember – recorded – not broadcast. Remember also that the feisty Carrie Gracie was sitting next to John Humphrys at the time:

“JH – Oh dear God she’s actually suggested that you should lose money. You know that don’t you?
JS – Yeah I have Yeah.
JH – The idea is I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.
JS Can we have this conversation somewhere else?”

The last comment by the cautious Mr Sopel was a good example of securing the stable door after the horse had bolted.

To get back to the main issue – how might the BBC get out of this fine mess that it has created for itself?

In my capacity as a company manager I had long supposed that the rate for the job was the same regardless of sex.

I vividly recall the question arising around 30 years ago when I queried the situation. The fiery female HR Officer told me – “Don’t even think about it – just pay it.”

Some male chauvinists might argue that for Carrie Gracie to claim pay parity with her male colleagues is rather like Mr XYZ who plays centre-forward for Solihull Motors claiming pay parity with Harry Kane who plays in the same position for Tottenham Hotspur.

One point to note here is that if both players were to be placed on the transfer list then the asking price for Mr Kane would be significantly more than that asked for Mr XYZ.

The same point would apply to the requested salaries for the two players.

There is a clue here as to how the BBC problem might be resolved.

The point to highlight is the anomalous position occupied by BBC in the world of UK, European and Global media businesses. Its highest paid employees – the senior managers and the celebrity stars – are quick to use the need to pay competitive salaries when he argument to do so is convenient.

So far – so good.

These same advocates also stress the admiration in which the BBC is held across the civilised world and the need to preserve the commendable Reithian standards.

It is time that this self-serving balloon was punctured. The BBC is an organisation responsible to no one, and, at the top, full to the brim with the arrogant, the complacent, the elite, and the mediocre.

Matthew Parris in the piece referred to earlier noted that in the BBC “there are endless meetings and a lurking fear of what other meetings might think”. Mr Parris – there is unanimity across the top echelons of the BBC on one key issue – their the readiness to loot the system to their own financial advantage.

The remedy for this confusion could not be simpler – sell the BBC to the highest bidder.

It would then be interesting to see how the pampered mediocrities get on the real world. Its senior managers and its celebrity stars would soon find out just what value the real world placed on their services.

I suspect that a few of them might be able, via their agents, to negotiate reward packages at or close to the present levels.

A closing, clinching argument – The revenue brought in from the sale of the BBC could help provide the funds for the renationalisation of the privatised utilities.

 The May Reshuffle

The big event in No 10 on the first two days of this week – January 9 and 10 – was the eagerly awaited cabinet reshuffle. There had been numerous press briefings telling the hacks that there was to be an infusion of new blood, new energy, new ideas. Out with the old and in with the new.

How it was done in the good old days:

“I particularly remember when (Lord) Derby was asked by Bonar Law to come and see him. After I had shown him in I went back to my room, The bell rang; I went into Bonar’s room and Bonar said – “David, where did you send Derby?“…. I said to Bonar – “Oh Sir –  you thought of offering him the War Office.”
“Oh yes” said Bonar; “Derby -what about the War Office?
Formation of the cabinet of Mr Bonar Law following the Tory win in the 1922 general election. Memoirs of a Conservative by Lord Davidson

Given that nearly a century has elapsed since the above exchanges one might think that the management of the processes of cabinet selection and of cabinet reshuffles would have become rather more efficient.

It would appear from the accounts of what happened earlier this week that if anything things have got worse.

“What happened, what happened – I’m coming to that” – as WH Auden might have said – indeed as WH Auden did say.

The following selection of headlines from The Times and The Daily Mail indicate the disappointment felt in the media at the gap between the glowing prospects held out during the briefings and the understandable reluctance of some of those marked out for the P45 treatment to go quietly.

It should be noted that the quoted comments are from newspapers not noted for their Bolshevik tendencies.

“Greening quits in shambolic reshuffle”
“Defiance and derision greet May’s day of mixed messages”
“Shambolic day for a powerless prime minister” -Rachel Sylvester
Headlines in The Times, January 9, 2018

“Backroom reshuffles can’t save the Tories”
Lord Finkelstein in The Times, January 10, 2018

The last quote would have caused most concern in Tory HQ because Lord F gave cogent reasons why backroom reshuffles “can’t save the Tories.”

“No Prime Minister!”
“On day of reshuffle chaos, Health Secretary turns down new job and May is forced to sack Education Secretary after she refuses to move”
“May sacks Greening after 2-hour stand off”
“Education Secretary snubbed new cabinet job in clash at No 10”
“But “Unsackable” Hunt defies PM to stay in charge at Health”
Daily Mail headlines, January 9, 2018

The Daily Mail headlines do not suggest that the planned changes had proceeded smoothly and the accompanying reports simply  bruised the flesh on the already bruised bones of the May administration.

The obvious point was made that if Mrs May is unable to manage her own cabinet – and clearly she can’t –  then how she can be trusted to grapple with rather more urgent and serious matters – like Brexit.

“How Theresa’s showdown with Justine turned ugly”
Andrew Pierce, January 10, 2018

The master plan ahead of the meeting between Mrs May and Ms Greening had been to move Ms Greening from Education to Welfare. According to well-informed sources the meeting was ill tempered but the key outcome was that Ms Greening opted to leave the cabinet rather than be moved.

She was said (by the well informed sources) to be furious at being fingered by the No 10 briefers as a contributory factor in the abysmal Tory performance in 2017 election. She did not take kindly to being described as “dead wood” – and who shall blame her.  After saying something along the lines of – you can stick welfare up your  **** – but I wasn’t there and can only conjecture as to her actual words  – out she flounced, looking suitably aggrieved.

Deborah Ross in her Times column on January 10 wrote about the case to raise funds for “the middle aged white men that are the victims of something that didn’t actually happen nonetheless and may be crouched under a table at the Garrick, hoping that this this will all go away, even though it never came.” Trust the acerbic Ms Ross to kick a man when he is down even though he is not actually down.

Reflections on this latest shambles:

  1. Yet further evidence of a Government on its last legs. In my previous blog I opined that Mrs May will not be in No 10 come the end of March.
  2. Meanwhile I suggest that Mrs May seeks the advice of Lord Sugar about the most efficient way of dispensing with the services of those deemed surplus to requirements. I gather that Lord Sugar is commendably crisp in handing out P45s. Get him in, get his advice, and next time – if there is next time – follow it.

 The decline and fall of Toby Young

As with the previous two stories I will get the show on the road via a few headlines:

“Knives out for disgraced Young over role at free schools charity”
The Times, January 10, 2018

One of the knives was inserted by Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the national Education Union, who said that “now his repugnant views were in the open, Mr Young’s role as director of the New Schools Network must be in doubt.”

“Fury as hypocritical Labour MPs force Toby Young to resign”
Daily Mail, January 10, 2018

Mr Young resigned from the board of the Office for Students (OfS) following a furore over inappropriate remarks he made several years ago.

Sadly the main cause of the peevish comments in The Mail was that his critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party had not been equally critical of colleagues in the Labour Party who had been exposed for carrying out similar unseemly activities.

For me the only point to be made here is that politicians from all parties have a long record of selective indignation – evidently it goes with the job.

“Why chumps like my friend Toby should get a second chance”
Headline above a piece in the
Daily Mail by Sarah Vine, by chance the wife of Michael Gove, a close friend and stout defender of Mr Young, January 10, 2018

The gist of the story

  1. Toby Young was recently appointed to a nice little earner on the board of the OfS.
  2. It belatedly appeared that Mr Young had been in the habit of sending out Twitter messages that some might consider as verging on the indelicate.

The Times published a small sample of his tweets, one of which read as follows.

“Referring to a publicity shot of himself with Padma lakshmi, fellow judge on US TV show Top Chef who he appeared to be touching, he said:-

-Actually, mate, I had my d**k up her a**e -”

We can all decide for ourselves if we consider the writer of pithy little tales like this and hundreds more is just a chump and that he should be given a second chance.

What do you think?

  1. My Young was initially inclined to tough it out – but it soon appeared that he was fighting a losing battle.
  2. He fell on his sword in the full glare of the media lights.

The publication date of the most recent edition of Private Eye magazine was too late to include the news about Mr Young’s resignation. It did, however, publish a piece about Toby Young which dwelt at some length on other aspects of his career. Friends of Young (including Messrs Gove and Johnson) had emphasized his passion to improve education standards in schools, a passion which he had pursued tirelessly in recent years.

Private Eye drew attention to the fact that Toby Young had done very nicely from his activities with New Schools Network, a charity that promotes academies and free schools and relies heavily on government funding.

Now – we are getting warm.

Last year I wrote a blog about the pros – not many – and cons – no shortage – of academies. At one point I wrote the following:

“Let me speculate about the probable consequences of a mass transfer of schools from Local Authority control to management by super heads. I predict that  the teaching profession will be invaded by a Tsunami of Arthur Daleys masquerading as pedagogues, but  in reality in hot pursuit of a quick buck, the sort of quick buck easily acquired by those familiar with the no mans land of the public – private sector, a world where the public funds the business and the private operators  scoop up the profits, if any. We are looking at an educational version of the City of London populated and run by spivs for spivs, all avid for frenetic activity in the business of mergers and acquisitions.

“More prosaically my concerns about this switch to academies centre on the following points.

1.Arrangements have been in place for many years whereby the control of schools rests with democratically elected local authorities.

“My contention is that to the extent that these bodies are failing to discharge their responsibilities then the public has the means to take effective actions.

  1. My main concern is that this transition to academies will divert the attention of Head Teachers away from the core task of providing the best possible education for all pupils to one of casting about for ways of maximising their own  reward packages.

“In short I see a replay of the squalid farce that has been enacted in Higher Education with the shameless looting by Vice Chancellors of the unguarded public funds.

“I see a significant number of Academy CEOs plunging into wholly unnecessary restructuring in order to line their pockets at the expense of pupils and of the public.

  1. I would go further and predict that if the dash to academies wins out, in a few years time the standard of education will suffer a further decline, a decline that is wholly avoidable.”

Unlike Toby Young with his unseemly tweets, I would not retract or redact of what I wrote about academy schools.

It is wholly apposite that the two most prominent defenders of Toby Young are the GOBO (GOveBOris), the Guilty Men of the Brexit farce.

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The Prospects for Brexit in 2018

 

“The idea that Brexit can be stopped is a dangerous delusion that ignores the continuing revolt against political elites.”

Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, 3 January 2018

 

My text for today is the excellent article by Lord Finkelstein published on January 3. As always with Lord F his piece is infuriatingly plausible and irritatingly reasonable. I doubt if the case for accepting the result of the referendum could be put more persuasively. And yet I still take the view that the out decision should be reversed although I am far from clear as to how this might be achieved.

 

The key point of his article is not that there is no possibility that the ‘out’ decision is irreversible and he concedes that a way might be found to achieve precisely this objective. The thrust of his article is that that if this were to happen- “ the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge. Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public clamour (which is incredibly unlikely) millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment.”

 

Well – only up to a point, Lord F.

 

Lord Finkelstein compares and contrasts the stance of Lord Adonis with regard to reversing the ‘out’ outcome with his own stance. He readily concedes that on the merits of the case he and Lord A are as one.

 

“Where we part company, rather sharply, is the idea that there is no self mutilation  involved in parliament overwhelmingly voting in favour of a referendum, telling voters it would implement the decision and then deciding not to.”

 

On the following day Tony Blair was asked by John Humphreys about how the various forces that were said to be gathering momentum (sorry about using that bad word) to reverse the ‘out’ outcome. The old maestro was in splendid form as Aggro Humphreys tried and failed to pin him down. Was this outcome an indication of the waning powers of Mr Humphreys, a confirmation of what we all knew and still know, namely that TB remains a very bright star in the political firmament, or, quite possibly, evidence that the electorate is becoming increasingly mindful that it got it wrong back in June 2016?

 

Most likely – a combination of all three factors.

 

A brief reminder of how we got ourselves in this fine mess or to be precise, how we were landed in this fine mess and who got us into it. 

 

The gist of how we got to where we are can be succinctly stated.

 

1. David Cameron, faced with the prospect of being outflanked by UKIP, foolishly decided to resolve the long festering in/out sore, by making an in-out referendum a key element of the Conservative party manifesto prior to the  2015 general election.

 

2. He added significantly to the rashness of his decision by banking on the previously declared support of Boris Johnson that the UK should remain in the EU.  What can one say about the judgement of a prime minister capable of such a gross error of judgement?

 

3. Cameron realised soon enough that he had miscalculated as the in-out campaign got under way, and Boris, sensing his opportunity, threw all his considerable talent for mendacity to campaign for an ‘out’ outcome.

 

4. Cameron put his party before his country in agreeing to the referendum.

 

4. Cameron paid in full for his errors, the outs had it, and he promptly resigned.

 

5. In the ensuing campaign to succeed him as Tory leader and, more importantly, as our PM, Boris was mortified – to his chagrin and to the huge delight of many opponents and neutrals – by the predictable treachery of Mr Gove. Well, it takes one to know one. It is worth noting that Boris put the interests of Boris ahead of the interests of the Tory Party and of the Country and no one should have been surprised by this flexibility.

 

6. The Tory faithful then gave the bum’s rush to Mr Gove and Mrs May strode through the gap that had opened up to become our PM. The trivial fact that she had previously been a cautious advocate of remaining in Europe was obviously not going to prevent her from seizing this fortuitous main chance.

 

7. Mrs May proceeded to make a hash of everything she attempted in her new role as Prime Minister, culminating in her decision to call a general election in June, 2017. The flighty electorate seized its chance to issue a comeuppance to her and duly did so. (Note – a sure sign of a desperate Brexiteer is one who asserts that Mrs May won the June 2017 election.)

 

And so, what might be termed the gist of the gist of the above:

 

1. David Cameron made two foolish errors and paid the price for his folly in full.

 

2. The dynamic duo – Gove and Johnson – let us refer to them as GOBO – failed to win the approval of the Tory faithful in the ensuing beauty contest.

 

3. Mrs May emerged initially as the winner, but since her “victory” has continued to dig herself deeper and deeper into trouble

 

Lord Finkelstein argues, under the flimsiest of democratic pleas, that the rest of us should accept the consequences of this lamentable catalogue of deplorable opportunism, errors and failures executed by a tiny group of shady, shabby, wholly discredited Tory chancers.

 

I have been a consistent supporter of the European Union for many years. For the reasons noted earlier I opposed the whole idea of resolving the issue via a referendum. I don’t believe in keeping a dog and doing your own barking.  I was dismayed by the outcome but not surprised by the slippery behaviour of GOBO.

 

If the situation changes – so should you

 

“In the course of time as circumstances change and the issues are altered we may find it necessary to change some part of the programme; that will not be because we thought the programme was wrong but just because it might be readjusted to changing conditions. You know, comrades, to change programmes is not an admission or error, other all history would be a series of confessionals.”

Aneurin Bevan, speech to the Labour Party Conference in 1959.

 

“Fuck Dacre”

A shrewd comment taken from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was talking about a different Dacre – to be precise he was referring to Hugh Trevor Roper – but what of it – his pithy dismissal  applies even more so to Dacre of The Daily Mail 

 

 Is it being undemocratic to seek to reverse the ‘out’ outcome?

 

Not at all and here is why.

 

I see what is happening via Brexit as a national disaster and it would absurd to proceed given the basis on which on which the referendum was conceived and how the largely uncertain pros and cons were presented to a bemused electorate, irresponsibly deceived and stampeded by GOBO. 

 

The old military maxim – do not reinforce failure – is of relevance here. 

 

“Why a second referendum is a lost cause”

Headline above a column by Philip Collins, The Times January 5, 2018 

 

Mr Collins simply plays Little Sir Echo to the points made previously in The Times by Lord Finkelstein. At one point Mr Collins notes that “back in the day (when Mr Blair was PM) the brains who powered the Labour party made up the most formidable electoral team in modern political history”. Collins is quite right to make this point – Blair was the most accomplished harvester of voters in modern times. Collins was also uncharacteristically shy when he omitted his own key role in this formidably electoral team.

 

In the long years since the departure of Tony Blair from No 10, Collins has contented himself with writing columns of quite startling blandness for The Times. Might he be persuaded to resume his former career as a mouthpiece for Blair? Once a pen for sale – always a pen for sale.

 

“Humphrys mauls Blair over call for new EU poll”

James Groves, Daily Mail, January 5, 2018

 

Well – James Groves would say that, wouldn’t he?

 

“Lies, damned lies and Blair on Brexit”

Headline above Daily Mail editorial, January 5, 2018 

 

Well – the Daily Mail leader writer would write that, wouldn’t he/she?

 

No surprises there.

 

Whither Brexit — Key points to consider. 

 

1. Brexit is the only political show in town – all other political issues are being relegated to the sidelines. Please note that a major reshuffle at the top of HMG  is rumoured to be in prospect. P 45s for some cabinet ministers are said to have been made out and are ready to the aforesaid cabinet ministers – – so be it. (See the stop press for an update here. )

 

Meanwhile…

NHS said to be in chaos – for now – just give Mr Hunt a good kicking.

.

Sanity of Mr Trump is questioned – nothing new there. Actually there is something new here – see later notes.

 

Rail transport in the home counties remains in chaos – for now – give Mr Grayling a good kicking. 

 

And so it goes on, with all issues other than Brexit being relegated to back burner status. 

 

 2. All the self proclaimed insiders are united on one point – HMG is in chaos as it tries to pick its way through the tangle that is Brexit

 

As one blogger wrote – 

 

“To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

 

Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.”

 

 3.  Parliamentary arithmetic

 

“Eleven Conservative MPs led by Dominic Grieve QC collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and other opposition parties to demand that they rather than Theresa May should approve or block our withdrawal from the EU.”

Quentin Letts. Daily Mail, December 15, 2017 

 

The eleven rebels were duly Dacred – or, if you prefer, vilified, by Dacre and his underlings, an outcome which cannot have surprised them.

 

“This country has long grown used to Lord Heseltine’s love affair with the EU. But when the 84 year old grandee suggests Brexit would do more damage than a Corbyn led government, it is surely time to summon the men in white coats.”

Daily Mail micro editorial, December 27, 2017 

 

Lord Heseltine would have known that he was setting himself up to be Dacred and he was right and he was duly Dacred.

 

However this particular gem raised the same issue as that currently being raised about Mr Trump – is he losing the plot.? (Note in the case of Mr Trump – the answer is -yes!)

 

“May rift with Davis as he admits Brexit might not happen”

Mail on Sunday headline, December 31, 2017 

 

This headline from the Daily Mail’s stable mate paper gave further evidence that all is not well at the top of HMG.

 

Mr Davis has been showing signs of strain as he attempts a task comparable to all the labours of Hercules. It would not be surprising if in an unguarded moment he let slip his view that Brexit was by no means the foregone conclusion demanded and predicted by Mrs May.

 

And so it goes on a daily basis as we, the public, anxiously scan the print media and listen to the broadcasters for developments on  the Brexit – who has gone over to the Remain cause? Who is rumoured to be about to switch sides? It is all enthralling entertaining stuff.

 

 A few prosaic Brexit points

 

* The May government is sustained only with the support of the DUP – a shaky flaky foundation.

 

* There are growing signs of restiveness within the Tory ranks as the unfortunate combination of ineptitude and friction at the top of HMG becomes more evident by the day.

 

* What about Mr Corbyn – said by many to be shrewdly keeping his powder dry and relying on Mrs May to dig not only her own political grave but also that of the lame Tory government? The critics of Mr Corbyn – he has his share, including, of course, Paul Dacre – have suggested that he has taken this approach too far and that his impersonation of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up has been rather overdone and needs to be replaced by something rather more positive. (Shadow Cabinet – please note.)

 

 A slight digression – a word about the delicate situation within the Parliamentary Labour Party

 

Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude their arrival in No 10.

 

How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?

 

I can only guess at the reason(s)  for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible three would simply represent more of the same and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option. 

 

This raises the question – how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led. Just as the great majority of Labour MPS had no  confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, so, or so it would appear,  the great majority of Labour Party members  had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

 

It would not be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them  with the same number of pliable tranquil equable members.

 

Over to you Mr Corbyn.

 

What next? 

 

I am mindful that the UK political pundits collectively have a dismal track record in terms of their ability to make accurate forecasts of the outcomes of recent appeals to the electorate. Additionally and significantly the judgements of Mr Cameron and Mrs May have been notably way off the mark.

 

If the professionals can and do get it so badly wrong – what chance have I got?

 

In any event – here goes.

 

Possible outcomes include:-

 

Mrs May stays in No 10 until 2022 – her preferred outcome. The bookies are currently quoting roughly evens as the odds of Mrs May still being in office by the end of 2018.

 

Mrs May opts for another election – this is the least likely outcome given how badly she got it wrong last time.

 

Mrs May loses a vote of confidence triggering a general electionThis is by far the likeliest outcome given the continuing  of loss of support for Mrs May from within her own party, together with the jumping ship of key current Brexiteers as they realise that the game is up.

 

So – where does Holdenforth stand?

 

I predict that:-

 

* The lack of any alternative candidates perceived as being able to implement Brexit is the ONLY factor that is now sustaining  Mrs May in office.

 

* Mrs May will lose a vote of confidence.

 

* This will happen no later than the middle of 2018 and probably within the next 2 or 3 months given the steady draining away of support for her. 

 

* This event  will trigger her departure from No 10.

 

* The resulting leadership contest will end with – you tell me – in No 10. 

 

* The ensuing general election will be fought solely on the Brexit issue.

 

*  A  new political group will emerge Phoenix like from the ashes of Brexit to despatch Brexit into the dustbin of history where it belongs.

 

 Stop Press items from your oracular blogger –  January 7

 

 May set to axe “pale and stale” Ministers

Mail on Sunday headline. January 7, 2018

 

A senior government source said ”Theresa understands that, when voters look at her government, they see a lot of stale, male and pale Ministers who are on the wrong side of 50. She will be promoting more women and those from non-white backgrounds and there will be more of an emphasis on youth.

From the same Mail on Sunday report

 

So – the pale stale male aged Ministers are being lined up as fall guys – and why not?

 

Mr Marr grills Mrs May on “The Andrew Marr Show” – January 7.

 

I gave this one a miss on the grounds that Mrs May might have taken a leaf out of Marr’s book and taken out an injunction banning the raising by him of awkward questions.  

 

You never know these days.

 

 A gem from the Mail on Sunday on which to finish.

 

“ Wilson’s spin doctor: One of us must be a liar. You’ll have to judge who.”

Headline above a piece by Joe Haines in the Mail on Sunday,  January 7, 2018 

 

The issue in question refers to disputed authorship of the notorious Lavender List which surfaced after the resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976.

 

Joe Haines, one time press secretary for Harold Wilson, points the finger at Marcia Williams. Those of us with long memories will recall that Joe Haines wrote a hagiography of the portly pilferer, Robert Maxwell after leaving Number 10.

 

Like Andrew Marr – Joe Haines has form.

 

As Mr Richard Littlejohn might put it – you couldn’t make it up.

 

Image courtesy of BBC

 

The Prospects for Brexel 2: A Second Brexit Election

Brexel 1 – My term for the general election called by Mrs May in June 2017. Her sole reason for calling Brexel 1 was to strengthen her negotiating position with the other 27 EU countries – an objective which she failed by a wide margin to achieve.

Brexel 2 – My term for the forthcoming General Election which will be fought mainly on the painfully protracted pros and cons of Brexit.

Those arguing for the latter will be seeking to reverse the outcome of the in/out referendum held in June 2016.

Let me declare an interest at the outset – I remain a committed Remainer. My devotion to the Remainer cause grows stronger with every development and revelation.

Two other definitions:

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.

Mexit – My term for the likely departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of January, 2018

“Not another one” – A lament from Brenda – from Bristol – on hearing that Mrs May, bolstered by her walk in the Welsh Hills, had called for a general election on June 8th.

My dear Brenda from Bristol – I’m afraid that the events which triggered your exasperation back in June, 2017 are about to be repeated and that another general election will be called in the very near future.

“They (the Labour Party) can be the party for overturning the referendum altogether… Or they can let the government have its way. There are no other options.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, December 6, 2017

I am not sure that Lord Finkelstein is right in his clear short list of options for the Labour party. However I hope that the Labour Party DOES opt to reverse the June 23, 2016 referendum and that the Labour Party wins the Brexel 2 election.

A stroll down memory lane – Notes on the turbulent 2 years from the 2015 general election to the June, 2017 general election

General Election held in June 2015:- The Conservatives managed to shake off the shackles that had tied them to the Lib Dems and secure a narrow but perfectly workable overall majority over all the other parties combined.  A happy day for David Cameron.

The only cloud on the horizon – soon to become a typhoon – was his rash but firm promise to hold a referendum on the UK membership of the EU.

Two immediate casualties of the Tory win were the departures of Mr Miliband (E) and Mr Clegg from their jobs as the leaders of the Labour party and of the Liberal Democrats respectively.

September, 2015 – In the election held to determine the replacement for Mr Miliband (E) – Mr Corbyn won by a large margin, securing around 60% of the votes cast, with the remaining 40% shared between Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall. Given that Mr Corbyn only made it onto the list of candidates because of a capricious decision by some senior Labour figures – who ought to have known better – to make the contest more diverse and more interesting – this was a truly astonishing outcome.

June 23, 2016 — The date of the in-out referendum – another startling result – a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU – consternation and recriminations all round.

The main casualty here was Mr Cameron himself – he resigned immediately, thus triggering an election for a new leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, a new prime minister.

There followed a few weeks of entertaining farce the highlight of which was the knifing of BOJO by Michael Gove – oh joy unbounded. Mr Gove came a poor third in the first ballot thus demonstrating the shrewd judgement of the Tory electorate. There was a further confused interval in which Mrs Leadsom fell by the wayside after suggesting that maternity should be an essential qualification for a woman Prime Minister.

The thought occurred to me that, according to this novel criterion in the election process, my mother, and the mother of my 8 siblings would have been admirably qualified for a leadership role – but I digress.

September, 2016 – Meanwhile Labour MPs were far too pre-occupied with their own problems to worry about the internal and national and international problems afflicting the Tory party.

Mr Corbyn had not managed to win the hearts and minds of the Parliamentary Labour Party and accordingly enough pressure built up to force a second leadership election on the grounds that there was a widespread lack of confidence in his performance. JC was judged to be a decent enough chap but sadly it was felt that under his leadership the Labour Party was unelectable.

It was unfortunate that the MP who stood against him, Owen Smith, had recently been rejected by the electorate as the Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent – one of the safest labour seats in Westminster.

Obviously Mr Smith had relevant painful first hand experience about who is and who is not electable.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons Mr Corbyn scored a second overwhelming majority.

November, 2016 – yet another surprising outcome from the democratic process, this time with global implications and repercussions – Mr Trump was elected President USA – as if the world did not have enough problems. Mr Trump is currently arranging for the US embassy in Israel to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a change that has not won universal approval in the Arab world, or indeed anywhere else on the globe.

April 17, 2017 – I recall that I went walking in the Welsh hills and that my feelings were limited to jubilation when I made it to the top of Waun Rhyd.

April 18, 2017 – Mrs May was and is made of sterner stuff. After her walk in the Welsh hills at around the same time she announced that there would be a General Election on June 8. She explained her decision to renege on her previous resolve not hold an election because it was important to demonstrate to our EU partners that we were as one in our collective resolve to make our own way in the political life to come.
Given the importance of the Brexit issue throughout the campaign I referred to the election as the Brexel election – there is much fun to be had by manipulating those 4 letters – BREX.

April 18 to June 8 – A protracted election campaign which to a considerable degree centred on the extent to which the Tories would increase the slender but adequate lead – to be precise 17 – secured by Mr Cameron just 12 months previously.

My own prediction of the result was based on what the bookmakers were predicting – after all what do I know? The bookies were predicting not the outcome that I hoped for but the outcome that I dreaded – a Tory majority of around 90 seats over all other parties combined.

It is worth repeating the gist of the various forecasts and of the possible consequences of each forecast.

Those with long memories will recall that the Tory Brexel strategy was excessively focused on the alleged strengths of Mrs May and the perceived fragility of Mr Corbyn.

Firstly, if the Tory majority was actually diminished, the consensus was that (a) Mrs May would resign immediately and that (b) Jeremy Corbyn would be very secure in his position as Labour leader.

If the Tories secured a majority of, say, 18-40, then a weakened Mrs May would solider on (Corbyn again secure); 41-75, and May’s decision to go to the polls is justified, while Corbyn might cling on; 76 and above (the outcome predicted by the bookmakers with 12 hours to go before the election) would have represented a ringing endorsement for May, and a P45 for Corbyn.

June 8, 2017 – The Brexel/ Brexit General Election – a very significant day in the political history of the UK.

“What happened, what happened, I’m coming to that”
The Witnesses – WH Auden

Mrs May lost her majority and her authority was significantly eroded.

Mr Corbyn was and remains understandably jubilant.

Some – not all – Tory party knives were out for Mrs May.

Many Labour MPs who were hoping to see the back of Corbyn were both wrong footed and crestfallen by actual outcome.

A BBC documentary – “Labour – the summer that changed everything”- recently reported on the confusion within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the likely consequences of the actual outcome sank in. Cue for a mass switch by Labour Party MPs as they grasped the implications for themselves of the outcome.

The programme makes for highly entertaining and rewarding viewing and I can recommend it – via Youtube.

I was very pleased about the outcome but rattled about my inability to sense the change in the public mood – I had gloomily albeit confidently anticipated that the Bookies would get it right.

I suspect that Paddy Power and William Hill et al will in future stick with the outcomes of rather more rational and predictable matters – the Bookmaker business model allows zero scope for losses.

Notes on the even more turbulent 6 months from June 9 to date

In the immediate aftermath of Brexel 1 – a shaky understanding was arrived at with the DUP – not a coalition – in order to enable Mrs May to stay in No 10. This shaky understanding was adequately lubricated with a large bribe from a government that had been previously stressing the need for austerity and belt tightening.

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG since the arrival in No 10 of Mrs May in June 2016 can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

Another eff word suggested itself but the decencies must be observed.

What about Mrs May?

“We have the weakest PM in living memory
The time has come to acknowledge that Theresa May is unsuited to leadership and must be replaced urgently
Headlines above a piece by Iain Martin, The Times, December 7, 2017

Mr Martin was less than well disposed towards Mrs May and he explained his views in a thousand well chosen words.

Sadly his piece descended into bathos in his last paragraph – “ whether the job falls to Michael Gove or Amber Rudd or Boris Johnson, the key figures need to meet immediately … to agree on a replacement.”

This somewhat implausible suggestion raises the question – did Mr Martin get this fairy tale from GOBO?

So – what happens next? – Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

At some early date a sufficient number of Tory MPs – a dozen or so will do the trick – may decide that they can’t take any more, and trigger a confidence vote which would be lost thus precipitating a General Election.

Or, Mrs May – no one else – decides that attack is the best form of defence and calls a General Election. Her persuasive logic here would be that Brexel 2 would be rather more about issues – to be precise about Brexit – and rather less about strong and stable leadership as was the case with Brexel 1

What outcomes do I want :- In no special order –

A coalition to be formed comprising all those whose over-riding political objective is to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

In terms of practical politics – I hope and suspect that this coalition will consist of a Labour Party that will have undergone a dramatic conversion similar to that experienced by St Paul en route from Jerusalem to Damascus – Jericho, together with all the Lib Dems, the SNP and a significant number of Tories weary of the Brexit fiasco.

A brief digression.

“Brexit tribes are tearing our country in two- The lazy labels of “Remainer” and “Leaver” are stifling debate and spreading hateful stereotypes”
Headline above a piece by Clare Foges The Times December 4

Ms Foges castigates those responsible for creating a tetchy climate of mutual antagonism rather than rational exchanges of views.

At one point she noted that “Remainers are cast as the metropolitan elite ( I live in the suburbs of Pontypool), the ones drinking stupidly expensive coffee – (I never drink coffee) – who are to be found campaigning for transgender toilets – not a topic when I was in my prime many years ago – and – so on and so on.

My failure to fit in to any of the various alleged attributes of the Remainer tribe caused me to worry – albeit briefly – if I am in the wrong tribe.

Back to a plausible manifesto for the Remainers in the forthcoming Brexel 2
A selection along the following lines should do the trick
1.1 – The UK to stay in Europe. After the Brexit election has been won – back to Business as Usual.  All other electoral issues pale into insignificance by comparison.
1.2. Nationalise the utilities. This proposal has nothing to do with the ideology of Karl Marx and everything to do with restraining the avarice of senior managers as they ruthlessly exploit their monopoly and near monopoly positions in the national economy.
1.3 – Tax rates for the rich to soar way above the modest 50% suggested by Mr McDonnell. The logic behind this proposal is to encourage those on the highest incomes to spend a little more time on the work that they are paid to do and a little less time on looting the system – Vice Chancellors – please note – we know where you live.
1.4. For senior managers in the financial sector – bring in other measures over and above increasing the top rate of tax. These other measures to end the payment of bonus elements designed by themselves and their cronies. The principal reward element to be that senior managers get to keep their jobs if it can be demonstrated that their performance is up to the required standard.
1.5. “The Winner’s Shout, the losers curse/Dance before dead England’s hearse.
William Blake -”Auguries of Innocence
It is bad enough being poor, bad enough not having a secure job, bad enough having no access to affordable housing without the exposure to the vultures looking to loot the most vulnerable in our society. There are plenty more opportunities to put some flesh on the bones of Mr Corbyn’s wish to govern for the many not the few but these will suffice for now.

Mr Corbyn – what has he been up to in the past six months.
* Wisely keeping his head down and his powder dry
* Ongoing abuse from Messrs Dacre and Murdoch – no surprise there
* Possibly relishing the discomfort of those in the party who had sought his departure.

A brief Corbyn digression

Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude arrival in No 10. How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?

I can only guess at the reason(s) for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible 3 would simply represent more of the same and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option.

This raises the question – how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led.

Just as the great majority of Labour MPS had no confidence in JC, so, or so it would appear, the great majority of Labour Party members had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

It would not be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them with the same number of pliable tranquil equable members.

A Situation Report as of December 2017

According to some reports
* Labour lead the Tories at the polls
* Remainers lead brexiteers in the polls, especially among the young
* Most MPs would reverse the outcome of the June 2016 if the opportunity to do so were to arise. Well I have news for them – that opportunity may well be imminent.
* The most accomplished harvester of votes in modern times is said to be preparing to re-enter the political arena to support our continued membership of the EU.  MY ACE TO BE TONY BLAIR.

Dec14, 2017

Stop press – The Roller Coaster effect
1. Mrs May returns triumphant from Brussels – a worthy successor to the Iron Lady

2. Whoops – we spoke too soon –
“Eleven egotists and act of sheer treachery
Headline above a Daily Mail editorial – December 14.
It seems a bit over the top to compare the eleven rebels to Mr Quisling and Lord Haw Haw but, as noted, we are living in turbulent times.

3. What about an election slogan for the remainers in the Brexel 2 contest that is just around the corner
How about – from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch – F*** Dacre

Further Developments in Brexit and Towards Mexit

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
Mexit – My term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017.

In this piece I have combined my thoughts on the prospects for Brexit with my thoughts on the prospects for Mrs May based on recent developments in both areas.
At the end of the piece I ask myself – have these developments advanced or retarded the Brexit case, and, on a lighter note – what have they done for the prospects of Mrs May?

Let me declare an interest at the outset – I remain a committed Remainer. My devotion to the Remainer cause grows stronger with every development and revelation.

“At present, and until something turns up …… I have nothing to bestow but advice.” Thus – Mr Micawber to David Copperfield; thus – the various advisers to Mrs May.

“The best we can do on Brexit is play for time.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, October 18, 2017

Is this not also the strategy of the Remain camp? Both camps can’t be right – or can they?

What has happened in the past two months or so?

Development include – but are by no means not restricted to – the following items:

1. What have BOJO and Gove been up to?

“Brexit’s arch plotters care only for themselves… A British mother locked up in Iran is the victim of a divided government and the manoeuvrings of Boris and Gove.”
Headlines above a piece by Rachel Sylvester, The Times, November 14, 2017

“Merlot Memo to save Brexit — How they (Bojo and Gove) buried the hatchet to take on Hammond – Former rivals warned PM to ignore Cabinet Bremoaners like Hammond”
Headlines in the Daily Mail on November 13, 2017

The emergence of Bojo and Gove as the key Brexit political warriors – let us refer to them as BoVe given their recent peace accord – has been a notable development.
Those who follow these matters in the media – an ever increasing number – will recall that that it is barely 18 months ago that Gove buried his hatchet in the unprotected breast of Bojo, causing Bojo to retire from the leadership fray.  The recent love in between the two is a startling U- turn even by the more relaxed standards of the 21st century.

We live in turbulent times as allegiances are switched to secure perceived personal advantages.

2. The real Brexit Battlefield.

The synthetic Brexit battle is being played out within the Westminster village. The real battle is being contested in Brussels between the UK’s David Davis and his counterpart from the EU, Mr Barnier.

Mr Davis continues to soldier on forlornly in his capacity as the representative of HMG against the formidable odds posed by the massed ranks of the other 27 EU countries. This latter group are more or less united in their resolve that the departing UK will end up as a chastened saddened solitary political has been – and who shall blame them for adopting this censorious approach?

Brusque handshakes are exchanged at the end of each negotiating session but this observer gets the feeling that Mr Davis would prefer to have his hands around the throat of Mr Barnier rather than the limp handshake masquerading as a symbol of friendship.

3. Some encouraging developments – at least to this Remainer.

“We don’t have to leave the EU, says Article 50 author —- Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.
The public is being “misled” by politicians who claim that Britain’s decision cannot be reversed, the diplomat who helped draft Article 50 has said. “
The Times November 10, 2017.

The key sentence in the report underneath the headline noted that “Britain could unilaterally withdraw from the (Brexit) process at any time —— the Prime Ministers Article was only a notification of the Uks intention to withdraw from the EU. Intentions can and do change.” So far – so very good.

On the debit side, Lord Kerr is notably shy as to how this possible change of heart might be achieved politically.  It is also unfortunate that the contribution from Lord Kerr is from the House of Lords, possibly the most undemocratic political institution in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.

Well – this Remainer will accept help from any source – cf Churchill extending the hand of friendship, albeit just for the duration of the Second World War, to Marshall Stalin in 1941.

4. Support for the Remain cause from Goldman Sachs

“Anger as Goldman (Sachs) demands a second poll”
Daily Mail, November 17, 2017

The Daily Mail got predictably worked up about the anxiety voiced by Mr Lloyd Blankfein reference the outcome of the 2016 in/out referendum. Mr Blankfein also asked for a second Brexit referendum – “so much at stake – why not make sure consensus is still there?”

“In Goldman Sachs we trust” was an ironical chapter heading in “The Great Crash” by Professor JK Galbraith. Not everyone trusted Goldman Sachs in the 1930s and the company has never enjoyed anything approaching widespread confidence. Down the years Goldman Sachs has been mostly noted for its ability to secure wealth for its managers approaching that of King Croesus.

I will not exactly welcome the intervention of Mr Blankfein but I will go as far as saying that I support his comments.

5. “Anger as head of economic think-tank likens Brexit to Blitz.
A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy”
Daily Mail, October 18, 2017

The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears, but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre. I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.

Notes on some of the fringe developments regarding Brexit and Mexit

1. The emergence of Mrs May as The Hammer of the Reds

Mrs May decided that enough was enough and came out swinging against the Bolshies. All splendid stuff but also a little confusing in that Mr Trump, not normally noted as a model of calm diplomacy, was at the same time displaying commendable charm towards Mr Putin.

A key feature of Mrs May’s criticism of Russia was that it was attempting to erode the Unity of The West. I can’t recall the building from which Mrs May delivered her denunciation, but the Crystal Palace would have been appropriate.

2. The Release of the Paradise Papers.

The press had a field day poring over this gold mine – a suitable term – of damaging material released concerning the largely successful efforts of wealthy people and organisations to locate the most competitive tax rates applicable around the world.
These disclosures were of great value to the Remain cause because it would be far easier to find the weak link in the chain of 27 EU countries than to induce the EU as an institution to reward the global frauds.

3. The plight of the anxious businessmen

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”
Dr Pangloss in “Candide” by Voltaire

Given the unfortunate events in the lives of Pangloss and Candide the reader must have wondered what misfortunes might persuade Dr Pangloss to change his mind.
At one point Mrs May met with a group of businessmen understandably anxious about the extent of the uncertainty looming as Brexit staggers from crisis to farce to crisis. Mrs May was said to have assured the businessmen that all would turn out for the best but they, the businessmen, were not fully persuaded that this would be the outcome.

4. The alleged unseemly sexual misdemeanours in and around Westminster.

How would I know – and – for that matter – how would you know – who did what to who and when?

“You did this to me!” “O no I didn’t!” “Oh yes you did!”

Suffice it to say in the context of Brexit and Mexit – the reported alleged activities are a diversion that Mrs May could do without, and this point applies especially to accusations against cabinet ministers, two of whom – Sir Michael Fallon and, yesterday, Damian Green, have now left their posts as a result. Where will it all end?

5. The Priti – mysterious – Patel affair – the word affair not used here in the sense of unofficial away fixtures in the context of marital commitments.

For me the main point to emerge from this diverting development was that if Mrs May is unaware of which of her cabinet colleagues have been up to what or even where they have been – how on earth can she be so sure about what Mr Putin and his associates have been up to?

The lesson to be learned here is that Mrs May can get herself into all sorts of tangles without the help of Mr. Putin.

So – what next? Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

The outcome for Mrs May lies in the hands of her fellow Tory MPs – at what point will enough of them decide that enough is enough and put in place the arrangements required to hand Mrs May the black spot.

If I were one of these MPs- and thank the Lord I’m not sir – I would ask myself in the time honoured way – what is the best outcome in terms of enabling me to hang on to my hard won coveted political Cushy Number.

And back comes the answer – my chances are better under another leader, even another leader whose sole attraction is that he/she is not Mrs May.

Do Lawyers Have a Cushy Number?

The cushy number has a long and honoured place in the history of mankind. Genesis 2 described the very first cushy numbers arranged by the Lord God for Adam and Eve. They were not required to work, and the only limitation placed upon them in terms of consumption was to give a miss to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Sadly Eve was unable to resist the wiles of the serpent and she, and, a little later, Adam, sampled the forbidden fruit. The Lord God took a very dim view of their offence, and immediately put into effect the relevant disciplinary procedures. By the end of Genesis 3 their cushy number in the Garden of Eden had been cancelled, and our illustrious ancestors became reluctant founder members of the working class.

This article sets out to explore why some jobs are more desirable than others. This immediately raises the question – desirable in terms of what? Desirable in terms of this all important aspect of cushiness.

 Back in 2002 I wrote a book which I entitled A Cushy Number. I was unable to find a publisher – at that time and indeed since then publishers were understandably more concerned to secure the publishing rights for the works of eminent writers such as Mr X and Ms Y – what chance did I have against opposition of this talent?

I did not fail for lack of persistence.  I think that I may have established some sort of record in the number of times that I was told to f***off  and furthermore to stay f***** off. Publishers and Literary Agents are not afraid to come straight to the point.

I eventually placed the book onto the net where it continues to languish in the outer reaches of cyber space. From time to time I get requests from mysterious supplicants in far away places requesting me to furnish them with my bank details to enable them to transmit the huge amounts of cash being held for me as a result of internet sales. I have been advised by those in the know to treat these requests rather like my submissions to publishers were treated – and I have done so.

Back to business. In the book I looked at the features which made for a cushiness in a profession. After careful thought I defined A Cushy Number as a well rewarded sinecure. The word sinecure is defined as an office of profit with no duties. I was  looking for a lot more than an office of profit, although I was quite happy with the absence of duties. I was looking for, indeed I insisted upon, a job which combined the minimum of effort with the maximum of reward.

It must be stressed at the outset that cushy number seekers insist on having both criteria satisfied. They don’t want a demanding well rewarded job although they accept that this would be a step in the right direction. Equally they don’t just want a sinecure. They want a well rewarded sinecure.

In the introductory chapters to the book I examined in some detail the truths and myths surrounding job demand and likewise the truths and myths surrounding job rewards. I looked at the differences and at the (few) similarities between public sector jobs and private sector jobs, and then at the role of nepotism in assessing the cushiness of jobs.

I then subjected a series of professions to the Cushy Number model that I had developed including teachers, doctors, politicians and police men to assess where the truth ended and the myths began, and I came up with a league table of job cushiness.

I now plan – in my dotage – to update my original findings to see which of my conclusions have stood the test of time and which have had to be modified to reflect significant changes.

In this blog entry I present the updated version of the first of my selected professions namely the Legal Profession.

The timing is apposite because the word is that the legal profession is on the brink of a new surge in cushiness as the plethora of opportunities arising from Brexit become manifest.

Do Lawyers Have A Cushy Number?

 “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shall by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing”
Mathew, 5, Verses 25 and 26   

“It is likewise to be observed that this society (lawyers) hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong, so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me or to a stranger three hundred miles off”
Jonathan Swift,
Gulliver’s Travels

“The King ordered that the fine of four hundred ounces of gold to which he had been condemned, be returned to him. The clerk to the court, the ushers, the attorneys came to his house in grand apparel to bring him back his four hundred ounces; they retained only three hundred and ninety eight of them for the costs of justice; and their valets asked for honoraria”
Voltaire.
Zadig

 “And before I go, gentlemen,” said the excited Mr Pickwick, turning round on the landing, “permit me to say that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings -“
“Stay, Sir, stay” interposed Dodson with great politeness. “Mr Jackson, Mr Wicks!“
“Sir” said the two clerks appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
“I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,“ replied Dodson. “Pray go on, sir: – disgraceful and rascally proceedings I think you said?”
“I did” said Mr Pickwick, thoroughly roused. “I said, sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.”
“You hear that, Mr Wickes?” Said Dodson.  “You won’t forget these expressions, Mr Jackson?“ said Fogg.
“Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir” said Dodson. “Pray do so, sir if you feel disposed: now pray do sir.”
“I do” said Mr Pickwick. “You are swindlers.”
“Very good” said Dodson. “You can hear down there, I hope, Mr Wicks?”
“Oh yes, sir” said Mr Wicks.
“You had better come up a step or two higher if you can’t,” added Mr Fogg. “Go on, sir, do go on. You had better call us thieves Sir: – or perhaps you would like to assault one of us. Pray do it, Sir.”
Charles Dickens,
The Pickwick Papers

English Literature, and, doubtless, the literature of other languages, abounds with dire warnings about the hazards in store for those citizens so rash as to get involved in legal proceedings, any legal proceedings. The extracts at the start of this chapter illustrate the views of four sharp observers of the legal scene down the centuries. In the first extract Jesus turns aside from his main themes of setting out the Christian message in his Sermon on the Mount to warn us of the consequences of failing to settle out of court. Over the last two millennia  the number of people who wish that they had paid more attention to these two key verses must run into millions.           

Swift notes the propensity of the legal profession to complicate all matters which come before them for resolution. This admirable trait, coupled with the facility to procrastinate, ensures that the final bill for services rendered will be satisfactorily substantial. Voltaire described a typical outcome for anyone unfortunate enough to have dealings with the legal profession of his time. Zadig was left with just 0.5% of the fine ostensibly returned to him by his gracious majesty, and even his meagre balance was being targeted by the lesser lights of the profession.                                

The extract from The Pickwick Papers  illustrates beautifully the combination  of provocation and of ensuring that the ill advised outburst of Mr Pickwick was comprehensively witnessed. The Pickwick Papers was Dickens’ first novel.  In his following novels his opinion of the legal process and of the lawyers who operated the legal system got steadily worse. It is abundantly clear that Dickens was not a lover of either the legal system or of its practitioners.   Reading Bleak House, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Curiosity Shop and the court proceedings of Bardell against Pickwick, one is struck by the strength of his feeling on and against the legal profession. In fact the list of his novels in which lawyers appear as villains is longer than the list in which they do not appear at all.               

In Bleak House Dickens deals with the legal proceedings associated with the disposal of the Jarndyce estate. Dickens took the view that the legal proceedings of his time were protracted and arcane, and above all, that they existed primarily for the financial benefit of the legal profession. The outcome of the interminable legal process was that the entire value of the estate was swallowed up in legal costs. Reading Bleak House today one is struck by how briskly the law moved in those days and how quickly legal issues were resolved – compared with today. The delays that have always been at the heart of the British legal system remain with us today. These procedures exist, of course, to enrich lawyers and any link between this primary objective and the availability of legal redress to litigants is purely fortuitous.

The relatively new feature which protracts the process still further is the addition of more and more layers of appeal. The procrastination for which the profession is justly celebrated achieved perfection with the availability of the appeals procedures of the European Courts. This might change if the Brexiteers have their way but then again it might not if the Remainers have their way. As a committed Remainer – I remain convinced that sanity will prevail and that the UK will remain in the European Union.

This multiple and complex arrangement of appeals is of considerable significance in our assessment of the legal profession as a cushy number. Quite simply, in many, if not in most, professions, the decision makers get just one opportunity. Their judgement has to be, to borrow a quote from the jargon of the world of Quality Management, right first time. The legal system has been beautifully constructed to avoid any such painful predicaments. Legal cases go slowly, painfully slowly, and expensively, prohibitively expensively, up through the myriad appeal procedures.                

All the lawyers employed (if that is not too strong a word) in this system enjoy a delightful combination of guaranteed income and an agreeable absence of stress. It puts one in mind of Tennyson’s  land of the Lotus Eaters.  The only occupational pressure experienced by the profession is that of worrying about the payment at the end of the proceedings. In really promising cases, that is in protracted cases, this worry extends to payment of fees into their estates, following their demise.                

The behaviour of Dodson and Fogg in the extract from The Pickwick Papers illustrates another unfortunate feature of the legal profession which is very widespread. Lawyers do not enjoy the trust of the wider public, and the profession is by no means averse to incurring the wrath of other professions for its own financial benefit.                

The reason for this widespread detestation is straightforward. Lawyers never lose.  Whatever the crisis, whatever the issue, the legal profession always wins. This may not seem so to a losing barrister but for our purposes we note that, win or lose, the lawyer gets paid.  This of course has always been so. It is easier to imagine the sun failing to rise tomorrow than it is to imagine the legal profession not having first charge on available funds. In the event that funds are not available and, for good measure, guaranteed, lawyers do not start the job.              

Before any lawyer raises the practice of no win no fee litigation which is slowly creeping in, the point needs to be made that this development is a symptom of the opportunism of the profession rather than its wholly illusory altruism and wholly imaginary thirst for justice. In all these cases the lawyers have a look at the gist of the matter at the outset and quickly divide them into those with a high probability of payment, and the others. Those with a payout probability below around 98% will be promptly consigned to the dust bin. There will obviously be a spread here depending upon the attitude to risk of the lawyer in question. Conservative lawyers will look for a success probability of 99%. Dashing adventurous lawyers may go as low as 97%. This latter group will take the view that they can add any losses to the bills of their other clients.                

Public antagonism towards the legal profession is especially marked among the medical profession which rightly sees them as parasites feeding off the errors of their own profession. Doctors and especially surgeons are attractive targets for lawyers, with no credit allowed for all the operations which were successful.  One mistake and litigation follows as surely night follows day. The response of the Surgeons to this assault on their purse and their professional pride is to limit their activities to safe surgery, that is to operations with a safe margin of error. The long term victims will be those patients suffering from ailments which might be cured by high risk surgery: – for what surgeon today will carry out a risky operation?              

Contrast the risks faced by the two professions. With surgeons one slip of the knife and the patient may finish up in the morgue, thus triggering much dreaded litigation. Lawyers have established a huge safety net of appeal procedures to protect them and us from their errors and omissions. This may be just as well when you consider the frequency with which previous judgements are reversed and prisoners are released as the result of one of the multitude of appeals. Sadly far too many decisions are corrected only when the unfortunate prisoner has served a long sentence.                

Lawyers are perceived by the rest of us as, to quote Matthew again but in a different context, “ravening wolves” waiting for us to slip up, thus enabling them to move in, exploit our difficulties to the full and slip away leaving us much poorer, but none the wiser.  They are ever present in times of distress, in times of conflict, and in times of confusion. They wax fat on our collective misfortunes.                

We are or we feel we are bullied in work- we need a lawyer. We fail to leave clear instructions as to who gets what when we shuffle off the mortal coil- lawyers are sent for. Our marriages are falling apart – a job for the lawyers. A dispute with our neighbours over the height of the Leylandi – bring on the lawyers.               

Some years ago a sympathetic New Labour minister took pity on the plight of miners whose health had been damaged by the conditions under which they worked. A government  scheme was set up to compensate those so affected. To all outward appearances the scheme was set up to compensate miners because of their wholly justifiable grievances.  Those in Government responsible for launching the scheme duly launched it and moved on to other matters. So far so good.

The affected miners and the wider public are indebted to the tireless work of Mr Andrew Norfolk of The Times as he investigated and then revealed precisely who got what out the available funds. And who did get what? You are ahead of me. Yes:- the lawyers acting for the claiming miners got the lions share and a few lucky miners got what was left after the lawyers had gorged themselves. The respective portions obtained by the two parties, lawyers and sick miners was roughly the same as the portions noted by Voltaire at the start of this article.                  

Let us now look at the cushiness of the profession. We will begin by looking at the demands of the job. We can immediately dismiss the idea of a lawyer under stress. This is a contradiction in terms, like a truthful politician.  Some TV dramas portray lawyers as sharing the distress of their clients in criminal cases. This recalls  the comments of Mr Jim Wicks who was the manager of the boxer Henry Cooper in the 1950s. Whenever Cooper lost a bout Mr Wicks would appear in front of the cameras and report sadly that “we did our best, but we took a lot of punishment and we were not good enough.”  The thought used to strike me that the distribution of the punishment had been decidedly lop sided as between fighter and manager. Thus Mr Wicks, thus lawyers who have acted for convicted criminals. Any despondency expressed by lawyers following a court defeat is wholly synthetic, all part of the play acting which goes with the job.               

What about performance measurement. Efforts have been made for thousands of years to measure the performance of lawyers, all to no avail.  If you doubt this, try suing one and see where it gets you. What about job security? Are lawyers, like many people employed in the commercial world, worried about redundancy, falling markets, cancelled orders and bleak prospects?  Not in the slightest. Their only concern is that their ingrained professional indolence might keep them from the cornucopia generated by the ever growing mountain of laws, rules, regulations and red tape generated in the main by the legal profession.               

What about the amount of time required to do the job? We  believe that the meagre time commitment is best illustrated by noting that the fairly small barrister branch of the profession has always provided and continues to provide an astonishingly high number of politicians at both local and national level. We have noted already that the facility to carry out other, often time consuming  activities is a classical hallmark of an under worked and under stretched profession. Note that time consuming does not mean demanding. The most obvious time consuming activity is that of clock watching.                

Barristers and moonlighting go together like politics and mendacity. This most attractive feature of  ample opportunity to pursue other lucrative activities will become more and more significant as we complete our review of a range of jobs. Demanding jobs provide just about zero opportunity for extra curricular activities and we must accordingly mark down as low demand those which provide this opportunity.               

Taking all these points together it is clear that we looking here at a very low level of job demand.  The level of demand varies slightly from branch to branch within the profession, but we are looking in all cases at a low level of stress, an absence of performance measurement and complete job security as long as criminal conduct by the lawyer is avoided. Sadly, this last feature is by no means unknown and the percentage of legally qualified criminals is disproportionately high. The level of temptation in the profession is high and occasionally lawyers succumb to this temptation.                

What about the reward side? The picture here is slightly complex.  Members of the legal profession are employed in jobs ranging from the public sector at one end of the spectrum to small, possibly one or 2 man practices at the other with a swathe of corporate lawyers somewhere in the middle. Let us pick our way through this variety of legal jobs and arrive at a job reward index for the profession. We know that there is no such being as a poor lawyer. But some lawyers are richer than others. Lawyers in private practice will receive a premium as compensation for the additional risks and hazards of the private sector.               

Lawyers, other than the top QCs, tend not to be fabulously rich but all will be solidly well heeled. Sadly nothing in this life is perfect and lawyers in small private practices will normally have to forego the automatic prize of a FISIL ( Final Salary Index Linked pension).  This unfortunate feature can usually but not always be compensated for by fee adjustment but this is not always so.                 

We now apply the formula arrived at earlier to establish the profession cushy number index. The job demand is low and the job rewards are high.  This is a most promising start to our search for A Cushy Number. Accordingly any child which shows a talent for dissembling, procrastination and the theatre could be steered towards this profession. Lawyers still have some way to go to achieve the ultimate goal of the perfect cushy number but we can be sure that, between slumbers, they are working  on two key problems. How to do even less work in return for even more money.               

The legal profession is noted for endemic nepotism. This nepotism may be direct or indirect. In direct nepotism the children will first of all receive legal training and will then inherit the parental legal practice. Indirect nepotism will result in lawyers steering their children towards the richer pastures in this Garden of Eden. We can be confident that the job is a cushy number when such a cynical, calculating, grasping, breed ensure that their offspring follow their choice of career.               

There are two strong contenders for the title of cushiest numbers within the legal profession. The jobs of lawyers employed in the public sector will be considered in a future blog article.  

Let me whisper a word or two about left wing lawyers.  Here we have a most agreeable combination of a cushy number with a social conscience. You have really hit the jackpot when you have a low demand job which is very well paid AND a reputation as a defender of the poor and an ardent warrior in the class struggle. Mr X, QC and Lord Y, QC spring to mind as well known members of this group. Please note – no names, no litigation. We fully endorse the comments of Christ as set out in Mathew, 5, verses 25 and 26.            

Finally a  word on the cushiness of the legal profession across the pond. Suffice it say that all the points noted in this blog apply in the USA – only more so. This can be explained by noting that the early settlers from Europe to America comprised the most energetic and enterprising elements of their countries of origin. Obviously the legal eagles within the wider group of settlers were similarly energetic and enterprising. We can assert with confidence  that American lawyers share all the characteristics of their European fellow professionals but with added vigour, an arguably regrettable combination.                

One example of these qualities in action in the USA is the treatment of those convicted of crimes which may be punishable by the death penalty. American lawyers grasp that the income to be obtained from dead criminals diminish sharply with their demise. Accordingly in the USA the practice has developed of keeping convicted criminals on death row for two decades or more, all the time under sentence of death – and from time to time the death sentence is carried out. This splendid tactic combines maximising the revenue potential of the criminal  for both defence and prosecution lawyers, with an outcome pleasing to those in favour of the death penalty, a not insignificant group of voters.      

I would like to end on a conciliatory emollient note and stress that none of the above strictures apply to my friends in the legal profession – all of whom embrace and embody the noble qualities of Portia, the admirable advocate in “The Merchant of Venice.”

Oh Lordy – A Modest Proposal

 “Peers may lose right to sit in trimmed down Lords………. The House of Lords should be slashed from its current size of more than 800 peers to meet a cap of 600 within 10 years under the blueprint published by a cross party committee of Peers led by Lord Burns.”
T
he Times. November 1, 2017

 “The case for a cap on numbers is overwhelming.”
Lord Fowler, Lord Speaker, House of Lords

 “Proposals to reduce the size of the House of Lords are  unnecessary and counterproductive”
Letter to
The Times on October 28, 2017 from Robert (Diehard) Fraser

 “Two in three voters want the Lords to be elected”
Daily Mail headline – October 30, 2017    

“ Political parties are set to be awarded a quota of peerage appointments based on their latest general election performance,  The Times has learnt.”
The Times October 27, 2017

 “Another scandal has just whacked the House of Lords. We have become wearily accustomed to tales of naked greed. From Westminster’s Upper House ….. Sixteen peers were found to have pocketed almost £0400,000 of taxpayers cash between them , even though they had not done one stroke of recognisable work”
Quentin Letts, 
Daily Mail, October 25, 2017 

The readiness of these aristocratic old timers to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us is a disgrace and an affront to democracy and so on and so forth. Typical sentiments in the columns of our sprightly left wing press.

In this connection the alleged practice of some peers of clocking in, collecting £300 and then making off elsewhere has not pleased those now in charge of The Labour Party. 

Another feature currently annoying those of the Brexit persuasion is that the House of Lords is opposing Brexit in the name of democracy – you work that one out.

For a variety of reasons, not all of them clear,  the role of the House of Lords has emerged as an issue and, as is customary, the debate has been muted and respectable. On this occasion the debate has centred on three issues.

Two central issues are the ideal size of the Upper House, and the ideal composition of the upper house. The third issue for some is the very existence of the House of Lords , and here the preference of the Bolshie tendency would be to consign the upper house to the dustbin of history – their phrase.

“’Thats your glorious British Navy’, says the Citizen, ‘that bosses the earth. The fellows that never will be slaves, with the only hereditary chamber on the face of Gods earth, and their land in the hands of a dozen gamehogs and cottonball barons. Thats the great empire they boast about of drudges and whipped serfs.’
Ulysses by James Joyce

The fiery Citizen from Joyces novel was clearly no lover of the British House of Lords, but he was speaking, amid a copious supply of free drinks, in 1904. It is possible that Joyce himself would have been startled to learn that it has taken another 100 years to prise the tenacious grip of at least some of the hereditary peers from the ultimate quango, the House Of Lords. 

The problems facing those who seek reform of the House of Lords are formidable because of the inability of the various bodies charged with the job to come up with a solution which combines plausibility with acceptability to the House of Commons. The modest proposal which follows has been prepared both to solve this seemingly intractable problem and to bring much needed relief to the hard pressed finances of the United Kingdom.

The following notes set out the basis of a convincing plan to solve the problem for the next two decades or so – let us say when the current problems posed by Brexit have been resolved.

My suggested approach combines transparency, simplicity, and, crucially, cost effectiveness.

Let us look briefly at the history of the problem, and at the arguments against the solutions put forward down the years. It has to be acknowledged that the House of Lords has fought a magnificent rearguard action for centuries against those who sought to question its lack of democratic legitimacy. It took a combination of  that astonishing political phenomenon, New Labour, and the perplexing collapse of the Conservative Party to make the decline of the hereditary peers inevitable. The great majority of this group were cast out leaving only a rump of blue bloods massively outnumbered by the appointed peers.

This last group take us at once to the heart of the argument about who shall replace the hereditary peers and on what basis. Many column inches have been devoted to the iniquities of any revising chamber based on selection, because, as we all know, for selection read patronage. As of today – but possibly not of tomorrow – for patronage, read the patronage of Mrs May.

The alternative, that of election, has been deemed to be equally abhorrent, partly on the grounds that election would give it the very attribute so feared by the lower house, namely that of legitimacy. The other objection to an elected membership is that those elected would be mostly party political people, and the only thing that all of us, apart, that is, from the professional political classes, are united upon is the need for a revising chamber to consist to the fullest possible extent of people who are independent and outside the world of the professional politician.

My solution to this long-standing thorny problem would require no changes to the responsibilities and functions of the House of Lords. In particular the essential function of the Lords, namely that of keeping an eye on the rascals in the other place and blowing the whistle on them as required would remain as now.

The key issue to be resolved is this. On what basis should we determine who shall sit in the Lords? The answer in this modest proposal is that membership would be sold to those who can afford it. Members of the upper house would be required to pay both a substantial down payment (or, in modern parlance, up front money), and a substantial annual membership thereafter. What could be simpler?

 To get the debate under way I suggest that the membership of the House of Lords be set at 500 to give a rough parity with the Commons. Members of the new upper house would pay an initial membership fee of £10 million, and an annual fee of £2 million thereafter. This plan would bring in £5 billion to get the show under way, and an annual contribution to the coffers of the nation of £1 billion. That is a lot of schools and hospitals.

 The arguments in support of this novel mercenary approach are formidable. In no special order they are as follows:

1. The arrangement would be very economical. Our revising legislators and watchdogs would pay us, indeed would pay us handsomely,  instead of the other way round.

2. At a stroke we solve the difficulties both of an appointed house and of an elected house by simply discarding both approaches, and adopting a clear cut market approach.

3. We solve the vexed problem of party influence. Those with the funds to apply for membership tend to be outside the party system because they have been too busy piling up riches.

4. The independence of our new body from party strife would in itself ensure high public esteem. The new upper house would also benefit from the fact that the House of Commons combines over manning and  with excessive remuneration, both classic hallmarks of the time honoured practice of looting the public purse. The definition of politics by Ambrose Pierce as the conduct of public affairs for private advantage is arguably more true in our time than in any earlier era. We hasten to point out that Pierce was using the word affairs in its older and more seemly sense, although some of our current crop of politicians might wish that their affairs in the more recent sense of the word had been rather more private.

5. Successful applicants would in the main have track records of high achievement in that most important of activities within a liberal market economy, namely the acquiring of wealth.

6. The new body would be a shining example of a Public/Private Partnership. It would in fact be a PPP in excelsis, the highest attainable pinnacle of the dream of New Labour.

7. A much-needed gusto would be injected into the body politic. Moneyed men tend to be sharp and vigorous. This vigour would get round one telling criticism of the current upper house is that on a busy day it resembles an old folks’ home and, on a quiet day, a morgue.

8. The new house could serve to curb the excessive political influence of the Celtic members of the Lower House. This group, surplus to the domestic requirements of Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland, has sought and continues to seek to reduce the conduct of political affairs of England to the same level of torpor and ineptitude as those generated by their respective devolved institutions.

9. Any failure to pay membership fees by the due date would send out an early warning about impending corporate difficulties.

10. Lastly and possibly crucially it would, to a considerable degree, confer legitimacy upon what happens now in the case of substantial numbers of appointed life peers. The ranks of the Lords, if not the benches of the Upper House are littered with the names of the affluent whose appointments swiftly followed the bestowing of substantial sums of money on the party of their choice, ie the party best placed to reward their generosity. Our modest proposal would confer transparency upon a process currently shrouded in uncharitable hearsay.     

What about the arguments against? These are few and easily refuted. There would be an inbuilt small ‘c’ conservative tendency in the new house. This is urgently required as a counterbalance to restrain the Corbynite tendency.

Change for the sake of change, and, above all, frenetic activity masquerading as progress, needs to be kept in check.

A more telling criticism that the arrangement might mean that the new upper house would be reluctant to approve measures to increase the tax burden on the rich, a measure thought to be long overdue in Bolshevik circles. We solve this difficultly by simply maintaining the current position which limits their  power to that of delay rather than outright rejection on financial measures.

On a personal note I find the plans of the Corbyn-led Labour Party to tackle the problem of growing inequality between the haves and have-nots surprisingly timid but that is another topic for another day.

It might be argued that this proposal is a tawdry opaque attempt to sell political influence (not to be confused with party influence). This is, of course, perfectly true, but the proposed arrangement merely legitimises and formalises and makes much more profitable what happens now. It makes the whole system very transparent, in fact more transparent than the Tammany Hall proceedings which precede and underpin membership of the House of Commons. Those in doubt on this point should consult Boris Johnsons book Friends, Voters, Countrymen in which he describes the machinations he employed to become the Hon Member for Henley.

 Much thought has been given to the fine details of the new scheme. The competitive bidding approach was considered and discarded on the grounds that could result in sharp practice. Plutocrats did not get to where they are today by being honourable. A few phone calls between aspiring members would quickly drive down the entry fee,

 We have opted instead for the exclusive club model. As noted earlier membership of the upper house would be offered on the basis of the specified entry and annual fees. Membership would be for a fixed period of five years but members would be free to offer themselves for re-selection. The Modified House would have precisely the same powers and responsibilities as the existing house, but there would be no remuneration.  The perquisites of the members would comprise membership of an exclusive club with the additional much sought after right to style themselves Lord or Lady whatever.

As with all such organisations a civilised code of conduct would apply. We suggest that absenteeism be treated leniently, but drunkenness (at least within the confines of the palace of Westminster), criminal convictions and attempts to bribe members of the lower and relatively impoverished house would result in the termination of membership. Members wishing to leave the new upper house prematurely would request that they be allowed to so upon payment of the Chiltern Millions. Needless to say the most serious offence of all would be failure to pay membership fees on time, and this could lead to the formal stripping of the adopted title within a hollow square of fellow members.

In the event of the membership being over-subscribed (and in all probability it would be) the names of all applicants would go into a hat and the first 500 names to be drawn shall constitute the new upper house. The draw could be timed to coincide with that for the national lottery to give the event maximum publicity.

Sceptics may ask: What if the plutocrats don’t go for it? Oh, but they will, they will. They queued up to buy earldoms from Lloyd George on the black market, and they have been doing so ever since. Under our proposals everything is above board, all is transparent (a fine word, transparent).

Is the asking price about right?  It may well be that it has been pitched on the low side, but in this matter, as in all other crucial matters in today’s Britain, in the longer term we will let the market decide. At this early stage we would simply note that £10 million is small beer to many of our fellow citizens as avid readers of various published rich lists will confirm. In our revised House of Lords our plutocrat can purchase the one thing he or she has coveted and has hitherto been denied, that which rounds off his collection of worldly goods and assures his social success.

What about the existing members? No need for any concern here. Some current members could and doubtless would seek to join the new house because they, more than most, grasp the attractions and benefits of membership. To those who could not afford to go into the hat we say: Thank you for your disinterested and somnolent services rendered over the years, but, sadly, farewell. Their removal from their rest home would add a poignant note to the launch of the new house, and could form the basis of a profitable series of fly on the wall television documentaries. 

The author of this modest proposal cannot be accused of having a vested interest in its adoption as he does not possess the financial resources necessary to purchase membership of even the most lowly layer of the democratic pyramid. He writes from a pro bono publico viewpoint, motivated only by a fervent desire to see this seemingly intractable problem solved and by an equally fervent desire to improve the state of the national finances.

 How should supporters of this proposal campaign for its adoption? It would be a waste of time to write to your MP because he/she has a vested interest in the continuation of the existing arrangements. Write instead to the reactionary press to express your support and urge that the proposal be adopted. The many interested aspiring plutocrats could take out full page ads to advocate the scheme.

Just think about it! The new house might contain Lord Ecclestone (of Brands Hatch),  Lord Lewis Hamilton,  Lord Murdoch (although as a wild colonial boy he might spurn the opportunity), Lord Desmond to spice things up, Lord McCartney to give us a song, Lord Lennox Lewis to keep order, Lord Beckham of Old Trafford to strengthen the squad, Lord Burns himself to ensure that the accounts are in order, Lord Sorrell to look after the PR side and – why not – Lord (Philip) Green to keep an eye on any pension matters.

Readers will doubtless have their own views on which of our affluent fellow citizens would add to the lustre of our new upper house.

 Like the Romans of old we want bread and circuses. This proposal supplies both in abundance. I commend it to the British people, and to British politicians, although I suspect that it will appeal much more strongly to the former than to the latter.

Of Brexit & Mexit: Part 2

The prophet Ecclesiastes once said (in 1,9, to be precise), that there is no new thing under the sun. Was his aphorism right as regards the history of the Tory party?

Well, then. Bernard Levin, while making clear his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, opined that: “There is one, and only one, political position that, through all the years, and all my changing views and feelings, has never altered, never come into question, never seemed too simple for a complex world. It is my profound and unwavering contempt for the Conservative Party.”

Levin had many reasons for his contempt – and delineated them within his peerless columns on a number of occasions – but one among the many was the squalid jockeying for position amongst political nonentities whenever blood was scented. It could be argued that the attitude of the modern Tory minister closely apes that of (here’s the irony) the nineteenth century Liberal politician Sir William Harcourt, described by Churchill as being “ambitious in a calculating style…. With an eye fixed earnestly, but by no means unerringly, upon the main chance.” (It should also be observed that here the resemblance between him and the shy contenders anxious to succeed Mrs May begins and ends, in that – to quote Churchill again – Harcourt was a “genial, accomplished Parliamentarian”, while the lack of accomplishments amongst his Tory successors is something to deplore.)

 Their Tory forebears had form, of course. Beaverbrook wrote that:

“Between October 15 and October 19 (1922) the struggle became less like a battle than a series of single duels. Every mans’ political  soul was required of him. Promises and promotions and honours were sprinkled from Downing Street on the green benches with a hose.”

Beaverbrook was writing about the meeting of Conservative MPs in the Carlton Club, a meeting which was to end the Tory – Lloyd George Liberal Coalition. This was just one of many internal struggles within the Tory party down the years, struggles that have enraged some and delighted others.

We find a more recent example (well, many of them, if truth be told) relayed gloriously in the diaries of the late Alan Clark. Encountering Edwina Currie in the Houses of Commons during the last, febrile days of Thatcher’s government, Clark congratulated her “on the combination of loyalty and restraint that [she showed] in going on television to announce [her] intention to vote against the Prime Minister in the leadership election.” Unsurprisingly, when Currie – whose devotion to self-promotion in the media was impressive even by modern Tory standards – suggested that they “argue this through”, Clark succinctly told her “to piss off”

Moving forwards a further two and a half decades or so, and we encounter Boris Johnson, of whom it could be said that he represents an embodiment of the sentiments that Wodehouse’s Ambrose Wiffen felt about the two small boys with whom he had been saddled:  

“On his first introduction to these little fellows it had seemed to Ambrose that they had touched the lowest possible level to which Humanity can descend. It now became apparent that there were hitherto unimagined depths which it was in their power to plumb”.

I suspect that many observers of the UK political scene would readily apply similar views about BOJO as he moved effortlessly from pulling the rug from under his leader to denouncing those of his colleagues engaged in identical activities.

As May prevaricates and flounders in a mess of Cameron’s making (and compounded by her decision to call an election), we are now in a situation where, like Micawber, her advisors have nothing to offer but advice; As Daniel Finkelstein has recently observed, “The best we can do on Brexit is play for time”

The above quotes have been selected in an attempt to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tedious squabbles about Brexit, and about its unplanned offspring, Mexit. 

Two preliminary definitions

  • Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
  • Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017

The state of play is confused even chaotic on both the issue of Brexit and on the issue of Mexit

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.  

To simplify matters I shall employ the device of bullet points – a device much loved by manager johnnies.

 1. A Brexit update  from the edge of the margin of the periphery of the action

  • The situation here is not promising from the UK point of view.
  •  The 27 remainer counties appear to be hardening their resolve to make no concessions until the specified preliminary issues are resolved to their satisfaction.
  • As I write, the top level dialogue is running along the following lines: Mrs May – “The ball is in in your court” The 27 remainers – “Oh no it isn’t”  Mrs May – “Oh yes it is” And so on and so on.
  • The drama takes me back many years to the pantomimes of my childhood when the hero/heroine engaged in a brisk boisterous exchange with the audience as to whether or not the baddie was or was not behind him or her. All good stuff but not the ideal way to make progress.

 2. Thoughts on Mexit, again from the edge of the margin of the periphery

  • An impressive show of unity within the Tory Party following its party conference
  • On the debit side –  If a party can’t organise a conference – what can it do?
  • Peering through the fog of mendacity and delusion oozing out of No 10 – there is no obvious successor to Mrs M.
  • The first malcontent to show his head above the parapet – Grant Shapps – was judged by the media pack and by most of his colleagues in the house – to be a lightweight, and he quickly retreated to the obscurity from which he had emerged.
  • Collectively – those who rushed to support the PM were not exactly heavyweights – but what of that?
  • Whatever the wishes of politicians and media moguls – Brexit will continue to dominate the national political agenda until either The Brexiteers prevail and out we go or, by some most welcome development – not easy to discern at the moment – we come to our senses, ditch the Brexiteers and resume  Business as Usual within the EU.
  • The problem facing the Tories and, of rather greater importance, the country, is NOT the choice between Mrs May and AN Other, delightful though the prospect of AN Other ousting Mrs May might be to some us – to let us say – the reassuring self effacing Mr Hammond.
  • The problem facing HMG is NOT to decide between the a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit – both options evaporated when subjected to analysis.
  • The problem faced by the Tory party is quite simple: – Does it maintain its present Brexit policy to its only logical outcome – out we go  OR does it procrastinate and defer and set up enquiries and working groups and independent enquiries – all with the objective of playing for time to allow the nation to come to its senses.
  •  A few Tory MPS – not enough at this stage  – have been heard to whisper that maybe that the nice old timer, Dr Cable, had a good point when he suggested that there ought to be a FIRST referendum to decide if Brexit should proceed on the basis of the terms secured by HMG. This referendum might put the question, “Given the deal arrived at between the EU 27 and HMG – Should the UK stay in the EU or leave?” As with the June 2016 referendum – a simple majority to decide the answer. Alternatively, a  far more sensible way forward would be to put the same question to the House of Commons with the vote to decide if we stay or leave on the basis of the deal. 

 3. A few points for the voters and their elected representatives to consider

  • The word is that most MPs, being mostly of sound mind, would vote to remain within the EU if that option was available to them. This applies to Labour MPs as well as Tory MPs.
  • Opinion polls indicate steadily diminishing support for Brexit as the disagreeable consequences become more apparent.
  • One or other – or maybe both – of these options may in due course become available to the voters as more and more of them belatedly grasp the futility of Brexit, the scale of the deceit of BOJO and the baleful influence of the Murdoch/Dacre propaganda organs.
  • The emerging pattern of voting intentions is that the young are increasingly aware of the strong case to stay in the European Community – and is their future that is at stake.
  • I write these notes in my capacity as an old timer who sees BOJO as the most accomplished political fraud in my long life time – and there is a lot of competition for this dubious award.

 4. A look at the possible outcomes to the Mexit problem 

  •  At the optimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May to be out by Christmas
  •  At the pessimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May will still be PM up to the next election

  5. Of David and Boris

  • Those who follow these matters will recall that David Cameron committed the Tory party to hold an in-out referendum on our EU membership should the Tories win the 2015 election.
  • Obviously Cameron had considered this commitment carefully and his conclusion was that he could win the argument and the referendum.
  • He knew – or thought he knew – who were remainers and who were for leavers. Thus Mr Farage was clearly a leaver; Mr Ken Clarke was equally clearly a remainer; Messrs Dacre and Murdoch could be counted on to campaign to leave. And so and so forth as heads were counted.
  • What about BOJO? Aye – there’s the rub. Cameron was obviously counting on the support of BOJO to campaign to remain given that that had been his previous position. However, it has been reported in The Mail on Sunday that Boris only voted for Brexit to spite DC”. What does this little gem tell us about the judgement of Mr Cameron about the fickleness of his colleague of many years? More revealingly – what does it tell us about the judgement of BOJO, a man then as now devoid of any political principle save that of the advancement of BOJO.  

6. The view from Brussels

  •  They, the other 27 countries, believe that they hold all the winning cards. I believe that they are right to hold this view.
  •  I would go further. Their views about what the response of the 27 remainers to the pitiful performance of the representatives of HMG across the table is likely to be broadly as per the riposte of Alan Clarke to Mrs Currie as per the exchange quoted earlier, namely, “Piss off”.

 7. Of Brexit and the Blitz

  • The Daily Mail has reported that “A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy.”
  • The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears,  but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous well trained pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre.
  • I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.
  • That is apart from the menacing threat  by Tory MP to review (for review, read cancel) the £10 million a year that HMG gives to the OECD.

8. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” – Karl Marx

  • In the present circumstances the tragedy and the farce are being enacted simultaneously
  • The farce is Mexit
  • The tragedy is Brexit

 9. A closing thought. Help the aged.

  • Give your support to Dr Cable as he struggles to rescue the UK from its self inflicted wounds.
  • Now, more than ever, the UK needs its Cable Guy.

 

Image courtesy of Daily Express