As I Please: Trains on Stop, Hutton in Hay and the Rees-Mogg Roubles

How not to run a railway

The Centre of Gravity of the discontented UK rail users has now moved from south to north. The discontent in the south was based on a number of failures on the part of the operators, ranging from an inability to operate signals and points, an inability to ensure that the required number of employees were on duty, an interminably protracted dispute with the Unions as to whether or not guards were essential to passenger security, and a ticket pricing structure that had only one clear feature – steadily rising prices.

For obvious reasons, the senior management of the various railway companies blamed the Unions for everything, thus neatly sidestepping the factors causing the lengthy catalogue of failures across the sector.

The outcome of said failures was a disagreeable combination of late trains, cancelled trains, crowded trains and expensive trains, all conspiring to add to the miseries of commuting.

Other problems have included the decisions by two major franchise holders to abandon ship –  sorry about the mixing of metaphors – thus leaving the hapless Mr Grayling no option other than to bring the two areas back into the public sector.

The most recent fiasco has been the introduction of new timetables which has triggered cocks up on a gargantuan scale. The most irritating feature here has been the gap between the information provided by the new time tables and what was actually happening – or not happening – on the tracks.

The late and great Mr Bradshaw must be turning in his grave at the inability of his successors to manage this simplest of tasks.

Just one other point before we move on. In the best traditions of this privatised monopoly there are no reports of any managers being required to walk the plank – another mixed metaphor – although the handing out of a few P45s to selected senior managers would undoubtedly help the situation.

In a recent (June 5) Daily Mail editorial, Paul Dacre (or one of his compliant team) fulminated about the situation:

“No end in sight to this appalling shambles… Could there be a more incompetent way to run a railroad… The list of excuses is endless. But we’ve heard them all before and they no longer wash…”

So far, so good.

Sadly, the denunciations are not followed by any suggestions about what should be done. Instead, the editorial lapses into a whining oh dear oh dear mode: “Mr Grayling needs to knock heads together and sort out this mess.”

How, exactly?

Holdenforth can and will do better than this. We will not leave matters in this melancholy setting.

You ask – what is our policy? What remedies do we advocate?

In no special order:

  1. Put all the plans to bring in HS2 (High Speed 2) on hold for, say 5, years to allow time for the all-pervasive LS1 (Low Speed One) problems throughout the UK rail sector to be solved. It beggars belief that the advocates of HS 2 can still be heard clamouring for the money required to bring in HS2 – at least £56 billion at the last reckoning – to be poured into the flaky, shaky foundations of  shit and quicksand that comprise the UK Rail Network in 2018.
  2. Carry out a ruthless cull of the band of senior managerial mediocrities now running the industry (who are, by the way, on far higher salaries, allowing for inflation, than their public sector predecessors) and replace them with competent people. Those replacements to be required to demonstrate their ability to manage signals and points and manning levels and the introduction of new time tables and  ticket pricing arrangements – I could go on but you get my drift.
  3. HMG to accept that the UK privatized railway companies have provided an oasis of peace for the managerial refugees that would be unable to secure employment in any organisation that required its bosses to be able to perform.

I have every confidence that a few improvement along these lines – an appropriate metaphor on this occasion – would deliver a service capable of meeting the expectations of the most discerning of passengers.

A view of Brexit from Hay on Wye

The great Brexit debate simply refuses to make way for other news. On Bank Holiday Monday I attended a session at The Hay on Wye festival. The session was billed as a dialogue of sorts between Lord Adonis and Will Hutton. I had been expecting an agreeable, civilised discussion in which the pros – there are no cons – of remaining in the EU would be outlined and explained.

For a couple of reasons, the session did not turn out quite as I had anticipated.

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way. Adonis was excellent: always lucid, always plausible and mostly persuasive.

I was, however, surprised and slightly disappointed by the contribution of Will Hutton. This consisted of an interminable catalogue of raucous slogans bellowed out incoherently after the style of John Prescott.

This might have been acceptable to the converted – and a show of hands showed that over 95% of those present were committed Remainers – but it was decidedly not a speech to persuade the undecided.

I suspect that David Davis, seated prominently in the front row of the audience, was not particularly bothered by the ranting.

I have to confess that prior to attending the Adonis-Hutton show I had no clear impressions about what exactly Hutton stood for and what he had done.  I vaguely recalled that he had been a journalist and that he was and is the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford.

Later I looked him up online and was surprised to read that he and his wife had built up a large property portfolio in London and the Home counties, and that he had blotted his copybook in some way in his capacity as the Director of the Work Foundation.

This belated shedding of light on Hutton put a slightly different slant on his high decibel denunciations of the super-rich.

Some of the bombast bawled in Hay by Will Hutton put me in mind of the comment of King Lear – “I will do such things – what they are I know not!”

To be fair to Hutton, he told us that he had personally visited some of the areas that had voted for Brexit and that he understood the concerns of the locals. His tone here put me in mind of the comment of Edward the Eighth when visiting the distressed areas of South Wales in the 1930s – “something must be done.”

Quite so – but what exactly?

In between the Hutton slogans, Lord Adonis spoke of his enthusiasm about the case to reduce the voting age to 16 and about the case for the House of Commons to be relocated in the North of England. All good stuff but, as Mrs May has told us, Brexit will be a fact of life by the end of March, 2019.

The Hutton manifesto is all well and good and there will be those who accept that, if implemented, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

For its part, Holdenforth urges all Remainers, including Lord Adonis and Will Hutton, to park the froth in the long grass and concentrate on the one political task of campaigning to kick Brexit into the long grass.

An effective and simple campaign  to turn the Brexit engine round and get it running (on time, in the opposite direction) might just do the trick.

More Brexit News  —  the latest from the Soros camp

In a previous blog I warmly welcomed the emerging campaign led by George Soros to mobilise UK opinion to reverse Brexit.

Hear, hear, I wrote, well done George.

An article in The Times on May 30 quoted Soros as saying that the campaign for a second referendum would begin in the next few days, and that while “Ultimately it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do… it would be better however if they came to a decision sooner rather than later.”

Later in the same piece reference was made to the age of George Soros – 87. Later still we were informed that “the Tory MP Jacob Rees -Mogg – aged 49 – said that he would be happy for there to be another EU referendum- just not for three decades.”

It may be that the disparity between the ages of the two men account for the preferred haste of Mr Soros and the preferred languid procrastination of the other.

As far as Holdenforth is concerned – on the need for speed we applaud the declared alacrity of Mr Soros.

There is, however, one aspect of the Soros campaign that troubles Holdenforth.

A Times article the following day, headlined ‘Soros campaign chief evokes Nazis in call for new EU vote’ noted that Lord Malloch Brown, the Soros campaign chief referred to, “said that Europe’s problems had a horrible habit of infecting us anyway.”

Holdenforth begs Soros and his team to keep things simple – we face enough problems without bringing the most turbulent and odious regime in my long lifetime into it.

And now for something completely different –  The murder and rapid resurrection  of  Mr  Arkady Babchenko 

I awoke on the morning of May 31 to be told that a 41 year old Russian journalist had been shot in the back and killed in Kiev.

Boris-“quick Draw” Johnson was predictably one of the first out of the blocks – he said that “Britain was appalled by the killing.”

Well – up to a point…

The appalled British had barely digested the news of the murder when who should turn up beaming at the cameras and bursting with good health but the very same Arkady Babchenko.

The official explanation by the Ukrainian authorities was that the murder had been staged to forestall a murder attempt by who else – the Russians. The official report explained that the idea behind the spoof execution came from the confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, at Reichenbach – both men died at the scene, Moriarty on a permanent basis, Holmes for only as long as it took to dawn on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that the Holmes mine was by no means exhausted.

There followed a brisk debate in the media. On the one side there were those who thought that the Ukrainian version was sound and that the life of a brave man committed to the goodie cause had been saved by this shrewd spoof execution.

The other side took the view that the plot, absurd from the start, had misfired and that those responsible had taken careful aim and shot themselves in their collective feet.

Holdenforth inclines to the latter explanation although we were and remain happy to note that Boris Johnson retains his well-earned reputation as the fastest cock up politician in the west.

More notes on Jacob Rees-Mogg.

There is simply no keeping JRM out of the news these days.

The main news topic is his leadership of some Brexit campaign group or other. He leads with commendable elegance and displays impressive if antiquated scholarship: his themes are the past greatness of  Britain and the need for a return to the good old days when Britain led and the rest of the world followed and the right sort of chaps guided the fortunes of the nation and the world.

Holdenforth was pleased to note that JRM has just acquired a substantial residence in the Westminster area, a residence roughly equivalent to No 10 Downing street in its proximity to Parliament and in its imposing grandeur.

However, Holdenforth was slightly perplexed by the following item on May 27.

Under the headline, ‘Mogg’s Moscow Millions’ the Mail on Sunday subheader teased us with  “Revealed : How the Brexiteer’s firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin, including two blacklisted by the US , but has invested next to nothing in – yes, you guessed it- Brexit Britain.” 

The article, written by Neil Craven in London and Will Stewart in Moscow, reports, more in sorrow than anger, that “[Rees-Mogg’s] investment firm has a stake in a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin… that the hard-line Brexiteer owns almost a fifth of Somerset Capital Management… that on behalf of its clients SCM has bought shares in two Russian firms blacklisted by the US”.

There is lots more, but you get the picture. JRM, wearing his SCM hat is not averse to putting profits before principles.

I should imagine that the wealthy clients who have placed their hard-earned readies into the care of JRM and of SCM are concerned primarily with the returns on their investments and are quite relaxed about the methods employed to secure the best possible outcomes.

Whatever next for JRM as he grapples with the problem of balancing his political goals with his professional financial goals?

Will he continue in aristocratic mode, the aloof elitist? Or might he downsize to Jake Mogg, the populist and follow the example of Lord Stansgate – the toff who downsized to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and then to Tony Benn, the people’s friend.

Holdenforth will be keeping a watchful eye on the JRM phenomenon.

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As I Please – BBC, TSB & Abramovitch

Why not sell off the BBC?

In an earlier Holdenforth blog I looked at the case to privatise the BBC and I found the case to be compelling. It was and remains evident that the commendable standards laid down and operated by John Reith almost a century ago have long been abandoned. What we have now is overwhelmingly a part of the show business sector, but with none of the virtues of that sector and an unfortunate collection of weaknesses that are unique to the BBC.

I noted in my previous blog the catalogue of failures by the senior management of the BBC coupled with an unfortunate practice of recruiting its senior management from the Arthur Daley Business School.

These failures included the continued employment of Andrew Marr and Alan Yentob, despite the former having been flushed out for taking out an all-purpose injunction which forbade any reference to his not particularly interesting extra marital activities, and the latter for his questionable behaviour in and on behalf of the Kids Club Charity.

The initial handling by the BBC of the rumpus triggered when it dawned on some household names of the female persuasion that they were not receiving the same rewards as their male counterparts was unfortunate and inept as were the embarrassing attempts by the affluent male celebrities to accept pay cuts.

What has happened in recent weeks?

In no special order:

  1. The gender pay gap row at the top of the BBC rumbled on with the fiery furious female paupers masquerading as 21st century Tolpuddle Martyrs.

It was reported that that the Radio 4 presenter, Sarah Montague, was incandescent with rage when she became aware of the admittedly substantial earnings gap between herself and her male colleagues for doing what appeared to be the same job. It was this and similar examples that led Mrs May to put her weight behind the campaign to eradicate the gender pay gap.

The gap was undoubtedly there but I found myself unable to share the indignation of Mrs May in the context of the BBC.

Why so?

As the gender pay gap was hitting the headlines another and rather more serious and annoying pay gap was also in the news. It was reported that Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell, the boss of WPP, not content with his annual reward package of £50 million, had been using his initiative to charge a few items to his employer that ought to have paid for out of his own pocket. The resulting fuss was said to have been a contributory factor in his removal from office.

What’s my point? It is simply that the pay gap between Sir Martin at the top and the millions at the bottom on zero hours contracts is a problem that Mrs May ought to have considered before joining the more fashionable campaign for gender pay equality. After all there is no gender pay gap at the far more populous bottom of the pay league since both males and females are having to get by on next to nothing. The ones who are not Mrs May’s JAMs (the Just About Managing) but sadly the NoMans (The Not Managing) those whose descent into poverty proceeds remorselessly under Mrs May’s leadership.

Before I move on – what does it say about the perceptiveness of Sarah Montague that, on her own admission, she was unaware of what going in her own office. For me the most absurd episode occurred when Sarah Montague expressed her fury when she first grasped the size of the pay gap between herself and the super earners (all male) on the Today programme.

If she had been unaware of the gap – and I am happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on the matter – if she did not know what going on in the very office in which she worked – what does that tell us about her understanding of the wider world?

  1. Stars and their tax schemes

An article in the Daily Mail on April 20, 2018 informed us that “Some 200 BBC presenters are being investigated by HMRC after declaring themselves self-employed, meaning they were paid as contactors rather than staff… They worked through PSCs (personal service companies) which meant they enjoyed some tax relief while the BBC allegedly saved vast sums in national insurance contributions.”

The story has a sad ending: “In recent months scores of presenters have been told they owe thousands in unpaid historic tax despite staff saying they set up PSCs on the advice of their employers.”

To this outsider the story seems to be the familiar one of how those at the top collude to pay the minimum to HMRC and then arrange a sharing of the tax avoided / evaded between the two parties. A sound arrangement in the good undetected times but not much fun when the tax authorities get wise to the scam and set the hounds chasing the alleged miscreants.

  1. The BBC part in the police raid on the house of Sir Cliff Richard

The BBC is currently having a tricky time in court as it seeks to justify how it colluded with South Yorkshire police when the latter carried out a search of the home of Sir Cliff Richard following an accusation of sexual misconduct by – you tell me.

It is important to note that at no stage in the painfully protracted proceedings was Sir Cliff charged.

The South Yorkshire Police Authority has already acknowledged its serious errors in its handling of the allegations and compensated Sir Cliff accordingly. (By the way – who exactly foots the bill for the compensation that was paid by the police to Sir Cliff? And who will foot the bill if the court decides in favour of Sir Cliff in the current proceedings.)

As I write the prospects are not looking promising for the BBC.

I know what I hope the outcome will be – substantial damages for Sir Cliff plus a bollocking of the BBC by the bench.

Watch this space.

Let us now proceed from the particular to the general

Should the BBC be allowed to continue to strut around wearing the mantle of John Reith – a pampered Sui Generis in the media sector,

Or

Should it be sold off to the highest bidder and required to sink or swim in the private sector?

I believe that the case for the latter policy grows stronger by the day.

Is the BBC broadly true to its Reithian principles or is it committed to the mission statement that “there’s no business like show business”, as exemplified by the very title of “The Andrew Marr Show.?”

Holdenforth believes in providing proposals to cure the problems under discussion.

How to proceed? Here is how.

Solve the pay gap at the BBC – and most of the other ills that beset the BBC – by the simple expedient of privatising it, possibly via eBay.

Very soon after privatization, the celebrities passing themselves off as national treasures would grasp just what is meant by operating in a competitive environment. I suspect that a tiny minority might still be able to command high reward packages but that far more would learn from their agents that times are hard, that belts have to be tightened, that jobs are scarce, that the good old days are over, and what did you say your name is?

Mr Rupert Murdoch was understood to have been unimpressed by the performance of the editor of the Sunday Times during the fiasco of the purchase by Murdoch of the forged Hitler diaries. Accordingly, as Robert Harris told us in Selling Hitler, “In June1983, after discussions with Mr Rupert Murdoch it was announced that he (Frank Giles) was to retire prematurely as editor and assume the honorific title of editor emeritus… Giles asked what the title meant. ‘Its Latin, Frank,’  Murdoch is said to have replied. ‘The “e” means you’re out, and the “meritus” means you deserve it.’”

I imagine that Mr Murdoch – or someone – or anyone – of like mind would speedily bring realism to the running of the BBC.

One last point – God forbid that it be should be thought that I am a born again Thatcherite anxious to eradicate the entire public sector. To illustrate that this is not so: why not use the funds made available by the sale of the BBC to buy out the shareholders of the privatised rail sector?

The TSB Fiasco

A recent (May 21) article in the Mail noted that as a result of its recent online chaos, TSB “could face £16m in fines for its IT fiasco”.

Two points to note:

Firstly, who will pay the fines if and when they are imposed?

Secondly, the Mail reported that Mr Paul Pester, the insouciant boss man at TSB “is giving up a bonus of £2 million related to switching to the new computer system. But TSB could still pay him a separate annual bonus for 2018 of more than £1 million.” Surely the sentence should have read: “Mr Pester will be handed his P45 and told to clear his desk just as soon as the blank P45 can be filled in.

Only when I am reliably informed that this has been done to Pester and similar bunglers will I believe that the powers that be are serious about tackling the national problem of ineptitude at the highest levels of management.

Abramovitch and Windrush scandal – is there a connection?

It has been reported that the Russian Oligarch, Mr Roman Abramovitch, is experiencing problems in returning to the UK following his recent extensive business trips away from these shores. His entry visa had expired and the relevant authorities have been tardy for whatever reason(s) in supplying a new one.

The question is being whispered – might this delay be linked to the reported closeness between Mr Abramovitch and Mr Putin following the attempted murders in Salisbury and the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

My only minor point is that Mr Abramovitch now understands what it feels like when your anticipated arrival into the UK is stymied by Home office Byzantine procedures, a problem recently experienced by some of the Windrush generation.

Betts Off

Another recent Mail story (headlined ‘Unacceptable! MPs blast fat cat pay at disabled car scheme’) concerns the possibly excessive reward packages collected by Motability Operations Chief Executive Mike Betts and his senior colleagues. Mr Betts is paid £1.7 million per year and his fellow directors were pocketing salaries “totally out of whack with reality.”

It was not revealed if Mr. Betts or any of his colleagues were also benefiting from the heavily subsidised Motability arrangements.

A spokesperson for Motability said something to the effect that Motability had to pay market rate salaries in order to recruit and retain the necessary managerial talent.

Well he/she would say that wouldn’t he/she?

Holdenforth cannot leave matters in this delightfully vague setting. I suggest that the salaries collected by the acquisitive top team be cut by 90% (yes, 90%) and then see how quickly the Motability top talent were snapped in the fierce struggle for the best of the best of the best managerial talent.

The Irish Question

A gloomy final point for today.

Alex Massie, writing in The Times on May 21, highlighted the way in Brexiteers were treating Ireland with contempt. Kicking off in ironic mode, he said that “If it weren’t for the Irish life would be simpler. The Irish, after all, have for centuries been undermining or thoughtlessly complication life for British Governments. This, at any rate, seems to be the Brexiteer mantra.

The time – Easter 1916. The place – Dublin.

Lord Beaverbrook – then Max Aitkin- rang his friend Tim Healy in Dublin to ask about the reported rebellion.

“Is there a rebellion?”

Healy – “there is”

Aitkin – “When did it start?”

Healy – “When Strongbow invaded Ireland”

Aitken – “When will it finish?”

Healy – “When Cromwell gets out of Hell.”

To put the point another way – some Irishmen have long memories and not all of these memories take a kindly view of the actions of the UK authorities towards Ireland down the centuries.

 

As I Please: Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering

What next for Brexit?

A report in yesterday’s Daily Mail (headlined ‘Stop the insults and start talking, UK tells Europe’) kicked off by saying that “Downing Street struck back at Brussels after EU officials accused Theresa May of wanting a ‘fantasy Brexit.’”

The news emerging from the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU is both sparse and bleak. The Daily Mail is taking the view that the EU side is proving to be obdurate and offensive, and that the prevailing tone is rather more abrasive than the exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang.

To fill in the gaps, some tabloids are musing on the feasibility of a complex plot which would see Michael Gove replace Mrs May and, after a year or so, Mr Gove would gracefully make way for the up and coming leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson.

Can’t quite see it myself.

For Holdenforth the most eye catching comment in recent days has been from Richard Littlejohn who noted that “regular readers” ( of his column) “will know that I’m no fan of Mother Theresa (yes, Richard, we had gathered that) and that he “thought Boris deserved the job when ‘call me Dave’ committed harakiri.” I have to confess that I missed his earlier endorsement of Boris and I also understand why he has not sought to remind us of this.

Littlejohn complained sourly that “leaving the EU is taking longer than defeating Hitler.” It is not easy to see how the two events can sensibly be compared but we live in strange times.

In line with the consistent policy of Holdenforth of providing a way out of the various problems examined in this blog, a suggested solution to the problems that are emerging as the Brexit process moves from the swapping of slogans to the nitty gritty details will be outlined.

Can Mrs May secure a good deal from the obdurate team batting for the EU, and, in so doing, secure the smoothest of transitions from where we are now to the sweet bye and bye of Brexitland?

Holdenforth will come back to this issue in a few paragraphs, but first a word about the emergence of the Soros campaign. According to the Mail (May 24), this will take the form of a “six-month blitz on MPs, unions and voters to thwart (the) PM’s Brussels deal”.

Well, the mission statement of the campaign is “to stop Brexit and begin to put Britain back together” so at least in this one cannot accuse the Mail of seeking to mislead its readers.

The Mail dutifully returned to the fray the following day, claiming that it had “new evidence of foreign billionaire Soros’s plot”; that it would “sabotage” Brexit; that “Europhiles” were now “ruthlessly” targeting MPs.

Well they would do that, wouldn’t they?

The Mail outlined the campaign strategy and tactics to be employed to achieve the commendable aims of the Soros team, and the Soros team will be doubtless be delighted to learn that Holdenforth is with them all the way.

But – how can Holdenforth translate its zeal for the aims of the Soros team into effective actions?

Shouting “Come on you Soros boys -and girls” from the rooftops (and this blog) is ok as far as it goes but that isn’t very far.

Holdenforth is noted for its lack of tangible assets or, as Mr Soros would say, cash.

Additionally, it lacks experience in the dark arts of political campaigning.

(A minor digression before we leave Mr Soros to get on with a spot of sabotaging. Mr Soros bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Michael Gove – just thought I’d mention it.)

The best that Holdenforth can do in these challenging circumstances is as follows. We have drafted a letter from the British Prime Minister (no names, no pack drill at this stage) to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The letter looks at the prospects for Brexit and it is not pleased by what it sees:

Further to our recent discussions I now write to confirm the following points as agreed in our meeting on July 30, 2018:

1. It has become apparent to Her Majesty’s Government that there is now no prospect of reaching an agreement between us and the EU on the major contentious open points.

2. Accordingly HMG faces the prospect of leaving the EU with all its array of long established economic, political and social arrangements with – to use that most unfortunate term – no deal.

3. Equally it has become apparent to HMG that many of the assumptions made by the Brexiteers from the launch of the referendum campaign to date have been both hopelessly unrealistic and absurdly optimistic.

4.The combination of these factors, if allowed to continue, will result in the UK being stranded in no man’s land with a coldly uncooperative EU behind us and Heaven only knows what in front of us.

5. Accordingly and as per our agreement reached on July 30, I now confirm that HMG, on behalf of the UK, asks that the EU will accept the formal cancellation of our application to invoke Article 50 and that the UK be allowed to return immediately to the status quo ante that prevailed prior to the start of the Brexit fiasco.

6. I trust that you and your colleagues who will have been sorely tried by the antics of the Brexiteers -as indeed have I – will quickly draw a veil over the unfortunate events of recent years.

I would be grateful for your formal confirmation of the contents of this letter.

Yours etc,
UK Prime Minister on behalf of HMG

PS -Strictly between ourselves I am sure that you will understand that:

*I was always a Remainer but I had to bide my time until the time was ripe to see off the Brexiteers

*The Brexiteers, led – or rather misled – by that blond bloated bladder of wind Boris, are now all too clear that their day has come – and gone.

Then and now

Back in November 2014, The Times ran an article entitled “Boris brags about London’s exotic army of billionaires.” The article below the braggadocio headline went on to say that “As mayor, Boris Johnson has had time to think about makes London the greatest city on earth. His answer? Its mega rich inhabitants… Mr Johnson boasted that London had more billionaires than New York and Paris. ‘London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutan…’”

Later the report noted that “He acknowledged that high house prices in the capital were a phenomenon caused in part by his” (note the possessive pronoun) “millionaires… The success of London is making it very hard for Londoners to afford to live there.”

I think that the reader can reasonably draw the conclusion that Boris and the billionaires were on the best of terms at that time.

To quote the dour New York detective – who loves ya baby?

Several months earlier (in July 2014) another Times report said that “France [had] accused hypocritical Britain of cosying up to Russian oligarchs yesterday as European divisions thwarted hopes of immediate action over the shooting down of the Malaysia airlines passenger jet. A spokesman for President Hollande of France complained that his is a false debate led by hypocrites … when you see how many Russian oligarchs have sought refuge in London, David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own back yard.”

Well put, Mr Jean- Christophe Cambedelis.

That was then. Now, Boris Johnson has been leading the pack in denouncing the wealthy immigrant Bolshies following the alleged Russian complicity in the Salisbury attempted murders and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Interestingly, the UK has now reversed its 2014 position and has added Russian complicity in the attack on the Malaysian airlines jet to its catalogue of accusations against Russia.

Holdenforth makes just one point, the rich London reds now under attack by Boris are the self-same rich London reds praised to the skies by Boris just a few years ago.

Holdenforth believes that the only lesson to be learned from this sorry sequence of events is that Boris has just one unvarying political principle – the advancement of the political career of Boris.

Reflections on effective electioneering

“We know what to expect when the Tories return to power – a party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation; corruption at home, aggression to cover it abroad; the trickery of tariff juggles; the tyranny of a wealth fed party machine; sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism and imperialism by the imperial pint; an open hand at the public exchequer; An open door at the public house; dear food for the million; cheap labour for the millionaire. That is the policy which the Tory party offers you.”

What you think of this for a snappy election message? I ask you: could Mr Corbyn put the points more effectively and more memorably?

It would be difficult to write a more devastating attack on the policies of today’s Tory Party as it prepares for the next election.

I would urge Jeremy Corbyn to contact the author and seek to enlist his services were it not for the facts that:

* the author has been dead since 1965.
* the author switched sides – from Liberal to Tory – in 1924
* the author was Winston Churchill.

All Quiet on the Brexit Front – a Lack of Progress Report

Few would disagree with the observation that there has been a lull of late in the battle for Brexit. Given the overriding importance of the outcome it is reasonable to ask why this should be so.

The lull may be due in part to the plethora of alternative major newsworthy issues currently on the go. The Salisbury poisonings, the war in Syria, the perceived need to ensure that the female of the species is paid the same as the male of the species for the same work, the pros and cons of the case for more bobbies on the beat to combat violent crime, the exuberant activities of Mr Trump at work and at leisure, the immigration issue neatly summarised by Private Eye as “Windrush to Bum‘s Rush,” the black spot handed to Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell by his disgruntled colleagues – these and many more compete with Brexit for the attention of Mrs May and her colleagues.

It is also worth noting that the lull may be more apparent than real in that the location of the debate between the EU and the UK has shifted from the glare of the cameras to rather more secluded venues to allow the principal negotiators to haggle over the small print.

It would seem that the pleasantries exchanged in recent weeks have now given way to what we old fashioned manager johnnies would call the nitty gritty where the devil will be in the detail.

The potential influence of the dissenters – from all sides of the house – – from the policies of their own parties is strengthened by the all pervasive sense of confusion and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

“In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.” (Equally the one eyed woman is queen. Holdenforth does not do inequality.)

In this blog I will examine the possible contribution to the Brexit campaign of the dissenters in the House of Commons, those pains in the arse to party managers and docile colleagues alike, and I look at how the outcome of the Brexit drama may well be significantly influenced by the contribution of those traditional bit players and noises off – the awkward squad whose members are, for a wide variety of reasons, at odds with their respective parties.

Who are the key players – the main stakeholders – in the unfolding Brexit drama and where do they stand?

Firstly, the EU negotiating team. Their aim will be to drive the hardest possible bargain in order to make it clear, very clear, to any other would be leavers that leaving, far from being a soft option, will be the political equivalent of the actions of sharpshooters who take careful aim before shooting themselves in the foot.

The motto of the EU negotiating team and their backers towards the UK might be succinctly expressed as “If that is the way that they want it, then that is the way that they can have it and that is the way that they will have it”.

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
Winston Churchill, From Hansard, November 12, 1936

Might there be parallels between the behaviour of Mr Baldwin and his government in 1936 and the behaviour of Mrs May and her government in 2018?

Let me allow Mr Alex Massie, occasional columnist for The Times, to have his say.

“Its time for May to stop marching in circles”
Alex Massie, The Times, April 23, 2018

I was preparing to catalogue the formidable array of problems facing Mrs May on the Brexit front when I read the excellent column by Mr Massie in the Times on April 23. He listed not only the problems that I had intended to mention but quite a few others that had escaped me.

None of the obstacles listed by Mr Massie are trivial and this makes any attempt to compress them tricky. However Holdenforth does not seek to avoid problems so herewith my selections from the Massie column together with my comments.

“Picture the scene deep inside the Downing Street bunker. There sits Mrs May .. Surrounded by her closet advisors as they ‘war game’ the latest developments in the Great Brexit War” (Holdenforth –  We are with you so far, Mr Massie.)

“’Give me options’ you imagine the prime minister demanding. But there are no good options, merely different kinds of difficulty.” (Nicely put, AM.)

“The Sunday Times reported yesterday that that the PM accepts, however reluctantly, that Britain may yet have to remain within the EU customs union if it is to achieve its objectives elsewhere.” (What objectives might these be other than that Mrs May clings onto the keys of Number 10?)

“Mrs May is trapped: in office but not in power.” (Spot on, AM.)

“At some point even this prime minister must make a decision. Are her opponents the EU 27 – ” (Yes) “or her own backbenchers” (Yes again)

“The spectre of Moggism hangs over the government.” (Let’s not carried away. Surely things have not got so bad that this modern Bertie Wooster, the lightest of lightweights, can be thought to exercise significant influence. )

“The gulf between rhetoric, action and reality widens by the day.” (Hear Hear.)

There is more, much more, in the same vein in the AM piece and none of it will have made comfortable reading for Mrs May.

Holdenforth cautiously suggests that the prospects for a successful outcome for the UK in the coming Brexit battle are bleak and the position of and prospects for the HMG team are far more shaky than those of the EU team.

Alex Massie has set out with crystal clarity the weaknesses of HMG and of the UK in the impending Brexit battle. He outlined the difficulties of trying to satisfy the mutually exclusive aims of the hard Brexiteers, the peace at any price Brexiteers and those for whom any departure from the EU will be over their, if not dead bodies, then badly battered bodies.

The task of the HMG team is made significantly more difficult – if that were possible – by the fact that the SNP is firmly in the Remain camp and the Labour Party is in the Micawber camp, waiting for something to turn up.

The policy of the Labour Party continues to puzzle Holdenforth. Insofar as one can make any sense of the material that is put out it appears to be a confused combination of playing Little Sir Echo to the Tories, and, as noted, waiting for something to turn up.

The latter policy cannot fail to succeed in that something WILL turn up. But what is that something?

When the questions are coming thick and fast from the 24/7 media pack – and sooner or later they will be coming thick and fast – Labour will need to get its Brexit act together – so why not get a plausible principled policy together now in the relative tranquillity of the Brexit phoney war?

What about the opinion formers in the media?

“Let me a little show it, even in this-
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so.”
Caesar spelling out his fixed position just prior to his death at the hands of Brutus and others in Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Paul Dacre, like Julius Caesar some two thousand years ago, has been and remains commendably consistent on Brexit.

He has been consistent in his raucous demand that Brexit should mean Brexit – and he continues to demand that Brexit will mean Brexit – full marks to PD for consistency- but he needs to remember what the outcome was for Julius Caesar.

How might this drama unfold in the next few months?

As noted I will confine the scope of this blog to the possible contribution of the awkward squad which lurks on the back benches of the House of Commons to the outcome of the Brexit battle.

Members of the awkward squad are not to be confused with those members who from time to time feature in the headlines to the fury of the party whips and the joy of the electorate. This latter misbehaving group provides ample evidence as to the diverse activities and antics to be encountered in the inner sanctum of our democracy. We will not- for the moment – be looking at abuses of the parliamentary expenses arrangements, nor will we raise the question of how the MP Stephen Milligan died “in unusual sexual circumstances” (How does one die in usual sexual circumstances?), and of why Mr Jonathan Aitken was detained in one of Her Majesty’s penal institutions following his conviction for perjury. We will not seek to raise the case of the internet advertisements placed by the MP for the Rhondda, Mr Chris Bryant, for same sex partners, and nor will we raise the difficulties faced by the Liberal Democrats in the leadership election brought about by the drink problem of its former leader, Charles Kennedy.

(With regard to the last-mentioned difficulties which we will not be raising: four candidates put themselves forward to succeed Mr Kennedy. The tabloids immediately and predictably got onto the job of looking into their past lives and the outcome for two of the four was less than welcome. It turned out that one of the four, Mr Simon Hughes, was sexually ambivalent – not a vote winner in those judgmental days- and another, Mr Mark Oaten, was reported as having engaged in sexual activities too revolting to be described in a family newspaper! A third, Mr Chris Huhne, later had to resign from the Cameron cabinet because of suspicions, later confirmed in court, that he had persuaded his then wife, and, latterly, his aloof critic, to accept penalty points on her driving licence for offences committed whilst he was at the wheel. So – Nick Clegg got the job – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. I should like to end this stroll down memory lane with a brief word about the unseemly allegations concerning Lord Rennard. The portly Lib Dem peer was said to have adopted a very hands on approach in his dealings with female colleagues and a few of them broke cover to accuse him of excessive familiarity. I have no idea what went on any more than you have but some of the reports reminded me of Molly Bloom’s confession to the priest in “Ulysses” – “And where did the man touch you, my child?” “It was on the canal bank, Father” One could sense the frustration endured by the priest as his zeal for getting to the gist of the matter overlapped with his quest for fortuitous titillation came up against not a brick wall but a canal towpath.)

Time was when politicians were expected to have principles to which they would adhere and, when necessary, refer. These principles were presented to the electorate which would then make its choice from the range on offer. Not any more. The speed with which clearly proclaimed principles are jettisoned and wholly different ones adopted leaves the onlooker dazed with the sleight of hand. In the early sixties the Labour party was bitterly opposed to the Common Market. Under Blair, the New Labour Party sought by a series of complex manoeuvres to take us in. The Tory party under Heath in the seventies was firmly pro Europe. Now the party is all but committed to pulling out. As recently as the 1983 general election the Labour party was proud to call itself socialist and put to the electorate a set of policies to match its principles. I recall vividly the speech made by Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale on the eve of the 1983 election. He spoke with pride and passion about the values and principles of the party he was proud to lead. On the debit side it took him about an hour just to bring his story up to 1945 and there were some in his audience and doubtless in the country anxious for a more contemporary note. Nowadays the Labour party whilst condemning everything that Thatcher stood for, has been careful to retain and in some cases even to extend her policies. It’s all very confusing to the voters.

What happens next in Westminster ?

Holdenforth still sees only 3 possibilities.

1. The least likely – Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis to crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. The arguments presented by Alex Massie will have lengthened the odds in its favour to the most remote eventuality.

2. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.  It is much less likely than option 3 (see below) because Members of Parliament are noted rather more for their opportunism than for adherence to principle.

3. The most likely outcome is that Mrs May will sooner or later- and sooner rather than later – lose a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories – 3% of the total – would be required to vote against in order to dislodge Mrs May.

A modest rebellion.

Might there be enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket to carry a no confidence vote?

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage“, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which we will call Brexel 2 – a second referendum in all but name.

Our legislators – those in the Commons now plus a rather larger number anxious to replace them would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand plus candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.

Possible factors to take into account

What about Mr Corbyn and his colleagues?

You tell me. I am far from clear as to what the Parliamentary Labour Party would do in the event that Mrs May and her Government lost a vote of confidence.

It might well be that her successor as Tory leader would note the fragility and uncertainty of the Labour Party, rally the Tory troops and succeed in winning the subsequent election.

What if for whatever reason or combination of reasons the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland?

This leaves the only realistic option of lancing the boil – and putting Mrs May out of her self-inflicted misery – as being for a sufficient number of brave Tory MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

What should the policy of the Remainers be?

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised remainers adopt an approach along the following lines:

“Sir William Harcourt was a genial accomplished parliamentarian , a party man, with an eye fixed earnestly but by no means unerringly upon the main chance”
From “The Earl Of Rosebery” -essay by Winston Churchill .

Thus Sir William Harcourt , thus significant numbers of current and would be members of the House of Commons.

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

1. To persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.

2. An intent to reverse the 2016 referendum and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.

3. The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge that the two main parties both made some appalling errors of judgement on this crucial political issue in the past few years.

Holdenforth remains firmly in the Remain camp and it remains confident that the Brexit battles, if fought to a finish, will be won by the EU and its negotiating team.

Should that outcome come to pass Holdenforth predicts that Mrs May will be left with two options, both unattractive.

A bad deal unlikely to be endorsed by her hard Brexiteer wing
or
No deal – an outcome difficult if not impossible to sell to the UK voters.

Throughout these turbulent proceedings the current membership of the Commons and those hoping to replace them will have just one aim in common – what outcome will be the best for me?

In this phase the electorate, advised and exhorted by the tireless media, will be trying to predict the outcome.

Straws in the wind.

Owen Smith, a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, suggested that Parliament be allowed the final say on the Brexit terms secured by HMG – and was promptly sacked by Mr Corbyn. Given the gravity of some of the political offences that JC had previously pardoned from members of his shadow team – not a good omen for the future.

A doughty cross party and no party group has been formed to campaign for a second referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. Its leading members include Carolyn Lucas, Chuka Umunna and the formidable Anna Soubry. Comedian Andy Parsons – who he? – and Sir Patrick Stewart – thespian space traveller – were also on the launch platform.

The House of Lords has tabled some tricky amendments to trip up the Brexiteers thus triggering some Bolshevist demands by The Daily Mail for the political gelding of the our revered upper house.

Tony Blair and John Major have both launched impressive broadsides against Brexit.

Lord Adonis – a beacon of sense in the Brexit battle – is said to be working tirelessly to organise the Remain forces and I wish him every success in his efforts.

Mr Barry Gardiner was said to have embarrassed the Labour Shadow Cabinet by suggesting that the party’s Brexit policy was bollocks – Holdenforth is not as prim as the Daily Mail which reported the word as b******s.  Whether direct or via asterisks the frustration of Mr Gardiner was plain to discern – his was a commendably direct comment which suggest that there is may well be some flexibility in the views of Mr Gardiner as the Brexit battle moves from phoney to turbulent.

Holdenforth both suspects and hopes that events are moving against the Leavers and in favour of the Remainers.

 

 

 

Whither Brexit?

 

All in all and taking one thing with another and looking at things in the round and pondering on the reports from the two camps – Brexit and Remain – and making all due allowance for possible contributing factors like the repercussions of the attempted murders in Salisbury and the war of words in the Labour Party about whether or not the party is rife with anti-Semitism and, if yes, why, and what did Kim and Xi discuss in their clandestine meeting and how clever of the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping, to arrange for his term of office to be converted into a lifetime appointment and what, if anything, happened between Mr Trump and Stormy Daniels, and, in the case of the last item, does anyone really care –  let us see where we have got to, and where we are headed for, Brexit wise. 

 

 “So  who would you trust – A manic burnt-out Blair preaching doom or a rejuvenated Theresa May in touch with the people and urging unity?”
Daily Mail headline on  March 30, 2018 

 

Well – since you ask, Mr Dacre – I would trust Mr Blair.

 

“Our Ruling Class is ashamed to be British – That was Orwell’s view of the appeasers in WW2. The same accusation applies to Remainers who still think they can stop Brexit.”
Headline in The Daily Mail on March 31, 2018 alongside photos of a beaming Tony Blair, a grim faced Nick Clegg and a determined David Cameron, our former rulers thought to be ashamed of being British by Leo McKinistry and doubtless by the indefatigable Paul Dacre.

 

For my part I hope that the doughty trio of Remainers are right and that Brexit will be stopped in its tracks.

 

Let us make a start by looking at Brexit developments, or, rather, at voids where developments might have been expected since my last Brexit blog  in mid-February. 

 

  • Are we in a Brexit phony war and, if yes, when and how will it explode into action?
  • Is a rejuvenated Theresa May on the crest of a wave that is about to carry her to a triumphant Brexit outcome?
  • The media are teeming with reports purporting to be based on reliable inside information as to what is going on. Which opinions are based on reliable inside information and which opinions are just chin music?

 

Before we address those questions, there was also a welcome breaking of ranks in the Labour Party when Owen Smith outlined the case for a second referendum – on the debit side Mr Smith was promptly sacked from the Shadow cabinet by Mr Corbyn – a case of one step forward, one step back.

 

From my remote position on the margin of the outskirts of the periphery – it seems to me that Mrs May has strengthened both her own position and the prospects for a smooth Brexit in recent weeks.

 

Brexiteers are claiming that significant progress has been made in the various discussions between HMG – for HMG read Mrs May and Mr Davis – on the one hand and the EU negotiating team – Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker – on the other hand. It has been reported that some obstacles to Brexit have been overcome, and that the way is now clear for some detailed negotiations on terms and conditions between the two parties.

 

EU leaders have been filmed embracing  Mrs May – not with notable warmth but a kiss is still a kiss -after some sessions, and the Brexiteers have a collective spring in their collective step.

 

Notes on possible problems ahead.

 

“One strand is evident amongst those who believe that leaving the single market and customs union can make us better off economically.
“It will not.
“Making trade with by far our biggest, richest and closest trading partner more expensive will not have net economic benefit.”

Paul Johnson, The Times. March 19, 2018.

 

Calm, clear, measured words from the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and an accomplished numbers man – a rarity in the Brexit turmoil.

 

There was an entertaining if uninformative spat between two Tories from the toff end of the party, namely Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of the Brexit camp, and Lord  Patten, a Tory big beast from yesteryear, and a passionate Remainer. Lord Patten wondered what Rees-Mogg would like to be when he grows up – many of us would like to know the answer to that question –  and Rees-Mogg opined that Lord Patten did not want democracy in the United Kingdom.

 

I suspect that Lord Patten is more than capable of looking after himself but I also suspect that some in the Brexit camp think that the Brexiteers should appoint Rees-Mogg a minder with the qualities of Jeeves to ensure that the imbecilities articulated so beautifully by this relic are not allowed to  damage the Brexit cause. 

 

 The same point applies to BoJo only more so. Scarcely a day goes by without Boris Johnson making waves – he is evidently resolved to make himself into a UK version of Donald Trump, with the added incentive that the alarming excursions of Mr Trump into the social media seem to strengthen rather than erode his position and his prospects.

 

Both Trump and BoJo personify the old truism that you can fool some of the people some of the time.

 

A word about the Salisbury Poisonings

 

To some extent Brexit has been squeezed out of the headlines by the events in Salisbury on Sunday, March 4, 2018 when the ex Russian spy Mr Sergei Skripal  and his daughter were poisoned by a deadly nerve chemical.

 

There was an immediate and widespread assumption that the Russians were responsible, to be more precise that the crime was planned in and by The Kremlin,  quite possibly on the personal authorisation of Mr Putin  or that Russia had lost control of  some nerve gas and that rogue elements had used it on Mr Skripal.

 

In both cases the Russian state would bear  a heavy responsibility.

 

I thought at the time and have continued to think since that one or other of these explanations might well prove to be correct but I also had and have some sympathy with the argument put forward by the Russian foreign office that  the UK should both complete its investigation and then allow the Russians the time specified in the relevant protocols to respond to the charges, if any.

 

Things did not work out along the lines requested by the Kremlin. The Russia guilty view quickly gathered momentum, and the outcome was a rapid and significant reduction in the numbers of officials employed by Russia in its UK embassy and the Russian embassies of its  many allies on the one hand and a roughly similar cut in the number of  officials employed by these many countries in their respective embassies in Russia.

 

The thought occurred to me that the sequence of events indicated a degree of over manning in the espionage sector but what of that.

 

One matter arising as the crisis escalated intrigued me. The various affluent Russian oligarchs who had moved to London following the break up of the Soviet Union were deemed to be undesirables and a clamour arose in the media for their malign influence to be curbed. These oligarchs had not come here empty handed – being Russians of the thrifty type they had brought their huge fortunes with them , and had used these fortunes to buy influence in the old fashioned way.

 

As I recall much of this influx would have taken place under the nose of Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London – I do not recall that he opposed the oligarchs when he was in a position to do something about it – but then – that’s BoJo!

 

Another and much more important consequence of the Salisbury crime was that Mrs May was able to persuade her NATO allies to support her as she successfully pointed the finger at the Kremlin. This resulted in the mutual scaling up of tensions and the mutual scaling down of diplomatic head counts and this in turn led to a significant increase in her popularity.

 

I suspect that this latter bubble will burst once the hard Brexit negotiations get under way. 

 

A word about Mr Corbyn – in theory and given the precarious position of Mrs May in the House of Commons – Mr Corbyn should be in a position to make a significant input into the Brexit debate in the next few months.

 

In practice two issues appear to be handicapping him.

 

  • Can he move on from his Wilkins Micawber stance  – that of waiting for something to turn up.  Mr Owen Smith has shown him the way but Mr Corbyn seems reluctant to deal with the absurd “ the people have spoken“ position. Why not allow the people to have second thoughts?
  • Mr Corbyn has also been perceived as struggling to cope with the charges of anti Semitism – is he guilty or not guilty?

 

It seems to me that the instances quoted as illustrating that Labour is an anti-semitic party range from the clearly guilty to reasonable points about the regrettable behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories.

 

Mr Corbyn has been in politics long enough to recognise the odious nature of the crime of denying that some 6 million Jews were murdered in the second world war, and long enough to grasp that suggesting that the Holocaust did not happen is rubbing salt into very painful wounds.

 

“ When British forces entered the so called convalescent camp at Belsen is 1945 they found a scene of indescribable horror.: the wasted bodies of 50,000 human beings who had died from starvation and disease… Only a century before all Ireland was a Belsen. Nearly two million Irish people died of starvation and fever within five year; another million fled bearing disease to Liverpool and the New World.”

Opening words of “Genocide” – an essay by Professor A.J.P. Taylor. 

 

As one who is partly of Irish descent I would not take kindly – even after an interval of 170 years – to reading that the Irish famine did not happen.

 

Those seeking explanations for continuing Irish obduracy down the years would do well to bear the actions of Sir Charles Trevelyan and his Whitehall colleagues in the 1840s in mind. 

 

Back to Brexit 

 

As the two protagonists edge gingerly forward into uncharted territory – who are the key players?

 

  • For HMG –  Mrs May, Mr Davis and, more unpredictably, Mr Johnson
  • UK opinion movers and shakers – Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch
  • The EU first team – Messrs Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Barnier and Mr Tusk
  • The Remainers – Mr Blair, Mr Owen Smith , Anna Soubry, Mr George Soros and Sir Martin Sorrell. I include the Holdenforth in this latter group on the shaky grounds that the addition a few paupers to the remain group would work wonders for diversity.

 

What happens next in the negotiations?

 

“A successful Brexit will crucially depend on negotiating speedy bilateral agreements with big economies. The precedents are not good: success will take compromise.”
Times leader, April 3, 2018

 

The leading article is not exactly brimming with confidence that the outcome will be satisfactory, and it ends with the old standby that “the best may prove the enemy of the good“.

 

The Times explains its own concerns and reservations: here are the concerns and reservations of  Holdenforth in no particular order.

 

1. It is unfortunate that the next phase in what are bound to be difficult negotiations will coincide with the outbreak of an uncompromising trade war between the USA and China – not a good start.

 

2. The worsening row between “The West” and Russia over the attempted murders in Salisbury has further poisoned and polarised global politics – again the timing is unfortunate.

 

3. The 27 countries that, as things stand, plan to remain in the EU, have enough problems of their own without making matters worse by bowing to the collective tantrums of the UK, starting with the absurd Cameron decision to hold a referendum.  I suspect that the 27 will not wish to make any significant concessions and they will not wish to be seen to be making any significant concessions- after all the 27 as a group hold the stronger cards.

 

4. Accordingly, this blog predicts that the EU stance will be inflexible although couched in courteous language.  

 

If this does turn out to be the case, then Mrs May may well  have to opt for a “no deal” outcome rather than a “bad deal” outcome.

 

What happens then?

 

We could be heading for a degree of turbulence that will make the proceedings experienced to date seem positively tranquil.

 

What happens next in Westminster?

 

Holdenforth still sees only three possibilities:

 

1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. Not impossible but not very likely.

 

2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility – but – as noted – Mr Corbyn and his party are not exactly clear as to their policy.  A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support arrangement , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland.  

 

3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.

 

Which of our two plausible  two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPs?

 

Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.

 

This leaves the only realistic option of  lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

 

So:

 

  • There are currently 314 Tory Mps in the Commons
  • 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.

 

To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick. Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?

 

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

 

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

 

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol –  a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.

 

Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons  being stretched to breaking point.

 

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised Remainers adopt an approach along the following lines.

 

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

 

  • Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May .
  • An intent to reverse the events of recent years and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.
  • The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge  that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years.

 

 Let us close on an eye watering issue from down under…

 

Senior Australian cricketers have been found guilty of ball tampering and have paid a heavy price for their sharp practices

 

Just a thought –  how would you like to have your balls sand papered?

 

I have to confess that the very thought of it made my eyes water.

 

 

 

As I Please – Second Edition

An aged blogger grumbles about “Great Continental Railway Journeys”

This programme, presented by Michael Portillo, was broadcast on BBC 2 on March 15.

I watched this programme and, as usual with the Portillo offerings, I rather enjoyed it.

On the debit side I was disappointed by one omission. The theme of the programme was the history and geography of the railway between Batuum and Baku and I think that mention could have been made of the brief British involvement in that line.

In his final volume of his history of the First World War, Winston Churchill wrote as follows:-

“The British landed at Batuum and rapidly occupied the Caucasian railway from the Black Sea to the Caspian at Baku. Here our troops found a friendly and on the whole welcoming, though agitated population… The British forces, about 20,000 strong, were by the end of January, 1919 in possession of one of the greatest strategic lines in the world…  What the British Government was going to do with it was never clearly thought out… It was with the greatest difficulty .. that this protecting line was maintained for about a year.”

Given that the centenary of this remote theatre of WW1 is almost upon us, and that yet again tensions between the UK and Russia are very much in the news today I ,feel that the programme makers missed an opportunity to shed some light upon this intriguing period in our history.

I have to declare an interest here. My father was one of the 20,000 troops mentioned by Churchill. He served in The Royal Engineers as a Plate Layer on the “great strategic line,” and returned to the UK in 1919 to spend the next 40 years working as a plate layer in the rather more tranquil surroundings of the line between Bolton and Lostock Junction.

One other item unearthed from a very long stroll down a very long memory lane. My mother – born in 1897- told me that my great grandmother – born in 1838 – used to sing my oldest brother – born 1921 – to sleep with songs about the Crimean war – yet another falling out with Russia.

Isn’t is about time that the UK and Russia resolved their differences in a rather more civilised fashion?

A  word about Sir John Chilcot

In a previous blog item  I begged those in authority in the UK to abandon the approach adopted by Sir John Chilcot in his inquiry into the war in Iraq. Quite simply, I argued that Sir John had been rather too anxious to re-visit every episode in great detail and, more importantly, at a very languid pace. He, Sir John, had decided at the outset of the enquiry that no stone should be left unturned – and no stone or even tiny pebble – was left unturned.

Let us now fast forward to today. The attempted murder of the former Russian spy and of his daughter was followed by the most rapid arrival of conclusions in British history.

Could it be – I wondered – that Mr Boris Johnson had read my Chilcot blog and had been fully persuaded of the need to get a move on?

However even I, with my zeal for alacrity, had not sought to argue that the time honoured need for a careful investigation prior to arriving at conclusions should be abandoned, but evidently BoJo was in no mood to be deemed to be guilty of Chilcotisation – and nor was he. Thus we went from the extremely cautious approach of Sir John Chilcot on the one hand to the rush to judgement adopted by BoJo at the other extreme with no pause for thought as the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

A couple of digressions here:

* The Boris effect:- 1:- Emma Duncan mentioned the Boris effect in her Notebook in the Times on March 19. She was initially persuaded that “All the evidence points towards Putin as the ultimate perpetrator of the attacks in Salisbury… So why has my conviction begun to waver? Because Boris Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin ordered the attacks, and he has shown himself to be so untrustworthy that I am inclined to disbelieve everything he says.

Good point, Emma.

* The Boris effect-2 – In the Andrew Marr show on March 18 we had the unedifying spectacle of Andrew Marr interviewing Boris Johnson about the Salisbury poisonings.

I noted above that I share the low opinion of Emma Duncan and many other others about the dubious nature of the character of BoJo.

The public should not forget that it is not that long ago that Andrew Marr took out a comprehensive injunction banning all mention of his not especially interesting extra marital exploits.

I think it likely that both HMG and the BBC could use more plausible employees to make the case against the role of Russia in the poisonings.

Notes on Bullying

“A deserved kick up the backside isn’t bullying”
Headline above the Matthew Parris column in The Times, March 17, 2018

Matthew Parris used his recent column to suggest that the public view of bullying has swung too far in the direction of being over sensitive and that there will always be a case to take people  who are failing to perform to the required standard to task.

So far – so good – but as is usually the case in these tricky areas – the devil is the detail.

I will limit my comments on the matter to the actions of a few media moguls and then leave it to readers to decide if the said moguls might be deemed to be guilty of bullying.

The case against Rupert Murdoch

The following extract from my book, A Cushy Number, sets out the case against Mr Murdoch

“In their splendidly entertaining book, L!ve TV – The uncut story of Tabloid Television, Chris Horrie and Adam Nathan wrote an account of the rise and fall of L!ve TV in which the dramatis personae included  the well known media figures, Kelvin McKenzie and David Montgomery, some time Editors of The Sun and News of the World respectively. Horrie and Nathan relate how even the legendarily thick skin of Kelvin McKenzie was starting to show signs of wear and tear after a decade of abuse from Rupert Murdoch, this despite the fact that it had been said of McKenzie that the only sensitive part of his person  was the tip of his organ of generation.

“Most of us would prefer not to have to endure the daily verbal assaults of Mr Murdoch even if the plus side of the job was that the Editor was free to pour cold water on the rest of us. (We  know that water is not le mot juste but our ingrained fastidiousness made us shrink from inserting the name of the more appropriate liquid.) In any event McKenzie fully exploited his freedom at all times. However the fact remains that KM was bollocked on a daily basis by RM –  Calculations show that McKenzie received about 4,000 in all, which must constitute some sort of unwelcome professional record. At one point the authors quote the luckless McKenzie as lamenting that ‘F’kin hell, the boss has been on the gorilla biscuits again’.”

The case against Paul Dacre

My source here is the book, Flat Earth News by Nick Davies and I will quote from the book.

“There is something else which Mail journalists talk about, which is Paul Dacre’s aggression. A woman who edited a section of the paper told me:- “ they call him the vagina Monologue because he calls so many people a cunt. He would stalk through the newsroom… and he’s shouting “What the fuck, is this you cunt, there’s not a fucking brain in this office.”

There is plenty more in this vein but you get the picture – a picture in which the boss is not averse to using the language of the gutter to emphasise his points.

Is Paul Dacre a work place bully? You tell me.

The case against Richard Desmond is broadly in line with the case against Paul Dacre – only more so.

So there you have it – just how objective might our proprietors be given their propensity to resort to strong and offensive – to those on the receiving end  – when dealing with perceived flaws in the quality of the work of their respective subordinates.

I rest my case that my trio of media moguls have been guilty of workplace bullying. I would be surprised if Mr Dacre has softened his approach, but it may be that advancing years may have diminished the aggression of Mr Murdoch, and I have no idea about the scope for bullying in the more remote media shores now occupied by Mr Desmond.

A case of tangible work place bullying

The late, incomparable Times Columnist Bernard Levin  wrote a piece called “How to know when you’re not wanted” on June 2nd, 1978.

His column arose from a dispute before an industrial tribunal between an employer and his employee over the alleged dismissal of the latter. The tribunal was told that “ the owner of a hair dressing salon punched one of his staff in the face and kneed him in the groin .. It was also reported that he, the employer, then attempted to drag the employee outside so that he could have a real go.”

The complexities of what does and what does not constitute dismissal do not concern us here.

I suspect that few of us would contest the charge that the employer had adopted a bullying approach towards his employee.

For the record “the tribunal accepted that such treatment was tantamount to unfair dismissal.“

A bullying story with a happy ending

“I have a long series of insults to avenge … have a care;  for if you do raise the devil in me, the consequences shall fall heavily on your own head.
“He had scarcely spoken when Squeers … spat upon him and struck him a blow across the face with his instrument of torture which raised up a bar of livid flesh as it was inflicted…
“Nicholas sprang upon him, wrested the weapon from his hand and, pinning him by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy — he threw all his remaining strength into half a dozen finishing cuts and flung Squeers from him …. Squeers striking his head (against a form) lay at full length on the ground, stunned and motionless.
From “Nicholas Nickleby” by Charles Dickens

Then, as now, the public liked to see a bully bested and beaten, especially when the victor was an employee and the loser was an employer.

The fastidious might argue that Dickens seemed to relish the combat, but the outcome was a source of comfort to his readers.

A hypothetical case of bullying

Matthew Parris wrote light heartedly that a kick up the backside isn’t bullying.

Some years ago I rashly invested a substantial part of my hard earned savings in allegedly safe funds operated by Capita/ Arch CRU.

I  regretted my decision when a few weeks later the funds were mysteriously “suspended” and it appeared likely that I would lose the full amount.

I pondered on the sentence that would await me if I were to seek out the senior manager responsible for my  impoverishment and proceed to insert my size 14 boot up his anal orifice to the very last lace hole.

Wiser counsels prevailed with the intervention of the doughty Jeff Prestridge from The Mail on Sunday. The outcome was that I recovered the greater part of the money that I had assumed to be gone for good.

What view might the law have taken had I taken action along the lines hinted at above?

Would I been deemed to be guilty of assault, provoked or otherwise?  I suspect that that would have been the outcome – private citizens must not take the law into their own hands.

PS – writing the above tetchy notes reminded me that 10 years later I am still owed around £1k and that this money is languishing in some vague cells in The Channel Islands.

Holdenforth action – get after Capita / Arch CRU for this outstanding amount!

A plaintive aged blogger bleats

“Behold a sower went forth to sow, And when he sowed some seeds fell by the way side and the fowls came and devoured them up.
“And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them.
“Some fell upon stony places ….. And when the sun was up they were scorched and because they had no root they withered away.
“But other fell into good ground and brought forth fruit some an hundred fold , some sixty fold, some thirty fold.”
Matthew 13, verses 3 to 8

I mentioned in a previous blog piece that I had resorted to social media only because the previous recipient of my views, Tribune Magazine, had gone out of business or gave every impression of having done so. Prior to this I had had no contact with the arcane world of social media and I had no particular wish to do so.

My initial entry to this mysterious new world was a cautious dip into the shallow end of the social media pool. I wrote blogs that covered roughly the same ground as my Tribune articles, and my son who grasps the modus operandi of this brave new world did the rest.

So far so good.

I became aware of the much wider field that is/are Social Media, when I was advised to send my blogs to my Facebook contacts.

Facebook contacts?

What Facebook contacts?

In this brave new world it was not that there gaps in my knowledge but rather a void.

My initial velleity had been that my blog pieces would be speedily and electronically transmitted to my newly acquired Facebook contacts and that they in turn would transmit them to their Facebook friends and so on ad infinitum. In less time than it takes to tell my blogs would be distributed to a number at or around the circulation of the Sun newspaper and I would be transformed from obscure Tribune contributor to a columnist with the influence of – let us say – Mr Littlejohn, the doyen of contemporary columnists and now fulminating in the pages of The Daily Mail.

I was advised that the introduction and widespread availability of social media was a social and technical revolution as significant as the introduction of electronic communications in an earlier age.

It was explained to me that these  social media signified the end of the monopoly exercised by the conventional print and broadcast media – hence the collective distaste felt by this group for the new usurpers.

Finally and belatedly it was also explained to me that the modest downside of my new venture would be that I would be on the receiving end of a tsunami of  Facebook updates, Facebook status reports, Facebook photos, Facebook accounts of accounts of shopping expeditions, all contributing to the startling diversity and complexity of contemporary life on earth.

I was urged to accept all requests from strangers to be my friends on Facebook apart from those from unlikely sources such as say Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.

For reasons that remain unclear to me things did not work as per my velleity – hence the title of this piece.

The predicted downside turned out exactly as per the prediction – no complaints from me on that score.

The hoped for benefits are to still to be delivered, and I am unsure as to why this this should be so. Given the similarity of the Facebook multiplier process to a Ponzi scheme – my blogs in theory at least are routinely arriving into thousands of computers. I appreciate that most of the recipients will speedily for wholly understandable reasons. However,  I had anticipated that a few might read them and that a lively  exchange of views might follow would follow.

Sadly this has not yet happened, and so far as I can make and to use the sower parable from the Gospel of St Matthew – most of my well intentioned seed has fallen either by the way side, or upon stony ground or among thorns but as yet – none into good ground.

Where to from here?  Clearly – to seek advice to explain the functions of the myriad of icons that accompany and confuse every Facebook arrival into my social media world.

Stop Press

“£25bn is wiped off Facebook after fury over data harvesting”
Daily Mail headline – March 20, 2018

Good enough for the bastards!

Nice work if you can get it – the rich water boys and girls

 

Earnings of the Chief Executives of the English Water Boards – Details thoughtfully supplied by the Daily Mail on March 6, 2018:

Area CE Names CE Earnings – in £M
Liv Garfield Severn Trent 2.45
Steve Mogford United Utilities 2.3
Steve Robertson Thames Water Up to 2.1
Peter Simpson Anglian Water 1.5
Richard Flint Yorkshire Water 1.32
Chris Loughlin Pennon Group 1.3
Colin Skellet Wessex Water 0.91
Heidi Mottram Northumbrian Water 0.73
Paul Butler South East Water 0.42
Mel Karam Bristol Water 0.23
Ian McAulay Southern water 0.20

Just one comment. – nice money for those senior managers whose business conduct is based on the standard set by Mr Arthur Daley,   They live off  the fat of the land in their cushy numbers in the water supply cartel.

As I Please

Further notes on Charity

A few weeks ago I published a piece on my blog about various problems afflicting the UK charity sector. The gist of the article was that there was one problem in particular afflicting the sector – the perceived significant gap between the funds donated to the charity sector and the funds actually handed out to the intended recipients.  Most donors to the many charities in the sector would like to think that the funds so generously donated were quickly used to benefit the various causes with the minimum of funds used to lubricate the administrative machinery and the minimum of time being spent to achieve this.

Excellent work by the tireless media sleuths uncovered a multiplicity of situations where these commendable goals were not achieved.

In no special order:

  • Far too many senior managers in the charity sector believed and acted on the belief that charity begins at home. It turned out that exorbitant salaries were commonplace, and that expenses incurred were on the lavish side.
  • The performance of the body charged with overseeing and regulating the charity sector was deemed to be woefully inadequate and ripe for a change of personnel at the top.
  • The ruthless methods employed by some charities to pester existing donors to shell out still more funds had more in common with the protection rackets favoured throughout the criminal world.

All the above weaknesses were equally prevalent – if not more so – in the overseas aid sector .

“Something must be done,” observed King Edward the Eighth when he was taken to see the appalling conditions in the South Wales coalfields in 1936. I noted that Holdenforth can and indeed must do better than the feeble monarch. I put forward the following suggestions on how to tackle the ailments of the charity sector.

  • Start at the top – put in place a Charity Commission capable of effectively policing the charity sector.
  • In the search for new members of reconstituted Charity Commission – look outside the pool of deadbeats and political lickspittles of those in power that are typically recruited.
  • Eliminate all links between charities and the HMRC – both groups have enough problems to sort out without bringing them together.
  • When malpractices are exposed – all investigations by the Charity Commission to be prompt – the languid Chilcot adopted by Sir John Chilcot to be avoided here as it should be avoided everywhere.
  • I have suggested elsewhere that the practice of allowing senior managers to design their own bonus arrangements should be banned. Instead the inadequate to be handed a P45 – the competent get to keep their jobs. This rule to be extended to the charity sector.
  • Stringent rules governing the management and control of charity finances to be put in place in place. The practices used by the late Arnold Weinstock would serve as a splendid model – very little ever escaped the eagle eye of Lord W.
  • Impose harsh penalties for the plethora of sharp practices that are a feature of the charity sector. Those at the top caught with their fingers in the till need to be made aware that their exposure will not simply result in their being banned from future work in the sector. The lesson will only be fully learned when the top guilty men – it always seems to be men – are also relieved of their ill-gotten gains.

I posted the blog and thought it contained a few sound ideas on how to improve performance in the charity sector. Little did I know that the various failures flushed out by the media were merely overtures and that the real charity scandal was about to burst.

‘A grotesque corruption of compassion’ announced a headline in the Daily Mail of February 18, 2018. It went on: ‘Bloated with cash. Drunk on power. The aid industry and gullible governments have abused our generosity for far too long, says this expert …’

There followed a tsunami of stories about the behaviour of people employed in the charity sector overseas. The word tsunami is quite appropriate in this context because those accused were ostensibly using charity funds donated to repair the appalling damage caused by a series of natural disasters. Sadly, it emerged that household name charities had employed people whose primary concern was to prey on the very vulnerable victims of these natural disasters, as the headlines delineated:.

  • ‘Charities in crisis over sex claims.’ ‘Oxfam misled everyone, confirms minister.’ Complaints about ex- Save the Children chief” (Times, February 21, 2018)
  • ‘Former Oxfam chief keeps Cambridge job – for now.’ ‘Cambridge academics are supporting Dame Barbara Stocking … despite the increasing pressure she is facing over her central role in the Oxfam scandal.’ (Times, February 22, 2018)
  • ‘Save the Children never told us our new chief pestered women.’ ‘WE want to know what really went on with female staff, say Unicef” (Mail, February 22, 2018)
  • ‘Unicef Boss quits but says it’s NOT over sleazy texts.’ (Mail, February 23, 2018)

I could go on and on and on and on – but you get the flavour. By the time the story died down there was a scarcely a major charity that was not tarnished and the responsibility for the failures went to the very top.

There is not much more to say. The media has performed its role admirably – squalid but all too ubiquitous practices have been exposed and those exposed will be engaged in the time-honoured practice of keeping their heads down and hoping that they can return at some not too distant time to a Business as Usual situation.

Holdenforth suggests that the energetic implementation of the actions listed earlier by a new regulator will significantly curb the antics of those employed in the charity who suffer from the Harvey Weinstein syndrome.

Before leaving this unseemly topic, I would like to mention the dilemma faced by Mr Jeff Fairburn, the CEO of Persimmon who managed to extract a bonus amounting to £130 million by a variety of sharp practices. The pressure on him after his sharp practices had been exposed, triggered an act of quasi penitence on his part – a resolve to donate some of his ill-gotten gains to charity.

What Charity might be sufficiently free of corruption to scoop up some unspecified portion of the money looted by Mr Fairburn out of Persimmon?

I would be graceful for opinions on a tricky moral decision. To start the ball rolling I suggest that HMG amend arrangements relating to mega bonus payments so as to ensure that the money looted in this fashion is gathered in by HMRC.

So – Farewell then, Tribune, the 81 year old periodical…..

I was disconcerted to read in a recent issue of Private Eye that Tribune Magazine was facing considerable problems in keeping its show on the road. The report which followed the standard Private Eye mock goodbye covered not only the decline of the once great magazine founded by Nye Bevan in late 1930s, later edited by Michael Foot, and with George Orwell as its literary editor.

The report also related how the magazine had been acquired by “convicted rapist Owen Oyston who quietly took sole control of Tribune’s parent company London Publications Ltd last autumn when (Tribune Editor), Chris Mclaughlin and his fellow hack Andrew Rosthorn stepped down as directors.” The report also noted that that “Oyston and his son Karl were last November found by the high court to have illegitimately stripped more than £26m (from Blackpool Football Club ) to the fury of loyal fans.” Blackpool FC was controlled by the Oyston family.

The Private Eye report about the bleak prospects for the magazine saddened me, but it also helped to explain the erratic performance of Tribune as regards my own minor involvement with the magazine in recent years.

From the autumn of 2015 to the middle of 2016 Tribune published every one of my submitted pieces – around 20 pieces, each of around 3000 words on topical matters. The draft pieces were edited and I was always given the planned final version to check ahead of publication.

At that point – so far – so very good.

Then – for reasons that I could only guess at – my submissions were accepted only rarely, and I noted that items written by the deputy editor, Ian Hernon, tended to dominate the magazine. These items seemed, to my possibly peevish mind, to consist of warmed up versions of issues well past their sell by date.

I took the view that there was no future for my pieces in a magazine run by Ian – Little Sir Echo -Hernon, and proceeded to use my Holdenforth blog to air my views.

The record of Mr Oyston puts him squarely in the class of dodgy proprietors – Robert Maxwell springs to mind.

If only I had known.

I hope that Holdenforth readers will not think me presumptuous if I borrow the phrase used by George Orwell (‘As I Please’) to head up his Tribune columns in the golden age of the magazine, to head up this blog. The phrase appeals to me because blogging affords me precisely that most appealing of opportunities – the freedom to say exactly what I want to say.

A very brief word on Brexit

During February, the two national newspapers in the Mail stable provided two rather different viewpoints on Brexit.

First, three headlines from the Mail on Sunday on February 11, 2018:

  • ‘Soros hits back over toxic attacks on pledge to stop Brexit’
  • ‘“I won’t butt out” by George Soros  ‘
  • ‘His name smeared. His motives denounced. But here one of the world’s top businessmen tells why his love for Britain means he’ll fight to oppose Brexit’

The MoS gave Mr Soros ample opportunity to justify his remain commitment.

Now for the Daily Mail, six days’ later:

  • ‘Mr Blair and the billionaire who cant stop interfering in other nations’ affairs’
  • ‘Accused of destabilising democracy in Britain, we revealed how George Soros is using his wealth to manipulate politics and impose his agenda in countries across the globe’

Commendable evidence here of the commitment of The Mail papers to freedom of speech and to freedom of the press. Brexiteers may have deplored, indeed did deplore, the fact that the MoS and the Daily Mail were not singing from the same hymn sheet but what of that – huzzah for diversity.

The Brexit situation is reported is reported as being calm and under control, according to Mrs May following her recent speech which (again, according to Mrs May) went a long way to resolving the various contentious matters said to be splitting the cabinet.

Who am I to say otherwise?

I would like to take advantage of this outbreak of tranquillity to raise one point which has been troubling me about the whole business – remember that I write from a committed remain point of view.

I noted in the previous outbreak of in-fighting that a disconcertingly large number of the UK mega rich – and significant numbers of the global mega rich – were firm in their advocacy of a remain outcome, possibly via the mechanism of a second referendum.

The affluent Remainers were said to include Mr. Martin Sorrell, who has form for the amount of money that he collects in his capacity as the most senior manager in WRP. Unkind critics of Mr Sorrell have suggested that the performance of WRP would improve if he, Mr Sorrell, were to devote rather more of his time and energy to the performance of WRP and rather less of his time and energy to ensuring that his reward package put him at the top of the UK league.

But malicious, envious critics would say that, wouldn’t they?

I brooded over this troubling point about the affluence of many Remain advocates as it was highlighted by the Daily Mail. I calmed my anxiety by deciding that the Remain cause could only be strengthened by the inclusion of a smattering of paupers including – sadly – your blogger.

Crime section – an attempted murder.

‘“Do you know, or do you not know, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved- proved – to be guilty.”‘
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens: a fiery scene set in The Three Jolly Bargemen pub when Mr Jaggers berates the assembled topers for their lack of awareness of one of the basic tenets of English law

‘“Let the jury consider their verdict” the King said.
“No no” said the Queen. “Sentence first- verdict afterwards.”‘
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

‘“I think the markets are on a rise, says he, sliding his hand down his fork.
So begob the citizen claps his paw on his knee and he says: Foreign wars is the cause of it.
And says Joe, sticking his thumb in his pocket:  It’s the Russians wish to tyrannise.”’
Ulysses, James Joyce

The discussion in Barney Kiernan’s bar in Dublin bears a resemblance to the discussions in the UK media in terms of its rationality.

Firstly, a smattering of pertinent headlines:

  • “MI5 believes Russians tried to kill former spy”
  • “Double agent and daughter remain critically ill ….” – Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Julia,33, remained critically ill in hospital yesterday after being exposed to an unknown substance and collapsing at a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday ( February 4).

This story has been the main story since bare details of the incident were reported on the following day. As I write the story is still very much in the headlines with the Kremlin a clear bookies’ favourite as the perpetrator.

And the headlines go on: the next selection all hail from March 7’s edition of the Daily Mail:

  • “Will Royals now snub World Cup?”
  • “Was he sprayed in street?”
  • “Detectives fear spy was targeted with poison liquid which also left 999 staff in hospital”

Now The Times on the same day:

  • “MI5 believes Russians tried to kill former spy.“
  • “Johnson threatens World Cup”

With regards to the last: well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

The assumption that the attempted murders of Mr Skripal and his daughter were planned in Russia was widespread in the UK media and the explanations ranged from a the crime being the work of former colleagues in the Russian intelligence community to assertions that Mr Putin had personally authorised the crime.

Holdenforth has no idea who authorised what and when and where especially why, but Holdenforth is aware that “the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved- proved – to be guilty.”

Holdenforth was also slightly disconcerted by the rapidity with which the Red Queen‘s stance in Alice in Wonderland (sentence first- verdict afterwards) was adopted.

In fact many commentators went beyond the extreme position of the argument by going straight to the verdict without the tiresome constraint of reviewing the evidence.

“London: Cesspit of World’s dirty cash”
Today there are almost 450 Russian multi-millionaires in the country- in part because an investment of £1m will get you a residence permit…………….We have no idea of property owned by Russians because the government still allows anonymous companies from its overseas territories – tax havens – to buy property without revealing the beneficiary’s true identity”
Report by Misha Glenny, Daily Mail, March 7, 2018

It seems to me that Misha Glenny was on to something of significance in his Daily Mail article. He highlighted the extent to which huge sums of Russian money acquired in the main from the chaotic and criminal period following the collapse of the Russian communist party found its way by a variety of routes into the city of London. Can anyone in the UK doubt that powerful figures in the City of London were only too ready to welcome the wave of affluent crooks who proceeded to wreak havoc with house prices in the South East funded by the seemingly endless supply of freshly laundered cash.

We need to remind ourselves from time to time that the most obvious beneficiaries of globalisation are the criminal fraternity. We read frequently about the menace of organised crime and it would appear that crime is possible the most organised activity on our planet – pity really.

Nick – a whistleblower or what?

‘“Who is Sylvia? What is she
That all our swains commend her?”’

An updated version: who is Nicholas?

Some of us would like to know just exactly who the hell he is and how on earth has he managed to remain in the shadows whilst acting out his role as our national snitch.

 

The Dickens quote referred to above is equally apposite in the context of the favourable treatment of Nick and of the appalling treatment of those accused by him.

‘This sick fantasy is plumbing new depths:  as the accuser in VIP paedophile is charged many MPs, police and journalists should hang their heads in shame’
Headline above a column by Mathew Parris on the tragic farce that comprises the persecution of public figures, The Times, February 10, 2018

The first sentence in the Parris column puts the matter in a nutshell: “This week Nick, the single source for the lurid allegations about a top peoples’ paedophile ring that the  Operation Midland was until recently investigating, has been charged with paedophile offences.”

Mr Parris does an excellent job in his demolition of the shaky flaky foundations of the Nick story. Doubtless the various allegations against Nick will be investigated, and at some stage, a decision will be taken as to whether the various matters are aired in court.

Holdenforth is concerned with one point and one point only – what is so special about Nick that he is allowed to skulk in anonymity whilst the targets of his allegations endured months, even years, of anguish?

So – what does Holdenforth want?

  • Who exactly is Nick or Nicholas? Let’s be knowing.
  • When can the public expect the spotlight that he has so readily arranged to shine on others to be used to illuminate his elusive features?
  • What action is being taken to sack the senior police officers who were responsible for the fiasco and who had so little grasp of their professional responsibilities which exclude any presumption of guilt on the part of the accused and of innocence on the part of the accuser?
  • What action is being taken by Parliamentary authorities to hold Tom Watson to account for his squalid smears of the accused?

All of us would accept that the abuse of children is an odious crime. I can think of another equally odious crime – that of accusing people of child abuse under the protection of parliamentary privilege on the flimsiest of evidence.

‘“Nick” Officer promoted … While facing probe for misleading judge’,
Daily Mail, February 8, 2018

The article below the above headline focused mainly on the shaky performance of Diane Tudway as she investigated allegations by “Nick” about the sexual misconduct of some very public figures, including Leon Brittan, Harvey Proctor and Lord Bramall.

It emerged from the article that “the suspected fantasist who triggered the investigation  is facing paedophilia charges.”

You’ve guessed it – the suspected fantasist is none other than Nick.

One final point. Holdenforth hopes that the legal proceedings required to catch up with Nick will not be tarnished by the Chilcot factor and allowed to drag on until the public has forgotten who said what and who did what.