A few reflections on the Scottish Referendum

September 20, 2014

The Scottish Referendum ended with a win for the Better Together campaign and devastation for the devolutionists and its leader Alex Salmond. Here are a few unedited impressions of the end-game

September 18th 2014

An emotional roller-coaster of a final day of campaigning and a night waiting as the results were counted. The process is hailed as a template for democratic elections. The commitment was impressive, the over ninety percent registration, over eighty percent turn-out.

Hope and denial

Hope in bucketfuls from the Independent Scotland ranks. For that dreamed-for freedom.

Freedom from the auld enemy, reborn as ‘the politicians in Whitehall’. Denial in bucketfuls, too. Denial that Scottish leaders were of a similar moral standing and competence to Whitehall’s toffs and scoundrels. The anger of one old-school socialist brought memories of an earlier age of fire-breathing working-class Scottish Union leaders with a long rehearsed loathing of his class enemies.

The pain of loss

The expressions of a lost dream in which a free Scotland would have been free from Trident -that was often mentioned. Free from perceived unjust laws imposed from Whitehall. For some, free from fears of what might happen, for example to the NHS [National Health Service].

From under a duvet

A distraught and inconsolable young caller to a phone-in. Upset after campaigning all day, staying up all night. Polls show the Better Together win. More questioning. She is nineteen. Tearful. In bed. I imagine her curled up, foetal position, under a duvet, clutching her I-phone.

Whitehall. It’s politics as usual

Early morning. A prepared statement from David Cameron confirming concessions to Scotland but also to the other constitutive parts of the [still] United Kingdom. Seized on as an electioneering ploy.

The agony of Alex

Alex Salmond, indefatigable leader of the Yes campaign for two years. Final speech had been as confident as ever. Within hours of the result, he announces he will step down as first Minister of the Scottish Parliament. The mask of command had been wearily taken off.

World reaction

Excellent International review from BBC Scotland.

Local reaction

Just heard two Labour politicians in deeply-divided discussion [BBC Radio 5] much easier for the Better Together camp to seek reconciliation. Sad.


Why Boris is remembered for introducing congestion charges and Boris bikes

August 22, 2014

Charismatic leaders attract myths which help constitute their public persona. A case in point is that of Boris Johnsonboris bikes

I was reminded of the myth-making process phenomenon after a meeting yesterday [August 22nd] with two LWD contributors. We were discussing the final draft for a post about Boris Johnson being planned for the near future.

They seek him here, they seek him there

But how to pin down the Boris effect? One instructive episode at the meeting was when we began listing what Boris was known for. Bendy busses. Public gaffs. Teflon-like survival of public gaffs. Boris Bikes. London’s congestion change.

London’s congestion charge?

Well, no not really, but they were added to the list of Boris’s political achievements. Only later did a little research reveal the historical fact that they were introduced by Ken Livingstone, Boris’s predecessor as Mayor of London.

An explanation?

Charisma operates by inducing a state of suspended disbelief. Boris is believed to do big bold controversial things. The congestion change is a big bold controversial thing. I don’t think Boris has tried to abolish it. We assumed he had invented it.

The Guinness effect

A possibly unrelated effect? Some years ago I attended a meeting at which new ideas were being discussed for the drinks company then known as Guinness. A rather nice idea was suggested by a colleague, someone we will call Susan. The idea was hardly greeted with enthusiasm, but at the end of the meeting two unexpected things happened. The idea was accepted as worth further testing.

“That’s a nice idea you had” one of the Guinness executives told me, to general agreement.

Did I insist Susan got credit for the idea? Not loud enough to make a difference to the myth being built. I could argue that the ‘creative ideas’ meeting was structured so that ideas were deliberately left unclaimed and not associated with any one team member. That is hardly the point. I had accrued the social credit for something I hadn’t done. It happened to fit my (then) social identity as the outsider brought in because of his creative skills.

Susan became known in her own right as a successful creative leader. The idea (which involved a re-branding of a well-known product) was followed through. The incident has remained with us as a reminder of what we think of as The Guinness Effect.

Postscript

Even the Boris Bikes are technically branded as Barclays cycle hire scheme for the moment (but a new sponsor is likely) . And even the Barclays/Boris bikes were proposed by Ken Livingstone and implemented during the reign of king Boris …


George Osborne killed my nanny

March 20, 2014

Nanny StateThe Chancellor dealt a mortal blow to the nanny state in his budget. Or did he?

In the UK, there are two evil monsters in the popular bestiary, the nanny state, and the crazed demon known as political correctness. In his budget yesterday [March 19th, 2014] George Osborne appeared to have struck hard at the nanny state monster and her grip over the pensions of hard-saving workers.

At a stroke he handed control of pension funds back to their rightful owners. And with awareness of confusions caused by that sudden liberation, the grateful pensioners will be able to receive advice from ‘independent advisors’.

Irresponsible pensioners?

Might some liberated pensioners go on a spending spree, and then end as a burden on the state? Not at all, Danny Alexander assured us, and he should know as a coalition partner of Mr Osborne. Savers are responsible people not feckless losers about to splurge their liberated cash.

Getting away from nanny

Anyway, he implied, there may be a few old reprobates who head off to Ibiza and limp home penniless (or Euroless). That is a small price to pay for shocking the country out of the domineering control of the nanny state.

And we all lived happily ever after

Or did we? Mythical monsters are not as easy to kill off as natural species like tigers or rhinos. The nanny state may retreat, wounded but not destroyed. There may be stories coming up about unscrupulous advisers charging for dodgy financial advice over dodgy financial products. I know that’s hard to believe.

The cynical BBC analyst Nick Robinson went so far as to suggest that the pension changes were targeted ‘with laser precision’ at older voters who might be tempted away from the conservatives by the seductive offers from Nigel Farage and his Ukipian vision.

Next stop political correctness gone mad

As George Osborne rests from his labours, the country awaits a champion to liberate us from the dominance of that other monster, political correctness gone mad. I am thinking of starting the anti political correctness party [APCP]. If willing, Boris Johnson would become its leader, or maybe post-Ukip, Nigel Farage.

Credit for nanny state image

Image is from the venitism blogspot


Tony Benn, ultimate class warrior [1925-2014 ]

March 14, 2014

Tony Benn was for several generations in the UK the ultimate class warrior

The news of Tony Benn’s death reached me this morning [March 14th, 2014]. I had learned earlier this month of his deteriorating health.

He attracted attention as a class traitor when he renounced his title 2nd Viscount Stansgate to remain as a Member of Parliament.  He became the bogie man of the largely right-wing media, and a charismatic figure of the left.

Possibly too idealistic and too easy to parody,  his earnest style was combined with an evident brilliance of mind and a personal fervor for working class culture into which he inevitably failed to fit.

He was a brilliant television performer and formidable political activist. He was to become a Member of Parliament (MP) for 50 years and a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

In office in 1964–1970 he served first as Postmaster General, and later Minister of Technology. In the Labour Government of 1974–1979 he was an energetic  Secretary of State for Industry. Arguably he was the most prominent left-wing figure of his age. The term “Bennite” was to the left what “Thatcherite”  was to become to the right.

Integrity

In his later years he became seen as a man of personal integrity. A recent example [February 12 2014]  is the utterly unexpected outpouring of respect from readers of the Daily Mail following the announcement of his deteriorating health.

A personal anecdote

A little anecdote I recall from the 1980s.  The story took place in the bar of a well-known Business School in England.  A Benn supporter and an equally vehement opponent were exchanging hostilities. “He’s a madman. He’s got mad popping eyes” said the Benn opponent. “You’ve got mad popping eyes” Benn’s supporter shouted back.

Benn was not mad

Benn was not mad. He was a gifted dedicated politician. He never played the political games necessary for him to become leader of the Labour party which has continued its journey to the right much to Tony Benn’s disappointment in his later years.


Baffling speech by David Cameron

February 7, 2014

The Prime Minister made a speech today on Scottish Independence. I was baffled by its strategic intent and execution

I watched and listened this morning [February 7th, 2014] as The Prime Minister gave a heavily trailed speech to a small audience at the London Velodrome. It was intended to urge the citizens of the United Kingdom who could not vote to use their influence on those who could to assist a NO vote in the Scottish referendum next year. [That is to say, he addressed people in Northern Ireland, Wales and England to persuade those living in Scotland to vote NO]

‘The sum is greater than the parts’

The Speech argued for the merits of The United Kingdom as a coherent political unity, so much more than the sum of its parts. It was accidentally a case that could be applied to the EU as well, although I am sure that was not the PM’s subliminal intent.

English cool and Celtic warmth?

It might have been an attempt to rebut rationally the points made by the YES campaign. In content however, the emphasis was on the more emotional point that David Cameron was ethnically [like many living in the UK] a mix of Scottish, English and perhaps a dash of Welsh genes.

The style was a restrained emotionalism if I might risk an oxymoron. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon cool and Celtic heat? The PM appeared uncomfortable about the whole performance. The careful explanation of why it took place in the Velodrome was clunky [Scottish for not terribly convincing, old boy].

Why did I find it baffling?

I just could not make much sense of his intentions or of the execution of the speech. What dilemma might he be seeking to address? Was it the need to reverse apparent gains in the YES vote, in recent polls whatever the political risk? Did his advisers appreciate the dilemma of risking infuriating Scottish voters by the intervention? Was there a concern to find a popular new initiative in difficult political times?

Comments and interpretations welcomed.


Lord McAlpine, (1942-2014) colourful politician and author of books including The New Machiavelli

January 18, 2014

Lord McAlpine was a successful businessman turned conservative Politician and political author of fiction and non-fiction including a book on The New Machiavelli. He attracted controversy for a somewhat individualistic lifestyle and successfully defended himself in 2012 against allegations in the media.

You can read more in an earlier post
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Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat: TV review

December 23, 2013

Fifty years ago, and the British establishment is rocked by a sleazy political story …

An ITV Documentary [22nd December, 2013] presented the so-called Profumo affair of the 1960s with interviews with remaining personalities. Its thrust was that the society osteopath Stephen Ward had been scapegoated by more significant establishment figures, on largely false immorality charges.

Wards’s suicide as his court case was reaching an end served as a convenient but temporary pause before the story built up to its place as a footnote to contemporary British history.

Fifty years on

Fifty years on, and the two young women at the heart of the case remain culturally potent. Christine Keeler lives in drab obscurity in sheltered accommodation in South London. A remarkably vibrant Mandy Rice-Davies is very much alive and in the public eye, and her recollections dominated the programme. As had her court appearance half a century ago, part a Pygmalion figure, part Becky Sharpe. Her cheerful absence of remorse or guilt was one of the few upbeat aspects of the bizarre tale neatly captured in the title Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

It was fitting that its anchorman was none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical about Stephen Ward is running to less than rave reviews in the West End at present. His marginal involvement with some of the main players at the time has turned the affair into a serious cause for him. He has raised the matter of Ward’s innocence in The House of Lords.

A bit of a turkey

The musical seems likely to be deemed a bit of a turkey. The ITV programme may have been an attempt to rescue it. In any event it offered an interesting revisiting of the sex and security scandal of the 1960s.


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