Thursday, January 31, 2008

11 months, 22 days ... and counting

There's a political moment when it becomes totally clear that the game is up. Put the bent zlotys in your piggy bank on the other lot, and you'll make a killing.

Such a moment in British politics was the grinding misery of the Callaghan Government in the later '70s. The writing was on the wall, and a lot of good Labour MPs decided to opt out: taking on the IMG and SWP infiltrators was no longer worth it.

Sadly, and memorably, the result was that Labour came close to a melt-down and a take-over by the weirdies; and the country endured the better part of two decades of Tory pomp.
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Across the pond, in the last week five Republican Congressmen have announced their intention not to stand again: that makes a total of 28 (including four already out or outed) -- going on for 15%. On top of which, a similar number (30 for the anoraks) were disposed of by the Democrat surge of 2006. It suddenly looks like attrition out there.

As a comparison, there are only five Democrats stepping down.

Something similar is happening with the money:
New fund-raising figures to be made public on Thursday [today] will show that the national campaign committee of the House Democrats ended 2007 with $35 million in the bank and $1.3 million in debt. The Republicans’ committee had $5 million in the bank and $2 million in debt.

Charlie Cook, as usual ahead of the curve, was laying it out last summer, under a heading "The Republican Apocalypse?":
Evidence abounds corroborating the first view that Republicans are in exceedingly bad shape. Even in the best of times, it is hard for a party to win the presidency in three consecutive elections... President Bush's job approval ratings now average about 30 percent--over the last half century only President's Nixon and Carter's approval numbers have dropped this low... When people turn decisively against a President on one issue, their disapproval taints how they see that President on just about all other issues. At a certain point, that President is seen as unable to do anything right, and Americans tend to hit a mute button and hear nothing else that President says. It's pretty clear that Americans have hit that point.

Malcolm believes that the whole of that article (indeed, as any pronouncement by Cook), which goes on to review the Congressional positions, deserves to be read, and marked and thoroughly masticated.

Nearer to the nitty-gritty, Chris Cillizza at the Post has been speculating on similar lines. Last month he was noting how the Alaskan chicken were coming home to roost:
New polling out of Alaska shows that the state's two iconic Republican incumbents are in real jeopardy at the ballot box next year... The problems with the Republican Party in Alaska are myriad and well documented, revolving around a lingering pay-to-play scandal engineered by an oil and gas company named Veco Corp... The implosion of the Alaska Republican party has been years in the making, however, as voters have clearly tired of politics as usual in the Last Frontier.
Cis-Atlanteans might bear in mind that the GOP losing Alaska is like Tories coming adrift in Surbiton. In addition to which the Republican pork-and-gravy has gushed towards the Land of the Woolly Mammoth*. Alas! the electorate are a fickle lot, and refuse to stay bought.
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* Which allows Malcolm leave to refer to his favourite Democratic bumper-sticker (which also decorates his daughter's pin-board): Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Parliamentary pressures

Malcolm, still picking at the scab of the Derek Conway business (see previous two posts) meditated overnight on one further aspect.

It took a full term of gestation since last May for the Standards and Privileges Committee to pronounce on what, superficially, seems an open-and-shut case. Even so the Committee dealt with only a small part of Conway's abuses.

Few of our highly-paid journos took less than twenty-four hours to re-read the original Sunday Times story that lifted the lid on much of the rest.

Last evening the BBC's Newsnight programme had Paxo poking at the ordure, asking how many other MPs were remunerating family members out of their allowances. Their researcher's brief troll turned up that some 5% of all MPs had persons of the same name on the payroll. Being the lawyer-ridden, even-handed BBC, no serious allegations were made: instead we had Danny Finkelstein being emollient, and Alistair Graham being guardedly Northumbrian. However, two significant points did emerge, both from Paxman:
  • What would an Italian or an East European politician think about this?
  • Employing family is not permitted in the United States Congress.
Both seem valid.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Nick Robinson is back on the case:
Are there more family businesses such as "Conway PLC" earning tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money from working in the House of Commons?

The answer is we do not and cannot know. The reason for that is the House of Commons, led by the Speaker, has consistently blocked attempts to reveal basic information such as the names of the staff MPs employ, whether they are their relatives of their employers and what they are paid...
He rightly links to the Times blog-spot, Sam Coates's the Red Box. Coates is suggesting that the Speaker's powers to choke off scrutiny may be open to legal challenge, and has a truly-enlightening quip from the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, about the Freedom of Information Act:
Obviously the draftsmen decided, just in case something escaped and there is one last fish in the sea, let us get it with a grenade; and this is the grenade.
When a senior lawman proffers an obiter dictum like that, it would seem to be an urgent invitation to have the thing judicially reviewed.

One last thought: in the matter of pay to MP's nearest-and-dearest, we might get somewhere by reviewing to whom Parliamentary passes are issued. This is readily (if tediously) done through the Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants. Spouses receive passes as a matter of course, so that's not immediately helpful with the likes of the Conway menage.

And, what about the sub-rosa and extra-marital connections, all those Belles (and Beaux) de Jour? (Ah, Malcolm! We were wondering how you justify the piccy of the luscious Catherine!) Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Memo to self(ish)

We now see that over-paid "researchers" can be at least a fiddle, at worst (and as Malcolm maintains) a fraud on the public purse. Time for a full review of the system.

As Malcolm has said previously, back in 1974 (when he twice was Parliamentary candidate), an MP was "paid" about the same as a senior teacher in schools. Today the difference is around a factor of two for "pay". On top of that come the "expenses": an average of £135,800 per MP.

There's another aspect, perhaps not quite as bad, but equally as rich in displaying the contempt of MPs for "the little people" (© Leona Helmsley, 1992).

Go to http://www.w4mp.org/ and one can find MPs advertising "internships". These can amount to unpaid labour by political wannabes, perhaps actually doing research, and desperate to burnish their CVs.

Even w4mp.org says of this arrangement:
... there are many people able or prepared to work in the political field unpaid or for expenses only, as a means of getting a foot in the door or to gain useful experience. However, w4mp also encourages potential employers to advertise for paid positions and draws their attention to the guidance on ethical internships and the National Minimum Wage helpline.
Derek Conway MP, who has been the prime scapegoat in question here, has a lot more to answer. The Sunday Times was questioning his behaviour as long ago as 27th May 2007:
A SENIOR Tory MP is paying his son to act as his parliamentary assistant even though he is still a full-time undergraduate at university.

Commons records reveal that Frederick Conway was paid at the rate of £981 a month from the parliamentary staffing allowance handed to his father Derek, a former government whip.

Derek Conway’s wife, Colette, is also on the payroll and is paid £3,271 a month as another of his registered parliamentary assistants, according to the returns for November last year.
In addition to which:
Conway, now MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in southeast London, has previously attracted criticism over his expenses. In 2005-6, he claimed £4,072 for car mileage, which can be claimed for journeys between home, Westminster and the constituency, and for travel up to 20 miles outside of an MP’s seat on local business. Conway’s claim would equate to about 1,000 trips between Westminster and his constituency.

He also claims the full allowance for the costs of running a second home for those who need a constituency and a central London base.
Nice to see that the ministryoftruth (now being added to Malcolm's side-bar, for services rendered) has all this, and more:
For the last full year (2006-7), Conway claimed £22,060 for a second home in London plus a total of £6537 in travel expenses (£3936 in car allowances, £239 rail fares and £2308 for European travel); this from an MP whose constituency office in Sidcup is, according to the AA, a matter of 13.4 miles from the House of Commons.
Which 13.4 miles Conway must know intimately, having travelled it three times a day, every day, throughout the year. Sphere: Related Content
Malcolm and the ouzelum bird

Diddy Dave Cameron has removed the Tory Whip from Derek Conway. This is because Conway was getting away with a blatant fraud on the public purse. Only a day previously the official Tory line was that a period of Commons exclusion was punishment enough. Not so much a U-turn as instant flying self-sodomy.

So, listen carefully, children. Malcolm will explain this just the once.

There is in West London an area known as Notting Hill. Until recently, it was where Kensington shaded into the definitely down-market Ladbroke Grove. Much of Notting Hill is still unreconstructed bed-sit country. However, a small bit, notably around Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park, has become highly desirable, and areas adjacent thereto have been adopted by Sloane sprogs and wannabes.

Back in 2004, the "young fogies" of the Daily Telegraph identified a phenomenon: the Notting Hill Set. These were a close-knit band of Younger Tory politicos on the make. The focal member was one David "Call me Dave" Cameron (see above).

It is important to bear in mind that little love is lost, but a lot of vitriol spilled, between the Cameroonies and the Telegraphers.

Meanwhile Derek Conway is a Parliamentary retread. He sat for Shrewsbury and Atcham between the 1983 and the 1997 Elections. He had achieved a hard-line right-wing reputation, even voting against his own Party over the Single European Act. In 2001 he succeeded to Ted Heath's Old Bexley seat. In between he had improved the shining hour by running the Cats' Protection League.

Of Conway, the Telegraph approvingly says:
Derek Conway is one of the dying breed of Parliamentary bruisers who has more than a few scars from his role under John Major.

A classic "fixer", the Conservative MP was a whip in the 1990s responsible for hauling out the vote, an often impossible task in the dying days of the Major years...

His encyclopaedic knowledge of the party made him the perfect choice to run David Davis's ill-fated leadership campaign in 2005.
The Davis-Cameron contest was notable for some of the dirtiest tricks in the political manual, as noted in Private Eye in October 2005:
With perfect timing, early editions of the Evening Standard on the day of the second Tory leadership ballot led with the story "Gay Smears and Me, by Tory Hopeful"- the Tory in question being Dr Liam Fox.

Who was behind the smear? "I know for certain that people in the Davis camp were responsible for putting round these false stories," Fox later told the Mail on Sunday. His campaign manager John Hayes directly accused Davis's henchman Derek Conway of planting the story on the Standard.

Not so. The "dossier" on which the story was based had been compiled by dirty-tricks wallahs in the Labour Party- who passed it to David Cameron's lieutenants, who in turn gave it to the Standard. The Cameroonies were determined to prevent a run-off with Fox, who was feared to have more support in constituency associations.

For all their modernising open-necked cool, the Notting Hill set are still adept at the more traditional arts of politics. The queen bee of the set, Rachel Whetstone, was behind last Wednesday's report by BBC political editor Nick Robinson that the runner-up in Thursday's poll would drop out of the race to allow Cameron a "coronation". Alas, what was intended as a self-fulfilling prophecy had the opposite effect: it infuriated Davis and stiffened his resolve to fight on.'
That brings together two names: Conway and Rachel Whetstone. Whetstone was further blamed for the "bed-blocking" business.

Cameron set out from the beginning to be a reformer. He instigated an "A-list" of 140 photogenic potential candidates. These would be eased, or parachuted into winnable seats. Half of these stellar personalities were women; and there was a considerable ethnic mix: neither factor washes well with the Old Tory faithful. The Tory old-stagers, some as old as --- oh, --- fifty or so, were unwilling to move aside to let these thrusting young blades take their old accustomed constituencies: these stalwarts were described as "bed-blockers". (Actually, the term goes back at least to a column by Chris Moncrieff in the Scotsman, 10th May 2004).

It seems that Rachel Whetstone identified Conway as one of these "bed-blockers". The result was:
He came close to a capital offence by virtually wringing her scrawny little neck, and I mean literally. There were witnesses to that event...
Malcolm marvels at how a "virtual" event can also be "literal"; and still not quite happen. Moreover, as David Aaronovitch -- then employed at the Guardian -- noted, far from having a "scrawny little neck", Ms Whetstone is "long-haired and elegant". However, Malcolm suggests we move on.

Now this was hardly a career-advancing move by Conway. He was, after all, threatening a personal injury to one who had been close to the new Leader:
[Cameron's] close friend Rachel Whetstone, another former special adviser who works as Howard's political secretary, is the most influential member of the Tory leader's immediate team. She is godmother to Cameron's first child.
Malcolm is careful to chose his words there, for there are other dimensions to be explored.

Whetstone's squeeze is one Steve Hilton, who is none other than the Director of Strategy (i.e. chief string-puller) at Tory HQ, who also shares the god-parenting of young Ivan Cameron. It was not always so:
After stints at One2One and Portland PR, Whetstone was persuaded back to Westminster in 2003 by [Michael] Howard. Several months later, gossip of an affair with a Tory grandee became uncomfortably loud. The man in question was Viscount Astor, a former government whip and opposition spokesman in the House of Lords. Disastrously, he was also Samantha Cameron’s stepfather.
That, incidentally, from Giles Hattersley at the Sunday Times.

And now Sam's man has done for Conway, the Whetstone abuser.

Small world. Not much navigation space for that ouzelum bird in its ever-decreasing circles.

They used to say that Labour scandals were about money, and that Tory scandals were about sex (which brings us back to the Astors). Presumably Libs/LibDems are too busy taking bunnies to France. So, this little hooha about Conway only disproves the axiom in part ...

... but "Heh, heh, heh!" says Malcolm. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Legacies

In yet another of the boxes that clutter Malcolm's attic and garage must be Richard Reeves' s book, now out-of-print, on the 38th President of the United States. A historical accident, he uniquely was not elected to the office of President or Vice-President.

Gerald Ford was, by general consent:
an ordinary, if extraordinarily nice, man ... unprepared and unwilling to assert his authority, in desperation incessantly traveling the country, making speeches and pumping hands, to avoid his Presidential responsibilities.
He may not on merit have deserved his place in the Vice-Presidency, but he was the best the Nixon Administration could get past Senate scrutiny (and by 92 votes to 5). What nobody could anticipate, he thereby became President within the year. Because it was undergoing repair, the Fords never even had the chance to occupy the vice-presidential residence at Number One Observatory Circle.

Ford did the competent best he could, and could have been far, far worse. His outstanding virtue was modesty: he never claimed that which he knew he was not.

And now we have the present incumbent.

This Sunday evening, Fox News are doing a special as the Bush Presidency nears the end:

FOX News' Bret Baier was granted unprecedented access by George W. Bush as the president begins the final year of his extraordinarily consequential tenure ...

... the president talks openly of his aim to consolidate his mark on history, his "Freedom Agenda," the failure to catch Usama bin Laden, the role faith has played in his presidency and how he was inspired by the writings and deeds of Abraham Lincoln.

A cynical liberal reviewed the preview of this program:

Baier previewed his documentary — “George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish” — on Fox News this afternoon. He said that what surprised him from the interview was the President’s repeated efforts to link himself to Abraham Lincoln:

We talked a lot about President Lincoln. And there's going to be a lot of people out there who watch this hour and say, is he trying to equate himself with Lincoln?

I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.

And the President reflects on that. This is a President who is really reflecting on his place in history.

What is truly breath-taking there is not the usual Fox bias (which should go as a preconceived assumption) but the gross misrepresentation. Lincoln did not "leave" office: his brains were blown across the wall of the box at -- yes -- Ford's Theatre. That was 14th August, 1865, just over a month after his second Inauguration.

As for being "essentially hated", Lincoln's "National Union" Party had out-polled the Democrats by 2.2M to 1.8M in the previous November. Lincoln had taken the Electoral College by 212 votes to 21. Even allowing for the 80 votes of the Confederacy, which obviously were not exercised, that is a decisive victory, 22 States to just 3. All of which is somewhat better than Bush's minority vote in 2000 or even in 2004.

The Bush pretension to be a Lincoln goes back some way, including sporting Richard J. Carwardine's biography of Lincoln alongside the risible Albert Camus for his summer holiday reading list.

Garrett Epps did a piece for salon.com in 2006:
On the personal level, Lincoln had none of Bush's obstinacy and egotism. He scorned yes men, and surrounded himself with Cabinet officials better known than he was, refusing to purge even those actively working against his own political interests. He had no personal vanity at all (when a political opponent accused him of being "two-faced," Lincoln responded, "If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?"). The historical imagination rebels at the very idea of his swaggering around in the cavalry equivalent of Bush's flight suit. He was always ready to sit down with his adversaries, favored compromise whenever possible and never held a grudge. "With malice toward none, with charity toward all" was for Lincoln more than a rhetorical flourish; it was the key to his greatness.

Most important, Lincoln was a lawyer. It is hard to find any sign that Lincoln thought himself above the law. He had none of Bush's scorn for procedures and rights. He used executive authority in an emergency -- and always dutifully reported to Congress and asked for its ratification as soon as a new session began. He restricted civil liberties temporarily, and without enthusiasm -- he once compared his suspension of habeas corpus to the drugs doctors give to induce vomiting. Unlike this administration—which will not ask for legal authority even when it knows it will receive it -- Lincoln never did anything to prove a point. He didn't have an authoritarian bone in his lanky body. His objective was victory for the Union, not power for himself.

George W. Bush is Lincoln the way Dan Quayle is Jack Kennedy.
It all makes Malcolm wish to recycle the joke about the establishment of the Ronnie Reagan Presidential Library: it contained several books, and some of them hadn't been coloured in yet.

The second Bush Presidential Library (if there is anything available to be contained therein) should be a thing of wonder:
On November 1, 2001, President Bush issued an executive order entitled “Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act.” His order effectively overturned an act of Congress and a Supreme Court decision and could make it far more difficult for Americans to learn of government abuses. Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, declared that the executive order “effectively rewrote the Presidential Records Act, converting it from a measure guaranteeing public access to one that blocks it.”
Sphere: Related Content

A metaphorical moment

Malcolm's attention was caught by an expression, from this morning's BBC Radio Today programme.

Silage

It was used (round about 8.15 am) by John Humphrys in describing Britain's financial regulation, and how matters had altered from the days of the Old Boys' network to modern discrete regulatory authorities. For once Humphrys was on his best behaviour, as he interviewed John McFall about the Commons Treasury Committee' report on Northern Rock. McFall (right) was allowed to answer and expand on points without the usual interruptions.

Then, said Humphrys, the Bank of England kept its finger on the pulse of the financial world because the gentlemen who ran the system lunched together, and matters could be discussed over a post-prandial cigar. Today, the different organisations (the "tripartite arrangement" of the Bank, the FSA and the Treasury) existed separately -- and one could detect a wince in his voice -- "what's that awful jargon they use? everyone's in silos."

Malcolm found himself caught by the term. He remembered the word (and the product "silage") creeping into his consciousness in agricultural Norfolk in the 1950s. He now sees that it is a term with a longer tradition.

Random House believe the word's origin to be:
1825–35; Sp: place for storing grain, hay, etc., orig. subterranean; ulterior orig. uncert.
The Online Etymological Dictionary, presumably borrowing from this, and with a straight lift from the Oxford English Dictionary, declares:
1835, from Sp. silo, from L. sirum (nom. sirus), from Gk. siros "a pit to keep corn in." Or, alternately, the Sp. word is from a pre-Roman Iberian language word represented by Basque zilo, zulo "dugout, cave or shelter for keeping grain." Meaning "underground housing and launch tube for a guided missile" is attested from 1958.
Webster's Dictionary states the word:
was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1596.
In computerese, "silo" came to mean an information store, perhaps derived from the can-of-beans image used in flow-charts.

Despite Humphrys' distaste, the metaphor has stong symbolism. In Malcolm's mind it is the distant view as he is driving into London from Stansted Airport. Canary Wharf, the omphalos of modern high-rise financial institutions, appears in the distance. The vertical scale is made by pylons, distant housing blocks, and the farms' silos.

It reminds Malcolm how modern systems work: people and data are treated as something to be left in safe high-rise storage, in the hope that something useful ferments.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 25, 2008

Core values ...

Thursday evening, Malcolm trots to the Maynard Arms in fashionable Crouch End, there to join the Labour Party's Audience with Dennis Skinner, MP.

Now, Dennis is not so much "Old Labour" (and rightly proud of it) as totally primeval. Malcolm, however, largely approves of the old shell-back: Skinner says what he means, with a sly and devious humour, and means what he says. He comes from the same stock and locality as Malcolm's paternal line. He is transparently straight and honest.

What interested Malcolm was how the audience reacted to Skinner's traditional stump-speech. The applause and chortles came when Skinner went for royalty and the Press, and mildly suggested that the railways might work better nationalized. This, let it be recorded, before a mixed (age, gender, background), largely professional, and wholly sophisticated group. Scratch a Labour Party and find a Labourite.

The Press we deserve

So Malcolm addresses, today, just one of those items.

What he also finds surprising is that so many others whom he encounters share a similar view of the British Meejah.

As a generalisation, politics, and the business of governance are treated as a sub-genre of soap-opera. Each new day needs a new episode, a new and predictable crisis, a new face or two. At the moment, the universal will of our newspapers and television seems to be a yearning for a wholesale replacement of characters, the introduction of new giants whose feet will, in short order, be revealed to be made of clay.

Dennis Skinner, and many others like him, see in this an inherent anti-Labour bias: they may have reason. Whatever: we saw it in, first, the demand for an autumn election, and, then, in the subsequent rubbishing of Gordon Brown for not thereby filling columns for the next six weeks. Skinner sees the remedy in Labour reclaiming the agenda: again, he may well be correct. Malcolm, however, suspects that the knee-jerking of the print and electronic journos would misrepresent any such attempt, just out of habit.

Rocking the boat

Malcolm reaches for a way of giving an example.

He takes one on which Skinner repeatedly touched: Northern Rock.

This continuing saga is being depicted as one of governmental failure, because Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling consistently fail to take the ever-changing advice and prescriptions (swallowed wholesale by the pundits) of the Opposition.

Despite this, the bank still survives; the British banking system has not been brought tumbling down; the burden of debt has not (yet) been taken on by the tax-payer; the British economy continues to expand. Yes, in the face of the trans-atlantic crisis, the British economy will grow
and grow faster than any other G8 country over the coming year:
In its Winter forecast released on Monday the ITEM Club, sponsored by Ernst & Young, showed that the UK economic growth will ease in 2008. The economic growth is expected to slow to 1.8% in 2008 from 3.1% in 2007. The think tank believes that the abrupt reversal in the credit markets in 2007 could result in a sharp decline in economic growth.

Chief Economic Advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club Peter Spencer said: ... "As the Bank of England's interest rate cuts begin to take effect, the economy should pick up. With the money markets begin to thaw out we can be a bit more optimistic. So, touching wood, 2008 should not be such a bad year after all. Then I expect GDP growth to move back up to 2.5% in 2009."
Not so dusty, then. But, hark! what is this other rusting in the undergrowth?
Questions have been raised over the effects on the markets of the rogue trader who lost 4.9bn euros ($7.1bn; £3.7bn) at Société Générale.
Analysts are trying to assess whether the trader's actions contributed to the stock market turmoil and the Fed decision to cut interest rates.
Malcolm's reading of that goes like this: a £3.7bn default at a French bank had serious international implications, because it was so badly handled. The British Government and the Bank of England are successfully managing an apparent soft-landing for a potentially far bigger (by perhaps a multiple of twenty) debacle. No kudos from the Meejah lizards, only brickbats and abuse.

Don't stand too close to me

And there is one further dimension that irritates Malcolm.

Unlike the US, British bloggers are cajoled into following the mainstream media line. Not, of course, the small-timers (like Malcolm), but those half-dozen big-hitters who hog the local cybersphere's limelight.

These "stars" of the broadband have, effectively, been bought and bought out by the mainstream outlets.

Iain Dale (claimed to have the biggest single presence on the UK blog-scene) is on the pay-roll of the Daily Telegraph, and has a working relationship with both the Independent and the Guardian (to the extent of having his own by-line, right). There is, therein, a direct link from the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, via an important blog-site, to the bowels of the Daily Beast.

Guido Fawkes
, a.k.a. Paul Staines, had maintained a hands-off honesty until, last year, he, too, sold out to the BBC Newsnight. Staines took the perfectly-proper view which Malcolm is trying to expound here, that the Press was too close to the politicos. His derivative interview with Michael White was a failure, as Staines himself recognised. That went a long way, in Malcolm's mind, to redeeming himself, except that Staines (along with Dale) market their offerings in a crudely commercial way:
The country's top political blogs Guido Fawkes, ConservativeHome.com and Iain Dale have partnered with four other political websites to launch online advertising sales service MessageSpace.

The company aims to get advertisers wanting to appeal directly to the political classes and opinion formers in Whitehall and Westminster.

Alex Hilton, the editor of Labourhome.org and Recess Monkey, who runs ad sales company EOS Online Media, is behind the venture...

Opinion sites from across the political divide have become partners in the service with Labourhome, Political Betting, Recess Monkey and LibDem Blogs joining the big three to offer exposure to more than a million readers every month.
Malcolm reads that again, very carefully, and very cynically. It seems that this aggregation of "top" political bloggers, what tamounts to the critical mass in the local political blogosphere, are blatant in selling themselves to "the political classes and opinion formers in Whitehall and Westminster".

At which point Malcolm is heard muttering after Jonathan Swift:
The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their Foes superior by an Inch.
So Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Even Malcolm's place of regular resort, Slugger O'Toole, is less than totally "independent". Any resort thereto has been loud with an intrusive advertisement for the webcast "18 Doughty Street" (which was another vehicle for Iain Dale and his right-wing cronies, but sheds personnel like autumn leaves in Paradise Lost I.302). And Slugger's main ornament and progenitor, Mick Fealty, formerly an associate of The Guardian, now props up the Telegraph's Brassneck -- indeed the ad and the hotlink for that leads the Slugger web-page.

What price independence?

The blogosphere gives all of us a degree of independence. Here we can exercise First Amendment rights in a way never before experienced. The nearest equivalent is the explosion of pamphleteering at the start of the seventeenth century. George Orwell, a connoisseur of the pamphlet as a medium, described it thus:
The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage.’ All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.
Malcolm accepts that in toto, if demurring seriously over the word "short". But he hesitates, too, over the ambiguity of "unbound".
  • Can the likes of Dale, Staines and Fealty then be, in all truth, "unbound"?
  • Why, apart from enjoying the revenue, should a "free" medium like this be "bound" by advertising?
  • What, by the acceptance of an ad, becomes verboten?
  • What inhibitions flow therefrom?
  • Why is the relationship between these bloggers and the traditional media so cosy?
That is why Malcolm resolves, in future, to eschew all those polls and mutual-backscratchings that the cybersphere seems to revel in.

Prometheus Unbound?

So, back to Dennis Skinner.

Skinner is a Labour man through-and-through. He knows viscerally whom to care for, and whom to hate. What he may lack in "ideology", he more than compensates in gut-feeling. And in that he is correct.

His loyalty to the Labour Movement is total, yet he has an honourable record of failing to obey the Party Whip. And that, too, is proper and correct. Like the legend of Prometheus, he brings fire to humankind, and for that is punished by the gods of the Media. Better that than to be a supine creature of the Politinform system that bedevils our democracy.

Nobody, except his own keen appreciation of his constituency, dictates to him. He cannot be bought. He comes, as his Parliamentary declaration shows, without sponsorship or advertisement:
SKINNER, Dennis (Bolsover)
Nil.
Which, in Malcolm's book, qualifies him to speak and be heard. Compare that, as Skinner himself did, to the parallel entry by William Hague, over a page in length, and listing swathes of after-dinner speeches, all made at £10-20,000 a time. When one is proffering that amount of moolah, does one expect to be chastised or confronted with unpleasantness? What "freedom of speech" is being exercised there?

Dennis Skinner talks in a different accent, but a similar mode to Tony Benn :
Democracy is the most revolutionary idea in the world, nobody in power likes it.
The democratic, free blogger aspires to just that uncomfortable and discomforting posture:
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory!
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Malcolm wonders

Hello! What's this? It's the estimable, totally unbiased and absolutely devoted-to-the-actualité Nick Robinson, no less. Banging on about Peter Hain and political donations. Again.

And -- look here! -- a neat little hot-link to Who are the biggest political donors?

But that can't be correct, can it? There's a name missing, surely?

Where is the Lord Ashcroft?

Thow know'st: Michael Anthony Ashcroft. He of the KCMG and Belize nationality. 89th on the Sunday Times Rich List. He's not on the list.

And yet ...

On 12th October 2007 he was accused by Labour MP's for being allowed to heavily fund the local Conservative organisations in marginal seats of his choosing. The Electoral Commission is investigating and changes to the rules are predicted.
And, again quite mysteriously, at that point all contacts with the BBC blogs, including that of said estimable etc Robinson go down. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 18, 2008

No Red, nor White,
just
Blue pencil

There are few things that bring Malcolm to the eye-bulging stage. This one did (but, as usual, there will be a longueur before he explains why).

He was re-reading bits of Tim Pat Coogan's rightly-celebrated biography of Éamon de Valera, and found something that his previous reads had missed.

For St Patrick's Day, 1943, de Valera made a broadcast on Radio Éireann.

As Coogan says:
This was the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde. Hyde was still President of the Twenty-six Counties but had suffered a stroke, and de Valera was active throughout the country in attending Gaelic League commemorations of various sorts. In between these activities, bending laws, signing death warrants and internment orders, and fending off Churchill, Hitler and Roosevelt, de Valera went on air ...

Nothing in de Valera's entire public career ever drew anything like the comment and ridicule that that speech, made in those circumstances elicited over the years.
a land ... with cosy homesteads

The most celebrated passage of the speech is:
The Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youth, and the laughter of happy maidens; whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.
Malcolm's belief is well and truly beggared that de Valera could produce such fatuity. It was, after all, the historical moment of Stalingrad, the Montgomery-Rommel dance-of-death across North Africa, the Battle of the Atlantic, and Guadalcanal -- for only a few instances. Irishmen, and Irish/Irish-American gore were being expended in at least three of those theatres.

De Valera, of course, also chose to ignore the emigration from Ireland to war-work in
British factories. This amounted to 200,000 as the outflow was studiously recorded by the Irish Civil Service. Later, in 1953, when it suited him, he could just as easily rediscover concern for the economic and moral plight of the Irish working in England.

... the laughter of happy maidens

The "transhumance" (a word Malcolm recollects from his Geography classes, now half a century gone) of Irish men to jobs in England was well established. War-time brought something new: not just an increase in men leaving their families (who were now no longer permitted to accompany them), but the steady out-flow of Irish single women (de Valera's "happy maidens", indeed) -- not to menial jobs and "service" any more, but to skilled employment in the blitzed cities of Britain:
in 1940 a total of 15,542 females were issued [exit] permits of whom 1,634 were going to employment in the field of nursing.
And this was the start of a continuing trend. Month by month, William Norton of the Labour Party seems to ask the same question, and receive a similar reply:
in March 1945 1,234 travel permits were issued to women.
On a previous occasion, Malcolm suggested there were "push" and "pull" factors at work here. The "pull" was obviously financial, though we should not dismiss the risks and personal circumstances that involved. The "push" was the climate back home, and a choice to liberate themselves, again at personal cost.

De Valera's 1937 Constitution had awarded women a special place, which was "duties in the home". Article 41:
... the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
What had been a commonplace for Kaiser Wilhelm II, by the time Hitler came to pronounce it to the National Socialist Women's Organization in September 1934 it was a trifle shopsoiled. Yet, Kinder, Küche, Kirche remained de Valera's view of a stable society. Or, in more recent unvarnished redneck:
I'll tell you what we do up there when one of our women starts poking around in something she doesn't know anything about. We get her an extra milk cow. If that don't work, we give her a little more garden to tend. And if that's not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.
... the basis of a right living

On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and all European hell broke out. De Valera, next day, put two Bills through Dáil Éireann. The first amended the Constitution to allow an "Emergency". The second was the Emergency Powers Bill. By the 3rd September both were enacted; and de Valera had awarded himself:
administrative power over everything in the state: censorship, military matters, supplies, agriculture and transport.
It is the first item on that list which might cause us to diagnose Malcolm for Graves' disease.

..the life that God desires that men should live


De Valera's St Patrick's Day fantasy was so unworldly it belongs in the farthest reaches of rationality, and was severely dislocated from the blood and mud of 1943. It severely provoked the US Minister in Dublin, David Gray, who was Roosevelt's personal appointee and friend.

Gray, as Cormac O'Grada recounts, was wholly frustrated by de Valera's notion of Irish neutrality:
If Britain completely cuts off coal and gasoline, this place would be a disorganised and howling wilderness in three months ... it probably would be a wise thing to do to explode this nationalistic dream of self-sufficiency.
The relationship between de Valera and Gray quickly became one of mutual antipathy. This may have inspired de Valera's infamous visit to the German ministry, on 2nd May 1945, to express his condolence on Hitler's death. De Valera did so on a personal decision, and categorically against the advice of his own officials, to acknowledge the "irreproachable" behaviour of German Minister Hempel throughout the war years "in marked contrast" to that of Gray.

On the other side, Gray could have become aware (via the British eavesdroppers) that in 1940 Hempel had cabled Berlin, relaying de Valera's disapproval of Roosevelt's re-election. For certain, Brian Girvin refers to a November 1940 letter by Gray to Roosevelt:
[Gray] thought it queer that not a single member of Fianna Fáil offered congratulations on the election outcome, while noting that the papal nuncio had predicted that Roosevelt would lose. All of this puzzled Gray and he speculated, there has been some dirty work at the crossroads.
... devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit

Now, to our frustration of any hope of him reaching his point, Malcolm diverts to the cinema.

By 1943 Hollywood was fully mobilised to winning the war. Casablanca was just one of the earlier, though certainly the greatest of these celluloid bloodless assaults on the foe. A few months after Casablanca came the deservedly-less-celebrated Good Luck, Mr Yates:
... a teacher at a military school is derided by his students because he has not joined the military. The man is deeply disturbed by their ridicule and disrespect and so pleads with the draft-board to reconsider his "essential" status and allow him to join. He is allowed to enlist, but still, because he has a punctured ear-drum, is not allowed to join. Unable to face his students, the teacher gets a job at a shipyard, then deceives his students into believing that he is at war by having a buddy at boot camp forward their letters to him. Soon ugly rumors begin to circulate amongst the suspicious students. One is that their teacher went AWOL. The other is that he is really a Nazi spy. The students' actions threaten to destroy the teacher's new romance with a female welder. In the end everything comes out hunky-dory when the teacher proves himself a courageous hero during a shipyard fire.
The punch-line! (At last!)

The Emergency Powers Act, the fuel shortage, de Valera's neutrality all came together in an explosion of Gray's fury,
in a letter to Roosevelt:
Meanwhile the Censor is loose again. The American flag was recently cut out of a film called Good Luck Mr. Yates ... Meanwhile I am surrounded by mountains of turf, some two hundred and fifty thousand tons, all brought from the interior with American gasoline. If I go nuts can you blame me?
The Irish dared to censor Old Glory? No wonder Malcolm went pug-eyed.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blog-rolling

Nich Starling (who only deserves a nod from Malcolm because of the Norfolk connection) buffs up Iain Dale (a.k.a. Distrusted of Tonbridge belles).

Iain Dale swiftly repays the compliment.

Curious symmetry.

Note:
log·roll·ing (lôgrlng, lg-) n.
  1. The exchanging of political favors, especially the trading of influence ...
  2. The exchanging of favors or praise, as among artists, critics, or academics.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Malcolm admits to not having been
in Stroke City for a year.

That avoids the inevitable declaration of bias, genealogy, religion and politics: "Derry" or "Londonderry"? In the choice of the name one is absolutely exposed.

Malcolm has never taken it wholly seriously. He remembers, a third of a century ago, being member of a local government panel interviewing for a very senior appointment. One of the candidates had been employed in the Northern Irish civil service. Malcolm rose to the occasion. Over lunch and in the panel he pressed questions on the interviewee, except that, with each alternate sentence Malcolm switched from "Derry" to "Londonderry". The candidate, a highly-intelligent man, merely grinned and followed the usage without a fault: had it been a set at tennis, it would have gone to the tie-break.

Derry native, Gerry Anderson (right) begat the alternative term, and it is available herefrom in his own dulcet tones.

Inevitably, any debate or discussion on the great Northern Irish divide, sooner or later, is sucked into the maelstrom of this single placename, from which there is no escape.

Once upon a pagan time there was an oak-grove ("doire" in Irish then and now). Patrick and the other Christian missionaries had the sense to adopt and adapt rather than try to erase and eliminate. So, Colm Cille, out of Tír Chonaill, great-great grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, founded a church on the site of this pagan fane. And so the site became Doire Cholm Chille, Columba's oak-grove.

Not much happened for a further millenium.

Then, in January 1600, Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy, was appointed Lord Deputy. Malcolm may indiscreetly reveal in some future blog the "colourful" private life of Mountjoy (left). For the moment, though, it is salient only that Gloriana sent him to clean up the mess left by the Earl of Essex, and to deal with the O'Neill rebellion.

An essential part of Mountjoy's strategy was to place a garrison on Lough Foyle, and thereby force a wedge between the O'Donnells and the O'Neills.

On 16 May 1600, Sir Henry Docwra (who must, therefore, appear in the genealogy of Malcolm's alter ego) landed at Culmore, then advanced up the Foyle:
On the 22nd of May wee put the Army in order to marche, & leaving Captain Lancelott Atford at Culmore with 600 men, to make up the workes, we went to the Derry 4 myles of upon the River side, a place in manner of an Iland Comprehending within it 40 acres of Ground, wherein were the Ruines of an old Abbay, of a Bishopp's houses, of two churches, & at one end of it an old Castle, the river called loughfoyle encompassing it all on one side, & a bogg most commonlie wett, & not easily passable except in two or three places dividing it from the maine land.
Obviously from this description, "the Derry" had hardly been a thriving community since Columba moved on to Iona.

In April 1609 Sir Thomas Phillips approached the City of London to plant the county of Coleraine, previously the territory of the O'Cahans. The City Companies drove a hard bargain with King James, and eventually secured the whole of Coleraine, plus a tranche of Tyrconnell, including the site of Derry: some half a million acres. That, in itself, was the insuperable problem: the liveried Companies could not drum up enough reliable Protestant tenants to occupy so vast a territory. However, it was now the City and County of Londonderry. It was also, self-evidently, geographically and psychologically a frontier outpost.

Apart from a nice line in le rat cuit à l'étouffée, life in Derry in the late 1680s was a trifle rough and tough. Derry was the largest town across Ulster, though perhaps little more than 2,000 in population (which makes the numbers quoted for siege-deaths somewhat suspect).

As sieges go, though, the 105 days seem to have been played quite genteelly. Hamilton, the attacker, allowed perhaps 10,000 bouches inutiles (another dubious number) to leave the city, which seems to deny the whole point of a siege. This changed when Rosen took over, held a round-up of Protestants and drove them under the walls, to be fed or starve as the defenders wished: this was more according to the rules, of course. The defenders responded by setting up a noose on the Double Bastion as a threat to any prisoners taken. Rosen then found he had a full-scale mutiny among his staff, and even James approved of his recall for "so cruel a contrivance".

Samuel Molyneux kept a diary when he travelled through the north of Ireland in 1708. He found Derry:
a good, large, compact, well-built town ... Since the siege ... it does not seem to be a place of much business, riches or trade.
Jonathan Bardon continues from there:
Cut off from much of its natural hinterland by the Foyle, Derry did not alter its shape over a century after the siege, except for the growth of a modest Catholic suburb outside Bishop's Gate. Visitors, nevertheless, found the city attractive. The English travel writer, Charles Bowden, noted that 'the houses in general are remarkably well built, and the public buildings are very handsome structures ... The church is one of the handsomest I beheld since I left the metropolis.'
And that was about it for a further century and a half. The city was at least reasonably prosperous on the back of shipping (especially emigrants off to become the "Scotch-Irish" of Appalachia) and cloth-making (the involvement of the London cloth-makers in the original plantation survived down to the famous shirt-factory). Derry and Carrickfergus were the only two towns in Ulster not to be pocket boroughs, and hold (by the standards of the time) "free" elections. We can see the legacy of commercial success in the fine houses that line Shipquay Street (right). Moreover:
Bishop Street, leading to the high south end of the walled city was less concerned with trade. Its development was less compact, with haphazard openings behind the street frontages to the Bishop’s house and garden, the free school and St Augustine’s Chapel of Ease on the west, and to the Cathedral and Church yard on the east. By 1788 the cathedral side of the street from the Diamond to Bishop’s Gate had been filled in completely. There are many images and descriptions of Derry during the 18th century. Most stress the picturesqueness of the place, not least, the philosopher George Berkeley - Dean of Derry from 1724 – 1732 who wrote:

'The city of Derry is the most compact, regular, well built town that I have seen in the King’s Dominions, the town house, (no mean structure) stands in the midst of a square piazza from which there are four principal streets leading to as many gates. It is a walled town, and has walks all round on the walls planted with trees as in Padua.'

In 1768 Frederick Augustus Hervey assumed the Bishopric of Derry. He brought a new conception of the role of architecture to the city. He restored the cathedral, redesigned the Bishop’s Palace and erected many new churches throughout the diocese but perhaps his most influential gift to the city was the first bridge across the River Foyle, built in 1789.
That is the old city, even if "Padua" seems a fancy too far, one which is now lost after 90 years as the last outpost of the "United Kingdom" before Rockall (and notably so during WW2). The view from the ancient Walls is no longer a pretty one (left and top): a spew of modern housing reaching up the hillside to the Donegal horizon.

There are too many signs of neglect within the Walls: world-class old housing slipping into disuetude and cheap conversion, inappropriate in-filling, a general lack of care and investment, and hovering above it all that brutalism-on-steroids BT building.

For Malcolm, much of the pain came across in the song Phil Coulter wrote for Luke Kelly of the Dubliners. The Town I Loved So Well is a beautiful construction. The first three verses are plangently elegaic:
In my memory I will always see
The town that I have loved so well,
Where our school played ball by the gasyard wall;

And we laughed through the smoke and the smell
Going home in the
rain, running up the dark lane,
Past the Gaol and down behind the fountain.
Those were happy days in so many many ways,
In the town I loved so well.

In the early morn the shirt factory horn
Called women from Creggan, the Moor and the Bog,
While the men on the dole played a mother's role,
Fed the children, and then trained the dog.
And when times got tough, there was just about enough;
But they saw it through without complaining:

For deep inside was a burning pride,
In the town I loved so well.


There was mu
sic there in the Derry air,
Like a language that we all could understand.
I remember the day that I earned my first pay
When I played in a small pick-up band.

There I spent my youth; and to tell you the truth
I was sad to leave it all behind me,
For I'd learned about life; and I found a wife
In the town I loved so well
So far, so good. But this is no ballad to be let anywhere near your average Oirish pub singer. After the instrumental break, the iron enters the soul of the last two verses:
But when I returned, how my eyes have burned
To see how a town could be brought to its knees --
By the armoured cars, and the bombed-out bars,
And the gas that
hangs on to every breeze.
Now the army's installed by that old gasyard wall,
And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher.
With their tanks and their guns, -- oh my God! what have they done?
To the town I loved so well.

Now the music's gone; but they carry on

For their spirit's been bruised, never broken.
They will not forget; but their hearts are set
On tomorrow and peace once again.
For what's done is done; and what's won is won;
And what's lo
st is lost and gone forever.
I can only pray for a bright brand-new day,
In the town I loved so well.
Des Geraghty's "memoir" of Luke Kelly says much of it:
Like all masterpieces, that song and its singer had universal appeal. Little else did as the '70s unrolled and circumstances became increasingly complex. Daily life in Northern Ireland began to ring with the calamitous echo of Clarence Mangan's apocalyptic translation of Róisín Dubh - 'O! The Erne shall run red with redundance of blood' ...

The days when The Dubliners could bring huge audiences of Catholics, Protestants and dissenters together in Belfast's King's Hall to join in choruses of both Orange and Green songs were suddenly gone - just as, decisively, were the times when the Miami Showband brought the young on to the same dance floor, far from the bigotry and tribalism of the older generations.
These days there is something of Coulter's brand-new day in Derry. Despite the curious cross-sectarian factional alliance, inevitably hostile because that is what both sides do so well, the Eglinton Airport is becoming a significant local success. The rail link to Belfast has been saved; may be up-graded (the main requirement is a passing loop at Ballykelly, say £10M or the price of a couple of good barristers), and might -- just might -- be restored south of Derry. Once again, there is a bustle for some of the week with new shopping centres. Foyleside brooks to become a new place for waterside apartment living. The army barracks are being redeveloped for private housing.

The fissures remain, however. The Protestant population of the west-bank City side is now down to just 500 (from some 18,000 in 1969). Not surprisingly, the ultras reach for hyperboles like "ethnic cleansing" (as is equally alleged, by the other side, for Carrickfergus, Larne and East Antrim).

OK, says Mr Everyman to Malcolm, we've walked the Walls, drunk deep in Becketts and Tracys, seen the murals ... what's left?

Malcolm has one suggestion: get inside the Tudoresque red-sandstone Guildhall. You are in for a surprise. Provided you can inveigle yourself past the Jobsworth on duty, you'll get to see the Edwardian glazing: indeed, it's so vivid it'll come to see you.

Every picture tells a story: this must be the finest assembly of (restored) early-twentieth century municipal glasswork around. It's certainly not chi-chi Tiffany; it's not even pretty; but -- by God and King George! -- it is impressive. Those worthy burghers certainly got their money's worth of pre-technicolor immortality.

And Malcolm ventures one more observation: because by "Derry" standards it's so politically-incorrect, they don't publicize it. So you'll probably be the only one there to see it. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 14, 2008

Paper money

Find the link between:
  1. 30 January 1972
  2. 29 January 1998
  3. 922
  4. more than £174m
  5. some time into 2008.
Now, that was easy, wasn't it! Well done! Of course the connection is
  1. Bloody Sunday, because, on
  2. 29th January 1998, Tony Blair announced the setting-up of a inquiry into those events. The Inquiry under Lord Saville (top right) heard
  3. 922 witnesses. The whole cost is now
  4. £174M, and still counting; and Lord Saville is promising a report
  5. still some time ahead.
In Malcolm's book, that amounts to a crying disgrace, not just because of the disproportionate legal costs, but because justice deferred (as it has been for three-and-a-half decades) is justice denied.

Michael Mansfield, QC, regularly appears on television. At the moment he is usually seen walking into the High Court. He is counsel to a foul-mouthed shop-owner, for whom he eloquently speaks at a farcical Inquest into the death of a not-so-young woman and her Lothario lover. They died in a car-crash, not wearing seat-belts, driven by a drunk, at illegal and reckless speed.

Let us recall that the louche Michael previously took £682,378 for representing the families at the Saville Inquiry.

He was either hard done-by or too busy elsewhere, because his take was modest compared to Arthur Harvey (£1,226,257), Seamus Tracey (£951,140), or even Lord Gifford (£718,830). Good to see real socialists there, getting their snouts in the trough.

On the other side, Edwin Glasgow represented the MoD at a cost of £4,054,187 million. Even he was out-classed by Christopher Clarke, QC, counsel to the inquiry, who was worth every penny of his £4,488,266. Furthermore, Mr Clarke, once of Brick Court Chambers, is (as of January 2005) His Honour Mister Justice Clarke.

A firm of solicitors, Eversheds, were paid £12,673,056 for taking witness statements.

Malcolm did a quick sum of the total legal expenses of the MoD: £31,637,893. Call it the lottery winnings for a calendar month?

And what, exactly, has the great British public got to show for all of this largesse? Well, there's a couple of new hotels in the City of Derry, built on the back of accommodating the cohorts, before the caravan returned to London. Beyond that: sweet ... damn ... all.

No doubt, in the course of time, all will be revealed.

But Malcolm has to admit amazement at the precision of these busy and important personages. He goes into a Supermarket, reaches the till, and is able to guess (at best) within a few pounds the cost of his few purchases. They prove their infinite superiority by being able to cost their time to the nearest pound in four million.

Malcolm asked whence came this astonishing numeracy. He was told that barristers count the smallest billable moment as six minutes. So a thirty-second telephone call is billed to the client at six minutes.

Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale

Which leads Malcolm to the story of the barrister, who dropped dead at 39. When he reached the Pearly Gates, he expressed his miffedness.

He had, he declared, lived a good and sinless life. He had worked hard and supported a family and two cats; he had been charitable and done good works. Yet, here he was, ripped from mortality with no medical reason, in his prime. Why?

"Well", said the recording angel, "we're working from your claim sheets, and, according to them, you're 120!" Sphere: Related Content
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