Churchill in Dundee

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Whenever a journalist writes a piece on Churchill’s stint as Liberal MP for Dundee – research unearths a skip-full of identikit articles, shallow and derivative – one aspect is mentioned without fail. They begin or end with the loaded statement “The only evidence of Churchill’s presence in Dundee is a single small plaque on a street wall”. (My italics.) A cursory study tells us Churchill cared little for Dundee folk; a wonder city fathers don’t remove the plaque permanently in embarrassment.  

The man and the women

Let’s begin with the man. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (1874 – 1965) was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He painted a bit but as a hobby. For all the waving of Union Jacks, Churchill was of mixed English and American parentage.

Churchill was born in Oxfordshire to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He was a direct descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family among the highest levels of the British aristocracy, born into the governing elite. His paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for ten years, and a member of the Conservative Party who served in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. His own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who died of advanced syphilis or a brain tumour, whichever fits your perceptions, was elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie Churchill (née Jerome), was from an American family whose substantial wealth derived from finance. To say Churchill was born into privilege is an understatement. He arrived with a silver spoon  sticking out of every orifice. He came into being when the British empire was at its zenith and the elite ruled without mercy.

In appearance he was unprepossessing, or as Scots say, nae oil paintin’. Below average height (5′ 6″), with a large head and a small chest, he tended to wear high hats to increase his stature. He was podgy, prematurely bald, with small hands and feet and skinny legs.

His speech defect, a splashy sibilant ‘S’, later to become his trademark together with a fat Havana cigar, did not help him. His over-weaning self-confidence compensated to an extent attracting a succession of sexual liaisons, but women left him as quick as attracted, finding him egocentric and a misogynist. The found it difficult to subordinate themselves to him completely.

Churchill was thirty-four by the time the twenty-two year-old Clementine Hozier accepted his offer of marriage, “he talked entirely of himself”. He had already been rejected on four known occasions by women of good judgement and taste. Clementine was the daughter of Sir Henry Hozier and Lady Blanche Hozier, although that is in doubt because her mother was infamous for her infidelities.

Clementine was not purblind. She kept a wary eye on his gambling, and a close watch on his wandering eye for shapely women with money. She disliked his Tory friends in whom Churchill found convivial political views and told him as much. Disputes were problematic, “he shouts me down!” That aside, they were a good match, they shared a penchant for spending money lavishly they did not have. 

No mates Winston

For a member of the Liberal Party recently defected from the Tory Party, Churchill tested fate. He disliked Liberal leader David Lloyd George, continually opposing Lloyd George’s policies as weak or woeful. The feeling was mutual. In fact, Churchill’s Liberal peers neither liked him nor trusted him, and the same prevailed when he crossed the House again to rejoin the Tory party years later. MPs from all sides of the House thought him a serial failure, racist, bombastic, and a bully. It was water off a duck’s back. As he said himself, “any fool can rat but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat”.

Like Boris Johnson, on whom contemporary pundits are wont to compare for something better to do, he was an opportunist with a string of non-achievements and disasters in his portfolio acquired in office and as a young army officer. (Facts for a different essay.) Trailing those lead weights behind him, how did he manage to win a seat in Dundee?

To darkest Scotland

On his appointment as President of the Board of Trade, Churchill had to fight a by-election in Manchester North. He lost by 400 votes to the Tories. A day later he received a telegram from Liberals in Dundee inviting him to stand there, a safe Liberal seat, a shoe-in. As is Scotland’s political fate, whatever politics is popular in England, Scotland is sure to defend the opposite policies.

The sitting MP was handed a peerage and his suitcase packed. Churchill’s Dundee opponent was a devout Christian and socialist prohibitionist, Edwin Scrymgeour, not much of a rival at that time. To win, Churchill adopted a hyper-critical style, describing the Tory Party as “filled with old doddering peers, cute financial magnates, clever wire-pullers and big brewers with bulbous noses.” The enemies of progress were Tories “weaklings, sleek, slug, comfortable, self-important individuals.” He could almost have been describing himself.

If he had one talent outside self-serving expediency it was a fine oratory talent. He won with a 7,000 majority, but all was not sweetness and light.

“This city will kill me. Halfway through my kipper this morning an enormous maggot crawled out and flashed his teeth at me. Such are the penalties which great men pay in the service of their country.” Letter to Clementine

Privately, he had already formed a dislike of Dundonians. “It is an awful hindrance to anyone in my position forced to fight for his life and always having to to make his opinions on national politics conform to local exigencies.”

As far as Churchill was concerned, Dundee was a small provincial town of no great importance other than for saving his political skin. Like so many Englishmen who followed him to Scotland, it is difficult not to see him as another ligger and a carpetbagger. Dundonians learned to loathe his expensive lifestyle, his long absences, especially his active social life amid the aristocratic elite. 

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Churchill campaigning in 1908 with arch suffragette Mary Maloney in the background

Scottish hospitality at its best

Churchill was at first well-received in the city. The Liberal Party was popular among the city’s working class communities. Dundee had never been a Tory city, the Liberal Party had values people admired. One policy was the National Insurance Act of 1911, another the establishment of Labour Exchanges – now called ‘Jobcentres’ – a successful idea copied from Germany. Churchill was not known for paying attention to detail. His impetus was to avoid waste. For him, that meant an organised labour market to benefit the state, the interests of the individual to be subordinate to those of the nation.

To the man in the street, a policy of putting men back to work appeared progressive, men out of work were better in. To Churchill, the policy was “a remorselessly unsentimental government attitude to the people’s sacrifices for the future of the race”, a maxim more Tory than liberal. By siding with Liberal policies Dundonians initially misinterpreted Churchill’s allegiances. For almost a decade they held to Churchill’s representation and he retained the seat until 1922.

Not what we ordered

Nevertheless, as was his character, Churchill could alienate as fast as he could impress. He set up his headquarters in the city’s Queen’s Hotel and spent much of his time in the Dundee Advertiser’s Bank Street offices, poring over proofs of his speeches as they were typeset within minutes of his meetings. (The job of writing history to his own image began early in his career.) During his tenure he made himself unpopular by deploying troops during the both the miners’ strike in Tonypandy, Wales, in 1910 and the transport strike a year later that concluded with two people dead and 400 injured. Also, some Dundonians were not slow in blaming Churchill for the Dardanelles failure and the slaughter of so many men at Gallipoli during 1915.

At the beginning he was very popular with the Irish in Dundee but that popularity waned too when he sent troops to Ireland after the war. Churchill’s attitude to every nation England had conquered, and ultimately to his own people, was one of colonial master to lowly citizen.

Reversal man

Churchill was adept at advocating one policy one year and reversing it the next. For example, in June 1908 the Liberals created a Budget League, a convenient mechanism to  head meetings around the the United Kingdom to debate budget proposals. A meeting in Edinburgh in July saw an angry Churchill announce that if the Lords rejected the budget the government would dissolve Parliament and fight an immediate General Election.

Liberals were outraged that he had announced a non-existent policy. He found himself formerly rebuked, apologising a day later. In 1907, he had described the Lords as an anachronism, a “one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible and absentee”. In September he talked of a representative assembly and a miserable minority of titled persons who represent nobody”. A decade later Churchill was spouting the opposite sentiment. The hereditary House secured, “the vital breathing space for consideration and for more stable forces in the community to assert themselves”.

Female contempt

Churchill’s misogyny was self-evident. He refused to back women’s suffrage, an obsessive opposition that dogged his Dundee tenure from start to finish, having previously made public his belief women had rights “through your husband”. He varied the goading with “through your father, brother and son.” To Winston, women only had uses in the kitchen and the bedroom.

One Irish suffragette, Mary Maloney, a leading member of the Women’s Freedom League, followed him to every speaking event to ring a loud school bell as soon as he stood up to speak. Her most famous interruption was during his campaign speech at a Blackness factory in May, 1908. The meeting had to be aborted. Churchill struggled good-humored against the incessant clanking, but gave up in despair, saying,

“If that woman thinks that is a reasonable argument she may use it. I don’t care. I bid you all good afternoon.”

From then on Maloney was known as the “La Belle Maloney”.

She was not the only female warrior to torment him. The suffragette Ethel Muirhead pelted Churchill with an egg during a political meeting in 1910, while another suffragette jumped into his carriage at the Tay Bridge Station and harangued him. Like so many in the city, they were women working in the mills and factories, the breadwinner.

N A523/1 Churchill in Kinnaird Hall 1908 (C)DCT

Churchill (stage centre), Caird Hall, Dundee

Tide and appendix turn

Throughout his representation Churchill was a minister in the cabinet in one post or another, but as the years went by high office failed to impress voters. By the time elections rolled round in 1922, Churchill just had an operation to remove his appendix, an operation that probably saved his life. Hospitalisation and recuperation delayed his campaigning in Dundee allowing opponents a free hand. Arriving late he threw himself into the fray with gusto – Churchill was never a slacker. He was renown for working hard whatever the task before him. Near the end of his tenure, where the opening speaker was drunk, Churchill tried to make a speech but was shouted down by the audience.

Churchill was thoroughly beaten by Edwin Scrymgeour, a native of Dundee who became the only person ever elected to the House of Commons on a prohibitionist ticket. He held the seat for nine lonely years. The election’s other candidate was E.D. Morel, a former conscientious objector who stood for the Independent Labour Party. Churchill’s Dundee “seat for life” was anything but.

The campaign coincided with Churchill losing his cabinet post and now had lost his seat. Dundonians had had enough of him. In fact, his wife Clementine, who had undertaken some of his campaigning, was just as intensely disliked, in her case for parading her wealth ostentatiously and her unacceptable English upper class attitudes.

Onward to destiny

Churchill’s open views on education also contributed to his flight from Dundee. He believed in a two-tier system, one for the elite and one for the masses. His idea of state-backed gambling was also rejected but came to fruition under Margaret Thatcher. In that he considered horse racing was for the rich and should be given state support, and greyhound racing was for the “new degeneracy” – working class gamblers.

He went on to stand as a totemic symbol of the power elite’s fear of social and political revolution, helping to crush the General Strike of 1926, protect land reform from taxation, giving tax breaks to wealthy Americans to live in the United Kingdom in “sporting counties”, and cutting the level of benefit for the unemployed.

His 14-year spell in Tayside, in which time he had raised funds from wealthy supporters for the Liberal Party one of whom was immediately knighted, was a history to which he never referred.

He lost by a landslide 12,000 votes to Scrymgeour who first stood against him in 1908. Dundonians were fly enough to realise they could elect a tee-totaller and drink to their win in the local pub.

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Churchill with Doris Castlerosse, a beach near Château de l’Horizon, Vallauris, Côte d’Azur 

Facing Hitler

As the Second World War approached, Churchill was still cold-shouldered by his parliamentary peers, he now a member of the Tory Party. By a fluke of world events his destiny awaited, and greatness was thrust upon him by default.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had tried in vain to broker a deal with Hitler to avoid a war with Europe. The Tory party was ready to hand Czechoslovakia over to Nazi imperialism and parts of Poland too, appeasement at almost any cost the policy of the day. Though a few in the party did not trust Hitler, Churchill stood alone among them advocating re-armament for a concerted attack on Germany’s ambitions.

When Chamberlain waved Hitler’s letter as he disembarked from the aeroplane, wearing his out-of-date wing collar and holding his trusty umbrella, claiming “peace in our time”, only later to learn the Nazi army was on the march, he was booed in parliament. He left Westminster a broken man.

With no other contenders for Tory leadership, Churchill, now proven prescient in his judgement of Hitler, saw himself elected as leader of the Conservative Party unopposed. In that regard, time and events came together.

After the war he was a justified hero. (His blunders during the war years were huge, but again that is for another chapter.) His speeches and appearances in bombed areas kept the British together and in hope. When it was over no one asked how he had entered the war bankrupt and in massive debt, but ended it with the equivalent of £2 million in his bank account. He was given a house in London free of rent for life and the status of a  ‘great man’ conferred upon him.

Newspapers turned a blind eye to his increasing alcoholism, his gambling debts paid by unnamed admirers, his egotism rewriting history for his self-aggrandisement, and his affair with socialite, Lady Doris Castlerosse.

The public, however, remembered his transgressions of which there were many and bloody, not the least of which was the criminal Allied carpet bombing of Dresden that killed tens of thousands of innocents. Days of glory over, once more he found power slipping away from him when his party lost the General Election after the war.

As for Dundonians, they went on to vote overwhelmingly for Scotland’s independence. Must be something in the water.

NOTE:

Readers might spot the odd trajectory line Churchill with Boris Johnson. Motivation for this study was Boris Johnson, his supporters going out of their way to depict him as the new Winston. (Johnson is also born of half-American, half British parents, but born in the USA.) Publishing a pot-boiler biography on Churchill and Johnson quoting him whenever it suits, more evidence of an attempt to resurrect days of Empire glory. Press pundits refer to him as a ‘great leader’ in the making and a reincarnation. It is an accepted fact by his peers and critics alike that the UK’s self-appointed prime minister of the Union (where’s Gibraltar?) is a ruthless calculator of where his personal advantage lies. Johnson tells us is that his only core commitment is to himself. As for being another Churchill, readers can make their own judgement. Meanwhile, the Tory party revives the mythical ‘spirit of the Blitz’, calling the pandemic a ‘war’ with a ‘front-line’.

SOME SOURCES:

Origins of the Second World War – AJP Taylor; Letters to Clementine Hozier; Age of Extremes – Eric Hobsbawn; Memoirs of the Second World War – Winston Churchill; Churchill – Clive Ponting; Secret Affair – Professor Richard Toye; The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell – 1914 to 1944; Hansard 1908, 1910, 1922; Dundee Courier; Glasgow Herald; London Evening News; the Times.

 

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 12 Comments

Car Culture: Dicing Dyson

Your weekly look at what sucks in our world of cars, plus some good bits

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Sir James Dyson, the man, the money, and his car

There are so many clever and socially conscious people in the world who make our lives better and yet here I am, just as Margaret Thatcher wanted, discussing an extraordinarily wealthy entrepreneur, a jingoistic self-promoter and profiteer. She denigrated public service, told us society did not exist, demoting postmen, railway workers, teachers, nurses, doctors – anyone who did any good in the community – downgraded to the lowest category. We were reduced to farming livestock, some good for breeding, others for selling at market.

Britain’s men of mega-money, the bosses, they were the people we should venerate. BBC even has a regular television series dedicated to a chosen few, The Dragon’s Den, where, pitching to the self-satisfied team of opinionated millionaires, less than half of the hopefuls looking for investment see a penny for one reason and another. Bank used to be the place to go for loans.

The week Sir James Dyson announced the closure of his car design business. He said he could not make money out of it. Bit late in the day to make that discovery. Did no one do the calculations at the start?

Dyson boasts – I choose the word carefully – closing down his car making enterprise cost him a personal £500 million. It will help balance the books at the end of the financial year. What Dyson forgot to mention, and the deferential press too, was he received a £16 million grant from the UK government towards battery research for the car.

A grant is the same as welfare for you and I, paid from our taxes, in Dyson’s case, money down the Swanee. We won’t get that money back. Even so, most company bosses that lose £500 million would be tossed out on their neck by shareholders. Who cares a fig? Most of us have forgotten Sir Philip Green is still living in luxury. We complain on Twitter and spit in disgust but nothing happens to see a fair society exist. Big business has governments in its pocket.

The car he hoped to manufacture was an high-end SUV – he only makes things to sell to the wealthy and the cash rich. There’s no doubting his creative staff are very talented at contemporary leading design. Cars are a completely different matter. Actually, he announced he was shutting his car activities last year but hoped to find a buyer. With Tesla ruling the roost of electric cars, and most other mainstream car makers about to launch two or three electric models, Dyson made a serious error judgment thinking he could beat long established companies. He is not Elon Musk.

The car is not the only failure to his name. Among a string of no-takers is his washing machine with the obligatory purple bits, that thrashed clothes to recreate the way we used to do it by hand. You’ll find one model of it on display in most PC World showrooms priced at £1,200. Which? laboratories called it unreliable and poor value for the money. Dyson sued the government sponsored cheat checker but lost. The public didn’t take to his status symbol knowing you can buy four superb brands for the price of a Dyson.

In politics Dyson made the fatal mistake of ingratiating himself with UKip, the Brexit Party and the Tory Party. He praised British inventiveness and decried EU bureaucracy only to up stakes and flounce off to Singapore to develop and produce his ‘revolutionary’ vehicle. He did it just as the EU was bringing in legislation to outlaw high-powered vacuums that help screw up our atmosphere. Dyson’s inventions always seem to carry a penalty. At 71, having built a self-made family fortune estimated at £9.5 billion, he can certainly afford to insulate himself from the slings and arrows of public opprobrium.

He began his company with the ‘Ballbarrow’, a conventional barrow but with an inflated orange ball (later used on an early vacuum), instead of a wheel to make it more tractable moving left and right or over mud. The body was made of moulded plastic. The ball deflated in double-quick time, the metal fixings rusted and snapped, and the plastic container section split carrying anything heavy and sharp. But he sold a ton of them.

New doesn’t always mean the best. A few more inventions, good and bad times, joining up with a Japanese company, and then to his famous vacuums, redesigning hairdryers and hand dryers sold at sky high prices on the way.

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Dyson’s yacht, The Nahlin, an old American Indian word meaning fleet of foot

Arch Brexiteer Dyson owns a yacht, The Nahlin, purchased from another jingoistic English multi-millionaire, the one who advocated Scotland trash civil rights and vote independence down, Sir Anthony Bamford, Chairman of JCB diggers and bulldozers. A wonderful irony attached to the yacht is where it was built, the John Brown Yard on the Clyde, part of the same industry Thatcher ensured went to the wall.

As well as a yacht, he surrounded himself with all the trappings of the rich, pretty well cancelling out any good he does investing in his institute of engineering and technology in Wiltshire. He has a global portfolio of homes including a £20 million London town house, a £3 million chateau in Provence with its own vineyard, a £50 million penthouse apartment in New York, and a 51-bedroom stately home in Gloucestershire boasting orangeries, lakes and a 300-acre park designed by Capability Brown. Dyson is well able to ride out any economic turmoil that Britain’s current political paralysis will spawn.

You pay a lot of staff to look after all those places. To reach them he has a helipad in his landscaped garden, a £40 million Gulfstream jet in his personal hangar, and a showroom of cars. His yacht saw him hand over £25 million to JCB’s Bamford.

He employs 9,000 people, 1,500 fewer when he locks the gates on his car factory, and turns over £3.5 billion a year producing household goods across the world.

We’ve been here before. Back in 2002 Dyson announced he was moving production of his vacuum cleaners to Malaysia, making 800 loyal members of staff redundant in the process. The following year, he and Deirdre, decided to pocket some £17 million in dividends from the firm. He used the money to buy his stately mansion in Dodington Park, Gloucestershire, a V-sign to his sacked workers who live nearby.

Redundant staff would not have been pleased either to see the Brexiteer net some £1.6 million in EU farming subsidies. The cash was paid to Beeswax Dyson Farming Corporation, a firm he’d set up to manage the swathes of farmland he’s acquired. With around 25,000 acres under the organisation’s control, primarily in Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, he’s now believed to be England’s biggest private landowner, with more rolling acres than even the Queen. Farmland is exempt of inheritance tax.

A wonder he has time to invent anything, devoting his life to stashing the cash.

In 2015, the Guardian revealed that various parts of his business empire were registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg. And last October, it emerged that he’d invested in three different film finance schemes via firms embroiled in tax avoidance planning. A Sunday newspaper reported Dyson is a member of Tamar Films, Tyne Films and Future Screen Partners, allowing him to keep down his tax bills.

Tamar and Tyne are run by Ingenious, a now notorious accountancy firm involved in a long-running dispute with HMRC over movie schemes, which such luminaries as David Beckham, Gary Lineker and Andrew Lloyd Webber joined in an effort to keep their hard-earned cash from the Exchequer. Back in 2009, meanwhile, Dyson gave his three children Emily, Jake and Sam a total of £45 million shortly before the capital gains tax from such transactions increased from 10 to 18 per cent.

Nobody gets stinking rich without doing dodgy deals.

I thank Dyson for two things: the paperless hand drier, and getting rid of the vacuum bag, the one thing from which vacuum makers made their millions. But after my wife brought three different Dyson vacuums that broke down in quick succession, we use the humble Henry Hoover, one of the hardiest and cheapest hoovers on the market.

The press like to call him, and others of his ilk, a buccaneering entrepreneur. I’d like to call him a few other things. He’s a symbol of the worst of a neo-liberal economic system. Yet, with one ill-judged, and appallingly timed act of corporate desertion, the noble legacy he so cherishes, and others probably designed, now looks hopelessly tarnished. Moreover, the world does not need another SUV even if his boast was true that it could travel 600 miles on a single charge.

Remember, Dyson advertises heavily worldwide. In every product the company sells a large portion of the price covers marketing costs. We pay Dyson to tell us his product is better than the others.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Scooters to blooter

A little boy on a small self-propelled scooter crossed the road in front of my car today remind me we will see more of them in the near future ridden by adults. In the States they can manage up to 30 mph, though for how long I am too lazy to check. Like cyclists on footpaths they’re another hazard for long suffering pedestrians. I can report e-scooters will be limited to 12.5 mph when they are trialled in the UK, while an ongoing consultation will decide the final rules that will apply to the vehicles when they are fully legalised for road use. Anyone who uses an e-scooter during the trial period will need to hold either a provisional or full UK driving licence, but no training will be required and helmets will not be mandatory. E-scooter providers, meanwhile, will need to ensure their vehicles are covered by a motor vehicle insurance policy. There are decisions still to be made including whether a driving licence should be required to ride one and if a final speed limit should be 15.5 mph.

Lock-down breakdowns

If you’ve not used your car while in lock-down, check the battery and the tyre inflation levels. (And use hot water and a sponge or jay cloth to wipe off the bird poo before the acid in it stains the paintwork permanently.) The easing of the UK lock-down In England has led to a 72 per cent increase in car breakdowns, according to Green Flag patrols. Cars are like humans, sit around too long and they get creaky and stiff. To prevent battery failure start the engine once a week and let it run for up to 20 minutes. You  should also try to move the car at some point. Tyres develop flat spots if left sitting in the same position too long.

Coming our way

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis. The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. Under the nationwide lock-down, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport. The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. We may be out of the EU but we are just as able as ever to copy what is happening there, but there will be a backlash as soon as winter arrives. And who will want to use public transport when we go back to work?

Happy motoring when you can!

 

Posted in Transportation | 2 Comments

The Rise of the SNP

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Sean Connery at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999

I was certain we would lose the first independence referendum, so certain that I placed a £100 bet in William Hill at 7 to 1, to win the vote. I did the patriotic thing, the futile sacrifice. And why not, as Arnold Brown is want to say. Colonised over 300 years, the chances of the ill and the sick getting up off their mattresses to vote the invaders home was no more than fantasy. After all, we hardly had more than a year of a national debate to turn Britishness into nationness. No amount of frantic idealism was going to reverse 300 years of imposed English values overnight.

Be prepared – next year, maybe

And so it came to pass a fool and his money are soon parted, in my case, to a bank in Gibraltar where William Hill has registered his betting company. As I left Davy Byrnes’ pub in Dublin days before the vote, a republican shouted “Do you think Scotland can do it?” I hesitated a beat and then shook my head. Had enough folk seen the light, a third of the UK land mass would have ceased to be British territory.

Had we won, Scotland would still be called Scotland, but what England would be called, still dragging Wales and Northern Ireland behind it, is another matter. “rUK” is clunky.

I suspected back then England might hold tight to the delusion of an empire and stick with Britain just to snub Scotland. That presupposed there would be a “South Britain”, a “North Britain” in Northumberland, and a “Middle Britain”, somewhere around Nottingham, Robin Hood territory.

Instead we have an anti-democratic British prime minister, Boris Johnson, fronting a tyrannical British state, a man who has anointed himself ‘prime minister of the four nations’, arrogantly ignoring devolution parliaments and assemblies.

Stand well back and look again

To understand why the Union is not worth resuscitating you have to stand well back, back to the Sixties. When I was in short trousers the Union could not have been more secure. Britain was still a world power.

In the Sixties, London dominated everything, or took over everything if the source made money, popular music, classical music, television programming, fashion, photographers, art, magazine production, newspapers, writers and writer’s agents. If you were anything you gravitated to London. I subsisted there a while, secretly in a camper van at the back of a big garage. London was an education, the magnet for everything.

The SNP at the time was a blot on the misty moors of the Highlands, an irrelevant and oft derided eccentric sect that attracted more ridicule than serious interest. One of its founding members, Hugh MacDiarmid, was forever getting thrown out of the SNP and invited back in again. He was news, the others were pipe smoking comics in kilts.

Scotland’s mainstream parties were Labour and Tory. Scotland was that contradictory thing: proud of its Red Clydeside yet rejecting any thought of independence. In fact, when revolutionary socialist John Maclean was at his oratory height, Scotland voted Tory. Only in times of adversity did dissent ferment in the tenement villages of Glasgow. When a Labour government ruled Scotland we grew contented again despite being robbed blind of our wealth by Labour as much as by Tory administrations.

British together

The paradox of the Anglo-Scottish mentality is, we died for other people’s countries, not for Scotland. In reality we killed for English power.

We were part of something else, something much bigger than our land. Deaths of our service men and women in the First and the Second World Wars encouraged Britishness. The collective sacrifice was reiterated to us in all sorts of ways, as it is now, in press articles, television documentaries, films, and endless ceremonials to the dead.

To add to that imperial outlook, the establishment of the Welfare State made us feel Britain is a good place to be. We did not, after all, have any other source of income. The British Treasury took it all, including funds from the US Marshall Plan – a post WWII massive bribe to see things the US way – hardly a penny spent in Scotland.

On the other hand, pride in a the British empire had all but evaporated by the Sixties. We still had the Commonwealth countries to comfort us – common and wealth being the most cynical title for countries we thought had nothing in common with England, and from which we stole wealth. We were blind to the hypocrisy.

Seeing HRH Queen Elizabeth accepting flowers from an indigenous child in British Guiana, for example, helped to cement the image of a great Union still a powerful force in the world. We might have ended the war bankrupt but we felt we were only down to our last bag of rubies.

There was always that plucky British spirit to see us on our feet again. Moreover, the nationalisation of British industries helped strengthen Scotland’s perception of living in a partnership of equals, overlooking some of us were poorer than others.

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The quiet before the storm

Winnie Ewing’s surprise, shock 1967 victory for the SNP at the Hamilton by-election was a portent of things to come.

By then, uncontrollable events inside and outside Britain undermined the age-old stability of the Union. One of the first to burst the banks was joining the Common Market in 1973. Remember, the 1707 Treaty was essentially a trading agreement, not only a way of rendering Scotland compliant. So too was signing up to the Common market.

The Seventies changed Scots. England’s markets ceased to be Scotland’s only outlet. Now we had multiple trading partners, the very thing that England blocked in order to impoverish Scotland and bring it to the negotiating table in 1707. With Britain joining what was to become the European Union, Scotland did not have to rely solely on trade with England. There was freedom in trade.

Joining our European friends had other benefits. A primary factor floating Union stability was the perception of a collective existential threat from a foreign foe: France and Spain in the 18th century, Russia, Vietnam and then China in the 20th century. Meeting Europeans who were meeting their Soviet and Chinese counterparts brought forth better knowledge of countries we were told were evil places.

In the 18th century Scotland was exploited for its taxes and trees to fund England’s racists wars, its intense suspicion of Johnny Foreigner. By the Sixties we had East Germany and a nuclear-armed Soviet Russia served up as our existential ‘threat’. With the rise of the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev we saw the end of the Cold War removing the fear of nuclear attack, or at least lessening it. (The USA was busy surrounding Russia with nuclear posts.) Today, the Tories do their best to resurrect fear again by adding Islamist fanaticism to the pile. Now we live in an age of digital communication. A politician’s lie can be dismantled worldwide within an hour.

The religious angle

Until these last few years the Catholic church was spectacularly antagonistic towards anything associated with the SNP. Not for nothing does our ecumenical music man, Sir James Macmillan, compose for the pleasure and applause of cardinals, and does it while portraying the SNP as philistines, third-raters, and godless.

Catholics had a profound suspicion of the SNP. They saw it as a Presbyterian stronghold, and indeed, some of the fiery Calvinist rhetoric that issued from its best speakers added to the distrust. As church congregations faded away so did adherence to the Pope’s edicts, and resistance to the SNP as a political force.

The Sixties and Seventies liberalisation of sexual laws, and the freedom from sexual taboos, plus the Pill for women, were all resisted by the Catholic church. The new free thinking wave and scientific attitude to the mysteries of life and the universe freed the intellect. The times saw the Catholic church losing well over half of its followers in a decade.

Scotland, for all its Catholic history since Mary, Queen of Scots, brought it with her from France, was still wedded to Protestantism. In the latter half of the 20th century Protestantism kept Scottish society close to England’s religious traditions. As we moved into the age of secularism Scotland began taking note of its own history and traditions. By the Nineties the Church of Scotland was toiling to get parishioners into their chapels. The ‘Wee Frees’ of the Highlands and Islands found their influence reduced to pomposity.

The working-class Protestant culture, once the bedrock of Scotland’s daily life, the Kirk, the Boys’ Brigade, the Boy Scouts, to some extend the Girl Guides, but especially Rangers Football Club, began to atrophy. The dib-dib-dibbing, the chanting football songs to unionism that produced Tory governments, started to creak and fall apart.

Until the rot began, working class adherence to the two main political parties most committed to the Union, Conservative and Labour, left no space for the growth of nationalism. Now there was space for the SNP to breathe, to speak with a unified voice, and to convince.

First, the SNP had to pull together policies fit for the 21st century. Internally, the SNP had a rethink – curiously the slogan ‘It’s our Oil‘ was jettisoned – and slowly but surely the result attracted new membership from all walks of life, and all political parties, from communists to Conservatives, from Buddhists to vegetarians.

That sectarian electoral pattern in existence so long, especially in the west of Scotland, derived from the age-old hostilities between Protestant and Catholic. It reached a crisis between the wars, when the Church of Scotland leadership made the gargantuan error of petitioning the UK government to prohibit Irish Catholic immigration. The animosity left deep scars. People began to revolt against discrimination for jobs selected by sectarian category. By the late Nineties the old ways had withered, sectarian voting patterns dissolved. The habit of Protestants supporting the Conservatives and Catholics giving automatic allegiance to Labour, was no longer the rule.

As those beliefs, those certainties fell away, the populace began to question why Scotland danced to England’s piper, and why Scotland had to beg for, and justify, an annual budget figure when the money awarded by the UK Treasury was nothing more than a paltry portion of taxes taken from Scotland. In time people realised Scotland’s progress was at the mercy of English nationalism and English priorities.

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Manufacturing is decimated

Scotland lost nearly a third of its manufacturing capacity from the mid-Seventies to the late Eighties. Steel making, ship building and bridge building, that were Scotland’s pride and international trademark, disappeared in a few years.

There was only one culprit, one destroyer of worlds, Margaret Thatcher, the same Tory who stated an SNP landslide was a legitimate democratic cue to restore independence. Her successful assault on the miner’s union, implemented with cunning and police violence and a lot of help from the right-wing press, was repulsed in Scotland as much as Wales until resistance could hold out no more. Mine after mine closed down, the communities around them turned into bleak, depressing towns sporting a ‘visitor’s mining museum’. Her imposition of the hated Poll Tax on Scotland as a guinea pig, was more evidence of England abusing an alleged equal partner.

The social dislocation was much greater in Scotland than in England. It made people understand they were not in charge of their own destinies. People who did not live in Scotland decided who worked and who did not. Decisions that affected Scotland were taken by people elsewhere, people who did not care about Scotland’s needs or interests beyond hunting, fishing and shooting, and owning a track of pine forestation as an investment.

The reaction was strong and decisive. Scotland became a Tory-free zone in electoral terms. Another pillar of the Union crumbled and collapsed. Power first moved to the Labour Party to govern not the SNP, giving rise to the myth that Scotland is traditionally a left-wing country in political outlook.

The English colonial

Not for the first time Scots began to count the colonial English among them, the ones that influenced their lives, who saw Scotland as a stepping stone to ‘better things’ in London. English appointments to high office in various institutions ran into a wall of criticism. Were there no equally qualified people living and working in Scotland? BBC Scotland found itself the target of protest for ignoring the glaring rupture in Union loyalty.

The derogatory term ‘House Jock’ was attributed to Scots of a colonial mentality, keen to achieve preferment and elevation to the House of Lords. Secretaries of State tended to be given that derisory epithet, their post more viceroy of Scotland than special consultant for Scotland. To those critical voices there was an opposite reaction in London where anybody with a Scots accent in high office was derided or sidelined. On the streets, a Scottish bank note was considered ‘toy town’ money and refused in shops as legal tender.

Scots began to compare their political attitudes with countries other than the alien ideology of neo-liberalism imposed by Margaret Thatcher and her protege, Tony Blair. They looked at Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and inevitably Ireland, a nation that  recovered quickly from the bank crisis of 2008. Those developments, fundamental and petty, and the comparisons they saw in other countries of five million people, pushed Scots to take a greater interest in state involvement in public spending. 

Lord Jonathan Sumption, justice of the Supreme Court, argued in a 2013 lecture, that these levels of public expenditure “inevitably had profound effects on attitudes to the state in Scotland, which differ significantly from the rather more equivocal view of the state taken by most Englishmen”.

An English judge had spotted profound changes in attitude on both sides of the border, a divergence in political cultures, cleaving the Union like a shelf of Arctic ice.

Nicola Sturgeon Meets The 56 Newly Elected SNP MPs

The end is the beginning

The foundation of the Scottish parliament in 1999  saw Labour take charge, with the SNP in second place, and the Tories trailing behind. Devolution was by then unstoppable, although some tried, Scots MPs among them proving a colonial mentality takes a generation to shake off. The task of rubber stamping a debating assembly, then termed ‘executive’ was given to prime minster, Tony Blair. (Later Alex Salmond switched it to its proper function, a parliament.) As Blair feared, reinstating Scotland’s debating chamber energised nationalists, and, fulfilling his worst nightmares, saw them demand real powers to govern Scotland without being on bended knees.

Blair was to add that agreeing to devolution was one of his major errors. To Scots, his biggest error was taking the UK into the Iraq war on a falsehood, a lie a first year student of politics could perceive, that folly and corralling North Sea oil to steal the revenue for the UK Treasury. For those transgressions he was not to be forgiven. His blunder was further enlarged when his successor, another Scot seeking stardom as prime minister, Gordon Brown but totally unsuited to the role, refused to visit the Scottish parliament. He turned his back on any co-operation with the SNP. At one point it was rumoured he had contacted other leaders of other political parties in an attempt to overthrow the SNP in its first days in office, an attempted coup in anybody’s language.

Under Blair old Labour had become New Labour, but to Scotland it was business as usual Labour. When the SNP gained its first shaky minority administration, proven to govern with a competent, steady hand, the die was cast. Scotland’s parliament became the spur for Scots to examine every aspect of the lives, their history, their culture, their economy and their future. This, then, became the basis of the historic SNP victory in 2011.

Is that the time already?

Now, in 2020, the SNP has reached a crossroads. Having ignored three mandates and as many opportunities to use them, given to them by the electorate to process a second referendum on autonomy, discontent has created a clamour for the constitutional change the SNP so often promised.

The SNP is once again faced by the old enemy, an implacable, far-right Tory Party in power at Westminster determined to treat Scotland as a province, but give it less respect than Northern Ireland, indeed, less respect than Gibraltar.

England’s nationalist upsurge has its goal to regain its own parliament and embrace delusions of empire with inflated occasions of pomp and circumstance. Simultaneously, when it ought to have been at its most politically vigorous, the SNP is mired in badly thought through policies, cases of sleaze and conspiracy it could have avoided, and dragged out of the European Union against its will by the British state.

The SNP sees itself out of step with the concerns and anxieties of the people who put it in power. Dissent mounts. Formerly avid supporters bleed away who see the SNP as risk averse, clumsy and unreliable. Self-determination is superseded by self-flagellation.

Historians studying Scotland state the Union is dead. Scots acknowledge the Union is wholly unfit for the 21st century, but the SNP, hell-bent on chasing more mundane political matters, appears unable or unwilling to do what it was elected to do, give Scotland back to its people.

NOTE: This is a work in progress.

 

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 32 Comments

Car Culture: Pandemic Imponderables

Your weekly look at what sucks in our car culture, plus some good things

BRITAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS

What has been happening in our world of automobiles since the pandemic lock-down?

For one thing there are far fewer of them on the road, which makes life very pleasant if you live over a busy street or near a motorway. This has caused pedestrians to encounter near-death incidents when they cross streets assuming them free of cars, and car drivers to speed up in restricted areas on the same assumption and shoot out of side streets without stopping. On motorways the motorbike with the noisiest exhaust rasp gets the nuts ragged off the engine pushed to jet-aircraft decibels.

Another downside is fewer people using public transport, bus services cut as a result, their revenue zapped as a consequence. After months of governments and councils exhorting us to ditch our cars and take to the bus, they might have to rethink that  paradise when we resume some sort of normality.

Bicycle sales have  gone through the roof, fine for a sunny summer’s day. Try cycling up the Mound in Edinburgh – one of the capital’s many steep roads – in a rainstorm and cold wind. Notice how cyclists disappear from the city centre on bad weather days? How do their owners get to work? Walk? Cycling comes too late for my beaten up body. Quite frankly, my lardy arse in Lycra no longer causes women to inhale their breath through their teeth and smack their lips. They tend to exhale or take a coughing fit. Sales of cars are back to 1946 levels. Cyclists 1, Drivers 0.

I cannot see how one creates physical distancing on a subway train at peak travel times? Film of masses of folk getting in and out of carriages on the London Underground are evidence of the problem. A face covering and no body contact is about as much as you can do. Those carrying backpacks, swinging them left and right, are a menace.

Car free streets is the perfect time for councils to fix the millions of potholes and cracks that knock hell out of our hard earned private transportation. Councils don’t have the funds and road crews are restricted to emergency work only. But at least the pot holes are not multiplying, unlike deaths from corona virus.

One good consequence of the fall in car use is lower air pollution. The air is cleaner. We can’t yet take a deep breath in case we swallow a capsule of corona. Aircraft trails that widen and block sunlight are missing from our skies. The quietness has birds sing louder than ever.

There has been incidents of domestic livestock and wild animals strolling around town and city centres. Sheep have moved into gardens to chew tulip heads, and deer are munching grass in play parks. A kangaroo was filmed hopping madly down an empty street in Sydney, probably in search of a Nike store to beat up for using kangaroo skin to make trainers. I’ve not yet seen birds congregating on the hat and shoulders of traffic wardens, the warden ecstatic, motionless, wearing a beatific smile, but it could happen.

Elon Musk, the super-charged genius behind the move to electric driven vehicles, and CEO of Tesla, has reopened his Californian factory in defiance to the state’s instruction. He feels he has a plan for safe distancing. His critics and manic opponents overlook the lowered restrictions is adjoining Californian counties, and car factories reopened in the UK, and American owned car makers too in such places as South Korea, now producing cars again to keep US investors happy. However, what makes Musk the successful entrepreneur that he is, is the gene that pushes him to go further than anybody else, the same that has racing drivers become world champions, or  turns otherwise good folk into alcoholics. Shame he has indulged in posting misleading information on how the coronavirus functions, a low trick to justify his action. Another individual the press can label as a ‘Marmite’ man.

Car events everywhere are at a standstill and that presupposes car boot sales too. Small traders must be on their uppers, the ones who deal in long out-of-production car parts.

Automobile magazines are lost without a queue of new cars to test and promote. Staff road maps they lay over car bonnets for that photo cliché lie limp and unused on their office bookshelves. Auto hacks are reduced to articles on ‘My first car’, or ‘Great Cars of the Eighties’, or ‘What I did on my holidays’. They could spend their extra time better discussing ways to bring more women into the auto business, in design, engineering, and testing. Dump the misogyny. Let women talk about cars, what they like and dislike about them. I remember one spectacular concept sports car designed by women. It got a lot of press interest for its novelty value but Ford never made it. The concept was sold a few years ago in an auction; that’s how much female pioneering means in the car business.

Lock-down locking his brain matter, one prominent magazine editor chose to warn we should buy new cars now, before “prices go up” before the pandemic eases, his reasoning being the slump in cars sales is so bad, no dealer will offer a discount. Oh, really? I suggest buyers stand their ground, money in hand. Sure enough news reaches my busy in-tray that manufacturers will discount certain cars of the hybrid variety, stockpiles so high, capital investment rusting in factory car parks and competition so intense, they want rid of them fast. Dealers are discussing ways of opening on June 1st.

Aston Martin says it has taken a £100 million hit in income since the lock-down. Wonder how cheap I can get a stockpiled Aston Martin? Here’s an odd thing, you can get applause and admiration for driving around in a half-million pound veteran car, such as a blower Bentley. Park and get out of a half-million Aston Martin and someone will call you a “wanker!” One day the Aston will be a veteran car. Just saying.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Border blues

I read Police Scotland is stopping cars driving over the Scottish border. One family was on a 500 mile trip from London to Motherwell, stopped by Cumbrian police. You read correctly. They were on their way to a weekend in Motherwell. To see relatives? Anyhow, that’s the outcome of England doing its own thing, making laws and imposing them on all the nations, and Scotland deciding we should do a different thing, not violently so, just a wee bit different. I’ve no objection. I just wish we had the sovereign right to close down our border in times of emergency.

Car doors

How nice not to be awakened by neighbours slamming car doors early in the morning as the prepare to go to their place of work. Hearing a door slam cut through relative silence is an unusual thing in lock-down. On this occasion it was a rear door four times. We use the handle to open a car door, or button, but we slam them shut to close them. Auto engineers got wise to this and stuck all sorts of rubber stoppers around the door frame to dampen the sound. Cheap cars have tinny doors. I watched Rolls-Royce owner open his door by the handle and shut it by the handle. I concluded it was the quality of the sound that motivated use. So I took off my cabin door cards and installed sound proofing on the bare metal of each door, a sticky roll you can buy from Amazon and cut to shape for doors, wheels arches and floors. Result – the door has a quality sound when banged shut.

Petrol costs

Some superstores are advertising petrol at 99p a litre. If only we could drive places to take advantage of the slump in price. Early in the Eighties, when I was working in Los Angeles, I filled the tank with gas less than a dollar a gallon. No wonder they were holding onto their gas guzzlers and 10 mpg pick-up trucks. American were blase about gas mileage. It was President Obama who told car makers of cars and light trucks they must average 31.4 mpg and 250 grams per mile, and he legislated for it. The writing was on the wall. Here is Jockland, Unionists are back to jeering us. “Ha, ha! So much for your oil fund!” Well, we don’t actually own the oil at the moment, chaps. The UK Treasury takes all the profits having corralled North Sea oil. And didn’t you tell us oil is a toxic product best left in the ground? Make up your minds. Oh, one more thing, goods and haulage should get cheaper, aye, even for car-owning manic British nationalists.

Happy motoring! – to the local shop and back home.

 

Posted in Transportation | 5 Comments

The Assistant – a review

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Julia Garner plays the ingenue who’s forced to keep her wits about her

Depraved behaviour, with the Harvey Weinstein trial in New York seeing the movie mogul jailed for 23 years, a second trial soon to be held in Los Angeles on new charges, The Assistant is a perfectly timed, highly topical study of the extremes of misogyny in the work place.

Anybody who has worked in an office knows the hot house weeds that can grow there, office parties and all. For some who work in open or roomed offices, the width of their social contacts can be few, choices for partners, fewer. I have worked in only three offices in my career, two a short time before I was a student at college and university, both travel agents free of leering or men teasing females, although in the first the addled alcoholic manager was having an affair with a very pretty member of staff, she, no doubt, convinced in time she could cure him of his malady.

The third office was later in my vocation, the BBC. Life there was altogether different. Sexual liaisons were the stuff of canteen gossip. (Lord Reith, stern son of the manse, the first director general of the corporation, set the standard. He walked in on a couple hard at it on his desk in flagrante dilecto.) I shall never forget the senior BBC colleague who played me for a patsy, asking me to meet a talent agent over dinner because he had done it three years running and was bored. The agent turned out to be a scumbag who offered hookers to BBC producers in return for slots on shows. The jolt of that experience taught me to have female colleagues always attend my theatre and film interviews and auditions when casting, and indeed, that policy proved wise when working in the sleaze capital of America, Los Angeles. But that’s another story … for a book.

The Assistant is an impressive study of the culture of silence surrounding daily workplace abuse. Julia Garner excels at instilling a sense of dread as she presents each successive incident in a story which, unsurprisingly, ends not with a satisfying solution to the drama that unfolds, but with the depressing realisation what she witnesses and senses won’t be fixed next day.

The Assistant is a slow burn, meaning you should watch ever glance, observe every body movement, every speech inflection riveting story. In other words, it about adult affairs.

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Matthew Macfadyen reminding Jane, and us, an office is a man’s world

The story appears simple but is cluttered with sophisticated twists and turns, some barely visible, some hinted. Ingenue Jane (Julia Garner) takes a job as the assistant to a high-powered film company executive – who could that be? – after she graduates from college. She is looking forward to the experience and making new friends.

She leaves her Astoria, Queens apartment and arrives at the studio’s loft-like Soho offices, all under the cover of darkness. We see her do all the normal things a newbie does when starting in a new job. What’s the first task she is asked to do? She makes coffee. She gets her boss’ coffee. She makes small talk introductions with passing staff. She makes photo copies. She collates photo copies.

She takes care to make sure everything is right when his male assistants (John Orsini, Noah Robbins) come in at 8am, and the executive comes in at 10am. One of her tasks is to clean “stains” on her boss’ casting couch; it takes a while for her to understand what kind of stains they are. She picks up stray earrings and hair bands left by “visitors”, again, not putting two-and-two together. In a clever visual tease, we never see the chief executive she works for, but we hear him, mostly in half-heard conversations on the phone or on the other side of the wall from Jane’s desk.

Her boss is a boor and bully, bastard is an understatement. He has no compunction over hurling curses at his staff or throwing things against a wall if angry. When the executive’s wife (Stéphanye Dussud) calls in to complain that her husband froze all of her credit cards, and Jane says she’ll try to help, the exec berates her for interfering in his personal life, saying “all your good for is ordering salad.” Jane’s first real test of mental strength is presented to her. What does she do? Smile meekly and carry on? Respond with a similar insult? Rebel by walking out? In those situations there is always a decision to weigh in the balance, job experience on your curriculum vitae, or potential reputation as a troublemaker.

She does what most young women would do new to the experience. She frets. Her male assistants help her compose an e-mail apology. This seems to sort things momentarily, but her boss is quick to exploit her reserve. She then has to babysit his kids as he screams out his nanny Sasha (Juliana Canfield) for bringing them to his office.

During this day, Jane begins to free herself of inhibition. She is uncomfortable with what she has to do for her boss. She gets a call from someone who will “visit” with him on his trip to Los Angeles for a premiere, and she has to make sure this woman knows how to get to the hotel. Traces of corrupt Weinstein begin to pile up.

A young attractive woman named Sienna (Kristine Froseth) comes in to sign papers to be a new assistant. Everyone seems to know why she’s there, with the requisite winks and nudges, except for Jane. She makes sure Sienna gets to the hotel where the boss has rented a room before it dawns on her why Sienna is there. This upsets her, and she decides to talk over her feelings with her colleague Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen), who more or less dismisses her “feeling” that Sienna was only hired for sex, and not-so-subtly tells her that hundreds of people would love to have her job.

Chastened and miserable, she returns to her office to put in a late night filing files and filling envelopes while her boss is there entertaining another young actress named Ruby (McKenzie Leigh). Things move from puzzlement, to curiosity, to morality and finally decision time. As Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the insidious abuse that threatens every aspect of her position.

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Jane gets very little sympathy from work mates, and soon realises she’s on her own

Written and directed by Kitty Green, I was pleased to see much of the film is wordless, that’s cinema after all, if you can manage it without losing your audience’s attention. There some interesting music from composer Tamar-kali, and lots of background ambient noise. That’s a tough call for a young actress who has not acquired a repertory of expressions. Nevertheless, Garner is superb at conveying her character’s increasing concern, degradation and inner conflict.

I enjoyed Matthew Macfadyen’s sly performance, his misogyny there for us to see, his testosterone healthy as he attempts to show concern. After he listens to Jane’s anxieties he tells her there are four hundred people who would kill for her job. He has their ‘resumés’ on his desk – and so in good male fashion, he blackmails her into submission.

Julia Garner is in virtually every scene in this film. To the quick study she might seem perpetually glum, but I think she was directed that way to force us to read her face in our search for her reaction to events. When she gets the one crumb of praise from her boss, she starts thinking things are looking up. If you watch her face intently you can detect her thinking, this shit might be worth it. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that.

There was one memorable line I recognised from the Weinstein affair. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” says Wilcock as Jane walks out the door. “You’re not his type,” he adds, dryly. That pretty much wraps up how so many sleazy executives get away with their behavior.

A true anecdote: in the aftermath of the bank crash, a madame, interviewed in a documentary, was asked how she managed to run her New York brothel when people were going bust. “Oh, no problem. My clients are nearly all bankers and high finance guys. I have a lunch session arranged for their three hour ‘business lunches”.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh
  • Director: Kitty Green
  • Writer: Kitty Green
  • Cinematographer: Michael Latham
  • Composer: Tamar-kali
  • Adult rating: 15
  • Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?

 

Posted in Film review | 1 Comment

Bercow Bitchin’

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John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. “We degrade this parliament at our peril”

I liked John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons. You need only compare him to Sir Lindsay Hoyle his anodyne, lugubrious, gloomy successor to see Bercow is a star. He is a guy at the opposite end of my political spectrum but with whom I would happily exchange anecdotes in the pub. I liked him all the more when he wore his heart on his sleeve. He is what English refer to as ‘a good egg’.

Only now and again would his unselfconscious right-wing outlook on life irk the hell out of a Scotsman. He did not attend Eton or Harrow. He was educated at Essex University, but soon acquired the mental and verbal ticks and accoutrements for acceptance to the Conservative Party.

Presiding over the pigswill that is the House of Horrors, I thought him smart, courageous, more amusing than Grande Dame Betty Boothroyd, and not in the least corrupt or wayward as some of his predecessors who sat on the seat facing the baying mob.

His autobiography tells you he enjoyed the attention. The physical position of the Speaker’s chair suited his vanity. He was the umpire at the rowdy cricket match.

He genuinely cared about protecting the democratic procedures of his parliament much to the annoyance of a great many of his party. For being as even-handed as he could possibly be, some of his Tory colleagues wanted his head of a salver. He survived.

I bought his autobiography – Unspeakable, the madness of the act I attribute to lock-down cabin fever. My real excuse is, I knew the book contained acerbic descriptions of parliamentary colleagues. I was curious. It does a Scotsman’s heart good to read of a Tory politician’s rise and fall by their own frailty. The tales Bercow has to tell do exactly that, give us the skinny from his perspective, and in fine detail etched by a sharp kitchen knife, served in the good mannered way only Englishmen can muster.

Unspeakable is what the sports commentator calls a work of ‘two halves’. The first half is all about his youth until he became a parliamentarian, and then his early days as an MP, the ups and downs, plus a spell of resignation over a principle, and passages on the debates on the Iraq War. It is dull, pedestrian, the tale of a fast forming Colonel Blimp. With the exception of wooing and marrying a woman much taller than himself – understandable, a lot of women are taller than Bercow – there is little of political intrigue to fill ten minutes small talk.

Though decently written, clear and concise, Unspeakable is a tad too egocentric for its own good. The first person singular proliferates every paragraph of every page like hundreds and thousands sprinkled on a sponge cake.

There is compensation for the first half of Unspeakable being something to read for the duration on the toilet. The reward of reading it lies not in discovering great revelatory political moments, he does not have that insight, but in enjoying an autobiography devoted to revenge on colleagues who got the better of the author. The narrative contains a few arrows fired to right a perceived injury. Yes, as I hoped, the second-half is delicious gossip and character assassination of a very high order.

As Speaker, Bercow was a reformer. It did not take him long to get rid of the frilly ruff and wig of his office. He fought for and got, facilities for MP’s children, and for regular school visits. Against abuse from party colleagues, he also got use of the House for debates by the Youth Parliament. He was fair to backbenches who stood to speak.

He was ordered and honest in his dealings with MPs and staff, any accusations of bullying most likely issuing from a pugnacious character rather than ill will. He respected the procedures of his parliament and enforced them, notably when Boris Johnson tried in vain to prorogue parliament into oblivion. He is also as human as one can be being a Tory, he bleeds when wounded.

Bercow’s “order, order!” the last word stretched out until it snapped “oooooorderrr!” became a household favourite, repeated by publicans at closing time, and shouted by harassed parents at their noisy children. Above all, he has a keen eye for the ridiculous in parliamentary behaviour, with the descriptive ammunition to wound an adversary if he felt like it. There are any number of examples to highlight, but with essay length limited, I choose the best for readers to enjoy. If nothing else, it saves buying the book.

Bercow has little to say about Scotland, a huge omission when you think about the times in which he found himself. He’s a tennis player, after all, local club, Wimbledon, not a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ chap. In fact, he seems oblivious of Scotland, a disease that afflicts a lot of Englishmen until faced with a man wearing a kilt and talking in a strange language, whereupon in order to understand the ‘foreigner’ better, he belittles his attire and accent to lower his level to one over whom he can feel superior.

In general, Bercow is non-judgemental when mentioning the SNP. He certainly has a lot to say about Scottish MPs and cabinet ministers of which there were many in his day before a Scots accent in Westminster was considered a separatist sect, ultimately despised by the rise of the petty English nationalist whose patriotism in unable to countenance other nations as equals.

For obvious reasons I have picked out prominent Scottish politicians but I’ll begin with Vince Cable because of the time frame of people’s memories. Cable was a man who enjoyed a degree of celebrity for predicting the bank crash of 2008 but dissipated his stock rapidly when in coalition with the Tory Party. Overnight he appeared a clod-hopper and doddery. Cable, together with Nick Clegg and the over-enthusiastic Saint Bernard at a children’s party, Jo Swinson, probably helped condemned the Liberal-Democratic party to the Negev Desert sands for a decade or more.

Please note, the quotations are abridged where necessary.

The Gospel According to Bercow

Vince Cable, Liberal-Democrat

“Cable is intelligent, measured and responsible. Yet for all his experience, weight, sincerity, and modest brand of politics, he had very little impact as leader of his party. He was far more effective as his party’s Shadow Chancellor before the 2010 election, and more influential as Business Secretary in the coalition government. As leader, he was unable to rise to the challenge.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative

“Iain Duncan Smith had a calamitous first ten months as Conservative leader, with poll ratings in the toilet and my party looking to be light years away to return to government. Iain made the bizarre decision, never debated in the Shadow Cabinet, to oppose the government’s move to allow same sex parents to adopt children. He was immovable. I announced my resignation. I received a lovely gracious letter from the Leader of the House, Robin Cook. Iain was supremely unwise to make it a party policy and a whipped vote. Ian’s leadership of the party continued to be weak. His performances in the chamber were poor and, increasingly, colleagues felt he had shrunk rather than grown into the office as leader. With his bald head and poor speaking ability he was a dull, grey man. At PMQs, Iain looked terrified and sounded it. He was forever clearing his throat to speak. In a party vote, he lost and accepted his defeat with good grace and the way was clear for the profoundly unattractive Michael Howard.”

Gordon Brown, Labour 

“In the Chamber, at prime minister’s question time (PMQs), Brown was nowhere near as formidable as some, my self included, had expected. The contrast between specialist and generalist was stark. As Chancellor Gordon Brown reigned supreme. He knew his briefs backwards. He mastered, even monstered, successive shadow chancellors, Lilley, Maude, Portillo, Howard, Letwin and Osborne. None were able to lay a glove on him. Yet at PMQs he was less assured and was far from convincing. He could not anticipate the range of subjects that would be raised, and, inevitably, could not produce the conclusive responses. Unlike Tony Blair, Brown did not carry a bag of different tools. He had one weapon – the sledgehammer – and used it indiscriminately. With a slip of the tongue in the aftermath of the bank crash he said his government had “saved the world” and was mercilessly ridiculed for saying it. He wanted to be prime minister for well over a decade but didn’t seem to enjoy the role at all.”

Menzies (Ming) Campbell, Liberal-Democrat

“As foreign affairs spokesman from 2001 to 2006 Menzies Campbell was knowledgeable, urbane, fluent, widely seen as a statesmanlike figure, even by those who disagreed with him. But as a leader, he bombed. He lost confidence, suffering stage fright and was ill at ease with the welter of domestic issues he had to address. At PMGs, he raised the plight of old people, prompting the Tory MP, Eric Forth to heckle “Declare an interest!”, causing MPs to burst out laughing. A cruel jibe that highlighted the truth, Campbell was lacking in vim and vigour.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative

“It is no secret some of my allies, people who subscribed to my agenda, were from the Labour Party. Yet for much of my Speakership some were from the Conservative Party. One such was Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for Est Somerset, less affectionately referred to as the member for the eighteenth century, a reference to his traditional views, manner and speaking style. Jacob is a one-off, a singular specimen of humanity. Jacob sits sideways onto the chamber, usually one leg over the other. In order to speak he does not so much stand up as uncoil. Overwhelmingly he speaks without a text or notes, and he addresses the House in perfect English. He does not hesitate, um or ah, but develops a logical argument with admirable fluency. He plays the ball not the man or the woman, exhibiting unfailing courtesy. He has a good sense of humour and is content not only to be teased but to take the mickey out of himself.”

Charles Kennedy, Liberal-Democrat

“In 1999 Paddy Ashdown was replaced as Liberal leader by Charles Kennedy, who hailed from that bastion of Liberal Democratic strength, the highlands of Scotland. He was known as a skilful debater who enjoyed a joke and a drink but was often thought of as lazy. Doing programmes such as BBC’s Have I Got News For You has played to his talent for humour, but in the formal world of Westminster, had done nothing for his reputation as a serious politician. Although I disagreed with his policy on Iraq, he was the only leader to speak explicitly and unhesitatingly against the conflict, what he called an illegal war. Kennedy grew in self-confidence and stature as a leader. He led his party to the left-of-centre voter alienated by the Labour government’s decision to go to war in Iraq, notching up to 62 seats in the 2005 election. Eight months later, after struggling with alcoholism, Kennedy was forced out of the leadership, but there’s no denying that he made a mark.”

William Hague, Conservative

“William Hague was a deft debater, who, with a turn of phrase or a joke, could get the better of the prime minister of the day. He had us rolling in the aisles with his jokes. At one stage, when Labour was torn as to who should be chosen as candidate for mayor of London, Hague cheekily suggested that Tony Blair could divide the job into two, Frank Dobson as day Mayor and Ken Livingston as nightmare. However, although his debating skills and wit shaped him as leader, the public did not take to him, and the Conservatives polls trailed way behind Labour, and specifically not for Hague.”

Theresa May, Conservative

“Three features of her resignation speech struck me. Theresa May talked about the need for compromise, as though that was what she had offered, [the EU] though she had done nothing of the kind. She had cobbled together a policy that neither satisfied the Brexiteers nor the Remainers. She offered no concessions at all. A second feature of her resignation speech was her attempt to describe her policy legacy. It was laughable, for there was none. Theresa May had not only failed on her Brexit agenda, she had on almost everything else she promised to tackle, poverty, knife crime, the crisis in social care, and racial attacks. Finally, a prime minister who had become notorious for her absence of empathy and her robotic reiteration of vacuous mantras, suddenly displayed raw emotion about giving up the leadership of the country she loved. [England.] There was tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat.. I could understand how upsetting it must have been for her, but, candidly, I could not feel much sympathy. There was no such emotion over the victims of Grenfell Tower, those affected by the Windrush scandal, or the daily misery endured by the homeless and those dependent on foodbanks that have mushroomed alarmingly across the UK over the last decade. She was tearful only when adversity affected her.”

Robin Cook, Labour

“The best debater – quickest-witted, sharpest and most formidable in argument – was the late Robin Cook. He was simply brilliant.”

‘Unspeakable’ – Volume 2?

Could there be a second book to follow? There are enough curious omissions from Unspeakable to conclude that there might be another book in the throes of creation, no conspiracy groups, intrigue, drunken behaviour, or porn on computers?

Unspeakable offers the impression Bercow is that dying breed, an old-fashioned one-nation Tory, but with far too much of the unreconstructed Thatcherite in his genes. For one thing, he thinks well of the repellent dissembler Michael Gove, one of Scotland’s worst exports, the phoney Englishman. For another, he rebuked the SNP when they applauded one of their members speeches, a habit borne out of Holyrood practice. “We do not applaud here”, he said. Later he allowed a standing ovation from the House when Tony Blair left parliament, for good, one hopes.

As I finished Unspeakable a wave of melancholy washed over me. Cameron had offered Scotland its freedom on a plate, no strings attached, its wealth given back and, one supposes, full sovereignty to do with as we please. Yet here I was reading a book about a far-right Tory administration ensconced in Number 10 Downing Street, ruling the UK in blunderbuss fashion, hell laying before Scotland unless we rise up and seize the day.

I thought Bercow the last Speaker of whom Scotland had to take note. I thought wrongly.

Unspeakable – John Bercow: the Autobiography, Widenfield and Nicolson, £20.

 

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Posted in General, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 4 Comments

Car Culture: Pop Up Charge

A weekly look at all that sucks in the world of cars, plus some good bits

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The pop-up charger sits on the edge of the pavement (sidewalk) 

The car industry being the bellwether of corporate society, and the industry realising the instruction ‘don’t go to work unless you have to go to work’, actually allows them a free hand, a number of Britain’s car makers are tooling up to start producing cars again.

Land Rover-Jaguar is one company, Vauxhall another. Someone has tipped them off that worker distance is more profitable and sensible to cold storage lock-down, at least for big business. Car makers are leaking money faced by the shut-down, non-production of vehicles and engines, the expensive shift to electric vehicles, and massive fines for cheating customers over unsafe diesel cars. No surprise, then, that they are lobbing the EU hard as they can to shift the deadline for emission controls.

Cars are one of the planet’s biggest polluters and users of natural materials and yet manufacturers want us to return to that situation for as long as possible soon as lock-down is eased. Meanwhile, on the High Street, some are preparing for electric vehicles (EVs) being the norm – by law!

A new type of pop-up charge point has been designed to give owners of electric cars who have to park their EVs on the street the ability to recharge at home.

Although there have been leaps forward in home and public EV charging in recent years, one major obstacle to EV ownership remains the fact that a third of UK households – equivalent to eight million cars and vans – do not have access to a driveway. With trailing leads across pavements hazardous, and residents with no off-street parking ineligible for Government charge point grants, urban EV charging has long been a significant issue to overcome as the UK makes the switch to electric.

A British startup firm named Urban Electric has created a pop-up charge point that can be installed at the kerbside. The chargers deliver a 7kW charging rate, and are said to be suitable for 90 per cent of residential streets.

A trial of what is claimed to be the world’s first pop-up charger EVs is underway in Oxford. Six prototypes of the charging point have been installed in the city as part of a pilot project, developed by product design company Duku and sister firm Albright IP in collaboration with Urban Electric.

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All very phallic, but it’s one answer to getting juiced up

The charging points retract underground when not in use, which means they sit on the level of the pavement and are only visible by a ring of light which highlights their position and lets users know of their availability. (See photograph at top of article.)

The trial will take place over the next six months and drivers who signed up to the trial are able to book an electric car which has been made available for the period of the pilot. The £600,000 project won funding worth £474,000 from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and administered by Innovate UK. The trial will allow the companies to verify the reliability of the prototypes and investigate how it fared against daily use, the weather and being installed on a UK street.

Improvements will be made following which a larger scale roll-out is expected.

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‘Urbricity’ – installing charging points in lampposts, a Norwegian solution

I much prefer electric chargers in lampposts. Lampposts exist already and no digging is needed. The down side of a pop up version is a. the sod who parks two wheels up on the pavement his car over the charger; b. the masses of pavement lifted to take new cables, and c. more clutter on our footpaths to add to street signage, shop placards, bicycle racks, bins, railings, and so on, and so forth.

Merely excavating pavements to install the chargers outer casing and ducting, while the electrical team pulled in the cables ready, adds another layer of street clutter and no go stretches to daily urban life.

However, there will be places where a pop-up is the best solution. The first installations of the new pop-up or pop out chargers are aimed at residents on the street who have limited access to parking and struggle to boost the batteries of their electric vehicles.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Queensferry

Bored out of my skull, I took a drive around old Queensferry village on a sunny afternoon crushed to discover it’s new urban sprawl. What was once a pleasant village is now a mini-Livingston. What caught my attention was not just the lack of sensitivity new architecture with the old, but lines of cars nose or tail to houses. New flats built on green sites have car parks not underground parking bays, an astonishing blunder in the modern age by Planning departments. And most disappointing of all, where was the community? No shops or cafes for people to meet at street level of the flats. What I saw was one ugly multi-development that’ll soon reach Dalmeny and outer Edinburgh. Where is the careful planning for people, rather than kitsch houses for newcomers?

Insurance premiums

With a distinct increase in road traffic, I can see folk are getting frustrated staying indoors. You have to be careful not to stop anywhere, if not a shop or a petrol station, police are apt to ask for a chat. I wonder how much money car owners have lost staring at their car sitting idly on the driveway or road these last lock-down weeks. Has your insurance company sent a letter to tell you they will reduce next year’s premium for your car’s lack of use? And what about this month’s waste of Vehicle Excise Duty, usually known as road tax? How about an extension on next year’s ?

Exxon

A Guardian investigation last year found that Exxon has spent €37.2m (£32.4 million) lobbying the EU since 2010, more than any other major oil company, according to the EU’s transparency register. It also revealed Shell spent €36.5m and BP €18.1m lobbying Brussels officials to shape EU climate policy. They were desperately trying to influence European commission officials to water down the European Green Deal in the weeks before it was agreed. They spend a fortune telling us how environmentally friendly they are while simultaneously doing the opposite. Great use of shareholder money.

Happy motoring … maybe! 

 

Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment