The Perfect Distance Ovett & Coe

5 Sep

Part way through reading this glorious book by Pat Butcher it suddenly dawned on me. I had as a child been allowed to think of the era of Ovett and Coe as , well two things. Firstly the era of Coe & Ovett, even though Coe was clearly the younger and junior and secondly that Coe was the natural champion and Ovett somehow the person who tried to rain on his parade.

How did I get it so wrong – why had I swallowed that narrative that somehow the 800 metres in Moscow was where Ovett robbed Coe and the 1500 metres where Coe proved his class. Why not, as Butchers book clearly lays out, the other way around.

Ovett never gains the recognition for winning that gold instead the story was of Coe’s loss and ultimate redemption. Was it a class thing , was it Ovetts indifference? I don’t know. But from the book I have three observations and an aside.

Firstly whoever calls running 800 metres a middle distance race has never run a marathon.Seriously imagine stoping after 800 metres and thinking you might be about half way through !

Secondly Ovett was a running machine . The book tells of periods where he was running everything from 400 metres to 3,000 with little change in results. The story of him borrowing kit and winning an international class half marathon is just delightful.

My third observation is the wonderful way Butcher takes us up to the last lap of the 1500 metres final in 1984 and the point it all ended. There’s a moment where it could be a British 1,2,3 and then it’s over. Not in a linear sense but the magical era ends before the race does. We all move on , grow up, realise perhaps it was all a dream.

And my aside , well trivial as it may seem a neighbour during my childhood insisted his real name was Steve Obett and that my TV had some sort of malfunction. I have now put that ghost to rest.










Community Engagement in Local Government

22 Aug

Community Engagement in Local Government

In May 1838, the first meeting of the Kororareka[1] Association was held. This was the first body in New Zealand to define its jurisdiction and have a code of laws. In order to enforce its regulations, armed members of the association would carry out punishments ranging from fines to tarring and feathering and even banishment (Carman, 1970, pp. 1-2). Fast forward to 2018 and the residents of Kororareka when faced with their councils Long Term Plan were able to read the draft proposals, attend open meetings, make formal submissions and even speak to these at hearings, all without the threat of physical violence or excommunication (Far North District Council, 2018). The relationship between communities and their local councils appears at first glance to have come a long way.

Since the last major reform of Local Government in 2002, local authorities have been seeking to implement the intentions of the Act, namely that council decisions should reflect community views. In trying to understand how this occurs we are first going to consider how a council has dialogue with its residents.

Communication – Local authorities perform a range of functions and services and the level of service varies at times. Councils communicate this information to residents via transactional mechanisms like their websites or newsletters, for example Wellington City Council sends out a range of newsletters on different subject areas across the year which people can subscribe to or pick up from council offices (Wellington City Council, 2018). At the same time this communication acts in parallel with residents able to communicate to council to report service needs or feedback on an issue.

Consultation – this is a more formalised approach to reflecting community views. Councils must consult under various statutory provisions. This may range from standard items such as annual fees and charges to more specialised issues such as Porirua Councils current consultation on its growth strategy (Porirua City Council, 2019).

Engagement – Engaging relates to councils longer term relationships with stakeholders, groups of interest and the community at large. This could be as simple as regular meetings with ratepayer groups but could also be more formalised through advisory groups or committees. Auckland Council has a range of panels and groups covering ethic and cultural issues, demographic and service issues as well as a formal Maori Board (Auckland Council, 2018).

There have been two main drivers behind changes in community participation. The first has been a top-down approach from changes in legislation and local government procedure. The second is a bottom-up drive from communities with increasing expectations.

Initially the role of engagement in local government was not much more than votes every three years for ratepayers. Beyond that the ratepayers were expected to simply pay their rates and charges (Cheyne, 2002, p. 118). Local government complexity continued to grow, and in 1963 the first attempt at a joined up regional authority (Auckland) was made. However, the growth of local councils continued with well over 600 in place and in response to greater demands for participation district and community councils were formed. While this brought some decision making closer to the public it also created tension between the differing layers of governance. Public participation had still not grown much beyond the triennial elections and periodic polls on reorganisation and loan financing (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 124-126). As New Zealand’s state sector was restructured and made more commercial and market focused, this reform process impacted on all branches of government and eventually led to another wave of reforms to local government. The 1989 reforms made it a legislative requirement that authorities had to produce Annual Plans, and that these plans were not only publicly available, but they also had to openly invite and consider submissions from the public. Council business was also required to be open to the public and comprehensible. The 1989 reforms included provisions for Maori participation ,consultation and representation in local government (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 130-133).

Further legislative changes also drove changes in the way communities were involved in decision-making. The Town and Country Planning Act in 1977 provided the opportunity for the public to object to developments and plans through public hearings. These rights have been further extended with the Resource Management Act. Under this act it is not only affected parties who are able to raise concerns but any interested party. Therefore, the community members themselves can decide if they are “interested “. However the government has later restricted some of the balance in decision-making, firstly through direct intervention in certain areas, particularly Canterbury, and then through legislation which gave the Minister the power to amend council plans after they had been consulted and adopted (Brower & Kleynbos, 2015; Reid, 2018).

The Local Government Act of 2002 expanded on the consultation requirements for authorities. This included recognised opportunities for Maori contribution to decision-making, special consultative procedures, the requirement for a significance and engagement policy and the provision for affected persons to have reasonable access to information and make submissions. Council must receive these with an open-mind (Ombler, 2016). The 2002 Act placed “Community Governance “ as its driving philosophy (Reid, 2018) and was aiming to increase the citizens voice in decision-making. However the concept of community strategies in long term plans, introduced in the 2002 act, were weakened in 2010 and the Government wanted local authorities to focus on core services rather than community well-being (Reid, 2018, p. 9).

Other pieces of legislation have created opportunities for communities to participate in local decision-making. The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act had a significant impact on opportunities for communities to be consulted on policies and decisions affecting alcohol licensing (Maclennan, Kypri, Room, & Langley, 2013). The case of alcohol provides an interesting example as the process while providing a legislative role “has not facilitated communities to exercise effective local control “(Maclennan et al., 2013, p. 894). The question is how much is this a tick box exercise? Or simply so complex that communities struggle to engage without the need for professional and legal support?

Local Government reforms started to treat residents as consumers, customers or clients rather than simple transactional ratepayers. This though created different demands and expectations (Berner, Amos, & Morse, 2011, pp. 133-134). Research found that citizens valued feedback and communication as more important that elected officials and staff did. Further this disconnect means that while there may be lots of engagement being undertaken, the intention is not always the same from either side and this diminishes the effectiveness (Berner et al., 2011).

However, the current methods of community participation can be limiting with responses often coming from narrow social groups. There is a tendency for the overrepresentation of older white European males (Ombler, 2016, p. 22). The Local Government Commission found that many consultation processes were not easily understood, garnered low response rates and found similar consultations being repeated over and over. As consultation provides a mechanism for input which is then judged by elected councillors, there is a potential issue in communities or groups feeling that the weight of their submissions ( especially where a majority of submitters oppose an item ) is not reflected in the decision and therefore was not “heard”(Ombler, 2016) or was a waste of time.

The present climate provides several challenges for public involvement. Technological advancements mean that the public are now constantly hard wired to their service providers and agencies. An expectation that councils can and will communicate in real time puts pressure on them to move toward service delivery methods that include areas such as social media. There is already a growing disparity between those councils that can afford to invest in social media and those that cannot. At some future point smaller councils will either have to find ways of funding this at the expense of current employee posts or find other ways of delivering the service (Hendery, 2016). Technological advances can also change the way we think about participatory methods. Residents may be able to engage not just in response to councils agenda but be able to shape and instigate what council is doing (Alonso & Barbeito, 2016). Technological advances can provide positive opportunities, the ability to not only have a direct link to communities through on-line polls and the like but also the ability to redefine community and communities as something that exist beyond a physical space (Reid, 2016) – how long before the first Councillor is elected not only by electronic voting but for an electronic constituency ?

A further challenge is the rise of what is loosely termed “populism”. In this space we can see the potential for a re-setting of council participation either through simplification or making policy issues appear more accessible. The need to address these issues and provide a simplification of process and how it is communicated is now a significant theme across the western world, even if this may give rise to shallow responses with little evidence to support them (Dunleavy, 2018).

The aim of improved participation in local government should be to improve decision-making and to enhance the democratic processes and empower the local population (Ombler, 2016). There is a desire across the world to restore power and rights to local communities and how residents can and do participate will be crucial in making a success of this (Smith, 2017). In order to meet the challenge of greater and more effective communication councils need to be able to offer multiple access points to participation, and on participants terms. Without this we will continue with disengagement and low voter turnout as councils appear further detached from residents’ everyday lives.




Alonso, Á., & Barbeito, R. (2016). Does e-participation Influence and Improve Political Decision Making Processes? Evidence From a Local Government. Lex Localis, 14(4), 873-891. doi:10.4335/14.4.873-891(2016)

Auckland Council. (2018). Advisory Panels Retrieved from

Berner, M., Amos, J., & Morse, R. (2011). WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT? VIEWS FROM CITY STAKEHOLDERS. Public Administration Quarterly, 35(1), 128-163.

Brower, A., & Kleynbos, I. (2015). Changes in urban and environmental governance in Canterbury from 2010 to 2015: comparing Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council. Policy Quarterly, 11(3). doi:10.26686/pq.v11i3.4551

Carman, A. H. (1970). The birth of a city, / by A. H. Carman. Wellington: Wellington The author, 7 Kowhai St. Tawa.

Cheyne, C. (2002). Public Involvement in Local Government in New Zealand; A Historical Account. In J. Drage (Ed.), Empowering communities? : representation and participation in New Zealand’s local government (pp. 116-155). Wellington: Victoria University Press.

Dunleavy, P. (2018). “Build a wall”. “Tax a shed”. “Fix a debt limit”. The constructive and destructive potential of populist anti-statism and “naïve” statism. Policy Studies, 39(3), 310-333. doi:10.1080/01442872.2018.1475639

Far North District Council. (2018). Long Term Plan 2018-28. Retrieved from

Hendery, S. (2016). Councils spend big on social media. Retrieved from

Maclennan, B., Kypri, K., Room, R., & Langley, J. (2013). Local government alcohol policy development: case studies in three New Zealand communities. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 108(5), 885-895. doi:10.1111/add.12017

Ombler, J. R., Marie;Rivera-Munoz,Graciela. (2016). Local Councils and Public Consultation extending the reach of democracy. Policy Quareterly, 12(4), 20-27.

Porirua City Council. (2019). Growth Strategy Retrieved from

Reid, M. (2016). Local Government In A Changing World: What Does The Future Hold. In Jean Drage;Christine Cheyne (Ed.), Local Government in New Zealand Challenges and Choices. Auckland: Dunmore Publishing Limited.

Reid, M. (2018). Saving local democracy: An agenda for the new government. Retrieved from Auckland:

Smith, J. (2017). Local Responses to Right-Wing Populism:Building Human Rights Cities. Studies in Social Justice, 11(2), 347-368.

Wellington City Council. (2018). E-Newsletters. Retrieved from


[1] Part of what is now known as the Bay of Islands.

Theresa May’s Candide Premiership

17 Jan

The whole Brexit debate has probably been worth it to hear Michael Gove (POB) do his Vicky Pollard impression.


Gove’s speech is getting rave reviews. I don’t rate it as highly as Michael Foots one under similar circumstances but that’s for another day.

The political mess and chaos of Brexit still seems to have a long way to run. Quite whether this is a Corn Law moment remains to be seen, will the plates shift that much. I still doubt it. The moment for the political classes to represent the pro and anti European agenda was any time over the last 50 years. Now it just seems too late.

Yet there are glimpses that this seems possible. You cant really see how a post Brexit Jacob Rees Mogg ( who now wants to shut Parliament down ) can sit in the same party and Government as Teresa May. But then look at Michael Gove. One of the so called brains of the Brexit campaign. The man who talked up freedom and control is now talking of the dangers to primary industry from no deal. There was never talk of “deals” in 2016. The Chief Brexiteer is now arguing for a new customs union with everything that comes with it. Mogg is content to have a WTO free trade arrangement, Gove wants to start the process of closer economic ties with the rest of Europe. We know how that ends !

The Parliamentary debates have been providing entertainment and punch ups galore. The ERG bloc who tried to remove Teresa May before Xmas laughably fell in behind a confidence vote in her Government. They may have clipped her wings, but clipping the wings of a Dodo is hardly a task with much reward or benefit.

May’s biggest challenge is keeping the Government majority intact. The DUP have taken a mind boggling stance, where they smash things to pieces, put the pieces back together then retreat to find a bigger hammer. Then put the newly bashed pieces in a kaleidoscope in the dark ..then bash it some more. Northern Ireland voted to remain and some sort of deal that was close to a customs union / single market would no doubt have great appeal to the only land border in the UK. For the DUP the border is an issue of faith. The tension this puts on the fractious Union is obvious and the DUP prop up the Government.

Oddly Mays best way out of this may be a General Election. Her unpopularity in Westminster may not be such an issue in the country at large. If Parliament wont pass her deal but the public vote for her the authority and end point are cleaner and more straight forward than the idea of a Second Referendum. The election might have shades of 1918 or 1922. Its hard to see how a Second Referendum doesn’t lead to a Third.

Which leads to Jeremy Corbyn. For the opposition the challenge is just as great as for May. The European split doesn’t sit neatly in Labour and the only positively and clearly pro EU party in the Liberal Democrats have hardly surged since Brexit.

Planning for the No Deal Brexit have been beyond parody. An Ealing version of Britain ( but remember Passport to Pimlico doesn’t end well for the Brexiteers ) . While the planning is centred around a shipping company with no ships and a take-away menu for its charter. No doubt the Brexit movie will be phenomenal, but the reality seems a little grimier. Whether its stockpiling drugs,  slaughtering 6 million sheep or queuing for hours at the port it all feels like a strange kind of liberation. There will though be Cheese and Onion Crisps.

The main issue with Brexit though hasn’t changed since 24 June 2016. The EU can never and will never accept a deal that can in any way be in the UK’s favour. Perhaps May could have played a longer or shorter game, but whatever the rules were rigged. Without serious reform the EU will punish the UK for its cheek at leaving and will do all it can to make sure no one else would ever try it.

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But then what ? Will the political landscape be changed ? Life goes on so to speak. Issues like Trade or Agricultural Policy are things most of us have never spent much time thinking of. Suddenly they will dominate the landscape for years. The consequences of these changes are monumental, whether we, or the policymakers understand them. Then there is the Irish Border. Back into our political lexicon with a vengeance. Many of us had hoped it had gone away. The return of a patrolled, governed border. Northern Irelands other major party, Sinn Fein are silent in the Parliamentary debates. Ironically many see the Brexit debate, even with Sinn Fein’s abstention , as potentially accelerating a united Ireland. Irony comes in all shapes and sizes.

Brexiteers now seem like Jane Austen’s Emma having finally completed her trip to Box hill. For her whole existence she had wanted to venture out to see somewhere and something different. She realises there is risk and that her Father is advising against it. Yet when she is there, not only does she realise the event is not going to be as successful and spectacular as she hoped but her own actions undermine the very idea that it could be a success. Having longed for Sovereignty, the Brexit brigade now seem to find that that involves making decisions and taking choices. Many of which seem to make things worse and worse.

And perhaps the most British response to preparation for No Deal has now occurred. A trial traffic jam in Kent. We are practicing what would happen in the event of lorries being held up for bureaucratic reasons. Oddly one of the driving reasons for leaving the EU was silly regulations and red tape. Now look at us. Practicing queuing. Of course its hard to believe no one can forecast what a traffic jam might look like. The act of undertaking a practice seems to be part of the theatre of getting people ready for the collapse that will follow.

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Somehow it feels like Brexit chaos is only just beginning. I hope I am wrong.




What David Willetts wants

16 May

David Willetts resigned as Paymaster general on 11 December 1996. Paymaster general is a Treasury position, it was a merger of the paymaster of forces and other roles including Treasurer of the ordinance ( which sounds like a rubbish star wars baddy ) . Other holders include

Bliss was it to be alive in the Dawn Primarolo held it for 8 years

David Plunket ( a name that could easily get the wrong paternity test sent to him )

Charles Churchill – Winnies cousin

Arthur Henderson held it for a few months during the great war, Neville Chamberlain before he found peace. Geoffrey Robinson held it during his wonderful time in office ( I kid you not his memoirs are the best book about early new Labour you will ever read or need to read ) and little Ben Gummer proving eating infected beef doesn’t hold you back.

But I digress

Willetts ‘ made an ass of himself’ according to Roy Hattersley.

Willetts had tried to stop a committee investigating Neil Hamilton and cash for questions. His note of the meeting with the Chair of the members Interest Select Committee became a priceless memory of the Major debacle. He called the chair ( Sir Geoffrey Pinstripe Smith ) muddled and wanted him to exploit the good tory majority on the Committee.

“ He wants our advice “ noted Willets. No I didn’t proclaimed Pinstripe. Well according to Willetts he wants as in he lacks or needs it. Not that he requests or desires it. Jokes abounded about poor Mrs Willetts being told David wants her.

Willetts was accused of dissembling which is posh tory for lying and he resigned his post shortly after.

He then went on to write the excellent best seller ‘ Blairs Gurus’ in which he attacked John Gray, Will Hutton,John Kay,Frank Field,Simon Jenkins,Andrew marr, Peter Mandelson and David Marquand. It was a later broadway sensation and the film version was nominated for 2 oscars.


Bagpuss and the common market

8 Feb

From the archive


I was forced , and there was some resistance , to watch Bagpuss this morning. The one where the Mice find a mill and then use butter beans to make chocolate biscuits…yes that one. It got me thinking. Particularly when you note it was made in April 1974.

The Mice of course aren’t really making chocolate biscuits, they simply pour the beans into a bag and roll a biscuit out , and to make matters worse they keep reusing the same biscuit.

Why do I care. Well there’s something strangely political about it. I know people have commented before about the mice as a metaphor for striking labour, but I am not sure. In fact they seem like a metaphor for the common market ( as it then was ). Something people thought was all an illusion , that tricky thing with its false claims , its biscuit you never…

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Women poets of the civil war

6 Dec

There can never be enough study of the ideology and thought of the confused and chaotic British 17th Century. The role of women in this process is often neglected. Twenty years ago or so Hilary Hinds wrote a book which for me was a showstopper in terms of my thinking on the 17th Century – “ God’s Englishwomen” she illustrates how women had to circumvent the male dominated religious paradigm they operated within to get their point across. In the terms of Hinds book she demonstrated how women could relay thought through the process of revelatory dreams was seen as ok , but simply having an idea was not. Fast forward 400 years and consider the treatment of women politicians and maybe not a lot has changed.

So its an early xmas present to find Manchester University Press have published another great looking book on 17th century thought this time focusing on Women poets of the english civil war. If the interview below is anything to go by it should be a great read, and if I’m lucky enough to get a copy I will no doubt post a review.



The Truth about Trump

1 Nov

The Truth About Trump, Michael D’Antonio (St Martins Press,2016)


During the reconstruction of the building that would eventually become Trump Towers, workers destroyed two art deco friezes. There had been on going debate about the value of the friezes and Trump had agreed to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Facing criticism for having broken this earlier agreement, the Trump organisation were coming under increasing public pressure. Enter John Barron who defended the decision based on economics. John Barron was vice-president of the Trump organisation.  However, his existence was not a physical one, Barron was a construct of Trumps imagination played by none other than Donald Trump. It may have been a shield, some form of protection or a way to throw legal threats and deal with rumours. But it was Trump pretending to be someone else. Trump also employed the services of John Miller, another character of his imagination, to inform the press of Trumps dating history with celebrity women.  Michael D’Antonios book “The Truth About Trump” contains this story and many others about the odd world of Donald Trump up to November 2016.


In reading the book you are never quite sure that Donald Trump really exists. Or perhaps its which Donald Trump exists. Trumps relationship with reality is difficult to comprehend. D’Antonio sees the Trump performance as similar to a slightly off-beat comedian. His slow dead beat delivery chipping away an insult at a time. Whether its potential rivals for the Presidency, potential Mrs. Trumps or just his business rivals, the combination of over the top insult, innuendo and fear mongering have been consistent for decades. This has accelerated in recent years with Trump taking to social media for additional delivery. His Twitter storms are referred to as “shitposting”. An inoculation against the facts and perhaps even against reality. The benefit for Trump in doing this is that he always leaves one foot on the edge of the post. The character of Donald Trump might say these things but the real man is somehow hidden a little further away. Maybe though this is the real man, and D’Antonio leaves enough pointers for us to understand that the irrational, inconsistent and at times insulting behaviour is part of Trumps truth.


Examples abound. Trump’s business activities form the main part of this book. Trumps debt funded and ego fuelled deals rarely make commercial sense. It perhaps explains also why, as someone who was overly keen to ensure the media reported his wealth in billions, when he applied for a gaming licence in 1982 he could only demonstrate cash assets of $400,000. His empire was heavily indebted with insufficient available cash. The solution for the Trump organisation was to continue doing deals, to free up some more cash to prolong the inevitable payback. When in the early 1990s this all started to go horribly wrong for Trump he managed to bluff and bluster his way out of it. His Taj Mahal resort-casino went bankrupt and with it a number of his other ventures. As part of the arrangement with creditors Trump continued to receive $1 million per year for use of his name on the complex. In trying to salvage something from the continued operation of his businesses, the creditors avoided lengthy court processes. They also allowed Trump to ride to a position of power from his corporate disasters. He reduced many of his own liabilities but retained a significant asset base. His major financial restraint was a $450,000 per month expenses allowance. In exchange he walked away from over half a billion dollars of debt.  Or as he later said” You have to be strong enough to not pay”.


None of this stopped his image of being a success. A winner as he often calls himself. Trump didn’t feel constrained by just being a business man he became something of a celebrity. Brand Trump expanded itself beyond real estate, it was a lifestyle, a statement, a monogrammed gold plated high interest junk bonded one. Like his business deals though the personality needed to do further deals to fund the ego. Not content or able to just be the promoter of Trump steaks (and who would) he needed to go further. Leading a successful television show takes him further. As does his almost comical “invasion” of a Scottish coastal town to build a golf resort.  Sadly, it was not comic for those on the receiving end of the abuse and bullying that went with it.


However, niggling away was the idea of the biggest promotional deal he could possibly do. Run for President. Having looked at it in the late 80’s, though not in a serious way, he returned in a more serious manner for the 2000 election and the possibility of being the Reform Party candidate. He offered the party “a business mans eye for the bottom line” just as his organisation posted a $34.5-million-dollar loss for the last 3 months. Timing in politics can be everything. Much of his exploratory campaign was built around negative comments about other contenders. D’Antonio lists many of them. Too many to repeat. He managed to turn the campaign though into a book and speaking tour. His campaign eventually ended but not after extensive promotion of Trumps assets.


His 2011 attempt to gain momentum for the Republican nomination was backed by what is now becoming an all too familiar Trump trait, racial ignorance. Trump led the “Birther “charge. A name he rejected on the grounds that being a “Birther” seemed to imply anyone who questioned the Presidents birth details was an idiot. You can judge this statement for yourself. Trumps version of Birther was something else though. It wasn’t that Obama was born overseas (though he didn’t accept this entirely) it was that Obama had a secret. The secret may be that he is a Muslim, maybe something else. Obama, according to Trump, went to a school where no one remembers him and gained an education on the back of being a poor student. Of course it may just be that Trump didn’t like having a non-white President. Though different versions of Trump may have had different views. Trumps campaign ended when he decided to film another series of “The Apprentice”. It wasn’t over though. His 2011 testing of the waters included some strong stuff on Mexicans, and on foreign leaders laughing at America. His next attempt would, to use a quote from a Trump book “Think Big and be paranoid”.


Sadly, we all know where D’Antonios book is taking us. The 2016 General Election win for Trump built on his concepts of thinking big and paranoia. He advocates violence, exploits racial tension, seems comfortably misogynist and creates a climate of fear around immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans. He wants global trade and local news to be on his terms. Trump makes a political deal with those left behind, the unemployed, the Birthers, the white supremacists, climate change deniers and many more. As with his commercial deals there’s too much inherent debt and their wont be enough ability to pay all these political creditors. When the inevitable payback comes what kind of deal will emerge? Will it be more elaborate than the original? A bigger wall? More Walls? Will it cut deeper? What we do know is Trump doesn’t like to lose out in these arrangements. In avoiding Trumps political bankruptcy, we may all feel the pinch.


But are these images of Donald Trump that D’Antonio shows us our real issue to deal with? D’Antonio is certain that Trumps characteristics are known even if the characterisation is murky. The bigger question is what are we going to do about it?


21 Sep

Sean Mahoney discusses radicalism, populism and the contemporary political moment.

via Age of Anger — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

Memoirs of a Political Bag carrier

26 Jul


Political bag carriers and gatekeepers have a new patron saint. Step forward Alyssa Mastromonoca. The inside cover of her book claims  “ if your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, her behind the scenes political memoir would look something like this …” and with that she nailed it.

Mastromonaco writes in a fluid style and takes us all over the place, not just in a geographic sense but in her own world as well. She’s open and honest about herself ( there is no such thing as too open and honest ) and takes you inside the world that seems both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

If you ever find yourself undertaking a job like this ( even if its for a small place local body politician ) you will benefit from Mostramonaco’s guide as to how to explain your job. Don’t go into detail just say it slowly, in hushed tones and with some inclusive hand gestures.

The human side of the book is wonderfully self-deprecating and funny. How could fighting the urge to need the toilet whilst waiting to meet the Pope not be both ? How could you possible end up married when your first date is gate-trashed by Jim Messina ?

Behind this though are some more serious points. She is put down in the press mainly as a scheduler because, well hey she’s a Woman. And the stress and strain of the job remind me of Stephanopolousis also wonderful insider memoir. They burn them out in the White House. It may not be intentional, it may be it craves a certain type. Not just funny older sisters who pretend to be hedgehogs. And even if you don’t share her love (obsession) with lists, you’ll still find something wonderful in this book.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea ? Alyssa Mastromonaco, twelve books,2017

Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.


There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.


4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.


The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.


In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.