Archive | July, 2016

Ministers at War

18 Jul

You may recall when Obama was standing for US President. It became very chic amongst the pop political classes to talk of the ” Team of Rivals”. It was going to be the guidebook for his Presidency. Look the book is around 900 pages so in summary ( as it’s quite hard to read in bed ) it’s about Lincoln trying to keep his rivals in the tent. Now it became something of a buzz phrase. I was slightly worried then that ” Ministers at War” was billed as being a UK version.


Scanner’s book however doesn’t pretend to be quad-guide book, though in some ways it is. Churchill was dealt a fairly tricky hand, Prime Minister without the full consent of his party, taking over from a disastrous Prime Minister and policy that he was partly implicated in, faced with numerous rivals for the post( or at least people who thought they could do it better than he could ).Add to this the ongoing total war and you have a fairly challenging in-tray. It’s never clear that any of his rivals really could have rolled him, Stafford Cripps for all his self-belief would have struggled to contain a Tory parliament, Beaverbrook was a Lord,and Atlee,Beverage and Morrison all had agendas but were unlikely to have challenged him, let alone succeed.

It isn’t then that Churchill was trying to manage his rivals, rather he was trying to placate the rather swollen egos within his Cabinet, and beyond. He did this with varied success. Some were dispatched, others given enough rope and some left to gain momentum. By 1945 many of his rivals found themselves on the winning side.

What is remarkable is that Churchill had to energize the internal politics of the Cabinet at a time of total war. Allegiance was not straight-forward. In politics it never is.

This book does provide something of a guide to the ego massaging successful leaders need to do, and that at times they also need to wield the axe..even if it may be a little blunted. It was a coalition united by a common purpose that he just about managed to keep on the road until 1945. Schneer notes that Churchill’s path to No 10 was not straightforward and could easily have gone against him. I don’t though agree that in falling away in 1945 we ended up with a unified,progressive government ….the 1945 Labour Government was Atlees own team of rivals with even bigger egos and jockeying for position, though that s a minor criticism of this wonderfully readable book.



Eight Juxtapositions

16 Jul


Sean Mahoney reviews China expert Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s latest collection of essays juxtaposing Chinese history and culture with some Western counterparts. Wasserstrom’s book is revealed to be a potentially crucial one for international relations.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Eight Juxtapositions: China Through Imperfect Analogies from Mark Twain to Manchukuo (Penguin, 2016) 94pp.

In 2008 a China–New Zealand Joint Venture called Sanlu was found to have been distributing contaminated infant formula milk. A large number of children developed kidney stones and, tragically, six children died. Milk powder producers went into damage limitation mode. Three of the directors of the joint venture company were swiftly sentenced to death. The New Zealand Prime Minister refused to interfere to avoid creating any disturbance. Paranoid at the risk to New Zealand’s Milk exports, he saw the executions as an internal matter for the Chinese. However, at the same time he was making threatening statements to the tiny Pacific…

View original post 920 more words

Playboy of the Brexit World

13 Jul

I must get over this , but can’t help feeling Brexit is the British political event that will reset all other recent issues. A massive shake up of a snow globe.

In the play “The Playboy of the Western World”, a man appears in a small Irish town claiming to be on the run after killing his Father. The man , Christy Mahon, becomes an object of fascination and admiration. A clear and strong character. Eventually when his Father, who is clearly not dead, turns up the town turns against him. It seems they are disappointed in him, for not having committed the crime. When Christy then tries to kill his Father ( the first time or second time whose counting)  the villagers then react by trying to lynch Christy. I can’t help finding lots to consider about current British Politics in this play. Mass disappointment and support for actions that seem crazed, upset in those actions that don’t seem as crazed as you were told after all. Embellishment, lies, a desire to have those whose bad behaviours haven’t reached our poor standards punished. It’s all so simple really. We want to be mistreated, on clear black and white lines. When we are not we resent it, how else can you explain the following…

Teresa May is now the Prime Minister of the UK. Only a couple of weeks after the Brexit vote, a campaigner for Remain is now leading the Brexit Government. She was portrayed in some way as a compromise, May the pro-custodial, anti-immigration, hardline rhetorical basher of clerics, now looks like a mainstream response thanks to the wild claims and assumed rubbish rhetoric of our own Christy Mahon – in the shape of Johnson/Farage and Gove.  May appeared in a contest where the rhetoric was clear, 48% lost, 52% won. Those of us not in the 52% can clearly swing into it to maximise our opportunity. May perhaps is Christy Mahon, hoping we don’t reveal her truth when it comes down to it.

The new adventures of the great moving right show. Stuart Halls essay is just as relevant today, in  the era of far right murders of politicians, death threats to immigrants, an opposition that opposes itself. The period of crisis is presented as two versions of nationalism, a social democratic celtic version and a little Englander UKIP version. This is the new version of the great debate , the two versions being irreconcilable form a crisis. Yet the crisis is something more. Those competing versions sit across the main political parties, certainly at Westminster. UKIP takes its leadership from the old Tory elite and its votes from old Labour left behinds. Old Labour left behinds don’t support old Labour style leadership in Corbyn, nor the Blair-lite on offer in the PLP. The Conjectural as Hall and Gramsci might say is the Westminster party system holding together beliefs that run like water over a waterfall. The response it seems , sadly, is another swing to the right. Teresa May is the answer, what on earth was the question.

Sadly the answer doesn’t look like it will involve Corbyn. My sadness is that I anticipated Corbyn vs Leadsom as being like an episode of the good life.I need no further explanation. Those marching Leadsomettes was the oddest thing I have seen for some time.Leadsom brought a fatal blow on herself by the politics of the reproductive system. These are not straight forward times.

I read a couple of passing references post Brexit to the film Passport to Pimlico. An Ealing comedy you will recall.Charles Hawtrey on the old Joanna. The crux of the film is that a post war town in London finds itself actually part of France. It therefore leaves the UK and runs its own anti-austerity state-lette. it’s not Lords of the Flies, and of course what eventuates is a reawakening in the gawd bless the Queen mum style Englishness. Would this be a future of the independent London or Scotland ? Does this prove that Brits are really a breed apart from Europe anyway ? It seems it is a film you can take and place any Brexit political message across. My take for whats its worth is that it’s a pro-austerity propaganda film. You couldn’t take the freedom Charles, you couldn’t take it. Play your piano but with ration coupons.


Maybe Brexit will be the point that British politics couldn’t bend anymore. I don’t know, but the Labour party looks, well fissiparous if I am using big words.The membership and the MPs are further apart than they have ever been. One wonders if any party could survive this. And what will it look like if it does and if it doesn’t. The Bi-patrisan days have gone in every sense except the party governing system . Look busy Teresa Mays coming she doesn’t mind incarceration. Just hope shes Christy Mahon and not the Mayo town he finds himself in.



1 Jul

I have written some rambling thoughts on the campaign before Bristeria and thoughts on the whole UKIP thing ( though somewhat outdated ) UKIP a racist string of sausages..or the milosevic-isation of debate. 

A week ago the future of British politics seemed predictable if not straightforward. This week the dust doesn’t seem to know where to settle. It seems rash to predict much at the moment, though there are plenty of negatives to consider, and it seems very few positives. Negatives not just in those things that are unpalatable, but also those things we know no longer to be true, to exist or to have a future.


Referendums are blunt instruments( yes Referendums not Referenda )

You don’t always get answers to the question you ask. Much is being made of this being about giving the elite a smack in the nose. The anti-elite can’t seriously be represented by Johnson and Farage, so lets assume it is a lumpen anti-elite on top of this high Tory caste. Are they using this as a way of getting an anti-politics message across ? I would wonder if this is too simplistic. David Cameron, who is now going home to straighten his tie, put on his proper suit and sing his national anthem , has used Referendums to avoid the short-comings of his political leadership. 3 times he adopted a negative position of “leave things alone” yet asked the people to decide. The fall out of the Scottish Independence Referendum where people felt they may have been short-changed on the promises, combined with the over zealous campaigning language probably made the EU Referendum a vote too far. He had saved his own skin last time, alas this time he failed.

Calls for a second referendum will only add to the confusion and chaos. At what point do you really decide the people have spoken ? Parliament made a mess of the Referendum by not having thresholds in it, but you can’t restart the process on that basis. To quote John Major the only way forward for a new vote would be after a process of ” negotiate and decide”


Labour is lost

Labour is currently split in a way it hasn’t been since , well since the 1980s which isn’t that long ago. The Parliamentary group had hoped to use this result to exit the unpopular leader. However the party still support him and oddly it is the MP’s and former MP’s starting to look out of touch on this one. The opposition has decided to tear itself apart just when it is needed most. It seems Corbyn will remain Leader, so then what? I heard Jack Straw comparing it to a 1930s Trotskyite plot ! This is not language most voters would understand or warm to. What those MPs will do remains to be seen. They can’t sulk on the back benches forever…can they ?

British Politics is in a state of flux

It seems that for the past 10 years the kaleidoscope has been fractured. From the outside it looks like Britain has struggled to get to grips with its new-found pluralism. Regional assemblies and Parliaments, elected Mayors etc have created a fractured microcosm of political debate. At times it doesn’t fit a national narrative ( Zac Goldsmith anyone Zac Goldsmith and his Pint). At times it does. Mainly though it revolves around Power and a culture of centralisation rather than democracy. I can’t see through the fuzziness as to how a General Election will occur before 2020…but it may only be me. It does seem though that Brexit and its implications have become the agreed norm. The debate, ridiculous as it was ( where is the Budget Osborne promised us ? ), seems over. At least until the negotiations begin.

Don’t ever listen to anyone telling you the 70s were a crisis.

Since 2007 we have had the Global Financial Crisis, the expenses scandal, Browns leaderless Premiership, the coalition, Austerity, the Pasty Tax, Scottish Independence issues, The EU Referendum …and on and on. This is the decade of Ungovernable Britain.I don’t see the next few years receding from this. A Parliament split across a major issue and out of touch with the public, working through the implications of withdrawing from the EU…All we need is for the bin men to go on strike.

2/3 of Migration to the UK is from outside of the EU

Just saying


The Tories leadership crisis is chaotic and clumsy. But they always are. Pick anyone at random and have a look at it, they are always the same. I’m more concerned though that in voting for the EU exit, many of those who did vote because they are suffering from the economic ill wind are going to find themselves lashed to Austerity Mark II. What positives do those left behind get to draw from this ? That they can be heard if a Toff lets them ! Too simplistic I know, but this isn’t the great awakening of the lower working class, it may be the final destruction for many of them as the regions get further decimated.When Teresa May is considered a compromise you know the future is bleak.

It seems odd that only a week after the Referendum, rather than looking at how Britain got into the mess where a Racist murder of an MP occurs, it is instead wondering how sinister Michael Goves wife is !