Every year in April, UK pensions rise and you are told the amount of your new weekly payment in a letter which arrives in late February or early March.
That happened this year to my chum. The increase in the pension happens on 11th April this year. Every year, in February or March, she receives the letter informing her what she will get from April onwards.
But my chum has somehow managed to lose the letter she received from the Department for Works & Pensions in February, telling her the new pension rates which she will get from April. The one she gets, updated appropriately, every year. And she can’t remember the new amount, which is made up by adding four separate smaller amounts together.
So she phoned up the Pensions Service to ask if it was possible to send her a duplicate of the lost letter.
She was told it is not possible to send her a duplicate of that letter because they are not allowed under government rules to send out the letter until after the new pension rates come into force on 11th April.
She said, not unreasonably:
“But you already sent the letter to me – at the end of February…”
Yes, she was told, but they are not allowed to post the letter to her until after the new rates come in.
“You are not allowed to send me until April a letter you already sent to me in February?”
“Yes. We cannot send you that letter until April. You could phone up after 11th April to ask for the letter to be sent.”
“…The letter which tells me what I am going to be paid from 11th April?”
“But I can’t get a duplicate of the letter I received in February telling me how much I will receive in April until I have already received the money in April.”
“Yes. We are not allowed to send you the letter until April.”
“The one you sent in February.”
The search continues for the letter always sent every year in February or March which cannot be sent until April…
Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories
Stand-up comics tend to have odd and interesting backgrounds.
Gareth Morinan’s university degree was in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics.
Yesterday at Bar Italia in Soho, he told me: “I started in the Civil Service in late 2008 because I wanted to see how government works and I was there until around mid-2011.
“Most of the time I was there, I was in the Education Department although, for the first six months, I worked in this dodgy department called The Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is the only department other than the HM Revenue & Customs that makes money. It’s basically like a government-run insurance firm.
If some big British company wants to export, they’ll always have an insurance deal. But, if they’re exporting to some dodgy country – if they want to export fighter jets to some dodgy country – no private insurance company is going to insure that: it’s too risky. So the government has this entire department purely set up for supporting dodgy deals. I was really curious, so went to work there for six months and then left. I was an analyst there. As an analyst, people take your word as Gospel.”
“That’s because your art is a science.” I suggested.
“Yes,” Gareth laughed, “even though, when you look at the spreadsheets, it’s very dodgy. I had situations where I would e-mail someone a figure saying This is a very rough figure. This is the best figure I can get. And it got sent round the department and would eventually come back to me as fact and I’d say: I know that’s not fact. I came up with that figure. Don’t put that out on a press release. But they did. This happened a lot in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.”
“That was under the Labour Party?” I asked.
“Yeah. You had these figures – especially around the time of the financial crisis, where some analyst somewhere in some bank had come out with some figure he’d plucked out of the air on the back of an envelope and, as soon as it became public, that figure became ‘fact’ and it could not be changed and everyone had to work from those figures.
“All politicians really want is a number: Give me a number. Don’t tell me anything else. The less I know about how dodgy this number is, the better it is – It’s that plausible deniability thing.
“I started in the Education Department about a year before the General Election so, when I started, Ed Balls was the Minister and then, about a year later, it was all-change because the Coalition came in and what we were doing changed somewhat.”
“Changed?” I asked.
“Well,” Gareth told me, “the key thing Michael Gove did when he came in was – on the first day – a big picture of the Queen was put up in Reception. And there were some formality differences.
Policies changed with the arrival of journalist Michael Gove
“The most interesting thing was that the Permanent Secretary told us – these are not his exact words, but he basically told us – This new government – specifically Michael Gove – doesn’t care so much about the details or the facts. He cares more about ‘the narrative’.
“When we were doing White Papers, whereas before it was very much We’ve got to have these details; this is the headline figure, Michael Gove, because he’s a journalist, just wanted the story to read well.
“He was a local journalist, then a journalist for The Times, then a TV commentator… then suddenly he’s in charge of national education policy, which makes a change from cracking jokes on A Stab in The Dark with David Baddiel.”
“Most of the financial projections in Education,” Gareth told me, “are based on how many kids there are going to be and those calculations are based round the Office for National Statistics’ population projections. But Michael Gove was quite keen for a while on trying to replace them with projections done by somebody he knows at Tesco.
“At Tesco, they have all this Clubcard data and they have projections which help them decide where to open up a new store. And, for quite a while, he was arguing we should start incorporating those – or replace the official national projections with ones done by Tesco. It didn’t go down well in the department.
“I actually had to lie for Michael Gove once.
“During the big Comprehensive Spending Review where (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne works out how much money he’s going to give to all the departments, I was basically the guy working out the headline figures of how many billions we needed. I would hand those numbers to someone who then had a meeting with Michael Gove – There was always a buffer zone between me and Michael Gove. Maybe I was too scruffy.
“Our department did quite well in the budget review – basically they decided to give us extra money at the cost of other departments. So we had a nice little champagne reception to thank everyone and the look Michael Gove gave me when I stood there listening to his speech was like How did this one get in? I was just wearing a shirt and cardigan and looking very scruffy with uncombed hair. He was like Oh God! What is going on there?
“But, basically, in the spending review, we were negotiating and there was a strategy department. I provided numbers and we would go into meetings with all these senior Treasury people and I was the person having to justify all the numbers.
“Over the course of several months, while this was happening, the Office for National Statistics came out with a new projection of pupil numbers, which underpinned all our financial projections… and their projections were basically lower. So, overnight, our projection of how much money we needed went down by about half a billion pounds.
Michael Gove looking contemplative in Westminster in 2008
“Michael Gove’s opinion was that this had not happened and that the projections we believed were the ones that were higher. That was the official line.
“We were about to go into this meeting and I’m the one who has to explain the actual numbers to all these senior Treasury people who were probably better negotiators than the people in our department and better analysts than me. And I was told before I went into the meeting: Well, just come up with something.
“So I was pinned down in this meeting by the Treasury people: What’s the difference in these numbers? Which ones are the correct ones? The higher ones? Why? I basically just stuttered for a while and gave a very unconvincing performance.”
“Did you get away with it?” I asked.
“No,” said Gareth. “After that meeting, I went to my boss, who was an analyst, and he was like Well, this is outrageous. We shouldn’t be lying. And my boss spoke to the other person’s boss and eventually they decided that we were going to go with the lower numbers… But here’s an interesting example of how analysis works in the government.
“The thing you learn when you work in any government department is how little information we actually have. There are entire swathes of the education budget that no-one really knows the cost of.
“The biggest mystery black hole is kids who have special needs. There are more of these kids every year – especially ones with serious medical problems who require like £100,000 a year – because, as health technology improves, more kids get saved and live longer.
“There’s no way of predicting how many of these kids there’s going to be and medical costs keep going up, so there was this line in the budget which was The 1% Assumption. It was a long-standing assumption: We don’t know how much it’s going to be, so we just assume it’s going to rise by 1% every year.
“My brainwave was to ask: Well… Could we make this The 2% Assumption? That was thought to be a genius idea. We put it into the calculations and suddenly the gap was closed and we were back to the higher figure we had originally wanted.
“That was probably the one thing I did which made the biggest actual difference when I worked for the government.”
* * * * *
Gareth Morinan has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/gmorinan, to which he will be adding over the next couple of months.
A committee of MPs has issued a report strongly criticising changes in copyright law and warning, “There is an underlying agenda driven at least partly by technology companies (Google foremost among them) which, if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the UK’s future prosperity will significantly depend.”
The report, by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, quotes Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, as saying: “Google is one of several search engines … and I am very aware of their power, put it that way. I am also very aware, I think, that they have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10, I understand.”
Changes to copyright law follow a review by Professor Ian Hargreaves, a former newspaper editor, and include new exceptions (i.e. free use of copyright material) for educational purposes, private copying, parodies and pastiches, and “user-generated content” in which consumers can download material and incorporate it in their own creations without permission or payment. There is also a plan to introduce “extended collective licensing” which could enable copyright collecting societies to give permission and accept payment for works by people who are not even their members.
The Writers’ Guild keeps a close eye on such developments through its affiliations to two expert bodies – the Creators’ Rights Alliance and the British Copyright Council. Both organisations have made detailed submissions to the Government that have been endorsed by the Guild.
I, of course, am all for maintaining strong copyright laws – otherwise everything I write could be nicked and passed-off by others as their own creation. The irony is that, in re-printing that Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s piece, I have broken their copyright.
In my heart, the importance of copyright and irony are nicely balanced.
Perhaps more interesting, though, is the sentence quoted above from a British government minister saying that Google “have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10, I understand.”
After I wrote my blog yesterday, I turned over and went back to sleep. I woke up at lunchtime, around 12.30.
I was in bed for most of the rest of the day with what I think was a bug, so I missed most of David Cameron’s reshuffle of his Cabinet. But it made no difference.
Having a Cabinet reshuffle is like randomly offering round a collection of magnifying glasses in the Land of the Blind. If you stumble on a one-eyed man, it is a matter of pure luck.
That is not a Party political point. It is the same with all British governments of all persuasions. Here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians in governments elected every four years or less do not run the country. The on-going staff civil servants do. Which is much better.
If someone is appointed Minister of Transport then, within hours, they may be expressing ‘considered thoughts and fact-based opinions’ on motorways, airports, rural bus services and the dangerous placing of a zebra crossing by some local council in Devon. But that’s all bollocks. They are given their thoughts by the experienced, ongoing civil servants in their department.
Politicians give vague political directions but, in detail, leave it to their civil servants. Which is fine with me. I studied British Constitution at school and love the ramshackle, mostly effective system that has randomly shuffled itself into existence.
That is why I am so against an elected House of Lords.
We already have an elected House of Commons full of people who have had to bullshit their way in there, voted-for by people who have no real idea who they are voting for. We don’t need another Parliamentary chamber filled with politicians exactly the same as the ones in the Commons.
The beauty of the House of Lords is that it is a shambolic combination of the experienced, the good, the worthy and past-their-sell-by-date politicians: a chamber which should, ideally, be conservative with a small ‘c’ because it is there to consider the House of Commons’ laws and delay or dilute their excesses, worse stupidities and incompetences.
Like the monarch, it has no ultimate power. It cannot ultimately stop a law being passed, only delay it.
It is, just like the monarchy, an accidentally cobbled-together edifice which is a thing of beauty.
The Queen has all theoretical power, no actual power but is vital as a failsafe for the election of a totally barking government.
In theory, she can dismiss a government. In practice, if she did this to a government with popular support, it would be the end of the monarchy. But, if she did this to a barking government with no popular support, she could call on what are theoretically her Armed Forces to enforce her will and it would not be a military coup, it would be an entirely legal constitutional action.
It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if the rumoured military coup planned in Britain in 1975 (without the Queen’s knowledge) had gone ahead.
I have few gripes about the British Constitution, but only about politicians themselves: a necessary if even more amoral type of double glazing salesmen.
I went to a grammar school – the Ilford County High School.
It was a good school but perhaps it had ideas a little above its station. It had a cadet force. (This was a long time ago.) You got to parade around in military uniforms and fire guns, much like in the movie If… though without the same outcome.
And it had a debating society called The Acorns.
I was in neither, which may be partially explained by my dislike of regimentation and my lack of any discernible vocal fluency. I can write OK; but I can’t talk fluently.
I do not remember who was in the school’s cadet force. Very neat boys, I imagine. But I do remember that quite a few of the seemingly intelligent people in the Acorns debating society wanted to study Law at university; they wanted to become solicitors or lawyers.
I remember not being in any way impressed when they told me that the absolute zenith of being a good debater was when you were able to successfully argue on behalf of a proposition you did not believe in – or successfully oppose and get the vote to go against a proposition you actually believed in.
This was seen by them as the height of an admirable skill.
I saw it as making successful dishonesty a goal.
And I have never changed my mind.
I imagine several of my schoolmates who aspired to become lawyers did actually study at university for several years in lying techniques and went on to become lawyers.
The highest triumph of being a good lawyer is if you can get a guilty man or woman found innocent and – of course – equally, if you are a Prosecutor, that you can skilfully get an innocent man or woman found guilty of a crime they did not commit.
The object of the English adversarial legal system is not to reveal the truth but to win the argument and to hide or discredit any opposing evidence. It is a talent contest for liars. The jury decides which of the two advocates has been the better liar. English courts are not set up to provide justice; they are set up to judge the efficiency of the lawyers and to boost or diminish their career prospects.
No wonder that such a high proportion of politicians are ex-lawyers in Britain and in countries where their legal system is based on the English system – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton et al – are trained lawyers/liars.
The English legal system is based on lying and hiding the truth. Politics is the art of pragmatism at the expense of morality.
British governments have always taken the entirely reasonable stance that they recognise and negotiate with the de facto governments of other countries whether or not they approve of their policies; we have diplomatic relations with states not with regimes.
To be a politician, you have to lie efficiently and put any moral scruples you may have once had into the shredder.
(A version of this blog was also published by the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)
I saw some Republican demonstrators interviewed on TV during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One of their startling opening gambits to explain their position was: “The Parliament at Westminster has too much power.”
And they were arguing in favour of more politicians!
People often mis-read my political views. One example is that I am a very strong supporter of the monarchy.
Writing this blog I am on a hiding to nothing because, as long as it is, it does not give me enough space.
But, at school, I studied British Constitution for ‘A’ Level. The result is that I am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. I also think Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, was a neo-Fascistic prat who seriously damaged Britain’s constitutional set-up, but that is another matter.
When people say, “Oh, we should elect the Head of State,” I think, “Jesus! Are you out of your mind? Do you realise you are arguing that what we need is more scumbag politicians?”
Britain has stumbled into a State where we have a Head of State with lots of theoretical power and no practical power.
The Queen does not actually make the important appointments, does not make laws, cannot in practice prevent laws from being passed by Parliament and has no actual practical constitutional power. But she is the ultimate safeguard against dictatorship and tyranny.
If a mad Prime Minister and/or a truly extremist government got into power and started passing laws which the vast majority of people then found repulsive – the example always used at school was a law that all red-headed men should be executed – what would happen? They could not be voted out by the electorate until the next General Election: perhaps four years away.
The only certain way to actually overthrow a government effectively anywhere (beyond the uncertainties of civil war) is for the government’s Army to overthrow it and you then have a situation where the Army is the government and has to appoint one of its own as Head of State.
In Britain, the Army is not the government’s Army; it is, in theory, the monarch’s Army. As is the Air Force, the Navy, the Police and the Civil Service.
The Prime Minister is not the Head of State. He/she is not even the head of the government. In theory. the Prime Minister is just that – primus inter pares – first among equals – only one of the monarch’s many ministers.
The result of this is that, if the Army overthrew an out-of-control government, it would do so in the name of the on-going monarchy and would not have to name one of its own officers as temporary Head of State. That sounds an unimportant distinction. But it would be re-asserting the monarch’s supremacy from a Prime Minister who had temporarily taken control, not overthrowing its own head. That makes it much easier to re-establish a new civilian government.
And this is not necessarily a theoretical point.
It would be interesting to have seen what would have happened if the rumoured plan for a military coup in the UK in 1975 had actually happened. But, returning to the subject…
The myth about the monarchy is that it is somehow costly.
Compared to what?
Compared to a President?
The Queen receives no actual salary; the monarch’s costs are paid. Does anyone believe the same or higher expenses would be not incurred by a President? Plus some inflated annual salary and pension. All those flash state meals, all those flash ceremonials. They would still happen. Their costs would still happen. And, if there were no Diamond Jubilee, there would (quite reasonably) be some other State mega shindigs to bolster the patriotic spirit (but with less glitz and glamour because a politician in a suit would be at the centre of it).
Then there is the extended Royal Family – for which the taxpayer does not pay salaries. In effect, we get the Queen and a collection of subsidiary clones who trundle round the country as representatives. The London TV news last night carried pictures of Princess Alexandra (currently 40th in line to the throne and she’s free) at some street party.
So what’s the alternative?
Another morally-compromised politician.
By definition, anyone running to get public votes to be a temporary President will be a politician.
Un-enthusiastic voters would shamble out to decide whether they prefer to have President Tony Blair or President William Haig or President Edwina Currie for 4 years, at the end of which time some other lacklustre or tired or up-his-own-arse former, failed or self-important politician would get to extend their money-making life for a few more years.
And then you have the continuity which you do not get from an elected Head of State. The Queen has 60 years knowledge of the innermost workings of Britain. This is not insignificant.
She knows not what people think happened but what actually happened behind-the-scenes in the UK for the whole of the last 60 years – and why. She read the same red boxes her Prime Ministers did for the last 60 years. She – and, indeed, Prince Charles – know more about the inner workings of Britain than any temporary Prime Minister does. More than members of the Cabinet, more than MPs, more than current top civil servants. The top civil servants may have been civil servants for years, but they only hold the top posts – with real knowledge of what is happening – for a few years.
What you get from a continuing monarchy above and beyond the political system is continuity.
Who wants another politician in another now political role for another four years and what is he/she going to do anyway? Fight with Parliament? Counter-balance or emasculate the Prime Minister? Or do nothing and just go to meals with people wearing a suit and with a background of political back-stabbing over several years?
What improvement on the current system would an elected Head of State make?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
When the very young 18-year-old Queen Victoria ascended the throne, she was mentored by Lord Melbourne. When the 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth II unexpectedly ascended the throne on the death of her father who had, himself, unexpectedly become King, Winston Churchill mentored her with knowledge going back beyond the First World War. But those politicians soon faded away. Their knowledge, though, continued through the monarch and continued to be built-on.
At the end of the movie Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer’s character, at the point of death, says:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
The same thing happens when politicians and civil servants leave office. They leave the papers behind. But, when another similar emergency situation suddenly arises without warning, who knows where to really find out how it was handled before?
As I said, I saw some Republican demonstrators interviewed during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One of their startling opening gambits to explain their position was: “The Parliament at Westminster has too much power.”
I am not sure I agree with that, but it is certainly no argument for replacing the monarchy.
Do we really want ANOTHER up-his-or-her-own-arse elected politician?
Do we really want President Tony Blair or President William Haig or President Simon Cowell?
No, we want a theoretical Head of State separated from the sleaze of the Westminster sewer.
We want what we have: a Head of State with no practical powers and major theoretical powers which are a safeguard against political tyranny and a family which has (whether wanker Republicans like it or not) widespread public respect and continuity of knowledge.
The saga of my chum Mr Methane – the world’s only professionally performing flatulist – outraging the Romanian nation by seeming to fart the Romanian national anthem on TV show Britain’s Got Talent – which I blogged about here two days ago – continues apace.
TalkbackThames, the producers and copyright holders of Britain’s Got Talent have confirmed that Antena3, the Romanian TV station which broadcast the doctored clip, did not have rights to the clip and Mr Methane has lodged an official complaint with the First Secretary at the Romanian Embassy in London.
This is Mr Methane’s e-mail to the embassy:
From: B.O. Productions Ltd
Sent: Tuesday, 11 October 2011, 12:50
Subject: Complaint about Romanian TV show Stirea Zilei
Dear Mrs Bianca Mina,
I wish to register a complaint about one of your broadcasters Antena3 and, in particular, a Current Affairs programme called Stirea Zilei (News of the Day) hosted by Gabriela Vranceanu Firea.
On Thursday 6th October 2011, presenter Gabriela Vranceanu Firea was hosting a serious political debate which included former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. In this debate they used footage of my Britain’s Got Talent appearance but overdubbed the Blue Danube tune with the Romanian National Anthem: it appeared to viewers that I was farting to your national anthem. This upset Romanian citizens who wrote to me and left messages at YouTube before realising it was a fake.
I have checked with TalkbackThames, the production company that makes and owns Britain’s Got Talent and they say they did not license this footage to be used by Antena3.
I object to what Antena3 and Stirea Zilei did because I was used to make a political statement when in fact I do not know the political situation in Romania. The fake transmission enraged Romanian citizens and caused them see me as an object of hate when in fact I had not done anything and I was not involved in anyway.
I would like to think that the Romanian Government has some regulation of its media and that it can register my complaint and correct the injustice by getting the show to transmit a full blown apology for inciting hatred against me by using copyrighted footage without permission and altering it thereby creating a fake impression to viewers that was totally false.
You can see more information including footage of the show here.
I was amused to see Mr Methane ask for a “a full blown” apology…
How apt. How very apt.
Mr M has now received a reply to his email from the Second Secretary at the Romanian Embassy in London:
Dear Mr Oldfield,
The only regulator for the audio visual sector in Romania is the National Audiovisual Council of Romania known as CNA.
Their job is to ensure that Romania ’s TV and radio stations operate in an environment of free speech, responsibility and competitiveness. You can file a complaint by submitting a letter directly to the address:
CONSILIUL NATIONAL AL AUDIOVIZUALULUI — CNA
Bd. Libertatii Nr. 14, Sector 5
I hope this information will be useful, should you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us. For what is worth, I can assure you that the Romanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs already sent a complaint in this case.
I can but surmise the reason that the Romanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has “already sent a complaint in this case” is that, I am told, the TV station in question – Antena3 – supports the opposition party in Romania and that they want to cause embarrassment and aggro to the station.
According to My Man in Bucharest (yes, I have one) one of the participants on the TV discussion show – “a quite well-known journalist and political commentator in Romania” – suggested after the Britain’s Got Talent clip was screened that, among other things, the Romanian government should sue the British show’s producers or Mr Methane himself for defaming Romania.
Now, perhaps, the Romanian government has the TV station in its sights.
What is happening with Ed Miliband and what has happened to the Labour Party’s once-feared PR machine?
Young Ed looks like he is being paid by the Tories to undermine his own party and Alastair Campbell’s once gleaming and perfectly-oiled Labour PR machine seems to have seized up with rust or is being operated by 5-year-old children who are too small to reach the levers they have to pull.
That Labour Party conference speech yesterday and all the interviews around it were an unmitigated piece of failed image-building tripe.
The long-thought-out line – they are supposed to have worked all night on the speech – seemed to be:
“We, the Labour Party, would like to apologise for the things we did wrong which we humbly admit, sort of, but it’s the Tories’ fault for anything we did really and, if they are doing now what we said we would do or what we would have had to do, well, that’s what comes of all those years of Tory… erm… government… erm… oh…
“Oh… and the government should make things better and tell other people to make things better. We have had long discussions about this and decided that both the people and the country would be better off if the Economy were in a better state and not worse. Vote for us next time because we are new people not the ones who made any of the mistakes before. Well, sort of.”
One of Ed’s problems is he cannot ‘do’ passion. Someone is writing passionate speeches for him, but he is unable to deliver them. He tries to be passionate, but his lightweight voice is just not up to it and his heart is clearly not in it. It is like he is reading Chaucer to the English class.
I saw an interview he gave a couple of days ago in which he said, basically: “The government should not lecture the Europeans and tell them how to make things better. The government should make things better and, if we were in power, we would be pro-active and tell the Europeans how to make things better.”
The main problem young Ed has is not difficulties in writing credible speeches and an apparent lack of any actual policies. The even bigger problem is a superficial presentational one.
Before Margaret Thatcher came to power, she listened to her very wise advisors. She softened her hairstyle and she lowered the pitch of her voice.
Tony Blair was already a master of fake sincerity when he got the Top Job – that’s what comes of being a good lawyer – lots of experience telling barefaced lies. His technique was so good he almost made me believe in David Icke’s theory that all the top-nobs in Britain are actually alien lizards in human skins.
But no-one seems to have given poor young Ed any advice at all. He is an apprentice lizard.
He still looks like a scared schoolboy unexpectedly made into a prefect and, with his rabbit-in-the-car-headlights eyes, looks shit-scared that people will find out that even he does not believe he is up to the job.
A couple of days ago, there were staggeringly mis-judged PR pictures of slim Ed Miliband and chunky Ed Balls – and there is an image problem here to begin with, as Ed Miliband looked like Stan Laurel to Ed Balls’ version of Oliver Hardy and who wants Stan Laurel as their Prime Minister?… I almost expected Ed Miliband to scratch his head and stare at the camera in innocent confusion with those big open calf’s eyes.
Anyway… there were the two of them walking across a square, being filmed smiling for the TV News, smiling and chatting in an attempt to look in relaxed conversation, but the separated body language and the appallingly stilted audible conversation appeared to show there was no chemistry, no amiability, no ability nor desire to communicate with each other.
They looked as if, in a party – let alone in a Party – they would stand alone at opposite sides of the room and try to avoid ever meeting because they knew there would be an embarrassing, awkward silence.
I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.
The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.
As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.
One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.
At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.
The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.
But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.
However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.
Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.
I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.
Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.
It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.
This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.
I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.
Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.
The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.
Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.
Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?
Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.
Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.
As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.
I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.
It is good to know the Daily Mail reads my blog, even if a little belatedly.
Yesterday’s column by Richard Kay carried a piece using a quote from my blog last week about increasingly embattled government minister Chris Huhne. I am not quite sure if it is intended to support or undermine him. Who can understand the Machiavellian machinations of Fleet Street where politics are concerned? Or maybe it’s just printed because the quote is quite sweet. Let’s assume it is that:
Chris Huhne’s reputation as a ladies man has been enhanced by zany stand-up comedienne Charmian Hughes, who recalls a romantic encounter with the priapic Lib Dem Cabinet minister when they were teenagers in West London.
Convent school-educated Charmian says her first snog came courtesy of Huhne, who used to drive around in a London taxi, when she was 15 and he 17.
‘He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.’
It is a pity the Daily Mail calls Charmian “zany” as that is one of those words which sometimes sit uneasily as a quote on an Edinburgh Fringe poster – and anyone performing at the Fringe in August is currently poring over possible quotes for posters, flyers and press releases.
“Zany” is one of those words which student revues use on their first trip to perform at the Fringe – it’s only one step down from the much-dreaded word “wacky”.
I wrote comedy reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe for a couple of years. One comic still calls me a “cunt” on sight because of one rather mild review I wrote of her performance. But, if I ever saw publicity for a comedy show billing itself as “wacky”, I would run a royal mile and try to find a group of limbless orphans performing a play about the Moors Murders. More chance of comedy in that.
The other problem is that the “zany” quote comes from the Daily Mail.
The Mail is like a red (or should that be blue?) rag to a bull for many comics because of its perceived too-far-to-the-right-ness. What this knee-jerk reaction misses, of course, is that it has built up its massive circulation because it knows what Middle England likes and thinks. (Its sales in Scotland, interestingly, are negligible.) I wrote an unloved blog about this which got me e-mails saying I’m a prat with neo-Fascist tendencies. But beware of ignoring the selling power of the Daily Mail.
A quote from the Daily Mail will not get you loved by mostly Guardian-reading reviewers, but it may well get you more bums-on-seats.
Whether a very good stand-up like Charmian Hughes can put “zany” on her poster (I think she can) and can use a quote from the Daily Mail (I think she should) even if it’s out-of-context because it is not actually a review of her show (everyone does that at the Fringe) will be one of the many interesting things to see in August.
When I told her about the Daily Mail quote, Charmian’s reaction was:
“OMG, how do they know I am zany? Do you think they were secretly in my audience at the Brighton Fringe?… I’m using ‘hilarious’ Guido Fawkes as a quote.”
This could turn out to be a battle of the quotes. The Guido Fawkes political website – which deals in Westminster gossip – tweeted that my blog is a “hilarious read” and that the specific Chris Huhne blog in question was “a brilliant post”.
Now I just have to figure out how to spread the news that I am a “hilarious read” before news of Charmian’s “hilarious” zaniness spreads to Edinburgh.
Or could Charmian’s surprising and, to me, suspicious schmoozing of politicians, websites and the Daily Mail be a devious early ploy in a campaign to win the much-coveted and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?
I first met mad inventor John Ward around 25 years ago. Despite being admittedly eccentric, he has held down a stream of very sensible jobs. He used to work for the Barclaycard credit card company and, at one time, held a gun licence for several weapons.
I was never nervous about him working at Barclaycard.
On February 14th 2002, Yarl’s Wood was almost entirely burned down during a riot by disgruntled detained would-like-to-have-been immigrants. It did not re-open until September 2003.
John tells me that, “one particular morning, a little while after the place had settled down to sort out the mess caused by the fire, there were phones ringing everywhere, telling people about the imminent arrival of a VIP from the Government who would be on a whistle-stop tour of the site and would we all ‘please see that everything is cleaned up spick-and-span’ for the VIP who could not be named, even to us, for security reasons.
“All the cleaning staff set-to with a vengeance and not a speck of dust could be seen after the Cleaning Manager went round everywhere with a pair of white cotton gloves on to test for any small grains of dirt which might have escaped the sudden high profile purge.
“Even though the Centre was ‘stood down’ and not operating normally due to the fire damage, cleaners still cleaned everything spotless each and every single day regardless, as the contract to do so was given by Group 4 and was still ‘active’. You literally could have eaten your dinner off the floor it was kept so clean. But it was cleaned up even cleaner than clean for this soon-to-arrive government VIP. They did not want him to see dirt anywhere.
“A short while before the VIP was due to arrive, word got round as to who it was. The reaction on the faces of the staff was something to behold.
“The visit, when it happened, took all of 12 minutes. The ministerial Jaguar sped into the Reception Area and the VIP got out with his entourage and wafted into the building and, almost as soon as the Minister arrived, he departed.”
John Ward tells me they had no feedback on what David Blunkett, the blind Home Secretary, thought of the super-clean state of the Centre and, he adds, “the comments of his guide dog were not recorded either, but I heard some of the comments of the staff who had been desperately re-cleaning everything for the visit. They were not impressed by irony.“