Daily archives: May 17, 2009

MPs: The 19th Century solution

One of the things I really do miss about the privileged existence I gave up, is the National Liberal Club. Seated with a book in a deep leather armchair by a roaring fire on a cold day, you could watch the shades of Gladstone, Lloyd George and the young Churchill stroll by.

In the Gent’s there is a cartoon of Tory wit FE Smith. The caption informs us that he would saunter, after a good few drinks, from his law practice at the Middle Temple to the Commons, often stopping at the National Liberal Club to use the lavatory. Some members complained, and one day he was stopped in the foyer by the porter:

“Excuse me sir, you do realise this is a private members’ club?”

Smith looked around him and sniffed:

“A club? I didn’t realise it was a club as well!”

Anyway, I really miss the place. I was a member for well over twenty years but I can no longer afford the fees. But why I recall the NLC now, is that it was specifically built following the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884, to provide accommodation for working class Liberal MPs who could not afford a second home in London.

Sadly the bedrooms were sold off a few years back to the Royal Horseguards hotel, but surely this is the way to go? Out of London MPs should be provided with the use of a small flat in a dedicated block at public expense. That, their salary and travel to their constituency should be all they are given. I can see no evidence to suggest that the quite excessive office and staff budgets they have nowadays, have done anything to increase the quality of government.

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The Derek Walcott Scandal

I remember sitting under Caribbean skies at the Preparatory Committee for the UN Law of the Sea Convention. As we discussed thorny compromises over the regime to govern extraction of minerals from the bed of the deep sea, my friend Dolliver Nelson would break into flights of poetry. As many Jamaican weeks were passed, Dolliver introduced me to the extraordinary passion for the English language of Caribbean intellectuals of his generation. It was through Dolliver that I started avid reading of CLR James and Derek Walcott.

Walcott is a great poet. It is appalling that the politically correct brigade have drummed him out of the election for Oxford Professor of Poetry.


We live in a society in which any expression of male heterosexuality seems to be anathematised. It appears sex is supposed to happen nowadays without the male ever suggesting it, either verbally or by caress.

Nothing has ever been proven against Walcott. The accusations, even if true, do not amount to anything near rape or forced physical abuse. It is alleged that he came on rather strongly, decades ago, and was rebuffed. It is alleged he was petulant after being rebuffed.

It would be difficult to find, for example, great visual artists who did not sleep with their models. Should we empty the National Gallery? Pretty well all the Pre-Raphaelites and Impressionists would have to go, for a start.

Burne Jones and Rosetti. Picasso, Degas, Gauguin? All appalling sexual harassers! Burn their paintings!

Ruth Padel comes out of this very badly. If she had any honour, she should resign. It is plain by her website she is a desperate self-promoter. Her latest poem centres on a fantasy of dominating the male:

He brandishes

his pair of ring-ridged horns, arcing back

like sabres. But mine are one metre fifty.

I force him down, rough him up

and suddenly as he came he is gone


If Padel’s talent only matched her ambition, she truly would be great. She is already Chair of the Poetry Society, and very much at the centre of the London clique of man-haters who were spreading the word against Walcott. Her protests now against the hate campaign are late and unconvincing.

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On Getting Old and Pompous

Sometimes I really don’t like myself. A friend phoned and asked me whether they would see me at the demonstration for Palestine that took place yesterday in Trafalgar Square.

I replied “I haven’t been invited.”

Except of course you don’t have to be invited to go and swell the numbers at a demo and make your own personal statement of belief. The truth is, I am getting conceited and expect to be “noticed”.

That can partly be defended on the basis that I can use my time more productively. But it it not a pleasant trait.

Anyway, here is a video of me making a two minute speech on Gaza a few weeks ago.


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I enjoyed the Eurovision song contest last night. I have more or less always watched it; great fun! Like many of my generation, I remember vividly watching live when ABBA first burst into our consciousness. In those days your musical director conducted the orchestra, and ABBA’s strode to the podium dressed as a silken Napoleon. Then the band appeared, and there can never have been a more definable, single moment rise to lasting stardom.

Last night I voted for Azerbaijan because I thought the girl was seriously hot. I was going to vote for one of the Baltic states as well on the same criterion, but couldn’t remember which Baltic state was which, as usual.

Despite the appearance of Dita von Teese, who apparently is Art, which might explain why I don’t fancy her, there was slightly less exuberant sexuality on display than last year. The pole dancer singing for Ukraine seemed rather past her sell by date, though the aerial splits were still remarkable. The Norwegian winner was like a throwback, with its ponderous tum tum tum opening beat, but all good fun.

I am not a fan of the music of Lloyd Webber, and his song sounded like a parody. It reminded me of “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot. But it was still the first UK entry for ages that didn’t make my toes curl in shame, and Jade surprised me by shooting up my fanciability scale.

The staging was appalling. The British “Team” apparently had a choreographer. Presumably the wooden, unattractive and positively scowling male violinists positioned awkwardly on the stage were her idea. Jade actually contrived at one stage to hit her microphoone hand on a fiddler’s elbow. There were loads of other fiddlers on stage on the night. The others were all drop dead gorgeous girls in flimsy clothes, or hunky men with sparkling eyes. We had grouchy middle aged graceless second violins looking like they had just left a Moss Bros oddments sale. And as for having Lloyd Webber actually on view!

Graham Norton was OK, but seemed not quite confident enough to move into full mickey-taking mode. He creased me up when he suggested of Iceland that the entire nation had to chip in for the air fare. But his breathless excitement over forty minutes about whether the UK came 4th, 5th or 6th was dull.

If Cameron had not arrived, I would have been at the Globe with my sister Celia and daughter Emily instead. I haven’t really enjoyed a Globe production yet. Eurovision or Shakespeare? Life is full of strange choices.

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Sunday Morning Religion

Sorry if your recent comment disappeared. I had a massive Christian (!) spam attack overnight, and had to burn a few of the innocent along with the guilty. God will recognise his own, doubtless.

I am at a loss as to why even the most eager evangelical could think deluging a site with spam references to verses in John is going to convert anybody. Very strange.

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