Monthly Archives: April 2011


Jealous Superiors

Alexander Burnes is going to dominate my thoughts and my time for a few months. I am going to continue to post my transcripts as I make them so they are more readily available to other researchers.

There is a syndrome at play in this letter that I very much recognise from my own days as an up and coming diplomat. Burnes gets carpeted for suggesting Karachi should become the major regional trading centre by an old hand who knew better from his thirty years experience in the field! Burnes was of course proved right about Karachi, but did not live to see it.
NLS MS 5899 f 151 Inv

From Colonel Pottinger Bhooj Residency
Apr 15 1837

To the Honourable Sir Charles Metcalfe

My Dear Sir Charles,

I have been so very busy of late that I have not had time before to thank you for your letter of 21 February last with the two accompanying Indus reports which has been at last got up in a very complete and businesslike form – I was glad to find from Corless when he was here with me last month, that his examination and survey of this year go decidedly to support the opinion that I have entertained from the first, that the Indus affords the greatest facilities for navigation.

The last time I was at Hyderabad, the native agent who came from Calcutta was was with me and he had travelled a great deal on the Bengal rivers – his opinion was strongly in favour of the Indus, but if people expect that they are to ascend a superb river like it against the current without difficulty (I mean of course when they have not steam or a fair wind) they will be disappointed. I went up at the worst period of the year (in December) without any particular exertion at the rate of 14 miles a day with a fleet of seven boats abd when the southerly wind blows fresh a boat will often clear 50 miles between sunrise and sunset.

I have nothing to do with Capt. Burnes’ reports except to pass them on to the supreme government, but I have seen enough of them to satisfy me that his information is incorrect. He asserts in one of them that Karachee has been – I think his expression is – “for ages” the sea port of Scinde and dwells on the “beaten path” thence to Tattoh as the desirable one for a passage – so far from this being the case, Karachee was only taken from the Khan of Khelat (Beloochistan) by the present family of the Emirs in 1795 and previous to that the whole trade of Scinde went into and came out of the Indus and goods that are now landed at Karachee are chiefly conveyed thence over the range of mountains into the small district of [Lus?] of which [Sommeam?] is the seaport and out of it by the “Kohunwat” or “mountain road” by which Captain Christie and myself travelled to Kelat in 1810.

The boats of Cutch ply to and from the Indus from the 15th September to the 15th April and I see no good reason why our merchant’s boats should not do the same. The agreement however which I have made with the Ameers for warehousing goods will overcome every difficulty in the way of trade, so far as Scinde is concerned. It is quite clear at the same time, that we cannot hope for any great extension of it until the countries to the northward are tranquillized.

Believe me etc.,
Pottinger

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Small Crowds At Royal Wedding

I have been watching the BBC coverage of the Royal Wedding build-up. Try to put aside all of the hype, and look carefully at the actual crowds. They are not actually that deep, there is no sense of crush – people are standing with a reasonable amount of space when they go in for their crowd interviews – and there is plenty of space on the pavements to pass behind those people ranked behind the barriers. The crowds are much, much smaller than they were for Charles and Diana’s wedding (I was in London that day). Despite an obvious BBC policy of interviewing lots of token black guests, the crowds are also overwhelmingly white and, judged by the crowd member interviews to date, composed of embarassing simpletons.

Like many of my readers, I was on the demonstration against the Operation Cast Lead Israeli attack on Gaza, which went from Hyde Park along Bayswater, down Kensington Church Road and along Knightsbridge. It was crushed, twenty abreast, and the tail was still leaving long after the head had arrived at destination. That was a longer route than this royal procession. It undoubtedly had more people than this event, and the Metropolitan Police put the number at 40,000.

If today’s event was an anti-war demonstration, the Police would tell us it was 30,000. As it is a royal occasion, I have no doubt they will claim 3,000,000.

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Nuclear Disaster – Nothing To See Here, Folks 87

The nuclear industry managed to get an “expert”, whose livelihood depended one way or another on nuclear power, onto every mainstream media broadcast about the Fukushima disaster, to persuade us that an incident ranked by the IAEA as on the same level as Chernobyl, was actually nothing to worry about.

Subsequently they have managed to persuade the media that the whole thing has simply gone away. How many of you, for example, knew that the highest levels of radioactivity so far at Fukushima were measured two days ago?

The highest radiation readings since March 11 [date of the tsunami] were recorded at the Fukushima plant by robots this week. Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building on April 26 took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts an hour, according to Tepco, or more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.

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Right Royal Bullshit

The monarchy makes no sense even on its own logic. It is impossible that the putative William V is the most entitled direct descendant of William the Conqueror (who bumped off the one and only actually English King of all England, Harrold Godwinson). Just to mention a single example of scores, it appears that Edward IV’s father, Richard of York, was at no time in the same country as his mother during the possible conception period. And yes, the current lineage’s claim to succession would fall on that point.

Even if you accept that for the Tudors to kill off the Yorkists was a reasonable grounds of entitlement, or for the Stuarts to be excluded on grounds of religion is not a problem, the many infidelities over the centuries make the mystic idea of a bloodline absolute bollocks.

I came professionally into contact with widespread DNA testing through passport and visa applications. Throughout all cultures around the world, with remarkable consistency this kind of testing shows that around 15% of children do not belong to their apparent father, often genuinely to their surprise. While in visas and passports that figure may be a bit distorted by attempted fraud, that is balanced by the fact that mothers who are particularly worried they will get such a result have an obvious incentive not to get into that kind of test. My time as university rector enabled me to have some social conversations with senior medical professionals who indicated to me that medical tests performed for non parental identity reasons, have always frequently given results that show the apparent father is not the father surprisingly often. Such information is obviously not disclosed, rightly. DNA testing has only clarified this picture.

In truth, nobody can be certain without a test who their father is. Sorry, but it is true. You can be confident, but not certain.

William’s mother was a notorious slapper. William does look quite a lot like his official grandfather Phil the Greek, so he may be OK a couple of generations. But the royal line? Bullshit.

In Ghana they have matrilineal systems, which shows a much more sophisticated cultural understanding than the British.

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Ryan Giggs

I am an avid sports fan; I don’t blog about it much, but you may be surprised to hear I watched almost every ball of the Ashes series live, for example, mostly on my TV in Ghana. This weekend I was gripped by whether Westwood or Donald would make World No 1. And my heart is singing at the prospect of Norwich City’s return to the top flight, not to mention stuffing Ipswich at Portman Road.

I am not a Manchester United supporter. I fully qualify to be, as I have absolutely no connection to Manchester, but I am not. But I must note the wonderful performance by the incredible, ageless Ryan Giggs last night against Schalke. Not flashy, but his intelligence both on and off the ball simply overwhelmed the German team. His one howling miss was just an accent to his performance. Everyone who loves football should cherish these late autumnal moments of his career.

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The Orchestration of Propaganda

I have just witnessed the most remarkable operation in orchestration of propaganda in the UK in my lifetime. As I posted yesterday, the leaked Guantanamo files revealed a remarkable amount – that most detainees were completely innocent, that many were plainly fitted up by informants for cash, that people will say anything under torture, that ludicrous assertions were made by the US military, eg the possession of a watch was a clear indicator of bomb-making, and above all that nothing whatsoever could be proved against the vast majority of those held.

Today, with a quite amazing unanimity the mainstream British broadcast media have decided that none of the above analyses exist and the only thing worth reporting in the files is the assertion that 35 suspects received terror training in the UK. Both the BBC and Sky News were leading their broadcasts with the assertion of this highly dubious fact: here it is in Rupert Murdoch’s super soaraway Sun.

Given that the much more obvious lesson from the files is that this kind of information is untrue and from torture, informants, ridiculous deductions and prejudice, it really is an extraordinary thing that the entire British mainstream media today decided on this absolutely uniform presentation of the information. Nor has any of the outlets gone on to point out that not a single one of these 35 has actually been convicted of anything, and that many of them, like Moazzam Begg and the Tipton Three are demosntrably innocent, and that the British government is going to be paying quite a few of them compensation.

In fact the British media has today decided to report in precisely the same terms the least plausible imaginable interpretation of the large amount of material released. The only possible explanation is that somebody has issued a central guidance as to how the catalogue of shame which is the Guantanamo files should be twisted instead to support the narrative of the War on Terror.

Of all the bad things I have lived through, to me this is the most chilling Orwellian development I have experienced in my country; it feels like a crucial tipping point in our movement away from meaningful democracy.

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The Guardian Conundrum

There are a few times when the mainstream media does an excellent job, and it still has the ability to reach vastly more people than the blogosphere. Today’s work by the Guardian on the Guantanamo files is absolutely brilliant, and fully reveals the inhuman absurdity of the torture and suffering of hundreds of innocent people based on ludicrous “evidence”.

I particularly recommend the interview with Clive Staffod Smith. The whole is yet another example of the great work of David Leigh, whose brilliant reporting on BAE was perhaps the best investigative reporting in Britain for a generation.

But that is the conundrum of the Guardian. The British government under New Labour were actively complicit in the whole extraordinary rendition and torture system of which Guantanamo was a part. That in itself was but an adjunct of a policy of illegal war. The Blair years were years of illegal war of aggression, of torture, of extraordinary rendition and of destruction of civil liberties at home. And it was the Guardian which was the most reliable media cheerleader for Blair and New Labour as they carried out that dreadful agenda.

Two-faced doesn’t describe it. The Guardian’s compartmentalised indignation at civil liberties abuse is written on blood-smeared pages.

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Young Alexander Burnes

Here are two letters written by the 15 year old Alexander Burnes shortly before he sailed for India, one to his mother and one to his father. They are a biographer’s dream in terms of the information and an incredible amount can be extrapolated from them, about the family, their milieu and the times. But they are also very poignant indeed.

They have never been transcribed or published and I dug them from the archives and transcribed them myself. My publisher will be furious at my giving away research before publication, but I think it is important to get this sort of material online and available to researchers.

The first letter, to Burnes’ mother, contains the text of another letter in the middle, which is slightly confusing.

National Library of Scotland
MS 3813 f112-3

Mrs Burnes
James Burnes Esq
Writer
Montrose

London March 1821

My Dear Mother,

According to a promise given in my last letter I will sit down to write you. I have spent a week in Chingford in Uncle David’s small cot; instead of being only ten miles from London you would rather suppose a hundred, for after we had left the coach at Walthamstow we did not meet a huma soul until we arrived at Uncle David’s house, in the parish of Chingford there is neither schoolmaster, doctor, lawyer, banker, taylor or any other business except farmers and vintners – uncle David performs the office of Mr Rintoul and Aunt Glegg, that of Mr Beattiie, their children’s progress is really astonishing for I heard little Fanny who is only three years old repeat “Pity the sorrows of a poor old man” along with the Lord’s prayer and creeds.

My nature would not allow me to stop in the house, for I explored all the surrounding neighbourhood in which I found a hunting seat of Queen Elizabeth’s near Epping Forest, now inhabited by the forester “O the futility of human affairs”. Another extraordinary thing was Walthamstow Abbey built by Harrold II, the King immediately preceding William I, but except one wing it is so modernised that a person would scarcely believe its antiquity.

My detention and that of James for two months would perhaps astonish you, and more so on account of my sudden departure, but the advice which we have received, and the advantages which will accrue from my attending Dr Gilchrist, I have no doubt will satisfy you.

James introduced me to Dr Gilchrist on Friday, and I am to commence attending his classes on Tuesday first. He informs me that his pupils instead of going back and forth to one another’s house have taken a room in The Strand where they meet on the days which he does not lecture and study the language by themselves, to this society he is to introduce me, and by so doing, in this country I may acquire the principles of the language and in India how to speak it.

James and I dined at Mr Hume’s on Sunday last. What had induced you all to think I had a rough passage up I know not, for there was never a more pleasant passage performed and I would be perfectly satisfied with such weather in our passages out, but that cannot be expected because the fate of poor Paterson’s vessel off the Cape shews what weather we have to expect – the wreck of the Emma is truly distressing and one would really imagine that distress is never far from that family – it will vex his father much.

There is one fortunate thing which I had almost forgot to mention and that is that a vessel is set to sail for Bombay about the middle of May, commanded as Dr Gilchrist told us by a friend of his – and Mr and Mrs Gilchrist will be able to get James appointed surgeon, and as the passage money is moderate, we should perhaps be able to save all now living in London.

On Saturday we received through Mr Hume a letter from Lord Gillies, enclosing one to Governor Elphinstone I here send you a copy of his Lordship’s letter

Edin Mar 21 1821

My Dear Sir,

I have the pleasure of sending you enclosed a letter of introduction in favour of you and your brother from Admiral Fleming to his brother Mr Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay:- I sincerely hope this letter will be of service to you and your brother have my best wishes for your welfare and prosperity.

I applied to Admiral Fleming in consequence of a letter from your father, asking me whether I had any friends at Bombay to recommend you to them. I have no friends there and have not the honour of knowing Gov. Elphinstone but his brother the Admiral is a friend of mine. This letter I trust will be useful.

Believe me yours very truly,

Ad. Gillies
To James Burnes
Assistant Surgeon in the service of the East India Company

So if we do not get forward it will not be for want of recommendatory letters, but to them I shall trust as little as possible. We will do without Jimmie Leighton’s letter of introduction, tho by the bye his letter would have been the means of introducing us to the officers, but by being introduced to the governor will perhaps suffice, in hopes of soon hearing from you

Believe me
Your Truly Affectionate Son
Alex Burnes

PS I hope you make them feed the hawk and crow and also take care of the tulips and other flowers I had
NB William Ross has my Greek dictionary which you can get from him when he’s done with it but not till then for you know well the circumstances of his father.

London April 1st 1821

My Dear Father,

This being your birthday I take up my pen to express James’s wishes and mine for your health and happiness – and as the four of your sons are now separated from you, your health was not here and I suppose not at home omitted – would that my birthday had come for from that day I hope bever to be a burden to anyone.

Fortunately my birthday happens on Wednesday which is account day so I will be entitled to pay the very day I am sixteen. Remember Burns when my birthday comes
“That request permit me here
When yearly ye assemble
One sound I ask it with a tear
To him the son that’s favoured”

I am astonished by your silence for except a few lines from [Shannon?] and a letter from you returning the certificates, I have not received a scrap from father, mother or brother.

Mr Hume has given me a state of James’ expenditure in London which I now transmit you as also the gross amount of our equipment.

James amounts to £84 and mine to £101 odd, but the reason for the disparity is my getting all my accoutrements such as sword, cap and so in London, which James had not. This is really a great sum, but the amount which you intended to send up for James alone makes me suppose you will think this moderate. I cannot yet tell you exactly how much it will cost to land us in India as there may yet be some things required here, but by the statement you sent there appear to be in the hands of Mr Hume about £145 so our equipment will amount to £40 more. £200 will equip us both, after which the expense of our living in London since I arrived (for James paid Mr Scroggie about a week ago all demands) and the passage money (which we do not yet know but will be informed of it as soon as James sees the captain of the Sarah) must be paid – these demands (alth’o comparatively speaking moderate) will perhaps startle you. Should ever the fickle goddess Fortune shine upon me it will also afford me much pleasure to repay you all my expenses.

From a book, called The Cadet’s Guide to India which was presented to me by Mr Shand, it appears that a cadet (which I do not hope to be for long) can live comfortably and yet save £120 per annum, but my desire in going to India never was a lust after money, but to lead a comfortable and happy life in a delightful country from which I hope to return after some years with a competency.

It would give me very much pleasure if it were in your power to assist Mr Christian in getting a situation of the same kind he is now trying for if he is unsuccesful at getting the school at [illegible], for he is a very clever, deserving young man, and I am sure will give satisfaction to whatever situation he is appointed.

On Tuesday I went for the first time to Dr Gilchrist, and from the little insight I have already got into the language it doesn’t appear so difficult as I was at first led to imagine – the only European language it has any analogy to is the Scottish [phrase illegible]

On account of the great distance Mr Scroggie’s is from Dr Gilchrist’s classroom, Dr Gilchrist and Mr Hume have both recommended me to remove to No. 8 Buckingham St, Strand, where Dr Gilchrist’s pupils meet daily and where I am boarded for 25s per week so that all letters you send me thro’ Mr Hume can be directed as above. Are you to send the Montrose newspaper while I am in London or only when I go to India? I should like it in both places. Mr Hume says when you send them to India they should go in parcels.

Expecting soon to hear from you,
Believe me,
Your Truly Affectionate Son,

Alex Burnes
I will write my mother soon.
Write how Robert likes his situation. I wrote to Adam, but have as yet received no answer.

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William Gets a Graham Gooch

Amid all the pointless media tat about the wedding, those who wish to know can find who is supplying everything, from crush barriers to place cards. But the most interesting bit of tittle tattle has been held back. Who has been doing William’s hair weave? He had a perfectly bald spot about four inches across on the crown of his head six months ago, and it has now vanished. Presumably they didn’t want the shine from his pate to compete with the brilliance of Kate’s diamonds in the high shots in the abbey.

All this glamour is of course nonsense – William will be sixty, bald and probably divorced before he becomes King. Or hopefully doesn’t. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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BT Nightmare

In the past month, the following Direct debit payments have been taken from my bank account:

23 March 2011 BT Group plc 83.71
04 April 2011 BT Group plc 222.64
18 April 2011 BT Group plc 192.19
21 April 2011 BT Group plc 93.05
22 April 2011 BT Group plc 86.05

Total £677.64

I genuinely have no idea why. I only have one address and one broadband phone line, which includes one of those BT internet hub phones to make international calls cheaper. We do make some international calls, and before I moved here last summer our BT bill was around £60 per month.

One of the reasons why I have no idea what these multiple charges relate to, is that I have not received a single bill since I moved here last July. I have three times contacted BT about this. The last time we discovered that, when I moved here, BT had started sending the bills to an old address at which I lived many years ago – for no possible reason. Not to my last address, to which BT sent my phone bills while I lived there, and on which I have redirected mail. The BT operative who told me this said that they would send me copies of all the missing bills, and he nobly added they would waive the charge for duplicate bills. In fact I have received nothing since – not the missing nor current bills.

In December the BT line was cut off for three weeks. BT told me it was for unpaid bills. I told them that the bill was paid by direct debit and no payment had been missed. But that I could not understand at all the huge bills I was getting. They said they would write. They have not.

There is no worse organisation than BT for multiple recorded menus leading to eventual transfer to an under-trained operative six thousand miles away who has no relevant response permissible to somebody who claims they have been wrongly billed.

Today a buzz through seven automated menus eventually tells me that the BT billing department is closed for the Bank Holdiay, which is peculiar as I am pretty sure Good Friday is not a holiday in the country where it is situated.

Altogether BT have taken £2,950 out of my account in five months without giving me a single bill. I still have absolutely no idea why. Apparently they are open tomorrow. I will tell you what they say then.

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No Comment

You might well not be able to comment at the moment. In switching to the new blog platform, importing the 57,700 legitimate old comments into Intense Debate proved – and still is – a very difficult thing to do. While it is going on, we have had to activate comment moderation on the whole site, which has been frustrating for everyone.

Tim has been working on a fix with Intense Debate to solve the problems with loading the old comments. One problem this is causing is that I can’t get in to approve comments, which quite probably means you can’t make any at the moment. This may not apply to those who had sufficient moderated comments approved under Intense Debate to convince Intense Debate they should be trusted. This is an automatic feature, and explains why some people’s comments were able to appear straight away and others were waiting hours to be moderated. I understand the aggrieved comments this occasioned, but it wasn’t me, it was the software (Honest!).

Hopefully, after Easter these problems will all be behind us. I wanted to close with “Happy Good Friday”, but that really doesn’t sound right.

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Browne – Destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico and British University Teaching

If you read through the official report on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, you will find that it was Lord Browne who created the corporate atmosphere that led directly to the disaster with his low cost, high risk approach:

Returning to London in 1989, he reorganized BP’s exploration arm; Browne slashed expenditures, established a rigid—if not ruthless—performance ethic, and refocused on high-risk but potentially high-reward opportunities. Upon becoming chief executive in 1995, he directed a major part of BP’s upstream focus to the deepwater Gulf. In the deals he negotiated to acquire Amoco and ARCO, BP emerged with a greatly expanded portfolio of Gulf leases and assets.

There is an exact parallel between Browne’s tenure at BP and Fred Goodwin’s at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Massive risks taken for short term reward, costs slashed, huge mergers to add incredible fake book value, but in fact no proper management or integration of these assets. Unlike Goodwin, Browne had got out to count his cash before the inevitable result of the high risk, low cost, massive growth culture which he had instituted, brought the company crashing down.

Presumably it was his reputation for cost-slashing that led New Labour to appoint Browne to recommend on the future of university tuition fees. It annoys me immensely that people so readily forget that it was indeed New Labour who first introduced tuition fees for English students, who appointed Browne, and were committed to accepting his conclusions.

In a rational world a chancer (literally) like Browne would not be allowed anywhere near something as fundamental to society as the future of academia. But we live in an age where the political class of all main parties has fundamentally failed the people. And as three quarters of English universities have now confirmed they will be charging fees of £9,000 a year, we are in a system where the government will no longer be paying nett for any university tuition, only for research. As research grant allocation is competitive, academics have to concentrate on this, and we will see a continuation of the trend whereby undergraduates get very little tutor contact for all that money and debt.

It is heartrending. The system of free education which changed my whole life, has been destroyed. And my generation did the destorying.

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The Sun Never Sets

I first read Byron Farwel through his biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton. lt was the peculiar fact that there are six modern biographies of Burton and only one very slight one of Alexander Burnes, which spurred me on to my current project. I came across this Farwell quote today while researching:

“It is difficult for anyone to understand the reasoning behind the extraordinary British attitude to Afghanistan; the Afghans must have found it impossible. While always protesting friendship, the British repeatedly invaded the country and shot at its inhabitants.” (Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, 1972, p.4)

Forty years on, Farwell might be surprised how completely true his analysis remains. I am still firmly of the view that the only way to throw off the imperial aggression of the United Kingdom once and for all, is to split it back to its constituent nations.

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Boris Johnson and Violence

Phone 0207 096 3708 now (+44 207 096 3708 from outside the UK). Trust me, just phone. You will be listening to a conversation between two men, one of whom later became Mayor of London, and still is, and one of whom was later convicted of armed robbery. And that is Mayor of Lonfon, not Mayor of Chicago. Full details here.
This has not gone as viral as it deserves. A week ago today Boris Johnson held a meeting on how to tackle youth violence. But here is a tape from Tim Ireland of Boris Johnson engaged in a conversation with Darius Guppy about having someone beaten up. While Johnson is not the one urging the beating, he does not protest against the idea that someone be given “two black eyes and a cracked rib”, and appears more worried about possible political fallout or attachment to him. There is a reference to someone “going through the files”.

I don’t know the context of this conversation. And it was not Boris who initiated the discussion. It is also fair to say he sounds uncomfortable about the violence. But his failure to tell Guppy not to commit the violence is difficult to excuse.

Here is a transcript from Tim Ireland:

Guppy: Boris, have you got this number?
Johnson: [inaudible] look, there is a guy at the moment, going through…
Guppy: You’re brilliant.
Johnson: … files at home
Guppy: Fantastic. But I am telling you something, Boris. This guy has got my blood up, alright? And there is nothing which I won’t do to get my revenge. It’s as simple as that.
Johnson: How badly are you going to hurt this guy?
Guppy: Not badly at all.
Johnson: I really, I want to know …
Guppy: Look, let me explain to you…
Johnson: If this guy [see/sues?] me I will be fucking furious.
Guppy: I guarantee you he will not be seriously hurt.
Johnson: How badly will he …
Guppy, interrupting: He will not have a broken limb or broken arm, he will not be put into intensive care or anything like that. He will probably get a couple of black eyes and a … a cracked rib or something.
Johnson: Cracked rib?
Guppy: Nothing which you didn’t suffer at rugby, OK? But he’ll get scared and that’s what I want … I want him to get scared, I want him to have no idea who’s behind it, OK?
Johnson: If I get trouble, if I get…
Guppy: You will not, Boris. I swear to you. If you…
Johnson: [unaudible bluster]… I got this bloody number for you. OK, Darrie. I said I’d do it. I’ll do it. Don’t worry.
Guppy: Boris, I mean it; I really love you.

More details from this same conversation are available here, including this nugget not included in the published audio:
Guppy: But Boris there’s absolutely no ******* proof: you just deny it. I mean, there’s no proof at all.
Johnson: Well yeah…
Guppy: I mean, you know, big deal. You’re sitting in Brussels and the day it happens you’re in Brussels, it’s as simple as that.

By now you may have noticed that Boris Johnson’s primary concern is that his role in this planned assault will be discovered. Also, just in case there is any doubt about the nature of the information he promises Guppy, here is a fuller transcript of the tail end of the conversation, where he promises to deliver both the phone number and address of the man Darius Guppy plans to have beaten in a revenge attack:
Guppy: Well do it discreetly. I … if it’s in any way going to look suspicious. That’s all I require – just the address: the address and the phone number … all right? Now I guarantee you, you have nothing to worry about. [Slowly, emphatically] Believe me. All right? You have my personal guarantee. I’ve never let you down, all right?
Johnson: OK Darrie, I said I’ll do it and I’ll do it. Don’t worry.
Guppy: Boris, I really mean it, I love you and I will owe you this, all right? And I’m a man who keeps my word.

Guppy was a Bullingdon Club member along with not only Johnson, but also Osborne and Cameron. I do hope you call and listen, and do hope it comes as a wake up call to those who believe the carefully crafted “compassionate conservative” propaganda.

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AV Referendum and Nick Clegg

Paddy is getting his knickers well and truly twisted about personal attacks on Nick Clegg in the AV referendum campaign.

There are two strange things about this: firstly Paddy has been around long enough to know that a high profile complaint that the campaign is about the personality of Nick Clegg, will just focus all the media comment on the referendum still further on the personality of Nick Clegg. Secondly, I really cannot find much evidence of these deeply personal attacks on Nick Clegg by the No campaign. Where are they? It is almost something they don’t have to say. Such is Mr Clegg’s reputation that “AV? Nick Clegg” (snigger) is enough to almost kill the Yes campaign. I wonder if my commenters can help identify these deeply personal and unfair attacks.

Actually, if Paddy had the sense to read this blog, he could have learnt six weeks ago that Clegg would cripple the Yes campaign. I can’t see why it is a shock. And if Clegg is that unpopular, perhaps he should ask why, on the day that three quarters of English universities confirmed they are charging £9,000 a year tuition fees.

I shall vote for AV. It is a little bit better than first past the post. John Reid and David Cameron are both against it, which is good enough for me. One day I hope we will get real reform to STV. AV is a very slight improvement – actually more equally sized constituencies will do more than AV to improve our democracy. That ploughs on despite intense New Labour opposition.

Meantime, what has happened to the coalition promise of a fully elected House of Lords, elected by STV? That is a genuinely liberal measure, which is doubtless why Clegg appears quietly to have jettisoned it.

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Bahrain: The Rest Is Silence

The western media continue to scramble to re-heat stories of how terrible Gadaffi is. This is to set up a complete Aunt Sally – the vast majority of people in the UK and US who are against the Libyan war have no illusions about Gadaffi, who is indeed a brutal dictator. The questions are, is war for regime change legal? Will it make the situation in Libya better or worse? Will it cause blowback damage elsewhere? Is it a dangerous precedent?

You ought to be pretty sure of the answers to those questions before you attack another country, kill or wound thousands, and spend hundreds of millions of pounds you don’t actually have. War for regime change is certainly illegal – SCR 1973 specifically calls for a ceasefire and negotiations, which presupposes the existence of a Libyan government to negotiate. It specifically and deliberately does not call for a change of government by force. In fact anyone who tells you they are sure of the answers to the other three questions – either way – is a liar.

Meantime, the other side of the equation of death works its way through. I was the first to break the news that Clinton had done a deal with the Saudis and Emirates. In return for Arab League support for the attack on Libya, the US and its partners would turn a blind eye to the crushing by Saudi troops of pro-democracy protestors in the Gulf.

The blind eye has been duly turned. So effective is the de facto link between the Western political establishment and the mainstream media, that the killing of over 200 Bahraini pro-democracy and human rights campaigners since the Saudi Anschluss there has gone almost entirely unreported. The Guardian reports on disgraceful action against Bahraini students in the UK. Bahrain’s two largest political parties, both representing the majority population, have been outlawed.

William Hague is totally silent on the crushing of freedom in Bahrain, as is Jeremy Browne, the absolutely disgraceful Lib Dem MP who is supposedly minister for human rights in the FCO, evidently chosen because there is no evidence that he has now or has ever had the slightest interest in human rights.

Hague of course spends much time, in Doha and in London, in the company of the Emir of Qatar. Qatar is the base for the Libyan “transitional government” and the international “contact group”. It is an absolute monarchy where political parties are banned and executive power is reserved to members of the royal family. I think that tells us all we need to know about how genuine is the wsetern demand for Middle Eastern democracy.

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The Turner Contemporary

The opening of the Turner Contemporary certainly attracted a moderate crowd of the curious. I entered the gallery at 2pm, and had to queue for precisely 8 mins (I timed it) to get in. So not quite the crowds the media are making out. I once queued for a couple of hours to get in to a Degas exhibition in the Met in New York. The queue at the Met wound through several wonderful galleries, which those queuing ignored completely. This included queuing past the Met’s own permanent Degas collection, which the vast majority of the noisily chattering queue failed to notice.

But once they got to the well signposted Degas exhibition which had been so publicised and queued for, they fell into reverential silence broken by loud stage whispers: “Fantastic, isn’t it!” “Wow, that blows my mind!”. This was art made easy; they had been told this exhibition was a record breaker, and switched on admiration at the signalled point.

I eavesdropped the crowd carefully in Margate. I genuinely did not pick up a single “wonderful”, These are comments I noted. This is a fair overall reflection of what I heard.
“Why don’t they have more books if this big bit is a bookshop?”
“No, it’s not pretty, but I think it’s meant to mean something.”
“They say £15 million of our Council Tax went into this”
“Well, it’s not what you’d want at home”
“It must be good or they wouldn’t have spent so much on it.”

I predict that a year from now the place will really be struggling for visitor numbers. I once saw (ready to groan) an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson gave some devastatingly bad statistics for attendance at showpiece provincial art galleries. I am loathe to ally myself with Clarkson, but I have always thought it intrinsically improbable that putting an art gallery into an area of dramatic economic, social and educational deprivation like Margate, is going to make a positive impact.

It is hard to appreciate art, particularly art which is in large degree conceptual rather than aesthetically pleasing, if nothing in your education and experience has given you a cultural context for it. Plonking down a gallery of modern art will have almost no effect on improving the cultural level of the lcoal population. To expect the same gallery also to contribute substantially to solving the economic and social problems is madness.

Still, hope springs eternal. Retail space in Margate is very cheap indeed: until recently 40% of retail space was empty -the worst in the South and Midlands of England. Suddenly little art galleries have sprung up all over the town. I have no doubt at all that 80% of these will shut again within two years.

The BBC cites the Guggenheim in Bilbao as an example of an attraction that can make a real difference. But that is a beautiful building people travel to see. The first thing to say about the Turner Contemporary is that the architecture itself is really, really ugly. It is the kind of brutalist blank that I thought had thankfully been left behind. It is so bad you could sit it down in Victoria Street, London and it would blend in perfectly. It reminds me of the Peterlees of my very early childhood. God, it is just horrible. And it is brand new. When all that white concrete and slab glass gets dirty, it will be even worse.

Also – and no art critic or journalist will tell you this – on the grand opening day, the lift from the ground floor to the galleries, rather a spectacular lift that takes a hundred people, broke down. So there was no way of getting a pushcahir or a wheelchair to the galleries. The building is not just ugly, it’s buggered already.

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