Toe in the Water 49

I am trying to ease back in to blogging again, after a few weeks of being mentally immersed in early nineteenth century Mumbai. I find I care more deeply than makes a great deal of sense about understanding the people in Alexander Burnes’ story. For example, the incredibly irascible and sometimes plain irrational Sir Henry Pottinger: I still have not found out the real cause of his monumental falling out with Burnes in 1834. Also if anyone can help me by shedding light on the reason for his later sudden removal as Hong Kong’s first governor I should be grateful. I can find rather coy Victorian references about him resigning owing to the British merchant community finding him difficult to work with, but I don’t have the time to go hunting in more detail down this particular side-alley. In the very many Pottinger manuscript letters from the mid 1930s I have read, I find some of them so wild and ill-judged, paranoid even, that I begin to wonder if he were not addicted to opium – which was less uncommon than you might think among British officials in India.

See, I started trying to blog something away from Burnes, and I find myself automatically producing one of the thousand questions I have been trying to resolve for my book. To tear myself into the present in an abrupt and rather random way, I am not sure I have ever expressed my appreciation of Peter Tatchell. He does great work, and keeps banging on undaunted. I wish I had his singleness of purpose.

I continue to be quietly confident with the way the Scottish independence referendum will go, whatever the opinion polls may say. Nuclear weapons and Conservative Prime Ministers are each less welcome in Scotland than a dose of the clap, so to have one come up to extol the virtues of the other is a real double whammy. The prospect of losing cannon fodder is one of the reasons the Tories don’t like Scottish independence. But the nuclear argument is a complete bust. North Korea’s weapon development shows precisely that Trident is as much use as a chocolate teapot against any actual developments in the real world. No serious discussion of the North Korean situation has ever mentioned British nuclear weapons as a factor that might influence the behaviour of that – entirely deplorable – regime.

There is not the remotest chance that anyone who actually possesses nuclear weapons and a delivery system would attack the UK with them. The continued existence of Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden must be a real mystery to Cameron, who purports not tonbelieve we can continue to exist without throwing $140 billion we don’t have to the United States in return for Trident. Of course Cameron is no fool and does not believe that either; it is just that, like most politicians, he understands that delivering huge tranches of taxpayers’ cash to his paymasters, is his job.

49 thoughts on “Toe in the Water

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  • Mary

    Thatcher – most famous for his involvment in the lucrative Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, was spotted out having dinner with friends in San Pedro on Friday night.

    The 59-year-old, who was also linked with the overthrow of African dictator Obiang in Equitorial Guinea, was seen eating in exclusive Albert & Simon restaurant.

    Sir Mark Thatcher is refused a US visa over criminal record
    By Catriona Davies
    04 Apr 2005

    Sir Mark Thatcher has been banned from joining his family in America because of his part in a failed African coup.


    On 3 April 2005, Thatcher, then living with his mother in Belgravia, London, announced that his family home would be in Europe after he was refused a residence visa to live in the United States as a result of his guilty plea in the Equatorial Guinea affair. His children, he stated, will be educated in the United States.[citation needed]

    Under the headline “Mark Thatcher – undesirable in Monaco?” French newspaper Le Figaro reported on 20 December 2005:

    Margaret Thatcher’s son, the former British prime minister’s nefarious offspring, will not be installing himself in the principality of Monaco as he hoped.” A spokesman for Prince Albert II of Monaco told Le Figaro that Thatcher’s residency card would not be renewed. “He has a temporary residency card valid for one year. It will not be renewed when it expires in the second half of 2006 and he will have to leave.” The spokesman, Armand Deus, added: “I cannot say why it will not be renewed. But the Prince made things very clear during his investiture in July when he said that ethics will be at the centre of life in Monaco.”

    In Equatorial Guinea in June 2008, Simon Mann claimed during his trial testimony that Thatcher, then resident in Spain, “was not just an investor, he came completely on board and became a part of the management team” of the coup plot.[13]


    The Wikipedia page is rather skimpy. Has probably been ‘edited’.


  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    @ Technicolour :

    “US authorities refused Sir Mark’s application for a visa because of the criminal record he received when he pleaded guilty in South Africa to funding a plot to overthrow the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.”


    Oh, are you referring to that NICE young President of Equatorial Guinea? The one whoi took over from his uncle, I think it was (keep it in the family, eh!) as the enlightened and democratic ruler of one of the richest and happiest states in the world?

    Shame on Mark Thatcher and the other plotters! Had their coup succeeded the country could only have gone to the dogs.


    La vita è bella, life is good! (dictators are bad..until they are good)

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    @ John Goss, who boasted :

    “This piece I wrote earlier this year, I’ve just been reminded, mentions both him and his mother with almost equal disdain.”

    Yes, I’m sure many remember that earth-shattering piece. The nation trembled….

    Actually, to judge by the general quality of what you post on here, anyone about whom you’ve written a ‘disdainful’ piece would be well advised to wear it as a badge of honour.

  • Paul

    To the Pottinger question, I’m not sure if you’ve read “A Biographical Sketch-book of Early Hong Kong” By G. B. Endacott? That has a few pages on Pottinger and goes into some details on the difficulties he had. No mention of any opium addiction though. It’s on Google Books

  • doug scorgie

    Abe Rene
    8 Apr, 2013 – 1:40 pm

    Re Trident:

    “The Lib Dems had better exert their influence and stop this colossal waste, seeing as the Tories are usually so enthusiastic about cutting waste.”

    Sad to say Abe the LibDems have no influence when it comes to Trident; neither does the Labour party for that matter, the USA dictates the issue.

    The replacement of Trident is a done deal anyway but we have been assured by our “leaders” that a definite decision on the matter has not yet been made; they lie.

    David Cameron stated recently that we would be foolish to give up our nuclear “deterrent” in light of North Korea’s recent “irrationality”.

    He also says that cancelling the upgrade would cost thousands of Scottish jobs thus trying to kill two birds with one stone:
    Scottish Independence and any opposition to Trident replacement.

  • doug scorgie

    Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)
    8 Apr, 2013 – 6:50 pm


    Mary the Viper (18h31)

    “Are you – either directly or by association – calling Mark Thatcher a criminal, Mary?”

    “If so, that’s a very serious charge. Would you be prepared to back it up in a court of law?”

    I call Mark Thatcher a criminal and I would be prepared to back it up in a court of law please e-mail him and give him my name (I use my real name).

  • Herbie

    Habbakuk says, of The Great British Welfare provision:

    “Another principle – or perhaps to say it better, another assumption – was that social assistance was to function for short periods. It was not devised in order to allow whole generations to live on the state.”

    This underclass was created during Margaret Thatcher’s time, and quite deliberately so.

    As her govt unloaded the working class onto the dole, she sweetened it by allowing the industrially redundant to go on the sick. That’s where it comes from.

    Prior to Thatcherism, we had full employment.

  • crab

    As her govt unloaded the working class onto the dole, she sweetened it by allowing the industrially redundant to go on the sick.

    Take away peoples honest graft, usher them onto the sick – makes them sick, bitter, institutionalised, resented and ultimately subjugated.

  • potteringer

    Just taking a really quick look at the Pottinger story.

    1. Pottinger lost the support of the local British merchants in Hong Kong and was isolated.

    2. During his governorship, (26 June 1843 – 7 May 1844) Hong Kong became the major port for trading opium in China.

    3. Elias David Sassoon moved to Hong Kong in 1844 to use it as his base to start business in China.

    4. The Sassoon family was heavily involved in the shipping and opium production industry in China and India.

    Was Pottinger actually working for the Sassoons?

  • Mary

    Doug. The Resident Interrogator is very timid on the first page of a new post, ie when under Craig’s direct gaze. It’s only when a thread reaches multiple pages, that the full throttle is applied.

  • nevermind

    I would like to thank November and Pottinger for pointing Craig in the right direction, the time tallies, so does his Governance of Hong Kong, chances are he tried his own products before selling them to the Chinese.

  • Kempe

    “Prior to Thatcherism, we had full employment.”

    When Thatcher came to power unemployment was already 1.4 million. It was to get much worse, more than double, but the age of full employment was long over.

  • Komodo

    Sorry, haven’t time to clean this c&p up. Eliot was appointed by Palmerston to finish the First Opium War, which he did, concluding with the ceding of the HK lease to us.

    Sassoon was likely unconnected with him, but was an opium trader:

    David Sassoon,
    patriarch to one of the world’s great
    trading dynasties, was able to leverage the Chinese opium trade to cement his family’s
    position globally. Sassoon emigrated from Baghdad to Bombay in 1830 and promptly
    set up a trading house. He would come to be the center of a large community of
    Baghdad Jews living
    in India, which would become the main rival of, and eventually
    surpass, the Zoroastrian Parsi community of traders
    that included Ghosh’s fictional character Bahram Modi
    Early involved in the Indian side of the Chinese opium and cotton trade, in
    1842 and
    1845 David Sassoon’s son Elias David Sassoon established trading offices in
    Hong Kong and Shanghai respectively. Around the same time, they together founded
    a number of firms that would grow into a trade empire. Especially in Shanghai, the
    the ethnic composition of the foreign merchant community.
    Chiara Betta, one of the few scholars who has written extensively on the early years of
    the Sassoon family, maintains

    f the Sassoon firm
    had not expanded their
    business to Shanghai, ver
    y few Baghdadi Jews would have had any incentive to seek
    fortune in the city. The early Baghdadi community was indeed formed almost
    Ibid., 148.
    exclusively by employees of the Sassoon firms and their spouses.”
    One practice that
    helped the Sassoon family become
    particularly successful, Betta argues, is their
    participation in the British trading world as if they were British citizens: “the benefits
    of receiving British protection were especially evident in relation to the opium trade.
    The Baghdadi commercial elite
    s, in fact, together with the Parsis and Ismailis, lodged
    protests and memoranda with the British consular authorities whenever their
    commercial interest
    in the trade were at stake.”
    In the wake of the Opium War, if
    these merchants were able to get the B
    ritish government on their side in trade
    disputes, they were nearly assured of the protection needed to
    . By the turn of the twentieth century, as the
    trade began to fall out
    of fashion in Europe, the Sassoon family and other
    Baghdadi elites controlled the
    majority of the India

    China opium trade.
    The Sassoon family became so much a
    part of the British merchant sphere that one of his sons was able to move to England,
    where he was made a Baronet. Stanley Jackson, the Sassoon’s
    biographer notes that
    they were spared racial prejudice and snobbery that plagued the other prominent
    family of Jewish merchants, the Rothschilds, as, “Opium trading was still considered
    unexceptional and apparently less noxious socially than vulgar profit

    making on the
    Stock Exchange.”

    Much more in this excellent thesis:

  • Jiusito

    Craig, I’d like to know your opinion on this:

    If North Korea actually could and did launch one of its primitive nuclear weapons at US territory, what exactly could the US do in response?

    No doubt there would be a deafening demand in the US to “nuke” North Korea and “send it back to the Stone Age” – as re Afghanistan after “9/11” – but I find it hard to imagine that the US actually could nuke a small country (half the size of Britain) sandwiched between China and South Korea. Or do nuclear weapons nowadays produce no fallout? Even if the US could get away with nuking North Korea, all it would achieve, surely, would be killing a large number of half-starved semi-slaves, since the tiny group of people who had actually ordered the strike against it would be safely tucked away underground.

    I suppose the US could carpet-bomb North Korea with conventional bombs, but that would a) still only kill a large number of half-starved semi-slaves, which wouldn’t be very good PR and b) make very obvious how useless nuclear weapons are.

    If the US or South Korea tried invading North Korea, that would play nicely into North Korea’s hands, as it would have much better prospects of really hurting them.

    Is there much further the US could ratchet up its sanctions against North Korea?

    Or am I talking nonsense and actually the US has plenty of ways to retaliate at its disposal?

  • Geoff Huijer

    Glad you are back.

    I’m not as ‘quietly confident’ as you regarding the referendum
    on Scottish Independence – the mainstream media (esp. BBC) are ensuring
    pro-Union bias at all costs.

    I don’t visit as regularly as before as your blog
    tends to end up as the Mary v Habbabkuk show more
    often than not.

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