Monday, 18 June 2018

Banging Heads

When one of our governments finest thinking, policies for action, wide reforms or plans for the future culminate in an inglorious shambles we are familiar with the way the blame game begins to play out.

It is invariably messy, sometimes vicious or nasty and the one certain thing is that those responsible will be quick to accuse either their critics or anyone who is unlucky enough to be passing by at the time .

The present government is winding up to the next election and seeks to make us all happy, that is if our vote counts. So we are having all the high minded rhetoric about wonders of the future to come. The opposition have to come with schemes that sound better, at least in the media and its connections.

But who are the crucial people in all this? The media want us to believe it is them and their political affiliates and are very persuasive, money no option, 20 billion more for the NHS, the cheque is in the post. What is left of our political parties out there find themselves at pop fests with celeb's and believe this is the way.

The Civil Service, anxious to justify its numbers, vast cost and above all pension schemes lay their claim and inevitably those in Education put up their hands to say it is all down to use, chuck the loot and the money this way, and then add a bit, and then another bit.

Add to this major organisations of one kind of another, pressure groups, trade unions, Women's Institutes and the Society For Restoring Everything and the claims are big, wide and large. Most of the population seems to be in there with their hands out for all the quantitative easing to be had.

But the truth can now be told as this LSE article suggests. It is all, or at least mostly, down to the Knowledge Brokers, the new gang on the block who take the politicians etc. down the yellow brick road of policy making to a better and happier future, at least for them.

But, would you let your daughter/son marry one?

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Singing Songs

The lady with the birthday this week, a star of her day is now 101.  Looking back at her career it is something that not many today might understand, a long gone and different world. Vera Lynn's first hit was back in 1936, does anyone remember it?

You may know vaguely of the title, it was "Up The Wooden Hill To Bedfordshire", in that this saying has been used by parents down the generations to urge the kids upstairs to first get a bit of peace and then second to get control of the TV remote and now to go on the net.

Why did she make it to the top and so soon? Because she recorded songs with a very good backing band and when the BBC was being told to be less stuffy and more popular because in the time of 1930's financial stringency The People were mindful of where the tax money was going and why.

A key reason lay in the actual quality of her voice. The timbre, resonance and balance fitted the technology of the period both on the records being sold and in the radio of the time. She sounded well and what is more held the audiences in live performance.

Also, she was an East End girl made good with an open manner and way of putting things over without being too serious. It worked well in the theatre and even better standing near the front line in North Africa or Burma with a thousand and more troops marveling that she was there and ready to take the same risks as they did.

In recent decades she has been retired. To put it simply her market segment is now too small for the numbers needed to gain the advertising revenue that are the stuff of modern TV and radio, or in the case of the BBC to justify its programming to committees.

In performance she sang a range of songs for the wider audience, and these included Ivor Novello songs from her parent's generation as well as those from her own. "Keep The Home Fires Burning" would have been one with a special meaning. Her father was listed in 1939 as a central heating stoker.

Perhaps that is her talent, an ordinary girl who became extraordinary in a world in crisis.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Suffering Voters

At the end of World War One my grandfather was serving with the 3rd Infantry Division and was as glad as anyone when the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918. On 25 November, the Prime Minister of the Coalition Government, Lloyd George, called an election to ensure that the government of the peace was elected to carry out the negotiations.

The General Election was held on December 14th. According to the terms of the Parliament Act of 1911 there were to be five year Parliaments as opposed to seven. This meant an election was due in 1916, but the war had meant an extension of the Coalition. During this period the Representation of the People Act of February 1918 meant that almost all men over 21 could vote and women over 30 as well as key changes to elections.

Whether my grandfather, before not eligible, did get to vote along with his comrades, I do not know. He was stuck in the Hunsruck in the Rhineland as a member of the occupying army until 1919. When he arrived back it was to a much changed Britain. But for the franchise who was crucially responsible for the reforms?

Obviously, Lloyd George and senior men in the Cabinet from his Liberal Party but also Bonar Law, leader of the Conservatives as well as Arthur Balfour, previous Leader and former Prime Minister. All of these were anxious to distance themselves from the Suffragette movement led by the Pankhurst's.

But from a lot of the coverage of 1918, especially the BBC, we are left with the impression it was all down to them and the whole movement for women's votes was about them, their followers and their socialist vision of the future. This is simply not true nor anywhere near it.

It does not take much time or trouble to come up with Millicent  Garrett Fawcett who began her work for that cause thirty years before the Pankhurst's set up shop. She has a statue in Parliament Square, a library at the LSE and a large body of literature  and archives to her credit.

Along with her is Lady Frances Campbell Balfour, cousin to Arthur Balfour although not as close politically. In her time a major figure and of crucial importance to the Suffragists as her societies were called. These did not employ the tactics and illegal schemes of the Pankhurst suffragettes. This was the respectable and responsible part of the movement, the one that appealed to most women and more to the point could persuade the men at Westminster to listen.

It was the women's role in the war and work that meant that Lloyd George and his cabinet could finally make the breakthrough in Parliament and the influence etc. of Fawcett and Balfour that led the way. But why did it not happen before?

One reason was the House of Lords, which by the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th was becoming difficult because of the rate of reform from both Liberal and Conservative Parties. Also, after Lord Salisbury retired, there was a period when the House of Commons had minority governments.

But it was the 1909 People's Budget that upset the apple cart when the Lords refused to pass it and plunged Britain into a constitutional crises until 1911. This was at a time when Britain was dealing with major problems in relation to both the Empire and Europe. There were a good many things that did not get done and sadly this included extending the franchise to lower class working men and to women.

Another reason for that was the fear that by doing so would not just enhance the Labour Party but bring in elements representing the violent elements of the Marxists, Anarchists etc. in a period when London had become notorious for the numbers of extremists of one sort or another. The Pankhurst's, avowed socialists and law breakers, were seen by many to be part of that network of violence in that period.

So why is it now that the BBC and others tell us they are the ones to thank and none of the many others in all ranks of society are mentioned, let alone given credit for their decades of work as opposed to years?

Friday, 8 June 2018

Who Do You What?

The latest series of the BBC1 family history show "Who Do You Think You Are" has clanked onto the screens rather like the unexpected special trains of the past to holiday resorts during the August holiday's. A mystery to all except for those in the station master's office who had not got around to announcing it.

It might well be renamed "Where Do You Think You Are" in that while the first has been screened, when the next will be, what or who are the persons featured is another mystery. The BBC is not saying, around the web no hints and the actual production company are all blank.

My box says it is one of eight but no more and the schedule listings say there will be such a programme but those forthcoming are another series. But given the lead time between selecting the people for the show, making it, editing it both for BBC screening and then commercial channel screening a lot can go wrong.

Especially, in that it has become something of a celeb' fest, picking out famous faces from popular TV shows and running the rule over their family histories, up to a point. But in the internet age etc. today's loved and much followed celeb' can be dust within hours or days if they make unwonted remarks on the social media or have their collars felt by the fuzz for their very human weaknesses.

So did Wall To Wall, the show's producers perhaps start with a series of ten or a dozen and get unlucky as time progressed to finish up with eight to go and then very late in the day lose one or more? I think we should be told.

The risks of this have become much higher not just because of the concentration on celeb's but the programmes are now High PC in their content not just in the few facts we are now given but the history in question. We do get some facts, accessible documents in archives, many now online, are what they are.

The history, however, is another matter. The programmes are let us say, flexible in their interpretation of the possibilities and way of life of long ago. One major aspect is that they do individuals. But in the past our ancestors more often functioned as a part of an extended family and its connected networks.

The lady in the programme, Michelle Keegan, was found to have an Italian way back named Parodi, who went from Genoa in Italy, who leaves his home to go to Gibraltar and does very well. This is put down simply as a poor individual making good. But there was a Parodi family in Genoa who were a local clan.

Given Genoa's status as a major trading port and a wealth centre through the middle ages up to the late 18th Century given the trading of that city along with the Portuguese mariners on a world basis anyone pitching up in Gibraltar will have had a long contacts list. Perhaps the programme did not want to get into the detail as to what trades might have been involved.

The other major part of the programme took us to Lancashire where Michelle could do the accent being a local lass. Here we had the suffragettes linked to her Kirwan ancestor, Emmeline Pankhurst's name being on the certificate. It was said she was the Registrar, which implies much of the population would have had the same connection.

But the 1911 Census has Elizabeth Kirwan as a Suffragist, hailed as being a statement of her individuality. But the return was done by her husband, John, who might just have had an Irish sense of humour. It also went against the Suffragettes refusing to be recorded on the Census. But it did not finish there.

There was the lady living in a street of rented houses, who was vital to the community of working class people there in that she knew and was told everything and even held the rent books. How wonderful. But I recall people like that. They were often put in by the property owners as a supervisor and acted as their information source and also the local copper's nark.

The programme ticked all the PC boxes. I suspect we are in for a lot more of this with swathes of real history either ignored or compressed to accord with our modern model of thinking.

If you want to clear your mind go to the Youtube Mitchell and Kenyon archive films of some of the earliest moving pictures in the UK. I knew a few of that generation, they were not what the BBC either like or want.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Give Us This Day

Our popup prelate, Archbishop Justintime Welby, you sing it, I'll analyse it, of Canterbury has preached that we should admire, believe and obey the EU and all its manifestations, well nearly all.

It is easy, given some of his other offerings, to think he is taking the mannekin but this is an instance where we have a clergyman who actually believes in something if not what he is paid for.

Quite what temptations have caused him to stray into the sinful and not saintly world of trade, commerce  and finance I do not know.

Keeping all those ancient piles and also the pension fund of the C of E does entail getting close to sin and investment portfolios. Perhaps he is on a percentage from the money changers.

If a time traveller took him back to Portland Bill in 1588 he would supplant Archbishop John Whitgift to pray and urge for the Armada of King Philip II of Spain to land its troops, rid us of that turbulent woman, Queen Elizabeth, and bring us all the benefits and wonders of the Habsburg Empire.

If it moves burn it, if it doesn't tax it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Liberal Views

There is a three part series running on BBC1 about Jeremy Thorpe, once Leader of the former Liberal Party into the 1970's who died recently in 2014 (born 1929). It deals with matters we did not know at the time rather than the complex politics of the period. A man was murdered and the case is still open.

What I did not understand about Thorpe is why he went to the Liberals. Admittedly, in the 1950's there were many who thought that the party was a sleeping giant which potentially could rise again and supplant one of the other two. But which was the question. Theoretically, the Conservatives might have been the one to go but Labour was seriously divided.

Had Thorpe gone to Labour as one of the Westminster elite with the right education and background he could well have made himself one of the intellectual cadre around Hugh Gaitskell. These were men born to rule and often Sons Of The Raj. He could have been a Prime Minister in waiting.

If he had followed his family and lined up with the Tories then given the choices in that party in 1974 when Heath bit the dust again he could have been one of their candidates for Leader. Instead as Liberal Leader in 1974 after a tied election he was made an offer he couldn't refuse by Heath, but did and we finished up with Wilson and his minority government and then Callaghan.

The 1970's was a strange world in our politics reflecting the times and not a good one. Wilson was a number cruncher who could not add up who was forced to spend too much time keeping the Labour party act together as the Stalinists and the social welfare elements fought it out at conferences and in the constituencies.

Heath, a former Brigadier lost to Aldershot, is best thought of as the Lord Cardigan (as in the Charge of the Light Brigade) of British Politics. He would attack the wrong targets at the wrong time in the wrong way. Our fears were that he was capable of starting a nuclear war rather than admit he was wrong about anything, notably British Rail.

It was an age of three channel TV leaned on heavily by the major parties and a Fleet Street whose newspapers were usually far more fiction than fact with stories that were days old and experts with not only limited expertise but opinions based on getting their stuff printed and paid for according to the whims of the owners. Trying to read the press of that period is a grim business and the politicians could be certain of protection rather than publication.

We had lost our Empire, the Commonwealth was becoming an uncommon collection of dictatorships, military appointed leaders and others who were there for the conferences. We were a secondary state in the United Nations and NATO. The USA regarded the Special Relationship as a kind of debt deferred fix.

We did not know where were going or indeed where to go and in the confusion looked for any friends anywhere with Thorpe at the front of the fleeing mob. So we rushed into the arms of Brandt and Schmidt and Pompidou and d'Estaing and Europe sparing the peasants the details.

None of whom liked us or wanted us. But they did sell us cars, like the Fiat 132 in the background of the picture from 1974. The 1800 model was flashy and good for the ton on the motorways.

The teenage toughs seem to be wearing Thorpe style clothing. This might tell us more about Thorpe than about them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Big And Little Bangs

We have two volcanoes up, first Kilauea in Hawaii and second Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.

Both are causing widespread devastation and putting quantities of dust etc. in the air.

Is there a third to come and perhaps a big one? There are a number of possibilities and "might be's".

Given global history in the past it has happened before and could happen again.

If it did it would end the debate on global warming.

And the global economy.