Friday 30 November 2018

Losing The Picture

During my working life it helped to know what I was doing. Some jobs were not difficult. When the train came in you went to the parcels van and took items out and put them on a trolley. Or when the foreman said dig a hole there that is what you did.

In the many other jobs were times when you realised that you were not doing what should be done, had forgotten what why and all those clamouring people had only managed to confuse and disturb everything. Perhaps you made a decision and hoped it worked; but often you tried to pass this difficulty to someone else, anyone else.

One way of putting it was that you had "lost the picture". Where it comes from I do not know, a guess says military because I had experience of standing with generals by a large map realising that The Plan had failed, the operation orders were a nonsense and the troops had gone missing. You could only hope that The Cameronians had not found Hamburg and its delights or the Mobile Laundry had not invaded East Germany.

When much later it was politicians to be dealt with as well as other managers of various kinds it was often hard to get them to make a decision, no matter how urgent or necessary because someone always had an objection, or the choices were hard, or because it had complications and they did not like or understand them. Worst of all were those who wanted their own way, come what may and for whom compromise or analysis were demons of the deep.

In the 21st Century we think that governments, large organisations and entities and such ought to know all about what they are doing given the extent and nature of modern communications and the vast content now available at a click. For anyone in some senior position to admit to being unsure or find coming to a decision difficult is almost a cardinal sin that will have you despised and disliked, at least a move up from being burned at a stake even if being sneered at on TV is now a personal disaster.

The urge to have governments and rulers who knew what they were doing was one of the mainsprings of democracy and demands for representative government. The ignorance of rulers as so great it should be replaced by the wider and fuller knowledge and awareness of the people as a whole who would decide who would represent them in positions of authority. The people would listen to rational thinking, seek knowledge and then want to make the best decision possible for all.

It has led to the great divide between those who value the individual and those the mass. On the one side there are the planners and believers in state run lives, nationalisation and decision by politics and government. On the other are those believing in free markets, individual decisions and wide freedoms of belief and action.

We have examples of both but most places are in between or rather betwixt and between and unclear what their information is telling them, what it means etc. etc. etc. But they have to put on a show claiming that all is within their grasp and what people have to do is to agree and show due respect, or if priced cough up the necessary.

What is happening today is that the more extensive and powerful media has merged with politics rather than being close or overlapping entities and can address not just large groups but the indiviual in a way not possible ever before. So who leads who?

See The Bible, Mathew 15-14, or Wikipedia, the blind leading the blind.

Thursday 29 November 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?

There have been a number of programmes on TV about art; competitions, National Treasures, great houses and their gardens etc. They take in the history of gardens and gardening during the 19th Century and other period and display the wonders of many of those in the British Isles.

This is a period when they began to flourish in ways beyond the past into the magnificence that we still see in many of the ones that have survived. It is owed to the owners, their estate managers and above all the gardeners, but one thing is omitted. The fertiliser, Guano, see the Wikipedia article, and this is a story of its own.

It was brought to mind when clicking  through The Dundee Courier of January 1845 and for the shipping intelligence. There were two ships listed, the "Lady Lilford" and the "Lusitania", not the 1904-1917 liner but an ordinary cargo ship of the time with that name. Of the eleven ships listed in the Courier, four were at Ichaboe, the others being the "Midas" and the "British King".

The two reported to be bound for Dundee were there for the one thing that was to be had. It was guano, an incredible amount of it, owed to a lack of humans and generations of seabirds. The "Lady Lilford" had taken on a hundred tons.

But it could not just be bought it might have to be fought for in the guano wars of the period; see Wikipedia again on Ichaboe Island. Guano could command up to £25 a ton on landing so it was a rich cargo for the Master, Scott, a Liverpool based man. Also he had a bundle of Kashmiri Pashmini Shawls, some perhaps destined for the Court.

It was a voyage to make him a prosperous man in property having satisfied the owners with a hold full of jute. In 1851 he was living in upmarket Nile Street a few doors away from his mother-in-law who ten years later was aunt to the Countess of Antrim and connected to various McDonnell's in Liverpool.

It had its impact on the history of agriculture and the effects of changes there on general social history. Those who could afford to use it on their estates and farms would have a major advantage to those limited to the traditional substances. During the periods of adverse weather conditions and the more guano you had the less labour you might need.

Could we have a TV series devoted to the history of fertiliser down the ages? It might enrich the mind.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Ups And Downs Of Life

When politicians say that they want more social mobility they should be careful what they wish for, it might go up or down. The 19th Century may have allowed upward movement but there was a great deal downward, one effect of large families with more children surviving than in the past.

Our problem is basing our ideas on two dimensional perspectives of the class structure and the belief that this is somehow rigid and mechanical in its workings. Reality, as ever, is chaotic, very complicated and subject to all the chance and unpredictable fortunes, or not, of life.

Take Mark McDonnell, 10th Earl of Antrim, his Countess, Jane Emma Hannah and their family. Her mother Harriet, became Mrs. Whitbread and was formerly Macan, born Sneyd, who remarried to William Henry Whitbread, head of the brewing company which allowed large portions for the marriages of her daughters.

Initially, a younger son sent into the navy was going to have his own career. His wife was the daughter of an Army Cavalry Major, Turner Macan of Carriff in County Armagh, one of a minor Ulster gentry family who went to India to make his name and fortune. Carriff is now a garden centre. Mark and Jane with their growing family could hope only for a modest prosperity that would allow them to educate and place their children.

But by one of those quirks of Irish politics in the late 18th Century the 6th Earl secured in Letters Patent the reversion of the Earldom of Antrim to the female line in the event of no male heir. Mark was plucked from the Quarter Deck in 1855 to take over the title and estates of the Earldom and the name McDonnell.

This was a twist of fate as he had two elder brothers, both of whom died early and childless. They had succeeded their mother who before that her eldest sister, and then their father who had secured the special favour of a female descent for his title. But there was more to come.

The later Antrim’s were at Court at the turn of the 19th and 20th Century. One, Lady Jane Grey McDonnell, who left a private printed memoir in 1938, married Lord Clinton, Aide and Secretary to the Prince of Wales. Their daughter, Fenella, married John Herbert Bowes-Lyon in 1914, who had a younger sister Elizabeth and the rest is history.

This is just one small part of the family, other connections are strewn about the Burke and Debrett listings, Home, Lichfield, Bicester and others. But many are not.  Where are the rest of them?  The vast majority have gone off the radar to be found only by grubbing away in the ordinary records going down the scale of status and income.

For example an aunt of Jane Emma's had married a Liverpool business man and had a large family. One of her grandsons became a watch maker who died young and broke leaving his family among the lower orders of Liverpool. Not far from them were some McDonnell cousins and connections, again from the wider family.

Within the limitations of the ups and downs of our own families there is a rise and fall. You start one thing, then another, are lucky or unlucky or make right or wrong decisions or enterprises, make the right or wrong friends and networks and it will be different. Also there is health. One day it is all go, the next it all changes.

There is one key difference today however and that is Education.  In the past in the Lower and Upper reaches of the middling orders, the pump house of social mobility, it was possible to move up without a great deal in the way of formal education.

Today we are at the point where it is necessary to have a degree and to be in formal Education until the age of 21 at least to obtain the equivalent of an entry clerical post. In short, the Education system and the way it is managed and used has become the major obstruction to social mobility.

Below the aristocracy and super rich, it is not class or money that matters but how long and where you were educated. As lotteries of life go, this is even worse than any of the former obstacles.

The watch maker above as a last throw decided to join one of the gold rushes of the late 19th Century and seems to have died in the Dakota territories. Did he ever meet up with Calamity Jane, pictured above?

Monday 26 November 2018

A Time There Was

The BBC has a set of linked programmes "A Century Of Music" looking at aspects of the Classical Music of Britain during the 20th Century which will run through to next summer. There is a great deal taken from archives in a number of the programmes. This post from five years ago, November 2013 is a parallel to these.

One of the iconic music films is Ken Russell's 1962 "Elgar" which has as a central theme the composer's relationship with the rural part of the Worcestershire and Herefordshire boundary and centring on The Malvern Hills. He was part of it as child and man and walked and cycled around the parishes and villages.

Tony Palmer, another maker of striking films about music makers made his "A Time There Was" about Benjamin Britten in 1980. Apart from the English setting and backgrounds there seems to be little connection between the two other than music. Britten was placed at Aldeburgh on the East Coast where he lived for much of his life and the opera "Peter Grimes" is based.

What matters in the Palmer film is that he was able to interview Britten's sisters and brothers who survived him. A feature is their voices, the received pronunciation now alleged to be "posh" or "elitist" or upper class but then a normal speech for very many.

But when you start to study the documents now available there is another story. Because Britten was just as much a man of the area of The Malverns as Elgar, indeed more so in terms of his family history.

Elgar's father was a Man of Kent, born in East Kent who moved to Worcester and married a local girl. Involved in local music and running a music shop. His younger son Edward was drawn into this world. It was from these lower middle class beginnings that Elgar had to make his way.

In the earlier generations those of the Elgar family who can be traced were largely in ordinary occupations substantially farming connected. They were not in the labouring class but certainly not much up the class scale. His mother, however, was a Greening and they were very ordinary rural people.

Britten's father was a Charing Cross Hospital trained dentist who made a decent living and was able to educate his children to a good standard. His mother, given as Hockley but actually Hockey was from a lower background but they look very much like skilled men and tradesmen down the generations.

The father, Robert, was born in Birkenhead, his father Thomas, then a draper but later a dairy owner. It is said that Robert wanted to be a farmer but did not have the capital. There is more to it than that, because the family and most others were being thinned out by the gathering agricultural depression of the late 19th Century.

Before Thomas Britten the family were farmers and very much in the category of Yeoman farmers with decent sized holdings. The district where they were then settled for generations was by The Malverns and go back to at least the 17th Century.

It is difficult to see either of Elgar or Britten as "farmer's boys" whose roots are in the "Middle England" of the time, yet essentially this is what they were. So if critics sneer about the "rural" and very "English" nature of some of their music and others from that general area then it is only what they were but their families before.

This world was one utterly foreign to the present younger two or three generations in this country, whether it is the English, Scots, Irish or Welsh kinds. They know nothing about the real history of the life as it was, whether it was the farming, maritime or other basic elements of Britain.

Anything they are told about the past reflects only the obsessions and propaganda of present politics and interests. As for agriculture most of the population is blissfully unaware of how or where what is grown or by whom. The vast majority see the green parts as either playgrounds, facilities for preferred wildlife or opportunities for property development.

Our own countryside and real rural history as it was almost within my memory is now a lost world and a lost people, almost as remote in modern society as the Aztecs or Ancient Egyptians. When we look at films about those who were close to it the reality of their own connection and the influence it may have had is never mentioned because it is never researched or understood in its own terms and context and the films are made by people with other agendas.

What I did not realise when shuffling through the records out of incidental interest was that it would become personal. A forebear in the direct male line in 1841 was working on a farm along the road from Britten's farmer great grandfather also in the direct male line.

Going back further the other family links in the area turn up in the same villages and then merge. They look to be a group of Yeomen farmers, Parish Gentry, Husbandmen and the like of independent mind and running their own parishes as far as possible.

One of the connecting families is a Vobe. A branch of these turn up in Williamsburg in Virginia in the later 18th Century running the "Kings Arms" Inn. A local called George Washington often dined there.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Cutting To The Bone Head

This is a reworking of a July 2010 post saying that the Government Cabinets are too big and too costly. More seriously the bigger the numbers the less the efficiency as the present Cabinet shows all too clearly when it comes to making any big decisions, not just those about Europe.

One key issue  is that when the government has to make adjustments to its budget, some things get more but the problem is that which things get less? If looking for cuts why not start at the top? The original source was an item by Joachim Wehner.


In his quest to regain control over the deficit, the Chancellor has asked his cabinet colleagues to propose cuts to their budgets of up to 40%.  But perhaps the government should start at the centre and consider reducing the size of Britain’s bloated cabinet.

British cabinets are among the largest in the industrialised economies.  Labour’s last cabinet had 25 ministers around the table, which has increased to 29 in David Cameron's first Cabinet, although mainly to accommodate coalition partners. Contrast that with the much more modest size of the cabinet in countries such as Germany (16), Poland (19), Sweden (21) and France (21).

These figures exclude all of the other junior ministers and officials on the government payroll, which usually take the total to around 120 in all in Britain.  In contrast to the phalanxes of ministers and junior ministers in every Whitehall department, other governments, for example in Denmark, get by just fine without any junior ministers.

The problem with supersized cabinets is that they are costly. First, ministers need ministerial offices, which have grown in size over recent years, in addition to a big growth of special advisors and the government communications teams backing up each minister.

Second, the fewer ministries there are, the less often they are also likely to be subject to expensive reorganisations. There are substantial costs involved in creating, adjusting and maintaining portfolios, as highlighted in a recent joint study.

Unfortunately, this has not curtailed a tendency of each ministry to periodically want to reorganise all the bodies that it supervises, its “departmental group” reorganisations involve extra expenses recently estimated at £200 million a year in the period 2005-9, during which there were 90 different reorganisations.

Finally, the far wider problem is that ministers and departments (as key political contact routes) are expensive in a structural way. While finance ministers reap political rewards when they manage to contain spending, most of their cabinet colleagues have different political incentives. Spending ministers easily become representatives of special interests.

They are deemed “powerful” when they increase their budgets, but “weak” when their departments suffer below-average increases or disproportionate cuts. Each spending minister benefits politically from their own departmental spending, while the costs of their programmes are shared more widely across the government and taxpayers; a classic example of the “common pool resource problem”.

In a recent academic paper several studies were made on expanding the size of the cabinet. All of these contain remarkably similar findings, despite the fact that they use different empirical approaches, samples of countries and time periods.

These studies estimate that adding a spending minister to the cabinet is associated with an increase in the deficit of about one tenth of one per cent (0.1%) of GDP, largely due to effects on spending.

In other words, if Britain were to cut its number of spending ministers by ten, about a third, this should reduce deficits and expenditures by about 1% of GDP – a significant contribution to fiscal consolidation.  At a time when many governments face the most severe fiscal crisis in decades, these findings are gaining international attention.

In July 2010 an OECD study team tasked with examining strategies for greater value for money in government considered a draft report that some countries are already seeking to get the number of their top departments down to a maximum of 15. Most governments include some portfolios that have no obvious justification.

One of my all-time favourites is France’s Minister of Free Time, a portfolio that existed between 1981 and 1983 to develop leisure programmes.  The problem is that prime ministers use portfolio allocation to reward friends, or to accommodate foes, and to manage coalition governments.

Hence, cutting the number of spending ministers is politically difficult. Still, Britain’s cabinet is excessively large in comparison to most of its counterparts in other OECD countries.  Does Britain really need a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales, even if combined with other roles?

If the government wants less public spending, getting rid of such luxury portfolios could be a good start.  But downsizing the cabinet probably requires a strategic goal also. A recent essay looked forward to a UK cabinet in 2020 of no more than 15 department heads, with perhaps 50 ministers in total.

At a time when citizens are asked to accept massive cuts in spending on public services, Britain’s supersized cabinets are no longer justifiable.


So how many could go in line with overall government targets?  6,12,15, or 20 to arrive at a size to match the 1931 Cabinet (above), also a time of crisis? And how much would we miss them and all their advisers and personal assistants?

Thursday 22 November 2018

Beach Party

Around ten years ago I suggested that the Marines (US or UK) should hit the beaches of tax havens to allow taxes to be levied and this was put down as the result of too many margaritas. Not so; the British Marines have arrived without invitation at many beaches in their history; it would be too long a job to list them.

The Americans have their share, when they sing “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” it is not Tripoli in Bremer County, Iowa, they are on about, it is the one in North Africa, and that was as long ago as 1805.

In Cuba in 1898 the future president, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, galloped around telling his troops how wonderful it was to die for their country. In 1961 President Kennedy authorised another visit to Cuba, but we will not talk about that. Nor about “Operation Urgent Fury” the invasion of Grenada by the USA on 25th October 1983, ommiting to tell the Brit’s. 25th October is Agincourt Day.

Then there was Normandy in June 1944, where heavy losses occurred in the bid to build the bridgehead for the invasion to succeed. The date for this is given as 6th June, but both US and UK Marines were already there the day before.

Forgotten now is the second set of landings, Operation Dragoon in the south of France on 15th August 1944, picture above. This is the Pampelonne Beach by St. Tropez; that will surprise many and better known for pictures of Brigitte Bardot, and many other lovelies.

See here for more information.

A major landing by the US Marines took place, allowing US forces to cut the main coast road along the littoral of the south; with the French Resistance taking the rail lines inland.

Thirty years later the US Vet’s with a company of young Marines visited the beach to commemorate the events of that day. They found a group of Brit’s playing cricket using the old Marines road way matting as the base of the pitch. The French attempting to sunbathe close by were not happy.

But there was a breathless hush in the close that afternoon. When the American’s tried to intervene they were asked either to field at deep square leg or do something not usually done in public on beaches, even French ones.

When a young Marine plaintively claimed that the USA had not freed Europe just so the Brit’s could play cricket anywhere they liked, he was told firmly that it was the Brit’s who did the liberating.

We called it the “Special Relationship”. Now it would be our commitment to Europe.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Forgotten Men

In the debate on the causes of WWI of 1914 to 1918 one suggestion is that the Kaiser did not think that Britain would enter the war in Europe, despite treaty obligations, because the situation in Ireland at the time made it impossible.

Whether this is right or wrong is another matter but at present the Brexit situation is said to involve matters in Northern Ireland which could impact on decisions and votes.

Wikiepedia has a summary of the biography of Schomberg Kerr McDonnell, 1861-1915 which reminds us that Northern Ireland was once central to the Conservative Party thinking rather than being a far flung outpost of the old United Kingdom.

He had been Principal Private Secretary to Lord Salisbury when Prime Minister, fought with distinction in The Boer War and died of wounds at Ypres in November 1915 serving with The Cameron Highlanders.

There is the uneasy suspicion that the present Conservative Government would prefer us to forget about him and his comrades in order to agree to the German terms of Brexit.

Monday 19 November 2018

May Or May Not

All is revealed about May's and the present governments muddle for Europe going on at present.  Ah, well, David Cameron was a hard act to follow, let alone to understand.

If you can manage this one from the LSE you have the advantage over me. And I suspect 99% of the population.

Here it is:  That Cameron was trying to be all things to all people, which given the issues was impossible. It says at the end:


To conclude, the EU, indeed, proved to be, as Thomas Diez put it, a ‘discursive battleground’ for Cameron.

For him, framing the UK–EU relationship was a policy dilemma of the highest order, yet he failed to integrate these largely antithetical sub-discourses into a coherent and politically sustainable discourse on the EU.

In principle, the conflicting patterning of Britain’s relations with the EU closely reproduces the complexity of Cameron’s European agenda.

At the same time, it also reflects his attempts to address several audiences simultaneously in a bid to establish the broadest possible coalition of voters and supporters.

Most prominently, manoeuvring through and around three largely incompatible discourses mirrors his efforts to reconcile fundamental EU-related tensions within the Conservative Party.

Indeed, the ambivalence of Cameron’s discourse stems, in a large part, from his attempts to neutralise an issue that has been one of the most divisive in British contemporary politics.

In this sense, it aptly illustrates the long-term struggle of British party leaders and governing elites to manage Europe as well as the country’s troubled accommodation to the EU.


So now you know, maybe.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Who Goes Bust?

It is a little like waiting at the dentist's. You know it can happen and you know you are going to have to face up to the fact it could be you. In the meantime you look around the room at the frowning faces and wonder who is next.

It is much the same with the defaults of central banks and their associated governments. They are all there in the great waiting room of the world financial markets. Almost all may be more confident and rightly so. Many will have worries but some may know it is going to happen to them and the politics make it certain.

Sovereign failures is the subject of this in a Bank Underground item which is not easy reading and a little longish for the taste of most blog readers. But if you want to know about the subject and be better informed than the TV experts etc. it might be worth the time and trouble.

Also, you might want to check out the foreign holiday bookings or indeed think twice about that apartment going in a big luxury block at a knockdown price in one of those faraway places that look so warm and welcome as the winter closes in.

Actually, I'm a bit short, and the bank is being awkward, could you lend me a tenner or two?

Thursday 15 November 2018

The House Of Common People

There is a crisis over Europe and it may be that Ms. May loses the support of a section of the Conservative Party.

A leading figure in the revolt is Jacob Rees-Mogg.

How strange it is that in 1851, see above, his Mogg ancestor is listed as a Journeyman Cabinet Maker.

History repeats itself, watch the doors fall off.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Give Us A Tune Angela

Now that Britain has lost the Third Great War, Kaiserin Merkel is calling for a Euro Army, but what sort of Army might it be?

The picture above is Blucher before Waterloo, a battle which the Prussians won to save Europe.

Prussian Glory is the obvious choice for Merkel but not this one at two minutes.

There is a Napoleon to rouse us to victory for three minutes.

The US Cavalry perhaps or perhaps not another two minutes.

The REME has a fine old tune which had its meaning now lost.

Irish Guards maybe but others as well including mine.

The Kings Liverpool at one minute to surprise you all.

Last but far from least is what the Scots might offer at around one minute, my very own favourite.

We have ways of making you march to our tune.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

A Day Of Days

The hundredth anniversary of The Armistice has had a great deal of attention in the last few days. But the picture above is a small item of real history from the month of November 1918.

It is the page from the War Diary of the 13th Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment, who then were in the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Division. 1918 was a busy year.

From the dairy it seems to have been quiet but in September and the earlier months they had fought many battles and lost hundreds of men, probably most.

They had won medals but as their Division, the 3rd, was equal and better than the German storm troopers they were well deserved. Below is the listing of actions in which they fought that year, taken from the web site The Long Long Trail, which is of immense value and interest.


The Battle of St Quentin****
The Battle of Bapaume****
The First Battle of Arras 1918****
The battles marked **** are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of Estaires+
The Battle of Hazebrouck+
The Battle of Bethune+
The battles marked + are phases of the Battles of the Lys
The Battle of Albert++
The Second Battle of Bapaume++
The battles marked ++ are phases of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of the Canal du Nord^
The Battle of Cambrai 1918^
The battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line
The Battle of the Selle
The Division was selected to advance into Germany and form part of the Occupation Force.


The Diary gives a picture of the reality of life for the troops at that time, in this case behind the lines. On the day, the battalion were on the march, probably to the Front Line, but then stopped in their tracks. Had Armistice Day been later in the week it is possible that many of them would not have survived.

Another reality largely omitted from much of the media is that a major reason for driving the governments to the negotiating table was that they were running out of men.

In the Occupation force they were posted to the area of Germany known as the Hunsruck, the part featured in the German TV series "Heimat". The series, however, had French occupiers, quite different from Liverpool men. For one thing they would have spent much of their time playing football.

As their War Diaries tell us.

Monday 12 November 2018

Getting The Boot

The Sky Atlantic channel is to screen a sequel series of the German war film "Das Boot" from the 1980's which some will remember. That was about a German submarine U Boat crew and the year 1941 when the result of World War 2 depended on whether Britain could maintain shipping connections with Canada and the USA.

Two of my uncles at the time took a bath in the Atlantic, and were lucky to survive. Another was Royal Navy serving in a destroyer, the hunter the U Boat captains feared. I recall the convoys in the Mersey and the women asking which ships had arrived and which had been lost.

The original series was gripping and attempted to convey what happened at that time, albeit with the need to keep the personal stories going and have a great deal of action. In reality a great deal of time in this war was spent watching and waiting for the crucial moments.

That it was brought to Britain in the early 1980's and gave, up to a point, the German view of things was in a way all part and parcel of the media drive to turn us into good Europeans. We should realise that the Germans were not so bad after all, just doing their job, and we were just another country fighting our own war.

The question of whether West Germany intended to make itself the industrial and financial centre and hence political dominance of the Common Market as it then was wrong headed. Because of its economic power and new stability, inevitably Germany would be a leader, but nothing to worry about, pass along the gravy train please.

The sequel, among the cast has an August Wittgenstein. There is something a little surreal about having an actor of that name. Ludwig Wittgenstein was a notable German philosopher of the first half of the 20th Century who went in for the analysis of logic and the meaning of languages.

The original "Das Boot" would have had an audience of whom most were familiar with World War 2 and the ways of life at that time and the ideas and habits of those people. What will the sequel be obliged to give us to inform and entertain new generations the great majority of whom see the 1940's as ancient history?

Will it be made to meet the requirements of our PC world and tell us what we ought to think? Will we have a crew, not of hard men fighting a hard war in the comradeship of a warship at sea?

Or will it be an LGBT group swinging in their hammocks?

Sunday 11 November 2018

Beep Beep!

Very briefly, if only because the link leads to an article which takes a little reading but means a lot to many people in that it deals with cars and those of the future, might they be driverless?

Christian Wolmar is saying, along with others, that the hype we are getting about the driverless car of the future, no doubt more expensive and needing more servicing etc., is dangerous nonsense.

Given that our governments etc. of the 21st Century are prone to rushing at any new gimmick and buy any sales pitch that might look good in the media in the short term, and to hell with the long term and all the real costs, the risks are high.

I would not like to be in a car that is driverless, but given what some of our new taxi drivers are like, perhaps there might be a case.

Friday 9 November 2018


The "Telegraph" today in the Opinion section has a piece either of lazy journalism or an understaffed team under pressure to get out stuff their subscribers will read and feel the money is worth it.

It is that three legged short winded nag "National Service" which we thought had long since gone to the knackers yard of Defence and other policy. The idea is to bring it back. The most incredible thing about it is the blissful assumption that it will allow personality changes to the young to turn them into "good" citizens.

It is failed to do that with my generation, many of whom learned the finer arts of skiving, boozing to excess, disrespect of managers and bosses and demanding more and more of anything they wanted. Some became the undeserving poor and many became trade union activists.

In 1956 it was former servicemen who were rioting in Parliament Square against the Suez Invasion. This may seem a little extreme, but a number finished up racketing in pubs and then went on to work over clip joints in Soho, to the anguish of the criminal owners and the senior police officers they paid for protection money.

As some "old" soldiers had seen active service and been in the more dangerous locations of the retreat from Empire, never mind those who had been trained to tackle the Soviets in Europe, it all got very untidy in that period. Thirty years later it was the same men leading the charge for early retirement claiming that having done NS they had done their bit.

If you look at the world today and all the problems, a crew of stroppy, skiving, unwilling awkward teenagers are the last people you want to either give weapons for Queen and Country or expect to fill in for the social services vacancies. The only way they can really changed is in decent jobs, fair pay and an environment of mature and balanced effort.

But then, the working spaces in our media sources are nothing like that.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Europe Might Have Been

In the recent squabbling about Europe, we recall "Churchill's Vision" dating from speeches made in the immediate post war period from 1946 to 1949.  That is his ideas on the creation of a United States of Europe to become a new Great Power of the future.

This would not be any imperialist power related to the empires of the Europeans of the past, the Imperium would be Europe itself and the former nations of Europe states within it. The picture above is Churchill crossing The Rhine by Wesel in 1945 days after the British 11th Armoured Division.

Quite whether it might be a Federation or Confederation was not made entirely clear.  This confusion of thinking might have led to trouble as the USA found out in a long, nasty and damaging Civil War.  As we all argue now about the mess we are in and who was at fault, such a vision is urged on us as a beacon for the future.

No politicians speeches should be taken at face value, least of all Churchill's with it florid, orotund passages, sweeping and questionable history and chunks of media friendly prose, purple but never pink and invitations to greatness, taxpayer funded.

As Bessie Braddock understood you had to think about what wasn't being said.  Churchill had forty years of active politics at the top one way or another and knew how to play his hand. As a well read student of the past he was aware of the many complications.  Above all, the Intelligence part of World War 2 had taught him how to select and analyse material and what not to say.

It is around seventy years ago now and in the simplifications of history to make them readable to modern people the sheer complexity and scale of the problems of the 1945-1955 period are difficult enough to read about let alone to understand.  But it was not the same world as today.

In France, which had more or less finished up on the winning side, the ongoing political shambles of the Third Republic which had got it into the war was now compromising the peace and any sort of effective recovery.  Poverty was rife and life very hard for most.

Germany, now divided under Allied controlling powers was hungry and destitute and it looked as though it might take more than one generation to bring about stability and recovery.

Italy, was in much the same political confusion as France with the added strains inherited from the difficulties arising from the "Reunification" of the mid 19th Century.  The economy had collapsed and there seemed to be no way forward.

Other states were no better, as one example there was a great deal of suffering in Holland.  In the USA there was a signal lack of leadership and clear strategic thinking. Not only was there a difficult Presidential election in 1947 but too many, critically in the State Department, assumed that the end to the war meant back to business as usual.

Associated with this thinking was a reversion to the defaults of relative isolationism, concentrating on doing deals to the advantage only of the USA and regarding Britain and its Empire as the major historical enemy. Washington was slow to recognise the reality of Stalin Soviets and slower to realise that both France and Italy had major communist parties with strong chances of achieving power.

Churchill's speeches, by now  out of power, were meant as "wake up" calls to the USA as much as holding out his hope for Europe. It left the USA with the choice of letting Europe go its own way or becoming involved in its defence, the blocking of communism and helping to restore functioning economies with which it could trade.

The veiled threat was that if the USA did not realise what could happen then Britain might then take the lead on creating a new Europe that might become a real competitor to the USA in terms of business and finance across the world.  For all its posturing of democracy the USA was still effectively run by an elite related to big business and Wall Street.

What is not in the documents and not recognised or realised or even in the content of the speeches is the idea of Europe that Churchill might have had in mind.  If he discussed this it would have been quietly and with a select few of confidants.  These in turn would have understood the potential.

By 1947 Britain had lost India and more to the point under Mountbatten the withdrawal was almost complete.  Any lingering idea of "The Political" that is the highest ranks of the Indian Civil Service remaining as guides or advisers was gone.  But it was the lesson of the Raj that mattered to Churchill.

In the story of Britain in India what is astonishing is how few British people were involved in total at any time in running it.  What happened was that the most senior positions at the centre were held by the British with handfuls of key political advisers attached to the Prince's and other potentates.  For much of the 19th Century many of these were actually related to each other.

After WW2 the inner few of Churchill's personal friends and generals had mostly been in India, knew the Raj and some were in fact of the Raj.  Churchill himself had been a major figure in promoting Britain's role and purpose in India.  He had seen it as many did as "The Jewel In The Crown".

He understood the complexity and meaning of the Roman Imperium.  This was to grasp and hold the key positions at the very top and to keep the command and control in their hands.

If in a United Europe it was the British that constituted the Imperium, had been the inspiring force, had troops under its command yet delegated much to individual nations as the Raj had to the Princes etc. then Britain would not be just "at the heart of Europe" but the brain and the nervous system as well.

For a short space of time after World War 2, in Europe Britain was almost the last man standing.  Battered, bruised and broke maybe but with enough status and authority for a short time to seize the heights of power in a United Europe.

It might have worked.