Grenfell Tower – horror and grief become the source of political point scoring

A horrific fire rages in a tower block killing an as-yet uncounted number of people. Firefighters do what they always do, running towards danger in the same way as the police run towards unmeasurable threats that the rest of us flee from. Volunteers turn out from every direction offering accommodation, food, clothing, toys and anything else which might be of use to families suddenly dispossessed of everything they own. Lawyers volunteer their time to help sort out the multiple entanglements which must ensue.

Others are caught on the hop. The local authority is slow to react and poor at communicating. Prime Minister Theresa May appears distant and uncaring. Into the void come half-formed theories, accusations of blame, and that army of voluble but ignorant people on social media who instantly become experts on whatever is the scandal of the day, in this case building materials. Continue reading

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Theresa May pays £1bn to go to bed with the DUP

Theresa May, weakened by a doubly-botched election (botched once in that she did not need to call it and botched twice because the campaign was a text-book disaster) felt compelled to call on the Democratic Unionist Party for support.

The DUP cleverly negotiated a bung of £1bn for their support (it should be stressed that this goes to the Northern Ireland Assembly, not to the DUP itself). It seems unlikely that the DUP would have voted against the Queen’s Speech anyway, or allied themselves in any way with a Labour party headed by Sinn Féin cheerleaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Like most things Theresa May does, this unthinking rush into the DUP’s embrace had consequences obvious to the rest of us. It opened her to up to cries about fairness – fairness as between regions for one, but also as between the ease with which May rustled up money to save her party and the austerity imposed on some much more deserving people.

The DUP (“the Bible with fortnightly bin collections” as someone put it), would not be most people’s choice of bed-fellow. Leaving their primitive social mores out it, however, the marriage gave rise to some decent jokes (and God knows, we need some decent ones at a time when the UK itself has become a joke).

Here are a few (credits as on the tweets):

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Aux armes les citoyhens

One can see where the French revolutionaries got the idea for those little red caps they wore. This fine-looking lady produces eggs for the cafe at Worton Organic Garden at Yarnton this afternoon.

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Principles and patriotism – a Brexit year from Johnson to Leadsom

On a large television screen are two men, obvious shysters by the look of them. One is large, the other small, and they have just discovered that their latest scam has worked a treat and that a lot of people have fallen for it. You would expect them to look happy about it, but they don’t – they looked shocked, miserable and out of their depth.

Ah no, sorry. Wrong picture. That’s from The Producers – Max Bialystok and Leo Bloom when they discover that Springtime for Hitler was a hit. The plan was to defraud investors by selling 25,000% of the venture and then producing a sure-fire failure. Instead, the audience loved it. I was thinking of a different fraud. Continue reading

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Dogs at polling stations, Lord Buckethead at declarations: the eccentricities of a UK election

It is said that the recent General Election cost the taxpayer £130 million pounds. Many complain about this. I reckon that this works out at under £5 per voter, and the hours of entertainment which it gave (I watched all night) were well worth this. I’d pay £5 just for that shot of George Osborne’s face as he turned his knife into the woman who sacked him when Cameron fell.

There is a point here about Theresa May, incidentally, which is relevant to her subsequent failure (as I write, the gossip is of backstage plots to oust her). No-one, including Osborne himself, can have been surprised that he did not keep his post. Theresa May took the opportunity to tell him what she thought of him and to give him some rather patronising advice about needing to show more humility if he ever wanted to be prime minister. Tomorrow belonged to her, or so she thought, and I suspect that there were others whom Mrs May treated with disdain. Be nice, or at least polite, to people you meet on your way up because you may meet them on the way down. Continue reading

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Oxford to St Agnes by train, plane, boat and golf buggy

We are on St Agnes, the westernmost inhabited rock of the Isles of Scilly. Years ago, I worked for a while in Uzbekistan (don’t ask) and once got to my flat in Tashkent in less time than it took my family to reach St Agnes. To get there this week we used a cab, two trains, a minibus, a plane, another minibus, a small boat and golf buggy.

The first train took us to Reading, until recently a quaint red-brick obstruction blocking the way to and from the west, now replaced by a huge concrete and glass palace. When first opened, the enormous gallery which runs across all the platforms was an impressive open space. It was quickly filled, however, with tacky booths flogging tat at inflated prices. Britain’s railways were always driven by profit, but they once had class, in their architecture as well as in their locomotives, carriages and service. Now the whole thing seems a rather vulgar racket stitched up between a rapacious Treasury, unworldly civil servants, and companies whose very names – “First Group”, anything with “Virgin” in it – make you check that you still have your wallet.

The route west from London has recently been electrified, with ugly metal gantries littering what was once a rather attractive line.

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The “accused” not the “prisoner” in First World War discipline, and sentence before evidence in 40 Years On

I am re-reading Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That and came across an unexpected piece of sensitivity towards the status of those allegedly in breach of Kings Regulations or, at least, in the label given to them.

We are not talking here of Courts Martial and serious offences but of minor matters dealt with in the Battalion Orderly Room. Sessions would apparently last “for five hours every day, at the rate of one crime dealt with every three or four minutes”. Graves gives some dialogue:

Escort and prisoner, right turn! Quick march! Right wheel! Left wheel! Mark Time! Escort and prisoner, halt! Left turn!

Given the rate at which these offences were dealt with, one would not expect the army to be overly sensitive as to the language used. Graves notes, however, that:

The sole change brought by the introduction of the civilian element into the army was that, about halfway through the war, an Army Council instruction laid down that henceforth the word of command must be: “Accused and Escort, right turn, quick march…” instead of “Prisoner and escort, right turn, quick march…” Continue reading

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