Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Brexit Britain, is no country for an old Master of Spy Fiction called John le Carré.

John is about to publish his 25th novel, 'Agent Running in the Field', at the age of 87. It has a plot line that is based covert collusion between Trump’s USA and the British Security Services with the aim of undermining the democratic institutions of the European Union.

Interviewed back in the summer he said : " I think it would be impossible to write at the moment without speaking from within the state of the nation. We are part of it. I'm part of it. I'm depressed by it. I'm ashamed of it and I think communicates itself in the book. inevitably. I'm disconcerted by sense of loyalty. I don't know where to place it. I am extremely concerned by the rise of nationalism which is quite different from patriotism. For nationalism you need enemies and for patriotism you need your one conviction and that's the difference."

His attitude to Brexit is expressed by one of the characters in the new novel who says : “It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none."

In the interview he said :"What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon. Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed and seeing it as something we could return to. It's used in the rhetoric of the day, particularly on the Conservative side, I believe, as a polemical weapon - that we've got to go back to the good old days, which means restoring the dignity of the British labourer and patronising concepts of that sort, which are completely impractical in our industrial age."

"I saw the film 'Dunkirk'. I thought it was, consciously or otherwise, an offensive piece of propaganda. It excluded, for instance all the Lascars who went across in their boats and it pretended that the small boats rescued everybody from Dunkirk. It was itself a prize piece of reconstructive nostalgia and it did'nt quite happen that way."

"The rest is something I can hardly bear - the wallowing in the '39-'40 experience. We're back to the Blitz. For Heaven's sake, how long ago was that ? I just remember the Blitz. I'm 86 and it's somehow the notion that we were all behind it all the time; that we won single handed."

"Who remembered, watching all those D-Day celebrations, that 30 million Russians died; that the Russians got to Berlin before we did and that there was a Second Front, which coincided with D-Day, in Russia, launched by the Russians which was enormously successful and absorbed a huge amount of Nazi troops."

“The wonderful right wing military historian, Max Hastings, points out that we were bad fighters, that we were extremely badly organised, and our contribution in terms of blood and wealth and material was – I can’t say trivial, but tremendously small by comparison to the sacrifices of the other major powers. We were on the winning side by the end, but we were really quite minor players.”

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Brexit Britain is no home for the planned new figures in a French sea by an old sculptor called Anthony Gormley

You might think of Anthony, who 69 years old, as a quintessentially English sculptor whose 'Angel of the North' stands on a hill over Gateshead as a symbol of Britain’s northern identity and on the other side of the country on the Mersey Estuary, his group of 100 cast iron solo figures at Crosby beach has become part of the landscape.

The truth is that he is, in fact. a quintessentially 'European' sculptor, who on the eve of Britain’s potential departure from Europe, is planning a new and dramatic installation  on the beaches of Northern France. He wants to erect a group of seven huge sculptures, made from iron slabs, on the coast of Brittany which will look towards Britain, the potentially 'lost island of Europe.'

He has said of the project : “I am very excited about this, after all, how do you understand yourself other than by your relations with your nearest neighbours?” He has also said : “We all know the EU is inefficient, but most human institutions are inefficient and that doesn’t mean we should not be part of their improvement. I sincerely hope this moment of utter instability and lack of movement just disappears and we get on with making a sounder, safer, more just world because without the help of our neighbours we can’t do it.”

The site planned for his new work is a peninsula and archipelago of small islands that jut into the Baie de Morlaix in Finistère, near to the site of an ancient burial cairn rediscovered during quarry work in 1955.

Soon he will travel to Brittany to meet marine engineers and harbour authorities and to inspect tide levels at the sites. He said his seven giant figures would be made with up to 30 iron slabs balanced on top of each other. “They are sort of massive houses of cards, but made out of blocks that do actually cohere. They are an attempt to say something about the human condition – that we are all provisional. We stand up, but we are always in danger of falling over.”

The entire project would reach out more than 7km into the sea and a similar sculptural form was used by him on a beach at Kimmeridge bay in Dorset until waves destroyed it, but he has likened the shapes he plans to install in Brittany to those now displayed in the first gallery of his major new show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The project has yet to win final approval from the French authorities, but Anthony understands President Macron is supportive. Ostensibly designed as a response to a vast neolithic grave site nearby at Barnenez, its modern resonance,as a gesture of farewell to Britain after Brexit, is clear.

“We belong to Europe, geologically as much as anything else. We were only separated five thousand years ago. The whole idea that somehow we can go it alone by making greater relationships with the former Commonwealth and with our friends and cousins in America is just ridiculous.” 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Britain, according to an old Spy Master called Sir Richard Dearlove, should be no country for the old Master of Spy Fiction called John le Carré

The former Head of MI6, 74 year old, Sir Richard Dearlove has criticised the 87 year old John le Carré for trading his experiences in the intelligence services to write books. Sir Richard joined MI6 in 1966 and was its Head from 1999 until 2004 and drew a contrast between those he described as the "primary myth makers of British intelligence : James Bond and John le Carré." He said that although Bond had his benefits, when it came to Le Carré, although the Smiley series of novels “have some quality, he is so corrosive in his view of MI6 that most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him. He flips the coin of reality. Intelligence organisations are based on trust between colleagues. His books are exclusively about betrayal.”

Sir Richard said that while reading Le Carré’s memoir ' 'The Pigeon Tunnel : Stories from My Life,' he had concluded that the author was “obsessed with his membership of the Secret Intelligence Service. He was only in the service for three years and something must have happened to him while he was there to breed this cynicism. I rather resent the fact that he has traded on his knowledge and reputation and yet the feeling I get is that he really rather intensely dislikes the service.”

John did not take all this lying down and responded by saying that : 'Sir Richard is not sound on the details of my career — dates wrong, duration wrong, scant mention of my years in MI5 or my extramural work for both services. But he claims, rather quaintly, that since I only served a mere three years in MI6 (not true), I was scarcely qualified to write about the service anyway. My books, he goes on to complain, are “exclusively about betrayal.”  Something, he says darkly, “must have happened to me to breed this cynicism.” Well, yes, actually it did.'

Born David John Cornwell in 1931, it was  after studying foreign languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland when he was 17 to 18 years old that he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army garrisoned in Austria, working as a German language interrogator of people who crossed the Iron Curtain to the West. In 1952, he returned to Britain to study at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he worked covertly for the British Security Service, MI5, spying on far-left groups for information about possible Soviet agents.

It wasn't until he was 27, in 1958, that he became and MI5 officer and ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines and effected break-ins and it was three years later that, still an active officer, he began writing his first novel, 'Call for the Dead.' By this time he had transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service, and worked under the cover of Second Secretary at the British Embassy at Bonn.

 He then transferred to Hamburg as a political consul and it was there that he wrote 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' as 'John le Carré 'in 1963. He left the Service the following year to work full-time as a novelist, because his intelligence-officer career was brought to an end as the result of the betrayal of British agents' covers to the KGB by Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent.

According to John, he first picked up his cynicism at the age of 30 when George Blake was unmasked as a spy in 1961 after he had decided to become a Communist and work for the KGB while a prisoner during the Korean War. 'I had barely finished my basic training when George Blake, a longstanding and greatly treasured officer of the service, was exposed as a Russian spy. The taxpaying public wasn’t allowed to know it at the time, but Blake had consigned several hundred British agents to prison, death, torture, or all three. Exactly how many hundred he couldn’t be sure, as he later declared from his safe haven in Moscow.'

That cynicism was increased when 'Kim Philby was exposed, although again the scale of the damage was just too much for the public to swallow. Add together all the MI6 agents and the MI6 special operations that Philby betrayed over his 30 years of working for MI6 and the Kremlin, throw in Blake’s few hundred or so, and we’re safely into the thousands: liquidated, imprisoned, or missing believed interrogated.'

With his knowledge of the damage caused by Blake and Philby it is little surprising that John said : 'So yes. Something did happen to me, and it would have happened to Sir Richard if he had been around at the time, which he wasn’t.'

As to Sir Richard's point that "most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him" John rejected this by saying : 'Soon after Sir Richard’s retirement as Chief, his successor, Sir John Scarlett, invited me to dine with some of his senior staff. I was flattered, but felt queasy about what I had read of the service’s alleged role in the run-up to the Iraq War. So I said thanks, and reluctantly declined.'

In addition, another Intelligence Chief, David Spedding : 'invited me to lunch with his directors at the service’s new headquarters. He later visited us in Cornwall. He kindly believed that, due in part to my novels, MI6 had assumed a sensible place in the public awareness : human, fallible, aspirational, contentious, and part of real life.' Also, Antony Duff, 'a former Director-General of MI5 and a longtime friend, thought my books were trash but harmless.'

John concluded : 'Take your pick. One thing is certain. When my new novel comes out next month, Sir Richard and his notional colleagues are going to be mad as bedbugs. But thanks all the same for the much-needed publicity at this busy time in the publishing year.' 

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Austerity Britain is no country, Rochdale no town and Yorkshire no county for and old Egg Trader called Peter Jordan

Rochdale, a town of  96,000 inhabitants in Greater Manchester, sits in the foothills of the South Pennines on the River Roch. It has a long history and was first recorded with an entry in the Domesday Book of 1086 under 'Recedham Manor.' By 1251, Rochdale had become important enough to have been granted a Royal charter and flourished into a centre of northern England's woollen trade.

In the Middle Ages it started life as a market town when weekly markets were held from 1250 when Edmund de Lacy obtained a grant for a market and an annual fair. At that time the market was held outside the parish church where there was an 'Orator's Corner.'

Rochdale rose to prominence in the 19th century as a mill town and centre for textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution and is the birthplace of the modern Co-operative Movement. The Rochdale Pioneers' shop was the precursor to The Co-operative Group, the largest consumer co-operative in the world.

Peter Jordan, who is 76 years old has worked at the market for years and known affectionately as "The Egg Man”, had been hoping to pass on his stall to future Jordan generations. This is not to be because  last week the local authority said the market, which is in its third location in five years, is no longer “financially viable” and will be closed next month.

Peter's grandfather first began selling his produce from his 768 year old farm in 1919 and next month the family would have celebrated their 100th anniversary as Rochdale market traders.

For Peter's fellow traders, who say they have been moved "from pillar to post,” this news of the closure of the ancient market  was death knell for their livelihood. The official letter told them they were being given four weeks’ notice to vacate their plots, with the last day of trading on Monday 14 October. The council says it was not contractually obliged to give any notice but wanted to give traders time 'to make alternative arrangements.'

Peter believes that the market is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s when as a teenager he started helping his father and said : “I have the same people coming every week, sometimes twice a week, to buy their eggs. They want fresh produce and don’t want to get everything from supermarkets.”

Fully in step with mean-spirited Austerity Britain and without a shred of reverence for Rochdale's long history a council spokesperson said : “Ultimately we can’t use public money to subsidise the market indefinitely when it is losing money month after month. We will help any trader who wishes to relocate.”

Peter said : "They think they can kick us out as if it means nothing to the town, but it means a lot to the town. But it's people in offices dictating the wishes of the people of Rochdale, so we will have to wait and see."

"A nation which forgets its past has no future."

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Brexit Britain is a country graced by the soaring oratory of a Senior Lawyer called Aiden O'Neill

At the age of 59, Aidan O'Neill is scarce 'old' . As a lawyer on top of his game he was appointed Queen's Counsel in England and Wales in 2017 and in fact holds rare 'double silk' status, having became a Scottish QC in 1999.

He was in the news this week because of his combative closing comments, before the 11 Justices of the Supreme Court hearing the prorogation case to reject legal arguments advanced by the Boris Johnson Government that the courts do not have the power to intervene in his decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks.

His speech was delivered in the afternoon of the second day of the emergency hearing at Britain's highest court into whether the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen, to suspend debates at a time of a national constitutional crisis over Brexit, was lawful.

In contrast with other lawyers who addressed the Supreme Court this week through detailed reference to past cases and subsections of law, QC O’Neill adopted a centuries-long historical perspective and an emotive approach to the nature of Britain's constitution.

His speech, which approached two hours in length, was rich in metaphors. For example, in making the point that the Court represented all four nations in Britain he said : "This Court is very conscious of the symbolism of its creation. I look down at the carpet, it notices what is being said. Symbols speak. Emblems are there for a reason and what we have before us is a Court which picks up four national emblems : a flax, a thistle, a rose and a leek, embraced in an omega - the last instance, embraced in a matrix and presumably, that imagery, that iconography is telling us that the Court cherishes, protects and nourishes the four traditions that together make up this Union. This Court will be well aware that we live in a union state. We don't describe this as a 'union state' but 'a state of nations.'"

He referred to a statue of Nelson Mandela outside the Court as "a reminder of civil resistance against unjust regimes and also a reminder of the triumph of truth and reconciliation, the reinstatement of the rule of law and enlistment of a properly constitutional court."

"Immediately outside the Court is a statue of Abraham Lincoln who, at a time of great constitutional crisis in his own nation, when it was questioning its fundamental identity said : "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies, though passion may have strained, it must not break our bands of affection touched as surely by the better angels of our nature."

"Those are the images, those are the matters, that is the backdrop against which this Court is determining the issues before it."

Thirty five minutes into his presentation he made the point that the Johnson Government was accountable to Parliament and Parliament was accountable to the people and the to say that the Government is accountable to the people is government by populism. "In the present case the Prime Minister's power to prorogue Parliament has had this intent and effect of impeding Parliament of holding the Government to account at a time when the Government is taking decisions which will have constitutional and irrevocable impact for our country.That fundamentally alters the balance of our constitution. That cannot be a lawful use of the power of prerogative."

His opponent sitting next to him, Sir James Eadie, provided excellent entertainment with his repertoire of body language which ran from boredom to what appeared to be despair. At one point he covered his eyes with his fingers and mute QC O'Neill by sticking his thumb in his ear and at another exercised a barely concealed yawn.

The QC urged the 11 Justices not to make this a “Dred Scott moment,” referring to the landmark 1857 US Supreme Court case that affirmed slave owners rights and paved the way to the American Civil War and “Instead stand up for the truth, stand up for reason, stand up for unity in diversity, stand up for Parliament, stand up for democracy by dismissing this government’s appeal and uphold a constitution governed by laws and not the passing whims of men. What we’ve got here is the Mother of Parliaments being shut down by the Father of Lies.”

His “father of lies” was a Bible reference to the devil, as Jesus in the Gospel of John says of him: “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

QC O’Neill finished with  : “Lies have consequences but the truth will set us free. Rather than allowing lies to triumph, listen to the angels of your better nature and rule that this prorogation is unlawful and an abuse of power which has been entrusted to the Government. This Government is showing itself unworthy of our trust as it uses the powers of its office in a manner that is corrosive of the constitution and destructive of the system of parliamentary representative democracy on which our union polity is founded.

Enough is enough. Dismiss this appeal and let them know that that’s what truth speaking to power sounds like.”

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Brexit Britain is a country with a Conservative Party which is no longer a home for two old Tory politicians called Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames

Born in the first summer of the Second World War in 1940, Ken Clarke is 79 years old and has been in politics for most of his life. In fact, he first became a Conservative Member of Parliament at the age of 29, fifty years ago. Earlier this week he joined 20 other rebel Conservative MPs to vote against his own Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Effectively, they helped block Johnson's "No Deal" Brexit plan from proceeding on 31 October. Subsequently, all 21 were told that they were no longer they were members of the Conservative Parliamentary Party and would be barred from putting themselves forward as Conservative candidates in a future general election.

In one fell swoop Prime Minister Johnson had put an end to Ken's 50 year career as a a professional politician. He is well-respected and is currently Father of the House and had held all the great offices of state under Prime Ministers Heath, Thatcher, Major and Cameron having served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Justice Secretary, Health Secretary and Education Secretary.

Interviewed after his ejection he said that he no longer recognised the present Conservative Party, referring to it as "the Brexit party, rebadged". Referring to Prime Minister Johnson he said :"It’s been taken over by a rather knockabout sort of character, who’s got this bizarre crash-it-through philosophy … a Cabinet which is the most right-wing Cabinet any Conservative Party has ever produced."

Interviewed in the Observer today he reflected that he first became a Conservative MP when Boris Johnson was “a small toddler” and before he was born first came in Tory politics. He first attended a Conservative party conference as a student in 1962, where he supported Harold Macmillan’s application to join the Common Market against the fierce opposition of the imperialist wing of the Tory party and recalled : “I was one of the students who was going around wearing a ‘Yes’ badge.” Asked if he were a 20-year old student again would he make a different choice he said : “In its present state, I would not join the Conservative party. I would not follow Boris Johnson in this wild, rightwing nationalist stuff. The party wasn’t like that when I joined.”

Another Tory grandee and one of the 21, is the 71 year old Sir Nicholas Soames, who has served as an MP from the age of 35 in 1983. He hadn't risen as high as Ken in Government, but he had been a former Conservative Defence Minister and the grandson of Winston Churchill and he admitted that he, unlike Ken, had shed a tear this week when he was told that he had lost the Conservative whip for rebelling over a no-deal Brexit after 37 years as an MP : “I did blub actually, it was a sad moment. I was very emotional. I don’t want to end like this particularly as I am so far from being a serial rebel.” 

He told 'The Times' : “I am worried about the Tory party because . . . give or take the odd spasm we have always been seen as pragmatic, sensible, good at our job, sane, reasonable and having the interests of the whole country and now it is beginning to look like a Brexit sect.”

“My anxiety is that the Party which I joined 40 years ago was humane, principled, serious, decent, understanding, always One Nation Conservatives.” Now, “I have colleagues in my party who I look at and think I have nothing in common with them at all and they look at me and think they have nothing in common with me”.

He told the House of Commons : ‘I’m truly very sad that it should end in this way and it is my most fervent hope that this house will rediscover the spirit of compromise, humility and understanding that will enable us finally to push ahead with the vital work in the interests of the whole country that has inevitably had to be so sadly neglected whilst we have devoted so much time to wrestling with Brexit’

Friday, 6 September 2019

Brexit-obsessed Britain is a country with a nation called England where old men in need of social care are lost in a "sea of inertia"

Britain in 2019 is a country where the failure of funding to keep pace with rising demand created by more and more old men and women living longer and longer, can be explained by the fact that nearly £8bn has been cut from Council Adult Social Care Budgets since 2010, which has meant that 1.4 million old man and women went without help, which means they no longer get help with basic activities such as :

* getting out of bed
* washing
* going to the toilet

In its Report 'Care in Crisis', the charity, 'Age UK', said services for older and sick and disabled people were 'under extreme duress' and unable to respond to rapidly growing need : 'Growing levels of desperation described by those individuals, families and professionals on the sharp end bear testament to a system working at full pelt, stretched to its limit and still failing people left, right and centre.'

It also highlighted fears that the market for residential care in England in many areas was failing, with half of councils witnessing the closure of domestic home care providers in their area in the past year and a third seeing residential care homes shut down.

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams said the Report painted a “frightening” picture of what might happen to social care unless the Government intervened decisively to lift massive pressure on local authority social care budgets. “When you strip out the complexity the story is really very simple: demand is going up but funding and supply are going down, leaving increasing numbers of older people to fend for themselves, rely on loved ones if that’s an option for them, or pay through the nose via a hefty stealth tax without which many care homes would not stay afloat.” 

The Report is the latest in a string of recent reports highlighting the fragility of the social care system in the face of massive underfunding. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said in June that the system was adrift "in a sea of inertia” as Brexit dominated Government Ministers’ energy and attention.

Again, will heed be paid to the cross-party Lords Committee, including two former Chancellors, which in July called for an immediate £8bn investment to tackle the long-neglected “national scandal” of social care which had left more than a million vulnerable older people without proper support ?

And should heed be paid to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who said in July that he had a “clear plan” to fix the social care crisis ?  In fact, subsequent reports suggest that, having shelved the long-delayed social care green paper commissioned by his predecessor, Theresa May, his own blueprint was unlikely to be published before the end of the year.

The fact is that social care services in some areas of England are so fragile that they face complete collapse next year and inestimable hardship to old men and women unless the Government commits substantial extra investment

Should old men and women in England best take heart when s Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said : “We have given local authorities access to nearly £4bn more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410m is available for adults and children’s services. The Prime Minister is committed to fixing the social care system and we will outline proposals in due course.” ?