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May Day

So. This is May’s day.

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Mayday! Mayday!

We in the UK have recently been sailing troubled waters but now we are coming out of a lea shore and are about to enter the full blast of the storm. Who knows what the political landscape of these islands will look like in three years’ time? A second Scottish Independence referendum has been made ever more probable by the UK goverment’s stance on a so-called hard Brexit and deaf ear to other voices.

Scottish independence might have been achieved on a relatively friendly basis in 2014 but I doubt that’s at all likely now.

The febrile English nationalists (for that is what they are) who have driven this headlong rush over a cliff have no thought of (or care for) Scotland – and still less for Northern Ireland for which this represents a double crisis, the “cash for ash” scandal having led to a breakdown of the power sharing arrangements. They will exact a heavy price for what they will no doubt see as a betrayal of “England, their England”.

I believe Theresa May is trying to look stern when she lectures all and sundry in the House of Commons and on television but to me she looks threatening – as in, don’t dare cross me, my revenge will be sweet – despite there being no substance behind her bluster. Scotland can look for no favours from her.

I never thought that another politician could achieve a position lower in my esteem than Margaret Thatcher did but Theresa May has managed it. (David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, though he is entirely responsible for the mess the UK now finds itself in and amply demonstrated his irresponsibility by doing so and more so by running away from the consequences, is merely a buffoon by comparison.) May is potentially dangerous. Not so much in herself as in what may come after her.

What is Occurring, Terence?

The title of this post is, of course, taken from the TV series Minder, George Cole‘s signature role.

It is however the only appropriate phrase with which to greet the latest news from the soap opera that British politics has become. Yea, verily; Angela Leadsom – it seems only two seconds after anyone first came to hear of her – has abandoned her attempt to become Prime Minister.

So, not only is the architect of the catastrophe, Mr Irreponsible, quitting, his main nemesis been shown up for the buffoon he is and betrayed, his assassin defeated, and one of the last two standing has weaselled out (which is entirely in keeping with the way she weaselled in.)

Who leaned on her? Is Angela Leadsom really so thin-skinned that she cannot take criticism of a statement she made – on tape – to a journalist? Why has she suddenly decided she is no longer the person most suited to run the country? She seemed confident enough about her abilities a week or so ago.

This is the sound of the Tory party closing ranks, partly to presume upon Labour’s disarray, partly because it is just what Tories do. They can be ruthless in cleaving to what they see as their advantage. Its members may feel cheated of their chance to give their input but I suspect the Tory grandees have never been too keen on democracy – even democracy within the party – and may always have been looking for a way to engineer the result they wanted.

But…. To look at it another way it is actually a coup d’état. The Government has been removed and will be replaced with another, another that is liable to propel the UK even further rightwards, make it even more divided, even less fair, even more prepared to kowtow to the barons of the Press and their agenda, even less likely to address the concerns of those whose votes were suborned in order to enable it, even more likely to eviscerate – and even dismantle – the NHS and the BBC.

She may possibly have been the lesser of two evils but if the answer is Theresa May what the hell was the question?

And note, the wider electorate has been totally excluded from all this. I very much doubt there will be a General Election to sanction the change of government and due to the Fixed Parliament Act our new Prime Minister will have four years to do more or less as she wills. Her government’s majority of 12 in the House of Commons will not see serious inroads, unless there are by-elections. Tories, without the bee of the EU in their bonnets, won’t want to upset the apple cart.

On a happier note, congratulations to Andy Murray on winning Wimbledon for a second time. A thoroughly professional, accomplished performance.

The Member and The Radical by John Galt

Canongate Classics, 1996, 263 p, including 2 p glossary, 6 p notes (The Member) and 4 p notes (The Radical) plus 8 p Introduction.

The Member and The Radical cover

Galt was a Scot born in Ayrshire whose novels mainly dealt with the impact of the industrial revolution and has been called the first political novelist in the English language. The Member was the first example of the Parliamentary political novel, The Radical deals with Parliamentary matters only towards its end. These two works of fiction were first published in 1832 (in January and May respectively) and subsequently in one volume as The Reform that November but apparently not republished till 1975 (The Member) and this edition (The Radical.) The two hundred year old idioms do take some getting used to but it is worth persevering.

The Member: An Autobiography.
This is prefaced by a “Dedication” to one William Holmes, wherein Scot Archibald Jobbry laments the imminent passing of the Great Reform Act and the inevitable depredations which it will bring in its train. Many years before Jobbry had returned from India where he had made his fortune and decided to purchase a seat in the House of Commons despite it being technically illegal to do so. He shows himself a sly and acute bargainer. During this process he opines, “a Tory is but a Whig in office, and a Whig but a Tory in opposition.” Some things don’t change. In this regard Jobbry later says MPs have been, “inveterate to retain the distribution of places and pensions – the natural perquisites of Members of Parliament” and, “The democratical think state salaries always exorbitant, and the aristocratical never think wages low enough.”

The shenanigans accompanying elections in those days are amusingly described. On this point Jobbry tells us, “It is by no means plain why paying for an individual vote should be so much more heinous than paying for a whole borough.” These vices are still with us, if in altered form. To my mind selling off state assets is an even higher category of bribe than either of those Jobbry mentions, promising lower taxes only slightly less so.

Galt often uses the utterly obsolete form “quo’ I” for “I said” when Jobbry is relating his own direct speech.

In talking to fellow Parliamentarian Sir John Bulky, Jobbry – despite being a Tory (even if of a restrained sort) – says, “It is not a time to reduce public appointments when there is a national distress; the proper season is when all is green and flourishing.” (Tell that to the present UK coalition!) Sir John replies, “lessening expenditure during a period of general hardship – is paving the way to revolution.” Fat chance.

We also have, “a wild and growing notion prevails that governments … are of less use than had always been supposed; a doctrine (in) which the most civilised and refined communities will be driven to the wall.”


The Radical: An Autobiography
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The life story of one Nathan Butt (try saying it in a Scottish accent,) an individual poles apart from Alexander Jobbry in outlook and here presented in a much less favourable light than Jobbry was in The Member – though he is much disturbed by his Radical friends indulging in bribery to get him elected. Again there is a dedication, this time to Baron Brougham and Vaux, late Lord High Chancellor. Butt’s enthusiasm for Napoleon turns to a feeling of betrayal by “that very bad man.” The narrator refers to his “friend” John Galt and quotes one of his poems. Metafiction in the 1830s. There is a harsh schoolmaster called Mr Skelper* – no doubt inspired by Mr Thwackum.

Several phrases resonate with the present day. “The age required that men who had large private properties should have resigned what they withdrew from the public purse.” (For this nowadays read Amazon, Google, Starbucks evading tax?) “The newspapers now and then tell us of this gentleman, who on his audit-day remitted so many per cents to his tenantry; but I doubt if the fashion has yet become common.” Quite! “There is something in their” – priests and clerics – “office which leads them to imagine themselves superior to the commonalty of mankind.” One of the characters has “a prophetic vista of the time when the English language, by the American States, and the Oriental colonies, would be universal all over the Earth.”

There is a glossary in the final pages which strangely only goes up to the letter “l” – at least in my copy.

*See skelp in the Dictionary of the Scots Language. Type in “skelp” in the search box and then click “skelp,v”.

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