Oh the things we said in dark corners….

I blush to think of those long yarns in college rooms or the corner of a pub, of all we said and did not think, of the ribald, the shocking, the plain disgusting, geeing each other up to exceed the heights of sick-mindedness.

All with smiles on our faces, and meaning not a word of it. I don’t recall any either, and was not meant to. How many wars we declared on innocent countries for minor slights or just to smash-and-grab I cannot remember, and how many tyrannical laws that would make Genghis Khan quiver. Maybe someone lauded eugenic slaughter at one point (I’d rather not think about it) just out of audacity to turn our stomachs, or spoke of race theories that not even the worst nutcase believes, against his own race (though maybe that’s not far off modern identity politics).

You will have to believe me when I say that not one of those foul-mouthed souls has in his matured life celebrated South American culture by decorating his house as he said with shrunken heads still warm, nor declared war on Greenland for having a dishonest name, nor urged the reintroduction of suttee to reduce the social security budget, nor the introduction of slavery based on IQ tests.  Not one of them has married three wives at a time, each for a service in a different room of the house, nor introduced a punitive sliding scale of income tax for taxpayer’s with dissenting political leanings, nor built gulags in the ice of South Georgia. Neither have I thought again about any of the things I might have advocated in jest, thank goodness.

Are the French lucky that we conspirators have not, as we plotted, invaded their land and seized back Calais and Normandy, and Brittany while we are about it?  Somehow, no.  What is spoken in a confidential circle of friends playing the young idiot for all it is worth shows no more intent to follow the words spoken and no more belief in it than Jonathan Swift really thought of having Irishmen eat their children.

So why do young men speak that way in dark corners? For one word they do believe: Freedom.

We are bound by decency and politeness and the opinion of others. It is stifling. Soon we will be grown and given new responsibilities, and seeing that coming there is a burst to claim one last freedom, to speak nonsense unrestrained. It is a joy to be free at last for an evening to act and speak with no responsibility nor need to carry through. It means nothing beyond that circle. Who can begrudge that of young men when they can?

It may build strength and resilience, and joy in the moment and fills that sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, and that is exactly what a man needs to shoulder the burdens of manhood in later life, when the shutters have come down. I slept and dreamt that life was beauty; I woke and found that life was duty. So it is to be a man maturing to bear his load.

We had the sense of course and decency not to record any yarning we made, and what is spoken in dark corners strays not a yard from those corners. It is not a thing for social media nor a blog – which is why all the examples I have written are entirely fictional and very mild compared with what was actually said, even if I had remembered it.

You can see where this is leading: offence-mining, a curse of the age. Too many careers have been felled by it, for words which harmed no one and had no intent to do so. The real harm is done by those who seek to destroy those who have spoken too freely. I can tell you that the pen may be mightier than the sword, but even the sharpest tongue is no more than flaccid flesh. It is not though about offence, is it? It is about power, about keeping away from all influence those who disagree, and any excuse will do. The Long March is not to be turned back. They know, these social-justice warriors, that a provocative tweet is no more that a word hurled in the darkness, but that is not the point.

Then there is the Pelagian Puritanism about which Dr Giles Fraser wrote recently.

Really though, are the open discussions of Momentum types any different? There are discussions involving mass theft from unfavoured classes, destruction of nations, gulags and ‘re-education’, criminalisation of dissidents, praise of mass-murderers, dismantling the whole nation. I have even read serious suggestions of inducing deadly epidemics to reduce the population. The difference is that the speakers of these free ideas are in deadly earnest. That is what should frighten us. Thankfully there are some of us still left to stand against it from our own histories of speaking shocking twaddle.

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Books

Geoffrey Cox: an appreciation

Stentorian – the word that will always be connected with Geoffrey Cox QC, and whenever he speaks, there speaks Stentor of old.

You must remember that speech which he gave at the party conference in October 2018, as newly appointed Attorney-General.  He first began as if he had to apologise to the angry party members for accepting office under Mrs May, but he spoke as an unwavering Brexiteer and won the floor, which rose at his conclusion.

I have not met Geoffrey Cox, despite staying frequently in his constituency. If I ever meeting him, pounding the precipitous inclines of its streets, I will be sure to shake his hand warmly.

His departure from the government was something of a surprise, except apparently to those with inside knowledge. Maybe when you lose too many cases you will consider changing your barrister, which is essential what the Attorney-General is: the Cabinet’s own chief legal adviser and advocate in court. It seems harsh though at our Stentor, for his advice on the Cherry / Miller case (as far as we may discern what it was) could not be faulted by other lawyers, and the Supreme Court’s ruling was surprising to say the least.

Then again, maybe there was a gnawing resentment at his forcefulness in trying to press through the Commons Mrs May’s deal, rebuking the doubters “we are not children”.. and that insult stings when spoken with a commanding voice.

Or maybe it was the inevitable rise of another with a pointed agenda.

A new Attorney-General

Now we have a new, and no doubt talented Attorney-General, Suella Braverman. She may find it a thankless task if she is held responsible for every wild decision by a court, and the clock is ticking for the changes which she herself presaged and will be expected to carry though. She wrote, a fortnight before her elevation that she wanted Parliament to take back control, against “a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges”. This article may have won her the post.

At the same time though she must be the voice of moderation and advice as to the legal points now, not those after any future reform.

A legal adviser is in a poor position, as she must say what the client does not want to hear. Maybe this is why the tenure of an Attorney-General has been so short these last years. It used to be a long-term, non-political position but that seems untenable now.

What then is the job before our new Attorney-General? Possibly to be an activist to rein the wild decisions in, as she has expressed herself on this issue previously. That may be why indeed she has been called forth to be Attorney-General in place of Geoffrey Cox. He advises sagely and cautiously, as a barrister will do, when the order of the day may be active reform.

She has already been attacked cautiously by the heads of the legal profession: the President of the Law Society has rebuffed the idea of encroachment, saying that: ‘The role of the judges is to give effect to the will of parliament and the role of judicial review is to support parliament not to undermine it.’ The two are not incompatible opinions.

The Attorney is also nominally in charge of prosecutions, which has become a sore topic with change in the air.

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission is coming and its member will have to be appointed. (Did I leave my card? You mean you don’t have it? Let me give you my details again…)

It was thought that Geoffrey Cox would be involved as Attorney-General but now it is unlikely that he will be appointed to chair it, and again it may be that the previous speeches by Suella Braverman lined her up to do the job. I wish her luck.

I have commented before on the care that is needed to run the Commission’s task properly. It should not just be a place for activism, in fact it must not even primarily be for activism. Active ideas are needed to push anything forward, but any changes to the constitution must be fair, even-handed and democratic but more than that, they be seen to be so without question.

Back to where we were

Tavistock still has a fine Member of Parliament and I trust will do so for many years, and a member too with a great deal to contribute, perhaps on the new Commission, which would benefit from his experience being entangled in the cases they are tasked with straightening out, or at least informing in the House.

The nation needs a steady adviser as it stretches its wings to look over the world. As it was once put:

Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam;; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.

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Books

Blood on the carpet

The dust is just settling. Those who were once staunch Boris allies are now cast down and new faces, some unknown faces, raised up.

There are rewards for those who were for Boris Johnson from the beginning, but that is not a pattern, and some former Remainers have been raised up. Really, there are no Remainers and Leavers now, and we hear that the very word ‘Brexit’ has been banned from Whitehall, which is commanded henceforth to look forward, not back.

Sajid Javid was once introduced to me as the future Prime Minister. I think we can pass over that now. That is a deadly position to hold, is it not?  Solomon began his reign by righteously slaying all those who threatened his position, including his own brother, Adonijah, Joab the general and Shimei, who had taunted Solomon’s father David during Absalom’s rebellion. The advantage of democracy is that political change can be effected without bloodshed, as long as everyone follows the rules.

Jeremy Hunt is not back in the government, I see.

The fate of the once-great was a constant theme of the Middle Ages. Often the scion of a Welsh princely family dreamed that if it had not been for circumstances he might have had lands and a coronet himself, so he raised an army and to all who should follow him he promised gold, they receiving graves instead. Then there were the tangled family successions of the grandsons of Edward III tearing England apart over theoretical rights to estates, duchies or the Crown itself.  In the modern Westminster system, no one has a right to office, but that does not stop the natural feeling in the breast of the deprived man that something of his own has been unjustly taken from him.

(The law makes it clear that an office under the Crown is at the whim of the Queen with no right to notice or compensation. Mind you, the law also makes it clear that the Queen may prorogue Parliament and that did nor stop the Court of Session and the Supreme Court from interfering.)

The question now is whether the ousted ministers will sit quietly, looking wistfully at their broken career paths, or will plot amongst themselves a startling coup, from which they would either triumph or be cast into the depths of deselected Tartarus, like other tortured, Grieving souls of the past who now lie forgotten men. Those who went with good grace may find a place again, or not. There are too many talented Members of Parliament to find them all a salaried job.

As I observed during the Last Days of May, “Whoever then stands on the steps of Downing Street, they will make enemies, from those they have not favoured as they believe they deserve.” As Clifford says in Henry VI Part 3:

“The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.”

Maybe Sajiv Javid is dreaming of riding triumphant again through the barred gates of Downing Street like Warwick:

“Tell him from me that he hath done me wrong, And therefore I’ll uncrown him ere’t be long.”

– but his is no kingmaker. Boris drives all before him, as long as he keeps that momentum going.

One pattern just emerging is the rise of ‘blue wall’ members. Grand infrastructure schemes to connect the neglected North are one thing, but promoting their new Members begins.  A senior job cannot fall to an MP in place barely more than a month, but northern MPs are appearing – Simon Clarke of Middlesbrough for one. It helps too that the PM’s senior adviser is from County Durham.

The headline news has been the downfall of Sajiv Javid, attributed to his refusal to merge his SpAD team with that of Number 10. It also came just days after Javid had been relentlessly attacked by Conservative members and the Tory-leaning press for suggesting tax increases.  Only future days will tell whether the latter suggestion was a Number 10 or Number 11 initiative. His fiscal rules, of a steadily reducing deficit and limits to capital spending, were important and should survive.  Promises to shower the North with gold do not sit well with this though.

If asked to paint the picture emerging from the new ministry, I am stuck for description. All this is speculation, and I must leave the detail for those who actually know what they are taking about.

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Books

By Boris Johnson:

By others

The next eleven months

The clock has started. The deal is signed, the MEPs have come home and negotiation starts even before the clock strikes 11 on Friday.

The first rule for a time-sensitive negotiation: do not wait for the other side to move, but make the first move before he has settled into preconceptions from which he will be unwilling to move. That is not hostile, but practical. The first rule for a favourable negotiation is the same: move first.

We saw, painfully, a year and a half ago that British negotiators were doing nothing active, and being entirely reactive waiting for the European Commission’s negotiator to chose the timing and to impose their own terms. The reasons for that approach were never fully explained. Mrs May was blamed as she was instructing their actions, or inactions, but it may have been simple timid idiocy, or just that bureaucrats are used to waiting upon Brussels. Alternative, dark suggestions have been made, suggesting willing capitulation, and candid minutes have found their way into the light of day, but one hopes that no British official would stoop to treachery.

Those days though are past. There is no power vacuum now and there is a definite direction.

A challenge will be to keep the Commission to the words of the Political Declaration. There are sounds of straying already, of “full alignment”, of empowering the ECJ: unless positive action is taken now to shape the future deal, it will settle back into EU norms, which are the very reason for getting out.

A negotiation proceeds from a text, the terms of which are discussed and amended as it goes. Whoever puts the text down first shapes the discussion. Therefore Britain’s officials must place their text on the table as soon as possible. The Commission has every motive for delay, and we have seen them do it. There must be none. In fact, the text should have been on the table already, and every day’s delay is harmful.

Be ambitious then. However, Wallonia is a warning: Wallonia, as readers may recall, sank the EU-Canada CETA deal first time round. We do not want that happening this time. A deal will only need the approval of nation states and the wayward assemblées nationaux if is strays beyond the Union’s exclusive competence. If it possible therefore to settle a deal, even a halfway deal, exclusively within that exclusive competence then it can be signed with little bureaucracy, or at least as little as it is possible to get with Brussels. That may mean missing valuable elements out, but we can come back for them later.

That’s the business of Europe at least, which is a minor element of Parliament’s work in the forthcoming months.

The Commons should get busy with fixing all the things which were left to rot during the Zombie Parliament. When I began this post it was with that domestic agenda in mind, but Brexit dominates this week, rightly so. Next week maybe the work for the next eleven months will become clearer.

See also

Books

Titanic to appoint new Captain

The list of candidates keen to captain the RMS Titanic is growing. Such is the struggle for the wheel of this famous empty vessel that observers are concerned there may be no one in place in time to take the blame. In the meantime, the ship is swinging wildly, always to port.

Candidates for the peaked cap include:

  • Rebecca Long-Bailey: not afraid to confront icebergs head-on, insiders hail her as Corbyn without the personal charm. Unlike Captain Corbyn though, she has had a proper job. Of the double-barrelled Labour aristocracy, Long-Bailey brings a whole new take on the workers’ movement. She is ready to take command of the Titanic and will ensure she takes the economy to the bottom with the many, not the few.
  • Keir Starmer: escaped charges in Operation Casement, a former Director Public Prosecutions appointed by Teflon Tony as his clone. Looking over his shoulder for that file of dodgy decisions waiting to emerge. Named after the Labour hero Keir Hardie, he has surpassed his namesake as even Hardie never sailed to Germany to sell British interests to the Kaiser. Starmer is a man who has brought unity, because as a Blairite Euro-fanatic he is hated equally by Momentum, the moderates and the working man.  The front-runner, naturally.
  • That other one, who told Corbyn she’d “stab him in the front”: the Nice One we all suspect is a shy Tory. Doesn’t hate enough to sustain Momentum.
  • Lisa Nandy.  No, no idea either.
  • Clive Lewis. Nor him.
  • Lady Nugee: serves below decks under the pseudonym ‘Emily Thornberry’. Jeremy Corbyn’s neighbour. Lady Nugee is familiar as the bossy headmistress. Her achievements are legendary: she has championed every policy which made Captain Corbyn loathed, but is still despised by Momentum as right-wing. Will be sure to embrace the iceberg’s offer to join it.

The next steps take place in the spring. The voting follows a complex procedure, which concludes with where Momentum adding up the number of people, classes, cultures and races each candidate hates, and the top score wins.