Margaret Thatcher: a love poem

Chris Hallam's World View

She floated in before my time

In the year of 1979,

Unions’ “Winter of Discontent”,

Ensured her rise to government.

 

Tory majority 43.

Began by quoting Assisi.

A change from previous older men,

Like Wilson, Heath and Callaghan.

 

First woman leader soon in trouble,

With unemployment surging at the double.

Two million, three million wow!

Also rioting (a bit like now).

 

Recession deep, few were earning,

The Lady pledged:  She’s not for turning.

Then suddenly: in the South Atlantic,

Falklands War came: saved her neck!

 

In fairness, also should be said,

Labour Party largely dead,

Heading in “loony left” direction,

Forgot: supposed to win elections.

 

Welfare State soon derailed,

Miners fought her but quickly failed,

A bad time for schools and national health,

A good time for anyone out for self.

 

Third victory, economy booming,

But problems with Europe and Poll Tax looming,

Iron…

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A song for UKIP

Chris Hallam's World View

(Actually, more of a poem than a song…)

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Right wing chumps of the world unite!

It’s time to take a stand and fight,

It’s time to desert the sinking ship,

Leave the Tories: join UKIP!

 

Follow your heart and not your head,

Maggie would back us (were she not dead,)

Listen to the Mail, Telegraph and Express,

Say no to EU bureaucracy and excess!

 

Are you racist to a small degree?

We’re less scary than the BNP!

 If the PC liberals had their way,

Everyone in the world would be gay.

 

The EU is far too large.

Vote for an Englishman named Farage.

Join the UKIP throng as we march today,

Towards a glorious yesterday!

 

The rest of us on Planet Earth,

Should cheer on UKIP for all our worth,

For like in 1983,

They’re splitters like the SDP.

 

For Farage and his doltish…

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Dawn of the Planet of the Geeks

Chris Hallam's World View

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Once upon a time, nobody wanted to be a geek.

Geeks were stamp collectors, train spotters or computer nerds. Who would ever want to be one of them? James Bond. Rocky. Han Solo. They were heroes. Nobody wanted to be Roland from Grange Hill. Everybody wanted to be Tucker Jenkins. Dennis the Menace trounced Softy Walter every time.

Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, things started to change. Geeks like Bill Gates and Richard Branson became role models. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith were notably more geeky than their drug-addled hedonistic Seventies counterparts. The films started to reflect this  with even superficially cool characters like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly and Indiana Jones (who is, of course, an archaeologist) having a geeky side.

By the end of the 20th century, films like Clerks and TV shows like Spaced and Freaks and…

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Top ten 1914 campaign slogans which were never used

Chris Hallam's World View

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1. Don’t worry! It’ll all be over by Christmas!  (1918)

2. Do your bit for Britain! Hang a dachshund today!

3. Girls love a man in uniform! It won’t just be the horses they’ll be throwing themselves under!

4. Slow down Fritz! Leave some nuns for the rest of us!

5. Britain first! Defend the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha!

6. Join up! (You’re statistically more likely to die of Spanish Flu afterwards than be killed anyway).

7. Your Country Needs You! Best poetry entrants win.

8. It’s something to do with an Archduke getting shot. That’s all I know.

9. Fight for Britain and accelerate the rate of imperial decline.

10. Come on! Those deserters aren’t going to shoot themselves you know!

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Book review Revolt On The Right by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

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Revolt On The Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right In Britain

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

Published by: Routledge

It’s official: the right wing really are revolting.

Once upon a time, it was the Left who were most effective at endlessly shooting themselves in the foot in this way. In 1983, for example, the combined Labour/SDP alliance vote in the General Election was almost 68%. However, as these parties were a) not working together and b) hampered by the first past the post system, the end result was actually the biggest ever post-war win for Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories and a majority of 144.

Little wonder then, that there was plenty of ambitious talk at the time of the Millennium of this being “the progressive century” with Lib Dems and New Labour working together.

How dated such talk looks now! For now, it is the Right who are split. Under normal circumstances, one would expect a moderate Tory leader like Cameron presiding over an economic recovery and facing an unpopular Labour leader, one would be expecting the Tories to be cruising to an easy win similar to Sir Anthony Eden in 1955.

This isn’t happening. Current polls give Labour a smallish poll lead of about 4%. This isn’t huge but would give Miliband a win on a similar scale to Tony Blair’s third victory in 2005. This is partly due to the outdated boundary system which currently favours Labour (the Tories would actually need to be several points ahead of Labour even to get the same number of seats as them).

It’s also largely down to UKIP, currently in third place and polling somewhere between 11 and 15%.

Ford and Goodwin’s book is good on the twenty year history of UKIP. Mired by division and infighting, they briefly threatened to become significant a decade ago before the support of has-been daytime TV personality Robert Kilroy Silk descended into a bitter  and acrimonious power struggle. With much of UKIP support coming from a similar uneducated elderly working class base, the BNP also threatened to eclipse them before Nick Griffin’s party effectively imploded at the end of the last decade.

The leadership of Nigel Farage, a man who somehow manages to be both posh and blokey at the same time, has generally been a boon to the party, gaffe prone though they remain. I am not at all convinced that much UKIP support comes from disillusioned Labour supporters. People who want to leave the EU or who are preoccupied by immigration haven’t generally been supporting Labour for a long time now, if ever. Such people before were either BNP supporters or Tories.

Much of UKIP’s support is based on ignorance. “In the days of Clement Attlee,” UKIP spokesman Paul Nuttall argues,”the Labour MPs came from the mills, the mines and the factories. The Labour MPs today… they go to private school, they go to Oxbridge… and they become an MP.”(P136). This is palpably nonsense. Clement Attlee himself went to a public school and to Oxford. For all that it matters, a large number of Labour MPs have always come from privileged backgrounds. There is also a nasty side to the party who, in the words of one UKIP activist appeal to those who (supposedly) “lost their job in the pub because of a nice looking girl from Slovakia” (P96).

But let’s not be too harsh. If UKIP succeed as they seem to be doing in denying the Tories a parliamentary majority next year, they will undoubtedly have (quite unintentionally) done this nation a great service.

Food book review round-up

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A Girl Called Jack

100 Delicious Budget Recopies

By Jack Monroe

Penguin/Michael Joseph Paperback

RRP: £12.99

A Girl Called Jack: Update!

Further to our earlier review, we are increasingly finding this to be one of the best food books around. The cost of our own household food shopping budget has been effectively halved with recipes proving tasty, easy to follow and requiring only must use cupboard essentials. There is thus little need to plan far in advance.

Particular favourite have proven to be courgette and mini fritters (p116) and courgettes and creamy Greek cheese and courgette pasta (p98).

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Bill’s Italian Food

Bill Granger

Published by HarperCollins

RRP £20

A good book with nice pictures throughout for the aspirational reader who may easily be able to visit Italy themselves. This book was of less use to us personally though.

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John Whaites Bakes At Home

Published by: Headline

RRP £20

Few authors write as well about food as John Whaites. With a broad range of recipes (including comparatively obscure ones such as ”Aussie Crunch” which my wife had been seeking out since eating some in childhood), Whaites presents both the most simple and the most complex recipes in a manner which makes either seem easily achievable and retains a good sense of humour in his writing throughout.

Other nice touches include the excellent pictures throughout (although one per recipe at least would be nice), the useful tips section at the front plus the special recipes section at the back. Highly recommended!

Book review: Roy Jenkins, A Well Rounded Life

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Roy Jenkins: A Well Rounded Life.

John Campbell.

Published by Jonathan Cape, London.

Watching Nick Clegg being soundly beaten by UKIP leader Nigel Farage n the recent radio and TV debates was a dispiriting business. Some may have felt inclined to hark back to an earlier age when the European cause had more eloquent and effective debaters on its side. For example, Roy Jenkins.

Of course, Roy Jenkins (or Lord Jenkins of Hillhead as he was by the end) died in 2003 and would doubtless be horrified to learn that our continued membership of the European Union is now in doubt once again at all. As for the current Coalition Government, this would doubtless shock him less. He was keen on coalition governments long before it was fashionable.

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There are many myths about Roy Jenkins. One is that he was “nature’s old Etonian”, posh and clubbable despite coming from a Welsh mining background. In fact, though this is true (his father was falsely imprisoned for his role in the 1926 General Strike), Jenkins’ background was much more privileged than was generally realised. His father did, after all, serve in the Attlee Government.

Another myth which Campbell convincingly dispels is that Jenkins was lazy. He most definitely was not that, combining a busy social life (including a string of extra marital affairs), with a distinguished career as a biographer and historian in addition to being  Labour’s most successful ever Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was also the first British President of the EEC and co-founder of the ultimately unsuccessful Social Democratic Party.

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During his comparatively  brief spell as Home Secretary between 1965 and 1967, Jenkins transformed more lives for the better than most Prime Ministers have succeeded in doing, sponsoring the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality. He is sometimes credited (or blamed) with launching the permissive society, an exaggeration even if one ignores the fact that the abolition of National Service and the death penalty had already been delivered not by Jenkins but by the Tories. He was no less successful as Chancellor. Sadly, like Tony Benn, the 1970 unexpected Labour General Election defeat of 1970 led his leadership prospects to fade, albeit in a wholly different way to Benn:  Jenkins alienating his then Eurosceptic party through his support for European unity. He was, in fact, perhaps too reluctant to challenge for the leadership and by 1976 when a vacancy finally arose with Wilson’s resignation, it was too late. The SDP, despite huge initial opinion poll success in 1981 and (unlike today’s UKIP) actual by election wins failed to break through although contrary to myth, probably didn’t ensure Tory victory in 1983 either.

This is a superb biography from distinguished author John Campbell. Despite being a self confessed SDP supporter (he actually wrote an earlier biography of Jenkins at the height of the party’s ascendancy), Campbell certainly isn’t blind to either Jenkins’ or the party’s failings.

It is a long book and there are a few errors, mostly ones of chronology. The SDP were formed in 1981 not 1982 as he states on page 9 (though the detailed account of SDP history later in the book makes clear Campbell obviously knows this). Jenkins was also first Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, not 1966 to 1967 (p1). Tony Blair’s reform of Clause IV did not come “half a century” after Gaitskell’s attempt but only about thirty five years later (p208). Gaitskell attempted this in 1959-60. Blair’s more successful attempt was in 1994-95. Was Sir Stafford Cripps ever referred to as the “Iron Chancellor” as Campbell states (P310-P311)? Maybe he was. The nickname is more usually applied to Labour’s first ever Chancellor Snowdon, however, or sometimes Gordon Brown (and originally to Otto von Bismarck obviously). Finally, the Westland Affair peaked in January 1986 not January 1985 (p642).

But these are quibbles. This is a superb well rounded biography of a well rounded man. It is indeed a biography Roy Jenkins himself would have been proud to have written although he may have struggled to pronounce the title.

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Book review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Tartt with a heart?

The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt.

Published: Little Brown, 2013

It has now been over twenty years since the publication of The Secret History. The book provoked an immediate literary sensation and remains a hugely compelling read today. A strange tale of murder amongst an elite set of cliquey American students, it became an instant cult classic and made a star of its then youthful and seemingly mysterious author Donna Tartt.

But readers eager for more from Tartt would be disappointed. Her follow up The Little Friend didn’t appear for another full decade later and like many follow ups to successful debuts, disappointed many when it did.

Now a full decade has passed again and Tartt has finally delivered a third book. Does it deliver the goods?

The short answer is: yes. Impatient fans are owed no apology. This is, in fact, a huge book (over 700 pages), and a hugely involving saga which follows its lead character Theo Decker from his mother’s death in a terrorist attack in an art gallery through the next decade of his life during which he becomes drawn towards the world of organised crime. This occurs largely as a result of The Goldfinch itself: a small (and genuine) portrait taken by Decker from the gallery at the time of the attack.

Despite this very 21st century subject matter and its American setting, this has something of the feel of a Victorian epic, for example, Dickens’ David Copperfield. Anyone expecting another Secret History will be disappointed (and rightly so! Why not just read the original again?). But Donna Tartt has undoubtedly triumphed again: for this is a classic in its own right.

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