Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Dacre? 

So this evening I’m sitting on a train, and I’m thinking about the Daily Mail and its recent interest in the Miliband family. I’m thinking about the photos of Viscount Rothermere with senior Nazis, as I have been all day, including Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels, and of the telegram he sent to ‘my dear Fuhrer’ following the Munich Agreement, in order to ‘salute your Excellency’s star, which rises higher and higher’.

I’m thinking of the Mail’s most famous article of all, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’, but I’m not thinking just of that article, but of other ones too. I’m thinking of the same newspaper’s campaigns to deny Jews fleeing persecution sanctuary in this country, as well as of its much more recent efforts directed against vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers. I’m thinking about the distinctive whiff of anti-Semitism that emanates from the gratuitous reference to ‘the jealous God of Deuteronomy’ in today’s non-apology to the Milibands, and I’m thinking to myself, well why don’t they just call them rootless cosmopolitans and be done with it?

I’m also thinking about Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts in their footer bags, and of the way that Fascists really don’t like to be laughed at. (Recently I’ve been thinking about Paolo di Canio, too.) And I’m thinking of the English Defence League sieg-heiling recently on Whitehall, right next to the statue of another Viscount, Lord Alanbrooke, who made a certain contribution towards the defeat of National Socialism. I’m thinking of what the historians have called ‘the myth of the Blitz’—when we were perhaps just a bit more in it together than we’ve been more recently—and I’m thinking that if you have to have myths in order to underpin conceptions of national identity, and that you probably do, then this isn’t such a bad one to have, all things considered.

So I’m thinking of my Keep Calm and Carry On mug, and of the poster that inspired it, and, although I’m a republican, I’m thinking of the film The King’s Speech, as well as the film The Queen, and of the ways in which these films (despite their flaws) can resonate in a certain kind of a way—as do the lyrics to the Dad’s Army theme song (and I suppose I’m also thinking of my grandfather’s service in the Home Guard).

And I’m thinking, it just so happens, of the last time that we had a Coalition government in this country, and I’m thinking of the contribution that the trade unions made to winning the War, and also about how it was the Labour Party that won a landslide in the 1945 General Election—and I’m thinking too of the National Health Service, which is currently looking after me, as it is looking after so many millions of others, and of what a remarkable civilisational achievement it is. (And thinking about the NHS also leads me on to think, but only briefly and in passing, because he really isn’t worth it, about the ridiculous Jeremy Hunt, who was offering his opinion about the Milibands this morning.)

I’m thinking also of my own parents, who were children during the War, which provided them with so many of their earliest memories, such as that of watching English cities burn. In a somewhat different register, I’m thinking about how much I enjoyed Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day, once upon a time, and I’m thinking as well of my own teacher Ross McKibbin’s arguments, which I heard him set out in his Ford’s Lectures in British History, about how, over the course of the War, public opinion shifted towards a view that those leading figures in public life who had sought to appease Hitler and the Nazis were traitors.

I’ve been thinking about how I never met Ralph Miliband, or heard him speak, but of how much I’ve enjoyed reading his books over the years, especially his masterpiece, The State in Capitalist Society, which I used to tell my first-year Politics students to read with care. I’ve also been thinking about how privileged I’ve been in my own academic life to have had at least some dealings with some members of that extraordinary older generation of academic Jews whose lives were upended by the catastrophe that befell midcentury Europe, but who were able, as so many others were not, to make their way to safety in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere.

Finally, I’m thinking about the way that if Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour is to amount to anything worthwhile—if it isn’t simply to be a vacuous mush that serves as a rhetorical overlay to some kind of New Labour Mark Two—then it has to be clear what it is against, as much as what it is for; to exclude and to marginalise and to stigmatise and to accuse, as well and as much as to include and to celebrate, to commemorate and to affirm.

And this evening I feel that I might really be able to get behind One Nation Labour, in a way that I really didn’t before.

Filed under: british politics, newspapers, tories on Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 8 Comments

Baby Rhino! 

The Virtual Stoa has been down for a few weeks. Sorry about that: the WordPress installation came under some kind of sustained attack, the hosting company took it down, and I only just heard what I had to do to get it back up again. Not that it matters much–there has been so little fresh content recently.

However! I think we can now mark the Return of the Stoa with some pictures of Astrid the Baby Rhino, from our visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park the other day. Astrid is a smashing baby rhino, and the Park’s first.

astrid&nancy

This is Astrid, with her mother Nancy (who was named by David Cameron, the local MP, after his daughter).

astrid

Astrid, the star of the show, aged about six weeks. Apologies for not getting the bump on the nose where the horn will grow into focus.

nancy

Nancy.

astrid_feeding

Astrid, having a feed (I think).

roxy

Roxy! Not a rhino, but a five-day old baby camel. (When the photo was taken, she was nameless. But she now has a name, and not one from David Cameron.)

Filed under: animals, camelids on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 2 Comments

A Short History of Swivel-Eyed Loons 

So today a handful of newspapers quoted a senior Conservative Party politician as saying:

“It’s fine. There’s really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad, swivel-eyed loons.”

How did the word “swivel-eyed” enter the British political lexicon, and when did we first get “swivel-eyed loons”? Here’s a preliminary report, armed with access to the Lexis database, and the help of some friends on the Twitter with very good memories.

As long ago as 1983, Michael Meacher was described in the unlamented Punch as a “swivel-eyed Leftie lunatic”, so the term has been in circulation for a while. In 1987, Seamus Milne, writing in tehgraun, wrote that it was common to portray Robespierre as “the swivel-eyed high priest of political violence”. And in 1991, in a couple of columns, Simon Hoggart used the term, on one occasion to pick out politicians who had a “swivel-eyed belief in privatisation”.

And it’s in the early 1990s that the word more or less attaches itself to a certain kind of Tory politician. In fact, we can be more specific: John Redwood is clearly the key figure here. When he was first appointed to the Cabinet in the May 1993 reshuffle, an unnamed and disgruntled Tory politician said, “we want fewer swivel-eyed ideologues not more” (interestingly, one of the stories in the press reporting this view carried Ruth Kelly’s by-line). And the term, having attached itself to Redwood, from there migrates to his key political allies–such as Tony Marlow and, especially, Teresa Gorman. Tim Collins–a hero of the Stoa in years gone by–described the Tories who backed Redwood’s campaign for the Party leadership in 1995, for example, as the “swivel-eyed barmy army, from ward eight at Broadmoor”.

So: “swivel-eyed” was most commonly used in this period to pick out the kind of Conservative politician who ceaselessly plotted to undermine the leadership and, in David Cameron’s later words, was forever “banging on about Europe”. (As Hegel presumably remarks somewhere, all great Tory crises appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as farce, the second as farce.)

So much for “swivel-eyed”. Where, specifically, do “swivel-eyed loons” come from?

The answer seems to be that Euan Ferguson first used the phrase in the national press, in his Observer column of 2 March 1997, specifically to describe Tim Montgomerie’s mob. Back in those days, long before ConservativeHome, Montgomerie ran something called the Conservative Christian Fellowship, about whom Ferguson was quite sceptical–the column was published under the headline, “The Lord deliver us from the loony right”. Various right-wing Christians were quoted in the course of the article, which ended like this:

It would be ludicrous to suggest the CCF could make much of a difference. But is it so wrong to imagine it having an effect in a marginal seat between votes for a genuine candidate and votes for, well, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, a swivel-eyed loon who glories in pious deceit, or a holier-than-thou moral crusader who still backs policies expressly designed to widen inequality, encourage intolerance and promote greed?

And to take us briskly up to the present, the last thing we need to remember is the Anthony Wells-inspired Google-bomb (remember Google-bombing?) that ensured that, around the end of 2004, anyone who entered the phrase “swivel-eyed loons” was immediately directed to the UKIP home page. (This was mentioned at the time on the Virtual Stoa here.)

But that is all history. The rest, as we might say, is politics.

[Thanks to Anthony Wells and Matthew Turner for assistance with this post.]

UPDATE: Jamie K: “I’d say it’s more ‘the first time as farce, the second time as panto’.”

Filed under: newspapers, tcw, tories on Saturday, May 18th, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 10 Comments

Adam Smith on Strivers and Shirkers 

The poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich. He finds the cottage of his father too small for his accommodation, and fancies he should be lodged more at his ease in a palace. He is displeased with being obliged to walk a-foot, or to endure the fatigue of riding on horseback. He sees his superiors carried about in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with less inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges, that a numerous retinue of servants would save him from a great deal of trouble. He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquillity of his situation. He is enchanted with the distant idea of this felicity. It appears in his fancy like the life of some superior rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: british politics, c18 on Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment

Leslie Stephen on The Times on the American Civil War 

I HAVE, I hope, raised a prima facie presumption that the Times was labouring under some delusion. It had omitted some element from its calculations, sufficient to distort the whole history of the struggle. The story, to use its own words, was “a mystery and a marvel;” it was a mystery and a marvel simply because the Times was not in possession of the one clue which led through the labyrinth. A foreigner looking on at a cricket-match is apt to think the evolutions of the players mysterious; and they will be enveloped in sevenfold mystery if he has a firmly preconceived prejudice that the ball has nothing whatever to do with the game. At every new movement, he must invent a new theory to show that the apparent eagerness to pick up the ball is a mere pretext; that no one really wants to hit it, or to catch it, or to throw it at the wickets; and that its constant appearance is due to a mere accident. He will be very lucky if some of his theories do not upset each other.

As, in my opinion, the root of all the errors of the Times may be found in its views about slavery…

From “The Times on the war: a historical study“, by Leslie Stephen (London: William Ridgway, 1865), pp. 18-19.

Filed under: americana, c19, cricket, newspapers on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Bob Hargrave: Philosopher. Sceptic. Corruptor of Youth. Dead. 

This video was made over two decades ago, and was shown last week at Bob’s memorial service. Now it makes its debut on YouTube.

Filed under: academics, friends and family, oxford on Friday, October 26th, 2012 by chrisbrooke | 6 Comments

Dustbin of History 

The window of the local Oxfam bookshop, just now.

[Cue jokes about how it was never about the bike.]

Filed under: books, cycling, oxford on Monday, October 15th, 2012 by chrisbrooke | No Comments
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