Gush

Shortly after the most celebrated drunk driving fatality in world history, people began to talk about the best way of memorialising the Queen of Hearts. Various journalists called for a statue of St Diana of the Underpass to adorn the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square (see Gilbert Adair’s not-very-good novel A Closed Book for a version of this plotline); and the not-much-missed Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, for example, was one of those who thought that Heathrow Airport should be renamed. Private Eye came up with the excellent idea that “the whole of the M1 should be turned into a permanent flower garden” (Eye 933).

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was given the job of chairing the committee to decide how to memorialise the late lamented. According to James Naughtie’s not-much-read book The Rivals, this was because – astonishingly – he was furious at not having been invited to the funeral. And, in January 2000, this committee announced that there we should get a fountain in Hyde Park.

The Eye again rose to the occasion, announcing that “a spectacular ‘Fountain of Drivel’ two miles high is to be the centrepiece of the �10 million Diana Memorial Theme Park in west London…”. (Eye 994). And now life is imitating satire again: Culture Tsarina Tessa Jowell today announced the final fountain design for the Hyde Park monument, and the drivel is flowing fast, with the evening news bulletins on the radio already filling up with inane opinions about this inane memorial. And the winning design proposal itself, from Gustafson Porter, contained this:

“Reaching Out / Letting In – these two gestures create a balance. Reaching out to those with whom one comes into contact and in turn being affected by their feelings, are both attributes associated with Princess Diana. These qualities of openness made her the ‘Peoples’ Princess’. We hope to create a water feature that can be associated in peoples’ minds with these qualities. We wish this spirit of inclusiveness to reach all those who come across it, whatever their backgrounds, culture or creed. We also hope that they leave having gained from the experience. We are considering the creation of an oval water feature, …. Its character could be historic and formal, contemporary and relaxed… On other occasions it will be a contemplative place, to ride the waves of a diverse world.”

Drivel, drivel, drivel, and much more to come, no doubt, in tomorrow’s papers.

Fourth Official

During the football World Cup in June, the “fourth official” was often mentioned by TV commentators, in addition to the referee and the linesmen (who are these days called “assistant referees”, which must be nice for their sense of self-esteem). Being a fourth official didn’t seem to be too demanding: you tried to attract the attention of the match referee from time to time, whenever managers wanted to make substitutions, but you didn’t have a great deal else to do.

Now this multiplication of officials seems to have spread to cricket. The first England v India Test Match has just ended, the usual run of silly presentations are being made, and there turn out to be four umpires taking part in the match. There have always been two on the pitch, visible to all; and in recent years we’ve got used to the “third umpire”, who judges the slow-motion replay from time to time from behind the scenes. That seems to be quite an undemanding job, as long as you know how to use the technology, but I imagine it’s more demanding than this (to me, at least) entirely mysterious “fourth umpire” (in this match a certain Ian Gould), and I’m baffled as to what his job is. He’s not the “match referee” (Mike Procter at the moment), who is yet another official, whose job is to levy fines on batsmen who mutter profanities on their way back to the pavilion when they get out (which might offend lip-reading TV viewers). So the “fourth umpire” is somebody else altogether, with a different function. A stand-in in case one of the first three umpires is incapacitated? (But how often does that happen?) Or what?

Book of the Week #3

Allan Megill, Karl Marx – The Burden of Reason (Why Marx Rejected Politics and the Market), Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Scholars have been interested in “the young Marx”, especially the Marx of 1844, for decades now, probing the extent to which the early writings on alienation and ideology foreshadow the argument of Capital, published over twenty years later. In this excellent new book, Megill now directs our attention to what me might call the Very Young Marx, the Marx of 1842-3, whose earliest notebooks on the political economy of Jean-Baptiste Say shed valuable light on the nature of his uncompromising – and often perplexing – intellectual rejection of market institutions. Megill’s account of Marx’s “rationalism” is largely persuasive, and his lucid discussions of the historiographical and textual issues facing contemporary Marx researchers paints an optimisitc picture of what the future holds for further excavations along these lines. Highly recommended.

Drunk Politicians

The happy consequences of Jeremy Paxman’s focus on Charles Kennedy’s drinking habits last week is that the backlash is underway, and defences of drunk politicians are appearing in the mainstream media. New Labour’s puritanism is always ridiculous, never more so than a few years ago when (it was reported that) MPs had been ordered not to let themselves be photographed with drinks in their hands, and while it is, in general, a good thing that train drivers, emergency workers and certain others are sober during their working days, to extend this logic to throughout the public sector and across the political classes is absurd.

So we have had Tom Utley’s defence of the drunk politician in the Telegraph, which joins Alan Watkins’ column in last week’s Independent on Sunday (before this controversy broke) on the prodigious drinking feats of the older generation in general, and Tony Crosland in particular. And a browse of the archives brings the words of this song to light, reported by Matthew Engel in the Guardian in its 1999 coverage of the Lib Dem party conference:

Speed bonnie boat
Like a hack on the make
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be king
Back to his seat on Skye

Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the whips pro-clai-aim
Out on the town
Out of his head
Charlie is pissed again

And Radio 4’s Sunday morning Broadcasting House played the happy-making clip of Alan Clark’s remarks to the House of Commons in July 1983, which led to one of the immortal passages in his Diaries:

Fool, Clark. Fool, fool, fool… The fucking text! I’d barely looked at it… It seemed frightfully long. So long, indeed, that I would have to excise certain passages. But which? And yet this didn’t really seem very important as we ‘tasted’ first a bottle of ’61 Palmer, then ‘for comparison’ a bottle of ’75 Palmer then, switching back to ’61, a really delicious Pichon Longueville… A huge Havana was produced, and I puffed it deeply while struggling with my speech… The Chamber was unusually full for an after-ten event. … As I started, the odiousness of the text sank in. The purpose of the Order, to make it more likely (I would put it no stronger than that) that women should be paid the same rate for the same task, as men, was unchallengeable. In my view, in most instances, women deserve not less but more than the loutish, leering, cigaretting males who control most organisations at most levels But give a civil servant a good case and he’ll wreck it with clich�s, bad punctuation, double negatives and convoluted apology. Stir into this a directive from the EC, some contrived legal precedent and a few caveats from the ECJ and you have a text which is impossible to read – never mind read out.

I found myself dwelling on, implicitly, it could be said, sneering at, the more cumbrous and unintelligible passages. Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who has a very squeaky voice, squeaked, kept squeaking, at me, “Speed up”. Some of the House got the point, enjoyed what I was doing, but I sensed also a certain restlessness starting to run round the Chamber. I did speed up. I gabbled. Helter-skelter I galloped through the text. Sometimes I turned over two pages, sometimes three. What did it matter? There was no shape to it. No linkage from one proposition to another. They very antithesis of an Aristotelian pattern…

Then the inevitable. The one sure-fire way of breaking through a speaker who won’t give way. “Point of Order, Mr Deputy Speaker”. I sat down. A new Labour member, whom I had never seen before, called Clare Short, dark-haired and serious with a lovely Brummie accent, said something about she’d read that you couldn’t accuse a fellow member of being drunk, but she really believed I was incapable. “It is disrespectful to the House and to the office that he holds that he should come here in this condition”. Screams, yells, shouts of “Withdraw”, counter-shouts. General uproar…

One more brief kerfuffle, and the Division was called. Nobody spole to me much in the Aye lobby, although little garden gnome Peter Rost sidled up and said, “After a performance like that I almost considered voting against”. Poxy little runt, what’s he ever done?

Any rational human being would, in any case, require a great deal of booze to survive at Westminster in the company of the dreary idiots who populate the parliamentary benches today.

Nick wrote [22.7.2002]: FWIW, Alan Clark’s bits come roughly 38 minutes into the broadcast, for those who want to jump to the meat of the matter.

Book of the Week #2

A. A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Oxford University Press, 2002. In this excellent new book, Berkeley’s A. A. Long pulls off the tricky feat of writing a book about an ancient philosopher which will be a source of both utility and pleasure to specialist scholars of the subject on the one hand and to those lucky enough to be approaching Epictetus for the first time on the other. In a series of short, thoughtful and lucid chapters, served up with dollops of attractive translations of generous chunks of the Greek texts, Long introduces the reader to important aspects of Epictetus’s Stoicism, paying particular attention to two themes which have been relatively neglected in the critical literature: his relationship to the figure of Socrates; and his distinctive pedagogical strategies as a teacher of young members of the Roman elite. I was fortunate enough to be a member of Long’s Berkeley seminar on Epictetus in the Spring Semester of 1999, and reading the finished book brings back happy memories of a happy time. Splendid stuff.

Bookmarks

I’ve been meaning to post this recent press release for a while, and now that I’ve got around to sending the Bookshop Libel Fund a cheque, I can post it with a better conscience…

BOOKSHOP LIBEL FUND

c/o HOUSMANS BOOKSHOP, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX, UK
c/o BOOKMARKS BOOKSHOP, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE, UK

PRESS RELEASE – Wednesday 3 July

£14 DERISORY DAMAGES IN FIRST OF BOOKSHOP LIBEL CASES

MORAL VICTORY – LEGAL IMPASSE – FINANCIAL PREDICAMENT

A High Court verdict on Tuesday 2 July could be a short-term deterrent to right-wingers using libel writs to attack small radical bookshops; but it still leaves two of London’s last such shops with potentially crippling legal bills, and it exposes a major gap in defamation law which needs plugging.

The two-day High Court case was the culmination of an action brought nearly 2 years ago against Housmans Bookshop in Kings Cross, London,by someone currently using the name Alexander Baron. The right-wing anti-gay litigant had been referred to as a plagiarist in one sentence in a 136-page pamphlet stocked in the shop. He had chosen to sue only the shop, not the author or publisher concerned, becauseof his distaste for the sort of material made available in radical bookshops.

Although he had at one stage demanded that the shop pay him £50,000 to drop the case, the jury awarded him just £14. Because he had already rejected a settlement offer higher than that, he was also ordered to pay most of the shop’s legal costs; however, there is no expectation that he has the resources to do so.

Despite the jury’s apparent sympathy with the defendants, they clearly felt virtually compelled by the judge’s legal rulings to find against the shop. Following this test case – the first occasion on which a bookshop has tried to use the “innocent dissemination” defence introduced in the 1996 Defamation Act – it seems that if anyone suggests to a shop or library that an item on their shelves is defamatory, and they fail to remove it immediately, then they cannot use this defence in any proceedings later brought against them, irrespective of whether it was reasonable to take the suggestion seriously.

This action against Housmans was one of a series, dating back to 1996, brought against Housmans, Bookmarks (also in London) and others by people criticised in anti-fascist magazines. This was the first to end up in court, but one of the earlier cases – against Bookmarks and Housmans, and involving the magazine Searchlight – is still extant. It is due in court this autumn unless a settlement is reached first – either course is financially costly.

The Bookshop Libel Fund is calling for urgent financial support for the shops to cover their costs in these cases, and for a change in the law to stop bookshops being targeted in this way.

DONATIONS: Donations to the appeal fund should be made out to “Bookshop Libel Fund” & sent to Bookmarks, or Housmans, (addresses above). On-line credit/debit card donations can be made here.

There’s more information here, including a list of the trade unionists, MPs, writers and others who have helped to launch the Fund. And the Bookmarks webpage is here.