It was ten years ago today that I first noticed there was something fishy about Johann Hari’s journalism–a post that was cited by the Deterritorial Support Group when they decisively went to work on destroying his reputation in 2011.
The splendid Cath Levett, who does graphicksy things for tehgraun, recently produced this excellent height chart, which she called ‘possibly the most satisfying graphic I’ve ever produced’:
This of course immediately reminded me of this earlier attempt at the same kind of thing, from The Times in 2007, which has featured before at the Virtual Stoa:
Good height charts are terribly satisfying.
The most celebrated article in the history of the Daily Mail is probably ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’, which appeared on 15 January 1934. But another that lives in the memory is ‘So-Called Refugees: Disgraceful Scenes on the Cheshire‘, from 3 February 1900. It’s best known for one quote–‘they hid their gold and fawned and whined’–but people rarely get to read the whole thing. So I’ve liberated it from the archive, and here it is.
Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films — A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry — Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.
Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.
His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”
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.
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’.”
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.
For National Poetry Day, I’ve dredged much of the #chloesmithpoetry out from the depths of my Twitter timeline to archive it here.
People may remember the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith MP, who appeared on Newsnight on 26 June 2012 to defend the Government’s recently-announced delay to the introduction of a planned increase in fuel duty. It is widely reckoned that she didn’t do especially well in the interview–the words “car crash” sprang to many minds, which judged her to be hopelessly out of her depth. Criticism was spread around, to be sure: some found Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style objectionable; others–well, everyone, actually–thought it cowardly of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, to send the most junior minister he could find into the lion’s mouth, rather than defend the U-turn on television himself.
But in a small corner of Twitter the following day, some of us were more struck by the way in which English literature graduate Chloe Smith’s words lent themselves so easily to poetry, and we started experimenting with the literary form made possible by reflecting on the transcript of the interview in the context of a strict 140-character word limit.
So many thanks to Eleanor Crawford, whose marvellous idea it was, and to the others who joined in. It made me happy for days.
- el_crawford: They fall across and in different ways/ And that figure will progress, if you like…/that figure is evolving somewhat. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:34
- el_crawford: Two roads diverged in a wood and I-/I took the one less travelled by/And that has helped households and businesses. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:35
- el_crawford: For reasons which are interesting in themselves/the figures are interesting in themselves. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:36
- chrisbrooke: It’s valuable to help / Real people in this way / And I do think that is valued / By people who drive. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:06
- el_crawford: I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox/and which you were probably saving for households and businesses/Forgive me #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 13:11
- chrisbrooke: It’s an aggregate figure / If you look at the data / It’s an aggregate figure / And I think that’s what’s important here. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:47
- chrisbrooke: On Tuesday’s Newsnight / A slogan was unfurled: / Jeremy, I don’t think many things / Are certain in this world. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:49
- thhamilton: In front of Parliament we revealed to Parliament / As is right and proper, by the way, to Parliament / Help #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:07
- chrisbrooke: When I am not sure what to think / I find it helps to say / “The figure is evolving somewhat / As per the data today.” #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:16
- woodscolt79: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Listening to families and businesses. Alas! #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:19
- chrisbrooke: They do relate / To rather one-off factors / Specifically in terms / Of when some payments were made. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:20
- chrisbrooke: I woke up in this morning / And know actually that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay… [etc] #chloesmithblues Wed Jun 27 14:23
- chrisbrooke: In a world that we’re facing / Where things are very hard / You have to do what you can / In these hard times. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:28
- chrisbrooke: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / They fall across / And in different ways. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:32
- chrisbrooke: We had a collective discussion / Of that in due course / Although I can’t tell you / The ins and the outs. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:47
- chrisbrooke: Households and businesses / Families and businesses / Households and businesses / And families. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:02
- ejhchess: It doesn’t matter if you’re shite / You’ll get support from Michael White #chloesmithpoetry #sortof Wed Jun 27 15:20
- chrisbrooke: As Chloe Smith was fumbling with fuel duty / Old Aaro, watching, thought, “You gorgeous beauty.” #chloesmithpoetry https://t.co/RYsfh1IK Wed Jun 27 15:24
- chrisbrooke: The question being asked in May / Was about full cancellation /But as you’ll be aware today / We’re talking about deferral #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:39
- chrisbrooke: That is of interest perhaps / In a different conversation / But the fact is here / We are sticking to the overall plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:05
- chrisbrooke: It’s not just a Westminster Village / Story, Jeremy / It’s real money / In real people’s pockets. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:12
- el_crawford: @chrisbrooke I find her turn of phrase Audenesque. Almost chillingly so. Wed Jun 27 16:15
- chrisbrooke: As a Minister / In the Treasury / I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time / As a Minister in the Treasury #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:15
- chrisbrooke @el_crawford Yes: some of the rhythms of her speech esp. at the end of sentences & the partial repetitions are very twentieth-century verse. Wed Jun 27 16:17
- chrisbrooke: It’s not that, I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that. I’m afraid, Jeremy. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:22
- chrisbrooke: Mortal, guilty, but to me / Rightly what we seek to use for the credibility of our fiscal plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:34
- chrisbrooke: I think the point to be made out of that / And out of what’s been said today / Is that it’s important to do what you can #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:44
- microlambert: I love you Twitter, because you did this: #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 20:08
Me, over at Comment is Free.
Ivor the Engine, 1958, first series, sixth episode.