Thursday, 31 October 2013

Buffoon of the Week

Richard Dawkins in this week's New Statesman: 'I read novels for entertainment rather than for edification. I never quite understood why you would read fiction to understand the human condition.'

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Illtyd Harrington on A Classless Society

I've never met Illtyd Harrington, but I've been an admirer of his for years, both for his time in London politics and for his writing in my local newspaper, the Camden New Journal. And there he is this week, reviewing A Classless Society:

'I was captivated, almost smothered by the incessant flow of facts, opinion and conclusion. Turner, as he proved in the other two books, can sew events together seamlessly ... This is a wonderful panorama of the 1990s, as fluid as a mountain stream with encyclopaedic ripples, a strict adherence to the facts, and all 600 pages as readable as a letter from your mother.'

My many thanks to Mr Harrington for his generous words.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pointless Politicians

An edition of the TV game show Pointless this week had a round based on 100 people naming as many politicians as they could remember who had served in the Labour cabinets of either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. That is, any cabinet member between 1997 and 2010.

The game, of course, is for contestants to find someone who wasn't named by anyone, so I came up with Ivor Richard, thinking he was suitably obscure. But I needed have aimed so low. It's not a scientifically selected sample, but even so the results suggest just how completely uninterested in politics the public are.

Top of the list was John Prescott, named by just 15 out of the 100 people. Then came:

Ed Miliband - 13 out of 100
Ed Balls - 13 out of 100
David Miliband - 12 out of 100
Jack Straw - 7 out of 100
Alistair Darling - 7 out of 100
Peter Mandelson - 4 out of 100
David Blunkett - 4 out of 100
Clare Short - 2 out of 100
Mo Mowlam - 1 out of 100
Margaret Beckett - 1 out of 100

We never found out whether my nominee, Ivor Richard, made it into the pointless category, because there were simply too many names to go through. But amongst those who rated not a single mention were: Andrew Adonis, Andy Burnham, Jack Cunningham, Charlie Falconer, Patricia Hewitt, Derry Irvine, Donald Dewar, Frank Dobson, Geoff Hoon, Margaret Jay, Alan Milburn and James Purnell.

I believe this is what's known as a reality check. Alternatively, all those politicians, so convinced that they're very important people indeed, might think of it as being - in Rupert Murdoch's phrase - the most humble day of their lives. Thirteen years in power, and hardly anyone cares or remembers who any of you were.

I'm reminded of an exchange in Pamela Hansford Johnson's great novel An Error of Judgement, way back in 1962.

'Could it really be that I am the only person in the world bored stiff, bored pallid, by politics?' a character asks, and is immediately put straight by another: 'No, we all are, those of us who aren't politicians. That's why we're the prey of the silly men, the posturing men. They don't get bored, not ever. We are the victims of their professional excitement.'

Friday, 11 October 2013

Yesterday's Papers

Nice to see the Hereford Journal come out against the rise of knife-crime. The paper laments 'the sad change which has taken place in England recently in the moral feeling and courage of the people, who now so commonly use the knife instead of the fist.' This was in 1839, of course.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dandies in the Underworld

Round about twenty years ago, I began work on a book about the glam rock era. It didn't happen. I've tried on several occasions since, and it's never happened.

Until this week, when the V&A published my book Glam Rock: Dandies in the Underworld.

And I'm glad I waited. Because no one would have done it as well as the V&A. I'm indebted to Mark Eastment, Frances Ambler, Geoffrey Marsh and everyone. It looks wonderful.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Edwina Curie writes...

Edwina Currie's endorsement of A Classless Society:

'Tremendous! His judgements on Blair and Major are brilliant. The conclusion, on the gap between the meritocratic instinct of both compared with the anti-establishment tone of the decade is masterly. The book deserves to become a classic.'

My thanks to Edwina for her kind words. And my thanks too to Choice magazine, for a review of A Classless Society together with the paperback reissues of Crisis? What Crisis? and Rejoice! Rejoice!: 'taken as a whole, this trilogy is about the most authoritative account of the late 20th century you are likely to get.'

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Quote for the Week

'It is a fact that the Labour leaders are, in practice, opposed to Left policies, even now, when they are in opposition, and will be even more opposed if and when they find themselves in government, and subject to the immense pressures which office generates.'
- Ralph Miliband, 1985

Yet Another Conference Season

That's it, then. The three main parties have done their conferring. And are we any further on?

Well, the Liberal Democrats came and went pretty much without anyone noticing. Which is probably as much as they can hope for at this stage. I still think they're going to do better in the next election than many are currently predicting, but that's not going to be achieved by conferences; it'll be because of the work they put into the constituencies where they're strong.

The Labour conference was dominated entirely by Ed Miliband. His speech managed to avoid mentioning his shadow cabinet colleagues, pretty much avoided the Labour Party entirely, and had nothing to say about a number of issues that some people consider quite important: immigration, for example, and education, and crime...

But he was busy selling himself and he made a decent fist of it. He doesn't look like a prime minister in waiting, doesn't even look much like a convincing leader of the opposition, but he did enough to keep himself in the job. And he saw the Labour Party enjoy a little rise in the polls.

And that's more than David Cameron is going to have achieved with his speech today. He wasn't exactly inspiring, though he did tick all the boxes Miliband ignored: he celebrated his team (George Osborne, Theresa May, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague, Boris Johnson all got mentioned) and covered a wide range of policy areas. He also tried to revive his old 'let sunshine win the day' persona. Despite which, he was clunky and unimpressive.

None of this is going to be remembered by the electorate in a month's time, let alone in eighteen months as we head into the election campaign. But it feels to me like Cameron still has the better narrative: Labour screwed up the economy, we're not done fixing it yet, give us the chance to finish the job. Miliband's account - it's only the rich who are benefitting - is strong, but I'm not convinced it's enough.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the dullness, the most entertaining story by a considerable margin has been the spat between Miliband and the Daily Mail. And I've been enjoying that enormously. It's trivial nonsense, of course, but it's fun. So much so that, for the first time in years, I actually watched Alastair Campbell on television; normally I find myself switching off whenever he makes an appearance.

Just to be clear: both sides are in the wrong. Having made repeated reference to his father, Miliband has no real right to complain when his opponents decide to make the man an issue. And the Daily Mail's interpretation of Ralph Miliband displayed little insight into the subtleties of Marxist thought. Nor did they turn up anything worth reading: a teenage diary-entry and an attack on public schools and Pall Mall clubs isn't exactly conclusive evidence.

What's revealing is where this story is playing big. The Guardian led on it today, while the BBC took it very seriously, all the way down to Radio Five Live having an hour-long phone-in on the subject this morning. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph and The Times didn't seem much interested. Which would seem to suggest that everyone realizes that Miliband is likely to be the winner here. There's nothing to be lost from attacking the Mail.

Because the Daily Mail long since overtook the Sun as the favoured target for the left (in the widest sense of that term). And mostly what this conference season has been about is both Labour and Tories trying to shore up their core constituencies: the half-hearted price controls of Miliband, the home-ownership and married couples tax-allowance of Cameron.

At the last election, nearly sixteen million people who were registered to vote decided not to bother. Neither party seems very sanguine about winning over any of those people. Instead they're keen to keep their own supporters on board, calculating that it'll be enough. And maybe it will. After all, in 2005 Tony Blair won an election with the endorsement of barely one-in-five of the electorate.