Posts Tagged ‘History’

Edith-ing history

September 12, 2010

La Vie en Rose is a French film about Edith Piaf. Though a tad miserabilist to qualify for a ‘Two Jako Thumbs Up’ rating, it was still fairly good.

My chief complaint, however, was that Edith Piaf lived 1915 and 1963 and yet La Vie en Rose totally missed out the Second World War.

Piaf’s conduct during WW2 is controversial. She remained in occupied France and entertained German troops. A whiff of collaboration, for sure, but Piaf later argued that she had used her position to aid Jewish friends and the resistance.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the film regrettably avoided the issue altogether. This was surprising in some ways as it was happy to portray Piaf as a complex, flawed heroine. So why not look at what she got up to during WW2 – a vital period in French history?

Drug abuse and a child being raised in a brothel is apparently manageable but perhaps French history between 1940 and 1944 cannot be stomached. Whilst there was of course some admirable resistance to the Nazis, there is no denying that many accepted the occupation and their conduct does not leave them smelling of roses.

Better to face up to this than pretend it did not happen, IMO.

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Ragged relevance for our times: reviewing the stage adaptation of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ at Chichester Theatre

August 11, 2010

Frank Owen uses bread to demonstrate the theory of surplus value to the workers. Genius!

This blog is named after Frank Owen, the principal hero of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch the new stage adaptation of Robert Tressell’s socialist classic at Chichester Festival Theatre this weekend.

In fact it’s hard to imagine how I would not have enjoyed this play. Perhaps it would not be receiving two Jako thumbs up if Howard Brenton and Christopher Morahan – respectively the script writer and director – had decided to reinterpret Tressell’s work through the medium of street dance.

Actually that could still have worked. To have seriously disappointed me the plot would have had to have been altered  so that in the end the big surprise was that Frank Owen actually turned out to be a Tory.

Written a century ago, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists laments the social and political failings of Edwardian Britain. However, Tressell’s satire and socialist propagandising retain a relevance which give the play added bite.

For example, Tressell attacks the Tories and Liberals for presiding over an unjust society based on exploitation. The play’s producers must have been pleased when the coalition Government was formed! With a Cabinet full of Conservatives and Lib Dems putting forward policies to shaft the poor, it’s obvious that these two parties still represent the same old privileged class interests. (Admittedly Tressell would probably have lambasted the timidity of today’s Labour Party.)

Tressell also railed against the corruption of politicians. This was done brilliantly in the play, with all the bosses played by the actors wearing slightly unnerving masks. They were discussing how to fiddle their councillor expenses. Ooo er! Unfortunately greedy money-grabbing politicians did not become extinct in 1910, so these scenes struck a particular chord.

Most of the acting (and singing!) was great. My one criticism would be that the two women in the cast seemed weaker than all the blokes. Their accents were not dependable and none of the characters they played really worked. To be fair, the play has to cut down on a lot of stuff that happens in the book with the result that there are fewer domestic scenes. This means that the female characters are not so well developed on stage as they are in the pages penned by Tressell.

Chichester is not a hotbed of revolutionary thought. It’s a place populated by retired colonels where buyers of the Guardian are undoubtedly given funny looks by newsagents. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate the play. I certainly hope that the play will be taken to other theatres so that the ragged trousered brilliance and Tressell’s socialist ideals are spread far and wide.

Fun for the geeks

August 3, 2010

I’ve been enjoying myself here.

I like ye olde Treason Act of 1351:

Declaration what Offences shall be adjudged Treason. Compassing the Death of the King, Queen, or their eldest Son; violating the Queen, or the King’s eldest Daughter unmarried, or his eldest Son’s Wife.

But no matter how hard I look through the Acts of the Old Scottish Parliament I ‘m still having trouble finding the ancient Scotch law “Oh ye cannae shove your granny aff the bus”.

Still alive! 2

July 5, 2010

Have you ever noticed references to the parliamentary Opposition getting Short Money and wondered where the term came from? Well, it was named after Edward Short – now Baron Glenamara – a Labour politician who came up with the idea that the Government should help fund the Opposition (loonies who argue that Cuba has a healthier democracy thank the UK, take note!).

Baron Glenamara is still alive. Born in 1912, he is the second oldest living member of the House of Commons. The other is, of course, James Allson.  Baron Glenamara has been around a long time; he was leader of the Newcastle City Council Labour group in 1948!! Good on him.

Another long-living Labour peer and contributor to political discourse can be found in Baron Barnett, who naturally came up with the Barnett Formula. Joel Barnett’s formula for funding the various outposts of the UK may not satisfy everyone but it has guaranteed him political immortality – which is surely the best sort of immortality there is!

And finally, for something a bit different, I am glad to see that Malvin Kaminsky – aka Mel Brooks – is still alive and kicking. This is the man responsible for The Producers, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and all kinds of other comic gems. The baked bean scene in Blazing Saddles is puerile genius.

Born in 1926 makes Brooks a hefty 84. Maybe the secret to his longevity is a well-developed sense of scatological humour. It seems grossly unfair to me that the Pope gets an official state visit to the UK whilst Mel Brooks does not.

The long line of English radicalism from the Levellers through the Chartists to…Compass?!

June 15, 2010

A bit late I know, but although I wasn’t there it seems that Jon ‘Darling of the Soft Left’ Cruddas gave a stonking speech to the Compass conference at the weekend. Read a transcript of the whole thing over at Liberal Conspiracy.

“We lost the election in England, badly. It is in England that our future will be determined. Let us begin by reminding ourselves who we are.

We are Labour and we are not new. Our roots are centuries deep in the struggle for democracy and justice. We are the light shining in Buckinghamshire. With Rainsborough at Putney. The Levellers Charter was ours. Standing with the crowd at Peterloo. Standing with the Irishman Bronterre O’Brien and William Cuffay.

The People’s Charter was ours. John Ruskin’s rallying cry is our creed – ‘there is no wealth but life’. Standing alongside match girls; dockers; miners. With railway workers at Taff Vale.

With the Men’s Political Union and the Suffragettes.

This is Labour’s gift to us all today.

And in turn Labour’s future is our obligation. Make it once more the defender of society against the power of the state and the market. Organise the powerless. Give voice to the voiceless.”

I’m a sucker for a politician who has bothered to at least open a history book. But did he really mean to say “Levellers’ Charter?” Was that a slip of the tongue, thinking ahead to the Chartists? Would have been better to name check the Levellers’ Agreement of the People.

If I ever get to write a historically literate speech for a politician I will slip in the words spoken by Richard Rumbold, a veteran of the New Model Army and republican revolutionary, as he stood on the scaffold awaiting his execution:

“I am sure that there was no man born marked above another; for none comes into this world with a saddle upon his back, neither any booted or spurred to ride him”.

Although the earlier warning of the danger of popery might need to be toned down.

Bonar Law, Baldwin, Thatcher, Cameron – the long line of Tory deflation

June 11, 2010

Top notch maiden speech from Labour MP and historian Gregg McClymont. Even if maiden speeches are inevitably treated as sponges, his was very stone-like.

I look forward to hearing further comparisons between Tory policy today and Tory policy in the 1920s from him in the future!

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab):
May I add my congratulations on your election, Mr Deputy Speaker? I noticed that you have the “Directory of Members” to hand. I hope that you will agree that I do not look quite as bad in the flesh as I do in that truly horrific photo.

I come to this House from Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East-a constituency served with great distinction by my predecessor, Rosemary McKenna. Rosemary’s 13 years in Parliament were the culmination of a lifetime of public service. As teacher, councillor, council leader, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and, latterly, Member of this House, Rosemary served the public with distinction for more than 40 years. Rosemary’s
distinctions are many, but I would like to emphasise her temperament and character. Rosemary’s generous nature, her good humour, and, especially, her serenity served her well. To keep one’s head when all around are losing theirs is an asset in every walk of life, but especially, I suspect, in this place. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing Rosemary well in her retirement.

For those who do not know the geography of my constituency-and I suspect that there are a few-Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East sits at the heart of Scotland, roughly at the centre of a triangle formed by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. This central location, along with a work force well educated in our excellent local comprehensive schools and colleges, is attractive to employers both private and public. Indeed, Members unlucky enough to receive a call
from the Inland Revenue will, I am sure, take some comfort in the knowledge that they are likely being called from my constituency, home to one of the largest Inland Revenue offices in the country.

The economy of my constituency is, I think, much like the economy of the country: it reflects a symbiotic relationship between the private and the public sectors. That is why I disagree with some of the speeches I have heard-not today, but in previous debates-from Conservative Members, who repeatedly draw a stark distinction between the public and the private. To me, that is rather artificial. Our economy depends on interaction between these two sectors. No man is an island, and neither is any private sector enterprise. In my view, the
private sector could not flourish without a public infrastructure of roads, rail, sanitation, telecoms or, indeed, a people well educated in our public, by which I mean our state, schools.

That is the perspective that underpins the views of Labour Members on the Government’s deficit reduction plan, with all its implications for poverty reduction. Yes, reducing the deficit is important; yes, it is a priority; but cutting before the recovery is established and before confidence is restored is to flirt with disaster. Badly timed public sector cuts of the kind proposed by the Government will not, in my judgment, damage only the public sector, but the private sector, too, as they will reduce demand in the whole economy.

I urge Members on both sides of the House to read the report released today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, whose chief economist has revised his forecasts. Looking at the proposed Government cuts, he now believes that unemployment will reach 2.95 million by 2012 and remain close to 3 million until 2015. That would be a disaster for the poor: when the economy retracts, it is the poor who suffer most. Substantial reductions in poverty depend on economic growth, because in the end substantial poverty reduction depends on the creation of jobs. I am sure we all agree that the single best poverty reduction programme is creating well-paid, secure jobs.

That is the context in which I raise my concern about how the Government are approaching the deficit, with all its implications for poverty in this country. I recognise, of course, that it is entirely consistent for the Conservatives to advance deflationary economic policies. As a historian, I can see them having been put forward in different guises for 100 years, whether it be by Bonar Law in the 1920s, Mr Baldwin in the 1930s, Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s or the new Prime Minister in 2010. The object is generally the same-to reduce the financial burden on those who tend to vote Conservative. That is understandable.

More depressing, from my point of view, is the Liberal Democrat embrace of this deflationary strategy. One hundred years ago, the Liberal party broke with that kind of economics. In his “People’s Budget”, Lloyd George rejected as inadequate and likely to increase poverty exactly the kind of approach that underpins the new Government’s strategy. I wonder what Lloyd George, Beveridge, and,
above all, Keynes would make of the Liberal Democrat position. I suspect that those great social Liberals would see the Government’s so-called anti-poverty measures-whether they be fractional tax advantages for a minority of married couples, or appeals to the “Big Society”-for what they are. In my judgment, these are measures designed to ease the consciences of those who wish to feel that something is being done about poverty, while the actual priority is that that something” to be done is of minimal cost.

More positively, I hope the Government can be persuaded that poverty reduction depends, as I say, on well-paid secure jobs. I believe that the minimum wage and tax credits are excellent measures that reward work and have done something significant to reduce poverty in this country. I urge the Government, if I may say so, to embrace them with the zeal of a convert.

I also ask the Government to consider the issue of work that pays not too badly, but too well. I welcome the Government’s commitment to ending excessive salaries in the public sector, but I think that we have to look at the private sector, too. Excess public sector pay is not fair and should be curbed, but it is not actively dangerous, whereas inappropriate incentives in the private sector-excessive and poorly calibrated bonuses in particular-have put our entire economy in jeopardy.

Growing up in the new town of Cumbernauld in the 1980s, I saw with my own eyes the harm done by deflationary political economy. It took over a decade of Labour Government to begin to heal the scars left in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and, indeed, in many other parts of the country. We ask not to be targeted again by a new round of deflationary cuts, particularly when the recession was inspired by the financial services sector. What I ask is that the burden is fairly shared.

In the end, I repeat, it is growth that will reduce the deficit in a way that enables the economy to prosper, thus allowing further reductions in poverty to take place. The best way to reduce poverty is to create work with a decent wage, which depends on economic growth. By cutting too fast, too soon, the Government risk a slump in demand across the economy: the result will be even higher unemployment than at present and thus greater poverty too. For me-and, I am sure, for many Members-that is a grim prospect indeed.

Catch up

April 18, 2010

Have been ridiculously busy with election-madness. Hopefully there’ll be more time to write some posts this week. Anyway, here’s a brief summary of Jako thoughts:

  • There was very little media mentioning of Gideon Osborne humiliating himself at the Tory manifesto launch. A journalist asked Cameron about his commitment to the environment and green taxes. Cameron said a question about green taxes should be answered by the Shadow Chancellor. Said Shadow Chancellor could be seen desperately flicking through the Tory manifesto, with other Shadow Cabinet members passing him notes on what to say. Talk about a total failure to master one’s brief. Pathetic.
  • Labour’s manifesto was nowhere near as radical as I’d have liked. Not much of great excitement to promise voters that a Labour fourth term would bring. Instead we have to talk about all Labour’s previous achievements like tax credits and child trust funds – themselves quite complicated to explain – and emphasise the importance of defending these from Tory/Liberal cuts.
  • Although saying that, we can hardly establish a clear dividing line on investing in public services versus cuts when spending squeezes are already affecting parts of the NHS (hence the very unhelpful argument over the Whittington).
  • Mentioning the Liberals, this poll nonsense is a total fricking disaster for us round here. Awful. A potential calamity. I appreciate that it makes the election more interesting but I really could have done without the hassle! I also wholly reject the idea that Clegg performed especially well at the debate on Thursday. I just think that his job was fundamentally easier in that he could easily capitalise on disillusionment with the two biggest parties.
  • Clegg’s attacks on the “old politics” of the “old parties” is so nauseatingly ahistorical. Let’s not forget that the last time the Liberals formed their own government (1911-1915) they took us into a horrendous bloody war in which nearly a million Brits died. Just like with Iraq, the party with the most number of anti-war MPs was Labour.
  • Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe made us all laugh when he said Nick Clegg was “seriously impressive”. But now we all have to take this…seriously. I can even understand the appeal of the Lib Dems. They talk about equality, which my party does not do enough. And Vince successfully gives the impression of being genuine and competent. He is certainly more inspiring than Darling and infinitely preferable to Osborne. But all I have to then do is remember that a local level they are fairly reactionary and unpleasant and that a lot of their ‘progressive’ sounding arguments aren’t built on solid foundations.
  • I was disgusted to be wearing a Smiths t-shirt on a day when David Cameron once again told the world that he’s a massive Smiths fan.

Easter Message

April 4, 2010

On this, the day when we celebrate magic baby Jesus miraculously sharing a handful of chocolate eggs amongst 5000 people before getting crucified and then coming back from the dead for a brief comeback tour, it seems appropriate to reflect upon matters of spirituality.

Pope Celestine V (c.1209 – 1296) retired because he couldn’t handle the papal pressure. Having lived for decades as a hermit, he had originally tried to run away when the bishops decided to make him pope (presumably there was a lack of decent alternative candidates back in 1294). After just five months in the job he quit as he wanted to return to his hermit cave.

But although he abdicated his position Celestine wasn’t allowed to enjoy his retirement. His papal successor had him put in prison and was probably responsible for bumping him off in 1296. Poor old Celestine.

The point of this story is that there is a precedent for retiring popes. Ergo, if Benedict XVI feels very bad for allowing as Archbishop of Munich a known paedophile priest to be assigned to pastoral duties where he continued to abuse children, he could always consider calling it a day.

“The buck has to start somewhere”, the Pope could declare, “and to demonstrate that we are serious about making amends for the many years of covering-up these criminal activities it is obvious that all those tainted by the scandals need to go and new leadership brought in”.

However, having the preacher to the papal household compare the current criticism of the Catholic Church to the “most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” (a bit of an odd thing to say considering the controversy around Pope Pius’s conduct during WW2) suggests that the Pope and his team won’t contemplate the Celestine strategy.

Shame on the IWM.

March 9, 2010

This is the last post on Ashcroft I’ll do for a while – I promise.

However, I’m frustrated that someone at the Imperial War Museum thought it would be a PR victory to do dealings with the Tory peer who loves this country so much that he detests the idea of paying tax here.

Ashcroft has amassed the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals and these are to be displayed at the IWM from November. The medal gallery is to be called the ‘Lord Ashcroft Gallery’. Fair enough, it’s nice of him to help the museum, but does his ego really necessitate having the gallery named after him?

And considering how politically controversial he is I don’t think it helps the IWM to have a ‘Lord Ashcroft Gallery’.

In further controversy, PCS members at the IWM have been on strike for the last couple of days as the union called on members to protest for a better deal on redundancy pay.

The museum sent out an email to staff asking for people to work extra shifts and thus replace their striking colleagues. Trying to undermine a legitimate strike action = lame.

Degenerate dancing makes Adolf angry.

December 15, 2009

While working down t’museum the other day I came across something in the archives that I found quite amusing.

‘The Lambeth Walk’ is a song and dance number from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl. It provided a bit of much-needed light relief in the late 1930s and became a worldwide hit. It goes something like this:

Nazi propaganda rag ‘SA Mann’ was very annoyed by the popularity of The Lambeth Walk. It was concerned that the dance was a bad influence on young Aryans. In its issue of January 6th 1939, ‘SA Mann’ warned its readers about the dangers of The Lambeth Walk:

We will not cast up reproach on its murky origins from the slums of London……even though this dance has already claimed the sacrifice of human lives. In Brighton a 52 year old waiter, called Herbert Brennan, fell dead from heart failure while doing the Lambeth Walk. with a frenzied cry of “Oi!” on his lips, the cry of the joy of living, he left this world for the eternal dancing ground. He was the first victim of the dance floor. Shall the sense of style of German society be next? A degenerate dance? No, a degenerate people! And these things go on not only in cheap dance halls and disreputable night clubs. Even high class hotels have opened their revolving doors to this disgusting bit of Jewish apery. 

Silly Nazis.