Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Syntagma Square, CoI, Yes Gov, Poppycock Watch: Magic bank account, Thought of the Week


Syntagma Square in Athens (Constitution Square) is now heavily in the headlines. I really must dispel the invidious rumour that this site is somehow connected with the bankruptcy of Greece.

Actually, I named it after the word’s usage in linguistic philosophy. You see how unbearably sophisticated we are.

A syntagma is a linguistic unit consisting of linguistic forms (phonemes, words, or phrases) that are in sequential relationship to one another (OED). It is often contrasted with paradigm, of which we have far too many nowadays.

So our site, Syntagma, is built from a series of articles and posts in sequential order. Simples.

Postscript: Newsnight’s Paul Mason seems to be permanently camped out in Syntagma Square. If he feels homesick, he can always read Syntagma on his laptop.

Just a thought.

* * * * *

I felt a twinge of nostagia yesterday when I heard that the old Central Office of Information (CoI), successor to the wartime Ministry of Information, is to be scrapped.

One of my first jobs in London was at the CoI in the 1980s. I was tasked with writing brochures and briefing documents for the Foreign Office. These ended up in our Embassies around the world for the perusal of the locals.

I spent my time there mostly at Hercules House, near Waterloo Station, a truly ghastly product of 1960s architecture. I secretly hoped to be moved into the opulent Victoriana of the FO across the water, a mandarin in all but name.

In those days the CoI was organised a bit like a Dickensian office. All the scribes were seated at desks, quill pens in hand, presided over by a boss who occupied a larger desk, casting an ever-watchful beady eye over everyone’s work.

The quill pens had gone when I arrived, but I never quite got over the sense of being back at school.

In the end I escaped across the river to the dynamatic City, a Square Mile then bursting with Big Bang enthusiasms. Eventually, I set up on my own as a scribbler of everything from articles to advertising copy.

The CoI just went on and on. It would take a Conservative Government to close it down, we knew. But Margaret Thatcher was too close to the wartime generation to do it, while John Major dreamt of old ladies cycling past cricket grounds — the CoI was quite near the Oval, basking in its reflected glory.

Now David Cameron has grasped the nettle. Another bit of the public sector gone in a puff. It’s not surprising, perhaps. If you were to ask him about “the war”, he would probably reply: “Libya is on our doorstep.”

* * * * *

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, said last week that Greece’s problem is solvency not liquidity. That means it’s no good paying the interest on its massive indebtedness with more debt because that will only make the situation worse, and the country even more insolvent than it was before.

This is not rocket salad.

Is anybody listening? Not in Brussels. They are insistent on squeezing the economy until much more than the pips squeak. They want to rip the heart out of Greece’s ownership of itself.

Imagine if Britain had got into this condition. A victory for Labour and Gordon Brown in the last election might well have propelled us in that direction.

Foreigners would be demanding we sold national treasures for whatever they fetched. Whitehall itself could be on the list. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle could go. The country’s whole sense of self would disappear along with any vestiges of national pride we still have left.

There’s one thing we could sell right now — the Labour Party!

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
Why doesn’t someone invent a magic bank account that contracts in the good times, discouraging over-indulgence, while increasing in the bad times when you really need a thick cushion of collateral?

Innovative? Not really. Just buy gold.

Gordon Brown take note.

* * * * *

Thought of the Week
In ConservativeHome, George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, argues that, “It should become a key objective of British foreign policy to break the power of centralised European institutions like the European Court of Justice.”

David Cameron and William Hague take note.

John Evans

who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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DIARY: Gordon’s no Boon, Tim Montgomerie, Annoyment, James Purnell, BT and Twitter, Parris on Cohen

Freddy Brown Andrew Rawnsley appeared on Sky’s Adam Boulton show this morning leveraging his new book The End of the Party. The book gives a series of vignettes in which Gordon Brown is depicted in near murderous rages, abusing staff and colleagues with uncontrolled abandon, while rampaging through his work-space like a Visigoth.

This fellow is clearly not only a bottler, but a bottler-upper. His inability to express himself bursts forth from the dam in moments of high tension as he hurls office equipment around the room or manhandles secretaries out of their seats.

A real villain would ravish them on the spot. Gordon just takes over their job.

If he was a good Prime Minister we could perhaps stretch a point. But he’s not, and he was hopelessly inadequate as Chancellor as well.

Mills & Boon wouldn’t put up with him, and neither should we.

* * * * *

Tim Montgomerie got a good write-up in the FT last week in an article by Chris Cook, a leader writer. Two quotes caught Syntagma’s eye:

1. Tim Montgomerie: “If Britain’s relationship with the [European Union] is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government, the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison.”

The piece suggested that “Cameron is planning a purely cosmetic Eurosceptic policy.” If true, it means he is out of touch with a large majority of the party — a very dangerous place to be.

2. “[An] element of the modern Tory platform may yet divide them: climate change. Montgomerie has become increasingly vocal in his scepticism. As he said just two months ago: ‘It is an issue that can split conservative parties around the world.’ Cameroons, take note.”

Another quote adds: “One front-bench MP described [ConservativeHome’s] likely future role as a ‘serial harbourer of fugitives. I would expect Tim to back MPs who stand up to the whips in pursuit of the ConservativeHome agenda. God only knows what that means for our policies on climate change, Europe, on immigration or on defence.’ ”

If David Cameron fails at the General Election — Heaven preserve us! — would Tim Montgomerie make such a bad replacement leader?

* * * * *

Annoyment of the Week
A Gordon Brown-free zone

Imagine walking down the High Street of the quiet South-West town of Dorchester, minding your own business, only to be approached by the increasingly rotund figure of Ann Widdecombe.

Does she need directions to Thomas Hardy’s house, perhaps? Or is she about to ask after the bus station? No, Ann wants to know your opinion of the Ten Commandments.

Unlikely, most of us would think, but not where Channel 4’s increasingly bizarre Sunday night religious slot is concerned. Taking the concept of big tents to the limits of intelligibility, the new series on The Bible: a History includes the kind of people who might have walked straight off the pages of the Old Testament itself.

Ann Widdecombe is nothing less than certain about any topic, and might, on a good day, pass for a biblical Prophet. To her, the Ten Commandments are the foundations of law as it should be made. King Alfred the Great used them as the basis of his, and they went on to form our Common Law, now sadly depleted by the inanities of the Human Rights Act.

A perspiring Christopher Hitchens appeared fleetingly, but walked out of Ann’s interview. Stephen Fry was adamant the Commandments were all a load of rubbish cooked up by old desert tribes.

Tonight, Gerry Adams, former IRA leader, talks about his hero, Jesus Christ.

Sometimes putting out-of-place people into unusual slots yields unexpected insights. I shall not be finding out this Sunday evening.

* * * * *

James Purnell has never resonated strongly on my political radar. I watched him on Newsnight a couple of months ago and was not particularly impressed.

This week he announced he is standing down as an MP at the early age of 39.

Judging by the hagiographies from various commentators, he was a political giant waiting to happen. He had real views, real nuances, social policies galore and an ability to get to the very top.

What a pity he sat through 13 years of Labour attacks of this country’s very existence without a public squeak of protest.

* * * * *

My BT wireless hub broke down 10 days ago. Although I fixed up an old modem and ethernet cable, I anxiously awaited a replacement of the hub.

It took BT three days to reply and promise me the goods the next day before 6pm.

It’s now four days later and still no replacement. On Friday I tweeted about the frustration on Syntagma’s Twitter page. A day later “BTCare” tweeted back and added itself as a “follower”.

I have great hopes that Twitter will succeed where four emails and two telephone calls failed.

Modern technology is both a bane and a boon at the same time.

* * * * *

Matthew Parris quotes the poet/singer Leonard Cohen in a recent column:

“I’ve studied the world’s great religions,” he says — then pauses. “But cheerfulness kept breaking through.”

As it will. I’ve always recommended studying the world’s great religions — see my book.

John Evans

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