Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Leveson lament, River ramblings, Poppycock Watch: Autumn Statement, Mark Carney, Profundity of the Week


What are we to make of the much-anticipated Leveson Report on the behaviour of the Press? The more one examines it, the more holes it reveals.

At first glance, two points stood out for me. The main one was the unexpected intrusion of “statutory underpinning”, a phrase meant to reassure, but had the opposite effect. Shades of Moscow and Beijing and dark forebodings of rampings up to come.

The other was the dropping in of that most tiresome of quangos, Ofcom. Apart from anything else its head is appointed by government, so represents, for the first time, an official interference in the workings of a Press that has been free for more than 300 years.

Shami Chakrabarti, a Leveson committee member and head of Liberty — a quango-esque outfit — seemed more than a little confused, backtracked on Marr, then appeared to do a backflip on the Today programme.

As a specialist lawyer in the field, if she can’t make sense of it, how are the rest of us meant to? There are far too many loopholes in Leveson for my liking.

It was interesting to see Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, a cultural magazine that never dies, take a stand against the whole package. Could he ultimately be jailed for his rebellion? Unlikely, I would think, given the hardening of attitudes in Fleet Street.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg made fools of themselves, jousting for attention and significance. An inadequate showing.

While the Prime Minister was right to reject the statutory angle, he should probably revisit his apparent support for Ofcom involvement. The status quo seems the safest option.

* * * * *

This morning was one of those frequent days here on the Devon-Cornwall peninsula when the seasons go haywire.

Rough northerlies switch to the west and the breeze comes in off the Azores like an angel’s kiss — as the Poet put it. Along the river, shrubs often bloom erratically right up until January, while local people lunch outside at riverside cafes even in February.

Thus it was this morning. Springlike and bracing, the waterbirds making the most of the break from drear winter with its occasional reminders of the Northlands.

On the river — now thankfully back to sedate normality after last week’s flood surge — our lone black swan has returned from his summer break. Incredibly, he has brought a mate with him (see my picture).

Black Swan
Black Swan’s mate

Last spring, he was rather isolated from the white swan colony and often seemed agitated. Now he has a faithful companion whom I’ve named Tonto — even though she’s a girl.

Unusually, beneath her black wing feathers there are some that are snow white. Clearly she’s something of a cross which, instead of producing a greyer colouring, has given her a chequered appearance, especially when preening.

The question now is will they produce cygnets in the spring? That really will draw in the crowds with their cameras and bags of ghastly white bread as offerings to the inhabitants of the waterside.

River cafes are the order of the day here.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
I suppose I should say something about this week’s major event: Exeter Chiefs’ victory over Wasps in the Rugby Premiership Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

George Osborne is the Lone Ranger these days. Even Tonto has deserted him for a berth on the River Exe [an oblique reference to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Black Swan]. However, all is not irretrievably lost.

All he need do is steer clear of taxing regional delicacies, mentioning rail fares and anything ending in “gate”, praising Ed Balls, announcing an imminent leadership challenge against David Cameron, commiserating with Paul Tucker, and declaring undying devotion for Brussels.

We wait with bated breath.

Now about Exeter Chiefs …

* * * * *

When I first heard a report that Mark Carney was to become the next Governor of the Bank of England, I misheard it as Martha Kearney, presenter of the BBC’s The World at One. I spent a puzzled hour wondering why.

Anyway, a lot of people seem to like the cut of his Canadian jib, and he certainly appears to be perfectly qualified for the post. As the current holder of Canada’s equivalent berth, plus 10 years experience in the City, including the ubiquitous Goldman Sachs, he out-sparkled a dowdy lineup of hopefuls.

The City of London is crying out for a New-World man — with the exception of Bob Diamond, of course — to breathe new dynamism into its ancient institutions. To say that the Square Mile has gone from “hero to zero” is to ignore the seriousness of the situation.

Wall Street is fighting tigerishly to regain top spot among financial centres, and while the City still has dominance in foreign exchange, including a new franchise for China’s currency, the renmimbi, it continues to take on the aspect of a ricketty house of cards.

The list of frauds allegedly prosecuted there would not be believed if they appeared in a Jeffery Archer thriller.

Let’s hope that Martha Mark Carney can steady the ship. London needs a Nelson not a Drake now. A game of bowls simply will not do.

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
“Are you aware that you are time-travelling every moment of your life? What happens if you stop?” Unknown

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: Fraser Nelson, Gordon Brown’s mental health, Baby boomers, Conference time, Marr’s bar, Quote of the Week

New Broom Fraser Nelson is the new editor of my favourite political magazine, The Spectator, replacing Matthew d’Ancona, who is said to be taking up a post with the Conservative election team. Either that or he’s writing a book. We should be told.

Fraser’s performance on Newsnight, when he was bookended by two exuberant old timers, Andrew “Labour still has a good tale to tell” Rawnsley, and Jeremy “What asteroid are they living on?” Paxman, was creditable in the circumstances.

He begins his editorship with an account of a bit of a punch-up with the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne. The story has a familiar ring to it as prickly Osborne appears to be losing friends from every quarter.

Simon Heffer is in a permanent huff with him at the Telegraph. His old school chum, Nat Rothschild, is furious about a little tale-telling out of school. Even the Dark Presence himself, Peter Mandelson, is braving the daylight to put an elegant boot in.

What is wrong with Georgie? I do hope he hasn’t got the same personality disorder as Gordon Brown. Since much of the backlash is counter-productive, he should buy himself a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.

Mind you, I read it years ago and it didn’t do me much good.

* * * * *

Gordon Brown’s state of mind has been openly discussed around the internet in recent days. John Ward, in particular, has given us a detailed account of the dangerous anti-depressant medication he is alleged to be taking.

While much of this is speculation, insider whispers and forensic probability analysis, the conclusions have the smell of truth.

Brown has certainly displayed symptoms of the combination of anger and dread that often accompanies mental illness: long retreats to a bunker, avoiding the public limelight, depending on juniors to take flak or present unpopular policies, and a disabling inability to take decisions.

We should be compassionate about this, say some commentators, and give the poor man a break. As a general rule, yes, I agree. But how much compassion did Brown show when he set his evil rottweillers on anyone he deemed a threat to him, in one case a dying 90-year old woman in hospital?

Damian McBride embodies the Brown era: a shadowy operative specializing in ruining other people’s reputations and damaging them beyond repair, he represents all that Brown has brought to British politics, nothing of worth.

Brown’s public timidity, combined with private rages and minor acts of office violence, suggest a cowardly authoritarian character who sucks up to superiors, like foreign leaders, while treating those below his pay grade with bullying disdain.

On balance, I don’t find much compassion to send Gordon Brown’s way. If he is ill, let him be removed from office and never darken our door again. If he’s not ill, let him be removed from office and never darken our door again.

* * * * *

A notable milestone will occur after the next General Election. The era of the baby-boomer politicians will be over.

Out will go the 1960s/70s revolutionaries, like Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, Bob Ainsworth and Tony Blair, and in will come fresh-faced realists who cut their political teeth in the 1980s and 90s.

The atmosphere will change overnight. Gone will be gloomy postwar pessimism with its drug-fuelled hedonism and defeatism. The let’s-all-hunker-down-together generation will be no more.

Their spoilt cry of, “We have no policies only demands, and when those are met, we’ll have more demands”, will fade into history.

In power, the boomers’ trademark was the same: “We have no policies only demands, and when those are met, we’ll have more demands.” Look at the avalanche of demands — sorry, legislation — passed by the current lot. Look at their expenses claims. Look at the way they crunch things without creating anything better.

What a treat it will be to see the back of them.

* * * * *

It’s that time of year again when sunny barbecues give way to boring, rainsoaked occasions in places like Blackpool and Bournemouth. Or is it the other way around.

I never look forward to the conference season, certainly not the opening fortnight when the Nats share time with the nits of the TUC. There’s a limit to the amount of composite motions the human frame can take.

This year, the Man in the Iron Mask will be released from his self-imposed incarceration in Downing Street to make yet another relaunch speech which will be just as embarrassing and stiflingly tedious as all the others.

Dave will be the man to watch, as he makes his final oration to the Conservative hordes before a General Election from which he is widely expected to emerge triumphant.

He’s good at this, especially when under pressure. Even so, he shouldn’t play for a draw. That would be just too boring. He needs to galvanize the nation for the long economic doldrums ahead by offering a vision that make us feel good about ourselves.

The British are best with their backs to the wall, as long as they trust their leader’s honesty and fighting spirit. David Cameron knows that. I’m sure he will deliver.

* * * * *

Andrew Marr’s show this morning got back in the groove with the master returned to his old revolving bucket seat.

Unhappily, the guest list was well below par, with Ed Miliband as top billing — no music hall would survive that — and Rory Bremner standing in manfully for some bigwig who was probably too hungover to appear.

A pop star called Cave also made an incoherent appearance, and one of our African/Asian Archbishops provided a bit of grit for the cakemix.

Hmm, at least we were spared a trade union leader and a Liverpudlian leftwing activist. Umm, no, the latter did the paper review, with Iain Dale as the sole representative of sanity.

To help the producers along, here’s my ideal guest list for the programme:

Paper review: Simon Heffer and George Osborne
Arty guest: Helen Mirren
Gritty guest: Rod Liddle
Maverick guest: David Davis
Top slot: Samantha Cameron
Weather: Michael Fish
Standby: Rory Bremner.

Let’s hope Andrew can get a word in somewhere.

* * * * *

Quote of the Week

” ……………………………………………………… ”
Gordon Brown

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John Evans

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