Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

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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DIARY: Darling, Obama, Parris, Portillo, Devon

Ice Age Alistair Darling says that if his second bank-bailout in Britain doesn’t work, we are doomed … bankrupt.

We should perhaps consider Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt, whose speech (according to the Bard) went like this: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. … Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!”

Now imagine if Henry had used the Darling gambit: “I have to tell you, dear friends, they are a fearsome lot. We will have our work cut out against them. If we lose, our heads will be removed from our bodies and our guts will be spilled all over the battlefield.”

[Turns round to face his men] “Dear friends, where are you? Where have you gone?


* * * * *

Is there anything left to say about Barack Obama. I can usually find something to write about almost anything in the universe, but I must admit, I’m stumped, especially as I like to hit an original note wherever possible.

Among the commentators, Andrew Rawnsley wrote a balanced piece yesterday, basically saying that he could fail, but that we mustn’t prejudge him. Judgement is an after-the-event activity. Presumably, as with Gordon Brown, that’s why it usually comes too late.

Hope in today’s world is certainly audacious. William Rees-Mogg goes to the brink in declaring him a great President in the making. At this stage of the game, we can’t rule that out. One nagging doubt lies at the back of my mind, though: Obama is of the left, his one soft job was as a “community organizer”. We in Britain know only too well what that means. But I’ll bite my tongue for now.

Peter McKay in today’s Mail gets closest for me, questioning Obama’s almost obsessive need to emulate Abraham Lincoln. Does he match up? No, is the sage’s answer.

We shall see.

* * * * *

On Saturday, Matthew Parris wrote in The Times (London) what in blogging would be called a rant. A very elegantly written rant, beautifully crafted and impeccably sourced, but a rant nonetheless.

It was a rant against … you’ve guessed it … Gordon Brown. Having done a few of those myself, I understand the occasional pressing need to let off steam in that direction. Here’s a sample of the Parris invective:

“[Gordon Brown] was from the start an appalling, raging, dithering, laptop-throwing typhoon of aggression, paranoia and insecurity.”

Flippin’ ‘eck. Steady on, old chap!

Encore, please.

* * * * *

I watched Michael Portillo’s contribution to Channel 4’s Christianity series last evening. His view, as a lapsed Catholic, concentrated not surprisingly on the Emperor Constantine and the very political nature of Catholicism ever since.

While it was not as challenging as Howard Jacobson’s angry and edgy Jewish perspective last week, it threw up a lot to think about.

Certainly, with two such intelligent commentators to start the show off, there’s no hint of the celebrity presenter syndrome here.

What puzzled me in both accounts, though, is that neither man picked up on the Gospels as allegory, with very deep roots in previous history.

In the absence of an invitation from Channel 4, here’s my take on this most fascinating of stories:

What is Christianity?

* * * * *

With the world spinning into economic turmoil, and global warming a fading glint in green eyeballs, here’s a snapshot from my neck of the forest.

Swannery on River Exe
A cacophony of birds on the River Exe in Devon, taken yesterday.

One event we can be sure about, spring will soon be here … even if by then we have to eat the swans.

John Evans

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British politics back to normal – Regency style

Attack Birds Confusion in the ranks seems to be par for the bourse where Gordon Brown is concerned — how many column inches can we get out of this man?

Teeming circus troupes of performers are now consulting their I Chings and pronouncing judgement on the rotting corpse of Brown’s political career.

As I write, The Times (London) is reporting that David Miliband (read, goggle-eyed Gollum) and Harriet Harman (read, Mad Hattie Harperson) are plotting the ultimate coup against the once greatly-to-be-desired leader. But the views of many other noted commentators are all over the place like Rorschach tests from a football crowd.

Let’s take the tour.

Matthew Parris in The Times (London) declares any revolt against Brown is all chirruping and twittering and will amount to nothing at the end of days. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, looks deeply into a pound of cheddar cheese in his fridge and, like a Roman soothsayer reading chickens’ entrails, pronounces Brown safe from the Brutus faction.

While Peter McKay in the Daily Mail entreats Brown to “bow out gracefully”, quoting Robert Browning’s Lost Leader — Never glad confident morning again. A return to Victorian values at last.

However, Janet Daley, in the Telegraph, warns that a newly-anointed four horsemen of the apocalypse could arise from Labour’s ashes to destroy David Cameron’s dreams of electoral glory. Counter-intuitive, that one.

Uber-loyalist, Polly Toynbee of the Guardian, admitted almost tearfully on Newsnight last evening that it’s all over, and poor, dear Gordon, in whom she had invested her very soul, was a total duffer and had to go. While a fellow acolyte on the same programme almost, but not quite, tore off his red rosette in despair.

The feeding fanaticism continued over at the Observer, where that elegant rune-reader Andrew Rawnsley, damned Brown as a dead man walking.

Peter Oborne in Saturday’s Mail broke the news that David Cameron’s people are talking to Alex Salmond’s people about how an SNP administration in Scotland could work together with a Tory set-up in Whitehall. Apparently, as two middle-class, patriotic parties, they could get along just fine, forming an alliance to wipe the Labour Party off the map of Britain — or Anglo-Celtic Albion, perhaps — he’s not called Cameron for nothing.

Simon Jenkins weighed in on Sunday, applauding the idea of an Anglo-Saxon England, devolved from Scotland. Ancient counties and churches could presumably be revived without the nasty socialist influences from north of the Border. England would be richer and might even pull out of the European Union.

The great Lockean libertarian William Rees-Mogg in Monday’s Times thought Miliband a British Obama, but even so, Labour should choose “Hillary” in the person of Hattie Harhaddock. Are we beginning to go ever so slightly mad over this little local difficulty?

There’s so much more of this around, and in the most sober of British circles too. Richard Littlejohn, for example, positively reins in his excitable steed, saying, “Some people are speculating that New Labour now faces annihilation. So what? Works for me.”

Either it’s the annual Silly Season, or something really is afoot here. I still think Gordon should call an immediate general election, if only to allow Cameron and Salmond to form their cross-border coalition and bring peace to this benighted Isle. The Union is dead, Long live the Union.

One thing’s for sure. Regency England is alive and well — and kicking like a mule.

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News and commentary on- and offline

News Today, for some reason, I’ve been reviewing how I consume news and commentary, both on- and offline. It must be the persistent wind and rain outside.

This is not going to make a long article, so I’ll get straight to the point.

I live in England where, contrary to Robert Scoble, we have a superb selection of national broadsheet newspapers, plus a dubious pot of red-top tabloids that entertain us from time to time with their wild excesses — though none quite as bad as some in the U.S.

I find I tend to consume hard news — like “Obama wins primary”, “Brown reneges on solemn promise” — on TV rolling news programs, principally the BBC’s News 24. Never for more than 20 minutes, though, because nothing is more life dehancing than watching the same clips over and over — unless they’re about you, of course.

Tech news is best read online. Techmeme, TechCrunch (and the other Crunches) and Robert Scoble put the print press in the shade. It’s very much a case of deja vu if I glance at the technology pages in The Times or the Guardian. In fact I think they source a lot of their material from the tech blogosphere too.

Here at Syntagma Towers we only buy the print version of The Daily Mail because it loses a lot of its visual value online. It’s more of a magazine these days, so you need to have it in your hands for maximum impact.

I read the American press online, which means The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. It’s so much simpler than buying late print versions flown over.

I also consume the British broadsheets in pixel form. Unmissable commentary in large blocks of text does not require a paper version in an age of big screen monitors.

The Telegraph is the first port of call, with its brilliant array of journalists : American Janet Daley (who, annoyingly, is rarely wrong about anything) ; International Business Editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, whose commentary on the credit crunch is required reading — oh, and I knew some of his relatives in Oxford. Charles Moore can be relied upon to throw fresh light on any subject, and Jeff Randall is a one-stop-shop for untangling what’s going on in the business and political firmaments. Add Matthew d’Ancona’s take on politics and the paper really is de rigueur for anyone interested in the world we think we live in. Not forgetting Simon Heffer, of course. That’s quite a galaxy of stars.

The Times (London) ditto. Anatole Kaletsky’s macroeconomic pieces are perfectly read online, as are Matthew Parris’s musings on politics and everything that moves.

So, a newspaper nut like me only reads one paper in its native print version. What does that say about the future of print?

Keep the aspidistra flying folks.

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The Perfect Insult

On Saturdays, I permit myself a small insult as reward for all the hard work during the week. Here’s today’s juicy snippet.

A U.S Congressman is reported to have said of another :

“Like a rotten mackerel in the moonlight, he shines and stinks.”

Thanks to Matthew Parris in today’s Times (London) for that great one-liner.

The question then arises, who does that remind you of over here in Britain? Answers on a postcard, please, to : 10 Downing Street, London, SW1.

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