Lincoln Drill Hall

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Churchill's courage compared to the weak response to Euro-blackmail in Brexit

I have very old friend who is a committed Brexiteer and who has lived in Australia for the last forty years. I posted recently about my enthusiasm for the latest Churchill film, Darkest Hour. He responded with this comment:

I could not help comparing the courage of Churchill and the nation in facing up to an enemy from the east with the weak responses to Euro blackmail in the Brexit negotiations.

Whilst watching the film the thought occurred to me: what would Churchill be doing now. As another friend said when I mentioned it to him, the choice of precedents from a career of more than sixty years is enormous; you can almost take your pick. So, I pondered further.

In the Second World War Churchill was the arch populist, but that had not always been the case. Up until Dunkirk I would say that public opinion favoured Chamberlain and his efforts to secure peace. The memory of the carnage of the trenches was far too vivid for any sane person to want war. I suspect that very few favoured Hitler, although some wealthy people and others holding right wing views probably did. So, I think that Churchill was in a very lonely place seeing that something wholly undesirable was inevitable.

In order to swing the argument in his favour, he employed undeniably populist techniques by his brilliant use of simple language and imagery. He continued to do this until the war was finally won.

In peacetime, he was strongly in favour of a union of European nations. He did not favour the United Kingdom being a part, but, I suspect, because he was still much wedded to Empire.

I truly don't know what he would have done now. He was not a successful peacetime Prime Minister and so not the first choice as a negotiator. He might have toughed up to the Commission. However, certainly in his later years there is evidence that he would look for a roundabout route to securing his aims. It would have involved his oratory skills, but also his nose for the unexpected route through a problem.

So, I say to my friend, we would probably benefit from him now, not to tough up but to have a little vision on our route and destination.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Banking ten years on

I was lucky enough to be a student during the banking crisis which meant I had time to read about it, research it and indeed to write about it.

I remember my anger at reckless and greedy bankers. I remember too the calm reflection that pointed the finger at me, at us. Bankers may have been reckless and greedy, but we, as members of pension schemes, wanted our pensions. If we had savings, we wanted a return.

The reality though was that high returns were a thing of the past. Chinese surpluses had provided all the cash the western world needed and interest rates could be rock bottom. It didn't matter.

We have now lived through ten years of rock bottom interest rates. From time to time amazing investments appear, only to disappear. Ironically for British investors Brexit provided a shot in the arm: a weaker pound meant that the non sterling earnings of global British companies were worth more overnight. Returns have been good and will remain so, unless we decide to invest in the UK economy which, what any one says, is suffering.

As a nation we can no longer pay our way. Look at the evidence:
The NHS needs billions more just to stand still.
University lecturers want decent pensions; actually everybody does. The reality is that the investment returns simply aren't there to provide them.
We are desperately short of housing, yet houses have never been more valuable.
Government outsourcing was meant to be a panacea. Now outsourcing companies are losing money and going bust.
High Street names failing to survive

Labour wants to take over banking so that banks lend to businesses rather than providing mortgages on over priced residential property or providing ever increasing credit card debt. This is laudable but it ignores what banks have become. They are global. They make a good slice of their money from trading currency and securities and this profit provides much needed tax revenue. There is no longer the bank manager in his sober grey suit. The world has moved on.

Any government seeking to address the economic issues facing this country needs to take the country as it is, not as it was in the 1950s. It needs to recognise that it can only effect change if it works with like minded governments of like minded nations. It can do nothing alone.
The scene of the 'march of shock' following the referendum result.

Ian Jack's article is a helpful reference 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Titus Andronicus - an Elizabethan play

The RSC's production at the Barbican of Shakespeare's most bloody play is a triumph. It has only a short while still to run, so hurry.

I first encountered Titus on my Humanities Degree when we were looking at Classical influence and, of course, the story in Ovid's Metamophoses of Philomel. I saw and was stunned by the film Titus starring Anthony Hopkins.

It is a play about revenge, but also about what happens when we slavishly adhere to customs. It is set in a Rome that is crumbling, with leaders squabbling over primacy.

It was written in an England where there was worry of who might succeed Elizabeth. The memories of the bloody revenge between Catholics and Protestants were very fresh in the minds of all.

We watch it in an England where leadership is in doubt, where factions argue viciously about the rights of wrongs of being part of the EU - David Starkey famously described Henry VIII as the first Brexiteer. Perhaps we watch it when we are becoming anxious about who might succeed Elizabeth?

The production is very strong. With so much blood it is so easy to fall into farce. It didn't; there were much needed funny parts, but for the majority of the time we were left to struggle with the agony the characters were enduring. The personification of evil in Aaron is interesting. He is 'not one of us'.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Blue Passports - has it come to that?

An old friend, who has lived in Australia for many years, posted a passionate piece about taking back control, about not allowing ourselves to be ruled by unelected men in Brussels. This friend is probably one of the brightest people I know. He read History at Cambridge and can talk knowledgeably about anything.

What he doesn't know is that we have changed.

When I was a little boy growing up in the shadow of the war with my former soldier father, I made my own blue passport. I copied meticulously the words of Her Britannic Majesty.

Now, many years later in the small provincial city where I live, my fellow countrymen and women are from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also Spain, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland. My friend who only visits occasionally wouldn't know that. He couldn't; it is ordinary life. I admit not for everyone, but I do believe for many and how much more so in larger cosmopolitan cities.

To want your blue passport back is like wanting empire back, wanting black and white television, wanting failing sports teams. They have all gone.

What we now have is something so much better, enriched by different cultures.

I am now first and foremost a European. I will always proudly be both British and English. None are mutually exclusive.

I don't want to go back.

I still have my old blue passport. It is in my drawer with my toy soldiers and the school reports my mum kept, and that is where it should remain.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

It began with Iron and Steel

I had never realise why the EU began with The Iron and Steel Community.

I should have done. I've been writing about it for four years now, with War on Wheels on WW2 and Ordnance on Equipping the Army for the Great War. Iron, Steel and Coal are the sinews of war. By putting the industries of the former waring nations together, the risk of war was massively reduced. So too the capacity for building a lasting and prosperous peace.

I am indebted to Bill Hayes on Facebook for drawing my attention to a short video, by historian David Reynolds, that explains it all.

My researches took me to the mid nineteenth century when Britain, France and Germany had each developed massive arms industries which only grew more powerful through the demands made on them by two World Wars.

It also reminded me of a piece I wrote eighteen months ago and which I had forgotten had been published in the Lincolnshire Echo.

May our leaders watch and learn.
Devastation in France - 1918

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Guardian - thank you

The Guardian has done a remarkable job this year in two particular ways. It has kept the plight of refugees in view and it has not faltered on its opposition to Brexit.

Alongside this editor in chief, Katherine Viner, wrote a thought provoking essay on what journalism is in the digital era. In this she made no attempt to paper over those places where we might think the Guardian slipped up or indeed worse. It showed the Guardian warts and all but with e true vision that can sustain this nation.

Refugees are I am sure a pain not least to the Greeks on the Island of Lesvos or to the French in Calais and Paris. Pain they may be, but human they are also. I remain ashamed that it took a spell working with them on Lesvos for me to realise that there but for the grace of God, or chance, go all of us. They are each our brother and sister. They may seem unimportant in the blaring sound of Trump, the lunacy of Brexit or indeed our own daily cares. The Guardian stands up and reminds us that they are there and matter.

It was the writer of the new testament letter to James who reminded, presumably James, that faith without works is nothing. We could paraphrase and say words without works.

Today, as I write, Guardian journalists are waiting to take calls and donations for the Christmas Appeal which is for those without homes and those who had fled their homes.

Thank you.

Sunday, 26 November 2017


Apparently it IS our problem: our productivity is stagnant. The amount 'produced' by each worker is not growing and so there isn't the money to pay people more.

Hold on. As Ian Jack says in today's Guardian, only 10% of our economy is in manufacturing where workers produce things; the remainder is all about services, people doing things for other people.

I can understand productivity in manufacturing, where the use of machines can enable a worker to produce more. The Guardian Magazine article on robots helped me to understand the application of productivity to distribution centres.

Where I struggle is how productivity relates to the rest of the economy i.e. most of it. Let's take some examples.

Ian Jack talks of Baristas. Does increasing productivity mean that a machine will serve me my coffee?

There is much talk of the care sector. Are we to be looked after by machines, rather than people? The same might be said at the other end of life; are children in nurseries to be minded by machines? Of course not. Indeed if we are to improve the quality of care, we should have more rather than fewer carers.

The creative industries are said to be economically important. As a writer of non-fiction, I can vouch for productivity improved by using Google for research and my lap top for writing. But what of those whose work is what it is, because it is made by hand: Maggie's hand blown glass. What of musicians, what of actors and other who delight audiences? What of writers?

We can all see productivity savings in retail with DIY checkouts. As the Guardian leader says, one fifth of Amazon's employees are robots. I guess larger rubbish and recycling bins are examples of productivity.

Again, quoting the Guardian leader, millions of clerical jobs are now done by machines. This image from the Army Centre for Mechanisation at Chilwell in WW2, says a lot.

I would like to understand just what better productivity produces. Is it good for the many young people who now deliver parcels for their living? Another Guardian article by Sam Knight, on the billions of sandwiches we eat, highlighted the need for robot sandwich makers when we leave the EU since, apparently, the native British worker doesn't want to.

To my mind the question is bigger, and is much more about 'what is work on a post industrial society' and the related question of how the national cake should be shared out. Robert Peston touches on this and much more in his new book, WTF The question of a universal income needs to be explored. We are heading for a society of a mix of a small amount of high paid highly skilled work and low paid work that can't be done by robots.