Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Will this calm the out camp down?" Certainly not

Reporting on the changes in the Vote.Leave campaign Isabel Hardman asks "will this calm the out camp down?". The answer has to be, certainly not. The changes are not enormous but look a little like surrender to pressure: Lord Lawson takes over the chairmanship; he is already President of Conservatives for Britain and one of that organization's Vice-Presidents, Lord Forsyth, also joins the Vote.Leave board.

John Mills, the previous Chairman, becomes the Vice-Chairman (reportedly, he is satisfied with that arrangement) and intends to concentrate on Labour support for Brexit. John Mills was he Campaign Manager in 1975 for the ill-fated Out campaign.

The board now becomes non-executive with Matthew Elliott, the Chief Executive, Dominic Cummings, Campaign Director and Victoria Woodcock, Company Secretary, stepping down from it thought they will remain in their positions and will be able to attend board meetings.

Where does that leave Arron Banks, and the proposed merger between the two groups? We have not yet heard anything about it but as news come in I shall update this blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tuesday Night Blogs: Dorothy L. Sayers

There is a change in this month's programme: the writer is Dorothy L. Sayers who has figured a number of times on the Conservative History Blog and so I have decided to write about her there and link each week from here. I shall also be collecting other other postings on the subject and will put up the links here and there.

First off the mark is Kate Jackson with a very carefully analyzed piece (as befits the subject) on Gaudy Night, that marmite of a novel, published on her blog, crossexaminingcrime.

Moira Redmond on Clothes in Books writes about the first four Wimsey novels. These are generally described as being weaker than the later ones but I am not so sure. The plot of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and the detection in it are, in my opinion, are the best in the entire canon.

Noah Stewart on Noah's Archives produces a pictorial collection of the many different Sayers titles, including The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club, for which Sayers's husband, Mac Fleming, contributed most of the recipes.

On The Art of Words Lucy Fisher picks up on some infuriating "corrections" that actually make nonsense of the original and some misunderstood emphases.

Bev Hankins writes about the Dowager Duchess of Denver on My Reader's Block and manages to make that, in my opinion, thoroughly infuriating person sound remarkably attractive.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Declaration of neutrality

It is not often that this blog declares neutrality on any subject but I feel that there is no alternative. No, it is not neutral on whether Britain should exit the EU, which is really what matters, but it is hard to work up enthusiasm for any of the Brexit organizations (and I mean any) who are competing for the trophy of being acknowledged by the Electoral Commission as the leader and for all that lovely money.

The news that yet another cross-party, grassroots organization, supported by Kate Hoey, Liam Fox and Nigel Farage has been launched (actually, I knew it was coming) left me neither shaken nor stirred but rather depressed. It's not that I mind different eurosceptic organizations; I have written often enough about the advantage of guerrilla warfare. Having a Conservative and a Labour group for Brexit, or Historians for Britain or Better Off Out who do a good deal of campaigning around the country and have restarted (after a fashion) the Save Britain's Fish campaign that I was involved with some years ago is, I think, a good idea: people can concentrate on their own work. Nor do I find anything wrong with Get Britain Out, which is campaigning specifically among the younger electorate, though they share my view on whether 16 and 17 year olds should be given the vote. There are various others and I shall link to them in future postings. They all have their role to play and we all need to work together while concentrating on our own patch. (I shall also try to catch up with the opposition groups but I do wish at least some of them would admit that they are campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union not in Europe. One wonders why they cannot bring themselves to do so.)

What causes problems is the proliferation that is likely to continue of the overall Brexit campaigns, each one of which claims purity of vision and decries its rivals as being heretics at best and The Real Enemy at worst. I shall say it before anyone else: yes, the small and ever fissile left wing groups are like that. Mostly this does not matter but at present we do have an important issue at hand and a highly important referendum to win.

So whom do we have? This will go over some well known material but I think it might be useful to have a kind of a summary of where we are. While we are on the subject here is a somewhat inadequate but quite amusing article in the Grauniad that mentions Month Python (no!), leaves out several groups and manages to fit in Nigel Farage (complete with a pint) as a group or something of the kind.

Well, there is Leave,eu founded a little while ago by former UKIP donor Arron Banks. It has an exhausting website (but so many of them are these days because they let all those techie whizz kids run riot), the usual set of semi-accurate facts and an unfortunate image of being linked to UKIP and its campaign that concentrates on one subject: immigration. Being linked to UKIP or perceived to be so will mean that they will not be designated as the lead campaign.

It also means, alas and alack, that the other Brexit campaign, VoteLeave, wants to have nothing to do with it. VoteLeave has a slightly less frenetic website (could someone have been controlling those whizz kids?) and a greater emphasis on people joining the campaign. I presume they use material supplied by Business for Britain.

Here is Guido's first summary of the fight between those two organizations and here is a more recent account (that, necessarily, leaves out the juicier bits) of that feud. And so it has been going on, as many of us know: more heat and ammunition spent on fighting each other than the enemy. It often is like that in politics, especially in campaigning, but this is becoming an embarrassment.

The feuding has now become internal to VoteLeave. I trust everyone who, being a complete geek, follows these matters, noted the attempt to unseat Dominic Cummungs, Campaign Director of VoteLeave and Matthew Elliott, its Chief Executive by a cabal of Tory MPs (egged on by others who stayed nameless for the time being), led by Bernard Jenkin (who thinks that President Putin is not such a bad chap really and was only trying to help the Ukrainians), which seems to have failed. At present Messrs Cummings and Elliott are in place, Mr Jenkin is not returning calls and a still unnamed board members is about to tender his resignation. Things may change by the time I finish writing this blog in which case I shall update it all.

Then we have Grassroots Out (GO), alluded to above as the new kid on the block. They will, incidentally, be having a public meeting in Manchester in February 5; some of this blog's readers might like to go along. Can't do any harm. Here it is being advertised n Twitter and I do hope the link takes you to the right place. They are on Facebook as well.

What is its aim? Well, rather bored with the infighting (and who can blame them) a few MPs (and Nigel Farage who is merely an MEP) got together and decided to form a purely campaigning organization with the intention of doing so constituency by constituency, which is not such a bad idea. Fifty MPs of various parties (not, I presume, the SNP or the Lib-Dims) signed up immediately and there are hopes of more joining. They assure us all (yes, I did talk to the founders) that they have no desire to supplant any of the other organizations, no intention at present to produce their own material but use what the other groups produce and co-ordinate campaigning activity at the grassroots level.

ConHome is supporting them though their first love is VoteLeave, as you would expect.

So is that it? Well, not quite. Another Brexit organization is lurking in the grass somewhere and is ready to be launched soon. They call themselves the Independent Leave-the-EU Alliance and, at present, they are not supported by any MPs because they are also hoping to get some independent ones into Parliament.Or so it would seem but their website is still under construction so one cannot tell for certain.

Where does all this and, possibly, more to come leave this blog? For once in the neutral position or maybe even sitting on the fence. It seems to me to be a waste of time to get involved in all the fighting. I am prepared to work with and for any, some or all of these organizations. Given the shortage of women anywhere near the top of them they ought to welcome that offer but, somehow, I do not think they will. So the blog will go on and will fight its corner despite .....

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Blogs: So what is it about Rex Stout?

Sooner or later one has to look at Rex Stout's biggest character (and at one seventh of a ton that is le mot juste for him) and that is Nero Wolfe. Looking at Wolfe means looking at Archie Goodwin, the entire household in West 35th Street and other recurring players: Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, Orrie Cather and the police officers: Inspector Cramer, Sergeant Stebbins and Lieutenant Rowcliff as well as assorted patrolmen.

For various reasons I did not take part in the group blogging last Tuesday but others did and they can be read on Noah Stewart's blog and, indeed, he is in the process of collecting this week's contributions.
As this is the last week of the Rex Stout Tuesday Night blogs I thought I'd go back to the very first novel about Nero Wolfe that I read. I had heard about Rex Stout, of course, and about Nero Wolfe but was not altogether clear about things. Soon after I went to Oxford I set up an account at Blackwell's (can one still do that, I wonder) and spent some time wandering round the shop. On my second visit I came across a recently reprinted Penguin version of Murder By The Book, originally published in 1951, a good many years before it came into my hands. It cost 40p (oh those halcyon days!) and the copy is still in my possession.

I was lucky with my first Nero Wolfe novel - it has a reasonably good plot that stands up to scrutiny even after we know the not particularly surprising solution. In any case, one does not read Stout for the plots. For the style, yes. It has a light crispness and speed that is hard to find in other writers' work. There is a similarity with Chandler but Archie Goodwin has no pretence to being a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. Nor does he find life a hardship. His account of events is blithe but never off the mark.

Consider this as a novel read by someone who is a stranger to the great world of Nero Wolfe. Within two pages we establish the relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and between either of them and Inspector Cramer, who is, it is clear, a reluctant admirer of the large detective. Within the next few pages we have a clear idea of the household, of Fritz Brenner, the Swiss chef who is a genius and of Theodore Horstmann, the orchid man; of the fact that Wolfe hates working though rather likes displaying his superior mental powers (Archie goofs a couple of times in this one, which is unusual); that the entire household revolves round Wolfe's timetable and that revolves round his food, his orchids, his books and the London Times crossword All this is conveyed in taut prose though with many details (who would not like to try Fritz' breakfasts or go dancing with Archie?) and around a fairly complicated plot that involves a trip by Archie to Los Angeles as well as an inebriated dinner party for all the secretaries in a law firm. All in 188 pages.

Beyond the style, the characters, the ambience and, in this case, a decent plot there are some fascinating glimpses. A number of times various people, including Archie, when challenged by the police demand to know whether they have somehow been transported to Communist Russia? From a basically left-wing writer like Stout that is interesting.

Then there is the attitude to women. Throughout the novels we know that Wolfe is a misogynist and there is some kind of a ridiculous reason for it that goes back to his youth in Montenegro. But Archie, who likes women or, at least, pretty young women, shares his contempt. Women, according to this novel, are incapable of thinking, tell lies as a matter of principle and find it impossible to appreciate good food and good wine. If a married woman in her late forties is working then her marriage must be very unhappy. Whereas a perfectly intelligent young woman whom Archie goes to see in LA appears to spend her time at home doing precious little while her husband is at work. Of course, the book was published in 1951, the beginning of a decade that some people seem to want to go back to.

Finally, the lawyers. About a third of the way through it becomes obvious that at the heart of the crimes there is the year-old disbarment of a trial lawyer who had bribed a juror. The question is who reported on him and how did that develop into a badly written novel whose author, editor and typist have all been murdered. Without giving away the ending I have to say I found it a little odd that the trial lawyer who had been disbarred is viewed by most as something of a victim, someone to whom a rather serious misfortune had happened. This, I could not help thinking, was a very odd way of looking at events.

So that was my introduction to Rex Stout and the brownstone in West 35th Street (no, there are no brownstones in that part of Manhattan so Archie must have been misleading readers for all those years) and I was hooked. Many Stout novels and novellas later I can recite with ease Wolfe's time table and Archie's peculiar likes and dislikes. I can remember quite a few of the meals and Archie's quips as well as his rows with the police officers. What I quite often forget, however, is the plot. They are not always and not even usually memorable.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Baroness Cox's Bill goes to the Commons

Baroness Cox's Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which I mentioned in December, has cleared the House of Lords. The Third Reading was a formality and it has now been sent to the Commons for their consideration, which may take some time.

To my certain knowledge this achievement (and it is still a partial one) is the fruit of enormously hard work for a number of years by the Baroness and her team. For a long time it seemed that this perfectly reasonable Bill will never get beyond Second Reading in the Lords but there are definite changes in the air and many things that were not to be discussed now are and quite openly, including the fact that Sharia courts (as opposed to arbitration tribunals that still abide by English or Scottish law) are a very bad idea in many different way.

Monday, January 18, 2016

We have a problem

It is one of the assumptions of most of the eurosceptic wing that as far as possible (allowing for international agreements and so on) legislation and regulation in this country should be carried out by our elected representatives within certain constitutional boundaries, which, in my opinion, includes a role for the House of Lords, chosen on a completely different basis and one for and independent judiciary. MPs must, in that system, be of huge importance.

Nothing wrong with that, you might say. After all, MPs can always be voted out (though many people who live in safe constituencies might disagree with that); they can be challenged while they are sitting though I dislike the idea of recall as we do vote for our MPs as members of parties and a recall can so easily degenerate into one particular group re-fighting a perfectly valid election. Anyway, there we are: MPs rather than the various levels of eurocracy.

Then we get the spectacle that is going on in the Commons right now: a debate on whether Donald Trump, an American businessman and a candidate for the Presidential nomination, should be excluded from the United Kingdom. Why? Well, he said a few things we do not like or some of us do not like and, in any way, his behaviour is boorish. Not only are those not reasons for excluding someone from this country but it is an obvious waste of time for MPs even to debate it.

Now admittedly, this is not happening in the Chamber but in Westminster Hall. It is, nevertheless, taking up a great deal of Parliamentary time. The debate is taking place at the instigation of the Petitions Committee, which has had to deal with two e-petitions, 114003, with 500,000 signatures that is in favour of the ban and 114907 with 40,000 signatures that is against it. In neither case are the numbers big enough to make it a matter for Parliamentary debate.

As it happens, the Home Secretary has the powers to exclude people from entering the country and this power has been exercised at various times - some of those we know about, many we do not but we must assume that the reasons had to be more than just unpleasant and boorish behaviour.

Let me just add that so far as anyone knows no UK variant of the US Magnitsky Act with its list of people who were responsible for the torture and death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who had been employed by a British firm exists.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tuesday Night blogs: Rex Stout's other detectives

Before I go into the main body of the posting, I need to point out that, although the Rex Stout blogs are collected by Noah Stewart, as I wrote last time, the wonderful logo was created not by him but another of our merry band, Bev Hankins, who writes the fascinatingly titled blog, My Reader's Block

I am still working round the edges of Rex Stout's work, in that this posting is not about Nero Wolfe and his household or his assistants, although one of his other detectives, Theodolinda Bonner, a she-dick as Archie Goodwin disrespectfully refers to her, and partner in Bonner and Raffray Detective Agency, does appear a few times in the main body of work. 

Theodolinda "Dol" Bonner is a disappointment though her appearances together with her assistant Sally Corbett in several Nero Wolfe novels are satisfactory enough. Wolfe thinks highly enough of her and her agency to employ them at the same time as Saul Panzer and his other agents. The disappointment lies in the one novel about Dol Bonner, The Hand in the Glove. The plot is odd though at times credible and Dol Bonner's much discussed hatred of men turns out to be based on something completely piffling. The arguments about whether the two young ladies should be running something so disreputable as a detective agency are entertaining enough and strike a chord. (How different from our own Miss Maud Silver, well established as a private investigator by 1937.) But on the whole, it is far inferior to Rex Stout's other books.

About the same time, that is in the late thirties and early forties Stout also experimented with another detective, William Tecumseh Sherman Fox, named after the Civil War general of controversial fame and known as Tecumseh or Tec Fox. So far I have managed to read only one of the Tec Fox novels, the last one, as it turns out, The Broken Vase.

Its plot is a little bonkers and involves fabulously beautiful and expensive Chinese vases, one of which is broken and one stolen as well as a very special Stradivarius violin, which is wrecked beyond repair by the end of the book, a number of varied murders and a cast of characters all of whom act in the stupidest way imaginable except for a Hollywood star of great beauty who seems completely dulalee. The only people who appear to keep their senses are Tec Fox himself, Mrs Pomfret (allowing for overwhelming grief) who hires him and, surprisingly, Inspector Damon of NYPD homicide. 

Readers who are used to the sparring and snarling that goes on between Wolfe and Archie on the one hand and Inspector Cramer and his subordinates on the other, will find the open and friendly collaboration between Tec Fox and Inspector Damon rather surprising. 

In fact, Fox is altogether surprising. He appears to own a farm in Westchester County where there are livestock, strawberries, vine and other fruit and vegetables as well as mostly random human inhabitants. Whether his main income is from the farm or from detecting is not made clear in this book but one suspects the latter. He drives into New York or anywhere else he needs to get to and frequents places that are mentioned in the Wolfe stories as well. In The Broken Vase, for instance, he and his buddy Diego (who also behaves like complete idiot) go for a late night drink and sandwich to Rusterman's. There are, apparently, other links in the other two novels though the two detectives never meet and never mention each other. 

Tec Fox is not a genius but is knowledgeable about a number of unexpected subjects and solves the crimes in The Broken Vase through his ability to play with words and some knowledge of Latin. That and the inimitable Stout writing style, toned down a little as it is not Archie who is supposedly telling the tale but a narrator, make me think that I want to read the other two Tecumseh Fox novels and regret that there were only three.