The Ethnocentrism of Messina Bashers

Lots of leftists are beating up on Jim Messina, a wizard of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, for taking a job advising the UK Tories of David Cameron. To some observers it looks like utter hypocrisy: In exchange for filthy lucre, a soulless political operative who advises Democrats is now also going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country!

I too am shocked and appalled, not by Messina but by the gobsmacking ethnocentrism of his critics. They don’t seem to realize that other countries have their own politics, which differ from those of the United States.

The center of British politics is well to the left of the center of U.S. politics. The “right-winger” David Cameron whom Messina will be advising opposes the death penalty, supports a right to abortion, extols the virtues of a single payer government-operated healthcare system and just expended enormous political capital on legalizing same-sex marriage. If he walked into a CPAC meeting he’d be torn to shreds rather than greeted as a fellow traveler. Indeed, on the death penalty and universal health care, he is to the left of most of the Democratic Party.

I don’t know Messina or his politics, so I can’t speak to his personal motivations. But I do know that given how much space there is between the political center of the U.S. and that of the U.K., there is plenty of room to allow the existence of reasonable people whose policy preferences are to the left of the American center and to the right of the British center. There is therefore no inherent contradiction between advising the Democrats in the U.S. and the Tories in the U.K. Indeed, it’s easy to understand as soon as you let go of the idea that the U.S. is the template for the rest of the world’s political arrangements.

Pluripotent creativity

A question sparked by Victor Hugo’s eccentric exile house in Guernsey.

The oddest tourist attraction in Guernsey must be the town house on a hill above St. Peter Port in which Victor Hugo lived from 1856 to 1870, as an exile from Napoleon III’s autocracy, at first forced, and later self-imposed. The exterior is conventional. The interior was remodelled by Hugo to his own designs, with the help of Guernsey craftsmen but no professional interior designer or architect.

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Murray’s Dunblane

Andy Murray was a survivor of the 1996 Dunblane school massacre.

DunblaneAndy Murray, victor on Sunday of the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon, was with his brother Jamie a fortunate survivor of the Dunblane school massacre on 13 March 1996.

A previous massacre in the similarly bucolic English town of Hungerford in 1987 led to a ban on personal ownership of semi-automatic rifles. The Dunblane killings were carried out with handguns. These were subsequently also effectively banned, apart from heavily regulated clubs.

There have not been any school shootings in Britain since. There was a street shooting spree in Cumbria in 2010, in which the perpetrator used a shotgun and .22 rifle, both licensed. This did not lead to any further gun control legislation. I don’t know if police checks before issuing licenses have become tougher.

Britain has a gun crime problem – among hard-core criminal gangs in a few big cities. Their armourers, facing long prison sentences if discovered, must be very prudent men. I imagine their background checks to weed out agents provocateurs rival those of the police, and a lone nutter would get nowhere near one of their expensive weapons.

IN 2011 the UK recorded 38 firearms homicides.


Please confine comments to gun issues related to the UK and similar countries. We don’t need further advertisements for the Second Amendment. The arms clauses in the 1689 Bill of Rights are not treated in Britain as part of the living constitution.

Book Recommendation: This Boy

Former UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s memoir is one of the best non-political books ever written by a politician

this-boy_Former UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s memoir This Boy is one of the best non-political books ever written by a politician. It’s a beautifully written, uncompromising, touching and also at times funny account of a childhood lived out in grinding poverty in post-war Britain. More than anything, the book is a heartfelt tribute to the amazing mother and older sister who gave Johnson the love and support he needed to survive when his father abandoned their family.

To give one choice sample of the sterling quality of Johnson’s writing, and his ability to bring people to life for the reader, here is his description of his English teacher:

His face, beneath a fringe of severely cut fair hair, bore a permanent expression of anxiety. Small and shaped like a bowling pin, he walked with tiny steps, as if his shoelaces were tied together. We were constantly expecting him to topple over any minute. A committed Christian, he also taught Religious Education, a role that did not always sit easily with the fierce temper he tried, but often failed, to suppress. He was once seen hitting a boy over the head with a rolled up newspaper yelling: ‘Christ is love, you little bastard!’

Quote of the Day

You know there are times, perhaps once in every thirty years, when there is a change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of. I suspect there is now such a sea change — and it is for Mrs. Thatcher.

–PM James Callaghan, confiding his fears to advisor Bernard Donoughue on the eve of the 1979 UK election

Tabloid Newspapers: Mocked but Mighty

To encourage riders to remove and recycle their newspapers rather than leave them on the train, the London Underground has posted signs proclaiming in bolded capital letters that “The newspaper you’re reading is rubbish”. On my train this morning, a wag had scribbled in below this pronouncement “That’s the Mail for you”.

That was the second laugh I got at the expense of the UK tabloid newspapers this week. The first was when I was digging through a pile of newspapers and read the screaming headline of the Daily Express “PLAN CRAP PENSIONS”. When I removed the FT from on top of that rag, I saw that when no longer partially obscured, the headline was “NEW PLAN TO SCRAP PENSIONS”. But the headline as I misread it would not have been out of character for the paper.

Despite the disdain the tabloids draw from many people, including me, they remain enormously popular and influential. The Daily Mail operates one of the most widely visited news websites in the world and the whispered rumour that “The Sun is strongly opposed to your policy proposal and is planning a cover story” is enough to freeze the blood of even the most senior politicians.

But back to mockery. My friend Kevin Grant, a delightful British wit, penned this memorable summary of British newspapers for the television series “Yes, Prime Minister”.

The Brits Score Again in Political Satire

Veep continues the noble British tradition of drolly mocking politicians

The British television series Yes, Minister remains for me the ultimate in political satire, but on a long airplane ride I recently discovered something almost in the same class: Veep (a late discovery I know, but if you don’t own a television, airplanes are your chance to catch up on small-screen developments).

A small bit of digging revealed that the show has British origins, being a descendant of In the Loop which descended from The Thick of It which descended from Yes, Minister.

We’ve had some magnificent political satirists in the U.S., but I must say for a smaller country, the Brits sure punch above their weight in the droll mockery of politicians department.

The 200-Fold Increase in Old Age Housing Support Under Thatcher

Contrary to stereotype, funding for old age housing exploded under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

In the latest edition of his well-known textbook on UK domestic policy, LSE Professor Howard Glennerster tells the remarkable story of how national government support for housing the elderly exploded under Margaret Thatcher. In the decades after the war, local government authorities provided some social housing for the elderly who had nowhere else to turn. Technically, an elderly person also had the right to move into a privately-managed home with the bill paid by the national government. But this happened very rarely until the Thatcher government spelled the possibility out in explicit regulation, making the public generally aware of it for the first time.

Glennerster describes the stunningly rapid adaptation of the British:

People began to rid their elderly relatives of their assets and claim [the housing benefit]. Local authorities, under pressure to cut spending, began to see that if they closed homes or privatized them the old people could still be looked after in residential care and the central government would have to pay for them through the social security scheme. Private [old age] home owners began to realize that if they increased fees locally in line with other homes the social security scheme would have to pay up.

The result, under the putatively tight-fisted Thatcher government, was that Social Security spending on old age homes increased from £10 million to £2,072 million, a more than 200-fold increase over 12 years!

Glennerster, a Labour Party man down to his bones, concedes the reality that is usually trumpeted by conservatives:

There could be no better example of the way individuals will change their behaviour in fairly ruthless ways to avail themselves of public money.

The Origin of House of Cards

18522215_richardson_377985b Among the reminiscences about the late Margaret Thatcher, I found most fascinating an account by politican/novelist Lord Dobbs. He reveals the origin of his novel about the venomous politician Francis Urquhart, which begat House of Cards, the splendid BBC mini-series (recently remade with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright).

Dobbs was Margaret Thatcher’s long serving, loyal right-hand man for many years. But during the 1987 election, she turned on him in a meeting:

The term handbagging didn’t do justice to that outburst. I had never seen her so unreasoning or wretchedly unfair. It left deep wounds.

That moment changed our relationship, and changed my life. A few weeks later I was sitting beside a swimming pool, on holiday for the first time in more than two years, bruised, hurt. I’d just rejected an offer to write the inside story of ”the swinging handbag”. I don’t do kiss and tell, yet it got me thinking. Perhaps I could write a novel instead?

I sat for three hours with a bottle of wine and a writing pad, the dark corners of politics turning in my mind, the wounds still weeping. By the time I’d finished the bottle I had only two letters scrawled large upon the page. F.U.