Thursday, 10 June 2010

Crusaders and Citoyens

I don't really 'do' links on this blog, a disposition I've suddenly come to see as unfortunately solipsistic, given the promiscuous tendencies of one's everyday web-crawling habits. Still, return visitors here (that's you two, sit up straight) will probably have figured out which online writers I consult on a regular basis; and, yes, in respect of British politics, that would be John Rentoul of the Independent, Philip Stephens at the FT, Oliver Kamm & (with some lingering resistance) David Aaronovitch at the Times, and the widely-read blogger Hopi Sen.
So, this afternoon I was very gratified to have my opinion of the David Miliband campaign noted by Hopi Sen, who also had some kind words to say about Crusaders. The term 'comrade' is something else I don't 'do' on account of its now-ruined context (though I could still accept citoyen); and I would be getting ideas above my station to factor myself into any fancied club of 'co-thinkers'. But in politics, as in all parts of life, when it comes to convictions freely expressed then common ground is a fine thing to find.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

David Miliband: Not what you'd call an operator

Good grief… The ill tidings came by Twitter this afternoon: “Good news re Dianne. Thanks to my supporters who helped put her on ballot. Important day for debate and diversity in party.”
This blog wants David Miliband to win the Labour leadership contest, and hopes DM wants DM to win it too, because one could be forgiven for doubting as much, given his weird keenness to force an additional opponent onto the ballot paper.
DM’s nominating of Diane Abbott and urging of some of his own followers to do likewise seems to me a weirdly unimpressive stroke. If DM really believed Abbott had a deserved claim to lead the Party then I expect many supporters of his might reconsider their view of his own worthiness for the job. If DM believes Abbott will hive off first-preference votes from his brother and from Ed Balls, and/or that Abbott’s fan club will suddenly look on him favourably as a second choice then I wish him all the best with that manoeuvre, but find it somehow off-putting. And if DM believes that a female and/or non-white candidate is essential in any contest of this sort then I reckon he’s listening to the wrong sort of sanctimony, i.e. that of Labour NEC chair Ann Black (“If the choice is between three or four white male ex-ministers in their 40s, however able, it will be seen as lacking the full range of diversity which Labour seeks to reflect.”)
One wants Labour’s genuine diversity to be apparent, sure, but a leadership contest is not meant to be proportionally representative - leadership skills aren't distributed that way, and leaders aren't people who need a leg-up or a fix to get on the playing field. Your Party leader must emerge as someone who could impress the country at large as a potential Prime Minister, whether the job started tomorrow or in 2015. But then my troops may be overcommitted on this score, so to speak, as someone who admired David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary, and who didn’t vote for Diane Abbot back in 1997 when she was my local MP. (She didn't seem to me the most socialistic candidate, only the most otiose.)
The fact that the Tories are loving this nonsense doesn’t stop them from making worthwhile points, the Spectator’s James Forsyth noting that Abbott ‘will spend the contest making jokes at the expense of the four white male Oxbridge special advisers turned politicians she is running against.’ That would be fine if we could trust that a commensurate number of gags will be had at Abbott’s expense – her career has been risible in some notable ways – and yet somehow I doubt any of them will have the nerve, stifled both by the rules of the game that allowed Abbott in and the fear of being seen to beat up on the media-friendly underdog.
Still, any ‘I Agree with Diane’ tendencies will, I hope, be resisted. For one thing, you will never be sure if Diane Abbott means what she says: the evidence to date is not good, but one also hopes that conclusive proof need never be furnished. For the meantime, though, I second Hopi Sen’s query about whether or not ‘ the chance to look noble on Twitter was really worth it.’

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Cosmopolis (UEA): In academe's grey groves...

Good sport at the UEA Cosmopolis events last Saturday. I enjoyed my platform on fiction and politics with the eminent Giles Foden, chaired with some panache by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, author of What If Latin America Ruled the World? Giles said some especially intriguing things about thinking his way into Idi Amin's head for The Last King of Scotland. At Giles' prompting Oscar tasked both Giles and I to propose how we might fictionalise a) the Israeli Gaza flotilla debacle, and b) the BP oil-spill debacle. (My responses were, a) in the voice of a ghost, or else an IDF soldier slipping down a rope, and b) in the voice of a seagull...) Otherwise, I enjoyed expounding as always, on such beloved subjects as Mailer (his 'left conservatism'), George Steiner (poetry after Auschwitz, and Hitler depicted in his Portage to San Christobal of A.H.), and Brecht (the idea of pageant as 'illuminated history', offering a take on 'the truth behind it all.')
I also ended up chairing a fun session with the film/TV producer Judy Counihan, on the subject of how to pitch one's film script/idea to market, a concern on which I personally have begun to feel the pressing need for advice from someone of Judy's calibre...
Norwich itself struck me as a nice spot on my first visit. UEA is a campus college, and funnily enough I'd never been to a real campus before. But it was all very familiar. As the literary agent and novelist Derek Johns remarked to me and others in surveying its brute-concrete/dry-grassland aspect - 'Y'know, James Lasdun's dad did all of this...'