This Thursday’s Thought is raised by an article in the Independent by John Rentoul: what’s a ‘retail politician’? Perhaps, in contrast to a second-hand car salesman, estate agent, etc, someone you’d buy a policy from?
Not, at least, the kind derided by Lear:
Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.
They’d conclude that Cameron was just another scurvy politician, posing as a man of the people when, in reality, he’s a well-heeled member of Britain’s plutocratic elite.
Whatever the answer, it seems that Michael Gove ‘is not a retail politician on television’. Ah – so it’s how you look under the studio lights that matters? Still, according to John Rentoul, he still ‘could be prime minister’.
That David Cameron is a right tease: let him off on his travels and he says all kinds of things. I don’t know, he needs a public relations minder with him. (What do you mean, public relations used to be his job? You’re having me on!) Today’s Guardian, under the punning headline I’ve stolen for my title (sadly not used online), reports:
Cameron later sparked controversy about Britain’s imperial past by claiming it was responsible for many of the world’s problems. He made his remark as a semi-jocular aside at the end of a question and answer session at a university in Islamabad.
Asked what Britain might be able to do settle the war in Kashmir, he replied: “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”
Semi-jocular? You need to watch that sense of humour Dave. I mean, just imagine if folk get hold of the idea that people responsible for the issue aren’t the ones to clear it up:
Ah yes, Miss, I know the classroom’s a bit of a mess. but we can’t clear it up because we’re the ones what done it, see, and we only do untidy. I mean really, have you ever seen us leave a foreign country tidy? Look at that Kashmir, Miss – such a mess they still haven’t sorted it out 60 years later!
As for what the Daily Mail and the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade might make of the idea that criminals can’t possibly be expected to make restitution – well… Already Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph has told us bluntly:
Sorry, but it’s not right to apologise: The Prime Minister’s mea culpa over the conflict in Kashmir is neither welcome nor wise… He could have pointed out that we gave Pakistan (and indeed the rest of the world) many splendid bequests: parliamentary democracy, superb irrigation systems, excellent roads, the rule of law, the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket.
This article is rather bizarrely accompanied by a series of images, including ‘David Cameron, a life in pictures’ and ‘Top Right-wingers: 25-1’. Are those the odds on a coup, or the way the paper counts down to the very top, rightmost right one? Ah no, it’s the cricket score: right wingers put in to bat, 25 quangos for one wicket – that careless David Laws out for a duck. Well, it’s better than being out for a duck house, innit?
Thawing relations, boosting education, protecting minorities – and taxing the rich….
Refreshing the mindIt’s good to see that David Cameron’s short visit to Pakistan included the promise of ‘£650m of additional aid to train teachers, build new schools and provide text-books’. Perhaps he might like to ensure that those who commission this work read Three Cups of Tea, commended here – and already ‘required reading for US high command’ (see, we told you)?
It seems that David Cameron and his foreign Office advisers have realised that a good public relations exercise in India last year was a disaster over the border – or, to use the Guardian’s metaphor, ‘put British relations with Pakistan in the deep freeze’ (yes, it gets pretty cold in the North-West Frontier, I can tell you).
Breaking news: Tory PM says tax the rich: at midday today, the Guardian posted a report headlined: David Cameron tells Pakistan: raise more tax from the rich. To show this is no repeat of his PR (and arms sales) trip to India, our Prime Minister tells Pakistan like it is, based on tough lessons learn back home: ‘Pakistani fiscal position was a serious one because “too few people pay tax. Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that’s not fair”.’ Dave, you are a true man of the people, even if it takes a trip abroad to give you the courage and vision to speak your mind!
Where this blog leads, greater minds will follow. Or at least so it seems from comments by Simon Tisdall on Cameron in India in The Guardian.
Where this blog leads, greater minds will follow. Or at least so it seems from today’s comments by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian. His learning objectives (or LOs, to use the ghastly initials that stalk education these days) are:
Terror: ‘When it comes to fighting terror, a bit of the famous Cameron humility might not be out of place.’
Af-Pak border: ‘This problem was made in Britain.’ (Well, I could have told him that…)
Kashmir: once a kind of paradise in the Himalayas, Kashmir is now described as ‘the most dangerous place in the world. It’s an issue that a “plain speaking” PM should not try to dodge.’
Democracy: ‘Who d’you want to deal with, Dave? Pakistani democrats, with all their failings, or another dictator?’
People: ‘International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “Pakistan is facing an education emergency…. More needs to be done. Doubling Britain’s annual £130m aid to Pakistan would be an audacious move at a time of domestic financial austerity. But it would serve the British national interest.’ Indeed, and we Mirandanetters stand ready to answer our country’s call once again! I think I’ve still got Teach Yourself Urdu somewhere….
Reaction to our new Prime Minister’s frank remarks in India are warning up nicely – and not just on this blog
Reaction to our new Prime Minister’s frank remarks in India are warning up nicely – and not just on this blog. Today’s lead story in the Guardian declares that Pakistan president will ‘put David Cameron straight’ over terror claims. And the cartoon shows a hyperactive David Cameron, amongst other things, burning the Pakistan flag over a ‘frank incense’ flame. Yesterday’s offering showed Pakistani delegates paying a visit to David Cameron, too. The comments on the cartoon are an indication of the ire aroused on all sides (and that’s just about the jokes), though it’s probably true that for all this the great British public will remain unmoved as the conflict in Afghanistan grinds on till – when?
As the Guardian’s story today reminds us, ‘India and Pakistan have fought three major wars since partition in 1947 and remain deeply at odds over divided Kashmir.’ This was obvious to me in the late 60s; the school I was working in had a memorial to former students who had died in the last conflict.
Three Cups of Tea
At least the US military are taking tea – or more accurately, reading Three Cups of Tea, the book by former army medic Greg Mortenson. This work by a humanitarian worker has recently become required reading for US high command. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the NCTE Convention in Texas in 2008, where it was obvious that this rather unassuming guy was something of a reluctant celebrity. He must be more aware than anyone that all his good work in providing schools for remote areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan is threatened by the combined action of the NATO forces and their enemies. His book is worth reading for a taste of life in a part of the world that normally only comes to our attention when riven by violence, earthquakes or floods. Find out about his Central Asia Institute here.
The words of US Admiral Mike Mullen, joint chiefs of staff, when criticising the founder of WikiLeaks seem too ironic to miss
This week’s Friday’s Phrase is ‘blood on their hands’. OK, so it’s only Monday and I had said Word of the Day was offline until September, but the words of US Admiral Mike Mullen, joint chiefs of staff, when criticising the founder of WikiLeaks seem too ironic to miss: ‘Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.’ (Guardian, 30 July 2010). As David Leigh writes in today’s paper: ‘Damage control efforts by the White House did not improve until the weekend. We then saw the spectacle of generals, with gallons of innocent civilian blood on their hands, orating that WikiLeaks had potentially failed to do enough to protect local Afghans.’
The row over the Afghan War Logs has raised the profile of the conflict in the last week, and seemed to be the prompt for David Cameron’s frank (but rather partial) words criticising Pakistan whilst he was on a visit to India – with the proudly proclaimed aim of doing business for Britain (Hawk jets included). He might have been wise to have sought a briefing from the Foreign Office first; I’m sure they would have reminded him of the dates that a former diplomat, Geoff Cowling (Vice-consul Kabul 1970-73), mentioned in a letter to the Guardian last Thursday:
1842: total annihilation of the 6,000 strong British army retreating from Kabul en route to Kandahar in the first Afghan war
27 July 1880: Battle of Maiwand during the second Afghan war: ‘the final result was a rout for the British army that lost more than 950 men on their retreat back to Kandahar.’
1919: Third Afghan War: ‘totally forgotten by us too’.
As Cowling comments: ‘History tells the Pashtuns that foreign invaders are vulnerable – something the Russians too learned to their considerable cost. It’s a pity politicians did not read their history before venturing into the hostile, fiercely independent Helmand and blundering into the fourth Afghan war.’ His allusion to the humiliation of the Russians (1979-89) is a reminder that the United States and others were only too willing to arm the mujahidin – discovering later, fatally, that ‘blowback’ doesn’t just apply when a Stinger missile is launched.
David Cameron and others might also remember 1947: the partition of India by the departing British into Muslim Pakistan and secular India left the unresolved sore of Kashmir that lies at the root of much of the conflict in the area. I’m interested to read elsewhere in today’s paper that Peter Preston agrees: ‘Kashmir? The reason why Pakistan’s military stays so strong, so funded, so bent on matching India’s every move. The reason why Pakistan democracy has proved so frail. The reason why Islamabad dabbles in Afghanistan’s shifting alliances. Begin to broker a final Indo-Pakistani peace, try to set stable relations at the core of the subcontinent, and everything else begins to follow.’
Good heavens, as a former resident of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (glimpsed above), I even told Andrew Bingham, the Conservative candidate (and now MP) all about this on my doorstep back in April. MPs, Prime Ministers: do they ever listen?
Not being made PM is a cruel blow, especially when you’ve gone up to London on purpose.
Will Gordon, David or Nick weep on failing to become Prime Minister? I suspect they’d consult their image consultants first. Yet one noble Lord did, it seems, cry when his summons didn’t, after all, mean being asked to form a government – as I learnt during a visit last week to Montacute House. In addition to the portraits of Elizabethan and Jacobean worthies, the house has Curzon Room, named after the former Viceroy of India who rented the house with his mistress, the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn, ‘enduring,’ the National Trust poetically puts it, ‘Arctic temperatures to stay by her man’s side.’ Thus inspired, the NT’s writer continues: ‘But she couldn’t stop Curzon’s feelings cooling along with the weather, and knew the frost had well and truly set in when she read of his engagement to Mrs Alfred Duggan in the Times.’ This cruel treatment rather undermines the same writer’s claim that ‘We all suffer our disappointments in life, but perhaps not so acute as George Nathaniel Curzon.’ Really? Did they ask Ms Glyn about his sin or only care about hers?
I guess not becoming Prime Minister is a blow, especially when you’ve gone up to London on purpose. For although there was no telephone at Montacute in 1923, when a telegram arrived, ‘the supremely confident Curzon’ travelled up to London with great expectations that he would become the next Prime Minister, only to find that Stanley Baldwin had got the job. It seems the most prominent reasons were that Curzon’s character was objectionable (they must have heard about his treatment of Ms Glyn – or taken against him in person), and that it was inappropriate for the Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords. The noble Lord was said to have burst into tears on hearing the news. Or, to express it in doggerel:
Curzon cried when not selected
Trouble was he weren’t elected
Even Kings must succumb
To the voter’s rule of thumb
And so it will be on May 6th – unless, of course, we have a hung Parliament, a prospect that is causing the chattering classes great excitement.
Writing this, I came across this Balliol rhyme about Curzon, ‘a piece of doggerel which stuck with him in later life’:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.
And so it that I seem to have stumbled into an imitation of the form. Well, it’s bad enough….