Thursday, 19 November 2009

Politicians I have liked and not shot


I know I cannot be a revolutionary because I am perfectly capable of liking those I disagree with and disliking those I agree with. The basis of such likes is not to do with opinion, it is with the way opinion is delivered. It is to do with intangibles. It is not to do with wanting them as friends or desiring to spend time with them, particularly not on any desert island with only one of them for company, but simply admitting them to the personal cast of the human race.

I have chiefly liked them because they seemed to talk like people. Not in any special way, just as themselves. They weren't presentations. Among Labour politicians, for example, I have particularly liked Neil Kinnock, Dennis Healey, Michael Foot, Robin Cook, Dennis Skinner, Shirley Williams and even 'Doctor Death', David Owen. I had respect for John Prescott at an earlier stage. These people seemed to be who they were as characters. Of the Liberals Paddy Ashdown was far above the rest. Charlie Kennedy was as he was.

The interesting case is the Tories. I cannot help liking Kenneth Clarke. I had a soft spot for Chris Patten. I even like and respect Norman Tebbitt though I think he is wrong about almost everything. I always thought John Major a decent man. Gillian Shepherd was probably OK. Carrington, though a toff, was an honourable toff.

It may simply be that I detected a spot of not much more than reasonableness and honesty in them.

I cannot see anyone in any party that I like as a person. The persons are kept back at some distance. All tan and no skin. I am open to offers of likability, but in any case, the liking has no political effect. When it came to a political decision, I would smile and say, 'Sorry, X, I like you but I am voting against you.'

A British Council representative once told me, 'I have friends among them but I wouldn't be surprised if one of them turned up one day with a gun, saying, "You're a good man, X, but too bad," and, giving a sad smile, shot me.'



15 comments:

Dafydd John said...

Interestingly, I can agree with your list - apart from two very strongly felt exceptions! Neil Kinnock and Norman Tebbit.

George S said...

Of course I understand Tebbitt. The little Englander side to him - the sheer unremitting nature of the ideas. But he said them straight with a certain blunt honesty I appreciated. Nor did I think he would be, personally an unkind man. I thought it worthwhile hearing him.

But tell me about Kinnock. Wales?

Mark Granier said...

'A British Council representative once told me, 'I have friends among them but I wouldn't be surprised if one of them turned up one day with a gun, saying, "You're a good man, X, but too bad," and, giving a sad smile, shot me.'

And with friends like that...

I like many of the ones you mention George, though my most likable politicians (who also happen to be my political heroes) are John Hume and, across the water, Clare Short and Mo Mowlam. I even found Blair likable at times, when he let his guard drop a little. Martin Amis wrote an interesting piece about spending some time with 'Tony', posted here: http://silabilm.blogspot.com/2007/06/blairs-extended-goodbye-martin-amis.html

It can be, fun, of course, to talk about the ones you do NOT like. There is that anecdote, by the other Amis, about the other Tony, the 'English cunt': http://mreugenides.blogspot.com/2009/11/amis-on-benn.html

Though I have always rather liked Tony Benn, even if he is a wee bit prim and proper.

So many of us hated Thatcher, though she possessed the virtue of being forthright; her horrible, emphatic/triumphant use of the modal verb, 'shall'. Funny to think of people like Larkin and K. Amis liking (even eroticising) that invincible, rather wooden persona, lethal as a chessboard queen.

George S said...

1.
I wonder if you can tell where the BC representative worked, Mark?

I find Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher two sides of the same coin. Thatcher as a person would not come within a mile of being likable, in the sense of entering my own personal cast of the human race. Tony Benn is so full of his sense of self-importance I find him intolerable to contemplate for longer than ten minutes at a time.

Interesting that Larkin loved her though. Much of Eastern Europe also did.

I think there was a sense of deep malaise about the seventies. Things were falling apart, it seemed forever, and no centre could hold. I remember the strikes about differentials for instance. No sooner did one group of employees get a 12% increase than another wanted to restore differentials. I remember the pay demands - rises of 24%, 27%... it couldn't go on. Every British product was being undercut by products from abroad.... it was pretty vertiginous.

I won't go on with that.

What Thatcher did was brutal and cruel and, in its own terms, successful. What is more New Labour also thought it was successful, and while the rhetoric had to be against her, one of the first things Blair and Brown did in 1997 after winning the election, was to invite her over.

We have had thirty years of Thatcherism. Old communities have gone, social cohesion has weakened, the new smart managerial and entrepreneurial types have taken over, the vastly rich have become fabulously rich. And now, after these thirty years, we are once again beginning to question the economic principles that gave the country - and I mean chiefly England - stability at the cost of cohesion, national confidence at the cost of lives, foreign ventures and military overstretch, relative material wealth in terms of consumer goods and variety of choice at the cost of abandoning the poorest, unluckiest and craziest.

George S said...

2.
What Larkin admired in Mrs Thatcher was a kind of common sense, the common sense of rudimentary economics. If you haven't got it, you can't spend it, was the deal for him. What he didn't know then, and probably couldn't know, was that another kind of financial mirage was being constructed, the mirage of the financial-centre-economy.

Mrs Thatcher was a major factor in the history of England (again I say England rather than the UK), coming at a time of national collapse. The image of her as Britannia with shield was probably the popular image of her. She was a naturally martial prime minister and more convincing at it than George W Bush.

Do I admire her in any sense? Not in any sense I could point to. It is just that I don't know what else was possible at that historical tipping point in 1979, bar a revolution and the kind of friendship revolution brings (see post). I don't think Michael Foot was possible, much as I did admire and like him. I could wish him possible, but I didn't think he was.

The we of 'so many of us hated Thatcher' is the world I move in. And I quite see and recognise 'that invincible, rather wooden persona, lethal as a chessboard queen'. Beautifully put. The question then is what kind of chessboard were we inhabiting in 1979? Hatred is a natural response: how else could one regard a force as remorseless as that, so convinced of its own correctness.

I am simply aware that that class of 'we' above is not, and never will be, a fully political creature. I would love to think that some form of socialism-anarchism could have occupied and dominated the chessboard at that historical moment. I want to believe that there will come a time when such ideas could establish their own terrain which may not be so much like a chessboard.

I suspect, however, that artists will not be major players there if only because artists are potentially the worst of tyrants. Beauty to them, however humane in subject and sentiment, has a kind of romantic absoluteness without which they could not work. I am one myself and it is a quality I recognise in myself. I fight it, but the constructing and editing process takes no prisoners. It is not the poet who votes but the man.

Kinnock was possible. I am waiting to hear from Dafydd why he so disliked him. I liked what I knew o John Hume and of Mo Mowlem. Less sure about Clare Short.

Dafydd John said...

I probably first became aware of Kinnock after his part in the 1979 referendum campaign. Although I was too young to be a part of that campaign, his contributions soon became infamous, and they are still remembered by many.

It is perfectly acceptable for someone to be anti-devolution. Personally, I cannot understand how anyone would vote against the idea of further autonomy, but I still accept that it is possible for someone to hold that view. That campaign was littered with accusations – or is it prophecies? – of wild, Welsh speaking men coming down from the north, seizing power and taking all the jobs. Although these were silly, wholly improbable scenarios, they still made an impact. But they were as nothing compared to the accusations he made that English speaking children on Anglesey were wetting themselve because they could not ask to go to the toilet in Welsh. These – of course! – were proved to be downright lies, but as far as I know, he has never apologized. If you can stoop to that level…

He will still, to this day, probably be moved to tears at a rendition of Myfanwy by a male voice choir. He will also probably be the most vociferous supporter of the Welsh rugby team. But no further. He cannot abide the idea that the Welsh may have some ideas of their own as far how they are governed is concerned – and he still thinks he knows best from his home in Islington, or wherever it may be.

The truth is that I believe, and many, many will agree with me, that he used the 1979 referendum campaign to further his own career, and sod anyone or anything else. Then Thatcher came, and we had no Assembly that might have been some comfort during those dark, dark days.

He would probably defend himself by claiming to defend and support the British working class. Fair enough – though perhaps a little more difficult these days from Islington! But it is his modus operandi that I object to; his half truths; his lies.

I will say however that I do think he has impressive oratorical skills.

Will Barton said...

Hi George,

I remember you at Leeds Poly Fine Art.
You were the Man I was the Boy.
You were large doing what looked like Chagall(compliment) in the doorway of that revolting studio. I hid on the 6th floor for 2 years.
Have followed your work with interest ever since.
I was a good friend of Martin Bell and I still have your print inviting me to his memorial at the Poetry Society.How did you get my address? What a lovely man he was.Like you I never seem to have stopped working but have kept it too much to myself. The fatal error of the hermit I suppose. I doubt you will remember me but with a name like yours and the work you are unforgettable. You can see what I did after I grew up at myartspace.com/willbartonart and at willbartonart.wordpress.com.My best wishes to you.

The very kindest regards,

Will Barton

Mark Granier said...

'I wonder if you can tell where the BC representative worked, Mark?'

No idea George. Lagos? Northern Ireland?

'I find Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher two sides of the same coin.

[]

Tony Benn is so full of his sense of self-importance I find him intolerable to contemplate for longer than ten minutes at a time.'

Maybe. But, to me, TB seems both more humane and more open to criticism.

'We have had thirty years of Thatcherism.'

Yes, I have often thought that, and of course her influence has extended across the water.


'What Larkin admired in Mrs Thatcher was a kind of common sense, the common sense of rudimentary economics. If you haven't got it, you can't spend it, was the deal for him.'

Yes, what you might call Toad Economics, though Larkin's attitude to money (if the poem 'Money' is anything to go by) seems weirdly complicated, if not 'intensely sad'.

'Mrs Thatcher [] was a naturally martial prime minister and more convincing at it than George W Bush.'

Yes, the Falklands suited her style perfectly, so much so that I wonder where she would have been without that war.

'It is just that I don't know what else was possible at that historical tipping point in 1979, bar a revolution and the kind of friendship revolution brings (see post).'

Thatcher herself had some questionable friends, including Suharto and her old chum Pinochet.

'I suspect, however, that artists will not be major players there if only because artists are potentially the worst of tyrants.'

Potentially, certainly, though few enough artists have actually played and won that game; most are too openly radical (such as Norman Mailer, who exhausted himself running for mayor of NY in 1969). I suppose Hitler might be considered a failed artist (how different the world might be if he'd been successful in that pursuit). On the other hand, the world has had considerable experience of being ruled by non-artistic tyrants: Stalin, Mao, Franco, etc. I'd be surprised if artists could have been much worse.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I agree with most of your list of OK chaps, and would add Douglas Hurd as another decent toff. On the NuLab benches, Hilary Benn seems a reasonable cove. I have a lot of respect for Kate Hoey as someone who sticks to her principles, even though I don't always share them. I met Major once and liked him: warm, quick-witted, understated, but not a man whom the cameras could love. I couldn't stand Thatcher. Quite apart from her policies she pressed primitive buttons, often quite deliberately. Not someone with whom one could expect to have a rational disagreement - at least, that's the impression one gets. It's all media mediated, isn't it? And yet and yet, she was also the target of snobbery of both sorts from left and right. I'm not excusing her in the slightest, just deploring the ad feminam criticisms of her when there are real policy arguments to made. (Thatcher and Palin, compare and contrast.)

Gen. Theory Will may flame me for this, but I'm trying to be objective here: what should have been the outcome of her time in office, had things been managed in the best way possible? Would we still be building ships, metal-bashing, digging coal? How could we have stayed competitive against the cheap labour of the east? Labour's answer then was exchange control, quotas, all the panoply of a managed economy - but who on the left is arguing for that now? Are the complaints against Thatcher arguments about policy, arguments about tactics, arguments against inevitability, or arguments about style?

But what I really want to know is: What are you going to post about Le Main de Dieu?

Anne said...

Google was down when I posted that. I take full responsibility for Anon at 3.33 pm.

SHMG.

George S said...

Mark - Answer is Dublin. Thatcher's friends were indeed questionable. But then she also did business with Gorbachev. Thatcher was Cold War Iron, that is why Eastern Europe took to her. It wasn't Pinochet that was oppressing them: it was Stalin and Khruschev and Brezhnev. You may well wish to take your pick of Pinochet or Stalin (or the others) but we are privileged to be able to pick at all not having suffered under either.

She would probably have lost the election with the Falkland.

I have no difficulty in understanding the 'intensely sad' part of Larkin's poem. It is money singing he finds intensely sad.

Anne - yes, the second paragraph is the question.

Le Main de Dieu coming up.

Will - just back from Brighton and another event so will check your website. Nice to hear from you...

Mark Granier said...

Ah, Dublin! I should have guessed of course.

'It wasn't Pinochet that was oppressing them: it was Stalin and Khruschev and Brezhnev. You may well wish to take your pick of Pinochet or Stalin (or the others) but we are privileged to be able to pick at all not having suffered under either.'

George, I am well aware of my privileged status, but I don't see why questioning Thatcher's friendship (and it really was a VERY public friendship) with Pinochet should mean that I must hypothetically 'choose' between him and the others you mention.

The sane choice (before Thatcher came to power) was the democratically elected socialist Allende (1970), deposed by an American-backed coup. Allende may have had connections with the USSR but was hardly a Soviet puppet; he publicly condemned the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia (as he had once condemned Kristallnacht, by sending a telegram to Hitler).

No doubt Thatcher would have maintained that Pinochet was a hero of democracy. Of course we cannot know all the little ins and outs, the 'intelligence' (some of which is still in classified CIA files). But I think it is reasonable to at least wonder if the Cold War paranoia (domino theory, etc.) really achieved anything significant, or if a much safer and saner world might have emerged from a more concerted attempt to make leaders like Allende allies rather than (expendable) enemies, with all the murder and bloodshed and rivers choked with innocent bodies that that latter option entailed.

George S said...

For God's sake, Mark - where have I implied I am asking you to choose?

I am trying to explain why Thatcher was admired by Eastern Europeans. Are you an Eastern European? If not, what the hell is that about you having to choose? I didn't have to choose either! What I think I have said is that Thatcher was a product of the cold war and the reason she was popular in Eastern Europe is because they were the subjects of the cold war.

It is Eastern Europeans who chose.

What the hell is up with people this Saturday. Is everyone drunk?

You think I am excusing Thatcher for being a friend of Pinochet?

Diane said...

I was in North Somerset for a week working..........what a great Saturday (last) of argument I sadly missed!

Mark Granier said...

Well, sorry about that George. I know you mentioned E Europe, but it was the way you phrased the question, the use of that personal pronoun. I didn't think you were 'excusing Thatcher for being a friend of Pinochet', but rather calling into question my (or our) privileged position to cast the millionth stone. Anyway, next time I'll think twice (or reread a dozen times) before making a comment. Wasn't drunk BTW (though maybe should have been). Have a good weekend. Cheers.

(the Word verification is, appropriately, 'politi').