Saturday, June 27, 2009

North Britain with Ailsa 2 - the eve of the longest day

Eventually I must have fallen asleep about three o’clock, and woke again at nine.

Lying in bed I could hear beyond the door the sound of Ailsa and her mother talking in the large kitchen-dining room. I had to go through this room to get to the bathroom, and because I had not brought a dressing gown I swathed myself in the thin duvet. The door opened with an explosive crack (warped with age, there was great tension in the doorhandle) and revealed Ailsa and her mother sitting at the round pine table occupied with tea and toast and marmalade.

The bathroom was a tiny room off the central passage, very awkward in layout, so I kept knocking things over.

By the time I had finished breakfast it was nearly eleven.

We discussed what we would do with the day.

Ailsa’s mother suggested looking round “the commune”. We got into her car and drove to the other side of the bay and turned off into what appeared to be a caravan park set among pine trees. We parked the car by a New Age shop and got out.

Ailsa’s mother led the tour. A tall slim woman in her fifties, she was totally unlike Ailsa, and had no trace of a Scottish accent. She had a flawless complexion (supposedly maintained by drinking a cup of gallium tea each day).

“These caravans are the earliest part of the commune, founded in the sixties” she said. “I first came here on a retreat twenty-five years ago, then left for a while, then moved back permanently. Many people come here for a few weeks and stay for the rest of their lives.”

Above: the art gallery is the building on the right.

We came to the art gallery, which Ailsa’s mother described as “world class”. This was no empty boast – the exhibition hall was beautifully designed in a modern style, and had a programme of events and exhibitions that would be coveted by any major city. We looked at a room full of Jon Schueler abstracts – not the sort of thing I like, and yet I found them enchanting.

Above: the gallery attracts many high-profile shows.

Ailsa rootled round in some racks and produced an old catalogue of a John Byrne exhibition, and pointed at the long-haired flower-bedecked hippy on the cover. “Look at this guy” she whispered. “This is exactly what the commune is all about, except that the hippies have got old and retired – you’ll see when we meet some.”

We moved into the area known as “the eco village”. This part of the commune consisted of architecturally distinguished detached houses laid out like a garden suburb planned by Ebenezer Howard. Open views with the pine woods and the white sand beaches just beyond the dunes.

Above: this house is apparently made of straw. Other houses were made of recycled materials. The “natural sewage” system is of great pride to the three thousand residents.

Several people greeted Ailsa’s mother as we walked around. They all seemed to be educated middle-class professionals. The day was gloriously hot and sunny.

Above: we had lunch at a café in the commune.

We came to some community buildings and had lunch in a communal café. As well as the permanent residents who live in the houses and caravans there are also thousands of people going through “the programme”. Ailsa explained: “You can enter the programme and stay as long as you like living communally and the commune will find you work, give you food and clothes and pocket money and take you through all the seminars and meditations and stuff. Lots and lots of divorced women come here trying to find themselves. Personally I think it operates like a cult.” Ailsa’s mother listened to this with a serene smile on her face, as if her daughter was talking complete nonsense.

Above: the important people in the commune are displayed on this wall.

We went into a sort of community centre which included a large theatre area where many famous actors have performed. There were impressive mosaics set in the floor of the foyer, again a gift from an artist. A wall covered with photographs showed all the senior people in the commune and their place in the informal hierarchy (“There are no elections” said Ailsa, “the leaders just emerge”).

Above: buildings set aside for meditation.

There was a persistent spiritual theme throughout the commune with buildings set aside for meditation, peace gardens (one designed by a famous landscape gardener), prayer flags etc. The spirituality pursued by the commune seemed to be a sort of syncretism. This mysticism has been firmly disapproved of by the traditional ministers in the adjacent village.

Above: yurts.

“Are those yurts” I asked.

“Yes, those are yurts” Ailsa’s mother said with an amused smile.

“But they are yurts with wood-burning stoves” scoffed Ailsa.

From the commune we walked along into the village. The New Age community has penetrated this very traditional fishing settlement, and gradually the houses are being bought up by wealthy ex-hippies who want to be near the commune but not actually live in it. “Being very cynical” said Ailsa, “I think it is a way for nineteen-sixties former hippies who have become successful professionals to drop out in their retirement and revist the ’sixties of their youth going to yoga and talks by environmentalists and theatrical productions all paid for by the drones who go through the programme”.

Above: leaders of the commune used to go to the top of the hill in the distance to meet extra-terrestrials.

We stopped on the side of the shore and Ailsa pointed across the bay to a shallow hill topped by a tower. “In the nineteen-seventies the entire commune went to the top of that hill to wait for the end of the world, and when it didn’t happen they had to come down again. Eric Sykes based one of his comedy shows on the incident.”

Note: I have searched on Youtube for the Eric Sykes show The End of the World, but it seems there are no remaining copies.

Above: looking to the west at about ten o’clock at night.

As it was the night before the longest day Ailsa’s mother stayed up until the dawn, taking her deckchair onto the beach. We joined her for about five hours, wrapped in blankets and drinking the local whisky Benromach. It never got completely dark – you saw a patch of blue sky move from the left-hand horizon to the right-hand one.

Above: looking to the east about three in the morning – at this point I went back to the house and went to bed.

Above: this article about the summer solstice appeared in the Guardian on 22nd June 2009.

The next day The Guardian had a big feature on the summer solstice which Ailsa’s mother read with interest. I pointed out that the Celtic solstice should not be confused with the traditional English midsummer which is on St John’s Day, 24th June. We discussed the Guardian article by Cole Moreton, which was full of errors.

Although Moreton quotes Ronald Hutton he seems to have missed Hutton’s point that the “Celtic ritual year” with four festivals on the quarter-days is probably a nineteenth-century academic invention and has no real supporting evidence (and in any case has no relevance to the four agricultural seasons).

Moreton also seems to be confused about the origins of English religion (unless he subscribes to Francis Pryor’s silly theory that there were no Anglo-Saxons and that the present English population is in fact prehistoric). Modern paganism cannot, in England, be a revival of pre-Christian religion as there is almost no evidence as to what religious beliefs the early Anglo-Saxons brought with them. Probably early Saxon religion consisted of local cults based on geographical features in the landscape, and therefore lost their relevance after the migration across the North Sea (this would account for the relative speed with which the Anglo-Saxons subsequently converted to Christianity).

He needs to read Stenton, Whitelock and Loyn.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

North Britain with Ailsa

The train from Kings Cross traveled northwards, sometimes rushing, sometimes trundling. The first five hours I mostly slept or read newspapers – Telegraph, Guardian, Independent. Later I looked through Ailsa’s copy of Essentials, and then read some of her book (The Victorian Chaise-Longue, a ghost story by Marghanita Laski).

More sleeping. The sun shone and the humidity within the train became intense. The train stopped at the old military capital of North Britain, a big castle on top of a mountain (supposedly Bede’s Urbs Giudi).

Several members of the “national” basketball team for North Britain got on and sat at the table obliquely opposite to ours. They were taciturn and stone faced. When they got off I mentioned to Ailsa that none of them had said a word the entire time they were on the train.(she waved towards the passing landscape and said “All this distilled glowering has entered into the national character”).

More tea in card cups.

I began to pay more attention to the changing view outside the window.

Scots pines crowned the ridges. Bright-yellow gorse bushes covered the landscape like so many Mosaic burning bushes. Purple mountains in the distance.

The rail line was mostly on an embankment so that although the terrain was hilly I had the sense of looking down on it, until the ground heaved up into mountains in the distance. The overcast weather made the colours dull, but the landscape turned to a vibrant pea-green when the sun came out. Only once did it rain (heavily) as we went through an ancient capital of the Picts - we speculated what the Picts might have looked like (“nasty, brutish and short” said Ailsa in broad Glaswegian), and selected a candidate from among the passengers who got on when we stopped, but he turned out to be an American.

Above: only once did it rain, when we passed through an ancient Pictish settlement, now marked by a cavernous Victorian station.

Ailsa talked about the local nationalism, trying to alarm me with stories of how English people can be treated. When I failed to be alarmed she talked about false Ossianian romanticism. “If the BNP is a sinister Wagnerian production, the SNP is a comic Italian operetta” she said.

Mountains wrapped in grey veils of cloud like shawl-wrapped keening “Och, ochón!” women (Ailsa’s mock romanticism was becoming infectious). The mountainsides came ever closer so that we were traveling for miles through a narrow defile, the steep sides covered in thin forest interspersed with wild purple rhododendrons (the flowers past their best) cascading down like mauve waterfalls. Masses of ferns covered the ground, indicating the dampness of the environment.

Occasionally the defile would widen briefly and we would cross over nameless watershed rivers, shallow and full of light in the gathering “gloaming”. Horned cattle stood in meadows as if they had been arranged by Landseer. Sheep were grazing in strips of grass alongside the rivers.

The train rolled forward, maintained by a type of male railway operative that seemed to deserve their own anthropological classification. In railway uniforms, they were all slightly below average height, lean build, with middle-aged pinched and lined faces and youthfully-gelled spiky hair. They fussed and bustled up and down the train checking tickets, pushing trolleys of tea and coffee, collecting rubbish in giant bags, blowing whistles at the stations, waving paddles, running up and down on the platforms with incredible energy.

The mountains closed in, the trees came even closer.

We talked again about the local nationalism. “It’s based on fear” Ailsa said. “This is a fearful country afraid of being discovered and raped by the modern world” she said, adding matter-of-factly “England has already been raped and left for dead.”

Little half-hearted spatters of rain fell on the windows, lasting no more than a few seconds. Ailsa recounted a long list of grievances – clearances, evictions, diasporas etc. “All these jumbled resentments have been thickened with the blood of low-level conflicts so that they become a sort of ethno-nationalist black pudding, the gross ingredients seasoned with ethnic culture so that it becomes delicious to certain palates.”

Above: the landscape opened up

The landscape opened up and rolled away from the railway line. We crossed over rivers that were packed with smooth grey stones. White sheep studded the brown heather of the hills.

High up near the top of a rounded mountain I saw two long patches of white, incredulous that it could be snow.

The sun came out again at quarter past seven. We stopped at a station where ornamental trees had been twisted and stunted by the winds. Through woods of silver birch, a different sort of fern covering the ground.

Then we seemed to enter a holiday area, with chalets set down any-old-how and caravans in little parks. Plantations of conifers. We stopped at station where dozens of back-packers got off and walked down the platform purposefully, as if braced for mountain hiking.

Above: every table was covered with detritus.

The train suddenly seemed empty. Every table was covered with detritus (despite the rubbish-collecting forays of the staff). We went along a great viaduct curving forward towards the coast and the small city where the train would terminate.

Arriving at the terminus it was still broad daylight at eight o’clock. We had an hour and a half to wait until the branch line train would leave. We went out into the city centre which seemed half-deserted.

Above: the national heraldic beast had been set up on a column.

Gulls cried overhead. There was a persistent smell of curry from various Indian restaurants. We walked through a shopping plaza where the national heraldic beast had been set up on a column.

“This is the capital of the north?” I asked Ailsa.

“This is no capital, this is a shit-hole” she said, “you don’t want to be here on a Saturday night.”

Above: there seemed to be many outlets selling ethnic costumes, also available over the internet.

We looked for somewhere to eat, but nothing seemed suitable (we had been eating all day on the train, so were not really hungry). We were carrying our luggage and so could not walk too far. After wandering aimlessly for a while we went back to the station and sat down on a bench to wait.

Above: the railway terminus was festooned with banners proclaiming pagan fire festivals.

By twenty past nine the sun had gone but the daylight was still clear. The local train took us along the coastal branch line, beside a muddy flat shore. Long views across the sea, long shafts of light under the dull grey clouds, long pauses of melancholic contemplation as we neared the end of our journey.

“This is the Brighton of the north” said Ailsa as we got off at a small station and met her mother, who had come to meet us. We drove through the small town which looked entirely unlike Brighton. After about fifteen miles we turned onto a coastal road along one side of a peninsula, the bay beautiful on our right.

Ailsa’s mother lived in a small pebble-dashed bungalow. I was shown into my room, which was sparsely furnished and had a hard single bed. After a cup of tea and an hour of talking we all went to bed, although it took me ages to get to sleep (and I was conscious of mice scrabbling in the far corner of the room).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The degradation of the office of Speaker

Above: Bremner Bird & Fortune have stopped trying to satirise the Expenses Scandal. They simply portray what is actually happening and the audience falls about laughing. The Expenses Scandal is beyond satire and the feelings raised go very deep.

After a few days in Scotland I have gone down with ’flu. I am very weak, and have an incredibly sore throat and hacking cough. All I want to do is sleep.

Nevertheless I have been following the shenanigans at Westminster as the Expenses Scandal and its fall-out continues.

The House of Commons finally published all the material relevant to MP’s expenses but in such a censored and bowdlerized format it was widely seen as an insult to ordinary people.

Above: in response the Daily Telegraph brought out a glossy publication listing the outrageous greed of the “Honourable” members of the House of Commons. This magazine reminds me of the souvenir issues produced after royal events or great sporting occasions. I certainly intend to keep my copy – as an historical document it will be sought-after in fifty years’ time as a relic from the most serious constitutional crisis of the post-war era (“constitutional crisis” seems to be justified, as the people have lost all confidence in their representatives).

Above: the latest fiasco involves the “election” of a new Speaker.

Yesterday the House of Commons elected a new Speaker in an attempt to “draw a line” under the Expenses Scandal and “move on”. However John Bercow appears to be such a controversial figure that the uproar is likely to continue. Certainly he appears to have only factional support from Members of Parliament.

Little is known about John Bercow apart from the fact that he was a white supremist in his youth and is now characterized by an extreme political correctness and sympathy for New Labour. His early racist indiscretions are portrayed as youthful exuberance, but this was no reactionary backwoodsman unthinkingly supporting the status quo. As a national student leader John Bercow advocated removing black and brown people from British society, and his defence of the apartheid regime in South Africa (sustained over several years) represented an ideological commitment to the doctrine of white supremacy.

In addition he has behaved badly over Capital Gains Tax (a crime in my view, despite being “within the rules”), and has alienated the Conservative MPs in the House of Commons (not a crime obviously, but hardly the behaviour of a unifying candidate).

Is he not to be questioned about all this?

And what of the precedent that is being set - are we now supposed to overlook and forgive the racist excesses of Andrew Brons on the grounds that they were just silly things he did in his youth?

While I can accept that someone might go from being mildly racist to mildly liberal during the course of a lifetime, to go from extreme racism to extreme liberalism does not inspire confidence. Either he is mentally unstable and lacking integrity (literally his integrated world-view must have come apart). Or he is just chasing power and money and changes his political views to maximize benefits to himself.

When I saw him on Newsnight last night I thought he looked a spiv.

Is this the person we are supposed to accept as Speaker, in a “within the rules” fixed election?

Are the ordinary people to have no say in this?

One consolation of the degradation of the office of Speaker is that it should dissuade the lobby that wants to abolish the monarchy and make the Speaker head of state.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Daily Telegraph

Above: last Saturday's cover of the Daily Telegraph was a classic. The headline about Lord Mandelson was positioned alongside a terrifying picture of Christopher Lee playing Count Dracula (Christopher Lee received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours). Both Lord Mandelson and Count Dracula are known (for varying reasons) as "the prince of darkness".

Out of the jostling for position that has marked recent competition among the broadsheet newspapers, the Daily Telegraph has emerged as the clear leader. This is due to the Expenses Scandal "scoop" which has transfixed the nation, humbled the ruling elites, and delivered day after day of sensational stories (with a narrative theme, which is always good). Not sure how the circulation figures look, but for serious journalism the Daily Telegraph's reputation currently beats all comers.

Above: the entrance to the Daily Telegraph's offices in Buckingham Palace Road.

Owners of the Telegraph Group are twin brothers David and Frederick Barclay. They had a humble upbringing in Shepherd's Bush and gradually built up an immense fortune in property, retail and media. They live in a Quinlan Terry castle (which must be worth seeing, although it is never likely to be open to the public).

Chairman of the Telegraph Media Group is Aidan Barclay - I can't tell you much more about him.

Chief Executive of the Telegraph Group is Murdoch MacLennan. He has a ruthless reputation for getting rid of "deadwood". However, I'm not sure he is making the right decisions (I liked a lot of the deadwood - they added a unique charm to the publication).

Editor of the Daily Telegraph is Will Lewis. Wikipedia says he was educated at a London comprehensive. His brother has just become Gordon Brown's PR adviser (not a healthy development).

Oh, and I don't like Stephen Pile's columns - too smug by half.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm sorry I havn't a clue

I listened to the return of I'm sorry I havn't a clue on the way home this evening.

This used to be one of my two favourite radio shows (the other being the News Quiz).

The new chairman was Stephen Fry.

I wanted it to be the same, but it wasn't the same. Occasionally it was very funny, but a lot of the time it seemed to be a bit too self-knowing. It was an ironic version of an ironic comedy.

Also I felt Stephen Fry was the wrong choice of chairman. He is a ubiquitous presence on broadcast media, so that although he can be very funny, his funniness is acquiring a "vanilla" quality. It is disappointing the BBC couldn't find someone completely new.

As for the News Quiz, I used to laugh continuously all the way through. Then the chairperson changed and consequently the show changed (the panellists began talking to themselves rather than performing for the audience). Last Saturday I actually switched it off half-way through.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Patronal Festival

Hot June day. I was in the county town this morning and went to Holy Communion at a church on the old Roman road leading south to London. The church has a narrow frontage on the street, with a Saxon tower, an eighteenth-century nave and chancel behind, the whole filled with Victorian high church paraphernalia.

The main entrance was through a narrow door under the west tower. It was the day of the church's Patronal Festival. A good attendance, the nave about half full, subdued noise of the traffic on the busy road outside.

We sang For All The Saints as the clergy processed around the church (And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long; Steals on the ear the distant triumph song...). I watched as the big silver cross led the way, followed by the priest in gold embroidered red cope, a censor spinning the thurible round in circles so that the bitter incense flooded the interior ("there's so much incense you can hardly see sometimes"). One of the children at the back began to talk excitedly, hushed by her mother.

The first reading was from Genesis and referred to Jacob's pillow stone. The second reading was from 1 Peter and referred to the stone that was rejected which became the cornerstone. The psalm was 122 - I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord'.

In his sermon the priest talked of the church as a spiritual focus of the community, a centre of prayer for those who didn't attend services as much as for those who did.

Above: Looking towards the high altar you can see the six candles on the altar lit before William Watkins' elegant 1878 reredos. During Communion we sang Jerusalem the Golden (The pastures of the blessèd are decked in glorious sheen). The Eucharist was brought down into the nave for those too frail to walk to the altar.

Above: after the service came the bustle of the teas and coffees. There was a notice about a pilgrimage to the ruins of an abbey in the south of the county. In a glass case were old photographs of previous parish events.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Two weeks ago:


The day started with a meeting in Andrea's office (graphic designer Neil, my boss Andrea and myself) about a car rental client that has resurrected itself (we havn't done any work for them for over a year, and suddenly they are asking for a campaign). However, there are so many restrictions on what we can and cannot do that there is almost no room for creativity (creativity being one of the ways we achieve impact). Designing the ads for this client is like a paint-by-numbers exercise, using their corporate style guide to put the things together.

When Neil had gone back to his room (which he has started calling "the studio") Andrea told me she was apprehensive about the new agency head arriving this afternoon ("It's not her starting at a new agency, it's us").

Our American toys client rang up furious about a press release we had put out - I managed to calm him down even though I didn't really know what I was talking about (the release had been sent out by our Managing Director Terry, boasting about how much the client was going to spend with our agency).

I didn't go out at lunchtime, wanting to see the new agency head arrive. The tension began to mount, and I could tell everyone was slightly on edge. One o'clock passed, and then two o'clock...

Lynn, one of the admin staff from upstairs who was leaving today, came round to say goodbye. "Watch your backs" she warned us, saying Terry was ruthless in the way he treats people. "No-one has ever left this company without bitterness."

Then the new head arrived.

When talking of the new head Terry had often used the word "heavyweight". Seeing her, it was easy to see why the adjective had sprung to mind. She was big thick-set woman of "forty-nine" (Patricia, Terry's PA, shook her head when we discussed the new head's age later). Expensive dowdy clothes (Jaeger). Ash-blonde hair that was obviously dyed (the grey roots were showing). Big navvy-like hands ("She looks capable of strangling someone" said Douglas, one of the upstairs Account Execs).

We are to call her Yvette.

Andrea had a very long meeting with Yvette, and when she came out there was considerable friction between her and junior Account Exec Duncan (whom Yvette had not even spoken to yet). My meeting with Yvette was practical and straightforward, going over the clients we handle. She gave me a book on Ways To Beat The Recession. Her voice was harsh, but she was not unfriendly. It was clear there are going to be sweeping changes in the agency. I am no longer reporting to Andrea, but will report directly to Yvette.

Later Yvette had a meeting with Chris who does our accounts (part time). When Chris came out she was red-faced and worried. She was shocked at the criticisms Yvette had made about the management reports Chris produced each month.

At the end of the working day Yvette went up to see Terry. I kept watch on the stairs while Andrea went through Yvette's papers, photocopying anything that looked useful. Then I went home feeling very uneasy.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Alan Sugar

I've had to cut back on blogging as I am not well at the moment and need to rest.

But I had to say something about Gordon Brown's Cabinet reshuffle.

I am appalled that Alan Sugar has been invited into the government. This man is a monster. Arrogant, bullying and (in all the important things in life) stupid.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Attitudes towards the Expenses Scandal

And still it goes on, the most devastating (and in its way exciting) scandal of the post-war period. What are the historical implications of all this? In decades to come will the Brown government acquire the taint of cowardice and decadence associated with the downfall of the French Third Republic, or will all the anguish and humiliation be forgotten in the rush to embrace a successor regime?

From all the columns of written opinions and incessant vox populi I have attempted to distill as many different arguments as possible. I have made no attempt to assess how widespread a particular viewpoint it. My intention is to record the widest number of “I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” before the instant historians with their revisionist tendencies impose on us an authorised version.

I have toned the language down as much as possible, and removed most of the hysterical emphasis (which tended to make the text unintelligible).

Above: the Expenses Scandal has overwhelmed the government and threatens to bring it down.

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number One

The present "shower of shit" (sic) in the House of Commons are just in it for themselves. They represent a kleptocracy comparable to any corrupt African dictatorship. There’s nothing wrong with the system per se, it’s just that the present lot are uniquely bad, and we need to remove them in a general election (or alternatively punish them with the fullest force of the law; or alternatively line them up against a wall and shoot them).

This argument is by far and away the most often repeated and I have not expanded or developed it because it is so familiar.

Above: there is considerable scepticism about the "reform" proposals being circulated, mainly because they seem to represent an attempt by vested interests to fix the system (for instance how can Gary Younge possibly portray abolishing the monarchy as empowering the people - there is absolutely NO popular appetite for replacing the monarchy with yet another politician).

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Two

The system is at fault and needs radical reform. We must seize this opportunity for comprehensive constitutional reform which History (capital H) so rarely provides. In this argument the fall of the Speaker is compared to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Joanna Lumley is compared to a (very charming) demagogue and her presence in Parliament Square with an “army” of Ghurkas is compared to Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922. While there is a popular appetite for radical change we must put before the people a complete reform package including proportional representation, an elected second chamber and, why not, an elected President. Carpe dium – this moment will not come again in our lifetime.

Above: Labour has suffered more than the Conservatives in this scandal mainly because the Major years associated the Tories with sleaze whereas the Labour Party PROMISED the electors they would be "whiter than white".

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Three

This mild stench of corruption is the hall mark of a government that has been in power too long. It happened at the end of the Tory period 1951-63; it happened at the end of the Tory hegemony 1979-97; and it’s happened at the end of New Labour. All that happens is that a powerful election machine attracts to it people who want money and power for their own sake. The idealists such as Robin Cook and John Smith have been replaced by their bag-carriers, who in turn have been replaced by their own bag-carriers. When this stage is reached the party in question needs to go into Opposition to reform itself and shed the creepy hangers-on. It’s a Darwinian view of party politics.

Above: the fall of the Speaker is seen as a 1688 moment

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Four

The key to understanding public fury is contained in the phrase “within the rules”. For years politicians have been using this concept to ignore public opinion and impose their own interpretation of what the public ought to have, rather than what the public actually wants. Therefore the public can’t have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because it is “within the rules” for the government to ratify the Treaty anyway. The government can wage war in Iraq (and subsequently in Afghanistan) because it is “within the rules” for them to order British forces into battle without reference to the people. Judges can be authorised to impose light sentences for often very heinous crimes because it is “within the rules” for public opinion to be ignored. However, with the Expenses Scandal the public have finally identified a flaw in the “within the rules” argument and are using it to bring down the whole political system – and having cornered the politicians they are not going to let them go again.

Above: are Scottish and English politicians so culturally different that they cannot understand the political settlement of the respective regions? Margaret Thatcher's government is supposed to have antagonised the Scottish people. Has the Blair/Brown government done the same to England?

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Five

The problem is cultural. The English political settlement is very subtle and depends upon abstract concepts such as self-restraint, modesty and proceeding with consensus. However New Labour has had such an overwhelmingly Scottish leadership that they simply have not understood the English subtleties. This has been apparent in other areas of government policy such as lack of respect for individual privacy, or ignoring the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty. There is no great mystery about all this – how can you expect Scottish politicians to practice (or even understand) English self-restraint? It is a classic example of cultural misunderstanding – a Scottish culture of carpet-bagging has replaced the English culture of restraint.

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Six

The physical corruption we see from politicians is a manifestation of their moral corruption. There is no morality anywhere now, in either public or private life. Anything goes if you can get away with it. It’s a hallmark of the decline of religion – everything becomes relative (and so excusable).

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Seven

It’s the result of an old-fashioned and out-moded system that nobody really understands anymore (and bear in mind that most Members of Parliament work extremely hard – they don’t have time to meticulously record receipts). This idea of Parliament as a gentleman’s club has staggered on into the twenty-first century until it has inevitably collapsed under the weight of its own inconsistencies. All that needs to happen is for a cool reappraisal and an impartial outside body to implement a new system.

Above: there have been so many surreal expenses incidents that this issue of Private Eye had to construct a multi-image front cover.

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Eight

It’s all got up by the press to sell newspapers. It’s the worst kind of pandering to the petty jealousies of little people who can’t understand the great issues of state but instead have a fixation about the price of a glittery loo seat. It’s voyeuristic cruel bullying of the very nastiest kind.

“I’ll tell you what it’s all about…” – Number Nine

It is classic crusading journalism comparable to the Watergate expose in America. Thanks to the Daily Telegraph and the Barclay Brothers the democratic process is being reinforced and corruption rooted out. It proves the value of a free press able to call over-mighty politicians to account.