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Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012


Randomly flicking through my battered paperback copy of Age of Extremes a few hours ago I stumbled across the paragraph that convinced me to become either a historian or at least a passable pastiche of one:

‘The destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in. This makes historians, whose business it is to remember what others forget, more essential at the end of the second millennium than ever before. But for that very reason they must be more than simply chroniclers, remembrancers and compilers, though this is also the historians’ necessary function. In 1989 all governments, and especially all Foreign Ministries, in the world would have benefited from a seminar on the peace settlements after the two world wars, which most of them had apparently forgotten.’


Miliband at the Big Meeting


Ed Miliband doing what Labour leaders used to do in Durham in the summer has attracted a small amount of media attention, as it was always likely to. Very much of the ‘metropolitan ignorance’ variety but, again, that was quite predictable. Most stories, for example, seem to think that the traditional appearance from the Party leader ended because of the ‘modernisation’ process and associated embarrassment at leadership participation at such an old fashioned event, when the actual reason was (of course) residual bitterness and bad blood from the strike later compounded by said process(es). These things matter. The Big Meeting has always been (first and foremost) a ritual of some kind. If it was once a ritualistic display of of political power (as it was during the 1950s when Sam Watson was king, and the DMA was a powerful player in national politics and a bulwark of anticommunism: the Gala and what it meant was absolutely part of the latter), it is now something different, part remembrance and part protest. If the latter half was more important in 1989, it’s fairly obvious that it’s the former that matters (above all else) now. Present identities – local, regional and political – defined through the ritualistic celebration  of the past. And the link between the Durham pitmen and their Party was always an important one.

That Braudel knew a thing or two


It will probably not come as a great shock to learn that I’ve completed a (very pretty if I don’t say so myself) map of the French Presidential election already:

As I finished this thing of wonder and pondered its unusual pattern (for Hollande was triumphant across vast swathes of previously rock-solid conservative territory in the Massif Central, obliterating the traditional Catholic/Anti-Clerical divide), I suddenly realised that this apparently new and unexpected pattern looked… familiar. I had seen it before:

The above maps are taken from the great French historian Fernand Braudel’s last work, The Identity of France. They show the patterns of French family structures in the early 1970s. A – farming households, B – rural households, C – urban households.

I’m not sure what (if any) conclusions can be drawn from this, but it’s interesting and unlikely to be a complete coincidence. Elections, after all, reflect the societies in which they happen.

Surprisingly enough, another post.


I think one reason why I don’t use this as much as I maybe ought (?) to is an increasing inability to not find the very concept of such a thing to be amusingly pompous on some level (and what kind of prose was that? Perhaps it is best not to enquire* further). I am not merely another deranged idiot spouting off dubious opinions and questionable claims to any poor souls that happen to have blundered into close proximity to whatever space I have decided to occupy, oh no. I am important. I have a readership. My opinions have an inherent value and they demand respect. This is a place where I make statements. Indeed, I actually publish things here and actually have to press a notional button that actually says ‘publish’ on it in order to make this post visible to you, dear reader. And so on and so forth, for ever and ever (amen). These (absurd and probably quite hateful) views are not my own (of course), but are the implicit and inherent views of the medium that I am currently using. This is my own way of explaining (to… well… myself…  I suppose) my tendency to not bother to use this thing.

Did I just jump the shark again?

Anyway, there are things to be written. Mostly in the form of me writing that I will (probably) write about them. The first of these will be the election in France (where I do so very hope that the Poison Dwarf is beaten, even if it’s difficult to raise much enthusiasm about Hollande; a man who missed his natural calling as a salesman for sleeping pills) because elections are fun. The second will be a hateful rant about an utterly atrocious TV drama aired by the BBC recently. This can be justified because telly is important. The third will be anything else that I feel like randomly writing about for my own (and far too arch) amusement.

Two other things before I go away and do something more productive (which could be literally anything, as all things are more productive than this thing).

The first is that I cannot quite believe that the Grauniad has sent Helen Pidd to report on the Breivik trial given, well, this. Remarkable, simply remarkable.

The second is that Jack Ashley was a good man who made this country a better place to live in through sheer bloody minded determination and that it’s a real shame that he’s died, even if 89 is a very good innings. Old fashioned right-wing Labourism never had a better advert. RIP.

*A word underlined in red by the spell checking thing here, hilariously enough.

We’re All In This Together…


…But Some Of Us Are In It More Than Others.

Yeah, I doubt that’s terribly original. But it sums up the issue fairly well, I suppose.

(and, yes, this is a rather random point of return. But these things often work better when they’re random, or so I’m told)

New Year Reflection


This post was originally going to have a different title, but then the year ended and I still hadn’t actually written it, so something a little bit strange was replaced something bland and generic. Which works as accidental commentary on recent developments in Western consumer capitalism, does it not?

Actually, I’m lying. This post is actually the remains of multiple potential posts strung hastily together and given an irritating and vaguely pretentious gloss. It won’t even really function as anything coherent. I am too arch for my own good, am I not?

Given that a majority of the big news stories of 2011 were some combination or other of tragic, depressing and frightening, the self-indulgent tat that tends to dominate media ‘reviews of the year’ seems even less appropriate than normal. And, yet, pumped out they were, as though there’s nothing wrong in reducing financial meltdown or mass death to sugary nostalgia-fests (and, in the case of BBC News 24, an actual advert. Stay classy guys!) mere months after the events in question happened. You have to wonder why they bother as it’s not as though anyone actually watches (or reads) those things. Doesn’t seem worth tarnishing your soul for, but then I’m not a journalist.

Moving on, somewhat, Václav Havel’s death added a rather mournful tinge to the end of the year, and I’m mentioning it here now because I always liked him. Amidst the the usual platitudes (and, alas, a degree of witless idiocy from fools determined to act as unfunny caricatures)  there was a nicely done piece by Michael Billington that is well worth a read. Christopher Hitchens and Kim Jong-il died around the same time, but I did not care for either and will end this paragraph now.

It occurred to be recently that one of the most important developments in British Politics since the formation of the current (worthless) government has been a degree of polarisation not seen for a long time, and not just in terms of party support, but also (and much more importantly) in terms of policies advocated and values voiced. Moreover, the bases of the two mass parties are now genuinely convinced (i.e. not just as a ritualistic hangover) that the other mass party wants to attack their standard of living. There is no consensus amongst the political parties, nor is their any consensus within the wider electorate. Not only is there no consensus, but there is nothing that even looks like a consensus. Now, is this reflected in mainstream political coverage, whether on the telly or in the papers? Well… er… no. Watching or reading it, you get no sense of the extent to which politics in Britain has become deadly serious of late. It all seems to operate on the basis that there is a broad consensus about the direction that the country ought to be moving in, and that this is shared by policymakers, opposition critics and the ordinary voter. This, in practice, leads to coverage that is far more pro-government than most of the hacks responsible are probably aware of.

I recently made the error of watching the trailer for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. The experience was not unlike watching my childhood get repeatedly mugged in an endless network of grim alleys and unlit courts. It will, of course, be a massive commercial success. And thus I end as I began it, by mentioning how something a little bit strange has been replaced by something bland and generic.

Democracy in Europe (Part One)


It’s hard not to think of disturbing things while watching the news these days. Or, better still, just after. Disturbing things such as, for example, the general economic crisis and the apparent delusion of the (arguably) great and (surely not) good that democracy is fundamentally an irritant and a danger to order and economic security.

It was with this thought that I remembered, quite suddenly, an interesting passage that I’d copied out of a journal (Urban Studies as it happens)  a few weeks ago. So, you know. Here it is:

‘…state fiscal transfers will be eroded by the dismantling of the Keynesian welfare systems so intrinsically related to the social democratic consensus politics of the early post-war Fordist era; and (if it happens) European Monetary Union will result in regional inequalities which will be a whole order of magnitude greater than those we see today.’

The author of the article was A.J. Fielding, the article bore a name from central casting (‘Industrial Change and Regional Development in Western Europe’) and the the relevant addition details as ‘volume 31′. The article was written in 1994.


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