A selection of the writing, wittering and viewing that has caught our attention over the past week.
► One of Jeremy Corbyn’s most popular policies is his pledge to renationalise the railways. The reason this idea attracts so much support is surely to do with the romantic affection still felt for rail travel in Britain. It’s one of the central images in our culture – from Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signal-Man’ to the Hogwarts Express – in a way that doesn’t apply to other formerly nationalised industries; if you’re making a period drama, you’ll be wanting to show a steam train, not the inside of a gasworks. But the ownership of the railways is a matter of politics and economics, not of culture, and, as John Redwood explains, there are some questions to be asked.
► We came across a very funny piece by Neal Lawson on the New Statesman’s recently revamped website this week. Apparently, the failure of newly-enrolled Labour Party members to attend a local party barbecue is taken by some as proof positive that they must be entryist Corbynistas.
The first thing that’s [sic] screams at anyone vaguely normal is why on earth would you want to go to a BBQ being organized by the Labour Party – when presumably you could go to a real one, with real friends. There is a give away – it’s a “barbecue and social” – ie a barbecue where you have to be social – where you have to told to be social as if that weren’t a given.
► Meanwhile, The Times managed to get just about everything wrong about Pope Francis’s, er, pontifications on forgiveness, abortion and how the two fit into the ‘year of mercy’ – which runs from December 2015 to November 2016 – according to Damian Thompson, former long-serving and distinguished religious affairs correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. He excoriates The Thunderer’s coverage in the Spectator.
► From the same title, Rod Liddle rips into ‘pig-ignorant click activists’ who, he believes, have taken over, inter alia, the Labour Party, hence the Corbyn surge. He has conversed with a few of them, he says. It was not a meeting of minds.
One of them even expressed disgust that I was allowed to vote, being a fascist – yeah, fair point. I’ve only been in the party since 1979 and spent all those hours leafleting and canvassing and sitting in horrible, badly ventilated rooms trying to stop my ward from endorsing Benn or Livingstone or, indeed, Corbyn. And paying my £13 a month subs.
► Owen Jones needs no publicity from us. A bestselling author and already, at the depressingly young age of 31, regarded by some as the Paul Foot de nos jours, he’s doing deservedly well for himself. Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall needs all the help she can get, however, so it was nice to see her interviewed by Jones on his YouTube channel. Kendall shares with her rivals the problem that she doesn’t even look like an occupant of a great office of state, let alone a prime minister-in-waiting, but – as our own Alwyn Turner has argued elsewhere – she has, at least, been willing to confront her party with unpalatable truths; and in conversation with Jones she displays an easy style that might have played well with the electorate.
► That interview was recorded before an article by Jones in the Guardian in which he set out policies that would, in his view, help Jeremy Corbyn counter the charge that he is soft on defence. Sadly, what it revealed is that the left’s most popular polemicist is unable to face the fact that a convincing line on national security has to include public spending on troops and materiel. Jones’ ideas for retraining sacked soldiers and tackling mental illness and vagrancy among veterans are all well and good, but if these – and further initiatives to change ‘army culture’ – are the sum of even his thinking on the subject, then the inevitable Tory attacks will surely hit home. Indeed, the suspicion remains that when it comes to the armed forces the left’s first instinct is to mothball; why else the need for all that retraining? It’s a shame Kendall, who spied early on the political necessity of adopting NATO’s 2% of GDP target for defence spending, didn’t get the chance to take Jones to task on the subject.
► The name of this site, of course, refers to one of George Orwell’s most celebrated essays. Like Orwell, we have a fondness for British popular culture of the past, including the tales of gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, about whom he also wrote an essay. It was a pleasure, therefore, to find The Annotated A.J. Raffles, a site that features the full text of E.W. Hornung’s stories, complete with extensive footnoting and a convincing attempt at a chronology. This, surely, is what the internet is for.
► Finally, we should note the passing on Friday of Emmanuel ‘Rico’ Rodriguez MBE, the great ska trombonist. The news bulletins and obituarists have rightly lauded his contribution to The Specials’ ‘A Message to You, Rudy’ (1979), for which he reprised the performance he gave on Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 original. But Rico’s career spanned seven decades, so there’s much else to choose from. We’ll leave you with the guaranteed mood-lifter ‘Wareika Vibes’ from 2006.