Broken Vows by Tom Bower.

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This book is a study of Blair as Prime Minister and afterwards. To that extent it is not a full biography since it says almost nothing about Blair prior to 1997. This is a compendious account of Blair’s time on Downing Street by one of Britain’s best known authors Tom Bower.

Bower is a barrister like Blair. He has shown a barrister’s flair for sifting evidence and constructing  convincing case. At the outset this work is sympathetic towards Blair. Bower voted Labour in 1997. He noted how jaded Britain was in 97 and how people cried out for a Labour Government. Bower chronicles the nervous first steps and the excessive caution that Blair felt despite being surrounded by an intoxicating level of optimism.

Bower writes about Blair’s attempts to improve public services./ This was to be the most frustrating part of Blair’s premiership. Tony Blair was intelligent and fair minded enough to perceive some good on Thatcherism. He professed himself irate at the slow pace of reform of the NHS and schools. Oddly Blair had given remarkably little thought to what needed to change in these essential public services. Sloganising was no substitute for a comprehensive strategy. Labout abolished the Tory internal market in the NHS only to bring to back under another guise several years later. LABOUR also went full circle on schools in some respects.

Bower conducted hundreds of interviews. There are many revealing insights and catty comments. Bower quotes those who adulate Blair and those who revile him. Blair’s accomplishments are noted as are his many failings.

Bower noted how Blair started to go wrong. He began to block unwelcome information. After the 1999 Kosovo conflict he began to conceive of himself as a messiah. His divine mission was to liberate people and save them from genocide. These are noble objectives. In pursuit of these laudable goals Blair persuaded himself that international law was bunkum and that wrongdoing by his allies could be ignored. The purity of his cause became ever more tarnished as he overlooked more and more transgressions by his allies.

The run up to the liberation of Iraq is the most arresting part of the book. Bower demolishes Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction claims. Yes, there was ample evidence that Iraq possessed WMD; Iraq had freely announced its arsenal in 1991. There was also evidence suggesting that at least some of it had since been got rid of>. MI6 harboured serious doubts about the extent of Saddams WMD arsenal/ The misgivings and caveats were edited out by Blair’s team when they produced their dodgy dossier. The head of MI6 churlishly went along with this rough massaging of the information. Evidence was inflated and twisted to make a convincing case for war.

*The story jumps back and forth between foreign and domestic affairs. Somehow Bower manages not to lose the thread of the narrative. Blair’s love in with Colonel Gaddafi is described as length. Blair found this deranged tyrant to be a man after his own heart. By contrast Blair thought that UKIP was anathema.

The chapters about Blair’s time after he stood down as Prime Minister as fascinating Blair’s farcical and naive efforts  as a peace envoy in the Middle East are detailed. Blair’s unedifying business activities are also described in gruesome detail. This self – appointed advocate for human rights has become a gun for hire working for some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Blair acting as an apologist for foul human rights abusers is shockingly hypocritical in view of his self-righteous rhetoric. To read this segment of the book you will need a strong stomach.

In places this book is scintillating. It is always lucidly composed. The cross referencing and end notes are superb. No one could accuse Tom Bower of stinting on detail. The minutiae of government policy are sometimes too dull. The book became slow moving in the middle. The book was overly long and lacked punch. Unless you are a policy wonk you will want to skim read the middle chapters.

Blair emerges as a self-delusional and tragic figure. He took office with unmatched capability to do good. He had a landslide majority, sky high poll ratings and a booming economy. His performance as Prime Minister improved the NHS at a huge cost but little else. Blair’s serial mendacity is laid bare. Despite preaching ethical conduct he is an outright prostitute when it comes to selling his principles to kleptocrats and torturers.

 

 

Kate Smurthwaite’s pro abortion extremism.

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Kate Smurthwaite is well known as a hardline feminist. Would it be fair to say an extreme feminist. Miss Smurthwaite constantly agitates for terminations of pregnancy without any restrictions whatsoever.

For la Smurthwaite the personal is political. She said that when she worked in Japan she became pregnant and chose to terminate her baby. She would have said anything in order to get rid of her child; even falsely claiming to be raped. She said it herself. She would be willing to send an innocent man to prison for decades just so she could kill her kid. How immoral as that? It typifies the dishonesty of pro Choice rhetoric/. They pretend it is about women’s rights. What about the right to life ? It is very seldom a health issue since pregnancy is not a disease. They say it is about reproductive choices. No choice for the baby or the father though. They dress it up any way they can to avoid calling a spade a spade.

A fœtus is a human. He or she has a mother and father. The fœtus has different DNA from the parents.

Sometimes pro Choice people will slip up and admit that the feotus is a baby. They will also accidentally acknowledge that the baby has parents.

On Loose Women they say that abortion should not be used as late contraception. Should women be judged for this/? Of course we are judged all the time. If abortion is not immoral than nothing is. People o this for entirely selfish reasons. I have read a woman saying she did this precisely because she cared about the fœtus. What a casuist? She cared enough to kill her or him? It often comes down to killing children so the parents will have more money.

On Loose Women they moan that women are judged or shamed for abortion. That is nothing compared to being slain.

Pro Choice partisans may condemn the condemner. I am not a very moral person. This does not stop me forming opinions. It is preposterous to suggest that because no one is perfect no one should try to be ethical/

I am no paragon of virtue. I have traveled on trains without a ticket. I have also gone to pubs aiming to score. Sometimes I have been successful. I had sex with girls I only just met and seldom used a condom. So far as I know casual sex never resulted in pregnancy. I sometimes inquired if the woman was on contraception. I sometimes accompanied them to get the morning after pill. The risk of pregnancy was part of the thrill. I only once asked if she had become pregnant. I harmed no one in what I did/ wE BOTH knew there was a chance of gestation resulting.

Bearing a child is not horrific even for a teenager. Throughout history being a teenage mother was the norm. People should stop sympathising with women who have terminations. If guilt reduces the number of women who do this then so much the better.

Yes, back street abortion killed some women. If they had not broken the law by trying to kill their children they would not have died. The number of women who died through illegal terminations is a trifle compared to the number of babies who have died since abortion became legal.

Sterilisation for men and women will save many lives.

 

‘No Ordinary Man; the life of Carman’ a review.

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NO ORDINARY MAN

The biography of George Carman QC by his son is perhaps the most unfilial such book around. Dominic Carman has taken is upon himself to compose the book on George Carman that Carman talked about writing but never did. The book that Dominic wrote is surely very different to the one that George would have written. Frank, droll, laudatory and condemnatory this is a shocking account of the life of one of England’s most famous barristers.

Dominic Carman chose to compose this life of his father in two sections. Most of it is roughly chronological. Some of it is thematic. The price to pay for this is that this diminishes the coherence of the book.

Dominic calls his father George throughout. The biography is as intimate as one would expect for a book written by a son on his father. Yet this is no hagiography. There is a distinct absence of piety about it/ Nor indeed is it a hatchet job. This book comes across as being entirely fair. It shows the alluring side of Carman with his intelligence, his ready witticisms, his unparalleled oratory and his joie de vivre. George Carman also had his demons ; indeed he was a demon at times. Tobacco addiction was the least of his vices. He seldom ended an evening sober. Inebriation did not improve his humour. He had a ferocious temper. All three of his wives were beaten up by him. He could be verbally just as brutal. For all his courtroom success in his personal life he was an utter shit.

Dominic limns George’s life growing up in Blackpool. He was born into a family with a middle class income but working class mores. George was Irish on his mother’s side and brought up a Catholic. George’s English father had been in the Royal Irish Constabulary just after the First World War. Englishmen who joined the RIC at this time were unpopularly known as the Black and Tans. It showed much broadmindedness and courage on Evelyn’s part to wed such a man.

George visited Ireland several times as a child but developed no especial attachment to Eire. After the 50s he seems not to have returned. Irishness was hardly part of his identity though Catholicism was.

George was intellecutally precocious/ He attended Catholic schools. He was an uppity sort and often got himself belted for defying his masters. Nonetheless he was by far the youngest boy in a trip to Rome in 1938.

George was put into a Catholic seminary as a teenager. The atmosphere was extremely oppressive. The priests tried to cut the boys off from all female contact. The effect on an adolescent’s sexuality may be imagined. George soon asked to leave.

George had toyed with the priesthood . The opportunity to address a congregation appealed to him. Then he decided that the Bar was the best outlet for his prodigous talents. George went up to Balliol College, Oxford. Balliol was then perhaps at the peak of its reputation. Oxford too was the undoubtedly the best university in the Commonwealth. Armed with an Oxford law degree George would be destined for great things.

At his Oxford interview George was asked what he planned to do with a law degree. He declared his ambition to be called to the Bar. The dons asked if he had familial connections or affluence. He acknowledged that he did not. A don advised him that he would be best off becoming a solicitor.  George found this degrading but there was no doubt that the don had George’s best interests at heart. It was very difficult to make it at the Bar without knowing the right people and without financial support.

At Oxford George was a diligent undergraduate. He debated at the Union a little. He was not a natural and had to put effort into it. He formed a duo with an Old Etonian named Joh n Jeremy Thorpe. Thorpe was reading law at Trinity. George wrote essays for J J Thorpe while Thorpe coached him in debating. It was a fruitful partnership. Thorpe did not put much time into jurisprudence since he was so busy politicking. He duly became President of the Oxford Union and revived the Liberal Party in the university. He also took a third in Finals.

George was awarded a First class degree. This was a tremendous feat. Up to 30 per cent of Oxford degrees are not firsts. Back then it was fewer than 10 per cent. Mostly those who were down for a first were called in for a viva (interview) to determine if they really deserved a first class degree. George’s exam papers were so fantastic that he was not vivaed.

George went to London and had no trouble passing the Bar exams. He was also found pupillage. In those days a pupil was not paid a penny and indeed had to pay his pupil master to take him on.

George then found tenancy in Manchester. It was too expensive for him to try to make it at the London Bar.

In those days barristers were generalists. George did criminal and civil work. He carved out a niche in personal injury. He was a Catholic but not very religious. He used his contacts with other Catholics to get more briefs.

George’s relationship with his father was volatile. George had an unsuccessful early marriage.

George was drawn to the Labour Party and had read Marx as a teenager. In his mid 20s he became a Tory. He even flirted with a parliamentary career.

It was only in the 60s that his career began to take off. After five years in practice his income was that of a bus driver.

George was a bon vivant. He liked carousing late at night/ Heavy drinking and gambling were his mainstays. No wonder he was not a family man. He also indulged in gay liaisons well into his 30s. Despite this he always hunted  women/ He paid women to accompany him to social functions but he did not have sex with them. Were these lavender relationships even? Why did he want a beard? It was more than masking his homosexual inclinations. It was also that he hankered after status. Desirable females were  mark of success.

In the 70s he became a QC: Queen’s Counsel. This is a mark of distinction for barrister’s with a superb reputation.

Only in the 70s did George become a renowned barrister. He moved to London and won some very lucrative briefs. He came to national prominence in defending Jeremy Thorpe.

George has Thorpe acquitted against all expectations. The jury took days to reach a decision; a measure of how close it was. George’s forte was advocacy. He ground down Thorpe’s accusers. He very effectually trashed their credibility. He knew how to goad witnesses into emotional outbursts sure to alienate the jury.

George won many more highly remunerative briefs. Soon he was sought after in Hong Kong and Singapore. He almost moved his practice to Hong Kong.

George was made a recorder; that is a barrister who sometimes sits as a judge. Later he became a master of the bench at his inn. He was even head of chambers.

George liked the idea of being a judge. He later decided against it as it would involve a huge cut in income. Those polled say he would have been a dreadful judge as he was too caustic, impatient and combative.

In the 80s George made libel his own. He was perhaps the most formidable libel barrister in the world. He fought many well known cases/

His last great criminal case was that of Ken Dodd. Dodd was accused of tax evasion. He faced up to three years in the slammer. George’s best line in this one has been abbreviated to “Some accountants are comedian but not comedian is an accountant.” This contrapuntalism won the jury around and Dodd was acquitted on all eleven charges.

George was a man addicted to drink, cigarettes, gambling and the company of glamorous women. He was a paragon of vice.

In 1996 he was diagnosed with cancer. He did not wish to retire as his work was his life. He had few hobbies. Although he socialised a lot in some respects he was very private and even reticent.

In 2000 he had to give up work as his illness was so advanced. He died in January 2001. A victory from beyond the grave came when the House of Lords overruled a case that George had lost ; that of Grobelaar.

Carman comes across as a cantankerous and dislikable character. His son could not measure up to his exacting standards.

This is a page turner. It is eloquent and never verbose. The man is laid bare. His qualities and his cruelties are exhibited. It features quotations from all who knew him. His courtroom opponents and victims remember him warmly. He was perhaps most famous as the most terrific cross examiner in the world/ He even had a verb invented for him. Former Tory Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken said “I have been Carmanised by you”.

 

 

 

‘The Catholic Orangemen of Togo’ by Craig Murray.

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This book relates to Murray’s career as a British diplomat in Ghana and other West African countries. The book spans from the 80s to the Millennium. The thrust of the book is Craig Murray’s disillusionment with British Foreign Policy. He started out starry eyed. He had a sense of mission; to promote economic development, human rights and sound governance. By the year 2000 he noted that while Blair preached human rights and practised the precise opposite. This charade of  pretending to care about human rights fooled many people for a surprisingly long time.

 

‘Catholic Orangemen’ is engagingly written. It contains countless humorous anecdotes. There are also catty vignettes about many politicians and diplomats.  The pace is just right. Issues are examined in reasonable depth. Enough background is given without ever miring the narrative. This book is chronological with the occasional prolepsis or analepsis.

Murray does not stint on treating us to his opinions. He became a Liberal as a teenager in the early 70s. Murray wrote to Jeremy Thorpe persuading Thorpe to re start the Liberal Party in his constituency. Thopre arrived and was dismayed to find that his correspondent was a 14 year old. Through the Young Liberals Murray came to know Peter Hain. Hain had been a luminary of the anti apartheid campaign in the United Kingdom. Murray disliked the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major. They usually prioritised commerical interests over human rights. Murray vouchsafed that he is an anti monarchist but has some regard for Her Britannic Majesty.

In his naivete Murray believed Labour’s slogan of “an ethical foreign policy”. Within weeks of coming to office this rang hollow. The falsity of Blair’s rhetoric was laid bare when he approved the sale of fighter jets to the Indonesian dictatorship that was illegally occupying East Timor. Murray had a soft spot for Robin Cook who was then the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Cook disagreed with selling these arms to Indonesia but Blair overruled him. Due to collective cabinet responsibility Cook had to go along with it or resign.

A half forgotten episode of history that occupies much of the book is the Arms to Africa affair. The Sierra Leonean Civil War raged in the late 90s. The United Nations outlawed arms shipments to Sierra Leone; even if these were for the government. Murray  met a swashbuckling ex Guards officer named Tim Spicer. Spicer had set up a private military company. In plain words it was a mercenary company despite falsely denying doing the actual fighting. Spicer was eager to import arms to Sierra Leone and Murray had to tell him this was illegal.

Spicer imported weapons anyway and his Sandline International achieved victories for the government of Sierra Leone. Spicer then claimed that Murray had okayed these arms importations. Murray contends that was an outright lie and has documentary proof of this. The UK Government backed Spicer’s version of events despite several British diplomats supporting what Murray said. For Murray it was an early indication of New Labour’s indifference to international law. *

Murray is at his best when describing the complexities and moral ambivalences of the Sierra Leonean conflict. The government was a rapacious military dictatorship that favoured the coastal people and cared little for the hinterland. An insurrection began . The Rebel United Forces behaved with unimaginable brutality. Children were forced to kill their parents and then made soldiers. Limb amputations reached the levels of King Leopold’s Congo. Because the RUF carried out many atrocities some imagined that the internationally recognised government was innocent or that the RUF had no fair grievances. Murray realised that many RUF fighters were compelled to fight on pain of death/ They were victims too.

This book pulls no punches on corruption by politicians and businesspeople British or African. Craig skewers Her Majesty’s Government for denouncing kleptocrats in Africa while letting these same kleptocrats put their money in the UK. Talk about joined up government.

La vie diplomatique is revealed to be not all that glamorous. Diplomats are not as intelligent or urbane as one might think. The bitchiness and the snobbery are horrid. Murray suspects that establishment connections still help in gaining preferment.

The author plainly cared about the people in the countries he was living in. He constantly expressed fury at his own government’s attempts to help them which were often inadequate, inept or patronising. He also rails against graft and theft by certain African statesman but is careful not to imply that all African politicians are like this.

One of the difficulties of a Briton promoting human rights in this part of Africa is this is one of the regions of the world where British colonialism was at is very worst. If a Britisher speaks about the need to treat people with decency any African can silence him, “You can talk!” and then reel off a catalogue of bestial crimes committed by Britons at their most satanic.

Murray’s time in West Africa was scintillating. It was uplifting, heart warming, confusing, frustrating, exasperating and occasionally dispiriting. He witnessed many bizarre sights such as some Orangemen proudly parading despite being Catholics. This is where the title of the book comes from. This cargo cult version of British identity tickled him pink.

Despite his concern for people’s wellbeing this is not a moralistic book. He recognises the need to overlook crimes such as in Sierra Leone. He is also candid about his shortcomings such as his constant marital infidelities. He repeatedly remarks on which women he lusted after.

Murray is Scots born in England. The Caledonian theme keeps popping up. He is at pains to tell us if anyone involved in a North Britisher.

This is an intriguing book. It can easily be perused in a day. There are a few lacunae. He uses green grocer’s apostrophes once. There is also a spelling mistake which a decent editor would have picked up. This is erudite without arcane. The book is never pedestrian and always informative. If you want a tome that is witty, enthralling; racy and angular then this is your pick.

Cars

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CARS

The car was invented by Karl Benz in 1885. Cars are sometimes called automobiles. This means self moving. This is because before cars there were carts that moved because they were pulled by horses.

 

 

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Kazan

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KAZAN

Kazan is a city in Russia. This city is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The city sits astride the mighty River Volga. The Volga is the longest city in Russia and indeed in Europe.

Kazan has a population of well over a million. About half the people are ethnic Russians and half the people are Tatar. There are several other ethnic groups in Kazan. There are Kalmyks and Azerbaijanis.

Kazan means ‘cauldron’ and there is a model of  a gigantic cauldron by the River Volga.

Half the people in Kazan are Muslim and half are Christian. The city has some large mosques and a cathedral as well as several churches.

This city has some superb hotels. The best of them is Hotel Luciano. There are also outstanding restaurants.

Lenin went to university here. Kazan State University is renowned as one of the most eminent universities in Russia.

 

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