A new academic paper, by Prof. Jem Bendell, (published by the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria) online a couple of days ago provides a sober assessment of the current state of climate change science and politics. “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” doesn’t just look at the science – and yes, some of the uncertainties in that science – but the much less examined nature of our psychological and societial response to climate change, which the author posits underestimates the imminence of severe impacts which one feels will be unprecedented in our time. It’s a long paper, but it is well worth reading, raising as it does vitally important questions about what the hell we think we are going to do, in all probability, in our own lifetimes.
We seem to have come to the end of a heatwave – an ‘abnormality’ which many scientists predict will become the new norm – and already tales of crop shortages are rife. For the time being, the worst outcome may be temporarily higher prices for some foodstuffs. So what? We’ll get over it. But what I have found co-incidentally interesting these last couple of weeks was the story that the government has been seeping ministerial talk (this government talks more than it plans) about stockpiling food in case of a no-deal Brexit.
Now Brexit in global terms is neither here nor there, but the model of our trade, where things are delivered ‘just in time’ from distant markets is crucial to our concept of just nipping down to the supermarket for whatever produce we may fancy on a whim. If we have to think about stockpiling merely because of the government’s inability to get a Brexit deal, what hope in hell have we got when climate change really begins to bite? Our society is simply not prepared for that and if as is possible there are a couple of years of significantly bad climate change ‘abnormalities’ (and who said climate change needs be linear) then we are likely to experience shocks which will be highly unpredictable in their outcomes and possibly beyond the capacity of government to control.
Of course, some will say ‘crying wolf.’ If you trust Nigel Lawson, fine. But despite the likes of him et al (all the way up to the White House) measurements show that since 1850, of the 18 hottest years globally, 17 occurred since 2000. We’re going to need more than just sun cream. It may not just be food we need to stockpile.
I thoroughly recommend reading this paper.
I don't think I'll be staying up tonight to watch Ed Balls' 'Travels in Trumpland.' It sounds like a poor excuse of a programme, featuring someone desperate to stay in the public eye and judging by the programme's puff on the BBC website wishing to look like a complete arse in the process. Maybe that's the attraction in this age of 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.' But hey, it's a free country! Perhaps a better use of our license fee money and more instructive for Mr Balls would be to spend some time in his former constituency to find out why he lost it.
Just over two years on from the Brexit vote, and I am wondering how the UK economy is shaping up to the challenge laid down by the 27% of the UK electorate that voted for it. Surveying a variety of sources doesn’t help draw a clear picture, and it would be easy to cherry pick statistics that suit your argument. But overall, the view seems to be that things are basically flatlining – for example, the single biggest economic change so far has been the decline in Sterling’s value, and whilst recent figures show an improvement in UK trade balance terms, when compared to other EU countries, the UK’s trade growth is poor, as the above graph from Reuters illustrates (for the three months to November, 2017).
Our trade deficit is down, from minus 5.2% of GDP in 2016 to 3.4% by the end of the first quarter this year (ONS). But what of that GDP? Since quarter two in 2016 to quarter one in 2018, it has grown by just 2.9%, i.e. the total in just under two years. This falls somewhat behind total EU growth of 2% in 2016, and 2.5% in 2017 – and that EU figure will have been dragged down by the UK contribution - the UK is 15% of the EU economy.
One could go on, but despite some out of context signs of cheer for Brexiters, the overall picture – our context at least in the EU world – is that the UK is underperforming, our relative position in other words is declining. And we’re paying for it partly with massively reduced savings and massively increased debt – “Deficit of UK households in 2017 ‘worst on record’” is a headline in today’s Guardian.
These lacklustre figures help explain why the UK National Debt, by the end of last year stood at £1.786 trillion, up from £1.652 trillion in March, 2016 – an increase of over 8%. Government borrowing may be down thanks to austerity, but if you’re running a shit economy you’ll have austerity for ever and a day.
What this government, despite some mixed messages, seems intent on doing post-Brexit is to enter a low taxation competition to attract more inward investment. Lower taxes=more business=equals more tax revenue is the mantra of your Jacob Rees-Muggs and the Man from Mars John Redwood. But this will merely be another factor in deepening austerity. And that, I think will be one of the consequences of Brexit.
When I was about 17 years old I was a member of the Peace Pledge Union, which means that it was possible that at 18 I was still both a declared pacifist and a member of the RAF. Perhaps I had taken very seriously the concept that our armed forces were indeed peacekeepers. I only mention this because I feel for Jeremy Corbyn, having to equate his obvious pacifism with his role as leader of the Labour Party, where he is expected to defend things he doesn’t really like, such as the military. But he’s missing a trick. This thought was inspired by the news announced yesterday (post parliamentary recess) that the RAF is to close more bases.
Two of these, RAF Linton on Ouse and RAF Scampton are in my region (if Scampton in Lincolnshire can be given that appellation). These are training bases, which means that they probably employ more BAE staff than ‘light blues.’ Between them they employ up to 1,000 people – in well paid jobs. I’ve never quite understood why the closure of military bases in rural areas hasn’t aroused the ire or campaigns that followed the closure of coal mines. But the impact on these local communities must be similar to the pit closures of the 1980s.
The closures are all about making savings apparently. The figure of £3 billion has been reported, so I guess bases further afield – what’s left of them – will be closed too. But compared to that, where are the savings being exacted on the Trident replacement programme, the cost of which already exceeds £3 billion and in the next 30 years will cost us many tens of billions? If I were Jeremy, I would see this as an opportunity – paying for something of wholly dubious merit is weakening our armed forces – we’ll end up with four subs we’ll never use and which have no strategic merit, and in order to pay for them all the rest is being denuded of capability. Jeremy’s summer campaigning should include him being seen with the conventional forces which have such a resonance with the public. This would show up the Tory tossers who represent these rural areas for what they are. Here’s two examples.
The Tory MP for Linton on Ouse is the estate agent Kevin (fracking’s good for you) Hollinrake. His website has this gut-wrenching statement:
I am saddened at today’s announcement of the closure of RAF Linton-on-Ouse. The RAF has confirmed that it would vacate Linton-on-Ouse by 2020 with pilot training being transferred to RAF Valley on Anglesey. I have been aware of the threat for some time and have held a number of meetings with the Defence Secretary, Ministers and senior Defence Staff to try to prevent closure, sadly to no avail.
The base has over 80 years of proud history, not least during World War II when its planes, pilots and aircrew took off for highly-dangerous long-distance bombing raids on Germany, Norway and other Axis military bases in Europe.
My thoughts are with the many staff and their families who have been based there over the last eight decades, and particularly the 300 service personnel and their families who work there today.
I am working closely with Hambleton District Council to make the best of the opportunities ahead.
Some people might say ‘what a wanker’ but I wouldn’t stoop to such abuse. The fact is he supports the closure, because he supports the government in everything it does.
Who represents RAF Scampton? None other than the permanently red-faced Mr Angry, Edward Leigh. He said (from his website):
I am saddened by news from the Ministry of Defence that RAF Scampton is to be sold off as part of cost-saving measures.
The base is home to the world-famous RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, the Mobile Meteorological Unit and No. 1 Air Control Centre. With over six-hundred personnel working on the base, including service personnel, contractors and civil servants, the planned closure will have a significant impact on local people and economy.
He’s saddened too! Some people I might suggest would call him a wanker as well, but there’s no place in this blog for such abuse, because we know, like Kev, he’s going to raise his little finger to do all he can to turn this catastrophe for 600 employees into a marvellous opportunity! And given Lincolnshire’s dire agricultural employment predicament after Brexit, no doubt some of those aircraft engineers, etc. will be able to turn their hands to tattie riddlin. Leigh is a vocal Brexiter so he knows all about what it’s like to get potatoes out of the ground whilst being paid peanuts for the privilege.
Labour should show its mettle and back our armed forces with full-throated enthusiasm – that would go a long way to neutralise the perception that Trident is all that matters in ‘defence.’
The Jewish Chronicle has reported that Margaret Hodge didn’t contain her outburst on anti-Semitism just to Jeremy Corbyn, but turned on Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton too. I was Fabian’s election agent in 1997, when he was first elected. He is Jewish and a member of Labour’s shadow ministerial team. As reported, one gets the impression that Hodge thought Fabian should resign from Corbyn’s team because he’s Jewish – the only one in said team. Now if I’d suggested that, it could easily be judged anti-Semitic. Why shouldn’t any other member of the team be asked to resign? Why just him? Fabian has come in for some stick locally for suggesting that there’s some ‘hysteria’ developing around this ‘row.’ Who’s whipping it up?
The current heatwave – still with no end in sight – is impacting globally. Drought conditions from the American mid-west to fires all over the world, the evidence is plain to see. No-one is yet saying that this is a man-made climate change event, despite the scientific consensus that this is the sort of thing we can expect in years to come. So there’s no better time to find out what’s really going on, and who better to consult than the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the registered ‘educational’ charity set up by Lord Lawson, our greatest post-war Chancellor of the Exchequer and/or dietician. I confess I’ve not visited their website before, so was immediately taken aback to see that things are getting cooler, according to the little graph that adorns their home page. Such a relief! Mind you, let’s add a word of caution. The graph only covers the period 2001 to 2017, not the more usual 1850 to the present day, often known as the ‘hockey stick’ due to its shape. Oh, I notice that actually, even on the GWPF graph, it appears that things are nearly half a degree warmer than only 16 years ago. My mistake! I need to turn it upside down!
The GWPF says it refuses to take donations from the energy sector. Their latest annual report says: “The Trustees are satisfied that the self-denying ordinance contained in the Protocol for the Acceptance of Gifts laid down at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees to ensure the Foundation's independence from energy, interests is being strictly observed.” (Their annual report is on the Charity Commission website) But the charity also says that because of the controversial nature of their activities, their donors’ names are to be kept secret. Well, well. The charity was set up in 2009 and by 2014 had received well over half a million pounds in donations. It was in 2014 that the Charity Commission stepped in – after representations – to tell the charity in an operational case report (here):
The commission found that taken as a whole, it was difficult not to form the conclusion that the publications and postings on the charity’s website promoted a particular position on global warming. The website could not be regarded as a comprehensive and structured educational resource sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. In areas of controversy, education requires balance and neutrality with sufficient weight given to competing arguments. The promotion of a particular view or position would not equate to education.
The Commission does not say the charity was acting ‘politically’ but I would. And I would question therefore why for the five years of its existence up to 2014 the GWPF still thinks it is entitled to keep its donors’ lists secret. For all of that period political parties, and others, have had to declare donations over £500. The GWPF has suggested that other groups which accept the case made about anthropogenic climate change need to be transparent. But at least for the five years when they were operating in a partisan way (according to the Charity Commission) they felt they were exempt from the transparency law everyone else is governed by. After 2014, the GWPF set up a separate legal entity (the GWP ‘Forum’) which could behave in a more partisan way, outside of the charity law framework.
Another thing I find odd – and why the trustees have to be held to account – is that the GWPF appears to be hoarding money. Its reserves policy states that reserves should cover expenditure ‘for at least one year.’ Its financial report for the year ending 30/9/17 says that reserves now stand at £743,959 – and they have consistently grown over the years. Annual expenditure was £242,846, which is not out of the ordinary. Why this disproportionately large reserve? A registered charity is supposed to devote its finances to its purpose, not to its bank balance. The trustees don’t seem to be following their own policy. This is a detail, but encourages me to question whether this body should be a charity at all, with all the tax advantages that bestows. Or perhaps they're worried that as the climate change evidence mounts, their financial backers may have second thoughts.
And I wonder where their graph will end up this time next year.
Some commentators (well, at least one) have said that the election of ‘Progressive’ Conservative Doug Ford (brother of the late Rob Ford, disgraced mayor of Toronto) to the premiership of Ontario in June does not represent a populist contagion seeping north from Trumpicana. I’m not so sure. It may well be that Ford does not stand on the same anti-immigrant platform as Trump – Canada so far does not seem to have fallen prey to that hostility – but he does share Trump’s disregard for action on climate change. One of his first acts was to join an action against a federal carbon cap and trade scheme, and he opposes support for renewables.
Energy is a big issue in Canada, and it could be decisive in ejecting Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister in Canada’s general election next year. He appears to be riding two horses, backing Alberta’s oil sands industry (with federal funds for a new pipeline) and yet supporting the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. According to Bloomberg, “Conservatives have focused on the government’s climate policies to rally their supporters. Support for Trudeau’s Liberal Party has fallen, putting it in a rough tie with the rival Conservative Party. Trudeau’s chief opponent in next year’s federal election, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, has said one of the first things he will do as prime minister is eliminate the carbon tax.”
Current polls put Trudeau’s Liberals three points behind Scheer’s Conservatives. Of course, the Liberals could rebound, but bearing in mind what happened to them in Ontario in June, where they nearly lost all their seats, the momentum is hardly with them. Admittedly, a provincial election is not a general election, but it’s the same activists who have to be motivated to get out and fight campaigns.
If Trump can lavish praise on numpties like Boris Johnson, I would bet he will be watching the likes of Ford with interest. Whilst Ford/Trump populism is not identical in nature, there are enough issues in alignment for us to expect Trump’s attitude to Trudeau’s remaining time in office before the Canadian general election next year to become ice cold, if it isn’t already. For cultural reasons, I don’t suppose mainstream Conservatives in Canada would want to be too closely associated with Trump in this period, but their backers in the fossil fuel industries will be straining at the leash.
Come what may, with a Canadian general election next year, and a US presidential election the following (not to mention US mid-terms this November) it is abundantly clear that the UK will be making brilliant trade deals in North America post-Brexit. The future’s hardly looked clearer.
1. I've just sent a letter to the Guardian regarding their editorial comment today on Israel's new 'nation state' law, it's self-explanatory I think:
A law that privileges one race over another is racist. A government that enacts such a law is de facto racist. If this had been Orban's Hungary, nobody would have challenged the use of the word. But your editorial, dealing with Israel's new nation state law merely says in a rather mealy-mouthed way - that it 'would be hard to disagree' with Israeli Arab concerns that they are being made second class citizens. Why I wonder did the word racist not appear once in this piece?
2. Apparently the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will tonight discuss a proposal that the party adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism ‘with all its examples’ (i.e. those that are appended to the definition and are prefaced with the word ‘may.’) The PLP, from my experience might also be known as the Privileged Labour Party, since many of its members clearly thought they were the party’s vanguard, the elect-cadre of leaders who speak wisdom into the lug ‘oles of The Leader. Once of course, this wisdom was largely expressed in the form of clapping, cheering and fawning obsequiousness, and dissident voices would be shouted down with all the grace of rutting stags in combat (no offence intended to those splendid beasts). But what would happen if the party simply said, we’ll do as you say (assuming the motion is passed)? Would the anti-Corbyn faction disperse? Of course not. This is merely one battle in a long war of attrition.
The new hero of the anti-Corbyn faction is Margaret Hodge, who is a long-term opponent of Jez. She was interviewed on the Today programme this morning, and when asked about the abuse she had received after her alleged abuse of Corbyn behind the Speaker’s Chair (a very private spot for a rant) she couldn’t say (when pushed) that her abusers were Labour Party members, but only that she had seen this vile stuff on a ‘Corbyn supporting Facebook page.’ Given the risks to Corbyn, you might have thought that even the thickest of his supporters would abjure from such infantile games. Or, you might just as easily conclude that they aren’t Corbyn supporters at all. That thought doesn’t appear to have crossed Dame Margaret’s mind. Perhaps she’s never heard of black propaganda, or even Facebook’s courageous (but losing) battle against fake news and all its ilk. Get a grip.
3. I watched Seven Days In May last night, the 1961 Raoul Walsh film depicting a military coup attempt in the US against the government of a ‘Commie loving president’ about to sign a nuclear disarmament deal with the USSR. It is one of at least four films I have watched lately from that era of nuclear angst, the others being (of course) Dr Strangelove, The Bedford Incident and Failsafe. There are others. Now I am wondering where are the Hollywood responses to this era of Trump angst? Surely we should have had something by now? There’s good roles for Alec Baldwin as Trump, Meryl Streep as Hillary Clinton and maybe Martin Sheen as Bernie Sanders. Stormy Daniels as the First Lady, Steve Bannon as himself (I couldn’t think of anyone odious enough to play him). The script at some time might be provided by Robert Mueller. We’ll have to wait and see.
4. The sea wall poet I mentioned in my last blog is not, at least on this occasion a poet. I have read some of the now complete line and it is the text of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. The line of writing runs the entire length of the sea wall of the Marine Drive, and took three sessions to complete. A mile and bit. Quite a task.
Out for my early morning walk the other day down on the Marine Drive was a poetic experience. An anonymous poet has written her poem in chalk along the sea wall. Written in a neat hand, I wondered on how long it must have taken and indeed how long it was going to be. Without any rain, it may last quite awhile, a testimony to somebody’s public spirited creativity.
With the government seriously on the ropes this week and Theresa May’s future only secured by a thread, it could only be pure coincidence to find ‘Labour’s anti-Semitism’ story once again rearing its persistent head. On Monday, the Guardian reported that Labour faced a legal threat for not adopting in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Definition of Anti-Semitism (DA-S). The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) according to the Guardian was set to hand the Party “new legal advice which advises that the party’s decision to exclude some examples from an international anti-Semitism definition breaches the 2010 [Equalities] Act.” (Guardian, 16/7/18). The threat of legal action, if carried out would of course hand Labour’s opponents a several months’ long festival of lawyerly debate feeding the impression that Labour is endemically intent on preserving the rights of anti-Semites to remain in the Party.
It must be seen as somewhat curious then that the IHRA actually makes a distinction between the actual definition (and some possible examples), which as adopted at a conference in 2016 states:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The IHRA on its website says that this is ‘non-legally binding’ – but I for one can’t see why it shouldn’t be made binding. Anyway, if it is non-legally binding, it is difficult to see how the Labour Party could be breaching the 2010 Equalities Act, since the Party has adopted this very definition.
The definition on the IHRA website (viewed on 19/7/18) is highlighted in bold in a box. That is the definition. It is followed by examples which the website says “may serve as illustrations.” The first of these says “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” (emphasis added in both quotations). Other examples are mainly uncontentious – and are useful examples of what may constitute anti-Semitism. But now consider this headline which co-incidentally appeared in the Guardian on the 16th July “Jewish-only villages closer as Netanyahu defies bill’s critics.” This refers to the Israeli government’s ‘nation state’ law, which according to the BBC news website (viewed 19th July) “says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination there and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.” One Arab Israeli MP apparently described the new law as ‘apartheid.’ Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted saying “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens." This all begs the question what is the difference between Israel as a Jewish ‘collectivity’ and a ‘nation state of the Jewish people.’
No wonder the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) found it couldn’t include all the examples in its adoption of the IHRA definition. Sensibly, the Party recognises that context is very important – the question arises, is one allowed to criticise this new 'nation state' law (and perhaps more importantly, the politics that made it possible)?
The mainstream media reporting of Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy is plainly skewed, fed as it is by its own partiality and the oft context-free press releases of those who take issue with the party. For example, the Evening Standard on the 17th July (p17) carried a column by the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) saying “Most recently there has been the bizarre and brazen attempt to redefine anti-Semitism itself. The [IHRA] definition . . . contains 11 examples to help explain what is and what is not anti-Semitic. However without any consultation with us, Labour decided to put forward its own version.” Never mind that the examples on the IHRA website do NOT appear in the box with the definition, and never mind that they come with the caveats ‘may’ and ‘might’ – when it comes to upping the ante, context counts for nothing. ‘Bizarre’? ‘Brazen’? Nonsense!
There is another aspect to this story that bothers me, and that is the implication that only those people who feel victimised by a particular state of affairs are qualified to speak on it – that they alone must have the final say on it. Such a view has significant ramifications for our concept of democracy, social cohesion and the possibility of integration in a peaceful and respectful civitas. Margaret Hodge went too far when she allegedly swore at Jeremy Corbyn and accused him of being anti-Semitic and a racist. (emphasis added) That was not something she repeated quite so bluntly today in a piece in the Guardian (there it was simply that the ‘arrogance of the leadership takes one’s breath away’) based on the false premise that Labour’s NEC had adopted ‘its own definition.’ No, Margaret it has adopted the IHRA's definition, but not all the examples which come after it which are preceded with the word ‘may.’ I think the Party has done the right thing, but hey, I’m only a member. Perhaps there ought to be 20, or 30 examples. Why stop at 11?
Of course, as a Labour Party member I feel entitled to ask of the organisations that are so vehemently upset by Labour’s stance on the IHRA definition what they reckon is going on within the other parties. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA-S) website seems a useful place to check this out. For the record, this is what they have say about the Labour Party (website viewed 19th July) “The supposedly anti-racist Labour Party has failed to firmly and consistently address antisemitism, even proving incapable of expelling a Holocaust revisionist, a senior MP who said that “Jewish money” controls the Conservative Party, and another prominent official who claimed that Jews were “among the chief financiers of the slave trade”. It has compounded its antisemitism problem by shrouding all disciplinary matters in secrecy under guidelines introduced by Baroness Chakrabarti, thus concealing its failure to enforce discipline. Furthermore, senior figures commonly claim that the Jewish community’s collective complaints of antisemitism are essentially fabricated for concealed political purposes. The Labour Party has adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism.”
How one wonders did it come about that the phrase ‘supposedly anti-racist Labour Party’ prefaced the rest of this comment? Compare and contrast this with their entry for the Conservatives “The Conservative Party has been responsible for the United Kingdom’s adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism, for which it is to be applauded. It is not immune from criticism, however. It has failed to discipline a sitting MP who referred to the supposed “power of the Jewish lobby in America”, amongst others alleged to have participated in antisemitic discourse.”
So, the Conservative Party itself has not been found by the CAA-S to have adopted the IHRA definition, and escapes the tag ‘supposedly anti-racist’ but in a mild rebuke ‘it is not immune from criticism.’ So where one wonders have been the e.g. JLC’s protests about the Conservative Party not adopting the IHRA definition? Perhaps I missed them, in which case mea culpa. But then, so did everybody else.
The timing of this latest appearance of ‘Labour’s anti-Semitic problem’ is of concern. It cannot but raise questions about motivation. There are people who detest every day that Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party – and the danger of a strongly pro-Palestinian British party leader getting into No.10 is abhorrent to them. The thought is abhorrent to the Israeli government too. They have not stinted in their efforts to influence the direction of the party (say what you like about Al Jazzera, but their undercover filming of the activities of Israeli embassy staff is revealing on this point –see their films and make your own mind up).
I have every right to ask what’s going on (without being accused of anti-Semitism), and to posit my own theories on what motivates some people to keep this controversy bumbling along. None of which by the way diminishes my support for the existence of the State of Israel.
It seems that anyone of a certain age should, 50 years on, recall their engagement with the summer of ’68. Riots on the streets of Paris, the Prague Spring, the Chicago riots, protests against the Vietnam war – the Grosvenor Square battles come to mind – the rise and rise of new music from the US west coast, what a year to remember! Of course none of this was playing out in the streets of Malton where everything placidly plodded on and not a drop of beer was spilt in the Green Man. The daily routine carried on uninterrupted and the biggest commotion the town experienced probably came on Saturday nights when dances at the Milton Rooms were punctuated by mass brawls between different groups of farmers lads letting off post-ploughing steam (if there is such a thing). Those dances were eventually barred by the Council, an act of middle aged repression which gave me my first taste of published outrage, when the Malton Gazette and Herald gave front page prominence to my letter describing Malton as the ‘only cemetery with lights.’ I was quite proud of that at the time, it was (I thought) a dagger thrust into the coagulated heart of Malton Urban District Council. But nothing happened as a result, and the town’s youf never saw the likes of Desmond Dekker and the Four Aces play in their somnambulant town’s midst ever again.
De Gaulle left the stage, but our town clerk didn’t. In the absence of anything else, and rejecting the eternal boredom of the Black and White Minstrel Show on the telly, one had to find escape in the exotic new music emerging from the States. This for me was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, Jefferson Airplane, It’s A Beautiful Day and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Part of the allure of these bands was that I didn’t know anyone else at school who liked them, and still don’t when all’s said and done. This was the avant garde, sampled in the booths of the Record Centre at the top of Railway Street on a Saturday afternoon after a long day’s grind on Pete-from-Leeds’ fruit and veg stall in the market. Dressed in my tassled old green hoodless but parka-like jacket (a cast off from Pete to which I attached the ridiculous tassles) I would defiantly march home with my latest LP acquisitions, no doubt sneering at the small-town conformity of this less than momentous place.
Yes, 1968 was a defining year. I think it was the year when for me under-age drinking came of age. It may have been the year when I applied to join the Young Communist League, but never got a reply. A communist in Malton? Whatever next? (Clearly I hadn’t connected my application with what was going on in Prague, and if my application had been accepted I may have had to tear up my membership card immediately.) Now I have to wonder who might have received that application, and where the details were recorded.
I don’t recall any anti-Vietnam war protests in Malton market place. In fact, I can’t remember any protests at all, not even about the Council closing down the Saturday night bops. With a then population of 5,000 and two dozen pubs I guess any fulminations against the inequities of life may have fizzled out by closing time, which then was 10.30pm (or 11pm in adjoining Norton, leading to fast walking down Castlegate). Big protests have been organised more recently, e.g. against fracking, or a new supermarket, but these are local and self-absorbed, and Malton remains in what I think of as archetypal Archers’ territory, a land rarely impinged upon by affairs of global import.
With upheavals going on in the cities perhaps the sedate little market town in the North Riding of Yorkshire wasn’t such a bad place to be in ’68. It was certainly a place of calm and continuity its erstwhile MP, Edmund Burke would have been proud of.