Tag: Margaret Thatcher


Strange how it can sometimes run!

It’s coming up to noon on the 18th, i.e. yesterday.  The morning has been busy and this afternoon a number of items on the ‘to do’ list are making it difficult for me to put together a Post for today.  I was minded to simply write a small piece saying this and apologising for leaving you, dear reader, in the lurch for a day.

Thought I might call the Post, ‘Events, dear boy, events’, the famous quotation from the Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillian, Prime Minister of the UK between January 1957 and October 1963.  Did a quick Google search to check the quote and came across a delightful piece from The Telegraph British newspaper published in June 2002.  So I’m cheating by selectively republishing the article in that paper written by Robert Harris.

As Macmillan never said: that’s enough quotations

Reading through the Guardian over breakfast the other day, I came across a column headlined “Events, ol’ buddy, events”. It was all I could do not to hurl it across the kitchen.

This was not because the column was bad, or because the Guardian’s leader pages were any more irritating than usual, but simply because I knew what was coming.

And, yes, of course, there it was, down towards the bottom of the page: “All politicians know – and often quote – the response from Harold Macmillan when asked what a prime minister most feared: ‘Events, dear boy, events’.”

Later Robert Harris writes,

It’s not as if it’s even been reliably authenticated. Some say Macmillan made it to President Kennedy, others to a journalist after dinner. Denis Healey claims it referred to foreign policy.

Alistair Horne, Macmillan’s official biographer (who tells me he can’t put his finger on it, either) thinks it may have been a response to the Profumo affair.

It didn’t appear in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations until 1999 (where it is carefully described as “attributed”) which may explain why hardly anybody used it until three years ago.  Now it’s as unavoidable as “a week is a long time in politics” or “it’s the economy, stupid”.

I’m not trying to be snooty about this. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever actually used it myself, but I’ve certainly used plenty of quotations like it – aphorisms that fall into a particular category: just above the out-and-out cliché and just below the level of something genuinely apt and unfamiliar.

Then Robert writes in a way that slightly touches a nerve of this poor writer, having lent on the use of a quotation from time to time!

Every writer and reader will no doubt have their own particular favourites that they’d be grateful never to hear again, but these are mine:

  1.  “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs” – Enoch Powell on Joseph Chamberlain.
  2.  “There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers” – Harold Macmillan (also attributed to Stanley Baldwin).
  3.  “In the long run we are all dead” – John Maynard Keynes.
  4.  “I’d rather take advice from my valet than from the Conservative Party Conference” – Arthur Balfour.
  5.  “Socialism is what a Labour Government does” – Herbert Morrison.
  6.  “Not while I’m alive ‘e ain’t” – Ernest Bevin, on being told that Morrison was “his own worst enemy”.
  7.  “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” – de Gaulle.
  8.   “Is it better to be loved than feared, or the reverse? The answer is that it is desirable to be both, but because it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer for a prince to be feared than loved” – Niccolo Machiavelli.
  9.  “Treason is a question of dates” – Talleyrand.
  10.  “It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder” – Anotine Boulay de la Meurthe, on hearing of the execution of the Duc d’Enghien by Napoleon.

These are all, in their different ways, excellent quotations – epigrammatic or wise or cynical. They are certainly not as clichéd as “I don’t know what effect these men have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me”, as Wellington is usually misquoted, or Lady Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as Society”.

And yet, for all that, they are clichés, made slightly worse by the fact that using them is designed to convey a thin patina of learning. They are at once familiar, yet just unfamiliar enough to have a certain snob value.

Interesting list, don’t you think!

Is Mr. Harris immune?  Of course not!  Here’s how the article closes,

And while we’re about it, can we also lose those other phrases and images that have no specific author, but that regularly surface in columns (including mine)?

Let no more deckchairs be rearranged on the Titanic, or Fuhrers in their bunkers order around phantom divisions, or turkeys vote for Christmas, or horses be promoted by Caligula. Let there be no more strange deaths of Liberal/Tory/ Labour England.

“You have used every cliché except ‘God is love’ and ‘Please adjust your dress before leaving’,” Churchill (famously) said. In that spirit, I curse “events, dear boy, events”. As Cromwell (equally famously) declared: “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

With no more ado, (there’s another cliché!), I will sign off.

Transitions, pt One

Reflections on these present times.

Want a brilliant idea for tomorrow? Stay in the present!

Dogs do this wonderfully.  I am told that followers of Zen Buddhism discover peace and grace from embracing the present. But is there more to this?  Is there some deeper psychology involved?  Does our species have an intrinsic challenge in terms of staying in the present?

My musings on this arise from a couple of recent conversations.

The first was with Peter McCarthy from the Bristol area of West England.  Peter and I go back a few years (at my age, everything goes back a few years!) and at one stage I did some work for Peter’s company, Telecom Potential.  Just a quick aside, Peter’s company was based in the magnificent Clevedon Hall, a mansion built in 1853 as a family home for Conrad William Finzel, a German-born businessman.  Here’s a picture of one of the rooms,

A room at Clevedon Hall

Peter, like me, is sure that the period in which the world now appears to be, is not some cyclical downturn, not some temporary departure from the national growth and employment ambitions promoted by so many countries.  No! This one is different.

Peter is sure that a major transition is under way, as big as any of the great societal upheavals of the past.  And, for me, a fascinating comment from Peter was his belief that the key attitude required for the next years would be innovation.  Peter reminded me that we tend to think of innovation as applying to things physical, scientific and technical.  But Peter sensed that it would be in the area of social innovation where key changes would arise and, from which, these large societal changes would flow.

Then a day later I was chatting with one of the founders of a brilliant new authentication process, Pin Plus. It is a very smart solution to a major global problem, the weaknesses of traditional password user-authentication systems.

On the face of it, Pin Plus is obviously a better and more secure way of authenticating users, and a number of key test customers have borne this out.  Jonathan C was speaking of the challenges of convincing companies to have faith in this new process.  This is what he said,

More than once, indeed many times, I am told by prospects something along the lines that the IT world has been looking so hard and so long for a password solution that a solution can’t possibly exist.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.  Are we saying that a far-sighted approach to the potential for change is not an easy place for some, probably many, human brains?

Indeed, Jonathan and I mused that here we were, both speaking via Skype, an internet telephony service, both of us looking at different web sites in support of many of the points that we were discussing and totally dependent, in terms of our mentoring relationship, on the technology of the internet, a multi-node packet-switched communications system that was a direct result of the American shock of seeing the Russians launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into low earth orbit on the 4th October, 1957.

Launch of Sputnik 1

At that time, it would have seemed impossible for anyone on the planet to see that the American response to Sputnik 1 would eventually lead to the vast packet-switched network that is now the modern Internet.

But why do we regard the ability to look into the future so utterly out of reach of the common man?  Look at this, the Internet Timeline here.  Look how quickly the response to Sputnik1 gathered pace.  See how Leonard Kleinrock of MIT way back in May, 1961, presented a paper on the theory of packet-switching in large communications networks.

So maybe there’s a blindness with humans.  A blindess that creates the following bizarre characteristics,

  • Whatever is going on in our lives at present we assume will go on forever.  I.e. the boom times will never end, or the period of doom and gloom is endless.
  • Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.
  • Yet, unlike animals and some spiritual groups of humans, truly living in the present appears incredibly difficult for man.
  • However, the history of mankind shows that our species is capable of huge change, practically living in constant change for the last few millennia, and that a very small proportion of a society, see yesterday’s article, is all that is required to create a ‘tipping point’.

I want to continue with this theme but conscious that there is still much to be written.  So, dear reader, I shall pause and pick this up tomorrow.

Just stay in the present for twenty-four hours!

Fairness in society

Very difficult times ahead but a fairer social order could be one outcome.

As is so often the case, a number of different lines of thought come together once again to highlight the pressures on society and my belief that we are in the ‘zone of change’ between the last 40 or 50 years and what is ahead for western societies.  There is no question that these are very difficult times as, I presume, all phases of change have been over many centuries.

On the 28th October there was a Post on Learning from Dogs about the recent book from Will Hutton, Them and Us.  That book masterfully articulates the core issues in British society arising out of some fundamental economic policy errors and the very difficult times that are being experienced right now.

The British are a lost tribe – disoriented, brooding and suspicious. They have lived through the biggest bank bail-out in history and the deepest recession since the 1930s, and they are now being warned that they face a decade of unparalleled public and private austerity.

As if to underline the fact that the economic situation is far from recovery, despite what is being promoted, here’s a recent article from Washington’s Blog. Almost impossible to take an extract that conveys the essence of this powerful (and scary) article – so just go here and read it.  Or if you haven’t the time here’s a taste:


It’s Not Just the “Peripheral” European Countries … Financial Contagion Could Spread to “Core” Eurozone Countries and the U.S.

CNN notes:

Americans will not be spared if there’s a recession in Europe, even if U.S. bank exposure to European government debt is relatively limited.


The European Union is the second largest market for U.S. exports, behind only Canada. The EU bought about $175 billion in U.S. goods in the first three quarters of this year. That’s up about 8% from a year ago.

So worsening problems in Europe will clearly be a drag on the U.S. as well.
Niall Ferguson, Marc Faber, and SocGen’s Edwards and Grice predicted 9 months ago that the European debt crisis would eventually spread to America.

But the question of what country the “contagion” might spread to next is really the wrong question altogether.

The real question is whether the wealth of the people around the world will continue to be shoveled into the bottomless pit of debts held by the big banks, or whether the people will prevail and the giant banks and bondholders will be forced to take a haircut. See thisthis and this.

So back to the issue of fairness.  There is no escaping the consequences, still playing out, of the ‘spend now, pay tomorrow’ culture of the last 30 or 40 years so then the main issue is how do we mitigate the consequences for those who are most exposed to some of less prettier aspects of modern life.  Ponder on that question while you read this recent piece from Open Democracy.

Fairness and the cost of life for the poor in Britain

Brian Landers26 November 2010

Most Britons had “never had it so good” despite the “so-called recession” declared Lord Young of Graffham.  His words were immediately disowned by David Cameron, who fired him. But in reality Young was only articulating what he and his circle are experiencing and privately believe.

For example, on the BBC’s Sunday morning Broadcasting House on 21 November, Lord Charles Powell who was Margaret Thatcher’s advisor, complained, “unfortunately he said the wrong thing. In terms of fact what he said was probably right, with interests rates low people are not particularly badly off at the moment. But some people are very badly off and it is insensitive, I suppose, to suggest that everyone is not doing too badly at this time. It does show that you can’t speak the truth in politics anymore you have to defer to what is politically correct”.

Well, there is another truth: that for thousands of pensioners and not just “some” of them, negative real interest rates on their savings are becoming a disaster. Even though for the heavily mortgaged wealthy, low interest rates do indeed make them much better off.

What Young’s comments illustrate, therefore, is that when we consider equality and inequality we need to look at expenditure patterns, which can be just as important as differences in income.

Historically debates on social equality focus overwhelmingly and inevitably on inequalities of income. We read, for example, that according to a study by Incomes Data Services chief executives of the UK’s 100 largest companies are now paid on average 88 times the pay of typical full-time workers and that this ratio is getting worse. Last year the multiple was 81 times and ten years ago top bosses took home 47 times the average wage.

But in addition to their income being a lot lower the poor also suffer more because life costs them more. There are two issues, one obvious, one less so.

The primary issue is one of fairness. Three for the price of two supermarket offers are great value only for those who can afford to buy two; those who can only afford one end up paying 50% more per unit. Is that fair?

Another supermarket example which received widespread but soon-forgotten newspaper coverage earlier this year is more subtle. Tesco owns three convenience store brands in this country: Tesco Express, Tesco Metro and One Stop. An enquiry in 2006 found that the corporation was charging more than 20% more for the same products in its One Stop stores than in its Tesco branded stores. Tesco responded that it was bringing prices down in One Stop but in 2010 further research showed that One Stop prices were still 14% higher than prices for the same product in the rest of Tesco. One Stop typically operated in less attractive (that is poorer) areas where there was no competition from other mega-corporations and where therefore significantly higher prices could be charged. Again that raises issues of fairness.

If such unfairness is somehow familiar there is a further layer that goes beyond fairness: we live in a society where in many tiny ways the poor actually subsidise the better off through the way patterns of expenditure are organised by the market place, (i.e., not just by providing cheap labour).

Consider for example the cost of owning a car.  Bernard Jullien of the University of Bordeaux analysed published data on household expenditure and trade data from car distributors (See Competition and Change 6, 2002). He showed that richer consumers were being cross-subsidised by poorer consumers. Distributors in France (and almost certainly elsewhere) were following a conscious policy of keeping new car prices lower to increase their market share. Then then marked up the prices of spare parts and maintenance to maintain their overall profit levels. Jullien found that the unintended consequence was that well off customers, who were more likely to buy new cars, ended up being subsidised by less well off customers who typically bought second hand cars that needed more frequent repair.

There are more examples if the term “well off” is extended to include corporations. The cost of producing and distributing the electricity needed to power a light bulb is the same whether the bulb is in a private house or in the office of a mega-corporation – and yet the corporation will undoubtedly pay far less. Quantity discounts typically reflect the purchasing power of the buyer rather than any scale economies for the seller.

What are apparently rational pricing strategies have the unintended consequence of ensuring that poor people pay more than the well off in ensuring the overall profits corporations need.

Then there is time. Time budget surveys have shown, for example, that the poor take much longer per mile to get to work than the rich because the forms of transport they use are typically much slower. Similarly the poor have to devote more time to food shopping and a host of other activities.

There is nothing conspiratorial about the way that the poor fare worse than the rich. Often it is just the accidental by-product of perfectly sensible business decisions. Indeed in some cases there may even be wider social benefits. Improved stock control with Just-In-Time inventory techniques and Call-Off procurement contracts has ensured that waste in many industries has been sharply reduced; it is unfortunate that in food retailing one consequence is that end-of-day price reductions on perishable products are now less common, again hurting the poor more than the rich.

What can be done to mitigate these expenditure inequalities? First, they deserve to be highlighted, if only because, like so much else, they are beyond the experience of the multimillionaires in and around the cabinet. Second, and especially if we are going to talk about Big Society and us being ‘all in it together’, we need to think about economic models that build into their measures of success their consequences for all of us.

[Published with the permission of Brian Landers and openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.]

By Paul Handover

Laughing as you sink!

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on the million dollar questions – courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

This sketch is doing the rounds and deservedly so – it’s a very funny skit on Europe’s troubling financial situation.

As ex-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is reputed to have quoted, “The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other peoples money.

By Paul Handover