February 08, 2019 15:18
Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant | Barbara Hosking
When their day’s work underground was done and they made the long ascent to the surface, Cornish miners used the phrase ‘coming up to grass’. I came up to grass when I was seventy-five years old and my years of work had finally finished. Or so I thought…
I write this memoir as I look back on an unplanned career which took me light years away from the sea and the Cornish cliffs and moors of my childhood. My ambition always was to write, and to have writers as my friends. I never imagined that cinema advertising, parliamentary press releases or speeches would flow from my pen. My ambition was to be a ‘real’ writer, like the authors I met when I invited them to speak at our school or interviewed in the Isles of Scilly, or whose manuscripts I typed up at Miss Wesley’s secretarial college. Now, I have many authors among my friends, and I know first-hand how hard it is to face a blank page and write every day.
I had never expected to be professionally involved in politics, or to be a Cornish Liberal working for – indeed, becoming a supporter of – the Labour Party. I didn’t foresee that I would be offered a marginal parliamentary seat, or come to admire and like many Conservatives, both within and beyond government. And I certainly never expected to receive an honour, yet I ended up with two, first an OBE and later a CBE. In ordinary social life, there is never an opportunity to wear honours, and I envy the French who wear little ribbons in their buttonholes to show that they have been awarded the Légion d’Honneur. I think this is why the French have such good eyesight – they are trying to see what rank the recipient holds!
I had always assumed that, like the rest of my family, I would die young. Yet there I was in the early autumn of 2016 planning my ninetieth birthday party in November. For my seventy-fifth birthday, I commissioned a piece of music from Judith Bingham. It was played by the Ambache Orchestra – of which I was a board member – the only orchestra at the time run by a woman, at a party at the Reform Club. Edward Heath came along and made a speech: ‘I always did what Barbara told me – and see where it got me!’
I did not embark on this memoir with publication in mind, but because I wanted to set down my experiences of a world that has changed beyond recognition over my lifetime; in particular the world of British politics and government of which I enjoyed a worm’s-eye view. Perhaps, too, I was drawn to a nostalgic revisiting of my life, and to saluting the many extraordinary people who have populated both my working and my personal life. It is difficult to become a published writer today; the financial risks are high in an age of electronic reading, and I’m neither a celebrated cook nor a top footballer, or even famous for being famous. However, I have achieved my ambition: I have written a book and, one way or another, I will see it in print. It may not have quite the impact of the Atlantic breakers on Cornish cliffs, but I hope it will amuse my friends, and perhaps others who would like to ascend the greasy pole of the political world.
My story is, I believe, proof that life is a lottery. Health, success and love are all a matter of chance, and I grabbed the many unexpected chances which came my way. But, above all, I have been blessed with so many true friends, the sort of friends who not only enrich one’s life with their company, but give support and withhold judgement.
My life is fuller than it has ever been. In retirement, I anticipated a life filled with friends, travel, and the arts, but a life lived essentially alone. Once again I was wrong. I had known Margaret from my membership of the 300 Group, the 1980s movement founded to encourage more women to become Members of Parliament, and we were also both on the Council of the Royal Society of Arts. We became friends, but the possibility of a closer relationship had never occurred to me. Not only had she been married, but she was twenty years younger than me.
Happily, I was wrong about that, too, and in the words of the old music hall ballad:
When I thought that I was past love
It was then I met my last love
And I loved her as I’d never loved before.
I am, indeed, a fortunate woman.
Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant | Barbara Hosking
January 23, 2019 12:49
This week marks the 58th anniversary of the end of the maximum wage that had been imposed on professional footballers for the preceding 60 years. Jimmy Hill worked tirelessly while still a player – with Brentford before doing nine years of yeoman service at Fulham – to bring this about with a combination of charm and bloody-mindedness. But it was not just for this that I dedicated my book When Footballers Were Skint to him
This book is dedicated to Jimmy Hill.
As chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Hill, a Londoner born in 1928, did more than any other player to bring an end to the maximum wage in January 1961, by which stage it was £20 a week.
I knew him reasonably well in his later years, having a number of conversations with him when I was a sports journalist. I interviewed him for a profile in The Observer at a time when he was the country’s most recognisable pundit on the game.
Also, I asked him one day if he might give away the awards after a fundraising event for a medical charity. ‘Maybe you’d say a few words,’ I said. He came, he charmed, he spoke movingly, alluding briefly to his own mid-life medical problems that he had overcome. He waved aside the charity’s offer to pay for a taxi. But he did accept my offer to drop him off at Victoria Station.
I have a last image of him cheerily stepping out of the car into a windswept night. He had given freely of his services and turned what might have been a mundane evening into something a little special.
His views as a television pundit are what most people remember him for, overshadowing his relatively modest career as a player and his far greater legacy of having football’s grossly unfair wage cap abolished.
As an innovative manager of Coventry City and then as a media figure he continued to have a considerable influence on the game’s development.
I would have liked to have interviewed him for this book in his capacity as a key figure in its narrative, whom today’s multimillionaire players owe so much and, I suspect, know very little. Sadly, his failing health meant I was unable to do so.
Jimmy Hill died aged 87 a week before Christmas 2015.
January 22, 2019 14:57
Glasgow 1919: The Rise of Red Clydeside || by Kenny MacAskill
Open rebellion in European cities, troubling brewing in Ireland… now, a century on, history is repeating itself. Back then, whilst war had ceased, peace most certainly did not reign. Berlin was facing the Spartacus uprising and Sinn Féin were soon to have an election victory and establish the Dáil Éireann. Films such as Nae Pasaran and Peterloo have confirmed a radical heritage across Scotland. But no city is perhaps richer in that legacy than Glasgow with Red Clydeside, never mind the week of rioting that brought about the deployment of cavalry in nearby Paisley, when news of the Manchester massacre broke.
A century ago, Glasgow, as the hotbed of radicalism, home to many who sought to emulate revolutions sweeping across Europe, was on edge. It had been a thorn in the side of the British government throughout the war. Its industrial strength as the second city of the British Empire made it vital to the war effort. But a radical heritage and appalling social and economic conditions also made it the hotbed of both anti-war sentiment and industrial disputes. Leading protestors were imprisoned, whilst the shop stewards in charge were deported under draconian wartime laws. Revolutionary heroes like John Maclean were feted on their release from prison, whilst the Prime Minister had required a military escort to visit the city the year before.
Peace brought its own challenges, with the spectre of the return of mass unemployment and consequent poverty haunting many. Demands were made across the country for a reduction in working hours. In Glasgow that was to lead to the 40-hour week strike to lessen hardship for all. A National Coalition government had swept away all before it, even in Glasgow, in the December 1918 election. But there were reasons for that and neither the cause nor morale of the radicals was dimmed. In any event, in many of the factories in Glasgow it was the Clyde Workers Committee (CWC) who were the real power.
January 1919, therefore, saw a huge strike that brought tens of thousands onto the streets and saw the Red Flag hoisted in Glasgow’s George Square. The threat had been real and the War Cabinet had been preparing in kind. A riot broke out on Bloody Friday and the civil authorities were overwhelmed. Over 10,000 troops, 100 lorries and 6 tanks were immediately despatched to Scotland’s largest city. The barracks in Glasgow were locked down and soldiers from the West of Scotland confined to base.
January 1919 marks the centenary for what the Secretary of State for Scotland termed the ‘Scottish Bolshevik Revolution’. An open rebellion it was not, and the industrial struggle was lost, but the political fight would be won in the 1922 election. There, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) enjoyed a resounding win in the city, and political Red Clydeside was born. As Santayana wrote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
January 18, 2019 15:40
As the shutdown in the US parliament continues, we return to the best insight into the strategy of the American President: his Twitter feed. One of Trump’s most recent offerings holds little hope of an end to the impasse, claiming that ‘the damage done to our Country from a badly broken Border – Drugs, Crime and so much that is bad – is far greater than a Shutdown’. Trump’s broadcasting of his plans and opinions on Twitter reinforce the huge role which social media and the internet play in the way we consume news. We are reliant on picking through adjectives and statistics to deduce what messages politicians are trying to convey.
James Ball’s Post Truth (2017) is well worth revisiting as an insight into how questionable statistics and emotive headlines have worked their way into the fabric of our political system, propelled by the multiple platforms of the internet. Ball offers an accessible history of journalism’s move from print to screen and dissects the implications for both journalists and readers.
Last year, it became clear that Cambridge Analytica had been using data from Facebook to create political profiles of users, an indication that the information we are being given is still intended to reinforce our political positions. On top of this, the GDPR questions asked by websites about how much data you are willing to provide bring home the extent of information that is collected on a daily basis. More than ever, it is important to realise the potential of the internet to provide unreliable information and tailor the information we do end up seeing.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom – Post Truth presents some suggestions for what we can do to tackle the rise of bullshit. Ball’s closing chapter ‘How to stop bullshit’ has a handy checklist to keep in mind when scrolling through Facebook or browsing news sites:
- Burst your bubble – follow people who have different political leanings to yourself to prevent the all too common online echo chamber.
- Stop and think – Ball recommends spending a short amount of time assessing the source, if it seems credible, who the writer is etc. before sharing headlines or posts.
- Learn some stats – not the most exciting activity, but a basic grasp of (for example) the total amount of government spending and rough departmental budgets helps to bring potentially misleading figures into focus.
- Treat narratives you believe as sceptically as ones you don’t – it’s tempting to fact check articles you disagree with whilst unquestioningly sharing headlines which reinforce your views. Ball advises that bullshit can be found in all corners of the political spectrum and to keep a healthy scepticism.
- Try not to succumb to conspiratorial thinking – in the post truth age, theories spread fast. It’s easy to buy into imagined political scandals created by conjecture rather than investigated facts – we need to keep an objective eye and question what we read.
Ball’s latest book, ‘Bluffocracy’ (Biteback, August 2018) is a collaboration with former government official Andrew Greenway about how a culture of ‘winging it’ has emerged in the UK government and why it needs to be stopped. Purchase the book here.
January 17, 2019 14:28
The day Clough sent out his assistant on a spying mission – and got what he wanted even though his secret agent's cover was easily blown.
Brian Clough and Stan Anderson, teammates at Sunderland in the 1960s, remained good friends when they became managers – although some of Clough’s antics tested Anderson’s patience.
In the mid Seventies, when Anderson was in charge of the Fourth Division club Doncaster Rovers, he had on his books a young player called Terry Curran. He regarded Curran as a good footballer but one who had difficulty taking advice despite being told this was the only way he’d make the most of his talent.
‘Then one day,’ Anderson recalled, ‘this lad John Quigley, who was my coach, said, “Guess who I’ve seen coming into the ground? Peter Taylor [Brian Clough’s assistant at Nottingham Forest]. He was wearing a big scarf, a hat and dark glasses.’
‘How do you know it was Peter Taylor?’ Anderson said.
‘I know Peter Taylor,’ Quigley said.
Anderson already knew that Clough and Taylor were interested in buying Curran and had been manoeuvring to get him as cheaply as possible. It was no surprise when, not long after the theatrically disguised Taylor had been spotted by Quigley, Anderson took a call from Clough.
‘Hi Stan, how are you keeping?’
‘Fine, Brian. Kept them out of the bottom four and we’re pushing for promotion.’
‘They tell me you’ve got a lad called Curran there.’
‘Well you should know because Peter Taylor was here on Saturday.’
‘No he wasn’t.’
‘Brian,’ Anderson said, ‘he was here on Saturday because two or three people saw him. Don’t kid me, because that’s what you’re doing.’
Caught out by Anderson, Clough pressed on, unabashed – and not long afterwards he got his man, signing Curran in a typically convoluted Clough-style deal by which Doncaster received cash for Curran plus two Forest players.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.