Archive for ‘Scottish history’

March 29, 2017

Alford Heritage Museum – Aberdeenshire’s Hidden Gem

 Alford Heritage Museum

The wee village of Alford in Aberdeenshire is very fortunate in having two great museums in its midst. Many know of the Transport Museum but fewer have heard of Alford Heritage Museum which gets very little attention from the outside world.

When I googled museums +Aberdeenshire up popped Aberdeen City museums onto the screen. So then I googled Aberdeenshire Council’s website pages on leisure, sport and culture/museums http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/leisure-sport-and-culture/museums and this came up!

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Inspiring it is not. I have to say Aberdeenshire Council’s website is unremittingly uninspiring, dull and monotonous, not to say unfriendly. Delving deeper and it offered Aberdeenshire Farming Museum – the excellent Aden Country Park but I happen to know there is another one – Pitmedden and, of course, the gem that the Shire does nothing to promote is Alford Heritage Museum.

Alford Heritage Museum of rural life is packed and I mean packed with an impressive array of agricultural implements and working machinery as well as rooms dedicated to a number of specific interests including a smiddy, general store, schoolroom, farmhouse kitchen and the poet Charles Murray.

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Charles Murray room

Why on earth does Aberdeenshire Council continue to ignore this museum? Why have local councillors not pushed it give it a higher profile? One I know of still standing in the forthcoming election used to be on the museum’s board!

Alford Heritage Museum contains arguably the best collection of farming and other memorabilia in this part of Scotland – the whole of Scotland for all I know. It is run on a shoestring by a dedicated team of volunteers and reopens after its winter closure on Saturday 1st April and from then is open every day except Wednesdays.
http://www.spanglefish.com/AlfordHeritageMuseum/

Working the land stretches far back in time in the Howe o’ Alford. It is here that Aberdeen Angus cattle were bred. The museum houses an impressive collection of farming implements and machinery, many working as well as artefacts from the various trades vital to the area. Local retired farmer Leslie Angus has recently given them an old horse-drawn threshing mill built by J&T Young of Ayr which will be displayed for the first time this year.

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The museum has been around since 1991 when it opened in Alford’s former cattle mart. It contains a small library with some really fascinating photographs and documents donated by people from the Howe o’ Alford including a collection of Aberdeen Angus and Clydesdale Horse Stud Books dating back to the 19th century.

Direction signs Alford

Old signs from roads around Donside and Deeside

Twice yearly farm servants and farmers gathered at feein’ markets around Whitsunday and Martinmas to settle who would work where for the next six months. In this part of the country they lived in shared accommodation in tiny bothies or in the chaumer, a room above the stables.

Chaumer Alford Museum

Chaumer

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The old mart ring now displays donated items including toys

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Mock-up of a village store

Farmhouse kitchen

Farmhouse kitchen

Scottish wildcat

Scottish wild cat

Smith workshop

Blacksmith’s smiddy

Souter's workshop

Souter’s workshop.

Souter is the Scottish word for the English cobbler or shoemaker.

Tailor's workshop

Tailor’s workshop

Thrashing machine

Thrashing machine

Thrashing machine (modern name is threshing machine) for separating seed and husks from harvested grain stalks. Thrashing machines and binders which cut and gathered barley and oats have been replaced by huge combine harvesters.

tractor hall

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Schoolroom

The pictures show some of what there is to see. Give yourself and your family a treat by paying a visit to Alford Heritage Museum – you’ll come away with a smile on your face. 

March 21, 2017

‘Have you anything for me?’ the story of Ballater airman and the 1937 boat plane, Capricornus

 

Tucks IA No 48

Boat plane Capricornus

I am addicted to looking around graveyards. Some, I admit, are more interesting than others for many give only the name of the dead and tell nothing of a once active life of the corpse buried below. What I am looking for are the ones that will stop me in my tracks.  This is what happened one sunny and cold Sunday when I found myself staring at a tall grey granite gravestone topped by a pair of wings – not angel wings but stylised wing of an aircraft popular in the 1930s. The inscription confirmed this. A young man killed in an air accident at the age of 29 years.  

gravestone of paterson

 

Flying was still in its infancy but growing in popularity in the 1930s. Faster than merchant ships for transporting goods, military materiel and mail – as well as a few passengers – a network of early flight paths soon connected Britain’s far-flung colonies. Imperial Airways took its name from the British Empire it served and among its expanding fleet were 28 flying boats ordered from Short Brothers of Belfast (the first production aircraft company.) 

These flying boat aircraft, Short Empire four-engined monoplanes,were being turned out at one a month with the first completing its initial flight in July 1936. Designated as C class each aircraft given a name beginning with the letter C. The intention was to fly them between Britain and its colonies- to Australia, British-run parts of Africa and North America.

 

Alexander Paterson was brought up in Ballater on Deeside in Aberdeenshire and as a boy he imagined what it would be like to be an airman. On leaving school he became an apprentice with the local Riverside Garage and emerged a time-served mechanic. From farm machinery and the few motor cars that would have been in the area at the time Alexander followed his ambition to work with aircraft. By 1929 he was employed by Imperial Airways and he and his wife set up home in Cairo in Egypt – then part of the British Empire.serveimage

On a clear day on the 24th March 1937 Captain Alexander Paterson took off on G-ADVA Capricornus from Southampton in England for Alexandria in Egypt. This was the inaugural flight for the £40,000, 88 foot boat plane with its 114 foot wing span. It could accommodate 24 passengers and 5 crew on its two decks but that day it carried only one passenger, Betty Coates from Folkestone in Kent, along with its crew of two pilots, radio operator, flight clerk and steward. On board was a large consignment of bags of mail and ten thousand pounds in gold bullion hidden beneath the floor of the cabin.

Over France the good weather deteriorated and atmospheric interference made communications with the ground difficult. As Capricornus flew over Dijon the air controllers there were busy and when finally the radio operator was able to make out a response he assumed it to be from Dijon when, in fact, it was from Tours. It took several more minutes of confusion to correct the mistake by which time Capricornus was way off course.

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Crashed Capricornus with damaged wing

 

Ten hours into the flight with only broken contact with the ground the aircraft found itself in heavy cloud and snow as it approached Marseilles. The pilots could see nothing ahead in the freezing and blizzard conditions and struggled to maintain course. J.L. Cooper the radio operator heard an aircraft controller at Lyon suggest they alter course for it was noted Capricornus was descending on a course of 145 degrees. Suddenly a wing tip hit a tree hurtling the aircraft back into the air out of control and it dropped down careering through a dry stone wall, finally coming to rest in a pine wood.

Traffic control at Lyon was desperately trying to re-establish contact with the plane: at 14.12 pm it requested a bearing, Have you anything for me? Twice more it tried to raise a response but received only radio silence. 

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French people at site of the crash

Cooper was thrown out of the craft and came to dazed and with a broken arm. He searched the wreckage then more or less crawled through snow to a farmhouse two miles away where he raised the alarm.

A rescue party discovered Captain Alexander Paterson and Betty Coates badly injured. She was taken to hospital where she died and Alexander to the farm house where four hours later he also died. The bodies of first officer G. E. Klein, flight clerk D. R. O’Brien and steward F. A. E. Jeffcoate were found in the aircraft.

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Wings atop gravestone of Alexander Paterson

 

Alexander Paterson’s mother at home in Ballater heard of her son’s death from a report on the wireless. He had been due home on a visit in the summer.

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Lochnagar in March from Tullich graveyard at Ballater

 

Bodies of the dead were returned to Britain by rail and boat and Captain Paterson was buried in his native Deeside at Tullich Churchyard just east of Ballater where blinds in homes and businesses were drawn in tribute to one of their own. Pupils from Alexander Paterson’s former school lined the road for his funeral cortege. Paterson’s widow was not at the funeral as she was still making her way back from Cairo but her mother was among mourners who heard of the bright boy who longed to be a pilot, of his courage and determination and the high regard in which he was held by those who knew him. Any casting their eyes to the mountain of Lochnagar on the horizon would have noticed it patched with snow, a reminder, if needed of the conditions that caused the plane to crash.

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Biblical quote at the foot of A. Paterson’s gravestone

Among wreaths was one from Imperial Airways and another from Paterson’s former colleagues in the airline’s engineering department. A beautiful wreath inscribed Les Aviateurs Miliniques de Bron a leurs camarades Britanniques (Military Airmen from Bron to British comrades.) A wreath, too, from the Consel Municipal of Ouroux in Rhone where Capricornus was wrecked, one from radio amateurs of Egypt and Greece along with those from his family and friends in Ballater including one from pupils and staff at Ballater School.

The fatal accident was raised in parliament when Under-Secretary of State for Air, Sir Philip Sassoon, announced to the Commons that Capricornus had crashed on her maiden trip but when he was asked if the plane was fitted with de-icers, as was the regulation in America, the Speaker intervened and disallowed the question. MPs were reassured, however, that the mail was safe. No mention was made of the secret stash of gold.

March 7, 2017

The Transportation of Angus Gillies

Angus Gillies from Inverness-shire was convicted of simple larceny (theft) at the Old Bailey in London in February 1845 and sentenced to seven years transportation.

Punsihment-of-convicts

I don’t know what attracted Angus Gillies to make the long journey south into England but he worked for a time in the household of a Dr Dowler, as a carer for a man described at the time as ‘a lunatic’. Dr Dowler’s cook and housekeeper, Mary Lewis, and Gillies struck up a relationship and together they planned to open a coffee-shop which was to prove the undoing of Gillies when he was accused of stealing fifteen £10 bank notes and three £5 bank notes which Mary Lewis had withdrawn from a bank to pay for the business.

Full of anticipation the pair set off to check out the property and settle the payment. Mary picked up her money – notes and a little in gold coin when Gillies suggested she let him carry the money –  “You had better hand over that money to me, as I have had the paying of the other money, and I will pay it” – he had earlier paid a deposit of £5.

Bangalore first of migrant ships

Bangalore is on extreme left

Mary Lewis replied, “Well, Mr Gillies, as you had the paying of the other, I suppose you will have the paying of this” and so she gave him notes worth £165 which he slipped into his pocket-book and off they went to the coffee-shop on Ludgate Hill. Satisfied with the premises they were shown into a back room to settle the deal but no sooner had they sat down when Gillies jumped up stating, “I have lost my book.”

Mary Lewis replied, “That is impossible.”

He said, “Then I have dropped it from my pocket in your room; give me your key to go back and look for it.”

She handed over the key to her room and Gillies went out returning within the hour to report he found no sign of the money. Mary Lewis insisted it was impossible the money could have been lost as they had gone straight to the coffee shop from her home. Gillies then urged her to return to the Glyn and Co bank and get from them the numbers of the bank notes paid out to her so they might be stopped.

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Onboard a convict ship

After this Gillies proposed marriage to Mary Lewis but when their marriage banns were put up he disappeared and that was the last she saw of him until his appearance in the dock of the Old Bailey charged with larceny.

In court as a witness was Janet Gillies, Angus’s cousin. She had travelled all the way from Inverness-shire and as Janet spoke only Gaelic her evidence was relayed through an interpreter. She told the court she saw Gillies at her home a few days before Christmas the previous year when he gave her a bundle of money and asked her to take care of it. In turn she gave the money to Angus MacDonald, a magistrate in Inverness-shire, for safe-keeping. For whatever reason MacDonald passed the money on to Andrew Wyness, a police constable, who was also a witness in court having arrested Angus Gillies at his home in Inverness-shire on the 29th December 1844.

Thirty-five year old Angus Gillies was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land on the 3rd February, 1845.

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Convict hulk

Gillies was duly put on to one of the very many ships that sailed non-stop delivering their cargoes of criminals to whichever part of the British Empire there was a need to for their labour, far away from families. The majority of this human cargo was composed mainly of the impoverished and desperate among Britain’s population and the trade was a major source of income for shipping companies. Whether or not the transported could ever return to their homes was of no interest to the British authorities.

One of the ships on the Britain to Australia route was Angelina which makes it sound rather nice. In April 1844 she set sail with 171 prisoners stuffed into her hold and docked in Australia in August – four months of incarceration in crampt and unhealthy conditions all the time the distance stretching between the ship and home. Disease and death cut many a sentence short.   

I didn’t expect to find any record of Angus Gillies’ transportation but such is the magic of the internet that is precisely what I did – not in Australia but in the year 1848 – three years after his transportation order from the court – he was at last en route for Van Diemen’s Land on board a wood barque, the Jersey-built Bangalore, along with 203 fellow prisoners sailing from Bermuda.

In 1823 Parliament passed an Act permitting the courts to send their British and Irish convicts to any of Britain’s colonies to provide free labour. Times had become harder for the Britain’s capitalists anxious to squeeze every ounce of profit out of the Empire once slavery was abolished in 1806 -although they kept the trade going until 1833. Over the next forty years 9,000 were transported from Britain and Ireland to Bermuda and put to work mainly on the island’s naval dockyard – quarrying the local limestone and constructing a breakwater, similar to the construction of a prison to provide prisoners for forced labour to construct a breakwater at Peterhead in northeast Scotland.

bermuda 1862

Convict hulks and ships of the British fleet at Bermuda

Seven old hulks were moored off Bermuda to house prisoners many of whom had been given shortish sentences such as Gillies’ with his seven years for larceny. The hulks were steaming hot in summer and freezing cold in winter and were breeding-ground for disease – dysentery, consumption bronchitis and all manner of fevers.

It was easy to become a convict in 19th century Britain and Ireland when people lived in unimaginable poverty and starvation was ever-present. The 1840s was the period of the worst of Ireland’s famines when food grown in that country was carted past hungry men, women and children – food they could not afford to buy and which was being taken to the ports to be exported to England. Anyone caught stealing was arrested, tried and transported.  

jersey

Whatever happened to Angus Gillies once he landed in Australia on 14th July 1848 I have not been able to discover. Did he ever get back to Inverness-shire and his family? Perhaps someone out there knows.

March 2, 2017

The Fate of the Embroiderer from Peterhead

It was in 1707 that fraudulent bankruptcy became a capital crime in England; what the penalty for personal sequestration in Scotland was then I have not been able to discover but I suppose an English hanging may have been preferable to the French punishment of strangulation. 

embroidery-1

Peterhead’s Alexander Thompson was about thirty years old when he found himself on trial at the Old Bailey in London in February 1756. Brought up in the Blue Toon in the northeast of Scotland, Thompson was educated to some degree, as were most Scots children, in the basics of reading and writing.

Like many of his countrymen and women before him, Thompson travelled abroad, first to Paris where he learned the specialized craft of embroidery.  No mere stitchers embroiderers were skilled in designing patterns used to create gorgeous intricate needlework that would be used decorating clothing worn by the wealthy and for home furnishings. 

After five years in France and still a young man in his early twenties Thompson took his experience as an embroiderer to Holland where he carried out his trade for several years, enhancing his reputation as a successful businessman in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam, before turning up in England.

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In London he took lodgings in a ‘reputable’ coffee house and enjoyed the high life of the city; forever visiting entertainments. It was at a dance he met his prospective wife, Lydia Davis, but safe to say her father wasn’t keen on his prospective son-in-law. Lydia, or rather her father, had some money as apparently did Thompson and the couple moved into a comfortable house in St. James’s, Westminster. From there Thompson earned a living as embroiderer, dealer and a chapman (seller of cheap popular books.)

However, Thompson was of the mind that all work makes Jack a dull boy and quickly the marriage turned sour and the couple separated. Then one evening Thompson asked his wife to go dancing with him and together they went to Fish Street Hill which appeared to have prompted something of reconciliation. They were at a friend’s house when at around four in the morning on the 20th February 1755 the marital home, where Thompson still carried on his business, went up in flames. Fortunately it was well insured nevertheless all his work materials were lost as well as personal belongings and more importantly two people, both servants, died in the fire.  

Rumours abounded that Thompson had been seen in the neighbourhood before the fire broke out, denied by Thompson who maintained he was with his wife the whole of that night. He collected an insurance payout of £500 despite the property having been insured for £900 and immediately went off to a tavern with his father-in-law and a friend to pay off a debt. It emerged Thompson was in debt to several people but despite having enough money in hand he chose not to discharge his debts which amounted to no more than £200 and sent a note to his wife informing her he was leaving London.

His marriage over Thompson sailed for Scotland and in his absence he was declared bankrupt by the courts in England. He later claimed he knew nothing of this although he would have been well aware when he turned his back on England he left as a debtor and failure to discharge debts was then a very serious offence.

Thompson arrived in Edinburgh, described erroneously as the north of Scotland in English court papers and in the southern press. He was still only in his twenties and before long he got married again. History repeated itself when he found this father-in-law was none-too-keen on him either and kept at him to pay off his debts which Thompson must have admitted to so Thompson, possibly reluctantly, sailed back to London. Knowing he was in trouble not only over the money he owed but having committed bigamy Thompson persuaded a woman he met there to impersonate his English wife and swear before a lawyer that they had not been married but only cohabiting in an attempt to make his Scottish marriage legal.

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The attempted fraud was quickly discovered when under pressure the woman broke down and admitted the deception. Thompson was apprehended and dragged before his English father-in-law who identified him. In no time Thompson found himself locked up in Clerkenwell New Prison and later Newgate. His bigamy was by now the least of his worries.

During his absence in Edinburgh the London courts issued an order for his appearance before the Commissioners in Bankruptcy at the Guildhall “to make a full discovery and disclosure of his estate and effects, when and where the creditors are to come prepared to prove their debts.” Having failed to comply, Thompson hired a legal representative to argue he had no knowledge of the matter, being in Scotland at the time. He was put on trial for bankruptcy and failing to comply with an interdict to deal with it. His declaration he knew nothing of the action did not wash with the jury and he was condemned to death for not surrendering himself to the Commissioners’ scrutiny.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Robertson’s portrait of Flora Macdonald

Meanwhile at Edinburgh Baillie Court that July an action was taken out against Thompson by William Robertson, a limner,* for what I don’t know  as the court papers are missing and an application was made by Margaret Lamb, daughter of George Lamb, a wright of Potterow, against Alexander Thompson for his bigamous marriage to her.

Despondent in his English goal Thompson wrote several letters imploring understanding of his situation including one sent to his English father-in-law demanding his help. Thompson, a Protestant, also railed at the church for failing to support him and increasingly desperate angrily declared his desire to die a Catholick. His rekindled interest in religion found him penning prayers, attending chapel and spending time in quiet devotional meditation which led him to regret his ill-treatment of his English wife. And so a contrite Thompson calmly faced the hangman’s rope – and in doing so left two widows.

* artist, or portraits or miniatures

February 20, 2017

British-American Project – grooming leaders

You will all be familiar with the British-American Project. No? Here’s a clue – it is a British/American networking organisation sponsored by several well-known businesses including Monsanto, Philip Morris (tobacco), Apple, British Airways, BP Coca-Cola, Unilever.

In the words of BAP:

“The British-American Project is a transatlantic fellowship of over 1,200 leaders, rising stars and opinion formers from a broad spectrum of occupations, backgrounds and political views. It is an extraordinarily diverse network of high-achievers on rising career paths in public, professional and business life.

naughtie

BAP operates on a not-for-profit basis, funded through its membership and a small amount of support from corporate partners. We also receive support in kind from a number of bodies [see above] who share our values and objectives.”

 In 2007 the journalist John Pilger wrote that:

‘The BAP rarely gets publicity, which may have something to do with the high proportion of journalists who are alumni. Prominent BAP journalists are David LipseyYasmin Alibhai-Brown and assorted Murdochites. The BBC is well represented. On the Today programmeJames Naughtie, whose broadcasting has long reflected his own transatlantic interests, has been an alumnus since 1989. Today’s newest voice, Evan Davis, formerly the BBC’s zealous economics editor, is a member. And at the top of the BAP website home page is a photograph of Jeremy Paxman and his endorsement. “A marvellous way of meeting a varied cross-section of transatlantic friends,” says he’[21].

BAP has been described as a Trojan horse for American foreign policy/business/influence in the world – the Special Relationship grown large. I’ve read it has folded yet its website is still up and BAP’s annual conference is advertised for Newcastle later this year so it looks as though it is alive and kicking.

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The Labour Party features largely, New Labour’s usual suspects, along with several Conservatives and assorted others. Tony Blair, not a member, described BAP as a wide-ranging pro-active organisation for “young leaders.”

Wendy Alexander, remember her? was one of those expected to take on a leadership role. Blink and you would have missed her leadership of Labour in Scotland but get there she did.

“BAP network …committed to “grooming leaders”

“Casual freemasonry” was Pilger’s description – and “by far the most influential transatlantic network of politicians, journalists and academics.”

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It appears this self-selective organisation of like-minded people who saw themselves as movers and shakers able to influence all of our lives and mould attitudes relating to politics, culture, trade, defence, war and so on grew out of an idea of the late US president Ronald Reagan to develop a network of co-operation between the UK and America then developed by Sir Charles Villiers (Etonian banker and former member of Special Operations Executive) and Lewis Van Dusen. This was no peace organisation, very anti-CND.

“In the summer of 1997, a few weeks after New Labour won power, a striking article about the election appeared in a privately circulated newsletter. Under the cryptic headline Big Swing To BAP, the article began, “No less than four British-American Project fellows and one advisory board member have been appointed to ministerial posts in the new Labour government.” A list of the names of these five people and of other New Labour appointees who were members of BAP followed: “Mo Mowlam … Chris Smith … Peter Mandelson … Baroness Symons … George Robertson … Jonathan Powell … Geoff Mulgan … Matthew Taylor …” The article ended with a self-congratulatory flourish and the names of two more notable BAP members: “James Naughtie and Jeremy Paxman gave them all a hard time on BBC radio and television. Other fellows, too numerous to list, popped up throughout the national media commenting, criticising and celebrating.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/06/usa.politics1

In 2003 John Pilger noted that “Five members of Blair’s first cabinet, along with his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, were members of the British American Project for a Successor Generation, a masonry of chosen politicians and journalists, conceived by the far-right oil baron J. Howard Pew and launched by Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch.” 

In the beginning advisory boards were established in the US and Britain through the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC in the US and in Britain the rightwing Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London currently headed by Eliz Manningham-Buller, former DG of the Security Services. Former presidents include Douglas Hurd, George Robertson and Paddy Ashdown.  It describes itself as ‘independent’ and not funded by government-

“The institute receives no subsidy from the UK government or any other source.” although, curiously, among its funders, those who do not wish to remain anonymous, is the British Army, Ministry of Defence and the BBC.

The BBC? Explains why it uses is so much in its news reports. Isn’t there a question over BBC’s independence when it pays into this think tank? How many others does it help fund?

See more at:

https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/Fundingbands15-16A.pdf

Let’s cut to the chase – who are/were some of these anointed if not by predestination then something not dissimilar?

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Apart from Wendy Alexander, sister of former Labour foreign and trade minister, Douglas Alexander, other alumni include – well, Douglas Alexander, Labour Party Foreign and Trade minister; Stephen Dorrell, former Conservative minister; Alan Sked founder of Ukip, David Miliband, Labour Party; Baron Mandelson, Labour Party, EU trade commissioner; Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, ex-Labour Party Minister, Adviser to BP, on Board of Equilibrium Gulf Ltd; Baroness Symons, Labour Party former Foreign Office minister; Jonathan Powell, Labour Party former chief of staff to Blair;  Baroness Scotland, Labour Home Office minister; Geoff Mulgan, former head of Downing Street’s policy and strategy unit; Sadiq Khan, Labour Party, Mayor of London; Matthew Taylor, Downing Street head of policy; David Willetts, Conservative minister; journalists Jeremy Paxman, BBC; Evan Davis, BBC; James Naughtie, BBC; William Crawley, BBC; Jane Hill, BBC; Ben Hammersley, BBC; Trevor Phillips, BBC; Isabel Hilton, BBC, the Independent, the Guardian; Margaret Hill, BBC producer of current affairs; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, London Evening Standard; Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Spectator; Rowan Pelling, Daily Telegraph and many, many more.

bbc-employee

BAP was designed to be an active professional networking medium for young professionals so many in the list above will have dropped out to be replaced by the future. And on the subject of the future at a time when there is great concern at the erosion of the NHS and the prospect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aka TTIP I think there are reasons to be very worried indeed over this close and cagey liaison.

 http://powerbase.info/index.php/British_American_Project

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/06/usa.politics1

 http://www.britishamericanproject.org/

February 20, 2017

STOP PRESS: Russian Revolution 1917

It was almost incredible that it could be true. We stood together in the darkened street, half delirious with joy, while tears mingled with our laughter.

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Guest post by Textor

Emotionally charged, with an echo of Wordsworth’s response to news of the French Revolution, these are the words Aberdonian John Paton on hearing that the Tsar had been overthrown. It was March 1917. It was the Russian Revolution. The thirty one year old socialist was leaving an election meeting where he’d supported the anti-war stance of Ramsay MacDonald. Since 1914 millions had been sucked into the bloody maelstrom of world war. For small bands of socialists across Europe the war was final proof of the bankruptcy of capitalism and as such had to be opposed despite lies in the press, willingly if not happily accepting threats of violence and imprisonment.

Anti-war socialists saw glimmers of hope in working class militancy which continued through these desperate years. Rent strikes, demands for 40 hour working week, the emergence of an unofficial shop steward movement all implicitly challenged political authority so much so that by 1917 “Red Clydesiders” were being harassed, sent to internal exile and gaoled. Socialists were buoyed but faced the fact that in Britain and across Europe, particularly in Germany, social democratic parties had taken up their respective national flags and helped drum men to the battle-fronts.

When John Paton left the election meeting on that fateful evening he met with a comrade who was almost choking with excitement at the news of the fall of the Tsar. Hardly surprising that local election politics were for the moment put into the shade. For John Paton events in Russia spurred him to greater political activity which eventually resulted in him becoming a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party.

In a similar fashion the cub reporter James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) was inspired by the later Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia so much so that he and a colleague could not sleep o’nights. We prowled Aberdeen . . . talking the moon into morning about jolly and heart-some and splendid things: life, death, the Revolution. Young Mitchell was then working for The Aberdeen Journal; the city’s most important newspaper. Since the 1740s the Journal had served Aberdeen with a generally conservative view of the world. In its time it had wagged a political and moral finger at the excessive demands of Chartists and seen off more radical newspaper rivals by accepting some of the liberal policies of the 19th century. Basically the Journal wanted men to be politically sensible. Political militancy, whether it was votes for women or re-division of land, was unacceptable, at least in the parliamentary “democracy” that was Britain.

James Leslie Mitchell’s enthusiasm was not shared by the Journal nor by its stable-mate The Evening Express.   However, this is not to say that the earlier phase of the Russian Revolution which had so captivated John Paton was denounced by the Aberdeen newspapers. We must remember that the British state and its mouthpieces were concerned with the prosecution of the war. Where John had seen universal hope for an end to the slaughter and the building of a more just world the Aberdeen papers believed that far from doing this the fall of the Tsarist autocracy would mean a more rational organisation of Russia’s military forces, taking power from the hands of an incompetent regime, with what they called dark and mysterious forces behind the throne, and placing it with men in the Russian parliament, the Duma; in other words a new regime with some sort of political legitimacy, consequently better able to work with Britain and her allies by marshalling workers and peasants to fight the German enemy.     

In March 1917 Aberdeen Daily Journal welcomed the “Revolution” and confidently predicted that a more democratic empire could be built with the help of Grand Duke Michael and on this solid foundation the energetic prosecution of the war [would be] their first consideration. And at the same time that it praised Russia for holding fast to the European battlefields where millions were dying the newspaper congratulated Russia for not taking the bloody path of the 1905 revolution or that mapped out in France in 1789. As the Evening Express put it the simple-hearted, generous, hospitable Russians were following a course of common sense in showing a willingness to keep the slaughter going.

On the other hand there was an enemy in Britain, conspiring to defeat the just ends being pursued by the state, personified in the person of Ramsay MacDonald: Aberdeen wants no peace bargainers, no mischief makers, in a time of national crisis. Russia, said the Journal must also beware Socialists and fanatical Revolutionaries. Ramsay MacDonald is now one of the great villains of Labour history; the man who sold out to the National Government and Conservatism. But this is to forget he and others had the courage and we might say the decency to stand against the bloodletting of 1914-18 even if this was from a pacifist stance rather than, as the young John Paton would have demanded, a revolutionary overthrow of the property owning class. 

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It just so happened that Aberdeen played its own small part in ensuring the pacifist MacDonald with his M.P. colleague Fred Jowett of Bradford were prevented in June 1917 from attending an anti-war socialist meeting in Petrograd. Aberdeen was the “certain port” from which these two men attempted to sail only to be stopped by organised labour under the leadership of Captain Edward Tupper of the seamen’s union. Pickets at the harbour threw their luggage ashore and followed them to their lodgings to keep them from sailing. Needless to say the local press was enchanted by this show of militancy, displaying a support for picketing which tended to be conspicuous by its absence in earlier industrial strikes.

When the Bolshevik Lenin was given safe passage by the Germans to the Finland Station in April unsurprisingly he was said to be an agent of the Kaiser, the editor of the Evening Express advised the Russian state now is the time for a supreme effort to trample down the internal enemy before hurling back the invader. Equally unsurprising the newspapers also saw MacDonald and his ILP comrades as doing the Kaiser’s work not to mention men and women going on strike threatening to disrupt munitions production.

Regardless of all the political guidance being given and the moral exhortations made it still looked as if the events in Russia had a dynamic beyond the control of any of the states involved in mutual destruction. The “moderate”, pro-war, Russian leader Kerensky seemed unable to guide things to the desired end. In Aberdeen’s Mither Kirk (Parish Church) on the third anniversary of the outbreak of war Colonel the Rev. James Smith preached asking God to intercede on the side of Britain: he prayed to God that a better day might speedily dawn upon distracted Russia and that the men of patriotic spirit and invincible courage be forthcoming to lead one of the greatest and most ancient of Empires to the destiny that awaited her. That destiny turned out to be not the one desired by the Rev. Smith or the local editors. Perhaps the call for God to intercede had not been heard or God (some Hegelian might say History) had set course for a future beyond their imaginations.

Come October-November 1917 and pro-war elements had their worst fear was realised: in Petrograd and beyond workers and peasants organised in councils sought peace and began to imagine a world which might be other than the one they now lived in. This was, however, more than a mental act. The councils, packed with voices from all parts of the political spectrum, were organised around degrees of holding power, making decisions which carried force and when necessary using armed militias to achieve their ends. This is what the British and other voices of “reason and common sense” could neither comprehend nor accept.   The Bolsheviks were wiser, their political programme, as much as it might have been made on the hoof at times, recognised the dynamics of class action and were able to place themselves at the head of this deeply revolutionary situation. Where revolutionaries saw liberation and new found freedoms the status-quo perceived only anarchy, an upsetting of the natural order and more immediately the loss of privilege and power. 

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One of the local editors wrote: It is incredible that the Russian people would long tolerate a system which aims at undermining the foundations of the whole fabric of society . . . But undermine it they did. The exploited across Russia and many beyond its frontiers recognised that the “foundations of the whole fabric of society” included systematic exploitation of workers and peasants, imperial adventures and colonisation which had given the world the blood drenched trenches across Europe. Who held power, and to what ends, this was one of the keys to explaining 1917 and indeed equally important to understanding the future of what became Soviet Russia and the emergence of a regime which eventually needed no lessons in how to repress and control civil society.

But this was in the future. Socialists might at times be star-gazers but they are not clairvoyants. The emergence of workers and peasant councils pointed to new social forms around which a new world might be built. One hundred years on John Paton’s words hint at how it must have been:

 Every day brought its fresh excitements and new hopes that even now something of lasting good for Socialists in Britain was to come out of the war.

February 17, 2017

Pancho Villa murders Keig man

The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs made a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday April 22nd 1914 about the brutal murder of Keig man at the hands of Pancho Villa. A telegram from a citizen of El Paso was read out in the US Senate stating that Benton was murdered like a dog.

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     William S. Benton of Keig

This was slap-bang in the middle of the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa (General Villa of the revolutionary army) was in charge of Mexico’s northern area of Chihuahua. William Smith Benton had lived in Mexico for over twenty years and grown immensely wealthy on his cattle ranch of over 100,000. It is said that revolutionaries had relieved him of his ranch and it was from Texas that he travelled south to demand he be allowed to move 400 head of his cattle from his estate north into the US.

Benton was either a highly respected and honoured citizen of the region, according to the New York Times, or a man who disrespected and abused native Mexicans, according to supporters of the Revolution.

Both he and Villa were hot-tempered and when Villa refused Benton’s request or demand on grounds that Mexico had need of the beef and that Benton was a cattle thief and murderer Benton accused him of being a bandit and desperado. One version of events reports that Villa launched at Benton with a dagger and would have killed him on the spot but for the intervention of the Mexican’s wife, Maria Luz Corral.

On his way to Villa’s home Benton had met up with an American railroad engineer called Gustav Bauch. Both men waited to see Villa at his home. Benton was said to be armed with a pistol.

William S. Benton was the son of James Benton of Airlie at Keig in Aberdeenshire, born in 1860. Several Bentons lived in the northeast, having moved to Scotland from Long Benton , near Newcastle Yorkshire in England at the invitation of a laird of Newe during the early 18th century. As farmers they cultivated land in west Aberdeenshire, including Meikle Endovie and Tonley, “the holdings of the English immigrants.” Bentons moved to Keig – Old Balgowan and Airlie at Keig, above Alford, to Crookmore at Tullynessle and others to Banffshire to Sheriffhaugh.

But the Aberdeenshire Bentons were not for settling down for long and migrated abroad both east and west in search of careers and fortune –

“while several have won wealth and honours, others have merely left their bones to bleach in the foreign land which they chose as the means of gratifying their ambitions.”

A cousin of William S. Benton, James Thomson Benton, was murdered in Texas in 1875 – I haven’t checked out the circumstances of that killing and it must be said the Benton’s are not easy to trace for they suffer from a sever dearth of variety of names – if it’s not William then it’s James. Texas, however, was a lawless place and disputes were often ended by pistols. The year James Thomson Benton was murdered the young William, a lad of fifteen, finished his elementary education at Aberdeen Grammar School and in England and enrolled at Aberdeen University. By 1877 he had left university and emigrated to Texas, to join his cousin’s family.

Stateside there were banking Bentons, transport Bentons and silver mining interests Bentons. And, of course, ranching Bentons.

The events of the 17th February 1914 are much disputed and those witnesses that were around were said to have been moved away to other parts of Mexico on orders from Villa.

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Villa accused Benton of reaching for his six-shooter during their loud altercation in an attempt to assassinate him at which point Villa’s guards arrested Benton. It was claimed Benton was summarily tried and admitted his guilt and knowing he was to be executed requested his ranch was given over to his widow, a Mexican, and that his grave was dug deep to prevent coyotes from feeding on his body.

Whatever went on in the room, Gustav Bauch waiting in the hall outside noticed everything went suddenly quiet and when Benton failed to reappear he asked about his whereabouts, at which point Bauch was arrested by Villa’s merciless right-hand man, Fierro.

Rumours abounded that Benton had been taken out and clubbed to death by Fierro then set on fire to destroy evidence of the crime. Meanwhile Bauch, an American, was ‘fitted-up’ with accusations he was a spy for the anti-revolutionaries and jailed. Quickly the men’s disappearance was raised with Benton’s widow, although she was unaware she was a widow then, who asked the American government to look into her husband’s disappearance. The Americans went along with Villas version of events that Benton was tried and found guilty and at the time of their enquiries he still lived, in jail despite Benton’s widow’s belief he had been killed.

Then Pancho Villas declared Benton had been executed and thinking he could cover up what was clearly violent murder ordered a posthumous case against Benton be prepared to satisfy the man’s widow, and the Americans on her behalf. Forging documents is one thing but forging a signature when you don’t know what it looks like is something else. The search was on for a document bearing Benton’s signature and his original complaint about the movement of his cattle was tracked down bearing a signature which could be copied. There was still the small issue of Bauch being a witness to the sudden disappearance of Benton – and given that Benton’s body had been disposed of things were becoming complicated. It was decided therefore to execute Bauch – in Benton’s place so to speak -and once his body decayed it would be presented as Benton’s.

When news of Benton’s death leaked out the Los Angeles Times headline read:

Blame Tequila for Execution: Benton Victim of Villa’s Lust for Liquor

and went on to demonise Villa in an all-too-familiar racist tone accusing him of being high on drink and drugs. The contrary view among many Mexicans was that Villa was a national hero and Benton the villain. Villa was also destined to die violently by firing squad a few years later.

For a time in Britain there was continued hope Benton was alive and in custody with the government content to channel enquiries through the Americans. As the mystery deepened Villa told the Americans Benton had been executed but the American State Department did not inform the press of this and somehow became implicated in covering up the Benton affair. The British government was reluctant to make much of the matter but for a time newspapers pushed for answers which didn’t come.

February 2, 2017

The day the Food Controller banned the buttery rowie

 

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Rowie, buttery or Aberdeen roll

Threat to Aberdeen’s Morning Delicacy

ran the headline on an inside page of the local press on 27th August 1917 under pictures of some of the latest local men killed in the Great War – Trimmer Adam Clark of the navy, private William McRobb and gunner James Hutcheson from Turriff.

The rowie warning also appeared below an article on a joint socialist proposal to end this horrific war. Its main thrust was a need for independence for Belgium, Alsace and Lorraine, Polish unity, self-determination for Armenia, India, Egypt, Ireland and Algiers, formation of a Balkan Confederation, a League of Nations and a hands-off approach to German trade – all in all a ‘people’s peace’ they called it.  Of course self-determination and independence are no longer supported by some of today’s ‘socialists’. As with many things a lot has changed in the intervening one hundred years, including the meaning of socialism.

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For the good souls of Aberdeen who were not laying down their arms, legs, minds and lives for the king of more immediate concern was a threat to their fresh hot morning buttery rowie.

War resulted in restrictions and controls over food supplies and the emergence of ‘the Food Controller’. Aberdonians were, and many still are, fond on a warm rowie in the morning. Unfortunately for the buttery rowie one of its main ingredients, butter, or often lard or margarine, distinguishes it from a bread roll or bap. It is frequently compared with a French croissant by those unfamiliar with it – as it is assumed people will be more acquainted with something French than something that comes from the exotic and far-flung northeast of Scotland (a faraway place of which they know little.)

Aberdeen’s buttery rowie was duly sent to the Food Controller with an explanation that it should not be considered as bread but a different product entirely, one that should be consumed within 12 hours of baking. As anyone who has eaten a buttery rowie knows they are soft and melt-in-the-mouth straight from the oven and different, though not unappetising later, when reheated.

The Department of Food had stipulated that bread could not be sold until it was at least 12 hours out of the oven. This was to restrict its consumption. Fresh bread doesn’t slice easily and tends to be sliced thicker than stale loaf so doesn’t stretch as far but that would not affect rolls, also slapped with the same restriction, so alternative thinking was that as fresh bread was tastier than older bread more would be eaten than less appetising stale bread.

Initially the local Food Controller swallowed the difference between the buttery rowie and ordinary bread rolls and decided this was, indeed, a miracle of the baking oven and so exempted it from the 12 hour ruling. Bakers in and around Aberdeen carried on producing buttery rowies while in other parts of the country bakers, ignorant of the marvellous Aberdeen buttery rowie, gnashed their gums, furious at this exception to the bakery rule. But, all good things come to an end and after a few months of exemption from the restriction officialdom proclaimed that the morning buttery rowie –

was to be banned!

Apart from being a low blow to the stomachs of Aberdonians this hit bakers in the city and shire for the sale of buttery rowies made up a significant bulk of their trade. The baker’s union, which nationally used to have its headquarters in Aberdeen in the good old days before Scotland was centralised, and master bakers got together to discuss how they could fight this attack on their trade.

An appeal to the Food Controller again argued the buttery rowie formed such an important part of the food of the working classes in industrial centres the banning order should be remitted.

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Aberdeen roll, buttery or rowie

Aberdeen Trades and Labour Council approached the local Food Control Committee in defence of the buttery rowie. It complained the committee had no representatives from the working class – the very people who relied on the rowie for sustenance through their working hours as well as the  workers who produced them – and working people in Aberdeen were tired of profiteers and those who exploited the working class representing them on committees.

It was argued that while Edinburgh and Glasgow bread rolls had been stopped because of the war the Aberdeen roll was of a very different order, its high lard content making it more akin to ham and eggs than the bread roll that was made everywhere else – meaning it was breakfast for many poorer people in Aberdeen – except in the case of Co-op rowies which were inferior in every way and no different from ordinary rolls found elsewhere around the country.

But the Ministry of Food declared no bread could be sold which contained butter, margarine or any sort of fat so the fresh Aberdeen rowie’s days were numbered. No longer was it possible to run to the local baker shop for a handful of halfpenny rowies hot and greasy in the paper on the way to work or take delivery from the bakery boy  on his rounds so that households would have buttery rowies warm from the oven to eat at breakfast. By the end of September 1917 the morning buttery rowie was but a memory. They could still be bought late in the day having sat around for the requisite 12 hours or indeed those baked the previous day but that meant no rowie on Monday mornings fresher than those baked on Saturday mornings. 

Several cases of the courts seizing Aberdeen buttery rowies ensued with bakers taking matters into their own hands and baking and selling them fresh none-the-less. In July 1919 bakers Peter Main of King Street and Matthew Mitchell of Summerhill Farm, South Stocket in Aberdeen pleaded guilty to selling  halfpenny buttery rowies fresher than 12 hours old. Advocate G M Aitken, a name that will be of significance to rowie aficionados, explained to the Sheriff Court that bakers had been forced to stop making the morning rolls because people did not want to buy day old rowies but his argument fell on deaf ears. The bakers were each fined 20 shillings equivalent to 480 buttery rowies.

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In 1919 an appeal was sent to the Ministry of Food requesting permission to produce buttery rowies again. It made the point that these rolls along with porridge and milk made up the ordinary workman’s breakfast in Aberdeen. This was rejected on grounds of economy and labour which appeared to be based on the situation in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Again an appeal was made objecting to difficulties with labour elsewhere being used to determine what happened in Aberdeen.

By early August of that year the unpopular order that caused so much public resentment in the city was revoked allowing Aberdonians once more to enjoy their hot buttery rowies.

January 28, 2017

BBC and the word of God: the rise of the think tank

The Thatcher years saw an increase in the number of privately financed think tanks/pressure groups with mission statements liberally infused with terms such as: liberal, freedom and liberty. Picky people might interpret the dogmas dished up by the majority of them, rightwing neoliberal and neocon, more accurately as illiberal, authoritarian and repressive.

Their objective is to propagate their particular ideologies; to influence government thinking and the direction of policies on areas such as the economy, health, education, transport, welfare, benefits and pensions. They hire researches to comb through statistics and compile strategies covering every aspect of British life and present themselves,  as fed to us daily by the BBC, as ‘experts’. And, importantly, they all claim to be ‘independent’ except the question is never posed on the BBC who funds them. Now I’m being picky.

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It must be so reassuring to the busy programme presenter, editor or reporter in a hurry to press fast dial for one of their contacts with whichever think tank is seen as most appropriate to the item being covered – a reliable friend to sort out confusing facts and figures for them and, perhaps, provide an articulate spokesperson for interview who can dazzle with facts that trip off the tongue. And in the unlikely event of a challenge will run rings around any reporter lacking their expertise. 

A cursory glance at the personnel involved with some of these think tanks suggests a familiarity about them. It is as if person A completes his/her degree, preferably at Oxbridge (in Scotland it may be Glasgow), goes to work with a think tank for a while, nips off to the BBC or a newspaper for a bit, then perhaps into parliament or, if unelectable, turns up in the House of Lords. Same faces reinforcing a similar message.

 

They – peers, top journalists, senior civil servants, senior BBC staff are among an interdependent British elite who mould our thinking and values. They inhabit their own ecosystem – feeding off each other, mutually dependent and interbred to a degree that is incestuous – and results in the neoliberal or neocon.

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The growth of the neoliberal or neocon since the 1980s has been impressive. Frequently smart and well educated at private school followed by Oxbridge – or Glasgow but mainly Oxbridge – if not recruited by the intelligence services they might amble into journalism, perhaps be found a ‘position’ at the BBC, especially if a member of their family ‘puts in a word on their behalf’ (in other places this might be called nepotism but at the BBC it is coincidence) or they might go into parliament but the important thing is that they find ways to ensure the survival of their species and they are surrounded by others of their species who are there to help.

One such ‘independent’ voice given liberal access to the BBC is The Institute of Economic Affairs (set up by Antony Fisher, a habitual funder of think tanks aka pressure groups including the Fraser Institute and Adam Smith Institute as well as others in America and Canada – and the first to set up a battery chicken ‘farm’ in England but that’s by the way – his granddaughter is married to Conservative former strategist, Steve Hilton.)

This London-based rightwing lobby group has links to other similar organisations such as Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the International Policy Network. It sees itself as active in expanding the network of conservative think tanks worldwide – all of them ‘independent’.

Another, the Centre for Policy Studies  was set up by Thatcherite minister Keith Joseph with Thatcher its Deputy Chairman. It’s current director is Tim Knox and its president is Lord Saatchi (Conservative). CPS was ranked as one of the four least transparent think tanks in the UK in relation to funding by Transparify. Former PM David Cameron credited the vital role played by CPS in the Conservative election victory of 1979.

In 2013 the CPS complained of the BBC’s ‘left of centre bias’ and suggestion that leftwing think tanks were ‘independent’ while flagging up the likes of theirs as rightwing. It complained in particular about the Social Market Foundation, Demos the New Economics Foundation and Institute for Public Policy Research. It will come as something of a shock to many that the Social Market Foundation is regarded by anyone as leftwing or, indeed, that the BBC could ever be accused of omitting the word, ‘leftwing’ in any of its political or economic coverage. Rightwing, now, I’ve never heard that spoken by them.

In case you are not familiar with the Social Market Foundation its purpose is to ‘”advance the education of the public in the economic, social and political sciences” and to “champion ideas that marry a pro-market orientation with concern for social justice”‘ – according to Wikipedia. Its director is Emran Mian (Cambridge), former civil servant and policy adviser in Whitehall. It was set up in 1989 by ‘Tory minded elements’ in the SDP – forerunners of Liberal Democrats. Oh, and it is ‘independent’ but you knew that. And it is based at Westminster and said to have been former Conservative PM, John Major’s ‘favourite think tank’ and associates itself with New Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.  

A former director of the SMF, Rick Nye, was also a director of the Conservative Research Department and Director of Populus (a research consultancy for corporate research and analysis) as well as a journalist. Another was Daniel Finkelstein, (LSE) a Conservative peer.

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Better known to you, possibly, is Evan Davis (Oxford and Harvard) a former BBC economic editor and currently a presenter of several BBC programmes who when at the Social Market Foundation was among authors of its publication Osborne’s Choice: Combining fiscal credibility and growth. He was once seconded to the Thatcher government to work on the poll tax and previously with The Institute for Fiscal Studies. Mills spends time on examining the role of economic journo and monetarist, Peter Jay, (private school/Oxford) born into illustrious Labour family, one-time son-in-law of Labour PM James Callaghan and Jay’s influence on the rise of Evan Davis.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies  was founded by Will Hopper, (Glasgow),  banker and later Conservative MEP, investment trust manager, Bob Buist (Dundee); Nils Taube, stockbroker; John Chown (Cambridge), monetary economist,  a tax consultant and ex-chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association. The Institute’s director is Paul Johnson (Oxford) formerly employed in the Cabinet Office, Dept for Education and Employment, HM Treasury who is aided and abetted by some 60 researchers. According to an article in The Guardian the IFS wields huge influence over economic policy in the UK – its authority has become, ‘the word of God’ according to former economics editor at the BBC, Robert Peston. Pronouncements from the IFS frequently become the main story at the BBC and other news outlets and the base line from which others should argue. 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/15/british-umpire-how-institute-fiscal-studies-became-most-influential-voice-in-uk-economic-debate

Director Johnson’s tutorial partner at university was Ed Balls (Oxford), former Labour Chancellor →IFS →Treasury→IFS and ex-journalist Financial Times. Ex-director of IFS Robert Chote, (Cambridge) was chair of the university’s Liberal and Social Democrats, a journalist at The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Financial Times, ex-director IFS, ex-Office for National Statistics; Office for Budget Responsibility. Chote’s wife is Sharon White, (Cambridge) civil servant – sometimes of the Treasury, 10 Downing Street policy unit under Blair; chief executive of Ofcom  which regulates broadcasting, postal services and other communications and oversees licensing, complaints, competition etc. Ofcom’s current chair is Dame Patricia Hodgson (Cambridge) ex-BBC producer, ex- BBC Trust and a host of other posts.

“The IFS today occupies a quasi-constitutional role in British life, but without the scrutiny on management and funding that applies to formal government bodies. Its separation from government may be one of the best explanations for its success.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/15/british-umpire-how-institute-fiscal-studies-became-most-influential-voice-in-uk-economic-debate

Innumerate journalists have come to rely on the IFS to do the sums for them when it comes to explaining numbers – and the IFS is more than happy to oblige. It is all very incestuous and the more innumerate the journalist the more heavily is reliance on the IFS’s figures and interpretation of figures being accurate or even acceptable.

The Adam Smith Institute -“a formidable advocate of economic and personal freedom, achieving real and lasting changes in public policy” Andrey Neil (Glasgow) member of Glasgow University Conservative Club, ex-research assistant with Conservative Party, journalist and BBC broadcaster.

The ASI was founded in 1977 by three British men then living and working in the USA. One was its president, Dr Masden Pirie, (Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Cambridge) to promote free market policies including privatisation of public services. Sam Bowman:

“Our policy agenda hasn’t changed. We want low, simple, flat taxes to promote investment and growth. We want patients and parents to have choice and control over healthcare and education, through voucher systems and competition between private firms. We want to liberalise the planning system so that the private sector can build more homes, and create a free market welfare system that guarantees that work always pays. And we want free trade with the world and a liberal immigration system that people trust.”http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/10/sam-bowman-why-we-at-the-adam-smith-institute-are-best-described-as-neoliberals-not-libertarians.html

It was from the ASI the poll tax originated and as we’ve seen above reconfiguring taxation is one of its principle preoccupations.

Of Masden Pirie the journalist and panellist on the  BBC’s the Moral Maze and twice failed to land a seat for the Labour Party in the House of Commons, Edward Pearce wrote:

“He is a Scot of sorts, but despite education at Edinburgh and St Andrew’s Universities, he is quite unscarred in either accent or hang-ups by Scottishness.”

 The Guardian, 19 April 1993. 

Think we’ve got your number there, Ed. Just in case you haven’t had enough of Mr Pearce’s velvety prose try this:

“For the second time in half a decade a large body of Liverpool supporters has killed people …the shrine in the Anfield goalmouth, the cursing of the police, all the theatricals, come sweetly to a city which is already the world capital of self-pity. There are soapy politicians to make a pet of Liverpool, and Liverpool itself is always standing by to make a pet of itself. ‘Why us? Why are we treated like animals?’ To which the plain answer is that a good and sufficient minority of you behave like animals.”[8]

the Sunday Times  23 April 1989

In Scotland as well as all of the above the BBC here often turns to the neo-liberal Fraser of Allander Institute, attached to the University of Strathclyde, for its opinions on a whole range of topics. In an article in the BBC’s website it charted the expansion of FAI in favourable terms and quoted a spokesperson:

“…the expanded institute would be able to provide decision-makers, the media and the public “with even greater leading-edge independent economic analysis than before”.

Presumably on its call to privatise Scotland’s water and such like.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36747530

Who are they? Financial sponsorship for the FoAI has come from the Hugh Fraser Foundation, BP, Shell, Scotsman Publications, Mobil North Sea Ltd, Shell UK, the Industry Department for Scotland. Fraser of Allander Institute’s director is Dr Graeme Roy (Edinburgh/Glasgow) who replaced Brian Ashcroft, husband of Wendy Alexander former leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and a former Labour MSP.

Mills in his book The BBC: Myth of a Public Service criticises the BBC for its narrow range of sources – chiefly political party press statements augmented by think tanks that form the incestuous media/government network that runs through Westminster and Whitehall in England and I will add, encircles the Clyde in Scotland. He writes of the revolving door through which the select are admitted and the links they form that bolsters their influence and allows their voices to be heard.

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A mere snapshot of those who have taken a spin around that revolving door – Ben Bradshaw, (Sussex) BBC reporter, Labour MP and minister; James Purnell, (Oxford) ex-BBC Director of Radio, BBC Director of Strategy and Digital, Labour MP and minister;  Don Brind, ex-BBC political correspondent, Labour press officer; Bill Bush, ex-BBC analysis and research, ex chief of staff to Labour’s Ken Livingstone, head of political research for Blair; Lorraine Davidson, ex-BBC political correspondent, Labour Party, journalist – wrote biography of ex-leader of Labour of Scotland, Jack McConnell, former partner of Labour MSP Tom McCabe, wife of Labour MEP David Martin; Michael Gove, (Oxford) Conservative MP and minister, ex-journalist, ex- BBC reporter; Patricia Hodgson BBC, Ofcom, a Thatcherite, Ruth Davidson, (Edinburgh/Glasgow) ex-BBC presenter, leader Conservative Party in Scotland; Thea Rogers, ex-BBC political producer to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, ex-adviser to Conservative Chancellor George Osborne; Nick Robinson, (Oxford), Oxford University Conservative Association, BBC presenter and journalist, who has a catalogue of controversial incidents relating to his reporting recorded for posterity. At the 2015 General Election:

“I am not, though, required to be impartial between democracy and the alternatives”

which comes down to an individual’s definition of ‘democracy”.

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We can gauge a great deal about an organisation by those who run it and dominate it. To discover who sets the tone of the BBC and how reflective it is of UK society you just have to run your eyes down a list of who gets to be top dog there. 

The BBC is governed by a group of appointees. Currently they include:

Rona Fairhead – (Cambridge/Harvard), former CE of Financial Times Group, non-exec director HSBC
Sir Roger Carr – Chair of BAE Systems (UK biggest arms producer)
Richard Ayre – former Deputy CE of BBC News
Mark Damazer – (Oxford/Harvard), former controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7
Mark Florman, (private school, LSE), CEO of merchant banking group
Aideen McGinley former NI civil servant; Nicholas Prettejohn – senior City executive.

Former governers:

Lord Gainford (Joseph Pease), (Cambridge), Liberal politician, Deputy Chairman of the Durham Coal Owners Association, director of Pease and Partners Ltd and other colliery companies, Chair of Durham Coke Owners – in post at the BBC during the General strike that included miners, President of the Federation of British Industry.
George Villiers, Earl of Clarendon, Conservative, Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms;
John Whitley, Liberal MP,
Viscount Bridgeman, (Eton and Cambridge), Conservative MP,
Ronald Norman, (Cambridge), banker, his brother was governor of the Bank of England, 
 Sir Allan Powell, Lawyer.
Lord Inman, Labour MP,
Baron Simon Wythenshawe, (Cambridge), Labour Party then Liberal, Industrialist.
Sir Alexander Cadogan, (Eton and Oxford), Conservative MP, Director of the Suez canal company and friend of PM Anthony Eden – handy during the Suez crisis for the bias promoted by the BBC – which he defended, naturally.
Sir Arthur fforde – no mistake spelled with two lowercase fs, (Oxford), Civil Servant;
Lord Normanbrook, (Oxford), Senior Civil Servant.
Lord Hill, (Cambridge) Consrvative MP and a Liberal.
Si Michael Swann, (Cambridge and Edinburgh), appointed by Conservative PM Ted Heath following his handling of student protests at Edinburgh.
George Howard, (Eton and Oxford), owned Castle Howard in North Yorkshire where Brideshead Revisited was filmed), chair of the County Landowners Association.
Stuart Young, appointed by Thatcher to be a conservative influence – his brother of Conservative Cabinet Minister Baron Young of Graffham in Thatcher government.
Marmaduke Hussey, (Rugby and Oxford) Conservative, husband of Lady Susan Hussey, woman of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth II (sic), put into BBC to bring it ‘into line’ with her government’s policy – he was also involved in print union disputes.
Sir Christopher Bland, (Oxford), Army, Business, Conservative.
Gavyn Davies, (Cambridge), adviser to Labour Party, former Goldman Sachs partner, married to Susan Nye -former Director of Government Relations and diary secretary to Gordon Brown.
Lord Ryder of Wensum, (Cambridge), Conservative peer,
Sir Anthony Salz,  Executive Vice Chairman at Rothschild
Lord Grade, Controller BBC 1, Conservative peer,
Sir Michael Lyons, Labour Party
Lord Patten, (Oxford), Conservative peer,
Sir Hugh Greene (Oxford)
Greg Dyke, (York), former Labour Party donor.

 

You don’t have to have attended Oxbridge or Glasgow universities to get on at  the BBC but if you have it won’t be held against you. In fact, you may even have formed friendships there which could hold you in good stead to secure a position because in life it isn’t what you know so much as who you know – or who kent your father. 

There are believed to be genetic risks with incest in that the genetic pool is depleted with the result that diversity is limited. But the advance of neoliberal and neocon ideologies through our newspapers and on television and radio has so far proved a boon for those species in achieving their goal of becoming the accepted authority on all things but their very success is damaging to society for it restricts and perverts the discourse on alternatives to their rightwing doctrines. 

January 25, 2017

BBC: Myth or Magic part 2 – In Wonderland they Lie

Second part of a sideways glance at the BBC prompted by Tom Mills’ book The BBC: Myth of a Public Service.

In a Wonderland they lie

In part one I mentioned how proactive the BBC was in attacking striking workers during the 1926 General Strike so it is not surprising it provided the government with a vehicle for propaganda during the Second World War. Now there is nothing unexpected about that for no country would allow any publicly financed medium become something of a fifth column – issuing news and briefings critical of the constitutional authority. Mind you before that war the BBC could be found in the camp of appeasers along with major British newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Sunday Dispatch and London Evening News owned by Lord Rothermere and The Times and The Observer owned by Lord Astor all of which were relaxed over developments in Germany during the 1930s when many from Britain’s upper middle class and aristocracy were sympathetic to Hitler’s Nazis – the very classes at the helm at the BBC. According to Mills, ‘speakers hostile to fascism were barred from broadcasting’ on the BBC which drew a rebuke from Churchill that he,  an anti-appeaser, was one.  

Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing

 The BBC’s own interpretation of its conduct in the war on its website is a polished piece of guarded-speak which emphasises the integrity of BBC management and reaffirms the BBC as ‘a trusted news source’ and how the BBC resisted becoming simply a tool of government. It would, it insisted at the time, broadcast ‘the truth’ but omit anything that might ‘endanger the civilian population or jeopardise operations.’ To this end it admits heavily censoring news to omit mentions of high casualties among the Allies. There was not a single reference in the BBC website I consulted to its propaganda operations later made famous by George Orwell.

bbc-bans-liberals-oct-18-1933

BBC chooses whose opinions may be heard in 1933

Orwell was one of many recruited by the government to work within its vast Ministry of Information, as Talks Producer at the BBC. You can see how smudged that line is between both institutions. For the Ministry of Information you could read Ministry of Misinformation. Other famous writers similarly employed included J. B Priestly and Graham Greene (whose brother Hugh Greene worked for the BBC’s German service and later he became Director General of the BBC)

The brilliant cartoonist David Low refused to be used as a propagandist for the government/BBC and the writer C. S. Lewis also refused to participate in disseminating lies.

Even the once enthusiastic Orwell later changed his mind on the integrity of outright propaganda, ‘all propaganda is lies, even when one is telling the truth.’ His prescient novel, 1984, was written while his experience of working for the government/BBC was fresh in his mind and the novel’s Ministry of Information became the terrifying Ministry of Truth.

 The acknowledged importance of the BBC’s output during WW2 both for home and overseas audiences demonstrates the potency of its influence over the public’s perceptions of truth.

The Party’s go-to tactic for maintaining power is to shift blame to a designated scapegoat, toward which all of its constituents’ hatred and violence may be directed

Broadcasters enjoy a privileged role in life able to construct narratives in tune with their own opinions aimed at persuading their audience of the legitimacy of their interpretation of events. The BBC is not a place to hear radically divergent views instead it promotes that small c conservatism that is in tune with all of the major institutions in the UK. Like some well-oiled machine of state government, the City of London, the courts, military, royalty and the BBC reinforce one another and operate to maintain the status quo where the top brass in all of these institutions remain in charge.

commons-complaint-over-bbc-feb-1933

The power of the BBC to censor its airwaves

We have seen how the BBC sought to sway opinion against workers during the General Strike how it was in tune with the reactionary press during the 1930s in relation to Germany and its willingness to broadcast a catalogue of myths and lies during the war and that aspect of its character was no less slanted post-war.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

During the Suez crisis of 1956 Britain found itself divided between those who defended the Empire and Britain’s military presence at the Suez canal and its control over this vital trade route and supporters of Egypt, a nation desperate to shake off its shackles as a colony and assert its independence. Britain’s rightwing were seething with racist venom against uppity and ungrateful Egyptians their xenophobia evident in many references to ‘our boys’ versus ‘wogs’ and ‘gyppos’ .

suez-wogs

The Director General of the BBC dined at Number 10 Downing Street with the Prime Minister on the evening of 26 July 1956 when news broke of Egypt’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company.  As Tony Shaw in his book, Eden, Suez and the Mass Media: Propaganda and Persuasion during the Suez Crisis, explains the chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors, and a former under-security at the Foreign Office (and share holder in the Suez Canal Company) nipped down to Downing street to discuss how the BBC should handle the crisis. A nervous government was said to have threatened to take over the BBC entirely but that appears was an exaggerated claim however it was made clear to the broadcaster that its handling of Suez should be on a war footing with all that involved including censorship. And, as Shaw points out, the DG of the BBC and his chief assistant were trusted with highly secret information in the run-up to military action.

The chairman of the Independent Television Authority, Sir Kenneth Clark, was also approached and asked to ‘slant the news about Suez’ but he refused to co-operate with the government on grounds of the need to retain impartiality.

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Despite much hand wringing at the BBC the corporation complied with the government and broadcast carefully constructed reports and interviews or simply relayed official statements. It repulsed any attempt for outright government control over its output but did undertake close liaison with the Ministry of Defence and departments of the military.

Meanwhile in Cyprus an ostensibly independent radio station known as Sharqal-Adna but run by British Intelligence and ‘known’ to BBC management transmitted pro-British propaganda as did the BBC’s Arabic Service. Reminiscent of the Iraq wars enemy casualties were not counted or reported realistically and there were no first hand reports of bombings or the impact of British actions on civilians. Shaw noted  that BBC

‘bulletins on the whole bore such a close resemblance to so much of the officially released information on the invasion [it] suggests that the government’s machinery of liaison paid dividends.’

The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started…

Big events such as the General Strike, WW2 and Suez highlight the hugely influential function of the BBC. One that is more memorable for readers will be Hillsborough. It wasn’t only The Sun that chose to become a mouthpiece for the official police version of events.  

hillsborough-1

BBC Radio 2 reported: “Unconfirmed reports that a door was broken down at the end that was holding Liverpool supporters.”

Mills tells us that Graham Kelly, Chief Executive of the English Football Association, who was interviewed on Radio 2 implied that the police had not ordered the gates to be opened. This was as was later became apparent not true but repeated by another reporter

“…at ten to three there was a surge of fans at the Leppings lane end of the ground… the surge composed of about 500 Liverpool fans and the police say that a gate was forced and that led to a crush in the terracing area – well under capacity I’m told, there was still plenty of room inside that area…”

Such shameful distortions of the truth continued to be broadcast on the BBC – Radio 4 news at 6pm still insisted that fans without tickets pushed their way into the football ground causing the disaster –

“It’s clear that many hundreds of Liverpool fans travelled to Hillsborough even though they didn’t have tickets for the game. Shortly before the match started it appears that these fans were able to get into the ground through a gate at the Leppings Lane end.”

Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer, though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing

The BBC went further in its reporting of the so-called Battle of Orgreave in June 1984 when striking miners were battered by police. The corporation went out of its way to edit film in such a way it altered the sequence of events and broadcast film that was deliberately constructed to lie to viewers in something straight out of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.  

orgreave-1

Mills: the BBC was ‘blatantly biased in their output to the extent it ‘chopped up and re-sequenced’ film of the picket attack to ‘make it appear miners provoked the police.’

With no hint of impartiality BBC reporters referred to miners as ‘law-breakers’. When confronted by their biased reporting the BBC immediately issued denials – as it invariably does when caught out.

“no evidence of any deliberate attempt to mislead viewers”

“marginal imbalance”

not “wholly impartial”

What did happen at Orgreave, and unreported on the BBC, was that the police launched an unprovoked attack on striking men who retaliated with missiles.

orgreave-2

It took the BBC 7 years to own up to this deliberate manipulation of events

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/22/orgreave-truth-police-miners-strike

The BBC is almost unique in this country in its ability to mould public opinion. We found out in part 1 that the ‘impartial’ BBC is not keen on CND and peace campaigners in general but allows itself to be used as a bugle boy for British military campaigns. At the time of the Iraq war it was so openly jingoistic it allocated only 2% output to the views of people opposed to this war.  

http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2009/08/mehdi-hasan-bbc-wing-bias-corporation

The BBC is very good at lots of things including marginalising groups it disapproves of such as the peace movement. At the same time it is supremely capable of enhancing organisations and views that fit in with the ethos of the men and women who wield influence at the BBC.

Banking and big business command great respect within the organisation, including the rural business of farming. We know this because the BBC has rather a lot of business slots as stand-alone programmes –

BBC In Business; Business Daily, The Bottom Line, Global Business, The World of Business, World Business Report, Talking Business, BBC Business Live, Business Matters, Dragon’s Den, Wake Up to Money, Inside Business with more of a similar hue dished up in Scotland, hourly on the lamentable Good Morning Scotland

– and teams of employees who feed economic and business data into news and current affairs programmes. By contrast it has no designated slots to reflect on green issues, or anti-business views or workers’ issues that might be at the heart of trades unions or indeed peace campaigning. The only perspective that interests the BBC are those of employers and a peek at the make-up of who’s who in the BBC which will be covered in a separate blog shows this is only to be expected. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is surely carved over the front door at the BBC. This preoccupation the BBC has for finance and business is explored by Mills.

Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely

The Business and  Economics Unit at the BBC was set up in 1989 and I checked the BBC Website to see what this unit had to say for itself. The underlining emphasis is mine.

The Business and Economics Unit is at the heart of BBC News. We produce output for all BBC platforms and offer editorial guidance to the full range of BBC programmes. We have a truly global presence including teams based in Singapore, New York, Johannesburg and Mumbai.

The Economics Editor holds one of the most senior roles in BBC News, leading the BBC’s coverage across all platforms, domestic and international…Reporting to the Editor, Business and Economics Unit, the Economics Editor will be a regular contributor to the main TV and radio news bulletins and programmes, as well as to BBC News Online. Much of the role will focus on providing material for the Six and Ten O’clock News, the 1800 Radio 4 news bulletin and the Today Programme…  a primary contact for senior figures in Government and the Business/Economics community.”

We can take from this that the BBC regards the promotion of trade and commerce as one of its prime functions.

The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering – a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons

According to Mills the BBC fell for the charms of the economic and business sectors with the flourishing of New Labour that neo-liberal progeny of Thatcherism. As a consequence obscene amounts of money were spent on creating a more pro-business BBC but in the end much of what is reported is little more than recitation of press statements issued by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Bank of England, City analysts, CBI, Office of Economic Development, IMF and their ilk who are also given air time to express their ‘expert’ opinions live.

Just who are the Institute for Fiscal Studies and why does the BBC assign them so much air time? I’ll look at think-tanks and pressure groups and the people who influence our opinions in the next part.

Quotes from:

Tom Mills: The BBC: Myth of a Public Service

Lewis Carroll; Alice in Wonderland

George Orwell; 1984

Tony Shaw; Eden, Suez and the Mass Media: Propaganda and Persuasion during the Suez Crisis