John Ault’s Alter Ego Blog – 2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for my Alter Ego blog. I add it to remind me to blog more often as I have started to enjoy it again.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


I don’t like Thatcher, I’ve never liked Thatcher, I’ve never voted Conservative and I never will – but I think she should have a state funeral…

Margaret Thatcher and the debate over her proposed state funeral

As someone who lived through the Thatcher government and disagreed with virtually everything she did. And for that matter had my school milk taken away from me by Margaret Thatcher when I was just 3 years old I am possibly one of the least likely people to support the idea of her having a state funeral.

What she did to nature of British industry by laying waste to the industrial heartlands of the country and the contempt which she gave those people who were thrown on the scrap-heap as a consequence were arrogant and uncaring. Her consistent jingoistic responses to other governments made her a parody of the great leaders of the past, although to be honest I did support the liberation of the Falkland Islands from the dictator Galtieri.

So you might be surprised to hear me say that I think she ought to have a state funeral, I wouldn’t, for example, support one for any of her successors. I was going to stay silent on the subject and let the discussion around it wash over me, but I have recently received so many requests to join ‘causes’ to oppose her state funeral that I thought I ought to explain why I actually support the absolute opposite. Is Margaret Thatcher deserving of a state funeral?

There are, of course, some rather ephemeral reasons to support it, mainly that she was the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century even, some might argue, that she won the last war of empire, though I haven’t really heard this one. But, the main reason, surely, is that she was the first female Prime Minister of this country. In itself people may not think that her sex is sufficient to make her stand out to justify this high accolade, though let’s ignore the fact that generally the people who get state funerals are unelected and achieve the honour through birth rather than achievement. However, it frankly astounds me that people don’t realise the sheer bias in our political system and culture against the rise of women politicians to the summit of our government. It is, with the benefit of hindsight, possible to think that women politicians do OK now, being approximately a quarter of MPs, there are a sprinkling of cabinet ministers and we’ve had a woman Foreign Secretary and now a female Home Secretary, but these appointments occurred 30 or more years after Margaret Thatcher grasped the leadership of the Conservative  Party, against all the vested interests and misogynistic views of the time. When she became a Member of Parliament in 1959 there were only 25 women MPs, in 1975 when she became Conservative leader there were only 27 and when she became Prime Minister there were only 19. (Stats)

She has been criticised for not promoting women within government, but this hardly a credible attack when you consider there were, in fact, only 8 Conservative women MPs elected in 1979 compared to 331 men!

So her achievement, which we now look back on, was enormous. She was not just fighting the other parties, the establishment and prejudice that she wasn’t up to the job, but she was also unique. Those of us on the left of British politics would, no doubt, prefer that Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams would have become the first woman Prime Minister and that that Prime Minister had shown more feminine qualities in government. Well sorry, we can’t. I never voted for her and partly as a consequence of her my politics were cast long ago in the values of the left.

However, she was the first British female Prime Minister and she was part of the process of our country becoming a more modern nation in accepting the equality of women, and we should respect and possibly even celebrate that.

Should we dignify these events with the term – “riots”?

The Gordon Riots saw London subject to similar levels of violence – what are the present riots designed to achieve?

Riots are unacceptable in a democratic society. Peaceful protest, we are told, is acceptable. Riots, however, do not come in simple ‘one-size-fits all’ shapes and sizes and I am concerned that the ‘riots’ in London, and now across other cities in England, are being given a quasi-political, even justifiable angle because some people see them as being motivated by social exclusion and poverty.

Historically riots have had, if not a justified cause, at least a trigger which catalyse the riot that follows them. The death in Tottenham would seem to be the event that causes protests in Tottenham. But, it is difficult to see how this event, however terrible, caused riots in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.

The people involved in violence, robbery, afray and arson on our streets are criminals. They do not have a cause upon which to base their actions – other than a modern version of Social Darwinism in which their actions benefit them personally rather than as a social group. Ken Livingstone and Darcus Howe would seem to have us believe that this is social unrest with a political purpose, even insurrection, against a ruling political elite, as in Syria or Egypt, but this could not be further from the case.

If this was the case the groups of youths would presumably be sloganising their actions as anti-capitalist or anti-authoritarian. They are not. They are themselves capitalists because their actions are designed to achieve greater personal wealth at the direct cost of their neighbours.

Politicians should always be careful not to judge the specific actions of others with general solutions, but there can be little doubt that greed is at the basis of this activity, rather than social exclusion. If social exclusion was at the core of this problem I cannot understand how the benefits of a plasma TV or the latest Nike trainers are going to resolve that problem.

When looking at ‘riots’ in the past politicians have tried to rebalance society in the aftermath to try to prevent any future reoccurance but it difficult to see how riots are going to be prevented if the motivation of them is personal wealth and entertainment through violence.

Goldsmith to the right of me, Goldsmith to the left of me, Goldsmith’s in front of me, I marched into the interview…

The interview was the strangest I have ever had, which would you pick The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Morning Star...?

All this discussion of Zac Goldsmith, and his apparent lack of desire to pay the UK Taxman and Lord Goldsmith and his apparent uncertainty as to the legality of the war in Iraq, has reminded me of my visit to Goldsmith’s College 20 years ago.

It was my second choice University, but as I was very keen to study History in London I arrived at the interview in good time.

I was taken by a very large lady to a chair, placed outside the office of the Professor I was due to see for my interview.

After about 10 minutes the previous person, as I thought, came out of the interview room and said that I should go in.

Behind the desk all I could see was a copy of The Times and a rising plume of pipe smoke coming up from behind it.  Thinking this would end fairly soon I just waited patiently.

After a few more minutes of pipe smoke and page turning I noticed that there were three newspapers neatly place, pointing at the candidate’s chair.  They were The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Morning Star.

I divined after a few more minutes that the Professor behind the paper was not intending to stop reading his paper so I decided to pick up one of the newspapers sitting in front of me.

Having never seen a copy, let alone read a copy, of the The Morning Star before I picked it up and started reading. 

After a few seconds at last came the first evidence that the man on the other side of the table even recognised my existence.  He grunted, ‘why did you pick that one?’

I responded with the answer that I had never seen it before, let alone read it so I thought I would take the opportunity.

‘Hmmm,’ he said, ‘we’ll offer you two Cs, will that be OK?’ I responded it would and for the next 30 minutes we just chatted about politics, and why I had joined the SDP, not the Liberal Party.

As I didn’t take the place up I never discovered what the offer would have been if I had taken The Guardian or The Telegraph.

‘Paddy Ashdown to welcome former Social Democrat David Owen to the Liberal Democrats today…’ – The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 5 – Have a good hook in your press release!

The press release acted as the perfect hook for the local media who knew of the ongoing split between the Lib Dems and the continuing SDP

‘Today Paddy Ashdown will be welcoming former Social Democrat David Owen to the Liberal Democrats,’ read the press release. Myself and the local PPC decided that, in this desperate time for the party, we should try something creative to get the media interested in our campaign.

It was, of course the real Paddy Ashdown, but the David Owen in question was not former Foreign Secretary, David Owen MP.  It was a local student member of the continuing SDP had decided that, following the gradual decline of David Owen’s SDP he would join the local Liberal Democrats, and the visit of the newly elected Lib Dem leader, Paddy Ashdown, was a perfect opportunity to get the press involved.

So, duly we arrived in the local town centre with Paddy and David to what can only be described as a Lancastrian media scrum, which Paddy had to gradually let down the local media as he explained that he was delighted to be welcoming the student Social Democrat, David Owen.

Nonetheless the photo call went off well and it made an excellent piece in the local papers. 

The visit was in 1989, a particularly bad year for the Liberal Democrats, and any publicity was very welcome, as we had just polled 6% across the UK in the European Elections.

I seem to remember most of the rest of the afternoon was spent with Paddy trying to buy a pair of shoes off in the local shops!
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