Alastair Darling was given a peerage today, so it is time to remember how far this particular Lord has come.
Time, indeed, to wheel out my favourite George Galloway quote:
When I first met him 35 years ago Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf.
Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council. Faced with swinging government spending cuts which would have decimated the council services or electorally ruinous increases in the rates, Alistair came up with a creative wheeze.
The council, he said, should refuse to set a rate or even agree a budget at all, plunging the local authority into illegality and a vortex of creative accounting leading to bankruptcy.
Surprisingly, this strategy had some celebrated friends. There was "Red Ted" Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, in London, and Red Ken Livingstone newly elected leader of Greater London Council. Red Ally and his friends around the Black Dwarf were for a time a colourful part of the Scottish left.
The late Ron Brown, Red Ronnie as he was known, was Alistair's bosom buddy. He was thrown out of Parliament for placing a placard saying hands off Lothian Region on Mrs Thatcher's despatch box while she was addressing the House. And Darling loved it at the time.
The former Scottish trade union leader Bill Speirs and I were dispatched by the Scottish Labour Party to try and talk Alistair Darling down from the ledge of this kamikaze strategy, pointing out that thousands of workers from home helps to headteachers would lose their jobs as a result and that the council leaders - including him - would be sequestrated, bankrupted and possibly incarcerated. How different things might have been.
Anyway, I well remember Red Ally's denunciation of myself as a "reformist", then just about the unkindest cut I could have imagined.
It could have been a lot worse.
As Rob Wilkins explains in the afterword, Terry Pratchett hadn’t actually finished writing this when he died. Pratchett’s working methods, as described by Wilkins, involved writing scenes and piecing them together, finding the story, and then rewriting and adding scenes. Here we have something that isn’t quite the end process of that. We have something that can be read, coherently, from beginning to end as a narrative, but is not quite formed.
There is, as Wilkins says, a beginning, middle, and end. But some of it has clearly been worked on rather more than other bits. There’s some absolutely atrocious writing in the first few chapters — Terrance Dicks-on-autopilot level simple sentences and “as you know, your father, the king” dialogue, with no hint of characterisation (not helped by some shoddy copyediting). This worried me at first, as given that Pratchett died of Alzheimer’s, I was beginning to think that his faculties had declined so much in his last months that the writer who I loved so much had gone before writing this.
But somewhere around page sixty or seventy, the writing style starts to improve dramatically, and it’s apparent that Pratchett *wasn’t* failing as a writer — the writing in the first few chapters is obviously a sketch of what would have been there, a skeleton onto which he would have added characterisation and prose style if he’d been able to do any further drafts.
And there are other signs that the book was unfinished, too. There’s a subplot — involving Geoffrey and the old men — that has a couple of scenes, but which clearly would have been filled out much more if Pratchett could have finished the book in the way he wanted to. The climax is rushed, and rather unsatisfying.
But the middle two hundred and fifty pages or so of the book is up to the standards of the other Tiffany Aching books, and that’s saying something. It’s clearly a “last Witches book” — everyone returns for one last time, including some unexpected cameos, and it’s a book about death. Pratchett hadn’t included Death, who had appeared in every Discworld novel up until his diagnosis, in the last couple of books, understandably, but here he returns, and entirely appropriately.
The Geoffrey subplot, sketched in though it is, clearly provides a reflection of the very first witches book, Equal Rites, closing the story where it began, but there are echoes here of many other books. The character growth of one villainous character is very like that of one in Thief of Time. Lords and Ladies and (to a lesser extent) Raising Steam are also present in between the words.
It’s a book about death, but also about new life. Tiffany Aching has always been a character in the shadow of her dead grandmother, but one who has been growing into her own power, and that’s continued here. We say goodbye here to favourite characters, and to an entire world, but it will live on without us.
It’s also a sombre book — there are very few laugh-out-loud jokes in here, but a lot that’s thought-provoking, and moving.
It’s very, very hard to judge this objectively. I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for a quarter of a century, since as an eleven-year-old I read Sourcery and assumed that “Terry Pratchett” must be a pseudonym for Douglas Adams, because who else could write like that?
Now, of course, I know the difference. Adams was a cynic — a very funny writer, but a shallow one, able to see the world only through a filter of anger and despair. He was a great comedy writer, but limited.
Pratchett, on the other hand, was wise, and kinder-spirited. Pratchett, like Adams, could get enraged at the world’s follies, but he could see that there were other things in the world. Temperamentally, I’m closer to Adams, but I like to think something of Pratchett has rubbed off.
And this is the thing. This is the last work of someone who has influenced my thought, and my life, in ways I can’t begin to sum up sensibly. Without Pratchett, I wouldn’t have the friends I have, wouldn’t think the things I do, wouldn’t be the person I am.
So yes, this is a first draft, a sketch of the proper book it should have been. But the book it’s a sketch of might have been his best, and even in this state it’s a far more fitting capstone to the Discworld and to Pterry’s career than Raising Steam, which may have been his worst.
Goodbye, Pterry, and thank you.
Tagged: terry pratchett
The Hugos and Worldcon are over, and thus did the internet see the Eighth Plague of Post-Hugo Pontification. Some declared victory, while others declared victory for totally different reasons, and lo did they yelleth at one another over whose “victory” was bigger.
But on the fifth day, a lull did fall upon the web of the wide world, as rational and informed people of all nations looked down in agreement and unity. For generations of canine tribal war paled in the face of one simple truth:
This was dumbassery most epic. Most epic indeed…
ETA: Good gravy, there’s more, and this one wants to bring in the FBI!
I invite fans on all sides to finally come together as one to ask, “Dude, seriously?”
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
These lecturers just keep getting younger and younger.
We went to the university this past weekend so that the bloke could have an office tidy and we could take the children to the Barber Institute (art gallery) and the Winterbourne botanic gardens. Ms Humuhumu took the opportunity to sit in his comfy swivel chair.
And brush up on her aerosol chemistry. As you do, of a Sunday.
( +2 )
Over the past few weekends, we have encountered about twenty of the 200 owl statues gracing various locations in Birmingham and its environs. Below the cut: Humuhumu, with owls.
( +7, last one not an owl )
Many psychologists try to measure things that are tough to measure — and many of those many do it iffily. The Reproducibility Project is trying to measure how iffy those measurements are. They published a study called “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” about their progress.
Benedict Carey tells about this, in a New York Times article called “Many Psychology Findings Not as Strong as Claimed, Study Says.”
Ed Yong tells about it, in an Atlantic article called “How Reliable Are Psychology Studies?”
You might be able to tell something about it by skimming through titles and abstracts of studies published in Psychological Science.
Psychological Science is the top-of-the-line psychology research journal assembled by the top-of-the-line association of psychologists, the Association for Psychology (also known as the APA, and also known these days for the way some of its recent leaders relate to the activity that people other than those leaders call “torture”).
BONUS: Here’s how some (hard to say how much, but the Reproducibility Project might one day be able to say something) of the most iffy research can happen: “Science Isn’t Broken
It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for“, by Christie Aschewanden, on the FiveThirtyEight web site.
Paige Bebee’s short film, “The Secret of the Appendix”, is the 2015 winner of the secondary schools’ category in the annual Schools Sleek Geeks Eureka Science video prize. Behold:
(Thanks to Joanne Gould for bringing this to our attention.)
They’ve changed their mind then, those Conservatives who thought it would be funny if Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader. The Mail on Sunday has produced a special mini-novel about what Britain will look like under Corbyn – in which the whole of London is on fire, the police have fled, Isis is welcomed in and the Premier League has collapsed.
Dearne North on Barnsley (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 55, Conservatives 4, Independents 4 (Labour majority of 47)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Labour 1,179 (58%), United Kingdom Independence Party 752 (37%), Conservatives 103 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Tony Devoy (Yorkshire First), Karen Fletcher (Trade Unionist and Socialist), Annette Gollick (Labour), Jim Johnson (UKIP), Lee Ogden (Con)
Whilst it is true to say that Labour have Barnsley sewn up, it is not fair to say that no one can challenge them. Barnsley has a total of 63 councillors, therefore whilst getting 32 councillors gets you a majority, the real benchmark is 42 councillors (two thirds of the total membership) and between 1990 and 2003 that is precisely what Labour clocked up, but then from 2003 to 2010 Labour experienced a problem. And what was the problem? Well, it wasn’t the Liberal Democrats and it wasn’t the Conservatives, it was the local independents and in 2008 they managed to win 24 seats on the council and caused Labour to come within one seat of losing Barnsley to No Overall Control, but then came the coalition, then came Labour’s recovery in local government and then Barnsley became a Labour heartland again.
So if Labour were to suffer a rebellion against the perceived one party state on the council, who might benefit? Well, the obvious answer would be UKIP, as in the four constituencies that make up Barnsley UKIP polled 23% of the vote (up 18% on the 2010 general election) clocking a very impressive 24% in the Wentworth and Dearne constituency but as we have seen UKIP have their own problems, namely being unable to hold on to their vote. So what about Yorkshire First? They fielded 14 candidates in the general election polling 1.04% in those constituencies (the best performance being Hemsworth where they polled 2.4% of the vote), sadly this meant that they lost every deposit in those seats and in Barnsley only managed to poll 647 votes in Barnsley East and despite all of their bluster the Trade Unionists and Socialists have yet to win a council seat anywhere, so with no Lib Dem candidate to demonstrate the fightback against Labour, Labour seem almost certain to win this seat with an increased vote and majority.
However I am also a democrat. It is shocking that at the recent general election UKIP got 13% of the vote and 0.15% of the seats in the Commons. Absolutely shocking. That is the sort of disparity that the First Past the Post system can throw up as we all know.
But not to fear. We knew that Cameron would at least try to redress the balance in parliament somewhat through Lords appointments wouldn't he? Because during the last parliament he told us that until the Lords was properly reformed to be largely or wholly elected appointments would be made to create a chamber reflective of the votes cast at the most recent general election. Look, it was in his first programme for government in 2010:
In the interim, lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
So presumably Cameron will have appointed some UKIP peers today in his latest honours? For proper proportionality there would need to be about 100 of them but to be fair we couldn't have expected him to do it that quickly. He's appointed 45 today. So how many of them are UKIP? 15? 10? 5? Surely 3 or 4 of them?
None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
This is a flagrant renaging on a political promise. And it was an important promise. Because everyone knows the Commons is not proportional. But Cameron assured us he would redress this in the second chamber. And he has gone back on his word.
It seems pretty obvious to me why he has done this. He hates Nigel Farage. And he hates UKIP. He is worried what they would do with a decent tranche of peers. So out of malice, spite and political cowardice he is not going to appoint any of them to the upper chamber.
With a slick turn of phrase Cameron recently made a statement on this subject that sounds very similar to his promise in 2010:
It is important the House of Lords in some way reflects the situation in the House of Commons. At the moment it is well away from that. I’m not proposing to get there in one go. [But] it is important to make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons. That’s been the position with prime ministers for a very, very long time and for very good and fair reason.
He has subtly changed his wording to say the Lords should now reflect the "situation" in the Commons rather than the "votes" for the Commons. That almost seems like a semantic distinction at first glance but it makes all the difference in the world. Because the "situation" in the Commons is a result of the FPTP system which as we know gave UKIP 1 seat when they should have had 82 of them. And Cameron is now trying to use this as justification to give UKIP no extra peers. They already have 3 Lords, all of whom used to be Tories and defected.
It is also worth pointing out that Cameron is making up the rules on the fly here whilst trying to sound like he is just fitting in with what previous PMs have done. It's not true. There has never been a rule that the Lords should be reflective of the situation in the Commons as Meg Russell points out in this recent Constitution Unit post.
No it is quite clear what Cameron is doing. He is using the brute force power of patronage his position gives him to prevent UKIP from getting any more representation in the Lords. There is no justification for this so he's making up one based on a non-existent precedent.
Remember this next time he claims to be a democrat or that he is a fair man.
He is clearly neither.
Shoe-throwing may now be mostly a political act. But not long ago, it was a common rite of marriage, writes James Crombie of Aberdeen, who has gathered some matrimonial footwear-hurling facts into a 24-page treatise called Shoe-Throwing at Weddings.
This was in 1895, when readers may have empathised with Crombie’s opening thought: “Pelting a bride and bridegroom with old shoes when they start on their honeymoon is a custom we are all familiar with, and in which many of us have participated.”
Some 113 years later, in 2008, Muntazer al-Zaidi recategorised the social role of shoe-throwing when he hurled size-10 shoes, and some words (“This is your farewell kiss, you dog”), at US president George W Bush at a press conference in Baghdad….
So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.
Here’s video of the press-conference shoe-throwing:
BONUS: Another shoe-throwing video (thanks to SciCurious for bringing it to our attention):