Further details about Privilege, Bercow and Bradlaugh

The spectre of being censured for bullying now hangs over the Speaker, Mr Bercow, and the Leicester MP Keith Vaz. Vaz was also in the news a while back for getting entangled with rent boys.

I find the bullying issue deeply disturbing, and, more so, because a man accused of bullying is supervising an investigation into its prevalence within the Palace of Westminster. When someone challenges a bully, they sometimes respond by saying they are the victim or asserting further power. It is odd, because it is the bullying behaviour that has become so inbred, so alot of people in power have no idea at all that this is what they have been doing. Many of these people would be quite shocked, I am sure, to be told that they are bullies. More than that, to recognise that it is a habit they have got into, and a nasty habit at that.

I am sure that both Mr Vaz and Mr Bercow, friends incidentally, would be the first to object to any suggestion that they were not in control of their actions, but moments of madness happen to us all. What is needed in this whole bullying campaign is to find a way to make people in power behave better without going to court and without recrimination. These people are in power because they do power, on the whole, rather well. Sadly, it goes to their head a bit, and they need to be reined in. This is a time to give them some serious life-changing help and to make sure that help is readily available for others further down the line who also have to learn how to manage power.

Of course, some government departments and high street offices are simply designed in the 21st Century to facilitate bullying. The whole security process on the end of a telephone help-line is institutional intimidation and needs to be called out for what it is.

I remember when the TSB was the “Listening Bank” sporting wonderfully inventive adverts. Not any more. Today, it is the bank that “is sorry we have not met your high standards and that”, because of the great backlog, “may be taking a while to process your complaints.”  It can take ten minutes to get through their security and even then, they do not function properly. Bullying masking incompetence. Shocking!

Mr Bercow’s problems lie in the alleged treatment of his private secretary, Angus Sinclair and Sinclair’s successor, Kate Emms. Mr Vaz’s problems seem greater in so far as when he posed as Jim, besides getting involved with rent boys, he also discussed buying them cocaine. His treatment of Ms McCulloch seems to be centred on the fact that she was from Northern Ireland and he had apparently suggested that she was therefore “a security risk”. Fairly shocking racism if true. She also criticises his hospitality expenses. Bluntly, much of this seems to be the sort of stuff that some timely guidance could have sorted out, but there was little of that and there looks likely to be little offered. A shame all round.

As for the abuse of parliamentary privilege, that is something that needs testing. There are astonishing stories in the last 300 years where privilege has been invoked, most notably when the MP elected to serve the constituents of Northampton, practically my own area, refused to take the oath of allegiance in Parliament. This was not disloyalty to the Queen but committed atheism. At one point, he suggested that, like John Morley who had taken the oath and kissed the testament, he might just say the words and not mean them: that was not good enough for the die-hard believers. It was God or nothing. Charles Bradlaugh was elected in 1880 and finally took his seat after 6 by-elections in 1885, taking over the India office and asserting the rights of Indians in the process. He died six years’ later, a spent man. Taking on the establishment bullies in this case as well as dealing with the intricacies of Parliamentary privilege must have “done for him”.

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The problem lay in the conflict between the courts and the House of Commons. What was acceptable in the courts was not deemed right in the House, specifically to affirm rather than swear. So there was one rule in Parliament and another outside. Absurd and yet defended by the principle of Parliamentary privilege. But I suspect there were other issues of snobbery, spite and a basic fear of the modern that were at play. Bradlaugh was a self-made man who advocated family planning and universal pension. He made enemies. He was lampooned by Churchill’s father. But after 6 elections, he won. In a way. And he has a statue in Northampton to prove the point.

Common sense finally won out against an abuse of Parliamentary privilege.

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Pork Chops

In Chapter 16 of Nicholas Nickleby, Mr Gregsbury is supposed to have a “Gammon tendency”.  He is “a tough, burly, thick-headed gentleman with a loud voice, a pompous manner, a tolerable command of sentences with no meaning in them, and, in short, every requisite for a very good Member.” He is an MP, and at this point in the book, his constituents have called on him to resign. (You are dissatisfied with my conduct, I see by the newspapers) When he hears what they are calling him, however, he says,

“The meaning of the term, gammon, is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark.”

It is worth noting Dickens’ punctuation here- he adopts two commas rather than interted commas to isolate the word. I was amused to hear today that the ubiqity of “like” in street-english is simply a vocal comma. Think about it!

Anyway, the word “Gammon” has re-appeared in print. The novelist, Ben Davis, was annoyed by the number of Brexiteers on Question Time and wrote that    “the Great Wall of Gammon has had its way long enough.”

The word “Gammon” was always about jingoism, describing now a right-wing white male who probably supports Brexit; it is clearly prejorative, but then there are many words that are abusive in the English language, and Gregsbury is positively proud of the insult. It does not make these words any the less authentic, or negative but it does mean we should be careful about how they are used. There is some debate about whether the word “Gammon” is today itself racist. I think not though I am sure that many “Gammon” may well be.

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Nicholas Nickleby meets Mr Gregsbury when trying to get employment as a Parliamentary secretary. Gregsbury thinks he is being generous when he offers him 15 shillings and goes on at length about his various duties; Nicholas thinks the job is beyond him and says so.

‘Good-morning, sir,’ said Nicholas.

‘Door, Matthews!’ cried Mr. Gregsbury.

 

Mother Teresa

mother Teresa by TIM

Mother Teresa is claimed by a number of countries. This is a statue from Skopje in Macedonia where she was born to Albanian parents, though if one goes to Tirana Airport, she is waiting at the entrance, and, of course, she is feted in Calcutta.

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I have drawn her before in my film HOW TO BE BOSS. This won an award for Best Animation in 2012 and I sat up for 6 nights doing it. This summer, I managed 16 all-nighters to complete animation and sequences for the latest Lucy Worsley, which promises to be a treat… the “BOSS” film seems a long time ago now…

At the base of my picture of Mother Teresa in Tirana is a bust from elsewhere of the great Albanian hero who gives his name to the main square in Tirana. I will write something about Skanderbeg/ Skanderbek (variously spelt) whose 550th anniversary is this year.

Hanim the cat again

self portrait and hanim the cat by TIM 02 11 2018

When she was small, Hanim had a fairly major illness and took refuge in my dressing gown pocket. Now she is much older and a bit unstable, she has taken to snuggling into my cardigan. It is not always convenient. This evening, I was drawing some stuff for the FOLLOWING LEAR project, and, instead, ended up drawing Hanim. She has such intelligent eyes.

Why Mary Beard is right

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Recently, Mary Beard gave a lecture which some of my friends attended. The report I received from them was rapturous – she was controversial and authoritative. Actually, she was more than that. She was right.

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Recently, Professor Beard was attacked by AA Gill. It is part of the same story- that people can be judged today more for whether they conform than whether they have something important to say.

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The two issues Professor Beard specifically raised in the Listener talk were the abuse she suffered when her presentation in “CIVILIZATIONS” was cut when it was broadcast in the US, and the second was to make a firm stand against re-enactments or recreations in History documentaries. These are all over the internet, and particularly noticeable on PBS.

It would, however, be wrong to suppose that America is only to blame.

I was once engaged by a UK company to play the part of Socrates for one such history documentary, so I know from the other side how silly and absurd such recreations can be. More than that, we were filming not in a genuinely Attic setting but in the 19th Century Zappeion, a bit of the modern Greek parliament complex built specifically to celebrate the first modern Olympic games in 1869. It looked pretty and it might have been appropriate in a hollywood “swords and sandals” epic, but it is not “history” and nor does it actually tell the viewer anything useful. The reason is simple- because it dodges the issue of interpretation. All art is interpretative but because live-action film feels like ‘reality”, that is exactly how the viewer accepts it. The viewer is plunged into a  magic realm and is the passive recipient of the director’s agendum. The viewer is a willing party to deceit.

Fine in a film like “Gladiator”, but not fine in a serious documentary about history. We need to know what is real and what is recreated.

This is frankly where my own work slots in: 2d animation can never masquerade as reality, but it can offer something more than “live-action recreation” to the documentary medium. If supported by the proper research, it can provide an insight into the way history has already interpreted events, much as quoting a specific writer as an authority can do. This is most beautifully illustrated by Richard Williams’ animated sequences in the CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.

Here, Williams shows us exactly how British newspapers peddled propaganda and half-truths to a gullible public, showing the glory of the empire in contrast to the gore and disaster that unfolded on the battlefield itself. The greatest moment is the Victory sequence which is brought to a sudden close by a canon firing. There was no victory- just a squalid collapse of authority and a chain of misunderstanding.

Williams’ animation tells us something valuable in its own right. And because we can never pretend what we are watching is anything other than a drawing, we cannot be bewitched into thinking that this is “reality”. But it might very well be a way to access Truth.

Because we often associate animation with Disney, we can get confused, but because 2d animation remains ostentatiously artificial, we can be sure we never forget that we are watching an interpretation. The Disney technique means we can do almost anything with animation that we could do with live-action. More maybe! Though it takes time.

Of course, I nurse a desire to bring the stories of Greek mythology to life through the red/ black figure images on greek vases- who would not immediately see the potential in this! But even more interesting would be to animate Flaxman’s illustrations for the Iliad and Odyssey which informed the way we have understood classical texts since the early 19th Century. His work led to the development of the blue and white jasperware that even today is in most of our houses. This is not about recreating or re-enacting events but about making a conscious decision to give us an insight into the way we now view these stories.

I am terribly proud of the work we did in the two Lucy Worsley programmes, the second of which is due to air in January- we used the device of turning the pages of a book, and of capturing images from framed pictures to comment, introduce and develop the ideas that were being presented.

When we forget that we are examining what people have said and recorded in the past, we simply enter a world of make-believe. It might be entertaining but it is not history.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/17/mary-beard-cut-us-version-civilisations-fearing-slightly-creaky/

ttps://rts.org.uk/article/mary-beard-cut-us-version-civilisation