Will it last?

I have been making some videos about poetry, some for British schools and some for a Russian university. I was asked this morning whether one of the poems I have recited is a great poem or not. It made me think.

There are certainly great poems in the anthologies I am using, but, to be frank, there is also alot of rubbish. When it comes to Stephen Spender’s poetry, I am really not sure what to say. He was one of two poets I met while I was an undergraduate- the other was Elizabeth Jennings with whom bizarrely I shared lodgings down winchester road. She was nocturnal, peculiar, deeply religious and also a film fan. There was a time when the two of us went repeatedly to see Attenborough’s “Gandhi”- at one point she was astonished to be tossed out of the cinema by an usher who thought she was a tramp. I rented a converted conservatory in the garden, and Elizabeth Jennings used to come into the garden and watch my rabbits. We also gossiped about John Gielgud and Daniel Day Lewis who was her godson and was about to take over from Rupert Everett in “Another Country”. What an interesting lady, and, of course, when I read her poetry today, I can still hear the cadence of her own voice, and her writing, thus, is coloured by a starry-eyed memory.

Spender brings with him some of the Elizabeth Jennings’ baggage in so far as he was also linked to many people in the arts’ world, and meeting him was a bit like touching literary divinity. Or was it minor sanctity?

SPENDER by TIm.jpgThe problem with Stephen Spender is that he is not really very good. Even in his day, he was regarded as second-rate, a cheap Rupert Brooke. So much so that Cyril Connolly pulled him up over his “bad writing”. But he enjoyed “being a poet”. There is a story which he quotes in his own memoir “World Within World” where he meets TSEliot for lunch and Eliot asks him what he plans to be in life-

I said: “Be a poet.” “I can understand you wanting to write poems, but I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘being a poet,'” he objected.

His was, I fear, the pose of “being a poet” rather than actually doing the job. He wrote a good deal (again in his memoir, he confesses that he wrote four poems a day while Auden managed only one in three weeks, but the quality control was different). He enjoyed the image- so much so that the leader of the communist party apparently said that the best thing Spender could do for the cause was to follow Byron and die.  There is even a link between Elizabeth Jennings and Stephen Spender- Cecil Day Lewis was one of Spender friends!

Like the current Minister of Education in Russia, Spender also admired Stalin. “Forward to Liberalism” is evidence of his gullibility, stupidity, naïveté. But it is the way he seems to have treated his lovers that really gets my goat. I don’t have alot of time for people who indulge in open relationships- in the end someone always gets hurt, but Spender seems to have gone on and on with this – leaving his first lover to tend to his garden, abandoning his first wife Inez Pearn, and cheating on his second. To judge from the account given by his sculptor son Matthew, Natasha Litvin was determined to brazen it out. When his mother died, Matthew opened up a can of worms that was an open secret anyway.

“Her take on her marriage is that my father, when he met her, had put his former homosexual life aside and become totally straight and faithful to her. This is a myth that meant a great deal to her, even after Dad had died. But she knew that I didn’t really go for it, and she knew that I felt that once Dad was dead his life should be reinterpreted in a different way. For a start, my father left hundreds of indiscreet letters all over the place. But there was never a confrontation; we just simply didn’t mention it, either of us.”

In the end, I think we read Spender only because he lived so long and knew so many people. Even his exposure in a portrait by Hugh David and then in the Leavitt book “While England Sleeps” that makes it quite clear he never took his parents’ advice to avoid the company of “rough” boys, adds to his image. It is that image, rather than any of his actual writing that will be remembered.

 

Gov Phil Bryant

Interesting man, pushing forward a bill (1523) that regulates or permits discrimination on the basis of individual faith. This is a dodgy piece of legislation that thankfully does not exist here- we have to thank people like Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall who went up against the Bullish bed and breakfasters in 2013, and Gareth Lee who took on the Ashers bakery more recently in Belfast. We should treat people fairly and well no matter what their background, race, creed or gender. The law helps to keep us human.

It does not tell us what sort of human we should be, of course.

Indeed, I think there might even be limits to how much the National law should be promoting a gay lifestyle, but it should certainly be protecting such a life choice once that is made. Discrimination is wrong and self-righteousness ugly. It is simply the application of Kantian ethics at its most basic! Again, I think the principle of kindness should dictate our behaviour.

Kindness is an under-rated virtue and we should do what we can to encourage it. I am amused that in a summary of some recent trips to my old School, Ratcliffe College in the yearly school magazine, I am credited with a talk on kindness. I do not remember it as such, but am quite happy if that was how it was understood.

Governor Bryant says that his position is based on his Christian faith. That is worrying. Good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but religious zeal is most certainly as much a force that can persuade good people to act badly as it can persuade bad people to be better.phil-bryant

David Davis

I despair of the way politicians believe they must make binding statements about things! Today, not that surprisingly, David Davis has weighed in against the admirable Nicola Sturgeon to rule out her proposition that it might be possible for Scotland to remain in some form within the EU while yet also remaining within the UK. I had been saying the same thing actually since the referendum result so of course I think the First Minister’s idea is both sound and clever.

Mr Davis loves to be negative. I think what he says does not quite do the the man justice, because I know he has shown a lot of personal kindness to gay MPs in difficulties with the media while yet maintaining a defiance about the repeal of Section 28 and also voting against the gay marriage act. I think, in that strange gurgling voice that must be an imitation of the great, late Daniel Massey, he likes to sound decisive. (he even goes on record supporting the death penalty)

davis

I think, however, that politics is about being ready to change our opinions. If this were not the case, then there would be no point debating stuff in the Commons. We might as well just read out speeches from some grand podium instead. Our British democratic tradition is based on our capacity to adapt to realities. The reality now is that the BREXIT decision has been made in England, though the same is far from certainly the case in Scotland, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland where an overwhelming majority voted to Remain. A clever politician recognises this tension and moves forward. Theresa May did just that (she is a unionist) in her first speech and then, more directly, (she would listen to any options) when she went up to Edinburgh. I was optimistic – until Davis started to pontificate.

Because Davis feels he still needs to win the referendum debate. To quote the great Healey, “What a silly billy” he is being! He has been dealt an Ace and he is still fiddling around with his Knaves. We have heard his points before. They were all made in the Referendum debate- which he won! We now want to hear something else. We do not expect a Minister to be a trained parrot and certainly not one peddled by Farage pet supplies.

This spurred the First Minister to declare that a second referendum could be as early as Next year. Especially if at the point of triggering Article 50, the first Minister is not “on board”:

“I will have an independence referendum if I come to conclusion that is in the best interests of Scotland. I’ve always said that. It would be up to Scottish people ultimately to decide if that is right way to go.”

She told Andrew Marr,

“I think the positive outcome of the meeting I had with the prime minister on Friday was that she said she was prepared to listen to options that the Scottish government would bring forward to give effect to how Scotland voted and we will certainly bring forward options. Let’s see what progress we can make.” Don’t you love this woman!

I hope to God that the wise women here win this discussion, because the testosterone-driven declarations of Davis do no one any good.

Getting real in London

khanSometimes, even as an artist who admires Aubrey Beardsley and Erte, I have to bite the bullet and admit that substance is more important than appearance. The race for the London mayor is one of those times. It may seem like some sort of abstract Platonic argument- that we need to ignore the glitzy images and look at the reality behind the razamatazz, but that is how it is. The reality stinks and we have to identify it for what it really is: bad judgement, and demagogy.

Today, Sadiq Khan revealed who he really is and this is disappointing, even if I have been repeatedly warned. There has been alot of things said about a possible Khan win confirming the dreadful Corbyn in his place as leader of the opposition and that this win would confirm the position and the power of the man who presides over the destruction of the labour party- why would I care about that? I am a Tory! But I enjoy the challenge of a good debate and since Corbyn came to office, that has been missing in the House of commons. Instead, we are treated to a self-satisfied litany of what Betty said to Sally and what Bert thinks of Dave. What we want are some facts rather than a series of quasi-religious quotations. The commons, anyway, is not the time for semi-anonymous or barely-invented hearsay.

But it is the self-righteousness of Corbyn that dominates.

corbyn-tim

Rhetoric:

What I loved about Tony Benn and particularly about Michael Foot as orators was the element of conviction which was matched by the possibility of doubt in what they said. Another way to put that is to use the word “humility”. I am sure no one has ever accused Tony Benn of humility before, but he was a man who knew his place as did Foot. Yet I admired their skills in speaking even if I rejected what they said. There is nothing I can admire in Corbyn. I think Corbyn has yet to learn what his place should be. He has been thrust into the political spotlight too fast, and while on the Breakfast-time sofa on TV, he sounds reasonable, he has not yet found his place as a national orator or leader in the Commons. He might well be a nice man- who knows? That is not important- Corbyn’s job is not simply to represent his party -he does not incidentally- but he is also the voice of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. He represents a challenge across the political parties to the sitting Prime Minister- he demonstrably does not do that either. Instead, he represents  a small vocal faction of the Labour party. So, Mr Corbyn fails absolutely to serve his country. He serves himself and his clamouring supporters.

But should Khan win in the Mayoral race, just like a second Oldham by-election, Corbyn’s position will be even more protected and we shall have to suffer even more litanies from his makeshift lectern of what John and Jenny, Mary and Jo have to say when all we really want to hear is the authentic voice of the Leader of the opposition. Any opposition! Without that voice, Mr Cameron must look to his own party to find a challenge: we have not elected a dictatorship.

If Mr Corbyn continues to demonstrate that he cannot do or does not want to do this job, then in the interests of Parliamentary democracy, someone else must surely do it for him. I do not want to hear any more about John and Jenny, Mary and Luke or whatever improbable names are chanted in the prayers Corbyn leads weekly (or weakly?) at the dispatch box. This is not the Bidding prayers in a local church. So, now might be the time for the SNP to step up, maybe and assume the office so abandoned or mutilated by Corbyn?

Lame Duck quacking in Commons

Let me be clear, as a Tory supporter, I do not see any advantage in having a lame duck Leader of the Opposition. Let the lame duck lay eggs on the backbench with the other quacks. If he wants to do TV shows with Michael Portillo, that too would be great news- anything indeed, save this travesty at the dispatch box week after wretched week.

And so to Khan himself. Whatever rosette is worn by any candidate for Mayor, we ought to presume competence, but today Khan demonstrates his utter INcompetence by trusting a man who has apparently a homophobic record and then sacking him. I am not sure which is the worst offence. If the homophobia was so much a thing of the past (some reports say this was recently on twitter, but some say this was stuff from 2012) then it no longer matters and the man should have kept his job, but if it demonstrates a continued prejudice, then clearly he should go and the question lingers about Khan’s own judgement- Khan sacked Shueb Salar after a letter from our own Priti Patel. He was badgered into action because he failed to act decisively in the first place, or he failed to check or worse still, he faild to notice or to care. And however it is spun, the fact remains, why could Khan not see that such prejudice undermines not only his campaign, and his credibility but the claims that Labour repeatedly make for the moral highground. This is what Ms Patel wrote,

“This man has a Parliamentary pass and thus privileged access. Do you not think it is incumbent upon you to check the background of those who are given such access in your name?

“Is Mr Salar therefore still on your payroll and is he still receiving taxpayers’ money while the investigation takes place?”

“Even if you didn’t run checks on him before appointing him, his comments could easily be viewed on Twitter as recently as a week ago, particularly as your account follows his. … You appear to hesitate and/or turn a blind eye when you come into contact with those whose views are deplorable. And you appear to regularly come into contact with such people.”

I think this event shows one of the biggest of Khan’s failings and it is a failing shared by Corbyn. Indeed, it sums them both up because they both want to say what they feel their own particular cronies, or their own particular audience want to hear from them. Khan says whatever will win him votes (he has no shame)- and Corbyn says what he thinks will please the people who voted him into power- John, Jane and Jenny who he talks about so often in the Commons and who clearly pull his strings. But in both cases, their intended job is bigger than this miniscule audience of alleged admirers. That is their common failing!

the modest bow

And that is why Boris was so much better. Because Boris managed to appeal beyond his core voters and across party lines.

While Corbyn has developed a joy in displeasing those MPs among whom he stands, in an effort to please his latent supporters penning letters in the labour heartlands, Khan has developed a slippery fish-like quality of pleasing whomsoever he happens to be talking to. But while Corbyn looks limp and lame,  Khan looks false. How is this possible when essentially they are following the same brief? However, Khan, Like Blair, when he is caught in a fix, thinks a quick attack on an old trusted friend will do the job, but it simply exposes the lie- Mr Khan either knew his friend was a homophobe and did not care, or he sacrificed his friend because a Conservative minister inconveniently dug up dirt from the past.  Mr Khan fails the loyalty test or he fails the far more important test of trusting the wrong people in the first place.

We need to believe that the future Mayor of London will have the right friends, will command loyalty and will make the right decisions for the right reason. we have to trust he will not be badgered into action by the media, or say something just because he is caught in the headlights of public attention.

For what it is worth, I would like to see London led by a Muslim Mayor. But not this one.

 

PS: This is what Boris said today (a few days after I posted the text above, sorry:)

boris speaking

Boris Johnson

The murder of Lee Rigby was an event that outraged and sickened Londoners, and the memories of that tragedy are still raw. I find it absolutely incredible that Sadiq Khan, a candidate for the office of Mayor of London, could hire as his speechwriter someone who has suggested that event was in any way fabricated.

To my mind that shows an appalling lack of judgement, and I do not see how Mr Khan could command the confidence – or the support – of Londoners.

 

Monsignor Krzysztof

charamsa

This is a rather sad story. Monsignor Krzysztof Olaf Charamsa came out yesterday on the news as a gay priest and within hours the catholic church was confirming that he had been sacked both in the Vatican (working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and in his universities (the Gregorian and the Pontifical Athenaeum  Regina Apostolorum) for precisely this. His role as a priest is also now under review. This is very speedy from a Church that historically takes its time, and it seems to fly in the face of Francis’s own most famous comment in 2013 “Who are we to judge” when he was in fact talking precisely about the prevalence of gay priests in the Vatican. Well, judgement has been pretty swift and brutal. How about that for Papal irony.

This is what the Monsignor said yesterday:

“My decision of ‘coming out’ is a very personal decision in the homophobic world of the Catholic Church. It has been very difficult and very hard. I ask that you keep in mind this reality that is difficult to understand for anyone who has not lived through an identical passage in their own life,” Charamsa told reporters.

“The timing is not intended to pressurize anyone, but maybe a good pressure, in fact a Christian participation, a Christian voice that wants to bring to the synod the response of the homosexual believers to the questioning of Pope Francis.”

Pope_Francis

Just for the record, I rather like Pope Francis. Among other things, he is great friends with one of the more progressive Rabbis, Rabbi Skorka, and he projects a very positive image.

francis

When the Pope made his comments on the Plane, he was actually responding to a question about Monsignor Ricca who Francis had appointed to be Institute for the Works of Religion and who had a fairly squalid relationship with a man called Patrick Haari in Uraguay before being summoned back to Rome.

Ricca

Here is what the New York Times wrote back then:

ROME — For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as “an intrinsic moral evil,” in the words of the previous pope.

In that context, brief remarks by Pope Francis suggesting that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, made aboard the papal airplane on the way back from his first foreign trip, to Brazil, resonated through the church. Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word “gay.”

….

Francis did not dodge a single question, even thanking the person who prompted his comments on homosexuality, asking about Italian news reports of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, with clerics blackmailing one another with information about sexual missteps.

“So much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay,’ ” Francis said, chuckling. “They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.”An article in the Italian weekly L’Espresso this month alleged that one of the advisers that Francis had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank, Msgr. Battista Ricca, had been accused of having gay trysts when he was a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay. The pope told reporters that nothing in the documentation he had seen substantiated the reports.

He added that such a lobby would be an issue, but that he did not have anything against gay people and that their sins should be forgiven like those of all Catholics. Francis said that homosexuals should be treated with dignity, and that no one should be subjected to blackmail or pressure because of sexual orientation.

“The problem isn’t having this orientation. The problem is making a lobby,” he said.

and the BBC on the same issue:

Pope Benedict XVI signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.

But Pope Francis said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging 80-minute long interview with Vatican journalists.

“It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”

But he condemned what he described as lobbying by gay people.

“The problem is not having this orientation,” he said. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

Par7410782

In the light of the refusal by the Vatican to recognise the appointment by France of Laurent Stefanini, it suggests that there is a wide chasm between what the Pope says and what he does, or what is done in his name. Vatican Spokesman Federico Lomardi said,

“The decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure. Monsignor Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith and the Pontifical universities, while the other aspects of his situation shall remain the [responsibility] of his diocesean Ordinary.”