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Happy New Year!

Happy new decade!

I enjoy, albeit with trepidation at times, looking back at the decades I’ve lived through and charting the change from beginning to end.

O tempora, o mores!

1960s

In 1960, growing up in the United States, I remember that things were still quite formal. Most people took care in the way they spoke and in their appearance. They were careful to conduct their households in a respectable manner. By the middle of the decade, that began to change but not too noticeably.

By 1968, a social revolution was underway, including sexually. What was once private became public. Attire reflected that. Women began wearing skirts above the knee. Men’s clothes became more form-fitting.

Sloppiness and drugs became fashionable with the advent of hippies. Even though they were a small minority, they received a lot of media coverage. A slogan connected with them — ‘If it feels good, do it’ — began to pervade society at large.

Cinema and television reflected this change.

At home, Americans moved from watching westerns to tuning into a zany comedy hour. In 1960, Gunsmoke was the most viewed programme. In 1969, it was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Gunsmoke had moved to sixth place in the Nielsen ratings.

Film genres and themes also shifted. In 1960, the great epics were popular, with Spartacus the highest grossing film and Exodus coming third. Psycho was second. In 1969, while Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was in the top slot, Midnight Cowboy was at No. 3, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was No. 6 and an X-rated movie, I Am Curious (Yellow) was No. 12. It would have been unthinkable in 1960 that an urban drama about homosexuality, a movie about swingers and one that was pornographic would have been so popular nine years later.

1970s

The cultural shift continued in the 1970s. American magazines and newspapers devoted many column inches to social drop-outs experimenting with communal living. Swingers were becoming popular in suburbia. Again, those were two small sub-groups of society, but everyone — even the most respectable — knew about these two phenomena.

Pop music got bolder, more sexualised. I remember in high school that we talked a lot about sex and could hardly wait to start dating so that we could experiment. Our parents wondered what was wrong with us. The idea of sin and the forbidden went out the window. ‘If it feels good, do it’ had spread to the middle classes. Previously forbidden carnal acts were encouraged as being completely ‘natural’. This furthered the evolution of a shame-free society. Today, I read that some teenagers don’t kiss on a first date; instead they engage in oral sex.

Interestingly, one of the most suggestive singers of the decade, Eric Carmen of the Raspberries, laments where this has led today:

I remember neighbours of ours getting divorced. The wife said that she could earn her own living now, thank you very much. The husband was heartbroken. We felt sorry for their two children. Until then, my family and I personally did not know any couples who got divorced. It just didn’t happen to everyday individuals. However, divorce rates continued to rise and, these days, no one bats an eyelid.

More women started working. What began as a liberating elective would turn out to be a mandatory means of survival in marriage in the years that followed. Few of us knew that then, though.

Returning to music, it was a great decade for youngsters. FM radio produced rather excellent stations devoted to little known genres that never reached Top 40 AM stations. Through them, we discovered prog rock from Britain: Yes, Rick Wakeman, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, to name but three musical greats. There were many more, too numerous to mention here.

Near the end of the decade we had disco. Saturday Night Fever was a huge box office hit and propelled John Travolta from television (Welcome Back Kotter) to cinema fame.

The most popular television sitcoms, such as Welcome Back Kotter, were all set in metropolitan areas. In terms of television in general, The Waltons was probably the only show with a rural setting.

Halfway through the decade, I spent a year in France, which was much quieter than the US socially and still quite formal, even though the more leftist state university students were generally unkempt and unwashed. In many respects, the country was a bridge between the 1960s and the 1970s in the nicest possible way.

1980s

Leaving university, I recall that many of my friends latched onto the Reagan zeitgeist and became conservatives.

They turned into their parents and lost the fun-loving verve they once had. I stayed single the longest, so was more acutely aware of a shift into respectability and suburban living.

I lived in a major US city then, earning my own way in life. For relaxation, I used to go to matinees at the weekend. The price of admission was cheaper and the cinemas were nearly empty, giving me the impression I had the big screen all to myself.

I saw a lot of world films in the first part of that decade, some from Brazil and Australia but mostly Britain and France. French film became a passion. Even one of the UHF television channels showed French films from the 1950s. Bliss.

As far as music was concerned, my favourite FM station played British and European singles apart from reggae on Sunday afternoons. More bliss.

Then, around 1986, something began to change. Although my favourite radio station stayed the same, the movie theatres weren’t showing as many foreign films. Within a couple of years, they stopped showing them altogether. One of my lifelines had vanished, sadly. The American films that replaced them were not very good, either, so I stopped going to the cinema.

Everything became very one-dimensional. America, somehow, had lost the link with the zeitgeist of European culture, which it never recovered. It used to be that people in the 1960s and early 1970s made a two- or three-week trip to western Europe to see the historic sites they learned about in school. It was what we today would call a bucket list item.

Fortunately, by the end of the decade, employment events intervened — and further improved — for me.

1990s

Living in England, I realised that I had an insatiable appetite for history and politics. I learned a lot about both thanks to a gift subscription to The Spectator, which I had read about in English lit class in high school. It’s been around since 1828.

In 1990s, my in-laws told me that Margaret Thatcher’s time was up. She had become too full of herself. We had high hopes for John Major.

I remember the 1992 election, which Major won handily. I could not understand the rage of my female colleagues who expected Neil Kinnock to win. They stayed up all night drinking, waiting for a Labour government that never came. The next day, at work, they were hungover, tearful — and, above all, angry. Why did they think he stood a chance? Perhaps I had been reading too much of The Spectator, but I had no doubt that Major would continue as Prime Minister.

By 1997, most of us felt change was needed. The Conservative MPs on the front bench seemed like tired, bloated bureaucrats. None of them had an original idea. Most seemed to be lining their own pockets. I was most consterned by Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley, who started closing A&E (Accident and Emergency) services at local hospitals. What was she thinking?

When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, nearly everyone I knew rejoiced. Change was coming.

And how …

2000s

The first few years of Labour were fine. I was enjoying my work too much to pay any attention.

By 2005, I longed for a Conservative government, especially when Gordon Brown became PM with no general election.

After that, Labour became unbearable, banging on about people’s personal lives and habits. The smoking ban came into force in the summer of 2007. Ministers assured us in television interviews that private members clubs and hotels would be exempt. No, not at all. It was a blanket ban everywhere.

It was during this decade that London elected its first mayor, Ken Livingstone. He served two terms and introduced the city-wide congestion charge for motor vehicles, which we called the Kengestion Charge. My colleagues at the time reminded me that, as head of the old GLA (Greater London Authority), he was known as Red Ken.

Boris Johnson succeeded him, also serving two terms. His administration made the streets tidy again and also lowered crime.

By 2006, I started looking more closely at the EU and the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who seemed to rule our lives. I agreed with those disgruntled Britons who wanted a referendum on our membership.

Most of all, however, I was sick and tired of Labour, to the point of despair.

I also asked my far better half to cancel my gift subscription to the The Spectator, as it had changed its editorial line considerably after Boris Johnson left as editor. Although more people now read it, it is a former shadow of itself. I would not call it neither conservative nor traditional at all any more.

2010s

Hope came in the May 2010 general election.

The Conservatives had to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. It was the David Cameron and Nick Clegg Show, but at least Labour were out of the picture after 13 years.

David Cameron referred to himself as the ‘heir to Blair’. It took me some time to see it, but he was not wrong.

He set out to reform the Conservative Party and alienated older, faithful members in their local associations. CCHQ suddenly did not need their help.

On a broader level, Cameron will probably be best remembered for opening up marriage to same-sex couples and for offering us the EU referendum, billed by all parties as a ‘once in a lifetime’ choice which they all pledged to implement.

A number of televised debates took place in 2016. I watched them all. Some of my friends were less than convinced by the Leave proposition. The one clincher was Brexit The Movie, which is an hour-long eye-opener about the Brussels gravy train and better than any of the debates, no matter how good:

I stayed up until the early hours of the morning of Friday, June 24, 2016 to watch the result. When it was clear that Leave had won, I went to bed. The next day, my far better half and I woke up to Cameron resigning because he did not like the result. We had a celebratory lunch in London and went to a party that evening that had been planned months earlier. I remember the apprehension we both felt about sounding out the other party guests as to their views on the EU. We later discovered that were not alone. Finally, someone there broke the ice upon his arrival by exclaiming:

Is everybody HAPPY? I certainly am!

At that point, we were free to talk about Brexit.

Theresa May became Prime Minister later that summer.

Across the pond, another sea change was happening: Donald Trump’s candidacy. It was even more of a shock when he won. A startled nation awoke to find that Hillary Clinton was not their president.

The conflicts about Brexit and Trump continue today. Opponents to both have grown ever more vehement.

On September 20, 2019, the British website Spiked issued a thought-provoking documentary on Trump and Brexit. It’s 26-minutes long and well worth watching. To cover Brexit, their reporters interviewed residents of Southend-on-Sea in Essex. To cover the Trump phenomenon, they interviewed Pennsylvania journalist Salena Zito and residents of Erie, which was once a major industrial powerhouse in that state. It has fallen on very hard times, indeed:

The major theme running through both is, as they put it, ‘change’, which I believe they should have called ‘self determination’ and ‘recovering the aspirational dream’.

One thing that struck me was the interview with the owner of a gym in Erie. He said that his father raised seven children on a janitor’s salary:

You couldn’t do that now.

Too right. Both parents now have to work — unlike in the 1960s — and few households can support more than two or three children.

People in Britain and the United States want to work and save more of their hard-earned cash. They also want good job opportunities for their children.

A fisherman in Southend said that, because of EU rules, he is restricted to an ever-smaller part of waters in which to fish. The number of fishing boats has continued to decline, he added, and the number of fisherman has also dropped dramatically. That is why he, and many others in Southend, voted Leave in 2016.

The decade closed with Boris Johnson’s landslide victory on December 12. Historian David Starkey explores what this means for the nation in this 57-minute documentary from The Sun, ably conducted by a young reporter:

Starkey explores the evolution of Parliament since Victorian times, when it became the institution we know today. As many Northern constituencies flipped from Labour to Conservative, Starkey says that Boris’s pledge to revitalise the North will mean little unless he espouses their values of patriotism, which, he says, has been a dirty word for many years.

He says that Boris could well become a figure like Charles II, who restored the monarchy beginning in 1660. Many of their personality traits are similar, he notes, particularly their penchant for bringing a nation together and reforming it at the same time. It is well worth watching when you have the opportunity.

There is much more to Starkey’s interview than summarised here. He talks about the people of the North, Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron, Tony Blair and, significantly, Benjamin Disraeli. Starkey hopes that the PM will study his Victorian predecessor’s successes closely.

With that, I must close for now. There are many developments over the past 60 years that I have not mentioned. This is merely to give an idea about the direction that Western society took as the decades rolled on.

Welcome to 2020. Let’s hope it brings many good tidings. I wish all of us the very best.

Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown packed his bags.¬†Late this afternoon¬†London’s Evening Standard reported:

The Labour leader’s final desperate attempt to cling on to power with a Lib-Lab deal crumbled amid a rebellion on his own side and policy disagreements with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

This afternoon he retreated to No 10 to discuss his situation with senior ministers, friends and wife Sarah.

Mr Brown had planned to stay in power until the summer if the deal had worked, earning himself a place in history as the man who won a historic fourth term for Labour.

However, Labour MPs and ministers reacted with anger to the attempted deal, saying they would prefer to be in opposition than in government with the Lib-Dems.

A friend of the Prime Minister said: ‚ÄúThe deal with Clegg was just not do-able.‚ÄĚ

Talks with Mr Clegg’s team took place this morning but lasted less than two hours. Mr Clegg then reopened talks with the Conservatives, amid speculation that a Lib-Con deal was imminent.

Yet, yesterday, Labour tried to spin their ‘victory’ on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News.¬† (They also spun on the BBC, but that’s a given,¬†bearing in mind¬†their obvious¬†partiality towards Labour.¬† It’s a pity the British¬†are legally bound¬†to pay a licence fee for such a service.)¬† Labour insiders used Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals against Sky’s political editor Adam Boulton twice in the space of a few hours: ‘Pick a target and polarise it’.¬†

Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell pushed¬†Mr Boulton’s buttons around dinnertime:

Later¬†that evening Exeter MP (Member of Parliament) Ben Bradshaw managed the same and¬†spun exquisitely, practically denying that the Tories clearly¬†have the most seats (306 to Labour’s 258 to the LibDems’ 57):

A fair number of the British public are taken in by politicians and pundits promoting this line which, along with the push for voting reform, came out of nowhere to gain remarkable currency in the past few days.

A number of leftist activists are trying to create a big lie by saying that Sky News is the British equivalent of Fox News.¬† Other than the fact that they have the same proprietor, nothing could be further from the truth.¬† Sky’s reporters and commentators, including Mr Boulton, were not exactly on Mr Cameron’s side in the run-up to the election, although they did give him more coverage than the BBC did.¬† By ‘more’, I mean equal¬†to that given to¬†Messrs¬†Brown and Clegg.¬†

The left would do well to¬†remember that Mr Boulton was particularly fawning in his admiration of President Obama and¬†presented a well-publicised report of his first 100 days in office last year.¬† They¬†might also¬†keep in mind that Mr Boulton is married to a former Labour public relations adviser Anji Hunter, who was prominent in¬†Tony Blair’s government. ¬†

Have the scales finally¬†dropped from Mr Boulton’s eyes?¬† It would be nice to think so.¬† In any event, many appreciate his speaking out on behalf of the British public.¬† It’s time someone in television media did.

The lesson here is that we must scrutinise — yes, discern — what our leaders and media are telling us.¬† Regular readers will know that my suggestion is for every household to have someone who is capable of reading and viewing¬†a variety of news output from the political spectrum and filter it to their families through a prism of truth.¬† ¬†

A second and perhaps more important lesson is the following: David Cameron moved into No. 10 Downing Street because he played with a straight bat.  He kept his own counsel, followed the rules and did the right thing.  May Providence continue to guide him in the weeks and months ahead.

I leave you with this Fox News video of his first speech as Prime Minister:

May right-thinking people now appropriate the term ‘progressive alliance’?

Okay, so this is a bit late but the topic will¬†be playing in polls and punditry this weekend.¬† The¬†UK’s political party leaders debated for the first time ever on live television.¬† (I hope The Spectator and the Conservative Party don’t mind my borrowing their graphic.)

This idea was originally mooted back in 1964.  The Independent says that party leaders generally believed televised debates to be too risky. Even so, having watched them in the US, they always seemed like a great idea for the UK.  Finally, my wish came true on Thursday, April 15, 2010 on ITV1.  Newsreader Alastair Stewart moderated the first debate in Manchester featuring Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Conservatives) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats).  DigitalSpy says that 10.3m people in Britain watched this historic event.

I spent a fair amount of time today reading and digesting online¬†commentary about the debate.¬† All significant polls showed that Nick Clegg performed the best.¬† Most polls showed David Cameron finishing over Gordon Brown.¬†(That said,¬†I see throughout the day that some polls which were thought to have been finalised have since changed, showing Cameron¬†coming last in the debate.¬† Please be alert to psy-ops.¬†¬†Very few¬†in the media want a Tory win.)¬†¬†Three comments here: firstly, Nick Clegg’s party have no recent history¬†in power¬†— they have not won an election for a century¬†(Liberal Party);¬† secondly, David Cameron has to be careful how he presents himself with the left-wing media bias;¬† thirdly, Gordon Brown¬†just isn’t very telegenic and really shouldn’t smile.

What did the expert political bloggers think? 

The Spectator‘s Coffee House blogger Peter Hoskin writes¬†in ‘So what’s changed?: ‘Nick Clegg may now be recognised by more that one-third of the nation.¬† His party will probably come under greater scrutiny from the media and his opponents.¬† And the leaders’ debate is here to stay; a defining feature of this election which will become a standard feature of future contests.’¬†¬†¬†¬†

In ‘Does this make a hung Parliament LESS likely?’ Mike Smithson for PoliticalBetting.com says: ‘… a resurgent Lib Dem party could seriously hurt Labour, in its effort to stop the Tories in LAB-CON marginals. For in these seats Labour have been looking to Lib Dem tactical voters to help them hang on. On top of that there is the real danger that yellow tactical voters at previous elections might return to the allegiance further eating into the Labour vote.’¬†

Tim Montgomerie in conservativehome‘s Tory Diary ‘Live blog of the ITV Leaders’ debate’¬†concludes: ‘My verdict: No gaffes. Clegg used his time in the sun well. Brown survived. Cameron best on immigration, cancer but wasn’t hard enough v Brown. But, overall, unlikely to be a gamechanger.’

Iain Dale in ‘My Verdict on the Leaders’ Debate’ writes: ‘But the thing that won it for Nick Clegg was the way he interacted with the viewer – not the audience, the viewer. He spent most of his time looking directly into the camera. He also did well to address the questioner directly, as did David Cameron. He also smiled more than the other two and you can get away with a lot on TV just by dint of a smile. David Cameron needed to smile more. Gordon Brown just shouldn’t ever smile because it always looks false.’

For a good overview of what Britons think about the debate and main parties’ policies, see ITV1’s Twitter feed from the debate¬†and¬†DigitalSpy‘s forum thread, both done¬†during the broadcast.¬†

If you missed the debate¬†and¬†want to read summaries of what was said by whom when, check out Peter Hoskin’s ‘Leaders’ debate – live blog’, conservativehome‘s Tory Diary ‘Live blog of the ITV Leaders’ debate’¬†and Iain Dale’s ‘Leaders’ Debate Open Thread/Live Blog’.¬† Each has readers’¬†comments following the post.

Remember that the next debate will be on SkyNews next Thursday (repeated on BBC2, I believe, at 11:30) and the final one will be on Thursday, April 29 on BBC1.

Not everyone will watch all three.¬† Some may pick up impressions from the first that will translate into votes on May 6.¬† Others¬†may have a different opinion, depending on whether they watch one or both of the other two debates.¬† It’s interesting to read from¬†ITV1’s Twitter feed and¬†the DigitalSpy thread just what people think and how easily a debate can help shape their voting intentions.¬†

As always,¬†read a summary of the party platforms and think about them carefully.¬† The decision you make on polling day will be one you have to live with for the next five years.¬† Unless it’s a hung¬†Parliament, in which case expect a Labour leader change (my guess is David Milliband) and another election later this year.¬†

If¬† you’re disenchanted with the Tories¬†and want to vote UKIP, please think twice.¬† To me, they’re a spoiler party.¬† We saw what happened in the US when Ralph Nader siphoned votes from those leaning towards Al Gore in 2000.¬† That’s how America got George W Bush elected, albeit by the slimmest (and most controversial)¬†of margins.

This is not the election in which to take chances.¬† If¬†this were a French election, with two ballots a week apart, sure, I’d advise voting the way you want in the first ballot and voting for the party you can live with in the second.¬† But, this isn’t France, this is Britain’s first past the post system we’re talking about.¬†

And¬†to find out everything you always (or never) wanted to know about Nick Clegg,¬†see his life story¬†as told to the Daily¬†Mail last year.¬† If you’re thinking think about voting Lib Dem, please read it.¬† Not all that glisters is gold.

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