Tuesday, July 21, 2020


An Age of Kings Vs The Hollow Crown and Henry V #Fragments

Sixty years ago tonight, the BBC broadcast the centrepiece of their hugely ambitious, brilliant Shakespeare Henriad An Age of Kings – beginning the really popular one, Henry V.
Eight years ago tonight, the BBC broadcast the centrepiece of their hugely ambitious, brilliant Shakespeare Henriad The Hollow Crown – the really popular one, Henry V.

It’s Robert Hardy vs Tom Hiddleston as the one Official Good King of the set, fifty-two years apart.

Hiddleston looks fantastic and has glorious weight in speeches and in battle, but doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself nearly as much as Hardy, who gets his big matches with Sean Connery and Judi Dench* and whose St Crispin’s Day speech is the most rousing I’ve seen.

Mores have changed so that Falstaff was still a big draw in 1960, but he’s just drunk and unappealing in the later version to the extent you can’t see what they see in him.

*I think Dench is the one actor in both series (though not on July 21).

I’m at most a very casual Shakespeare fan. Sometimes I’m in the mood and swept away by a series like this; sometimes I run up against modern avant-garde interpretation of the sort insightfully described by Shakespearean scholar Philomena Cunk as “completely f—ing unwatchable” and founder.

What’s A Henriad and Why Do I Need To Watch Two of Them?

An Age of Kings and The Hollow Crown are both fantastic but very different takes on the same plays. They do the complete run of the two Henriads in historical order (which even Shakespeare didn’t): Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. Two of the Kings here, and not the best ones, get multiple plays to their names; Edward IV [don’t mention V] doesn’t get his own.

These series are the only times I’ve watched all the plays as a set, though I’ve seen half of them presented solo in other versions (not counting Game of Thrones). But you might think of the two Henriads – sets of plays about the Henrys – as the original Roses Wars plus the Prequel Trilogy (OK, tetralogy, but Henry IV’s in two Parts, which is cheating).

An Age of Kings is one continuous story shown fortnightly across April-November 1960, the plays broken into hour-and-a-bit episodes.
The Hollow Crown is seven movies, shown in two series in 2012 and 2016.

“An Age of Kings” is a title fit for grandeur, ambition and six-months’-worth of TV. “The Hollow Crown” sounds bleaker and darker; less appealing, more modern. For me, it better evokes the Henriads, as they have a lot of Kings but most of them aren’t up to it (nor enjoying it).
They knew that in 1960, too. The opening episode of An Age of Kings is the first half of Richard II and takes its title from a famous line in that play: An Age of Kings 1 – The Hollow Crown.
(Sadly, no episodes of The Hollow Crown are subtitled “An Age of Kings”).

Richard II and Epic Vs Pace

Richard II in 1960 is much less fabulous than Ben Whishaw but even more all at sea than in other versions I’ve seen and Bolingbroke is just creepy, so even from the first you think ‘Neither as King, please’ (and also think ‘How can I work “insatiate cormorant!” into conversation?’).

The main things I remember from each of these series are what you might call grand historical sweeps, from how TV is produced to how monarchs are compared in Shakespeare. That, and some fantastic actors.
Richard II is the key to both.

An Age of Kings is made in small studios, in black and white, with an amazing cast of soon-to-be-very-famous actors who often pop up weeks later in different parts and wigs, like a theatre rep company.
The Hollow Crown is epic movies for television.

You’d think the 2012-2016 series is more modern than the 1960. Well, yes, by definition. Except… With grand locations and epic sweeps of the camera come actors striking poses and declaiming as seriously as their cinematography demands.
1960 is fast, and much less reverent.

While The Hollow Crown is staged far more naturalistically, An Age of Kings is played far more naturalistically.

My defining scene: Bolingbroke has Bushy and Green, two of the other side / traitors murdered / executed (you get these fuzzy edges in undeclared civil wars).
In 2012, Rory Kinnear stands on the edge of a cliff and makes his self-justifying speech, the others make their self-justifications, there is a sweep of the camera and a sweep of the blade and the two heads fall. It looks real.
In 1960, Tom Fleming snaps out his orders on a cramped bit of stage, his two victims gabble across each other in a panic, he cuts off their lines and they’re dragged off to be slaughtered without him listening. It feels real.

The rapid-fire TV speech vs showing sumptuous locations might be the biggest difference between the two productions.
Another is, I think, that the statelier Hollow Crown is more kindly to its Kings, but that’s harder to crystallise.

I have to admit that one reason I adored An Age of Kings was that it was full of actors who would go on to Doctor Who – albeit most looking startlingly young, lean and hungry (to the point of undernourished, having grown up under rationing).

There’s Jerome Willis being dragged to his death – he’ll be back in many roles, most strikingly as the Dauphin.
There’s George A Cooper with a full head of dark hair and a beard! Is it a wig, or did all his go really suddenly?
Great Who villain John Ringham doesn’t get to be Richard III in this one, so he’ll play an Aztec as Olivier instead.
Most of all, my favourite Julian Glover, who gets a mass of parts and is luckily cast in his biggest last, so his repeats stand out less.

Michael Hayes directed An Age of Kings; by a strange coincidence, I’d rewatched his 1979 Doctor Who – The Armageddon Factor before seeing his epic Shakespeare, so did he put in the “This blessed plot” line, or was that in the script, or a Tom Baker ad-lib, and another huge coincidence?

Watching in historical line, the Yorks are set up as baddies from the first. At least Bolingbroke has some balls, it seems to say, but the Yorks haver from side to side (part of why Richard II is a bad king). The father even says his son – or is he? – deserves to die (mirrored in the finale when Richard III’s cursed by his mum)! So the whole line’s condemned at the root: the House of York descends from a compromised, possibly bastard, all-round traitor and eventual kingslayer, the damned son Aumerle.
Just a little weighted there.

One acting criticism for The Hollow Crown: in context, Tom Hughes needs to be a scene-stealing proto-Richard III as Aumerle. He’s adequate for a smallish part, but if you’re looking through the line he ought to be compelling (no match for Ben Whishaw’s deserved BAFTA).
[To be fair, I realise that I only thought of this deficiency in the character while watching The Hollow Crown and I don’t remember anything about Aumerle in An Age of Kings, which probably comes to the same criticism.]

OK – big skip, because although I was enthralled I didn’t make a lot of notes, and I’ve already told you all I had on the most popular King and play. So onto the Henry VIs, which aren’t much celebrated and each of which are cut down but in interestingly different ways…

More Failed Kings and Three Cheers For Richard

An Age of Kings keeps the common rebellion at home but loses most of the noble battles in France; The Hollow Crown is mostly the reverse. Although both versions rush through the three Henry VI plays to get to Richard III, I preferred this second half.

Henry IV’s a more coherent story than VI, but I’m less keen on Falstaff and on patriotic conquest as the punchline – and of the two big, popular plays here, the Hollow Crown season finales, I’m always for Richard III over Henry V.
The Henry VIs aren’t very satisfying unless you add Richard III – or, as in McKellen’s Richard III (my favourite Shakespeare), just do the brilliant one and pillage extra bits from Henry VI.
But it really works when you see Richard on the rise through someone else’s plays.

Paul Daneman’s 1960 Richard (III to be) is terrific, a slow build, then leaping to seize it. I remember thinking, thank god! when he makes his electric speech, miming seizing the crown, lines I knew from McKellen.

Intriguingly, it’s not that Richard III forswears love for power, but goes for power because love has forsworn him from his mother’s womb. Not least juxtaposed with Henry VI’s long and whiny self-pity, you can respect Richard!

The Hollow Crown deftly simplifies the story (dropping the rabble, shortening the conflict), but it also makes all the would-be kings here more sympathetic – bar Cumberbatch’s powerfully vicious Richard.
An Age of Kings really critiques the whole idea of kingship.

Richard Plantagenet (father York of Edward, Clarence and Richard) is Magneto in X-Men, the best of them all in cunning, ability and even nobility. Like Magneto, 1960 Jack May must keep saying ‘I’m a villain!’ so you don’t side with him and think he has a point. By contrast, 2016 Adrian Dunbar is more blatantly noble, but rash and a bit dim (though in helmets showing only their profiles, he and Cumberbatch do look father and son).

Even with Shakespeare tilted against them, the Yorks seem much the more reasonable side. Richard Plantagenet the elder giving up his own claims for his sons is the reverse of Henry VI – saintly Henry, the exemplar of oathbreaking who would rather the land “unpeopled” by war than abdicate himself. Kill everyone!

Terry Scully’s 1960 Henry VI is a whining, petulant, entitled tosser with no ability as king and no sense of responsibility, far more of a failure than Tom Sturridge’s 2016 away with the fairies interpretation.
[From now on I’m concentrating on An Age of Kings – purely because I made notes when I watched it!]

But the real 1960 critique of monarchy is Julian Glover’s Edward IV, who steals it even from Daneman’s business with massive-I’m-king-really-look crowns and sprawling his crotch as he chats up sexy Elizabeth (like Helen of Troy, an unrewarding part for any woman). Glover’s Edward is a much loucher and far more insightful performance than any I’ve seen because you believe, yes, he really does only think with his knob, and he’s a terrible king – he wants a shag more than to do the job.

Clarence is another petulant, entitled one, and a drunk (fed by Richard, with a fabulous end credits business of saving Clarence falling into a barrel then repeated looks to camera that had me laughing aloud).
Completely changed as a character if you only see him in Richard III… Just like his brothers.

Richard III on its own is a terrific play, but it’s easy to take from it that Edward IV is a wise old King slandered by Richard, Clarence a nice old buffer who’s a bit too innocent for his own good, and Richard III an appalling villain who brings down a goodly court purely through his own ambition. None of these are true at the end of either series here.

Watched as the culmination of the Henriads, like any great series finale Richard III gains a lot more layers, just as you root even more for Richard himself getting a grip. Not only was Edward IV a bad King and Clarence a treacherous schemer, but throughout these plays England’s been mired in decades of pointless death, divided and leaderless under whichever self-indulgent waste of a king, save one brief golden moment.

So when Richard has magnetism and actual decisiveness, you might very well think that he might be evil, but at least he’s got it.
Much like the other spurned villain (through her sex), Queen Margaret, Mary Morris being amazing – she gives by far the best troop-rousing speech and is the only one who totally rocks a crown.

An Age of Kings’ finale is superb bar its women: haunted Mary Morris and Violet Carson guesting one month early in hairnet wimple, but they cut the cursing and the Elizabeths don’t even get to say yes or no to Henry Tulip (a terrible King to be, but barely in the play except as Hope).

Hardy’s Hal is in the crowd, hilariously, for a last curtain-call cameo in the ‘two priests’ (not actual priests) scene. An in-joke on the constantly rotating rep company – Glover’s so good in so many wigs and beards and fortunate in his Edward being last that he almost gets away with it, but Jerome Willis was so distinctive as the Dauphin and Jack May as York that you can’t miss them as Richmond (astonishingly pious) or Stanley (nearly as plotting) at the end.
Another cut: “I’m not made of stone!” Boo.
But though much of the scene resembles the Olivier staging, instead of the naked power at the end, Richard tips his prayerbook up to God and then tosses it down.
I don’t really like their Buckingham, though.

Which Richard III?
Iconic Olivier; devilishly charming McKellen; shockingly savage Cumberbatch…? 1960 Paul Daneman is as brilliant as any of them, from hysterical glee to bloodstained determination at the end.
And pious as Tudor may seem, he wins the crown writhing in the mud.

Though damning Richard III as the worst of villains, Shakespeare still explicitly rejects “A horse!” as Richard attempting to flee – it’s to fight on from strength, having already “slain five Richmonds”, and he refuses offers to get him away.
A bold fighter to the end – like Henry V, the only other King up to the job.
That is not an endorsement of crowns.

Finale to the whole Age of Kings: murk over Bosworth ends the brief dynasty heralded by the Three Suns / Sons of Mortimer’s Cross. And “England hath long been mad” is far more powerful as the cap to a series rather than a single play.

This 1960 production’s “Despair and die!” ghosts are so terrifically done they look like a big influence on the climax of The Caves of Androzani
I always see things through Doctor Who eyes. But Shakespeare’s sometimes pretty exciting, too.

(I started writing this as a Twitter thread this afternoon, on spotting the enticing double-anniversary where the two adaptations crossed. Then I found I’d made intermittent notes on watching some of these, and the thread grew into a yarn. So I decided that I’d simply blog it all at the same time, as that might be easier to follow.

This is the sixth of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished, from ideas I’ve written up over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story / Series X, and could you find it, consider it and post it?’ You might suggest one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here). Nobody requested this one, but I got carried away.

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James Bond Favourites #Bond25 #Fragments

Some days I’m just in the mood for James Bond. A couple of weeks ago, I marked the Double Seven (7th July) with a More! More! Moore! The Spy Who Loved Me – For Your Eyes Only double bill review. But back in April, I Tweeted along with the 007 25-Day Challenge in the absence of the delayed #Bond25, picking my favourite of many different aspects of the Bond films. Today I’m writing an article that’s not going to be a cheering read. So for this morning’s displacement activity, I’ve re-edited all 25 Bond Favourites into one punchy collection. And they won’t all be Goldfinger…

Day 1 – Favourite Bond

If I’m watching him in the right film (or making the right innuendo), it’s Connery, Moore or Craig at the time.
Brain and lower brain say Craig, but ingrained instinct remains Sean Connery.

Day 2 – Favourite Bond Film

Refines and perfects, fabulously quotable, looks and sounds fantastic.
Bond himself is more cool than effective, but so what?

I wanted to pick something less obvious, but my runners-up would be Casino Royale and You Only Live Twice…
I bloody love Octopussy, too, though.

Day 3 – Favourite Bond Woman (they’re not girls)

Pussy Galore
These won’t all be Goldfinger, but the magnificent Honor Blackman played still the greatest ever Bond woman (incredibly effective, but even more cool).
She was the only person in history able to say
“My name is Pussy Galore”
with a straight face.

Day 4 – Favourite Villain

This might be the hardest: I love villains.
Anti-Bonds Grant, Trevelyan, Silva are great, but it’s got to be a diabolical mastermind for me.
A Blofeld? Drax, Orlov, Klebb? No?

These won’t all be Goldfinger, but I enjoy him so much.
“So did I.”
It’s Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger.

Day 5 – Favourite ‘Henchman’ (not all Henches are men)

Oddjob or Onatopp? Volpe or Jaws? Even Mr Wint & Mr Kidd, though they’re very, very wrong.
Baron Samedi would be in the running, but he’s a loa just henching for a laugh (but what a laugh).

Top hench for physicality, agency and sheer presence:
Grace Jones’ May Day.

Day 6 – Favourite Blofeld

Donald Pleasence
So memorable, so imitable, so quotable.
“You only live twice, Mr Bond.”
I enjoy the voice / hand / cat / table presence; Charles Gray is a great Bond villain (rather than Blofeld); but no-one else glares or enunciates “annihilate” like Pleasence.

Day 7 – Favourite M

Judi Dench.
Bernard Lee’s instantly perfect. No-one could beat him until, wow. She arrives.
Then extra depth and even more acid with Craig.
“In the old days, if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have the good sense to defect! Christ, I miss the Cold War.”

Day 8 – Favourite Q

Desmond Llewelyn.
I like Ben Whishaw just fine, but… Pay attention.

Day 9 – Favourite Moneypenny

Lois Maxwell.
Perfect chemistry first time, then keeps sight of the character through more inconsistencies and indignities than anyone else in Bond.

Though favourite actor who happens to have played the role is Pamela Salem, because Pamela Salem.

Day 10 – Favourite Felix Leiter

Jeffrey Wright.
He’s just got what Sir Humphrey would call ‘bottom’.
(Though I do have a soft spot for David Hedison’s snark.)

Day 11 – Favourite Bond Ally

Too hard!
Oh… Octopussy (Maud Adams) .
Tempted by Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker – James Bond) and Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee – of course), Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci – she should have taken the whole film) and Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky (Robbie Coltrane – the psychotic Muppet laugh). And…

Day 12 – Favourite Bond Car or Vehicle

That car in Skyfall!
…M’s racing green Jaguar XF, of course.
Oh, spaceships, Oh, that interesting car of yours, the toys.
But we saw Skyfall on opening night, our anniversary, and were the only people in the cinema who cheered when M’s car appeared – just for us.
One week earlier, Richard had picked up Redvers, his new racing green Jaguar XF.
My favourite.

Day 13 – Favourite Q-Branch Gadget

Fake third* nipple.

*Technically it could take you up to whichever number is individually appropriate, but numbered as issued because Q is very serious about these things being properly catalogued.

Day 14 – Favourite Pre-titles sequence

Shocking not to.

So many fantastic runners-up, though. Goldeneye, You Only Live Twice, Octopussy, The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die, the original headf— of From Russia With Love, The World Is Not Enough (despite warping our local geography)…

Day 15 – Favourite Opening Titles Sequence

How could it be anything but the ur-titles, Goldfinger…?
…But it isn’t.

Casino Royale’s title sequence blew me away.
It’s incredibly stylish and thrilling – Bond’s “007 status confirmed” still makes the hairs on my neck stand up.
Then Bond basically materialises as a Shayde!

Day 16 – Favourite Bond Theme

No bluff this time. As The Spy Who Loved Me Bond composer Marvin Hamlisch put it,
“If you’re dead, you wake up for that.”
I love so many terrific Bond themes to bits, but I can’t pick a ‘runner-up’ when they’re all too far behind Dame Shirley to see in the DB5 rear view.

Day 17 – Favourite Piece of Soundtrack

Blunt Instrument (David Arnold, Casino Royale)
The films have many of my most-loved scores (not least a John Barry ‘What a magnificent vista’), but when 007’s arrival in Nassau accelerates from tense swagger to driving brass, it’s concentrated essence of Bond.

Day 19 – Favourite Action Sequence

Too many to consider, so closed my eyes, and:
The twins chase 009 (Octopussy)
Gripping tension, superb action, fabulous score. Like The Avengers doing John le Carré, but so Bond.
007 disarming the bomb later in the same film, too.

Day 19 – Favourite Piece of Set Design

The volcano! (KEN ADAM, You Only Live Twice)
Size isn’t everything. But…

Runners-up: Goldfinger’s viewing room and General Orlov’s Kremlin viewing table.
I love the subtext that even the cinema you’re in is more thrilling in Bond’s world!

Day 20 – Favourite Piece of Costume Design

Daniel Craig’s blue trunks (Casino Royale)
The easy choice, because there are too many fabulously villainous Nehru jackets in too many films to sort through and pick just one of them. Unlike the trunks, I’d wear it, though.

Day 21 – Favourite Location

Isle of Dogs, London (The World Is Not Enough)
…Despite scrambling our neighbourhood, it’s ours.

Or, for perhaps most magnificent of all the John Barry ‘What a magnificent vistas’:
The Swiss Alps (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Day 22 – Favourite Bond Kill

Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
Because he keeps coming back!

Runners-up Alec Trevelyan, for the ludicrous overkill, and Elliot Carver, partly for the quip but mainly for M’s smirk as she writes the cover story.

Day 23 – Favourite Bond Quip

“Just keeping the British end up, sir.”
Connery positively mastered the “Shocking” death-quip, but Moore is more is most for the innuendo.
And the death-quip.
“Desolated, Mr Bond.”
“Heartbroken, Mr Drax.”

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”
“That’s putting it mildly, 007…”
Makes me laugh most, but he loses that quip.

And this, obviously:
“No, Mr Bond! I expect you to die.”

“No more foreplay.”

“What makes you think this is my first time?”

“I think he’s attempting re-entry.”

“Just a slight stiffness coming on… in the shoulder.”

Day 24 – Favourite Novel or Non-Fiction Book

Confession: I read them all in my teens, but recoiled from the second and stopped when I tried a re-read after Casino Royale in 2006. So I’m not sure which Ian Fleming novel I’d go for (just which I wouldn’t)…

Problematic as hell, too, but I loved the thrilling ride of John Gardner’s For Special Services. I should write about that one sometime.

Day 25 – Kindest Member(s) of the Fanbase That You Follow

You know his name: Dome, @MillenniumDome

Plus the lovely @BrandyBongos, and @The_Cybermatt for bringing this 25 to my attention.

Is it over already? That sped by!


This is the fifth of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished, from ideas I’ve written up over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story / Series X, and could you find it, consider it and post it?’ You might suggest one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here). This one’s for Millennium.

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Saturday, July 11, 2020


Liberal Democrat Values: Mark Pack’s Three Answers

What do the Liberal Democrats stand for, and why vote for us?

That’s my lead question from several I sent to Liberal Democrat Leadership candidates Layla Moran and Ed Davey. I’m still awaiting their replies, yet have just had answers from a Lib Dem Leader… But probably not the one you’re expecting.

Doctor Mark Pack is Acting Co-Leader of the Liberal Democrats, an unexpected temporary addition to his election as Lib Dem President, so I sent him three of the same questions and he was first to respond. Thank you, Mark! Here are Mark’s pithy answers:

Question One:

People say all politicians are the same. Lib Dems have often seen moderation, working with others and compromise as virtues, to the point of the caricature that a Liberal is someone so fair they don’t take their own side in an argument. So what really motivates you?

When someone asks you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in a sentence or two what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and why anyone should vote for us – what do you answer?

We want to give everyone the best possible chances to live their lives as they wish, to be who they want to be and to make their own choices. Both Labour and the Conservatives are far too keen to tell people how they should behave, or to pick chunks of society who they don’t care so much about and to put different parts of our society at odds with each with other.

(That’s my English doorstep answer, of course. For Scotland and Wales, I’d talk also about nationalists, and how we want to bring down barriers, not put up new ones between people on our common islands.)

Question Two:

Two of the most heartfelt Liberal Democrat instincts are ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘Stand up to bullies.’ Whether you call those ‘moderate and Liberal’, ‘caring and courage’, ‘love and liberty’, the party feels both, needs both, but they’re often competing as well as complimentary, so our balance between them changes with the times.

Which do we need most to lead on right now?

As your own blog’s name correctly captures, we need both. Each is dependent on the other. Love and liberty each flourish when the other is present. I wouldn’t make a forced choice between the two, just as I won’t pick vowels or consonants are the most important types of letter. It’s when both come together that the best happens.

Question Three:

Ask what the core of Liberalism is and the answer’s obvious: “It’s About Freedom”. So obvious, that was the title of the Liberal Democrats’ 2002 philosophy paper. Look at our other positioning papers and manifestos under Charles Kennedy – “Freedom In A Liberal Society”, “Freedom, Justice, Honesty”, “Freedom, Fairness, Trust” – Freedom led. Our constitution leads with “Liberty, equality and community”. But Leaders and campaigns since have made Freedom or Liberty invisible.

Are we afraid it’s not popular, not relevant, or have we just ceded it to the illiberal Right?

I’m enthusiastic about the concept of freedom while being cautious about the vocabulary. The word as acquired strong right-wing overtones. If someone saw a leaflet saying ‘I’m for freedom’ and had to guess the politics of the candidate before reading on, I strongly suspect most people would assuming the person is right-wing, a libertarian even perhaps. If the word freedom seems right-wing, I also suspect the word liberty sounds like a word from the past. You’re more likely to hear it in a historical Hollywood movie than in ordinary conversation.

So I don’t worry too much about word counts on either, as long as the concept comes through clearly in what we argue for – such as the future benefits of a close relationship with the rest of Europe that minimises barriers, and so protects people’s freedoms.

Lib Dems Believe – More Answers

I posted my three questions (with an extra two individually targeted ‘mean’ ones for Ed and Layla) here on Monday, along with some of my own commentary on where the Liberal Democrats are going and – to lower the bar for the candidates – the two absolutely worst answers I’ve ever heard on Lib Dem values and why to vote for us.

I was rightly challenged on this to share some of the best answers I’ve had, too. So you can read my eight-Tweet thread here in which I pick out some of my favourites, including answers directly to me from Lib Dems such as Lynne Featherstone, Caron Lindsay and Brian Paddick, and historical choices such as David Lloyd George and Roy Jenkins (and a friend has just shared with me his own new vision this week, which I hope to quote and promote when he publishes it).

During the 2015 General Election I posted every day on Lib Dems Believe with a variety of values, long and short, old and new, in which the same ideas and ideals came across over and over, though in a wide variety of different words. Most answers I’ve had tend, like Mark’s, to be pithy. My absolute favourite is of course the longest of all those I chose, an abridgement of one of Paddy Ashdown’s Leader’s speeches and still the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. I recommend it.

Finally, as I’m judging others it’s only fair I put my own answers up for judgement too. Over many blog posts on what the Lib Dems stand for over many years, the pithy values closest to my heart remain “Freedom, Fairness, Future” (which I evolved from the party’s “Free, Fair and Green” in the 2000s because alliteration goes a long way) and “Freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity” (my more active rewording of the Preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution). My longer versions have changed much more, but this article includes both the latest written statement of values and my YouTube ‘Why vote Lib Dem’.

Here’s to the next set of inspiring answers!

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020


More! More! Moore! The Spy Who Loved Me – For Your Eyes Only OO7 Double Bill #Fragments

7/7/77 – who could resist launching a James Bond film on double double sevens? The Spy Who Loved Me opened 43 years ago tonight. Though it’s the first Bond I remember seeing advertised – kids at school had the car-submarine toy! – I was much too young to see it on the big screen. We finally did three years ago, in a UNICEF Benefit double bill with For Your Eyes Only (the first Bond I did see at the cinema) celebrating the life of Roger Moore. They made an unexpectedly successful pairing. When we got in from our night at the Greenwich Odeon, I typed up what I thought about each, and both, and the bits that each film might do better swapping between them…

Now, I know what you’re thinking: that’s a strange choice. Why not The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker? Because that would be like having a massive chocolate gateau followed by an even more massive chocolate gateau. No, scratch that – it is, apparently, World Chocolate Day and that’s making me hungry. I’ll start again. Because that would be like watching the same film You Only Live Twice in a row. Tonally, these do interestingly different things (though I reckon one’s more successful in what it sets out to do). Neither is my favourite Roger Moore Bond film, but they’re the massive success on its own terms, and the critical success that shows his range. And there’s something else: at our showing, the trailers before the double bill were all late middle-aged dreary, and we weren’t interested in any of them. Then, I remember… The very last one starts. Rey’s hand on a rock. John Williams’ music. Into my head comes the thought, ‘Every member of the audience is sighing, “Finally!”’ just as I, too, breathe out with relief. And at that exact moment, Luke Skywalker says, “Breathe.” But the even better trailer came at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me: “James Bond Will Return in For Your Eyes Only”. And for that one night only, he did.

Spoilers follow.

To Begin With…

The Spy Who Loved Me stars Roger Moore as James Bond. Barbara Bach is the Bond woman, KGB Major Anya Amasova, Bond’s competitor and one of the few who’s a proper opposite number. Curd Jürgens is the megalomaniac villain, Karl Stromberg, lurking in his (usually) underwater base, Atlantis. And Richard Kiel is Jaws, the giant hench with the steel teeth. With bonus Lotus submersible car, previous James Bond (voice) George Baker and Doctor Who’s Space James Bond star Edward de Souza. Russian and British nuclear subs have vanished, swallowed by Stromberg’s supertanker with the even bigger jaws in a plan to start World War III… The poster’s justified in saying this is the big one – everything you expect from a Bond film and Moore, with a massive world-spanning plot, sets so huge they had to build the world’s biggest stage, and the biggest, most outrageous ski jump in cinema history, they threw everything into Bond to see if it could still be a blockbuster: they doubled the previous film’s box office.

For Your Eyes Only stars Roger Moore as James Bond. Carole Bouquet is the Bond woman, crossbow-wielding Melina Havelock out to avenge her murdered parents. But which gangster is the villain? Could it be, as first appears, cheery Columbo (Topol)? Or will it be, in a twist, Kristatos (Villainous Julian Glover)? It’s definitely not Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whatever the pre-titles sequence might suggest. With a more interesting role than usual for Walter Gotell’s KGB General Gogol and an early one for Charles Dance. On the surface it’s a Cold War plot chasing a sunken British nuclear submarine ATAC targeting device, but deeper down it’s about the local catspaws, the people who get caught in the crossfire and who’s out for revenge on who. This one gets the critical praise for being the sober, serious Bond film. In theory…

The Spy Who Loved Me

“Just keeping the British end up, sir.”
The pre-credits adventure grabs your attention as we’re introduced to new Bond regular General Gogol, the KGB chief who brings charisma and ambiguity to the series as the Cold War comes back (though more often than not with Britain and the USSR in uneasy alliance). Points for the film’s first twist: Gogol calls in his top agent – not Michael Billington’s sexily hairy sub-Bond, who turns out merely to be Major Amasova’s lover. Add sexual innuendo (“something came up”), corniness (“But James, I need you!” “So does England”), a ski chase to great music and an incredible jump off a cliff with a Union Flag parachute, and the movie’s off to an unbeatable start even before the song cuts in.

When you think of James Bond, perhaps it’s the action, the quips, the women, the cars, the villains? For me – well, yes, it’s the villains – a major part what I think of any Bond film is in the music. Give me a bold belter of a theme song with an acid edge, then a brassy, gorgeous score that says ‘What a fantastic vista’, ideally by John Barry. But the music takes a definite swerve for both of these films. Now, you might think, ‘Hit song, but no John Barry, and that’s your problem’. Well… Not quite. The strange thing about The Spy Who Loved Me is that Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better is a massive hit, while Marvin Hamlisch is more disco than the strident, insistent traditional Bond score, but I prefer the score to the song. The pulsing disco of Bond ’77 races along with some serious energy, the eerie, bubbling approach to Atlantis is a great new direction, and this is a composer who gets it – as you might guess from the Bond music documentary in which he was the one who said of Goldfinger’s “Wah wahhh-wah!” opening, “If you’re dead, you wake up for that.” Whereas Nobody Does It Better is a statement of intent with great knowing confidence, but it doesn’t have the bite for me and only lets rip towards the end. The title sequence that goes with it is the first to feature Bond himself, again the statement of intent, though the Maurice Binder naked goose-stepping Russian ‘girlies’ and guns are even more sexist than it sounds.

Odd things I’d never noticed until seeing the film on the big screen: a young, slim Kevin R McNally rushing about on a sub; Stromberg’s underwater-and-sometimes-looming-over-the-water base Atlantis initially being a disappointment, as it should be city-sized but the bigger the picture, the smaller it seems when we first see it rising from the depths. But later, when we get snap-round camera moves and forced perspectives, I believed.

The movie’s other massive special effect – Jaws – is hugely effective. And pretty huge. And though inspired by the book that they weren’t allowed to use (and not allowed to use SPECTRE either, a film that’s so very definitely present but built on absences), he’s part of the pop-culture riffing that’s especially there for the first half (and the Bond film riffing for the whole thing). We see a shark – reference to hit movie Jaws – and a horrible kill. Then we get not the shark but the man named – Jaws. Then he goes up against the shark. And wins! This is Bond saying ‘We are the blockbusters.’ Though even this film’s box office success was nowhere near Jaws’, it’s got the same chutzpah as Nobody Does It Better: enormous confidence in itself after following fashion for two movies, yet never tipping into arrogance, and utterly winning. While after Christopher Lee last time, here we’re really doing a vampire bite. And a massive figure, haunting the pyramids in a big horror movie sequence. He’s Jaws-Frankenstein-Mummy-Dracula!

Disconcertingly, one of the attractions has a voiceover from Charles Gray, as if the film’s haunted by the spectre of SPECTRE – exorcised from it by legal action. “I’m not interested in extortion”; context makes Stromberg’s line funnier. On top of being You Only Live Twice and its threat to the whole world (though closer in plan to Doctor Who’s Warriors of the Deep – which must have been thinking of this, later), I’m getting Goldfinger, too, in the Bond’s Greatest Hits: the amusing car, the obscenely wealthy villain, the memorable hench, the woman who’s impressive in her own right… It really does succeed in what it aims to do, doesn’t it? Because after Goldfinger, this pretty much is the car, the hench and at least one of the best roles for a woman, though not one of the most charismatic actors (Caroline Munro steals it by still flirting as she tries to gun Bond down from a helicopter, and he gives her the feminist compliment of actually killing her as he would any other hench). And a lot of films have tried.

The plot has a deliberate feel of the Sean Connery movies, and firmly underlines Moore as the same Commander Bond after Live and Let Die in particular introduced a different man. For all that, this is also the definitive tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore. It couldn’t be anyone else. It’s all done with great verve, with amazingly huge sets from genius designer Ken Adam, a villain with glowering presence who wants to destroy humanity for nihilism (rather than the ’60s exploiting the Cold War for profit), and while it’s not the most creative Bond, much of it’s great fun, much of it’s a bit crass, and it is indeed “Bond – and Beyond!” I enjoyed it immensely, and though my head says to give it 007 out of 10, the whole experience swept me up to an 8.

For Your Eyes Only

“Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”
“That’s putting it mildly, 007.”
This was the first Bond film my parents let me see at the cinema, and I have to separate a lot of baggage from it. The longest-carried is that I had dearly wanted to see Moonraker, for lasers! But was judged too young (though we’d been allowed to watch Bond films on TV). Four decades later, I probably prefer this to Moonraker, but when I was nine the lack of lasers was a cruel disappointment. But that’s only the start. What I expected, what it isn’t, what it does with the lead villain, and right from the beginning, the pre-titles sequence and, oh, dear, the music…

Where The Spy Who Loved Me wanted to be a big hit and aimed – and squarely hit – You Only Live Twice with a splash of Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only always feels to me like it really wants to be the taut Cold-War-to-one-side-seen-through-third-country-rivals thriller From Russia With Love, but without the thrasos, as Columbo would say, while it somehow can’t stop casting its eyes to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The pre-titles sums this up and sums up the film’s tonal dissonance. Roger Moore is terrific throughout the movie, less commanding than in his imperial The Spy Who Loved Me but stretched beyond the innuendo and charm to disturbingly psychopathic flashes of chilling coldness and, opening, quietly underplayed grief. He visits Tracy Bond’s grave in one of the most solemnly introspective moments in all of Bond, then is kidnapped by a remote-controlled helicopter which he in turn hijacks in order to drop contractually not-Blofeld, babbling about delicatessens, down a factory chimney. Even when I was nine and tonal dissonance was not the foremost term in my critical vocabulary, that felt like whiplash. Reading the endless backstory of court cases, it feels like a massive ‘Up yours’. Quite literally. Someone’s suing you to make a rival Bond film with Blofeld and defector-Connery? Erase Connery’s last movie and go back to the Telly Savalas incarnation (ish) so they can chuck him in the bin after, and there is no subtle way to put this, using the landing prop of the helicopter to f—k him in the arse first. This does not set the tone most of the film is aiming for.

If you’re having a really frustrating time in court, wouldn’t therapy be cheaper?

Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only was another big hit song, and though it’s terribly unfair, again it’s one that I only quite like, and this time with the double let-down of not just what it is but what it isn’t: it isn’t Blondie. It’s not bad, and it opens with a certain mysterious longing tone, but it’s a little bland and sugary next to the best Bond themes. Bill Conti first approached Blondie, who turned them down when it turned out he only wanted Deborah Harry, not the musicians, and she wasn’t going to be allowed to write the song, just pout for him. Worse news for Sheena Easton: Blondie wrote and recorded their own song on their album The Hunter, and the film’s theme is no match for the punchy challenge sung from a female Bond counterpart with, in Debbie Harry, the most icy-cool voice in pop. But that’s only the second most famous factoid about the title song. The most famous is that, for the first time, the singer appeared in the main titles, Maurice Binder having taken a fancy to Sheena Easton. But, as her lips were to be in a fifty-foot close-up on cinema screens, the famous tacky titles obsessive made one small demand. She could only do it if he could fix her entire head in giant clamps to stop her moving a millimetre. And she did! She looks terrific in the clamps, but I’m afraid I still find myself thinking ‘But she hasn’t got Deborah Harry’s cheekbones. Or voice. Or song.’

Does the rest of Bill Conti’s score make up for losing Blondie? It does not. Far, far too many early ’80s porno funk guitars (though the Bond Theme survives one arrangement here, another makes even that cheesily near-unlistenable) and piping little ‘pah pahs’ instead of proper brass. Of all of the films, the music for this one has dated horribly. Close your eyes and just listen to the score, and you imagine people dancing on ice in neon-toned legwarmers. Open them, and discover to your horror that it’s not far from the truth. All right, there are some swirling strings when Melina shoots someone with her crossbow and more nice strings with a sinister bubbling fade after the ‘Countess’ dies. But, on the whole, I’d’ve preferred the film entirely re-scored by John Barry, and I’d love to have heard what he might have added to the Blondie song, too. Of all my For Your Eyes Only baggage, the heaviest may be that, while the music boosts several of the weaker Bonds, it drags this one down.

That’s a shame, as much of this is rather good in a low-key way, but even the subdued elements aren’t always well-judged. There’s a feint between two potential villains that partially works, but Topol’s exuberant character comes over rather more strongly than the usually magnificent but necessarily underplayed Julian Glover. Famously, Julian Glover was cast as the villain after producer Cubby Broccoli saw him as Count Scarlioni in Doctor Who – City of Death. That is a fantastic performance. Urbane (“My dear, it was not necessary to enter my house by – well, you can hardly call it stealth – you had only to knock on the door”), deadly on an extinction-level scale, gorgeously dressed with a splash of green. if ever there were an audition for the perfect Bond villain, that was it. Julian Glover might just be my favourite actor. He’s one of very few for whom, on meeting him at a convention, my mask of confidence collapsed into an incoherent babble of it’s Julian Glover!! Doctor Who, Star Wars, Blake’s 7, Quatermass, Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones, four-times-over guest star Villainous Julian Glover in The Avengers – an extraordinary career of all your favourite things. I should be so pleased to see him in this as Kristatos. And I am. Ish. I’m ashamed to say it, but he is a brilliant actor giving a mostly subtle, double-edged performance that isn’t called on to give the rip-roaring, showboating, flamboyant, let’s face it, what I miss is massive ham villain that would probably have been much less interesting to play but, I confess, this feels a bit of a waste. It’s like a reverse Diamonds Are Forever: where Charles Gray gave his usual villain performance, which is an ideal Bond villain but not remotely Blofeld, Glover is given a subdued character part with an accent so, while naturally superb here because he’s a brilliant actor with range, if anyone had charismatic posh perfect ur-Bond villain potential, it was Villainous Julian Glover. Yes, I know: now I’m criticising this film for not being crass enough. I can do tonal dissonance too.

Even the villainous twist they go with lacks oomph. While Julian Glover’s been understated as the fake Bond ally setting up Topol as the bad gangster who Bond must eliminate, there’s not quite been anything bar a bit of music on the beach to suggest wrongness in that, and then – Topol just spills the whole truth, and after a moment of doubt, he shows thrasos and Bond believes him, so rushes in shooting on his behalf. Well, I can believe Bond taking a leap of faith after sizing a man up, but it kills the spy thriller ambiguity stone dead. It’s never ambiguity – just a switch from one state to another. So Kristatos gets one scene where he gets to laugh like a Bond villain, the keelhauling, which is fine, but that’s next to nothing. I enjoy his slipping around the blond idiot hench to grab the goods and make his exit at the end, but that’s a bit of business, not a proper climax. I want the two old smuggler rivals fighting – there’s only a smidgeon of that, and not much drama. I suppose they don’t want to take the attention from Bond, but it means the thing lacks a heart save Melina, and she’s not driven it as much as those two.

The two best lines are both Bond found with priests: the opening, sober, “Some sort of emergency” / “It usually is” followed by the eerie blessing at the graveside and then, as established, ‘with hilarious results’, and the not at all sober but very entertaining reversal of “Bless me, father…” later. As if seeking absolution for the opening chimney dropping on Tracy’s headstone, traces of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service keep glimmering. The exciting ski-and-bobsled-and-extra-bike-chase is more original and more in your face than I’d remembered (marred by truly ghastly music), while Columbo comes across as another take on chummy gangster Draco (and to be fair, Topol is way better in the role), and there’s even a ‘down to earth’ version of the swanky Piz Gloria turned much less glam old abbey for the mountain climax. Bond’s climb is new to the series and very tense – even pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.

One effect of the largely subdued tone is that the film runs short on memorable set-pieces. The climb near the end is gripping, but at the beginning they throw away the terrific ‘hi-tech boat’ lost scene that’s more ‘real’ and even more tense than Spy’s, and the murder of the Havelocks, which they should have got over their urge to stick it to Kevin McClory’s lawsuit and positioned as the pre-credits sequence (it doesn’t help that the script jarringly makes James Villiers, probably the poshest actor in any Bond movie and a nob who’d know, call Sir Timothy “Sir Havelock”). I rather like the aftermath to their murder that sees Gonzales going into his own pool with a bolt in his back, then Loque not only taking the briefcase payment back, its owner no longer able to spend it, but that his henchman meanly snatches back the bundle of notes tossed to one of the women! Unfortunately, that’s followed by the exploding car. It was, I imagine, intended to be symbolic of not relying on gadgets. So it’s ironic that the ‘We’re realistic!’ statement is one of the silliest in all the movies: a car ‘security device’ that blows it up when anyone so much as touches it.

Daniel Craig is, like Timothy Dalton, often seen as a backlash against the ‘silly’ Bond before him (now I’ve got Graham Chapman in my head as M saying, “Stop that, it’s silly,” with Terry Jones as Moneypenny. You couldn’t have John Cleese as Q, though. That would never work). Watching For Your Eyes Only, it’s clear that so is Roger Moore a backlash against the ‘excesses’ of Roger Moore: not only in his underplaying but that his use here of anything to hand to wallop people prefigures Craig’s Bond. The Bond women and his relationships with them are interestingly characterised this time, too: he turns down too-young Bibi; he’s got proper chemistry with Melina, as she genuinely laughs at one of his one-liners and there are a few ‘touristy’ scenes where, unusually, they seem to enjoy each other’s company; and the Countess, closer to his own age, is rather lovely, as both relax and let each other know they’re play-acting. Like – again – OHMSS, but played at high speed, they go from a brutal fight on a beach to tragedy, which in turn leads to Moore’s coldest yet most feeling kill, Loque’s “no head for heights”. Though the Countess’ death creates a jarring note with Topol’s Columbo, charming and scene-stealing as he is, because he’s so jolly that he doesn’t seem to give a toss about his lover. Merely one line where he’s marginally less expansive, quickly over.

Roger Moore is the best thing in this, and holds the film together even when he is unexpectedly being the serious, dangerous part and all around him panics at the thought of getting too heavy. That’s what I have to make of the way that For Your Eyes Only is a meditation on destructive vengeance that before saying “First dig two graves” opens on Tracy’s grave just to set up the Blofeld-McClory revenge gag, or that despite Bond’s impressively ruthless moments and the thoughtful spy thriller elements, it’s hamstrung by a lack of verve and of nerve, edging away from its darker places with crudely ill-judged mickey-taking instead. The exploding car might just be a statement that went wrong, but the film closes on more panicky slapstick that simply undermines the mood. Geoffrey Keen’s grumbling minister gets on my wick in each of his Bond films, but especially this one, where he appears to have defected to Mrs Thatcher’s government. Yes, Mrs Thatcher. The film’s last scene features a parrot saying rude things to a Margaret Thatcher impersonator, and it’s shoddy beyond belief. Finishing on an innuendo makes me smile, but somehow that ending has always put me off the film.

The James Bond Double Bill

Watched in one night as a follow-up to The Spy Who Loved Me, I don’t think I’d ever appreciated For Your Eyes Only more. The two films have a lot in common, but a very different feel, so they made remarkably good companions. Though, first, an aside on the bearers of the bad news: I love Graham Crowden. Another of my favourite ever actors, amazingly tall, especially on a cinema screen, and his gravitas on “Not deep enough, I’m afraid” is so perfect on so very little (no, it’s not a critique of what the film is attempting). But just this once, in the second underwater Bond of the evening, I look to Noel Johnson next to him and my Doctor Who brain exclaims, ‘F—k me! It’s the King of Atlantis!’ [Graham Crowden starred in a differently fabulous Doctor Who take on Greek Myths.]

I’m sure the double bill was chosen for how well both films showcase Roger Moore, but they do have themes that interestingly intertwine. Ski chases to pepper largely secrets underwater affairs and a McGuffin machine that compromises nuclear subs? Check! But it’s that McGuffin that compromises nuclear subs in both films which is the crucial element for me. For Your Eyes Only’s best bit of music comes approaching the St George wreck underwater. But here’s where we get one of the biggest plot holes, too. Kristatos has more resources and has had more time. Why hasn’t he got to the wreck already? There’s a line afterwards about Bond saving them the trouble of disarming it, but it seems like that was handy, not a plan, and a hell of a risk. Because why didn’t Bond destroy the ATAC underwater? There’s no reason at all in the plot. And that would have been that. Between us, walking home after the cinema, Richard and I came up with a simple fix: the British government want the data from the spy-ship’s mission. That’s why it was there. So Bond has been ordered to destroy it only as a last resort. That would only take a line. Or here’s another: the diving-suited killer attacks. Bond and Melina use the self-destruct bomb to kill him (in a Battlefield moment, when the suit blows he visibly starts to say “Shit!”). Just switch that around very slightly: they’ve armed the self-destruct; he attacks; they’re about to die; the only weapon they have is the bomb, so they have to make the choice, tear it free and use it to save themselves, but now need to take the ATAC and find another way of destroying it properly.

Why Bond doesn’t destroy the ATAC earlier in the film is a problem for For Your Eyes Only in isolation. And yet watching the two films back-to-back, the two devices prompted inspiration. Each would be more effective with a little swapped between them. In The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s hugely important that there’s now a device that can track nuclear submarines, but only for the first half of the movie. Then everyone forgets about it. But it should still be a critical Cold War game-changer, and for all that Q is blasé about the theory, should have been definitely finished off with Stromberg. The McGuffin seems more ‘real’ in For Your Eyes Only: an updated Enigma machine, or – one of my From Russia With Love echoes – a reverse-Lektor that the Russians want to get their hands on to compromise the British this time. And yet… Despite this ‘realism’, and being carried all the way through to the end of the plot as Spy failed to, its role in the climax would have made more sense if this machine was instead the machine they had last time. Spy’s device was something new that neither had and could tilt the balance: Bond destroying it would absolutely make his “Détente” line true. Except it isn’t. In this film, it’s not an irreplaceable third-party development but a British device the Russians want. The British keeping it from the Russians is… Actually a British victory and the whole point of the entire movie. Though Moore’s defiant charisma and the ambiguous smile from General Gogol still makes the (anti-)climax rather interesting, that’s the actors, not the script.

I enjoyed For Your Eyes Only on the big screen far more in May 2017 than little me did in 1981. But I still can’t help wanting to fix it. The Spy Who Loved Me thrilled me by succeeding in exactly what it wanted to do, while the second film just doesn’t have the confidence to follow through on its own instincts. I would love this to be the movie it so nearly is and give it 007 out of 10, but I can only say 6.

James Bond Will Return In Octopussy

Just to be contrary, my favourite Roger Moore Bond film is the next along – Octopussy. The title song is adequate but bottles out of using the title-word (“All Time High” swapping one hostage-to-fortune title for another, I fear). With a competing ‘Bond film’ that year, though, John Barry is back to do the score, and it’s terrific. Particularly the forbidding strings for the sinister twin assassins near the Berlin Wall, the rousing mix of Bondian and exotic for the balloon-led attack near the end, and most strikingly the bomb, where a deep, sinister circling beat builds from deceptively soft to powerful strings – all the more effective for saying ‘something big is in reserve’ while Bond is trying to disarm a live nuke. The other main element I love it for is the villain, or rather the villains – three key antagonists, each memorable and with their own agendas, though loosely allied. Octopussy herself is one of the most intriguing and powerful Bond women (with, unsurprisingly, hints of Pussy Galore, greatest of them all), deposed prince Kamal Khan is urbane-but-deadly, looking for money, power and the main chance and tossing out bon mots (“You have a nasty habit of surviving”), yet it’s still stolen by Steven Berkoff’s scenery-chewing Cold War hawk General Orlov (when I’m rushing for a train that I’m just too late for, I always have him shouting, “I must get to that train!” in my head).

The most electrifying sequence does not involve any of the principal villains, but a pair of henches as the titles fade: it’s East Germany, and a clown – in truth, 009 – is running through the woods, only to run into knife-throwing twin assassins, to fantastic music. Mortally wounded, he staggers through the window of the British Ambassador, his outstretched hand (still with a balloon hovering above it) releasing a Fabergé Egg that rolls towards His horrified Excellency. The scene always makes the hairs rise at the back of my neck, and it’s like an Avengers episode wandering into John le Carré. 007, too, will dress as a clown for one of the most tense, gripping pieces of acting Moore ever does. This is not a critically acclaimed film, but like the circus that provides much of the backdrop, if you don’t like one act, another will be along in a minute to make you wide-eyed, and it never fails to entertain me.

This is the fourth of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished, from ideas I’ve written up over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story / Series X, and could you find it, consider it and post it?’ You might suggest one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here). This one’s for Millennium.

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Monday, July 06, 2020


Lib Dem Leaders – My ‘Values’ Questions and my ‘Mean’ Questions To Ed and Layla

What do the Liberal Democrats stand for, and why vote for us?

That’s my lead question of a set I’ve just now sent to Liberal Democrat Leadership candidates Layla Moran and Ed Davey. I’ve asked each the same three questions about values (each framed by a contentious scene-setter) and a different two individually targeted mean questions, because I want to be inspired – but also I don’t want another Leader self-destructing.

I ask about values because those are what motivate me – and because for people to vote for us, we need to get their attention, we need to have something to say, and we need them to feel positive about their vote, that we embody their values too.

We work hard, we deliver leaflets, we’re local champions. That will always be crucial. But it has never been enough to break through – and we have just had three General Elections where it was within the margin of error of not being enough to avoid extinction. ‘Shut up about anything and just deliver leaflets’ has been tested to destruction. Where we work, we… mostly still don’t win now. This is not the 1990s any more, where local work had the wind in our sails of a popular leader who was on telly a lot, where most voters felt we were a sort of nice party, and where almost everywhere in England if they didn’t want to vote Labour or Tory we were the only ‘other’ option, so we could win through politics-free politics. None of those are true any more, and closing our eyes, wishing, and acting as if they still were will keep us irrelevant. While the SNP are the third party at Westminster – even though they’ve always won fewer votes than we do – even getting a one-liner on the news is a challenge, and using it to say nothing distinctive is a failure.

I like both candidates. Both have already said things that I fiercely agree with and both have made me go, ‘Oh, for f—’s sake!!’ so they’re both as qualified as any previous Leader on that basis. I’m not yet committed to either (though I’m leaning more towards one of them). I don’t know if either can break through, but I have to hope. Yes, both are talking up their local campaigning successes – but they are rare winners for the Liberal Democrats, and that’s something else we somehow need to get across to win again: people are put off voting for losers, and that vicious circle has been reinforced by the absolutely necessary cancellation of this year’s local elections, usually the one day of the year when Liberal Democrats have a chance to make good news about ourselves.

I am less certain about where the Liberal Democrats should go from here than I have ever been. For years, I have written about what the Lib Dems stand for. Last year, I demanded better of the party with the latest of my own arguments for our values. I summed those up in three words: “Freedom, Fairness, Future”.

Post-Brexit, post Covid-19, I don’t feel I know the answers. Though I still think “Freedom, Fairness, Future” are as good a handle on what we stand for as I’ve seen, even then I knew that they didn’t instinctively get across the internationalism at our heart, and I added “Bollocks To Brexit” – our one message that has chimed with large numbers of voters for ten years. Today, as two terrible disasters unroll with no end in sight, I can’t see where we go next. I can’t find an optimistic message. I started writing these questions a full month ago (and an extra candidate ago), but it’s been a rougher month than usual and I’ve been hoping for something upbeat to say. I don’t have it, but I still look for it.

Will Ed or Layla be able to inspire me? I hope so. For me, the single thing I most want to hear from a Liberal Democrat Leader is a clear heart to what we stand for that will not just have me nodding, but will have voters feel, yes, that’s better, I agree with that, that appeals to me, those are my values, that’s someone I can vote for.

My ‘Values’ Questions to Both Candidates

Question One to both of you:

People say all politicians are the same. Lib Dems have often seen moderation, working with others and compromise as virtues, to the point of the caricature that a Liberal is someone so fair they don’t take their own side in an argument. So what really motivates you? When someone asks you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in a sentence or two what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and why anyone should vote for us – what do you answer?

Question Two to both of you:

Two of the most heartfelt Liberal Democrat instincts are ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘Stand up to bullies.’ Whether you call those ‘moderate and Liberal’, ‘caring and courage’, ‘love and liberty’, the party feels both, needs both, but they’re often competing as well as complimentary, so our balance between them changes with the times.

Which do we need most to lead on right now?

Question Three to both of you:

Ask what the core of Liberalism is and the answer’s obvious: “It’s About Freedom”. So obvious, that was the title of the Liberal Democrats’ 2002 philosophy paper. Look at our other positioning papers and manifestos under Charles Kennedy – “Freedom In A Liberal Society”, “Freedom, Justice, Honesty” – Freedom led*. Our constitution leads with “Liberty, equality and community”. But Leaders and campaigns since have made Freedom or Liberty invisible. Afraid it’s not popular, not relevant, or just ceded it to the illiberal Right?

Neither of you chose Freedom as a buzzword or even talk about it in your values. Why not?

I want to be inspired – but I want to avoid another Leadership self-destructing by hoping that nasty questions they don’t want asked will somehow just go away. Because getting people to feel warm and positive about voting for us also needs people who share our values not to feel, ‘Ick. The Lib Dem Leader doesn’t have my values’. I really hope both Ed and Layla have thought of the painful, embarrassing or exasperating question they least want to hear and are ready with their one-line, truthful reply to it first time. Those probably aren’t the mean questions I’ve come up with, but I’ve done my best to test them anyway. Liberal Democrat Leadership elections are nice and wish the best for everyone. Actual election campaigns are not.

My ‘Mean’ Questions to Ed Davey

Question Four to Ed:

The Leader needs to win attention and support. You’ve been Acting Leader for over six months, during which our poll rating has halved since the General Election. You’ve had your shot and flunked it. Why should we give you even longer to keep failing?

Question Five to Ed: People need to feel good about their vote to vote for us again. Nasty choices in the Coalition destroyed our feel-good factor as the Nice Party. As they did every day with Jo, Labour will derail us by throwing that history at us. Your history. How do we move on when a Minister from the past as Leader will always be on the defensive?

My ‘Mean’ Questions to Layla Moran

Question Four to Layla:

Last year Lib Dems surged on a pro-EU campaign. It wasn’t enough – but it was the one thing people knew about us and drew votes to us. I’ve read your “Vision”. There is no mention of Europe or working with other countries (a two-word afterthought: “and abroad”). Why have you completely dropped our one selling-point?

Question Five to Layla:

People need to feel good about their vote to vote for us again. How can the party stand unequivocally against bullying and domestic violence when the question keeps coming back to you and you’ll always be on the defensive with ‘Yes, but…’?

Two Terrible Answers (they must be able to do better, surely?)

I’ve asked some version of my ‘Why vote Lib Dem?’ Question One to Liberal Democrat Leaders, MPs and candidates local and national for over two decades. I’ve heard long and short answers, wonky and passionate, brilliant and unexpected. As I don’t have the latest ones yet, I thought I’d share the two absolutely worst experiences I’ve had with the question (if not the names).

At the height of Lib Dem blogging, my beloved Richard Flowers and Millennium Dome, Elephant organised many bloggers’ interviews with Lib Dem MPs and candidates for senior posts. I took part in several, though even when I was prolific in my blogging I still didn’t manage to write as much as I should. Only one MP was so gobsmackingly bad on this question that I made a deliberate choice not to write up the interview. This was his response to my ‘Why vote Lib Dem?’ question:
“…I would refer them to our excellent policies.”

While my question has been pretty much the same across the years, I’ve changed the ‘frame’ depending on the context for the candidate – local, national, leadership. At one hustings in a local party that had become the epitome of politics-free politics and where competitors had matched and surpassed Lib Dem campaigning, I prefaced the question by pointing out that while we like to say that we’re local and hardworking, Tory and Labour candidates say the same, so what sets us apart from a local, hardworking Labour or Tory? The Returning Officer read this out in a tone of utter derision and said that it must have been written by a Labour or Tory plant, at which the audience laughed and a candidate agreed that there were no such things as local and hardworking Labour or Tories. That was their entire answer. Coincidentally, this was in a Parliamentary seat where Lib Dems had previously held six of the seven wards and had been reduced to just two in that Spring’s local elections, including Labour gaining their first elected councillor there for fifty years, so the reeking complacency was a more telling answer than any other I’ve had to this question.

I’m hoping for something more inspiring from Ed and Layla.


Layla Moran Answers on Lib Dem Values and my ‘Mean’ Questions

Ed Davey Answers on Lib Dem Values and my ‘Mean’ Questions

And bonus Liberal Democrat Values: Mark Pack’s Three Answers

*Just after I posted, two more sprang to mind: “Freedom, Fairness, Trust” under Charles, for which I was Vice-Chair of the Federal Policy Committee and spoke in favour of at Conference, and the more mangled “Trust In People: Making Britain Free, Fair and Green” under Ming, for which I wasn’t and spoke against. But Freedom was always a big Lib Dem thing, until it wasn’t.

With thanks to my husband Richard for proof-reading and ‘Are you sure that’s wise’-ing this, and to Will Barter, who last month shared with me a piece he’d written on the direction of the party in general. One insight crystallised something for me with an ‘Ah! I wish I’d thought of it from that angle years ago!’, so I’ve nicked it. All my choices about where I’ve taken it and everything else above are my own responsibility.

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