Time for an off-topic rant?

It is ages since I’ve written an off-topic rant, though I have been tempted once or twice ;-). Those temptations have now got the better of me, so please don’t mind if I just let off a bit of steam against the silly things that people in what passes for the government here are saying – plus the banks and a charity.

1. Single mothers are blamed for the recent riots for not bringing up their children with proper discipline. Rubbish! J K Rowling is (was) among many sterling role models for single parents. Many people find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own – a situation in which overwhelmingly the mother is looking after the children while the father(s) disappear, often providing no, minimal or meagre financial support. Most mothers are highly responsible for their children and do their best for them, whatever the circumstances. If anyone needs to be “blamed” for family break-ups, I submit that it is not (usually) the mother – she is the person left to carry the can.

2. Why has UNICEF now produced yet another patronising, superficial report, this time telling British parents what a bad job we are doing for working too many hours and giving our children too many gadgets compared with Spain and Scandinavia? As usual with these reports, the conclusions are based on a survey of 250 people; as well as being unrepresentative it is simply ignorant, in failing to consider relevant factors such as the cost of living necessitating work and the influence of US TV and its materialistic culture on an English-speaking nation compared with a non-English speaking one. But more to the point, I have been giving UNICEF a monthly donation for about 20 years because I believed it to be helping children living in poor countries and/or conditions, not for producing mindless reports for the media to shout about. I am going to stop my donation and give it to some other organisation that helps those most in need, as a small gesture of protest.

3. Iain Duncan Smith, a Tory minister, tells the “middle class” (his term) that it is our fault in some ill defined way that people live in poverty because we turn a mass blind-eye. Another load of rubbish. The “middle classes” are an easy target because we are too busy working, paying our taxes, educating our children, maintaining our living environment, and so on, to respond to this type of drivel. The truth is that it is these “middle classes” who pay our government’s salaries, part of which is to provide leadership and strategies to help all those in our society to maintain or improve their lot. Motes and eyes come to mind here.

4. Chris Hulne (Lib Dem energy minister) lambasts us for paying too much for our energy. He says we should be switching providers to cheaper ones, taking advantage of deals. What a load of hot carbon dioxide. Price-comparison websites are a nightmare in this regard in terms of how much information one has to provide to even get the comparison, as are the people employed by the charlatans who run our energy companies to knock on our doors at night to persuade us to change from one to another provider. And what happens if one does change to a cheaper gas or electric company? It puts its prices up after a few weeks so one is worse off than before. Mr Hulme would be better off regulating these companies better so they don’t charge so much in the first place, and while he is about it he could stop British Gas from making its minimal direct debit deduction much more than the energy consumed, only providing a “refund” once a year.

5. Banks are fodder for endless rants, but the recent report that almost but not quite recommends a split between investment and retail banks misses some tricks on the sharp practices of these odious institutions – odious because they use people’s money excessively to further their own profit motive, and they use technology to bamboozle the customer (so stupid as they even bamboozle themselves in this way, as yet another disastrous “rogue trader” has just demonstrated). Banks persuade customers to use online banking by reducing the number of branches, staff, etc, but they blatantly use the technology to foist loan offers on you every time you log on, providing no means to switch off this irresponsible garbage. Further, banks provide savings accounts at a certain amount of interest, but then “close” that type of account and reduce the interest payments to near-zero, often without bothering to inform savers. Therefore, to avoid being fleeced, one has to keep watch, and go through all the hassle of going to a bank, waiting to see some “advisor”, being pitched for all kinds of unwelcome “services”: all hoops to jump through to switch into another account that pays the same-ish, relatively meagre, rate of interest as the first account. Surely ending these sleazy practices are simple reforms to achieve that would be welcomed by every suffering customer?

Crime fiction from Norway

Having been away for a few days since the tragic and terrible events in Norway, I have seen the news coverage shift into “features” on the topic, one of which has centred on Norway’s crime-fiction authors and whether they have or could cover the type of incident that occurred, or the problems with its society that gave rise to it. Examples include Jakob Stougaard at the Nordic Noir book blog, Brian Oliver in The Observer and Jo Nesbo in the New York Times (translated by Tiina Nunnally).

As is so often the case, many of these questions are non-questions. Norwegian society is no different at some granular level from any other society. Putting laws or masses of anti-terrorist security in place has not stopped warped individuals or groups from committing terrible hate crimes – which have occurred recently in the USA, the UK, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Spain as well as in less stable regimes. All societies are a mix of those who have no time for violence against a child, adult or group; and those who find at least one of these abhorrent activities justifiable under some circumstances.

But turning from political-social observations – not my strong point! – to crime fiction which I do know a bit about, I thought it might be interesting to look at Norwegian crime-fiction authors to see whether they have, in fact, been blissfully unaware of the “hate” problems that beset individuals or groups in their country or elsewhere, or whether they have been confronting these issues in the same way as done by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo for Sweden. These authors wrote a ten-book series with the umbrella title The Story of a Crime, which together formed a blistering criticism of the 1970s welfare state. The books are dated in some respects, not least their espousal of Marxism, but setting aside the authors’ “solution”, they are marvellous depictions of the flaws in that particular society and its organised structures. Since then, many authors have been inspired by these books – I would say that if you only read one crime fiction series in your life, make it this one, as all the elements are there.

But returning to Norway. The magnificent Euro Crime database lists authors from the region, which I’ve used over the past few years to discover many authors from this country, together with their wonderful translators. Here are a few of them, with my take on their ability to assess human nature (as opposed to them being blinkered by living in a paradise!).

Gunnar Staalesen. Perhaps the most clear carrier of the Sjowall-Wahloo baton, Staalesen started his series about PI Varg Veum back in the 1970s just about when Martin Beck was hanging up his metaphorical truncheon. Only four of the approx 20 books have so far been translated, of which I’ve read the three that are in print. Varg Veum is an ex-social worker; many of his cases involve damaged children (or those who were damaged as children), as he carries out his Philip Marlowe-like investigations. He’s at odds somewhat with the Bergen police force, but comes to an uneasy alliance with them as he’s pretty good at solving crimes, partly because of his inside knowledge of how the welfare system works and how it is abused. If anyone thinks that Norwegian crime authors have their heads in the sands, they would immediately be disabused by reading these hard-hitting, well-constructed stories. Veum is, apparently, getting rather old now but luckily in the first translated book he has a young son who is now of an age to be able to succeed him – or so the author has hinted on his recent trip to the UK.

Anne Holt has written four books about a profiler and psychology academic Johanne Vik and her partner, senior policeman Adam Stubo (whose Norwegian name is not Adam but got lost in translation!). This series perhaps comes closest of the Norwegian books I’ve read to an analysis of organised “hate” crime, in that Johanne has spent time in Quantico as an FBI profiler and Adam is in the national police squad that takes over investigations of serious crimes from local forces. Part of the charm of this series is the domestic juggling that Johanne, in particular, has to do (which unfortunately, like other fictional characters in her situation seems to make her a target for men and women to dislike – don’t people realise how hard it is to be a good parent – in her case one of her children has specialist needs – and hold down a high-maintenance job?). In the last two books in this series the author explores the topic of organised “hate” crime- in Death in Oslo the topic is the kidnapping of the US president on a state visit to Norway; and in Fear Not the topic is the targeting of victims on racial or “moralistic” grounds, but at the end of the day, for profit. Fear Not contains a section that analyses this problem in a way that is separate from the rest of the novel, and is quite fascinating. Anne Holt herself is an ex-lawyer who was once Norway’s justice minister, so she is confident and persuasive when writing about these topics. She has written another, longer series about Hanne Wilhelmsen, a police officer seriously wounded in the course of duty so confined to a wheelchair. So far, only one of this series has been translated, and it’s a late one (though Hanne is a minor character in some of the Vik/Stubo books), so the jury is still out for this second series as far as English language readers are concerned.

Frode Grytten is a Norwegian author probably nobody has heard of. So far he has written one very good novel, The Shadow in the River, about a freelance journalist living in a decaying industrial town called Odda. He ends up investigating an apparent racially inspired crime, and in the process uncovers plenty of miserable prejudice and lack of integrity. This novel is highly recommended, written by someone with a clear perception of some of society’s ills. I hope the author writes more books.

Ella Griffiths wrote two novels back in the 1980s about two Oslo police detective brothers. (She also published a collection of short stories, one of which was used for one of the Roald Dahl-inspired Tales from the Unexpected TV series.) Sadly these books are not in print but I hope some enterprising publisher will make e-versions of them at least. Murder on Page Three and The Water Widow pull no punches in their depiction of family break-ups, drug addiction and so on. No idealistic society here, in these brisk and engaging novels.

Karin Fossum. Often called “Norway’s queen of crime”, Fossum has had nine books translated into English since 2002, all of which I have read. These novels are often rather like fables or allegories, set in country villages, but with a really sharp splinter. They address “small” crimes against individuals, and follow the consequences, which usually spiral out of control. These novels are short and written with a deceptive simplicity which makes the punch, when it comes, land very heavily. Fossum’s books are very sad indeed, and do not depict a very happy world. Nominally, most of them are police procedurals involving Inspector Sejer and his younger sidekick Jacob Skarre, but the men usually function in a subsidiary capacity, to keep the plot moving or to debate issues such as whether paedophiles can or should be rehabilitated into society. Very bleak, but rewarding, tales in which muddled up racial prejudice is but one element in a rich mix of awfulness.

K. O. Dahl is an underrated author who writes very good Oslo-based police procedurals. Reading them in chronological (as opposed to translated) order helps, as Gunnerstrada and Frolich, grimly funny individuals, investigate crimes of drug addiction, the hidden past of World War II, and other similar matters. The first book available in translation, The Fourth Man (featuring a befuddled Frolich), is not a patch on the next two, The Last Fix and The Man in the Window, which are great traditional police procedurals with a bleak heart and strong characterisation.

Pernille Rygg wrote a wonderful book, The Butterfly Effect, about a young woman who takes over a case from her recently dead father, a private detective. She’s a psychologist with supposed personality problems, what is more she hates her bourgeois mother and stepfather, has a transvestite boyfriend, and gets tangled up with witches and satanic sects. Unfortunately, the second novel, The Golden Section, did not fulfil the promise of the first and so far as I know the author has not written more. But The Butterfly Effect (1995) certainly puts paid to the idea that Norwegian writers were or are unaware of the seamier side of society and some individuals within it.

Jo Nesbo, currently the most fashionable and best-selling Norwegian author, and of these examples the only one who writes pure thrillers. The main character is Harry Hole of the Oslo (again) police, a man on an increasingly suicidal track but with a great sense of humour. As well as his over-elaborate but rollercoasting, searing plots, Nesbo addresses all the contemporary issues of crime fiction – Norway’s secret World War II past (The Redbreast), refugees from the former Yugoslavia (The Redeemer), the Russian mafia (Nemesis) and religious sects (The Devil’s Star) are all grist for Nesbo’s mill, as well as Harry’s relationships with his colleagues and doomed attempts at finding peace in his off-duty life. Nesbo’s two most recently translated titles, The Snowman and The Leopard, have focused more on the serial killer/gruesome torture end of the genre, which sadly seems to have contributed to his international popularity, but I hope he will return to more interesting and individual themes in future.

All these novels are bought to use by wonderful translators who deserve our (English speakers’) thanks for their efforts – Don Bartlett, Charlotte Barslund, Kari Dickson, Joan Tate, Tiina Nunnally/Felicity David, Robert Ferguson, Margaret Amassian, Hal Sutcliffe, Basil J Cowlishaw, K E Semmel, and others. Our gratitude is due to them for enabling us to read these authors’ books.

One final comment – one could look at other nations’ crime fiction – England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Denmark and so on, and find as many books that address difficult, unpleasant but real issues in society as well as featuring good plotting, characterisation and stories. A sense of place marks a good novel, of course, but though place provides a specific snapshot, the issues faced by us are common ones wherever we live. Crime fiction provides a most appropriate lens with which to examine such matters, often being well ahead of the curve, while enjoying a good story as we go.

Above is a brief synopsis of books I’ve read by Norwegian authors. There are more authors and books from the region that I have not read, of course, which can be investigated via the excellent Euro Crime listing.

Fishing in Utopia by Andrew Brown


The last book I have read (completed) in 2010 is a non-fiction book about journalist Andrew Brown’s relationship with Sweden (the book’s subtitle is “Sweden and the future that disappeared.”). It is part travelogue, part socio-economic commentary, part autobiography and part fishing saga (the man is obsessed with the sport, or is it hobby?) The book is told in chapters divided by theme, so for the first half is not chronological. At the start, Brown is in Sweden with his girlfriend Anita, staying with her father in the 1970s/80s. He spends a lot of time fishing as he’s a non-national and can’t be employed. Soon, he and Anita marry and move to a satellite “town”, she is a nursing auxilliary and he works in a factory making wooden pallets to support Volvo parts. The descriptions of their life and work are quite compelling, as are Brown’s observations of Swedish society at that time, though he has the irritating habit throughout of extrapolating his own (necessarily limited) experience to the whole country, and he isn’t reluctant to make sweeping generalisations about the country and its people. (The Sweden of Abba, Ikea, Bergman or tennis, for example, is not mentioned in this section, but these elements were all there, even dominant, at that time).

Soon it emerges via “flashback” chapters that Brown is a public-school dropout who spent part of his childhood living in the very rich part of Stockholm when his parents were in the diplomatic service. As an aimless young man, Brown became a volunteer nursing auxilliary in a Leonard Cheshire home where he met Anita: this section is compelling to read.

After a few years, Brown gets bored with his menial job and sparse existence (understandably) and begins to write journalistic pieces, selling them to the Spectator (a British establishment current-affairs and opinion magazine). Eventually, his marriage disintegrates and he gets a job as religious affairs correspondent for a new UK national newspaper, The Independent.

Because of his son, Brown does not lose his Swedish connections, and many years later returns to try to write a novel, staying in the far north. His descriptions of the remote farm annexe where he lived for a summer, and the lifestyle of the local people, is engaging, although I personally could have done without the fishing. After this, he decides to tour round the country, visiting all the people who were his family and friends 20 years ago, to see what happened to them and their country. He finds a land full of immigrants, who in his opinion are forming the region’s new life-blood. He tells the reader that Sweden as a nation is no longer fruitlessly aspiring for everyone to be equal, as was the general assumption when he was a young man there, but because of the collapsed manufacturing and service sectors, is now accepting of a “two-tier” society in common with many other Western countries, in which full employment is an alien concept to many young people, and in which drug abuse and obesity (Macdonalds comes in for considerable stick) are prevalent.

I found this book to be a curate’s egg. Some of it is really fascinating to me, as I’ve read so many Swedish novels in translation and I enjoyed the perspective and context provided here about the routine ways of life of the people. The sweeping opinions expressed so confidently can be both grating and interesting – there are two long passages about the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo which are articulate criticisms, but only tell part of the story of these superb but, in retrospect, politically naive novels. As another example of the lack of perspective shown in this book, no other Swedish novelists (crime or literary) are mentioned, as if Sjowall/Wahloo speak for the whole country at that time.

Brown’s fascinating account of Olaf Palme’s life, rise to power, assassination and its aftermath again seems only to tell one side of the story. Perhaps the most successful chapters are Brown’s descriptions of the various older Swedes he meets, where he lets them and their various traditional ways of life emerge from the page. As for his socioeconomic assessment, the fact that Sweden (in common with other northern European countries) is currently doing very well economically after weathering some hard years (as I read in the Times business pages today, for example) goes to show that one should not be too confident in condemning a philosophy of government or the viability of a whole country.

I purchased my copy of this book. It was originally published by Granta in 2008. It was reviewed in The Guardian (by Jeremy Paxman), The Sunday Times (by John Carey) and, of course, The Spectator.

Andrew Brown has a blog at The Guardian, which seems to be mostly about religion and ethics and another one (less frequently updated and on more scientific topics, heavily featuring science/religion spats) called Helmintholog (presumably after C. elegans, the nematode, about which Brown wrote a book).

Andrew Brown at Wikipedia.

The urge to criticise

Watching the news of this year's Nobel prize winners appearing on Twitter and elsewhere over the past week has been a learning experience for me. The first couple (physiology or medicine and physics) were fine – the reactions were largely excited and congratulatory. But then came chemistry. Even before the announcement that Yonath, Steitz and Ramakrishnan had won for their studies on the structure of the ribosome, the twittosphere was replete with sarcastic wit about the fact that a biological discovery would probably win. And sure enough – the fact that the ribosome is a biological structure seemed more important to many twitterers and bloggers than the achievements of the prizewinners. As Nature put it:
"It is the third time in seven years that the chemistry Nobel has been awarded to crystallographers who have determined the structure and function of a complex biological molecule. "It does seem to be a recurring theme," says Thomas Lane, president of the American Chemical Society. But at its heart, this structural biology is "fundamentally chemistry", adds Jeremy Sanders, head of physical sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK, "even if many chemists had never heard of any of the winners"." A commenter at the Sceptical Chymist blog wrote: "To me, chemistry is the study of atomic and molecular structure and understanding how these structures affect the properties of molecules and molecular assemblies. In this respect, the work of Ramakrishnan, Steitz and Yonath falls right into the heart of what chemists do." Quite.

This was nothing, of course, to the reaction to the announcement that Herta Muller was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Many in the UK and America, myself included, had never heard of this writer. Rather than by reacting with curiosity and interest in her work, the main intent of twitterers seemed to be to sneer either at her or at the Nobel committee, implying that the award was not deserved in some way. I was glad to read a piece in the Guardian today correctly pointing out that "By awarding the 2009 Nobel prize for literature to Herta Müller, the Swedish Academy is not only honouring a beautiful writer, but also expanding our concept of Europe". (I'll refrain from commenting here about the non-winning, introspective, self-regarding US literature about the collapse of the American Dream, etc;-). ) I was also glad to read that the publishers Serpents Tail and Granta are to reissue two of Muller's books in translation. No doubt, as a result of the Nobel, more will continue.

And even this was a storm in a teacup compared with today's announcement that Obama is to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Frankly I'm nauseated by the constant carping nastiness and "jokes" on twitter today, and have "unfollowed" several people as a result – not because of any views one way or the other about the recipient, but because I wish that rather than impulsively and emptily criticising, people might bother to think or find out why the award is given, before jumping in to share their knee-jerk petulance with the world. I was impressed, both by a video interview between a very highly groomed American TV lady and the chair of the Nobel committee in which he explained their rationale for the award (unanimous, across the political spectrum of the committee members from left to right), and with another one of Obama's reaction speech (video embedded at link). There's lots of good in all of this if people care to listen, not least in the mood of consensus building, which is essential if the world is to make anything of the political, economic, social and environmental mess it is currently in.

People power and guestlords

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened". This remark is attributed to George W. Bush, last night in Alberta, commenting on the memoirs he is writing (or thinking of writing).

Putting people in place is the business of "guestlord", which is the adorable name you are given if you write a guest post on Lords of the Blog, the House of Lords' blog. This particular guestlord is Lord Renton of Mount Harry, chairman of the House of Lords Information Committee, who asks "when does a Blogger, writing about himself, turn into an Inquisitor and ask lots of questions?" In his initiative People and Parliament, he and his team want to know. 

  • How could the House of Lords improve public understanding of its work?
  • How could the House of Lords increase people’s interest in its work and Members?
  • How could the House of Lords best enable people to interact with it?
  • They particularly want to hear from young people, so not only have they set up an e-consultation but are also Twittering, so you can follow or contribute that way. Who thought these Lords were old fuddy-duddys? I'm impressed: I wish many professional types half the age of these elevated bloggers and Twitterers were taking to the social web with such enthusiasm. (Can you imagine bankers blogging and Twittering to improve public understanding of their work, allow people to interact with them, and provide updates on what they are doing to improve their stewardship of our money? Some way to go, I think.)

    Sarah Paretsky and voices of women

    Reading a post on the ever-interesting blog by crime-fiction author Sarah Paretsky, creator of V. I. Warchawski – and, incidentally, learning where and how you can take a quick snap of Barack Obama's home – I read this:

    If you watch movies, you may not ever have noticed, but most of the speaking parts go to men.  In fact, 72 percent of speaking parts go to men.  Women can talk less than a third of the time on screen, but, in fact, this mirrors real-life social experience.

    A variety of studies, most recently at the University of San Francisco, show that in mixed groups, whether at work or at play, women can speak about a third of the time.  If we take up more time — more space — than that — we’re labeled as conversation hogs, as aggressive bitches, and social pressures are marshaled to silence us.  Notice for yourself the next time you’re at a dinner party and a woman seems to dominate the conversation:  a wall comes down between her and her neighbors.  Women as well as men stop listening to her. 

    I find this rather strange. In all my many years at work, I would say without a doubt that women talk far more than men in meetings and in general conversation. (I work for an international company so have many colleagues who are American and from across Europe and elsewhere in the world – so it is not just to do with tight-lipped Brit males.) At home, although the man in our house is outnumbered 3:1, I would say that the women speak a disproportionate amount of the time (none of us is a great chatterer, though, our house is more likely to be silent rather than filled with conversation by either gender). Around and about, when I see men and women together, I think women do most of the talking. Films may well skew the speaking parts towards the testosterone-heavy gender, and in the workplace, the top roles (i.e. the person who has the last word) may well be more likely to be taken by those of the male persuasion. But in my experience, women talk more than men, whatever the social situation – and don't get frozen out for doing it. Naturally, if anyone drones on and is boring, people tend to ignore her – or him!

    US politics, Female Science Professor-style

    From FemaleScienceProfessor*: Watch Your Eyes.


    “If this moment really is going to be historic, McCain should listen to his running-mate when she is speaking, he should look her in the eye, and he should treat her with the same respect that he would have given to any of the men he considered choosing as a VP candidate. And then, if elected, to show solidarity with all the women who are paid less than men for the same work, he should pay her 77% of Cheney’s salary. [← joke]“


     


    *Women professors in the physical sciences: a few. Women professors in the physical sciences at research universities: even fewer. Women full professors in physical sciences at research universities, especially mine: infinitesimal. But we exist.

    Blog Doctor, Guido and Peter Hain

    From NHS Blog Doctor (aka Dr Crippen), yesterday (24 Jan):

    "Most serious British bloggers are tonight acknowledging eighteen months of investigative journalism carried out by Guido Fawkes. You may think that it was the Electoral Commission that brought down Peter Hain. That was but the final straw. The background work was done by Guido………..what Guido Fawkes has done is of national importance. He is the first British blogger to expose and bring down a Cabinet minister. You thought Peter Hain was merely absent minded? Read Guido and you may change your mind. (Full story here)

    At 10.30 pm tonight, Guido is appearing on Newsnight. Last time he did that he was savaged by the MSM [mainstream media] journalists. Tonight, Dr Crippen predicts, it will be different."

    If you would like to know what happened, please see NHS blog doctor post for update and further links. And you can find out about Dr Crippen’s role in exposing fatal flaws in the medical training application system, while you are about it.

    A Nobel postscript

    I wasn’t intending to post about Nobels for literature, economics or peace, but somebody I have heard of, and even read, has won the Nobel prize for literature. That’s a good thing — what’s the point of literature if nobody reads it or has heard of who has written it? (I write "good thing" even though the winner isn’t J. K. Rowling, but her turn should come).

    And, as widely predicted, Al Gore takes the peace prize, but shares it with IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change). Or, as Piers Foster aptly puts it: "one man and his PowerPoint show has as much influence as the decades of dedicated work by so many scientists."

    I posted on Peer to Peer about yesterday’s ruling that the aforementioned ppt show is broadly correct, so can be shown in UK school science lessons so long as nine deviations from the scientific consensus (aka the aforementioned IPCC) are pointed out to the students. From that post, those interested in the truth amid the nasty world of climate change politics can follow links to find out more — in particular this one at the Royal Society website.

    Nothing to say on economics. (I don’t know who won that or even if it has been announced yet.)

    How will history judge Blair?

    Link: BBC NEWS | Politics | How will history judge Blair?.

    I could get quite into this politics thing. I wonder if the world of politics could possibly be as argumentative as that of science? Having written that I didn’t think I’d ever be writing about Tony Blair et al. on this blog but finding myself doing it, I received an email the other day (from my husband, using a civilised method of spousal communication), containing the BBC link at the top of this post. There, you can read accounts by three historians of the Blair era. The MP read the articles because he’s enjoying reading a book (on Wellington and Napoleon) by Andrew Roberts, one of the three historians.

    Roberts starts out: "Before 11 September 2001, Tony Blair was set to go down in history as a second-division prime minister, one of those who stayed in power for a long time but without having any appreciable effect on the story of his times."

    By the end of his article, he concludes: "Prime ministers are not judged by posterity on issues to do with transport, health, education, or even – most of them – on economic indicators. They are judged by the One Big Thing that happens during their premierships. That is why Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement, Anthony Eden’s Suez Crisis, Edward Heath’s Three-Day Week, and John Major’s ERM debacle have left them branded as failures. Equally, Winston Churchill’s Blitz orations, Margaret Thatcher’s saving of British capitalism and Tony Blair’s vigorous prosecution of the War against Terror will leave them noted by history as highly successful prime ministers. "