Saturday, 28 July 2012

Oh Nice! RIP Onslow/Eddie Yates/Twiggy

It was with great sadness tonight that I heard of the death of Geoffrey Hughes from prostrate cancer aged just 68.

Known throughout the decades as a comedic stalwart on our TV screens, Geoffrey was for a generation best known as Coronation Street's Eddie Yates. He was a regular on the cobbles between 1974-1983 as a part of the comedic triumvirate with Stan and Hilda Ogden. He returned briefly in 1987 for Hilda's farewell.

Whilst I'm a big Coronation Street fan, I'm a few years too young to remember this halycon era.

Instead, I remember him as do many of my age as The Royle Family's Twiggy. Here he is dancing in that immortal clip to Lou Bega's Mambo No.5...

I however, will always warmly remember him most as Hyacinth's bedraggled brother-in-law Onslow in the 1990s comedy Keeping Up Appearances. He had that loveable rogue quality that had a warmth and heart. Here are some of his finest moments...

He was a comedic gem of a man and is a real loss to anyone with a love of British TV.

RIP Geoffrey Hughes

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Strange Resurrection of Saint Vince of Twickenham

There isn't likely to be many more unexpected a sight than that plastered on the front page of today's Labour-supporting Daily Mirror.

It really is quite a stunning endorsement of Vince Cable that the Mirror could state in its editorial:

"We believe this is the time for Plan V: Vince Cable, the only leading light in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition with the expertise and experience, the nerve and verve to pilot Britain out of this mess...We say: "Send for Vince Cable".

Of course, Vince is on the left of the party and has close connections with the Labour Party leadership as The Independent's Steve Richards explained on Tuesday, so if the Mirror were to ever endorse any non-Labour Party MP for such a central role as Chancellor, then it could only be one with Vince's background.

A Star Re-born
Yet, it wasn't so long ago that Vince's name had apparently been terminally damaged by a number of controversial decisions in the earlier days of the Coalition Government.

The old sage, who had long foretold the economic crash and the reasons for it, was that rare creature - a popular politician across the political spectrum and beyond. He did his credentials no harm at all when he adeptly stepped into the role of Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats when Sir Menzies Campbell resigned as leader suddenly in October 2007.

But with the on-set of the coalition government and his new role as Secretary of State for Business, he would face the controversial issue of Tuition Fees in the autumn of 2010. He supported the new policy which caused great distress for his party and his stock fell as a result. During the same period, he was caught in a Daily Telegraph 'sting' declaring war on Rupert Murdoch's empire. He was immediately stripped of his responsibility of deciding on Murdoch's News Corporation takeover bid for BSkyB and his political judgement was called into question.

Yet now, merely some 18 months on, his position at the heart of the coalition is assured. The phone-hacking scandal which has mired the Murdoch empire has in the eyes of many, vindicated Cable's unguarded comments and whilst the Tuition Fees policy still wrankles, he is seen by many as merely being the Minister who had to deliver on a policy that had been agreed as a part of the Coalition Agreement.

To many and to quote a friend of mine, Paul Pettinger, Vince Cable's is:

"The face of a bank bashing, Murdock Empire fighting, idle rich scaring, Saudi King snubbing, economically literate radical. He might not always be a team player...but the whispery hair on his head has the passing resemblance of a halo".

Us liberals really do rather like a radical non-conformist.

Of course, as Stephen Tall states on Lib Dem Voice, there's no realistic chance of Vince Cable succeeding George Osbourne as the next resident of No.11 Downing Street - the Tory backbenchers just wouldn't have it! But the very fact that he is now being openly touted for such a promotion by political journalists, by the public and now, quite incredibly, by the Daily Mirror shows how his political worth has once more grown to impressive levels.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I have often heard Vince speak at party conferences and in recent years, his would always be a 'must-attend' fringe meeting or platform speech. He is one of those rare breeds who can make economics sound 'sexy'. He has an ability to explain the complicated in such a way that any layman could understand.

Back in the early months of 2011, his reputation had taken a battering and any lesser man may not have recovered his footing. But not Vince Cable. When the party reconvenes at its Brighton conference this coming September I can see his reception now. He'll be greeted as one of the most able, most reasonable and most likeable of our party's leaders.

He may not have been canonised yet, but if recent public opinion is anything to go by, it can surely only be a matter of time.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

What if? Richard Nixon Resigned in November 1973

In my mind, he is easily the most fascinating of all American Presidents. His personal demons, his paranoid character and his machiavellian willingness to do whatever was required to maintain his position undermined his role as one of the most powerful men in the world.

The inevitability of his position with Watergate was for many, apparent long before his eventual resignation in August 1974. But as a historian, I find the counterfactual 'What If' question of an earlier resignation one that just can not be ignored.

President Nixon (1969-1973?)
One that I have only recently considered is that of an earlier Nixon resignation - some 9 months previously to be precise. My scenario of a resignation in early November 1973 rests on a visit by Nixon's lawyers J. Fred Buzhardt and Leonard Garment to the President whilst he was on a break from Washington in Miami, Florida as explained by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their coverage of Nixon's 'Final Days'. They flew to meet him on November 3rd 1973 with the express intention of advising him to resign as President due to the growing evidence against him.

But before meeting with Nixon, the two White House lawyers had to convince his new Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig Jnr and his Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler that their severe recommendation was necessary. As it turns out, they were refused access to the President and when Haig took their message to Nixon himself, he was unsurprisingly not receptive and unwilling to entertain his advisors or their opinions in person.

What if?
The fact that Nixon refused to countenance the idea of resignation at this period is not unexpected but, taking a leap of faith, what if he had?

Nixon was under increasing pressure with the web of deceit that he had woven slowly closing in on him. The US Court of Appeals had the previous month on October 12th upheld Judge Sirica's order that Nixon must surrender his taped recordings. Then just days later on October 20th, the 'Saturday Night Massacre' saw the firing of the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the resignation of Attorney General Elliott L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Nixon was under increasing pressure and in early November had escaped the media scrutiny for some privacy in Florida and under such growing levels of anxiety, may have balked under the pressure and done what had been recommended to him by two of his closest advisors.

But in early November 1973, there was no Vice-President. Spiro Agnew had resigned due to tax evasion charges on October 10th and whilst House Minority Leader Gerald Ford had been nominated for the Vice-Presidency by Nixon on October 12th, he would not take the oath of office until December 6th having by then been confirmed by both Houses of Congress.

So when Buzhardt and Garment arrived in Florida, they knew that if Nixon were to accept their advice, it would cause a constitutional crisis. Their advice however was based on the presumption that Nixon would wait for Ford's confirmation by Congress and would then immediately step down to allow Ford to become the President as of course is precisely what happened 8 months later.

But what if Buzhardt and Garment had persuaded Haig of the need to meet with Nixon in person to give him their grim assessment of the situation and what if his temperamental nature had gotten the better of him on this occasion and led him to decide to resign with immediate effect?

Acting President Carl Albert
Any West Wing connoisseurs with a keen knowledge of the 4th series cliff-hanger would be able to tell you that the 2nd in line of succession to the American Presidency after the Vice-President is the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Acting President
Carl Albert (1973-?)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So it would be that on November 4th 1973 after the shock, sudden resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and with no Vice-President in position to take on the position of the Presidency as prescribed by Section 1 of the XXV Amendment to the Constitution, it was the 2nd in line of succession as prescribed by the 1947 Presidential Succession Act, Speaker Carl Albert, who became Acting President of the United States - the first time in the 197 year history of the Republic that the Commander-in-Chief was neither the elected or appointed President or Vice President.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This of course was not the first time that the 2nd in line had been a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Indeed quite incredibly, there have been 40 occasions where this has been the case before and since including as recently as 2007. Indeed, under the 1792 Succession Act, on two occasions, for 21 days in 1881 on the death of President Garfield and for 12 days in 1885 after the death of Vice-President Hendricks, there was no constitutional successor to the incumbant President. So in the 236 year history of the USA, there were 33 days in which the nation was a heartbeat away from a constitutional crisis of the highest order with no designated alternative in place to take the reigns of power in the event of the death of the President. The Presidential Succession Act of 1886 at least made sure that such an anomolous event could not in any realistic likelihood ever occur again.

But going back to 1973, had Speaker Albert suddenly found himself in the position of being Acting President and in so doing, having to resign his position as Speaker of the House, he would only have been in such a position for some 4 weeks before Ford's confirmation as Vice-President would have instantly elevated him to the Presidency.

But, as a Democratic Acting President serving in the middle of a Republican term of office (in exact contrast to the portrayal given in the early episodes of series 5 of the West Wing), partisan politics could've caused another constitutional crisis had the political will been so inclined. With a Democratic governed House and Senate, the leading party could've blocked Ford's confirmation and in so-doing, extend Acting President Albert's term of office. Indeed, with a majority in both Houses of Congress, the Democrats could have put up their own alternative for Vice-President to lead the nation through to the next Presidential elections in 1976.

The Watergate prosecutions could've continued and with no certainty of a Presidential pardon for disgraced former President Nixon as was given to him by Ford in the summer of 1974, he may well have have been charged with criminal acts such as perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice and imprisoned as would happen to his former Chief of Staff H.R. 'Bob' Haldeman.

An Inconceivable Possibility?
A leap of faith it is of course and a rather far fetched one at that. The politics of the situation would have made any such political manouverings in a time of constitutional crisis deeply unpopular.

But, under the constitutional provisions as laid down by the XXV Amendment and by the 1947 Presidential Succession Act, such an eventuality could have occurred.

Life can hinge on such key moments or chances of fate. Whilst we have never witnessed such an event in real-life policial American history, we have at least seen what could happen in fictional programmes such as The West Wing.

It could've happened back in 1973 had Buzhardt and Garment been ever so slightly more persuasive in their argument.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

That Was The Week That Was (In Photos)

It's been a busy week as County Council Chairman. A very busy week.

Attending the Bwcabus '2'
Launch in Lampeter.

Thanking Prince Charles for his visit to
Aberystwyth where he met with victims
of the recent floods.

The Bwcabus '2' launch in Lampeter at Monday lunchtime with Welsh Government Minister Carl Sargeant AM was followed by a special visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to Ceredigion where they met flood victims in the Council's Canolfan Rheidol offices later that afternoon.

Helping Launch Ceredigion County Council's
Local Mortgage Scheme with 
Lloyds TSB in Aberystwyth
This was followed by the launch of Ceredigion County Council's Local Authority Mortgage Scheme at Aberystwyth's Lloyds TSB on Tuesday and another meeting with the Royal couple in Aberaeron on Wednesday. All this whilst attending 4 Aberystwyth University graduation ceremonies from Tuesday-Thursday & a Lampeter University graduation ceremony on Friday after their Honorary Fellows Feast on Thursday evening.

Attending the Aberystwyth University
Graduation Ceremony with the
Head of Geography, Prof. Mike Woods.
Tuesday was particulary busy as I had the pleasure of being accompanied around by a work experience placement, Leah Williams from Dyffryn Teifi, for the day. A birthday meal with Alyson last night was followed today by Gloria Rees' funeral in Penparc before an afternoon at the Cardigan Castle open day.

I'm looking forward to a quiet Sunday tomorrow but can look back on what was a frenetic but very productive week. The highlight? Easily the many graduation ceremonies that I attended in Aberystwyth and Lampeter - it was great to be in such a positive, happy environment and as a former Aberystwyth graduate myself, I could well appreciate the emotions experienced by those students who were closing a significant chapter of their lives and beginning a new one.

Well done to them all and best wishes for their futures.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Nigel Mansell & Ayrton Senna Sharing a Ride at Silverstone

It's British Grand Prix time and I have myself had the great fortune to have attended 2 of them in the past - in 1993 and in 2008.

But for me, the iconic Silverstone moments of my era were those that I watched on TV.

There was Nigel Mansell's emotional win in 1992 on his way to that long awaited World Championship when his devoted fans broke ranks and surrounded him in jubilation on the track as can be seen here.

Then there was this wonderful moment which for me still stands out as one of the greatest sights in the history of the sport - when Mansell offered his great rival Ayrton Senna a lift back to the pits after he'd won the 1991 Grand Prix and Senna's McLaren had ran out of fuel on the final lap.

The fact that we lost Senna just a few years later of course makes it a poigniant image but it is nevertheless an image of great sportsmanship and camaraderie in a sport that takes no prisoners.