Archive for the ‘Political campaigns’ Category

Art Vandals 3: From suffragette to fascist

Weapon: Meat cleaver

Reason: Political, gender political

venus-and-cupid-diego-velazquez Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery painting slashed vandalised

Venus and Cupid by Diego Velazquez

Today I went on a guided historical walk around the East End of London entitled ‘Anti-Fascist Footprints’ led by David Rosenberg, a specialist in East End history, husband of a former colleague of mine at Channel 4. During the tour we walked right past the offices of Little Dot Studios in Whitechapel’s Plumbers Row where I have been working since the company moved from Shoreditch towards the end of last year. David and I recently co-interviewed a veteran of the 43 Group anti-fascist group out of the East End. A (to me) surprising connection came up on the walk this afternoon – one of the photos David showed of a group of women BUF (British Union of Fascists) members included a certain Mary Raleigh Richardson who was on my radar from a completely other angle – as an Art Vandal.

Mary Richardson was the Suffragette who slashed the so-called Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in 1914.

The Rokeby Venus is the nickname of The Toilet of Venus aka Venus at her Mirror aka Venus and Cupid painted by Velázquez between 1647 and 1651. It resides in London’s National Gallery. It is the only extant female nude by the Spanish artist. It reached these shores in 1813 when it was purchased by the MP John Morritt for £500 and hung in his home, Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. In 1906 the newly created National Art Collections Fund acquired it for the National Gallery, its first significant campaigning win.

Eight years on, on 10th March 1914, Mary Richardson marched into the National Gallery and slashed the canvas seven times with the distinctly domestic weapon of a meat cleaver. Her action was prompted by the arrest of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst the day before. There had been earlier warnings of an attack on the National Gallery collection, so the plan may already have been in place. Richardson’s slashes were deepest between Venus’ shoulders but covered her back and buttock too. The attack earned her the nickname Slasher Mary in the press. The London Times described a “cruel wound in the neck” and feminist commentators have remarked that the contemporary reports sound more like injuries to an actual body rather than a pictorial representation, indicating that both the incident and the painting have come to take on an emblematic dimension.

Why did Richardson do it? She told the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant suffragette group led by Emmeline Pankhurst, shortly after the incident: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.” The WSPU endorsed the destruction of property as a tactic to draw attention to women’s suffrage. Years later (in a 1952 interview) she added that she didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”.

Richardson’s statement explaining her actions to the WSPU:

“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.”

It’s interesting to note that Venus is not looking at herself in the mirror as we see her reflected face front on – the implication is she is looking at us, the male viewer. This may have inspired Manet’s similar mirror trick in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, also in a London gallery – the Courtauld – which I wrote about as a Picture of the Month in 2010. In that painting the female gaze defiantly and directly challenges us the male observer. It is worth noting that Richardson did not go for the eyes.

mary Richardson slashed the rokeby Venus velazquez

The cuts were successfully repaired by the gallery’s chief restorer Helmut Ruhemann and the painting was soon back on display.

Mary-Richardson-and-Policemen-national gallery rokeby

Mary Richardson at the National Gallery straight after the attack

Richardson was sentenced to a six month stretch in  prison, the maximum for destruction of an artwork.

Richardson was born in 1882 in Ontario, Canada. She made her way to Bloomsbury via France and Italy.

She bore witness to Black Friday on 18th November 1910 when a march of 300 women to Parliament was violently set upon by the police (much as the anti-fascists were at the Battle of Cable Street we were discussing on site this afternoon). The march started from Caxton Hall near Channel 4 HQ. A certain Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, rejected calls for a public enquiry after the event – interesting in view of the debate about whether Churchill was a goodie or baddie this last week precipitated by John McDonnell’s comments about Churchill being a villain over the Tonypandy miners’ riots in the very same year (1910).

Black-friday suffragette march attacked by police

Black Friday violence on women marchers

Richardson was also present at the Epsom races on Derby Day, 4th June 1913, when Emily Davison was trampled by the King’s horse. Richardson was chased and beaten by an angry mob but given refuge in Epsom Downs railway station by a porter.

Slasher Mary already had form by the time of the Rokeby attack. She had committed a number of acts of arson; smashed windows at the Home Office; and bombed a train station. She was arrested nine times and received prison sentences totalling over three years. She was one of the first two women force-fed under the 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act, in Holloway Prison. I wonder whether it all drove her a bit crazy…

In 1932 Richardson joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Mosley. She had come to the conclusion – a real-life Miss Jean Brodie – that fascism was the “only path to a Greater Britain”. She explained that “I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffragette movement”. The “Iscariot politicians” comment in her post-art vandalism statement may have been a bit of a giveaway. Richardson rose rapidly through the ranks of the party and within two years (1934) she was Chief Organiser for the Women’s Section of the party. Mosley, in contrast to Hitler’s view that women were fit for Kinder and Küche only, encouraged them to play an active role in the BUF. However Richardson left within two years because she felt disillusioned about the sincerity of Mosley’s policy on women. (Two other prominent suffragettes who took high office in the BUF were Dublin-born Norah Elam and Cardiff-born Mary Sophia Allen.) The BUF, inspired by Mussolini’s Fascists and the whole Italian Futurist vibe, sold itself as a movement of action, youth and dynamism. Its official newspaper was called Action. It is probably in the notion of Action that Richardson’s suffragette and fascist careers meet.

Training at the Women's BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

Training at the Women’s BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

 

 

Advertisements

Jeremy Hardy was and has left

I first met Jeremy through work, and then a little later through my sister-in-law Deirdre who had become a friend of his working together on Irish political causes. I spent an enjoyable evening sitting beside him and Uncle Pat at a family event in Carlingford, Co. Louth and last chatted with him at the bar in BAFTA a few months ago. I was shocked to hear on Friday that he had died at the age of just 57.

Jeremy hardy comedian addresses a CND march in Trafalgar Square

Jeremy addresses a CND march in Trafalgar Square

Early on in my time at Channel 4 I commissioned a website for a Paul Greengrass drama about the Omagh bomb. I asked Jeremy for a contribution, asking whether there was any silver lining to the Omagh bombing five tears [oops, Freudian slip – years] after the event, and this is what he had to say:

Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy is a comedian and campaigner.

Omagh was such a sad, stupid, pointless atrocity, committed by people refusing to look at another way forward.

It was an attack on a largely harmonious town – a town which stands as a symbol for what Northern Ireland could be like.

It’s also time that people who want to investigate what happened look not only at the perpetrators but also at the failure of the RUC.

As uncompromising and committed as ever. We had not that much in common politically – nuclear disarmament, the Guildford 4, that’s probably about it – not least because he was so much more politically oriented and committed, but I always enjoyed spending time with him and talking when we crossed paths.

He was a very funny fella (in particular on Radio 4’s The News Quiz). And he wore a cardigan.

His friend and fellow lefty comedian Mark Steele perhaps captured the sad news best and most concisely, in a tweet:

My dearest friend left us early this morning. I was so lucky to have spent 35 years arseing about with him. Knowing him as I did, I know he wouldn’t want you to be sad, he’d want you to be bloody devastated x

10:02 AM – 1 Feb 2019

 

Great Girton Girls No.16 – Sarah Marks / Herta Ayrton

After a recent reunion at Girton I decided to get a proper grasp on the history of the institution and read the standard text on the subject of which I had heard much, ‘That Infidel Place’ by Muriel Bradbrook. It’s particularly interesting because it was written in 1969 while revolution was in the air on campuses across the world. (The other name that used to come up a lot was Rosamond Lehmann, for her memoirs I suppose.) It was in ‘That Infidel Place’ I came across Sarah Marks.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

On that same visit I noticed a portrait on a wall of a woman named Louisa Goldsmid. The name rang a bell and she turned out to be a forebear of mine, closing the circle. A founder of the college, she will be the subject of No.17. She supported Sarah financially during her career.

Phoebe Sarah Marks was born on 28th April 1854 in Portsea, Hampshire (England) and died on 26th August 1923 (at the age of 69). She was a mathematician, engineer, physicist and inventor. As a teenager she changed her name to Hertha and in due course married physicist and electrical engineer William Ayrton, so she ended up with the name Herta Ayrton and that’s what’s on her two relatively recent blue plaques. She got the name Hertha from the eponymous heroine of Swinburne’s poem.

sarah marks hertha-marks-ayrton scientist

Phoebe Sarah Marks (known as Sarah) was the third child of Levi Marks, a Jewish watchmaker who fled Tsarist Poland, and Alice Theresa Moss, a seamstress. Sarah’s mother was the daughter of Joseph Moss, a glass merchant in Portsea. Levi Marks died in 1861, leaving Sarah’s mother with seven children and an eighth on the way.

Two years later Sarah went to live with her aunts in London and be educated alongside her cousins. The aunts ran a school in NW London. She quickly developed a reputation for having a fiery personality.

By 1870 she was working as a governess, a profession closely connected with Girton and the rise of women’s university education.

Sarah got involved in the women’s suffrage movement while still a teenager. That’s how she met Barbara Bodichon, who went on to become co-founder of Girton. They came into contact while Sarah was a governess and she came to regard Sarah almost as a daughter. Bodichon paid Sarah’s fees and maintenance at Girton and supported her financially throughout her education and career. She ended up bequeathing her considerable estate to Sarah and Sarah marked her gratitude by calling her first child Barbara Bodichon Ayrton. Barbie as she came to be known was born in 1886. She became a Labour MP and died in 1950. Her own son was the artist, Michael Ayrton (1921-1975).

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) Tate Gallery

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton – Tate Gallery

Sarah/Herta went up to Girton College, Cambridge, in one of the early cohorts of undergraduates there. She studied Mathematics.

Her application to Cambridge was supported by the novelist George Eliot. Eliot used her as the model for Mirah Lapidoth in ‘Daniel Deronda’.

Jodhi May as Mirah Lapidoth george eliot daniel deronda tv drama

Jodhi May as the Jewess Mirah Lapidoth in Andrew Davies’ 2002 TV adaptation of ‘Daniel Deronda’

At Girton she set up the Mathematics club, led the choral society, and, ironically for the fiery personality that she was, founded the College Fire Brigade in 1879 (which persisted until the 1930s).

Girton Girls Fire Brigade formed in 1878

The Girton College Fire Brigade formed in 1879 to protect the the isolated buildings which were located 2 miles from the city centre

While still an undergraduate Sarah built a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter). She was taught by physicist Richard Glazebrook. In 1880 Sarah passed the Mathematics Tripos but was not granted an academic degree because the University awarded only certificates, not full degrees, to women at that time. Indeed until 1948! [See ‘The Steamboat Ladies’ post]

The following year Sarah/Herta passed an exam at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree.  This links back to my relative Louisa Goldsmid whose forebears had helped found University College London, a constituent college of the federal University of London. Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778–1859) was a Founder and Benefactor of UCL alongside the likes of Jeremy Bentham and George Birkbeck (my father, a scientist, from the other side of my family than the Goldsmids, in due course went to Birkbeck College to do his PhD in Organic Chemistry).

Back in London Herta made her living by teaching, as well as embroidery. She taught maths at Notting Hill and Ealing High School. She also ran a club for working girls. In addition, she devised mathematical problems for the Educational Times ‘Mathematical Questions and Their Solutions’ page.

In 1884 she patented a line-divider, an instrument for engineering drawing used for dividing a line into any number of equal parts and for enlarging and reducing figures. This was her first major invention and was of use not only to engineers but also to artists and architects. Her patent application was financially supported by that same Louisa Goldsmid and Barbara Bodichon. The line-divider was displayed at the Exhibition of Women’s Industries and received a good deal of press attention. Between 1884 and 1923 Hertha registered 26 patents: 5 for mathematical dividers, 13 for arc lamps and electrodes, 8 for the propulsion of air.

In 1884 Herta began attending evening classes on Electricity at Finsbury Technical College. These were delivered by Professor William Edward Ayrton, a pioneer in electrical engineering and physics education, and a fellow of the Royal Society. They ended up getting married the following year (6th May 1885). After their marriage she assisted him with physics/electricity experiments. She also began her own experimentation into the characteristics of the electric arc.

Electric arc lighting was in wide use in late 19th Century Britain for public lighting. Its tendency to flicker and hiss was a significant problem. In 1895/6 Hertha wrote a series of articles for ‘The Electrician’ linking these defects to oxygen coming into contact with the carbon rods used to create the arc. In 1899 she was the first woman to read her own paper (‘The Hissing of the Electric Arc’) to the Institution of Electrical Engineers. (Early in my career at Channel 4 I collaborated with the IEE on a long-running creative industries talent development project called IdeasFactory which I ran from 2003 to 2005.) Herta was elected the first female member of the IEE (alone in that status until long after her death – the second woman to be admitted was in 1958). In 1902 Herta published ‘The Electric Arc’, a summary of her research on the electric arc.

Helena_Arsène_Darmesteter_-_Portrait_of_Hertha_Ayrton

Portrait of Hertha by Helena Arsène Darmesteter who also died in 1923 and whose mother was the editor of the first Jewish women’s periodical, Marion Hartog Moss, presumably related to Alice Moss. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

She petitioned to present a paper to the Royal Society but was refused on the grounds of gender – in 1901 her paper ‘The Mechanism of the Electric Arc’ was read on her behalf by renowned electrical engineer John Perry. He proposed her as a Fellow of the Royal Society the following year but this was rejected by the Council of the Royal Society, who decreed that married women were not eligible to be Fellows. Two years on, however, she became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society (1904) when she was permitted to read ‘The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks’ (which was published in due course in the Proceedings of the Royal Society). Herta presented six papers to the Royal Society between 1901 and her death, a final one in 1926 being delivered posthumously.

Herta was the first woman to win a prize from the Royal Society, the prestigious Hughes Medal for original discovery in the Physical Sciences (especially the applications of  electricity/magnetism). It was awarded to her in 1906 for her work on the electric arc, as well as on the motion of ripples in sand and water. She was the fifth recipient of this annual prize. It took until 2008 for the second woman to be awarded the medal.

In 1899 Herta was put in charge of the Physical Science section at the International Congress of Women which took place in London. The following year she delivered an address at the International Electrical Congress in Paris. In the wake of that success the British Association for the Advancement of Science allowed women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Herta’s work on vortices in water and air gave rise to the ‘Ayrton fan’/’Ayrton flapper’ which was used in the trenches of the First World War to dispel poison gas. She fought for its adoption and even organised its production, over 100,000 being used on the Western Front.

Ayrton anti-gas fan [Imperial War Museum]

Ayrton anti-gas fan – waterproof canvas with cane handle. The back has a hinge so it can fit the varying shapes of the backs of parapets, corners of traverses etc. The fan is 89cm long, with a blade 47cm square, and weighs less than 0.5kg.

After the Great War, Herta helped found the International Federation of University Women (in 1919) and the National Union of Scientific Workers (1920).

Her death highlights the wonders of natural science – she died from the bite of an insect (and subsequent blood poisoning) at New Cottage, North Lancing, Sussex. She has a blue plaque at her London home at 41 Norfolk Square in Paddington, placed there in 2007, 84 years after her fatal sting.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians]

In February this year a second blue plaque was unveiled at the site of her birthplace at 6 Queen Street, Portsea.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

In 2015 the British Society for the History of Science established the Ayrton Prize for web projects and digital engagement in the history of science. Which brings us nicely up to the present.

 

Coincidences No.s 212 & 213

No. 212  (27.03.18)

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

26th March 2018

I am working with a fellow producer in Covent Garden in his office. We are talking to a colleague from Glasgow-based Finestripe Productions who attended the Labour Anti-semitism rally outside Parliament last night. This prompts my co-producer to mention who his MP is (as he was prominent at the event).  “Where is the constituency?” Harrow he tells me.

I go round to my mum’s for dinner with my step-dad. We have arranged to go for a Chinese somewhere in Colindale. When I arrive the plan has changed. It is more of a family affair and we are going to a different Chinese. We drive through Harrow, on to Hatch End. (Not sure I’ve ever been here before.) I decide to phone my co-producer from outside the Chinese: “I think I may be in your manor.” I tell him the name of the restaurant. “Look opposite, slightly to the right. Can you see Wellington Road?” I can. “That’s where we live.”

No. 213 (26 & 27.3.18)

1962 lawrence of arabia movie film poster

1962

I am watching a movie from the 80s, ‘Winter Kills’ starring Jeff Bridges. It strikes me that Jeff looks a lot like my old friend Adam D.

I get an email from Adam D for the first time in ages, about 70mm screenings of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in his home town of Amsterdam – do I fancy flying over?

Brexit

I’m still absorbing yesterday’s dark news. Keeping these to capture the feeling…

Screenshot 2016-06-25 09.39.53

Screenshot 2016-06-25 09.46.01

Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy

448598

Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.

I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.

In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.

We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.

We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.

As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL  including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.

UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…

Rhodes Must Be Remixed

85024459_Mandatory_3530622b

All Rhodes lead to remix

Here’s my solution to the Cecil Rhodes statue controversy in Oxford. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign wants to have the statue of the in many ways rather nasty imperialist taken down from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater and beneficiary of his largesse. Rather than tearing down the statue like some dodgy authoritarian regime and airbrushing out history like a bunch of old Commies, let’s add another layer to it like the Brixton-based artist Hew Locke (son of a Guyanese sculptor and a British painter) did on the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Or put adjacent to it a bigger statue of, say, Nelson Mandela. Let’s add and be constructive…

Hew-Locke-b-1959-Colston-2006-Photograph-

Hew Locke – Edward Colston from Restoration (2006)

Locke draped Colston in trading beads, coins and other accoutrements of empire. (Or to be precise, he draped a photo of the statue in this 3D mixed media – but why not do it directly on the statue itself for good (in both senses)? )

You can see some of Locke’s works in the last room of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition currently [until 10th April] on show at Tate Britain (ironically – the Tate & Lyle sugar fortune having been arguably built on slavery).

220px-Edward_Colston_1895_statue

Edward Colston naked/unremixed in Bristol city centre

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 13.01.55

Nelson Mandela slightly remixed with bird-shit, Parliament Square, London

Hew Locke talking about Restoration [2 minute listen]

Behind the mask of the Stop the War Coalition

The organisation which calls itself The Stop The War Coalition posted this tweet on the night of 13th November 2015 as news of the Islamist terror attacks on Paris spread around the world.

Then they deleted the tweet which shows clearly what lies behind this organisation, because they don’t want to be open about their actual views.

They don’t want people to know what or who is at their heart but it’s important that it is preserved for posterity so anyone who thinks it’s a benign gathering of pacifists can be disabused.

tweet published by Stop The War on the night of 13th November 2015

published by Stop The War on the night of 13th November 2015

 

Hammers and bags of stones

STEED (nods)

I’ve gathered intelligence on Fenian agitators in Liverpool and Manchester, Sir. In both cases I was able to ascertain the ringleaders, and break up the malignant activity.

A MINISTER grips a copy of The Times with growing irritation

MINISTER

The Suffragettes are regrettable by-products of our civilisation, out with their hammers and their bags full of stones because of dreary empty lives and high-strung over-excitable natures.

I read the script of Suffragette early last year when I was doing some work with Film4 to do with it. I found the history more compelling than the story and immediately hit Wikipedia in search of more on the Pankhursts and the heroic Emily Davison. I saw the finished movie the other day at The Phoenix, East Finchley – it was OK but the most moving part was actually the documentary footage of Davison’s funeral right at the end.

The factoid just after, in the end credits, that Swiss women didn’t get the vote until February 1971 also moved me – and many others in the audience – right off our perches.

This week got off to a colourful start with a workshop in the boardroom of the National Portrait Gallery, in my case focusing in particular on the digital. The boardroom is on Orange Street behind the gallery which I’ve always loved for sharing its name with the street in downtown Kingston, Jamaica which was once the heart of ska, rocksteady and reggae.

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I keep on running, I’ll never get to Orange Street

One fella in the room did have dreads – Professor Paul Gilroy of King’s College, London. The rest of the gathering was equally professorial including a Princeton History professor and a Goldsmith’s lecturer/curator. The new director of the NPG was there with his senior team, all women. While we were discussing the future plans of the gallery I was thinking about how to piggy-back effectively off other media and be topical/reactive –  in doing so I came across some amazing photos on the NPG website straight out of the Steed scenes (Brendan Gleeson and his prodigious beard) from Suffragette

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

After the Fight c.1914 {courtesy of NPG}

After the Fight c.1914 {courtesy of NPG}

You can find 5 suffragette portraits on the National Portrait Gallery site here.

At lunchtime after the workshop I popped round the corner to the Noel Coward Theatre to try to get a ticket for Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman about another monumental woman, Rosalind Franklin, one of the three key discoverers of DNA. Looks like I’m going to have to do a heroic two-hour queue at 8.30 in the morning to get to see this play – and I’ll have to try not to get over-excitable in the process…

Honest Serving People


united nations logo ID symbol
The debate about Syria and the use of chemical weapons as conducted in the UK and beyond these last few days has been marked by lack of clarity and thoroughness in the thinking. In such circumstances it never hurts to fall back on Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men to make sure you have the basics addressed:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

  • What happened in Syria last week? Were chemical weapons used?
  • Who used them?
  • What can be done about it?
  • Who should carry out the response? Where is it most in the national interest to get involved?
  • How will military action help?
  • What will happen as a result? And when will it end?

I’ve traded in my Why for an extra What because the Why is very complex in itself: Why should we respond to the use of Chemical Weapons? Why do we distinguish them from say cluster bombing? Why do the current lead voices reckon they have moral authority when they have used napalm, agent orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium and the like themselves, even in recent times?

I have a strong conviction, for these and other reasons, that any action to be taken, diplomatic/political or military, needs to be multilateral, preferably through the UN. Whether the United Nations Security Council is up to the job will be tested again. With two major powers who seem to conduct their foreign affairs consistently with no moral dimension it’s a body which really needs to justify its existence. It would be good to find a way to get Russia and China to actually suggest solutions. Likewise it would be good to put a bit more of the onus on the Arab League to see if they can contribute something positive to the world.

In the meantime I’d strongly encourage UK citizens to make their views clearly known by writing to their Member of Parliament via MySociety’s brilliant Write to Them service, the easiest way to get an email off to your elected representative in a matter of moments.

%d bloggers like this: