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How the #passengerstrike struck home

January 18, 2017

David Boyle, the author of Cancelled! writes:C2ZZoqbXAAEDxiV

I have two questions about the unravelling of Southern Rail, and the plight of the passengers, and I’m going to ask them both in the hope that people can answer them for me – but I’m also going to suggest some answers myself.

First, why do the platform indicators on Southern now provide us with slightly different times than the departure boards – not at the London terminals, but everywhere else? Second, why was Govia Thameslink (GTR) so confident about the talks going on now that they were able to promise to reinstate the full timetable on Tuesday (we will see, of course!).

Lets try the second one first. This may be deeply immodest of me, but it strikes me that the sheer weight of response to the #passengerstrike, still mainly a threat and not yet a reality, but extremely noisy on social media (3,500 retweeted or shared the Guardian article about it just from the Guardian website), may have played a role.

When I write about how people had reacted on the train, when I asked them to join me at the barriers and refuse to show their tickets – and I quoted G. K. Chesterton (“We are the people of England/That never have spoken yet”) – I believe ministers realised that the game was up, and they have already agreed to the concessions to drivers that GTR have been asking permission to make.

If there is no settlement, I will have been proved wrong. We shall see. In the meantime, for want of other evidence, the mere threat of a #passengerstrike seems to have had its effect. All the more reason for putting it into practice when GTR have tried and failed to reinstate their full service.

Second question, and this one is related. Two things have changed about the departures lists boards – they say ‘on time’ when the platform indicators are showing some minutes of delay. They are also not showing cancelled trains. I assume that both these new definitions feed through into the official statistics you can see on trains.im – which presumably provide day-to-day statistics which ease GTR into a better light. It may be why those statistics suggest that they cancelled only three per cent of trains today, which seems unlikely…

Are they not playing straight with us or the government? I think we should be told. Or are they suffering from Ministers Disease – the fatal delusion that, if they can change the way statistics show a problem, then it has been successfully tackled?

You can read more about the strage story of the Southern crisis in my book Cancelled!, for Kindle, paperback, ePub and pdf.  I’m giving 10p from every sale to the Rail Benefit Fund.

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How I came to write William Shakespeare, Apprentice

October 31, 2016

Ursula Bertele de Allendesalazar writes:

shakespeare-for-websiteAt the grammar school I attended, back in the 1950s, Shakespeare was on the menu in force.

Coming straight from the 11- plus, we were started on a Midsummer Night’s Dream. We then worked our way successively through half of Shakespeare’s plays and did Hamlet, The Tempest and the Sonnets for A-Levels. So it is not an exaggeration to say that, next to our mother’s milk, we imbibed Shakespeare.

As highlights, I remember school outings to the Old Vic to see Richard Burton play Henry V, and John Neville as Hamlet. We were also taken to the unforgettable performance of Othello at Stratford with Paul Robeson and Sam Wanamaker. On leaving school, I received a prize: the Tudor edition of William Shakespeare, The Complete Works. It has accompanied me to this day.

For the past few years, at the end of June, I have taken to spending a week up in the Swiss Alps. Last year I went to Soglio, a tiny village southwest of St Moritz, almost on the frontier with Italy. It was there that I heard about John Florio where a flourishing society would like to establish him as a possibility of having been Shakespeare. Intrigued and inspired by this John Florio fantasy, I believe it is beautiful Soglio that I have to thank for bringing me to write William Shakespeare, apprentice, a romp through the lost years.

William Shakespeare, Apprentice is available as a paperback here and on Amazon here.

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An empty railway, echoing to the sound of machinery

October 27, 2016

31806-at-barry-woodhamsDavid Boyle writes:

When the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George intervened in the debate which led to the resignation of Neville Chamberlain in April 1940, he urged Winston Churchill not to act as an “air raid shelter” for the prime minister.

I have felt something rather similar over the past fortnight during the first two weeks of the strike by guards on Southern Rail.

I’m not sure what effect the RMT thought they would have by their action. I’m not sure why they sent their brave and resourceful members over the top to charge the barbed wire quite so directly. I’m unsure whether they have gained more than a few inches of No Man’s Land as a result. They have certainly behaved like an air raid shelter for Southern.

The problem was that both Southern’s operators GTR, and the Department of Transport which pulls the strings, had been planning for a strike. More than that, they had actually been hoping for one. It gave them an excuse for their appalling record. It allowed King Log (I’m referring of course to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling) to regard himself as a bastion of courageous resistance to trade union chaos, rather than a defender of one of the worst public service records anywhere.

On the other hand I have been amazed at what the commuters together have managed to do, raising the money to employ barristers to ask questions – their latest, very urgent question, is how the Department and their contractors are monitoring health and safety during the crisis.

This includes, of course, whether disabled people are being provided with any accessible service at all.

What has changed since I last wrote about this is the publication of the Parliamentary select committee report on Southern which confirms much of what I have written. This is the Guardian’s report:

“MPs said there was evidence of poor management of the franchise from the beginning, with inadequate staffing, along with rolling stock issues, prolonged industrial action and the complications of major engineering work. The government’s response to calls for GTR to be stripped of its franchise, the claim that no other operator could do better, was “simply not credible”, the report said. It said that the number of train cancellations on GTR’s network was substantially more than the default level, which would normally be a trigger for termination of the franchise. But the report said the DfT was “evasive and opaque” in addressing the question. “The answers provided to us by very senior officials … give us little confidence that it has a firm grip on the monitoring of GTR’s contractual obligations.”

You do have to be sympathetic to Charles Horton, whose room for manoeuvre is so limited and who is trying to operate a railway right up against its constraining limitations.

But the truth is that, no thanks to King Log, Horton and GTR are themselves managed by accountants from Go Ahead who have determined that Southern should continue to operate at between  fifth and a quarter below the frontline staff it needs.

Then they are surprised when their ability to cajole their staff into doing enough overtime is limited – so limited that they have to pretend that they are being hit by a ‘sicknote strike’ for which there was no evidence.

What is frightening about Southern, as I have written in my book Cancelled!, is that it is an empty husk, a vacant company run by accountants for accountants, and it is a model for the future of pubic services everywhere. It also leads to serious dissembling by ministers.

I’m not saying that driver only operation is massively dangerous, though it is certainly not safer. Though I’m not sure we would welcome and announcement from the airlines explaining that they were going to improve customer service by removing responsibilities on the fight deck from the co-pilot.

No, but I also don’t want to travel by an inhuman machine with no human contact. I’m lucky enough also not to need a wheelchair which does require human support. But even so, I don’t want my services to be empty, echoing places punctuated only by the sound of machinery.

You can read more about the strage story of the Southern crisis in my book Cancelled!, for Kindle, paperback, ePub and pdf.  I’m giving 10p from every sale to the Rail Benefit Fund.

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Amazon’s worrying new puritanism

September 02, 2016

the men cover for websiteIn the Spring, we were very excited to publish Fanny Calder’s unique novel The Men, and it is attracted quite a lot of interest and some excellent reviews on Amazon.

I took the decision to test out the new advertising service on Amazon too, and was pleased with the result. After a lot of thought, we decided on the following, very simple strapline:

13 men. 10 parties. 1 woman.’

It was not just simple, it summed up the story pretty clearly. There was a hint of excess about it, a whiff of suggestion, but no more than that. The book itself describes a series of affairs, but there is no gratuitous sex. It is definitely not an ‘adult’ novel in that sense.

But when I came to repeat the advert, Amazon rejected it. There had been a change in their rules, I was told. When I appealed, I eventually got this reply:

“We have rejected both the ads for ‘Erotic content’. As per our policy we do not approve books which contain erotic words as it is not appropriate for general audience. Hence the Ads will remain rejected.
Thank you for your patience and cooperation.
Have a nice day.

Please let us know how we did.
Were you satisfied with the support provided?”

There then appear a number of links if I was not satisfied, none of which worked. Such is the way the new monopolies treat their customers.

But I was disturbed about the new puritanism. I asked them which the ‘erotic words’ were I had used so that I could delete them. There was no reply – or maybe some committee in the Magisterium is still considering their answer.

The problem is that Amazon is, to all intents and purposes, a monopoly. I have no choice but abide by their new puritanism. I can’t go elsewhere. I can appeal to some machine that, for all I know, cranks out their rejections. But that’s all.

Now I ask you – what should I do? And what can we all do with a behemoth in control which doesn’t understand subtlety. And how long before they reject subtle books altogether?

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A new insight into why Southern rail unravelled

July 13, 2016

David Boyle, the author of Cancelled!, writes:

I am extremely grateful, not to say humbled, by the response to my book. Every day, I am getting feedback, information, insights – particularly from Southern’s guards and drivers. I am blogging elsewhere to keep up, though the mainstream media has finally now caught up with the story of the Southern trains which don’t run – even if they have not yet grasped the full implications for other services, which I set out in the book.

Since the book was published (mid-June), the company has now cancelled 341 trains a day in an attempt to get the rest to run on time. I write on the second day of this experiment – which has no end date, I notice – and the initial signs are not that good. The driver-only routes remain the least efficient, though the other routes have tended to be sacrificed for the driver-only ones. Nor does this bear out company claims that driver-only trains will improve the customer experience.

Last week, on one day, no less than three trains broke down and had to be taken out of service. This implies a more systematic failure which goes some way beyond staff sickness.

The present situation remains impossible – especially for those whose regular trains (and in some cases, whose regular routes) have been removed. I have therefore written an open letter to the owners of Govia Thameslink (GTR), to the Go Ahead group chairman Andrew Allner, asking him to intervene. You can read it here.

But my reason for writing now is to share a letter I received last week from a Southern driver, whose name I have removed, whose letter I reproduce below with his permission. I was fascinated to get it because it throws real light on the issue of why the chaos has happened, and what happens when the centralised management of an imperial company starts to treat their staff like young offenders.

Here it is:

“I’ve read your blog posts with interest. Your blog’s very accurate and well researched. I would like to add something, a reason for so many cancellations. In the past, the resource managers (they look after train crew in the depots, making sure we are at work and try to find crew when people go sick or there’s a shortage of staff) have actively tried to get people to work overtime when they don’t have enough staff. Once the industrial dispute started, the resource managers were told not to offer overtime to anyone who had gone on strike. Staff could still phone up and ask for overtime, but work would not be offered. So overtime wasn’t banned, but it wasn’t offered.

“The way the railway works means sometimes staff levels are sufficient and sometimes they aren’t. When there’s a shortfall, the resource managers work hard to try and make sure all trains are covered, they phone us up, they encourage us to work, they remind us of favours they have done us in the past. A small amount of train crew volunteer to work as much overtime as possible, a small amount won’t work any over time, and the majority of us volunteer occasionally if we want some extra money or will help out if possible if we are asked. The point is that, as soon as the resource managers stop asking, they don’t have enough volunteers.

“Add the low morale, or no morale, because it’s obvious GTR management hate train crews, and people are less inclined to want to work. Why am I going to work my only day off this week just to get shouted and sworn at numerous times, and help out a company who don’t value what I’ve been doing for many years?

“Several months ago, I worked a long hour shift, I spent over eight hours on trains, every ten minutes an automatic announcement went off: ‘bing bong, bing bong, bing bong’. The three bing bongs every ten minutes seriously annoyed people, then an announcement scrolled across the screens ‘sorry for the cancellations… too many conductors off sick…’. So eight hours on trains with this message scrolling above my head, I have never been so depressed at work. Customers were tutting every time the three bing bongs interrupted them. I was constantly being asked about the unofficial strike action we were taking, I was accused of making passengers journeys a nightmare. I would have quit, but I have commitments…”

My own understanding is that the practice of discouraging overtime among those who had been on strike only lasted ten days at the end of April, and – as the driver says – does not amount to an overtime ban.

If you want to read or download Cancelled!, you can buy a pdf or epub version here, a kindle version here or a paperback version here. I’m giving 10p from every sale to the Rail Benefit Fund.

 

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Cancelled: the new twist in the Southern Rail meltdown

July 03, 2016

The Real Press is partly a new way of publishing and thinking about history, and partly – in a small way – an attempt to reinvent publishing. So when David Boyle suddenly found himself receiving hundreds of messages about the bizarre unravelling of the Southern Railways, he thought it was a perfect moment to show what could be done.

In the course of a week, he had  researched and written, and we had published, his book Cancelled! It is now available in a range of formats (and as an ePub file from today) and 10p of the cover price goes to the Rail Benefit Fund (the ebook only costs £1.99).

It shows that publishing doesn’t have to wait for a year between the delivery of a manuscript and it hitting the bookshelves.

The rest of this post updates the story a little (and a version of it is also published here).

We had wondered whether the situation with Southern Railways had improved a little. It seemed unlikely that we could lose a Prime Minister, most of the shadow cabinet, the England football manager, Boris Johnson – and still face chaos on the train lines to the coast. But that was clearly naive.

Perhaps the element that we find particularly frustrating about the situation is the way that government ministers are defending operators Govia Thameslink Railway – the rail minister Claire Perry even went out of her way to praise their managers. And the way so many MPs who should know better are still blaming the situation on some kind of industrial dispute.

The truth is there is really no evidence at all that the rise in sickness has anything to do with the rail unions – and quite a lot of evidence that it has everything to do with rising stress levels among the staff.

David was overwhelmed with information and personal testimony after my first blog posts on this (read by over 100,000 people so far) and he researched and wrote a book about the situation called Cancelled!, now available on Kindle, as a paperback and as an ePub file.

He writes as follows: “As you can read in the book, I’ve come to believe – having gathered as much information as I possibly could from as wide a range of sources as possible – that the company has little idea themselves why the franchise is grinding to a halt. It just seems easier to blame the unions for something neither they nor ministers can understand.

“They seem to be in the grip of the traditional official fallacy – namely, if we don’t understand why something is happening, it must somehow be someone’s deliberate plot.

“In fact, as you can see in more detail in the book, the situation is a direct result of the centralised management techniques used by GTR – and used by many of the companies which have won public service contracts.

“This is therefore the beginning of what may prove a widespread phenomenon. We shall see.

“In the meantime, I hope MPs will ask about what planning is going into the current cancellations.

“I simply can’t imagine that GTR is being so irresponsible that they are not planning the inevitable cancellations in some kind of regular pattern. In fact, a recently leaked document showed that they were negotiating with the Department or Transport to cancel 192 trains every day.

“The company tell me that the negotiations came to nothing. But there must be some planning going on – otherwise it would be wholly irresponsible.

“But then, if they are really planning which trains to cancel, why are they not keeping passengers informed? Why are they still waiting until five minutes before departure when everyone is on board?

“So which is it – are they failing to plan or are they failing to inform? I think we should be told.”

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Seventy-five years on: the launch of the V for Victory campaign

June 06, 2016

David Boyle writes: Today (6 June) marks the 75th anniversary of an important moment in the history of British relations with Europe – a moment when the UK spoke confidently, and without complex spin, to the people of the continent. And were listened to with trust.

Just after 11pm, on 6 June 1941, the BBC’s European Service English language network broadcast the first programme in their V for Victory campaign. The speaker announced himself as Colonel Britton, and his identity was a closely guarded secret for the rest of the war. He was actually Douglas Ritchie, the BBC deputy European news editor, and the broadcasts were his idea.

For nearly a year, Colonel Britton broadcast into what was then, in effect, the silence of occupied Europe – there was at that stage no sign of a resistance movement – in the hope that encouraging small acts of resistance might one day encourage something more.

Week in, week out, he read out the letters he was receiving (the BBC still received letters from occupied Europe), encouraged people to chalk V signs everywhere, named the collaborators and gave out their addresses and encouraged those taken to the German arms factories to work slower.

And every week, his broadcast was announced with the beat of V in morse code on a drum – Ritchie’s colleague John Rayner (of the Daily Express) noticed that this was also the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, and that became drafted in to the propaganda war as well.

The V campaign was taken up by Churchill and de Gaulle, who both used the V gesture for the rest of their political careers. It strengthened the sense of self-esteem in occupied Europe. It even led Goebbels into running his own V campaign, claiming that the Nazis had invented it – a sure sign of success.

It also underpinned – amidst great controversy – the huge and largely forgotten success of the European Service, under its maverick director Noel Newsome. By the end of the war, Europeans were turning to radio from London – nominally from the BBC but actually independent of them since 1941 – every day in search of the truth.

As many as 15 million Germans listened in to London every day, by the end of the war, though doing so carried a death sentence.

Why was the V campaign controversial? Because it sidestepped the almighty turf war in Whitehall about who should control communications to Europe. Because many in the establishment were worried about encouraging subversion and sabotage over the airwaves, and were particularly nervous about encouraging workers in Nazi factories to go slower – in case it caught on among the militant railway workers in the UK.

The successful model of broadcasting across Europe in 30 languages nearly survived the war. Newsome had got the Americans and other European nations to back a plan that Radio Luxembourg would carry on the work of the European Service in this way. But the last act of the wartime coalition in 1945 was to torpedo the idea.

Was it because they didn’t know what to say to continental Europe, or that they distrusted the moral leadership they had developed through broadcasting so successfully from London? Or was it that they just felt uncomfortable in Europe and were desperate to return to splendid UK isolation? Seven decades later, we appear to be at a similar crossroads.

Read more in my new book V for Victory, which provides the full story of one of the most successful radio campaigns ever waged (it only costs £1.99 on kindle!).

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Why we need to re-discover Kipling

April 22, 2016

Swati Singh writes: From as long as memory serves me, I remember being a reader, a voracious reader of almost anything that I could lay my hands on. This love for reading was inculcated in a home where both my parents were continuously engaged in creative discussions on almost every topic under the sun. It also helped that, being something of an introvert, I always found the best company in books which faithfully transported me to a make-believe world where I could be a silent observer of life’s goings on.

My father, teaching English in the local college of the small town India I belong to, and a young mother determined to pursue her studies rudely cut short by early marriage and kids, meant that the atmosphere of my home was continuously charged with an environment of learning that only a fortunate few are blessed with. I was introduced to the classics of nineteenth century British literature at a very young age and read all that our personal library and the public library of my father’s college could offer. It was in these early circumstances of my life that the seeds of my writing were sown.

Kipling happened to me by accident. I was familiar with Kim as the only work by Kipling worth being read, a consequence of Kipling’s ‘imperial’ notoriety which banishes him completely from the Indian academic scene except in his one Indian novel which fetched him the Nobel for Literature. I had seen The Jungle Book, and not read it. It is important to consider this, as I discovered in the course of my work that The Jungle Book I had known was worlds apart from what Kipling had written.

When I took up my research I was actually keen on working on the women diaspora writers of India, a topic that has fascinated me with its living reality of the women in modern India. It was my excellent guide, Professor Joya Chakravarty (Dept. Of English, University of Rajasthan) who actually asked me to look back to the classics of British Literature and think of Rudyard Kipling. I must admit that I took up this writer a little hesitantly, unaware of the treasure trove of writing that was to overwhelm me.

In the course of my research I have been struck with the extremes of hostility and admiration that Kipling has inspired in his readers down the ages. It struck me as to how Kipling was being denounced on the one hand as a writer of the Empire and on the other hand being acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of children’s literature.

As I navigate through Kipling’s troubled legacy in my research, I remain aware that Kipling sadly remains forbidden territory still, and is yet to be discovered by a vast majority of our world. The magic of Kipling’s writing still remains in the shadows and the world loses out on one of the greatest story tellers of all times.

Through The Secret History of the Jungle Book, and in my own humble way, I attempt to reintroduce the writer and his most famous work to the lay reader as also to the student of literature with an alternative approach to the universal sensibility of Kipling’s writing. I believe the time is ripe to reintroduce Kipling to our academic institutions and to re-read him without the prejudices of the past. My purpose is served if my work inspires even a few people to take up and read Rudyard Kipling once again.

You can also buy The Secret History of the Jungle Book for kindle here.

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Towards a hedonistic, feminist anti-romance?

April 20, 2016

Fanny Calder on how and why she wrote The Men:

My ex-husband helped me to write this book – encouraging me, giving me the time, paying for everything so that I could do no paid work as I did, and patiently reading and commenting enthusiastically on every chapter – even though many of them were very dark and clearly inspired by other men that I had known. And my daughter was conceived as I first conceived of the book; it grew in my belly as wrote it.  But it is a book that was always intended to be about the opposite of romance and the nuclear family.

My original idea was a to write a book that would be a critique of romance – that would describe a woman getting disastrously lost in man after man, losing her identity in each, with each chapter written completely differently to capture that loss of identity – that giving over to a man that woman so frequently do.

But instead, as I wrote, a strong woman emerged – a woman who was often ruthless and unpleasant and clearly using men for her own ends, but who is definitely strong. And I let her be as strong and unpalatable as she wanted to be.

My feminist impulse took over and wouldn’t let me write a book about a victim.

I think this is probably because the book is based loosely on a phase in my life when I finally started to feel strong (young women generally don’t and I was a bad case) – but was still falling into fantasy after fantasy about dependent love and marriage. The book is set in the middle of that tension.

It is also set in a city – London – although in the book the city and almost all of the characters are carefully not named. The book could almost be called The City. I don’t love London in any celebratory way – but I have lived skin to skin with it. I know how it smells and feels. And some of the parts of the book that I enjoyed writing most were about the city. London’s geography and architecture is the backbone of the book – though I don’t bang out about it much (there are no long descriptive passages I promise, but still I think you can feel the city in some detail as you read).

So if you were to ask me what this book is about I would say fear and loneliness and greed and female power (and how easily it is compromised) and a city. And the importance of parties. The men themselves are secondary to these themes. They are just used to explore them. Used in a way that parallels the way that the narrator herself is using them.

It is definitely not a nice book. But I hope you will find it beautiful. I have always found beauty in death and darkness. As I think you will be able to tell as you read it.  Which I hope you will.

The print version is here and the ebook version here.

 

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An unprecedented moment of fear in the UK

February 10, 2016

TRP_PRODUCT_SCANDALIt was Saturday 6 April 1895. The weather was windy and drizzly as the passengers packed onto the
quayside at Dover to catch the steam packet to Calais due on the evening tide.

Perhaps it was packed that night because of Easter the following week. Perhaps it wasn’t as packed as some of the witnesses claimed later, or the downright gossips who weren’t actually there. But it was still full. Those waiting on the quay wrapped up warm against the chilly Channel breeze and eyed each other nervously, afraid to meet anyone they knew, desperately wanting to remain anonymous.

Among those heading for France that night was an American, Henry Harland, the editor and co-founder of the notorious quarterly known as The Yellow Book, the journal of avant garde art and writing which had taken England by the scruff of the neck in the 1890s.

Harland had a good idea why the ferries were full, though he was still surprised. He was also aware of at least some of the implications for himself. Oscar Wilde was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ that evening, having lost his libel action the day before. The rumour (wrong as it turned out) was that Wilde had been arrested reading a copy of The Yellow Book.

The news of the warrant for his arrest was in the evening papers, and Harland could only guess the motivations of those who were now suddenly crowding across the English Channel, but it looked remarkably like fear.

There was an unnerving atmosphere of menace that evening. One item in the evening papers implied that the nation was perched on the edge of a scandal that would make the establishment teeter: “If the rumours which are abroad tonight are proved to be correct we shall have such an exposure as has been unheard of in this country for many years past.”

Did it mean the exposure would reach those who run the nation, or did it mean something even more terrifying – that the exposure would spread downwards through society?

As the passengers knew only too well, the combination of events which they had feared for a decade had now come to pass. It had been a few months short of ten years since the so-called ‘Labouchère amendment’ had been rushed through the House of Commons, criminalising homosexual activity of any kind between men (sodomy had always been illegal, back to the reign of Henry VIII, but that was all).

They did not want to be accused, as Oscar Wilde was accused, by a violent aristocrat of doubtful sanity, and would then have to respond in the courts or the press. They could not face the fatal knock on the front door from a smiling acquaintance who would turn out to be a dangerous blackmailer.

But now the unthinkable had happened. Wilde had been stupid enough to sue the Marquess of Queensberry for libel, and had lost.

The public had driven each other into a crescendo of rage and it seemed only sensible to lie low in Paris for a while. Or Nice or Dieppe, or the place where the British tended to go in flight from the law – Madrid. Anywhere they could be beyond the reach of the British legal system.

And one of those who fled, as I discovered during the research that led to this book, was my own great-great-grandfather – escaping for the second time in a just over a decade, in a story that my own family had suppressed for three generations.

We know now that, in the event, the threatened conflagration did not take place, but in the remaining 72 years while Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Labouchère Amendment, stayed on the statute books, 75,000 were prosecuted under its terms, among them John Gielgud, Lord Montagu and Alan Turing.

Many thousands of lives were ruined – Turing committed suicide not long afterwards, having been forced to undergo hormone treatment that made him grow breasts.

Yet that moment of fear in Britain in 1895, unprecedented in modern times, has been largely forgotten. It is remembered as a sniggering remnant of gossip, about the number of English aristocrats or others in public life, living incognito in Dieppe, or glimpsed in the bars in Paris, and the awareness as a result that they had something to hide.

That morning, Queensberry had received a telegram from an anonymous supporter, which read: “Every man in the City is with you. Kill the bugger.”

Why did it happen? Partly because of growing public concern following the Labouchère amendment, sneaked though Parliament in 1885, but even that was more than the individual brainchild of a lone radical.

Why this shift from tolerance of the changing role of women and emerging new ideas to this threatening public rage? How did homosexuality emerge as a key issue in English public life?

The answer lies in the events that took place in Dublin a decade before, starting with the political aftermath of the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish, the son of the Duke of Devonshire and the newly-appointed Chief Secretary to Ireland.

The murders shocked the public on both sides of the Irish Sea, and to claw back the moral high ground, Irish Nationalist MPs launched a campaign to identify homosexuals in the Irish government, or part of the establishment in Dublin in some way – starting with the senior detective in charge of the Phoenix Park case, James Ellis French.

The campaign led to huge torchlight processions and mass demonstrations, with bands, in many towns and cities of Ireland.

Most of the defendants were acquitted – the main issue at stake was whether it was physically possible to commit sodomy in a hansom cab.

The scandals barely ruffled feathers in London, except among campaigners linked to the Irish nationalist cause, or political friends of their parliamentary leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Among these, the maverick radical Henry Labouchère, was particularly frustrated that sodomy had been so difficult to prove.

So when the opportunity arose the following summer, as the Criminal Law Amendment Act – designed to raise the age of consent for women from 12 – crawled through Parliament, Labouchère seized his chance and proposed his amendment. It was passed practically on the nod, though its relevance to the bill was questionable.

It is a lesson of the huge dangers of politically inspired sex accusations, and Lord Bramall’s case reminded us of that.

But, as I said, I had a more personal reason for finding out the answers to some of these questions. My family lived in Dublin in the 1880s. The reason that they don’t any more, and that I was born in England not Ireland, was because of those same events there in that decade.

Until the last few years, when I began researching my book Scandal, I was unaware of those events.

All I knew was that my great-great-grandfather, the banker Richard Boyle, had left Dublin suddenly and under a cloud around 1884. His photograph has been torn out of the family photo album, with only his forehead remaining.

I had always been interested in what might have happened, but had assumed that the memories were now beyond recovery, just as the fate of my great-great-grandfather was lost in the mists of unfathomable time.

As it turned out, I was wrong. I was working on another incident in Irish history in the British Library, and discovered as I did so that a whole raft of Victorian Irish newspapers had been digitised and were now searchable online.

On an impulse, I put in the name ‘Richard Boyle’ and searched through the references in the Dublin papers. Then, suddenly, my heart began beating a little faster, because there it was – the first clue I found to a personal tragedy, and a national tragedy too: this was the spark that lit the fuse which led to the criminalisation of gay behaviour and the great moment of fear that followed the arrest of Oscar Wilde.

That first clue led to others, which led to others. I will never know the whole story. But what I did discover took me on a historical rollercoaster, and an emotional one, which catapulted me back to the strangely familiar world of the end of the nineteenth century – and a glimpse of that sudden fear in April 1895 that drove many of those affected so suddenly abroad.

I tracked him to a new career as a stained glass artist, among the glass industry in Camberwell, and – among other revelations – living with a man who was with him when he died, during the terrible London smog of Christmas week 1900.

Pinning down why he fled, twice in 11 years, and why Labouchère drafted and passed his notorious amendment, it is pretty clear that the whole moral panic began with a political witch-hunt which got out of hand.

The story suggests that there are serious dangers when political campaigns wrap themselves in populist intolerance in order to drag down an elite.

That is what happened in Dublin in 1883/4 and within four decades, the nationalist cause had been won; perhaps not because of the sexual accusations and cruelties. But those had unpredicted and unpredictable effects, not just in Ireland but across the British Isles.

Politicians have made sexual accusations against their political opponents since politics was invented. But these campaigns often leave a legacy of hate and fear which don’t dissipate easily.

You can read a ebook version of Scandal here or a print version here.

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