Political Roundup

Waugh’s novel Scoop tops the list of those works cited in this week’s political press:

–Tina Brown writes on the 10th anniversary of her news website The Daily Beast and recalls the selection of its name:

A vexing problem in the spring of 2008 was what to name the new site. I kept coming back to one that nobody in America would understand unless that is, they happened to have read Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s antic 1938 novel about Fleet Street in which the all-powerful broadsheet that employs the hapless hero, William Boot, is named the Daily Beast. I stubbornly clung to this name. It felt warm-blooded, feral, human, friendly but sometimes dangerous—everything you want a news site to be. And its comic roots to anyone who happened to know its derivation also announced we did not take ourselves too seriously, a critical aspect of the Beast’s emerging DNA.

–In the online news magazine International Policy Digest, a report about the parlous state of journalism in Australia, faced with government interference and regulation, begins with this:

Journalism is getting something of a battering in Australia. At the parliamentary level, laws have passed that would be inimical to any tradition versed in the bill of rights. (Australia, not having such a restraining instrument on political zeal, can only rely on the bumbling wisdom of its representatives.) At the executive level, deals have been brokered between Canberra and various regional states to ensure minimum coverage over the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Secrecy is all fashion. Adding to this is the triumph of a certain breed of lazy, compliant journalist. The image of the ragtag journo long lost in the speculative tripe of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop has been replaced by a tedious, technocratic lout who should, time permitting, be put out to a distant pasture. We are now dealing with compromised dispatches, press releases that yoke the reasoning and analysis that would barely pass muster in the lower grades of a half credible primary. The investigative journalist has, for the most part, disappeared, leaving a few brave scribblers to toil in the wilderness.

The same journal in a story from a few days earlier carries a report from Ethiopia, the setting of Waugh’s novel. This describes a ride on a light rail train line recently opened in Addis Ababa:

As the train rolls along I begin to count the number of unfinished, half finished, or almost finished buildings. In the 1930s, British writer Evelyn Waugh described the city, then still a relatively new place having been founded in 1886, as being “in a rudimentary state of construction” with “half-finished buildings at every corner.” Almost a century later Waugh’s description still holds. On my first round trip I counted over fifty, and those were just the buildings adjacent to the rail line. Most are 8 to 12 stories high with wooden pole scaffolding and huge torn shards of protective blue or green plastic sheeting that are supposed to prevent dust and debris from falling on the street below. These buildings are a testament to bad planning, bad lending practices, a corrupt permitting system and in general, greed. As the money runs out, the construction stops dead, the thousands of poorly paid workers who were bustling about when the construction began may well be the ones on the street today shining shoes.

This quote comes not from Scoop but from Waugh’s book Remote People (1931, p. 34) where he reported on the earlier trip which inspired his novel Black Mischief. (See previous post.)

–Writing in The Times, David Aaronovitch considers the implications of Teresa May’s proposal for a grand festival on the occasion of Brexit. This reminds him of such earlier events such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain in 1951:

The historian Asa Briggs wrote of the Great Exhibition that “there was no more vigorous assertion of national confidence than the internationalism of 1851”. Writing about the 1951 Festival of Britain, Michael Frayn characterised it as being organised by the “herbivores” — do-gooders and the BBC — in the teeth of opposition from the “carnivores” — “the readers of the Daily Express, the Evelyn Waughs”. Carnivores can do a great coronation (or, in extreme cases, a March on Rome) but they’re not so good at festivals celebrating internationalism. They don’t want to spend the money and they will keep talking about the war. Above all, whoever backs it, a festival needs a theme that the whole nation can understand. One that people don’t feel coerced by. The idea that we are “better off alone” — the inevitable sub-theme of the proposed 2022 event — is not just unappealing, to many it is anathema. What are we celebrating? Six years of political paralysis? A schism that has divided generations and regions? Long queues at airports?

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