Sunday morning rapping

…it is called “rapping”, isn’t it…?

And I stumbled on this, research reading to catch up on.

4 responses to “Sunday morning rapping

  1. Susan Crosland is a lovely writer.

    She recalls how, as a child in Baltimore, Maryland, her mother would gaily throw election leaflets out of an open light aircraft…

    This essay gives you some ideas as to what to expect. She’s written four novels as well as numerous columns. Style; character; beauty; intelligence; sensitivity: what more could you ask for?


    TONY CROSLAND By Susan Crosland. Illustrated. 422 pp. Salem, N.H.: Jonathan Cape. $19.95.

    IN 1956 Anthony Crosland, a former Oxford economics tutor who had been elected to Parliament as a Labor member six years earlier, published a book called ”The Future of Socialism.” It was and still is an important book. A revisionist plea for a democratic, pluralist interpretation of socialism based on equality rather than on the anachronistic rigidities of Marxism, it also proposed a practical program for achieving such a political consummation.

    A month after the book came out, Crosland met Susan Catling, the daughter of the distinguished Baltimore Sun reporter Mark Watson. At the time she was married to an Anglo-Irish journalist, Patrick Skene Catling, and lived in London with her husband and two small daughters. Nonetheless, she and Tony Crosland fell in love. They were married in 1963, and Mrs. Crosland earned an excellent reputation as a journalist under the name of Susan Barnes.

    Crosland went on to be a Cabinet minister in the Labor Government of 1964-70, and from 1974 until his sudden death in 1977 he was Foreign Secretary. Though on the only occasion he ran for leader of the party he was trounced, for 20 years he could never be excluded from its inner group: He was too big a figure to be ignored in its endless power struggles and ideological disputations.

    That swift sketch of Tony Crosland’s career could make him sound like a typical bloodless academic in left-wing politics. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Crosland was a noticeably goodlooking fellow, big and strapping, with the swagger that came from his wartime service as a captain in the paratroops and all the intellectual and social confidence of an Oxford don. He liked to drink. He liked women, and until he settled into domesticity, a long line of them liked him. He was open-minded and egalitarian. He was also arrogant and aggressive.

    Mrs. Crosland’s book is anything but a conventional political biography. Indeed, it has certain shortcomings as such. It is something much rarer – and I found it refreshing, touching and inspiriting for that reason – an intimate, sometimes remarkably intimate, portrait of a public man written by a woman who does not bother to try to hide the fact that she adored him.

    In places it is extremely funny. The earnest Tony Benn, the acknowledged leader of Labor’s left wing, whom the Croslands called Jimmy, pedaled round to their home on his bicycle looking for a serious-minded chat about the history of the Labor movement when all the Croslands wanted to do was to go to bed together for the afternoon.

    When Crosland was Foreign Secretary, he and his wife accompanied the Queen and Prince Philip to the United States on the royal yacht Britannia, and they ran into a powerful gale. ” ‘I have never seen so many grey and grim faces round a dinner table,’ said the Queen. She paused. ‘Philip was not at all well.’ She paused. ‘I’m glad to say.’ She giggled. I’d forgotten,” Mrs. Crosland writes, ”that her Consort is an Admiral of the Fleet.”

    This is not a book about a politician so much as a book about a marriage, which is to say a book about a man and a woman. When she reaches the point in Crosland’s life where he meets her, his wife goes back and tells the story of her life until then, economically but in such a way as to make it plain that she intends the reader to treat her as an equal partner in the story. I like that.

    Crosland was not an easy man. He bullied strangers, and he sometimes bullied his wife, or tried to. He had a disconcerting habit of giving her an appointment to discuss some domestic disagreement, such as whether he should take a fairer share in such domestic chores as getting the car filled up.

    She too could raise eyebrows. One of her ways of handling pressure was to faint. She did so most spectacularly at the state dinner for the Queen and the President in the British Embassy in Washington in 1976, passing out with such violence against a swinging door that she broke her jaw. The Queen Mother commiserated and Susan Crosland explained that she had been excused from church as a child in Baltimore by her mother because of her fainting fits. ”Naughty mother!” the Queen Mum said, adding that when her children threatened to faint in church, she used to give them little sprigs of heather. ”These things are largely in the mind!” she explained.

    You do not look to a book such as this for a balanced account of the stance Crosland took on the various questions that preoccupied him. From the moment Labor took power in 1964, Crosland was one of those who maintained that the pound must be devalued. He and others have argued ever since that many of Britain’s subsequent failures can be traced back to the failure to devalue. The argument is that the decision to defend the pound inhibited economic growth and so deprived Britain of the incremental resources that in the United States made possible the brief halcyon time of the Great Society in the 60’s.

    To Susan Crosland her husband’s position on that issue was simply right and those who disagreed with him were deficient in the brains or the guts to do the right thing. It is not that she is unjustly partisan. On the whole she is generous to Crosland’s political colleagues and rivals, more generous, some would say, than they deserve. It is simply that she makes no pretense of dispassionate objectivity. Indeed, how could she?

    Again, she does not seem to understand why he was never likely to be accepted as leader by the Labor Party. The fact is that both his mind and his tongue were too sharp for most of his colleagues. Susan Crosland tells a characteristic story about how an ambitious colleague stopped by to explain uncautiously why he had voted against Crosland, who dismissed him with two Anglo-Saxon syllables. Then he had a message waiting for the visitor as he stepped out of the elevator on the ground floor of their building, inviting him back up for a drink. He didn’t come back.

    TONY CROSLAND went out of his way to let everyone know that he was not willing to lift a finger to be popular or politically successful. He wanted the great prizes, but they would have to come unbidden; he was not going to grovel for them. There was arrogance in this. There may also have been that pride that would rather not try than be seen to have tried and failed; pride and a kind of fear. In any event it was not altogether unreasonable of the other politicians to ask of a potential party leader that he should at least occasionally be willing to play politics.

    As a political biography, then, ”Tony Crosland” has inevitable limitations. But I do not remember ever reading another book that gives quite such a vivid impression of what it feels like to operate near the top levels of political leadership in a democracy: the alternation of tedious routine and sudden pandemonium, the relentless tempo of the schedule, the sense of being imprisoned in meaningless chores by well-meaning subordinates, the strange friendships that are really enmities, the sheer energy that is needed to achieve the smallest impact on the flow of events and the sheer joy of stealing a few private minutes with your wife for gossip at the end of a 20-hour day. Perhaps that is Susan Crosland’s most remarkable achievement. She has written a book that communicates some of the vitality and happiness of two lives.”

    ‘God send every gentleman
    Fine horse, fine hounds,
    And such a loving one…’


  2. Er, Tony?

    The above is astonishingly interesting….

    Bit I’m not sure what this has got to do with a satirical Obama rap?

  3. Dave:

    I’m truly glad you appreciated the review. Susan Crosland’s writing is wonderful.

    I’m sure that Tony and Susan Crosland would approve of Barack Obama.

    The quote from “The Three Ravens” should read “Fine hawks…”

    Here’s Mary Hopkin to sing you the ballad.



  4. I did read the whole thing Tony, really. It’s very incisive and well-argued. Would you not rather it was posted as a separate thingy o,r er, post? I would do that if you wanted. DD