PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1993 - JUNE
Saturday 12 June 1993, Brighton
A week of tropical-hot weather and now a few days of tropical rain.
I am fighting off a cold having suffered the worst of it in the most active part of my monthly cycle. It started in Brussels, and for three days I had to tramp around, from building to building, knowing that all the time my cold would get worse. By the time I got back to London on Thursday night I was shattered. Then followed five or six days of non-stop writing (including most of the weekend and late nights) none of which helped my cold at all. Fortunately, it does not seem to have gone to my chest and I am now recovering. At least I now know that I can manage to produce an issue even if I am down with the gripe.
But business is not going well and I have had to readjust my expectations. I must now cheer and celebrate every time a single order comes in; I can no longer hold off my joy to days when three orders come in, because those days are no longer. Both B and I were under an illusion that the treasure trove we once discovered on return from holiday (some eight orders or so) could be a normal week’s haul. Now if I get two orders a week I count myself lucky. Neither the April nor the May mailing has pulled in more than two orders a piece and at that rate I will not last very long. The June issue has just gone out to some 63 subscribers and 800-900 prospects. There will be one more before the summer break.
Adam is playing with map books. He has an old Bartholomews road map book of the UK. I ask him to find a town and he must look it up in the index and then use the page reference to find it. He has never done this sort of thing before but is catching on quickly.
British politics and British sport seem to be in the same state of complete malaise. As a nation, we lose every important cricket and football match, and our Prime Minister is no less inept. To cricket first. We lost all three one day internationals against Australia, even though we had, on occasions, good chances to win. And then we went and lost the first test as well. It was an excellent match and the main difference, I suppose, was the skill of Australia’s leg breaker Shane Warne. Although we lost by 170 runs or so, we were actually within half an hour of saving the game. If just one of our batsmen, apart from Gooch who scored 130 odd, had stayed in long enough to score 50 or so we could have saved the match - but Hick, Gatting, Stewart, Atherton were all out for less than 30, and on a good batting wicket too.
On ‘Sport on Four’ this morning, I heard an interview with Greg Chappell, an Australian captain of many years. His view was that Gooch should go. As a player, he remains an inspiration, but as a captain he has run out of ideas. The England team seems to be just repeating itself and getting used to defeat, The players are not committed in the same way as the Australian players are. Chappell commented that he saw the England players leaving after the test and he saw no sign of disappointment on their faces - they don’t hurt when they lose. I agree very much with this. I noticed during the one day games that the Australian captain Alan Border was for ever changing the field placings around; there was no laziness there, it was a question of keeping the England batsmen on their toes. The English played a resigned game, never challenging the batsmen with new positionings. And I suppose Gooch must take the blame for that; watching him bat is to watch a real artist and craftsman combined, but you can see he is tired of body and of spirit. Gooch’s masters, the test selectors, should have been trying out new names now and be ready to put in a new captain and new players. The critics should be focusing on them, not the players.
Football. Similarly, the blame in football must lie at the top. Graham Taylor will get the blame for having failed to produce a team that could qualify for the World Cup. He has not gone yet, because England has an outside chance of qualifying (we need to win all three of our games, including one against Netherlands). But as soon as we’re formally out, then Taylor will go. But it is the people who selected Taylor who should be vilified in the press. What use pouring scorn on Taylor?
And so to Westminster, as James McNaughtie says so often on ‘The World at One’. The reshuffle finally came, about ten days ago, and Norman Lamont’s head was duly placed on a platter and handed to the press and the MPs who were clamouring for change. But poor old Major, he got it wrong again. Until the night before his execution, Lamont was still claiming he would be presenting the November budget. Major has supported him stolidly since Black Wednesday when we fled from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. His dogged support has been, I’m sure, of two sorts. One stems from the personal relationship which the two must have developed after working together in the Treasury combined with Major’s determination to hold out against the press (many Tory papers have called for Lamont’s resignation since Black Wednesday); and the other stems from the political realisation that the economic policy pursued by Lamont was closely, intimately, aligned with that of Major’s.
Major should certainly have dumped Lamont a long time ago, if only to assert his authority and show that he has the character to act politically when pragmatic. But, having stuck by Lamont for so long, it is my view that he should have held on to him until the November budget. It seems, however, that he must have been given an ultimatum by Tory bigwigs - get rid of Lamont or your leadership is doomed. I doubt he would have acted otherwise for, and this is part of the weakness of the man, he was insistent that he would not give in to the press over who he appointed to his cabinet. And yet, Major is reputed to be one of the most sensitive Prime Ministers ever to press reports; he is for ever ringing up editors of newspapers (something Andrew Neil appears to despise him for). This insistence goes beyond the point of pragmatic action, thus, it is said, he might be on the point of making a change but desists simply because a newspaper has suggested he do it. That is a real weakness. But back to the main story.
The sacking of Lamont was disguised as a reshuffle and it was reported that Lamont refused another cabinet post. Kenneth Clarke was moved into No 11; Howard has moved to the Home Office; and Gummer (Oh Catholic God forgive us) has gone to Agriculture. Most commentators now see Major’s position as even weaker. His main potential rival for the leadership, Clarke, is sitting pretty as Chancellor and will be ready to pounce. If a Tory leadership squabble erupts within the next year, Clarke can claim credit for an economic recovery or, if that fails to materialise, he can say the economic policy of the past is to blame, a policy pursued by Lamont and Major.
Lamont took less than a week to bring his resentment to the House of Commons. He must have been assured by Major, like a blood pact between two schoolboys, that he would be retained until the November election. Thus, when Major did not have the guts, the clout or whatever, to hold out against the Tory Grandees until then, Lamont felt justifiably aggrieved. His speech, which came during a debate on economic policy, was devastating and has continued to attract press coverage for days. He said the government was addicted to short-termism, it only looked ahead 36 hours and was more interested in presentation than policy. It was a government that gave the impression of being in office but not power and he accused it of using the exchange rate as a political tool. He said he had recommended the setting up of an independent central bank, as Geoffrey Howe before him.
John Smith was on fine form during the debate which only served to highlight the inadequacy of Major’s response, either to the debate or to the personal attack by Lamont.
The next day, Tories were brought out by the dozen to comment on Lamont’s retribution. Heseltine tried to pass it off as just another of those things that happen in politics, saying it will all be over in a day or two. But party chairman, Norman Fowler, who must have been one of the Grandees that told Major to kick Lamont out, attacked Lamont savagely for talking as he did. But the problems will not go away. Major is an inept leader, the party is decrepit and void of ideas; it is simply extrapolating what Thatcher did way beyond the practical reality of that policy. It should have been far bolder and radical and moved sharply to the centre; it should behave for a while, for a term or so, like a centrist government - bring some balance back to the population’s standard of living. The right might not like it, but it’s the best chance of Tory survival. If the animal can’t change its colours enough then the people will change the animal. It’s so obvious.
Phillipe Gonzalez’s socialist government has been reelected to govern Spain. When one thinks of the media coverage of national elections in the United States, it is absolutely scandalous how little space has been given to the Spanish elections. Blink and you could have missed them. There is so much potential for increasing the coverage of European affairs in every sphere - in the papers, on the radio, on television, and, as I want to do, in the specialist press.
Melanie and Julian Bull have moved into a new house, but I know nothing about it at all - not where it is, what sort of house it is. I just know it’s expensive.
Saturday 19 June 1993, London
The truth of the matter is that business is not going at all well. Oh, it’s not about to fail, not yet any way, but both the April and May mailings have failed miserably. And the quarterly newsletter has not succeeded at all. I have only one subscription and B’s mailing of 500 libraries (with only the Quarterly as a promo) did not pull in a single order. Now it looks as though the June mailing is going to be equally unsuccessful. I got one order on Tuesday but since then not a tinkle on the telephone, not a fing on the fax.
I can always tell instantly whether the pile of mail on the floor contains an order, this because I know the look of most regular mail (bank statements, press releases, etc) and because all editorial mail is addressed to my name; all subscription mail, by contrast, is addressed to EC Inform, and usually comes with a company logo on the envelope.
I am beginning to pin my hopes entirely on the July mailing. This will be the first mailing to differ substantially from all the others. A four page letter will be stitched around the front and back of the newsletter but be printed on white paper (as opposed to the blue of the newsletter) and guillotined down from A4 size by about two inches, thus leaving the masthead of ‘EC Inform-Energy’ showing. The front will be the same letter, very similar anyway, the inside back and front will have extracts from the last two issues, and the back will be the subs form. This mailing is to be sent to every single key prospect on my database, including all ‘EC Energy Monthly’ subscribers, some new addresses from ‘Energy in Europe’ and the pick of the rest - probably about 1,200 in all. There will be a total of 32 pages in the envelope so the cost will be high. But I have to think of the long summer without any orders. What mailings I will do in the autumn is anyone’s guess.
Adam appears to have settled down very well as St Emmanuel’s; after school he is as chirpy and cheerful as always. Sometimes now I take him to the Site, the playground opposite the school, for half an hour after school. There he can play with some children he knows and I can try and make contact with some of the parents. We work hard on his writing.
I continue to read Brian Aldiss’s ‘Helliconia Summer’, the sequel to ‘Helliconia Spring’ (‘Helliconia Winter’ is the third part of the trilogy). I enjoy much of these books although they are not always easy to read. Aldiss doesn’t quite have full mastery over his plots or his ideas and they sometimes get away from the reader. I find his use of names (people and geographical) confusing as they repeatedly make me aware of the presence of the author, i.e. him who has made them up - why, if he has made them up, do they need to be difficult to say or remember. Also I find his chronology, and use of flashbacks difficult to follow. Still, I plough on, enjoying the profusion of Aldiss’s ideas and inventions.
I continue with Beaverbrook’s biography and have reached the start of the second world war. How astonishing to discover that someone so rich, so important, so respected could hold such strong views (appeasement) and be proved so wrong, and yet continue to remain rich and important and respected. By contrast, how fearful I am of making even a small mistake in my newsletter. Perhaps my mistake is not to hold and publish stronger views.
Then there is ‘Ulverton’, an interesting and much praised first novel from Adam Thorpe who has taken a fictional (or perhaps not fictional) town and composed a set of stories located around it, but taking place at different and successive times over the last 300 years. For some of the early chapters he tries to stick as close to the language of the time as possible and this makes for a tough read. Each story revolves around one particular profession or way of life. Certainly, the early stories must owe a large debt to existing manuscripts but it is to Thorpe’s credit that he has taken the idea and made it work so well. I am only half way through but have yet to understand the author’s purpose.
I have also just read ‘Fatherland’, by Robert Harris. This is also a first novel but one on a par with Frederick Forsyth. Harris’s trick is to imagine a time in the 1960s, I think, following a second world war which Hitler won, and to tie up a murder mystery and detective with some scandal in the Hitler administration. He tells a compelling story - a page-turner.
Friday 25 June 1993, Brussels
Barbra rings to say she has been offered a good job at a school library in Wendover, which is not far from Tring and Aylesbury, and she must make up her mind within 24 hours. We have already had three or four long conversations, probably £40 worth of talking, and there is still no decision. Without any other constraints, I am sure B would take the job, but life is not so simple and she must take into account the Adam co-op (more about the Adam co-op later).
Monday 28 June 1993, Brussels
Work for the July issue is going well. Unusually, I have three interviews this trip which are with Directors (just one down from Director-Generals) and each of them has produced a feature. There was Sergio Finzi, head of nuclear safety at DGXI last Thursday. He told me about a confidential report being sent from Jacques Delors to Boris Yeltsin on the failures in the Russian system. On Friday, there was Herbert Allgeier head of energy research in DGXII. He gave me both the Framework proposal (which I had not yet seen a copy of) and an internal working document on a detailed strategy for energy research. Then, today, I interviewed Nicholas Argyris, head of the internal energy market task force in DGXVII, and he gave me a copy of the second progress report. It may be adopted this week or next but once I am back in London it’s hellishly difficult to get hold of thick documents. He also allowed me to firm up, in my own mind, the current status in a number of important areas - the Court of Justice cases, networks, public procurement - which I need for the quarterly’s Key Issues.
Most of this morning I spent on the telephone to the energy counsellors in order to pick over the bones of the Energy Council which took place on Friday. I already have the press release but it always surprises me how much more goes on behind the scenes. In the opening paragraph of my feature on the Council I make four points, only one of them comes directly from the press release.
I do enjoy it when I get on top of the news and when I find out that I was right. Last month I reported that six States presented draft Council Conclusions on energy market liberalisation. I wrote that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ they would be agreed. Then, last Thursday, I picked up the background notes for the Council, and there, bold as brass, were the same, somewhat modified, Council Conclusions, still apparently on the agenda. I thought ‘shit’ and wished I had not used the phrase ‘extremely unlikely’ in my article. Then it came to pass that the Council itself dumped the Conclusions all together; and I was vindicated.
But then I begin to resent that not enough people are reading what I am writing. There are 400 subscriptions out there to ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and I am as sure as night follows day that what I publish in ‘EC Inform-Energy’ is far superior. It feels as though my efforts are being wasted. However, I am looking forward to my next mailing because it will be the most comprehensive marketing attack yet on the ‘EC Energy Monthly’ subscribers. Almost every single one in Europe (that doesn’t already get ‘EC Inform-Energy’) will get the July issue and the ‘Quarterly’ - how will they be able to resist.
I got an intriguing telephone call last week. From Mu. Well, she called me last year, I think it was, after a ten year gap, and we spoke a little. We may have exchanged, since then, two letters. But now she is here, in Edinburgh, and is coming to stay with her two daughters, aged 8 and 10. How strange that Marielle, M, R and Maja have all re-contacted me during the last two years, and all of them have two children. These four women, perhaps with the addition of Ann (who has one child and who I still talk to sometimes), were the most important women in my twenties.
Paul K Lyons
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