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- Transfer of power
- Theresa week: Therese Malfatti
- May replaces Cameron: a short reading list
- Adele's swearing: a linguistic viewpoint
Adele came in for a lot of criticism following her appearance at Glastonbury - a performance slathered in "offensive" language as surely as much of the audience were coated in Somerset mud. Birkbeck Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele explained why her 33 deployments of the f-bomb shouldn't have upset viewers as much as they appear to have done:
She did not swear to elicit laughs but to emphasise her authenticity, to boost her credibility, and to remind the audience of her working-class, Tottenham roots. Although she sings in standard English in a relatively formal register (and there is no swearing in her songs), she speaks in a more informal register with a clear North London accent. The swearing was a way to tell her audience that she belongs to the “in-group”, in this case mostly teenagers and young adults who typically swear more frequently than older generations. She treated her audience like friends – incidentally the people we are most likely to swear with – and her banter, humour and swearing offered a welcome relief between the sad emotional songs that had her audience in tears.
Some pieces to explore while we wait for Theresa May to start announcing her cabinet.
First... just who is Theresa May? Victoria Honeyman sketches her career:
For May, there will be no “third way” or “Liberal Conservatism”. She is seen as being to the right of Cameron, who represents the more centre-right element of the party.
We can expect May’s leadership to be defined by the Brexit talks. May has cast herself, not just since the referendum vote, but since her arrival in parliament, as a steady pair of hands. She will need to live up to that reputation in a political environment which is unpredictable and tumultuous.
The lack of a longer leadership campaign means that May has not been pressured on any of her policies, nor has she had the opportunity to explain and justify them to the party and the public.
What's it like to be in Downing Street while the packing is being done and last farewells uttered? Stewart Wood was with Gordon Brown back in 2010 when it became clear that a Tory-Lib Dem coalition was a done deal. He writes for Medium on the experience:
In between the reminiscences we stood around watching the rolling news coverage – watching the world watching us. Journalists constantly texted us asking for any nugget of information about what was happening inside no.10, no matter how mundane, to give them a bit of colour. I half-expected Sky to run a banner saying “Breaking News: Gordon Brown unpeels his 5th banana of the day”.
The tenure of our Prime Ministers is bookended by two letters. The first is one with instructions to those in charge of our nuclear weapons, written as soon as they arrive in Downing Street; the last is one with good wishes for your successor written just as they leave. Gordon wrote three letters in those final hours – two to heroes that inspired him (Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela) and one to David Cameron (accompanied by a bottle of something strong, as I remember). For all their rivalry, his letter to Cameron was warm and sincere, encouraging him never to forget what a privilege it is to be our nation’s leader, and full of praise for the extraordinary professionalism of the staff at Downing Street.
The challenges of Theresa May are not just those of the day-to-day office; Britain, argue Mark Bennister and Ben Worthy, is facing a crisis of leadership:
Leadership is also about the machine that is being led. Both major parties have been ‘hollowed out’ by successive elections, fought only on narrow key seat strategies, unable to organise a proper national conversation from the ground up when faced with an election where every vote counts and an electorate largely unaware of the consequences of a Leave vote. This gave the populists a free run. Amongst much of the post-referendum comment, Matt Flinders referred to the post political aspects of the EU referendum campaign and Matthew Goodwin has emphasised the underlying fractured voting patternswhich found expression in this bluntest of decision tools. Such analysis has opened up very real questions regarding the democratic deficit (not empowerment) of referendums and the hidden divide throughout the country.
The traditional machine now faces more fluid, movement-like networks from outside (UKIP or the SNP’s independence network) and from within (Momentum). As Andrew Chadwick and Stromer-Galley argue in this excellent article, parties are now being ‘renewed from without and democratised from within’. Perhaps the referendum was truly a battle between traditional leaders and old party machines versus fluid, networked movements. As the UK seeks real leadership, vision and reality teaching, and supporters face the inevitable managed disappointment (‘the expectation gap’), the question is perhaps when leaders can learn as well as lead.
As May takes office, she will know at some point she is going to have to take responsibility for huge decisions - perhaps of life and death. Last week's Chilcot Report showed what can happen when those decision go wrong. Leicester's Robert Dover defends the right of Prime Ministers to make those decisions:
On the one hand Iraq has shown us is that war should always be a last resort, but equally it might have shown us that going to war at the wrong moment against the wrong enemy can be unnecessarily constraining. Blair prosecuting a failed war against Iraq led to David Cameron being unable to find the political coalition to act strongly in the Syrian crisis: something which has allowed Russia to assert strong influence in a conflict that Europe and the United States sees as a strong threat to its security and interests.
The question for future British Prime Ministers is whether it is any longer possible to build a political coalition for significant military interventions.
Today, one Prime Minister will leave Downing Street; a new one will enter. What happens behind the scenes when that occurs? Come with us back to 1894:
Although the veteran statesman had tendered his resignation to the Queen, it is a fact that when he returned to London he still occupied the same official position as before, for the Queen had not at that time formally accepted his resignation. The demission of so high an office is not accomplished in such a summary matter. Court etiquette requires a certain amount of ceremonious procedure.
There was, however, little delay, and Mr Gladstone has since received in due form the intimation of Her Majesty's acceptance of his retirement.
This week, we're celebrating some of the figures who share a name with the woman who in, ooh, three or four hours, will be the UK's new Prime Minister. Yesterday, we met Teresa Cristina. Today, it's a woman whose name should be more celebrated than it is.
Therese Malfatti was a musician, born in Vienna at the very start of 1792. From an enobled and wealthy family, Therese moved in high circles and into those circles came Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven's friend, Ignaz von Gleichenstein, married Therese's sister, Anna, in 1811. It's possible that Beethoven hoped to take Therese for his wife, but the proposal went awry.
Beethoven turned up at a party thrown by Therese's dad, clutching a piece of music he wanted to play for her. A combination of nerves and the strong punch being served left Ludwig unable to debut the piece. There was no music; there was no proposal. But he did write 'for Therese' on the top of the sheet music, albeit not with a steady hand.
Therese went on to marry Wilhelm von Droßdik, a man of higher calling than Beethoven and of a rank that would have been seen as a more fitting match.
But what of the sheet music? The accepted tale is that after Therese died, the manuscript ended up in the hands of a music publisher who recognised Beethoven's style, but couldn't read his shaky writing. Thus, Fur Therese was mistranscribed as Fur Elise, and Therese's position in musical posterity was reduced to an explanatory footnote rather than a titular presence.
That is, of course, if the story is anything more than supposition by musicoligists desperate to tie loose ends. As some less romantic souls point out, during Beethoven's time, "Elise" was a commonplace pet-name for an object of affection. It's possible that Beethoven was writing about someone else entirely, and the slur on his pensmanship is unfair.