Sunday, April 28, 2013

REUNION: Europe in Madrid – Lord Patten

L to R: Lord Patten of Barnes, Oxford's Chancellor.  Steven Jones, Branch
Representative for Guernsey. Alice Tepper Marlin. Photo by JT Marlin. 
The University Dinner for the European Oxford Reunion was held on the top two floors of the Posada de la Villa Restaurant.

This three-storey building in mid-Madrid is a coach house dating back to 1642, a mere 150 years after Christopher Columbus checked in with Queen Isabella before setting off westward to find the Far East.

The restaurant, selected by the Madrid Branch representative, Andrew Moore, gets 4 to 4.5 stars on Yelp and TripAdvisor for its traditional Madrid food.

We were served mostly tapas-bar style, with plates of fried octopus and onion rings, peppers, salad, scrambled eggs and mushrooms, potato croquettes, and lamb, followed by various Spanish pastries. The small "black pudding" cakes were a topic of conversation because the uninitiated are startled to be told what they ate. Everyone likes the decor and most people love the food, though a few dissidents don't like so much being fried. Nobody doesn't like the lamb.

Christine Fairchild, Director of Alumni Relations for Oxford (and previously Executive Director of External Relations for the Harvard B School), spots Alice and me as we come in to the restaurant looking for someone we know. She takes us to the third floor, where we are seated behind place cards at the "Chancellor's Table". Apparently we had been notified but the email never reached us.

Sure enough, on my left and Alice's right is Chris Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford since 2003 and Chairman of the BBC Trust since 2011. He was made a life peer in 2005, with the title Baron Patten of Barnes. We are both delighted at this unexpected honor and treat. 

Lord Patten was born Christopher Francis Patten in Cleaveleys, Lancashire in May 1944. He is proud of the fact that he is the son of a jazz drummer and was the first person in his family to attend university. He attended St. Benedict's School at Ealing Abbey in western London, from which he won an exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford. I can vouch for the high academic standards of the Benedictine schools of that era, having been dunked into three rigorous years of Latin and Greek at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire in the 1950s - followed by three more years at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island. Lord Patten read Modern History at Oxford. Patten was a near contemporary, matriculating a year after I did. (Unusually for an American at Oxford, I served as editor of Oxford Tory for a term and was General Agent of OUCA when Balliol's James Douglas-Hamilton, now Lord Selkirk of Douglas, was President.)

After taking his degree, Patten traveled around the United States on a Coolidge Traveling Fellowship - kind of a U.S. equivalent for Brits of what the European Tour was for American college students. His visit to the United States followed in the peripatetic footsteps in 1964 of Oxford Union standouts Michael Beloff (predecessor of Sir Ivor Roberts as President of Trinity) and Jonathan Aitken. 

At one point in mid-1965 Patten was touring the southern states, in a car with Pennsylvania plates. As he made his way into  Alabama, he was puzzled by the open hostility that his car provoked. It dawned on him that his northern license plates tagged him as a likely civil rights troublemaker. Pennsylvania was  the source the previous summer of a Penn Law School contingent, three of whom (one of them a New Yorker) were killed by white supremacists in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Viola Liuzzo, 1925-1965
VIOLA FAUVER LIUZZO was born in Pennsylvania on April 11, 1925. After a failed first marriage, Viola married Anthony J. Liuzzo, a Teamster union official from Detroit. She raised five children, and at 36 resumed her education at Wayne State University, graduating with top honors and becoming a medical lab technician.  She joined Martin Luther King's 25,000-person strong Selma-to-Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. King brought a petition to Alabama Governor George Wallace demanding voting rights for African Americans. After the demonstration, Viola was a volunteer driver, ferrying marchers back to Montgomery Airport. Her co-driver was Leroy Moton, a young African American. Coming back from one of these trips, the two volunteers were passed by a car carrying three KKK members from Birmingham and an undercover FBI informant. Seeing a white woman and black man together in the car, the three KKK members decided to kill them. Collie Wilkins put his arm out of the window and fired his gun, hitting Viola in the head twice and killing her instantly. Leroy survived. Besides Wilkins (aged 21), the KKK members were William Eaton (41) and Eugene Thomas (42). All three were swiftly apprehended.  Gary Rowe (34), the FBI agent, testified against the others. Between arrest and the trial, rumors circulated in the media that Viola was a Communist who abandoned her five children to seek sexual relationships with African Americans. The stories were later found to have been planted by the FBI. Despite Rowe's testimony, the three KKK members were acquitted of murder by an all-white Alabama jury. President Johnson's Justice Department charged the men using an 1870 federal law with conspiring to deprive Viola Liuzzo of her civil rights. Wilkins, Eaton and Thomas were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On August 6, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed by President Johnson, ending "Jim Crow" literacy tests, poll tax, and other subjective voter tests that were widely used in some southern states to deprive African-Americans of the vote. The law required Federal oversight of voter registration in states and voting districts where such tests were used.

Patten then went to New York to work in the campaign of John Lindsay, doing what today would be called "oppo research", tracking the television and other appearances of Lindsay's rival Bill Buckley.  Buckley never expected to win, and did not, but he developed a series of campaign strategies that could be considered a template for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign.

In those days, it would have been hard for someone in New York City to visualize a conservative comeback. The Republicans were not much less progressive change than the Democrats on many issues. Nixon created the country's Environmental Protection Agency. 

Both the Conservative Republican victories and the election of Barack Obama might have been surprising in 1965. As Patten said during the dinner:
Who would have thought that during our lifetimes the United States would have a black president? But are we seeing now a backlash? When I was in New York City in 1965, the Senators were Jacob Javits and Nelson Rockefeller. Could either of them be nominated by the Republican Party today?
Bill Ruckelshaus, Nixon's appointee as the first head of the EPA, has said more than once that he doesn't recognize the Republican party he once served. Mayor Bloomberg is an exception, cut from the same cloth as the liberal Republicans of that day. But the fact that Bloomberg can have liberal views on key issues, only proves that New York City is different, and Bloomberg's personal campaign war chest makes him also different. 

When Patten returned to the UK, Patten he became a desk officer and then, within ten years of going down from Oxford, director of research for the Conservative Party. He stood for Parliament in 1979 and won (MP for Bath), eventually rising to a cabinet minister post and party chairman, serving in turn as UK Secretary of State for the Environment, UK Minister for Overseas Development and  Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He led the Conservative Party's unexpected fourth consecutive electoral victory (under John Major) in 1992, the year that President Clinton was elected to his first term. 

However, that year Patten lost his own seat in the House of Commons. He was therefore freed up for the post of Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong, and was a figure of dignity in July 1997 as the television cameras famously recorded the Union Jack being hauled down, as Britain handed back Hong Kong - in accordance with the terms of its lease - to the People's Republic of China. Patten's term was marked by both a steady rise in the Hong Kong economy and an expansion of Hong Kong's social welfare system that would have made Nelson Rockefeller proud.

The dinner table conversation of course turned to China and Lord Patten wondered how the clash between rising wages and expectations on the part of the population and a government that does not have the same institutional capacity for flexible adaptation that are built into democracies like the United States and the UK. Will China become more democratic? An open question.

From 1999 to 2004 he served as one of the United Kingdom's two members of the European Commission. In his first speech after his appointment to the EC, addressing the Confederation of British Industry, Patten said:
There are strong moral arguments for the EU as a factor of peace and stability in Europe. And the single market has had a huge multiplier effect in terms of economic integration, shared wealth and mutual understanding.
This long-standing past support of the European Union made it a talk of the Oxford European Reunion when he expressed doubts about the EU's future. Who knows? Maybe reports of his comments contributed to a weekend walk-back by the EU of its austerity dictates to Spain and other debt-burdened EU members.

Lord Patten asked me whether President Obama can get much more done given the stalemate in the Congress. I said it was certainly a bad sign that the Senate failed to pass even modest background checks for gun-buyers, when 90 percent of the public is reportedly in favor of such checks. But all is not lost: 
  • Democratic supporters are learning how to make better use of the independent groups that up to now have been noted primarily for supporting far-out anti-tax and socially conservative agendas and candidates. Gun control is a major test case, with Mayor Bloomberg investing heavily in pursuing the topic, with his mayoral group out front on the issue. Gun-control supporters are gearing up to punish gun-pushers  of both parties in 2014 (some Democratic Senators joined with the Republicans to defeat the bill).
  • There is much that the President can do without need for Congressional support. George W. Bush missed a huge opportunity after 9-11 to impose a carbon tax or higher fuel standards, and he went out of his way to permit more mountain-top coal mining and continued use of coal-fired power plants. But in his second term he made major contributions to the environment by executive order. He did finally raise fuel standards for cars, he implemented a phaseout of HCFCs, and perhaps most important, he added 125 million acres of land and sea areas to the marine and land preserves.     
Patten admires many American politicians, and he is especially in touch with those that have Oxford ties. Senator Dick Lugar (defeated in the Republican primary in Indiana; the GOP nominee lost to Democrat) was first off his lips, along with Senators Sarbanes and Bradley. He stays in touch with Justice Breyer, and NY Times columnists Nick Kristof and Tom Friedman.
 Photo by JT Marlin.
It is rare to have such a pleasant and interesting evening and it more than made up for the miserably cold and cloudy weather in Madrid. 

On the way out of the restaurant, each of us was given a key that includes the phone number for future reservations. What a clever idea!

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