Wednesday, 27 April 2011

War Tories

Freddy Gray writes:

If antiwar conservatism is a neglected tradition in America, in Britain it is all but forgotten. Take the latest intervention in Libya. It was a Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, who, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, led the charge to war. He received overwhelming support from the political class in London. In a House of Commons vote on supporting the UN-approved commitment to Libya, only 13 of the 570 members of Parliament present rejected the motion. And of 280 Tories, only one dared say no. This from the party of Lord Salisbury and “splendid isolation.”

The solitary Tory dissident was John Baron, MP for Basildon and Billericay. While the Cameroons parroted Hillary Clinton’s lines about not “standing idly by” as a dictator slaughtered his people, Baron expressed his concerns in blogs and radio interviews. “Here we are yet again intervening in another commodity rich Muslim country,” he wrote on the Conservative Home website last month. “This time the fig leaf is humanitarian aid—and this may well have been a consideration. But comments by Cabinet Ministers over the last week have made it clear that our targeting of military assets on the ground in Libya will only end with Gaddafi’s departure, despite UN Resolution 1973 only talking of a ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians.”

Baron, 52, is a former captain in the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers who served in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. Since his entry into Parliament in 2001, he has consistently opposed foreign entanglements. He has criticized the West’s ongoing operations in Afghanistan, and in 2003 he resigned from his position as shadow health secretary to vote against the Iraq War.

That year there were plenty of other Iraq War critics within the Westminster establishment, even among Tories. In 2011, by contrast, the interventionist chorus drowned out dissenting voices. Baron’s stand went largely unnoticed. (I asked several experienced political journalists what they made of Baron’s opposition to the bombing. “John who?” was the typical response.)

The cross-party consensus on Libya was easily reached. The British left seemed satisfied that the war was a worthy enterprise since it had been sanctioned by the United Nations. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, solemnly endorsed the bombing campaign. The Liberal Democrats, who had for the last decade distinguished themselves by their hostility to the Iraq imbroglio, suddenly became the most bellicose party in Westminster. Not one Lib Dem MP opposed the motion supporting UN resolution 1973.

Yet for all the talk of saving civilians and stopping massacres, nobody seemed to know what the purpose of the allied mission in Libya was or what the ideal outcome might be. When Nick Harvey, the Lib Dem minister of state for the armed forces, was asked how long Britain would continue bombing Libyan targets, he answered, “How long is a piece of string?”

If Cameron’s government had wanted to resist intervention, it would have been well positioned so to do. The argument that Britain could not afford to spend billions on another uncertain mission in the Arab world would have made perfect sense. How could a government that had announced cuts to the armed forces budget possibly pay for another war?

In the British right-wing press, moreover, there was plenty of skepticism about the wisdom of taking on Gaddafi. As the idea of intervention on behalf the oppressed Libyans took hold across the world, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail published antiwar editorials. This, surely, was a moment for a hard-headed conservatism in foreign affairs.

For the top Tory brass, however, nonintervention was an unwelcome idea. Liam Fox, secretary of defense, saw in the Libyan crisis an opportunity to make the case against the cuts to the military budget and duly agitated for action. Michael Gove, education secretary and the leading neoconservative intellectual behind Cameron, is thought privately to have urged the prime minister to intervene.

A more ambiguous figure was William Hague, foreign secretary and former party leader. Despite his support for the Iraq War in 2003, Hague has presented himself as cautious rather than ideological in international affairs. During the first few weeks of the Libyan crisis, he seemed reluctant to become involved. But after some negative reports about his unwillingness to act decisively, Hague began thumping for bombs to fall. Conservative realism suddenly seemed like a fantasy.

Last year, in his major first speech as foreign secretary, Hague had promised to bring a more pragmatic approach to British foreign policy, though he warned that the high Tory, Victorian diplomacy of Lord Salisbury—“to drift lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a boat-hook to avoid a collision”—was not good enough for our multilateral world. Yet Britain under Lord Salisbury was the world’s pre-eminent power. How curious it is that now the country wields nothing like the same influence, Conservative politicians should be so eager to meddle in distant conflicts—never mind the national interest.


You can say what you like about Britain, but we have certainly never restricted the Throne to people born here. Has anyone born abroad ever been Prime Minister? They undoubtedly could be. Oh, yes, of course. Andrew Bonar Law. Canadian. And therefore, at the time, British. (As well as several born in what is now the Irish Republic, of course.) For I cannot see how the “natural born citizen” requirement can survive the transition to empire.

It really cannot be long now before the largely hereditary military-industrial complex produces a candidate who is not only vehemently opposed to “big government” despite having been a lifelong, and not first generation, ward of the federal government, but who is an equally vehement American chauvinist despite having been born, again quite conceivably like one or both parents, in a far-flung colony technically classified as a military base.

So far, candidates have been rather questionably allowed from territories that had since become states, or from what were American territories then even of they had since ceased to be so. But the nature of the American imperium is such that huge numbers of at least ostensibly the most patriotic Americans are going to spend their most fertile years on what is at least officially foreign territory, with many entire families of them not actually residing on American soil for several successive generations.

Meanwhile, any belief in “al-Qaeda”, or in any conceivable connection between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Shia-persecuting “Taliban”, or in “the global terrorist network”, or in “Taliban” distinct from the Pashtun as a whole, or in any connection between Afghanistan and 9/11, or in any connection between Iraq and 9/11, or in WMD in Iraq, or in such WMD as a threat to any Western country even if they had existed, or in an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, or in such a programme as a threat to any Western country even if it existed, has always put those who held it on exactly the same level as birthers, or as truthers, or as those who liken Obama to Hitler, or as those who likened Bush to Hitler, and as the followers of Lyndon LaRouche.

Restoration, Not Referendums

And who, pray, is supposed to pay for UKIP's local referendums on any and everything?

It really is very high time to get over referendums. Totally foreign and deeply flawed. Their advocacy by ostensible defenders of parliamentary sovereignty, or of any sort of distinctively British political culture, is as utterly Pythonesque as such people's advocacy of directly elected mayors or directly elected sheriffs.

The aim should be better parliamentarians and better councillors, although neither of those is the same thing as parliamentarians or councillors who would give the saloon bar foghorns whatever they happened to want to rant about that week.

Key to this must be the restoration of the proper powers both of Parliament and of local government.

Cut Off Point

So, that's that, then. After 29th May, the bus between Durham and Consett, via Lanchester, will not run after leaving Consett at 8:27pm or Durham and 9:05pm, and will not run at all on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday.

For some reason, the bus that goes to Newcastle during the day between Monday and Saturday (and long may it remain), but only to Stanley in the evenings or on Sundays, is to be kept going despite almost no use at the times in question, so that a round trip via Stanley Bus Station will now be needed at those times in order to reach either Consett Bus Station (and thus Shotley Bridge Hospital), or what everyone still calls Dryburn Hospital, or the railway station in Durham. To which last is caught the bus by everyone who is not planning on coming home the same day, and even by many who are but who do not fancy paying the ludicrous parking charges.

Thank you, George Osborne. After all, it serves us right for causing the economic crisis, all the fault of bus users, train users and NHS users.

Alive and Well

"The Loony Left is alive and well," brayed Cameron at PMQs. Indeed it is. For a start, it is alive and well in the form of Johanna Kaschke, late of Respect and before that (or was it?) of the Communist Party. She left Labour in 2007 after having failed to secure its nomination for Bethnal Green & Bow, and she ended that year by joining the Conservative Party, in which she has rapidly become quite a well-connected activist.

In fact, the entire SWP faction of Respect in her own Tower Hamlets not long ago defected to her latest party after having fallen out with the Islamists. Around the country, local factions of various Asian and other origins routinely defect from Labour or other things to the Conservatives on frankly communal grounds, and are always welcomed with open arms.

But of course they are. It was David Cameron's vehicles that toured Ealing Southall blasting out in Asian languages that Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals would be made public holidays under the Tories. It was his "Quality of Life Commission" (don't laugh, it's real) that then proposed giving the power to decide these things to "local community leaders".

What else would those figures be given the power to decide in return for filling in every postal voting form in their households in the Bullingdon Boys' interest, and making sure that all their mates did likewise? To the statelets thus created – little Caliphates, little Hindutvas, little Khalistans, and so on – people minded to live in such places would flock from the ends of the earth, entrenching the situation for ever.

The Conservative Party quite recently welcomed, with some fanfare, John Marek, who was fiercely anti-monarchist and anti-hunting while Labour MP for Wrexham, and who went on to become the founder and only ever Leader of Forward Wales, a Welsh separatist, Welsh-speaking supremacist, economically Hard Left, unyieldingly Politically Correct, Tommy Sheridan-endorsed, RMT-funded party which was only dissolved in January of last year.

Will Cameron also recruit, if he has not already done so, Marek's fellow founder-members of Forward Wales: Ron Davies, one of the very few former Cabinet Ministers without a seat in either House, and a noted campaigner both against shooting and for the abolition of the monarchy, recalling Marek's own parliamentary question to Tony Blair requesting that the Oath of Allegiance be replaced with something acceptable to anti-monarchists; Graeme Beard, a former Plaid Cymru councillor in Caerphilly; and Klaus Armstrong-Braun, who in his time on Flintshire County Council was the only Green Party member ever elected at county level in Wales? Cameron has already signed up Mohammad Asghar, a Member of the Welsh Assembly who has moved seamlessly from Plaid Cymru to the Cameroons.

As well as Mandelson of the Young Communist League, who would have retained his Cabinet seat if Cameron had won an overall majority, do a little digging on Cameron platform-sharer John Reid, the unrepentant old Communist Party enforcer at Stirling University Students' Union (with its large cash turnover) while the Cold War was on. On Charles Clarke, the unrepentant old Soviet fellow-travelling President of the NUS. On David Aaronovitch, the unrepentant old plain-and-simple Communist Party President of the NUS. On Alan Milburn, who ran a Trotskyist bookshop called Days of Hope, known to its clientele as "Haze of Dope", also precisely the position of the Radical Rightists who have now come of age in the Unconservative Party. On Geoff Mulgan, old Trotskyist ex-Director of Demos, Blair's favourite think tank and itself a literal continuation of the dissolved Communist Party of Great Britain. And on numerous other Cameron courtiers besides.

And so on, and on, and on, and on, and on. They obviously find the 1980s Radical Right's company as congenial as they find each other's. As well they might. Blue is the new Red-Brown. Oh, yes, the Loony Left, like the Loony Right, is only too obviously alive and well.

"Organised Wickedness"

The Lib Dem Leadership Election is on, then. How thrilling. But what was Thatcherism, really? What did she ever actually do? She gave Britain the Single European Act, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Exchange Rate Mechanism. She gave Britain the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the Children Act, and the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs, the last so much of a piece with her closure, while she was Education Secretary, of so many grammar schools that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled.

During the same period, she had raised no objection in Cabinet to the European Communities Act, to the abolition of ancient counties, to metrication and decimalisation, or to the only ever attempt to withdraw from Ireland, all under a Prime Minister who had previously devastated small and family business by abolishing Resale Price Maintenance. And she gave Britain the destruction of the economic basis of paternal authority.

No Prime Minister, ever, has done more in any one, never mind all, of the causes of European federalism, Irish Republicanism, sheer economic incompetence, Police inefficiency and ineffectiveness, the extension of the power of the State into the proper sphere of the family, collapsing educational standards, and everything that underlies or follows from the destruction of paternal authority. She did not come against a single European currency until a rally 10 and half years after the end of her 10 and a half years as Prime Minister, by which point it was far from clear that she knew what she was saying.

Thereby, the middle classes were transformed from people like her father into people like her son. Her humble origins were massively exaggerated. Her father was a prominent local businessman and politician who ran most of the committees and charities for miles around, sent her to a fee-paying school, and put her through Oxford without a scholarship. She told us that “there is no such thing as society”, in which case there cannot be any such thing as the society that is the family, or the society that is the nation. She turned Britain into the country that Marxists had always said it was, even though, before her, it never actually had been.

Specifically, she sold off national assets at obscenely undervalued prices. Meanwhile, she subjected the rest of the public sector, 40 per cent of the economy, to an unprecedented level of dirigisme. She compelled the local forms of the State to make gifts of considerable capital assets to people who were thus able to enter the property market ahead of private tenants who had saved for their deposits. She invented the Housing Benefit racket, vastly more expensive than maintaining a stock of council housing, and integral to the massively increased benefit dependency of the 1980s. She presided over the rise of Political Correctness, part of that decade’s general moral chaos, which also included her introduction of abortion up to birth, and her mercifully unsuccessful attempts to abolish the special status of Sunday and to end Christian teaching in state schools.

Hers was the assault on the monarchy, since she scorned the Commonwealth, social cohesion, historical continuity and public Christianity, and called the Queen “the sort of person who votes for the SDP”, arrogating to herself the properly monarchical and royal role on the national and international stages, using her most popular supporting newspaper to vilify the Royal Family, and legislating to pre-empt the courts on both sides of the Atlantic by renouncing the British Parliament’s role in the amendment of the Canadian Constitution, to abolish the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate for individual Australian states, to end the British Government’s consultative role in Australian state-level affairs, and to deprive the Queen’s Australian subjects of their right of appeal to Her Majesty in Council.

Hers was the war against the unions, which cannot have had anything to do with monetarism, since the unions have never controlled the money supply. Hers was the refusal to privatise the Post Office, thank goodness, but against all her stated principles. Hers were the continuing public subsidies to fee-paying schools, to agriculture, to nuclear power, and to mortgage-holders. Without those subsidies, the fourth would hardly have existed, and the other three would not have existed at all. The issue is not whether any of them is a good or a bad thing in itself. The issue is whether “Thatcherism” was compatible with their continuation by means of “market-bucking” public subsidies. It simply was not.

Hers was the ludicrous pretence to have brought down the Soviet Union merely because she happened to be in office when that Union happened to collapse, which it would have done anyway, as predicted by Enoch Powell. But she did make a difference internationally where it was possible to do so, by providing aid and succour to Pinochet’s Chile and to apartheid South Africa. I condemn the former as I condemn Castro, and I condemn the latter as I condemn Mugabe (or Ian Smith, for that matter). No doubt you do, too. But she did not, as she still does not. Hers was the refusal to recognise Muzorewa, holding out for the Soviet-backed Nkomo as if he would have been any better than the Chinese-backed Mugabe, for whom she nevertheless secured a knighthood.

And hers was what amounted to the open invitation to Argentina to invade the Falkland Islands, followed by the (starved) Royal Navy’s having to behave as if the hopelessly out-of-her-depth Prime Minister did not exist, a sort of coup without which those Islands would be Argentine to this day. She had of course been about to sell the ships in question, at a knocked down price, to Argentina. Nor did she experience any electoral “bounce” as a result of the war that she had caused in the Falklands; on the contrary, the figures make it crystal clear that Conservative Party took fewer actual votes in 1983 than it had done in 1979, and won the 1983 Election only because it faced a divided Opposition.

Was she “the Iron Lady” when, in early 1981, her initial pit closure programme was abandoned within two days of a walkout by the miners? When she had one of her closest allies, Nicholas Ridley, negotiate a transfer of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to Argentina, to be followed by a lease-back arrangement, until the Islanders, the Labour Party and Tory backbenchers forced her to back down? When, within a few months of election on clear commitments with regard to Rhodesia, she simply abandoned them at the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka? When, having claimed that Britain would never give up Hong Kong, she took barely 24 hours to return to Planet Earth and effect a complete U-turn? When she took just as little time to move from public opposition to public support of Spanish accession to the Western European Union? When she gave up monetarism completely during her second term?

There are many other aspects of any Thatcherism properly so called, and they all present her in about as positive a light. None of them, nor any of the above, was unwitting, or forced on her by any sort of bullying, or whatever else her apologists insist was the case. Rather, they were exactly what she intended. Other than the subsidies to agriculture (then as now) and to nuclear power (now, if not necessarily then), I deplore and despise every aspect of her above record and legacy, for unashamedly Old Labour reasons. Indeed, the definition of New Labour is to support and to celebrate that record and legacy, because it did exactly as it was intended to do: it entrenched, in and through the economic sphere, the social revolution of the 1960s. You should not so support or celebrate unless you wish to be considered New Labour.

But then again, who cares these days? Or, rather, who really ought to care? She has now been out of office for nearly twice as long as she was in. People have already voted in a General Election who were not born when she left. The next Leader of her own party may be one such, the Leader after that is almost certain to be. By the time of a 2015 General Election, she is most unlikely to be alive. People born in the 1990s are now entering university and the world of work. Entirely dispassionately, they will ask who was Prime Minister when the principle of unanimity in the Council of Ministers was surrendered, or when the Police were first deluged with paperwork, or when O-levels were replaced with GCSEs, or when the dole became something that large numbers of people claimed for years on end. Among so very many other things.

They might even ask why, if the 1970s were so bad, there was no Conservative landslide in 1979, when that party only just scraped in, and would not have done so if there had been an even swing throughout the country. Or they might ask about how the combined Labour and SDP votes were higher than the Conservative vote both in 1983 and in 1987. Why, they might even ask why her own party got rid of her, and then went on to win an Election that it had been expected to lose.

Get over her.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Presenting Start The Week pays enough to buy a super-injunction.

Must be nice.

Also Not The Religion Of Peace

And now, Sri Lanka. See also Burma, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Tibet... As has been pointed out here in the past, the Dalai Lama has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq.

In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism, admittedly a difficult thing to define, in the way that they are to Islam and at least arguably to Judaism, but simply are not, as a first principle, to Christianity.

Nothing To Lose But Our Chains

Dominic Raab managed to say "lootenant" on Radio Four. But now that he has put on the agenda the even more draconian anti-union laws for which Tony Blair and David Miliband have always longed, Ed Miliband should renew John Smith's promise to legislate for employment rights to begin on day one of employment and to apply regardless of the number of hours worked. Astonishingly, that never happened in 13 years of Labour Government.

He should also promise to build on the statutory right of every worker to join a trade union and to have that trade union recognised for collective bargaining purposes, by giving every trade unionist so recognised the statutory right to take industrial action in pursuit of a legitimate grievance, including strike action, and including solidarity action of a clearly secondary character (such as a work to rule in support of a strike) within a single industry or corporation.

And, intimately connected with the above, he should promise to abolish all remaining vestiges of Compulsory Competitive Tendering, of the capping of councils, and of the power of central government to rule local services ultra vires, as well as to defend council housing wherever tenants or local communities wish to retain it.

Electoral reform offers the prospect of a permanent body of MPs who could hold him and his successors to those commitments.

Hell Hath No Fury

The opposition to AV is the death rattle of Blairism, and the point at which the Blairites become financially dependent on the Conservative Party as redefined by David Cameron under the direction of Tony Blair and, not least, Peter Mandelson.

Yet here is Mandy, calling for a Yes vote. Mandy, whose place in a Cameron Cabinet was publicly announced when everyone who couldn't count was predicting an overall majority for the Heir to Blair.

Joy In Heaven?

What about James Purnell and Blue Labour?

He made his political name by kicking people out of their wheelchairs and stamping on their heads. He arranged for private companies not only to take over the administration of sickness and disability benefits, but to be paid by how many claims they rejected and how many claimants they forced off the books.

Prior to the last General Election, it was publicly announced that he had been offered and had accepted his previous position of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in the event of a Cameron overall majority. Instead, Cameron has had to make do with the infinitely more humane Iain Duncan Smith.

Yet look at Purnell now. What do we see?


As we may term the BBC's outrageous treatment of the situation in Syria.

This morning, we were treated to Jim Naughtie's contemptuous ridicule and dismissal of a bishop on the phone from that country, in marked contrast to his fawning over some journalist in the studio who had a middle-class London accent and who was never asked what he wanted instead for a land where he did not live and which he had quite possibly never visited.

A bishop? In Syria? What, you mean that there are Christians in the Middle East? They must be very recent converts, then. Mustn't they? And as for opposing regime change by God's Own Country, or supporting pan-Arabism (not least in relation to the Holy Land), well, that can only be ... oh, what's it called? ... Stockholm Syndrome. Can't it?

Matters are not helped by the fact that these are the moderate end of the views of the man who has monopolised the London Medialand market for a voice of Catholic orthodoxy.

Absence of Solidarity

What a shocking, but entirely unsurprising, piece about Poland on Woman's Hour. "Women" were defined as "radical feminists" as if the two terms were precisely synonymous.

At one point, a Polish interviewee had to intervene to correct what Jenni Murray clearly assumed was her self-evident view that Poland was a feminist paradise before the fall of the Soviet Bloc.

There was, of course, no discussion of quite why a country emerging from Stalinism felt that enacting protections for the child in the womb was one of the first things that needed to be done.

The Conservative Case for Keynesianism

Lord Keynes writes:

The most serious blow to the world economic system after 1973 was the dismantling of the post-WWII Keynesian system that gave us the golden age of capitalism (1945–1973). This attack on the post-war consensus in economics occurred in the 1970s and 1980s when monetarism and then revived New Classical macroeconomics came to dominate the economics profession and public policy. Of course, conservatives like Reagan and Thatcher were leaders in that neoclassical assault. The post-1979 era has been one of neoliberalism, globalization and neoclassical economics. And look how that era has ended: with world-wide financial meltdown and the globe on the verge of depression. Keynesianism pulled us back from the brink.

By contrast, the previous post-WWII economic system was that of the mixed economy with financial regulation, Keynesian macroeconomic management, and even nationalized industries in some countries. Certain versions of the mixed economy – particularly those in social democratic countries in Europe – have probably been the most successful, efficient and humane economic systems humankind has ever devised, systems that have increased wealth tremendously by delivering high employment and maximal use of resources.

Now don’t get me wrong. Perhaps there are better systems – maybe our descendants will be clever enough to discover even more successful ways of managing economies. But one can only note that the demand that modern governments should return to the tried and tested Keynesian system we once had isn’t a particularly “radical” proposal.

One central proposition of conservatism is the idea that we should favour historically successful ways of organising society – methods that are tried and tested – rather than radical and untested systems and policies. While I am not always convinced by this maxim, and I do not regard myself as a conservative, a return to a Keynesian system and effective financial regulation could actually be constructed and defended as a conservative policy.

I wonder what has become of the old-style conservatives with a social conscience who had no fanatical devotion to free market economics. In fact, mainstream conservatives after World War II largely accepted the Keynesian consensus (for how they did in the US, see “Keynesianism in America in the 1940s and 1950s”). After all, why should conservatives necessarily be committed to laissez faire? Conservatives began in the 19th century as the enemies of Classical liberals, the historical proponents of extreme free market economics.

For example, one can point to various types of British Toryism that have been critical of extreme capitalism. The early factory system and its cruelty were attacked by Tory radicals and Tory paternalists of the early 19th century who had a marked anti-capitalist ideology, and they even helped to introduce legislation reforming working conditions in UK factories. Under Thatcher, the Tories were divided over battles between the “Wets” and “Dries.” The former being old-style conservatives like Sir Ian Gilmour and Jim Prior who opposed Thatcher’s monetarism and more extreme free market ideology (Evans 1997: 45).

In regard to Gilmour, I can only say: whatever happened to this type of Tory? I quote from his Guardian obituary: “Ian Gilmour, the liberal Conservative politician, Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, … died aged 81, served briefly as Edward Heath's defence secretary and for two years as lord privy seal under the less congenial leadership of Margaret Thatcher …. his reputation rests less upon his time in office than on his longer term opposition to Thatcher and Thatcherism. His background as proprietor (1954-67) and editor (1954-59) of the Spectator, and his books, made him a different kind of Tory. He was also one of the most consistent, and constructive opponents of Ricardian free market economics and their social consequences to be found in parliament. …. He first attracted attention with his purchase of the somnolent Spectator in 1954 .... Gilmour’s Spectator was humanitarian in social matters, anti-adventure in foreign affairs and Keynesian in economics.” Edward Pearce, “Obituary: Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar,” Guardian, 24 September 2007.

More interesting still is that the best biography of Keynes there is – a 3-volume work no less – is by the former Tory Robert Skidelsky, who is now an eloquent supporter of Keynesian economics in the UK. Modern conservatism does not necessarily need free market economics, and it could just as easily return to support for Keynesianism. I suspect the coming disasters we will see due to austerity and neoliberalism will teach the mainstream conservatives this lesson – what they in fact once learned but have forgotten.

Lord Skidelsky was a founding and finishing member of the SDP who went on to resign from the Conservative front bench in order to oppose the bombing of Kosovo and whose latest book is entitled Keynes: The Return of the Master. He is also active in Balanced Migration, which is co-chaired by a Labour MP, Frank Field. Other participants include a leading Co-operative MP, a veteran trade union leader, a prominent Muslim peer, a former Socialist Campaign Group MP (the widow of another and the mother of a third), a London-based Kurdish journalist, and a figure who resigned from the Blair Government in order to act as its critical friend before opposing the invasion of Iraq.

Queen of the South

Bonnie Malkin writes:

Less than a week before Prince William and Catherine Middleton are due to marry at Westminster Abbey, a poll of 1200 voters conducted for The Australian newspaper found that support for a republic had slumped to 41 per cent, its lowest level since 1994, with just 25 per cent strongly in favour of dropping the Queen as head of state.

Some 39 per cent were opposed to a republic and one fifth had no opinion either way. However, the prospect of Prince Charles as head of state seemed to boost the republican cause, with 48 per cent in favour of a republic when the Prince is on the throne. Prince William enjoyed slightly stronger support, with 45 per cent in favour of a republic when he becomes King. The fall in support for cutting ties with the Crown comes after Prince William undertook a whirlwind tour of flood-ravaged parts of Australia last month, where he enjoyed a rapturous welcome from thousands of fans.

Interest in the royal wedding has also reached fever pitch in Australia, with some commercial channels sending more than 40 members of staff to cover the event. Friday night football, an almost sacred weekend ritual, has been bumped to digital TV so that four free-to-airchannels can stream the ceremony live. Millions are expected to tune in. While interest in the impending nuptials is likely to have coloured the results of the poll, momentum for a second referendum on the monarchy - the first in 1999 delivered a resounding “no” - has failed to build in Australia over the last few years, in part due to a lack of enthusiasm among politicians. Julia Gillard, the prime minister, is an avowed republican, but has repeatedly said there will be no new vote while the Queen is on the throne.

However, Australia is still seen as a potential foil to changes to the Act of Settlement, which gives male heirs priority in the Royal line of succession. While changing the law is popular in Britain, any amendments to the Act would also have to be approved in all nations where the Queen is head of state and there are fears that it could prompt a campaign to remove the monarchy in Australia.

That very last part is correct, although the part before it is not: just as any Commonwealth Realm may abolish the monarchy at will, so it may also alter its Law of Succession to suit itself, although I should of course be the first person to caution against its ever doing so.

If the neoconservative nightmare of vast neoliberal "republican" federations across Europe, North America and Australasia were ever to become a reality, then expect the same person to remain Head of the former United Kingdom or whatever entities it was divided up into (each with the Union Flag still somewhere on its own), of each of the former Australian states and of New Zealand (all retaining their Blue Ensigns, the monarch's status in each Australian state being entirely distinct from that at federal level), and of at least some former Canadian provinces (several of which also retain the Union Flag somewhere on their own, and the Crown in right of each of them being, again, entirely distinct from the Crown in right of Canada). The Australasian one might very well include other parts of the Pacific likewise still so headed and so flagged.

"Not until the present Queen dies" is not only an utterly unprincipled position, yet tellingly now the only one ever articulated anywhere where she is the monarch, but it is also, as those expressing it must surely know, founded on a fallacy: the succession happens in an instant. In any case, Prince Charles has never been as unpopular as those who regard him as a generational traitor, and who were attached to the rather silly figure of his late ex-wife, would have us believe, and Friday's events will only strengthen his standing as a National Treasure in at least 16 nations.

The monarchy was hugely unpopular, not least in Australia, in the middle of the Victorian Period, with that Queen branded "a
hausfrau" in Antipodean newspapers. The monarchy was hugely popular, not least in Australia, by the time of the Diamond Jubilee. Next year, there will be another Diamond Jubilee.

The Original, And Still The Best

Although Grayling has edited useful introductions, his collections of occasional pieces are well worth a look, and his Among The Dead Cities is invaluable, Brendan O'Neill writes:

Back when I was a child, a God-fearin’, side-parted Catholic, there was only one Bible to dip into at Easter time: the Holy Bible, featuring Job and Esther and Luke and a cast of thousands of Jews and slightly bonkers early Christians.

Today, by contrast, in keeping with the consumerist ethos, there’s a veritable feast of bibles to pick from: you might go for AC Grayling’s newly published secular tome, The Good Book, or Phillip Pullman’s retelling of the New Testament, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, or perhaps fake memoirist James Frey’s latest offering, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

Why, given their obtuse and ostentatious hostility towards organised religion and spiritual hoo-ha, are the so-called New Atheists so keen to refashion the Bible? What’s with all these secularist versions of ‘the good book’, minus the original’s miracles and resurrections and instead offering us guides to life firmly rooted in scientific fact and what poses as rationalism? This bible bonanza tells us a lot about the New Atheists. About their arrogance, their ignorance about where moral meaning comes from, and, most fundamentally, their allergy to, their utter estrangement from, the idea of transcendence.

The first question that any remotely inquisitive person will surely ask about these ‘new bibles’ is this: how massive must your head be, how unanchored your ego, to imagine that, in the space of a few months, ensconced in your office, you can rewrite the Bible? AC Grayling admits that his decision to publish a secular version of the Bible, titled The Good Book, might appear ‘tremendously hubristic’ but, he says, he intends it ‘in the spirit of great humility’. I suspect this is the same humility that someone like the Pope deploys when he bends down to kiss the dirt before standing up again to tell people how they should live their lives. That is, a ritualised, carefully practised display of humility that is actually a disguise for self-possession bordering on tyranny.

Grayling, a philosopher and deity basher who is ironically treated by his fans as almost god-like (one journalist describes his hair as a ‘bright celestial mane’), has gathered together snippets of philosophy and thought from the past few thousand years for his Good Book, covering everyone from Aristotle to Hume. He has rewritten them in the archaic lingo of the original Bible, even splitting them into chapters and verses and dividing them into separate ‘books’ with titles such as Genesis, Concord, Songs and Acts. His ultimate hope is that this will become the official ‘secular alternative to the Bible and the Koran’, to be read by morally good but god-free people.

Hmmm. The trouble is that in snippeting some of the most profound moral thought of the past 2,000-odd years, and turning it into a modern-day bible written in olden-day language, Grayling has done a grave disservice both to those great moral thinkers and the idea of a bible. By wrenching a few nuggets of wisdom from Aristotle’s Metaphysics or Mill’s On Liberty, he has reduced these and other thinkers to Deepak Chopra-style providers of happy-clappy advice for how to live a decent, upstanding life. Their intellectual tussling with the headache-inducing question of what it means to be human, to be conscious, to be moral, is elbowed aside in favour of culling a few lines of insight that might help people decide what to do on a particularly troublesome Tuesday morning or when faced with a workplace/relationship dilemma. The end product is more like a Dictionary of Quotations than a bible, or one of those books you see in the self-help section with titles such as ‘Buy a Cup of Coffee for a Stranger And 99 Other Nice Things You Should Do Before You Die’.

Grayling misunderstands what a bible is, too. The Holy Bible was, for many centuries, a living, breathing text, contributed to by scores of writers, both reflecting and codifying various communities’ moral beliefs and their transcendent aspirations. It was not simply a collection of wise or wacky sayings, but a system of meaning that gained its authority through its incorporation of, and adaptation to, people’s experiences, discussions and rule-making.

Grayling’s belief that he can codify a brand new system of meaning in his own head, magic up a moral structure on his laptop, reveals much about the New Atheists’ view of meaning. It is they, rather than the religious, who seem to believe that meaning can be cobbled together by one person and handed to others. Grayling’s book conforms to the New Atheists’ snobby view of the Bible as a ruthless diktat better than the actual Bible does. The Bible is not really ‘the Word of the Lord’ – it’s far more complicated than that – but Grayling’s book is ‘the Word of the Philosopher’: good thoughts collected together and rewritten by one man. This is self-help rather than meaning – loose and disconnected views about ‘good living’ rather than an overarching, complex, meaningfully underwritten idea about the ‘Good Life’.

What’s more, Grayling, like many of the other New Atheists, is behind the times. He says his aim is to remove any notion of a deity, especially one which demands submission, from moral thought. He characterises the original Bible as: ‘Just obey, just submit. The usual rather cowed posture of human beings towards divinity in the hope that it won’t inflict too many earthquakes or tsunamis or plagues in the near future.’ Yet today, moral thought is most frequently polluted, not by the demand for submission to that deity born in Genesis, but by the demand that we submit to a new deity: Gaia, or Mother Earth, or The Planet. (A bit like Beelzebub, She has many names.)

Today, the sort of people in the West to whom Grayling is preaching don’t beg God to keep tsunamis and plagues at bay; no, they plead with environmentalists to do that. Many people – and we’re talking about well-educated, privileged individuals in the booming business of opinion-formation – literally believe that switching their kettle on or driving their car will have a direct impact on the polar ice caps, and thus on the future of the whole of humanity, and so, like the early Jews, they have created all sorts of bizarre homely rituals that might help to save themselves and mankind: don’t leave the telly on standby; buy a bike; separate plastics from paper. Challenging the idea of a deity, of an external force that determines our morality and destinies, is a decent aspiration, since it would force mankind to confront his moral existence in a far more upfront, unfettered fashion. But the ‘deity’ we should most worry about today, the one whose culturally sanctioned allure ends up presenting mankind as more mechanistic than moral, is not God, but Gaia.

The New Atheists’ lack of critical agitation towards the CO2-obsessing creed of environmentalism (many of them embrace it) speaks to the key problem with their outlook: their estrangement from the idea of transcendence. In his book Transcendence and History: The Search for Ultimacy from Ancient Societies to Postmodernism, Glenn Hughes describes human communities’ longing for some ‘shared human experience [that] transcends biological, psychological and cultural circumstance’; for ‘human participation in a dimension of meaning that is non-particular, non-finite’. That is, the search for something bigger than ourselves and our routine lives, for a sense of purpose that goes beyond our mere biological existences or daily toil.

The New Atheists are implicitly hostile to the idea of transcendence. This can be glimpsed in their embrace of new evolutionary theories which claim that virtually every aspect of human experience, from our political leanings to our sexuality, is genetically predetermined. Or in their support for the utterly non-transcendent, behaviour-myopic ideas of environmentalism and their claim that humankind’s ‘scientific advances in agriculture and medicine’ are ‘deforming the Earth’. Or in Grayling’s focus on the ‘fleeting’ nature of human existence, where ‘we’re around for a couple of hundred thousand years, a couple of million years… and then we’re extinguished by, perhaps, the increasing size of the Sun’. Time and again, the New Atheists communicate disdain for the notion of transcendence, and instead present humanity as effectively a prisoner of its genes, a fundamentally biological entity, little more than ‘the close cousin of chimpanzees’, as New Atheist hero Christopher Hitchens describes us, who should seek to live in ‘symbiotic harmony with our surroundings’, as a leading British atheist puts it.

For millennia, human beings sought to escape their ‘symbiosis’ with nature or culture, to transcend the everyday, whether through embracing profound religious beliefs or something else. Now, the New Atheists tell us that transcendence is impossible: there are only genes, there is only biology, there is only CO2, there is only here, and there is only now. Existence is intranscendable. Thus is the message of their new bibles even more backward than that contained in the original version.

This is not to say that we need religion or God or the Holy Bible in order to pursue transcendence. For an atheistic humanist like me, transcendence is better sought through a human-centred morality, through human solidarity, through the transformation of existence itself. The aim of many of the Old Atheists (as we must now unfortunately refer to them) was to bridge the gap between human beings’ alienated existences and their aspirations to greatness, a gap frequently and problematically filled by religious conviction. ‘Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve around himself’, said Marx. For the New Atheists, by contrast, the gap is unbridgeable and we might as well accept our lot as bundles of genes with a duty of care to our surroundings. For them, it is not only religion that is illusory, but the idea of human specialness and profundity itself.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Spiritual and Temporal

I have for many years wondered where contributors to Thought for the Day came from. I hope that even those who are friends of mine will forgive me for saying that they were rarely well-known before they were given this prime slot, and that even within their fields there are others at least as distinguished. I expect the "faith leaders" to be invited to sit in a "reformed" Upper House to selected by much the same means, whatever it is.

So, from my own lot, do not expect Fr Aidan Nichols OP, Fr Ian Ker, Fr John Saward, Fr Tim Finigan, or anyone like that. In which case, who, exactly? Dispensations would be granted from the canonical ban on clerics sitting as civil legislators, if the clerics in question met Rome's rightly stringent criteria of orthodoxy. After all, that ban is nothing very ancient: Catholic priests originally predominated in the House of Lords.

But the dinner party circuit presumably employed by Radio Four would almost certainly produce no one whom Rome would countenance dispensing. Ringing up, say, the Editor of The Tablet is a surefire way of producing a list of frankly unacceptable candidates.

The City of Redemption


Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

We, the Heads of Churches of the Holy City of Jerusalem bring you our greetings and our joy in the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Christians find their joy is secure in the hope of the promise of eternal life which our Lord has won for all who believe. However, when we in Jerusalem, the city of redemption, see the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in our region our joy becomes more solemn. We find sadness competes with the joy of Easter as we witness the violence which has erupted in the face of peaceful demonstrations by people throughout the Arab world these past months.

We Christians are watching in prayer the developments in the Middle East. We also pray that the reforms would lead to modern civil society where freedom of expression, freedom of religion, human rights – including the rights of those who are considered being a minority in numbers – are respected. We call upon all people of faith and good will to pursue peace while at the same time we recognize that peace cannot be bought at the price of silence and submission to corruption and injustice.

The violence, when it erupts, reminds us that the cross of Christ is ever present for the faithful followers of the Prince of Peace. The crucifixion is an ongoing reality for many of our clergy and people who continue to seek to live with mutual understanding and co-operation with their neighbors.

We urge all Christians to pray for reconciliation among people in the Holy Land, where the deteriorating situation makes peace and justice seem further away than ever before. We ask the Churches around the world to stand with us in giving voice to those who are silenced, in breaking down walls that separate us from one another and in building bridges of goodwill between people.

We pray for the leaders of the nations, and for those who demonstrate for change, to use wisdom and their best judgment to serve the needs of their people and to promote peaceful solutions to change for a better future for all of God's children. Our Lord died for the sins of the whole world that all people will see in his example how violence only leads to death and destruction. In his resurrection we experience his victory over violence and death and we embrace a vision of the future in which all people live together in harmony. This vision gives us hope to renew our faith in the face of despair.

Christians all over the world celebrate the victory over death which is ours as a gift from God who has compassion and mercy for all of his creation. We share our joy in the resurrection with you. The cross is ever before us day by day and the cross is empty. New life has come. Christ is risen. We are risen. Alleluia.

Thanks be to God.

+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch
+Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch
+Patriarch Torkom II Manoogian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch
+Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarch
+Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch
+Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarch
+Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch
+Fr Rafael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch

The ideal list of signatories to the UDI laying claim to the whole of the viable Palestinian State created on both sides of the Jordan in 1948, and placing it under the protection of every Christian Royal House in the world, as well as of every state that defined itself as Christian.

When Dictators Fall, Who Rises?

Patrick J. Buchanan writes:

One month before the invasion of Iraq, Riah Abu el-Assal, a Palestinian and the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem at the time, warned Tony Blair, “You will be responsible for emptying Iraq, the homeland of Abraham, of Christians.” The bishop proved a prophet. “After almost 2,000 years,” writes the Financial Times, “Iraqi Christians now openly contemplate extinction. Some of their prelates even counsel flight.”

The secular despot Saddam Hussein protected the Christians. But the U.S. liberation brought on their greatest calamity since the time of Christ. Scores of thousands of those Iraqi Christians fleeing terrorism and persecution after 2003 made their way to Syria, where they received sanctuary from President Bashar Assad. Now, as the FT and Washington Post report, the Christians of Syria, whose forebears have lived there since the time of Christ, are facing a pogrom should the Damascus regime fall.

Christians are 10 percent of Syria’s population, successful and closely allied to the minority Alawite regime of the Assad family. Said one Beirut observer, “Their fear is that if the regime falls to the Sunni majority, they will be put up against the same wall as the Alawites.” For decades, notes the Post, the Assad regime “has protected Christian interests by enforcing its strictly secular program and by curbing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, slaughtered perhaps 20,000 followers of the brotherhood after they began a campaign of bombings and terror and attempted an uprising in Hama in 1982. Hafez al-Assad rolled up his artillery and leveled the city.

Observing the toll of dead protesters — more than 100 this past weekend, more than 200 overall, the work of police, snipers and agents of the regime — it is hard to summon up any sympathy for Bashar Assad. And if his regime were to fall, that would eliminate a patron of Hamas and Hezbollah and a close ally of Iran in the Arab world. But before he embraces the Syrian revolution, President Barack Obama ought to consider, as President George W. Bush did not, what happens to Arab Christians when a long-repressed Muslim majority comes to power. In Iraq, liberated Shiites used their newfound freedom to cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis while al-Qaida arrived and went straight after the Christians. In Syria, it would be a Sunni majority rising if Bashar and the Alawites were to fall.

What would that mean for Syria’s Christians, for peace, for us? Since 1973, even when clashes have occurred and wars have been fought in Lebanon between Israelis and Syria or its proxies, the Assad government has maintained the truce on the Golan Heights. Would a Sunni-dominated Syria do the same? With the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt have come Islamist attacks on Coptic Christians. How will the Copts fare if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the September election and writes Shariah into Egyptian law?

In “The Price of Revolution” a half-century ago, D.W. Brogan inventoried the costs of the revolutions that so often intoxicate secular Western man. The French Revolution led to regicide, the September Massacres, the Terror, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the Vendee region of France, and almost two decades of Napoleonic wars. The abdication of Czar Nicholas II led to the dictatorship of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, who would effect the murder of 1,000 times more victims than did the Spanish Inquisition in 300 years. And among the Bolshevik murder victims were the czar, his wife and his five children. Fifteen years after the hated Kaiser, ruler of the Second Reich, abdicated, a proud veteran of his army, Adolf Hitler, established a Third Reich.

No altar-and-throne regime ever compiled a record of horror to match those of the French and Russian revolutions — or those of Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot. When the Shah of Iran fell, within a year we had the Ayatollah Khomeini. Americans have welcomed the “Arab Spring.” Yet we should be forewarned that among those liberated when dictators fall is the sort of men that Edmund Burke described: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. … Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Americans, who incarcerate 2.3 million of their own citizens, 90 percent of them males, are surely aware of the truth Burke spoke. And across the Middle East, there are millions of “intemperate minds” that would use the freedom and power democracy provides to majorities to suppress or eradicate their long-hated rival minorities. If one-man, one-vote democracy across the Maghreb and Middle East is almost certain to strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood and to liberate Islamists to persecute Christians, why are we for it? When did this idol of modernity called democracy, in which none of our fathers believed, become a golden calf we all must fall down and worship?

Gillard's Shame

John Pilger writes:

The street where I grew up in Sydney was a war street. There were long silences, then the smashing of glass and screams. Pete and I played Aussies-and-Japs.

Pete's father was an object of awe. He weighed barely seven stone and shook with malaria and was frequently demented. He would sit in a cane chair, drunk, scything the air with the sword of a Japanese soldier he said he had killed. There was a woman who flitted from room to room, always red-eyed and fearful, it seemed. She was like many mothers in the street. Wally, another mate, lived in a house that was always dark because the blackout blinds had not been taken down. His father had been "killed by the Japs". Once, when Wally's mother came home, she found he had got a gun, put it in his mouth and blown his head off. It was a war street.

The insidious, merciless, lifelong damage of war taught many of us to recognise the difference between the empty symbolism of war and the actual meaning. "Does it matter?" the poet Siegfried Sassoon mocked at the end of an earlier slaughter, in 1918, as he grieved his younger brother's death at Gallipoli. I grew up with that name, Gallipoli. The assault on the Turkish Dardanelles was one of the essential crimes of imperial war, causing the death and wounding of 392,000 on all sides. The Australian and New Zealanders' losses were among the highest, proportionally; and 25 April 1915 was declared not just a day of remembrance but the "birth of the Australian nation". This was based on the belief of Edwardian militarists that true men were made in war, an absurdity that is about to be celebrated yet again.


Anzac Day has been appropriated by those who manipulate the cult of state violence – militarism – in order to satisfy a psychopathic deference to foreign power and pursue its aims. And the "legend" has no room for the only war fought on Australian soil: that of the Aboriginal people against the European invaders. In a land of cenotaphs, not one stands for them.

The modern war-lovers have known no street of screams and despair. Their abuse of our memory of the fallen, and why they fell, is common among all servitors of rapacious power, but Australia is a special case. No country is more secure in its strategic remoteness and resources, yet no western elite are more eager to talk war and seek imperial "protection".

Australia's military budget is A$32bn (£21bn) a year, one of the highest in the world. Less than two months' worth of this war-bingeing would pay for the reconstruction of Queensland after the catastrophic floods, yet not a cent is forthcoming. In July, the same fragile flood plains will be invaded by a joint US-Australian military force, firing laser-guided missiles, dropping bombs and blasting the environment and marine life. This is rarely reported. Rupert Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the capital city press and his world-view is widely shared in the media.

In a 2009 US cable released by WikiLeaks, the then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is now foreign affairs minister, implores the Americans to "deploy force" against China if Beijing does not do as it is told. Another Labor leader, Kim Beazley, secretly offered Australian troops for an attack on China over Taiwan in 2006. In the 1960s, Prime Minister Robert Menzies lied that he had received a request from the Washington-created regime in Saigon for Australian troops.

Oblivious, Australians waved farewell to a largely conscripted army, almost 3,000 of whom were killed or wounded. The first Australian troops were run by the CIA in "black teams" – assassination squads. When the government in Canberra made a rare complaint to Washington that the British knew more about America's war aims in Vietnam than they, the US national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, replied: "We have to inform the British to keep them on side. You in Australia are with us come what may." As an Australian soldier once said to me: "We are to the Yanks what the Gurkhas are to the British. We're mercenaries in all but name."


WikiLeaks recently disclosed the American role in Julia Gillard's Canberra "coup" against Prime Minister Rudd in 2010. Gillard, lauded in US cables as a "rising star", and her Labor Party plotters have turned out to be assets of the American embassy in Canberra. Once installed, she committed Australia to Washington's war in Afghanistan for the next ten years – twice as long as Britain.

Gillard likes to appear flanked by flags, but with her robotic delivery and stare, it is an unsettling tableau. On 6 April, she intoned, "We live in a free country – and in a largely free world – only because the Australian people answered the call when the time of decision came." She was referring to the despatch of Australian troops to avenge the death of a minor imperial figure, General Charles Gordon, during a popular uprising in Sudan in 1885. She omitted to say that a dozen horses of the Sydney tramway company also "answered the call" but expired during the long voyage.

Australia's role as "deputy sheriff" (promoted to "sheriff" by George W Bush) is to police great power designs now being challenged by most of the world. Leading Australian politicians and journalists report on the Middle East after having their flights covered and expenses paid by the Israeli government or its promoters. Two Green Party candidates who dared to criticise Israel's lawlessness and the silence of its local supporters are currently being set upon. A Murdoch retainer has accused them of advocating a "modern rendering of Kristallnacht". Both have since received multiple death threats. Put out more flags, boys.

No wonder that the DLP won a Senate seat last year while the ALP cannot govern without the support of the Greens and of rural Independents (nor the Liberals, ever, without that of the National Party); the Labor family is unsurprisingly falling apart. No wonder that Australia needed conscription until as late as 1972, and might need it again. No wonder that people have to be compelled to vote in elections to the Federal Parliament.

No wonder that it took Murdoch puppet-governments in London and Canberra, as late as 1986, to conspire to end Westminster's right to legislate for the states, to end Downing Street's say in the appointment of State Governors, and to end appeals from the State Supreme Courts to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. And no wonder that even in what is now the vanishingly unlikely event of the abolition of the monarchy at federal level (President Gillard, anyone?), it would undoubtedly be retained in each of the states separately, with each of them retaining as its flag a variation on the Blue Ensign.

Escape To Victory

We have lost the war in Afghanistan. Every invader has always done so. We should cut our losses and get out. Why did we ever go in there in the first place? Was there even a reason at all?

Atlas Shrugged, Jesus Didn't

Isaiah J. Poole writes:

Just in time for Easter, the movie version of "Atlas Shrugged" is poised to be shown in an expanding number of theaters. And, as Ayn Rand would be the first to admit, you could not set up a sharper clash of world views.

There is Jesus Christ, who, the apostle Paul writes, "died for the ungodly." Then there is the atheist Rand—"by all accounts ... one of the central intellectual and cultural inspirations for the base of the Republican Party," Think Progress writes this week—who once told Alvin Toffler in a Playboy magazine interview that "nothing could make me more indignant" than the idea of a "man of perfect virtue" dying for the ungodly, "the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal."

Rand is very clear: walking in the path of Christ and walking in the path of "Atlas Shrugged" hero John Galt will take you to two very different places. Which ought to give pause to political leaders who claim to embrace the values of Christ but adopt the politics of Rand.

Before Congress went on its Easter recess, the House of Representatives passed a 2012 federal budget blueprint drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who credits Rand for inspiring him into entering politics, and who reportedly encourages his staff members to read "Atlas Shrugged." The budget unabashedly bears the trademarks of Rand's thinking: its glorification of individualism and private enterprise not as a companion to the collective pursuit of the common good but as a replacement for it; the gradual elimination of anything that compels the haves to share with the have-nots; the presumption that have-nots are "moochers" or "looters" and must be treated accordingly.

It is this view of how America should work that is at the root of such schemes as turning Medicare into weakly subsidized private insurance, shifting increasing health care costs onto seniors as well as the burden of negotiating a predatory insurance market.

Shades of Rand are also present in a speech Ryan gave on the House floor March 2010 in opposition to the health care reform bill. In that speech, Ryan turns the question about how the nation should make health care affordable and accessible for all people into issues of "rights" and false choices.

"Our founding fathers got it right when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our rights are derived from nature and nature's God, not from government. Should we now subscribe to an ideology where government creates rights, is solely responsible for delivering these artificial rights, and then systematically rations these rights? Do we believe that the goal of government is to promote equal opportunity for all Americans to make the most of their lives, or do we now believe that the government's role is to equalize the results of people's lives?"

Ryan gets it profoundly wrong. The opposite of Ryan's you're-on-your-own America is not an America where government creates or rations "artificial rights"—as if the ability to receive something as fundamental as health care is an "artificial right"—and then uses them to "equalize the outcomes of people's lives." Rather, it is closer to the view of American history that President Obama put forward in his speech in early April on the nation's fiscal challenges and how to meet them.

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. ... Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, those with disabilities. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments.

Christians who want to endorse policies that grow out of Any Rand's worldview will run headlong into Jesus' response to the question of what is the greatest commandment. It is not, "Love yourself first." After loving God, Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbors as they love themselves.

Then there is the nature of Jesus' ministry. Jesus worked to bring people together into a community in which individuals shared their abilities and their resources so that each person finds strength and fulfillment through their interdependence. The apostle Paul likened the result to how the organs of the human body support each other, benefiting mutually from health, suffering together from disease. How that community took shape in the earliest days of the Christian church, with the wealth of believers redistributed to "anyone who had need," would no doubt appall Ryan and his acolytes.

Over all of this is the significance of the cross that made Rand so "indignant." Yes, I believe, to use Rand's words, that a man of perfect virtue died for all of us who are imperfect. That was the climax of a life that featured healing people without questioning whether they had deserved to be healed, redistributing the contents of a young person's picnic basket to feed thousands, and preaching that the kingdom of heaven was a place that belonged to the poor that the wealthy would have to struggle to enter.

On Easter Sunday, millions of people will hear the message that Jesus' death and his triumph over death enables us to triumph over our own spiritual death and have a seat at God's table. We will hear that we are at that table by God's grace and unconditional love, not by the fruit of our individualism.

We have spent the past three decades as a nation scorning mutuality and interdependence and orienting our economy toward Rand's objectivism, thanks to such believers as former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan; key policymakers in the Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations; and conservative members of Congress promoted by right-wing organizations such as FreedomWorks. Cleaning up the resulting wreckage of our idolization of individualism and greed and building a new economy and a better nation is the great challenge of our time. The conservatives who are now doubling down on "Atlas Shrugged" ideology would have us go back down that road to disaster, only more unabashedly. And the lure to go there is as strong as the serpent's offer to Eve to forsake obedience to God for the promise of being like God.

But when I contemplate the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, I won't be able to see how we could be true to his act of mercy, and the mercy he calls us to live in our own lives, and embrace the Ayn Rand view of a nation in which the central organizing principle is everyone for themselves.

Causing John to comment:

Isaiah J. Poole has an excellent piece on the total conflict between the thought of Ayn Rand and the teachings of Christ. I cannot think of a better article for this year’s Easter, as a new film adaptation of the first third of Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is currently in theaters. The film and its philosophy are being promoted by Tea Party organizations such as FreedomWorks and can be seen as part of the revival of the libertarian Right. This is a very important development because it should make religious conservatives think twice about the movements and ideologies they are currently allied with. For example, Rand was a virulent atheist, a supporter of abortion, and an advocate of sexual hedonism, as Megan Gibson points out in her article at Cif America. For these and other reasons, more traditional American conservatives such as William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk were dismissive of Rand and Objectivism. Rand's ideas simply could not fit into the fusion of laissez-faire economics and traditional Christian morality that Buckley and his allies were developing at the National Review.

Unfortunately for Buckleyite conservatives, fusionism largely needed the threat of atheistic communism in order to give the movement a reason for existence. With liberal capitalism's victory over communism, the fusionists are now in the sticky position of having to explain to the average American why their cultural, social, and economic life has stagnated or declined over the past thirty years, despite the fact that conservatives have gotten much of what they wanted in the economic sphere while scoring few recognizable victories in the Culture War. Indeed, many of the major political victories in the Culture War have been won by members of the Democratic base, primarily African-American and Hispanic voters. It is becoming clear that while many Republicans campaign on Christianity, family values, and other popular manifestations of social conservatism, they are primarily concerned with endless wars, privatization, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the annihilation of organized labor. With this in mind, Christian conservatives must choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Christus Surrexit, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Surrexit in vere, alleluia, alleluia!

Without Parallel

Just as the derivation of the word "Easter" from the name of a pagan goddess is peculiar to English, hardly the first language in which the Paschal Mystery was ever celebrated, so the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is entirely without parallel in mere mythology.

The example usually cited is the early Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris. Osiris is murdered by his brother Seth, who then sinks his coffin in the Nile. Isis, wife of Osiris and most powerful of goddesses, discovers her husband's body and returns it to Egypt. Seth, however, regains the body, cuts it into fourteen pieces, and scatters it abroad. Isis counters by recovering the pieces. How does this resemble the Resurrection narratives in the slightest? Some much later commentators refer to this as an anastasis, but the fact that they were writing in Greek rather illustrates how far removed they were.

In all the mystery cults, no early texts refer to any resurrection of Attis, nor of Adonis, nor, as we have seen, of Osiris. Indeed, according to Plutarch, it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where the body of Osiris was held still to be lying. Of Mithra, popular among Roman soldiers and often invoked at this point, it is not in dispute that stories of death and resurrection were devised specifically in order to counter the appeal of Christianity. There is no suggestion that any pagan deity was ever held to have risen from the dead never to die again, nor to have appeared in the flesh several times thereafter (and soon thereafter, at that), nor to have been recounted doing so by eyewitnesses, nor even to have lived and died, never mind risen from the dead, at a specific, and quite recent, point in investigable history.

You might deny or dispute this in investigable historical terms, although good luck, because you'll need it - the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth can be very hotly denied on the Internet by people who have that particular bee in their bonnets, but it is subject to no scholarly dispute whatever. But the present point is that, uniquely, any such investigable claim is made at all.

It is also contended that Attis is supposed to have come back to life four days after his death. There is one account - though only one, not four - of Osiris being reanimated two or three days after his death. And it is even suggested that Adonis may have been "resurrected" three days after his death. In the case of all three, there is no evidence for any such belief earlier than the second century AD. It is quite clear which way the borrowing went. There is, furthermore, no evidence whatever that the mystery religions had any influence in Palestine in the first century. And there is all the difference that there could possibly be between the mythological experience of these nebulous figures and the Crucifixion "under Pontius Pilate".

Hellenism and the Roman Empire did not view the Christian message as merely another legend of a cultic hero, just as neither the philosophical Greeks nor the pragmatic Romans dismissed it as either harmless or ridiculous. Just look at how they did react to it.

As Rousseau said, men who could invent such a story would be greater and more astonishing than its central figure.

Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum

With events having brought Douglas Kmiec home from Malta, how about the next vacancy on the Supreme Court for the traditional Catholic and constitutional scholar who presciently supported the President who has delivered the most pro-life measure since the Hyde Amendment was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by Jimmy Carter? It will be the most pro-life measure until the superior House Bill is revived to combine the public option with the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, thereby rendering abortion not just vastly less likely, as when the Senate Bill is combined with the Obama-supporting Bob Casey's Pregnant Women Support Act, but practically impossible, the PWSA and other soundly left-wing economic measures having in any case eradicated most or all reasons why anyone might feel the need to have an abortion.

Or will Obama make sure that he does not miss the same trick twice and nominate a white Evangelical Protestant in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan? The Republican Party has never made the slightest effort to limit abortion; although Hyde himself was not only a Republican but almost a sort of European Catholic monarchist, still it took a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President to enact his ban on the federal funding of abortion. The GOP is in any case now being fought over by an East Coast Establishment and a Tea Party equally uninterested either in that issue or in the definition of marriage. And, not unrelatedly, the Republican Party has never attempted to appoint a white Evangelical to the Supreme Court. Ronald Reagan managed to put both Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy on that Bench. Obama really does not need to try too hard in order to do better than that.

Who Dares Wins?

If their farcical intervention in Libya, through no fault of their own, is what they are now expected to do, then no wonder that no one, at least of the appropriate calibre, wants to join the SAS.

However, I still suspect that that was a conscious exposure of the futility of any intervention there: "Look, if even we can't manage it..." But the ridiculous Cameron creature paid absolutely no attention. Truly, the Heir to Blair.

Is the next mission going to be to Yemen? If so, then will it be in support of the unreconstructed Stalinists? Or will it be in support of those who want the place to be run by Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki? It would to have to be one or the other. So, which one is it going to be?

Fully Responsible

Peter Hitchens writes:

David Cameron said on Friday that it was a good thing Labour won the 1997 General Election, something that a remotely awake media would have blazoned across the sky in vast headlines, but which they buried instead.

His words, spoken in Bedford, were: ‘I think we know in 1997 the country needed change.’

Do we know that? Did it ‘need’ the ‘change’ it got – 13 years of political correctness, stupid wars, tax and spending? I hardly think so.

Generally, the Prime Minister pretends at voting time that he didn’t like the Blair-Brown junta. But if it turned out that he’d voted Labour in 1997 and 2001, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Mr Cameron, in full election mode, is now banging on (as he would call it if anyone else did it) about drunkards and illegal drug abusers claiming benefits for being drunk and drugged. He doesn’t mean it. He regards types like me, who think that you can stop drinking too much if you want to, and that people take heroin because they like it, as horrible reactionary brutes.

But unless you accept that people are fully responsible for their own actions – and modish liberals like Mr Cameron spend half their lives denying this – then the logic leads - inexorably to paying them ‘incapacity benefit’.

Likewise his opportunist moaning about judges making privacy law. They do this because Parliament (under his beloved Blair) gave them the power to do it. He knows perfectly well that this is the case.

How can I begin to tell you how much this man and his party do not deserve your support? And how much they laugh at you when you give it to them?


As the Libya policy goes wrong, the nation’s brakes have failed. Where is the high-level criticism? Where the questioning? The Prime Minister was interviewed at length on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and even managed to give some (duff) racing tips but, incredibly, was not asked about Libya.

Parliament has not been recalled – did you know that only the Government can do this? The main effect of our intervention has been to prolong a civil war, and the futile carnage in Misrata is largely our fault. Having intervened supposedly to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, we may be causing one in Misrata.

The only truly humanitarian course now available is to provide an evacuation fleet to get non-combatants out of that city as soon as possible.

All Elements Of The Tradition

Maurice Glasman writes:

The Labour tradition is far richer than its recent form of economic utilitarianism and political liberalism would suggest. Labour is a unique and paradoxical tradition that strengthens liberty and democracy, that combines faith and citizenship, patriotism and internationalism and is, at its best, radical and conservative.
That is the paradox that Blue Labour is trying to capture in order to renew the party and the movement as a powerful force for good. In order to do that Labour needs to recall its vocation as the democratic driver of the politics of the common good, a Labour politics that brings together immigrants and locals, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and atheists, middle and working classes.

The resources for Labour's renewal lie within the practices and history of the Labour movement. Blue Labour reminds the party that only democratic association can resist the power of capital and that the distinctive practices of the Labour movement are built upon reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.

This is not a politics of nostalgia, as has been claimed over the past few weeks by some critics inside and outside Labour. It is a claim that practices and values crucial to what Labour is and stands for have either been forgotten, lost or wrongly downgraded in the party's list of priorities. Nor is it a defence of a vanished working class; it is a claim that the ethical vision of a humane society which led working men and women to found the party in 1900 is still relevant and vital today. It's good that the media is increasingly talking about Blue Labour, but "blue" should not be understood to denote insularity, fear of change and a rearguard action in defence of the white working class. By re-engaging with its history, Labour can revitalise Britain.

The Labour tradition understands something important about capitalism, which is that finance capital wishes to pursue the maximum returns on its investment. To that end it exerts great pressure to turn human beings and nature into commodities. Labour politics is rooted in the democratic resistance to the commodification of human beings. The organised workers who resisted their dispossession and exploitation called their party Labour to remind us of that. Democratic politics, according to this view, is the way citizens come together to protect the people and places that they love from danger. Britain's forests, for instance, are more than an opportunity for the timber industry, as recent protests against privatisation amply demonstrated.

This always generates a rich and complex politics that is as much about cherishing what you know and love as about the pursuit of progressive ends. That is why Labour politics has always been radical and conservative, wishing to democratise ancient institutions such as parliament and the city councils.

Democratic resistance to the domination of capital through the pursuit of the common good is not really the way that liberals view politics or, more important, markets. They see the benefits but not the distress, the efficiencies but not the disruption, the choice but not the coercion. Labour has always understood both. This understanding is essential in defeating the liberal-led coalition – there is nothing conservative about this government – by developing a strong agenda for both regulating finance and generating regional private sector growth.

At London Citizens I worked on the Living Wage Campaign so that contracted-out cleaners, cooks and security guards could earn enough to feed their children without having to do two jobs.

I learned many things in those years and one of them was that, unless there were effective organisations, immigration led to a double exploitation, of the immigrants and of the locals. We ran a campaign called Strangers into Citizens so that illegal immigrants could build alliances and a common life with their new neighbours and colleagues. We ran the Living Wage Campaign to assert a common human status for all who worked in an enterprise or institution.

It was driven primarily by faith communities who asserted the dignity of labour and the importance of association. It was a resistance to the commodification of labour. The Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals and Muslims I worked with did not talk to me about changing divorce laws or prohibiting civil partnerships, about abortion or the hijab. We spoke about a living wage, about establishing an interest rate ceiling of 20%, about affordable family housing and community land trusts and about achieving a common status as a citizen of the country. We spoke about matters of common concern where we had common interests. A common life between the old and the new required the establishment of relationships between what was divided. It required new work agreements so that all was not relentlessly up for grabs in an exclusively contractual churn.

The very simple idea of people's relationships with others is what is at stake here. The centrality of one-to-one conversations, of relationship building, of establishing trust between what were seen as incompatible communities and interests transformed my understanding of what a politics of the common good could be, and of what Labour should be about. A political party that is a democratically organised force for the common good. In order to do this, Labour must establish those conversations that broker a common good within which party organisations such as Progress, the Fabians, Compass and the Christian Socialist Movement and Blue Labour talk and build a common programme.

Blue Labour has no nostalgia for old Labour and no illusions about the shortcomings of the new. Both Blair and Brown were recklessly naïve about finance capital and the City of London and relentlessly managerial in their methods. Blair developed a political alchemy that Brown failed to recreate, and it was between tradition and modernity. The problem was that his conception of tradition was superficial and his concept of modernisation verging on the demented: a conception of globalisation understood entirely on the terms set by finance capital.

The German economy with its worker representation on the management board, works councils, pension co-determination, regional banks and vocational regulation, in other words with high levels of democratic interference in the economy, emerged with a more efficient workforce, greater growth and with a genuinely modern industrial sector.

The paradox here is that vocational institutions decried as "pre-modern" and "Jurassic" preserved a knowledge culture that facilitated a more efficient response to globalisation than managerialism. The democratic representation of different economic interests turned out to be more efficient than leaving decision-making to the money managers. So Labour needs to engage with diverse interests in corporate governance and place greater stress on vocational rather than transferrable skills.

The control of the City of London in regional investment must be broken and local banks established that could enable people to have meaningful jobs and live closer to their parents. Modern economies require trust, institutions that uphold non-pecuniary values and strong constraints on capital. Again, this is not nostalgia but it does defy a view of modernisation defined by the unimpeded flow of money and people.

The withdrawal by New Labour from the economy led to a manic embrace of the state. New Labour's public sector reforms were almost Maoist in their conception of year zero managerial restructuring. As an academic at London Metropolitan University I lost count of the number of line managers that were assigned to supervise and assess me, but I do know that departmental meetings were abolished and academics had no decision-making power. "Human resources" and "teaching and learning" laid down the law and there was no departmental mediation. This was typical of New Labour public sector reforms. Managerial, arrogant and ultimately doomed. Labour should know that, unless the workforce is engaged and committed, change remains, in the worst sense of the word, aspirational.

Old Labour was worse. Entirely disengaged from democracy in the economy, its renewal in our cities or in the party and held in thrall by an administrative and rational conception of the state and the use of scientific method to achieve its ends, by the 1970s it could barely generate the energy to win an election, let alone redistribute power to ordinary people. So there is plenty to talk about.

The starting point for Blue Labour is that the banking crisis of 2008 marked the end of New Labour economics and opens up the possibility for renewal. The tradition is strong and the party should honour it. In its explanation of the crash it must point to the volatility and vice of finance capital and the necessity of a balance of power within the firm and stronger institutions to constrain capital and domesticate its destructive energy.

The lessons of New Labour are not to have a contemptuous attitude to the lived experiences of people but work within them to craft a common story of what went wrong and how things can be better. To bring together previously separated political matter in the pursuit of the common good.

In his Fabian speech in January, Ed Miliband set out the direction of travel. He stated his opposition to the domination of capital and an exclusive reliance on the state for redress. He expressed a desire to "change the common sense of the age" through renewing democracy in politics and the economy and opening the space for people to build a better life together. The price of victory is a constructive alternative and it will be crafted by all elements of the tradition.

There are great times ahead for the Labour party.

Saturday, 23 April 2011


I am rather taken aback to discover that The Weakest Link is still on. But who should be its new presenter? Who is The Weakest Link? And why?

The Nine Thousand Pound Question

Are the Oxbridge boys really so completely out of touch that they expected everywhere else to assert spontaneously that they themselves were not as good and would therefore be charging less? Presumably so, since Cameron honestly cannot see the problem with having his constituency office work done by his neighbours' offspring for no pay. How is that even legal?

Then again, Miliband also went to Oxford, so they are not all like that. Just the ones currently running the country. The ones who can manage to drive even the ATL and the RCN to the point of strike action, despite the fact that their very loudly trumpeted schools policy has failed while their health policy has been abandoned halfway through its parliamentary progress.

Tribalists on the other side, meanwhile, need to add the ATL and the RCN to the long, and ever-longer, list of those deserving of reappraisal in the present climate, and even more so in the realignment to be brought about by electoral reform.

Like, Unlike, Dislike

According to Baroness Warsi on Any Questions, the No campaign in the AV referendum is being supported by "Liberals like David Owen". Lord Owen is in fact calling for a No vote because he wants STV, whereas I see a No vote as the end of all prospect of electoral reform while anyone now of voting age is still alive.

In any case, if the question is which system best keeps out the BNP or some such, then AV is actually the best of all, whether First Past The Post, STV, party lists, or whatever. Don't take my word for it. Ask the BNP. Or, if you prefer, ask the Communist Party. Such are Sayeeda Warsi's allies, the only entire parties with which the one chaired by her is allied, in the No campaign.

But "Liberals like David Owen"? Rod Liddle expressed his scorn at that utterance, but she did not reply. There is a "don't mention the War" attitude to the SDP, a major contributing stream into the present Political Class, along with the 1970s sectarian Left and the 1980s Radical Right, both of which we are also forbidden to mention.

Falling Dominoes

First, the euro, only ever economically possible with the Germans on board, as they are now openly determined not to be.

And now, Schengen, only ever physically possible with the French on board, as they are now openly determined not to be.

Thank goodness for the 1997 General Election result. Thank goodness for Gordon Brown.

And thank goodness that Ed Balls is denouncing the euro bailouts, that Douglas Alexander is denouncing the EU Budget increase, that John Healey is denouncing EU competition law's threat to the NHS, that numerous Labour MPs are now denouncing the "free" movement of labour within the EU, that Peter Hain is in the Chair, and that there are now almost no Blairites left in the House of Commons, with even fewer expected after the next Election. Victory for AV would be yet another victory over them.

Still, in one capacity or another, the precise form to be determined in the light of that result, there will still be the need for friendly critics and critical friends.


You have to laugh at the little missive from the King of Cambodia pleading a prior engagement. It is a very useful antidote to Anglocentrism. The restoration of the monarchy in Cambodia is also very well worth examining by those, such as they are these days, who would wish to abolish the monarchy here or in any other the Queen's Realms.

Meanwhile, a very warm welcome to the Crown Prince of Bahrain. May one even stage a demonstration saying that? A little march to and rally outside where he was staying, in support of the action being taken to preserve the eight indigenous ethnic groups, the small but very ancient and entrenched Jewish community, the Gulf's only synagogue and Jewish cemetery, the black community that is part of the East African diaspora, the fifth of the population that is non-Muslim, the half of that fifth which is Christian, the strictly optional status of the women's headscarf, the Sunni third of Bahraini Muslims, the requirement that all legislation be approved by both Houses of Parliament, the election of the Lower House by universal suffrage, the regular appointment of women to the Upper House to make up for their dearth in the elected Lower House, the presence in the Upper House of a Jewish man and a Christian woman (the latter the first woman ever to chair a Parliament in the Arab world), the present position of a Jewish woman as Ambassador to the United States, the very close ties to Britain, and the fact that all of this is perfectly acceptable even to Salafi Members of Parliament.

In the intervening days, another such march and rally should be held to and outside the Embassy of Syria, in support of the Christian-majority provinces, the Christian festivals as public holidays, the extensive and expensive government programme restoring Jewish holy sites for the use of what must therefore be a thriving Jewish community, and the support for a Lebanese coalition headed by a Sunni but including Shi'ites, Maronites and Armenians.