Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Throw Them All Under The Bus

The two Coalition parties, who have ordered the cuts to be endured by the last people to have had any hand in causing the economic crisis.

Labour and the Independent Group (successor of the old Derwentide Independents), who have devised and implemented, or at the very least failed to prevent, the particular cuts in Lanchester and Burnhope, to exactly the sort of service without which there can be no economic recovery.

Whether or not you are, as I am, medically unable to drive, do not vote for any of them. But do vote. Make alternative arrangements to ensure that you have someone to vote for.

Still Blattering On

Anything, anything at all, to avoid mentioning the fact that there is now a major political force which will offer a meaningful choice in 2015, such that that Election need not necessarily inaugurate Tony Blair's fifth term regardless of the outcome. It is not just that they do not want to talk about this. They would not know where to begin. An entire generation of "political journalists" has absolutely no interest in politics.

House Prices

You know how this one goes.

Beyond His Ken?

Kenny McAskill does not want Scottish criminal convictions overturned by a court which "sits in another country, and is made up of judges with no knowledge of Scots Law".

Instead, he wants these matters to be decided by the European Court of Human Rights...

The Barbarians At The Gate

Another great civilisation manifests the decadence that comes immediately before collapse. Although the plan for 50 more coal-fired power stations is obviously to be welcomed, they should have been alongside, not instead of, nuclear power. A society defined by Christian Democrats and Social Democrats has instead fallen into the hands of neoliberals and of those soixante-huitards of the sectarian Left who have turned themselves into Greens. It is all too common a tale.

And it certainly will not stop here. The globalist-Green destruction of the industrial base that makes so much else possible is only the beginning. The proud old West German use of state power to ensure that mothers could afford to take care of their children will be replaced with the toddler warehouses of the old East Germany and of the Anglo-Saxon world since the Thatcher-Reagan years.

Dark days lie ahead for the Gymnasien, which were spontaneously restored by popular demand in the East as soon as the Wall came down, and which were always preserved in the West, including by similar demand when briefly placed under threat in the Social Democratic heartland of North-Rhine Westphalia. Honecker and Thatcher, again.

There cannot now be long left for the many Christian festivals as public holidays in Germany, or for the teaching of Christianity in schools there as recently defended by the national Social Democratic leadership when put to a referendum in Berlin. Honecker and Thatcher, again.

And so on, and on, and on. Nor will neoliberal-Green Germany take on the best feature of the old GDR, namely the relative resistance to the spread of the worst of American popular culture by what was very consciously the land of Bach, Goethe and Schiller.

Windmills will not meet Germany's energy needs, so she will have to buy in electricity from her neighbours, thus embroiling herself in the affairs of France and Poland. Some people never learn. Meanwhile, parts of the United Kingdom that refuse to have nuclear power stations (or, in principle, that refused to have anything else necessary, such as coal mines) should be taken off the National Grid until they agree to make their due contribution to it.

Roar of the Dinosaurs

Luke Akehurst is the Leader of Labour First, which is a party within the Labour Party as the Blairites always were, with their separate membership lists, their separate funding, their separate whipping arrangements in both Houses, and so on. He is also a member of Labour's National Executive Committee.

In blathering on about the need for Labour to support Trident, is he still living in the Blair years, or still living in the Cold War (when numerous of those whom he has served so loyally over the last 20 years were on the wrong side), or both? Does even he know the answer?

Give Him A Chance

Mehdi Hasan writes:

Being the leader of the opposition is the hardest job in British politics. Being the Labour leader of the opposition is harder still.

Give it a rest. Please. The speeches, columns, blog posts and tweets. Has any man, or woman, ever had to put up with as much unsolicited advice as the current leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband? Much of it is hazy, vacuous, clichéd and contradictory. He shouldn't disown the record by apologising for Iraq; he should disown the record by apologising for overspending. He has to pick a fight with, and take on, his party; he has to unite and inspire his party. He needs to be bold and take risks; he needn't have gone to the Trades Union Congress rally.

Being leader of the opposition is one of the toughest jobs in British politics and being a Labour leader of the opposition is tougher still. The right-wing press is powerful and hostile. The abuse is as personal as it is relentless. Remember Michael Foot and his "donkey jacket"? Neil Kinnock's head inside a light bulb? Even Tony Blair, Labour's most successful and media-friendly leader, was caricatured as "Bambi" towards the start of his leadership.

But Westminster is the home of amnesiacs and much of the criticism aimed at the Labour leader is context-free. Dare I jog the collective memory? Miliband inherited a fatigued, divided and defeated party, in opposition for the first time in 13 years. The 2010 general election saw Labour suffer its worst result since 1918, bar 1983. Between May 1997 and May 2010, under Blair and then Gordon Brown, Labour lost five million votes. By September 2010, despite the announcement of the biggest cuts to public spending in living memory, the Tories enjoyed a 7-point lead in the polls.

Double-digit leads

This is the context in which Miliband has begun the arduous job of turning the Labour supertanker around. But he is being held – by the press pack, the governing Tories and some of his own colleagues – to near-impossible standards.

Take the opinion polls. William Hague became leader of the opposition in June 1997; it wasn't until September 2000 and the fuel protests – more than three years into Blair's first term – that the Hague-led Conservative Party took the lead in the polls (and it had been lost again by November that year). Yet Labour overtook the Tories in the polls within 48 hours of the younger Miliband's election as leader on 25 September 2010 – just four months after the formation of the Tory-led coalition government. Under his leadership, Labour has enjoyed several double-digit leads over David Cameron's Conservatives.

Miliband's critics roll their eyes. Kinnock, they counter, also enjoyed double-digit poll leads but lost two elections in a row to the Tories. True. But what other metric do we have for judging his party's performance? Would these critics rather Labour be behind in the polls?

Others point to the Labour leader's poor personal poll ratings, which have lagged far behind his party's. Again, this is unfair. He has been leader for less than a year – and an under-reported Ipsos MORI poll in April revealed that "satisfaction" with Miliband was in line with Cameron at the same point in the latter's five-year stint as leader of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Miliband has enjoyed electoral success. Labour has won two by-elections – Oldham East and Saddleworth and Barnsley Central – with ease. In the local elections on 5 May, Labour gained 26 councils and more than 800 seats – the third highest number of Labour gains since 1979.

Were Miliband's critics silenced? Not quite. The headline on the former Blair speechwriter Philip Collins's column in the Times on 13 May read: "Labour gained 800 seats. It was a disaster". Defeat in Scotland was, indeed, a disaster for Miliband and the loss of the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum a disappointment. But it is hard to believe that a different Labour leader in Westminster would have stopped a resurgent Alex Salmond and cancelled out the Nick Clegg factor on AV.

Listen to the wise words of the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle, a prominent supporter of David Miliband's failed leadership bid, defending the younger Miliband: "There is a rhythm to opposition. The public isn't inclined to listen to you immediately after you have lost a general election. Blair did not win a leadership election six months after an election defeat." Eagle was speaking at a conference organised by the impeccably Blairite think tank Progress on 21 May, at which, in a dig at those in her party who continue to long for the elder Miliband brother, she noted: "Nostalgia for a lost leader is no substitute for the hard graft of renewal."

In the cross-hairs

Ed Miliband has highlighted three distinct challenges to which the next Labour government must be the answer: tackling generational decline where there are fewer opportunities for young people; strengthening communities and historical institutions; and reducing the "new inequality" between the "squeezed middle" and a wealthy elite.

Not so long ago, journalists such as the BBC's John Humphrys were mocking him for his use of the phrase "squeezed middle" – today, those journalists, Humphrys included, regularly use the phrase themselves. It was a theme that Miliband raised with the US president, Barack Obama, in Buckingham Palace on 24 May – the importance of "shared growth" among the middle and working classes, as Britain and the US emerge from the economic crisis. (One of the side benefits of the president's trip for Miliband was a chance to meet David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager during the 2008 election. Plouffe's The Audacity to Win is one of the Labour leader's favourite books).

Opposition is hard work. It is also a team effort. It was said of Hague's front bench that it was more a cabinet of shadows than a shadow cabinet. Some might argue that the same could apply to Labour's front bench in 2011.

But it is Miliband who remains firmly in the cross-hairs. He will never become prime minister, those same pundits and pollsters who predicted that he would never become Labour leader now proclaim.

In his own speech to the Progress conference earlier this month, Miliband referred to Labour's historic election victories of 1945, 1964 and 1997. Those wins came after 14, 13 and 18 years in opposition. Miliband is trying to pull off a Labour comeback, against a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, in the space of just five years. Give him a chance.

Spanish Lessons

Even though we all know that he is never published, because certain people turn up to say so whenever and wherever he is published, Neil Clark writes:

Judging from Saturday's hopelessly one-sided Champions League final, in which Manchester United were, in Sir Alex Ferguson's own words, "given a hiding" by Barcelona, it's likely to be a few years at least before English football catches up with the super-skilled Catalonian version. But the Spanish tactics for streets protests – against joblessness among the young and against the power of the banks – is another matter.

On Friday, Spanish police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Barcelona's Plaza de Catalunya, who had occupied the city's main square since May 15. At least 5,000 people then turned up to protest against the police's brutal intervention.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, an occupation of Puerta del Sol square has lasted for over two weeks. Young Spaniards are taking to the streets, in increasing numbers, to protest over the country's high level of youth unemployment - which at 45 per cent is the highest in the EU - and the austerity programmes of the Zapatero government.

They're also calling for radical change in the political system. "The Arab spring has crossed the Mediterranean," says Noelia Moreno, a spokesperson for the 'Spanish Revolution'. The question now is - will it cross to Britain? Cheered on by the political elite, the 'Arab spring' has been interpreted in the west as a sign of people's dissatisfaction with dictatorial governments. But the roots of the protests, as I argued in The First Post in February, are economic.

Neo-liberalism, while providing bumper pay-outs for the international financial elite, has failed to deliver economic security for the majority of citizens across the world. The biggest failure of global capitalism has been in creating jobs - and in particular jobs for young people. Last August, the International Labour Organisation revealed that 81 million young people worldwide were without jobs at the end of 2009 - the highest level of youth unemployment ever.

Worryingly for Cameron and Clegg, the same economic factors that have brought young people out on the streets in their thousands in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, are present here in Britain. Almost 21 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed - and that figure does not include those on training schemes and not claiming benefits. In some blackspots - such as Merthyr Tydfil in Wales - youth unemployment is as high as 34 per cent. Writing in the Sunday Mirror yesterday, Professor David Blanchflower predicted that under-25s unemployment would hit 1m this year. And that was before today's bad news from the British Chambers of Commerce, who have cut their UK growth forecasts for the second time in six months (from 1.4 to 1.3 per cent this year, and from 2.3 to 2.2 per cent for 2012).

We got a taster of the civil unrest which lies in store with the student fees protests of last autumn. Now it's time for the main course. The coming protests are not going to be a re-run of the late 1960s, when, at a time of plenty, youth engaged in a cultural revolution against the old. This time, the elderly, the middle-aged and the young will be on the same side. For all age groups are being shafted by international capital and their political emissaries.

Earlier this year Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, warned that households in Britain faced the fastest drop in living standards since the 1920s. While the bankers continue to award themselves obscene six-figure bonuses, ordinary Britons - like ordinary Spaniards - are expected to pay the price for the financial crisis which the bankers themselves caused. Is it any wonder that people are getting angry - and that the comments sections of pro-Conservative newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are full of anti-banker and anti-free market sentiments?

The only way that living standards can be protected, and meaningful jobs created for young people, is for Britain's political elite to make a clean break with neo-liberalism and instead embrace once again the interventionist economic policies which worked so well in the 30 years following World War Two. But with the power of capital so strong, it's hard to see signs of a major U-turn coming from government. It's likely therefore that it will be on Britain's streets where the argument will be made.

"It's an anti-capitalism, anti-market ruled society, anti-banks, anti-political corruption, anti-failed democracy, anti-degraded democracy and pro-real democracy protest," a Spanish street protester told the BBC. It may not be a punchy slogan, but I won't be surprised to hear the same thoughts expressed on the streets of London and Manchester very soon. As David Blanchflower wrote yesterday, young people without work or training opportunities "have low levels of morale, are miserable and have an over-riding sense of hopelessness. This isn't good for our society."

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cut Off

Greetings from sunny Lanchester on its first day with no bus service to anywhere, as is now the case on all Sundays and Bank Holidays "until further notice".

If either this, or the evening cuts, or the school bus cuts is still in place in 2013, then neither of the County Councillors should be re-elected, nor should the one with a party in the conventional sense be reselected. They are both easily old enough to retire, and perhaps this is their way of announcing that such was already their intention. There, I have said it. At least one of them appeared not to know that this was happening until informed of it at this month's Parish Council meeting.

Even leaving aside the ludicrous notion that public provision is only for the poor, the number of Lanchester people who could reasonably be so classified is greater than the entire populations of certain other places which have not been subjected to this. Using either a mean or a median income figure, how can Burnhope, which has also been subjected to severe cuts in service, not qualify? The same is true using levels of benefit dependency, and the number of claimants in Lanchester is actually larger than the total population of Burnhope, where by no means everyone is in receipt of such assistance from the community at large.

In fact, certainly based on mean income, a colony of Eighties pop stars and the like within the former Castleside District Ward makes it the richest of the three in the Lanchester County Ward. Yet, I am very pleased to say, there seem to have been few or no such cuts to the service enjoyed by Castleside, despite the ease of walking from there to a neighbouring, considerably poorer area in order to catch a bus to Consett in one direction or to Newcastle in the other.

There has been practically no notice about this. I say again, if this is still in place in 2013, then neither of the County Councillors should be re-elected, nor should the one with a party in the conventional sense be reselected. After all, the school transport thing is already going to cost numerous people their seats either by election or by deselection, and rightly so.

Rejoin the Labour Party round here? Are you having a laugh? I'm not.


FIFA is the main news. If it is not a football match, then it is this.

Civil Rights

The usual suspects are up in arms that the Vatican has once again issued instructions relating to child abuse cases which do not simply require that such matters be blithely handed over to the civil authority.

What if the civil authority is the EU, with its year planner for children which includes the festivals of every major religion except one, and I think we can all guess which one? What if there is practically no functioning civil authority, as in some countries where the Catholic Church is active? What if it would be better that there were not than that there were what there is, as in very many such countries?

What if the civil authority is our own dear Police, who long ago stopped enforcing the age of consent from 13 upwards, or our own dear Social Services Departments, with their long history of publishing academic studies claiming that sex between men and teenage boys was beneficial to both parties, not to say of putting that view into practice in their residential facilities?

What if the civil authority is the Dutch civil authority, which has lowered the age of consent to 12, that, and not anything either Catholic or Reformed, being the vision of the Netherlands defended by the likes of Geert Wilders and the late Pim Fortuyn? (The legal situation in the Vatican City State, mercifully meaningless in practice, is an inherited imposition by Mussolini, lest anyone ever suggest either that he favoured the Church or that She favoured him.) What if the civil authority is a court presided over by Oz Robertson QC? What if had been, as it might be in the future, a House of Lords to which David Cameron had persuaded Peter Tatchell to accept the appointment that he declined last year?

The age of consent in Catholic Canon Law is 18, regardless of any lower age in any jurisdiction in which the Church might be active. Ages lower than that in countries with historically Catholic cultures are an invariable sign of Jacobin or Marxist anticlericalism, often of a very violent kind, at some point in the period from 1789 onwards, and usually in the twentieth century. Such lowering was specifically in order to make an anti-Catholic point, and to hell with the consequences for vulnerable adolescents. Why on earth prioritise authorities such as those over that of the Church, with Her age of consent fixed firmly at 18?

The Greatest Heroism, The Most Conspicuous Courage

Malta can now look forward to the British-style social breakdown against which she has been warned from across the political spectrum, to much hilarity over here. (The Philippines could look forward to American-style social breakdown if the same change were ever enacted there.)

No one seems to have noticed that Britain is now onto her fourth successive Prime Minister who at least talks much the same talk, even if none of them has yet walked the walk, with the Major Government making it legally easier to be divorced than to be released from a car hire contract. Before that, of course, we had the Prime Minister who broke Britain more than any other single individual.

The Maltese were once so loyal to Britain that their country, where the present Queen spent her honeymoon, was seriously considered for incorporation into the United Kingdom. The bonds of affection remain strong. By her witness on this issue, Malta had the opportunity to earn her George Cross all over again. Ho, hum.

It is high time to entitle each divorcing spouse to one per cent of the other's estate for each year of marriage, up to fifty per cent, and to disentitle the petitioning spouse unless fault be proved.

It is high time to entitle any marrying couple to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 as regards grounds and procedures for divorce, and to enable any religious organisation to specify that any marriage which it conducts shall be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly.

And it is high time to legislate that the Church of England be such a body unless the General Synod specifically resolve the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses, and to do something similar for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

That would be a start, anyway.

Stale Tea

Apparently, the Tea Party is off on a RINO hunt against Scott Brown, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Would that be the same Tea Party that installed Scott Brown in the first place?

It did not do very well last year, ending up claiming as its own several successful candidates whom it had previously disowned. Marco Rubio took fewer votes than his two opponents combined, and Bob Bennett would have been re-elected against the Tea Partier if he had run as an Independent.

By contrast, the GOP's old Moderate school staged a significant comeback, even returning Lincoln Chafee as Governor of Rhode Island as an Independent against the GOP's official Tea Party nominee.

As the RNC is busy imposing open primaries in order to prevent any further Tea Party advances even on that pitiful showing, the Tea Party can look forward to campaigning next year for the Presidency to go to the man who gave Massachusetts socialised medicine and who ran for the Senate from Ted Kennedy's left.

But even he is not going to win. So, in 2016, the Tea Party will be out on the stump for a man who is currently a serving member of the Obama Administration.

Firm And Sure?

Netanyahu told Congress that America had "no firmer ally", or "no surer ally", or something like that, than Israel. His hirelings applauded wildly. But in fact, other than America's gigantic subvention to Israel, there is almost no economic relationship between the two, just as there is hardly any Israeli emigration to America, and not very much in the other direction these days, either.

There is no formal treaty of common defence between the two, and the only intelligence "relationship" is the colossal level of Israeli espionage against the United States, for which, unlike either the British Empire or the Soviet Union is their respective heydays, Israel has the sheer bad manners to send the bill to the American taxpayer. Exactly as many Israeli military personnel were or are deployed in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Can you guess how many?

Netanyahu also drew ovations for claiming that the only Arabs in the world who could vote were the ones who were Israeli citizens, and that Israel was the only Middle Eastern country that did not persecute Christians. Where does one even begin? Perhaps with the Palestinian Authority and with the Christian quota for elections to it?

Pragmatic And Clearly Understood

It is amazing (although, after all these years, it no longer is to me) who turns up at the better dinner tables around God's Own University, and of course, as is their business, they know who one is. One of them told me this week that Serbia had certainly known all along where Ratko Mladić was, rather implying that therefore so had he and his. Meanwhile, Daniel Hannan writes:

Serbia’s readiness to extradite Ratko Mladić to The Hague, we keep being told, is proof of that country’s democratic fitness, and will hasten its admission to the EU. As Nicolas Sarkozy puts it, “it is a step toward integration of Serbia into the European Union”.

In fact, if you think about it, the opposite ought to be true. Serbia would have proved its fitness when a man like Mladić could expect justice in Belgrade. The sad truth is that he is unlikely to get justice from the ICTY.

Why do I say that? Well, look at its most high-profile case so far: the trial of Slobodan Milošević. As the great Theodore Dalrymple put it: “The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague was little more than a kangaroo court, though without the very real advantages of that kind of legal establishment, namely speed and economy.” Yup. It masticated its leisurely way through a $200 million a year budget, while Slobbo whiled away five years in prison, and had still not reached a verdict when both judge and defendant were dead.

Along the way, as John Laughland showed in his magisterial study of the trial, the ICTY had violated almost every legal precept, admitting hearsay evidence, contradicting itself, changing its rules of procedure 22 times and, when the old monster proved surprisingly eloquent in his own defence, taking the extraordinary step of imposing counsel on him.

For more than three centuries, the world has operated on the pragmatic and clearly understood principle that crimes are the responsibility of the state on whose territory they are committed – in this case, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, without debate, and with little thought, we are rushing into a universal jurisdiction policed by a caste of fervent human rights activists who have never taken the trouble to get a democratic mandate for their agenda.

But Mladić was an utter swine, you say. Well, maybe. Then again, bad men – perhaps bad men especially – deserve justice. When they fail to get it, it is the rest of us who are diminished.

Getting Israel Right

Jack Hunter writes:

When President Obama said last week that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders, Benjamin Netanyahu declared “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.” Israel’s Prime Minister was clearly not pleased.

But perhaps even more perturbed was the American Right, with the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates offering the following reactions: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian policy a “disaster.” Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.” Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann said that America would be “cursed” by God if it “rejected” Israel. A critical Sarah Palin even advised Obama to read the Old Testament.

Congressman Ron Paul was also critical of Obama’s Israel policy, but from a different perspective: “While President Obama’s demand that Israel make hard concessions in her border conflicts may very well be in her long-term interest, only Israel can make that determination on her own, without pressure from the United States or coercion by the United Nations. Unlike this President, I do not believe it is our place to dictate how Israel runs her affairs.”

Paul added, “We should respect Israel’s sovereignty and not try to dictate her policy from Washington.”

This is not the first time Paul has taken this position.

When Israel attacked a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 almost the entire US Congress voted to condemn the act, but Congressman Paul was one of the few Republicans who stood up and said Israel should not have to answer to America for how she defends herself. Remember, this was the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan that had condemned Israel, a coalition that included the most hawkish anti-Communists and the most fervent Christian conservatives.

Republicans condemned Israel’s actions in 1981 for two reasons: 1. The Reagan administration was making an ally of Saddam Hussein. 2. The Republican Party had not yet conflated Israel’s and America’s interests as identical.

Yesterday’s Cold Warriors might have wanted to defeat Communism and no doubt considered Israel an ally, but by and large their hawkishness reflected a desire to put America first. Yesterday’s religious Right was also thoroughly anti-Communist and they also considered Israel an ally—but their politics were primarily born of the belief that America was no longer putting God first.

Now both groups put Israel first.

Indeed, can you imagine Republicans today—especially GOP hawks and Christian conservatives—opposing Israel on anything?

In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 1988, conservative author Russell Kirk said “Not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.” Kirk was describing the attitude of an increasingly influential part of the GOP, the neoconservatives, who would end up defining American foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration.

For most traditional conservatives of Reagan’s era, support for Israel did not necessarily mean unconditional support for absolutely everything Israel did. This is generally not true of the neoconservatives. If the US condemned Israel for attacking Iraq in 1981, it was not a shock that by the time the neoconservative Bush administration came to power two decades later America and Israel would more often begin to share the same enemies. There was Iraq, of course, and today while Ron Paul insists that Israel should do whatever it likes concerning the threat posed by Iran—the neoconservatives push for a US war with Iran. Is yet another Middle Eastern war in the US’s best interest? Whose interests are the neoconservatives putting first—America or Israel’s? Many in Reagan’s Republican Party might have asked this question. Few in Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich’s GOP would even dare to.

The Christian Coalition exemplified the power of the Religious Right in the 1980’s and 90’s and its founder Pat Robertson was regularly accused of being an anti-Semite throughout this period. Prominent neoconservative Norman Podhoretz wrote in 1995 “The conclusion is thus inescapable that Robertson, whether knowingly or unknowingly, has subscribed to and purveyed ideas that have an old and well-established anti-Semitic pedigree.” To read Robertson’s writings, Mr. Podhoretz was not being unreasonable in his criticism.

But if a Religious Right leader like Robertson might have been an anti-Semite during the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton years—in 2008 he would endorse socially liberal Rudy Giuliani for president primarily because the televangelist thought the former New York City mayor was a “strong supporter” of Israel. In supporting a pro-choice and pro-gay-marriage candidate, was the supposedly conservative Christian Robertson putting God, America or Israel first? Giuliani was also the top 2008 choice of many of the neoconservatives—including former Robertson critic Norman Podhoretz—and for the same reasons as the televangelist. To the degree that some on the Religious Right of the Reagan era might have been anti-Semitic is deplorable. But so are the Christian coalitions of today who might follow Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin in the other extreme direction by allowing their latest interpretations of the Bible to dictate US foreign policy.

“Israel is our close friend,” says Congressman Paul in response to Obama’s recent comments on the Jewish state, as he simultaneously wonders why America should even have a dominant role in dictating that nation’s policies. Whether in 1981 or 2011, Ron Paul’s position on this controversial issue remains reasonable, consistent and traditionally conservative—while that of his party continues to fluctuate with the ideological and theological fashions of the day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

2003 All Over Again

The Lib Dems have worked out that they can save themselves by having become the party that saved the English NHS. It might very well work.

Such supporters as there are of the Blairite scheme for its dismantlement are like such supporters as there were for the Blairite invasion of Iraq. Now as then, they comprise only a few evil and rather more stupid MPs, plus a handful of journalists and think tank weirdoes egging them on: considerably fewer than one thousand people, in a nation of 60 million. And now as then, they are simply living in the wrong country, if they are living here much of the time at all, such that they should clear off to the right one and let those of us who want to be British get on with being British.

If the Conservatives really believed in this policy, then they would avail themselves of Westminster's supreme legislative power throughout the United Kingdom and enact it for the entire Realm, come whatever constitutional crises because they were truly committed to what they were doing. I am not suggesting that they ought to do that. But if they were, then they would.

Hacked Off

First they are told that they cannot publish absolutely anything about anyone, and now the media have to put up with an Official Opposition which is politically distinct from the Government.

That latter point is genuinely beyond their power of comprehension. Entry level positions in the media are now restricted to people who can live in central London on little or no pay for several years after university, and those relating to policy are strictly reserved for people with absolutely no interest in policy or philosophy, but who assume, if they think about it at all, that all these questions were decidedly permanently half a generation or more ago.

So they honestly do not know where to begin in reporting a government-in-waiting which would at last bring to an end the wasted generation that began with the death of John Smith. Their ineptitude is increasingly apparent, and they know it. Hence their obsessive covering of the backs of a Cabinet which in former years would have been mercilessly hounded from office one by one. Think back to the Major years and that point is made.

But those days are gone. The media have to protect Michael Gove, Andrew Lansley, Chris Huhne and all of the rest of them, precisely because there is a real alternative rather than David Miliband's continuation of the last Parliament, in which there were almost no votes on the floor of the House of Commons because no one could be bothered to stand up and demand any, the parties being in absolute agreement, thus enabling the press pack to concentrate on such matters as the colour of Peter Mandelson's socks.

A Better Wei

With Lord Wei off to spend more time with his money, the question is not so much the umpteenth relaunch of the Big Society, as the umpteenth relaunch of House of Lords "reform".

For some unknown reason, it has been decided that appointments to that House should reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party at the preceding General Election. This amounts to the same thing as election from party lists, but without the bother of elections; STV, meanwhile, is party lists by another name, and assumes voting patterns so tribal that, as in the Irish Republic, most people who lose their seats lose them to members of the same party as themselves. Seriously.

So a ballot of the whole national electorate should be held, at public expense, since this would be to elect parliamentarians in order to conform a House of Parliament to government policy. Say that a party was entitled to 15 new peers. It would submit to this ballot twice that number, 30, being the 30 who had received the most nominations from its branches throughout the country, including those of affiliated organisations in Labour's case. Each of us would then vote for up to five, one third of the requisite number. At the end, the highest-scoring 15 would be ennobled.

Why ever not?

The Sinister, Sycophantic Relationship

Peter Oborne writes:

One of the first big strategic decisions made by David Cameron after his election as Conservative leader more than five years ago concerned the United States of America. Cameron claimed to have been taken aback by Tony Blair’s uncritical subservience to George W Bush, so he promised that any government he led would take a more independent stance. Britain, or so he stated, would no longer be “America’s unconditional associate in every endeavour”.

It is tempting to say that these remarks were brave, but actually, they weren’t. Cameron was simply reflecting the national mood of disgust at the busted alliance between Blair and Bush. And like so many of his pronouncements while in Opposition, the pledge to distance Britain from the US has been at least partly forgotten.

This week’s visit by Barack Obama has been a national embarrassment, although Cameron is not the only one at fault. Nick Clegg has been almost as bad, and the same applies to Ed Miliband. A great deal of the media coverage has been more craven still. I have detected very little sense that Britain is a proud, independent nation with a distinct sense of our own values and traditions, many of which are very sharply different and, in some cases, contradictory to America’s.

It took the President a very long time to force his way through Westminster Hall after making his over-hyped speech. This was because each and every member of our political class wanted to talk to him or shake his hand. It was like teenagers surrounding a pop star, but with very much less excuse: grown men and women, with a long record in public life behind them, abandoned all judgment and propriety.

The face of John Bercow as Obama spoke was a picture: like many other members of the audience (apart from Ken Clarke, who fell asleep) he appeared to be undergoing a profound, mystical experience.

Many people will have seen the photographs of Obama in the Cabinet room. The President is the only one standing up. Those seated around him are grinning sycophantically: a collective act of naked power worship. Lord Acton famously remarked that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and looking at those pictures one can understand exactly what the great historian was talking about.

There is, of course, no questioning the utility of the visit for the two young men at the heart of it. For David Cameron, a presidential visit is one of the massive advantages of incumbency. It differentiates him from Miliband, his Labour rival, and helps establish him as an international statesman. For Obama, contact with the magical glamour of the Royal family is important as his campaign for a second presidential term gets under way: the historic apparatus of the British state wheeled out for a bit-part role in US domestic politics.

Hence the photo opportunities: at the Cabinet table, serving a barbecue, high-fiving after a ping-pong game. Doubtless, all this was a joy for Craig Oliver, the Downing Street director of communications, and his White House counterpart. Yet, in view of the times we live in, with wars being fought in distant places (and tragic though the British and US military deaths are, let us also remember the innocent victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan) all this bordered on the tasteless.

It was made worse by the lack of substance. Perhaps I am wrong, but there was no real sign of sleeves being rolled up, or hard analysis taking place, between the US President and the British Prime Minister in regard to our complex and morally treacherous wars in Libya and Afghanistan.

More disturbing still was another contradiction. Obama’s rhetoric was impeccable as he spoke of how we “stand squarely on the side of those who want to be free”, and of how the “longing for human dignity is universal”. But away from the gilded elite in Westminster Hall, these words make no sense.

America has little concept of the rule of law, a point trivially symbolised by the £5.2 million of outstanding congestion charge fines racked up by US diplomats in central London – a matter raised personally by Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, at the Buckingham Palace dinner on Tuesday night, and discussed at some length with the President, despite repeated attempts by Louis Susman, the US ambassador, to close Johnson down. Good for him.

More significantly, Obama, in breach of his election promise, has recently announced that the illegal prison of Guantánamo Bay is to be kept open. Further, both the US and British governments are selective about which freedom movements they support. They have nothing to say about the suppression of the Shia population in Bahrain, with the assistance of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. In the context of this dark ambiguity, the timing of last week’s announcement that the Gibson inquiry into torture will not include the British extradition of terrorist suspects for interrogation by the US looks cynical and dirty.

There is a paradox about these occasions. For more than 50 years after the end of the Second World War, not a single US president made a state visit to Britain. There was contact, of course: President Eisenhower met the Queen at Balmoral, the Kennedys had dinner at Buckingham Palace in 1961, while president Nixon was given lunch by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in early 1969. Ronald and Nancy Reagan stayed at Windsor Castle 13 years later. It is only the two most recent presidents – George W Bush in 2003 and now President Obama – who have been granted state visits, with all the associated grandeur which we witnessed this week.

So while this week’s formalities looked antique, we actually witnessed something that is wholly contemporary. When the relationship between Britain and the United States really was the hinge on which the world was constructed – think Churchill and Roosevelt, Macmillan and Kennedy, Reagan and Thatcher – nobody needed grand state ceremonial occasions to make the point. Now that it matters very much less, we do.

Another explanation of last week’s events goes deeper still. Britain is losing faith in its institutions. When we were confident about our role in the world, we were rather proud that the Queen’s first minister lived in an ordinary townhouse off Whitehall. Now everything is becoming presidential. The British prime minister used to have a principal private secretary, who would run his office. Now he has acquired a “chief of staff”, as well as a personal “military aide”.

Likewise, defence and security issues used to be dealt with by the relevant cabinet sub-committee. Now we have the ludicrous “National Security Council”. Downing Street has acquired a “Rose Garden”, even though it contains no roses. Our law lords meet in the “Supreme Court”, while moves are afoot to convert the House of Lords into a “Senate”. Without exception, all of these changes are based on the US model. There was reason to hope, when David Cameron became Prime Minister, that he would value the British way of doing things. But this week he has seemed to share with New Labour an awed, abject fascination with America. This, I feel, should disappoint us.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Right Ties And Tales

The "news" is that eighty-seven per cent of Labour's funding comes from organised labour, so it is welcome to The Eighties Show, in which people have fits of the vapours at the mere mention of trade unions.

I hate to break the news to certain sections of the media, but most people now agree with the unions, apart from the RMT, and it has not been affiliated to Labour for some years, instead funding people whom David Cameron now welcomes with open arms and not a little fanfare. Neil Clark has to use his Morning Star column to get out the views of most Telegraph and Mail readers on such matters as the Post Office and the railways.

A party funded by millions of working people in the United Kingdom looks a lot more attractive than a party funded by a tiny number of largely foreign-based rich people, and acting, as New Labour did, as nothing more than a cipher for whatever slash-and-burn gibberish happens to be doing the rounds among the think tank schoolboys.

"Remain In All Time Coming Within Scotland"

Alex Salmond is vexed that the "Supreme Court" has overturned a criminal conviction in Scotland. In point of fact, criminal, though not civil, cases could previously be appealed from Scotland to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, just as criminal, though not civil, cases can now be appealed from Scotland to the "Supreme Court". But beyond that, if Salmond and his party are so alarmed at this, as they see it, compromise of the integrity of Scots Law, then why are they so enamoured of the EU?

"Who Is The Superpower Here?"

Such were once the words of an exasperated Bill Clinton, after a "meeting" with Netanyahu. It was answered again in recent days, when he was cheered to the rafters by a room full of people eighty per cent or more of whom he had openly and publicly bought and paid for. The head of a coalition including a party which wishes to denaturalise the Haredim and the Arabs, and another which believes Gentiles to have been created as beasts of burden. Which other politician on earth who kept such company would be given so much as the time of day either by the White House or by Congress?

Roll of Honour

The MPs who voted to keep Britain out of paying for the euro bailouts:

Steve Baker – Conservative, Wycombe
Hugh Bayley – Labour, York Central
Andrew Bingham – Conservative, High Peak
Peter Bone - Conservative, Wellingborough
Ronnie Campbell – Labour, Blyth Valley
Douglas Carswell – Conservative, Clacton
William Cash – Conservative, Stone
James Clappison – Conservative, Hertsmere
Rosie Cooper – Labour, West Lancashire
John Cryer – Labour, Leyton and Wanstead
Ian Davidson – Labour, Glasgow South West
Geraint Davies – Labour, Swansea West
Philip Davies – Conservative, Shipley
Rt. Hon. David Davis – Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden
Nick De Bois – Conservative, Enfield North
Rt. Hon. Jeffrey Donaldson – DUP, Lagan Valley
Richard Drax – Conservative, South Dorset
Barry Gardiner – Labour, Brent North
Zac Goldsmith – Conservative, Richmond
James Gray – Conservative, North Wiltshire
Tom Harris – Labour, Glasgow South
Gordon Henderson – Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey
Kate Hoey – Labour, Vauxhall
Philip Hollobone – Conservative, Kettering
Kelvin Hopkins – Labour, Luton North
Bernard Jenkin – Conservative, Harwich and North Essex
Edward Leigh – Conservative, Gainsborough
Anne Maine - Conservative, St Albans
Jason McCartney – Conservative, Colne Valley
Karl McCartney – Conservative, Lincoln
John McDonnell – Labour, Hayes and Harlington
Austin Mitchell – Labour, Great Grimsby
David Nuttall – Conservative, Bury North
Andrew Percy – Conservative, Brigg and Goole
Mark Reckless – Conservative, Rochester and Strood
Rt. Hon. John Redwood – Conservative, Wokingham
Jacob Rees-Mogg – Conservative, North East Somerset
Jim Shannon – DUP, Strangford
Jim Sheridan – Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North
David Simpson – DUP, Upper Bann
Dennis Skinner – Labour, Bolsover
Bob Stewart – Conservative, Beckenham
Graham Stringer – Labour, Blackley and Broughton
Justin Tomlinson – Conservative, North Swindon
Andrew Turner – Conservative, Isle of Wight
Martin Vickers – Conservative, Cleethorpes
Charles Walker – Conservative, Broxbourne
Dr. Sarah Wollaston – Conservative, Totnes

Ed Miliband should have made this a three-line whip issue.

Off The Rails

The Conservative Party is crowing that it has re-recruited David Campbell Bannerman MEP, Mr Rail Privatisation, which is allegedly required by the EU, although that one seems to have escaped the notice of every other member-state. UKIP is well rid of him, it says a lot about a party half of whose voters for Strasbourg are Old Labour (or, in the West Country, Old Liberal) that it ever had him, and its says everything about Cameron's lot that they are so happy to have him back.

Not Super, Not Injunctions

Liam Carr writes:

Superinjuctions are not super and thanks to Twitter they are not injunctions either. The ending of these gagging orders imposed by the rich and famous is probably a good thing, not because what a footballer does with a Big Brother contestant is in the public interest but because it is fair. If someone who is not a premiership footballer has an affair then they cannot get an injunction to stop a rumour or nosey neighbours gossiping about it. Why should footballers be any different? The only differences I can see are:

Nosey neighbours = Followers
Gossip = Tweets
and Rumour = Trend

I don't really object to the coalition MP John Hemming using the footballers name in the houses of parliament. Everyone knew by this point who Giggs was anyway. I do object however to his reasons behind using his parliamentary privilege in this way. I had not heard of John Hemming before yesterday and it is possible that neither had some of his constituents; I know that most of the people reading this blog are acutely aware of their political environment. Many people are not, and it is the politically unaware that this desperate Lib Dem is trying to appeal to by gaining publicity. I have two words of warning to any Lib Dem MP who thinks fame will make you more electable and they are "Lembit Opik". Even if Hemming is on a one-man crusade against superinjunctions, then he is in the right line of work as an MP to legislate against them. Stunts like this are transparent; Labour MP John Cryer accurately describes Hemmings behaviour as "an act of gross opportunism by a politician on an ego trip." That is exactly what it is.

I don't really want to hear anything more about the Lib Dems in the papers. That is, until Clegg leads them through the opposition lobby in a meaningful vote; the NHS bill would be a start...

Fear Of A Black Planet

John writes:

So, it looks like the usual suspects are out telling black Africans that they should stop having so many children. Interestingly, nobody seems worried about French and Swedish schemes to increase national fertility. Perhaps that is because they are wealthy white countries? I also find it interesting that Jeffrey "Shock Therapy" Sachs is the UN official pushing for limiting the number of children Nigerians should have, given his history as one of the architects of the devastation of the former communist nations of Eastern Europe, although I guess that does qualify him as an expert on depopulation.

While I recognize that poverty is a large problem in countries such as Nigeria, the answer to such poverty is development not depopulation. You don't eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor, unless perhaps you are a devotee of the wicked ideology of eugenics. We have gone a long way from the days of the post-war consensus, with its support for industrial development and the material and cultural uplifting of the poor.

The current neoliberal consensus is a Neo-Malthusian brew that seeks to turn places like Africa into permanently poor extraction economies that exist to serve the consumer needs of First World peoples while also serving as theme parks for the very rich, hence the constant attempt to convince Third World countries to invest in low-productivity ecotourism as opposed to heavy industry. The rich nations, through their control of international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, also force policy straitjackets on the poor nations to prevent them from using the same state-led models of development that were used by practically all of today's wealthy nations when they were developing.

Much of the Left, especially the execrable Green Movement, has foolishly fallen for much of this claptrap, despite the fact that Neo-Malthusian policies primarily target the poor, the very people that the Left is supposed to represent and defend. Given these facts, it is not surprising that so many people in the developing world are attracted to violent ideologies that view the West as a malevolent force bent on oppressing the rest of the world. As heinous as these ideologies are, Western actions help to fan the flames of anger and resentment. Africans have already suffered enough from the depredations of foreign meddlers and they don't need ghouls like Jeffrey Sachs to "help" them have fewer children.

The Ubiquitous Neil Clark I


Sir Winston Churchill will be turning in his grave. For 83 years, the Tote, Britain's publicly-owned bookmaker, set up by Churchill when he was chancellor of the exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government in 1928, has been an integral part of the British horseracing scene. Now, however, the institution endearingly known as "the Nanny Goat" is to go the way of our railways, our buses and our utilities and be transferred to the private sector.

While free-market enthusiasts will no doubt be pleased to see a further shrinking of the state, the sale is likely to prove disastrous for a sport which employs more than 100,000 directly and indirectly, and which brings joy to millions of people's lives.

The Tote is no ordinary bookmaker. When it was set up it was given a monopoly of on-course pool betting, with the proviso that its profits would be ploughed back into racing. Last year, the Tote put nearly £19m back into the sport and sponsored more than 700 races. Privately owned bookmaker Betfred – one of the two surviving bidders for the Tote, has said it would guarantee a minimum of £122m for racing during the seven-year period of the exclusive pool betting licence, and its rival, Sports Investment Partners, has pledged £11m per year for racing "in perpetuity". But it's hard to see the same level of commitment to the sport coming from a privately owned Tote owner – eager to please shareholders and investors – as that which occurs at present.

It's largely because of the Tote and its generous support of horseracing that we have such diverse racing in Britain – with no fewer than 60 racetracks, ranging from grade one venues such as Cheltenham and Haydock, to cosy, intimate arenas like Kelso and Cartmel. At present the Tote effectively subsidises the smaller, less profitable tracks as it pays a percentage of the gross profits it makes on any day to every racecourse, even if it may make very little money there at all. John Heaton, a former Tote chief executive, fears that privatisation will lead to the tracks which generate the most pool-betting revenue demanding a bigger share.

The danger is that racing could go the way of football when the Premier League was introduced – with a huge divide opening up between the bigger tracks and the smaller venues – many of whom, deprived of their Tote subsidy, would face a real fight for their existence. Heaton is not alone among senior racing figures in believing that the sale of the Tote should never have been contemplated.

The argument that the sale is urgently needed due to the dire state of the nation's finances is risible – the money the government is likely to raise from the sale – ranging from around £60m to £200m – could be less than what it has spent up to now on the military intervention in Libya. And with the betting industry growing all the time – operating profits for the Tote rose by 13% last year – the taxpayer will lose out in the long term.

Like the sell-off of the railways, the sale of the Tote is a classic example of dogma overriding common sense, and further evidence that the coalition is more extreme in its ardour for privatisation than even Margaret Thatcher.

For all of the Thatcher years, the Tote chairman was the former Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt, a keen racing man who boosted the profile of the organisation. Selling the Tote entered the political agenda under New Labour, but while Blair and Brown dithered on the issue for a decade, the coalition has, regrettably, shown no such indecision. And it showed its true colours by dismissing a racing-backed initiative to set up a Tote Charitable Foundation, to avoid the Tote's sale to the private sector.

Disappointingly, leftwing opposition to the sale has been muted. Perhaps it's because some on the left regard gambling as somehow sinful, and that while it's right and proper for hospitals, schools and the Royal Mail to be publicly owned, having a state-owned bookmaker doesn't really matter.

Or maybe some agree with Harry Pollitt, the former leader of the Communist party, who argued that we would have had a revolution in Britain long ago if it hadn't been for horseracing.

But unless we are going to abolish racing and gambling altogether – and only the more extreme animal rights groups and religious fundamentalists would go that far – then a publicly owned bookmaker with a strong commitment to supporting the sport is essential.

There are not many things in modern Britain that are truly world-class: horseracing is one of them. But the free-market Maoists currently occupying the corridors of power seem determined to wreck a much-loved institution that has carried out its duties in support of racing perfectly well for the best part of a century.

The Ubiquitous Neil Clark II

And here:

Imagine a detective arriving at the scene of a murder and failing to question the person caught holding a blood-stained dagger over the body. Imagine, too, that the detective then makes no mention of said person in his report.

Far-fetched? Well, overlooking the obvious is exactly what happened last week in relation to an inquiry into Britain’s railways.

Sir Roy McNulty, former chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, was appointed to investigate why our railways are the most expensive in Europe.

His report found 10 main barriers to efficiency and made a series of recommendations, including cutting staff at stations and allowing some train operators to assume responsibility for maintenance.

The most noteworthy thing about Sir Roy’s report was what it did not recommend.

The reason why our fares are the highest in Europe is because, unlike other European countries, our railways are privatised.

While the state-owned railways of Belgium, Germany, France and Austria are run as public services, here they are run to extract as much money out of passengers and taxpayers as possible.

Railways are a good example of a natural monopoly, where the usual arguments about the benefits of competition don’t apply.

When it comes to discussion of our sky-high rail fares, however, re-nationalisation is the elephant in the room, the obvious, commonsense solution that not only the Government but also the Opposition pretends isn’t there.

Perhaps it’s because nationalisation, as a policy option, is considered Left-wing or perhaps it is because no one in our political elite would like to admit that rail privatisation, implemented by John Major’s Tory government in 1996 and carried on by Labour when it returned to power, has proved a very costly mistake.

Privatisation replaced British Rail, a unitary railway company with a hopelessly divided and fragmented network.

The move was supposed to save money for the taxpayer but in fact the private train operators currently receive about fi ve times more in government subsidy than British Rail, £5.2billion.

In effect, taxpayers’ money has been boosting the profi ts of private train firms which then have the audacity to fleece us again by charging the highest fares in Europe.

Instead of spending 15 months on their report, it would have been quicker if Sir Roy and his team had just hopped on a ferry to see how railways operate on the Continent. In Belgium, ticket prices actually fall by 50 per cent at weekends, making it easier to visit friends and family.

A simple distance-based pricing system also operates, unlike here with its mindboggling variety of fares for the same journey.

Sir Roy also found that the costs of operating the railways in Britain is up to 40 per cent higher than in France, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden.

Significantly, in those countries, the main railway fi rms are state-owned but rather than call for re-nationalisation, McNulty recommends companies get longer franchises and “more freedom”.

He also recommends reducing the coverage of off-peak fares regulation which is likely to mean more misery for passengers already hit with average rises of 6.2 per cent in January. It doesn’t have to be like this…

Re-nationalising would not only be good news for passengers but for the economy, too.

Modern economies need mass transport systems that allow large numbers of people to move around quickly, comfortably and relatively cheaply. Before we even talk about new high-speed routes we need to get our existing network up to scratch. As for it being a Left-wing option, re-nationalisation is not about ideology.

If free-market Switzerland can operate a publicly-owned railway why can’t we? It’s also worth remembering that even Nicholas Ridley, Mrs Thatcher’s pro-privatisation transport minister, rejected rail privatisation as a sell-off too far.

It’s not those who call for renationalisation who are being dogmatic but those who still cling to the fi ction that a privatised railway is somehow sustainable.

A detective who fails to question the most obvious murder suspect would be considered a poor sleuth and our politicians are failing us if they continue to ignore the simplest solution to our railway woes.

But Not Now

In the absence of electoral reform, I had been seriously considering rejoining the Labour Party in two years' time (elected as an Independent, will serve the term as an Independent), until the County Council cut the transport to Catholic schools and Yvette Cooper denounced the appointment of Life to a government advisory group.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Farewell To All That?

Our last Forces personnel departed Iraq as the civil war caused by our intervention was expressing itself in explosions around Baghdad which killed at least 16 people, 10 of them the Police Officers whom we had been training up.

What Is It Good For?

The War Powers Resolution, that is, since the sixtieth day in Libya has come and gone without any attempt to seek Congressional authorisation?

Or, for that matter, the Republican Party, which has made no effort to pursue this? Yet that party called for Europe to revert to pre-1914 borders and thus end the First World War, also the position of Pope Benedict XV. It resisted entry into the Second World War until America was actually attacked by either side.

Eisenhower ended the Korean War, was even-handed in his approach to Israel and the Palestinians, declined to intervene in Indo-China, and denounced the military-industrial complex. Nixon suspended the draft, pursued détente with China, and ended the Vietnam War along with Ford, an old stalwart of the America First Committee.

Reagan withdrew from Lebanon in 1983, and initiated nuclear arms reduction in Europe. James Baker issued a call to “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel” and to “foreswear annexation, stop settlement activity”. Republicans opposed the global trigger-happiness of the Clinton Administration. And even Bush the Younger removed American troops from Saudi Arabia after 9/11, thus ensuring that there has been no further attack on American soil.

But where is that party now? At the very least, those who in any case know that the Tea Party is going to be coming after them might as well give it a proper excuse.

Playing Away

I honestly do not care. When are the papers going to start discussing serious matters? And not throwing hissy fits when it turns out that they are not legally allowed to behave in absolutely any way they like? Universal suffrage is negated if the popular media report only rubbish of this kind.

Double Trouble

Peter Hitchens writes:

I am sorry but I cannot rejoice at the planned retrial of a suspect in the Stephen Lawrence murder case.

The rule against being tried twice for the same offence is a keystone of freedom. And to work, it has to be a rule, even when it breaks our hearts to obey it. For if it is not absolute, then one day a bad government will use this as a precedent to pursue and crush opponents. Why do we care so little about these great treasures of liberty? Perhaps we no longer deserve to have them.

Middle Muddle

Sir Max Hastings informed Andrew Marr's viewers that "the middle classes" paid twice for education, first in taxes, and then in fees. People in that position are in the middle of what, exactly? £23,000 per annum is the middle. Anyone paying that much per child even though one can, and ninety-three per cent of children do, go to school for free are not in the middle of anything.

"Unacceptable, Intolerable"

If the Cannes Film Festival cannot tolerate Lars von Trier, then how much less should Britain tolerate a government shot through with and surrounded by the old London spokesmen and bag men of South America's Nazi-harbouring pioneers of monetarism, as well as those who saw the way to advancement as through the Monday Club and the Western Goals Institute when they crossed over, via the League of Saint George, with Nazism on the Continent and with the venerators at Yasukuni.

Looking through the website of Steven Books, one is struck by how utterly anti-British the Far Right's heroes are: not only (or, in this sense, even primarily) Hitler and Mussolini, but Franco and his claim to Gibraltar, Peronism and its claim to the Falkland Islands, the Boers' revenge republic, the Rhodesian treason, and so on, and on, and on. Yet on devotion to such figures were brought up, politically speaking, those who now govern us.

And, of course, we are subject to the legislative will of Nazis and Fascists, frequently in the EU's Council of Ministers, always in the European Parliament. After all, it was Mosley who coined the term, "Europe A Nation".

Friday, 20 May 2011

Watch, Therefore

It could as well be tomorrow as any other day. That is the real point.

Common Wealth

A Canadian to head the IMF? Now, there's a thought...

But it should still be Gordon. He was right all along, and the reason certain people are so hysterically hostile to him is precisely because, like everyone else, they now see it.

The GOP's Anti-Life Budget

“Father Thomas Kelly from Elkhorn, Wisconsin narrates an ad explaining how the cuts in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan hurt children, seniors and families — that’s not pro-life. The ad is sponsored by NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.”

Privatization Is Theft

As I shall spell it this once, although if I hear anyone else on the BBC say "preyevacy", then I shall have a fit. Charles Davis writes:

Taxes entail coercion; this is why they're not called donations. Accordingly, one might think self-styled advocates of free markets and smaller government, Ayn Rand aficionados especially, would be cognizant of the fact that, when it comes to a moral claim over the things that said taxes go to -- from telecommunications to transit systems -- the coerced taxpayer would have the strongest case for ownership.

You'd be wrong, of course. When it comes to downsizing the state, most conservatives and libertarians have a raging hard-on for privatization, by which they mean the government auctioning off taxpayer property to the highest private bidder. The problem with this approach, from a Freedom! and individual rights perspective, is that those who were forced to invest in the state entity to be auctioned off are left with next to nothing to show for it, usually some multinational corporation instead swooping in to pick it up at pennies on the dollar.

Take the example of Guatemalan state telecommunications firm GUATEL. In the late 1990s the Guatemalan government, instead of handing the firm over to the workers and taxpayers who had supported it over the previous two decades, sold 95 percent of its stake to a private company called Telgua, which -- thanks in no small part to its being handed a monopoly share of the market -- continues to be the country's largest telecommunications provider.

At Reason magazine, the move is this week being commemorated as a clear victory against statism. "In Guatemala," former head of GUATEL Alfredo Guzmán tells the magazine, "we have a clear example that freedom works."

Yeah, I'm not so sure about that. While Reason argues the move is responsible for the widespread availability of phone services in Guatemala today, one can look elsewhere in Central America and see a similar story of proliferation. Even in behind-the-times Nicaragua -- and I say that endearingly -- I can get 3G Internet access pretty much anywhere I need (and unlike in the "free market" U.S., I can do so affordably using a prepaid modem).

But if we're going to call what happened in Guatemala the result of "freedom," more pertinent to me than the number of sexting Guatemalan teens there are today is how the transition from state to "private" telecom monopoly actually came about. And if you actually look at it, it begins to look less like a story of free minds and free markets and a bit more like the standard, time-old tale of one economic class, international capitalists, using the power of the state to exploit another economic class, in this case Guatemalan workers.

As former GUATEL head Guzmán himself boasts in the interview with Reason, the decision to privatize the firm was so politically unpopular (read: courageous! ) in his country that the Guatemalan government actually had to threaten its own citizens with jail time should they protest the proposed sale by striking. Rather than respect the right of its people to freely organize and voice their discontent as they saw fit, in this case by merely not going to work, the government of Guatemala threatened those forced to live under its rule with the prospect of time behind bars should they exercise those rights. Moves like that may make life easier for multinational corporations, but it ain't exactly "freedom."

Rather than hand the state's telecom monopoly to the highest bidder, the Guatemalan government could have -- and to my warped syndicalist mind, should have -- turned it over to the Guatemalan people. Each citizen of the country could have been given a share in the company and a say in how it was run; perhaps they'd vote to delegate that authority to an elected board. Or the state could have divided its telecom monopoly amongst its workers, who could run as a cooperative. Either option, or a combination of both, would have better protected the rights and, indeed, property of those poor Guatemalans who put their time and money into GUATEL than merely auctioning it to the multinational corporation with the most money.

Putting aside the financial and political reasons as to why that didn't happen -- maybe, I dunno, it's because rich capitalists have more a say over government decisions than poor workers? -- there's a cultural reason why actual liberty-and-freedom preserving options aren't given much consideration by the folks at Reason and other privatization zealots: it reeks of socialism. Sure, cooperatives are entirely compatible with voluntarism and even modern capitalism, but unless there's a CEO with an insane salary and a private jet involved, right-wing libertarians don't want to hear it -- after all, who would pay them to defend those insane salaries and corporate jets?

While they preach their love of freedom, it's clear that for many on the right the love of markets -- or specifically, corporations -- trumps all other concerns about force and state power. All human needs must be met by a corporation in a quasi-competitive marketplace (the second part's optional), in their view, lest we all become limp-wristed socialists prattling on about "sharing" and "community." That there are alternatives to such strictly defined systems of economics that are not based on state coercion -- and who do you think grants corporations personhood and limited liability? -- is not so much as acknowledged. The light at the end of the freedom tunnel is a McDonald's arch. Corporate ledgers are the gospel.

If minimizing the use of coercion in human affairs is your goal, however, as opposed to maximizing corporate profits, than faux-privatization schemes like the one Guatemalans were subjected to should be described for what they are: manifestations of corporatism, not liberty and free markets. Again, it bears repeating: Transferring a state monopoly funded by taxpayers to the control of international investors is not a win for freedom. The only thing that changes in that scenario is who profits from state coercion, politicians or capitalists -- if it even does that, given the ties between the two.

Instead of fawning over big business and demanding state power be given to state-created corporations, libertarians and other self-styled proponents of freedom on the right ought to be demanding that power be given to the people. That they're not suggests they should be described not as proponents of liberty, but of corporate capitalism. And no, Virginia (Postrel), they're not the same thing.

That Friday Feeling

Perhaps it is the Saint Helenian in me, perhaps it is the Scot (light, if any, blogging this weekend, since I shall be at my cousin's wedding in Ayr), but I have never understood people who did not eat seafood. What treats they are missing, too numerous to list. I rarely have cause to write this, but hurrah for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

Back To Our Routes

Now that the Government has opened up the debate, let us rise to the challenge and make the case for the renationalisation of the railways, uniquely without compensation in view of the manner of their privatisation, as the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use, including the reversal of bus route and rail line closures going back to the 1950s.

Only public ownership can deliver this. Public ownership is of course British ownership, and thus a safeguard of national sovereignty. It is also a safeguard of the Union in that it creates communities of interest across the several parts of the United Kingdom. Publicly owned concerns often even had, and could have again, the word "British" in their names.

The Green Queen?

Everyone was surprised when the Queen spoke partly in Irish, but no one ought to have been. Whereas early Nationalist leaders were often highly scornful of the Irish language as a bar to progress, no small contribution to saving it was made by eccentric Anglo-Irish grandees and enthusiastic Protestant clergymen, staunchly Unionist in most cases. Douglas Hyde, the son of a County Sligo rector and born in an Ascendancy "Big House", became the first President of the Republic while remaining an observant Protestant, a dedicated Irish-speaker and educator in that medium, and an adherent to a political position fundamentally Unionist rather than Nationalist (which was probably why Fine Gael, pushed into declaring a republic by a coalition partner, gave him the job).

Sinn Féin may be creating a network of publicly-funded Irish-medium schools in order to banish the Catholic Church from the education, first of the Green side in the Six Counties, and then of almost everyone in the Twenty-Six. But at least as sterling, in its way, is the work for the language being done by the The Reverend Dr Eric Culbertson, country parson in County Tyrone, Honorary Clerical Vicar Choral of Armagh Cathedral (not the Catholic one), Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, member of the Council of the Evangelical Protestant Society, and outspoken critic of the Good Friday and Saint Andrews Agreements. He stands in a long, long line.

In fact, the possibility, if still the outside one, of the Republic's third Protestant President may yet do what everything else has failed to do and partition the Church of Ireland. Dr Culbertson and the rest of its largely Conservative Evangelical two thirds that are in Northern Ireland might finally decide that a separate Province of the Anglican Communion was appropriate rather than continued integration with the far more liberal third that is in the Republic, if the most prominent Anglican layman on the island - the President of the Republic, no less - were to be the homosexual activist, David Norris. By all accounts, that Senator's spoken Irish is beautiful.

Spanish Practices

I do wish that Stuart Reid's superb Catholic Herald column were still online. This week, he writes:

But it is not as easy today to admire Franco today as it was, say, 50 years ago, when the Communist menace still seemed, and perhaps was, real, and memories of the Second World War were a lot fresher than they are now. If Franco and his Nationalists had not rebelled against the Republic, Spain might have gone Communist, which would have made life difficult for us in 1939, when Hitler and Stalin were allies. As it was, Franco had the wit, or the good fortune, to stay out of the War.

Precisely so. If the Republicans, who explicitly defined themselves against the British Labour Party, had prevailed, then Spain would have followed the Soviet Union in beginning the War as for all practical purposes a member of the Axis.

It is also an excellent column is several other ways, including on the exaggeration of the number of priests killed by the Republicans, and especially on the sacrilege, pointed out by Jacques Maritain, alike of massacring even Fascist priests, since they are still the ministers of Christ, and of massacring even the Communist poor, since they are still the people of Christ. Do obtain a copy.

Tribal Television

Dennis Sewell is bemoaning, is this week's Spectator, the Coalition-imposed decline of the BBC World Service, and the global rise of Al Jazeera, Russia Today, and Press TV. He is absolutely right on the first point. But on the second, we should instead be campaigning for Press TV to join Al Jazeera and Russia Today on Freeview.

Then, at least, any one or more of them could get down to making and broadcasting a landmark series, with an accompanying book and with as many tie-in newspaper articles as we could place, on The Twelve Tribes of the Christian Holy Land: Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Syrian Catholic, and Armenian Catholic.

In the event of success, another such project would be more than feasible, on The Twelve Tribes of Christian Lebanon: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean Catholic, Coptic, Latin Catholic, and Protestant.

Yes, your humble servant is available. But his concern is that these projects proceed, not necessarily that he have any hand in them.

The Blairite Coalition

Last week's Spectator editorial, which greatly enraged Lord Tebbit among others, is now online.

It assumes that it is self-evident that there should be only Blairite options on the ballot paper. The Blairite "free" schools proposal was the Conservative Party's only distinctive policy in 2010, and interest in "setting up your own school" has turned out to be negligible. The cruel Blairite targeting of the sick and disabled may yet result in an actual increase in benefit entitlement due to the health-worsening effects of a process whereby private companies are paid by how many people's illness or disability they deny, but are then subject to appeals that are usually successful and which would always be so if people were not often too ill to pursue them by that stage in the proceedings; the question is never asked of why quite so many people are now that ill. The Blairite health policy, a direct contradiction of the manifesto commitments of both Coalition parties, has had to be abandoned halfway through its parliamentary progress. Tellingly, the editorial fails to mention the Blairite war in Libya.

Labour would in any case have won the 1997 Election, and therefore also the 2001 Election. John Smith had been easily on course to do that, before anyone outside the Westminster bubble had ever heard of Tony Blair. In 2005, Blair faced the only "Opposition" that he could still have beaten after the invasion of Iraq, but even then he managed to lose Labour one hundred seats whom any other Leader would have retained, his only ever impact on the outcome of a General Election. In 2010, the party most closely identifying itself with his legacy unexpectedly failed to win. No one seriously doubts that in 2015 or before, the party most explicitly distancing itself from that legacy will win comfortably, perhaps handsomely.

Everyone comes in useful eventually. Even the Lib Dems, a shield against whatever adolescent post-Thatcherite lunacy from the London think tank circuit this Government, like the last one, would otherwise have inflicted on England. And even the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved bodies, standing reminders to the other eighty-five per cent of the United Kingdom's inhabitants that some people are still permitted to live in a country that is recognisably Britain. When will we, too, have that electoral option? It looks as if we now have. No wonder that both the ideologically Blairite broadcasters and the tribally Tory papers are determined to talk him down in favour of the Heir to Blair, who happens to be the current Leader of the Conservative Party.

A Palestinian State

Now is the moment for a Palestinian Declaration of Independence. It must explicitly lay claim to the whole of the viable Palestinian State created on both sides of the Jordan in 1948. Furthermore, it must mirror the Constitution of Lebanon in guaranteeing the Presidency to a Christian even if it guarantees the Premiership to a Muslim (as would have happened electorally anyway), and it must mirror the Constitutions of Lebanon, of Iran, and of Palestine east of the Jordan, the present Hashemite Kingdom, in guaranteeing parliamentary representation to Christians, as well as mirroring Syria is establishing Christian festivals as public holidays. And it should place the new state - not only the Christians, but the State and everyone in it - under the protection of each and all of the remaining sacral monarchies, there being no other kind, in Christendom.

Thus would that State, and those who looked to its creation, be placed under the protection of the world’s Christian monarchs and of all who professed allegiance to them. Those are the monarchs of Andorra, of Antigua and Barbuda, of Australia, of The Bahamas, of Barbados, of Belgium, of Belize, of Canada, of the Cook Islands, of Denmark, of Grenada, of Jamaica, of Lesotho, of Liechtenstein, of Luxembourg, of Monaco, of the Netherlands, of New Zealand, of Norway, of Papua New Guinea, of Saint Kitts and Nevis, of Saint Lucia, of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, of Spain, of the Solomon Islands, of Swaziland, of Sweden, of Tuvalu, of Tonga, of the United Kingdom, of the State of the Vatican City, and the Paramount Chief of the Great Council of Chiefs of Fiji, together with all Christian subnational monarchs throughout the world, and together with all Christian Heads of deposed Royal Houses. 18 of those figures are the same person. Guess who?

This would also be a wider appeal, an appeal to any and every country that regarded Christianity as fundamental to its identity. Does the American Republic so regard itself? Does the Russian Federation? Do the republics of Europe? Do the republics of Central America, South America and the Caribbean? Do the republics of Africa? Does any other country? In each country’s case, how it responded to this Declaration would be its definitive answer to that question.

At the very least, this needs to appear over the names expressing the full authority of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Latin Patriarchate, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, the Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate, the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate, the Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate, the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, the Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate, and the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate. That would have an immediate and a very dramatic impact in all of the countries named or referred to above. But time is now of the essence.

"Reform, Not Repression"?

In addition to those who have arrived in the last 40 years or so, Bahrain has at least eight indigenous ethnic groups, including a small but very ancient and entrenched Jewish community which maintains the Gulf's only synagogue and Jewish cemetery, and also including a community of black African descent, part of the East African diaspora in the East hardly known about by those very used to the West African diaspora in the West. Around one fifth of the inhabitants of Bahrain is non-Muslim, and around half of that is Christian. The women's headscarf is strictly optional. No one disputes that Bahraini Muslims are two-thirds Shi'ite. Correspondingly, no one disputes that Bahraini Muslims are one-third Sunni.

All legislation requires the approval of both Houses of Parliament, and, while one of those Houses is entirely appointed by the monarch (as in Britain or Canada), the other is entirely elected by universal suffrage. The Upper House, to which women are regularly appointed to make up for their dearth in the elected Lower House, includes a Jewish man and a Christian woman; the latter was the first woman ever to chair a Parliament in the Arab world. The Ambassador to the United States is a Jewish woman, the first Jewish ambassador of any modern Arab state, although the third woman to be an Ambassador of Bahrain. She was previously an elected parliamentarian. Notably, she describes her Jewish identity as unconnected, either to the State of Israel, which Bahrain does not recognise, or to the Holocaust, of which she knew nothing until she was 14.

Her British higher education and British husband, as well as the fact that the synagogue brings in its rabbis from Britain, point to the very close ties indeed between that country and this. We installed the Al Khalifa (that is not a solecism - it is Al Khalifa, not al-Khalifa) in 1783, and they have done everything to keep up the link ever since. Saudi Arabia is America's, and really so is Kuwait, which had only brief ties to Imperial Britain, and those only towards the end; we more or less said "good riddance" to the place as early as 1961. Yemen is, to say the least, complicated. But from Bahrain, via Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to Oman is Britain's natural and longstanding sphere of influence, as their rulers would and do tell you. It is beyond me why they are not in the Commonwealth. Of course the King of Bahrain has been invited to the Royal Wedding, and of course he should attend it as an honoured guest.

I do not welcome the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I have no wish to see a Wahhabisation of Bahraini Sunnism, since at present all of the above is perfectly acceptable even to the Salafi Members of Parliament. But which part of it do the demonstrators wish to conserve? Do they wish to conserve any of it? Or do they wish to overthrow it in order to replace it with something else entirely? We have not asked. We never do. It is very high time that we did.

Correcting The Wealth Gap

Over in The First Post, Neil Clark writes:

Keen on the Victorian Age? Well, we're heading back there, according to the new report of the High Pay Commission. The commission, which was set up last November to look in to the ever-rising gap between high and low pay in the UK, predicts that if current trends continue, then by the year 2030 Britain will be witnessing levels of inequality not seen since the beginning of the 20th century.

The commission found that in 2010 the average annual salary of FTSE-100 chief executives was more than £3,747,000 - that's a whopping 145 times the national median full-time wage of £25,800. Furthermore, within 20 years, the top 0.1 per cent of UK earners will see their pay rise from five to 14 per cent of national income. Almost everyone agrees that the such enormous inequalities are undesirable. The question is, what can we do about them?

One way of making Britain a more equal society would be for David Cameron and George Osborne to suddenly embrace communism, nationalise the entire economy and have the state fix wage levels. But while the uber-right commentator Simon Heffer once accused Osborne of acting like "some member of the Socialist Workers Party" for urging that bankers be paid less, there's little chance of the prime minister and his chancellor singing a chorus of the Internationale at the next Tory party conference.

There is a way though that Cameron and Osborne could make Britain more equal - one which would be fully in line with the traditions of their party. Prior to the election of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives fully accepted the progressive post-war consensus - the set of policies which greatly reduced inequalities in the 30 years after World War Two. These policies included the extension of public ownership, a steeply progressive taxation system and a commitment to full employment. The key Conservative figure of this period was Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957-63, whose determination to close the gap between the rich and poor was formed when he was MP for the deprived area of Stockton in the inter-war years. If David Cameron really wanted to be a 'One Nation' Tory, which he professes to be, then he could find no better model than his fellow Old Etonian, Supermac.

Cameron's coalition partners, the Lib Dems, can also draw inspiration from great figures in their party's past - men such as John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge and Lloyd George, whose 1909 'People's Budget' began the attempt to make a more equal society. Labour, too, need to discover their nobler traditions. Under the last Labour government, the gap between rich and poor continued to widen - with the income for the top 0.1 per cent of the population growing by 64.2 per cent in the period 1997-2007/8, compared to a growth of just 7.2 per cent for someone in the 50th percentile. If Ed Miliband is concerned about correcting that miserable record, he needs to think about the policies his party followed under leaders such as Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson.

The trouble today, of course, is that our political elite, even the ones who regard themselves as being left-of-centre, are the children of Margaret Thatcher, and not the children of Harold Macmillan. They've all been brought up to believe the dominant neo-liberal narrative that Britain in the 1970s was the "sick man of Europe" and that the country was only "saved" by the ditching of social democracy and the embrace of "free market" solutions, such as privatisation and tax cuts for the rich. And they've also been led to believe that pre-Thatcherite politicians such as Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, people who did so much to reduce inequalities, were somehow failures.

But over 30 years into the neo-liberal era, the costs of blindly worshipping the 'market' are there for all to see. Do we really want to see Britain's year-by-year transformation into Mexico, with a rich elite living in gated communities, the middle class reduced to poverty and a huge unemployed underclass? The choice is stark: either we turn the clock back to the 1960s and the progressive economic policies of that era, or we'll end up in the 1860s.

Differences Dissolved

Although he is still away with the neoconservative theory of "the English-speaking peoples", Daniel Hannan writes:

“I suppose your work must take you abroad a good deal, Mr Hannan,” remarked an upper-middle-class lady when I was at a wedding in Dublin recently.

“Well, I’m abroad now, if you think about it.”

“Goodness me: yes, I suppose you are”.

How easily our differences are forgotten. Very few British people think of the Irish as properly foreign. We are aware, of course, that there are two states in the British Isles, but we don’t place the Irish in the same mental category as we do the Italians, Finns or Poles. It is perhaps this proximity of outlook and habit, of blood and speech, that once made our quarrels so venomous: civil wars have a peculiar nastiness.

Politically and institutionally, the two states drifted apart after 1921. Ireland passed from autonomy to formal independence, breaking its links with the Crown and, in due course, withdrawing from the Commonwealth. Yet this sundering of states never implied a sundering of peoples.

While Eamon de Valera pursued his quixotic schemes to cut Eire’s economic ties with the United Kingdom, replace the English language with Gaelic and ally with any cause, however vile, provided it was sufficiently Anglophobic, the two islands continued their habits of intermixture and intermarriage. They followed the same football teams, watched the same television stations, shopped at the same chains.

The clearest examplars of this difference between government and citizens were Ireland’s Second World War volunteers. While Dublin was notionally neutral, de Valera made little secret of his sympathies. His decision to close the Treaty Ports to the Royal Navy caused needless casualties among our merchant seamen. He described the presence of US troops in Ulster as “an army of occupation”, but made no protest when the Luftwaffe bombed Belfast. His censors banned the word “Nazi” and even insisted on excising a film clip of old ladies in England carrying gas masks, lest it evoke sympathy for the victims of the Blitz. He made a point of offering his condolences on Hitler’s death.

Yet, for all Dev’s bigotry, most Irishmen wanted the English-speaking peoples to triumph. Southern Catholics passed in their thousands through the recruiting offices of Ulster, and went on to win 780 decorations, including seven Victoria Crosses. An eighth was won by the Belfast Catholic, James Magennis, for nationalists north of the border were – with a few sour exceptions – equally ready to take up arms in defence of democracy.

My late father, whose family roots were Ulster Catholic, saw action in Italy with the North Irish Horse. I asked him once whether he could remember any sectarian differences among his fellow soldiers. The only thing he could think of was that, on one occasion, some of the men had taken it in turns to sing rebel and loyalist songs. Faced with a properly foreign enemy, their differences had dissolved.

Where governments divide, organic ties of family, commerce and civic society unite. For the better part of a century, politics and politicians pushed Ireland and the United Kingdom apart; but their peoples are closer than at any point since 1916. Only now are the governments following.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


If the Lib Dems are against depriving the people of England of the NHS rightly taken for granted in the rest of the United Kingdom, then there is no Commons majority for that Blairite deprivation, which therefore cannot proceed. Get over it. You win some, you lose some.

Irish Times

One side permanently accepts the fact of life that is independence, even if it does have nothing whatever to do with the familial, social, economic or cultural reality, that last stretching from high letters and the theatre to football and horse-racing (in all of which fields England has significantly closer links to all parts of Ireland than to any part of Scotland).

The other side permanently accepts the fact of life that is partition, and which is also the sheer tininess of the number of people who can now so much as imagine life in any other terms.

One side acknowledges the vast contribution of the Irish to an Empire at least as much theirs as anyone else's, and to its most obvious successor's Armed Forces down to the present day.

Now, will the other side acknowledge how many of those to whom the Queen laid a wreath and bowed her head were scarcely Irish at all, and will those of their American allies who dislike the ill-informed foreign interventions of Presidents in general, and of Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton in particular, revise their view in this case?