Thursday, 31 January 2013

Better Late Than Never

25 years late, in fact.

In 2015, that long after the 1980s ended in actual fact, British politics will finally move beyond them.

For at least the first 10 of the 13 New Labour years, the revisionist Left of that decade was in Government rather than, as at the time, in Opposition. It looks perfectly ridiculous now, of course, when an almost 1970s-like three fifths of the population have decided that they are working-class after all.

The crowd from Marxism Today, to which Tony Blair even contributed; from New Times; from Demos, at the launch of which Blair was the only politician present: that crowd fully celebrated the consumer capitalism of the Thatcher Era in all its vulgarity, as the bingeing and belching under Blair made only too abundantly clear. It wanted, and eventually it delivered, Thatcherism without the vestiges of Toryism, and without the contradictions in Thatcher's own personality.

By contrast, the SDP looked on in horror, although it, too, has ended up accepting the Thatcher project as irreversible. There are now more former SDP members as Conservative than as Liberal Democrat Ministers in a Coalition which is, so to speak, a right reunion. After 13 years of rule by Marxism Today, then, five years of rule by the SDP.

And then, at so very long last, the 1980s will finally come to an end.

David Cameron's War On Tories

Tony Blair used to affect to be fighting battles against his own party and its supporters. Less often than they ought to have done, they used to return the compliment.

Until the Iraq War, though, it was largely for show, on both sides. Not entirely. But largely. Thousands of trade unionists were still being added to the public payroll, their political levies flowing merrily into the Labour Party's coffers in return.

David Cameron, on the other hand, is now in a state of open, and Geneva Convention-free, war against the Armed Forces, the Police, the Church of England, the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, and the rural wealthy in the South, alongside whose overpriced houses he wishes to restore the railways.

The Rise of The Loony Right

Thirty years ago, this country had a noisy Hard Left, including a very noisy Loony Left. That was given acres of media space from which to promote policies far outside the mainstream, often including submission to the dominating influence of a foreign power, which may or may not have had any real desire to dominate the United Kingdom, but that is not quite the point.

Today, this country has a noisy Hard Right, including a very noisy Loony Right. That is given acres of media space from which to promote policies far outside the mainstream, such as the dismantlement of all public provision and the repeal of all social protection, and including submission to the dominating influence of foreign powers, or arguably of a single foreign power based on two continents.

The Soviet Union no longer exists. Even overt Maoists cannot, on their own principles, advocate domination by China as she is now. Or by Juchist North Korea, even had she the slightest aspiration to such a thing. Similarly, Cuba, or the present regime in Venezuela, or whatever, has no interest in controlling anything in Britain. By very stark contrast indeed, the American and Israeli Far Rights are threats of the utmost gravity, far in excess of any that the USSR ever posed, as Enoch Powell pointed out.

The American end of that operation is not even in government in its own country. The whole thing is closely allied to all manner of unsavoury regimes in the Gulf, in Central Asia, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, as well as to violent Hindu nationalism in India. One of its most frightening features is its manifest promiscuity, its inherent moral indifference.

Yet these opinions are routinely broadcast as if they were uncontentious and commonsensical. As are the other views held by those same ubiquitous people: the abolition of the minimum wage, the dismantlement of the National Health Service, and so on. That latter is currently being pursued by the Coalition, with dangerous signs that Blairite influence might still be preventing Labour from opposing it properly, a very good indication of the need for a permanent body of friendly but critical MPs from within the Labour Movement but outside the Labour Party.

Only in England is the NHS being dismantled. On this as on so many issues, people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still permitted to live in a recognisably British country. Given the option, so would people in England. What is happening to our Health Service was not in the Conservative or the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2010. Had it been in the Conservative one, then there would have been a Labour overall majority.

Therefore, Labour ought to demand an England-wide, England-only referendum on the Coalition’s plans for the NHS. Not in 2017, but this year, and as early as possible this year. This is, in point of fact, about the constitutional status and the fundamental identity of England as a British country.

The easily predictable result would properly banish once and for all the Loony Right. With its immediate access to both parts of the present Government. And with its highly favoured access to Any Questions, Question Time, Newsnight, the Today programme, The Daily Politics, and so on.

Those might then have to give space to some authentically British voices, of One Nation politics, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation, and which not only understood that the two were inseparable (the Loony Right fully understands that, just as the Loony Left did), but celebrated each precisely by reference to its inseparability from the other.

Not Beyond Left And Right

The Right is in crisis following the collapse of the neoliberal economic order and of its neoconservative geopolitics. The Left is in crisis due to the second collapse of Marxism in as many generations, namely that of Trotskyism in the form of neoconservatism.

No one seems to know how to address such questions as the global economic crisis that began in 2008, the prolonged aftermath of the events of 11th September 2001, the rise of Asia, the redefinition of the European Union and of the United Kingdom’s relationship with it, and the redefinition of the United Kingdom and of the identity of each of its constituent parts.

However, attendance to what were once the largely ignored and marginalised phenomena of environmentalism, feminism, Third World liberation movements, the influence of tendencies such as Black Power and Black Consciousness, and the use of homosexuality as a mark of individual and collective identity, has opened up the space for attendance to what are largely ignored and marginalised phenomena today.

Those include the Classical, Biblical, Medieval and Early Modern heritages that define the traditions deriving from disaffection with the events of 1688, 1776 and 1789.

Those traditions emphasise the indispensable role of the State in protecting against the market everything that conservatives seek to conserve. They offer perennial critiques of individualism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, bourgeois triumphalism, and the fallacy of inevitable historical progress.

They uphold the full compatibility between, on the one hand, the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and, on the other hand, the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

Among the expressions of those traditions are the trade union, co-operative and mutual, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Guild Socialist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and many other roots of the British, Irish and Commonwealth Labour Movements.

Variously, those roots have been embedded in, have been fed and watered by, and have grown into economic and wider patriotism locally and nationally, proud provincialism, worker-intellectualism, and organic working-class culture and self-organisation in town and country.

This sensibility includes a strong affinity with the recent historical reality of workers’ self-management and profit-sharing within a multinational state which included both culturally Christian and culturally Muslim places and peoples, and which enjoyed vast global influence while resolutely pursuing peace and eschewing transnational military power blocs.

Opposition to the shameful British role in destroying that (rather Anglophile) multinational state first began to bring back together the traditional British Right and the traditional British Left, each of which found itself excluded from consideration and debate.

“Identity politics”, as if there could ever be any other kind, are being appropriated, deployed, transformed and transcended by heterosexual males, by Christians, by the White British ethnic group, by those who identify specifically as English, and by people of mixed ethnic heritage. It is now possible to listen directly to the voices of all parts of the world.

The old have never been so energetic, their numbers and expectations having increased enormously. The young are as energetic as ever, and politically more so than in at least a generation, technology having made them better-organised than ever before, while other trends have greatly disadvantaged them compared with their recent predecessors.

The mass anti-war movement has also become the mass anti-cuts movement, both of which are anchored on the Left but reach deep into Tory Britain on conservative principles of foreign policy realism and the use of State action to defend organic communities against unbridled capital.

This list is very far from being exhaustive.

The United Kingdom is uniquely well-placed to host these discussions, being the bridge between Europe and the English-speaking world, being the heart of the Commonwealth, being the home of the British Council and of the BBC, and being possessed of the world city.

Our critique of Whiggery predates any Counterrevolutionary movement on the Continent, because it predates any Revolution there or in North America. Our Left is itself deeply rooted in the anti-Whig subcultures. Predating Marx, it long predates Gramsci in meeting and transcending his aspirations. Like that of the traditions which produced it and with which it exists in constant creative tension, our Left’s very existence is a standing contradiction of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism.

By never compromising either the theoretical or the practical, and by drawing on the fine arts and on the humanities, on the social sciences and on the natural sciences, on elite culture and on popular culture, on “religious” material and on “secular” material, engagement with these and related ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetic resources will help to restore the possibility of an economy and a society, of a common culture and a polity, of a Right and a Left.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Ad Montes Oculos Levavi?

Cumbria is a Conservative-led Council.

Well, of course.

As ever, the lead on nuclear power is being taken by the trade unions.

Well, of course.

The Lesson of The German Economy

It is two and half years since Labour’s general election defeat and there are two-and-a-half-years to go until we face the country again. It seems that we are still torn between a defence of the New Labour record and the articulation of something different and better. But the second option still requires an explanation of what went wrong when Labour was in power.

The central insight of Blue Labour is that there was a fundamental problem with the political economy of New Labour. The assumption that globalisation required transferrable skills and not vocational speciality, and that tradition and local practice could be superseded by rationalised administration and production, both turned out to be mistaken. The denuding of the country and its people of their institutional and productive inheritance by the higher rates of returns found in the City of London, and then the vulnerability of those gains to speculative loss, is the story we confronted in 2008.

It turns out that the German political economy, with its federal republic and subsidiarity, with its works councils and co-determination between capital and labour, with its regional and local banks and vocational control of labour market entry - a democracy locational and vocational - was much better equipped to deal with globalisation than we were with our financial services and transferrable skills.

The financial crash of 2008 will turn out to be the most important event in the politics of the next twenty years. It was the result of a failure of many things but one of them is corporate governance, and most particularly, accountability. There is a growing realisation that the workforce has interests in the flourishing of the firm and an internal expertise in what is going on and how it is done. The complement of workforce to shareholder accountability strengthens the honesty and durability of the firm. It establishes a form of relational accountability.

A comparative analysis of corporate restructuring strategy in Germany and Britain tells the story clearly. The resilience of German industry was based upon two fundamental differences with Britain, both relating to corporate governance. The first was that each stakeholder interest - capital, labour and region - has access to the same information about the state of the firm and the sector and could negotiate a common response and bring people with them.

The second reason relates to the common good. The recognition of complexity within the corporation, the recognition that it is a body constituted by complex and mutually dependent functions and the representation of that in the corporate governance model meant that a common good of the firm could be negotiated.

German industry works within a legal framework that is based upon the ‘equalisation of the burdens’. In this the burdens of decisions must be agreed to be balanced between owners and workers. This meant that there could not be the imposition of a strategy that was based upon the interests of only one party. The result is predictable: fewer increases in managerial pay, a far greater retention of workers within a framework of greater flexibility, and a shared concern for the renewal of competitiveness.

Corporate governance reform asks a lot of capital. It relinquishes its ultimate sovereignty and recognises the workforce, and a skilled and powerful workforce at that, as a necessary part of the generation of value. It recognises the inability to hold itself accountable and recognises its common interest with labour in disciplining its tendency to be too generous to itself. It also asks a lot of labour, and of the unions. The German and British trade unions took different pathways in 1945.

While the British model was faster out of the blocks in 1945, it turned out that the German model won the race. They retained far higher trade union membership, lower wage differentials, fewer job losses and a vocational status for labour within the economy. One of the consequences of corporate governance reform is the requirement for trade unions to seek the common good and that is a conversation that has barely begun.

Worker representation on remuneration committees is a step in the right direction but needs to be extended into wider reform of the governance of any firm above fifty employees. A third of the seats on the supervisory board should be elected by the workforce. The energy, skills and commitment of the workforce is of fundamental importance to the good of any company and how that feeds into decision making and product innovation is a matter of institutional design.

Corporate governance reform is not a stand-alone policy and requires new regional banking institutions and a renewal of vocational training and status. It is, however, the most fundamental for it restores a dignity to labour, a value that has been for too long neglected in our economy. The lesson of the German economy is that labour is a source of value and its representation on the corporate body of the firm means that its value can be reproduced. It is a fundamental part of the institutional ecology of a sustainable economy.   

A longer version of this piece appears in the new Fabian Society pamphlet The Great Rebalancing.

The Modern Prometheus

Of course David Cameron has not read Frankenstein to the end. Of course David Cameron has not read Frankenstein at all. He probably thinks that it is the name of the monster, not of its creator. What does George Galloway imagine the Heir to Blair to be? A working-class autodidact like himself, who says "adumbrate"? Does he not watch Blandings?

Galloway was absolutely correct that we were encouraging and funding in Syria exactly the sort of people against whom we were gearing up for war in Mali, and defending in Mali a dictatorship hardly, if at all, better than the one in Syria.

But this will be as nothing when, as will very soon be the case, we are intervening in order to prop up our dear old Hashemite puppet monarchy in that part of Palestine east of the Jordan.  Against exactly the same people whom we are egging on, and rather more than egging on, in and around the Damascene capital of the Levant as a whole.

Squeezing The Juice

The Royal Navy is duly blockading the mouths of every river on the south and east coasts, in anticipation of the impending accession of another King William of the House of Orange.

I assume that there will have to be some sort of retirement bash for Trixie Holland. That promises to be quite a night.

I was once stuck in the back of a cab with her and Daisy Denmark after they had both had far too many flaming sambucas.

"Never again, Lilibet," I said the next day. "Never, ever, ever again."

Fidelis Ad Mortem

An awful lot of the time. And by no means only either their own or their targets' deaths.

Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, among others, are one thing: already sworn as Her Majesty's Constables, complete with Saint Edward's Crown on their badges, with everything that each of those facts embodies and expresses.

But American policing has nothing to do with that, either in theory or in practice, in the way that all sorts of things American have nothing to do with Britain, either in theory or in practice.

A Person On The Periphery

I am coming to believe the rumour that Gramsci returned to the Church on his deathbed. Even if he was cremated, and his ashes interred in the Cimitero degli Inglesi. Where Keats is buried. Gramsci was a Romantic hero born out of his time, really, wasn't he? Hence, I am coming to believe the rumour that he returned to the Church on his deathbed.

It is something that I have heard by word of mouth from time to time. He was only 46, and I really do think that if the trajectory of his thought had continued, then that would have been where it ended up: the insistence on the unity of theory and practice, the rejection of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism, the celebration of the "national-popular", the call for an organic working-class culture and self-organisation including worker-intellectuals.

I sometimes think that when I die, then I should like to be cut in half, after the manner of Saint Catherine of Siena. Her top half is in Siena, her bottom half is in Rome. But which half of me should go to the Cimitero degli Inglesi with Gramsci and Keats, which half to Père Lachaise with Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, and why? 

Cable's Fable

It no more matters what sex a company director is than it matters what sex a Member of Parliament is. Which is to say, not in the least. Labour, which like the other parties is already selecting parliamentary candidates, urgently needs to produce a parliamentary equivalent to its policy of a worker representative on every remuneration committee, while also, as is quietly happening, building on the very good start made in the form of that policy, and while also, as is not happening to anything like the necessary extent, making that policy known to the general electorate.

As is understood by German and other Christian Democrats (which are essentially what huge numbers of Tory voters are, hence their flight from the neoliberal Conservative Party now that the Cold War is a fading memory), among the many conservative principles that worker representatives on boards and remuneration committees would articulate would be the priority of the family and the local community, together with a patriotism which includes economic patriotism, itself including both tight controls on capital movement and tight controls on immigration.

Integral to national sovereignty, including to national security, are a strong manufacturing base, control of our own food and fuel supplies, and the ownership of our industries and enterprises by our own citizens. As representatives from the shop floor would understand. Such representation is one of several German features that we urgently need to adopt.

Others are regional banking with close ties to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors; small and medium-sized family businesses on the Mittelstand model; and vocational as well as general skills training, accorded the same respect as the very high level of academic achievement that Germany has also retained and which we must restore here in the United Kingdom.

As Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas have now been saying for years. As Ed Miliband is known to say in private. If the BBC were ever to allow any of those three on air instead of embittered Blairite relics and Nigel "No Seats" Farage, then we might be able to hear it directly from them. Imagine that.

Occasion'd By The Lyes And Scandals

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Charles I. In sillier circles, this imposition of the greatest tyranny in English (never mind Irish) history is termed “the English Revolution”.

In fact, of course, it long preceded the emergence of any industrial proletariat and is wholly inexplicable in Marxist terms, just as is the very existence of any Marxist movement in, say, the Russia of 1917, or Albania, or China at least until very recent years, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Nepal, or Bengal, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia, or Zimbabwe, or Uganda, or Rwanda, or South Africa, or Cuba, or Peru, or Bolivia, or … well, make your own list. At their respective heights of Communism, certainly Spain, and arguably also Italy and even France, were standing contradictions of the whole theory.

If there is any truth at all in the Marxist analysis of history, then these things simply cannot be. I think that we all know what follows from the fact that these things are.

But didn’t Charles I believe in the Divine Right of Kings? No, he did not. Or at least he certainly expressed no such view at his grotesque “trial” pursuant to a Bill of Attainder, and before 80 of his carefully selected parliamentary and military enemies under a second-rate lawyer, John Bradshaw, created “Lord President” because all the proper judges had fled London rather than have anything to do with the wretched proceedings.

There, Charles declared repeatedly that, by denying the authority of the “court” to try him, he was simply upholding the law as it then existed, including the liberties of the English people and the parliamentary institutions of the English State. No law permitted the trial of the monarch, he argued. On the contrary, the law of treason then in force provided for exactly the opposite, namely that any attack on the monarch’s person was itself an offence. Simply as a matter of fact, he was right.

And the subsequent behaviour of the Cromwellian regime fully vindicated him.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Troops To Mali

There is only one possible reason for that.

It is time for a Commons vote on this.

Thinking Beyond The Bounds

Burkean Toryism lives on after all against the sophists, the economists and the calculators. It lives on in the persons of David Davis, Philip Davies, the great John Baron, and the redoubtable old constitutionalist Sir Richard Shepherd. Andrew Percy and Glynn Davies abstained. Why Ken Clarke and William Hague did not turn up, who dares to speculate?

Even if there were nothing else to do, the solution to an alleged electoral bias against the Conservatives cannot be the abolition of scores of Shire Tory seats. In point of fact, the Conservative Party has been selecting candidates based on the existing boundaries for four months now, already resigned to the inevitable loss of this measure.

A loss wholly unconnected to that of the 2015 General Election, which was going to happen entirely regardless of mere boundaries. Today, never mind after another two and a half years of this, even the allocation of 60 seats to each of the old eight Home Counties, with the other 170 shared out among every other part of the country, would still deliver a comfortable Labour overall majority.

But the question now presents itself, of why we need constituency members, as we have lately known them, at all. We never used to have them. The House of Commons was there to represent communities, of greatly varying size both in area and in population, but nevertheless deemed to deserve equal representation according to a judgement which was qualitative rather than quantitative. The single-member constituency is also, in the great sweep of parliamentary history, a recent innovation, very far indeed from the historical norm.

Each of 99 areas has a Lord Lieutenant, and each of the 91 in England, Scotland and Wales is a natural community. The eight in Wales are the “Preserved Counties”, over which a veil of discretion ought best to be drawn. Far better are the 13 historic counties of Wales. Giving possibly 99, but better 104, areas to return three MPs each. Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top three elected. Possibly 297 MPs, but better 312.

With the possible exception of Greater London, none of the nine English regions has the boundaries that purists would hope. But they do not, in point of fact, have anything to do with the EU, which merely asked the (Conservative) Government of the day which regions Britain had, and was sent the map already in place for many years by then, as that governing party had also been. Mercifully, we kept those who bray across the actual and virtual golf club bars away from the campaign against the North East Regional Assembly, or it might have been set up. Proponents of an English Parliament should consider that the people in it would be a combination of those who would have been on Regional Assemblies and those who bray across the actual and virtual golf club bars. It is imperative that the latter be kept away from any referendum campaign relating to the EU.

Taking those imperfect, but at least existent and fairly longstanding, regions (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the nine in England), each of them would elect 20 party MPs and five Independents. Each of us would vote for one party, the one in first place would win five MPs, the one in second place four, the one in third place three, the one in fourth place two, and the next six one each. Each of us would vote for one Independent; the five highest scorers would be elected. 300 in all. Giving a total, possibly of 597, but preferably of 612.

Amended Duties And Powers

David Owen writes:

As I watched the National Health Service celebrated through hospital beds and patients in Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony my spirits lifted suddenly, replacing the despair I felt at the passing of the Health and Social Care Act. I could see a way to reinstate the essential legal and democratic basis for the NHS in England by drawing up a short bill to focus a cross-party campaign on restoring the health secretary's duty to promote and provide as well as secure a comprehensive, integrated health service – while avoiding another unwanted "top down reorganisation".

The aim of the NHS (amended duties and powers) bill, which I have now introduced into the House of Lords, is that concerned members of the public can use it to question candidates in byelections and at the general election. It is not a Labour party bill, or one drawn up by the newly formed National Health Action party. Of course the bill is open to any organisation or individual to support, but it is an aid to campaigning, not a campaign itself.

This bill of only eight clauses amends both Labour's National Health Service Act 2006 and the Conservatives' Health and Social Care Act – which is drafted so that any incoming government seeking to change it in advance of new legislation could be subjected to judicial review and challenged in the courts. The 2012 act invests huge power in the largest quango ever created: the NHS Commissioning Board. The commercial entities that hope to rapidly marketise the NHS from April 2013 will not stop contractual negotiations because of a general election result. Their investors need to know that they can't guarantee an ever increasing flow of NHS contracts after the next election.

Expenditure on healthcare, whether state or private, can never be infinite. After the substantial increase in NHS expenditure in Labour's second term, it is unlikely that we will see a similar expansion in spending for some years. We have, and had – even before I was health minister in 1974 – a rationed NHS. Professor Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, told the House of Commons public accounts committee this month that he had been "deluged" with complaints because of restrictions on surgery in half of NHS trusts, curbs that started in 2010; and people needing cataract operations and hip and knee replacements faced different hurdles for receiving treatment depending on where they lived. This overt rationing is becoming ever more apparent.

Reconfiguring the NHS and a tiered structure for emergency care are necessary reforms that will not be accepted without democratic accountability. The bill stresses integration, not fragmentation; co-operation with all partner organisations; voluntary hospice movements; a not-for-profit culture – and some commercial provision that is capable of providing financial yardsticks to stimulate improvement in NHS cost control, but where the NHS can be the preferred provider.

Hospitals have always relied on temporary staff, but market attitudes have already led to the routine use of agency nurses, as their sharp rise demonstrates. The total bill for temporary nurses will reach £450m by the end of this financial year, a 21% rise from 2011-12. The Mid-Staffs foundation trust, which since 2009 was meant to have been reformed, paid £1,794 for a specialist nurse to work 13.5 hours in A&E in December 2011, the equivalent of an annual salary of £230,000: an NHS nurse in the same role is paid £25,528-£34,189.

The NHS is, in essence, a vocational service. It needs to retain within it a generosity of purpose, philosophical commitment and a one-on-one relationship with the individual patients. This bill, if it becomes an act in the autumn of 2015, will be just in time to save the NHS from the worst ravages of a full-blooded external market. With surgical precision it will fillet out the ideological nonsense of a massive reorganisation that had no electoral mandate and has already deeply damaged healthcare.

This Is Not What Blood Libel Looks Like

A cartoon that appeared in this London's Sunday Times this week depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with blood-red colored cement, trapping in between the bricks Palestinian-looking figures, is causing the latest is-it-or-is-it-not-anti-Semitism furor.

The usual suspects have all weighed in: the Anti-Defamation League [whose business it is not], the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom [at least arguably likewise], clamoring for the venerable cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's head and asking how the pro-Israel Sunday Times's proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, could allow such a travesty.

The accusation is straightforward enough. Scarfe's drawing is classic anti-Semitism using typical motifs of Judeophobia, and is doubly hateful for having appeared on international Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is hard to argue that 68 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the hatred of Jews has disappeared from the civilized nations of western Europe, but there are more than enough real manifestations of racism and xenophobia, directed at Jews and other religious and ethnic groups in Britain and the rest of the continent, for us to be spending our efforts confronting. Pillorying Scarfe and his cartoon cheapens a noble cause, as this was not anti-Semitic by any standard. Here are four reasons why.

1. It is not directed at Jews: There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. No Star of David or kippa, and though some commentators have claimed Netanyahu's nose in the cartoon is over-sized, at most this is in line with Scarfe's style (and that of cartoonists) of slightly exaggerating physical features. Jew-noses are prevalent in truly anti-Semitic cartoons that routinely appear in Arab newspapers - you can find them easily on the web. They are big, bulbous and hooked snouts, and look nothing like Netanyahu's nose a-la-Scarfe. Furthermore, Netanyahu is an Israeli politician who was just elected by a quarter of Israeli voters, not a Jewish symbol or a global representative of the Jews.

2. It does not use Holocaust imagery: It has become generally accepted - justifiably I think - that comparing Israel's leaders and policies to those of the Third Reich is borderline, if not full-on anti-Semitism. Not only because there is no comparable genocide in human history, but because choosing it to describe the actions of the Jewish state is a nasty slur identifying Israelis as the successors of the Holocaust's victims turned into perpetrators of a second Holocaust. But there is nothing in Scarfe's cartoon that can put the Holocaust in mind. Perhaps someone thinks that the wall should remind us of the ghetto, but don't forget, Scarfe is the original designer of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Should the Sunday Times have not published the cartoon on International Holocaust Memorial Day? Only if one believes that is a day in which Israeli politicians have immunity from being caricatured. Such a belief would certainly cheapen the memory of the Shoah. The Sunday Times, as it names indicates, appears only on Sundays and this was the end of elections week in Israel - when else did you expect them to feature a cartoon of Netanyahu?

3. There was no discrimination: If Gerald Scarfe had been a benign and gentle artist, treating the subjects of his cartoons with due respect and reverence, sharpening his pencil only on Israeli and Jewish figures, there would be grounds here for assuming he was tainted by the most ancient of hatreds. Anyone who has had even a casual glance at Scarfe's oeuvre of over half a century knows that is not the case. Netanyahu's depiction is grossly offensive and unfair, but that is only par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing-board. Scarfe has spent his entire career viciously lampooning the high and mighty - Netanyahu is in illustrious company.

4. This is not what a blood libel looks like: Some have claimed that the blood-red cement Netanyahu is using in the cartoon to build his wall indicates a blood libel motif. Well of course it's blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid? The classic European blood libel, like many other classic European creations, had a strict set of images which must always contain a cherubic gentile child sacrificed by those perfidious Jews, his blood to be used for ritual purposes. It was a direct continuation of the Christ-killer myth. Scarfe's cartoon has blood-cement but no blood libel components - it almost seems he was careful not to include any small children among his Palestinian figures (one of the eight is arguably an adolescent) so as not to have any sort of libel scenery. The blood libel was a terrible feature of Jewish life in Europe up until the beginning of the 20th century, and the myth still occasionally emerges from between the cracks in some East European backwaters to this day. To ascribe Scarfe's cartoon with any of its features distorts another chapter of Jewish history.

Gerald Scarfe Is Not Anti-Semitic

Rod Liddle writes:

So, that Gerald Scarfe cartoon, then. I don’t like it much, but then I like cartoons which make me laugh, (and especially so if they have animals in them). McLachlan, Honeysett, Rowson et al – and on a daily basis of course, Matt. I’m always at a bit of a loss with those big cartoons in the broadsheets which are attempting to tell me something very meaningful and make me stroke my chin.

This one made me averse because it seemed to encapsulate the shrieking hysteria of the metro-left; translated into words, it says: ‘Netanyahu is building walls out of the blood of murdered Palestinian innocents!’, which is exactly the sort of statement you could expect from, say, George Galloway, perhaps whilst he was prostrating himself before the kindly and liberal-minded leaders of Hamas.

But anti-semitic? I don’t think so. I don’t quite see that. The difference with the Ward statement (from previous blog) is pretty clear: It is Netanyahu, not ‘the Jews’ who is being held culpable. Rightly or wrongly. I assume I’m in the minority on this site and some will say this is a self-interested defence. I assure you it isn’t.

Postliberal Britain, Postliberal Europe

In the debate surrounding the nature both of the United Kingdom and of each of its constituent parts’ relationship with it, which is the question of what it is to be English, Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish, there is a total absence of any profound attention to the nature of the identity that civil and political institutions are supposed to express.

Any such attempt must draw on resources philosophical and theological, ethical and aesthetic, historical and literary, natural-scientific and social-scientific, “religious” and “secular”, spiritual and humanist, Medieval and Early Modern, Biblical and Classical.

Therefore, let the Members of the House of Commons elect, from outside their number, 12 guardians of religious and spiritual values, and 12 guardians of secular and humanist values. In each category, each MP would vote for one candidate, with the 12 highest scorers elected at the end.

Furthermore, from each of the 12 regions (which, for all their other imperfections, have nothing to do with the EU; several, including here in the North East, literally seem to have been invented by ITV), let some means be found of appointing a leader of the largest community of the religiously observant, and a leader in secular thought. In all of these cases, a 10-year term would be appropriate.

Nothing requiring Royal Assent could be submitted for it, nor could any Supreme Court ruling have effect, unless approved by a simple majority in each of the four categories: religious and spiritual, secular and humanist, elected by the House of Commons, and appointed from the regions.

No legislation to apply only in England could be submitted to the monarch unless already approved, both by the majority of the religious and spiritual leaders from the nine parts of England, and by the majority of their secular and humanist counterparts.

In this age of electronic communication, costs would be minimal. As they would be in similarly addressing the utter lack of any depth in the debate surrounding the nature both of the European Union and of the United Kingdom’s relationship with it.

Each of the member-states ought to nominate for life one guardian of the religious and spiritual roots of its culture and polity, and one guardian of their secular and humanist roots. In addition, each of the Europarties ought to nominate for a 10-year term one guardian of the religious and spiritual roots of its ideology and support, and one guardian of their secular and humanist roots.

Nothing requiring a Qualified Majority could proceed to the Council of Ministers without the prior approval of the simple majority in each of the four categories: nominated by the member-states, nominated by the Europarties, guarding religious and spiritual values, and guarding secular and humanist values. Nothing requiring unanimity could proceed without the prior approval of all four of the two-thirds majorities.

Nothing requiring a Treaty change could proceed to the European Council without the approval of all four of the three-quarters majorities. No ruling of the European Court of Justice could have effect, nor could any ruling of the European Court of Human Rights have effect within the EU, unless ratified by all four of the simple majorities.

All of this could not be more in accord with the spirit, not to say the letter, of Lord Glasman and Blue Labour as they call Labour out of the Blairite desert and back to the wells, streams and fountains of faith and reason, family and community, ontology and epistemology, ethics and aesthetics, the fine arts and the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences, Early Modernity and the Middle Ages, Classics and the Bible.

Pornography Is The Cancer Of Our Times

I read a thought-provoking article on LifeSiteNew last October 24. Written by Fr Michael Shields, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia, it was entitled “Pornography is the silent “cancer” of our time.” Fr Shields wrote, “Pornography came to Magadan like a cold wind, blowing through the city and leaving behind openly pornographic magazines and videos strewn across newsstands and book stores. It arrived all at once.”

He compared this new “cancer” to cigarette-smoking: how people were at first ignorant of its bad effects on health; how it was tolerated until “slowly society changed as people learned that cigarettes can cause cancer. Movements began to ban cigarette smoking in public places. Signs warning of the dangers appeared on packages and billboards…Over time, a smoking culture changed into a non-smoking culture.” Fr Shields concluded his article by stating soberly, “We are in a similar time right now – tolerating a very terrible cancer that is eating away at our society and destroying homes, marriages and souls…”

One might add that it is also destroying young peoples’s lives. I had filed this article away, but given the spate of articles and media interest in the subject of children and pornography this last week – Allison Pearson in the Telegraph on Thursday, Catherine Pepinster on Thought for the Day on Friday, and Cole Moreton in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, for instance – it seems timely to re-read Fr Shields and ponder his words.

Pornography is a difficult subject for the secular, liberal society that we live in to tackle. On the one hand it insists that adults, anyone over the age of 16, are free to do whatever they want with their bodies and that any form of censorship is wrong; that anyone who calls for restraints on behaviour is narrow-minded or a bigot; and that as long as one’s conduct “doesn’t hurt anyone else” it must be tolerated. This freedom to do as we please as regards sex must never be questioned. On the other hand, it insists on unworkable schemes to protect children from the merest and remotest possibility of paedophile attacks and conducts retrospective witch hunts on alleged past sexual predators. Both these stances are confused, contradictory and hypocritical.

What struck me, on reading Moreton and Allison Pearson, is their sense of embarrassment in having to relinquish their liberal credentials when it comes to the corruption of young people by pornography. Moreton wants us to know, “I’m not a prude, but…” and Pearson writes, “It’s not often that I unleash my inner Mary Whitehouse, but the way young girls today are expected to conform to a hideous porn culture makes me want to don a pair of glasses with upswept frames and get myself one of those battleaxe perms.” (Note her mention of the easily caricatured physical appearance of a good and brave Christian woman who tried to draw the country’s attention to this growing problem as early as the 1960s.)

But it was what Pearson went on to say later in her article that particularly caught my attention: “I spent three minutes looking at YouPorn yesterday and I felt like I needed at least three years in a darkened room listening to the B Minor Mass to reconstitute my soul. What the hell would this writhing abyss look like to a 14-year-old…?” As far as I know Pearson is not someone of religious faith; yet confronted by sheer evil she looks instinctively towards the kind of spiritual beauty exemplified by Bach in order to cleanse herself from its destructive effects.

This is not a surprise to a Catholic. We know we are fallen creatures; that Hell is real (and starts in this life); that our souls, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, refer to “that by which [man] is most especially in God’s image”; that the Mass is not just a peak aesthetic experience but actually enacts the deepest drama of our redemption; and perhaps most importantly in this context, that only the grace of sacramental Confession can truly cleanse those same souls once they have been in contact with pornography. (I should add here I have never watched YouPorn, even for reasons of journalistic research, for the simple reason I know it would be very bad for me, like drinking poison. Not for nothing does the Church warn us to “carefully avoid occasions of sin.”)

Like Pearson, I want to protect the innocence of children, and these days my grandchildren. Not being technological, I cannot suggest ways this might be done effectively, either on the internet or on mobiles – indeed, if it is possible. But like Fr Shields, I see it not just as a very serious social or psychological problem, but as a spiritual cancer that, in his words, is “destroying souls.” In his article he is talking of adult male addiction in particular; but he would agree that children and young people will imitate the adults around them, adults who are shaping today the society that these young people will inherit tomorrow.

If adults demand freedom from moral constraints over their own behaviour, what example are they giving to the next generation? Moreton and Pearson are rightly appalled at the corrosive effect on children by easy access to pornography. But where were journalists like them when Mary Whitehouse was fighting her lonely battle against the sophisticated liberal intelligentsia of her day? I suspect they were mocking her seeming prudery, provincialism and lower middle-class values.

Ideologically Consistent

If, based on this, he is not one already, then we'll make an Old Labour High Tory of Ed West yet:

Of all the phrases that are going to become overused and tiresome in 2013, I’m putting my money on “pornified culture”. I’m already bored with it, and I generally agree with the claims made by Diane Abbott that there's a “striptease culture in British schools and society, which has been put beyond the control of British families”. Abbott has, much to the confusion of many people, started talking like the small-c conservative she was always destined to become. At a meeting of the Fabian Women's Network last week she said: “For so long, it’s been argued that overt, public displays of sexuality are an enlightened liberation. But I believe that for many, the pressure of conforming to hypersexualisation and its pitfalls is a prison. And the permanence of social media and technology can be a life sentence.”

The issue of sexualisation has been discussed by various columnists since. From the point of view of a father of a four-year-old girl, I can see it already. Watch a music channel aimed at young girls and you’ll not just see a succession of curvy, strutting, half-naked young women; the entire essence of womanhood projected is one where a lady must appear as sexually alluring as possible, the underlining theme being that any woman who doesn’t arouse the opposite sex is some sort of leper. Many people see this and wonder how it chimes with the high-minded feminism of their youth, but are concerned about appearing prudish, which is a deeply unattractive trait to many people. Yet something clearly went wrong.

It’s a widely held belief of the Left that economic liberalism leads to exploitation, inequality, monopolisation and abuse. It’s why Left-wing activists, both secular and religious, are happy to use the concept of shame in exposing what they see as the greed of businesses (shame is the method used by UK Uncut and the living wage campaigners, for instance, and I have some sympathy with both). Yet this logic is rarely applied to sexual liberation [Ed needs to get out more], partly because there is so much emotional investment applied to 1968 and all that, partly because those who gained from liberation are so much more vocal and influential than those who lost, and partly because of an aversion to the idea of sexual shame. But you can’t rein in exploitation and abuse without some unpalatable ideas such as shame and stigma, and more concrete rules about what is right and wrong.

As soon as anyone makes this basic point, people from across the political spectrum start to compare them to Victorians or Puritans and even use the word medieval. But the principles about social responsibility and money apply to sex too. As Michel Houellebecq wrote in Whatever, a quote I’m fond of repeating: “A world where sexual pleasure is made a pre-eminent good is one where the gap between haves and have-nots is magnified along new dimensions.” Another thing they have in common is that highly-sexed and highly-materialistic environments also make lots of people very unhappy.

Abbott is being ideologically consistent with the Labour tradition here, especially since girls from poorer backgrounds are hardest hit, being already less likely to have a father or a highly-educated mother, less likely to be taught about Marie Curie or Emmeline Pankhurst and more susceptible to the ideal of the woman as sex doll pop star. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the music wasn’t so rubbish. At least my parents’ generation had The Beatles.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Off The Lead

I am also available to become Leader of the Conservative Party.

Fashionably touched with the tar brush. But not so much. And not so much as to be called anything other than David Alexander Stephen Lindsay.

No estuary accent here. Nor any money made in trade, darling.

Plenty of Tory MPs know how to get in touch.

Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis

I could not let today pass without saying a quick word about St. Thomas Aquinas, my intellectual hero and generally one of my favorite saints.

Aquinas was born in 1224/5 to a noble family at a time of political tension between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor. Because Aquinas’s family supported the Emperor in this struggle they sent the young Thomas, after some initial schooling at the famous Benedictine Abbey Monte Casino, to study at the imperial university in Naples. Unlike the ecclesiastical universities, students at Naples were allowed to study Aristotle, whose writings were just beginning to filter back in to the Latin West via the Muslim World.

There was a perception at this time that Aristotelian science lead to conclusions that contradicted revelation and in some circles this science was therefore considered to be a threat to traditional Augustinian theology. It was the genius of Aquinas to synthesize these two streams of thought, the Augustinian and the Aristotelian, by showing the complementary nature of faith and reason.

The result is a liberating vision of the world and human life in which God holds all things in being through his creative love, and calls human beings to live in friendship with him in this life, and eternal happiness with him in the next.

And from 2011 on the same site, which does not seem to allow links to individual posts:

As we celebrate the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican Doctor of the Church, it seems appropriate to reflect on his teaching, in which in particular we recognise his sanctity. First of all, we can marvel at the sheer quantity of writings he left: suffice it to say they occupy several shelves in the library here at Blackfriars! The amount of works St Thomas wrote, and the range of them, gives us a sense of his passion for exploring what we can know about God and for passing on his insights and discoveries to others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the many questions he considers is, in effect, what is the point of all this talking about God? Why do we need doctrine? How is knowing things about God useful?

The answer, which could be seen as a theme running through the whole structure of his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, is that the fulfilment of human beings is to be found in something not just beyond ourselves but beyond what we could work out for ourselves: to discover it, and so to attain it, we need not only the conclusions we could come to on our own, but also the truths which God has revealed. In this already we see the amazing fact at the heart not only of doing theology but of our human life itself: God, the Creator of all that exists, is not some remote object for us to consider from afar, but has drawn close to us, revealed himself to us, and in that shown his love for us. In this we find that the purpose of human life, the fulfilment which we need God’s revelation to understand, is nothing other than seeing and knowing God as he really is, in what we call the beatific vision. Thus, in seeking to know God, not only do we learn what he has revealed about our ultimate fulfilment, but already by his grace we have a foretaste of that fulfilment.

All this is amazing enough in itself: as we read the Bible and explore, with the great theologians such as St Thomas, the many implications of what God has revealed, we discover many wondrous truths about God and his love for mankind; and yet, as St Thomas reminds us in the words he spoke after the mystical vision he had at the end of his life, all that he wrote is ‘as straw’ compared with the splendour of the reality which awaits us in the blessed life to which God calls us all.

Saint Augustine of Hippo is an important forebear of the Dominican tradition in which some of us stand. His Rule remains part of the Constitutions to this day, and his influence suffuses the great theologians and spiritual writers of Dominicanism. Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. Therefore, far from being the rupture with Augustinianism that is often asserted, his thought is wholly within it, and indeed utterly incomprehensible apart from it. Other attempts to affirm the Augustinian vision of all knowledge as divine illumination are not necessarily in opposition to Thomism; rather, under the Magisterium (its own point of reference and correction), it provides their point of reference and correction.

This applies to the entire rational and empirical systems, since, at least in the context of those who devised these systems in Early Modern Europe, the very belief in the possibility of true knowledge by rational or empirical means - indeed, of true knowledge at all - is Augustinian, and indeed Thomist. Blessed John Paul the Great, in Fides et Ratio commended at once Thomism in paragraphs 43 and 44, and the works of Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Antonio Rosmini, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Russians of various stripes alongside Maritain and Gilson in paragraph 74, not to mention engagement with Indian and other non-Western philosophies in paragraph 73.

Alas that Chesterton defines Aquinas against the Christianised Neoplatonism of the Augustinian illuminist tradition, rather than recognising Thomism’s Christianised Aristotelianism as nevertheless belonging within, and greatly enriching, that tradition. Had Chesterton done this, then he would have been quite astonishingly prescient in this as in so many other areas. However, what Chesterton writes about Thomism as the definitive philosophical articulation of the world-view that he shares is of course entirely correct. In Saint Thomas Aquinas (1933), he sets out that “the primary or fundamental Part” of Thomism “or indeed the Catholic Philosophy” is “the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World.” Precisely so.

Ora pro nobis.

Back To Our Routes

Our countryside was criss-crossed by the world's original and best rail network for well over a century, to the point of being largely defined by it. People who have priced everyone else out of rural areas and who now find that their houses are going to be right next to one of the busiest railways on earth deserve nothing but pointing and laughing from the rest of us.

It is motorways that are an incongruous import from the United States, from Germany, and from the simple concreting over of immemorial straight Roman roads elsewhere on the Continent. Railways are British. They are both a product and an expression both of our landscape and of our sensibility.

We led the world in everything to do with them. We could, should and must do so again. They can be run on electricity, which can be generated from our own vast reserves of coal and from nuclear power. Cars run on oil, which has to be imported from the most dangerous places on earth, in the affairs of which we are thus obliged to embroil ourselves.

But we do not need to give some private, already or soon-to-be foreign, company a license to print public money for whizzing our supposedly high fliers from one city centre to another. Still less from miles away from one city centre to miles away from another.

We need to renationalise 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. And we need to be able to get on a train (or the tram, or the bus) in the centre of one village, town or city, in order to be able to get off it in the centre of another.

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 should have again, the word "British" in their names.

What I pity that it was only ever "British Rail", rather than "Royal British Rail". One for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022. In Thatcher's own words about the Royal Mail, "We can't privatise that, it's Royal." Let the same apply here, linking every city and town, with the hinterland served by its central amenities, not only to each other, but also directly to the monarchy.

If there were a Tory, conservative, One Nation party, then it would be saying this. Perhaps there is?

State Genocide

Talila Nesher writes:

A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera. Health Ministry Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu has instructed the four health maintenance organizations to stop the practice as a matter of course. The ministry and other state agencies had previously denied knowledge or responsibility for the practice, which was first reported five years ago.

Gamzu’s letter instructs all gynecologists in the HMOs "not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.” He also instructed physicians to avail themselves of translators if need be.

Gamzu’s letter came in response to a letter from Sharona Eliahu-Chai of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, representing several women’s rights and Ethiopian immigrants’ groups. The letter demanded the injections cease immediately and that an investigation be launched into the practice.

About six weeks ago, on an Educational Television program journalist Gal Gabbay revealed the results of interviews with 35 Ethiopian immigrants. The women’s testimony could help explain the almost 50-percent decline over the past 10 years in the birth rate of Israel’s Ethiopian community.

According to the program, while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injection. “They told us they are inoculations,” said one of the women interviewed. “They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Muslim Patrols

Now we know how it feels to live in Afghanistan, after all that.

Or how it feels to live in either of the fake states that we have created in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Or how it feels to live in Iraq or Libya, now that we have improved them both.

Onwards into Syria.

Brown Windsor?

As I am permitted to ask in such terms, being, in the words of a once-frequent contributor below the line, "the Mulatto Hitler" to Robert Mugabe's "Black Hitler". He famously thought that "the conservative Colbert" was a reference to The Colbert Report, and he used to compare me to Mussolini under various spellings, all of them incorrect.

Berlusconi is factually accurate that Mussolini's regime was not initially anti-Semitic, and only became so under pressure from Hitler. He might have added that in May 1940, Churchill had been all ready to give Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda to Mussolini.

My mind is now on that strange little man, by which I mean neither Berlusconi nor Mussolini, nor even Churchill, because we are coming up to the tenth anniversary of his permanent exclusion of me from any hope of entering the parliamentary process. People who say that I ought to be in it, blame him.

A fat lot of good it did him then, or has done him since, or will ever do him, I am pleased to say. Then, now and forever, he has to console him everything that it is within his capacity to appreciate: his very latest haircut, his encycolpedic knowledge of football and of pop music, and so on. Bless him.

But anyway, to business. Adam Afriyie does not appear to have rebelled against Cameron on anything important, if on anything at all.

So, why bother with him?