Thursday, 28 February 2013

Simply A Pilgrim

Thank you from the heart, dear friends! I am glad to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation.

From 8 this evening, I will no longer be Pontiff. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the final stage of his pilgrimage on this earth, but I still wish to, with my heart, with my love, with my prayer, with my reflection, work for the good of the Church and for the common good of mankind.  

Buona notte!

And the final tweet:

Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.

Estrange But True

Kevin Maguire writes:

Who knows where the Tory peer Michael Ashcroft’s estrangement from David Cameron will end? The billionaire international man of mystery and one-time deputy chairman of the Conservatives, who over the years has bunged the party £10m, has let it be known, as we say in Westminster, that he’s unlikely to reopen his wallet for Cameron.

Lord Cashcroft of Belize, still sore after Dave’s mob dumped on him when he was forced to confess before the 2010 election that he’d been avoiding taxes as a non-dom, is no fan of the hired attack dingo Lynton Crosby, and is therefore loath to contribute to the Aussie’s £200,000-plus deal with the Tories.

Instead, the tycoon is carving out a niche for himself as The Pollfather; the word is that he spends more on voter research than all of Britain’s other political parties combined. Intriguingly, I hear the disaffected Tory businessman privately met the shadow cabinet member Douglas Alexander to discuss election strategy.

He’s chatted with other senior Labour figures, too, both in the Commons and the Lords. Ashcroft slipping Labour a few bob may be unlikely, but it would be the ultimate revenge on Cameron.

Ashcroft is also a good friend of Saint Helena.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Food For Thought

At Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron said how proud he was that food banks were going to be advertised in Job Centres.

Read that over until it sinks in.

Now That The Ice Has Been Broken

I am delighted at the award of the Arctic Star.

Now, how about allowing those same British veterans to collect the Ushakov Medal, which they have already been awarded?

The Price of Life

Three cheers for the cross-party, cross-community initiative to ban abortion outside the NHS in Northern Ireland in order to circumvent the nefarious activities of a franchise of the body bearing the name of a demented woman to whom the last Conservative Government gave the CBE. The State is in itself an agent of and for morality, if there is the will to make it so, and in reality even if there is not.

Anti-statism makes that impossible. It leaves us to the ravages of "the market", with its slavery and its child labour, its opium dens and its seven-day working weeks, its prostitution and its pornography, its drugs and its abortions. The ostensible refusal of the State to intervene in economic activity is in fact an intervention. But it is the wrong intervention. Not least, though not only, because it sets the wrong wider and deeper moral tone.

That is the reason why we had the NHS for an entire generation before we had abortion, and why those Western European countries where no section of the Political Class has ever adopted what in any case is now a rather passé American attitude to "socialised medicine" have never adopted American-style abortion laws. It is no coincidence that abortion was legalised up to birth by Margaret Thatcher, just as it was no coincidence that it had been legalised in California by Ronald Reagan.

The longstanding ban on federal funding of abortion was enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by Jimmy Carter It has been written into ObamaCare, whereas RomneyCare permitted taxpayer funding of abortion, from which Mitt Romney himself continues to derive an income. The transition to a de facto federal government monopoly in healthcare provision, combined with Democratic measures such as the Pregnant Women Support Act of the totally pro-life and firmly Obama-allied Senator Bob Casey, will therefore lead inexorably to a Western European-style absence of much or any abortion in the United States.

Would that anyone would suggest such a thing in the 1980s theme park of Coalition Britain. But in one corner of the United Kingdom, they are doing a lot more than merely suggesting it.

Bring Back The British

From Centrica to the West Coast Main Line, the arguments from fiscal responsibility for public ownership are now unanswerable. But then, they always were.

Moreover, public ownership is British ownership, it safeguards the Union, and its means of defending both the sovereignty and the integrity of this nation frequently even had the word "British" in their names.

For example, British Gas.

And British Rail.


I don't think so.

Secure in the knowledge that the Conservative Party's in-house newspapers would take up and run with any anti-Lib Dem story, the Left's in-house news bulletin has determined to remove the hated Nick Clegg now that there is no risk of Chris Huhne's elevation in his stead.

As much as anything else, the whole Rennard story demonstrates what a pantomime horse the Lib Dems are. That party's former Head of Media, Mark Littlewood, is once again being interviewed specifically as a Lib Dem while now the Director of the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs, which was founded out of the old Liberal Party that gave us its eventual heroine's ideologically formative father. Littlewood and the IEA now mostly campaign for the abolition of the national minimum wage, which even Tony Blair managed to introduce.

If it is not Littlewood, then it is Simon Hughes. Who, in a recent Newsnight interview to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Bermondsey by-election, described himself as, "like Peter, from the radical Left". Peter, being of course Tatchell of that ilk, did not question that, and recalled how in those days it had been only the radical Left that had advocated, for example, a national minimum wage. I am not sure that that is true. But it certainly stands in the starkest possible contrast to Littlewood.

The sheer instability of the Lib Dems has always been fatal. It looks as if we might at last be witnessing that fatality.

Southward View

Whatever the result at Eastleigh, very little can be gleaned from a by-election in a constituency so, literally, eccentric that it has elected a Lib Dem MP five times in a row. Such a place exists altogether outside the electoral mainstream. That makes it interesting in its own way. But only in its own way.

The treatment of UKIP as a major party by the media is something of which it ought to be thoroughly wary. The Greens, with an MP and with far more Councillors, including control of a Council, are not treated like that. UKIP is being co-opted. And Farage is allowing it to be. The rest of his party needs to ask why. It will. If it has any existence apart from his personality.

If Danny Stupple does finish top of the rest, then there will be the man whom Labour ought to have approached. The National Executive Committee can have anyone it likes to contest a by-election. Although I expect (I could be wrong) that he has previously identified as a Tory, his campaign website marks him as vaguely left-of-Blair economically.

Alas, his Evangelical Anglican church, which I am told is quite normal for that neck of the woods as I am told that it also would be in Kent, seems fully signed up to the late and aberrant theory of Christian Zionism. It probably does not know that Arab nationalism and the modern concept of Filastin both arose among Christian students at American Protestant missionary universities well before the denominations in question adopted the liberal theology that could not have produced them.

Nor that the Anglican community which makes up a significant proportion of Christians in today's Jerusalem is of a rather Conservative Evangelical persuasion, having arisen with a view to Reforming the existing Catholics and Orthodox. That latter lack of awareness is particularly odd and disappointing in view of the recent Jerusalem Declaration. If you need to, then give it a Google.

But such things can be contained, especially these days. Stupple's main objection is to the same-sex "marriage" that Labour never sought to introduce and on which it granted a free vote when the present lot tried to do it, as that lot has still yet to see through to conclusion.

Among the Labour abstainers were two Shadow Ministers, both of whom remain in post and will be Ministers after 2015, who are active Evangelical Protestants, who would certainly vote against Third Reading in the extremely unlikely event that this Bill ever made it that far, and one of whom is the only Pentecostal pastor in Parliament. Labour and Respect are known to be fighting it out to recruit the pastors of the black churches as candidates in many urban areas.

If the combined vote for Labour and for Danny Stupple is greater than that for the next candidate up, then it will be perfectly clear what ought to have been done, and what ought to be done next time, in order to capture this admittedly unusual seat.

Update 10:18pm: Danny Stupple has just retweeted this. Whoever runs Labour in the Deep South, take note.

Cardinal Truths

• In your editorial (26 February) you talk about Cardinal O'Brien as leading a "narrow" Scottish church. In fact, he led a church devoted to the minority rights of asylum seekers, defended the rights of the least well-off, supported the need for urgent action on climate change, and was a powerful voice, alongside successive moderators of the Church of Scotland, in condemning the possession and use of nuclear weapons. So, on a balanced view, not obviously a narrow church.
Michael Martin

•  I would like to say a public thank you to Cardinal Keith O'Brien. He is one of the few church leaders who has consistently and unconditionally condemned the immorality of nuclear weapon policies. His solid support has been of the greatest value. If we succeed in preventing £100bn being spent on the replacement of Trident his contribution will have played a major part.

Bruce Kent

All of the People

Saturday 22nd June will see the People's Assembly Against Austerity, at the Central Hall, Westminster, from 9:30am to 5pm. I shall be there if I can be, and you should do the same. Tony Benn. Owen Jones. You know how these things roll.

But the anti-war movement of a decade ago never capitalised on the extent to which it reached deep into Tory Britain with its profoundly conservative message of foreign policy realism. The SWP was allowed to make the running, to exactly as much effect as one might have expected.

None of the right-wing columnists who fiercely opposed the invasion of Iraq was involved in any active way. The anti-war Tory MPs were ignored so completely that their very existence would doubtless still come as a surprise to many, or even to most, of the electorate at large.

Today, the anti-cuts movement has the potential to reach deep into Tory Britain with its profoundly conservative message of using State power in order to protect organic communities against the ravages of unbridled capital.

That potential is more than apparent from the following list. Those on it are all Tories unless otherwise specified. These are the committee members of SPARSE, the network of rural councils fighting the cuts and seriously considering a judicial review of Eric Pickles. It really would be quite a coup if one of them, most obviously Roger Begy, were to be a platform speaker at the People's Assembly:

Cllr Roger Begy- (Chairman)
Cllr Milner Whiteman -
Cllr Hilary Carrick -
Cllr Tricia Tull -
Cllr Robert G Heseltine - (Independent)
Cllr Lewis Strange -
Cllr Mary Robinson - (Independent)
Cllr Malise Graham -
Cllr Mark Kirk - (Labour)
Cllr Julian German - (Independent)
Cllr Richard Kemp - (Independent)
Cllr Cecilia Motley -

It says it all that there is no Lib Dem on this list. Not a single, solitary one.

The Eton College George Orwell Society famously sent three delegates to the People's Assembly Against The War. 10 years on, during which Eton has become political news such as it was not in 2003, it would be quite another coup to have their successors at the People's Assembly Against Austerity.

But it would be even more of one if an Eton boy, an 18-year-old voter so that no one could question it, were to speak from that Assembly's platform. Owen may still look as he does. But at 28, he is too old to be the Golden Boy. That comes to us all eventually.

Don't ask, don't get.

At least since Iraq, never has that been truer than in this case.

Paper Parties

Despite the fact that a broadcaster, subject to Leveson-like regulation, has broken and continues to make the running with the Rennard story, the newspapers do not like the Leveson-inspired Lords amendments to the Defamation Bill. They are, apparently, "politically motivated", as if the papers were not, and as if parliamentarians either could or should ever be anything else.

Oh, well, the newsmen have only themselves to blame. They long ago set themselves up as political parties, with full manifestos, endorsed candidates, and identified political, including electoral, opponents.

Within what is now a far smaller active electorate, a dozen or more columnists each has the kind of election-swinging personal following that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair only acquired on becoming the Leaders of their respective parties, and which previously characterised Tony Benn, Enoch Powell and David Owen. Of sitting MPs, probably only George Galloway has one these days. Whereas any number of them is now being directed out of what was once Fleet Street.

Now, they are only being treated as what they have decided to become. And people who cannot stand the heat know perfectly well where the kitchen door is.

What About The Workers?

Job-share MPs, indeed! What, on half-pay? No, I didn’t think so. Who cares what sex an MP is? That is the answer to entirely the wrong question, although job-sharing is the wrong answer even to that question. Meanwhile, what Sir Michael Wilshaw means is that rustics and hoi polloi do not produce anyone capable of being school governors, so that their communities need instead to be treated to the attentions of professionalised central appointees. We all know who and what those would be.

The recent death of Ronald Dworkin more or less coincides with these pernicious proposals, and also with attacks on trial by jury following the collapse of the first Vicky Price trial, as well as with the muttering about Catholics providing a large minority of the Conservative votes against same-sex “marriage”, the huge majority of Labour votes against, large proportions of the Labour and Lib Dem abstentions, and at least half of the Lib Dem votes against. Is Gordon Birtwistle a Catholic? At any rate, there will be no shortage of Catholics in Burnley, so that he would probably have faced a significant Labour challenger from that quarter if he had supported this Bill, as the practising Catholic Sarah Teather would have done from within the black churches in Brent Central.

Personally, I should love to be tried by stalwarts of the black churches such as the Daily Mail almost explicitly, and Sir Simon Jenkins absolutely explicitly, found so hilariously unsuitable. Sir Simon holds a view on juries and on jurors which is wildly out of keeping with his position of many other issues, such as the importance of municipal institutions.

If not the profoundly religious and immaculately turned out African lady whom Sir Simon thought ought not have been there, then who, exactly? And why, exactly? The is only one Sir Simon Jenkins. There are not 12 of him. Nor could even he possibly hear ever case in the land. Parliament, school governing bodies, juries: we come as we are, as who and what we are. That is the point. That is the purpose.

School governing bodies are what I know most about among bodies of that kind: hospital boards and so forth. The absence from them of the working classes, even broadly defined, is really very frightening. In eight years on that of a primary school serving the very mixed country town where I live, and in eight on that of a comprehensive school which happens to be here but which serves a much larger and overwhelmingly C2DE catchment area, I was privileged to serve with very many first-rate people.

But the fact remains that, apart from the then County Councillor at a push, and the odd parent governor, the composition was of the unassailable, mostly AB middle-classness that can only be pulled off with a straight face by the Labour Party and by the churches, Anglican in the primary case, Catholic in the secondary case. I should take a very great deal of persuading that things were any different in relation to the ostensibly public accountability of health, social services, housing, policing, or anything else.

The powers of local government demand to be restored as far as possible to the form that they took in 1978. Each local authority should comprise an equal number of Councillors and Aldermen. Councillors would continue to be elected on a Ward basis, with each Ward electing two Councillors, each voter voting for one candidate, and the top two getting in. Two Aldermen would be elected by and from among each designated Area’s voters in social groups A and B, two by and from among each Ward’s voters in social groups C1 and C2, and two by and from among each Ward’s voters in social groups D and E. Again, each voter would vote for one candidate by means of an X, with the two highest scorers declared elected at the end. Each Area would cover three Wards.

A proper committee system should be restored, as Eric Pickles has permitted but which ought to be required, with each committee containing an equal number of Councillors and Aldermen, and an equal number of Aldermen from each of the three categories. Committee Chairmanships and Vice-Chairmanships by similar means. The number of a local authority’s nominees to any body dealing with education (including any school’s governing body), health, transport, housing, policing or any other matter should be three or a multiple of three, with mandatory equal representation for the social groups A and B, the social groups C1 and C2, and the social groups D and E.

We need to guarantee equal numbers of AB, C1C2, and DE people on each jury and on each bench of magistrates unless the defendant exercised a statutory right to insist on an all-AB, an all-C1C2, or an all-DE jury or bench. This would involve abolishing stipendiary magistrates sitting alone, as should be done anyway. And it would be entirely compatible with restoring some sort of minimum qualification for jurors, since, contrary to what the upper middle classes tend to think, their incomes and lifestyle are not the norm, they are not the only people who pay tax, and they are not the only people who are householders.

I have long advocated the use of trade union money, not to fund New Labour, but instead, at least in part, to develop and deliver a recognised qualification for “non-graduates” with life and work experience who aspire to become MPs. If that could be done in partnership with local government, then so much the better. Certainly, central government’s withdrawal of funding from many institutions and courses provides a perfect opportunity for local government to step into the breach and reassert its historic role in tertiary education.
The whole idea of the EU is founded on that of an elite culture excluding the heirs of the pitmen poets and pitmen painters, the brass and silver bands, the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, the Workers’ Educational Association, and all the rest of that civilised and civilising world destroyed by the most philistine Prime Minister until Tony Blair. The EU’s institutions range from the sham-democratic to those overtly expressive of contempt for the popular will.

Anything tending to downplay Britishness in favour of any of its constituent parts always increases yet further the wealth and power of those best able to present themselves as embodying the soul of one part or another: the public schools, Oxbridge, the English Bar, and the upper echelons of the Church of England; the Scottish Bar and academocracy, which latter includes the upper echelons of the Church of Scotland; the Welsh-speaking elite; Ian Paisley or Martin Maguiness; and indeed the Irish-speaking elite within the professions in the Irish Republic. At the very least, the Parliament of the United Kingdom must routinely enact legislation across all policy areas applicable throughout the United Kingdom, as the devolution legislation presupposes.

And any erosion of the status of the monarchy would be, and is, greatly to the detriment of the working class. Whether on the Franco-American executive or the far more common ceremonial model, the office of an elected Head of State would invariably be occupied by a member of the metropolitan upper middle class, and the creation of that office would constitute that class’s supreme triumph over all others. In practice, those wishing to usurp either the residual powers or the ceremonial functions of the monarchy always come from that quarter.

Furthermore, working-class people are more likely to have family connections to those Commonwealth countries retaining the monarchy, especially to Australia and New Zealand; to Canada in, above all, the case of the Scots; and to those in the Caribbean. Whereas the partial or, potentially, total subversion of the Crown would and does express the Chiantishire and Cape Cod crowd’s closer affinity with rich and ruling-class Continental Europe, and the rich and ruling-class United States.

Blacked Out

Sunny Hundal writes:

You don’t hear that phrase being bandied about much any more. I’m almost starting to miss being called a ‘deficit denier’. Sometimes I was a ‘flat earther’ – which was funny too. The UK’s AAA downgrade wasn’t just a nail in the coffin of Osbonomics, it was also a much-needed kick in the groin to those on the right of the Labour party who thought opposing austerity was political and economic madness.

The fearless Dan Hodges, the man willing to tell the truth to the Left (a truth usually also echoed by the Conservatives), was a vigorous soldier within the pack. He was scathing – ‘Time for Labour’s flat earthers to get real‘! He was unrelenting – calling Polly Toynbee “High Priestess of Flat-Earthism” and me “editor of Flat Earth Times“! How we laughed. You know, those were fun days. All this shouldn’t come as a surprise – Dan Hodges knows less about economics than Lib Dems do about managing allegations of sexual harassment. Nowadays he’s reduced to poking a stick at Nick Clegg.

There were others too. Rob Marchant similarly criticised me on the grounds that the most likely outcome of Osbornomics would be a bit of pain and then back to normality. Someone else also needs to pick up an economics text-book I think. But those two strategy geniuses weren’t alone of course – others who should know better also joined in. Let’s not forget Black Labour – who published a pamphlet in 2011 saying Labour should ‘place fiscal conservatism at the heart of its message‘. How’s that working out for you guys?

Since Osbornomics has comprehensively blown up, Black Labour have avoided answering two key questions:

1) why should Labour sign up to the kind of austerity now shown to be choking off our economic recovery, and keeping millions of people jobless?

2) if you think deficit reduction is important when times are good (agreed, with caveats), why were you promoting that message at a time when the focus should have been on growing the economy, not more cuts?

I’ve not seen an answer to either of those questions. That Osborne’s economic plans have blown up isn’t just a tragedy for this country, it also undermines George Osborne and those in the Labour party who endorsed his strategy. I admit, I’ll miss their childish jibes though.

Update: Both Anthony Painter and Hopi Sen now claim they haven’t actually called for cuts. Which is bizarre given Painter’s own words earlier: “Hard realism is essentially the position outlined in the In The Black Labour paper and variants. You have to be clear about your fiscal approach in 2015 with rules attached, specify the cuts you would make in the meantime and beyond as clearly as possible, and be clear about your priorities in a constrained fiscal environment.”

One of these days I want to write a short pamphlet and make it so vague that I can keep claiming others haven’t read it when they point out inconsistencies.

The Heroic Nuns of the Holocaust

Rather splendidly, he told Newsnight earlier this week that we needed "a better class of bishop," something that he embodies: totally orthodox, therefore economically well to the left of the present consensus, and just posh enough, but no less posh than that. And here, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith writes:

I have just been looking once more at an interesting book published by Oxford University Press back in 2008, which, I think, needs to be more widely known. It is entitled Hidden Children of the Holocaust, and its author is Suzanne Vromen, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Bard College.

Professor Vromen is herself the child of European Jews, which must have made the writing of the book a very special task for her. The book’s subtitle is “Belgian Nuns and their Daring Rescue of Young Jews from the Nazis”. It is based on oral testimonies of survivors, both children and nuns, as well as those who acted as escorts and go-betweens. It is an important book, not least because several of the people interviewed in the course of research have since died; thus we have the sensation of reading a story that might easily have been lost to us.

In addition, this account fills a gap in our knowledge. It is often asserted (not just by Catholics) that the Catholic Church did much to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe; Professor Vromen’s research tells us who did what and why they did it in one particular corner of the continent. In the arguments about the role of the Church at the time of the Holocaust this book provides us with hard evidence and answers, something which is sadly lacking in much of the discussion.

There were about 59,000 Jews in Belgium at the time of the German invasion, of whom 96 per cent were foreigners, that is to say Jews who had only recently come to the country from either Eastern Europe or Germany itself. About three thousand children were hidden in convents throughout the occupation. A variety of circumstances made this possible. First of all, the Jews themselves were organised into a committee for the defence of Jews; in addition, there was a developed resistance network in Belgium; moreover, the Catholic Church with its social institutions represented a virtual state within a state.

Because of these factors, hiding even three thousand children was in a sense easy, though there were huge challenges, not least finding food and clothing for them, when both were in short supply. Vromen identifies the one group without whom rescue would not have been possible. In each convent the Mother Superior had almost total power: once she decided to take in the Jewish children, the matter was as good as done. The decisions to help came from below, made by Mothers Superior, often prompted by lay people or priests, but not by the Church hierarchy, with the exception of the diocese of Liege, whose bishop was actively opposed to the occupation.

The descriptions of daily life in the institutions, whether boarding school, orphanage or reformatory, will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Catholic Church as it was before the Second Vatican Council. Things were pretty austere, there was a war on, and the threat of discovery stoked tension. How much risk were the nuns taking? According to Vromen, not much, in that the Nazis on the whole left the Church alone, though she admits that discovery may have led to arrest and deportation. But the personal accounts show that the nuns and the children’s escorts were frightened, and, in that they were risking the wrath of the Nazis, surely with good reason.

Why did the nuns take risks for strangers? Even now these elderly ladies are reticent about the role they played, which Vromen ascribes partly to their culture of humility. But one sister puts it well: as a Sister of Charity, it was necessary to live up to the name. It is at this point that one can reflect on this simple fact: when one helps another human being, you do it not at the behest of authority (the Pope, the local Bishop, or whoever) but at the behest of the highest authority of all – your conscience.

This in turn leads one to reflect that the question of the supposed silence of Pius XII is a rather odd question, as it presupposes Catholics were sitting on their hands, waiting for a Papal order to act, when, all the time, their consciences should have impelled them to act. But as this book shows, in Belgium at least, the nuns acted for conscientious reasons, not because they were ordered to by the Pope, or indeed their Mothers Superior: true, the Mother gave the order, and it might have been difficult to circumvent her, but the wellspring of action was conscience, not obedience to superiors as such.

Forty-eight Belgian nuns have been honoured as Righteous among the Nations, and their names are listed in an appendix to this book; but there must have been many more who answered the call of charity, and whose names are known only to God.

Somewhere there may well be a book, though I have not come across it, that analyses the social and religious backgrounds of the Righteous among Nations, all those Gentiles who took such risks to save Jews in the Holocaust. That too would, like Professor Vromen’s book, make interesting reading.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Fixed Rate, Indeed

On Thursday, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament will all debate a proposal by Philippe Lamberts MEP, a Belgian Green, to cap bankers’ bonuses at a fixed rate of 100 per cent of salary.

Good stuff. But if we needed the European Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament to do these things, and that in this of all countries, which at least nominally contains the City of London, then there would be no point in having either the Parliament of the United Kingdom or the Labour Party. Is there any such point?

Surely the City of London is not a state within this state, a violation of our sovereignty as much as any subordinations to the the European Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament? Is it?

Loyal And Unshakable In Desiring The Right

If a Loyalist area of one of the 13 Colonies had held a referendum in 1776 and resolved to stay British, then the American Republic would not have recognised that, either.

There is no more reason to expect the United States to support an old European imperial power over the Falkland Islands than there is to expect any old European imperial power, no matter how Latin or Catholic or whatever, to support Argentina. France and Portugal gave us invaluable support in 1982. Well, of course. America, er, didn't... Well, of course not.

Latin America now matters vastly more to American foreign policy than anywhere in Europe does, and now matters in American domestic elections in a way which Britain, in particular, simply never has done. Except as a bogeyman from time to time, by no means only in the distant past by American standards.

Driving out British influence from the Americas was the whole point all the way back at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Extended from the hemisphere to the globe, there has never been a break in American pursuit of that one overriding objective, to which any and everything else has been subordinated as and when necessary. Nor will there ever be.

Will all British Citizens living on the Falkland Islands, including the Saint Helenians working there, get to vote in the referendum? If so, then even if it had not been in the bag before, then it certainly is now. God Save The Queen.

Kar Inglise

Jack Straw (yes, Jack Straw, and he in the Daily Telegraph) writes:

'All options remain on the table”, goes the mantra. This is code for saying that the West retains the choice of using military force to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. We’ll hear it repeated this week, as negotiations between Iran and the “P5 +1” (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany) resume in Kazakhstan. On occasions, I’ve used the phrase myself. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve become convinced that it is a hindrance to negotiations, rather than a help.

If Iran were to attack Israel, or, say, one of its Arab neighbours, international law is clear: the victim has the right to retaliate. But such an attack is highly improbable. Under Article 42 of the UN Charter, the Security Council can authorise military action where there’s a “threat to international peace and security”. Such resolutions were the legal basis for the actions against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, and Libya in 2011. But there are no such Article 42 resolutions against Iran; and there won’t be – China and Russia would veto them.

There are Security Council resolutions against Iran under Article 41, but this Article explicitly excludes measures involving the use of force. These resolutions have progressively tightened international sanctions against Iran, because of its lack of full co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With even tougher measures imposed by the US and the EU, sanctions have severely restricted Iran’s international trade, and led to the collapse of its currency, and high inflation.

The negotiations which restart today are the latest round of a 10-year effort by the international community to satisfy itself that Iran is not embarked on a nuclear weapons programme. This initiative was begun in 2003 by me and the then foreign ministers of France and Germany, Dominic de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, when it became clear that Iran had failed to disclose much of its activities to the IAEA, in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it adheres. I visited Tehran five times as foreign secretary. The Iranians are tough negotiators, more difficult to deal with because of the opacity of their governmental system. (When I complained to Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian foreign minister, about this, he replied: “Don’t complain to me about negotiating with the Iranian government, Jack. Imagine what it’s like negotiating within the Iranian government”). They have not helped themselves by their obduracy.

Resolving the current impasse will require statesmanship of a high order from both sides. From the West, there has to be a better understanding of the Iranian psyche. Transcending their political divisions, Iranians have a strong and shared sense of national identity, and a yearning to be treated with respect, after decades in which they feel (with justification) that they have been systematically humiliated, not least by the UK.

“Kar Inglise” – that “the hand of England” is behind whatever befalls the Iranians – is a popular Persian saying. Few in the UK have the remotest idea of our active interference in Iran’s internal affairs from the 19th century on, but the Iranians can recite every detail. From an oppressive British tobacco monopoly in 1890, through truly extortionate terms for the extraction of oil by the D’Arcy petroleum company (later BP), to putting Reza Shah on the throne in the 1920s; from jointly occupying the country, with the Soviet Union, from 1941-46, organising (with the CIA) the coup to remove the elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, then propping up the increasingly brutal regime of the Shah until its collapse in 1979, our role has not been a pretty one. Think how we’d feel if it had been the other way round.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami reached out to the United States, promising active co-operation against al-Qaeda and the Taliban – and, in the initial months, delivering that. His “reward” was for Iran to be lumped in with Iraq and North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” by President Bush in January 2002, a serious error by the US which severely weakened the moderates around Khatami and laid the ground for the hardliners who succeeded him.

What Iran seeks is twofold. First, it wants its “full rights” under the NPT for civil nuclear power. It can fairly point out that three nuclear weapons states – Israel, India and Pakistan – have always refused to join the NPT, while North Korea, now boasting about its atomic capability, withdrew from the Treaty in 2003. Second, it seeks an end to its international isolation and a recognition (especially by the US) of its regional status.

Normalisation of relations with Iran is also an important prize for the international community. It has a considerable capacity to make conditions in its unstable neighbours – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Occupied Territories, the Gulf States, and Afghanistan – more, or less difficult. An early priority for the UK should be the reopening of the embassies in Tehran and London.

I have never been complacent about a nuclear-armed Iran, which is why I devoted so much time to negotiations with the country. My own best judgment is that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who controls the nuclear dossier, probably wants to create the intellectual capacity for a nuclear weapons system, but will stop short of making that system a reality. If I am wrong, further isolation of Iran would follow; but would it trigger nuclear proliferation across the Middle East? Not in my view. Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia “have little to gain and much to lose by embarking down such a route” is the accurate conclusion of researchers from the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

In any event, a nuclear-armed Iran would certainly not be worth a war.

There has been no more belligerent cheerleader for the war party against Iran than Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu was widely expected to strengthen his position in the January elections for the Israeli parliament, but lost close to a third of his seats. The electorate seemed to take more heed of real experts such as Meir Dagan, a former head of Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, and Yuval Diskin, a former chief of Shin Bet, its internal security agency.

In 2011, Dagan described an Israeli attack on Iran as a “stupid idea”. More significantly, both Dagan and Diskin have questioned the utility of any strike on Iran. Diskin says there’s no truth in Netanyahu’s assertion that “if Israel does act, the Iranians won’t get the Bomb”. And Dagan is correct in challenging the view that if there were an Israeli attack, the Iranian regime might fall. “In case of an attack [on Iran], political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the opportunity to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons.” He added that if there were military action, the sanctions regime itself might collapse, making it easier for Iran to obtain the materiel needed to cross the nuclear threshold.

As with the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea, the international community would have to embark on containment of the threat if, militarily, Iran did go nuclear. But these hard-boiled former heads of the Israeli intelligence agencies are right. War is not an option.

All Coming Out In The Wash

Perhaps I have been wrong in always pronouncing these institutions' names "Mawdlin" because they were what Oxford and Cambridge must still be like? William Oddie writes:

I usually maintain a general scepticism about the BBC’s reporting of stories involving the Catholic Church, but I have to admit that I missed out on this one, maybe because it has to do with Ireland, and because there have been so many true Irish stories one really didn’t want to contemplate. The saga of the Magdalene laundries has been one I just didn’t want to think about; here we go again, I thought: now, it’s Irish nuns. And last week, the BBC reported (as did everyone else) that another enemy of the Church, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has formally apologised on behalf of the state for its role in the story.

Some 10,000 women and girls, reported the BBC, were made to do unpaid manual labour in laundries run by Catholic nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996. More than a quarter of those who spent time in the laundries had been sent there by the Irish state.

Mr Kenny apologised to all the women affected.

He said their experiences had cast a “long shadow” over Irish life and that it had been “humbling and inspiring” to meet them. “For 90 years Ireland subjected these women, and their experience, to a profound indifference,” he said. “By any standards it was a cruel and pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in mercy”.

Cruel and pitiless: that was the story; and most cruel and pitiless of all were allegedly the Irish sisters who presided over the women’s incarceration. The popular perception of the story of the Magdalen laundries has been a growing certainty which in the end led, politically, to the Taioseach’s apology (itself an implied attack on the Church) and it has been formed over the past 20 years by a series of plays and movies about what went on in the laundries. None had greater impact than the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It is about four teenage girls committed to a laundry where they experience or witness routine physical and sexual abuse by nuns and a priest. It depicts the laundries as profitable, money-making rackets, and shows the women subjected to various indignities including head-shaving.

But how true was all that? According to the Irish Times, a striking feature of the government report by Senator McAleese is the number of women recorded as speaking positively about the sisters, women who absolutely rejected allegations of physical abuse. Most agreed that there was what was termed “psychological abuse”: most “described verbal abuse and being the victim of unkind or hurtful taunting and belittling comments. Even those who said that some Sisters were kind to them reported verbal cruelty as occurring during their time in the Magdalene Laundries”. The real question about these places is whether they should have existed in the first place in the way that they did, and whether the women sent there understood why. Why was their freedom taken from them? Often they were never told, and for that, the State is directly responsible (usually the sisters didn’t know either). But these were not, as is widely believed, brutal institutions.

I quote directly from the government report by Senator Martin McAleese:

“33. A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the Committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalene Laundries.

“34. In this regard, women who had in their earlier lives been in an industrial or reformatory school drew a clear distinction between their experiences there and in the Magdalene Laundries, stating clearly that the widespread brutality which they had witnessed and been subjected to in industrial and reformatory schools was not a feature of the Magdalene Laundries.

“The following examples and quotations relate to the majority of women who shared their stories with the Committee and who indicated that they had never experienced or seen physical punishment in a Magdalene Laundry:

“One woman summarised her treatment in a Magdalene Laundry by saying ‘I might have been given out to, but I was never beaten’.

- Another woman said about the same Magdalene Laundry ‘I was never beaten and I never seen anyone beaten’.

- Another woman said ‘It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns. As long as I was there, I was not touched myself by any nun and I never saw anyone touched and there was never a finger put on them … Now everything was not rosy in there because we were kept against our will … we worked very hard there … But in saying that we were treated good and well looked after’.”

Fr Tim Finigan described an article by Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph, the standfirst of which was “Catholic-bashers have embellished the truth about abuse in Catholic institutions. It’s time to put the record straight” (and which pointed me to much of the above) as being “The kind of article Catholics dare not write”. Well, Brendan O’Neill wasn’t writing as a Catholic (though he may well be one); I, however, unavoidably am. So if Fr Tim is correct, I expect I’ll get it in the neck for this one. I’m not saying that the use by the Irish state of the Magdalene laundries as reformatories to which people could be sent without explanation or due process was in any way defensible. And Irish nuns could undoubtedly be tough in those days (my wife has fond memories from her convent school in Swanage, now a holiday hotel, of being called “a bold girl” and having her hand thwacked with a 12-inch ruler). But, says one woman quoted above, there was in the Magdalene laundries no physical punishment that she saw, and though things were “not rosy”, “we were treated good and well looked after”.

Needless to say, none of that was reported by the BBC.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Married Priests: Not The Solution To Pederasty

The priests who had sex with teenage boys were not repressed, but the very reverse.

Everyone now has to accept what Catholics have been saying for years: that, more is the pity, such behaviour was becoming socially acceptable in the 1960s, was thoroughly so in the 1970s, and very largely remained so in the 1980s and even beyond, sometimes all the way down to the present day.

Men with a sexual interest in teenage boys would not get married. Or, if they did, then they would continue to have a sexual interest in teenage boys. In much vaster numbers outside the Catholic Priesthood of the Latin Rite, either they already do not get married, or marriage already does not stop them from committing pederasty. Marriage does not stop the sexual abuse of boys by women, either.

There are arguments for married priests, most notably the fact that the Catholic Church has always had them. Always. Continuously. But like "the priest shortage", which exists only in the tiny number of countries that have liberal hierarchies, the abuse of ephebes, also rather a feature of those countries, is not one of those arguments.

Strength and Confidence

Having finally joined the People's Press Printing Society (as should you, for as little as one pound), I am delighted to see Nick Matthews's article in the People's Press that it Prints:

British co-ops have always tried to be neutral when it comes to religion. That does not mean that different communities with religion as part of their make-up have not gone on to create separate co-operatives, but back in the 19th century religious neutrality was a key founding principle [I am not convinced of that. Nonconformity was not neutrality]. This was probably a pragmatic position of not wanting to bring religious divisions into co-operative societies.

In other countries religion has played a positive role in the creation of co-operatives. The classic case raised by a recent correspondent to the Morning Star is the great Basque co-operative of Mondragon. This huge industrial business today has assets of €83.5 billion and employs 84,000 people, in Spain and 18 other countries - including several specialist engineering firms in Britain. While not immune to the Spanish economic crisis, it is still the largest business in the Basque country and the seventh-largest in Spain.

Its creation was down to the arrival of a young curate, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, in Mondragon, a small town, then just 7,000-strong, that had not recovered from the horrors of the Spanish civil war. He arrived in 1941 and by 1943 he had established a polytechnic that became a training ground for generations of skilled workers. In 1956 five of its graduates formed a co-operative with the support of "Arizimendi" to make paraffin heaters. This was the start of Mondragon.

I am not sure he was that popular with the church hierarchy, but he cited key Catholic teachings like the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII and the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931) in which Pope Pius XI suggested the creation of workers' associations. In his radio message of September 1944, Pius XII proposed the creation of co-operative unions for small and medium enterprises. It is likely that Arizimendi and the Catholic connection helped to protect Mondragaon during the years of Franco's dictatorship.

Catholic commitment to co-operatives comes up to date in the 2004 Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church, prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In this document there is a chapter "Business and its goals," which argues: "All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community in which they work represents a good for everyone and not a structure that merely permits the satisfaction of someone's personal interest.

"This awareness alone makes it possible to build an economy that is truly at the service of mankind and to create programmes of real co-operation among the different partners in labour. A very important and significant example in this regard is found in the activity of so-called co-operative enterprises." It might be difficult for some to accept that Catholicism has had a role as a co-op champion, and not only in Spain. Examples can also be drawn from Italy, Latin America and Quebec. However, what this does show at least is that, at its best, Christianity can offer a radical critique of capitalism.

You will not see much evidence today of Mondragon's Catholic origins [again, that is debateable], although Arizmendi is still held in high esteem. It sticks to International Co-operative Principles within its four divisions - finance (banking, social welfare and insurance), industry (production of goods and services), distribution (commercial distribution and an agro-food business) and knowledge (research centres, a university with 4,000 students and several vocational training centres). Each individual co-operative is one of the building blocks in its organisational structure, with the supreme body the congress having 650 delegates for "joint expression and sovereignty," whose duties include the election of the CEO.

Mondragon is still a co-operative exemplar, but there are some new challenges. For example only half of its 256 companies are co-operatives and a similar proportion of its employees are co-operative members. Being a dynamic business, Mondragon is sometimes compelled to start moving first, then co-operating later. It helped create the giant Spanish co-op retailer Eroski from the merger of a group of smaller co-ops, and took the decision to expand the business very quickly, as it needed scale to compete with the French giant Carrefour, only making the workers co-op members later.

There is also an issue with plants Mondragon has acquired outside Spain and whether their workers could or should become Mondragon members. In 2009 it signed a framework agreement with the US Steelworkers Union for its US and Canadian plants. Only in 2012 has this become a programme for turning them into worker/owners. The truth is that historically co-operatives have grown out of a particular community. Despite its size, in Mondragon's case this is a single valley in the Basque country. It is hard to build a new community beyond that original base and it is particularly difficult across national boundaries.

Whatever the source of Mondragon's origins, it is taking on these issues from a position of strength and confidence. Growing larger co-operatives by mergers and acquisitions, even across national boundaries, in a largely non-co-operative world is a process that we all need to understand.

Ordered Love

As a longstanding reader of Communio, I urge you to read the whole of Jeremy Beer's article, which begins thus:

For the orthodox Christian, is doing one’s public duty more or less reducible to voting for the most socially conservative Republican on the ballot—and then shutting up about whatever misgivings one might have? Surely not. Yet for many election cycles, this has been often implied by the self-appointed guardians of practicality and political realism. It is even increasingly heard from the pulpit.

The assumptions that lurk behind this idea are that when it comes to ordering public life, modern liberal democracy in its best sense has things basically right. America rightly understood is the highest exemplar of this kind of liberalism. And the Republican Party is our best reasonable hope for defending this liberalism’s political, economic, and cultural accomplishments from its enemies. To question these assumptions is to be naïve or—a favorite epithet—utopian.

This view essentially obliterates the need for prudential judgment, not to mention critical thinking. Thus, a number of Catholic moralists have identified three (the list sometimes expands to four or five) “intrinsic evils”—abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage—against which one has a moral responsibility to vote, and to which responsibility all else must be subordinated. The idea is that if only the right people were in office legislating against such evils, everything would be pretty much fine in the land of the free and the brave.

Well… if this story strikes you as just a little too pat, may I introduce you to David L. Schindler and the Communio school of theology he represents. Two recent books by and about Schindler—Being Holy in the World and Ordering Love, respectively—show how Christians ought to feel liberated to engage the culture in a deeper and ultimately more faithful way.

Schindler certainly agrees that abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and the like are evils. However, unlike our partisan “realists” he does not regard these as corruptions of a liberal worldview otherwise rightly ordered but as the ironic fruit of liberalism’s unwitting metaphysics. By showing how the achievements of America and liberalism in general are grounded in the same intellectual foundations as their failings, and by showing how virtually all parties in the public square embrace the same metaphysical misconceptions, he turns down the apocalyptic culture-wars heat while putting the ephemera of electoral politics in their proper context.

The Invisible Rural Poor

Tobias Jones writes:

It's hard to imagine a time in which it's been tougher to live in the countryside. It's not just a question of the usual complaints: that access to services – transport, hospitals, schools, even mobile phone coverage or broadband – is patchy. It's not just the fact that the countryside is suddenly vulnerable to all sorts of diseases: to ash dieback, to bovine TB and the Schmallenberg virus. It's that there's acute poverty in rural areas and it's a poverty that is seemingly invisible.

At least one-quarter of all farming families live on or below the official poverty line and, as the Observer reports today, many endured a rough 2012. The levels of borrowing that farmers require in order to run their businesses is mind-boggling; it's not uncommon for farmers to have debts well into six figures. The cost of animal feed seems to rise exponentially each year (an almost 40% increase in the two years I've been breeding pigs). The weather means many of us grew nothing other than a bumper crop of slugs last year, while the paperwork required for livestock is byzantine.

Farming used to be a communal activity, involving dozens of people sharing the highs and lows. Now, it can often be a lonely, isolated career. Farmers are often proud, private and practical people; their instinct is that an animal in distress should be put out of its misery. Little wonder that suicide rates among them are some of the highest in the country.

There are many areas of the rural economy not involved in farming. But the situation there is, if anything, even more stark. Whole villages and towns are disconnected from the land that surrounds them. I frequently meet schoolchildren in my small town in Somerset who don't know that eggs come from chickens. When rustic knowledge has been so eroded, the classic consolations of the countryside disappear and people no longer forage for food or fuel. (Most housing estates don't have open fires, let alone woodburners.)

The average wage for people working in rural communities is nearly £5,000 lower than the national average, yet house prices in the shires are astronomically high because demand to live in the supposedly bucolic countryside is stoked by dippy TV programmes and urban dinner parties. Poverty is always a tragedy, but at least urban poverty is well documented and is often, in music and film, glamorised. The streets are tough, but they're thought cool, even cutting edge. The rural poor are still considered yokel and backward, in the unlikely event they're considered at all.

There are many reasons for the invisibility of the rural poor. The most obvious is that agricultural workers (and this is, sadly, a self-portrait) have a similar appearance to the stereotype of the homeless or needy: muddy boots, ripped jumper, unshaven, possibly smelling of dung or dirt. A wayfarer or tramp is, simply, well camouflaged out here. But the invisibility is also down to the old chestnut of class: the British countryside is still identified, in the national psyche, with the nobility, with the landed gentry and with well- spoken squires. People persist in idealising (or demonising) it as a place of horsey types and manor houses. The reality is that it's a place of yeomen who've left the land and who often can't make ends meet as decorators or plumbers.

Pat Glass, of this Parish, has been taking on the Government’s failure to create the promised Supermarkets Ombudsman. Beyond that, we need to make the supermarkets fund investment in agriculture and small business, determined in close consultation with the National Farmers’ Union and the Federation of Small Businesses, by means of a windfall tax, to be followed if necessary by a permanently higher flat rate of corporation tax, and in either case accompanied by strict regulation to ensure that the costs were not passed on to suppliers, workers, consumers, communities or the environment.

There must be a tax on the productive value of land per acre, other than that occupied by the homes of the less well off, perhaps making possible the abolition of stamp duty, and in any event establishing and enforcing the principle that no one should own land other than in order to make use of it; this was proposed by Andy Burnham when he was a candidate for Leader of the Labour Party. There must also be a statutory requirement of planning permission for change of use if it is proposed to turn a primary dwelling into a secondary dwelling, a working family home into a weekend or holiday home.

All in all, there is the most pressing need to revive the movement of those who have resisted enclosure, clearances, exorbitant rents, absentee landlordism, and a whole host of other abuses of the rural population down to the present day. Those who obtained, and who continue to defend, rural amenities such as schools, medical facilities, Post Offices, and so on. Those who opposed the destruction of the national rail and bus networks, and who continue to demand that those services be reinstated.

Those who have fought, and who continue to fight, for affordable housing in the countryside, and for planning laws and procedures that take proper account of rural needs. Those who object in principle to government without the clear electoral mandate of rural as well as of urban and suburban areas. Those who have been and who are concerned that any electoral reform be sensitive to the need for effective rural representation. Distributism and the related tendencies. And those who are conservationist rather than environmentalist.

Farm labourers, smallholders, crofters and others organised in order to secure radical reforms. County divisions predominated among safe Labour seats when such first became identifiable in the 1920s, while the Labour Party and the urban working class remained profoundly wary of each other throughout the period that both could realistically be said to exist at all, with several cities proving far less receptive to Labour than much of the nearby countryside.

Working farmers sat as Labour MPs between the Wars and subsequently. The Attlee Government created the Green Belt and the National Parks. Real agriculture is the mainstay of strong communities, environmental responsibility and animal welfare (leading to safe, healthy and inexpensive food) as against “factory farming”, and it is a clear example of the importance of central and local government action in safeguarding and delivering social, cultural, political and environmental goods against the ravages of the “free” market.

The President of the Countryside Alliance is a Labour peer, Baroness Mallalieu, and its Chairman is a Labour MP, Kate Hoey. For at least three consecutive General Elections until 2010, few or no Conservative MPs were returned by the hunting heartlands of Wales, Yorkshire, the Midlands, Devon and Cornwall.

The present Coalition means, either that Labour is now the only electoral option for the age-old rural Radicalism of the West Country and Hampshire, and for the combination of that with Unionism (or, at least, with a strong suspicion of rule from the Scottish Central Belt or from South Wales) in the North and South of Scotland and in Mid Wales, or else that the Labour Party now demands to be replaced with something that can indeed meet this profoundly pressing and electorally opportune need.

Voice of The People

For one week only in the only national newspaper to have backed the right Miliband for Leader, Owen Jones writes:

It’s not your bog-standard scrounging-family-with-loadsa-kids-passed-off-as-the-tip-of-iceberg story. Unemployed mum Heather Frost doesn’t just have 11 mouths to feed – her daughter even has a horse. Pun-happy headline writers couldn’t believe their luck. “Benefits mum of 11 is taking us all for a ride” screamed one paper – get it? If you’re slogging your guts out for hours a day and struggling to look after your own kids as gas and food bills soar, it’s the sort of story guaranteed to wind you up.

And that’s exactly the point.

Ever since the Cameron-Clegg love-in at No10’s rose garden, journos and politicians have scoured the country for the most extreme, shameless examples of benefit “scroungers”. The idea is to make us believe that anyone taking benefits is a workshy baby-making machine dribbling on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle on repeat all day – courtesy of you and me, the hardworking taxpayer. The details of the now notorious Frost family don’t matter that much.

It was hardly mentioned how they had a working dad who abandoned them and the daughter with a horse is in work and paying her own way. The family just don’t really say anything about anyone else. There are 1.35million families with kids where at least one adult claims benefits. Guess how many have more than 10 children: Half a million? Ten thousand? The truth is there’s just 190 of them.

But what really winds me up is we never talk about the millions of people desperately looking for work. This week it was revealed 1,700 jobseekers desperately applied for just eight new jobs on minimum wage at a new Costa store in Nottingham. Or take the revelation back in October that up to 66 young people were applying for every job in shops and supermarkets. Many of them didn’t even hear back when they applied. Instead we hear about the Frosts of this world – however tiny a minority.

It certainly suits George Osborne, though. From April, he’s cutting tax credits for working people, benefits for people thrown out of work, making the low-paid and unemployed pay council tax, and slamming households with the bedroom tax. Debt is rocketing, the deficit is going up and there’s no growth. Of course he wants us all to talk about the Frost’s horse. But don’t forget – it’s really him taking all of us for a ride.

Another Fine Mess

Starting as he clearly means to go on as Fleet Street's newest weekly columnist, John Prescott writes:

I hear Cameron and Osborne’s posh boy Bullingdon Club’s new members had an initiation... burning £50 notes in front of beggars. [Do Cameron, Osborne and Boris still turn up to these rituals? Still, no worse than the England football squad, each with a bespoke kit run up by a Savile Row tailor. What a touching act of solidarity in the present economic climate.] The PM and his Chancellor are doing exactly the same – burning billions to pay for their economic incompetence by borrowing £212billion more than they planned. We were supposed to be “all in this together”.

Now – as credit rating agency Moody’s downgrades their Plan A to fix the economy from Triple A to Aa1 – we’re just in it. Up to our bloody necks. Look at their record. They’ve choked off growth for nearly three years. Osborne promised 5.3 pc but we’ve only had 0.4 pc – 13 times less! Only two other countries in the G20 have done worse than us on growth since the spending review. Osborne delivered the longest double-dip recession since World War II and it looks like we’re going for the treble.

Living standards are in freefall with prices rising much faster than wages. Millions of working people are seeing their tax credits cut, as millionaires will see their TAXES cut – by an average £100,000. They’re bringing in a bedroom tax that will punish the disabled, armed forces families and the poor, while their country homes Dorneywood and Chequers are unaffected. As youth unemployment soars they’re axing a million public sector jobs only to replace them with a million low paid, short-term cheap labour posts.

The result is that Osborne and Cameron are even failing on the tests they set themselves. The deficit is increasing. The welfare bill is up. Their pledge to balance the books by 2015 is in tatters. They’re borrowing more than under plans inherited from Labour, which they described as reckless. Now our credit rating has been downgraded, which Osborne had said would be “humiliating”.

But still they blame Labour.

Like naughty schoolboys, Cameron, Osborne and Lib Dem sidekick Danny Alexander point at Gordon Brown and cry “it wasn’t us Sir, an older boy did it!”. But Gordon, with Ed Balls as his number two, kept us out of the euro, delivered the longest period of sustainable economic growth in modern times and kept interest rates low. And when the global economic crisis hit us in 2008, he stopped the UK from going into a devastating depression and saved up to 500,000 jobs and businesses from going under by saving the banks. He may not have been the world’s greatest smiler but by God he knew what he was doing on the economy. And as shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been absolutely right that Osborne’s Plan A for Austerity would kill off growth and throw us back into recession.

The Bullingdon Club used to smash up restaurants for fun. Osborne and Cameron are trashing the UK with the most reckless and idiotic act of economic vandalism this country has ever seen. This is a Chancellor who’s been downgraded from rubbish to absolutely useless. If Cameron can’t get rid of him it’s because his fingerprints are all over this failed plan. They’re the Laurel and Hardy of economics. But it’s another fine mess they’ve got us all into!

Well done to One Direction with their Red Nose Day single. But why put Cameron in the video? He’s already in his own Posh Boy band – No Direction!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

That No One Should Be Missed

Marta Andreasen is quite unusual in having defected to, rather than from, the Conservative Party.

Since the introduction of party lists, the Conservatives have lost MEPs both to UKIP and to the Lib Dems. In the East Midlands, it has lost them to both.

The Burkean principle of a representative rather than a delegate arguably has not applied since party labels started to appear on ballot papers. It certainly does not apply to someone elected from a closed party list.

Why Jon Huntsman Is Right

Although one does have to clarify that John regards Huntsman as right about the logical inevitability of support for same-sex "marriage" if one subscribes to that which now passes for conservatism, not as right about same-sex "marriage" itself:

Jon Huntsman makes the conservative case for gay marriage and I agree with him. If contemporary conservatism is actually a form of liberalism (and it is) then it makes sense to support gay marriage. Social liberalism is the natural partner of economic liberalism. Fusionism never made any real  sense, although for a time it was a successful part of the Republican campaign to attract socially conservative Democrats to the GOP. Now that the old Republican coalition is falling apart, maybe we will see a more libertarian GOP emerge.

Huntsman's comments on "crony capitalism" echo the statements of libertarian critics of big business. Even though I am not a libertarian, I have respect for the honesty of people like Huntsman who are willing to take their theories to their logical conclusions. As for social conservatives, I suggest they read some David Lindsay for a proper understanding of what traditional conservatism (not liberalism) means and what economic policies best fit the conservative framework.

The Peter Hitchens of The Left(ish)

On May 8, 1945, a misleadingly positive piece of government spin was sold to the British people. They were told that they had won the Second World War. The government dared to tell them after six years of crippling conflict, the destruction of homes, factories, the loss of the merchant shipping fleet, and the gold reserves, that Great Britain was somehow one of the winners.


Perhaps somewhere in a parallel universe there is another 1990s Britain where the death of the Princess of Wales was mentioned in passing as an insignificant news event, like the death of a former sitcom star or the closing of a famous London boutique. The news was unimportant in the general scheme of things . . . but was probably worth just mentioning as it might be of trivial nostalgic interest for its own sake.

Instead, however, the sudden death of Diana was a massive news event, but only because of the way she had been built up over the previous years as one of the lead characters in the national soap opera. The nation embarked upon an utterly surreal week of very public mourning . . . It was a nationwide Nuremberg rally of contrived sentiment and displacement grief.

The wholly out-of-place lionisation of the Prime Minister who caused the Falklands War, whereas her Labour predecessor had successfully prevented an invasion, also demands to be challenged most robustly. As for the Brighton Bomb, her legend was burnished no end by her "miraculous" escape from an assassination attempt by an organisation with which she was in continuous contact while angrily insisting that she never spoke to it. Lady Tebbit should take up the matter with Lady Thatcher.

Lib-Lab London luvvies and self-congratulatory upper-middle-class satirists are not normally my thing. I suspect that John O'Farrell is a lot more pro-EU and a lot more anti-monarchist than I am. He certainly also has a long history as an activist in the cause of secular education. But just this once, good luck to him.

McCarthyism As Farce

It is a genuinely sad thing to see the party of Nixon and Eisenhower, Reagan and Pat Buchanan, turn into a joke. But it seems beyond dispute that this has happened. One could seek to understand, while condemning, George W. Bush’s foreign policy after 9/11: it had traceable roots in the party’s influential neoconservative intellectuals and was made possible only by a genuine national panic after an attack that seemed to come, to the uninformed, completely out of the blue.

Even Joe McCarthy and his demagogic scattershot blasts of false allegations could be understood in the context of the nation’s shock in turning from a wartime alliance with   “Uncle Joe” to an abrupt realization that the Soviet Union was an expansionist totalitarian country with a genuine network of sympathizers inside the United States.

But what explains the GOP’s present absurdity? In its reality-resistant style it resembles McCarthyism, but of course the second time it is McCarthyism as farce. Here Colbert runs through the GOP and “conservosphere” media’s wholehearted embrace of the “Friends of Hamas” charge—Chuck Hagel was said to have delivered speeches before the non-existent group. Here is how the charge started—a journalist thought he was being obviously, crudely sarcastic in suggesting the possibility to a Republican aide.

It would be funny, except the country—really any country, but certainly this one at a critical historical juncture—does actually need a conservative party that isn’t ridiculous. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have one.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Junk George

I am no fan of the rating agencies. But George Osborne is. And the Triple A rating is gone. Therefore, Osborne and the Coalition ought to be gone, too.

Thirty Years From Bermondsey

Well into the 1990s, the word “straight” had no colloquial meaning beyond “honest”, except perhaps in homosexual subcultures, so that what is now its almost equally familiar use might then have been known to Peter Tatchell and to Simon Hughes, but would not have been known to the general electorate of Bermondsey or anywhere else.

My London Progressive Journal colleague though he now is, Tatchell would lower the age of consent to 14 and thus legalise almost every act of which any Catholic priest has ever been so much as accused. Furthermore, in The Guardian on 26th June 1997, Tatchell wrote:

The positive nature of some child-adult relations is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of 9 to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.

In 1981, Michael Foot refused to endorse Tatchell as a candidate for the House of Commons. In 2010, David Cameron offered Tatchell a seat in the House of Lords.

And Then They Grew Up

Never Mind The Balkans

They are not coming. Why would anyone move from their own improving corner of the Second World to someone else's rapidly declining corner of the Second World? Thank George Osborne for something, I suppose.

Miliband can score an easy goal by calling for the restrictions to remain in place. But, and because, they are not coming. Why would anyone move from their own improving corner of the Second World to someone else's rapidly declining corner of the Second World?

Cameron has given up any hope of importing slave labour from Eastern Europe for his and his party's only base. He now wants it from India, where the burgeoning billionaire class is going to stay exactly where it is already doing so well, meaning that our door is instead wide open to the poorest people in the world. No one else could conceivably want to come to Britain anymore.