year in which I have been told by people well over 70 and with no axes to grind that they have "never
heard" of rose vestments.
As with a lot of things favoured in trad
circles, I am beginning to think that the places that still have them
are the only ones that ever did.
friend of mine who used to serve at a cathedral that shall remain
nameless once told me that even the servers there from before the War
had never heard of such a thing.
am not saying that it is a good thing that most people's liturgical
experience before the Council was probably no better, or even worse,
than it has been since. But I do not think that that can be gainsaid as a
Nostalgia for the 1950s has nothing to do with liturgical
enrichment today, and is in many ways positively inimical to it.
Rumour has it that, in giving Royal Assent to the same-sex marriage legislation, the Queen has breached her Coronation Oath. But the reality is that she would have done so if she had not assented.
The text of the Oath reads:
"Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the
true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power
maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion
established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the
settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship,
discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?
And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the
Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and
privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?"
"All this I promise to do," replied the Queen.
Thus, within the meaning of the Oath, is the same things said in four different ways.
"The Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel" are defined as "in the United Kingdom the Protestant
Reformed Religion established by law," which is defined as "the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine,
worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in
England," which are defined as "all such rights and
privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to [the Bishops and Clergy of England,
and to the Churches there committed to their charge] or any of them."
Those rights and privileges are of course defined by Parliament. Within the understanding of the Coronation Oath, whatever Parliament defines as the rights and privileges, mostly in relation to incomes and property, of the Church of England's clergy are the only meaning of the settlement of the Church of England, thus the only meaning of the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law, and thus the only meaning of the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel.
The Queen is therefore bound by the Coronation Oath precisely and solely to sign whatever Parliament puts in front of her. That, and that alone, is her sworn duty as monarch.
It should be added that, just as did and will apply in relation to civil partnerships, anyone contracting a same-sex civil marriage with a member of the Church of England's clergy thereby acquires his or her rights and privileges in relation to pensions, housing, and so forth.
Nor should one assume that such will be few in number. As, to cite another example topical today, those who do not know about the homosexuality of a third or so of Conservative Members of Parliament at any given point since time immemorial are too ignorant to pass comment, so too are those who do not know about that of somewhere between a quarter and a third of the Church of England's clergy. Again, at any given point since time immemorial.
How could you fail to have an argument about
identity in Scotland – and at a time
like this? A referendum on independence should be the very definition of the
moment to have it.
You'd have thought the Scottish cultural air would be
thrumming with an accrued history of intellectual fighting and flyting over who
we are, dating back to the unions of crowns and parliaments, through the
Enlightenment and into all the scientific and artistic legacies of 19th and
20th-century Scottish culture, as manifested now, at a constitutional
But this is a strange time.
The argument about
Scottish culture is not being had. The accusation aimed at the Better Together
campaign is that it has no positive vision of the UK.
But, by exactly the same
token, the yes campaign has little more than economic promises, based on
speculation that an independent Scotland could be better off financially.
this reductive economic standoff, Scots are defined only by geographical
residency, our identity dependent on resolving the currency problem, our future
pegged on the dubious question of EU membership.
There is lots of angry smoke
in the debate, but no real fire.
There was, curiously, more cultural expression
during the process of devolution.
Glasgow had been galvanised by its year as
European city of culture; Scottish artists ("Scotia Nostra", as Douglas Gordon referred to them in his 1996 Turner
prize speech) were seizing their place in a global market; the new parliament
in Edinburgh (with its Catalan designer) was being worked up into the capital's
most extravagant experiment in modern architecture; Trainspotting (with its Scottish producer
and English director) transformed the image of Scottish cinema; the "new
Scottish fiction" was gripping publishers from Edinburgh to London.
That was a time of constitutional reorganisation,
but now, on the brink of revolution, Scotland's cultural elites seem to have
fallen into sterile postures of consensus.
The majority of artists and writers
– the ones who are prepared to speak up – are yes voters by default, but not
The minority who disagree remain largely mute, cautious of their
reputations, fearful of vilification. The atmosphere is tense, nervous and
The only discernible argument about identity currently to be had
is the daft idea that an independent Scotland would become like Scandinavia.
one who really knows Norway or Sweden (and they are not easy to know) would
confuse their discreet, anti-confrontational, technocratic political cultures
with our liberal and disputatious – Scottish or British – ones.
But beyond the
economics, where is the legendary Scottish dispute?
This may be the first time
Billy Connolly has been heard to say that he doesn't have an opinion (recently
asked about the referendum, he replied that he had more in common with a welder
from Liverpool than a Highlands crofter, but wouldn't be voting in September).
Ian Rankin, despite his detective Rebus being a classically cantankerous
character of Scottish fiction, isn't touching the subject.
Cosmopolitan painters such as Callum Innes, Peter
Doig or Alison Watt have not been tempted to air their views on traditions
in Scottish art.
One former Dr Who, David
Tennant, says it's not his business, since he doesn't live in Scotland and
the new Doctor can't speak, due to BBC impartiality rules, which is also why no
explicit opinion – either way – will emerge from the likes of Andrew
Marr, Eddie Mair, Kirsty Wark or James
The BBC, with its Reithian foundations, is a fundamentally
The problem is that the in-or-out binary question
bypasses the reality of Scottish culture, which has, historically, lived out a
It is not the state, or geography or ethnicity that defines what it
means to be Scottish.
As David Stenhouse writes amusingly in How the Scots
Took Over London, the streets of the British capital are paved not with
gold, but with a road surface invented in 1816 by John Loudon McAdam.
19th century, Scots, having invented modern city planning in Edinburgh, were
designing half the bridges across the Thames.
London is not an English city, but a world city –
and never more so than now, in the era of mass migration.
It is Scotland's
biggest market and its third most important portal to the world.
A vote for
independence in September would not mean separation from England (a matter of
cartography that was resolved 1,000 years ago).
It would mean separation from
Britain, a country that was created and constituted by Scots at least as much
as it was by our partners in the union.
But the Scottish Enlightenment, the
diaspora, Scots in the empire, Scottish explorers and scientists and
philosophers and inventors – the tartan seams in the British story – have been
bleached out of a narrow debate.
Almost every great Scottish writer has
struggled with, or been inspired by, their dual identity.
Boswell thrived on
his Johnson. Burns wrote poetry to Britain as well as Scotland. Scott gave the
name Waverley to the fluctuating loyalties of Jacobite fervour and Georgian
settlement. Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde universalised the split psyche.
Scottish creativity sprang from its
argumentative, oppositional nature.
Scotland wasn't subsumed by the union; its
institutions of law, education and kirk were flintily sharpened against the
English. The existential battle for identity fought by Lewis Grassic Gibbon or Alasdair
Gray has been won – and the picture has become plural.
Writers, artists, poets, film-makers – even those who desire
independence – no longer obsess over national identity.
culture is international cosmopolitan, or personal. Dundee and its gaming
culture (home of Grand Theft Auto) is global.
feel equally British and Scottish. This is not depressing dilution, it is
The most exciting current Scottish film is David
Mackenzie's Starred Up. Produced by Gillian Berrie, boss of
Scotland's leading, home-grown production company, Sigma, it is the most
visceral English prison story ever told.
The best 21st-century work of Scottish
theatre so far has been Black Watch. Written by a Scot (Gregory
Burke) and directed by an Englishman (John Tiffany),
it put the Scottish National Theatre on the international map.
Scottish culture is not defined by the
technocratic trade-offs between market and state that are contemporary
The current Scottish government – which, make no mistake, is popular
and effective – nevertheless has no record on culture.
identity is borderless. The British dream is not a confining state, it is a
creative and commercial opportunity.
Saying no to separation should mean saying
yes to a different constitutional settlement for the UK as a whole.
what all the political parties now need on the table. The status quo is not an
Enhancement and ratification of the powers of the parliament in
Holyrood would allow Scotland to get on with being itself and, with no
contradiction at all, to reap the creative potential of a Britishness, which
was ours historically and is ours still to make.
Not only would an independent Scotland be unable to keep the pound, but the Church of England has several serving bishops who are in same-sex partnerships. I was not going to have another cup of tea. But I need one after those startling revelations.
The people who most insist that the Church of England must not "compromise" on the second of those issues, at least, are those who are most wedded to the notion of it as a bulwark of national independence.
Yet, even in its own terms, its only argument for having adopted, only in the 1990s, a position on homosexuality entirely different from any that it had held in living memory, if ever, was the perceived need to submit to the opinion of the Anglican archbishops on either side of the widest point of Africa.
Those are not only geographically, but culturally, far more distant from England than Rome was even in the sixteenth century, never mind today.
As anyone on the Continent would tell you, any institution that existed primarily or exclusively as an expression of English culture would be unusually relaxed about male homosexuality, in particular. Until not even 20 years ago, that was exactly what the Church of England was and, even within English society, had always been noted for being.
Blessings of civil same-sex marriages are just going to take place in
the Church of England, anyway. Nor has that body's bishops any power to
discipline many, perhaps still most, of those clergy who might choose
either to perform such blessings or to contract such civil marriages.
Moreover, and especially if a woman bishop is indeed appointed late this
year or early in 2015 (since opposition to same-sex marriage is
negligible among the women clergy, who also have a very strikingly high
rate of divorce), the Church of England will itself be performing such
marriages well within 10 years, and probably within five.
No one will break away. They never do, over anything. The people most
likely to do so, relatively speaking, over women bishops are in any case
at least among the people most likely to wish to bless or to solemnise
same-sex marriages, indeed to contract them. An Ordinariate priest has already been found to have contracted a civil partnership. Well, of course.
There is no need to go back to Henry VIII. There is not even any need to
go back to the Lambeth Conference resolution on contraception in 1930.
The Church of England effectively wrote the 1969 Divorce Reform Act,
recommending what were to become its contents long before they did so,
which was long before mainstream public opinion had become remotely
receptive to them. It actively supported the Major Government's 1994
amendments that made divorce legally easier than release from a car hire
(David Steel also states frankly that he did little more than write up
the reports on abortion by the Church of England, the Church of Scotland
and the Methodist Church as the 1967 Abortion Act, making it no
surprise that they all supported it.)
Neither the Church of England, nor any part of it, is any
potential bulwark against the other obvious departure, now that the
principle has been conceded, from marriage as only ever the union of one
man and one woman.
The Anglican Communion accepted polygamy, as a matter of principle and not only of pastoral necessity, as long ago as the Lambeth Conference of 1988.
Not that there seems to have been any resistance from anyone or
anywhere, but the lead in its favour came from the very African
provinces that are now being held up as the bastions of orthodoxy.
Therefore, the liturgies of those provinces include forms for the
blessing of "customary unions" and what have you. Well, ceremonies such
as that which was performed for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of
Cornwall, and which are routine throughout the land, also fall under
As do the very similar blessings of civil partnerships, which already
occur wholly within the approved structure of the Established Church.
And as will the blessings of same-sex civil marriages, until such time
as the Church of England simply performs such marriages as if the
parties were of opposite sexes.
It will certainly do so, very soon, and no one will bat an eyelid when it does.
I make no pretence to following football for its own sake. But I do believe in
Manchester United's apparently famous Class of '92 might very well be in a position to uphold such values this time.
In general, however, and in order to avoid even the need for such bids, the grounds of football and other major sports clubs should be as
they are in Italy, owned and run by their respective local
Both parties ought to be in no doubt as to who was in charge, as Newcastle City Council has singularly failed to be in recent years where the very name of St James' Park has been concerned.
While the clubs themselves should be as they are in Spain, proper clubs
with the fans as their
members who elect the board, and who can decline to re-elect it.
There persists profound ambivalence, with well over a third
voting No at the most recent referendum in 2011, as good as certainly
including the great majority of those, still a significant minority but
obscured by the First Past The Post electoral system, who are supporters
of the Prime Minister's own party.
Plaid Cymru's share of the vote at
the 2011 Assembly Election was only half the size of that which rejected
further devolution in the same year.
An opportunity now presents itself.
The status of Wales as a distinct principality (a word for the avoidance of which the BBC has to prefer "national region", whatever one of those might be) within the United Kingdom, the
Principality of Wales, ought to be confirmed in Statute, with the
monarch as de jure Prince of Wales, and with the title vested
honorarily, together with ceremonial duties, in the Heir to the Throne
at the monarch's pleasure.
Legislation of the Welsh Assembly would come into effect with the Assent
of the monarch as Prince of Wales, and primary legislation could not be
submitted for that Royal Assent without the prior approval of a resolution
of the House of Commons if it had been referred for such approval by the
Prime Minister, or by the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, or
by the Secretary of State for Wales, or by any member of the House of
Commons sitting for a Welsh constituency, or by any fifth or more of the
members of the Welsh Assembly, or by any third or more of those members
(whether constituency, list, or both) from any of the five electoral
regions, or by resolution of any local authority in Wales, or by
a petition of at least 50,000 registered electors in Wales.
The greater number of the strongest supporters of, in particular, that
parliamentary safeguard would be a very high proportion of the
They suffer most as a result of the takeover of
Wales by an upper-middle-class oligarchy which uses Welsh while living
in English-speaking areas, exactly as predicted by Leo Abse in the
1970s, together with the weakening of trade union bargaining power
throughout the United Kingdom, as also fully anticipated in the course
of those debates.
Especially with the principality provision to put the belt and braces on
Tory support, this ought to be proposed by Labour when the Bill
providing for the next round of devolution comes before the Commons. However, it
should simply be an additional part of that Bill, and not conditional on anything else.
If, most regrettably, this did have to be a backbench amendment, then
obviously it would be best if it came from an MP who sat for a Welsh
But failing that, or perhaps within it, it would look like
a very enterprising, and a very worthwhile, way of securing oneself 20
or more nominations in the next election for Leader or Deputy Leader of
the Labour Party.
A trans-Atlantic labour union, Workers Uniting, has
called on the EU and U.S. trade negotiators to strengthen worker’s rights in
the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The TTIP has been widely criticised by the
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research in the US observed that with conventional trade barriers between the
US and the EU already low, the deal would focus on non-conventional barriers
such as freeing up regulations regarding fracking, GMOs and finance and
tightening laws on copyright.
Workers Uniting calls for the TTIP to
include a tax on financial transactions to support social programs and also
demands that the European Works Council directive, chemical safety standards,
and other European social legislation be expanded to include American workers.
This stance was reiterated from Trade Union leaders from both sides of the
“We view TTIP as a
threat to the rights of workers in Europe. We can’t afford to import America’s
low labour rights standards.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the
“American and European
workers deserve a better deal. Our governments’ narrow focus on greater
protections for companies must be transformed to include expanded rights and
protections for workers.”
Leo W. Gerard, International President of the
United Steelworkers (USW), which represents workers in the United States,
Canada and the Caribbean.
A Labour party that pits the workers
against the bosses is divisive, as is a Tory party that pits the
bosses against the workers.
But, for all their talk of "One nation"
or "We're all in this together", neither party really seems able to
understand that a symbiotic relationship is what's required, in order to create
a healthy and fully functioning society – one that has plenty of affluent,
tax-paying consumers and fewer state-dependent people trapped in benefits.
Much of the trouble is that business philosophy
seems only too happy to affirm all the most negative stereotypes that the left
maintains about "the boss class".
Employers have for too long
been encouraged to believe that their role is to afford their workers the
least respect they can get away with – the lowest possible pay, the least
demanding (to them) conditions, the minimum of job security.
The law has been
remodelled in recent decades, so that it is on their side.
Yet, there are plenty of good employers out
there, reaping the benefits of good, respectful staff relations, employers who
understand that their loyalty is not to themselves and the market, but to their
fellow humans – society.
But the temper of the ideological times is against
Their example should be inspiring all citizens – bosses and workers – to
believe that the right solution is the most socially beneficial solution.
Instead, ruthlessness and willingness to exploit is viewed as an admirable
During my childhood, it was workers and their
strikes that caused power cuts.
Privatisation and deunionisation, far from
ridding consumers of high-cost poor service, have simply replaced one
concentration of delinquent power with another.
What was the point of
"breaking" the unions, only to replace them with international
cartels every bit as happy to shout "strike" if their own much more
extravagant demands are not met?
The solution is not to diminish one group's
power in order to hand it to another. It's to reject this sort of militant
behaviour, whatever quarter it comes from.
If what's currently happening with the energy
companies is not enough to destroy the idea that public is bad and private is
good, then one need look no further than the housing market.
Placing supply in
private hands, in the 1980s, has not let to a property-owning democracy, but a
series of speculative bubbles, yet another of which is being inflated now, even though the human
cost of such larks is plain to see.
Humans have a propensity for behaving selfishly,
when given the opportunity.
Market economics are essentially an attempt to
argue that selfishness can be harnessed for the good of society (as long as
it's not the workers who are being selfish).
But what Labour, or any political
party that wants to change our culture for the better, must communicate is that
only individual responsibility can promote collective responsibility and vice
Our dominant economic system is not based on the idea that the people of
Britain are the 63 million musketeers: "All for one and one for all."
Instead, it's based on the idea that if someone is dependent on you, then
you press home your advantage as hard as you can, and congratulate
yourself for doing so.
This idea, above all, Labour must stand against.
The idea of interdependence, mutual advantage,
has been resisted on both sides of the political divide. Our adversarial system
decrees that this must be so.
Yet the result of that mindset is great
disaffection and disengagement. People are not respected for being willing to
do simple things and do them well.
On the contrary, they are despised for it,
and then bosses complain about how they can't get the staff these days.
wants to turn up for a day's work, knowing that the person they work for is
contemptuous of them. Yet the wages and conditions offered to people in Britain
reek of contempt.
For a long time now, Labour has focused on
treating the symptoms of an antisocial, anti-human, market-based economy.
last Labour government let it run riot, while expanding the state to try to
cope with the human casualties of the system.
The current government seeks to
reverse that expansion, leaving the casualties to fend for themselves.
Under Miliband, the opposition talks about the cost-of-living crisis, which is
just another symptom of a market system that is not delivering the
widespread prosperity its proponents promise.
How can it, when it runs on
the idea that prosperity – profits – should be maximized, not shared?
course, market systems exacerbate inequality. All of their mechanisms are geared
to doing so.
Those who complain most bitterly about the Big State are those
most likely to believe that redistribution of wealth or the amelioration of
social troubles are none of their business.
The paradox of left-right politics is that only a
socially responsible private sector can render an ever-expanding public sector
The party that wants the public sector to be smaller is the party
least likely to tackle social irresponsibility in the private sector.
that sees itself as the champion of a large public sector, removes from the
private sector much incentive to feel responsible for those it employs.
party has an inbuilt inability to deliver on its goals, and the electorate no
alternative but to see-saw between the two of them.
When one party breaks
away from this wretched game, both will have to.
So far, unfortunately, there's
no sign that either will.
The policy had two aims, to save £500m on the
housing benefits bill and to solve the
problem of overcrowding by freeing up "under-occupied" social
properties for families on the waiting list.
There is increasing evidence that the bedroom tax
has failed on both counts.
For a start, the projected saving had already been
downgraded to £390m, and the government on Friday suggested it would drop further
There is also evidence that the costs of dealing
with the debt, eviction and widespread misery caused by the bedroom tax may
mean cash savings are minimal.
Most housing experts agree with the principle
that social housing should be better allocated – so that, for example, an older
couple living in a four-bedroom property whose children have grown up and moved
away ought to move on to somewhere smaller to make way for a young family – but
there is widespread consensus in housing and local government that the bedroom
tax does little to facilitate that.
The government insists it is "doing the
right thing" by pressing ahead with the bedroom tax, also known as the
abolition of the spare-room subsidy.
Experts, however, say it is unnecessarily
punitive, badly planned and will cost more than it saves.
The bedroom tax affects about 500,000 working
people in social homes in Britain who are in receipt of housing benefit and
deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
Affected tenants face average deductions from
their housing benefit payment of £14 for one spare room and £22 for two. In
effect they have to meet the shortfall from their own pocket.
Housing associations report that many tenants
wish to downsize, but no smaller homes are available.
In England alone there
are 180,000 tenants under-occupying two-bedroom homes, but only 85,000 smaller
The scarcity of smaller accommodation is especially striking
in rural areas.
Pensioners are most likely to have spare rooms,
but the government has exempted them from the bedroom tax.
Two-thirds of those affected are disabled, and
many have specially adapted houses. If and when they move, the taxpayer may be
forced to meet the costs of adapting the new property.
The government said on Friday that the bedroom
tax was not a failure because even if 6% of tenants downsized that still
amounted to 30,000 people.
To put that in a local context, in the London Borough of Camden, which has more than 1,000 overcrowded households on its
waiting list, the bedroom tax had succeeded - as of January - in moving on just
4%, or 84 of the 1,587 tenants affected by bedroom tax, and some of those may
have moved anyway.
The bedroom tax is estimated to "save"
£3.2m in housing benefit in the city each year, but the council estimates that
it spends more than £2m providing help and support to affected households,
while the government is providing nearly £700,000 a year in temporary financial
support to tenants.
Newcastle City Council says that a year ago it
boasted its lowest ever rate of homelessness. As a direct result of the bedroom
tax, it says, 139 families now face eviction.
It is not clear from the BBC report how many of
those who moved went to smaller social homes.
Those who moved into private
rented accommodation are likely to be paying higher rent, and so adding to the
housing benefit bill.
What is clear is that any savings that do arise
will be met by some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
is growing, as is food and fuel poverty.
Set aside the cynical spreadsheet calculations of
ministers for a moment.
What food banks, advice agencies and housing professionals
– people who deal day in day out with the consequences of welfare reform – agree on is that
the bedroom tax is a turbo-generator of avoidable stress and human misery.
What motivated Chris Grayling to go into politics?
I’m guessing it was a genuinely altruistic impulse – albeit one that, as with
most politicians, was tinged with vanity and a desire to ‘matter’. He has
acquired, now, some modicum of power. As Justice Secretary he runs our courts
and our prisons.
His domain is smaller than health or welfare in terms of what
we spend. But it is vital. Because he governs the line that divides us as
civilised people from those who are barbarians – he is the guardian of decency
when decency is most difficult.
How we treat those whose actions we deplore
says a great deal indeed about our relative capacity to be good ourselves.
That’s why his decision to allow prison governors
to ban books from being sent to their inmates is so unsettling and so
unforgivable. It is the politics of a thuggish nation, not a decent one.
lock people up because they are criminals. I am no friend to the chattering
liberalism that robs the poor and the vulnerable of their agency by ascribing
their criminality to their environment. We make decisions. We pay the price.
But that price should not be extracted at the expense of our common
understanding of what it means to improve. Criminal justice in Britain is not,
nor should it be, about how to most brutally repay the bad for their misdeeds.
It is about other things too – rehabilitation, the chance at repentance and,
therefore, at forgiveness.
We all know that improvement requires hard work.
Giving up smoking requires will power. That promotion demands longer hours.
Being good, when once you’ve been bad, necessitates a change within. And
reading helps us to broaden and better our inner self. It is part of the
process of self-reflection that makes us fully grown.
And no-one, bar the
children we so desperately and correctly push to read, needs that more than
The only justification for Grayling’s choice –
and yes, it is a choice – that I can see is one of money. Searching parcels to
prevent drugs entering the prison system means paying for people to do so.
allowing prisons to simply stop allowing in parcels – containing, for many, the
written word and a passport to redemption – we can save money. Simple.
But that is the sensibility of the accountant in
a world that requires the instincts of a priest.
I can’t give Chris Grayling a
cost-benefit breakdown of the savings achieved by encouraging souls to become
gentler through engagement with literature.
And to do so would be to miss the
point. Even one life changed, one soul improved, one less crime committed in
the future because a young man (it is mostly men) has seen a different set of
possibilities via the insight of a writer, is worth the cost.
society’s outcasts requires patience, firmness and a genuine desire to make
them (and our society through them) better. Grayling appears to lack that
desire. Or, if he had it once, to have forgotten it.
It should come as little surprise that the
Secretary of State is a little deaf to the power and the importance of books. His chosen medium appears to be TV.
He famously compared modern Britain to the
drug riddled US TV drama The Wire – to howls of outrage from anyone who had
both seen that show and left their house at any point in the last decade.
couple of years ago he bemoaned our ‘Jeremy Kyle’ generation – comparing
millions of young men to the feckless half-wits who appear on ITV2 during the
All well and good. But I have a suggestion for Grayling.
When it comes to the young men in his charge –
many of whom are indeed the products of a culture that lacks, above all else,
any culture – perhaps he could help them avoid developing his weakness for TV?
If he really needs to save money, perhaps he could take away and sell the
televisions, Playstations, X-boxes and DVD players that the prison system uses
to bribe inmates into sullen passivity?
And perhaps he could use that money to
provide a steady flow of literature into the cells?
That would be the kind of
thing that a real conservative politician – motivated by altruism, firm but
optimistic – might do.
On the whole, William Hague has been a
disappointing Foreign secretary, and for an unexpected reason.
When Mr Hague
was in opposition nobody shouted louder about the importance of British
In government, by contrast, he has repeatedly failed to stand up,
or even attempt to stand up, for legitimate British interests.
There are numerous cases in point, but the most
embarrassing concerns Mr Hague’s habitual crawling to the United States. Whatever the reason, he will never challenge Washington.
The most important
current example of the institutional impotence of Mr Hague’s Foreign Office
The Foreign Secretary has ceded control of trade
with Iran to a department inside the US Treasury called the Office of Foreign
Asset Control (OFAC), a body which monitors US sanctions by pursuing foreign
companies involved in trade with Iran.
I revealed in my column on February 19, OFAC bullies British banks through
an informal system of secondary sanctions which makes it impossibly risky for
Britons to carry out completely legitimate business with Tehran (including
The situation is so dire that (as of last month) the new
Iranian chargé d’affaires in London can’t even open a bank account, making it
impossible to pay electricity bills, council tax or run an office.
It is essential to stress that in Britain we have
our own system of sanctions against Iran. I am not complaining about those,
which have been democratically agreed and are open to scrutiny inside and
But Parliament has never debated or even
discussed these secondary (and in effect secret) sanctions imposed by OFAC, to
which Mr Hague’s Foreign Office has silently assented.
So three cheers for Jack Straw for raising the
matter in Parliament on Wednesday.
The great merit of old-timers like Straw, a
former Labour foreign secretary, is that they bring institutional memory to
Straw pointed out that British governments have not always
kow-towed to the United States.
Mr Straw reminded the House of Commons that
shortly after Margaret Thatcher came to office, the US tried to push British
shipping firms around.
Thatcher was having none of it and forced through
the Commons the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980, which was designed to
"reassert and reinforce the defences of the United Kingdom" against
attempts by America "to enforce their economic and commercial policies unilaterally
on us" through "the extra-territorial application of domestic
This is exactly what is happening now with
Unfortunately, this time William Hague and the Foreign Office
are doing nothing. They have responded by grovelling to the United States.
Jack Straw produced some very startling
statistics which showed how badly Britain has lost out as a result of Mr
British exports slumped by 73 per cent from $584 to $173
million between 2009-12, whereas US exports are down by a mere 11 per cent over
the same period.
Insiders say that this is because US exporters have used their
domestic political clout to negotiate exemptions with OFAC.
British exporters – thanks to William Hague (and David Cameron’s) refusal to
stand up for Britain – are forced to do what OFAC wants with no right of
There is a telling lesson to be learnt from this
Mr Hague’s weakness flows from a basic failure to understand
Margaret Thatcher's legacy.
She was famous throughout the world for the
strength of her relationship with Ronald Reagan. Those who came after her –
above all Tony Blair – sought to duplicate that relationship.
But Blair (and
now Hague) made the disastrous error of assuming that the Anglo-American warmth
in the 1980s came about because Britain lay down and allowed America to walk
all over us.
This was a fundamental misinterpretation – as
Charles Moore has showed in his wonderful biography of Thatcher.
reason for the strength of the relationship was because Maggie was never afraid
to come out fighting for Britain, and Reagan profoundly respected her for it.
William Hague’s time as Foreign Secretary is
coming to an end. Whatever the result of the next election, he is unlikely to
stay at the FCO.
Though he will not go down as a distinguished Foreign
Secretary, he has achieved a few good things in office.
In his final months,
let’s hope he follows the example of Margaret Thatcher and not Tony Blair and
makes it clear to the United States that Britain will not be bullied and
blackmailed by a department of the US Treasury.
Of course The Red Flag was sung at Tony Benn's (of course, very traditional) funeral.
Whereas at the funerals of Robin Cook and Donald Dewar, the New Labour lot had sung The Internationale, the anthem of the Communist Party and once of the Soviet Union, and nothing whatever to do with the Labour Party.
Like Dennis Skinner before him on Ukraine, Nigel Farage did nothing more than state what everyone could and can see to be the case.
The EU and NATO, by having fomented the Kiev coup, have blood on their hands.
Especially in the deep countryside, practically feudal Conservative Associations used to furnish us with MPs whose public schools had most certainly not sent them on to Oxbridge or to any other university.
The hereditary principle in the House of Lords could have a similar effect.
In those days, neither the City nor the Officer Corps even much cared for graduates, still less did they more or less insist upon them.
Meanwhile, the role of the old manual trade unions in Labour parliamentary selections is very well-known. They, too, furnished no shortage of Peers of the Realm.
I am not suggesting that those of us with academically swanky CVs ought to have no place in political life. There were always plenty of us, too.
But, with Dennis Skinner aged 82 and with Nigel Farage neither an MP nor ever likely to be, there has been a real loss of those who have not been trained out of stating the plain facts, and who are therefore likely to do so.
Even if in terms that I should not ordinarily reproduce, and although he is wrong about Labour (which, admittedly, has not yet been as loud as it ought to be), Adam Ramsay asks an important question:
Nige or Nick – who has the bigger dick?
seems to be the question of the day. Last night, the leaders of UKIP and the
Lib Dems took part in an EU debate that was broadcast live on LBC Radio and Sky
They talked about immigration, then crime, then what various millionaires
think, then immigration, then, just for fun, immigration again.
didn't talk about is, well, most of what the EU actually does.
Of all of the stuff they didn't mention, the most
important is a thing called the EU/US Trade deal.
It's utterly terrifying. It's
the biggest trade agreement in the history of the world and it's currently
being hatched in secret somewhere in Brussels.
Like lots of
things that matter almost more than I can imagine, they've given it a boring
name in the hope you won't notice: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership, also known by the oh so catchy acronym “TTIP”.
What we do know about the deal?
Trade unions know enough about it to say it'll allow our
bosses to walk all over us at work.
Health campaigners know enough about it to say it might
make it impossible to de-privatise the NHS.
Perhaps most of all, it terrifies those who care
The deal says any corporation can sue a government if a new
law will impact on their anticipated profits.
So, if a company is stomping over
your rights at work, or has a factory spewing poisonous chemicals into your
river, or is running a privatised hospital into the ground, and then you elect
a government to change the rules to stop it, then that government can be sued.
As George Monbiot has pointed out, similar deals around the world have stopped
elected politicians introducing price caps (are you listening, Mr Miliband?)
and labelling tobacco.
I say “sued” – that's not quite right. Because that implies that it will be a judge looking at the case.
Wild West of the international market, it's more
likely that the Sheriff will be an arbiter from an accountancy firm. You know, the same firms who make
their money selling their services to the same big companies.
You might think that there would be an outcry
from politicians at this attack on democracy.
With the exception of the Green Party, they have done absolutely bugger all. Largely, they support it.
In the case of the Tories, this shouldn't surprise
us. They love big corporations. And with Labour, it shouldn't be a shock –
they're as spineless as a jellyfish reading a Kindle.
But there are two parties
whose attitudes to this whole thing might come as more of a surprise. And they
were the two whose leaders were strutting their stuff on stage last night.
It's true that the Liberals spent the 19th
century battling for free trade. But since then, they've added the word “Democrats” to their name, so you would think they'd give a damn
Apparently not: supporting TTIP is a centrepiece of their
European election campaign.
They plan to hammer the Green Party for its opposition and recycle
claims about jobs that Manchester University's finest have called “vastly overblown and deeply flawed”.
This should shock no one.
A decade ago, in his
brief break between being an MEP and an MP, Nick Clegg was a partner of a firm helping the powerful buy access to the
EU so they can do just this kind of thing.
But what about UKIP?
After all, this is Europe
taking vast powers away from the British Parliament. And that, surely, is just
Don't be silly.
Nigel's the old City boy who got the job, funded by bankers and millionaires, acting as a happy clown
to distract us while they nick our money.
“Don't take power away from British
people,” his mantra goes, “unless you're giving it to global corporations,
bankers and billionaires. Then it's fine.”
Noam Chomsky wrote about how the powerful get their way by setting up
arguments over the little questions to stop us asking the big ones.
two privately educated former Tory Party members with big business backgrounds and
millionaire backers waved their willies for the camera and expertly distracted
us from everything we should be talking about.
With Crimea’s illegal referendum and the
peninsula’s annexation by Russia, a new cold war is starting.
That does not
just mean diplomatic frostiness; it will mean a tense stand-off, sanctions, a
military build-up and quite possibly Moscow’s incorporation of further land,
including the Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine.
At every moment
there will lurk the threat of cold war turning into hot war.
The Kremlin is
well aware how high it has ratcheted up the stakes: state television’s chief
propagandist chose referendum night in Crimea to remind the world that Russia
is capable of turning America into “radioactive ash”.
The immediate question is how Ukraine – and then
the west – reacts to Russia’s takeover of Crimea. Sanctions might hurt, but
there is no hope at all that they will force Vladimir Putin to reverse the
And, short of threatening military retaliation (precisely the thing
that could trigger a major war), I cannot see what would deter Russia from
responding to manufactured calls from Russian citizens in eastern Ukraine for
On 18 March Putin denied any desire to dismember Ukraine. But he has
already authorised the use of force if need be, and between them Ukraine’s
far-right nutters and Russia’s provocateurs could easily create the
“threat to Russian lives” that would provide the pretext for intervention.
Thus would Europe’s borders be redrawn, and
along them a new iron curtain would descend.
So much for the hopes we had in
those days of revolution from 1989 to 1991, when it seemed we’d all be members
of a peaceful, united, de-ideologised continent.
Historians will pore over the origins of this new
conflict and see only confusion, lies, misunderstandings and puffed-up egos
blundering towards catastrophe.
I have long believed that Putin, surrounded by
myopic and conspiratorial advisers, does not understand the west, and that the
west, so sure of its own righteousness and “victory” in the last cold war,
hasn’t even tried to treat Russia with the respect it thought it deserved after
throwing off the shackles of communism.
Now we are reaping the fruits.
Putin’s “political technologists” have been
priming the canvas zealously for the bloody painting being daubed across the
continent of Europe.
If I were a typical Russian television viewer, with no
interest in chasing down alternative reportage, I would be quaking at the
thought of what is said to be happening right now in brotherly Ukraine.
It’s like the Great Patriotic War all over again; jackboots, brownshirts,
swastikas, truncheons; they’re banning the use of Russian; they just
showed some millionaire fascist on a stage in the Maidan (Independence Square in
Kyiv, the cauldron of the revolution) demanding that Russians be “shot in the
head” – and the crowd applauded; “death squads” are being set up, the
newsreader said; my sister lives in Donetsk, and my cousin in Kharkov – they’re
going to be murdered; and now two people have been shot by fascist thugs . . .
you see, it’s starting . . . Even by the standards of Putin-era television
(indeed, even by the standards of Soviet television) the propaganda is
You have to slap yourself in the face to recall that just a month
ago we were watching the opening ceremony of the Sochi winter Olympics – a
magical evocation of everything that made Russia great: scientists and writers,
composers and cosmonauts, poets and ballet dancers, philosophers and artists.
This is the European, cultured Russia we aspire to be, they were saying.
the Olympic ring that failed to open was somehow endearing, a reminder of what
many westerners love about Russia – its maddening foibles, its pretensions to
grandeur that often fall just a little short. The producers knew it and made
fun of the lapse in the closing ceremony.
You see: we Russians can laugh at
ourselves. We are just like you.
And then, it turns out, they’re not.
Or are they? Is it we in the west who can’t bear
the thought of them being like us? Do we not prefer our stereotypes?
surly Siberians, cold unsmiling Muscovites, gangsters and spies, aggressive
communists hell-bent on restoring their evil empire. Much more comfortable.
Good to have someone to hate: it makes us feel more virtuous. Did the US
secretary of state, John Kerry, who voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, not
love being able to say to the Russians:
“You just don’t in the 21st century
behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely
I sometimes think the west understood the Soviet
Union better than it does today’s Russia.
For one thing, it was simpler, more
black-and-white. But we also had formidable Kremlinologists who knew how to
read the signs hidden behind the propaganda.
Maybe our foreign ministries today
are too obsessed with terrorism and Islam, while Russian studies are dominated
(at least in the press and chancelleries, though less so in universities) by
experts who, by and large, have a remarkably simplistic view of what is
Analysis of Putin’s motives generally amounts to nothing more
sophisticated than “he’s a KGB thug, an authoritarian kleptocrat surrounded by
corrupt oligarchs, determined to restore the Soviet Union and destroy the
west”. Much of that is true!
Yet it is only part of the story, and merely
describes how he is, but not why, and does not consider whether we
inadvertently created a bogeyman.
The Russian view of the west (particularly the
one put out for public consumption) is equally flawed, driven by conspiracy
theories and mistrust of America’s motives and aspirations.
But at least Russia
has master diplomats such as the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who knows
about the west not from hearsay but because he has studied nothing else for
more than 30 years.
When the history of the new cold war comes to be
written, its subtitle should be the immortal words of the European Union’s high
representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton: “I didn’t pick that up.
That’s interesting. Gosh!”
This was her gormless response, in a now
notorious leaked phone call, to the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet, when
he informed her that opposition gunmen – not President Yanukovych’s snipers –
might have been responsible for the mass killings on the Maidan in Kyiv that
were the catalyst for the Ukrainian revolution.
If this were true, it would be
sensational, and have a big impact on the west’s view of the new Ukrainian
Yet Paet’s assertion turns out to have been based
on a misunderstanding of something possibly said by someone who was in
no position to make such a judgement in any case.
The minister said he had been
given the information by “Olga”, a doctor who had been treating victims.
Baroness Gosh had also met Olga, but not been given this incendiary news.
had they both talked to her? Presumably because the photogenic,
English-speaking doctor had appeared on CNN and the BBC, describing the tragedy
she was dealing with, and suddenly found herself an important source for
How often I have seen this happen in my years as a
correspondent working in foreign parts: diplomats and journalists swarming
around the same little coterie of “sources”, almost always several steps
removed from the real decision-making and intelligence.
Poor Olga – Dr Bogomolets – is no forensic
scientist, and perhaps something got lost in her (presumably English)
conversation with the Estonian. Paet claimed she had said policemen and
protesters had been killed by the same snipers:
“She can say that it is the
same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now
the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.
There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it
was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”
later denied that she had told him anything of the sort; she hadn’t even seen a
Such was the level of “intelligence” being shared
by western leaders as they shuttled in and out of Ukraine, taking decisions
apparently way beyond their competence.
Senator John McCain swept in to town and shared a
stage with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right, anti-Semitic Svoboda party
– a man who in many western countries would be a pariah, a politician from the
same stable as Jörg Haider, whose election victory in Austria in 1999 caused
the EU to impose sanctions against his government.
Did McCain know who he was
wining and dining with? Did he care? Or is the only qualification for receiving
unconditional US support a visceral hatred of Russia?
The US assistant secretary of state Victoria
Nuland distributed cookies to the Maidan protesters, and discussed with her
ambassador which opposition leader should become prime minister, as though she
were viceroy of Ukraine.
“I don’t think Klitsh should go into government,”
she said. “I think Yats is the guy with the economic experience, the governing
That would be the former heavyweight boxing
champion Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose names are rather
difficult to pronounce.
But she also knew the extremist Tyahnybok, and thought
that Yats “needs to be talking to him four times a week, you know”.
was based on just what knowledge, one wonders. Does this arrogant American have
more than the most superficial knowledge of the history and society and needs
of the country she is moulding to America’s liking?
The west’s understanding is woeful.
How often was
the benighted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, described as Putin’s
great friend or poodle? Like hell he was.
The price he extracted from Russia to
extend its lease on the Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea in April 2010 (between
$40bn and $45bn) made Putin apoplectic.
“I would be willing to eat Yanukovych
and his prime minister for that sort of money,” he said. “No military base in
the world costs that much!”
When Yanukovych fled from the Maidan protesters in
February this year and turned up in Russia, Putin didn’t even deign to meet
How dim must the EU’s foreign policy experts be
if they were surprised that Putin trumped their “association agreement” with
cheaper gas and a loan of $15bn?
The Ukrainian economy is in collapse – of
course Yanukovych took the money. The EU spends hundreds of billions to bail
out banks, but could not help Ukraine become a democracy.
Our governments appear to be utterly inadequate
in foreign policy.
Our revolving politicians, one day in education, the next in
finance, then at the Foreign Office, may know all about their domestic
politics, but abroad (and especially regarding Russia) they are like Columbus
setting out to discover India.
Of course getting Russia right is difficult.
count myself pretty well versed in Russian affairs; it’s over 40 years since I
started studying the language, the culture, the people, the politics. I have
lived there more than ten years in all, under Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and
But I know perfectly well I am an ignoramus compared to Russians.
don’t understand the humour; I could never get the cultural references buried
in satirical programmes such as Kukly, the Spitting Image
equivalent that Putin banned.
It doesn’t stop me pontificating, but knowing how
little I understand after all those years, I am horrified to see our flat-footed
“diplomats” taking decisions so ill-informed and insensitive that they may be
impelling the world towards catastrophe.
But it has always been thus, or at least thus
since the collapse of the USSR.
No one wants to hear this at a time when Putin
is marching his troops into a neighbouring country, but it is perfectly
feasible to argue he would not be doing so – that he might not have become
Russia’s leader in the first place – if the west had not been so inept in its
handling of the collapse of communism.
The first post-Soviet decade – the Yeltsin years
– were a disaster for Russia.
Americans applauded Boris Yeltsin. He was the
kind of Russian we like – “burly” not surly, an iconoclast determined to root
out communism, welcoming to western capitalists, comically drunken and impotent
to oppose western foreign policies.
That the Russian masses were falling into
poverty and insecurity was dismissed as a passing phase: it would all come
right in the end.
That a handful of oligarchs swiped most of the state’s assets
and Russia began to resemble a mafia state was no big deal.
money and TV stations may have been used to rig the re-election of a
catastrophically unpopular Yeltsin, but at least it made sure the commies
didn’t get back in.
I remember picking my way, as a BBC reporter at
the time, through streets full of middle-class people selling off their
belongings, to report on Moscow’s first Rolls-Royce dealership.
most Russians came to associate capitalism and democracy with financial ruin
Some 25 million of them even found themselves outside Russia,
living in the new independent former republics of the USSR (not all of which
treated their guests with much sensitivity).
The west could have pumped billions into Russia,
instead of imagining that freewheeling capitalism was all that was required.
seems our governments had not the faintest idea of how deep the crisis of
Russia’s economy was after 70 years of communism, nor of how dangerous the
popular mood would become if there was no “cushion”: nothing to save people
from poverty, and not even a veneer of respect for the destroyed Russia as
a world power.
And that is how we got Putin – brought to power,
ironically, by Yeltsin’s own family and advisers. Even they understood that the
country needed a jolt.
Had Russia not been in such a mess, had “western”
policies not been so discredited, the Russians might have chosen a democrat
Putin came to the scene a political ingénu.
he looks intransigent and single-minded, but at that time he was so
inexperienced he opened himself up to all kinds of advice.
himself with western-oriented, radical reformers.
He wooed western leaders,
longing to be liked, and mused about joining Nato one day.
He offered real help
to George W Bush in his war in Afghanistan.
It was just at this point that everything went
Putin was still, at heart, a KGB man, schooled in deception and
befuddled by his Soviet vision of the world.
He never understood what democracy
meant, and began closing down critical media and gathering in power around
himself and his quickly appointed clique of KGB comrades.
Naturally, the west
took fright and began to build up its defences against Russia – even though, at
this point, Putin had shown no ill intentions towards other countries
George W Bush’s understanding of Russia was, I
guess, about as good as his understanding of Iraq: international affairs
reduced to a few soundbites.
Ignoring Russia’s protestations, he pressed on
with a missile shield, allegedly to defend against Iranian rockets but in fact
positioned in such a way that the Kremlin saw its own strategic defences
What the point of this was, God only knows.
system doesn’t work anyway (it’s like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet,
from hundreds of miles away) and in any case Iran has since all but given up
its nuclear arms pretensions.
Russia desperately wanted to be part of Europe’s
security architecture, but Nato expanded eastwards towards Russia’s frontiers,
thus making Russia, ironically, more of a threat than it would otherwise have
In return, the Russians started building up their own defences.
Nato promised eventual membership to Ukraine, exactly what Putin now fears will
happen as the country turns westwards.
Yet what if the west, instead, had calculated
that Putin could have been persuaded to rein in his authoritarian tendencies in
exchange for proper clout in world affairs? Cleverer diplomats might have persuaded
The result could have been the kind of Russia we wanted – democratic,
peaceful, not threatening . . . and therefore a welcome asset at the global
By encircling Russia and undermining its security
(which Nato expansion and the missile shield undoubtedly did), we created the
enemy we didn’t want.
Halfway through his second term, Putin decided that
America did not want to share power in the world. And he was right – not with a
man who was locking up his critics and rigging elections.
Both sides were
sliding into a spiral of mutual mistrust and hatred.
For Putin, the battle for
acceptance was lost and it was no longer worth “improving” himself to regain
it. He became the menacing, vengeful warlord we now have to deal with. Gosh!
Bill Clinton’s old Russia hand Strobe Talbott
describes the upheaval in Ukraine today as Putin’s payback to the west,
particularly the United States, for what he “sees as a quarter-century of
disrespect, humiliation and diplomatic bullying”.
In his speech on 18 March, Putin
resentfully listed all the grievances that have built up over the years,
concluding that the centuries-old policy of “containing Russia” continues.
To be clear, what Putin has done in annexing part
of Ukraine is unacceptable and should be punished, though goodness knows how
this can be achieved without precipitating war.
We can probably never have a
sane relationship with Russia until Putin and his henchmen are gone.
Yet perhaps, one day, the Russia we saw at
the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony will be not just a figment of the
imagination, but something we can all celebrate and welcome into our hearts.
However, our next generation of western Kremlinologists should bear this in
mind: whoever is in the Kremlin – even the most likeable, “western” leader you
can imagine – will have Russia’s interests at heart, not ours.
They will want a
say in the world commensurate with Russia’s size and nuclear status, they will
care about Russians living abroad, and they will resist anything they see as a
threat to their security.
Margaret Thatcher hounded Victoria Gillick through the courts in order to establish, without recourse to Parliament, an age of consent of 13 or younger, including for the performance of abortions without parental knowledge or consent.
Still, a parliamentary vote on this latest business with the morning after pill? Who is going to propose that?
This Pope and the last one have been making great progress in co-operation with Russia on everything from protecting Arab Christians to upholding the traditional definition of marriage; there is no possibility of ecclesial rapprochement with the Orthodox, but that is not what this is about.
But a certain type of Catholic, the kind that thinks that this Papacy constitutes some kind of unwelcome rupture with the last one, is cheering on the attempted relaunch of the Cold War.
are quite a lot of people to whom the world only made sense in terms of
the Cold War.
Among English-speaking Catholics, hardline Cold
Warriorism made some of them Republicans when their families
had always been Democrats, Conservatives when
their families had always been Labour, and so on
The Democratic and Labour Parties contained many hardline Cold Warriors,
and were run by them, but that is by the by.
Moreover, those Catholics' own entry turned those parties into
almost monolithic vehicles for the hardline Cold War position.
Giving up all of that, and giving it up so quickly and so unexpectedly, was a
terrible wrench for them.
They are relishing the chance to resume normal
But they are wrong.
The thing that makes sense of the world is the Faith.