Thursday 29 September 2011

Flying Here

Ed Miliband must have learned all the words to The Red Flag from his Communist father? That is as ignorant as the media claim that "the Old Labour anthem, The Internationale" was sung at the funerals of Robin Cook and Donald Dewar.

The Internationale, being the anthem of the sectarian Left and the sometime National Anthem of the Soviet Union, was therefore the New Labour anthem, because that was where New Labour came from: the campus-based, sectarian Left.

The Old Labour anthem was, and is, The Red Flag, which the singers at the funerals of Robin Cook and Donald Dewar banned from being sung at the end of Labour Party Conferences. If their preferred Leader, the wrong Miliband, had been in place, then so would have been that ban.

Carving Up The Scotch Pie

How many people in Scotland could name all three candidates for Leader of the Scottish Labour Party? How many people in the Scottish Labour Party could name them all? But who leads at Holyrood is immaterial to Labour because Holyrood is immaterial to Labour, just as Westminster is immaterial to the SNP.

Labour in Scotland now exists to secure for its favoured sons the paid peerages that Scottish seats at Westminster have now become, except that conscientious members of the House of Lords have rather more to do and can no longer automatically hand over their seats to their children.

Voters in Scotland clearly understand. They elect the SNP to an overall majority at Holyrood while returning, from exactly the same communities even if the constituency boundaries are now different, a battalion of apparently irremovable Labour MPs. Well, of course they do. And both parties are perfectly happy with that. Well, of course they are.

The Man With A Plan

Although, as I write, he still cannot bring himself to thank Gordon Brown for keeping Britain out of the euro, Peter Oborne writes:

The economic crisis requires new thinking, and Labour’s leader has come up with a plan. The history of Britain since the Second World War can be divided into two long phases, each lasting several decades. The first of these can be dated from the famous election triumph of Clem Attlee’s Labour Party in 1945. Though Attlee’s government was relatively short-lived, its achievements were stupendous: the foundation of the welfare state, the creation of the National Health Service, the nationalisation of the “commanding heights” of the economy, and the imposition of Keynesian demand management at the Treasury. This proved an enduring settlement. Even though his election defeat in 1951 opened the way to a longish period of Conservative rule, neither Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden nor Harold Macmillan (the three prime ministers who succeeded him) challenged the elements of the Attlee system. Genuine change did not come about till the mid-Seventies, when the oil price shock was followed by economic and social collapse.

Britain entered a time of uncertainty and intellectual despair, made all the more troubling because most politicians, including those on the Right, had come to believe that Attlee had solved once and for of the underlying problem of modern politics. The destruction of this conventional wisdom led to an ideological battle for control of the British state. The Left, led by the brilliant Michael Foot (it is only because he ultimately failed that he has been written off as a useless eccentric: history is always on the side of the winners), argued very powerfully that the failure of the Attlee settlement showed that the time had come for a move towards thoroughgoing socialism. Meanwhile, the Right, led from 1975 by Margaret Thatcher, who was guided by the defence of classical liberalism developed by the Austrian philosopher Friedrich Hayek during the depression of the Thirties, made a compelling argument for a return to free-market economics. For a while, it was wholly unclear which side would win, and indeed for long periods it appeared that the Left was in the ascendancy. Only the sweeping victory of Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1983 general election signalled the end of the argument and set Britain on a clear economic course: privatisation, a reduction of state power, and a bold reassertion of liberal economic principles.

This Thatcher settlement, like Attlee’s, proved enduring. Indeed, it was formalised after the general election of 1997, when the victorious Labour prime minister Tony Blair (supported by his chancellor Gordon Brown) explicitly accepted and developed the economic and moral insights of his great predecessor. The financial collapse of September 2008 drew a line under this period of our history. From that moment, British politics entered uncharted territory, just as it did after the financial disasters of the Seventies. In economic terms, the age we are living in is simply terrifying. But politically, it is of special interest, because every accepted orthodoxy is in the process of being dismantled. Most senior politicians are condemned to operate within an exceptionally narrow set of parameters, meaning that they do little more than administer a system they inherited from others. But our current generation faces a remarkable and very rare challenge: to go out and create a new structure for British governance and public discourse.

Hence the importance of Ed Miliband’s party conference address in Liverpool on Tuesday. This speech has so far received an ungenerous press, something that should come as no surprise. For many years – and particularly during the long and now widely exposed Murdoch ascendancy – political reporting has suffered from a shameful defect. Lobby correspondents have regarded themselves as courtiers, aligning themselves with the gang in power rather than searching out the underlying truths. Hence so much of the foolish sneering and mockery of Miliband’s personal appearance, mannerisms and method of speaking. The obsessive concentration on matters of overwhelming triviality has obscured the central point: that Miliband made an intellectually ambitious and admirable contribution to public debate. He sought to reshape the terms of political argument and so redefine the territory on which the general election will ultimately be fought. He has even made a tentative step towards tearing up the rules that have defined British economics for the past generation with his cautious critique of capitalism as it has been carried on here for the past 30 years.

This was long overdue. One of the unintended consequences of Margaret Thatcher’s reforms of the Eighties was the emergence of a new class of feral rich, who abandoned the ordinary morality or sense of civic duty felt by previous generations. New Labour, with its unashamed worship of ostentatious wealth, made the problem much worse, and went a long way towards undoing the bonds that ought to tie together every society. Ed Miliband, who this week straightforwardly repudiated almost every aspect of Tony Blair’s inheritance, has not yet got everything right in his attempt to create a virtuous political economy which celebrates hard-working and decent men and women rather than City sharks. But he has taken British public life in a new and thoroughly welcome direction, and this poses a challenge to the Conservatives as they gather in Manchester this weekend for their own party conference.

To be fair to David Cameron, there is every reason to believe that he agrees with Miliband’s call for a fairer and more decent capitalism. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s Big Society idea, with its demand that we should all recognise our duty as full members of the communities in which we live, acknowledges this very point. The difference between the two leaders is that Miliband is making the case that there is a still a powerful role for a benevolent state, while Cameron insists that there are many areas where the state is incapable and where civil society (churches, charities etc) must fill the gap. But the most important speech at Tory conference next week will, at this time of impending economic disaster, come from George Osborne. In many ways, Mr Osborne has been outstanding. He has won the central argument about the need to cut the deficit he inherited from Labour, as Miliband himself acknowledged when he told the Tories that “If you don’t cut the deficit, we will do it for you.”

What Osborne has yet to do (as the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, a trained economist, has noted in private from time to time) is to produce a coherent and substantial political economy. There is no account from the Chancellor yet of exactly how he expects Britain to emerge from the economic darkness, let alone of the kind of society that will stand at the end of it all. Perhaps he feels that simply by lifting the burden of the financial deficit, the animal spirits of our entrepreneurs will reawaken of their own accord. Perhaps he feels that morality and economics don’t go together – a perfectly respectable position to take. Ed Miliband’s vision of a fairer and better- balanced capitalism, however imperfectly sketched out, challenges Osborne to give a much fuller account of what he is doing. The Labour leader this week showed a clear grasp of our national predicament, and may have signalled the end of an unhealthy era of managed, technocratic discourse. He rose to the occasion, and he deserves our thanks.

It will be interesting to see what Peter Hitchens, who scorned the Conservatives' vilification of Gordon Brown based on no political or philosophical difference whatever, has to say on Sunday. But it is Oborne who has so far taken the lead in identifying Ed Miliband as the paleocons' candidate, a man who is not himself a social (although he is probably a bit of a cultural) conservative, and who is only a soft Eurosceptic, but who is willing and able to listen to social conservatives and to hard Eurosceptics as neither the booed Tony Blair, nor any Conservative Leader apart from Iain Duncan Smith, has ever been so much as remotely prepared to do. Or ever will be.

The Mainstream of Public Opinion

Today's Guardian is very good indeed. Not only Owen Hatherley on housing, and not only Zoe Williams on Rory Weal, but also Seamus Milne:

Alienation from mainstream politics is so entrenched in Britain it's hardly surprising that most people tend to dismiss any shift in direction as yet more spin and posturing. Disillusionment with New Labour in particular makes it difficult for many to take seriously the promise of change when it comes from the successors to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Add to that Ed Miliband's halting performance in Liverpool this week and a speech peppered with the kind of politicians' phrasemongering that leaves voters cold. But that would be to miss the essential fact: this was the most radical speech by a Labour leader for a generation.

Miliband signalled an unmistakable break with the corporate consensus of the past three decades and the model of unfettered market capitalism this has enforced. No wonder the bulk of the press, which has played a central role in championing that system – even as it has fallen apart – is outraged. "Lurch to the left, Red Ed, union poodle!" they squealed, stuck in a time-warp unconnected with reality or the concerns of their own readers. Rupert Murdoch's Sun, apparently unaware of the scale of economic breakdown, charged the Labour leader with suggesting the "modern capitalist system" was "a failure". Miliband had "declared war on capitalists", the Daily Mail shrieked.

Hardly. But what he did do was raise the prospect of a genuine social democratic alternative to the neoliberal order that has brought the economies of the western world to the brink of collapse and prolonged depression – along with insecurity, inequality and falling living standards not seen for a lifetime. There's no question who was in Miliband's frame: the bankers and vested interests of the corporate world, rigged markets, rip-off energy conglomerates, "cosy cartels" that control executive pay, and the companies so powerful "they can get away with anything".

But more importantly, he blamed the "economic system" that governments of both main parties have overseen for decades – and called for a "new economy" that rewarded "producers" not "predators", and "wealth creators" instead of "asset strippers". Whether such brave talk can be turned into effective policy is another matter – though there are pointers to the direction Miliband wants to take: including the use of government contracts and intervention to reshape the corporate sector, as well as employee representation on top pay committees. Even these limited steps are, of course, threatening to powerful interests.

But it reflects the mainstream of public opinion – contrary to the impression given by much of the media. And it represents the framework for a political challenge that can start to match the scale of the crisis now gripping capitalism across the western world. For all his tut-tutting about bankers' behaviour, what does David Cameron have to say about an economic model that has not only delivered mass insecurity, inequality and environmental destruction, but isn't working on its own terms?

Meanwhile, just as Labour's leader is under attack from vested corporate interests and their friends for breaking with New Labour, many others balk at the continuities: Miliband's support for the unpopular occupation of Afghanistan, his call to allocate social housing on the basis of behaviour, criticism of strikes (which even Blair avoided as opposition leader), and endorsement of Thatcherite shibboleths of the 1980s. More significant is the direction of travel and whether Labour's leadership as a whole is going to accept the challenge that Miliband made this week to an entrenched political settlement.

Labour's shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, called it right last year when he warned that the coalition's cuts would choke off recovery; and he drew blood this week with attacks on Cameron and George Osborne's disastrous austerity programme, and his call for an immediate stimulus programme for jobs and growth. But despite his apologies for failing to regulate the banks in government, there's less of a sense that Balls has really moved on from the City-framed economic framework that underpinned New Labour's glory days.

In particular, his promise (echoed by Miliband) to use any proceeds from selling RBS and Lloyds to pay down debt – while talking vaguely about a national investment bank – ignores the pressing need to mobilise the state-controlled banks to boost public investment and lending for growth. That's far from being just a demand of the left – the case for turning the part-nationalised giants into public investment banks to drive recovery is now being made by figures such as the Financial Times's Samuel Brittan and Adam Posen, of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee.

But it's also an idea that meets the challenge of the crisis, and fits precisely with Miliband's call for a new economic model that makes the banks a "part of the solution to our economic future, not part of the problem". As the Labour leader himself acknowledged this week, his greatest political breakthrough in the past year came when he was "willing to break the consensus" by defying Rupert Murdoch over the phone-hacking scandal. That's the lesson he now has to apply to his own party if he is to make the direction he has chosen stick. Half his shadow ministers behave as if they were still in government or remain locked in a New Labour mindset.

Like Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s, Miliband is in a political minority in his own shadow cabinet. Blairite nostalgics – who have failed to grasp that New Labour died when Lehman Brothers crashed – remain entrenched and unreconciled at all levels of the party. Now Labour's leader has set a new course that reflects the times we are living through, he needs to impose his authority, put his stamp on Labour's policy review, reshuffle his shadow cabinet – and bring forward a few landmark policies that embody that direction.

The crisis that has now engulfed the eurozone is changing the political rules of the game. The neoliberal model is broken. Miliband has understood that, but the next year will be crucial to whether that understanding can be turned into a winning political platform. As the Conservatives are bound to make clear next week, economic breakdown can just as easily be exploited by the right.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Intake of Breath

I know for a fact that those who booed the mention of Tony Blair included MPs from the 2010 intake.

It would take an awful lot to persuade me to rejoin the Labour Party, but...

Positive Experience

Specifically, the positive experience that is being alive as a human being at all.

Wherever there is a human life, then it is of infinite value, of infinite "quality". Purely and simply because it is a human life.

Right All Along

Douglas Jay, Peter Shore, David Stoddart, Bryan Gould, Ian Davidson, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, Peter Hain, Jon Cruddas, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband: you cannot have monetary union without fiscal union, and you cannot have fiscal union without political union.

Now, we just need to penny to drop, so to speak, that there cannot be Thatcher's single market without monetary union. As was (and in some cases still is) said publicly by Douglas Jay, Peter Shore, David Stoddart, Bryan Gould, Ian Davidson, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, Peter Hain and Jon Cruddas, and as is undoubtedly still believed privately by all of them who are still alive, as well as by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.

The Privileged Rory Weal?

The whole point of grammar schools is that they have nothing to do with parental income. That was why no one ever closed more grammar schools than Margaret Thatcher, and that was why David Cameron led every single one of his MPs in voting to make it illegal - yes, illegal - to set up any more. Young Weal owes his grammar school education in Kent to Eric Hammond.

More broadly, Labour was never the party of anything like the whole of the working classes, nor did those classes ever provide anything like all of its support. Britain has neither a proletariat nor a bourgeoisie in the Marxist or Continental sense, but several working classes and several middle classes. There was never any incongruity about the presence of middle or upper-class people in the Labour Party, and not least among Labour MPs. Nor about their having come from, and far from cast off, either Liberal or Tory backgrounds. Especially in Labour's early years, those backgrounds routinely included activism, and indeed parliamentary service, on behalf of either of those parties.

Herbert Morrison professed never to have seen any conflict "between Labour and what are known as the middle classes". Aneurin Bevan denounced class war, calling instead for "a platform broad enough for all to stand upon" and for the making of "war upon a system, not upon a class". Both served under Clement Attlee (Haileybury, Oxford, the Bar and the Officer Corps), who was succeeded by Hugh Gaitskell (Winchester and Oxford).

Harold Wilson was a Fellow of an Oxford college, and the son of a chemist and a schoolteacher. Jim Callaghan was a tax inspector. Michael Foot's public school may have been the Quakers' Leighton Park, but it was still a public school, which duly sent him to Oxford; he and his brothers indicated just how far the sons of a provincial solicitor could climb if they were sent to the "right" schools. Neil Kinnock's father may have been a miner, but he himself was a lecturer. John Smith was a QC. We all know about Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.

And why not?

Moral Authority

Jim Naughtie could not contain his rage at Ed Miliband for suggesting that there was such a thing as, in Naughtie's words, "the right of the State to exercise moral authority".

Just as well that there was no Jim Naughtie when Shaftesbury and Wilberforce were knocking about as Tory campaigners against phenomena, slavery abroad and horrendous working conditions (including for children) at home, that are now well on the way back. Or when Victorian Nonconformists were using the Liberal Party to fight against opium dens and the compelling of people to work seven-day weeks, both of which have now returned in full. Or when temperance Methodists and traditional Catholics were building the Labour Party in order to counteract brutal capitalism precisely so as to prevent a Marxist revolution, whereas the coherence of the former with the cultural aspects of the latter now reigns supreme.

As for Southern Cross, an essential service, paid for by the NHS, by the council, or by some combination of the two, should be delivered by the NHS, by the council, or by some combination of the two. In buildings and on land owned by the NHS, by the council, or by some combination of the two. Any suggestion to the contrary was and is downright immoral. Not to say, downright daft.

And as for workers on boards, not only do we need to encourage employees and their trade unions to buy shares in order to secure such positions, not only do we need a 12-month qualifying period before voting shares may be used as such, and not only might the public sector trade unions be encouraged and assisted to buy up the City, but we also need to require every public limited company to have one non-executive director appointed by the Secretary of State for a fixed term equivalent to that of other directors, and responsible for protecting the interests of workers, small shareholders, consumers, communities and the environment.

"A lurch to the Left"? Compared to what, exactly? Fleet Street's real principal sources of income can be discerned from their hysterical response to the possibility of a viable electoral outlet for mainstream public opinion about flogging off the NHS, closing all the libraries, genuflecting to overcharging train and utility companies, taxing the poor so as not to tax the rich, using the public purse to ensure that the bankrupt City can carry on paying out the same old obscene salaries and bonuses as if nothing had happened, failing to distinguish between respectable council tenants and the characters from Shameless, and (although Miliband has blotted his copybook over Libya) waging wars all over the place. Be afraid, Tory Boys. Be very, very, very afraid. Clearly, you already are. Good.

Police Review

Light sentences and lax prison discipline are both expressions of the perfectly well-founded view that large numbers of those convicted, vastly in excess of the numbers that have always existed at any given time, are in fact innocent. We need to return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction, above all by reversing the erosion of the right to silence and of trial by jury, and by repealing the monstrous provisions for anonymous evidence and for conviction by majority verdict. And we need to return to proper policing. Then we could and should return to proper sentencing, and to proper regimes in prison, with no suggestion that prisoners should have the vote. But only then.

We need to abandon the existing erosion of trial by jury and of the right to silence, the existing reversals of the burden of proof, conviction by majority verdict (which, by definition, provides for conviction even where there is reasonable doubt), the admission of anonymous evidence other than from undercover police officers, conviction on anonymous evidence alone, both pre-trial convictions and pre-trial acquittals by the Crown Prosecution Service, the secrecy of the family courts, the anonymity of adult accusers in rape cases, identity cards or any thought of them, control orders, police confiscation of assets without a conviction, stipendiary magistrates, Thatcher’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the Civil Contingencies Act, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, and the Official Secrets Acts.

We need to raise the minimum age for jurors at least to 21. We need to extend to the rest of the United Kingdom of the successful Scottish extension of the right to serve on a jury without compromising its restriction to those with a tangible stake in society. We need to return to preventative policing based on foot patrols, with budgetary sanctions against recalcitrant Chief Constables. We need police forces at least no larger than at present, and subject to local democratic accountability though police authorities composed predominantly of councillors, not by means of elected sheriffs, which, like directly elected mayors, have no place in a parliamentary rather than a presidential res publica, and are wholly incompatible with the defence, restoration and extension of the powers of jurors, magistrates and parliamentarians. We need to restore the pre-1968 committal powers of the magistracy, restore the pre-1985 prosecution powers of the police, and restore the network of police stations and police houses placing the police at the very heart of their communities. We need each offence to carry a minimum sentence of one third of its maximum sentence, or of 15 years for life. And we need a single category of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on.

We must insist on a return to the situation whereby a Bill which ran out of parliamentary time was lost at the end of that session. On the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law. On the requirement that EU law apply in the United Kingdom only once it has passed through both Houses of Parliament exactly as if it had originated in one or other of them. On the requirement of a resolution of the House of Commons before any ruling of the European Court of Justice, or of the European Court of Human Rights, or of the Supreme Court, or pursuant to the Human Rights Act, can have any effect in the United Kingdom. On the restoration of British overall control of our defence capability. On the removal of all foreign forces and weapons from British territory, territorial waters and airspace. On the repeal of one-sided extradition arrangements. And, especially now that Norman Baker is a Minister, on the coroner’s inquest that has mysteriously never been held into the death of Dr David Kelly.

There must be an extension to Scotland of the historic liberties, largely as set out above, which have never applied in that far more oligarchic country, where middle-class institutions and upper-middle-class power have been defined as the esse of national identity, a situation which has been made even worse by devolution’s weakening of the Labour Movement. While this might have been a factor contributing to the retention of more rigorous minimum qualifications for jurors in Scotland, criteria which should be applied nationwide, nevertheless it means that, while there is an automatic right to trial by jury for serious offences in Scotland, the decision on which way to proceed in an ‘each-way’ case lies with the prosecution rather than with the defence. The police have no power to caution and proceed entirely under the direction of the locally unaccountable Procurator Fiscal, who does not prosecute unless it is in the public interest to do so, which it is for the prosecution alone to decide and for which it does not have to give any explanation. It is extremely difficult to bring a private prosecution, far in excess of the necessary restrictions on that practice which rightly exist elsewhere. These profoundly illiberal arrangements must change.

That would be a start, anyway.

Tuesday 27 September 2011


Rory Weal is from Kent, so he must be at a grammar school. There cannot, by definition, be comps where there are grammar schools, even if they might use the name.

That the old dispensation still obtains in the country's largest LEA (or whatever they are now called) is mostly down to the late Eric Hammond, veteran leader of the electricians' and plumbers' union, and lifelong member of the Labour Party.

Young Weal is his legacy and his legatee.

"I'm Not Tony Blair"

It is the sort of legend that should be borne by all manner of merchandise. Did you hear how the audience approved? He hated them, and at last they feel able to express how much they hated him. Around this time in 2007, we were heading into the first season for a decade in which Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Remembrance Sunday, Advent and Christmas did not feel faintly illegal, and were not acts of defiant resistance to the Occupation of our country by someone who was essentially her enemy. But now, under the Heir to Blair, we are back to where we were.

The superb Peter Oborne, whom Ivan Lewis could give the job of deciding which journalists should be licensed and which should not, was on fine form on last night's Dispatches. The most inappropriate Middle East Peace Envoy imaginable has conflicts of interest coming out of his ears in order to enhance even further the fabulous wealth that has come his way in return for having lied this country into war, to which he has blithely admitted on television with no apparent adverse effect. Does it only count if you say it on Newsnight, or on the Today programme, or to a Dimbleby? It turns out that he is nothing but a paid shill of Wall Street, Murdoch, the Israelis and the Gulf monarchs. Among other things, he is paid by J P Morgan to stop the starvelings of the Gaza Strip from exploiting their own supply of natural gas.

The wonder is that he has not been made United States Secretary of State. Perhaps he would have been if the Presidency had passed to two of the very few people in the world even viler than he is? One of them promised to nuke Iran if so instructed by the Israelis or by her viciously misogynistic (and Jew-hating) campaign backers in the Gulf. The other, on whose behalf she was really running, was Mr NAFTA and Mr GATT, the man who caused the crash by repealing Glass-Steagall, the Butcher of Bosnia and the Monster of Mogadishu, the bomber of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in order to distract attention from his sexual activities that he falsely asserted were no such thing. Tony Blair always wanted to be him.

Save Our Shares

Why does Ed Miliband want the public bank shares to be flogged off at all? All of the banks should be turned into mutual building societies, ironclad as such by statute. Northern Rock would be an ideal place to start. After all, no corporation is going to want to buy it.

Apart, that is, from the public stakes in HBOS and RBS. Those are permanent, non-negotiable safeguards of the Union, as public ownership always is. Therefore, the profits from each of those stakes should be divided equally among all the households in the United Kingdom.

For that, we need a Government which is not so incompetent that it can preside over their degeneration back into loss-making status. Indeed, if this provision had already been in place, then perhaps not even George Osborne would have dared to be quite so stupid and inept as that.

Putting The B Back Into BAE

A domestic manufacturing base, a largely domestic food supply, and the ownership of our own industries and resources by our own citizens, are all integral to national sovereignty, including national security.

And BAE, specifically, must be brought it back into public ownership, as the monopoly supplier to our own Armed Forces and to no one else. Meanwhile, provided that there is the necessary government action to ensure diversification and thus to preserve skills while rebuilding the manufacturing base, the sale of arms abroad must be banned, perhaps progressively, but altogether in the end.

Pro-Business, Indeed

Ed Miliband has much the same view as the American paleocons, and this sort of thing was called Toryism when Toryism, properly so called, was still permitted in national political debate.

Take out bailouts or the permanent promise of them, take out central and local government contracts, take out planning deals and other sweeteners, and take out the guarantee of customer bases by means of public sector pay and the benefits system, and what is there left? They are all as dependent on public money as any teacher, nurse or road sweeper. Everyone is.

And with public money come public responsibilities, including public accountability for how those responsibilities are or are not being met, accountability and responsibilities defined by classical, historic, mainstream Christianity as the basis of the British State and as the guiding inspiration of all three of this State’s authentic, indigenous, popular political traditions.

Privatisation, globalisation, deregulation and demutualisation have turned out, in the most spectacular fashion, to have been anything but fiscally responsible. The same is true of a generation of scorn for full employment, leading to the massively increased benefit dependency of the 1980s and the institutionalisation of that mass indolence down to the present day.

The transfer of huge sums of public money to ostensibly private, but entirely risk-free, companies in order to run schools, hospitals, railways, rubbish collections, and so many other things: is that fiscally responsible? Bailing out the City at all, never mind so that it can carry on paying the same salaries and bonuses as before: is that fiscally responsible? Even leaving aside more rarefied academic pursuits, is it fiscally responsible to allow primary education, or healthcare, or public transport, or social housing to fall apart? Is that good for business? Are wars of aggression fiscally responsible? Are military-industrial complexes?

Taking Liberties

Ivan Lewis is already seeing his point proved by the clearly concerted torrent of abuse directed at Ed Miliband. The media are over-mighty subjects as surely as the banks are, and nothing better illustrates that fact than their bank-like hysteria at the suggestion that their vast and completely unaccountable power should be subject to so much as the tiniest check or balance. The revocable licensing of journalists is long, long, long overdue, at the very least where the outlets granted the privilege of parliamentary lobby access are concerned.

Furthermore, The Times and the Sunday Times are loss-making newspapers that exist only because the rules were bent double so that Rupert Murdoch could buy them in order, to his credit, to fund them out of his profitable interests. So they ought to be required to maintain balance. The publications granted parliamentary lobby access should be required to be balanced among themselves, even if not necessarily within themselves. Broadcasters having such access should be required to give regular airtime to all newspapers enjoying the same access.

The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four. The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.

One would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats. That model could certainly be applied to everything from the Press Complaints Commission to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and arguably even to the Supreme Court, although in that case with only one candidate per region elected and with a vacancy arising only when a sitting member retired or died.

We need to ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national daily newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national weekly newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one television station. To re-regionalise ITV under a combination of municipal and mutual ownership. And to apply that same model (but with central government replacing local government, subject to very strict parliamentary scrutiny) to Channel Four.

The above model for the election of the BBC Trustees should be extended to the new Independent National Directors of Sky News, who should come into being entirely regardless of the ownership structure of BSkyB. Each Sky subscriber, or other adult who was registered to vote at an address with a Sky subscription and who chose to participate, would vote for one candidate. The requisite number would be elected at the end. Ideally, their Chairman, appointed by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Select Committee, would be Vince Cable. In any event, and not least in view of cross-subsidy, they might usefully double up as the hitherto most ineffective Independent National Directors of The Times and the Sunday Times. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, the subscribers to those newspapers would by the same means elect their Independent National Directors.

That would be a start, anyway.

Monday 26 September 2011

Led, Indeed

Young Rory Weal does seem to have rather more idealistic reasons for joining the Labour Party in the Lower Sixth than I had. People who have known me a long time maintain that I was never a youthful idealist, nor indeed youthful in anything else apart from the everlasting springtime that is my countenance.

However, do not be too taken in. The boy had clearly been picked out and trained up, because that is what they do. They had dressed him up as a SpAd, even complete with a red tie over a white shirt, although someone really should have told him to straighten that tie.

And he repeatedly referred to the Government as "Tory-led", a form of dog-whistling in which only the apparatchiki ever engage. So, while I have no doubt that he believed every word of that speech and that he had indeed contributed a great deal of information to it, nevertheless it was equally obvious that he himself had not written it.

He should go far.

Nothing Outrageous In Returning

Although he is wrong about the death penalty, Peter Hitchens writes:

It’s impossible to believe it now, but many members of the Labour cabinet voted to retain the death penalty when there was an attempt to abolish it in 1948. Good for them. They were being true to their voters, and protecting them from harm. That was when Labour was still a working class British party, and had yet to be taken over by modish cultural revolutionaries. Even as late as 1970, all the working class members of the Wilson Cabinet voted against the effective decriminalisation of cannabis that would end up as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It was a close vote. A pity they lost.

Richard Crossman noted this in his diaries, as the only occasion when the 1964-70 cabinet split entirely along class lines, with the working class members of course being the social conservatives, and the Oxbridge snobs the let-it-all-hang-out liberals. There had been other moments, during the Roy Jenkins/Tony Crosland cultural revolution, when working class ministers objected, but these were almost all dressed up as ‘Private Members’ Bills’, on which the cabinet had no need to decide. Roy Jenkins just got on with it and ensured that they had plenty of time and drafting help. They got through, but Labour couldn’t be punished for them at any election, since the government had officially been uninvolved.

Labour’s Drugs Bill fell because of the June 1970 election. But – and this is such a telling detail of modern British politics - the Tories passed the planned law almost unchanged, an amazing piece of bipartisanship. If there’s one thing the two party leaderships can always agree on, it’s debauching the morals of the nation.

There’s nothing specially socialist about this debauching stuff, though it does fit in with a certain type of Marxism. One of the most articulate and ferocious defenders of morals and justice in recent times was the great sociologist Norman Dennis, who sadly died a few years ago. His denunciation of the absurd Macpherson Report was devastating and pungent. I also still relish the memory of his confrontation at a think tank lunch with a bunch of ‘conservative’ free market drug legalisers, who seemed to think John Stuart Mill would have supported the decriminalisation of dope. They had to be scraped off the walls afterwards. Yet he remained an active Labour Party member till his dying day.

With facts such as these in mind (not to mention R.H.Tawney’s support for Grammar Schools, and the Christian self-discipline of so many Labour people when our country was going through very hard times) I feel that social conservatives should never entirely rule out the possibility that salvation may come from the left as well as the right. Oddly enough, it could be Labour’s salvation too. I am not sure if ‘Blue Labour’ has now been wholly buried. But if I were in the Shadow Cabinet (and , yes, I know I’m not) I would say to Ed Miliband (or more likely to Ed Balls, who seems to me have a real seething desire for power) that Downing Street could be his in 2015 if he returned his party to its patriotic, Christian roots.

Labour already has a better record on the European Union than do the Tories – Gaitskell’s great ‘Thousand Years of History’ speech was prescient and right. The party campaigned for an exit in 1983 (the only one of its pledges that year that hasn’t since been enacted in one form or another, despite the conventional wisdom that the 1983 manifesto was ‘the longest suicide note in history’). There’d be nothing outrageous in returning to that position.

On law and justice, I doubt if they could get the death penalty past the existing MPs. But a return to the principle of punishment, and a real war on the use and possession of drugs, would be of huge benefit to Labour voters in the big cities, who suffer most of all from the horrible crime and disorder which now go unchecked. As for immigration, it’s once again Labour’s supporters who suffer most from the huge numbers of migrants now arriving from Eastern Europe. Its their public services that are overloaded, their communities that are altered, their wages that are lowered. It’s also Labour’s supporters who would most benefit from a Divorce Reform Act that made it harder to break up a marriage, especially one with children, than it is now.

And of course it’s Labour supporters who would gain most from the return of discipline, rigour and academic selection in state schools. I was talking the other day to someone who lives in Kent and one of whose children has just won a place at a grammar school. It’s a marvellous school, offering a fine education to all its pupils. And you get into it by passing a fair examination. Imagine if every town, every county in the country had such schools, how it would transform so many lives.

We’ve established quite clearly in recent years that the Tories don’t love Britain, or even England. We’ve established that their voters will carry on voting for them however many times their hopes are betrayed and their concerns mocked by their ‘own’ leader. Is it even remotely possible that a combination of ambition and desperation will persuade Labour to try to prove that it really still loves the poor?

You’re right. It’s most unlikely. But forgive me for dreaming. The idea, though far-fetched, is no more so than many of the turns in the other direction which our political leaders have taken in recent years.

On The Right Track

With Shadow Cabinet elections gone, everyone in it is auditioning to stay in it from the platform of this week's thrilling conference. And speaking of platforms, Maria Eagle delivered rather a good speech which only made sense in terms of the renationalisation of the railways. "That a big yes from me," Ed Miliband should say, "See you in the live shows."

Driving Miss Hillary

So, women are to be able to vote in Saudi Arabia, though still not to drive there.

Saudi Arabia, along with the other feminist paradises in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (although, to its credit, this Government is committed to bringing the UAE back into the British sphere of influence), funded the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who promised to nuke Iran if so instructed by them. That put them all the way up there with Israel.

Her campaign was also funded by the man who funds the campaign to keep abortion legal. Oh, well, at least she did not promise to nuke the offices of either feminist or Christian anti-porn campaigners if so instructed by Hugh Hefner.

Jordan Is Palestine

Jordan as created at the end of the British Mandate. Which is to say, including the West Bank. There has never been a state with its border at the Jordan, and the populations on either Bank are one people. The answer to the question of why anyone ever designed a country so short of water as Jordan is, is that no one ever did.

The creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank would be the end of the Hashemite Kingdom: the pressure for incorporation into that State would be irresistible. That, rather than the destruction of Israel, would be the great national aspiration. And then, following its rapid and its largely (if not entirely) bloodless achievement, that would be the great national triumph.

Cut The Bull

Brendan O'Neill writes:

In the name of preventing animal cruelty, and to the whooping and cheering of Bambi-influenced animal-rights activists around the world, Catalonia has hosted its last bullfight. As of today, there is a ban on bullfighting, and a matador is no longer a showman but a potential criminal. This is a good thing, says Kitty Block of the pro-animal Humane Society, because bullfighting "isn't culture, it's cruelty… [it's] a horrible spectre of animal abuse that ends in the slow and torturous death of an animal provoked and repeatedly gored with knives and swords".

Now, leaving aside the fact that just because taunting bulls isn't culture where Ms Block comes from (she's a lawyer in that spick-and-span city of Washington DC) doesn't mean it isn't culture thousands of miles away in Catalonia, is it really true that bullfighting is cruel to bulls? One could argue the opposite: that being included in a bullfight is the best thing that can happen to a bull, since it elevates it from being a grubby and dumb beast into a performer in a piece of beautiful, arcane theatre.

To put a bull into a bullfight is to ennoble it. As a participant in a strange, centuries-old ritual, in a violent dance-off between man and beast, a bull acquires a significance far beyond its own natural existence. In fact, the only "purpose" in the life of a bull is that bestowed upon it by picadors and matadors – it is through their efforts, and their efforts alone, that a bull is transformed from being a rather pointless, instinctual beast into a noble creature worthy of being watched by an audience of thousands. In this sense, bullfighting is humane rather than cruel, since through the endeavour and labour of the bullfighting brigade a bull is given a use and purpose nature could never have designed for it.

What is a bull but a grunting creature destined to live a rather sad and short life of munching grass and impregnating cows? Through the humanity of the matadors, bulls selected for a bullfight are spared this terrible fate and are given something they could have never, in a million years, discovered for themselves: a purpose in life. It's the same with minks turned into beautiful fur coats and deers whose heads become trophies in a hunter's hallway: all of these creatures are ennobled by man, turned from wild things into beautiful things worthy of being displayed in homes, on catwalks, in arenas. Too often these days we describe as "animal cruelty" things which actually reveal mankind's creativity, our good and true desire to tame the wilder parts of nature and turn them into something beautiful.

Sunday 25 September 2011

How Social A Network?

What is Twitter trying to tell me? Today, it suggests both Newt Gingrich and Binyamin Netanyahu. Only if they also follow me, Twitter. Only if they also follow me...

Labour and Immigration

Past Labour Governments acted to arrest the importation of a new working class whose members understood no English except commands, knew nothing about workers’ rights in this country, could be deported if they stepped out of line, and, since they had no affinity with any particular locality here, could be moved around at will. They acted against the enforced bilingualism or multilingualism that transfers economic, social, cultural and political power to a bilingual or multilingual élite, to the exclusion of the English-speaking working class, black and white.

The Co-Chairman of Balanced Migration is a Labour MP, Frank Field. Participants in it include Ian Davidson, a leading Co-operative MP; Baroness Boothroyd; Lord Jordan, a veteran trade union leader; Lord Ahmed, a prominent Muslim peer; Ann Cryer, a former Socialist Campaign Group MP, the widow of another and the mother of a third; Hazhir Teimourian, a London-based Kurdish journalist; Peter Kilfoyle, who resigned from the Blair Government in order to act as its critical friend before opposing the invasion of Iraq; and Lord Skidelsky, a founding and finishing member of the SDP who went on to resign from the Conservative front bench in order to oppose the bombing of Kosovo, and whose latest book is entitled Keynes: The Return of the Master.

The No2EU – Yes To Democracy list was headed both in the East Midlands and in Yorkshire and the Humber by leaders of the Lindsey oil refinery workers. The trade union closed shop prevented such abuses, as surely as it guaranteed to the Tory 40 to 45 per cent of the industrial working class a moderating influence on the selection of the Labour parliamentary candidates for the safe Labour constituencies in which they lived.

Refounding Labour

You, or your parents, will still be allowed to pay nine thousand pounds upfront to a university at the start of each academic year. That is a lot less than the fees for the grandest schools. And it would, on the basis of parental wealth, avoid the above-inflation, profiteering interest payable by those who will have to wait until after they themselves have graduated and established themselves in careers. How about something on that, Ed?

Ignore any opinion poll confirming the commissioning media outlet's position that "Labour chose the wrong Miliband". No one has been polled in order to produce such a result. It has literally been made up out of thin air in order to protect "political journalists" who are terrified that they might have to write about politics, a subject about which they know and care absolutely nothing, rather than being able to presuppose that all parties were equally committed to the grind 'em down domestic policy and the blow 'em up foreign policy of those privatising, union-busting war criminals, torturers, and persecutors of the sick and disabled, Tony Blair, David Cameron and David Miliband.

Having just listened to the "debate" on Refounding Labour, every speech except Dave Anderson's was enough to deprive any normal person of the will to live, and the whole thing seemed to be about how "We are not interested in politics, honestly we are not, so why not come along to our many and varied social events?" I find it horrifying that such pride is taken in having discontinued General Management Committees in favour of middle-class discussion groups in which those who can shout loudest or hold the floor for longest are completely dominant, but at which no actual decision can ever be taken.

As for registered supporters, I could see the point if they were to be given the penultimate say in whittling down to two the Electoral College's or the General Management Committee's shortlist of three for Leader at national level or for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate at constituency level, with those two names to be submitted to a final ballot of the entire electorate. But that would still seem like an unnecessary middle-man stage, crying out to be cut out. Indeed, what role are registered supporters to have at all, not in the Simon Cowell nonsense of Leadership Elections, but in the grown-up and serious business of candidate selection? If none, or if not enough, then there is absolutely no point in becoming one.

Sauce For The Goose

No one asked Serbia if she consented to the independence of Kosovo.

Perhaps any Palestinian Declaration of Independence should not come from those who seek to keep alive the age-old civilisation of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze, with Arabic as its lingua franca and with its de facto capital at Damascus, on which a body blow was inflicted in 1948?

Perhaps it needs to come, not even from Hamas, but from those, and they certainly do exist, who vilify Hamas for having sold out, and who instead seek a far more hardline Islamist regime (no Saudi-style votes for women here) bedecked with the paraphernalia of Nazism and engaged in the genocide of anyone who does not share that vision?

Perhaps it needs to come from those whose Declaration could be relied upon to be denounced by the Christian, Muslim, and Arab-nationalist leaders within Israel's pre-1967 borders, just as the Kosovan UDI was, and continues to be, denounced by the Muslim, Albanian, Catholic, Jewish and Gypsy leaders in Serbia?

The United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, NATO, and all the rest of them would then be fully supportive, up to and including the promise of armed force if necessary. Wouldn't they? If not, why not?

And With Your Spirit

Back to Mass for the first time since the new translation came into use, I am struck by the extent to which, apart from the absence of thou/thee/thy/thine, parts of it closely resemble the Book of Common Prayer. This is especially true of the Gloria, parts of the Creed, and of course the response "And with your spirit".

Although it is probably too late to do anything about it now, vernacular liturgy would have been much better gone about by reference to those Protestants who were in the 1960s maintaining in the vernacular something approaching the classical liturgical life of the Western Tradition. Instead, it was the decision of Catholics to render the Sacred Liturgy into the language of the public house and the betting shop that moved Anglicans and Lutherans to do likewise, not without bitter resistance and significant loss of attendance. They copied us once, though not very happily, because they felt that it was ecumenical to do so. To far more edifying effect, will they now do so again?

Useful though the Jerusalem Bible’s footnotes are, the text itself is awful. The Revised Standard Version is preferred by all sensible people, and certainly not the New Revised Standard Version with the masculine pronouns taken out to the ruination of the sense; if the Bible is that bad, then why use it at all? At least until such time as anyone has the wit to reissue the RSV Edition of the Missal, authorisation of which has never been withdrawn, those reading at Mass (or, of course, on other liturgical occasions) should read out the appointed passage from the superlative Ignatius Bible, which no English-speaking Catholic should be without. Nothing could better accompany the move to a more accurate translation of the Mass, suitable for properly educated people. It must be said that if those entering the Catholic Church under the aegis of the Ordinariate were everything that they are held up as being, then the RSV Missal would never have gone out of print.

Labour's Forgotten Prophet

Over on Comment is Free, the ubiquitous Neil Clark writes:

Whoever could have predicted that the Maastricht treaty and the introduction of the euro would lead not to a democratic workers' paradise, but to unelected bankers and officials imposing austerity and privatisation on EU member states?

Who could have predicted that closer European integration would lead to ever-rising unemployment across the continent and ordinary people effectively being forced to leave their home countries in order to find work elsewhere?

Well one man did, and his name was Peter Shore.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Shore's death. As Labour delegates head to Liverpool to consider their response to the coalition's deflationary policies, they would do well to remember the ideas – and solutions – put forward by one of the party's most brilliant intellectuals of the postwar era, a man who personified everything that was good and decent about old Labour.

Shore, who held ministerial offices in the Labour governments of the 1960s and 70s, was a democratic socialist who supported nationalisation, prices and incomes policies, Keynesian economics, import controls and national planning. With his political outlook shaped by his observation of poverty when growing up in Liverpool, Shore concluded that only increased government intervention in the economy could eliminate unemployment and lead to a more egalitarian society. His views on the positive role of the state, and the desirability of having "the commanding heights" of the economy in public ownership, were the antithesis of the laissez-faire, neoliberal policies which successive British governments, Conservative and Labour, have followed since 1979. But the passage of time has proved that it was Shore, and not Thatcherite Tories or New Labour enthusiasts for the market economy, who had got it spot on.

As trade secretary in the Harold Wilson government of 1974-76, Shore was in his element. He became a bogeyman for the free marketers when he denied landing rights to Skytrain – Freddie Laker's privately owned airline, which wanted to operate flights from London to the US. "What we are really talking about is socialism," Laker fumed, and he was right in his analysis. For Shore, preventing the "substantial damage" which would be done to British Airways, the national carrier then owned by the British people, was more important than allowing the "plundering" of the most profitable routes by privately owned companies. "It is easy enough to put on a private bus service from Marble Arch to Westminster and make it pay, but one knows very well that this will be done only at the expense of London Transport," he declared, but Laker, hailed as a "man of enterprise" by Lord Denning, won his case against the government in the high court and the decision was overturned.

In 1976, when the Callaghan government debated approaching the International Monetary Fund for a loan, Shore, now environment secretary, sided with his fellow socialist Tony Benn in arguing for an "alternative economic strategy" involving the imposition of import controls.

Once again, Shore was right: we now know that going to the IMF – which was used by the Conservatives for years afterwards to denigrate Labour's management of the economy – was not necessary. In the early 1980s, as the British manufacturing industry was sacrificed at the altar of monetarist dogma, Shore, as shadow chancellor, led the opposition. "We must restore the control over capital movements that the government, in so light-hearted a moment, threw away just two years ago. We cannot accept that the great financial institutions, the insurance companies and the pension funds, which increasingly control the collective savings of people at work throughout Britain, can transfer the savings of British employees outside the country and invest them in the industries or products of our rivals overseas", he told Parliament in 1982. Shore, never one to mince his words, called the Thatcher government's programme of privatisation for what it was: "public asset stripping".

He warned of the danger of important British industries and our infrastructure falling out of national ownership once they were privatised – which is precisely what has happened.

It was Shore's unshakeable belief that democracy and socialism were inextricably linked and it was his awareness of the threat that unelected transnational bodies, representing the interests of finance capital and big business, posed to democracy, which lay behind his unrelenting hostility towards the EEC and later the EU. "I did not," he said in 1973, "come into socialist politics in order to connive in the dismantling of the power of the British people."

The Conservative-supporting journalist Patrick Cosgrave, who predeceased Shore by eight days, wrote that "between Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, Peter Shore was the only possible Labour party leader of whom a Conservative leader had cause to walk in fear".

Sadly, Shore never became Labour leader, but with the eurozone facing an ever-deepening crisis and the outrageous iniquities of the free-market neoliberal economic system clear for all to see, it's surely time for the democratic socialist policies that he espoused to be put back on to the political agenda.

Not that he has been forgotten by some of us. All of the above, the recognition of its complete incompatibility with the European federalist project, the candidacy of his constituency right-hand man for No2EU - Yes To Democracy before it morphed into just another sectarian Leftist faction, the realisation that the social democratic project was unachievable except by means of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament, and the consequent support for traditional parliamentary procedures, for Canadian against Spanish fishermen specifically because Canada and the United Kingdom shared a Head of State, for the Commonwealth generally, and for the retention of the Royal Yacht when neither John Redwood nor the SNP was raising a word of protest against its scrapping, whatever they both say now: some of us hold fast to the memory of it all. "Refounding Labour"? Try that, for a start.

Friday 23 September 2011

The Key To The Door

I love my Mummy for giving me a bottle of Laphroaig for my birthday. Ah, the Islay malts, the Islay malts!

Thank you to everyone for their kind birthday wishes. I am sorry not to be able to reply to them all, but, as is also the reason for today's light blogging, I really do need to make the final updates to the next book by the end of today.

I am now older than Jesus ever was. Now, there's a thought...

The Purple Book

Roy Hattersley’s review of it in the New Statesman calls it an “effusion of pretentious nonsense”. Oh, well, the way remains open for someone else to make a proper attempt to give a voice to everyone whose priorities include any or all of the Welfare State, workers’ rights, trade unionism, the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, consumer protection, strong communities, conservation rather than environmentalism, fair taxation, full employment, public ownership, proper local government, a powerful Parliament, the monarchy, the organic Constitution, national sovereignty, civil liberties, the Union, the Commonwealth, the countryside, traditional structures and methods of education, traditional moral and social values, economic patriotism, balanced migration, a realist foreign policy, an unhysterical approach to climate change, and a base of real property for every household to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State.

Thursday 22 September 2011

What Does "PFI" Stand For?

And why?

The Toaster Principle

Peter Wilby writes:

Nobody should be allowed to lead the Labour party, it has been said, unless they grasp the "conservatory principle": the aspiration among large sections of the electorate to own a home with a glass room on the back. Perhaps there should be another test, called the "toaster principle", for energy ministers. Nobody should run the energy department unless they understand why people spend so much time shopping around for a £25 toaster when they could be saving hundreds of pounds comparing tariffs and switching power suppliers.

Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, was widely mocked – as politicians usually are when they instruct voters on how to organise their domestic affairs – for making this comparison in a recent interview in the Times. As usual, he has denied saying any such thing and assured the Lib Dem conference this week that he intended not to denigrate consumers but to "get tough" on the energy companies. So that's all right then. Except it isn't. No matter how hard Huhne tries to create transparent pricing structures and simple procedures for switching suppliers, the energy companies find new ways of confusing and cheating their customers. As Huhne knows perfectly well, that is how a competitive market in energy works. Suppliers compete on which can most effectively outsmart their customers.

To some degree this applies to all markets, including that for toasters. One familiar example is the "50% off" label that looks like a bargain until you think it was probably never worth the "full" price. Another is the "buy one, get one free" supermarket offer that persuades shoppers to splash out on products in quantities they don't need. Even for goods unaffected by fashion or seasonal supply variations, retailers increasingly move prices up and down in an arbitrary way, hoping to confuse customers as to what constitutes fair value.

But when you're buying toasters, trousers, cabbage or baked beans, price isn't the only factor. Quality, design, convenience and personal preference also matter. There are several hundred toasters on the market and, for those who want to start the day without a burning smell, it's worth taking trouble to find the right one. Price isn't much of an issue as long as the bread comes out warm and evenly brown.

For energy, that isn't so. Whatever your supplier, you get the same power. There's no such thing as luxury electricity, and neither EDF nor British Gas can improve your toast. The only competition is on price. If the lowest price were easy to find and the supplier could be changed in a 30-second phone call, all but one energy supplier would go out of business, and you wouldn't have a competitive market any more.

So the companies devise complex and impenetrable tariff structures, and without a degree in astrophysics you can't be sure what you'll pay, particularly given the extreme volatility of energy prices that yo-yo more than stock markets. Most important, they offer the lowest prices to new customers, as numerous businesses (including newspapers and magazines) do. Invariably, the prices rise sharply after a year – or as soon as the fixed-rate tariff runs out – and the companies hope you won't notice or, if you do, can't be bothered to switch.

Many other industries – insurance, phones, credit cards, banking – operate in similar ways. Though they may involve more significant issues of service and quality than energy, they compete mainly on price (or, in the case of savings, interest rates) to sell what are essentially standard, undifferentiated services. Savvy consumers switch, or threaten to switch, annually. For example, it is now impossible to get more than minimal interest on an "easy access" savings account without opening one that includes a whopping "introductory bonus", usually lasting a year. Again, the banks and building societies hope you won't make a note of when the bonus runs out or you'll be in the throes of a love affair and forget to switch. As with insurance, you must read the small print: an "easy access" account may allow only three or four withdrawals a year.

If I say that the only deal that doesn't try to con you comes from index-linked certificates issued by the publicly owned National Savings and Investments – which the Treasury keeps withdrawing because otherwise we'd all take our money out of the banks – you may think I'm making a political point. But I'm not; it is just a statement of fact.

Whether it's energy, insurance, phones or savings (including, sadly, the NS&I certificates), those who lack access to the internet, mostly poorer or older people, pay higher prices or receive less interest. That's how it is with competition. It isn't a one-way street, where suppliers compete to offer customers the best deal. Politicians are disingenuous when they suggest otherwise. Consumers have to work as hard as the suppliers, devoting time and energy to sniffing out what's best for them and outwitting the wicked capitalists who just want their money.

It is part of what has been called "the financialisation of daily life" which requires every household to turn itself into something like a hedge fund. A generation ago, nearly all the industries I have mentioned were either nationalised monopolies or so heavily regulated that they might as well have been nationalised. Competition was non-existent. Building societies, for example, met monthly to agree their interest rates. In those days, we were all, no doubt, ripped off. Now about half of us get a decent deal while the other half – who have probably got rotten toasters, too – are more ripped off than ever. Some middle-class folk, it should be admitted, are too affluent or too cool to bother with the chores required to get into the first half. But no prizes for guessing in which half you'll find most poor people.

Ever since the Thatcher governments – which insisted that regulation, rather than being a device to protect the public, was in fact a conspiracy against them– politicians have been deluged with complaints about poor service, mis-selling and excess profit among privatised or deregulated industries. They always promise to get tough and, indeed, sometimes move towards re-regulation. But companies always find new tricks, keeping one step ahead of both consumer and government. So it will continue, for better or worse, until someone dares to utter again the dread words: public ownership.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

"In No One's Pocket"?

Pull the other one, Nick.

All parties have "paymasters". The difference is that before and after New Labour, everyone knew who Labour's were and everyone knows who Labour's are. Mass membership organisations of ordinary people who all contribute small sums voluntarily, to be precise. And yes, of course all parties' financial backers give money in return for policies of which they approve. Why else would they give it? What's wrong with that?

Oh, and another thing. If "these are British rights drafted by British lawyers", then why do we need a European Court to enforce them? All such rulings should be made subject to ratification by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament, itself elected by a means more reflective of public opinion and with the public given the determinative say in selecting party candidates as well as in choosing between them and others.

Confused, Indeed

Michael Weiss is at it again.

What have the Israelis ever done for America? Number of Israeli troops in Korea? Nil. Number of Israeli troops in Vietnam? Nil. Number of Israeli troops in the Gulf War? Nil. Number of Israeli troops in Afghanistan? Nil. Number of Israeli troops in Iraq? Nil. Number of Israeli troops in Libya? Nil. Hardly any American Jews have ever moved to Israel. There is little or no economic relationship between America and Israel other than American aid payments, now in excess of one hundred billion dollars.

In return for that largesse, Israel has put Americans’ security and their economic interests at stake by using the American veto on the United Nations Security Council as if she owned it, Israel engages in espionage against the United States on a colossal scale, Israel sells stolen American defence secrets to Russia and China, Israel ordered up the war in Iraq but refused to fight in it, Israel is trying to order up more such wars against Iran and Syria, and Israel poisons American relations with strategically far more important countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and for that matter Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Conflict looms between Israel and Turkey. Two states, both founded on the bloody mass expulsion of the ancient indigenous Christian populations, and both divided between secular ultranationalists and the forces embodied by the AKP in one state's case, Shas in the other’s. But one of those states is an American ally and the other is not. This article comprehensively sets out which is which. Its author is a former senior CIA officer who is a member of the Libertarian Party and who lists his religion on Facebook as “Latin Mass Catholic”. So, of no interest to Telegraph readers, obviously.

In Syria, anyone in opposition to the present government is not going to be in favour of the undisputedly thriving communities of Christians or, based on the amount of government money being spent on their holy sites, what must be the thriving community of Jews.

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

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

Her British higher education and British husband, as well as the fact that the synagogue brings in its rabbis from Britain, point to the very close ties indeed between that country and this. We installed the Al Khalifa in 1783, and they have done everything to keep up the link ever since. From Bahrain, via Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to Oman is Britain’s natural and longstanding sphere of influence, as their rulers would and do tell you. It is beyond me why they are not in the Commonwealth.

I do not welcome the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, which, as the base of the United States Fifth Fleet, has not been subjected to any such incursion without at least American approval, if not American instruction. I have no wish to see a Wahhabisation of Bahraini Sunnism, since at present all of the above is perfectly acceptable even to the Salafi Members of Parliament. But which part of it do the demonstrators wish to conserve? Do they wish to conserve any of it? Or do they wish to overthrow it in order to replace it with something else entirely? We have not asked. We never do. It is very high time that we did.

As for Russia, the usual Cold War Trotskyist bilge from the neocons. Whom would they have instead? The Chechen Islamist warlords, whom even MI5, via what was previously the extremely bear-baiting Spooks, now admits are the real threat? Or the totally unreconstructed Communist Party of the Russian Federation? Or the National Bolsheviks, with their Nazi flag apart from the black hammer and sickle in place of the swastika? Those are the options, if they can be so described.

When he was not correctly predicting that, when, how and why the Soviet Union would collapse, Enoch Powell was correctly identifying Russia as a natural British ally. It is another matter whether or not she is a natural American ally, or rather whether or not America is a natural Russian ally. After all, Russia has restored the teaching of Christianity in schools, and is providing military backup to those who would defend Levantine Christendom against the forces that we have unleashed against Mesopotamian Christendom.

But the neocons will be having none of that. When they say “the West”, that sort of thing is exactly what they do not mean. So why do supposedly Tory papers insist on lavishing them with attention?


On this Saint Matthew's Day, consider not only that that erstwhile tax-collector is the Patron Saint of Bankers, but also that that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, Biblical criticism, purports to read the Bible "as if it were any other ancient text", yet in fact subjects it to a series of methods that would be laughed out in any other literary of historical discipline. Those methods are carefully constructed to "prove" the presuppositions of that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, liberal theology.

Thus, if two Biblical books are word for word alike, as Matthew, Mark and Luke certainly are in parts, then they must have been copied from each other, since there is no way that God could have inspired them all and, funnily enough, done so in such a way that they confirmed each other's accounts. Hence the theory of Markan Priority, that Saint Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, and that Saint Matthew and Saint Luke copied out great chunks of it word for word. And hence the theory of Q, the compendium of the material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; no copy of Q exists anywhere.

Jesus simply did not claim divinity for Himself, so that rules out John at a stroke. Miracles simply do not happen, a position not even compatible with agnosticism. Style simply does not develop (seriously), so Saint Paul cannot have written several of the Epistles beginning with the words "From Paul". And so on, and on, and on. Academia is at last moving away from this sort of thing. When will the Church in practice, since of course She has never adopted it, and cannot do so, in principle?

The Audacity of Hope

The Palestinian bid for UN membership at this stage may look like a gimmick, the American veto being the real point for future propaganda purposes.

But the AIPAC and ADL crowd, representative of nothing and no one but itself, is no base of Obama's, having campaigned almost insanely to prevent his nomination, and having done little, to put it politely, to secure his election. The adherents of that strange thing, Christian Zionism (what is it with America as a hotbed of heterodoxies?), did not vote for him last time and would never vote for him next time, no matter what he said or did. He beat AIPAC and the ADL for the nomination, and he beat the Left Behind lot at the election.

So, what if Obama told them where to stick it, told them that it was payback time? What if he said that the security of American citizens, or even just their economic interests in the enormous number of countries supporting this move, simply mattered more? What if he pointed out that it was a very recent and thoroughly pernicious innovation for American foreign policy to be based on (frankly, adolescent) ideological rigidity rather than on cold, hard reality? What if he mentioned Nixon and China, or the gravely underrated Gerald Ford and Helsinki, with the countless lives saved by the sense to accept that the real world is the real world, whether or not one might happen to like it? And what if he asked what the Israelis had ever done for America?

What would actually happen if there were no American veto after all?

From Big Joe To Little Nick

Birmingham is exactly the right city for a keynote speech by Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates at the 2015 Election, a stand fully in keeping with how the Conservative Party became the Conservative Party. That party is essentially a device to compel Tories to vote for Liberal candidates because they are denied any other option. It was set up to be so, it has been so for nearly two hundred years, and it will remain so until electoral reform splits it, among others, asunder.

The Chamberlains never used the name "Conservative", still less "Tory", calling it "hateful". And that was in Birmingham, hardly peripheral. The National Liberal Party was not formally wound up until 1968, with John Nott the last MP to be elected for the first time under its label. Absorbing the Lib Dems organisationally while they absorbed it ideologically would be just another in the long line of examples of What The Conservative Party Does, of What The Conservative Party Is.

The Police Versus The Press

Each utterly convinced of its own unique right to behave in absolutely any way that it pleases.

Each sincerely unable to comprehend anyone who does spontaneously acknowledge what it sees as that self-evident truth.

What an unpleasant pair. How richly they deserve each other.

Revealed, Indeed

The only significant newspaper coverage of this was here.

Even if the programme did repeat the old, calumnious generalisations about the America First Committee of Gerald Ford, of Norman Thomas (anti-Communist campaigner to build a Farm-Labor party), of Sargent Shriver (Peace Corps and Special Olympics founder, McGovern running mate, and pro-life Catholic), and of Shriver's future brother-in-law, John F Kennedy.

Alex Brummer, Peter Hitchens, Stephen Glover, Peter McKay and Andrew Alexander, plus fairly regular pieces by Geoffrey Wheatcroft: the Mail titles have become crucial to the most welcome resurgence the atavistic Tory dislike of international capital, corporate megalomania, American hegemony, Israeli interference, and wars, which is intimately bound up with the most welcome resurgence of the atavistic Labour dislike of the EU.

Now, where is the political party to take advantage of these trends? Ed Miliband, over to you.

Abortion and the Left

Michael Merrick writes:

Apparently, all discussion on the topic of abortion with intent to restrict, in any manner whatsoever, current abortion provision is merely the reactionary impulse of a bigoted right-wing elite. Or, put rather differently, you can’t be left-wing and prolife.

Which must come as some news to John Battle, Celia Barlow, Stuart Bell, Joe Benton, David Borrow, Des Browne, Ronnie Campbell, Tom Clarke, David Crausby, John Cummings, Tony Cunningham, Claire Curtis-Thomas, Parmjit Dhanda, David Drew, Bill Etherington, Frank Field, Jim Fitzpatrick, Michael Jabez Foster, Paul Goggins, John Grogan, Andrew Gwynne, David Hamilton, Tom Harris, Meg Hillier, Lindsay Hoyle, Huw Iranca-Davies, Helen Jones, Ruth Kelly, Peter Kilfoyle, Ivan Lewis, Martin Linton, Andrew MacKinlay, Gordon Marsden, Eric Martlew, Shahid Malik, Gordon Marsden, Thomas McAvoy, John McFall, Jim McGovern, Chris Mullin, Paul Murphy, Mike O’Brien, Albert Owen, Nick Palmer, James Plaskitt, Greg Pope, Stephen Pound, Bridget Prentice, Andy Reed, John Reid, Terry Rooney, Frank Roy, Chris Ruane, Geraldine Smith, Gerry Sutcliffe, David Taylor, Paddy Tippin, Don Touhig, Derek Twigg, Kitty Ussher, Keith Vaz, Claire Ward and Ian Wright, all of them Labour MPs (though some no longer) when the issue was last put to the House, all of them deciding that the law needed tightening, that the age limit for abortion should be brought down, be it to 22 weeks, or to 20 weeks, or to 16 weeks, or 12 weeks.

Which rather suggests that being prolife is not at all antithetical to being on the left. Even in philosophical terms, one would have to assume the current dogma of the ‘progressive’ New Left is the arbiter of orthodoxy for left-wing thought, something which is neither sociologically nor historically true.

None of which, of course, will come as news for those who live their lives outwith that small but vociferous activist core currently inhabiting the professional left.
Still, we should pause once in a while to remind ourselves just who the extremists really are.

Everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone, should read my friend Ann Farmer’s Prophets and Priests: The Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement, London: The Saint Austin Press, 2002, ISBN 1 901157 62 8. In addition to its unyielding racism, the war against fertility is, and has always been, the war against the working class, the war against the poor at home and abroad, the war against the electoral base of the Left, the war against the social provisions for which the Left exists, and, above all, the war against women.

Furthermore (this bit is Lindsay, not Farmer - but I’m sure that she would agree with it), the idea of fertility as a medicable condition, requiring powerful drugs or even surgical interventions to prevent a woman’s body from doing exactly what it does naturally, is basically and ultimately the idea that femaleness itself is such a condition, a sort of XX Syndrome. I can think of nothing that is actually more misogynistic than that, although some things are equally so, notably the view that the preborn child is simultaneously insentient and a part of the woman’s body. Is it the whole of a woman’s body that is insentient, or only the parts most directly connected with reproduction?

In America, and increasingly also in Britain, the black male is the victim of a triple genocide in the womb, on the streets, and on the battlefield.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

A Step In The Right Direction

Away with this union-bashing, and with all talk of mumsnet. But it is amazing how long-lived is the fantasy that the "major" political parties are still mass membership organisations, and are also still largely financed by small-scale local fundraising. In reality, they are kept going by gigantic subventions from the State and the supper-rich, and most of their tiny remaining memberships is made up of the starstruck elderly who will swoon over Liam Byrne's coffee waiter or Jeremy Hunt's typist.

If there is any local involvement at all in candidate selection, that is. Very often, there is none. In David Miliband's constituency, there is no longer even any local involvement in the selection of candidates for the local authority; his London office does the lot.

So, by no means only in order to annoy the potential beneficiaries of this sorry state of affairs, although there is certainly that: in the course of each Parliament, each party should submit to a binding ballot of the whole constituency electorate its locally, internally determined shortlist of two for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, just as each should submit to a binding ballot of the whole constituency electorate its internally determined shortlist of two for Leader.

Many a stalwart of the Council or of other aspects of the local Big Society (trade unions, co-operatives, and so on) would then beat many a Westminster Village boy or his girlfriend. And our Parliament would be infinitely better for those victories.

As to policy-making, each party should also hold such a national ballot the 10 policies proposed by the most of its branches, including affiliated branches where applicable, with each voter entitled to vote for up to two, and with the top seven guaranteed inclusion in the subsequent General Election manifesto.

If one party made these changes, then they would all have to. By all means, let Labour take the lead. But will it? Dare it? Ed Miliband, over to you.

Change Our Supplier

Renationalise the energy companies.

Perhaps by imposing a much higher rate of corporation tax on them, with strict regulation to prevent any passing on to workers or consumers, until their shares became worthless.

Chris Huhne, over to you. After all, you did run the College Labour Club when Tony Blair was oblivious to its existence.

Send Cable A Message

I do not know why the Lib Dems, at least ostensibly the party of civil liberties, are still so keen on abolishing the House of Parliament that is the most effective check against those liberties' erosion, and which, moreover, finally provides Shirley Williams with a platform from which to make herself useful by defending the NHS.

However, there is much to be said for Vince Cable's scheme, which is sending his Coalition's partners into highly amusing apoplexy, to enable shareholders to veto executive bonuses. This rather recalls the industrial democracy advocated by Cable's erstwhile Party Leader, David Owen. Especially if the employees were to be encouraged and assisted to purchase the shares in question, most obviously through their pension schemes, though by no means necessarily by that means alone. The trade unions do rather spring to mind here. In fact, why not have the controlling interests in the City bought up by the not exactly cash-strapped trade unions representing the public sector?

Anyway, Ed Miliband, to whom Owen is close, should declare his support for Cable's proposal, for a remedy against short-term shareholding by the enemies of the human race in the form of a 12-month qualifying period before voting rights could be exercised, and for mass employee purchase of the shares, including with some form of public assistance in certain cases. He should therefore and thereby challenge Cable to bring forward legislation to that effect.

Bred In The Bone

Peter Bone and his audience of Lib Dem delegates both thoroughly enjoyed his winding up act on Newsnight.

But while they all applauded when he accused their party of having significantly watered down the (still horrendous) proposals for the NHS, there was complete silence when, in the previous breath, he accused their party of having blocked the repatriation of powers from the EU. Everyone knows that David Cameron no more wanted that than Nick Clegg did, and that he would never have attempted it even if he had had a majority of two hundred.

Might Lib Dem activists be following the remnant Liberal Party and the remnant SDP in waking up to the reality of a legislative body which meets in secret and publishes no Official Report, of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, and of subjugation to the legislative will of of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe's kleptomaniac nomenklatura, neoconservatives such as now run France and Germany, Dutch ultra-Calvinists who refuse to have women as candidates, and people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland?

Such concerns, along with a Keynesian opposition to what have always been the EU's economic agenda, have always been articulated at every level of the Labour Party, where they are very much re-emerging to the fore at the moment. Not for nothing did three times as many Labour as Conservative MPs vote against Maastricht, including, in Bryan Gould, the only resignation from either front bench in order to do so, while John Prescott and David Blunkett had abstained rather than support it at a meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee.

When the Conservative Whip was withdrawn from a mere eight MPs, joined by another who resigned it in sympathy, for abstaining on the European Finance Bill, 44 Labour MPs voted against it. Then as on Maastricht, the Labour three-line whip was to abstain. Then as on Masstricht, not a single Labour MP rebelled by voting in favour. One of Labour's anti-Maastricht contingent, Peter Hain, went on to be Minister for Europe even under Tony Blair, and is now writing Ed Miliband's plan for party reorganisation.

Peter Hain, late of the Young Liberals. Nick Harvey, now a Lib Dem Defence Minister, also voted against Maastricht. Simon Hughes, now Lib Dem Deputy Leader, abstained. Even on the essentially meaningless proposal for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Lib Dem rebels in favour included David Heath, now Deputy Leader of the House, Alistair Carmichael, now Chief Whip, and Tim Farron, now Party President.

Whereas all the concentration is on the brayers about "wegulation fwom Bwussels", the worshippers of the Prime Minister who signed the Single European Act, the people whom Fleet Street and the BBC remember as the least intelligent members of their own public school forms. We are now being told that there are around 120 of them. Where? Who? There is a world elsewhere, you know.

However, Peter Bone was right that Lib Dem MPs are now going around saying that they are going to stand as joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates, and the ever-deferential local Conservative Associations are just going to be told by David Cameron to like it or lump it. It was always inconceivable that Conservative candidates would have been put up against Lib Dem Ministers, or indeed Lib Dem candidates against Conservative Ministers, who, like the born again "Conservative and National Liberal" candidates such as Randolph Churchill, will also be expected to present themselves as joint nominees.

"Conservative and Liberal Democrat" recalls "Conservative and National Liberal", and before that "Conservative and Liberal Unionist". The Conservative Party has been hoovering up Liberals for a very long time: Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals, Alfred Roberts's daughter, those around the Institute of Economic Affairs (although its founders and its founding backer, like Roberts, never actually joined), and now the Liberal Democrats. The followers of David Owen, another who has never formally signed up and who is in fact close to Ed Miliband, were in a very similar position.

The Conservative Party is itself therefore two parties in one, which would be entirely separate in many other countries, competing hardly at all for the same votes and co-operating hardly at all on any issue of policy. The metropolitan, urban, capitalist, secular, libertarian, make-the-world-anew party has finally defeated and banished the provincial, rural, protectionist, church-based, conservative, mind-our-own-business party. The Whigs have finally defeated and banished the Tories, just as they have finally defeated and banished the Radicals. This side of electoral reform, anyway.

In From The Cold

Lemsipped up to my eyeballs, I still managed to watch last night's post-Newsnight repeat of Spooks, since obviously nothing comes between a gentleman and his Downton Abbey.

In many ways, it is still as bonkers as ever, and this final series's central revelation about Sir Harry Pearce's past is thoroughly shark-jumping stuff. But doubtless, many people will continue to imagine that it is real, which is of course MI5's intention in making what, rather creepily, David Cameron has described as his favourite programme.

However, the days seem to be gone when MI5 wanted to depict the Russians preparing to set off a nuclear bomb in the centre of London. Now, Russia is correctly identified as the natural ally that Enoch Powell always said she was, when he was not accurately predicating that, when, why and how the Soviet Union would collapse anyway. The true threat is presented as coming from Islamist Chechen warlords. Quite so. What next? Some sort of apology for the earlier suggestion that pro-life Catholics were a terrorist menace?

First Baroness Manningham-Buller's Reith Lectures. And now this. They may not always pass the port the right way, but perhaps MI5 are not entirely bad underneath it all.

What Now For Yemen?

It depends who the demonstrators are. Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists? Or are they the ones who want the place to be run by Anwar al-Awlaki? They must be one or the other. So, which one are they are? I only ask. Why doesn't anyone else, ever?

Sunday 18 September 2011

Water Under Shotley Bridge

The Mail on Sunday carries an article advocating a programme of hospital closures.

Its author is one Paul Corrigan.

Enjoy yourselves, in the comments and elsewhere. If only for old time's sake.

Putting Asunder

The statutory definition of marriage as only ever the union of one man and one woman goes back to the Attlee Government. Before that, it had always been presupposed. But its iron-cladding by means of the Statute Law was the work of the greatest Labour Government, and of the longest-serving Leader in the Labour Party's history. Now, though, from the Prime Minister who wanted to give Peter Tatchell a peerage, comes the proposal for "gay marriage". That proposal would be rejected by Barack Obama, and it was rejected by the voters of California and Florida on the same day as they gave their Electoral College votes to Obama.

Unlike a civil partnership, which therefore ought not to be restricted to unrelated same-sex couples, a marriage has to be consummated. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith (the present title is not the one conferred by the Pope on Henry VIII, but the one conferred by a Protestant Parliament on his son, Edward VI) could not have signed a Bill which, for the first time, actually required, in order to receive some legal benefit or privilege, engagement in sexual relations other than those between one man and one woman in marriage. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith still cannot do so.

Nevertheless, we should seize this opportunity to propose something better. The extension to relatives of the right to contract civil partnerships. The entitlement of each divorcing spouse to one per cent of the other's estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, and the disentitlement of the petitioning spouse unless fault be proved, thereby restoring the situation whereby, by recognising adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, society declared in law its disapproval of them even though they were not in themselves criminal offences.

The entitlement of any marrying couple to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 as regards grounds and procedures for divorce, and to enable any religious organisation to specify that any marriage which it conducts shall be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly. And the statutory specification that the Church of England be such a body unless the General Synod specifically resolve the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses, with something similar for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

That would be a start, anyway. It is astonishing that no major party is opposed to same-sex "marriage", just as it is that no major party gives expression to all sorts of mainstream opinions in the country at large. Ed Miliband is, I suspect, in favour of it. A lot of people are. But by making the above his and his party's conditions for supporting it, then he would both be doing what was right, and, as in so many other ways of siding with Mail and Telegraph readers (even if not writers) against the Government, doing what was electorally opportune. So, Ed Miliband, over to you.