Saturday 31 December 2011

Jolly Roger

Nursing my rancid innards, and therefore blogging away towards midnight, I for one find it wholly unsurprising that the newly knighted Sir Roger Gale MP is the only former pirate radio DJ in the House of Commons. The Sixties Swingers hated with a burning passion the Labour Government of 1964 to 1970. The pirate radio stations were their revolt against its and the BBC’s deal with the Musicians’ Union to protect the livelihoods of that union’s members.

Behind this union-busting criminality was Oliver Smedley, later a key figure behind the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs. Viewers of The Boat That Rocked should consider that the Postmaster General so mercilessly ridiculed in it was in fact Tony Benn, and that the Prime Minister who legislated against pirate radio was Harold Wilson.

Those Swingers used the lowering of the voting age to put what they thought were the Selsdon Tories into office in 1970. They then went on to entrench their own moral, social and cultural decadence and libertinism, first in the economic sphere during the Eighties, and then in the constitutional sphere under Tony Blair. David Cameron accepts uncritically the whole package: moral, social, cultural, economic, and constitutional. Indeed, he embodies it.

When is this country going to wake up to what has really been happening over the last 50 years?

Friday 30 December 2011

Ħumāt ad-Diyār

The green, white and black flag of a past Syria is being waved by those to whom we are supposed to be sympathetic, and more than sympathetic.

Look up how liberal, democratic, socially just, and representative of its society's pluralism that old Syria was. Or would be again, if restored.

Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit

Such as it is.

The North East and Merseyside are both treated as cut off by the Political and Media Classes. Just contrast the number of regular or occasional television programmes set in the Greater Manchester-West Yorkshire-South Yorkshire belt, which is what London-based commissioning editors almost always seem to mean by "the North". The more picturesque parts of Yorkshire also get quite a look-in, even if Heartbeat, or Last of the Summer Wine, or even Emmerdale was or is not exactly on the over-realistic side.

Look at the honours heaped on Manchester United when it wins a European title, but not on Liverpool Football Club when it does the same thing. A few years ago, who could have told, from national media coverage, that the shooting of an 11-year-old boy in Liverpool took place, not only in quite a smart part of town, but in fact in a city with a better record on gun-related deaths than Birmingham, Manchester or (wait for it) London? And so one could go on.

Going all the way back to the 1970s, the Callaghan Government’s proposals for Scottish and Welsh devolution were rightly and vigorously opposed by Labour MPs from the North East and from Merseyside, whom, and whose constituents, nobody had bothered to ask in advance. This negligence was to be repeated by the Blair-Brown Government, not only over devolution, but also over a whole host of other issues. It continues under Cameron. (Surprisingly little has been made today of the fact that Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine are both Welsh. It matters.)

A vital part of the solution to this is to have strong MPs from Merseyside, from the North East, and from other neglected, patronised areas, drawn from a party which is most strongly committed to the economic, social, cultural and political representation and betterment of those areas. Where is that party?

The Provisional Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher was an unprotesting Cabinet Minister at the time of this country's only ever attempt to withdraw entirely from Ireland.

It is no surprise that she seriously considered making the same move. Nor is there anything new in the realisation that she was in constant contact with the IRA, giving it every reason to place its highest hopes in her.

How else did you think that she mysteriously "escaped" from the Brighton Bomb? It is time to look into that strange just-failure to blow her up, leading to her "heroic" and "miraculous" escape, a key part of her legend.

Of Thrones and Armchairs

The story about a visiting French President’s seating arrangements illustrates a profound truth about the French Republic, namely that nobody, deep down, really wants it. France’s history would have been so much less bloody if she had evolved, as Britain did, into a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It is barely 50 years since de Gaulle seriously considered restoring the monarchy on the British model.

But instead, the French obsess over the British and Monegasque Royal Families while prostrating themselves to a succession of absolute monarchs: de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard d’Estaing (with his inherited title, and his insistence that he and his wife be served a course ahead of everyone else because they are so much posher), Mitterand (related to our own dear Queen), Chirac, and now Sarkozy.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Primary Considerations

Kent Sorensen, Michele Bachmann’s Iowa Campaign Chairman, has defected to Ron Paul. On one level, it boggles British minds to see politicians spending a year publicly fighting members of their own respective parties as an integral part of the system. It boggles them even more than the question of how anyone might have been uncertain as to whether Bachmann or Paul better represented his views.

However, so closed has the manner of, effectively, appointing most Members of Parliament now become, that something akin to primaries needs to be introduced, although allowing for our tighter, more European model of party membership. In the course of each Parliament, each party should submit to a binding ballot of the whole constituency electorate its locally determined internal shortlist of two for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, and submit to a binding ballot of the whole national electorate its nationally determined internal shortlist of two for Leader, i.e., potential Prime Minister.

In the meantime, what of the American primary system? Why not give everyone three votes, one for their preferred candidate on economic policy, one for their preferred candidate on social policy, and one for their preferred candidate on foreign policy? Each state could have a number of delegates equal to three times its number of votes in the Electoral College.

Or even each state could have the same number of delegates. Say, 45, 15 in each category, with the highest scoring candidate in that category being awarded five, then four, three, two, and one. In the event of fewer than five candidates, you would simply go back to the top of the list, so that, if there were three, the first placed scorer would get five, the second placed four, the third placed three, the first placed another two, and the second placed another one. That would mean the return of proper conventions, choosing nominees by exhaustive ballot while thrashing out platforms genuinely representative of broad ranges of opinion.

Primary ballot access could be made conditional on nomination by at least five per cent of electors in the state, including at least 10 per cent in each of its congressional districts, all signatures having been collected by registered electors in that state. With that safeguard in place, all primaries could and should be open, even regardless of simultaneous participation in the other party’s as a voter, though not as a candidate.

If and when things all really do become too much, and a new party really does become necessary, might not this be the way to go about ensuring its broadest possible base and its highest possible level of participation?

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Post Modernisers

Peter Oborne writes:

British politics has been dominated for more than 20 years by the so-called modernising movement. This first gained traction in Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party of the 1980s, reached its apotheosis under Tony Blair, and was finally copied, out of desperation, by an out-of-power Conservative Party around the turn of the century.

All successful national politicians during this period have described themselves as modernisers. The success of the modernisation project has been so pervasive that it is impossible to understand the nature of British politics without a working grasp of what the concept means and what its practitioners stand for.

Sadly, this has been very difficult, because modernisation is not a political philosophy. It is really about a set of techniques for securing and then keeping power. Modernisers are actively hostile to political ideas. Indeed, the antiheroes of the modernisation handbook – Foot, Benn, Livingstone, Thatcher – are all figures of powerful conviction.

One of the most pronounced characteristics of the committed moderniser is evasiveness over difficult issues. The leading practitioners – Mandelson, Blair, Brown, Cameron – have all preferred to insinuate ideas furtively or indirectly into political discourse rather than make their meaning open and clear.

At the heart of all this lay a fundamental conceptual error. The modernisers confused virtue with success. What mattered was winning – no matter how wretched the methods used. This confusion of means and ends has been disastrous for British public life because it has led to cynicism and lack of trust.

One reason to look forward to 2012 with optimism is that the modernisation project is now close to intellectual bankruptcy and collapse. Suddenly, the modernisers are looking very old-fashioned.

There are various reasons for this failure. The first is that the modernising project, while successful in political terms – it has been on the winning side for four consecutive general elections – has proved disastrous in many other ways. It has proved useless at addressing, let alone resolving, underlying national problems, as can be proved by looking at the three great modernising pieties when the movement was at its most dominant 10 years ago.

Further European integration, and in particular the need to join the single currency, was top of this list. Second, it was accepted beyond question that spending cuts were always bad. Third, all talk of confronting immigration was racist. Ten years on, it is clear that the modernisers were out of touch on all three issues. It was the conviction politicians – always denounced as swivel-eyed and extremist by the modernisers – who were ahead of their time on all these matters.

The second reason for the failure of modernisation is that Britain, along with most western countries, is now stuck in a period of prolonged economic and social crisis. The modernisers’ obsession with focus groups and the machinery of political manipulation could work well during a benign environment. But these are a real hindrance to good, decisive government during the troubled environment that exists today. That is why it is becoming clear that the coming generation of politicians will be those with the courage and flair to turn their backs on the modernising textbook, and return to a politics of truth and morality.

One of the reasons why Ed Miliband has been consistently underrated as Labour leader is that he is trying to reintroduce values into British politics, and to move away from the manipulation and cynicism of the modernising era. He has done this on a number of fronts. Miliband has consistently and with admirable courage stood up for trade unions as a legitimate voice for working people, launched attacks on the greedy and irresponsible rich, and was the first party leader to take the bold step of condemning press criminality when the phone-hacking scandal broke last summer.

All of this maddens Labour modernisers, whose numerous allies in the London-based press have as a result been hard at work trashing Miliband’s reputation. New Labour’s strategy, from the start, was to isolate or ignore the unions, while awarding tax breaks to the super-rich, and special privileges to the Murdoch empire, now so deeply compromised by evidence of widespread criminal conduct stretching into the higher reaches of the organisation.

It comes as no surprise that Labour modernisers should regard Ed Miliband’s leadership with antipathy: he is against everything they stood for. Harold Wilson said in 1961 that the “Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Those words might fit Miliband’s Labour, but could never be applied to Mandelson and Blair’s New Labour, with its celebration of the get-rich-quick culture, without provoking derision.

In this context, it may be significant that Miliband has recently hired Tim Livesey, a former adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as chief of staff. The Labour leader grasps that religion and morality are now set to play a dominant role in mainstream political debate.

David Cameron is more complicated. He secured the Tory leadership six years ago in part by entering into an alliance with the modernising faction of the Tory Party (led at the time by a tieless Francis Maude and casting around for a new saviour after the retirement of Michael Portillo). Cameron therefore came to accept many of the core modernising doctrines – the preference for presentation not substance, the need for the Murdoch press as a strategic ally, a fondness for advertising slogans and in particular the necessity to “rebrand” the Conservative Party so that it should be seen to be “nice”.

Some of the Prime Minister’s worst mistakes, such as the indefensible decision to hire the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press adviser, were made during this troubled period. Some critics, perhaps unfairly, believe that the influence of the modernisers helps to explain the failure of the Conservative Party to win outright victory at last year’s general election.

Now that he is established in Downing Street, David Cameron is starting to rip up the modernisers’ rulebook. He did so in Brussels four weeks ago by courting isolation in Europe. Now, like Ed Miliband, he is challenging the modernisers’ fallacy that success is the same thing as virtue.

In fact, they can belong to very separate spheres, as the Prime Minister showed signs of recognising last week in his speech that at last addressed the role of Christian teaching in political discussion (though with only a fraction of the religious understanding and passion of Margaret Thatcher’s great speech to the Church of Scotland more than 20 years ago). The modernising Tony Blair, though a much more dedicated believer, could never have made Cameron’s speech, not in public at any rate.

Some of our greatest leaders – Cromwell, Gladstone, most recently Thatcher – have made no secret that their political beliefs were directly shaped by their religious convictions. They were not afraid to inject morality into public debate, or to talk of right and wrong. In the year ahead we in Britain, along with the rest of Europe, will find that many of our most fundamental assumptions and beliefs are likely to be challenged. It is greatly to be welcomed that the leaders of our two greatest political parties seem to have chosen such a moment to abandon the facile discourse of modernisation in favour of tentatively addressing the great, defining moral issues of our age.

A superb piece. If Ed Miliband is in such trouble, then how come his party is consistently ahead in the polls and has won five by-elections in a row, at the last one, after the EU non-veto, managing a swing of 8.5 per cent from the Conservatives?

On course for government, Miliband needs to make Labour the party of absolute commitment to 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, and a powerful Parliament. That is fully compatible with a no less absolute commitment to
any, all (as in my case) or none of 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.

The first list requires a truly national party, which would respect and take account of all of the commitments in the second list, though without requiring any of them. A truly national party would be profoundly sensitive to the interests, insights and aspirations of agriculture and manufacturing, of small and medium-sized businesses, of each and all of the English ceremonial counties, of each and all of the Scottish lieutenancy areas, of each and all of the Welsh preserved counties, of each and all of the traditional Northern Irish counties, of each and all of the London Boroughs, and of each and all of the Metropolitan Boroughs. To those of the countryside, local government, the trade unions, mutual enterprises, voluntary organisations, and social and cultural conservatives. And to those of people who cherished ties throughout the world, most especially within these Islands and the Commonwealth, but also to the Arab world and Iran, to the Slavic and Confucian worlds, to Latin America, and elsewhere, in principle including any country on earth, and ideally including all of them.

None of this would be to the exclusion of the interests, insights and aspirations of financial services, of the presently favoured parts of the country, of the towns and cities, of social and cultural liberals, or of those who cherished ties to Continental Europe, the United States of America, and the State of Israel. But it would exclude any new Cold War against Russia, China, Iran, or anywhere else. A truly national party would always give priority in international affairs to the ties within the Commonwealth and within these Islands, and could have no truck with any idea of the American Republic coercively imposing utopianism. It would reject that idea’s rewritten Marxism in which the bourgeoisie is the victorious class, because it would reject all class-based politics in favour of what Aneurin Bevan called “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”.

A truly national party would fight every seat as if it were a knife-edge marginal, and would draw deeply on a heritage variously trade unionist, co-operative and mutual, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and so on. Integral to that heritage is a valiant history of opposition to all of Stalinism, Maoism, the Trotskyist distinction without a difference, Nazism, Fascism, and the Far Right regimes in Southern Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Those who have never recanted their former Stalinism, Maoism or Trotskyism, or their former support for those Far Right regimes, admitting that that stance had been wrong
at the time, can have no part in a truly national party.

Ed Miliband, over to you.

Below The Cut

Fury in certain quarters at the news that four out of five doctors find NHS cuts to be having an adverse impact on patient care.

There is nothing that the complainants can do. The public sees a government of post-Thatcher Tories and of Orange Book Lib Dems, all too rich ever to have needed a job but motivated to enter politics anyway in order to sack all the NHS doctors and nurses, all the state school teachers and dinner ladies.

It would have perceived those sackings to be happening no matter what the circumstances, and it will continue to do so all the way to 2015. That is just the way it is.

I'll Drink To This

Genius is often close to madness. Broaching the minimum pricing of alcohol during these 12 Days is one or the other on the part of the Government. But I am not sure which.

As someone who now drinks very moderately despite a capacity for alcohol long remarked upon by other people, I am not sure what to make of proposals for minimum pricing. They seem to be hitting the wrong target, which is alcoholic drinks stronger than beer, specifically designed for immature palettes, and, yes, priced for the pocket money market, or at least the Saturday job market.

Why shouldn’t I be able to buy four bottles of real ale for six quid? It would take me over a week to get through them. But making anything last over a week because it is worth savouring is not how the adolescent mind works. And being able to appreciate anything worth savouring in that way is not how the adolescent palette works. So why discriminate in favour of the adolescent pocket?

Minimum pricing is not the panacea for this country's endemic drunkenness, but it certainly has its place. However, we now discover that, even if they wanted to, the alcohol manufacturers could not arrange such a scheme among themselves, since that would be a breach of competition law. Was there ever anything - anything at all - less conservative than capitalism? Oh, well, over to the force that makes family values possible in practice: the State.

New Politics

And no less a consequence of Julius Jacobson and the Third Camp, if not exactly what they had in mind.

The battle for the Republican Presidential nomination is now exactly as the Virginia primary will be: a straight fight. On one side is Mitt Romney, the prophet and apostle of socialised medicine, who ran for the Senate from the left of Ted Kennedy. On the other is that pro-life gynaecologist and obstetrician, Ron Paul, with his opposition to bailouts, to wars, and to the erosion of constitutional checks and balances.

Either of them would be just what Obama needed in order to compel him to be true to himself and break once and for all with the failures and divisions of the Clinton years, finally inaugurating a newer and better age in his party’s history. But the concerns raised by Paul are more immediately pressing. Paul must be the nominee. There is no Democratic contest, so register as Republicans and make it happen. Everyone. Just do it.

To whingeing Dubya nostalgists who might object, the nomination of Paul, and the utter transformation of the GOP entailed by that nomination, would be the beautiful revenge of those whose party was stolen by those NYC Trotskyists who went on to stage the Great Coup of 2000 behind their ridiculous Manchurian Candidate. The likes of Robert Kagan and John Bolton have since moved on to Gingrich. Oh, well. Never mind.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Like Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich has failed to make it onto the Virginia primary ballot. Gingrich’s Pennsylvanian carpet-bagging attempt to project his prejudices onto the South obviously has no traction among Southerners themselves.

The Virginia primary is now the thing most needful: a straight fight between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. With no Democratic contest, everyone should be registered as a Republican in this cycle, in order to ensure the nomination of Paul, with his opposition to bailouts, to wars, and to the erosion of constitutional checks and balances, and thus in order to force Obama to see him and raise on those issues.

Monday 26 December 2011

On Our Guard

There is a comic, yet tragic, character who tries every day to post essentially the same comment over and over again, but on multiple posts and under multiple, though regular, aliases. And yes, he was doing it yesterday. On Christmas Day. I know who you are, of course. Would you like me to name you, and to provide some contact details? I should be so much more than happy to oblige.

Now, to the serious business of today's Guardian front page, which like the rest of the uniformly Blairite media is obsessed with some little poll about the "personal standing" of the Party Leaders, rather than concerned with questions about actual voting intentions, never mind votes cast.

A mere British political party dared to disobey its essentially foreign betters in the media, and as a result has been consistently ahead in the polls for a year while winning five parliamentary by-elections out of five, all with potentially majority-delivering swings.

There is now a Leader of the Opposition who does not favour the unerring slash and burn agenda of "the markets", nor any war ordered up by the Israeli Far Right and its American Amen Corner. What is more, real votes and real voting intentions put him easily on course to become Prime Minister. Deal with it. He undoubtedly intends to, er, "deal" with you as soon as his opportunity presents itself.

Cantuar And The Cants

That's "cants", with an a.

Of course Dr Williams did not say that the bankers were as bad as the rioters. He said that the rioters were as bad as the bankers. And that is far, far worse.

As everyone understands outside the two Coalition parties, the Blairite rump, and their courtier media, populated as those are by persons who spend most of their time in the City and who derive the overwhelming bulk of their income from that source.

In Conservative, Lib Dem and Blairite MPs' case emerging from the Square Mile for precisely half an hour per week in order to appear before the television cameras at Prime Ministers' Questions.

In the hacks' case, never leaving it at all, if they are not filing their copy with a view to dictating British economic, social, cultural and political life from their offices, not in London, but in New York.

"Schools, Jobs, Hospitals, Roads"

Those, cautions the BBC, will the darkies need if they persist in the frightful habit of breeding over there in Darkieland.

Perhaps it is time for the darkies and the pinkies alike to start breeding again over here in Pinkieland? (They are already very given to doing it with each other, with mixed-race the fastest growing category among new school entrants, and with half of all children of an Afro-Caribbean parent also having a white parent.)

That, after all, would create the pressure for schools, jobs, hospitals, and in our case more advanced transport infrastructure, since, when it comes to mass and long-distance transportation, roads are only what you have before you have railways.

The Huntsman Blows His Bugle Horn

And so another Boxing Day comes round.

The hunting ban has never commanded popular support. Most people could not care less. And among those who could (massively concentrated, on both sides, in rural communities), opinion is still overwhelmingly opposed to the ban, i.e., in favour of the safety of the sheep and poultry whom most anti-hunt types still want to eat, and in favour of killing far fewer foxes, by far more humane methods, than the ban compels.

The hunting ban, and this can never be said too often, was the means by which Tony Blair and Hilary Armstrong (who went on to oppose it) cajoled disgraceful Labour MPs into voting in favour of the Iraq War. Many things need to be done in order to break definitively with that wicked period. One of those things is the repeal of what is in any case a ludicrous piece of unenforced, because unenforceable, legislation.

This Boxing Day as last, economic growth is a distant memory. Wealth inequality is greater than at any other time since records began. Social mobility had not only ceased, but remains dramatically in reverse, as it has been continuously since 1979. The war in Afghanistan drones on.

But never mind. At least the red-coated toffs have been knocked off their horses, so high a priority for Attlee, Bevin, Morrison, Bevan and Gaitskell. Except, of course, that it was not, and that they have not been, nor should they be.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Back on Monday, at the earliest.

For and Against

Never let it be said that the anti-Putin demonstrators are only telling us what they are against. No one watching them today can have been left in any doubt as to what they were for. No one, that is, apart from the BBC.

Rounding off a year of breathlessly reporting Arabs shouting "Allahu Akbar" when not flurrying the banners of some Marxist outfit or of the Syrian Social National Party, the BBC is today treating us to the same uncritical coverage of Russians waving either the flag of the Soviet Union or the black, yellow and white of Russian ultranationalism.

Neither the Caucasian Islamists nor the National Bolsheviks are in evidence, but the latter's flag - that of Nazi Germany, but with a black hammer and sickle in place of the swastika - has never prevented Auntie from paying them absolute deference.

Do They Know It's Christmas Time At All?

For them it isn't yet. Or for me, technically. But, as Mandean Isaac writes:

Inspired by the violent exhortations of a preacher during Friday prayers earlier this month, hundreds of young Kurdish men in the northern Iraqi town of Zakho went on a riot. Over four days, they set dozens of liquor stores alight, later threatening proprietors with further violence if they dared reopen their businesses. They also attacked an Assyrian church and homes in the neighbouring village of Mansouriyah and destroyed property including four hotels, a health club and an Assyrian social club in Dohuk.

The victims were Assyrians – an ethnically and linguistically discrete people also known as Chaldeans or Syriacs according to denomination – and Yazidis, members of two ancient communities who, like all the vulnerable elements of Iraqi society, have suffered disproportionately in the aftermath of the war.

The staggering upheaval and violence faced by Assyrians has led to a drop in their numbers from at least 800,000 in 2003 to 400,000 today. They represent 35% of Iraqi refugees since the war, as well as an enormous number of Iraq's internally displaced persons.

The unequal suffering thrust on to Iraq's smaller communities is a reflection both of their being singled out for persecution by majority peoples – primarily Sunni Arabs and Kurds in the Assyrians' case – as well as the absence of a security apparatus deployed on their behalf.

The Kurdistan regional government (KRG) responded to the Zakho riots by paying lip service to Kurdish "traditions of ethnic and religious co-existence" – though there was little sign of such traditions being observed. The riots themselves were completely unpoliced, though the authorities rounded up members of the opposition Kurdish Islamic Union and razed its Dohuk headquarters, despite no evidence of KIU culpability.

This is further evidence that the Kurdish government places its own desire for absolute control of the ever-elastic "Kurdistan" region above protection of the minority peoples over whom it rules (and even the Kurds under its jurisdiction). As Assyrians continue to flee gangsterism and persecution in Iraq proper, large numbers of them have sought refuge in the largely Kurdish-controlled north.

The KRG describes these Assyrian refugees merely as "Christians" to de-legitimise them ethnically and therefore politically, and utilises them as demographic padding for its aim of expanding the territory it controls. Despite claims that the KRG is better able to provide for the security and welfare of Assyrians, these refugees frequently lack access to basic services, let alone civic rights.

While the KRG's policies predicated on ethnic supremacism and expansionism are thus doing great harm to non-Kurdish indigenous groups in and around the land they control, the Sunni-Shia fissure within the Iraqi government, now unfolding in an accelerated manner immediately following US withdrawal, threatens to jeopardise the integrity of Iraq.

The consequences of further sectarian fracturing in this most fissile of nations are as yet unclear. But minorities caught in the political and physical crossfire of larger groups – groups that often call upon support and direction from countries outside Iraq – will find themselves in greater danger.

Whatever popular will the Iraqi people might have to see the indigenous diversity of Iraq remain intact, the propensity of terrorists to use unlimited violence in their attempts to cleanse the country of Christians, coupled with the failure of the government to cohere and protect its citizens, renders this will unviable within the present political conditions.

The most serious proposal to safeguard the continuity and flourishing of Iraq's minorities revolves around the development of the Nineveh plains region, headed by the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project and the Nineveh Project. The Nineveh plains are not only the historical homeland of the Assyrian people and a crucible of pre-Arab and Kurd pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilisation, but it is a province where a majority of the population is currently drawn from the minorities, around half of whom are Assyrians.

Central to the proposal is circumventing both the political and religious leadership that has shown itself so willing to buttress Kurdish expansionism at the expense of Assyrian interests. The KRG has systematically intimidated Assyrian political leaders who have expressed support for the Nineveh Project, and has sought to flood the territory with Kurdish citizens and security forces, delaying a referendum on the status of the region in the hope that an increase in the Kurdish populace and a weakening of political will among divided minority groups will allow them to annex the plains.

The work of the Assyrian American Coalition and other organisations has already drawn some response from the American government. The US State Department has allocated funds to Iraqi minorities; and on 17 December, the Senate and House passed a bill giving "targeted assistance to ethno-religious minorities in Iraq to help ensure their continued survival". The bill seeks to facilitate and reinforce the aims of the Nineveh Project and is encouraging in that it recognises needs particular to the indigenous peoples of the plains, including the necessity of building "an indigenous community police force".

If the existence of some of the world's most ancient peoples is to be rescued, then it will be through the co-ordinated activities of free men and women reclaiming their destiny from the jihadist murder gangs, the cronyism and venality of politics, and church elders who have long since proven to be more concerned with their own institutional authority than the lives of their faithful. The Nineveh plains will be a crucial test of Iraq's democracy, and a nexus of hope for its most beleaguered citizens.

The Inadequacy of "Atheist"

Ian Jack writes:

A couple of weeks ago, a nurse stood beside my hospital bed with a pen and a clipboard. After the questions about allergies and next of kin came the one about religion. None, I said, when she asked which one. Her English was hesitant. "You are … what do you call it … an atheist, then? Shall I write that?" "Please just write 'none', or 'no religion'," I said.

I don't know why I jibbed at the word atheist. It may have been Jonathan Miller's argument that non-belief in God is a narrow and entirely negative self-description that ignores all the other things you might either believe in or not, from homeopathy through necromancy to the Gaia theory. As a definition it belongs to the same dull category as "non-driver" or "ex-smoker"; not driving or no longer smoking, just like not believing in God, is an inadequate guide to the self. There are so many richer and more positive ways, or so you hope, to summarise your behaviour and beliefs and what you might add up to when the counting is done.

But after the nurse left with her questionnaire, I wondered about other motives for denying a truth about myself. Had it to do with social cowardice, or some ridiculous notion of politeness on my part? Three other men shared my bay in the ward, and who knew what beliefs they held? "Atheism" has such a scorning ring to it. I wouldn't have wanted them to think (though, of course, they wouldn't have cared less) that, as I lay beside them, I was quietly cackling at their misplaced faith in the other life to come. As it turned out, two of them may have declared at least the name of such a faith to the nurse, because the next day a visitor came into the ward and made a beeline for their beds, and talked briefly and earnestly to each man in a low voice.

The men were originally from Mayo and Dublin (I wrote about Joseph last week), and I can say only that their visitor seemed like a missionary woman, or my idea of one. She had cropped grey hair, a blue cardigan and flat shoes, and she looked like someone who ate sparingly and cared for God very much.

This visit, too, had a consequence. A priest came next. He may have been an Anglican or a Roman Catholic. As there was no religious content in what he said, and as I have a poor knowledge of clerical uniform, it was hard to know which. "How are you feeling? I don't want to disturb you when you're needing rest. It's good that you're feeling stronger, or so the nurses tell me. I'll be off now and leave you to your tea."

That was more or less what he said to each man. They nodded in return, and then the priest backed away.

Of all the people who came near our beds in any official capacity, he was the most deferential. What you might call the carer-patient discourse in a British hospital is marked by a certain robust chumminess. You hear all kinds of surprising things. A young nurse from Essex will put her arm around an elderly Muslim and tell him to "Cough it up, Abdul sweetheart, cough it up." An equally young woman doctor of good Indian parentage will ask: "Any trouble with the old waterworks?" as though she had stepped out of Carry On Corporal. But the priest seemed to have found no way of introducing his specialism, the awkward subject of God, even as a euphemism.

Perhaps it wasn't the right time. Perhaps that time would be later. As things stood, what Tony from Mayo and the Londoner in the next bed hungered for wasn't religion, but tobacco.

They were in their 60s, with bad lungs. Soon after breakfast, Tony would begin to agitate for a porter who could put him in a wheelchair and take him down in the lift to street level, where he could join a dozen others in a row on the pavement outside, smoking and staring at the traffic in the Euston Road. If no porter was available, then Tony would fret till the afternoon, when a visiting relative would wheel him away for an hour or so. The doctors went pretty easy on him. They gave a harder time to the Londoner, who, in between his trips to the pavement, had regular bottles of oxygen.

"You've just got to co-operate and stop smoking, otherwise you're going to be in hospital until you die," I overheard the consultant telling him, which is as grim and certain a prognosis as you can hear. But the Londoner – let's call him Ted – seemed not to hear it. According to him, all that being told not to smoke did was to make him smoke more: "It's the stress you see, doctor."

"In any case," as he said later, "I'm not going to stop smoking so that they can make money out of me." "They" were the hospital and, according to Ted, who may well have been right, the hospital was rewarded for every patient it turned into an ex-smoker. But why didn't he want the hospital to make a little more money? After all, it was looking after us rather well. "Because it was built on one of them lend-lease deals," Ted said, meaning one of the largest PFI schemes in England, "and the government was stupid and got taken for a ride." So Ted's position, as I understood it, was that he'd continue to curtail his life because to do otherwise would be in some minute way to subsidise a public-private partnership of which he disapproved.

This was probably no more than a labyrinthine excuse for the next John Player Special, but in its notions of foolish self-sacrifice ("He was a martyr to his cigarettes") Ted's conversation had a religious dimension that I never heard anywhere else in the hospital. Talking with him reminded me of the arguments I used to hear on the doorstep when anyone called with a Bible in their hand and my father got at them with his ferocious knowledge of scripture that had been acquired in his youth at Baptist Sunday school. My father was of a generation that imbibed God, took him seriously, and then found him wanting. Books by the Rationalist Press and the Thinker's Library (with Rodin's Thinker in profile on the spine) stretched across a shelf of his bookcase and promised the joys of atheism, agnosticism and an open mind.

If he were alive now, I think he would be surprised that writers such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens had become famous partly through their attacks on religion. The New Atheism? Surely those intellectual battles had been fought and won long ago – even by the 1960s, my father had found it hard to find a door-knocking Christian who was properly equipped for a decent debate. Resurgent Islam and America's evangelical Christianity may provide a new focus for atheism – hence Dawkins and Hitchens – but here in Britain, believers move among us with diminished power, more shyly and uncertainly, so that it almost seems rude to say "atheist" in the kindness of a hospital ward. Not that I am not one, you understand – among other things.

Friday 23 December 2011

Unformed Judgement

What was a 19-year-old doing on a jury in the first place? The minimum age should be put back up at least to 21, so that we could restore the proper minimum requirements for conviction, so that we could restore proper sentencing and proper prison regimes.

Peace Be Upon Him

Fuss and bother about ITV's cutting of some juvenile comedian's rude song about Jesus from the Christmas Special of the revolting Jonathan Ross.

In future, any insult to the Prophet Isa Bin Maryam, the virgin-born Messiah promised to the earlier prophets, should be referred to those who are under no obligation to turn the other cheek. They can deal with it their way.

I have thought this for some time.

732 And All That

Islamic expansionism dismembered France as recently as 1962, when she was mutilated by the loss, not of three colonies, but of three départements, integral parts of the French State and nation.

That was the perspective from which, in and through the person of a decorated veteran of the Algerian War, she opposed the greatest catastrophe since 1962 for what was originally Christendom on three continents, covering every inch of the Mediterranean’s shores. For what remained of that, 1962 was the greatest catastrophe since 1948 (itself the greatest since 1923), and 2003 seems set to have been the greatest until a similar intervention in Syria.

And that is the perspective from which France is in dispute with the Islamist Government of Turkey, drawn as it is from the party that created and still influences Ennahda in Tunisia, where you will not be hearing French on the streets for very much longer now. But the Sixth Caliphate still faces France.

Never forget that talk of what would originally have been a Second Western Alliance, but against Islamic rather than Communist expansion, has been a commonplace of French political discourse ever since the 1950s.

Mad? Or Bad?

Madeleine Albright, like the late Richard Holbrooke, came out of the Carter Administration, which was particularly bad for abusing the noble cause of anti-Communism by emphasising Soviet human rights abuses while ignoring Chinese and Romanian ones.

It even happily allowed the Chinese-backed Pol Pot to retain control of the Cambodian seat at the UN after Phnom Penh had fallen to the rival forces backed by Vietnam and therefore by the Soviet Union.

Similar paw prints were also evident on Margaret Thatcher’s holding out for the Chinese-backed Robert Mugabe, for whom she arranged a knighthood, as if he would have been any better than the Soviet-backed Joshua Nkomo.

Of Scales And Eyes

See who and what those Syrian "dissidents" and "demonstrators" are.

Told you so.

Bye, Eck

Even John Humphrys had assumed that the Scottish devolved body already had the power to legislate for an independence referendum. Since it really does look as if the Government is going to take up the Conservative peers' proposal to give that body that power, Alex Salmond's bluff is about to be called.

Independence is the issue that Salmond wishes would just go away. The present arrangement demonstrably suits him down to the ground. But his party possibly could not survive a No vote, and certainly would never forgive him either for such a result or for his failure to pose the question at all.

It is no wonder that the bluff-calling has come from that particular quarter. Among the longstanding electoral coalitions in Scotland is the one made up of moderate Keynesians, mild social conservatives, those who cherish shortbread tin Scottishness, posh people and those who aspire to be so considered, visceral enemies of municipal Labour and the trade unions, and a fringe of white Protestant supremacists.

That coalition's newer vehicle won the last Holyrood Election outright, giving Scotland the Tory majority government that England does not have. But that coalition's older vehicle has spotted the potential there: people like that are manifestly numerous enough to deliver such a victory, and their old party wants them back to that end. All that it has to do is force the newcomers out of the way.

Their failure to hold the referendum for which their party exists should do it. Their failure to win that referendum should do it. Quite plausibly, their failure to lose that referendum should do it, since after independence, how could the officially Tory party still be presented as English?

And what, exactly, would be the remaining point of the SNP, its many Hard Left activists having no sympathy whatever with the common or garden domestic policies that both its leaders and its voters would seek to pursue once the constitutional question was out of the way?

Alex Salmond is a remarkably skillful politician. He is going to need to be.

Warts And All

What is the Today programme coming to? Jerry Springer: The Opera aside, Stewart Lee is a very talented comedian. But his piece on Christmas and Cromwell, hardly my favourite historical character either, was a disgrace to Radio Four.

The Puritans believed, as some people such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (not of Puritan origin - I remember Jenni Murray being thoroughly taken to task for suggesting to Alex Salmond that Puritanism was a Scottish phenomenon) still do believe, that the Lord's Day was not only the Christian Sabbath with everything that that entailed, but also the only Christian festival, being, as they saw it, the only one with a Scriptural warrant.

Cromwell was in no sense a progenitor of modern republicanism, as it calls itself, either. Marxist attempts to call his regime "the English Revolution" are perfectly preposterous. Come back on 30th January, the anniversary of the beheading of Charles I, for that one. Nor was America founded by the Puritans, really. But the continuing Puritan influence on all sorts of things deserves the proper Radio Four treatment. It certainly received no such thing this morning.

Plucky Little Luxembourg

Luxembourg, seat of Amazon and thus source of the very low rate of VAT on books transmitted to Kindle devices, is apparently planning to flout EU law and reduce that rate even further, possibly to the zero rating on printed books. Taxing books is a particularly unpleasant practice, as I am sure that all regular readers will agree.

The world's last sovereign Grand Duchy is a lot bigger than Europe's last great Medieval oligarchy, which the Queen may not enter without special permission, where the laws enacted by Parliament do not apply, and where the resident population of British Citizens is denied democratic representation both by that means and by means of municipal arrangements which grant far more votes to foreign companies than to British human beings.

The parliamentary and municipal democracy that Wall Street's tax haven on our shores so noticeably lacks is enjoyed in full by the subjects of His Royal Highness by the Grace of God, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Count of Sayn, Königstein, Katzenelnbogen and Diez, Burgrave of Hammerstein, Lord of Mahlberg, Wiesbaden, Idstein, Merenberg, Limburg and Eppstein.

Furthermore, the 17 NATO AWACS aeroplanes are registered as aircraft of Luxembourg. Purely a matter of convenience? Those days are gone, sweetie. Those days are gone.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Baghdad Bombings

"Sovereign, stable and self-reliant"?

Not since 2003.

Thatcher's State Funeral?

She was not a Head of State. It is as simple as that.

Blair came up with this one because he wanted to set the precedent for himself. For good or ill, he really did change Britain a great deal more than Thatcher ever did.

But, as Peter Hitchens wrote at the time, he should still have been told to use the Co-op like everyone else.

Little Black, Indeed

Tellingly, and despite having a Guaraní name, Uruguay is almost entirely white, with very few people of black African descent and almost no Amerindians. Funny how no one seems to be mentioning that in relation to Luis Suárez.

Secure The Blessings Of Liberty

Like the provision for every state to have two Senators regardless of its population, the Electoral College is one of the reasons why it is called the United States of America: every state counts. The solution to the injustice, if such it be, of equal representation in the Senate is the existing constitutional provision for the creation of new states out of parts of old ones. But somehow, I doubt that that is what the complainants have in mind.

Nor do they posit that a Democrat cannot win in the Electoral College. That is manifestly not the case, and hardly for the first time. Rather, they object to the fact that either a Democrat or a Republican, or indeed anyone else, cannot be elected President by the votes of urban and coastal liberals alone. But that is precisely the point. Neither a Republican nor a Democrat, nor indeed anyone else, can be elected President on the votes Southern, Western and rural conservatives alone, either.

The Electoral College required Barack Obama to win the votes of those who on the same day voted in California and Florida to re-affirm traditional marriage. Voted in Missouri and Ohio not to liberalise gambling. Voted in Colorado to end legal discrimination against white men. And voted for Obama from coast to coast while also keeping the black and Catholic churches, especially, going.

Therefore, the Electoral College required the Democratic Party to nominate a candidate capable of winning those votes. Lest we forget, Obama won the caucus in very white, very rural, very Evangelical, very conservative Iowa. The Republican caucus there on the same day was won by economically one of the most left-wing governors in American history, strongly pro-life and, like Obama, in favour of the traditional definition of marriage. If the GOP had paid attention, then it might have done rather better in the end. The Dems did, so they did.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Now That The Silicon Chips Are Down

Reconstruction after breast cancer is obviously a different matter, but this whole sorry business with cosmetic silicone implants follows logically from the classification of femaleness as in itself a medicable condition by means of the contraceptive pill.

That is not in fact a medicine at all. It is a poison, being designed precisely to stop healthy body parts from performing their natural functions, and being attended by all manner of horrific side effects accordingly. The Pill, in turn, has wrought havoc by filling our water supply with synthetic oestrogens.

Maleness itself has also been so classified, leading to the heavy medication of boys simply for being boys, by means of Ritalin and other powerful "treatments" for largely or entirely invented conditions. The impact of antidepressants on the rise of violent mental illness also calls for the most unflinching examination.

As does the impact of cannabis on the rise of schizophrenia, and by extension also on lung cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, brain tumours, serial miscarriage, low birth weight, male and female infertility, impotence, and a huge number of other conditions.

Let this whole can of worms be opened wide. Not a moment too soon.

Football Trial

May I be on the jury that will hear the case of John Terry? Please?

By all means let him, er, take one for the team. Football has had this coming for a long, long time. Who better than "the Captain of England", pompously so styled as if he were a Head of State, or at least a clan or tribal chief?

I do not want to deprive people of the pleasure that they deprive of this activity, even if that pleasure is always going to be lost on me. But I do want it put back into a proper perspective within our culture as a whole. And I do want it made worthy of the people who have traditionally provided its support base, and who very often, even if inexplicably, still loyally think of themselves as such.

Libertad o Muerte

The Mercosur ban on docking by Falkland Islands vessels can hardly be expected to bother a Prime Minister who made a pre-Election promise to give Argentina a share of Falklands oil revenue without asking anything whatever in return.

He is truly the heir of the Prime Minister who had one of her closest allies, Nicholas Ridley, negotiate a transfer of sovereignty until the Islanders and the Labour Party forced her to back down, and who then invited Argentina in anyway, before being forced to deploy the ships that she had been about to sell at a knock-down price to ... Argentina. The Royal Navy had to stage a sort of coup for the duration of hostilities, or else that hopelessly out-of-her-depth character would have left those Islands in Argentine hands to this day. No wonder that her party took fewer actual votes in 1983 than it had done in 1979, but was merely fortunate in facing two parties competing for the Labour vote, both of which parties had in any case supported the Falklands War once her incompetence had made it unavoidable.

And we have only ourselves to blame for favouring American hegemony and its pet projects, Mercosur as much as the EU and vice versa, over the Commonwealth, the BRICS countries (two of which are Commonwealth members, while a third is Brazil), and bilateral ties around the world. Our engagement with the Americas should be as an American country seven times over, since the Falkland Islands, Bermuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks & Caicos Islands are each and all British by choice, whatever the United States or anyone else might think. Two more American countries, Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago, retain the right of appeal to a body drawn from the High Court of Parliament at Westminster, and lucky them, since we no longer have any such right here. (Engagement with Africa should also be as an African country in right of Saint Helena and Her Dependencies, while Mauritius retains that right of appeal.)

Meanwhile, which way will Uruguay jump? Belgium is sometimes said to have been set up by the British in order to annoy the French. But Uruguay really was created by Britain specifically not to be Argentina. Those on the Falklands requiring serious medical attention are taken to Montevideo to this day. But for how much longer? Ongoing developments are strongly redolent of Peronist and kindred tendencies. Greater Argentina does not only mean the end of the British Falkland Islands. Greater Argentina also means the end of Uruguay. I say again, bilateral ties around the world. And I say again, since it now includes African countries with no British imperial past, the Commonwealth.

Vis Unita Fortior

Over in The Week/The First Post, Neil Clark writes:

He's a 'washout'. His prospects are "bleak". He's the man "with the word 'Loser' printed on his forehead". He's the geek "who can't even get being a geek right". Reading newspaper commentators opine about Ed Miliband and his leadership of the Labour Party you'd think that the party had actually lost last week's Feltham and Heston by-election.

In fact Labour won it with an 8.56 per cent swing from the Conservatives. The party's share of the vote increased from 43.6 to 54.4 per cent and its majority rose from 4,658 to 6,203. Yes, turnout was low, at less than 29 per cent, but there's no getting away from the fact that Labour did very well in a seat which the Tories will probably need to win if they are going to form a majority government at the next election.

Moreover, the result was no one-off fluke: Labour has fought five by-elections since Ed Miliband became leader in September 2010 and has won them all. The reality is that far from being a "washout" whose prospects are "bleak" Miliband is doing rather well where it actually matters - at the polling station. So why is there such a disconnect between the critical views of Miliband's leadership we read in the newspapers and his actual performance?

The problem with Ed - as far as a sizeable chunk of the commentariat is concerned - is that he's the wrong Miliband. It was David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, and protégé of Tony Blair, who was supposed to have succeeded Gordon Brown in 2010 and not his younger brother. I remember speaking to one journalist from an august financial publication who assured me that Labour had consigned itself to oblivion by choosing Ed over David. "Ed will never get Labour back into government," the journalist assured me. "David would have been a far more sensible choice."

The dominant media narrative states that 'Red Ed' is doomed to failure because he's 'too left-wing' and a 'deficit denier' who is too soft on those awful trade unions. This thinking is based on the belief that only politicians who keep within the neo-liberal Thatcherite/Blairite/Cameron consensus - that free markets are good, that unions are not very good, and that privatisation is a largely positive development - are able to win elections in the post-Thatcher era.

But there's a big difference between this elite view and the views of the general public. As Seumas Milne of The Guardian puts it, "The assumption that the broad Blair-Cameron consensus - social liberalism combined with free-market economics, privatisation, low taxes on the rich, and a welfare safety net - reflects the centre of gravity of public opinion is completely unfounded."

Miliband is doing well at the polls because he's shifting - albeit very slowly - away from the elite consensus towards a more social democratic position which is more in tune with public opinion. His party has rigorously opposed Andrew Lansley's unpopular health reforms, which mean the end of the NHS in all but name. And they have unequivocally opposed the coalition's plans to sell-off the Royal Mail. Of course, Miliband can - and should - go further and pledge to renationalise the railways. As I have argued here before, this would not only be a vote-winner, it would signal that the party has made a clean break with neo-liberalism.

But the main thing is that Ed is heading in the right direction, even if media commentators, still wedded to a political model forged in 1979, don't like this deviation from the script. As a consequence, Miliband's Labour Party has become the political equivalent of Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis's team are continually criticised for their style - or rather their lack of it - yet they keep on winning. "They are doing much better than people think," Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen admitted after Stokes's latest win, their fourth on the bounce. The same could be said of Labour under Ed Miliband.

The political leaders who should be worried after the Feltham and Heston result are David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Cameron, as already stated, will probably need to win the seat if he's to form a majority government after the next election and on the basis of last Thursday's result, and he's an awful long way off from achieving that. Meanwhile Clegg's party finished just 88 votes ahead of UKIP. If the serial winner Ed Miliband is a washout whose prospects are bleak, then what on earth does that make the Lib Dem leader?

These people’s preferred candidate, the man who devised the Coalition’s programme and then some when he was running Tony Blair’s Policy Unit but who could not get it past Gordon Brown, did not win. His definition of Opposition, that the only problem with the cuts is that they do not go far enough and that we should already be at war with Iran because Israel says so, did not and will not prevail. Only his surname prevents his very necessary expulsion and that of his noisy but infinitesimal party within the Labour Party.

Since Ed Miliband became Leader, Labour has consistently been ahead in the polls apart from a blip, the first this year, after the insanely overhyped European veto that wasn’t. Labour has won five parliamentary by-elections in a row, the most recent, less than a week ago and after the EU carry on, with a swing of 8.5 per cent from the Conservatives, typical of the swings obtained in English by-elections under Miliband.

Miliband should remember all of this. He is clearly going to win. And when he does, he should regulate them all into oblivion. Such is their undeniable impact on public opinion that they might as well already be there.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

"To The Best Of His Recollection"

Just say no, kids.

Just say no.

Hard Cases

Neither rioting nor arson is anything new in this country, and we have repeatedly experienced far worse cases of either or both than occurred for a few days this summer.

The police are civilians. We employ them to do things that we all would and could do if necessary. We need to remember that. And so do they.

The Oldest Comeback Kid In Town

It now looks quite possible that Iowa really is going to pick that pro-life gynaecologist and obstetrician, Ron Paul, with his opposition to bailouts, to wars, and to the erosion of constitutional checks and balances. Making that the Republican platform for Obama to match and exceed. Bring it on.

With no Democratic contest, everyone who believes in any one or more of those causes should be registered as a Republican in this cycle, in order to vote for Paul and force Obama fully into line with those views. By no means only in Iowa. But starting there.

Iraq Was Better Off Under Saddam

Even the Vice-President now says that, which is why a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Only Christopher Hitchens and Václav Havel would still have denied it. And they are both dead.

Caught In The Revolving Doors

Prem Sikka writes:

The public accounts committee report on the operations of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is a damning indictment of the Treasury and tax officials. Some £25.5bn remains uncollected from disputes with 2,700 companies. The amounts are bigger than the budget for the secondary education or transport.

HMRC has entered into sweetheart deals that let multinational corporations off the hook, but there is little public accountability. Two deals have made newspaper headlines. The tax dispute with Vodafone was rumoured to be for around £6bn. HMRC and Vodafone denied this amount, but the committee noted that the company's accounts set aside around £2.2bn to meet its liability. It eventually settled for about £1.25bn. The second deal with Goldman Sachs related to unpaid tax on complex transactions and the company was not required to pay interest which had been expected to amount between £8m and £20m.

A major problem is that all deals are shrouded in secrecy, and therefore it is difficult to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of HMRC. The committee draws attention to numerous potential conflicts of interests and lunch/dinner meetings between the HMRC officials and corporate advisers to agree deals. Many of these meetings were not minuted, and where the minutes existed they were often not available. In the face of persistent questions from the committee, HMRC officials often sought refuge in confidentiality. The committee concluded that "there is a question about whether HMRC acted within the law and within its protocols" and that the government procedures lack the independence and transparency needed to provide sufficient assurance to parliament. Despite, this the National Audit Office has generally given a good write-up to HMRC.

The committee's report raises three broad questions. First, in common with other parliamentary hearings, the public accounts committee hearings made good theatre, but were not really effective. Leading witnesses, often briefed by lawyers, declined to provide the requisite information. This should be countered by forcing witnesses to provide evidence on oath. Rather than relying on goodwill the committee should insist on the evidence.

Second, the committee's report is short on meaningful reforms. Instead of the so-called independent review of sweetheart deals, or bureaucrats reviewing the work of other bureaucrats, it should have empowered the people. Thus the tax returns of all companies and related correspondence should be made publicly available. The disclosures will enable the people to make their judgment on complex avoidance schemes and secret deals reached with tax officials. Norway, Sweden and Finland already publish corporate tax returns in various forms and the same should be adopted by the UK too.

Third, the committee laments HMRC's cosy relationship with large companies, but is silent on the cosiness with the tax avoidance industry. It notes that HMRC officials attended numerous lunches, dinners and receptions organised by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young. The lavish hospitality is organised to promote private interests rather than enhance HMRC accountability.

Many former ministers act as advisers to big accounting firms. For example, Labour grandee Lord Peter Mandelson has been an adviser to Ernst & Young. Former ministers Lord Digby Jones and Lord Norman Warner of Brockley have been advisers to Deloitte. Former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith is a consultant for KPMG. Former Conservative minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been an adviser to PwC. Do such political links skew the relationship between government departments and the private sector?

The links between the big accountancy firms and the Treasury attract no comments from the committee. For example, former PwC staffer Mark Hoban is the current financial secretary to the Treasury. Sir Nicholas Montagu, one-time chief of the Inland Revenue, joined PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2004 before moving on to other lucrative commercial appointments. PwC partner Richard Abadie has been the head of private finance initiative policy at the Treasury. In June 2009, former PwC partner Amyas Morse was appointed UK comptroller and auditor general and became responsible for directing the National Audit Office. Former PwC tax partner John Whiting is the director of the newly established Office of Tax Simplification, advising the government on simplification of tax laws. Chris Tailby, one-time tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers became head (until 2009) of anti-avoidance at HMRC. In July 2010, partners from KPMG, Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton and BDO became members of the government appointed Tax Professionals Forum and help shape the UK tax laws.

Unsurprisingly, little progress is made on curtailing tax avoidance. The revolving doors must raise questions about the cosiness with the tax avoidance industry and HMRC's willingness to do secretive deals. Yet the committee raises no questions.

The Norfolk Broad Party

Philip Hardy, Leader of the Green Group on Norfolk County Council, has defected to the Conservative Party. Would that party care to ask itself what one of this country's most senior Green activists finds so attractive about it?

Hitching To Beirut

To the very end, Christopher Hitchens lauded the Russian Revolution for its effect on his reviled Orthodox Church.

Although the Syrian Social National Party that beat him up in Beirut for vandalising a war memorial is not itself a Christian organisation and in fact subscribes to the separation of Church and State as well as to various weird racial theories, nevertheless its base is among the Antiochian Orthodox, so it is no wonder that it was not too keen on the antics of the less important Hitchens brother.

He was in Lebanon, not as a guest of the alliance backed by Syria (Christian-majority provinces, Christian festivals as public holidays), but as a guest of the rival alliance, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. And by Israel, to the resistance to whose occupation had been erected the memorial that he defaced.

Czech The Facts

Eastern Europe went through a phase of gangster capitalism after the Wall came down. Hardly what those Polish priests and East German pastors had had in mind. But Václav Havel contributed significantly to it. Far too many of the dissidents went on to be flag-wavers for neoconservatism. Havel was one such.

Opposition to Stalinism only proved what they were against, not what they were for. Edward Norman had warned about that all the way back in his Reith Lectures in 1978. Richard Nixon took the same view. Havel proved their point. The same was largely true of South Africa. The same was true of Iraq. The same was true of Libya. The same is true of Iran. The same is true of Syria. The same is true of China.

And just how good are Havel’s plays, really? I may be wrong, but I suspect a Beyond the Fringe effect making anything appear earth-shattering if it was a little bit daring for its time and place, and a bit clever-clever in that well-heeled, male, undergraduate way.

Monday 19 December 2011

Born Of A Virgin

There is an old stand-by of middlebrow, pub bore professional atheism, that the Virginal Conception has numerous mythological parallels. Nothing could be further from the case. What occurs over and over again in mythology is the impregnation, by otherwise normal sexual means, of a woman by a god; a god, therefore, with a physical body. Exactly that does not happen in the Gospels.

However, it is held in Mormonism that this was how Jesus was conceived, one among many reasons why the enormous popularity of the Mormons within American religion - numerically third only to the Catholics and to the Southern Baptists, and the clear direct or indirect originators of numerous ideas such as "Manifest Destiny" - raises very serious questions about whether the American Republic, as such, is any sort of bulwark of Christianity. Not unanswerable questions. But very serious ones.

Both Jews and pagans made all sorts of contrary claims, but one was completely unknown to either, namely that Jesus had been the natural child of Mary and Joseph. No such suggestion was ever made by anyone in the first eighteen centuries of Christianity's existence. Even the Qur'an has the "Prophet Isa" born of the "Virgin Mariam". Apart from that partial retelling in the Qur'an, the Biblical account is unique, and could not be less like any of the parallels that are routinely alleged.

That Islam - a Semitic reaction against the recapitulation in Christ and His Church of all three of the Old Israel, Hellenism, and the Roman Empire - depicts Jesus as both virgin-born and the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets is an important insight into the debate as to whether or not the circumstances of His conception described in the New Testament really are the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

Of course, had there been no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, then there would have been no reason for the Evangelists to invent it. And that would have been just as strong an argument in the doctrine's favour. But the Islamic view, staunchly Semitic and anti-Hellenistic as it is, adds considerable weight to the belief that the Virgin Birth is, as the New Testament writers maintain entirely matter-of-factly that it is, the fulfilment of the words of the Old Testament prophets.

It is often contended that it is not clear that the prophecy in Isaiah actually refers to a virgin. Well, it certainly does in the Septuagint, and, contrary to what used to be asserted, first century Palestine is now acknowledged to have been profoundly Hellenised. So either the Septuagint prophecy is indeed being fulfilled explicitly, or else there was no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, and thus no reason to make up that Jesus had been. The doctrine works either way.

Breaking The Banks

Those of you who said that it was impossible to separate retail banking from investment banking, take it up, not only with every mutual building society by law, but also, as of today, with Her Majesty's Government, led by your own beloved Conservative Party, to which you owe either tribal allegiance as soi-disant Tories or ideological allegiance as Blairites rallying to Blair's Heir.

Thanks to those much-maligned figures, the conservative Democrats such as Glass and Steagall, that separation existed in America throughout the period that she first rose to and then occupied global economic pre-eminence. With even George Osborne promising today that the public stakes in banks would now be used to vote down eye-watering bonuses and the like, the stage is set to entrench our own Glass-Steagall yet further by legislating for the whole of retail banking, apart from those public stakes, to be turned into a network of mutual building societies.

The trick with the Tories has always been to make them think that it was their idea. As we see today.

Koreas Advice

Castro being a revisionist and a splitter, I am now even older than the world's last Stalinist Head of State.

As is an erstwhile housemate of mine who is now the Head of Research for the Labour Party. Many moons ago, when he was still in his pre-Euston Manifesto life, he was once commended by George Galloway for having given "the speech of the night", and he once rallied the troops with, "The ideology of the State of Israel is Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer". In October 2001, he told me that he longed to see a picture of the collapsing Twin Towers under the headline, "We Are All Palestinians Now".

Anyway, he also once proposed a motion at a meeting of his Junior Common Room, "To create a Koreas Officer to liaise with North and South Korea, and to report back to the JCR". I do not know if the post was ever created, or if it still exists. But I hope that it was, and I hope that it does. That Officer could explain, not least to the Euston Manifesto lot, that there is nothing faked, or even at all surprising, about the outpourings of grief in North Korea today. Wrong. But entirely genuine. And entirely to be expected.

Life for those permitted to live in Pyongyang is not bad by Second World standards. It is essentially that of Eastern European capital cities before 1989. In any case, those benefiting from it do not know any better, whereas they do know an awful lot worse. They are people who have stuck by the Kim dynasty and the Communist Party. The Kims and the Communists have stuck by them. Most people in North Korea are nothing like so fortunate. But the people weeping on the television truly are.

Of course there were large numbers of people who fought for Saddam. Of course there were large numbers of people who fought for Gaddafi. And of course there are large numbers of people who mourn Kim Jong-il. Call them wrong if you like. In the last case, at least, I certainly do, although the earlier two cases do stand as terrifying reminders of how anything else might be even worse.

But those who are taken aback by the existence of such fighters or mourners, or who are convinced that such fighting or mourning must be coerced or otherwise insincere, or who imagined that Western intervention would have improved matters in Iraq or Libya, or who imagine that it would do so in North Korea, plainly and simply need to grow up.

A Hitch In History

In the words of a comment on an earlier post: "A lot of pieces in print and online saying that Hitch had no obvious successor. But he wouldn't have had, would he? There is a generational shift in play. People who were never Tankies or Trots in the aftermath of 1968 can never be neocons in middle age. The next wave is Red Tory/Blue Labour/Crunchy Con."

It is we who are the patriotic, morally and socially conservative, anti-Communist Left, who are the true heirs of the best of George Orwell. Orwell is good. He is important. But he is still overrated. Not least, his depiction of Wigan is still resented in the town to this day. His famous remark about the goosestep was just plain wrong, like many of his others.

However, Orwell's patriotism, his moral and social conservatism, and his anti-Communism are vitally important in reminding the British Left that those are indispensable, and indeed definitive, aspects of our own tradition. All three, though perhaps especially the last, make him a particularly significant figure when set alongside Christopher Hill and E P Thompson in rescuing demotic culture from what Thompson called "the enormous condescension of posterity", even though Orwell himself was not above condescension.

The Bigger Picture

Over on Comment is Free, Neil Clark writes:

He was the symbol of 1989, the anti-communist playwright who helped free his country – and the rest of eastern Europe – from Stalinist tyranny and who put the countries that lay behind the iron curtain on the road to democracy. So goes the dominant narrative of the life of Václav Havel, the former Czech president, who died on Sunday aged 75. Havel, we are told, was a hero and one of the greatest Europeans of our age.

But, as with the recent consecration of Christopher Hitchens, another "progressive" opponent of the communist regimes of eastern Europe who found favour with Washington's neocons, there is another side to the story. No one questions that Havel, who went to prison twice, was a brave man who had the courage to stand up for his views. Yet the question which needs to be asked is whether his political campaigning made his country, and the world, a better place.

Havel's anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women's rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.

Although he did clash with his uber-Thatcherite presidential successor, Václav Klaus, over economic policy, Havel, the son of a wealthy entrepreneur whose companies were nationalised when the communists came to power, showed little concern for the plight of ordinary people who lost out in the change towards a market economy. And there were losers aplenty. While the years following the liberation of eastern Europe from communism by Havel and his fellow dissidents are routinely portrayed in the west as one big success story, the reality is rather different. A 2009 Lancet study concluded that as many as 1 million working-age men died due to the health problems brought on by mass privatisation. As economies across eastern Europe were restructured so inequalities and social divisions grew. A 2011 OECD report found that Havel's Czech Republic had the joint-second largest rise in income inequality in OECD members since the mid-1980s.

Havel's true political allegiances came to the fore during his years as president. Like fellow dissident Lech Walesa, he supported the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. In 2002, he sided with the rightwing Republican hawks on Iraq.

Lauding Havel is not only doing a disservice to the millions of ordinary people in eastern Europe who have not been served well by his politics, but to the innocent men, women and children killed by the western military adventures he supported. While Havel was a man of undoubted talent and intellect, it's time we stopped eulogising people simply because they were anti-communist dissidents, and instead look at the bigger picture.

A Decent Leader

Jackie Ashley writes:

British politics is, and always has been, a village of random brutality, a larger school playground in which someone is always being beaten up behind the bike sheds. The gang chooses the victim almost unconsciously before moving on to the next. Some careers end on the ground. Others survive the experience and grow stronger. Which takes us to the case of Ed Miliband.

Nick Clegg may be roughed up by the Tory press fairly regularly but, with fewer outings in the Commons, doesn't suffer the same personal attacks. Ed's performances at prime minister's questions are deemed rubbish; we're told he lacks charisma and that his party should be way ahead in the polls; and that he needs to be replaced, pronto, by Yvette Cooper, or Ed Balls, or his brother David, or… well, pick your own.

Long ago, I coined the phrase "Zen politics" to describe his eerily relaxed style, and perhaps nothing infuriates his detractors more than his calm in the face of criticism. He isn't flapping. He isn't ramping it up. He just blinks, listens, gives a long hard look, and patiently returns to what he was saying in the first place. He's aware of the sticks and stones, but chooses to ignore them.

Yet at the end of a turbulent year, it's worth looking back and trying to assess Ed Miliband's leadership so far. And it would be ludicrous to claim that everything has gone well. He hasn't caught the country's imagination. David Cameron treats him, and Labour, with casual insolence. Prime minister's questions are, from Labour's point of view, half-hour bouts of wasted opportunity, tedium and frustration. And when Peter Mandelson said on Sunday the party needed more definition and a clearer direction, he was obviously right.

Let's start with the polling. This shouldn't be a major issue. Though in the wake of the Cameron veto and the Anglo-French row, the Tories got a six-point lead in the ICM poll, while YouGov had Labour three points ahead. In the west London Feltham and Heston byelection, where real votes were being counted, Labour's Seema Malhotra won with an 8.6% swing, which seems pretty good, and would in fact deliver Labour a general election victory if replicated at the next election. When it comes to personal satisfaction ratings, according to Mori, Ed has led Dave for six months of this year and Dave has led Ed for six months – even stevens then. Ed is still doing much better than failed Tory leaders such as William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, and he's about in the same position as David Cameron was at this stage of the last parliament.

Many say, even on the Labour side: hold on – with the economy in this dire state and Britain isolated in Europe, the opposition should be streets ahead. Isn't that true?

Up to a point. We face a very confused, dangerous and fast-changing situation. Cameron's City-defending veto triumph now looks like a meaningless political stunt, as Vince Cable and Nick Clegg have pretty much admitted. Nobody knows how new rules may eventually affect the British economy; whether the eurozone will start to come apart despite the new agreement; and whether Britain can avoid a full-blown recession. In these circumstances, the fact that so many people are folding their arms and refusing to commit to any party is hardly surprising.

I say "up to a point", though, because a clearer Labour plan for Europe and the economy would pull more people across. Ed Miliband has done more than he's credited with internally. There's an important move coming for party headquarters from Victoria Street to closer to Westminster and the shadow cabinet; party membership is up 65,000 since he took over; and he has had some palpable hits, particularly on phone hacking and politicians' over-close relationship with the Murdoch empire.

Furthermore, he's swimming against a strong anti-Labour media tide. The majority of the press is, of course, pro-Conservative but the new kids on the block, the political bloggers and digerati, are also overwhelmingly on the libertarian, anti-state right.

Just as important, Labour's defeated Blairites can't get over it, and some of the most vicious criticism of Miliband can be heard from former Blairites, including bloggers like Dan Hodges and John Rentoul, as well as other journalists on left-of-centre newspapers. Ed badly needs some supporters to join the battle of ideas being fought (and lost) online. And perhaps those who attack him might reflect on the Twitter exchanges on Sunday, where one Ed supporter, Owen Jones, pointed out that some Labour people are doing the Tories' work for them.

Yet I'm conscious that this defence of Ed Miliband could start to sound like an apologia. Neither he nor Labour is doing well enough, for all the difficulties of mid-term recessional politics. And it all comes back to that battle of ideas – the "definition" question. In short: if you have the right analysis, and convincing solutions, then questions of personality matter much less, and the argument, online or offline, will swing your way. People around Ed Miliband talk of a new phase of "primary colours" politics in the new year, meaning bolder, clearer and stronger. It's needed.

It clearly must revolve around two themes. The first is growth. The second is democracy, particularly in the European context. As I've argued before, it would be crazy for a centre-left party to be championing a Europe of bankers' rules being imposed on voters without their say-so. Labour needs to have clear ideas about what a more stripped down and democratic European structure would look like, ready for the collapse of the euro project if it happens.

The plan for growth means getting out of overseas military adventures, longer-term nuclear fantasies and a tax system which lures rich, tax-allergic exiles here for no benefit. It means more help for the industries with a future, including high-grade manufacturing and IT, and a sense of urgency about education – and yes, getting away from the exam-obsessed, league table-fixated system criticised by Mehdi Hassan here last week. It means a more defiant, angrier assertion of Labour values of solidarity and fairness against a coalition far better at stripping away jobs than finding a way of replacing them.

Get these ideas clear, and presented well, and many of Ed Miliband's current troubles will blow away pretty fast. He needs help. All leaders do. Some of the older generation, including his brother, need to rally to the flag. But this is a decent leader thinking his way through. It really is too soon to write him off.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Left-Footers, Indeed

It is not yet online, if it ever will be, but my friend Michael Merrick has a very good article in this week's Catholic Herald, on why the Left is not the enemy of the Catholic Church. Do get hold of a copy.

Landing The Catch

The SNP should put down a Commons motion or amendment at the earliest opportunity invoking the provision of the 1972 European Communities Act that a resolution of that House would still trump the supremacy of European Community law, and specifically applying that provision in order to restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights in accordance with international law: 200 miles, or to the median line.

Year on year between 1979 and 1997, every Labour MP voted against confirmation of the Common Fisheries Policy, as did every Lib Dem or member of the predecessor parties. So did every MP from Northern Ireland, and so did the members of Plaid Cymru. Whatever happened to those annual votes? And whereas withdrawal from the CFP was Conservative Party policy under Iain Duncan Smith, it was one of the first casualties of the Michael Howard media coup that those same rolling news channels now wish to repeat against Ed Miliband, also with a view to nipping Euroscepticism in the bud.

David Davis made the highly meaningful promise to restore that commitment, but was completely ignored in favour of David Cameron's wholly meaningless blather about where in the chamber of the European Parliament his party's MEPs were going to sit. If 81 Conservatives, including two PPSes and the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, could be found to break a three-line whip in order to vote in favour of something as vague and ineffectual as the referendum motion, then how many more ought to be prepared to vote in favour of something as specific and effective as this?

Making it all the more useful that it should be an SNP rather than a Labour initiative, since the Conservative Party is now so lacklustre in Scotland, and now contains so many sympathisers with English independence, that its MPs would no longer regard the SNP as enemies or even opponents.

Alex Salmond, even if through whoever it is that are your proxies at Westminster, over to you.

Executive Intelligence Required

I knew that Newt Gingrich reminded me of someone, and now I know who. Gingrich is the Republican Party's Lyndon LaRouche.

His historical theories are about as credible, making it no surprise that he was denied tenure, not in the liberal Northeast that he had fled, but in Georgia, and I mean Georgia as it was then. His moral positions are if anything more liberal than most of LaRouche's, Gingrich having had more wives than children and more affairs than wives.

And he easily matches, or even surpasses, LaRouche's schemes for the colonisation of Mars and for a global network of transoceanic bridges. Newt wants "a mirror system in space [that] could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for night-time lighting of the highways." Oh, and "a large array of mirrors that could affect the earth's climate", thereby extending the growing season for farmers.

Gingrich has all of LaRouche's lunacy and none of his occasional flashes of brilliance. Mainstream Democrats need to become the party to end the bailouts, restore Glass-Steagall, bring home the troops from Afghanistan, eschew future such adventures, invest in key infrastructure, uphold the traditional definition of marriage, really fight against drugs, introduce single-payer healthcare, resist climate change hysteria, and defend both classical education and working and middle-class access to it. Or the LaRouche Movement will. But, in spite of its history even into the fairly recent past, the Republican Party will not.

Not Afraid To Say It

Even those of us who have left it can look at the Church of England, by no means only on the more partisan Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical wings, and see a body, or a series of bodies, with a record of combating moral collapse which more than bears comparison with that of the Conservative Party over the last 30 years. If “there is no such thing as society” (and yes, Margaret Thatcher really did say that), then there can be no such thing as the society that is the family, or the society that is the nation. There cannot be a “free” market generally but not in drugs, prostitution or pornography. There cannot be unrestricted global movement of goods, services or capital but not of labour. American domination is no more acceptable that European federalism. The economic decadence of the 1980s is no more acceptable that the social decadence of the 1960s.

The principle of the planned economy came down to the Attlee Government, via the Liberal Keynes and via Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from an ultraconservative Catholic, Colbert. The principle of the Welfare State came down to the Attlee Government, via the Liberals Lloyd George and Beveridge, and via the Conservative Governments of the Inter-War years, from an ultraconservative Protestant, Bismarck. Those who looked to the union-busting criminality of pirate radio, which was funded by the same Oliver Smedley who went on to fund the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs, were enfranchised in time for the 1970 General Election, gave victory to what they thought were the Selsdon Tories, and went on to support first the economic and then the constitutional entrenchment of their dissolute moral and social attitudes by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Labour MPs defended Catholic schools, and thus all church-based state schools, over several successive decades. National leaders of the Social Democrats supported Christian religious instruction in the schools of Berlin. The House of Lords inflicted a cross-party defeat on Thatcher’s attempt to end such instruction here. Early Labour activists resisted schemes to abort, contracept and sterilise the working class out of existence. Upper and upper-middle-class people joined the early Labour Party precisely because their backgrounds and involvement in the Church of England made them familiar with the importance of State action against social evils, and they used their new party as a platform from which to defend Establishment against Liberal assaults.

Many Social Catholics in post-War Italy promoted Keynesianism and felt a strong affinity with the domestic policies of the Attlee Government, but they were also sceptical about NATO. Jakob Kaiser’s vision was of a German Christian Democracy that looked to British Labour for its inspiration in giving effect to Catholic Social Teaching, and which gave such effect by emphasising co-operatives, the public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance, and the works councils later suggested in the SDP’s founding Limehouse Declaration and advocated by David Owen, while also seeking a United Germany as a bridge between East and West, allied neither to NATO nor to the Soviet Bloc. The witness of Bob Santamaria in Australia is also of crucial historical importance.

Cardinal Manning led the 1889 London dockers’ march serenaded by the Salvation Army band, and he played a pivotal role in settling that strike. When the Attlee Government legislated to regulate marriage, it simply presupposed that marriage could only ever be the union of one man and one woman. Catholic and other Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail against abortion and easier divorce, not least including both Thatcher’s introduction of abortion up to birth and Major’s introduction of divorce legally easier than release from a car hire contract, as well as Major’s abolition of adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, a recognition whereby the community at large declared its disapproval of those actions even though they were not criminal offences. Methodist and other Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail against deregulated drinking and gambling. John Smith was also among those who successfully organised, especially through the USDAW shop workers’ union, against Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts to destroy the special character of Sunday and of Christmas Day, delivering the only Commons defeat of Thatcher’s Premiership.

Callaghan took a strong stand against drugs while he was Home Secretary. Mary Whitehouse voted Labour from time to time, and Lord Longford’s was a lifelong Labour allegiance. The Parliamentary Labour Party voted unanimously against the Finance Bill that abolished the recognition of marriage, as such, in the taxation system. The trade unions fought numerous battles to secure paternal authority in families and communities by securing its economic base in high-waged, high-skilled, high-status male employment. Trade union banners frequently depicted Biblical scenes and characters, as well as historic landmarks geographical and chronological, including the fallen of two World Wars. The name of Margaret Thatcher is abominated in pro-life and pro-family circles, matched only by the abomination of the name of Tony Blair.

I have been told that this affinity with the glory days of Continental Christian Democracy, which itself felt such an affinity with the glory days of British Labour, is incompatible with “the Protestant Anglophone tradition”. But, especially in Germany and in Switzerland, Christian Democracy has both deep roots in Protestant as well as Catholic thought, and huge electoral support among Protestants as well as among Catholics. And looking at those English-speaking countries (a small minority of the total) presumably meant by my interlocutors, I can see only three explicitly Protestant political movements of any note. One is in Northern Ireland, and the other two are in the United States, where one of them is white and the other is black. None of them is socially liberal, to say the least. All three are in favour of public spending generous to the point of lavishness, provided that it is on their own respective constituencies; if the price of this is the same provision for certain others, who are very often Catholics, then that price is paid, if not gladly, then at least in full. All three simply presuppose the capacity of the several layers of government to do both economically social democratic and socially conservative things, identifying that as axiomatically the whole point of governmental institutions.

It was ever thus. Those very Protestant Tories, Shaftesbury and Wilberforce, used the full force of the State to stamp out abuses of the poor at home and slavery abroad, both of which are now well on the way back in this secularised age. Victorian Nonconformists used 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. Temperance Methodists built 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. But that economic and social libertinism is not the Protestant Anglophone tradition, and it ought not to present itself as such.

Trahison du Clerc

Alex Pareene writes:

The late Christopher Hitchens had the professional contrarian’s fixation on attacking sacred cows, and rather soon after his cancer diagnosis, he became one himself. I think he would’ve been disgusted to see too much worshipful treacle being written about him upon his untimely death, so let’s remember that in addition to being a zingy writer and masterful debater, he was also a bellicose warmongering misogynist.

Upon the death of the unlamented Earl Butz, Hitchens excoriated editors who published sanitized obituaries of a man remembered solely for a vulgar racist remark made in public. Hitchens leaves a rather more varied legacy, but it’s just as important not to whitewash his role in recent history.

There was no more forceful intellectual voice in support of the Iraq War than Hitchens. There were others who were more prominent, more influential or more persuasive, but Hitchens was the perfect shill for an administration looking to cast its half-baked invasion plans as a morally righteous intervention, because only he could call upon a career of denunciations of totalitarianism and defenses of human rights. (The fact that the war was supposed to be justified by weapons Saddam was supposedly developing didn’t really matter to Hitchens.)

And so we had the world’s self-appointed supreme defender of Orwell’s legacy happily joining an extended misinformation campaign designed to sell an incompetent right-wing government’s war of choice. The man who carefully laid out the case for arresting Henry Kissinger for war crimes was now palling around with Paul fucking Wolfowitz.

Once he became an unpaid administration propagandist, Hitchens, formerly a creature of left-wing magazines whose largest mainstream exposure was in Vanity Fair and occasionally on Charlie Rose, was suddenly on TV rather a lot. The lesson there, I think, is that the popular American mass media will make room for even a booze-swilling atheist Trotskyite if he’s shilling for a the latest war.

And to be honest, his post-9/11 conception of an epoch-defining clash of civilizations between the secular West and the jihadists is more than slightly ridiculous. The secular West faces any number of graver existential threats — like unaccountable too-big-to-fail financial institutions and climate change, to name two that immediately come to mind — than that posed by the less-than 1 percent of the world’s Muslim population that subscribes to Salafist jihadism. Hitchens, the old Orwell worshiper, clearly just wanted a great big generational threat to tackle fearlessly, with polemics attacking the sclerotic establishment liberals who failed to see that the world was at the brink of disaster. He was looking for his own Spanish Civil War. That’s why he insisted on arguing that “Bin Ladenism” was equivalent to fascism.

On other fronts: His Clinton hatred was something more hysterical than reasonable (his book on the subject has the Lifetime Television Movie-worthy title “No One Left to Lie To”) and his grand campaign for atheism involved a good deal of silliness as well (Bertrand Russell did the case against God earlier and better). He had an unpleasantly boorish attitude toward women, best exemplified by his embarrassing “why women aren’t funny” bullshit. (Hitchens, it should be noted, enjoyed puns rather a lot.) And let’s not forget his immortal review of Wanda Sykes’ White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: “The black dyke got it wrong.” Positively Butzian.

To the end he refused to admit he was “wrong” on the war, because his justifications for it shifted endlessly. The invasion was a humanitarian intervention “on the right side and for the right reasons” in a 2008 piece, in which he found the space to note that “the largest wetlands in the region, habitat of the historic Marsh Arabs, have been largely recuperated,” but did not mention the war’s more than 100,000 casualties.

There was always something cartoonish about old “Hitch” the rakish intellectual character, puffing away on cigarettes and slurring bon mots in interviews, penning furious denunciations of hypocritical public figures while hosting salons and drunken parties at his Washington, D.C., apartment that some of the most powerful and prominent people in the world of politics and media attended. But his most monumental public crusade had devastating consequences that he never fully grappled with.