Sunday 31 December 2017

But No Cigar

Winston Churchill is back in the news, from Gary Oldman’s career-defining portrayal of him, to Laura Pidcock’s assertion that she is already a more important and accomplished political figure than he ever was.

In the 1930s, there were two British threats to constitutionality and, via Britain’s role in the world, to international stability. One came from an unreliable, opportunistic, highly affected and contrived, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, Eurofederalist demagogue who admired Mussolini, heaped praise on Hitler, had no need to work for a living, had an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, profoundly hated democracy, and had a callous disregard for the lives of the lower orders and the lesser breeds. So did the other one.

Far more than background united Churchill and Mosley. In Great Contemporaries, published in 1937, two years after he had called Hitler’s achievements “among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world”, Churchill wrote that: 

“Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” 

That passage was not removed from the book’s reprint in 1941. In May 1940, Churchill had been all ready to give Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda to Mussolini, whom he had called “the greatest living legislator”. 

All sorts of things about Churchill are simply ignored. Gallipoli. The miners. The Suffragettes. The refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. His dishonest and self-serving memoirs. The truth about the catastrophic humiliation at Dunkirk. The other one, at Singapore, for which Australians and New Zealanders have never forgiven Britain. The Lancastria. The men left behind in France.

Both the fact and the sheer scale of his 1945 defeat while the War in the Far East was still going on, when Labour won half of his newly divided seat, and an Independent did very well in the other half after Labour and the Liberals had disgracefully refused to field candidates against him. His deselection by his local Conservative Association just before he died.

And not least, his carve-up of Eastern Europe with Stalin, so very reminiscent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He borrowed the phrase “the Iron Curtain” from Goebbels and used it to mean exactly what Goebbels had meant by it. Broken by the War, the Soviet Union had neither the means nor the will to invade Western Europe, still less to cross either the Atlantic or the Pacific.

But the electorate was under no illusions while he was still alive. His image was booed and hissed when it appeared on newsreels. He led the Conservative Party into three General Elections, he lost the first two of them – the first, I say again, while the War was still going on – and he only returned to office on the third occasion with the support of the National Liberals, having lost the popular vote. In the course of that Parliament, he had to be removed by his own party. It comfortably won the subsequent General Election.

And we have not forgotten the truth about him in the old mining areas. Nor have they in the places that he signed away to Stalin, including the country for whose freedom the War was fought. It was Churchill who coined the nickname “Uncle Joe” for Stalin. 

Churchill wanted to transport the Jews to Palestine, since he saw them as not really British. He presided over the famine in Bengal. His views on race shocked his younger colleagues even in the Conservative Party of the 1950s. The famous dipping of the cranes for his coffin occurred only because the London dockers, who despised him, had been paid to do it. The London dockers, who had been as heavily Blitzed as anyone, anywhere. 

As for Churchill’s having “saved Britain”, it will be interesting to see whether anyone could continue to hold a serious academic or journalistic position in 10 years’ time and come out with that one. More than 50 years after having said goodbye to him, we are finally saying goodbye to the cult of him. That cult seems to have begun only once he was dead, or at least so old as to have been politically as good as dead. It never translated into votes.

Seeing Red

Some of us were once told about ladies in red hats. Clearly, though, Cardinal Tobin of Newark was not one of those so cautioned. I for one am greatly looking forward to the Holy Father's list of Lady Cardinals. Saint John Paul II offered it to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, but she declined.

However, we are now in the Pontificate of "the next Pope but one", whose infallibility was proverbial. Yet he will not be appointing Sister Jeannine Cardinal Gramick, Dr Lavinia Cardinal Byrne, Professor Tina Cardinal Beattie or Ms Catherine Cardinal Pepinster. Rather, every one of those named will know exactly what the first question in every interview was going to be, and she will know exactly what the answer was. She will also know the answers to all subsequent questions. It will be a glorious thing to behold.

Since apparently we must, there is no theological reason why women cannot be Cardinals. The office is purely canonical, not doctrinal. There have been various ways of producing Popes in the past, while the historical norm for the appointment of bishops is by the local lay ruler.

Even the Protestant King of Prussia, with his Lutheran ecclesial, and not only ecclesiastical, role. Even the Tsar of All the Russias, an Orthodox Living Icon. Even the Ottoman Sultan, the Caliph of every Sunni Muslim in the world. And even, inherited from Prussia down to the present day in Alsace-Lorraine, the President sworn to uphold the fiercely secular Constitution of the French Republic.

Since the relatively recent emergence of the present system of Papal elections, the requirement that Cardinals be priests dates only from 1917, while the requirement that they be bishops dates from as recently as 1983. The latter is dispensed for Jesuits who are not diocesan bishops, and it could be dispensed for anyone. As could the former. The Pope would be free to abolish both requirements altogether, or to establish any exception to them that he happened to see fit.

He could abolish Cardinals altogether, come to that. A Pope who attempted to abolish bishops, priests or deacons would be ipso facto deposed for heresy, as would a Pope who suggested that women might become any of those. But a Pope who abolished Cardinals, or who appointed women to their ranks, would be perfectly within his rights.

There is no argument that Lay Cardinals historically received the Tonsure, since that, too, was purely canonical, conferring the status of a cleric. It was not ordination. That it could be abolished, along with Minor Orders and the Subdiaconate, demonstrated that those things were matters of law rather than of doctrine, as everyone had always known. No one had ever suggested the contrary. Just as everyone has always known that the Episcopate, Presbyterate and Diaconate could not be abolished. 

In any case, the requirement that Cardinals receive at least the Tonsure made it quite clear that they had not been doing so hitherto, but with no suggestion that that had invalidated any exercise of their office. Making them all clerics was simply what was felt by the Roman Pontiff to be more expedient at the time. If the Roman Pontiff feels that women as Cardinals would be more expedient at this time, then that is just that.

The genius of this Pope is that, by saying nothing remotely new, he has nevertheless challenged profoundly those who had been given a free pass under his two immediate predecessors, mostly because they were supposed to be working towards the abolition of abortion in the United States. They have made absolutely no progress whatever towards that end, so they are no longer being indulged in their advocacy of unregulated economic markets, in their warmongering, in their support for capital punishment, and in all their other de facto schismatic tendencies.

They might even try and post reams of comments on here, citing the authorities of their own haeresis. For that is what we are dealing with. Even beyond a direct refusal to submit to Petrine authority, actual doctrinal error is not uncommon among them. For all the greatness of Saint John Paul II, he did not act with sufficient vigour against the fancies that became current among his allies against the Soviet Bloc and then, at least ostensibly, against secular liberalism.

Theological Commissions, not least under the then Cardinal Ratzinger, were too politely European and academic as they brushed off Marian Co-Redemption (I defy you to find any serious theologian who calls it anything better than "an unfortunate but perhaps necessary title" or what have you, but they are not dealing with people who get that kind of message), or attempts to argue that celibacy was of the esse of the Priesthood, or conspiracy theories about Fatima and all manner of other things, or loud purported canonisations of assorted shibboleths, some of which might even have been true, but none of which had anything to do with the content of the Faith. Under Benedict XVI, this began to reach lunatic levels, with growing attacks on, for example, Natural Family Planning.

Anyone who had bothered to check would have known, and would still know, the Church's position on neoliberal capitalism, on pre-emptive war, on nuclear weapons, on the death penalty, and indeed on Natural Family Planning. They would have know, and would still know, about Fatima. They would have known, and would still know, about clerical celibacy. They would have known, and would still know, about accurate Mariology.

They would have known, and would still know, that the Church was indifferent on the question of the age of the earth, leaving it to specialists, since the fact of God's Creation of the world was unaffected by the answer to that question. They would have known, and would still know, that, while Shakespeare's Catholicism was highly plausible, it was no part of the Faith. And so on. And on. And on. And on. And on.

This Pope has already excommunicated a schismatic liberal Australian priest. If necessary, he will have no compunction about excommunicating schismatic conservatives, too. For they are, as they have always been, exactly as schismatic as each other.

Bringing us to the dear old Society of Saint Pius X. Of course it thinks that this Pope is a Modernist. It has thought the same thing about the last four, the only others under whom it has ever existed. We must be clear exactly what Lefebvrism is, and is not. It is certainly not "just traditional Catholicism", or even just Catholicism as widely practised during the Pianische Monolothismus. Rather, it makes sense only in certain very specific terms peculiar to France. Terms that, for very French reasons, it assumes to be universal when they are not.

Lefevbrist devotional and disciplinary practice is an obvious expression of, if not direct Jansenist influence, though probably so, then at least the strain in the French character that made it receptive to Jansenism. Likewise, Lefebvrist theory and organisational practice are no less obviously expressions of Gallicanism, and sometimes of very advanced Gallicanism indeed.

For example, rule of the SSPX is by a General Chapter in which not only do bishops and simple presbyters have equal status, but it is considered an aberration that the Superior-General is at present a bishop, rather than being a simple presbyter to whom the Society's bishops would be, and in the past have been, subject. Shades of the extreme Gallican attempts to prove a Dominical institution of the office of parish priest.

And shades of the structural arrangements of Anglo-Catholic traditionalism over the last two decades and before, echoing the extent to which that movement has always tapped into the same English and Welsh organisational traits that made Congregationalism so popular (and many of the same English and Welsh devotional traits that made Methodism so popular) just as Lefebvrism has tapped into the same French traits that had previously manifested themselves as Gallicanism (and Jansenism). 

Although I should have to investigate any specifically Spanish reason why this has come to be so, such trends become even more pronounced in the structure of Opus Dei.

Sanctification through work, the living of a contemplative life in the middle of the world, Christian freedom correctly defined, and the recognition of divine filiation: these are the principles calling all Catholics to rediscover and renew, ever-more-deeply, our beginning the day by offering it to God, our frequent Communion, our daily examination of conscience, our Eucharistic Adoration, our ejaculatory prayer, our use of holy water, and our devotion to the Mother of God, to the Angels and to the Saints. And, yes, our practice of corporal mortification.

But Opus Dei's domination by the laity, yet in an organisation of which clergy are members, effectively turning priests into little more than transubstantiation and absolution machines a great deal of the time, seems more appropriate to the more advanced forms of Congregationalism, to the Baptist movement, and to expressions of Methodism such as the Primitive Methodists, the still-existing Independent Methodist Connexion (with its partly Quaker roots) in the North of England, and the Bible Christians of the West Country.

Even those, in fact, were not or are not quite like that. There is something positively Quaker, at least historically, about the maintenance of autonomous male and female branches. But most of all, the whole thing looks like lay rule through Royal Gallicanism and its local implications all the way down to parochial level, while also recalling the power wielded in the Jansenist subculture by the Abbesses of Port-Royal and their subjects. Again, there is more than a whiff of Anglo-Catholicism in all of this, or of all of this in Anglo-Catholicism.

Lefebvrism gives perhaps the first ever formal institutional shape to the situation created by the seventeenth century, which began with three competing parties in the French Church, but which ended with two, the Gallicans and the Jansenists having effectively merged against the Ultramontanes due to the deployment of Gallican ecclesiological arguments against the Papal condemnations of Jansenist soteriological ones.

By the wayside had fallen such features as Jansenist belief, with the sole if notable exception of Pascal, in the infallibility of Papal definitions ex cathedra, and Gallican use of belief in Our Lady's Immaculate Conception as a mark of party identity due to its having been defined by the Council of Basel.

The popular attraction of the Lefebvrist clergy in terms of the old Latin Mass and traditional or "traditional" devotions echoes that of the Gallican clergy in terms of the old diocesan Missals and Breviaries and a sympathy for the entrenched local devotional practices reviled, like those entrenched local liturgical forms, by the Ultramontanes.

The French Church, or an idea of the French Church, is assumed to be fundamentally autonomous, so that the incompatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with a very specifically French Counter-Revolutionary theory of the relationship between Church and State means that it is the Conciliar Declaration that must yield. This is simply taken to be self-evident.

In reality, such a position is as schismatic and as heretical as John Courtney Murray's attempt to conform Dignitatis Humanae to the American republican tradition's reading of the First Amendment as taught to high school students, an approach comprehensible only within Manifest Destiny and all that. That has therefore ended up, for now, in George Weigel's signature to the Project for the New American Century, and in the public support for the Iraq War on the part of the late Richard John Neuhaus, known to George W. Bush as "Father Richard".

American "conservative" Catholicism sees the American Church as autonomous as surely as does American "liberal" Catholicism, and freely disregards Catholic Teaching on social justice and on peace as surely as the other side freely disregards Catholic Teaching on bioethical and sexual issues. As a result, both alike are blind to the Magisterium's brilliant and unique global witness to the inseparability of all of these concerns.

In both the French and the American cases, there is a strange inability to recognise that what one was taught at 13 or 14 might not always be the last word on any given subject. Well, they are dealing with a very different Pope now.

Saturday 30 December 2017

It's Showtime

The grave matters of the Miami Showband massacre and the plot to assassinate Charles Haughey need to be raised on the floor of the House of Commons as soon as that House reconvenes. If the MP whose constituency contains Consett, where her office is only yards from the mighty St Patrick's church, does not do this, then who will? If the MP whose constituency contains Consett, where her office is only yards from the mighty St Patrick's church, does not do this, then what is the point of her?

She has, however, been endorsed as a future Leader of the Labour Party by Little Owen Jones, who is in turn having some kind of contretemps with Sir Nick Clegg. I do not know whether or not Big Owen Temple intends to contest the suddenly three-way marginal of North West Durham at the next opportunity. But if he did not, then Sir Nick ought to do so, against Little Owen's preferred Prime Minister. If not, then of what might Sir Nick be afraid? Of whom might he be afraid? I have tried to retire from politics before, you know.

In Action Faithful

The Lord Bragg CH and Lady Antonia Fraser CH stand in a long tradition. Of the original 17 Companions of Honour, five were trade union leaders, Labour politicians, or both. A sixth was a leader of the women's suffrage movement which had not at that time attained its objective. A seventh was soon afterwards to expand her social reforming work into Independent Liberal political activity.

Two more were Liberal Unionists, of whom, by the way, there are arguably now 13 in the House of Commons. If the industrialist Viscount Chetwynd took the Conservative Whip, then he was the only person on the list who was in any sense politically involved with that party, and even then barely so. 

The pattern was set for many decades thereafter: relatively right-wing Labour politicians by pre-Blair standards, a few downright left-wing figures, trade union leaders, upper and upper-middle-class Boadiceas of social reform, luminaries of the Australian Labor and New Zealand Labour Parties, an extremely long-serving editor of the Manchester Guardian, a prominent campaigner on behalf of the rural working class. Peace activists were notably numerous.

The first Prime Minister of independent Papua New Guinea remains, while the first Prime Minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago was also a member. There was even an Indian nationalist politician. The one who had been Prime Minister of Northern Ireland had been a founder-member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, and had gone on to chair it.

There was a distinct preponderance of Nonconformist ministers, as well as towards Scotland and, strikingly in view of its relative smallness within the population, towards Wales. There were brilliantly maverick clergymen, generally influenced by Tractarianism, such as the Church of England used to produce: Wilson Carlile, Dick Shepherd, Tubby Clayton, Chad Varah. Varah did not die until 2007, yet he is already an unimaginable figure.

There were plenty of other people, too, including lots of Tories. But the old Radical tradition was very much in evidence. Perhaps it is again?

There Should Never Have Been A Referendum

There should never have been a referendum. What if it had gone the other way? Would that have bound Parliament? Well, there you are, then. The case for Brexit is not that there was a referendum (so what?), but that it is right in itself. As a comment on an earlier post puts it: 

Nobody cares about Brexit apart from a few total fanatics like Adonis on one side and Farage on the other. Everybody else is sick to death of hearing about the whole sodding thing. As you say, next to nobody voted at the Election based on this issue. Normal people don't care about it, never did, never will. 

The General Election result bears that out. Unless anyone seriously suggests that there is 82 per cent support for leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union? But, again, so what? The case for that withdrawal is simply that it is right.

Key parts of the Labour manifesto depended on it, although no part of the Conservative programme did so, despite the commitment to it in itself. The party of big business, the City, and the Remain heartlands will always be the party of big business, the City, and the Remain heartlands.

Regime Change Into What?

The demonstrators want rid of the present, elected Government of Iran. But what do they want instead, why do they want that, and how do they propose to bring it about? What, exactly? Why, exactly? How, exactly?

War with Iran? Surely even Donald Trump couldn't be that ... oh, what am I saying? But Britain needs to keep out of this completely. Theresa May probably will. For absolute certainty, however, we need Jeremy Corbyn.

Every Step of the Way

The 21:00-21:30 segment here, with Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband, is the finest piece of broadcasting that you will ever hear.

Note also that MI5, which is a domestic security agency if it is anything, considered it its business to assassinate Charles Haughey. As we are seeing again today, the British State cannot process the concept of Irish independence. 

But then, nor could whoever in Dublin decided that this letter from the UVF was not to be made the occasion of an enormous diplomatic incident on the day that it was received.

Never Previously Enjoyed

Poor Prince Harry. He has been confronted with the fact that, by marrying an American, he will be connecting himself to people who answered back. That must have come as a shock to his Spencer side at least as much as to his Windsor side.

No, the Windsors have not given Meghan Markle a family life that she never previously enjoyed. But then, nor is the monarchy apolitical. Nor does the Queen nevertheless exercise a quiet but much-valued political influence. Nor is she frugal, a proposition that is downright laughable. Nor does Prince Charles personally raise millions of pounds per year for charity. Nor are minutely choreographed events, often featuring dragoons of uniformed schoolchildren, spontaneous expressions of popular affection.

Yet we all pretend to believe these and numerous other ridiculous things. As we would all have pretended to believe that the Windsors had given Meghan Markle a family life that she had never previously enjoyed. But instead, like Prince Harry, we have been confronted with the fact that, by marrying an American, he will be connecting himself to people who answered back.

The Real Reason

In the very words of Lord Adonis, a man so representative of the Labour Movement that he was once offered the position of Education Secretary by David Cameron, and that he was appointed to the job from which he has just resigned specifically in order to counter the popularity of the National Investment Bank proposed by John McDonnell:

However, I would anyway have been forced to resign from the Commission at this point because of the Transport Secretary’s extraordinary decision to bail-out Stagecoach and Virgin on the East Coast rail franchise. This bailout will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds, possibly billions as other loss-making rail companies demand equal treatment, endangering the entire national infrastructure investment programme. 

It is increasingly clear that the bailout is a nakedly political manoeuvre by Chris Grayling in defiance of his public duty. It would be an act of cavalier irresponsibility even were public resources not so constrained, and is the more so in the context of Brexit. Mr Grayling’s policy appears to be motivated above all by a refusal, for purely political reasons, to follow my precedent of 2009 in the case of National Express and the same East Coast franchise. I set up a public company to take over the franchise once the private operator defaulted on its obligations to the state because it had over-bid for the contract, and the same should have been done in this case. The circumstances are very similar.

The decision to bail out Stagecoach/Virgin will inevitably come under close scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, and I need to be free to set out serious public interest concerns. I hope the PAC calls Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to give evidence soon, given the gravity of the financial losses to the taxpayer. I stand ready to give evidence to the PAC and other parliamentary committees at their convenience, and to share with them substantial relevant evidence.

It is not news that no form of Brexit will ever pass the House of Lords. This, on the other hand, is news. As is Branson’s increasing takeover of the NHS. But no one is talking about that, either. Yet no one’s vote for the House of Commons is in any way connected to Brexit. Did the Lib Dems get 48 per cent of the vote, including the majority in Scotland, where they are the only party of both Unions? Does the majority of MPs for Northern Ireland favour both Unions? Well, there you are, then.

Friday 29 December 2017

This Is MY Jungle

If the Conservatives really are trying to recruit Georgia "Toff" Toffolo as a parliamentary candidate, then I propose that they seek to have her elected here at North West Durham, which has become a target seat for them due to developments since the General Election.

The sitting MP has been endorsed as a future Leader of the Labour Party by Little Owen Jones, the Nick Cohen of his generation. Would I leave the voters with no viable option but those two? Would I leave myself with no viable option but those two? What do you think? I have tried to retire from politics before, you know.

Harping On

Yes, it is scandalous that MI5, of which I have never seen the point, tried to get the UVF to assassinate Charles Haughey. But it is telling that they went and told him. Cut up the Irish any way you like, but they have an affinity with each other that the rest of us will never begin to understand.

The present British Government is sustained in office by a party with the closest possible ties to at least one Loyalist paramilitary organisation that has never disbanded or disarmed in any way. One of that party's MPs comes from a prominent Loyalist paramilitary family and was elected, for a somewhat improbable seat, thanks to the co-ordinated efforts of those organisations.

Workers In Uniform

Having been cut the bone, the Police are being subjected to an outrageous, and obviously co-ordinated, campaign of blame for the consequences by the media alter egos of the cutters. On balance, I do not agree with Stop Funding Hate. But I do sometimes wonder.

Not Reached Its Destination: Full Refund

As of today, it is official that rail privatisation was an attempt to break the unions. Well, how has that one worked out, then? Franchise by franchise, and thus at no cost, take the whole thing back. With the unions, as such, at every level of corporate governance.

Questions To Answer

Most people probably think that Question Time is a BBC production. But in fact, it is made by a company that also profits handsomely from the NHS privatisation that it never mentions. Who is going to have to guest-edit the Today programme for it to ask about that?

Sewer Rats

Just before the UN vote on Jerusalem, Israel gave Nauru a $72,000 sewage treatment plant. Meanwhile, where are the proponents of, say, Malala Yousafzai in support of Ahed Tamimi?

Even at the time, "Girl Power" struck many of us as feminism without the politics, an obvious integral part of the world of Tony Blair and the Clintons. In middle age, it is proving to be precisely that.

Under The Persian Rug

The slogans being chanted in Iran, even in Qom, appear to be monarchist. But the international cheerleading is coming from the ghastly PMOI-MEK. Have nothing to do with that. Nothing. And remember how the Arab Spring ended up.

Thursday 28 December 2017

On Moral Grounds

My support for the Universal Basic Income is set within the continuing struggle for full employment with the Living Wage, best delivered by the Jobs Guarantee that is integral to Modern Monetary Theory.

I take much of Nick Boles's point about the social, cultural and political importance of work, which raises the question of why he reveres the memory of the Prime Minister who destroyed so much of that economic, social, cultural and political order.

He is also right about the importance of technical education, although a similar question arises. And he will presumably be wanting to ban inheritance, and large monetary gifts? No, nor would I, outright. That, however, is the logic of his position.

I remember when both parties were agreed that, in principle and as an eventual aim, inheritance ought to be tax-free. It was not even that long ago. How the world turns.

Bring It On Home

There is a role for local government in housing. But we should no more necessarily trust the right-wing Labour municipal machine in that field than we trust that machine in education, or than we trust the Liberal Establishment in the media.

Wherever possible, we need to be bypassing such behemoths in order to make our own arrangements. In direct partnership with "the Tories" where necessary, and perhaps even as a matter of principle.


The Telegraph is in fully hysterical mood tomorrow, about the possibility that the boundary changes might not go ahead. If this reduction in the number of constituencies to 600 were indeed to occur, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same.

The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper, for the information of the voters.

What would be the deposit to become such a candidate? There would not be one, as there ought not to be in general. Instead, the requirement to be a constituency candidate might be nomination by at least five per cent of the voters, while that to be a national candidate might be nomination by at least 2000 registered parliamentary electors, including at least 10 in each of the 99 lieutenancy areas. In this day and age, obtaining that would cost little or nothing.

The lieutenancy areas ought also to be the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of the areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be required, and other parties would be permitted, to submit their internally determined shortlists of two to binding, independently administered, publicly funded ballots of the entire electorate one week before the election itself. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to at least six, or possibly seven, of nine Co-Presidents, elected in the same way as the 50 national MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would in fact enfranchise those who inexplicably look to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or social liberalism, or European federalism, or what you. It has never done any such thing.

Candidates for Co-President, for Senator or for national MP would all be required to name a second, who would also be listed on the ballot paper, to take office in the event of the position's becoming vacant.

In the words of the old Tory battle cry, Trust The People.

Park This

Give the hospital car parking charges to the Royal Yacht. Why not?

I ought to laugh at the idea of a lottery for the Royal Yacht. But we already have one for the NHS. Who'd be a satirist in Britain today?

Right From The Very Start

The Stop the War Coalition was not founded to oppose the war in Iraq. It was founded to oppose the war in Afghanistan. So it has been right from the very start. Our arbitrary intervention in an Afghan Civil War that has now been going on continuously for 40 years has been an abject disaster from the outset, and it continues to be so.

We are now effectively back to supporting the Taliban, whom we created, against the local franchise of IS, which did not exist until we took out the bulwark against such things in Iraq. By far the most prominent politician in the Western world to have said all of this throughout every one of these adventures is Jeremy Corbyn.

On Second Thoughts

Having been on Tramadol, I am at a loss as to which doctor in this country would prescribe that much of it. Free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Free Ahad Tamimi. As you would react if either of those were being held in Russia, so you must react in each and both of these cases. One Struggle. But, at the very least, reserve judgement on Laura Plummer. I regret that I did not.

I have also been thinking again about the apparent irrelevance of Michael Heseltine. With, only arguably, the only partial exception of Gordon Brown, then you have to go back to 1976 for the last time that anyone became Prime Minister without Heseltine's endorsement.

He knows perfectly well that Theresa May is not even pursuing Brexit, having all but sacked David Davis in favour of a civil servant; what the City wants of the Conservative Party, the City gets. He knows perfectly well that Jeremy Corbyn would pursue Brexit very actively indeed, since his economic programme depends on withdrawal from the Single Market and the Customs Union.

But, like the Royal Family and increasingly even the BBC, he also knows that Corbyn is going to become Prime Minister. And, like the Royal Family and the BBC, he has never been wrong yet.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Flak On The Flanks

Norman Tebbit is on very thin ice. When previous Leaders have seriously considered removing him from the Conservative Party, then his defenders have turned round to his detractors and asked, "What about you?" If Michael Heseltine went, then so would he. That would be the deal.

As it is, that they both remain is an application of the Woodcock-Pidcock Principle. Jeremy Corbyn can always point out that he has not removed John Woodcock, nor has Woodcock made any attempt to remove himself, while at the same time he has not given any kind of job to Laura Pidcock, either.

Nor has Theresa May either removed or promoted either Anna Soubry or Jacob Rees-Mogg. And nor has she removed either Michael Heseltine or Norman Tebbit.

Palace Cooing

Are only members of the British Royal Family now allowed to interview either other members of the British Royal Family or former Presidents of the United States? Or do former Presidents of the United States also hold club rights in this regard? In either event, there is no chance that Barack Obama might be asked about his bombing of eight countries in eight years.

Still, Donald Trump is probably annoyed, and Katie Hopkins certainly is. Obama at the Royal Wedding would not be the half of it. The younger Royals' mates in their own country are the pop star mates of Jeremy Corbyn; his linkmen to the various sections of his youthful base, from the white suburbs to the black streets. That is the Court Party now.


I have never cared for the hunting ban. Tony Blair and Hilary Armstrong, neither of whom voted for it, used it in order to buy parliamentary support for the Iraq War. But it is the law. It has now been the law for quite some time. It ought to be enforced as such.

Along with bringing back grammar schools, bringing back foxhunting was the commitment that cost the Conservative Party its overall majority. Both cases are now closed. It is very high time to enforce the law against foxhunting.

Squawk of the Dodos

From Michael Heseltine's continued receipt of the Conservative Whip while claiming that a Corbyn Government "would not be as bad" as the Brexit that would be integral and fundamental to it, to Tony Blair's continued holding of a Labour Party card despite his having advocated a vote for all and sundry this year, the lack of disciplinary action proves only that these figures are now completely and utterly irrelevant.

Knights and Daze

The most notable thing about Nick Clegg's knighthood is that it is not a peerage. He has every intention of returning to the House of Commons.

Clegg is no less deserving of his K than have been numerous other people who have had it. Tuition fees? Is that all? Everything that the Coalition did, the Lib Dems did, from the Bedroom Tax to the war in Libya. One Conservative MP voted against that latter. But no Lib Dem did so. Not a single, solitary one. Tuition fees are the least of anyone's objections to them.

And yes, I did vote for Owen Temple this year. That I was prepared to do so indicates quite how repugnant was, and is, the Hard Right Labour machine in County Durham in general, and its treatment of the Teaching Assistants, of whom Owen was and is one of the two great champions, in particular.

Since then, North West Durham has become a three-way marginal seat, the voting figures being meaningless in the light of what the electorate now knows. That said, even before that knowledge had become general, the Conservative vote had already increased by more than 50 per cent. This seat is now anyone's for the taking.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Losses To Come

First the body of Dr David Kelly was dug up and cremated. And now, this. Preparations for the Corbyn Government are proceeding apace.

Sisters In Struggle

Free Laura Plummer. Free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Free Ahad Tamimi. 

As you would react if any of these were being held in Russia, so you must react in each and all of these cases.

One Struggle.

¿El País de la Eterna Primavera?

The countries that continue to look to the United States for global leadership are the Great Powers of Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo.

Listen Without Prejudice

It has been a year and a day since the death of George Michael.

He had his demons. But he supported the miners, he refused huge sums to play in apartheid South Africa, and he was outspoken against the Iraq War.

"Can't you remember him without bringing politics into it?" No. Because that wasn't him.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Merry Christmas

I shall be entirely offline from now until the afternoon of Tuesday 2nd January. To one and all, therefore, a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The New Yellow Peril and The New Red Scare

So, this latest UN Security Council will stop North Korea from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The nuclear weapon that North Korea was already supposed to have. And to have been capable of launching all the way to these Islands from the Korean Peninsula. Presumably within 45 minutes.

In any case, having exhausted all other options to justify the domestic repression and international rampage that their proponents have always wanted anyway, we are supposed to have reverted to the factory default of blaming the Russians.

Unfortunately, though, the New Yellow Peril had not yet worked itself out before someone went and launched the New Red Scare. So we are having to go through a period of parallel running, like when there are changes to local government finance.

Other than Vladimir Putin, the declared candidates for the Russian Presidential Election of 18th March 2018 are Pavel Grudinin, of the totally unreconstructed Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and dear old Vladimir Zhirinovsky, of the hilariously, yet unamusingly, misnamed Liberal Democratic Party. If you need to do so, then do look up both him and it.

This is not about liking Putin. This is about liking the alternatives even less. The only alternatives that exist in actual fact.

Brooching The Subject

You forget that the minor characters are there. Anyway, this is the brooch that Princess Michael of Kent wore to meet Meghan Markle for the first time.

I wouldn't have a go at her, though. Yes, her father was a Nazi officer who joined the party three years before Hitler came to power. But she is small fry, married in, to the extent that she has to use her husband's Christian name. Prince Philip's sister, the Queen's cousin, was married to a very senior Nazi, and another cousin was the Duke of Coburg, Queen Victoria's youngest grandchild, who was a convicted Nazi war criminal.

In any case, this brooch probably celebrates the Royal Family's descent from the "Negroid" Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, after whom the city in North Carolina is named. Meanwhile, there are now more Vietnamese than Germans in Princess Michael's Sudeten home town. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at that.

Friday 22 December 2017

Say No To Turkey This Christmas

John Woodcock has been sucking up to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and acting as his spokesman, more than George Galloway's enemies ever even alleged that he done to and for Saddam Hussein, and those allegations were themselves wildly inaccurate. How can Woodcock continue to receive the Labour Whip? How can he continue to hold a Labour Party membership card?

But remember, while we remain in Woodcock's beloved NATO, then we remain as committed to the defence of Erdoğan as we are to that of his Eastern European neo-Nazi allies, and as we are to that of their hero, but most certainly not Erdoğan's, in the White House. We should get the hell out of NATO, before NATO gets us into hell.

The Capital Offences of Boris Johnson

Jonathan Meades writes: 

Boris Johnson's lovable maverick schtick has been to dissemble himself beneath a mantle of suet, to pretend to inarticulacy, to oik about as the People's Primate, to wear a 10-year-old's hairdo, to laugh it off — no matter what it is, no matter how grave it may be — and to display charm learnt at a charm school with duff tutors. 

This construct is going on threadbare. If one devotes such energy to a simulacrum of oafishness one becomes an oaf. The creature that his panto act was intended to occlude is evident in photographs of over 30 years ago when he still had cheekbones.

In those days, the young apprentice liar was only a rapier scar short of the full Heydrich. The supercilious confidence, the hubris, the arrogance of the entitled and the languid bully's hardly suppressed cruelty are deafeningly manifest. 

George Orwell was perhaps wrong. Johnson is now a spectacularly immature 53-year-old who doesn't have the face he deserves. Rather, he has the face he has struggled to create, a mask to gull the gullible Little Ingerlanders whose xenophobic legions — think, if you can bear to, of a million Andrea Leadsoms mated with a million beer-bellied fans — are as ever-swelling as their idol. 

They feel no shame at belonging to the same species as the creature, no embarrassment. He doesn't make them wince. They applaud his blustering idiocies, his boorishness, his antinomian exceptionalism, his carelessness, his borderline criminality, his incontinent mendacity — a habit which, decades on, he has yet to stem. 

And his despoliation of London during eight years of insouciant irresponsibility has, until lately, provoked astonishingly little concerted antipathy outside the milieu of urbanism conference delegates, infrastructural consultants, public-space gurus, despised planners who know their job and megalopolitan studies majors.

These people, no matter how distinguished and how clued up, were impotent in the face of an elected absolutist who listened to no-one and would be in chokey for life were pig ignorance a crime. 

It's all very well spitefully damaging restaurants with your fellow sawdust caesars of the Bullingdon for loutish self-gratification. Spitefully damaging one of the great cities of the world, rendering it formerly great, for loutish self-gratification is a rather different matter.

This was the mayor who shat laissez-faire on London, who marked his territory with heavy loads of foetid bling, whose faecal legacy it will take decades to clear. Unhappily the second-hand water cannon — Wasserwerfer 9000s — which Johnson, evidently in Mayor Daley mood and too indolent to check their legality, bought from some smoothie on a back lot in Chemnitz, have been sold on. They weren't legal. The then Home Secretary Theresa May said so. 

Johnson's was not normal autocratic behaviour. In 1977, Jacques Chirac was elected the first Mayor of Paris in a century. His predecessor was Jules Ferry, who used his position to undermine the president, the amusingly pompous Valery Giscard d'Estaing from whose cabinet he had resigned.

So Chirac sacked Ricardo Bofill, whom Giscard had chosen by means of a rigged competition to rebuild Les Halles — which ought not to have been demolished in the first place. Chirac denigrated Bofill's design as "Greco-Egyptian with Buddhist tendencies" and after that mouthful declared: "L'architecte...c'est moi." And preposterous as it may sound he was, insofar that he meddled and “advised” and censored the designs of Jean Willerval, whom he brought in to replace Bofill. 

Willerval was an accomplished brutalist who was ill at ease with the tepid postmodernism that Chirac prescribed. His “umbrellas” would last less than three decades. Meanwhile Giscard d'Estaing was promoting the Gare d'Orsay as a counter to the Beaubourg, a project which he had wished to cancel when he was elected president. But once it was renamed the Pompidou Centre his hands were tied in enforced respect for his dead predecessor. 

These were certainly proxy political skirmishes, but they were also about surfaces — taste, design, style and the appearance of a city. Two decades previously, Nikita Khrushchov’s denunciation of Stalin had begun with a vilification of his kitschy historicist fun-fair architecture. The subsequent khrushchovkas were grimly functional, prefabricated, standardised, low cost, spartan and based on immediately post-war French models. 

No doubt Putin's zealous erasure of them is partly founded in their not being specifically Russian. Like Stalin, Putin understands the Russian sweet tooth for gaudiness. Further, the khrushchovkas do not accord with the look that Moscow should present to the world. 

In comparison with these politicians who, whatever their bent, recognised the importance of aesthetics and the politicisation of design, Johnson is stylistically agnostic, artistically indiscriminate and not much concerned about a building's purpose. His campaign manifesto for the 2008 mayoral election includes a predictable boast about improving “the aesthetic quality of new developments.” 

How, given that all evidence points to his aesthetic blindness, was this to be achieved? By the market, of course. The market possesses 20-20 vision, it is always right. Apart from the grand destiny which awaits him, it is the only thing that he believes in, though that could change if it suits him to change. 

The market absolved Johnson of having to make choices. He waved through virtually every planning application that came before him. He “called in” a number of applications that had been rejected. He overruled councils and local objections and sanctioned developments of which he had only the feeblest knowledge. Plans and proposals demand a concentrated attention to detail that Johnson, by his own admission, lacks.

He consequently created a city fit only for hedge-fund bastards, south-east Asian investors, oligarchs on the run and their amazonian prostitutes known as “Russian fur-trees.” Through sloth and indifference, he exacerbated inequality and the housing crisis.

Having claimed that he would not create Dubai-on-Thames he did worse, he created Houston-on-Thames, Minneapolis-on-Thames. He turned London into a building site, a catwalk of urban regenerators' bums. There is nothing less “sustainable” than the process of construction. 

Throughout his excellent and often shocking book Nincompoopolis, Douglas Murphy is level-headed and generally reluctant to attack Johnson ad hominem. This might be regarded as self-censorship or simply an act of courtesy which would improbably be reciprocated.

He does not then consider the possibility that Johnson, in his overwhelming eagerness to leave a mark which would live on beyond his mayoral term, was often had. Far from being the big chief, he was a readily biddable patsy, a soft touch for sly operators like Heatherwick. 

Developers, vandals in all but name, circumvented planning procedure by going straight to him and his chummy rubber stamp, safe in the knowledge that he would not have considered the ramifications of their latest offering. He had a scattergun approach to his wretched “legacy.” If you permit everything, something is bound to stick. He refused only seven of the 130 applications that came before him. 

One of these was for an extension to London City Airport which had been approved by the local authority. Murphy surmises, not unreasonably, that Johnson's refusal to endorse the scheme was on spurious grounds — noise, pollution — because he was entertaining a half-witted dream of an airport on an artificial extension to the Isle of Grain at the foggy confluence of the Thames and the Medway. 

The creature's amour propre and faith in his own judgment is so powerful that he quite overlooks or dismisses the project's environmentally catastrophic effects, not to mention that construction would involve disturbing the liberty ship Richard Montgomery which famously sank off Sheerness in 1944 with 1,400 tons of ordnance aboard. 

Their explosive status is disputed. That of Grain is not. A beguiling wilderness, its value is increased by its proximity to London. It requires protection from chancers' duff wheezes. One might say that London itself also requires that protection, though that would have precluded John Nash,a chancer of genius and thus an exception. 

Johnson is not even in the premier league of chancers. His estuarial airport was partly recycled from the Heath-era scheme on the Essex shore at Maplin Sands, which excited derision at the time. Much of north Kent is a valuable reminder of England before it was Thatcherised.

Johnson, like Thatcher, is not, pace Murphy, really a Tory, let alone a shires Tory — do those beasts still exist? If he must be classified, it is as a mutant Manchester Liberal. Like Thatcher and like Trump, with whom he is twinned and whom he embarrassingly calls “a great global brand,” he displays, as Murphy observes, “a vocal contempt for the state but a consistent eagerness to use it as a source of funds and protection.” 

Funds, for instance, to promote his follies which give follies a bad name. They are crude whims and coarse caprices such as the garden bridge. Leave aside Thomas Heatherwick's mediocre design. The evasion of normal procurement processes, the disappearance of millions of pounds, the creepily cosy relationship of Transport for London with the engineering behemoth Arup, the emergence of Joanna Lumley as an urban theorist and the “casual disregard for the boundaries of public and private,” these call for criminal investigation. 

Johnson's mayoralty was a consistently splendid demonstration of what used to be called the OPA (Old Pals Act) in its full, grubby pomp. Heatherwick, for instance, evidently the court designer, was also responsible for the disastrous new buses. He appointed as “a senior adviser” the far from distinguished former editor of the Evening Standard Veronica Wadley, whose support of his electoral campaign had been as laughably parti pris as her denigration of Ken Livingstone's. 

Subsequently, he bent every conceivable rule of public job selection to secure her appointment to the chair of Arts Council London, a post for which she had absolutely no experience. Johnson's perplexing anxiety to please Wadley was such that he re-ran the selection process once the Tories had returned to power in 2010 and obliging Jeremy Hunt was on hand to approve the appointment, which his predecessor Ben Bradshaw had declined to do. 

Was this quid pro quo? A big drink? Was it down to friendship? To a belief in Wadley's previously untried abilities? No. More likely by far it was a self-interested ruse to deter Wadley's husband, the biographical attack-dog Tom Bower, from writing about him. In all likelihood, it will turn out that Johnson has miscalculated and Bower will slip his leash, teeth bared.

As Murphy, a rather more nuanced writer, repeatedly shows, Johnson has an unerring aptitude for misreading situations. He is a hostage to his own wishfulness. He wants a new toy, a toy he will share with the little people. A £60 million cable car kind of toy. In his access of solipsism he has assumed that the world would want to play with the toy that he has so generously offered them. But the wretched ingrates are indifferent to his gift. 

What then about an aggressive lump of soi-disant sculpture to Johnson-up the Olympics, on whose pristine site he had yet to evacuate himself? The supersalesman connects well. He is lanyarding around the World Economic Forum in Davos, when who should he run into but Lakshmi Mittal, then the richest man in Britain. No foreplay, straight to the point. “Lakshmi, old son, I have a vision...”

The consummation was immediate. Mr Steel (Murphy's epithet) coughs up. But for what? Johnson is a highly unoriginal thinker. His vision was, typically, pre-loved for the kind of structure that endured long after the forgotten expos, the world fairs and the previous Olympics they had originally embellished. Compulsorily vertical, like the Eiffel Tower or the Seattle Space Needle or the Olimpiaturm in Munich. 

Paul Fryer's fine Transmission, somewhere between totem pole and Cross of Lorraine was the first work associated with this scheme. But Johnson, au fond an off-the-peg, immeasurably vain politician, craved a “landmark” — his drearily hackneyed word — and a big name. He convened a jury the far side of parody.

The curatocratic nomenklatura — Nicholas Serota, Julia Peyton-Jones and the ineffable Hans Ulbrich Obrist engaged in his perpetual struggle to parse a sentence. These institutionalised champions of the ancient avant-garde are nothing if not predictable. They arrived at a shortlist of three of their cronies. This time they chose crony Anish Kapoor and his collaborator, crony Cecil Balmond, the engineer whose job is to make sure dummkopf visions don't collapse. This is a man who never lacks for commissions.

It might be argued that the ArcelorMittal Orbit is in the tradition of eye-catchers built in the form of ruins. That would be to exonerate those culpable for the mess. It appears to be the site of a major rollercoaster disaster, a multimillion-pound structural failure. This, presumably, is not what was intended. But it does stand as an apt and unwitting summation of Johnson's London — an ugly man's ugly legacy of chaos concentrated in a single ugly object. 

Throughout the years of Johnson's reign, Douglas Murphy was making or trying to make a career as an architect. He lived a life of gas-meter fiction and Gissing-like penury. He casually contrasts his lot, the lot of the many, with that of the few, of Johnson and his privileged milieu, his privileged background.

Murphy is not sparing in his use of “'elite” and “elitism.” So what? There is something terribly wrong about a society which allows attention-seeking freaks like Johnson to rise and rise. This is a man who'll do anything for a photo opportunity. Bite off a live European chicken's head? Why not? Dance in Union Jack-patterned Pampers? Of course.

Eton is obviously partly to blame. Its very existence depends on bolstering the inequality and exclusivity which endow its charges with an unmerited sense of superiority no matter how crass the little tossers may be.

There are exceptions. Orwell, of course, and Neal Ascherson who recently observed that, when he was there, his fellow pupils treated their teachers as servants. They very likely still do. OEs such as Robin Cook — aka Derek Raymond — Jeremy Sandford and Heathcote Williams also saw through the contaminatory place and despised it. They belong to an honourable tradition of treachery towards the old school. 

Johnson, like the wretched Cameron, a poltroon who, extraordinarily, inflicted even greater harm, is not an aristocrat. Were he an aristocrat he might have some conception of noblesse oblige. He is a paltry, utterly conventional, upwardly mobile, morally squalid parvenu who yearns to be taken for what he isn't. 

There is a parliamentary history of such creatures who believe themselves to be characterful cards — Gerald Nabarro, Norman St John Stevas, Leo Abse, the rapists Nicholas Fairbairn and Cyril Smith. But no party leader was ever daft enough to appoint any of them to an important post. 

Until recently I had hoped that Johnson would, in homage to his doppelgänger Herman Goering, crack open a cyanide capsule in his cell while awaiting trial for gross abuse of public funds — where are they? I must apologise. We should humanely encourage him to hang himself with a towel attached to a toilet pipe like another characterful card, Robert Ley, director of the nazis' Strength Through Joy organisation.

Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson is published by Repeater, price £8.99.

Panel Beating

The Prime Minister has declined to use her power to grant the survivors of Grenfell Tower their request for a more diverse panel to sit alongside Sir Martin Moore-Bick. In which case, they should just appoint one, anyway. People who will attend every session, and who will prepare a report at the end. Not ideal. But better than nothing. And possibly the shape of things to come.

When The Mop Makes The Mess

If Boris Johnson were good for anything, then Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would already be free. He would simply have refused to leave Iran without her.

As for fighting Russian "cyberwarfare", at least his efforts will not be unduly costly. On supposedly swinging the EU referendum, the Russians spent 73p.

All that Johnson has to do, therefore, is spend 74p against them. He would still be incompetent even at that, though.

Not Really Spoiling Us

Before being made Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley had never heard of the UN. She has still barely done so. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to her to hold diplomatic receptions to which the only invitees will be representatives of the tiny number of mostly tiny countries that backed the United States over Jerusalem. She thinks that that will diminish the influence of everyone who was not on the guest list. But of course it will do no such thing. Rather, it will diminish the influence of the United States. Such, evidently, as there still is.

Monsters, Not Maltby

Damian Green makes me ill, but Kate Maltby gets on my nerves. She will end up in the Women's Equality Party, which exists to promote the media careers of its well-heeled and well-connected stalwarts in the way that the Official Monster Raving Loony Party exists to promote its members on the pub entertainment circuit. The latter, however, is a far nobler endeavour.

There ought to be an absolute requirement that a representative of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party be featured whenever airtime was given to anyone from the Women's Equality Party. Or, indeed, to Kate Maltby, of whom we are have already seen and heard far too much, but of whom we may expect to see and hear a very great deal more.

Weighed and Measured

Exactly as some of us predicted, the United Kingdom is to become a colony of the European Union, bound forever by its laws while no longer having any say in their content. But never mind, eh? At least we'll have the blue passports. The blue passports that we could always have had, anyway. So, that's all right, then. Never mind the cost of £500 million, when there is apparently no money to help the 120,000 homeless children in Britain this Christmas. 

Imperial measures are not coming back, though, because who would teach them? I'd be all for teaching them, as I would be all for teaching Latin. But in both cases, I acknowledge that there is no one to do so. A number of pernicious falsehoods are circulating on this subject. Of course metrication was by Act of Parliament. But guess which party? And we can't be having people remembering that, now, can we?

The reason why our own and so many other traditional weights and measures survive for the sale of bread or beer all across Europe is because they are perfectly adequate, and even ideal, for the sale of bread or beer. They are, however, at least arguably too imprecise for anything much more than that, and it is undeniable that an international scientific and technological culture simply could not function without a universally accepted system of weights and measures.

Unlike, I believe that it is correct to say, any part of the imperial system, the metric system was invented by an Englishman. It has a very long history in this country. Even leaving aside how long ago Imperial Britain's industrial zenith was, making it irrelevant to the present day, the bald claim that that was achieved entirely by the application of the imperial system does not stand up to the slightest analysis.

Nor does it ring true that the United States (whose system of weights and measures is its own, for all that some shared vocabulary might give rise to confusion) went to the Moon using non-metric units. If, for the sake of argument, that was the case, then it was 50 years ago. There is no way, though, that the Americans are still doing anything remotely comparable in anything other than the metric system today, even if they were doing so in the 1960s, which itself strikes me as highly unlikely.

Canada, New Zealand, and the Kippers' Promised Land of Australia all gave up the imperial system for any purpose decades ago now. The never threatened pint of milk or beer will always be readily available in the Irish Republic, a state that will never leave the EU while there is still such a thing in which to remain. By all means bring back the official pound of meat or butter, if you like. But there are no more people who could teach imperial units than there are who could teach the second declension, more is the pity. And, for the rigid utilitarians among you, Latin would be of more use to artists and scientists alike than imperial units would be to either.

Really, though, this is not about rods, perches or poles. This is about pounds, shillings and pence. "Pull the other one," I hear you cry. "No one is that mad." Oh, but they are. I like the new pound coin. But George Osborne, who devised it, was three months old when the threepenny bit was abolished by, again, guess which party? Yet, in his pursuit of that party's Leadership, on which he has by no means given up, he felt the need to introduce a coin that resembled one that he himself could not possibly have remembered. The threepenny bit has been brought back at pretty much its original spending power, but at 80 times its original face value. Think about that, and realise that you should have listened to Tony Benn.

I voted Leave, and I would do so again. But that does not mean that I have to like the noisier Leavers. I do not even want to take them seriously. Alas, though, we are all going to have to do so. They must have their preferred colour of passport, which the EU never prevented. They must have their pounds of meat and butter, which no one has ever had any difficulty in buying under a convoluted alternative designation. They must have coins that look like ones from the 1960s despite having totally different values, so to speak. All the while, though, they will not care threepence that, exactly as some of us predicted, the United Kingdom is to become a colony of the European Union, bound forever by its laws while no longer having any say in their content.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Entry Level

If it is entryism, and indeed foreign agency, that you want, then see Liam Byrne. While he is no doubt technically writing his speeches and tweets himself, there is no way that he understands more than a few words of them. He must not be re-elected, so he must not be reselected.


A huge win in the Court of Appeal today, with the quashing of discriminatory Personal Independence Payment regulations. 164,000 people will now be able claim what is rightfully theirs. The Court has not even granted the Government leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. It might. But it hasn't yet. David Gauke would presumably have resigned, if Theresa May had had any gaps in her busy schedule of demanding and accepting Cabinet resignations.

Britain First, Who Second?

Twitter is a private company, and whose accounts it will host is literally its own business. The question is whose accounts it will next exercise its right to suspend or delete. If I owned a social media platform, then I might not allow Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen on it, either. But I might allow some of the next people to go. Perhaps I, or we, should indeed own a social media platform?

The Right Hand Man No More

What does Damian Green do now? As what would he now be employable, and why?

Green No More?

Sir Paul Beresford stood up at yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions to defend the Green Belt, a thoroughly Old Labour and non-"free"-market idea that now subsidises his own County of Surrey to use more of its land for golf courses than for housing.

England in general uses as much land for one as for the other, not as the application of any libertarian or High Tory principle about private property, but because of public subsidy.

I want to carry on believing in this post-War (and, in London, pre-War) social democratic project. Give me a reason to do so.

Once More Unto The Breach?

David Davis has not resigned even though Damian Green has been sacked. So that's the Brexit negotiations screwed, at least this side of a General Election. No one can possibly take Davis seriously after this. But then, once a principled campaigner, he has been regressing for years to the days when he was a Whip on the Maastricht Bill, and after that John Major's Europe Minister. You would get none of that here.

If parents can block Internet pornography, then the technology exists. It beggars belief that that technology is not applied to the Palace of Westminster. Or, indeed, to the country as a whole. Let's not even start about Kate Maltby, who inherited a place on the Question Time panel ahead of women journalists of far greater distinction.

But the Police do not come out of this at all well, either. That said, those currently shrieking at them seem to be in no hurry to hold an inquiry into Orgreave. Let there be none into this affair without one into that. Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and Shami Chakrabarti must be absolutely insistent on this point. I would be.

Meanwhile, as Sam Armstrong is acquitted in the midst of yet more questions about disclosure (a subject on which I am very much keeping an eye), the offences of rape, serious sexual assault, and sexual assault, ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, enabling the sentences to be doubled. The sex of either party would be immaterial. There must be no anonymity either for adult accusers or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

In this or any other area, there must be no suggestion of any reversal of the burden of proof. That reversal has largely been brought to you already, by the people who in the same year brought you the Iraq War. The Parliament that was supine before Tony Blair was also supine before Harriet Harman. Adults who made false allegations ought to be prosecuted automatically.

Moreover, how can anyone be convicted of non-consensual sex, who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex? If there is an age of consent, then anyone below it can be an assailant. But a sexual assailant? How? Similarly, if driving while intoxicated is a criminal offence, then how can intoxication, in itself, be a bar to sexual consent? The law needs to specify that it was, only to such an extent as would constitute a bar to driving.

Be the change.

Born of a Virgin

Long before anyone knew anything about X and Y chromosomes, the Church Fathers held that God had made up whatever had been lacking in order to make it possible for a woman to bear a male child without any male human involvement. The view that miracles are absolutely impossible is not compatible with agnosticism. Nor with science, which is purely descriptive. What if a miracle did occur?

Forget the assertion that until the nineteenth century, people thought that heredity was purely on the paternal side. The Greek urban, homosocial leisure class thought that. But the Hebrew writers seem to have been unaware that any such fantasy even existed. Well, of course they were. They were working farmers who spent their time with their wives and children. Accordingly, their purity and incest laws presuppose a biological relationship with both parents. I employ the present tense because those laws are still in daily use, and may be read in the best-selling book in the world.

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 have invented 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, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, 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.

The Man Who Was Thursday, On The Man Who Invented Christmas

It is almost impossible to overstate the cultural impact of A Christmas Carol. All adaptations, even by the Muppets, stick closely to the plot, and usually even to the dialogue. A green Bob Cratchit is not contrary to the book, in which no colour is specified.

In The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961, Fr Ian Ker of Oxford proposes “a new way of looking at Chesterton’s literary achievement which has gone by default.” He sees the author of the Father Brown stories, and even of The Man Who Was Thursday, as “a fairly slight figure”. But Chesterton the non-fiction writer is “a successor of the great Victorian “sages” or “prophets”, who was indeed compared to Dr Johnson in his own lifetime, and who can be mentioned without exaggeration in the same breath as Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold and especially, of course, Newman.”

Fr Ker identifies Charles Dickens (1906) both as Chesterton’s best work and as the key to understanding his Catholicism. “It is a typically Chestertonian paradox that while Dickens was nothing if not ignorant of and prejudiced against Catholicism as well as the Middle Ages, it is his unconsciously Catholic and Mediaeval ethos that is the heart of Chesterton’s critical study.”

First, Chesterton’s Dickens celebrated the ordinary, and rejoiced in sheer living and even sheer being. He was originally a “higher optimist” whose “joy is in inverse proportion to the grounds for so rejoicing,” because he simply “falls in love with” the universe, and “those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.” Hence the exaggeration of Dickens’s caricatures, expressing both the heights of the highs and the depths of the lows in the life of one who looks at the world in this way.

For, secondly, Dickens created “holy fools”: Toots in Dombey and Son, Miss Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend, the Misses Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit, to name but a few. Dickens also “created a personal devil in every one of his books,” figures with the “atrocious hilarity" of gargoyles. In either case, since the everyday world is so utterly extraordinary and extraordinary things so much a part of the everyday, so the absurd is utterly real and the real is utterly absurd. Postmodern, or what? Read Dickens, then read Chesterton on Dickens, and then re-read Dickens: who needs wilful French obscurantism in the name of ‘irony’?

And thirdly, then, Dickens was the true successor of Merry England, unlike his “pallid” contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites and “Gothicists”, whose “subtlety and sadness” was in fact “the spirit of the present day” after all. It was Dickens who “had the things of Chaucer”: “the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England”; “story within story, every man telling a tale”; and “something openly comic in men’s motley trades”.

Dickens’s defence of Christmas was therefore a fight “for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian”, i.e., for “that trinity of eating, drinking and praying that to moderns appears irreverent”, unused as the modern mind is to “the holy day which is really a holiday.” Dear reader, may you eat, drink and pray most merrily. As, indeed, will I.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Sofa Not So Good

Jeremy Corbyn received this Christmas card today.

Yet, against what is now the background noise of the media pretence that all abuse in politics comes from the Left, even though 45 per cent of it is directed at one MP on the Labour Left, Andrew Neil, tellingly backed up by Michael White, has been having a dispute on Twitter with Alex Nunns about the absence of left-wing commentators on The Sunday Politics.

Neil and White seem genuinely incredulous. To them, the Right is "left-wing", the Hard Right is "centre ground", and the Loony Right is "right of centre". If they have had on a Guardian-Clinton-Macron-Blair sort of person, then they have had on someone who was really very left-wing indeed.

Political journalism in Britain was money for old rope in the 20 years BC, Before Corbyn. Essentially staged arguments about nothing were conducted among people who ought all to have been in the same party, and who would have been so within 10 or even five years of the 2015 General Election, had Corbyn not come along and blown the whole thing wide open. But those days are gone. Get over it, or get off the airwaves.


This is like when an X Factor finalist introduces rock'n'roll royalty and then has to look pleased at being performed off the stage. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Brother Cornel West":

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, a book about Barack Obama’s presidency and the tenacity of white supremacy, has captured the attention of many of us. One crucial question is why now in this moment has his apolitical pessimism gained such wide acceptance?

Coates and I come from a great tradition of the black freedom struggle. He represents the neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fightback invisible. This wing reaps the benefits of the neoliberal establishment that rewards silences on issues such as Wall Street greed or Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people.

The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: any analysis or vision of our world that omits the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, and the complex dynamics of class, gender, and sexuality in black America is too narrow and dangerously misleading. So it is with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ worldview.

Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy – past and present. He sees it everywhere and ever reminds us of its plundering effects. Unfortunately, he hardly keeps track of our fightback, and never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.

In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance”. For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.

When he honestly asks: “How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you?”, the answer should be clear: they claim you because you are silent on what is a threat to their order (especially Wall Street and war). You defy them when you threaten that order.

Coates tries to justify his “defiance” by an appeal to “black atheism, to a disbelief in dreams and moral appeal”. He not only has “no expectations of white people at all”, but for him, if freedom means anything at all it is “this defiance”.

Note that his perception of white people is tribal and his conception of freedom is neoliberal. Racial groups are homogeneous and freedom is individualistic in his world. Classes don’t exist and empires are nonexistent.

This presidency, he writes, “opened a market” for a new wave of black pundits, intellectuals, writers and journalists – one that Coates himself has benefited from. And his own literary “dreams” of success were facilitated by a black neoliberal president who ruled for eight years – an example of “Black respectability, good Negro government.”

Coates reveals his preoccupation with white acceptance when he writes with genuine euphoria: “As I watched Barack Obama’s star shoot across the political sky ... I had never seen so many white people cheer on a black man who was neither an athlete nor an entertainer. And it seemed that they loved him for this, and I thought in those days ... that they might love me too.”

There is no doubt that the marketing of Coates – like the marketing of anyone – warrants suspicion. Does the profiteering of fatalism about white supremacy and pessimism of black freedom fit well in an age of Trump – an age of neo-fascism, US style?

Coates wisely invokes the bleak worldview of the late great Derrick Bell. But Bell reveled in black fightback, rejoiced in black resistance and risked his life and career based on his love for black people and justice. Needless to say, the greatest truth-teller about white supremacy in the 20th century – Malcolm X – was also deeply pessimistic about America. Yet his pessimism was neither cheap nor abstract – it was earned, soaked in blood and tears of love for black people and justice.

Unfortunately, Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history. He reveals this when he writes: “Ossie Davis famously eulogized Malcolm X as ‘our living, Black manhood’ and ‘our own Black shining prince.’ Only one man today could bear those twin honorifics: Barack Obama.”

This gross misunderstanding of who Malcolm X was – the greatest prophetic voice against the American Empire – and who Barack Obama is – the first black head of the American Empire – speaks volumes about Coates’ neoliberal view of the world.

Coates praises Obama as a “deeply moral human being” while remaining silent on the 563 drone strikes, the assassination of US citizens with no trial, the 26,171 bombs dropped on five Muslim-majority countries in 2016 and the 550 Palestinian children killed with US supported planes in 51 days, etc. He calls Obama “one of the greatest presidents in American history,” who for “eight years ... walked on ice and never fell.”

It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty. For example, there is no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect.

The disagreements between Coates and I are substantive and serious. It would be wrong to construe my quest for truth and justice as motivated by pettiness. Must every serious critique be reduced to a vicious takedown or an ugly act of hatred? Can we not acknowledge that there are deep disagreements among us with our very lives and destinies at stake? Is it even possible to downplay career moves and personal insecurities in order to highlight our clashing and conflicting ways of viewing the cold and cruel world we inhabit?

I stand with those like Robin DG Kelley, Gerald Horne, Imani Perry and Barbara Ransby who represent the radical wing of the black freedom struggle. We refuse to disconnect white supremacy from the realities of class, empire, and other forms of domination – be it ecological, sexual, or others.

The same cannot be said for Ta-Nehisi Coates.