After the Balls is over…..or another conundrum for the Misters Ed…

Divide and Rule?

alogosdownload (1)The main party Conferences have been and gone. The great and good have spoken and the wise and foolish have had their say.

The received wisdom is that Labour – still reeling from the shock of the Scots referendum – had a terrible Conference with a pretty awful speech from Ed Miliband further undermined by his forgetting to mention either immigration or the fiscal deficit. At the same conference Ed Balls stood up to be counted as serious about the deficit and serious about the causes of the deficit. Ed Balls’ speech was part of a well prepared plan carefully choreographed by the two Eds. The question is whether Ed Balls was in fact the other Ed’s fall guy.

Maybe that omission in Miliband’s speech was more calculated than previously believed. Ed Miliband is a very strategic thinker. His strategy is not the core vote it’s more one of divide to rule. Ed has seen what has happened in Scotland and the he has long realised the relentless rise of UKIP in England  is driven by the failure of political language. He identified immigration as a big issue in his leadership campaign. He has given voice to a sense of disconnect in the wider public. For the moment – a bit like Thatcher between 1975 and 1979  - his voice doesn’t ring true. It is generally forgotten what a terrible opposition leader Margaret Thatcher was. Ed Miliband has long calculated if he has his moment alike Thatcher in the 1980′s he will have on one stab at getting himself into Downing St by means fair or foul. Though no one has said so in public – last Thursday may have been the saving of Ed Miliband’s leadership. Has Labour lost Heywood the assassins may have come out from behind the arras. As it is – they skulk and as it is Ed still leads. He may now choose to reshuffle his shadow cabinet to strike a fresh pose for Labour and then dare his enemies to strike. There’s dark talk of Balls being moved sideways into the oblivion of the foreign office brief.

alogosdownload (1)By way of contrast UKIP and then the Conservatives were thought to have had good conferences – UKIP for not appearing as swivel-eyed loons – at least all the time – and for stage managing the coup of Mr Mark Reckless defecting to UKIP to a golden cheer from the “Faragistes” and his activist Kultur vultures at the close of the doncaster conference.  By way of contrast the Conservatives pleased the commentariat  by momentarily rising above disaster with its slick competence and its equally deft move to the political right. Mr Cameron delivered his speech and the commentariat in the Media saw was good and it was well pleased….almost crowing with content if not always at its content. Then the Conservative vote jumped several points in the polls. The Conservatives long on the backfoot had a spring in their step.

Bringing up the rear – for a change as they’re usually first out of the blocks in Conference season – their paradise postponed by the Scottish referendum – were the LibDems. Often political parties find graveyard humour as they wait their electoral end. Never was Labour Conference happier than in 1973 when Denis Healey promised to squeeze the rich until the pips squeaked – or when Michael Foot promised them a New Revised Standard Version of the New Jerusalem in 1982 – before going down to catastrophic a defeat. The senior LibDems opined not to take notice of the polls and their leadership savaged their coalition partner without quite drawing blood, perhaps in the hope that this will re-establish their credentials as the party of the moderately sane on the moderate centre-left; perhaps in the expectation that there will be another coalition with the Conservatives come next May. Mr Clegg spoke to great effect and everyone forgot what he said.

alogosdownload (1)To this heady brew for the party partisan this perhaps needs adding: Miliband’s much derided speech focused on the National Health Service. It turned out this was also to be the centerpiece of the vision offered both by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg when they in turn spoke to the nation. Their other policies were but mood music to this central theme. Thus, like it or loathe it, it was Mr Miliband who once again set tone of the political debate. The fact this is not yet credited to him and indeed the fact the Media is now determined to discredit both Miliband and Labour at every turn in an almost unreasoning manner – speaks volumes of itself. There’s plenty to get Ed on – not least the passionlessness of the seasoned apparatchik which he often brings to public discourse – but oddly his instincts – most often derided by the commentariat and the party machines – are most often proved sound. He was right on immigration;  he was right on Murdoch and the press; he was right on Energy prices; he was right on Syria and the public mood; and he is probably right on the NHS. It is the NHS that may well become the litmus of all that is wrong or right in the direction government has taken in the last five years and will take over next five years. To that end, in the aftershocks of the by-elections last week, it should be noted that senior Conservatives now disown Mr Andrew Lansley’s reforms. It may also be in the light of strikes that refusing a 1% rise in pay to NHS staff might be the egg wash that sticks to the coalition pie come next May.

Since the party conferences there has been almost an avalanche of polling. The polls purport to tell us much but often they tell us little more than we knew before they were taken. Before the conferences Labour had a diminished poll lead of 3%; since the conferences the Conservatives held a brief lead of 2% and now we’re back to a tiny Labour lead. In between we had two important by-elections one of which returned a UKIP MP for Clacton – though in the shape of the same MP who had previously been its Conservative MP. Secondly, in the outskirts of Manchester Labour held on by a squeak in Heywood. It slightly increased its share of the poll – but significantly the anti-Labour vote coalesced around UKIP.  There was a residual Conservative vote left of around 3000. It enabled Mr Farage to claim that north of the Trent if you vote Conservative you get Labour – a neat and damaging inversion of the recent Conservative mantra – if you vote UKIP you get Labour. If Labour ever thought UKIP was an uncomplicated blessing Heywood has had the salutary effect of reminding them that in their heartlands in the north UKIP may do to them what the SNP has done to them in Scotland. Suddenly, the two parties that have post war divided the spoils of office look vulnerable.

alogosdownload (1)Can such a thing happen? Well it can. It has happened in the admittedly very different politics of Northern Ireland with DUP and Sinn Fein. It’s pretty fair to say it has happened in Scotland to some degree with the SNP – where voters who previously would never have voted Conservative feel empowered to vote nationalist. Previously, it almost had happened on the political left in England with the SDLP; and later again LibDems in 2002-2005. In 2010 the LibDems embrace of the Conservatives was made possible in part by successfully riding the tiger of anger and discontent with our political elites that has been rising steadily for a full half-century since jeremy Thorpe fist leapt the fence of obscurity before he was bitten by an ungrateful lover his Liberal mates had hounded.

If it can happen on the left there’s no reason it cannot happen on the right. For twenty five years – since the defenestration of Margaret Thatcher the Conservative Party has sought to ride two horses that pull in opposite directions. Its leadership knows leaving the EU – like Scotland leaving the Union – could have dramatic consequences for team UK. The “zealots” who detest the EU take a firmly opposite principled view. These men believe their leadership is essentially pragmatic and only pretends to offer the principled in out referendum they seek and in that they are surely right. Like Wilson before him Cameron is playing for time and playing to keep his party in one piece. It is not a dishonourable political objective, far from it. But whether it is possible is another matter.  When Grant Schnapps called Mr Reckless a liar repeatedly – that seemed a point where a Rubicon of civility had been passed. Labour was very like that in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s – the left and right within the party hating each other more than they did their opponents. We know that ended.

alogosdownload (1)Labour has through this period of opposition seemed calm – almost supine. It is not clear whether Miliband has long seen this end game and long calculated that if he can wedge his foot in the door 10 Downing Street he will be there a long time because his opponents will enable him to divide and rule. First, of course he has to get through the door of Number 10.  that is always more easily said than done – ask Mr Cameron. To do that Ed Miliband now needs to survive what may well be a prolonged bout of uncertainty.

It seems Labour might walk into office if it could only find a leader whose voice resonated with the electorate – step forward Alan Jonson or even Andy Burnham – but not the well rounded vowels of the Westminster elites like Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman or Ed Balls.   On the outside Chukka Umunna sits like the Cheshire cat. He has star quality and he knows it. If no one snatches Ed Miliband’s crown in the next few weeks and Ed Miliband doesn’t snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, then Chukka may be the man to beat for the Labour leadership. Whether by then Labour’s leadership will be worth more than the proverbial bucket of warm piss the office of US vice-president was valued at by none other than Vice President John Nance Garner, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Ed Balls may be offered up to the angry gods and Douglas Alexander made shadow chancellor in an attempt to shore up Labour’s voice in the Scotland. Whether it will be enough to save Mr ED….that’s a matter of debate – back to divide and rule.

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Cues form as Miliband speaks….
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Off the cuff and from the heart; or just off beat?

alogosdownload (1)I have watched most of the Ed Milliband’s major speeches . I watched last year’s to conference and shook my head sagely; I watched the year before and the birth of One Nation Labour and frowned; and the year before….I cannot recall… I saw him recently speak in July, again off autocue and direct to audience. That was the bacon sandwich speech.  He is not an orator – platform or pulpit – Cameron is that – Ed is rather serious in demeanour – I assume deliberately – more dull schoolmasterly in tone –  he can’t easily do self-deprecating. He isn’t preachy like Mrs T or emotional like Kinnock or high octane like Blair or gatling gun statistical quick fire like Brown. I suppose its all rather conversational in style – and it’s not nervous at all like say IDS or hectoring like howard and dispatch-box grand like Haig. He is in that very sense a man for the time – uncertain times.

To be frank I never think Milliband is particularly good in these public speaking fora but thus far the public’s reaction to his speech-making has always been warmer. He does an awful lot of this style of ‘town-hall meeting – a borrow from US elections – and when he does it he certainly does not come over as contrived. He doesn’t talk down to people. My gut feeling is it plays better in TV debate format than anything else.

alogosdownload (1)The rhetoric has not pleased his critics….but them Blair’s verbless oratory pleased only when he became a sure fire winner and Thatcher was lionised only when she had acquired the patina of office. Maybe we will never know more because Miliband is about to be played off stage. The sins of omission in the speech –  the fiscal deficit and immigration – matter only in the sense that the Media have fed this as the story. That does matter and how Labour responds to it will matter since this is the stuff that makes election campaigns fizz and froth. The public I suspect have made up their mind on Labour and EM’s omissions and commissions will probably not move many votes either way.

The BBC was determined – as they were on local election night with regard to UKIP – to run with the speech as one to the Labour heartlands and to its core vote. Like Mr Miliband the Media may have been over-prepared. Given Labour’s core vote at 2010 was 29% I think that is a very shallow take on the strategy.

I’d say this – Miliband and team believe the LibDems who pealed off from Labour in 2010 – maybe 6-7% of the vote – will decide the election and the policies he enunciated – pretty clearly-  are peculiarly attuned to them and to their concerns. They do therefore resonate more widely than the core and many will think many of them sensible and restrained. The Mansion Tax for example has as many holes as a tea strainer but it goes with the grain of what people think is fair. EM also does convey his sense that there’s something seriously wrong with the whole business of politics –  even if it’s not clear what his single answer to the problem is – perhaps he’s right on this –  perhaps there’s no single answer or panacea.

For the first time since the Scientific Revolution we live in an age without a counter cultural political philosophy – the ideas of  the likes of Hume or Voltaire or the Jacobins or Marx, Lenin, or the social democracy articulated by the New Deal; the Webbs and later Tony Crossland. But Empires can fall when there appears to be no good reason for them to fall as they’ve won all the arguments – it happened repeatedly in the ancient world. In cultures when religion provided the philosophic core value system – like Christianity; Islam; or Confucianism – divisions can spring up that give us Crusaders, Reformers and jihadists. Many wars have been fought over small differences of emphasis between rival groups of zealots. The fear that there is no alternative is the corrosive fear that we cannot choose to give meaning to our lives.

alogosdownload (1)Maybe Mr Milliband thinks pretending there are a string of easy answers to all these difficult problems will only further alienate the electorate. Maybe he is right – maybe he is plain wrong. Maybe – alike Thatcher – he hopes to ride the Time’s favourable zeitgeist of fairness and togetherness only unveil the Socialist geni once safely inside No 10. There are many to decry this speech for its shallowness. In that it was very much like Mrs Thatcher from October 1978….she risked nothing to frighten the horses and gambled instead on her political enemies in power making mistakes.

As I am in the minority of those who see all these problems as hugely complex I am not the best person to judge whether this is clever or not. I think the wider public perceives things just don’t work and it blames politicians of all parties and hues whom they see as big heads; show offs and all of them in it for themselves.

Clearly the Media politicos also think Labour are to lose judging by their gratuitous rudeness when interviewing Labour spokesmen – Andrew Neil was particularly rude to Chukka and again Eddie Mayer was rude to Burnham. Bad manners make celebrity and have carried many like Dr starkey and Mr Paxman to the Media heights. It is seldom enlightening and again the public endures it rather than enjoys it. As an historian I have no particular gripe about being cruel to politicians – politics is today and always has been a blood sport and the Media pack today are no worse behaved than any bunch of hungry blood hounds baying at what they believe to be a wounded prey.

EM’s proposals – promises – if you will – have as far as one can tell been carefully tried and tested in the famous focus groups beloved of modern politics. They will have proved popular or he would not have risked them.  What ever the omissions and commissions of EM this will all have been carefully thought through. One may not like his thinking; one may not be convinced by anything he says; one may believe the Conservatives will bounce back on the back of this and run away with the election. It is possible. but one thing is certain is that Miliband has thought about it all carefully.

The Media is now in full throttle over a tory landslide – I’ve seen 1986 mentioned and the other Thatcher triumph of 1983. This just does not feel like 1983 – or 1997 to be balanced. I can’t recall the 1920’s so I’m stuck with the early 1970’s. One thing I will say – I think turnout might be much higher than is expected. sometimes when people are really fed up they actually do vote.

alogosdownload (1)I am more inclined to think if the two by elections on 9th October fall to UKIP on the same night EM may look more sage than the business as usual brigade.

In all this we must consider whether the electorate thinks more of the Conservatives than in 2010 and less of Labour. On balance I think the answer is no. They certainly think more of UKIP and the SNP and less of the LibDems. Chronic uncertainty chokes politics and politicians and makes for strange inexplicable political deaths of parties – ask the Liberals.

The relative closeness of the Scots referendum is another straw in the wind – it puts the Union on a precarious footing. The political reforms of this Parliament: to term and to election conventions; to the composition of the Commons; the AV referendum; the proposed reforms to the Lords; Police Commissioners and now English laws for English MP’s (which I take to be MP’s elected in English constituencies) hardly adds up to the sort of scale of change now needed to reinforce the Union. These were policies driven  by party advantage – a fudging passing itself off as root and branch reform. In that they’re reminiscent of the reforms of the ancien regime in France before the Estates General was summoned in 1789 – tinkering too little too late to no real effect – and in that they will only serve to make voters more disengaged and more angry.

The undertow beneath all of all this foam is the nature of the last recession and its causes – the institutions we were told we could depend upon have catastrophically failed – they still govern us though we have no respect for them – we have no respect of the politics and politicians who serve these financial gangmasters – internationally it has included political parties both of left and right – and the nature of the recovery underway disillusions us –  as does the illusions of fiscal deficits married to quantitative easing until one becomes the other and neither seems much to matter –  the growth seems to hardly able to trickle down let alone percolate through the thick cream of privilege at the top of our society.

It could be David Cameron is the modern Baldwin and a landslide is on the way. It could be Miliband is Lansdowne and not Atlee.  It could be Cameron is Hoover and well meaning austerity will be judged not to be enough. I must admit i do not see Miliband as FDR. but there are darker parallels from the Great depression lurking in the shadows.

Whenalogosdownload (1) become this disenchanted anything can happen – or nothing – or a messy combination of the two. Frankly, I think last May may be a better guide than any of us believed likely at the time.

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The stamp of authority – Elizabeth I – a succession of questions
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iStock_000008850639Medium (1)Myths and history are often so interwoven we are not even aware there is a distinction between the two……

Elizabeth I is associated with two adjectives – golden and virgin. Hers was a Golden Age; its argos perhaps the Golden Hind; its heroes Drake and Raleigh; its healing golden fleece the queen’s ever-virgin status. 7th September marks every year the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth I. She was the last in a long line of the English monarchs not to rule the entirety of this archipelago known as the British Isles; and its two kingdoms together on the largest island known as Great Britain.

On Elizabeth I’s death in 1603 the English kingdom was united to the Scots kingdom of Tudor dynastic rivals – the Stuarts.

As the same Scots nation now teeters on the verge of possibly leaving that union personified by a single monarch it seems a good moment to pause and consider the Virgin Queen and her legacy.

The difference between succession and succeeding….

Elizabeth IAs Elizabeth was only twenty five on reaching the throne in 1558 – how was it the Tudor dynasty failed?

It is an obvious question to ask of any dynasty. In the case of the Valois in France we can describe its failure in painful detail. We similarly can describe the end of the Habsburg monarchy in Spain in 1701 and the wars that follow it are aptly named the Wars of the Spanish succession. In chronology those wars were preceded by the Wars of the English succession which established William III over James II; and followed by the wars of the Polish Succession and then the wars of the Austrian succession. The fall of the houses of Bourbon and Romanov are linked in our minds with Revolution. The Yorkist kings rose and fell in battles royal in the previous century to the Tudors. Yet, in 1603 the Tudors pass from history without a struggle.

Elizabeth I never married. That this cutlural and social behavioral abnormality passess without question – on the nod from History – that itself should on reflection appear very odd. And it’s on reflection that the whole irrational and exaggerated mythology of the Elizabeth rests; the reflection of a wonderland cast in the looking glass from where the construct of Elizabeth I looks back at us secure in her place in the royal pantheon as England’s greatest queen. That this construct should largely be man made is only another irony. The film Elizabeth sought to portray this Elizabeth directly as a construct of an evil genius – Secretary Francis Walsingham. Popular Tudor history is replete with evil genii –  to which Ms Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is only the most recent addition. Others have tended to see Elizabeth as etched with the golden glow of the semi-divine.The starched iconography of the virgin-queen in fact arrived very late in her reign and only when it was beyond peradventure that Elizabeth could not bear a child. Until then her virginity had rather been used as the conventional signal of maidenhood – the concomitant female virtue of eligibility to marry and have children.

Elizabeth’s decision not to marry as a reasoned necessity of policy has been parsed in some historians’ grammars as a declension of the Divine wisdom. While it is clear that Elizabeth was ambiguous about marriage the notion – most popular amongst her adulatory biographers  - that this was a politically deliberate act of foresight –  is unsupported by any evidence. Elizabeth’s heartfelt cry “The Queen of Scots is lighter of a fair son but I am but barren stock” rings down the centuries. Her reference was biblical. In Jewish tradition being barren,  alike the eponymous fig tree in the flower of youth, refers to possibility of fruitfulness passing in time not to it being impossibly beyond reach. Her allusion meant she was as as eligible a queen but as yet still left unmarried and thus as yet unable to equal the feat of her Scots cousin. It might have been the cry of a jealous or angry woman but what Elizabeth certainly did not mean is what some biographers (using cod-psychological argument) have supposed that she knew she was physically or emotionally unable to conceive.

Elizabeth often considered marriage; there is no evidence she couldn’t marry; nor that she would have been unable to have children had she married.  With Mary Stewart and Robert Dudley (whom she made earl of Leicester for this express purpose) she proposed they all three lived together in some sort of quasi-matrimonial ménage à trois. In the late 1570′s with the Duke of Alencon (one of Henri II’s many sons) she came as close to marriage as any woman might before finally once more losing her nerve. Elizabeth continued to endure the necessary regular medical examinations to establish her continuing capacity to conceive. So, marriage was always on the menu if not ever quite the dish of the day. Like a cat with a mouse or perhaps a connoisseur with a favourite wine – Elizabeth toyed with the idea of marriage and in the 1590′s with the Earl of Essex she even toyed publically with its laughable impossibility.

In the end it was a bridge to far. She was not to marry. There was to be no heir apparent or presumptive, Tudor or Grey, Stuart or otherwise.  Self-evidently this was not a good thing for the Tudors themselves and given Henry VIII’s heroic struggles to ensure the very the contrary it might be described as catastrophic failure of the entire project at the very heart of what we might call Tudor age. Indeed perhaps Elizabeth passively resisted her father’s imperative as her own quiet revenge on the man who destroyed her mother and her own childhood: who knows?

However, at this very time when the Media positively coos with delight over the prospect of yet another royal baby for the fecund House of Windsor, it is pertinent to ask why Elizabeth should have refused the primary duty of any dynastic head of family in any time – to have her own children to secure the succession for the good of the dynasty? It is worth asking but we must always as historians admit it cannot be answered from evidence. We can say that on the narrow criteria alone Elizabeth was as much an enigma to her contemporaries as she is to us today; and to them on these terms she her refusal to marry and failure to have children were inexplicable.

It is equally not possible to answer the question whether this refusal to marry was it good or bad for England as a kingdom – again that’s a speculation for the minds of Ms Gregory or Ms Mantel and their ilk. It is certainly not history’s business. However, the historian must observe that this outcome, if it was deliberate, was not inevitable. History must also observe no monarchy, neither patriarch or matriarch before or since, have voluntarily taken Elizabeth I’s final solution as a programmatic dynastic model. Even the godfathers of the Mafia see securing family succession as key to their concept of inherited wealth; power; and position.

iStock_000008850639MediumAs so often, the Elizabeth from history who meets us never meets us halfway nor halfway addresses herself to the problems she created by her decision not to marry. Again, as with so much in relation to Elizabeth there is always a sense that this was not an active but rather a passive choice born of chronic indecision.

Elizabeth I is history’s most notorious procrastinator. Her hagiographer Sir John Neale coined the phrase “masterly inaction”. It is a odd notion honed by Neale in the 1930′s that the temporising, postponing, procrastinations of the indecisive queen rather than being an impediment to effective rule were rather a politic stroke of genius.  It was certainly not what her contemporaries thought nor even her Victorian admirers –  Macaulay, J.A.Froude and Pollard. This deft infelicity with truth and logic rather well reflects wonderland of all the Elizabethan myth-makers before and since. Vices that curse the hands of mere mortals hands in Eliza’s become virtues blessed by the gods.

Contemporary biographers of Stalin, Mao and the Fuhrer were likewise dazzled by the cult of personality. Historians ought to be more chary of suspending belief in the rational or inverting usual historical criteria and resting judgements instead upon the exceptionalism of personality. Outside myths and fairy tales virtues are rarely transmuted into vices or vice-versa. There is no alchemy that marries the human gifts of intelligence and wit with human frailties of vanity and indecision to make political gold.

iStock_000008850639MediumThe skills Elizabeth owned – and they were many and they are rightly fascinating – kept the show of mono-monarchy on the road for forty years and carried her successfully to the end of that particular road. There’s a sort of genius in that – beyond the luck of longevity – but on her departure she left a trail of baggage across the political stage for her successors to pick-up. These unresolved problems were destined finally to overwhelm the notion of personal monarchy itself.

The issues she left all had their origins in the political actions of Henry VIII: they encompassed prerogative power and the nature personal monarchy; they touched on notions of political consent; they composed the idea of law and personal liberty; they touched foreign policy and war; they touched finance and the coinage; they touched upon taxation, monopolies; they touched on patronage; office-holding and wardships; they touched religion and the doctrinal and economic viability of the Anglican church; and all these together challenged government and confronted effective exercise of monarchical power in England. Elizabeth had forty years to resolve some of these problems. Practically, beyond the reform of the coinage inherited from her sister Mary, she resolved none of them.

Contemporary academics would now point to the fact her half-sister Mary  had continued successfully (if controversially) to govern alone even after her marriage to Philip in 1555. Mary Stewart may not have married wisely but there was no question that she and not Darnley was sovereign. Indeed Mary Stewart’s many troubles were fomented by the very fact that she had outwitted her opponents on policy matters on several occasions before the explosive events at Kirk o’field. Mary Stewart’s problems were made infinitely worse by the English gold surreptitiously sent to her noble enemies behind her back. To her face Elizabeth I was an effusion of solidarity. Behind both queens’ backs Cecil pretty was much directly implicated in the Rizzio business. That said, Mary Stewart’s problems arose as much from her own high-flown dynastic ambitions to be formally acknowledged as Elizabeth’s heir presumptive. However, Elizabeth did not need to stir up rebellion and sponsor the sponsors of murder in Scotland when she might have resolved the problem of the succession by unilateral action of her own.

This disengagement from the ordinary rules of dynastic politics in a personal monarchy spawned a circle of interlocking problems which Elizabeth and her government struggled to square for forty years.  Even the event her many apologists see as the defining moment of her reign – the defeat of the Spanish Armada – was not an engagement actively sought but a rather a war that passively blew her way. For thirty years – from 1558 until 1587 – - Elizabeth’s voiced a resolute public policy of peace with Spain.  It’s true her more Puritan advisers, led by Walsingham, had long wanted to drag England further into an ideological anti-catholic engagement in European affairs – in Scotland supporting the protestant nobility in their plots against their Catholic sovereign – in the Dutch wars – a politico-religious entanglement Elizabeth wanted to avoid – taking the side of the Protestant estates against their sovereign prince – Philip II. Elizabeth resisted and gave way in ever vacillating equal measure. It’s true her advisers often subverted her policy to achieve their own ends. yet is was a game Elizabeth permitted to be played again and again – as with the ghoulish mime she played over signing Mary Stewart’s death warrant. If Elizabeth willed amoral ends her conscience was squeamish over means. It was not really the Tudor style that characterised the politics of Henry VIII or Mary I or even Edward VI let alone one which they would have permitted to their advisers. With Elizabeth this laissez-faire game became a way of governing.

In the end –  like the succession – her peace policy failed – partly because Elizabeth lacked allies – partly because the queen lacked will to to say no to Leicester and others in the governing male elite itching for its chance for glory on the field  of battle – and partly because the counter-reformation sweeping the continent in the second half of the sixteenth century had turned the religious schism of Reformation into an unbridgeable ideological divide where there was never any viable via Media. But the fact is also that Elizabeth’s juggling act also failed because she failed to throw the one club into the performance that might have stolen the show –  to marry and thereby secure her succession and gain a sufficiently large ally to support her policy of splendid isolation.

iStock_000008850639Medium (1)In England Philip II’s reign is seen as a failure epitomised by the plucky English stinging like a bee and dancing rings around the stolid Spanish armadas like maritime butterflies. In Europe Philip II is seen rather differently –  as the man who made the dynastic possibilities of the rambling agglomeration of kingdoms and provinces of Emperor Charles V into a reality. It was Philip who turned Spain into the European superpower of the sixteenth century. This had nothing to do with little England and her virgin queen. Far from London and as far from Madrid, it was off the coast of Cyprus, in 1571 that Spain became the world power. There she fought and won the most important naval engagement of the sixteenth century – Lepanto. This victory proved to be the decisive check in the march of Ottoman Turks into central Europe and the central and the western Mediterranean.

If in the nineteenth century when the maps of the world were painted pink and with the sun never setting on the British Empire it seemed sensible to suppose the opening of the Atlantic was to be the decisive moment in European history and thus in British history too. In so supposing it was not unnatural to see the Armada again in the very terms extolled by Elizabethan propagandists and their poets and playwrights. Today the same  kaleidoscope may been as easily shaken to form another pattern and thus remind the West of the importance of those events in the Mediterranean in 1571  - which finally halted the advance of Islam into Western Europe –  and which are in this twenty-first century retrospective of Islamic State perhaps as defining.

The defeat  of the Armada of 1588 was never quite as catastrophic as it has been painted. The war with Spain dragged on for another decade and drained resources from an English treasury that was never quite equal to the military pretentions of the Tudors. There would be more Armadas from Spain. There would be even more blood and treasure lost in the struggle to hold on to an Ireland the Tudors had by venality and policy lost. Protestant preachers at the time of the Armada described the storms that blew it off course as the breath of God. There’s no question this passed and passed very understandably into part of the English nation’s psyche as a demonstration that God was indeed on their side and was indeed both English and Protestant. it is still part of our cultural heritage. That however does not make it history.

These manufactured stories are stamped with popular approval. They are retold. Television historians love these comforting simplicities that play fast with facts. In their retelling the puerile assertions have become unquestioned and unquestionable truths. They have stamped themselves all over the history curriculum. The problem is the stamps are intellectually counterfeit. They rest on an intellectual conceit that is just history’s version of Social Darwinism.

It once was supposed by ‘scientific’  method that historical cause and effect gave rise to a linear progression from past to present. This method encouraged antiquarians and later historians to ignore inconvenient facts and to attend only to the facts that fitted with a line of argument. Marxist historians became the most vocal exponents of this historical inevitablism but the vice infected an awful lot of historical thinking for the worse. It’s sticky fingerprints are all over Winston Churchill’s best selling History of the English Speaking Peoples. It wasn’t history. It was racial elitism dressed up as history. It also traduced the theory of evolution as Darwin had expounded where the mechanisms of evolution – like natural selection and genetic drift –  worked with the random variation generated by mutation and other factors in the environment. We would like to think the line from us to our ancestors is as straight as the road to heaven but rather like the ways to hell it is full of twists and turns and blind alleys.

Mortality makes us heirs to eternal longings but if we make gods of our fellows we are doomed to childish disappointment; for the best of us is made of clay; and like any colossus in time we are all easily toppled by death’s end.

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UK General Election – II – Oh we do like to be beside the sea side…
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Into the party conference season:

The  conferences of Trades Unions and Political once used to be the preserve of the English seaside. Blackpool and Brighton; Bournemouth and Scarborough; Eastbourne and Morecambe; Margate and Llandudno all played host. As the summer waned and hotels emptied of holiday-makers and beaches of their family parties sandcastles and all – the party faithful took up their places and chewed the political fat over bacon and egg. In recent times Labour has taken to Manchester and Liverpool but Bournemouth and Brighton have continued to lcaim the sole attention of the Conservative Party.

The last party conference season before any general election is always important. It’s really the last chance for a party to set the tone of its campaign ; a last chance to test the message that will be the medium of the election campaign to come. Four out of the last six parliaments have run to the full five years – five of them because the incumbent governing party was unpopular; this time it’s different; this time it’s because the coalition has bequeathed to us a fixed term parliament of five years.

The received wisdom going in to the recess last June was that Labour would inevitably slip back further over the summer months and the Conservatives would start to build their polling average as the sun shone over the UK’s economy bolstered by economic statistics. Miliband had had a poor Euro election campaign and the UKIP bubble had exploded into the Media as their story. Labour did particularly well in london and not as badly as some early results implied but the story had legs and it ran away from Labour. In the glory days of Campbell Mandelson and Blair this would never have happened. But whatever Miliband’s Labour is it is not New Labour.

To thwart this real possibility of being written off as the loser before the election race began – and after the battle of the bacon sandwich in the May elections – Ed Miliband and his minders thought it might be sensible to get ahead of the story and try to change the narrative. If Ed’s eating was not pretty sight he was not toast. Instead he was the filler in the political sandwich – the ideas man who would catch the voters’ eye.

The speech came and went in a moment of flaccid self-deprecation. I was at the speech and although I met a very interesting man – it sadly was not the Labour leader who was pretty laboured in his message. It was better reported in the press than it deserved and that of itself is interestingly judged. Ed miliband is nothing if not a tactician who likes to play the long game. That is after all how he won the Labour leadership.It was a carefully crafted piece of tactical manoeuvre in this very long preamble to the main engagement in  May 2015. Ed is good at the long game.

In the event, good news came and went and the polls did not move towards the Conservatives despite all the hoopla over growth and employment statistics in the Media. The much mooted crossover keeps of happening only yo melt back into a stubborn Labour lead of 3% or so. In August 2004 Labour was ahead by 35. It won the 2005 election by that very same margin. Everywhere it appears there’s a sort of stalemate of discontent. The LibDems languish below 10%; the Conservatives hover in the the low thirties; Labour in the mid to upper thirties; UKIP remains in the low teens. If anything has happened since June – Labour has slightly consolidated its lead edging upwards from 3% towards 3-4%.

It is early days –  but like the early days of the Presidential elections in USA 2012 the polls are not telling us the narrative story we might expect. This is deeply concerning for the coalition parties. They pretend it isn’t. The truth is – if there is little sign of change in their favour when all the elements for such a change are in place – then it must be that we are not in business as usual. All the models used by various predictive punters  - Nat Silver-like  - these analysts tell us the Conservatives will pick up another 3-5% and Labour drop another 2-4% and the Lib Dems and UKIP will swap their current positions. These predictions rest on previous polling and they may be reliable. However, these models rely on polling patterns which do not reflect the fact that the current government is a coalition. The point is why should the gainers from this drift from Labour be the Conservatives who have lost fewer supporters than the LibDems? That has been the point that has been chewed over by pundits all over the Media. It’s the story. However, the question it appears to ask suddenly no longer needs to be answered because we find we’re now in an entirely different game.

Last week a UKIP sponsored a press conference turned out to be an end of peer show produced by a knock-out Mr Punch –  one Douglas Carswell – MP for Clacton-on-sea. In the best tradition English sea side grotesques Mr Farage smirked to camera. He looked like the cat who had had one barrel of cream but knew he still had another barrel to go –  he smiled and smiled and played the villein – as is his wont. The coup de theatre was the defection of Craswell from the Conservatives to UKIP and – mightier than the mightiest – Carswell’s announced that he’d not only change parties but he’d resign and fight a by election…..collapse of stout party….in this case the Conservative Party.

Mr Cameron – whose unnatural hue has made him look as if he has spent the entire recess in some Only way is Essex tanning emporium, was almost left speechless by the well aimed dagger to the heart of his electoral strategy by this all too Noble Brutus from his own ranks. He might have cried:  Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me – but he decided to go for the straight-acting jaw jutting pose of the statesman. He put on his brave face though from behind the mask he could not bring himself to mention Carswell by name – “these people” his sometime colleague Douglas had become – a nonentity in the third person singular – the very use of the collective noun raised the possibility that Carswell wasn’t alone in his treachery. No party quite panics with the aplomb of the Tory party.  The rest of the right wing of the Conservative Party put on its poker faces and pretended they were all behind Dave and all against leaving the party, ever, ever. What they really meant of course was they were against calling a by election if they left the party.

Mr Cameron was meant to get a big boost from the forthcoming Tory Party conference. He was to leave it to cheers and balloons and happy shouts of Happy Birthday – head of a united party – and having carefully defused the threat of Boris. Now the by election on 9th October – Mr Cameron’s birthday –  which the Conservatives look very likely to loose very very badly has rained on his parade. It leaves the PM not only with egg on his face – but with a serious problem – UKIP. The fact remains that for every vote Labour loses to UKIP the Conservatives stand to lose two and maybe three. it is a fact that has not escaped the calculating eye of a very silent Mr Miliband. Ed knows divided parties loose elections. suddenly the carefully crafted compromises of the referendum on renegotiated terms that Mr Cameron had taken straight from the Harold Wilson book on party management has unravelled. The tory right want to know Cameron’s bottom line – and wriggle as he will in the studio lights of the debates mr cameron will be asked this again and again. He wont have a straight answer to give largely because it was never his intention to ask the voters a straight question. referenda are the tool of a dictator Churchill once opined. It turns out that the great dictator in the Conservative party may be Mr Farage and Mr Cresswell who will write the terms of surrender for the Conservative right winger to impose upon their Prime Minister. How dear old boris smiles – even though he has lost an airport it seems there’s the hope of Downing St as a consolation prize.

Still referenda are never wholly predictable and the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. Just when the Scottish referendum looked to be over all bar the voting there was another slew of polls which put the Yes Campaign within 6 points or so of the No Campaign.

This is not a referendum any of the current party leaders can afford to loose. Labour as it happens has most to lose from this debacle. If it goes down to another defeat – a third rebuff –  the viability of Scottish Labour will be in question. It will make it hard for Labour to win the next election – especially to govern on the backs of Scots MP’s who will cease to sit in the UK Parliament in 2016. That said if Scotland says yes it is difficult to see any of the three party leaders who lost the Union could survive in place.

This is an interesting moment; it’s a time for party leaders to hold nerve  mainly because there’s nothing else better to do….but that said the longer game is still to be played out and one we know….Mr Milliband has long had a game plan….it is no longer clear that can be said of either the LibDems or the Conservatives and that is of itself very, very interesting….

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Autumn’s Centennial Anniversaries 1914 – 2014
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The Fall Back position:

In this September 1914 all is very far from quiet on the Western Front. Indeed there’s yet no Western front to properly speak of. Instead the entire French army has fallen back and the British expeditionary forces regrouping in the face of the slowing German advance. In order not to be caught from behind the French offensive in Alsace Lorraine has ended in ignominious retreat. The giant German sweep through Belgium long planned has carried all before it though the Belgian at Liege and British Expeditionary Force at Mons slowed the speed of the advance.

At Mons century ago my great uncle has played his part and rescued an allied gun under German fire. He was wounded. His war is already over – though he does not know it – he probably still in some field hospital near Mons and shortly will be on his way home to Cashel – a wounded hero.

Panic and a fevered exhilaration grip the streets of Paris as the mood swings down –  with memories of the Franco-Prussian of 1870 humiliation looming large –  and up again as civilian determination to meet the foe outside their city in one almighty show-down takes hold. The French have taken some quarter of a million casualties. They now are regrouping and hope to halt the German advance with a massive counter offensive to be launched somewhere around the Marne. The Germans are already strung along the farthest end of their supply lines. The armies have slowed and on paper they’re many days behind the plans laying on the tables of the general staff in Berlin.

In this centennial of the Great War we are now in the no man’s land between the two great battles of 1914. It’s these that will shape the next four years – and in some ways they will determine much of the rest of Europe’s history in a 20th century that is as yet only a decade old.

Far from being a war of attrition thus far this war has been a war of spectacular movement: millions of men; mountains of munitions and butter and bully-beef. And then the guns – beads of them in long necklaces of railway cars – they have been pushed and pulled and shunted and dragged across a thousand miles – all over Europe – everything is in a state of flux and everything is on the move. Mobilisation has gathered momentum and the war is already commandeering all resources. Even the buses and taxis of Paris have been dragooned into military service. There’s still  whiff of excitement in the air; still the hope it will all be over by Christmas. There’s as yet no clear sense what this war is to mean to all the belligerents..

The Germans have just smashed the Russian army at a battle we call Tanneberg. This name was given to the battle by General Ludendorff. He has chosen it because of its resonance with Teutonic knights of Charlemagne’s (first) Reich. In fact the slaughter took place some way from this mythic field of glory.The russian second army was all but obliterated. The Germans took 92,000 prisoners but left another 78,000 dead or wounded on the battlefield. This rout will be followed by second more decisive victory in the Masurian Lakes later in this week. The German victory was crafted by the combination of Hindenburg (summoned from retirement) and Ludendorff. These two will mastermind the German victory in the East. Tannenberg is won without using any of the extra divisions von Moltke has fatefully transferred from West to East. Rather than report the loss of his army to Tsar Nicholas II Russian General Samsonov has committed suicide – shooting himself in the head on 30th August 1914.

By way of contrast the Austrian army has collapsed and lost Lehmberg and lost control of Galicia. As the Austrians retreat many of its uniformed Slavic soldiers desert -  some even offering to fight with the Russians. 130,000 will have been taken prisoner by the Russians by the time the battle subsides on 11th September. There will have been half a million casualties on the eastern front. The casualty figures are already stratospheric on both sides. The Russians have pushed the front line 100 miles into the Carpathians and have completely surrounded the Austrian fortress of Przemyśl and started a siege which will run for over a hundred days. The battle has destroyed large portion of the Austro Hungarian officer corps. Its old empire is now as crippled as its old politics have long been hobbled. This complete victory gives Russia the dangerous hope it might yet win.

In the West the allied armies are falling back to the Marne where they will make their stand in an attempt to save Paris. However, they are already aware that the German army is running out of fresh men and its supply lines are stretched too thin by lack of manpower. The Schlieffen plan sacrificed Belgium neutrality for the sakes of a quick victory. Too many days have been lost to make this likely. Belgium has given a causus belli to Imperial Britain and her resources will from this stage only grow. Von Moltke’s transfer of men East has destroyed the single chance the German army had of making the risk of wider war worth this throw of the dice. It now is aware it cannot deliver the knock-out blow its carefully laid plans promised. It has the war on two fronts it long feared and long sought to avoid and evade. For this outcome the German high command is unprepared and improvisation is not the strength of their Prussian war machine. They’re stuck with the war they have; it is not one they’re prepared for; its not one they’re suited to fight. Their natural advantages of weaponry, training and overwhelming mobilised manpower are wasting assets. They will have to dig in and rethink the entire strategy – that is if they can stabilise the front.

At the Marne the German army will shudder to a halt and will then fall back in disorganized disarray. There then follows a scrabble to stem the tide of disaster as the opposing armies each try to reach the coast to the north to prevent their respective armies being outflanked. The Germans will just reach the coast of Belgium in time to create the long ragged line that will become in the next year the Western Front. As autumn turns into winter both sides will have dug trenches along the length of the new front line. It will fill them with men. The merciless weather will fill them with mud. The snipers on either side will fill them with death.

There is to be no clear count of losses on either side at this stage of the war. everyone is as yet too unprepared. Everyone believed it would be a series of fast moving encounters of infantry and guns supported by horses. The cavalry on boths sides are already obsolete. The horses drag guns through the fields of France and Belgium from the points where railway tracks end. Both sides have had to fall back and both sides have found they cannot command the advantage when they holds it. They can see their tactical problem but as yet they cannot see the problem is insoluble with their military tactics.

It is but it is now accepted there were approximately a million casualties by the end of 1914. My great uncle has already received his fatal wound. He will die in a few weeks time from his wounds and he will be one of many Irishmen who will die in the Great War only to be forgotten. Republican Ireland has had great difficulty coming to terms with these men and their part in its story. My great uncle is buried in Cashel – at the Rock, near where the queen stood quite recently on her state visit.

The true war is about to begin. It will not be the war to end all wars. As it turns out it will just be the beginning of a carnage that will make the twentieth century the most bloody since the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century. It is still a moving war where everything seems possible. As it turns out the objectives of all the combatants will contain so many impossibilities that the end when it comes will be more like the long stalemate of 1915-1917 – it will leave a sense that nothing has been resolved – although the old order that gave birth to the war will itself have been buried under the tangle of dead bodies; themselves buried under the oceans of mud churned up day after day;  a world blasted to nothing by the unceasing barrage of field guns raining down shells on the fertile soil of a bygone Europe.

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Our Serial Neglect about Serial Systemic Abuse in Society.

The half-truth weighed in the scales of abuse is always found wanting……

Were the events of the last week to have appeared in a Dicken’s novel there would have been a greater chance of a more meaningful public response. Dickens would have pricked our consciences. We would not have been permitted helplessly to shake our heads in disbelief.  Yet the Victorian society where things like this happened had no welfare systems; universal education provision; no universal health provisions.

Yet we have all these things and yet we still have an underclass at least now as large as the one which shocked Victorian society into action

We are all against  sexual and physical abuse. The inappropriate exercise of power over another for personal gratification – most commonly sexual gratification –  but there are other motives – is morally wrong. It is abhorrent to our sense of right and wrong. It happens also to be illegal. The physical and sexual abuse of children – as opposed to adults or adolescents –  however,is another thing altogether and it has long had its own word - peadophilia.

This is not a preface to making the argument that one is less serious or more or less wrong than the other. However, it needs to be said that the one is not necessarily the other. They’re both palpably wrong but for reason’s sake underage sex should not be elided into the same category as sex with prepubescent children. Nor should it be presumed that the one naturally leads on to the other or that they are interchangeable terms for the same thing. Nor is a relative matter of one being particularly more or less heinous than the other true in some absolute moral sense. It is important to understand that there is a distinction and that it is an important one. Without this understanding we may confuse two different things for the sake of making an easy argument. That confusion may lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about causes and effects in both cases.

This cool distinction runs against what we are inclined to do in the heat of argument. The reason to elide is as old as mankind – it makes things easy for us. It is most convenient for us to consider one wrong –  the sexual and physical abuse of one person by another –  as self evidently the same as another wrong –  in this case paedophilia – particularly as it holds – like incest – a particular taboo and for particularly good reason.That elision, however, is in the nature of populist moral debates which always seek to draw easy conclusions based on easy answers to the wrong questions.

Child sex, child abuse and child murder – were commonly used as an accusatory ruse against foreigners in city communities in classical times – these techniques of demonising by association were revived by the Romans and used against both Jews and later much more widely against Christians – and then they were used by Christians against Muslims – and later against Jews – and they had used by Jews against Christians after the diaspora – and were used by Muslims against Christians – they were employed by the Chinese against Christians and the Japanese against Christians in the sixteenth century and by Christians against the indigenous American peoples in the same century.They are emotive arguments and rightly stir up a strong reaction in us.

Such crude argument has abounded in all times and in all societies and most often been used against all sorts of minorities –  a more recent example can be found in the upheaval now known as the Great European Witch Hunt and of which the Salem trials in Massachusetts were perhaps the outermost ripple. The anti-Jewish pogroms and the philosophy of National Socialism are steeped in this prejudicial argument. The slavery and post emancipation Southern states of the USA legally embodied this dialectic as did apartheid South Africa. The argument in kind echoes down into the Stalinist witch hunts of the 1930′s; the Mccarthyite witch hunts of the 1940′s and 1950′s and the cultural Revolution in China of the 1960′s and on through Rwanda and on into the former Yugoslavia. They are there in Syria and Iraq today before our eyes.

Demonise those you hate and hate those the have first demonised. Admittedly over time if the rationale has remained the reasoning has dressed itself in something intellectually more respectable. Rather than lynching these enemies within we separate them from ourselves –  we make of them social lepers – for their own good –  we put them in care homes or asylums or townships  or ghettos – or even better they  will ghettoise themselves – like gay men in the twentieth century –  and as we shun their company so they shun ours. The trouble is that separate development never quite deals with the irrationality of our the fear that drives it.

By Victorian times the irrational shibboleths of fear had evolved with Darwin into a form of intellectual gradualism. The slippery-slope argument beloved of quack social theorists of the nineteenth century dressed prejudice up in the language of science. Old prejudices and gut-feelings suitably doctored and repackaged can then be dispensed by a suitably uniformed authority figure as a respectable idea. It has triumphed time and again: these pseudo-scientific arguments were used to support the case for the war on drugs as they had been used first to criminalise the use of addictive narcotics. In the swirl of tobacco filled rooms the notion was hatched that the use one lesser addictive opiate lead-on to an ever greater more addictive evil. Our wizards of industry promptly then manufactured pure heroin and morphine to test the theory. The argument ran that disinhibited by addictions the users were themselves then led-on to theft and sexual abandon and even murder. The little film short Marijuana Madness was an exemplar of this simple childish notion passing muster as a proper respectable idea. Needless to say the crimes in question  - that fill our prisons to this day – are largely  of our own manufacture since we have created both the more addictive drugs and criminalised their use.

The same bizarre notions of right and wrong led to Prohibition in the USA – which created more organised crime than any other event in history –  and was the spawn of the well meaning Temperance movements in the USA and Europe. These same arguments supported the case of the Jews and non-white ethnicities not inter-marrying with superior whites –  as thereby they endangered the pure white genes of ours – an idea patently so ludicrously unscientific it is shocking that it might still be the intellectual love child of the father of Silicon Valley, nobel prize-winner, William Shockley. It has infected the internet which exploded into life larelgy on the back of pornongraphy – the nacotic of our  times. The internet promised safe sex and we were drawn by its anonymity – the anonymity of perhaps finding anything we desire to see. When we look we do not think about how the images are placed before us – we are invited instead to subscribe and by our covert glances we do subscribe. Later, to make ourselves feel better we make laws against looking for its worse excesses – never once questioning the degrading naked commercialism that has driven the whole parade. Relativists to a man or woman we’d rather not be challenged to remove the mote from our eye; we’d rather point at the splinters in those of our debased neighbours.

The strongest argument for criminalising homosexuality was first to tar gay men in particular with the brush of being nascent child-abusers – the notion that one perversion leading inevitably to another more debased, until ultimately willy-nilly it led to every deviance imaginable, has a long pedigree as a quack prescription for the world’s many evils. It also haunts the gothic story of Dorian Grey and his picture.

This slippery slope idea had its concomitant political twin – the so-called domino theory whose insanity took hold of policy-making post World War II and led on to Korea and Vietnam. Today, its viral stupidities still infect the body politic and haunt the killing fields of Iraq and Syria; Libya and Afghanistan.

There are always those who will clothe unthinking prejudice in the thoughtful white coats of science; always those whose notion of evidence is an airy wave of the hand together with some commonplace such as  - it stands to reason – or it speaks for itself. – or you can see for yourselves – or, you don’t need to be an expert to see the facts. The evidence of the self-evident is is usually supplemented by a forced march semi-factual non-sequiturs across the parade grounds of debate. Dissenting views are shouted down by blaring brass bands of abusive catcalls and trumpeting here-here’s.

This is the common sense we now need to sensibly avoid.

We have long lulled ourselves into the security that this systemic abuse within our culture is to do with rogue institutions be they religious or secular. And once more, the Media witch hunt for a fall guy – Shaun Wright – and maybe a handful more –  is now well underway in the case of 1400 cases of abused young people in a small northern town called Rotherham.

Yet the fact there’s been 1400 cases of serious sexual and physical abuse in one medium sized town in the UK over 15 years passes us by as if it couldn’t happen to us or in any place we know. Yet, this statistic alone must or should give us pause. We have no evidence that people in Rotherham are particularly wicked. We have no evidence the South Yorkshire police are particularly wicked. We have no evidence that the councillors in Rotherham or the civil servants in Rotherham’s local government are particularly wicked. There have not been 1400 arrests for rape or assault. Rotherham’s crime profile is not out of line with the rest of the UK.There are no hints that gathering of crimes statistics is less accurate in Rotherham than elsewhere. We have no evidence that those institutions involved are more feckless than elsewhere. There is nothing to make Rotherham more or less than typical of any town in modern Britain..

In recent times in the Catholic Church there has been a similar problem with clerical abuse. This now is catalogued back well into the 1960′s. it seems sensible to suppose its pedigree was older. Once again a similar series of questions might be posed – were priests in the 1960′s more wicked; was the church from that time more likely to find itself recruiting or attracting those intent upon abuse; did no one know? The  witch hunt is well underway and it has cost the Church much treasure but most catastrophically it has cost the church its good name. A priest is no longer a person whose word you can trust.

This abuse did go on and may well still be going on somewhere. It was part and parcel of the Ireland of De Valera with the Magdalene laundries and so much else. The recent resignation of Cardinal O’Brien demonstrates that the problem may be on-going. Until now, it has been possible for this largely secular society of ours to persuade itself it need look no further than the Roman Church and in particular its self-serving clerical caste.Covers-up and shouts of guilty – deserved of themselves – have echoed even in the Vatican’s marble halls. Who can resist that most popular of sports whose name does not come to mind – but you will know it – we’ve all played it sometime or other  - you know the one – in order to play it only requires you’ve a finger and the capacity to point it at someone else .

More recently, first the Saville case and then a string of others have made it apparent that in the same time-frame – from the 1960′s – other institutions were also plagued by a problem. The NHS too got itself embroiled in these matters as Saville worked freely from Leeds General Infirmary; then Broadmoor brought in the Home Office and ministers of the crown. Finally, Rochdale and its former MP Cyril Smith has brought into the public domain the scandal of the serial sexual and physical abuse of mainly adolescent boys – but some prepubescent – by any definition still children – in care homes. This was again an abuse going on all over the UK including here in my London Borough of Lambeth where an established brothel hosted entertainments furnished to the the great and good. The victims from care homes and borstals all over Greater London were transported there in the back if white vans to serve as partners in sexual and sado masochistic shenanigans.

Everyone gets wrapped up in the blame game and it appears – rather like in Nazi Germany in the times of the Holocaust – no one knew what was going on and no one saw anything.

I make this shocking comparison not to exculpate the perpetrators of these acts – Nazis; clergy or Pakistani gangs; celebrity buddies working together or alone; or fathers or mothers; uncles or aunts; or brothers and sisters; or nieghbours; or even teachers and pupils.Let’s be honest there have been any number of  examples of such cases reported on in chilling detail in the Media over the in past two decades. They are all inexcusable. The question is, why we did not see any hint of any of this in the hinterland of our society?

The answer is we did see it but like street beggars we just did not wish to look it in the eye. The victims were poor and because they were poor and desperate and difficult we did not want to trouble ourselves. Poverty – be it material or aspirational or a combination of the two – makes children and young adults and older adults vulnerable to exploitation. It is not a new problem. That we should have large numbers of children in care or semi-fostered speaks very much to our socio-economic and religious culture. It speaks to the wider cultural breakdown in family life and the dislocation caused by social change and commercial sexualisation of in our society.

This abuse – like all abuse is set in a wider context. That is the truth. The trouble with this truth is that this wider context is where where we are sit, passing judgement on everyone and everything around us but responsible for nothing that goes on.  When it comes to trouble – we’d rather not be involved – we’d rather leave to the experts – that’s after all what they’re paid for – we’d rather pass by on the other side. That is why this is a truth we will not see and will always refuse to believe.

There’ s play  An inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly. In the play there’s this exchange

BIRLING: You’ll apologize at once … I’m a public man -

INSPECTOR: Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.

As we demand others’ resignations It seems in its quiet way to say all that needs saying.

 

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Great War and Greater arguments

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis…..

The Requiem Mass is said for the dead. It takes its name from the opening lines of the first prayer of this Mass – the Introit. The Requiem had long been special to men and women from classical times. From earliest times rites of death differentiate us as types of species from majority who share our planet. It seems Neanderthal man had burial rites and we must assume it was a characteristic of most of our common ancestors.

We have a word for the edifices great and small – Mausoleums – named after the edifice erected by King Mausolus – one of the wonders of the ancient world in its time  - buildings characterised the classical world as it had those of the Egyptians. The pyramids and Egyptian books of the dead served a millenium; the necropolis of Roman and Greek cities yet another millenium; in the post Roman dispensation these funerary traditions were inherited and eventually embellished. The Requiem is the very special gift of Medieval piety to the ongoing Christian tradition. It bestows upon death the peculiar specialness – perhaps sanctity is the right word –  we feel we ought to bestow upon a life’s end. There are others of course and others traditions in other cultures all have their equal value.

The Requiem evokes the unique gift of both a life and its loss. Its poetry has inspired music from the outset – at first plainchant – then later it inspired composers almost unlike any other rite in the liturgy of the church. Cimarosa; Mozart; Donizetti; Brahms; Dvorak; Faure; There is a list of them here which is a cute thing in its own right – forgive the pun.   www.requiemsurvey.org/composers.php?start=22&sex=0

In this century Britten reflected the sense shared loss and shared catastrophe that became the legacy of the first World War and he used the requiem and the texts of some of the poetry of Wilfred Owen to give the Great War itself its very own Requiem

Virginia Mayo as Lady Edith, says, “War, war! That’s all you ever think about, Dick Plantagenet!” in King Richard and the Crusades – deservedly remembered as one of the worst films ever made but the line has its own immortality and its own warning.

Trembling on the verge of this centennial of the Great War her foolish words warn us of that there’s much foolishness yet to come. It will purport to be profound or true or insightful and will all ooze much mawkish sentimental nationalism of the very ilk that got us into into the mess that was 1914-18.

The blame game puts Germany in the dock; arrogance made Serbia fair game; and with delusional hauteur Austria-Hungary put its head in a noose of its own making. Dynastic interest got Imperial Russia marching to war. Diplomatic interests tied France into Russia’s game plan. Germany’s game plan – by Alfred von Schlieffen – brought German troops into neutral Belgium. British sense of fair play offered us an excuse to take sides – the Liberal government thereby evading the twin perils of Irish Civil War and the havoc of union militancy was reeking in the working class. The intellectual conceit that War could resolve nations difficulties seized many minds and had become a respectable idea and treated war as a respectable game of sorts. The Nazis later pursued this mad idea to its logical conclusion.

Let’s remember the dead lost – all in the flower of youth – sacrificed to the vanity of mankind’s cleverness but let’s sadly observe that despite how many died how very little we have learned from that epic loss. That’s history’s lesson – we chose always to assemble a false image from the shattered glass of our fragile past and choose to believe in this false god until we repeat the same mistake again and again – always promising ourselves never to let it happen again. The history plays of Shakespeare are replete with such dire professions to learn from the past but still we heedlessly careered into the massacre that was the English Civil War in which there was another catastrophic similar loss of youth – and in which Oliver Cromwell conducted a quasi-genocide in Ireland from whose grim harvest still reap bitter fruits today.

Weep then for the dead and by tears remember them – but weep too for ourselves as we look at Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and on around this world where needless death piles one on to the other and piles up hate for another generation to feed upon. Remember too – it need not be so. Whilst we treat war as a game we are all bound to be losers in the end.

Photo: 4th August 2014: Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
                               et lux perpetua luceat eis. </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Virginia Mayo as Lady Edith, says, "War, war! That's all you ever think about, Dick Plantagenet!" in King Richard and the Crusades - deservedly remembered as one of the worst films ever made but the line has its own immortality and its own warning.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Trembling on the verge of this centennial of the Great War her foolish words warn us of that there's much foolishness yet to come. It will purport to be profound or true or insightful and will all ooze much mawkish sentimental nationalism of the very ilk that got us into into the mess that was 1914-18.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>The blame game puts Germany in the dock; arrogance made Serbia fair game; and with delusional hauteur Austria-Hungary put its head in a noose of its own making. Dynastic interest got Imperial Russia marching to war. Diplomatic interests tied France into Russia's game plan. Germany's game plan - by Alfred von Schlieffen - brought German troops into neutral Belgium. British sense of fair play offered us an excuse to take sides -  the Liberal government thereby evading the twin perils of Irish Civil War and the havoc of union militancy was reeking in the working class. The intellectual conceit that War could resolve nations difficulties seized many minds and had become a respectable idea and treated war as a respectable game of sorts. The Nazis later pursued this mad idea to its logical conclusion. </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Let's remember the dead lost - all in the flower of youth - sacrificed to the vanity of mankind's cleverness but let's sadly observe that despite how many died how very little we have learned from that epic loss. That's history's lesson - we chose always to assemble a false image from the shattered glass of our fragile past and choose to believe in this false god until we repeat the same mistake again and again - always promising ourselves never to let it happen again. The history plays of Shakespeare are replete with such dire professions to learn from the past but still we heedlessly careered into the massacre that was the English Civil War in which there was another catastrophic similar loss of youth - and in which Oliver Cromwell conducted a quasi-genocide in Ireland from whose grim harvest still reap bitter fruits today.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Weep then for the dead and by tears remember them - but weep too for ourselves as we look at Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and on around this world where needless death piles one on to the other and piles up hate for another generation to feed upon. Remember too - it need not be so. Whilst we treat war as a game we are all bound to be losers in the end.
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St James’s Day – a potpourri….
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St James Day 25th June 2014

St James is not only the patron of Spain the St James in question is the Great. He was martyred in 44 AD by Herod Antipas as described in the Acts of the Apostles. His body taken to Santiago de Compostela where it still lies in a magnificent shrine. It was the focus of the greatest and most popular pilgrim way for the greater part of middle ages. My sister and I hope to walk it some day soon. 

The cockleshell which pilgrims who reach the cathedral may wear remains St James’s symbol. It is also the symbol referred to in the nursery rhyme – ” Mary Mary quite contrary….where does your garden grow; with silver bells (“sanctus” bells) and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row.” Some historians attribute the contrary Mary in question to the Stewart Queen of Scots. On the contrary the Queen in question was Mary Tudor who kept a court full of fun young things which is quite unlike its reputation as painted by a largely unsympathetic male Victorian Protestant historical profession much enamoured of Elizabeth I’s gaudy.

St James the Great was the brother of John (Evangelist and Beloved) both the sons of Zebedee – Christ called them sons of thunder. Zebedee in question is no relation to the bouncy figure at centre of goings on in the Magic Roundabout. This one is thought to have been a priest in the Temple. James was with John and Peter one of the three leading apostles and was a witness to the Transfiguration according to the gospels. James was also witness to the passion and death and is again prominent in the Resurrection accounts and early part of Acts.
Why the pictures below – well Mary I (Tudor) married King Philip (Hapsburg) of Naples & Jerusalem (later Philip II of Spain when his father Charles V abdicated in 1556) in Winchester Cathedral on St James Day 1554. Mary’s mother was also “Spanish” – Katherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand. Katherine of Aragon’s elder sister Joanna married Philip the Fair son of HRE Emperor Maximilian II and who himself was briefly King of Castile (Philip I). As son of Mary of burgundy Philip the Fair brought the Netherlands into the Hapsburg patrimony. By his wife Joanna (the Mad) he had several children including Charles who became both HRE Charles V in succession to his grandfather Maximilian II and the first monarch to unite the Spanish kingdoms under the single title – King of Spain.
Charles V ‘s son, Philip II, named for Philip the Fair,  in his time would be in addition to all the other agglomeration of lands and titles amassed under the Hapsburg dynasty, both King of Portugal and King of England.
 His marriage to his cousin Mary I (Tudor) was one of the great ceremonial occasions in England of Tudor age – the king’s personal retinue doubled the size of the Royal household. Philip’s wardrobe arrived in Southampton it its own ship – together with enough South American silver and gold to pay hundreds of English pensions. The king was not at all the dour prince of the Escorial famoulsy sleeping with huis coffin in his bedchamber- but in these young days was a bit of a dandy and dancer and had an eye for pretty women. At the wedding he wore silver cloth and cloth of gold and buckskin sewed with ruby pomegranate seeds. The queen wore tissue of cloth of gold sewn with pearls and cockleshells and the famous pearl which was her favourite jewel and a gift from Charles V. This jewel was returned to Philip by a very reluctant Elizabeth who was never one easily parted from other’s jewelry. viz, Mary Stuart’s pearls. The pearl later fell into the hands of Liz Taylor.
Mary I  -"Bloody Mary" -  still history's bad witch

Mary I -”Bloody Mary” – still history’s bad witch

Today there will be a big ceremony in St James Spanish Place here in London which was the site of the Spanish Ambassador’s chapel and has I believe two thrones for the king and queen as part of its patronal possessions. The music will be by Spanish composer Victoria – a master of late polyphony – a sound we often associate with Palestrina and the Counter Reformation.

Philip & Mary shortly after their marriage in Winchester Cathedral by Bishop Stephen Gardiner on St James's Day, 1554

Philip & Mary shortly after their marriage in Winchester Cathedral by Bishop Stephen Gardiner on St James’s Day, 1554

This St James’s Day also brought political tribute to the feast -
The government crows about growth figures which show GDP larger than in 2008 – therefore never bigger – but the income dsitribution over the last 6 years means the richerest are richer and the poorest poorer and the middle on a diet of worms. The conservative cock crows nonetheless.  Meanwwhile, in Ed Miliband’s real world we have a real election result to ponder:
Edenthorpe, Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun on Doncaster (Lab Defence)
Result: UKIP 1,203 (41%), Labour 1,109 (38% unchanged), Conservatives 479 (16% +2%), Greens 160 (5%)
UKIP GAIN from Labour with a majority of 94 (3%) on a swing of 20.5% from Labour to UKIP since 2012
Turnout: 28%.
I heard Ed Miliband  talk about image in politics today at the Institute of Architects – it could be Doncaster North may have something to add to the image problem if Ed isn’t careful.  whether this all adds up to more than a basket of cockleshells on a hot July day only time will tell……
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Has Lovvie Labour already Lost?

alogosdownload (1)Has Labour already Lost

I understand EM gives quite important speech later this week. It will mark the beginning of the pre-election campaign which will climax – if that is a suitable word to employ in relation to Ed Miliband’s speaking skills – at the Party Conference in September. Beyond his slightly nasal strangulation of vowels Mr Milliband struggles on a number of fronts in this world of slick Media-driven bubble where appearance is everything –  in which we exist. He also has had pretty dreadful personal poll numbers since his election as Labour leader and there is no reason to think they will change.

The question that preoccupies the chatterati of the political class in the UK is  - Has Labour already Lost?

Labour enter this election with little Media support. Miliband is not their story. Unlike its most successful election winners –  Wilson and Blair – he has not got a good press and little traction in the elites that shape opinion in the Media. Labour’s poll number run ahead of the leader but still are upper mid thirties at best. These were the sorts of number Labour had in 91-92 against John Major and we know where that tragedy ended.

alogosdownload (1)The government is coming good in economic terms and the concerns over immigration play better to the right wing zeitgeist than to those on the left. No government but Ted Heath’s has lost after only a single term.Economic growth will continue to strengthen and wages will rise. There’s maybe a boomlet on the way – if not quite on the scale of Barber or Lawson.

All of these things are true and all of them may add up to no more than a row of beans. Why?

Sometimes elections work in cycles of in and out like 1950 and 1951;1959 and 1964; sometimes elections – like 1945;1979; and 1997 immediately come to represent a decisive break with the recent political past. Sometimes elections dully reinforce an earlier decision – 1974( Oct) – 1983 – 2001. Sometimes elections stick with nurse fearing worse – 1987 – 1992 – 2005. Very very occasionally elections reflect a change in the political structure: 1901;1910;1924;1945;1974 (Feb).

By any of these measures the election on 2010 was out of the usual. It is perhaps difficult to believe that when government since has gone on very much as usual – this coalition behaving very much like a majority government with none of the political or personal tensions often associated by pundits with party coalitions.That too is remarkable. The election in 2010 was also remarkable for any number of reasons.

alogosdownload (1)It gave us a coalition government for the first time since the 1920′s. (The National governments of the 1930′s must be seen in a different light.) The Conservative Party polled one of their worst ever national percentages – beaten only by 1997, 2001, 2005 and 1974 – against one of the most unpopular ever of governments in polling history. Between 1974 and 1979 the Conservatives had gained 8.1% of the national vote; in 1997 Blair’s Labour Party gained a similar 8%. By comparison the Conservative party vote rose a meager 3.5% from what was by then a historically terrible base of 32.4%. This relatively small gain was over Brown’s Labour Party polling a ghastly 29% – 7% down on its squeak in 2006 – but worse only just marginally better than its humiliating defeat in 1983 when Michael Foot led it to an ignominious defeat from which it took 13 years to recover. This was not a good election for two party politics.Unlike previous cycles the country had not turned decisively back to the Conservative Party. In many ways the questions about Conservatives have remained essentially the same since 1997. The difference was the collapse of Labour’s vote from 43% to 29%.

In 2010 the LibDems had their best election since 1983 although their 23% was only one point more than they had achieved in 2005 under Charles Kennedy. The Greens elected their first MP. The Nationalists and Unionist kept their share of votes and roughly their number of MP’s. The more disparate structure of multiparty politics established in 1974 was if anything decisively reinforced once again as the new normative – with two larger weaker parties and third party dangerously close to be equaling the other two and a good number of regional MP’s representing a fragmented local interest.

What the polls tell us is that this essential structure remains unchanged. Labour has gained something around 6% on average since 2010. Some of this may disappear as May 2015 approaches but it seems highly unlikely it will do significantly as badly as 2010. The Conservatives have yet to cross the Rubicon into the higher 30′s and on this form will do well to repeat something akin to their 2010 result. The LibDems – as history warned them – have been seriously damaged by the coalition politics.Their current numbers of  a couple of points either side of 10% seem very low but the polls for the present are nothing but consistent. That said they held on to Eastleigh and have held on to good parts of their local government base. The chance is they will hold on to many of their seats but nothing like as many as their total of 57 – which was itself down on their 63 seats in 2005. The problem will come later this year – if the percentages do not edge up towards 13-15% it is hard to see how they can hold on to more than 25 of their current seats.

alogosdownload (1)Finally there is a new girl on the block – UKIP. Here again polls may mean nothing but the rise of UKIP feels very much like the rise of the Liberals between 1972-1974. It would be a foolish to suppose they too will not poll somewhere around 10-12% of the vote. Thus from the math it seems highly unlikely there’s room for either of the big parties to squeeze the other enough to emerge with a clear working majority. If the Conservatives could not hit the magic 40% in 2006 there is little reason to believe they will gain 6% in the next 10 months to achieve this feat. Moreover, the coalition means inevitably if there is glory for the golden economy it is not all theirs to claim.

Labour has had its best period in opposition in an entire Parliament in my lifetime. In 70-74 there were quite a lot of growing divisions between the Left led by Benn and Wilson and the remainder of the party. It split over joining Europe then too. The 80′s into the 90′s are well known and there was plenty of murmuring when john Smith was briefly leader. The sixties too had their divisions before Gaitskill’s death in 1963. Given that history and the fineness of EM’s narrow victory that deserves comment and note. In many ways the fissisaprous Conservative Party need a figure like Cameron who can straddle opinion rather as Wilson did for Labour.

I am no clever reader of polls but it still surprises me given all the drift in economy in govt’s favour that Labour is in with a shout let alone still ahead at this stage.

The truth is often boring but in the end 2015 will all come down to the LibDem vote.This election is likely to see a further rise in Green vote as well as UKIP’s entry into political mainstream. There will be a modest rise in the Labour vote and with as little as 34% each Labour could emerge with more seats than the Conservatives.

It is hard to doubt that PR referendum will be a price of any new coalition formal or informal – though Labour and Conservatives may finesse this with an offer of AV. That would be easier for Labour than the Conservatives but it could equally be accompanied by the revised boundary package the Conservatives desperately want.

I guess the best hope for Conservatives is to be so close that a deal with NI Unionists would see them safely over the 326 seats. The problem is unless Labour gets well below 34% that is hard to do. Similarly, a rise in LibDem vote over 13% to somewhere in mid teens makes the arithmetic just as problematic. Not only is another hung Parliament likely it seems they will remain likely well into the next decade or so – unless one of the larger parties implodes. And that too has happened in recent history – first to the old Liberal Party in 1930′s and it almost happened to Labour in the 1980′s. Strangely, it may well be the Conservative Party that is more at risk if against all expectations they do not win in 2015 and instead do worse than 2010. No party since the war has increased its percentage of votes cast in a subsequent election outside Labour in 1966 and again in October 1974.

alogosdownload (1)So to answer the question – has Labour already lost – the answer is most definitely not and it still looks likely to gain most advantages from the vagaries of the electoral system. The local elections were not as bad for Labour as the Media portrayed them to be and in an era of four party politics its practical electoral advantages are not to be disregarded. The coalition row over House of Lords reform may turn out to have been the very means to help Labour back into power.

Stranger things have happened – ask Harold Wilson in February 1974…..

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Manifest Destiny Reshuffles in the shadow of Bastille Day

The cuckold’s Horns or those of a Dilemma?

aversailles2french-revolution-1789-grangerPolitical parties are like gay bachelors – always looking for a partner who will take their promises as good and smile when they break them. In most of the Western democracies the two parties in the largely two-party systems that emerged from World War II were in this sense always serial adulterers. The electorates’ have wearied of their infidelities with truth and over the last fifty years all over the West voters have turned their backs on the old love and looked to new loves to take their place.

Much of this courtship has been conducted in the shadow of wars – larger and smaller –  colder and hotter. However, the collapse of the old Soviet Union brought an abrupt end to the military two-step and the world was meant to be a much safer place. Safety is always relative and the irony is that the event which Francis Fukuyama told us was meant to end history in fact inaugurated a period of political and institutional instability across all the most unstable regions of the world.

The end of the restraints of the old ideological armed neutrality of the nuclear powers and their allies that divided the world into two camps and kept order between east and West has left the West bereft. Its collapse unmasked an older order of division well known to history –  religious extremism or fundamentalism or revolutionary nihilism – depending on your sympathies. Forces forced underground for much of the twentieth century have come back to the surface. It turns out the visceral hatreds which haunted societies touched by the Reformations and Counter Reformations now again stalks this modern world still wearing its matchless apparel of intolerance with heavily accessorised beliefs.

This should not have surprised us or caught us off guard since it has happened repeatedly in all three of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has also been a byproduct of the last two great secular philosophies – in Republican France and in Communist Russia. In very recent times violent certainties have again played themselves out in violent actions –  in the former Yugoslavia – along the northern coast of Africa – in the Middle East. – in Pakistan, in Afghanistan –  along the border lands of what was once Soviet Russia – in Tibet and China – and most tragically and terribly of all in central and west Africa. Everywhere the collapse of civic society has brought bestowed on people a bloody chaos.Even in the western democracies long immune to these spasms of violent upheaval there is unrest and disillusionment and fear. The over arching system of Free Market Economics which is the under-girding philosophy of the cultural elite of these prosperous nations has been shaken by its own inherent failures and contradictions. We have no answers to the problem – save more of the same. Like the alcoholic  for whom the solution always lies in the next bottle of booze, our political masters can only advise us to trust more and more in a system that is delivering less and less to more and more of its people..

aversailles1imagesCelebrity and its fascinations are the opiate traded by the masters of our Universe to keep the people in good order – bread and circuses of Rome still after all these millennia. Yet the secular neo-agnostic-consumerism manufactured by the West is suddenly under a much more profound threat from those who reject the very moral basis of the market economies that now dominate the world and command its resources. This is a threat weapons cannot match nor diplomacy play. This is a world of ideas that is not sated on delights of fast food and even faster sexual morality.Rather it walks to the pace with an older sensibility informed by religious fundamentalism.

The West is aghast as it seems to us who hold that the world of  things is the only substantial world and the world of ideas is a shadow world hardly worth a breath of recognition let alone worth wasting a last breath upon. That rational men and women might die in a just cause seems irrational to those resting on the soft couches of plenty stuffed as they are by dint others’ poorly paid efforts.

It is these new zealots look at us as savages consumed by immorality and slaves to luxury. We see them as ideologues consumed by fundamentalism and burning with alien ideas. They are weirdly indifferent to glossy couture labels that we wear. They cover their women and practice Sharia law. To us, they’re all nascent terrorists. We invoke the word Islamist as once we shrieked from under the bedclothes – Jacobin or Communist or even IRA terrorist.

Of course because we are so pragmatically worldly we will in time wish to accommodate them into our value systems. Whether they will be bought so easily is a piece of market economics for which we have as yet no balanced equation. The missiles fire; the gun fire rounds on innocents; the bombs explode the brokered peace – such peace as there is – in the desert made of Iraq and the inferno of Syria and in the Lebanon and Palestine and Egypt and even Israel.

Midst this mayhem our neutered political institutions – the parties which govern us – if increasingly unrepresentative of us –  flap uselessly around like eunuchs in a harem. Like all those who  power dress they try to be like the Mighty Oz something they’re not. Pulling the levers of patronage and applying ever thicker veneers of so called policy they make-it-up as they go along in the hope no one will see the Emperor has no clothes.

The vainest of all these petty vanities is the reshuffle which largely consists of handing out plums of office to a select few and taking them from select others. As theatre is commands the stage of comedy. As politics it holds the mask of tragedy. As a sign of effective government it is a meaningless sham designed to grab headlines and pass off old peas long past their sell by date as the newly minted peas of summer.The public is so inured by these powerless rights and so contemptuous of the Punch and Judy politics which we are offered it has ceased to believe matters can ever be changed let alone be different or even made better by good old human endeavour.

aversailles3In history these long trails of decline and fall – of courts and courtiers – stories of governing classes who can no longer govern themselves let alone anything else – sad tales of their petty corruptions and endless self-obsessions – and their ever narrowing cultural and social base – when the socialite has become the philosopher king – then the path leads to only one end: Revolution. When societies are governed by elites who can no longer fulfill their elite function as the Red Queen in Alice memorably might have put it – there’s only one way for them to end – off with their heads….

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