Tuesday, 30 September 2014

In Extremis

I am looking forward to being banged up by that erstwhile Lanchester resident, Theresa May.

If I am not on her National Extremism Database, then I shall sue.

The Lanchester Review: "An Empty Populist Pledge"

Not So Smart

Don't worry. Like all other attempts at this kind of technology, under governments of whichever hue, Iain Duncan Smith's smart cards will never work.

Holy City

Justin Tse is invaluable on the roots of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, first under British and now under Chinese rule, among the interlocking worlds of the students, the Evangelical churches, the mainline Protestant clergy, and Catholic Social Teaching.

That just doesn't sound like China, does it? Hong Kong as very much at all, never mind as a world city with those among so many other forces at play in its life, is a creation of the British Empire, not of China.

A densely populated island with a huge financial services sector and with a very hight degree of economic dependence on a superpower with which it shares more or less the same language, a certain amount of common culture (but not as much as might at first appear), and some fairly distant common history and ethnic ties.

Such places ought to rise up and assert themselves more often.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Flags Not Flagging

Parts of Hong Kong, the source of our love affair with Cantonese food, were British for 155 years. None of Hong Kong was British for fewer than 99 years. The divergence from China is total.

All countries start somehow, even in circumstances as improbable as those which created Hong Kong, or Pakistan, or Northern Ireland, or a distinct political entity and culture in the Gaza Strip.

At the Gates of Baghdad

A lot of good our intervention is doing, isn't it?

Capping It All

If the benefits cap has to be reduced so that households out of work are still not making more than households in work, then that can only mean that households in work have experienced a reduction in income.

Will The Third Man Defect?

If the Conservatives were even a half-competent party, then they would kick out on the spot anyone who called for an electoral pact with UKIP.

Those making such calls are in the position that Dave Nellist and the late Terry Fields once were, openly and flagrantly members of a party in opposition to the one under whose colours they were elected.

David Cameron took more than two thirds of the vote for Leader of the Conservative Party, against a Eurosceptical and a socially conservative opponent.

Considering how many of that opponent's supporters will have left or died in the meantime, Cameron is now, even more than he was then, a mainstream Conservative.

Whereas his enemies simply are not and never have been mainstream Conservatives. UKIP, whatever else it may be, is not some kind of Old Tory Party. Not at all.

Nor can it welcome Daniel Hannan's best mate, Mark Reckless, and Daniel Hannan's co-author (they are also godfathers to each other's children), Douglas Carswell, but not welcome Daniel Hannan.

If Hannan came on television and said that he was joining UKIP, then what would Kippers say? No? His views are thoroughly inimical to their party's policies. But so are the views of Reckless and Carswell.

Again I say that Cameron ought to announce Hannan as the candidate at Rochester and Strood, and tell him to take it or get the hell out and let UKIP make of him what it would.

The Lanchester Review: After the Scottish Referendum

There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country. It never need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has.

If an English Parliament, or “English votes for English laws”, would be so popular, then put it to a referendum of the people of England. It would pass in the South East, although I only suspect that, just as I only suspect that it would pass by far less in East Anglia and perhaps also in those parts of the South West that were not too far south and west.

Whereas I know with absolute certainty, as do you, that it would not obtain one third of the vote anywhere else, that it would not manage one quarter anywhere beyond the Mersey or the Humber (or, I expect, in Devon or Cornwall, either), and that it would not scrape one fifth in the North East, or in Cumbria, or, again, in Cornwall. If anyone doubts this, then bring on that referendum.

As for Labour’s needing Scottish MPs in order to win an overall majority, certain grandees of the commentariat need to be pensioned off, or at the very least to have their copy subjected to the most basic fact-checking by editorial staff.

In 1964, fully 50 years ago, MPs from Scotland delivered a Labour overall majority of four when there would otherwise have been a Conservative overall majority of one that would not have lasted a year.

In October 1974, MPs from Scotland turned what would have been a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party into a Labour overall majority so tiny that it was lost in the course of that Parliament.

In 2010, MPs from Scotland turned what would have been a small Conservative overall majority into a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party and with David Cameron as Prime Minister, anyway.

On no other occasion since the War, if ever, have MPs from Scotland, as such, influenced the outcome of a General Election. In any case, with the Government committed to the Barnett Formula, there cannot be any such thing as exclusively English legislation, since it all has knock-on effects in Scotland and Wales. What “English laws”?

The grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns cold, hard cash. What, then, of those who bellow for an English Parliament to bartenders who cannot follow everyone else and leave the room? They fall into two categories. There are the Home Counties Home Rulers. And there are those wishing to live under the Raj of the Home Counties Home Rulers.

On the one hand are those from the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Their definition of England is the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Give them something for that, and they would be perfectly happy, at least until the votes started to be tallied up. Everyone gets a vote. Even the people whom they have bawled out.

On the other hand are those from everywhere else. Their definition of England is also the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Although they are often professionally “local” to elsewhere, especially in Yorkshire but also in pockets of other parts of the country, the basis of their political position has always been that they were a cut above their neighbours.

That made them Conservatives until recently, and it increasingly makes them UKIP supporters. That is who the UKIP supporters in the North and elsewhere are. They were never Labour. That is also the context for the fact that there has been a UKIP MEP in Wales for some years and that there is now a UKIP MEP in Scotland, too.

They may never have elected an MP or even a councillor in their lives, or they may live in the only ward or constituency for miles around where their votes ever elected anyone. But enough MPs were returned from elsewhere to make Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. That suited them down to the ground.

Quite wrongly, since it would be run by Labour as often as not, they see an English Parliament in the same terms. Their more numerous and concentrated brethren elsewhere would deliver them from the rule of their neighbours. It is very funny indeed that those brethren think that they are those neighbours.

In 1993, 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, far more than the number of Conservatives who did so. Yet there were far more Conservative than Labour MPs at the time. Of those 66, at least three campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, including that campaign’s chairman, Dennis Canavan.

While it is true that several of those from Wales went on to be among the strongest opponents of devolution, the 66 also included the late John McWilliam, one of the first campaigners for a North East regional assembly.

So much for the dissolution of the United Kingdom as some kind of EU plot, and I write as an inveterate social democratic Eurosceptic and Unionist. If anything, the pressure for that dissolution is a reaction against the effects of Thatcher’s Single European Act, of Maastricht, and of the Stability Pact to which we are pretty much adhering despite not being in the euro. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership looms large.

If there is one group of people to be avoided at all costs, then it is the ones who go on about some EU map with England divided into regions. If anyone had paid any attention to them, then the toothless and Tyneside-dominated regional assembly would have been set up in the North East, purely and understandably in order to spite them.

City regions are what used to be called metropolitan counties, which Thatcher abolished because she did not like Ken Livingstone. No, that never did make any sense. But that was what she did. Similarly, many unitary authorities bear more than a passing resemblance to county boroughs. These things have to keep going around and coming around, in order to justify the salaries of the people who write the research papers.

But since city regions are now to be revived under that name, whatever powers are proposed for them must also extend to a body covering each of those 40 English ceremonial counties which are neither Greater London, nor the City of London, nor any of the former metropolitan counties.

In many cases, the obvious body already exists. Where it no longer does, then that raises the question of why it no longer does. And where, as here in County Durham, the legacy of the last Government is such as would leave that body unbalanced, with existing local government responsibilities for part but not quite all of its area, then that, too, would be called into question. Leading to the restoration of the former district councils.

This promise of significant devolution to rural communities might go some way to making up the support that Labour has been too lazy to build up during this Parliament by properly opposing cuts in those communities’ services, and by selecting strong local campaigning candidates, with or without prior party allegiance.

Whatever the conurbations are getting, as well they might, then so must the counties. The loyally Labour old coal and steel belts of County Durham, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are among the places that will need to be convinced that our, as often as not Conservative or Lib Dem, urban neighbours quite deserved all of this city regions carry on.

At the very least, we are not having the powers of our own local authorities transferred to them. In fact, since we are fairly populous, we may reasonably demand that whatever they got, then so should we. At least that money and those powers would always be under the control of members of Ed Miliband’s own party.

Will Devo Max really be opposed only by implacable Tory ultras? What about implacable Labour ultras? Or implacable Lib Dem ultras? Labour MPs for Scotland hold the Scottish Parliament in extremely low regard, and they did so even before it fell under the control of the SNP, as it did quite some time ago now.

Labour MPs for the North of England have spent an electoral generation voting powers to Scotland and to Europe, to Wales and to London, to Northern Ireland and to the judiciary, to everyone but themselves or their constituents. It is not as if Scotland has proved loyal to Labour in the way that the North very largely has.

All these years after devolution, Lib Dem MPs see that the Highlands and Islands are the only part of Scotland among the 11 parts of the United Kingdom that are poorer than Poland. Although Cornwall and Devon are both also on that list, as well as both being among those nine out of the 10 poorest parts of Northern Europe which are in this country.

Bringing us to the Barnett Formula, which has been elevated to the status of an article of the Constitution, but which in fact has never had any force of law. Lord Barnett has long been on record that it was only ever supposed to last for one year. It is an outrage against social democracy and even against basic justice, being not remotely needs-based.

The canonisation of the Barnett Formula imperils the Union by raising serious questions among the Welsh about why they should bother with a State that treated them so shabbily. Heaven knows, it does no good to the poorest people in Scotland. Their condition is as abject under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as is that of their counterparts under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour MPs for Wales and the North of England need to band together with Lib Dems for Wales and the West Country, and indeed for the North of Scotland, so that, perhaps even joined by Plaid Cymru and undoubtedly alongside all parties from Northern Ireland, they might propose a long-overdue replacement, based on need and organised through direct funding to localities without reference to the Nationalist nomenklatura in Scotland.

The areas of Scotland that would benefit most from such a new approach are those which suffer most as a result of the old one. Outside the rural Lib Dem strongholds, those are mostly the areas that return devosceptical Labour MPs to Westminster. As much as anything else, this offers the possibility of taking Holyrood seats from the SNP, by correctly presenting it as the party that hordes money away from the communities that need it.

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

The parts of the United Kingdom that are listed as one or both of poorer than Poland and among the 10 poorest places in Northern Europe are West Wales and the Welsh Valleys, Devon, Cornwall, Durham and the Tees Valley, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, Lancashire, Northern Ireland, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, the Highlands and Islands, and Merseyside. There are of course many other very poor places in this country.

All MPs for those areas should vote against any legislation that would give the force of law to the Barnett Formula. Likewise, all MPs from the 40 shire counties of England, but perhaps especially from the old coal and steel belts, should vote against any extension of the powers of the Scottish Parliament without devolution not only to English MPs en bloc or to city regions, but also directly to those county areas.

The Lanchester Review: On Possibly Coming Round to Votes at 16

I am still not convinced about lowering the voting age. We are being bounced into it because 16 and 17-year-olds have voted in the Scottish referendum. But my mind is no longer entirely closed to that change itself.

I remember what it was like to be a politically active Sixth Former. It is not an experience that I shall ever forget. No one who was one could ever imagine that it was, is, or will ever be normal.

Even a superbly well-educated 16-year-old is still a 16-year-old. Lowering the voting age even further might pose a very serious threat to democracy, since no one seriously imagines that the opinion of a 16-year-old matters as much as that of his Head Teacher, or his doctor, or his mother. Why, then, should each of them have only as many votes as he had? Thus might the process start.

Harold Wilson probably thought that he might gain some advantage from lowering the voting age. But the Sixties Swingers hated him (that is largely forgotten now, but it is true), and they handed the 1970 Election to Ted Heath instead.

If there had been a General Election, as was once widely expected, in the spring of 1996, then, having been born in September 1977, I would have been able to vote in that Election, even though I would still have had a couple of months of school left to go.

But by then I had been free for more than two years to walk out any time I liked. I would have been so free even if the school-leaving age had been raised to 18, as is now going to happen.

Lowering the voting age to two years below the school-leaving age would literally be giving the vote to children: to people whom we, as a society, had decided were not yet capable of deciding for themselves whether or not they wished to leave full-time education.

It is still well within living memory that most people left school, and went straight into taxpaying work, a full seven years before they were entitled to vote. Now, we propose that people should have the vote two years before they were able to leave school.

If anyone doubts quite how monolithically middle-class our political culture has become, then consider that it has almost certainly never occurred to the proponents of lowering the voting age that even 21 was ever attained before leaving full-time education, never mind a third of one’s life to that date after having done so.

And yet, and yet, and yet.

With the introduction of individual registration, I suspect that the proportion of the extremely elderly that remained on the electoral register would be hardly, if at all, higher than the proportion of those all the way up to the age of about 25.

Of those registered, if 16 and 17-year-olds were able to be so, then I strongly suspect that a higher proportion of them would actually exercise the franchise than of the over-90s, who are also a very small cohort overall.

I have seen the way in which candidates press the flesh in nursing homes when there is an election coming up. Some of the residents know exactly what is going on. Others are decidedly confused. Others again hardly know Christmas from Tuesday. 16 and 17-year-olds would be very much the same.

(By the way, I am wholly unshocked by the practice of activists filling in postal voting forms on behalf of the institutionalised elderly who ask them to vote for those activists’ candidates. If that did not happen, then those electors' clearly expressed preference would go uncounted.)

Like a lot of my vintage, I see one third of bus passes used to commute, for much of the year from and to homes heated by the Winter Fuel Allowance. But then I consider that there will be none of those things for us, even though the people now coming into them no more fought in the War. They were no more on this earth than we were while the War was being fought by anyone.

In my more mean-spirited moments, I ponder that people who “worked all their lives” were paid to do so, and ought not to have spent it all, as of course many of them did not, with the result that they are now loaded.

Or I ponder that they have not in fact “worked all their lives” if they have retired a mere two thirds of the way through the probable length of their lives.

I make no apology for seeing no War-like debt to be repaid to those whose formative experiences were sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, the explosion of mass consumer affluence, and the felt need to demonstrate against another country’s war because this country was not waging one.

However, I believe in full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, and opposition to American wars of liberal intervention. I am by no means averse to the finer things in life. I fully recognise that few are those who could really manage without their bus passes or their Winter Fuel Allowances. I support the principle of universality to the very marrow of my bones.

No, the question is one of balance, plus the perfectly simple writing into the legislation of a ban on jurors aged under 18 or 21, as there is already a ban on jurors aged over 75.

Balancing generational interests is as important as balancing class interests, or regional interests, or urban and rural interests, and so on. Only social democracy can do those. Only social democracy can do this.

The sheer size of the ageing Baby Boom is such that the democracy in social democracy might require a modest reduction in the voting age. While that case has not yet been made sufficiently convincingly to justify the change, I am less and less decided that it simply never will or could be.

Teenage Dreams, So Hard To Beat?

Where do they find the adolescents to form the backdrops at party conferences?

I fail to see the progress here. William Hague made a speech, all the way back in the year of my birth. But the ones today never say a word, and are not even dressed appropriately to the occasion.

Or are they? I mean, what is now the occasion?

The Tongue of Men and of Angels

Well, it is Michaelmas. I should have got a goose in.

The Portuguese Wikipedia page on Saint Augustine of Hippo, the Father of Western Theology, joins that in Slovenian, and possibly others besides, in linking to this site. Perhaps I was not such a bad theologian after all?

But my grasp of Doctor Gratiae, among so very many other things, has always been loosened by my want of any formal knowledge of Latin.

We are an odd lot, the state-educated middle classes. But there are an awful lot of us. Our sense of dispossession by and under this Government is very profound indeed.

Especially among those of us aged between 35 and 55, who see our own quite clearly inferior contemporaries in and around office. Something more than similar applies across a wide range of economic, social and cultural spheres.

Entirely reasonable and mild-mannered people react particularly badly when the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg start speaking a language that, only two generations ago, they themselves would have been able to use at least as well as Rees-Mogg, who is an historian rather than a Classicist.

No, this has nothing to do with bringing back grammar schools. Many comprehensives continued to offer Latin until the late 1980s, when the teachers retired and were not replaced due to the Baker Act, the National Curriculum, and the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs. Thank you, Margaret Thatcher.

This is no more about the loss of the grammar schools than the rise of unpaid internships is. What good would grammar schools be against that? But their partisans are like the SNP or UKIP, with a single answer to every question. They had no interest in it before their own economic ideology priced them, as parents, out of commercial schools.

The schools that continue to teach Latin are always going to do so. The only way to remove its very newfound status as an instant class indicator is to restore its teaching in the state sector. Not everyone would take it. Not everyone takes Art, or Chemistry. But the kind of people who always used to take Latin, would again.

From where would the curriculum time be found? The curriculum time seems to found for any and everything under a vague "PSHE" or "Citizenship" rubric, despite what is now the extreme shortness of the school day, although the holidays are as long as they ever were.

Teach Latin instead, or at least as well. Somewhere else will always be doing so.

Uncivil and Antisocial

I am rather surprised that there ever was a Minister for Civil Society.

After four years of this lot, what civil society?

Then again, there is also a Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Turning The Tweed Blue

It would not be all that surprising to see the Conservatives pick up not only Berwick-upon-Tweed, but also Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, thereby unseating a Cabinet Minister.

In any event, it looks as if they are going to take the seat being vacated by Sir Alan Beith. That will be proclaimed by our allegedly national media as the storming of a Labour bastion because "It's Up Norf, innit". 

But every Conservative gain next year is going to be from the Lib Dems, and Labour is expecting to make at least as many.

Don't take my word for that. Ask Lord Ashcroft. The Conservatives are fully resigned to no gains, anywhere, from Labour. Not a single one. And to barely, if any, more from the Lib Dems than Labour will also be managing.

There is an extent to which ever going into government was always going to alienate the old Liberal areas, which are defined by an aversion to all existing centres of power even in relation to each other (the many in Scotland all voted solidly No in the recent referendum), and to the politics of the entire period since the end of the First World War.

They regard Labour as something essentially foreign and exotic. They do not understand, or quite trust, the Labour Party. But nor do they have cause to hate it.

The Conservatives, by the starkest of contrasts, are the party of the landlords against the tenants and the farmhands, the party of Church against Chapel, and so on.

A rich, posh Leader who came up through that party, who switched over an EU with which they have no affinity, and who sits for the university end of an inner city, has taken them into coalition with their most visceral enemies.

Enough of them will simply refuse to vote for his candidates, that in many cases their seats will instead be handed over to those very enemies.

Labour has been too lazy to select strong local candidates with or without any previous party background, and to campaign hard for them.

Previously unimaginable gains could have been made in the wake of the cuts as experienced in the countryside. Not only from the Lib Dems, but also from the Conservatives.

Ho, hum. Labour could have done better. But it is still going to win hands down.

Later today, the Conservative Party Conference will be lectured on "Winning In The North" by Anne McIntosh MP, of Thirsk and Malton.

Where the Conservative Association has deselected her.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Death and Taxes

I am not a big fan of taxing inheritance as such rather than as income, although I suppose that it is a necessity.

But why is this not "a core vote strategy", when supporting the NHS was?

Rather more than 35 per cent of voters support the NHS.

Rather fewer than 35 per cent of voters would benefit from this.

Mansions Have Bedrooms

What is it with this country and a willingness to tax anything apart from income, accompanied by an insistence that anything else is somehow not a tax at all? Ed Balls might get away with the Mansion Tax if he insists on calling it the Spare Home Subsidy.

It was and is obscene to tax elderly people out of their homes because it had arbitrarily been decided that those were now too big for them.

It is no less appalling a proposal to tax people on what, unless it happens to be for sale, is the purely notional value of an asset which they might not necessarily own anyway, and which in any case they could not possibly sell unless they were expected to go and live up a tree or something.

But we sold the pass on this one more than 20 years ago, when we effectively restored the hated rates, and with them all their impeccably middle and upper-middle-class exemptions for students, clergy, second homes, and so on. Paid for by a hike in VAT, which was hardly the obvious way of helping the poor.

Instead, among other things, we need a tax on the productive value of land per acre, other than that occupied by the homes of the less well off, perhaps making possible the abolition of stamp duty, and in any event establishing and enforcing the principle that no one should own land other than in order to make use of it; this was proposed by Andy Burnham when he was a candidate for Leader of the Labour Party.

There must also be a statutory requirement of planning permission for change of use if it is proposed to turn a primary dwelling into a secondary dwelling, a working family home into a weekend or holiday home.

Mabel The Brighton Belle

I have known about the then Monsignor Kieran Conry since no later than 2000, and I have only been a Catholic since 1999.

Everyone who is anyone, and many of us who aren't, have always known about him.

You only have to read Damian Thompson's Twitter feed for why he has now "broken" this story. I take no side on that particular issue.

But what goes around, comes around.

Especially what goes around Brighton.

Constitutional Conventions, Indeed

House of Commons approval is now effectively required before going to war.

And an MP who changes party is now effectively required to stand down and cause a by-election.

How times change.

And how quickly.

Independent Voices, Indeed

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis, explains Patrick Cockburn. Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes.

It is perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis, so why don’t we do it and save some lives, asks Robert Fisk? Nobody criticises the Israeli government when it swaps prisoners with Hezbollah.

In the fog of war, one thing is certain – bombing Isis will increase the chance of home-grown terror, articulates Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Whether or not the RAF’s bombs find their targets, it does not bode well for the United Kingdom.

A Fractious Rabble

David Cameron has said that the circumstances in which the Conservative conference was opening were “not ideal”.

Fans of the late – but immortal – Peter Cook may remember his incarnation as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, the great British eccentric, who told an interviewer about his lifelong endeavour to teach ravens to fly under water.

Asked if this task was not somewhat difficult, Streeb-Greebling hummed and hawed before replying, “I think ‘difficult’ is an awfully good word you’ve got there.”

I think “not ideal” are awfully good words to describe the prime minister’s predicament. In many ways things were looking rather good for him.

Unemployment is falling; growth is happening; in polls the Tories rate far ahead of Labour for economic competence, as Cameron is ahead of Ed Miliband in person; the Labour conference was embarrassing.

The Tories should have begun their own last conference before the election on a high note.

Instead of which the headlines are dominated by a defection and a resignation, and Cameron faces a party that he knows has never liked him, but which now looks like a fractious rabble.

Has it really come to this?

Has what was the most successful political party in modern European history succumbed to some strange death wish, determined to tear itself to pieces and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Forty years ago the Tories were the European party (and Labour the insular Europhobes). But a perfervid obsession with the European Union, which is – in any objective view – almost the least of our many problems, has infected the Tories, and corroded any spirit of loyalty.

MP Mark Reckless was the second of two defectors to Ukip, timing his departure in a way that ordinary Tories would once have considered despicably treacherous.

But he may be not be the last, from a party that now seems to have adopted the Leninist notion of revolutionary defeatism.

Several times over its history the Tory party has succumbed to bouts of internecine squabbling – over the Corn Laws, over “tariff reform”, over appeasement.

But there was always a default mechanism, a ruthless will to win, which made it so astoundingly successful. Of the 111 years from 1886 to 1997, the Conservatives were in office – alone or in coalition – for 79.

That was not how it was meant to be in the age of mass democracy, the advent of universal suffrage, “the century of the common man”, but so it proved.

And it was not just their electoral success. To a degree now quite forgotten, British Conservatism was a genuine mass movement.

At the 1950 election, the Labour government retained power but lost many of the seats won in the landslide five years earlier. One of them was Barnet, north London, which Reginald Maudling took for the Tories.

Two details now seem barely credible.

In Barnet that year, turnout was 87%. And in a constituency with an electorate of just over 70,000, the local Conservative Association had 12,000 members.

At the time, the national Conservative and Unionist party had 2.7 million members, even if it was as much a social as a political organisation.

By the 2005 election membership had collapsed, to 253,000. And if rumours are true – and the party is reticent on the subject – it may now be below 100,000.

Membership of all parties has plummeted since the mid-century heyday, but whereas the Tories then had more than twice as many members as Labour, it is possibly now the other way round.

Although we have not seen “the end of history”, we’ve witnessed the decline of traditional ideological politics, which ought to have helped rather than hindered the Tories.

Instead, they have mysteriously assumed the doctrinaire fanaticism and internal hatreds that used to be the prerogative of the left.

Cameron may not be the most charismatic or sincere leader the Tories have ever had.

But could anyone have done better with this lot?

A Mortal Threat

Mark Almond writes:

No government could refuse the challenge after the bloody provocations of Islamic State.

But having decided by a huge majority to embark  on what David Cameron warned would be a long campaign, the House of Commons vote on Friday did not make clear what the endgame would be.

Without knowing what victory will look like, have we embarked on a war we cannot win?

Our model of victory is what happened at the end of the Second World War when the West successfully established democracy in defeated Germany and Japan.

But recent experience building new democracies from faction-ridden Afghanistan to disintegrating Iraq is not encouraging.

The US Army thought it had kept George W. Bush’s promise to bring democracy to Iraq. 

But ‘winner takes all’ at the polls in countries riven by bitter religious rivalries means democracy has a sour taste for losers.

Things went wrong in Iraq despite the presence of so many US and British troops and billions of dollars in aid, training and equipment.

Now David Cameron tells us to ‘forget’ the last Iraq war. This time things will be different.

No ground forces. Just air power to back up local and regional allies who share our hostility to IS.

That all seems straightforward enough. The enemy is obvious, almost a caricature of evil.

But though knowing your enemy is vital in war, knowing what your allies’ real aims are is equally important.
It is our allies who frighten me almost as much as IS.

On the ground, the West has friends who have daggers drawn with each other. And they have contempt for our values.

Even leaving aside the oil-rich Arab despots who have signed  up for the anti-IS campaign for their own reasons, inside Nato, its key regional member, Turkey, is not fully on board.

Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria and has Nato’s second-largest armed forces after America.

But precisely because Turkey is right in the thick of the Middle East, its government has a very different take on the crisis. 

In London and Washington, the Kurds of the region seem natural allies against the common IS enemy.

Arming the Kurds to fight the jihadis seems a neat way to get local boots to do the fighting on the ground in Northern Iraq and Syria.

But to Turkey, Kurds are not natural allies. 

With so many Kurdish people living in Turkey itself, Ankara fears arming Kurds to fight IS today will provide them  with the weapons to fight for independence from Turkey tomorrow.

Given how much expensive American weaponry fell into IS hands earlier this year as the Iraqi Army disintegrated, is Turkey unreasonable to harbour suspicions that defeat of IS by the Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas could be the signal  for a well-armed war for independence by its Kurds?

But the Islamic-led Turkish government has been drifting away from the West in any case.

President Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal critic of Israel and his open border policy to Syria has let foreign fighters, including hundreds from Britain, flow into the ranks of the jihadi forces fighting the Assad regime, but also taking Western aid workers hostages.

Syria’s civil war is key to the crisis. But there, too, Western values and the West’s allies are  in conflict.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours say they support the American-led alliance but they don’t want the victory of Western democracy in the Middle East.

What we see as the best way to guarantee a future for peace and freedom, our Arab allies see as a mortal threat.

The Sunni fundamentalist monarchs tolerated their rich subjects funding IS-style jihadis to fight Assad and other allies of Shia Iran, which they hate and fear.

But when upstart jihadis like the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began to get too big for their boots, the ruling sheikhs were happy to join in cutting him down to size. 

But promoting democracy, human rights, respect for women and religious minorities are not their war aims.

Chaos breeds enemies like IS. It is not the solution.

If anarchy is the problem, and democracy doesn’t take root easily, is dictatorship the answer?

Given how unsavoury and unreliable some of our allies in the Middle East are, it is remarkable how reluctant Western leaders have been to  join up with the regimes of Syria or Iran, who have very good reasons of their own for hating and fearing IS.

David Cameron, like Barack Obama, has pronounced Assad beyond the pale.

So it looks like the West is undertaking a three-sided war in the Middle East, fighting Assad and his allies as well as his enemies. 

This may be consistent, but is it wise?

If the West isn’t prepared to cooperate with the forces fighting IS in its main strongholds in Syria, then mission creep by our troops seems inevitable.

A case exists for special forces operations against specific targets, like ‘high value’ IS targets or safe houses where hostages are held. 

But large-scale deployment of Western soldiers on the ground would be an admission of failure.

This is a war which we cannot win for the locals. Maybe they can’t win it for themselves.

Barring a lucky strike which knocks out the IS leadership and demoralises their supporters, air power is not going to produce rapid results.

Nobody should anticipate a Victory in the Middle East Day 1945-style. 

The crimes of IS give us the right to fight it, but the war cannot be won by the West without local support. 

Tragically for us, the enemy and our dubious allies will decide the terms of victory or defeat.

One Tentative Cheer

It is rather a truism, dating back possibly all the way to 1688, that revolutionary movements have a tendency, after devouring their enemies, to turn upon their own, and eventually to turn into counterrevolutionary parties.

This was true of the French Revolution; this was true of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its Dengist reaction; and this is still true even of post-communist countries like Kazakhstan, Russia and the Ukraine.

It is a strange thing to witness, this cooling and souring of the revolutionary fervour and its turning into something very different – even its opposite, when it is confronted with the same forces that swept it into power in the first place.

If one considers it a wise thing to strive for success in remaking the social order in your own image (which I don’t, by the way), Mao Zedong was wise to try to completely overturn the entire institutional structure of the country he led.

But now his failure – if I may paraphrase Anakin Skywalker – is complete.

It is now the case over the world, that left-wing parties that once overthrew entire social orders have congealed into the form of those same social orders, and have become defenders of those same social orders. 

I speak of a general tendency. The way this tendency appears and generates itself varies from context to context.

Thus, whilst you have a militantly atheist party in control of China, which espouses Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on paper but in practice uses a mushy amalgam of authoritarian methods and progressive-pragmatist goals; you also have an increasingly religious (as in Russian Orthodox) Communist Party of the Russian Federation in opposition to Putin under Gennady Zyuganov, which is also taking on a very ideologically-conservative cast.

In Kazakhstan, the old-guard Communists have adopted a similar kind of technocratic nationalism, conservative in the sense that they want to conserve and restore what is left of the old Soviet social safety net. 

In the former Soviet countries, we therefore have some very interesting tendencies cropping up.

The old Communist Party of Ukraine led by Petro Symonenko, for example, had been taking a stand on federalism, localism and minority rights prior to being banned – a stand which, in the United States, would be characterised as a conservative one.

Likewise, the counter-revolutionary movement in Donetsk and Lugansk regions has a distinctly communistic flavour to it – they first called themselves ‘People’s Republics’, and now call themselves the ‘Federal State of New Russia’.

Their official programme blends a strong commitment to public ownership (i.e. of land, of key industries) with a strong link with the Moscow Patriarchate and a decentralised confederal state structure which appears to be based on the old soviet council system.

They are to be considered ‘counter-revolutionary’, precisely because they originally supported the Yanukovych government and opposed the Maidan protests – even more so when those protests turned violent and murderous.

The actual substantive issues on which they based their own protests were against state uniformity of language and education; against the wanton destruction of the social safety net by Yatsenyuk, Turchynov and their cronies; and against the dismantling of the backyard industries on which they depended for their livelihood (before being sold off to American and Western European concerns).

As observed from their early history of peaceful occupation of government buildings, they were ready to adopt the tactics of the early Maidan movement, though their goals were diametrically opposed.

This is the public stance of the Federal State of New Russia. 

Whether or not this public stance is sincerely held, and whether or not the left-conservative programme of this counter-revolutionary movement can be sustained without succumbing to the totalitarianism of its Soviet predecessors, are both questions which are still very much up-in-the-air. But this movement is one to watch carefully. 

My blogging-friend and fellow-traveller John at EifD has been doing so for some time, and has a thoughtful series of essays (here,  and here) on the substantively counter-revolutionary and conservative trends within socialist – even Marxist – thought.

At the time, my agreement with them was highly qualified, but on further consideration I think he may have been getting at a possible confluence of thought with a number of tantalising ramifications. (And also quite a few dangerous ones, but that’s a topic for another essay.) 

It stands to reason, however.

The Old Left for all its grim and inhuman excesses has still somehow, in some of its manifestations, managed to hold onto the key Pauline insights which undergirded their ideology going all the way back to Marx himself.

These Pauline insights into sinful human nature and the way it fetters us (secularised in Marx’s thought as alienation and exploitation) and into the nature of property, work and the inherent worth and dignity of human beings, are precisely what the Chinese Communist Party seems to have jettisoned with Deng, and what the Communist Parties of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation have been progressively re-unearthing under Symonenko and Zyuganov. 

It is always worth a note of caution, however.

The Pauline insights which informed Marx were (and in many cases remain) heretically warped.

Marx, being a materialist, was therefore also an adherent of predestination and indeed of a form of chiliasm (albeit with the messianic class of the global proletariat in place of Christ; the world revolution in place of the Parousia), which at the end of the day constituted a denial of human transcendence and human freedom.

Unless and until the Old Left can rediscover the insights of Nicaea along with those of Acts – and thereby reject the violent, inhuman chiliasm of Marx in favour of something more personalist in orientation – it will be doomed to the fate of all such heresies. As Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn himself once said in an interview with Joseph Pearce: 

Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.

We shall see if the counterrevolutionary communism of the type on display in Eastern Europe is or is not touched by the breath of God, and amenable to the restrictions of human conscience.

As its current direction is tending, I may give it one tentative cheer.


They've Got Some Front

The SNP had been all ready to vote for war on Friday, or at any rate on Thursday night.

Then, as a stick with which to beat the Scottish Labour Party, it changed sides.

The SDLP and Plaid Cymru also voted against, but let no one hope for a pan-Nationalist front if the SNP's numbers are increased significantly in the next Parliament.

The three parties have little in common, even before anyone mentions the Barnett Formula.

Based on what are now long-running trends, Labour could lose 10 or even 15 seats to the SNP and still win comfortably overall.

Labour won very few seats indeed in the South outside London in 2005, but it still won the Election itself without difficulty.

A Government formed easily by a party that had been greatly reduced in Scotland and which had made little headway in the South East might be no bad thing at all for rebalancing our political life.

The Qataris Must Choose Their Friends

I cannot bring myself to reproduce the first part of Sir Malcolm Rifkind's article, but he concludes:

There is, however, an equally crucial issue that needs to be dealt with quickly, and not just by Britain.

This is the ambivalence of some of our Arab allies in their policy towards Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.

At one level they are being very robust, and that is to be welcomed.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the air strikes led by the United States. [Are they? How, exactly? And that female Emirati fighter pilot's family has disowned her, expressing instead its solidarity with IS.]

Qatar, while not sending its aircraft, is giving political support.

However, one of the most significant reasons why Islamic State and other jihadi terrorist groups in the Middle East are so strong has been the financial support and arms supplies they have received, in part from people in Saudi Arabia and UAE, but particularly from Qatar.

Some of this help has been from the governments of these countries.

Conservative and authoritarian themselves, they wish to see political change in Arab states lead to Islamist, rather than democratic, governments.

But a lot of the financial support has also been from rich individuals in the Gulf states, who have channelled support to Islamic State through bogus charities.

The Telegraph has documented the various ways in which Qatar has been helping extreme Islamist organisations, both in Syria and in Libya.

Sometimes this is direct help to these groups. Often it is by providing cash to Turkish middlemen who buy armaments from arms dealers and pass them on to the Islamist terrorists.

It is now necessary for Britain and other European states to follow the US lead and impose sanctions on these Qataris and other individual Arabs who are financing terrorism.

Much greater pressure on their governments is also essential, with Qatar inevitably the main target until it demonstrates it has taken the necessary action.

If it declines to do so the United Kingdom may need to reassess its whole relationship with Qatar.

That country has a close, economic and investment relationship with Britain. It owns Harrods and has a major stake in the Shard and many other London properties.

We have welcomed this relationship, and would still like to do so.

But it will become impossible if Qatar is, simultaneously, funding terrorists, or allowing its citizens to provide weapons to Islamist organisations that murder British citizens and try to undermine our society.

The Qataris are, primarily, concerned with their own security.

This has led them to an ambiguous strategy of developing close relationships with the Americans, the British and other Western governments while providing sanctuary to organisations like Hamas and, for example, providing help to the Islamist extremists who recently seized control of Libya’s parliament in Tripoli.

These conflicting policies have already antagonised their Gulf Arab neighbours, some of whom withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar.

The Qatari government must be told, unequivocally, that it can, no longer, run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

They must choose their friends or live with the consequences.

Not Hard To Follow

Peter Hitchens writes:

Wars cause far more atrocities than they prevent.

In fact, wars make atrocities normal and easy. If you don’t like atrocities, don’t start wars. It is a simple rule, and not hard to follow.

The only mercy in war, as all soldiers know, is a swift victory by one side or the other.

Yet our subservient, feeble Parliament on Friday obediently shut its eyes tight and launched itself yet again off the cliff of war.

It did so even though – in a brief moment of truth – the Prime Minister admitted that such a war will be a very long one, and has no visible end.

The arguments used in favour of this decision – in a mostly unpacked House of Commons – were pathetic beyond belief.

Most of them sounded as if their users had got them out of a cornflakes packet, or been given them by Downing Street, which is much the same.

Wild and unverifiable claims were made that Islamic State plans attacks on us here in our islands.

If so, such attacks are far more likely now than they were before we decided to bomb them.

So, if your main worry is such attacks, you should be against British involvement.

The same cheap and alarmist argument was made year after year to justify what everyone now knows was our futile and costly presence in Afghanistan.

Why should the Afghans need to come here to kill British people when we sent our best  to Helmand, to be blown up and shot for reasons that have never been explained?

Beyond that, it was all fake compassion.

Those who favour this action claim to care about massacres and persecution.

But in fact they want to be seen to care. Bombs won’t save anyone.

Weeks of bombing have already failed to tip the balance in Iraq, whose useless, demoralised army continues to run away.

A year ago, we were on the brink of aiding the people we now want to bomb, and busily encouraging the groups which have now become Islamic State.

Now they are our hated foes. Which side are we actually on? Do we know? Do we have any idea what we are doing?

The answer is that we don’t.

That is why, in a scandal so vast it is hardly ever mentioned, the Chilcot report on the 2003 Iraq War has still not been published.

Who can doubt that it has been suppressed because it reveals that our Government is dim and ill-informed?

As this country now has hardly any soldiers, warships, military aircraft or bombs, Friday’s warmongers resorted to the only weapon they have in plentiful supply – adjectives (‘vicious, barbaric’, etc etc).

Well, I have better adjectives. Those who presume to rule us are ignorant and incompetent and learn nothing from their own mistakes.

How dare these people, who can barely manage to keep their own country in one piece, presume to correct the woes of the world?

Before they’re allowed to play out their bathtub bombing fantasies, oughtn’t they to be asked to show they can manage such dull things as schools (no discipline), border control (vanished), crime (so out of control that the truth has to be hidden), transport (need I say?) and hospitals (hopelessly overloaded and increasingly dangerous)?

None of them will now even mention their crass intervention in Libya, which turned that country into a swamp of misery and unleashed upon Europe an uncontrollable wave of desperate economic migrants who are now arriving in Southern England in shockingly large numbers.

We have for years happily done business with Saudi Arabia, often sending our Royal Family there.

It is hard to see why we should now be so worried about the establishment of another fiercely intolerant Sunni Muslim oil state, repressive, horrible to women and given to cutting people’s heads off in public.

Since we proudly tout our 1998 surrender to the IRA as a wonderful and praiseworthy peace deal, it is hard to see why we are now so hoity-toity about doing business with terror, or paying ransom.

We gave the whole of Northern Ireland to the IRA, to ransom the City of London and to protect our frightened political class from bombs.

Why can we not pay (as other NATO members do) to release innocent hostages?

We conceded the principle of ransom years ago. Talk about swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat.

How is it that we have allowed our country to be governed by people so ignorant of history and geography, so unable to learn from their mistakes and so immune to facts and logic?

Can we do anything about it?

I fear not.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Best Man For The Job

Mark Reckless was Daniel Hannan's best man.

Daniel Hannan was Mark Reckless's best man.

David Cameron should announce Hannan as the Conservative candidate at Rochester and Strood,  and let that be that. He would take it, or UKIP would be welcome to him.

Thus would it be done. Right there and then.

That is also Gordon Brown's way into the Scottish Parliament. In the course of one of his wall-to-wall covered speeches, he need only declare that, "As I shall be making clear from the top of the Labour list here in [presumably, Mid Scotland and Fife]..."

Thus would it be done. Right there and then.

This Is Not Our War

In 1994, after they had elbowed aside Gordon Brown for being one of those weirdoes who were interested in politics, the Blairite media treated the two vastly more experienced candidates for Labour Leader as jokes. Now that "surgical" bombs turn out to have hit the Iraqi Army,  John Prescott writes:

So here we are again. ­Parliament backs British military action in the Middle East and we’re bombing by the weekend.

This time the enemy is not the Taliban or Saddam Hussein.

The latest “threat to Britain” is Islamic State.

History is repeating itself. And as someone who has to live with the consequences of what happened in Iraq, I urge all political parties to think again.

Cameron says we shouldn’t be “frozen by fear” because of what happened 11 years ago. But yet again we are being led by the US.

This is not our war, or theirs. It is a regional religious dispute that we should leave to the Arab nations.

Bombing is never clinical. From Dresden to Gaza, innocent people are often chalked up as “collateral damage”.

Do we as a country really want to be responsible for that again?

The US and our government say the aim is to destroy and degrade the militants.

But since America started bombing IS positions, it’s claimed 6,000 people have joined its army – 1,300 from outside Syria and Iraq.

IS desperately wants Britain to join in. The public beheadings of ­journalists and other hostages were an open invitation for the West to strike.

They’re desperate to drag us in so they can paint this as a true Holy War.

To some, it will legitimise IS’s self-proclaimed statehood and lead to further recruitment and funding from around the world.

Up until a few weeks ago, Obama admitted he had no strategy to combat IS.

Launching solitary Tornado jet air strikes shows he still hasn’t got one.

Tony Blair said air strikes alone won’t destroy IS. He’s right.

He also said the US and UK should follow up by putting boots on the ground. On that, he’s absolutely wrong.

We spilt far too much British and Arab blood in Iraq and Afghanistan. The thought of sending our brave men and women to war again fills me with dread.

Because make no mistake, this WILL be a war. Not a limited air strike. We will get sucked in. Again.

Our air strikes on Iraq will only lead to calls for the UK to join the US and five Arab nations in bombing Syria. Cameron said in the Commons debate he saw “no legal barrier” to this.

It looks like he will shoot first in Syria and seek Parliament’s backing later.

When strikes on Iraq and Syria prove inconclusive, I predict there’ll be limited troop ­deployment.

When that fails to work, we’ll send more boots in. And I bet they’ll be British.

This will be mission creep, pure and simple.

As Major General Tim Cross, a veteran of the last two Gulf Wars, warned: “Be prepared for a long, bloody, expensive war.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry said it could take at least three years.

In May 2015, Ed Miliband as Prime Minister could inherit a long and protracted Middle East conflict from Cameron.

By then it could have ­escalated into an all-out conflict that ­destabilises the whole of the Middle East.

That’s why it’s vital Ed sticks to his guns and goes no further than supporting air strikes on Iraq.

No attacks on Syria. No British boots on the ground. Those are lines in the sand we must not cross.

I am “frozen with fear”, Mr Cameron. Fear that we will enter another decade of death and ­destruction with no resolution.

I live with the aftermath of our Iraq invasion every day.

This is not our war. This is not our land.

Let the Arab nations sort this.

We must stay out.