Happy Thanksgiving Day to all Americans and happy Hannukah to all Jewish readers and contributors to this blog.
The news about public opinion and political debate in Britain is not good, I am afraid. My evidence is the recent brouhaha, possibly noticed by some American readers of this blog but probably not. It is, however, important in what it indicates. The fuss is about the Leader of the Opposition, Prime Minister in waiting (theoretically) and newly reborn firebrand socialist, Ed Miliband and his father, influential left-wing Marxist thinker and writer, Ralph Miliband. I put up a longish piece on Your Freedom and Ours and my unhappy conclusion is that, for the time being at least, the Ralph Milibands of this world have won the battle for the hearts and minds of the establishment, political and media.
By now, there can be nobody in the United States who is even remotely interested in foreign affairs who does not know that on Thursday the government in Britain suffered a defeat in the House of Commons with a clearly hostile debate in the House of Lords over the question of whether to intervene militarily in Syria.
Much has been made that this is the first defeat for a government over matters of war since some imbroglio in the eighteenth century when the Prime Minister was Lord North. The reason is actually simple: the government does not have to go to Parliament over either declaration of war and actual acts of war. These come under the Royal Prerogative, which is now vested in the government of the day and all attempts to change that through legislation have failed. However, Tony Blair found it necessary to ask Parliament (several times) about the war in Iraq and got his authorization. It would have been impossible for David Cameron to do otherwise but his case was quite genuinely not good enough to pass muster.
I wrote a blog a few days ago, in which I put together some of the questions that, in my opinion, those clamouring for intervention needed to answer. This has not happened to any acceptable degree and even after the vote, those who are hysterically lambasting the MPs refuse to do so, constantly shifting the ground as to why we should intervene.
Since the vote, which was immediately accepted by the Prime Minister, possibly with secret relief, I became involved in ferocious disputations on the subject. In the end I decided to sum up the situation as I saw it in another, rather long, blog. It is largely about the situation as far as Britain is concerned so it may be of interest to readers of this blog.
For the record, I do not think this is the end of the Special Relationship, which exists on many more levels than political posturing. As I say in the blog, if it survived Harold Wilson’s premiership, it will survive the Obama presidency. Some things are more important than immediate and confused politicking.
It was actually late on Friday evening when an American friend put up the news on Facebook: he had heard from another friend and colleague that Ken Minogue had died on the way home from the Mont Pelerin Society meeting at the Galapagos. Why has it taken me so long to write about a man I liked and admired as a thinker, a great force in politics and as a dear friend? Somehow, I feel it is appropriate to write about him on July 4, American Independence Day, when many English and, as some of us say, Anglospheric ideas were codified on the other side of the Pond, even if it meant a break with the mother country.
Although Ken Minogue wrote for the fabled Encounter magazine at the time my father did as well, my own friendship with him is much more recent. Ken was one of the founders of the Bruges Group, chaired it for some years and retained a close interest in its doings. It was through that and other eurosceptic organizations that I knew him and through other friends became friends with him and Beverley. There are few things in my life I am more pleased and proud of than this friendship and few things I shall recall with greater pleasure than the various lunches, dinners, outings to the theatre (once to see the wonderful production of Guys and Dolls with Adam Cooper as Sky Masterson) and the cinema, and the many talks about subjects that ranged from musicals and Hollywood films to serious political ideas.
The rest of the posting is on my blog, Your Freedom and Ours.
To all from this side of the Pond. The third English Revolution.
And here is the other side of the argument. Dr Johnson’s Taxation No Tyranny.
Anyone in Boston? Are you OK? We are all watching in horror.
You guys should come to Britain. Then you would know what bad and stupid politics was. Have you heard of the doctor who was on the list of the Conservative (please note) parliamentary candidates but was suspended because she retweeted a picture of Hitler with a quotation of his in which he explained that the Nazi party was a socialist party? No? Well, here we are. Enjoy.
Happy New Year to all on Chicagoboyz. As ever, my resolution is to be a little more active here in 2013. There will be some interesting developments, I suspect.
This posting on my blog, Your Freedom and Ours is definitely about British politics. We are in a very peculiar situation. There is a deep disenchantment with the main parties, particularly the junior partner in the Coalition, the Liberal-Democrats (known by me and my friends as the Lib-Dims); there is a growing understanding that the EU is generally bad news, which is not accompanied by a firm desire to leave; there is a small party that has been around for twenty years and ought to benefit from all this and yet UKIP is, despite the hype a couple of days ago, is getting nowhere. So I thought I’d have a go at analyzing the relationship between politicians and the electorate but I am hoping that the posting will generate a discussion.
Happy Thanksgiving to all from this side of the Pond. One day I shall ensure that I am on that side for this holiday.
The last Stalinist show trial took place in Prague sixty years ago this week. The defendants were Rudolf Slansky and thirteen other Communist ex-members of the government and former holders of senior positions in the hierarchy. Eleven of them were sentenced to death and executed on December 3. Three months later Stalin died and the Soviet Communist system changed irrevocably.
I have written a long piece on the East European purges and trials on another blog but, just to get people interested, here are the first and last paragraphs of the article:
One morning at the end of November, 1952 a five-year old Czech boy, Ivan, who was staying with cousins of his parents in Bratislava while his mother, who had seemed exhausted and unwell, remained in Prague, wandered into the kitchen, a little surprised and disappointed that the usual appetizing smells of baking were not noticeable. He found his grandmother’s cousin and her daughter sitting tensely at the table, listening to some boring official announcements on the radio. Ivan thought it was silly of them. Then, in response to something said by the boring official announcer, they exclaimed and clutched each other’s hands. One of them burst into tears. Ivan was puzzled. “I thought someone died.”- he said and the women looked at him in shock, then sent him away to play with cousins of his own age. About ten years later Ivan realized that what he must have heard was the announcement that his father, Rudolf Margolius, former Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade and one of the defendants in the last Stalinist show trial, the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia, had been sentenced to death. Out of fourteen defendants, eleven received the death sentence, carried out on December 3.
I started with Ivan Margolius’s reminiscences; let me end with my own from several years later, when the system was falling apart. As small children who started school in Budapest in the autumn of 1956 we knew that things were uneasy but failed to understand exactly what was happening. It was morning school on October 6 (mornings and afternoons alternated week in, week out as there was insufficient school space) and we were walking home at lunchtime. I knew my parents would be out and somebody was coming to look after my brother and me. It was a grey day with intermittent rain, which had stopped producing a sort of crystalline clarity with the droplets in the atmosphere making everything look sharper and brighter. There were black flags everywhere. We were talking quietly. Some of us had been told that this was the first time for some years that the Day of Mourning, the anniversary of the execution of 13 Hungarian generals in 1849, was marked. Others had heard another name connected with the day: Rajk. My parents had gone to the reburial of Rajk and those who had been executed with him. (Slansky could never have been reburied as his and his co-defendants’ ashes had been thrown out of the car onto an icy road.) They had gone and had stood through the macabre rain-sodden ritual because they knew that it presaged something bigger. Just over a fortnight later, on October 23, they went to another major demonstration. By the time they returned from that, the city was in the throes of an uprising.
The political and academic historical world of the British Isles seems to have been plunged into mourning at the death of Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH (Companion of Honour), author of many hefty tomes and a life-long Marxist and Communist. People who would rightly excoriate any Holocaust denier weep copious tears over a man who has spent decades denying the crimes of Communism, supporting the most horrible totalitarian system in history, skating over such matters as collectivization, the show trials and the forcible take-over of Eastern Europe after the war and writing history that is pure Marxism. Well, not me, if I may use such an ungrammatical expression. Here is my take on the man.
Greetings from this side of the Pond. Let us all celebrate the third English Revolution. (Mutters: damn rebels.)
I seem to do very little apart from putting up good wishes for various holidays. Must. Do. Better. Anyway, in the meantime: Happy Easter and Happy Passover. Orthodox Easter next Sunday but let me wish everyone happiness for that as well.
Two things have turned my attention to the whole question of “voluntary organizations” formerly known as “charities” that get their money from the state in its various forms to carry out activity that is outlined by the state on the basis of whatever political ideology is in place. Because they are called “voluntary organizations” though our financial participation in them is far from voluntary, they are seen as something separate from the crony state and superior to profit-making businesses.
One is my reading of The Morality of Capitalism, edited by Tom Palmer and the other is the ongoing discussion, if I may call it that, though a hysterical row would be nearer the mark, about “voluntary organizations” that have to close down because grants from central and local government are being cut back. Apparently, they cannot envisage becoming a real charity and raising money from private donors though, very likely, they do not do anything that those donors would give money to.
Here is my first rant on the subject on Your Freedom and Ours.
As we get to Christmas Eve over on this side of the Pond, let me wish everyone on Chicagoboyz a very merry Christmas.
To me the Cold War is very real, perhaps because my family was involved in various ways and, towards the end, I was, too. The news of the great men and women of that fight dying comes with very special sadness and also with many conflicting thoughts. Vaclav Havel, for instance, was a great symbol of that struggle against Communism but as a politician he did not live up to that and so one see-saws between various opinions.
I have tried to sum it all up on Your Freedom and Ours (though the posting starts with the death of Kim Jong-il). I may get beaten up (figuratively speaking).
This is a theme I have pursued over the years, being mostly conservative (with a small c, as one needs to add in Britain) and a great lover of detective stories.
Consider what happens in a detective story, even a modern one that purports to have a leftward (or “enlightened”) leaning: A crime, probably murder, is committed, possibly followed by similar crimes. The world is turned upside-down as a result. Together with the detective, we cannot rest until the perpetrators are discovered and brought to justice. The perpetrator is at the very least prevented from repeating the crime. Human life is sacrosanct. Murder is wrong, no matter how you look at it. It is the ultimate crime. It destroys nature’s balance, which can be restored only by the culprit’s discovery and his or her punishment. In a century that saw the casual elimination of millions of people, this highly moral attitude became and remained attractive to many people. This has continued into the new century, which has not started off too well.
And all best wishes from this side of the Pond.
This is on my Conservative History site where I am beginning to publish other people’s articles. First up was one by David Linden who is a Ph.D. student of history at King’s College, London with special interest in the modern Conservative Party. He had done an M.A. thesis on the Black Papers on education and extracted an article from that.
As if to prove that we have problems with our education system, his article had an incredible number of grammatical and punctuation errors. In fact, it was not till I started editing the Conservative History Journal that I realized how many doctoral students and young academics could not write clear, coherent, correct English.
The Black Papers on Education were a series of publications in the late sixties and early seventies that tried to battle with the prevalent political idea that large comprehensive schools were better for children from a social and educational point of view. Mr Linden over-rates their influence. The sad truth is that, though everything those papers predicted came true (and then some), the warnings and arguments were ignored and, subsequently, forgotten. While it is good to revive interest in them, especially now that some attempts are being made to sort out the mess, this only highlights the tragic developments in our state education system. (Declaration of interest: the Tibor Szamuely, mentioned in the article, who was one of the star contributors to the most widely read Black Paper, the second one, was my father. I am, as I proudly announce, a hereditary trouble-maker.)
The other article that might interest people is a review I wrote of a delightful and elegantly written little tome by Alistair Cooke (now Lord Lexden), the official historian of the Conservative Party and author of several publications related to that subject, on the Primrose League. The League was the largest popular political organization in British history; it was the first organization that had members from all sections of society, getting enormous support from working class participants; it was the first organization in which many women, again from all sections of society, played an important part; it had special sections for children and young people; it had a highly developed welfare support system. All the things the left claim to have started were, in actual fact, begun by the Primrose League.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the Conservative Party seems to have forgotten about the Primrose League and about the Black Papers on education in its rush to “modernize”.
Well, actually, it is not that new. For some years I edited the journal of the Conservative History Group, called (somewhat unimaginatively perhaps) Conservative History Journal. Soon after I took that over, I set up a blog that was dedicated, more or less, to conservative history as I always thought the small ‘c’ was more important than the big one. The same applied to the journal itself.
For various reasons to do with changes in the Conservative History Group, editing of the printed journal has now been taken over by the new Director of the group and I have decided to concentrate on the blog. A friendly geek turned it into more of an online magazine (though a few tweaks are still needed) that will incorporate the old blog, written by Tory Historian and other articles, short and long, written by me and, I hope, other contributors.
One of the first blog postings in the new format will be of special interest to CBz readers: an brief account of a very useful new pamphlet, published by the Adam Smith Institute, a condensed version of The Wealth of Nations. I shall be reviewing it for my blog and, I hope, the Salisbury Review but, in the meantime, this gives and indication of its quality and all the necessary links.
There were two items of interest about the Victoria and Albert Museum in the press recently. (That’s the huge museum of all sorts in South Kensington and a very fine institution it is, too.) One was the news that they acquired forty newly discovered cartoons of extreme nastiness by that great artist and satirist, James Gillray, that had been suppressed in the mid-nineteenth century and have been mouldering ever since in the Home Office archives. It will be useful to be reminded, once more, that politics in this country used to be considerably nastier than it is supposed to be now.
The second item is also to be welcomed but is also very funny. Private Eye, the first of the many satirical outlets of the sixties that are credited with changing British society … back to something like it was in the eighteenth century, will be fifty years old this autumn and there will be an exhibition of cartoons and covers from it in the V&A, as it is affectionately known. Ho-hum! I recall when it was not stocked in W.H.Smith’s, then a far bigger chain of newsagents and stationers because of fear of libel action; when it had to be asked for at small newsagents; when respectable people read it rather defiantly and students passed their copies round. And now? An exhibition in the V&A and an article in Vanity Fair.
And, of course, a posting on the Conservative History blog. After all, Private Eye is rather a conservative institution.
Some people here know that I am a complete detective story addict. Not only do I read them, I read about them, I discuss and analyze them with several articles to my credit (if I may use that expression). What follows is a discussion of the latest Lord Peter Wimsey novel. In case this book has not hit the States yet, let me explain.
When Dorothy L. Sayers abandoned the writing of detective fiction she had completed six chapters of a novel Thrones, Dominations about Lord Peter and Harriet, now married and back from their honeymoon. For various reasons, possibly because of the Abdication Crisis, the novel was not finished. There were a couple of amusing short stories, not of the first order, and a series of letters about the war in The Spectator, purportedly from the Wimsery – Delagardie family through late 1939 early 1940. Then nothing. Sayers went on to write literary and theological essays, religious plays and to translate Dante.
In 1998 Jill Paton Walsh, herself a writer of detective and other novels, published a completed version of Thrones, Dominations. Four years later she wrote A Presumption of Death, which began with those letters and developed various themes in them to create an interesting novel with a much better plot than the previous one, of the Wimseys and others during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Last year Ms Paton Walsh went further and produced a completely new novel The Attenbury Emeralds about Sayers’s characters, using some references in the various novels and short stories but inventing her own plot.
The book takes place in 1951 and the main theme (the plot is rather silly) is the adjustment everyone has to make to post-war Britain. Lord Peter, Harriet, Bunter, the Parkers have now become Jill Paton Walsh’s characters as much as Sayers’s. Hmmm. This is my take on that development and the latest novel, posted on the Conservative History blog.
As ever all best wishes to our friends on THAT side of the Pond from us on THIS side of the Pond.
It would seem that my posting about the restoration of a very fine late-Victorian building in London did not go down as well as I had hoped. Time to go back to politics, I suppose.
We have just had a set of local elections as well as devolved Assembly ones and a country-wide referendum on whether we want to change our electoral system from First Past the Post (FPTP) to Alternative Voting (AV), a system nobody liked particularly but one that was produced and put to the electorate as a compromise between the two Coalition parties who promptly fell out with each other during the campaign.
Suffice it to say that in the various elections (with a slightly higher than usual for local elections turn-out because of the referendum) there was no great enthusiasm shown for either the Conservatives or Labour and the Liberal-Democrats got a severe drubbing.
In the referendum, 69 per cent of those who turned out (around 45 per cent) voted NO and only 31 per cent YES. We can safely predict that the subject of electoral reform is now off the agenda for a while, as is the Liberal-Democrat revival.
On my blog, Your Freedom and Ours, I wrote a longish piece on the whole subject with references to some wider issues.