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.
This is the big news in London, not the referendum whose results we shall not know till tomorrow evening: the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, a gorgeous, late Victorian building, between St Pancras Station and the British Library, saved in the sixties through the tireless work of the great Sir John Betjeman, has officially reopened after many years of renovation and reconstruction. More on the Conservative History blog.
I am kind of old-fashioned and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. It is Christmas Day here but not on the other side of the Pond yet. I hope all good things people hope for will come true next year. Well, most of them, anyway, since it is never a good idea to have everything you wish for.
When I was at school we were still given lists of suggested holiday reading (a habit that, I believe, most state schools in Britain have abolished) and M. V. Hughes’s trilogy about growing up and being educated in London figured on them repeatedly. Presumably, there was something wrong with the way these were presented to us because I recall deciding that they were not books I really cared to read. How wrong I was.
A few months ago our co-blogger (and a considerably more active one than I am) Lexington Green e-mailed me about Molly Hughes, her books and how much he was enjoying them. Hmmm, I thought, I had better find out. I was in luck: on three separate visits to Oxford I found her books in the Oxfam second-hand bookshop. The most recent one I read was about her life between the wars in Cuffley, a village just outside London that was, in that period, steadily moving towards becoming a suburb, A London Family Between the Wars. Read the rest of this entry »
Happy Thanksgiving to all from this side of the Pond.
[A modified version of this article was published in the September issue of the British monthly magazine Standpoint. For reasons of space it had to be shortened. This is the original version.]
Not so long ago I was taking part in one of those interminable discussions on a forum about the situation to do with Islam in Britain where people who have not set foot here or know anything about this country assure those of us who live here that we do not understand at all what is happening. At one point somebody asked me scornfully how many of the British Muslims’ ancestors had “come to England’s aid during the war”. After I finished explaining that it was the wrong way of phrasing the question and the country is Britain I added: “Quite a few, as it happens, especially from the Indian Empire. Have a look at the gravestones in British war cemeteries.”
There are many Muslim names among those 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers listed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres and many Muslim names together with the Sickle on the gravestones; there are war graves of Muslim soldiers in many parts of the Far East, such as Hong Kong; the Brookwood Military cemetery contains two dozen graves of Muslim dead who died in Britain of their wounds, had been buried in the Muslim Burial Ground in Horsell and were transferred in 1968. One could go on and on with lists of British war cemeteries in Europe, in North Africa, in the Middle East and in the Far East. Everywhere there are fallen soldiers from the Indian Army in both world wars and many of them are Muslims.
In World War I the volunteer Indian army played a huge part in Western Europe and the Middle East. It numbered 1.3 million and about 400,000 of them were Muslim. 74,187 Indian soldiers died in the war and tens of thousands were wounded. It is hard to distinguish exactly how many were Muslims except by the signs on the gravestones as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims had all volunteered, all fought and all suffered casualties. We do know, however, that the first VC awarded to an Indian soldier was to a Muslim, Khudadad Khan from the Punjab district of present day Pakistan. He had distinguished himself at the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914.
Between the two wars the Indian army was reduced in numbers and was down to 200,000 men in 1939. By August 1945 it numbered around 2.5 million, the largest volunteer army in history. It fought on all fronts but distinguished itself particularly in the Far East. Over 36,000 Indian servicemen were killed in the ferocious Burmese and other campaigns and 34,354 wounded; 67,340 were taken prisoner; 4,000 decorations were given to members of the Indian Army, including 38 VCs and GCs. A good many of these went to Muslim soldiers and NCOs.
According to an article in the Defence Journal in September 1999 by Brigadier (Retired) Noor A. Husain the All India Muslim League’s sympathies from the very beginning of the war were clearly with the Allies against the Axis powers. (On the whole, this can be said for most political groupings in India. Despite later explanations, support for the pro-Japanese Indian National Army was considerably smaller than for the Allied war effort.)
The Brigadier also points out that after 1942 the proportion of Muslim soldiers went down not because of any paucity of volunteers but because of the growing political demands for Pakistan and Indian government policy. But, of course, not all Muslim soldiers came from what is now Pakistan, whose own army after 1947 had a close working relationship with the British military establishment. Over 380,000 Punjabi Muslims joined during the war, which makes it the largest single group.
The role of the British Indian Army in the two world wars, the fact that in both it constituted the largest volunteer forces to take part in the fighting, the soldiers’ bravery and the huge number of casualties tend to be forgotten at times. The role of the Muslim soldiers, while the equivalent to that of the Hindus, Sikhs and Gurkhas, needs to be emphasised for a very good reason: the real narrative of British Muslim history includes those glorious and courageous episodes. It is a narrative that cannot be disputed (unlike the rather dubious assertions of Mohammed being a feminist and conservationist); it is a narrative to be proud of.