Sunday, 17 November 2019

Brexit, democracy and the perils of diversity

'But even if the superior classes today – or indeed in the past – had shown themselves consistently capable of ruling in the interests of all rather than in their own, this would be a complete misunderstanding of democracy. Democracy is not a system for discovering the “right answer” to political issues: we can rarely if ever 
be sure what the right answer is. Democracy, rather, is a system for creating consent and solidarity by allowing all to have an equal vote. For making people feel that the way they are governed, though not perfect, is at least one in which they are fairly consulted and their voices listened to. So that, even if they do not get their own way, they accept the outcome without trying to sabotage or evade it.
'That is what we have come perilously close to losing. Next month we have the chance to regain it, with all the opportunities and risks that democracy entails.'
Dr Robert Tombs, who taught me when the world was young, in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday

'Before I went into politics I spent a lot of time as a human rights lawyer and did international work across the globe. In many countries, as you can imagine, where there is quite a challenging human rights environment, there either wasn’t a vote at all – or if there was a vote it was ignored. That was really, really corrosive to democracy and I think it’s absolutely right that if we do have a referendum we abide by the result.'
Sir Keir Starmer, speaking to UCL students in February 2018 - this year he has persuaded Labour to make a second referendum party policy.

'Towards the end of her time in office in 1990, Margaret Thatcher became increasingly fed up with the European drive for integration. She started to say in public that there should be a referendum on the main issue then current – membership of what later became the euro. She called for a referendum because she saw that existing party arrangements were not offering voters a choice. Roughly half the electorate were clearly Eurosceptic; over 95 per cent of the party leaderships were Europhile.
'Her idea of a referendum never went away. Sir James Goldsmith and his Referendum

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Dumbed down England

The British are very ignorant these days. I think it is because people are not interested in anything before the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP.

I know an Englishman in Bucharest with a PhD in history who never heard of Carlyle and one with a PhD in Political Science who had not heard of Dr. Johnson.

When recently it looked as though Boris might beat George Canning's record of being the shortest serving English Prime Minister in history, Tim Shipman felt he had to explain to readers of the Times, who are or used to be the people who run the UK, who Canning was. 

He was a momentary PM who died shortly after taking office, but I thought the man who called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old was one of the most famous foreign ministers in history, comparable to Metternich.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Romanians entertain a unique relationship to failure

From The Philosopher of Failure: Emil Cioran’s Heights of Despair by Costica Bradatan, The Los Angeles Review of Books, November 28, 2016
But when Cioran went to college in Bucharest, the country’s southern capital, he stepped into a whole new cultural universe. Here the winning skills were different: the art of doing nothing, sophistry (from slightly playful to plainly cynical) trumping intellectual soundness, procrastination as métier, wasting one’s life as vocation. As an undergraduate philosophy student, Cioran came in touch with some of Bucharest’s best performers in this respect. The mix of intellectual brilliance and a striking sense of personal failure that some of them exhibited gained his unconditional, perpetual admiration:

In Bucharest I met lots of people, many interesting people, especially losers, who would show up at the cafe, talking endlessly and doing nothing. I have to say that, for me, these were the most interesting people there. People who did nothing all their lives, but who otherwise were brilliant.

Nigel Farage has marched half his troops down the hill and implicitly backs Boris's deal

Thank God Nigel Farage has given up his decision that his Brexit Party “fight every seat in the country” and said that he would not be fighting the 317 seats held by the Conservatives. 

I wish very much he’d not fight any seats.

All Brexiteers must be grateful to him. Without him the Brexit referendum would not have happened and, had it happened, Leave would not have won. 

But he was very foolish initially to refuse to countenance Boris’s deal. 

He did so out of vanity, to a large extent, and now, out of vanity, he changes his mind because he wants to avoid humiliation. 

Monday, 11 November 2019

Mr Rose's Diary

Kenneth Rose's biography of King George V is the funniest book I ever read. His book on the Later Cecils is in my top ten for laughter. I love him and must read his diaries, which the Daily Mail is serialising. 

He was a howling snob, known as Climbing Rose, and how I envy him being in the midst of the establishment. 

The establishment today, made up to a large extent of earnest Europhiles and egalitarians, is probably very much less fun: think John Bercow, Eric Pickles, Archbishop Welby and the bishopesses he keeps appointing.

But how recently it was full of Victorian figures like Lady Diana Spencer's father, Earl Spencer and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Perhaps it still is mid-Victorian. I hope so.

Here are some extracts.

July 31, 1979

Lunch with Harold Wilson at the Travellers Club. He is smart and spry in a well-cut, very dark brown suit, with starched cuffs and elaborate cufflinks.

Some talk of anti-Semitism, especially Ernest Bevin’s. Wilson has heard of the relish with which Bevin, on becoming Minister of Labour and National Service in 1940, boasted that he would call up all the East End Jews.

‘Real working-class anti-Semitism’, says Wilson.

April 14, 1982

George Morpeth tells me that when Dorothy Macmillan, tiring of [her affair] with Bob Boothby, returned to Harold Macmillan, there was no emotional reconciliation or apology. The doorbell rang, and there she was with her suitcase. She said: ‘Are there any letters?’

101 Years after the End of the War to End All War

No photo description available.

Today is the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which Romania suffered very much and needlessly. Norman Stone said Romania's entry into the war on the Allied side delayed the Allied victory by a year, but her sufferings were very well rewarded by obtaining large stretches of what had been Austria Hungary and Russia. 

When the First World War began, Western civilization seemed unassailable, though its brightly glittering surface concealed weakness and corruption. No other civilisations, such as the Japanese or Chinese ones, any longer existed. 

By the time the armistice was signed the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires were destroyed, the long epoch of rule by the aristocracy was coming to an end and Communism threatened the world. The two German empires lost land they had ruled for  many centuries to indigenous Slavs and Romanians and more recently acquired Italians. 

From the moment the Bolshevik conspiracy hijacked the Russian state, Russia was a pariah. Therefore there could no longer be a Franco-Russian alliance to enforce the 1919 settlement in the ethnic mosaic of central and eastern Europe. Someone aptly called the  settlement the peace to end all peace. 

Austria and Germany caused the First World War and Germany caused the Second World War but a Second World War was inevitable, unless France and England allowed Germany to redraw her eastern boundaries without a war.

The Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916 was one of the most significant events in the First World War, because it was seen throughout Africa and Asia as a rebellion against colonial rule by one of the great powers. The victory of Japan over Russia in 1905 had already shown them that white men were no longer necessarily supreme. 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Douglas Murray calls this 'offence archaology'

Once accusations of racism and sexism were a weapon of the left against the right in Britain and around the world, but are now used for political advantage by both sides of the political divide. 

One Labour candidate has had to stand down because she compared Israel to an abused child abusing others after the experience of the Holocaust.

One Labour councillor is in big trouble because she “liked” a Facebook comment which said: 

“Adam and Eve were put on the planet from a higher authority for a reason. As parents, we have to do our best to explain normality.”
The Labour parliamentary candidate for Clacton stood down after he got into trouble for calling another councilor, who was Jewish, Shylock. The man said he had no idea Shylock was Jewish. Knowing the cultural level of many political activists, particularly in the Labour Party, this sounds likely. I bet John Prescott doesn't know who Shylock is.

Juliet Samuel, usually one of my favourite writers, in today's Telegraph:
"The most notorious of the bunch [five Labour candidates who have been required to stand down], Chris Williamson in Derby, has finally been dropped despite a rearguard action by Corbynistas to keep him in place. This is a man who said his 2017 campaign was “a test case for Corbynism”, who said it was a “privilege” to meet a prominent propagandist shilling for Bashar Al-Assad, who called the Skripal poisonings a “very convenient… smokescreen” and declared that Labour had been “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism."

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Vladimir Bukovsky: 'I have lived in your future'

"The Soviet Union used to be a state run by ideology. Today's ideology of the European Union is social-democratic, statist, and a big part of it is also political correctness. I watch very carefully how political correctness spreads and becomes an oppressive ideology, not to mention the fact that they forbid smoking almost everywhere now."

Vladimir Bukovsky, brave Soviet dissident, later an exile in Cambridge and founder member of UKIP, has died. He said this in an interview in 2006. The audio version of the full interview is here.

At the end of his life he was accused of looking at child porn on his computer. He denied guilty intent and the case was discontinued due to his failing health.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Please to remember the 5th of November

Guy Fawkes Night is a big event in the UK, when people let off fireworks and burn a guy.

It is extremely anti-zeitgeist: sectarian, a fire and safety hazard and patriotic.

All Soul's Eve or Hallowe'en, shorn of its religious and cultural significance and reinvented as an imported American marketing idea, is much safer, but still not very safe as it involves the dear little kiddies knocking on neighbours' doors.

Years ago I accidentally met Father Francis Edwards, who wrote a book arguing convincingly that the Guy Fawkes plot was set up by Cecil, the Peter Mandelson of his age. Father Edwards' ideas are summarised here.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

'What happens if we vote for Brexit?' From January 19, 2016 by the Constitution Unit

A reminder that Boris was talking before the referendum about a second referendum on whether to leave, after Leave won the first one. He predicted the EU would offer us concessions that might persuade us stay in the EU.

Dominic Cummings also suggested a second referendum, but a referendum to endorse the terms of Brexit as negotiated after Leave won the first referendum, without an option to remain. 

A second referendum with a choice between Boris's deal and leaving with no deal would have been a good idea and would have enabled Brexit Party voters to vote Tory.

''So if UK citizens vote to leave, it is unclear exactly what kind of future they are voting for. This raises the question of whether it might be more appropriate to hold a second referendum, following the negotiations, to see whether voters accept the deal. The Constitution Unit has long argued for a two-referendum approach to Scottish independence, and the same logic might be said to apply to EU membership as well. George Osborne recently reiterated the government’s position that there will be no second referendum. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson signalled interest in such a plan last summer, and the columnist Simon Jenkins has given it strong backing. The idea appears first to have attracted attention after it was suggested in a blog post by Dominic Cummings, leading light in the Vote Leave campaign.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

From John Gray's essay in the New Statesman: 'The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war'

"The proximate cause of the breakdown in British politics is the extreme lengths to which the Remainer elite has gone in their attempt to derail Brexit. Hard Brexiteers also sought to derail Theresa May’s agreement because they wanted no deal; but most proved ready to compromise when the time for a final decision arrived. In contrast, for the haute-Remainers that dominate many public institutions there can be only one rational position. For them, Brexit is not a political issue but an eschatological struggle between light and darkness.

The Woman Without Qualities

I shall not waste my time reading the 700 pages of David Cameron's memoirs. The excerpts in the Sunday Times showed that he is suffering from a depression brought on by the referendum result and is trying to convince himself that, had he not done so, someone else would have called a referendum anyway. This is impossible to disprove but sounds unlikely in the medium term. In the long term we are all dead (Keynes).

I found Sir Anthony Seldon's book on Mr Blair unreadably dry, like chewing straw, but his one on Mrs May, just out, sounded compelling, in the way that car crashes are compelling. 

We learn from an excerpt published in the Times that, when the referendum result became known, Theresa May broke down and sobbed. 
“The ones who voted for Brexit will be the ones who suffer the most” 
she told Nick Timothy, one of the two aides who largely controlled her from her long undistinguished tenure at the Home Office until they were forced by MPs to resign after the results of the 2017 election came in. 

Nigel Farage is being irrational

I saw why some Brexiteers will vote for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, when I read in The Times that Boris Johnson is not going to mention the possibility of a no-deal Brexit in the Conservative manifesto. 

This is probably good tactics, but the threat of leaving with no deal has to remain. 

Much more alarmingly, Secretary of State for Culture Nicky Morgan said to the Times, in an interview published today: 

“If you vote Conservative at this election, you’re voting to leave with this deal, and no-deal has been effectively been taken off the table.”
She is not standing again and when she was a backbencher (Mrs May didn't give her  a job) she repeatedly rebelled to stop a no-deal Brexit and warned of its damaging economic impact. She therefore, I hope, does not have authority for saying no-deal is off the table.

Words like hers are anathema to a lot of people, including me. 

I was unfair to Boris - an election is needed before Brexit

I now think I was unfair to Boris in my recent posts. He certainly wanted an election from the moment he became Prime Minister, despite saying he did not, and it might be that he could have got his WAB (Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament), as Kenneth Clarke said, but it is also very possible that he could not have got it through intact. Philip Hammond in particular intended to sink it by amending the bill to require the UK to staying a customs union with the EU. James Forsyth, the very good Spectator journalist, wrote in this week's issue,
'...there were no better options for the Prime Minister. The alternative to this election was trying to pilot his Brexit deal through the Commons without a majority, having been defeated already on the timetable. His loss on the Brexit programme motion last week was a clear indication that he could not have got a clean bill through the Commons. If he had persisted down this route, he would have been left with the unappetising choice of either pulling the bill or accepting amendments that were designed to undercut the changes he had secured.'
Charles Moore thinks the same.

Had Sir Oliver Letwin, with typical clever silliness, not stopped the Prime Minister in his tracks and broken his momentum, the UK might indeed have left the EU on the 31st. This suggests to me that Boris is capable of being a remarkable Prime Minister, as remarkable as Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. But he now has to win an unpredictable election.

At least electors will understand why an election has been called, unlike in 2017. Unlike Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn then, Boris Johnson and Mr Corbyn are known quantities. But all will depend on tactical voting, of which I imagine there will be much more than ever before.

Three politicians have transformed the UK since 1945 more than any others, including Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. They are Edward Heath, who took the UK into the EEC, Nigel Farage without whom the Brexit referendum would never have happened and Alex Salmond who almost made Scotland an independent country. 

All political careers end in failure, as Enoch Powell famously said, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs, but their careers ended in much greater failure

Thursday, 31 October 2019

There is now a big chance that Brexit will never happen

It used to be the case that British general election campaigns had very little effect on the result. 

The first one of which that was not true was the 1992 election when voters decided that they were not that into Neil Kinnock or Labour. 

The next one where the campaign mattered, and it mattered enormously, was the last one in 2017. Theresa May’s campaign will always be an object lesson in how not to win an election but to throw away an enormous lead in the opinion polls. 

The Zinoviev letter (a forgery) led many Liberals to vote Tory to keep out Labour in 1924  but the Tories would have won anyway. 

This time nobody knows what will happen. The opinion polls suggest a comfortable win for the Tories but absolutely no-one trusts the polls any more – after 2015 which everyone except the clairvoyant Dan Hodge expected to bring Ed Miliband to power, the referendum (which the polls didn’t get badly wrong actually, but people didn’t believe them) and 2017 where they predicted a thumping Tory victory.

The decision to call an election without getting the Brexit deal ratified in the House of Commons makes Tory MPs angry, according to an i newspaper report.

Why is an election being held?

Not because Parliament would not have agreed Boris’s deal. It probably would have done so.  

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Baghdadi is dead but Godfrey Elfwick has returned to life

I missed him badly after he was inexplicably removed from Twitter. He was the best Twitter entertainer there was and a very important satirist, but he was conservative and presumably therefore had to go. 

Here he is (or she, for word is his author is a woman) on great form in the Spectator, mourning Baghdadi.
What an inspiration, this man proved to us minorities that you can achieve anything you want if you really believe in yourself. Until his death, he was living his best life.

Monday, 28 October 2019

'The post-Christian pope is rapidly making Rome pagan again'

The worst thing about not having read the UK papers daily for almost 20 years is the deaths one doesn't know about. Almost all the great men are now dead (I am not feeling so well myself) including Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the liberal candidate for the papacy in 1978 and 2005.

His obituary in the Daily Telegraph, the best place in the world for obituaries, contains this surprising passage.
"Reports in the Italian media claimed that he had received a significant number of votes in the initial rounds of balloting in the conclave; but a diary kept by an unidentified cardinal suggested that Martini was never a serious candidate, and that the only rival to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was another conservative, the Argentine Jorge Maria Bergoglio — like Martini, a Jesuit (there has never been a Jesuit Pope)."