Saturday 31 August 2019

The centre of history

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history.
H. G. Wells

I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.
Napoleon on St. Helena

'I didn’t want a no-deal Brexit, but now I see it as the only way to move the UK forward'

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Pete North's article makes interesting and very alarming reading. Pete North and his father Richard, collaborating with the late Christopher Booker, argued for leaving the EU before anyone else and were convinced that only doing so by joining the European Economic Area, with a status like Norway's, would not harm Britain. They always despised Boris going back to the early 1990s. Finally and despairingly they accepted Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement as better than staying in or leaving with no deal.

He still thinks leaving with no deal will be disastrous - not immediately and not because of tailbacks at Dover but over weeks and months. Nevertheless, he now thinks we have to leave with no deal if the alternatives are staying in or delaying further.

Friday 30 August 2019

If this is fascism can the trains please run on time?

"If this is fascism can the trains please run on time?"

So says Juliet Samuel in the Daily Telegraph today.

It's not and they don't. Boris has been fly but done nothing dodgy.

Not setting a date for the conference recess was a masterstroke in lulling Boris's opponents into a  false sense of security though.

If only Boris and Cummings had been in charge 3 years ago, not Theresa May and Olly Robbins. 

I cannot see the House of Commons passing a bill through the House against the Government's wishes but if they did so, even if the House of Lords filibustered it out of time with David Owen and Michael Howard speaking for ten hours each, surely the Government would have to call an election. And in that election the Government and Nigel Farage would be obvious allies.

The Queen can do no evil

Those who think the courts might prevent the prorogation of Parliament should think again. The most fundamental rule of English and Scotch law is that the Queen can do no wrong and she personally prorogued Parliament. Courts only have powers given them by the Crown and they cannot review the Sovereign's actions. She could kill a man and it would not be illegal though it would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Litigants are asserting not that the Queen did something illegal, which is impossible, but was improperly advised by her ministers but, even if these very far fetched lawsuits had any success, she still has the power to make what decision she wishes.

Thursday 29 August 2019

The G7 was simply about Macron seeking to win votes

Macron's G7 summit at Biarritz was a hypocritical exercise in making him look good and Donald Trump and Bolsonaro look bad, for self interested reasons. This is why he put sex equality, climate change and biodiversity at the top of the agenda. 

Bolsonaro was right to reject the proffered cash grant of $20 million to help with the forest fires that occurred while the conference was meeting.

Forest fires in the Amazon are very bad, but they happen all the time and they happen elsewhere. Forests can be surprisingly quickly regrown. Over a period of two days last week there were 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, compared to 2,127 fires in Brazil.

Reflections on the Revolution in England

Why did the British Government not prorogue Parliament with immediate effect until 1 November, thus showing the EU leaders that the Government would not be defeated in Parliament despite what Tony Blair and Dominic Grieve are telling them?

Possibly Boris did not want to do so, but certainly he could not do so because of an amendment inserted into the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019 by a motion set down by Dominic Grieve. It is necessary for Parliament to be sitting at a date no later than 14 October.

In any case a defeat in the House next week would enable Boris to go to the country calling a 'People versus Politicians' election. Nigel Farage would be on his side, not syphoning Tory votes. 

It’s reminiscent of the populist Liberal election campaign of January 1910 on the theme of Peers versus People (which they sort of lost). In that case the peers were acting reasonably and constitutionally in rejecting the 1909 Finance Bill and this time the Remainers are playing fast and loose with the constitution.

The Lord President of the Council, Jacob Rees-Mogg, dashed yesterday morning to Balmoral, the royal castle in the north of Scotland and got H.M. the Queen to prorogue parliament for a month, leading up to the Queen’s speech on October 14. (His journey was intended to be secret but was leaked by civil servants to the press.) 

This means MPs have less than a week to legislate to delay our leaving (but this requires the EU to agree, which is something backbench MPs and the Speaker cannot arrange), or vote no confidence in the government.

If a vote of confidence succeeds the Prime Minister will go to the country and call an election for Thursday November 1st, the day after Brexit.

I cannot imagine the Queen not allowing him to do so – though Remainers will try to get her to refuse.

Nothing about the prorogation is unconstitutional and much less illegal, but the behaviour of the Speaker in trying to help MPs take over the order paper drives a coach and horses through out unwritten constitution.  He is, by convention (a convention going back to long before the Civil War), politically impartial but has not been, on innumerable issues, and has openly expressed his support for remaining in the European Union.

Mr Rees-Mogg quite correctly said today:
"There is a constitutional problem with what Mr Speaker said. Speaker Lenthall said that he had ‘no eyes to see, no tongue to speak unless directed by the House. It is not constitutional for the Speaker to express his opinion without direction of the House. He has had no such direction and therefore his comments were in a private capacity, they cannot be as Mr Speaker."

Last month’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) Philip Hammond said yesterday that a move against no deal would have to come next week. “A number of my colleagues would have preferred to wait … and move in late September. That will now not be possible,” he said. Tory Remain leader Sir Oliver Letwin said he expects parliament to legislate next week.

The plan is for an emergency motion will allow MPs to take control of the order paper, something they have done only once in history, a few months ago, and then to pass a bill to delay leaving the EU.

Is there a sustainable majority in the Commons for such a bill to pass?

And can Leave peers filibuster in the House of Lords long enough to cause the bill to fall when Parliament is prorogued?

Why not?

Can the Prime Minister create enough peers in time to give the strong Remain-dominated upper house a Leave majority? Possibly. What larks! This is what King William IV was prepared to do to enable the Whigs to pass the Reform Act 1832 and what George V would have done to pass the Parliament Act 1911. 

Both of those crises were as big as Brexit. 1832 could have led to bloodshed.

If the bill does pass both houses the Prime Minister can always recommend HM the Queen to veto it or simply do nothing about it. Queen Anne was the last monarch to veto a bill, as every schoolboy used to know, before history lessons came to concentrate mostly on the Nazis.

It is the Remainers who are playing fast and loose with the British constitution, not the Government. The incomparable Robert Tombs, who taught me European history when the world was young, explained exactly why in the Times on Saturday in an article I highly recommend you read.

Monday 26 August 2019

John Buchan's 144th birthday

Today is John Buchan's 144th birthday.

I was once invited to attend and give a talk to a conference of historians in Belgrade on the them 1915. Unfortunately I was not able to do so but had I done so I would have delivered
a talk on Greenmantle based on this.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Oh - my - God

Today is Martin Amis’s seventieth birthday.

From the Isles of Scilly to Iona via the Essex marshes, 2019

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St Peter Ad Muram, Bradwell Juxta Mare, Essex

Home in Bucharest, thank God.

I went to many beautiful places in a long journey around the British Isles (including the four great cities of the Empire, London, Glasgow, Dublin and Edinburgh) but I like Bucharest much more than any of them. It is so much more exciting here if you are a foreigner. Not necessarily if you a Bucharest native.

Instead of 17° Celsius in the Athens of the North and raining intermittently it's 34° in the Paris of the East, a.k.a. 93° Fahrenheit.

I should have blogged my journey but did not. So here is a potpourri.

The three best moments of a wonderful holiday: the oldest church in England built by St Cedd on the shore of the Essex marshes at Bradwell Juxta Mare in 654  (though this is disputed by a friend of mine who says he has discovered an older one); journeys by train, substitution bus and boats from Glasgow to Iona and back; and three Schubert liede in  concert in Edinburgh Episcopalian Cathedral sung by Danae Eleni

After those three, the next very best moments of my holiday were eating haggis for breakfast, seeing many old friends and making new ones. Then wonderful train rides, cathedrals, pretending to be a London clubman, seeing England from outside the window as a sort of foreigner.

Somerset Maughan said you can eat better in England than in any other country in the world, providing you eat breakfast three times a day. How very true this would be except that breakfast in Scotland is even better as it includes the same things as an English breakfast and also white sausage and haggis.

The joy of Great Britain is that outside London the country is still Enid Blyton. The industrial towns are no longer J.B. Priestley or George Orwell though. They have changed completely, for good and ill. 

Driving holidays are fun but long rail journeys are more fun. I so recommend the train from Paddington to Penzance. Get the 12.05 or 13.05 from Paddington and enjoy lunch on the last white tablecloth restaurant car in the UK. It’s full of single, middle-aged men ordering bottles of wine and a bit like a club table in a London club but jollier.

Exasperatingly, the restaurant car was full when I got there. I thought of waiting an hour at the station for the 13.05 but it seemed foolish to lose an hour of Exeter so I gave up on the idea. But I found myself sitting opposite Gerry who loved the lunches. He, like me, hadn’t got a place but as a frequent passenger he had pull with the waiters and got them to sell him some wine and sandwiches, something not normally allowed. We recreated the idea of lunch with two amusing young actresses.

The scenery on the journey from London to Glasgow if not as good as Cornwall was still very beautiful indeed, especially through the Lake District and Scotch Lowlands. I find night trains exciting and had intended till the last minute to take one to Glasgow but I shall not do so again in Great Britain. The scenery is far too good to miss and the day trains very fast.

I managed to make my way to Winchester, Chichester and Exeter cathedrals as well as St Alban’s, Southwark and Glasgow. I don’t count St Giles’, Edinburgh or the other Edinburgh cathedrals or the Catholic cathedral at Arundel (though it is beautiful). I saw Truro and Chelmsford from the train, but they don't count either, and St Paul's from the bus. 

Exeter and Winchester Cathedrals are miraculous. I loved the whole town of Winchester and was taken round the school by a Wykehamist friend. The Wykeham Arms is one of the best pubs in the world and they serve a very good steak pie. Meat pies are my great vice. They have rooms too and it looked nicer than the more upmarket place where we stayed.

Exeter is also a beautiful town breathing the spirit of a bygone religious, hierarchical, patriarchal age but was badly knocked about by the Luftwaffe and then by postwar architects. 

British buildings and English literature are a riposte to the ideas of our own age. That's why they want to pull down statues of heroic figures like Cecil Rhodes. It's a bit like the Protestants destroying stained glass when they took over Exeter, Winchester and the other cathedrals.

Things changed, of course, in England in the twenty years that I have been away. Everyone is much kinder and much more polite. 

When you say thank you in England people now tend to reply "No worries" even though I wasn't worried. That I found annoying. It sounds Australian and though I love Australians it is not English. Before I went away people generally said nothing in reply to 'Thank you', but they did say 'Thank you' incessantly.

Everyone is hypochondriac and this year gluten seemed to be everywhere, or rather its absence was. An Indian restaurant in Glasgow did not serve parathas because they contain gluten.

Exeter was full of middle aged and elderly men in short trousers even in banks, but men were less effete in Glasgow, though this could be because of the cold, rainy weather.

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George Sq., Glasgow, seen from the Counting House public house

I loved Glasgow in the rain. Unlike other great Victorian cities Glasgow was not rebuilt in the era of those two monstrous figures Wilson and Heath. It breathes 19th century imperialism and masculine vigour, over which alas has been overlaid socialism and SNP populism.

A friend of mine described the experience of going to Glasgow to me as “Just get in the shower, turn on the cold, and rip up all your money. You could also punch yourself in the face if you really wanted the total experience. All you can do there is drink.” But I loved it despite the rain and cold.

Even Glasgow was polite and kind - it is no longer rough. Even the Gorbals has been gentrified, of course. 

I suppose I went to Glasgow vaguely because of C.R. Mackintosh but never bestirred myself to find his stuff or see the two famous museums. The eighteenth and nineteenth century East End held me fascinated.

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The train to Oban stops. Dark brown waves, pebble beach, heather.

I reached Luton Airport the day after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. 

While he was massacring Theresa May's front bench with the callousness of a hired gun in a Quentin Tarentino film, England was having her hottest day in many years and the trains were therefore not running. 

I persuaded a family to share a taxi with me to St Alban's. 

The weather that first day in St Alban's was not only extremely hot but extraordinarily, unreally humid. I felt like I was in an expressionist painting. Perhaps The Scream. Fit for a Mexican cathedral, not one in Hertfordshire.

The pretty, buxom daughter had graduated that morning. It was a long journey and I very tentatively asked her about how divided people were about Brexit. She said that, as a student, she of course didn't know anyone who voted Leave. And no, she would never knowingly date someone who had done so.

I slightly avoided the subject of Brexit this holiday - I find it painful and imagine we all do - but when I asked people the pattern was that graduates were Remain and barmaids, shop assistants and tax drivers were Leave. The man who served me a glass of wine in El Vino's voted Remain, but he was the assistant manager and ambitious.

Graduates form part of a global class around the world, these days. Being rooted is not cool.

It's about being open minded and free spirited, but the generation in their early 20s do not seem open minded or free spirited to me. They seem astonishingly conformist. All people in their early 20s are conformist, I know, but these ones are worse than my generation.

I always thought, since I was a child, that the point of holidays was to look at churches but I tend to see them as things of overwhelming beauty rather than having a meaning. If I think about it though, the whole of my recent journey was studded with saints and martyrs starting with St Alban. 

St Alban was a British (not English) martyr, who gives his name to the place where he died. St Pancras was an Italian, or rather two Italians. 

"St Pancras was a young boy martyred in the reign of Diocletian. In England he is better known as a railway station." 
So said Sir John Betjeman. Here is the church in London that gave the station its name. The picture, like all the pictures in this post,  was taken by me. I spent a long time in Euston trying to buy a ticket to Glasgow and came across the famous church as I left.

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Saturday 24 August 2019


"Hypochondria is the only religious enthusiasm of our times", someone said in the 1990s. That was before Islam and Islamism caught our attention.

"Writers are the engineers of the soul", said Stalin.

"Friendship without the everyday becomes an allegory." Jules Romain. All Facebook friendships are allegories. So are friendships with people you haven't met for ten years. Friendship needs to be embodied.

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood."  Oscar Wilde

Nigel Lawson on leaving the EU without a deal

I am very behind with this blog. This is a letter in the Spectator of 1 August from Lord Lawson, who said privately 2 years ago that Brexit would be followed by economic problems for two or three years which is why he wanted an election in 2017.
Last week’s lead article (‘Boris begins’, 27 July) suggested that if we leave without a deal, ‘the Johnson government will have another huge challenge on its hands — how to avert large-scale economic damage’. I have some experience of the conduct of economic policy, and I hope you will forgive me for saying that this is poppycock.

Leaving the EU without a trade deal will cause some short-term disruption, but the essence of good government is to do what is best for the medium and long term, whatever the short-term difficulties. And although the main purpose of Brexit is political — i.e. self-government — the economic consequences will be hugely positive, not least through regaining our regulatory autonomy. It should be clear to the meanest intelligence that if there were any economic case for EU membership, the EU (an overtly political project) would not be the world’s economic basket-case, which it is.

Nigel Lawson

London SW1

Things to come, or rather go

Before long in Western Europe cars will disappear from the centres of cities and cash will disappear completely.

Going up to town and down to Scotland

You always go up to London (or up to town, which is non U but was U In the 17th century) and down to everywhere else except when you matriculate at Oxford and Cambridge. This apparently confuses Americans.

What is the future for Remainers after Brexit?

It is astonishing how divided Great Britain still is about Brexit and how few people have changed their minds. I expected Leavers to have buyers' remorse. Sir John Curtice the great psephologist said a couple of days ago,
“If we are talking about Remain vs. Leave, the question that was asked three years ago, at the moment it is 52 percent Remain, 48 percent for Leave. The reason it is slightly pro-Remain is not because the Leave vote is markedly softer … rather those people who did not vote three years ago, if they express a view, are consistently in the polls two-to-one in favour of Remain. This is the crucial vote. The question is whether this group would turn out to vote or not.”
A much more important question is whether they will have the chance to vote on Brexit either in a second referendum or in a general election before Brexit.

Boris can prorogue Parliament and probably should until we leave automatically by the will of Parliament on 31 October- or he can just extend the recess.

But he might want to be defeated in a confidence vote and go to the people on fighting for the people versus MPs  - compare the Liberal 'Peers versus People' campaign in January 1910.

After Brexit what happens to Remain enthusiasts? Especially if Brexit goes reasonably well? I do not know but I do know that the idea of a borderless world, popular with young students and graduates though less so with the half the population who do not go to university, has to be defeated in patient argument. This is very much more important than Brexit. It is existential, to use that silly word.

Sunday 18 August 2019

Train travel

Lord Berners, the painter, would roll down the window of his train carriage and beckon passengers in, putting his hand into his mouth and dragging down his lower lip. He always had the carriage to himself. How I admire the upper classes.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Amber Rudd is apparently stupid as well as malign

The Times Diary today says that civil servants try to make their advice to ministers so simple that even the least intelligent can understand it after three readings. They called this the Amber Rudd test until she became Home Secretary when it was renamed the Priti Patel test.

But she is now Home Secretary.

So many dim women in politics (think Andrea Leadsom) of whom the dimmest is perhaps Theresa May.

Amber Rudd, who was given her seat in Parliament by David Cameron for diversity reasons, is very bad news indeed. Apart from anything else, and there is very much else, she wants reading extremist material online to be punishable by 15 years in clink.

She is in ardent feminist and even more ardent opportunist. She chaired the Commons group combating female genital mutilation but when she was Home Secretary no prosecutions happened. There has been one so far in British history. Even as a feminist she is a fraud.

Wednesday 7 August 2019


"A red plague is not gripping our land anymore which does not mean that there is not a new one that wants to control our souls, hearts and minds. Not Marxist, Bolshevik, but born of the same spirit, neo-Marxist. Not red, but rainbow." 

The Archbishop of Cracow, Marek Jedraszewski, condemning "LGBT ideology", in his sermon during Mass at St. Mary's Church marking the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

“We thought we could just stay reasonable having gotten rid of God’s scripture. And guess what, there’s no shred of truth to this at all. We tried it. We did. It turns out it was God and scripture that were holding the entire set of structures together. Not reason, tradition. You throw out Christianity and the Jewish contribution too with it, you throw out God and within two generations people can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman. They can’t tell the difference between a foreigner and a citizen. They can’t tell the difference between this side of the border and the other side of the border. They can’t tell the difference between paying back your debts and simply borrowing forever. The only way to save this country, to bring it back to cohesion, the only way to bring it back to independence and health, the only way to do it is going to be to restore those traditions.”

Yoram Hazony, an Israeli and author of The Virtue of Nationalism, talking at the (pro-Trump) National Conservatism conference in Washington D.C. two weeks ago, which he helped organise.

"I was brought up by a Victorian grandmother. You were taught to work jolly hard, you were taught to improve yourself, you were taught self-reliance, you were taught to live within your income, you were taught that cleanliness was next to godliness. You were taught self-respect, you were taught always to give a hand to your neighbour, you were taught tremendous pride in your country, you were taught to be a good member of your community. All of these things are Victorian values. [...] They are also perennial values as well."

Margaret Thatcher being interviewed by Brian Walden in 1983

"She did see the country was on its knees when we took over – we were an industrial, political laughing stock. By the time she had lost office she had transformed the country – given it a modern economy – it was a quite remarkable achievement … It was great fun if you could stand the hassle because she kept this permanent revolutionary air going inside the government, which was great fun."

Kenneth Clarke, who said Britain would be a "rust bucket ruin" if Thatcher had not been able to rescue the country. He is right - Britain did seem in deep decay in the 1970s, even though the extent that this was true was exaggerated, and by 1990 this feeling had wholly gone. 

Thank God Theresa May did not dominate Britian for ten years

"Dean Clough Mills [in Halifax] hold a special place in British political history, too. The last time I was here was in May 2017, to see Theresa May launch the election manifesto that was supposed to deliver her a huge majority in parliament and crush those pesky Brexit saboteurs. It was only two and a bit years ago, but already it feels like another age. May at that time looked untouchable, riding high on a wave of public enthusiasm, destined to be prime minister for a decade or more and the architect of Britain’s post-Brexit future. Her strategists were plotting a Tory revival in the Labour heartlands, and the decision to launch their manifesto in an old Yorkshire mill was seen as an audacious move to park the tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn. Pundits hailed another masterstroke on the Tories’ inevitable march to victory. Then we opened the manifesto, and read what was actually inside."

Jack Blanchard in Politico today. What a catastrophe Michael Gove inflicted on his country by sabotaging Boris's bid to be Prime Minister three years ago and saddling us with Theresa May instead. She threw away so many bargaining cards in the Brexit negotiations - Juliet Samuel summarises them in a minute here.

But beyond Brexit she was no conservative - and in many ways Old Labour. 

Here is a useful cut-out-and-keep list of all the anti-conservative things she did or wanted to do. 

Can the Tories get rid of these ideas and sideline MPs who believe in them?

The trouble is that Boris is a social liberal - but thank God he hates the nanny state.