Wednesday 27 November 2019

The new fanatical religion of human rights

Toby Young writes well about fortieth anniversary of The Life of Brian, considered blasphemous by many, including my schoolboy self, in 1979. The song from it, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', sung on the crucifix, formed part of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. (I was invited to attend and foolishly turned the invitation down, damn!) That opening ceremony was a homage to an idea of Britain, shorn of its conservative aspects, that sophisticated, highly educated Londoners could admire. Presumably its mockery of religion is considered central to an idea of Britishness that the centre-left can respond to, along with immigration and the National Heath Service.

He says:
"Turns out, the Pythons were naive in thinking that mankind’s yearning for religious faith was an aspect of our nature we could outgrow. The ebbing away of the Christian tide has left a God-shaped hole in the Anglosphere and it has been filled with something more sinister — a constantly mutating moral absolutism. Its latest manifestation is Extinction Rebellion, but no doubt it will be something even more fanatical and millenarian in a few years’ time. These quasi-religious movements resemble Christianity in its fundamentalist, pre-Reformation period when believers were less willing to forgive heretics and sinners."
The whole article deserves to be read.

As I try to understand the madness of our times, the only explanation I can come up with is that we are living through a period of religious frenzy, the religion being the malign religion of human rights, to which is spliced the religion of climate change.

Monday 25 November 2019

Lam to the Slaughter

HONG KONG Pro-democracy candidates have swept the board in elections to Hong Kong's local councils, winning 17 out of 18 councils in elections seen as a de facto referendum on Hong Kong's protest movement and the leadership of chief executive Carrie Lam.

Lam to the Slaughter is a great headline. The above is a quotation from a daily email I receive from the New Statesman, but I see on the net that several sources use it, including the Economist.

But it pales beside this one. When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looked likely to fall from power because his daughter submitted documents to the Supreme Court dated before January 31, 2007 and typed in Calibri, a font which only became available on that date, it occasioned the best headline I ever saw:

Saturday 23 November 2019

A Simple Guide to Ukrainegate, for people who are not interested in the subject

I don't imagine you are following the attempt to impeach Donald Trump too closely, gentle non-American reader. 

There seems little point, as the U.S. Senate will not vote to remove him from office.

So what's it all about and who is in the right?  

Obviously, at first sight, Hunter Biden appears in a bad light and so does Donald Trump.

This is what distinguishes the Ukrainian story from the Russian story, the allegation that Mr Trump was being blackmailed by Vladimir Putin and was a danger to American national security. 

It was pretty obvious from the start that that story had no substance. The people who appeared in a bad light in that story were the CIA, FBI and MI6.

Some people said that the investigation was an attempted coup by the deep state and other people reacted with irrational fury to the suggestion, but it was the administration trying to get rid of Donald Trump. The word 'coup' and the phrase 'deep state' are a case of de gustibus non disputandum.

Friday 22 November 2019

Boris is Just William

View image on Twitter                                                    

Yesterday I quoted Henry explaining political parties to the Outlaws in Richmal Crompton's William, Prime Minister, a fine story. Today I recalled that my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards aptly compared Boris to William Brown when he (Boris I mean) became Prime Minister. 

I looked it up on the net and found a very good essay by her on the theme
Michael Deacon had also made the analogy last year, comparing Emily, Lady Nugee with one of the female battleaxes with whom William often battles. I quote from Ruth.

'Like so many others, I’ve spent all too much time recently weighing up the qualities and deficiencies of Boris Johnson and the pros and cons of having him as Prime Minister. That involved reading innumerable articles asking who the real Boris is. It made me little wiser. Much like Boris before the referendum, I dithered about whether we should take the risk.
'Which is why I was surprised last week at how joyful I felt when I watched him standing outside number 10. Illumination didn’t strike until the following day, when I heard that he had appointed Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove to implement revolution, and I realised that the real Boris is, of cours
e, the 11-year-old William Brown, of Just William fame, who is leading his gang, the Outlaws, to take on Brussels and win. I haven’t yet decided which of

Thursday 21 November 2019

Quotations for today

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. 
John Steinbeck

We like someone because. We love someone although. 
Henry de Montherlant

Serious-minded people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious. 
Paul Valéry

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Free speech in England is a memory

Former English policeman Harry Miller has taken the College of Policing and Humberside Police to court after he was contacted by the police in January, following a complaint over allegedly 'transphobic' tweets.

The court heard that the police told him that he had not committed a crime, but his post was being recorded as a "hate incident".

The counsel for the College of Policing said: 

"While the claimant now expressly disavows having any personal hostility or prejudice towards transgender people, his social media messages speak for themselves."
In one tweet, he said, Mr Miller posted: 
"I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don't mis-species me. F**kers."

Monday 18 November 2019

Jeremy Corbyn, unrepentant Marxist, may become British Prime Minister next month

Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the British Labour Party, who will very possibly be British Prime Minister before Christmas, marked the opening of the Berlin Wall and implicit end of Communism in East Germany, thirty years ago, by publishing in a newsletter he edited an article headlined 
No cheers here for a united capitalist Germany.
Mr Corbyn once called Cuba’s Fidel Castro a “champion of social justice” and marked the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013 by tweeting

Identity politics

'The divides that had driven politics hitherto, especially class and wealth, became less salient after the 1960s. Other, more “lifestyle” issues took their place. At first these were construed in terms of the individual, but eventually they came to be framed in terms of groups: first Jews, then African-Americans, then women, then gays. It was not merely that these groups sought equal rights. The real change was that they defined themselves as oppressed. This was a seismic shift.
'Identity politics is deeply and inexorably divisive. If the withholding of recognition is a form of oppression, then one way of achieving recognition is to show that I have been oppressed. The logic is as follows: the group to which I belong is a victim; it has been wronged; therefore we are entitled to special treatment. This gives rise to an endlessly proliferating list of the aggrieved. Each of their claims is surely true, but you cannot build a free society on the basis of these truths, just as you cannot heal trauma by endlessly attending to your wounds. A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation, is greater than that of others.'
Lord Sacks, former British Chief Rabbi, The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society (2007) - here is a very interesting extract.

Actual slide at a conference for science teachers in the US state of Washington

View image on Twitter

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, 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

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


I was surprised recently to learn that the Mars bar has nothing to do with the god of war or the red planet, but was invented by a Mr Mars and that the Mars family was said to be the richest in the world back in 1988, worth a cool $70 billion. 

I had never heard of them. 

The family have now been surpassed in the USA and the world by the Walton family and the Koch family.

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?’

June 9 1982

John Grigg tells me that Michael Foot is now absolutely besotted with admiration for Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the Falklands crisis and the assault on the Argentine forces.

February 6, 1983

I hear reports of the school where the Princess of Wales taught infants. She is apparently not very clever and certainly without any of the intellectual resources needed in marriage to the Prince of Wales.

March 12, 1983

When the Duke of Devonshire joined the SDP, the Labour MP Eric Varley said: ‘He will bring to the party that common touch which Roy Jenkins lacks.’

December 6, 1983
Lunch with Harold Macmillan at Birch Grove. For a man approaching his 90th year, he looks in splendid shape. During the Falklands campaign, the old war horse felt the smoke of battle in his nostrils again when he called on Mrs Thatcher and was asked for his advice. ‘You see, nobody at No 10 had ever fought a war before. So I told her how to run it, with a small War Cabinet, and she wrote down everything I said in a small notebook.’

Heseltine is one of the few members of the Thatcher Government for whom he has respect. Norman Tebbit is another. On Mrs Thatcher: ‘I worked for a united country. She is narrow and hard, a middle-class megalomaniac.’

November 19, 1986

Julian Amery tells me that when Ian Harvey had to resign as Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office after being found with a Guardsman under the bushes in St James’s Park, Harold Macmillan could scarcely understand his foolishness.

‘Why didn’t he put the Guardsman into his official car and drive him home?’

A Private Secretary said: ‘But Prime Minister, Under-Secretaries do not have official cars.’

A few days later, there came an edict from No 10. In future, Under-Secretaries were to have official cars.

September 21, 1991

Duncan Davidson [founder of housebuilders Persimmon] tells me that he is still sometimes teased for having been a page at the Coronation in 1953. ‘Did you not faint at a rehearsal?’ someone asked him recently.

He says: ‘Yes — one of the bishops made an indecent suggestion to me.’

September 27, 1991

Dinner party for Jim and Audrey Callaghan. Jim tells me that, walking out of Westminster Abbey after the memorial service for Elizabeth Home, he found himself next to Ted Heath. It was the morning Mrs Thatcher had resigned — and Ted turned to Jim and said: ‘I had better compose my features so the photographers will not record my true feelings.’

August 28 1991

I hear that when Charles de Gaulle was succeeded as President of France by Pompidou, he said: ‘It’s like being cuckolded by one’s chauffeur.’

December 13, 1992

Arnold Goodman calls. We talk about the Wales affair. He does not care for Charles’s ‘empty pretensions to be an intellectual’, nor for his unforgiving character.

‘Of course,’ he says, ‘Diana has deliberately and publicly humiliated him — and incidentally made Morton a millionaire. So it is not surprising that he hates her and has not the generosity of spirit to offer a reconciliation.’

How will Diana now behave? Will she lead a quiet and dignified life that could one day lead to a reconciliation? Almost certainly not. She wants to make it difficult for Charles to become King, and to ensure that she will be the nemesis.

March 24, 2000

Johnnie Nutting tells me a story of Jonathan Aitken’s arrival in prison. He was interviewed by a psychologist, who asked him: ‘How big is your immediate family?’ ‘Five.’ ‘And how many people not of your family know you are in prison?’

‘Oh, I suppose about 20 million.’ The psychologist put him down as a megalomaniac.

June 8, 2006

Hugh Thomas tells me that Black Rod, in the House of Lords, has a disconcerting habit of asking a new peer: ‘How much did you pay for it?’

There are three sorts of response: (a) outraged silence; (b) a nervous giggle, and (c) a bold, ironic ‘£200,000’.

April 7, 2009

Lunch with Peter Carrington at White’s. He tells me of the worst row he ever had with Mrs Thatcher when he was Foreign Secretary.

In front of Robert Armstrong [the PM’s Principal Private Secretary] and Michael Palliser [her Special Adviser], she rebuked him for his policy on Israel, which she said was much resented by her Jewish constituents in Finchley.

Peter replied: ‘I thought it was the policy of the Government, not mine alone. But if you think that our policy should be based on whether or not it satisfies your Jewish constituents, you had better get yourself another foreign policy and another Foreign Secretary.’

And he went out, slamming the door. Later in the day, he passed the PM in a corridor, who said: ‘That didn’t go very well this morning.’

As Peter says to me: ‘That was as near as she ever got to an apology.’

March 7, 2010

Peter Carrington was talking to Margaret Thatcher the other day and said: ‘I had no idea you were going to turn out as you did.’ She said: ‘Nor did I.’

September 13, 2011

I am deeply disturbed by the conduct of David Cameron, the PM, who has declared a planning free-for-all in the construction industry, apparently in return for huge donations to the Conservative Party. He is not a true Tory at heart but a spivvy Etonian entrepreneur.

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."

Thursday 7 November 2019


If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

At least half of your mind is always thinking, I’ll be leaving; this won’t last. It’s a good Buddhist attitude. If I were a Buddhist, this would be a great help. As it is, I’m just sad.
Anne Carson

The term “Anglo-Saxon” is inextricably bound up with pseudohistorical narratives of white supremacy, and gives aid and comfort to contemporary white supremacists. Scholars of medieval history must abandon it. 

View image on Twitter

The Barbarian hopes — and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection

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.


October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

John Wesley's diary

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.