Friday, September 28, 2007
Polly on Conservatism
Willetts paid the price for telling inconvenient truths about social injustice that run to the heart of all social policy. It takes a few intellectual somersaults to accept his undeniable class analysis and yet stay a Conservative. (Time Willetts crossed the floor?)
Thursday, September 27, 2007
If you're going to ask students...
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Earlier, Mr Miliband dismissed calls for a public debate on the treaty - which replaces the defunct EU constitution - as "navel-gazing".
Now, I recently discovered, for the first time, where this rather peculiar phrase originates. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the way in which one meditated (my information derives from about the 12th century, so isn't terribly reliable on modern practice) was to stare fixedly at one's own belly-button while contemplating the mysteries of the divine. Hence 'navel-gazing'. A mine of information, that's what I am.
It's plagiarism Jim...
Monday, September 24, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Tim Ireland, Craig Murray
When such cases come to court they are often farcical, since the burden of proof lies, uniquely, on the accused. But, perhaps more important, it is the threat of going to court at all that is so effective. With no legal aid for the defendant and little likelihood of recovering costs from the claimant, defending a libel action is a no-win game for all but the deepest-pocketed newspapers. The libel laws need reform, and Tim Ireland and Craig Murray both need support.
That said, I do now propose to do him a great disservice, and attempt to answer some of the points he raises (and not just because he was nice about me - if being described as a classic Conservative is nice). The first point is that Conservative and right-wing are not synonymous. This is absolutely right - especially as the term 'right-wing' has largely lost all meaning. It originates, incidentally, from the inter-war French Parliament as a physical description of where the deputies sat - Socialists and Communists on the left, Monarchists and Conservatives on the right, and moderates in the middle. It wasn't a conclusive definition then, one delegate saying that he 'was elected on the left, voted with the right, and sat in the middle', and it's no better now.
The second, linked point is that Conservatism is not the same as Republicanism - which Atlanticists on both sides of the pond often ignore. There was an excellent Flanders & Swann concert in New York where Michael Flanders introduced a song about British politics by saying "now, you must realise about British politics that, like you, we have two parties. We have the Labour Party or, as you would say, Socialist; and we have the Conservative Party or, as you would say, Socialist." That may be less true now, but it's worth remembering that Republicans are not Tories, and vice versa. For God's sake - even the name is anathema to Conservatives!
Unity then identifies a strain of political thought, particularly on the US right, that he thinks is making all the running on the right:
These people aren’t just dumb and ignorant, they’re dumb, ignorant and proud of it. In fact they revel in it to extent that what passes for debate in their circles tends to bear more of a resemblance to a shit-flinging contest at a chimp’s tea party than anything one might reasonably consider an argument.
There's a hefty element of truth in this, and the best place to find these people is in comment boxes all across the web. Realising that tu quoque is a pretty weak argument, I would point out that this phenomenon is hardly unique to any political viewpoint. Read Comment is Free and you'll see that the above is a pretty apt description of that too. But is the Right in terminal decline? Unity thinks so:
Intellectually its already in a state of near-terminal decline, more so for being blind to its own failings, which are perhaps best summed up in the all to common practice of its remaining adherents describing themselves as being:
…an economic liberal and a social conservative.
Well, if that’s how you like to describe yourself then congratulations. Bully for you. You’ve made an interesting lifestyle choice but in no sense can you call that a political philosophy.Well, for all that I do see myself as a Conservative, I have always (since a nauseatingly young age in fact) described myself as an economic Conservative and a social liberal. I'm a Conservative in the same way that PJ O'Rourke is a Republican - the blog title wasn't just a grab at lustre-by-association. Bluntly, I want a government that leaves both my wallet and my cock alone - but since I use my wallet more often, I'm a Conservative.
Part of the problem here is the woolly and unhelpful use of words like 'liberal'. Neo-liberal economics is essentially a classically free-market position, slightly tweaked. Being liberal on personal matters ought to mean leaving them the hell alone - but 'liberals' often seem to want to intervene everywhere. If the Conservatives want to legislate on encouraging marriage, does that make them more or less liberal than the Labour Party who want ID cards, or the Liberal Democrats who want to ban petrol-engined cars?
Unity identifies, as a fatal weakness, the fact that Conservatism, as a philosophy, is inherently contradictory and hollow. In a sense, though, that's less of a bug than feature. Strong and coherent ideas are quite often wholly wrong. Fascism (in its theoretical sense) is moderately coherent, Communism more so, Theocracy more so than either. None are desirable. When Benjamin Disraeli said that a Conservative Government was an organised hypocrisy, he wasn't being rude.
Conservatism holds, more or less, that Government is usually worse than the alternative - yet when in power, they have, obviously, to exercise Executive power. Often, they will have to extend it. It has always been hard to define Conservatism, as usually it genuinely doesn't stand for anything. There are no great texts that a Conservative can shake and say 'See! It's all in there!'
Unity, in my view correctly, identifies the libertarian right as the most influential (and funniest, best-written and prolific) part of the 'right-wing' British blogosphere. Have a look at my links on the right - Mr Eugenides, the Devil's Kitchen, Dizzy, Guido (though Unity won't like that one): all are from the libertarian side. Of classic Conservatives, probably only Matt Sinclair counts. Since I flirt with libertarianism myself, particularly on social policy, why don't I consider myself one?
PJ O'Rourke said that "A libertarian is a conservative with an acknowledged vice, like, say, a teenage girlfriend." I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that, but I would say that Conservatives are, essentially, sober libertarians. Get a few drinks in us and we support flat taxes, legalised drugs and, when my wife's not listening, probably teenaged girlfriends. But, in the grey mornings, Conservatives tend to think that these might be nice ideas, but they won't work. The inner civil-servant is an ever-present in most Conservative thinkers.
I've gone on a bit, and I'm not really sure whether or not I've addressed the question of what sort of Conservative I am, let alone what Conservatism means. Iain Macleod gave the pithiest summing-up of this view of Conservatism:
"The Socialists can scheme their schemes; The Liberals can dream their dreams: we have work to do."
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
By the powers!
Abortion and statistics
Is he really just a copy of Blair
All rather depressing...
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Lewis Harcourt, the son of Gladstone's Chancellor William Harcourt, was a cabinet minister in his own right, serving in Asquith's cabinets as Secretary of State for the Colonies during World War One. He was also an enthusiastic and practising paedophile with, according to Matthew Parris, the widest collection of child pornography in the world. His tastes extended beyond pictorial amusement, however, and it was so widely known that boys at Eton were specifically warned off from going for walks with him.
Langham can at least take some comfort that politicians have the capacity for such great iniquity that his rather pales in comparison. Harcourt's end was poetic justice - a boy whom he propositioned told his mother, wh threatened to make the whole thing public. Harcourt retired to his study, and killed himself. Viscount Esher is said to have hurried round to his house and disposed of his ponographic collection before its contents could be made public. I suppose it's not only Langham who can feel a little bit better: Harcourt certainly makes Mark Oaten's spot of difficulty look postively wholesome by comparison.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Cat among pigeons
So, we're approaching the 75th anniversary of the most controversial of all cricket tours, the 1932/3 Ashes tour, generally known as the 'Bodyline tour'. It now seems to be generally accepted that the English team were unsporting, and out of order throughout the tour, and that Douglas Jardine, the England captain whose prosecution of bodyline tactics made him a hate figure in Australia, was, in the words of Leo McKinstrey in today's Telegraph, cynical, brutal and cold.
Bodyline was, however, an intellectual response to an intellectual problem. The deck was stacked in the batsman's favour in the early 1930s, even more than it is now. The lbw law was such that a batsman could not be given out if the ball pitched outside off stump - encouraging enormously negative pad play. Tactics and techniques had evolved around this, and the Australians in particular had developed some decided peculiarities in technique - of which more later.
As if this advantage weren't enough, Australia were blessed with a prodigy. The genius of Don Bradman should not be overlooked when looking at the origin of bodyline. In the 1930 Ashes he had proved the difference between the two sides scoring 974 runs in the series, at an average of 139.14. At Lords Bradman scored 254, and at Headingley he knocked up 334 - scoring 309* on the first day. England had no answer to the little genius from Bowral, and it wasn't until the final match at the Oval, when the Nottinghamshire fast bowler Harold Larwood got good pace and bounce off a true wicket, that Jardine, who didn't play in the series at all due to business committments, noticed Bradman hopping about a bit. It can't have been too drastic - Bradman scored 232.
Still, when Douglas Jardine was confirmed as England captain, the genesis of a plan was forming. England were strong in fast bowling. Harold Larwood would challenge for a place in any side in history, while Voce and Bowes were pretty rapid too. With support from Wally Hammond, no mean bowler, and Gubby Allen, who was decidedly quick, and with a proper fast bowler's mean streak too, England were heavily reliant on pace.
It was decided that off-theory, bowling on and outside the off stump hoping to induce an edge to slips, was only effective when the ball was swinging. In England, with overcast skies and lush outfields, that could last all day. In Australia conditions were such that swing could only be expected from the new ball for maybe 10 overs. After this it was straight up and down. England could choose to be cannon fodder, or change their line of attack.
Leg theory was simple in conception, but required enormous degrees of accuracy to carry off. Put simply, the idea was to bowl back of a length on the line of leg stump or just outside, with a ring of close catchers on the legside, and one or two men out on the boundary for the hook. Batsman are generally better at picking the line and length of balls on off-stump, and were thus vulnerable to variable bounce on the leg stump - if they tried to fend the ball off their hip, they were likely to offer a close catch, if they went on the hook they were vulnerable to the men in the deep.
The leg trap
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Do you think...
This perhaps? Or this? This one? This for the Scots among us?
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Mosaic of Justinian in Basilica S. Vitale, Ravenna
General Petraeus has the most fabulous name. He sounds as if he should be commanding his cataphracts against the Abbasid kingdom, or defending the Theodosian walls against King Boris of the Bulgars. He can take some consolation, however, from the fact that whether he succeeds or fails in Iraq (against the forces of Sultan Harun al-Rashid no doubt) Petraeus is unlikely to suffer the traditional Byzantine punishments for failure of nose-slitting, blinding, castration or, if he was very lucky, being tonsured and locked up in a monastery.
Foot and Mouth
We are all idiots
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
Boris Johnson, is in an extraordinary position. He has advocated a policy of the public individually intervening against yobs. But this contrast sharply with his own recorded behaviour. When approached by Darius Guppy, a person later convicted of fraud, to aid in the beating up of a journalist - Stuart Collier - Boris Johnson failed to report this to the police, discussed how badly the journalist would be beaten and agreed to supply his address. Can he explain how anyone who did this can present themselves as a candidate in favour of law and order in London?
But is this a wise line of attack? Boris does after all have a perfectly credible defence, as outlined by the man who actually made the recording that first brought this matter to light, and holds no particular torch for him:
I don't especially support Johnson, though I loathe Livingstone, but I'd like to see a fair contest. So let me just explain Johnson's role, as far as I can make it out from the tapes I made at the time.
He didn't know the heavies were planning to rip Guppy off. It must have seemed a serious plot. Guppy made it clear that he could try other means of finding the journalist's address. Johnson assured him he didn't have to - and did absolutely nothing at all to find it himself. I actually had that confirmed by Clive Goodman, the now disgraced formed News of the World royal correspondent who listened to the tape. Johnson said he would approach a specific third party. He specifically didn't. The only conclusion I can draw is that he was trying to make sure Guppy didn't manage to have the man attacked. Rather, he was stalling, waiting for Guppy's attention span to expire - a safe bet for those who knew him well.
Not entirely a clean bill of health, but neither an open and shut case of perversion of the course of justice either. And is Livingstone wise to bring up matters of character on violence and helping the police? The matter was dropped and no charges were eventually bought, but cast your mind back 5 years to the summer of 2002 and a birthday party...
When the front door was shut, said Mr Hedges, "Ken wanted to get back into the party. He was uncontrollable and went up to the door and was hammering on it. He was going ballistic and we were trying to calm him down and restrain him. We were grabbing on to his arms and trying to hold him. The last memory I have is of Ken’s arm lunging towards me."
Mr Hedges said that his next memory was coming to, briefly, in the ambulance and then again after he had an X-ray at the Whittington hospital.
Hedges later went further in his allegations: Livingstone was behaving like a drunken lout, physically abusing his pregnant partner, making me fall over a wall and then using the resources of the Greater London Authority to try to cover it up. I'm not entirely convinced that he's in the best position to be throwing stones on this one.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Of Bercow, Eliasch and Mercer
Don't hold your breath