Monthly Archives: September 2010

Three of a Kind

Ruthlessness is a underestimated political virtue. With the election of Ed Miliband as Leader of the Labour Party, we have three ruthless, youngish, men leading our main political parties and the ‘game is a-foot’. Ed Milliband has had the courage to sweep his brother aside, separate himself from a past that had in the end failed his party, and  thus able to re-shape the social democratic message to an electorate that may be  willing, if not now at some time, to listen to him. This is precisely the path that Cameron and Clegg have taken in the pursuit of power. And this is what WE ELECTORS expect of them all.

For the moment the Coalition is centre stage. If we are to be fair they are confronted with a massive challenge to deal with a budget deficit that could swallow us all in a ‘black hole’. Fortunately for Labour it can stand aside if it wishes and the fruit may fall off the tree. If so it must be far more effective in deflecting the blame for our economic woes away from a Labour Government that in some ways failed us. If these massive Coalition budget cuts do not work out well, and they might not, it won’t matter. A decent par round will do the job. After all I remember Nick Faldo winning a major with a final round without any birdies. If the economic outcome is indecisive with a long period of modest growth, which seems to me to be the likely outcome, playing a straight bat and making the right noises (to mix my sporting metaphors) may still do the job. According to the OBR there is a 40 percent chance of the Coalition economic policy producing the goods. Of course the OBR is now under different management so the odds may change by end October. but at the moment the odds are not unattractive.

What should Ed do? Having cleared a space for himself he might place a stress on competence, new faces, appropriate noises, not too many policy initiatives; an Opposition that is co-operative but determined, with  emphasis on a few political strategic issues of importance to us all and where he can win. Push, push, push and hold onto everything he wins.

Can he do it? I think, yes. So far he has been very brave, determined and right. But not many, not really, are watching, and he will not be able to hold the stage. But what an opportunity he has for striking electoral gains in Scotland, Wales and much of England by next May. We all love a winner.


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Do It Yourself Policing: 2

I am horrified to learn that my satire on policing has attracted support within the Coalition. Reports suggest that the Government is thinking of just such a scheme as I outlined earlier this month with Voluntary Special Policeman being rewarded with a 50 percent rebate on their Council Tax. This confirms for me that there is no member of the Government with a sense of humour! Let us assume for a moment that the proposal is under serious consideration. What must be properly considered?

I have suggested that there are three important aspects  of any National Scheme to get right.

1. Safety. We cannot play fast and loose with the safety of volunteers some who are old and infirm, and after all they who have the most time on their hands must be protected. Do we expect them to arrest burglars or break up teenage riots and group binge drinking on the village green? Of course not. I suggested arm badges, distinctive hats and whistles. Yes, police whistles to summon help and to scare miscreants. But it is well known that there is a national shortage of police whistles and large scale production in China has to be negotiated to make this possible?

2. Disabled people. I have it on good authority is that there is a scheme to get the disabled off their benefit by offering them a financial incentive to become a Special Volunteer Policeman. I pointed out that you cannot expect a woman in a wheel chair to tackle a rioting crowd without help. If this inducement is to work then it is necessary to ensure that each wheelchair volunteer is accomapnied on patrol by at least one able bodied person. We hear nothing about this problem.

3. Shifts There will be considerable difficulties in arranging shifts. It is important that this new species of Constable should be representative of the country as a whole if the scheme is to work. Many northern elderly ladies will be reluctant to go out on patrol when East Enders and Coronation Street are being shown. Younger people will insist on the continuance of  watching educational programmes: X Factor and Big Brother. And what about football fans otherwise engaged with Football on three to four days of the week. Young men would not exchange these programmes even for the enjoyment of a good punch up!

There are no signs that the Coalition has considered these important issue. There are many more but regrettably I do not have the space and time to bring them to your attention. Anyway in the Big Society you are expected to think of them yourself.

I say to the Coalition that good ideas are not like butterflies in summer. You can no doubt come up with ideas but do you have the abilty to think them through as acts of social engineering? I think  not. If I am to continue with my pioneering contribution I need to think that they will be taken seriously. If not, move over and let someone else try!

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All Right on the Night?

The play has been extensively rehearsed. Not everything has been well executed. Observors have remarked that there has been too much playing to the gallery. Not all has been word perfect. But at  4pm on Saturday next all this comes to an end and all (if not all, many) eyes will turn to centre stage. Enter stage left our leader and prophet. And what will he say? We should know but we don’t.

The actor has the briefest of moments to catch our attention. We know the play but as lovers of this form of entertainment we remain open to its eternal attraction. We long for  a new interpretation, a new vision. Even at this moment we are distracted by other visions. I knew this player’s father. I get an image of a semi circular group of us lapping up something called historic inevitability. Karl Marx had a neat turn of phrase. I remember, ‘Man is responsible for his own destiny but not the circumstances in which he must find it.’  Or something like that. Our principal actor is now responsible for his fate and the blessed Gordon of beloved memory is no more.

And he says…Well, of course, I do not know what he will say. What he must demonstrate in a very few words is that he is a pathfinder. He must have a vision of an alternative Britain to the one the Coalition offers the voters. A vision true to the past, which takes account of the reasons which enabled the Coalition parties to grab power and  to the necessary changes that are occuring in British society and he must give us – the voters- hope for a better future.

I can offer no advice. It is too late for that. What I do know is that while this leading player must oppose, for it is the first duty of a Parliamentary Opposition to do so, he must also propose. What is the Big Idea? In an edeavour to distinguish themselves with the Labour Party electorate, the leading actors gave us parodies of their Big Concepts. One of these Milliband’s  gave us the concept of Back to the Future, we had the Party of the Working Class and  the Man of the North while Diane Abbott was content with The Past We Never Had. None of these will do for the real electorate.

Here is a warning. Fail this test and the game is up. Prepare well for it because if feet begin to shuffle this play is over and something more traditional takes its place. Of course, a good beginning is not everything. But the experienced actor senses the moment, an almost audible sigh of contentment grips the viewers, it is content, expectant and a magic has been woven linking audience with actor. Now is the hour of… Well go on finish it!

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Clegg’s Tactical Error

It is rumoured that David Cameron insisted on approving a draft of Nick Clegg’s Lib Dem Conference speech. Of course I am neither able to affirm or deny this. Perhaps, if true, the conversation went something like this.

Sit down Nick, do. This speech of your’s. I have some suggestions and I have made some amendments.  Andy can help you with a redraft. Thanks Dave, I’m grateful. (pause). There is a lot of this red ink, Dave. It will take me some time to absorb it. It’s pretty simple really, we have agreed that neither of us is going to engage in criticism of each other. If we do, the game is lost. We can argue in this room for as long as you please but once outside the Coalition speaks as one. Or to be more accurate, you and I speak as one. If we don’t we are going to have a growing anarchy in both our parties  with everyone feeling they can policy cherry pick. Well I understand that but we do need to have safety valves with room for a few mavericks to sound off. Of course so long as it is understood that the mavericks do not represent the Coalition.

And another thing Nick don’t overstate your claims. What do you mean? Bashing the bankers, Nick. Tone it down. We need them- whatever I or you say in public – to move us out of this depression business. We have a world leadership position in financial services. We need these City guys to motor us forward. No future in widget production Nick. And another thing,  don’t make too much of the benefits of closing off tax evasion. That idiot Danny Alexander keeps talking about tax avoidance. That’s legal Nick. You and I and most of our friends practice it. I’ve looked at the figures. Every Government goes on about closing tax loopholes and they try to no avail. Nothing in it Nick. We must not look like idiots. How did you put it Andy? The first rule of politics is never to believe your opponent’s propaganda,  and the second is not to believe your own. (laughter).

Look, Nick, I think of us as friends as as well as colleagues. There is no future for you in your sandal and beard brigade. They will drop away. What will be left is you and me and our friends. They can go their own way. They will be happier in a wilderness. But not you Nick and not me.We can go on for a very long time. Keep it simple. Be brave and rely on Labour to shoot itself in its own foot. They are  good at that.

It’s a big gamble, Dave. A very big one. They could get rid of me if things turn out badly. Come, come, Nick. The’ve never had it so good.

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Dr Faustus and the Lib Dems

Frankly it amuses me, all this talk about the Lib Dems doing a deal with the Devil. Do I look like a man who plays chess with the Devil? Of course not, I do not even  play chess! I am smiling because I am a cheerful sort of fellow and not because of my recent appointment as the Vicar of Bray. That’s a joke,  in case you missed it!

I cannot pretend that I do not enjoy office nor the marked improvement in my social life. But do you think I would sell my soul for that? It is true of course that I am now supporting policies my members abhor, not least the public expenditure cuts. I confess that we, my Cabinet colleagues and I, bought into the Tory economic policies. But so what. In a few years time who is going to harp on about that. Victims have short lives. Does Mrs Thatcher get hate mail from miners? Of course not. Historians and reformers like me must take the broad view, the panorama of history so to speak. What I possess is a depth of vision. I look into a golden future and if some are slow in coming to the feast there will come a day when we all reach the table. If a few are sated and lie beneath it, that is understandable as well.

Now I don’t wish to be quoted. Be a good chap and put down your notebook. I didn’t come into the Lib Dems to wear sandals and grow a beard. Not that I have anything against beards. Each to his own. You will have noticed that I am perfectly at home in the corridors of Power. There are many of my Winchester and Cambridge chums roaming about and there is no need for me to exclude myself. If you are right and all this comes to a sorry end I shall be able to handle it. I, and my friend Faustus, will ruminate about it. Don’t worry about it he will tell me. There are plenty of other opportunities in this life. Think how well Tony has done for himself with half of my dexterity. Was he a friend of Faustus? You’re teasing me.

Look. All this is confidential. Don’t go pie on me. If anything of this gets out, I shall deny it. Of course, my friendship with Dave might be long term. I could introduce him to the good Doctor if need be.

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Man is the Measure of all Things

It is a philosophical truism that British Society as we know it today is the outcome of two value traditions, the Greco Roman and the Judaic. These values are deeply embedded in our institutions, the legal system, education and the common ways men adopt when dealing with others. The  quotation from Protagurus in the title to this piece is completed by the words ‘of things that are that they are and things that are not that they are not.’  The Pope urges us to give room in our discourse to Christian values and specifically to Roman Catholic values and social polices. The first of these is part of the Judao tradition while the latter is the outcome of an all-man theocratic autocracy headed by the Pope.

The Greco Roman tradition give us our concepts of universal rights, equality and justice which embraces men and women. So far as I know there are no societies for the propagation of these values as such although there are many committed to the expression and protection of them. These values are in the public cockpit of discussion as are distinctively Christian values and feelings about the world.

What then is the Pope really talking about? His sorrows and fears are threefold. First the number of individuals throughout the Western world who are attending Church services and listening to sermons about how they should behave and God’s purpose for them in this world is declining. Secondly, the vast majority of educated individuals reject Catholic social views and regard them as  repugnant. Thirdly, the public is disgusted by the behaviour of Roman Catholic priests. When we bring these matters together they amount to a rejection of the Pope’s view of the world and its inhabitants.

It is personally repugnant to me to witness the Pope blessing young children by caressing them and his talk of the Church belonging to them. The Church belongs to an aging  all-male theocracy led by an aging man a long way from the social reality of his listeners.

Religion is a private matter. The views of Christians are of interest insofar as they bear on the issues confronting real people. In a social  democracy people trust each other to make sense of competing philosophies and viewpoints. The Pope is asking for privilege. Listen to me, pay heed to me. Of course, if you have anything to say that is relevant. Why not? But let us insist. We, the people, will judge, and we have little time to spare for social reactionaries. Men (and women) are the judges of all things.

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Who do you think you are?

The Pope’s historic visit to Britain is evangelical. He wishes to persuade us, we British citizens, that Roman Catholicism and other Christian religious persuasions should be given a greater voice – should be more persuasive -in British Society. Cardinal Casper, in his ill-chosen comments, has given the game away. He said  of Britain that ”you think at times that you have landed in a Third World country’ and that we British have strayed into false ways that ‘a new and aggressive atheism pervaded Britain and that Christians were at a disadvantage in this country.’ I think he means that Roman Catholics lack the influence that its historical religious role entitles it to perform. 

It is true that Britain is a multi cultural society and no bunch of religious and political nuts can change it. It is true that also the Britain has a secular society and that as such it denies (in practice if not in form) any special or privileged position in it for organised religions. But just as true our  society recognises the right of religious and other societies  to practice and proslytise their  views. I believe it to be true, although I accept that their is evidence to the contrary,  that  British society is deeply humanist and respecting of the equal rights of all citizens and to everyday dealings; that  it respects human dignity and diversity.These trends to an egalitarian humanist society are irreversible, thank God for that.

We, the citizens of this unsatisfactory country called Britain, have no wish to accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope will enjoy partly at the expense of you, the taxpayer, a State visit. It reminds us that the Pope is the Head of a tinpot autocratic state. This Papal State is a reactionary  force in the world which works against the enlargement of human rights. This hegonomy operates as an unpleasant male influence on all issues of human sexuality. The Papal attitudes to contraception, abortion and  population control  are illiberal and immoral; and its recent and continuing criminal shielding of child-abusing priests is entirely repugnant and disgusting. The Roman Catholic Church puts its own interests before those of its victims.

The Popes visit coincides with the emergence of scientific proofs of the improbabily of the creation of a God given universe. It follows from this that the belief that the Roman Catholic Church inherits God’s purpose for we humans is preposterous. This Pope,  as some but not all of his predecessors, has good human qualities. They need not be denied. But he presides over a Church deep in the mire of a criminal conspiracy to hide from the police the involvement of numerous priests in the abuse of young children. By your deeds will you be judged. Go back home, dear Pope, and sort it out in cooperation with police and prosecuting authorites around the world, stop your socially harmful medling, cease your all male theocracy. When you have done all these things you might be more welcome in civilised societies.

What is the answer we British secular humanists should give to the Pope’s pleadings that we should give more influence to his Church. I do no wish to be rude but I suggest the answer should be, ‘Not on your nellie.’

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Into the Valley of Death

I have oftened wondered. When the cavalry were ordered to charge Turkish positions at Balaclava in 1855, an event immortalised byTennyson, did anyone query it? Did someone say, ‘Hold on Colonel, we cannot possibly achieve any strategic objective and we shall be riding to certain death. Get back to Headquarters and explain the circumstances.’ It was not the moment for that:  a blinding and overwheming passion had gripped the Squadron. Do and die were the echoing voices.

I am reminded of it by the news that the Coalition cabinet met yesterday to discuss the Spending Revew and to start the process of determining draconian cuts in public expenditure. I imagine that the discussion was general. You know the sort of thing. Here is the scale of cuts proposed so far. It is not good enough, big enough. Go back to your Departments and do better. There were cheers. How refreshing to be reminded of the missionary task confronting them all. We are all in this together. Soon we shall reassemble and all that we have hoped for will be seen to be possible, and as we all know it is inevitable, it is our mission to save the country from financial ruin. I do not know how they do things in the Cabinet. Did someone put up their hand and say, It is too much. No one round this table should be asked to do more.  It would be better to do less. Did someone say, the public would understand and support us if we said we have had secondthoughts. We must cut to reduce the Budget deficit but more slowly and we shall do nothing that hits the poor and disadvantaged. It is impossible to shield the deseving poor from cuts on this scale and I for one do not wish to be a party to it. And another voice said, my objection is practical. By slowing the economic recovery at this point of the recession will be counter productive and the pace of deficit reduction slowed. A third might have chimed in to say the public would understand and support us if we started the process of reduction now but held some of it back. We could tell people that we are not irresponsible fools with a blind faith in some discredited economic theory. We should say we have identified further savings but we are not so reckless as to make them unless economic circumstances considered in the round permit us to do so.

But other eyes are glinting. This is a challenge they have waited for all their lives. Like the Cavalry assembled 155 years ago the task is afoot, the blood surges, you can hear the hurrahs in Surrey and the more salubrious watering holes of the Southern Counties. This is their moment. They have waited a long time for it. Impatience , conviction, faith in the impossible is their’s. Off with their heads. Charge.

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Coalition Symptoms of Madness

I am a social psychologist specialising in group behaviour and I have been asked to determine whether the Coalition government in its frenzied determination to make  deep and irrevocable cuts in public expenditure is mad. In the first place I would point out that the behaviour of a group as opposed to a single indivdual cannot really be described as mad. Put it this way, if someone you know insists he is Napoleon Bonaparte or a hatstand you might reasonably accept, on the evidence of bystanders, that he is barking: but what if 30 people came to the same conclusion? Might we not hesitate? It would seem unlikely but if thirty people with ordinary features and characteristics were to say so you might hesitate: perhaps, they are right and you are wrong. Still, I think you would come to the same conclusion.

Let’s look at it another way. I shall list some symptoms and characteristics that indicate madness in a group of people in a clinical sense.1. This group has been scorned and rejected for a long period of time and now comes into its own. They are right. They have always been right, yah boo!2. The Group has a divine right to act out its beliefs in public, whatever the evidence may say to the contary. 3. This divine mission cannot be changed to suit the circumstances and events of the time. God cannot be challenged and his mission is sacrosanct.4. Those who challenge the mission  are accredited agents of the devil. 5. God created group members in his own image. People like us, having been so created, are entitled to re-build the world in our own image. God’s values are our own and we insist upon them.7. Revolutionary methods are appropriate because the world has departed too far from God’s/our own image of it.8 The telling of whoppers in pursuit of our mission is justified. They have served God’s disciples well down the ages. 9. There is little time to waste. God’s tasks are challenged every day. 10 We have no fear of God’s verdict But it would be prudent to shift Judgement Day well into the future.

You might think that these ten points do describe the Coalition’s behaviour (it is not an acceptable objection to this conclusion to say, you must be talking about our darts team, social club or trade union branch). What you ask can be done about it?

Let us be guided by good literature. In Alison Lurie’s, The Seekers, God did not appear to an evangelical group at the time predicted. Members melted away and took up hobbies and one went clinically mad, although he might have been pretending. In Lord of the Flies a group of boys were rescued from a desert island in time to prevent a murder. If a group is mad events will not work out as predicted by it. Its members become demoralised and others come to the rescue. However, madness and mad behaviour can be harmful. Learn how to recognise it and resist, offer sane alternatives, appeal to the public’s good sense (well you have to believe in something!) Act at the earliest possible moment before irreperable damage is done. Touch wood before you go out to work in the morning. And good luck!

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Do it Yourself Policing!

NB This post comes with a health warning. No one without a sense of humour should read it.

What I do from time to time is to talk to you about the real purposes of the Coalition. Of course, it is common ground among all political parties that urgent and difficult decisions need to be taken to reduce the financial deficit. That difficult burden is placed on the Coalition. However, our adminstration offers the British public something different: we really are serious about diminishing the role of Government and shifting power  to you the people. When some fuddy-duddy objects it is quite clear that they are misguided: public service union officials trying to hold on to their membership and their jobs; pressure groups with odd objectives, well-meaning but misguided; and of course politicians nervous that fair representation will lose them their jobs. You know the kind of thing. They simply don’t get it.

Let’s consider policing. The Police Federation has suggested that expenditure cuts will cause a big loss in the numbers of policemen and that after 4 years there will be 60,000 fewer. I’ll be frank with you. In my judgement the loss will be greater. Would this be a disaster? No. Not if we do the right things.

As you know, I am a Revolutionary and  something of an expert on Russian history. (Stop laughing, please, at the back). Our dreadful political and economic disasters are akin to those confronting first Lenin and the Stalin. They were confronted with   similar circumstances. Power lay with the State.  The police served a narrow bourgeois interest and were resistant  to change. What did Lenin do? Well, he was a pioneer of the Big Society. He called upon volunteers and instituted the creation of Druzhinicks (Volunteer Guards). Companies were obliged to volunteer people for Guard Duties. A vast body of men and women were issued with uniforms, arm bands and a whistle  and they patrolled the streets.  (More laughter). It was a holiday with pay spent in the fresh air. Of course, like Community Policemen today, they had no powers of arrest and when confronted with really difficult situations had to call the police. But it worked there and then. People confronted established power and made it subject to their will.

We have a plan. (we usually do). Let us replace these policemen with volunteers. These men and women could be recruited from two sources of manpower: first the growing number of unemployed and secondly the release of short stay prisoners from prisons onto this form of Community Service. (Even more laughter). Of course, there will be objections. Those on Job Seekers Allowance and Disability Allowance  might object. They must be told ‘get serious’. If you want some of our money you must earn it! It is certainly possible to patrol in a wheelchair when accompanied by an able bodied person. Some objections might be raised by the media and the general public to the use of delinquents. But who better to catch a thief than a former villain. Remember they will be in uniforms. A good uniform can help the process of rehabilitation and change personal behaviour.

Of course there are expenses here but just think of the savings: no new prisons, the release of 20,000 short stay prisoners and up to 100,000 high paid policemen made redundant. What is the cost of 120,000 whistles compared to these savings? And the benefits to 100,000 of a life in the open air and the handing back of responsibility for policing to communities will have enormous advsantages.

The Big Society worked for Lenin and several generations of Soviet citizens, so why not for you, and for us. Those who want to try out a whistle can get one as they go out. (Laughter and the blowing of whistles?)


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