Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

History Debunked Suggests We Need Nazi ‘Heroic Mother’ Policies to Halt Demographic Decline

January 25, 2023

This is a response to a video Simon Webb put up some days ago. I meant to review it earlier, but there’s only so much fascism you can take, especially in today’s miserable economic situation and the Tories telling one lie after another. Webb’s video was prompted by a speech from the Japanese premier declaring that there was an existential crisis facing the Japanese the people. If they didn’t have more babies, they would die out. Webb notes that in the Beeb report about this, they stated that it could be solved by the Japanese importing people like other countries, but that the Japanese were firmly against this.

The Japanese have been worried about this for a very long time. Back in the 1990s the-then Japanese prime minister announced that if the country didn’t halt its declining birth rate, then they would be extinct in a thousand years’ time. That really is looking at the long term picture. To solve this problem, successive Japanese governments have suggested and embarked on various policies. One was that husbands should spend more time with their families in order to develop a closer relationship with their wives, with the unspoken implication that this would lead to more babies on the way. This provoked sharp criticism from one housewife, who complained that marital relations wouldn’t improve simply because the husband was at home more. The Japanese government has also set up a state dating agency to bring men and women together.

I suspect Japan’s demographic problems are partly due to particularly Japanese problems. There is, or was, a high rate of divorce among Japanese pensioners. This is caused by the Japanese work ethic, in which men work all the hours that God sends in order to support their families and make their country prosperous. The result is that they barely see their wives and families. When they retire, they find out that they have nothing in common and divorce. It’s a theme that was reflected in Japanese business novels. These featured loyal, hardworking sararimen, whose lives fall apart. They’re laid off by the companies they’ve loyally served and their families break up until they end up left behind running a small shop somewhere, lamenting that they’ve missed out on seeing their children grow up.

There’s also a trend among young Japanese not to date and have children. There was a Radio 4 programme, which I sadly missed, discussing this issue. It reported that this aversion was so severe that many young people even find the act of love itself repulsive. I wondered if this was a reaction to Japanese sex education and whatever Japanese youth is taught about sex outside marriage. If the attitudes against it are too harsh and the insistence on purity so strong, then it’s possible that this could lead to some impressionable people developing such a strong revulsion to sex. I remember from my schooldays that the sex education we were exposed to, with its clinical description of physical development and reproduction, as well as fears about the rising divorce rate, could almost have been calculated to put kids off sex. I also wonder if it’s due to the unavailability of contraception in Japan. This isn’t due to moral scruples, as in Roman Catholic Ireland. It was demanded by the Japanese medical complex, in order to protect the doctors that made money from performing abortions. Buddhism and Shinto have a series of three gods or kami, who preside over the souls of dead children. According to the anthropologist Dr Nigel Barley in his study of cultural attitudes to death and the dead across the world, Dancing with the Dead, the shrine to these gods are particularly supported by women, who’ve had abortions. I’m not criticising women’s right to abortions here, just noting that in previous decades over here the lack of contraception and the strong societal disapproval to births out of wedlock was a very strong disincentive to people, and especially women, having premarital sex.

In fact birth rates are declining across the world, mostly significantly in the developed west, but also elsewhere. One demographer interviewed a few decades ago in New Scientist predicted that in the middle years of this century the world would suffer a demographic crash. This is in stark contradiction with the 70s fears about the population explosion and ‘population bomb’. In many European countries the birth rate is below the level of population replacement.

Webb suggested that we might try to copy the Nazis, who gave medals to women who had large families. There were different medals award according to how many children they had. In fact, all the totalitarian states had similar policies. The Russians had their Heroic Mother awards, duly covered by Pravda, and Musso had a similar policy in his ‘Battle for Births’ campaign. If reproduction is a battle, it means people are doing it wrong. And if it’s a real physical battle, then it’s rape. But I think Musso meant it metaphorically, as everything was a battle in Fascist Italy. The campaign to increase cereal yield in agriculture was labelled ‘the Battle for Grain’. But Musso included in his policies to increase the birth rate various welfare benefits to make it easier and support women, who chose to have large families.

Webb has been followed in this by Laurence Fox, who gave a sermon on GB News yesterday, about his instinct that society was coming to an end because of the low birth rate in the west. This was breaking the social link Edmund Burke had said existed between the past, present and future generations. Of course, as a man of the right he has no sympathy for people demanding expanded welfare rights, accusing them of being ‘entitled’. They’re not. They’re people on the breadline demanding not expanded welfare provision, but proper welfare provision restored to adequate levels.

Plastic priest Calvin Robinson similarly discussed demographic decline in another piece for GB News. He was much more open about the provision of proper welfare support for families, arguing that Britain should follow the lead of Poland and Hungary. And then comes the element of racism. Because if we did this, like those countries we would not have to import people from outside.

And this is part of the problem.

Underneath these fears of demographic decline is the particular fear of White demographic decline. Other ethnic groups have larger families. Hence the stupid, malign conspiracy theories about ‘Eurabia’, that Muslims would outbreed Whites in the west and so eventually take over society. The French National Front let the cat out of the bag in the 90s. This was the mayor of one of the southern French cities, who had set up a system of welfare payments to encourage his citizens to have more babies. Except that this was a racist policy that applied only to Whites. Blacks, Asians and Muslims not allowed.

It’s why such a system would also have severe problems being introduced over here. And rightly so, as while I dare say that some members of ethnic groups don’t want to integrate or adopt British culture, others identify very strongly with it and see themselves as English, Welsh, Scots whatever. Such people shouldn’t be excluded from receiving these welfare payments simply because of the colour of their skin, whatever else one thinks of race relations and immigration.

Of course, the right blames the demographic crisis squarely on feminism and the way modern women are encouraged to pursue careers rather than raise families. Hence the Lotus Eaters put up a piece commenting on a report that half of all women are childless at thirty. To be fair, some left-wing feminists have also complained that feminism, for all its good intentions, has also denigrated the vital role of motherhood in society. But traditional attitudes towards gender roles may be part of the problem. In the New Scientist article I talked about earlier, it was noted that the countries with lowest birth rates had the most traditional attitudes towards childrearing, in which it was seen as primarily the responsibility of the mothers. This extended across cultures, from Italy in Europe to Japan. The countries which had the highest birth rates in the west were the Nordic countries, where men were being encouraged to help their wives with domestic chores and raising the sprogs.

That, and welfare policies designed to help working parents, seem far better solutions to the crisis than simply doling out medals based on the attitudes of totalitarian regimes.

Gracchus Babeuf and the Calls for a Welfare State in 18th Century France

January 21, 2023

Gracchus Babeuf was a French revolutionary, who tried to overthrow the Directory and establish a communist state during the French Revolution as the leader of the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’. He’s one of the founders of the European socialist and communist traditions. I’ve been reading Ian Birchall’s book on him and his legacy, The Spectre of Babeuf (Haymarket Books 2016), and it’s fascinating. Birchall discusses the influences on Babeuf, which included Morelly, the author of the Code de la Nature, which also advocated a communist system with a centrally planned economy, Nicolas Collignon, who wrote an 8 page pamphlet demanding the same, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Collignon’s ideal state, the citizens were to be provided with free food and clothing, high quality housing, schools and healthcare. Like the Tories, he also believed in competition, so doctors would be graded according to their performance. Those that cured the most would be consequently paid more and get promotion, while those who cured the least would be struck off. Even before he devised his own communist plans, he was already discussing the need for collective farms. What he meant by this is not collective farms in the soviet sense, but farms run cooperatively by their workers rather than a single farmer with employees. And he was also in favour of creating a welfare state. In a book he authored on correct taxation, he wrote

‘That a national fund for the subsistence of the poor should be established. That doctors, apothecaries and surgeons should be psif wages out of public funds so that they can administer assistance free of charge. That a system of national education be established out of which all citizens may take advantage. That magistrates be also paid wages out of public revenue, so that justice can be done free of charge.’ (p. 29).

Birchall also attacks the view promoted by Talmon in his The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy that Babeuf was an authoritarian who prefigured soviet tyranny. Talmon was an Israeli Conservative writing at the beginning of the Cold War. But Babeuf himself, although a revolutionary, was also keen to preserve and expand democracy. One of his suggestions was that there should be a set of elected officials charged with making sure that delegates to the national assembly were representing their constituents properly. If they weren’t, the people had the right to recall them.

Regarding industrial organisation, he believed that the citizens in each commune should be divided into classes, each class representing a different trade. The members of these classes would appoint governors, who would set the work and carry out the instructions of the municipal government. It’s very much a command economy, and utopian in that money would be abolished.

I can’t say I find Babeuf’s full-blown communist ideas attractive, for the reason I believe in a mixed a economy and the right of people to do what they wish outside of interference from either the authorities or other people. And I really don’t see how such a state could last long without a money economy. Some Russians looked forward to the establishment of such an economy at the beginning of the Russian Revolution when the economy began to break down and trading went back to barter in some areas until the Bolsheviks restored the economy. And there is clearly conflict between violent revolution and democracy. But I respect his calls for a welfare state. He was also an advocate of equality for women and an opponent of imperialism, which he felt corrupted extra-European peoples with European vices. This view is clearly based on the 17th century ideas of the Noble Savage, in which primitive peoples are seen as better and more morally advanced than civilised westerners.

Demands for a welfare state are as old as socialism itself. We cannot allow the British welfare state and NHS to be destroyed by the Tories and Blairite Labour under Starmer.

Peter Hitchens on Tony Blair’s Stupidity

January 16, 2023

Yeah, I know this ad hominem, but it is funny. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani interviewed Tory iconoclast Peter Hitchens the other day. The two don’t really have much in common, but Bastani justified the interview saying that if you want to be certain in your political views, you should test them by talking to people who hold the opposite. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the right, and some of his views are odd, if not barking. He believes, for example, that we shouldn’t have gone to war with Germany as it was not in our interests. Perhaps it wasn’t, but we had signed the defence pacts with France and Poland, And if we hadn’t gone to war, I think we would have still lost the empire sooner or later. Plus we would have been excluded from a continent under Nazi domination. And this is not to mention the carnage that would have been perpetrated by the Nazis, with the Jews and Gypsies becoming extinct in Europe, followed by the Czechs and the Slav populations enslaved as peasant farmers supplying produce to their German overlords.

On the other hand, Hitchens has said that he never supported Thatcher’s sale of the council houses or the privatisation of the prison system, because justice, as a principle, should be in the hands of the state. He also states in one of his books that he was shocked into an awareness of how fragile civilisation was after visiting one of the failed African countries as a journalist in the 1980s. The country had descended into vicious gang violence, but walking through its capital Hitchens saw everywhere grand architecture and all the signs of modern corporate development. I think this gives an insight into the basis of his own Tory views. I remember reading in the Spectator years ago that the right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton abandoned the left when he witnessed the rioting in Paris during the 1968 student and workers’ protests. He was alarmed by their ‘anti-civilisational rage’.

Back to the interview, Hitchens described Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, as being frightening intelligent. He mentioned people, who really thought for the first few months of Blair’s regime that it was Campbell running the country. He joked that it was probably because of Campbell’s mighty intellect that he was kept away from voters, as he would probably frighten them all away.

But Blair, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bright and Hitchens doubted that he could have run the country without Campbell. To illustrate his point, he told the story of how he briefly met Blair just before the 1997 election. Blair was in Oxford, travelling in his motorcade. Hitchens was following him by bike, but as the traffic was bad, he got to Blair’s destination before him. After Blair had arrived, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd taking pictures. Hitchens wanted to talk to Blair, and so, after the crowd had finished and dispersed, he walked up to the future Prime Minister. He decided to open the conversation by asking who the crowd were. Blair replied, ‘They’re Brazilians. I’m very popular down there.’

‘Oh, you should learn Portuguese then,’ replied Hitch.

‘What?’

It turned out that Blair thought they spoke Brazilian in Brazil. Hitchens concluded that what Blair really wanted to be was a pop star, and you didn’t need to ascribe any deep ideological motives to him.

There was, nevertheless, an ideological basis to his policies. He was a product of BAP, the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, which was set up by Reagan to influence the rising generation of British politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour. Blair had started out as a supporter of nuclear disarmament, but after going on a BAP-sponsored trip to America and hearing the views of various right-wing think tanks, he came back as an opponent. He was fervently Thatcherite, believing in the superiority of private industry and strongly influenced by the American political system. Private Eye ran several pieces about the American private healthcare and prison companies lining up to donate to New Labour in the hope of getting some of that nationalised action. He took over advisers and staff from private healthcare companies as well as other businesses, and pushed the privatisation of the NHS further than the Tories would have dared. As stupid as he may have been, he set the course for right-wing Labour, and Starmer shows every indication of returning to it.

The Fascist Argument Against Free Market Capitalism

January 15, 2023

I notice that as the failure of contemporary free market capitalism becomes every more obvious, its right-wing supporters are out on the net telling everyone how wonderful capitalism is. Capitalism, according to them, has lifted more people out of poverty than any socialist state has ever done. You find this repeated by the Lotus Eaters, and I recent found yet another video on YouTube put up by a right-winger.

Now there is something to this. Marx in the Communist Manifesto was impressed by the global achievements of capitalism, and industrialisation and trade has produced development and prosperity in Britain, the West and elsewhere, and lifted people out of the poverty of agricultural subsistence economies. But this hasn’t been done by capitalism alone. Trade unions have also been part of the development of mass prosperity in the industrialised nations through demands for increased wages, better working conditions and so on, a fact ignored by the right. And working people in the west enjoyed their greatest period of prosperity when capitalism was regulated as part of the post-War consensus. In Britain this took the form of a mixed economy in which the utilities were owned and operated by the state. The privatisation of these utilities, the devastation of the welfare state and the deregulation of the economy has led to a massive transfer of wealth upwards, so that the poor have become colossally poorer and the wealth of the rich even more bloated and obscene. Properly regulated, capitalism does raise people out of poverty. But free market capitalism, of the kind frantically promoted by right-wingers like the Lotus Eaters, has done the reverse.

But let’s grant them that the 19th century was an age of industrial and agricultural expansion in which people enriched themselves. Mussolini expressed this view in his speech about the corporative state he was introducing into Italy. The fascist corporations were industrial organisations, one for each industry, which included representatives of the trade unions and the owners’ organisations. The Italian parliament was dissolved and reorganised into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, in which these organisations were supposed to debate economic policy. In fact, it just served as a rubber stamp for the Duce’s decisions. It was, however, important for propaganda purposes, to show that Mussolini’s regime had transcended capitalism and socialism.

The Fascists weren’t enemies of capitalism, far from it. Mussolini’s constitution made private industry the basis of the state and economic life, which is why I’m using it his critique of free market capitalism against the free marketeers. Mussolini had been a radical socialist, but when the Fascists seized power he declared them to be true followers of Manchester School capitalism. In other words, free trade. This was accompanied by a programme of privatisation. In Germany Hitler gave a speech to the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, saying that capitalism could only be preserved through a dictatorship. He stated that he would not nationalise any company, unless it was failing. During the Nazi dictatorship industry was organised into a series of interlocking associations subject to state control. But they were not nationalised, and the leadership of the organisations was always given to private industrialists, not the managers of state industries.

Back to Italy, Mussolini described how this initial period had begun to decay. The old family run firms declined, to be replaced by joint stock companies. At the same time, firms organised themselves into cartels. In America, these cartels demanded intervention from the government. Mussolini announced that, if left unchecked, this would lead to the emergence of a state capitalism that was every bit as pernicious as state socialism. His solution was that capitalism needed to be more ‘social’. It would be subordinated to the state through the corporations, where workers and management would cooperate to make Italy a great power once more.

Something similar has happened over the past four decades. Under this new corporativism, representatives of private industry have entered government as advisors and officials, often in the departments charged with regulating their industries. At the same time, industry has received massive subsidies and tax breaks so that much of the tax burden has moved lower down on working people. Mussolini was correct about private industry demanding state intervention, however much this is denied and state planning attacked by free market theorists. And the result is corporativism, which the free marketeers denounce as not being true capitalism. But it’s been pointed out that the type of capitalism they believe in has never existed.

Free market capitalism is a failure. The solution is not a murderous dictatorship, but the old, regulated, mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. An economy that includes private industry, but which recognises that it alone does not create wealth, and which demands the inclusion of working people and their organisations in industrial negotiations and policies in order to create prosperity for working people.

BBC Criticised for Anti-White Bias: The Case of Romesh Ranganathan and Sierra Leone

December 30, 2022

A day or so ago a group of right-wing historians calling themselves History Reclaimed released a report accusing the Beeb of anti-White bias. They gave a list of 20 instances in which the BBC distorted history for apparently political and racial reasons. One example was of a programme that claimed that Robert Peel had a callous disregard for the victims of the Irish potato famine. The truth, they claimed, was that Peel risked his career pushing through legislation abolishing the Corn Laws, so that Irish, and poor British people, could buy cheap foreign grain. The name History Reclaimed to my ears suggests some kind of link with Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party. The group includes the historians Andrew Roberts and Jeremy Black. While I strongly disagree with their Tory views, these are respectable, academic, mainstream historians. Roberts talked rubbish in a video posted on YouTube by PragerU, an American right-wing thinktank, which tries to present itself as some kind of university. He claimed that the British was A Good Thing because it gave the world free trade and property rights. Well, property rights exist in Islam, and I’ve no reason to doubt that they also existed in China and India, so that’s a very dubious claim. As for free trade, well, the privatisation the IMF has forced on some of the African countries that came to it for aid has generally left them worse off, sometimes catastrophically so, as when one of the southern African countries deregulated its sugar industry. But whatever I think of Roberts’ political views, he is in other ways an excellent historian. The same with Jeremy Black, whose Slavery: A New Global History I thoroughly recommend. Black has also published a history of the British Empire that does acknowledge the atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred. We are not, therefore, dealing with people who want to erase history themselves.

Regarding Robert Peel, I’ve no doubt they’re right. Peel was a great reforming Prime Minister. He founded the metropolitan police, hence their nickname of ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’. He also reduced the number of capital crimes from well over hundred to three. These included murder and treason. It’s because of him that you can no longer be hanged for impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. There were British officials, who felt that the Irish had brought it on themselves and should be left to starve. The head of the civil service, Trevelyan, is notorious for these views. But I don’t believe that Peel was one of them.

But it’s not Peel, who I shall discuss here, but Sierra Leone. Another example they gave was of Romesh Ranganthan’s presentation of the history of slavery in Sierra Leone in one edition of his The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. In the programme, Ranganathan went to a slave fort on Bunce Island and talked to local people about the country’s history. By their account, this was very one-sided. The slavers were presented as all being White British. In fact, as History Reclaimed states, the African peoples in the area were also slavers. In 1736 or so one of the local chiefs attacked Bunce Island because it was taking trade away from him. And although the programme mentioned raiders, it did not state that the slaves were supplied by Black Africans, and so gave the impression that the trade’s victims were enslaved by White British.

It also neglected to mention that Sierra Leone was founded as a state for free Blacks, and that there is an arch commemorating the emancipation of Black slaves in Freetown which the UN has stated is comparable to the Statue of Liberty in espousing and celebration freedom, democracy and human rights. I have no doubt that this is also correct.

Slavery existed in Africa for millennia before the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. While Europeans had and occasionally did raid for slaves, they were prevented from penetrating inland through a mixture of the disease-ridden climate and power African kingdoms. Europeans were confined to their own quarters of indigenous towns, like the ghettos into which Jews were forced in the Middle Ages. The slave trade was extremely lucrative, and the slaves were indeed sold to them by Africans, some of the most notorious being Dahomey, Ashanti, Badagry and Whyday. After the ban on the slave trade in 1807, one African nation attacked a British trading post in the 1820s to force us to take it up again. I found this in a copy of the very well respected British history magazine, History Today.

In the late 18th century – I’ve forgotten precisely when – the colony was taken over by one of the abolitionist groups. It was intended to be a new state for free Blacks. Three shiploads of emigrants, who also included some Whites, set sail. The idealists, who planned the colony also changed the laws regulating land tenure. I’ve forgotten the system of land tenure they altered, but from what I remember they believed it had been introduced by the Normans and was part of the framework of feudalism. I think it was also intended to be governed democratically. The new colony immediately fell into difficulties, and the colonists were reinforced with the arrival of Caribbean Maroons and Black Loyalists from America. The latter had been granted their freedom in exchange for fighting for us during the American Revolution. After independence, they were moved to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately, they were prevented from settling down through a mixture of the harsh northern climate and racism. The colony still experienced considerable trouble, and was saved by being taken over by the British government. After Britain outlawed the slave trade, it became the base for the British West India Squadron, which was tasked with patrolling the seas off Africa intercepting slavers. It was also the site of one of the courts of mixed commission, in which suspected slavers were tried by judges from Britain and the accused slavers’ nation. The British navy were assisted in their attacks on slavers by indigenous African tribes, such as the Egba, and their help was appreciated. The admiralty stated that soldiers and sailors from these people should receive the same compensation for wounds suffered battling slavers as British troops, not least because it would reaffirm British good faith and encourage more Africans to join the struggle.

Slaving by the surrounding tribes and even by some of the liberated Africans in the colony itself remained a problem. As a result, British officers from the colony made anti-slavery treaties with the chiefs of the neighbouring Sherbro country, and reported on and took action against the Black colonists stealing young boys to sell to the slave states further south. Freetown became a major centre of education and western civilisation in Africa. Many of the anthropologists, who first described African languages and societies, were Sierra Leonean Blacks. The father of the 19th century Black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, was a Black citizen of Sierra Leone.

None of this is at all obscure or controversial. African slavers and their complicity in the trade are mentioned in Hugh Thomas’ brilliant book, The Slave Trade, as well as various general histories of Africa. There is even a book specifically on the history of Sierra Leone and the West India Squadron, Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped The Slave Trade by Sian Rees (London: Chatto & Windus 2009). One of the Scottish universities over two decades ago published a book collecting the Black colonists’ letters. I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, but we had a copy at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Now a programme could well be made about the Black colonists and their struggles from their own words. One of the problems with history is that the lower strata of society generally remain silent, unless described or remarked upon by the upper classes. This is particularly true when it comes to slaves or former slaves. But somehow mentioning that it was settled by former slaves was considered unimportant or even embarrassing or controversial by the show’s producers.

Simon Webb of History Debunked has noted the various instances where the account of the slave trade has been selectively retold and omits any mention of Black African complicity. As far right as Webb is, I believe he has a point. But this attitude is not only anti-White, it also does Blacks an injustice by assuming that they are emotionally unable to handle this aspect of the slave trade. One Black historian with whom I worked at the Museum stated quite clearly that in the Caribbean they were told by their mammies that it was the Africans who sold their ancestors into slavery. And no, he didn’t hate Africans either. Channel 4 even presented a show about African involvement in the slave trade twenty or so years ago. This is the channel that the Tories hated for being too left-wing and having Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’ as they called him, as its controller. I am not blaming Ranganathan himself for the bias. The right hate him because he is very outspoken in his anti-Brexit views. But I doubt he knew much about Sierra Leon and its history. The fault lies with the producer and director, if not further up BBC management who may have laid down rules regarding the presentation of slavery and the British empire generally.

Black complicity in the slave trade doesn’t excuse White European involvement, but it does need to be taught so that people get a balanced view of the historical reality. And I wonder why the Beeb didn’t.

Simon Webb’s Speech to the Traditional Britain Group: A Critique

December 29, 2022

One of the great commenters on this blog asked me the other day if I’d watched Simon Webb’s speech to the Traditional Britain Group, which has been posted up on YouTube. Webb is the man behind History Debunked, in which he criticises, refutes and comments on various historical myths and distortions. Most of these are against Black history, as well as racial politics. Occasionally he also presents his opinions on gay and gender issues. Like other YouTubers and internet commenters, you need to use your own discretion when watching his material. Sometimes, when he cites his sources, he’s right. At other times he’s more probably wrong. As much of his material is against mass immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and he believes that there is a racial hierarchy when it comes to intelligence, there’s some discussion of the man’s political orientation. He’s definitely right-wing, reading the Torygraph and attacking Labour as ‘high spending’. But it’s a question of how right-wing. Some people have suggested he’s English Democrat or supports a similar extreme right fringe party.

The other day he gave a speech at the Traditional Britain Group, which is a particularly nasty set of rightists within the Conservative party. There was a scandal a few years ago, you’ll recall, when Jacob Rees-Mogg turned up at one of their dinners. Mogg claimed he didn’t know how far right they were, but was shown to be somewhat economical with the actualite when someone showed that he’d actually been warned against associating with them. They are fervently against non-White immigration and some of them have a dubious interest in the Nazis and the Third Reich. I’ve also been told that their members include real Nazis and eugenicists, which is all too credible. They also want to privatise the NHS. I found this out after finding myself looking at their message board a few years ago. They were talking about how they needed to privatise the health service, but it would have to be done gradually and covertly because at the moment the masses were too much in favour of it. Which has been Tory policy for decades.

Webb’s speech is about half and hour long, and takes in slavery, White English identity and how Blacks have taken ownership of the subject so that it’s now part of theirs, White guilt over it and the industrial revolution and how White Brits are being made to feel ashamed of imperialism. He also blamed Tony Blair for mass immigration and claimed that it was due to this that the health service was collapsing.

The British Empire

He started off by saying that when he was young, everyone believed that the British Empire was a good thing and that we had brought civilisation to Africa and other parts of the world. I don’t doubt this. He’s older than me, and so I can believe that the received view of the Empire in his time was largely positive. Even the Labour party broadly supported imperialism. Its official stance was that Britain held these countries in trust until they were mature enough for self-government. This has changed, and there is a general feeling, certainly on the left, that it’s something we should be ashamed of. But this has come from historians and activists discussing and revealing the negative aspects of colonialism, such as the genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples, enslavement, forced labour and massacres. The end of empires tend to be particularly bloody, as shown in the various nationalist wars that ended the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the French possession of Algeria. Britain fought similar bloody wars and committed atrocities to defend its empire, as shown in the massive overreaction in Kenya to the Mao Mao rebellion. Jeremy Black, in his history of the British Empire, also argues that support for the empire fell away from the 1970s onwards as British youth became far more interested in America. I think the automatic condemnation of British imperialism is wrong and one-sided. It’s also somewhat hypocritical, as the same people condemning the British Empire don’t condemn other brutal imperial regimes like the Ottomans. It’s also being used by various post-colonial regimes to shift attention and blame for their own failings. But all this doesn’t change the fact that some horrific things were done during the Empire, which politicians and historians have to deal with. Hence the shame, although in my view there should be a space for a middle position which condemns the atrocities and celebrates the positive.

Britain and Slavery

He then talks about how slavery is now identified solely with Black transatlantic servitude. But he argues that the White English can also claim slavery as part of their identity. He talks of the first mention of the English in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, when pope Gregory the Great saw some English children for sale in the slave market in Rome. Asking who such beautiful children were, he was told they were Angles. At which Gregory punned, ‘Non Anglii, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles but angels’. At the time of the Domesday Book 10 per cent of the English population were slaves. And the mob that tore down Colston’s statue in Bristol were unaware that the city had been exported English slaves over a millennium before. These were shipped to the Viking colonies in Ireland – Dublin, Wexford and other towns – from whence they were then trafficked internationally. Slavery existed long before Black transatlantic slavery. The first record we have of it is from 4000 years ago in the form of document from the Middle East recording the sale of slaves and pieces of land. While they weren’t aware of transatlantic slavery at school, they knew slavery existed through studying the Bible. The story of Joseph and his brothers, and the Israelites in Egypt. But slavery has now become identified exclusively with Black slavery and is part of the Black identity. It’s because we’re supposed to feel guilty about slavery and feel sorry for Blacks that Black people over overrepresented in adverts, on television dramas and even historical epics, such as the show about the Tudors where half the actors were Black.

Webb is right about slavery existing from ancient times. There are indeed documents from the ancient near eastern city of Mari in Mesopotamia recording the sale of slaves along with land and other property, as I’ve blogged about here. One of the problems the abolitionists faced was that slavery existed right across the world, and so their opponents argued that it was natural institution. They therefore also claimed that it was consequently unfair and disastrous for the government to abolish it in the British empire. He’s right about Pope Gregory and the English slaves, although the word ‘Angli’ refers to the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that settled and colonised England with the Saxons and Jutes after the fall of the Roman Empire. Angles in Anglo-Saxon were Englas, hence Engla-land – England, land of the Angles, and Englisc, English. Bristol did indeed export English slave to Ireland. Archbishop Wulfstan preached against it in the 11th century. We were still doing so in 1140, when visiting clergy from France were warned against going for dinner aboard the Irish ships in the harbour. These would lure people aboard with such promises, then slip anchor and take them to Ireland. The Irish Vikings also imported Black slaves. One chronicle reports the appearance of a consignment of blamenn, blue or black men in Old Norse, in Dublin. David Olasuga has also claimed that they imported 200 Blacks into Cumbria. Bristol’s export of White English slaves is mentioned in a display about it in the city’s M Shed Museum, which also contains the statue of Edward Colston. I do agree with Webb that there is a problem with popular attitudes towards slavery. Its presentation is one-sided, so that I don’t think many people are aware of it and its horrors outside the British Empire, nor how White Europeans were also enslaved by the Muslim Barbary pirates. I very strongly believe that this needs to be corrected.

Black Overrepresentation on TV

I don’t think it’s guilt over slavery alone that’s responsible for the large number of Black actors being cast on television, particularly the adverts. I think this is probably also due to commercial marketing, the need to appeal to international audiences and attempts to integrate Blacks by providing images of multiracial Britain. Many adverts are made for an international audience, and I think the use of Blacks has become a sort of visual shorthand for showing that the company commissioning the advert is a nice, anti-racist organisation, keen to sell to people of different colours across the world without prejudice. At home, it’s part of the promotion of diversity. Blacks are, or are perceived, as acutely alienated and persecuted, and so in order to combat racism the media has been keen to include them and present positive images of Black life and achievement. There are organisations dedicated to this task, such as the Creative Diversity Network, as well as systems that grade companies according to how they invest in multicultural enterprises, such as television and programmes with suitably racially diverse casts. Webb has himself talked about this. He’s also stated that Blacks are disproportionately represented on television, constituting only 6 per cent of the population but a very large proportion of actors in TV programmes and adverts. This might simply be because other, larger ethnic groups, such as Asians, aren’t so concerned with entering the entertainment industry and so aren’t represent to the same extent. Hence, Blacks sort of stand in for people of colour as a whole. As for adverts, I’ve also wondered if some of this might be purely commercial – a concern to sale to an emergent, affluent, Black market, perhaps. It also struck me that it might also be a make work programme. As I understand it, there are too many drama graduates for too few roles. This is particularly going to hit Blacks and other ethnic minorities because Britain at the moment is still a White majority country. There have consequently been demands for colour blind casting, as in Armando Iannucci’s recent film version of Oliver Twist. A year or so ago one Black actor announced that there should be more roles for Blacks or else they would go to America. As for the casting of a Black woman as Anne Boleyn, this seems to follow the theatre, where colour blind casting has existed for years. I think it also follows the tacit demand to create an image of the British past that conforms to modern multicultural society rather than how it really was. And some of it, I think, just comes from the feeling that as modern Blacks are as British as their White compatriots, so they should not be excluded from appearing as historical characters who were White. I think these considerations are just as likely, or more likely, to be the causes of the disproportionate number of Blacks appearing on camera than simply pity for them as the victims of slavery.

Blair Not Responsible for Mass Immigration

Now we come to his assertion that Blair was responsible for mass immigration. When he made this declaration, there were shouts, including one of ‘traitor’. I don’t believe that Blair was responsible for it, at least, not in the sense he means. The belief that he was, which is now widespread on the anti-immigrant right, comes from a single civil servant. This official claimed that Blair did so in order to change the ethnic composition of Britain and undermine the Tories. But did he really? This comes from a single individual, and without further corroboration, you can’t be sure. In fact Blair seems to have tried to cut down on immigration, particularly that of non-Whites. In order to dissuade people from coming here, he stopped immigrants from being able to apply for welfare benefits. The food banks now catering to native Brits were originally set up to feed those immigrants, who were no longer eligible for state aid. I also recall David Blunkett stating that they were going to cut down on immigration. The Guardian also accused Blair of racism over immigration. He had cut down on non-White immigration from outside Europe, while allowing White immigration from the EU and its new members in eastern Europe. The right had also been concerned about rising Black and Asian immigration for decades, and in the 1980s Tory papers like the Depress were publishing articles about unassimilable ethnic minorities. This started before Blair, and I don’t think he was deliberately responsible for it.

But I believe he was responsible for it in the sense that many of the migrants come from the countries Blair, Bush, Obama and Sarco destroyed or helped to destroy in the Middle East, such as Libya, Iraq and Syria. Blair had made some kind of deal with Colonel Gaddafy to keep migrants from further south in Libya, rather than crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. This was destroyed when Gaddafy’s regime was overthrown by Islamists. The result has been the enslavement of Black African migrants, and renewed waves of refugees from North Africa fleeing the country’s collapse.

He also stated that the industrial revolution, which was something else that was traditionally a source of pride, is now considered a cause for shame instead. Britain had been its birthplace and given its innovations to the rest of the world. However, we are now expected to be ashamed of it through its connection to slavery. The cotton woven in the Lancashire mills came from the American slave south, while sugar came from the slave colonies of the Caribbean. We’re also supposed to be ashamed of it because it’s the cause of climate change, for which we should pay reparations.

The Industrial Revolution and Climate Change

Okay, I’ve come across the claim that the industrial revolution was financed by profits from the slave trade and that it was based on the processing of slave produced goods. However, this is slightly different from condemning the industrial revolution as a whole. You can lament the fact that slavery was a part of this industrialisation, while celebrating the immense social, technological and industrial progress itself. After all, Marx states in the Communist Manifesto that it has rescued western society from rural idiocy. The demand that Britain should feel ashamed about the industrial revolution because of climate change comes from Greta Thunberg. It is, in my view, monumentally stupid and actually shows an ignorance of history. It’s based on an idealisation of pre-technological societies and an idealisation of rural communities. It’s a product of European romanticism, mixed with contemporary fears for the future of the planet. But the agrarian past was no rural idyll. People in the agricultural societies before the urbanisation of the 19th century had very utilitarian attitudes to the environment. It was a source of resources that could be used and exploited. The nostalgia for an idealised rural past came with the new generation of urban dwellers, who missed what they and their parents had enjoyed in the countryside. And rural life could be extremely hard. If you read economic histories of the Middle Ages and early modern period, famine is an ever present threat. It still was in the 19th century. The Irish potato famine is the probably the best known example in Ireland and Britain, but there were other instances of poverty, destitution and starvation across the UK and Europe. Industrialisation has allowed a far greater concentration of people to live than would have been possible under subsistence agriculture. Yes, I’m aware that overpopulation is a problem, that industrial pollution is harming the environment and contributing to the alarming declining in animal and plant species. But technological and science hopefully offer solutions to these problems as well. And I really don’t want to go back to a subsistence economy in which communities can be devastated by crop failure.

The call for climate reparations, I think, comes from Ed Miliband, and in my view it shows how out of touch and naive he is. I have no problem the Developed World giving aid to some of those countries threatened by climate change, such as the Pacific islands which are threatened with flooding due to the rise in sea levels. But some countries, I believe, are perfectly capable of doing so without western help. One of these is China, which also contributes massively to carbon emissions and which I believe has also called for the payment of climate reparations. China is an emerging economic superpower, and I see no reason why the west should pay for something that it’s doing and has the ability to tackle. I am also very sceptical whether such monies would be used for the purposes they’re donated. Corruption is a massive problem in the Developing World, and various nations have run scams to part First World donors and aid agencies from their money. When I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of these was a scheme for a hydroelectric dam in Pakistan. The Pakistani government was calling for western aid to finance the project. Britain refused, sensing a scam, for which we were criticised. Other countries happily gave millions, but the dam was never built. All a fraud. I suspect if climate reparations were paid, something similar would also happen with the aid money disappearing into kleptocrats’ pockets. There’s also the problem of where the tax burden for the payment of these reparations would fall. It probably wouldn’t be the rich, who have enjoyed generous tax cuts, but the British working class through indirect taxes. In short, it seems to me to be a colossally naive idea.

But these ideas don’t seem to be widespread. When he announced them, there were shouts from the audience to which Webb responded that it was coming, and they should wait a few years. Perhaps it will, but I’ve seen no enthusiasm or even much mention of them so far. They were mentioned during the COP 27 meeting, and that’s it. Thunberg’s still around, but after all these years I think she’s somewhat passe. At the moment I don’t think these ideas are issues.

Mass Immigration Not the Cause of NHS Crisis

Now let’s examine his statement that it’s due to immigration that the NHS is in the state it’s in. This is, quite simply, wrong. He correctly states that while Britain’s population has grown – London’s has nearly doubled and Leicester’s grown by 30 per cent – there has been no similar provision of medical services. No new hospitals have been built. As a result, where once you could simply walk into your doctor’s and expect to be seen, now you have to book an appointment. And when it comes to hospitals, it’s all the fault of immigrants. He talks about a specific hospital in London, and how the last time he was in that area, he was the only White Brit in the queue. This was because immigrants don’t have GPs, and so go to the hospital for every problem. We also have the problem of sick and disabled people from the developing world coming to the country for the better services we offer. A woman from the Sudan with a special needs child will therefore come here so that her child can have the treatment it wouldn’t get in the Sudan.

I dare say some of this analysis is correct. Britain’s population has grown largely due to immigration. One statistic released by a right-wing group said that immigration was responsible for 80 per cent of population growth. It’s probably correct, as Chambers Cyclopedia stated in its 1987 edition that British birthrates were falling and that it was immigration that was behind the rise in the UK population. I don’t know London at all, and I dare say that many of the immigrants there may well not have had doctors. I can also quite believe that some immigrants do come here for our medical care. There was a case a few weeks ago of a Nigerian woman, who got on a flight to London specifically so that she could have her children in a British hospital. I think this was a case of simple health tourism, which has gone on for years, rather than immigration.

But this overlooks the fact that the problems of the NHS has been down to successive Thatcherite regimes cutting state medical care in Britain all under the pretext of making savings and not raising taxes. Thatcher closed hospital wards. So did Tony Blair, when he wasn’t launching his PFI initiative. This was supposed to build more hospitals, but led to older hospitals being closed and any new hospitals built were smaller, fewer and more expensive. Cameron started off campaigning against hospital closures, and then, once he got his backside in No. 10, carried on with exactly the same policy. Boris Johnson claimed that he was going to build forty hospitals, which was, like nearly everything else the obese buffoon uttered, a flat lie. And Tweezer, Truss and Sunak are doing the same. Doctors surgeries have also suffered. Many of them have been sold off to private chains, which have maximised profits by closing down those surgeries that aren’t profitable. The result is that people have been and are being left without doctors. If you want an explanation why the NHS is in the state it is, blame Thatcher and her heirs, not immigrants.

Conclusion

While Webb has a point about the social and political manipulation of historical issues like the slave trade and the British Empire, these aren’t the reasons for the greater appearance of Black actors and presenters on television. Blair wasn’t responsible for mass immigration, and it’s underfunding and privatisation, not immigration, that’s responsible for the deplorable state of the health service. But he’s speaking to the wrong people there anyway, as the TBG would like to privatise it.

I am not saying it is wrong to discuss these issues, but it is wrong to support a bunch of Nazis like the TBG, who will exploit them to recreate all the social inequality, poverty and deprivation of pre-modern Britain.

Black Zimbabweans Condemning Mugabe’s Ethnic Cleansing of White Farmers

December 29, 2022

I found this striking photo while looking for information on Google on Zimbabwe’s White farmers. They were brutally expelled nearly twenty years ago by the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was a thug, who had previously butchered and brutalised the Ndebele people, as well as his Black political rivals and opponents. I gather that there had been some kind of scheme to hand over the White-owned farms to Black Zimbabweans with money paid by the British government. Mugabe claimed that the money had not been paid, and sent in the army and his supporters to occupy them and expel the Whites. This was accompanied by murder and savage beatings, and I can remember being shocked by the images I saw on the BBC. Mugabe’s followers could no more run commercial farms than they could the rest of the economy. The result was that a formerly prosperous country that had been the breadbasket of Africa suffered massive, crippling inflation and starvation. Many of its people fled to South Africa. Meanwhile, Nigeria offered to provide land and sanctuary to the White farmers.

I gather that the situation has now been reversed, with Zimbabwe inviting the farmers back with promises of compensation. I found the photo particularly interesting, as the slogan says ‘Mugabe Killed Our White Farmers’. It shows that Mugabe’s ethnic cleansing has been condemned by at least a section of Zimbabwe’s Black population. A hopeful sign of racial reconciliation and solidarity amongst all Zimbabweans, regardless of colour.

Video on Archaeology’s Challenge to Enlightenment Accounts of Origins of States and Inequality

December 8, 2022

This is a fascinating video I found on Novara Media’s channel the other day. In it, host Aaron Bastani talks to archaeologist David Wengrow about the origins of the state and the development of social inequality. Wengrow argues that the evidence from archaeology challenges assumptions that prehistoric and preliterate peoples were incapable of rationally deciding for themselves what kind of societies they wished to live in. He gives examples from prehistoric Europe and North and South America to show that ancient and indigenous peoples not only did decide on the kind of societies they wanted, but were perfectly capable of reversing trends in their societies towards authoritarianism. One of the examples of this, which I found truly jaw-dropping, was one of the city states the conquistador Hernan Cortes made alliance with against the Aztecs. Unlike the Aztec empire, that state city was a democratic republic. He also talks about the influence on Enlightenment critiques of western society of a Huron Indian chief in Canada, who was an intelligent conversationalist able to hold his own in conversations about the nature of society to such an extent that French, British and Dutch colonial authorities invited him to dinner to talk this matter over.

Wengrow starts off by stating that modern political theory about the origins of society, as taught in politics courses, is completely divorced from archaeological accounts. The theory is based on the speculations of foundational Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes and Rousseau, who admitted that they were speculating. But these accounts are now taught as fact. Archaeological research, however, is overturning previous ideas about the origins of urban society. For example, it was believed that agriculture and urbanisation were linked and appeared together as part of the Neolithic Revolution. But this is not the case. Excavations of the ancient city of Catalhuyuk in Turkey show that while it was an urban centre, although Wengrow hesitates to call it a city, show that its people were still hunter-gatherers, living by foraging rather than agriculture. And the same is true of the settlement at Amesbury at the time Stonehenge was being built. The people then had given up agriculture, although they retained animal husbandry. It appears they had tried growing crops and then rejected it in favour of foraging.

He then goes on to talk about the Huron Amerindian chief. He inspired a colonist from New France, who had been expelled from the colony, to write a book based on the chief and his dinner conversation when the colonist was penniless in Amsterdam. This became a massive Enlightenment bestseller, and inspired other books by Voltaire and others in which Chinese, Tahitians and other outsiders criticise European society. Wengrow states that the Indian societies surprise western Europeans because they were much less hierarchical than they were, and contact with these societies and the indigenous critics of western civilisation did influence European political philosophy. We easily accept that Europe took over many material products from these nations, but are much less ready to accept the idea that they influenced our ideas, even though the Enlightenment philosophers said that they had.

He also talks about Cahokia, a great pyramid and city state in the Mississippi valley in America. This appears to be another example of a society, in which people rebelled or simply walked away from authority and hierarchy. It was also another indigenous monument that was ascribed to everyone else but the native peoples when it was first discovered, and is now disrespected by having a road driven through it. When it was constructed, the local society seems to have been hierarchical. At the top of the mound is a structure from which all of the city could be viewed. But sometime after its heyday it was abandoned. The traditional reasons are that the climate changed, but Wengrow finds that unconvincing. What seems to have happened instead is that people simply got tired of living in such a society and walked away.

Tenochtitlan, one of the great cities in ancient Mexico, is another example of a strongly hierarchical society that underwent profound social change and became more democratic. Wengrow states that it’s a massive state, and they owe a debt to the French scholar who produced detailed maps of it. When it first emerged, it was hierarchical but then the nature of society changed. People started living in high-quality, single-floor homes. These were so good they were originally thought to be palaces, but now it appears they were villas occupied by ordinary citizens. At some point, the people of Tenochtitlan decided that they wanted a more equal society, to the extent that some scholars believe that there was a revolution.

Then there is the case of the democratic city state Cortes encountered. This really was democratic, as there are accounts of the debates in its assembly. This astonished the conquistadors, as there was very little like it in Europe at the time, except some of the Florentine republics. This all challenges the notion that once society develops to a certain extent and becomes complex, inequality also emerges and is very difficult to challenge or remove. These cases show that indigenous peoples could and did. He also argues that the same may have been true of slavery. The only successful slave revolt that we know of is Toussant L’Ouverture in Haiti. But Wengrow suggests there could have been thousands of other successful slave revolts in prehistory of which we are unaware. Slavery came about, he argues, from the expense of laying out offerings for the dead. In order to leave food and drink for the dead, the bereaved had to have access to the foods themselves and so they became indebted and dependent on the people who owned those resources.

He also talks about the problems in describing some of these urban centres as cities. There are huge sites in the Ukraine, but archaeologists are hesitant about calling them cities with some preferring other terms such as ‘mega-sites’ because they aren’t centralised.

Bastani asks him at one point about the problem of pseudo-archaeology. I think this came up because Graham Hancock is currently fronting a series on Netflix claiming that way back in prehistory there was an advanced society, but that it was destroyed in a global cataclysm. Wengrow states that quite often pseudo-archaeology is based on old and discarded idea, such as Atlantis. The people involved tend not to be anyone who’s ever been on an archaeological dig, and view archaeologists as spending their lives trying to hide some momentous secret from everyone. But it can act as an entry for some people to archaeology, and he doesn’t really like the sneering attitude of some archaeologists towards it.

Wengrow himself is an interesting character. He didn’t want to be an archaeologist originally, but came to it from acting. He also worked in the BBC Arabic service. He decided at one point he wanted to get a degree, applied to the best university he could, Oxford, and sent reams of applications to its various colleges. They turned him down. Then he was told that he should apply for a place on a course that was just being set up. One of the colleges was just setting up an archaeology course, so he did. When it came to the interview, he told the interviewer that he had always wanted to be an archaeologist. At which point she held up all the previous letters he’d written. But they admitted him, and he has now had a career teaching and excavating in places like Egypt.

He states that sometimes the pseudoarchaeology about a period or culture misses the point about what’s really interesting about it. He talks about the idea that the Sphinx was constructed before the pyramids, and admits that it’s actually a reasonable question. But if you go back to the predynastic period a thousand years before the pyramids were built, you come to the burial sites of one of Egypt’s first kings. This is fascinating, although you wouldn’t know it from the dry way it has been discussed in conferences and museums like the Petrie Museum. Excellent though these are, they talk about highly specialised subjects like pot typography which is excruciatingly dull if you want to know the wider picture. The early king’s tomb is composed of room after room of the bodies of the people and occasionally the animals that were slaughtered to accompany the king into the afterlife.

The interview is based on a book Wengrow wrote with a colleague, The Dawn of Everything. Sadly, after spending a decade writing it, the co-author died just a few weeks after its completion. The book has been widely praised, and has even inspired artistic pieces. He talks about a French woman, who composed a piece of music based on it. He regrets he was unable to attend its performance thanks to jet lag coming back from somewhere, but later met the lady when she came to Britain.

I know a little about some of what he’s talking about to have no doubt that he’s absolutely right. One of the seminars in the archaeology department at Bristol, which I attended, was about how cities like Catalhuyuk were established before the appearance of agriculture. One of the huge Neolithic sites in the Ukraine is discussed in the La Rousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology. The great mound of Cahokia is also discussed in a book I bought years ago on North American Indian archaeology. I wasn’t aware that the people of Stonehenge had given up growing crops, nor of the democratic city states in South America and Mexico. This is fascinating stuff.

He’s right about archaeology contradicting the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers about the origins of society, though I’m not sure how much of a problem this is. The philosophers he discusses – Hobbes and Rousseau – were Social Contract theorists. Social Contract theory is the idea that the state and society were set up when men came together to select an authority under whom they would live, so that their lives and property would be protected. Thus the first kings. These princes are the representatives of the people, and so from the 17th century onwards the idea developed that sovereignty lay with the people, who could revoke the power they had delegated to the prince. This was the view of John Locke. However, subsequent philosophers showed that this was just conjecture, and that it could have happened like that as the people at the time were using concepts that only subsequently developed after the foundation of states and kingdoms. I thought Social Contract theory was dead, and he closest it had to a modern advocate was John Rawls in his Theory of Justice. Rawls argued that if people were just disembodied entities wishing to chose the kind of society in which they would care to live, they would choose one that had the maximum freedom and justice for everyone, as that would also include them. Away from centrist politics, the anarchists have been keenly interested in anthropology and those indigenous societies where there is no central authority.

I’m not sure how well some of this would go down with Sargon of Akkad and the Lotus Eaters. They’ve developed an interest in archaeology, recently posting a video discussing Homo Erectus, along with the Norman Conquest and ancient Rome. But Sargon is a huge fan of John Locke and describes himself as a classical liberal. I don’t know whether archaeology’s findings about the origin of early states would contradict his ideas or not.

Sketches of Another Three British Comedy Heroes

November 22, 2022

Here are three more pictures of British comedy legends of a certain era for your enjoyment: Ken Dodd, Tony Hancock and Michael Bentine.

Ken Dodd is also remembered for the Diddymen from Knotty Ash, which I think was the suburb of Liverpool where he came from. I can remember him being on television with them when I was very young. They were originally puppets, but I can remember a later programme in which they were played by children in a musical number. Dodd was a real trouper, carrying on performing right to the end of his life. He was also notorious for running well over time. I heard at one performance in Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside town just south of Bristol, he carried on performing so long after he was supposed to have ended that the janitor threw the keys onto the stage. As well as the Diddymen his act also involved his notorious Tickling Stick. It was years before I realised it was an ordinary duster and you could get them in Woolworths.

He ran afoul of the taxman in the late 80s/ 90s, and I’ve heard two versions of that story. One is that he really was dodging taxes and had all the money he owed the Inland Revenue hidden in boxes in his attic. This was supposed to be because he had a very poor childhood and that had made him reluctant to part with money. The other version I heard was that he sent it all to the taxman, as demanded, but didn’t say which department and so it just got lost. His problems with the taxman was at just about the same time the jockey Lester Pigott also got caught not paying it. This resulted in a postcard I found in Forever People in Bristol showing Ken Dodd and Pigott on stage in pantomime. Pigott was riding a pantomime horse, while down from the sky was a giant hand pointng at them, saying ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell undeclared income!’

Although he’s been off the TV for years now, there are still DVDs of his performances, particularly the Audience he did on ITV. And way back in the 90s I also found a tape of him telling jokes. Since his heyday in the ’70s, comedy has become far more observational, but his jokes were still funny. One I remember went, ‘What a day, what a day, missus, for going to Trafalgar Square and throwing white paint over the pigeons shouting, ‘Hah! See how you like it!’

Tony Hancock – what can you say? He truly is a British comedy legend. He’s been called a genius, though one critic said that his genius really consisted in performing the scripts written by Galton and Simpson. Even so, they were absolute classics of British comedy and a couple of them, The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor, really are comedy classics. On the radio he was supported by a cast of brilliant actors – Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques. This was cut down to Sid James when the series was transferred to TV, and then even further until Hancock became the sole regular character. His series were on record – I used to listen to them when I was at school and are also on DVD. He also made a series, not written by Galton and Simpson, when he was in Australia. That’s also available, I think, though I deliberately avoided watching it. It may just be prejudice, but I didn’t think it could ever be a patch on Galton and Simpson’s scripts.

Paul Merton, who seems to have given up performing comedy for appearing on panel shows, is a massive Hancock fan. A few years ago, he performed as Hancock in a series of remakes of classic Hancock episodes. I deliberately didn’t watch them, because with remakes I find that it doesn’t matter how good the actors are, you’re always comparing them with the original stars, and they just can’t compete. One of the cable/ satellite channels a few years back tried to remake Yes, Minister with a different cast. This flopped. I think it may have been that the audience it was aimed simply far preferred to see repeats of the original series with Paul Eddington and co. As well as TV, he also appeared in a number of films, such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and starred in two: The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man. The Punch and Judy Man, in which he plays that character in a seaside resort, is supposed to be the better film, but I prefer The Rebel. In this movie he plays an office clerk, who gives it up to become a painter in Paris. He’s a failure but becomes a celebrity artist after passing off a friend’s paintings as his own. It all comes crashing down when he’s invited aboard a millionaire’s yacht and the man’s wife wants to run off with him, just as he’s run out of the other fellow’s paintings to sell. Again, he has an excellent supporting cast, including John Le Mesurier as his exasperated boss and Irene Handl as his landlady, outraged at the nudity of his sculpture ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’. It’s also on DVD, and I think it’s brilliant.

Michael Bentine – another great actor and writer. He was, as I’m sure many people reading this well know, a member of the Goons, whom he left quite early on. He also had a number of his own series, including Square World and the one I remember, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time. This featured small ‘Potty’ puppets acting out various historical events, like the Battle of Waterloo. He had a similar puppet series, the Bumblies, which got MI5 interested in him. The Bumblies were puppets, but they were supposed to be operated by remote control. This would have been quite an advance at the time, as radio control was impossible because it interfered with the cameras and other equipment. According to Bentine, he left his house and got on the bus to go to work as usual one morning when he was met by someone from the security services, who asked him to follow him upstairs for a little chat. He wanted to know how the Bumblies worked. Bentine explained that they were puppets and not radio controlled at all. ‘Oh thank God!’ said the Man from the Ministry, ‘we thought you were going to defect!’ That gave Bentine the vision of Bumby Six hurtling towards Russia on a missile.

He was also very much into the paranormal, following his father, an engineer who was keenly interested in psychical research. Like the other Goons, he also fought in the Second World War, though he was a member of a bomber crew in the RAF. He was deeply anti-Fascist, and strongly believed that the Nazis had come to power through real black magic. In the 90s he toured the country with his one-man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal. I and a few friends went to see him when it came to Bristol. He was a hilarious raconteur, especially when describing how the army chased him round Britain to get him to join up when he was touring in repertory theatre. Wherever they were playing, his name was naturally on the cast list. When he asked the army, why they had ignored the posters for the theatre company when they finally caught up with him, they replied that they thought it was a ruse! During the performance he also demonstrated the power of the Nazis use of light and sound to mesmerise their audience. He described the Nuremberg rallies and the way it would start with the great searchlights blazing up into the sky as a ‘temple of light’. Then the drumbeats would start up, performed by the Hitler Youth, the twisted version of the boy scouts, and the soldiers and Nazis would start chanting ‘Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!’ He repeated this, getting louder each time, and the lighting in the theatre dropped. The atmosphere immediately changed, became far more sinister. Then he snapped out of it, and said, ‘Sorry to scare the sh*t out of you.’ A friend of mine told me later that wasn’t the reason he cut that bit short. He reckoned it was because some people were responding to it in the way the Nazis intended. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed the pair in one of the boxes who were nearly out of their seats giving the salute. He was very critical of the power of television and the way it could be used for propaganda and mass brainwashing and urged people to complain if they saw anything they found offensive.

I think he was also very scientifically interested and literate. He appeared a long time ago on the Beeb’s popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, presenting his own scheme for turning the Amazon jungle into productive farmland. And then there was the flea circus. This was entirely mechanical but was supposed to be worked by fleas performing high dives and so on. He was interviewed by Wogan when the dulcet-toned Irishman took over from Parkinson back in the 1980s. He told the broadcasting legend that he’d been stopped by customs when he tried to take it into America. The customs officer thought that he was bringing real fleas into the country. And so Bentine had to show him the entire act in order to convince him that it was, indeed, mechanical.

From the Sublime to the Paranormal was broadcast on the radio back in the ’90s. I don’t know whether it’s available on CD or on YouTube. He also wrote his autobiography and two books on spiritualism and the paranormal, The Door Marked Summer and Doors of the Mind. He was truly another great titan of British comedy.

Cartoon: The Secret of Boris Johnson’s Hair

November 3, 2022

This sketch was inspired by a comment left by one of this blog’s great readers about the cartoon of a bald Keir Starmer with his wig on a stand. They suggested that it would be funnier if about Boris Johnson and his unruly hair. It’s a great idea, and so here’s this piece which suggests that Johnson’s hair is an animal he’s trained to sit on his bald nut. Yes, it’s that old joke again! I think it’s also timely as mad rightist Mahyar Tousi has put up a piece about the vile Eton snob organising a conference to promote his legacy.

Which is what exactly?

Oh yes, mad, self-destructive nationalism, mass poverty, a wrecked economy and agriculture, the cavalier pollution of Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land, the privatisation of the NHS, the removal of democracy and its replacement by appointment by Conservative MPs and the further domination of politics by the privileged elite. Usually from Eton. Oh yes, and the substitution of lies and bluster for truth.

That’s his legacy.