Posts Tagged ‘Aristocracy’

Talk Radio’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Rod Liddle Get Upset about British Universities’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders

January 1, 2021

And now for a much more serious subject. The day before yesterday, 30th December 2020, Talk Radio posted this video on YouTube of one of their presenters, Kevin O’Sullivan, talking about the compilation of a Dictionary of British Slave Traders by a group of British universities with that fixture of the right-wing press, Rod Liddle. The project is led by a professor Pettigree, and involves the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and University College London. O’Sullivan quotes Prof. William Pettigree, who said that after Black Lives Matter it was important that there should be further, accurate information on the breadth of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. As you can imagine, neither O’Sullivan nor Liddle are fans of the project. Some of their arguments are good, but others are just them using the issue to ride the usual Conservative hobby horses of attacking state education.

Non-White Slave Trade Ignored

The Dictionary will have 6,500 entries, including small investors, women, and people, whose involvement in the Abominable Trade has not been mentioned before. O’Sullivan claims that this is a device for finding out whether a perfectly respectable living person had an ancestor 350 years ago, who invested £5 in a plantation, and then make their blameless descendant into a pariah and get them sacked. He states that we need the Dictionary ‘like a hole in the head’, denounces the obsession with the slave trade as a ‘national sickness’. Liddle, who is introduced as writing for the Sun, the Spectator and the Sun on Sunday, agrees, calling it ‘self-flagellating imbecilic obsessiveness’. He states that the Dictionary isn’t about anyone, but specifically the White English. It doesn’t mention the Ottoman Empire, the people, who profited from the slave trade in the West African countries, specifically Ghana. He states that he was in a cab a couple of months ago, whose driver was Ethiopian. The driver told him how much he hated Britain. When Liddle asked why, he was told that it was because Britain was the country that invented slavery and enslaved whole nations. He’d never heard of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the slavery that continued in his own country for hundreds of years after Britain had stopped it. He’d never heard of the fact that Britain was the first country to abolish it. Liddle also makes the point that Ethiopia, where it continued, had never been colonised. Liddle goes on to claim that universities are implanting in people’s minds the notion that it was only the British, who were slavers and had this wickedness. This is, he said, reflected in ‘that very stupid woman, who is head of the British Library’, Liz Joly, who said that ‘White people invented racism’. Liddle goes on about how we also invented television, the printing press, democracy, but we invented slavery, sin and mosquitoes. It’s utter rubbish and time we got over it.

The Coronavirus Lockdown Prevented Criticism of BLM at Football Matches

O’Sullivan dismisses Pettigree’s comments about the need for the Dictionary as nonsense, and describes the obsession with the slave trade as a kind of ‘national insanity’. He asks why the country is obsessing about the actions of slave traders who lived three centuries ago. Liddle says we’re not obsessing. It’s a tiny, tiny minority, who are obsessing. And they’ve been partly able to get away with it because of the Coronavirus. This has allowed footballers to take the knee in support of an organisation that wishes to abolish the family and capitalism. This wouldn’t have happened if there had been fans in the ground, because as soon as fans were allowed, they booed. This occurred not just at Liddle’s club, Millwall, but also at Colchester and Dallas in the US. They’ve got away with this because this year has meant the lone voice of the common sense public has not been heard. O’Sullivan agrees with him, stating that the people have been eclipsed by the lockdown and the authorities in politics and football have been allowed to proceed without comment from the public and fans. Liddle states that it’s a salutary lesson that when these restriction are placed on our lives, there is nothing they won’t try to get away with. He then goes to tilt at the Beeb, stating that they used the Coronavirus as an excuse to ban the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule, Britannia’.

Liddle Attacks his Daughter’s State School for views on British Empire

O’Sullivan agrees with him that the obsession with slavery and the ‘Woke’ thing is that of a tiny, tiny minority, who are vocal and noisy. He hopes that in this coming year, 2021, the Dictionary never gets published, and that the people’s voice gets heard and we are able to push back against these noisy people. Liddle then describes how, when his daughter went to state school last year, she was taught in her history lessons, which went uncontested, that the reason Africa was in poverty was because of colonialism. He states that this is easy to disprove, as Ethiopia, which was never colonised, is exactly the same as Eritrea. Both countries are equally impoverished and despotic. Liberia, which was never colonised, is as badly off as Sierra Leone next door. Singapore, on the other hand, was colonised for 200 years, and is the most affluent country in the world. There is, Liddle claims, a reluctance to face the truth because of this liberal mindset. This is based on a fallacy, which falls apart if you pick at it.

O’Sullivan then asks Liddle if they teach Critical Race Theory at his daughter’s school. This ‘controversial and very dubious philosophy’ is being taught in schools all over the country, which states that if you’re White, you’re racist, even if you don’t think you are. He states that it’s fine if adults want to learn this nonsense, but really dangerous to teach it to children in schools. Liddle again agrees with him, says he’s sure his daughter was, and that they got her out of it not just because they were teaching ‘that rubbish’, but because most of the time they weren’t teaching at all. There were no lesson during the Covid outbreak, not even online, O’Sullivan jokes that it was probably better that she was getting no lessons at all then. Liddle replies that she got lessons from him on how the British Empire brought decency and democracy to the world as a corrective for five minutes.

Rod Liddle criticises ‘self-flagellating’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders – YouTube

There are several issues to unpack here. Firstly, if the Dictionary was only an academic exercise in researching the depth of British public involvement in the slave trade, then I don’t think there should be any objection to its compilation and publication. There’s already been considerable research on the subject. A little while ago one historian of the subject said that they were actually astonished by how widespread participation in the slave trade and slavery was, with ordinary members of the public investing their money in it. In fact you could easily produce a list of British slaveowners simply by going through the government’s Blue Book published c. 1840 for the compensation given to the slaveowners after abolition. From the 1820s onwards the British government passed legislation designed to halt the illegal importation of slaves in their colonies by passing legislation demanding that all slaves be registered. This could also be used. The compensation returns and slave registries might have some surprises for those, who believe that only White people owned slaves. Several of the slaveowners in the Caribbean included the Maroons, the free Black communities outside British law. I also believe, though I’m not sure, that the free people of colour, the free Black population, may also have owned slaves.

Real Danger of Innocent People Demonised for Ancestors’ Involvement

O’Sullivan’s claim that the book would be used to denounce and pillory perfectly decent people for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago is hysterical, but unfortunately also a real possibility. I had to make a similar decision myself when I was working in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It seemed that there was a strong possibility that some of the people described as slavers may have been the remote ancestors of people I knew personally. I had to think very carefully about telling them, and was eventually advised against it by one of their close friends. They told me that I shouldn’t tell this person about their possible connection to the slave trade, because they were very anti-racist themselves and the information would only upset them. I’ve no doubt that this is true of very many people. I also think that behind some of outrage from O’Sullivan and Liddle, but which goes unspoken, is the fear that it will be used by activists to demand reparations for slavery. I’m not sure how much this will affect ordinary people, though. In the 18th and 19th centuries most people in this country were the ‘labouring poor’, who comprised 90 per cent of the population. These had problems enough paying for food, clothing and accommodation. They wouldn’t have had the disposable income to invest in anything, never mind slaves or plantations, even if they were so inclined. Really we’re only talking about the middle classes and aristocracy as investors and slaveowners. Reparations for slavery are a different issue, but this has its dangers too. Over time, many of the wealthy or comfortably off people, who owned slaves, will have lost their money. All it would take to cause real controversy and angry backlash is if poorly paid people struggling to make ends meet get a demand for reparations from richer Black people. If that happens, you can expect the story to be all over the Heil, Depress and the rest of the press like a rash.

Need to Teach Extra-European, Islamic and Asian Slavery and Slave Trade

I also agree with O’Sullivan and Liddle that more should be taught about extra-European slavery. This includes that of the Arabs and Muslims in north Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic slave trade from east Africa across the Indian Ocean. Liddle is also quite right about the Ethiopians practising the slave trade. Way back in the 19th century we sent a punitive expedition into Abyssinia to stop them raiding British territory for slaves. One of the books we had in the library at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was Major Darnley’s Slaves and Ivory. This was published in the early part of the 20th century and described Darnley’s own personal undercover investigation of slavery within the Abyssinian empire. Darnley published the book to make the public aware that the Abyssinians were still raiding British Uganda for slaves, and that the Ethiopian princes were destroying whole regions of their own empire through such raids. He wished to generate sufficient outrage that public opinion would swing behind a British invasion of the country. Dame Kathleen Simon, a determined foe of slavery, actually praised Mussolini and the Italian Fascists in her book on it for their invasion of Abyssinia, which she felt would at least extinguish slavery there. I do think there is a real need to teach this aspect of the slave trade to counter the notion that it was only Britain that was only, or primarily responsible for it. Britain wasn’t the first country to outlaw it – that was Denmark – but we were the leading country to do so and insist that other nations follow.

The East African Slave Trade in the 19th Century, from James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006) 129.

Concentration on Western Slave Trade Product of Black Rights’ Movement

Research into the historic slave trade has been linked with the campaign for Black liberation since the time of W.E.B. Dubois. Hence the fixation on it by contemporary anti-racist activists. Driving this is the continued impoverishment and disadvantaged condition of the Black community as a whole. But real, Black chattel slavery has re-emerged in Libya and in sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda. There is little interest in combating slavery there. When right-wing critics urged western anti-racist activists to do so, the response has been that it should be ignored as a distraction from continued demands for racial equality here in the West. Kate Maltby, a White contributor to the I, made that argument in its pages a few months ago. She has a point, but it’s still no reason to ignore real slavery as it exists now in order to concentrate on angry denunciations for past crimes. There are books published on non-European slavery. Jeremy Black includes it alongside western slavery in one of his books. James Walvin includes maps of the African and Indian slave trade and routes alongside transatlantic slavery in his Atlas of Slavery. There are books on African slavery, and there is a particular study of the Islamic slave trade, Islam’s Black Slaves: A History of the Other Black Diaspora, by Ronald Segal. I think, however, that there may be some objection to teaching about these slave trades from some anti-racist activists, who may feel that it would somehow be racist or even islamophobic to do so.

Liddle Promoting Privatisation of State Education with Comments

But as you can hear from the video, O’Sullivan and Liddle were also determined to use the issue of slavery to attack other right-wing bugbears. Like the Coronavirus lockdown. This is there to save lives, but it’s too much for the right, who favour the economy at the expense of people’s lives. Hence the rant about footballers taking the knee for Black Lives Matter. Liddle also uses it, surprise, surprise! – to attack state education. We’ve been this way before. I remember the rants of the right-wing press under Thatcher, when the Scum, Heil, Depress and the rest ran stories about children in state schools being indoctrinated with left-wing propaganda, like Peace Studies, while anti-racist fanatics in Brent forced them to sing suitably altered nursery rhymes like ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’. That was a lie put out by the Scum, supposedly, but I’ve met people, who swore they sang it at school. Thatcher used those fears to push through her creation of academy schools, telling the British public that it would put them in control of their children’s education. And this would be taken out of the hands of evil, left-wing Local Education Authorities. In fact, Thatcher’s academy school programme was a complete flop. It was being wound up by Norman Fowler before Blair took the idea out of the Tory dustbin, dusted it off and then made it official Labour policy. And unfortunately the wretched schemes been going ever since. In fact academy schools are not better than state schools and are far more expensive. They should be wound up and education renationalised. But this would upset the parasites running the academies. I don’t think it’s an accident that Liddle came out to rant against state education when he writes for the Scum, as Dirty Rupe would like to move into education as well.

Neo-Colonialism and African Poverty

As for the terrible condition of modern Africa and the legacy of British colonialism, it’s quite true that much of the continent’s problems don’t come from it, but from the rapacious venality and ruthless tyranny of their post-independence rulers. But we took over these countries partly to exploit their resources, and their poverty is partly caused by the Neo-colonial economic system that prevents them from industrialising and confines them to exporting raw materials to the Developed World. I can remember being taught all this in ‘A’ Level Geography nearly forty years ago from teachers, who were definitely not Marxists trying to indoctrinate us. As for the success of Singapore, this can be used to support the socialism Liddle and O’Sullivan fear and despise. Singapore’s leaders were influenced by the Fabians and their belief that the state should take a leading role in the economy. Singapore ain’t a socialist country, but its success does refute Thatcherite free market economics.

While O’Sullivan and Liddle thus are quite reasonable in their criticisms of the proposed Dictionary, they are using it as a tool to promote a wider, right-wing agenda. One that will cause further poverty and endanger lives, but will benefit their paymasters in the press barons and big business.

Video of Me Playing the ‘Rights of Man’ Hornpipe

December 16, 2020

Here’s a bit of British folk music from the radical tradition. I’ve just put up on my YouTube channel a short, six minute video of myself playing, or trying to play, an 18th century hornpipe celebrating The Rights of Man, one of the books of the great 18th century English radical democrat, Tom Paine. He was born the son of a Thetford staymaker, and a supporter of the American Revolution. His pamphlet, Common Sense, was written to defend it, and attacks the institutions of the British monarchy and aristocracy. He was initially a supporter of the French Revolution, but turned against that as a perversion of his principles. The Rights of Man was written as a defence of republicanism. Although it was massively popular with a print run of 200,000 copies, it was denounced by the upper classes up and down Britain and burned on village greens before being finally banned by royal decree. Not surprisingly it still had a huge underground circulation in Scotland and Ireland. Paine eventually emigrated to America where he died. I think he was too radical for the Americans, although The Rights of Man was praised and regarded as highly influential by several American presidents. Unfortunately, his remains weren’t allowed to rest quietly. A fan, John Cobbett, dug them up and brought them back to Blighty. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt and the skeleton was seized as an asset, before it was ruled that it wasn’t. The skeleton disappeared and no-one knows what has happened to it.

I found the sheet music to this, as well as a brief description of Paine’s life and career, which I read out in the video, in Robin Williamson’s English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). I play it on a keyboard, but with the setting on violin so that it sounds as it was originally intended to be played. Or as close I can manage it. The arrangement printed in the book is Scots.

Rights of Man Hornpipe – YouTube

History Debunked on the Anachronistic Casting of Black Actors to Play Ann Boleyn and Queen Caroline

December 14, 2020

One of the complains raised by some members of the right against the demands for more Black presenters and actors on screen is that it represents a form of cultural colonisation. The past is deliberately being re-shaped to suit the multicultural present. The right-wing internet YouTuber, Alex Belfield, has argued that by the Beeb’s standards, Blacks are actually overrepresented on television. At the moment British Black and Asian population constitutes about 13 per cent of the overall population, but form 22 per cent of the presenters, performers and broadcast on the box. It’s why he choose in one of his videos to attack the Beeb for wasting even more license-payers’ money on someone to head a diversity department. He maintained that the problem wasn’t the underrepresentation of Blacks and Asians in front of the camera. It was that they weren’t represented in the ranks of BBC management, which remained very White and middle class.

There are a number of recent and forthcoming adaptations of classic literature, in which Blacks and Asians have been cast in traditionally White roles. And so Blacks have been cast to appear in the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, Philip Pullman’s Fantasy series, His Dark Materials, and Dev Patel, who played the Master in the last series of Dr. Who, appeared in a colour blind, multi-ethnic version of Dickens and is due to star in an adaptation of the medieval story, Gawain and the Green Knight. There’s also a version of the Lord of the Rings planned by the Corporation, in which a third of the cast will be Black or Asian with Lenny Henry.

But this desire to recast White characters with Blacks isn’t confined to fiction. Channel 5 has announced that it has cast a Black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, to play Ann Boleyn in a three part series about Henry VIII’s second wife. And Netflix has also chosen a Black actress to play Queen Caroline in its regency romance, Bridgerton.

History Debunked’s Simon Webb has posted several videos about this. He was rather incensed by the decision to recast one of the characters in The Secret Garden as Black, and describes how there was some popular criticism of a similar recasting in His Dark Materials. However, he says that left-wingers and progressives answered that by arguing that the role was fiction, and that Pullman never specified what colour the character was.

That argument, however, cannot be used to defend the false representation of Boleyn and Caroline as Blacks. He views this as a deliberate attempt to colonise the past so that it resembles what he describes as the ‘bastardised’ multicultural present. It is also not being done in a vacuum. There are Blacks, who believe that Queen Caroline really was Black, as was James I of England/VI of Scotland, and Edward III’s son, Henry, the Black Prince. This recasting of real, historical figures has to be resisted because it is actively falsifying history to make it appear that Blacks had a far greater role in shaping history than they did.

Here’s the video about Ann Boleyn.

Jodie Turner-Smith to play Ann Boleyn – YouTube

The idea that Queen Caroline was Black comes from the fact that she was partly descended from a thirteenth century Spanish Moorish prince. The Moors in Islamic Spain – al-Andalus – were Arabs and Berbers, rather than Black Africans. Caroline herself was so far removed from her Moorish ancestor that any Black ancestry she had wouldn’t have been expressed physically. She was a German princess, and so would have been White in appearance.

A black queen in Netflix’ new series Bridgerton – YouTube

See also:

New, multicultural versions of two classics of English literature – YouTube

TV Diversity Is NOT A Problem 🇬🇧 22% 📺 BBC Give Us Back The £100,000,000! – YouTube

Multi-Racial Casting Already in Theatre

I think there are also a number of other factors driving this trend. Multiracial casting has been around in the theatre for a very long time. I think as far back as the 1990s Black and Asians actors were being cast in traditionally White roles in Shakespeare. I remember an article in the Independent or the I came out a few years ago commenting that such casting was accepted by audiences, even when people of different ethnicities played members of the same family. There was also something of a furore a few years ago when the Black opera singer, Willard White, was cast as Odin in Wagner’s Ring. What seems to be happening is simply that this same process is being extended to film and TV. The Dickens’ adaptation that came out recently not only starred Dev Patel as the central character, but also had members of the same family played by actors of different races. It was made by Armando Iannucci, one of the brains behind the comedy news programme, The Day Today and other shows in the 1990s.

Few Explicitly Black Parts and the Metropolitan Bubble

I also believe that it’s due to the fact that there are too few parts specifically for Black and Asian actors. That’s been the complaint voiced by one of the Black activists pushing for the greater inclusion of Black performers when he was interviewed in the I a little while back. Blacks and Asians are minorities, and generally are under represented in the upper ranks of society. Hence the demand for colour blind casting and that directors should be willing to cast Blacks and Asians. It also seems to me to be also partly a product of the metropolitan bubble in which the media and its chiefs live. Over a third of London’s population is Black and Asian, and I think there’s an automatic assumption that somehow this is true of the rest of Britain. Some Black activists and performers have been really shocked to find that there are large parts of Britain with hardly any people like themselves. Years ago the late Black actor and comedian, Felix Dexter, appeared on the panel in an edition of the News Quiz, which came from Edinburgh. He expressed his surprise that there were areas of Scotland with hardly a Black face to be seen. While undoubtedly true, his surprise struck me as also a tiny bit racist in itself. There was an element of complaint in it, as if it was somehow a defect that these places happened to be nearly all White. It reminded me a bit of the comments by Victorian explorers about going into parts of Black Africa and elsewhere previously untouched by the White man. I’m sure Dexter and those, who share his views would have been horrified by the comparison, but I believe it’s a true one.

Selling Programmes to a Non-White Foreign Audience

I also wonder if it’s also driven by a need to sell these programmes abroad. Blacks constitute something like 10-13 per cent of the American population, and together with Asians constitute 25 per cent of the American population. I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will also be seeking to sell the programmes to Black majority and Asian countries, such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and so on. Hence the decision to cast Black and Asian actors may well come from a desire to appeal to foreign, non-White audiences.

Dangers of the Falsification of History

I wouldn’t have a problem with this, were it not for two reasons. I’m afraid that it really will result in a falsification of history. If it was just a case of TV companies trying to reach new audiences in line with present, multicultural sensibilities, I’d be perfectly happy with it. Provided that the audience understood that what they were seeing was fiction. They they understood that Queen Caroline and Ann Boleyn weren’t really Black, and that Victorian and medieval Britain weren’t as multicultural as today’s London. But I really don’t think they do. And this is going to be a particular problem with some Blacks, who believe that their history has already been appropriated by Whites. This is very much the case with Afro-Centric History and ancient Egypt. All the Black people I’ve met have believed that the ancient Egyptians were Black. This isn’t unreasonable. They portrayed themselves as darker than the other peoples further north and east, like the Minoans and the Semitic peoples of Canaan and the Ancient Near East. Examination of human skeletons from ancient Egyptian tombs show that many were more Black African in appearance than previously assumed, and certainly the sculpture of Queen Ty shows her as being very Black. On the other hand the Egyptians portrayed the African peoples further south, such as those of Nubia, to be much darker than themselves. I also don’t think that the ancient historians, like Herodotus, described them as Black. Herodotus was well aware of Black African peoples and tribes, like the Ethiopians, but he doesn’t describe the Egyptians as one of them, at least, not that I can remember. It isn’t unreasonable by any means to believe the Egyptians were Black, but there’s also room for debate. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some really bonkers conspiracy theories about the supposed White appropriation of the ancient Egyptians. One Black American I knew at college claimed that the reason so many statues from ancient Egypt had chipped or missing noses and lips was because the European archaeologists deliberately removed them in order to hide their African identity. It’s a paranoid, ludicrous idea, though you can’t really blame people for believing it. Black people have historically been abused and exploited, so it’s to be expected that this sense of exploitation, and that they are being deliberately denied a glorious history, should extend to one of the most famous and brilliant of ancient civilisations.

But I’m very much afraid that once the decision is taken to cast Blacks as real, historical figures, some people will genuinely believe that these figures really were Black, and that those evil Whites have falsified history once more to hide their true racial origins.

There is also the problem that recasting the past so that it appears more multicultural than it really was may also lead to modern audiences not realising just how hard a struggle Blacks and Asians had to gain their freedom. Nearly a year ago now Mr H of the YouTube channel Mr H Reviews raised this objection to the Beeb’s new adaptation of that horror classic, Dracula. The convent to which Harker flees for help and medical treatment in Budapest is shown as multiracial, with many of the nuns Black and Asian. He felt that this was anachronistic, though I’m told by a friend of mine with a greater knowledge of church history that the Roman Catholic convents in the city were staffed with people from the missions to Asia and elsewhere, so it’s possible there would have been Black and Asian nuns there.

In the case of regency Britain and the upper ranks of society, intermarriage between Whites and Blacks wasn’t unknown, but it was rare. A few years ago back in the ’90s Radio 4 did a programme about the Black son of a White planter or British aristocrat, who had a glittering political career as an MP and ended up, I believe, as the sheriff of Monmouthshire. One the other hand, when Major Moody came to write his report in the 1820s on whether Blacks were ready for their emancipation, he argued that they would never be accepted and treated fairly by White society. Part of his argument was that there were so few marriages between Whites and Blacks among the upper classes. Moody’s wife was Black, and so his report and its conclusion that the enslaved population of the British empire weren’t yet ready for their freedom was a real shock. But if Queen Caroline is presented as a Black woman, it obviously contradicts Moody’s own observation. And his observation and the argument it supports shows just how strong racial prejudice was among some sections of the populace in 19th century Britain.

Double Standards on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

My other problem with this is that of the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’. This only seems to go one way. Black involvement and participation in White culture is actively encouraged and its absence condemned and deplored as a form of racism. But this doesn’t go the other way. When Whites adopt non-White culture, it’s condemned as a form of cultural theft. In the case of those cultures that have been colonised and nearly destroyed by White expansion and imperialism, like the Amerindians and Aboriginal Australians, this is fair enough. But there should surely be no objection to the casting of White actors as Black characters in works by Black and Asian writers and playwrights. Not if it’s done as part of a multi-ethnic cast and avoids the obviously offensive, like blacking up. But I’ve yet to see a White actor cast in a Black part in an adaptation of one of Wole Soyinka’s works, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I therefore feel that Webb has a point when he attacks it as a form of cultural colonisation. Because until Whites are allowed to play Black roles, that’s what it is.

I’m prepared to accept that the portrayal of myths and literary characters on screen is changing as society changes, and that mostly this harmless. Dickens, Shakespeare and medieval classics like Chaucer and Gawain are great tales, and should appeal to everyone, regardless of their colour. But I have grave reservations about the decision to do the same to historical figures.

It might be well intentioned, but too many people may believe it’s fact, and so a mythical, false history created.

JLM-Backed Candidate for Young Labour Chair Withdraws After Commenting on ‘Good-looking’ Nazis

November 21, 2020

Oh the irony! After years of twisting comments by their opponents to smear them as anti-Semites and Fascists, some of the folks with the JLM are getting a taste of their own medicine. According to an article in the Morning Star, Eluned Anderson, one of the candidates for the Young Labour leadership, was the regional ambassador for the Holocaust Education Trust and had the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement. However, she had to withdraw after she called two of the most notorious Nazis ‘incredibly good-looking’. This was on the Facebook page of the Young Free Speech Society, where another member had asked “Have you ever met/seen/know [sic] of a physically attractive Nazi?” She replied “Look, I know they were evil bastards, but Eichmann and a young Ribbentrop were incredibly good looking.” This naturally upset many people, most obviously Jews, whose family were murdered by the Nazis. Anderson apologised, and said there was no call for her comment. It was stupid, she said, and she was stupid to make it.

What makes it ironic is that she was one of the people, who had posted on social media that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-Semite, and Rebecca Long-Bailey was a racist. David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialist Group, therefore remarked that her tweet showed how cynical that was.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/young-labour-chair-candidate-withdraws-over-comments-about-incredibly-good-looking

Hoisted by her own petard! Ho-ho! But unfortunately, she did have a point. The Aristotelian view, that one’s physical appearance reflects the state of one’s soul, so that those with beautiful souls are themselves physically beautiful, isn’t true. You don’t want to say anything remotely complimentary about these monsters, but it is a fact that some of the most horrific tyrants in history were good-looking people, and used their attractiveness in their drive to power. In his paranoia and megalomania, Stalin murdered 30 million Soviet citizens. But he had been good-looking chap in his youth, and had reputation as a seducer. As well as fancying himself, Hitler also had legions of female followers and did his level best to exploit this. This photograph of the Nazi leader is in the 1936 English translation of Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’, published by Paternoster Press. It clearly shows Hitler trying to pose as best he can as some physically attractive, as well as the dynamic, charismatic leader.

Years ago there was an item on Radio 4 which included a woman, who had been a member of the resistance against Hitler in either Germany and Austria. She stated that the girls in her class all found Hitler attractive with the very definite exception of herself. Historians have noted that Hitler had many aristocratic women admirers, and he deliberately reserved the first two rows at Nazi meetings and rallies for women because they would take the rest of the crowd with them when swayed by his oratory.

And it wasn’t just Hitler. Mussolini was, like Stalin, also a thug and a seducer. But he also had legions of female fans. Christopher Duggan discusses the mass of mail the Duce received from women besotted with him in his book Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy (London: Vintage Books 2013). The British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, was a promiscuous adulterer who had a string of affairs with the wives of various other aristos.

Now many of the Nazis were indeed physically repulsive. Not just Hitler, but also Goebbels, Goering and Himmler, but the sad fact is, not every murderous thug looks it. If all Nazis and Fascists were ugly bruisers with beer guts, then it would be easy to see them for what they were and fight against them. But they’re not. Monsters can be good-looking people, just as people who aren’t physically attractive can be noble, decent and good. This is why it’s important to look beyond stereotypes and superficial impressions, in order to see the real character beneath.

And it is important to remember, if just as a warning, that some people did think Hitler and the rest sexy, and so supported them. Which is why people should never judge politicos by their looks.

Gotz von Berlichingen’s Account of How He Got His Iron Hand

November 16, 2020

One of the landmarks in the history of artificial limbs was the iron hand specially made for the German knight, Gotz von Berlichingen after his own was shot off by the Nuremberg forces at a battle at Landshut in Germany. Berlichingen was in born in 1480 in Wurttemberg, where his family were knights. G.G. Coulton includes his description of how got had his real hand shot off and an iron one made so that he could continue his military career, in his collection of medieval texts, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967), vol. 2: 135-7 along with a number of other stories from the old soldier’s memoirs. Coulton states that Berlingen has been described as the last of the robber barons. From 1541 onwards he fought for the German emperor Charles V in a series of wars, first against the invading Turks, and then against the French. The great German poet and playwright Goethe wrote a play based on his life, and Coulton claim that the romanticism of his memoirs influenced Sir Walter Scott. Von Berlichingen’s account of the loss of his hand is as follows:

I will now tell how I came by my wound. You must know that on Sunday, as I have related above, while we were skirmishing again under the walls of Landshut, the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon friend and foe alike. The enemy had taken up a strong position on a dyke, and I would fain have broken a spear with one of them. But as I held myself still and watched for an occasion, suddenly the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon us; and one of them, with a field-culverin, shot in two my sword-hilt, so that the one half entered right into my arm, and three armplates therewithall; the sword-hilt lay so deep in the armplates that it could not be seen. I marvel even now that I was not thrown from my horse; the armplates were still whole; only the corners, which had been bent by the blow, stood forth a little. The other half of the sword-hilt and the blade were bent, but not severed; and these, I believe, tore off my hand betwixt the gauntlet and the arm-piece: my arm was shattered behind and before. When I marked now that my hand hung loose by the skin, and that my spear lay under my horse’s feet, I made as though nothing had befallen me, turned my horse softly round, and, in spite of all, came back to my own folk without let or hindrance from the enemy. Just then there came up an old spearman, who would have ridden into the thick of the fray: him I called to me, and besought that he would stay at my side, since he must see how matters stood with me. So he tarried with me at my prayer, and then he must needs fetch me the leech. When I came to Landshut, my old comrades told me who had fought in the battle against me, and in what wise I had been shot, and that a nobleman, Fabian von Wallsdorf, a Voiglander, and been struck and slain by the same shot, not withstanding that it had struck me first; so that in this wise both friend and foe took harm alike. This nobleman was a fair and goodly gentleman, such that among many thousands you would scarce find any goodlier to behold…

From that time forth, from the Sunday after St. Vitus’ day until Ash Wednesday, I lay in Landshut; and what pain at that time I suffered, each may well imagine for himself. It was my prayer to God that, if I stood indeed in His divine grace, then in His own name He might bear me away to Himself, since I was spoiled now for a fighting man. Yet then I bethought me of a man at arms of whom I had heard my father and old old troopers tell, whose name was Kochli, and who also had but one hand, notwithstanding which he could do his devoir against his foe in the field as well as any other man. Then I prayed to God, and considered within myself that, had I even twelve hands, and His grace and help stood not by me, then were all in vain. Therefore, thought I, might I but get me some little help by means of an iron hand, then I would prove myself as doughty in the field, in spite of all, as any other maimed man. I have ridden since then with Kochli’s sons, who were trusty horsemen and well renowned. And in all truth I can think and say nought else, – now that for wellnigh sixty years I have waged wars, feuds and quarrels with but one fist,-but that God Almighty, Everlasting and Merciful, hath stood wondrously and most graciously by me and at my side in all my wars, feuds, perils

Coulton’s book also has an illustration of the iron hand, based on a engraving preserved by the family.

As you can see, it seems to be an adaptation of the gauntlet and armour for the arm. I think the great 16th century French doctor and surgeon, Pare, created similar artificial limbs, and it shows that medieval science and medicine were rather more advanced than the usual received view of superstitious ignorance. Berlichingen and his hand seem to me to be a great model for a Fantasy or SF character, and I do wonder if Michael Moorcock used him as the basis for the artificial hand wielded by his hero, Corum, who is, like far more famous Elric of Melnibone, another incarnation of his Eternal Champion.

To Fight the Tories and the Racists, Labour Should Platform More White Working Class Speakers

October 19, 2020

This is not by any means a criticism of the Labour party’s great Black and Asian MPs, activists and ordinary members and supporters, like Dawn Butler and Diane Abbot. It is simply a case of effectively mobilising White working class support for Labour, which necessarily and rightly includes non-White politicos and supporters to combat Tory propaganda.

Much Conservative rhetoric aimed at winning over White working class support presents the Labour party as profoundly, traitorously anti-British. BAME anti-racist activists, like Diane Abbot, are criticised and abused by the right, and particularly the far right, as people who actively hate traditional British culture and wish to see it destroyed. This nasty rhetoric was ramped up several notches a few weeks ago with the controversy over the Beeb’s supposed ban of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms. This was to show that the Beeb was run by anti-patriotic lefty liberals. In fact it was nothing of the support. It was simply a response to the regulations imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. Although they have been eased, they still prohibit public singing. It’s why those churches, which have reopened, now use recorded music while the congregation remains silent. In one way, it’s almost like a return to the Middle Ages, when it was only the clergy who participated in the ritual of the mass while the congregation heard it. I’m not surprised that the ban did cause controversy. There have been allegations before, including by Private Eye, that the Prom’s producers at the Beeb are acutely uncomfortable with the performance of the two classic pieces, and would like to stop their performance. But that wasn’t the case this year. Also, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is much more than a jingoistic ditty. It’s lyrics include lines about ‘justice and equality’, civilised values that should be at the heart of liberal society.

And I’m afraid this rhetoric and the xenophobic nationalism is going to increase with the failure of Brexit. It now looks like Britain is going to exit the EU without a deal. So much for all the Leaver talk from Johnson, Gove etc about oven ready deals and that making trade arrangements with the EU would be so simple, they weren’t worth worrying about. The EU would be so desperate to make one, they’d come running to us. Anybody who said otherwise was being un-patriotic and trying to terrify the British public unnecessarily with ‘Project Fear’.

But the Remoaners, as the Brexiteers have dubbed them, have been amply proved right. Boris and his cohorts told businesses that they wouldn’t have to worry about complex paperwork to carry on trading with the EU. Everything would be simple and straightforward. But our industry is suffering because Johnson and the rest haven’t provided clear guidance for them. In addition, we now have two tariff borders, one in the Irish Sea, and another in Kent. A no-deal Brexit means that we could be faced with shortages of food and medicines. The Tories are desperately trying to negotiate a deal with America, but this will mean lowering our food hygiene standards to their abysmal levels. This will do preciously little for the economy, but it will harm our farmers.

Brexit will increase poverty, despair and starvation.

There were genuinely left-wing, anti-racist peeps, who voted ‘leave’, and with entirely understandable reasons. Our farmers and fishing industry was hit by the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy was designed for small scale, peasant agriculture such as practiced in France and Germany. It did not suit highly mechanised farming employing relatively few people, which is the case in Britain. And the opening up of British waters to foreign fishing decimated our own fishing fleet. Tony Benn and others in the Labour party foresaw this. It’s why they opposed our entry into the EU at the time of the 1970s referendum.

But many Brexiteers are racist, and Brexit was presented as a way of stopping further immigration. Apart from the furore over the Proms, there has also been very vehement criticism of the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France. The numbers involved are trivial compared to those who legally immigrate here. The people crossing the Channel in flimsy, makeshift boats and dinghies do so because other, legal means of entering Britain have been closed. But you wouldn’t know that from arch-Tory right-wingers like Alex Belfield. They are attacked as illegal immigrants, a potential threat to the communities in which they are housed, and the left blamed for encouraging them to cross, which puts the migrants themselves in danger. Belfield would like them intercepted by the navy, or deterred from crossing altogether. The liberals and left-wingers defending the migrants wish to have proper legal channels opened up for these migrants, so that they wouldn’t have to risk their lives crossing the Channel.

At the same time, Belfield and other right-wing opponents of immigration present the left as very middle class, out of touch and actively hostile to the White working class. Belfield in his videos rants about how the BBC is dominated by Guardian reading, chinos wearing, latte sipping lefty snowflakes, who all, of course, eat avocado toast. Right-wing organisations like the New Culture Forum and hacks like Douglas Murray have put videos up on YouTube about the demonization of the White working class. The working class, including the White working class, has been demonised, but by the Conservative, Thatcherite elite. As Owen Jones, who himself has received any number of vicious personal attacks, showed in his book Chavs.

With Brexit about to fail, I think we can be sure that the Tories and the Brexiteers will now increase their attacks on immigration and ethnic minorities, because it’s the only way they have of maintaining any kind of support for it.

I think here Labour should learn from a campaigning trick of the Nazis. I’ll make it clear that I have nothing but contempt and disgust for Hitler and his squalid dictatorship. They ruled by terror and violence, and were responsible for the horrific deaths of millions. 11 1/2 million were murdered and died of starvation and overwork in the concentration camps. Six million were Jews, and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews, including political prisoners, the long term unemployed, the disabled and Roma. The Nazis also intended to cleans a stretch of land from Poland to the Ukraine and Russia of its indigenous people in preparation for German colonisation. The surviving population would become poorly educated, depressed peasant farmers and labourers to serve the colonists.

Nazism and Fascism are truly horrific movements, that need to be fought everywhere.

But unfortunately Hitler and the Nazis were terribly effective political campaigners. Although they described themselves as ‘socialist’, they despised ‘Marxist’ socialism, which included reformists like the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party, and the organised working class. They smashed the trade unions and sent their leaders and activists to the concentration camps. As social Darwinists, they saw the aristocracy and business elite as biologically superior with an absolute right to their social position and authority.

But at the same time, the Nazis were determined to win over the working class. While they stressed class collaboration, with Hitler declaring that ‘the class conscious worker is as unwelcome in our movement as the race conscious Jew’, the Nazis also claimed that they wished to create a genuine classless society. In the new volksgemeinschaft (people’s/ ethnic community) all were to be looked upon as equals. The only difference was supposed to be social function. And Nazism was going to be meritocratic. Any ethnic German would be able to rise socially, no matter how humble his origins, provided he had the talent.

To show that they were serious about this, the Nazis conspicuously put working class speakers on their platforms along with those from the middle and upper classes.

I believe that Labour needs to do the same with White working class speakers.

The people, who are serious about improving conditions for the White working class are, as I have said, the Labour left. They will do so because they’re committed to the working class as a whole. The Jewish anti-racist, anti-Fascist bloggers and activists Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg have pointed out again and again that the only way of effectively fighting Nazi scumbags like the National Front and BNP is through actively working to improve conditions for all the working class.

Very many of Labour’s great BAME politicos and members are working class. I think Abbot is. And the anti-immigrant right have also included in their attacks on Dawn Butler statements that they’re tired of hearing how working class she is. They’re aware that the Black and Asian targets of their ire are working class, but that doesn’t count as they’re not White working class. And indeed they see them as actively anti-White.

Which is why I believe they need to be partnered on their platforms with White working class speakers. I’m aware that this is already very likely to be the case. But it needs to be so obvious, that the racists will find it difficult to minimise or deny it. It needs to be done to show the racists, and those inclined to listen to them, that BAME politicos like Abbot and Butler are not anti-White and have White working class support.

I also believe that something similar but vice versa may have to be done for Black MPs so that they are obviously given support by White speakers. Under Starmer, Labour has been haemorrhaging not only its traditional Labour voters and supporters in general, but particularly its Black members. This has partly been due to Starmer’s dismissive and mercenary attitude towards Black Lives Matter, but also his utter failure to take any action on the right-wing ‘centrists’ responsible for the racist bullying of respected Black MPs and activists like Abbot, Lammy and so on. Labour needs to show that it is still genuinely committed to improving conditions for Blacks and other ethnic minorities. And that this doesn’t mean being anti-White.

Whatever their colour, working class Brits need to stand together and support each other. Because the racists and Tories will try to divide us to push through their policies.

Which will hurt all of us, regardless of our creed or skin colour.

Marxism, Black Nationalism and Fascism

September 21, 2020

Last week or so Sasha Johnson was thrown off twitter for stating that the White man would not be the equals of Blacks, but their slave. Johnson is supposedly one of the leading lights in the Oxford Black Lives Matter movement. She was filmed holding a bizarre paramilitary-style rally in Brixton. Standing in front of a uniformed squad of Black people, she compared the police to the Klu Klux Klan and declared that what was needed was a Black militia. Like the one that was standing behind her, no doubt. She also screamed ‘Black Power!’ and ‘Revolution!’ She then followed that by announcing that, as Black and Asian politicians like Priti Patel and David Lammy were all sell-outs, she was going to found a a new political party solely for Blacks.

Johnson has been called a ‘Black Panther’, though I don’t know whether it was by her admirers in the Black power movement, or by herself. It certainly seems that she’s trying to copy the Black Panthers, who were set up to defend American Blacks against shooting and murder by the police, and set up their own party. But to British eyes it also looks very much like other violent paramilitary movements, like the terrorist organisations in Ulster and White Fascist organisations, such the British Union of Fascists and the National Front.

Black Lives Matter as an organisation, I gather, is Marxist, and the Black Panthers are usually seen as radical left rather than Fascist right. But this passage from Noel Sullivan’s Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1983) may explain how Johnson was able to move from a Marxist position to racial supremacy, albeit one that privileged Blacks against Whites.

Sullivan’s a Conservative historian, who take the view that the origins of Fascism are to be found in the activist style of politics that emerged with the French Revolution. This demanded that the public take an active part in politics as against the older, feudal system in which politics was confined to the king and the aristocracy. This new activism also set up the nation or the people against an outgroup, identified as their enemy. For the French Revolutionaries, the people were the French middle class, and their enemies were the monarchy, aristocracy and clergy. Later in the 19th century, Karl Marx identified the people with the working class. However, that didn’t end the process. This was followed in the 20th century by Asian revolutionary socialists, beginning with Sultan Galiev, identifying their peoples as the oppressed working class and urging revolution against their White colonial oppressors. Sullivan writes

In spite of Marx’s belief that his redefinition of the ‘true people’ as the proletariat represented a scientific and therefore final stage in activist strategy, the subsequent course of twentieth-century intellectual history revealed that his own position was a unstable as the one which he had attacked. Consider, for example, the doctrine advocated by Sultan Galiev in 1919, in an article entitled ‘Social Revolution and the East’. Galiev was a Marxist, in the sense that he followed Marx in identifying the true people with the proletariat. He differed from Marx, however, in his definition of the proletariat itself. The trouble with western socialism, Galiev wrote, is that ‘the East, with its population of a milliard and a half human beings, oppressed by the West European bourgeoisie, was almost entirely forgotten. The current of the international class war bypassed the East and the problem of revolution in the East existed only in the minds of a few scattered individuals. For Galiev, the true proletariat now became the Muslim, Hindu and Chinese masses of the East, and the Marxist class struggle was accordingly transformed into one between the white and coloured races. Other non-European socialists rapidly took up this theme. For example, in 1920 Li Ta-chao, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, defined as class-struggle as racial conflict ‘between the lower-class coloured races and the upper-class white race’. In this struggle, ‘China really stands in the position of the world proletariat.’ In Japan, Ikki Kita also pursued the racial method of defining the true people as the populace of the third world, maintaining in his Outline for the Reconstruction of the Japanese State, 1919) that ‘There are self-contrictions in the fundamental thought of those European and American socialists who approve of proletarian class-struggle within a country but who consider international proletarian war as chauvinism and militarism.’ In recent decades, Frantz Fanon has been the best-known exponent of this particular variant of the new activist style of politics. (pp. 51-2).

Sasha Johnson seems to have made a similar transition, identifying the true people with Britain’s depressed Black population. In so doing, she’s moved from a socialistic Black radicalism to Fascism. She’s become Black Britain’s version of the White Fascists Nesta Webster and Rotha Orne Linton.

I also wonder how long she’ll be a figure on the public stage. She was determined to make herself notorious and a figure of public outrage and terror, like any number of angry young people before her trying to epater le bourgeois. I don’t think Black Lives Matter have done anything to censure her or reel her in, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. At the moment she’s a liability. They and the media have made a point of showing that Blacks and Whites, especially young people, are united in their support of the movement. BLM also released statements on placards stating that they were trying to start a race war. They were trying to end one. But that is precisely what Sasha Johnson wants to do.

My guess is that Black Lives Matter will now try and rein her in, if only for the sake of publicity. As for Johnson herself, she and her supporters come across as young, idealistic and stupid. 19th and 20th century history is full of similar young men and women, angry and radical, trying to threaten the establish order. Hopefully with time she’ll settle down and grow up.

Queen Victoria on the Relative Threat Posed by the Working and Upper Classes

September 15, 2020

I really don’t think Queen Victoria can be seen as an ardent advocate of democracy. I’ve seen her opinions described as ‘Whiggish’, which would suggest that although she was in favour of reform, it was very limited. But I do like this quote, which is another one from Peter Vansittart’s Voices 1870-1914:

‘Danger lies not in the power given to the Lower Orders, who are becoming more well-informed and more intelligent, and who will deservedly work themselves up to the top by their own merits, labour and good conduct, but in the conduct of the Higher Classes and of the Aristocracy.’ (p. 12).

Looking back on the decade of Tory misrule by David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson and their cabinets of upper class, Eton-educated horrors, I’d say her maj’s case was proven.

The Tory Attitude to Mass Starvation: Let Them Eat Cake

August 4, 2020

Mike’s put up this evening on his blog a piece wondering if the reason the Tories launched their ‘Help Out To Eat Out’ scheme to encourage people to start going out to restaurants again wasn’t because they wanted to restart the economy, but simply stuff their faces at public expense. He’s put up a couple of pieces about the Tory MPs Nadhim Zahawi and the abomination formerly in charge of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt, both talking about how they used to scheme to get a free lunch. There’s a meme about Zahawi stating just how much he’s raked in on expenses and for working for an oil company, in addition to his generous salary as an MP. But he doesn’t feel that such largesse should be awarded to the disabled, and voted for a £30 cut in their benefits.

Mike’s blogged about this issue before. The scheme was never going to tackle the real problem of starvation, or ‘food poverty’ in this country, because the people afflicted by it can’t afford to go to restaurants. Many of them can’t afford to buy food, which is why there’s been such a massive expansion in food banks.

But the middle classes, and the rich Tories who represent them, can.

This all reminds of the expenses scandal back in 2004, when large sections of parliament were caught claiming as much as they could get their hands on in expenses, far beyond what was being awarded in pay for the rest of us mere mortals. They had also voted to cut the salaries of their staff. That blew up in their faces when it was exposed by the Torygraph, which may well have been the last time that wretched newspaper ever did anything right.

And now they’re doing it again while millions starve.

It all reminds me of the famous reply Marie Antoinette supposedly gave to the news that the French peasantry were starving because they had no bread.

‘Well, let them eat cake’.

That’s come to symbolise the grotesque self-indulgence and absolute complacency of the French aristocracy, an attitude that led to the Revolution, the execution of the monarchy and the mass murder of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety.

This seems to be the modern, Tory British version. People don’t have food on the table, but blow them! Let them go to a restaurant instead, like the Tories and their rich friends from the Bullingdon Club and other centres of the self-indulgent, callous rich.

Was ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ really meant to help super-rich Tories get cheap meals at the taxpayer’s expense?

Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Demand for the Abolition of the House of Lords

August 4, 2020

This weekend, our murderous, clown Prime Minister Boris Johnson added more weight to the argument for the House of Lords. At the moment the membership of the upper house is something like 800+. It has more members than the supreme soviet, the governing assembly of assembly of China, which rules a country of well over a billion people. Contemporary discussions are about reducing the size of this bloated monster, many of whose members do zilch except turn up in the morning in order to collect their attendance before zipping off to what they really want to do. Since Blair, it’s become a byword for corruption and cronyism, as successive prime ministers have used it to reward their collaborators, allies and corporate donors. The Tories were outraged when Blair did this during his administration, but this didn’t stop David Cameron following suit, and now Boris Alexander DeFeffel Johnson. Johnson has appointed no less than 36 of his friends and collaborators. These include his brother, who appears to be there simply because he is Johnson’s sibling, Alexander Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and son of a KGB spy, who owns the Metro and the Independent,  which is a particular insult following the concerns about Russian political meddling and the Tories’ connections to Putin; the Blairite smear-merchants and intriguers, who conspired against Jeremy Corbyn to give the Tories an election victory, and Claire Fox.

Fox has managed to provoke outrage all on her own, simply because of her disgusting views on Northern Irish terrorism. Now a member of the Brexit Party, she was a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party which fully endorsed the IRA’s terrorism campaign and the Warrington bombing that killed two children. She has never apologised or retracted her views, although she says she no longer believes in the necessity of such tactics. But rewarding a woman, who has absolutely no problem with the political killing of children has left a nasty taste in very many people’s mouths. It shows very clearly the double standards Johnson and the Tories do have about real terrorist supporters. They tried smearing Corbyn as one, despite the fact that he was even-handed in his dealings with the various parties in northern Ireland and was a determined supporter of peace. Ulster Unionists have come forward to state that he also good relations with them and was most definitely not a supporter of terrorism. The Tories, however, have shown that they have absolutely no qualms about rewarding a real terrorist sympathiser. But even this isn’t enough for Johnson. He’s outraged and demanding an inquiry, because he was prevented from putting his corporate donors from the financial sector in the House of Lords.

Demands for reform or the abolition of the second chamber have been around for a very long time. I remember back c. 1987 that the Labour party was proposing ideas for its reform. And then under Blair there were suggestions that it be transformed into an elected senate like America’s. And way back in the first decades of the twentieth century there were demands for its abolition altogether. I’ve been reading Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A Constitution of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, which was first published in the 1920s. It’s a fascinating book. The Webbs were staunch advocates of democracy but were fiercely critical of parliament and its ability to deal with the amount of legislation created by the expansion of the British state into industry and welfare provision, just as they were bitterly critical of its secrecy and capitalism. They proposed dividing parliament into two: a political and a social parliament. The political parliament would deal with the traditional 19th-century conceptions of the scope of parliament. This would be foreign relations, including with the Empire, the self-governing colonies and India, and law and order. The social parliament would deal with the economy, the nationalised industries and in general the whole of British culture and society, including the arts, literature and science. They make some very interesting, trenchant criticisms of existing political institutions, some of which will be very familiar to viewers of that great British TV comedy, Yes, Minister. And one of these is the House of Lords, which they state very clearly should be abolished because of its elitist, undemocratic character. They write

The House of Lords, with its five hundred or so peers by inheritance, forty-four representatives of the peerages of Scotland and Ireland, a hundred and fifty newly created peers, twenty-six bishops, and half a dozen Law Lords, stands in a more critical position. No party in the State defends this institution; and every leading statesman proposes to either to end or to amend it. It is indeed an extreme case of misfit. Historically, the House of Lords is not a Second Chamber, charged with suspensory and revising functions, but an Estate of the Realm – or rather, by its inclusion of the bishops – two Estates of the Realm, just as much entitled as the Commons to express their own judgement on all matters of legislation, and to give or withhold their own assent to all measures of taxation. The trouble is that no one  in the kingdom is prepared to allow them these rights, and for ninety years at least the House of Lords has survived only on the assumption that, misfit as it palpably is, it nevertheless fulfils fairly well the quite different functions of a Second Chamber. Unfortunately, its members cannot wholly rid themselves of the feeling that they are not a Second Chamber, having only the duties of technical revision of what the House of Commons enacts, and of temporary suspension of any legislation that it too hastily adopts, but an Estate of the Realm, a coordinate legislative organ entitled to have an opinion of its own on the substance and the merits of any enactment of the House of Commons. The not inconsiderable section of peers and bishops which from time to time breaks out in this way, to the scandal of democrats, can of course claim to be historically and technically justified in thus acting as independent legislators, but constitutionally they are out of date; and each of their periodical outbursts, which occasionally cause serious public inconvenience, brings the nation nearer to their summary abolition. Perhaps of greater import than the periodical petulance of the House of Lords is its steady failure to act efficiently  as revising and suspensory Second Chamber. Its decisions are vitiated by its composition  it is the worst representative assembly ever created in that it contains absolutely no members of the manual working class; none of the great classes of shopkeepers, clerks and teachers; none of the half of all the citizens who are of the female sex; and practically none of religious nonconformity, or art, science or literature. Accordingly it cannot be relied on to revise or suspend, and scarcely even to criticise, anything brought forward by a Conservative Cabinet, whilst obstructing and often defeating everything proposed by Radical Cabinet.

Yet discontent with the House of Commons and its executive – the Cabinet – is to-day  a more active ferment than resentment at the House of Lords. The Upper Chamber may from time to time delay and obstruct; but it cannot make or unmake governments; and it cannot, in the long run, defy the House of Commons whenever that assembly is determined. To clear away this archaic structure will only make more manifest and indisputable the failure of the House of Commons to meet the present requirements. (Pp. 62-4).

When they come to their proposals for a thorough reform of the constitution, they write of the House of Lords

There is, of course, n the Socialist Commonwealth, no place for a House of Lords, which will simply cease to exist as a part of the legislature. Whether the little group of “Law Lords”, who are now made peers in order that they may form the Supreme Court of Appeal , should or should not continue, for this purely judicial purpose, to sit under the title, and with the archaic dignity of the House of Lords, does not seem material. (p.110)

I used to have some respect for the House of Lords because of the way they did try to keep Thatcher in check during her occupation of 10 Downing Street. They genuinely acted as a constitutional check and wasn’t impressed by the proposals for their reform. I simply didn’t see that it was necessary. When Blair was debating reforming the Upper House, the Tories bitterly attacked him as a new Cromwell, following the Lord Protector’s abolition of the House of Lords during the British Civil War. Of course, Blair did nothing of the sort, and partly reformed it, replacing some of the peers with his own nominees. Pretty much as Cromwell also packed parliament.

The arguments so far used against reforming the House of Lord are that it’s cheaper than an elected second chamber, and that there really isn’t much popular enthusiasm for the latter. Private Eye said that it would just be full of second-rate politicos traipsing about vainly trying to attract votes. That was over twenty years ago.

But now that the House of Lords is showing itself increasingly inefficient and expensive because of the sheer number of political has-beens, PM’s cronies and peers, who owe their seat only because of ancestral privilege, it seems to me that the arguments for its reform are now unanswerable.

Especially when the gift of appointing them is in the hands of such a corrupt premier as Boris Johnson.