Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hitchens’

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.

Starmer Brings Back Labour Plan to Abolish House of Lords

December 13, 2022

Last week it was revealed that Keir Starmer intends to abolish the House of Lords. Before I go any further, I should say that I have no idea what he wants to replace it with. I caught a few seconds of a video put up by GB News or one of the other god-awful right-wing YouTube channels of a Starmer being laid into on this issue by Peter Hitchens. From the few seconds I saw, Hitchens was accusing him of wishing to make all the members of the upper house appointed by the Prime Minister. Hitchens stated that this would be undemocratic, which is absolutely right, if true. But the debate is also more than a little familiar. Back in 1986 or 87 the papers carried reports that the Labour party then wanted to abolish the House of Lords. I think they also plans to reform the House of Commons to make it more democratic, which would have involved giving more power to the speaker. Then there were Tony Blair’s reforms in the late ’90s and early part of this century.

Blair took on the objection to the House of Lords that it was an unelected, undemocratic anachronism. It is. It is, or was, a remnant of feudalism, the old medieval grand council in which the king or the prince was advised by the kingdom’s great lords. It goes all the way back to the witangemot, the council of wise men, in Anglo-Saxon England and similar feudal assemblies in the Carolingian Empire and other states on the continent. Such an assembly is outdated and against the basic principles of democratic representation. On the other hand, it had the advantage of being cheap. Or so I heard it said at the time these reforms were being mooted. The other argument, put forward by really reactionary Tories, was that the hereditary peers deserved the place because they were better fitted to it through centuries of breeding and education. Which is the old Tory argument that all the great civilisations had an aristocracy that cost them an election in the early part of the past century. I don’t think it’s a vote winner, but I’ve no doubt that Jacob Rees-Mogg probably believed in it. He started his career as an aspiring MP campaigning for the seat of a Scots fishing town. He proudly announced that he was standing on a platform of trying to convince the local people that an unelected, hereditary upper house was actually a great institution. Obviously he didn’t succeed, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the SNP vote didn’t increase in that constituency as a result.. Blair reformed the House partly by appointing some of its members, and subsequent Prime Ministers have done the same, so that the number of peers is now 800-odd, far more than the House of Commons and even the governing political assembly of the Chinese Communist party. The peers get an allowance for turning up, and so there have been scandals and accusations that many of them just stick their head through the door long enough to claim their cheque before zooming off to business elsewhere. And the opposition objected at the time that Blair’s reform was hardly democratic. He was denounced as a new Cromwell, who was packing parliament with his supporters, just as England’s Lord \Protector and the butcher of Ireland had done during the Interregnum.

The suggested alternative was to transform the upper house into a senate like America’s. It would still have the duty of checking and amending legislation, but would be elected. According to Private Eye, there was no real enthusiasm behind this idea. People didn’t want to have to go through another round of elections, and the lack of popular support for such a chamber would mean that only mediocrities would serve in it. This must have been the view of the powers that be, or something similar, because the plan seems to have vanished soon after.

.I believe that the current House of Lords needs to be cut down, and no, I don’t want membership of the House to be by prime ministerial appointment. But I also don’t see any point in reforming it radically. The precise nature of the House of Lords doesn’t actually bother me to anywhere near the extent that this country needs a return to the social democratic consensus pre-Maggie. Privatisation has failed, and the Tory welfare reforms are leaving people cold and starving. We need to renationalise the utilities and the railways, as well as the NHS, which should be properly funded. We needed to reverse the destruction of the welfare state so people aren’t left dependent on food banks and private charity to feed themselves if they’re unemployed or disabled. And we need to make sure working people are paid a proper wage for exactly the same reason, not to mention nationalising the energy companies so that people pay less for the fuel and electricity bills and aren’t faced with the decision whether to heat their homes, pay the rent or eat. All this is far more pressing and important than tinkering with the constitution.

But I think the mooted reform of the House of Lords is another example of Starmer wishing to emulate Blair. And Blair wanted to make Britain more like America. But our political system is different. It’s parliamentary, not presidential, and that does apparently affect the results of Blair’s reforms, including his changes to the judiciary. There’s a very interesting video of David Starkey explaining this, put up by the New Culture Forum. Starkey is, of course, a terrible old reactionary while the New Culture Forum are the cultural wing of the Institute for Economic Affairs, a right-wing Buxton Street think tank that wants to privatise everything Thatcher, Major and Blair haven’t already sold off, including the NHS. But Starkey makes a very good case for the incompatibility of British and American constitutional systems.

But most of all I’m afraid that this constitutional tinkering is in lieu of practical policies, that will make a real difference to Britain’s poor and working people. Such as the return to proper, socialist, or at least social democratic politics. Blair changed the constitution, but didn’t change Tory government policies. He just carried on with them once he was in power. In fact, he ramped them up and went much further in the privatisation of the NHS than the Tories had dared.

And I’m afraid Starmer will do likewise.

Tulsi Gabbard Accuses Ukraine’s Zelensky of being Putinesque Dictator

June 5, 2022

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, parts of the right have sympathised with Russia and argued against supporting Ukraine. I think Sargon of Gasbag and the Lotus Eaters have put up a post raising issues about Ukraine and I believe that Peter Hitchens may have done so as well. This afternoon I found a short video on YouTube from American Republican politician Tulsi Gabbard, which, if true, raises significant questions why we should be supporting Zelensky’s regime. She claimed that Zelensky closed down three Ukrainian TV stations because they were criticising him, and that he banned the party that came second in the Ukrainian elections and imprisoned its leaders, all actions which Putin has been accused of doing. In the case of Putin, there’s little doubt: this is exactly what he has done. But there have been no reports over here of Zelensky doing the same, though this is not to say he hasn’t done them. One of Hitchen’s videos on the war is about what the media isn’t telling you. Gabbard in her video calls the people demanding support for Ukraine ‘warmongers’, which is surprising language coming from a Republican. But it’s no more surprising than the Tories opposing Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Some of them were no doubt opportunists, opposing the invasion simply because it was done by Labour, not themselves. But some of the Tories did oppose it from moral conviction, the best example being Hitchens, who has continued to denounce it and Blair. It’s possible that Gabbard is the same.

There’s a fair amount of self-interest in the Tory defence of Russia. Russian oligarchs have contributed handsomely to Tory coffers. In America Trump’s government also gave contracts and concessions to Russian firms, quite apart from the rumours that Putin had some kind of incriminating footage involving Trump from the Orange Man’s visit to Russia. And even if these accusations of dictatorial behaviour by Zelensky were true, they would not justify the Russian invasion and the atrocities Putin’s forces have committed. But they do raise questions about why we are providing military aid. Are we doing so simply because Ukraine is a sovereign nation, which is threatened with annihilation and dismemberment by a larger, more powerful former colonial master – Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and before then the Russian empire? Or are we backing it for the same reason the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Barack Obama, Hillary ‘Queen of Chaos’ Clinton and Victoria Nuland helped to orchestrate the the Orange Revolution of 2012? That had nothing to do with overthrowing an unpopular president, and everything to do with installing one who favoured the west rather than Putin’s Russia. These are serious questions that need to be answered. But I doubt we’ll get them through the mainstream news.

A Small Family Sex Show in Bristol Cancelled Because of Petitions and Death Threats

April 26, 2022

As a Bristolian, I feel I have to add my fourpence worth about this controversy. One of the arenas of the culture war is over sex education in schools and especially sex education, with particular concern about the teaching or promotion of homosexuality and transgenderism. Parents and politicians are concerned about proper age-appropriate teaching of these subjects. The controversy seems to be particularly acute in America, where various, mostly right-leaning journos, activists and media pundits like Michael Walsh have criticised videos posted on TikTok of teachers coming out to young pupils and announcing that they’re gay, non-binary or trans. There have been instances where primary school children have been asked about which gender they identify with, as apart from their biological sex. One teacher proudly announced the ‘gender closet’ in which children can get changed into the clothing of the opposite sex when they want to keep it secret from their parents. There have been very sexually explicit books published for schools about gay and gender issues, containing the kind of imagery that once upon a time only used to be found in hard porn. And schools have also been told that, if a child trans, they should not inform his or her parents. As a result, there have been meetings of outraged parents confronting their local school boards in various towns and cities across the US. The Republican governor of Florida,, Ron de Santis, has just passed his so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ act, which forbids the teaching of anything about sex and sexuality, including heterosexuality, from ages 5 – 9. The Disney corporation and various LGBTQ+ employees have been particularly incensed by it, and have tried to mobilise opposition against the bill. This was in conjunction with a leaked video showing some of its top brass saying that they want half of all their characters to come from ethnic minorities or the gay community. As a result, right-wing Republicans like Walsh are calling for an end to Disney’s autonomy in the state and its tax exemption. I have to say that this shows a somewhat skewed morality. As a massively profitable global enterprise, Disney should pay its fair whack of tax like the rest of us proles. And especially because conditions for its workers in China are so dire that they’ve had to install suicide nets in their factories to stop the wage slaves toiling over their merchandise from killing themselves.

The Tobacco Factory, one of Bristol’s many theatres, put its collective feet firmly into this mire of controversy last week when they announced they were hosting ‘A Small Family Sex Show’ by theatre company ThisEgg. The show was described as woke, Queer and feminist, ,and intended to teach children about sex, using personal experiences, covering sexual orientation, gender identity, boundaries and so on. The show was described as suitable for children of five upwards, and included a section where the performers were free to take their clothes to the extent they felt comfortable. This could be total nudity, or else the removal of bottoms but not underwear, or even just simply staying clothed. The content included teaching children about masturbation, touching as well as other, much more dubious and extreme practices. Quiet-voiced Benjamin Boyce, an American YouTuber who discusses topics like gender identity, went through the description of the show’s contents on their website. This also included various explicit drawings. It was a weird mixture of sex with information about theatre, such as pointing out that the areas to each side of the stage that are hidden from the audience are called the wings. It also promised to teach children about White privilege and supremacy. In the video introducing the show, it’s producers introduce themselves with their pronouns and a description of their race, complexion, hair colour and so on. They seem to have been White, and Boyce wondered why they thought such descriptions were necessary when everyone could see what they were like. But it was the sexual subjects they show intended to teach which naturally attracted Boyce’s astonishment and disapproval. Again and again he wondered aloud how it wasn’t grooming. And others wondered too, on both sides of the Atlantic, with many being very firmly convinced it was.

Karen Davis, a gender critical Black American YouTuber, covered it on her channel. She was concerned that it was aimed at a time when children were only just learning to differentiate between fiction and reality, and that you could not like people while still being civil to them. She was also concerned that it would break down barriers about sex between children and adults, barriers that children naturally have for very good reasons. She was concerned that it was teaching kids not to believe their own eyes and feelings about whether an adult presented a danger, and would so make them vulnerable to predators. Davis has very strong and uncompromising views on the trans issue and she goes further in her opposition than some other gender critical folks. But in this instance her views seem to be very well grounded. She frequently cites the medical and academic literature to support her opinions, which are also informed by her work as a special needs teacher for children. She has also previously worked in centres for people with mental health issues. She knows whereof she speaks. And one of her concerns was about the theatre companies name. ‘Egg’ apparently is trans slang for someone on the verge of being trans, who needs to be ‘hatched’. I wondered if the name wasn’t inspired by a cult BBC show about a group of graduates living in London called This Life, one of whose characters had the monicker ‘Egg’. The show claimed it had the support of one of the organisations charged with protecting children, but a glance at that organisation’s website – it might have been the NSPCC – showed that the show was in conflict with the organisation. This said on their website that one of the signs that a child was being abused or near to a child who was, was sexuality explicit talk.

There have been any number of people on YouTube in Britain and America tearing into the show. Meesh Makeida, a Black British mother, covered it in one of her videos and made it very plain that she definitely would not take her five year old to it. Karen Davis in her video about it compared it to the real, grubby sex shows for adults. Unfortunately, these have been about in my city. The city council voted a few months ago to shut down the, er, ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. And the tone of Park Street in Clifton went up when the strip clubs there closed down in the 1980s.

A large number of Bristol’s citizens also made their opposition to the show very plain. There was a petition against it, which garnered 38,000 signatures. There were also threats of death and violence against the theatre and ThisEgg. This resulted in the show’s cancellation. The producers have claimed that they were forced to pull the show due to the threats, and that these came from a small minority of extremists.

I don’t agree with making death threats, and sincerely hope that those sent did come from a small minority. But the 38,000 signatures on the petition definitely don’t come from a small number of people. I don’t know how many people were actually aware of the show’s existence – I haven’t seen it mentioned on the local news. But offhand I can’t think of anyone who would be happy at such a show being performed in front of children and especially not five year olds.

And grooming is a real and legitimate issue with this play. It appears to be informed by Queer Theory. This, in the view of scholars and critics like James Lindsay, explicitly wishes to break down the barriers between adults and children in matters of sexuality and sexual identity. It’s based on the theories of Foucault, a postmodern philosopher and paedophile. Foucault and other intellectuals tried to get the age of consent reduced to 12 or there about in France in the 1970s, and Foucault himself used to go to North Africa to take advantage of the prostituted boys. One of the issues here is that the gay rights movement in its early stages included many paedophiles and civil rights activists who mistakenly believed that it should be legalised. The gay movement in Britain began making headway when the gay organisations purged the paedophiles from their ranks and made it very plain that gay very definitely did not equal paedo. There are thus fears that the paedophiles are trying to come back in through Queer Theory and the kind of sex education that it produces.

Graham Linehan, the writer of Father Ted, Big Train and the IT Crowd and a very firm opponent of the trans ideology, also discussed the play with American gender critical feminist Kara Dansky. I think Linners believed that ThisEgg were genuine in their concern that children received proper information about sex, just misguided. Dansky, on the other hand, suggested that the company really may have been deliberately grooming children. I hope not. They seemed sincere, but terribly, destructively wrong in my opinion.

When the news that the show was being staged a week ago, some of the commenters on various videos had a dig at Bristol. The city’s terribly ‘woke’, you see, and somehow it’s all the fault of the University. Well, certain parts of the city are very left-wing. People joke about the ‘People’s Republic of Stokes Croft’, for example. Other parts are more moderate or Conservative. And the various initiatives taken by Bristol University, such as lowering admissions for Black and Asian applicants in order to encourage more of them to apply don’t come from a long history of left-wing activism. They seem to be initiated in order to dispel criticism that the university is too elitist and White. But of course, there are left-wing lecturers there, just as there are Tories and others, who keep their political views quiet.

As for theatre in Bristol general, the city has a number of excellent venues. The Hippodrome tends to stage West End musicals like Cats, Return to the Forbidden Planet and even, every so often, the Rocky Horror Show. The Theatre Royal in King Street is one of the oldest in the country, and has produced many of this great nation’s leading thesps. It’s had everything from one man shows by Michael Bentine and John Mortimer, to performances of Into the West, from the film starring Ron Moody as a villain. It also staged more challenging performances about the Vietnam War and its legacy. Another theatre venue, Quaker’s Friars, has staged great plays, one of which was by one of the great 18th century French playwrights, as well as a production of the Hollywood classic Key Largo. And before it decided to put on A Small Family Sex Show, the Tobacco Factory had also put on several excellent plays, including puppet shows for children.

I think it’s excellent that the show has been cancelled, but I’m also acutely aware that children do need proper sex education. There was a time when it was not taught in school, and so children were really ignorant about their bodies, the changes of adolescence and reproduction. We should very definitely not go back there, whatever opposition there is to it by right-wingers like Peter Hitchens.

I’m also not entirely convinced that there’s been this controversy about it just when Bristol is facing a referendum over the elected mayor. At the moment it’s Marvin Rees for Labour. Now the mayor and city council generally have had nothing to do with the show, and no-one has said they have. But I’m afraid that the controversy over the play and the constant statements by the right about it being the product of the ‘woke’ left will lead some people to mistakenly connect it to Labour.

Bristol’s a great city, with great theatre. A Small Family Sex Show isn’t one of them, and shouldn’t have been booked.

Children do need proper sex education, given at suitable ages and using appropriate material. They cannot be left ignorant, but should not be exposed to material that is too explicit either. Especially when there is the danger that real abusers could use to approach children, no matter how well-intentioned the people behind such material are.

Arise Festival Online Events against Blair and NHS Privatisation

February 4, 2022

I got an email today from the Arise Festival of Labour Left Ideas about a number of forthcoming online events. Two were about Latin America and Cuba, but the two that really interested me were against Blair’s knighthood and NHS Privatisation.

The brief notices about these events ran:

“1) FORUM: No to Blair’s Knighthood – No Return to Blairism

Thursday 10 February, 18:30. Register here // Share & invite here // Retweet here to spread the word.

With: Steve Howell (Deputy Director, Strategy & Communications for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017) , Rachel Garnham (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) & Sami Ramidani (Iraqi anti-war campaigner.)

Tony Blair’s knighthood has provoked a massive backlash – come & find out more about Blairism – & what it represents & means today. With plenty of time for questions & discussion.

Hosted by Labour Outlook. Kindly streamed by Arise – A Festival of Left Ideas.

2) DIARY DATE: Ending NHS Privatisation – For a National Care Service.

Monday, 21 February 2022, 7pm  Register here 

The Second of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs online policy seminars being organised throughout 2022 – in partnership with the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and Momentum – looking at the key policies we need to be raising and how we build the movements to win these policies.”

I haven’t registered for them yet, but I think I probably will as I strongly support both these causes. Blair took us to war against Iraq on a lie, a lie intended to justify the plundering of Iraq’s oil and state industries for the benefit of the American and Saudi oil conglomerates and American multinationals. There’s footage of Gorgeous George Galloway angrily telling one of the New Labour women who cheered and organised the Labour benches for this war that she’s responsible for the deaths of a million people in Iraq. I’ve got mixed feeling about the Glesgae bruiser. Sometimes he says things that are absolutely brilliant, at other times he acts like a self-centred publicity seeker. This time I think he was spot-on. Innocent people died, including our best and bravest in the armed forces, not to defend our great nation from a real threat to be get the already bloated rich even richer and more bloated. It destroyed what was, by middle eastern standards at least, a relatively secular welfare state. A society where women could safely pursue careers outside the home. It created a monstrous society instead where Sunni and Shia Muslims had to be separated in Baghdad by peace walls, as in Northern Ireland. There were sectarian deaths squads running amok with the connivance of the American proconsuls running country, and the mercenaries brought in as peacekeepers ran drugs and prostitution rings. Oh yes,, and they killed ordinary Iraqis for sport. The situation was so dire that one American diplomat went home and gave public interviews denouncing the occupation.

A million or two severely normal Brits marched against the invasion. I think it was the biggest mass protest ever. One of those was one of my parish priests at the time. The satirists Bremner, Bird and Fortune attacked the warmongering prior to the invasion. The Tories opposed it, which was a first. I suspect this was simple opportunism, but in some cases it was genuine. The right-wing journalist, Peter Hitchens, continued to attack Blair for wasting the lives of British servicemen and women. A friend of mine even read the Spectator for a time because of its anti-invasion stance.

And Blair ignored it all. The result was a wrecked country, which allowed the expansion of Iranian influence there and, with the rest of the Neo-Con policy in the Middle East, created the conditions for the emergence and expansion of Daesh and their campaign against civilisation.

Millions of people have either died or been forced to flee their homes, contributing to the migrant crisis. The economy was destroyed, people thrown out of work, women forced back into their traditional role and businesses destroyed. But Starmer wants to bring Blairism back, telling everyone that it’s going to be a vote winner.

It ain’t. Blair’s popularity at the time declined and its suffered even worse in the intervening years as more people have woken up to how harmful so many of his policies were. Not just in Iraq, but on the economy, industry and the NHS. Because Blair shared the Tory desire to privatise the health service.

If this country is ever to have a government that genuinely respects and cares for ordinary people, and which pursues a sane, just, humane policy in the Middle East, it’s only going to be through genuine socialist values and the vision of Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tories must go, and Blairism must be consigned to the dustbin.

No, Blair – Wokeness Didn’t Cost Labour the Elections, You Did

May 12, 2021

The recriminations from last week’s elections continue. Unindicted war criminal Tony Blair crawled out from whichever stone he’s been hiding under since leaving office to give his tuppence worth on the reasons Labour did so badly. The headline from one of the papers says that he blames ‘wokeness’ and warns that Labour could ‘cease to exist’. Well, many people are saying the latter. And one of the reasons for its poor performance and disengagement with the working class isn’t ‘wokeness’, the new term that’s overtaken ‘political correctness’ to describe anti-racism, feminism, and an attitude against forms of prejudice, but Blair himself.

Let’s start with an obvious issue that united people across the political spectrum. Blair launched an illegal war against Iraq as part of George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. Saddam Hussein was supposed to have aided Osama bin Laden. He hadn’t, but Blair put pressure on the intelligence services and falsified evidence – he ‘sexed up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ – to show that Hussein had. Hussein was a monster who butchered his own people, but he hadn’t moved out of Iraq since his failed invasion of Kuwait. Experts on the Middle East said that there he was regarded as a joke. The real reason for Bush and Blair’s invasion was partly to defend Israel, because Hussein occasionally funnelled aid to the Palestinians whenever he felt like it, but mostly to grab the Iraqi oil reserves. They’re the biggest in the Middle East outside Saudi Arabia. They also wanted to steal Iraqi state enterprises, while the Neocons were keen on turning the country into the low-tax, free trade state they wanted to create in America. The result has been chaos, sectarian bloodshed, war crimes, and the destruction of the Iraqi economy and secular society.

Despite the loud backing of hacks from the Groaniad, millions of ordinary Brits knew better. Two million people, including one of the priests at my local church, marched in protest. Blair shrugged it off and the invasion went ahead. It was contrary to international law, and there have been abortive efforts to have Blair and Bush arrested for their crimes and tried in the Hague. The Tory party opposed the war, as did the Spectator. I think in many cases this was just simple opportunism and opposition for the sake of being seen to oppose, as when they’re actually in power, there doesn’t seem to be a war the Tories don’t like. But some Tories, to be fair, were serious. The right-wing journalist Peter Hitchens honestly despises the ‘Blair creature’ for the way he sent our courageous young men and women to their deaths for no reason. People chanted ‘Blair lied, people died’. Absolutely. But somehow he’s being treated as some kind of respectable statesman.

And it was Blair who started the British working class’ disillusionment with Labour. He was far more interested in capturing Tory votes and those of swing voters. Under him, the party became pro-private enterprise, including the privatisation of the NHS, and continued Thatcher’s dismantlement of the welfare state. It was Blair who introduced the ‘work capability tests’ for the disabled and continued Thatcher’s programme of making the process of claiming unemployment benefit as humiliating and degrading as possible in order to deter people from signing on. But he retained the party’s commitment to anti-racism and feminism as some kind of vestige of the party’s liberalism. The result has been that large sections of the White working class felt that they were being deliberately ignored and abandoned in favour of Blacks and ethnic minorities. This is the constituency that then voted for UKIP, and which I dare say has now gone over to supporting Boris Johnson’s Tories.

As far as ‘wokeness’ goes, yes, the shrill, intolerant anti-racism and feminism is off-putting. I am definitely no fan of Black Lives Matter, but it has immense support amongst British Blacks and Asians because of the deprivation of certain parts of those communities. Labour BAME supporters also felt abandoned because of Starmer’s tepid, offhand support for it, and his protection of those credibly accused of racist bullying. They started leaving the party as well.

The Labour party did badly at the elections not because of the lingering influence of Jeremy Corbyn, but because of Blair’s abandonment of the White working class, and Starmer’s contemptuous attitude towards the party’s non-White supporters.

Labour may well be on the verge of ceasing to exist, but it won’t start winning in England again unless to rejects Blairism and returns to proper, traditional Labour values and policies.

My Letter to Councillors Lake and Craig About their Slavery Reparations Motion

March 11, 2021

Last week Bristol city council passed a motion supporting the payment of reparations for slavery to Black Britons. The motion was brought by Cleo Lake, a Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. Lake stated that it was to include everyone of ‘Afrikan’ descent as shown by her preferred spelling of the word with a K. She claimed this was the original spelling of the continent before it was changed by White Europeans. The reparations themselves would not be a handout, but instead funding for schemes to improve conditions for the Black community to put them in a position of equality with the rest of society. The schemes were to be guided and informed by the Black communities themselves.

This is all well and good, and certainly comes from the best of motives. But it raises a number of issues that rather complicate matters. Apart from her eccentric spelling, which looks to me like Afrocentric pseudohistory, there is the matter of who should be the proper recipient of these payments. Arguably, it should not include as Africans, as it was African kingdoms and chiefs who actually did the dirty business of raiding for slaves and selling them to European and American merchants.

Then there is the fact that the payment of reparations for slavery in the instance also sets a general principle that states that every nation that has engaged in slaving should pay reparations to its victims. So, are the Arab countries and India also going to pay reparations for their enslavement of Black Africans, which predates the European slave trade? Are Morocco and Algeria, the home countries of the Barbary pirates, going to pay reparations for the 2 1/2 million White Europeans they carried off into slavery?

And what about contemporary slavery today? Real slavery has returned in Africa with slave markets being opened by Islamists in their areas of Libya and in Uganda. What steps are being taken to counter this, or is the city council just interested in historic European slavery? And what measures are being taken by the council to protect modern migrants from enslavement? A few years ago a Gloucestershire farmer was prosecuted for enslaving migrant labourers, as have other employers across the UK. And then there is the problem of sex trafficking and the sexual enslavement of migrant women across the world, who are frequently lured into it with the lie that they will be taken to Europe and given proper, decent employment. What steps is the council taking to protect them?

I also don’t like the undercurrent of anti-White racism in the motion. By including Africans, Lake and Craig are attempting to build up and promote a unified Black British community by presenting the enslavement of Black Africans as something that was only done by Whites. This is not only historically wrong, but it promotes racism against Whites. I’ve heard Black Bristolians on the bus talking to their White friends about other Whites they know in the Black majority parts of Bristol, who are suffering racist abuse. Sasha Johnson, the leader of Black Lives Matter in Oxford, was thrown off Twitter for advocating the enslavement of Whites. Lake’s and Craig’s motion, while well meant, seems dangerous in that it has the potential to increase Black racism towards Whites, not lessen it.

I therefore sent the following letter to councillors Lake and Craig yesterday. So far the only answer I’ve received is an automatic one from Asher Craig. This simply states that she’s receiving a large amount of messages recently and so it may take some time before she answers it. She also says she won’t respond to any message in which she’s been copied. As I’ve sent the email to both her and Lake, it wouldn’t surprise me if this means that I don’t get a reply at all from her. Councillor Lake hasn’t sent me any reply at all. Perhaps she’s too busy.

I do wonder if, by writing this letter, I’m setting myself up for more condescension and gibes about my race and gender by Craig and Lake. When I Craig a letter expressing my concerns about the comments she made about Bristol and slavery on the Beeb, which I believed were flatly untrue, I did get a reply. This simply asserted that I wouldn’t make such comments if I had heard the whole interview, but gave no further information. It ended by telling me that their One Bristol schools curriculum would promote Black Bristolians, both Caribbean and African. They would be inclusive, ‘which hasn’t always happened with White men, I’m afraid’. So no facts, no proper answers, just evasions and the implication that I was somehow being racist and sexist, because I’m a White man.

Nevertheless, I believe very strongly that these a real issues that need to be challenged, rather than ignored or simply gone along with for the sake of a quiet life, or the desire to be seen to be doing the right thing.

I blogged about this a few days ago, and will write something further about any reply I receive, or the absence of one. As I said, I feel I’m setting myself up for patronising sneers and evasions from them, but it will be interesting to read what they have to say.

Dear Madam Councillors,

Congratulations on the passage of your motion last week calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black British community. I am writing to you not to take issue with the question of paying reparations and certainly not with your aim of creating a sustainable process, led and guided by Black communities themselves, to improve conditions for the Black British community. What I wish to dispute here is the inclusion of Black Africans as equal victims of the transatlantic slave trade, as well as other issues raised by your motion.. Black Africans were not just victims of transatlantic slavery..  They were also trading partners, both of ourselves and the other nations and ethnicities involved in the abominable trade.

I’d first like to question Councillor Lake’s assertion that Africa was originally spelt with a ‘K’ and that Europeans changed it to a ‘C’. We use the Latin alphabet, which the Romans developed from the Etruscans, both of which cultures were majority White European. I am not aware of any African culture using the Latin alphabet before the Roman conquest of north Africa. The ancient Egyptians and Nubians used hieroglyphs, the Berber peoples have their own ancient script, Tufinaq, while Ge’ez and Amharic, the languages of Christian Ethiopia, also have their own alphabet. The Coptic language, which is the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language, uses the Greek alphabet with some characters taken from Demotic Egyptian. And the Arabic script and language was used by the Muslim African cultures before the European conquest of the continent. I am therefore at a loss to know where the assertion that Africans originally spelt the name of themselves and their continent with a ‘K’.

Regarding the issue of Africans receiving reparations for slavery, it existed in the continent long before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century. For example, in the early Middle Ages West African kingdoms were using slaves in a form of plantation agriculture to grow cotton and foodstuffs. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Arabs and Berbers of North Africa, and the first Black slaves imported into Europe were taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. And when the European transatlantic slave trade arose, it was carried on not just by Europeans but also by powerful African states such as Dahomey, Whydah, Badagry and others in West Africa. These states were responsible for enslaving the surrounding peoples and selling them to European and later American slave merchants. There were occasional slave raids by Europeans themselves, as was done by Jack Hawkins. But mostly the European slave traders were confined to specific quarters in the West African city states, which were sufficiently strong to prevent European expansion inland.

The British mostly took their slaves from West Africa. In eastern Africa the slave trade was conducted by the Arabs, Portuguese and the Dutch, who transported them to their colonies further east in what is now Indonesia. There was also a trade in African slaves in the 19th century by merchants from India. It was also carried out by east African peoples such as the Ngoni, Yao, Balowoka, Swahili and Marganja. These peoples strongly resisted British efforts to suppress the slave trade. In the late 1820s one of the west African slaving nations attacked a British trading post with the aim of forcing the British to resume the trade. In the 1850s the British fought a war against King Guezo of Dahomey with the intention of stamping out slaving by this west African state. In the 1870s the British soldier, Samuel Baker, was employed by the Khedive Ismail of Egypt to suppress Arab slaving in what is now the Sudan and parts of Uganda. The campaign to suppress the slave trade through military force formed part of the rationale for the British invasion of the continent in the Scramble for Africa. But it was also to protect their newly acquired territories in the Sudan and Uganda from slave-raiding by the Abyssinians that the British also launched a punitive expedition into that nation. And the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, in which General Gordon was killed, was partly caused by the British authorities’ attempts to ban the slave trade and slavery there.

In addition to the use of force, the British also attempted to stamp it out through negotiations. Talks were opened and treaties made with African kings as well as the Imam of Muscat, the suzerain of the east African slave depots and city states, including Zanzibar and Pemba. Subsidies were also paid to some African rulers in order to pay them off from slaving.

I am sure you are aware of all of this. But regrettably none of it seems to have been mentioned in the motion, and this greatly complicates the issue of reparations for slavery. Firstly, there is the general question of whether any Africans should receive compensation for slavery because of the active complicity of African states. So great has this historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade been that one commenter said that when it came to reparations, it should be Africans compensating western Blacks. Even if it’s conceded that reparations should be paid to Africans for slavery, this, it could be argued, should only apply to some Africans. Those African nations from which we never acquired our slaves should not be compensated, as we were not responsible for their enslavement or the enslavement of other Africans.

When it comes to improving conditions and achieving equality for Bristol and Britain’s Black communities, I do appreciate that Africans may be as underprivileged and as subject to racism as Afro-Caribbeans. I don’t dispute here either that they should also receive official aid and assistance. What is questionable is including them in reparations for slavery. It should be done instead, in my view, with a package of affirmative action programmes, of which reparations for slavery for people of West Indian heritage is one component. This would mixed amongst other aid policies that equally cover all sections of the Black community. I am not trying to create division here, only suggest ways in which the issue of reparations should in accordance with the actual historical roles of the individual peoples involved in the slave trade.

And this is another matter that concerns me about this motion. It seeks to simplify the African slave trade into White Europeans preying upon Black Africans. It appears to be an attempt to promote a united Black community by placing all the blame for slavery and the slave trade on Whites. This is completely ahistorical and, I believe, dangerous. It allows those states that were involved to cover up their involvement in the slave trade and creates hostility against White British. The Conservative journalist Peter Hitchens, speaking on LBC radio a few weeks ago, described how an Ethiopian taxi driver told him that he hated the British, because we were responsible for slavery. He was completely unaware of his own cultures participation in slavery and the enslavement of other African peoples. I’m sure you are also aware that Sasha Johnson, the leader of Black Lives Matter Oxford and the founder of the Taking the Initiative Party, was thrown off Twitter for a tweet advocating the enslavement of Whites: ‘The White man will not be our equal. He will be our slave. History is changing’. I am also concerned about possible prejudice being generated against White members of majority Black communities. I have heard Black Bristolians telling their White friends about the abuse other White people they know get in some  majority Black or Asian parts of Bristol because of their colour. I appreciate the need to protect Black Bristolians from prejudice and abuse, but feel that this also needs to be extended to Whites. Racism can be found in people of all colours.

The lack of discussion of African involvement in the slave trade also concerns me just as a matter of general education. Councillor Craig said in an interview on BBC television during the BLM protests that she would like a museum of slavery in Bristol, just as there is in Liverpool and Nantes. I feel very strongly that any such museum should put it in its proper, global context. White Europeans enslaved Black Africans, yes, but slavery was never exclusive to White Europeans. Other nations and races throughout the world were also involved.

The question of reparations also brings up the issue of possible payments for White enslavement and the question of measures to suppress the resurgence of slavery in Africa. As you are no doubt aware, White Europeans also suffered enslavement by north African pirates from Morocco and Algeria. It is believed about 2 ½ million Europeans were thus carried off. This includes people from Bristol and the West Country. If Britain should pay compensation to Blacks for enslaving them, then by the same logic these nations should pay White Britons reparations for their enslavement. Would you therefore support such a motion? And do you also agree that the Muslim nations, that also enslaved Black Africans, such as Egypt and the Ottoman Turkish Empire, as well as Morocco, should also pay reparations to the descendants of the people they enslaved?

Apart from Britain’s historic role in the slave trade, there is also the matter of the resurgence of slavery in Africa today. Slave markets have been opened in Islamist-held Libya and Uganda. I feel it would be unjust to concentrate on the historic victims of slavery to the exclusion of its modern, recent victims, and hope you agree. What steps should Bristol take to help suppress it today, and support asylum seekers, who may have come to the city fleeing such enslavement?

This also applies to the resurgence of slavery in Britain. There have been cases of migrant labourers being enslaved by their employers in Gloucestershire, as well as the problem of sex trafficking. What steps is the city taking to protect vulnerable workers and immigrants here?

I hope you will appreciate the need for proper education in Bristol about the city’s role in the slave trade and the involvement of other nations, one that does not lead to a simplistic blaming of all of it on White Europeans, as well as the question the issue of reparations raises about the culpability of other nations, who may also be responsible for paying their share.

Yours faithfully,

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

Ken Loach Talks about Writer and Poet Kevin Higgins, Suspended for Satirising War Criminal Blair

March 3, 2019

Here’s another excellent piece from Labour Against the Witchhunt, where the respected left-wing film-maker, Ken Loach, talks about the case of Kevin Higgins. Higgins is a writer and poet, an overseas member of the party, living in Ireland. He was suspended in June 2016 for daring to write a poem satirising Tony Blair and the bloody carnage he had caused in Iraq. Loach only reads a part of a poem, as it’s rather too long to repeat in full. Before he does he jokes that as this is what got Higgins suspended, then everyone present is also going to be suspended simply for being there. So anyone who doesn’t want to be suspended should leave.

The poem is a reworking of a piece by Brecht, about a soldier, who gets shot, and his needy widow receives only something insignificant. In the part Loach reads, which I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, Blair’s ‘no longer new’ wife wonders about what she will receive from all the depleted uranium shells he had dropped during the battle of Basra, all the soldiers he had sent to meet Improvised Explosive Devices in far Mesopotamia? She got for all that white night terrors of him on trial for his crimes and the desire never again to look out the window of their fine Connaught Square House at the tree, which people said was once used to hang traitors.

Loach says of  Higgins that he guesses Higgins isn’t the only one who’s disgusted with Blair, with his illegality, the hundreds of thousands he caused to die and the millions he’s made since he left office. ‘If anyone brings the party into disrepute, it’s that mass murderer.’

He goes on then to reveal what happened to Higgins himself. He didn’t hear anything, so in May 2017 he wrote to the Governance and Legal Unit requesting all the documents relating to him to be sent to him within forty according to his right in the laws about data protection. Nine months later, no reply. The video was uploaded on YouTube on 7th February 2018. He was still suspended, as far as Loach knew.

The cineaste concludes

It is incompetent. It is inefficient. It is unprincipled. And those people should not be in charge of that disclipinary procedure.

Loach is absolutely correct. And Higgins’ suspension, simply for satirising Blair, isn’t the mark of a democratic socialist party. It’s the action of a rigidly centralised dictatorship, where the leader was, like Mussolini, always right. It’s like nothing so much as Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ in the USSR, with the exception that Higgins only got suspended. In Stalin’s USSR, he’d have been tortured and shot, or at the very least sent to a gulag.

And Loach is definitely correct when he says that he probably isn’t the only one disgusted with Blair. Millions of us are. Over a million people marched against the Iraq invasion, including the priests at my local church. It was one of the biggest popular demonstrations in British history, but Blair and his vile cronies ignored it. And people certainly left the party and refused to vote for the grotty profiteer because of his greed, his illegality, his warmongering, his privatisation, his insistence on absolute obedience and micromanagement of party affairs. Private Eye called him the ‘Dear Leader’, satirising the smaltzy, sentimental image he tried to project, as well as his demand to be loved. The Tory party at the time stood in opposition to the War, which got a left-wing friend of mine to buy the Spectator for a time. I think that this was mostly opportunism on the Tories’ party, as there is nothing they love better than a good war. But to be fair to them, Peter Hitchens, the brother of the late atheist polemicist Christopher, genuinely despised him for Iraq and continues to loathe him, describing him as ‘the Blair creature’.

And this monster seems intent on coming back into politics. He has praised the Independent Group, which led Mike, Martin Odoni and others to ask why he should still be allowed to remain in the Labour party. It is against the rules to be a member or support a rival organisation. This was the rule the Blairites used to throw out Moshe Machover, the Israeli academic and anti-Zionist. His crime was that he had a piece published in the Morning Star, as have very many leaders and MPs over the years. Professor Machover was grudgingly readmitted to the party after a massive outcry. But Blair gives them his support, and no-one important seems to raise any objections whatsoever. The left-wing vlogger, Gordon Dimmack, says he has heard speculation that if the wretched group survives, then before long Blair will return to active politics. It’s an idea that he says gave him nightmares.

Unfortunately, I think it’s a distinct possibility. Despite the fact that his time as this country’s leader has been and gone, he was on Andrew Marr’s wretched propaganda show today. I’m glad I missed it, as it would only have infuriated me. But it does seem to bear out these rumours.

One million men, women and children killed. Seven million displaced all across the Middle East. A secular state with free healthcare and education destroyed and looted. A state where women were free to have their own careers and run businesses. Where there were no ‘peace barriers’ between Shi’a and Sunni quarters in cities to stop them murdering each other. A country whose oil reserves have been looted by the American and Saudi oil companies, and whose state industries were plundered by American multinationals.

And this creature appears on TV again, to grin his sickly smile and utter neoliberal platitudes and smooth words. But hey, you can’t criticise him, because he stands for inclusion and diversity. While parents starve themselves to feed their children, students are faced with unaffordable tuition fees and the disabled are thrown off benefits thanks to the wretched assessments and work capable tests he, Mandelson and the others in his coterie introduced.

Higgins’ poem reminds me about one of the great protest poems written back in the ’60s about another unjust war, Vietnam. This was To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam) by Adrian Mitchell, where every stanza ended ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’. The note about it in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport states that he added stanzas later to include more leaders and more wars.

So perhaps if Blair comes back to politics we should write another: ‘Tell Me Lies About Iraq’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rees-Mogg Would Like to Be the Pope, But Would Left-Wing Catholics Want Him?

February 21, 2019

One of the most ridiculous things Jacob Rees-Mogg said this week was during an interview on Points West with host David Garmston. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area. Mogg is the local MP for Bath in Somerset, and now one of the leading personalities in the Tory party. Garmston went to visit him at his palatial home in the Georgian city.

The Beeb interviewer asked him if he’d like to be Prime Minister. It’s a good question, as it’s clear that Mogg is very ambitious, and there are those in the party that would desperately like him to be in charge and in No. 10. But Mogg denied that he had any plans in that direction. Instead, he declared, he’d rather be Pope. Garmston then asked him the natural question: how could he be, when he’s married with six children? Oh no, Mogg declared, any Roman Catholic man could be.

Now this is news to me, and to just about everyone else, I should imagine. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and so should already be a member of the clergy of a sufficiently high rank. Like a cardinal. Or so it seems to me, as an Anglican, looking at the history of the Roman Catholic church. If laymen have been made pope, I can only assume that this occurred sometime during the Middle Ages as part of the political maneuvering surrounding the papacy. For example, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the only form of government left in many towns in Gaul and elsewhere were the bishops. Hence there were instances where, after the death of the previous incumbent, local townspeople chose laymen, including pagans, to become their bishop. Those laymen, who accepted the demand, then had themselves baptized and converted to Christianity. There are accounts of such conversions and the election of lay people in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. Or so I believe. I did medieval history at school, and these are the only instances I can remember, in which a layman entered the episcopacy directly, let alone the papacy.

Of course, Rees-Mogg is saying all this just to present himself as a good Roman Catholic. But I wonder how many Roman Catholics would actually want someone as right-wing as him as a member of the clergy, let alone sovereign pontiff. There’s a range of political views amongst Roman Catholics, just as there is in any religion or metaphysical ideology. And there’s also a strong tradition of genuinely social, left-wing activism. For all that elements within the Roman Catholic church during the War and after have supported Fascist regimes, I got the distinct impression that most Roman Catholics in Britain and the British colonies were actually left-wing. Certainly in Australia Irish Catholics formed the backbone of the Ozzie Labor party, and the Roman Catholic members of my own family were very staunch Labour. Radical organisations for Roman Catholics have included Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement, and I have the impression that, as well as Quakers, there were many Roman Catholics involved in CND and other peace movements. One of my Catholic aunts was a member, and I can remember her telling us that when she was on a march, she found herself next to a group of Franciscan friars.

A little while ago I bought a book on Roman Catholic social thought, which is broadly left-wing, although outside formal party politics. This includes activism and work on behalf of the poor, for peace and on behalf of women. This latter obviously doesn’t include supporting contraception or abortion, which feminists obviously see as central women’s rights. And there have been Roman Catholic prelates, who have been martyred because of their advocacy of the poor. Like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a Fascist death squad in one of the central American countries, who brutal dictator Reagan was supporting. He was assassinated outside his church. After his murder, the assassins scrawled on the wall, ‘Be a patriot – Kill a priest’.

The present Pope, Francis, seems to have moved the papacy closer to supporting the poor, defending the environment and even stating that it is not his place to judge gays. Some of that may reflect the wider changes in social attitudes, at least in the developed West. For example, right-wing Roman Catholic traditionalists, like Peter Hitchens, who are against same-sex marriage, have said that they feel the battle against it, is lost. It may also reflect a genuine horror on Francis’ part against the vicious homophobia that exists in some parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. But also the centre of Christianity, and Roman Catholicism, is moving towards the global south as the developed West becomes more secular. Thus the Church has to speak out on issues that directly effect the peoples of the developing world. Like poverty, hunger, exploitation, the rape of the environment. Issues that also concern other Christians around the globe.

I can’t see Rees-Mogg being interested in any of that. Indeed, his voting record shows he’s strongly against it, although I’ve no doubt that, like Margaret Thatcher, he is probably personally very generous. It seems to me that Mogg’s comments may partly have been to appeal to the religious right within the Tories. Like Ian Duncan Smith also stressed what a good Catholic he was, and how he was very concerned at poverty in Britain. Their appeal goes beyond Roman Catholics, of course. Under aIDS the DWP seemed to be stuffed with right-wing Christians of various denominations. Mogg may have made his comments partly with an eye to inheriting the Gentleman Ranker’s grubby mantle.

But no matter how pious he appears, I can’t imagine any left-wing Roman Catholic wanting to see him anywhere near an official position in the Church, just as an increasing number of Christians of all denominations are turning away from the religious right and their vile policies.