Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Pointless Divorce

After over three-hundred years of one Parliament, fighting as one State against Republican France, Imperialist and then Nazi Germany, Scotland is considering whether to break the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It is worth remembering that the opinion polls consistently show a majority in Scotland wish to remain in the Union.  However, the SNP was never supposed to be able to win outright in Scottish Parliamentary elections, so Unionists recognise Salmond’s political ability and are right to be vigilant.

Perhaps what Scots find attractive about separation comes from their disillusionment with Westminster politics.  The irony is that they probably share that disillusionment with the rest of Great Britain.  The Nationalist politicians however are a more spiteful and negative crowd.  They are of the same ilk as the most sanctimonious of Liberal- Left English Guardianistas –preoccupied with minority issues and disconnected from the values and prejudices of ordinary people.

On Saint Andrew’s Day it seems right that this blog should focus on the elephant in the room, which is of course the possible end of Great Britain as a nation state.  When one actually thinks about it the decision of Scottish voters will be momentous for all of us, because if they vote for independence they will be changing all of our identities. 

We have grown up regarding the Union Jack, Scott of the Antarctic, Adam Smith, the writers Sir Walter Scott, John Buchan and Robert Louis Stevenson, the brave Highland Regiments, Scottish Royalty such as the late Queen Mother, Balmoral Castle, traditions such as the Edinburgh tattoo and Burns Night as belonging to all of us because we are British.  Scottish independence, whatever is said, will change how these things make up our identity.

Of course the factors that really held the Union together for many years were the benefits of Empire (wanderlust Scots generally being far more adventurous empire builders than the English) and a shared feeling of a common Protestant faith in the face of a hostile, absolutist and Roman Catholic Continent.  The Empire is now gone and with it the economic opportunities it brought for the Scottish.  Religion is much less of a factor in our British identity and the threat of being colonised by a Catholic hegemony no longer realistic (many might say the current threat is domination by a secular bureaucracy based in Brussels).

History might be important for the Nationalists, but it is important for the Unionists too.  The difference is that whereas Nationalists pick out specific and Medieaval examples of grievance, without looking at the whole narrative, Unionists recognise history is a story of gradual evolution.  Look at history as a whole and Bannockburn in 1314 can be put into perspective.  The Union is a history of a growing relationship and coming together.  From the joining of Monarchy when the Scottish king succeeded to the English Throne in 1603, to the Act of Union in 1707, which might count as the marriage following the century of engagement, then the ongoing and growing relationship in which Royalty and aristocracy intermarried becoming entirely British  As with a marriage, each partner showed  respect for difference, so that each nation kept its own legal system and own established church.  This is a more real interpretation of history.  In this context independence is a tragic breach of a relationship not a putting right of Mediaeval wrongs.

Scottish Nationalists are like the worst sort of Socialist who is more preoccupied with hurting the rich than helping the poor, for they dwell on ancient grievances and want to pull down the existing settlement to replace it with something ideological.  Indeed Scottish Nationalists are more Jacobin than Jacobite.

A word on Jacobitism - The last great breach between Scotland and the British establishment.  Jacobites however put their political descendants to shame.  For the Jacobites fought for Monarchy and Church – good Tory principles, against the Whig hegemony with its disregard for tradition.  Jacobites had allies in the Tory movement South of the border.  They were not simply nationalistic and resentful, they believed in the institutions this Island shares.

There is something narrow and resentful about the SNP and they just cannot seem to make the breakthrough in the polls with the Scottish public.  This is because the Scottish public are far more decent than their politicians.  A sort of spirit of Jacobitism remains in Scotland, with the novels of Walter Scott, the numbers of young men who serve the Queen in the armed forces and the respect in which the Monarchy is held – so that the Nationalists would not dare suggest a republic.  The blogger therefore believes that the Union will survive despite the politicians and because of the Scottish people.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Travesty of British Justice!

The Deputy President of Britain’s new Supreme Court, Lady Hale (who calls herself “Miss Diversity”) was one of five judges who dismissed the appeal of Christian guesthouse owners previously found to be in breach of equality law for turning away a homosexual couple from their own bed and breakfast.

The victims of Britain’s legal system, for they are undoubtedly victims, Mr and Mrs Bull, refused to allow two homosexual men to share a room.  They were of course running the guesthouse according to their own principles.  The homosexual couple were under no obligation to stay at the bed and breakfast at all.  They instead chose to victimise a Christian couple, using British Law as the means by which they bullied and persecuted them.

The couple have now had to close their guesthouse, following the controversy, which led to them being victims of vandalism and having their website hacked.  Whether one shares the views of this couple or not, anyone who has an ounce of decency or any inkling of justice and fairness must be outraged by the decision of our nation’s most senior judges.

There are of course different interpretations of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.  For example, some believe Saint Paul’s unequivocal condemnation is actually an attack on forms of pagan licentiousness, rather than condemning two people of the same-sex being in a long-term relationship.  To read Scripture as condemning all forms of homosexuality is not however to adopt some strange or absurd reading of Scripture – it is a pretty straightforward response to the text.

Since the Glorious Revolution we have nurtured a political settlement that is based on pluralism of denominations and the acceptance that people interpret the Bible differently.  This attack by our legal system on people acting in accordance with their beliefs as to what the Bible says is an attack on liberty of conscience and religious pluralism.  How can we claim to be a Christian country when this sort of injustice has occurred?

Of course, some will argue that it is all very well holding your own beliefs, but in terms of offering a service to the public, one should not discriminate against members of the public who live their lives contrary to your beliefs.

Well, a guesthouse is surely not quite the same as selling goods in a shop.  The guesthouse is in that grey area of being a private home offered up as a public house.  Surely there must be sensitivity towards people’s scruples when the house in which one is choosing to stay is their house?

People are not homophobic if they object to same-sex couples sleeping together in their own home!  They have every right to bar people from anything in their own homes.  The blogger believes that right over your home should also apply to your guesthouse.

Miss Diversity as Lady Hale calls herself, claims that Mr and Mrs Bull’s offering of separate rooms to the visitors in their own guesthouse was “an affront to their dignity as human beings”.  Actually the real disrespect was shown by the homosexual couple, when they made demands as to what they should be able to do on someone else’s property.  We hear a lot about discrimination and equality legislation nowadays; there is a much older principle our judges should remember and that is:  “An Englishman’s home is his castle”! 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ring-fence Defence of the Realm

Of all areas of Government spending, defence is the one area that suffered during the years of Labour mismanagement.  Despite fighting two wars at once, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Government continued on a peacetime budget, stretched our armed forces to breaking point and failed to honour the military covenant.  This disastrous approach led to the defeat in Basra and the British public’s dramatic change in its view of foreign intervention – whereas once most of the public saw Britain as a force for good when it intervened militarily abroad, after Blair’s foreign adventures, the public no longer seems to believe that we will intervene for the right reasons or make things better when we do intervene.

Whether this failure by the Exchequer to fund our forces in the frontline had anything to do with the Chancellor’s hostility to a prime minister so keen on exercising the Royal Prerogative to send our troops abroad and as a means of spiting his political rival cannot be proved.  In all other areas of public expenditure Gordon Brown was profligate in his spending of taxpayers’ money and government debt.

With the election of the Coalition Government we have seen drastic defence cuts as part of an overall policy of reducing the large deficit incurred by Labour.  Sadly, as defence saw serious under-funding during the Labour years this means that in effect the defence budget is being hit harder than other budgets, particularly the NHS, which saw lavish spending under Labour.

Of course with our aging population there is a strong case that the NHS should be exempt from spending cuts.  On the other hand, with recent scandals in the NHS it is also clear that spending large amounts of money on the health service does not necessarily ensure a better service for the patient.  Of course, it does expand the number of people working in the public sector, who thereby need government expenditure to remain high to keep them in work.

There is something slightly difficult in trying to justify why departments that did very well out of Labour should receive special treatment when defence is in real terms being hardest hit.  While defence expenditure is not a means of creating or protecting employment, it is very troubling to see those who have risked their lives for us being made redundant.  With regard to the impact of cuts on dockyards such as Portsmouth, while it cannot be argued that money should simply be spent to keep the workforce in work, it can be argued that it is not in the national interest to lose skills that may be necessary in the future.

Meanwhile, the undoubtedly politically-courageous policy of ring-fencing international aid has been zealously adhered to.  It is a courageous policy because it would clearly be very unpopular in a recession to spend taxpayers’ money on poverty abroad rather than at home.

Of course the British public are rightly generous when emergencies such as the recent disaster in the Philippines occur.  Indeed it is right that in such an exigent situation Government money is spent as a means of relieving the suffering of our fellow humans.  That is not the sort of international aid that the British public distrust.  They rather distrust regular payments of their tax money to countries with expanding economies and corrupt governments.  One would have to move in very rarefied circles indeed to believe that such a policy would be popular.

Ring-fencing international aid was therefore no election gimmick.  It is rather a clear foreign policy, which aims to influence by so-called soft power and to head off problems such as anti-Western terrorism by paying money to countries that dislike us.

The British public has less reservation about defence expenditure and the reason is perhaps that
defence of the realm is the first duty of the State.  It is a public good, which cannot be provided by private companies for profit.  It works as a result of an altruistic concept of patriotism. 

It is unlike other public services in that it is not about delivering a service to each of us as individuals, but all of us as a nation.  It cannot therefore benefit from an internal market, whereas other public services can often learn from some aspects of the market.

Defence expenditure is paying for an insurance policy against unforeseen threats.  While the Government no doubt identified important new threats through its strategic defence review, when threats become manifest they have often been unforeseen.  Would we have necessarily forecast the invasion of the Falklands as a threat, when we were more worried about a nuclear Soviet Union?  Would we have foreseen the threat of Islamism?  Judging by the State’s tolerance of Islamic extremists who fomented discontent, hatred and sedition in the 1990s, probably not.

So while it is regrettable to see such a drastic reduction in our professional armed forces (with the Army shrinking by 20,000 men) and a planned reliance on the amateur (in the best sense of the word) element of the TA, it is also worrying.  With Ship-building ceasing at Portsmouth, no aircraft carriers until 2030 and the cutting back of regiments such as the Royal Fusiliers, Britain seems to have embarked on a change in its historic role that has even worried the United States.  This could be as serious a turning point as our withdrawal from the East of the Suez Canal.

The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is an honourable politician.  For example, unlike many politicians, he took a principled stand on the issue of same-sex marriage.  One of his greatest skills is his business acumen.  It is important that he remembers though, that the Armed Forces do not operate like a business, but according to older values.  Cost-cutting is necessary across departments, but defence is the department that should be cut least.  Changing Britain’s world role must be about our national interest and values, not just the bottom line.  


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lifting the Veil on Modern Culture! Some reflections in the wake of Sir John Tavener's passing

With the passing of Sir John Tavener there has been much coverage of his explanation of where he received inspiration from and how he was able to create beautiful music.  The fuel for his talent was he believed his religious faith – and words such as “inspiration” and “create” have particular resonance for those with religious faith.  It is also very interesting to note that Sir John Tavener’s work was both modern and popular – usually mutually-exclusive adjectives where classical music is concerned. 

Sir John’s spiritual background was rich – he began life as a Presbyterian, but spent time adhering to both Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

Sir John  said:  “I think I’ve been very lucky all my life because the writing and the faith seem to go together.”

The point is of course that the late Sir John’s music was beautiful and we can all appreciate beauty.  It sometimes seems as though today’s artists and composers try to avoid beauty and distrust popularity.  There is a strange snobbishness against beauty – this blogger however is a simple soul and believes that the point of art, music and poetry is beauty.

It is the argument of this blog that Sir John achieved beauty, which led to a broader cross-section of popularity, because of his faith, which gave him a profound understanding of objective truth.  The danger for many modern artists is that they have gone down the dead end of subjectivity.  In fact they make a virtue of subjectivity!

Surely though, this is exactly what art should avoid – it should rather bring us closer to the truth if we are to share a common appreciation and all be inspired in response.  Subjectivity can sometimes risk becoming self-indulgent; following the truth is an act of selflessness.  Was it not subjectivity that the Old Testament prophet in part condemned when he spoke of each going their own way like lost sheep?

It is often commented that religion at least gave us great works of art.  Well, I would have thought that by definition religion leads to great art, because it leads us to truth and there is a true form of beauty that is not subjective (to paraphrase Keats).

Richard Wagner commented that the atheist cannot produce art.  Indeed, Sir John Tavener found his ability to compose greatly inhibited when he had a crisis of faith.  Speaking of this he said:  “When I became ill . . . I became conscious for the first time, the religious zeal I had before, I found had gone, but so had my ability to write music.  It was about three years without anything, I just wanted to lie in a darkened room.  And then the faith came back in a different way, with writing.”

The question that is begging is how can the atheist be inspired?  Well of course he can be inspired, even if he does not identify the source of inspiration.  It seems to the blogger that the trouble is that the artist will find his own subjective outlook gets in the way.  Much modern art seems indeed to regard subjectivity as conferring authenticity on creation.  Well we are all individuals and have something unique to say of course.  The danger is that once we start making an idol of our own talents and ideas then we become inaccessible to others and are no longer able to communicate beauty.  And that is not something to feel superior about!

What Sir John Tavener gave us were works of music that were a result of his own individual talent and personal outlook interacting with a shared concept of truth.  That is why he was able to achieve popularity with his modern music.  Surely to be authentic and popular is the aim of all creative people, because you thereby speak to many more people about the truth you wish to impart.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

In Memoriam

At this time of year, as the evenings draw in and nature goes into its annual decay, we spend time remembering.  The leaves are falling and the migrant birds have flown. In terms of festivals the Christian Feast of All Saints or All Hallows is preceded by Hallowe’en and succeeded by All Souls.  All Saints being a time when we remember the elect who went before and are now in Heaven, on Hallowe’en we traditionally try to ward off the evil spirits and on All Souls we remember the departed.  The veil between this world and the next seems at its most thin.

It is also a time of year when we remember the survival of our institutions of Monarch in Parliament on Guy Fawkes’ Night and in burning the eponymous effigy, we attempt the re-enactment of extirpation of menace from the Kingdom. We are exhorted to remember the fifth of November.  We remember again on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day those who have fallen in defence of these Islands.  With the centenary of the Great War next year, there will be much remembering of the young men who died for us in the trenches.

It is a time of year when elderly relatives who are unwell or frail often sadly pass, as the weather turns colder.  For many then there is a personal remembering of departed loved ones.

So at this time of year we are most conscious of the past and the eternal.  We remember the cloud of witnesses that surround us in Heaven.  We remember those we miss too.

At such a time, when those who went before feel so close, we sometimes realise that the past is not another country to misquote Harold Pinter, but the same country.  People lived on the land where our houses now sit.  People before us looked at the same hills on the horizon.  For many of us our own relatives lived in the vicinity or the same country for centuries before now.

As Housman wrote:

“Then, ‘twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.”

There has been a constant stream of events linking us all the way back.  Ancient Briton, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Viking and later migrations all were gradually absorbed.  We are all therefore connected to the past and while it does not define us, there is no breach between us and our forebears, but a continuous stream of people and events.  That is why traditions and institutions that bind one generation to the next are important for a nation.  If we lose the sense that we are linked with those who went before, thinking only the novel and new matters we become shallow and lose touch with who we are.  

Following traditions mean we acknowledge our link with our ancestors.  We celebrate the same feasts, are subject to the same Crown, are married and committed to the next world in the same ancient churches, live in the same land.  So at this time of year we can be especially conscious of our belonging to the country and the past.  By remembering the past we remember who we are, forget it and we break the bonds that hold us together.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Message to “Elf and Safety” – We will not be Druv!

The blogger for another year attended the Lewes firework celebration, where tradition, controlled anarchy and fireworks gain control of the streets of a Sussex town for one night of the year.  To anyone sick to the back teeth of our molicoddled, standardised and blandly modern world of political correctness and health and safety Lewes bonfire night is the greatest antidote.  Of course the P.C. forces of the nanny state hate it, but they just cannot control it.

The bonfire societies have a long tradition of resisting authority’s attempts to control bonfire night and their constant refrain is “We will not be druv!”  Sadly in Twenty-First Century Britain even Lewes is not unaffected by the dull and officious spirit of the age with all its health and safety and fear of anarchy.

Nonetheless the 2013 Lewes bonfire celebration kept that old spirit alive and –much to the frustration of the official mindset – it goes from strength to strength.  In a society as controlled as ours, where an impolite tweet on "Twitter" can lead to a police investigation, we all need a night off from the oppressiveness of the politically-correct atmosphere and Lewes, with its effigies, its controlled chaos, costumes, parades and vibrant traditions provides this.

Lewes does however highlight how in every other respect we are losing touch with our traditions and real life.  In a world where conker trees have to be cut down for reasons of health and safety or politicians with a little more character find their careers destroyed because they are not bland enough for the media and actually say things people feel, we are fast losing touch with real life and indeed losing touch with fun!

Yet again the political class lies at the root of the problem.  Many of the people who govern us have their roots in cosmopolitan London and move in a different sphere, ignorant of our nation's traditions.  The only way to succeed in politics is to be bland and dull.  Therefore the successful politicians are terrified of anything exciting, traditional or dangerous. 

Many politicians want us to live in a standardised, bland and modern world. Indeed “Modernisation” is their shibboleth – which means the chipping away at traditions seen as irrational, but which actually hold us together as a nation.

If more of our politicians were more rooted in England and its traditions we might see a different attitude.  There is however a self-perpetuating class of people who govern us, moving from Oxbridge to political researcher to MP, with little interaction with people outside the Westminster bubble.  The political class is standardised and boring and follows the same pet issues as the equally dull media class.  It then tries to remould our old country in its own image.

It is only in a Britain governed by such people that such a great tradition as Lewes Bonfire Night could be put under pressure or frowned upon.  Luckily the British public do not take the governing class very seriously and carry on anyway!  As the Bonfire Boys say:  “We will not be druv!”