Thursday 28 February 2013

Whistling Dixie

Barack Obama has seen fit to lecture us benighted Brits on the value of the European Union.  I have only one observation: I do so wish that he would stick to his own Union and not ours.  Does he not have troubles enough on his doorstep?  Perhaps he might care for a few helpful tips on managing his own affairs?  Would he welcome such a thing?  I rather think not.

He's a bit worried, you see, by Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposed in out referendum on British membership of our less perfect Union.  His administration has gone so far as to ‘warn’ (good word) our government against secession.  Has Obama, by chance, started to wear a stove pipe hat?  There he is, hoping that the mystic chords of memory will swell as they are touched by the better angels of our nature, that and a word or two from him.

My mystic chords are starting to hum.  I’m a secessionist; I want the bells of Charleston...sorry, London, to toll that day when we are once again free as a nation.  I want to be the first to fire on Fort Sumter, now conveniently located in Brussels.  The better angels of my nature tell me that the European Union is an affront to liberty, an affront to everything this nation stands for; an affront, for that matter, to everything America once stood for.  Quite frankly I can’t stand it; I can’t stand the bureaucrats and apparatchiks, the foreigners who exercise more control over our destiny than our own Parliament.  If Obama thinks it is possible to fool all of the people all of the time then he is wrong. 

But he can stand it, sitting in Washington, knowing not the first thing about this country or Europe.  Apparently he has raised the issue personally with Cameron.  A strong Britain in a strong Europe is in “America’s national interest.”  Oh, really? Well, then, let me return the favour – “Mister President, it is in the British national interest for a strong America remains a member of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)”  Now, just imagine the reaction to that!

Obama’s earnest desire that the British people are not allowed a vote on their future, just in case that such a vote proves contrary to the ‘American interest’, has a long history in his administration.  Three years ago Vice President Joe Biden (what a perfect foil against presidential assassination he is) visited Brussels, ludicrously describing the place as “the capital of the free world” and the European Parliament as the “bastion of European democracy.”  He went on to compare it with the US Congress.  To that I say he understands little about his own political process and nothing at all about ours.

But, please, please witter on, Joe.  As Neil Gardiner noted in the Telegraph, Obama and Biden’s views on Europe “are as relevant to British voters as the futile ranting of Herman Van Rompuy or Jose Manuel Barroso, and will only serve to reinforce the determination of millions of Britons to throw off the shackles of Brussels.”  If that’s the case then they are to be welcomed! 

American liberals, so I believe, think that the EU is a jolly good thing, a beacon of benevolence, an icon of peace, fairness and equality, as Lionel Shirver ironically observed in the latest issue of Standpoint.  Criticising the EU, she goes on to say, is like “drawing horns on Nelson Mandela, or making lewd thrusting hand gestures at Aung San Suu Kyi.” 

Do they know, do you know, what incorporation in this Union actually means?  Well, let me tell you this – the Southern Confederates of 1860 and 1861 had not a fraction of our grievances.  Let’s play a game, one which may help to focus things just a shade or two better.  Just imagine if the United States was part of a super national Conglomerate, incorporating both North and South America.  Just imagine the capital of this Conglomerate is in, say, Mexico City.  Are you ready?  OK, then, now we are set to go. 

There are so many aspects of your national life that are controlled from south of the border, down Mexico way.  Traders face severe legal penalties if they use any other than the metric system; so forget about your quarter pounders.  Washington has no control over immigration policy or the nation’s territorial waters; foreigners and foreign fishermen can come and go as they please; that’s all to the good, because Guatemala and Honduras are about to join the Conglomerate, thousands and thousands already looking hungrily towards your vanishing border.  Your law making bodies are no longer sovereign; even judgements by the Supreme Court can be overruled.  By the lights of the American Court of Human Rights, based in Bogota, even foreign terrorists will be allowed to remain, living for years on public support, because they have a “right to a family life.”  If, for any reason, the government offers the people a choice on some aspect of the Conglomerate’s policy, then, if the result is a negative one, the people will be asked to vote again and again until the people get it right. 

You think this is a joke, that things could not possibly go to this extreme?  It might be a joke for you; I assure you it is not joke for us.  The EU, contrary to Biden’s BS, is not the beacon of democracy but its shadow.  The European Parliament is not Congress but a hugely corrupt sinecure.  European democracy is a pretence, a hollow shell, eaten from the inside by termites.  It’s not the people who decide on the great issues of the day but the bureaucrats.  Manuel Barroso, the bureaucrat-in-chief who heads the Commission, is a former Maoist, which may give some insight into the political techniques he favours. 

People of my generation have never had a say in whether we want to be part of the EU or not.  The last vote we had on the subject was in 1975, so only people of my parents’ generation have had a choice on something that is of fundamental importance to us all.  And that referendum, I should add, was based on dissimulation, evasion and outright political fraud.  Mother and father voted yes then; they will not vote yes now.

I have no interest in the American interest.  I have an interest in my own interest, an interest in my future and the future of my nation, which is precisely why I want out of this corrupt and deadening Leviathan, this contemptible Union.  For all these reasons and more I’m a secessionist.  Obama can go hang and, for good measure, let the EU drop with him.  Meanwhile I shall sit on my hands and whistle Dixie. 

Wednesday 27 February 2013

A Culture of Fear

I wrote recently about the atrocious case of Stafford Hospital, a place where hundreds of patients are now thought to have died needlessly as a result of mismanagement, negligence and incompetence. Mismanagement, negligence and incompetence seem to have become the three wicked fairies haunting the state-funded British National Health Service (NHS). The scandal caused by their malevolent magic is now all but impossible to disguise.
The attempt has been made, though. The rot here goes high; it goes high as Sir David Nicholson, the former communist who is now Chief Executive of the National Health Service.  He recently made it plain that he had no intention of resigning, despite the damning and damaging report on Stafford Hospital, detailing abuses committed under his watch. But now the dam has burst; now we know of even further abuses that he chose to ignore.
In 2010 Gary Walker was sacked as the chief executive of the United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust in the east of England. The reason given was that he swore openly at meetings, which seems pretty flimsy on the face of it. Swearing or not, he was given a very generous severance package - £500,000 ($775,000) is not to be sworn at. It now appears that this money really was meant to shut his mouth.

The year before Walker was sworn off he raised concerns with Sir David over the standard of care in Lincolnshire hospitals. It seems that close on 700 patients may have died needlessly as a result of poor care. More were at risk. His warnings were ignored by Sir David, allegedly because he was “not interested in patient safety.”
He may not have cared about patient safety but he certainly cared about swearing Walker to silence. As part of his Midas handshake, he pledged to keep his concerns to himself. It was not, perhaps, a commendable choice on his part but his conscience got the better of him. His silence has been broken despite emails from NHS-funded lawyers warning him to keep to the terms of the 2010 agreement.
Speaking to the Daily Mail Walker said “I want David Nicholson to be held to account. I warned him that this was going to happen. I warned him that Lincolnshire was going to become the next Mid Staffordshire. He didn’t investigate those concerns, and now look what’s happened.” He went on to refer to the “culture of fear” within the NHS, something that seems to have been part of Nicholson’s management style.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals is one of fourteen trusts presently under investigation for negligence in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire revelations about death under care. Gagging is clearly no longer an option. But Walker’s honesty has placed him in an invidious position;
I stand to lose everything if they sue...Now I risk having to repay more than the settlement because I could be liable for the Trust’s legal fees. I face ruin. But if it’s got to the stage where thousands and thousands of patients are dying needlessly in NHS hospitals and the government says no one’s to blame, someone needs to stand up and be counted...I lost my career, my partner of six years and most of my assets challenging my dismissal. But I would not lose my integrity.

Letters have now emerged written by doctors and staff at the Lincolnshire Trust warning that they were being coerced into treating patients in an unsafe environment and thus endangering their safety. High mortality rates were simply ignored and staff told that “targets must be met regardless of demand.”
The recent Francis Report on the Stafford Scandal might useful be subtitled the No One’s to Blame Report; for seemingly no one is to blame for the abuses and the atrocities inflicted on patients, from Nicholson downwards. But at least it recommended an end to gagging orders imposed on whistle-blowers. Gary Walker’s case has now been raised in Parliament. Stephen Dorrell, Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Health, has said that he will be invited to give evidence. He went on to condemn gagging orders, describing them as “unacceptable in the NHS” and “against the public interest.
But that’s the thing: they clearly were acceptable, a part of a corporate culture that had little concern for the public interest or patient welfare. Speaking to the BBC Walker compounded an already heavy indictment against his former employers;
This is a culture of fear, a culture of oppression - of information that's either going to embarrass a civil servant or embarrass a minister. These are big problems. And if you consider that the people that have been running the NHS have created that culture of fear, they need either to be held to account or new people need to be brought in to change that culture.

On present indicators it seems likely that little will change. The corruption, the complacency and the laziness here go deep. In face of monstrous state bureaucracies like the NHS ordinary people, those who cannot afford private care, are effectively powerless, as much guinea pigs as they were in times past. Rather ironic considering that the whole institution is supported through their taxes. Here, perhaps, we have the true meaning of taxation without representation.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Tim Yeo is NOT a Corrupt Bastard

Do you ever wonder about political corruption, about those who use positions of power to advance their own venal interests?  I imagine it’s an issue that concerns most people, the declining standards of honesty in public life.  It’s always been with us, of course, but there was a time when it took effort to uncover dishonesty and the abuse of office. 

Now the corrupt are able to drape their dealings quite openly in some fashionable theory or other, avoiding all conflict of interest and crisis of conscience.  How convenient when one no longer has to justify one’s financial wheeler-dealing; how convenient when enrichment is aided by theory and by fashion. 

Just think of Timothy Yeo.  For those unfamiliar with the British political constellation, he is one of the stars in the Tory firmament, presently among the luminaries of our tree-hugging Coalition government, out to save the planet, regardless of the cost.  Oh, but no cost to Yeo; just the contrary; it’s rather a nice little earner. Rather conveniently for him, and for his bank balance, he is the Chairman of the Commons Select Committee, a powerful and influential voice.  

Green policies and wind farms are a jolly good thing, he thinks.  Is there any surprise here?  He earns £65,000 ($98,500) as a Member of Parliament, not a lot, you may very well agree, not a lot for a man like Yeo.  Not to worry: this was supplemented last year by those who appreciate the true value of the Yeo factor.  It was supplemented, to be exact, by an extra £136,000 ($206,000), enabling the poor man to live in a manner to which he clearly has become accustomed.  This, I should add, for a minimum of work.  More, really, for his windy presence. 

So who are these Yeo philanthropists, you ask?  Would it surprise you to know that they are all green?  Oh, not green in judgement, just green in interest, keen in ensuring that environmental friendliness remains one of the great political and policy stalwarts of the day.  For as Tim gets rich they get richer - ‘green’ companies like AFC Energy, Eco City Vehicles and TMO Renewables. 

On his paymaster’s behalf – the interests of all of us, at least for those who are not green with envy, Yeo has moved an amendment to the present Energy Bill that will add even tighter targets on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by generating power.  A holy green alliance has been formed.  Alongside Yeo and his shadowy backers (where does their money come from?  Who are the investors) there are the usual suspects, the usual variety of nauseating green lobby groups, Socialist and Liberal MPs and others who are likely to ensure that the amendment is adopted.  The irony of making the rich richer and the poor poorer seems to have escaped the Parliamentary Labour Party.  Yeo’s amendment will mean ever higher energy bills, energy beyond the means of many of the elderly, many more of how will die in future of hypothermia.  I urge you, do not grow old in our brave new energy world.  Oh, but the greater cause of Yeo is such a noble end, worth a few casualties along the way

Two years ago I wrote an article on the spread of wind farms (Whistle down the wind, 31, May 2011) in which I made the following points;

Wind farms, who does not hate the sight of wind-farms? I certainly do. You may think they are necessary as a source of clean and renewable power. If you do I urge you to think again, think of the implications of these hideous blots on the landscape for the landscape. As foreign investors rush in to capitalise on British wind - and the wind of British politicians - just remember that it would take require a farm the size of Greater London to generate as much energy as a single coal-fired power station, assuming a never ending windy day. 

Oh, but think of the money to be made; think of the money being made, for example, by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, effectively bribed by developers to stop them complaining about the killing of eagles by wind turbines. Then there are the bats, of course, the damage these things cause to them; but who cares about the bats? You should care about yourself, though, enough to make sure that you live nowhere near these monstrous carbuncles, because the noise generated has caused health problems for those who do. The difficulty here is that, as the contagion spreads, it will be difficult for any of us to escape them. 

And all this for what, all this disruption, all this stupidity for what? We see our land destroyed, we see the economy weakened, jobs lost or exported elsewhere; we see an ever greater burden of taxation for what?   

Well now I know – it’s all for the benefit of Yeo!  Speak out as much as you want; it will make no practical difference.  Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University has spoken out, saying that even without the amendment the long-term consequences of the Bill will be horrible (his word).  “It’s a recipe for deindustrialisation”, he added.  “Either we get rid of this obsession, or we give our future to the rest of the world.  The question is whether we are serious about our economic future or not.”
Tim Yeo is serious about his own economic future, just as he is serious about keeping wind farms away from his own immediate neighbourhood.  The rest can go hang, which a great many may very well do in future, when the alternative is a slow death by cold. 

Let me amend the ending of my previous article.  As you sit in your blacked-out and freezing home, listening to the sound of the roaring wind farms, comfort yourself by thinking of Yeo’s profits.  Shame on you for thinking this man, with all of his noble intentions, is a greedy, corrupt, pocket-lining bastard.  Same on you for thinking that the Energy Bill is a fraud, verging on treason against this country.  Shame on you for thinking that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Labour Party are deluded, self-serving and pathetic morons.  Shame on you for thinking that the investors in the ‘green’ energy firms might very well be Chinese.  The future, you see, is Green...backs.  Oh, and the future is for pigs.  

Monday 25 February 2013

Pants on Fire!

When I was in Taiwan I visited the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, a structure worthy of a Chinese Emperor, there to see mementos of the late Generalissimo, including his car.  When I was in Tunisia I visited the Habib Bourgiba Mausoleum in Monastir, there to see mementos of the country’s first president, including his silk summer suit. 
How would you choose to be remembered, what object or personal belonging might best represent your life?  Perhaps a car, or a suit or some other item that would reflect on your dignity or your humility?  Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen, is memorialising his own thirty three year rule in a new museum created in his honour.  And what do you think he has chosen as the central and most personal exhibit, the thing he wants people to remember him by?  This is a man less ordinary.  He does not want anything as ordinary as a car or a suit.  He has chosen, rather, a pair of his scorched underpants.  Yes it’s true – Ali, Ali,  Pants on Fire! 
His singed white pants, along with a pair of torn trousers, is the central display in the new museum, set up in a wing of the Saleh Mosque in Sanaa, the capital.  The torn and burnt clothing is a reminder of the bomb blast that almost killed the ex-president during the 2011 rising against his autocratic rule.  Although not yet open to the public, the news of Ali Saleh’s risible narcissism has spread. 
Although still a powerful figure in Yemeni politics, he is seemingly wholly unaware just how ridiculous this makes him look, a clear comment on the blind and humourless vanity of certain politicians.  Or perhaps it’s just Arab autocrats that are at fault here.  Can you imagine Hitler, Stalin or Mao expecting the masses to be in awe of their burnt smalls? No?  I certainly can't.  
I expect you have already booked your flight to Sanaa, keen to pay your own respects to the Ali Saleh legacy.  You will be pleased to know that the museum holds a further 2000 exhibits, gifts from foreign dignitaries.  There is a Christmas card from Princess Anne that you might want to see.  Just look for the section marked “Spain, Portugal and Hungari” [sic].  I’m not sure if this means that the said card was sent from Spain, Portugal or Hungari, or if some other bizarre logic is at work.  Perhaps the curators think that Britain is located somewhere alongside Spain, Portugal or Hungari. 
Meanwhile Hamza al-Shargabi, a Yemeni blogger now based in New York, has set up a page on Facebook, “We are all going to see Ali Saleh pants on fire.”  I can’t wait.  

Sunday 24 February 2013

Various Conservatives in Search of an Ideology

Six Characters in Search of an Author is a play by Luigi Pirandello, first performed in Italy in 1921. It’s an absurdist drama which might be said to have anticipated an absurdist turn in Italian politics the following year, when Mussolini did or did not march on Rome, creating his own incomprehensible drama.

David Cameron, our present Prime Minister; now there is another absurd little man. He is also the leader of the Conservative Party, for which he has penned his own drama – Various Characters in Search of an Ideology. Manicomio!, - Madness - the audience shouted at Pirandello’s premier. I doubt very many people will muster sufficient energy to pass any comment at all on the Cameron show. It’s really quite funny, though, in a sort of gallows-humour kind of way.

Cameron, as most people are aware (surely they are?), is a chip off the old Tony Blair block. He is a post-modern Tory who has forgotten, if he ever learned, the fundamental truth about the Conservative Party – it does not think; it does not do philosophy; it just is – it exists therefore it exists. But now, under the guidance of the Dear Leader, the Party is in search of an anchor; it looks to fix itself in a seabed of trendy and fashionable ideas.

Roger Scruton, who does a passable imitation of a traditional conservative thinker, as opposed to a Conservative thinker, has published a perceptive article in the March issue of Prospect. It’s headed Postmodern Tories: What does the Conservative party believe any more? Is it meant to believe anything, I ask? The answer is, yes; unfortunately it is. Nature, after all, hates a vacuum. His article is a reflection on two recent publications: Britannia Unchained, co-authored by a group of up-thrusting and young Conservative Members of Parliament, and Tory Modernisation 2.0, issued by Bright Blue, an organisation that apparently campaigns for reform within the Conservative Party. Where the Number 2.0 comes from I have no idea. Oh, well, maybe I do!

The authors of Britannia Unchained include Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab, a measure of just how far the cosmopolitan and deracinated Cameron project has advanced in recent years. As some of you may have noted, I’m reading the Palliser novels, Anthony Trollope’s epic account of nineteenth century English political life and political attitudes. It’s put me in rather a nostalgic mood, longing for good old-fashioned Tory names like Sir Orlando Drought and Sir Timothy Beeswax. Alas, I fear I’m a hopeless case when it comes to post-modern modernisation.

I’m getting away from the point, the point being Scruton’s article. The philosophy here is deep and difficult, he writes, but the rhetoric is easy. Matthew Arnold put it well: “...a very good horse to ride; but to ride somewhere.” Aye, there’s the rub. Where is this horse being ridden? Just about as far away from the bedrock of conservatism as is possible to get; as far away from Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and David Hume managed to get, those fossils whose accounts are of no account compared with the masterly analysis of Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab, to say nothing of the Blue Group, whoever they are. Today’s winning rhetoric is all about ‘fairness’, ‘compassion’ and ‘cuddles.’ Who exactly is taken in by this rot? Honestly, I have no idea.

As Scruton says, even those on the right (right of what?) who believe that the long-term effect of this rhetoric is to make everyone dependent on the state, and the state dependent on borrowing from a purely imaginary future, will go on repeating it. It’s all about being caring, fairing and nice; it’s about hugging a hoodie; it’s all about singing Kumbaya around a vast communal bonfire. That’s not Scruton; that’s my own spin, my view of the Cameroons, situated in those tropics where intelligence simply melts in the heat.

The Tory past is a foreign country; they did things differently there. The Tory past includes Sir Robert Peel, himself something of a moderniser. Peel was clear enough in his view:

By Conservative principles I mean ... the maintenance of the Peerage and Monarchy — the continuance of the just powers and attributes of King, Lords and Commons in this country ... By Conservative principles I mean that, coexistent with equality of civil rights and privileges, there shall be an established religion and imperishable faith and that established religion shall maintain the doctrines of the Protestant Church ... By Conservative principles, I mean ... the maintenance, defence and continuance of those laws, those institutions, that society, and those habits and manners, which have contributed to and mould and form the character of Englishmen.

Now just imagine ‘Call me Dave’ thinking or speaking like that! Call me Dave calls to the founder of modern Conservatism, saying that he supports gay marriage not in spite of being a Conservative but because he is a Conservative. I suppose it’s a measure of just how healthy the Party is now under his Gay Watch that he is receiving all sorts of helpful advice on ‘modernisation’ from publications like the New Statesman. It’s quite understandable from their point of view, a meaningful political strategy. After all, why bother attempting to deconstruct and destroy the Conservative Party when its leader is doing such a first class job? Just help them bit by bit along the road to modernisation and electoral oblivion. This first class job, incidentally, includes the deconstruction of England itself, a project begun so admirably by Tony Blair.

Scruton’s conclusion hits home;

Those are only some of the problems faced, now, by the Conservative party in its search for a defining philosophy. Demographic changes, highlighted by the recent census, further emphasise the difficulty in reformulating the philosophy of “us.” Far easier, you might think, to replace “us” with everyone, to dissolve the country and its culture in the abstract idea of human rights, and to march with Nick Clegg into a transnational future, leaving England on the dust-heap of history. That, in effect, is what the “modernisation wing” of the Tory party is hoping for—a new kind of conservatism which conserves nothing, changes everything, and is guided by the very same rhetoric of equality and human rights that shapes the left-liberal agenda. If that is where we are, then conservatism is dead.

That, Dear Roger, is exactly where we are. Conservatism, at lest insofar as it is embodied in the modern Conservative Party, is dead. What we have in its place is a Party committed to a loose amalgam of trendy metropolitan causes, as trendy and as metropolitan as those who pen advice on modernisation, on forms of political innovation that nobody beyond themselves has any interest in, apart from the liberal left, that is, who see a chance of nailing Conservatism forever.

There is a tiny ray of hope. Conservatism in the small c sense isn’t dead; it’s too much a part of the English character for that. But it has no effective voice in the representative bodies of our nation. Real conservatism has been defined as ‘nasty’ by the persuasive pundits who now supposedly speak from the right.

And me? I’m opposed to Cameron not in spite of being a conservative but because I am a conservative. I would never dream, though, of being a Conservative, not now, not at any time in the foreseeable future. My mind is too empty and too nasty for that, too lost in the past. Apart from that, my name isn’t foreign or cosmopolitan or post-modern enough.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Creating a Desolation

Last week, just before Valentine’s Day, North Korea carried out its latest nuclear test.  In a way this was a greeting to the world, or at least to the United States.  It was meant to convey one core message: all members of the Axis of Evil are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This test comes almost ten years after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  It’s time, I think, to recall the words of Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State – “The message out of Iraq is that if you don’t have nuclear weapons, you get invaded.  If you do have nuclear weapons, you don’t get invaded.”  North Korea has them, and is determined to show the world that it has them.  Iran - also on George Bush’s Axis - is on the way to acquiring them and there is really very little to be done.  The truth is simple enough: the invasion of Iraq has made the world an immeasurably more dangerous place.

Perhaps if George Bush had read Carl von Clausewitz, the great Prussian military strategist, things might have been different.  My goodness; what could a nineteenth century thinker have to say about a twenty-first century military fiasco, what could he possibly say to Bush that Bush would have understood?  Probably nothing, but you might care to consider the following passage from On War, Clausewitz' magnum opus:

No one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses should do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.

You see, what is important here, what Clausewitz understood and American strategic planners did not, is not so much the specific design, the aims and objectives as these are conceived in advance of an attack, but what unintended consequencesmay arise. War is then not a ‘continuation of policy by other means.’ Rather it can, and does, produce entirely new lines of policy that turn the original objectives inside out. For Washington the unintended consequences of the war in Iraq have, quite simply, been endless.

So, what did the Bush administration not anticipate? For one thing it did not anticipate that America casualties would be greater after ‘victory’ than before. Above all, it did not anticipate being involved in a sectarian war. It was all so one dimensional: a deposed dictator, a grateful people, a new democracy. The real consequences have been a more unstable Middle East, an increased danger of terrorism, a growing threat to the civil liberties of the democratic nations, and a widespread distrust of the United States and England among the Islamic countries.

In response to a deteriorating strategic situation Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of Defence, said quite simply, in the crassest possible way, ‘Stuff happens’. But you see, stuff should not happen if war is a rational pursuit of policy in the sense that Clausewitz conceived. The advice he would have given to Bush and Rumsfeld is to read the signs of history for possible consequences, in an attempt to minimise the variables. But they did not read history; they did not read Clausewitz and they did not understand Iraq. The only certainty has been and more chaos.

I am convinced, in this anniversary year, that history will look back on the Iraq War as one of the great political and strategic disasters of our age.  The whole escapade was built on a lie after lie: Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and he had no contact whatsoever with Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.  It was the invasion itself that gave these murderous militants a major opportunity.  Rather than a stable democracy, the most pronounced of Bush’s many delusions, Iraq today is not that much better than it was yesterday.  Nouri al-Maliki, the present prime minister, has been building up a new dictatorship, concentrating more and more power in his hands and in the hands of his Dawa Party. 

Out of sight out of mind, or hear no evil, see no evil, seems to be the attitude of people who have the good fortune not live in this benighted ‘democracy.’  But evil there is.  We no longer hear of the killing but the killing still goes on.  Last year alone some 4500 civilians died in violence.  So far this month another 253 have been added to the list. The body count grows by the day.  Yesterday seventeen people were killed, fourteen by gunfire and three by bombs. 

The overall picture is horrendous, a cost that almost defies comprehension.  In the nine year period from 2003 to 2012 almost 4,500 American service people were killed along with 179 British.  But the Iraqi deaths, what of those?  According to theLancet, a well respected British medical journal, in the three years from 2003 to 2006 alone over 600,000 died as a result of violence, Yes, 600,000 – bombed, burned, stabbed, shot and tortured to death.  Proportionately that's the equivalent of 6 million Americans or 1.2 million Britons killed over the same period.  Can you conceive of such a Holocaust, can you conceive of the anguish and horror it would cause?  I can't.  

According to recent polls, the majority of the Iraqi people believe that they are worse off now than they were under Saddam, quite an achievement by any reasonable measure, considering what a thoroughly unpleasant person the former tyrant was. 

Now instead of a strong secular dictatorship there is a weak half-hearted democracy, torn by factional divisions and haunted by unresolved tensions. A large part of its population in the south is more loyal in political and religious outlook to Tehran rather than Baghdad. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that Iraq will ever be a stable democracy in the Western sense of the term. We wasted millions for what?  For precisely nothing, no political advantage, no strategic advantage; nothing.  There is a perversity here that, quite frankly, is beyond my comprehension. 

There are other issues, other things opened up by the invasion that people might not have been aware of. Did you know, for instance, that women under the rule of Saddam enjoyed a relatively free lifestyle, in that they had many of the same opportunities as men? They were not required to wear the burqa or the headscarf. After the invasion women in the south around the city of Basra were murdered for being considered ‘too western’ by the Shiite militias. Female athletes have been threatened with death for appearing ‘immodest’. Teenagers have been killed because of their hair styles.  The whole thing, quite simply, is a nightmare.

I cast my eye over the disaster of Iraq and the Roman historian Tacitus comes to mind.  Into the mouth of a barbarian chef, resisting a Roman incursion, he puts some powerful words;

A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery and rapine, they give the lying name of 'government'; they create a desolation and call it peace.....

As we approach another milestone in this sad history you might care to reflect that your country and mine, the United States and England, President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, those emperors of lying conceit, created a desolation and called it democracy. No wonder North Korea is perfecting its  nuclear shield.  

Wednesday 20 February 2013

At the Top of the Greasy Pole

I started my odyssey through Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series of political novels in early 2011, beginning with Can You Forgive Her? I said at the outset of my review of this book that the year was to be my Trollope period, an author I had hitherto overlooked. Well, I only made it as far as Phineas Redux, the fourth in the series, which I reviewed in October, 2011, just before a trip to Egypt. I was sidetracked, as I am invariably am, setting off in the pursuit of various literary foxes, shifting from one horse to another in mid-gallop. I took time out but I was out for almost a year and a half! 

Now I’m back on course, having finished The Prime Minister, the sequel to Phineas Redux, at the weekend. Once again I immersed myself in the high Victorian political and social milieu; once again I was captivated by the intrigues and the machinations of Trollope’s most engaging character – Lady Glencora Palliser, now the Duchess of Omnium. Her husband, Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, formerly the Chancellor of the Exchequer and now the Prime Minister, has at last made it to the top of the greasy pole, but, oh my, what a struggle she has trying to stop him from sliding back down! 

Her problem is simply stated: Plantagenet is the noblest Roman of them all, something of a drawback when it comes to the realities of modern political life. He heads a coalition, a compromise on men and measures, cobbled together to break a political deadlock. He becomes Prime Minister, moreover, simply because there is no one else suitable at the time, not as the fruit of his own ambition. But, alas, he is not comfortable in the role; he is far too honest, far too thin-skinned and far, far too scrupulous. The Duchess, if only it were possible, could have done it so much better;

They should have made me Prime Minister...I could have done all the dirty work. I could have given away garters and ribbons and made my bargains while giving them. I would give pensions or withheld them and make stupid men peers..... a man at a regular office has to work and that is what Plantagenet is fit for. He wants always to be doing something...............but a Prime Minister should never go beyond generalities about commerce, agriculture, peace and general philanthropy. Of course he should have the gift of the gab and that Plantagenet hasn't got....I could do a Mansion House dinner to a marvel.

Oh, Glencora, you were a hundred years too early! 

The truth is that the Duke, for all his moral rectitude, or because of his moral rectitude, is a dull dog, high-minded but uninspiring, wholly unsuited for a position which demands the kind of personal and managerial skills that he simply does not have. Does Trollope conceive of him as an admirable figure? Yes, he obviously does, though he is clearly one best suited the second rank of political life, far better as a Chancellor, where he can ponder the ins and outs of decimalisation – one of his obsessions – without having to concern himself with the kind of things that the Duchess understands are an essential part of effective leadership. A good Prime Minister has to be a consummate actor. Glencora realises this; Plantagenet does not. No, that’s not quite true: he does not want to play a part. Playing a part, to be more exact, involves compromising his Olympian ideals of probity and honour. 

Those who are interested in present day English political realities will find The Prime Minister dryly amusing at points, not least when the author touches on the nature of coalition government. England does not love coalitions, Disraeli said. That may be true, but England has to suffer coalition;

...coalitions of this kind have been generally feeble, sometimes disastrous, and on occasions, even disgraceful. When a man, perhaps through a long political life, has bound himself to a certain code of opinions, how can he change the code in a moment? And when at the same moment, together with the change, he secures power, patronage, and pay, how shall the public voice absolve him? 

The Prime Minister is certainly a political novel, but the game – unlike the novels of Disraeli himself - is played in the minor key; the politics are the personal. There are really no high ideological issues at stake, no great clash of principles. The focus, rather, is on social, sexual and domestic politics, the politics of marriage above all, particularly as this bears on property relations. 

The author is particularly good on the position of women in the Victorian world. Marriage to a virtuous gentleman, as he sees it, is that highest thing they can aim for, but he does not shy away from the penalties: the frustration of limited prospects and circumscribed lives. It’s also a novel of contrasting types. There is the practical Glencora, a foil to the high-minded Plantagenet. But the greatest contrast of all is between the Duke, a very perfect, gentle knight, and one Ferdinand Lopez, a parvenu, an interloper and - in his personal impact on the lifes of those with whom he comes into contact - something of an incubus. 

Where Lopez comes from, who and what his antecedents were, and how this outsider managed to graft himself on to the highest reaches of English society is never fully explained. Why Glencora takes him up – with unfortunate consequences for her husband – is also something of a mystery, given that he is wholly without connections or influence. Lopez, as an interloper, becomes the butt of all sorts of mid-Victorian prejudices. He is “a man without a father, a foreigner, a black Portuguese nameless Jew...[with] a bright eye, a hook nose and a glib tongue.” Whether or not Lopez is Jewish he certainly takes on the role of the unscrupulous financier, comparing himself at one point to Shakespeare’s Shylock.

Lopez is the kind of figure that might very well find a resonance with a modern readership, particularly as we all now live in ABC – the Aftermath of the Banking Crisis. He’s not a banker himself but he is a speculator, a man who uses the money of others wholly without any kind of scruple. Amongst other things he deals in guano, which may or may not be intended to convey the author’s own estimation of a particular kind of entrepreneurial capitalism! Lopez has nothing, no background, no wealth, no prospects; nothing beyond his wit. 

In his smooth glibness, he manages to contract a socially advantageous marriage to one Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer, who also happens to be a scion of England’s old rural Tory squirearchy. 

I’ve admired a great many of Trollope’s female characters hitherto, particularly Glencora (who could not admire and love her?), Madame Max Goesler and even the colourful and slightly disreputable Lizzie Eustace. 

Emily Wharton is a contrast in every way; she is a crashing bore. Her one defining characteristic is a perverse obstinacy, coupled with dog-like notions of duty. She is obstinate in her desire to marry Lopez, though she knows nothing about him, and she is obstinate in widowhood – sorry for the spoiler – when he has conveniently been dispatched, Anna Karenina-style, though he had previously used her shamefully in an attempt to milk her father's wealth. After his death she descends into morbid mourning, even though the marriage was a disaster. In fact her widowhood becomes a badge of personal self-immolation. The man was unworthy of her; she should never have married; she rejected honest and true love; it's all her fault - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Why poor Andrew Fletcher, part of the family’s county set, continued in his unrelenting devotions I have no idea! 

I was tempted to write that The Prime Minister is a kind of comedy of manners, except there is not really much in the way of comedy (The Duchess has a few good self-deprecating lines, though). It’s certainly a superb panorama, ranging over aspects of Victorian life, attitudes and manners at the higher reaches of society, the kind of parts that Dickens never reached or wanted to reach. Trollope, moreover, has a crisp and engaging style. 

There is also, at least it seems to me, an intriguing ambiguity in his message. He obviously disapproves of the morally reprehensible Lopez, but Lopez, or people like him, were the motors of Victorian transformation, the risk takers and the deal makers. Is he really suggesting that the only alternative is the unimpeachable Whartons and Fletchers, the epitome of rural stasis and torpor? Ah, but as Abel Wharton, Emily's father, reflects "...the world was changing around him every day. Royalty was marrying out of its degree. Peers' sons were looking only for money. And, more than that, peers' daughters were bestowing themselves on Jews and shopkeepers." The world is changing, yes, but all change is accompanied by fear, uncertainty and prejudice. 

Anyway, read it and make up your own mind. I assure you it’s well worth the effort. You may even, like me, be engaged enough to cry out in frustration when the plot takes a particular turn, or certain characters prove to be more than usually annoying. I defy anyone, moreover, not to hate Quintus Slide the newspaper proprietor, as slimy as any modern press baron.

So, yes, I’ve bagged my fifth literary Munro in the Trollope range. I spy the last, The Duke’s Children, in the distance. I promise my next review shall not be as distant. 

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Benedict and the Wolves

TIred and emotional

In his very first sermon as Pope, Benedict XVI asked the faithful to pray for their new shepherd “that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” The wolves, it would seem, have proved too numerous and too strong. He has become the first Pope to step down from the throne of Saint Peter since Gregory XII in 1415.

Who are the wolves, you might wonder? The first thing anyone looking at Vatican politics should be aware of is that it is the last Byzantine Court in Europe, surviving all others by several centuries. It combines, as did its long dead predecessors, an outward and divinely sanctioned autocracy with internal politics of bewildering complexity.

The resignation of Benedict, which a great many are refusing to accept at face value, namely that it was for health reasons, has led to levels of speculation and conspiracy theories that even Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, could would find implausible and fanciful. I’m no wiser than anyone else but I think it reasonable to suggest that the Pope’s loss of vocation, if that’s the right word, has as much to do with the back-stabbing politics of the Curia as anything else. If he wasn’t exhausted already the poison here would certainly have seriously weakened his system.

If one really wants to understand the Curia then one could do no better to turn to John Cornwall, an expert on papal history and author of the controversial Hitler’s Pope, who aptly described it as a “palace of gossipy eunuchs.” I would simply add treachery and back-stabbing to the gossip, the speciality of eunuchs throughout history.

Apparently Benedict is suffering from a terminal illness; either that or the head injury he suffered on a visit to Mexico last March convinced him it was time to abdicate. The fact that it took him almost a year to make up his mind suggests that it also reduced his decision-making process to glacial slowness. Then there is the Renaissance-style drama: he is being forced out after a recent acrimonious exchange with senior cardinals, or he faces disgrace over the shady dealings of the Vatican Bank. Add to that even more venomous accusations: his fall is attributable to past cover ups over paedophile priests.

There is a lot of tut-tutting disapproval among some of the faithful. In his blog, Marco Ventura, professor of law and religion at Siena University, wrote that “The theologian who held relativism as the worst foe of the church will be the pope who relativised the papacy.” That’s nothing. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late John Paul II’s secretary, is a wolf closer to home. According him “one does not come down from the cross”, a rather interesting interpretation of the papal office. Ignore this; the words were taken ‘out of context’, the Vatican later said, the usual thing when the context, and the intent, is blindingly obvious. Anyway, it seems only fair to note that there is a wider ‘context’ that the Cardinal appears to have forgotten: John Paul twice prepared letters of resignation in case he became incapable. The Pope may be the Vicar of Christ but he is still only human.

I’m not a Catholic; I’m not even a Christian, so why do I feel the need to speak out here? Why? Simply because I hate to see this occasion being turned in to a cudgel with which to beat Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. I may not be a Christian but I grew up in the time-worn Anglo-Catholic tradition, one for which I still retain considerable respect. What I hate with a passion, as I wrote elsewhere, is ignorance and prejudice and ignorance born of prejudice. I fully agree with John O’Sullivan, who wrote in this weeks Spectator;

...Benedict dealt with the problems he inherited with courage, honesty and surprising dispatch, but often in the face of resistance. That was especially true of the child sex abuse scandals. After an investigation that left him horrified, Benedict not only offered victims and their families sincere apologies; he strengthened canon law to compel Church authorities to inform the police of abuse accusations; and he investigated and condemned powerful figures who had managed to escape censure. But though his zeal never weakened, his energy and ability to pursue crime and the criminals through the ecclesiastical machine did.

Ah, yes, the machine, the Curia, the Court, the Bureaucracy, worse than anything ever faced by a Byzantine Emperor. In his Ash Wednesday mass in Saint Peter’s Benedict appealed to the Church to move beyond “individualism and rivalry.” Aye, there’s the rub.

There is no reason to suppose that Benedict’s resignation was not brought on by declining powers; and there is no reason to suppose that the powers made the decline all the more inevitable. Last year’s revelations by Pablo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler, showed a culture of vicious infighting and character assassination. You see: it’s all those gossipy eunuchs.

Benedict never wanted to be Pope; he was his predecessor’s choice-in-waiting. His talents are those of the scholar and the theologian, not the politician. Benedict is no Borgia. Come to think of it, perhaps that what the Vatican needs, a Borgia for the twenty-first century, one who can master the Curia and ensure the continuing relevance of the Church in an ever more complex and fractious world.

It seems to me that the Vatican has returned to the Middle Ages, the time when Popes were the playthings of the Roman nobility, when pontiffs like John XVIII and Benedict IX were forced to resign by a mixture of political intimidation and personal bullying. The nobility is long gone. No, it has not. Families like the Crescentii have long gone; in their place has come the College of Cardinals, the new aristocracy, as treacherous and often as self-serving as the old. Benedict retired simply because his health was no longer equal to the politics. The wolves ate him alive.

Monday 18 February 2013

Remembering George Orwell

George Orwell was born in June, 1903. No, he wasn’t. George Orwell was born in January, 1933. Actually, both are true. What; is there something Orwellian here; are we to entertain contradictory statements without being aware of the contradiction? Are we in the foothills of double-think? 

OK, then, let me clarify: Eric Arthur Blair, who was to become George Orwell, was indeed born in June, 1903. Although he had previously published some minor articles with the by-line E. A. Blair, the pen name by which he is best known comes with the publication in January, 1933 of Down and Out in Paris and London, his George Gissing-like odyssey into the nether world.

So this year is an anniversary in two senses – the one hundred and tenth of his birth and the eightieth of his first reasonably successful literary endeavour, the kind of perceptive, unadorned and matter-of-fact sociological analysis that he was to make a unique feature of his writing.

Orwell - like Charles Dickens a social analyst as well as a novelist - is one of my favourite writers. Like him, my own ambition is to make political writing into an art, an aim he set out in Why I Write, one of his most brilliant essays. Like him, I discovered the sheer joy of words when I was in my mid-teens. I first readAnimal Farm, his exposé of the fraudulent character of Soviet Communism, when I was fourteen. I have been reading his work on and off ever since, his novels, his reportage, his criticism, his occasional pieces and his journalism. 

This anniversary year I’ve been re-tracing my steps, overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance and insight in the likes ofCharles Dickens, a critical essay of outstanding ability. As with so much of his work there is a slight element of biography. I give you, from the conclusion, how Orwell saw Dickens and how I see Orwell:

When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.

I’ve been looking for this face also in biography. I looked for it in George Orwell by Gordon Bowker. This is not the first account of Orwell’s life that I’ve tackled. I read Bernard Crick’s study while I was still at school, though I remember little of it now. What can I say about Bowker? He has given us an honest and decent account of honesty and decency, the major themes, if you like, of Orwell’s literary career. What I do remember about Crick is that his book was primarily political in purpose. Bowker, I suppose, is more classic biography, a warts and all portrait. It’s a good workman-like effort, though I have to say I could have done without the occasional ‘he would have thought’, the kind of tiresome and speculative formula used to fill gaps in the narrative. This sort of thing simply will not do! 

I think I probably know as much about Orwell about as anyone, which is to say I’m not sure how much I really know. He certainly left traces, including Such, Such Were the Joys, his posthumous exposé of life at Saint Cyprian’s, his prep school, where he says that he does not want to make it sound like Dickens’ Dotheboys Hall and then makes it sound remarkably like, well, Dotheboys Hall! At other times he can be quite guarded, saying very little about his five years as an imperial policeman in Burma, his version, I think of Gorky’s ‘university.’ It left him with an abiding hatred of imperialism and left us with two superlative essays – A Hanging and Shooting an Elephant, but not much more besides. It also gave us Burmese Days, his first novel and, in my estimation, his best. 

That’s the other thing about Orwell – he was an artist first and foremost, not beyond a certain amount of embellishment and poetic licence. Did he really shoot an elephant? Yes, it seems he did, but perhaps not in the way he suggested. I imagine the political symbolism was just a brilliant afterthought. 

As I say, Bowker gives us a decent warts and all portrait, not avoiding some of the less savoury aspects of the writer’s character, including his apparent homophobia, his anti-Semitism and his misogyny. Sex for Orwell seems to have been something of an imperial experience, picked up clearly during his formative years in Burma, quick possession and rapid fulfillment being the only aims! Ah, but he was man of his times, for all of his progressive attitudes, replete with the residual prejudices of his time and his class, things which have become rather amusing with the passage of time. His fulminations against fruit juice (fruit juice!) and nudism in The Road to Wigan Pier are a joy to behold. Eileen O’Shaughnessy, his first wife, was in the habit of pulling his leg over some of his more outrageous statements, which he took in good humour. 

When I think of Orwell I also think of Jonathan Swift, who just so happens to have been one of his favourite authors. Orwell was the Swift of the Age of Ideology, exposing in the most biting satire the lies and deceptions that had become part of contemporary political discourse. If Swift was a frustrated Tory, Orwell was a frustrated Socialist, more critical of his own side than the enemy. It was in Stalinism that he saw the greatest evil, particularly after his experiences in Spain, recorded so memorably in Homage to Catalonia Here, with language abused for political ends, with the truth turned inside out, with today’s orthodoxy becoming tomorrow’s heterodoxy, the foundations were laid for the Nineteen Eighty Four, the ultimate nightmare of the age.

I believe that Orwell is best approached through his work. But if you are coming to him for the first time, or if you are looking for a thread through the labyrinth, then George Orwell is a useful companion. It’s well-situated, well-structured and well-written without a superabundance of detail. It’s a little lacking, perhaps, in critical analysis, but I do not believe that to be a great fault. 

For so many years success and recognition had eluded Orwell, often reduced to the same tenuous straights as Edwin Reardon in George Gissing’s New Grub Street. It came eventually, particularly after the publication of Animal Farm, but by now the author was approaching a premature death, carried away eventually by the lung aliment that had troubled him for most of his life. 

Just before Orwell’s death at the tragically early age of forty-six in January, 1950 Desmond MacCarthy, a distinguished editor and literary critic, wrote saying that he considered him “among the few memorable writers of your generation”, one who had left “an indelible mark on English literature.” It serves, I think, as an abiding epitaph. Bowker has done good service in reminding us just how memorable he was. 

Sunday 17 February 2013

I'm as Mad as Hell

Network is a movie made in 1976 that features Peter Finch as Howard Beale, a deranged TV news anchorman.  In a sublime moment of madness Beale speaks to the nation at large, clearly striking a cord.  This is the wonderful “I’m as Mad as Hell”, rant;

We know things are bad — worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot — I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. [shouting] You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

Well, then, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.  I was as mad as hell on Valentine’s Day, taking part in a One Billion Rising event in London’s Parliament Square.  One Billion Rising, if you’ve not heard of it - and lots of people have not - was a world-wide day of action intended to draw attention to the problem of sexual violence towards women and children across the globe.  The Billion in the title is intended to emphasise that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, that’s approximately a billion human beings.

My first article of 2013 drew attention to the appalling rape case in India, where the victim was butchered as well as assaulted.  Sexual violence is an issue I feel strongly about, an issue that is simply not taken seriously enough by so many politicians, lawyers and judges, evidenced by the asinine comments of an applicant for a senior legal position in Indonesia, something else I drew attention to (Damming Daming, 27 January)

One Billion Rising, marked in 160 countries, was inspired by Eve Ensler, the American playwright responsible for The Vagina Monologues.  I should say that the day had no particular political overtones, and it was not specifically for women; for sexual violence concerns us all, men and women alike.  The inspiration for the day was Ensler’s outrage over the remark last year by Todd Aitkin, a politician of a particularly dense cast of mind (mind, what mind?) to the effect that some forms of rape could be defined as ‘legitimate.’ 

As I say, I was at the London gathering.  So, too, I’m delighted to say, was Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, showing that campaigns of this kind are not simply the preserve of the political left.  He later explained his position in a blog on the Huffington Post;

Why did I go? Violence against women affects men. These women are our mothers, sisters, partners, daughters. No man would dismiss this campaign whose life has been touched by violence against someone he loves. But I went because men have to be part of this campaign. We cannot leave women to try fix this problem on their own. Men commit most of the violence. Men still run so many of the institutions - the police, the judges, the courts system - which historically were poor at addressing the causes of violence against women - or dealing humanely with the victims.

The central event of the Parliament Square gathering was the release of 109 balloons, a poignant occasion, each balloon marking the life of a woman lost to male violence in Britain last year alone.  That same day there was a debate in Parliament on the need for better sex and relationship education, something I personally feel passionate about.  The ‘zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships’ was approved without a vote. Unfortunately the government us still refusing to commit to definite measures here.  In my own way, from my own corner, I will keep pressing. I would rather speak than lapse into silence.

We simply can’t be silent.  This is an issue that won’t leave us alone.  We cannot or should not retreat into quietism, hoping for peace as the world gets tighter and tighter, drawing ever closer to our own thresholds.  We are all human beings and our life has value.  Time to stand and shout – I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.