Saturday, October 02, 2010
Elite rule in Britain
When Ed Miliband stood before his party faithful last week as their new leader, grinning nervously in the glare of the spotlight, did his mind flicker back to the men who preceded him?
From its very first leader, Keir Hardie, who started work at the age of just ten in the coalmines of Lanarkshire, to the perma-tanned, globe-trotting, book-flogging Tony Blair, it is safe to say that the self-described people’s party has travelled an awfully long way.
Yet listening to Mr Miliband joking awkwardly about boyhood battles with his defeated brother David, it was hard not to wonder what on earth Labour’s most famous names would have made of the state of their party.
What would self-made men such as Ernest Bevin and Jim Callaghan, who hauled themselves up by their bootstraps from poverty, think of a leadership election that asked members to choose between two privileged, Oxford-educated brothers from North London?
What would war heroes such as Major Clement Attlee and Major Denis Healey make of an election in which neither of the leading candidates had ever held a job outside the political arena?
And what, they might well ask, does it say about the sad state of British politics that our three major parties are led by smooth fortysomethings who might have been cast from exactly the same mould?
Look again at the scenes of delight and despair at last week’s Labour conference, and you see not just an astonishingly incestuous story of fraternal rivalry, but a damning indictment of the collapse of opportunity in modern Britain — and a depressing reminder of the extent to which we are now governed by a tiny, closed and thoroughly narcissistic political class.
And the one characteristic they all share is an overwhelming sense of entitlement that — despite having no knowledge of the real world — they believe gives them a preordained right to rule over us.
But as genuine mobility slips further from reach, there has rarely been a greater gulf between rulers and ruled. Perhaps not since the Victorian era has the distance between the voter and the politician seemed such a chasm.
After all, Ed Miliband makes a very unconvincing spokesman for the ordinary men and women who Labour claims to defend. How many ordinary Labour voters grew up listening to discussions of socialist theory in their Primrose Hill drawing room? How many teenagers today are invited to review films on LBC radio, or work as interns for leading politicians, as ‘Red Ed’ did for Tony Benn?
Depressingly, however, Labour’s new leader is entirely typical of the slick, privileged and strikingly youthful men and women who now dominate our public life.
And for all Mr Miliband’s tiresome emphasis on his youth, British politics could surely do with a few more grey hairs and balding pates. David Cameron and Nick Clegg are both 43, while Ed Miliband is only 40. That makes him less than half the age of the great Liberal statesman William Gladstone, who was 82 when he led his last reforming government in 1892.
Unfashionable as it may be, there is surely much to be said for the wisdom of years. Winston Churchill, after all, was almost 66 when he answered his country’s call in 1940. He had been in Parliament for 40 years, and first entered the Cabinet in 1908 — yet it was precisely because he was so experienced, so seasoned, so battle-hardened, that he was the ideal man to lead our nation through its darkest and finest hours. By contrast, today’s politicians might as well have come straight from nursery school.
Indeed, so smooth and effortless has Mr Miliband’s rise been that when he talked last week about the rise of his ‘new generation’, he seemed to have no inkling of the value of hard-fought experience.For him, the new generation means people like his brother David, who enjoyed the same favoured education — Haverstock School in North London, a politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) degree at Oxford and a spell at a top American university.
Or people like Ed Balls — son of a professor, privately educated at Nottingham High School, PPE at Oxford and a spell at Harvard. Indeed, the closer you look, the harder it becomes to tell the members of our political class apart. Mr Balls’ wife Yvette Cooper read PPE at Oxford, too, before making the obligatory trip to Harvard.
And despite all her talk of equality, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman is hardly a great advert for social mobility: she went to St Paul’s Girls, the expensive sister school to George Osborne’s alma mater. Amazingly, perhaps, Mr Osborne himself did not read PPE at Oxford; he read history instead. But David Cameron read PPE, although the Prime Minister will surely be too much of a gentleman to mention that while Ed Miliband only got a 2:1, he got a First.
And though Nick Clegg, perhaps showing a flash of Lib Dem eccentricity, read anthropology, not politics or history, his background is so strikingly similar it is no wonder that he and Mr Cameron get along so well. The son of a banker, he went to private school and Cambridge, spent his holidays as a skiing instructor and then, naturally, went off to America to study at the University of Minnesota and work as an intern at a Left-wing magazine.
There is nothing wrong with a private education, an Oxbridge training or a privileged background. Sadly, though, the fact is that at a time when social mobility has stalled, with bright, hard-working children from poor backgrounds struggling to make their way up the ladder, Britain is governed by a tiny political class with almost identical backgrounds, life stories and values.
There are, of course, notable exceptions. For my money, the man Labour should have chosen as their next leader was Alan Johnson, an orphan brought up in a council flat by his sister, who passed his 11-plus, went to grammar school and worked as a shelf-stacker before becoming a postman.
No doubt the former Home Secretary has his weaknesses. But at least people would have believed him when he claimed to understand the plight of ordinary families, and at least he could be said to embody the values of thrift, decency and hard work.
The fact is that at a time when social mobility has stalled, with bright, hard-working children from poor backgrounds struggling to make their way up the ladder, Britain is governed by a tiny political class with almost identical backgrounds, life stories and values
An exception: Brought up on a council estate by a single mother, educated at a local grammar school, Mr Davis became an insurance clerk, joined the Territorial Army to pay for re-taking his exams and ended up working for Tate & Lyle for 17 years. There could hardly be a better example of that dying breed, the working-class Tory MP, or a more compelling story of aspiration, ambition and social mobility — in which, you suspect, his grammar school education played a central part.
There have, of course, always been hacks and apparatchiks. Remembered today as a Tory grandee who served as Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Deputy PM, Rab Butler was only 26 when he entered Parliament in 1929, and like so many of his modern-day successors, he never held a proper job outside politics in his life. Significantly, he was denied the leader’s mantle that he felt was his by right.
But 50 or 60 years ago, the stories of Alan Johnson and David Davis would have seemed rather less exceptional than they do today.
Four out of ten Labour MPs came from manual working-class families: Attlee’s deputy PM Herbert Morrison was the son of a Lambeth police constable, while Labour’s deputy leader in the late 1950s, Jim Griffiths, was one of ten children born to a Welsh blacksmith, left school at 13 and took night classes while working as a miner.
And even the Old Etonian Harold Macmillan’s front bench boasted the talents of Reginald Bevins, a former Royal Artillery gunner who was one of five children born into a working-class Liverpool family.
Indeed, the ultimate indictment of today’s political system is that instead of becoming more open, it actually seems to be going backwards, becoming ever more narrow, privileged and exclusive.
Today’s House of Commons is stuffed full of Rab Butlers, thanks largely to the efforts of the party machines to secure safe seats for privileged youths such as the Tory millionaire Zac Goldsmith in Richmond and Labour’s Tristram Hunt, the Left-wing historian, in Stoke. And, sadly, the Alan Johnsons and David Davises are becoming all too rare.
Wasn’t it ever thus? In a word: no. Turn the clock back 60 years, and the political class looked very different. At the head of the Labour Party in 1950 was the modest, unassuming Clement Attlee, who had enjoyed a privileged background and a Haileybury education, but learned the harsh realities of life while working with deprived children in the East End of London.
Like many politicians of his day, Attlee knew the rigours of war at first hand, serving with the South Lancashire Regiment in Gallipoli. Later he fought in Iraq, where he was badly wounded by shrapnel, and ended up in the trenches on the Western Front.
Attlee’s great collaborator Ernest Bevin had a very different life story. Born to a poor family in rural Somerset, he never knew his father, left school at just 11 and had to read the daily paper to his illiterate relatives. And to people who met him as a young man, the idea that this West Country labourer would one day become Foreign Secretary would have seemed laughable.
Yet this was the man who not only reorganised British industry to win World War II, but helped to establish Nato and the United Nations, built the post-war Western alliance against Soviet Communism and pushed for Britain to develop its own nuclear deterrent.
As his friend, opponent and wartime colleague Winston Churchill admiringly put it, Bevin’s ‘manliness, his common sense, his rough simplicity, sturdiness and kind heart, easy geniality and generosity’ were the envy of the Commons. Bevin had learned the value of hard work and sacrifice: when he invoked the British people, he knew what he was talking about.
What Bevin would make of his latter-day successors can only be imagined. Perhaps one day somebody, too, will wax lyrical about Ed Miliband’s manliness, sturdiness and common sense. But I would not stake my house on it.
The crucial point, though, is that Bevin was not alone in bringing a wide experience of life to the political arena. When he looked around the House of Commons in the 1940s and 1950s, he saw young men like Denis Healey who had orchestrated the Allied landings at Anzio, or Ted Heath who had commanded an artillery battery in Northern France.
Both Healey and Heath were from modest backgrounds; both had worked their way up by their own efforts; both, crucially, had benefited from a grammar school education. And within a few years they would be joined by another ambitious young politician who was to leave an even greater mark on our national story.
Margaret Thatcher’s background could hardly have been more different from the gilded intellectual cage inhabited by the Miliband brothers. The daughter of a Methodist grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, she won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls, a local grammar school, where she first established a reputation for ferocious hard work.
Shamefully, critics often held her background against her: in the 1980s, the philosopher Mary Warnock mocked Mrs Thatcher’s accent, clothes and hair as ‘not exactly vulgar, just low’.
The tragedy is that at a time when ordinary families are feeling the pinch, and when the headlines are full of austerity, pain and sacrifice, our political class has never been more out of touch
But unlike the boarding school-educated Baroness Warnock, Mrs Thatcher had worked for everything she achieved. It was sheer brains and effort, not family connections, that drove her from Grantham to Downing Street.
And her belief in the virtues of hard work, inspired by her simple Methodist faith and grammar school education, lay at the heart of her political outlook. Her one aim, she said, was to ‘change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society, from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation’.
Margaret Thatcher, the champion of free markets, and Ernest Bevin, the soul of old-fashioned Labour, might make odd ideological bedfellows. But what they had in common was precisely what is missing from so many of today’s political class — a set of basic values, a love of effort and hard work, and a rounded awareness of life and its perils, inspired by their background, education and experience.
Unlike today’s political leaders, they knew what life was like for millions of ordinary people for whom the gilded splendour of the Palace of Westminster seemed as distant as the craters of the moon.
Like their colleagues Aneurin Bevan, a former Welsh coal miner, or Willie Whitelaw, a tank commander in Normandy, they had learned the lessons of life from bitter experience, not in the seminar rooms of Harvard.
‘I get it,’ Mr Miliband said over and over again last week, just as his spin doctors had instructed him. But you wonder whether, given his cloistered background, his lack of experience and his narrow horizons, he can ever really understand the hopes and fears of millions of people in Warrington, Welshpool and Wolverhampton, people who never had his good fortune or family connections.
The Labour Party may call itself the people’s party. But as the political class celebrate their victory, and the hard realities of life slip ever further from view, you wonder whether its nickname has ever seemed less appropriate.
'Christian' Easter eggs snubbed by stores claims Church Of England
Supermarkets are reluctant to stock specially branded Easter eggs which mention Jesus on the packaging, the Church of England said yesterday. The chocolate eggs are being produced by the Church next Easter after it found that none of the 80million on sale this year had a religious theme.
The packaging around the £3.99 Real Easter Egg carries a panel explaining how Christians believe that Christ was crucified on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday. ‘Many believe that chocolate eggs represent the boulder that sealed his tomb,’ the box tells buyers.
And, amid the more typical art work showing butterflies, bunnies and chickens, the packaging depicts a green hill with three crosses on it.
But in its negotiations with stockists, the Church has found that some large chains are resistant to stocking such overtly religious products for children. A CofE spokesman said: ‘Despite the obvious demand, not all UK supermarkets are planning to stock the egg next year.’
The criticism comes in the wake of the Pope’s state visit to Britain last month in which he attacked ‘aggressive secularism’ and set out his dismay at attempts to stifle the celebration of Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter ‘in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none’.
Last night, two of the supermarket chains that have not yet made a decision said they were not opposed in principle. A Waitrose spokesman said: ‘We have asked the supplier for more information on this new product but in principle it is something that we would be really interested in.’ At the Co-op, a spokesman said: ‘No decision about stocking the egg has been made as we have not yet finalised our plans for our Easter range.’
The CofE spokesman said: ‘There are over 80million chocolate Easter eggs sold each year in the UK and, incredibly, not one mentions the Christian understanding of Easter on the box.’
The Church of England believes demand for religious Easter eggs will come from: seven million people who are at least occasional churchgoers; seven million who support the Fairtrade organisation which is supplying the chocolate for its egg; and from 8,000 church schools, which will encourage pupils to buy them.
The eggs, produced by a spin-off company from the CofE’s Manchester diocese, will benefit two charities: Traidcraft Exchange, which helps Third World farmers; and Baby Lifeline, which supplies hospitals with equipment and gives training to medical staff.
More "noble savages" who weren't so noble
It was not so very long ago that many archaeologists regarded the Ancestral Puebloan people–or the Anasazi, as researchers once called them–as a rather peaceful, mystical group of astronomers, artists, priests and farmers. They based this idea largely on their observations of modern Puebloan peoples: the Hopi, the Zuni and others who lived in traditional pueblos, such as Taos, and who often lived quiet lives of ritual and spirituality.
But in the early 90s, some Southwestern archaeologists began questioning this received wisdom. David Wilcox, an archaeologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, hypothesized that the rulers of Chaco Canyon, a massive Ancestral Puebloan site, commanded a small army and demanded tribute from their southern neighbors, slaughtering any who didn’t comply. As evidence, Wilcox pointed to charnel pits excavated in dozens of Ancestral Puebloan sites dating to the late 10th and early 11th century C.E.: these pits looked like mass graves from a war zone.
At first most Southwestern archaeologists just shook their head and smiled at Wilcox’s ideas. But evidence of very nasty times in the ancient Southwest began to accumulate. Physical anthropologist Christy Turner, now a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and others detected traces of extreme violence and cannibalism on human bones unearthed at 40 different Ancestral Puebloan sites. Such acts of cannibalism, Wilcox suggested, were political messages, deliberate desecration of the dead as a warning to others.
This month, researchers added yet more dark shading to the picture in a paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. At a site known as Sacred Ridge in Colorado, Jason Chuipka, an archaeologist at Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants, and his colleagues unearthed 14,882 human skeletal fragments–the remains of deliberately mutilated Ancestral Puebloan inhabitants–as well as two-headed axes smeared with human blood residues. The dead dated to the late 8th or early 9th century, a time when the first Ancestral Puebloan villages were forming.
To Chuipka and his co-author James Potter, an archaeologist at SWCA Environmental Consultants in Broomfield, Colorado, the evidence suggested that the inhabitants of Sacred Ridge–men, women and children–were singled out for a particularly terrible form of violence: ethnic conflict.
So what to make of all this? Why such a radical shift in our vision of the Ancestral Puebloan people? When I began thinking about this, I came up with two things. First of all, physical anthropologists today know much more about the osteological indicators of warfare and cannibalism than they did thirty years ago. So they have a much clearer idea of what to look for.
But the second thing goes to the very heart of archaeology itself. Journalists and other members of the public ask archaeologists all the time to explain what various artifacts and data mean. We don’t really want to hear about 14,882 bone fragments. What we want to know is what happened to all those bodies and all those people. And our insatiable curiosity constantly forces archaeologists to interpret their findings, to make a story of them.
So archaeologists do what anybody else would do–they look for analogies in modern life. In the early 1970s, for example, when the Vietnam War raged, many researchers hypothesized that the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization was due to extreme warfare. In the 1980s and 1990s, they pointed to environmental causes, such as soil erosion. And today, many researchers ascribe the collapse to climate change, specifically a series of devastating droughts.
Probably all these factors played a part in the fall of the classic Maya civilization. But I find it interesting to think about the ways in which contemporary history contributes to prevailing archaeological hypotheses and interpretations. I personally think it’s very possible that some Ancestral Puebloan people were victims of ethnic cleansing. But would the archaeological community have taken this idea so seriously, had it not been for the intense media coverage of ethnic conflicts and cleansing in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan in recent years?
Conservatives need to insist that endangered children be protected
Because the Left won't do it -- says Jeremy Sammut, a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies (Australia)
THE state has a responsibility to protect children from inadequate parents.
For people on the Right, child protection can be a difficult issue. Those who identify with liberal traditions place a premium on limited state intrusion into the lives of individuals. However, child protection reform that upholds the independent rights of children needs to be on their policy agenda.
The clientele of child protection services consists predominantly of members of the underclass, that proportion of Australians who are long-term welfare dependent and have a range of welfare-dependence exacerbated behavioural issues, such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
The complex problems these families experience include the inability to rear children adequately.
In too many child welfare cases the presumed right of dysfunctional parents to retain custody of children is elevated above the best interests of children.
While encouraging parents to change their behaviour and meet children's needs has always been a part of modern child protection, the pendulum has swung too far towards trying to fix broken families and giving parents almost limitless opportunities to change.
A culture of non-intervention in family situations has developed in the state bureaucracies in charge of child protection services.
The statutory investigation of child welfare reports by caseworkers trained to assess whether a child is in need of court-approved removal from the family home has been marginalised in favour of providing support services (drug counselling, parenting programs, home visits) to families.
Instead of focusing on traditional child protection work, social services departments provide parent-centred rather than child-centred services to allow biological parents to retain custody of children, even where children are identified as being in danger of harm.
Child protection failures create the next generation of dysfunctional parents. The paradox, and the dilemma for those on the Right, is that greater intervention is needed in the lives of dependent members of the community to break the intergenerational cycle of neglect and abuse and save future generations.
The broader cultural issue is whether the Right has the will to defend core community standards or whether the questionable perspectives of the Left will continue to dictate social values in child protection.
When the welfare of children is at stake, it is not too harsh to hold parents accountable for bad behaviour in circumstances that contravene John Stuart Mill's principle that liberty should be interfered with only to "prevent harm to others". Mill was one of the 19th-century progenitors of the progressive idea that a child had the right to enjoy their full liberties and opportunities as a future citizen. In On Liberty, he argued that parents who failed to fulfil their "sacred duties" towards their children were guilty of "a moral crime both against the unfortunate offspring and against society . . . if the parent does not fulfil this obligation, the state ought to see it fulfilled".
However, the moral and social judgments that child protection depends on are beyond the comprehension of those who subscribe to leftist cultural politics.
In an article published in June last year in the Australian Journal of Politics and History, Kate Murphy, Marian Quartly and Denise Cuthbert accused those who frowned on drug-addled parenting of supporting the "conservative family policy of the Howard era".
This would be bad enough if it only reflected the dated ideology pervading the social services sector, which is that removing children punishes poor parents who are victims of structural socioeconomic injustice.
The authors' views also reflect postmodern values that cast child protection as a moral panic deployed to authorise the social surveillance and cultural oppression of the powerless and excluded.
The notion given credence by Murphy, Quartly and Cuthbert is that child welfare laws hold parents to socially constructed behavioural standards to buttress the hegemony of traditional bourgeois family values. Treating parental intravenous drug use in a relativist manner - as if drug-addled parenting is a legitimate lifestyle choice - is wrong and dangerous because it denies the reality of child abuse and neglect.
The idea that welfare-dependent heroin addicts have a right to keep their children reveals moral and ideological confusion. Those on the Right need not hesitate out of misplaced doctrinal concerns to make such judgments about the rights of parents as against the rights of children.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.