Friday, November 30, 2007

Mr Brown takes a tumble

As I observe the repetitive cycle of history, I note that our Queen again relies for comfort and consolation on the men of the Scottish Brown clan. They are men of sobriety and steady as a rock but it may be questioned whether they have the temperament to be trusted with the highest affairs of state.

It is with some difficulty I seek to comprehend Mr Brown's latest travails. I do recall that in the practice of politics the Scots are anything but dour. Who can forget the torches, fireworks and bonfires that greeted my arrival in Edinburgh on that momentous occasion? To this day I do not know - and do not care to know - which generous patrons provided the finance for this spectacle. I can only observe that generous patronage was in those days necessary in order that men of humble means can participate in democracy and government.

But reform is progressive and matters have moved on a little in the last century. The state takes up taxes in order that the Labour members - and indeed all members - can live with integrity. It is right that neither voters nor politicians should be bribed nor that power should be used for personal gain. I hear that the young Welsh firebrand, that erratic Celt, (Mr Lloyd George - ed) caused some difficulty in his latest career in the dispensation of peerages and that the present government has been accused of being subject to the same temptations.

So now it is Mr Brown who is mired in questions about who paid what to whom. It is in the nature of political scandal that it is incomprehensible and a leader cannot protest innocence, however ignorant of matters they may be. It is hard to govern amidst such hullabaloo and it does not bode well for Mr Brown. Our dear Queen would undoubtedly have been concerned at his distress and would, with reluctance, have advised her chief minister to step aside for a period.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A new volume

My attention has been drawn to a new volume devoted to aspects of my life. Regrettably my limited funds have long been dissipated to my heirs so I anticipate some difficulty in gathering the large sum that is being asked for this excellent sounding volume by Mr Richard Shannon (Gladstone: God and Politics; Hambledon Continuum, £80). A Mr Howse has written an interesting account of Mr Shannon's work. It is perhaps regrettable that my friend Mr Morley's account of my life was tempered by the growing irreligiosity of the last century. There are comments from that dear lady, Her Majesty, someone who could sometimes be sharp of tongue when she had so many matters of state to consider and who did for a period fall under the spell of that scoundrel Beaconsfield and his antiquated Toryism. Reference is also made to that fool Labouchere, to whom I referred recently. His fine words conceal the lasting damage he did whilst, through the Grace of Our Lord, I always endeavoured to improve the lot of my fellow men and women.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mr Blair - An odd way to separate faith and politics

I have, as I have intimated previously, some limited admiration for Mr Cromwell, who was responsible for otherthrowing tyranny in this country but went on to become another kind of tyrant. Mr Cromwell was known as a man of faith and, within the church, remains well-known for his particular prayer, if indeed it was him who uttered it: "Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be today. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me."

I have a disagreement with this prayer and reading the thoughts of the former Prime Minister Mr Blair today I am reminded of that disagreement. Apparently rather than speaking directly to the people, Mr Blair, following the custom of monarchs and monarchists, was wont to have others speak on his behalf. And on occasion, this speaker stated, with considerable dishonesty, "We don't do God."

Now, today, Mr Blair asserts that this Christian faith was indeed important in his life as Prime Minister. The immediate inference is that he followed the path of his American counterpart Mr Bush, who, it is said, is influenced by zealots seeking to bring about the Apocalypse; but, I would suggest, it would be a wrong inference.

I will quote Mr Blair in full:
"To do the prime minister's job properly you need to be able to separate yourself from the magnitude of the consequences of the decisions you are taking the whole time. Which doesn't mean to say … that you're insensitive to the magnitude of those consequences or that you don't feel them deeply.

"If you don't have that strength it's difficult to do the job, which is why the job is as much about character and temperament as it is about anything else. But for me having faith was an important part of being able to do that… Ultimately I think you've got to do what you think is right."

From this, it seems, that Mr Blair's faith is about "character and temperament". Ultimately, he says, you have to do what you think is right. He states you have to separate yourself from the "magnitude" of your decisions. Mr Blair, therefore, made decisions on the basis of his righteous character and his solid temperament. There is an arrogance in this belief that one's character is so righteous that decisions of high moral consequence can be made without reference to a source of morality and for a Christian there is a clear source of that morality. There is also an inference that the statesman has recourse to prayer and Bible study to purge his conscience of decisions that may have awful consequences. There were many such in my time - one can name generals who prayed - and they were so often wrong.

That is where I take issue with Cromwell and fear it may have been the source also of his weakness. For the prayer suggests it is allowed for a Christian statesman to forget his God, provided he has beseeched his God to guide him with an unseen hand through his forgetfulness, rather than to beseech his God not to allow him to forget the compassion and mercy of his Son .

It seems that Mr Blair will be remembered for one decision - to take his nation into a war that unleashed terrible slaughter and had doubtful moral basis and legal status. In my time I judged all my actions and decisions against the words of the Prince of Peace and it led me to impose restraint on a nation that wielded far more power over the world than did Mr Blair - although perhaps not so much as the American. Nevertheless, would he not have benefitted from some contemplation of the Gospels before letting slip the dogs of war?


Veering to Mr Clegg

I am unclear whether the Liberal Party has an upper age limit for membership or whether my extra-corporeal state would disbar me from application. Having discovered that paying members, rather than elected members, hold the votes, I have had insufficient time to apply in order to influence the contest to be my successor as next leader of this nation drawn from the liberal quarter.

Nevertheless I have followed the contest between Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne as if a voting member and, as have many I suspect, my opinion has veered on a daily basis. One day Mr Huhne appears to act disgracefully and I favour Mr Clegg. The next Mr Huhne's charges of "flip flop" appear to hold substance and I favour him, rather than Mr Clegg.

Both aspirants have today made submissions to their electorate through the pages of Liberal Democrat Voice and, as a consequence, my opinion today veers towards Mr Clegg. For Mr Huhne repeats in brief the same messages as before while Mr Clegg, perhaps driven by the power of the Huhne onslaught, seeks to deliver new direction and vision.

Mr Clegg draws our attention to two themes, rallying calls which he has issued. One is familiar and perhaps common to both men and that is a pledge to restore the power and majesty to the local councils, which were amongst the glories of my administrations. Regrettably his exposition on this matter lacks substance and does not win my favour on this account.

His second theme is expounded in substance and is a brave and apposite choice of subject matter for a party, which is often accused of seeing individuals as islands as a consequence of the excellent but limited work of Mr JS Mill, of whom more perhaps at a later date. It has been a source of dismay to me in this century that children are fatherless and often seem to lack families, who can show them love but also restraint. Mr Clegg echoes my concern that these matters, which relate to the nature of families, have been left to the heirs of Beaconsfield, the "social conservatives" whilst the doctrines of Mr Mill have been taken, not just by my party, to mean that private choices cannot be influenced by state policy, even when that policy is a bad policy. Indeed it is perhaps unsurprising that the socialist government appears equally influenced by the teachings of Mr Mill and Mr Marx, who would have the state take over the work of the family. Can it be true that they have created taxes which drive families apart? It is an appalling prospect and one which would have shocked to the marrow our dear Queen, even with her untutored grasp of fiscal matters.

It is clear to me, having undertaken considerable study of this matter, that the dissipation of the family, in part through misguided zeal in the pursuit of private liberty, has resulted in there being too many ill-disciplined and unhappy children and a selfishness and even rapacity in this nation that is at odds with the progress that has been made in so many ways. So today I veer towards Mr Clegg. It is now for Mr Huhne to put his counter-proposition.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bishop or Baroness?

There are many wonders in this new age, some which even the writers of the Holy Scripture could not have envisaged. One, which it seems is now commonplace, is that mothers can give birth to children without the assistance of a father, yet not by parthenogenesis. I hear that my noble Lords have been discussing this and that senior Bishops have raised objections to proposals issued by the Government, proposals which would enable a woman to register another woman as the father of her child or, perhaps, as a second mother. To me such proposals are unconscionable although I had not favoured the inclusion of adults, acting with free will, in our Bill of 1885. That Bill was the fruit of many years of my research into the exploitation of women, research I should say undertaken at the cost of considerable temptation and fleshly suffering to myself, and it led to many necessary legal protections, especially for girls under the age of consent. Under Salisbury's government, that fool Labouchere added in a clause that made criminals of adult men indulging in private acts; I know not what he had to gain from it or whether he had matters from which he wished to distract attention. It is a matter of shame for our age that it led to the persecution of that fine writer and genuine wit Mr Wilde. It is, I believe, entirely untrue that the legislation was influenced by Her Majesty passing comments on the possibility of members of the fairer sex committing unspeakable acts with themselves although, in truth, it was Salisbury who was privy to that most awkward of conversations rather than myself.

With regard to the matter at hand, our bishops, it seems, are exercised that children may be raised without fathers and, not only without fathers, but in the belief that their second mother is in fact their father. Our own Baroness Tonge, however, has assured the noble Lords that failure to support the measure would be discrimination against those who are otherwise merry and would, presumably, reduce their sum of total happiness.

So to whom am I to incline, the Bishops or the Baroness? In spite of my reverence for the Holy Church, I am aware that its bishops are only too human and indeed have erred on many occassions through involvement in the secular sphere, although they are also capable of calling legislators, bogged down in the morass of affairs, to consider higher matters. It is no novelty that women should dwell together as friends when no husband is available although I find it surprising that now they undertake legal ceremonies to enshrine their friendships. Perhaps this is better, especially if they are to raise children, as it is unfortunate for a child to grow in a family not sanctioned by marriage and uncertain as to who its parents may be. My Lord Archbishop of York however informs us that this measure progresses matters to a further depth and creates children who are "fatherless by design". I must plead pity for the bishops for there are many matters in this modern age that challenge Christian morality and, indeed, the Christian traditions of our nation. Each step is taken for good liberal and humane reasons and yet the sum of steps creates a nation of fatherless children and childless fathers. I would claim to be vindicated in my original opposition to divorce although Mr Mill and many other colleagues repeatedly assured me that it was the most liberal of measures. In respect of the current legislation - to which I may return in the future - some consideration is need as to what difference of reality this new measure will make to the child as, regardless of the birth certificate, it will be raised quite legally with two mothers and always could be. Under the legislation, should the "mothers" part, one may claim rights of access and care for the child although not being a natural mother. This woman might legitimately claim she has sacrificed natural motherhood to share her maternal instincts with another woman.

I concur with the Archbishop that the State should take care not to dissipate the role of fathers and their place in families and, indeed, as married husbands in the household. In this instance I would urge His Grace and the Minister to consider also the role of the second mother who will exist in these families. Following a parting or a divorce, it seems to me the growing child will have more inclination and curiosity about their natural father, who shares their very material, their stuff of life, than they will about a woman who may have shared their mother's life for a period. And yet both child and second mother may also share familial affection and should not be automatically parted. These are different and difficult matters, not to be solved by a name on a birth certificate.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne

What a marvellous device it is that brings moving pictures directly into the home. This enabled me last night to observe Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne "debating" their aspirations to lead our great party. I fear that debate must be a little strong a term, even in this times when the spirit of Beaconsfield appears to have triumphed and debate too often is confined to witticisms and absence of substance.

I have heard the two aspirants compared with twin characters created by that excellent writer of children's tales, Mr Dodgson, namely Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Perhaps they are not twins but with certainty they are not deadly rivals. Thus Mr Clegg says of Mr Huhne "one of the most thoughtful people I know" whilst Mr Huhne assures us Mr Clegg would be a "key" person in his team.

I listened hard to seek to distinguish them and heard that Mr Clegg is passionate about the poor and so is Mr Huhne. Mr Huhne would not raise the school leaving age and neither would Mr Clegg. Mr Clegg deplores the coup d'etat mounted by the president of Pakistan and so does Mr Huhne.

Mr Huhne does not commit himself to coalition with another party to form a government and neither does Mr Clegg, who proposes that reform should be a pre-condition of coalition, as does Mr Huhne. Mr Huhne would return the hospitals to local boards as would Mr Clegg...and so on and so forth.

So the argument is about one issue, namely a weapons system designed I understand to unleash unimaginable destruction. Mr Huhne does not want it and neither does Mr Clegg but Mr Clegg would not abandon it in advance of discussions with other countries including, it seems Persia, for he fears Persia may acquire similar weapons. Mr Huhne thereupon cites the playwright Aristophanes and accuses his rival of residing in cloud cuckoo land, nephelococcygia, stating that the Trident, the spear of Poseidon, was designed at a time when Russia was our enemy, not Persia. Mr Clegg in his turn accuses his opponent of secretly wishing to build more of these terrible bombs in our own country - a matter that he does not entirely deny.

So, in short, both consider it expeditious to reject the Trident but neither considers it a matter of principle. Both in their wisdom consider our country must have the potential to own such weapons if it is to have a place at international conferences. I fear this discussion needs much extension because so terrible are these weapons that their possessors must surely be able to answer the question: under what circumstances would you use them? It seems that John the Apostle scarcely conceived of such destruction as could be unleashed by modern mankind. You may detect a note of disappointment in my tone as I do believe these are gentlemen who could be great statesmen. But statesmanship requires an understanding of the balance of power and the moral basis of arbitration and not the issuing of empty threats or challenges, which may merely make allies of our enemies.

So I remain unable to commend either distinguished challenger over the other. Both are wise in many ways but in need of a little experience of great affairs before assuming great office. Whilst I am tempted to reconsider my decision not to enter the lists to seek a fifth ministry, I am advised this is not possible now and indeed, also, do recall the gracious words of the sovereign who asked me, repeatedly, when she offered me the mantle of office whether I was quite sure I wished to undertake such burdens or whether there was another whom I might prefer to commend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

School boards

My good friends at the Theos "think-tank" have been debating schools and education.

The Education Act of 1870 I regard as one of my greatest achievements as it established public education in Great Britain and also established elected school boards. Perhaps I will discuss more that at a future date as, also, for the first time we introduced the women's franchise by this means.

Never in any sphere of the public realm are the tensions between liberalism and faith so stark as on the issue of education and this indeed forms part of the subject of the discussion at Theos. We established a liberal education system knowing that in doing so the sterling efforts of the churches to educate our children in both knowledge and morality might be undermined. This was necessary in order to enable all children to have opportunities and to persuade ratepayers that they must contribute to such progressive measures. Some boards rapidly took the view that religious education was not a proper part of the state system and indeed that it was unnecessary as many children would be attending Sunday Schools. They did so on the entirely proper grounds that they could not determine which denomination's religion would be taught

I fear attendance at Sunday School is now all but a rarity. I have visited villages and cities where but a handful of children gain education by this means. Fortunately the state sometime ago recognised the need to complete this aspect of a child's education and found a way to encompass all denominations but I wonder whether it is done well or done badly.

The question that has been posed is whether children can be educated in morality and righteousness. I would hope so but must reflect that a teacher is employed to undertake certain tasks, including the preparation of children for public examination. If a child is a rascal, the teacher will certainly train that child to restrain his natural instincts on the school premises. In other places the father and mother and perhaps the public authorities must be held responsible for his upbringing.

I had always hoped that larger numbers of children would receive a full education in the humanities and that this would create a nation of liberal-minded citizens. I was perhaps too optimistic and must reflect that mankind retains its fallen nature after 137 years of progress. Nevertheless the endeavour must not be abandoned and has undoubtedly stimulated much progress of different kinds. I would urge that those of the Christian faith remember the proper limits under which they should operate within schools, while those of other persuasions should not diminish the benefits that knowledge of the Gospels and Epistles may impart.

I feel that Her Majesty would also be most gratified to see so much achieved through our joint endeavour, which we discussed at such length during the early years of my ministry although, indeed, I fear her delicate constitution might not withstand the shock of so much change and so much public depravity.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A call for humility

I have never hesitated to assert that a measure of humility is a mark of greatness and that those who aspire to high office and the title of statesman should admit their errors and human fallibility. In a long political life, my errors were many, especially in the rashness of my youth.

In my young naivety I was traduced into opposing the liberation of slaves and later equally rashly spoke in support of the American Confederation which would have continued to uphold this vile institution. I did so because, in the wake of the tide of freedom that swept across Europe mid-century, I equated the creation of new nation states with the extension of liberty. In that instance I was wrong and very soon repented of my error. I was privileged in the course of a lengthy career to have many opportunities to right the mistakes of my youth.

I mention all this in preamble as my studies of the new world, which we inhabit, have left me struggling to find the mark of statesmanship in the leaders of our United Kingdom. I hear that Mr Brown has made a speech on international affairs and find myself struggling to remember that he represents the Labour movement, to which we gave so much encouragement in my time. Mr Brown's policies, if not his demeanour, remind me too much of Beaconsfield.

Mr Brown rightly praises our Atlantic cousins. I myself oft-stated my admiration for the founders of that great and new nation of free peoples and their establishment of principles of liberty. However in what family does admiration for one's bold cousins lead to slavish devotion and adherence to their policies? The new America is undoubtedly following perilous and aggressive policies towards the Muslim world and both cousins undoubtedly have grounds to feel grief and grievance. But there is no family member who should be treated with greater caution than he who is blinded by grief and lashes out far and near in seeking redress for the inexplicable.

I understand that Mr Brown had initially sought to distance himself from his predecessor's inability to utter a negative phrase, a refusal, to the American president. Perhaps he now bides his time. I fear however he is too ignorant and too feeble to appreciate the danger of uniting Mesopotamia, Persia and the Pathans in an arc of emnity. Here are the cradles of civilisation and the source of many mighty cultures. Not even Beaconsfield would have condemned these peoples as savages. I understand that prior to the ill-advised destruction of Mesopotamia, the Persians were not associated with the actions that caused so much distress in Europe and America. Are we to repeat the mistakes of a century ago and make enemies for ourselves and allies of our enemies? We could win the hearts of the world by being beacons of freedom and emancipation but I fear there is no leadership. Mr Clegg or Mr Huhne, this could be your greatest hour!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A minute's silence

At worship today I was introduced to a new and deeply moving ceremony. We stood for a period of one minute in total silence and at the end a bugler issued forth the military sound of The Last Post. This ceremony has been observed annually for well over 80 years, I understand, in recognition of those who lost their lives when the British Empire was forced to confront the might of the new Germany.

I am still acquainting myself with the history of the last century and am all but struck dumb by the scale of the slaughter that was unleashed. Our preacher informed me that some 19 million lives were lost in this first conflict and a further 70 million in a second global conflict that arose from German expansionism.

I confess to being tempted in these rambling jottings to frequent musings along the lines of "ah, if only my advice had been followed" or "oh, if they had held to my policies". In truth, we all underestimated the threat of Prussia, although I oft-stated that at Berlin in 1878 the idiotic Beaconsfield signed a treaty of "absurdity and duplicity", missing opportunities to create new and free nation states and entrenching the growth of the new European great powers.

I am thoroughly impressed by the wearing of poppies and the commitment to remembrance, both religious and civil, that I encountered today. If we had counted the lives lost to Napoleon less cheaply and held them in our hearts as well as our heads, we might have avoided later mistakes. I did note a confusion in our preacher's sermon, however, in respect of whether the lives were sacrificed for the freedom of one country or the peace of humanity. I fear that further studies may reveal that the majority were wasted as a consequence of the corruption of humanity and the harnessing of technology for the purposes of evil. Indeed in holding such noble ceremonies, the church may need to consider whether the sacrifice of life in war is equivalent to the willingness to lay down one's life advocated by the Lord Christ. For indeed it seems the modern world is beset by zealots who believe this to be the case: that martyrdom that destroys life is as good as martyrdom that saves life. I can only say that such beliefs are a travesty and always were a travesty of the Christian message of peace. I do recall the Queen looking rather oddly at me when I mentioned this concern to her at a time when she graciously invited me to dine with her one Sunday.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My oh my!

My oh my! In regaining a comprehensive knowledge of the apparatus of the modern state I am utterly astounded by its possibilities. Why, I read in the last few days about an electronic fly that will soon hover out of site within premises recording and transmitting their proceedings. Cameras I understand observe me walking down the High Street and their operators can follow all my movements. Electronic collection of documents would mean all my details are available to government agents, including the state of my health. Even that admirable writer Mr Jules Verne barely conceived of any technology so all-embracing. Is anybody alarmed by this? Most people I understand shrug their shoulders and state it is necessary to apprehend criminals and anarchists and to maintain a peaceful and orderly society.

It is however beyond belief to me that the government should therefore need to reduce the ancient rights of the citizens on a permanent basis. I see that this is almost the entire substance of Mr Brown's proposed legislative programme. It will be possible to delay the laying of charges against a prisoner beyond the limit of four weeks. I would advise Mr Brown that I was once persuaded to suspend Habeas Corpus to deal with unrest in Ireland. I was misadvised and it was a mistake. I was outraged to be informed in the House of the detention of Dr Kenny, a respected adviser in Dublin, under these powers.

Studying these modern problems, I wonder that so little has been learned from the Irish problem. The failure to follow my advice with expedition on the Irish question left the subsequent generation with a century of trouble and violence. Even at that time we saw how putting ends before means led to corruption of the system. It is disturbing how I hear today how a police commissioner sought to obstruct investigations into the actions of his own force, actions that led to the killing of an innocent. A just society must maintain its moral basis, a matter on which the dear lady the Queen so frequently agreed with me with a slight incline of her head.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Power to the people?

A respondent suggests our aspiring young leaders lack clarity in stating their commitments to local democracy, especially in the light of Mr Brown's government tabling its own proposals. I am reminded so vividly of our great drive to introduce local government to the United Kingdom and the creation of local councils, both district and parish, elected by all the people. That was the intention although I must confess at an early stage that the extension of the franchise to all the people was not to be completed for a little while. Travelling from Shrewsbury to London I passed through the city of Birmingham the other day and recalled how the great works established in his prime by Mr Joseph Chamberlain were attained by municipal government. It is sad to hear how many of those powers have been removed from local citizens in the last half century and to see how our one-time Labour partners created a Behemoth, a monster, which in turn could be savaged and torn apart by the Tory jackals. I understand Mr Brown and his cohorts have no substantial proposals to end this awful charade of democracy and indeed to seek to concentrate what remains of locally elected powers in the hands of single individuals. It is a sad day when the elected councillors of the citizens of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham are reduced to feeble interrogation of over-mighty agents of the state. It is true that Mr Huhne and Mr Clegg would do well to specify in more detail their proposals to improve the dispersal of power, although I believe our party has continued to take a lead in such matters in any case and indeed continues to hold a high reputation in the administration of such local government as remains in the nation of England. I urged the party in my time to "trust the people" and believe it still does. If our leaders trust the people, they may also gain their trust, a situation which seems sadly lacking in the present day. Indeed whilst at worship earlier today, the preacher made remarks that made me consider this matter afresh and perhaps I will return to the issue - but I have sworn to keep my comments short.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mr Clegg takes a stand

Mr Clegg may be youthful and, in my opinion, would benefit from a period as Chancellor before seeking the highest mantle of state. I am advised he musters considerable support from the ranks of our great party.

It is therefore welcome that he has staked out the high ground of moral principle in opposing further restrictions on the liberty of our citizens. We spent much of my century seeking to turn back the tide of arbitrary justice which had been vested in local squirearchies, leading to considerable oppression of the common people.

Now the power of oppression appears to be vested in uniformed militia. It is outrageous that a person should have to account to the state for going about their lawful business.

So Mr Clegg proposes to resist the imposition of electronic identity papers on the population. And quite right too although I would prefer that, as a legislator, he would prevent the imposition rather than waiting until the legislation is enacted to offer resistance. It is disturbing indeed if the population has become so terrified of the unknown that it should vote for such measures.

Now I should mention Mr Clegg's opponent, Mr Huhne. A gentleman of some wisdom has suggested that Mr Clegg is a man of few words or indeed is reticent in ideas. The same does not need to be said of Mr Huhne, who has honoured us with words that are indeed worthy of a Liberal Prime Minister. A brief perusal suggests there are many worthy notions here although I do propose a longer period of study before commenting in detail. Mr Huhne has spoken in particular on defence and foreign policy. He favours a policy independent of our Atlantic cousins and a restriction of spending on wasteful devices of destruction. There is indeed much that remains admirable in the modern Liberal party when its leaders continue to hold the high ground. I fear they are yet to face the challenge of maintaining such an elevated position whilst conducting the affairs of state, although, as I frequently reminded our young sovereign, such a stance is entirely possible.