Sunday, December 28, 2008

My birthday!

 My 199th birthday today. This date has always been a pleasant cause of celebration between the joys of Christmas and the arrival of the new year.

WEG

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent

O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of Thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

There is little I would wish to add to this most excellent of prayers, which is about the immanence of Our Lord at the time of the imminence of the nativity celebrations. Save perhaps I should explain to a modern audience the use of the word 'satisfaction', which is defined in the 31st Article of the church in the following phrase: "The offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual..."

WEG

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

O LORD Jesus Christ who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy Second Coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

This collect from the Third Sunday in Advent thrilled me somewhat for a period in my youth but, I confess, with age and experience I find it poses some difficulty; indeed I would recite it with reservations.

There is much to treasure in this distillation of words, located at the confluence of the seasons. For it would not be heresy to suggest that the Church had expended the days available when it chose to contemplate in a single weekend the second Advent of Our Lord and the messenger of the gospels, the Baptist who announced the advent of the adult but human Christ.

I am uncertain now as to the meaning of the phrase turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; or indeed whether it is appropriate in this modern age. In my Evangelical early years I skimmed over it somewhat, allowing it as a somewhat latitudinarian or Catholic way of expressing the need for conversion. In the zeal of my youth, I entoned it with enthusiasm; with the experience of many years, I fear it might be perceived as authoritarian, indeed theocratic. For surely only God is just and the heart of man is inclined to be disobedient to his Ways; one does not need to be Evangelical nor to deny the necessity of the discipline of obedience to perceive that the coming of the Christ brought a message of mercy and grace.

I would therefore commend, with hesitation, an alternative, from the last century, that has been brought to my notice :

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.


WEG

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent

Today's collect:
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What this prayer has to do with the Advent season is a question to ponder. Indeed in my youth I pondered deeply why we sought to "read Mark, learn" when the evangelist Mark recounts nothing of the Christmas story.

It is a Protestant prayer and indicates the high place that the Church in England gives to Holy Scripture, regardless of being broad, high and low. I do not think it is fundamentalist, as I believe some American sects are termed, for it seeks support to "digest" the Scriptures, to mark and to learn, rather than to be directed in life by single verses that may be at odds with other verses; or indeed with human experience.

For this is an apposite collect when taken alongside today's Gospel reading, which looks forward t the Second Advent of Christ. Listen to the 16th century translation of this passage of the Gospel of Luke and you need not wonder why I have remained wedded to the Prayer Book: ...and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

The passage states, quoting Our Lord, "This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled;"
This is perplexing indeed. Indeed it is possible to speculate it refers not to the Second Advent but to the Ascension; for it is the Protestant way to digest the words of scripture, to understand they are not always easy to comprehend; and yet there is much that is so easy that a child can apprehend it better than an older person.

WEG

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some advice for Mr Clegg

Young Mr Clegg need not take any advice from me on his current troubles; managing a cabinet or a cabinet in opposition is a hard thing for a political leader and I do not claim ever to have excelled in the task.

Mr Nick Clegg, it seems, has been overheard by a scribe from the popular press, discussing his appointments and, it is claimed, uttering calumnies about his ablest ministers. I am sure there is much invention and embroidery in the report. Modern newspapers appear to trade in gossip rather than facts, to consider names more than principles.

Nevertheless I can perhaps offer one word of advice. Mr Clegg, it appears, is concerned that policies on the "environment" should receive greater consideration and greater import in the popular mind. There is some sense in this; the resolution of fuel sources and fuel prices is of the utmost importance to the political economy and the public now desire cheap fuel as they once desired cheap grain. Mr Clegg and his party can indeed promise cheap fuel by reducing dependence on tar and even coal.

I would therefore advise that the best person to take the portfolio is not Mr Webb nor Mr Huhne even Mr Clegg's ally Mr Laws. It is Mr Clegg himself. For the wisest approach to a cabinet is to allow able colleagues to do well that which they do; and to do oneself that which is considered to be most important to the achievement of one's objectives. I do not pretend Her Majesty ever concurred with me on this; I recall that once she suggested I depart my post as chief minister to devote myself again fully to the job of Chancellor. I am unclear who was in her mind as a replacement - for establishing a succession is also a difficult task for a leader.

WEG

First Sunday in Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility ; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

The collect for Advent is prayed in many churches today. A year ago I reflected on the continuing joys of the Advent season. This year it is my estimation that the national mood is more sombre, that for many people Christmas will be a short season of escape from great anxiety. Some will say that the hope attained from repetition of the seasonal prayer, from seeking solace in devotion, is merely another form of escape. I do not think so; for it is in devotion that the spirit is strengthened and the heart steadied for the travails that await us.

WEG

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Darling heeds Cable

Slowly but surely the Chancellor continues to pay heed to the excellent Mr Vincent Cable. I am not fully enamoured of the financial strategy that it appears will be announced tomorrow to an expectant nation; nevertheless, if today's reports are to be given credence, it will contain elements of fiscal sense, largely borrowed, as has often been Socialist practice, from the Liberal canon.

Mr Darling, it appears, will reduce excise taxes levied on goods and services, known as vat taxes. This is excellent, for such taxes distort trade and consumption. It appears the European concert of nations has sought to make them as fair as "possible" and their imposition carries a great deal more sophistication than a century ago. Nevertheless there are considerable exemptions and distortions.

It is also suggested that the Chancellor will make a promise to increase taxes on those earning the greatest incomes, these taxes to be levied after an election. Such a policy might have been whispered in his ear by Mr Cable; indeed Mr Cable has shouted it from the rooftops. But it will not raise enough now or in the near future to pay for the substantial borrowing that Mr Darling proposes.

The Chancellor will also channel support to the poorest families. It is likely he will use his "tax credit" system. As I have commented in the past, this system involves excessive use of clerks and printed paper forms. Nevertheless it has the present advantage that payments can be increased speedily and directed to those in greatest need faster than reductions in taxes levied on wages. I would still in principle prefer reductions in income tax for working families - as I believe would Mr Cable; for the present policy would mean an increase in government disbursements - and that is not to be desired - rather than a reduction. I would wish to hear Mr Darling espouse such a policy once the immediate crisis has passed.

There remains the question of how much Mr Darling proposes to borrow, whence such borrowings will originate and how they will be repaid. He seems likely to offer a partial answer to the last question but continues to remain ignorant of the risk that increasing borrowing may increase pressure on the banks and on interest rates. He must offer a full explanation of his actions.

WEG

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It only takes a spark

It was always my opinion that the Mohameddan world should be judged according to the same lights as nations and peoples who follow the Christian religion. The prophet Mohammed paid full respect to the teachings of Christ whilst rejecting his divinity; and in his lifetime this revered gentleman was no more violent than those kings, generals and even Popes who at the time professed allegiance to Christ.

Sadly the turbulence of the Middle East, the crucible of the world, has meant the roots of democracy and self-government have proved shallower amongst these peoples than in Europe, the Americas or other parts of Asia. Too often tyrants have reigned, besmirching the name of Allah and the words of their own holy book.

I reflect on these matters having read with horror and alarm the statement issued by the Mohammedan insurgents known as Al-Qaeda. Whilst peoples around the world welcomed the election of President Obama, as representing a new era in which colour of skin, race or religion, no longer determines a person's destiny, it was entirely predictable that this organisation would reject him in whatever terms might be felt would rally their diminishing forces . To most followers of Mohammed, the prospect of an American president named Hussein has seemed unimaginable; to Al-Qaeda he is an apostate. Thus far is predictable.

If however the reports are to be believed this organisation has gone further in heaping abuse on the new president. It has termed him a "house slave", abeed al-beit, a "house negro", according to their own translation.

Such comments are beyond offensive; they are worthy only of the Klu Klux Khan, the mythical American organisation that rejects enfranchisement.

In making such a comment, Al-Qaeda's spokesman reveals his organisation's true objective. It is to create a world segmented not just by religion but also by race; to continue the historic Arab mission of enslaving the Africas and converting the world by force of arms.

It is to be hoped that wiser counsels will prevail among other Mohammedan zealots. Indeed it is an opportune moment for those who in the eyes of the ignorant are aligned with Al-Qaeda to declare their difference; I think primarily of the Persians, the Lebanese, the Palestinians, the Sudanese.

Indeed I dare to hope that these two misplaced words might represent the turning of the tide in relations with the Mohammedan world. For it is when oppressed peoples recognise that others may suffer in the same way as themselves that the spark of liberalism is first kindled.

WEG

Friday, November 14, 2008

Economic tampering

Statesmen are anxious to place obstacles in the way of economic misfortune, to prevent the loss of work and manufacturing business. It is apparent to me that governments are more able to make an intervention now than 150 years ago, that electrical calculating machines and the development of political economy over many generations has made such actions more conceivable. Nevertheless, compared with those previous times, the political economy is as if Gordius had continued to bind his great knot, had twisted rope upon rope and only some new young Alexander might have the wit to perceive an answer. For the analyses that are made, even by the electric machines, are not as precise as those in engineering.

There are many dangers in the path of ministers who seek to untangle such a ροζιασμένον. Some actions have already been taken, some wise and some hazardous. In Great Britain interest rates have been reduced, increasing the supply of money and allowing banks to function in a less perilous battlefield than previously. The parties are competing to offer cuts in taxation; but how different are their various proposals!

Mr Cameron would favour businessmen. I have compassion for our manufacturers at this time; but in such times they must demonstrate their own persistence and resilience.

Mr Clegg would pursue his plans, revealed some two months ago. There would be retrenchment in government, taxes on the foolish and concessions for those poor families who continue to strive to provide bread and shelter in turbulent times. It is a just plan but inadequate.

The Queen's ghillie would also reduce taxes in some form. He would support his plan by increasing borrowing by the exchequer. He has, I hear, never studied political economy; it is apparent.

For increased borrowing by the government increases demand on the bankers, allowing interest rates to be raised once more and removing spare money from the pockets of householders and businesses.

There are further dangers to be considered by all nations. China would spend some £500,000 million pounds, I hear. Its people are a prudent people who have saved the money and it is in their banks, it is said. Other governments may increase spending rather than reducing taxes - as if each course is equivalent.

Reduction of taxes in the European nations, spending on railways and repair of earthquake devastated towns - it is as if all have forgotten the events of the last 12 months. Prices of fuel and metals have fallen with the reduction in demand and this may help to dampen the collapse of economic prospects. And yet once the Chinese dragon arises and spreads its wings, it will yet again demand steel and oil and coal. Once the British and the Americans have spare money in their pockets, they will yet again take to the air and the road.

Anyone who borrows money must seek a return on their borrowing. The government of China will borrow from its own people and create a better nation. The rest of the world will return to where it was: teetering on a financial precipice - unless that is, statesmen agree some wise investments for their borrowed monies.

For not only will borrowing increase the rates of interest but spending may increase the price of scarce commodities. It is therefore necessary that expenditure is directed towards those areas of investment where supply is plentiful, where working people can be employed without waste of resources. I hear a wise man in the past century once suggested that in such times it is best to employ the workforce to dig holes; there was greater wisdom in such a saying than mere jesting.

I would direct our statesmen to where resources are indeed plentiful and where investment can gainfully be made. For the mighty sun, the sky's glowing orb, continues to bestow unlimited fuel and energy upon us; and mankind now appears to have the skill, the techniques to place a harness on the chariot of Helios. Here is expenditure that will repay itself four-fold, if not ten-fold; it will stimulate new investment in new machines and reduce the hapless reliance that the northern nations have upon the desert oil wells of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia.

I have some hope that young President Obama will take steps in this direction; there are few grounds for confidence in Her Majesty's chief minister.

The fires are kindled, and the smokes ascend;
With hasty feasts they sacrifice, and pray,
To avert the dangers of the doubtful day.

WEG

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Praying for peace

It is but a year since I remarked on the ceremony with which the British people remember the dead of the great conflict that engulfed Europe nearly a full century ago.

In visiting further such ceremonies today I continue to be deeply moved, and gratified, by this annual event. A priest today read the words of a young man, a member of the Sassoon family, who writes most movingly, from his heart, of the terrible aspect of warfare. Much as I admired the craft of Lord Alfred Tennyson, I fear he may have stoked some misapprehensions amongst the British people that there is a glamour in war and the waste of lives.

This week the world has a new hope; the Americans have elected a professed peace-maker to lead them. Mr Obama is a young man, lacking in experience, but he has shown his steel; and we must hope, and pray to the Almighty, that he holds fast to his course and seeks to be an instrument of true justice, justice that will build peace, not stoke hatred and warfare.

Let me quote the words, not of Homer, nor the great Horace, but of young Seigfried Sassoon:
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!
WEG

Monday, November 3, 2008

A modest survey

I have availed myself of the opportunities afforded by modern electronic engines to allow readers of this journal to express on opinion on the state of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom.

It is a modest matter compared with the great contest across the Atlantic; yet it is sobering to note that Mr Darling, the present incumbent of the great office once held by myself, has failed to gain a single supporter.

There are a few hours to run before a declaration can be made; undoubtedly the findings of this poll will be of little interest in comparison with events elsewhere. Yet it has caused me a little amusement.

WEG

A lather of anticipation

I am in a lather of anticipation as the states of North America prepare to make their great decision, as their citizens queue to mark their preference on the ballot. It is an unwarranted privilege to view a great democracy cast its vote, to see with my own eyes its statesmen traverse its territories at a speed faster than that afforded by the fastest railway; the telegram and the printed newspaper could never offer such a spectacle.

Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla, yes indeed, I am inclined to repeat this quotation from Horace, oft-attributed to myself as it is. These noble steeds foam at the mouth, awaiting the final contest. But if I must cast about for quotations, I should refer to the great Homer, the poet who chronicled the duels of heroes:

aurion 'en areten diaeisetai, ei k' emon egchos meinei eperchomenon.
(tomorrow he shall come to know his courage, whether he can resist my on-coming spear).

And yet it must be recorded that tomorrow's great contest may be of even greater significance than the war recounted by Homer. Even if Senator McCain is cast as Hector, the stout defender of the city of wealth, and Senator Obama as Achilles, the champion of the people, tomorrow's dawn may yet mark a moment when European civilisation embraces the hopes of all the people's of the world, when the peoples of North America themselves can aspire to equality of hope. And so I turn to Horace again:
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit
or to St Luke
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
The reader must forgive the prematurity of my reflections; let us perhaps for just one day enjoy from some distance, but as if close to, such a mighty spectacle.

WEG

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Gladstone Lecture!

A delightful return to comforts of the National Liberal Club last night to observe a lecture delivered in my name; it is intended I note to become an annual event and indeed the club continues to heap excessive flattery upon myself by displays of my portrait and bust.

The lecturer was the member for Berwick, Mr Alan Beith, who piled unwarranted honour upon unmerited praise by making references to my "towering" status. His words were excessively generous, if pleasing to the heart; for I continue to search for traces of any legacy I might have bequeathed the nation. I would have hoped to find a people liberal in Christian generosity rather than liberal in conduct, a nation still wedded to the British Liberal Party that we created. Indeed sometimes I fear that Beaconsfield might have won the day, that this has become a nation where the interests of self predominate. Yet when I reflect I also find much to commend in the achievements of Great Britain over the last century.

This was not the topic chosen by Mr Beith, who delivered a masterly exposition upon the relationship between Christian belief and Liberal politics. His central thesis - and I believe Mr JS Mill would have applauded it - is to be passionate in one's own belief whilst also passionate in defence of freedom of speech. Indeed he cited in support of his case my defence of Mr Bradlaugh, the atheist whom I assisted in gaining membership of the House of Commons.

Of particular interest was that Mr Beith chose to discuss the topic that I mentioned in my last essay; that is the question of the role of the Church in modern England. He is I understand of non-conformist stock, a Liberal MP of long standing, representing the great traditions of our party. It is therefore remarkable that it appears the Non-conformists and I appear to be now largely in agreement on this issue that once divided us. Indeed Mr Beith made the self-same case as myself, that the present role of the Church is not offensive to people of religious faith although it may be offensive to those who would wish to remove religion from our nation. With great wit, Mr Beith listed the impact of attempting to remove Christianity from Great Britain, the necessity of removing the crosses of St Andrew, St George and St Patrick from the Union Flag, the requirement to rewrite the National Anthem. We are in agreement that the Church needs to keep a separation from the State, to be a voice distinct from that of the Government, prophets of our time.

In conclusion Mr Beith set out the principles whereby MPs might place their private conscience above the constraints of party and the demands of the electorate. The principles are commendable; the question that remains is how many MPs possess a private conscience.

WEG

Friday, October 24, 2008

Disteblishmentarianism

A Mr Woolas, who has a junior role in the present government, has been quoted as wishing to "strip" the Church of its role in English society. There are many reasons to consider the role of the Church in English society; some are good reasons and some are poor.

We removed its privileges in Ireland and Scotland because it was not the native church; it had no affinity with the common people.

My party always wished to remove its privileges in England; for my part I was never full of zeal for such measures. Yet it is clear the Church does not benefit from holding a place of esteem in the realm. Its Bishops take their seats in the House of Lords while their flocks struggle to fill their pews. When the Church held a monopoly on education, on the awarding of degrees, when adherence was a requirement of advancement it did not flourish; its soul withered.

It was a privilege to nominate Bishops for appointment; but therein lies the heresy of Erastus.

Establishment places the Church at the mercy of the government; when the government is not Christian, it can hammer nails into the hands and wrists of the Church.

These are not the reasons cited by Mr Woolas; Mr Woolas claims the Church is offensive to the citizens of Empire who may settle here and who may have other religions. In The Times he is quoted as saying “It will probably take 50 years but a modern society is multi-faith.”

I am sorry to hear that a government minister, however junior, is so ignorant. The Church holds its place in this land not because of its number of adherents but because it represents the ancient and traditional faith of England, the religion of Alfred and Elizabeth. The age of Victoria was multi-faith; powerful numbers did not belong to the Church. They were non-comformist, unitarian, even atheist; and Liberal governments gave them their rights. I do not detect that the peoples of the Empire find the existence of the church offensive, only that they may choose not to belong to it. Indeed many of many and varied faiths seem to take comfort from the State giving some token acknowledgement to religion in a land that is too often depicted as godless.

Mr Woolas may find the Church's existence offensive - that is his right; but he should not call the Queen's loyal subjects to the aid of his argument.

WEG

Monday, October 20, 2008

Liberty and harm

I have been distressed to read accounts of a young football player, injured to such an extent that he felt compelled to take his own life. According to these accounts, he was transported by members of his family to a clinic in Switzerland and it was there that doctors put an end to his brief sojourn on this planet.

It is a sad story and there have been those who have called for the prosecution of those members of his family who provided him assistance; there have, in addition, been calls for the law to be changed to allow further instances of what is termed as "assisted suicide".

I have heard my good friend Mr John Stuart Mill called in aid of these arguments; for Mr Mill set out the principle that the government, the state should not interfere in an individual's management of his own body. Indeed in this instance, the state for many centuries regarded suicide as illegal as well as immoral; and a hapless individual who failed in a suicide attempt might face prosecution.

It is now therefore argued that the state should provide assistance to those who wish to terminate their existence on this earth; that at least it should not prevent doctors from providing assistance to ensure such an end is humane and merciful.

There is another instance that is also, it seems, under consideration this week: that is the aiding of a woman in the removal of her unborn baby from her womb. This I hear is now a common practice, aided and abetted by the agents of the state; it is a matter one would not have dared to discuss with our fair Queen, who had a certain delicacy of temperament. Now I hear that one of the arguments advanced in favour of this practice is that the illegal performance of this operation is far more injurious, dangerous even, to the woman than its performance by licensed professionals.

As in the case of assisted suicide, it is argued that state intervention is more humane, in that it protects the individual from the misery and injury they might suffer through the actions they have taken. However as it is also argued, following my friend Mr Mill, that the state should not intervene to prevent individuals doing harm to themselves, this is a poor argument.

I fear however that Mr Mill's principle cannot be taken as an absolute principle. It is better the state should not intervene and ludicrous that suicides should face the majesty of the law. By non-intervention however the state does not concede the principle that a self-destructive course of action is harmful and therefore it has every right to restrain others from assisting in a harmful course of action.

WEG

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Spread the wealth part II

In one other respect I was surprised and, alas, disappointed by the performance of Mr McCain, a man whom in general terms I would hold in the highest esteem.

The Senator turned his nation's attention to a certain "Joe the plumber", supposedly an industrious and ordinary tradesman, whose enterprise depended upon taxes being moderate. Subsequent reports and inquiries have suggested that this Joe is by no means an ordinary tradesman. Although a plumber by profession he does not carry the licence that would guarantee his quality to customers; and it seems his reluctance to pay taxes may extend to not paying those that have already been demanded of him by the authorities.

It appears that Mr McCain is careless; and he would be president of the mightiest and wealthiest nation on earth. For this has not been the only example of his lack of forethought, of failure to consider detail, of failure to ask questions. This has been even more notable in his choice of deputy, Mrs Palin, the governor of Alaska. She, it seems, would happily destroy a species of whale in the pursuit of greed; she would use her office to pursue vendettas within her own family. Her lack of judgement appears only matched by her ignorance of great affairs.

Now a statesman must consider details, must ask questions, must pay attention to small matters. For what if the new President's advisers came to him and urged him to launch an assault on some nation or other, Persia perhaps. Would he take time to satisfy himself that the case was made? Or would he act out of rage, issue commands and then, should there be a moment of calm self-reflection, learn to regret his choice?

Mr McCain may counter that his opponent shows poor judgement in his choice of friends and acquaintances. He must know that in public life one has many acquaintances; it is those whom one chooses to promote, to elevate to high standing that reflect on judgement.

These were matters I repeatedly sought to emphasise to our dear Queen, to share with her the detailed considerations that led me to decide a course of action. Although she sometimes lacked patience in these matters, and indeed frequently urged me to choose instead the words of honey and treacle deployed by Beaconsfield, I do believe my persuasion helped reconcile her to policies that instinctively she would have rejected.

WEG

Spreading the wealth around Pt 1

The wonders of electronic communication allowed me to view, almost as if I were in the same room, the debate that pitted Mr Barak Obama against Mr John McCain in the United States. It is indeed a moderate improvement on the marvel of the electronic telegraph which, it should be noted, allowed people even in my time to read the full text of events and discussions of such import in newspapers delivered to their homes within but a few days.

I would make two observations: one is in respect of a rather curious phrasing used repeatedly by Mr McCain and containing the words "spread the wealth around". Indeed Mr McCain seemed to have borrowed the words from Mr Obama; as I had heard the Republican was a humane individual, an opponent of corruption and greed, I assumed with a naivety that must stem from being the European side of the ocean, that he was discussing how the nation's wealth could be share with its poor, how tax burdens could be lifted from those who are struggling to maintain home and hearth in difficult times.

Understanding then dawned upon me; and with comprehension, some sense of the distance that remains between Great Britain and the United States. For the admirable Senator was, it seems, merely seeking to recite his opponent's words as if they were an indictment of guilt, of closet socialism. It is not in my nature to welcome the raising of rates of taxation nor to penalise those whose endeavour brings them success in life. Yet it is a disgrace to a nation when its poor beg on the streets and die penniless, evicted from their homes and herded into workhouses. There was never any doubt that extending the franchise to ordinary working people would lead to the development of policies to alleviate poverty, to enable all those of good will to earn a living and live in their own homes. It is apparent to me that our cousins across the ocean have many admirable virtues; yet they remain ignorant of the progress of politics, of policies that were so admirably developed by my successors and implemented, not by socialists but by Liberals, a little over 100 years ago in this nation.

It may be the American people are at last coming to understand the power of the ballot box; for Mr McCain's pejorative use of this admirable concept appears to have gained little credence in the brave hearts of the American people.

WEG

Thursday, October 9, 2008

No time for merriment

It has been reported that a Conservative councillor in the county of Oxfordshire has purchased a portable artefact that was once in my possession. It is to be hoped that this gentleman wishes to imbube some of my wisdom and experience; and even more it is to be hoped that this would be absorbed by his party's leader, if there is any risk he might come into government.

For my part it is a matter of no concern to me. My soul is not available to be purchased. At times like these, more so than any other, material things are of no interest. Those who wish to exercise leadership in this nation need to pay heed to the events of the times.

WEG

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Intervention?

 The Congress of the United States deserves full praise for its resistance over the past week to the President's determination to secure funds for occasional and arbitrary intervention in the banking system. It was unclear from the behaviour of the markets whether the proposals were perceived by their prospective beneficiaries as effective; and indeed it remains unclear. Nevertheless the President and his successor, whoever it might be, were loath to be left powerless and at the end of the affair the resistance of the Congress was futile.

I do not pretend that Governments should turn a blinded eye to the present crisis of economies in the manner of Admiral Nelson; nor do I content that there is no crisis. It is merely necessary to state that,as a matter of principle, intervention should not be arbitrary; nor should those whose recklessness is responsible for the situation gain benefit - for that would appear to be the consequence of arbitrary intervention.

The events that currently are unfolding in Europe are therefore interesting. The blessed governments of Ireland and of Greece have guaranteed the deposits of savers and it is reported that the government of Germany is considering the same policy. Britain already guarantees deposits but only to a certain level and not to an extent that will reassure those individuals who may maintain savings acquired perhaps from the sale of a property.

Mr Vincent Cable, meanwhile, a statesman whose wisdom and prescience is increasingly acknowledged, has suggested it is time to reduce interest rates; this would be achieved I presume by an expansion of the money supply.

These are both interventions which would have general effect rather than providing comfort and solace to businesses that should be allowed to crawl peacefully to their final resting places. They are therefore worth consideration. Public panic and the flight of deposits are proper causes for concern and it would seem unsustainable for one country to guarantee savings and not others.

Meanwhile the man who would be Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, has appeared before the cameras calling for an "injection of capital" into the banking system, indicating that his office has indeed been busied with the desperate pleas of bankers and that the Conservatives remain unchanged in their willingness to pay heed to the monied classes. He continues to favour, it seems, selective involvement by the government with individual banks. He appears ignorant of the dire state of the domestic British banking system and the increasing absence of competition between banks.

"There is one only thing worse than state aid for banks and that is not doing anything," Mr Cameron stated. He appears incapable of grasping other courses of action. If he and his colleagues were serious in their declarations that politicians should work together they should pay heed to Mr Cable. His simple measure would allow any bank to borrow more capital at a fair interest rate. It would spare the government from becoming a shareholder in an increasing number of banks; it is not its job and would leave public finances dangerously exposed to the winds of commerce.

WEG

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The stomach retches

I am an elderly gentleman and, in my youth, life was simpler than it appears to be in the modern age. I am therefore bemused by the current crisis in the world of finance; indeed I am perplexed by the responses of politicians who, as is frequent, appear to have learnt nothing from the lessons of history.

I once described the banking system as the stomach of commerce. It is a base comparison and yet so true in many ways. For sometimes a stomach may contract an infection; it may need to be cleansed and the results may be unpleasant.

For commerce to succeed, businesses must start and succeed or fail. There appears to be a belief at large that the great houses of commerce, the banks, are exempt from this rule. One bank teeters on the brink; the British government buys it. A second bank is harassed by the market, whether rightly or wrongly; officials of government arrange for it to be saved by another.

And still the whole system teeters and topples like Sisyphus and his rock. Governments may push it to the top of the hill but it will always roll down. In the United States, the Republicans seek to raise a sum of some 700 thousand million dollars to salvage the world of commerce. The public is outraged; and so they should be. It is as if the government walked into a casino and offered to pay the losses of those desperate gamblers who have invested their house, their savings into the addiction. It is the nature of the economy that the City of London and Wall Street deliver great, even monumental rewards to their participants. Those rewards are predicated, or should be on the scale of risk undertaken by those who earn their living toiling at this coalface.

For whose are the livelihoods that governments seek to protect, that are at risk in the current crisis? No other than these self-same people who have lived lives, created homes of unutterable luxury through their businesses, aided and enhanced it seems by the technology of the 21st century. It is said that homes and livelihoods of ordinary people are at stake. I have studied recent history and learnt how a Conservative government in Britain allowed the collapse of the nation's great northern manufacturing industries. Thousands of labouring people were cast out of work and no solution found; indeed government did not rush to their aid.

I cannot but remember the partners of the bank of Overend & Gurney attending my office some 140 years ago. In spite of their entreaties, we did not rescue their business; they had to pay the price of their recklessness, just as any other gambler. Others also who were thriftless had to suffer the loss of their business; but the system of finance did not collapse. Rather it thrived through the learning of a measure of caution and wisdom.

It is not apparent to me that the collapse of any individual lender of mortages will lead to the loss of homes to any greater extent than is already happening. The Americans perceive, I believe, even more than the British that it is those who have profited most from the gambling of previous years who are likely to lose least. If a bank, a lender were to go bankrupt, their borrowers need not be evicted from their homes, their savers need not be destitute. All that will happen is that another bank will purchase those assets at a market cost. The directors and shareholders may therefore suffer losses; that is a consequence of market failure and their own failure to administer their business in a proper fashion.

The governments meanwhile should save their pennies and their legislation for their proper task: to ensure that noone is destitute, that occupants of homes are not cast out on the streets, that mothers are able to feed and clothe their children.

Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus.

WEG

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Time to go

Each one of us, whatever the extent of our greatness, must consider, when we hold the highest offices in the land, at what hour and what day our time has passed. Sometimes it is possible to depart on a point of principle; sometimes we must recognise that age, infirmity or incapacity requires us to muster whatever dignity remains to us.

Mr Gordon Brown's political opponents may fervently wish him every success this week in Manchester. I will no longer mock him as the Queen's ghillie. He deserves the respect one accords to a mortally wounded opponent. Instead I give him this advice: he should beware the ploys of the Tories, who have never failed to stoop to the basest, meanest forms of political strategems and may well conspire to keep him in office.

He should also beware the high passion, the false success and the treacherous acclaim of the party assembly. I enjoyed spending a few days with the remnants of the Liberal Party in Dorset last week. It appeared to me at close quarters to be a party ready for government. That was not apparent to the nation at large; and indeed Mr Nick Clegg's rashness in discussions with the press suggests a continuing need for maturity and gravitas.

Mr Brown, on the other hand, claims these self-same qualities of maturity and gravitas, confusing them with the experience which he may rightly lay claim. It is apparent to all but himself - and a somewhat naive writer of children's books, a Miss Rowling - that he is unable to demonstrate the leadership the nation leads at a time of economic and financial crisis. The observer has no need to be Mr JS Mill to see that governments cannot claim to be holding the financiers to account whilst continuing to subsidise and underwrite their adventures.

On waking today I was astonished to hear the Prime Minister announce his solution to the ills of the nation, indeed, it seems, to the ills of the world and certainly, it must have seemed to him, to the troubles of his own party. The state, he proposes, will take care of all children of two. Like a nanny of old, it will take them from their parents and place them in nurseries. No-one shall have to pay for this nanny, no-one that is except the taxpayer in general and he will pay more when he has already paid enough; when he struggles to pay for his home and his transport to work; when he fears for his employment and his future. It was an announcement that was ill-timed and ill-considered; indeed it was an announcement that lays bare the Marxist soul of the new party of labour, the desire to control and organise every aspect of each citizen's life.

Mr Brown stated "I will do better" like a chastised child, one old enough to talk and discuss matters with his teachers. His lieutenants may assure him that he is doing better. He should ignore their false smiles and treacherous assurances, gather up his kilt with dignity and head for the Highlands.

WEG

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The clergyman was right

I am alarmed to hear that a clergyman of liberal persuasion has been persuaded to resign his post at that most eminent and distinguished of institutions, the Royal Society. Her majesty herself would have intervened in such an unseemly dispute which may besmirch our national tradition of the liberal advancement of scientific endeavour; I wonder why her descendant does not take action to protect the reputation of the Royal insignia.

For it seems entirely in error that it can be stated that wearing the collar of the national church prevents a clergyman from participating in science. The Rev Dr Michael Reiss's offence, it seems, is to suggest that science teachers should not be restrained from discussing the significance of Holy writ and in particular Archbishop Ussher's thesis that Creation took place in 4004BC. The Society, it seems, wants schoolmasters to teach that Creation is nonsense, is not in any way scientific, and that the estimable Mr Charles Darwin is the true architect of the correct interpretation of our origins. The society says that evolution is a sound scientific theory - as indeed it is - but that creationism is unscientific.

It is my opinion that the Society should go on its knees to Dr Reiss and beg him, indeed implore him, to return to his post. For the question about the Creation is about theology; it is not about science. I do not know Dr Reiss's theology but he is a clergyman and must know a little. He might be able to help his scientific colleagues see the distinction.

For it is perfectly possible that Archbishop Ussher's view continues to be correct 300 years after it was formulated. It would be possible for the Almighty to have accomplished all the things that many of his adherents in the creationist movement say; indeed for Him to lay a false trail to deceive scientists and other clever men. For His wisdom is folly to men.

The question for theology - and here I concur that schoolmasters assigned to teach science must refer this to other forums - is why should the God of the Jews and the Christians and the Mohammedans choose to do this? Is this the way He has chosen to veil His presence on earth? Or is it simply that His purposes are entirely mysterious to mankind? If that is so, it is also possible that mankind does not understand the very ancient writings in the book of Genesis. They were not dictated by Jehovah but were given at some time to some scribe in antiquity. What was this scribe shown and what words did this individual have to write down his visions?

I was alarmed in my time by the theories that Mr Darwin expounded, alarmed they might spread atheism and lawlessness. In this century I am not reassured I was wrong; yet I understand that the weight of scientific discovery has continued to support Mr Darwin. Yet Mr Darwin cannot disprove God - and nor can his self-pointed heir Mr Dawkins; God could disprove Mr Darwin and Mr Dawkins but may choose not to. There is still plenty to understand in this age and the likes of Mr Reiss could assist all sides in a better understanding both of scientific and of Divine revelation.

WEG

A rousing ovation

A rousing ovation for young Mr Nick Clegg this afternoon following his delivery of a speech of substantial quality and content.

The party of labour is finished, Mr Clegg declared. We are the only party that can deliver social justice.

Speaking as if he were an accomplished orator, his words tumbling from his brain through his mouth, the Liberal leader responded to today's concerns, declaring himself willing and ready to take on the financiers and the speculators who, it is reported, lie behind today's banking crisis. It is reported that perceptive operators in the institutions of the City are able to speculate on the prospects for the weakest banks, knowing full well that this weakened and timid government will rush to their rescue with tens, nay thousands, of millions of taxpayers' hard-earned money. Mr Clegg and his lieutenant Mr Cable are correct to hold their ground. This is not the job of tax earnings.

Indeed Mr Clegg reinforced his message that high taxes do little to favour working people of modest incomes if those taxes are not spent wisely. His purpose, he stressed once again, is to reduce the burden of payments on the poor and to ensure that a favoured few do not continue to defraud the taxpayer.

His words were well-received by the Liberal party, which may now have found its soul, have rediscovered the spirit that enriched and freed the common man. It would be timely if the common man were to hear this message and be spared the folly of entrusting his fate once again to charlatans.

WEG

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A trip to chapel

I undertook a very pleasant and most inspiring trip to Richmond Hill on Sunday night to the Congregationalist chapel.

I well remember the erection of this magnificent Non-Comformist temple when I made it my habit to visit the town in the latter part of Her Majesty's reign. Indeed at a time when many of the churches of Bournemouth appear to have been converted to be pleasure palaces, this building of Gothic style continues to serve its original purpose; in participating in worship with the remnant of the great non-conformist conscience of our nation, I almost felt as if I was in the true English church.

The minister considered the question of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, drawing some interesting and unexpected lessons from the story. It is a story which has inspired many generations of oppressed peoples to venture to seek freedom; I well remember how the abolitionists drew on these passages and indeed sought to convince me of the error of my youthful opinions by citing the text of Exodus.

This minister's theme related to each person's personal exodus, the journey of courage that must be undertaken if the will of God is to be exercised. It was a well-chosen message for an audience, many of whose members have set out on the hard paths of public service. It is to be hoped that encouragement was well-received and spirits lifted.

WEG

Debt and taxes

I am most cheered to perceive a political party that has returned to the principles that I espoused through so many ministries. It was always a matter of regret, indeed of alarm, to me that the state should extend itself into too many areas of activity; it was necessary in many cases, although too often modern politicians appear to have perceived of the bureaucracy of Whitehall as the answer to their problems rather than to trust the people with solutions within their own towns and cities.

Yesterday I observed the Liberal Democrat party declare that the burden of taxation is too heavy, is burdensome for working people of limited means. The matter was discussed most vigorously with a quality of speeches that offered me some hope as to the quality of the modern political sphere.

I must mention the member for Westmoreland, young Mr Tim Farron, whose outpourings excelled in many respects; indeed with maturity and application he may become a great orator. Mr Farron referred us to a woman from Cumbria whose earnings amount to some £7,000, which I understand to be regarded as a paltry sum. She pays in taxes, he stated, some £2,000 a year. A measure of retrenchment, a certain restraint in our view of Russia and other nations, Mr Farron, opined would assist in reducing the burden of taxation.

The Tories, he stated, gave tax cuts to the rich, the socialists gave them to the comfortable; "we will give them to the poor" he declared.

Further excellent contributions came from Mr Vince Cable during the day. It is proposed that taxes be reduced for the poor and that those members of wealthy classes who used various devices to avoid payment should be harried, indeed should be prevented from using the islands of the Empire for these purposes.

There is resistance, it seems, from those who fear this policy will be depicted as an intention to remove the state's apparatus of welfare, its ownership of hospitals and schools and its support for the poor. As I have noted before, it seems curious that a population that has benefited from generations of education at the hands of the state appears less able to digest political argument than when the franchise was first extended to working people. My career was spent in the pursuit of reduced taxation and yet it was necessary to allow the state to grow. The government does not exist to spend the taxes that the people pay; nor do working people pay taxes merely to sustain the government. It is merely a means of delivering communal benefits and the tax that is paid should reflect the cost of those benefits.

WEG

video

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A leader in command

It was gratifying to see the leader of the party, young Mr Nick Clegg, in much restored health tonight; indeed it was also pleasing that he had heeded the advice I gave on his last visit to this fair town and now pays some attention to the preparation and presentation of his public appearances. He has travelled some distance since his last visit to Bournemouth and it is to be hoped that the people at large come to realise his many virtues.

Mr Clegg spoke of the erosion of the ancient liberties of the British people and the sad state of decline of a Parliament that no longer governs or holds ministers to account. I confess a soupcon of envy of recent Prime Ministers, who, it seems, are able to win votes in this place without recourse to argument or challenge from members. Mr Clegg informed us that the Government has suffered just three defeats in 11 years of socialist dominance. What a miserable place it must have become.

I find that in my current disembodied state it is possible to preserve and somehow to publish snatches of memory of recent events. Here is one such memory of this evening's tour de force.

video

WEG

Fair Bournemouth

Travelled once again today to fair Dorset to Bournemouth, the home of the English sunshine, to join the gathering of members of the Liberal Democrat party. I have fond memories of this town, which is where I enjoyed my last partaking of the sacred Communion before an untimely and, if I may say so, premature departure from the affairs of men.

I had the pleasure today of sitting in a pavilion listening to the excellent Mr Chris Huhne expound on the virtues of a liberal approach to international labour. I have been astonished to find an era that places so much store on global trade placing burdensome and excessive restrictions who wish to place their skills at the service of others. It is understood that the working man may fear for his own employment; it is therefore better that those with skills come here to assist our own industry than set up in competition elsewhere.

Indeed this was a point that Mr Huhne and others alongside him wished to emphasise: we are a nation that has always benefited from immigrant labour. And the great United States has benefited even more. It is pleasing to hear that the dominion of Canada employs progressive policies that sustain its cities. I came away with such a sunny view of the prospects for improving the flow of labour that it was hard to see what the drawbacks must be. Yet it seems the Queen's ghillie, his kilt blowing in his face, has this week placed even further restrictions on the entry of skilled individuals into this nation.

WEG

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Advice taken

It is heart-warming that government has seen fit to pay heed to the advice of an elderly gentleman. The measures that are proposed today to help the poor and elderly are a little timid; nevertheless they represent investment and some recognition that the nation cannot for even continue to binge on the residues of prehistoric creatures.

The energy trade I understand has agreed to contribute some £900 million over three years. This would appear to be a good estimate of the surplus profits they are likely to enjoy as a result of the instability of the market for fuel. And the contribution will be made by voluntary levy, not by additional taxation, as I had advised. I wonder whether Mr Hilary Benn, who has negotiated this, is related to John Benn, a young radical who demonstrated considerable potential, I recall.

I am concerned nevertheless to learn from the excellent Mr Cable that these self-same companies have received considerable subsidies in kind from the government in the shape of free "carbon trading permits". I would wish them neither to be subsidised nor taxed in an arbitrary fashion.

However the nature of the investment strikes me as timid and likely to be ineffective. It appears to be restricted to "insulation" of fashionable kinds that will perpetuate dependence on carbon fuels. Indeed I am assured that the fashion of affixing additional panes of glass, separated by a notional vacuum, is not as effective as is claimed; indeed that the poor are likely to be subject to exploitation by those who would hawk these products. Regardless of the greed of salesmen, the raising of demand for a scarce product may inevitably raise its price. In these circumstances, consumers should by the law of political economy be enabled to substitute alternatives.

It seems to be forgotten that the British are a hardy nation who have resisted colder climates than these for centuries. A set of thick woollen curtains may be as effective as resisting the draught as pieces of plastic and metal and investment in these products might revive the nation's ailing textile industries.

We are also an innovative nation and many will wish to harness new technologies based on the natural sources of energy that emanate from Divine providence, the light and the heat of the sun and the wind created by the turbulence of the waters and the seasons.

I hear it is a frequent ploy of the Queen's ghillie to offer large sums of money to the public and then ensure they remain unspent. I fear this may happen in this instance if a greater measure of flexibility and discretion for householders is not introduced into the scheme.

WEG

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nearly dumb-struck

I have been all but dumb-struck for a number of days by the actions of my successor in the Exchequer.

Mr Darling's candour is admirable in stating that the economy is the "worst it has been for 60 years". Yet I am struggling with the notion that governments can somehow govern the condition of the economy from year to year or that they can somehow defy the occasional hesitations that may cause temporary misery in the economy. I do not dispute that governments bear responsibility for the overall health of the economy; indeed it is apparent to me that many mistakes have been made in recent years. The foremost amongst these would appear to be to allow the pound to float freely, at the mercy of financial speculation, following the disintegration of the Gold Standard. It is apparent that Britain would be less vulnerable to international currents had the currency been shackled to our European neighbours at a constant rate.

I have read a number of attempts to understand the mind of Mr Darling in recent days. As always Mr Bagehot presents an admirable argument:  that it is part of the natural process of governments with a great deal to hide.It is also argued that Mr Darling seeks to distance himself from his Premier. I can fully understand his sentiments and would wish to support the Chancellor's independence. This, however, is a right honourable gentleman who has shown little independence from the Premier during his brief stay in office.

Indeed there is little sign that the measures proposed over the last week represent a coherent vision of political economy held by the Chancellor. There is a little something for house purchases, a temporary removal of tax at the bottom end of the range of prices. There may be help with capital for purchasers and for those who cannot afford to repay their loans. This may provide relief in this sector although  the question of whence the capital to assist the housing market may be found is outstanding.

From there public attention has turned to the rising cost of energy and those poor people who may face hardship as a consequence. It is an admirable notion that the businesses that provide fuel should provide relief even though the figures may not support the rhetoric. I am indebted to the Local Government Association for informing us that payments to shareholders to these companies increased by some £257 million in the last year.  This economic surplus is a large sum but at the present level of population equates to about £20 for each household. If it were directed to the poorest third of households it would be worth about £60 each. It would be possible therefore to provide considerable relief to the neediest households if such sums are still available; and indeed it is reasonable to assume they are.

I would prefer that this were done by means of voluntary levy. The populist concept of a "windfall" tax is not conducive to good government and is bound to undermine investment confidence and deter business. Nevertheless the present government has rushed to exclude this possibility when it would have been wise to retain some means of influence over the energy sector. But this is a government that seeks to control too many events and has found itself in control of too few of them. It shows every sign of panic at a time when national leadership has most need to present a calm facade.

Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. 
WEG

Sunday, August 31, 2008

By Jingo!

The development of the crisis in the Caucasus cannot help but lead me to recall the time when a jingoistic mob stoned the windows of my home because I dared speak against Turkish massacres in the Balkans. The mob wanted war with Russia, not Turkey, and to reprise the disaster of Crimea.

Sometimes in our relations with foreign countries we may feel in our hearts that there are no good people, no real Christian nations with whom we can deal. It is a mistake to rush into alliance in the belief that one nation or cause represents a lesser evil. Yes, alliances are sometimes necessary; but not immutable alliances that tie us irrevocably to nations with dubious practices and intentions that may be concealed from ourselves.

When I hear the British Prime Minister, the Queen's ghillie, speak, I am reminded of the song so memorably chanted by that mob:

The Dogs of War are loose and the rugged Russian Bear,

Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawled out of his lair,
It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame,
The brute, and so he's bent upon the same old game.
The Lion did his best to find him some excuse,
To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were not use,
He hunger'd for his victim, he's pleased when blood is shed,
But let us hope his crimes may all recoil upon his head.

We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,

We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too.
We've fought the Bear before, and while we're Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

Mr Brown states: "When Russia has a grievance over an issue such as South Ossetia, it should act multilaterally by consent rather than unilaterally by force."
Mr Brown is quite correct in the content of his words but he has no authority to make this statement as he was part of a government that acted in folly and in defiance of the international community in making war.

He proceeds to state: "We are also reflecting on the Nato response. We must re-evaluate the alliance's relationship with Russia, and intensify our support to Georgia and others who may face Russian aggression."

As I have indicated previously I find this alarming. Just as did the fool Disraeli, Mr Brown now seeks to define foreign policy in opposition to Russia. NATO I understand was created to oppose Russia, a different Russia from that which now exists. Indeed NATO - or rather America and its allies - has declared other enemies, previously Iraq, now Iran. How many enemies is NATO going to have? Is Europe going to become again a beleaguered peninsula of the great Eurasian continent?

Russia is not the democracy we would wish it to be. It is a vexatious, irritable Bear and undoubtedly its scoundrel politicians resort to patriotism to exhort its people. But it is also the case that the leadership of Britain and of America is beleaguered and their people are suffering fear and hardship, not from external forces but from internal crises. As their misshapen policies bear rotten fruit, they too may see advantages in resorting to jingoism. Why are politicians competing to make enemies at a time when they need friends? Perhaps it is because they have squandered the respect and good will they held in the international community and it is time for them to be replaced.

WEG

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Cameron catastrophe

The Conservative leader's comments on the crisis in the Caucasus have attracted praise in some quarters. For myself I find them disturbing, both naive and ill-considered and symptomatic of an approach to foreign policy that would be dangerous if adopted in government.

I would quote Mr David Cameron's direct words: "For a start it is about energy security". What kind of comment is this? "For a start", as I have argued several times, and indeed quite recently, it is a flawed policy to base your economy upon petroleum; so how much more flawed is it to base your international policy on one product in one sector.

I can well appreciate that oil fuelled the 20th century. Indeed it fuelled two terrible wars and the devastation of the global environment. It fuels jet planes and missiles, I understand, in a way that few other fuels are able to do so. It also helped fuel economic growth and some limited global prosperity; but it has never been beyond the wit of man to develop alternative sources of energy. The good Lord has bestowed energy in abundance upon us in the natural world and our scientists have long known how to harvest this energy. But oil has made mankind lazy; and the notion that it should continue to trigger wars and global confrontations is most terrible indeed.

This Cameron would seek to lead Britain in the global interest in the 21st century; yet his feet appear planted in the miserable 20th century.

He then proceeds to state: "What's more, it's about global security. History has shown that if you leave aggression to go unchecked, greater crises will only emerge in the future." I have heard Cameron speak to an audience and have been impressed by his bonhomie. I can hear him speak this sentence; it is worthy of a history undergraduate who would scrape his degree with a poor third. Europe suffered a severe trauma in the last century, I fully understand, and young Churchill distinguished himself wonderfully. Indeed it is little surprise that a son of Jo Chamberlain should bear responsibility for the debacle of 1939. But in the grand sweep of history, it remains only one war, one crisis, and the public will be fooled repeatedly if they believe this argument can be applied to every incident, every exchange of gunfire in a remote mountain republic. Indeed to do so, is to do a grave disservice to those millions who perished in that most awful of conflicts.

The Conservative leader's next statement calls for the community of nations to condemn Russia's actions. With this I concur. The Georgians acted foolishly in South Ossetia and have left a legacy of bitterness, a devastated capital, amongst one of those mountain races who can be so dangerous in adversity. This was no justification for the invasion of Georgia, the bombing of its cities or the Russian procrastination in observing a just cease-fire agreement. It is an unrealistic proposal, even this, however; for Russia wields a veto in the United Nations. Nevertheless let us not stay silent about injustice on all sides of this conflict.

Mr Cameron proceeds to call for the acceleration of recruitment of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. This is foolishness in the extreme. It would only serve to provoke Russia; and as I have stated repeatedly would not help add clarity to the purposes and objectives of NATO. Does Mr Cameron see its purpose as to contain Russia? Or to act as a world peace-keeper? If it has a purpose it must be as an alliance of like-minded democracies. In history neither Georgia nor Ukraine has a good claim to independent existence. Indeed Ukraine is Russia; its capital Kiev the historic capital of Russia; and its region of Crimea, that which was defended so bloodily by the Tsars against the adventurism of our own nation. For America or Britain to absorb these regions of old Russia into an anti-Russian alliance might be seen as provocation in the extreme. Let talks proceed, by all means, but let diplomacy continue also and let Russia be reassured that NATO's purpose is to enhance the security and freedom of all nations, that it no longer holds its cold-war objective of being in opposition to Russia.

And let us not forget that NATO has no call to condemn Russia for military adventurism, for the invasion of a sovereign nation and the occupation of its lands. Our protests must sound in Moscow like the man in our Lord's parable who complained of a moat, a speck of dust, in his friend's eye when there was a beam protruding from his own.

WEG

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The rise of Beaconsfield

Sometime ago I warned of the return of Beaconsfield, a man whose reputation belies the evil he did to the world, a man whose silky tongue and undoubted personal achievement concealed an overweening ambition and a ruthless disdain for the peoples of this earth.

In my recent historical researches I have been astounded that for a time he was held up as a beacon for the moderate wing of the Conservative Party, as if his battlecry of "one nation" was anything more than a euphemism for the creation of an unwonted empire. Indeed it grieves me enormously that these same moderates frequently equate him with Sir Robert Peel, a man who would not sit on the same benches as this individual and who must be held in the highest esteem for his contribution to the freedom of nations and civilised commerce between peoples.

Now it seems his heir, the MP for Beaconsfield, has been elevated to high status and may indeed hope to hold one of the highest offices in the land. I would not condemn this personage, Mr Dominic Grieve, as I would his predecessor. He seems to me a gentleman of estimable intentions; but my instinct in my earlier encounter with him was that there was a dangerous dearth of ideas.

Now it seems I am proved right. On the one hand Mr Grieve declared his support for his predecessor's declaration of war on behalf of liberty; on the other hand, I am informed, he now espouses measures that would remove the liberties of ordinary people to an extent that has not been experienced since Waterloo.

This is how liberty dies - with thunderous applause I believe is an appropriate quotation from a modern piece of popular literature.

The same author refers me to a gentleman called Milton, who also defends the intrusion of the state on the individual for petty matters. This Milton cannot, I dare hope, be a descendant of the poet who wrote that great declaration of freedom, the Areopagitica.

WEG

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia on my mind

Unoubtedly the crisis in the Caucasus is now intensifying. Georgia is paying a heavy price for tugging the tail of the bear and such international diplomacy as has been possible may have failed.

The Georgians in the end took the correct steps and withdrew from South Ossetia. But the bear continues to growl and lash and, according to news reports, now has troops on the ground within Georgia itself.

There are now many thousands of innocents caught up in this battle, as in all battles of this kind, people whose lives have been torn from worlds of peace and stability in an instant. War may seem distant from the clubhouses of London but statesmen must always remember it is no game of chess or draughts or even "poker"; any conflict brings unspeakable horrors, drawing in innocent and involuntary participants just as much as professional merchants of death.

There are those, such as Cicero, who have launched Phillippic denunciations of Mr Putin, suggesting that the former President, now Prime Minister, is intent on expansion by provocation. Cicero was ever thus, a man made for troubled times and ready to believe the worst of all.

The Russians, it seems clear, have few friends and are happy to be friendless. If they choose to overrun Georgia, the world must stand by and watch. Georgia is not a member of NATO although it has sought to ingratiate itself with the NATO powers. Russian treatment of its own rebel provinces has often been brutal, if not as brutal as in the darkest days of the communist hegemony. I have heard speculation that Russia might then proceed to threaten the borders of NATO, to seek to dismantle this burgeoning alliance. It may indeed be that for South Ossetia to summon Russia to its aid was as catastrophic as the Britons placing their trust in Hengist and Horsa.

In these circumstances there are those who show no knowledge of history and those who turn to the past to justify their stance. I may have missed events of the last century; but it seems to me that 1914 and 1939 give diametrically opposite lessons. In the first instance a world of alliances tumbled into conflict because statesmen drew clear maps, unpassable boundaries, and let them determine an unstoppable and catastrophic course of events. In the second, weak statesmen were bullied by a weak bully that puffed itself up to be stronger than it was.

If Russia does occupy Georgia we will know what manner of beast it is and what is the depth of its respect for international law. Statesmen must indeed then cooperate to contain it. But let us not fall into the trap that I worked for so long to avoid, of creating a world where nations tumble carelessly into catastrophe.

WEG

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Marching through Georgia

It was alas premature to hope the spirit of the Olympics, of Delphi, would permeate the world and declare it at peace for this period. Such hopes are revealed as pagan superstition by the tragedy of the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus, where two mighty nations align great engines of war in face of each other.

The experience of history is that Russia has to be regarded in much the same fashion as China. It is a dozing bear, whose tail must not be tweaked for one thrash of its paws can be as deadly as the mightiest roar of smaller nations.

It would be easy to misread the current crisis without deep knowledge of the situation and I confess that events have marched on somewhat in the last 150 years. The nation of Georgia, which was once part of Russia, has hopes of joining the western alliance of NATO, I gather. NATO's original aim was to contain the Russian empire which was at one time ruled by the Communist party as brutally as if by any Czar. NATO no longer declares its aim to be to keep Russia at bay, merely to maintain the peace.

I am perplexed therefore as to why Georgia appears to have launched an offensive against the tiny nation that lies between itself and Russia, a land whose name could have been conjured from a fairy-tale and whose existence, I hear, is equally magical. This land of South Ossetia has sought independent existence but Georgia has responded in the last few hours by breaching the Olympic spirit and launching an invasion.

I will not condone the Russian response; I will merely repeat that if you tug the tail of a bear it will slash with its paw. Russia has always liked to maintain a buffer zone. Rather it had been South Ossetia than Georgia.

I hear as I write a declaration from the lamentable idiot who currently, briefly presides over our great allies in America. He calls for Russia to restrain itself; rather he should order Georgia to restrain itself and withdraw troops from the Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, and he should remind it firmly that the purpose of NATO is to maintain peace. It may be he considers Georgia to be a state of the United States; more likely he is aware that Georgia has supported his preposterous adventure in Mesopotamia. If he has any influence he should use it to bring peace and justice to this region. I fear that otherwise there will be Russian troops marching through Georgia.

WEG

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Chinese question

I am among the greatest admirers of the Chinese people and of the Chinese nation; it is a matter to be celebrated that the Olympic sports are to be displayed in Peking over the next few days.

There are those who call China an inscrutable nation. It is an ancient civilisation and the present hierarchy can be viewed as little different from the other dynasties that have ruled it over many centuries. I would wish China to be democratic and liberal; but I cannot concur with those who state that democracy is necessary for free trade and industrial development.

It is also a nation racked by frequent natural catastrophes and even as I write I learn of another earthquake in its devastated central provinces.

Does this mean we should, like Lord Nelson, turn a blinded eye to developments in the western part of this nation? By no means!

The Chinese have usually sought a unified and harmonised state; and I believe their experience a century ago, when the country disintegrated, has reinforced this view. Such a philosophy poses special dangers however when rulers seek to integrate ethnicities and religions that are not in accord with their own. I believe that danger applies in particular to the nation of Tibet and the province of Xinjiang, which is at this moment causing alarm to the Chinese authorities. Xinjiang lies in the heart of the vast continent of Asia. The expanse of this region cannot be imagined; I have heard a reporter today describe this single province as being the size of Europe. These people I understand are Muslims, that is they are not adherents to a religion such as Buddhism which will encourage its followers to submit to an invader.

Without liberty and democracy it is inevitable, if regrettable, that they take to arms to advance their cause. The authorities call these fighters "terrorists" and I hear this word echoed by British government reporters. Perhaps they are freedom fighters. Perhaps they are misguided and should bide their time. It is a distant territory of which we know little and yet we should recognise the yearnings of all peoples at all times to be free.

I repeat that the correct approach to China is not and never was to condemn, to make an enemy of this great nation and its great history of civilisation. The level of enterprise within the Chinese people, their ability to make the utmost of those freedoms granted to them is to be admired.

The leaders of western nations should give this eastern Behemoth full respect. But diplomacy and trade may achieve better results than the bluster of a gunboat. Indeed we should continue to urge the advantages of democracy, of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

In the meantime let us celebrate the convergence of nations in the ancient and peaceful contest of the Olympics. Oh that all nations should declare peace for this brief period - as was the custom in ancient times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oil!

I am indebted to Mr Bagehot's excellent publication for drawing my attention to an interesting book by a Mr Kenneth Pollack. Mr Pollack was at some point on the National Security Council of the United States. His book is entitled A Path Out of the Desert but of equal interest is his description of the path into the desert.

Mr Pollack is frank where others have dissimulated. I am aware of controversy both sides of the Atlantic about the source of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is an undoubted fact that the public and legislators of both nations were assured that the nation of Iraq possessed what were termed as "weapons of mass destruction". In time it became clear that these weapons did not exist and there was no reasonable evidence at the time that they might exist. The invasion was therefore a fraud.

However it is my recollection that when, occasionally, challenged on the matter the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States would affirm that they did not regret the invasion as, on the one part, the leader of Iraq was an evil person and, on the second part, that the insurgents associated with Al Qaeeda had somehow established a foothold in this nation. The title of Mr Pollack's tome epitomises the problem that then arose: that the allies were unable to pacify Afghanistan as they had diverted forces to Iraq; that whether or not Al Qaeeda had a base in Iraq prior to invasion it became established ten times over following invasion; that there is little gratitude to invaders who promise "liberation".

Mr Pollack, as I stated, is frank. The title of his first chapter is simply OIL.

And that is the nub of the matter. Mr Pollack argues that the western powers were right to secure their "strategic" interest in oil in the Middle East and that they were right to act out of "self interest". His publishers have posted his first chapter for all to read at no cost.

If anyone doubted that there was a kind of secret diplomacy lying behind the outrage of the 2003 invasion, the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocents, this is evidence indeed. Undoubtedly Britain and the USA conspired to conduct a war for commercial purposes solely.

As I have stated repeatedly over many decades, commerce and warfare should not be bedfellows. When Palmerston terrorised China over opium imports, he was wrong, morally and strategically. These are mistakes that return with interest ten-fold, undermining international relations for generations.

Civilised nations now stand on the brink of a precipice as the price of this oil rises relentlessly. There is a forgetfulness that oil is not the only lubricant of commerce and industry. The world has come to rely upon it; but that is a mistake the world has made. Variations in price have signalled many times, I suspect, that oil is expendable, that it is limited. The world economy will now have to adjust as best it can. And the invasion of Iraq in 2003 will not have made the slightest difference to the risks posed by a continued over-reliance on oil.

Friday, July 25, 2008

They have made a nation...

They have made a nation.

I reflect on these words that I uttered some 150 years ago in a somewhat premature and erroneous fashion; and I do not claim they apply to the current situation in Scotland.

Nevertheless it is apposite that the Scottish now have a nationalist government and last night the people of Glasgow rejected a century of socialism to embrace their new nationalist future. I do not believe the strength of nationalism or the injustice experienced by the Scottish people compares in any respect to the situation in Ireland during the years of my ministry.

But when a people express a yearning for national determination, when they reject their historic bonds with England, it is a matter that must be treated with seriousness. The prime motivation of the Glaswegian voter may well have been to reject the Queen's ghillie and all his works; to demonstrate the hardship they experience in the current dire economic situation. But it is part of a movement, and a movement that cannot be ignored, towards nationalism in Scotland.

The leaders of British politics must respond to this. There is a government in Scotland but it is a peculiar government that spends money, governs great departments of state but has very little responsibility in the raising of taxes. Some argue that it makes it irresponsible; that it makes Scots ungrateful for the largess bestowed on them by English tax-payers. It would therefore be a wise and far-sighted move to transfer tax-raising power to Holyrood; it would make the nationalists take fiscal responsibility for their nation.

Now I can envisage many objections to this. How will the British state continue to raise taxes for its chief objectives of foreign policy and defence? Will governments have to levy a separate English and Welsh tax? Will fiscal transparency increase regional resentment and further loosen the ties between the nations of this island? These are all risks that exist but to overstate them is to understate the significant differences that already exist between Scotland and England and the privileges enjoyed by Scottish people as a result of even some limited measure of self-government.

For I believe it is far more serious when the Scottish people see their choices as lying between socialism and nationalism. It places them in a European backwater and puts them at odds with their own heritages of liberalism and enterprise. This is the nation of Mr Adam Smith, of Midlothian, of Sir Walter Scott, of a million adventurers. It would have distressed our own dear Queen to the marrow of her bones; for she had a great and abiding love of the Scottish nation and its people.

It is time for British leaders to be bold. I have every hope in Mr Nick Clegg in this respect for he has already outlined proposals to offer similar fiscal responsibilities to municipalities. He must demonstrate the boldness that secured him his office and appeal directly to the peoples of this island.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why talk of gods...?

There is no call for me to discuss matters in the Church while the people of this land, indeed of the world at large, are suffering. Hunger grows as the price of food rises while fuel costs also increase. Homes are in peril and businesses teeter on the brink of solvency.

The world is in poor shape and so is Britain. It may be too late for one country to consider how to escape whatever may happen. Not all will be impoverished by the crisis. Those that can supply fuel and food may emerge wealthier and stronger. Those that can manufacture with minimal recourse to primeval residues may find they enjoy price advantages.

All in all this makes a bad time for Britain. The Chancellor and his predecessor twist and turn, wriggle this way and that in order to escape. Now the price of fuel is to be restrained; now they will borrow more to pay for this extravagance. And all the while the excellent Mr Vincent Cable is in their pursuit.

It is heartening therefore to see Mr Nick Clegg becoming bold in liberalism. For a century this party has wrestled to reconcile its historic mission - that with which I invested it - not to burden the people, not to deprive them of their earnings with an equally deep felt compassion for the poor, the suffering. In my age there was less conflict; by freeing the state of the shackles of mercantilism we created economic growth and ensured wealth and employment. But now...now it may be time to return to these original principles.

Mr Clegg therefore promises to look for ways to "cut Britain's overall tax burden". There is an honesty here which, I am led to believe, has been lacking in recent years when parties have pledged to reduce income tax and have done so by increasing the Treasury's revenues by other means. Such measures have been utterly contrary to my principles, so warmly endorsed, so frequently by Her Majesty. I would rather have cut income tax; I would rather have raised income tax than raise other taxes which may serve to confuse and depress the populace. In this statement I may seem to diverge from Mr Clegg's proposals, which envisage the raising of other taxes. But there is now a new, unforeseen factor in the economy alongside labour, capital and land - and that is energy. It is reasonable therefore to increase taxes on this factor and reduce them on labour.

Switching taxes between factors is straightforward and will reinvigorate the economy and ready it for the future. To reduce the overall tax burden however requires reductions in expenditure. To borrow more is not to be contemplated as this will place pressure on bank rates and on the competitiveness of our goods overseas. To reduce expenditure is not impossible but it will require a programme that is clear to administrators as well as to the party in government. Peace and retrenchment are clearly two pillars of such a programme and would furthermore assist in stabilising the world at large.

I will correspond privately with those who wish to discuss matters of the Church. These are affairs of great moment in the spiritual realm but should not distract from the immediate crisis of the state.

desine pervicax referre sermones deorum et magna modis tenuare parvis

WEG

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The excellent Mr Cable

My attention has been drawn to a speech delivered this week by the excellent Mr Vincent Cable, who shadows the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Liberal Democrat party.

Sometime ago I noted that Mr Cable was unjustly dissuaded from aspiring to leadership of this great party in spite of the proven quality of his debating skills and his stature as an aspiring Chancellor.

Recent experience may have led the parties to believe that combining skill in the Exchequer with skill in the greatest ministerial office may not be possible. They may also have come to believe that experience and age are not valued by the public in their leaders. I can assure them that on both counts they are wrong. If the British people retain a fraction of their qualities of some 100 years ago, my own humble experience would suggest the contrary to these current beliefs.

So to Mr Cable who delivered a significant lecture to an organisation named the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In doing so he demonstrated his status as a true Liberal by speaking with deep respect of the work of Mr JS Mill, whose achievements included some profound analysis of the "Bubbles" that afflicted the economy of the industrialised Great Britain.

Of even greater significance are the remedies proposed by Mr Cable, which in many ways seem little more than common sense to anyone with knowledge of the economy and yet, it seems, have been neglected in policy for many decades.

The first is to acknowledge the peculiar nature of the market for housing and its impact on the economy of the nation as a whole. It has been allowed to "boom" without control because our economists and Chancellors have been unable to treat it as any different from the market for soft toys or electronic calculating machines. Yet there are many ways in which it is different, foremost amongst them being that it is based on the supply of land, which should be treated as a scarce and separate part of the economy.

Housing is also a great deal more important for the welfare of the population than the supply of soft toys, which, it appears, is inexhaustible. When housing was predominantly rented or leased the risk to the population was always from landlords and the poverty of tenants deprived of the opportunity to work. Now I understand the significant risk arises from the banks desire to "repossess" properties when loan repayments are not kept up to date. This is a nonsense, which is bound to destabilise the economy and cause widespread misery. Our own dear Queen was always distressed by her occasional inadvertent glimpses of beggars on the streets as I am sure the current occupant of the Throne would also be moved. I would mention that she was also a little impatient of my explanations of measures of relief that might be offered.

If a householder has surplus capital in a property when the value of their loan is deducted it is quite wrong and immoral that they should be required to forfeit that capital for which they have worked and paid because their property must be put up for auction at a time of low prices. Mr Cable therefore proposes that when a householder is unable to make loan repayments, they should agree with the bank to hand over that share of the property which is covered by the outstanding loan. This seems eminently fair and would leave banks with considerable assets to be placed on their balance sheets. The householder in turn would continue to live in their property and benefit from its good maintenance.

However there is little benefit in declaring a good policy if it is only known to an audience of economists. Mr Clegg and Mr Cable should work in tandem to offer hope to a public oppressed by financial woes and alarms.
WEG