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.


Friday, October 24, 2008


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


 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.