Sunday, March 29, 2009

An inner light?

During the latter weeks of the winter I have been perusing an account of myself written by a Mr Osbert Burdett and published quite recently, in 1927, by the publishers Constable.

Mr Burdett, I presume, is a member of the Burdett family, which, it should be noted, moved in an opposite political trajectory to myself, moving from the cause of reform to that of reaction.

Mr Burdett's proposition is that I lacked an "inner light". To this he attributes my initial decision not to seek ordination. He credits me with being a practical and effective politician but appears to attribute my political journey to the absence of this inner light rather than to the guidance of such a light. The imputation is that I preferred to spend time in theological discourse rather than in contemplation and prayer, that I prefered to speak rather than to reflect.

This is a proposition that I must refute in its entirety. It misapprehends the fortune of my circumstances, the lengthy walks that allowed me to contemplate the Divine creation and the righteousness of particular actions; Mr Burdett is also unaware of the benefits of regular Observance and the contemplation of the Liturgy on a weekly, nay even daily, basis.

I do not claim like St Joan or Samuel to have enjoyed an inner voice, to have been certain of my path from the beginning. Indeed that might excuse the meandering trajectory and the occasional diversion in my life. However I do claim that the Light of the Gospel convicted me at an early age of the need to do what is good, to improve the lot of my fellow mankind and that this conviction never departed me. It was apparent that some of my early beliefs were misconceived, others were in need of revision in the light of experience; in other respects I never wavered, and indeed it was not infrequent for Her Majesty to tease me playfully for being "stiff and unbending".


Saturday, March 28, 2009


My scribe has been grumbling that I ponder too long on these jottings, that I may be a little elderly to pass comment on a century removed so far from my own, that there is little time to scour an appopriate quotation from Horace, Homer or Virgil.

I confess there is much to research and consider when deliberating the plight of the world's finances or the perils of Afghanistan; I will endeavour to do better.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mr Clegg banks on nationalisation

Harrogate - I have been astonished over the course of the weekend to hear both Mr Vincent Cable and Mr Nick Clegg, the present leader of the Liberal Democrats - as the party is now known, advocate that the government should take over the banks, taking what I understand to be 100 per cent of the stock.

These were astounding statements but Mr Clegg moved to reassure me that these are indeed astonishing times, unimaginable and unthinkable were words that he used. I was delighted to hear him expound these proposals for the reform of the banking system in detail. I may not yet be fully convinced that it is wise for the state to own the banking system but I am impressed by the argument.

Indeed Mr Clegg argued that the devastation to the present economy would be akin to warfare or the Great Fire of London. This, he said, would give a Liberal government an opportunity to build from the ashes a new economy and a new Britain.

I recall that in September I mentioned my experience of Overend & Gurney. These distinguished gentlemen sought aid from the Government to sustain their bank; they did not receive it but the financial system received the necessary sustenance. This lesson was ignored by the present British government which has put capital into banks whilst taking very little in return. Had my advice been heeded at the time, many scandals would have been avoided; those who were responsible for mismanaging the banks would not have reaped ill-gained rewards. Does this mean I think Mr Clegg and Mr Cable are wrong? Not of necessity. For what should happen in the United Kingdom is that banks that cease to be viable businesses should be placed in administration; the process of administration does not mean that all trading ceases; it does mean that those departments of the bank that have gambled recklessly can be closed down. It also means that the directors of the bank can be held accountable in law. If they issue unwarranted awards to themselves, they may face prosecution.

Indeed this was what Mr Clegg urged today; that directors face scrutiny and penalties if they have failed to act in the interests of their shareholders and customers.

It would certainly be astonishing if banks as large as those that operate in this age were to be placed in administration; it could, as a possibility, mean hardship for those who hold substantial shareholdings to support their pension arrangements. But administration is not the end; for the job of the administrator is to find a new owner and to recover that which can be recovered for all creditors. In such a situation Mr Clegg and Mr Cable would be justified in putting their plan into force; their government would then be well-placed to implement those further reforms proposed today by Mr Clegg.

For Mr Clegg then proposes that two different kinds of banks should be established; indeed until quite recently banks operated in such a fashion. The bank on the High Street served businesses and individuals while the banks in the City of London sought to invest capital and trade on the exchanges. Mr Clegg proposes a stark and legally enforced division of the banks: the one kind would serve the public and be subject to strict rules of procedure and conduct; the other kind would be allowed to raise capital and take risks - but would be prevented from seeking government aid in any circumstance.

Dimidium facti qui coepit habet; sapere aude; incipe!


A liberal debate

As was intimated yesterday in the course of my jottings, it was my intention to spend a pleasant afternoon watching Liberals debating the management of schools. It was the choice of the Assembly in Harrogate to devote much of their time and energy to the question of church schools.

To my mind this was regrettable; it was a matter we settled in principle in 1870. There appears to be a case for reform and that was agreed by the assembly. Nevertheless, it seems to me, if the party chooses to debate education, it should not find itself discussing religion.

Regardless of that note of alarm, fulsome praise should be issued to the majority of those who participated in this discussion. Strongly opposing views were put forward with civility and generosity, in a fully liberal spirit. Indeed many participants accepted the liberal dilemma: that families should choose their schools and may do so according to their religion; that schools should nevertheless, if they are in receipt of funding from the tax-payer, should not restrict their entry to those of their own belief; that a school that is of one religion in a small town or village may restrict the choice of those who do not share that religion.

I recall discussing the 1870 Bill with our dear Queen prior to its passage. "Mr Gladstone, you mean you will permit schools not to teach religion!" she exclaimed. "Indeed, Madam" was my reply as I then sought to expound the principles of the Bill.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Remember 1870!

Liberals are gathered in the delightful Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate today and it appears they are to discuss reforms to the education system.

Reforming and improving education is the hallmark of a great Liberal administration and so today I must urge delegates to remember the principles we laid down when in 1870 my first administration created the United Kingdom's first public education system.

Our first and most important principle was that all children should be entitled to learn how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.

But we did not do so by creating a behemoth, a monster that requires armies of civil servants to dictate to teachers every word they must teach.

Indeed we did the opposite and established school boards in every town and city. These boards were elected by local people, men and women alike, and men and women alike were entitled to take part.

This principle, that local communities can take their own decisions on many issues, has always been a hallmark of Liberalism in Britain and appears to continue to be so.

It was apparent that the major churches had done a great service by providing many schools; but these were not schools for all children and indeed many non-conformists preferred not to send their children to schools run by the Church.

We did not abolish these church schools. Instead we left it to each and every school board to decide what religion to teach; some chose to invite ministers and priests into their schools. Others chose not to.

In my travels in the 21st century I have discovered that politicians and civil servants like to use single words to express great ideas, albeit that these single words are not well understood by common people. There are two such 21st century words that appear to sum up the principles that we used.

So to those modern Liberals who do not understand plain English, I would make this rallying cry: "Remember localism and diversity and most of all remember 1870!"


Thursday, March 5, 2009


 The wonders of electrical communication have allowed me to pay a visit to my old castle at Hawarden. Here I see my library and here is my desk and here is a photograph of myself writing at my desk. I am not present in the flesh or even in spirit. I am merely viewing a British Broadcasting programme entitled Gladstone and Disreali.

The programme states that I hated Disraeli, that I had a "feud" with him. It is no doubt a source of drama for authors to pitch myself against Beaconsfield, as we jousted so often over so many decades. But I did not not hate the man; he was a mountebank, a scoundrel of few principles, a man who led many astray. People who hold hatred in their hearts do not live for a great age; it was my task to expose Beaconsfield's humbuggery and overweening ambition. It was not hatred.

Regardless of the deficiency of the analysis, the programme contains much to amuse and inform, and you can view it here.