Tuesday, 29 July 2014

In Defence of the Experts, by Fergus Butler-Gallie

“We have not overthrown the divine right of Kings to fall down for the divine right of experts.” So goes the famous quotation from Harold Macmillan.
It cannot be said, alas, that the current Prime Minister has followed much of his Etonian forebears advice in other areas.

Don’t sell off the family silver, being a start. Macmillan meant this with regard to the privatisation of gas and other utilities, but it could just as easily be said of the Royal Mail.
But, in this disdain for expertise, we can see a distinct similarity between the government of today and that of half a century ago.
The disdain for expertise then, as evinced by Macmillan’s quotation, had very different reasoning behind it than the disdain for expertise we see in the coalition today.
Macmillan was exhibiting (or, more likely, affecting) a distaste for ‘expertise’ as an example of bourgeois meddling.

For him, as with many other self identifying Disraelians of the time, the near-sacred bond between ruler and ruled could do without the opinions of white-coated ‘new men’ fixated with numbers and statistics.
How times have changed.
Arguably, the very reason why many, across the political spectrum, hold expertise in such disdain is precisely because they often can’t be valued in terms of numbers.
To the minds of many political commentators, many politicians and, arguably, many amongst the general public, if something or someone cannot be ascribed a distinct, empirical value, then it must be worthless.
This is often expressed in our political sphere in terms of ‘accountability’.

Because a member of the House of Commons has an exact numerical majority by which they can measure themselves, and because business leaders have empirical profit margins by which they might be measured, and shareholder targets to meet, they are held to be ‘accountable’, and therefore implicitly better placed to give their counsel than those who do not.
This fetishisation of empiricism in politics exists across the party divide. The opinions of those without a self-assigned numerical value measured in either votes or shares, have consistently been sidelined by the all three major political parties.
For instance, when Alan Johnson sacked Professor David Nutt his justification was clear: his opinion, as an elected official of a government with an ascribable majority and so on, trumped Professor Nutt’s advice.
So it has been also with Govian education reform. The non-experts, be they government ministers or parents with enough numerical wherewithal (read: money) to set up Free Schools, must trump the considered opinions of teachers with the expertise of experience.
It is curious, in a post expenses scandal world, where trust in both elected politicians and big businesses is inordinately low, that we as a society should chose to make the numerical hard fact of an elected mandate or an annual turnover the most important considerations in deciding whether someone ought to be listened to.
This has been clear recently in the continued fractious relationship between successive governments and the House of Lords.
As a result of the recent government reshuffle, for the first time in history the leader of the Upper House of Parliament will not sit in the Cabinet.
On 28th July the Lords passed a motion condemning this, tabled by Baroness Boothroyd, considered one of the finest Commons Speakers of modern times.
The response was immediate. Politicians and journalists took to Twitter to condemn such ‘navel gazing’. 

Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough denounced it as an “unelected/unaccountable” body (note the elision of the two) just debating “their own powers and influence”.
The Lords were accused of being “out of touch” for daring to debate what actually constitutes an unprecedented constitutional change.
The implicit line followed by all within the political bubble who took it upon themselves to criticise was that, because they are unelected, the Lords have no right to comment.
That a global expert on the constitution such as Lord Norton of Louth, or any number of former ministers with years and years of experience behind them, have no right to discuss the implications of marginalising the Upper House of Parliament, whereas a man who owes his seat to 33,973 people in North Oxfordshire does. 
When Thomas Carlyle critiqued Benthamite Utilitarianism, he warned that it would reduce “the infinite celestial soul of mankind to a kind of balance for weighing hay and thistles on.”
He identified the dangers of a world whereby only numerical value is considered to be important.
We aren’t quite in thistle weighing territory yet.
But the concept that only those with a discernible numerical value, be that of a majority or sizeable annual turnover, have the right to pass comment and partake in the formulation of policy is a worrying trend that appears to be garnering support across the political spectrum.
I would humbly suggest that things ought to begin swinging back the other way- here’s to the (semi) divine right of the experts.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Our Christian Coronation, by Philip Benwell

A talk given at the House of Lords on Wednesday 23rd July 2014, by courtesy of The Lord Stoddart of Swindon:

Late last year an organisation called the National Secular Society announced that, through lawyers, it was petitioning the European Court of Human Rights to rule that the next Coronation to be held in the United Kingdom be, in effect, a state investiture so as to be more in harmony with Europe.

In a November 2013 statement to the media they said: “Britain’s current investiture of a monarch with such overt religious associations is an anomaly within the context of the rest of Europe.”

However, the coronation of British kings is not at all like the secular state installations of European monarchs because its thousand year old Christian Coronations are not merely a formal appointment but a Christian consecration of the monarch creating a communion between the Monarch and God and between the Monarch and the People.

The words of Dr Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of York at the coronation of King George V, expresses this sentiment very clearly.

He said "The King comes not alone to his hallowing. He bears his people with him. For the national life, as well as for its representative, this is a day of consecration ....

The Coronation is a time when all subjects of the Queen, whatever their country of citizenship, are brought together, united in a common purpose, to welcome the crowning of their King.

It is something that belongs not only to Britain but to all those countries who have as their sovereign the monarch of the United Kingdom.

The anointing is the central act of the religious ceremony and includes the Blessing and Consecration.

In the twenty-six monarchies left in the world today (other than possibly the Vatican), only the British monarchs are anointed and consecrated with sacred oil at their coronation.

What Europhile secularists fail to appreciate is that Britain is a Christian nation with a Christian monarchy which is sanctified before God and the people with a Christian Coronation.

Indeed, the British peoples are, despite our materialism, Christian and British societies in every sense, for even though we may not go to church, even though we may not pray or even though some may deny the very existence of God, the entire fabric of our being is based on the teachings of the Bible and the practices of Christ, whether we may admit to it or not.

In times past we absorbed the rituals of the Druids and other pagans but never lost sight of the laws of God.

For a thousand years or more, peoples from other lands and faiths, including the Moslem, have been welcomed into our society.

We do not demand that they be Christian, but we do expect them to respect our Christian laws and our Christian traditions.

Whilst so many may tend to dismiss the European Human Rights action as something that would never happen, I point to the words of the British High Court judge who recently said he believed that even though Britain had signed a special protocol as part of the Lisbon Treaty which was to ensure that the EU Charter of Rights would not be enforceable in Britain, the EU law had unintentionally been incorporated into British law anyway due to years of European interference in the law-making functions of the British Parliament.

Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption, has recently warned that the European Court of Human Rights exceeds its legitimate powers, usurps the role of politicians and undermines the democratic process and Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Laws, had said that the UK Supreme Court has accorded overriding force to the notion that only Strasbourgs rulings on the convention are definitive or authoritative'.

In any event, it is accepted that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, is compulsory and binding for all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

Did not Aesop wisely say so very long ago “We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction?”

Therefore, whatever happens as far as this challenge is concerned, it is an indication that there are people out there who want to destroy our way of life; who want to eradicate forever our Christian and biblical heritage; who want to take our kings away from God and make our shared monarchy a secular institution which would be more acceptable to the European Union, and thus to bring it one step away from oblivion.

I therefore travelled to the UK from the other side of the world as a person bloodied in the fight to protect our shared Crown to bring a warning that you must never ever take any movement against the monarchy lightly.

A warning never to be complacent whenever our shared Throne is under attack.

A warning never to allow complacency, to dismiss out of hand anything that has the potential to grow, to nurture and then to become a threat.

Philip Benwell MBE

(National Chair – Australian Monarchist League)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Rise of Zombie Culture, by Ian Oakley

In my self-appointed role as cultural critic of The Lanchester Review, I have been musing of the general malaise of Western civilisation.

It not just the dire economic performance of the USA, Europe and Japan over the last twenty years (compared with, say, South Korea and China in that same period), but it can be seen in wider culture. 

Whereas American culture helped destroy the Soviet Union, today Western culture is all over the place.

In almost every art form, the centre ground of culture is crumbling.

In films and theatre the middle ground has disappeared to be replaced by dumb blockbusters at one end, rehashing old films endlessly: how many reboots of Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, and on and on, do we need?

While at the high art end, it is esoteric. Apart from the cultural in-crowd, nobody knows what is going on and nobody else cares.

It is not just films, though, but even documentaries. We used have landmark series, such as The Ascent of Man and Civilisation.

But now, we get Jeremy Paxman presenting a series about the First World War, which he clearly knows nothing about, and endless documentaries that seek to divide culture, such as The Art of Women, whatever that even means.

Why does this matter?

It matters because it is out of the rich culture of the West that innovation and progress come.

It is not just the technical knowledge, which the Chinese and Indians have in huge amounts, that produces the mobile phone and the drone. It is the riches of a free, vibrant mass culture.

As an example, when most people in Britain know only of Big Brother as a reality TV show, it does not fill you with confidence.

As with a lot of things wrong in the West, as well as a lot of what is right, this all began in the 1960s.

The cultural zombies of that era refuse to die. This was brought home while watching the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury on TV in 2013.

Someone I was watching with turned to me and said, ‘Why are those zombies singing?’

Why, indeed?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Some Reflections on the Spanish Civil War, by Ian Oakley

If the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 is recalled in Britain and in our celebrity obsessed, narcissistic culture, then it is not recalled much; it is mainly for the artistic impressions that have lasted, whether it is Hemmingway, Orwell or Picasso.

The Spanish Civil War still has lessons for the world today.

The first, and most striking, is the involvement of outsiders in the conflict, on both sides.

There were the famous International Brigades on the Republican side. But there were also Italian and German forces on the Nationalist side.

The modern equivalent has to be the Syrian Civil War. The idealistic young Muslims from Birmingham and London going to Syria are echoing the socialist and communist youths of Britain in the 1930s.

On the other side-in both senses-you have Iranian forces dying for Assad just as the Italians and Germans were.

The Germans in particular saw the conflict as a training ground for the future; Britain meanwhile was tying itself in knots over non-intervention.

Although I cannot help but note that Anthony Eden certainly had a more central role in international diplomacy than William Hague does now.

This is in part because Britain was more diplomatically significant, but also Hague’s dreary management consultant approach to foreign affairs seems particularly ineffective, whereas Eden was making his reputation at this point.

The second striking fact is that there was no monopoly on murder and brutality. Summary executions were used on both sides, in huge numbers.

While most decent people wanted the Republic to win, there was no guarantee a democratic, peaceful Spain would have emerged.

Just as in Syria today the only man left who thinks Assad’s defeat will lead to a wonderful, peaceful democratic country is the millionaire Middle Eastern ‘expert’ Tony Blair.

The one feature of the war that does not seem modern is the vast difference of ideologues that were on display in the Republican areas.

There were the official communists, backed by Stalin but with a moderate political programme. There was the POUM, anti-Stalinist communists. There were the socialists, there were the anarcho-syndicalists, and there were the Basque and Catalan nationalists.

In our modern world, where the political debate in the West has been reduced to whether we want a full bloodied form of capitalism with the wealth getting most of the benefits, or a system where they get slightly less, the diversity and energy of these rival idea is striking.

For a brief period, most of the ideas were at least tried, even if only briefly.

The lasting impression is the true horror of Civil War: families divided, the mass of suffering and destruction, only punctuated occasionally by acts of heroism and kindness.

Spain is currently going through huge economic pain.

But just as Spain survived the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, so it will survive its current problems and emerge a stronger nation.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Feminism, Boobs, and Petitions, by Thomas Bailey

Feminism is a pretty hard topic to write about, for everyone. It’s even harder for a teenage boy. Particularly one from a public school where the ‘macho man’ stereotype still thrives.

Last year I wrote a blog about the No More Page 3 campaign and why we should all support it and, following its publication, a number of my male friends began to question my sexuality.

I know, I was surprised too: I was completely unaware that feminism and homosexuality were linked in the teenage mind. Apparently so.

But it’s not just guys who get ridiculed for their feminist beliefs: we all do.

Whether it’s fighting for the right to vote or trying to prove that ‘boobs aren’t news’, the feminist movement has been laughed at, mocked and often ignored since it started. There’s even an organisation out there trying to prevent equality for women.1

The whole idea of misogyny and ‘anti-feminism’ completely and utterly bewilders me. What is it about feminism that angers so many people? What on earth is wrong with wanting equality?

In my mind, everyone should be a feminist, and I use the word here to mean somebody who wants equality amongst men and women. If you are not a feminist, then you must be delusional.

There is no rationale behind the belief that women are inferior and shouldn’t have equality. If you genuinely think there is, please do enlighten me.

So why do so many shy away from the word ‘feminist’? Why do some people actually believe that “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians”?2

It’s pretty clear that feminism has a bad rep. In fact, when people say they are feminists a common reaction is: “So you hate men?”

There are a number of reasons for this, but this is the main one: there are a few (and I mean very few) feminists who actually do have a problem with men, and sadly these are the feminists that get into the news.

It is this same kind of skewed thinking that leads many members of the public to believe that all Muslims want to implement Shariah law in the UK and behead all non-Muslims: because there are one or two extremists, and unfortunately they tend to make the press, giving a bad name to anyone who associates themselves with the same label.

Valerie Solanas3 referred to men as walking dildos, and this kind of misandrist belief goes against the fundamental stance of feminism: that men and women are equal.

Just because one or two radical feminists express their all-men-are-bastards beliefs does not mean that all feminists hate men.

Trust me, I don’t hate myself; I hate patriarchy.

And that’s another problem. Some feminists actually end up being sexist themselves. In an effort to dispel patriarchal ideals and beliefs, some feminists of the past have claimed that men are inferior.

Obviously, this approach isn’t going to work either, and, in fact, is rather counterproductive. Feminism is fighting for equality, not matriarchy.

In my view, the various nuances and sects of feminism should be ignored and replaced by one single maxim: that people should not be judged and subjugated due to their sex.

The failures of feminism in the past and the stigma attached to it ought to be forgotten.

People should decide for themselves what they believe ‘subjugation’ entails, and whether they believe that things like porn or different punishments for men and women are sexist.

These topics have always and will always divide opinion. However, what should not divide opinion is the drive for equality that ought to be at the centre of the movement.

One particularly controversial topic is Page 3 of The Sun.

First printed in 1964, The Sun is a national tabloid newspaper that has an average daily circulation of 2,409,811 copies.

In 1970, The Sun had its first model standing nude on one of its pages. It seems almost ludicrous to me, for a number of reasons, to have a topless woman in the UK’s most-read newspaper. The No More Page 3 campaign agrees.

I personally have few problems with so-called ‘Lad’s Mags’ (although they too are going out of fashion), but the fact that The Sun thinks it is legitimate for a national newspaper to display these images is what alienates me: it is on show for the whole country to see.

Anybody could be reading The Sun anywhere, and young boys and girls are therefore likely to be exposed to nudity from a very early age.

Now some may argue that it is the parents’ duty to protect their children from this exposure; but is that realistic if, for example, there is a man sitting next to your child on a train, ogling at the bare breasts on page 3?

The fact that The Sun is a newspaper makes men feel it is acceptable to look at nude pictures in public places, where they would be very unlikely to read Nuts or Zoo. There are more appropriate places for sexualized images.

One of my other problems with page 3 is this: it is incredibly embarrassing for our country.

To have more-than-soft porn accessible in a newspaper in the twenty-first century makes me feel almost humiliated to be English.

We are one of very few countries to still cling to outdated institutions like page 3 and, in my view, it ought to be withdrawn.

Moreover, the message that page 3 sends to society is certainly not a good one: that women are simply sex objects and images for men to gawk at. If feminism is about equality, then page 3 contradicts its fundamental thesis.

For me, these are the three most convincing arguments.

The reason that the No More Page 3 campaign has caused such controversy is that many people mistakenly believe that the petition is calling for a ban.

No More Page Three is not the first attempt to challenge page 3. In 1986 Clare Short MP put a bill forward in the House of Commons explicitly asking for page 3 to be banned, saying that it is a “phenomenon in Britain’s press”.

She received huge amounts of ridicule from the public saying she was “jealous” and indeed many MPs at the time sneered at her in the House of Commons, making rude and unpleasant personal remarks.

Given the enduring right of freedom of the press, Clare Short’s proposed bill never became law.

By contrast, the No More Page 3 campaign is simply calling for Dinsmore and Murdoch to reconsider the whole idea of page 3, in the hope that they will realize how unbelievably outdated and damaging it really is. 

The campaigners are not trying to ban it, but only suggest to Dinsmore to “drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper,”4 albeit rather imperatively.

So why don’t we just have a boycott of The SunWell, it wouldn’t work.

The fact is that nobody (or very few people indeed) who has signed the petition actually reads The Sun on a regular basis.

The campaigners may know people who read it, or their partners may read it, but very few Sun readers have signed the petition, and this is because they have no problem with page 3. If they did have a problem with it, they wouldn’t buy it and they wouldn’t read it.

That is one of the reasons why many people argue that this petition is flawed. Perhaps it is trying to take something many Sun readers like away from them? If they want to get rid of it, then they should simply stop buying it. 

This is perhaps the main reason that I am unsure about the petition: the majority of the supporters are likely to be middle-class women who read papers like The Times and The Guardian and who have only read The Sun once or twice in their lives.

It therefore seems a bit unusual for page 3 to be taken away by people whom it affects far less.

Nonetheless, I still disagree with page 3 and the message it sends, and for that reason I have signed the petition: not in the hope that it is banned, but in the hope that readers of The Sun and supporters of page 3 realize how outdated and inappropriate it is.

For me, that is the most important thing: that the readers themselves begin to support the campaign.

Yes, I support the campaign. No, this does not make me homosexual. Yes, I do like boobs. But there’s a time and a place, and until nude women are taken out of national newspapers, there can never be true equality.

The fact that there are versions of Nuts etc. for females makes me less worried about magazines of that sort. 

However, when the pages of a national newspaper are filled with images of important men in suits adjacent to images of topless ladies, something is clearly not right. This is not equality.

For that reason, to be a feminist means to oppose page 3.

Thomas Bailey

1.    The organization STOP ERA, now known as Eagle Forum, is an anti-feminist group in the U.S. that lobbies against equal rights for women.
2.  Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson, a former Southern Baptist minister, generally supports conservative Christian ideals, and presently serves as Chancellor of Regent University and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
3.   Valerie Solanas was an American radical anti-feminist, made famous by her assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.
4.     The petition, set up by Lucy Holmes, can be found on

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Case for the Social Democratic Party, by Peter Johnson

Our country is in decline, feeble men are its nominal leaders.”

Thus declared Desmond Donnelly, the first ever Labour MP for Pembrokeshire, when launching his Democratic Party after having lost the Labour Whip along with Woodrow Wyatt for not voting in support of  Harold Wilson’s bill to nationalise the steel industry.

Here we are some 47 years later, and little has changed. The country is still in decline, and feeble men and women are still our nominal leaders.

The British electorate is stuck with a government which has delegated the responsibility of governance of the British Isles to an undemocratic unelected third party, the appointed Commissioners of the European Union.

Our Parliament is no longer representative of the majority of the population.

Instead of a broad cross section of the British working community, it is now filled with bright, academically qualified career politicians who have never really worked as most of us would understand work, and who seem incapable of applying common sense solutions as the answer to the problems of the day.

Our Parliament’s members should be elected from across the spectrum of British commercial, academic and industrial life. Amongst the academics, there should be the electricians, the motor mechanics, the steel workers, and so on, to bring that all-important balance to the major debates on issues of the day which affect the lives of us all.

The British political system is in a mess.

The Labour Party is past its use-by date, and no longer appears to be able to govern in accordance with the wishes of the working population.

It now selects few working people as its candidates, preferring to have university-educated members as its parliamentarians. That is part of their problem.

Whilst university degrees indicate higher levels of education, I am not aware of any university offering a degree in common sense, which is a prime requisite that seems to be sadly lacking in some representatives of the people.

Similarly, the Conservative Party continues in much the same old way, represented in Parliament by members who are from privileged, or at least comfortable, backgrounds, and who do not seem able to understand the needs of the majority of the working British people.

There are those who describe themselves as Liberal Democrats. In truth, they are neither Liberals nor Social Democrats, since both of those parties continue separately.

Then there is a myriad of numerous political parties, many of them single issue parties

And there is the Social Democratic Party.

The Social Democratic Party has almost been forgotten by some, and never heard of by younger members of the population.

D is the central letter of the SDP logo. It represents the word democracy. Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

In a real democracy, the government is expected to carry out the will of the people who elected it into office. I doubt that that has happened since the post war Labour government of Clement Atlee was defeated.

Principle political parties have produced their election manifestos, and upon being elected to power have failed to deliver, simply because the two principal parties do not put the interest of the electorate to the fore. They are obliged instead to serve, as a first priority, their respective paymasters.

The Social Democratic Party is an independent party currently financed by its members’ contributions and fundraising activities.

As an independent party, we are not beholden to any interest group, and would be able to govern according to the wishes of the electorate, not the financiers.

To have a truly representative and democratically elected SDP government, we take care in selecting our candidates, who have to convince us that their principal reason to seek election is to represent their fellow-constituents in addition to the country at large.

We would wish to have elections based on a proportional representation electoral system, which Social Democrats have always advocated, and which is only to be expected from a democratic party such as ours.

With a proportional representation system, we would anticipate higher turnouts on polling days, as electors would understand that their votes would count.

Is the SDP left-wing, right-wing, middle of the road?

Members have debated this, the conclusion being neither.

We believe that we are a party of social justice and would govern accordingly. We consider that all but the bone idle, the selfish and the greedy could live comfortably with a Social Democratic administration.

Furthering the promotion of democracy, it would be the intention of the SDP to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.

We are committed democrats, and passionately believe that these islands of Britain should be governed by no others than those whom the British people have elected to our national Parliament. We are not necessarily anti-Europe, but do oppose monetary and political union.

The SDP has always supported the concept of a mixed economy with contributions from State, Private and Cooperative enterprises, where there would be adequate investment opportunities for those with capital to invest.

We consider that energy, water, transport and health should be operated on a service to the consumer basis and should be taken into public ownership. Surpluses should be generated but for reinvestment only, and not to provide incomes to investors. 

The SDP has always advocated that income tax and National Insurance contributions should be unified into a single collection. We would wish to extend that into developing a national pension fund to be invested in British business.

An English parliament would be established. VAT would be removed from utility bills. Export of live animals for slaughter would be stopped. Utility prices to be universal for everyone, whatever payment method  was employed. Matrons would be reinstated to all hospital wards.

The high cost of housing would be tackled by building more affordable homes for rent and capping the price of bought properties. Solar panels would be included in the design specifications for all new residential and commercial buildings.

We are continually developing a range of policies, which we are confident will satisfy the political requirements of the people.

There needs to be a radical change in the way that Britain is to be governed in this twenty-first century, and we consider that, as a party whose membership is comprised of educated and common sense working people, we are the party to do it.