THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
April 2007
Next month:
June 2007

May 2007

An atheist, grateful for God

Icon_thumbnail Years ago, I visited the monastery at Czestochowa in Poland - the home of the famous Black Madonna. Be-camera'd and in full tourist fig, I sauntered unthinkingly through a door and found myself among the faithful at prayer. I have never forgotten the moment. Coming from secular Britain, religious fervour was new to me - and scary. To be fair, if I could believe in something so extraordinary as a loving, omnipotent Deity, I would be fervent too. When faith is, rarely, encountered in Britain, it is polite and tepid. That makes no sense. How can one be lukewarm about God? If He exists, nothing else matters.

During Communist times in Poland the Catholic Church offered the only alternative world view. It  eventually played a vital role in the fall of Communism. Poles credit Pope John Paul II for that (plus President Reagan and Baroness Thatcher) more than their under-appreciated hero, Lech Walesa.

The Catholic Church in Poland never submitted to the Communist State in quite the same way as the Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia the Church had always been subordinate to the secular power of the Tsar. Not that the Tsars weren't devout. Ivan the Terrible spent so much time in daily prayer that there was scarcely the time for all his murder and mayhem. However, there was no doubt who was boss. In the cathedrals, the Tsar's throne was closer to the most sacred part than that of the Patriarch.

The church in Russia was ruthlessly suppressed by Lenin and Stalin. Churches were demolished; priests exiled to Siberia or sent to their God. Sometimes, even under Communism, old people would return to the open practice of religion. The Party's power over them as individuals waned as death approached. In a State where all resources and opportunities were allocated by the Party, no younger person could afford such risk. Yet, every morning as my car waits at traffic lights by a church, I see people crossing themselves as they pass by. Their actions seem natural, casual, even unthinking. Were they furtively doing that during Communism?

Dscn0635_thumbnailYesterday, at one of the holiest sites of the Russian Orthodox Church I relived my Czestochowa experience. The monastery was business-like enough. Tours were permitted only under paid guidance. The ticket office sold camera permits (a real bargain at £2, with a free CD of church music thrown in). The official guide was devout. She bowed, made the sign of the Cross, kissed reliquaries with a peculiar motion I noticed among the worshippers (wiping the kiss away with a downward stroke of the forehead). However she gave us her talk as worshippers were at their devotions around us. We attracted some irritated glances.

I was embarrassed and my wife even more so. Expecting more of a museum than a functioning monastery, she had brought no headscarf. She was the only uncovered woman. Around us, Russians of all ages were at prayer. We stood awkwardly in the communion line for a while, before leaving abruptly. It just felt wrong to be an unbelieving tourist in the midst of such ardent faith.

Yesterday I realised that - while I cannot myself - I am glad that others can believe in God. I am glad for them because it is a comfort in life's troubles. I am also glad for the rest of us. The believers' faith is a fortress no  State power can ever conquer. If you want a religion to die, ignore it. The most powerful repression, however, will only make it stronger.

There are signs in Britain that our leftist Establishment is girding itself up for an attack on religion. The row over gay adoption gave rise to hostile, even contemptuous, statements from our secular leaders. Attacks from the intellectual Establishment are more and more aggressive. With all respect to our believers, I hope these intemperate attacks continue. They can only strengthen religious belief. A free society needs many groups and individuals prepared to stand up for their beliefs. It does not need a homogenous mass of people who submit to force or fashion.

Dscn0645_thumbnail I do not share their belief, but when I encounter people who stand firm in the face of repression, how can I fail to be impressed? As Britain continues on her path to a police state, we need a wide range of people who are variously motivated to resist. Every Church, synagogue, temple or mosque can be a source of intolerance and reaction. It can also help balance secular power. There is, objectively, no more totalitarian vision than that of the monotheistic religions. Fortunately, their all-powerful leader is not of this world. He need not trouble the rest of us much as he goes about inspiring His people to stand firm against earthly powers.

The truth in a sea of internet lies

Images My Russian teacher was surprised to learn that I had been a teenage Communist, suspended from school for selling Marxist literature there. She was amazed that anyone lucky enough to be born "in the West" should have fallen for such stuff. Surely, she said, I had known what life was like in Russia? I said not. We true believers had heard stories, but dismissed them as capitalist lies. Not just teenagers either. Many intellectuals had been fooled.

From previous conversation in lessons, she knew I was chairman of my University's Conservatives. When and why, she asked, had I changed my mind?

As I struggled to tell my story in Russian, I turned to the Internet to search for dates and names. I was horrified by what I found. Everything Google turned up was a lie. It was a lesson for all of us who rely on the likes of  Wikipedia for everyday information.

This for example is from a "Detailed account of Ricky Tomlinson's involvement in trade union politics and activism" to which his Wikipedia entry  links by way of citation:

1972 saw not only the first official miners' strike but also the first official building workers' strike since the 1920s. Building workers, whose separate unions merged to form the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) in 1971, staged their national stoppage for £30 for a 35-hour week, and for the abolition of lump (self-contract) labour. The 13-week strike resulted in increased union organisation and the biggest single rise ever negotiated in the building industry. Again, the key weapon in this struggle was the use of flying pickets that toured around the construction sites ensuring the strike was solid.

In 1972, I was a schoolboy about to go into the Sixth Form. I was a member of the Schools Action Union and a Maoist. I was working in my school holidays on a building site. My family had a small building company and for years from about that time my father gave me holiday work so I could earn pocket money. If I add up all the school and university holidays I spent on construction sites, I have two years experience as a labourer.

When the UCATT organiser came on site to hold a strike ballot, I was the only one who voted in favour. I wasn't a member and it didn't count. My co-workers thought it funny, especially as my Dad was the boss. The next day UCATT held another "meeting" and they all voted in favour. Even my father. The only voice of dissent was mine. I can still hear them telling me, protectively, to shut up.

That second meeting began with the arrival of coachloads of pickets. I don't know exactly how many. Given that the Internet is richly populated with lies, I must be careful not to exaggerate. I would like there to be at least one true account for historians to find. Certainly our small group of workers on a housing site in the Flintshire village of Coed Talon was heavily outnumbered by men wielding pick-axe handles and other makeshift weapons. In the site hut, my father called the local police. "How many?" asked the policeman. My father told him. "I can't help with that" he said, "I'll be there to take a statement tomorrow."

They surrounded the little site in a practised way. They closed the circle they had formed, forcing everyone into the middle with threats, curses and weapons. None of us were in any doubt of the consequences of resistance. "Comrades..." I tried to remonstrate. They told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. "We are going to hold yesterday's meeting again" their leader told us. It is quite likely, given that the Shrewsbury Two were from that area, that he was either Des Warren or Ricky Tomlinson. I can't vouch for it. Neither name was known then.

According to every account I can find on the Internet, the Shrewsbury Two were wrongly convicted; the victims of "a ruling class conspiracy." Nowhere will you find that they were convicted by a jury of their peers and sentenced by an independent judge in 1974 under a Socialist Government. They were imprisoned for three and two years respectively. Warren is dead, but Tomlinson continues to bathe in leftist glory. I know that the account of the picketing given by his defence at the trial was untrue. I know, because I saw it, that there was violent intimidation. I am convinced that any worker who resisted would have been beaten.

When I got back to school, I told my Marxist friend my concerns about the events. He told me that my friends on site were not proletarians. Construction workers were the lowest elements of the working class - lumpen proletariat, disorganised and liable to be used by the bosses. The organised workers on the buses were the militant vanguard of the proletariat. What I had seen was "classic Marxism - the dictatorship of the proletariat." I was lucky to have witnessed the beginnings of the Revolution in Britain.

That day, I decided to read more widely. It took a while, but my conversion had begun. I turned from the Communist Manifesto, the writings of Chairman Mao and Das Kapital  to Hayek. By the time I arrived at University, a couple of years later, I was a Conservative.

Tomlinson had also undergone a political conversion. In 1972, the very year that I (possibly) met him, he had switched from fascism to socialism. I guess it provided more opportunities to indulge his thuggish nature. Our celebrity culture means that his leading role in the Royle Family (a wonderful piece of type-casting) gives him a platform for his views. I have seen him on a TV chat show, lying through his scouse teeth. I personally have no doubt that he was rightfully convicted of conspiracy to intimidate. Whether he was there or not, I saw the conspiracy in action that long-ago day. The jury members in Mold Crown Court are everywhere defamed on the Internet, as is the judicial system itself.

Three years later the "Shrewsbury Pickets"cause celebre came up again in my life. It was mentioned by Tom Litterick, then the Labour MP for Selly Oak, at my University's Debating Society. He gave the account of events which is now the "Internet truth." I stood up on "a point of information" and described my experience. It may have been the only time that unpleasant little man was ever silenced in public. A few days later, I was standing at Birmingham New Street Station, waiting to meet my girlfriend. I noticed a short man standing just behind me. I turned my head and looked down at him. It was Litterick. He recognised me from the debate and paled. I am not given to the violence of his trade union friends, but he didn't know that. He fled.

Shortly thereafter Litterick died of a heart attack. At the time, the rumour was that he died in bed with his lover, a journalist. I regret that he died in pleasure. I would have been better justice if he had died as he ran from the truth he had abused in his political career.

Ricky Tomlinson can be confident that the none-too-bright construction workers he and his comrades threatened would never write their account. He can dismiss accounts by any of the building employers  as "capitalist lies." He can rely on the solid leftists in Britain's academia to swallow his story. As my Russian teacher was surprised to learn, they have swallowed worse. Thanks, however, to the accidental presence of a 15 year-old boy, there is now at least one truthful account on the Web.

Hoon admits fatal errors in planning for postwar Iraq | Iraq | Guardian Unlimited

Link: Hoon admits fatal errors in planning for postwar Iraq | Iraq | Guardian Unlimited.

Is there some clever news management going on here? The Rt Hon. Anthony Charles Steven Lynton Blair is in the confessional before even becoming a Catholic. His old chum Lord Falconer is suggesting the Prime Minister regrets not having taken more radical action over public services. Now the odious Geoff Hoon (the only one of them with whom I have broken bread) is admitting the bleeding obvious - i.e. that the Government had no other plan than to be greeted as heroes after helping the US liberate Iraq.

It is as if all the poisons of the last 10 years are being deliberately drained in the run up to disastrous local election results, so that Gordon Brown can start with a clean slate as the saviour of the Party.

Are the British people really as dumb as they seem to think?

'Post votes down after fraud probe'

Link: 'Post votes down after fraud probe'.

20,000 postal voters have disappeared in the wards where the "banana republic" voting scam was detected. That's an indication of the scale of the scandal. It's probably about how many were forged or stolen by ZanuLabour in Birmingham. As we know, it hasn't deterred them from repeating the stunt in Leeds.

Given the low quality of investigative journalism in Britain and the bias of Fleet Street in favour of the Government, I wonder how many such scandals are undetected? It's interesting that the latest story came to light from an investigation by a Murdoch paper. Does the standard of journalistic endeavour in Britain depend entirely on whom the Dirty Digger has chosen to support?

Forget mere "sleaze." If you want to vote for organised crime, you know where to put your "X" tomorrow.

Let's be tough on the real causes of crime

Link: The Home Counties boys who planned murder | Uk News | News | Telegraph.

FertiliserbombersThis gentleman speaks directly to Toynbee, Blair and all those other Guardianistas who seek to excuse crime and terrorism by reference to its "social causes"

Omar Khyam's uncle told the Daily Telegraph: "You read in the papers, 'Ah, well it's because of lack of opportunities.' "Rubbish, what part don't you understand? What lack of opportunities? They had a reasonable education, they come from reasonable families, with very stable backgrounds, financially sound.

Thank you, sir. The twin "causes of crime" in Britain are (a) criminals and (b) Guardianistas who hold "society," not criminals responsible. As Theodore Dalrymple says (writing of an emerging Indian underclass in Britain)

In fact, they have assimilated to the local cultural and intellectual climate: a climate in which the public explanation of behavior, including their own, is completely at variance with all human experience. This is the lie that is at the heart of our society, the lie that encourages every form of destructive self-indulgence to flourish: for while we ascribe our conduct to pressures from without, we obey the whims that well up from within, thereby awarding ourselves carte blanche to behave as we choose. Thus we feel good about behaving badly.

The politicians cannot make people feel responsible for their own actions. All they can do is consistently treat them as if they are. Doing the opposite for decades has created the lie that Dalrymple describes. It will take decades of truth to reverse the damage done.

Yesterday, a British jury and a British judge ignored the excuses and special pleading. They held criminals responsible for their choices. Is it too much to hope for the politicians to do the same - and not just for those whose crimes are political?

Conviction of fertiliser plotters: statement by Jonathan Evans

Link: Conviction of fertiliser plotters: statement by Jonathan Evans.

Top04_h Mr Evans of MI5 is, with respect, missing the point. We don't blame MI5 for failing to prevent the 7/7 bombings in London. No sane person believes that every terrorist action can be prevented. Sane people hold criminals responsible for their crimes, not those doing their best to prevent them.

However we are furious about the lies told at the time. We were told the 7/7 terrorists were unknown to the authorities; that they were - in the jargon - "clean skins." The trial which concluded yesterday revealed that to be untrue.

Who lied, Mr Evans? Was it you, your service or  the usual suspects?

Britain's public servants work for the people, not the Government. They are accountable to the Crown, not to Ministers. If the head of MI5 or MI6, or a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police stands by as a lie is told and neither speaks out nor resigns, then the lie is his too  and we are entitled to hold him accountable. We always knew that the nature of politics attracts inadequates, fantasists and charlatans. We had thought, however, that the top echelons of our Civil Service were populated with independent-minded examples of the best and the brightest our nation could offer. Blair has shattered that illusion too. He has tamed them and turned them into accomplices and toadies.

How many disasters of the Blair years could have been avoided if public servants had refused to be party to Government lies; if they had refused to allow their advice to be misrepresented to the public by politicians; if their loyalties could not be purchased so cheaply with baubles and trinkets?