No-one escapes the consequences of the government's response to the COVID pandemic, but the Paine Family has escaped unscathed from the virus itself – so far. My elderly parents were vulnerable because of their age and health but have managed to steer clear of those hubs of infection - care homes and hospitals. Until this week.
I am currently staying with my frail, elderly mother while my frail, elderly father is in hospital. He collapsed when he attempted to get up on Sunday morning. He was retrieved from the floor and returned to his bed by kindly neighbours. He was eventually hospitalised on Sunday evening after a grandson had spent hours on the phone to medically-unqualified, algorithm-driven NHS gatekeepers in call-centres.
I say hospitalised but gurney-ised would be more accurate. He was not diagnosed until Monday morning when he was finally taken off his trolley, admitted to a ward and given antibiotics. Too late, it seems because he had developed sepsis (one of the most common agents of death in emergency care). Crowds of medics materialised and his life seems to have been saved from the threat their previous absence had quite possibly caused.
This sob story has, I promise, a point. The experience has exposed us directly to the interesting way in which the government health service in Britain has responded to the pandemic. My mother, my sisters and I faced a situation in which Dad seemed likely to be lost to us, but we were forbidden to visit him or be at hand. In normal times, we would have had opportunities to speak to his consultant. Instead we have a number to call. Sometimes a recorded message tells us all staff are busy. Sometimes an anonymous voice summons a staff nurse to give us an update. Sometimes she comes. Sometimes another anonymous voice tells us she's too busy.
After forty-eight hours of that, I asked if it was possible to speak to the consultant. This seemed to be considered a radical request. However I was given a name and told to call the main switchboard and ask for his secretary. I did so and left a message on her answering machine. I called again the next morning and left another. I then got a call saying my message has been passed on and "he knows you want to speak to him". I am still waiting. Despite her careful choice of words, I take some hope from the fact that his secretary did not seem to think it lese-majesté on my behalf to ask.
It's quite shocking how normal this all now seems to NHS staff. They seem actively to prefer not having to deal with the families of patients. Assuming (as I think is reasonable given the staff nurse's response to my request) that most families don't ask to speak to consultants, they at least must have a more relaxed life than usual. I suppose it's up for debate whether the time staff nurses spend on the phone to families is more or less than the time they used to spend dealing with them in person.
I find it hard to imagine a socialised service untrammelled by market mechanisms will ever return to its old standard now the public has meekly accepted this kind of service. One of my sisters said that "someone will have to give them a rocket" but who, pray, is likely to do that? The Labour Party is the political wing of the public sector unions and the "Conservative Party" is now – at best – New Labour reborn.
Every stage of life has its joys, sorrows and consolations. Looking back, I smile at how stressful I found it to be young. I was so afraid of failure; so anxious to get things right. In middle age, with those anxieties largely allayed, I found myself burdened with responsibility for others; a responsibility I had campaigned earnestly to assume, by the way. As I approach old age, those responsibilities are gone too. No-one depends on me. My children are independent. I have no employees to worry about providing with work. I can even glory in the triumphs of the young people I mentored, who are now achieving their own successes. I could shuffle off this mortal coil today with no sense of a task left undone.
Before COVID, I was enjoying that. I was as carefree as in my youth. In fact, more so as I was without the burden of parental, societal or –most onerous of all – personal hopes and expectations. I could reflect on my life and that of my nation or even species. I could read, think, visit museums and galleries, travel and engage in my photographic hobby. I could meet with my friends and smile during our conversations at the truth of the old joke that "the older we get, the better we were." Looking back on lives lived so anxiously at the time, our triumphs seem inevitable and perhaps even (after a few good drinks) deserved.
Post-COVID, things are different. I have not personally been directly affected by the disease itself. Only one friend contracted it and he, thank goodness, survived. Actually I should not thank goodness as he lives in a corrupt post-Soviet state and crimes had to be committed to save his life. He survived a seven hour wait for an ambulance by virtue dint of another friend paying a bribe for oxygen to be brought to his home. Best not to ask from where that was procured. Let's just hope it was not from the bedside of someone who still needed it. Then he avoided admission to a lethally-unhygienic state hospital that would have killed him by bribing the ambulance-driver to take him to a private facility. There even cash would not have secured treatment were it not for luck. He happened to have been the lawyer for the oligarch who owned that facility in connection with its financing and still had his phone number. Calling him and then handing the phone to the doctor denying admission finally saved the day – and his life. His story tells more about statism and the corruption it brings than it does about disease.
At a micro level then, I continue to be blessed. I have a comfortable home in which to be confined. I have a loving wife with whom to be confined. I have every technical facility to stay in communication (I first wrote "touch" but that of course is forbidden) with friends and family. The only real cost to me has been the death of my last illusions.
COVID has been a wet dream for every statist, apparatchik and thug. I have long said that an over-mighty state is a magnet for the worst in society. COVID has proved it.
My nostalgic vision of the British Bobby protecting honest citizens from crime has long been out of date, I know. Yet it was hard to shake the feeling for the boys in blue my parents instilled in me. My mum would make a point of stopping and talking to the local policeman whenever we encountered him when I was a child. She would tell me this was the person I should go to if I were lost, in trouble or just needed to know the time. He was my protector and friend. Sorry Mum, but he isn't and never was. His true nature has been revealed as he has gleefully leapt on the chance presented by COVID to bully and swagger.
I was taught to revere teachers too. There is, I always used to say, no more valuable profession in any civilisation. A society could be judged by the value it placed on its teachers. COVID has exposed that as sentimental tosh too as the teaching unions have used the opportunity to dodge work and to hell with the education and welfare of the children in their members charge. All other public sector unions have done the same. Our public "servants" are our actual deep state masters and their contempt for us has been revealed beyond all reasonable doubt.
This is not COVID related, but has happened during the same period. The Court of Appeal destroyed my faith in the judiciary. I personally witnessed the Shrewsbury pickets in action. I know the truth, but to write it again would now be actionable – so I won't. All I can say here is that the law is an ass.
Though I remember well how upset they were by the death of President Kennedy and how they grieved the death of Winston Churchill, my parents never taught me to love and trust politicians, thank God. So that disillusionment has not been so severe. In fact COVID has not made me think any worse of them. In fact, I have some sympathy with HM Government's plight as a panicked population has cried out for ever-more-tyrannical measures and HM Opposition has only ever opposed them for not acting harshly enough.
I have repeatedly said in the run up to elections that, this time, I will not vote. I have always gone on to do it. I was brought up to treasure democracy as something my ancestors fought for. I felt a duty to their memory to exercise my right. This time I didn't. Perhaps I would have done if I lived in Hartlepool; not from any affection for the party that won but to enjoy the discomfiture of the entitled villains who have so long believed they own the Northern working class among whom I grew up.
In London, there was no point. Khan was a nailed-on winner. There were no credible candidates running on a platform of more liberty and less state. It was – as all elections now seem to be – a menu of different poisons. None of the thugs, bandits and rent-seeking hoodlums in power can say this time that I supported them. Not that they care, but it gives me some small satisfaction.
The wisdom of age is the realisation of how little we can know and the humility that comes with that. It seems I am finally wise but I was happier being foolish.
In their prime my paternal grandparents were each – in their different ways – formidable members of the "great generation". They didn't suffer fools gladly or (unless obliged by family ties and then with open scorn) at all. They thought psychology was fake. They thought depression was weakness glorified. My grandfather was a cripple and, as I learned the hard way, got angry if you used the euphemism "disabled".
Why are you playing with words? Calling me something else makes me no less crippled you bloody fool!
They thought hard work, prudence, patriotism and family loyalty were the keys to all progress.
They may sound scary and – to their first of many grandchildren – they often were, but they were impressive too. This, despite having suffered losses that would justify many moderns in claiming lifelong victimhood. They just accepted them as their fate, got on with life and became angry if you mentioned them.
My grandmother had received "the telegram" from the non-euphemised War Ministry during WWII after my grandfather broke his back in an accident on a troopship. His commanding officer had assumed he wouldn't make it and sent a premature report of his death. He survived, but was told he'd never walk. Grandmother's first inkling that the MoW had erred was his knock at the door, having walked several miles from the railway station. They expected no apology for the Army's incompetence and lack of concern for their welfare or (God forbid) feelings. They suffered no PTSD. They never thought to sue. There was a war on. Worse had happened to others. Worse still needed to be done to others, so the war could be won.
Grandfather was not confined to the long-promised wheelchair until his eighties, by dint of forcing himself to walk miles every day in agony. His country had rewarded him in 1946 by seizing the transport business that he and his brothers had founded with their savings from working down a coal mine as teenagers. He never complained about that, saying that the Labour Party was sincere, if misguided, in taking it and that his fellow citizens (including his sister) had voted for it genuinely believing the country would run it better. It hadn't (as he had predicted to them at the time) and he'd lived to see his business re-privatised. He had also lived to see the Soviet Union fall and died thinking such nonsenses were now ancient history. He never bemoaned his own fate in that experiment; saying when I pressed him on the subject near to his end, that to be angry at his Labour-voting family and friends would have achieved nothing but to make him miserable. Life wasn't ever fair. He didn't vote Labour precisely because he wasn't naive enough to think it could be.
Why do I tell these stories now? Because I remember watching the personalities of these formidable folk crumble when old age and frailty confined them to their conservatory. Their view of the world became distorted as their direct experiences of it dwindled. Their news of events in their old orbit was limited to what visitors chose to share. These fiercely-independent people began to live inside their own heads and to get things wrong in ways their admiring, if fearful, grandson would never have expected.
As I have watched my country during the pandemic from my own equivalent of their conservatory; locked-down not by ill-health but state force, I have been alert to parallels between my experience and theirs. My information sources were limited as were the range of friends with whom I could discuss them. I feared to blog about the issues, not because I was afraid to be in a minority – I have been in that position for many decades now – but because I sincerely worried that I might be losing touch with reality. The situation was so artificial that I feared for my own judgement. I thought my mind might be failing me as theirs had in their isolation. As we begin to return to normality, I begin to realise I drew the wrong parallel.
I have been inclined to despise my fellow-Brits to be honest. Opinion polls suggested they were not the potential John Hampdens I had always imagined, but actually more like Pavliks. Even friends I had considered essentially "sound" were in fearful submission to, essentially, whatever the hell the establishment chose to tell them would save them from the plague. I kept quiet because I feared I might be wrong – and I was, but not in the way I thought.
We Britons have let ourselves down in this crisis. We have looked for answers elsewhere rather than seeking them out ourselves. We have listened too much to authority, while demanding it give us bread. In the last few days we've allowed ourselves to be distracted by authority posturing about the modern circus that is football. But in some ways we have been like my grandparents at their best, not their worst. Terrified by data deliberately warped to maximise our fears, we have tried our best to be good citizens in the face of danger. "There's a war pandemic on" we told ourselves, so normal rules don't apply and it would be disloyal to moan. Others have it worse (look at what a mess those idiots in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have made, for example) so we should just get on with it as best we can.
Yes I was in my equivalent of my elderly grandparents' conservatory, but I was not alone. The whole frightened nation was in it too. The difference is that – unlike my grandparents – we're going to emerge. We have not yet failed the test of who we are as a nation. It is about to be set as we return to normality. I hope we pass it in a way that would make my grandparents in their prime proud.
To call the Benn Act the “Surrender Act” is to incite violence against those who enacted it, according to Labour. The Act was designed (as its sponsors would tell you) to ensure the UK does not leave the EU without some variant of the “withdrawal agreement” previously “negotiated” by Mrs May and thrice rejected by this Zombie Parliament. That agreement was famously described by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis as;
”...a deal that a nation signs only after having been defeated at war”
So, if accurately describing an Act of Parliament is all it takes to provoke anger against you, perhaps that anger is righteous? If you are prepared to enact all sorts of radical policies on the basis of mere pluralities, but thwart the decision of an actual majority of the British People, then perhaps you have invited their wrath?
Neither the Conservative Party nor Labour has, since the War, ever secured a majority of the national vote. The Conservatives secured 55% in 1931.
Labour’s highest percentage post-war was 48% in 1951. The Conservatives’ highest share of the vote was 49.7% in 1955. Neither has achieved 52% post-war and no likely victory in the imminent General Election will give a popular mandate approaching that.
If the Liberal “Democrats” win a majority in Parliament and revoke the Article 50 notice, 40-something percent of the electorate will have thwarted 50-something percent. The anger then would be hard to contain and would be stoked to dangerous levels by the smug triumphalism of the Remain Ultras and the EU imperialists. You saw their sneering grins outside the Supreme Court this week. You saw Verhofstadt’s tweets. Imagine them if they win.
The Referendum was necessary precisely because the constitutional issue of EU membership cut across party lines. A big majority was secured for Remain in 1975 (including my very first vote) because the “Common Market” was seen as a benign liberalisation of international trade. Discontent was seething at the steady mutation of that Common Market into a proto-state. No government had ever asked the British People to approve that change. Most indications were that they wouldn’t have approved.
Leavers ranged from libertarians like me, through patriotic statists of right, left and centre to the hard left of the Labour Party and indeed the Communist Party. Reasons for leaving ranged from principled objections to an over mighty state to a desire to escape EU restrictions on “state aid” that prevented an even mightier state. That’s why, when Remainers ask “...but what do Brexiteers want?” we can’t answer with a political programme. Our only honest answer is “...whatever the future political direction of the UK might be — it should be decided by people we can sack if they annoy us.”
Boy oh boy, are the people in charge in both Westminster and Brussels annoying us now! We want an election to sack as many of them as we can. For so long as they deny us that, they are relying on our decency and good manners to sleep easily in the beds we have feathered so lavishly for them. They’d better hope we are more decent than them and have far better manners than they have exhibited in their sneering, supercilious and dismissive campaigns against us. And far better manners than Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.
The violence of his discourse makes “humbug” seem rather gentle, no? But then it is always “one rule for us...” with them.
So says Anna Soubry, an MP for a party with literally zero support. Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader with the lowest approval rating since records began, agrees. On the back of the Supreme Court’s apolitical decision, would-be plutocrat Gina Miller smugly continues her well-funded political assault on the biggest democratic vote in the history of our nation. She does so flanked by the leaders of minority parties too “frit” to face an election. This is democracy Jim, but not as we know it.
The law is now clear. The PM erred. I am sure he will respect the decision. That legal judgement is one thing but the jubilant fake-democrats’ equally clear determination to use it to thwart our decision to leave the EU is another. Please don’t quote me that “no mandate for no deal” nonsense, by the way. No deal acceptable to Parliament is on offer and they are doing all they can — in active concert with the other side’s negotiators — to prevent the government achieving a better one.
They will accept nothing short of stopping Brexit. All else is lies, mystification and agitprop.
Several of them referred reverentially to the Supreme Court as the “highest court in the land” but that is a blatant lie. They are straining their every sinew to ensure that our highest court continues to be the European Court of Justice, that our highest political authority remains the EU Council of Ministers and that our government is the EU Commission. These self-proclaimed “democrats” are today celebrating the chance this decision gives them to fight for our judiciary, legislature and executive to remain on foreign soil unaccountable to the British people.
That’s not a fantastic day for democracy but it is a great day for fantasy democracy, fake democracy — for Britain remaining a colony of a foreign power. Because if your Supreme Court is in another country, that’s what you are — a colony. As Tony Benn warned decades ago and as Guy Verhofstadt recently confirmed to rather surprising wild applause at the LibDem Conference, the EU sees itself as an empire. The days of European imperialism are not over, it seems, until the failed imperial powers of the past have another go.
Unlike the Remain ultras, I can accept a decision I don’t like. The court’s ruling surprises me in light of the Bill of Rights but I am no constitutional law expert and I now accept our constitution is as they say. I have nothing to say against the judges concerned. I won’t reargue a case determined by the court I (unlike Anna Soubry et al.) believe should be the highest in the land.
It changes nothing as to the political and moral rights and wrongs of Brexit however.
Those calling for the PM’s resignation are hypocrites. He has offered to resign by calling an election. Knowing they would lose, these triumphant “democrats” refuse to let him do that. They don’t want to back him, but they refuse to sack him. Knowing a new Parliament would (if the Conservatives see sense and act in concert with the Brexit Party) be solidly for an immediate Brexit, they prefer to hold him in place and try to use him as their puppet.
The court’s decision is disappointing but the Millerite thugs’ hypocrisy, elitist disdain for the British people and cynical hostility to true democracy is drearily predictable and utterly infuriating to decent patriotic Brits. They are playing with fire and I hope only they get (metaphorically) burned.
My new friend within the London Labour Party wrote to me recently saying, among other things, that
The left, once famously critical of religion, will say nothing against Muslims!
He has a point. The Roman Catholic Church is deservedly weathering a massive media storm over priestly abuse of children – or more accurately over some of its leaders' disgraceful endeavours to conceal that abuse. Go to any leftist forum online and you will see the traditional anti-clericalism of the left, for which my friend hankers, in full spate. You will also however see similar vitriol being directed at Boris Johnson. This, for an article in which he defended the right of Muslim ladies to dress in the ways they sometimes choose (and sometimes have chosen for them). Why? Because he also mocked them a little by saying, thus attired, they looked a bit like letterboxes.
It wasn't a very good joke. It wasn't a new joke. It was not as critical of the ladies in question as things previously said by some calling for Boris's head. It was hardly on a level with the sexual abuse of innocents. But it was criticism of Muslims and that, even when mild or (God forbid) justified, is now beyond the leftist Pale.
The left has also been tying itself in unseamanlike knots over the definition of antisemitism. Our government and other nations around the world have adopted the IHRA definition but Labour has devised its own variant. Why? Because of the parts of the IHRA definition that say questioning Israel's right to exist is anti-semitic. This is a problem to Labour because so many of its Muslim voters (and their Far-Left supporters in the Party) actually DO call into question Israel's right to exist. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn's "friends" in Hamas are remarkably clear on the subject, for example in the preamble to its current charter, dating only from last year;
Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras al-Naqurah in the north to Umm al-Rashrash in the south, is an integral territorial unit. It is the land and the home of the Palestinian people. The expulsion and banishment of the Palestinian people from their land and the establishment of the Zionist entity therein do not annul the right of the Palestinian people to their entire land and do not entrench any rights therein for the usurping Zionist entity.
My favourite rabbi, Rabbi Sacks, posted a video some time ago which I featured in this post. As I quoted there, he made this point about the difference between criticising Israel and being anti-semitic
I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.
Denying Israel's right to exist is the new anti-semitism, as Rabbi Sacks' video (and the IHRA definition) make clear. But the left can't accept that because it is electorally dependant on Muslim votes. While denouncing ordinary Brits (to our puzzlement) for our alleged racism, sexism and homophobia it kowtows to the genocidal views of lethally racist, sexist, and homophobic voters in our midst for fear of being branded islamophobic and losing their votes.
We who agree with Dr Martin Luther King that every human should be judged on "the content of his character" must resist the temptation to laugh at them, hoist so hilariously by their own identarian petards. Instead we must politely point out their amoral inconsistency to everyone who will listen. Identity politics is toxic for all of us.
I never encountered anti-semitism until I went to work in Poland in 1992. I was a partner in a Jewish law firm, by which I mean it had been founded by Jewish lawyers and most of the partners were Jewish. I don't remember considering the matter when deciding to apply for a job and it didn't occur to me that it might feature in their decision to hire me. Clearly, it didn't as they didn't even ask. My new boss sent his secretary to my office on my first day at work to ask if I would be free for a meeting on a certain date. I remember thinking that it was a dumb question as I had just arrived and my diary was empty. I went through the motions of checking and had my pen poised to write something in when she said, "No, that's fine. He'll get back to you." He didn't. When I mentioned to a Jewish colleague that I thought it was a puzzling episode he laughed and said "That's a holy day. He was checking." Even then it didn't occur to me that my faith, or lack of it, might affect my future career. It didn't. Within two years they offered me a partnership.
So I was surprised when a colleague in Warsaw told me that the general counsel of a Polish client kept asking him whether I was Jewish or not. "Why does he ask?" I said and my colleague told me that the guy was something of a Catholic Nationalist anti-semite and was probably unhappy that his company had hired us. "What shall I tell him?" he asked me and I said he should say he didn't know. "Let him wonder", I said. "Let any assholes to whom it matters wonder and if it matters enough for them not to hire us then screw them!"
Years later, I was invited, by a Jewish friend who had project managed the restoration, to the re-opening of a synagogue in Oświęcim (better known to the world by the name, Auschwitz, that it bore during its darkest days under German occupation). For the first time in my life I was wearing a yarmulke, handed to me by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, whose daughter was in the same class at school as Miss P the Elder. The event attracted international coverage and I apparently appeared on the television news as, at two metres / 6' 7" tall, I towered above the crowd. When I got to the office in Warsaw the next day, the colleague who had asked what to say to our anti-semitic client during my first month in Poland laughed. He said this had finally answered the question and that the office was buzzing. I was the office managing partner by this time and was rather shocked by the idea that there might be anti-semites in our own ranks. So I made a point of leaving my yarmulke on my desk as a kind of talisman to scare them away.
It was about this point that I came up with one of my jokes to use at Warsaw parties. "How does a Jew become Polish?" it went. "He wins the Nobel Prize." That's unfair to most modern, reasonable Poles, you understand, but satirises a tendency even for them to distinguish "Jews" from "Poles" when they mean to distinguish Jewish from Catholic Poles. If you ever want to wind up a less reasonable Pole, you might try mentioning the arguably Jewish heritage of their "Shakespeare", Adam Mickiewicz. How hard they defend him from such a "slur" is a jolly good litmus test of their anti-semitism.
I don't really get racism. I never did. It's fairly obvious that we are all Homo sapiens and that evolution has simply varied our skin tones to adapt to the intensity of the sunlight where our ancestors lived and ensure us paler people get our Vitamin D. Who could possibly care about that? Racism based on skin colour, however, at least addresses visible difference. It doesn't make sense but it's a stupidity the origins of which can at least be understood. Jews on the other hand are indistinguishable unless (as in the case of some Orthodox) they make a point of standing out. The one moment when I understood how anti-semitism might arise, occurred when I was celebrating a deal-closing in NYC at the offices of a famous Jewish real estate guy. We were drinking champagne out of paper cups and when I asked why they were cheaping-out on glassware I was told that the boss couldn't drink from a vessel that might previously have been used by a goy. That didn't make me anti-semitic you understand, but it did make me think "... these guys could use some PR".
Polish friends patiently explained to me, during various conversations over my decade+ living in their country, that Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, had created anti-semitism in Europe. I remember a colleague who had grown up in a backwards rural area of the country telling me that his own Catholic priest had ranted from the pulpit about "the killers of Christ". "But the Holocaust happened here!" I exclaimed, shocked, "... how could a post-war priest still be an anti-semite when the Church has denounced the idea?" He couldn't explain it and I still don't get it. Ideas persist despite evidence and experience to a very shocking extent. As witness the young Poles who are Social Justice Warriors today when their parents were inoculated against leftism by growing up amid its terrible consequences and their grandparents are mostly still there to tell them precisely what socialism was like. "Clogs to clogs in three generations" as Sir Keith Joseph told a young me when I said I was bothered by the idea of inherited wealth. "The hog cycle" as economists call it, when people fail to remember history.
So if a warped interpretation of Christianity is what gave us anti-semitism in Europe and if an accurate interpretation of the teachings of Mohammed is what brought it back by way of Muslim immigration, how come such a mind-bogglingly stupid idea is now most evident on the Left of British politics rather than on the Right? Marxists oblivious to the ethnicity of Marx and Trotsky? Atheists informed by religious medievalism, for goodness sake?
"But it's not about Judaism", they say, "it's about the State of Israel". The wrongs of the Holocaust, say those Momentum-ites who don't deny it, don't justify the misconduct of modern Jews in the Middle East. Fair enough. I am a supporter of Israel, for the good reason that it's the only democracy in the region and that its Arab citizens have the vote and equal civil rights. It's a tolerant place where dissent is permitted, gays are not thrown off roofs and apostasy (from any religion) is not a criminal offence. That kind of liberalism is rather unusual in the Middle East, to put it mildly. I also support Israel because of the thought experiment posed by one of my Israeli friends, an eminent lawyer who is also, as it happens, on the Left. "Disarm Israel's enemies" he said, "and you will have peace. Disarm Israel and you will have genocide." A cursory read of the Hamas Charter or a few minutes spent watching videos published by MEMRI suggests he is right. Nonetheless I would not suggest that Israel never does wrong. Nor, obviously, would I seek to prevent it from being criticised.
How then to distinguish between being anti-Israel and anti-semitic? They clearly have the potential to be two different things, even if they do often seem to coincide in the same people. One of the wisest chaps I know (sadly not personally) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained it like this.
Not liking Jews is not antisemitism. We all have people we don’t like. That’s OK; that’s human; it isn’t dangerous. Second, criticizing Israel is not antisemitism. I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.
The speech to the European Parliament in which he told that story can be viewed in full here.
Pace the good rabbi, if anti-semitism was "only about Jews" it would still matter. Jews matter not because they are Jews, but because they are human. No different qualification is required. That anyone thinks a better qualification than being a human is required to enjoy particular human rights is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Every time someone speaks of "Gay Rights" or "Women's Rights" or "Black Rights" or "Muslim Rights" or uses the phrase "hate crimes" I am immediately on my guard. Such people are more than likely to be a threat to human rights in general.
Damn it, how often does this need to be said before tribalists stop blathering? The whole point of the post-Enlightenment West is that every individual matters, regardless of who they are. Not just anti-semitism but tribalism in general is the virus that, as Rabbi Sacks says, keeps mutating. The only valid reason to regard an individual as better or worse is, as Dr King famously said (but as the Left seems to have forgotten) "the content of his character." The only valid reason to treat an individual differently before the law is his or her conduct. Amen to that.
Sympathy for the underdog is one of the most agreeable Anglosphere traits. I am prone to it myself; instinctively cheering on West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City against the likes of Manchester United. Fans of the Red Devils will bitterly tell you of the phenomenon known as "ABU" - Anyone But United, which is the same trait viewed from their perspective. It's logical then that we Brits should empathise with the downtrodden and – depending on our analysis of how they came to be underfoot – seek to right their perceived wrongs.
Humans have always been too quick to analyse their problems in terms of perceived malice from "the other". For example, I grew up in t'North in a heady atmosphere of victimhood. There were plenty of logical reasons for the relative poverty of our post-industrial towns and cities. Many of them would simply never be built in modern circumstances. They are there for long-gone reasons but their communities, bound together by tribal loyalties, cling to them with ferocious sentimentality. It would amuse their ancestors who left rural poverty all over our islands during the Industrial Revolution to flock to opportunities in dark, Satanic mills. To seek betterment elsewhere, as their ancestors did and as I could not wait to do, is perceived as defecting to the enemy. Better to live on, more or less supported (as their plucky ancestors never were) by a Welfare State that subsidises such wilful victimhood.
Even after I had left, it took me years to shake off those ideas. At University my law tutors urged me to apply to the major London firms but I declined, having grown up with the ridiculous but unchallenged view that our capital city was a nest of predators living idly on the sweat of honest working folk. The flip-side ABU-equivalent is the way that London football fans sneer-chant at provincial supporters "We pay your benefits". Now that I live in "that London" I have also heard Londoners claim victim-status themselves, bemoaning the high cost of living (particularly housing) and claiming that the capital is the only city on these islands to make a positive net contribution to HM Treasury.
Humans are tribal. If a language is really old, like Chinese or the tongues of the Native American tribes, the word for ones own people is "human" and the words for other peoples are derogatory – "foreign devil" or the like. The names we use for the Plains Indian tribes are given by their enemies because their own names would all translate to the same word. More recently, even "Wales" and "Welsh", the English names for the place I was born and the people among whom I was raised, are from the Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner". I would argue that where things have begun to go wrong in the West is that tribalism and victimhood have converged and an identity arms race encouraged by the anti-discrimination lobby has set all the "tribes" against each other.
This, I would suggest, is what the present furore about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the scandal about statutory rapes in Telford, the murder of an elderly Jewish lady in Paris, the emergence of the Alt-Right, Black Lives Matter and AntiFa have in common. In their game of "victimhood trumps" various would-be underdogs have both strengthened their own tribal bonds and awoken the tribalism of others.
It's dangerous to enjoy the sight of the Labour Party – home of cynical grievance-mongers for decades – hoist by its own petard over anti-Semitism. It's perilous to succumb to anger over the way that Leftist political correctness has thrown thousands of white girls in Telford or Rotherham to the wolves for fear of the juju word "Racist". Lives are being lost (and many more lives degraded) in the United States as the uncontroversial assertions that "Black Lives Matter" and "All lives matter" are used as tribal battle cries. The Alt-Right's so-called "fascism" would evoke snorts of derision from history's real Fascists, as it amounts to White people lamely joining the destructive game of identity politics.
When growing up in Wales I once told a fanatical Welsh Nationalist that if he really had nothing better to be proud of than his ethnic roots, he should take up macramé so as to have an actual skill to take pride in. I felt free to mock his parochial obsessions because I could never imagine him presenting a threat but that kind of thing is more dangerous now. At one of my first partners meetings at a law firm in London where most of my partners were Jewish, I was surprised when one said we had no chance of winning a bid for some work because of anti-semitism. I told him, truthfully, that I had never heard an anti-semitic remark in my life and doubted the thought would even cross the potential client's mind.
That anti-semitism is back in Britain, as it clearly now is, is due to the Labour Party's attempts to use identity politics to build its own base. Rejecting (or rather rejected by) its traditional base, Labour has sought to put together a coalition of victims, including – though socially and economically there is no more "conservative" group around – British Muslims. To do so it has become uniformly pro-"Palestinian" and anti-Israel and thus attracted into its midst many members reared with a hatred of Jews as unchallenged as my early hatred of "the South".
I reject the Alt-Right because fighting fire with fire just doesn't work. The answer to the poisonous ideas of identity politics is not to join in. It's to reject them for what they are– inimical to the best values of Western Civilisation. Our highest value is the Rule of Law – a much misunderstood phrase, particularly on the Continent where it's often used to mean "shut up and do as you are told or we'll set the police on you". The best way to explain it is in the resonant phrase – "Be you never so high, the Law is above you". Your social status, your ethnicity, your family background, your education, your political power and your wealth are all irrelevant to the Law, in the august presence of which we are all (as we are not in any other context) equal. When you say your favourite class of "victim" deserves special protection from the Law, you are shattering the only important equality – the one on which our civilisation is built. We in the West have done that repeatedly and with the terrible consequences that are now emerging as we have sought to signal our virtue by "protecting" various underdogs.
The Labour Party will not extricate itself from its present mess by re-ordering the hierarchy of victim-groups. I hope and believe that was not what the British Jews protesting yesterday were asking for. Nor by classifying her murder as an anti-Semitic hate crime will we bring back to life the murdered Parisienne or protect future such victims. We can all only emerge from this destructive and hateful shambles by restoring equality before the law and abandoning the damaging notions of identity politics in general and "hate crime" in particular.
Human progress is driven by free competition of ideas. It is hindered by the sort of tribalism that means you must know someones race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender before you can evaluate the credibility of their ideas, their rights to express them or the correct punishment for someone who hurts them.
Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.
I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it?
On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them.
I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings.
A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.
For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer.
In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent.
I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf.
By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister.
I know from the blogs I have been following during my purdah that the liberty-minded continue to despair and with good cause. Our government still knows no boundaries to its power and has no hesitation about interfering in the minutiae of our private lives. But there are some good omens, in my view.
Bill Clinton, or rather his spin doctor in the 1990s, pioneered the concept of "triangulation"; taking "your own" voters for granted and talking mainly to those on the other side. It worked well for him and has succeeded elsewhere. Tony Blair acted Labour but talked Tory. So much so that many on the Left hate him more than they hate some Conservatives. David Cameron's every public utterance seems directed, flirtatiously, to Polly Toynbee.
I always felt triangulation was morally wrong but could not work out how it might be opposed. Normal, decent humans glance at political headlines and half listen to sound bites. Who can blame them? Life is both short and full of distractions. Joe and Jane Public buy triangulation even though (or perhaps because) it is so far from the principled approach of "conviction politicians" aka scary bores. In a well-functioning democracy, where the role of government is limited, their trust should not get them into trouble. There is no shortage of geeks and bores who want to take care of the tedious stuff.
For so long as Parliament or Congress consists mainly of wily, unprincipled sneaks seeking to show a half-listening public they "care", however, we are easy prey for rent-seekers, lobbyists and narcissistic celebrity chefs. The politicians and those lobbying them have a freer hand the more triangulation hollows out our political parties. There are decent-sized fishing clubs with a greater membership than the once glorious Conservative Party. When I was born they had three million members but they stopped publishing their numbers in 2014 when they were down to 150,000. The Labour Party became so small that "entryism" returned. The hard Left now have their feet firmly under the party's table.
I think triangulation is beginning to fail precisely because of this "hollowing out." I have two arguments for this. Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump.
The faithful of the Republican Party have been complaining for some time about "Republicans in Name Only" (RINOs) and launching groups like the Tea Party to change its direction. The RINOs blundered on disdainfully, still confident no Tea Party member would ever vote Democrat. Now American conservatives have - as American conservatives will - reached for their gun. And the name on their piece is not Glock, but Trump. The GOP's bemusement as he rolls on regardless of his gaffes shows how they miss the point. Their voters are saying "Talk to us. Listen to us. Stop ignoring us. Or else..." His bizarre rants and the way he attacks people almost randomly; certainly without regard for political correctness or opinion polls shock the RINOs. They are meant to. Their rabbit-in-the-headlights horror is precisely their electorate's goal. If Trump makes it into the Oval Office every conservative leader is going to have to focus on making the GOP turn to face its traditional voters. And if he doesn't, the same. What he means for the rest of us remains to be seen, but he's a win win for Conservative America.
The same logic applies to Corbyn. My Labour voting relatives up North see Blair as a traitor and class enemy. He's no posher than Corbyn of course - and he's a hell of a lot cleverer. He's no less inclined than Corbyn to favour the fleas over the dog - as witness the growth of the public sector payroll and the way its average income passed that of the private sector on his watch. Not to mention all the stealth taxes that raised as much as the whole of income tax on the day New Labour was elected. But they are only reading headlines and hearing soundbites, remember? Blair rubbed them up the wrong way. On purpose. And they don't like it. He paraded John Prescott on a leash as his pet member of the Northern working class - the very people who founded the Labour Party and still believe they own it. But they were not fooled. They believe that Peter "ooh Guacamole!" Mandelson is his true friend. Are they wrong?
Blairites whingeing about Corbyn making the party unelectable miss the point. They don't want an unelectable idiot like Corbyn, but - more than they want an immediate Labour government, they want a leader who doesn't condescend to them. Corbyn is the brand name on the baseball bat they are waving at the LINOs heads. Judging by the snootiness of Pat Glass, Shadow Europe Minister, yesterday they are not taking it seriously yet. Those in the Westminster bubble don't yet realise that calling names doesn't work any more. Like advertising, it is so pervasive that it has faded into the background and can easily be ignored.
The good people of Sawley are more likely to remember Glass couldn't be bothered to check where she was before swearing never to return there than that yet another bubble-dweller called them bigots.
My first reaction to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was to rejoice that they are now unelectable. My second reaction was to realise it takes the pressure off the Conservative Party to stop talking pointlessly to Polly and recover its connection with its voters. My third reaction is to welcome the imminent return of adversarial politics from distinctly different political perspectives. I want to see politicians as opposing barristers pleading their cases to the jury that is us. The British people successfully steered their government for years as if it were a tank. They alternately accelerated or decelerated the left and right tracks. As they were only allowed steering inputs every five years or so, it was clumsy but over time it worked.
To try yet a third metaphor it is time for the boxers in red and blue trunks to return to their corners and pay attention to their coaches. I think it will happen and that's my ground for optimism. Dear readers I have missed your inputs so please let me know where I have erred.