Monday, 26 March 2007

The struggle

This week

This week I have a rather absurdly busy timetable. But most pressing for me is my concert solo tomorrow, and Pupils' Question time - which I'm chairing and is somewhat chaotic. The reason I mention this is that I really should start my proper revision this week, in order to be in the swing of it before the holidays. But I shan't. Because I won't have any energy left, even when I have the time. This made me think.....

Why?

What a deep question. In my last, brief post I asked why we went to school. I had various replies. I wasn't expecting any, necessarily. But why do I do so much? What is the point of going to school? Well, for me, fairly obviously, it's to get my AAA and my Oxford place. But until then: why do everything else that I do? Why is it that my life is so busy and so fraught with stress that I can't even relax?

It's not something I'm alone in, I know. And I don't ask for sympathy. I don't actually want any, because it would do nothing and make me feel uncomfortable. But I've now got to the stage where I live for Oxford. I know others who live only - according to themselves, at least - for their offer from the Fenland Poly. So, since I know that we're all suffering under the same yoke, I thought I'd share with you all - before I return to my history essay - a poem, by Arthur Hugh Clough, which I oft find rather re-assuring:

Say not the struggle naught availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.


If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,

Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,

And, but for you, possess the field.



For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.



And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light;

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!

But westward, look, the land is bright!

Friday, 23 March 2007

The History Boys

You have a very simple post from me tonight. Yesterday, I went to see The History Boys, a play by Alan Bennett, in the West End. It was a superb play, as it was when I saw it at the National. Last time, however, it struck me as a poignant comedy. Yesterday, it struck me as a witty tragedy.

Why the difference? I think it's probably because of the different productions. But there were very interesting themes brought up. I won't bore you with them.

One question though: what is the purpose of education? Why are we at school?

P

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The Charter

On Sunday, I had a very interesting debate with Mother about the conflict between Christian values and socially accepted values. I thought I'd relay and extend this intriguing issue for your general contemplation. Those of you who are share the Faith may find it directly relevant. Those who do not may nonetheless be interested to see my perspective once again.

External values

In our society, tolerance and acceptance are favourite concepts of the masses. You can read my separate post on Tolerance if you wish.

We as Christians are called upon to accept and love our neighbours. That is, naturally, what we should do. But increasingly - even in the past four years - I've seen that my own Christian beliefs are coming into conflict with those of society. Mother concurs, with an even longer sample of time.

Homosexuality
One issue that's come up recently. The Catholic Church adoption agencies refuse to place children with homosexual couples. They are right to do so. In a neutral way, I would suggest that it is wrong to compel them to go against their beliefs. That is intolerant. As a conservative Christian - if not actually a Catholic myself - I would also agree with them on ethical grounds: homosexuality is a sin, and thus cannot be condoned.

That sentence may well provoke outraged comments from commentators objecting to its intolerance. Good. I believe that I am right. I have nothing against homosexual people, just what they do. I have nothing against psychopathic killers either; just their actions.

I have deliberately not tempered my comments. These are my non-politically correct beliefs. Normally, I'd make them less controversial. But as my point is to show how non-PC my beliefs are, it would be silly to do so.

The issue has also been raised in other contexts: 'civil partnerships', whether we should actually allow 'gay marriages', and practising homosexuals in the Anglican orders. Naturally, I would oppose all of them most vehemently. An unrepentant homosexual is a sinner.

These are my beliefs. Controversial, n'est-ce que pas? Yet I firmly believe that I am right. And so should all other Christians. I'll move onto the intra-church conflicts later.

Other religions
Similarly, I would observe that my faith obliges me to reject outright any religions when it differs with Christianity. Some of its teachings may be correct, certainly. But not if they disagree with the Church's teaching.

Abortion
This is now merely a medical practice. As I have mentioned in the tolerance post, however, I believe it to be - in almost all cases - simply sanitised infanticide.

As I wrote earlier: It is the practical applications of such a position when one starts to commit social sins. Take abortion, for example. My beliefs lead me to think that it's murder. Nothing else, except in the very rarest of circumstances, when killing the child is necessary. Such as to preserve the mother's life.So where does that leave me? In 2004, in England and Wales, 193,160 abortions took place. Of these, only 19% were for medical reasons. Thus with the most conservative estimates possible, that's 156,456 murders of unborn, defenceless children.

Again, there may well now be outraged comments. But abortion is sin according to the Church. And thus I must hold that belief. The same applies to euthanasia, which Deo gratia, is not yet legal in this country.

Sex
Some of you flighty readers might be excited now. But I'll keep this brief: sex outside of marriage is sin. That is a biblical teaching, and largely ignored by society.

Divorce
This is a more sensitive issue, because there are arguable points even within the churches. I would, incidentally, hold to the Catholic view that all divorce is wrong. But to take re-marriage after divorce as an example, we see a much more clear-cut problem. It's sin. Any such legal 'marriage' is outside God's blessing.

Conclusion

This is an intermediary conclusion to sum up my seeming intolerant rant. Why did I include it all? To show you the force with which society and the Church are separating. I well imagine a time when the Church is persecuted for its rigid 'intolerance'. And sooner than many might think. It happens now.

The Inter-church conflicts

I would just like to make a small definition. Throughout my posts, and this one, I make a distinction between the 'Church' and 'church'. The Church - capitalised - signifies both the Roman Church and the church as a wider body of believers. A 'church' - lower case - is either a denomination (other than RC) or an individual fellowship of Christians, such as one might find in a place where one goes to worship.

Between the churches, there are also many disputes. My church allows remarriage after divorce, women to teach in church. The 'Episcopal Church' of the USA has 'consecrated' a gay bishop. The Anglican Church has paved the way for the episcopal 'consecration' of women.

As you might of guessed from my punctuation, I reject all of these moves. On biblical grounds. So I find myself increasingly in conflict with the more liberal movements in the Church. I wish they would return to the fold. To keep this brief, I shall simply leave you with a poem, by Rudyard Kipling, entitled, The Disciple:

He that hath a Gospel
To loose upon Mankind,
Though he serve it utterly—
Body, soul and mind—
Though he go to Calvary
Daily for its gain—
It is His Disciple
Shall make his labour vain.

He that hath a Gospel
For all earth to own—
Though he etch it on the steel,
Or carve it on the stone—
Not to be misdoubted
Through the after-days—
It is His Disciple
Shall read it many ways.

It is His Disciple
(Ere Those Bones are dust )
Who shall change the Charter,
Who shall split the Trust—
Amplify distinctions,
Rationalize the Claim;
Preaching that the Master
Would have done the same.

It is His Disciple
Who shall tell us how
Much the Master would have scrapped
Had he lived till now—
What he would have modified
Of what he said before.
It is His Disciple
Shall do this and more...

He that hath a Gospel
Whereby Heaven is won
(Carpenter, or cameleer,
Or Maya's dreaming son),
Many swords shall pierce Him,
Mingling blood with gall;
But His Own Disciple
Shall wound Him worst of all!

Just a thought

Just for once, I thought I'd share with you a lovely passage from the Bible. I find it very reassuring. It is from the book of Ecclesiasticus, at Chapter 44, vv. 1-15:

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.
Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.
But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.
With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant.
Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes.
Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.
The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

The reason I post this may become more clear in the near future; until then, consider it as a passage worthy of reflection.

Monday, 19 March 2007

An Intellectual's Apology VI: Cassius

It seems some time since I wrote a post as part of this series. Since they're always well read, I shall continue with a look into my own consciousness for your perusal.

Cassius

Many of you will have wondered over the years why my screen-name remains constant as Cassius. Actually, I spell it Cassivs, on account of Latin's absence of the letter u. But I'll use the anglicised spelling for the moment.

It was originally used as an experiment: see how long I can keep it, and what effect - if any - such constancy would have. But why choose that name? The inspiration is Shakespearean.

CAESAR
Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

ANTONY
Fear him not, Caesar; he's not dangerous;
He is a noble Roman and well given.

CAESAR
Would he were fatter! But I fear him not:
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much;
He is a great observer and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mock'd himself and scorn'd his spirit
That could be moved to smile at any thing.
Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.

I wouldn't usually quote that whole passage in its entirety; much of it would seem to arrogant to do so. It's not all accurate; I'm a musician. But the flaws of character apply, as well as most of the rest.

The issue at the heart of what I want to talk about is the line: He is a great observer and he looks / Quite through the deeds of men..

For several weeks now I have been in extremely arduous internal turmoil. That is not what I wish to go into, you'll be glad to know. But its relevance is this: it stops my observation. It's now gone entirely; so I can watch again. And I'm happier to be Cassius than emo-Phil.

My observations

There are many places where one can observe humanity in all its glory. Indeed, it's hard to find emptiness in life. I have three areas to comment on particularly: The Common Room, the After-Show Party, and Blogging.

The Common Room

This delightful room has been the womb of many observations, not just by me. I would refer you to Francis's Spheres of Consciousness as an example.

But my observations are somewhat more frequent. If only sine I can't turn off my mind. It is whom I am. What I have seen, however, are the motives behind actions. This age-old idea of seeing through the deeds of men. And women. It would be rude of me to comment specifically, or even so precisely that any guess can be made as to the identity of my subjects. But I'll give you a list of motives I've seen:

  • The need for personal acceptance, even amongst friends,
  • The need for wider personal acceptance,
  • The need for accademic acceptance,
  • The need for romantic acceptance...

I could go on, but I don't have permission to include specifics. It would be gravely improper. But I wonder if you can spot a theme. It really did seem tragic to me.

The After-Show Party

Last night, I decided to go to the post-Les Mis Party for cast, Band and crew. It was a remarkable experience, because I was able to stand, sober as always, and observe. And the alcohol brought it all to the top.

Many were very upset to see the end of the show; many were full of adrenaline. I think I can list examples, sans noms, here. If you recognise them, I have not erred in telling you what you didn't know. If you don't, I shan't tell you who they are. Please don't even ask.

  • One young lady was particularly distraught to see the end of the show. This I saw and respected. A lack of perspective, perhaps, but an understandable one. It should be noted that she did stunningly, of course. She was not alone in either description.
  • One young man - or boy - was particularly happy at the party. He had obtained what he wanted. But it will do him no good, since his wishes are not reasonable. What should my reaction be there? To be pleased for him? Is that not simply dissemblance of my knowledge of how his happiness is nothing but a wave tossed in the ocean? Why must we always be chasing the wind?
  • Another young lady seemed particularly concerned by a 'phone call. I do not know the matter discussed; I have no need to. But it made me question this: how little do we know of others' lives? I have no idea what was troubling her; she has no idea that I was watching her - like everyone else, I would add, to stop your immaturity - and contemplating. It occured to me, though, that we know nothing of each other. However far we walk in each ohters' shoes, we can never be anyone else. Empathy is empathy only, not a shared existence. Though, being sympathic, I do hope it wasn't as bad as it looked.
  • There was a huge amount of kissing. Not by me, I might add. I have no great interest in kissing drunk people. Not that I criticise others for doing so. But in terms of seeing through their deeds, it's very interesting indeed. Several thoughts occured to me. The first is the need for acceptance. I have often heard that the appeal of casual sex is that - for a moment - you are accepted in the most profound way possibly by another human being. And kissing, I would imagine, is the same. Someone - even a somewhat tipsy soneone - has chosen to share an intimate moment with you. That must be so pleasing for those who spend their lives desperately searching for acceptance. And there are so many for whom that is true.
  • There is a Latin saying - originally from Greek - which says In vino veritas: In wine, truth. When some people are drunk they show their true colours. That's truly intruiging. There were several embarrassing examples. But I shan't go into them for that very reason.
  • On the other hand, it must be observed that some people just do very silly things when drunk. They show their irrational side, not their inner self.
  • And thus is the observer presented with a delicious conflict. Which of the above applies? Do we have alcoholic honesty or intoxicated idiocy? I have no doubts that there are examples of each. The chap who started to lick my jumper was - I hope - being drunkenly silly, rather than revealing a deep lust for physical intimacy. But other events were surely truth.
  • Another observation was the differing reactions to alcohol. I find that getting drunk is a silly thing to do. But it's an imprecise term. I have no objections to disinhibited merriness. Even to a few rousing, out-of-tune, up-an-augmented-fourth-and-flat-by-a-quarter-tone recitals of the main themes of Les Mis. The harmonies were actually surprisingly good. But there were some there - those of lower years - who took advantage of the sixth-form organisation. Since sixth-formers predominated, there was plenty of intoxicating ethanol to go around. And many of the youngsters drank to seem mature. It didn't work. And some sixth-formers, it should be added, did the same. It didn't work there either.

Enough of such ponderings. You may now be wondering where this is going. I on't tell you yet. Read on, dearly beloved, read on.

Blogging

Since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward floursihes, I shall be brief. I also do not wish to enflame anger amongst my kind readers. We all put up our thoughts for others to comment upon. Why? Why do we share our thoughts and ponderings for the world to comment upon. An intruiging thought. How close do our reasons correspond with our real motives? This blog war has given me plenty of grist to the mental mill. But more generally, I'm watching you all......

Conclusion

Each example truly deserves a post on its own. But - if only because I'm discussing people - I have talked to briefly (I pause for your disbelief at such a claim) to merit such a laboriously worked thesis. Anyone with a spare year and intimate knowledge of all the gossip may pick my brain more deeply.

Distilled and over-simplified, however, what I see is a desperate need amongst all of humanity for acceptance. I see poiltical ambition and scheming. To be successful. Ergo to be well respected. Ergo to be accepted. I see desperate teenage 'love'. Just to be accepted. I see people expounding their opinions. To be accepted as thinkers, perhaps, or as correct. And I do not mean you bloggers, of course.

We can never be each other. We can never be omniscient. But sometimes, I see what I'd really rather not. That is often why I am so bleak in my outlook.

"I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

A brief update

As predicted, I have not the time or energy to post a lengthy topic this evening. I'll promise you plenty soon. Just a few observations:
  • I had a conversation today about the surprising number of people who read others' blogs. I do not know whether the same is true for mine. If it is, do use the comments to say hello, to tell me to shut up, or to talk about particular topics. I'll oblige if I can
  • I observed with much jubilation that the House of Lordsa has voted against an elected House by a huge majority. And for the 50-50 split that the government wanted, there was a resounding 409-46 defeat, in approximate numbers. Excellent. Perhaps they all read my blog. Hopefully we'll soon have a Bill before Parliament to revoke the two Parliament Acts (1911 and 1949) and the House of Lords Act (1999).

I'll leave you know with one more thought:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

P

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Stupid technology

This evening I finished off something I've been working on for a while, on and off. Irritatingly, this site has posted it under the date of its original creation: 19th February.

It's on tolerance, and is rather controversial. So I'd love you to read and attack it. Even to have a blog war, if we must. Better that than it not being read or thought about. Because I believe that it's important.

You can read it here.

Enjoy.

P

Sunday, 11 March 2007

A Tory view of Social Conscience.

This blog war's getting very interesting. That is good. But I thought I'd expand on some of my comments. I will therefore look at the concept of social conscience from a Conservative point of view. Or at least my Conservative point of view. I hope you'll agree that I'm not a mean money-grabber because of it.

Conscience

The question is essentially whether Conservatives have any compassion for the poor. If you look at their motives, they do. I'd like to sub-divide this post into sections:

'Economic Conservatism'

This is a very broad term, spanning lots of different policies both currently and over the years. But the essential principle is that people will prosper if you leave them alone to do so. Since the turn of the last century, it's been almost unanimously accepted that people should be assisted in their quest for prosperity if they need it. I'll come to a key example of this later. This explanation in itself should be enough to dispel any thoughts of Tory snobbery. But it does not seem to do so.

The old saying tells us that God helps those who help themselves. It is not unreasonable for the state to do the same. Consider the picture of a tight-rope over a high ravine. The role of the state is not magically to build a bridge. It is to provide a safety net, so that one who falls does not die. Then people can cross, each contributing - idealistically - to the slow but steady construction of a bridge itself. I do not set out here to show that such beliefs are correct. but to show that they are not from a lack of 'social conscience'. I'd draw here on a series of quotations.

Of course it is true that all men of good will must be concerned with the relief of poverty and suffering, and in most Christian countries this has come to be regarded as one of the primary concerns of politicians.

But it is one thing to say that the relief of poverty and suffering is a duty and quite another to say that this duty can always be most efficiently and humanely performed by the State. Indeed, there are grave moral dangers and serious practical ones in letting people get away with the idea that they can delegate all their responsibilities to public officials and institutions."

Margaret Thatcher - whose quotation this is - continued in the same speech to say:

I am not saying, of course, that the State has no welfare functions. This would be wholly against the tradition of my Party. We have always believed that there must be a level of well-being below which a citizen must not be allowed to fall. Moreover, people cannot realise their potential without educational opportunity.

Again, I do not mean to advance her view as necessarily correct. But hopefully it does serve to reject utterly the belief that Conservatism is a rich-persons' attempt at keeping others poor for their own benefit. Indeed, holding this view is statistically wrong. there wouldn't be such working-class support if it were true.

The Alternatives means of 'Conscience'

Social conscience can be linked right back to charity. To turn to a less political source, let's look at His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, entitled Deus Caritas Est.

Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.

The important concept here is that taxes are not charity. They may do the same thing. They both serve vital purposes. But Christain charity - or any other really charitable, consciencious act - is a voluntary act of giving. Charity means love. Charity means Caritas. Taxes, on the other hand, are resented. They are dodged. People do whatever they can to get out of them, and take as much as they can back. I do not say it is wrong to do so. But it is not in the spirit of charity. So the comparison is fundamentally flawed.

Pope Paul VI wrote a celebrated encyclical, Populorum Progressio, about the problems facing humanity. This was written in 1967. But the problems have not changed. Only their embodiments:

'Endowed with intellect and free will, each man is responsible for his self-fulfillment even as he is for his salvation. He is helped, and sometimes hindered, by his teachers and those around him; yet whatever be the outside influences exerted on him, he is the chief architect of his own success or failure. Utilizing only his talent and willpower, each man can grow in humanity, enhance his personal worth, and perfect himself...

This duty concerns first and foremost the wealthier nations. Their obligations stem from the human and supernatural brotherhood of man, and present a three-fold obligation:

  • 1) mutual solidarity—the aid that the richer nations must give to developing nations;
  • 2) social justice—the rectification of trade relations between strong and weak nations;
  • 3) universal charity—the effort to build a more humane world community, where all can give and receive, and where the progress of some is not bought at the expense of others.

The matter is urgent, for on it depends the future of world civilization...

But these efforts, as well as public and private allocations of gifts, loans and investments, are not enough. It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task... It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table.

On the part of the rich man, it calls for great generosity, willing sacrifice and diligent effort. Each man must examine his conscience, which sounds a new call in our present times. Is he prepared to support, at his own expense, projects and undertakings designed to help the needy? Is he prepared to pay higher taxes so that public authorities may expand their efforts in the work of development? Is he prepared to pay more for imported goods, so that the foreign producer may make a fairer profit? Is he prepared to emigrate from his homeland if necessary and if he is young, in order to help the emerging nations? '

I include the reference here to taxes. I do not think that such taxes - in order to finance aid - can justifiably be opposed. But, as Gavin rightly pointed out, our present furore is about relative poverty, not absolute poverty. Do not confuse the two.

EMA

The system's bad, but sound in principle. Gavin's generalisation that one was either (a) abusing the finance, or (b) poor and therefore taking stupid subjects such as Health and Social care. This is pure snobbery. I wish he had not said it. It does not become him. And his view is not Conservative, whatever he might say. You might remember Thatcher's quotation from earlier: We have always believed that there must be a level of well-being below which a citizen must not be allowed to fall. Moreover, people cannot realise their potential without educational opportunity. Her statement mentions education as a specific example of the need for assistance. the whole principle of Conservatism's compassion relies on people being able to help themselves. the state must ensure this is possible through education. Though Blair would hate to admit it, is that not the whole purpose of EMA? A conservative idea. Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day; give a man a rod and teach him to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime. It's a principle that I think is very practical.

Conclusion

My apologies for such a religious tone. But I thought that the quotations might be useful to deal with conscience rather than the economics side. I shoiuld like to reiterate the key parts once more:

  • The question is essentially whether Conservatives have any compassion for the poor.
  • The role of the state is not magically to build a bridge. It is to provide a safety net, so that one who falls does not die.
  • 'There are grave moral dangers and serious practical ones in letting people get away with the idea that they can delegate all their responsibilities to public officials and institutions.' [Thatcher]
  • 'Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.' [Benedictus PP. XVI]
  • 'On the part of the rich man, it calls for great generosity, willing sacrifice and diligent effort. Each man must examine his conscience, which sounds a new call in our present times. Is he prepared to support, at his own expense, projects and undertakings designed to help the needy?' [Paulus PP. VI]

To finish with a little more of Populorum Progressio:

Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations.

Blind, resented giving to the state is not charity. Economics is not religion. Do not condemn all right-wingers as money-grabbing 'twats', as has been done.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

In Defence of the House of Lords (II)

If you've not read my previous post, I advise you do so before reading this one. The first reason being that the original post is the basis for this one, and I'll assume you've read it. the second being that this is a little provocative, and the former is more moderate.

Aristocracy

Why can't we have Lords in the Lords? Does it not make so much more sense to anyone else? In my last post I advocated an undemocratic Chamber. This is how I'd form one: returning to our pre-1911 constitution. What we would have is as follows:

  • An 'Upper House' widely accepted to be less powerful than the elected Chamber. If it flouts the will of the people too excessively, it can be compelled by the Monarch (as in 1832).
  • However, there is no statutary system to do this. No Parliament Act: the lords can still veto Bills, unless they are of great significance, when the Crown intervenes.
  • Life Peers and the hereditary Lords sit in the Chamber, along with 26 Anglican bishops. They are the Lords Spiritual and Temporal.

You may think that this is remarkably bizarre as a suggestion. But I would suggest itis not as absurd as it seems. Hereditary Lords and Life Peers keep their seats for life. They never habve to fear about losing them. Thus they can be entirely independent. they do not have to follow a Party line; they do not have to baulk from courageous policies. Experts have suggested that they are the most democratic part of our Parliament. Remeber that our Parliament is based of the people electing local representatives to speak on their behalf. With such extensive whipping as we now have, does this actually happen? No. We simply have an almost-Presidential system.

But that is somewhat beside the point. There was never any justified reason to crush the Hosue of Lords other than party-political advantage. In 1911, the Liberals wanted to 'stop the electoral rot', and so went for the Lords. Purely to win votes. Not in the name of democracy, but Liberalism. In 1999, Tony Blair did the same. The Lords had blocked some of his policies, so he removed the Tory majority in the Lord by throwing hundreds of them out. Is it worth observing that there's now a pronounced Labour majority?

At present

What we have currently is a reasonable system. The great and the good get seats. But it's too open to abuse. The cash for peerages scandal - whether the allegations are true or not - show how easy it is for such corruption and adulteration of our Parliament to take place. What we need, therefore, is a system where the great are automatically given seats.

I'd now like to be exceedingly controversial. Success breads success. 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness.' But why do we attack those who are born into titles? I've not heard a convinncing argument why hereditary power is bad. It's not democratic, but so what? Democracy is not mandatory.

Conclusion

What I advocate, therefore, is a return to decent, British democracy. Not the absolute rule of the mobile vulgus, easily swayed by whim and cheap journalism. But a new triple chord, whereby the Commons, the Lords, and the Crown govern the country. The Commons rule; the Lords check. But the checks should not be over-powered as they are not. And the Crown checks the Lords. How do we get the Lords? Take those who are born to rule. Those who have been brought up by rulers. Who have it ingrained from birth, as a duty and a responsibility. They ran the country well. They gave us the democracy we have now. Lords Grey, John Russell, Beaconsfield, and Salisbury are responsible for each of the three great Reform Acts of the Nineteenth Century. So one can't even say that they were only protecting their own interests. they acted with preceptive duty and responsibility.

Let them do so again.

P

Friday, 9 March 2007

In Defence of The House of Lords (I)

"Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:"

I should like to explain to you why I advocate no reform of the House of Lords. Such reform is an affront to democracy.

'Democracy is not mandatory'

This is something to remember throughout my ramblings, or else it will make no sense. I do not believe that pure democracy is the best form of Government. Some un-democratic check is required to secure the safety of the state. We cannot entrust government entirely to the unenlightened. They should have a say. But not absolute power.

This well established in many democratic countries. Common Law countries often use the principle of a 'Supreme Court'. America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India are the foremost examples. The Supreme Court can declare 'unconstitutional' those acts passed by the legislature. Judges are appointed - by the President in America - not elected. They are bound to obey the Constitution, and the legislature, but in that order.

This principle was first established by Sir William Blackstone (remember him?). He had a great influence on the establishment of the American Constitution. However, it never found place
in the Law of his own nation. I think perhaps that it should. But I'll come to that in time.

One of the main reasons for this principle not being established here is the House of Lords. One must remember that the House of Lords has both judicial and legislative powers. At least until 2009. But I'll deal with the judicial situation in a later post: the Supreme Court debate is in itself interesting.

What we have, though, is a legiaslative House designed to be the 'watchdog of the Constitution'. We have no need of such a overseeing Court because we have an over-seeing Chamber.

The advantages of an undemocratic Chamber

You might now suggest that an overseeing Chamber could just as easily be elected. But I venture suggest that this is not so. Consider our illustrious House of Commons.

The Commons is full of professional politicians, whose livelihoods depend on pleasing the population every four (or five) years. Thus they never take unpopular policies. They do what the people want. Correctly so. But what if something popular is popular for the wrong reasons? Take capital punishment. It's expressly forbidden by international treaties and Charters. Yet nonetheless, the majority of the electorate have been shown actually to support the re-introduction. This - I suggest - is merely vindictiveness. There is no evidence at all in favour of it. But if we had pure democracy, hanging - and other laws like it - could soon take place. An extreme example could be suggested in the form of Hitler: he took power democratically and changed the constitution. Because the Weimar Republic had put no sensible safeguards in place.

I do not say that we should have no democracy. The people must play a great role in our politics. But not everything. This is my main objection to an all-elected 'Upper' House.

There is, however, another concern. Undemocratic elections. No-one can say that our 'first-past-the-post' system elects representative governments. I do not think that this is a bad thing. But imagine a 'Reformed Chamber' reflecting Tony Blair's huge majorities of the early years. Or worse, a paralysed Italian-esque Chamber unable to function without minority influences holding undue power.

Our present process

Jack Straw's suggestions can be boiled down to three principal principles:
  • An all-elected House
  • An all-appointed House
  • A hybrid House of various proportions

I would venture to suggest that an all-elected House is highly unadvisable, under the principles outlined above. It could only be acceptable accompanied by a Supreme Court Act, giving the new Supreme Court powers according to Blackstone's principles.

A hybrid House would be open to complex problems. Not only in its organisation, but also its running. How would the elected and unelected interact? Would parties nominate the unelected? According to Straw's principles, they woulkd do so for the majority of seats. Surely this simply extends the Commons upwards.

Conclusion

I would therefore venture to suggest that an all-appointed House is the best solution: and to keep it free from party influence altogether. Those who know me at all well will be able to predict my solution to the party-political concerns. But I'll explain those tomorrow. You've read enough already.

P