Ordinary extraordinary men

He was a village character, writing a gentle tale of his coming to live in the village and marry his sweetheart, but he started with the tanks rolling into his Polish village and the revenge he wrought through Normandy and the relentless attrition of Caen. There were no ordinary lives in that generation.

A quiet autobiographical note appeared in the village magazine, from the man best known for making eccentric home-made fruit wines and for having a funny name (this being a village not known for trendy diversity).  His memory lane brought him to our village from far away but it absorbed him.  The tale began in Poland, with a fresh, young pilot in 1939, and an emergency call to report to his airfield:  Germany had invaded.  When he approached the field, he found the Germans were there ahead of him.  He did not slink home but withdrew across Poland and across the width of Europe.  There followed over the next editions the account of how he and a band of fellow airmen crossed German-occupied Europe, and when their path was barred by the swollen and frozen Danube, crossing the ice, three miles wide, to temporary freedom in Yugoslavia.  We read of his making his way to Britain, of the tough training in the Highlands, billeting in Cambridgeshire and then on 6 June 1944, at last taking the fight to the invaders, as he joined the British forces swarming across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy.

Caen was supposed to fall on the first day.  The first day was a great success, but the Germans held Caen strongly, and the British and American soldiers hammered the city for two months until it broke and the advance could continue.  There were personal memories here too:  he reported encountering a Mongolian unit at Caen.  Even further from home than him, they had been recruited as fraternal assistance for the Red Army but defected to the Germans on the Eastern Front and here they were defending a town their ancestors had never heard of half a world away from their pastures, yet all under the same sun in the eternal blue heaven.

What followed Caen is well known from the history books.  It was not fought with maps and statistics, but by men.  One foot before another flesh and blood like us all, all the way to the heart of Germany.  Men stood as bullets ripped through those who stood beside them.  Men stood as a dull steel Panzer charged unstoppably towards them.  Men crossed shot, shell, minefields, barbed wire, and the Rhine, in order, in disciple, unrelenting. Men had to stand to their duty when they saw the gates of Belsen open and they faced the captured guards.

When all was done and time to go home, for some there was no home.  Between Hitler and Stalin, Poland was no more.  It was six years in a young life, with a lifetime ahead of work in the fields and calm gardening.  All this was kept within his heart, done so that his children and all of ours need not see the same again.

Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe

I have watched a man surrounded by a baying crowd, attacked and dragged towards the ground, rescued from broken bones or murder only by a policewoman’s arm, on the streets of London.  His whole offence was differ from an opinion shared by the crowd that wished him dead.

“To speak impartially, both sayings are very true; That Man to Man is a kind of God; and that Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe. The first is true, if we compare Citizens amongst themselves; and the second, if we compare Cities. …  Good men must defend themselves by taking to them for a Sanctuary the two daughters of War, Deceipt and Violence.”

Hobbes: De Cive

Watch the video and ask where we are.  In the political mobile vulgus we are no longer citizens together but factions, bound together and as against others we have no ties, as in a state of nature:

“the state of men without civill society (which state we may properly call the state of nature) is nothing else but a meere warre of all against all”

Hobbes: De Cive

The events shown in the YouTube clip took place in the heart of the most civilised city on Earth, beside the very places where the laws of the kingdom are made and administered and apparently completely outside those laws.  The victim had expressed disagreement with the crowd’s chosen hatred, in this case a hatred of Donald Trump, and this was enough for them to turn on him in murderous fury.

Man is a pack animal, like the wolf.  Stand in any street or park and see a dog bounding happily beside its owner like a gentle puppy – but when dogs get in a pack they act like wolves and they are deadly.  Young men too behave like a wolfpack, and now, it seems, so does a politicised mob.

The creation of a wolfpack is the creation of a society, bound together with instinctive ties, breaking all ties outside the pack, and that is what we saw on the street.  There is no need for moderation, no “what if” nor “to a certain extent”, no subtle thought – just inclusion or exclusion, and there is no duty to the excluded, only hatred in order to validate to social tie of the pack.

The chant that came louder and louder was without moderation either; “Nazi scum”, as if with no knowledge or care for what those words actually mean.  Those words should make the blood run cold and not be used loosely: it an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the real Nazis, and to those who still today after 74 years wake every morning in cold terror at the memory from their youth.

The apparent ring-leader apparently says she is an NHS worker – I hope she never looks after me.

The self-supporting crowd is a liberation from the constraints of civil society in which all morality of the wider society is irrelevant and only the immediate crowd and the need to sustain its coherence have any relevance.  An outsider intruding therefore is outside any duties and may be a casualty of the “warre of all against all”.

Where it all went wrong for – Change UK

On 20 February 2019, just two days after its formation, the Independent Group, as it then was, killed itself. After swallowing the poison, it limped to its doom with an unbroken catalogue of stupidity until it broke apart on 4 June 2019.

It might have worked – it might have been the most successful break-out political party of our time but instead it stepped out into the new dawn, over a cliff.

The group began in the Labour Party.  That party has for its whole existence been a compromising accommodation between factions, from raging Communists to soft social ideas which became Blairism. The rise of crazed Twitter-warriors though began a chain reaction which tore that compromise apart: local party by local party was taken over by Momentum, John McDonnell’s own Sturmabteilung, who would accept none but their own.  Once they might have been three angry activists hurling abuse at the back of the room; now they had the members to ensure that they had control.  With Momentum came anti-Semitism:  its horrid rise in Labour and parts of the Liberal Democrats could be the subject of many articles, but in essence Socialism is a doctrine of finding enemies to hate, and on-line conspiracies found their target in an ancient hatred.  In that atmosphere, no Blairite MP could remain without being deselected and no Jewish MP could remain safe.  A breach could not be avoided.

On 18 February 2019, seven MPs left the Labour Party and formed The Independent Group.  Great things were forecast for them; after all, most of the media establishment are by instinct Blairite soft-socialists.  That tendency though may have blinded the eyes of media types who should have taken a more cynical look at what was happening, as it was not all about Momentum.

It might have worked, with focus, common sense and an eye to catching the tide, and a voter-friendly name.  It could have been ‘Labour without the madness and anti-Semitism’, and that would have had a good popular impact, maybe overthrowing Corbyn Labour.

However, after just two days of existence they ended it:  on 20 February three dissenting Conservatives joined the Independent Group and were welcomed, as any new movement may welcome converts.  However with the Conservatives it could no longer be ‘Sane Labour’, and no more dissenters would come across, so by welcoming three new members they turned away maybe thirty who would have come to them.  With the ex-Conservatives all they had in common was wanting to overturn Brexit.  In this role they were not only redundant – the LibDems had this sewn up – but also alienated the very Labour-leaning voters they hoped to win.

The European election, the election which should never have happened, approached and they took on the mantle of a Remain faction and no more, adopted at least two new names, now as “Change UK”, but whose sole policy was to oppose change, and “the Remain Alliance”, which was ludicrously unself-aware to be kind, or dishonest to be frank.

Then on 4 June 2019 CUK-TIG-RA split apart, with most of its MPs going back to being independents dreaming of new things, and a rump, under the ever-angry, ex-Conservative Anna Soubry keeping the Change UK name, even if the man it was subconsciously named after, Chuka, has gone.

It might have been a success, but for that the actions of 20 February.  When Anna Soubry came to them they could simply have said “sit near us but no closer”, but they did not.  They could have claimed to be “reformed Labour” but they did not.  They could have adopted a long policy platform positioning themselves as heirs to the Blair tradition (without the wars) without taking sides on Brexit and tempting their red-rosette colleagues, but they did not.  They misread the mood of the country which is easy Within the Bubble but unforgivable outside it, and plunged into determined obscurity.

Now the group has sundered in two. It has not split logically into ex-Conservatives and ex-Labour but into two mixed groups. It is hard to see how this could be any better for them. If they are all seeing ahead of them the end of their political careers, maybe it does not matter.

There are no second chances now.  Chuka may try to form a “Sane Labour” caucus now, but his motivations now look impure: his motivation can never again be seen as purely to bring sanity and responsiveness, but as a vehicle for a Remainiac obsession. He has shown his hand, and had it cut off.

Instead he may knock on Jo Swinton’s door and beg to be let into the Liberal Democrats, but would they want him?  His presence may be poison to their brand.

Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have – 1

The first rule of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and radicals know how to use it:  ‘Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have’.

Twitter has a baleful influence fatal to sense and realism (and yes, I know ThomasHobbes autotweets),  It just needs some organisation, maybe a Twitter-group or a botnet, and thousands of tweets can flood out to a commercial or political organisation demanding action and it will look as if the whole world has risen; not just one spotty student with an understanding of antisocial media.  Companies do respond, and they do withdraw profitable lines of goods, or books, or articles; institutions withdraw invitations to speakers and apologise for things they have not done and would not in honesty be sorry for if they had.  That is the power of power the enemy thinks you have.

The success of boycott threats is incomprehensible to logical analysis.  As an example, a tiny organisation, ‘Stop Funding Hate’, has demanded of several companies that they stop advertising in newspapers that campaign opposes, and they have been successful simply by panicking those companies’ PR departments.  The cost in loss of sales must be measurable; yet there is no evidence that ‘Stop Funding Hate’ could have any influence to harm those companies had their demands been made. In 2017 the campaign demanded that Paperchase withdraw from a joint promotion with the Daily Mail, and to apologise for entering it, all on the say-so of a tiny group with a botnet; that is when the campaign was exposed for its dishonesty, but it carried on and Paperchase later withdrew all advertising from the Mail, saying that they had “listened to customers”; which is doubtful.

The influence of hate-filled activists in backroom studio-flats over professionally run companies is astounding.  Targeted companies may not even ask themselves whether a blackmail demand from a left-wing activist is a realistic threat, and whether complying will harm them more than ignoring it.  Presumably they are afraid of the times when a threat has gone wider; but even then it may be more harmful to be seen to give in than to resist.  In this, radicals have an advantage over conservatives:  radicals will act as they wish, unafraid of any consequences: conservatives tend to be quieter, and we do have reason not to put our heads above the parapet, as we have families and jobs to protect.

There are more conservatives than there are radicals.  Conservatives tend not to shout and threaten boycotts though.  We have the potential power, but unseen, and therefore no power at all. To combat a boycott campaign would require an immediate response, not to the leaders of the campaign but to the targets, before the target has moved to yield.  The resistance to the boycott should offer to give the target company comfort, to inform them of the reality of who the campaigners are and their relation, if any, to the company’s customer base, and to show with demographics that yielding to the demand may be more harmful to customer relations than ignoring it.

The problem is that there is no one who is in a position to do this.  A commercial organisation, like a chamber of commerce or the Institute of Directors might be in a position to organise a ‘response unit’, but otherwise radicals without responsibility have free rein to impose themselves on society without opposition. u

Supporters come out, but no Kingmaker

Others have published running lists of the announced supporters of various candidates for the Conservative leadership; interpreting it must be an exercise in political psychology, reaching deep into the various motivations of the ‘most sophisticated (or possibly ‘most devious’) electorate in the world’.

It begins to look like the Wars of the Roses, decided not so much by sword, lance and pike but by the shifting personal chancing of the nobility who supplied the armies, seeking favour and patronage from the winner.  The Conservative leadership contest works the same way (though with less bloodshed).

The government is not one man or woman but a team, whoever wins, but the Prime Minister makes and breaks them, and any MP pausing over where to lend his support will have an eye on the favour of the winner.

The wars of York and Lancaster lasted just through the reign of one unfortunate king, King Henry VI, with odd rebellions later until Stoke Field, but the political aspect shows in every local village history (which I spend too much time reading) – estates were seized for treason and granted to new men who lent arms to the winner, and lost again as the time turned, and might be regained in a successful rebellion.  Some too gained estates, raised armies with them and them sought more by a rebellion.

Firstly, the candidates all broadly stand for the same thing – they are all Conservatives.  Therefore whoever wins, Conservative MPs should be able to work with him, whatever they say now.  It is just a question of expected favours.

There are those backbenchers who can pledge their votes according to their genuine preference because they know they are stuck on the back-benches and so are not waiting on the favour of the victor.  They might have no further realistic ambition – just because they are jobless, that does not leave them without influence as many have other roles that keep them busy.  That is the most honest phalanx.

At the other end are those who consider themselves so irreplaceable that they are secured a place in government whoever steps into Downing Street.  If they appear too partisan in favour of one favoured candidate then they can still fall, but it may be safe to speak kindly of several and vote for a popular no-hoper, like Rory Stewart, and wait for the call to carry on as before.  (They still have to avoid being seen speaking for a poisonous candidate, an unrepentant Remainer, but until last weekend there was none to avoid.)

The more interesting group are in the middle – those whose future careers depend on whoever wins.  There each must tread carefully.  Amongst these are most ministers, which is why they have been largely silent.  A winner will want dependable supporters around him, and look for enthusiastic partisans – Boris has Liz, who may expect a good cabinet position in return – but if the gamble fails then the backbenches await the fallen.  Buckingham won his titles and estates from the House of York in this way;  and lost them when he overreached himself.

Then there are backbenchers will no hope of promotion unless they catch the eye of a Prime-Minister-to-be, and they just have to pick the right one, the likely winner, and be seen to shout loudest in his favour. If they lose, they slink back to their farms, but if they win then titles and offices are his.

(I should be called to order by our late patron here:  Thomas Hobbes abjures us that:

“they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for, and thereby deceive others.

Therefore I must take care in overreliance on the metaphor and hope that it will not deceive me, nor of course the readers of this piece.”

With that warning in mind, I should no prolong the metaphor too long.  It is Shakespearean though in places, is it not?  Shakespeare watched the ridiculous, dangerous court politics of the Elizabethan ages and saw little men lifted up and great men tumbled down and wrote of the Plantagenet court as if of current affairs.

Whoever then stands on the steps of Downing Street, they will make enemies, from those they have not favoured as they believe they deserve. As Clifford says:

“The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.”

Shakespeare had Warwick say:

“Tell him from me that he hath done me wrong, And therefore I’ll uncrown him ere’t be long.”

– but this time there is no kingmaker.