The maddening of a paper MP

A year since in a constituency far from the leafy shires, in the old Red Wall, maybe a committee sat to choose their candidate for parliament. A Conservative committee, sitting maybe at the depth of Theresa May’s misfortunes but in any case facing when they knew: an election where Labour’s man would walk in on the backs of votes inherited over generations.

Such a Conservative Association, in an apparently hopeless seat, is not like those in the solid-blue constituencies; the latter are gatherings of all the ultra-respectable pillars of society (and at least outwardly respectable ones too) attuned to the tasks of governing with calm moderation. Those in towns where Labour or Snoopy dominate are fighting constituencies: raw and blunt, set not to govern but to maul like tigers without the need to take responsibility, for there is no responsibility without power.

To choose a candidate in a deep-blue town is to choose a high-flying achiever or a sound and (outwardly) respectable man, or woman. Where the candidate is paper candidate, you may choose a pugnacious man, a low and dirty fighter, knowing he will never sit in the Commons.  Then came December 2019. The political map changed. The Red Wall fell and suddenly a number of low-and-dirty fighters found themselves unexpectedly, bewilderedly as the Honourable Member for Wherever.

All their plans for the year ahead were lost. Their lives were wrenched off their courses. They were drawn unwillingly out of their familiar post-industrial home towns and sent to London and told to wear a suit and to follow not their usual fighting instinct but the directions of a whip.

Each new MP, they tell me, suffers from imposter syndrome, wandering around looking for who is in charge but realising it is them and they cannot get rid of that responsibility.  For those who knew they would be there, they will have had time to prepare, but the accidental MP may be more lonely than them all.

There is a lot written about the midlife crisis: this is that crisis a hundredfold. All that passed before: is it a mistake?  Is there time to change his life before it is too late?  How does he regain the vigour of youth just as he most needs it?

Drear and dangerous thoughts fill the brain. Reckless action may recommend itself to cure the shortness of time, while the new responsibilities of office weigh down and the expectations of the eager constituents who elected him should not be disappointed; or should they be, as a way to get out of this pickle in five years’ time? The temptation is there to blow it all, but a politician clings to office by instinct, and lurches between the comfort of the settled position and power, and the trying of the walls of that security with couched recklessness.

Every man, and woman, is different, but all are men and women. As the paper MP looks about him, at his new, unwanted life, might he not reassess the end of his constant fighting and the long time yet ahead of him? He sits like the retired warrior lords of old “Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race” and dreaming of ways to recapture past vigour: that she no longer conjures the violence of passion of the newly-wed years has turned many a man of that age to look for that spark elsewhere, with youthful flesh or in some cases to blame their lost vigour on all femininity supposing that it might be found on the other side of humanity, which would explain the number of middle-aged wives cast aside as their husband starts dressing in pink. The sudden change of a political life may be just such a shock, and indeed politicians are over-represented in that change.

Little by little the old life is cast away; “’Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows”; little by little new horizons are explored, to the damage of all around, and as each frontier passes without incident or is covered up by the whips and that spark of youth is still not found, more are explored, probed, to find the limit “It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles”; but in truth they are far behind.

Youth cannot return. This is part of the truth of life for every man. Instead, life can be enriched with new frontiers that are the gifts of God not the traps of the Devil, but it takes a wise and discerning man to discover which are which, and those thrust into their seat unexpectedly from the fighter’s corner may not have that wisdom nor discernment; those were not qualities for which they were chosen.

Now is the time for the man to decide his fate, to heaven or to hell. For the Honourable Member for Wherever, these changes of manner are not done in the shadows as he is now a public figure, and the whip’s notebook fills, and a quiet word is passed that the world is about to crash about his ears in a manner more terrible than the mere inevitable slipping away of youth and the expected life. Now is the time, as our whole life is an unending series of ‘now’, and no change in life is so great a change as it seems.

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New party leader! And?

Another day, another LibDem party leader. The news wires have been hot with the news: Ed Davey has been chosen, at last, at long last, as the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and edits are wiring back to ask “Who is he?” and “Liberal Who?” Such is the fate of a forgotten party.

There should be room for the Liberal Democrats: they or rather their predecessors the Liberal Party were one of the duopoly of parties which held government in strength before the Great War, and now the lunacies dominating the Labour Party are manifest to all that ought to mean that Labour are the ones squeezed out and the Liberals favoured to rise, but it has not happened, and in the meantime in a search for relevance the LibDems have become a satire of themselves: democrats to a degree beyond decency except where they do not like the result, but liberal? Wanting to ban and tax everything in sight is not liberal in a way Gladstone would have recognised (though even he had his moments; it comes with that arrogant assumption of ones one righteousness).

There is a need for a party which just echoes Guardian headlines without engaging reason or moderation, as a sump for people of that turn of mind, but such a party will just have to stay where the LibDems are.

It is a pity to see them become like this, because an actual liberal party might lighten the vigour of debate. The current lot are not that – if that greatest of liberals, John Stuart Mill himself, were to rise up and speak to them, he would be condemned, trolled, barred and no-platformed.

Still, they are there, and they have been choosing a leader. Had Layla Moran won it, the one who wanted to ban Easter eggs, then the Liberal Democrats could have risen to the height of the funniest act at the end of the pier, but instead they chose a traditional leader – one who can sound normal.

So who is Ed Davey – Sir Ed Davey indeed? Well, he was a minister in the coalition government in charge of climate change – it is not clear whether he was tasked with changing the climate or just managing it, but the climate did not change noticeably which makes you wonder what he was doing with his ministerial salary. Since then he has basically been looking after the Liberal Democrats between leaders, which has been remarkably frequent. I suppose the members thought he ought to be given the job he has been doing for years. I expect that he is clever and better still knows how to sound clever, but we are unlikely to find out.

He can give him a moment in the sun, then all is forgotten – go back to your constituencies and – well – you might as we stay there.

If anyone does come up with a genuine, sensible new Gladstonian Liberal Party, good luck to him, or her. For now, the headline has already become chip-wrapping and so we pass on.

Ban ‘Jerusalem’? Yes: long overdue

The BBC can’t get anything right these days. The flurry today may have been an exercise in misdirection, but it showed up the angry divisions in society, as if we needed to be reminded of them. I love the patriotic songs lifting the spirit, but Jerusalem I would lose without hesitation.

The BBC organise the Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, and have done every peacetime year since Henry Wood founded them. Today’s scandal broke from unofficial sources; a claim that the Beeb were to ban forever the famous patriotic songs which characterise the Last Night of the Proms. All hell broke loose. Actually this may have been a fake story, a softener before they revealed that the music would be there but not sung, because of the possible coronavirus risk.

A year without Rule, Britannia at full volume is unthinkable, and we must have Land of Hope and Glory belted out with gusto in the Royal Albert Hall or there has indeed been a revolution against us, the right-thinking people of the nation. They are grand, patriotic songs wrapped in the Union Jack that lift the spirit and remind us, in spite of all the vandals are trying to do, that Britons are a great nation and that we shaped and continue to shape the world and we can feel very glad about it.

(I saw this evening that Land of Hope and Glory sung by Vera Lynn has reached Number 1 in the download charts: it might restore my faith in the taste of the public.)

However one of the Proms songs, Jerusalem, or And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time, should be ditched forever.

It is not one that comes under the usual woke condemnation: it is not imperial or racial or whatever other boo-words they usually use to tag things that might make them think. It has a soaring tune by Parry – one of his best, and it is a cracker to listen to because of that tune. However the words – they pretend to be a hymn but are a disgrace to theology and although Jerusalem is a very popular song and has been used as a hymn ever since it was set to music, it has been banned from many churches because its words are blasphemous nonsense.

The words are a poem by William Blake, one of the weirdest of 19th century poets and painters. He was considered mad in his own age: the calm consideration of his legacy in later years does nothing to dispel that. His ideas were both radical and irrational and he grasped for a spirituality receiving an inspiration unlike that for a prophet and more like that received by the Gadarene Swine.

The poem he wrote which has become the famous ‘hymn’ is based on a mediaeval legend invented to fleece pilgrims out of cash in Glastonbury: the monks, to ‘prove’ how ancient their establishment was claimed that Jesus himself, as a child, came to Somerset and founded the abbey. The story takes the Lord’s name in vain in a most scandalous manner but it drew gullible pilgrims in droves. Blake took that blasphemous legend and made it into a poem, and that is what gets sung at the Proms.

This has been characterised as the only hymn in the book consisting of questions the answer to all of which is “no”. And did those feet..? No they did not. That rather knocks out the whole conceit of the piece.

There is a lot to be set for inspiring listener and the singer to exertions to bring about a paradise on Earth, and the confused mixing up of images from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and from the Book of Kings and from Blake’s fevered imagination has a breathless quality that for that moment makes you feel you can achieve – but it is built on that fatal, ill concept so that to get to the soaring verses about whacking people with swords we are made to sing blasphemous nonsense about Jesus as a bairn in England.

One should also object politically: it sings of England, not Britain. In Blake’s time the word ‘England’ was used to mean the whole of the British isles, but it sits ill today and suggests “there is a special blessing for all who live south of the Tweed – not for Scots though”.

Jerusalem the city has a long history in metaphor, and Hobbes looked at this in the scriptures in forensic detail (and if I every get round to it I will write about that). Blake’s poem though has none of that: it is heretical nonsense and should be cast out at once.

I will enjoy Parry’s tune without the words. If a poet can write better words, freed from Blake’s phrenzy, he may make something which is worthy of Parry’s triumph.

Well, Ofsted: what do you have to say for yourself?

Come in – stand there. I am disappointed in you. Very disappointed. You’ve let me down; you’ve let the school down; and worst of all, you’ve let yourself down.

I had great hopes of you when you joined Ofsted, Libelrisk; you had excellent references from your previous school, and the glowing testimonials appeared genuine, not a way to ensure you moved you on, but now your conduct leaves me lost for words.

The work given to you to accomplished was not hard , which makes your action all the more incomprehensible. We do work our boys hard here and I make no apologies for that, and we will continue to do so, though I must tell you that you will not be here to see it. I expect hard work, but the work entrusted to you, this piece which was brought to my attention, was not hard but you chose to neglect it to the extent that it was barely considered if at all.

Did you feel it beneath your dignity to bend to the task? It is quite clear, as you have admitted, that you got another boy to do your work – a boy from computer sciences. Not content with this copying or should I say, farming out, of your prep, you did not so much as cast an eye over it to see if he had even given the right answers. He had not, as you soon found out when Mr Williamson examined the script.

There is a word for this sort of thing, Libelrisk; a very ugly word.

This is a letter which you are to take to your mother forthwith. It explains why I have spoken to you and that you will not be returning to the school this term, or at all. If you accept the position and behave as a gentleman should, then I will give you a sufficient reference for your new school, and let you be their problem.

Now take the letter and get out.

It’s an anti-social distance, actually

People used to cross the road to avoid me: now they do so as a duty. More worrying than alienation is the new, alien language the lockdown has produced which makes no sense. A shop notice demands “Keep a social distance!”: that means in normal English ‘in close conversational distance’ but in COVID-newspeak was intended to be ‘stay six feet away’. Surely that is an anti-social distance.

Accurate language is important, particularly in uncertain times. Where science is leading discussion, inaccurate or misleading words and phrases take on the borrowed cloak of that science as if they were just as much to be relied on, when in normal times they would just be taken as metaphor or forgivable sloppiness.

To be clear on the immediate example, “social distancing” is correct as describing the act of distancing yourself from others in society, which is to say outside your household, and a “social distance” is no more than the distance you actually stand from someone. It is not a measure of distance: that is deriving phrases backwards as if to write over their true meaning. Other new terms that have come in include “shielding”, which has a general meaning but has now attracted a specialist meaning in the context of lockdown (don’t ask me – I don’t know what it means) and various scientific terms which when used by those outside the specific scientific discipline lose their meaning or are misunderstood. Scientific terms are precise and accurate as terms of art – outside the context they become meaningless and even dangerous.

Hobbes took accuracy of definition to be the first principle of sensible thought and discourse. Failure in definition leads to error or even madness (that is another article). You cannot think about a subject defined by words if you do not understand the meaning of those words, just as you cannot understand the geometry of a circle if you only understand straight lines or the life-cycle of a milch-cow if your only reference is pigs.

Seeing then that Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise Truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or els he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. And therefore in Geometry, (which is the onely Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind,) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them in the beginning of their reckoning.

..

So that in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets; which make those men that take their instruction from the authority of books, and not from their own meditation, to be as much below the condition of ignorant men, as men endued with true Science are above it. For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesse of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary.

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