Celebrate COP26

To celebrate the opening of COP26 we’re holding a big village bonfire: every family bring a  sack of coal and we’ll build it high and wide.

We’ve got burgers and a hog roast laid on, and to mark the internationalism of the event, food from all over the world.

There is so much to be done that everyone can see our commitment. I flew home from Provence for this, and friends and neighbours drove in from their holiday villas. We sent teams around the village to help neighbours to dig up their front gardens and lay down concrete so they have somewhere to charge an electric car, when they get one.

Glasgow holds the hopes of the world, and no one has ever said that before – so we have a festival of Glasgow culture in the local pubs, and sing-songs with the music familiar from the city – the children have learnt this week how ‘Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus’, while the village choir have been practising their Glaswegian choruses concluding “Well the famine is over; why don’t you go home?

As we all roll home, no famine in sight after we’ve roasted a herd on the green, we can be satisfied that this one night we have signalled our virtue so high the fire could be seen from space.  Those meeting in Glasgow are our last best hope for peace (or is that Babylon 5?). I hold in my mind the motto which this village has always stood by: ‘Any excuse for a good nosh-up’.

Postscript

That you to all who took part, and who made it such a memorable night. We went away maybe not with a wider appreciation of issues but certainly wider personally. That is what it is all about.

Thank you also to the Fire Brigade for joining in the fun after you had finished putting out the trees and the grass, and The Lodge. Without you, we would have a less of a village this week, and would not have had the bass section of the singalong. The vigour of your singing will long be with us, and your enthusiasm notwithstanding that the song for Glasgow was not a familiar modern piece: it is old but it is beautiful.

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No-escape Budget

Let the commentators maul it first, then settle down and see what can be rescued. Even so – tax; more tax. What we need for the economy to recover is a Conservative government, after 11 years of whatever we have had.

Is that cynical? Perhaps. Most of the Government’s actions have been Conservative, and allowed enterprise, but the tax burden is a brake on enterprise. It is not just hindering mathematically determined economic growth, but hindering investment in developing innovative techniques which will reduce commercial costs, leading to a reduction of domestic prices. Increasing household income boosts spending, and so growth again. Until the tax burden comes down though, we are just ticking along, with no  development and no end in sight.

There is no escape either as we cannot see a way to vote a tax-cutting Parliament into power.

All that said, there is nothing actually wrong with any of Rishi Sunak’s announcements.  It is the context which is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with budget responsibility rules – even Gordon Brown had those, which he abandoned as soon as he moved next door to Number 10. There is nothing wrong with spending on strategic projects either, and if the usual waste and corrupt mismanagement could be factored out then each of those projects would be a worthy project for the spending in question – if that were all the spending.

Projects end, and budgets end. If government largesse moves from the south to the north, to provide Bury and Barrhead with the infrastructure that the South-East takes for granted, very well and good – as long as it is spending moving north, not duplicated in the north while still being splashed out on overfed areas in the south.

The 0.7% to be sent on overseas aid frustrates many, as waste doing no good. However if we are to take Rishi Sunak at his word, then capital spending should go on creating capital assets – instead of handing money away to ill-disciplined countries’ treasuries, it can be used to acquire assets for mutual benefit. When the Chinese government hands out its billions it is to build ports and railways, either as a secured loan or to acquire the assets, which the Chinese state continues to own and control. That is where the aid should go: acquiring assets to promote trade on true principle, and which can later be sold to investors.

There is plenty of scope for reductions in spending and borrowing outside those areas newly announced: there are no longer millions of pounds of ordnance being exploded all over Afghanistan, there are no furlough subsidy payments, no tributes paid to the coffers of Brussels, and in fact capital payments should be coming back out of the European Investment Bank capital. These savings must not be seen as free money ready to be spent again; they are savings the taxpayer should enjoy, repaying debt and cutting tax, for everyone.

The civil service remains bloated and could be cut by half or more without anyone much noticing the difference in service provided, yet it is still recruiting (and still producing pointless reports which prove the redundancies in the ranks).

All this can be done to stem the waste without troubling a penny of those expansive pledges of this week.

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And hold their manhoods cheap

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;

This day, St Crispin’s day, the 606th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, is as good a time as any to look at who we are, or at least at half of the nation.

Henry V, Shakespeare’s version, knew what he was doing. He knew how to get the best from his men, by encouraging the best of manliness. If anyone had told him there is such a thing as ‘toxic masculinity’, they would be out like the plague they are. Unflinching solidity in duty is part of ones essence, and cowardice is despicable. Injury is not to be wept over but is a badge of honour.

He is perhaps Shakespeare’s favourite character: Henry as a prince, unexpectedly elevated after his father seized the throne (in Richard II), grows from an impetuous young man, the despair of his father, throughout Henry IV Parts I & II to become a mighty king in his own play. Here he consistently, artfully blames others for all his actions: he ensures the French king brings war upon himself, he leads Cambridge, Scroop and Masham to declare that treason must receive no mercy and thus putting their own heads in the noose. This consistent habit of his, which must have annoyed his court, is not an abdication of responsibility but puts his deliberate actions beyond question.  It is not all self-serving either: after victory he does not claim glory but says ‘God, thy hand was here’.

To his court, Henry may have been an enigma, but to his men, he was master of their self-worth. What other king would say:

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

So with one speech he comes down to the philosophy of all the men of Britain gathered there as much for Fluellen, MacMorris and Jamy as for Bardolph and Pistol. By inviting men to leave, expenses paid, looks like separating his men but instead it unites them in one manner and purpose:

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

Did any leave? No, for no man of Britain worthy of the name would do so, for this is the measure of a man.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Those who hide from themselves in glass apartments pretending that they can rise above nature by the modernity of culture and technology will flee from the implications of the speech the Bard puts in King Henry’s mouth, and be ashamed of what it stirs in their hearts, but it is all vanity. Man is man. We understand; we understand.

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The shadow of John Wilkes

The Commons did not want John Wilkes amongst them, but the people had a disreputable habit of electing him. In 1769, the Commons expelled Wilkes three times, and he was re-elected. Never since has the House of Commons tried to pick and choose its own members, until recent years.

The ‘recall’ of members is a recently innovation, and it has generally had public support. It is a limited remedy, unlike its equivalents in America: in places with a ‘recall’ system, no elected official can feel safe to get on with the job when any disgruntled group of residents can call for a vote to remove them, and cause all the personal expense of a new, untimely election campaign. No reason need be given over there.  Here, it is applied only where a Member has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to any time at all in prison however short, or of a false expenses claim, or if he or she has been suspended from sitting for 10 days upon a judgment of the Orwellian-sounding Committee on Standards.

This is a constitutional problem. A crime, judged by due process of law, by rules of evidence and procedure and heard by an impartial judge and jury is cut and dried. It is understandable that a lawmaker should not be a proven lawbreaker in a serious degree. You must question whether a short sentence should behave such a dramatic effect, but at least the judgment is  an unimpeachable public condemnation. However just breaking an internal rule, made by politicians, judged by politicians, and with a miniscule sanction; that allows the Commons to pick and choose its own members.

John Wilkes may be stirring in his grave.

The recall procedure, it may be objected, is not so simple: after the Speaker certifies that the condition is met, it still needs a petition by 10% of the constituency electorate to trigger a by-election, and the cast-out MP can stand again, as Wilkes did. That is form though, not reality. Any party organisation worth its salt can arrange a 10% petition against their opponent, stopping people in the street with lurid tales if necessary, so the by-election should be considered a foregone conclusion. Then if the recalled MP stands again, he or she is damaged goods, trailing accusations and a proven conviction. The initial trigger then is as good as expelling the MP.

The pettiness of what can topple an MP is astounding, in constitutional terms: a year in prison is fair enough, but misclaiming expenses?  This came from the manufactured scandal current at the time, and should pass away as that enthusiasm has. I have never been in the happy position of having an expense account to  play with, but it begs one to push it to the limit and beyond. Judging right and wrong and convicting by so much as a hair’s breadth should not topple an MP. If it is theft, then let him or her be tried and meet the barrier of one-year of imprisonment, and if the judge will not judge it so harshly, let the accused resume his constituency duties.

Suspension  from sitting should never trigger the procedure. It is to put an MP’s position at the mercy of internal rules and an internally appointed committee of politically opposing members.

When the Recall of MPs Act was passed, it was condemned as a constitutional outrage by some Members, and they showed foresight in this. There is talk of expanding its scope – that would be  real outrage.

The focus now is Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn in Flintshire.  I will not say he is a pleasant man, and in private I will say much worse. John Wilkes too was a most disreputable scoundrel. If one is not willing though to defend those who disgust, one is not willing to defend any principle, as principles are impartial.

Wilkes was a libertine, a member of the Hellfire Club, a slanderer, a writer and publisher of obscenities – and he was hailed in his time as a beacon of liberty: “Wilkes and Liberty!” was a popular cry. Sometimes it is the worst of men who are the best champions for mankind.

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The silence; the shock

There are no adequate words for such a deed. A family weeps, a community weeps. That someone should strike in such a way against a husband and father, against the community and against democracy itself: it is not who we are.

Back in the different world that was 1983, Margaret Thatcher’s future was in the balance – the catastrophic economic conditions of her first years in office were not forgiven by many, but the J-curve had been passed, the economy was beginning to soar, and the euphoria of the Falklands victory was glowing in a newly confident nation, but still a nation with problems. The General Election held the future of the nation in balance, and no one knew what would happen.  Then as the first results came in, it was Basildon, working-class Basildon, and they elected a Conservative, which signalled the landslide that was coming. The harbinger of that landslide, Basildon’s fresh-faced young, smiling MP, was David Amess. He became a symbol of that night and of the new breed of Conservatives.

A face of the confident 1980s, David Amess served in Parliament long past that decade, never being appointed to ministerial office, being too much the backbencher, principled, keeping governments in line and speaking as a Member of Parliament should but as few do. He drew praise from all who knew him, frustration from his opponents, and worked hard, very hard, for all the causes, local and national, he turned his hand to.

That he should be struck down like this, in the course of his service, is too unspeakable. Ours is not  land where this can happen – but the wounds from the murder of Jo Cox six years ago are still raw, and Stephen Timms still bears the scars of an attempted murder that echoes yesterday’s. These murders and that attack were an attack upon democracy, utterly alien to all our nation has stood for. Since the creation of the United Kingdom, only nine MPs have been murdered in office: one yesterday, for motives we can guess, one five years ago by a nationalist, one two hundred years before by a mad bankrupt, and six by Irish nationalists. It is rare, very rare, and still too common.

Perhaps there is no way to predict when a solipsistic mania will seize a man and drive him to murder. One thing is certain – if it ever happens again, it must never cease to be less than utter outrage.

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