Jump off the bandwagon

Who needs conspiracies when you have the Local Government Chronicle?  Who would have thought that ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ would be a good idea, let alone that officers in every council would actively pursue them widely across their areas?

This is just the latest runaway bandwagon. I lose track of how many there have been over the last decade. Sometimes they are cancerous growths uncontrollably erupting out of a passing thought from government. Sometimes they are homegrown from the fevered imagination of a bored local government officer. All it takes is for the idea to be given a name and a supporting article and then to be circulated. The original context will soon be forgotten as the idea, which is now a technical term, takes on a life of its own. The Local Government Chronicle or any of several niche sectorial publications is a good way to publicise an idea to seek validation from ones peers. A suggestion may be read as a command. The very act of publication lends authority, which the idea might or might not deserve.

These initiatives I have in mind are not the political ones dreamed up by politicians making a political points in spite of the needs of their residents, or seeking a few inches in the local paper. Those are well known and obvious. The pernicious bandwagon ideas are those invented by administrators themselves, local and national, and spread like the plague across the country.

An idea which is current will be considered. It is a principle of local administration in particular that if an idea is current there is a duty, considered as a legal duty, to consider it and try to fit it in somehow. Opposition from politicians or residents can be dismissed as ignorant: they have not read the paper, after all.

The point is, that ideas circulated amongst councils can be good ides that answer many a problem, the circulation of which is of the greatest benefit to localities everywhere. They can also be very bad ideas, just written in convincing language, which will cause endless damage. They may also be ideas suitable at one time and in one place, for a particular concept, the originator or which deserves praise, but which in another place or context is a disastrous initiative. There is no duty to further them or even to consider them: only a duty to serve the residents competently and to their benefit.

It takes a nimble imagination to distinguish between the appropriate and the madcap, and administrative officers are not known for their nimbleness of mind (for reasons much explored in other articles here, and which will be again no doubt). They should stop and climb off a bandwagon going the wrong way

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Who are hypocrites?

It is not a word a thinking man should use freely. The unclassifying mind hurls it as an allegation broadly.

In Leviathan, Hobbes uses the term but four times (and once in De Cive), each in the Christian or Jewish religious context. The origin in our language is from the Gospels, in the great sermons in which Jesus condemns those Pharisees and teachers of the law who practise outward signs of piety but fail to live a life of actual sanctity.

That this man, hated of the Pharisees (whose false doctrine and hypocriticall sanctity he had reproved) and by their means, of the People accused of unlawfull seeking for the Kingdome, and crucified, was the true CHRIST, and King promised by God,

The word used in the original Greek that has come down to us is ‘ὑποκριται‘, and that word does not mean what we think it does: it is not a philosophical or theological technical term but is Greek for ‘play-actors’.

Greek drama was very different from ours. Their playwrights were just as skilled, and I would hold out Aristophanes as equal to many of our own, but the performance was of static oration by an actor with a mask in front of his face. The mask, not the actor, was the character, the image or portrait, χαρακτηρ, of the man portrayed (or as the Romans called it, the persona). The origin of the Greek word for a stage actor, ὑποκριτής, is in words for ‘pronounce from under’; in short, to orate from behind a mask.

In the Gospels then, those Pharisees who were all portrayal and no action were ὑποκριται, actors speaking another’s lines from behind a carefully constructed mask.

There will have been many of the Pharisee party in those days who were genuine, who had real love for God and for their neighbour, practising charity and mercy, but it is a lot easier just to put on a show, to set out rules and visibly follow those rules as on a rail along a straight road (even if as a result you pass the needy by on the other side of the road). Today we would call it ‘virtue signalling’.

A life fully according to the law and the prophets, and the Gospel, is impossible. It is easier to whiten the sepulchre so it is at least bright and clean outside as a show for other, and turn your mind from the rottenness within.

Modernity uses the word ‘hypocrite’ too loosely. It is an unanswerable condemnation where any variance from ones pronouncements triggers a tri-syllabic denunciation. Looking back to the origin of the term, restricting it to that context, should restrain the accusing mouth. Anyone can live up to a narrow set of rules he himself has invented and can amend, but how many of those accusers would live up to the standards of the Gospel?

The leading theme of Christianity is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and must struggle towards amending ourselves, seeking an unearned forgiveness. We will not find perfection. We must strive for it. In doing so if we scorn as a hypocrite, as a masked actor, one who is striving but has failed in some respect, it is to speak from behind our own mask.

Condemning others for failings is a positive act nevertheless. If there is no condemnation from others, there is little motive to improve. The prophets condemned others in fierce terms, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist, and accepted it when God condemned them in turn for their own failings. Jesus condemned the wicked, and forgave the penitent. The apostles too had harsh words for sinners. They knew their own imperfections though.

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Books

MP: vital importance of my Bill

One MP chosen in the Private Members ballot explained the vital importance of his Bill introduced last week.

The MP, whose name we have already forgotten says the Virtue (Signalling) Bill 2021 will ensure that the government must “give property priority to getting my name in the local paper”. The unnamed MP says that he (or she; we forget) sees in the Bill a vital opportunity to put on a serious face in the newspaper, and may lead even to two minutes on the regional news.

Taking to us earlier, the MP explained that the subject of the Bill is one of vital interest to a key demographic amongst swing voters in the constituency without hurting anyone else, and by demanding that the Government must take action to do something it is already doing, it will ensure he (or she) takes the credit for the success of the campaign.

“There are”, he (or she) said, “people in my constituency for which this subject is a concern and they both need to see that I am on the case and I am on their side thinking about it, whatever I said to them that morning in the library last Saturday when I was tired. They say the subject of the Bill is impossible: but what I always say about the ‘impossible’ is that it is the only thing worth going for. If there is a danger that the Government will agree then I will not get all the air time I deserve, but if it is actually so impossible that they refuse, then I can be seen to hold their feet to the flame, on page 5 of the local free paper.”

This MP is not the only Member who was fortunate in the private members’ ballot: twenty MPs won the time to speak in the House of Commons on their chosen subject. Each one has been practising his serious face for the news. Each one will be hoping, against experience that their Bill will get through and be chosen to appear on the news for two minutes just before the weather. Rivalry is intense.

Reading between the worry lines

Delay unnecessary, unwanted delay. Polls suggest it is popular, but the effects will not be. Data demands a full opening up, to end the Lockdown, but it is not to be, at least not completely.

Why, we can guess. It is not following the data, but avoiding the blame in the unlikely event that anything goes wrong. It is not running a country by running scared.

A loud battle has been fought this month by rival press releases from lockers and from openers. It is blatant. The headline writers love it: an obscure medic somewhere wanting publicity can make dire predictions and be plastered over the front pages under a headline along the lines “Government must keep lockdown forever or millions will die”; the sort of hysterics that made the Remainiacs so laughable in previous years, and just as accurate. Then it is snapped back by someone facing bankruptcy unless his business is permitted to allow customers back in, and each story phrased as if it were an official announcement.

There is no sense to it any more. If before the first lockdown the figures for infections and hospitalisations had been those we are seeing today, then idea of locking us up and closing businesses would have seemed madness, for such a petty outbreak.

We are being shown today charts with a dotted line climbing and the question “if this rate continues…”, but it cannot continue, as the medical profession well knows, because the population has reached herd immunity, through vaccination and infection. The climbing figures will be found to be amongst those who have refused vaccination, who happen to be from the same cultural community most directly in touch with the Indian variant. That is a limited pool. They should be cared for and isolated as individuals. They are not going to take us back to the height of the epidemic though.

There is still an opportunity to rescue the nation from the damage of a delayed opening. They could just drop the whole nonsense and open up on 21 June as planned. They could leave a local lockdown in place in the most affected areas. They could remove most of the restrictions on Monday, and leave a few that they are most reluctant to let go. They could exempt from all rules those who have been double-vaccinated.

Continuing restrictions will be largely ineffective anyway, as we will largely ignore them. In the meantime as it drags into the holiday season, seasonal businesses (which make a profit only in July and August) will collapse, unnecessarily and all because of a minister’s cowardice.

The motive for continued restriction is not of principle nor science, but fear of personal criticism. That is a corrupt way to govern.

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Books

You dirty, double-crossing chatty rat

What are they playing at? What is the insane psychology going on behind this? It is bad enough that Labour can make play with innuendo about cosy deals to slurp on taxpayers’ money (which turned out to be untrue) then to find gossip, leaks, internal accusations and all sort falling out of Number 10 just as major elections are about to be held. Whose side are they on?

There may be nothing to the gossip, but it just has to sound bad, and down tumble the approval ratings, and they are tumbling.

It is a matter of trust. The public do not trust politicians without good reason to do so, and when that trust is shattered, then all the false narrative stereotypes about greedy Tories and snouts in the trough, they come out in force, liberated from their den. The Red Wall rises again.

So, who was in Number 10 when Boris started bawling at his advisers for being too ready to lockdown again? Unless the cleaner was walking by, it can only have been civil servants, ministers and SPADs. Civil servants are oath-bound not to interfere with politics, and ministers and SPADs are Conservatives, so they should be doing their damnedest to protect the reputation of a Conservative Government.

Instead, the SPADs have been gossiping and telling tales like a girls’ fifth form.

Did anything go through their heads? Did they not know that every bad story knocks points of the polls, and pushes the awful Keir Starmer towards Downing Street, and boosts Nicola?

There are said to be deadly rivalries and with such a bunch of supercharged political egos personality clashes and feuds are inevitable. Some may convince themselves that a word in the right ear will topple a rival, or dethrone Carrie. Some may seek to influence Boris. Most likely, they are just immature extroverts who want to boast about their own importance to their ‘friends; in the media, and see their words in print. They might self-rationalise that as duty to country, but it comes down to being schoolgirl gossips. Whatever thoughts they have about what hey do, it just weakens Boris, maybe fatally, and without Boris there will be no Conservative government in a couple of years. The papers have already latched on to the similarities with late-Major.

All this damage is done by chatty rats who are meant to be working for the Conservatives. It’s like sending an army into battle to defend the life of the nation, only to find the Green Howards instead attacking their rivals in the Scots Guards.

The Last Emperor of China lost his throne because of incurable rivalries and corruption amongst the eunuchs in his court. Eventually, when his kingdom was shrunk to the walls of the Forbidden City, he drove them out. The SPADs in a sensible world would be driven out in ignominy too (whether as eunuchs is up to Boris). Then again, we have found a SPAD spurned can be even more dangerous. You have to ask whether the worst are kept on just out of fear.

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