Quite enjoying the Cancel Culture, actually

An empty diary. Everything is cancelled – cultural, sporting and social events, even those due after the lockdown must have finished: no village revels, no funfair, and also no Tolethorpe, no Edinburgh Festival, no Party Conference: I don’t need to make an excuse to avoid any of them.

No canvassing over the spring was a relief. No meetings for any of the bodies whose committees I seem to have been strong-armed into, no AGMs. Many were not cancelled but just sort of wandered off.

You might have come to this article thinking I was talking about the ‘Cancel Culture’ about which other commentators fume: the cowardice in the great institutions finding any petty excuse or none to cancel appearances by people they dislike politically, and yes, that is the usual meaning of ‘cancel culture’. I am not sure that it is much different, as the months go on. Organising a big event is wearying, sapping at the soul and always with the risk of disaster and the criticism that comes with it. They must welcome an opportunity to cancel the event and get it out of their hair. I would. The Wuhan coronavirus is a wonderful opportunity.

You wondered why there was little resistance from the clergy to the closure of churches? It must be a relief to have the time off, and a videoed sermon does the job.

So we are back home. No church children’s summer club to organise this year, even after the lockdown ends? Oh, such a disappointment! No garden parties to run, no quizzes to set, no lengthy financial reports to deliver to critical members. Wuhan? Woo-hoo! And no bookings to take and organise (so now I find that I have evenings, with the family).

I still work of course, and frequent the plague pits of London – I quite miss the early lockdown when there was nothing to fill the day but gardening, DIY, country walks and terror about the future.

Now the lockdown is ending. There have been enquiries about bookings. Meetings and functions though are still all off for the foreseeable future, until we are all really, really sure. With such an excuse to shun those endless social responsibilities, I am in no hurry.

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Oxford Street begins to reawaken

It is a start. Not so long since, the major shopping street of the West End was silent, empty, and even at what should have been peak times there may have been just one or two souls visible on it, not using the vast emporia ranged along it but just taking it as a way for exercise, not even ‘a way between the one tavern and the one shop that leads nowhere and fails at the top’ as there was no tavern open nor shop.

Then this week they appeared: the shoppers, absent before, now in multiples. Shops have opened – not all of them by any means, but some – expressing a piety about social distancing that most of us gave up months ago, and little queues are seen along the pavements (except for those little, practical shops we know where they take these things is a better spirit and let us get on with buying things, but say not a word).

However the shops are still starved of their due.

Commuters are few:  the trains even in the rush hour carry a mere drizzle passengers, and even those lines where I would usually be crushed in the door, my face pressed against the glass, are carrying just a few per carriage. On the journeys into town all are now in masks in a variety of styles from the clinical to the black professional to those that would not seem out of place being fumbled on hurriedly in a trench at Ypres – masks that are whipped off though for long mobile conversations or a good coughing fit, on trains provided in a fitful, lackadaisical manner.

The customers are not coming. Without them, the shops will die. They need the commuters and they need those who just come into the big town for a shopping trip or a gawp, but they will not come when any doubt is a hesitation is a cancellation. The Chinese are absent too, and their credit cards. It will be a lean summer.

Much could be clawed back if the pubs and restaurants were open again. People with open wallets will not come in from the suburbs and the farther towns if they have to go home again for lunch and the loo, but tempt them to stay all day and into the evening and the tills will ring: the closure of pubs, cafés and restaurants does not just beggar their owners but all the shops in the town.

On that sector of the economy the rest hinges. Licensing rules then should be under the spotlight: if the government are still afeared to open everything, then councils can at least allow the most entrepreneurial bar-owners and restaurateurs to open in new ways. They have started to do so in Westminster, apparently to the horror of the council’s jacks-in-office, by opening up on the street and serving eager customers by waiter service or through hatches.  Good for them.

Licences can be flexible. In the old days, you were either allowed to open or not, with a single sheet of paper as a licence and everyone had the same rules and so everyone was banned from novelty.  The reformed system is thanks to Mr Blair’s team (and I rarely say that) and it gives almost infinite flexibility through the imposition of detailed conditions appropriate to the business, premises and location. Councils as licensing authorities early on allowed take-away service where there had been none, and that is a good start, but what else do proprietors want to be able to do? They must listen and react, and grant temporary alterations to licensing conditions, or at least letters of comfort about non-enforcement of the more stringent conditions if that is what it takes.

We need to hear the roar return, from the bars and the restaurants, and as soon as can be, the theatres. Small towns may be working again, but the great cities which are the great workhouses of the national economy, work to a different dynamic and for them, the politicians should come to a realisation that it is no use reopening the shops unless you reopen the stream of customers.

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We are better than this

This is not Weimar Germany, and the ugly scenes on the streets of our cities need not be the precursor to the overthrow of state and society which happened there. In 1920s Germany, the new republic was a patched-together job which served for the moment, but many imagined its replacement by one system or other – a return of the old order or one of the rival brands of socialism. That is when the street battles began.

Last week, Konstantin Kisin in a Twitter thread (not a fixed article, which is disappointing) set out a likely course of events following the communist attacks on monuments that week.  It was grim reading but at once began to be proven accurate: the backlash by skinhead groups, the differential coverage by the media (“27 police hurt in largely peaceful protest” v “27 police inured by far-right violence”), reaction, counter-reaction and so it goes on, as long as the sun is shining and there are no jobs to go to.

It all begins to look familiar from the history books of a hundred years ago, which shows that humanity has not changed, nor has humanity changed since the Palaeolithic clans battled over rule of the tribe and their own visions of the future.

The seduction practised by the rival political gangs of 1920s Germany was a simple one:  so to dominate newspaper and radio coverage that change to one version of socialism or the other seemed inevitable. It was no longer a law-and-order issue, even for a nation so keen on order; it was the feeling of inevitability.  The Weimar state was a system in which few believed, and disorder indicated that its end was close, so it was just a question of choosing a side.  The Nazis played it well as the team to join if you opposed the Communists who wanted to destroy everything: it must have been easy to turn a blind eye to the foul stuff they preached just to dispose of the Communists, or to think they could never do the unthinkable. It gained the earlier Nazis a following of admirers at home and abroad, who dropped away very quickly when they learned something of the truth, but by then it was too late.

The street-fighting was between two brands of socialists – the international socialists and the national socialists. Their dual monopoly, the desire to end the violence however it could be done and the feeling of inevitability sapping away at the soul worked its way and placed one set of murderous socialists on top, though it could as easily have been the other.

There may have been genuine grievances to be exploited skilfully by each side, but the activists are there to exploit, not support, like the abuser who claims to like kittens in order to get his feet under the table. Honestly intended marches expressing despair about the treatment of individuals because of their race were exploited the same way. We must not confuse the slogan with the motive though – those who tore the statue down have not wish to heal racial division but to expand and exploit it.

It is, as Hobbes described, part of “a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death“.

A history book is not a good guide to every future. This is not Weimar Germany with its air of unreality and the temporary: we are in Britain and the House of Commons, when it meets, contains a stonking majority of the ‘party of law and order’. Now it needs to make itself felt.

The necrosis of political society comes in the deceit that one must choose sides, from a choice of just two, when both are evil. In truth, there is a third side, namely common freedom under the law.

A memorandum was issued last week by Oliver Dowden. Secretary of State for Culture, Media and for some reason Sport, which was a masterclass in government not politics. It did not take a side on the issue of statues and plaques but recited the law: private property, listed structures, planning permission, due process etc. In short, ask for statues to be removed if you wish, but there are necessary procedures and owners may not agree, and if you do not get your wish, to keep or to topple, you accept that and may not take the law into your own hands.

In the circumstances, the Dowden memorandum is the perfect stand to take, as it asserts simply the rule of law, which is the side we should all be on. A political response might have been one like that issued by Emmanuel Macron in France that his republic “will not erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues” – yes, a good, laudable stance and one I could stand behind, a retort to the destroyers – but the fundamental issue is not the likenesses in bronze but the rule of law, which is equally capable of removing a statue as of protecting one, but all according to due process.

Unless there is enforceable law, then the only rule is the force of the strongest gang on the street. Then you do have to choose sides, or form your own.

In the meantime, until it starts to rain and cools the ardour of the fighting youths, there are two sets of indistinguishable thugs facing off in the streets, but we choose neither: we choose law and order.

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Ochlocrats

I need not write yet another article on the idiocy behind the felling of statues – enough have been written, and more will come. Collaboration with lawlessness is more serious. Every age has outbreaks of ochlocracy; the rule of the mob, but authorities in league with the rioters? That is a modern disease, and it is deadly to democracy and to society itself.

Riots happen, and mob come together for the release it gives them, whatever the excuse. In past centuries it might be a section of the rootless poor with nothing to lose (hated by most of their fellows, who understand the need for order). Now we have rootless middle-class thugs, with one idea, if that, in the heads, and hatred spewing from every pore. This was the same contingent who burned Paris in ’68, but in 1968 the authorities and the respectable media were on the side of law and order: today as often the rioters have confederates in office.

With a small state, there is control over who is entrusted with power. The modern sprawling bureaucracies are a playground for activists with agendas. There is no conspiracy – there does not have to be – it just needs lots of seemingly innocuous positions to be filled by the sort of people who want the power they bring, to use for their own purposes, and for appointment panels to be staffed by cultural Marxists or those who are frightened to oppose the cultural Marxists. In this way the mindless, nihilist Marxists on the streets can know that there is no will to fight them. They have not won public opinion nor can they ever win an election, but they have power which bypasses democracy.

The Long March Through The Institutions has succeeded, in spite of the public will, in spite of democracy, and it is entrenching itself. The rioters are irrelevant really but provide a focus and an excuse for their collaborators in office to do what they wanted to do anyway. They are the ochlocrats.

(If I sound angry; I am. To hear my mother in law cowering in terror in her quiet country town, which has few policemen if any, because a mob of urban, white students have descended upon the town to take over the streets, scream their hatred and destroy the town’s soul, and nothing is done to oppose them – I am angry.)

For the woke thugs, the idea of personal autonomy must feel liberating, and the belief of utter rightness relieves one of the discomfort of having to think, while providing an internal justification for rebellion. It is not modern though: Hobbes, who had been through the Civil War described exactly that as one of the fatal diseases of a commonwealth:

To which may be added, the Liberty of Disputing against absolute Power, by pretenders to Politicall Prudence; which though bred for the most part in the Lees of the people; yet animated by False Doctrines, are perpetually medling with the Fundamentall Lawes, to the molestation of the Common-wealth; like the little Wormes, which Physicians call Ascarides.

We may further adde, the insatiable appetite, or Bulimia, of enlarging Dominion; with the incurable Wounds thereby many times received from the enemy; And the Wens, of ununited conquests, which are many times a burthen, and with lesse danger lost, than kept; As also the Lethargy of Ease, and Consumption of Riot and Vain Expence.

The disease of the state in having these ochlocrats in power will prove fatal unless drastic action is taken. It need not be what Franco did, however tempting that may be in the restless small hours, but tumbling as many as can be found out of office is needed. Make Joseph McCarthy look timid and slow.

Remember too that many of these dull officials doing the rioters’ bidding act that way not because they are fellow-travellers, but out of fear. Lift that fear then: burst open the Overton window, sack the ranks of driven ‘diversity officers’. Search the lists of daft ‘woke’ decisions, track them to their sources and hurl the guilty parties out. For those who try to get their fellow workers sacked for dissent, discipline and dismiss. (Let them find jobs in the commercial sector like the rest of us, where they might learn something of reality.) Lift the fear and allow honest decision-makers to shine and to do their duty.

One immediate thing can be done though: end the lockdown at once. It has already been ended by the crowds on the street, which has undone months of work. During the lockdown, the world is weird and nothing is normal. The structure of life is gone. It encourages the thought that anything might happen, and it might. Testosterone-filled youth are growing listless, bursting for action. Normality will begin to calm it down, just as routines soothe madness. We desperately need normality.

If the Government, those who are meant to be in charge, do not do this, do not take back control, then they are resigning their own authority to the ochlocrats. They should remember the dire warning Hobbes gave against assuming that the name of government means anything when it ceases to be real:

The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord

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The dawn is coming after night

The lockdown is ending, willy-nilly, planned or unplanned. The nation is beginning to come to life in places. The roads are becoming busy in the towns. More shops which had no need to close are opening. Others wait, ready. Some pubs and chipshops cannot let customers in, but have found e-businesses eager to take a share, with deliveries.

Here, the parish council found it did not need the army of volunteers it recruited – I was never called on once. They might soon take down the odd annoyingly unscientific rainbow poster. Their poster rainbow has three stripes, of yellow, blue and red: that is not a rainbow , it is the Miranda flag as used by Venezuela, a country of endless bread queues, shortages, empty shops, crushing unemployment, where the police harass innocent people on the street. Actually they may have a point.

Shops are now reopening locally, not all, but enough, and DIY shops and gardening centres.

Still, London is a ghost-town, which shows how artificial it was in the first place. Oxford Street, once packed shoulder-to-shoulder with shoppers and gawpers is like an abandoned town of the Old West. The life has gone out of it because all these businesses are interrelated: the shops are mainly deemed non-essential (and non-affordable to be honest). In normal days, customers come to the shops and dip into the cafes and pubs. The food shops are permitted to open but their customers, the office workers and shop workers, are forbidden from coming to them. A little beyond, the theatres are standing empty, and even if cafés and restaurants are opened, they are fed by the theatre crowds and so until the theatres reopen, they are going bankrupt.

A little loosening will bring the beginnings of life, the glimmerings of dawn, but until the roar of commerce begins in its full vigour, all will suffer, even those businesses nominally permitted to open.

All for one disease that is passing, and causing harm to families most affected, while the lockdown is harming every family.

There is though some hope that the powers that be are relenting. House arrest has ended. The sombrero has been squashed and we are running down the other side. Dr Lockdown has been forced to resign – but how his XR-supporting mistress must have glowed when he closed the economy, but now his power is gone and we have just timid politicians in charge, with more normal scientists. We are now told the alert is now down form ‘4’ to ‘3’ and await hearing what that actually means.

Outside London the streets are filling again and people are no longer avoiding each other as they did. Masks are no longer the fashion accessory du jour. It is ending whether the Government is ready or not. It will be over when the village pub reopens and the street cafés buzz again as crowds spill from the dizzying theatres, when office workers from Dover to Dundee go out in herds every lunchtime for sandwiches and presents for their wives and husbands, when tourist cramp shoulder-to-shoulder along the Royal Mile pouring down from the castle and the shopkeepers reap a prosperous harvest from their pockets.

I hear the gathering roar in the distance as the crowd presses against the door, creaking and ready to buckle. Give my liberty and we have prosperity.

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