Open letter to the BBC

May I have some guidance on what you mean in recent political coverage? What is your definition of “right-wing” (or “left-wing”) or “right-wing extremist”? BBC reports have used the term for a disparate variety of characters with little in common.

Thomas Hobbes observed:

“The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words”.

Therefore, if I am to write any more about politics, I need to understand what is meant; and (if I may be so bold) so must the BBC.

You use the same term for collectivist tyrants, for liberal individualists, for social radicals and social conservatives, and for those whose ideas neither you nor I know. This is irrational.

I, at least, could not be described as “right-wing”, according the paradigms in your broadcasts, unless you change the definitions, or have none; in which case who could be safe from accusation?

As the term “right-wing” appears to be your favourite political epithet (the search bar on the BBC website is an eye-opener) it ought to mean something. The term has been used to describe certain of the blood-soaked tyrants of the early twentieth century who had a common philosophy. However you also attach it to those with no philosophy; to those who would seek the violent overthrow of our already fractious society, and to those who seek peacefully, prayerfully to restore it; and to just about any insurgent political movement in Britain or abroad, whatsoever its ideas, at least if some of those ideas might not be shared by the journalist.

This is inconsistent, and it betrays a lack of thought. My concern is that you have not thought about it: labels are a way to avoid thinking. That is unworthy of the BBC and the high standing of its journalists.

To the task though – from the first examples, if fascists are “right-wing” then you have a definition: an ideology which abnegates all personal freedom and in which no one is treated as an individual but accordingly to an arbitrary collective identity imposed on them. That would describe fascism perfectly, by Mussolini’s own definition, and socialism too of course. Then again, last week the BBC consistently described Javier Milei in Argentina as “right-wing populist”, though his declared philosophy is the polar opposite: excessive personal freedom and repugnancy to all forms of collectivism. If he is not “left-wing” either, perhaps by such a definition he is a “centrist extremist”?

Alternatively, you might intend the term to refer to expressions of hatred against classes of people. That is the constant theme of fascists, and of all sorts of socialists too; the more extreme the ideology the more extreme the hatred. The only distinction between them is the content of the graves they fill.

Regrettably, politics is pervaded by hate-fuelled rhetoric, in every party (you should hear LibDems when they get going – they are scandalous). For my own part, I shun hatred, and would prefer respect for all. That is one reason I dropped out of local politics, when I just wanted to serve the public, not attack anyone. From your perspective that might make me a dangerous centrist, and from the perspective of our political class it makes me totally apolitical. I would be content with that.

This has not got us very far with the point of the exercise, which is to define the BBC’s favourite epithet. Stepping back, if the spectrum is between “right-wing” as hate-filled, murderous fascists and “left-wing” as hate-filled, murderous Marxists, that is a spectrum entirely within tyranny, and few people are on it. Where are libertarians, or Tories? Nowhere near that deathly scale, thank goodness.

The term “left-wing” is used of socialists, but even that usage presupposes a single dimension going towards or away from a fixed point defined by Karl Marx. This gives the man and his philosophy too much credit. Marx had one creed amongst countless thousands, and he should not be permitted to define the whole spectrum of politics. He has done enough harm as it is.

If there is no definition then, the word is no concept at all, and no one – not you nor I nor baying politicians – have any business attaching it to anyone at all. I know that journalists need shorthand, but in a respectable publication that shorthand needs some substance, and here there is none.

Hobbes put it bluntly:

“There is yet another fault in the Discourses of some men; which may also be numbred amongst the sorts of Madnesse; namely, that abuse of words, whereof I have spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the Name of Absurdity.”

An undefined label at which you can direct hatred is madness indeed; the sign saying “Kick me” that you feel free to hang on the back of a passing victim. Labels are the tool of the despot and the lazy. As a radical centrist, if that if how you would label me, I refuse imposed labels (including ‘centrist’).

I would hope then that if the phrase “right-wing” ever passes the lips of a BBC journalist or appears on its website, you can define it, and if you believe you can define it, I will read that definition with interest, and may publish it for the edification of all.

Dictators and liberators alike; collectivists and individualists; social radicals and social conservatives and those whose ideas you nor I know. Until I receive better explanation, I can only deduce that in BBC parlance, “right-wing” means “someone I would not invite to join the Groucho Club”.

(This has also been sent as a letter to the BBC.)

See also



Hot.  Too hot. Hard to move with wonted vigour, nor willing to go far from the water tap. And in September too.

The bright sunshine impels me go out, to scale the nearest hill, or range out to the familiar mountains and clamber closer to the sun and her friendly beams – but now those beams feel less friendly –  a harsh, scalding scolding from the once-friendly Sun.

It is not really hot though, is it?  By the standards of most of the world, we are not really trying. Try telling a Nigerian that 30° C is unbearably baking and he will laugh in your face.  But here, it stops us in our tracks.

I have in the past been tempted to attribute the failings of other nations to their sweltering climate – there is no vigour in a people who live under temperatures that stop all work. Yet that cannot be the case – there is no lack of vigour amongst Australians of the same blood and frame as I have, or Indians or many, many others including all the great empires before our own. Meanwhile cool-dwelling Russians are best left to anecdote and overgeneralisation. It may have to join that long list of abandoned attempts to find a single reason why we are the Best Nation Ever.

The heat should not beat me down. Yet I am a son of the cold; born of ancestors who dwelt in midge-swamps and in sun-starved glens. This inherited flesh does not take well to this temperature.

I cannot always have been affected this way though.  A march through a far, tropical landscape was not a challenge in those days and many a young man in uniform is sent to the same whenever our politicians feel like playing with soldiers. An officer of my past acquaintance once recounted that when  in a tropical post, he turned the air-conditioning off,  because he found it worse to his health to move constantly as duty called from the cool office to the blasting heat and back to cold and then hot all day – the continual heat was better.

I still want to reach those mountains, but maybe later, when it has cooled.

Our Australia brethren manage it all their lives.  I just need a find a way to adapt. We do adapt. The whole history of mankind is of adaptation, or we would not last and thrive so.

I am aware that confined within the echo-chamber of the Internet (which I can hardly condemn as I am writing on the Internet) we will be told that it is all Global Warming, even though it is only happening in Britain, and when it is at last cold again in the winter, that too is Global Warming, and when next nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places; all these will be attributed to this same cause. It saves thinking. The reality is that of the day – it just hot.

There were once warmer ages, and colder ones, and the nation would thrive and be filled with its wonted vigour. I am coming to an uncomfortable suspicion in my own case that this heat-borne lethargy may be, after all, the way my body gives me a convenient excuse.

No, and neither did she

And what is more, neither did either one believe of the other. What a forest fools social media is, even amongst very intelligent people. Katharine Birbalsingh did not excuse domestic violence, and Jess Phillips MP did not racially abuse Katharine Birbalsingh, and and Jess Phillips knows it, and Katharine Birbalsingh knows it. The Twitter mob, well, they did sink into racial abuse.

One must excuse sensitivity on Mrs Birbalsingh’s part: she has to put up with frequent abuse because of her race – much of it Mrs Phillips’s party. Much of the Labour Party feel that they own all black people and will strike out against one so uppity as to slip their bonds. The irony is not lost on the rest of us. One can also excuse Jess Phillips to some extent – she is one of the vaguely sensible ones, though not so sensible as to realise she may be wearing the wrong coloured rosette – and she needs excuses to get her name in the paper.  In this case it was grabbing a poor excuse to talk about a serious issue.

Both of these ladies are hard-working, honest souls with a desire to serve the public, and one of them has succeeded beyond the most fervent dreams of any of us, while the other sits in Parliament. They agree on most things. They both execrate domestic violence and mistreatment of anyone on racial grounds, and yet the social media forum whips up the angry mob. It is a terrible place, as I have written and will without a doubt write again. For now, there is no more to be said.

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Long to reign over us

The bunting is down, the street party has faded into happy memory. The Coronation was a spectacle to take the breath away, and television drew us all into it. What now? It was not one point in time, but the start, or the restart, of an ongoing mutual devotion of people  and their sovereign, and accordingly to the reassertion of the commonwealth between the people.

I gladly said (as any true Hobbesian Briton should have):

‘I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God. ‘”

The coronation is the party, but is nothing alone: it stands not for itself but to found a reign – just as a wedding is a celebration but is ultimately unimportant: the important thing is the years of marriage which follow.  A wedding can be a quiet, registry office ceremony, or a lavish church service with choir and organ (or one of those modern ones where you try to bankrupt your family by making them buy tickets to the West Indies) and it does not matter – it is merely symbolic of the vows which are taken and marks a gateway to married life. In the same way, a coronation can be as glorious as that which we have watched, worthy of the King of all the world’s greatest kingdoms, or a dull swearing like those of the Norse kings:  the important thing is the reign which follows, and the important thing about a reign is the unity of the nation’s bond with itself.

Ceremony is important, as a firm memory to the mind of what unites nation and what it undertakes as a mutually dependent entity, as well as reminding the King. The impossible grandeur puts all subjects on a level: who could have airs and graces in comparison? No priest, no politician, howsoever high, can maintain his or her haughtiness in he face of it:  we are all equal.

A coronation also cements succession. The law indeed guarantees the King his place, but this shows the whole force of the state guaranteeing it.  It is vital, as Hobbes says, for without succession at the death of the sovereign the whole commonwealth is dissolved. Any uncertainty opens a doorway for adventurers acting for their own advantage not the nation’s.

God save the King – long to reign over us.

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And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king

Joyful acclamation of the people is a most ancient part of the coronation. The ceremony was created for King Edgar, so they say, and the coronation of our new King will use the forms carried down since ancient days, even echoing the enthronement of King Solomon.

The people gathered in London gave such a joyous shout, in their accustomed manner, to acclaim the crowning of William the Bastard, that the Norman knights mistook it for a rebellion and rode into the crowd, slaying many – they were unfamiliar with popular kingship, coming from a land where sovereignty was bought and sold and conquered with no regard to the people ruled. France has barely changed. In Britain though the King is father of the people, not just commander of an army of control. Therefore we will gather and will acclaim our King, in over-the-top, slightly vulgar displays and street parties and whatever comes to our minds to do, for we are free people and not those who wait to be told what to do, even now.

Those ancient Saxon kings and the priests about them knew their Bible and could see in it an echo of the Germanic and Celtic conceptions of popular  involvement in kingship. Their ceremonies looked at those which were much older. In 1 Kings we read:

So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon.

And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.

And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.

I am glad then to pipe with pipes and rejoice with great joy for King Charles (as Hobbes in his time rejoiced for King Charles). He is the head and embodied epitome of the nation, in its diversity.

We are all part of the coronation in our way, whether amongst those honoured to packed be in Westminster Abbey or those millions of us outside, and so I will also gladly join with those in the Abbey to speak the oath of my allegiance to the King which all Britons owe, to bear true faith and allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III, his heirs and successors according to law.

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