Sir Keir Kneeler: speech in full

‘Conference, I look about me and ask the same thing you do: What am I doing here?

Never underestimate the challenges this party faces but also its successes: once we looked down at the Liberal Democrats as weirdoes but now we have bested them in that.

What I want to say to you is this: short sentences. Just a few words. Not even a verb.

I’ll start by some unconvincing populism by cheering the football results: Arsenal 3 – 1 Tottenham – and I know how you all hate Spurs fans.

We all have failings. I have a confession to make: after 14 years of marriage, I still don’t know what a woman is.

Now fill in random personal details here to make me sound human, with unnatural emphasis in places to sound angry.  It might be as interesting as your cousin’s slide-show last Christmas, but we have a long time slot to fill in and nothing to say. Then sound humble. Was I meant to say that out loud?

We will not always see eye-to-eye. I know I stand here as leader looking out over a different party:  I’m not a raging, hate-filled communist like most of you; I don’t beat up journalists in corridors like most of you; I don’t hate Jews like most of you. Even so, there are things that we in this movement share – we all agree our policies should target ordinary working people, and I am ready to pull the trigger.

We have all enjoyed the lettuce, gherkin, bacon and tomato sandwiches at lunch, the only sort we agreed.

I have worked in public service for most of my life. Baroness Scotland appointed me as DPP, and although I never prosecuted her, as head of the Crown Prosecution Service I learned the significance of those three those three words that appeared on my desk: ‘Complete’ emphasises that we must finish what we set out to do; ‘Utter’ shows the need to pursue things to the furthermost; ‘Pillock’ is me.

If we are who we say we are, we believe the government is magic, so we can blame Boris for everything from the weather to Tottenham’s fluke goal. If our party believes any principle, it is that the Tories are to blame. When we get power in our hands, we will ensure, as many of you have affirmed, there will be everything in the state, nothing outside the state, and nothing against the state – that is the Labour way.

So far I have not laid down any actual policy nor any practical way to achieve anything Conference has demanded. Let us keep it that way.  My watchwords will be Work, Care, Equality, Security – all values which we have done our utmost to extinguish.

I think of these values as my heirloom. The word ‘loom’, from which that idea comes, is another word for ‘tool’; and that is what I am.

 

The Liberal Delusion: a retrospective

In the 9 years since publication, The Liberal Delusion by John Marsh is as relevant and insightful as ever. At the memorial service for the author on Saturday I was struck by how much of the character of the man went into his masterful analysis. He was not an author – this was his only completed book – but he was a great thinker and a historian.

In latter years, the stream of neo-liberal thought has taken a weird turn not anticipated in the book, but the author does show where the philosophy went wrong so as to produce these abominations.

I have a lot for which to be grateful to John Marsh. I always found his robust, infectious cheerfulness and enthusiasm a delight; it drew you in and provoked mischievously.  This enthusiasm and his iconoclasm and plain common sense in the face of nonsense, all these come out in his book, and they inspired in part the creation of this blog: while it is based on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, I have always been aware that the philosophy of the nature of humanity is in Hobbes indeed, with a debt to Anthony Burgess, but filtered through the clarity with which John Marsh expressed his fundamental concepts.  His central argument is the central argument I have adopted in a number of my posts here.

The malaise of these days is recorded in many a book and for the most part it is little more than a jeremiad, an impotent lamentation. The Liberal Delusion is very different, for while it does recite laments, its concern is finding and extirpating the root of society’s failure, finding it in a failure of modern liberal philosophy: this is the Liberal Delusion.

The book takes aim at a single flaw which is at the root of modern liberalism. From that one error follow conclusions all based on that error. If you make a wrong turn on the road, however boldly and logically you follow the lanes ahead of you, you are going in the wrong direction, and can only go right it you start again where you went wrong. His provocative question is this: ‘Is western civilisation based on a mistaken understanding of humanity?‘  Yes, it is.

The flaw of liberal philosophy is the first of the delusions listed: “Human Nature is Good and Rational”. It is frightening to think that is not the case, because if man is a venal animal driven by emotional impulses then the beast may burst out at any moment – but man is an animal, and fundamental nature is evil: this is made clear in the Bible, and in the evidence of our own eyes. In the stench of the camps, or the gulags, or Afghanistan, could anyone really believe Rousseau that ‘Mankind is naturally good’? If we do not recognise the uncomfortable reality, then we cannot form society so as to restrain the beast.

Society can be too far restrained, and in most of the world it is. Only freedom enables development, innovation and the creation of prosperity. Freedom based on a cautious understanding of what lies in the heart of man is positive, and drove the prosperity of the modern age until liberal philosophers took a grip. Freedom itself is not the issue. Mankind is the clay of society, and misunderstanding the nature of the material, any structure must collapse.

The book examines ten specific delusions of the liberals; amongst them that mankind is good; that more freedom is always good; that morality is unnecessary; science is benign and religion harmful, and all that leads from these.

This is not enough though – the historian asserts himself and in the second section “The Dark Side of Liberalism” shows the direct result of these ideas since the Enlightenment. Some consequences and event are known to us and make us shudder still. Some, like the mass-murder of the Vendée after the French Revolution, have slipped from the collective memory and deserve recall. (History books are written by academic historians, much given to finding patterns where there are none, and fudging out events which disprove the pattern or the heroism they have attributed to men who were monsters; as are we all under the skin.)

The book is not long: the author resisted the temptation to pad it out just to be impressive.  It says what it needs to say, shows you why it is true, and no more. If only other writers would adopt that approach.

At the launch, the publisher was keen but cautious about the arguments, and it was only afterwards that I thought about this: a publisher will praise the industry and insight of his author but no one expects him to agree with everything written, but here was a book so intense in its insistence that he could not help but be drawn in. I hope that other readers will also be, and I would certainly urge our politicians to buy a copy and to digest it, considering whether, in fact, they have got something wrong.

See also

Books

Absolute Soveraignty

As I have heard some say, that Justice is but a word, without substance; and that whatsoever a man can by force, or art, acquire to himselfe, (not onely in the condition of warre, but also in a Common-wealth,) is his own, which I have already shewed to be false: So there be also that maintain, that there are no grounds, nor Principles of Reason, to sustain those essentiall Rights, which make Soveraignty absolute. For if there were, they would have been found out in some place, or other; whereas we see, there has not hitherto been any Common-wealth, where those Rights have been acknowledged, or challenged.

Wherein they argue as ill, as if the Savage people of America, should deny there were any grounds, or Principles of Reason, so to build a house, as to last as long as the materials, because they never yet saw any so well built.

Time, and Industry, produce every day new knowledge. And as the art of well building, is derived from Principles of Reason, observed by industrious men, that had long studied the nature of materials, and the divers effects of figure, and proportion, long after mankind began (though poorly) to build: So, long time after men have begun to constitute Common-wealths, imperfect, and apt to relapse into disorder, there may, Principles of Reason be found out, by industrious meditation, to make use of them, or be neglected by them, or not, concerneth my particular interest, at this day, very little.

But supposing that these of mine are not such Principles of Reason; yet I am sure they are Principles from Authority of Scripture; as I shall make it appear, when I shall come to speak of the Kingdome of God, (administred by Moses,) over the Jewes, his peculiar people by Covenant.

 Objection From The Incapacity Of The Vulgar

But they say again, that though the Principles be right, yet Common people are not of capacity enough to be made to understand them. I should be glad, that the Rich, and Potent Subjects of a Kingdome, or those that are accounted the most Learned, were no lesse incapable than they.

But all men know, that the obstructions to this kind of doctrine, proceed not so much from the difficulty of the matter, as from the interest of them that are to learn.

Potent men, digest hardly any thing that setteth up a Power to bridle their affections; and Learned men, any thing that discovereth their errours, and thereby lesseneth their Authority: whereas the Common-peoples minds, unlesse they be tainted with dependance on the Potent, or scribbled over with the opinions of their Doctors, are like clean paper, fit to receive whatsoever by Publique Authority shall be imprinted in them.

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Books

Memo from the Minister

“This instruction applies to all staff of the Department and of all agencies and boards under its purview, both to civil servants and contacted staff. Any breach will be a serious disciplinary matter.”

A culture war has begun, to dig in and assert established positions in each Ministry before the new minister has sat down.

A Minister is responsible for everything which happens in his or her department: he or she is not just a figurehead to give a general steer, but executive commander of all the Department’s actions, with a duty to direct the minutiae.

Therefore when staff in the department start urging their colleagues to embrace dangerous pseudoscientific ideas like Critical Race Theory, it is as if the Minister himself has commanded it. That, it is reported, happened in the Ministry of Justice this week, pre-empting the arrival of the new Minister. It is happening all over. Though the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ are embedded everywhere, they can be dislodged.  Each Secretary of State should issue a firm order to all staff, and I suggest:

This Department operates on the basis of equality in diversity. In public actions there must be no discrimination on the basis of irrelevant factors, not those in the Equality Act nor on the basis of political and social opinions, or personal priorities: we treat every British citizen as an individual, not as a passive representative of a nominal group.

Equal treatment also applies to internal staffing, with the proviso that an individual must be able properly to perform his or her tasks in accordance with instructions: their personal opinions must not interfere.

The Department rejects racial theories and also ‘critical race theory’, ‘intersectionality’, ‘social conflict theory’ and all other doctrines which posit a social conflict between nominal groups or a privilege attaching to any racial, cultural or social group. Staff may individually hold and express these opinions privately, but must not express them as if from the Department or government, nor promote such doctrines as if from the Department or government.

No person shall be disadvantaged in terms of promotion or placement by reason of their rejection of the doctrines the Department rejects, nor be disadvantaged for expressing matters in modes of speech their colleagues dislike.

An attempt to have a member of staff dismissed or disciplined for such petty reasons is itself a form of bullying and will be treated as such.

Because every email from a Departmental email address and every internal memorandum may be considered by the recipient as one from the Department corporately, care must be taken with every email. No member of staff may send any email or memorandum suggesting acceptance of a social conflict doctrine unless it is explicitly expressed as being the sender’s personal opinion.

Diversity of approach is important for the Department’s work and so, beyond what is set out above, so we should try to ensure the staffing of groups with ‘neurological diversity’, with diversity of opinion and of priorities amongst staff, and to counter the natural tendency to staff our teams with those who think like us.

All training courses and material based on a rejected doctrine shall be cancelled forthwith and no others held, and no one may circulate from a Departmental email address an invitation to such a course or to view such material.

We will not subscribe to nor fund any external scheme which implies that the Department subscribes to any  set of political, social or philosophical beliefs, whatever they are.

Any breach of these rules will be a serious disciplinary matter.

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Books

Community returning

I was wrong:  I thought we had lost society for the long term, but it is roaring back quietly.

I relaxed in the lockdown evenings – no more organising for meetings not happening, no rushing home for a scratch meal before leaping out for some function or other, trying to work out where it was while driving there; no more weekends spent on the motorway finding a hall somewhere in Lancashire, or was it Yorkshire this time? (Do I have to turn round?)

Calls stopped coming. I wasn’t having to organise people or think of things to do. I did not have to yawn through others’ meetings and surreptitiously use the meeting to write another chapter or an algorithm. I could relax, and discover that there are evenings, and a home.

In villages and little towns and suburbs, churches, clubs and societies create a web of Big Society. Some go out to film clubs or collectors’ clubs, or  evening classes, or exercise classes, or amateur dramatics, or ladies’ book clubs, or just social meets round a bar.  (There are more village pocket orchestras than you would ever imagine; and writers’ clubs are everywhere: I might even go to one one day and see what they do.)

Then all this was gone; banned by government fiat in fear of the Chinese plague. The thread was broken. All over the land, people were realising they do not have to live by a timetable and an untended bowel in the best evenings of the week, when a sofa calls. How then could the clubs come back?

Yet they are coming back. The church halls of the land are full again. Organisers are clearly built of sterner stuff, and for all the welcome leisure we had, there is a yearning for society.

If I were tempted to think those coming back to the village halls are just those who no longer commuter and need to get out from their home-office, it is not: there cannot be too many home-bound workers left though, going by how the trains are packed again as once they were. In spite of the call of the sofa, the clubs are still coming back. Normality, our weird, Middle-Class, respectable rural / suburban normality is returning in spite of it all.

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Books