No rest, not today

Some people, laughably, think the first Monday of May is a bank holiday: clearly they are not involved in local politics.

This weekend and all today is pounding the streets, engaging with the public, no pounding of doors this year but next I will have my hands on those knockers like anything.

It is not the same without the robust conversations on the doors (allow yourself 20 seconds – no more). It is frustrating when you want to get on, but it re-engages you with real people. The householder is very happy to get everything off his chest, from why no one has mended that pothole (have you called the council to let them know, or do you think they are psychic?) to the development threatened next door, to which group of Her Majesty’s subjects they would lock up / deport / castrate (yes, I had all three in one conversation last week). They don’t generally mean it, unless discussing developers.

For the last several weeks leaflets have been delivered, rewritten and reposted, LibDem leaflets analysed with loud disgust, social media (for those who do that) filled with grinning and gurning photographs of candidates and supported and a roped-in MP on High Street and doorsteps (for those standing where there is a high street) and the local hospitals have been badgers by photo-ops, and deliverers with fingers bitten by dogs and double-spring letterboxes.

I have had tougher leaflets this year, that stood a better chance of getting through the defences of the letterbox. I haven’t even been attacked by a dog. (I know we have had a vicious lockdown recession, but it is not like those mediaeval woodcuts of famine days showing when starving families driven to kill and eat their precious hunting dogs. There are still dogs, but more restrained. I am not complaining.)

Actually, why are there heavily sprung letterbox flats with thick draft-excluders in doors to second-floor flats? What kind on ninja winds do they think they have that can get inside and snake up two flights of stairs to blow in at their door?

Legs aching, and while all my run is done, there are fellow candidates in need. Time to jump in a phonebooth and emerge as Supercanvasser, ready to collapse at my desk tomorrow morning – for the earning world does not stop because of an election.

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Books

Gorchfygu’r Wyddfa

No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.

(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)

There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.

It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?

The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.

I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.

There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.

I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.

That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.

Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.

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It’s a funny old game, politics

The government says it will do ‘all in its power’ to stop a breakaway football “Superleague”. What power, and why? All the power of the state falls upon cartels and monopolies, but for football a monopoly cartel must be enforced.

I am waiting for FIFA to claim a breakaway league is ‘unethical’, as would be the most hilarious hypocrisy. Tonight though the ‘Superleague’ seems to be falling apart, to great rejoicing from fans: it has been a strange couple of days.

Of all the subjects to address, football is not a natural one for me: I do not follow the game and could not even name any players. I can see the grip it has on real fans though, deeply, emotionally bound up with their teams, and for a great portion of the population them a rumpus about the organisation of football competitions is of real importance. To an outsider, it look weird: these teams are multi-billion pound public limited companies: I might as well wear a team shirt for British American Tobacco or wave a rattle (do they still have football rattles?) yelling ‘Rio Tinto forever!’ It’s not my thing.

It is different though: football is big business, but it is the entertainment business: just like the film industry, it is all about mass emotional engagement. Football is a game which can exploit that better than any other: it is man against man without equipment apart from the ball, constant, unpredictable movement (unlike the regulated positions of cricket), and sudden bursts of activity and charges towards goal-scoring, will-he, won’t-he, that mirror the natural rhythms of the emotional drive. It is worth the millions poured in by fans and sponsors.

In all this, it has nothing to do with government. The PM does not turn up to intervene if a film studio decides to pull out of the BAFTAs and set up their own awards ceremony, or if the producers of Bake-Off move the show to Channel 4. (I hope he does not, anyway.)

Laws have intruded on occasion: when we were within the European Union it was ruled that rules could not keep teams all of one nationality, and MEPs keep trying to interfere with football player transfers – selling a player’s contract has been described as a modern day form of slavery, which is not just insensitive to those actually kept in slavery today and throughout history, but is profoundly stupid: what slave earns a millionaire salary and can behave like a libertine brat with impunity?

What the Superleague thing was about is not entirely clear, but the fans did not like it, or some of them did, but I do not know if they knew what they were protesting against either.

Then in stepped Boris. Currying favour maybe with football fans in the northern towns, he was going to give the new League ‘the red card’. Why? On what basis?

The greatest thing about football is that it can be played by a dozen friends in the park with jackets for goalposts, or by players employed by a billion pound corporation, and whichever it is they do so on their own, not licenced by bureaucrats. It is so profoundly unrelated to government concerns that in an over-politicised world it is liberating. If government starts interfering, it is ruined.

There is a place for law in terms of the commercial structure. Monopolies are restrained to ensure open competition on prices and quality. If teams meet together to raise ticket prices or to suppress salaries, there can be intervention. A rule that the teams must play in a particular competition or be barred from all professional competition would be a terrible restraint of trade, but that looks very like the FIFA rules our PM is trying to keep imposed. A breakaway league would be fair competition, and could improve the game overall, as competition does. Yet instead of cheering this competition, it has to be given the red card, acting not as a government, but as FIFA’s hired boot-boys. There is no sense in this. It is embarrassing.

Tonight, the clubs that were forming the breakaway league away are withdrawing. The fans demanded it, and that is a proper reason. Pressure from impotent ministers though: that should have been laughed to scorn.

Character imbues the endeavour

Behind every successful enterprise is the character of its founder, without which it can only fade into mediocrity. History is but the biography of great men, Carlyle assures us: we prefer now to see systems and processes, but he was right: that initial spark of genius puts life into words and forms it into success or failure. The departure of that founder may often be its end.

Rome required Augustus. There could have been no Napoleonic Empire without Napoleon. As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.

A successful institution cannot be created just by one who knows that something must be done, but who knows what must be done, and how. It is not enough to determine objectives and pay hired men to pursue them: they do not have the vision nor motivation. Real objectives cannot be rendered in words but must be lived. It was the genius of the late Duke of Edinburgh that he could see the destination and the route, he could find those who shared his vision and he made them enthusiastic. He also made sure they got on with it. He was a consummate naval officer.

He did not see ideas in a one-dimensional nor black-and-white manner. His enthusiasm for science and engineering saw no contradiction in his love of nature and drive for conservation. The two do not conflict and have come to complement each other. Nature conservation is very much of our time, but before the Duke of Edinburgh took a hand it barely registered beyond the confines of the National Trust and faintly embarrassing feelings of nostalgia – but while the National Trust were content to buy to preserve and leave otherwise alone, the charities established by Prince Philip took on active research, education, engagement of local bodies, and creating a ‘conservation community’. That cannot be done without vision and a clear objective, and these cannot be achieved without the mind to direct them. The Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Wildfowl Trust (‘We formed it over dinner – duck I think it was.’); these are the product of a focussed mind.

The most popular legacy is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, which was quickly established all over the Commonwealth, and it above all bears the stamp of the Prince’s character and drive. It breeds drive, independence and resilience: I cannot imagine any committee coming up with it. Those of us who have been through it up to Gold, carry its legacy with us, which is a piece of the character of the Scheme’s founder. It has gone beyond the Commonwealth too and had imitators. (The Duke of Bragança, the man who should be King of Portugal, formed his own scheme in his homeland, but follows the template and the drive laid down by the Duke of Edinburgh.)

The challenge for a founder is to keep the foundation going beyond his time.  It is not easy.  The state built by Cromwell could be built only by Oliver, and when he died, his son Richard was unable to hold it even for a year, as Hobbes recounts:

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

….The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

Systems are attractive, but systems are dead hands: it needs men and women of vision. Systems without new growth are restraints against the very creativity which was required for the foundation they bind. The founder must therefore not just create a system but create successors who have the life of the idea within them. Robert Baden-Powell achieved it, with a good deal of the cult of personality to follow him – each troop runs as if B-P were looking over their shoulder even today.

I think of the sudden enthusiasm for free schools, which had great success, when there was for each a directing mind. As long as that mind has remained to guide and to chide, they continue to thrive. Some were established by parents wanting a better school for their children, but they have seen their sons and daughters grow up, leave the school, and they themselves need no longer be involved: those schools can flourish only if the enthusiasm is renewed with each upcoming generation.

Now, to be fair, vision is not enough for continuance: Jordan Peterson observed that two characters are needed: it takes a liberal, creative mind to create a new endeavour, and a diligent, conservative mind to run it. The great men are those who can be both.

Some foundations of our age have fallen into dotage by following good but dead rules, the fire having gone out. Many have been captured by political activists lusting after their funds and the prestige of their name, but with no care for the original drive.

For those foundations created by the Duke of Edinburgh there is hope, because much of his drive was in creating in his successors the same vision. The Award Scheme has alumni ready to take on the world, knowing what the scheme is for. The conservation charities found a new dynamic, beyond mere preservation. He has gone, but his spirit imbues them all. Long may it last.

Going back to Carlyle, he explained his theme at greater length than an line:

Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these

The imperial system of Augustus went into decline the moment he breathed his last. Napoleon’s too as he boarded the Bellerophon to exile. Their achievements were “the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men” and nothing without them. We may hope for better from the foundations left to us where the spirit of the founder still fills them.

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Good night, sweet prince

In many fields, the Duke of Edinburgh’s service to the Commonwealth and the world was immeasurable. His passing leaves a hole it would take legions to fill.

I met him but once, many years ago, while he was engaged in his keenest endeavour: encouraging the development of youth through his Award Scheme.

He alone could create such a scheme with credibility, as he represented its highest values. He served with distinction in war and peace; those humourless souls who in later years jibed at his great heart had never fought with a cool head in a ship under heavy enemy fire, deep in the heart of a war for civilisation itself and earning in his own right, high praise of his fellows; nor have they, as he did, created in peacetime so many schemes and charities whose good work we may take for granted.

His first duty, he often said, was to support Her Majesty, and that he did, over a reign of some seventy years by her side, troubled and bewildering times as they often were, ensuring that our Queen, whose own sense of duty is unwavering, could perform her role without being worn down by life which would flatten most of us in a moment, with a smile and an ever-kindled heart.

Many, like myself, may have had most influence from Prince Philip through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Unfashionably, but with immense success across the world, it reproduced something of those lessons drummed in at Gordonstoun, character-building, resilience-building, providing in each new generation those who can stand against the storm. Had it not been for the founder’s own character, wrought in peace and war, it could not have succeeded as it has.

he was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves:
He had no legs that practised not his gait;
And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
Became the accents of the valiant;
For those that could speak low and tardily
Would turn their own perfection to abuse,
To seem like him: so that in speech, in gait,
In diet, in affections of delight,
In military rules, humours of blood,
He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
That fashion’d others.

This was just one aspect of the man. Many more have been touched by him whether they know it or not, whether from endeavours like the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildfowl Trust, the Work Foundation or many others: he might have said that “constitutionally I don’t exist”, but wherever he trod he made the world that bit better.

Our thought now are with Her Majesty in her grief. I will pray for her comfort, as will we all, for this is first and foremost a time of sadness for our Queen. I will also give thanks for a life of service beside her.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.