Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Pessimism can be overdone

I did not know Simon Titley, nor had I knowingly met him, but nobody who created the opening of Genesis as it might have been written by a corporate numpty could not have been bad. Caron Lindsay quotes this in her obituary on LibDem Voice:

1. At the outset, God’s agenda was to basically focus on his core deliverables, namely two leading-edge products, (a) heaven and (b) earth.
2. However, the earth lacked an overall concept, and had a low profile in terms of its key audiences. Obviously the Spirit of God had to step back and benchmark the existing waters before his game plan could get the green light.
3. And God’s key message was that light was a strategic objective, and it was covered-off.
4. And God’s perception of the light was that it was fit for purpose. However, his desired goal was that light and darkness should be differentiated in the marketplace.
5. So God branded the light ‘Day’, and the darkness he branded ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Light’. And the evening session and morning session made up Day One.
6. Then God set out with the object of factoring-in a firmament to interface with the existing generic waters, to bring to the party two segmented brands.
7. So God tasked himself with the job of rolling-out a firmament, to supply a proactive vehicle for launching his two distinct waters products, and it was up and running.
8. And God branded the firmament ‘heaven’. And at close of play, the prioritised actions for Day Two were ticked off.

Coincidentally, I happened to be leafing through "Reinventing the State" (2007) just now and came across a chapter by Simon Titley. It did not meet everyone's approval (this is the most detailed criticism, by Joe Otten), but it contained one insight which surely chimes with most long-standing political activists' experience:

The greatest crisis for the Liberal Democrats - and all other political parties - brought about by the social revolution is the catastrophic fall in membership. Those who counsel recruitment drives as the solution are missing the point entirely.

To understand what has happened, I need to tell you about my first drink. It was the late 1960s, I would have been about eleven or twelve, and one evening my Granddad took me through the back streets of Lincoln to his local Labour Club, where I was allowed to drink half-pints of shandy while watching the snooker. I was experiencing a now lost world in which the Labour Party was not a discrete political organisation but was woven into the social fabric, with a network of social clubs and union branches providing solidarity, not as a left-wingl slogan but as a practical reality. My Granddad was a Labour voter all his life, not from an abstract idealogical conviction but because it was the natural thing to do. 

Ten miles down the road, my Great Aunt, my Granddad's sister, was a lifelong Conservative member and voter. So far as I know, she never canvassed, deliver leaflets or staffed a committee room. It was simply that in rural Lincolnshire, joining the Conservatives was just something you did, because it was part and parcel of the social fabric of the village. It was as natural as arranging flowers in the local church or stopping for a chat in the local store.

It is hard to recall this world now. Political parties were once social movements, a genuine expression of people's identities, which were in turn were a product of traditional affiliations to social class and settled geographical communities. Parties nowadays have been reduced to a small knot of political hobbyists, declining in number and rising in age, and in the process they have lost much of their democratic legitimacy. 

The era of mass-membership political parties is over, because the traditional culture of social solidarity that underpinned it has gone. Most people have disengaged from politics and, to the extent that they engage with the political system at all, their interaction is more analogous to shopping at the supermarket than it is to attending the moot hall.

It seems to me that the word "catastrophic" in the first paragraph above is over the top, because the plunge in membership did not kill any political parties, except perhaps for extremist entities like the National Front. The crisis has passed, to the extent that membership is now flat-lining - indeed, national LibDem membership rose slightly in 2013/14.

There have even been leaps in some parties' membership, rather like the surge in the early days of the SDP. UKIP is a recent case in point. However, Titley's supermarket analogy is apt here, too: new recruits are attracted to the headline message, rather like Asda's latest special offer, but are unaware of what the party is really about and after a short while, move on. UKIP's recruits tend to be elderly, which does not help the party's age profile. In contrast, I am always struck on the occasions when I attend Liberal Democrat conference by the number of young faces.

Monday, 1 September 2014


That's the name of the chemical fingered by the BBC and the Daily Mail in one brand of electronic cigarette refill. It occurs naturally in some foods and as a result of fermentation, according to this wikipedia entry, but can be hazardous when heated and inhaled.

The manufacturer concerned stopped making the product some weeks ago when they learned of the dangers. However, they did not take the logical and prudent step of issuing a recall notice.

One should also question whence came the idea of this particular flavouring. Could they have taken a cue from traditional cigarette manufacturers?

Good news, bad news from Saxony

In yesterday's elections for the Landtag (state parliament) in Saxony, the anti-EU AfD party gained a foothold, while the liberal Free Democrats lost representation. That is the message from France 24. However, German media are equally taken with the fact that the neo-Nazi NPD also fell below the electoral threshold (no English language version of the Spiegel report available at the time of writing).

This seems to mirror the trend in the UK. Here, the unacceptably racist parties - BNP, NF, English/Welsh Defence League etc. - are falling back, while the collar-and-tie UKIP attracts the narrow nationalist vote.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

And then there were four

I had thought that nominations for Liberal Democrat party president had closed, but another contender, local campaigner Daisy Cooper, has thrown her hat in the ring. I have mixed feelings about this. It is good to see a younger person contesting the position, but I fear that for the reason I gave in my posting about Pauline Pearce, she will be tailed off behind the better known party figures of Sal Brinton, Linda Jack and Liz Lynne. At least she will not suffer from the Hackney Heroine's lack of access to the Internet or of Web savvy.

So that is now four women in the battle. Will there not be even a token male?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Flight of Stone's fancy

It was originally these two significant space exploration events which prompted me to quote from the Pelican selection of IF Stone's writing yesterday. Then I was sidetracked by his prophetic words about Palestine. Here now is that piece, published on 8th August 1955, about the warlike aspect of mankind in general:

Note to the Rest of the Universe 

Within two years you may see a flaming ball rocket up from the earth's surface and swing into position in an orbit around it. Do not regard the spectacle with complacency. These satellites will grow larger and more numerous; men will go up with them. Voyages to the moon will follow. After that the distant realm of planet and star will lie open to Man. Beware in time. This is a breed which has changed little in thousands of years. The cave-dweller who wielded a stone club and the man who will soon wield an interstellar missile are terribly alike. Earth's creatures feed upon each other, but this is the only one which kills on a large scale, for pleasure, adventure and even - so perverse is the species - for supposed reasons of morality.

Should you drop a secret mission of inquiry in alarm, you will find that the sacred books on which the young of the various tribes have been brought up for thousands of years glorify bloodshed. Whether one looks in Homer, or the Sagas, or the Bible, or the Koran, the hero is a warrior. Someone is always killing someone else for what is called the greater glory of God. 

This is not a creature to be trusted with the free run of the universe. At the moment the human race seems to be temporarily sobered by the possession of weapons which could destroy all life on earth except perhaps the mosses and fungi. But the planetary rocket may revive recrimination. The currently rival tribes, the Russians and the Americans, fear the other may use the new device against it. They may soon be transferring to outer space the hates that in every generation have brought suffering to the earth. It might be wise to sop them now, on the very threshold of the open and as yet unpolluted skies.

Sputnik-1 was launched on 4th October 1957 and man stepped onto the Moon in July 1969.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Farewell to the "Boy Friend" composer

It would be outrageous to suggest that Jules & Sandy, the pair of bona omis who decorated the radio series Round the Horne, were based on real figures rather than what they were, caricatures of camp characters. However, they were originally introduced to the listeners as Sandy Slade and Julian Wilson, exchanging the first and second names of the two dominant figures in British musicals between Noël Coward and Rice & Lloyd Webber. There was a distinct air of whimsy about both Slade and Wilson's productions, to which Rice/Lloyd Webber was in large part a reaction.

Julian Slade, who wrote Salad Days, died in 2006 and now Sandy Wilson has followed. I believe there is a place on the musical stage for both the hard centre of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and the frivolity of Boy Friend and Valmouth and I mourn his passing.

IF Stone

He was known familiarly as Izzy, so I guess his given name was Isadore, but to the public he was known only by his initials. Neil Middleton, in his introduction to the Pelican The Best of I.F. Stone's Weekly saw him as a transatlantic William Cobbett. Peter Osnos, introducing his selection (pdf here) has a more personal take. Whatever, he was a campaigning journalist from the 1930s first for other publications and then for his own Weekly until the end of 1971. He founded the latter at a time in the USA when it was hazardous to ones livelihood to be critical of the establishment, especially if one were also Jewish (some commentators have seen the McCarthyite witch-hunts as anti-Semitic as much as anti-Communist). In his "retirement" he turned his gift for research into contemporary documents, picking out gems missed by other correspondents, to ancient Greece. Even that phenomenal classical scholar, Enoch Powell, admitted, when the book was promoted in the UK, that Stone had done a decent job with his The Trial of Socrates - though naturally Powell disagreed with some of its conclusions.

He was a passionate advocate for an independent Israel, which he supported physically on the front line as well as with his pen. But he also consistently called for a two-state solution and blamed both the UK and the USA for effectively vetoing such a plan at the United Nations through 1947 and 1948. His accounts of the history of early modern Israel make painful reading for anyone who still believes in British ethical behaviour abroad. Moreover, he was sensitive to the plight of the displaced people of Palestine. In September 1970, after Golda Meir had appeared on an American TVpolitical interview show, he wrote:

"Friends of peace must deeply regret the way in which Mrs Meir handled questions about the Palestinian Arabs in appearance on Face the Nation. She rejected any idea of talks with them and any responsibility whatsoever for the Arab refugees. She implied that they had only themselves to blame because they had not accepted the 1947 U.N. partition plan. But how can Mrs Meir invoke the 1947 partition resolution, the legal basis of Israel's existence, and then ignore the 1948 U.N. refugee resolution, which is the legal basis of Arab rights to repatriation or compensation?

"We know the situation is a complex one for Israel but we wish Mrs Meir had voiced some sympathy for their plight, some readiness to help, some hope for reconciliation. Her coldness was unworthy of a Jewish leader. It is said that Moses kept the Jews forty years in the desert to purge them of the habits acquired in slavery. Leadership, like hers, in forty years of siege and war, will purge the Jews of the compassion acquired in Exile. While the Palestinian Arabs are beginning in their homelessness to talk like Jews in a new Diaspora, the Israeli leadership is beginning to sound more and more like unfeeling goyim. This reversal of roles is the cruellest prank God ever played on His Chosen People."

The forty years since those words were written have now passed and they have come to seem horribly prophetic.