Ford Madox Brown, Work

Ford Madox Brown, Work


Duke Maskell recalls Thatcher’s Human Resource, Personnel Function

If someone wants to sell you a fizzy drink he’s not fool enough to sell you sweet, carbonated water. He sells you an image of yourself drinking it. Images of ideal consumers in an ideal landscape, fingers forever hooking through the ring-pulls of tin cans. But it was a surprise, all the same—even in the 1990s, an age of enterprise and privatisation—to find the Department of Employment similarly engaged.

It hadn’t been there the last time I was unemployed, twenty odd years before. It hadn’t occurred to the DHSS then that unemployment was marketable. As I remembered it, you couldn’t get your benefit without aggravation. The surroundings were always seedy—plywood partitions and cracked lino—and you got nowhere without queuing. Being interviewed meant stepping between two sheets of plywood and broadcasting, to a roomful of strangers, things you’d rather keep to yourself. Staff and claimants were kept apart by a counter and a glass screen. Relations could be bloody. The staff called it “the front line”.

But by the early 1990s all that changed. We had become what—saving Brexit—we still are, UK PLC. We were open for business. And ‘business’ included not only prisons and education but benefits. We had the enterprise culture with a citizen’s charter. Getting unemployment benefit wasn’t any longer either “getting your rights” or “getting something for nothing”. It had a post-yuppie feel about it. It was like getting—or not getting—cash out of a cashcard machine. When you signed on for the first time, you didn’t go to something with the initials SS or the word Unemployment in the title. You went to a Job Centre. You had to feel good about what you were doing. You had to feel good about yourself. It had to feel like shopping.

There was no plywood, no cracked lino, no counters and protective screens, no queue. You had an appointment. As you opened the door, desks—in interactive communication mode—half-facing you, half-facing one another, reached out to draw you in. There were touch-tone telephones, VDU screens and computer modems but all set down as casually as potted plants; and there were easy chairs, wall-to-wall carpeting and pictures on the wall. Someone was making a statement. They were saying (some kitchens say the opposite): “Public space with a private feel”. This was no dole-queue. It was an ante-room to the International Airport Departure Lounge—a Bank or a Building Society waiting room at the very least. Someone was saying (perhaps they still are), “We can hear what you’re saying.”

The dole-office had become an enterprise, like British Rail, and caring. There were piles of letters calling us “Dear Customers” and thanking us “for helping us help you”; and there were glossy Jobseeker’s Charters saying how really keen the DoE was to improve the service it gave its clients. I wasn’t a claimant anymore. I wasn’t even a customer. I was a client. I had no money and they had nothing to sell (they were giving it away) but I was still their client. Well, O.K. And up on the wall, posters saying, “HELP US TO GET IT RIGHT . . . AND COMPLAIN if you think we have got it wrong.” They were inviting me to complain? The staff were even wore name-badges on their fronts so that I could complain about them behind their backs.

Did I want to enter the Gateway of Learning? Why not? On the far side—as one of the seriously unemployed—I would be rewarded with an information pack that included a real plastic credit-card-style card, good for 150 units’ worth of career counselling. I had to sign the card there and then lest someone less seriously unemployed tried to steal my units.

In twenty-odd years, time had evidently moved on.

Of course, there was one respect in which, like house prices in the 1990s, it seemed to have gone backwards. None of the jobs advertised paid more than about £2 15s an hour. But that only added to the wonder of it all.

I was late for my first interview but no one minded. A young woman greeted me and took me to a small, private room, where she sat protected from me by nothing but the desk she sat behind. It was like being interviewed by your building society for a home improvement loan. (This was, of course, before banks started begging to lend us their money.) In the politeness with which she treated me, there was even something of friendliness, of warmth. Not for me personally of course. For me as a member of a category, the client. It was a professional politeness but, even so, not put-on. I was being processed, but by a system whose empty spaces had been invaded by good will. It was bureaucracy with a real personal touch. Nothing of Kafka here. And if the system that employed her was a thorough fraud, well, she, with her own real considerateness, seemed for the moment to redeem it. A triumph of civilisation, and Englishness, unknown to Austrian Kafka (but not to Polish Conrad).

Still, twenty years earlier, being out-of-work (as it was called) had had saving things in common with being in work. You had to put up with—or could imagine you had to put up with—just enough aggravation to let you feel you earned what they gave you. Of course, you didn’t do a lot for it but then they didn’t give you a lot of it. And—though you had to go twice a week (not, as in 1990, once a fortnight)—when you didn’t have to go, your time and your thoughts were your own. That seedy organisation with the letters SS at the end left you free to think of work the way those in work did, not as virtuous but as paid. You worked for pay to live; and that was an end of it. Or else you went to the DHSS for your dole; and that was the end of that too.

But not anymore, not in the 1990s’ Jobshop that began trading under Mrs Thatcher and that continued under Tony Blair. Jobshop didn’t give you any aggravation but it wouldn’t leave you in peace either. From 9 to 5, 6 days a week, you weren’t to think any of the thoughts about work which people who are in work think. You’d got to think Jobless. You’d got to decline “jobshop”—jobless, jobcentre, jobclub, jobsearch, joblead, jobstart—then do it. Jobshop wanted you off the spot you were on and onto the spot that it was on.

So, while I was sitting on the chair I was on, being interviewed with perfect politeness in surroundings that combined home and office, I became aware that I was also on the wall, on posters, as the Ideal Client, asking, “HOW DO I GET ONTO THE JOBS BANDWAGON?” and being answered, “COME ON DOWN TO JOBCLUB.” What bandwagon was that? Was I claiming unemployment benefit or doing the hokey-cokey? Almost – at Jobclub, where you got free stamps and stationery and advice and help that was friendly. It was a place, “TO WORK TOGETHER AT GETTING A JOB . . . BECAUSE GETTING A JOB IS A JOB IN ITSELF.”

If you joined Jobclub, you could have your free stamps and friendly advice but not if you didn’t attend on time four half-days a week and meet your production targets. (Your work quota, your norm, was following up ten jobleads a session.) You didn’t have to join but if you did you’d got to “make a commitment”. It wasn’t like the Sally Bash, which would help you without being friendly and just because you needed it. It was like the Cubs, when they were the Cubs and you made the Wolf Cubs’ promise:

I promise
To do my best
To do my duty
To God and King
And to do a good turn every day.
You had to be sworn-in at Jobclub too:

I undertake
To be on time
And attend every session of the Jobclub
Till a Job is found
To try out new approaches
To finding Jobs
And to follow up
An agreed number of Jobleads every day.

I didn’t join Jobclub but—having the right look about me—I did get sent The Executive Post (until it sent all its own staff on jobsearch too). It combined adverts for jobs (not many) with exhortation on behalf of jobs and enterprise. Under headlines like, “How To Preserve the In-employment Psychology When Unemployed”, it taught its readers how to combine what is disagreeable about being out of work with what is disagreeable about being in it, how to make a job of getting a job without making it pay:

Get out of bed, now you don’t have to and aren’t paid to, just as early as you did when you did and you were. Don’t read your morning post in bed with a cup of tea, as if you’re at home. Sort it at your desk, as if you’re at work. Keep your desk and your day, keep yourself as well organised as if they were working desk, day and self. (Make your desk look inviting to wake up to.) Don’t go to the library as if you are looking for something to read, go as if you are doing research or making a call. Exhaustively analyse your own strengths and weaknesses, and indefatigably consider how best to present the one and disguise the other. For, remember, you are your own product and your own sales rep too!

It was, and still is, a comfort to think of the journalist who gave these tips getting the chance to take them.

What was the duty of the out of work in Mrs Thatcher’s and Mr Tebbit’s Enterprise Culture? To play at being in it. Prostrate thyself before the sacred cow of useless labour. Work without pay, play without pleasure, hard. For hyperactivity was what the law now required of the unemployed. To qualify for unemployment benefit, it was no longer enough merely to be unemployed, to have paid your stamps and be “available”. No matter how many fewer jobs, how many times fewer jobs, there were than unemployed seeking them, you, like all the other unemployed, had to seek one “actively”, and record your efforts. For you might and would be interviewed, every 13 weeks, and had to provide evidence that you had been active. How many job advertisements read? How many answered? How many interviews? What, where, when and with what result? What letters—speculative and not? What telephone calls, meetings, follow-ups, contacts—formal and not? How many hours in the saddle since we last met? For the gang of virtue was in charge. The shopkeepers from Grantham and Billericay. They pedalled all hours themselves and wanted everyone else pedalling all hours too.

Except that—as the fat lady in Predator II said to the cop who was chasing the aliens—“I don’t think they give a shit.” For this was all play-acting. Who was going to police it? Out-of-work Stasi? Or the nice English women who staffed the Department of Employment? And if I did get a job, didn’t I get it instead of someone else?

I later learned that it was more like the Stasi than I thought. Under the newly introduced SBR (Strict Benefit Regime) rules, the smiling girl who came out from behind her desk to greet you—her valued client—had been given a “Disallowance Quota”, usually 50%, sometimes as high as 75%. For a while, to make it easier for her to fulfil her quota—her work norm—she was permitted to “deem” the client unavailable for work without having to prove it. If she did “deem” him, the onus then fell on him to prove otherwise. But, after a young Nottingham woman who had been “deemed” went home and killed herself, this instruction was withdrawn.

But a new one was introduced in its place: client comes in to look for a job; asks customer service about one on her Vacancies board; doesn’t like it, and says so. Whereupon, nice English girl bangs him up for 26 weeks’ loss of benefit for refusing a job without good cause.

Client can’t believe it. But he has to. It doesn’t matter that he came in looking for a job voluntarily, and volunteered the information she is using against him. What matters was that he had come to her attention.

It wasn’t a trap many would be unlucky enough to fall into. It wasn’t a trap many would care to spring, disallowance quota or no disallowance quota. So it wouldn’t save any money. It wouldn’t reduce unemployment or even the unemployment figures. Was it vindictive? I think it was another clip from that lager advert, in which we’d all been given parts as extras, unpaid.

But pretending to force the unemployed to make a job of getting jobs which didn’t exist was only half Jobshop’s own job. The other half was pretending to coax them to take jobs that paid less than unemployment did. Behind, the stick that didn’t beat. Ahead, the carrot you couldn’t eat. Both found in a collection of Thatcherite fables for the out-of-work called, How to be better off in work, a pill of information covered in soap opera: How Lin—whose teenage marriage didn’t work out but who has a steady relationship with Mike, 34, and a son, Mark, 3—could be better off in work—with her wages and the benefits she is entitled to—by £3.09 a week (less tax and expenses).

Lin and Mike and the rest of the crowd were decent, ordinary folk ready to work for incredibly small sums of money. They wanted to price themselves into work but were afraid they might be worse off if they did. They needed reassuring by their local cadre, their Claims Advisor, who proved to them that doing a week’s work for some derisorily small sum was being better off.

Every story had the same happy ending, the same moral. John Graham, for instance, (with a wife, Carol, and four children, ages 3, 8, 11 and 16 but no names) had it proved to him that with wages and benefits combined he’d be £25.26 a week better off than with benefits alone. John was delighted. You or I might not be. But he was. It didn’t matter to him that £20 of that £25.26 was a jobstart allowance, of which he’d lose £5 in tax straightaway and the rest six months later. It didn’t matter to him that, from the £5.26 that remained, he’d have to pay fares and all sorts of other expenses. He was so delighted to be back at work he didn’t notice he was worse off.

Actually, the genre wasn’t science fiction, it was socialist realism. Jerusalem was being built here by role models for the collective, by Stakhanovs and Li Fengs called Carol and John. Old Socialists didn’t die, they joined the Tory party. Then were subsequently called New Labour.

The atmosphere of mutual distrust in the old DHSS office of my first spell of unemployment might not have been nice but it was frank, it was natural. If you are getting money to live by without working, what’s more natural than to be suspected of not wanting to work? (Who wants to work?) What’s more natural than to get a bit of aggravation, from someone who is not only at work but has what must be the most aggravating job in the world, handing out money to people who aren’t? The old DHSS had its faults no doubt but it was something you could understand.

But Jobshop, the get-up that had taken its place, was like nothing on earth. It was one of those artificial, off-planet fantasy worlds they have in science fiction, Battersea Power Station turned theme park, The National Garden Festival, Mandelson’s Millennium Dome. It wasn’t a practical device for seeing that the unemployed don’t starve, or scrounge. It was a lager advert, commissioned by the Tories, kept running by New Labour. Compassion-with-a-hard-edge, toughness-with-a-soft-centre, the new cross-party consensus.

Burke, with whom the Tory party think that it has something to do, said the state wasn’t a partnership agreement in some low concern like the lager trade. He thought it should be looked on with reverence, as a partnership between the generations, in all science, in all art, in every virtue, and in all perfection. That took some believing, in the 1990s, with a state that was ready to dissolve into Europe and to surrender to limited liability companies its prerogatives at home, but, still, we ought to have been able to discern something to revere there, some shreds and tatters of faded majesty, Mr Hague and Mr Blair not-withstanding. Something to make sense of all that expensive ceremonial they were putting on at the Palace of Westminster. (Or was that, like the theatres, for the Japanese tourists too, another branch of the Great National Lager Advert?) But what dignity or decorum even, let alone majesty, can attach to a state department that mimics business and business manners? That gives itself an image and thinks it its business to give the citizen one too? That mistakes its responsibilities for a product and the citizen for a punter?

But it is trade that modern Tories revere. It is the state that now constitutes its idea of a low concern, as if the British state were a mere apparat like that of the former Soviet Union, not, of course, for transforming the relations between the classes but for maximising the efficiency of the system of production and distribution (or, for pretending to). Contemporary cross-party Toryism has been just as stupidly materialistic as the state socialism that it prides itself on having helped to bury. That’s why it can’t distinguish between privatising the car industry and privatising prisons. It has stood Burke on his head. But, who knows, perhaps Mrs May will put him the right way up again.

Mrs Thatcher made cynics. It left you feeling that there was no truth anywhere except in the isolated individual, that there was no institution or system or office that wasn’t a sham. Or to quote from the letters page of The Executive Post:

I have been unemployed for 7 months but have not got bored once. I spend 5 days a week on my jobs search, looking for a position in the human resource personnel function. To date I have replied to 57 advertisements, resulting in 6 interviews
sent out 231 speculative letters, resulting in 10 meetings, and my cv has been retained on file in 71 companies, all of which I will follow up
made contact with over 72 people starting with friends, people from my professional institute and past employers, which has resulted in 33 meetings . . . and . . . and . . .

DUKE MASKELL is joint author of The New Idea of a University (2002)

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“Crooked” Hillary’s Crooked Predecessors


“Crooked” Hillary’s Crooked Predecessors

Gerry Dorrian recalls a rigged election

Donald Trump has caused consternation with his claim that he may not accept the result of the US presidential election if it doesn’t go his way. Is this his characteristic hyperbole – or is he aware that a question mark already hangs over the democratic legitimacy of a recent national election elsewhere – here in the UK?

Our story starts in February 2001, when the Representation of the People Act 2000 came into force and, crucially for our purposes, effectively brought in postal voting by demand. Previously, somebody who wanted to vote by post had to identify themself individually to the constituency registration officer and give a reason why they wished to do so. After the Representation of the People Act, political party officials could bulk-order postal-voting forms on behalf of constituents. A House of Commons Library investigation, Postal Voting and Electoral Fraud, would date the rise of such fraud from this change.

In June 2004 the Tory MP Sir Alan Duncan, then Shadow Minister for Constitutional Affairs, reported to the House of Commons on “public concern over reported instances of fraud, corruption and electoral malpractice” relating to postal voting. The concern was predominantly over local elections in Birmingham earlier that same month, amid a toxic battle between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. According to the Daily Telegraph, on the night before the election police had raided a warehouse to find councillors and supporters “sitting at a table surrounded by postal ballots”.

This does not in itself indicate wrongdoing. However, Judge Richard Mawrey QC made his judgement on the incident, which saw the councillors accused of manufacturing 2,500 votes to ensure they won the election, in April 2005, a month before that year’s general election and his shocking conclusions on “evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic” rang alarm bells all over the nation:

To assert that ‘the systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working’ indicates a state not simply of complacency but of denial.

The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated.

The 2005 general election produced the mandate under which Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister after the latter’s resignation, signed up the country to the Lisbon Treaty, which was a version of the EU constitution modified minimally in an attempt to disguise its federalist agenda. The voting statistics for this election, again from House of Commons Library, showed that Labour’s majority over the Conservatives (in terms of raw votes) was one fifth the size of the postal vote.

That this did not cause a national scandal shows the extent to which the electorate was distracted, with good cause, by the war in Iraq. But it did not go un-noticed. In the Rowntree Trust’s Purity of Elections in the UK: Causes for Concern, Stuart Wilks-Heeg wrote:

In a letter to the Electoral Commission in 2005, Chief Superintendent Dave Murray of Thames Valley Police suggested that “the application procedure to allow individuals to have a postal vote in Local, European and National elections is superficial, cursory and flawed” (Thames Valley Police, 2005). Writing in the Times on 21 January 2007, the academic Michael Pinto-Duschinksy (2007) suggested that it was clear that “there are problems of electoral malpractice in a considerable number of British cities”. Speaking on Newsnight on BBC 2 on 31October 2007, the former Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham suggested that the Committee had been “deeply shocked about the denial not only in the (Electoral) Commission, but also in the then Department for Constitutional Affairs, about the scale of postal vote fraud and the fact that nobody was monitoring what the scale of that fraud was”.

The puzzling thing is, if the vote was rigged, why did they bother? Under Tony Blair’s premiership the three main political parties at the time became closer than they had ever been before. So close, indeed, that one might refer to them as a political cartel, a super-party with Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat wings which only asserted their separateness when an election was on the horizon. It’s entirely possible that a Michael Howard-led Conservative government might have signed us up to the Lisbon Treaty, so taken up with the European integration project were all mainstream parties at the time.

Each individual’s vote is the tangible sign of that person’s equal worth to all of his or her fellow citizens. Electoral fraud makes a nonsense of equality, bypassing the democratic process to prioritise the will of cabals who then exercise enclosure upon our rights, our freedoms and even our national identities, and see democracy as inconvenient to their ambitions. It is therefore alarming that Jeremy Corbyn – who is instilling panic across the political spectrum – has admitted into his inner circle somebody who has been convicted of electoral fraud: according to the Daily Mail, Marsha-Jane Thompson was found guilty in 2006 of having “submitted electoral registration forms for more than 100 different addresses which appeared to contain discrepancies” in the London borough of Newham.

Again, all this does not mean that the 2005 election was rigged, but I believe there are compelling grounds for an independent investigation into its democratic legitimacy and into the status of any laws passed by the 2005 and subsequent governments if democratic succession is found to have been violated.

Given the interest in British politics in America due to the juxtaposition of our EU referendum with their presidential election, I have to wonder if Trump is aware of the problematic nature of the 2005 general election result. Or, in the light of an enigmatic reference to the States’ “fragile democratic institutions” left hanging in Building on Success, an essay by Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, are his references to electoral rigging aimed homewards?

Whatever the answers, as the political temperature shoots past boiling point on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s worth remembering that we all have an obligation to watch out for democratic fraud. Regardless of the direction it comes from, it steals something precious from us that is not easily restored.

GERRY DORRIAN writes from Cambridge

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ENDNOTES, 13th October 2016

Leopold Stokowski, Carnegie Hall 1947

Leopold Stokowski, Carnegie Hall 1947

ENDNOTES, 13th October 2016

In this edition: Chandos’ tributes to Stokowski and Richard Hickox * Choral treasury of English visionaries from Somm

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was one of the great showman-conductors of his time – a famed interpreter of Rachmaninov, a great popular persuader and communicator for music (especially in his pivotal role in Walt Disney’s film, Fantasia) and a meticulous, brilliant arranger of the music of many other composers, from Bach to Shostakovich. Stokowski remained on the conductor’s podium into his old age, conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony at the Proms when most ordinary men would have retired; and in a BBC interview in the 1960s he spoke of his interest in the Promenade audience, in particular, “…their hunger for music”. For some critics, the conductor is a somewhat controversial figure – too much of a showman, perhaps – but if there is one characteristic that could be attributed to the maestro, it was his hunger for music; the passionate quest, through several centuries, to take the work of composers (some of whom, such as 16th-century England’s William Byrd, you might not associate with an international figure of Stokowski’s persona) and infuse them with a new brilliance.

From Chandos Records comes a recent compilation of Stokowski arrangements, admirably performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, based at Media City, Salford, conducted by Matthias Bamert, and thrillingly recorded in a style of which Stokowski would undoubtedly have approved. Here, the recording engineers have produced a CD of true demonstration class, allowing us to appreciate the orchestra in all its varied facets – from the heartfelt Andante Cantabile by Tchaikovsky (chamber music expanded by Stokowski to full orchestral strings) to the American triumphalism and razzmatazz of Sousa’s march The Stars and Stripes Forever. However, three pieces stand out for me in the collection; the Pavane and Gigue by Elizabethan and Jacobean England’s William Byrd, the Sarabande and Courante by the baroque composer and organist, Dietrich Buxtehude, and a United Nations March by Shostakovich. Not only do these three works show the full quality and vision of Stokowski’s skill as an arranger and orchestrator: they bring out the very best in the playing and conducting of the performers, bringing us interpretations of music which the listener will want to play again and again. Firstly, the Byrd: here the ancient pavane almost sighs its way into view, with ravishing realisations of the music’s English melancholia by the horn and string players of the BBC Philharmonic. We are immediately in the landscape of mediaeval churches, or (in the ensuing, lighter Gigue) the Royal court; late-afternoon light, perhaps, on the stone of a building or the furrows of a Saxon field – Stokowski’s 20th-century orchestration somehow intensifying the antique feel, the authenticity of the original structure.

Next, the Buxtehude: a similarly elegiac work with hushed church sonorities, yet given an extraordinary other-worldly atmosphere by the use of the decidedly 20th century electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot (played on the disc by Cynthia Millar), creating a lost, mournful, almost tearful impression via the strange “science fiction” waves of sound it generates. Finally, the United Nations March, a piece of superior cinematic Shostakovich recycling, beginning with a noble full-brass statement – very like the thrilling Festival Overture – and then suddenly taking us by surprise with a tongue-in-cheek parade-ground fanfare. From this delightful and amusing moment, the march – which turns out to be very relaxed and tuneful – seems more like an accompaniment to a Soviet propaganda film, showing happy citizens in great Russian cities, or a pleasant bus-ride through Moscow. However, the work was played at the U.N. General Assembly and does genuinely give us a sense of a great body going about its good works (in theory, at least).

Chandos has also celebrated the life of another fine conductor, Richard Hickox CBE, who died suddenly in 2008 at the age of just 60 – shortly after being taken unwell at a recording session in Wales, in which Holst’s Choral Symphony was to have been produced. I can recall Hickox’s Proms debut in 1983, and I was privileged to see him conduct many times, including a Vaughan Williams symphonic cycle at the Barbican. Like Stokowski, Richard Hickox was a seasoned, dedicated recording artist, relishing music of all eras – from Haydn (his Nelson Mass is one of the finest on record) to 20th– century British classics. ‘The Richard Hickox Legacy’ is an impressive series of CDs – an important retrospective, both for Chandos and for recording history in this country generally, as the conductor has included many less-well-known pieces – such as (in the Holst collection) the infectious energy and rhythms of A Fugal Overture, and Capriccio (from 1932) – a work which begins with some of the loneliness of the symphonic impression and yet suddenly changes mood entirely, to lead us on a quirky, catchy, (rather complex) march – whose tune can be very difficult to filter out of the mind and ear!


However, it is Holst’s Egdon Heath – inspired by Hardy’s Wessex – which truly makes the CD; a peculiar atmosphere of stillness and the slowing of time, of being alone in the countryside, but with a surprising jolt in our reverie – for out of nowhere, a sudden approach of a gust of wind, or some more enigmatic and worrying supernatural disturbance in the landscape. At just over 16 minutes in length, Egdon Heath, nevertheless seems to be much longer, embracing many ideas and much drama, and with some of the composer’s strongest, most appealing writing and ideas. Again, as you would expect from Chandos, a recording that brings the music to new life – and a reminder of the quiet, unassuming greatness of the late Richard Hickox.

Holst’s The Evening Watch, Op. 43. No. 1 features on another highly-recommendable CD, this time from Somm Records – the label founded by Siva Oke, who, with recording engineer, Paul Arden-Taylor, can rival Chandos for a choice of visionary repertoire and resonant recording venues. Entitled “English Visionaries”, the new disc brings the bright, clear, on-the-note voices of the accomplished and ambitious Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir to the fore. Conducted by Paul Spicer, with Nicholas Morris, organ, this smaller-scale choral force (recorded at St. Alban the Martyr, Birmingham) produces a wide, full, inspirational sound in the rare Vaughan Williams piece, A Vision of Aeroplanes which dates from 1956, and in the better-known, Tudor-like Mass in G Minor (soli: Elizabeth Adams, Nicola Starkie, David Emerson and William Gee). That Three Choirs contemporary of Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, is represented by a setting of Joseph Beaumont (1616-99), The House of the Mind – “As earth’s pageant passes by,/Let reflection turn thine eye/Inward and observe thy breast;/There alone dwells solid rest.” Somm’s recording takes the listener to these misty regions – another thought provoking and enjoyable offering from a label of rare distinction.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

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From Metropolis


Mark Wegierski visits a dark future

The term “dark future” is a synonym for dystopia. It refers to any work where the hypothesized future of mankind is bleak. Typical “dark futures” are shown in the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. Other terms for “dark future” are “gritty future” (as opposed to the gleaming, antiseptic, super-scientific utopia) or “air-conditioned nightmare”.

Cyberpunk is a science fiction subgenre that arose in the early 1980s. Its paradigmatic work is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), and in film, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). The main ideas of cyberpunk are a dystopian future of urban decay focussing on a polluted, highly technological planet, ruled by megacorporations; and the extensive presence of computers as well as the “cyberspace” or “Net”.

Literary Examples

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) was a “well-managed” world – in contradistinction to the later “gritty future”. But it was nevertheless a dystopia because of the resultant killing of the human spirit. Huxley’s vision was an endpoint to the unrelenting advance of current-day corporate and social liberalism, i.e., of the so-called managerial-therapeutic regime. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) anticipated what might have happened if Soviet totalitarianism had triumphed worldwide, and may also be read as a meditation of enduring significance on ideological control. (A rather sad commentary on American culture is the lurid, B-movie cover illustration for the book’s first American printing.)

An overlooked classic from the 1950s is the satirical The Space Merchants (sometimes titled Gravy Planet) by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, a critique of 1950s-style capitalism. It presents a polluted planet of consumptionist capitalism where oak wood is worth more than gold, as there are few living trees left. An interesting aspect of this work is that the forces opposing this “world” exist in an underground organization called the World Conservationist Union. They are derided as “Consies” – a word which might equally suggest “Commies” or “conservatives”. In fact, the tendency existing in opposition to this “world” can easily be characterized as embracing both socio-cultural and pro-ecological conservatism, although the authors might not have explicitly intended this as the message of the book.

From A Clockwork Orange

From A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) depicted the dehumanized environment of contemporary capitalism, while John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), focussed on an overcrowded, polluted world and may be termed proto-cyberpunk. Also by Brunner is The Sheep Look Up (1972), a critique of extreme pollution problems and public apathy in regard to these. He weighed in again with The Shockwave Rider (1974) addressing the dangers of a computerized world. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) is the definitive cyberpunk work, despite later challenges, e.g., from Jeff Noon’s Vurt (1993). The very popular sequels to Neuromancer were Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Three newer, prominent works of William Gibson, are Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999). French author Jean Raspail’s bitter allegorical novel, The Camp of the Saints (1973) predicts the destruction of the West under the impact of Third World immigration. And David Wingrove’s mammoth Chung-kuo series (which, from its beginning in 1990, has now reached at least eight thick volumes) portrays a dystopic future dominated by the Chinese.

Cinema and Television Examples

The proto “dark future” film was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) (loosely based on Karel Capek’s play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (1920)), which exerted  enormous influence. Much of the sense of the “dark future” is created through architecture and cityscape. Consider the following quote;”…immediately after the Russian Revolution, a new artistic and architectural style sprang up [in the Soviet Union], called Chicagizm, based on the notion of a new city in a new world without a past” (from the interesting but quirky book by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited (Washington, D.C.: Regnery-Gateway, 1990, p. 430)). One thinks of the 1920s skylines of New York and Chicago, the former of which appear in Metropolis. The rise of modernist architecture and decorative art trends, notably Bauhaus, Art Deco, the International Style, and, finally, postmodernism – played an enormous part in the construction of future visions. Indeed, the “dark future” cityscape is inconceivable without the skyscraper. As the century progresses, mediascape/soundscape is added to cityscape, and “information overload”/”media barrage syndrome” as well sociopolitical postmodernism emerges. Such things as style, edge, mood, atmosphere, or ambience are an important elements of this vision. (One thinks in this context of the name of a lesser-known 1980s rock-group, Ambient Noise.)

Unarguably one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made – which interacts with so many of these discourses – is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, portrayed violence in an artistic, semi-celebratory way. Some other prominent movies of the 1970s included Soylent Green (1973), admittedly a travesty of Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (1966), but its dark twist about cannibalism as the outcome of overpopulation, is well aimed. Rollerball (1975) is set in a corporate-ruled world, where violent spectator sports are used to channel the population’s discontent and aggression, and Logan’s Run (1976), clearly derived from a concept similar to that of Brave New World.

Rollerball Fist,

Rollerball Fist,

The movie Silent Running (1971), although set in space, depicted a depleted environment, where “everyone had a job”, but the only wildlife left was in a few large “space domes” in deep space. Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie (1979) could be seen as akin to Blade Runner. There was a wave of similar movies in the 1980s and 1990s; notably, Paul Verhoeven’s Robo Cop, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic (based on William Gibson’s early short story), Judge Dredd, based on the comic book Freejack (with Mick Jagger as a bounty hunter), Total Recall, a corporate dystopia set on Mars) and Tim Burton’s new Batman epics. Burton’s vision was based on the breakthrough graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller.

The 1980’s British made-for-television film Max Headroom and the American television series, set “twenty minutes from now,” could be seen as portrayals of the “air-conditioned nightmare” of “the near-future.” Ironically, Oliver Stone’s The Wild Palms television mini-series (1993) (derived from the comic series in DETAILS Magazine), was buried by the hockey playoffs! Very few persons bought The Wild Palms Reader (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993). Among the interesting print spinoffs of the Alien/s movies, is Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, edited by Dave Hughes) (New York: HarperPrism/HarperPaperbacks, 1996).

The movie Millennium (1989) involved the problematic concept of time-travel but nevertheless raised the disturbing prospect that the Earth will become so polluted that it will be unable to sustain human life, even with the most sophisticated technologies. One also recalls the films Escape from New York (1981) and its 1990s sequel, Escape from L.A. They presented an authoritarian U.S., where Manhattan Island is a walled-off penal colony for the country’s violent prison population. The movie Tron (1982), set in the current-day period, was interesting because it was one of the first big-screen, big-budget American films to consider the idea of “virtual reality” or “cyberspace”, i.e., what “life” might look like “inside” a computer.

Three 1990s movies exploring virtual reality are The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and Existent. The popular Mad Max film series made speculation about a post-apocalyptic (typically, post-nuclear holocaust) world widespread. The Tank Girl comic and movie (also set in Australia) is derivative of it while WaterWorld could be characterized as “Mad Max on water.” A camp 1980s treatment of the “post-apocalyptic” theme is Streets of Fire, with its rock-music soundtrack.

Mad Max

From Mad Max

The children’s television series, Captain Power, and the Terminator movie series, involved the scenario of evil machines taking over the Earth. Another television series with a cyberpunk feel was The New War of the Worlds. The 1990’s movie Demolition Man was a clever satire on the “dark future”. Finally, in the near-future, technothriller genre, there is the 1990s television series La Femme Nikita, based on the French and (the later) American movie.

An earlier 1990s television series was TekWars (based on William Shatner’s fiction-writing efforts) which tended to become increasingly light entertainment, despite the cyberpunk premise. In the U.S. 2000-2001 television season, two shows with a cyberpunk feel, based on the premise of a take-over of the U.S. by a military government – Dark Angel, and Freedom, were premiered. Of these, Dark Angel proved popular, while the Freedom series was quickly cancelled.

Another variant of the dystopic genre are depictions of near-future (often nuclear) conflicts. Red Dawn (1984), portraying a bunch of American teenagers fighting as guerillas against an invading Soviet army, was a film very much in the spirit of 1980s sensibility. In this same period, there was the absurd depiction, in a television mini-series, of a postwar America under Soviet occupation. It was indicative that America was shown in the best possible light (i.e., life in the countryside, in “the Heartland” was portrayed – which appeared far more traditionalist than it does today). The action took place in small towns and with beautiful scenery in the background. The Soviets were curiously mild — which seemed highly unlikely. “Special occupation units” (commanded by a Nordic-looking German), with black uniforms and helmets also made an appearance – a return, once again, to World War II stereotypes. Persons of Eastern European descent viewed the plot with incredulity. How likely would it be, that the Soviets would consent to the elimination of their shock-troops by the American partisans, or that the army of the post-American puppet-state would arrange with the partisans the delayed arrival of support to the shock-troops, in order to give the freedom-fighters time to finish them off? Clearly the show’s producers had not read a single, serious historical work.

The Surreal Thriller

Oliver Stone’s The Wild Palms is related to another interesting subgenre in television and film, the so-called “surreal thriller.” The paradigmatic example of this is the superb British series, The Prisoner. The Avengers/The New Avengers are similar in style, albeit more comically oriented. This subgenre has continued in America, with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and, of course, The X-Files (the jewel in the crown of the Fox network). A pale imitation of the latter, Nowhere Man, also briefly appeared. In the 1996-1997 American television season there were three new imitations, Dark Skies, Profiler, and Millennium.

An interesting 1970s movie, Welcome to Blood City, begins as an odd-seeming Western, but turns out to be a nasty “virtual reality” experiment designed to produce “superkillers” to serve the government. Somewhat related to this subgenre are the Westworld and Futureworld movies, which portray an elaborate entertainment complex staffed entirely by human-looking robots, a theme which was also explored in The Stepford Wives. David Cronenberg’s Videodrome also has surreal elements, and implicitly addresses some interesting ideas about the effects of media on society. Two very popular old shows containing surreal themes, which were revived at various times, include The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits. All these shows have served to keep the pot of speculation about nefarious government misdeeds simmering and  have doubtless impacted on the political thinking of many people.


The ideas explored in subgenres like cyberpunk are ostensibly unsympathetic to a traditionalist critique of society. Nevertheless, although they portray a “gritty world”, many people reading this kind of work identify with the independent “cyberjockeys”, and experience exhilaration in this literature. These readers are often intelligent “white geeks”, marginalized in today’s world, which exalts minorities and “the supercool”. Likewise, those living a tedious and uninteresting life are captivated by the sense of adventure in this admittedly dystopic world.

Cyberpunk suggests ideas that are neo-Romantic, a Romanticism based on one’s humanity, rather than on nature. Nature, in fact, is virtually non-existent therein, but the human person, in this gritty, poisoned world, must find meaning where there are virtually no other living creatures except cockroaches.

Extending this idea to contemporary reality suggests a solution to the latter-day “crisis of identity”. The human person, who no longer has the sense of roots “imposed on them”, and who  is no longer living in the holistic “bounded horizon of meaning”, makes a free choice to identify with his/her traditional roots. Insofar as we live in a society that ostensibly valorizes free choice, then to opt for traditionalism represents a challenge to today’s system.


From Metropolis

Sociologist Mark Wegierski writes from Toronto

[Editor’s Note – An earlier version of this essay appeared in Right Now, no. 51 (May-June 2005), pp. 14-15]

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Trump’s Churchill Moment

Winston Churchill as Prime Minister 1940-1945

Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, 1940-1945

Trump’s Churchill Moment

Stephen Michael MacLean pursues an instructive parallel

Donald Trump ‘explained’ Churchill to me. And, after the first Trump-Clinton presidential debate, Churchill reciprocated the favour.

The fame of Sir Winston Churchill, who served in several Cabinet offices and was twice prime minister, left me cold, for which I harboured feelings of shame and regret. His life and times certainly fascinated, but I was by no means a Churchill aficionado. Why did I not revere this Conservative hero as so many others did? Why did I not honour him as the greatest statesman of the twentieth century?

Definitely the man had a flair with words — his political speeches are highly quotable and his numerous biographies and histories written with a compelling simplicity. Indeed, Churchill was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature for his multi-volume histories of the Second World War and of the ‘English-Speaking Peoples’.

Yet his political record was chequered. In 1900, Churchill entered Parliament as a Conservative representative, crossing the floor four years later to join the pro-free-trade Liberals. Not to be outdone, he re-crossed — and re-joined the Conservatives in 1924, saying famously: “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”

Fluid party identity was the least of Churchill’s sins. His achievements in government were blemished by failure: inept tactical planning during World War I; returning post-war sterling to the gold standard at unrealistic convertibility; helping to precipitate the General Strike; opposing independence for India; and even losing the 1945 election after denouncing Clement Attlee’s Labour platform for requiring ‘Gestapo-like’ measures. Oxford historian and sometime Tory MP, the late Robert Rhodes James, in his Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900–1939, chronicled the general public’s ambivalent assessment of Sir Winston’s early career. Why, I wondered still, the universal acclaim?

During this presidential campaign season, the full import struck me. In 1939-40, Churchill got the big question right. The major issues facing the American voter are jobs, debt, and national security by way of immigration, border security, and terrorist threats. For the United States, these issues approach the level of existential threats; for Churchill’s United Kingdom, the threat to its existence was also very real and came in the guise of Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Europe.

Britain in the 1930s, like much of the West, was tired. Less than a generation earlier, it had fought the Great War resulting in vast human carnage and spent resources; now it contended with a Great Depression that likewise ruined lives and wasted energies. Hints of Nazi persecution in Germany were whispered, but no one listened; reports of Nazi rearmament and revanchism circulated amongst Whitehall’s highest offices, but no one wanted to hear. Britain was tired of war and hadn’t the matériel to fight one. Could Herr Hitler be bought off? Was there some way to accommodate lebensraum?

One man in particular, among a few, did notice and listen: Winston Churchill. He had heard the whisperings, read the reports, and had warned of Nazi war planning to a deaf and blinkered House of Commons. Yet as Poland, the Low Countries, then France fell to the German blitzkrieg, King and Country turned to Churchill for leadership. Through all the setbacks and the triumphs, over five long years, Churchill ‘kept buggering on’ and roused his nation and its allies to glory and ultimate victory.

I now ‘got’ the secret of Churchill’s success — no secret to anyone who lived through the Blitz and had been bolstered by Sir Winston’s words after the evacuation of Dunkirk in May-June 1940:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . .

Donald Trump’s first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton brought him back into focus. Churchill intruded on my thoughts as I mused, in despondency, over Trump’s lacklustre performance. Political economist Steven Kates shared my mood. “Trump ought to have put her away with so many issues opened up for which there are answers aplenty.” Benghazi, Libya, the Clinton Foundation, pay-to-play State department encounters, secret Wall Street speeches, lost e-mails and a private server and recurring health issues — plus much more, and all left unchallenged.

But Kates sees promise. “I think Trump is conscious of the Romney experience. Mitt Romney won the first debate, then didn’t win the election.” Why did Trump let Clinton off scot-free? Was he luring her into a false sense of security? “I don’t know if it was deliberate but, on purpose or not, he will be back for the second and third events,” Kates writes. “What did Hillary learn from this? Nothing that I think can help her, while Trump learned a lot.” Was this a Churchillian ploy of laying groundwork for a further offensive?

This flicker of hope was enflamed by Newt Gingrich’s debate analysis. Trump’s adversaries “felt good after the debate because their side was glib, articulate, and said things they and their friends believe to be true,” Gingrich opined. ‘Trump wins strategically because in a blunt, clear style, he is saying things most Americans believe.” (The near dozen on-line polls Gingrich quotes give credence to Trump’s assertion he speaks for the silent majority of America’s forgotten men and women. Continuing positive polls and Trump VP- pick Mike Pence’s impressive debate performance simply reinforce this narrative.)

Lest anyone think that I protest too much on behalf of The Donald, simply read this searing cri de coeur, ‘The Flight 93 Election’, which may be likened to a twenty-first century Common Sense (also published under a pseudonym). ‘Publius Decius Mus’ believes that, like that fatal 9/11 airliner whose passengers fought back against the terrorists, American voters must ‘charge the cockpit’; if they don’t, America and the Republic are lost. “A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto,” Decius avers. “With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”

Decius, responding again to Trump critics, takes issue with the depiction of him as a ‘buffoonish tyrant’ (no doubt Churchill faced such epithets, too). “One must wonder how buffoonish … when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.” Trump is thus “more prudent — more practically wise — than all of our wise-and-good who so bitterly oppose him.”

And in one interview, Decius is particularly intrigued by Trump’s visceral identification with the American ideal:

It is not that Trump really understands or has thought deeply about the Constitution, but he is trying to do something fundamentally constitutional in my opinion. He wants to assert the right of the sovereign American people to control their government, which is the core constitutional principle. I think he understands this in an instinctive rather than intellectual way. But that’s OK because, one, most of the people who claim to understand it, don’t; two, most of those (very few) who do understand it are ineffectual at defending it; and three, nobody has really tried to do what Trump is doing in a generation. So who cares if his understanding is flawed?

Ultimately for Decius, as for countless Americans, the presidential race can be summed up by two choices: “the colorful loudmouth with the sensible agenda or the corrupt, icy careerist with the radical agenda”.

For me, Donald Trump’s presidential-run reveals why the British people revered Sir Winston Churchill: when politicians were offering appeasement to the evil of the hour, Churchill rebuffed the tide and stood firm for them. Now, as Trump campaigns against the errors of Establishment America, regardless of personal foibles and failings, Americans stand firm with him. This is Trump’s Churchill moment.

[Editor’s Note – The Donald is evidently a quick learner. In the second presidential debate he landed some very heavy blows on his opponent, who is not looking quite so smug and self-satisfied now]

Stephen MacLean maintains the weblog The Organic Tory


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The Establishment versus the Individual

eu-1473958_960_720 The Establishment versus the Individual

Gerry Dorrian buries the remains 

Snobbery and hatred have always led the powerful to seek to hobble those that they see as beneath them. Currently nothing embodies this more than the elitist and oligarchic response of predominantly privileged groups towards the result of the EU membership referendum. Incorporating the thought of Martin Heidegger – a Nazi academic – into the Left, Remainers demand the right to voice their individuality, to be an “I”, but they knock Brexiteers into a catch all category of lesser beings whom Heidegger labelled “the they”.

The root of their fury is that each of the majority of individuals who voted to Leave has a vote equal to each of theirs. This conflicts with their Heideggerian view that some people are more equal than others. While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the hatred shown by this hard core towards groups they look down upon constitutes anything like the Holocaust, it was this type of hatred that led to Auschwitz. Reductionist othering of groups whose members’ individuality is inconvenient to a power-invested bloc is the diagnostic symptom of fascism.

Mussolini gave fascism the characteristic that we most associate with it, that of the corporate state in which the tasks of government are tendered out to businesses, charities and unions. When Henry Fairlie described the Establishment in a 1955 issue of the Spectator as “the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised” and added “The exercise of power…cannot be understood until it is recognised that it is exercised socially”, he might have been describing the corporate state.

After the Combination Acts were passed by Pitt the Younger to prevent workers from congregating to read and discuss republican tracts, Methodist minister Jabez Bunting led a cadre of newly-minted nonconformist pastors to take control of Sunday schools, with the goal of preventing working-class children (who were also factory workers) from acquiring literacy skills. This early incarnation of the Establishment at work is echoed in modern state schools in working-class areas, where learning to think is subordinated to learning to comply.

But as the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution became apparent, a muscular liberalism came forth. While women and children were legally the property of the paterfamilias and workers effectively that of their employers, Jeremy Bentham elaborated a radical egalitarianism summarised in his principle that “everybody is worth one, and nobody is worth more than one”.

Throughout the Industrial Revolution there was a parallel revolution in thought. It was a time of campaigns for the abolition of slavery, for the criminalisation of child labour and the extension of the franchise to women and working-class men, with proponents spanning what we now call the centre-left and centre-right. But they were opposed; Marx, for instance, derided the fight to end child labour, championed by the Tory politician Lord Shaftesbury, as “an empty, pious wish”. Might it be tendentious to suggest that somebody who wanted an amorphous collective of workers to reject the social order might want that order to appear in as bad a light as possible?

Dogmatic collectivism and robust liberalism cannot share the same space. The latter exists only vestigially now on the Left. It is hardly an accident that in Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, the Conservative Party has provided the country’s only female prime ministers. It has also provided the first Muslim cabinet minister in Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Cameron, on the other hand, did little on his watch to lessen the faceless Establishmentarian brought in by New Labour, which approximated to the corporate state more closely than any western European polity since Mussolini’s fall. Slavery once more blights our island, electoral fraud dilutes full suffrage and children have been left in the hands of abusers, while officials knowingly turned their faces away. Poststructuralist thought within policing, law and the judiciary, it seems, considers certain perpetrators of rape and assault not according to the suffering visited upon their victims but in the context of the crimes within the perpetrators’ culture.

The children are not thereby seen as individuals. Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, which uproots what most people think of as facts – such as “a crime is a crime is a crime” – replaces them with contexts. This shows itself nowhere more than in the fourteen-year cover-up of child grooming and rape in Rotherham, where the “I” accorded by officials to each perpetrator knocked the victims en masse into the category of “the they”.

Inequality is the bedfellow of social deconstruction. Many gay people, for example, are finding their hard-won equality devalued when new communities do not accept them. And immigrants who integrate and change their voting habits find that they are forgotten or even persecuted by self-elected community leaders. While individual freedom is the quintessence of robust liberalism, the collectivist imperative suppresses individuality, encouraging minorities to see themselves not as empowerable individuals but as victimised groups, so that their victimhood can be commodified and used as tools in decentring the traditions of the majoritarian community.

Our traditional liberal values are not perfect – nothing is – but at least they have the advantage of being able to respond to injustices, as opposed to the sweeping social-engineering agendas that caused so much misery in the twentieth century and are now raising their ugly heads again. It is time to face down the oligarchic minority, intoxicated with snobbery, who demand that those who are not inebriated by the EU be cast out into the Other. We, the hoi polloi, demand a liberal, humanist polity that will embrace all people of good intent. The alternative is that freedom will continue to haemorrhage.

Gerry Dorrian is a philosopher. He writes from Cambridge

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Hillary Talks Environmentalism

El Capitan and Merced River, Yosemite National Park

El Capitan and Merced River, Yosemite National Park

Hillary Talks Environmentalism

Ilana Mercer offers Trump topical advice

“We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs; that’s a lot of new economic activity.” So intoned Hillary Clinton, during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University, New York, on September 26.

When have we heard all this before? Like Clinton, President Obama hasn’t a clue how a viable market is created and sustained. Solyndra, if you recall, was awarded $527 million from taxpayers. Each of the temporary, unsustainable jobs created by Solyndra and touted by Obama, cost $479,000. Obama thought this was sufficient to secure a profitable market for the product.

Clinton is every bit the cretin when it comes to the market economy. Continue reading

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Presidential Insurgency Candidates, 1992 to 2016

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, by Gage Skidmore

Presidential Insurgency Candidates, 1992 to 2016 

Mark Wegierski addresses a topical issue

In 1992, Pat Buchanan launched his insurgency-candidacy for the Republican nomination against a sitting President. The candidacy was in itself helpful to the Republican Party, as it dampened down the public profile of the run by the notorious David Duke. Indeed, the National Review at that time urged a vote for Buchanan in the New Hampshire primary. However, after considerable success in New Hampshire, when it appeared that Buchanan might have a slim chance of winning the nomination, he was buried by a firestorm of media and establishment Republican criticism.

Some have argued that Buchanan’s strong showing in the nomination battle forced George H. W. Bush to offer him the keynote address at the Republican Party nomination convention. This offer supposedly panicked “centrist” voters to move away from the Republican Party. Most of the media interpretations of the speech were tendentious, however. A more plausible explanation was that the tedious pragmatism of George H. W. Bush drove considerable numbers of Republicans to vote for the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot – effectively delivering victory to Bill Clinton.

Contesting the 1996 Republican nomination against the lackluster Robert Dole, Buchanan repeated his success in New Hampshire, this time winning the state with 60 percent of the Republican primary vote. Since it seemed that Robert Dole would not present a strong challenge to Bill Clinton, rank-and-file Republicans could have considered a dark-horse candidate. Nevertheless, the Republican establishment, cheered on by the media, again turned ferociously on Buchanan, thus denying him the nomination. Robert Dole went on to lose disastrously to Bill Clinton.

In November 2000, Buchanan mustered no more than a half percent of the vote as the Reform Party candidate – and was not supported by party founder Ross Perot. The election was so close that only a slight increase in Buchanan’s vote might have sunk George W. Bush. At the same time, Ralph Nader’s nearly three percent of the vote (under the banner of the Green Party) clearly weakened Al Gore. Surviving the various Gore challenges in the run up to the election, George W. Bush was finally confirmed as U.S. President-Elect in December. (It was claimed by some commentators that putting Buchanan’s name first on the ballot in Florida caused some confused Democrats to vote for him in error – in effect, taking votes away from Gore.)

Ironically, a very dynamic, third-party Buchanan candidacy in 2004 might well have delivered the election to John Kerry. The Left’s strategizing on how to stop George W. Bush had not considered providing huge funds for a Buchanan third-party candidacy. In 2004, Ralph Nader ran for the Presidency as an independent candidate (rather than under the Green Party banner) but his candidacy was a negligible factor. Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party went nowhere.

In 2008, Nader also ran for the Presidency, but he was a negligible factor – except perhaps putting further pressure on the Democrats to move their agenda leftward. In the 2008 battle for the Republican Party Presidential nomination, another dark-horse candidate emerged – Ron Paul, whose candidacy was compared to that of Eugene McCarthy in 1968. Unlike Buchanan, who had never held major public office, Paul had held elected office for over thirty years as a U.S. Congressman from Texas. The media ignored him as much as possible, although various smears were also attempted.

Buchanan’s candidacies in 1992 and 1996 took place before the emergence of the Internet as a truly mass-medium in the late-1990s. Despite its potential boost, some commentators have argued that the tighter campaign finance regulations and the accelerated primary season work against dark-horse candidates. It also appeared in 2008 that the Republican and Democratic Party establishments and the media were more centered on the “recognized frontrunners” than in earlier years. In that year, the Republican primaries were mostly “winner-take-all” which favored whoever quickly emerged as the front-runner. It has been calculated that, given a more proportional allocation of delegates in the Republican primary voting system, the gap between McCain and the others would have been only a handful of delegates. However, the Democratic primaries were mostly based on proportional allocation of delegates – which probably prevented Hillary Clinton from racking up a decisive, early lead. The Republican system played to the Republican Party establishment, while the Democratic system accentuated their (left-wing) fringe.

In terms of their ideas and their image, Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul were markedly different. Buchanan, evidently, is a controversial, combative, and abrasive figure. In contrast, Paul, the genial country doctor, who promised to take America out of increasingly unpopular wars, appealed to diverse sectors of the American populace. Paul seemingly represented the decency and idealism of traditionalist dissent against the behemoth-state. In marked contrast to the domestically-focused politics of Buchanan’s sharply defined class-war (raised most prominently in the recession of the early 1990s) Paul offered the hopeful message of a re-evaluation of America’s relations with the world (raised in a time of unpopular foreign wars, when anti-imperialist sentiments were very prominent) promising simply peace.

In 2008, Paul declined to run as a third-party or independent candidate for the Presidency, despite the fact that at the time the Republican Party nomination – or even merely some possibility of a meaningful role for him among the Republicans – were clearly denied to him by various entrenched interests. In his 2012 primary run, Paul did better than in 2008, but he was again sidelined by the Republican Party establishment.

Mitt Romney ran a lackluster and timid campaign against Obama. He did not go after Obama and his policies with one-tenth of the zeal that he has recently shown in lambasting Donald Trump, the insurgent-candidate of 2016.

Donald Trump, a self-made billionaire, combines policy aspects of both Buchanan and Ron Paul. He appeals especially to working class people, and those weary of interminable wars and entanglements abroad. The fact that Trump was able to prevail against the Republican Party bigwigs that pulled out all the stops to defeat him also impresses this constituency.

Having had a major show on network television makes him a well known figure. Because he is personally very wealthy, this means to many that “he can’t be bought” by the Washington power-brokers and “insiders”. He follows two terms of Obama, and two terms of George W. Bush, both of which have been disastrous for America. Many voters are so disillusioned with politics that Trump’s abrasiveness and numerous other faults are overlooked. He is the “anti-Establishment candidate”, par excellence.

Bernie Sanders was another insurgent-candidate, whose message, ironically, somewhat resembled that of Trump. However, Sanders was unable to overcome the Democratic Party establishment that has delivered the nomination on a silver platter to Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump is the only Presidential insurgency-candidate who has secured a major party nomination. It remains to be seen whether he can prevail in November.*

* Editorial Note –  Inshallah, he will win

Toronto-based writer Mark Wegierski is a longtime observer of U.S. politics


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Drinks and food to please the palate

Drinks and food to please the palate

Em Marshall-Luck makes some fine selections

An outstanding rosé, an excellent white, and an easily-quaffable red are this month’s recommendations, along with a few suggestions of top quality food products to match with your wines; including a smokery that one can visit.

Firstly, that superbly impressive rosé – this is an English-produced Pinot noir rosé 2015 from the Oxney Organic Estate, situated by the river Rother on the eastern edge of East Sussex, six miles from the sea. The ethos of the Estate is that of organic principles and minimal intervention. The bottle is smart and gives an impression of tradition and yet progressiveness at the same time; it bears a gold sticker for having won a gold trophy in the UK Vineyards’ Association Wine of the Year Competition.

Organic Pinot Noir Rosé

Organic Pinot Noir Rosé

Unusually, the label gives the full specifications of the grapes – not just what they are but even the rows they are from and the date they were hand-picked, as well as the fact that there was 12 hours skin contact and that fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks; while the back label gives tasting notes as well as information about the vineyard. The wine itself is a very pale pink colour and has a gorgeously fruity nose of strawberries and raspberries – a bright burst of summer. The taste is refreshingly dry and combines those strawberries and raspberries with citrus fruits – a decent dose of lemon and grapefruit, along with dry grass and straw. The texture is immensely smooth and creamy and there is a long, lingering citrusy finish. An extremely elegant and refreshing wine, it is available for £15 from Continue reading

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Polish Canadians, Searching for a Voice (Part 6)


Polish Canadians, Searching for a Voice (Part 6)

Mark Wegierski continues his analysis

The author maintains that the Polish Canadian community must build up significant infrastructures – or fade away. “Canadian Polonia” is a term by which Polish-Canadians refer to themselves, synonymous with “the Polish-Canadian community”.

Canadian Polonia has constantly complained about the lack of financial resources for its community endeavours. The place of the Polish-Canadian community in Canada is becoming attenuated, despite the figures of the 2011 Canadian Census which suggest that there are over a million persons of Polish descent in Canada.

Vast initiatives are indeed required to raise the saliency of Canadian Polonia. Some fairly obvious directions are to increase the pressures on all levels of government (federal, provincial, regional/municipal) to provide a more equitable share of multiculturalism and other cultural-related funding to the Polish-Canadian community. It would be helpful if some systematic, comparative research could be done in this area, so that Canadian Polonia could approach the various levels of government with some solid statistics. It should also be remembered that effectively writing grant proposals and putting together grant applications is a skill. Continue reading

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