These are the implements of the new HUU LGBT+ shipping tax I will hopefully be rolling out over the next few days. In order to gather a few pennies more each year for
beer important things, 10p for each vocalisation of a “ship” at coffee socials and meetings will be levied. Going to ask people to put their names to it if they want to chip in~
A fit and proper and financial system is essential to the smooth running of any modern economy. The central contention of this post is that Liberals must seek to create a financial system that works for the British economy as a whole; but not through state-ownership or the protection of existing interests. Rather, we must seek to create a more competitive financial sector in the UK that connects with individuals in new and interesting ways. Given that this is not something that will happen overnight, we must accept that in the meantime it is going to take a large injection of capital from the government to get the system going again - an injection we must manage to make as Liberal as possible.
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The Step Ladder of Fightiness; from HooHa to Rumpus, this handy device in our office is an effort to put some quantifiable figure on the state of the world.We downgraded the situation to HurlyBurly this morning and I will be posting updates on twitter whenever it changes.
Better than any colour-coded madness on the DHS website, anyway.
The day after my vexatious visit to Westminster Abbey, I had quite the opposite experience in a much smaller, much less famous but no less important and well-used London church. St Bartholomew the Great opens one’s eyes to the possibilities of a well-run church in the most dramatic way after my experience of Westminster.
From the outside, you would not know what is hidden within St Bartholomew the Great; houses and towers of brick creep over the surface like ivy, and an unadventurous Victorian covering of flint, like some early form of pebble-dashing, obscures the stonework. It sits low down among the narrow streets that cram between St Barts hospital on the south side and Smithfield market to the North; the Eastern skyline is pierced by the Barbican. London crowds in forcefully here, cheek-by-jowl buildings squeezing around this church.
Yet within this strange, battered outside are the fragile, shrunken yet arresting remnants of a vast Norman church. Once second to only St Paul’s in size (itself the third largest cathedral in England), the priory of St Bartholomew sprawled over a vast site outside the city walls of London. Today, the attacks of Henry VIII and then a whole variety of private citizens have left just the crossing, one bay each of the nave and south transept and the quire of the Norman church. The much-abused Lady Chapel beyond, which was everything from a house to a printers workshop before being returned to the church during the Victorian period, still bears the scars of the intervening years.
This building evokes the words of Virginia Woolf, writing about London during the Blitz; a “great smash, like a crushed matchbox”. Yet it clings defiantly to what it has left; refusing to go under in the tidal wave of concrete and asphalt, it remains an intensely atmospheric and powerful place. The heavy Norman architecture adds to this feeling of firm survival; and also to the security of the peace within the walls.
Architecturally, it is not an especially significant place. The Norman style is firm, squat and heavy - the figurative carving is very thin on the ground, the capitals to the columns carved simply, without embellishment to the shafts. The later clerestory has figures on the capstones and I did find a single carved Norman face leering out from behind the crossing arch on the south side. The tomb of Rahere, the founder of both the priory and what would become St Barts’ hospital, is a little sliver of Decorated in this sea of Romanesque; even that has been cut down in length during the life of this church. Brightly painted, it huddles close to the altar, turning a bare side to the ambulatory and windows beyond.
Yet, with this broken stump, the staff of this church have created a most welcoming place. They use what they have well - from Four Weddings and a Funeral and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Sherlock Holmes and an upcoming BBC production of Richard II, they have allowed the cameras into their church. The remaining strand of cloister houses a café overlooking a green, the pattern on the paving beyond the west door shows the length of the nave and the width of the arches there. I was privileged enough to have the excellent company of a Verger, who took me up into galleries and lofts from where I could get yet more stunning views of the church. The enthusiasm and welcoming demeanour of the staff was a breath of fresh air.
The musical and religious traditions here are undoubtedly strong; if they are as strong as their approach to visitors, then I will definitely be making many a return visit to hear their choir sing. The church is not perfect, but with the cloth they have they have done a great deal. I don’t doubt that they are capable of adapting to new challenges and going even further in future.
Their building remains a sanctuary of stalwart proportions. It has braved Reformation, fire and Blitz and come out the other side with its sanctity intact. It remains a peaceful place to sit and think; more than that, though - it truly is an awesome place; no less than the House of the Lord, the gate of heaven.
Westminster Abbey promises much - the seat of coronations since before the Conquest, the bearer of the tombs of a great many monarchs of English history and cathedral-like dimensions. Indeed, it is stuffed to the gills with history; it is thick on the walls everywhere here. But not in the air - the Abbey I found last week was rather disappointing, reduced to a single-direction indoor tourist trail. Perhaps the legends had made the reality a little too pale; but I feel this church is in need of new management to get the most out of it.
The Abbey is a thoroughly international presence in the heart of the Westminster village - the building itself is inescapably French in influence, with her great height, rounded apse and polygonal apsidal chapels. It carries in its very heart the remains of Saint Edward the Confessor; the last English king to be canonised and the patron saint of the royal family to this day. The stunning Cosmati pavement on which the coronation chair is placed was executed by an Italian family under the direction of Henry III. It is appropriate that the body of the church is regularly thronged by hordes of tourists speaking a great many languages, therefore.
The clusters of royal tombs around the shrine and up into the exquisite Lady Chapel that extends beyond it are each fascinating and yet unreachable; the effigies hidden from sight to those below. Those in the scores of chapels to either side are more approachable - some are extremely arresting works of art, others simply imperial in their dimensions, flooding themselves into the space given. The floor plaques are everywhere; some still crisp from their recent insertion, others worn slowly smoother and smoother. The dead are everywhere in the Abbey; they must surely have filled the space below the floor by now, as well as crowding the world of the living above with their tombs and monuments.
Through all this, though, I remain disappointed. My first inkling that all would not be as it seemed was that photography is prohibited inside the Abbey - of any kind. There does not seem to have been a justification given for this anywhere on the website, nor during my time there. Other great churches with precious relics allow photography; often without flash, or on the payment of a small additional charge. Given that people are inclined to stand around without moving anyway, listening to the audio guides, I am not sure that banning photography in any way expedites the flow of people through the Abbey.
Then there is one-way system; using ropes and gates, you are funnelled through the Abbey as though it was a tourist trap of the rudest kind. There is no chance to explore and gaze and wonder about this building; you have to go from one to another, at stopping at the place set by your audio guide before shuffling onto the next. No chance to record what you might be seeing and certainly a great barrier to real enjoyment of this building which would undoutedly have stunned me in all her beauty a great deal had I been given a chance.
The audio guides themselves are a further vexation. It is nice to be led around the Abbey by the voice of Jeremy Irons (Scar or Vetinari, I still cannot decide), but it is the only option available to you at the start of your visit; there is no opportunity to pick up a more detailed, written guide until you have reached the cloisters; after going past all the royal tombs, the Cosmati pavement, the Lady Chapel and Poet’s Corner; and it is not easy to force yourself back through the hordes of tourists coming the other way to find things you wanted explaining. They also lead to the afore-mentioned gaggles of people all stopping at the same time to listen to the same number on the audio guide before shuffling obligingly onwards. The guides also miss out many interesting snippets - one that pops to mind is that, in describing Edward I’s tomb, no explanation is given of the inscription facing the viewer (Edward the First, Hammer of the Scots. Keep Troth).
In short, I was left feeling rather jilted by this church. I do not doubt it is beautiful, extremely historically important and full of fascinating little bits of the Gothic style I adore. Yet it is very hard to pick this out through the way the church is managed. For £13 entry, I expected something rarefied and special. Instead, I rather feel I have been had on this occasion.
Building a new British economy must be a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy. We need to move beyond being a party of constitutional reform and a small clutch of eye-grabbing tax policies and return to our Liberal roots. We are the party that produced some of the most important documents in the history of British political economy, like the famous 1929 document We Can Conquer Unemployment. From Smith to Hayek and beyond, Liberal philosophers and economists have played a key role in shaping modern thought on how a successful economy should look, and how we should measure that success. We need to call on this history to broaden our policy base and so our appeal; our history and ideology can be great strength and asset to us. Ideas and the battle for them are essential if we want to rebuild a politics worth fighting for in Britain; industrial policy is a key part of this battle.
I want to try and address the issue of responding to the economic crisis through the creation of a Liberal industrial policy in a short series of blog posts. In this post, I will try to identify what I believe industrial policy is in general sense, and how we can build one that is rooted in Liberal ideas that should be common to all Liberal Democrat policies. In subsequent posts I will go on to look at various areas that might be covered by an industrial policy - finance, education, infrastructure - in turn and try to identify solutions that sit well within a Liberal world view. Not everyone will agree with my conclusions; nor do I expect that they will be perfect. My main objective is to spark a debate - to help move the party beyond income tax thresholds and the reform of the House of Lords into a full, wide-ranging debate about how we see Britain today, and how we think it should be tomorrow.
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A lovely day out was had by all to Paull on the banks of the Humber; driven by Kay, together with Evi, Sarah and Simone. We wandered along the foreshore, set up on a concrete platform to eat ham sandwiches and doughnuts and then wandered some more. It’s a stunningly beautiful, open place - with salt marshes and mud flats humming to the tunes of sandpipers and skylarks.
Then up the path to the church; lovingly maintained by its congregation and undergoing the addition of a lovely new porch on the inside. Cups of tea were consumed, knitted mice and jam bought and feet rested. Evi and I tracked down many of the ships graffitied into the stones of the nave long ago - when Hedon was a great port and the Humber busy with cargoes of wool and timber, carried in cogs to and from the ports of Northern Europe and Britain.
Then, as we wandered back to the car, a magical moment - with the lone bell of St Andrews tolling through the gentle sing-song of the birds; a little moment of pure England in the air. A brilliant trip out.
I think this an accurate summary of the horrors policy makers face today; both the sheer weight of work to be gotten through, and the total lack of public understanding of the impreciseness of the state when it comes to big issues of the day.
Once you’ve read that, then go on to read the article by David Cutts in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, entitled Yet Another False Dawn? An Examination of the Liberal Democrats’ performance in the 2010 General Election.
We need to stop using campaigning methods and tactics from the 1970s and start to design a new, more effective campaigning machine or things will just get worse. It doesn’t matter if it “always worked before”; what matters is that it works today and works well. More Focus leaflets won’t get us elected; better targeting of campaigns, more time to select and bed in candidates to fill seats that will be vacated at the next election and a few pages from the Obama book of campaigning will do us well to begin with. We can still win seats and votes - so let’s make it easier for ourselves.
More than we’re given credit for, it turns out.
Thanks to Mark Pack for creating this infographic!
In between bouts of trying to write a conference paper, I’ve been wondering - if human civilisation were on the verge of collapse, and I were about to have to rush off to some remote hiding place in the rural backwater of Yorkshire with my friends to ride out the storm, what books would I take with me? Rather than horde this paranoid pondering to myself, I think it would be interesting to see what others would do. Some quick rules:
- You are only allowed 10 books/volumes. Taking the full Encyclopedia Britannia is out!
- Physical books only - the end of human civilisation may well make digital media obsolete.
- Only books you own.
The books can be used for rebuilding society and knowledge after the worst of the collapse is over, as well as for your little survivor community; they may not be the only texts surviving, so you can trend towards what you find interesting! I’m going to presume that survival skills are embedded - this is your little seedbed for the future. My 10 are:
- The Bible (King James Version)
- Niccolo Machiavelli; The Prince
- Ed. Kenneth O. Morgan; The Oxford History of Britain
- Norman Davies; Europe: A History
- Bertrand Russell; History of Western Philosophy
- Jon Cannon; Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World That Made Them
- William Shakespeare; The Complete Works
- John Stuart Mill; On Liberty
- Adam Smith; Theory of Moral Sentiments
- Carl Von Clausewitz; On War
Anyone else care to venture a few?
To my books - I still love all of you:
The Liberal Democrats are short of policies and a firm public commitment to Liberalism from which to base them. Simply put, that is the dilemma we face as a party - the need to embrace both new ideas and the ideological basis from which they must come. If we are to survive and thrive going forwards, then we must be more than a diluted form of Labour, or the good conscience of the Conservative Party - we must be an actively, openly, proudly Liberal party in spirit and action. I have banged this drum many a time before; but we are running out of time to define ourselves as something worth voting for on our own merits before the next general election.
Mark Pack and others are warning that we’re becoming a party of complaints and resistance, and this is manifested in our lack of new policies. I agree entirely - I think the way we campaign has played a huge role in this. We’ve recruited and leafleted on the basis of being on the right side of residents, rather than presenting a clearly Liberal set of ideas to the electorate. The two are not inconsistent, but as long as we run scared from our own heritage, then we will never be able to marry the two.
If Liberalism means a commitment to defending individual rights, giving local communities a real say in their own affairs, environmentalism that creates as much as it takes, an economy and society run on the basis of individual involvement and action and the principle that government should be as open and close to the people as possible - then we should have no trouble selling this to our electors. Let us lay aside the debate over Lords reform; messy and thin on votes; and focus on the issues that voters persistently tell pollsters matter. The economy, education, law and order and healthcare are all key to our future.
We should look to develop a Liberal vision of Britain’s tax code - more than the £10,000 threshold, more than raising capital gains - but a holistic vision of what it should be for as much as how it will deliver revenue. We must also heed the lessons of economies from Germany to Japan and develop a Liberal industrial policy; a means to marry the need to keep markets as free as possible whilst making our economy as strong as possible. Along that line, we should stand against those who oppose investment in this country for the purpose of green energy - I am ashamed to see two Liberal Democrat MPs sign their names to the letter to the Telegraph opposing this crucial investment.
The opposition within the party to the emergence of new groups, promoting different visions of Liberalism, was disappointing to me because it singularly failed to recognise these desperately urgent truths about us - that we need to recommit to Liberalism and generate policies from that as a matter of priority. We will not get there without a debate about our future and our direction; a debate that these groups will help us have.
Voters gripe that all parties are the same - that politicians will say anything to get elected and that we believe in nothing but our own enrichment. The window for us to prove that theory wrong - to build a Liberal Democrat party of which we can be proud and which defends Liberalism with all the vigour it can - is closing fast. I hope we seize it before it closes entirely.
Then you used the wrong word in your last post. Monkeys are making tools to help them with everyday objects. We were making tools before we could communicate properly, we found fire, and the fact that water would quench the fire with…
Will you kids be quiet?
Social and natural sciences are not mutually exclusive, nor is one “better” than the other. The philosophy of science is vital to how it operates - the theory of epistemology, for example, covers knowledge. What is it to know and can we reach the stage where we know something for certain? Conversely, natural science is vital to philosophy - filling debates with new concepts and ideas such as quantum theory, which bring entirely new planes to philosophical debates.
The world without social or natural science would be a pretty hollow place either way. Subjects aren’t “tiered” in any way. It is what you find enjoyable, what you find worth learning, that defines the value of the degree you are studying. The whole purpose of University is to open your mind to new ideas and help you explore them in ways you did not think possible back in the narrow constraints of the schooling system.
I am disappoint - write out “I will be aware of my own socially constructed concepts of discipline worth in future” 1,000 times each.
EDIT: This can’t be a proper tumblr argument with one of these:
The cause of the Syrian people continues to excite foreign policy commentators in the UK. One offering in the last few days was this article on the Huffington Post by Luke Bozier. Others have taken to twitter to denounce compliance with international law as an “excuse for idiocy” and ruminated extensively on the veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council (P-5). Mr Bozier and Mr Green are both commentators of some standing, and Mr Green’s professional qualifications are certainly not in doubt. However, I believe both of them profess dangerous sentiments with regards to Syria, and international law more widely, respectively.
With regards to Mr Bozier, the proposition that the West should pump arms, training and money into Syria to “create a boiling point” may seem palatable - it would place no British lives in danger and would enable the rebel movement within the country to take on the Syrian military on more even terms. Yet it is a short-term solution and a long-term nightmare. The weapons we ship to Syria do not contain moral compasses; the people wielding them do not have the same outlook as we do, nor are they likely to always align with our preferred outcome for Syria. In the absence of the crushing weight of the Assad regime, what is to ensure that these weapons do not point at each other? Syria is an ethnically and religiously heterogeneous place - from what I can tell, there isn’t a united opposition, never mind a united vision for the post-war Syria.
The risk is that, in our haste to be rid of one nightmare, we build up for a second. Assad is clearly a dangerous leader - but in the muddle of a civil war after he is either exiled or tortured to death, who is in the wrong and who is in the right? The presumption of the interventionists that there are clear moral answers in foreign policy belies the ugly truth - that it is only very rarely that we can have easy moral choices in a plural world. It is naive to suggest that this boiling point will remove Assad without even hinting at what would come after. I am of the opinion that we must countenance no such measures until we have a peacekeeping force in the tens of thousands and billions of dollars of reconstruction aid ready for insertion to help the rebuilding process. Mr Bozier makes no such allowances for post-war scenarios - the allusion to Iraq is almost too easy to make.
Mr Bozier also suggests we do not need Security Council resolutions to make war on Syria. The UN Charter, the cornerstone of international law, would disagree - making it clear that the “threat or use of force” by states is illegal. Only two exceptions are granted by the Charter - Article 51, which covers the long-standing right to self-defence, and Article 42, which grants the Security Council the right to authorise the use of force. The Charter is designed to make it hard to get an authorisation to use force; a system to prevent a repeat of that greatest of horrors, war between the great powers.
There is not much room here to wiggle - international law is clear. It is not a matter of nibbling at the phrase “any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations” in 2(4) - who decides when something is inconsistent, and if it is sufficiently so to warrant the use of force? Arguably, the Security Council, which the member states have after all invested with “primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security”. It is not a matter of banging the drum of Responsibility to Protect - which in any case relies on the Security Council to provide the authorisation to use force. The ICISS is very clear; failure to seek this will undermine the credibility of the UN system itself.
Thus I am mystified as to why compliance with international law is such a bad thing. Does Mr Green prefer it if states were to interact in an unregulated way - stripped of the apparently burdensome constraints of international law? We can do away with 2(4) if he wishes and see if states use their new freedom to use force for the greater good; or if practical political concerns, or aged nationalist sentiments, help shape a rather less salubrious world. Louis Henkin once remarked that the great truth of international law was that most states obeyed most of it most of the time. We should not abandon it because of a singular incident, however painful it has been for those involved. Nor should we dismiss international law because it does not do as we intend today.
We must recognise that the jus ad bellum of today is designed to make it harder to go to war. Advocates of intervention in Syria would win my support more readily if they admitted that this is what they are advocating - war. That aside, they should neither be mystified nor angered that the legal process makes it hard to rush for the JDAMs. They would also win my support more readily if they had a plan for post-war Syria - a recognition that a vacuum must be filled (with boots on the ground and money from our pockets) and that a regime must be established in its place. I am concerned that we are so eager for war against Assad that we will throw aside much greater concerns - such as laws against war - to remove one madman. In the aftermath of Intervention 2.0, there may be a rather more deadly world awaiting us - and that is a price none of us will be willing to pay.