Lady Thatcher again

A few days ago I posted a blog about the death of Lady Thatcher and the abuse against her after her death. Forgive me if I sounded like a finger-wagging idealist who was all well-meaning but didn’t have the faintest clue what life was actually like for people who unemployed because of the closure of mines. I’m sure there are many heartbreaking stories of the effects of deindustrialisation – which Thatcher allowed to continue through the 1980s by stopping subsidising the mines, while doing very little to cushion the effects it had on the communities – and I can understand why there are very strong feelings about her premiership. And despite what I said about death being a universal experience, Margaret Thatcher was deliberately divisive, and David Winnick, a Labour MP since 1979, is right to say that it would be hypocritical for people who opposed her strongly at the time to keep their mouths shut and pretend not to feel the same way now. I wouldn’t mind betting Lady Thatcher would agree with him too. 

There will always be idiots in the world and I suppose the “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” phenomenon, the abuse and the celebrations of her death are proof of that. But I won’t lump all of her critics in the same group as those people. Also, although I think she had admirable qualities and was certainly the most successful prime minister of the last thirty years, her admirers need to remember that she had flaws and she made mistakes. Peter Hitchens puts it well: “I advise both her enemies and her worshippers to remember that she was human – deserving in the hour of her death to be decently respected, but to be neither despised nor idolised. May she rest in peace.”


Will there be nations in heaven? Different languages?

Firstly, sorry for not posting since April. That commitment to blog regularly didn’t last very long, did it? But anyway, here I am again and after getting back into reading other WordPress blogs recently, I’m hoping to now get back into my own blog too.

I like languages. I do French and Spanish at school and after having been on two exchange trips this summer (one in France, one in Spain), I have a renewed interested in linguistics. I have started randomly translating song lyrics into French and Spanish in my head, reading up on Esperanto and Greenlandic, editing foreign-language Wikipedias and I’ve now actually started to invent my own language, called Negrapinut (which means “language of the black country” in case you’re interested). Sounds nerdy, right? But hey.

Like many others, I do also have a certain sense of pride in being British. Much has been said about how the royal wedding last year combined with the Jubilee and Olympics/Paralympics this year have renewed a sense of patriotism in Britain that perhaps we were lacking before. And you only have to look at Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and the DR Congo to see that proper nations where people have a shared identity are stronger than man-made unions or countries made up of loads of different tribes.  (Ok, the Soviet Union was pretty strong while it lasted, but it inevitably collapsed eventually, just as Yugoslavia inevitably split up into its original nations.)

However, I have in the past actually wondered whether nationhood (if that’s a word) and different languages are things that we should actually thank God for, given that they were meant to be a curse put on us because of the Tower of Babel. My conclusion is to thank God for all the good things that have resulted from them, the shared identity that they give people and the pleasure that different cultures and languages give me and many others, while acknowledging their origin and that, though we might have them in heaven, we might not do because we won’t need them.

Will there be different languages, and different nations and cultures, in heaven? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible. The diversity of the different cultures and languages in the world bring a lot of pleasure to people. Patriotism often brings people together with a shared identity, and allegiance to one’s nation can be a force for good if people are inspired to serve their country. And as there will be no sin in heaven, the idolatry and the bad things that can result from nationalism wouldn’t happen.

However, I’m slightly leaning towards the no side. The fact that these things were meant to be a curse as a result of us building the Tower of Babel kind of makes me think that there would be no languages or cultures in a perfect world. And if everyone in heaven will be part of a perfect family of God’s children, what extra kind of shared identity will we need? Once we are with God and are fully experiencing his love together, will we really need the pleasure of the different cultures and languages we have now? And once we have fully matured as Christians and become wise, will we really need to find wisdom in other cultures?

What do you think? Any comments would be welcome.

Chess and war

What kind of people are good at chess? Most would agree it’s those who are good at recognising, memorising and solving puzzles, thinking both tactically – looking at what the best thing is to do now – and strategically – planning ahead and seeing how everything fits in in the long-term.

If playing timed, they also need to be able to think fast. They need to be able to get themselves out of tricky situations. They need to be able to think offensively and defensively. Above all, good chess players are excellent at keeping concentration, staying alert to any threats and opportunities.

To me, it seems as if chess should be compulsory for people who want to become military generals – I don’t think there’s a single quality in the above list that isn’t advantageous in war.

We could use the example of the current Libyan conflict – is there really a long-term strategy in this? Is there an exit strategy? What will happen if it all goes wrong? Hmmm…

Personally, I’d rather we weren’t directly involved in the Libyan conflict at all. I would fully support just arming and funding the rebels, and letting Colonel Gaddafi know that we basically hope he dies (I know one of our recent former Prime Ministers was very nice and friendly and cuddly and gave you weapons but things are different now).

But getting into another war is exceedingly costly when we’re trying to cut spending, hypocritical (what about Robert Mugabe, the Syrian President etc.?) and it’s far easier to get into a war than out of it, as we’ve seen with Iraq and Afghanistan. And just because Russia, China and a league of other Arab dictatorships say we can do it, doesn’t mean you can say “Oh it’s all perfectly fine because we’re adhering to international law.”

Still, we’re in it now, we’re probably not going to leave any time soon, so I just hope we succeed in what we’re trying to do. All I suggest is that all the military generals, David Cameron and anyone else who’s thinking of becoming an army general or Prime Minister be made to take up chess.

Maybe then we’ll be able to think up a coherent strategy for succeeding in Libya and, for that matter, exiting Afghanistan, because all the qualities needed to succeed in chess are immensely helpful in war.

EDIT (24 October): I am of course glad that Libya has been liberated, and the rebels have so much to thank the British government for in helping them end their dictator’s 32-year-long reign. Our intervention was worth it in the end.

Was the American crisis caused by too much democracy?

US House of Representatives passes debt-limit bill

US House of Representatives

The Republicans and Democrats have finally agreed a deal on raising the debt ceiling and both houses of Congress have passed it. The agreed-upon bill has a lot of problems and has no coherent strategy for reducing the deficit other than trillions of dollars of cuts and allowing the US government to borrow trillions more money.

Given the dog’s dinner President Obama has made of trying to recover their economy, however, I think it’s a lot better than it could have been, although I understand why many Democrats were immensely annoyed about the massive compromises Obama has made.

A part of me is annoyed that Republicans seem to be a bit like the Eurocrats who are bailing out Greece (I know that sounds weird given the gulf between their political views) – rigid, completely unwilling to compromise, with little regard to what actually appears to be working and of the trust of their constituents. In fact, just half a year ago, the GOP commissioned a report saying that the best way of tackling deficits is with 85% spending cuts and 15% rises in tax revenue. A couple of weeks ago the Democrats offered almost exactly that – and the rises weren’t even direct tax rises, just revenue gained from closing tax loopholes. But it’s taken until now to reach a deal?

Another part of me sort of understands what they’ve been doing and thinks that the whole ordeal hasn’t been too bad. While I don’t really trust either Republicans or Democrats to handle the US economy, I do believe in low taxes and small government, and I think large-scale spending cuts are necessary in both Britain and the US. The job of Congress (and, theoretically at least, our Parliament) is to hold the government to account. Most of the new Republican Congressman were elected last year on a Tea Party platform of brutal spending cuts and low taxes, so they and their voters have pretty much got what they wanted.

However, most voters are fed up with the Punch and Judy politics in their country. 72% of Americans have nothing but derision for Congress after this ordeal, but I think this is just a culmination of the increasing division in US politics in the last few decades. Generally, little progress happens – it seems like American politics is basically a catfight between Democrats and Republicans, between big government and rampant capitalism with no grey areas in between.

Lack of stuff actually getting done in Britain is usually down to the fact that we can’t do anything, because most of the decisions lie either with quangos, human rights judges or the European Union – in other words, because of lack of democracy. Could the same problem in America be down to too much democracy, too many elections (Congress is elected every two years)? Or maybe it’s because of the strong two-party system?

In principle, I am very attracted to anything that holds the government to account – whether it’s elected senators, the power of Parliament (or Congress) over the exective, direct democracy or anything else. I think there is much we in Britain can learn from the United States, Switzerland and possibly other countries in this respect, and I wish people in this country had more power than they do. Is there a chance, though, that if you go too far, nothing gets done? It is, after all, because of direct democracy that women in Switzerland didn’t get the vote until 1971.

There are other factors in it than simply too much democracy, and all I’ve read about them is in Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. I’m sure there are plenty others who are better qualified to comment on American politics. But it does make me wonder what went wrong.

Reaching out to the right is the only way forward for the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg proposing to dumb down the NHS reforms

Nick Clegg tried to win sympathy for his amendments to the NHS reforms, but this approach is not working

The reason for the Lib Dems’ collapse in support last year was because they had failed to reach out to the right.

This may sound ludicrous, given that they’re criticised for being too right-wing, but hear me out. Throughout the Labour years, they relied too much on support from disaffected Labour voters – so obviously if they go into coalition with the Tories, they are going to be disliked by a lot of their voters.

Of course, they also made a stupid pledge about tuition fees which they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep if they went into to coalition with either party, rightly angering their voters – but that was just part of a wider thing about them being too left-wing.

You can’t blame Nick Clegg for this, as he actually brought his party closer to the centre than it had been since the Liberal-SDP merge (God knows where the party would be now if Chris Huhne had been elected leader). But since the AV referendum/local elections this May, he has adopted a new strategy – trying to show that they are having some influence in the government and are not just propping up the Tories.

Given his party’s main source of criticism is the perception that they basically are just propping up the Tories (though that’s not entirely true), this is an understandable idea. He followed it through mainly by trying to dumb down the NHS reforms, which worked, but didn’t work – as public opinion of him and his party is still at an all-time low.

I think he and the Liberals just need to face up to the fact that most of the left-wing votes they’ve lost are gone and he won’t retrieve them any time in the near future. Instead, Clegg needs to see this as confirmation of the need for him to continue shifting his party to the market-liberal centre. Or does he really want to just spend the rest of the term trying to win back left-wing votes, when at best this will only benefit him in the short-term and at worst it will not deliver any meaningful progress?

The way to go for the Lib Dems is to change into a proper liberal party that embraces economic liberalism (good for wooing right-wing voters) as well as civil and personal liberties (good for wooing left-wing voters). They need to build on the reasons why people switched from Labour to them, but also make the party attractive to Tory voters as well. If any of them need inspiration, this blog kept by classical-liberal Lib Dems, supporting tax cuts and a limited government as well as personal freedom, might be helpful.

They’re already on this path unintentionally. Before the AV vote, an ICM poll showed that less than a quarter of Lib Dem voters would put a Labour candidate as a second choice, compared to 31% who would rather put a number 2 against a Conservative candidate. The Liberals’ second-preference support from Labour voters had plummeted from 51% at the last general election to 16%, and they were now second-choice to more Tory voters than ever before.

This is what they need to build on. Going into coalition government with either two parties was always going to be dangerous for the Lib Dems, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been a genuinely centrist party – reaching out not just to the left but to all corners of the political spectrum. And maybe that’s the lesson they need to learn from this, because in the near future, they’re far more likely to win new votes from the right than win back old votes from the left.

Pat Condell – truth-teller or ignorant bigot?

This angry YouTuber is an insult to the many people who kind of agree with him

Pat Condell is an atheist YouTuber who’s in your face and not afraid to insult your religion or your political views. Whether you’re a Muslim, Christian, polite and/or pro-Muslim atheist, Europhile or “middle-class left-wing p***k”, be prepared for his angry wrath.

I used to regularly watch and quite like his videos. Being a former comedian, he has a rather amusing cynical sense of humour and there are some points he makes on Islam, multiculturalism and the EU that either I agree with or are at least extreme mirror images of my opinion.

He has always been subject to controversy, with a lot of popularity (with 164,114 subscribers to his channel as of today) as well as criticism, from the usual accusations of intolerance, racism or “Islamophobia” to malicious death threats (that’s actually a huge understatement if you click on the link).

But a lot of criticism against him is very well-founded. In particular he seems to have become a lot more extreme of late, and his two most recent videos are testament to that. In one, “Insulting religion”, he gratuitously does exactly what the title suggests and appears to blame Islam and Christianity for all the evils in the world. Yes, you have a right to insult religion, but please keep a bit of perspective.

The other video, “An illiberal consensus”, is the one where I got the “middle-class left-wing p***ks” quote from. He keeps repeating this infantile name-calling throughout the video to describe the Guardian and the BBC. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Guardianista either, but when he uses such labels to attack people who disagree with him, he stoops below the level of many people he criticises.

His claim of BBC bias is a reasonable one I might be inclined to agree with, and again I don’t agree with everything the Guardian says. I also agree it’s a shame that the Yes campaign lost the AV referendum because they were too close-minded and stubbornly limited the campaign to lefties. (See Telegraph blogger Ed West’s convincing take on this matter.) Please don’t insult these views by resorting to infantile personal attacks.

You know, I’m no fan of extremist Islam, and – while I don’t accept his conspiracy theory that from the start, multiculturalism was all about Islamization – I think it’s a misguided philosophy. But what is the solution? Banning sharia law and shutting down extremist mosques is all very well, but what else do we need? Integration between ethnic and religious minorities and the rest of us. And I’m afraid, Pat, that integration is a two-way process. So instead of just attacking Islam, we also need to:

a) Have a healthy, civic nationalist sense of pride in our nation and values, including tolerance.

b) Accept Muslims and all other minorities as fellow citizens (this seems to be a passive feeling that many non-prejudiced Britons have, that Muslims are somehow different)

Judging by Mr Condell’s videos, it seems that he has a long to way to go in achieving these things. He, and a depressing number of other people, stubbornly thinks it’s only Muslims who have to change, and he has no obligation to do anything other than insulting people. Well good for you, Mr Condell, but don’t expect to change anything with that attitude.

EDIT: I now regret some of the language I used, specifically calling Mr. Condell a bigot. (25.13.14)

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

This extraordinarily important Western value has finally been realized by Geert Wilders’ trial. The controversial Dutch politician has been acquitted after an enduringly long trial for saying what he thinks. He is anti-Islam and an overall radical conservative, and it was comments such as a comparison between the Koran and Mein Kampf that led to his trial. I don’t agree with all of his views, but he is one of the few politicians in the Netherlands who is speaking out about the threat facing the Netherlands and the rest of the Western world, whether or not he properly understands what that threat is. 

The fact that he was put on trial is a stain on the Western democratic world. No-one should ever be prosecuted for airing opinions just because some people find them extreme and offensive. As Ed West writes on his Telegraph blog, half a century ago the idea that anybody would be put on trial in Holland for speaking their mind would have been inconceivable. Yet that has happened. Wilders has said that his acquittal is “a victory for freedom of speech”, but that he was even put on trial makes it crystal clear that, as he says, free speech, liberty, equality, Dutch and Western culture are under enormous threat.

So where are the newspapers, the so-called “liberals” who go on about wanting to protect civil liberties, the “conservatives” who want to preserve our culture? Where are they in applauding the verdict while condemning the fact that a man can be put on trial for his views, in supposedly the most freedom-loving country in the world? Don’t ask me.

I don’t agree with his way of dealing with this threat, or that the threat is Islam itself and not radical Islamism. I don’t agree with banning the burka in all public places (though I do think it should be banned in public and some private buildings), temporarily freezing non-Western immigration, taxing headscarves or introducing Israeli-style administrative detention.

On the other hand, I have to contend that things are a lot worse in the Netherlands than we’re having to deal with. It’s hardly well-known, but it’s fair to say that many gays in Amsterdam are afraid to go out in public, for fear of being beaten up by Muslims. White people living in Muslim-majority suburbs encounter random abuse (skip to about 8 minutes in the video below). Immigrant women are not safe.

That fact that he could have been put on trial in what used to be the most liberal, freedom-loving country in the world, is absolutely incredible, but he’s now been cleared of all charges, so he won’t be sent to a physical prison. He’ll remain in a prison of constant death threats and 24-hour police protection. He is risking his life for his beliefs.

This makes me even more glad we at least now have a government that understands the threat of radical Islam to our freedom, understands that it stems from multiculturalism (by which I mean the idea that immigrants should not adapt and integrate into the culture of their new country of residence), and is actually doing something about it. Touch wood, we hopefully won’t end up in as bad a situation as the Netherlands. Let’s not get too complacent though.