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LeftishBrit's Journal
LeftishBrit's Journal
April 17, 2013

Attlee versus Thatcher: We need to pick better heroes.

'The selection of our heroes says more about us than it does the men and women of our history books. Clement Attlee was the reserved, collegiate Prime Minister who brought us the Post War consensus. Margaret Thatcher was the bullish, one woman army Prime Minister who brought us the neoliberal consensus. The latter is in the process of elevation to level of deity, the former all but forgotten....

On the death of Thatcher in April this year, Parliament was recalled and twelve hours of tributes were delivered in the House of Commons and House of Lords. Today was the day of her state funeral in all but name. The funeral received full military honours and was attended by the great and the good from around the world, with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh playing their role in the deification.

On his death of Attlee in October 1967, parliament was not recalled. Instead a few small tributes were made in Parliament a fortnight later, with this small column in the Guardian at the time to attest to it. His family held a small funeral and his ashes were quietly interred in Westminster Abbey. A humble end for a humble man....

...We need to pick better heroes. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a state of national mourning which not only deifies the woman, but elevates her consensus above its human value. The abandonment of the Post War consensus has cost Britain dearly. We are a less equal, less compassionate, more inward looking nation for it.

(Much more at link):


October 30, 2012


this may be. However, I am somewhat sceptical. Admittedly, I am biased, because I do consider that the willingness to care for and help people who are in need is one of the most important moral virtues in the world (second only to avoiding active harm to others); and the attitude that perhaps upsets me the most is ideological harshness toward vulnerable people; the idea that people ought to be forced to 'stand on their own feet'; that there is a large number of 'undeserving poor'; and that denying them help is a moral good. Fundamentally, I do not so much disapprove of such harshness because I'm a left-winger; I am a left-winger because I disapprove of such harshness.

Of course, I am to some extent accepting the right-wing framing of the argument, by even using the term 'vulnerable people'. The world is not divided into the vulnerable and the invulnerable. Everybody is vulnerable at certain times and on certain issues. Everybody needs help at times. Some people need it more often than others, and/or have fewer resources. But the issue is not one of being charitable to some specific group of the Truly Vulnerable, but of acknowledging that everyone needs help sometimes, and that helping people is a good thing, not a bad thing. In particular, the current Right are inclined to regard the need for government benefits as some form of addiction from which people should be required to go 'cold turkey' (I;ve seen this metaphor used explicitly), rather than as a consequence of unemployment which in its turn is usually due to a reduction in the number of jobs.

Now: there are two issues here. One is whether people who are poor or disabled or ill or unemployed or in a vulnerable position (e.g. currently those affected by the storms) should be helped or whether in most cases it is a moral good to treat them harshly. The other is whether the government is the best source of help. I disagree strongly with people who think that private enterprise is usually better than government in providing help and services - even if I had no previous ideological tendencies that way, my experience has shown me that private enterprise is often very inefficient compared even with indifferent government services - and charitable organizations are great but rarely sufficient. But I do not have the same moral condemnation for people who consider government intrinsically inefficient in providing services, or even who are paranoid about government, as I do for those who think that so-called 'tough love' is good for people in a vulnerable position, and/or that they should be automatically suspected of being fraudulent or undeserving.

In my opinion, anyone who considers that the Right 'offer the most satisfying moral cuisine' either does not really know what the Right proposes; is influenced by paranoia e.g. about government wanting to herd them into death camps, etc.; or, if they really consider the Right's harsh philosophy as in line with theirs, is corrupted by true evil.

To be fair: not everyone who takes a harsh attitude to people in need of help is right-wing, and vice versa. The nastiest person whom I knew personally, who seemed actively to enjoy creating problems for people in vulnerable positions, especially those with illnesses or disabilities, was in fact generally a left-wing voter. But the two do go together more than would be expected by chance.

September 16, 2012

FWIW, I'm not sure this actually means that Boris will get real power when it comes to it

Boris, Nick Clegg and George Galloway - strange people to mention in the same breath? Or maybe not. All of them have traded on British frustration with the status quo and the existing establishment. 'Cleggmania', which did not even survive to the election, was based on the desire for something new and untainted. Galloway won his elections due to frustration with post-Blair mainstream Labour leadership. Boris, too, reflects a desire for something different and more straightforward. Ironically, all of these people are probably even less straightforward, and more pandering, manipulative and weathercock-ish, than the average politician.

At present, Boris can play to both sides: as Mayor of London, he has been on the whole to the left of the average current Tory, as this is the only way that a Tory can be elected in London; simultaneously, he has been playing for the support of the Tory Right who are frustrated with Cameron and his supposed concessions to the LibDems. But he cannot do both forever. Sooner or later, he will be be forced to choose between the Nadine Dorries Right and apolitical or swing-vote Londoners, or his failure to choose will become clear - and his popularity will go down.

Yes, yes, that awful word rings in my ear: 'Romney'. Replace the word 'Boris' with 'Mitt' and 'London' with 'Massachusetts', and much of the last paragraph would remain applicable. And there is still a chance that Romney will get to be president, though I bloody hope not. But I think it's a bit different: Romney was never able to trade like Boris on being something new and straightforward and personally lovable and out of 'politics as usual'. I think that once Boris has to deal with the realities of trying to become a party leader, much of this will collapse. Who knows - I didn't think he'd be Mayor of London either - but I think he will not make it to be a successful party leader or Prime Minister.

Clegg and Galloway both ended up ruining their own political parties - let's hope that Boris might do the same to his!!!

But more generally one does worry about celebrity-worship and the cult of Personality rather than even real personality, and what this is doing to our electoral system. In 1945 the British were faced with a crucial choice between a heroic, charismatic individual who had led his country to military victory, and a taciturn, not specially charismatic individual who just happened to be the best person for the purpose of peacetime leadership at that time. The fact that our grandparents chose Attlee over Churchill made a huge difference to the future of this country. Would Britain make the same choice now? I fear not. Actually many probably wouldn't choose Churchill either nowadays: too old and not handsome enough. Some good-looking youngish twit might have been faced with the task of defeating Hitler, and the question of postwar reforms might never even have arisen, so to speak.....

July 7, 2012

This is a cliche, and one that is only partially correct

It is true that people could do more to protest and rebel than they (we) do; but this is oversimplification. I'm not a believer in 'national character'. I'm a believer in policies and circumstances and strategies. A lot of the problem started with Thatcher. Not that things were ever perfect; but Thatcher turned things into something much worse than it had been. And on the way, she weakened the unions so badly as to make it much more difficult to rebel. (Of course that's largely why she did it.) In the process of so doing, she also badly weakened British industry, leading to greater dependence on the financial industry. And the effects have continued. Did the Brits have themselves to blame for voting for Thatcher and accepting her outlook? - yes, certainly. But that is done, and the question is where to go from here.

Then enter globalism. Many of the people who run British institutions are not British (including both Murdoch and Diamond). Many who are British by birth and citizenship choose not to live in Britain (including several tax-haven-dwelling media bosses). My view is that if you are going to have substantial media and business power in the UK, you should be a voting, taxpaying citizen of the UK. You could not be a Cabinet minister if you weren't a British citizen, or lived outside the UK - though Blair would obviously have liked to be an exception to this! - and similarly you should not own a British newspaper or bank if you aren't a resident citizen.

So we're in a mess. But I am not sure that we are more 'apathetic' than many other places. Voting turnout, though down on the past, is still considerably higher in general elections than it is in the USA or many other places where voting isn't compulsory. There have been more protests, demos, strikes, etc in the last couple of years than I remember for a long time; and more, I think, than there were in Thatcher'' times except for the directly affected industries (at any rate until the poll tax proved the last straw). And most places, where there have been massive protests and revolts, have been places where people REALLY had been brought to the edge in ways that we haven't yet here. In those Europaean countries where extremes of austerity have been imposed; and in countries where modern communication technology has now made it possible to resist extreme tyranny. And in many cases, the revolts were not successful or the jury is still out. The miners and steelworkers lost, and Britain lost much with them. Greece has not as yet thrown off austerity. The states of the Arab spring may yet find that they are 'meeting the new boss, same as the old boss'. This is NOT an argument or excuse against protesting! Protest is key to a healthy democracy, and this government badly needs as much protest as possible. It is simply saying that one should first and foremost blame the perpetrators of evil, not their victims who didn't rebel quite enough - just as one should blame the school bully, not the victims who didn't fight back enough.

May 26, 2012

One of my own favourites...

was Maggie Thatcher calling the poll tax that she was trying to introduce (and which proved her downfall) 'the community charge'. As someone pointed out, that sounded like something that an angry herd of elephants might do.

More recently:

'Welfare/benefit dependency' = unemployment.

'Culture of dependency' = too many people being poor.

'Weaning people from benefit dependency' = cutting their benefits.

'Trapped on benefits' = poor.

'Compassionate conservative' = right-winger who claims that it's really good for poor or otherwise disadvantaged people to be stomped on.

'Scroungers' = unemployed and especially sick or disabled people.

'Workshy' (see 'scroungers')

'Welfare reform' = cuts.

'Increasing patient choice' = preparing to sell the NHS to the highest bidders.

'Increasing parent choice' = turning schools into businesses

'School business manager' = person, sometimes without teaching experience, placed in charge of helping to turn a school into a business.

February 23, 2012

I wrote a song about IDS's views at around that time:


Oh, poverty’s a dreadful thing,
A sorrow and a shame.
It causes so much misery.
Someone must be to blame!
And who’s to blame is very clear.
Of one thing we are sure:
There never could be poverty,
If ‘twas not for the poor!

Some people choose to earn a lot,
And live in mansions fine.
They always eat the best of food
And drink the best of wine.
We’re glad they made this lifestyle choice.
It should be made by more.
Too many cause their own downfall,
By choosing to be poor!

Just think of Labour’s cruelty,
A model to avoid!
They gave too many benefits
To sick or unemployed.
That only reinforced their sin,
And made them do it more.
You just encourage poverty
When you reward the poor!

Oh, poverty’s a dreadful thing,
A scourge throughout the land.
It’s just like an addictive drug.
As such, it should be banned.
It’s really for poor people’s good,
That we’ve big cuts in store.
A big deterrent’s what they need
To make them not be poor!

February 17, 2012

Poor kids. Imagine being educated by Rick Santorum!

'Now the lesson for today is about animals. How many animals can we name, that people will start marrying if we tolerate those evil gays? Good, dogs are one. Yes, cats. Elephants - yes, perhaps, but the elephant is a very noble animal; it represents my great party. Turtles, yes, very good. Jellyfish, yes, possibly. No, Mary, we don't talk about dinosaurs; that brings up the whole topic of evolution. No, you don't need to learn about that; it's something very sinful and leftist that a very sinful and leftist man called Darwin invented. It's evil. That's why it's called evil-lution. Penguins? Very good, Peter; penguins are a particularly sinful animal; someone once even wrote a book about gay penguins. That's why God banished them to the South Pole.'

January 11, 2012


economic issues and public services are absolutely integral to progressivism. You *can* be left-wing on these issues and still be hard-right overall - there are examples from the distorted communism of the likes of Stalin, to some racist but populist groups. But you cannot be hard-right on these issues and be a progressive on most of the others.

In particular, if you oppose a social safety net, then you are fundamentally only in favour of civil liberties for those who can afford them. Living in fear of speaking your mind or acting contrary to custom because the boss may fire you without your having any recourse, and then you will end up starving and freezing in the streets, is no better than, or fundamentally different from, living in fear of speaking your mind or acting contrary to custom because the police might take you to prison.

The point is also that Ron Paul opposes some of the things mentioned for anything but progressive reasons. He doesn't oppose Wall Street bailouts because he thinks that government should be spending money on public services and not on the already-rich bankers; he opposes ANY sort of government bailout of ANYTHING. He would allow the rich to rob the poor even more than they do now; the fact that he would also allow them to rob each other more freely than they do now, and allow those who fail to go to the wall, does not mean that he wants the government to concentrate on helping ordinary citizens. He doesn't want the government to help anyone!

Also, his foreign policy is not more *progressive* than that of other politicians. It is more *isolationist*. This indeed means opposition to the recent wars, and a good thing too! But he also would reject any foreign aid to poor countries - resulting in even more people dying as a result of poverty than do now. He would have been prepared to have allowed the Nazis to take over Europe in WW2, rather than engage in an alliance with the Soviet Union (this is clear from things he's said in a speech available on his own website).

None of this is about partisanship in my case. I'm British. It's not up to me whether anyone does or doesn't vote for President Obama; though obviously I hope he gets re-elected. Nor am I in principle against *ever* voting for third or smaller parties - I've done it several times myself in my country. But the point is that anyone who is fundamentally opposed to social safety nets and public services is by definition a MONSTER OF PURE EVIL, and that even considering such a person as a valid option, or as even comparable to President Obama, is contributing to an attitude that is a real danger to the world. Of course people have the right to vote for whoever they want; but you do NOT have the right to be considered as progressive if you are prepared to let poor and sick people die in the name of the holy free market. Yes, that SHOULD be a progressive litmus test!

January 11, 2012

Because a fundamental aspect of the RW philosophy is that the strong in society should be allowed to

triumph over the weak.

Mostly in modern society this means allowing the rich to triumph over the poor; but it also includes the attitude that ethnic and social majority groups should be able to triumph over minorities, and a 'Might means Right' attitude to foreign policy.

Also, and related to the above:

(1) A very negative view of human nature: people will only work, behave themselves, be productive, if they are constantly kept in fear of ruin, poverty, or legal punishment. Punishment as such is an obsession with some on the Right. British right-wingers, at least until recently, were obsessed with the need to bring back hanging and flogging (nowadays that kind of right-winger tends to be more preoccupied with hating benefit claimants, and xenophobia against immigrants and the EU). A British Cabinet Minister recently actually said that in order to increase productivity, it is necessary for workers in the public services to be kept in fear of losing their jobs.

(2) The concept that life is a zero-sum game: people can only gain at the expense of someone else. Co-operation is a meaningless concept; competition is everything. One person's happiness means another person's suffering. To prevent suffering is to deny 'opportunity'. Anyone remember Tom Paxton's satire on Reagan-voters, 'A Truly Needy Family of Your Own': 'For success alone is not enough to make a life complete/ It's seeing the other guy fail that makes it all so sweet!'?

(3) A significant number of people can be readily convinced that suffering is intrinsically good for you; the nastier the medicine tastes, the more good it will do!

December 26, 2011

Sullivan has a dodgy record

He supported Thatcher for years and years, and also supported the Iraq war for quite a while.

He's improved a bit but the fact that he could at any time give Paul the time of day is worrying.

Also, I think that people sometimes give the extreme economic right a pass, when they rightly wouldn't give it to warmongers or racists. The extreme economic right kill, through poverty, hunger and the denial of healthcare, just as surely as the warmonger or the terrorist. The extreme economic right generally create a climate that crushes minority groups just as surely as the explicit racist does.

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Gender: Female
Hometown: Oxford
Home country: England
Member since: Thu Jun 24, 2004, 06:32 AM
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