The unions that held these islands together and regulated their dealings with the outside world are straining, maybe to the point of collapse. Crises always provoke good writing and the uncertainty about England’s relationship with Scotland and Britain’s relationship with the European Union has produced two books that are well written, well researched and well worth reading. Unfortunately, both end with calls for action that will appeal only to the converted. Without meaning to, their authors reveal the impossibility of producing a coherent reform programme in a country caught up in the double standards of its gormless culture wars.
I went to the Trussell Trust food bank round the corner from the Observer’s offices just before Christmas. If I hadn’t been reading the papers, I would have assumed it represented everything Conservatives admire. As at every other food bank, volunteers who are overwhelmingly churchgoers ran it and organised charitable donations from the public.
What could be closer to Edmund Burke’s vision of the best of England that David Cameron says inspired his “big society”?
Once it was easy to know how to stay in high society. The first commandment of American politics spelt it out: “Never get found in bed with a live man or dead woman.” A man discovered bedding another man is not now the scandal it once was – and for that advance much thanks. A man who kills a woman may be pushing it a bit – even in these non-judgmental times. But a man grabbing the throat of his wife, as if he is beginning to strangle the life out of her, in public view at a Mayfair restaurant – well, my dear fellow, who will damn you for such a trifle?
It has been another noisy week for the quiet man. Iain Duncan Smith decided that the chancellor’s statement on the economy made Thursday a good day to bury bad news. With a shabbiness entirely in keeping with the work and pension secretary’s low character, he sneaked out the admission that he would fail to hit the 2017 deadline for the introduction of his universal credit when no one was looking.
The truth that he had wasted more money than an army of benefit fraudsters on a grandiose IT system had been dragged out of him like a confession from a hardened criminal.
For over a week now, astonished reaction has been building to the decision of Universities UK to recommend the segregation of men and women on campuses. The astonishment has been all the greater because, in a characteristic display of 21st century hypocrisy, the representatives of 132 universities and colleges clothed reactionary policies in the language of liberalism.
It could be a denial of the rights of a woman hater – or ‘representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group’, as our finest institutes of higher learning put it – to allow men and women to sit where they please. The Muslim or Orthodox Jew could refuse to speak in such intolerable circumstances. The university would then have infringed his freedom of speech if it did not segregate.
The great leader’s followers know he goes “absolutely mental” at the tiniest deviation from the party line. He screams his contempt for the offender in public so that all learn the price of heresy. Go beyond minor breaches of party discipline and raise serious doubts about the leader’s “vision” of global domination and that’s the end of you. “You’re toast,” he says, and his henchmen lead you away.
In private, his underlings mutter that the leader is a “sociopath” with “no capacity for compassion”. Even though he terrifies them, their hatred of him is far from complete. When he relaxes, the great leader can be charming. His favour brings reward. The further you move up the hierarchy, the more blessings you receive, and the more you believe the leader’s propagandists when they hail his “originality” and “rigour”. History is vindicating the leader. His power is growing. The glorious day when the world recognises his greatness is coming.
[From the wisely anonymous author of Jesus and Mo]
On the morning of 3 October, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis put on joke T-shirts, of the kind students wear the world over, and went to man the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the London School of Economics freshers’ fair. The bullying the university authorities visited upon them for the next 36 hours should provoke the most important free speech court case to hit British universities in years. It certainly deserves to.
Picture the most Conservatives’ most avowed enemies. They think that when Nye Bevan said Tories were “lower than vermin”, he was being too generous. They believe that any Conservative or Conservative-led government will, as a matter of course, grind its boots into the faces of the humble while planting warm and loving kisses on the backsides of the mighty.
On one point, however, even they may make a concession. Whatever else it does, a Tory government will protect taxpayers. Conservatives believe in encouraging prudence and responsibility. They think the individual is best placed to make decisions about his or her welfare. Let the government take too much of other people’s money and it will waste it on dangerously misconceived attempts at “social engineering” or, as the Conservatives said of Gordon Brown, use it to create a “client state” of bribed voters.
George Osborne’s conduct at the Exchequer has destroyed their one reason for tolerating Conservative rule. He has all the Tory vices and none of the Tory virtues…
Despite the parades and the professions of gratitude, soldiers are more belittled today than at any time since the 19th century. Menacing, working-class men haunt middle-class nightmares. They appear all the more frightening when the services have trained them in the techniques of violence and sent them to Afghanistan and Iraq to hone their skills.
In contemporary cliche, the ex-serviceman is like a cornered animal. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that leaves him angry enough to lash out without reason. His road home takes him from Helmand province to Wormwood Scrubs via a spell living rough. A society that in the mid-20th century treated the squaddie as a working-class hero now depicts him as a thug.
Men lie for many reasons: to boost their ego, to hide their failings and to advance their ambitions. The sole impressive characteristic of Iain Duncan Smith – the winch that lifts him out of his otherwise incurable mediocrity – is his ability to lie for every reason imaginable, even when he knows his audience must find him out. If he told me that two plus two made four, I’d ask for a second opinion.