Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Something to talk about...

In 1942 Beveridge's report concluded that the State "should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility".

Now, in the 70th anniversary year, we see welfare recipients saying "We're taking advantage of the system, but that's the system's fault – It's ridiculous, but I'm better off volunteering than earning – we're well off and I'm not going to give that up until I have to"

How relevant are Beveridge's concerns today?

Monday, January 23, 2012

So long The Boy Phelan, hello Manchester Liberal

Its been five fun filled years but a man in his 30s shouldn't be calling himself a boy anymore.

Hence the new blog. If you didn't think The Boy Phelan was a total waste of time, come and join me at Manchester Liberal.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Conservative, liberal, and all the rest

Out of the mouths of Vulcans

One of the great things about sites like Facebook is that every now and then a half forgotten name from the past pops into your head, you rattle it into the search box and up they pop. It can be fascinating and enjoyable to see what someones journey through life has been since it diverged from yours.

So I was happy to see an old friend of mine from university called Gordon on there, someone I'd not seen in ten years. He seemed to have a wife and kids, stuff we'd talked about back when it was in the distant future.

He and his girlfriend Tess were American exchange students at Swansea University. Me and Gordon got on incredibly well. We hung around together, travelled to Ireland together and he came to stay at my parents.

Gordon was a pretty political guy. I suppose he was fairly left wing by American standards which is to say not very by British standards. It was from him, a gun owner and recreational shooter, and not Charlton Heston, that I first heard the phrase "From my cold, dead hand" But he supported the rights of any group you care to name; gays, African-Americans, Native Americans, 'diversity' was his watchword.

So when I sent him an email saying hi and asking how he was I was dismayed to get this reply

"Things are good! Thanks. I read some of your writings and, well, have a nice life. I hope the whole conservative thing works out for you"

When he'd finished typing he blocked me. Apparently Gordon's support for diversity stops short of people's politics. That is a diversity too far.

I think that's sad. Beyond having the memory of a nice guy and friend tainted he isn't even right; like Margaret Thatcher's idol Freidrich von Hayek, I am not a conservative. I'm a liberal.

I don't mean that in the sense that it is used in America where it has become a term for what, in Europe, we would call social democrats. I mean it in the original, enlightenment sense, of being a believer in the sovereignty of the individual.

This is why I am not a conservative. There are still very many areas where the scope for free people to pursue their welfare and that of others, to map out their own paths and define their own destinies is hobbled. I do not want to conserve this.

So much for semantics. The real sadness here is a lost friendship. And for what? Because he didn't like my politics? Many don't. I don't like theirs.

But there is more to each of us than that. Human beings are deep, complex, fascinating creatures. There is more to each of us than our politics, our social class, our nationality, religion, race or sports team. As the Vulcans had it, 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations'

So there are few more depressing trends in the world today than that of sticking labels on each other. 'conservative' or 'liberal', 'rich' or 'poor', 'Christian' or 'Muslim', all of these may be partly true for some of us but are never wholly true for any of us. We are all more complex than that with more identities. To boil us down to this label or that label strips us of the rich variety of our humanity. It is debasing and dehumanising.

In large part this accounts for the increasingly divisive and bitter tone that public debate is conducted in. I'm guilty of it myself from time to time.

So in losing, or not regaining, a friendship with Gordon, I have not lost some leftie Democrat. I have lost a guy who came to see me in the plays I was in, who I introduced to Newcastle Brown Ale and who I spent long hours with discussing the novel I wonder if he wrote. I lost a guy I liked just because my politics were different from his.

As for my friend Tess, well, she's better off with her new guy. He's a lovely chap, a dyed in the wool Democrat, but we get on because there is more to us than our political views. We are all human beings. Which ever box you tick on election day, that remains our inalienable common ground.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The rise and fall of Occupy London

No, you're not

One night last week the BBC news ran an item about the Tobin Tax on financial transactions. An economist bobbed his head up and down speaking rather earnestly about why it would be damaging. Then something extraordinary happened; the report cut to a rather nondescript person standing at the Occupy LSX camp outside St Pauls Cathedral who maintained that it definitely would be a good idea.

Why, I wondered, were they giving a few dozen oiks* like this a national platform? Why not drag someone out of the Dog and Duck and ask them? I felt like Jacobin Mugatu in Zoolander when confronted with Blue Steel; “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”.

To continue reading click here

* Substituted by the editor for the original 'drug addicts'

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Public sector strikes: Unaffordable and unfair

Hands off my wages

And so the world keeps turning. An estimated two million public sector workers have gone on strike and the nation has kept ticking along.

The false argument about public sector pensions is put rather well by this which is going round on Facebook

To continue reading click here

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The late, occasionally great, Ken Russell

The 1960s ‘Harry Palmer’ spy films starring Michael Caine were intended as the antithesis of James Bond. They were downbeat, gritty, and realistic. The first in the series, ‘The Ipcress File’ (1965), opened with Palmer fumbling for his horn rimmed specs and sleepily making coffee. Then Ken Russell, who died yesterday aged 84, was hired to direct the third instalment, ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ (1967).

Perhaps the producers were attracted by Russell’s intellectual cache and documentary film background. He made his name with a string of films he produced in the 1960s for ‘Monitor’, the BBC’s arts show. In themes he would return to in his films Russell’s finest television work focused on artists. His documentary on Edward Elgar (1962) was more than a simple biography with some musical clips. By setting up shots and scenes and using Elgar’s symphonies almost as incidental music Russell placed the composer squarely in his time and setting. It was as much an evocation of the high noon of Imperial Britain as a documentary about Elgar.

To continue reading click here

Friday, November 25, 2011

Versus: Death of the Author

The late Roland Barthes

Holly Steell: The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes was published in 1967, and in this controversial essay he criticises the tradition of interpreting text through the author’s history, personal views and actions.

Barthes argues that the text is not the sole product of the author, but rather it is the sum of society – every sentence is the quotation of a previous work and the author merely the channel it is expressed through; they are the “Scriptor”, not the creator.

To continue reading click here