The Last Night of the Proms; A Dash of Ancient Feet, Religious Dissent and Republicanism

Opinion over the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms becomes ever more polarised. Increasingly, you either revel the naive jingoism of the second half of the event or it repels you. But I wonder how many of those lauding it as a ‘major cultural treasure’ really know the background of one of its centerpieces, Hubert Parry’s setting of Jerusalem.

The lyrics are from a poem by William Blake, one of the most controversial artists in British history.   He was a religious dissenter and no lover of the established Church of England.  Like many dissenters he held radical political views and was a republican.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the appalling treatment of Eithteenth and Nineteenth religious dissenters such as the scientist Joseph Priestly by the ‘King and Church’ faction. Despite religion playing a prominent part in most of his works he was a firm friend of revolutionary pamphleteer Tom Paine.

So what about Jerusalem? The symbolism behind the words is shrouded in considerable mystery and the dark satanic mills are a particular point of contest.  They are popularly taken to refer to the oppressive conditions of factories endured by the lower classes during rapid industrialisation. But another interpretation suggests the satanic mills are the Anglican churches and cathedrals, yet another insisting that they represent the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The published setting for Jerusalem, more correctly known as And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times is also an issue rooted in republican history.  Written in 1804 the poem is part of a preface to a two volume poetic work called Milton: A Poem in Two Books.  The Milton in question is none other than the great republican poet John Milton who was at the height of his powers during the Commonwealth and Republic of the 1650s following the English Civil Wars.

So when the Prommers are bursting their lungs to Jerusalem they are indulging in a work with its roots deep in religious dissent and republicanism.  Personally, Blake is not the radical I warm to most with his firebrand advocacy of religion; I am more at home with the secular sympathies of Paine.

But I would like to think that including the piece is an acknowledgement of the importance of dissent to British society. Alas that would be self-delusion and it is likely that the majority of revelers couldn’t care less about the words and are genuinely ignorant of our radical or dissenting past. But they are hardly to blame, living in a culture which promotes a historical narrative of monarchy, privilege and empire and marginalizes the story of the long struggle for rights and freedoms for us all.

No Time for Modern Art? That is What Politicians are Counting On!

impossible_cube_Escher
Impossible Cube from Belvedere   by M.C Escher

A  few weeks ago I wrote about the Duchy of Lancaster and how this institution uses ambiguity as a tool in its armoury of protecting privilege.  Then, last week Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis made the following claim about Britain’s negotiating position.  Responding to criticism that the Governments position is unclear he said:

You will find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend, That’s deliberate. I’m afraid in negotiations you do have constructive ambiguity from time to time.

So it seems a good time to revisit the idea of ambiguity in politics. As some of the more destructive ideas have emerged from the world of contemporary art it is useful to see how ambiguity, disguise and misperception is exploited in this domain. We can then see more clearly how they have been deployed to unsettle and confuse us.

Potential Images; Imprecise and Disturbing

In his book Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, Dario Gamboni writes that

Ambiguity may be defined as the character of what is susceptible to different interpretations. It can also be said to express the character of ‘what belongs to two interpretations’ and of ‘what lacks precision and disturbs’.

Lacks precision and disturbs will be recurring themes.  Gamboni was writing about the visual arts but makes it clear that ambiguity is widespread and present in all contemporary art to some degree.  Partly as a result of the methods of communication employed and partly due to greater familiarity with sonic art on my part I shall focus on how the ideas work out in music.

Continue reading “No Time for Modern Art? That is What Politicians are Counting On!”

Depending On How It Is Performed Inoculation Is Unpredictable; Also True Of Politics

I enjoy the work of blogger Tom Pride. Today (13th August) he wrote about an article which has appeared on the Conservative Home website.  It was titled ‘How to inoculate your children against Socialism’ written by Westminster City Councillor and member of the Adam Smith Institute,  J.P. Floru. Now I cannot compete with Mr Pride in terms of humorous irreverence so I’m taking a more prosaic and personal approach. For a start, in my post I want to leave aside the issue of socialism as my parents had no wish to inoculate me against anything apart from major infectious diseases (OK, and maybe fascism, but they were caring!). Furthermore, Floru’s post is as much about ‘catching’ right-wing Libertarianism as ‘inoculating’ against Socialism.

In Floru’s post he explains how young people can be inoculated in four ways.  Now, I have experienced each of these four ways so how did things turn out?  Lets start with:

1 Rebellion.

Floru claims that Jacob Rees-Mogg has made the astounding staement that teenagers are naturally rebellious. Thank goodness we have people like Rees-Mogg to tell us such things! Now, Floru does not actually recommend anything to counter this, so presumably he is as enlightened as Rees-Mogg. What did I take politically from my rebellious teenage years.  I grew up in an eastern valley in South Wales where the Labour party had a monopoly on political power. There was a certain arrogance and complacency in their attitude and I did rebel.  But it was against systems that gave absolute power to one group. Contestability and accountability are important to me (fundamental tenets of republicanism) I am equally suspicious of, for example, Conservative dominated administrations.  Look how well Kensington and Chelsea has turned out! Floru has little to say abou contestability. But as inoculation is all about conferring immunity I guess it does not factor highly!

2. Inoculation (the crux)

Floru writes:

Michael Clark, a barrister, believes that children are effectively ‘innoculated’ by their parents. Long before they attend school, children from normal households will have heard the views of their parents. 

Further:

This is not about counter-brainwashing your children into right-wing thinking, but rather making them aware that there is an intelligent argument for it, and that they have a choice.

In my case my father encouraged me to think for myself and he would debate politics with me for hours. Sometimes I agreed with him and and built those into my political thinking! He enjoyed the exchanges and he taught me to think for myself. Floru is correct in that I became aware that Libertarian thinking was based around an intelligent argument.  But this only made me realise that I must be informed and focussed in opposing it!

3 Objective truth (!)

Floru claims.

Free market economics work; socialism doesn’t. Marxism, that invented ideology which never worked anywhere, has a tough sell.

My conclusion?  Free market economics is as invented an ideology as much as socialism and Marxism.  It has its roots in the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (the intelligent arguers!) and is based on a view of late seventeenth century economics. If it was invented then I concluded that it can be (has to be!) changed.  Free market economics is not an innate and immutable  consequence of nature.

Finally

4 Understanding personal economics

Floru writes:

Parents can teach their children the values of work, saving, and financial prudence. Later, the children will realise that the state’s budget is but a macro version of their own. 

 

My parents taught me about personal finance and I have budgeted all my life. But, wealthy people frequently inherit their wealth, start with an an economic or social advantage and live off the proceeds of rents and investments, not their own efforts . But they like to tell us mere mortals about hard work, austerity  and being ‘self actualization’. Inherited wealth is driving ever greater inequality. Secondly, Floru is talking complete and utter rubbish.  A state’s finances are nothing like personal finances and this myth helps promote the austerity confidence trick which is impoverishing millions

So the result? One way or another my parents allowed me to experience these four ‘ways’ and the result is somewhat different to Floru’s desirable outcome. I was inoculated against Floru’s right wing Libertarian ideology, a stance which remains as firm as ever!

 

The UK Government; A Good Show of Complacency and Unbroken Self Esteem

The persons who retained longest the values of an earlier time were the men who lived their lives in office

This statement was made by R.J. White in his insightful book Waterloo to Peterloo. He was writing about the British Government following the years after 1815 but he could easily be writing of our present time (albeit he would need to replace ‘men’ with ‘men and women’!).

Whether it is a failure to understand the multiplicity of forces unleashed during the Brexit referendum or the alienation of people living in high rise tower blocks the remoteness of our leaders from the lives of the majority of citizens is leading Britain along a disastrous path.  This is before we take into account the pace of change in technology which will eliminate a large proportion of relatively well-paid middle-class jobs within a generation.  For example the availability of cheap on-the-fly and almost 100 percent accurate digital language translation services will render human translators virtually extinct within the next five to ten tears.  Similar stories are to be found in many areas of technology.  Yet no acknowledgement let alone preparation to meet this advancing cull of jobs is made by the Governing class.

Complacent commentators will point out that we have faced this situation before during the past three hundred years and that other jobs will inevitably appear to replace those lost. They omit, however, to mention those new jobs were directly or indirectly fostered by Government investment.  The widespread development and renovation of London in the late eighteenth century, the huge boost to industrial progress via a massive naval build-up and the expansion of Government administration are merely three examples. Set against those projects, HS2 hardly rates a mention!  But can we really expect toff Boris Johnson or any of the Oxbridge PPE professional political class to really understand the forces which are shaping the modern world.

It would be untrue to say that the current cabinet bore an exact relation to their early nineteenth equivalents of the Waterloo to Peterloo (which occurred in 1819) period of White’s book, but there is a strong resemblance being composed almost largely of upper middle class and recently ennobled aristocracy . Likewise, the fatal flaws of archaic attitude also pervades the current incumbents.  Maybe there is something about the British political system which drags back even the most progressive of intentions. It is an issue which those who advocate the value of tradition frequently miss.

Tradition not only works for the already privileged, by definition it does so by maitaining an atmosphere of archaic smugness.  It enables Theresa May to run a Government desperately trying to return to the financial rules which dominated her professional life in banking from 1977 to 1997, long before the financial crash and brutal austerity. It also provides her with a sense of self-destiny engendering an arrogance that Brexit can be delivered by a few handpicked people who are clearly out of their depth. This may precipitate as big a disaster as any which befell a nineteenth century British administration.

Wrining of the final retirement of that Government which included the disaster of the Peterloo massacre which the poet Shelley railed so passionately against in Mask of Anarchy, White wrote this equally telling statement.

They rode the whirlwind without pretense of controlling the storm.  They continued to hold office with a good show of complacency and they left office at the last with unshaken self-esteem.

A similar epithet may be written about the current Government.

Crown, not Crown; The Duke of Lancaster Is Not What He Seems!

DucyLancsThe Duchy of Lancaster is what is known as a Corporation Sole or a corporation with a single person as beneficiary. That person is the Duke of Lancaster, none other than Elizabeth Windsor; but gender is the least important ambiguity we shall encounter. The Duchy is also a County Palatine which means it can exercise powers normally reserved to the Government.  Herein lies the problem.

Where There’s No Will There’s a Way!

It is a fundamental of English law that all property must have an owner.  But occasionally it happens that no title can be established for property, for example when a person dies with no family and not having made a will. Then it is the duty of the Crown (Government) to dispose of the assets.  This normally means selling off the asset and passing the proceeds to the Treasury.  That is unless you die on land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (or the Duchy of Cornwall, controlled by the Duke of Cornwall, Charles Windsor). Then your property becomes their property (known as Bona Vacantia). The Duchy’s own site describes it thus:

Whatever remains undistributed from a person’s estate is the property of The Queen in Right of Her Duchy. Gifts may be made, on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s authority, to those who might reasonably have expected to benefit on a deceased’s death. 

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is someone I shall return to in due course! The proceeds of bona vacantia are then distributed to charity which sounds fine.  But remember that the Duchy of Cornwall has the same arrangement and Charles Windsor has been known to give money to his old school chums the exclusive Gordonstoun! Some charity!

Hedge Funds, Interest Swaps and Property Investment

I have blogged before about the disingenuous myth promoted by Buckingham Palace that Elizabeth Windsor is politically neutral. Most certainly this applies to the Duchy of Lancaster which feeds her personal wealth and is anything but neutral.  The public image of the Duchy is one of cosy tradition with picturesque images of such assets as castles, hillsides where smiling farmers tend their flocks and babbling brooks feeding placid lakes. But the reality is very different  and it is worth taking a look at just one aspect of the Duchy’s activities.  Along with an analysis of Hedge Funds and Interest Rate Swap dealings the 2016-17 Report and Accounts mentions:

The portfolio, acquired in September 2016 for £34.25m, comprises four distribution warehouses (Basingstoke, Harlow, Redditch, Alcester) and one industrial estate in Swindon. The Duchy of Lancaster has been steadily building its distribution warehouse network in recent years, acquiring Wardley Industrial Estate in Greater Manchester in 2015 and both Estuary Commerce Park in Speke, Liverpool and Units A and B at Walker Park, Blackburn in 2014.

Bear in mind that this is only one small part of a corporation with over £600 million of assets, But note that unlike a commercial investment and property company the Duchy is not subject to Corporation Tax. In an arrangement which is available to few other individuals Elizabeth Windsor is allowed to voluntarily pay (she has a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the Treasury) income tax on her earnings from the Duchy, though how much she actually pays remains secret.  Moreover, it also means that changes in the laws governing warehouses and the employees are of direct interest to the Duchy and may affect its profits. Areas such as health and safety, customs, food storage regulation and planning permission are all relevant, to name but a few. Because of secrecy we are not allowed to discover whether these issues come up in conversation between Windsor and Prime Minister.

Throw in a Murky Chancellor, a spot of Tax Dodging and Secrecy!

The quasi public/private nature of the Duchy of Lancaster highlights much that is wrong with our system. The Duchy exists to provide a personal income for the Sovereign from which Elizabeth Windsor personally benefits.. Yet as a Palatine it takes on various rights and responsibilities of Government. For example, It has its own ‘Attorney General’  the law officer of ‘the Crown’

Continue reading “Crown, not Crown; The Duke of Lancaster Is Not What He Seems!”

Whatever The Problems Of The UK, At Least We Know What A Profitable War Looks Like!

Suppose you are an arms manufacturer (you may actually be an arms manufacturer as this is a public post!). There are three ways of making money from your products: planned or unplanned obsolescence; high maintenance costs; get your clients to buy more product, perhaps by actually using them.

Although wars have traditionally been the quickest driver of new weapons (think radar, tank, jet engine and atomic bomb as twentieth century examples) the current pace of technology makes obsolescence a realistic short-term possibility. Suppose, however, you are Lockheed Martin who make the Trident system.  It is clear that a ballistic missile maker won’t get a great many sales! Its like buying a car which is too reliable and lasts too long. So, as with the car, tying the customer to a  maintenance schedule is important.  Along with the Royal Navy submarine upkeep, the annual maintenance cost of Trident is estimated to be about £2.3bn.

What about the most destructive way of making money, getting your customers to use their weapons?  Considering the wars that have taken place over the past twenty five years it is possible to work out the desirable parameters. The war must be large enough to necessitate the use of expensive, probably missile, technology (and the occasional destruction of an asset such as a fighter plane)  Trump firing 59 Cruise missiles at Syria at around $1mil per shot is perfect! And that was just a simple retaliatory action. Small ‘boots on the ground’/police actions with mostly rifles and bullets aren’t going t make that much profit (as in, for example, saving innocents from a central African genocide). Besides, open spaces like deserts really allow you to use the expensive stuff!

But the war must not be too big that it destabilises the world.  Fellow large multi-national Corporations like stability, so the war should not really disrupt world trade to any extent; profit forecasts must be met. Besides, ending the world is very bad for repeat sales (even for Lockheed Martin!). So the West is very cautious in North Korea!

Next the war must not be seen to have too many civilian casualties or the casualties must be easily presented as evil and thus disposable.  Ideally there should be few or none of your own casualties.  This means, either way,  the public will not get on the politicians backs to stop the conflict.

Finally the war, either during its execution but most certainly afterwards must present your investors with opportunities for profits from reconstruction.  A few months ago I wrote a post about the situation in Syria and included a report from the Washington Post about major Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia) financial backing for Assad. If we had really wanted to sort out Syria then this is where we should have started, with the Middle East banks.  But there is no profit in this, unlike arms to be used in Yemen!

So to sum up,  Small proxy wars are best just as long as the controlling powers understand the situation and it does not get out of control.

Maybe this post is simply cynical. But allowing for the fact that oil is an important driving factor in when and where we decide to go to war we are always ready to defend liberty where this a private profit to be made for organisations such as BAE systems. Otherwise, you are on your own. However cynical this post, it is nowhere near the level shown by arms manufacturers!

Ethical Patriotism: Making a Home for Liberty

‘wherever they enjoyed liberty, there they thought themselves at home’

John Toland

In pursuit of radical politics and UK republicanism I hate ceding ground to the opposition. But it seems that all too often we avoid certain issues in a misplaced idea that they are ‘bad territory’ for us. History and tradition is one such issue.  The establishment controls the historical narrative to the extent that most popular history is about monarchs, empires and generals. So a huge area is left uncontested, leaving people ignorant of the great deeds of Levellers, Chartists and Suffragettes to name but a few.

It would be churlish not to recognise that things are changing. For example, we now have an English Civil War Centre at Newark (so Republicans can at last start talking about it!) and an increasing number of excellent books on radical and people’s history. But, alas, the media is largely silent and education is often woeful. Similarly with art and literature. I am happy to join with others to promote the great work of the poet Shelley, but even so the Chartist poets remain largely forgotten and there are excellent contemporary poets such as Spike the Poet from Corby struggling for recognition.. Their work is inspirational.

Another subject is patriotism.  I have blogged previously about an alternative, and I consider correct, view of patriotism to the popular one which owes too much to nationalism and jingoism. But I want think about extending that concept of patriotism to involve a love of your country as a home for liberty.  Patriotism in this sense strives not only for a just and free society at home, but seeks to make sure we act justly beyond our borders (what price arms sales to Saudi!), Writing about the ideas of Marcia Baron (more here) who worked on this ethical patriotism, Igor Primoratz said:

A patriot of this, distinctively ethical type, would want to see justice done, rights respected, human solidarity at work at any time and in any place….She would be proud of the country’s moral record, when it inspires pride.

But thee are other aspects to this view of patriotism. Now, obviously, you can only enjoy liberty at the place where you are currently and not where you were born, assuming they are different. This feature makes it ideally suitable for a world where so many people are moving around, both within and between nations and continents. Maurizio Viroli put it another way. Writing about the author of my opening quote, John Toland,  he pointed out that in his conception:

As long as the fundamental value that inspires love of country is liberty, one can find this country elsewhere. 

Am I a patriot? Yes. I believe that we in these islands can develop a genuinely free and just society, but we have a long way to go. I am a patriot because I am prepared to work towards that day and not give up.  I guess that places me in the ‘ethical patriotism’ camp. But here is the thing.  I believe that there are Irish people, French people and people in every nation who wish the same thing. I encourage, support and applaud them   Tom Paine also believed this kind of internationalism and I think he was correct.

Lastly, if Martin Luther King can have a dream, so can I. My dream is that one day the the current international race based on resources and war is replaced by a new one.  This new race will be to extend ever greater liberty to their citizens. One of the criteria for winning the race will be to assist other nations with their goals of liberty, to free citizens from domination by hunger, debt and violence. To free them from religious persecution, homophobia, sexism or any number of other prejudices That this race is endless and cannot be won but must be run.…

OK, so MLK had a better dream than me.  I can handle that!