In a previous post I wrote briefly about William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who was a central figure in establishing the illegality of slavery in Britain at the end of the 18th Century. Mansfield’s judicial comments are a reminder that when greed results in an abrogation of moral responsibility then legislation is the only solution. In no other case than slavery is it more clearly apparent that good laws, along with appropriate recourse to contest bad laws, extend our freedoms.
An American Benevolent Master; Unacceptable Then, Unacceptable Now
As a European republican, slavery means something very specific to me and opposition to it lies at the heart of what it means for any of us to be truly free. Fundamental to modern republicanism is the so-called principle of ‘non-domination’ which demands that not only must an individual or group be free from arbitrary influence by another, but further, there must be no possibility of such influence. This guards against the benevolent master situation who allows his/her slaves freedom of action and possibly wealth, but could change his/her attitude at any moment.
It is ironic that the islands which have produced a disproportionately large number of republican theorists have retained a monarchical system for the majority of its inhabitants. Since the middle years of the last millennium where our story starts, the fortunes of republicans and republicanism can be seen to ebb and flow on centuries long waves.
The two great peaks of republicanism which occurred during the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries were separated by periods where the ideas were held in obeisance. But, as I will show, this is far from saying there was no republican activity during these times. Using history as a predictor of the future is fraught with danger but as the twentieth century fitted into the pattern is is tempting to hope that our present century will witness a new peak.
The Many Facets of Republicanism
Superficially, the history of Republicanism appears to be no more than a straightforward chronicle of anti monarchism in Britain. But such a view overlooks the rich variety of republican thought, some of it only tangentially affecting monarchy.
Indeed, at times writers who considered themselves republicans were quite happy with a monarchy; though one which was tightly constrained, knew its responsibilities and could be held to account. Some of these ideas approach the concepts embodied in the modern office of President of the United States! Likewise it would be impossible to consider the development of British republicanism without reference to wider social, economic and even global events.
Of enormous influence to early British republicans were the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers Aristotle, Demosthenes and Cicero along with historians Livy, Tacitus and Polybius. Similarly, many Reformation English and Scottish republicans looked to more recent ideas flowing from fifteenth and sixteenth century Florence, with Machiavelli proving to be a particularly influential figure.
From the earliest times it is clear that Republicanism is not a single tightly defined concept but rather a loose overlapping collection of ideas and concepts on the nature of citizenship and the exercise of political power. It can also be regarded as a way of thinking or even a vocabulary articulating an approach to political and constitutional issues. At its core is a concern for freedom both for the individual and the state as a whole.
Of importance is the fact that republicanism is most effective and successful when combined with a separate though related cause. In the middle of the seventeenth century this was a lack of religious freedom. Later in the first half of the nineteenth century the driver was economic oppression caused by the rapid growth of unregulated capitalism.
During much of this period the British Isles consisted of three interlinked kingdoms. In fact a United Kingdom of all the islands existed for a very short time in historical terms. The nature of republicanism varied across time and across these countries but in only one, on the island of Ireland has the idea been thus far successful.
Finally, many of the ideas and concepts behind republicanism have remained largely dormant for almost two centuries, being displaced by liberalism and libertarianism as the dominant concepts of freedom. Recovering these buried concepts from past republican theorists demonstrates the great value we have lost in such a concept.t
2. 16th Century Reformation Republicans
Building on the past
It is very rare that ideas and concepts spontaneously arise with no antecedents. So it was with sixteenth century political theory. In England the fifteenth century lawyer Sir John Fortesque argued that monarchical absolutism was a problem for continental Europe rather than England.
Around 1470 he published De Laudibus Legum Anglie which was translated in 1567 by Robert Mulcaster as A Learned Commendation of the Politique Lawes of England. Fortesque followed the Greek philosopher Aristotle in viewing tyranny to br a monarch’s abuse of the property of their subjects with the desire to amass wealth solely for their own benefit at the expense of the people. Similarly, he articulated Thomas Aquinas in declaring:
…the King is gyen for the kingdome, and not the kingdome for the King.
Another Greek thinker, the historian Polybius, was a vitally important source of ideas. He was widely read in late sixteenth century England, influencing the debate by drawing attention to the written constitution of ancient Sparta which guaranteed limits on the power of monarchy. The key institution of the state was the senate which operated effectively because its members ‘were chosen on grounds of merit, and could be relied upon at all times to unanimously take the side of justice.
European humanist works such as Laurentius Grimaldus’s The Counsellor, anonymously translated into English in 1599, endorsed Polybius’s praise of the Roman Republic. Grimaldus argued that the mixed state of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy directly resembled the parts of a man’s mind, making it a natural form of political structure.
Ascending Versus Descending views of Power
Polybius’s works supported an ‘ascending’ view of the balance of power between Crown and Parliament which placed emphasis on the monarch being tied by the laws made in parliament. The rival ‘descending’ view subjugated the authority of representative chambers to the prerogative of the monarch, reducing them to mere advisory bodies.
These two interpretations lay at the heart of political debate of sixteenth century England and recur constantly. But even the ascending view was open to many interpretations with the result that the nature of republican arguments during this time were complex and frequently contradictory.
This dichotomy is clearly visible in Richard Bacon’s 1594 Solon his Foliie, or. Politique Discourse touching the reformation of common-weales conquerred, declined or corrupted. Though dedicated to Elizabeth I it makes extensive reference to both Livy and Machiavelli.
Heavily influenced by the latter, Bacon develops his commonwealth idea by citing examples from ancient Sparta and Athens, the 1579-83 Ulster Desmond Rebellion together with Machiavelli’s own Renaissance Florence. As the court of Elizabeth I sought to protect its prerogative and prevent discussion of the succession during the 1590s, such political treatises were naturally viewed as dangerous.
The Ancient Roman Republic provided a wide ranging and compelling model for sixteenth century political theorists. In his 1568 translation of the first forty books of Polybius’s Universal History, Christopher Warton includes a personal section clearly influenced by Somnium Scipionius., This was an account of the efforts of Scipio Africanus. Scipio, the most talented general of the Third Punic War (149-136BCE), in defending Rome against Hannibal. This raises him to the status of a republican hero.
The Idea of a Commonwealth
A major contribution to English political development was made by Sir Thomas Smith in his De Republican Anglorum; A Discourse on the Commonwealth of England published in 1583. Smith declared:
A Common Wealth is called a society or common doing of a multitude of free men collected together and united by common accord and covenauntes among themselves, for the conservation of themselves as well as in peace as in warre.
Later in the work, Smith articulates one of the fundamental principles of republican philosophy:
And if one man had as some of the old Romanes had (if it be true that is written) v. thousands or x. thousands bondsmen whom he ruled well and though they dwelled all in one citie or were distributed into diverse villages, yet that were no commonwealth; for the bondsman hath no communion with his master, for the wealth of the Lord is onely sought for, and not the profit of the slave or bondsman.
Surprisingly, despite these clear republican statements, Smith is not necessarily an anti-monarchist. Once again it depends on the regal powers being strictly circumscribed by a parliament or other representative body. He does, however, take pains to include even the lowliest sections of society, though as a means of emphasising that the English commonwealth is a collective project.
Drawing a Distinction Between the Office and Person of Monarch
A major impetus to republican theory in England was the heirless state of Elizabeth I. Her chief secretary William Cecil wrote a document which aimed to ‘tackle the potential problem of England without a monarch in December 1592, after Elizabeth suffered a bout of serious illness. It contained a clause which enabled parliament to establish a ‘conciliar interregnum’ and then nominate a successor. This established the all-important distinction between the two bodies of the monarch, the office and the person, in order to preserve the realm in a stable state. This distinction was to prove crucial during the 17th Century.
Cecil’s use of the term interregnum illustrates that following a short period of Parliamentary control, he fully intended that a new monarch should be crowned. This shows that politicians who used republican arguments were often just as repelled by the thought of rebellion as more conservative thinkers. Furthermore it is important to note that republican ideas could be used to preserve as well as attack the monarchy.
Scotland in the Vanguard of Republicanism
Last but not least, a fertile breeding ground for republicanism in the British Isles during the 16th Century Reformation period was Scotland. One of the most influential and original political thinkers. George Buchanan wrote three major works of political theory, De Jure Regni Apud Scotos (1579), Any detectioun of the dunges of Marie Queene of Scots (1571) and Rarum Scoticarum Historia (1582). All were familiar to people south of the border.
On 20th March 1793 William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield died. It is not often that I blog in support of the memory of aristocrats and bluebloods, but there are exceptions. Mansfield is one of them.
Born in 1705 he was one of the most powerful legal figures in eighteenth century Britain, at various times holding the post of Solicitor General, Chief Justice and Attorney General. His judgements echoed the Age of Enlightenment and were instrumental in paving the way for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. One of Mansfield’s most famous cases was Somerset’s Case (1772), where he held that slavery had no basis in common law and had never been established by positive law (Parliamentary legislation) and therefore was not binding law. While not actually abolishing slavery in the British Empire it was a vital step in that direction. Mansfield stated:
The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.
As a British republican I particularly appreciate the following quote from a 1769 case: Rex v. Wilkes
The last end that can happen to any man, never comes too soon, if he falls in support of the law and liberty of his country: for liberty is synonymous to law and government.
The nation of laws is a fundamental pillar of both European Republicanism and the eighteenth century Enlightenment. An example of Mansfield’s rationalist approach can be found in his Letters to the Right Honorable Lord Mansfield (1773)
As mathematical and absolute certainty is seldom to be attained in human affairs, reason and public utility require that judges and all mankind in forming their opinions of the truth of facts should be regulated by the superior number of the probabilities on the one side or the other whether the amount of these probabilities be expressed in words and arguments or by figures and numbers.
No person is wholly good and Mansfield was no exception, numbering opposition to press freedom, nepotism and support for British Government antagonism towards the American colonies on the opposite side of the balance. But his bravery in ruling against enslavement in Britain must surely warrant that he is remembered by history.
I had always intended to read The Citadel, the 1937 novel by doctor and writer A.J. Cronin. Now, having received a copy as a Christmas present I have finally got around to it. So why is it important?
One of Cronin’s first posts in the medical profession was in Tredegar in South Wales during the 1920s and a large portion of The Citadel novel is directly based on his experiences. Now an exile, I was born and raised in the town (though a little while later!), but quite apart from the personal connection, it is a vital read for anyone interested in protecting a freely available citizen-centred Health Service.
The novel tells the story of a young assistant doctor, Andrew Manson who cares for the miners and their families. Later in the story, Cronin candidly examines the ethical background to the dysfunctional system by having his protagonist move to London and falling to the temptation of money.
The Citadel pulled no punches in detailing the iniquities and incompetence of the medical profession as encountered by Cronin. Greed and quackery is rife. Predictably, the book was controversial and made enemies in the medical profession. The British Medical Association was driven to reply to Cronin’s accusations and there was a determined effort by one group of specialists to get The Citadel banned. One critic dismissed it as “dramatized pamphleteering.” But A.J. Cronin was insistent, telling the Daily Express in an interview:
I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug … The horrors and iniquities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system
Today we take it for granted that there is a large cadre of dedicated doctors and consultants. Whilst private patients are still with us the clinicians have a good reputation and the men and women in the white coats generally are highly respected. But Cronin’s work reveals a dangerous aspect of a privatised health service; greedy and lazily incompetent doctors. In such an environment the rich may be able to take them to court for malpractice, but what of the rest of us?
Warnings of a fully privatised health service where the only protection was afforded by working men grouping together to collectively purchase medical services must not be dismissed lightly. They are stark. The Citadel may be fiction, but the evidence from the United States demonstrates that the warnings are real.
Aside from all that, it is also a cracking read!
A series of delusional characters maintained that everything was hunky dory until it all went suddenly and unforeseeably wrong
Rachel Reeves MP and Frank Field MP following evidence given by former Carillion executives
The collapse of Carillion has revealed the ways in which members of the British establishment work to the detriment of its citizens. Intriguingly, some of these racketeers have even campaigned hard for Brexit while their commercial activities have served to undermine a major British company, putting at risk the jobs and services of millions of Britons!
The collapse also highlighted the dangers inherent in the control of large sectors of state activity by powerful private interest groups. It is clear that the company borrowed heavily whilst aggressively grabbing more and more contracts in a bid to squeeze competition out of the marketplace.
The situation culminated in a company which we are told was ‘too big to fail’. But this claim implies that we are left with no option but to help it out in some way. As with the banks, this should ring alarm bells; moreover the Government is complicit in creating these unaccountable behemoths which can hold a gun to the heads of taxpayers. It would seem that some of the biggest losers will be small businesses providing valuable employment and services which are often operating on narrow margins.
The Public Finance Initiative artful tax dodgers
The whole issue of Corporatism and the dangers it presents is now, thankfully, a matter of public debate. But in this post I want to look more closely at the activities of Carillion and the financial casino system which has become a corrosive part of the economy.
Let’s start with the selling of PFI contracts. The debate around corporatism has focussed around Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and the enormous drag they are now having on our public services. What is less well known is that PFI contracts can be traded in the same way as other assets. So even if the Government has good reason for allocating a contract to a particular company it cannot be sure that the contract will not be sold on to someone else. This is exactly what Carillion has done and (surprise, surprise) involves tax dodging.
According to analysis by the European Services Strategy Unit (ESSU), Carillion made £500m from selling PFI projects, the most profitable being the sales of three NHS hospital buildings in Staffordshire, Swindon and Glasgow in 2007. These netted Carillion a 38.7 per cent annual return, Several of the purchasers are based offshore meaning they pay no UK corporation tax on the profits they derive from the schemes, which are ultimately paid for by all of us. An article in The Independent Newspaper pointed out that:
Several projects were bought by Secondary Market Infrastructure Fund and Land Securities Trillium, both of which are earlier names for what is now Semperian, a company based in Jersey and part-owned by the Daily Mail Senior Executives Pension Fund.[My italics]
Equitix, which also bought PFI projects from Carillion, was previously based in the UK but has now been sold to offshore funds.
Just to be clear about this, executives from the Daily Mail are benefitting from a company receiving public money but pay no UK tax on the profits.
What links Elizabeth Windsor’s banker to schools in East Dumbartonshire?
Though not related to Carillion it is instructive to consider the East Dunbartonshire Schools PFI project. This contract is currently half owned by Innisfree Nominees Ltd, which is in turn owned by Innisfree Group Ltd. The main shareholders in this firm is Jersey based Coutts and Co Trustees (Jersey) Ltd, and a part of the taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland group. Coutts is the bank used by the Queen. Moreover as the Scottish Herald points out:
Coutts, whose chairman is Tory peer Lord Waldegrave, was named recently in the leaked Panama papers for asking offshore law firm Mosack Fonseca to set up almost 500 offshore companies for its clients.
Semperian PPP Holdings, which has a parent company also registered in Jersey, holds the other 50% stake in this project, which built six new schools in East Dunbartonshire including Bearsden Academy, Douglas Academy and Bishopbriggs Academy.
Semperian again! But it is hardly surprising since they now own many PFI contracts. So Daily Mail executives, the Conservative party chairman and peer of the realm and Elizabeth Windsor’s bankers. What a cabal!! But that’s not all, lets look at a side issue of the Carillion collapse involving hedge funds.
A hedge fund is an investment vehicle, often administered by a company. Amongst its socially useless activities is what is known as short selling where fund managers gamble that a company’s share price on the stock market will fall. As this Guardian article reports:
The biggest winner from July’s share price crash was hedge fund Marshall Wace, whose co-founder Sir Paul Marshall was a major backer of the leave campaign in the Brexit referendum.
Another institution that took out big bets on Carillion’s downfall is BlackRock, the US-based investment institution that hired former chancellor George Osborne as an adviser last year, on a £650,000 salary.
Marshall was actually employed by the Government and was a board member at the Department of Education (yet another one – how big is this ‘board’). Given a knighthood for services to charity and education he has been busy making money out of the collapse of a major British Company. That should improve the ‘educational outcomes’ for the children of laid off workers no end!
We should also mention his long association with leading Liberal Democrats (until he became a Brexiteer), co-authoring the Orange Book which advocated choice and competition. No wonder the LibDems jumped into power with the Conservatives in 2010!
If we look past the superficial aspects of the Carillion collapse we find the vultures of the British establishment syphoning off public money for their own gain or betting on the collapse of major companies, making money out of misery. Whether the Carillion executives are delusional or not, the company was both perpetrator and victim. But this just shows the closely interconnected nature of the problems we face ending this disgusting charade.
Monarchy and aristocracy are often considered as a single entity by the British public, whether positively or negatively. Yet they are two very different animals. Aristocrats have a love-hate relationship with the monarchy. They hate it because it has historically been a rival for power, privilege and wealth. In fact many aristocrats have been republicans and that remains so today, though their vision for a republic is slightly different to mine! Conversely, the aristocracy love monarchy as it takes the high profile flak and provides ‘top cover’ for their activities in return for a little bit of pomp and dressing up a few times a year.
Though not being a fan of the City A.M. publication, often finding its articles superficial, one feature published last week nevertheless demonstrated the point about the continuing power of aristocracy. Writing about the vast areas of London owned by a few very old families it stated:
This select group has several significant players. The Grosvenor Estate, owned by the Duke of Westminster, manages Mayfair and Belgravia; the Cadogan Estate, owned by the Earl Cadogan, has Chelsea; the Portman Estate, owned by Viscount Portman includes fashionable Chiltern Street north of Oxford Steet (sic); while the Howard de Walden Estate, owned by the Howard de Walden family, is its neighbour on nearby Marylebone High Street.
I blogged about the Duke of Westminster tax rouse on his Grosvenor Estate when considering the undemocratic nature of investment ptential in Britain. As might be imagined, the aristocrats have their own lackey supporters for this state of affairs who cite ‘long term stewardship’ and ‘tasteful development’ as justification. But let’s look more closely at this 21st Century version of feudalism.