A Life to Live; Thomas Rainborough’s Quote is of Profound Importance Today

In 1647 Leveller Thomas Rainborough (1610-1648) made this statement:

…I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.

I consider it one of the most profound statements on political philosophy uttered in the English language. Here’s why.

Rainborough was a Colonel in the Parliamentarian army during the English Civil Wars. As a leading member of the radical Levellers group he took part in the momentous 1647 Putney Debates, a series of discussions, sometimes stormy, between the grandees of the New Model Army and the Levellers regarding a new constitution for England.

Although often discussed in terms of wealth inequality, Rainborough’s choice of the phrase life to live has far greater scope and is fundamentally important today. When international bankers such as Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan can invite Theresa May or Hillary Clinton to their events or Charles Windsor as heir to the throne can simply invite the Prime Minister of the day around for tea, ir represents an influence which the poorest he cannot even contemplate bringing to bear on the UK Government. It is true that we must beware of ascribing too much of a modern interpretation to Rainbrough’s. statement. the possibility of votes for women (poorest she!), for example, would not even have been considered at that time.

Yet as a claim for an inclusive society where decisions of the powerful can be contested his quote is as powerful as ever and entails what political thinker Philip Pettit calls the ‘eyeball’ and ‘straight talk’ tests. The eyeball test means all members of a society should be able to look each other directly in the eye as equals while the straight talk test means that we can all express our reasonable opinions to those in power without fear of recrimination. Sadly many western societies are failing these tests.

Consider, for example, the current political upheavals which politicians such as Bernie Sanders in the US attribute to the rise of oligarchical power. It has been noted that contrary to popular opinion oligarchies often control governments without the direct use of money, although they are closely connected. What initially starts as unequal wealth slowly morphs into the subtle means of control characteristic of a class system. Money buys the children of the wealthy smart new clothes, a childhood in fine homes, access to exclusive education where networks can be formed and travel across the world. This breeds confidence and slowly the class structure emerges as exists in Britain, has emerged in the United States and is now emerging in Russia. An expectation, frequently granted, of political and economic influence flows from this added confidence.

So Rainborough was absolutely correct. A life to live involves more than simply wealth inequality no matter how significant that may be.

Cameron: a Retrospective

By Alison Rowland

I am delighted to welcome back to the Radical i-Pamphlet guest blogger Alison Rowland with a post containing her thoughts on the legacy of David Cameron. You can read Alison’s previous post In, Out, Shake it all About here; she can be found on twitter as @Rowland35Alison or check out her blog at https://leftologyblog.wordpress.com .

Cameron Tune
David Cameron steps back into Number 10 humming a tune.

I wanted to pause a moment and reflect, before the history books start to be written, before the entry which ends with ‘succeeded by Teresa May’ is written as if this happened as naturally as night follows day, to assess David Cameron’s contribution, his legacy. It’s all been said before, nothing new here, but I wanted to collect some of it together, before we all move on and forgot some of it. How bad it was.

He walks away with a little hum, and a ‘right, yes’, saying he’s going to leave ‘the s***’ he’s just navigated us all into to others to sort. It’s a day at the office for him, another day. Sometimes it’s been like a game for him and his chums (they are all ‘chums’ in the Tory party, apparently, when they are not stabbing each other in the back in the scramble for power). Nick Robinson compared it to Game of Thrones, and he should know because he was a close friend of all the Bullingdon boys.  Nick could have been there sharing all that power with them if he wasn’t busy producing a stream of right-wing propaganda for the national news organisation which helps keeps them in power.  He helps to share the power in his own way, by stifling other views.

It has been a series of days in the office.  But it’s really been all about power.  Sadly that job, that office Cameron has held has had the capacity to effect people’s lives. With the potential to harm them. And that Cameron seemed to enjoy. Or was it just collateral damage?  What kind of man pursues austerity so that people who work long hours caring for the sick, disabled and disadvantaged can barely afford to feed themselves? And does this whilst diverting money to the rich in the form of tax breaks and bonuses for bankers? What kind of man has a disabled child and loses that child, (a tragedy that would ruin many people’s lives for ever), but then goes on to demonise the sick and disabled?  Who refuses to help children escaping war who then drown in the sea, who sells off the profitable bits of the NHS and lets the rest rot away for lack of investment, and sanctions a system which classifies people with terminal illnesses as ‘fit to work’ so that the money they rely on for food can be reduced? What kind of person can do that, having had that tragedy happen to their family, even for power?  Is there no conscience there?  Just does it and then dismisses it all with a Pooh hum.

But there is more, lots more. Letting racism, intolerance and hatred breed, and pretending it’s nothing to do with you. But then acknowledging it, because it is part of people’s ‘legitimate concerns’ and moving your stance ever further towards more intolerance, more hatred, more dislike of anyone who exhibits any difference to your tribe.  Drip-feeding this hatred through the media, watching a party form to exploit this directly and split the vote against you so that you can hold ever more tightly onto power.  This after you have destroyed a liberal (‘Lib-Dem’) party with a great tradition of opposing such reactionary forces, destroying it by bribery and two-facedness, offering a bit of that treacherous power to a man gullible enough to take the offer, and then destroying him and that liberal tradition and that party without mercy.  Clearing the field so that you can have a stronger hold on that power.

Then when you’re close to the end, when you think you might be getting bored of these days in the office, when the game is getting a bit tiresome, thinking you might have a final fling. Seeing if you can finish off a rivalry you started at university, when you were both in a club where drinking and destroying things whilst drunk was the prime directive. The stakes are a bit higher now, but you’ve got that party of hatred willing to help you split opinion and pour more hatred on to fan the flames against Europe. That’ll make this game more interesting.  And yes, the old mate takes the bait, because you all love the prospect of power nearly as much as the realisation of it. And the press will help with more lies and hatred, and you know the left-wingers will struggle with their principles to know where to place themselves, and their discomfort adds to your pleasure. And gives your party a stronger hold on power.

It all goes pear-shaped in the end, but what the hell. Old rival doesn’t know how to deal with getting what he pretended to want, but no matter because you have a party full of people who’ve learned at your feet how to be even more greedy for power than you are. So you can go off with your ‘Ho-hum’ in less than three weeks.  And it was a breeze really. There was the odd tedious day at the office.  But overall, you and Gideon seemed to be having a good time. PMQs was, I think, for you one of the best bits – all that rowdy sexism, bullying, personal abuse – just like being back in the Oxford Union. The photos of you ‘having a laugh’ there say it all really. And the lucrative and very easy after-dinner speaker circuit awaits. More privileged drinking clubs. So you’ll never have to worry about money. Thousands of other families will, including those with disabled children, directly because of what you did. But not you, so that’s OK.

I’ll stop there. As he does. Retire gracefully. No longer pumped up for the fight. It’ll probably get worse for us all before it gets better. But I for one am glad the game is largely over for him. I hope he has days of regret, of conscience, in the time left to him. I hope occasionally he thinks of those other families, and wonders whether it was all worth it. When he is old and his health fails, and he starts to become like those he despised and tried to get us all to hate. I hope he wonders if it was worth it.  For the power, the very brief and fleeting power, it doesn’t last.  But the damage does.

‘Oh Dearism’; Start to Tackle it by Abolishing the Monarchy

As a Republican trying to persuade my fellow Britons of the need to remove the monarchy I sometimes encounter a kind of fatalism which says that even if we get rid of the queen we will still be controlled by rich and powerful elites essentially beyond our control. This is partly a problem of powerlessness, a kind of despairing acceptance of fate which the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis has termed ‘oh dearism’. Now while I fully agree that the removal of monarchy must only be the beginning to the reform of our system, I nevertheless believe that it makes an excellent starting point. This is for a number of reasons, some constitutional and some psychological. I want to look at just two in this post.

Firstly, the existence of a monarchy entrenches the position of a powerful political elite via the Privy Council. In fact, the system actually views the British Cabinet (supposedly our Government) as a sub-committee of the Council  (I’ve written more about these arechaic powers in this post) and we can see the importance of this to the financial elite in one example. The Crown Dependencies are managed under the auspices of the Privy Council and thus the tax havens of the British Virgin Island and the Caymen Islands to name but two are allowed to thrive. More widely the relationship between politicians and royals facilitates a taxpayer funded Prince Andrew (then supposedly a Trade Envoy) the opportunity to try and broker the selling of state assets to foreign oligarchs, thus cementing his position amongst a wider, global elite.

Continue reading “‘Oh Dearism’; Start to Tackle it by Abolishing the Monarchy”