Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cameron re-contaminates Conservatism with cuts and incompetence

At the precise moment Ed Miliband is (rather convincingly) stealing Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, One Nation, localising, compassionate conservatism (principally because the Prime Minister has abandoned his central vision and vacated the civic ground), we hear of yet another humiliating schoolboy error which will inevitably lead to yet another policy U-turn, and finally award the West Coast Main Line franchise to Virgin.

This one will cost the taxpayer an immediate £40million, and is likely to run into £100s of millions when the franchise bidders have all been adequately compensated. The error, apparently, was the failure to factor in inflation, which has led to the suspension of three civil service officials. This is deemed by a Downing Street spokesman to constitute ‘extremely complex minutiae that ministers would not be involved in’.

Sorry, but this is such a sub-A-level Economics error which any half-competent minister ought to have spotted immediately. The reality is that while the hapless former Transport Secretary Justine Greening was bullishly defending her department’s decision in the media, effectively accusing Sir Richard Branson of being a bad loser, she had presided over a shambolic process which led to a monumental injustice. The more she waffled on about efficiency and propriety, the more she concealed the reality of the incompetence which underpins the Cameron premiership.

This latest embarrassment follows forests, school milk, circus animals, Coulson, secret courts, Cornish pasties, conservatories and caravans. Not to mention Leveson, VAT on church repairs, Lords reform and absurd caps on charity giving. Margaret Thatcher always demanded rigorous detail of her ministers: if they weren’t up to the job, they were swiftly despatched. By comparison, David Cameron is sloppy and careless: he sacks highly competent and effective ministers like Tim Loughton and Nick Gibb, but simply shuffles Justine Greening off to another unsuspecting parish in the hope that her inadequacies may be concealed.

Her successor at Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, estimates that the total cost of the fiasco could reach £300m. Ms Greening now presides over the Department for International Development, managing a colossal (ring-fenced) budget of £6.7billion. Labour are demanding her removal from the Cabinet, insisting that a Government-owned company should run the West Coast. Only a perverse socialist logic could witness government incompetence on this scale and conclude that the solution is more government.

A better solution would be to put Sir Richard Branson into the House of Lords and make him a minister. Labour did it with the declining Lord Sugar, so an ascendant Branson would be of far greater worth to the nation. But his manifest skill, competence and acumen would only serve to highlight the carelessness, incompetence and inadequacy of the Prime Minister, who seems habitually to surround himself with the second-rate in order that he may shine.

There was a time when Conservatism was associated with those ‘nasty’ policy emphases – tax cuts, business interests, crime and punishment, anti-gay, EU withdrawal, free-market capitalism and Hayek’s theory of distribution. As part of his decontamination strategy, David Cameron promoted women, gays and ethnic minorities to safe Conservative seats, and ushered in an era of environmentalism, fervent support for public services, a think-tank dedicated to ‘social justice’, an apology for Section 28, moderate euroscepticism, socially liberal agendas like civil partnership and a plea that young offenders might be sympathetically understood rather than incarcerated.

All that has now been undone. The Government is divided, distracted and directionless. Nigel Farage was right: ‘We're being run by a bunch of college kids.’

Under David Cameron, the Conservatives have become the party of cuts and incompetence, and that – far more than any ideological adherence to ‘nasty’ Thatcherite conviction – is a toxic cocktail that will cost the next General Election.


Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Your Grace

First Group's share price has plummeted on the back of this fiasco so I can see the claim for compensation being massive and the Government having no leg to stand on as this has been declared publicly.

Gross incompetence?


4 October 2012 at 09:46  
Blogger English Pensioner said...

According to John Redwood's blog, Network Rail lost £560 million last year through dealing in derivatives. As he said, "quite why a company earning its money from the UK wanted to borrow foreign currency money has never been explained satisfactorily."
Money simply doesn't matter to civil servants, there's always more available from the treasury and taxpayer if they need it.
So the latest £40 million is a mere drop in the ocean compared with their other losses.

4 October 2012 at 10:09  
Blogger Preacher said...

Indeed an awful mess. It poses the question, Who will be competent to lead us at the next General election now that we know the joint efforts of the Conservative party & the Liberals could not organise the proverbial party in a Brewery. Milliband talks the talk but has yet to show any ability to actually accomplish anything resembling leadership. it's easy to talk big & criticise when in opposition, but as Blair & co proved delivering the goods is different matter.
UKIP looks good, but I hope Nigel Farage was joking when he spoke about occupying Clegg's coalition chair if offered.

4 October 2012 at 11:14  
Blogger strawbrick said...

"These flaws stem from the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated. Mistakes were made in the way in which inflation and passenger numbers were taken into account ..."

Let us hope that neither the "can carriers", nor the processes, nor the software deployed on the WCML were involved in producing the figures for HS2!

4 October 2012 at 11:31  
Blogger strawbrick said...

"These flaws stem from the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated. Mistakes were made in the way in which inflation and passenger numbers were taken into account ..."

Let us hope that neither the "can carriers", nor the processes, nor the software deployed on the WCML were involved in producing the figures for HS2!

4 October 2012 at 11:31  
Blogger Joe Daniels said...

I agree with everything you say about the Tories, your Grace. But Milliband has given an extraordinary hostage to fortune in implying the Labour brand is so toxic that he needs to dredge up a quote from a novel written by a 19th-century Tory Prime Minister to unite his party. Result: a gift by both parties to smaller parties at the next election?

4 October 2012 at 11:35  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

All true Cranmer. But it isn't just a conservative thing or a labour thing - it's a party political truism.

None of them are any different. Vapid. Convictionless. Shallow. Opportunist. Power-seeking. Self-seeking. Yet also impotent & incompetent.

And many of us warned you about this pre-May 2010 but you still slavishly banged the tribal conservative drum. And I suspect you would do so again if there were an election tomorrow.

4 October 2012 at 11:42  
Blogger Steve Smith said...

I remember thinking even prior to the election that Cameron et al just don't 'do' detail. It is significantly easier to make broad brushstrokes, big announcements and crude policy, than it is to create detail. I entirely agree with you about Thatcher - she made the skill and habit of enquiring deeply a core requisite of her ministers.

4 October 2012 at 11:46  
Blogger MikeyP said...

Conservatives are awful at incompetence, and they have not taken the civil service in hand. Labour have been, and would be, even worse. LibDems do not count.

The only trouble with cuts is that there have not been any yet, except where there should have been an increase, i.e. the Armed Forces.

I think the only answer is to vote UKIP!

4 October 2012 at 12:09  
Blogger bluedog said...

All true, Your Grace, and what of the alternative?

It is a matter of record that Dave requested (demanded?) the pleasure of Boris Johnson's company for luncheon at Chequers, last Sunday.

The day after, Monday 1st October, Boris published an article in the DT headlined, 'I’m sorry to say it, but my old school chum isn’t PM material'. Only Boris was referring to Ed Milliband, not David Cameron. After this tongue in cheek start, Boris ends his article by emphatically declaring that David Cameron will win an absolute majority in his own right in 2015.

What to conclude? Implicitly the coalition with the Lib-Dims is dead. But what deus-ex-machina is going to deliver an absolute majority for the Conservatives in 2015, absent Boris on the front bench? Let's face it, Boris wins votes, Dave repels them and if Dave doesn't know this he is in the same boat as Milipede.

Is there an agreement between Dave and Boris? If so, on what terms, because if there is a succession plan it should be in the public domain. Or has Boris simply been overwhelmed by Dave's over-confidence?

4 October 2012 at 13:38  
Blogger Naomi King said...

MikeyP said...he only answer is to vote UKIP! @ 12:09

And if for no other reason than they are the only serious party standing on a pro marriage platform. God is and will bless them for this.

4 October 2012 at 13:42  
Blogger Di said...

A professional political class is emerging, of kids straight from uni, still wet behind the ears. They are all unfit for public office by reason of lack of real-world experience.

4 October 2012 at 14:01  
Blogger IanCad said...

You've just about got it covered Rebel Saint:

"None of them are any different. Vapid. Convictionless. Shallow. Opportunist. Power-seeking. Self-seeking. Yet also impotent & incompetent."

Cameron has to go.
Boris is more of the same with a pulse.
I am not knowledgeable enough to suggest alternatives; But is David Davies up to the job?
He is not tainted with an Oxbridge history.
He is on the Libertarian wing of the CP.

UKIP is not an option.

4 October 2012 at 16:23  
Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

What I've had not heard re the West Coast tendering is why it has been considered necessary to retender the whole process. Logic would suggest that if it was really simple sub A level economics errors by civil servants as being claimed - then it wouldn't be beyond the intellectual capabilities of the Government to rework the calculations and if necessary reaward the tender to however wins based on the correct figures - the government could even spend a little bit on someone independent to check all the workings, especially since I doubt that its own members have got to the sub A Level economics standard (or if they did they have clearly forgot all that stuff by Mr Keynes). But instead they are starting the whole process again and given £40m to the bearded git and his friends to cover their original proposal costs - most of which will go into their back pockets, as the new tenders will just be an update of the previous ones. It all rather suggests that the £40m is being paid with other objectives in mind - and they won't be to save public money.

4 October 2012 at 16:33  
Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

MikeyP said...
Conservatives are awful at incompetence, and they have not taken the civil service in hand. Labour have been, and would be, even worse. LibDems do not count.

Has any Goverment of any complexion ever been able to take the civil service in hand? Just read the biographies/diaries of any Politician and they nearly always end up admitting their failure on this. Politicians almost by definition do not have the necessary management skills to do so.

The thought that UKIP could do so is somewhat comical - given its inability even to organise itself! Even the lowest grade Civil Servants would run rings around Farage.

4 October 2012 at 16:41  
Blogger Naomi King said...

tory boys never grow up ... Well if you don't think Nigel Farge is up to the job I challenge you to come up with someone better from the ranks of the Tory Party..any suggestions ?

4 October 2012 at 17:16  
Blogger tory boys never grow up said...


I'm not sure if you worked it out but I'm not a fan of the Tories either! Changing the culture and operations of large organisations such as the Civil Service is a pretty difficult and challenging think to do in practice - the politicians should recognise their limitations and understand that their job is to set high level objectives for the Civil Service. Setting up management structures and making them work is something that should be left to those with experience of doing so - and this doesn't mean token individuals, you need a team of people. Try talking to any politician about management structures and organisational change and watch their eyes glaze over pretty quickly - since Nigel F is known to like a drink or 7 - his only redeeming feature is that this stage will be reached quicker than with other politicians and so waste less time.

4 October 2012 at 17:43  
Blogger Naomi King said...

Surely the point is we need leaders with principles and integrity. Because our Nation has become so Godless, principles and integrity are rather lacking. It is with faith that strength and courage come and a vision of what is right and true.

There are many Christians left who have these values, they need supporting and encouraging, both inside and outside politics.

A case in point, which nicely brings us round to Europe and Ukip, this year the European arm of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Inter-sex Association (ILGA) expects to receive almost 1,000,000 euros (yes 1 million euros !) from the European Commission.

In contrast, Christian Concern receives no public funding - either in the UK or in Europe. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke. But they do need to be encouraged.

4 October 2012 at 18:00  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Your Grace. True conservatism is not an easy vehicle to steer. Socialism and whatever it is the Lib-Dems stand for are. Far easier to spend (…waste ?...) money we haven’t got on projects we don’t need (…High Speed 2…). To be a successful conservative prime minister requires vision, statesmanship, prudence, integrity, forthrightness. Not one of these qualities can be found in useful quantities in Cameron. We have been cruelly let down by the people who made him the leader. And why aren’t we hearing about ‘One Nation Conservatism’. That’s what the Big Society is all about, and stop changing its damn name !

‘One Nation Conservatism’. Daily, hourly. Every minister who gives an interview should quote it in the first couple of minutes - because it MATTERS !

Right, with that out of the way, we come to the darling Justine Greening. Sack her, she has to go. What she has presided over is unforgivable. Her word is worth nothing. If she had any decency about her she would resign with immediate effect. Her time in government is over. It was a disaster. She has failed. Blown it. She’s out there without any knickers on, and EVERYBODY is pointing and staring.

4 October 2012 at 18:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miliband is not stealing the Big Soceity he is just confirming that all the parties are the same

Whatever we vote, they intend to go ahead with the agenda, which requires highly competent ministers to be gotten rid of and inadequacy promoted

Where we are headed with this lot shall become far nastier than anything the old tories would have dreamt of

4 October 2012 at 18:01  
Blogger Tony B said...

> It is with faith that strength and courage come and a vision of what is right and true.

Tell that to Jimmy Saville

4 October 2012 at 18:44  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Tony B. Jimmy Saville died an unconvicted man. Rather a shame the hordes waited for a year after his death and not thirty before it, don’t you think ? Still, once a chap is dead, you can allege anything and not be sued for defamation...

4 October 2012 at 19:36  
Blogger Tony B said...

Inspector - you're saying he didn't do it?

4 October 2012 at 19:39  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Tony B. Conviction through rumour is hardly justice, what !

If it is true, he does seem to have had a penchant for teenagers who grew up to be fat blondes, but you didn’t hear that from the Inspector {AHEM}

4 October 2012 at 19:51  
Blogger Tony B said...

Rumour? I hardly think hordes of victims coming forward can be classed as "rumour". More like "testimony".

Anyway, off topic, for which I apologise to HG.

4 October 2012 at 20:22  
Blogger Berserker said...

ENGLISH PENSIONER is right to say---
So the latest £40 million is a mere drop in the ocean compared with their other losses.

Considering that we hand over to the EU about £50 million a day and this figure I believe is really a considerable underestimate. The cost of the compliance of business to the Rules and Regulations of the EU elephant, not to mention the massive additions for the extra food costs of the CAP.
None of this negates the incredible incompetence of the civil servants and Ms Greening - one of Cameron's cheer leader's. Show me a female politician in England or France that has not made a hash of things. And they will never get their head round Geography either.
Barbara Castle? Yes, she had what it takes. They don't make them like that anymore.

4 October 2012 at 20:37  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4 October 2012 at 20:46  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

...and now the Met are on the case using up their valuable resources. Somebody ought to point out to them the fellow’s dead...

4 October 2012 at 20:48  
Blogger Gareth said...

Cameron will go down in history as the Conservative PM who cut public services and still didn't manage to save a penny, poured our nations money down the drain through incompetence and handed his successor an even worse economy than the one he inherited.

Brown will look like a saint in comparison.

4 October 2012 at 20:54  
Blogger Roy said...

Just how toxic is David Cameron's Conservative Party? Well, you could ask the surviving members of Bomber Command. It was not until this year that a memorial to those who lost their lives during World War II (about half the total who served in Bomber Command).

Now, the trustees of the memorial fund, including three Bomber Command veterans have, according to today's Daily Mail, been landed with a bill that could force them to sell their homes.

Of course to the PC mindset such a thing cannot be defined as "nasty." Being "nasty" means opposing causes championed by the Guardian and the BBC.

4 October 2012 at 20:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Cameron`s 'big Society is a failure.'A house built on sand ' indeed.

All David Cameron has achieved is a further increase in a divided broken Society.
Unless we return to our foundations 'this house built on sand 'will be prone to further shifts and tremors.

As the Kingdom of man staggers from one crisis to another perhaps we should be looking upward for One who will rule with justice and righteousness.

4 October 2012 at 21:34  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

I think it's a bit simpler than that actually.

The whole premise of "detoxification" was doomed from the start, not because the Tories didn't need to "detoxify" - God knows they did - but because Cameron's method of detoxification was essentially to pursue policies that were primarily cared about by metropolitan centrists and lefties (crudely defined by the Guardian readership). This is hardly surprising: that was who the Cameronites mainly socialised with outside of the party faithful, and I suppose if it's the only alternative voice you hear, it's the one you head towards when you fancy a change.

But it was always going to be a waste, because the groups they pander to are those least likely to ever vote Conservative. They've taken the "modernisation" not as an indicator of Tory electability, but an indicator that they were right all along - a confirmation that the Tories shouldn't be in office.

It's rather like the poor deluded souls who think that extensive modernisation of the Church will lead to floods of people coming back. It won't. They'll nod and croon, happy to see their views confirmed, and then turn and ignore you.

What's needed, and what was always needed was a voice of genuine dissent: a serious alternative capable of articulating just why flatter taxation is good for the man on the street, or how power might seriously be returned to the electorate.

In short what it needed was not David Cameron.

4 October 2012 at 22:59  
Blogger Tim B said...

The blame lies squarely with the civil servants in the DfT. Under Labour (and continuing under the coalition) the DfT didn't even understand the basic laws of physics - their new Intercity express train was/is a complete bodge.

4 October 2012 at 23:17  
Blogger Naomi King said...

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

5 October 2012 at 08:07  
Blogger Flossie said...

'Cameron's method of detoxification was essentially to pursue policies that were primarily cared about by metropolitan centrists and lefties (crudely defined by the Guardian readership).' (Anonymous in Belfast @22.59)

Absolutely spot on!!

5 October 2012 at 09:25  
Blogger Jon said...

AIB - I don't agree with everything you've said, but I would welcome a broad national discussion of taxes (not just flat ones, but about how we make the tax base work better to discourage the current flow of wealth away from the young - for instance, perhaps scrapping or massively reducing income taxes and instituting land taxes).

I'm sure that there are constituencies in the country who were re-assured and, indeed, persuaded to vote for the Conservatives by Cameron's project. Anecdotally, young gay guys in London almost all seem to be Tories now. I'm not saying that it was a good electoral calculation, just that the detoxification didn't have no effect at all.

5 October 2012 at 11:11  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...


Perhaps I can put your mind at rest. I find it in no way surprising that young gay men in London vote Conservative. This is because I generally don't expect people's voting expectations to be largely dictated by their sexual preferences.

In fact, I'd wager that there have always been gay men who've voted Conservative, because it made sense economically for their business or place of employment, or because they understand how the Rule of Law might ensure their safety and freedom. I'm sure that the degree to which people feel able to be open about their voting preferences has increased, but it's long been the case that the number of people who actually vote Conservative is higher than those who say they do (the 1992 election exit polls being the perfect case in point).

I'm also not religious about taxation - I don't see any particular mechanism as being endowed with more or less moral virtue. Tax, as far as I'm concerned, exists to levy sufficient funds to meet the things that government has been asked by the people to provide. When parties like the LibDems make a song and dance about taxing the very richest, and taking away Alan Sugar's bus pass I have nothing but contempt for them: either they are stupid and don't understand the ease with which money can be transferred, or else they know perfectly well that Robin Hood taxes usually end up in net losses to treasury income, and don't care because they see the political capital as being more valuable than the damage it will do to government revenue. On the other hand, I don't buy the song that flatter tax is virtuous in and of itself - it's potentially a more efficient means of bringing in income. That's about it.

5 October 2012 at 11:49  
Blogger bluedog said...

Mr IanCad @ 16.23, the tragedy is that the requisite talent is still there within the Conservative Party, in this case, John Redwood.

As a former director of NM Rothschild, Redwood would have no trouble in identifying any basic flaws in a draft commercial contract. But such is Dave's petulance and insecurity that Mr Redwood's talent and experience are ignored.

Expensively, too.

5 October 2012 at 12:03  
Blogger Jon said...

AIB, a lot of gay men still remember Section 28 and haven't really forgiven the Tory party for it - so whilst I don't think people vote wholly according to their sexuality, they often do vote according to their conscience and that piece of legislation was a poorly drafted, "dog whistle" piece of law which for me encapsulated the "moral panic" which the Tories became known for in the "back to basics" era.

In that respect, I still find it surprising that so many of them are prepared to countenance voting Tory. After all, I don't expect that people vote solely according to religious alignment either, but I doubt you'd get many Catholics voting for the Natural Law party because they liked its stance on recycling, or whatever.

As for tax, I agree with you. The Lib Dems say the things they do because they see taxation as a punishment for a wrong (for example, being wealthy) rather than solely as a means to fund the necessary functions of government. This also seems to blind them to the perverse incentives they create by their proposals - but I suspect you're right that they see political gain as compensation enough.

5 October 2012 at 14:49  
Blogger EU Community Inquisitor AIB said...


I'd expect religious views to take a much greater role in electoral choices, though, because they almost always entail an ideological outlook on the world. It's not obvious to me that sexual preferences contain that ideological dimension at the outset.

5 October 2012 at 15:36  
Blogger IanCad said...


Mr. Redwood seems like a good prospect to replace Cameron.
I wonder who else is a prospect.
Let's face it, almost anyone would be better than the current PM.

We are facing critical times and can't afford to get it wrong five times in a row.

5 October 2012 at 17:32  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Gentlemen, there are many here who bemoan the loss of support the conservatives have endured at UKIP’s expense.

When you have faint types like Cameron leading the party, you don’t have to get him drunk to wreck the party’s support. The final straw for this man was ssm, having previously staggered around in a daze when the referendum was murdered. One notes that Jon finds that most of his gay pals are now of the Conservative mindset. Hardly surprising as the party has bent over a table for them, is it. Meanwhile, those of us who hold traditional values dear just shake our heads and walk away.

What did you think we’d do ! Bombard central office with letters of complaint ? Beg them to reconsider ?

It’s far too late. Once you have to resort to that kind of behaviour, the party is not yours any longer. And yes, literally, the party is well and truly over, and it’s time to go home. A new home. One hopes that UKIP will forever remember not to make the same mistake in the future and remember who it is and what it stands for..

5 October 2012 at 17:45  
Blogger Naomi King said...

Well said, Inspector.

5 October 2012 at 18:16  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Thank you Mrs King, dear heart. a fellow does his best...

5 October 2012 at 18:49  
Blogger ukFred said...

One has to wonder whether Douglas Adams was prescient and thinking of Cameron's Government when he described the executives of the Cirrius Cybernetics Corporation and their fate.

5 October 2012 at 22:55  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Jon: "AIB, a lot of gay men still remember Section 28 and haven't really forgiven the Tory party for it [...]"

Most of the on-line gay men I know loathe the Tory party and don't believe that it has actually changed at all. It remains The Nasty Party to them: uncompassionate, uncaring, authoritarian, old-fashioned, and ultimately for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Aside from the last point, it still wears the face of Norman Tebbit behind closed doors as far as they're concerned.

6 October 2012 at 06:46  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Despite my own sexual orientation, I'm primarily inclined to parties which understand and promote liberty. The Tories have an historical theme there, though it didn't much shine when Michael Howard was home secretary. And what happened to all that philosophical rolling back of New Labour's database State and other illiberal shenanigans?

6 October 2012 at 06:51  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

DanJ0. It makes this man shudder when he thinks of a political party as ‘compassionate’ and ‘caring’, because along with those words come interfering, controlling, demanding, requiring.
Some of us still view our government as our servant, not our master...

6 October 2012 at 11:43  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Our society is too complex for the State not to involve itself or interfere to some extent or other. If you ever get to travel around to some rather more exotic places, you'll realise just how complex things actually are here. Hence, if the State does involve itself or interfere then things go better or worse depending on how it does it, you see. Prime examples of complexity here are, of course, the NHS, or State pensions, or care for the sick or elderly. Perhaps you'd do away with all those things and revert back to the 18th and 19th century way of handling those things. I'm not keen myself, but hey.

6 October 2012 at 13:05  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

It's rather simpler in some of the mountainous places I've been to. For example, if a child gets appendicitis then it probably dies. Simple procedure but there's no infrastructure.

6 October 2012 at 13:09  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

It's a mistake to conflate the State with governance or social organisation of any kind. The modern (i.e. since Early Modern times) notion of the State is one that lends itself to an increasingly centralised and national form of social organisation.

I'd not want to go to a state in which there was no "governance" at all - but I do generally give preference to non-centralised forms of government. Not necessarily only local government, which has its own set of pitfalls, but definitely a disconnect between many of the assumptions that underpin our idea that the State is necessary to have things like Health Services for instance. There are plenty of other models in the modern world that involve distributed authority that are able to deliver.

I like the idea about complexity though. It reminds me of some of the more Hayekian ideas about forced attempts to impose simplicity, and the benefits of "biological" models of social governance.

6 October 2012 at 13:55  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Luckily I'm not doing that but carry on with wherever your tangent goes anyway, it might apply to someone else.

6 October 2012 at 14:04  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Is a country it’s people, culture and traditions, or is the country whatever parliament says it is. Perhaps you confuse the infrastructure of the modern state with it’s governance. Make that OUR governance. What we say, think, do.

6 October 2012 at 14:42  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

I didn't think you were being reductive DanJ0 - but you did connect the existence of the State to things like the NHS and Pensions. True, these things are primarily State-run things in the UK, but not world-wide. I suppose a better way to put it would be: do you take the involvement of the State in the provision of different forms of welfare to be necessary to achieve the present standard we have of them?

I don't imagine you see it as philosophically necessary - i.e. that its the State part of the NHS that makes it virtuous (though by all means correct me if I'm wrong there). I assumed you were defending the NHS and pensions for the social good they provide, rather than as a proxy to defend the State. At least, that's how I took: "Perhaps you'd do away with all those things and revert back to the 18th and 19th century way of handling those things. I'm not keen myself, but hey."

My point was: what if one could remove or reduce the involvement of the State but still keep people ticking over in illness or old age? I doubt the Inspector would disagree with the provision of either.

6 October 2012 at 15:19  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Quite correct Belfast. A glaringly obvious example of unrequired state intervention is education. It should be devolved down to a governing body of non-politicians, which representatives from academia and industry. An on going Royal Commission, we’ll call it. We are turning out young adults not fit for the purpose of work ! Madness...

Get rid of the Secretariat for education, and you reduce government...

6 October 2012 at 16:19  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...


I'm not aversed to there being a Secretary for Education - I think it helps to have a final "arbitrator" who is elected by the people, rather like the Secretary of State used to be the final line for stays of execution. But generally I think that actually the social good produced by things like education, the NHS, pensions etc. can actually be reduced by being so explicitly linked to centralised politicians.

It's been the case for decades that educational standards for the basics of literacy and numeracy have been declining. I don't think Education Secretaries have avoided saying that because they didn't accept it - but because it was political suicide to do so (either individually or for the party line). Another example that always strikes me as being damaged by centralised power is administration of Keynesian counter-cyclical economics. Politicians can spend during rough times, and promise to spend to stimulate - but what politician, ever, anywhere on the earth, has had the guts to tell people they're cutting back during a boom (which is the other, necessary half of Keynsianism)?

On the other hand, do you want a tyranny of the experts? Probably not. It's good to have elected ministers and MPs who can, on the basis of their electoral mandate, take and make decisions when they're needed. But I'd rather see the relationship as one of arbitrator than ruler.

Actually - on one final tangent regarding education - that's the big flaw with Gove's present policies. He's forcing them down on high, and although he's trying to ensure that schools are "devolved" to some degree from the Education Ministry, in practice, he's set a precedent where the power resides in the hands of the Secretary. Works fine whilst he's in that office (or at least: achieves set objectives), but the minute he's replaced, what's to stop a Labour minister from using the same powers to do the reverse?

6 October 2012 at 16:59  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Too many actuallies. :s

6 October 2012 at 17:00  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Belfast. One believes the term ‘Political Football’ was tailor made for Education. As for a tyranny of experts, bring it on. What we have now is a tyranny of vote grubbers. No, we need to move away from politics into the realms of meritocracy. Consensus thinking not ideology. Using joined up writing, to put it another way...

6 October 2012 at 17:47  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Inspector: "Perhaps you confuse the infrastructure of the modern state with it’s governance."


6 October 2012 at 18:16  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

If someone fancies an interesting hour - this is a rather nice public lecture, mercifully low on academic jargon, on the nature of medieval hospitals. I find stuff like this - as well as examples from other cultures around the world - absolutely invaluable for demonstrating that many of the notions that modern politics furnish us with are peculiar to ourselves rather than universal truths.

Doubly nice as a lecture, as William Ayliffe is a working medical doctor in the NHS.

6 October 2012 at 20:24  
Blogger IanCad said...


Thanks for the link. There are several related videos that look interesting as well.
If only I didn't need nine hours of sleep and three for eating.
I should spend at least one hour on things spiritual.
Another nine for work. Two more for travel. About four for procrastination and the day is shot.

7 October 2012 at 14:55  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

No problem IanCad - hope they haven't messed up your busy timetable too badly!

The Carol Rawcliffe lecture makes a nice point early on: just how many hospitals and charitable institutions there were.

It's why I tend to be a bit sceptical when modern commentators express the sheer impossibility of the provision of healthcare that isn't through the State. The fact is, that prior to Henry VIII's wholesale destruction of them, this country enjoyed extensive coverage of hospitals, schools, and places of learning whose specific existence was to serve the poor. Very few of them received "State funding", and not all of them were permanent or eternal, but nor were they found only in the big towns, or a matter of a "postcode lottery" - there were a good many that were built precisely because an area didn't have a particular service.

It's the difference in culture that's most striking: these things existed because they were understood as being spiritual "goods". Say what you like about the delivery of Social Goods through the modern State, but as yet nobody has matched a system where it was not at all uncommon for the richest members of society to donate sometimes upwards of 70% of their liquid assets to the poor and local infrastructure simply because it was the right thing to do in the eyes of God. No taxmen with schemes to encourage them. No angry letters in the Guardian. Just men and women before God.

7 October 2012 at 16:24  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Mind you - it's also a pretty strong idictment of the American model of healthcare that the only alternative to the State is through private megacorporations and market-based insurance.

Another nice thing about it was that every time there was a big endowment you got an automatic fiscal stimulus to the local economy. Keynesianism without central control? Good heavens.

7 October 2012 at 16:32  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

The NHS budget is £110 billion a year or thereabouts. We've moved on a bit from some leeches, some posies, and a poultice or two.

7 October 2012 at 21:47  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

DanJ0, one would like to see the old age pension paid in part in tobacco and alcohol. The aged, who take up a great deal of the NHS budget is recognised as being one bloody big pain in the arse. Have that from a caring senior nurse.

7 October 2012 at 22:09  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...


Didn't have time to listen to the lecture then?

One of the measures of modern health care is the extent to which national income is diverted to health. Figures are always difficult with the past, but one thing that is absolutely clear is that a vast amount of money was invested, voluntarily, into infrastructure, including health care. Most towns - generally with populations between 3,000 and 5,000 - had at least one large hospital, and many had several hospitals - with some cities boasting more than ten hospitals.

Quite simply, there were thousands of institutions that existed expressly for the care of the poor and the sick, funded entirely by voluntary wealth, in an era where the rich simply expected to devote large sums of money to the good of the poor for religious reasons. They were, as a result, often architecturally grand locations, with on-site accomodation, and more importantly: were centres for the community as a whole.

What about that doesn't fit with the ideal of the NHS?

As Prof. Ayliffe notes, 'to describe the NHS as medieval is offensive - medieval hospitals were a lot better'. Not by the crude measure of technology: a medieval hospital used the most up to date knowledge and methods that it had available to it, same as now.

7 October 2012 at 22:54  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Crude comparison, but as Carol Rawcliffe notes:

"Between the very late eleventh century and the 1530s, a bare minimum of 1,300 hospitals and almshouses were founded in England. The approaches to every town and city were dominated by them, but almost all have completely disappeared from the landscape. We can readily appreciate the importance of medieval castles and monasteries because so many of them have been preserved under the auspices of the National Trust and English Heritage, but hospitals are more elusive. Those which do survive are all too often little more than picturesque ruins, giving no real clue as to their original size or function."

The precise number seems to vary, but there are about 358 hospitals in the NHS in England. Obviously the number of beds is going to be a lot higher in a modern NHS hospital - but so's the population.

Bit more than a few poultices and leeches in any case.

7 October 2012 at 23:05  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I had plenty of time but I was disinclined to watch an hour long video simply to get a point which a few words would probably convey. This is a comments page, not the fecking Odeon. Think 'pithy'.

I'm not one of those "modern commentators" referred to above, though perhaps I'm supposed to be for the sake of an argument, but I'm not in the least bit comfortable relying for my healthcare on the benevolence of Christians or some rich people whom the clergy has scared into buying their way out of purgatory or trying to avoid a speculative vision of an after-death hell.

Nor do I want some clueless people praying for me, wiping my fevered brow, and sticking leeches on my arms. No, I want MRI scanners, blood tests, pharmacology, hygienic surgery, and equitable treatment whatever my circumstances or lifestyle choices.

If Christians want to donate large sums of money to build hospitals upfront so we can collectively fund medical professionals and services with our taxes then I'm happy for that instead. But, let's face it, it seems to be struggle enough for them to fund the maintenance of their existing churches let alone replace State provision of healthcare.

8 October 2012 at 18:18  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

The comparison of technologies is largely pointless, the comparison of the mechanisms by which infrastructure is achieved and funded is not.

We've just had a fortnight where both Labour and the Conservatives have fretted over getting the rich to pay their "fair share". Oddly enough, people tried to avoid their taxes in the Middle Ages too - frequently, if the records are anything to go by. But whilst they strived to avoid paying what they owed to government, they practically fell over one another to invest in "spiritual goods" - not just churches and friaries, but hospitals, leperosiums, roads, bridges, defences, and water supplies. In each of these areas there was also a corresponding surge in the development of knowledge, and technology - so the idea that it's a culture that was antithetical to the kinds of technological advances we define ourselves by today, just doesn't stack up.

It's also worth noting that because the mechanism was based on meeting the needs of the poor, rather than private self interest or an overarching organisation, you could get investments in areas that didn't make an enormous amount of economic sense. Whereas a private health system wouldn't bother with a hamlet because there wasn't enough, and the NHS would prefer to get people to come to big centralised units, the medieval "system" by virtue of being individuated built and invested on a smaller scale meeting local needs.

As I said, I can't think of many modern systems that have been nearly so effective in maximising the spending of wealth for public good, and have done so without any legal coercion at all. There was no "State" in the modern sense, any yet citizens quite simply as a matter of course diverted in many cases a majority of their wealth into the needs of the poor. As well as trying to shaft the Exchequer.

8 October 2012 at 18:59  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Perhaps if child mortality was 30% again and average life expectancy was below 40 years of age then people would be more concerned with investing in 'spiritual' goods again. High rates of illiteracy, a vague belief in magic and mysticism, and church hegemony over everyday life must have helped focus the mind on death and claims of an afterlife too.

8 October 2012 at 19:15  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

To your central point: that Christians can't fund the NHS in England (or indeed themselves). Quite true. But one of the things we're always hearing from Secularism is that it represents a better way of doing things - and that morality is not the exclusive domain of the religious. My question, put to you in all seriousness and not just as a rhetorical point, is do you see it as being possible to emulate the kind of medieval culture in which it is expected that the majority of one's liquid assets will be put to the use of the poor (and in many cases land assets too) simply because it is the right thing to do?

Or do you see the State as being essential? That's the question I asked a while back: do you see the complexities of modern life as such that the only possible means of a post-religious system of Welfare is through the State?

8 October 2012 at 19:16  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

High rates of illiteracy are difficult to substantiate - in the early medieval period, sure, but by the late medieval period, it would be fairly common for people to have basic literacy in the vernacular. The terminology is much more difficult, because to be "illiterate" in the High and Late Middle Ages quite literally meant "unlearned in Latin". You even get writers who describe themselves as being "illiterate"!

Actually one of the areas where the level of "ignorance" can be tested is the surge of textual production associated with charity and health. Even before the Black Death, but especially after it, there is a huge increase in the dispersion of medical knowledge - between monastic institutions certainly, but it's also really common to come across medical knowledge, even anatomical knowledge in common place books owned by middling merchants. Likewise with the "mysticism" - we actually get an explosion of really quite intellectual texts where the emphasis is on personal reflection. Obviously I don't expect you to appreciate such material for its religious nature, but it is quite quite wrong to characterise medieval religious belief as either vague or primarily superstitious. If anything, it was highly literary and intellectual!

8 October 2012 at 19:21  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

AIB: "My question, put to you in all seriousness and not just as a rhetorical point, is do you see it as being possible to emulate the kind of medieval culture in which it is expected that the majority of one's liquid assets will be put to the use of the poor (and in many cases land assets too) simply because it is the right thing to do?"

It doesn't sound like the right thing to do as far as I'm concerned whether it is possible or not. Why would we want and expect people to actually do that?

"Or do you see the State as being essential?"

I expect there's too many of us, living too close together, and in too complex a manner for a State not to be required for Society to be stable. But why am I actually being asked this? Isn't there someone for whom your tangent applies rather than shoehorning me in to it? Must I stand in so you can run an argument along the lines you want? Is this a virtual arm wrestle opportunity for you, as has seemed to be the case for a while now?

8 October 2012 at 19:43  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"[...] but it is quite quite wrong to characterise medieval religious belief as either vague or primarily superstitious."

Luckily I'm not doing that but, hey, you carry on sliding away to the side again. I'll keep jerking you back to the reality.

8 October 2012 at 19:47  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"I expect there's too many of us, living too close together, and in too complex a manner for a State not to be required for Society to be stable."

Which, whatever you asked, follows on from the original point:

"Our society is too complex for the State not to involve itself or interfere to some extent or other. [...] Hence, if the State does involve itself or interfere then things go better or worse depending on how it does it, you see."

Which follows on from the comment about the views of some gay people that the Tory Party is not "compassionate" and "caring".

8 October 2012 at 19:57  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

" Is this a virtual arm wrestle opportunity for you, as has seemed to be the case for a while now?"

No, actually. I am genuinely interested to hear what you think. Believe it or not (apparently not), I want to know how you approach the issue, what informs your thinking, and where you *do* see "morality" (for want of a better word) in the provision of welfare.

"It doesn't sound like the right thing to do as far as I'm concerned whether it is possible or not. Why would we want and expect people to actually do that?"

See that's what I'm interested in: you don't in fact share the Labour/Conservative/LibDem concern with what constitutes the "fair share" of members of society - or at least not in the way that they articulate it?

But there's a further and quite specific reason why I'm interested in *your* views on the subject. I raised medieval "welfare" because its an example of a highly interiorised method of social organisation - although the cultural and theological assumptions are very different from our own, it was a highly rationalised society in the sense that people didn't just donate, they had an almost inexhaustable interest in the justifications for doing so, and for want of a better word the "social theory" behind it.

As someone who places rationality at the centre of your morality (albeit a rationality explicitly divorced from the supernatural or divine), I assume that you envisage the role of individual thinking as being quite important in a post-religious and secular society. You've never supported, as far as I'm aware, the kind of argument that seeks to capitalise on ignorance for the general good. Consequently, I wondered if you could see a place for a kind of rational morality where people do things for the public good. A kind of secular selflessness if you will, that is neither communistic nor free marketeering. That's why I asked about the role of the State.

8 October 2012 at 20:26  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"See that's what I'm interested in: you don't in fact share the Labour/Conservative/LibDem concern with what constitutes the "fair share" of members of society - or at least not in the way that they articulate it?"

I'm pretty sure the Tories don't expect or think that the "majority of one's liquid assets [will|should] be put to the use of the poor". Quite the opposite really. I reckon they'd be worried about create a "culture of dependency" amongst other things.

I'd expect the LibDems to think that "fair" has something significant to do with "equality of opportunity". That is, some people are required to pay more to offset the inherent advantages they've had outside of a nominal meritocracy.

Some people think one of the core roles of the State is to act on our collective behalf to provide stuff that the sum of private individuals or organisations can't realistically organise themselves.

Personally, I'm not prepared to see people starving or unwillingly homeless or denied healthcare as a matter of State policy. Individuals ought to be primarily responsible for themselves but sometimes shit happens and we're not always prepared for it.

A Rawlsian Social Contract imagines a sort of Veil of Ignorance behind which we organise Society. That is, it says we should organise it not knowing where we might be placed it in, at least in theoretical terms.

8 October 2012 at 20:49  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

But of course, I'm not in the dock here or obliged to set out my views about any old subject on demand wherever someone wants a one-on-one 'debate' pretty much out of nowhere.

8 October 2012 at 20:54  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

"But of course, I'm not in the dock here or obliged to set out my views about any old subject on demand wherever someone wants a one-on-one 'debate' pretty much out of nowhere."

Nor do I take your responses for granted. If you don't want to respond it's my loss.

"I'm pretty sure the Tories don't expect or think that the "majority of one's liquid assets [will|should] be put to the use of the poor". Quite the opposite really. I reckon they'd be worried about create a "culture of dependency" amongst other things."

No I don't suppose they would. It must be said, a similar concern preoccupied the medieval folks - though they were concerned about dependency of drunkards and the equivalent of benefits scammers (mostly in the form of people who begged for alms or received bread and then sold them on).

Although I suspect it's not entirely willingly, the Tories have been drawn into discussing what constitutes a fair contribution to society from its wealthier members. Simply because the majority of welfare is now delivered through the State that means primarily the tax burden.

That's where I guess I'm interested in seeing where rationality comes in - because it's pretty much a given in the modern world that you can either have high tax, and so drive people away, but particularly the money-mobile rich, or you can increase income, but do so essentially by admitting that if you're richer, you get to keep a greater proportion of your wealth. The SDP LibDem wing and Labour usually want to hold up the likes of J.K. Rowling as people who understand the virtue of being rich and paying more tax - which sort of echoes the idea of giving as virtuous. But on the other hand, because giving (for domestic welfare) is primarily done through the State, there's not the same level of separation anymore.

Generally I'd agree with this though:

"Personally, I'm not prepared to see people starving or unwillingly homeless or denied healthcare as a matter of State policy. Individuals ought to be primarily responsible for themselves but sometimes shit happens and we're not always prepared for it."

If it's the only option, I'd much rather have the State's "safety net". The possibility of a reliable safety net that wasn't direct adminstered by the State is one that intrigues me, though. Makes me wonder if the kind of Gove academy model, where "public goods" are more directly related to the communities they serve would work in other contexts.

Actually - some of the most inspiring stuff (pre-Gove) that I read regarding education was with a couple of really rough secondary schools in South London, where the headteacher had gone out of her way to concretely build links with the people living around the school. Initially parents, but it soon "bled over" into local businesses who were proud of how the school was working, and *wanted* to invest in it.

That's where I see something of the medieval coming through: it's where the preconditions for *wanting* to use one's assets for primarily selfless reasons exist.

8 October 2012 at 21:08  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I'm rather suspicious of this alleged medieval altruism. Not about the donations, though the Window's Mite springs to mind, but the altruistic nature of it. It looks like it's buying divine favour to me, as the Church's selling of indulgences suggests. That is, it's not particularly altruistic on the face of it. Paying for masses to be said after one's death is another. Paying for family chapels too. Then there's the legacy of having one's name publicly attached to churches and buildings. Of course, it's debatable whether that much is altruistic in the real world. Even an atheist like me gets mental paybacks from feeling good about my self-sacrifices.

8 October 2012 at 21:34  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I'm not at all sure I want to be the beneficiary of someone else's charity either. I'm entitled to my healthcare, rather than lucky that someone has decided to be benevolent when they might have decided otherwise. Society is too complex to divorce oneself from others, even if some of them might be net consumers rather than contributers. I probably pay a lot more tax than a lorry driver in the logistics chain of a supermarket but I have the job and life and leisure I have because others are providing some of the other cogs in bigger machine. We entitled to healthcare because we're part of the machine.

8 October 2012 at 21:41  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Belfast. Thought you might like the benefit of the Inspector’s research into medieval charity. You realise that the wealthy were absolutely terrified of disease. Wealthy in the middle ages means you could actually do something about it especially with your peers support and financial help. Alms house and hospitals would be outside the city walls, that’s for sure. The beneficiaries were not expected to venture back in once their accommodation outside was assured them.

You are wasting your time consorting with DanJ0. He’s a here and now man. No appreciation of went before, just interest of what will be...

8 October 2012 at 22:11  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...


True, a lot of them were - though there was a definite difference between Leprosiums and Hospitals (the latter of which usually had public services and doubled up as hostels for travellers and pilgrims). But actually, it's a concern which emerges in the late medieval period, where increasingly hagiographies have saints working with lepers in direct contact, with a real emphasis on flesh-to-flesh contact. I hasten to add that that wasn't largely advocated in a literal sense - at least not in most people's lives - but it did function as a kind of warning against that kind of thinking. In that sense, human nature tending towards self-preservation was recognised at the same time as compassion being advocated.

8 October 2012 at 22:27  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Belfast. ALL of them were. If you are looking for some Christianity based medieval altruism, forget it. What particularly enraged the ‘good folk’ of the borough was that mendicant houses would give alms to the poor diseased. And of course, these houses tended to be inside the city walls. No doubt the hospitals were built with this also in mind. By the way, the salaried officer responsible for dragging back the poor unfortunates who wondered back into the city was the beadle.

8 October 2012 at 22:43  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...


I'd certainly go with those concerns about altruism. To some extent, medieval culture wouldn't have seen memorialisation and almsgiving as being in tension with each other - partly for theological reasons, but also because, practically, the fact that it was "the norm" rather than the exception it became possible to justify upholding examples of the past to encourage the continuation of funding. On the other hand, for the most part patronage really was "in name" when it came to public services - it's very rare to see families retaining legal control over the institutions they bequeath (family chapels are the exception - but they were intended for private rather than public use). Usually they got handed over to local government or a board of trustees - there's a kind of assumption of communal ownership and communal governance that underwrites the whole enterprise.

But actually, I think I'd agree that the socialisation aspect is pretty critical - I wouldn't dispute that many bequeathed money because they wanted to appear pious, as much as because they understood what it meant to be pious. It's there that I think there's maybe something valuable that we miss: a kind of aligning of "self-interest" with public interest. By virtue of the "self-interest" being, in most cases, primarily spiritual, it might be difficult to imagine a direct analogy in a post-religious world. I suppose the closest I can think of would be the kind Rowntree ideal of a "healthy workforce".

But that's where the rationality strikes me as being most important: those ideas have a commonality in that they require a suspension of obvious (and material) self-interest in favour of a notion of the "common good". What constitutes the "common good" changes, naturally, over time - but you see that with the spiritual significance given to roads and piped water systems (none of which is strictly Biblical).

I guess that's the "efficiency" side - getting people to individually *want* to contribute to the wider community in ways that may not be obvious, but it's also in part about how people relate to one another. The Inspector's word of caution is spot on there - I wonder how many Tory voters, for instance, derive at least part of their concern over "dependency" from the fact that the "dependents" are funded by tax. There are, I think better ways of fostering social relationships between people of different backgrounds and abilities.

From your second post I think we share a general view that people are co-dependent socially, at least to the extent that the idea of the "self-made man" can be treated with a bit of scepticism without suggesting that personal ability or drive has nothing to do with it. When I hear the words compassionate in the context of politics - that's kind of what I'm looking for: a recognition of the importance of people at every point in society. A sort of "obligesse", based on an understanding of that commonality that means that those who succeed carry with them a sense of responsibility to others in need.

8 October 2012 at 22:53  
Blogger david kavanagh said...


"I'm not in the dock here or obliged to set out my views about any old subject on demand wherever someone wants a one-on-one 'debate' pretty much out of nowhere."

Quite. This is often, how I have felt during my time here.

However, the reports of your gold lame hot pants have spread far and wide (well from GB to Ireland, then to Israel and back)....

8 October 2012 at 22:54  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

.... and what about the USA? That would make him a world super blogger.

9 October 2012 at 02:33  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...


I hear his hot pants are subject to far and wide spreading too.

9 October 2012 at 02:35  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Inspector: "You realise that the wealthy were absolutely terrified of disease."

Little chance of a cure, you see. I expect people in general saw it in fatalistic terms, too. Perhaps as a judgement from their god in some sort of karmic sense.

"You are wasting your time consorting with DanJ0. He’s a here and now man. No appreciation of went before, just interest of what will be..."

A curious judgement, I have to say. I love history and I'm not particularly ignorant of it either. I just don't think we're necessarily bound to it, nor do I have a nostalgic but very rose-tinted view of what went before. I'm certainly not a "Blood and Soil" person like some of the fringe "right-wingers" here. Moreover, I'm not trying to create or advocate some sort of model society for the future. I'm a liberal and so I value individuality and freedom. Those things don't lend themselves very well to a utopian, constructed future. Things will be as they will be.

9 October 2012 at 07:07  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

So many spelling mistakes and grammar issues last night. A combination of tired eyes and touch typing I think. Widow's Mite, etc.

9 October 2012 at 07:11  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Heh - I had to re-read your comment twice to even find "Window Mite", so I wouldn't worry. Sounds like something a good coat of Ronseal might fix though.

Good point on the utopianism though - especially as the terminology stems from the ideological/philosophical debate about the role of the State in bringing about the "common weal". I've often thought it ironic that we've retained "Utopia" as our term for ideal, when More seems to have been offering a subtle, but forthright critique of the dreams of Eutopia that some of his humanist fellows persued. I remember being struck by the sheer sterility of some of those early utopian dreams - especially Campanella's "City of the Sun". Oddly, whilst the "eutopian" dreamers of the early modern period manage to come up with ideas that seem absurd, More's Utopia is in many ways eerily prescient with a vision of society based on welfare through the State, religious pluralism, and a complete decay of Christian ethics in the public sphere. More of a dystopia to a medieval Catholic like More though, which I suppose is why he wrote it.

9 October 2012 at 17:53  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Compassionate Conservatism:

Seems to be two sorts.

The first use the term as emotive language. They *care* and that makes them lovely people. Not much in the way of policies, but a tendency to like key gestures to indicate it. Essentially compassion as a political virtue. Needn't be entirely cynical - I'm sure for instance someone like Alan Duncan really does believe in policies like equal marriage - but they're not primarily motivated in encouraging compassion, or having compassionate government.

The second lot see "compassion" as being at the heart of social justice. People like IDS, Tim Montgomerie, but also people outside the Tories, through stuff like the Centre for Social Justice (IDS founded but cross-party), or MPs like Frank Field - who set up his own charity Foundation this year. By no means do they agree on the nitty gritty of how to do it - IDS and Field are often at odds over the practical mechanisms - but they're all generally agreed that "compassionate government" has to be rooted in the nitty gritty (i.e. more than just an emotional or political value), and that it is inseperable from wider culture.

The first lot in the Tories could cope with reducing the State, but don't prioritise compassion for the poor (not to say that they're all hard-hearted, but a good many of them are simply dispassionate about it). The second lot in the Tories want to reduce the State in order to have a cultural/social compassion provide Welfare, and indeed a better society in general, instead. Their counterparts in the LibDems and Labour generally disagree with reducing the State per se, but distinguish themselves from many of their peers by seeing the State as intimately concerned with producing the same kind of social justice culture.

Although it's not exclusively the case, it is quite striking just how many advisors, MPs and politicians in the "compassionate government" camp have Christian backgrounds (though it must be said there's several Jewish and Islamic contributors to the CSJ for instance). Personally I see the real challenge with "Compassionate Conservatism" being centred on the cultural stuff. It's grand working from religious values, but I don't think many people think those values dominate modern society any more. The question that seems really pertinent is whether it's possible to formulate something that's acceptable to a largely non-religious society - and more than that, is something that will actually catch on. Otherwise, the likes of IDS will end up being well-meaning dreamers, who in dismantling the State will not find philanthropy and charity rushing in to fill the void, and will end up achieving very little different from their considerably less "compassionate" peers.

9 October 2012 at 18:08  

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