Monthly Archives: July 2016

The belief that dare not speak its name?



It’s an old story, a very old story. Who rules? The Greek city states were torn by strife between the Aristocracy (a term which comes from the Greek, aristokratía. Aristos means “excellent,” and kratos translates as “power”) the rule of the Excellent, and Democracy, which again is from Greek, demokratia, or “rule by the demos or common people”.


And then I read this blog where he discusses Elite Technocracy versus Liberal Democracy.


Both sides have good antecedents. The democrats can look back to Cleisthenes, Pericles, Locke and the English Whigs. Their stance is the citizen is central and the state must govern with the consent of the citizen. Without consent there is tyranny and the right of rebellion.

The aristocrats, or in more modern terms the technocratic elite follow Plato, Thomas Hobbes and Georg Hegel. These stress the authority and wisdom of those in government as the only ones who really understand what is going on and are the only ones equipped to make the decisions about the future.


In Greece the conflict between the two ideologies led to strife within the state between the competing groups. As always it is more complicated than a simple ‘class’ war because the leaders of the demos were often men drawn from the same wealthy class which provided the aristocracy. Personal feuds and factions complicated and intensified the battle.

Obviously personal feuds and factions are unlikely to have a part in our modern politics, doubtless the dispute between Boris Johnson and Michael Gove was over the deepest philosophical conjectures. Similarly within the Labour Party, the current bickering between Jeremy and virtually everybody else has nothing to do with the fact that his MPs see little chance of re-election with him at the helm and again is a nuanced dispute over high political principles.


The last couple of weeks have thrown the fault lines into high relief.  We have those for whom the will of the demos, the common people is sovereign. (Even when they disagree with it.)  We have others who believe that some people are just too stupid, or too ill-educated to be allowed to decide matters of any importance. I’ve seen suggestions that persons over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, or that there be IQ tests before people are allowed to vote. (Or in extreme cases restricting the franchise to nice people like us who live within the M25)


The Greeks had many faults, but one they don’t seem to have suffered from was political correctness. They were perfectly happy to give something the label it deserved. I think we would start seeing things far more clearly if we were to do that. Let the believers in the rule of a technocratic elite proudly stand for their principles, let them boast of them, let them flaunt them in the market place of public opinion. “The man from Whitehall knows best, trust us to look after you.”


Or we could try democracy. The problem with democracy is that it’s difficult. It demands a lot of hard work from both the leaders and the led. Leaders really have to make a constant effort to keep in touch with people, not merely to know what hoi polloi are thinking and saying, but also to educate them and explain. Leadership is a two way process, where both sides listen and are changed.

And for the led, democracy cannot work alongside the cult of celebrity and a culture which emphases me, me, me. It also works best when you have a population that have been educated, not abandoned in sink estates and sink schools.


There again, what do I know, you might as well ask the dog


As one reviewer commented “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

Getting Hacked off

rich and poor

I don’t watch telly any more. At least that way I don’t see the faces of the sanctimonious as they tell us what’s good for us and how we should behave.

But believe it or not, I’m worried about this country and the way it’s going. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing and is becoming entrenched.


For example we have people with job security, index linked pensions and the right to retire at sixty, writing rules to tell people with nothing who’ve turned up late to an interview that they’re sanctioned and aren’t going to get anything to live on for the next two weeks.

Now this isn’t the work of tory scum, this is the work of the employees of the state, of people who frankly don’t care and have no compassion and who are as likely to vote Libdem, UKIP or Labour as they are Tory.

Why these people do this is beyond me. The same hole in the ground beckons, whether they’re a modestly respectable junior civil servant or a drunk on the street. The modest respectability might keep you out of the hole for another ten or fifteen years, but it’s still waiting for you.

What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?


And then I was listening to somebody talk. They were talking about helping refugees settle in this country. When the possibility of the refugees being housed in a certain area was raised, the answer was an immediate ‘No’; because frankly the area wasn’t fit for people to live in. This I can understand. If you have people whose lives have been shattered, then you need somewhere for them to live where they can feel secure. In which case why were they using the same area to dump our poor? After all if it’s not fit for people to make their homes in, it’s not fit, full stop!


I was listening to somebody else talking about how government was making things difficult for a particular group of migrants. The rules were always changing; decisions taken were arbitrary and made no obvious sense. The person telling me was shocked. I had to gently explain to them that this is how government always treats the poor, but as a bright middle class person it wasn’t what she was used to. The migrants were being treated like lower class natives of the country.


I’ve talked to all sorts of people, and we have, at the bottom of the heap a lot of people who have chaotic lives. Some of them have mental illness, diagnosed or undiagnosed. Some of them are not particularly bright; some of them have other issues. They cannot cope with complicated systems. In reality they never could and they never will. I know men in middle age who know they will never be more than semi-skilled.


So what’s needed? A big injection of money? More Mental Health workers? Better education?
Well all of them might help a bit, but I’m old enough and cynical enough to know that’s not going to happen. There might be a token scheme in London.


What we really need is simple, it’s compassion. And that’s the tricky thing to organise isn’t it. We talk about our ‘caring services.’ No, we don’t have caring services; we have ‘administrative provision.’ The bureaucracy, the system doesn’t care. Only individual people care, take the time to ensure that justice is done rather than merely following the rules.

So we need more people with compassion. Tough call that one.


For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?