Saturday, July 27, 2002
Thought for the day
I have been thinking recently not so much about the economic impact of Thatcherism, which everyone now accepts to be massively positive, but her cultural and moral impact. Margaret Thatcher made no secret of her intention to restore the Victorian values to which she rightly attributed British greatness. Yet it is difficult at first glance to see evidence of great success in this area. It got me thinking about the more subtle impact of conservative ideas.
In Hugo Young's excellent biography of Margaret Thatcher, One Of Us, he shows the Prime Minister in her true colours, leaving you, as much as possible, to make the final judgement. One exception to this has always stood out for me, however. In reporting on the 1981 Toxteth riots, where mass looting from small shops took place, he stresses the importance of Thatcher's immediate reaction to what she saw:
"'Oh, those poor shopkeepers', she cried, on seeing the first pictures of riot and looting in Toxteth.
A lot of Margaret Thatcher's character is expressed in that single phrase. It was a perfectly intelligible reaction. It just wasn't the first response most people might have had when they saw rioters and police in pitched battle, and watched the disintegration of a run-down city." - p. 239
So important did he think this reaction that he named the chapter "Those poor shoopkeepers!" and returned to it in his newspaper column the day after she resigned:
"She worried not about the jobless masses but about the looted shopkeepers: a priority which, nine years later, no longer seems odd." - The Guardian, 23 November 1990
Now a lot of Hugo Young's character is revealed in his reaction to her single phrase. But that is not the point. He is right in describing a society so confused, so lacking in the moral fibre that keeps a free nation alive, that anger at rioters and looters, and concern for their victims, was ever considered odd. The "jobless masses" Young mentioned are cleverly connected to "looted shopkeepers", as though it is axiomatic that decent, law-abiding Englishmen become arsonists, rioters, thieves and looters as soon as they end up on the dole. The true perspective, that some acts - however they are explained or excused - are wrong, and must be condemned, would seem awfully simplistic and perhaps mystical to Young and his ilk. His "Man - Money = Riots + Looting" perspective on human beings may be more understanding of criminality, if that is a virtue. But it removes the essential dignity of mankind. If unemployment is really so direct a cause of such carnage, Young and those like him must be baffled by those who behave decency despite the poverty they suffer. If you look at the poor as amoral machines, you really must scratch your head when you come across the honest and law-abiding amongst them. Imagine, too, those who do obey the law despite immense poverty. When they hear those around them losing their heads being excused every crime they commit, how demoralising it must be.
Hugo Young's perspective must have been almost official thinking in his time, any moral perspective being seen as outdated and useless. But today, we see that despite horrible injustices - men's careers destroyed merely by rude comments, IRA killers being released and fox-hunters being criminalised - ordinary people do take the same perspective as the Grocer's daughter on wrong actions. Young's view is still around, but you have to have a degree in Sociology or a life's subscription to the Guardian to believe it. So let us look afresh at Margaret Thatcher's cultural and moral achievements. After her, it was no longer odd to show sympathy for the victim and contempt for the criminal. Even if this had been her only success, it would still make her a better politician than most who have ever held highest office. That it was one of so many is testament to her historic greatness.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:53 | Permanent Link |
MELANIE PHILLIPS UTTERLY debunks the recent Home Office survey in her latest column. The preposterous claim that one in twenty women have been raped is shown for the dangerous baloney it is. Dangerous, because the trees of the false allegations make it so much harder to see the wood of the genuine victims, and bring their wicked attackers to justice. Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:36 | Permanent Link |
SO WILL HUTTON doesn't practise what he preaches! Well, we shouldn't be too shocked - no one else in the country seems to take his ideas seriously in the sense of applying them practically. Why would he? Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:28 | Permanent Link |
PROMISING AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE columnist Ben Shapiro severly disappointed me yesterday with his call to arms, "Enemy 'Civilian Casualties' OK by me". His entire piece is summed up with the line:
"One American soldier is worth far more than an Afghan civilian"
It follows that the Americans should bomb from on high, killing all the terrorists they can. If huge numbers of innocent people die in the process, well, at least no American soldiers die. The moral issues are obvious. To just about everyone, it is an unavoidable evil in war that innocents die, and that is accepted. But to make their deaths a deliberate part of government policy in the hope that a few terrorists go with them is to adopt the logic of every terrorist: that one's own cause is far too important to be limited by moral rules like not murdering the innocent. But the military problems in such an attitude are just as great. Soldiers are supposed to risk their lives. That is their job. To create an army that kills from above, far out of reach of the enemy, is to store up trouble once you encounter a foe seriously capable of fighting back. How could an army of such cowards operate? As has been noted, the Kosovo war showed with its bombing that America was willing to end enemy lives but not risk their own. Bin Laden drew the relevant conclusions, and we saw the result. Even to try to fight a war without risk is to admit defeat - to prove to the enemy that his courage is not shared in your heart.
I sometimes wonder if some conservatives are so sick of the gibes of the left about their heartlessness and lack of compassion that they begin to take pride in trying to be the very conservative that only exists in liberal parody. Shapiro made me wonder this again.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:20 | Permanent Link |
BRITISH-BORN AMERICAN John Derbyshire noted some salient facts about the Irish Potato Famine in the National Review yesterday:
"Famine was chronic in Ireland until the legal and social improvements of the later 19th century. Prior to the Great Famine of 1845-47, there had been one in 1821-22 that was almost as dreadful, with a quarter million people dying of hunger and consequent diseases...
For years before the famine it was perfectly obvious that Ireland was heading for a demographic catastrophe. Everybody knew this, and many said so — Anthony Trollope, for example, who knew Ireland well... And yet, within the political thinking of the time, nobody, not even the best-intentioned and most charitable observers, could think of anything to do to avert the coming disaster. Britain was a minimum-government state, ill-equipped for the sort of speedy, wide-scale relief the situation called for...
The best among the English landlords in Ireland threw open their houses to the sick and the starving, sometimes dying of infection themselves as a result. Soup kitchens were organized, rent payments were suspended, relief work organized. All of this is well recorded; none of it is ever heard of from the "Irish-American" terrorist-funders."
As ever, the whole story is a lot more complex and interesting that the propaganda. Perhaps that thoughtless guilt so many Englishmen are prepared to feel about their history needs further examination, too.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:59 | Permanent Link |
TONY BLAIR HAS agreed to ensure British troops fight with the US Army in any future invasion of Iraq, reports the Guardian. Good. Saddam Hussein is as much a threat to his own people as to the rest of the world. There are few who will not benefit from his removal from power. But this is not just about freeing a few million Arabs from one tyrant and putting another in his place. When he plans to build weapons of mass destruction, we must not take risks with the lives of tens of millions of our own people. There is only one logical reason for Saddam to risk war by turning away the UN weapons inspectors: he has weapons of mass destruction to hide. I don't think for a moment that he would have any qualms about using them. He is a leader who has personally thrown men in baths of acid and used chemical weapons on his own people. He is aging, too, and a natural death is not too far away. What a last laugh he would have if he could take a hundred million Anglo-Saxons with him. We have no choice but to remove that opportunity. If this does occur. the celebrations we saw in liberated Kuwait in 1991, and this year in liberated Afghanistan, will be repeated soon in Iraq. If no invasion is attempted, God help us all. Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:49 | Permanent Link |
BATTY MARY WARNOCK is at it again. She can see "no ethical reason to oppose human cloning", so therefore anyone who wants to clone themselves should be granted that right. This is a woman who was given a peerage by Margaret Thatcher and repaid her with the most snobbish bile about "dreadful" hats and voices. She used her position to campaign for special, state-funded In-Vitro-Fertilisation techniques for Hereditary Peers whose bloodline she insisted must continue. No one else would get that right, of course. Again, she seems determined to overrule every natural and sensible ethical restriction on copying human beings. We are all unique, and all have a place. Identical twins may be the same genetically, but neither ever need grow up feeling a replica of someone else who is the original. To give people the choice to reproduce themselves is to take away the rights of their copy - it is to say that the presently alive have the right to determine the DNA of future children - to control other human beings to an unprecedented degree. As for the effects on society, I can only imagine the sort of egomaniacal people who would wish to clone themselves. No one humble, moral, modest or traditional would be willing to try it. The result would be clones of the arrogant, the self-obsessed and immoral. That's just what we all need - more of them. Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:15 | Permanent Link |
AS PETER HITCHENS rightly noted, the trouble with Human Rights is they never go to those who really need them. The beneficiaries are always the same - terrorists, pornographers, paedophiles, cross-dressers, and now 900 of the most dangerous criminals in the country are to be released. The Human Rights Act ties up our legislature, rules out common sense judgements, and is now putting innocent people at risk. Decent people have nothing to lose and much to gain by supporting its repeal. Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:01 | Permanent Link |
WHEN THE "REAL" IRA blew up the centre of Omagh, killing 22 men, women and children, Tony Blair promised that huge effort would be expended in bringing the perpetrators to justice. It soon became clear who was responsible, but they have not been arrested. The theory is that locking up men who blow up babies will damage the peace process by offending the IRA. The Provos were doing much the same thing as their fellow Republicans right up until Blair came to power. The Provisional IRA may have returned mainly to mutilating and murdering fellow Catholics who don't stay in line - this is the real meaning of "community policing" - but they still have considerable sympathy for those who follow in their footsteps. Now the families of the Omagh victims plan a civil action themselves - to sue those believed to be guilty. The courage it must take to face up to such a wicked Mafia gang just to bring justice to those who deserve it should not be taken lightly. Equally, the Labour Government too impotent to protect its own people from such bombers, and too cowardly to convict them after they are found, should not be forgiven easily. Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 09:38 | Permanent Link |
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