Newsnotes 012 – July 1989

Notes on the News

by Madawc Williams


A spectre is haunting Europe. Her name is Mrs Thatcher. Despite being the most senior leader in the EEC, and potentially the most influential, she has insisted on fanning the dying embers of anti-EEC Little England nationalism. Labour has more or less thrown out such garbage; Thatcher insists on taking it in.

For the most part, Thatcher has defended Britain from things that are very much in the interests of British people. She insists on our sovereign right to have fouler water, filthier car exhausts and vaguer cigarette health warnings than the rest of the EEC would wish us to have.

Tony Benn’s Little Englander socialism made a certain amount of sense. We could have had ·a collectivist autarkic Britain, provided everyone had been willing to accept a much lower standard of living. But Thatcher wants Global Capitalism and Little England at one and the same time, which is not rational. No wonder the electorate has just given her, her first ever defeat in a national election.

Living on the plastic

Kinnock was quite right to hammer Thatcher and Lawson on the state of the economy. He should have put more emphasis on Credit Controls: high interest rates hit everyone, while the big spenders who run up debts buying imported luxuries on credit just aren’t thinking about what it will cost them in the long term. But he was right to hammer them, and it was damned silly of Thatcher to accuse him of ignorance.

Ignorant people might think that having higher inflation and higher interest rates than other Western Capitalist economies was a pretty poor show. They might even think that raising interest rates was as likely to stoke up inflation as to cool it down. But wise Tories know that it is the economic indicators – MO, or M3, or M25 or whatever – that really matters. Just as medieval theologians knew that it was vital to determine whether the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin was finite or infinite!

Except that the wisdom of 10 Downing Street doesn’t seem to be quite the same as the wisdom of 11 Downing Street. For many months now, we have had a series of conflicts and reconciliations between Lawson and Thatcher. It reminds one of Den and Angie Watts from EastEnders and remember what happened to them!

Going to the dogs

Savage men tamed savage dogs, back in the Stone Age. They began as hunting beasts who teamed up with humans, and until the last few centuries they were mostly still bred to be hunters. Even the poodle started off that way; only the dictates of fashion shrunk it and turned it into a lapdog. And Corgis were bred to herd cattle.

Dogs are not really at home in cities. Dogs do not have to hunt – they can be happy with substitutes like herding, or even going for walks and retrieving sticks. But to keep a dog in a human-sized dwelling is as cruel as keeping a human in a room the size of a telephone box. It takes a lot of work for a city dweller to keep a dog properly. (Cats are a better option. The city really is a ‘concrete jungle’ to them, and they like it well enough.)

Much more worrying is the habit of a small number of people breeding and keeping extremely savage dogs; canine psychopaths that no responsible breeder would wish for. Most breeders and owners are responsible – but there is no way to control the small number who are not.

This government blundered when it scrapped dog licences. True, they cost more to collect than they raised. But the right answer would have been to increase them to some more reasonable figure like £50. The cost of keeping a dog, even keeping it badly, is very much greater.

Now a spate of attacks by dangerous dogs has led to calls for new controls. And the government is resisting: the Tory sheep keep on bleating ‘Private Good, Public Bad’ no matter what happens. The limited measures that are being introduced will not be enough.

The Pope And Presbyterians

I have no fondness for Free Presbyterians. But their view of the Pope as Anti-Christ is not some private eccentricity. It is basic Protestant theology, that goes all the way back to Martin Luther.

Most non-Catholic Christians would accept that the Pope has valid authority as Bishop of Rome, and as the Bishop of the most important Christian see. But some time during the chaos after the bust-up of the Roman Empire, the Bishops of Rome started claiming larger and larger authority. By medieval times, they claimed more or less absolute authority over all members of the Church. And when Luther realised that this larger claim had no solid basis at all, he concluded that the Papacy was an antichristian institution. This had nothing to do with the merits or demerits of . any individual Pope. To claim to speak for God when in fact you do not is obviously wrong.

But surely, that’s all over now, in the world after Vatican II? You get that impression – but in fact Vatican II was only possible because Pope John wanted it, and papal authority remains intact.

Myself, I think that not one of the Christian Churches is anything like what the first Christians intended. But one should not sneer at Free Presbyterians for being true to their traditions.

Are you white or Irish?

In the first issue of L&TUR, Brendan Clifford described official ‘anti-racism’ as a peculiar sort of racism that had got a grip on the minds of the fashionable middle-class left. A survey in the May issue of Hackney Council’s newspaper, the Hackney Herald, shows how right he was.

Hackney citizens are asked “Which of these descriptions fits you best? African, Caribbean, Black UK, Asian, Greek/Cypriot, Turkish/Cypriot, Orthodox Jewish, Irish, White, Other“.

What lunatics drew up this list? It makes no sense. In so far as “white” is a meaningful category, it would definitely include Cypriots, Irish and all European Jews. Also, why distinguish Orthodox Jews? Is Hackney Council implying that secular Jews, or members of the Liberal or Reformed synagogues aren’t proper Jews? Do only the restrictive and conservative Orthodox sects count? And why are English, Welsh and Scottish (not all of whom are white) given no chance to identify themselves?

Hackney Council makes no provision for the best description for all individuals in the borough, regardless of race, creed or colour – human being!

Wright or wrong

Two of the most senior leaders of the American House of Representatives – Jim Wright and Tony Coelho – are now out of politics for “financial impropriety”. In both cases, the point at issue was not the substance of what they had done, but whether they had breached the highly complex rules governing such matters.

Britain, and most other countries, have sensible limits on what politicians are allowed to spend getting elected. America does not. A mere millionaire would not be nearly rich enough to succeed; fund-raising on a truly massive scale is required. And fund-raising is governed by a large number of not very rational rules. They do not stop rich people supporting candidates who then give them tax breaks etc. But they do make it rather complex and convoluted. Mr Wright was finished off by his attempts to cut comers.

The trial of Oliver North made it clear that Mr George Bush was much more involved in “Contragate” than he pretended. There have been Presidents called George who never told a lie, but Mr Bush is not one of them. Even so, he is likely to serve out his full term without risk of impeachment.

And why? Because if he goes, Dan Quayle will replace him. No one has any confidence in the man, but that would not stop him succeeding Mr Bush, if Mr Bush were to be ousted. That’s the way the American constitution works. When Bush chose Quayle, lots of people wondered why. I think the answer should be obvious.

Mud in your Eye

It is silly that Private Eye should have to pay out £600,000 for some false remarks about the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, remarks that made very little difference to the public’s view of her. But it is not totally unjust.

Private Eye is a journal that publicises corruption. Sometimes, this publicity has resulted in the corrupt individuals being driven out of public life. Sometimes, it just publicises it, and makes it more acceptable. Private Eye has a lot to say about sleazy and corrupt journalists. But they also spend a great deal of time sneering at The Independent, which is a healthy reaction to the sort of corruption they publicise. What sense does that make?

They sneer at Maxwell and Murdoch. But do they call for laws to limit and democratise the ownership of newspapers? Of course not. Indeed, they sneer at Maxwell more than Murdoch, though the former is the less disgusting of the two. Maxwell’s Pergamon Press has published some very good books.

I’d be sorry if Private Eye went under. But I’d also see as something they brought upon themselves.




These newsnotes appeared in July 1989, in Issue 12 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  For more, see