Notes on the News
by Madawc Williams
- No-nation Toryism
- IRA – bombing for victory
- Smiley screws up
- Standurd Inglish
- Church of England heretics
- Yeltsin and real politics
- Cults and Clinton
- A no-fly zone over the cuckoo’s nest
After great suffering, the economy seems to be recovering a little. The housing market is not as bad as it was. People unlucky enough to get trapped by “negative equity” are likely to remained trapped, since the peak of the market was crazy and overblown. But people in a less desperate situation will be able to sell with only a small loss, or even a profit. The rate of bankruptcies will continue to decline. Job losses will become less chronic. The trend to growing unemployment may even be briefly reversed.
But the Major government seems determined to carry on demolishing the foundations of British life. The Channel Tunnel has been a continuous disaster story, but the principle of private financing will be maintained. Income tax will probably be reduced again as soon as the economy will permit. The rich are no longer seen as having a responsibility to the society that has made them wealthy. The tax burden will instead be shifted in to consumption. The National Health Service will continue to be run down, with decent service available only to those who can pay.
Worse is to come. British Rail will be forced to adopt competition, when the whole experience of bus deregulation shows that it undermines public transport. They will be forced to adopt competition, because the whole experience of bus deregulation shows that it undermines public transport. Railways in Britain may vanish over the decades, as they have in the United States. Just like Thatcher, Major and Co. seem determined to repeat every single damn fool American policy, no matter how much the Americans themselves may be regretting it
Hiving off public services, one of the favourite Tory policies, is now under threat. It turns out that ‘contracting out’ to the private sector does not work if the staff are allowed to keep the same wages and conditions. Private businessmen are not actually any better at running things. Any gain comes purely at the expense of people who were already quite poor. National wealth is not increased at all – it is simply shifted from the needy to the greedy. And now the outcome of the Thom Cross case may lead to all such tricks being forbidden. Only one can expect the Tories to go looking for loopholes.
Previous Tory leaders had visions. Macmillan believed in One-Nation Toryism, and for a time was able to operate it. No other 20th century Tory ever did as much to boost prosperity, or to contain the inevitable stresses and strains of an ever-changing society. Thatcher was a Two-Nation Tory- she tried to reassert the rights of the rich and of the middleclass. She gave them any number of tax hand-outs and profitable privatisations. The rich ate it all up, and waxed fat, and did nothing in particular. When Thatcher got into trouble after the crash of 1987, they were quick to drop her.
Majorism is …. well, what is it? Itis not a continuation of Thatcherism, even though he was Thatcher’s choice. It is not a return to One-Nation Toryism. Heseltine promised such a development, but failed to win the leadership, and has gone along with follies like burning irreplaceable gas in order to be able to destroy British jobs in coal mining. So what is it? Can any term be found for it, other than No-Nation Toryism?
IRA – bombing for victory
British politicians seem unable to grasp that the IRA/ Sinn Fein are just one part of Irish Nationalism, and see themselves as such. IRA violence secured the separation of the 26 counties from the United Kingdom: Home Rule was only finally granted after the IRA showed that it could fight and win against such forces as the Black and Tans. And only IRA violence has kept alive the claim to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, despite the clear wish of the majority to remain British.
The IRA would ideally like to see a United Ireland with themselves in charge of it. But just to see any sort of United Ireland would be a reward for all their labours, all their suffering, all the deaths that they have sustained in a campaign of more than twenty years. For the whole island to be ruled from Dublin would be another major step forward. This would apply even if such a Dublin government were to crack down hard on the IRA, extend the legal jiggery-pokery whereby known IRA men can be imprisoned without the trouble and fatigue of proper legal evidence. The IRA is accustomed to taking the long view, working from generation to generation, thinking in terms of centuries. For those sorts of minds, a decade in politics is not a long time at all.
You don’t say ‘thank-you’ for a slice of cake, if your aim is to take over the whole bakery. But any slice of cake of any bit of the bakery is an incentive to keep going. Up until the Anglo-Irish agreement, there had been a slow but steady diminution of IRA violence, year after year. And the Protestant Para-militaries had hung up their guns, thinking that Ulster was secure. Then Thatcher made a massive concession to moderate Irish nationalism, by giving Dublin a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Since both moderate and extreme nationalism have exactly the same goal in view, the abolition of the Northern Ireland statelet, the IRA took heart and applied an extra dose of its own methods. Thatcher and the Tories had proved to be soft after all, so hit them again and again. And so it goes on and on and on.
Smiley screws up
About a year ago, the government decided that part of the responsibility for combating the IRA in Britain would be transferred from Special Branch to the Secret Services. The men who brought you Burgess and Philby were to be put in charge of fighting terrorism. I had a nasty feeling at the time that life in mainland Britain would shortly be getting much more dangerous. And so it has proved.
It is a moot point if the Secret Services even made a net contribution to winning the Cold War. Never mind recruiting characters whose pro-Communist past was obvious and well-documented. Even good and reliable Secret Services may be a doubtful asset in the long run. The very best of them were the East Germans – whose head, Markus Wolf, is now on trial for treason. But look what happened to that state. Real world conflicts are won by serious politics, not by the fantasy manoeuvres so admired by thriller writers.
Modem English probably began as a pidgin or trade language between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes of the English Danelaw. Much of its coherence was lost after the Norman invasion, with a host of Norman-French words being added. And finally an East Midlands dialect managed to acquire the status of the standard tongue. This was mainly because this dialect’s linguistic area included Oxford, Cambridge and the upper classes in London.
What I am trying to say is that there is nothing particularly correct about standard English. And it is wrong to push it as such. It is no better or worse than other dialects, though it does have the drawback of having lost ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, the second person singular. Its spelling is a joke. Try saying ‘one island, two women, three wolves, four hours, sufficiently dangerous‘. Try saying it according to standard English rules, as if these were unfamiliar words.
The great merit of English is the simple fact that it is indeed a standard, the only truly global language. Latin was never much spoken outside Western Europe and its colonies, and is a dead tongue. Chinese has the greatest number of native speakers, but is almost unknown to most of the peoples of the world. Esperanto has a West European bias, and also has such oddities as seeing a mother as a fem-ale father. Spanish, Portuguese or French could easily have won out as the global language, but they didn’t. The success of first Britain and then America has established Global English as a fact of life.
Teachers should concentrate on the actual merits of Global English. It is no more or less correct that any of its rivals. But it is the standard means of communication between different peoples. Being native speakers of English is the main surviving asset this country has, and children should certainly be taught to speak in a way that will be comprehensible to other users of Global English. This should not be confused with accent snobbery. Nor is it incompatible with keeping up the various regional dialects, at least as a local means of communication.
Church of England heretics
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This is becoming the clear message for Church of England dissidents who hope to join Roman Catholicism while retaining Anglican habits. And Cardinal Basil Hume has clearly restated the 19th century Catholic position that Anglican priestly orders are seen as ‘utterly null and void’.
Last year, there was a strong impression that a whole Anglican church under Papal authority was about to be organised. This has been done elsewhere – for instance with various Middle Eastern churches descended from ancient schisms in the Byzantine Empire, or with the Uniates, Greek-rite Catholics. But such adjustments run the risk of compromising Catholic unity. Rome has always been very clever with its power politics. To compromise existing forms of Catholicism is just not worth it, not for a bunch of dissidents with no other place to go now that the ordination of women is official policy.
Yeltsin and real politics
The official figures are not yet out. But according to The Economist, 57% of voters have confidence in Yeltsin, 53% support his economic policies, but very nearly half want a new presidential election. Fully 70% want a new election for the Russian parliament, All in all, it looks like real politics are operating at last. It’s something much stronger and healthier than the concealed chaos of the Brezhnev years.
Also don’t believe all that the media tell you. You hear a lot about aid to Russia, and leading articles in The Economist are no exception. But just try checking page 110 of the May 1st issue. It’s in the finance section, the bit that most people will skip unless they have a specialised interest in finance. There you get the real facts – that Russia is suffering a serious capital drain:
“$8.1 billion of the lowest estimate of how much money left Russia last year … the most accurate figure is $12 billion – 13 billion, just slightly less than the $14 billion Russia received in aid last year .. A growing proportion of its commodity exports, especially oil, is stolen by consortia of local officials and mafia groups, and sold abroad.”
[Brendan Clifford had already correctly identified Yeltsin as a bungler. I was much slower to realise that and am largely wrong here.]
Cults and Clinton
Anyone going to the US should watch out for the cults. Particularly one vicious crowd called the FBI, or Fibbies. Purporting to be representatives of law and order, they do on occasions shoot actual criminals. But their fanatical belief in massive force makes them a major menace- to public safety. Anyone they undertake to protect is in grave danger of death. Most recently the death of a large number of small children in the Waco siege, who were the pretext for the whole conflict. The allegations of under-age sex have now been disputed. We will probably never know, since all of them are now dead.
Meanwhile Los Angeles police are reported to have cold-bloodedly murdered a black witness who was going to testify against some policemen. The police story is that the man, who had never been in any trouble with the law, suddenly ran berserk with a gun, forcing police to shoot him. Now really, who could believe that? In that part of the world, the police seem to operate as just another street gang.
Can the US ever get itself together?
Clinton’s ratings after 100 days are low. But the pattern over the last three decades is even more interesting. Approval ratings were: Kennedy 83%, Johnson 79%, Nixon 62%, Carter 63%, Reagan 68%, Bush 56%, Clinton 55%. Broadly, America is less and less able to elect a President that they will consider satisfactory. How much of a future does the world’s sole surviving superpower actually have?
A no-fly zone over the cuckoo’s nest
I said right from the start that British and US foreign policy was conducted on highly biased criteria, and that therefore the Serbs had little to fear from them. Argentines were white and Christian, therefore they were never bombed. There was some sympathy for the Argentine claim, since the Falkland Islands are right next to Patagonia. No one asks what happened to the native Patagonians, exterminated by the settlers.
The whole thing is as crazy as Kesey’ s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Each of the different peoples of former Yugoslavia now sees their neighbours as cuckoos, a deadly threat to their future even if they are doing nothing except live as they have always lived. That’s the problem with the nation-state. Real people may well not fit the lines drawn on a map.
Lady Thatcher went right over the top with her suggesting of arming the Bosnian Muslims. It was Muslim foolishness that broke up the multi-ethnic province, with predictable results. Serb rights were not taken into consideration, therefore the Serbs resorted to arms. Douglas Hurd was quite right to speak about ‘level killing fields’. But since he knew perfectly well that there were no innocents in the matter, why did he let things drift? Would it not have been a much better idea to maintain Yugoslavia? Or else to impose a proper UN partition that would have made regional provision for Serb areas in non-Serb provinces? The way things have actually gone, it is abundantly clear that force, violence, massacre and genocide will be rewarded quite well. What a ‘New World Order’!
[I was of course wrong on this: the Serbs were eventually bombed.]
These Newsnotes appeared in May 1993, in Issue 35 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.
 For more on this, see What to do with non-BBC Accents, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/about/about-2/80-humour/what-to-do-with-non-bbc-accents/