The attempt by the media and the political elites of the three major political parties in the United Kingdom to heap contempt on Euroskepticism no longer possesses the same power. With the victory of the United Kingdom Independence Party in local and European Parliamentary elections, the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union is a live one. Indeed, Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to a public referendum on this question in 2017 should the Conservatives be returned to power in 2015. I recently discussed the case for a UK exit with David Conway, a frequent contributor to this…
Three hundred and seven years ago, Englishmen and Scotsmen brought forth, upon the British Isles, a new Union, conceived in English insecurity and Scottish impecuniosity, and dedicated to the proposition that the two peoples, if not equal, at least had more in common than either did with the French.
The original Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707 was a “political necessity for England, a commercial necessity for Scotland,” as one historian put it. For contemporary champions of Union, the necessities that were the mother of its invention are as pressing as ever.
The words that Lord Falkland is supposed to have said—that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change—are a lesson that humanity and above all politicians are reluctant to learn.
There’s no profit in it for “projectors,” Edmund Burke’s term for those who place at the center of their own sense of importance change brought about by them.
And there’s no greater projector than the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond. Mr. Salmond does not so much promise to solve specific problems as arouse hope, a hope that is vague, general, and unfocused. He has been very successful at this, assisted as he is by the fact that there is good cause for discontent in Scotland. Deindustrialization has not been kind to the country, and there are parts of Glasgow, its largest city, where living standards and life expectancy are at levels found in the old Soviet Union.
Good sense, said Descartes at the beginning of the Discourse on Method, is the most evenly-distributed thing in the world. However displeased we may be with the distribution of anything else, each of us believes that we have a sufficiency of it (unlike, he might have added, everyone else).
I suppose the question of who are the wise men and who the fools will never be settled once and for all—certainly not in matters that touch on politics. For my own part, though not over-endowed with political perspicacity, I am often surprised by the utter foolishness of the great ones of the world. They seem to me to take the Bourbons, who learnt nothing and forgot nothing, not as a warning but as a model. Over and over they make the same mistakes and fall prey to the same illusions. It is almost as if ineducability were the key to success in a political career. That, or naivety.
The expansion of the state and the services it provides, well or badly as the case may be, inevitably changes the relations between citizen and state. Among other effects, it corrodes the idea of privacy and even the very possibility of privacy: for the more the state does for citizens, the wider its locus standi to interfere in their lives. It becomes, in the wonderful phrase of the Marquis de Custine about Nicholas I in his great book, Russia in 1839, eagle and insect: eagle because it soars above society, taking its capacity for an overview as an entitlement to direct everything, and insect because it bores into the smallest crevices of what lies below, though perhaps nowadays vulture and termite might be a better zoological metaphor.
During the run-up to Easter this year, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had the temerity to assert publicly (and on more than one occasion) that Britain is a Christian country, suggesting also that it is no bad thing that it is. For having publicly espoused such politically incorrect sentiments, fifty-five prominent British humanists came down on him like a ton of bricks, excoriating him for false and divisive statements they claimed that he had made.
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said: “Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone but principally by catchwords.” Refining our thoughts with qualifications can get tiring, so we recur to slogans to capture a reality that is almost always complex.
Alas, what should be the shorthand of thought often turns out to be the short-circuit of thought. When we think of Margaret Thatcher, for example, we think of free-market reforms—whether we are for such reforms or against them, whether we welcome or abominate them.
Is this right? Was Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy one of free markets, of laissez-faire? I am far from sure.
‘A kick in the ballots’ is how pundits are describing the blow received by British Prime Minister David Cameron at the polls last week in his country’s mid-term local elections in the rural shires, traditional heartland of support for the Conservative Party he leads.
Gleefully administering the blow was Nigel Farage, the ever-exuberant leader of the United Kingdom Party Independence Party (UKIP for short).
While more than enough is happening domestically to keep Americans fully occupied, it will not have escaped the attention of many of them that the political tectonic plates of Europe are currently moving in ways contrary to the direction in which America has sought to steer them since the end of World War Two. What is called today the European Union was very much the brainchild of the United States. By means of it, America sought to prevent further internecine conflict in Europe, as well as to enmesh Germany within an alliance that would prevent it falling under Soviet influence. In…
This week sees the unfolding in England of two long-running legal sagas upon whose outcomes the future of the rule of law there could depend. And not just there, its future could be affected throughout Europe and even beyond.
The first legal saga is the resumption of the British Government’s ten-year long battle to deport the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada back to Jordan, where he awaits trial on terror related charges.
To date, Abu Qatada, whom England granted refugee status after he moved there from Jordan his wife and children, has successfully resisted all government efforts to deport him. He has done so by invoking his human right not to suffer torture or trial using evidence gained by its means.
During the long period in which he has been fighting this legal battle through the English and Strasbourg Courts, Qatada, along with more than a dozen other foreign terror suspects domiciled in Britain, have also been able to secure their release from custody by invoking their human right not to suffer (more than briefest period of) detention without trial.
After Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May had obtained from Jordan all the assurances she needed to render his deportation to it lawful in her eyes, Abu Qatada was arrested in the early hours last Tuesday morning, after his arresting officers had informed him that the deportation process against him had been resumed.
So confident was the Home Secretary that her department had finally closed all legal loopholes that had earlier enabled Qatada’s lawyers to prevent his deportation, she felt able, later that same day, to stand at the despatch box in the House of Commons from where government ministers traditionally deliver important statements, to announce, much to the general relief of all those present and much of the rest of the country, that by, the end of the month, Qatada would be on his way back to Jordan.
She had not counted on the ingenuity of Qatada’s lawyers quickly to spot and exploit a small loop-hole that had evaded both her eye and those of her legal advisors at her Department, or else that his lawyers had craftily opened up literally at the eleventh hour.
With less than an hour to go to mid-night on Tuesday, after which time which he would have forfeited all possible legal right to do so, Qatada’s lawyers submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg an appeal against the ruling that it had made exactly three months earlier over the legality of his deportation. It was that ruling which had formed the legal basis on which the Home Secretary had been acting in resuming his deportation.