Monday, 21 January 2019

While we are looking at historical parallels, not of anything in particular, of course....

Reynolds's Political Map of the United States 1856.jpg
1856 map showing slave states (gray), free states (pink), and territories (green) in the United States, with the Kansas Territory in center (white)

Charles Sumner was a single issue US politician. A populist. He believed in upsetting the status quo. And was prepared to do almost anything to achieve that aim. He hoped from political party to political party as the ones he liked to associate with rose and then fell into decline. He eventually became a Republican.
He was a man who preached about a far better future. One where the current constraints of the existing laws would not apply.

When accused of Utopianism, he replied "The Utopias of one age have been the realities of the next."

He was a true believer, not much admired by his fellow politicians as he was too radical and too extremist, and far too rude and not deferential enough to his fellows. Something that would cause him problems in the Senate.

Preston Brooks was establishment. A Democrat. A lawyer. Who also owned rather a lot of land. He strongly believed in the status quo. And despised any attempt, by anyone, to change any of the existing structures and laws that kept society as it was. He did not want change, of any sort.

Establishment versus populist.

This was the 1850s. And the establishment was all for keeping slaves as slaves. While the populists wanted them freed.

One of the significant events of the 1850s was the introduction of the state of Kansas into the Union. And whether it would be a slaver state or a free state. There was no more important or divisive debate in the country.

Sumner, the radical, made a very long speech about the violence then going on in  Kansas.
The speech lasted two days, long even for the 1850s.

What got him into the most trouble was this bit.

He blasted the "murderous robbers from Missouri," calling them "hirelings, picked from the drunken spew and vomit of an uneasy civilization." 
Part of this oratory was a bitter, personal tirade against South Carolina's Senator Andrew Butler.   Sumner declared Butler an imbecile and, Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, Sumner charged him with taking,

 "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

The use of harlot was deliberate. Northern abolitionists liked to use sexual imagery in their language. To imply slaveholders only wanted slaves in order to have sex with them. A massive insult to Southern aristocracy.

During the speech, Stephen Douglas, Democrat nominee for President, who lost to Abraham Lincoln a short while later, leaned over to a colleague and said, "that damn fool will get himself killed by some other damn fool." 

Preston Brooks was a distant relative of Andrew Butler. And he took great exception to the wilfully inflammatory descriptions and so,

Two days after the end of Sumner's speech, Brooks entered the Senate chamber where Sumner was working at his desk. He flatly told Sumner, "You've libelled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I've come to punish you for it." Brooks proceeded to strike Sumner over the head repeatedly with a gold-tipped cane. The cane shattered as Brooks rained blow after blow on the hapless Sumner, but Brooks could not be stopped. Only after being physically restrained by others did Brooks end the pummelling.

  A House committee investigated the incident and proposed expelling Brooks. “This they can’t do,” he predicted to his brother. “It requires two thirds to do it and they can’t get a half. Every southern man sustains me.” 

Brooks was correct in assuming the attitude in the south and the inability of Congress to formally remove him. Most southern newspapers praised Brooks’s action.

Brooks resigned his seat. And was immediately re-elected by his district. South Carolina held events in his honour. From all over the South he was sent replacement canes. Some with lists of other Senators he might like to hit.

Sumner was badly injured and could not remain in the Senate. His district voted in no replacement and kept the seat open for his return. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

To my mind, it was the sending of the canes, even more than the beating in the chamber, that shows the terrible anger that had built up on both sides.  A man had been almost beaten to death in the very body of the legislature, and people felt so angry and betrayed by that man's views, that was deciding the future of their union, that a pummelling was seen as good justice for an opponent of their beliefs.
 Brooks died very shortly. Of an illness. Sumner recovered and carried on his abolitionist work. Becoming a strong critic of Abraham Lincoln who he believed wasn't abolitionist enough. 

 The Kansas-Nebraska act showed neither side, slavery or anti-slavery commanded enough of a majority to over come the other. The impasse only caused greater tensions. With government unable to decide the people took the matter into their own hands and Kansas was flooded with outsiders, intent on makig the state their prefered slave or slave-free state.

 Violence. Vote rigging. Murder. Arson and mob rule became widespread.
The New York Tribune labeled it 'Bleeding Kansas.'
 6 years after the incident with Congress still split and no possible solution to the slavery/anti-slavery positions that divided the nation could be found, Lincoln, was elected. He promised he would not change anything. Would not free any slave or alter the existing laws on property or elections of the country. The South didn't believe him. And civil war broke out. 

Some 50,000 civilians and 700,000 soldiers died in the 4 years of conflict.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Historical Analogies for UK 2019: Henry VIII Offers Two

It's fairly common to draw the parallels between Henry's Brexit from the Church of Rome; and why not?  A break-away resisted by many, both on doctrinal grounds and on the basis that it would be disastrous for the nation;  a furious reaction from the Brussels of its day;  emnity between the nations on either side of the resulting schism (that were to last decades if not longer still);  the losing faction in Britain continuing to fight the new order, to their deaths in many cases, wholly unreconciled to the new settlement;  Rome in no way slipping into terminal decline, but mounting a determined counter-reformation to consolidate its position among the nations and souls that it still commanded.   Yes, historical meat aplenty upon which to chew.

But I'd like to suggest another facet of Henry's times that might offer food for thought.  It is the dissolution of the monasteries, his ruthless and wanton appropriation to his own selfish ends of the resources of the monsatic system, thereby destroying the status quo, the extended socio-economic structures he had inherited from the Middle Ages.

Not, let us quickly add, that I am suggesting Mrs May or any of her potential Tory successors have anything resembling this in mind, or will somehow be forced into it by a shortfall in government funds down the road.   (Funnily enough, others might suggest exactly this - those who believe we will be so badly off post-Brexit that the welfare state will need to be dismantled.)

No, I have in mind John McDonnell, who clearly enough had hoped - and probably still does, in his happier dreams - that Brexit might signal the start of The Revolution.  Because his plans for post-Brexit Britain most definitely include full-scale appropriation of the resources of the system he's working to take over.   And he'd only too happily preside over the ruination that would result.  

Wander through any number of those old edifices, from Fountains Abbey to the smaller piles of rubble still to be found in long grass around Britain, and think on't.


Friday, 18 January 2019

Friday Fun - Who would you choose if you could wish it so?

Image result for cat  clown may

So amongst many things we have learned this week, it is certain that Theresa May is manifestly unsuited to being Prime Minister. I mean we thought she would be a bit crap, but down there, fending off Corbyn as worst politician in the UK; well it would be worrying if it wasn't so funny.

But here we are, equipped with Magic Wand, to anoint a new Prime Minister bright and early for Monday morning to lead us out of the chaos of Brexit one way or t'other....


Two choices  each - one UK and one choice of anyone on earth.

Defend your choices in the comments and I will pick a winner Sunday!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Brexit Positivity from an Unexpected Source

OK, so, quiz-time at C@W: 

Q - who is saying this, and where?  (no googling at the back there)
Only a rupture with the EU will alter the failed status quo - it’s not plausible that either Brexit in name only or no exit at all can lead to radical reform of our broken system ... Just before Christmas, the Bank said the economy could shrink by 8% in the event of a disruptive no-deal outcome - but this was a worst-case scenario and the Bank had to throw in the kitchen sink to arrive at it. The idea, for example, that interest rates would rise by four percentage points after a no-deal Brexit is implausible ... 
Brexit, the gilets jaunes protesters in France, the terrible pain inflicted on Greece and the support for the League/Five Star government in Italy all tell their own story. Europe is alive with political discontent that reflects the demand for deep and urgent reform, but the chances of getting it are less likely if the status quo prevails ... 
a reformed Britain in a reformed Europe” - possible but not all that plausible, given that it would require breaking up the euro, more autonomy for individual countries to intervene in the running of their economies, and a simultaneous philosophical U-turn in the big member states ...  
The softer the Brexit, the more convinced the EU will be that it has been doing the right thing all along. Britain will not go up in flames, but there will still be consequences. Leave voters will feel they have been victims of an establishment stitch-up. The anger will not go away and will eventually resurface. The risk is that the losers will be the biggest supporters of the EU – the liberal left. And the biggest winners will be the extreme right.
A - Larry Elliot in ... the Grauniad !   Elliot is an honest fellow, noted for traipsing the streets of northern towns before, during and after the referendum, canvassing actual opinions.  Westminster bubble-journos willing to get their shoes dirty in this way are few and far between: honourable mentions also to Michael Crick and, credit-where-its-due, yes, La Toynbee (who for all her nosepeg-wearing support for Labour has long held very realistic views about immigration, albeit furtively). 

Worth a read.


Update: see BTL, Mr Cowshed has pointed out that it is John Harris who tramps the streets for the Grauniad.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

About last night and the morning after....

So, yesterday, PM May held a vote on her Withdrawal Agreement that she knew she would lose; and lost.

Now today Leader of the Opposition, Corbyn, is holding a vote of not confidence which in the Government which he knows he will lose.

Parliament has become, literally, political theatre. No one there wants to really engage with the political kryptonite of Brexit (except May and now we know nearly everyone disagrees with her).

I think it worth pointing our the key mistakes of late, such that a way forward can be found by not repeating errors:

1 - May did not get her own party, or indeed, any party onside. As such she lost badly. Next week then a much broader discussion must happen to discover what might be possible. Hate it as I do, she must reach out to Labour moderates to see what they would vote for.

2 - Corbyn can only oppose. His unicorn Brexit bullshit has harmed the process no end. If moderate Labour were in charge, already we would be headed to EFTA, the WA or some such. But Corbyn HATES TORIES, so at the moment there can be no bi-partisan deal. The Labour backbenchers need to reflect on where following their idiotic leader is taking them and the Country they claim to serve.

3- The ERG, confident they can somehow filibuster for no deal, are actually a busted flush. Not numerous enough to achieve their ends, they need urgently to find a position within the Overton Window of the possible. They dug the heals in over May's leadership forcing a vote, she is still there, they dug their heals in over vote and are still going to vote for May anyway (which shows how duplicitous they are, because it clearly demonstrates the thing they most want is their own jobs). Digging in is a failed strategy that needs to move on.

4- The Libs, SNP and assorted Second Vote merchants - Whilst creating a huge amount of media noise, they have achieved nothing apart from to help split the country on even more partisan lines. The Government is in charge and are saying no revocation of article 50 and no second referendum. When the Government survives its vote of no confidence, there should be some reflection about what in the real world would be the best deal from here (Full Customs Union and Membership of the single market should do it).

Really, having engineered a crisis between themselves, a bit less ideological shouting and a bit more willingness to move should see the UK easily move to a Norway type option. There is no majority for leave in parliament and no majority for remain in the Country - so a nice bit of fudge will have to suffice.