|What We Think||Nationalist comment on the month's news|
Day of humiliation
Notwithstanding all the tremendous hype that accompanied the launching of the new Cunard ocean-going liner Queen Mary 2 on the 8th January, the event in fact marked a day of humiliation and disgrace for Britain. Of all the great national industries through which this country has stamped its imprint on the world, none has ranked higher than shipbuilding. When people travelled the seas on the original Queen Mary or its sister ship of the time, the Queen Elizabeth, much more was involved than trips of business or pleasure; the experience was one generating immense pride in the national prowess in manufacturing that produced these mighty vessels. But that pride was wholly absent when the new liner - easily the biggest in the world - was launched last month, for it was built by the Alstom company in Le Havre, France, commissioned by the now American-owned Cunard company because no British yard was up to doing the job. As a report in The Sunday Times of January 11th reminded us, "When the QM2 sets sail tomorrow from Southampton, she will fly the British ensign. But to all intents and purposes the flag is now little more than a marketing tool."
The location of the builders of the new liner is ironic when we recall Trafalgar, when Nelson's fleet triumphed over the French and Spanish navies because, apart from the Admiral's unique genius, Britain produced better sailors and built better ships. Today, maritime engineering in this country does not extend far beyond the capacity to produce luxury yachts for private millionaires. Many and complex factors have led to the decline and atrophy of this industry. Globalism and the jettisoning of a 'Buy British' policy are among them, but that is not all. Our loss of skills and competence in many fields of engineering has contributed too. But at the end of the day these are all matters where the buck stops at the doors of national political leadership, of government. The leadership and the government with the will to deal with these problems have just not been there. Indeed, from the relative silence in political circles over the disgrace of the QM2 one gains the impression that no one even cares.
Killed by neglect
There has been ample coverage in the papers of the scandal of under-equipment that led to the death in Iraq of Sergeant Steve Roberts, who was killed by a shot because he was not wearing body armour, having lent his own to a fellow-soldier. Defence Secretary, the unbelievably appalling Geoff Hoon, has rightly been carpeted for this deficiency and many others which put our troops at risk in that war zone. Incompetent and unfocused in these matters as in virtually everything else, this Labour Government should most certainly bear the blame.
But behind this particular piece of incompetence there lies a deeper reality. The whole tradition and psychology of the Labour Party has ever been hostile, or at best indifferent, towards everything military. Labour ideologues live in a world in which wars just don't happen - or if they do they shouldn't, and national attention should never be greatly concentrated on them, nor national resources given to preparation for them. In Labour's dream scenario of universal brotherhood and peace, armies are a tiresome nuisance - to be granted just token assistance and support to keep the electorate satisfied but never thought seriously about as necessary instruments of national policy, least of all allocated the funds, personnel and equipment to make them effective.
Labour Party politicians almost invariably come from non-military backgrounds; the males among them are drawn mainly from the least manly elements of the population. They are largely human hothouse plants, who in their schooldays probably shirked even the rough endeavour of the rugger field. The military ethos and tradition are alien to their thought processes. They pay lip service to the idea that a nation has to have defences, but their hearts are never really in it. The needs of an army and other fighting services come way down in their order of priorities - after 'gay rights', unmarried mothers and the never-ending war against 'racism'.
But just now and then, Labour politicians suddenly discover a need for soldiers, not to defend the nation - because that would be patriotic and therefore reactionary and politically incorrect, but to pursue some particularly universalist or ideological goal, such as bequeathing democracy to Arabs. Then there is panic. The armed forces, so long despised and neglected, have to be brought out of mothballs to fight battles while their political masters remain safely in their offices far away. Shortages, deficiencies, cock-ups - these are the inevitable consequences of governments whose minds most of the time are on other things.
For all this, the manifestly inadequate Mr. Hoon is the present fall-guy. But behind it all, more than a century of Hampstead thinking is the real culprit.
Tony's Iraq photo-call
TV viewers may have been a little curious to see Prime Minister Blair visiting Iraq last month for one of his regular addresses to the troops - addresses directed of course, to the voters at home and not to the uniformed personnel actually present on the scene. And as Tony proceeded with his imitation Agincourt speech it was noticeable that two black soldiers were seated immediately behind him to his right as he did so. Look, the ethnic minorities doing their bit for Britain! That was the obvious message.
But the truth was a little less stirring. A report in The Sunday Telegraph on January 18th told the story:-
Is comment really needed?
Behind the top-up fees argument
There are two points of view in the present debate raging over top-up fees for university students, and to give ample voice to both of them would take a great deal more space than is available here. Speaking very generally, we believe that it is totally unacceptable to burden such students with costs for their higher education which will eat very heavily into their earnings for many years after they have graduated, and it is particularly unacceptable that the main weight of this burden will fall on students and families designated by this Labour Government as 'middle-class' - a section of society that seems to incur the everlasting hatred of those on the political left, though most of the latter come from it themselves.
On the other hand, something undoubtedly has to be done to halt the present financial drain that university education imposes on the national budget. There are numerous ways to achieve this, but there is one area of change that is vital, though almost certainly outside the range of present Labour thinking.
Labour (and, to a lesser extent, the Tories) have for a long time got it entirely wrong concerning the basic goals for the number of people to be given a university education. Tony Blair has stipulated a target of 50 per cent of the young population, and this is quite ridiculous. It is ironic that a party which constantly harps on its 'working-class' origins seems to want to eliminate that very class as an element in society. The logic of a policy like Blair's is that there will be a chronic shortage of people to do the kinds of jobs for which a trade apprenticeship, rather than a university degree, is the required qualification. This is the case in many occupations already, and it is getting worse all the time. Of course, perhaps Labour welcomes this, as it provides yet another excuse for bringing in more immigrants!
In addition, Labour is gripped by an obsession with creating more university places for youngsters from 'poorer backgrounds' (which is largely just code for black backgrounds). To achieve this, entrance standards are being dangerously lowered to the point at which almost anyone with half a brain will be able to get into university - for all the doubtful distinction that will confer upon them. Also, of course, the whole structure of university education has to be expanded at vast national cost - more universities, more buildings, more staff, more everything.
What we have to do is revise drastically our whole philosophy concerning higher education, and in the forefront of this must be an acceptance that only a minority of people in the population are really suited to it. This is not a 'class' thing; brains and talent should have access to university places regardless of background. But the truth is that this Government is not really concerned about giving opportunity to brains and talent; it is obsessed with the social engineering involved in getting universities to grant places on a 'quota' basis - so many for working class, middle class, poor, affluent, black, white, 'gay' and 'straight' - according to their perceived proportions of the general population. As far as creating a brainier, more cultured and more efficient Britain is concerned, that really doesn't come into it!
Testimony of a quitter
Britain, as all but the 'cool' will probably agree, has today become a much less agreeable place to live in than it was some thirty or more years ago. It is, moreover, a less pleasant country than many of its neighbours in Europe. It is not 'unpatriotic' to acknowledge this; the first essential of patriotism is to recognise such things, and then to do something about them.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a man of medicine whose articles are regularly to be seen in the newspapers and magazines, feels the way we do about the kind of country Britain has become. He wrote about it all with great force and passion in the Daily Mail on the 17th January, and it was very difficult to disagree with a word of his assessment. He spoke of the country's current lack of charm. He condemned the brutalisation of life here, the vulgarity, the bad manners, the lack of self-control of so many people. He spoke of our boorish reputation abroad, of the way people in continental holiday resorts dread the coming of British visitors for the yobbish behaviour they are likely to bring with them.
A great many British - far too many for comfort, Dr. Dalrymple evidently believes - have become a thoroughly reprehensible race of people, and they have imposed their standards on most of our larger towns and cities: on the streets, in nightclubs, at places of entertainment. Their imprint of nastiness and trashiness can be seen everywhere. The Doctor has a point.
He goes on to speak of "the demagogic frivolity to which our politics have been reduced." Right again! He says: "Our police veer between a kind of bullying swagger and utter unwillingness to do anything about the crime by which we are swamped." Who could disagree? He condemns "the moral and intellectual corruption that pervades the public service." Undoubtedly.
But what is Dr. Dalrymple's response to all this? It is a very simple one. He is going to leave this country and live in France!
Considering this last point, it seems that perhaps there is another bad feature of modern Britain that the Doctor has omitted. This is the paralysed apathy of the 'decent' people among the population, who deplore these fallen standards but are unprepared to lift a finger to stop the fall and bring better standards back. It is the defeatist and self-centred mentality of the 'respectable' classes, who imagine that the answer to moral and cultural squalor lies in escape instead of action.
It is very difficult to have more sympathy for the likes of Dr. Dalrymple, who very articulately spell out what is wrong with our country but do damn-all to change it, than for the people and trends in society he loathes and condemns.
The answer to the dungheap state of modern Britain is for responsible people to band together to put things right - by staying here and clearing up the mess, not flitting abroad and leaving it to others.