A secularist agenda

In my previous two articles I, firstly, outlined the background behind me joining the National Secular Society (“Ask me why?”), and, secondly, went into some detail about the NSS campaign for no more faith schools (“Power to the public”). In this, the third article in the present series, I wish to comment on some aspects of the recently held AGM of the NSS.
The AGM took place at the NSS headquarters at Conway Hall, in London’s Bloomsbury district. As is usual for an AGM of any organization, the opportunity was taken to review the previous year’s work by the NSS. Much of the detailed work is undertaken by the NSS Council and, especially, by the President, Keith Porteous Wood.
There is much on the NSS agenda that is quite public and well known, if not supported, for example, the No More Faith Schools campaign, the reform of religious education in state schools and the reclamation of religious freedom (see the previous two articles for more discussion of these areas).
However, what is not so publicly visible is the NSS’s focus on Human Rights, both nationally and internationally.
The NSS continues to work with the United Nations, especially with the Committee for the Rights of the Child. in bringing pressure on countries around the world, including England and Wales, to confront clerical abuse and take legislative measures to improve prosecution rates for alleged perpetrators and justice for victims/survivors. The NSS is widely known and respected by abuse survivors for the determination with which it works to ensure that truth, justice and accountability ultimately prevail.
In the UK the exposure of abuse scandals in the churches also highlights wider issues of importance to the secularist cause, for example, the unacceptable constitutional and legal privileges of the Church of England, as well as its corrupt nexus of power with other institutions that resulted in the protection of clerical sex offenders.
Progress is reported in these endeavours, but so is the extent to which UN member states fall short, sometimes totally, of their obligations.
This situation is particularly galling when flagrant breaches of obligations come from countries who consider themselves out to be exemplars. Again, the United Kingdom’s intransigent refusal to enact laws against caste discrimination is such an example, but by no means not the only or, arguably, the most concerning lapse. It is open to speculation if this situation would alter should the UK leave the EU (and takes back its own law-making prerogative!).
As in most areas of British national life, the implications for Human Rights in the event of a British exit from the European Union (Brexit), has been under close examination.
The NSS President is working with parliamentary experts to minimize the dilution of existing Human Rights protection post-Brexit. The focus of this examination has been on finding ways of outlawing caste discrimination – a parliamentary mandate long ignored by the present British government.
Earlier this year a conference was held in Athens, Greece, on religious and secular judgements of the (non-EU) European Court of Human Rights.
At this event the NSS President took the initiative in arranging a systematic monitoring system that enabled the NSS to intervene to encourage the Court to make secular-friendly rulings. As is usual in such environments, the NSS flew the secularist flag and spoke out strongly in several high profile EU events, including representation at the annual European Humanist meeting.
At the national level there have been opportunities for NSS personnel to speak on radio broadcasts and appear on television conveying the good news of the work, and especially the campaigns, of the NSS.
With reference to the above, and as well as the opposition of the NSS to more faith schools, the society has opposed genital cutting; sharia courts; continuation of an established church; homophobic campaigning by fundamentalist Christian groups; the continued growth of fundamentalist Islam; the outrageous attempt to stifle free speech, especially in universities; and attacks on the rights of women to exercize their lawful right to an abortion.
All these issues, and more, demonstrate the extent and importance of NSS campaigning and campaigns as it seeks to fulfil the secularist agenda.
Religious lobbies in the UK know that many of their views are unpopular and discredited. Notwithstanding, they continue to use unjustified legal and social privileges and connections to advance their regressive agenda. So the work of the NSS has never been more necessary or more urgent.
With this mind, the AGM debated the only motion to come before the meeting. The single motion stated: “This General Meeting supports campaigning and campaigns designed to facilitate an individual’s right to seek a medically assisted death, whether through legislative changes or judicial rulings”.
This motion is, of course, supportive of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, of which I am also a member. So it was pleasing that the motion was substantially supported by the AGM and was carried. Crucial to the acceptance of the motion, and most important to me in favouring it, is the fact that most opposition to medically assisted death comes from religious lobbies seeking to enshrine their religious prejudices in secular law.
The AGM of the National Secular Society recognized that there is still much work to be done in order to realize a genuinely secular society in the United Kingdom. However, the meeting was an encouragement to the society’s members to maintain effort and enthusiasm as they seek to be on the alert about, write persuasively in support of, and campaign forcefully on behalf of, those issues of concern to secularists.
RSC
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Power to the public

In my previous article (128: “Ask me why”) I gave a brief outline of why I became a member of the National Secular Society (NSS). The article expressed how my desire for membership in the society was an outcome of changes in my thinking, beliefs and attitudes – the personal effects of experiences and events that have taken place in my life over a number of years.
The NSS will shortly hold its 2018 Annual General Meeting in London at the Conway Hall, Bloomsbury.
The AGM provides an opportunity for NSS members to participate in the business of the NSS and for meeting with the society’s Council, staff and fellow members. So too, the AGM provides a forum where members have the opportunity to express their views on what the NSS’s campaigning priorities should be.
As a member also of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, it is of significant interest for me to note that one of the motions to come before the NSS AGM this year is the following: “This General Meeting supports campaigning and campaigns designed to facilitate an individual’s right to seek an assisted death whether through legislative changes or judicial rulings.”
It is reassuring to know that the rights of the individual are a primary concern for many people and that the power of the campaign is still being exercized. Closer to the specific concerns of the NSS, however, is its No More Faith Schools campaign.
What, then, is a faith school and what are the specific aims of the No More Faith Schools campaign by the NSS?
A “Faith school” is a description, not a legal definition – it includes all schools that are legally designated has having a religious character or faith ethos. For some people it also includes all schools where a religious organisation has a formal role in the governance of the schools. The variety of faith schools is somewhat difficult, if not disconcerting, to comprehend.
In England and Wales there are two main types of faith schools – voluntary aided (VA) and voluntary controlled (VC) schools.
The former (VA) tend to have a more rigorous religious ethos, less restrictions on discrimination/proselytization and more direct religious control. The Church of England and Church in Wales often insist that ‘their’ schools aren’t faith schools. In England there are also faith based academies, faith ethos academies, VA-converter and VC-converter academies. Religious groups may also run multi-academy trusts (MATs) which control non-faith schools.
Almost all public schooling in Northern Ireland is split along sectarian (Protestant/Catholic) lines. Controlled (legally designated as Protestant) schools are governed in accordance with the Church’s ethos. Maintained (Catholic) schools are controlled by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. There are a small number of Integrated Schools – which seek to offer a balanced curriculum without religious discrimination.
In Scotland there are two types of schools – denominational and non-denominational. The former are mostly Catholic and explicitly religious. The latter were traditionally seen as Protestant, but are meant to serve the whole community.
Faith schools may also be referred to as denominational, religious, sectarian or Church schools.
No matter, whatever their designation, faith schools are solidly situated in the infrastructure of the British education system. One might ask: “Whatever happened to the local education authority school?” Certainly, in a nation that largely regards itself as “secular”, the extent and influence of faith schools is deep-seated and widespread – and worrying!
It is against the above background that the NSS’s campaign No More Faith Schools is being undertaken.
A lot of its work is behind the scenes, for example, helping parents stand up for their rights when they’ve little choice but a faith school, or where children are refused school places due to discriminatory policies, or, perhaps more publicly, sharing stories about the threat faith schools pose to children’s education.
The No More Faith Schools campaign focuses on state schools across the UK. It does not campaign against private faith schools.
However, it does support efforts to ensure children’s rights are protected in the independent sector. In this respect, the NSS (who coordinates the No More Faith Schools campaign) recently reported the first convictions for running an unregistered faith school. The NSS also reported faith schools in the independent sector still open after multiples failures, as well as another ten schools which were issued with warnings by the DfE.
The NSS takes a serious interest in the work of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (PES). The core message of the PES is: “Let children make their own minds up about religion.”
In support of this basic belief, the society makes the strong ethical case that directive religious schools undermine children’s freedom of belief. Education should value individual autonomy and give children the tools they need to make informed decisions, including about religion (see my previous article for a similar argument and where in a school curriculum religion could be taught).
One weakness of faith schools that is often overlooked is their inability to successfully teach RSE (relationships and sex education) through a faith ethos. Too often this is euphemism for discrimination, stigmatization and misinformation. It is no coincidence that the government is currently consulting on new RSE guidance for English schools.
The No More Faith Schools campaign is one of fostering action through encouragement.
It has encouraged people to share the petitions generated by the NSS, to write to their MP’s, share the information on social media, and to let the NSS know of new proposals for faith schools. The NSS has resources, including speakers for local groups, that can be used by individuals and groups concerned about existing faith schools and proposals for new ones (see the National Secular Society’s website: https://secularism.org.uk).
The NSS campaign No More Faith Schools is, like the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, an example of the power of the campaign method in raising public awareness and consolidating public power – as necessary today as it ever was.
RSC
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Ask me why?

Readers of this blog will probably have realized that my personal beliefs (philosophy), as well as those associations of which I am a member/supporter because of actions emanating from these beliefs (ethics), are very much in line with the ideas and campaigning strategies of the National Secular Society (NSS).
I joined the National Secular Society (NSS) in April, 2017, following my reception of an NSS campaigning brochure. I view my membership of this movement as an aspect of my general and ongoing thinking and action related to the comprehensive title for this blog, “A site for the examination of and commenting on life and time”.
When I signed-up with the NSS I received a follow-up letter from the then President of the society, Terry Sanderson, requesting that I say something as to why I joined the society. In what follows I have reproduced the contents of the letter sent to the NSS as a response explaining why I joined the society in 2017.
This in turn gave me an opportunity to say something specific not only about the motivation for me joining the NSS but also a chance to clarify my thinking about my general attitude towards secularism.
Prior to 1996 I was an Accredited Minister of Religion with both the Victorian Baptist Union (Australia) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. My last full-time appointment within the orbit of the Christian Church was as the Manager for Domestic Programmes with World Vision UK. This appointment concluded in 1993.
In 1996 I became a teacher of Humanities at a Northampton Comprehensive school. This included being the Head of Religious Studies (RS). However, my approach to RS in secular schools was that the subject should be taught along the lines of religious philosophy and ethics – as, more or less, a major subject within a course on the “Theory of Knowledge” (studied as “Epistemology” at university level), or as a part of the study of “The History of Ideas”.
In this I felt that my function as a teacher representing any Christian or religious institution was inappropriate. As a consequence of this, as well as recognizing the direction at the time of my general thinking and “spiritual” practice, I “de-frocked” myself, relinquished the title of “Reverend” and, to all intents and purposes, became a secular teacher. I have not worshipped at a Christian church since.
In line with developments from the above-mentioned, that is, as a teacher of humanities – including religious studies, I am firmly against government funding of any form of religious faith or practice. Therefore, government funding for any and all “faith” schools, including those with a Christian basis – especially those with a CofE heritage and/or those historic public schools with a “charitable” status – should be discontinued.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am also of the belief that, for a variety of “secular” reasons, religious studies – as an aspect of philosophy and ethics in general – is, nevertheless, a legitimate subject for teaching in a secular educational system. However, the specific arguments for me adopting this position on this question, is the subject matter for another article (but see previous and related articles in this blog).
Consistent with the foregoing perspectives, I believe that Church and State should be separate, including the disestablishment of the Church of England and the separation of the British Head of State from any religious office.
It follows that all discussion about religious faith and belief should be unrestricted by religious considerations, as all such discussion is not “divinely” based but is simply an aspect of human cultural and social discourse. This, of course, would seriously imply that all public services and service delivery should be free of religious bias and discrimination of any kind.
The above would also hold that there should be equality for all under one secular law and that the operation of any system of law that seeks to undermine or countermand this with a religious basis is illegal. I feel that this is consistent with both my belief in a strong democracy and a desire to see and protect a stable and meaningful social cohesion, based on secular values, within our national life.
Of course, as the reader will further realize, there are, in addition to the foregoing, further background reasons as to why the principles and actions of the NSS appeal to me. These may be gleaned from a reading of over 100 articles I have written in contributing to this blog and others (e.g. Republic, Sea of Faith, Amazon) in such areas as religion, politics, history, human rights, philosophy, economics, republicanism and general culture.
My membership of the NSS, a well as with other organizations and societies mentioned in this article, links me with those persons of similar persuasion.
They are people and movements that take account of the full array of persons who believe that life is a process in which the question, “Ask me why?” is always relevant; where answers are sought but are never, and can never be, fully satisfying; and where actions are continuous and solutions constantly applied.
RSC
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Old wine in new wineskins

The impression was immediate. The music was a reflection of the Scottish mountains through which I was driving – big, bold, imposing and unforgettable. It confronted my hearing in the grand manner of the Scandinavian symphonies of Anton Bruckner and the Germanic orchestral music of Richard Strauss.
Whilst I failed to comprehend all that was said by the presenter immediately after the music finished, I caught sufficient of the information conveyed to realize that the music was somehow related to the subject of “queen”.
I decided to follow-up and research the music when I returned home. This process enabled me to discover that the music that had made such an impression on me was a symphonic composition based on the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. How glad I was to pursue my musical inclinations.
I purchased the CD/DVD of the music as soon as I was able and, with subsequent and repeated hearings, the piece has proved itself to be the personal musical surprise of recent years. It is a symphonic composition that shows to me that the Romantic Tradition in music is alive and well!!
Not that all of the music in the symphony is quite like that described above – big, bold and beautiful. There are a number of quieter, more subtle and subdued passages that are appreciated by the musical taste buds much in the same way that the taste palate responds to a gracefully matured wine. So too, it should be remembered that between the mountains there are valleys and, in the case of the Scottish glens, places that are still and quiet, as calm and mysterious as the deep and enchanting lochs they often harbour.
There is no questioning, however, that Tolga Kashif, the London born composer of the “Queen Symphony”, has pieced together the original music of Freddie Mercury and Queen to present a most impressive musical offering, music that “inherently contains the language of the modern classical genre.”
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays the piece as if to the manner born, indeed, as if the music were an integral part of the discography of classical music and of concert scheduling – both of which I would wish the music to become. The sophistication of the orchestra is equal to the task of extracting, indeed reinventing, full measure of the original essence of the music composed by Queen. Both the music and its orchestral rendition are most distinguished.
Listeners to this music should refrain from trying too hard to identify all of the original Queen songs used by the composer, as this could detract from an appreciation of the way in which the various tunes have been transformed, with various choirs and soloist musicians, into a more classical character and consistency.
However, some songs are more identifiable than others and aficionados of Queen’s music will have little difficulty in recognizing such gems as Radio Gaga, The Show Must Go On, We are the Champions, Killer Queen, We will Rock You and, of course, the incomparable Bohemian Rhapsody.
There was some personal disappointment in that Tolga Kashif., the composer-organizer of the music and the orchestra’s director, did not include that most poignant of pieces The Days of Our Lives in his composition. The tune would have made a beautiful and most appropriate adagio, alongside that other sublime song Who Wants to Live Forever (which is included on the CD).
So too, it is pity that room could not be found for such Queen classics as that outstanding hit Somebody to Love and the yearning ballad I Want to be Free. When it comes to Queen’s music there can never be “too much of a good thing”, so perhaps a second composition is to be hoped for! Still, the composer obviously feels “no need to use whole songs, or even whole melodies, unless he feels like it at any one moment.” He paints his “own musical pictures” and “he takes the music of Queen to new places.” Tolga Kashif has “a unique view of and a new dream for this music.”
The CD version of this recording comes singularly or as a special edition which includes the DVD of the symphony’s performance. Both facilities offer a most engaging and successful synthesis of Queen’s outstanding music, as well as excellent value for money.
On the back cover of the case containing the discs Queen’s Brian May states the following: Imagine a composer of the imagination and daring of a Tchaikovsky, a Holst or a Mussorgsky. Imagine him let loose with the entire Queen catalogue of melodies, atmospheres and textures, and a vast orchestra and a huge choir. Then you’ll be close to imagining where this work begins. This is something monumental and quite outrageous.
Since producing this recording the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has gone on to provide the orchestral backing for re-recordings of albums by, amongst others, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Genesis and Roy Orbison. Each of these has the original singer(s) as well as the re-recorded backing music.
The recording of the music from the Queen songs by Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is, however, the only attempt at composing a genuine piece of symphonic music from the music accompaniments to popular songs. The undertaking has been highly successful and is hugely enjoyable.
If ever the old saying “Old wine in new wineskins” could be given a fitting context it is the Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording of The Queen Symphony – a symphony in six movements inspired by the music of QUEEN. This is music appropriate to any and all of the days of our lives!
RSC
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Are some more equal than others?

In the previous article (see: A right-royal carve-up…) I referred to the plethora of television programmes that rehearsed the lives of the British monarch in particular and the royal lineage in general.
I made the comment that an outcome of the seemingly constant barrage of historical movies, television series and popular literature serve the purpose of inuring the public through a process of constantly thrusting the royals into their faces. It might also be that the opposite is true. These productions serve to promote both the traditional roles and contemporary disguises of the royals in order to maintain their privileged and un-earned status in society – the continuation of what could be termed the “Windsor’s false consciousness”.
Reviewing that article brought to my mind a piece published a number of years ago in the blog of the British Republican Movement (britishrepublicanblog.org). The said article was written following the birth of George (born 22 July, 2013), the first child of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and William, Duke of Cambridge. The title of the article was: Every child should be born equal. It was written by Zachary Adam Barker and, in part, what is written below reflects that article and its author.
The article began with a questions posed by a BBC Radio Bristol presenter, “Surely the birth of the third person in line to the throne can only be a good thing?” The question was, of course, in reference to George Windsor, and was asked as though it was a self-evident truth. In actual fact the birth of anyone is generally a good thing. The emergence of new persons into the world presents endless possibilities. What personalities will they display? What will be their role and function in life? Will they have a family? What will they become? What will be their contribution to human growth and development?
The above questions are applicable to babies born to members of the royal family as much as to any family. However, in the case of George Windsor and unlike the vast majority of the citizens of the British state, most of these questions had already been settled even before baby George emerged. The same may be said, though with a less-concerned voice, for his siblings, Charlotte and Louis.
The baby’s being, warts and all, will have been heavily filtered through the ruthless efficiency of the palace’s PR machine. Eventually the person that boy George is in the process of becoming, as “third in line to the throne”, will be required to be the progenitor of others in the royal line in order to ensure the continuity of the British monarchy. In due course, he could also become the British Head of State – whether desired or deserved, or otherwise.
All of this puts a hefty burden on the child that came into the world just a few years ago and entered that world through a route designed for all babies, regardless of wealth or privilege. It also automatically grades any other British child as unworthy of or unsuited to take on, or volunteer to take on, that burden when they come of age.
Perhaps what might be considered as the most objectionable aspect of the question: “Surely the birth of the third person in line to the throne can only be a good thing?” was what it implied about the state of British democracy. Are we so disillusioned with our democracy, and those who we elect to represent us, that we are ready to walk away from the ballot box and sell our souls and our labour for an idea that is the very antithesis of explicit rule by the people?
The idea of monarchy presents a contradictory picture of human nature. It implies that those elected can be nothing more than mere “common” human beings, while those in the royal line, those appointed to the ultimate non-elected and honorific roles, are gracious and noble, happy and glorious, virtuous and victorious – and with a longevity of carefully constructed and cultured lives to permit the expression of these personal and professional characteristics. It suggests that we can aspire to be only the second-class subjects of a monarch rather than the first-class citizens of a nation-state.
The monarchy is supposed to be an example to us all. Implied in this exemplary royal performance is that members of the extended royal family model what is to be expected of the “citizen class” of the nation. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the concept, the ideal, of “duty”.
Whether we speak of the “big society” or simple citizenship it seems that the ordinary people of the nation are expected to do their duty and to be personally satisfied with doing so, with, perhaps, the incentive of receiving a royal honour on such occasions as the celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday. Yet this idealism is offset by the fact that the roles and duties of the royals seem to be defined and transacted against a background of wealth, privilege and subtle political manoeuvring – hardly the situation-in-life of ordinary people!
It is heartening to consider, however, that what is described above paves the way for the expression and promotion of democratic discontent.
The existence of the British monarchy carries with it the message that our hard fought democracy and its values may be considered as simply not worth fighting for or have the outcomes expected. The existence of the British monarchy and its staunchest supporters and beneficiaries, endeavours to persuade us that our individual and collective lives are enhanced by the retention of and dependence on those whom history has privileged and empowered to rule – directly or otherwise, by accident or design. We tend to forget, however, that we have a choice in the matter.
Whilst it is not unusual to suspect elected Members of Parliament of fraudulent expense claims and other forms of self-aggrandisement, we seem to consider that occupants of and heirs to the throne – with suspect tax arrangements and a history of lobbying of Parliament – are assumed to be above such illicit practices. Expense anomalies for MPs are pounced on, whilst public expenditure on private royal transportation and some royal wedding expenses, including the cost of excessive amounts of security, not to mention the exorbitant and spiralling cost of maintaining a monarchical system, are shrugged off.
This system speaks ill of human possibility and counts against the continuation of an outdated and undemocratic monarchical system.
It is accepted that all people are corruptible – the high and the mighty, the meek and the lowly, those elected and the unelected. But integrity and freedom are worth fighting for. As a great man once said “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. Vigilance and action are required for the realization of a genuine democracy, one that  includes the eradication of the system of inherited wealth, privilege and social esteem known as monarchy – and a “royal family” as its constitutional exemplars.
Is every child born equal? Or, are there some more equal than others? If so, then why? Surely, it remains true and self-evident, that all human beings are born equal and should be treated as such.
RSC
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A right-royal carve-up

An appearance on Desert Island Discs is a sure sign that a personality has indeed arrived at the forefront of public perception. Earlier this year, a former pupil of the Northampton School for Boys, Matt Smith, made such an appearance on the programme. During the programme Matt Smith informed the listening audience that he turned to acting after realizing that, because of suffering a physical injury, a career in professional football was not personally attainable.
I am uncertain as to what kind of football player Matt Smith would have developed into – perhaps an imposing central defender. However, there is no doubt that he has become an actor of real stature, as evidenced by his role as a reincarnate Dr Who and a stately performance as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the television series of The Crown.
My daughter attended the same school and was in the same year/class as Matt Smith. Both studied drama as Sixth Form students. They acted together in several school productions (the play Murder in the Cathedral comes to mind) and, whilst I would admit to some personal bias, my daughter suffered little by comparison. However, even as a sixth form secondary school student, Matt Smith was an exceptional teenage performer and he has gone on to be an excellent adult actor.
But what is the nature of the world he now lives in – away from the publicity that actors such as he attracts? To what extent does acting become a substitute for real life? What world do actors (male and female) actually inhabit? Is there the danger that the world in which they act the role of someone else starts to become their actual world? Do changes of character precede changes in personality?
Is the world of an actor similar to the world of a “royal” personage – a world of seeming make believe and virtual reality, despite the vain-glorious attempts by some royals to appear to make their lives relevant to the population at large. It is reported that the present line of young royals, the offspring of Charles Windsor and Diane Spencer, along with their partners, wish to make the British royals more modern, more “ordinary” and down to earth.
This is hard to believe after watching the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, awkwardly curtsey when being presented recently to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Both were representing the UK at a World War 1 commemoration ceremony in France. They were on the same side! The practice of offering this form of obeisance to royalty is surely one of the first things that should be crossed-off the younger royals’ modernizing wish-list.
It is probably advisable, however, to suggest that one should refrain from holding one’s breath whilst waiting for this change to take place.
After all, not everyone, or even the majority, has the audacity of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, to not only not bow when being introduced to Elizabeth Windsor, but also had the temerity to place his hand on her majesty’s back when he introduced her to others in a line-up of the good and the great down-under.
What is this strange aspect of democracy that tolerates a continuing monarchy that strives to maintain its existence alongside extremes of finance, privilege and social position?
I am convinced that the royals, from Elizabeth Windsor down to the least of their kind, see themselves as having a legitimate, even necessary, place in modern society, despite the reality that, rather than being the so-called “jewels in the crown of British society”, they are in fact an anachronistic throw-back to a previous age of deference, privilege and class inequality.
Perhaps the British royals, for whatever reasons, are seen in the same light as are actors of stage, screen, or whatever – as celebrities to which many common people wish to aspire? If this is the case, then we are responsible for our own fantasy worlds which lead to our eventual demise and humiliation, as individuals and as a nation.
Surely we are required to abjure “false consciousness”, to leave behind the confined cloisters of the “school” (be it preparatory or the Sixth Form) and join the adult – the mature – world, a world in which persons are afforded decency and respect not because of their juvenile attainments, historical background, societal standing, or self-professed importance, but because of their humanity, humility and integrity.
Further, the abdication of the British “royal line” is a necessary step towards the realization of a genuine British democracy and all that goes with it – a reclaiming of the real world and a more mature understanding of what and how society should be?
Insofar as the plethora of movies and TV series assist in making the British (and wider) audience aware of the need for a deeper and more meaningful understanding and realization of this reclamation, then they may have a legitimate role, as a practical persuader – a self-mirror, in the viewing habits of the masses. They can be seen as one stimulus amongst many effecting this realization.
The school, especially those educational institutions of the State that are void of private self-importance, class and financial influence and affluence, is a stage – of preparation, learning, social adjustment and human integration – that can enable young people to separate the real from the virtual, the role and function of the many and from the few, and the value of the wealth of the nation from that of a privileged minority.
However, the purpose of this multi-media insight into the lives of the monarchical menagerie (seen most appositely in the recent television series The Windsors) may be rather more otherwise, even sinister, in its intent.
It may be that the barrage of historical movies, television series and popular literature serve the purpose of inuring the public through a process of constantly thrusting the royals into their faces. They serve to promote both the traditional roles and contemporary disguises of the royals in order to maintain their privileged and un-earned status in society – the continuation of the Windsor’s false consciousness.
In the process, the “royal family”, far from disparaging the multiplicity of programmes featuring their kind, no doubt find satisfaction, perhaps even mirth, in the fact that the combined talents of the British acting fraternity – from Matt Smith to Colin Firth, from Helen Mirren to Claire Foy – unwittingly or otherwise, aid and abet this right-royal carve-up.

RSC

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There is another way

Professor Stephen Haseler died in July, 2017 (see this blog’s tribute to him: The man defined his work, 18 August, 2017). Dr Haseler was a prolific author, writing on issues of law, politics and political parties, international relations, democracy, economics and inequality, powerful and wealthy elites, and, increasingly in his later years, the UK’s role in the European Community. A year on and he is still remembered and appreciated by many.
Prior to his death, Stephen Haseler was the Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University. He was a social democrat and a republican. Professor Haseler’s literary output was impressive, as was the content of his lectures. The extent of his knowledge is clearly visible in the book under present review, Meltdown UK: There is Another Way (2010).
The contents of this book had their precedents in Stephen Haseler’s previous two publications, The Super-Rich (2001) and Meltdown (2008). In many ways, these two books were prescient warnings of what was to come. The central focus of the book under review, therefore, is the great financial crash of 2007-8, an event that had world-changing implications for the British nation – and others.
Professor Haseler tells the story of “how Britain’s leaders – from Thatcher to Blair – through arrogance and recklessness, turned Britain into an ‘island experiment’ for global finance and ‘market madness’. It all came crashing down in the great banking crisis (of 2007-08) – and we are now paying the price.” Stephen Haseler considers that the UK was the laboratory for the whole global neoliberal revolution.
Despite government action in 2008 following the Wall Street crash, emerging changes in the financial system – including bail-outs, part-nationalization, initial stimulus packages – though necessary at that time, have not worked. Banks remain largely unreformed and recovery is proving to be elusive, even to the extent that, at the time of the publication of the book (2010), the West stood on the brink of another, the ‘double-dip’, recession – a consequence of the fact that the 2008 measures did not break sufficiently with the thinking of the governing market consensus at the time.
Professor Haseler’s view, argued in the main body of the book, is that Britain’s contemporary economy is unbalanced, service-based, financialized and highly globalized. The UK is a low-tax-haven, servicing off-shore economies. Further, and precariously, Britain’s political and financial class is ill-prepared to deal with the new and oncoming crisis.
The argument of the book leads from the unbounded power of the City of London, through the route of free trade and global capital, to the attractions of these directions to the British political classes, especially the Conservative Margaret Thatcher and New Labour’s Tony Blair. As Professor Haseler views it, following the great financial crash of 2007-8, the British faced a crisis in jobs, disastrous financial debts, a broken British capitalism, and a ‘socially useless system’.
In a sobering conclusion to the book, “Can Britain make it? Little England in a dangerous world”, Stephen Haseler indicates that the end result of all of this is that “the UK would enter a self-defeating and self-lacerating downward spiral with higher and higher unemployment, threadbare welfare services, dashed expectations and low morale – possibly even social conflict”.
Generally speaking, Stephen Haseler’s predictions are quite accurate, even if a possible exception can be made for ‘higher and higher unemployment’. He suggests a bundle of remedies for the situation.
The British government should use public spending in order to eventually eradicate national debt, even if this presented a financial threat to British public life. The solution to this threat would be to re-engage, re-embrace, social democracy – rejecting the neo-liberal model of economic management – with the objectives of job priority, growth and the extension of wealth in the West. This will require a stronger state that grapples with inequality, as well as radical democratic reform and, as expected of a strongly pro-European, deeper European coordination.
It is also a reforming movement that will need to look at issues involving the continued existence of the British monarchy, the state financing of public (independent) schools, and the system of elections and methods of governance in the UK.
Indeed, Stephen Haseler was a convinced European and passionately believed that the UK leaving the European Union would be a huge mistake. Sadly, he did not live long enough to experience the current debate over Brexit – a debate he would have relished. It is my personal belief that Stephen Haseler was of the view that the UK would eventually hold another referendum on the Brexit question – a second referendum that would overturn the result of the first.
Furthermore, Professor Haseler was convinced that Wall Street and the City of London are no longer in the position where they can lecture on financial management. Both seem to be oblivious to the damage they have caused, and are still causing, to the world economy – the UK including. They should make way for a new course to be charted and followed.
A central contention of this book is that the UK’s economic crisis is the result of the obsession of Britain’s elites with a ‘global role’. Allied to market extremism this becomes a ‘pathology’. There are those within the institutions of the British establishment who still harbour imperialistic illusions. These illusions have not diminished during the thirty year period, under the successive leaderships of Thatcher, Major and Blair, a period of increasing British weakness and vulnerability.
This is a book that clears away the haze of those years. It is a book that shows there is, indeed, another away. It is a book that deserves to be read.

RSC

 

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