Time for change

Within the next few days, parents across the country will be waiting for information that tells them which primary school their children will be assigned. The event is usually termed “primary school offer day in England”.

For many parents the news on the offer day will be good. Their children will be successful in getting a place in a school of their priority choice. Other parents will not be so fortunate and may have to settle for a school that is lower down the list of priorities. Unfortunately, every year there are families that are left with no choice but, contrary to their personal faith or no faith at all, to send their child to a faith school. Alternatively, they may be unable to access their local schools because of religious discrimination.

The National Secular (NSS) society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone’s human rights so that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs. To this end the NSS is holding a conference on Saturday, 1st May 2022, on the subject “Towards an inclusive education in Northern Ireland”.  It is hoped that 2022 could be a turning point for inclusive education in Northern Ireland.

According to research by the NSS, an average of nine thousand pupils a year are assigned faith primary schools against their families’ preferences, and 30% of families live in areas of high or extreme restrictions on the choice of a non-faith primary school.

Over against such situations are described above, it is welcome news to hear that a former Catholic school in Northern Ireland has reopened as an integrated one, meaning it will educate children from various religious backgrounds together, for the first time in Northern Ireland.

Seaview Primary School, in Glenarm, County Antrim, opened recently as Seaview Integrated Primary School.

Integrated schools aim to enrol similar proportions of pupils from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, along with students from other religious backgrounds. Only around seven per cent of pupils in NI currently attend integrated schools, with more than 90% going to schools which are de facto segregated on religious lines.

Plans to transform Seaview Primary’s status were approved by the Northern Ireland education minister in March of this year. The move, which was supported by the NSS’s No More Faith Schools Campaign, was backed by 95% of eligible parents in a vote in 2019. Efforts to integrate schools in Northern Ireland have been ongoing.  Most state schools in NI are either maintained schools – as Seaview was – or controlled schools. Maintained schools predominantly serve children from Catholic backgrounds, while controlled schools predominantly serve children from Protestant backgrounds. Grammar schools are also generally divided by faith.

In recent years there have been several more proposals to integrate schools. Some of these have failed, with church ownership of maintained schools proving a potential barrier to integration.

A major review of education in Northern Ireland, which is currently getting started, is set to consider issues including the integration of schools. A recent poll found that more than seven in 10 people in Northern Ireland support efforts to make an integrated education the norm, with 73% saying they would support their child’s school or their local school becoming integrated.

The coordinator of the NSS’s No More Faith Schools campaign, Alastair Lichten, welcomed Seaview reopening as an integrated school.

He said, “It’s heartening to see a school open which will teach children from different backgrounds together, and value them equally. Seaview will serve as a reminder that meaningful change is possible, even in a strongly segregated education system where religious interests exercise considerable power.

“There is strong grassroots support for integrated education in Northern Ireland, and strong evidence that segregating schools on religious lines creates unfairness and inefficiency. Politicians in NI should take bold action to tackle these problems, and they should be prepared to confront churches’ entrenched interests where necessary.”

With this example of movements towards integrated education in Northern Ireland, and also being a former teacher in a Northampton state secondary school, I was encouraged to examine the situation in my personal local authority, West Northamptonshire. I discovered the following:

*     25% of families have little choice but a faith-based primary school.

That is below the national average of 30%

*     6% of families have little choice but a faith-based secondary school.

That is significantly below the national average of 10%

*     236 pupils were assigned faith schools against their families’ preferences.

In terms of percentage of applicants, that is significantly above the national average

*     35% of schools are faith based.

That is around the national average 

Therefore, the situation which generally exists in most local authorities across the country, is reflected in my local education authority. However, that represents an overall situation where faith-based schools exert a considerable influence on children’s education in England. It also highlights the role of religion in restricting personal freedom in general.

This influence is further strengthened by the fact that “charitable status” is given to wealthy private schools, many of which are faith-based. So too, the presence and influence of the Church of England bishops in the House of Lords cannot be ignored in seeking to explain the extent and power of faith-based education, as well as the controversial issue of the continuing role of collective worship in state education.

The foregoing may not be in the forefront of parental minds as they await, and then receive, offers for schools to which to send their children. It is an anxious time for many of these parents, and this anxiety is nurtured by the fact of the undesirable place afforded state education by faith-based schools. Surely now is the time, as with the Seaview Primary School in Northern Ireland, for a change in the status of faith-based schools in England. The textbook needs to be re-written.

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Two who made a difference

Two memorial services have been held in the past few days.

The first service took place in London. It was for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. He was the consort of the British monarch from Elizabeth’s accession on 6th February 1952, until his death in April 2021, aged 99, making him the longest serving royal consort in history. The second service was held on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, Australia. It was for the former Australian cricket player, Shane Warne, who died, aged 52, on 2nd March this year.

Shane Warne, known widely as “Warnie”, earned cricketing fame as a right-arm, leg-spin bowler. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest, bowlers in cricket history, with few, if any peers in the art of spin bowling. He is often referred to as the “King of Spin”. In 2000 he was selected by a panel of cricket experts as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. Amongst the five, he was the only specialist bowler, and the only one still playing the game of cricket at the time. So too, of the five cricket players listed, he was the only one not to be knighted. One can only surmise that, had he lived on, he may also have been given this honour.

The Duke of Edinburgh died after a lifetime of what could be described as a prolonged period of “loyal service to the monarch and the British people”. He was someone who could identify with the aspirations of the people whom he served, if not be one of them. Whilst much of his time was spent fulfilling the duties of his station, Philip, the father of a daughter and three sons, engaged in a variety of philanthropic endeavours. He served as the President of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from 1981 to 1996, and his International Award Programme (The Duke of Edinburgh Scheme) enabled more than six million young adults to engage in community service, leadership development, and physical fitness activities. In 2011, to mark his 90th birthday, Queen Elizabeth conferred on him the title and office of Lord High Admiral, titular head of the Royal Navy. His last solo event took place on 2nd August 2017. His death was mourned by many throughout the world.

After retiring from cricket, Warne worked for the Shane Warne Foundation that assisted seriously ill and underprivileged children. He was widely praised for this work, and a known trademark of his character was that “he was a bloke who was always available for people.” The charity was launched in 2004 and distributed many thousands of pounds, with activities that included a charity poker tournament. This was so characteristic of the person that was Shane Warne. Unfortunately, due to financial problems, the charity closed in 2017. Warne had three children with Simone Callahan, to whom he was married from 1995 to 2005.

Outside of cricket, Warne lived what could be described as a very colourful life. He once described himself as a person who “smoked a little, drank a little, and bowled leg spin”. He also did a bit of gambling, as well as seemingly having an inevitable, ongoing, and magnetic attraction to women. His name was linked with a variety of celebrity figures in sport, entertainment, and the movies. He once commented that “My years with Elizabeth (the English actress, Elizabeth Hurley) were the happiest of my life.”

Shane Warne was a man of flaws, but not so flawed that he could not recognise them. In the one of the many clips doing the rounds this week, he said: “We are all human, we all make mistakes. Some of us have made more than others. It doesn’t mean we are bad people. Sure, there are things we would like to change along the way – but we can’t so we have got to learn to live with them and confront them and try to learn from them. Through some poor choices I’ve had some pretty tough times that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.” He was certainly a man of the people.

In August 2021, Warne was placed on a ventilator when he contracted COVID-19, “to make sure there were no longer-lasting effects” from the virus. At the time he was quoted as saying that “Australians will have to learn live with the virus.” Within a year Shane Warne had died from a heart attack while on holiday at a villa on the island of Ko Samui in Thailand. His death was mourned by millions of people throughout the world, within the cricketing community and wider.

The funeral service of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The service was conducted by the Dean of Windsor, with the Benediction pronounced by the leading bishop of that church, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The service was attended by royalty, leading figures in politics, the Church, and civil society. It was a religious service, with music appropriate for such a ceremony, most of which was from the sacred and classical traditions. It was entitled “A Ceremonial Royal Funeral”, not a “State Funeral”. Despite the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, state funerals are normally reserved for monarchs.

Warne’s private funeral took place at the St Kilda Football (Australian Rules) Club headquarters in Melbourne on 20th March 2022. The mourners were led by his parents and three adult children, with around 100 persons, including former teammates and sporting figures, in attendance. He was further honoured with a State Memorial event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 30th March. This event attracted around 50,000 people from all walks of life to the MCG, including the ordinary Australians to whom he undoubtedly gave so much sporting and personal pleasure. On this occasion, the music was more reflective of those with whom he had shared many of life’s aspects. Perhaps the one sacred consolation was the final song, Andre Bocelli’s “My Prayer” – sung, with evocative violin accompaniment, to a silent MCG that had once resounded to the cricketing glories of the undisputed “King of Spin”.

Two men from different backgrounds and cultures, each of whom were admired by many, adored by some, who, each in his own peculiar way, lived his life in a way that made a difference to the lives of others. Each with an epitaph worth the value of its words. RIP.

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A relic of the past

Occasionally, an item arrives in the email inbox that enables an individual to do something to correct one of the many of the wrongs, as personally perceived, with the society in which we live. Such was the case recently when I received an email from the National Secular Society (NSS), a movement of which I am a member. The item had to do with a campaign being conducted by the NSS for the Westminster government to abolish the Chancel Repair Liability (CRL), otherwise known as the Chancel Tax.

In what follows I acknowledge the information from the NSS campaign against the CRL as being my main source of information.

The CRL goes back to the time of Henry VIII and ecclesiastical laws that gives some Anglican churches the right to demand local property owners, including domestic landowners, to make financial contributions towards repairs to their church chancels. The ‘Chancel’ is that part of an Anglican church building near the altar. It is an area reserved exclusively for clergy and choir, yet whose repair bills are to be paid from what could be described as ‘public funding’ – from ordinary church adherents who are not so privileged. Further, the chancel liability is due irrespective of the landowners being Anglican, or otherwise, and applies even if they are not (and have never been) Christians!

The situation in respect to the CRL is a long and complex legal process that goes back to the time around 1536 when rectoral land, usurped by Henry VIII from the Roman Catholic Church, was sold off to owners who were normally close to the church. Such owners were designated, without any exclusion clause, as “lay rectors”. It was these owners who were part responsible for the repair of the churches.

The Church of England can demand, in some cases, payment for the full cost of repairs, which can, be, for such ancient church buildings, very substantial, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. A major consequence of this demand by the Church of England is that the presence of the CRL can be harmful, even destructive, for some property owners and require them to take out insurance against the risk of the Church claiming the money for expensive repairs. The liability continues even after the property is sold (the new landowner takes on the responsibility for the liability). Few potential buyers will contemplate taking on the burden of a property with CRL. Consequently, the value of most properties subject to CRL will be blighted and, in some cases, they may even become unsellable. Some homeowners have been understandably traumatised when they discover that their biggest asset had become significantly devalued.

It is instructive to reflect on a case study of when the issue of CRL first hit the headlines in 2003. The story concerned Andrew and Gail Wallbank. The Wallbanks received a demand for almost £100,000 to fund repairs of their local medieval church at Aston Cantlow, a village in Warwickshire. After a protracted legal battle, which was taken right to the House of Lords, the Wallbanks lost their appeal against the demand and faced a £350,000 bill – including legal costs. They were forced to sell their whole farm to pay for it. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Until this case, this legal anachronism had largely been forgotten and had been little exercised for centuries. Many purchasers of land were simply not aware of it. CRL was not generally mentioned in deeds, but despite this anomaly, the original ecclesiastical liability can still be enforced. Following the Wallbanks’ case, the Government introduced a registration procedure enabling CRL to be shown on Land Registry documents. A small advance.

According to the Land Registry, property in around 5,300 parishes in England and Wales is subject to CRL. Not all affected property is close to the church. Notwithstanding, thousands of homeowners around the country have been notified by the Land Registry that they are liable to pay the CRL. Not all of them are aware of how damaging these notices are likely to be to their property… and to their bank accounts!

As long ago as 1985, the Law Commission described the impact of CRL as “wholly capricious” and considered “that this relic of the past is.… no longer acceptable”. Its report concluded: “It is hard today to see any justification for this imposition”. Both the Law Commission and, more recently, the Law Society, have recommended that the only equitable solution is for CRL to be phased out. Even the Church of England’s General Synod overwhelmingly supported the abolition of CRL in 1982. Despite all this, abolition has not taken place. This is primarily because the Church has changed its mind and is not now willing to forgo any revenue to repair its many ancient churches, regardless of the unfairness, hardship and distress caused to many.

The argument generally advanced for the retention of CRL is that it is a civil liability that landowners should have known about, although there are some who obviously who did not. It is possible that the land was purchased at a discount in recognition of the liability, but this will be rare. The Church points out that it is responsible for maintaining 45% of the Grade I Listed Buildings in the country and the majority of all the parish churches are Grade II or higher, that it is unable to maintain these heritage buildings unaided, and so is reluctant to give up any source of income. Surely this is an inordinate concern for money and land. One can only wonder at this continuing attitude of what purports to be the ‘State’ church – the church of the people!

The NSS has highlighted the gross inequality of the CRL to the Government at ministerial level, but it seems clear that the Government is not prepared to initiate any abolition of the CRL, unless requested to do so by the Anglican Church. This seems very much a case of the cart before the horse. Furthermore, whilst the NSS values the great contribution to the English heritage that ancient churches make, it is also of the view that it is completely unfair that money for repairing them can be demanded simply on the grounds of what the Law Commission further describes as “anomalous, uncertain and obscure law.”

The NSS is continuing to campaign energetically for abolition of this deeply unfair and anachronistic liability. Nevertheless, recognising that this may have to be a medium-term goal, it is also seeking to broker solutions which in the meantime mitigate the most inequitable impositions of CRL. This work has been undertaken by conversations, meetings and correspondence with the relevant government Minister and the head of civil law at the Ministry of Justice, as well as with MPs, parliamentarians, specialist lawyers, and other interested parties.

CRL is a gross anachronism and an inequity that has no place in a 21st century democracy. That Church of England parishes alone can impose such an obligation on others, regardless of their religious affiliations, is totally at variance with the modern concept of justice. Despite all this, CRL remains, largely because no government has been prepared either to take over and fund the amounts the Church would levy on landowners for CRL, or to pass legislation to abolish CRL. So, this outmoded system remains a privilege, amongst others, that is afforded an unrepresentative Church of England. It is an ecclesiastical scandal.

For the above reasons, and others, it is surely time that this ancient law is consigned to the annals of history, if not to the Church of England’s rubbish bin, and a fairer way is found to preserve a heritage that is, perhaps, not so common as the Church of England might believe it to be.

RSC

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Turning possibility into reality

The Chagos Archipelago, or Chagos Islands (formerly the Bassas de Chagas, and later the Oil Islands), is “a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 islands in the Indian Ocean about 310 miles south of the Maldives archipelago” (Wikipedia). Diego Garcia is currently the only inhabited island in the archipelago, all of which comprise the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). These remote islands in the Indian Ocean have been under British control for over 50 years.

I wrote about the Chagos Islands in this blog as far back as January 2017 (see Article 103: “Heaping insult on injury”), and February 2017 (Article 104: “Playing long and loose with peoples’ lives”). My attention has recently been refocused on these islands, and the lives of their former inhabitants, in consequence of the renewed attempts by Mauritius, which had jurisdiction over the Chagos Islands prior to British control and is now renewing its attempt to reclaim the islands and their banished citizens.

Mauritius is doing so after the United Nations has recently pronounced that the United Kingdom must now hand back the islands and their people to Mauritian jurisdiction. The UK has refused to do so, citing the security concerns surrounding the United States’ military base on the island of Diego Garcia (authorised by the Wilson administration early in the UK’s jurisdiction over the Archipelago in the 1950’s, and considered by some commentators to be the reason for the British interest in these islands in the first place).

A British journalist, Andrew Hardy, reporting for the BBC, has commented that, after decades of exile since the British government expelled the islanders from their homeland, some of the former Chagossian islanders have returned to the archipelago. However, the visiting islanders will not be able to stay. They have been allowed to pay the islands a brief visit, during which time they can attend to tidying up the ruins of their former homes – once prosperous villages now looking like a lost world, overgrown and decrepit. These Chagossians are, naturally, feeling angry at the treatment they have received from the British, whom, in the words of one visitor, “did not respect the fundamental rights of the people”.

The UK still claims sovereignty over all these islands. However, international law states that the UK must allow all Chagossian islanders to return permanently to the archipelago and must not cling-on to a piece of its old empire. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the Chagossians have a right to return to their islands. Failure to continue to prevent them from doing so is, in the words of Philippe Sands, a legal adviser to the Mauritian government, “to be recognised as a crime against humanity”.

Responding to this criticism of the British position, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office in London said: “Successive British governments have expressed sincere regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed from BIOT in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and we are currently delivering a £40m support package to Chagossians over a 10-year period.”

Against this background, Mauritius is preparing their claim to the Chagos Islands, believing that the British position is untenable, and that the time, during which the islands have been virtually hidden from the international community, should end. In being represented in the group that has recently visited the island, the Mauritian government wishes to challenge and, hopefully, change the existing situation of British hegemony over the islands, so that it does not remain that way for very much longer.

In the meantime, the islanders plan a return visit, and they commit themselves to fervently believing in the possibility that, one day, their return will be permanent.

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The only way

The National Secular Society recently published an article by its Chairman, Stephen Evans, that focused on the plans of the Church of England “to give Anglican church leaders from around the world greater power in choosing future archbishops of Canterbury.” Stephen Evans’ article led with the statement that “the plan by the Church of England serves as a reminder of the need to separate church and state.”

What follows in this article acknowledges the use of information contained in Stephen Evans’ article, but the views expressed are those of this writer.

It seems that a row is brewing in the Church of England (CofE) over a possible change to the process for deciding who becomes the most senior cleric in Anglicanism. The CofE is, of course, the established Church of the UK. As such, the affairs of the CofE are matters of the unwritten constitution of the UK. This has political connotations. Therefore, the current constitutional settlement makes it impossible for the question of who leads the Church of England to be purely an internal matter for the Church – the way it would be for any other religious denomination in the UK.

At present, the decision to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury as the most senior cleric in the CofE, is made by the reigning monarch – the constitutionally appointed Head of the CofE – on the advice of the prime minister. In turn, the Prime Minister has received a shortlist of two names from an ad hoc committee called the Crown Nominations Commission. These names are usually from the community of practising Anglican bishops in the UK, specifically from a CofE bishopric in England. It could be seen, therefore, that the appointment of the person to provide the leadership for not only the British Anglicans, but for Anglicans worldwide, is as much a matter of British politics as it is of spirituality.

The institution of an Established Church is a relic from an age when church and nation were indistinguishable one from another. Today, on any typical Sunday, fewer than 1% of England’s population attend a service in an Anglican church. Further, younger people are increasingly unlikely to identify with any faith. Moreover, as suggested by occasional national surveys of opinion on the matter, a significant majority of the UK’s population don’t identify with any recognised religion. It would make considerable sense, therefore, that this reality should be reflected in a new, secular, constitutional settlement for the CofE.

Not unrelated to this issue is the fact that, as an adult, and whilst he has been the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith. A Roman Catholic PM having an important role in the process of choosing the leader of the CofE! This is rather ironical, and calls into question, not only the current PM’s role in all of this, but also highlights the absurdity of having an established church in a modern pluralistic, multifaith democracy.

Let me return to the matter with which this article began.

The CofE is currently consulting on plans to allow foreign Anglican leaders from churches around the world to be given much greater power in choosing future archbishops of Canterbury. There are many more times the number of Anglicans in other countries worldwide as there are in England. Not surprisingly, therefore, and according to The Times newspaper, “English priests and worshippers have expressed surprise and anger at proposals for a five-fold increase in the power that Anglican churches overseas will be given in nominating the Church of England’s most senior bishop.”

Their concerns centre around whether the proposals might diminish the prospect of a woman, or a supporter of same-sex marriage, being appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury. These specific concerns have no doubt arisen due to the reality that many Anglican churches globally still do not allow women to become bishops, as well as their most steadfast opposition to the idea of conducting gay marriages in church. In general, Anglican churches outside of the UK, and especially in two-thirds world countries, tend to be quite theologically and socially conservative.

But it isn’t only the Anglican faithful who might have cause to be concerned. As previously stated, in consequence of the CofE’s established status, the Archbishop of Canterbury enjoys a significant degree of political power in the UK. This raises important questions about the appropriateness of foreign influence in the British political process.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and his bishops claim 26 seats in the House of Lords of the British Parliament. These seats are predominantly filled by bishops of Anglican dioceses in England – Anglican church bishops from other UK nations have refused to take seats in the House of Lords. This provides the English bishops with unique access to the corridors of political power. The Archbishop of Canterbury is given his own annual debate to lead in parliament, has meetings with the prime minister and government ministers, and enjoys a myriad of other privileged platforms.

These significant privileged platforms extend to state occasions, including royal coronations. This gives the archbishop inappropriate political influence in a country that really should be secular. His position is charged with anointing the British head of state and administering the oath, whereby the monarch vows to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law”.

Irrespective of one’s view of royalty, it is both anachronistic and unjust that a country’s (largely unwritten) constitution should institutionalise the role of a monarch as the head of any religion, never-mind the rapidly diminishing CofE denomination of the Christian religion – and that is only what it is – in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society. Further, the reader may also be aware of the influence over public policy gained through the CofE’s role in state education. One quarter of all publicly funded primary schools in England are run by the Anglican Church. This makes the CofE the largest single provider of schools in the country.

Overseas influence in who fills the role of Archbishop of Canterbury role can only widen the democratic deficit of this ludicrous arrangement. Stephen Evans provides a timely reminder that the current bishops’ bench in the House of Lords has already been described by the incumbent archbishop, Justin Welby, as “the most orthodox since WWII. Greater influence from reactionary bishops from around the world can only further intensify the disconnect between the Church and the country’s increasingly secularised population.”

From what has been stated by the National Secular Society, and its reflection on what has been above-mentioned, the matter of who leads the Church of England – and the wider international Anglican Communion – should really be the business of nobody but the Anglican communion, in the UK or wider. Disestablishing the CofE and ending its privileged role in our state institutions will ensure this is the case.

In conclusion, the closing sentence of Stephen Evans’ article in the NSS Bulletin states that, “Questions about who becomes the archbishop of Canterbury can be a matter solely for Anglicans to decide ­- which is the way it should be.” This writer wholly concurs.

RSC

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Taking a principled stand

Readers of this blog will know that, occasionally, it will include aspects of mailings that I occasionally send to my MP, a member of the Conservative Party presently governing the UK. With the present state of this government, and especially the position of its leader, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, I decided to, once again, email my MP to make my feelings about the matter known to him. In doing so, I was mindful of the campaign of concern on this issue currently being undertaken by the pressure group, 38 Degrees – a people’s movement I support.

This article contains the basic text of the above-mentioned email, albeit written in essay form.

Those reading this article will probably need no reminding that the Conservative government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is currently in a state that could well be described as a siege. There are many reasons for this, and these have been dealt with, not always adequately, by the media.

During the early months of the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 virus, the UK also was in a situation that could also be called a “state of siege”. The British government brought in a series of harsh measures to try and cope with the pandemic, not always quickly enough, or successfully. People could only leave home for work, exercise, or obtain necessary supplies; non-essential shops were closed; large gatherings were illegal. One consequence of such measures was that, apart from being in their family groups, individuals could not be with more than one other individual at any one time. Therefore, such things as attendance at religious worship services, pubs, dances, cinemas, weddings, funerals, family occasions, e.g., birthdays, and a host of other activities, were not permitted.

For me personally, and amongst other things, it meant that I could not be present with my daughter and my son-in-law around the time of the birth of my second grandchild. Moreover, I was unable throughout 2020 (when the PM was associated with garden parties) to be with and hold my granddaughter for the first year of her life. Ongoing relations with my wider family, including my young grandson, were also grossly interrupted, or prevented.

Contravention of these measures were subject to lawful punishments, and there were many ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were severely fined for such contraventions. In the past few weeks, evidence has come to light that the very persons who were responsible for devising the laws of lockdown, and who, daily from lecterns and the pages of the newspapers, were encouraging citizens to observe them, were themselves contravening these laws and recommendations. Amongst such offenders was the UK Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson.

It is commonly alleged that our Prime Minister has been known to lie about government, state, and personal matters. It seems that he is also guilty of his failure to come clean with his knowledge of, and likely participation in, garden parties at No.10 Downing Street, his residence as PM. He and his governmental ministers instituted the “laws of the lockdowns”, laws to which he and his ministers have subjected the entire country. Yet, in the event, they were laws that they themselves were flouting.

In so doing, the Prime Minister has deceived the country, being short with the truth, and demonstrated that he feels that he is above the very rules that his government makes, as well as the general laws of the country. So too, in the past couple of years there have been revelations of how others in his administration have acted in a similar style to the Prime Minister, and seemingly with his knowledge of their actions – and not only in the case of Dominic Cummings!

As with a rapidly increasing number of others throughout the country, I am becoming somewhat immune to the nature of the repetitious claims of the Conservative government that it is acting in the interests of the entire population of this country, when it is evident that these claims are mere words and lack substance. There is much evidence to suggest that Boris Johnson believes, as do others in his administration, that the law, as it stands and as it is pronounced by the government, contains exceptions and exemptions. The latter concerns Mr Johnson himself, and others who believe that their background and office places them in a special and privileged position. Boris Johnson must be held accountable for his words and actions, including those associated with the garden parties held at No.10 Downing Street during the lockdowns of 2020.

Surely it is now time when Conservative members of Parliament, who have enjoyed many years of government, should truly act in the interests of all and be accountable, not only to the Conservative Party, but also to the citizens of the UK. This means putting a stop to the discriminatory behaviour of the Prime Minister, and others in his government, who say one thing and do another. The laws of the country apply, without discrimination, to all. The latter is not just an issue of efficient and effective national governance, it is also a question of governmental ethics.

The false words, inflammatory actions, and failure to act on the part of some government MPs, are rapidly causing a deterioration not only in the confidence of this country in its government, but also in the reputation that, thus far, the UK has enjoyed in Europe and wider. In the view of a growing number of the UK populace, the government of the UK is becoming a national disgrace, indeed, a laughingstock.

I would hope and trust that, as my representative in Parliament, my MP will not condone the words and actions for which, and especially in recent weeks, this Conservative government has received such sustained and justifiable criticism. Further, I contacted my MP with the expectation that he, along with many of his parliamentary colleagues, will take a principled stand against those matters discussed in the above.

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Falling trees in the forest of Westminster

When teaching philosophy of religion with Sixth Form students at a Northampton secondary school, there was the occasional reference to the following philosophical allegory, “When a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” In shortened form, this is an idiom meaning that opinions, thoughts, actions, etc., are ineffective and inconsequential if no one ever knows or hears about them.

Of course, the answer to the allegory usually depends on who you ask. The students to whom I directed the question gave a variety of answers, most of which had some philosophical or scientific merit.

The more scientifically inclined student would suggest that when a tree falls it causes a disturbance in the air pressure field in the forest, and that pressure field emanates away from the fallen tree, thereby affecting other forest habitats. The action of the falling tree creates a disturbance in the fluidic medium, air. That creates a sound, albeit one that may only be heard within the community of the forest. Such a phenomenon is part of the nature of forest life, even if not personally affecting the lives of those discussing the phenomenon.

The more philosophically inclined student would argue that, even as a tree falling in a distant place may not be heard by us, it still makes a sound and impacts its habitat. Similarly, if something happens in the communities we inhabit, we may not directly know or hear about it, but it may, nevertheless, impinge on our lives – to a greater or lesser degree. Such students would further suggest that there is little in human life that is inconsequential or ineffective. The interactive nature of human life is a given.

My thoughts returned to these classroom discussion as I listened recently to the news and media reports about the sleaze and corruption prevalent in contemporary political circles, especially in the present Conservative government. Reference was made to the similar situation that existed during the 1990’s, again focusing on a Conservative government. One journalist linked the two situations as a “filthy miasma steaming off the Thames at Westminster.”

The immediate cause of the current scandal was the revelation that Tory MP Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister, had lobbied government on behalf of two companies that were paying him tens of thousands of pounds very year. In doing so, and evidenced by written sources, it was found that Paterson was guilty of an “egregious breach of the rules” (the words of the Parliamentary commission for standards). What followed has now become history.

I am not a member of the Labour Party. However, my wife is. In due course, my wife received an email from the Team Labour movement which stated that our local MP, a Conservative, was another “who has taken money from outside interests.” This information came with the comment that Conservative MP’s (who together, it is estimated, have received £1.7 million in consultancy fees this year alone) “…think it’s one rule for them and one rule for everyone else.” This attitude, and the practices that emanate from it, seems to have become more prevalent since the Brexit vote. The Team Labour movement was seeking to organise a campaign aimed at the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to “show some leadership and ban MP’s from having consultancy roles.”

Under the circumstances, it seemed appropriate to email my MP about the matter of MP’s receiving sums of money to lobby parliament on behalf of private companies and individuals, or to accept paid consultancies. I duly did so, but without specific reference to the fact that my MP was actively involved in such transactions. What follows is a direct transcription of that email, with a challenge specifically aimed at my MP:

“I write with the wish that you are well.

“This email concerns a matter that effects every person in this country – the matter of earned income, taxation, ethics, and legalities. You will no doubt be aware of the news surrounding Eric Paterson and Geoffrey Cox, and the accusations that have been levelled at both MPs. There seems to be little doubt that both MPs have contravened parliamentary procedures in the event of receiving, what some would consider to be, extortionate fees, in return for their advice to business and legal organisations.

“They have done so whilst still engaged in, and receiving a most adequate salary for, the task of representing their political constituencies in the UK. Both have defended themselves by resorting to the argument that what they have done is not illegal. Whilst in the light of parliamentary investigations, that is now something to be argued over, there is also the question of the ethics involved in their actions. I am strongly of the view that the work of an MP is very much a full-time occupation, representing so many people in a single UK constituency.

“There is also attendance at and participation in debates in the chamber and the work of parliamentary committees, including the preparation that should be given to these, for example, reading of documents, preparing speeches, working with parliamentary aides, and ensuring that decisions of parliament are carried out. Whilst occasionally watching the events in parliament, I am often bemused to see how bare the benches are – on both sides of the House – a bit like a teacher being absent from the classroom when a lesson is to be delivered.

“You will realise, therefore, that I find it hard to accept that MPs have too much leisure time or time to work at other occupations, especially where substantial sums of remunerations are offered.

Indeed, whilst under certain circumstances (but not all), this may be legal, I would wish to question the ethics of the matter. This is particularly so in the cases the offending MP is residing overseas in an offshore cash/tax haven (with a British name to further shame the situation).

“Before retiring as a teacher in a Northampton secondary school, I found that it was necessary to devote all of my professional life to the job for which I was appointed – teaching a full Forms 1-6 curricula, setting and marking homework, setting and marking tests and examinations, researching classroom materials and equipment, taking part in subject, faculty, and whole school meetings, visitation, parent evenings, engaged in ongoing professional training, interviewing/helping students with school work and, not to be neglected, pastoral care.

“This gave me little time for other forms of employment, moonlighting, etc., even from earning additional money from subject coaching/private lessons. As a teacher (incidentally, with graduate, post-graduate, and professional degrees), I was not in a minority – the job demanded this amount of dedication, skill, and attention to the details of the occupation. Are you going to argue that the work of an MP is any less demanding than that of a teacher? If so, then I would suggest that MPs are paid the salary of a teacher, and a teacher is paid the current equivalent of an MP’s salary – I am under no delusions as to which salary level I would prefer!

“I would add that, if the above is the case, then MPs should cease regarding themselves with the self-importance that is all too currently evident – especially on government benches, not to mention a decision to refuse a salary increase when next it is due. I would imagine that all MPs, in receipt of sums of money from outside their specific work as an MP, would, nevertheless, not refuse a salary increase when one is offered; whilst, at the same time, voting against an increase for public service (e.g., nurses, and social workers on low salaries/wages)!

“I would like to believe that, as my MP, you would agree with most, if not all, of what I have stated in the correspondence. Notwithstanding, I would appreciate your comments on the matters discussed.

Yours Sincerely”

To date, I have not received a reply from my MP. Therefore, I am not at all sure what disturbances of the air will have occurred in my MP’s parliamentary office when he received the above email from me. The only fallen parliamentary figure, the single tree in the forest of Westminster, that I have heard of so far is named Owen Paterson. No doubt, the sight and sound of others will soon be heard. This is not the topic of scientific speculation or philosophical thought, it is a matter of ethical, effective, and purposeful government.

The sounds of silence have been heard. The broken, soiled, decaying parliamentary habitat has been broken into. The stench has been smelled; the destructive action has been seen; the agonising sounds of former silence have been heard.

RSC

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A Catalyst for Change

It is a topic that is, once again, beginning to be raised in the news media and discussed across the public sphere. For many, however, it remains a subject that should rear its head only in private conversation. It was, and still is, a phenomenon that had the power to divide the British nation. The division continues; the reference is, of course, to Brexit.

In the years since 2016 and the EU Referendum, there has been the gradual awakening as to the direction and consequences of Brexit. Along with a developing public awareness of the implications of the UK’s secession from the European Community, there has appeared a growing number of books describing, critically analysing, and forming additional conclusions about Brexit. One such conclusion posits the growth and influence of English nationalism as a chief protagonist in the movement towards and the eventual success of a Brexit outcome.  

It is generally agreed that, prior to the Brexit referendum, there was, in the words of one commentator, “a widespread doubt as to whether English nationalism existed at all, at least beyond a small fringe. Since then, it has come to be regarded as an obvious explanation for the vote to leave the European Union.”

Since 2016, when the decision was taken by the British people to leave the EU, successive opinion polls have shown a continuing mixed response to the UK’s decision. So too, these polls have raised doubts about the extent of the continuation of an English commitment to the union of the United Kingdom itself. “Yet…”, in the opinion of Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones, the two academics who co-authored the book under review in this article, “…even as Englishness is apparently reshaping Britain’s place in the world and perhaps, ultimately, the state itself, it remains poorly understood.”

The title of this book, Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain, gives an indication as to what it is about. A major thesis of the book is that “…the rise Englishness, and its impact on British constitutional politics, has for too long been an under-explored, semi-secret, phenomenon.” Writing in The Irish Times, the polemicist, journalist, and drama critic, Fintan O’Toole (himself the author of “Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain”), expressed the view that “What makes the crisis of British politics so strange is that at its heart is a force that dare not speak its name: Englishness.”

The present book’s purpose may be seen, therefore, to be an exploration of what “Englishness” means, from where and whence has it arisen, what are its manifestations, as well as its past, present, and future consequences – for both England and the wider United Kingdom.

The co-authors of the book are a Scot, Ailsa Henderson, and a Welshman, Richard Wyn Jones. It may be thought by some would readers of this article that, with such authors, it merely presents a Celtic analysis of the phenomenon known as Englishness. However, in mitigation, it needs to be said that the sources used by the writers cross many national boundaries, contain evidence from a variety of disciplines, and has many references that would deflect criticisms suggesting bias, prejudice, and the presence of “fake news”.

Henderson and Wyn Jones are of the view that, despite the central role the phenomenon has played in recent British history, including the possibility that its reality is reshaping the nature of the British state and its place in the world, Englishness remains, as stated above, “poorly understood.” This book is a major contribution to a possible explanation of this understanding.

A major source of data for the book is The Future of England Survey (originally published in 2011 and republished many times since). This is a specially commissioned public attitudes survey programme exploring the political implications of English identity. The use of this data and contributions from many of its writers and commentators, demonstrates that, for Henderson and Wyn Jones, Englishness has its basis in English nationalism.

According to the authors of the book, however, it needs to be understood this is not a nationalism that outrightly rejects Britain and Britishness. It is, rather, “a nationalism that combines a sense of grievance about England’s place in the United Kingdom with a fierce commitment to a particular vision of Britain’s past, present, and future.” Indeed, the juxtaposition between England and Britain in this book – what has been termed its “Janus-faced nature” – is, according to the book’s authors, the “key to understanding not only English nationalism, but also to understanding the ways in which it is transforming British politics.”

This book is, therefore, invaluable in helping the reader to understand why it was that the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Indeed, one commentator has said that this book should “be read by anyone – and especially every politician – who wishes to understand the forces driving British politics to its current febrile, fractured, state.” Therefore, Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain, joins books by Stephen Haseler, Dennis MacShane, David Edgerton, Gavin Exler, and others, who have in recent years written on the nature of the transformation that has occurred in contemporary English and UK politics, as well as the place and role of the UK in modern global affairs.

For those who may not be confident of or bothered about pouring over statistics and evaluating data, this book is highly informative and would provide satisfaction in being read for its important single and multiple statements, summary passages, and conclusions. These are to be found throughout the book, but essentially in the concluding pages.

This reviewer found the closing paragraph of Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain to be most apposite and instructive. Indeed, the paragraph is worthy of being quoted:

Looking to the future raises an uncertain and concerning prospect. For those in England who cleave to the traditional and still-dominant view of their own national identity and national destiny, there is the danger that by their actions they could end up undermining the very basic of their own world view, not only because their efforts to leave the external (European) Union may well result in their cherished view of Britain’s place in the world being exposed as a conceit, but, in the process, because they may also undermine the UK itself. And, whilst it is true that a perhaps surprising number seem not to be overly concerned about the latter, it is hard to imagine that any break-up would not be the source of regret and recrimination.”

The enquirer may start by reading this conclusion, and then reading the book with an appreciation of its aims, purposes, and eventual goal; or begin at page one and read to the conclusion of the book, deepening, and widening an understanding of the overall thesis which determines the conclusion. Whichever method of approach is used, the book will impress with its thesis that Englishness has indeed been a catalyst for change in the life of the people of the British Isles.

The book will repay attentive reading and thoughtful consideration, especially, but not only, for those with an interest in the deliberations, directions, and developments in British political life.

RSC

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To be, or not to be – a hero

It has happened again. They are being talked about, feted in the news media, having television programmes celebrating their achievements, and awarded medals, titles, and status. They have been a constant and much-discussed feature of the NHS, then their presence was felt in football circles, and particularly, the European Nations Cup. Now the focus is on their return from the Tokyo Olympic Games. I speak, of course, about our “heroes” – hospital nurses, doctors, auxiliary workers, elderly care home staff, athletes, male football players; and the list could on.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given the British, and many other nations, the opportunity of exercising the language of heroism in a way that almost parallels that of military campaigns. What might have once been regarded as activities associated with duty have now become the actions of heroes.

However, heroic activity has not only been focused on NHS workers. We have used the word for English football players who were runners-up in the European Nations Cup. Just as the UK Olympic Games team gained silver and bronze medals, as well as gold, heroic status was ordained not only for winners but also for those who simply, but importantly, participated. Echoes of the situation with the work force of the NHS.

It has been said that the word “hero” is slippery, “with its significance constantly on the move”. I can recall a time when the word was used to singularly pertain to military personnel – although even here the idea of “duty” was never far from the discussion. In more recent years, the application of the word “hero” has included wider nuances, to a point where one is left to wonder whether it has been diluted of its peculiar understanding in contemporary discourse. So, it is instructive to return to some of the more basic understandings of the word.

A study of the word would invariably inform that hero is derived from the Greek word “heros”. It is particularly associated with the idea of ancient myths in Greek culture. These Greek heroes were celebrated for their great inventions and bold exploits. They were often associated with divinity. In Homer’s “The Iliad”, for example, the mother of the hero Achilles, was a goddess. The heroes themselves, however, were often of dubious character. Achilles was a brutal, vengeful, mass murderer. The activities of heroes were questionable. Odysseus, the main character of that other famous Homeric contribution to Greek literature, “The Odyssey”, was resourceful and long-suffering; but he was also arrogant, deceitful, and a coward.

There are noble tales associated with the Greek heroes. In Greek mythology there is the priestess of Aphrodite who killed herself when her lover Leander drowned while trying to swim the Hellespont to be with her. Hercules was such an illustrious person that he became a demi-god -supposed to be exalted, after death, to a place among the gods.

Whilst discounting an American understanding of “hero” which refers to a large sandwich made of a long crusty role that is sliced lengthwise and filled with meats and cheese (plus other condiments), the word has generally focused on the principal character in a play or a movie, or a novel or poem. The heroic figure may be someone who fights for a cause, someone distinguished by strength of character, nobility, or an exceptional degree of courage. An example of this could be the pilots, the heroes, who took part in the Battle of Britain.

Otherwise, a hero could be a person identified as possessing distinguished valour or enterprise in danger; one who shows fortitude in suffering or is the central personage in any remarkable action or event. It has been said that “Each man is a hero and oracle to somebody.” No doubt, the same could be applied to a woman. Hero worship, extravagant admiration for great women and men, can be likened to ancient heroes. “Hero worship exists, has existed, and will forever exit, universally among humankind.”

Now, something of the above may be identified in the discovery and description of modern-day heroes. One writer on culture has said that “Language is unstable, it gathers new force, sheds old connotations.” So, if we step back from our contemporary use of the word hero, we might discover that there are paradoxes in our use of the word.

Many of those who have gathered in the streets over the past year or so to publicly show our appreciation of NHS workers by clapping, are the same people who have voted for governments that have cut the financial provision for the NHS, or would oppose pay rises for NHS workers, or who have agreed to the imposition of austerity on many British citizens. Does clapping act as an opiate of the people?

Those who are elated by the performance of British athletes may also be persons who decry public funds (that is, taxpayer’s money) being used to professionalise numerous sports that do not strongly figure in the public imagination. Those who attach heroic significance to current football players and teams – endlessly following every on-field exploit and cataloguing numerous off-field rumours – forget that no British football team has won the final of a European Nations championship, not to mention World Cup, since the often-described “heroics” of the 1966 English World Cup winning squad. Other examples could be forthcoming.

It is to be considered that the danger of using the language of heroism is that it softens or silences “critique and debate”. After all, is it not true that heroes are not supposed to complain? They must not speak out about inadequacies existing in their field of service and achievement; they must be triumphant in the face of adversity; they must mask disappointments with false shows of grace. That is the expected trade-off consistent with the recognition, awards, and exaltations associated with their exploits.

In short, we should expect heroes to be professional, when all around them amateurism, inadequacy, and mediocrity reign. It is also true that the truly heroic person is one who performs with “a sense of vocation and professionalism” – not out of some heroic sense of sacrifice or desire for recognition and reward.

Charlotte Higgins, a journalist with The Guardian newspaper, tells the story of a GP based in Yorkshire who, during the public display of support for NHS workers, went out of her front door at 8 p.m. on a Thursday – but only, she said, “out of politeness.” The GP hated being called a “hero”. Her hard work on the job – what others regarded as her heroism – was precisely what the GP herself regarded as unheroic. “If I was a hero,” she said, “I would stand up and call out the government, but I am not, and I go to work and bumble on. A bit like the soldiers led by buffoons who were told to go over the top to be greeted by gunfire – except I am highly trained and should know better.”

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Not fit for purpose

The British Republican Movement has a documentary film on its new You Tube channel. The film is called “The Man Who Shouldn’t be King”. The documentary is, of course, about the man, Charles Windsor, who, in the not-too-distant-future, as King Charles III, is expected to replace his mother, Elizabeth Windsor, as the British Head of State. Republic’s documentary film focused on Charles Windsor, the Duke of Cornwall, and the Duchy of Cornwall.

Historically speaking, the Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate established in perpetuity by Edward III in 1337. The purpose of the arrangement was to provide independence for his son and heir, Prince Edward. A charter ruled that each future Duke of Cornwall would be the eldest surviving son of the monarch and heir to the (then English) throne. The current Duke of Cornwall, Charles Windsor, HRH the Prince of Wales (another title established in perpetuity), is the longest serving Duke in history. The very substantial revenue from the estate is used to fund the public, private, and charitable activities of The Duke and his children.

With the views and comments of experts, and the opinions of ordinary people, the film shows how Prince Charles is “unfit to be king and how his failures are the failures of the monarchy he inhabits.” One of the commentators seen and heard in “The Man Who Shouldn’t be King”, Dr John Kirkhope, states that “the Duchy of Cornwall is oppressive, they’re threatening, and the people are afraid of them.” A variety of experts and commentators question Charles’s conduct as Duke of Cornwall, his interference in politics and public debate, and whether his character is suited to high office.

The overall answer given by the programme is that we, the British people, need to choose our next head of state, and not have one imposed on us according to the principle of hereditary monarchy, self-serving royal practice and expectations, and anachronistic conventions.

There are, of course, other reasons as to why Charles Windsor is unfit to be the British Head of State. According to existing rules and protocols, the Head of State is also the Head of the Church of England – the Established Church in the UK. As a known adulterer and divorcee, Charles Windsor should be excluded from ecclesiastical office in the Church of England, and, by association, political office as Head of State. In view of the growing multi-national and multi-faith nature of British society, the indivisibility of the two offices is, in any case, a highly contentious matter.

I reflected on Republic’s You Tube documentary as I, unavoidably, listened to the recent news of the wedding of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. If ever there was a person who is unfit for public office, it is Boris Johnson. During his period, since 2019, as the person filling the top public office in the land, as well as his previous occupancy of other public roles in journalism and politics, Mr Johnson has proved as unworthy of these positions as anyone in recent memory.

Scandal upon scandal has accompanied Johnson, a charge sheet that the journalist Jonathan Freedland considered, “might well have felled another person years ago.” Boris Johnson is nothing, however, if not a survivor. His public office might well be called public “offense”. His recent marriage to his Downing Street live-in partner, and the mother of the latest in a growing line of offspring, took place at Westminster Cathedral, the prime edifice of the presence, if not ecclesiastical power, of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK.

Boris Johnson was born into the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian faith. Perhaps with visions, if not expectations, of a future life in public service – if not directly in politics – during his days as a student at Eton, Johnson renounced Roman Catholicism for the establishment Church of England. His marriage in a Roman Catholic church was, therefore, something of a surprise. What is also surprising is that the church permitted such a marriage of a divorcee, known adulterer, apparent father of illegitimate children, and, perhaps most blatant of all indictments, a person who had formerly renounced his Roman Catholic faith! Special considerations are said to have been discussed. Perhaps, after all, there is one rule for some, and another rule for others – even in a supposedly sacred organisation. (It is rumoured that the music at the secret wedding of Boris Johnson to Carrie Symonds, was provided by the group “Fiddlin’ About”. How appropriate!)

Notwithstanding any, or all, of the above, Boris Johnson is to be associated with a long list of political and personal scandals, so well described in a recent Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland. The most recent, of course, is his refusal, “whilst the Westminster village obsessed over soft furnishings and the precise class connotations of the John Lewis brand”, to divulge the person, or organisation, that first paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. This was not the first time he failed to disclose the source of his privileges, even whilst not holding back on the public vaunting of his privileged existence.

The Prime Minister’s personal privileges smack against such gross decisions as his government’s slashing of the overseas aid budget to UN projects. Scandal too is attached to delayed decisions to lockdown the country during the initial and subsequent phases of the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the indecision over border controls – a situation described by one commentator as “putting a double bolt and extra chain on the front door, whilst leaving the back door swinging wide open.”

The list of scandals occurring during Johnson’s watch continues. The seeding of coronavirus in nursing homes by returning elderly hospital patients to their nursing homes without first being tested for coronavirus; the doling out of PPE contracts to the mates of government politicians; and the abject failure of the expensive test-and-trace programme.

Through all of this, there was Johnson’s refusal to sack government ministers, including Robert Jenrick (for a favourable planning decision that saved a Tory donor millions of pounds in local taxes), the Home Secretary Priti Patel for several offences (including that of breaking the ministerial code), Gavin Williamson for oversighting a chaotic education department, and Matt Hancock for continually misleading the public about the state of the nation under the pandemic (including the mis-information regarding testing of the above-mentioned rest home residents returned to their institutions from hospital)

There is also the question as to the extent of Johnson’s understanding of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. He failed to attend a significant number of Cobra meetings through 2020, ostensibly as he was hidden away at his Chequers residence concentrating on the writing of his autobiography.

Then, of course, there was the Mr Johnson’s protocol that put a border down the Irish Sea, even after he had vowed never to do this, or put the Irish membership of the union in peril; his internal market bill that declared its intention to break international law; his illegal suspension of parliament – overturned by the supreme court as a violation of fundamental democratic practice. Added to this were his previous lies as he added his jovial personality, and self-serving objectives, to the Brexit campaign. These lies included the NHS £350m on the side of the bus, the story that lucrative trade deals with numerous countries were just waiting to happen post-Brexit, and the news that Turkey was poised to join the EU, with the UK powerless to do anything about this.

Boris Johnson was guilty of “racist musings” against the President of the USA, Barack Obama, his designation of Muslim women as “bank robbers and “letterboxes”, and Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. He ran Spectator newspaper articles castigating Liverpool FC fans at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. It is no surprise that Johnson has been fired from both the Tory front bench and the Times newspaper – both times for lying.

For many, however, the biggest of Boris’ bungles was the appointment of Dominic Cummings as his top adviser at Downing Street. Cummings was, of course, the person the “Leave Campaign” employed to successfully mastermind the Brexit operation during the EU Referendum process. That seems a long time ago and, thankfully, the tide now seems to have turned in the outward direction for this Machiavellian figure in British politics. It remains to be seen what impact the accumulation and accounting of these scandals will eventually register with the British public, especially when it is viewed against the background of the strange and continuing affection of so many citizens of the USA for that walking scandal of a President, Donald Trump!

Who bears the responsibility for the person that is Boris Johnson becoming the leader of a once-respected Conservative Party, the party that took the UK out of the EU? Who and what is the real Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister of a British Government that governs with seeming impunity, in a Parliament that ill-deserves its large majority in the House of Commons? Moreover, a Prime Minister surrounded by multiple scandals, and who is, so often, the judge and jury of his own progress and fate.

Is it the system of government, or the characters who compose it – or both, as one inevitably impinges on the other? Does the fault lie with a parliamentary opposition that seems unable to approach its task with strong conviction, unalloyed effort and unity, and relish for the task? Does the scandal lie with me, you, and the British public who are seemingly seduced by the privileged, buffoonish, Boris Johnson – whose unkempt appearance seems to reveal a similar mind? Is it a testimony to the contemporary mind-set that Johnson’s appeal seems to resonate with a country that increasingly looks to the past for meaning and fulfilment, but fails to find answers in historical institutions such as the Church, royalty, and other established institutions?

Late last year, the people of the United States began a fightback against the four years of reckless, rationale-defying, popular and personality-centred government of the Trump mal-administration. But, even so, lies and half-truths remain like a cancer in the American body politic. However, as much as we, the people of the UK, can learn from the American experience, we cannot allow ourselves to be pre-occupied with affairs across the pond. This is surely not a time in the history of this country when we should be following the fads, fashions, and follies of the USA.

What can, and should, be done, about the automatic assumption of a new monarch – in the event, as shown by examination and analysis, a man not fit for purpose – when the present Queen passes on? What action can be brought against the ownership of a Duchy of Cornwall that keeps UK citizens in perpetual dependence upon the privileges and power of the past? What can, and should be done to alleviate the shame on us, the people of the UK, for allowing a shameless man the license to manage a government in our name – a man and a government also not fit for purpose?

RSC

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