An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Thursday, January 30, 2003  

Five get a convincing explanation
Camping and tramping fiction shared an assumption that the entire British countryside was a safe playground for middle-class youngsters. The background to that assumption was the great agricultural depression which began at the turn of the century and which left rural England almost empty. Since the First World War the young had left the countryside in their thousands, leaving a beautiful and rather run down rural landscape. This was infintely appealing to the middle classes, who could see it as a lovely playground full of history and mystery, and suitable for hiking, boating and all manner of adventures for children.

The rural background to all those friendly and welcoming fictional farmers was, in reality, one of economic and social stagnation in which farmers had to supplement their incomes in any way they could. When farmers began to prosper and agriculture became intensive, an entire of genre of children's fiction was effectively wiped out by Common Market farming subsidies. And at about the same time the Beeching cuts closed down the branch lines that had taken so many fictional children by steam to their favourite holiday destinations.

Victor Watson Reading Series Fiction (2000)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:07 p.m.

Sunday, January 26, 2003  

Things they say
He made a great contribution to public life, especially in France.
John Major on President Mitterand

Mr Kinnock's talks with President Reagan could hardly be described as a meeting of minds.
BBC Radio 4, Today Programme

Of course we are not patronizing women. We are just going to explain to them in words of one syllable what it is all about.
Lady Olga Maitland

In 1948, a Washington radio station contacted ambassadors in the capital, asking what each would most like for Christmas. Britain's representative, Sir Oliver Franks, mistook the request.

French Ambassador: Peace throughout the world.

Soviet Ambassador: Freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism.

Sir Oliver: Well, it's very kind of you to ask. I'd quite like a box of crystallized fruit.

All from Matthew Parris and Phil Mason Read My Lips (1997)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 9:54 p.m.

Thursday, January 23, 2003  

National Vocational Qualifications
Accrediting qualifications as NVQs involved slow passage through the NCVQ bureaucracy, but by May 1995 the target for coverage was all but met: 95 per cent of occupations were covered by standards, and 794 different sorts of NVQ had been created and accredited. Well over a century before, Trollope had lampooned the academic cleric Mr Jobbles, who dreamed of a day when the whole world was "divided into classes and sub-classes [and] ... The greengrocer's boy should not carry out cabbages unless his fitness for cabbage-carrying had been ascertained." Mr Jobbles's day, it seemed, had finally arrived. But in the workplace itself the plot was going heavily awry.

As NCVQ's tenth birthday approached, it was clear that at least half of its brand-new NVQs were effectively unwanted and unused: 364 had never been awarded to a single candidate, while another 43 had involved a single award to a single candidate. For many others, the number awarded fell short of double figures.

Alison Wolf Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth (2002)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:32 p.m.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003  

The strange death of Tory England
The self-destruction of British conservatism by New Right ideology and policies is best interpreted as an exemplification of a central neo-liberal theme - the importance of unintended consequences in social, economic and political life.

The radical free market policies implemented in Britain since 1979 have had as one of their principal effects an unravelling of the coalitions of economic interests and the social hierarchies on which pre-Thatcher conservatism depended. In sweeping away the postwar settlement which all major parties endorsed for a generation, Thatcherism demolished the social and economic base on which conservatism in Britain stood, and created several of the necessary conditions for a prolonged period of Labour hegemony.

The medium-term effect of neo-liberal Conservative policy in has been to destroy ethos in institutions such as the Civil Service and the National Health Service by remodelling them on contractualist and managerialist lines. In addition to squandering a large part of Britain's patrimony of civilized institutions, this neo-liberal project of refashioning social life on a primitive model of market exchange has speeded the delegitimation of established institutions of such as the monarchy and the Church.

Further, by stripping democratic local government in Britain of most of its powers and building up the unaccountable institutions of the Quango Sate - the apparatus of committees appointed by central government to oversee the operation of the newly marketized public services, which is now larger in manpower and in the resources it allocates than democratic local government in Britain - the Conservatives have marginalized their own local party organizations and thereby contributed to the steep and swift decline of the Conservative Party itself ...

As for Tory England - that rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences and inherited institutions that Tory statecraft has successfully protected and reproduced for over a century by its skilful adaptation to democratic institutions in Britain - it is now as good as dead.

John Gray Endgames: Questions in Late Modern Political Thought (1997)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:49 p.m.

The golden age of railways
In the public mind, fear of the railway accident was combined with a deeply felt hostility toward the railway companies. It was widely believed that almost all railway accidents were unnecessary, being preventable by safety measures that the government was unwilling to force on the railways, and which the companies themselves were too miserly to implement. Newspapers and journals were relentlessly hostile to the railways and their directors. In the opinion of the Saturday Review of August 1862, railway accidents were hardly accidents at all, but "might be more correctly described as pre-arranged homicide," given the "system of mingled recklessness and parsimony" that it accused the railways of operating.

Ralph Harrington "The railway accident: train, trauma, and technological crises in nineteenth-century Britain" In Mark S. Micale and Paul Lerner (eds) Traumatic Pasts: History, Psychiatry and Trauma in the Modern Age, 1870-1930 (2001)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:22 p.m.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003  

Divorcing dinosaurs
In 1986 a book was published to give advice to children whose parents were getting divorced. Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families by Laurence Krasny Brown and Marc Brown was illustrated with cartoons of dinosaur parents who fought, drank too much and broke up.

It offered children advice such as: "Try to be honest if they ask you questions; it will help them make better decisions", or "Living with one parent almost always means there will be less money. Be prepared to give up some things."

What the book was actually doing was asking children to be sympathetic, understanding, respectful and polite to their confused, unhappy parents; the sacrifice was going to have to come from the children. They were expected to be more mature.

In the world of divorcing dinosaurs, the children rather than the grown-ups were to be pillars of patience, restraint and good sense.

Melanie Phillips All Must Have Prizes (1996)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:28 p.m.

Monday, January 20, 2003  

Modern industry
Compared to most other industries, the crime control industry is in a most privileged position. There is no lack of raw material, crime seems to be in endless supply. Endless also are the demands for the service, as well as the willingness to pay for what is seen as security. And the usual industrial questions of contamination to not appear. On the contrary, this is an industry seen as cleaning up, removing unwanted elements from the social system.

Nils Christie Crime Control as Industry (1993)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:13 p.m.

Sunday, January 19, 2003  

Remembering the 1970s
And there's something else that has been almost completely forgotten by those who call the Thatcher eighties greedy. It was a time, the seventies, of remarkable selfishness. There was no age of community-mindedness before her. A repeated refrain at the time was that "I'm all right, Jack" had become the order of the day, and it was a reaction against this selfishness that helped sweep her into power. Her message as Opposition leader - I was to write it often enough - was that the Conservative Party would stand up for people "who care about their country". The message was not (as she later carelessly said and never believed) that there was no such thing as society; quite the contrary: it was trade-unionists who were called anti-social.

Matthew Parris Chance Witness (2002)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 4:57 p.m.

How to be English
At the heart of the album was a John Major-ish vision of a traditional English village green - part of a litany of what Ray calls "things that are really uncool, and not just English things, either. Some of the songs on that album are about really square things. In a strange way, that's part of the fabric of this country: what we are is also what we're slightly ashamed of."

Peter Doggett on Ray Davies Mojo magazine (February 2003)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 4:56 p.m.

Democracy explained
In democratic countries you get things done by compromising your principles in order to form alliances with groups about whom you have grave doubts.

Richard Rorty Achieving Our Country (1998)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 4:54 p.m.

The effect of Marx
Marxism was not only a catastrophe for all the countries in which Marxists took power, but a disaster for the reformist Left in all the countries in which they did not.

Richard Rorty Achieving Our Country (1998)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 4:54 p.m.