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The fall of the Temple of Reason

Terrible news from Paris of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral. As I write, I understand that not all is lost of this masterpiece. The collapsed spire was a 19th Century addition, but the damage must be immense.

When I was last in Paris, over a decade ago, I recall looking at Notre-Dame and shuddering as I thought of it as ‘destroyed’ (not that I believe that there are ‘holy’ places), as, during the French Revolution, it was closed as a cathedral and was declared a Temple of Reason. When egalitarians appeal to reason, you know heads will roll.

There followed years of neglect, before, AIUI, in 1905, the French State (which had assumed ownership), effectively provided the cathedral to the Catholic Church as a permanent ‘tenant’. The cause of the fire may well be nothing more sinister than incompetence, perhaps we will never know. I would like to think that commercial aviation levels of caution would go into fire precautions in such a building, (perhaps they did) which, whatever your view of the use or purpose of it, is surely one of the great buildings on Earth. However, the neglect under State ownership has continued, and yesterday’s cathedral was a revived corpse of the pre-Revolutionary building.

It is pretty shameful that neither Hitler nor the Kaiser managed to do as much damage to Notre Dame as the fire. It had survived them, and rioting Hugenots. In WW2, it was relatively unscathed. Some lost mediaeval glass was, I understand, replaced by abstract crap in the post-War period, so the scoundrels were already circling.

Perhaps the fire is a Randian moment, wasn’t there a train crash in a tunnel for which ‘no one is responsible’? Is the burning down of a ‘temple of reason’ an allegory for France after its great economists are all-but forgotten?

Does it matter if, in rebuilding Notre-Dame, stone that is geologically ancient is replaced by other just as ancient stone, carved a few mere centuries later? Should, as with the Campanile in Venice, the order be: ‘Com’era, Dov’era.‘. ‘How it was, where it was.‘?

Or will something more ‘inclusive’ replace it or be grated on to it?

The King of Spain is belatedly singeing many a landlord’s beard…

Mr Ed: This post is made on behalf of Paul Marks, the Sage of Kettering, as he appears to have some issues with posting. I have put my pennyworth in.

Centuries ago the Kings of Spain forbad landlords to remove tenants at the end of their tenancy contract (at least in Castile) – the Kings wanted to be seen as the “friends of the poor”. This was the true start of the decline of Castile and it spread to Latin America – where landlords just became interested in collecting-the-rent rather than improving their estates (as it was not lawful for them to remove tenants). Soon rents became “customary” – fixed under the “just price” doctrine, close kin of the “fair wage” doctrine.

Spain and Latin America lagged behind the Common Law world not because Spanish is somehow an inferior language to English – but because Spanish law became inferior to the Common Law which was based upon Freedom-of-Contract not “Social Justice” with its “just price”, “fair wage” and “security of tenure” (regardless of contract). The government of British Prime Minister Theresa May now seeks to copy the “Spanish Practices” of centuries ago – by making contracts meaningless. For example, if a tenant can not be removed after the term of their contract (their tenancy) is over then only a fool would let out a property in the first place. What is intended to “reduce homelessness” will end up increasing it.

Mr Ed: This piece on Conservativehome sets out the aptly-named Secretary of State’s view, Mr Brokenshire, he is indeed going to scour the Shires, and the towns and cities too. Someone said rent control was the second-surest way to destroy a city after carpet bombing.

James Brokenshire: Why we have decided to abolish no fault evictions

The legal position (England and, I think, Wales but it may be devolved) is not set out very well in the piece, so the explanation on the government’s website is here. Basically, the legal mechanism is a Section 21 notice, whereby a property owner can evict a tenant after a 6-month tenancy has ended, i.e. it has run its minimum term, or when it is of indefinite duration. This is to be abolished, leaving in place the much less effective Section 8 Notice, whereby tenants can play cat-and-mouse by not paying rent, then paying arrears and stopping an eviction, amongst other things.

Bastiat’s ‘What is seen and what is not seen’ might seem to be the issue here, but I fear that there are those who will not ‘see’ when it does not suit them, and unlike Nelson, it is from cowardice and calculation.

Of course, if the Sage is right, Mrs May is making England that little bit more like Venezuela, singeing Mr Corbyn’s beard and stealing his clothes.

Some examples of promises that Remainer MPs made to get elected and then broke

At the height of the Watergate scandal Nixon’s press secretary was a man called Ronald L Zielgler. He became famous for declaring with a straight face that only his latest statement was “operative” and that all previous statements contradicting it were thus “inoperative”.

The following statements by prominent Remain-supporting MPs are all inoperative:

Heidi Allen

This is what the Right Honourable Heidi Allen MP promised to the voters of South Cambridgeshire to get them to adopt her as a candidate at her hustings in 2017:

This is democracy. We might not all like the result. I was a remainer, but the minute we start ignoring the democratic will of the people in this country we are slipping very quickly towards the sort of banana republic I don’t want to live in.

*

The referendum was a different kind of vote. It was a national question, it wasn’t a local one, and I know that probably the majority of people in this room tonight will think “well, we don’t want it”, but we can’t forget that this was a national vote. And I think it’s wrong for us as democratic leaders to be picking and choosing the results that we don’t like.

*

So quite frankly if I am re-elected as your MP, I am not going to waste time, precious time, resisting Brexit from happening. I’m going to grasp that opportunity, leverage that opportunity we have with every fibre of my being and make the best of it.

*

I think those that voted to Leave would think we were treating them as fools and that they were stupid and that we didn’t respect their views. So I think that a second referendum is not what we should be aiming for.

Heidi Allen is now the interim leader of the Change UK party, formerly known as The Independent Group and informally known as the Tiggers or CUKs, whose only significant policy is to force a second referendum.

I saw that speech on the video “Heidi Allen Hustings 2017 Best Bits” posted to YouTube by Tom Harwood. The video of Sarah Wollaston’s hustings linked to below was also posted by Mr Harwood. I thought it was very useful that he added subtitles to the videos, as that makes it easier to find and cite the most strikingly dishonest passages in the MPs’ speeches. By writing out the speeches and the contents of the election flyers and leaflets here in this Samizdata post I hope to make it still easier to spread the word of how these Remainer Members of Parliament are not to be trusted.

Nick Boles

This is what the Right Honourable Nick Boles MP said to the voters of Grantham and Stamford in an election leaflet:

60 SECOND Q&A
NICK BOLES

Q: How do we know you won’t betray us, if we elect you?

A: I will publish all my expense claims online and I will never claim for food or furniture or household goods. I think that MPs elected for one party should have to stand down and call a by-election if they defect to another party.

On 1st April 2019 Nick Boles resigned from the Conservative Party following the announcement of the results of the second round of indicative votes on exiting the European Union. He now describes himself as an Independent Progressive Conservative. His previous belief that defecting MPs should have to stand down fell by the wayside when the time came to apply it to himself.

That leaflet can be seen at the URL https://staging.electionleaflets.org/leaflets/full/58310/ uploaded to the site electionleaflets.org. The fact that by the standards he himself had proclaimed Boles had betrayed his constituents was highlighted by Guido Fawkes in this post. The post reminded me that when Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell left the Conservatives for UKIP they both voluntarily resigned their seats and stood for election again under their new colours. Both were re-elected to their old seats.

Yvette Cooper

This is what the Right Honourable Yvette Cooper MP said on an election leaflet addressed to the voters of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford to solicit their support in 2017:

Yvette Cooper MP
– Securing the best Brexit deal for the Five Towns
– I voted to trigger Article 50 in Parliament
– I want to reform freedom of movement
– I will not vote to block Brexit
– I want to secure the best deal for the Five Towns not just the cities

I took the picture of the Yvette Cooper election leaflet from a tweet by Paul Embery of the Firefighters’ Union.

Sarah Wollaston

This is what the Right Honourable Sarah Wollaston MP promised to the voters of Totnes in order to solicit their support at her hustings in 2017:

It was extraordinarily divisive, the referendum, and we need to move on from that. But what we must do, in my view, is accept the result, but now make sure that just because we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. Taking all of the people within this constituency into account, this constituency voted by 54% to Leave. I think this is one of the things that annoys people is telling them that they didn’t know what they were voting for. That was the purpose of the referendum; we accept the result; we move on and make it as constructive as possible. There are real problems with how the Common Agricultural Policy has worked, and we have an opportunity now to redesign something that does more to protect Devon’s farmers and to look at how we balance that with protecting our environment.

A second referendum to take us out of the European Union: it is a direct incentive for us to get the worst possible deal. We have to go into this absolutely understanding that the principle here is that we respect the outcome of the referendum and I think it would be a huge mistake to go into this promising that I’d be prepared to vote to actually overturn the deal and send us back into Europe. We shouldn’t be going back and saying that we don’t accept the result of the referendum, I’m afraid.

From the video “Sarah Wollaston’s 2017 Husting Highlights” posted to YouTube by Tom Harwood.

On 20 February Sarah Wollaston resigned from the Conservatives and joined The Independent Group / Change UK. Wollaston’s pledge to respect the referendum thus joined in the inoperative bin her belief that MPs who cross the floor ought to face a mandatory by-election. As the Wikipedia article on Sarah Wollaston says she actually supported a Private Members bill to make this the law:

Call for mandatory by-elections for MPs switching parties

In March 2019 it emerged that Wollaston had supported a 2011 bill which required MPs who switch parties to face an automatic by-election. Wollaston herself switched parties on 20 February 2019, yet refused to let voters have a say on her switch. Chair of the Labour Party in Totnes and South Devon, Lynn Alderson, said Ms Wollaston “made her views clear”. Wollaston acknowledged the likely calls for her to face a by-election but refused such a proposal, stating “neither this nor a general election would answer the fundamental question that is dividing us”.

Broken promise on respecting result of EU Referendum

During her election hustings when campaigning for re-election at the 2017 General Election, Wollaston promised her constituents she would “accept the result” of the EU Membership Referendum, noting that 54% of her constituents had voted Leave. She went on to state that “one of the things that annoys people is telling them that they didn’t know what they were voting for” and completely rejected the idea of holding a second referendum. Wollaston later switched to the Independent Group, all the member of which oppose to respecting the result of the EU Referendum and committed to holding a second Referendum, therefore meaning Wollaston had broken all her election promises on the issue.

April fool, suckers! It was me all along!

French literati embarrassed after Marxist hero admits to murders

An anguished debate has erupted among French intellectuals after an Italian Marxist whom they lionised as a victim of oppression and injustice confessed to being a murderer.

Cesare Battisti, 64, a former member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism…

Who could have guessed that a member of Armed Proletarians for Communism might have been violent?

…embarrassed the French literati who were his most ardent defenders when he admitted last week to a series of killings and knee-cappings in Italy in the late 1970s.

Battisti lived openly in France for 14 years from 1990 despite having been convicted in his absence in Italy of carrying out two murders and aiding and abetting two others. He earned a living as a crime writer, a television scriptwriter and an occasional contributor to Playboy.

When a French court upheld an Italian extradition request in 2004, authors, artists, philosophers and politicians sprang to his defence. They denounced Italian justice as biased, proclaimed his innocence — even though he refused to do so explicitly for many years — and said that he should be able to live freely in France.

Battisti fled to Brazil then Bolivia.

…but was arrested there in January and extradited to Italy. Under questioning he not only admitted to the crimes but said that he had “never been a victim of injustice”. He went on to say that his backers had been interested only in his ideology and not in his innocence or guilt.

Ho ho, what a joke. Except for the people he murdered and their families.

Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

Rightly not trusting our leaders to deliver on their statements (there were, IFUC, no promises about leaving the EU from Mrs May), the Sage of Kettering and I have left the EU in that recently, we have visited our nearest escape hole, the Channel Islands. A fleeting visit, one day in each, but we have seen a future, and it works, more or less. For our more distant readers, Jersey and Guernsey are ‘Crown Dependencies’, historically part of the Duchy of Normandy, owing allegiance to the British Crown but not part of the UK. The UK government has arrogated to itself the overlordship of the islands, holding responsibility for foreign affairs and defence (well, sort of, as we shall see), but the two Bailiwicks are otherwise independent jurisdictions with autonomy in most areas, crucially taxation, and are outside of the European Union, albeit within EU Customs arrangements, allowing them to trade with the EU. Here, they say, the Queen is the Duke of Normandy, although monuments refer to ‘la Reine’. She is the only Duke I can think of married to a Duke. Whether or not they can simply declare independence is constitutionally unclear, but with Labour dangerously close to power, they might be advised to make some plans.

→ Continue reading: Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

Samizdata quote of the day

What a wretched lot of weaklings we have in high places at the present time!

– Douglas Haig, diary entry 1 September 1918. This was written in response to the Cabinet’s refusal to take responsibility for any failure of Haig’s upcoming offensive. The Storming of the Hindenburg Line was, of course, a huge success. Any similarity between this and more recent events is entirely coincidental.

Lord Heseltine forgets to mention a detail

Lord Heseltine, writing in the Telegraph today, explains “Why I am joining the People’s Vote march on Saturday”.

Of course I argued from the beginning that we were better off in the EU than out of it. Better off resolving our differences from within the European family than as an isolated onlooker chipping in from the side-lines.

It is indeed the case that Mr Heseltine has used that line of argument before. Perhaps the passage of seventeen years has dimmed his memory of the exact context in which he did it. But the internet remembers:

Tony Blair came under growing pressure last night to declare that Britain is to join the European single currency as the clock ticked towards tonight’s historic launch of the new money.

The increasing impatience of pro-euro campaigners at No 10’s fence sitting exploded as Lord Heseltine, the former Tory deputy prime minister, joined Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and the head of Labour’s MEPs, Simon Murphy, to urge the prime minister to take a lead and call an early referendum.

Lord Heseltine effectively accused Mr Blair of a lack of nerve as he dismissed the government’s five economic tests as a “protective barrier” behind which it could “cower in order to have apparently intellectually defensible reasons for putting things off”.

the Guardian, 31 December 2001

Please, EU whatever you do, don’t get tough

“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, A Georgia Folktale, retold by S.E. Schlosser

*

Brexit: Brussels gets tough with ‘disruptive child’ UK, writes Andrew Byrne in the Sunday Times:

The EU’s latest thinking is contained in a document circulated among ambassadors on Friday night. It confirms legal advice that the UK must hold European parliament elections in May if it wishes to remain beyond that point. It also contains the starkest warning yet of the threat to the EU’s legal order if this requirement isn’t met.

In essence, the paper identifies a July 1 tripwire that would automatically terminate the UK’s membership and trigger a no-deal expulsion. Unless the UK had taken part in Euro elections or approved May’s deal by that time, both sides would be powerless to prevent it.

That sharpens a three-way choice for MPs: back May’s deal this month and seek a short two-month extension, opt for a long-term extension and organise European elections in May or face a no-deal exit.

This analysis piles yet more pressure on both Eurosceptic and pro-EU MPs to back May’s deal this month. That outcome is favoured by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. He fears that anything longer than a couple of months risks unravelling the 585-page withdrawal agreement his team spent two years working on.

Hardline Brexiteer MPs will be pressed to approve the deal to avoid Euro elections and stop Brexit slipping from their grasp. Other MPs will come under pressure to back the deal early to avoid the tripwire. EU officials hope a parliamentary majority can be cobbled together – perhaps through a series of indicative votes – by late May.

While some European leaders still toy with the idea of reversing Brexit in a second referendum, the risks of a rogue UK remaining in the EU after June and disrupting its agenda alarms others. The latest advice argues that the EU cannot impose restrictions on UK involvement in EU decision-making if it extends article 50.

Officials also fear a prolonged UK membership could see dozens of British Eurosceptic MEPs descend on the European parliament. That has added to a broader exasperation among officials who want the UK to leave quickly.

The Art of (No) Deal

Via Instapundit I came across this fine editorial from the New York Sun:

“Sometimes You Have To Walk”

The collapse of President Trump’s summit with the North Korean party boss, Kim Jong Un, certainly takes us back — to October 12, 1986. That’s when President Reagan stood up and walked out of the Reykjavik summit with another party boss, Mikhail Gorbachev, of the Soviet Union. We can remember it like it was yesterday. The long faces, the dire predictions, the Left’s instinct to blame the Americans.

“What appears to have happened in Iceland is this,” the New York Times editorialized. “Mr. Reagan had the chance to eliminate Soviet and U.S. medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, to work toward a test ban on his terms, to halve nuclear arsenals in five years and to agree on huge reductions later. He said no.” The Times just didn’t see that the Hollywood actor turned president had just won the Cold War.

It’s too early in the morning — this editorial is being written at 3 a.m. at New York — to know whether that’s the kind of thing that just happened at Hanoi, whence news reports are just coming in. Messrs. Trump and Kim were supposed to have a working lunch, to be followed by the signing of some sort of agreement. The next thing you know, Mr. Trump is heading home.

It’s not too early, though, to caution against over-reacting to this development. What appears to have happened is that the Korean Reds wouldn’t agree to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that we seek. Absent that, we wouldn’t agree to the dismantling of all the sanctions the North Koreans seek. “Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump told the press.

Good for him, we say. It would be a fitting epitaph for any statesman.

The tags I chose for this post will serve as my only further comment.

What happens when a stab in the back myth isn’t a myth?

In the light of Theresa May offering MPs a vote on delaying Brexit, which is being joyfully and rationally welcomed by Remainers as the crack into which can be inserted the political lever to renege on delivering the referendum vote entirely, this twitter thread from Matthew Goodwin is timely:

One critical point about vote for #Brexit is that it marked the first moment when a majority of British people formally asked for something that a majority of their elected representatives did not want to give. It was always destined to lead us here

Contrary to popular claims, we now know from a dozen + studies that Leavers knew what they were voting for. They had a clear sense about how they wanted to change the settlement; they wanted powers returned from the EU & to slow the pace of immigration

We also know that for large chunks of the Leave electorate this vote -a rejection of the status quo- was anchored in high levels of political distrust, exasperation with an unfair economic settlement & a strong desire to be heard & respected

I do not think that it is hard to imagine what could happen if Brexit is delayed, taken off the shelf altogether or evolves into a second referendum that offers Remain vs May’s deal, which Leavers would view as an illegitimate ‘democratic’ exercise

We have evidence. (1) Professor Lauren McLaren has already shown that even before the first referendum people who wanted to reform the existing settlement but who felt politicians were unresponsive became significantly more distrustful of the entire political system

(2) Professor Oliver Heath (& others) have found that as British politics gradually converged on the middle-class at the expense of the working-class the latter gradually withdrew from politics, hunkering down and becoming more apathetic

This is partly why the first referendum was so important, where we saw surprisingly high rates of turnout in blue-collar seats. Because for the first time in years many of these voters felt that they could, finally, bring about change.

And we’d already seen an alliance between middle-class conservatives and blue-collar workers to try and bring about this change when they decamped from mainstream politics in 2012-2015 to vote for a populist outsider

So I think that we do know what the effects of a long/indefinite delay to Brexit, or taking it off the table altogether, will be. Either we will see a return to apathy & ever-rising levels of distrust which will erode our democracy and the social contract from below, or …

Another populist backlash, anchored in the same alliance of disillusioned Tories & angry workers who -as we’ve learned- are very unlikely to just walk quietly into the night. If anything, this will just exacerbate the deeper currents we discuss here

I have one thing to add: if the establishment (which includes MPs of all parties) demonstrates that campaigning for forty years for a referendum and finally winning it does not work, it will not only be the populist Right who learn the lesson. The radical Left and the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English Nationalists will also learn that the strategy of peacefully winning consent from voters is a mug’s game.

The enforced prosperity inflicted upon Jean Sibelius by the government of Finland

I continue to be obsessed by the Seventh Symphony of Sibelius, after hearing it performed at a live concert. (In a comment on that posting, Nick M expressed admiration for how Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed this piece. I assume he meant this recording. Having listened to many recordings of Sibelius 7 recently, I find myself strongly agreeing with Nick M. (My surprise second favourite Sibelius 7 is, as of now, John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra. (But Karajan and the BPO are much better recorded.)))

While seeking to learn more about this amazing piece, I came across a delightful start to some writing about it by Paul Serotsky:

So often does adversity transmute talent into greatness that we seem to consider it a general rule. Sibelius would be an exception to prove that rule. While still only 32, the Finnish government awarded him a pension for life, a year before he even began work on his First Symphony. That he went on to produce some of the Twentieth Century’s finest and most original music says much for his strength of character in the face of enforced prosperity.

Much is made of the last few decades of Sibelius’s life and of how, during all that time, he composed nothing. But he was over ninety when he died, and sixty isn’t a ridiculous age at which to be retiring from the creative life. In general, his life is usually regarded as a case of a government arts subsidy scheme working out pretty well. As Serotsky says, Sibelius is exceptional in being so creative, after receiving a guaranteed minimum income. (Incidentally, I wonder if the government of Finland had its collective brain cells scrambled by what they surely saw as the success of their Sibelius experiment, and thus thought that a generalised version of the same scheme would be other than a dismal failure, that echoed the end of Sibelius’s life rather than his earlier creativity?)

Serotsky’s words remind me that I did a couple of other music-based postings here, quite a few years ago now, about how adversity can sometimes indeed transmute talent into greatness.

Samizdata quote of the day

O Lord our God arise

Scatter her enemies

And make them fall

Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hopes we fix

God save us all

– the little-used second verse of the National Anthem, quoted in a 2015 Independent article entitled “God Save the Queen lyrics: The troubling words of the National Anthem that are being ignored”.

To be clear, this is not the verse dating from 1745 containing the line “Rebellious Scots to crush”. That was never official anyway. I just thought the lines about politics and knavish tricks somehow seemed appropriate to our current situation.