Monday 22 June 2009

The prize for cultural ignorance goes to Hampshire

The real motive power behind fascism isn’t racism or monopoly power or any of the other aspects that scare us about the BNP. Those things will never inspire the nation – or not our nation anyway. The power lies in its romanticism. Fine within limits, but when the authoritarians team up with the romantics, the imperialist dreamers, the folk historians and the cultural snobs, then you’ve got trouble.

I believe that is why the European nations which dumped their empires and their monarchies during the 20th century nearly all flirted with fascism at some point. Monarchies are safe conduits for this national romanticism. They render it harmless.

The point I’m trying to make in this roundabout way is that folklore and history is important politically. When it is misused, it encourages extremists and nationalists. When it is suppressed, it encourages them too.

So imagine my surprise, when I arrived at Danebury hill fort in Hampshire on Midsummer’s Day, an important Iron Age site, to find a notice from the county council explaining that this was the summer equinox – and setting out an absolutely bizarre outline of traditional midsummer beliefs and rituals.

Kostrub? Surely there was no celtic deity called that, I asked myself. Baked larks called zhaivoronky? I don’t think so.

I concluded that Hampshire County Council was so staggeringly ignorant of our national heritage that they had muddled it up with somebody else’s. A quick look on the internet confirms it. The county council’s notice was taken word-for-word from a website called ‘Spring Rituals’

As you can see from the address, it is taken from the Encyclopaedia of Ukraine. What does this mean?

Friday 12 June 2009

All hail the Chelsea Barracks victory!

I don’t buy all this nonsense from the architects about Prince Charles.

It is an irony that it takes someone’s inherited influence to rein them in, to provide any space for ordinary people to comment on the buildings the property world seeks to impose on people. But it is the same irony that it takes the House of Lords occasionally to stand up against government tyranny. We could do with more of that kind of irony, if you ask me.

Lord Rogers’ assertion that somehow only qualified architects are allowed to take part in the debate about what buildings go where is tyrannical nonsense. In short, Prince Charles’ victory over the Chelsea Barracks site is only a victory in Round One, but it is a victory for democracy.

It is also a blow against the creaking assertions of Late Modernism. It’s ideological certainty. It’s tyrannical contempt for human scale. The truth is that the insidious alliance between architects and corporate power, in this case oil power, is not a good combination to decide on the future shape of London's skyline, the one we all have to live with.

The accusation from the RIBA (Remember I’M the bloody architect) is that Prince Charles’ interventions leads to bland design. It may do, but there is nothing as bland as the glass towers that are springing up across London – despite Boris Johnson’s promises to the contrary. The Chelsea Barracks site has been described by locals as a 'new Berlin Wall'. It was to be one of many bland bastilles for the future.

But they are something worse than bland. They demean people. They give a sense of unbridled and unchallengable power, and are intended to. Their contempt for human scale is part of the process of tyranny: they impoverish us all.

Monday 8 June 2009

Why this is going to be the last ever Labour general election campaign

I know this is heresy, but I’m starting to feel sorry for Gordon Brown. Politics has a habit of projecting the worst kind of horrors onto those it appoints as fall-guy, and it’s certainly tough in human terms watching it happen.

That said, I believe we are seeing the demise of the last Labour government in history, and possibly the last general election platform by the Labour Party. It has no organising idea, there is no great policy debate between the plotters that might allow it to regenerate in intellectual terms, there is nothing left apart from vague and discredited management-speak. After the election, it will split three ways: Old Labour (to join the fringe lefties), New Labour (to splinter in turn into two factions: Managerialist and Lib Dem) and Brownites.

That puts the Liberal Democrats on the frontline. They are all that stands in the way of permanent Cameronian rule. All that stands also to prevent the slow mutation of the Far Right. We have to hammer out a platform that is angry enough, radical enough and new enough to fill that vacant opposition space.

I know this is irritating of me to put it like this, but I don’t believe that we can do that by trumpeting the usual ‘technocratic dross’ (I quote a senior member of the parliamentary party), or the same old Fabian mush that has allowed the BNP to get a foot in the door.

No, what’s going to make a difference is radical localism, real community politics, genuine handing power back to people, and a whole new approach to public services which chucks the whole massive edifice of factory call centres, IT bureaucracies and monster schools and hospitals into the nearest scrapheap – pointing out, on the way, that it has been such a feature of New Labour and Conservative rule.

We might also say, if we’re honest, that that hugely wasteful and expensive edifice – the real explanation why our services don’t work – also lies behind so much of the frustration among the white working class, and which seems to have led 6.5 per cent of them to vote for a party that blames minorities.

The truth is, of course, that the minorities suffer just as much. Worse, in fact, because they have to be supplicants to the Kafkaesque abomination we know as the government’s immigration service.

Monday 1 June 2009

Bring back Paracelsus, all is forgiven

Blimey, I am so fed up with the positivists – those puritanical creatures who disapprove of anything that doesn’t fit their stringent ideas of academic proof. Evidence-based, of course, but only very narrow kinds of evidence actually count with them.

Now here is the poor old vice-chancellor of Westminster University being hammered in public for the temerity of running a course on homeopathy:

Now, I happen to be someone who has found homeopathy very helpful, and I’ve tried a lot of complementary therapies – some of them not very successfully, sometimes disastrously. But I’m not one of those people who is happy to be maintained in my chronic condition for the rest of my life by the NHS, at great expense to the taxpayer. So searching seems to me to be not just worthwhile, but a moral obligation.

Maybe that means I deserve to be berated by the positivists for dealing in ‘mumbo-jumbo’, but I don’t think so.

What is fascinating to me is that the leader of this bitter reproach this time is the editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald. Go back five centuries or so and you found a very similar stand-off.

On one side, the doyens of ‘approved’ medicine, backed by the reactionary forces of the Church. On the other side, the new protestant upstarts, barefoot healers ministering to the poor, and taking their inspiration from people like Paracelsus: calling for a ‘chemical revolution’ using pills and medicines instead of bleeding and shifting the humours. No guesses whose side the Catholic Herald would have been on back then.