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Rediscovering the Great British Republican Tradition


For a Civic and Constitutional Republic


Issue No 49 Friday 25 September 2009




This week 


·        Hope, No Hope And The Need For “Closure”


·         The French Health Care System v. The American Health Care System.




News Stories

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.





·        Hope, No Hope And The Need For “Closure”



Dr Rowan Williams


These are bad times. We know that. In spite of that our politicians have their eye firmly on the next election and so pretty well anything they say at the moment is positioned according to whether they think it will gain them votes.


In this atmosphere, the debate we see in the public media, and to a lesser extent in Parliament, tends to lose any real relevance to how people feel about the situation. Politicians in Britain are desperately trying to engage with the people and the voters, but they are proving themselves at quite a loss to know how they might do this. The problem is that whereas politicians see everything in terms of particular identifiable problems and the supposed “solutions”, the overriding reaction of the public at large can only be truly grasped if we understand how people actually feel overall.


When matters come to the extreme pass that they have, emotions come to the fore, but our politicians (at least in Britain) are proving themselves completely inept in dealing with people’s emotional reactions to what has happened in the world since 2007 and what might happen the future. Probably their inability to formulate the debate in overall emotional terms is due to their own sense of culpability in the creation of the crisis and this applies equally to government and opposition parties. The latter, indeed, broadly supported the government policies that lead to and exacerbated the crisis.


However, outside of the British political class, we recently have heard some sound sense from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who used the language of Christian belief to talk about those who caused our problems and in doing so confronted directly some of the emotional centres touched by the malign drift in the economy and political life. Further, the Great Black Hope of the western world, President Barack Obama, after a disappointing start in office has shown himself capable of touching, to some extent, the fears and aspirations of the people.


Everyone understands that the world today is not the world of three years ago, when the credit boom was in full swing and before the disastrous policies of the political and financial classes had been universally found out. But under these present circumstances people expect something beyond promises of blood, sweat and tears from our leaders. Yes, things are going to be tough but we want to at least try to look beyond that.


The word people want to hear is hope for without hope, human aspiration is utterly lost. But British politicians cannot offer hope because they see none themselves. If people cannot be given hope then they at least need to see justice for those most culpable. But that is something we are roundly told is not on the cards. No, the bankers must be free to ratchet up the absurd bonuses to preserve the banking system and the politicians that wrecked the economy and the future of our country must stay on as they are the only ones who can solve the problems. No hope and no justice. That is the promise we are given. That is the best our politicians can offer us. And, by the way, can we have your votes for another term, please?


The politics of despair and hardship was ably voiced by Liberal Democratic Party leader, Nick Clegg, last weekend at the start of the Liberal Democrat Conference when he outlined his view of the future for Britain. The party’s “Fresh Start for Britain” document he announced, which was endorsed by the party's conference in Bournemouth, included a detailed list of public services to be degraded, from scrapping affordable housing to replacing road tax with road pricing schemes. And it warned that the party’s former pledge to scrap university tuition fees will now become only a long-term aspiration and will be dropped entirelyfrom the next election manifesto.




Fringe Meeting at the Libdem Conference


Mr Clegg says he wants to be straight with voters about the savings needed to balance Britain's books. By approving A Fresh Start for Britain, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems had asserted the values which would inform the tough decisions the next government would have to take.  "Political parties have to make difficult choices - where to cut, where to spend what little money there is," he said.


"But Mr Clegg's comments that "savage" cuts in some budgets may be needed to protect funding in priority areas has caused unease in some sections of his party. I think we have overdone the despair," Libdem pensions spokesman, Steve Webb, said. "Doom and gloom does not inspire and motivate people. People want it straight but they also want hope." He warned Mr Clegg that the party must offer a more "positive" message.


Nick Clegg clearly thought that by being “honest” with the British people he would be regarded more favourably. In this he is barely different from the Cameron’s Conservatives or even the New Labour government. The latter has recently started to talk the vocabulary of cuts and going without, or reducing, public services. But voters are more likely to see the “honesty” as confessing to a lack of policy or imagination than as a praiseworthy “realism”.


Meanwhile, by contrast, on the other side of the Atlantic, President Obama, is starting to see the international situation in more hopeful terms. He has at last recognised that the old Cold War enemy, Russia, is not an enemy at all and that the grand scheme initiated by President Bush, to place missile and radar systems on Polish and Czech soil facing Russia, is to be scrapped. Much to the chagrin of Republican Party opponents, there is to be no formally agreed quid pro quo with the Russian Federation in taking the action.




SM-3 Interceptor At Take Off


The missile shield in question was first confirmed in August 2008, when the US signed a deal with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory. On Thursday Mr Obama said the review he had ordered had shown the threat had altered. There was now a need for a more flexible approach to provide "a stronger, smarter and swifter defense" of US and allied forces in Europe. Surely, this unilateral gesture indicates a policy of real “realism” in approaching world affairs.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was quick to welcome it as "positive". Mr Medvedev said there were now "good conditions" for US-Russia talks on tackling missile proliferation. This development offers the people of America and elsewhere a real sense of hope for international relations. We may be suspicious that behind it is the simple desire of a broke United States to save money or to further sideline Iran from the international community, but for the moment let us savour the much needed sense of hope and optimism that it conveys. Obama was elected with the simple phrase “Yes, we can” – hardly very specific but most people surely read into that slogan the idea that hope was possible.


A totally different take from that that most people have to the political and economic crisis of our times was given by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury in a forthright interview on the BBC’s Newsnight recently. Dr Williams warned that the gap between rich and poor was leading to an increasingly "dysfunctional" society. “What we are looking at is the possibility of a society getting more and more dysfunctional if the levels of inequality that we have seen in the last couple of decades are not challenged … I think that's one of those things that feeds the... diffused resentment, that people are somehow getting away with a culture in which the connection between the worth of what you do and the reward you get becomes more obscure.”


 In discussing the bonus culture of our bankers he attempted to voice the feelings of the public at large saying that there was a sense of "bafflement" and "muted anger". In perhaps one of the most perceptive summings up of how people feel about the economic crisis he said: "There hasn't been a feeling of closure about what happened. There hasn't been what I would, as a Christian, call repentance. We haven't heard people saying 'well actually, no, we got it wrong and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, was empty'."


When asked if he thought the City was returning to "business as usual" Dr Williams said: "I worry. I feel that's precisely what I call the 'lack of closure' coming home to roost. It's a failure to name what was wrong. To name that, what I called last year 'idolatry', that projecting [of] reality and substance onto things that don't have them."


"Dysfunctional", "bafflement", "muted anger" are surely the words that we need in this debate to describe our feelings about our situation. And whereas, “repentance”, “empty'', “idolatry” may be the vocabulary of religion but they just may be what we need to help us confront things and make sense of them. But perhaps the best word of all the archbishop introduced was “closure” and the lack of it. As long as there is no justice and those who caused the problem, i.e. the bankers, the politicians and the economists, are seen to be continuing in their ways how can there ever be “closure”? How can we ever start to feel that things are normal again? From where will we find the foundations for hope?



Recommended article of the week




·        The French Health Care System v. The American Health Care System.


In the continuing debate about the British National Health Service this article provides an informative comparison

Read Article


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……. …….until next time