Parliament Channel: Harold Wilson Night (Conference Speech)

LeftCentral Review

© Image The Prime Minister`s Office photostream

The BBC Parliament channel, dedicated last Thursday evening to Harold Wilson, a set of programmes which included a broadcast of Wilson`s final 1975 Conference speech as Prime Minister. The speech with its valedictory tone is worth watching for reasons summed up by Ben Pimlott as Wilson appears to forecast the tough times ahead for the Labour movement. Pimlott reminds us that by 1975 the Party was on the cusp of tearing itself apart, in the early stages of an existential crisis. Wilson`s speech is delivered in a perfunctory manner to a morose audience, a conference of beleaguered looking delegates. If only they knew what was around the political corner, perhaps then they would have been grateful for the deliverance of Labour`s 1974 manifesto. A programme which if not socialist, was certainly socially responsible, in the speech Wilson describing the 1974 manifesto as promoting a fairer, more democratic and socially just society, an agenda transforming Labour into the natural Party of government.  In the turbulent years ahead Labour would struggle to hold on to its position as the main party of opposition due to the threat posed by the newly formed SDP. It was interesting to hear Shirley Williams defend the Wilson legacy with such vigour last Thursday. One wonders what her `Orange Book` Liberal colleagues thought of her performance? Read more of this post

Culture Show Abraham Lincoln Special

LeftCentral Review

© Image US National Archives Photostream

It was Abraham Lincoln`s birthday last week, the Culture Show celebrated with Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day Lewis and assortment of special guests. The Show was not a trailer for the film though the last ten minutes descended into a movie promotion. Spielberg pointing out this is the first film about Lincoln for over seventy-years. Henry Fonda who played Lincoln in the 1930s compared the assassinated President to Jesus Christ and Lincoln`s assassination on Good Friday helped secure political sainthood. However, the broadcast was no hagiography, examining Lincoln from a variety of historical perspectives, encompassing both orthodox and revisionist views. Lincoln was forensically scrutinised and Bonnie Greer one of the guests, outlined that his legacy is a complex nuanced one, while she reasonably affirmed that Lincoln was the greatest President. Greer made a significant contribution, speaking about her own background, pointing out that for people of her generation (and her parents); Lincoln was viewed as the Liberator of the enslaved. This orthodox view has been critiqued by those who consider Lincoln a white supremacist, given that he supported the plan to remove African-Americans through a colonisation programme. Those who share this interpretation of history, according to Bonnie Greer, argue that Lincoln freed the slaves because it was just a deal to get what he wanted.  Read more of this post

Robert Kee – A Television History of Ireland – Episode 3 `Two Nations 1700-1845`

Nora Connolly 

© Image The Library of Congress photostream

Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen (John McCormack)

In a broad sweep Kee examines Irish nationalist development up to the Act of Union (1801) the episode concludes with the famine. The two nations described are identifiable by religious affiliation, the largest Catholic and by virtue of the Penal Laws a discriminated group. While religious observance for Catholics was difficult, it was grudgingly accepted by the authorities (though in reduced circumstances). The quid pro quo at the heart of this tacit arrangement was recognition that Catholic civil rights were completely curtailed. Catholics were not permitted to hold political office, disqualified from voting and as episode three illustrates, severe limitations were imposed on land ownership including the transfer of land through inheritance. The Presbyterian Protestant dissenter`s in the North (not identified as a separate group by Kee), were also penalised, e.g. the requirement of paying tithes to the Anglican Church. These grievances would be a unifying factor, in the formation of an embryonic Irish Republican movement. Read more of this post

Gujarati Communities Across the Globe book review

LeftCentral Book Review

© Image dhyanlis photostream

Imagine if you will that you and your family have been designated non-citizens by your government and ordered to leave your homeland within ninety-day`s. Add to this, the fact that the announcement is made by a political leader noted for his volatility and cruelty. And during the ninety-day count-down you hear reports of atrocities against your neighbours, every knock on your door becomes a potential threat. This is a nightmare scenario, which nobody should face but the Asian community in Uganda in 1972 was confronted by this precise set of circumstances. This happened after a dream which compelled President Idi Amin to expel all the Asians from Uganda. A decree initially limited to “non citizens” extended to include all Asians, including non Gujaratis Goans, Muharhastrans, Sikhs and Punjabis. Read more of this post

Thatcher and Thatcherism – by Eric J. Evans

LeftCentral Book Review 

© Image rahuldlucca`s photostream

This is a bantamweight text, which packs a super-heavyweight punch. And Evans, whose first edition was published fifteen-years ago, has revised his view; granting Mrs Thatcher more significance than he initially credited her with. Thatcherism is not considered a coherent ideology; Evans along with others believes it was (is) an amalgam of neo-liberalism and authoritarian conservatism. He charts Thatcher`s rise and fall, while placing her leadership within a political and historical framework (Peel and Disraeli). He includes a more contemporary analysis of Major`s administration, as John Major suffered from her back seat driving, as the Tories ripped themselves apart over Europe. Margaret Thatcher, who in 1986 signed the Single European Act, paradoxically became the standard bearer of European sceptics, illustrating what a funny world British politics is. As Evans points out the “Single European Act accelerated the process towards wider European integration, ultimately leading to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the establishment of a single European currency in 1991”.

The New Labour project was not immune from Thatcherism and comparisons between Blair/Brown and Thatcher are made. Evans gives credence to a quote from the Spectator that “Margaret Thatcher begat Tony Blair”. Ireland is ignored by Evans and an interesting policy contrast between Blair and Thatcher was lost. Thatcher was viewed by many as a strident Unionist but she did sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and without this later initiatives by Major and Blair would have been impossible.  Read more of this post

Religion in the age of Secularism…

Dan Walsh 

© Image Sean Elliot

The recent court cases of four Christians, claiming workplace discrimination has brought religious beliefs and human rights into sharp focus. The reaction from Christians seems to be one of despair, given that only one claimant was successful. Their pessimistic outlook shaped by the reality that the UK is increasingly becoming an ever more secular society, as religion becomes increasingly marginalised and antiquated. The Christian outlook is perhaps also shaped by the case of the Christian guest house owners who refused a married gay couple a double bed. Contrarily, the reaction of others has been the opposite to that of Christians, with human rights group Liberty, describing the cases where the claimants lost as ‘equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense‘.

The concerns of Christians or for that matter those of other faiths, that these various rulings spell the end of religious freedom, are understandable and indeed the cases are another indication that religion is no longer the overriding factor in the eyes of many. Put bluntly, many people now regard religion as an almost backward view that is no longer terribly relevant at least in law. The recent rejection of women bishops only exacerbates the view that the church is an outdated institution disaffected from the modern world. And there is an almost ‘us and them’ situation developing in society at times with Christians frequently dismissed as terribly ‘other’. Read more of this post

Perfect storm ahead – the Tory baccalaureate

© Image ParanoidMonk`s photostream

Robin Richardson

Review of The English Baccalaureate: a tangled web scrutinised edited by Trevor Fisher, 28pp, available free of charge from Viewpoint, PO Box 3599. Stafford ST16 9RD on receipt of a stamped addressed C5 envelope.

Educational changes are being introduced,’ wrote 22 professors of education in an open letter to the prime minister in November 2012, ‘which we believe will harm the prosperity of our nation and limit the life-chances of our young people. A perfect storm is brewing.’  They said further that the storm, if it is not prevented, will ‘engulf our schools … and seriously damage our economy’. The professors were referring to plans for the re-fashioning of educational qualifications at the age of 16+, and for changes in the pedagogy and relationships through which the curriculum is taught and learnt. Broadly the same robust criticisms and severe warnings may be made of the government’s follow-up plans to re-fashion qualifications at 18+.  Read more of this post