Amongst the most curious and disturbing events that happened during the English Civil War (1642-51) were witch hunts. Coordinated by self-styled ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins and his accomplice, landowner John Stearne, the two men scoured the eastern counties of England searching for witches.
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
All money is a matter of belief.
In a speech that will have warmed the cockles of Conservative activists last week, George Osborne’s visionary thinking offered the Party Conference more austerity, freezes on tax credits, child benefit.
The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) published a report recently called ‘Making Sense of the UK Collaborative Economy’.
In between chillaxing in Cornwall and dealing with various foreign policy crises, David Cameron actually found time to write to me last week.
In Man and the Natural World historian Keith Thomas outlined how our changing relationship to animals, plants and landscape evolved with society’s social and economic shifts.
Less work so we can all work – 2003 Argentinean Rail Worker’s strike slogan
Work – which in this context means a structured system of waged labour – not the millions of hours we all spend every year caring for each other, raising children, cleaning, cooking and the myriad other tasks that the economy takes for granted – does not, at least for those
Progressive social change takes a long time to achieve.
All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule. Edward Gibbon
Recent reports about the cost of the Royal Family were spun by palace officials as a demonstration of the tremendous value for money of the Monarchy.
I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
What is distinctive about the history of English progressive politics, and what can it teach us about social change for the future? In the nineteenth century Marx and Engels were convinced that England would have a revolution.
To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
Henry David Thoreau
Ed Miliband’s discomfort at being asked how much his family spends on the weekly food shop is symptomatic of the divide, perceived or otherwise, of the political class from the rest of us.
The Peckham Experiment was a pioneering project designed to cultivate whole-community health that ran from 1926-1950.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
During the early years of the Blair Government, politics enjoyed a moment of being reasonably ‘on trend’. Musicians, actors and other figures from the culture/creative industries lined up to be photographed with politicians, attend political events and pronounce their support for general political directions (not just for Labour).
It must be remembered by those who are convinced that the working man can live well and easily on 3d a day, because middle-class people have tried the experiment and found it possible, that the well-to-do man…can always stop living on 3d a day if it does not suit him, or if his family get anxious.
The miners lost because they only had the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end the bayonets always win.
Mary Harris Jones
Last week the government announced the closure of two of the last deep-pit mines in Britain at Kellingley in North Yorkshire and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire.
There is a great deal of contemporary interest in feminism, particularly amongst younger women.
Fellowship is life – motto of the Clarion Cycling Club
A few years ago an elderly neighbour of my mother’s died. A retired farm labourer, who had lived his life in a small, semi-tied cottage in a quiet corner of the East Midlands, he left no family and passed away as modestly as he had lived his life.
I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
There is no one more powerful today than the member of a focus group. If you really want to change things and you really want to get listened to, that’s the place to be. Bill Clinton
Focus groups – essentially facilitated and guided discussions around a particular selected topic – have become increasingly popular with political parties.
Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.
The idea of Purgatory was ‘born’ in around 1160-80 and quickly became a mainstay of (Catholic) religious practice. It denoted the liminal state between death and heaven or hell: the soul would wait in a kind of spiritual departure lounge while it was decided where its final destination would be.
In his Hugo Young lecture, Ed Miliband made the case for decentralising state provision of services. In essence he proposes the idea of the ‘relational state’ – which is think tank wonk-speak for a middle way between top-down, state controlled provision and the hyped-up individualism of private sector management in essential services.
The World Health Organisation issued a report today warning that, unless we tackle alcohol and tobacco consumption, and address the ticking time bomb of diet-related obesity, new cases of cancer could soar by 70% over the next twenty years. This is the latest in a series of warnings that global health is being destroyed by the limits to our own growth/girth.
Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. Noam Chomsky
The political class that appears largely focused on out-doing each other with tough talk and redundant ‘debate’ about scroungers vs.
The sheer unfairness of the wealth divide is a challenge to all of us as moral beings – Will Hutton
The politics of inequality is once again a hotly contested issue.
In proportion as the mass of citizens who possess political rights increases, and the number of elected ruler’s increases, the actual power is concentrated and becomes the monopoly of a smaller and smaller group of individuals.
A new campaign, Action on Sugar, launched this week to draw attention to the amount of sugar added to processed food and drink, and to put pressure on the food industry to reduce its use.
About this business of being a gentleman: I paid so heavily for the fourteen years of my gentleman’s education that I feel entitled, now and then, to get some sort of return.
The means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all.
The whole point of the Eugenic pseudo-scientific theories is that they are to be applied wholesale, by some more sweeping and generalizing money power than the individual husband or wife or household. Eugenics asserts that all men must be so stupid that they cannot manage their own affairs; and also so clever that they can manage each other’s.
Knowledge and union are power. Power, directed by knowledge, is happiness. Happiness is the end of creation.
Dr William King, The Co-operator
The recent scandal surrounding the Co-operative Bank demonstrates, amongst other issues, the dangers inherent in a political and financial culture that relies on the cult of the personality.
Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are over consuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.
It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age and all the regrets into old age – Margaret Mead
One of the many ugly aspects of recent politics has been the fashioning of a narrative about inter-generational ‘conflict’, the idea that the young today have somehow been betrayed by,
In the long run we are all dead
J M Keynes
2nd November is ‘All Souls Day’, also known as the Feast of all Souls. The origins of this festival are probably pre-Christian, and there are all sorts of folkloric traditions associated with it, such as eating special cakes, and offering various ritual remembrances for the dead.
To what extent do the institutions and organisations we create, support and perpetuate determine the kind of society we live in? As the asset-stripping of the Royal Mail continues apace, it is worth taking a moment to consider the effects even beyond the immediate loss of a national postal distribution service and think about the wider implications.
Behind every great fortune lies a great crime
Honore de Balzac
David Cameron told the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this week that ‘profit’ is not a dirty word, announcing a clear blue commitment to business and a nebulous ‘land of opportunity’.
In politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is face up on the table
To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment…would result in the demolition of society.
As school and work pick up again after the summer and the Bank Holiday, it is worth remembering that such breaks must be seen in the context of the historically very recent concession towards paid leave – and our rapid loss of this right under zero hours contracts and increasingly precarious employment rights.
“Market is a superb and mystifying metaphor for the energies released and the new needs (and choices) opened up by capitalist forms of exchange, with all conflicts and contradictions withdrawn from view.
Ah cruel foes with plenty blest/So ankering after more/To lay the greens and pasture waste/Which profited before
John Clare – The Mores
Tomorrow is ‘Peasant Poet’ John Clare’s birthday, also celebrated as John Clare Day. Clare has been hailed by biographer Jonathan Bate as ‘the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced’.
Eighty years ago, in 1933, J.B. Priestly was commissioned by publisher Victor Gollancz to write a study of contemporary England. Priestly described the text as ‘a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey’.
Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire – WB Yeats
The debate about the future of education, and what role academies will play in it, seems to miss one vital, central issue: what role do we want formal schooling to play in our society, and how should we best organise it? Are we caught up in a mechanistic discussion about means of delivery rat
The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyment and realities of life- will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity
John Maynard Keynes
Today is John Maynard Keynes’ birthday (he would have been 130 this year).
Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
In the news last week was a disturbing analysis from 25 conservation charities, called State of Nature, reporting that our wildlife is facing a steep decline, with beetles and wildflowers partic
A family with the wrong members in control; that, perhaps, is as near as one comes to describing England in a phrase.
In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman, and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.
As I write, helicopters are hovering above my office on The Strand, preparing to usher Baroness Thatcher towards her final resting place. For those of us born in the 1970′s, it’s hard to over-emphasise the long shadow of Thatcher, and the impact of Thatcherism on our lives.
27 March is the 50th anniversary of the first Beeching Report, The Reshaping of British Railways, which changed the face of British transport forever. Railways shaped the modern world – through engineering, craftsmanship, aesthetics, enterprise and the democratising of travel.
“Merely external emancipation has made of the modern woman an artificial being. Now, woman is confronted with the necessity of emancipating herself from emancipation, if she really desires to be free.
“The power that money gives is that of brute force, it is the power of the bludgeon or the bayonet.”
On 9 March it is 250 years since William Cobbett, whom Karl Marx described as “the creator of old English Radicalism”, was born.
The ongoing scandal about horsemeat found in a range of processed and pre-packaged foods has exposed some of the major fault lines in the UK’s food system. These come up periodically in food scares or panics (E-coli, BSE, Salmonella etc).
Only the little people pay taxes – Leona Helmsley, American businesswoman
One critique of the recipients of welfare is that overly generous state support creates cultures of entitlement and dependency, hollowing out the drive to entrepreneurialism, self-improvement and independence.