Tag Archives: House of Lords

“BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH”

One hundred years ago, on this day, March 15th, the “ides of March,” Czar Nicholas II of Russia, under pressure, abdicated, ending the dynasty that had ruled Russia since 1613.   The end result was not the liberal democracy that many hoped for, but, rather, seventy years of communism, a period far worse than anything under the czars. When the czar abdicated, nobody could have foreseen the ultimate outcome. The czar himself brought attention to the fact that the day was the “ides of March,” the day Julius Caesar was assassinated, changing the course of Roman history, ending the Roman Republic, replacing it with the Roman Empire.   The term became popular through Shakespeare’s famous play, “Julius Cesar.”

Today, March 15th, The Netherlands is voting for a new government. It’s the first time ever that Holland has received this much media attention.   Once again, an uncertain future awaits the country and the European Union; that is, if Geert Wilder’s ‘Party for Freedom’ makes significant gains and goes on to form a government.   Mr. Wilders has been labeled Holland’s Donald Trump.   He’s a populist, who wants to restore his country to what it was, ending the multiculturalism that has fundamentally changed the country.   In addition, he wants to leave the EU.   He also wants to ban the Koran and Islamic schools and has called for the closure of all mosques; and end the wearing of burqas and hijabs, requiring people to wear western style clothing.

The election result is likely to have a profound effect on France and Germany who hold elections later this year.   If a populist government comes to power in the Netherlands, then, maybe populism will see gains in the two biggest European countries, France and Germany.   This could make 2017 as significant a year as 1989 and 1848 in European history.   Change is in the air.   But, as with Russia a century ago, the future of change is unpredictable.   Sweeping populism may sweep away the European Union, but what will replace it?   Will liberal social democracy be replaced by more nationalistic forms of government?   Could a swing to the right in the Netherlands lead to similar swings elsewhere on the continent?   The European Union, which turns 60 in ten days, may have to go back to the drawing board.

It’s not just the election that is making news in Holland.   For over four centuries the Dutch, once a great maritime power, have had a peace treaty with Turkey.   But now, the two NATO members are going through a verbal conflict that could easily get out of hand.   The basic problem is immigration.   Millions of Turks live in Holland, Germany and other EU countries.   The Turkish president wants to send members of his government to speak to these Turkish citizens, so that they will vote for Mr, Erdogan in a referendum that will grant the president more powers.   Naturally, Holland does not want the Turkish election to be conducted in Holland.   Allowing Ankara to do so would expose the lie that Muslims are assimilated and are, in fact, Dutch.   They are not, identifying primarily with their own religion and culture, not with that of the host country.

A Turkish government minister was not allowed to address a rally in Holland.   Consequently, relations have been negatively affected.

The Netherlands isn’t the only European country that’s hitting the headlines internationally.   The United Kingdom is also in the news.

It’s taken nine months for the groundwork to be laid for Britain to activate Article 50 and apply to leave the European Union.   It’s been a rocky road, with members of Britain’s ruling elite doing everything possible to undermine the will of the people, expressed in June’s Brexit vote.    The unelected House of Lords was the final hurdle.

As if invoking Article 50 is not difficult enough, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party picked the same time to demand another referendum.

This time, she believes the Scots will vote to leave the United Kingdom as the majority of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

In effect, what Ms. Sturgeon wants is to replace English domination with German domination.   Ignorant of history (except possibly watching “Braveheart” over and over again!), Ms. Sturgeon has no problem replacing London with Berlin.

When the UK completes its negotiations with the EU settling Brexit terms, Ms. Sturgeon’s Scotland will have to act quickly and apply to use the euro.  It will also need massive amounts of aid as Scotland has needed English financial support ever since it voted to join the union with England, over three centuries ago.

Scottish loyalists will have to get used to shopping with a new currency  – and won’t even be able to stay home and watch the BBC!

 

 

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DOWNTON AND THE ARISTOCRACY

Downton AbbeyDownton Abbey is back on PBS.  The fourth season began a couple of weeks ago.

Why is this show so successful?  People are watching it all over the world.

The series began before World War I, took us through that awful war, followed immediately by the flu epidemic; and has now reached 1922.  We are now seeing a reduced aristocracy facing highB taxes resulting in a slow-but-sure decline, the subject of Evelyn Waugh’s classic “Brideshead Revisited,” which depicted the aristocracy between the two world wars.

The aristocracy had started losing its power prior to World War I, with the Liberal Party’s victory in the 1906 election.  The Liberals introduced state controlled pensions, which had to be paid for.  In 1910, the Liberals approved a massive increase in taxation.  The House of Lords, the Upper House, over-ruled the Commons, refusing to approve the budget.  It was a major constitutional crisis, which was resolved by the new king, George V, when he agreed to appoint more liberal aristocrats to the Upper House, who would then approve the proposed budget.  The Lords backed down and agreed to the Commons being able to pass budgetary bills without their consent.  From this point on, the House of Commons was the more powerful chamber.  Aristocratic dominance had ended.  In the last century, their power, influence and wealth have been gradually diminishing.  The country is NOT better off as a result of this.

The aristocracy served England well.  They were not perfect by any means but they cared for the country they governed and did what they thought was best to pass on the nation to the next generation.

In stark contrast to today’s politicians, they believed in sound money and a balanced budget.  They had learned the necessity of this running their own estates.  Over-spend and you will eventually go under!

My wife and I have often visited the stately homes of the aristocracy.  Visiting them has given us a greater understanding of why Britain ruled its Empire so well.  Most colonial governors in the early period of the empire were aristocrats.  Cut off from their home base, they ruled over millions of people in a similar way to Lord Grantham in Downton, who clearly cares for his domestic staff and feels he has a responsibility to look after them.  This may sound patronizing but it worked well until World War I brought the old order crashing down.

In our world of constant upheaval, it’s forgotten that these men gave stability to the nations they governed.  A person could wake up in any part of the British Empire and know that the King was still on the throne and his personal representative, the local Governor, was still in charge and that all was well with the world.  This is decidedly not the case now.  That stability and order owed its origins to the English stately home and the aristocrats raised there.

In World War II, one man with an aristocratic background saved the British people and, indeed, the rest of the world from fascism.  His name was Winston Churchill, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough.  Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874.  You can visit his birthplace.  The palace was named after the first Duke of Marlborough’s famous victory over France’s Louis XIV at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, a victory that preserved British freedom and, by extension, freedom for the colonies.

By some accounts, Churchill himself was offered a dukedom upon retirement.  There are only 19 dukes in the United Kingdom.  The title is hereditary.  Churchill deserved the honor but by the time of his retirement in 1955 it seemed antiquated and he turned it down.  He believed in democracy, describing it as “the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

Sixty years later, another quote of his is more apt:  “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

Thomas Jefferson, an aristocrat, supposedly said:  “If the common man ever gets his hands on the public purse, the republic won’t last a generation.”  There is now some doubt that he ever said it but whoever did say it captures very well the reality we face today.  Voters will continue to vote themselves ever-increasing financial benefits until the democratic countries go broke.  And leaders will continue to squander vast amounts of money which is not their own.

We should note the following words from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:  “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.  Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness.”  (Eccl. 10:16-17)  Surely this is a warning against the weaknesses inherent in democracy!

Judges 21:25 is another one.  “There was no king in Israel in those days.  Every one did what was right in their own eyes.”  Of course, there is a monarch today or a president.  But I believe the verse has a wider meaning.  There is little or no authority today, so everyone does what he wants to do.  World War One has been described as “The End of Order,” the title of a book by Charles Mee.

The death of the British aristocracy can be similarly described as “the end of order.”  A way of life that had given many countries unprecedented stability is gone.

When you think about it, aristocratic dominance constituted a “qualified franchise,” rather than the “universal franchise” we have now.  The aristocrats had a great deal of power and had the vote.  So did many others, but not everyone.

When we lived in Rhodesia, the country had a qualified franchise – and my wife and I did not qualify for the vote!  There were five requirements – citizenship was one.  You also had to pass a literacy test, own property, pay income tax and, if male, do military service or the equivalent.  Only the most responsible people could vote!

Colonial America had a qualified franchise.  So did the US for a long time.  England had one until 1867.  Even then, only men could vote.  It was to be over fifty more years before the vote was given to women.

Our countries would be in a much better state now if we had a qualified franchise!