When Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839, the Sikh Empire entered a period of dynastic bloodletting which, in the words of Harry Flashman, made the Borgia intrigues look like a vicarage soirée. Ranjit’s son was killed by his grandson, who was then murdered by his uncle, who met his end at the hands of a sister-in-law who was subsequently assassinated in her bath. Little did they suspect at the time that the royal house of the Punjab would one day be the inspiration and template for the Australian Labor Party.
We confess to a furtive admiration for Julia Gillard: not for her policies, which could scarcely be less Wilkite if they were ghost-written by the Marquess of Bute, but for the dignity and courage with which she faced the ad hominem – or more specifically ad mulierem – attacks of her opponents. Our fascination with her saga, however, also draws attention to our enduring sense that what goes on in Australia is not foreign news, despite two generations of spurious and irrelevant political separation. Read more
In honour of the Chancellor’s spending review today, we remind ourselves that governments have never been able to resist the temptation to fire-hose money at anything which they are awake long enough to see. As John Wilkes observed of a previous Chancellor 240 years ago:
“We hear nothing but economy, though we can not, in any one business of national concern, discern the least trace of it…The word he never forgets: the application of it to any public business we have never yet experienced from him. At no period of the English history has the nation been so much amused with words, and so grossly abused with glaring facts of extortion on the people… Read more
During the controversy over the publication of The North Briton No 45, John Wilkes sent a series of letters harassing the idiot and authoritarian minister Lord Halifax – a kind of Jacqui Smith of the 1760s – mischievously suggesting that Wilkes would sue him personally for the invasion of his home and the apparent disappearance of a candlestick. In one of them, probably written on May 12th 1763, he wrote, “I will assert the security of my own house, the liberty of my person, and every right of the people, not so much for my own sake, as for the sake of every one of my English fellow subjects.”
This was far from the last time that Uncle Jack, cheerfully drunk and with a baying mob behind him, took on the government of the most powerful nation on earth for the rights of property and privacy. In this spirit, we feel that the NSA/Prism allegations made by whistle-blower Edward Snowden constitute a good opportunity to consider privacy and surveillance in the twenty-first century from a Real Whig perspective. Read more
Peter Oborne thinks that this spavined, ineffectual administration’s chief problem is that it is too radical. No, really. Tiny moves in the direction of denationalisation and choice, many of them merely proposed and never to be enacted, are apparently evidence of a dangerous anarcho-libertarianism. Particular gems include: “[W]e Conservatives, contrary to popular opinion, value a strong state”; “Only the state can embody all those ideals which bind us together”; “Conservatives are also suspicious of the marketplace”; and, our personal favourite, “The justice system, universities, schools and wider civil society…belong to this public domain”.
In fairness to Mr Oborne, it is those of us who associate the Conservatives with the great battles for freedom and capitalism of the 1980s who are wrong. That is not what they stand for, and never has been. They are paternalist authoritarians and hated Mrs Thatcher. They remain what they have been since John Wilkes wrote these words in 1763:
“A Tory, in the true and original meaning of the word, not to gloss it over with vain and artificial interpretations, was a maintainer of the infernal doctrine of arbitrary power, and the indefeasible right on the part of the sovereign, and of passive obedience and non-resistance on the part of the subject… Read more
Cash for questions, senators for sale, yadda yadda. ‘Allegedly’, no doubt. We are fairly resigned to it by now. As John Wilkes reminds us:
“The nation itself is but a larger family, and the servants of that family are as apt to be corrupt as those of any other.” (The North Briton, No. 29, December 18 1762.)
‘Nuff said, really.