Have hours of fun building  the bridge then  watch it collapse just when you think it’s finished.


The game is played with a pack of 52 cards. 51 of the cards are marked  NO REFRENDUM, one marked REFERENDUM.

WARNING  SNP supporters may find the game unbearably frustrating.


Astonishingly lifelike.  Is equipped with the  latest digital technology which allows it to make any number of improbable statements such as “It’s our oil and it will make us rich”;  “Scotland pays more in tax to Westminster than we get back”; “An independent Scotland would be welcomed by the EU”.  Hours of hilarity guaranteed.

Can be linked with the Alec Salmond Jock-in-a-Box (see below)   which attempts to  control the Sturgeon  doll invariably with  hilarious unintended results.


The board is similar to an ordinary monopoly board but has squares marked with political and  public service positions such as First Minister and   Head of Police   and buildings such as Holyrood . Instead of houses being built on squares players buy SNP supporters.

All players represent   the SNP.  Players have to compete  to take as many squares as they can.   The winner   is the player who controls most of the political and public service positions  and the infrastructure of Scotland by the time the game ends.

Every time a player passes GO they collect £200 of English taxpayers’ money.


Design your own SNP approved independent Scotland channel.

Put together a schedule full of classic Scots  favourites such as The White Heather Club and The Stanley Baxter show  and even more classic recordings  of Harry Lauder and Will Fyfe performing, together with  educational programmes such as Why you should vote SNP forever, The Labour Party is fascist and Tories are the new Nazis.

See what the future for broadcasting in an independent Scotland could be.


Consists of a giant Saltire duvet cover and an instruction manual  with phrases for every   occasion when anti-SNP statements are made.   Players can have unlimited fun shouting or posting “Tory scum”, “Red Tories”, “Nazis”, “Traitors”  at anyone who  does not uncritically support SNP policies.


There is no end of money which can be got from the magic money tree. The money is monopoly cash,  but you can build everything from Castles in the Air to an Independent Scotland with it.   A tremendous fantasy toy which will be irresistible to SNP supporters.


Players write down their estimate of the tax derived from the Oil and Gas on the 1st of January and the person closest to the actual figure on the 31st December wins.

Tip to players: the lower you bet the more likely you are to win



Alec Salmond figure  pops up just as reliably as it did in previous years  with an uncannily lifelike whine.


Posted in Devolution, Nationhood | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

 How England became the mother of modern politics

English exceptionalism – The political success of the English – Why was England so different? – The treatment of foreigners -The Free-Born Englishman – Equality and privilege -The mediaeval elite ideology -The Peasants’ Revolt -Anti-clericism -The Black Death -The limits of state power – The mediaeval good times end  -The way to political success –Parliament -A corrupted Parliament -The question of the franchise – The English civil war, Commonwealth and Protectorate -Democracy, the revolutionary idea -The Levellers – The Levellers and the franchise -Constitutional restraint – Other radicals -Exporting Representative Government

Robert Henderson

English exceptionalism

I was tempted to entitle this essay “England – the mother of modern democracy”, for the political structures of any  state which calls itself democratic today owe their general  shape to the English example. In addition, many modern dictatorships have considered it expedient to maintain the  form of representative democracy without the content.

But democracy is a slippery word and what we call by that  name is very far removed from what the Greeks knew as  democracy. The Greeks would probably have described our system as oligarchy – rule by the few. Many modern academics   would agree, for they tend to describe representative  government as elective oligarchy, a system by which the  electorate is permitted to select between competing parts of the political elite every few years, but which has little other direct say in how they are governed.

If democracy today is a debatable concept, the very  widespread modern institution of elected representative government is an objective fact. It is the foundations and evolution of this institution that I shall examine here to the point at which modern “democratic” politics emerged  during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s.

Elected representative government is an institution of the first importance, for it is a truism that the more power is shared the less abusive the holders of the power will be.  Imperfect as it may often be as a reflector of the will and interests of the masses, representative government is still by far the most efficient means of controlling the naturally abusive tendencies of elites and of advancing the interests of the ordinary man or woman, by imposing limits on what those with power may do, either through legal restraints in the form of constitutional law which is superior to that of the legislature, or through fear of losing office in an election. Indeed, no other system of government other than elected representative government manages that even in principle, for no other political arrangements place meaningful restraints on an elite. Whether democratic or not in the Greek sense, representative government is undoubtedly the only reliable and non-violent means by which the democratic will may gain at least some purchase on the behaviour of an elite.

Yet however much utility it has an organising political idea, the fact that we have representative government today  is something of a fluke, certainly a very long shot, for had it not developed in England we should probably not have it all. In the non-European world nothing of its nature ever developed before the Western model was imported. Elsewhere in Europe the many nascent parliaments of the later Middle Ages either never went beyond its embryonic form or were crushed by autocratic rulers. In England we have had continuous parliamentary development for the better part of eight centuries.

Why did the English alone developed such a political system? It was a mixture of such traits and circumstances  as the democratic spirit, egalitarianism, individualism and  royal weakness. But before examining the detail of those traits, consider first the utterly abnormal political success of the English.

The political success of the English

The first genius of the Anglo-Saxon may be reasonably said to be political. Above all peoples they have learned best to live without communal violence and tyranny. Set against any other country the political success of the English throughout history is simply astonishing. Compare England’s political history with that of any other country of any size and it is a miracle of restraint. No English government has been altered by unconstitutional means since 1688. No Englishman has killed an English politician for  domestic English political reasons since the  assassination of Spencer Percival in 1811, and that was an assassination born of a personal grudge, probably aggravated by mental illness, rather than political principle. (The assassin, John Bellingham, believed he had been unreasonably deserted by the British Government when imprisoned in Russia  and ruined by the economic circumstances of the war with  Napoleon. He killed Percival after unsuccessfully attempting  for a long time to get financial redress from the British Government).

Compare that with the experience of the other major states of the world. In the twentieth century Germany fell prey to  Nazism, Italy to Fascism, Russia to Communism. France, is on its fifth republic in a couple of centuries. The United States fought a dreadful civil war in the 1860s and assassinated a president as recently as 1963. China remains the cruel tyranny as it has always been and India, which advertises itself as the “largest democracy in the world”,  is home to regular outbreaks of serious ethnic violence, not least during elections which are palpably fraudulent in many parts of the country, especially the rural areas.

Why was England so different?

Why is England so different? Perhaps the immediate answer lies in the fact that she has been wonderfully adept in dealing with the central problem of human life – how to live together peaceably. A Canadian academic, Elliott Leyton, has made a study of English murder through the centuries in his book Men of Blood. Leyton finds that the rate of English (as opposed to British murder) is phenomenally low for a country of her size and industrial development, both now and for centuries past. This strikes Elliott as so singular that he said in a recent  interview “The English have an antipathy to murder which borders on eccentricity; it is one of the great cultural oddities of the modern age.” (Sunday Telegraph 4 12 1994).

This restraint extends to warfare and social disorder. That is not to say England has been without violence, but rather that at any point in her history the level of violence was substantially lower than in any other comparable society. For example, the English Civil War in the 17th Century was,  apart from the odd inhumane blemish, startlingly free of the gross violence common on the continent of the time during the 30 Years War, where the sacking and pillage of towns and cities was the norm. A particularly notable thing, for civil wars are notorious for their brutality.

The way that England responded to the Reformation is instructive. She did not suffer the savage wars of religion which traumatised the continent and brought human calamities such as the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre in France in 1572, when thousands of French Protestants were massacred at the instigation of the French king.  It was not that the English did not care deeply about their religion, rather that they have been, when left to their own devices, generally loth to fight their fellow countrymen  over anything. English civil wars have always been essentially political affairs in which the ordinary person has little say, for the struggles were either dynastic or a clash between Parliamentary ambition and the monarch.

Even the persecution of the Lollards in the late  fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the persecution of  Protestants under Mary I had a highly political aspect. The former was a vastly disturbing challenge to the established social order with men being told, in so many words, that  they could find their own way to salvation and the latter an attempt to re-establish not merely the Catholic order in England, which had been overturned since the time of Henry VIII’s breach with Rome, but also what amounted to a new royal dynasty with Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain.

Even the prohibitions on Catholics and non-Conformists after the Reformation had a fundamental political basis to them, namely, they were predicated on the question of whether such people be trusted to give their first loyalty to the crown.

The treatment of foreigners

Compared with other peoples, the English have been noticeably restrained in their treatment of other peoples residing within England. A few massacres of Jews occurred  before their expulsion from England in 1290, but from that  time there has not been great slaughter of a minority living within England. Since 1290 there have been  occasional outbreaks of anti-foreigner violence. During the Peasants’ Revolt London-based Flemings were murdered. In  later times an anti-Spanish “No Popery” mob was frequently  got up in London and the influx of Jews and Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries caused riots, one so serious in 1753 that it caused the repeal of a law naturalising Jews and Huguenots. But these riots did not result in great numbers of dead, let alone in systematic genocidal persecutions of any particular group. Most notably, the English fonts of authority, whether the crown, church or parliament, have  not incited let alone ordered the persecution of a particular  racial or ethnic group since the expulsion of the Jews. They have persecuted Christian groups, but that was a matter of religion not ethnicity, the Christians persecuted being  English in the main. The only discrimination the English elite have formally sanctioned against an ethnic group for more than half a millennium was the inclusion of Jews within the general prohibitions passed in the half century or so after the Restoration in 1660 which banned those who were not members of the Church of England from holding a crown appointment such as an MP or election to public offices such as that of MP.

Peaceableness and constitutional development  Is this comparative lack of violence a consequence of England’s political arrangements, or are the political  arrangements the consequence of the comparative lack of  violence in the English character? Probably the answer is  that one fed the other. But there must have been an initial exceptional tendency towards reasonableness which started the  long climb towards settling disputes without violence.

Perhaps the fundamental answer to English peaceableness lies in the fact that the English enjoyed a level of racial cultural homogeneity from very early on. Long before the English kingdom existed Bede wrote of the English as a single people. The English have never killed one another in any great quantity simply because one part of the population thought another part was in some way not English. That is  the best possible starting point for the establishment of a coherent community.

The favoured liberal view of England is that it is the mongrel nation par excellence. In fact, this is the exact opposite of the truth. The general facts of immigration into England are these. The English and England were of course created by the immigration of Germanic peoples. The British monk, Gildas, writing in the sixth century,  attributed the bulk of the Saxon settlement to the  practice of British leaders employing Saxons to protect  the Britons from Barbarian attacks after Rome withdrew around  410 A.D. The English monk Bede (who was born in A.D. 673)  attributed the origins of the English to the Angles, Saxons  and Jutes who came to England in the century following the  withdrawal of the Romans at the request of British war  leaders.

Archaeological evidence suggests that substantial Germanic  settlement in England had a longer history and dated from  the Roman centuries, perhaps from as early as the third  century. What is certain is that in her formative centuries  following the exit of Rome, the various invaders and  settlers were drawn from peoples with much in common. They  were the same physical type, there was a considerable  similarity of general culture, their languages flowed from a  common linguistic well.

When the Norsemen came they too brought a Teutonic mentality  and origin. Even the Normans were Vikings at one remove who,  if frenchified, were not physically different from the  English nor one imagines utterly without vestiges of the  Norse mentality. Moreover, the number of Normans who settled  in England immediately after the Conquest was small, perhaps  as few as 5000.

After the Conquest, the only significant immigration into  England for many centuries were the Jews. They were expelled  from England in 1290. There was then no  large scale  and sudden immigration from outside the British Isles until  the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which granted limited toleration to the Huguenots  within France) in 1684 by Louis X1V.

There was other immigration in the period 1066-1650, but it  was small and highly selective. Craftsmen of talent were  encouraged particularly in the Tudor period. Italian families  with trading and banking expertise (such as it was in those  days) appeared after the expulsion of the Jews. Foreign  merchants were permitted, but for much of the period on  sufferance and subject to restrictions such as forced  residence within specially designated foreign quarters.

The upshot of all this is that for six centuries after the Conquest England was an unusually homogeneous country, both racially and culturally. This is reflected in the absence  since the Norman Conquest of any serious regional separatist movement within the heart of English territory.

There has been meaningful resistance at the periphery – Cornwall, the Welsh marches and the far north, but even that has been effectively dead since the  sixteenth century. Englishmen have fought but not to create  separate nations.

The Free-Born Englishman

It may have taken until 1928 for full adult suffrage of English men and women to arrive, but the essential  sentiments which feed the idea of democracy – that human beings are morally equal and enjoy autonomy as individuals and a natural resentment of privilege and inequality – are ancient in England.

If there is one outstanding trait in English political history it is probably the desire for personal freedom. This might seem odd to the modern Englishman who sees the large majority of his country men and women consistently welcoming the idea of the most intrusive forms of ID cards and who stand by dumbly as many of the age-old and ineffably hard-won rights which protect the individual, such as the abridgement  of jury trial and the right to silence, being swept away by modern governments. But it was not always so and that “always so” was not so long ago. The great Austrian political and economic thinker Friedrich Hayek put it  forcefully during the Second World War:

 It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that only in  English society, and those societies deriving from it, is the notion of individual liberty built into the  social fabric. The English have been free not  primarily because of legal rights, but because it is  their evolved social nature. They accept liberty because it seems natural to them. (The road to Serfdom – chapter  Material conditions and ideal ends)

In short, individual liberty has been and is part of being  English and part of England. It would be going too far to  claim that the English masses have ever had any highly  developed sense of liberal with a small ‘l’ sentiments,  but throughout English history there has been both a widespread resentment of interference, either public or private, in the private life of English men and women and an acute awareness that privilege was more often than not unearned and frequently cruelly used to oppress the poor.

Most importantly, over the centuries the elite gradually adopted the ideal of personal freedom into their ideology.  Here is the elder Pitt speaking on the notion that the idea that an Englishman’s home:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to  all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail – its  roof may shake – the wind may blow though it – the  storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King  of England cannot enter! – All his force dares not  cross the threshold of the ruined tenement! (Quoted in Lord Brougham’s Statesmen in the time of George III)

The desire for liberty and a freeman’s due is seen in the  constant demand by mediaeval towns for charters which would  free them from aspects of royal control, most particularly  taxation. In some respects it helped fuel the barons’ demand   for Magna Carta. It drove the Peasant’s Revolt. It  provided the emotional engine for the decline of serfdom  once circumstances were propitious after the Black Death.

The Levellers made it their ideological centrepiece in the 1640s, their leader, John Lilburne, revelling in the  name of “Freeborn John”. “Wilkes and Liberty” was the mob’s popular cry in that most aristocratic of centuries,   the eighteenth. The Chartists held tight to the ideal in  the nineteenth.

Equality and privilege

Intertwined with the desire for personal freedom was a  strain of those seeking material equality and opportunity. It also had its expression in the organisation of society, most notably in the widespread use of common fields which were a natural source of egalitarian feeling. These were a form of agricultural organisation whereby a group of farmers worked strips on a large common plot of land, with the strips being rotated regularly to ensure that no one had the best land permanently.

Prime examples of the egalitarian mentality are found in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 (which I shall deal with shortly in some detail), the sixteenth century has Thomas More’s Utopia, while the Digger Gerrard Winstanley writing in the  17th century spoke of “The cheat of men buying and selling” (The Law of Freedom 1652).

We also have the literary evidence. The English who people  the pages of Langland and Chaucer show a mediaeval England where commoners would not as a matter of course  willingly touch their forelock or allow their lives to be circumscribed by those with social status. Later,  Shakespeare’s lowlifes and the characters in Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair often show a rumbustious lack of deference for their social betters. It is improbable in the extreme that the worlds depicted by these authors would not have reflected the societies in which they lived. Traits were exaggerated for dramatic effect doubtless, but the cultural story they told was fundamentally rooted in the England in which they wrote.

Langland’s Piers Ploughman is especially interesting because  the work begins with a catalogue of the people who  inhabited the world he knew (Prologue – The plain full of  people). Here are the worldly and the devout, the high and the low. The cleric and the noble jostle with minstrels, tramps, beggars, merchants, tradesmen, and the honest ploughman who tills “the soil for the common good”.

Langland’s clerics are often corrupt, the nobles capricious, the merchants avaricious, the workmen shoddy and cheating in their work, the beggars dishonest and the minstrels bawdy, but they are balanced by honest men in their various callings. In other words, it is a world not so different in terms of human personality to that we inhabit.

The mediaeval elite ideology

There was also in the mediaeval world the idea that although men were unequal in material wealth or social status, nonetheless society was a co-operative enterprise, that all had a place and that all were entitled to that place, which was what God had called them to. Not  egalitarianism but a recognition that men whatever their status had a right to life. The ideal was of course frequently breached but it nonetheless had a basis in both the attitude of the elite, especially in the Church, and in the organisation of society.

The ideas that men should just be left to buy and sell as they chose or that economic activity should be the lodestone of a man’s life was admirable or moral, were alien concepts. Usury was officially banned for many centuries and the example of the poverty of the early Christians was given fresh focus by the Friars of SS Francis and Dominic. More mundanely, there was also the concept of the just price, the price of staple foods such as bread, being fixed by magistrates. As a matter of social course it was accepted that the rich and great, and especially the Church, had moral and material obligations to the less fortunate. Noblesse  oblige was not an empty letter.

Turning men out of their homes and off the land for profit  crashed through this mediaeval moral standard. That was what  the grazing of sheep in particular accomplished, for it denuded the countryside of the need for agricultural workers. By the early years of the 16th century the problem

of landless men was becoming acute.

Some members of the elite rebelled against the cruelty of  leaving thousands of men and their families without a means  to live honestly and the alarming disruption of the  mediaeval social order. Thomas More addressed the question most famously in his satire Utopia (1516). More complained

that it was now thought moral to “buy abroad very cheap and  sell again exceeding dear”. He wrote of the mania for sheep  as that which “consume, destroy and devour whole fields,  houses and cities.” More also asked of those who turned men  and women off the land to feed sheep “What other thing do  you do than make thieves and punish them?” and castigated  the rich for a “strange and proud new fangleness in their  apparel and too much prodigal riot and sumptuous fare at  their table” while the poor starved or turned to crime or begging.

The Peasants’ Revolt

Nothing demonstrates the Englishman’s lack of deference and  desire to be his own man better than the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. General resentment of privilege and particular  hostility to the imposition of a tax (the Poll Tax)  considered to be both unreasonable and illegitimate, was  given unambiguous voice. For a brief period the fog of  obscurity which ordinarily covers the masses in the mediaeval world clears. A remarkable scene meets the eye for we find not a cowed and servile people but a robust cast  of rebels who far from showing respect for their betters  display a mixture of contempt and hatred for everyone in authority bar the boy-king Richard II.

Perhaps most surprising to the modern reader is the extreme social radicalism of their demands which might, without too much exaggeration, be described as a demand for a classless society. The Revolt may have had its origins in the hated Poll Tax but it soon developed into a series of general political demands. One of the revolt’s leaders, the  hedge-priest John Ball, reputedly preached  “Things cannot go right in England and never will until goods are held in common and there are no more villeins and gentlefolk but we are all one and the same”, and the anonymous and revolutionary couplet “When Adam delved and Eve span/who was  then the gentleman?” was in men’s mouths.

The mediaeval  chronicler Jean Froissart has Ball preaching:  Are we not descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve? And what can they sow or what reason can they give why they should be more masters than ourselves? They are clothed in velvet and rich stuffs ornamented in ermine and other furs while we are forced to wear poor clothing. They have wines and fine bread while we have only rye and refuse of straw and when we drink it must be water. They have handsome manors…while we must have the wind and rain in our labours in the field and it is by our labours that they…support their pomp. We are called slaves and if we do perform our services we are beaten and we have no sovereign to whom we can complain…let us go to the King and remonstrate with him; he is young and from him we may obtain a favourable answer, and if not we must seek to amend our conditions ourselves. (Simon Schama A History of Britain p 248)

Whether or not these words bore any resemblance to Ball’s actual words, whether or not they were black propaganda (on behalf of the elite) by Froissart to show the dangers society faced from the Revolt, we may note that the sentiments are compatible with the demands made by the rebels in 1381.

When the Kentish men led by Wat Tyler, an Essex man, met the 14-year-old king Richard at Mile End on 14 June, they demanded an end to serfdom and a flat rent of 4 pence an acre. The king granted the plea. When the king met the  rebels a second time Tyler shook the king’s hand and called him “brother”. Tyler demanded a new Magna Carta for the common people which would have ended serfdom, pardoned all outlaws, liquidated all church property and declared that all men below the king were equal, in effect abolishing the peerage and gentry. Richard, much to the rebels’ surprise, accepted the demands, although cunningly qualifying the acceptance “saving only the regality of the crown”. A few minutes later Tyler was mortally wounded, supposedly  after he had attempted to attack a young esquire in the royal party who had called him a thief. His death signalled the beginning of the end of the revolt for without Tyler the Revolt lost direction and those who remained willing to resist were pacified in the next few weeks.

During the Revolt the rebels did not run riot, but acted in a controlled manner. There was no general riot but rather the , attacking the property of tax collectors, other important royal servants and any property belonging to the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt. Any identifiable Exchequer document was ripe for destruction.

The revolt began in Essex when the commissioners attempting to collect the Poll Tax were surrounded by a hostile crowd on 30 May 1381. Physical threats were made against one of the commissioners, and the commissioners  retreated from the immediate task of attempting to collect the tax. This brought in the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas to restore order. He was captured by an even larger crowd and made to swear on oath that no further attempt would be made to collect the tax the area. The names of informers who had provided names to the commissioners was discovered and the culprits beheaded.

The spirit of rebellion soon spread. By 2 June a crowd in the village of Bocking had sworn that they would “have no law in England except only as they themselves moved to be ordained.” The rebellion had infected Kent by the end of the first week in June. By the time Wat Tyler, an Essex man by birth, had been elected to lead the Kentish men the demand was for the heads of the king’s uncle John of Gaunt, the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury and the Treasurer Sir Robert Hales.  After Tyler’s first meeting with Richard, Sudbury and Hales were captured and beheaded by the rebels. No deference or want of ambition there.

The extent to which the Revolt frightened the crown and nobility can be seen in the violence of Richard’s words when he addressed another group of rebels at Walthamstow on 22 June, by which time the danger was felt to have largely passed:  You wretches, detestable on land and sea ; you who seek equality with lords are unworthy to live. Give this message to your colleagues. Rustics you were and rustics you are still: you will remain in bondage not as before  but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live we will strive to suppress you , and your misery will be an example in the eyes of posterity . How ever, we will spare your lives if you remain faithful. Choose now which you want to follow . (Simon Schama A History of Britain p 254 )

Anti clericism

There were two great sources of general authority in mediaeval England. The Crown was one, the other was the Church. Yet, before the Reformation the English were renowned throughout Europe for their anticlericism – a good example of this attitude was the response to Sudbury’s warning to Wat Tyler’s rebels that England would be put under an interdict by the Pope if he was harmed. This was met by hearty laughter followed by the grisly dispatch of the unfortunate cleric soon afterwards, whose head to did not part from his shoulders until a goodly number of blows had been struck.

The contempt in which many of the servants of the Church were held can be seen in both John Wycliffe’s complaints against clerical abuse in the latter half of the 14th century and in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and William Langland’s Piers Plowman, both written in the same century in which the Peasants’ Revolt took place. Both works are full of jibes at fat illiterate priests and cheating pardoners who peddled absolution from sins with their indulgences sold for money.

Wycliffe’s doctrine contained the fundamental ideas which  were later realised internationally in the Reformation. He questioned the reality of transubstantiation (the Catholic belief that the bread and wine at Communion turn literally into the body and blood of Christ), he attacked the authority of the pope, he railed against the abuses of simony and indulgences. He advocated a bible in English  and either he or his followers, the Lollards,  produced a complete translation before the end of  the fourteenth century.

Implicit within Wycliffe’s thought was the democratic spirit, because it is a short intellectual step from the  belief that each man could be his own mediator with God to the idea that he should have a say in his earthly life.

The Black Death

The Peasant’s Revolt  was  set in the context of the dramatic social changes wrought by the plague. When the Black Death came to England in 1349 it was a source of both immediate misery and future opportunity for those who survived. Estimates of the numbers who died range from a quarter to a half of the population, but whatever the true proportion it had the most dramatic effect on the organisation of society. The immediate result was a widespread transfer of property and consolidation of wealth  as the lucky survivors inherited. This consolidation aided people a long way down the social scale, for a man inheriting  no more than a couple of oxen and a plough was considerably better off than a man with none.

Most importantly, the country went from being one with an oversupply of labour – England prior to the Black Death was probably as well populated as it was in any time before 1700 – to a country where labour was scarce. Landowners were suddenly faced with a new economic world. They had either lost many of their workers through death or were faced with serfs who were no longer obedient and frequently  absconded, often lured to work as free men by other landowners, or drawn to the anonymity of the towns. Landowners had to employ free men who demanded what were considered extortionate wages. The Statute of Labourers of 1351 was a forlorn attempt to keep things as they had been before the Black Death by restricting wages but, like all attempts to buck fundamental economic forces, it failed.

It is probably not overly sanguine to see English society in the late medieval period after the Black Death as a golden age for the common man. Not only was labour scarce and land plentiful, but the great enclosure movement was still in the future and a very large proportion of the population were,  to a large extent, their own masters as they worked their  land. Even where labour services were still performed, they were not crushing, being commonly forty  days work in a year.  Moreover, agricultural work is seasonal, especially the arable, and for substantial parts of the year there is relatively little to do on a farm.

Beyond agriculture, many people had a large degree of control over their daily lives. This was the time before industrialisation, before the wage-slave and the factory.  Skilled craftsmen were often their own masters, and even those who worked for a master will have organised their own time because they worked from their homes. Indeed, most  English men and women today almost certainly have far less control of their time than the average mediaeval inhabitant of England.

The limits of state power

The hand of the state was also light by modern standards, especially so during the century long struggle of the  houses of Lancaster and York and partly because mediaeval kingship was of necessity very limited in what it could do administratively because of a lack of funds, the power of the peerage, primitive technology, poor communications, administrative naivety and a radically different view of what government and society should be – apart from looking after his own privileges and estates, kings were expected to  defend the land, put down rebellions, provide legal redress through the royal courts, maintain the position of the church and lead in war against other rulers. And that was about  it.

But there was also a further check on the monarch. Perhaps the most important practical adjunct of this desire  for freedom, has been that the English long hated and  mistrusted the idea of a standing army as the creature of  tyrants. The English were eventually content to have the strongest navy in the world because it could not be used against them, but a substantial army was not accepted as reasonable until the experiences of the Great War accustomed men to the idea. Soldiers were held in contempt before then. “Gone for a soldier” was little better than “taken for a thief”. The needs of Empire produced more ambivalence into the English view of soldiers as Kipling’s poem “Tommy” shows: “Oh, it’s Tommy this an’  Tommy that, and chuck him out the brute! But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.” But the old resentment, fear and contempt remained until the stark democracy of experience in the trenches during the Great War  tempered the English mind to tolerance of the soldier.

Because of a lack of a large standing army, English kings  were ever been dependent on the will of others, be it their  nobles, parliament or the gentry. Even the most practically tyrannical of English kings, Henry VIII, was most careful to use Parliament to sanction his acts.

The consequences of this weakness was that power was localised. Incredible as it may see today, the practical governance of day-to-day life in England until well into the nineteenth century lay largely in the hands of  private gentlemen occupying the post of JP, whose powers were much greater than they are today. Indeed, the central state impinged very little on the ordinary Englishman before 1914. George Bowling, the hero of George Orwell’s “Coming up for air” reflecting on how the arms of the state touched an honest citizen before the Great War  could think only of the registration of births, deaths and marriages and the General Post Office.

By keeping the king dependent upon the will of others, the  English ensured that a despot such as Louis X1V could  not arise in England and in so doing underwrote their  general liberties. Without that, it is improbable that parliamentary government (as opposed to a parliament) would have arisen. England would almost certainly have been involved in many debilitating wars for the aggrandisement of the king. In those circumstances it is unlikely that England as a modern state would have arisen.

The mediaeval good times end

But the comparatively good times for the poor of the post-Black Death world did not last forever. The  enclosure movement began in earnest in the fifteenth century. Men were driven off the land and their place taken by graziers of sheep. The Tudors put an end to serious dynastic strife and expanded the power of the state.  Gradually the population recovered. Trade grew and towns thrived, but it was also, by mediaeval standards, a time of high inflation caused by a mixture of a debased currency under Henry VIII, the economic consequences of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, population growth and the influx of gold and silver from the recently discovered New World.

The way to political success

Whatever its cause, England’s political development is unparalleled. If political success lies in the general  tenor of English society, the institutions through which it was achieved were cultivated from the thirteenth century  The start of the long climb towards representative government and the neutering of monarchy may reasonably  be set in the reign of John. In 1215 he was forced by many of his barons to sign a charter which granted rights to all the free men of the kingdom. This charter, the  Magna Carta, was of immense significance because it  formally restricted the power of the king in an unprecedented way. The pope of the day thought it  such an abomination he granted John absolution for its repudiation. Perhaps for the first time since the  end of the classical world, a king had been forced to acknowledge unequivocally that there could be legal limits to his power.

Long regarded as a revolutionary document by historians, the fashion amongst them in recent times has been to treat the charter as little more than as an attempt to preserve and enhance the position of the barons or to restate existing English law and custom. Of course it did that but it did much more. Had it done nothing beyond circumscribing the power of the king it would have been revolutionary, but it went far beyond that by explicitly extending rights that we consider fundamental to a free society to all free men.  Perhaps its two most famous clauses show its importance in the development of the future sharing of political power:

 Clause 39 No free man shall be seized or  imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or  possessions, or outlawed or exiled or deprived of  his standing in any other way , nor will we proceed  with force against him or send others to do so,  except by judgement of his equals or by the law of  the land.

 Clause 40 To no one will we sell, to no one will we  deny or delay right or justice.

Until the security of a man and his property are secured, there can be no sustained spreading of power, for if a king may imprison and dispossess at will no man is safe. All merely live at the will of the monarch. By providing both, Magna Carta created the necessary legal and ideological infrastructure for the political development which culminated in parliamentary government.

Perhaps the most intriguing clause of Magna Carta was number  61, which gave a committee of 25 Barons legal authority and practical power over the king. It is long  clause but worth quoting in full:

Clause 61. Since, moreover, for God and the amendment  of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the discord that has arisen between us and our barons we have granted all these things aforesaid, wishing them to enjoy the use of them unimpaired and unshaken for ever, we give and grant them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons shall choose any twenty-five barons of the kingdom they wish, who must with all their might observe, hold and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties which we have granted and confirmed to them by this present charter of ours, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our  servants offend in any way against any one or transgress any of the articles of the peace or the security and the offence be notified to four of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four barons shall  come to us, or to our justiciar if we are out of the kingdom, and, laying the transgression before us, shall petition us to have that transgression corrected without delay. And if we do not correct the transgression, or if we are out of the kingdom, if our justiciar does not correct it, within forty days,  reckoning from the time it was brought to our notice or to that of our justiciar if we were out of the  kingdom, the aforesaid four barons shall refer that case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons together with the Community of the whole land shall distrain and distress us in every  way they can, namely, by seizing castles, lands, possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and the persons of our queen and our children, until, in their opinion, amends have been made; and when amends have been made, they shall obey us as they did before. And let anyone in the country who wishes to do so take an oath to obey the orders of the said twenty-five barons for the execution of all the aforesaid matters, and with them to distress us as much as he can, and we publicly and freely give anyone leave  to take the oath who wishes to take it and we will never prohibit anyone from taking it. Indeed, all those in the land who are unwilling of themselves and of their  own accord to take an oath to the twenty-five barons to help them to distrain and distress us, we will make  them take the oath as aforesaid at our command.  And if any of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country or is in any other way prevented from  carrying out the things aforesaid, the remainder of the aforesaid twenty-five barons shall choose as they think fit another one in his place, and he shall take the oath like the rest. In all matters the execution  of which is committed to these twenty-five barons,  if it should happen that these twenty-five are present  yet disagree among themselves about anything, or if some  of those summoned will not or cannot be present,  that shall be held as fixed and established which  the majority of those present ordained or commanded, exactly as if all the twenty-five had consented to it; and the said twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all the things aforesaid and will do all they can to get them observed. And we will procure nothing from anyone, either personally or through any one else, whereby any of these concessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such thing be procured let it be void and null, and we will never use it either personally or through another, And we have fully remitted and pardoned to everyone all the  ill-will, anger and rancour that have arisen between us and our men, clergy and laity, from the time of the quarrel. Furthermore, we have fully remitted to all,  clergy and laity, and as far as pertains to us have completely forgiven all trespasses occasioned by the  same quarrel between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign and the restoration of peace. And, besides,  we have caused to be made for them letten testimonial patent of the lord Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, the lord Henry archbishop of Dublin and of the aforementioned bishops.

The extreme nature of the concessions the king made – he gave permission for his subjects to act with force to remedy any Royal failure to observe the charter – is a graphic example of the inherent weakness of the mediaeval monarch. King he might be, but not a tyrant because he did not have the resources to dominate utterly.

This committee was never actually formed, but the clause has great interest. Once such a council of nobles to  restrict the behaviour of the king is accepted as  reasonable and possible, it is not such a great leap to the  idea of a larger assembly which might do the same.  That idea was realised before the century was out in a Parliament.

Magna Carta is not as is commonly said the first formal  restriction on the powers of a monarch. The coronation oaths  of mediaeval kings regularly contained promises to observe  the laws and customary freedoms of England, but there was no means of enforcing the oaths other than rebellion. There was even a previous occasion when Ethelred was forced to  agree to formal restrictions on his powers in 1014, but that had no practical effect because of his death and the Danish conquest in 1016.

Magna Carta unlike coronation oaths was both specific enough to usefully form the basis  of law and in 1215 England did not fall under foreign rule.  Instead, in modified form, it quickly became part of the  statute books which developed in the thirteenth  century. More importantly it acquired a mythological quality which lasts to this day. Every important English rebellion and political movement from 1215 until the Chartists in the 1840s has cited Magna Carta in their defence and derived their programme from it. The Levellers in the 1640s made constantly cited it. It was a benchmark which allowed the powers of the king to be progressively whittled away. Never again could an English king convincingly claim that such restrictions on the prerogative were unthinkable or unprecedented.


The distinction of the English parliament is not that it is  the oldest such assembly in the world (although it is one of  the oldest), nor that it was unusual at its inception for  parliaments were widespread in mediaeval Europe. The English parliament’s distinction lies in its truly national nature – it was a national not federal assembly – its longevity  and the nature of its development. No other parliament in a country of any size was meaningfully maintained by regular meeting through seven or eight centuries, its only competitors for endurance being the tiny Icelandic assembly and the federal arrangements of the Swiss. Most importantly, before England created such an institution to act as a model, no other Parliament in the world developed into an fully fledged executive as well as a legislature. The English parliament made a very gradual progression to the place we know today. It began as an advising and  petitioning body in the 13th century and before the end of the 14th century had come to exercise considerable power over any taxation which was considered over and above the king’s normal and rightful dues, such as the excise. Gradually, this power transmuted into what was effectively a veto over most taxation. Parliament also added the power to propose and pass laws subject to their acceptance by the monarch. These developments meant that executive  power gradually drained from the King. From this came cabinet government as the monarch was more and more forced to take the advice of his ministers and by the end of the 18th century the struggle between Crown and Parliament for supremacy had been emphatically decided.

As the Parliament gained power, the Lords gradually  diminished in importance and the Commons became by the 19th century, if not before, the dominant House. The final act in the play was a century long extension of the franchise  culminating in a government dominated by an assembly elected under full adult suffrage from 1928 onwards.

A corrupted Parliament

By 1600 Parliament had become important enough to the governing of the country for Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters to think it necessary to blow up Parliament rather than simply killing the king and his ministers. In any other major European country of the time, the idea of destroying Parliamentary representatives rather than just the monarch and his more powerful friends would have seemed rather odd, either because a parliament did not exist or was considered of little account because European monarchs had been generally very successful in abolishing or curtailing the powers of mediaeval assemblies and preventing their political development.

But Parliament, although growing in power and ambition, was  suffering the ills of any ancient institution. There were accretions of privilege and it had failed to keep pace with the changing times. In 1600 it neither represented the country as it was nor satisfied the growing wish of its members, especially the elected ones, to have a greater say in the management of England. At the heart of the  dissatisfaction lay the unsatisfactory nature of the Commons’ franchise. I shall examine this question in some detail because it will demonstrate the historical political backdrop against which the democratic radicals of the 1640s  acted.

The question of the franchise

Serious disquiet with the Commons’ electoral  qualifications, provisions and practices began in Elizabeth’s reign and reached its highest pitch, prior to the 1640s, during the years 1621 to 1623. The discontent was provoked primarily by the situation in  the boroughs rather than the counties, Since 1430,  the county electorate had been restricted to the  forty shilling freeholder, which qualification had become  almost sacrosanct by the end of the sixteenth century –  only one proposal before the 1640s (in 1621) was  made to raise or lower it. Tudor inflation had  greatly lowered the barrier it represented (40 shillings in 1600 was worth perhaps 15 shillings at 1430 values) and it is reasonable to suppose this  considerably increased the rural electorate. Also,  there is evidence to suggest that the qualification was not always enforced and some county electorates may have had a very broad manhood franchise indeed prior to 1640.

Borough franchises were anything but uniform. In some  the whole ‘commonalty’ (all householders) or even  all ‘potwallers’ (men with their own hearths)  voted. In others the vote was restricted to all taxpayers  (‘scot and lot’), freemen of the town, or those  in possession of burgage property. In extreme cases the vote might be restricted to the ruling corporation. Such discrepancies of representation were aggravated by a distribution of borough seats which took insufficient  account of the demographic changes of the past two centuries, during which time England’s population increased very substantially, especially during the 16th century, perhaps by as much as a third. These facts prepared a well mulched  political soil for agitation for more equal borough representation, both in terms of the breadth of the franchise and in the number of seats.

Tudor monarchs, not unnaturally, did not favour larger electorates. The existence of ‘rotten boroughs’ was a  source of patronage and, if the monarch could control  the oligarchies who returned the MP, a means of reducing  opposition to the Crown. As there was a significant number of such boroughs, this was no small advantage to the monarch.  The attitude of Parliament to the franchise was mixed. The Lords had a similar interest to the Crown in distrusting broad franchises. The peers often effectively controlled seats in the Commons. They also had a natural inclination to deny the ‘commonality’ any voice in the affairs of the kingdom. Conversely, it was obviously in the Commons’  interest to increase electorates, where such increases reduced the Monarch’s’ and the Lord’s opportunities for patronage.

There is particular evidence that the Puritans favoured larger electorates, at least in so far as it suited their own purposes. At Warwick in 1586 Job Throckmorton was elected after he threatened to invoke the right of the ‘commonality to vote. In 1587 John Field remarked to  colleague ‘seeing we cannot compass these things by suit or dispute, it is the multitude and people that must  bring the discipline to pass which we desire.’ (J.H, Plumb. The Growth of the electorate 1600-1715). As Puritans displaced many court nominees and the creatures of  aristocrats, this is significant in view of the attitude of the Commons towards electoral qualifications  between 1621 and 1628.

By 1621, the Commons had gained the right to decide  disputed elections and to revive lapsed borough seats and  even make new creations, The tendency until 1628 was to  decide in favour of wider franchise and to allow  all the ‘commonality’ to vote. At Bletchingly (1624)  and Lewes (1628) ‘all the inhabitants ,’ were to be  electors’, and at Cirencester (1624) all ‘resients:’.

In the case of Pontefract in 1624 a general principle  was formulated: ‘There being no certain custom nor prescription, who  should be the electors and who not, we must have  recourse to common right which, to this purpose was held to be, that more than the freeholders only ought  to have voices in the election, namely all  men, inhabitants, householders resient within the borough.’ (J.H, Plunb. The Growth of the electorate 1600-1715).

Further, in the case of Boston (1628) it was asserted that  the election of burgesses belonged by common right to the  commoners and only prescription or ‘a constant usage  beyond all memory’ could rob them of this. (K. Thomas, The Levellers and the Franchise p.62).

It is true that when the Commons revived or created  borough seats, they concentrated, as the Tudors had done, on small towns to promote their own advantage.  But, even so, they granted ‘scot and lot’  franchises in every case (except Weobley) which meant  that even small towns such as Great Marlow or Hilbourne Port had electorate of around 200.

Bills were introduced to regulate elections  and standardise,the franchise in 1621, 1623, 1625, 1628 and 1640, The 1621 Bill is of particular interest  because it proposed that the 40/- freeholder qualification  be increased to œ4 and to admit œ10 copyholders by  inheritance. The borough proposals add no more than the various decisions on individual cases (in fact even less), for electors were to be freemen except where they  numbered less than twenty-four, in which case all  inhabitants not in receipt of alms were to be included,

In 1640 the franchise was raised again by Sir Simonds  D’Ewes. It was he who first uttered the idea later made famous by Rainsborough ‘that the poorest man in England ought to have a voice, that it was the birthright of  the subjects of England and all had voices in the  election of Knights etc. previously.’ (K. Thomas, The Levellers and the Franchise p.63).

In 1641 a bill had reached second reading but was then  lost. D’Ewes favoured its contents except that he  ‘desired that whereas it was provided in the bill that  none that took alms should have voices in elections, which I well allowed, we would likewise provide  that no more monopolizing elections might be in cities and boroughs, that all men resients might have voices.’  (K. Thomas, The Levellers and the Franchise p.64)

It is also noteworthy, both for its own sake and  the part it played in Leveller literature, that many  believed that the Statute of 1430 had disenfranchised  people. William May, in 1621, said ‘Anciently, all the  commonality had voice, but because such a multitude made the  election tumultuous, it was after reduced to freeholders’.  The religious radical William Prynne put it even more plainly, ‘Before this Petition and Act every  inhabitant and commoner in each county had voice in the election of Knights, whether he were a freeholder or  not, or had a freehold only of one penny, six pence or twelve pence by the year as they now claim of  late in most cities and boroughs where popular  elections are admitted’ (K. Thomas, The Levellers and the Franchise p.64). It is a sobering thought that if the Statute of 1430 did disenfranchise large numbers of county electors, the county franchise may have been wider in medieval England than it was to be again before the end of the nineteenth century and conceivably wider than the Franchise before the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

What of the position of those deemed to be dependents:  the servants, wage-earners and almstakers? Resident  household servants were generally considered beyond  the electoral pale, although ‘servants’ were said to  have voted in the Worcestershire county election of 1604.

Wage-earners certainly did so, for those in the ‘potwaller’  and ‘scot and lot’ constituencies were granted the  right to vote. Almstakers were excluded in the 1621  and 1640 bills, yet at Great Marlow in 1604 77 of the 245 voters were said to be almstakers, nine of them  inmates of the almshouse. In 1640 the right of the  Bember inmates to vote was said to have been sustained  and in 1662 the St. Albans almsmen were said to have ‘had  voices time out of mind’.

It is clear from all this that those who promoted theradical or democratic cause in the 1640s, most particularly the Levellers, did not enter untilled ground. There are also three points of particular interest. First, the Commons, or at least an influential part of it,  was not unduly disturbed by the prospect of an  enlarged electorate. Second, those deemed to be dependent such as servants and almstakers – were included on occasion in the franchise long before the Civil War. Third, that there existed even gentlemen (such as Sir Simonds D’Ewes) who had an active and unambiguous democratic spirit.

The latter point is particularly pertinent because the chief Leveller, John Lilburne, was also of gentle-birth, albeit “small gentry”, a fact he never ceased to emphasise. Clearly, democratic ideas and feeling were not foreign political bodies suddenly introduced by the Levellers and others in the 1640s.

The English civil war, Commonwealth and Protectorate

Stuart society was a world on the physical, economic and intellectual move and waiting to move faster if the right engine appeared. The civil wars of the 1640s was that machine.

Representative government is one thing, democracy quite another. That did not come to England in its formal form of a full adult franchise until the twentieth century. But for a brief period in the 1640s a franchise for the House of Commons broader than any used before the late nineteenth century was more than a pipe dream.

The Civil War and its republican aftermath, the Commonwealth and Protectorate, changed English politics  utterly. It brought the end of claims by the English crown

to Divine Right and absolute monarchy. It promoted the political interests of the aristocracy and gentry as a class. It forced those on the Parliamentary side to exercise power on their own responsibility. It created a political class which saw politics as something they could control rather than merely be part of as an adjunct to the crown. It raised the idea that there should be a law superior to that which even a parliament could pass. It began the constitutional process which resulted in cabinet government.  It laid the foundations for the formation of political parties as we know them. In short, it planted the seeds of  modern representative government.

Into this new world were cast men whose political philosophies ranged from acceptance of the divine right of kings to unyielding communists. In the middle were those, such as Cromwell, who though socially conservative, realised that power and political interest had shifted not merely  from the king to Parliament, but also in some sense to an appreciably broader circle of people than before. Such people were willing to extend the franchise to a degree, although still restricting it to those with property for fear that the poor would dispossess the haves if they had the power to elect and that those with no material stake in the country would have no sense of responsibility and duty.

But that was insufficient from many, especially those who fought on the Parliamentary side in the wars, and something else occurred which was to be even more momentous in the long run. The belief that men generally should only be ruled by those they had themselves elected became a serious political idea. That the idea should find expression as a serious political idea in the 1640s was, of course, partly a consequence of the disruption of society by civil war, but that was more an opportunity rather than a reason. Innumerable civil wars  all over the world have come and gone without the democratic spirit being given rein. What made the England of the time unusual was the long-existing ideal of individual freedom which had reached a high degree of sophistication, including the notion that free debate, the sine qua no of democracy,  was of value in itself. Here are two passages which give a taste of the way minds were working in the 1640s. First,

John Milton writing in the Areogapitica in the 1640s:

 And though all the winds of doctrine were let  loose upon the earth, so truth be in the field  [and] we do injuriously by licensing and  prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and  falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the  worse, in a free and open encounter…

The second statement comes from the Leveller Richard Overton’s ‘An Arrow against all Tyrants’ (19th October, 1646). It contains as good a refutation of the power of authority without consent over the individual as you will find:

 No man hath power over my rights and liberties,  and I over no man’s….for by naturall birth all  men are equally and alike borne to like propriety, liberty and freedom, and as we are delivered  of God by the hand of nature into this  world, everyone with a naturall, innate freedom and propriety….even so are we to live, every one  equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and  privilege…. [no more of which may be alienated]  than is conducive to a better being, more safety  and freedome….[for] every man by nature being  a King, Priest and Prophet in his own naturall  circuit and compasse, whereof no second may  partake, but by deputation, commission  and free consent from him, whose  naturall right and freedome it is. [An Arrow against all tyrants].

These were not odd voices crying in the wilderness. The  democratic spirit was widespread in the 1640s. By this I do not mean that men were commonly calling for full manhood suffrage, much less the emancipation of women. Even the most democratically advanced of the important groups which evolved during the Civil War, the Levellers, were unclear as to whether those who were deemed dependent in the sense of not being their own masters – servants and almstakers –  should be given the vote or, indeed, who counted as a servant or almstaker.

Rather, there was a sense that the social order had been  rearranged by the war, that men were on some new ground of equality and had a right to a public voice. In particular, there was a belief that those who had fought for Parliament had won the right to enfranchisement. There was also a widespread feeling, which penetrated all social classes, that the existing franchises (which as we have seen varied greatly) were frequently too narrow and that the towns, particularly those most recently grown to substantial size,  were grossly under-represented.

Ideas of social and political equality had, as we have seen, existed long before the Civil War, but never before had large swathes of the masses and the elite seen anything approaching representative democracy as practical politics under any circumstances. The political and social elite of the period after 1640 may have been desperately afraid of a general representation of the English people, but they did not say it was impossible, merely feared its consequences.

They may have loathed the idea of every man his own political master but they were forced by circumstances to admit that a Parliament elected on a broad franchise was not a fantasy. The Putney Debates in 1647 provide a vivid record of the political fervour and mentality of the times. Parliamentary and Army leaders including Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton, met with a variety of people on what might broadly be called the democratic side. A substantial part of the debate was taken down in shorthand. It is a most intriguing and exciting document, despite its incompleteness and some confused passages. The sheer range of political ideas it displays is impressive. It shows clearly that the 1640s  experienced a high degree of sophistication amongst the politically interested class and that this class was drawn from a broad swathe of English society. The ideas run discussed from the monarchical to the unreservedly democratic, epitomised in Col Thomas Rainsborough’s famous words:

 … I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to lead, as the richest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do not think  that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he has not had a voice to put himself under… (Col Thomas Rainsborough Puritanism and Liberty The Putney debates p 53).

Democracy, the revolutionary idea

Why was the idea of every man being an elector so revolutionary? There was of course the age-old traditional fear, known to the Greeks, that the masses would dispossess haves if they had control of who was to hold power. But the matter went much deeper than that. The enfranchisement of a  wide electorate is perhaps the most fundamental political change a society can undergo. It forces the elite to take note of the masses in a way that no other system does. Even the humblest man must be considered as a man in his own right, a person with a vote and needs and wishes. Those needs and wishes may be heeded and met to varying degrees according to the success an elite has in subverting the representative process through such tricks as international treaties and the development of disciplined political parties, but what the majority needs and wants cannot as a  matter of course be ignored completely when each man has a vote.

A form of male-only democracy existed in the ancient world, but it was never inclusive because the citizens were only a part of the population of a Greek civis and the large numbers of unfree men and free men who were not citizens were excluded. The Roman Republic had enjoyed in varying degrees at various times democratic expression through  plebeian institutions such as the concilium plebis and offices such as that of tribune. But that was a class based  representation which arose to oppose the Patrician class, not a self-conscious representation of individual men.

Received wisdom it may be now, the idea that every man (but not woman then) should have an active voice in choosing those who would represent and govern them was to most people, poor and rich, a truly novel and disturbing concept in the middle of the 17th century.

The Levellers

The group which gave the strongest voice and effect to democratic feelings in the 1640s was the Levellers. They  were a disparate and ever shifting crew, drawing their support primarily from the ranks of the Parliamentary armed forces (especially after the New Model Army was formed in 1645), small tradesmen, journeymen and apprentices.  However, they also included those from higher social classes, their most famous leader, John Lilburne, being the child of minor gentry.

The Levellers time was brief. They were a serious political  force for, at most, the years 1646 to 1649 and that is probably being a mite too generous. They failed utterly in the end, not least because they were unable to carry the army, especially the junior officers, with them. But they were important both for giving voice to the ideas and creating many of the practices on which modern politics is founded.

Their opponents attempted to portray the Levellers as social revolutionaries who would take the property of the rich, most particularly their land, and give it to the poor.  Hence the epithet of Leveller which originated as a term of abuse. But the Levellers consistently denied that they had any such programme and were staunch defenders of the right to property. They might best be characterised as radical democrats with a very strong libertarian streak. Indeed, so far were they from being proto-communists that they had an almost sacramental belief in the individual’s right to personal property.


Intellectually, they started from the view that all Englishmen had a birthright which entitled them to have a say in who should govern them, although at times they accepted that the birthright might be breached through dependence on a master or by receiving alms. More  importantly, their ideology contained the germ of the idea of a social contract between the people and those who held power, an idea which was to come to dominate English political thinking for the next century or so through the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

The Levellers were, with one or two exceptions such as Richard Overton, who was a deist at best and an atheist at worst, or John Wildman, who was a libertine and chancer,  religious. But their belief had a strong vein of rationalism in it. They saw God not as the often cantakerous and domineering supernatural being of traditional Christianity, but as a rational intelligence who entered every man and allowed him to see what was naturally just and reasonable.

For the Levellers, it seemed a natural right – a rational right – for a man to have a say in who should hold power and what they should do with the power. They  were happy to use historical props such as  Magna Carta and the legend of Norman oppression when it suited them, but their rationality led them to question how men were governed from first principles. One of the Leveller leaders Richard Overton actually called Magna Carta a “beggarly thing” and went on to comment:

 Ye [Parliament] were chosen to work our deliverance, and to estate us in natural and just liberty, agreeable to reason and common equity, for whatever our forefathers were, we are the men of the present age, and ought to be absolutely free from all kinds of exorbitancies, molestations or arbitrary power. (A Remonstrance. Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution)

More balanced was his fellow Leveller William Walwyn:

Magna Carta (you must observe) is but a part of the people’s rights and liberties, being no more but what with much striving and fighting, was wrested from the paws of those kings , who by force had conquered the nation, changed the laws and by strong hand held them in bondage. (England’s Lamentable Slaverie, Tracts on  Liberty in the Puritan Revolution.)

To call the Levellers a political party in the modern sense would be misleading. Yet they were the closest thing to it both then and, arguably, for several centuries. Their tactics and organisation were modern – the use of pamphletering and newspapers, the ability to get large number of supporters onto the streets (especially in London) at the drop of a hat, the creation of local associations.

Much of this was the work of Lilburne, a man of preternatural obstinacy, courage and general unreasonableness. It says much for the restraint of the English elite of the day and respect for the law that he was not killed out of hand. It is difficult to imagine such behaviour being tolerated anywhere in Europe in the seventeenth century.

Lilburne by every account of him was a most difficult man – it was said that his nature was so combative that he would seek a quarrel with himself if he were alone – ‘Jack would fight with John’. Yet this man, who came from a very modest gentry background, remained alive  despite challenging the authority of first the king and then  during and after the civil war, Parliament, Cromwell and the Commonwealth. He thus carried on this mortally dangerous  behaviour for almost a generation. To the end of his life in  1657, he was thought dangerous enough to imprison.

Lilburne first came to notice for seditious speeches and  writings in the 1630s. For that he was whipped from the Fleet  to the Palace Yard where he was stood in the stocks. Whilst  in the stocks, he removed copies of the pamphlets which had  caused his punishment and threw them to the crowd. That  little episode will give a good idea of the Lilburne’s  general mentality. He was an extreme example one of those  necessary unreasonable men without whom nothing great gets  done.

From the time of his flogging onwards, Lilburne’s career was  one of studied defiance of authority. He was one of the most  potent pamphleteers England has ever seen. For more than a  decade, he produced a flood of writings guaranteed to inflame  virtually anyone in public authority in the land. He faced  down judges in the most powerful courts in the land. He  controlled the London mob consummately. He treated the  greatest men in the land as equals. In any other place on the planet at that time, he probably would have been dead meat before his  career as an agitator began. But not in England. He might be  flogged. He might be put in the stocks. He might be  imprisoned. He might be tried twice for his life. But what the elite of  17th century England would not do was unreservedly murder him.

The Levellers developed an increasingly sophisticated political programme in a series of documents known as The Agreements of the People. These Agreements dealt extensively with political representation and structure. They were also very successful in creating a sense of historic grievance and an enemy. They did this by portraying 1640s England as  having declined from a golden age of freedom to an oppressed land and people under the heel of the Normans and their French successors.

The Levellers and the franchise

The Levellers changed their position on the franchise throughout their existence, tending to compromise when they thought that some accommodation with the likes of Cromwell could be made and ever more radical as political power slipped away from them, although there were times and places throughout their existence when this general tendency did not hold true.

What the Levellers did retain always was a belief that all  Englishmen were born with the same birthright. However, they accepted more often than not that certain  parts of this birthright could be forfeited under certain conditions. Religious, civil and even possibly economic rights could not be alienated justly, and as such should be protected constitutionally. The  right to elect, however, could be forfeited by  entering into a condition of dependence, either by  taking wages or alms. In such cases, a just  dependence resulted and the subservient individual’s  voice was deemed to be included in that of his master or benefactor, as far as a voice in elections was concerned,  just as that of a wife was deemed to be included in that of her husband. An idea of how the Levellers’ position changed can be gained from these extracts from Leveller tracts:

‘That the People of England,… ought to be more  indifferently proportioned according to the number  of inhabitants.’ (The first article of the First  Agreement.)

 [electors] ‘shall be Natives, or Denizen of England,  not persons receiving Alms … not  servants to, and receiving wages from any  particular person’ (The Second Agreement – D.H. Wolfe,Leveller Manifestoes p.403)

 ‘Whereas it hath been the ancient liberty of this nation, that all the freeborn people  have freely elected their representers in  Parliament, and their sheriffs and Justices of the Peace, etc. and they were abridged of that  their native liberty by a statute of the 8.H.6,7. That, therefore, the birthright of all English men be forthwith restored to all which are not, or shall  not be legally disenfranchised for some  criminal cause, or are under 21 years of age,  or servants or beggars .’ (The franchise clause  (section ll) of the Petition of January 1648 -D.H. Wolfe, Leveller Manifestoes P,269.)

By the time political opportunity had long passed the Levellers by we find in 1653 a pamphlet Leveller in tone – ‘A Charge of High Treason exhibited against Oliver  Cromwell’ summoning all the people of England to the polls ‘as well masters, sons of servants’.

Constitutional restraint

The Levellers did one more thing which was to have great influence in the future: they created the idea of constitutional law acting as a restraint on a parliament.  The Agreements of the People placed restrictions on what Parliament might do, removing the power from Parliament to  repudiate debts it had incurred, interfere with the operation of justice, destroy the rights to property or diminish the liberty of the individual. The Levellers even included provision granting the electorate the right to  resist Parliament if they acted beyond their powers. They also called for annual parliaments, i.e., a general election every year, which would have been a great restriction in itself on what those with power might do.

In 1648 the Levellers attempted but failed to convene a Constitutional Convention of the type which more than a century later produced the American constitution. However, the idea of restraining Parliament by superior law was given form in the Instrument of Government which set up the Protectorate. The idea of such constitutional restraint disappeared in England after the Restoration and the novel doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy eventually won the day after the “Glorious Revolution” of 1689, when the monarch became king not by right of birth but by gift of Parliament.

Other radicals

The most uncompromising of the democratic and egalitarian forces in the 1640s were the so-called Diggers or, “True Levellers” led by William Everard but best known through the writings of Gerrard Winstanley. In many ways the Diggers,  probably unwittingly, reiterated the most extreme egalitarian sentiments of the Peasant’s Revolt, such as the reputed words of John Ball, and reached back to the mediaeval idea of society as a communal enterprise.  They believed that the land belonged to no one saying “None ought to be lords or landlords over another, but the earth is free for every son and daughter of mankind to live upon.” ( Works, ed by Sabine p289).

For the Diggers the “natural” state of man was one of common ownership and the root of  evil the egotistic desire for individual advantage including  the “cheating art of buying and selling” by which king’s live  (Winstanley’s Law of Freedom 1652).

In 1649 a small group of Diggers attempted to put their philosophy into practice camped on St Georges Hill near Walton on Thames in Surrey and attempted to cultivate common land. Further Digger attempts were made at Cobham in Surrey and at Cox Hall in Kent and at Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. All met with a mixture of legal and physical harassment by local landowners and even attracted the attention of the Council of State which sent troopers to repress them. The Diggers were brought twice to court.

Their numbers were small, probably amounting to no more than a hundred or so at most and they had no lasting direct legacy. Yet they are a reminder that many Englishmen have never have never accepted willingly the unearned privileges of social rank or vast differences in wealth while the masses struggled to feed themselves.

The Diggers are also significant for giving voice through Winstanley to the novel idea that the end of politics should be the well-being of the common man and for the clear recognition that liberty rests on the economic state of society.

Exporting Representative Government

After the Cromwell’s establishment of the Protectorate, democratic ideas did not gain serious political currency in England for more than a century, but the example of England’s continually evolving parliamentary government proved a potent one.

The Restoration did not result in serious legal abridgements of the power of the monarch, but Charles II was in practice much restricted by a Parliament unwilling to adequately open the purse strings for a monarch who was, ironically, expected to do more and more as the formal power

of the state grew.

The “Glorious Revolution” of 1689 produced a true constitutional sea-change. From then on the English monarch ascended the throne only with the acceptance of Parliament and the Bill of Rights (1690) placed restrictions on the monarch. Amongst the long list of things the king was forbidden to do were:

Dispense with and suspend of laws, and the execution of laws, without consent of parliament.

Levy money for and to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, for another time, and in other manner, than the same was granted by parliament.

To raise and keep a standing army within England in time of peace, without consent of parliament, and quartering  soldiers contrary to 4.

To violate the freedom of election of members to serve in parliament.

To demand excessive bail of persons committed in criminal cases, “to elude the benefit of the laws made for the liberty of the subjects.”

To impose excessive fines and illegal and cruel punishments.

The abuses of power by the crown listed in the Bill of Rights  are described as being ” utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes, and freedom of this realm.”

That old reliance on the law and the traditional freedoms of the Englishman.

From 1689 began the century long decline of the monarchy as an executive power. The American War of Independence sealed the fate of the monarch and the Americans forged a new version of the English political model, with a formal separation of powers and a written constitution to restrict what governments and legislatures might do.


The received academic opinion on the American constitutional settlement is that it was the offspring of John Locke. In fact, it had at least as much affinity with the ideas of the Levellers. There is no direct intellectual link, but arguably the most important popular propagandist on the American side, the Englishman Tom Paine, shared much of his ideology with the Levellers. The Constitution is a balancing act between Locke Paine, granting a large degree of popular involvement in politics, whilst tempering it with restrictions such as electoral colleges and granting through the Bill of Rights  (which was inspired by the English Bill of Rights of 1690) constitutional protections for the individual against the state.

If the American Revolution owed its shape and  inspiration to England, the French Revolution was inspired by both English constitutional development and the America revolutionary example. Most political revolutions resulting in an attempt at representative government, have been  touched, consciously or not, by the legacy of the American and French revolutions.

England through control of the British Empire, ensured that the Westminster model of government was transplanted with widely differing success, to approximately a quarter of the world’s population, when the empire dissolved in the twenty years after 1945.

The astonishing upshot of the English example, the American and French Revolutions and the British Empire, is that the  political structures of most modern states are broadly based on the English constitution of King, Lords and Commons, the overwhelming majority having a head of state plus two assemblies. In addition, the widespread practice of a written constitution derives from the example of the United States, which of course drew its form and inspiration from  English settlements in North America, English history and political practices. These political structures apply as readily to dictatorships as they do to liberal democracies.

Of course, the balance of power between the head of  state and the assemblies varies widely and there is much difference between Parliamentary and Presidential government, but they all have their ultimate origin in the example of the English system of representative government.

One last thing. Look around the world. How many countries  can be said even today to have accepted elected representative government and the rule of law as a banal fact of life, the norm of their society? Britain, the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand certainly, Switzerland  and Scandinavia possibly. But where else? Not France which  as recently as 1958 overthrew the Fourth Republic. Not  Germany which embraced Hitler nor Italy the land of Mussollini. Not Spain so recently loosed from Franco.

As for the rest of the world, that tells a sorry tale of elites who generally have such a lack of respect for the individual and a contempt for the masses that the idea of shared power with and for the people is simply alien to them.

The fact that the only really stable examples of elected representative government in countries of any size are in  those countries which have their ultimate  origins in English colonisation strongly suggests that it was no accident that it was in England that the institution evolved. There must be something highly unusual about English society for it both to develop in a manner so different from any other country and to export this rare and valuable difference to colonies.

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Book review – Displacement

The story of  a man resigned to being a victim because he does not realise he is a victim

Author Derek Turner

Obtainable from  Amazon

Review by Robert Henderson

In his last work Sea Changes Derek Turner offered a large canvas on which he painted both the predicament of the illegal  immigrant and a Britain afflicted with a paralysing political correctness with which traps both the British elite and the ignored and secretly despised  working-class into an ideological web far removed from reality.    With  Displacement, a novella rather than a novel,  we have a more intimate work which illustrates through Martin Hacket  a dismal deracinated England which has left the English with no sense of  national feeling or any sense of having a land they could call their own. It has even robbed them of any sense that their predicament is in some way wrong or even just plain odd .

Displacement is set in South London. Martin is young , blond and  a member of  the white working class, an endangered species in his London.  Like the rest of his class Martin has been robbed not only of his sense of historical and territorial  place  but  materially deprived. He  has a job as  courier on a bike and, because he knows no better,  he thinks himself lucky to have the menial job  because  such jobs normally go to graduates.

The world Martin inhabits is unreservedly  tawdry. Everything  that once gave the white working class a sense of belonging, worth and respect has been removed by the massive  postwar immigration. A  surreptitious colonisation of Britain has occurred. His family is one of the few white English faces left in the road in which he lives.  Their  few white English neighbours  are not of his class, merely  the advance guard of a possible gentrification.   Martin wishfully thinks of a life in the suburbs.  He used to dream of somehow finding the money to move there when he  had a girlfriend Kate,   but  allowed that dream to die after they broke up because he  knows  he could never  afford any sort of  property.

Martin  lives with his father and elder brother Mike.  His father is a vessel  adrift from its anchor. He worked on ships as a deckhand until the company  which employed him  went belly up. Since then he has been unemployed.  But it is not just his work which has gone. A natural Labour voter he no longer has a meaningful Labour Party to vote for or a union to which he can belong .   Mike is a drug addict and minor criminal.

Martin’s  release from the  dreariness of  a  London in which  the native English have been reduced to just one ethnic group is twofold. The first means of escape is  free running.  This frees him from the clutching mediocrity of his social and physical world, giving him not just a physical release but a sense that he is above the fray the society in which he  lives.  His second release is through  poetry which he both reads and writes.   Martin  is not academically inclined and never got much out of school, but he has  a desire to express himself  and free verse  can be like free running,  something which is not constricting,  something he can bend to his will rather than being bent by circumstances.

Against all the odds Martin becomes a sort of celebrity, or  at least he has his fifteen minutes of fame.  Whilst free running  Martin is seen by  people in the buildings he scales.  This causes alarm amongst some, because he  runs in a  white hoody which with his blondness  gives  him a ghost-like appearance.  Martin  is also seen on a building housing a senior politician, something  which attracts the notice of the police who fear he is a security risk. The media takes up the story without knowing who  is  the   person  responsible.  Martin’s ex-girlfriend  guesses that he is responsible .  She is excited by Martin’s sudden if so far anonymous celebrity, reconnects with him and  arranges for a public school educated journalist by the name of Seb to interview Martin about his free running.

Seb visits Martin and his family  in the spirit of  an anthropologist visiting  a tribe of hunter gatherers.   Except for Kate , whom he tries unsuccessfully to seduce , Seb  does not have any real interest in Martin and his family and friends; they are  merely props for an article which will validate his ideas about the white working-class, an out of date , redundant species, Morlocks robbed of their purpose,  with  Martin cast as the ugly duckling who is changed into a swan by his free running exploits, something celebrated in prose of excruciating pretension  such as ’From  his concrete eyrie he can discern the essential unity of humanity’.

The article is deeply offensive but  Seb diffuses the anger  of Martin and his friends and family  by introducing Martin to a publisher of poetry .  What Martin does not appreciate is that this is an act of heavy patronage, a re-enactment of that extended to working-class authors in the quarter century after the Second World War, which is a continuation of the offensive patronising  tone of Seb’s newspaper article.

The real  tragedy is not the mean circumstances in which Martin  finds himself, but the fact that he accepts his lot without questioning : he does not ask  why he  cannot set up home in decent circumstances because housing is beyond expensive; why he cannot get the sort of job his father’s generation could get,  manual most probably but paying well enough for a man to raise a family; why his father has been reduced to idleness through no fault of his own. Most   importantly he does not question how it is that where he lives is almost entirely  dominated by people who are not like him when only  a few decades before the place he lived in had been solidly white working class.

Martin is a man resigned to being a victim because he does not realise he is a victim. He  sees the mediocrity of the world he lives in but accepts it as just how things are. He does not even have what Winston Smith in 1984 had,  vague  memories  of what  was before the  dismal world  in which he lived.  Winston however ineptly had an urge to challenge the status quo; Martin has  no urge to change things  only to find a way to escape the grind of his daily existence with poetry and free running, which both gives him a focus on something  untainted by the rest of his life and literally lifts him above it.  Yet even that consolations will be fleeting enough because free running is for the  young.  It will not be too many years before Martin is too old to find his freedom there.

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Immigration  and the price of a liberal conscience

Robert Henderson

British politicians and the mainstream media has been  excitedly  pointing  to what they describe  as the great generosity of the British public  in offering to take  immigrants into their homes. The reality is rather different  for the  number of  people living in Britain who have offered a home to  immigrants is meagre,  a few thousand out of a British population  of approximately 64 million. Even this small number  is highly suspect  because  these are merely people who have offered to take refugees   without being tested  by the reality of having people in their home.   Moreover, many of those who have offered have not done so in an open ended fashion. Instead they have put their hands up for a few weeks or months or perhaps even a year, although the reality of assessing asylum claims is several years and conceivably much longer. Longer term

Much  of the enthusiasm for taking in immigrants has been  expressed not by  offering to lodge them in private homes but in lobbying councils to find accommodation for immigrants.  This is unlikely to cost those lobbying anything because such people will most probably not be in need of  social housing or live in an area which will be flooded with immigrants.  Nor are they likely to  be sending their children to schools which boast “there are 93 languages spoken here” or be unable to get an appointment with their  GP or a hospital consultant quickly because  the population of their area has suddenly soared. . It is also improbable  that they or their children will lose their chance of a decent job to an immigrant or have their pay reduced because immigrants are willing to work for less. The people who will  lose out are the poorer members of society.  They will find themselves competing with immigrants for housing, jobs, schools and medical care.

The stark reality  of mass immigration is that  those who advocate taking in immigrants, most of them from the Third and Second worlds, are stealing from the poorer of their own people.  Let me list what they steal:

  1. Employment, both by taking jobs and by reducing wages .
  2. Housing, both by  taking housing (including large amounts of social housing)  and by forcing up  house prices and private  rents.
  3. School opportunities by both taking places  and  reducing the quality of the schooling  available to the British children through larger classes and  the  extra time and money  devoted to dealing with children who speak inadequate English.
  4. University opportunities, both by immigrants taking places (especially in subjects such as medicine) and by the reduction in the quality of the education offered through  immigrant students having poor English or by being simply  intellectually inadequate.   There is a strong venal  incentive for universities to take   large numbers of such people because, unlike British and EU students,   students from  outside the  EU pay the full cost of their courses.  A large part of the university learning experience depends on student interaction both inside and outside the classroom.  The poorer the quality of students, the less opportunity for the able student to learn because of the inability of inadequate students  to express themselves intelligently.
  5. Healthcare. GPs surgeries are being swamped in many areas because of immigration and anyone who has visited a NHS hospital recently in places such as  London will have been astonished at the number of foreign patients there are  (I speak from personal experience).

More generally, when  immigrants arise in large numbers they invariably form ghettoes.  This means that Britons who live in areas anywhere such ghettoes formed rapidly find that the place with which they are familiar becomes somewhere alien .

If those who advocated mass immigration had to pay a real  price for their parading  of their conscience you may be  assured that their enthusiasm would vanish as quickly as the morning dew.  What should be the price?  Here are a couple of scenarios:

  1. If someone advocates taking in more immigrants they should have to take responsibility for that person permanently. By that I mean not only house them but meet all their reasonable needs such as food, clothing medical and educational costs.   They should have no choice about who they are allocated,  so there will be no choosing a westernised well educated  immigrant or two who speak good English.
  2. Another scenario could be the immigration advocate and their immediate family experiencing the conditions that poorer  Britons experience. This would require that their family home  be  requisitioned and the advocate and his or her family moved to basic  accommodation in an area absolutely brimming over with the diversity such people religiously  extol as being so desirable.  The income of the  adults involved would be reduced to the bare  minimum which the British state says is needed to live. Where there are children of school age , these would be sent to state funded schools which boast “93 languages spoken here”.   If healthcare is required they would  have to use a local GP and the nearest appropriate NHS hospital.

Would it be unfair to include the immediate family in the penalty? Well, consider this, all of the disadvantages which I suggest putting onto those who advocate Britain takes in huge numbers of immigrants have never had the slightest qualms in condemning the poor of their own nation to such conditions.  They would simply be experiencing that which they have not only placed on the white working class but that which they have claimed is positively beneficial to those unfortunate to experience the joy of diversity in its most invasive condition.  Moreover,  how could  children not be included in any punishment meted out to the parents. If a  father or mother is sent to prison or a family loses their breadwinner because their job  disappears as the result of criminal behaviour  the children  suffer. Of course if either scenario  I have outlined was the penalty for advocating  mass immigration there would be precious few if any advocating it.

There  should be a stiff  price for the exercise of a  liberal conscience when it comes to immigration.  Sadly, at present the price is paid not by the eager propagandists for mass immigration but the poorer members of our society.

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The decline of batting technique and other modern cricketing ills

Robert Henderson

The batting of the 2015 Australian side on anything other than a featherbed pitch  has been shockingly inept,  not least because for  twenty years or so from the late 1980s  Australia had top class batsmen coming out of their ears.   Some, like Darren Lehmann,  played much less  Test cricket  than their talent  deserved and  others like poor Stuart Law managed but one game wearing the baggy green cap. The lack of proper practice games on tours

But the current Australians are not alone in their ineptitude whenever a ball swings, seams or spins.  There is a growing  propensity  for Test sides to collapse whenever faced with a large opposing total  – England are a good example of this.  Specialist batsmen  playing at the highest level are increasingly showing that they have  neither the technique nor the mentality to play not just Test cricket but first class cricket.

No country has any room for complacency because as older players with good techniques  retire there are few plausible replacements.  Look at Sri Lanka without  Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara  or imagine Australia minus Clarke, Rogers, Watson and Voges.   Take Bell and Cook away from England’s top order and what  is left but Root of proven Test batsmen?   How many really reliable day-in-day-out Test batsmen are there today?  Precious few and almost all of them are players nearer the end of their Test careers  than the beginning.

The batting averages of the 2015 Ashes tell their own story of ever diminishing batting technique.  England had only one player Root (57 ) averaging over 40 with the rest of the specialist batsmen turning in 36 (Cook), 29 (Bairstow), 26 (Bell),  14 (Lyth), and 24 (Balance) . Australia had three players (Smith, Rogers and Warner) averaging over 40,  which looks respectable but disguises the fact that Smith and Rogers alternated big scores with runs of small scores, while Warner repeatedly failed to make a  big  score in the first innings.   They also had their captain Clarke averaging 16 and Voges 28.   Nor did the often  pivotal batting spots of  six and seven do much, with no player who regularly appeared for either side in those positions managing an average of  better than 25 (Stokes).

It might be thought from those statistics that the bowling on both sides was of high quality.  Well, compare the bowling attacks of 2005 Ashes series with those today. In 2005 there were  Flintoff, Harmison, Jones, Hoggard and Giles (England); Mcgrath, Lee, Gillespie, Warne (Australia).  Today we have Anderson, Broad, Wood, Finn, Stokes and Ali (England) and Johnson, Starc, Hazlewood, Marsh and Lyon (Australia).

I doubt whether there would be much dissension from the claim that the 2005 bowling was decidedly  superior to that of the 2015 series .   Apart from two all time greats in Warne and Mcgrath, England’s four pronged pace attack with three genuinely fast bowlers in Flintoff, Harmison and Jones  was formidable. Yet  the scoring of top six batsmen in 2005 was heavier on the England side  than that of the 2015 team with four  of the top six averaging 39 or better   with  Pietersen, Trescothick, Strauss and Flintoff scoring 393 runs or better. The 2005 Australians did not score more heavily than the present day side overall  but they scored much more consistently, with four of their top six (Ponting, Langer,  Clarke, Hayden) scoring over 300 runs in the series.  Given the  superiority of the 2005 bowling, it would have been reasonable to expect the 2015 sides to score more heavily than those 2005 if the quality of batting was as good as that of  2005.   Patently it was not as both the averages and the frequency of collapses by both sides shows.  .

Another good example of how batting technique has declined is the inability of present day Indian batsmen  to play spin. This is a startling change because Indians have always been the batsmen noted for being expert in dealing with spinners. Yet now that the old guard of Tendulkar, Dravid and Sewag have departed the Test scene India are suddenly all at sea against spinners .  In England in 2014 they allowed Mooen Ali to take 19 wickets in four Tests despite the fact that he is not and never has been  considered a serious spin bowler. More recently in Sri Lanka India  were shot out for 112  when chasing a target of 175 with the main damage being done by  the slow left armer Herath  (7-48) and the offspinner Kaushal (3-47). Watching those ten dismissals it is  astonishing how uncertain the batsmen’s footwork was and how often they went hard at the ball early despite the fact that it was turning and bouncing.

What has caused this decline in batting technique?


It has been suggested that the Australian batting  failure was down to a lack of experience of English conditions, both because the lure  of T20 cricket has meant Australian players have not spent seasons with county clubs as they often did before the India Premier League began  and the attenuated nature of tours these days.

These arguments  will not stand up to close scrutiny. Before the relaxation of county qualification rules in 1968  Australian Test players did not have the experience of  playing in county cricket. As a consequence Australian teams would arrive in England with many players without any experience of first class cricket in English conditions and those with experience would be players  who had toured England before so they would probably have only a single season’s experience. Yet they still managed to make a fist of things.   As for the short tours, this is not a new circumstance. On the 2015  tour Australia also had four first class matches outside of the Test against Kent , Essex, Northants and Derbyshire. In 2005 Australia played only four first class matches outside the Tests against Leicestershire,  Essex, Worcestershire and  Northants.  It is worth adding that  Australians still play plenty of  county cricket and most of their  specialist batsmen  had with experience of English conditions either from playing for counties or from having previously toured England.

A much more likely cause of the decline in  Australian batsmanship is T20. It is surely no coincidence that the decline in technique is most marked amongst batsmen who have played all or most of their  careers after  T20 had gained a real hold.  Batsmen are conditioned by T20 to go hard at the ball . Playing with soft hands is seemingly unknown to them, and  the idea of building an innings completely alien.  Bowl a couple of maidens  in succession  at players in a first class match and their anxiety to score becomes palpable.

Other aspects of T20 play to the changes in technique and mentality. Benign T20 pitches with white balls used play to rarely provide much of an examination of technique. As the batsman has only a short time to play in T20  – 90 minutes at best if they bat through the innings-  batsmen have not only an urge to score quickly but no incentive to build an innings.  As T20 is where the big money is these days, batsmen will naturally enough increasingly think that  a cameo innings of 30 or most of the time with a fifty  now or then and  an occasional century in T20 is to be preferred to heavy scoring in the first class game.

There is also the absence of close catchers in T20 breeding bad habits. Players get away with risky stroke play in T20 because there are few if any close fielders,  then find when they return to first class cricket that they cannot stop themselves playing  the same strokes which have them  regularly caught  close to the wicket.

Bowling in T20 also has its part to play. As bowlers have only four overs to each bowl batsmen never have to come to terms with a bowler as such.  At most they can only face twenty four balls and will be unlikely to face more than a dozen. If a bowler is causing them serious difficulties they have a good chance of surviving an over or two whereas in a first class match they would probably get out.

When batsmen return to first class cricket from T20 because their techniques are faulty they find it difficult to adjust to cricket which is played on pitches which are normally more difficult to play on than those used for T20, not least because the games last for days. In addition, first class cricket is a much more fluid game than T20 with no limits, other than the time available,  on how many overs a bowler may bowl or a team may bat  and no fielding restrictions. The best bowlers can bowl as long as their captain wants. The batsman must  live with an uncertainty which does not exist in T20 where a  batsman knows that he  will only have to bat for quite a short time  even if he bats through the innings and because of the restriction of four  overs per bowler a batsman will be able to structure their approach to an innings around the knowledge that a bowler has only so many overs to bowl and have a good idea when a  bowler will bowl. In short, in a first class game the batsman has to think for themselves far more than they do in T20.

It might be objected that limited over cricket has been widely played since the mid 1960s without having the same effect as that of T20.  There are two answers to that. Limited overs cricket  longer than T20 has been played over 65 over, 55 overs, 50 overs and 40 overs. The longer the limited overs  game the nearer it will  correspond to first class cricket simply because duration alone  necessitates a difference in approach to the game..

The other major difference between the T20 period and what went before is that before T20 limited overs cricket loomed much less large than first class cricket and especially Test cricket which was the main revenue source.   Since the advent of T20 in England in 2003 and the creation of the Indian Premier League in 2008, T20 has become the main cash cow for cricketers with T20 competitions around the world.  Professional cricketers increasingly see their careers in terms of what T20 will bring them and concentrate on excelling at that variety of  the game to the detriment of acquiring the skills naturally learnt by playing first class cricket.

The batting stance

T20 is also probably  driving  the adoption of increasingly odd  stances in the professional game. Watch a first class game in England  today and almost all the specialist batsmen (and most of the allrounders and lower order) have foresworn the traditional stance.  Instead of standing still with, at most,  the bat thumping the ground a few times as the bowler moves in, batsmen adopt a variety of stances which place the batsman in an awkward position.   Quite a few batsmen look more  like a baseball hitter than a batsman as they wait for the bowler to deliver.

The most common oddities are where the  batsman holds the bat raised in a locked position. This hich looks both awkward and traps the player in a position which delays his movement to play the ball.  Some combine the raised bat with bat waving. A few mix the fixed bat raised stance with leaning forward in the stance which means they  are committed to the front foot and a sucker for the short fast ball.

Locking the bat in a raised position or waving it about  must both distract the batsman from concentrating on the bowler and the ball after it is delivered.  The  stance with the bat raised in a set position  must also be tiring in an innings of any length. A batsman making a century will probably  face 200+ balls so that is  200+ holding the bat in an awkward and tense position whilst supporting its full weight. Batting for a full day would probably mean 400-500 times of doing this tiring action.

Then  there  are  the extraordinary movements around the crease of some batsmen, for example, Steve Smith, before the ball is bowled. This leaves them vulnerable to any ball which moves in the air or off the pitch because it will take a fraction of a second longer to move to the correct position to play the ball than it would in an orthodox stance.   Movement about the crease before the bowler bowls must also distract the batsman from concentrating wholeheartedly on the bowler. Movement of the head is also  common, which again must distract the batsman from concentrating on the ball.

The orthodox stance is the best technical stance because it has the batsman with their weight evenly distributed so the batsman can play back or forward with equal physical ease, the batsman does not have to support the full weight of the bat , the batsman is  in a relaxed and comfortable position and,  most important,  has nothing to stop him giving his full attention to the bowler and the ball.

Helmets and batsmen who look like Michelin men

Since the adoption of helmets batsmen are regularly hit  on the head. Before helmets it was very rare to see a batsman struck on the head. I began  regularly watching first class cricket in England in the nineteen fifties. Between then and the routine adoption of helmets around 1980 I saw only two batsmen hit on the head: Jim Parks by Don Bennett in a Middlesex/Sussex county game at Lords  (Parks  was knocked out when a ball jumped from a length and hit him flush on the chin),  and Denis Amiss who walked into the line of a Holding bouncer playing  for the MCC against the 1976 West Indies.

It was not that bouncers were  bowled infrequently before helmets.  Throughout  cricket history there have been complaints about the overuse of the bouncer: Macdonald and Gregory just after the Great War, the Bodyline tour of 1932/3, Miller and Lindwall immediately after WW2, Thomson and Lillee  in the 1970s and  Holding, Roberts and Daniel on the 1976 West Indies tour of England all produced vociferous complaints. Nor were bouncers reserved only for those who could bat. It is true that that there was a supposedly gentleman’s agreement not to bowl bouncers at tail enders, but that  did not prevent  Lindwall hitting Tyson on the head during the 1954/5 Ashes tour or Charlie Griffith  bouncing Underwood during the 1966 West Indies tour of England when he lingered too long  at the crease for Griffith’s liking.  Batsmen were rarely hit on the head because they were skilled at getting out of the way by swaying or ducking.

The most plausible reason for why batsmen are regularly hit today is  that helmets  have made them  careless in their treatment of the bouncer, either through not watching the ball or a too ready willingness to hook and pull regardless of their technical command of the shots.   Before helmets, batsmen only hooked or pulled bowlers of any pace if they were competent players of the shot. Fine opening batsmen such as John Edrich and  Bobbie Simpson rarely if ever hooked.  Moreover, even the competent players  were very selective in what they hooked and pulled. Today every  Tom, Dick and Harry in the first class game feels they  should hook and pull, with even undisputed rabbits indulging themselves on occasion.

The false sense of security which helmets bring is heightened by the extraordinary extra protective paraphernalia with which batsmen equip themselves  today: bumper bras, arm guards, massive thigh pads which go round both thighs. The result is batsmen routinely get to the wicket looking like Michelin men.  This must impede their movement.  In the past batsmen had at most pads,  rudimentary gloves, a box and an inadequate thigh pad or a towel shoved down the trousers on the leading thigh for protection. Some, like Trevor Bailey,  dispensed with thigh protection altogether believing it made them less agile.


There are two main worries about bowling: inaccuracy and  the decline in spin bowling. I can vouch for the fact that bowlers in the past were much more accurate than they are today. Those of a younger generation who doubt this should go and view a few clips of extended play  from the fifties and sixties to see the difference. Bowlers in the past knew how to bowl to their field in a way which bowlers today all too often do not.

Bowlers today experiment too much, but they also are conditioned by T20 (and to a lesser degree in the longer limited formats)  to bowl  to contain rather than take wickets.  This has a particularly unfortunate effect on spin bowlers.  It makes them bowl flat and fast. The England and Middlesex offspinner John Emburey who started his career in the 1970s bowling an attacking line outside the offstump with plenty of spin and ended it bowling middle and off after spending a good deal of time bowling in limited overs games.

Spinners are used freely in T20 and longer form limited overs games. Indeed, in England you are more likely to see spin bowlers in those forms of cricket than in first class games where it is rare to see two frontline spinners in a team and even when there are two captains never seem to keep them bowling in tandem, the most effective tactic for spinners on most pitches. As for the idea that spinners can be attacking bowlers on any pitch, through flight and disguised changes of pace where a pitch is benign, this has gone completely out of the English game.


Not only does accuracy and bowling to a field make life  more difficult for the batsmen, it also helps the  fielding because, guess what, batsmen play the ball to the set field more often. This means that less spectacular fielding is required.

Modern fielding is often   lauded as being vastly better than it was in the past. It is certainly true that the sliding tackle stop looks spectacular and some of the catches in the outfield are spectacular, but I would question whether the fielding is superior overall. In particular, close catching has declined.   This I suspect is due to the movement away from specialist fielders  as limited overs cricket and particularly T20 has expanded its importance.  The fact that limited overs cricket constitutes so much of the modern player’s career also means  that the opportunities  to be a close catcher are much reduced.

Modern wicket keeping is much inferior to that of the past. That is partly a consequence of the universal fashion for selecting wicket keepers who can bat well enough to at least qualify as genuine  allrounders  (ideally well enough to score like specialist batsman) and partly the decline in spin bowling which robs them of the experience of keeping whilst standing up.

The aesthetic side of cricket

Cricket has become much uglier since the 1970s when helmets came in. Instead of watching  a batsman with bare head or a cap or sunhat on it batsmen now look out for bars covering their face.  Nor is it only batsmen because it has become routine to see wicket keepers and fielders such as short leg  wearing helmets with grills. The bulkiness of the other new protective I have already remarked on but they also make batsmen look both un-athletic  and less agile and natural in their movements.

Then there are the weird modern  stances and the dancing around the crease instead of standing still as the bowler runs in. These are both ugly to watch and irritating to watch.

Watch extended recordings of batsmen from the fifties and sixties and you will see that they looked better, adopted neat orthodox stances which left them balanced to go back or forward with equal ease and were readily recognisable.

First class cricket is in danger of dying

First class cricket is the form of cricket which develops and maintains the fullest range of  skills. It needs to be played regularly  to both develop the skills and maintain them.  Someone playing little first class cricket outside of Tests,  as many established Test players do these days,  will find flaws enter their techniques that  go uncorrected because of their  lack of regular first class play.  To be a young international  batsman with a central contract from their national cricket authority means that the normal development of technique through playing  regular first class  cricket does not happen.

First class cricket will die if  the skills needed to play it are lost or so reduced that the idea of playing a three  day game let alone a five day Test match simply becomes impractical because the players will be unable to play a match which lasts so much longer than limed overs cricket.  Batsmen will lack the technique to handle pitches and climatic conditions where red  balls spin, seam and  swing; bowlers will be conditioned to bowling defensively and will probably lack the fitness to bowl twenty overs or more in a day; fielders will be unused to fielding for day after day and all players will simply be mentally unprepared for the much greater and more varied demands first class cricket  poses.

If first class cricket does die or even becomes a very poor relation of T20, cricket as a serious professional sport could be finished. Limited overs cricket whether it is 50 overs or 20 overs is formulaic and one dimensional compared with first class cricket which has an extended and varied narrative that limited overs cricket can never begin to match.  That is why limited overs matches are rarely remembered while Test matches and Test series  have a resonance which often lasts a cricket lover  for a lifetime.  The danger is that eventually T20 is  all pervasive and cricket  becomes less and less popular as the  stereotyped and predicable  nature  of T20 begins to bore people.

Posted in Sport | Tagged | 4 Comments

Defend your national territory  or lose it

Robert Henderson

The present attempts of migrants from around the Mediterranean and  beyond to effectively invade Europe have brought the long simmering immigration threat to a head.  First World   politicians can no longer pretend it is under any sort of control. The question those in the First World have to answer is  gruesomely simple: are they willing  to defend the their own territory as they  would if faced with an armed invader  and by doing so preserve their way of life and safety , or will they allow a fatal sentimentality  to paralyse the entirely natural wish to stop invaders until the native populations of the First World are at best a tolerated minority in their own ancestral lands and at worst the subject of acts of genocide.

The Prime Minister of Hungary Victor Orlan  has had the courage to point out  something which is obvious but anathema to the politically correct elites of Europe, namely, that  immigration on the current scale will result in Europeans becoming a minority in  their own continent with a consequent loss of European values.  Anyone who thinks that Europe (and the rest of the First World) is not in danger should think on these facts:

  • The population of the world is approximately 7 billion. At the most generous estimate only one billion live in the First World.
  • The population of the world is estimated to grow by another two billion by 2050 with all the growth being in the Third World.
  • The white population of the world is projected to be in a minority in Europe and North America by 2050.
  • The First World already has large minorities of those from racial and ethnic groups whose antecedents are in the Third World and who have had their sense of victimhood at the hands of whites  fed assiduously by white liberals for over 50 years. Once established in a First World  country they agitate for the right to bri9ng relatives over and to relax immigration control generally. A  recent report by the think tank Policy Exchange estimates that one third of the UK population with be from an ethnic minority by 2050.
  • Political power in most of the First World is in the hands of politicians who arequislings in the service of internationalism   in its modern guise of globalism.
  • Those working in the mass media of the First World share the ideology of First World politicians with bells on, missing no chance to propagandise in favour of mass immigration.
  • The First World is funding its  own destruction by feeding the Third World with huge amounts of Aid . This promotes war throughout the Third World (providing a driver for Third World  immigrants to the First World) and, most importantly, increases the  populations of the Third World which rapidly outstrip the  economic carrying capacity of their societies.

At present the mainstream media in countries such as Britain and the  USA are voraciously feeding the public what amounts to unashamed propaganda  to persuade them to accept not merely huge numbers of Third World immigrants now,  but an ongoing and ever increasing stream in the not too distant future as the invading hordes gather around the Mediterranean waiting for their chance to entered the promised land of the rich European states of the north.

It is easy to be swayed by photos of  a  young child who has died or   boatloads crammed to the gunnels with miserable looking people  to the point where the resolution to defend your native territory is overridden, but look at the aggression and sense of entitlement the invaders, for  that is what they are, as they battle to leave Hungary. They are in the position of supplicants but far from begging for help they demand as a right that they be let into the richer countries of Europe.

There are very few if any places outside of Europe and  the Anglosphere countries of the United Kingdom,  North America, Australia and New Zealand  which have any serious history of freedom and the rule of law and even amongst that group only the Anglosphere has  enjoyed  both an uninterrupted political system of representative government and been free of civil war for a century or more.  These are countries which have the very rare and valuable attribute of having worked out a social and political system which creates peace and tolerance. That seriously at risk because of mass immigration. Does anyone believe  for example, a that Britain in which there was a Muslim majority would remain a Parliamentary democracy or have any regard for free expression?

Those amongst the native populations of the  First World who propagandise in favour of mass immigration do so in the belief that they will be untouched by the immigration because they live in affluent areas where immigrants cannot generally settle. Not for these people state schools which “boast” that “there are 100 languages here”; not for these people a need for increasingly scarce affordable (social)  housing  in places such as London; not for these people having to use grossly over subscribed medical services in their area.  These people think they are safe  from the effects of mass immigration,  but if it continues their children and grandchildren will not be so lucky. There needs to be a penalty for those who promote and facilitate mass immigration, for example,  forcing them to take immigrants  into their homes and be responsible for their upkeep .

Mass immigration  is conquest not by armed force but by those who are come equipped only with their victimhood and misery and, most potently, the  mentality of the elites in the First World who subscribe to the idea of white guilt and the white populations of the First World who have been browbeaten  into believing that they cannot have any world other than a globalist world which includes huge movements of peoples. We are seeing the scenario described by Jean Raspail begin to play out.

Homo sapiens is the social animal par excellence. All social animals need boundaries to their group because trust has to exist between the members of the group. Human beings can tolerate very large numbers in their group, but there is a limit. To be a member of a functioning human group,  whether that be tribe,  clan or nation,  the members or the group must share sufficient distinguishing behaviours and  attributes to create the necessary trust. Putting huge numbers of people with very disparate background together cannot create that trust. Anyone who doubts that should try to find any society where territory is shared by different racial or ethnic groups  that does not have inter-group discord,. They will not find one in history or the present.

If you wish to save your country ignore the  misery now being waved in your face and concentrate not on the immediate present but the future.  Say no to further mass immigration by voting to leave the EU because while Britain is in it nothing can be done to stop massive numbers of immigrants continuing to come to Britain.  Leaving the EU will  remove from our political elite any excuse for not stopping the casual destruction of our country.

Posted in Immigration, Nationhood | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Britain will vote to leave the EU if the public message is right

Robert  Henderson

One thing about the coming EU referendum is certain: it will be a much fairer fight than that which occurred in 1975 when  the  stay-in camp had captured most leading politicians including all the party leaders,  all  the mainstream media and most of big business . In addition, the stay-in side then had funding which utterly dwarfed that of the get-out campaign and, not content with that advantage,  used the  government machine to  produce its own pamphlet on the renegotiations to go alongside  those of the stay-in and leave campaigns.  Perhaps most damaging was a lack of preparation for the vote by those who wanted to leave the EEC.

Today we have an established mainstream party  Ukip  unequivocally urging a vote to leave,  substantial support within  both the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties, including frontbenchers  and senior backbenchers. In addition influential business voices such as Lord Bamford of JCB Ltd and business groups  such as Business for Britain are raising their voice to both allay fears that  the British economy  would collapse  in a heap if we left the EU and advertise  the considerable  costs,  both economic and political,  which membership of the EU entails. There are even signs that the unions may be turning against the EU with the leader of Britain’s largest union Unit, Len McCluskey, suggesting that Britain might have to pull out if the EU’s labour  legislation is watered down as a result of Cameron’s renegotiation.

There is a further  important difference between 1975 and now.  In 1975 Britain had been in what was then the European Economic Community (EEC)for  less than three  years.  There was little for voters to go on to say  whether the EEC was going to be a good or bad thing.  Nor was the EEC anything like as intrusive as the EU is now.  Today the British people  know that the EU has not turned out to be the  driver of economic growth that was promised in the 1970s,  but a supranational  entity in  which the Europhile  political elites  are willing to ruthlessly enforce their will to achieve their end of a United States of Europe (is the only honest interpretation of the Treaty of Rome) regardless of the effects this has on  ordinary people, something of  which  the people of Greece are now only too savagely aware.

It is true that David  Cameron is  doing his best to fix the result. His government has announced that the civil service will not have to cease publicly commenting on the referendum  for the last four weeks of campaigning before the referendum  and the proposed referendum question  –Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? –  is clearly biased because it emphasises  membership as the status quo  and gifts the YES vote to those who want to remain in the EU..  Perhaps most importantly, the spending rules in the referendum are slanted to favour those parties which will be likely to support a vote to stay in. But none  of these disadvantages are set in stone and   could be challenged  as the European Referendum Bill makes its way through Parliament or  by judicial review.  Moreover,  even if  all these pro-stay-in pieces of jigger-pokery remain unchanged  they will not be insuperable obstacles to a vote to leave because our circumstances are so  very  different  from those of 1975. .  There is also a possibility that Cameron will carry through his threat to insist that  all  those in his government  must  support whatever terms he decides to put to the country or resign. However, that would backfire if many did leave the government or  Cameron backed  down on his threat.   Either way he  would look weak and  strengthen the impression that leading  politicians are increasingly wanting to leave the  EU.

It is vital not to panic over polls which show that a majority will vote to stay in the EU.  Since Britain joined the EEC the polls have  regularly swung violently. The determining factor will be  political leadership or perhaps more exactly what the British elite – politicians, mediafolk, businessmen, academics –  say in public .  The vast majority of electors do not make their decisions by careful unemotional analysis of abstruse economic data or ideological belief, but on basic emotional responses such as fear and hope.   If there is support for leaving the EU, or even just an acknowledgement that leaving would not be a disaster for Britain,  from a broad swathe of those with a public voice,   enough of  the general public are likely to be persuaded to vote to leave to  win the referendum.

At the heart of the OUT campaign  must be Britain’s  complete inability to control her  borders while we remain in the EU.  Polls consistently show that immigration is one of the  major concerns of the British public and,  when the politically correct inspired terror of speaking honestly about race and immigration is taken into account, it is odds on that immigration is the number one issue by a wide margin.  A British Future report in 2014 found that 25% of those included in the research wanted not only an end to immigration but the removal of all immigrants already in the UK and a YouGov poll commissioned by  Channel 5  in 2014 found that 70% of those questioned wanted an end to mass immigration.  If  Britain leaves the EU it will not only allow the legal control of EU migrants but also removes from  British politicians any excuse for not controlling immigration generally.

Putting immigration at the heart of the OUT campaign would also have the bonus of appealing to the Scots through  a subject on which they feel  much the same as the rest of the UK, that is they are   opposed to mass immigration.  That is important because the SNP are trying to establish grounds for Scotland having a veto over the UK leaving the EU if Scotland votes to stay in the EU and either England  or England, Wales and Northern Ireland  vote to leave.  The larger the vote to leave the EU in Scotland is, the less moral  leverage they will have for  either a veto over Britain leaving  the EU or another independence referendum.

The other central plank to for the campaign should be the fact that it does not matter what Cameron obtains by his renegotiation, because whilst we remain within the EU any concessions given now may be reversed at a later date by the EU, most probably  in cahoots with a British government consisting of Europhiles. “Legal” guarantees such as Britain’s opt-out for the Social Chapter  were rapidly undermined by using EU workplace health and safety rules to impose much of the Social Chapter.

Nigel Farage does not need to be the campaign’s  sole leader , but he does need to be a very  prominent part of the leadership. If he does not take a lead role the OUT campaign is likely to end up in the hands of people who have bought into the politically correct view of the world. That would mean the immigration card will not be played with the vigour it demands or even played meaningfully  at all.

More generally, what this campaign needs is emphatic, unambiguous and above all honest  unvarnished explanation of what the EU represents,   It needs  Farage at the forefront of the OUT campaign  to set that tone.  No one else will do it.

Posted in Economics, Immigration, Nationhood | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments