Newsnotes 030 – July 1992

Notes on the News

By Madawc Williams

Labour and Europe

Some people will believe anything! In two reports, the Financial Times described Neil Kinnock’s “withdrawal” of his candidacy for the presidency of the European Communities Confederation of Socialist Parties as some kind of last minute decision because he was out of line on Maastricht.

Presumably the paper asked Mr Kinnock’s office what was happening, and the polite people at the ECCSP kindly confirmed his version of events.

But as soon as Mr Kinnock’s candidacy was proposed there was unease in Europe – audible to anyone who listened. European socialists simply did not think that it was a good idea to be represented by Mr Kinnock – simply because he was Mr Kinnock. They were especially upset that the powers that be in the British Labour Party thought that a senior European post was a suitable retirement home for a failed politician. Now there is talk of Mr Kinnock becoming an EC Commissioner.

Such is the depth of Labour’s commitment to Europe. Other states take the opposite view. Ireland sent its most able politician and Prime Minister-in-waiting, Ray McSharry, to Brussels. France sent its most able politician, Jacques Delors. Most European countries take Brussels and Strasburg seriously enough to send senior and able politicians. Britain’s Labour Party treats these institutions with even less regard than the House of Lords when it comes to choosing its representatives.

Tony Banks is talking about trying for a Euro-seat because he reckons that’s where the future of politics lies. Wrong attitude Tony!

Magical mystery monarchies

They're changing truths at Buckingham Palace 
Poor fat Fergie is viewed with malice

Monarchy is not what it once was. Royalty used to keep up appearances, maintain a dignified public presence. These days they don’t care to accept traditional duties, though they are keen to hang on to traditional privileges, such as not paying tax.

The Queen’s offspring have managed two failures out of the three marriages, well above the national average. It might well end up as three out of three, and it’s not even certain that many people would care.

[Princess Anne divorced later in 1992. Her fourth and youngest child, Prince Edward, married in 1999 and seems to have made a success of it.]

The personal popularity of Mrs Elizabeth Windsor seems unlikely to be passed on to her successor. And one wonders why palace officials ever allowed her to marry aloud-mouthed Greek, whose relatives in the Greek royal family were deservedly kicked out after being a source of disruption and chaos for far too many years.

One gets the profound feeling that palace officials have an altogether false and crazy notion of what they are supposed to be doing. Bad-mouthing Fergie after the divorce became official was a stupid move – she must have plenty she could tell to the tabloids, and she may yet tell it, despite the hasty back-tracking that occurred at that time.

It also seems unlikely that all the dirt about Diana would have surfaced had it not been for the ludicrous carry-on over Fergie. Like it or not, the monarchy is definitely on the way out.


It’s not only royalists who are behaving like prats these days. Brian Gould seems determined to turn a setback into a disaster, with his complaints about the leadership election. Honestly, where did the man learn his politics?

It is true that some people moved much too quickly to try to get John Smith confirmed as leader. It would have been much better for Hattersley to serve for a few months as caretaker leader. Yet the popular choice is undoubtedly Smith- this was confirmed by the G MB ballot, among other things. Gould is being a very bad loser- and is moreover damaging the party by raking up fresh muck for the Tory press to throw.

The old sentiment ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ reflects a basic fact of life. If you are a member of a group, and accusation against any member of that group will also reflect on you. This is a principle that the Royal Family seems never to have grasped, and which many members of today’s Labour Party seem to have forgotten.

The downfall of Leninism began with the condemnation of Stalin. The early 1950s, just before Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’, was the high point of Leninism. Changing Stalinist policies was one thing. Denouncing the man himself was quite another matter. Sheer lunacy, in fact, dealing a wound to Communist self-confidence that was never in fact to heal, and which eventually led to the system’s final collapse in a welter of corruption and confusion.

It is notable that neither Popes nor Tory leaders ever denounce their predecessors, however much they may privately loath them. Major has made no secret speeches to the Tory conference denouncing the crimes of the Thatcher era, even though he has reversed her policies very much more effectively than Khrushchev ever reversed those of Stalin. Indeed the two things are not unconnected. Equally Thatcher in her time never publicly denounced Macmillan or Heath, despite the belief in her circle that they had done all of the wrong things. Open denunciation of the ‘wet’ tradition might have split the party, just as Khrushchev split world communism into pro-Moscow and pro-Peking factions. But the Tory party had enough political skills to corn bine two essentially separate views of the world, and retain a broad enough support to win four successive elections.

Labour meanwhile goes on wounding itself. There is no evidence that Gould has any ideas, beyond thinking that he himself is the natural candidate for leader. Rather than simply accepting the popular judgment, he seems intent on spreading as much dirt as he possibly can, damaging everyone’s prospects.

Filipinos reject Sin

The long drawn out election in the Philippines has now concluded with the election of General Fidel Ramos. He may at last be able to do what President Aquino failed to do – break the power of the country’s not-very-competent ruling class, and fit it into the pattern of prosperous, developing South-East Asian nations.

The election of Ramos, a Protestant, is also a welcome blow to the power of the Catholic Church, and to its leader Cardinal Sin. There has been a tendency over here to treat him as a bit of a joke, on account of his unfortunate name. You get people saying about how a certain run-away Irish bishop turns up in the Philippines and says ‘bless me, Sin, for I have fathered’. But the actual power of Catholicism in the Philippines has been no joke. Geographically part of Asia, the islands are similar in many ways to Latin America – which is also having an upsurge of Protestantism, especially in Brazil.

It was the Catholic Church that disrupted and finally destroyed the feudal order in Europe, by being too greedy for power and much to ready to dabble in secular matters. Ever since, Catholicism has been trying to preserve those bits of feudalism that survived, but with little success. If the Filipinos[A] are finally rejecting the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to run society, then there is hope for them.

[Sadly, nothing much got better.]

Star Trek – the Cash Generation

Some readers may have noticed that Star Trek- the Next Generation has suddenly vanished from our screens. It’s not that the series has ended – this prestigious successor to the original Star Trek has been a great success in the USA, has two more seasons not yet seen over here, and is continuing without limit. So what’s gone wrong?

Part of it seems to be a hatred by someone powerful at the BBC for any sort of serious Science Fiction. Dr Who was put into limbo after a series of episodes that were far above its normal level. But the main reason seems to be the general stripping down of public service television, the moving out of serious programs. Star Trek – the Next Generation will resume in the autumn, but only on Sky One. This positive vision of the future, with its hope of a future where human values will outweigh cash and hatred, has been evicted from public service broadcasting, and will now join Bart Simpson on Sky.

[It apparently restarted on BBC in 1994.[B]  I no longer remember the details.]

Meanwhile the most interesting recent SF film is The Lawnmower Man, and it’s the best mostly by default. It begins well, briefly touching on the way in which ‘virtual reality’, computer-generated worlds, might become an obsession or even an addiction. Given that Americans have not yet been able to stop stuffing themselves with dangerous narcotics, it could be this developing technology that finally kills off that society. A good film could be made about the topic.

Lawnmower Man, sad to say, chooses a more conventional tack. Virtual reality is used to tum the local dim-wit into a genius, with some help of intelligence-boosting drugs. Now this is nonsense. There are many drugs that will lower your intelligence, quite a few that will make you think you’re a genius or superman while you ‘re on them, and some that may drive you mad in interesting ways. But the human brain is the fine-tuned product of millions of years of evolution, and seems to be in its optimum state in a clear, rested, drug-free body. Certainly, none of the tens of thousands of drugs that people have tested have shown any signs of boosting intelligence – not in the real world.

For all that, Lawnmower Man is quite entertaining, with some fine special effects. And it seems to be doing well, so a sequel should be expected: The Garden Roller Strikes Back, perhaps.

[There was in fact a Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, which I have not seen and which has a very poor reputation.]

This article appeared in July 1992, in Issue 30 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at 

[A] In the original, I mistakenly called them Philippinos.  Sorry about that.