Monday, April 02, 2007

Councils of despair

Bear with me a moment. The following appeared in one of the local newspapers for Cambridgeshire on February 8th this year. By all means just skim it, but I reproduce it in full because it makes my point better in detail than in summary:

SNOW showers closed schools and caused travel chaos in the region today (Thursday, 08 February).

Much of Cambridgeshire woke to a blanket of snow, which was falling heavily by the morning rush hour, and the Met Office predicted it would continue throughout the morning, settling up to 10cm deep in places.

Schools across the county closed, including Parkside Community College, St Bede's school, Coleridge Community College and Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, Comberton and Melbourn village colleges, Granta School in Linton and Bassingbourn Primary School.

Snow started to fall in the Newmarket area at around 7.30am, while residents of Royston were warned to avoid all but essential journeys on the roads, and in Huntingdon half an inch of snow had settled by sunrise.

In Ely, where around an inch of snow had fallen by first light, a two-vehicle collision blocked the A142 at Soham in both directions as the road conditions took their toll.

A car crashed off the road on the A14 westbound at Boxworth as police warned drivers to take extra care.

Meanwhile, at Stansted airport, hundreds of air passengers were hit by delays when the runway was closed.

And Paul Knightley, forecaster for MeteoGroup UK, said he feared the traffic disruption would be "dire" with the majority of the snow falling during rush hour.

A Met Office forecaster said:

"Snow has fallen across England as expected, and Cambridgeshire is one of the worst affected areas.

"The snow started during the night and we expect it to fall throughout the morning with some interesting weather during the day, although it is expected to ease off this afternoon.

"In Cambridgeshire there will be between 2cm and 5cm across most of the county, but there could be more - as much as 10cm - in some isolated spots. There is cold air across the bulk of England, but mild air is pushing up from the south and it is the battle ground between these two weather fronts that sees the most severe snow.

"Tonight the main problem in Cambridgeshire will be ice and fog, as the snow clears, but we are not out of the woods yet and expect some chilly weather at the weekend."

Next week temperatures are expected to be milder.

In an effort to beat the weather and get papers to retailers, the News today (Thursday, 08 February) printed a special region-wide edition.
I haven't been able to find the photograph that accompanied the Ely edition - on the front page was a picture of children on toboggans, sliding with difficulty down one of the few hills in the region, enjoying their day off school. With difficulty, because when just an inch of snow has settled by daybreak (as the sun rises, it starts to melt) and the grass is fairly long, the hillside is going to be mainly grass. And so it was. Maybe two thirds of the slope was green and one third white. Clumps of grass dominated the slope. This wasn't heavy snow, it was snow. Just snow. Just a little bit of snow. Huntingdon had half an inch of snow. Anything less than that, and you couldn't even say the snow had settled at all. Less than that, and it wouldn't even be snow.

And the schools were closed, dire warnings put out over the airwaves, people were warned to avoid inessential travel and a special edition of the paper rushed out as though there was some kind of crisis.

Schoolchildren were taught a very contemporary lesson: you are weak. At the first sign of adversity, in fact at the first sign of anything that can at a stretch be construed as adversity, give up. Don't even compete enough to fail, don't even try, just give up.

There are accidents on the A142 every week, and on the A14 almost every day. But this particular morning it was because of the snow. If a pensioner had died of entirely natural causes, it would have been because of the snow. There'd have been calls for something to be done for the pensioners, something that involved spending tax payers' money. Something collective and institutionalised. And we'd have had a memorial service where we could all have gone to celebrate our weakness together.

It was, quite simply, pathetic. But it was no more pathetic than normal.

When I were a lad, I used to walk to school in Wellington boots when there was snow. We had a locker room where rows of boots stood drying. We carried our shoes in our schoolbags and changed into them when we got there. That was during the global cooling scare of the '60s and '70s when there really was snow in the winter. Even by the early '80s heavy snow was still sometimes measured in feet, not inches.

But even then, in the early '80s, when British citizens were attacked by a comic-book fascist dictatorship, complete with death squads and the kind of ludicrous military uniform that is so plastered with braid the wearer looks like they've been standing beneath a regiment of roosting bats - even then there were dissenters when we defended the Falklands. But we did defend them.

The Falklands War was the start of my apostasy, the kind of apostasy that Nick Cohen and the Decent left have been experiencing as a result of Islamist fascism. The day the news of the sinking of the Belgrano was released I was sitting in a pub in St Andrews with a bunch of people I had known when I was a student there. "See!" exclaimed one to me, violently. "Are you happy now!" I suppose he thought I hadn't realised people could die during a war.

In 1979 and 1980, heaven was being a left-wing student. The anti-Christs had come to power in Britain and America. The Doomsday Clock moved a minute closer to midnight. We were all going to die and it was Thatcher's and Reagan's fault.

By 1990, Britain had moved from being a basket case with dead bodies unburied and a bail-out loan from the IMF to a period of such prosperity that now the left was bitching about how well off we were - we were selfish. Reagan had negotiated nuclear arms reductions, then faced down the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was free.

If you watched closely enough, you might have seen some people on the left flicker for a moment, but that was all. On they ploughed with the same old nostrums that had bankrupted and endangered us so horribly during the 1970s. Twenty five years after the Falklands, there are still those on the left (Thanks, Tim Worstall) who are trying to lose that particular war, even at this late date.

They can be more confident about making us lose the present one. When Argentinian forces landed first on South Georgia then on the Falklands, the garrisons surrendered against overwhelming odds, but there was no doubt about the British reaction. This week, and for the second time in three years, British service men and women have been kidnapped by Iranian forces, and again there is no doubt about the British reaction - but in a very different way. We are going to be nice, be diplomatic and just like in 2004 we are going to wait until the Iranians are good enough to let our people go. Then, when Tehran feels like it, they'll do the same thing again. And again.

25 years makes a big difference. But a better comparison might be with seventy years ago. We are seeing the same delusional reliance on diplomacy. We see the same failures of international institutions. France and Germany have vetoed EU sanctions, the UN is even less a force for world peace than was the League of Nations. We are not quite on our own. Australia has stood with us - the Australian Foreign Minister telephoned his Iranian counterpart a few days ago and expressed both his outrage and his intention to keep Aussie forces in the same area as that from which the British were abducted. America has supported us. The EU has not.

This has to be the straw that breaks the EU's back. Under the circumstances, we cannot entertain the idea of a European defense force tying in our forces and preventing them from defending even other British servicemen. We cannot entertain the idea of a common economic policy with countries that do not support us when acts of war are perpetrated against us.

And we need to treat the UN with the reserve it deserves. It's better than nothing, but it has neither moral nor legal authority and it is of no use in the present and the coming crises.

What is different, though, from seventy years ago and from even twenty five years ago is our national and individual weakness. Not genuine, physical weakness, but intellectual and moral weakness. I am less pessimistic than I might sound; a fish rots from its head down and so far the rot hasn't penetrated beyond the head. But it has reached a terminal state there.

People blame the "feminisation" of our society, and there's some truth in this but it's only partial. Thatcher was a woman, as was Golda Meir. There are lots of strong women. It's much more to do with the left than with any particular gender. But whatever the cause, we do have a problem. And it's one none of the mainstream or even fringe political parties shows any sign of recognising, let alone addressing.

The problem is institutional. It extends from the UN Security Council, though the EU Council of Ministers, the Privy Council all the way to Ely District Council. None of these institutions, these Councils of Despair, are going to save us.

So we need to do this ourselves. And there are actually lots of grounds for optimism.

I'll expand on this in my next post.

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