Monday, December 13, 2010

What is to be Done?

I make no apology for using that hackneyed title again. Like so many political ideas it emanates from Russian radical circles, first used by Nikolay Chernyshevsky as title to his highly influential and immensely boring novel Что Делать?, which means just that: What is to be Done?. Written in the early 1860s, it outlines in many many badly written pages ideas about revolutionaries and the formation of the revolutionary elite. It says something about those radicals that they took to this novel (or pretended to do so) in a country that boasted at the time some of the world's greatest writers.

Other writers responded as did Dostoyevsky, viciously, in Notes from the Underground (Записки из подполья), published in 1864. This was a protest against the soulless materialism of what he perceived to be the modern age but, in particular, it was a sarcastic attack on Vera Pavlovna, Chernyshevsky's heroine and her interminable dreams, particularly the last one in which people appear to live in some sort of a crystal palace.

The great novelist Tolstoy wrote a pamphlet with that title in 1886, which is a description of Russian social conditions, presumably as seen from Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's mansion and estate. What was required, he thought, was change within people themselves.

The best known work is, inevitably, V. I. Lenin's. It is as boring and badly written as Chernyshevsky's but it is shorter and there are no dreams in it. The book is the most important one Lenin wrote as it gives a precise, if badly phrased, idea of the "need" for a revolutionary elite that would impose its own views on the people. There are also reasonably clear instructions on how that elite is to be formed into a coherent and disciplined party.

The reason for these musings is an internet conversation I have been having with no less a person than Gawain Towler (name published with his permission and encouragement), Head of Media at UKIP who linked to this story in the Telegraph.
If you were a Brussels bureaucrat and David Cameron dumped a cheque for a few billion onto your desk to spend on foreign aid, what would you do with it? Would you spend it (a) on poor people or (b) on cocktails and dancing for white European socialists, and on some vanity projects to promote the power of the EU?

Well, if you were a genuine Eurocrat, you’d probably have gone with (b). Thanks to the EU – which takes a fifth of our international development budget – a chunk of our aid isn’t spent on fighting global poverty at all, but on promoting the EU’s own political goals – which is why so much of it ends up in states that don’t need it, such as Russia, Singapore, India and China.

Last week, however, the Eurocrats decided to spend our money a little closer to home by hosting a major conference in Brussels. Along with providing lots of European Leftists with cocktails and a dance floor, this promoted “the key role of the European Union” in international development and helped to “improve European cohesion”.

To top it all, as Martin Banks and Gawain Towler report, the conference spent aid money to host a fashion show, showcasing seven European designers and one Moroccan. Apparently, this helped the delegates understand the Millennium Development Goals, but it strikes me that it was just an excuse for a jolly at the taxpayer’s expense.
Foreign aid or international aid, as we are supposed to call it now, money spent on parties and fashion shows is not precisely news. My response was that at least money spent on a party and fashion show in Brussels would not go into the coffers of evil, bloodthirsty kleptocrats who use it to fight nasty wars and oppress their people. I was accused of being ultra-cynical.

(In parenthesis let me add that I have been accused of cynicism many times, though not by Mr Towler, but I have never until a recent exchange on a particularly ridiculous forum, been accused of being a do-gooder and, by implication, a bleedin' heart liberal. This was not a person who knows me; nor had he bothered to read anything I write. There is a first time for everything.)

Anyway, moving right along, the discussion between Mr Towler and me then developed into the usual one of "well, what should we do to get people interested". As many times before I maintained that producing silly stories and yet more examples of corruption gets us nowhere. They produced two reactions: people either 1. shrugged their shoulders and said well what do you expect, yawn, what's on the tele, or 2. started getting worked up about the need for reform, control, supervision and transparency. When 2. did not produce the necessary results because they could not, people would revert to 1.

Well, what would you do, asked Mr Towler quite reasonably. Should we start swinging from the Cenotaph? No, I pointed out, as, apart from anything else, it achieved nothing beyond annoying very many people.

It is time, I continued, to start assuming that most people are adults and capable of assimilating serious ideas, such as international aid does not help poor people but keeps bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power and the EU is a state in the making that has already destroyed Britain's sovereignty and constitutional democracy as well as being economically, politically and environmentally regressive and destructive.

Ah yes, said he, but the media does not want that - the media wants silly stories. How well do I know that and how well do I recall being press officer for the Campaign for Independent Britain (CIB) and getting calls from journalists who wanted really stupid European stories. All right, I'd say, how about the really stupid common fisheries policy. Nothing doing. We want something our readers can easily understand. Square strawberries, for instance. Those stories kept appearing as did stories of corruption and wasted money and where has all that got us? We are ever more integrated in the Project and have a non-Labour government that is fully as bad as John Major's Conservative one was (which is when I became involved in all this).

When I say that we should accept that most people are adults who are capable of assimilating serious ideas I do not mean journalists or politicians. Sadly, I probably do not mean people who are involved in party politics either but those are ever fewer in number as we keep being told. But I do mean others - the electorate of all ages and social positions.

There is no question in my view: while it is quite a good idea to produce those stories of wastage and corruption, what we really need to do is go for the central problems, whether it be the EU, international aid or, for that matter, education in this country. Nothing else will get us anywhere. We do miss the likes of the old IEA that changed economic thinking in this country and there seems to be no money around for a eurosceptic think-tank as money tends to go to useless campaigns for referendums or to perestroika organizations like Open Europe or the Taxpayers' Alliance. We do have the internet, of course, and the American example of a blogosphere that became enormously powerful.

So here is my first response to the question of what is to be done - concentrate on the main issues and assume your audience is capable of understanding them and fight through the new media, whether it be the blogosphere (as Mr Towler does as well), other websites or, let's accept it, social media. That might get there somewhere. Anyone has any better ideas?


  1. I feel the same. What can we do? I'd be willing to go along with any ideas. Richard North has added his idea but I am afraid that 2014 may be too late. We may be in a position where restructuring has become impossible.

  2. This post already does a great deal by highlighting something has to be done. Sue is also correct. Richard's plan is superb but too far away. We need something now. I really feel that Blogging is a bit like water boarding for our masters. The more we do it and expand the greater the pain to the political class. That plus the collapse of the euro and EU federalist ambitions is coming.

  3. All that needs to be done is for someone to add the final chapter to "Animal Farm", put it into practice, set up the Nuremberg Courts and clear all lamp posts.
    First on trial - Magistrates that thought it a good idea to give someone a criminal record for leaving there dustbin lid slightly open, then work our way up from there.

  4. The majority of the people in this country are aged in their 40s and 50s. They have children and elderly parents. To get this majority worked up you have to show that the government in London and the EU are evil, a threat to the young and old who need protecting from this evil. This evil has to be itemised and described, and one example for me is how house prices and interest rates have been manipulated and used to get home owners into deeper debt. This process has also resulted in the young being unable to get on the housing ladder, which in turn prevents the forming of families i.e. couples and children. Another example of evil is the government's policy to change the culture of the country by immigration. The message has to be kept simple and repeated to get it home to the majority. The ultimate aim is for the majority to reject the authority of the government

  5. Autonomousmind has put forward this idea, to boycott the census in 2911.

  6. Things are surely bad, and something needs to be done about it. The electorate is effectively disenfranchised by the fact that the major political parties are (a) all but identical, and (b) hold views that the majority of people would reject if they were honestly explained. However, are we ready for anarchy? Is there genuinely a united movement that could overthrow and replace the government? Whilst wide-scale disruption may be achieved, would the result be worse than the current situation?

  7. AFAIR the outcome of all those "What is to be Done?" was "Who is responsible? [for the mess]". And the quest for the answers ended up in establishment of one of the most bloodthirsty regime. Just sayin'...

  8. "what we really need to do is go for the central problems, whether it be the EU, international aid or, for that matter, education in this country. Nothing else will get us anywhere."

    I agree.

    But we also need a "big stick" - one which will (a) enforce a feeling of 'solidarity' among protesters, and (b) leave politicians in absolutely no doubt that we mean business. And that stick could be the threatened withholding of Council tax UNLESS "something is done". The paying of council tax is the only major tax which we still have a degree of control over.

  9. Sort of apropos this ... certainly, wrt to development aid; this is fascinating

  10. What about Valentines day! Every year on valentines day we can assert our love for our country and our wish to set it free. A million people carrying union jack hearts to demonstrate the positive nature of the protest rather than the all negative that just turns people off.

    Every year the campaign grows. A million people can't be ignored and by 2014 we have an organised unmissable demo just before they start campaigning proper for a May election.

    Doing this now also covers the risk of the cohabitation falling apart before 2014.

    Are you with me?

    I'm happy to help in any way possible including a headquarters in the shires with plenty of British food and alcohol! You can contact me via this blog if you use your nogin:


  11. It is interesting to note that many anti-EU bloggers (including Helen Szamuely, one of the founders of UKIP) never seem to either link to UKIP or to promote them.

    I am currently reading "Fighting Bull" by Nigel Farage, he has nothing but good to say about Dr. Szamuely, but suggests that the original leader rubbed many good people up the wrong way.

    I entered into a brief discussion with Dr. Richard North (another former member), who seemed to be upset at being passed over for Godfrey Bloom.

    There are a good number of very good blogs that are read by possibly millions of people, many of whom have no idea that for things to change, they need to vote for an anti-EU party...

    There is only one... UKIP, and it is a great shame that the bloggers seem to say everything except the one thing that could help make UKIP the rallying point for their views and votes.