The Romans fought three wars against the Carthaginians. The first two were deadly battles between great empires, but the third was simply a siege. The Romans found a pretext and used their superior forces to surround Carthage. The encirclement lasted four years. The Carthaginians defended themselves for as long as they could. But it was hopeless. Ultimately with the Romans in control of the land and the sea around the city there was only ever going to be one outcome. When the Romans finally broke in they killed all the men and sold the women and children into slavery. The city was destroyed and the ground ploughed up and sprinkled with salt to prevent a settlement of the area again.
Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has got himself into a bit of trouble over the last couple of days by saying on Twitter that he didn’t dare appear in an interview with a female human rights campaigner for fear of being unable to prevent himself from punching her ‘in the throat’. It was a vulgar thing to write and predictably enough led to a bit of storm in the media. In the short run it gave David Cameron, who has a knack for these things, the opportunity to disown Fabricant and show himself to be a decent man. Privately he probably welcomed the chance to detoxify the Tories a bit. In the longer run it will be a bit more of a nudge to women who don’t like being hit and and men who don’t approve of hitting them that the far right isn’t the place they want to be.
Politics should be about principles and policy. Inevitably it is also about personalities. Ideally it shouldn’t be about propaganda. If you believe in something you shouldn’t want to win a point by misleading someone.
In the eighties and nineties the Liberal Democrats used to engage in what they called pavement politics. This involved focusing their efforts in particular areas where they thought they had the best chance of being successful. This involved one particularly underhand tactic. In areas where the Conservatives were strong they would do their best to ‘squeeze’ the Labour vote by putting out leaflets pointing out that Labour couldn’t win. This was often done in local council wards where Labour in fact certainly could win, and from time to time where they actually did win.
I noticed that Channel 4 had an opera by Handel scheduled one Saturday night in 1996. I like opera so I thought I would tape it. This being the nineties taping it literally meant making a physical copy on electromagnetic media. I plonked the tape in the video recorder and rather than wrestle with the elaborate procedure of setting the timer I just made a point of being by the telly when it was due to start and pressing the red button. I started watching it to see what it was like and to make sure the temperamental machine was actually doing its job. Within minutes I was hooked, and in the end sat through the whole three and a half hours. I wasn’t alone – my wife and small kids joined me and were similarly captivated.
I finally gave in to biology and went to bed at 1.00am last night, after 2 hours of political coverage on the telly which did not mention the Green Party even once. You wouldn’t know they even existed. Meanwhile the effect of the large swing of votes to UKIP was looked at from every imaginable angle. I imagine that Green activists were probably getting a bit frustrated. But as an interested but not particularly engaged observer I concluded that the Greens were probably better off without it. The Greens have never really attracted much attention in the media, but have managed to win a Westminster seat and to control a local council. These are significant achievements. UKIP haven’t managed either yet. Solid achievements like that don’t just happen. They must have assembled a team of committed people to do it and to have won over a lot of people who don’t have much time for politics.
An intriguing poll was published just before the European Election. In it the Greens had overtaken the Liberal Democrats leaving them in fifth place. At time of writing I don’t know what the real results will be. Polls are just polls and what happens on the ground can be very different. I’d be surprised if the Greens were actually to outpoll the Lib Dems in the real world. A lot of the MEPs defending their seats will have a strong incumbency advantage. And even in these online days organisation on the ground counts for something, and the Lib Dems are better organised and better funded.
Ulster, Texas, Algeria, Crimea are all examples of one of the things that empires do. A good way of expanding your authority is to move populations around. Ideally you move people who are reliably on your side and get them to live where people who don’t recognise your authority are currently living. It’s just how empires operate. I imagine that they have done it since empires have started. It is good to have this historical perspective on the current crisis in the Ukraine.
Some time ago I decided to stop following the news on the grounds that I would be better informed if I didn’t. This has worked very well and now even though I have only the vaguest notion of what is going on I feel I have a better grip on current affairs than I did when I was a news junkie.
Napoleon famously always asked if someone was lucky when considering promoting them. It is certainly the case that luck plays a big part in what historical figures achieve and an even bigger part in determining their future reputations. President Obama for instance was extremely lucky to be black at just the time this was no longer something that barred his political progress but was still enough of an obstacle for his successes to be enhanced by it. Nobody else will ever be the first black president, and being the second black president won’t pull in much kudos. In the future I predict the rise of Obama will be treated as some sort of defining historical event, and his own part in it will be exaggerated – a myth will be created.
Advice to Young Men is one of the less well known of Cobbett’s books. It was published in paperback in the eighties when there was a bit of a Cobbett revival, but aside from that it has rarely troubled the shelves of bookshops. It would be a stretch to say it is a forgotten classic, and other works by Cobbett deserve the greater attention that they receive. But Advice to Young Men does have the distinction of being maybe the first self help book, beating the better known examples by Samuel Smiles and Napoleon Hill into print by many decades. It was also originally published by Cobbett himself who was the very definition of a self made man. So maybe there is some undeserved credit available there.