December 2007

Bloody Christmas. This year in the People’s Republican grotty grotto we have unemployment, overdrafts, deceased relatives and fathers detained several hundred miles away*. On the plus side, we also have cheese. A lot of cheese. Still, overburdened as you are with all those wry and amusing “looks” taken by newspaper columnists at the ribtickling social implications of Yuletide, you will be pleased to hear that I intend to talk a bit about Nick Clegg’s family panels, rather than my actual family. No hilarious escapades involving a snowball fight, a pool of catsick, an unsteady great aunt and a brussel sprout shortage will be related here (oh, use your imagination). Absolutely no tales of woe about being unable to procure a violet calf-skin Smithsons diary for my god-daughter will ensue, because I don’t have a god-daughter (or, for that matter, a god) nor any inclination to piss away my werewithal on hysterically over-priced luxury goods. Thank you.

No, this is very much a post for families. Last week, James Graham asked Nick Clegg to elaborate on this:

That’s why I will set up a network of real families, who have nothing to do with party politics, in every region of this country to advise me on what they think should be my priorities.

It’s the prospect of continuity that is key to this idea. Nick emphasised that he wanted the people on the panels to feel that they could email him and keep in touch with him. He’s getting at an important truth of political discourse here. Discussions which take place within the ambit of an evolving relationship are always more meaningful than one-off contacts. This is, emphatically, not about focus groups – it’s as diametrically opposed to a focus group as you can get. It’s not necessarily about telling people they’re right about everything either, although this is going to be a tricky one for Nick to pull off without opening himself up to charges of elitism. One man’s robust approach to argument is another man’s arrogance, as this comment on Alex Wilcock’s blog made clear. However, he is better qualified than any other politician I can think of to make a good job of it. This is where the “Would I go for a pint with him?” test may have served us well in electing him.

Still, he’s got his work cut out to persuade the wider media of all this. They’ve heard this reaching-out tack before, and politicians say the word “families” like most people say “the”.** I think Nick can do two things to show them he’s in earnest. First, and most obviously, he can publicise these relationships. That doesn’t necessarily mean a ghastly glitzing-up of every single contact he makes – and that would compromise the development of the relationship anyway. What about a quarterly round robin letter reflecting on what he has learnt and what he has taught, which names names and issues? “As a result of x, I was able to refine my opinion of y. However, I was able to explain a satisfactorily to b, and they now agree with me on that.”

The other thing he can do is flesh out what he means by “family”. If nothing else, doing this will be an important move in the Campaign to Shake David Cameron Off Nick Clegg’s Ankle (banner designs welcome). Step one is clearly to refute the 2.4 children model, and he has already done that, as James Graham describes. It’s a no-brainer for a liberal. There is, howver, a more abstract step two and since it’s Christmas, I’m going to allow myself a little petulant tantrum. When I hear a politician say the word family, I am one of those who switches off rather than on. I stay switched on intellectually, of course, but my heart remains totally unmoved. That’s because my birth family has separated into the individual components of retired couple and grown-up, moved-out children; I’m not in any sort of family unit of my own making; I have no personal reason to give a damn about pupil premiums, tax credits or care homes. I’m in between all of that. And I know that when most politicians talk family, that’s the stuff they’re really talking about.

In the online hustings, Nick said that his family were the most important thing in his life, far more important than politics. That my family is the most important thing in my life is equally true, but only in the sense that it encompasses my college friends family, my school friends family, various work friends families, and my neighbourhood family (flatmates, bar staff at my local, friends of friends living nearby etc) as well as my parents and brother. Now, it’s probably true that I would instinctively dive in front of a bus to save my brother, and wouldn’t perform the same office for Darren the landlord at the Maid (sorry, Darren). But no single component of this family of mine overrides the rest in any practical day-to-day sense. They all help me get through the day. I break bread with them, chat to them, form my opinions with them, say good morning to them. They’d notice if I dropped from view.

Politicians are generally, in the nature of things, part of fairly conventional and visible family units, and it’s easier for them to assume that most people experience family in this way. But really your family is simply the social and cultural forum where you evolve your private and political opinions and sketch out the shape of the impact you make on the wider world. That’s the unit of individuals that Nick could usefully talk to. Because families are self-perpetuating political engines. And it is the sum total of these little social and cultural engines that make up society. Information he feeds into a proper, effective family unit will be processed and talked about as part of its internal life. This is, to my mind, what makes his family panels idea really quite exciting. By promoting continuity of relationships, and by adopting as wide a conception as possible of what a “family” is, Nick can tap into a web of social and political networks bursting with the potential for liberal thought.

UPDATE: I’ve only just noticed that Jonathan Fryer has blogged a measure of justifiable disquiet on this.

* I mean detained on other business. Not at Her Maj’s pleasure.

** That is, often. Not in place of the definite article. That would be silly, and very confusing for Hansard transcribers.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Thought to be moderately diverting by Mr Stephen Tall

Mary Reid has tagged me with this ‘ere meme to ruminate publicly on my nominations for the Womens’ Blogger awards.

The People’s Republic has stayed silent on this so far because we are mindful of the ever-sage words of Don Liberali, who points out that the announcement of the Gender Balance Campaign Women Bloggers Award follows on the heels of the Cleggster’s call for the party to stop gazing at its navel. We believe this is a perfectly well made point as it stands, and are keen to avoid a practical demonstration from the Don of the difference between “introversion” and “extroversion”, using, perhaps, fingernails, or some like handy exemplar.

Nonetheless, a round-up of my mixed feelings on this subject is appropriate before I proceed. My first reaction was rather similar to Jonathan Calder’s. It is right and proper that the first suspicion attaching to these things is that they are some sort of reward for being a woman. Which naturally we do not like, having always managed to run an entire Republic perfectly well without any sort of special treatment. The onus is slightly on the organisers to show that this is a good idea. On one count, their failure to do so is deafening, because as Jennie Rigg points out, there are actually more women blogging in toto than men, and among them no shortage of political women bloggers. The rare beasts are the women who blog exclusively about politics and therefore fit easily into the Lib Dem blogosphere created by men, a hierarchical, categorising, one-track world of award categories, aggregators, round-ups and so forth. And it is a leetle crazy for the CGB to be saying, hm, there aren’t enough women bloggers who blog in the same way as men, therefore we should provide an award to encourage them to do so.

I don’t in any case hold with the notion that women will find the presence of an award particularly encouraging. To my mind it just makes the blogosphere look like even more of a closed club with its own unwritten conventions, social networks and quality controls than ever. If you’re a natural techie – male or female – and have that instant sense of entitlement to online presence, you’ll have no trouble blogging. If, like me, you’re not, you won’t see yourself as a natural blogger. There’s something about the printed word – even onscreen – that is still artificially mystical to the averagely technical person. I have written thousands upon thousands of words over the years in letters, in emails, in journals, in various private and public mental exercises. Writing is what I do, how I get through the day. The fact that someone as naturally inclined to splurge words as I am could look at the blogosphere even for one moment and see it as nothing particularly to do with me (granted that it didn’t then take me long to get stuck in) should tell its own story. Women, for a whole host of cultural reasons, are more inclined to assume that a self-sufficient system like the Lib Dem blogosphere has closed doors. But when I did start blogging properly I was almost instantly absorbed into the community, and what had looked, from the outside, like closed doors turned out to be no doors at all. This is the message we need to be putting across to women, that the doors aren’t there, not that there’s a chance they could win something if they get through them.

Having said all that, there are nominations I am itching to make, and so I have an alternative paradigm. I am going to try to see the award in terms of fostering a peculiarly female writing style, and a peculiarly female political style. Because women, on the whole, do write a little differently, and do politic a little differently. I am interested in the question of whether this will enable us, over time, to make a unique contribution to liberal discourse that the male-dominated blogosphere alone could not have made. Perhaps, if we invoke the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft and gaze at our navels enough, we might discover what this contribution is.

I’m going to be a bit naughty and subvert the meme because not being, as I say, an instinctive blogger type, I don’t actually read that many blogs – of either gender or any allegiance. I will be interested to see what my tags come up with.

Best Lib Dem women’s blog

No question on this one – Charlotte’s my girl. She’s thoughtful, honest, wry, infectiously passionate, incredibly prolific and has an enviable knack of writing posts that attract world class comment threads, in which she is always a keen and facilitatory participant. There is something distinctively female about the way she writes as well – in the best possible way, she is asking her readership for its opinion, as much as pronouncing her own. And her position evolves as the discussion progresses as well (how rare is that?). If you don’t read her, you should. She’s easily a better blogger than many of the mediocre men out there who feel themselves entitled to vomit their inflexible opinions into the multiverse (well, this is a feminist topic; I can be a bit rude). Go girl.

I also love reading Bridget Fox and Paula Keaveney (Paula, to my dismay, seems to be inaccessible from the aggregator at this time).

Best Lib Dem womens’ blog post

Jo Christie-Smith on what female politicians should look like - made me think, made me stare, made me lose my . . . suit. Jo has told me on one of my own comment threads that there is a “tipping point” in positive discrimination; when a legislative body is composed of at least 30% women, the culture changes. More common sense, less aggression, less peacock display . . .  less suits? Roll on that day.

Best non-Lib Dem women’s blog

I’ve never met Jennie Rigg. But she strikes me as a force for good in the world. Her blog is hilarious and compassionate and liberal and warm and cynical (and purple); she is the perfect exemplar of the female blogger who mostly blogs about politics but not always. Her (happily increasingly) frequent contributions to Lib Dem Voice are also the apogee of constructive criticism. We all need a little Jennie in our lives.

Special mention

They’re not on there now, but Jo Anglezarke’s early goon-humour posts made me rock with laughter – I couldn’t comment on them appreciatively because at that point Jo was blogging on MySpace, and frankly the People’s Republic doesn’t need another interweb outlet to waste its life on. But it sometimes strikes me that fresh humour is desperately what the Lib Dem blogosphere needs, and I salute Jo accordingly.

Three women I would like to see blog

Dame Fiona Caldicott, Principal of Somerville College, Oxford

Jenni Murray

The Queen

My tags

These may overlap with others’ tags, so apologies in advance:

Andy Mayer


Jock Coats

Rob Fenwick

Will Howells

Following the whole Fairytales of New York malarkey, I had noticed Alex Wilcock’s unlikely-sounding account of the derivation of the word “faggot”, and was forced to weigh my deep-seated concern for sound etymology against the fact that I weally, weally wuv him, especially when he is having righteous anger. Love won (doesn’t it always) but then Jonathan Calder dismantled Alex’s flight of fancy anyway, so I am free to follow up.

Merriam-Webster offers this:

Main Entry:
earlier and dialect, contemptuous word for a woman or child, probably from 1fagot
usually disparaging : a male homosexual 

And the “1fagot ” definition referred to in there is as follows:

Main Entry:
or fag·got \ˈfa-gət\
Middle English fagot, from Anglo-French
14th century
bundle : as a: a bundle of sticks b: a bundle of pieces of wrought iron to be shaped by rolling or hammering at high temperature

The date of the word’s modern usage is given here as 1914, which fits with the account given in the passage Jonathan quotes, but the meaning shows that it was a much older dialect word. Originally, it was a perjorative for women and children, presumably later extended to men considered effeminate. It is said to be ultimately derived from the Middle English term for a bundle of something, usually firewood.

That clarified things somewhat, as Jonathan’s quote seemed to suggest that the word sprang into existence in the early twentieth century which is almost never the case. That last step about the firewood seemed a little odd to me though, and I started working on an alternative derivation (one of the most fun things I have ever learnt is that dictionary etymologies are often guesswork and sometimes just wrong) based on the stem of “faggot” being the same as that in “fey”, “fairy” etc, and the “-et” sounding suffix just being the usual diminutive you get in lots of Middle English words (piglet, cygnet etc). Then it occurred to me that there are two related casual insults for old women: “baggage” and “bundle”. Are these milder disparagements the surviving siblings of the word “faggot” perhaps, both applied to older women while “faggot” was applied to younger ones and children, before it was translated across to gay men where it acquired properly nasty overtones?

There is probably much more I could extrapolate, but I see that you have to go and wash your hair.

Little did the Quaequam Empire know that when it loftily issued this meme this morning that it would quickly be challenged with a number of other memes from various rogue states and be forced, in all grinchy conscience, to abide by them.

I’m quite smug about this desktop one. My desktop has the impersonal clutter-free air of a hotel room. Absolutely no underwear lying around on the floor of the People’s Republic, oh no. And withal carrying a faint air of sadness. As if I could hit the road at any time.


The reason for this is that I am too poor and wretched to own a computer, and so normally use the guest account on my flatmate’s. If I’d been blogging this over the road at the library you’d have had Better Haringey pinging all over the screen.

And with that pithy socio-economic observation, I tag:

Rob Knight

Jennie Rigg

Peter Black

Julian H

Rob Nolan

Show us yer desktop! (clearing it up first is cheating)

Millennium Elephant brought a copy of London Lite along to the bloggers’ meeting last night, and pointed his fluffy foot to the inch-and-a-half at the bottom of a round-up column recording Clegg’s expected win. That was how much press we got yesterday.

Happily, yesterday’s papers will have gone to press hours before the announcement and this morning is a different story. Here follows a handy aide memoire for the lazy (or just those who want to buy a Danish with their capuccino, and not all the newspapers), lifted from the ever-excellent ePolitix Press Review:


Mr Clegg is a fresh face on the national scene whose manner will incline voters to give him a fair wind. If he is to make the impact that his party desperately needs, he will have to make clear precisely what he means by his promises to deliver “change”, “ambition” and a “liberal future” – words that could have been uttered by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron.


Now that the Liberal Democrat primary is over, Mr Clegg should talk directly to the electorate. He must ignore Westminster tacticians and deliver his own agenda. A hung Parliament may be an outcome. It should not be a strategy.


The Liberal Democrats have elected the younger, more telegenic, slightly more right-leaning of the two candidates. Accepting the job, Mr Clegg set out an admirably concise account of himself. He noted, rightly, that the party has been at its best when it challenges conventional wisdom and consensus. If this is how he intends to carry on, that is an excellent sign.


More than anything else, Mr Clegg must define himself as something other than a second Cameron. He will not get far by hoping that the Tory party is found out. He will need to dive into the news with the sort of audacity Vincent Cable showed during his temporary leadership. That has raised the bar for Mr Clegg, which is good. Daring can pay off.


Mr Clegg must now unite the party and raise his own profile – which will not be easy, judging from a straw poll we publish today, showing he is recognised by fewer than one in six voters… If he fails to inspire, the Lib Dems are back to being what they were for most of the 20th century, a fringe party of protest with no hope of ever becoming a major force in British politics.


We wish him luck… he’ll need it. Support for the Lib Dems has halved, even with livewire stand-in Vince Cable keeping them in the spotlight. They’re counting on fresh-faced Nick to win back voters charmed by David Cameron’s new-look Tories and grab the balance of power after the next election. 

“Um,” says The Man Himself, contemplating the jam which is about to drop from his Krispy Kreme doughnut all over his leadership-winning trousers, “I think I might have to put this down somewhere. Sorry, that’s really rude, isn’t it…”

Nonono! It’s your party! And today of all days, we can’t have the shiny new leader going on television with jam down himself. Nick’s a nice guy – this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has met him, but I hadn’t, and he was very much as nice as I had been led to believe. If nothing else for finding time on his day of victory to see a bunch of self-indulgent ramblers who love the sound of their own voices, in between Jeremy Paxman and Nick Robinson (oh . . .)

Jam threat dispensed with, we blast once round the room with questions under the watchful button eye of a fluffy toy, and gosh! (to coin a Cleggism) it’s invigorating. I’ve said this elsewhere but I really do think these events are a good idea. I can see how, at its best, it could be a really productive two-way process. We get to put rather more (one hopes) intelligent and nuanced questions to our guys than the kind of flaccid heads-I-win-tails-you-lose fare on offer from most of the media. And they get a friendly, informed audience to practise inspirational stuff on, and a informational superhighway conduit to the Citizen Readers of the People’s Republic (I’ve made you all Honorary Citizens, didn’t I say?)

“That early momentum . . .”

He starts by contemplating his immediate task, that window of opportunity a new leader has to lay out his leadership style without its being distorted by the media. Nick knows it isn’t going to be as nice as he is. Benefit of the doubt from the media? “It doesn’t feel like it,” he says wryly, having just come from a drubbing at the hands of the Paxomaniac (which I think, having now seen it, he actually won hands down).

Is he looking forward to PMQs? Yup. To get it out of the way. His conviction that a few minutes’ infantile jibing on a Wednesday afternoon is the wrong way to go about politics is very clear, very heartfelt. We all know, of course, which twinkle-toed star performer he will be compared with. The media, as he says, will be interested only in delivering the line that he has fallen at the first hurdle. But he just doesn’t rate it as an exercise. Will he make mistakes? Of course! He’ll have good days as well – of course! As so often when listening to Clegg, I find myself hoping that someone will ask him “what he thinks” about xyz. Because if you do that, you get pure gold. But of course, no-one is going to invite him to rubbish the institutionalised shouty plonker contest that is PMQs, so with Chris Huhne’s now-famous elbows in mind (has he insured them, like Ava Gardner’s legs?) I hope Nick finds a way to rubbish it all the same.

“What was it he said? ‘Progressive consensus’?”

I am much more reassured by the response to my question about defeating the inevitable Cameron comparisons and, in particular, deflating this coalition notion at an early date. What I was looking for was the instant snap-awareness that this must be shot down in flames, and fast, and that’s what I got. I’m going to paraphrase it as nearly as I can remember it, and I think it should be inscribed on a little card and carried around in the weskit pocket of every member for aposite brandishing.

I just don’t take that whole offer seriously at all. I mean, David Cameron? With his, what was it, progressive consensus? There is nothing, nothing progressive about the Conservative party. He has no idea of how to deliver social justice – does he really think that giving people a tax break of twenty quid a week is going to make them stay married? He has no notion of how to follow up on all his fine words on the environment and he just doesn’t even begin to understand what liberalism actually means. Decentralisation? How does Cameron intend to achieve that exactly? The only way to really offer decentralisation is to devolve the raising of tax to local level, or else it becomes meaningless – this is so basic. And we are the only party that offers this.

I’m also completely relaxed about comparisons with Cameron, just because I think the differences are so much more instructive than the similarities. Look at how we started out in the 1980s – I was repelled by the soulless vision of Thatcher’s Britain and he fell in behind it. I am sufficiently self-confident in my liberalism to know that I am a different sort of leader to him. He’s just . . . vapid.

I’m not in the business of leading the party into an annexe with either Labour or the Conservatives. Liberalism is the creed of our times. I believe the British people have the core liberal instinct, and my business is to concentrate on that.

Don’t worry [dark expression]. He’ll be dealt with.

Well, I don’t know about the enemy, but he sure scares the hell out of me.

“Exemplifying the tolerance of my generation”

Nick had interesting things to say in response to Alex’s question about maintaining various minority votes – particularly now that Iraq is receding as an issue and the gay lobby has won much of the legislation it was demanding. I would even cautiously say that he came closer to articulating a successful, common sense position on this than any other politician I have heard.

Matters like sexual orientation are just a non-issue for his generation. That instinctive tolerance, that instinctive pluralism, is what he hopes to exemplify in himself as leader, and what he hopes will draw minority votes to us. Tolerance like that is in short supply in populist politics, but it’s fundamental to the creed of liberalism. If he can pull off this exemplification successively, people will realise that they needn’t just vote for us when we coincide on an issue. They’ll vote for us because we are who we are, and the central tenet of this is the acceptance – the unthinking acceptance – that they are who they are.

It’s that non-issue bit I like. It avoids all that special pleading  and exaggerated politeness that can make politicians sound like they’re guiltily hiding a homophobic past. It’s a top piece of Cleggery – common sense, heartfelt, and once it’s out it’s so simple you wonder why no-one else has come out with it.

“Look, I don’t mean to order anyone about, but would it be possible to get a cup of tea?”

I am going to return for the last two questions another moon, but James has already blogged his (as has the fluffy one) and Linda’s question touched on positive discrimination which I have been pummelling very recently.

The People’s Republic is cautiously quite excited. We may put some bunting up or something. Between London hustings, today’s acceptance speech and tonight’s interviews (friendly and otherwise), we conclude that Nick is a fast learner, as well as one of the good guys. I have a nagging suspicion that I can’t quite put my finger on – far less offer supporting evidence for - that it was hostility within his party that he found vaguely disturbing. Hostility from the outside is something he’s more ready for, impatient to deal with. “Hang on,” he kept exocetting at the bullying Paxomaniac tonight.

It’s actually a damn good liberal catchphrase. Now, hang on.

This post contains savage irony. 

Peter Hyman, former strategist to Blair, has just been on Newsnight, explaining what is wrong with the Liberal Democrats. According to Peter Hyman, we don’t have an interesting political “story”. On closer examination, it emerges that when he says “interesting” he means “attractive to the other two parties”. According to him, we’ll only be interesting when we start “flirting” with the other two parties. According to him, no other politicians are ever going to be interested in us unless we are a bit more open to suggestion. That’s really what Nick Clegg needs to concentrate on, according to Peter Hyman, or else no-one will ever want to go out with us.

According to Peter Hyman, we are just not cool.

Oh dear :-(

…who will be leader by the end of the day. Suddenly I wonder if the decision to make the announcement just before Christmas was cleverer than we all thought. The weather’s not too dreary, the newspapers are looking for think-piece material to fill their holiday editions, and the population is absurdly happy in a way only state-shackled, over-commercialised zombies about to spend two weeks eating their bodyweight in Quality Street can be.

So provided nothing dreadful happens anywhere (that is, any more dreadful than usual) and no cats do anything quite amusing, we can bask in a few days of decent media coverage. And how I would love it, how it would please my little heart, if we, blog-writers and blog-readers, could spin it out! It’s a commonplace in literary criticism that the reader takes part in a process as much as the writer. If you’re interested enough to read, I reckon you’re interested enough to write, so I have a project for your winter months. The leader already knows what he’s got to be getting on with – this is my version of a corresponding call to arms for all of us.

Once a week, or at some like suitable interval, I undertake to collect together and post a list of online media coverage. No doubt a whole team of keenies young enough to be my younger siblings already do this within Cowley Street, and any collaboration would be most welcome, but my focus will be slightly different.

I will be collecting pieces with comment threads that you, the gallant reader, can contribute to. I am continually struck by the energy, the intelligence and the conviction with which we shoot down trolls on Lib Dem Voice. But at least visiting trolls are engaging with us (except for the stupid ones, obviously, but they can just bugger off). There are people out there, probably not terribly committed politically, who are getting away with far worse calumnies every day than anything any activist opponent would consider realistic. I’ve blogged before about how a simple supply of information can really make a difference to someone’s perception of us. And doesn’t it sicken you to your by-definition decent soul, the number of comment threads that turn into a stream of abuse against the Lib Dems for lack of anyone to put up the opposite case? We just haven’t got the numbers out there in the political online mainstream, and we need them. We need us. If you see what I mean. If ever there was a concrete example of what the Cleggster is talking about when he says we must put an end to introspection, this is it.

I am mindful that it is not necessarily easy, if you’re not accustomed to mouthing off online, to expose yourself and your opinions to thousands of people (okay, hundreds). But please, dear reader, give it a try. You’ll be surprised, and slightly dismayed, at how quickly you acquire a taste for it. Try and spot each other, engage with each other in non-technical terms, and back each other up. Come and report back in my comments thread when you’ve had a discussion and tell everyone how it went. This is something we can all do, even when it’s too cold to go stuffing leaflets through letterboxes.

A taster call-to-arms this week:

Left for dead by New Labour, liberal Britain must urgently fight back - John Pilger, CiF, The Guardian. The first comment reads, “I can’t help but think the Lib Dems are to blame…”

I highly recommend the piece by Madeleine Bunting over at Comment is Free today on one of my pet subjects. Being, as I am, lazy, and also involved in protracted and difficult negotiations with a seven-foot Norwegian spruce, I find I can do no better than lift the most pertinent few paras clean out of it:

The “medieval” has become a form of cultural shorthand, and it serves many purposes. It’s not just about plotlines or a stunning aesthetic – it is also used as a pejorative term. People talk of Africa as medieval, or argue that Islam is “stuck in the middle ages”. Medieval becomes synonymous with hard, short lives, barbarism, and a brutal, arbitrary use of violence. We are both captivated and repelled by this period of our past.

Dig a bit deeper and some fascinating explanations emerge of why the medieval should still have such cultural currency. For all the huge differences between today and 12th-century Europe, there are also remarkable parallels which, arguably, bring these two societies closer together than any in the intervening period. First, we share pervasive anxiety about an apocalypse: while we fear climate change our medieval counterparts feared the end of the world. Second, we share a fear of Islam and uncertainty about how to deal with it. Should we fight it (as they subsequently did in the Crusades) or attempt to win converts? Islam’s capacity to exert such a powerful hold over its growing number of followers left 12th-century Europe baffled and insecure about its own certainties. Does that sound familiar?

Third, the emergence of a cash economy for the first time since antiquity prompted deep concern. The pursuit of profit produced inequality and contemporaries bewailed the breakdown of community and family. Finally, there was a crisis of authority in 12th-century Europe, with the church and nobility riddled with corruption and a revolution in government as it sought to expand its power into its subjects’ lives. Our corollary is a political process eviscerated by apathy and disillusionment, while the state insists on acquiring unprecedented new powers through ID cards, DNA databases and surveillance.

 I also quote, with love, the best comment, from one Lepetomane:

What did the middle ages ever do for us? Start of trial by jury, start of parliamentary government, start of a banking system, rise of universities, habeas corpus…yes, but what did the middle ages do for us….?

I discover to my delight that one of the parliamentary guidelines for writing Early Day Motions reads as follows:

  • no unparliamentary language or irony should be used

Oh, that’s like, so inconvenient. So is sarcasm ok? Satire? Superciliousness? Parody, so long as it’s well done and references its source? And in any case, is it acceptable to frame your motion with the words “Oh my god, it’s like . . . [text of motion] . . . innit though”?

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