Saturday, 24 January 2015

Notes from a blue corner: The illiberal left

When I was but a mere student of politics, studying for my A Levels back in 2005/2006 we were introduced to the heady world of ideology, the very building blocks of modern political thought. Sat in the hot, stuffy classroom on a Monday evening we listened as our teacher attempted to dazzle us with the significance of Edmund Burke, the controversy of Michael Oakeshott (the Conservative thinker, not the former Lib Dem peer), different disciplines of Socialism, Eli Kedourie and Nationalism and of course the schism in Liberalism between the Classical and the Modern, or more appropriately the nightwatchman and the interventionist. Exciting concepts indeed! 

The reason that I raise this split in the first instance is that I think it importantly qualifies the silent battle that is currently being waged across the country, the struggle for survival of freedom of thought and expression, between those who believe that, however distasteful a free democracy and media means total freedom (Classical Liberals) and those who would seek to have state and legislature control what people have access to and effectively govern our moral compass (Modern Liberals). It is the latter that I want to focus on as it is a likely possibility that it is this bunch who will come to power in May.

The squeeze on freedom has crept up on us, over the last 20 years, disguised beneath words such as ‘fairness’, ‘equality’, ‘parity’ and ‘inoffensive’; stemming primarily from the principles of social democracy laid down by the Wilson Government in 60‘s, refined by Giddens’ ‘Third Way’ and put into practice by the Blair and Brown governments. I think the first inklings of the new system of being offended, on other peoples’ behalf, was the quiet death of political satire during Tony’s first two terms (except Private Eye and latterly Armando Iannucci’s Friday Night Armistice and The Thick of It) where it had run rampant during theThatcher and Major years. It’s gradually returning but perhaps that’s because Cameron has a strong enough constitution to grin and bear it, and the Tories have long been an easy target. 

Of course, the liberal left notoriously have an incredibly thin skin and little sense of the ridiculous, afraid of the media they have sought over the years to impose restrictions, campaign to ban sections regarded as ‘exploitative’, censor contrarian commentators and the like. They are so quick to get offended. Look at how uncomfortable most of their front bench are with the media, look how their various interviews are so devoid of humour. Read some of their statements out aloud in the comfort of your own home (which I have done) and listen to how unhinged they sound - especially those of Harriet Harman! What’s so scary is that, in seeking to control media output they believe they are doing the nation a great service... oh dear. 

The ‘Brave New World’ we entered in 1997 - and still haven’t left behind - was one which both had a (wrongly) positive view of human nature and one which sought to engineer the state to level competition, stifle aspiration and lazily churn out lowest common denominator policies, which looked good on the surface but were deeply flawed beneath the surface (like American cars). It preached the message of freedom of equality but the freedom to succeed was unattractive and should be frowned upon, even now the British public are wrongly sniffy of those who do  well in life. Indeed, it would seem that to the ‘modern’ liberals who dominate the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats  ‘success’ is a dirty word, never mind that it’s these ‘successful people’ who drive the economy.

It seems that we now like nothing better than seeing prosperous people dragged through the mud, or to point out the privileged background some of our stars have had, as if it were some social faux pas. The Labour Party have based the last five years of their rhetoric trying to create a culture of social envy, you only have to look at the cringeworthy Chris Bryant’s exchange with affable singer James Blunt (Hugo Rifkind writes a good analysis of this spat), but also statements made by Ed Miliband and co at the dispatch box. Impressive Conservative minister, Esther McVey, summarised it so very well in a Yorkshire Post article towards the end of last year that I don’t think I need to add to much more! 

Lastly comes the unpleasant arrogance the liberal left seem to have when it comes to political parties with contrarian messages. I’m no fan of UKIP but I am sure there are plenty of level-headed, socially aware people who vote for them and I don’t think it serves any good purpose to level insults at them. However it seems to be open season and the Labour Party have branded them as ‘neanderthals’, ‘sexists’ and ‘chauvinist pigs’, stuck in the mould of 1950s small ‘c’ conservatism. For them these people are unacceptable and must be censored, insulted and put in the stocks to have rotten cabbages thrown at them. Rather than try and beat them on policies, which would be tricky for them as their’s are almost as ludicrous and UKIP’s are non-existent, they turn to the politics of the playground and seek to insight anger and outrage through insults and questions of the party membership’s moral integrity. 

Perhaps its a sign of where we are going though, with more and more people ‘deeply upset’ and ‘mortally offended’ by the smallest remark, news story or criticism. It seems as the liberal left bandwagon marches on, that more and more freedom of expression disappears, avenues to success are bricked off and 

I don’t think that Cameron has all the answers, no-one ever does, but he’s a far more human character. Despite holding to some of the principles of a social democracy, he places far more value in a smaller, less intrusive state in which we are able to enjoy a higher-degree of personal and collective freedom than we ever could experience under a Labour government. 

It deeply worries me that come May 6th we might have a Labour government, and one which will seek to govern every aspect of our life, manage British business and make offending people (especially them) a political offence. Of course, this is a slight exaggeration, but I hope that this short article with make you take a careful look at this current opposition which seeks to govern us for the next five years. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A humble crumble to start the new year!

Oh goodness, a new year has started and I am desperately trying to be good, but it’s so difficult, especially when you're are surrounded by smug so-and-so’s knee-deep in dry January... sadly I don’t think my constitution could stand it, nor my social diary! But I am back dear readers, ready for another year of fun and frolicking. Do I have a resolution?... no, except to be better about posting on this blog as I noticed it seemed to tail off a bit last year. 

Perhaps when I was berated yesterday, by a client, for not posting enough was a wake up call, telling my poor old fingers that they should once again commit themselves to the keyboard and tap out more pointless musings. 

So where to begin as the chill winds whip at my windows and the ice melts in my tumbler of Canadian Club? Why not with a cheeky recipe, something rib-sticking to really warm the 'cockles of ye heart' and foster good feelings in these lean times! 

It gives me great satisfaction that the world’s most famous pear is a thoroughly British variety. Developed by a green-fingered school teacher of South Berkshire in a little village called Aldermaston, it the legend has the ring of Thomas Hardy about it. When ripe it has a lusciously sweet, fragrant flavour and, for me, is the perfect cooking medium as it holds its shape making it suited for use in a crumble - in direct opposition to those who like their fruit stewed to the point where even a toothless nonagenarian could eat it! 

Many a crumble purist will also be taken aback by my favoured choice of topping, citing that the traditional butter and flour crumb or oatmeal are far superior, that’s their view. This topping has a wonderful crunch and a pleasing salty sweetness and comes from the brilliant Claire Macdonald who’s Seasonal Cooking and More Seasonal Cooking are classics of the UK cookery lexicon. 

The use of a few cloves and a pinch of cinnamon add a spicy aroma that complements the whole dish. Of course, you can vary the recipe to suit your tastes and don’t feel bound by just using pear, other popular fillings such as apple & blackberry, blueberries and rhubarb work really well.

For filling
6 ripe Williams pears
10ml brandy
100g unsalted butter
1tsp lemon juice
50g Demerara sugar
8 cloves 

For crumble

1 packet digestive biscuits
100g Demerara sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
100g salted butter

Method


  1. peel, core and cube the pears and throw into a bowl with the lemon juice (this will prevent the lemons oxidising).
  2. place the biscuits in a carrier bag and beat the bejesus out of them on a hard surface with a rolling pin until they become crumbs.
  3. melt the butter in a heavy saucepan on a low-medium heat, when it starts to bubble add the biscuit crumb, sugar and cinnamon and stir continuously for a couple of minutes. 
  4. Once the crumble is warmed through empty it into a mixing bowl.
  5. To assemble take a large oval gratin dish and chuck the pears piece in; douse with the brandy, dot with the unsalted butter and scatter with the cloves and sugar.
  6. Top with the crumble mixture, and set aside covered with a tea towel in a cool, dry place until ready to serve. 
  7. To serve place on the middle rack of a hot oven (around 200 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until the top starts to brown and the edges start to bubble. 
  8. Serve with single cream or good quality vanilla ice cream. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A very London Christmas part II

I know, I know, I have been lazy, I promised you the follow up to part one two days ago. There can be no excuse, and in my excess-induced torpor, caused in part by too many free radicals and hard partying, I have omitted to finish what I started. I hope that this little slice of festive cheer will make up for it! 

As I sit here writing this and listening to Sting’s reflective Nothing Like the Sun (Which I will be reviewing later in January), I am able to put Christmas into perspective once more. I wrote in the last post that I went into the holiday season with a sense of indifference, and I stand by that. This was definitely the best frame of mind with which to approach it. So let’s pick up the story where I left it, bloated by countless cocktail sausages and covered in a blanket of Heidsieck Monopole and Gordon’s and tonic I had gently rested my head on an Oka by Nicky Haslam cushion and passed out, legs akimbo, on the sofa. 

I rose fitfully early, parched, the morning hit me like an iron fist enclosed in a velvet glove. My tongue was felt-like and head fuzzy. The bottle of San Pellegrino on the coffee table offered little succour -  fizzy water is a terrible idea when in a fragile state. It was like sand-paper on the gullet and I groaned before dragging myself off to bed to rise at the more sociable time of 9:30am. 

In days gone by I would be up far earlier, raring to get to my stocking, frantically tearing wrapping paper open to get at presents such as a toy assault rifle, the best of Tom & Jerry, Micro Machines, silly putty, Fimo plasticine, marbles, Kirby’s Dream Land (for the original Gameboy) and a box of Terry’s Neopolitans (remember those?). This Christmas I took the stairs gingerly, made my way down to the kitchen and made a restorative cup of coffee chased with an ice cold Coca Cola. 
“Feeling delicate?” said my mother, “Well there’s no time for that, there are sprouts to consider.” Fortunately my aunt intervened, keen to offer her services as chief sprout preparer and carrot chopper. I was saved, so I quickly ducked out into the garden with a Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleur and a shot of Eau de Vie which brought some colour back to my cheeks. I was ready to tackle the challenges of negotaiting the Christmas meal. 

A few smoked salmon blinis at midday, and a glass or two of cold Champagne, whetted my appetite and prepared me to take on the turkey, ham, two types of stuffing (one chestnut, the other sausage meat), sprouts, carrots drenched in butter and chives, peas, roast potatoes and of course lashings of gravy. All this was washed down with a bottle of Waitrose very good Cave de Blebenheim Riesling, and I helped put a dent in a bottle of 2012 Chateau Batailley. 

Following this mountain of food, there was still room in the 'old tuck box' for a little cheese and some fresh fruit. I picked a plumptious pear and a couple of ripe figs to accompany some of the most amazing cheese I have ever had. I will admit that Munster is an acquired taste and, anyone who has read my 2013 posts about Alsace will know the high esteem in which I hold this cheese. There was no denying it was pungent, sweating and quivering as it was on the cheese plate, it garnered many worried looks! It has a very heady flavour, dominating the nostrils and almost burning the back of the throat. Paired with an ever excellent glass or four of Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port it was a an explosion of flavour. Indeed the other cheese were also out of this world. To recap: there was a little, square Mariolles, a washed-rind cheese with a strong aroma and grassy flavour, a Morbier which has the taste of a young Comte but is softer and a Mimolette, a bright orange cheese from Northern France which tastes like an aged Gouda (precisely because it is one!)

Grabbing a cup of coffee and a glass of Marc de Gew├╝rztraminer eau de vie (a true firewater if ever there was one!) we decamped to the drawing room to open presents. Mine, as requested ,were pretty functional. I got some much needed pairs of needle cords, some shirts, a tie, a few books, a frying pan, an electric steamer and of course, plenty of alcohol, including a bottle of my beloved Canadian Club whisky. True to form, I drained my liqueur and filled my tumbler with a healthy tot of our Commonwealth’s finest product! 

With that, we settled down to probably the most incongruous double-bill in Christmas history: The Jungle Book (which seemed much more dramatic when I was younger) and Die Hard 2: Die Harder (a very underrated sequel), bringing to an end a true Christmas cracker. As I picked at leftovers I thought that this had been the best yet, and couldn’t wait to see what Boxing Day would have in store. 


Keep your eyes peeled over the weekend for the third and final part of my Christmas adventure...