A flag in every garden

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2006

Britain’s Chancellor (and PM-in-waiting) Gordon Brown seems to have succumbed to a serious degenerative condition (dementia blunkettia?), symptoms of which include giving “speeches promoting Great British patriotism”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4611682.stm and commending Americans for flying flags in their gardens. I’m all for cheering on England and football and cricket, but the Britishness stuff is taking things a bit far chaps. Anyway, as it happens, I read “a few lines from Tocqueville”:http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/ch3_16.htm last night on the difference between American and English patriotism. The English don’t exactly come off well in de T’s text, but if forced to choose between complacent Podsnappery and flying the union jack in front of my house (something only done by loonies and fascists), I’d have to plump for Podsnap:

bq. If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Ay,” he replies, “there is not its equal in the world.” If I applaud the freedom that its inhabitants enjoy, he answers: “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark on the purity of morals that distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has witnessed the corruption that prevails in other nations, would be astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.

bq. Such is not the case with the English. An Englishman calmly enjoys the real or imaginary advantages which, in his opinion, his country possesses. If he grants nothing to other nations, neither does he solicit anything for his own. The censure of foreigners does not affect him, and their praise hardly flatters him; his position with regard to the rest of the world is one of disdainful and ignorant reserve: his pride requires no sustenance; it nourishes itself. It is remarkable that two nations so recently sprung from the same stock should be so opposite to each other in their manner of feeling and conversing.

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Tim Worstall
01.15.06 at 11:10 am



dave heasman 01.14.06 at 5:22 pm

Brown being as New Labour as Blair or Gould (Philip, not Bryan) won’t, surely, have come up with this bollocks without having it validated by a (what’s the collective noun?) host of focus groups. The public wants it – overt displays of patriotism, breast-beating, maybe a pledge of allegience?
Well, quite a lot of the public doesn’t want it, that’s for sure, and it could turn Brown into a figure of ridicule. I’d like to see that; I bet he couldn’t handle it, he’s not yet had to.


Henry 01.14.06 at 5:53 pm

My favourite comment on this is from “David Langford”:http://www.ansible.co.uk/

bq. Gordon Brown’s call for a national day of British patriotism seems somehow un-British. The tradition is to be smugly, even insufferably, conscious that it’s a great country, but not to brag about this in public like all those frightfully volatile foreigners. I wonder whether the Chancellor is familiar with the episode of Kipling’s Stalky & Co. in which fiercely but silently patriotic schoolboys are horrified to have sententious chauvinism preached at them by an overweight MP. The latter’s fate, which Gordon Brown may yet share, is to be called a Flopshus Cad, an Outrageous Stinker, and a Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper.

Surely Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper is a phrase whose time has come around again (I know that there are a number of Kipling fans on the American and UK right, but they have curiously failed to revive this descriptive term).


Bob B 01.14.06 at 6:01 pm

Is there any improvement on Samuel Johnson’s observation of 1775 : “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” ?

Boswell, our authority for the source, doesn’t provide any context for how the remark arose, so we don’t really know for sure what was Johnson’s intention in making the comment.

One conjecture is that Johnson was referencing an understanding of those times that debtors and criminals were prone to sign up for the army or even join the navy in order to escape justice. Given the likely alternatives of hanging or transportation so often dispensed by way of justice for crime in the 18th century, while debtors stayed in jail until debts were paid, the patriotic alternatives must have appeared an attractive option to the vulnerable:

“Some thirty-five thousand people were condemned to death in England and Wales between 1770 and 1830, and seven thousand were ultimately executed, the majority convicted of crimes such as burglary, horse theft, or forgery. Mostly poor trades people, these terrified men and women would suffer excruciating death before large and excited crowds.”

The navy option offered the prospect of long sea voyages away from home and prize money in times of war. The exploits of the royal navy were a huge success story but then as Winston Churchill remarked much later, that owed much to rum, sodomy and the lash – all part of Britain’s illustrious history and perennial values.


abb1 01.14.06 at 6:20 pm

Is it legal to burn a flag?


Bob B 01.14.06 at 6:29 pm

I’m no lawyer but my understanding is that it is not illegal per se to burn a flag – including the Union Jack – in England and Wales although if the burning were perpetrated in a public place it would doubtless be possible to charge the culprit with public order offences, such as breach of the peace. Scotland has a different laws and a different legal system.


Steve 01.14.06 at 7:10 pm

“flying the union jack in front of my house (something only done by loonies and fascists)”

Alas, that is exactly Britain’s (and Europe’s in general) problem. Admittedly, Britain isn’t quite as far off the cliff as the Continent, but give it time. Oh, well. It was a lovely civilization while it lasted.



Frank Lynch 01.14.06 at 7:22 pm

As the manager/owner of samueljohnson.com, I should point out that Boswell does provide context for Johnson’s remark, although you wouldn’t know it from his Life of Johnson. In the Life of Johnson, Boswell acts as if Edmund Burke was discussed after the famous quip; but in his original journals, Edmund Burke was discussed before the quip, and so Johnson may have had Burke and his party in mind. With Burke so revered (deservedly), it’s an interesting idea. More on it all here.


Robin Green 01.14.06 at 7:42 pm

Lack of flag-flying is an indication of the decline of European civilisation?? Can I have some of what you’re smoking, Steve?


Hektor Bim 01.14.06 at 9:21 pm

This whole discussion has a very “English” tinge to it. As far as I can tell, the people of Northern Ireland have no problem flying their flags, they just can’t agree on which one it should be.

What is the approach to flying the Welsh flag in Wales and the Scottish flag in Scotland?


Barry Freed 01.14.06 at 9:42 pm

Is there any improvement on Samuel Johnson’s observation of 1775 : “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” ?

Indeed there has, American satirist Ambrose Bierce’s addendum springs immediately to mind:

“In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, at entry for patriotism.

And in searching for Bierce’s exact words I came upon yet another such addendum hitherto unknown to me by another great American curmudgeon, H. L. Mencken:

“But there is something even worse: it is the first, last, and middle range of fools.”—The World, New York City, November 7, 1926, p. 3E.


Simstim 01.14.06 at 10:06 pm

The Welsh do seem to like putting the flag out and about, but no more so than the English I’d say. Although, having said that, I do live in Cardiff which, despite being the capital, is one of the less Welsh bits of Cardiff. As an Englishman in Wales, I somehow find the blatant display of the English flag more disturbing than that of the Welsh one. I can’t quite put my finger on why.


Simstim 01.14.06 at 10:07 pm

“less Welsh bits of Wales” even!


John Emerson 01.14.06 at 10:14 pm

Knut Hamsun around 1880 made almost exactly the same observations. Maybe he was cribbing from Tocqueville. Thoreau grumbled a similiar grumble in between the two. American hyper-patriotism goes a long way back.

Note to trolls: Yes, Hamsun ended up supporting Hitler, but by the time that he did that, he had vigorously renounced his book about America, refusing even to allow it to be reprinted.


John Quiggin 01.15.06 at 2:08 am

At the time Johnson was speaking, “patriotic” was a party label, attached to the anti-government group around John Wilkes – the closest modern equivalent would be “radical”. There’s a fascinating anecdote where Boswell lures Johnson into having dinner with Wilkes, which both men enjoy enormously, at least in Boswell’s telling of it.


josh 01.15.06 at 3:18 am

There seems to be some support for the suggestion above that Brown’s call for a patriotism-day enjoys public support:
I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. On the one hand (and for the most part), one of the things that I greatly enjoyed about living in Britain was the lack of ostentatious displays of patriotism such as flag-flying. On the other hand, any sighting of flags was unnerving, since it suggested British nationalists (or rugby fans), and it would be nice to see the symbols of patriotism reclaimed from them.
Still, Brown’s proposal, at least as far as flag-flying goes, seems to me self-defeating. After all, flag-flying is not only a characteristically American thing, but also (at least from my very limited experience) a characteristically French one; and surely an essential part of British national identity is being as unlike the French as possible. Therefore (and as Chris and other commenters suggest), this celebration of Britishness seems very un-British.


Andrew Brown 01.15.06 at 3:38 am

“Some Support” — unidentified “tourism chiefs” & Iqbal Sacranie. It is axiomatic that anything supported in the name of tourism is bad for true patriotism; and Sacranie is obviously going to make any and all noises which sound patriotic when he can. I live in Essex, the county of shaven heads, thick necks, and union jack tattoos. But even here, you don’t see flags flying in _gardens._

Curiously, you do see it a lot of flags in the countryside in Sweden and Norway. So I suspect that part of the problem is that there aren’t enough gardens big enough for flagpoles over most of southern England. If you do own several acres of land, you are the last sort of person to put up a flag, especially at the suggestion of a Scottish labour politician.


Artemis 01.15.06 at 3:40 am

Robin, I took Steve’s comment to mean, not that a lack of flag-flying means the end of Western civilization, but that the idea that flag-flying is exclusive to fascists and loons seems characteristic of cultural or civilizational decadence. But maybe Chris was just stating a statistical fact. Has there been a study done?


Bob B 01.15.06 at 4:35 am

Interesting and instructive comments on Samuel Johnson and patriotism.

An alternative insight but into an (highly effective) invocation of patriotism as a powerful motivating sentiment in war was Nelson’s famous flag signal shortly before the start of the battle of Trafalgar in October 1805:

“England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty”

By many accounts, that signal carried a convincing resonance throughout the fleet. The outcome of the subsequent battle against a larger number of ships of the line turned out as one the most decisive naval battles in history. Fatal casualties from the battle in the British fleet were about a tenth of those in the combined French and Spanish fleets.

The battle conclusively ended any credible prospect of Napoleon’s threatened invasion of England. There was no other naval battle of comparable scale until the battle of Tsushima a hundred years later between fleets of Japan and Russia.

Villeneuve, the French admiral commanding the combined fleet at Trafalgar – and perhaps something of a closet anglophile – later commented: “To any other nation the loss of Nelson would have been irreparable, but in the British fleet off Cadiz, every Captain was a Nelson.”

This is quoted in Roy Adkins: Trafalgar – the biography of a battle (2004), an engaging warts ‘n’ all account of both the context and the battle. It makes clear that for ordinary seamen, daily life aboard ships of the line was a thoroughly miserable affair alleviated mainly by the daily rum ration. Seamen were seldom allowed off ship on the rare occasions the ships were at harbour in Britain for fear they would desert.

What I hadn’t appreciated is that it is likely that there were (a few) women aboard the ships at the battle. What I had also not appreciated was that Rear Admiral Collingwood, whose flagship the Royal Sovereign led the south most line of ships in the battle and which was the first to engage, remained at sea for the following five years until his death at the age of 62 in 1810.

He stayed on at sea after Trafalgar to oversee the blockade of ports in mainland Europe and never got back to Britain. A further insight into those times is that the Napoleonic wars even then went on for another five years until the battle of Waterloo in 1815, a span of twenty two years for Britain after initial engagement in the revolutionary wars and Napoleonic wars in 1793. At the time of Britain’s first census in 1801, Britain’s population at 10.5 million was about half that of France.

Perhaps an instructive insight into the differences between the leadership styles of Nelson, the fleet commander at Trafalgar, and Wellington, the allied battlefield commander against Napoleon’s grand army at Waterloo, is the remark to aides attributed to Wellington after he had inspected troops before battle: “I don’t know what they do to the enemy but by g*d they frighten me,” or, “Ours [army] is the scum of the earth, the mere scum of the earth.” [Anthony Jay (ed): Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations.]

Another much quoted remark but after Waterloo is possibly even more revealing: “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” [Eton being a famous private fee-paying boys school to which the sufficiently affluent continue to send their sons even now. Among many celebrities, Keynes attended Eton, as did George Orwell.] The comment referenced that many of the brigade commanders among the British contingent at Waterloo had attended Eton.

Scanning the casualty lists of Waterloo posted on the web shows the names of many illustrious families in Britain’s history. There are several documented accounts by aides reporting Wellington weeping on reading battle casualty lists: “Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”

Wellington was an admitted patrician who came from an aristocratic family whereas Nelson came from an otherwise relatively inconspicuous parsonage in Norfolk. As a battlefield commander, Wellington was notoriously secretive about issuing battle orders to field commanders only on a ‘need to know’ basis’ and then maintaining close control during battles by riding around active battlefields, at personal risk, to issue commands to brigade commanders. In contrast, Nelson set out his strategy and intentions to his fleet captains prior to battle but otherwise left the interpretation in battle to their discretion. Whatever the differences in backgrounds, character and temperament, Nelson and Wellington were evidently promoted on personal merit. Wellington for all his aristocratic parentage was initially sent out to command in the Peninsula wars as a subordinate general.

Of course, in the present context of Britain’s relations with the European Union, it is hardly politick to mention the historic roots of British patriotism. Wellington’s comments about the troops in his command provide credible substance to Johnson’s comment about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels.


Dan Simon 01.15.06 at 5:12 am

This whole discussion has a very “English” tinge to it. As far as I can tell, the people of Northern Ireland have no problem flying their flags, they just can’t agree on which one it should be.

What is the approach to flying the Welsh flag in Wales and the Scottish flag in Scotland?

The politics of patriotism varies greatly from country to country around the world, depending on what demographic, social and cultural groups tend to embrace it. As a general rule, those who derive their self-worth from patriotism are on the lower rungs of society, since by implication they feel elevated by their self-identification as generic representatives of their nation. Traditionally, they have also been right-wing, since the left has historically favored internationalism and rejection of local (i.e., national) cultural traditions.

There are many exceptions, though. In English Canada, for instance, it is the elite who express the most demonstrative, flag-waving patriotism, since they have the most to gain by asserting Canada’s distinctiveness from the US. (The biggest fish would like their small pond to seem as big as possible.) Similarly, in Quebec, flag-waving nationalism is a joint project of the provincial elite, paralleling their English-Canadian big-fish-in-small-pond counterparts, and the Francophone lower classes, who embrace their French identity (and Anglophobia) as their only source of solace and pride.

The left-right split over patriotism is likewise not nearly as consistent across different countries as one might think. While American patriotism has a long history of association with such right-wing ideas as militarism and nativism, modern Canadian patriotism was largely a creation of the Canadian left, as a counterweight to the perceived right-wing influence of the US. Likewise, many of the world’s left-wing “revolutionary” movements—Palestinian, Cuban, Chinese, and of course Russian—have embraced unabashed flag-waving patriotism as a populist tactic for winning broad support.

In the end, “patriotic” is like “left-wing” or “right-wing”—it stands much less for a collection of ideas than for a collection of people. Those who disdain it in one time and place are highly likely to embrace it in a different time and place, if its adherents there happen to be more congenial.


john m. 01.15.06 at 5:14 am

Just to confirm re: loonies and fascists, that flag flying is big in Northern Ireland along with pavement (sidewalk in American) painting and murals. This is to allow everyone understand where they should or should not be at any given time and to emphasise how the two communities have more in common with each other than the countries they claim allegiance too, who do not do this sort of thing leading to the end of civilisation. My favourite example (though sadly now gone) was just outside Newry where there was a forest of Union Jacks surrounding an Israeli flag, a succinct lesson in Northern Irish politics.


Chris Bertram 01.15.06 at 5:37 am

This whole discussion has a very “English” tinge to it. As far as I can tell, the people of Northern Ireland have no problem flying their flags, they just can’t agree on which one it should be.

What is the approach to flying the Welsh flag in Wales and the Scottish flag in Scotland?

During sporting contests you’ll see the English, Welsh or Scottish flags widely _displayed_ (including by people neither loony nor fascist). People keeping a permanent flag outside their houses are a different matter. Anyone permanently displaying the _union jack_ outside their house is, I repeat, usually either a loony or a fascist.


mark s 01.15.06 at 6:00 am

those who take gardening seriously (= the english, stereotypically) know that flags — with their rectilinear shape and strong colour fields — spoil anything worth attempting, aesthetically, with a garden

they look good on sand-castles though


Peter 01.15.06 at 7:58 am

Surely what Gordon Brown is doing with this campaign is to distance himself from his Scottishness, in readiness for becoming PM. Having a Scotsman as PM will make it hard to hide the Scottish oligarchy which has run Britain these last 8 years, so he is trying to make us think he is not as Scottish as he actually is.


yabonn 01.15.06 at 8:48 am

ot only a characteristically American thing, but also (at least from my very limited experience) a characteristically French one

I’m surprised on this one. Maybe one or two at the town halls, but apart of that… ?


Backword Dave 01.15.06 at 8:56 am

Peter, would you care to name some of this “Scottish oligarchy which has run Britain these last 8 years” please? Gordon Brown and … who exactly? Tony Blair? Went to school in Edinburgh and lived there for a time, but English. Alastair Campbell? English, despite the name and the bagpipe playing.


des von bladet 01.15.06 at 9:27 am

The ‘Wegians, as ever, have the best of all possible worlds: they have the smug but largely unspoken patriotisme of the Engleesh, together with a considerable enthusiasme for flag-flying, which is done on state-authorised Flag Days (hence the name) as well as household members’ birthdays.

The semiotics of flag-flying, which is to say, is more complicated than it may seem. It does seem to be a fact, though, that the St George cross has been considerably rehabilitated, in particular on the occasion of the last world cup. Possibly this could be interpreted as part of a need to reimagine Englishness as other than Default Britishness in response to the challenges of devolution and more prominent Scottish and Welsh identities.

And what about the Last Night of the Proms, my ridiculous British friends, what about all that?


Pablo Stafforini 01.15.06 at 10:23 am

Our patriotism, like that of other European countries, is made up of love of home, the feeling of cosy safety produced by what is familiar, the comfort of known traditions and prejudices, and the instinct that, in spite of superficial dissensions, we are at one on all really serious issues. […] American patriotism is quite different. [.…] When an American feels a glow of warmth about his country, he is not thinking, as an Englishman might, of hedgerows and the song of the cuckoo and wild roses in June, of village churches that keep alive what was best in the Middle Ages, or even of the traditional pomp of kings and lord mayors and judges in their wigs. […] English patriotism, like that of other Europeans, belongs to the instinctive and sub-conscious part of human nature, in which we are little different from the brutes; American patriotism belongs to the intellectual, conscious, reasoning part, which is more civilised but less compelling. To us, our country is part of our birthright; to Americans, theirs is part of a sacred Cause.


The nationalism of Americans, owing to the fact that it is not to deeply based on instinct as that f the British, is more vocal, more shrill, and more blatant. There is supposed to be something like ‘The American Way of Life’, which is so excellent that it ought to be imposed throughout the world. The family, one gathers, was invented by the Pilgrim Fathers; from Adam and Eve to their day it was unknown, and is still unknown on this side of the Atlantic. It is quite useless to point to comparative statistics of divorce or to any other evidence; the belief remains unshakeable. Leading articles in newspapers assure readers that the American young man, in contrast to the European, is sexually virtuous and hates violence. Here again, an appeal to the statistics of rape and homicide is useless. The wife of a Chicago professor assured me that there only seemed to be more murders in Chicago than in London because the English police were so inefficient. And if labour troubles are worse in American than England, that is because English employees have no spirit and English employers are cowards.

Bertrand Russell, ‘British and American Nationalism,’ Horizon (London, January 1945), reprinted in Barry Feinberg & Ronald Kasrils (eds.), Bertrand Russell’s America : His Transatlantic Travels and Writings, London: Allen & Unwin, 1973, pp. 339, 341


Tim Worstall 01.15.06 at 11:17 am

# 25

Robin Cook? John Reid? Alistair Darling?


Bob B 01.15.06 at 11:43 am

“And what about the Last Night of the Proms, my ridiculous British friends, what about all that?”

Just cathartic physiotherapy, that’s all.

Tony Blair is so impressed with the dedicated patriotism of Britain’s Members of Parliament that “he is preparing to scrap a 40-year ban on tapping MPs’ telephones, despite fierce Cabinet opposition, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. . . There has been a marked expansion of surveillance in Britain since 1997. New technology and new laws mean that Britons are among the most spied-on citizens on earth.”

Does Gordon Brown support such a massive extension of surveillance? Just who are these MPs who constitute a risk to Britain’s security? To which political party do they mainly belong? I think we should know.


Backword Dave 01.15.06 at 12:11 pm

Tim, I tell you now, if Robin Cook has any position in Gordon Brown’s government, I’m leaving the country.

So Scots are about 1/12th of the population of the UK, and three (not counting the late Mr Cook) out of thirty something in the Cabinet (OK, 25) are Scottish. What are the odds? I don’t think that’s even statistically significant; never mind an oligarchy.


Tim Worstall 01.15.06 at 12:54 pm

Might be in poor taste but R Cook dead would be a better member of the Cabinet than many of the live ones we’ve had over the years and will do in the future.


Daniel 01.15.06 at 3:15 pm

What is the approach to flying the Welsh flag in Wales and the Scottish flag in Scotland?

Yep, loonies and fascists (scratch a Plaid member and watch a closet racist bleed, sadly, at least four times out of five and the 20% of non-racist nationalists are not the ones who are obsessed with flags). NB that the fact that flags are big in Northern Ireland is not exactly a counter-argument; NI is a part of the world which is rather blessed with loonies and fascists.


abb1 01.15.06 at 4:03 pm

Just ‘loonies’ would do.


garhaneg 01.15.06 at 4:10 pm

I think it is just great that Americans fly their flag out front or on the wall of the house. They can go on to carry one sticking out of their teeth, and another projecting from their rear end, if they like. We all know they are prone to extreme swings and they may as well exhaust the present surge of hopeless patriotism before they turn to looking fearfully out their front window wondering what in the name of God they are going to do when they get sick, or get old, or get….not rich. or get run over by the the evil empire: Wall-Mart/ China Inc.
I mean, shine vanishing republic like the poet said.


Martin James 01.15.06 at 4:38 pm

Mr. Bertram, it seems Tocqueville has you down.


Bob B 01.15.06 at 5:07 pm

Which flag in the garden? Here’s something to challenge British nationalism. How do we feel about this?

“BILL CLINTON believes that Tony Blair would make a good secretary-general of the United Nations.”

Blair would be fulfilling his ultimate destiny: world controller, at last. In a keynote speech to the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999, he said: “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”

With his affinity for comprehensive surveillance – about which, see above at 30 and the plan to bug Britain’s MPs – I can envisage him sitting in front of a battery of computer monitors linked to CCTV cameras distributed around the globe to monitor trouble spots. Even more folks will be tuned into the Internet by then to be constantly on message: “This is the World Controller with a special announcement . . . ”

I suppose the upside is that it would keep Gordon on the Third Way and nudge the EU into shaping up. Above all, it could be timely for Armageddon next year if Niall Ferguson’s dystopian vision is anywhere near correct:


Peter 01.15.06 at 5:26 pm

To Backword Dave (25):

Blair was born and educated in Scotland, and, when not speaking demotic, speaks with an upper-class Scottish accent.

Scots in senior positions in the various Blair administrations have included: Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Reid, Alistair Darling (already mentioned), Geoffrey Robertson, Donald Dewar, Helen Liddell, Derry Irvine, and Charles Falconer.

Name another 10%-slice of the British population which holds as much influence.


des von bladet 01.15.06 at 5:36 pm

Peter: Public schoolboys? Oxbridge graduates? Politically-correct goers of doubtful mental health?


Bob B 01.15.06 at 7:38 pm

For public information: some consequences of Scottish ascendancy in British government:

“According to Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2004, total ‘identifiable’ public spending on services was, in 2002–03, £5,453 per capita in England, £6,479 in Wales, £6,579 in Scotland and £7,267 in Northern Ireland.”
[page 31]

“COUNCILS [in Scotland] are spending millions of pounds extra on expenses such as members’ allowances, hospitality and foreign trips while planning big hikes for local taxpayers, new figures obtained by this newspaper reveal. Scotland’s 32 councils will this year rack up £71m in ‘corporate management’ costs – up from £64m last year – while insisting they are struggling to pay for frontline services. The cash represents an 11.6% year-on-year increase and is well above the 5% extra in spending on schools, or the 3.7% increase on roads and transport.”

“A two tier system of care for elderly people will be introduced in the United Kingdom’s national health service from next week when Scotland starts providing free personal care for those aged over 65.

“From 1 July [2002] people in Scotland who are assessed as requiring personal and nursing care will have their costs met by the state if they live at home and will receive payments of £145-£210 ($216-$313; €225-€327) a week, depending on their needs, if they are in care homes.

“It will leave elderly people in Scotland better off than those in the rest of the United Kingdom, where personal care will continue to be means tested. People with assets of more than £11 500 have to pay a proportion of the costs whereas those with assets of £18 500 or more—which can include the family home—have to pay the full amount.”

This is the best estimate going of the scale of the net annual contribution to the national exchequer made by London taxpayers:

“London receives an above-average share of public expenditure from central government, but this is more than offset by its very high tax bill. In 2002-2003, the best guess is that London made a net tax contribution of £11 billion to the rest of the economy – a modest decline from £15 billion over the last two years although an alternative calculation, based on the city receiving an equitable share of total UK public expenditure, produces a figure as high as £19 billion.”

“London, England (AHN) – This month, the medical humanitarian organization, Medecins du Monde UK, launches Project: London, an initiative to help the city’s vulnerable people gain access health care.”

“LONDON, Jan. 15 (Xinhuanet) — Thousands of old people in Britain’s care homes are being sedated with ‘chemical cosh’ drugs while the National Health Service (NHS) fails to protect them, the Sunday Telegraph reported..”


John Emerson 01.15.06 at 10:05 pm

Hmph. So Hamsun was LYING. His own people are flag-wavers too. The bastard.

Well, maybe when the Norwegians were crushed under the heel of the Swedish, or perhaps Danish boot, they didn’t dare fly their mini-chauvinist flags. Hamsun’s America-bashing book was written before Norwegia became independent.


Chris Bertram 01.16.06 at 2:20 am

Name another 10%-slice of the British population which holds as much influence.

Lawyers, the bourgeoisie, …


chris y 01.16.06 at 4:16 am

Bob B –

Wellington’s remark about “By God they frighten me” referred to the list of senior officers that had been wished on him by the War Office. His attitude to the ORs seems to have been slightly different. Creevey reports asking him about the prospects for the Waterloo campaign, and Wellington pointed to a passing British squaddie and said, “It all depends on that item. Give me enough of it and I think I can do the thing.”


bad Jim 01.16.06 at 4:22 am

That reminds me that I need to put up the flag for Martin Luther King Day. It is a national holiday, after all.


Bob B 01.16.06 at 4:39 am

“Wellington’s remark about “By God they frighten me” referred to the list of senior officers that had been wished on him by the War Office.”

Do you have a citation?

Wellington’s documented remark about the army being “mere scum” is very clear on his sentiments relating to the character of those who served in the army. It also converges with his well-known opposition to reform of the franchise for election to Parliament and his documented comment on the new House of Commons after the 1932 Reform Act: “I never saw so many bad hats in my life.”

His patrician and autocratic character are further illustrated by his reported remarks after his first cabinet meeting as prime minister: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.” Perhaps needless to say, he didn’t last long as prime minister. After the unfortunate experience of Oliver Cromwell and then Wellington, senior military personel have made little headway in British politics.


Backword Dave 01.16.06 at 5:19 am

Peter, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Labour Party happens to consistently win seats disproportionately in Scotland; therefore the percentage of Scots (or those representing Scottish seats) will be higher in the Parliamentary Labour Party than Scots are in the population of the UK. Ministers tend to have safe seats (time you spend time shoring up the limited support you have in your constituency distracts from the red boxes and your department; when ministers or ex-ministers lose their seats, like Michael Portillo or Chris Patten, it is, quite rightly, man-bites-dog news)*: more Scottish seats are safe for Labour. For your “oligarchy” claim to have any merit, you’d need to show that Blair was using a selection policy which was biased rather than merely realistic.

So you can name nine Scots who’ve been in the Cabinet. Out of how many? And as Tim Worstall (not a Labourite by any means) has noted, Robin Cook was one of the best. He didn’t enjoy being in the inner circle, as far as I recall.

*This is my poor rewriting of an insight in one of the “Yes, Minister” books. Jim Hacker (or the writers) explained that the MPs eligible for ministerial duties were rather fewer than may be expected.


Peter 01.16.06 at 6:35 am

I seem to have struck a raw nerve, Dave. In your reply, you’ve provided an explanation for the existence of a Scottish oligarchy under Tony Blair, not refuted it.

Under the British system, the PM gets to choose his Cabinet, himself, alone. Tony Blair could have chosen no Scottish ministers at all if he wanted. Even if he felt compelled to choose these people for reasons other than their abilities, he could assign them obscure ministerial posts. Instead, what do we see: PM, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Lord Chancellor (2), Defence Secretary (2), and Health Secretary. I would call that a pretty good hold on the reigns of power by the sons and daughters of the thistle.

To be clear, none of this is intended as a criticism of the Scottish administration of Britain. As with England’s overseas colonies in the 19th century, the Scots are generally pretty effective at running things on behalf of absentee landlords. Nice to see them now running the mother country.


chris y 01.16.06 at 6:42 am

Bob b,

I haven’t got a citation to hand, cos I’m at work. The actual wording of the “by God they frighten me” quotation is very likely apocryphal anyway, but it’s established that Wellington was extremely unhappy about his generals in the 100 days campaign and he left Horse Guards in no doubt as to his feelings.

Wellington was an insufferable autocrat and snob even by the lights of his own time, and he seems to have regarded his soldiers as barely human. But he was convinced that they would fight well, a confidence he didn’t extend to many of his allies.

My quotation of Creevey from memory was inaccurate. He actually reports Wellington as saying: “There. It all depends on that article, whether we do the business or not. Give me enough of it, and I am sure.”


Bob B 01.16.06 at 6:42 am

“Nice to see them [the Scotts] now running the mother country.”

Please see message 40 above on some of the consequences of the Scottish ascendancy in government.


Peter 01.16.06 at 6:48 am

And can I just add that in a truly Federal country (such as Canada, the USA or Australia) to see so many senior Cabinet Ministers from one small region of the country would be very strange. No Australian Prime Minister, for example, would ever contemplate having so many ministers from, say, Queensland, because the political consequences to his/her Government in the other states would be so negative. It is only because Britain is not yet a federal state that the Scots can get away with a takeover of the national government without the other regions noticing.


bad Jim 01.16.06 at 6:49 am

How much worse was the indignity of the ascension of the Stuarts, in the person of James I, than the importation of the Hanover band in the person of George I?

My country requires that its leader be a native, which may not be the only reason we savor homegrown counterfeit cowboys.


Backword Dave 01.16.06 at 7:14 am

Peter, how are you defining “oligarchy“? Scots are still a minority and not a controlling one in Parliament or the Cabinet, so excuse me, but I fail to see how I have provided an “explanation for the existence of a Scottish oligarchy” — which doesn’t exist outside your head.

“Under the British system, the PM gets to choose his Cabinet, himself, alone.” Oh, Peter, I think we’ve all seen what happens if talented MPs are left on the backbenches. Remember Geoffrey Howe in 1990, or even Enoch Powell’s “Vote Labour” in 1974? Sure Phoney Tony has a “choice” of whom to appoint; it’s just a much less free choice than you seem to believe.

As for your point #50; I was thinking the same thing before I read your comment. Well, sort of. How many Republicans in the cabinet are from Coastal States? and when the Democrats are in power, how many of those in powerful positions come from the mid-West?


Bob B 01.16.06 at 7:28 am

“How much worse was the indignity of the ascension of the Stuarts, in the person of James I, than the importation of the Hanover band in the person of George I?”

But George I, the first of the Hanoverians, couldn’t speak English, which was most convenient as that created scope for the development of cabinet government the proceedings of which he couldn’t follow. Historically, the Hanoverians, inadvertently or otherwise, came to fulfil a crucial role in moving the monarchy by increments into becoming what came to be called “constitutional monarchs” instead of absolute rulers. Compare the powers and political influence of George I with that of his contemporary Louis XIV, king of France.


H.M. The Queen 01.16.06 at 9:56 am

“But George I, the first of the Hanoverians, couldn’t speak English …”

A tradition which one has tried to maintain to this day.


Bob B 01.16.06 at 11:26 am

There is an excellent series of official web pages on Britain’s monarchs at:

Among the many values of the series are the sharp insights into constitutional developments. With the periodic bouts of insanity of George III (r 1760-1820) and the marital problems of his son, George IV (r 1820-30), we can understand how Britain’s constitution evolved by steps into the constitutional monarchy of Victoria (r 1837-1901). Bagehot on the English Constitution (2nd ed 1873) chp.3 is the classic statement on the functions of a constitutional monarch:

“To state the matter shortly, the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights — the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.”

Contrast the transition in Britain with what happened in France on the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the aftermath in the period of terror and then the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. While France endured the trauma of a political revolution and almost permanent wars through to Waterloo in 1815, Britain pioneered the transition to an industrialised economy. Strangely, they are still complaining about anglo-saxon ways.


John Emerson 01.16.06 at 11:40 am

Don’t the Scots control both the Masons and the (once-)Bavarian Illuminati?

Elron Hubbard — Scottish?


chris y 01.16.06 at 11:53 am

Elron Hubbard? The great pseudo-religious software manufacturer?


Bob B 01.16.06 at 4:33 pm

Listing famous Scots quickly becomes a thoroughly demoralising exercise. To mention a few: Napier (logarithms), David Hume (philosophy), Adam Smith (economics), James Watt (steam engine), Lister (antiseptics – phenol), James Maxwell (unified theory of electricity and magnetism, said to be the high point of 19th century science), William Kelvin (absolute zero temperature, cable communications etc), John Logie Baird (television), Robert Watson-Watt (radar), Alexander Fleming (penicillin).


sharon 01.16.06 at 5:44 pm

Demoralising for whom, exactly?


Dan Simon 01.16.06 at 5:54 pm

And can I just add that in a truly Federal country (such as Canada, the USA or Australia) to see so many senior Cabinet Ministers from one small region of the country would be very strange.

On the contrary–all you need is a country with a region that tends to vote as a bloc, with enough votes to swing the election to one party or another. Political parties will inevitably cater disproportionately to such a region, in the hope of winning and maintaining its loyalty.

In Canada, where Quebec fits this description perfectly, the cabinet routinely overrepresents Quebeckers. In fact, between 1968 and 2003, the total amount of time a non-Quebecker was prime minister adds up to about a year and a half.


Bob B 01.16.06 at 6:08 pm

“Demoralising for whom, exactly?”

All apart from the Scots who seem to have made an entirely disproportionate contribution to civilization.


dp 01.16.06 at 8:29 pm

“On the contrary—all you need is a country with a region that tends to vote as a bloc, with enough votes to swing the election to one party or another.”

So, in the UK, is that Northern Ireland?


John Emerson 01.16.06 at 9:28 pm

Yes, and the Scotch-Irish gave us ANdrew Jackson and John Wilkes Booth.


Ray 01.17.06 at 6:59 am

Northern Ireland doesn’t fit the profile. It’s amller than Scotland, and doesn’t vote as a block. (Okay, most of the people who take their seats will vote as a block, but it’s a small block.)
Plus, it doesn’t return MPs in the ruling party, so it doesn’t have any candidates for ministerial office.


Bob B 01.17.06 at 6:24 pm

“Plus, it doesn’t return MPs in the ruling party”

The thing is that mainstream political parties in Britain are (very sensibly) resistant to suggestions of running approved party candidates in NI elections. The result is that all the political parties with candidates there are specific to Ireland, in most cases specific to just NI but with Sinn Fein running candidates both north and south of the border.

Understandably, followers of Dr Paisley are apt to interpret this as indicating a closet sentiment on the part of Britain’s mainstream parties to cut NI adrift, which is why Dr Paisley is content that the Good Friday agreement should fail and NI should be governed by direct rule.

Many of us learned long ago, the politics of Ireland provide exceptions to almost any rule. FWIW I suspect that the predominant sentiment among British voters now is that they would have no objection to either independence for NI or for the consensual unification of Ireland.


Tim Worstall 01.18.06 at 5:37 am

No doubt you will all be gratified to know that Henry’s comment in # 2 has bourne fruit.

“Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper” now brings up an interesting page on Google’s “I feel lucky” option.

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