Thoughts on this and (especially) that

Thoughts about the passing scene crowd in, none seeming worth a separate Ephems post.  Here's what I've been jotting down.

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I suppose most of us Old Labour people have now given up in despair on Gordon Brown.  When Blair was at last defenestrated there seemed a faint chance that Brown, once installed in No. 10, despite having been Blair's chief accessory to the betrayal of most of the Labour party's aims and values, might set a new course for the government, by abandoning some of Blair's more egregious follies (42 days detention without charge, Trident, aircraft carriers, keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, ID cards and the national data-base, ASBOs, more and more prisoners in ever more prisons, half-heartedness in the EU accompanied by slavish attention to Washington, the UK-US extradition treaty, control orders, kowtowing to the Saudis and covering up for BAe, privatising more and more of our schools and hospitals, PFIs, leaving the railways in incompetent private hands, forcing down the standard of living of public sector workers while refusing to raise taxes on obscene City and business salaries, bonuses and dividends, taking the government's cue from Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail, micro-managing everything in sight in a passion for over-centralisation, and all the rest of that Blairite stuff).  When he first became prime minister, Brown put all the emphasis on change.  But he has changed nothing.  It's that failure to dump his inherited baggage, and the aspects of his character which apparently prevent him from working harmoniously with his colleagues, or delegating responsibility to them or to anyone else, or making timely decisions and sticking to them, or trusting and listening to his officials, that can now be seen to make him unfit to continue as prime minister.  The irony is that his premiership will be destroyed mainly by an economic downturn for which he bears no responsibility whatever, and which he seems to be trying to cope with rather sensibly.  Anyway, for whatever reason, he should go and go quickly — and whichever Miliband succeeds him, there should then be a very early general election fought on a brand-new, radical, egalitarian, small-l liberal Labour manifesto.  If Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn, David Blunkett or any others of that discredited crowd manage to seize the crown, it will really be the end of the party as we used to know it.

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Yet more folly seems to be about to get shoe-horned into official Labour policy for the next election:  a reduction in the voting age to 16.   The Guardian's senior political commentator, the almost always reliable Michael White, got it absolutely right:

Even at 18, voting – like backpacking – can be risky. You may argue that, since a weekend poll revealed that one voter in three blames the government for higher petrol prices, it is risky at 36 or even 66. But at least the wrinklies have knocked around a bit and bother to go and vote at elections in respectable numbers. Among the young, the 18-to-24 cohort, the turnout was 39% in 2001 (the latest figures I can find), compared with 59% overall in that miserable year. What's more, the move comes at an odd time when the old folks are busy trying to stop young people taking on other responsibilities such as buying tobacco – now banned until 18 – or drinking (there is talk of raising the legal age to 21), both pretty self-defeating, I suspect.
(Michael White, "Allowing 16-year-olds to vote is neither wise nor sensible", Guardian, 29 July 08)

 A letter advocating this change in the Guardian of 31 July 08 was co-signed by luminaries of the British Youth Council, Children's Rights Alliance for England, Electoral Reform Society, Funky Dragon, National Youth Agency, and the UK Youth Parliament.  Says it all.  No political party committed to giving the vote to children can expect to be taken seriously ever again (except by children).

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Today's Guardian announces the publication of what promises to be an excellent report by the admirable Dr Tony Wright's Public Administration Select Committee.   This report concerns the government's attempts to prevent the publication of memoirs, and even comments in the media, by former diplomats and other public servants on matters with which they were concerned while in government service, without prior permission from the government.  The committee rightly challenges the government's claim to the right to be the ultimate arbiter of what it's in the public interest to publish even if it may embarrass past or present ministers and officials by exposing their mistakes (and worse), pointing out that the principle that such decisions should be made by an independent body has already been firmly established by the Freedom of Information Act and the procedures it lays down.  The heading of the Guardian's report ("MPs challenge gag on former diplomats") is a succinct summary.  The committee's report is clearly a triumph for, especially, Sir Edward Clay, former British High Commissioner in Kenya, who has been waging a lively war with the Foreign Office over the right of retired diplomats to comment on international affairs in radio and television interviews and in articles in the press without getting prior permission from the government — provided of course that they don't give away information legitimately classified as confidential or secret in the process.  His view is now strongly endorsed by Tony Wright and his committee.  Whether the FCO will take any notice is, of course, another matter.  If it does, perhaps we may at last be given permission by our ministers to read Jeremy Greenstock's memoir of what happened over Iraq while he was UK Permanent Representative at the UN and later as the government's special representative in Baghdad, a book long ago written by Greenstock but still banned by ministers.  The government's response to Dr Wright's committee's report will be extremely interesting and revealing.  Don't bet the farm on a sudden rush of liberalism to the ministerial head.

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 And now yet another little folly rears up and bites us in the nether regions.  The new high commissioner in Zambia is to be a married couple:  one high commissioner, two diplomats.  Apparently they will share the job, four months on and four months off.  The one who's temporarily not the high commissioner will be the high commissioner's spouse, doing the menus and placement for the great man's (or woman's) dinner parties, looking after their small children, managing the Residence staff, keeping the entertainment allowance accounts, and mopping the high commissioner's fevered brow when he, or she, gets in from work.  What the off-duty not-high commissioner won't presumably do is visit the inner sanctums of the high commission offices to read the classified telegrams, instructions and briefings on the high commissioner's computer screen, to prepare her/himself for the next 4-month stint.  What will happen when the two half-high commissioners can't agree on their policy recommendations to London is far from clear:  there'll be nobody there to arbitrate.  On the face of it this is an unworkable, indeed rather silly, attempt at political correctness.  What the hapless high commission staff, its leader changing over every few weeks, will make of it, goodness knows.  The Zambian government will also find it hard to work out who really speaks to them on behalf of the UK.  A whole new protocol to cope with it will need to be worked out.  In the local diplomatic corps, spouses of other high commissioners and ambassadors in Lusaka may be a shade less than enchanted by the situation.  Meanwhile the FCO's announcement of the new twin-headed appointment is remarkable, not only for its startling substance, but also for describing the potted biographies of the happy couple as their "curriculum vitaes".  Vitaes?  Nought out of ten for Latin, chaps.  It wouldn't have happened in my day!   Still, at least there'll be only two of them:  what will really test the system is when a ménage à trois is appointed British ambassador in Washington.  Oh, you may laugh…

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The Beijing (or, as I would prefer to say, Peking) Olympics are almost upon us, preceded by an appalling terrorist attack in north-west China and heralding an even more mind-blowingly lavish opening ceremony than anything we have seen at previous Games, since the steady 4-year expansion of these rituals is subject to the iron law of inflation.  The justification for giving the Games to China seems to be that this massive exposure to the outside world will give a valuable push to the improvements in China's human rights record that we would all like to see (rather as the principal raison d'être of the European Union is now solemnly represented as being to encourage democracy and human rights in the countries that want to join it).   What, then, was the justification for imposing the 2012 Olympics on London?  Not, presumably, to jolt our government into improving its human rights performance, although that would certainly be a most welcome by-product.  No:  it seems that we need to spend several tens of billions of pounds on bigger and better sports facilities in and around London, and to reclaim hundreds of acres of wasteland east of the capital for affordable housing and other development, and despite our awareness of these urgent needs, we wouldn't do anything about them unless galvanised by the prospect of the Olympic visitation in four years' time.  So billions of pounds of taxpayers' and Lottery money are being diverted from other worthy causes to the Olympic behemoth without any rational assessment of competing priorities, simply because we are stuck with the responsibility for putting on the circus and there's no way to change our minds now.  We sink ever more deeply into economic recession, with savage cuts in other  government expenditure, rising unemployment, attacks on public sector workers' living standards, and other such miseries; but spending on the Games remains inviolate and inviolable.  On second thoughts, though, perhaps the justification for having the Games here in 2012 is an old-fashioned Keynesian remedy:  instead of employing people to dig holes in the ground and fill them in again (so as to provide employment and stimulate demand), we're employing them to dig holes in the ground and then build giant stadiums in them, ready to be dismantled as soon as the runners and jumpers have finished their two weeks' running and jumping in four summers' time.  You know it makes sense really.

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Why do our British commentators on American politics keep on referring to Senator McCain's "ailing" or "flagging" campaign for the Presidency, when the public opinion polls in the key states where the election will be decided show him and Senator Obama running almost neck and neck? Is it wishful thinking?  Both candidates are seeking to overcome quite serious electoral disabilities: one is old and a member of the same party as George W Bush (but highly experienced in politics and war); the other is inexperienced, looks worryingly young, is black, liberal, half-African, an intellectual who uses long words and expresses complex ideas, behaves as if he has already won the White House, is adored by a crowd of 200,000 Germans and is very widely believed by numerous American voters to be a closet Muslim.  Which set of disabilities seems to you the more formidable?  Yes, I'm afraid so.


18 Responses

  1. Barrie England says:

    I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about the new head of post arrangements in Zambia. It’s beyond parody.

  2. Phil says:

    But is it curricula vitae or curricula vitarum?

    Actually I'm not sure 'curriculum vitaes' is incorrect as English usage. 'Referendums' and 'viruses' are correct, to say nothing of crocuses and appendixes (the ones removed from multiple patients). It's certainly better than 'curriculums vitae'.

    Brian writes:  Thanks, Phil. I would have been happy with curricula vitarum or, at a pinch, curricula vitae, I suppose.  'Vitaes', though, is absolutely terrible, like being hit between the eyes with a cricket ball: you can't (or anyway shouldn't) add an 's' to a Latin genitive form to make a plural in the way you can with the nominative form, provided that the word has become sufficiently anglicised through usage.  So unlike you I would regard curriculums vitae, despite it being a horrible Anglo-Latin mongrel, as marginally preferable to curriculum vitaes.  I'm relaxed as between curriculums and curricula as I am between forums and fora but with a preference for -ums.   Peter Harvey's invaluable Guide to English Language Usage usefully warns against 'octopi', since 'octopus' isn't a Latin word (so it must be octopuses).  Fowler/Burchfield confirms your approval of crocuses (but croci is OK too, surprisingly) and appendixes so long as the latter are organs, not addenda (addendums?) to documents, in which case as we all know it's appendices.  But vitaes…  really!!!  (Perhaps we should go over to the American usage and call them résumés: or why not simply 'biographies'?)

  3. John Miles says:

    Does it really matter whether Mr Brown is replaced or not? As that old sea-dog, John Presccott, has so penetratingly noticed, when the Titanic's on the way down there's little future in trying to replace the captain.

    It's pretty obvious we need a general election. The sooner, surely, the better, both for the country and, long-term, the Labour Party?

    Unless of course they're completely wiped out, which is probably going to happen anyway.

    I don't share Michael White's and your revulsion at lowering the voting age.

    When I was seventeen I was expected to pay taxes and put my life on the line for the defence of  our country.  Admittedly, in 1945 I'd have voted for Mr Churchill, but is that really so awful?

    According to Mr White, not many of these adolescents would bother to vote anyway, so how could much harm be done?

    And isn't it a Good Thing to give the young as much freedom and responsibility as they can safely cope with?

    Any reasonably bright spin doctor or salesman can make out a case for denying any section of society the vote.

    How about pensioners like you and me? 

    Some people think that once you've hit sixty five you aren't really a person anymore, just a babbling old crackpot who is too out of touch with what's going on with the country to really have a say in how it should be run

    And what about the over-eighties? Are they going to be around when the oil runs out, and the Maldives and most of Bangladesh are under water?

    Brian writes:  On these arguments, why start at 16?  Why not 14?  Or 12?  Answer: common-sense.  As to Gordon Brown, I persist, perhaps wrong-headedly, in believing that it matters who is prime minister of the UK of GB and NI.

  4. John Miles says:

    Of course it would be nice to have a reasonably decent prime minister.

    But I can't think of any available alternative to Mr Brown who's likely to make the slightest difference to the outcome of the general election we seem to agree we need so urgently.

    Can you?

    Brian writes:  I said that it matters who our prime minister is, not that a change of prime minister would necessarily affect the outcome of the next general election.   If Gordon Brown were to step down before the end of this year, I think it would be politically desirable for his successor to go for a very early election, but if there's no change, I wouldn't see any reason for an election to be held before the next one is due.  Our prime ministers are not and have never been directly elected;  we elect the house of commons to choose the governing party and prime minister for us, and we should normally let them get on with it.   In fact I think either of the Miliband brothers, or Peter Hain, or even Jon Cruddas might have a sporting chance of leading Labour to yet another general election victory if bold enough to run on a radical programme of change from Blairism. 

  5. Peter Harvey says:

    Having lived in Zambia, and retaining a lot of goodwill to the place, I must say that there are some difficulties that the country could really do without.

    Thank you so much for the mention of my book (shortly to be books).

    The COD gives curricula vitae without any option.

    My understanding is that referendum in Latin (of which language my knowledge is both dated and limited) means a matter to be referred, rather than the voting procedure, so its English use can happily have an English plural.

    As for virus, it is a very odd word. Wikipedia says:

    Since v?rus in antiquity denoted something noncountable, it was a mass noun. Mass nouns — such as air, rice, and helpfulness in English — pluralize only under special circumstances, hence the nonexistence of plural forms.[1]

    It is unclear how a plural might have been formed under Latin grammar if the word had acquired a meaning requiring a plural form. In Latin v?rus is generally regarded to be a neuter of the second declension, but neuter second declension nouns ending in -us (rather than -um) are so rare that there are no recorded plurals.

    Brian writes:  Thanks for this helpful contribution, Peter.  My even more distant and faded memory is that neuter second declension nouns ending in -us have the same form (-us) in the nominative plural.   But this may just have been Latin teachers  being tidy-minded.  Anyway it confirms that the plural of virus can't be viri.  As for English (or, in the case, Scottish) plurals, am I right in thinking that the plural of 'kilt' is 'the kilt', not 'kilts'?  All true Scottish highlanders wear the kilt?  But it must be unavoidable in some contexts:  The Scottish warriors swept over the hill, kilts swirling (?). 

  6. Hi Brian,

    White's argument seems to be that we shouldn't give 16 year olds the right to vote because they wouldn't use it, because some other people are proposing raising the drinking age, because they might not want to vote, and because at that age they ought to be thinking about football teams and pop stars instead. And you say he's got it absolutely right why?

    Brian writes:  These (Michael White's arguments) all seem quite cogent to me, Dan.  Anyway, the onus for producing persuasive arguments for giving children the vote seems to me to be on those proposing it, rather than those who think it's obviously daft needing to explain why.  There's some limited room for argument about the age at which adulthood begins — 18 or 21? — and there's a clear case for universal adult suffrage, as practised in every democracy in the world, but I see no more reason to give children the vote than to give them commercial airline pilots' licences.  (Not a perfect analogy, I grant you, but some of the same factors apply.) 

  7. John Miles says:

    I find the last sentence of your comment hopelessly unrealistic.

    Let’s hope that – as usual – I’ve got it all wrong.

    Best of luck, Jack!

  8. Clive Willis says:

    Dear Brian

    Not so long ago, I remember asking you 'What is the Labour Party for?' 'Twas not a rhetorical nor, I hope, a totally silly question and it still awaits an answer… Old Labour, New Labour, whichever, I have despaired of it for years, though in a 'pure' form I would support it. My problem is that successive Labour governments and leaders (from Wislon onwards) have, for me, so befogged that purity that I now have only the (inevitably!) haziest idea of what I once thought that I believed in. The Iraq adventure was the penultimate straw, and then came Brown… What could possibly persuade me to vote Labour again? Whatever Labour might have been 'for' in the past, what now? What in essence is the philosophical stance that Labour should proclaim?

    Brian, I hope I'm not slipping into old professional habits and requesting an essay! Just a straightforward and very brief paragraph, say?    

    Yours ever


    Brian writes:  Clive, I think your challenge calls for an answer in a new post, not one buried in a longish queue of comments.  Fortunately, I think I can answer you by cutting and pasting from something I wrote a while ago in this blog!  Please watch not this space, but that which will be occupied shortly by a new post.  But I can't promise that it will be susceptible of abbreviation into the  "straightforward and very brief paragraph" that you have frivolously commissioned….  UPDATE:  Now available here.

  9. You think they’re cogent?! That mystifies me. One by one: don’t give them the vote because they wouldn’t use it – seems almost paradoxical to me. Some would use it – the argument doesn’t apply to them, some wouldn’t – nothing would be different for them. Other people propose raising the drinking age – irrelevant unless we also agree with that proposal (we shouldn’t). We shouldn’t give it to them because they might not want to use it (they don’t have to). They shouldn’t vote because they ought to be thinking about football and pop stars (patronising crap).
    I for one would propose giving everyone the vote from birth, but choosing some age (16 say) before which that vote can be exercised by proxy by their parents. The point of voting is surely to give every member of society equal representation of their interests. Not giving it to people under 18 means their interests are represented less than they should be proportionately. Having a proxy vote given to the parents until some cutoff age would then be in line with the idea that until a certain age parents are better able to manage the interests of their children than the children themselves. Some parents might involve their children in these decisions and use the proxy vote according to the child’s wishes, and that would be no bad thing.

  10. amk says:

    Brian, "common sense" isn’t an answer. It’s an evasion. Everyone with an opinion considers it to be "common sense". By its purest definition ("sense" that is common) it is no more than an appeal to bandwagon fallacy.

    Referencing what "every democracy" does is also an appeal to bandwagon. Not so long ago every democracy gave suffrage to males only. Every democracy can be wrong.

    Your framing of the debate as "whether to give children the vote" is disingenuous. Some people do not consider sixteen year olds as children (including, but not limited to, sixteen year olds). I suggest you define what a child is, and then demonstrate that a sixteen year old is a child. I note that some of these people support themselves and sometimes family members with full time jobs, including in the military, contributing to the economy and to public coffers. I doubt the Army would have people as
    responsible and mature as children in its ranks.

    Finally, a democracy needs to represent the people whose lives it affects, and this clearly includes the under eighteens (education, health, crime, war). If any subsection is to be disenfranchised, the burden of proof has to be on those who argue in favour of disenfranchisement. With small children that’s easy – they don’t know what’s going on, and will believe anything a trusted adult tells them.

  11. Peter Harvey says:

    Common sense is not so common.


  12. John Miles says:

    I like the look of Dan’s suggestion very much – it’s fair, it encourages the young to participate in the running of the country and I don’t see how it could do any harm.

    What snags might there be?

    Perhaps I’m prejudiced, but when you say that "I see no more reason to give children the vote than to give them commercial airline pilots’ licences.,"  is not a perfect analogy, this must be one of the biggest  understatements of all time.

    Time out for a little gentle pedantry.

    Sentences can be grammatically singular but plural in meaning.

    Eg, "The robin is a pugnacious bird," or "Anyone going to Ascot should choose her hat with great care,"

    When Corporal Jones says, "They don’t like it up’em,"  what exactly is "it?"

    Cold steel? The bayonet? Or bayonets?

    Of these the first is a mass noun and the second a grammatical singular with a plural meaning.

    If the ancient corporal had meant the third perhaps he should perhaps have said, "They don’t like’em up’em."

    Grammatically OK, but somehow less poetic.

    The distinction between "mass" and "countable" nouns seems to parallel the  mathematical difference  between continuous and discrete quantities: eg I can have two point four pounds of tea, but I can’t have two point four children.

    Some words can be used both ways, eg cake: I can eat less cake than you, or fewer cakes – not necessarily the same thing.

    The basic meaning of the Latin "virus" is "slime," clearly  a mass word, and it’s not too difficult to see how this slides into "poison," which is countable; but they also had "venenum," which pluralizes without any fuss.

    Anyway, respectable writers never used virus in the plural, though I expect some of their slaves and semi-literates may have tried to do so; if so’ it’s on the cards they tried vira; all Latin neuter nouns end in -a in the nominative and accusative. Or they may have been fooled by the -us ending and tried viri or – less likely – virus.

    Second declension neuter nouns end in -us? I think perhaps your tidy-minded teacher was trying to tell you is that most fourth declension nouns have their plurals in -us.

    Eg exercitus(masc. army), manus(fem. hand); but genu(neut. knee) has plual genua.

    As far as I know there were only three second declension neuter nouns in -us; virus, vulgus (mob) and pelagus(oggin): all mass nouns, never used in the plural by classical writers.

    But classical writers might easily have used one of Peter’s mass nouns – helpfulness – in the plural ; "helpfulnesses" would have meant "acts, or instances , of helpfulness."

    Only goes to show how difficult it is to make sweeping statements about the use of language.

    What about "The kilt?"

    I think this is just professional highlander’s  snobbery.

    One of them once told me that genuine highlanders only ever wear "the" kilt, and never south of th Highland Line. 

  13. Peter Harvey says:

    Big game hunters (in the past) and people connected with game protection (now) in Africa use singular words for plural animals: We saw zebra, lion and kudu. A herd of elephant came and stood outside the classroom window (I’ve got the photo!).

    Then there is fish and fishes.

  14. John Miles says:

    Common sense is a pretty slippery concept.Albert Einstein's alleged to have said it's the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen, and I daresay that's often true.I'm afraid it can also sometimes mean, "I seem to have run out of decent arguments for the case I'm trying to put, but I happen to know I'm right anyway."

    Brian writes:  John, Dan, and others, I'm genuinely surprised by the fervent objections to my mild (and I thought uncontroversial) observations on the — to me, anyway — obvious silliness of the proposal that 16- and 17-year-old children should have the vote.  To those who have questioned my description of under-18s as 'children', I would say only that having participated in the bringing up of three children, all now well over 18, and observed from a safe distance the bringing up of two grandchildren, one now 17 and the other 15, 'children' is undoubtedly the right word.  Of course some young people, especially girls, mature earlier than others, especially boys;  and of course there's no sharp or universally applicable dividing line between childhood and adulthood.  Many, perhaps most, 16- and 17-year-olds veer bewilderingly between maturity and childishness, autonomy and dependence, confidence and vulnerability, often several times in the same day.  But one thing that's common to all of them is that they don't and can't have enough experience of the complexities, ethical dilemmas, variable personalities, idealism and cynicism, genuineness and hypocrisies of political life to be able to make a well-founded judgement of how to vote.  Such a judgement always demands a capacity for choosing the lesser of two evils, or the least of several;  it requires an almost instinctual grasp of the broad set of values and principles represented by the competing parties and candidates (which has nothing to do with their manifestos or policies at any given time);  and this sort of judgement and capacity can't reasonably be expected of children.

    It's a platitude that a high proportion of adult voters in even the most highly developed democracies are deeply ignorant of the most elementary facts and figures underlying their choice of party and candidate, that they can be grossly influenced and misled by unprincipled tabloid and other media and by smooth-talking party leaders and by factors that ought to be irrelevant such as the personal appearance and televisual skills of prominent politicians.  Nevertheless, the simplest illiterate Ugandan herdsman and his toiling wife are as capable as the slickest City financier of spotting an honest, principled claimant on their support and distinguishing him or her from a crook, an idiot or a self-serving con man.  That's not to say that a Nixon or a G W Bush can never get elected;  unsophisticated as well as highly educated voters can make mistakes.  But it's impossible to preserve the system from such errors without departing from the indispensable principle that every sane adult in a society must have access to the ballot box on exactly equal terms to every other (and incidentally the idea of giving parents of under-age children extra votes would drive a horse and cart through that fundamental principle).  What can and must be legitimately done to preserve the system from being distorted by a group of voters who almost by definition will lack the experience and judgement to make a reliably sensible choice in the polling booth is to deny the vote to children – in other words, to stick to votes at 18 at the very earliest, and not to be driven off that (yes) common-sense position by the arguments of those who enjoy exercising their ingenuity by doing what the ancient Sophists were accused of doing: making the weaker cause appear the stronger.  Good fun and amusing intellectual exercise in the blogosphere, but not to be taken seriously in the real world out there, I'm afraid. 

  15. Malcolm McBain says:

    I think the main reason for not wanting to confer the right to vote on 16 year olds is that once they become an electoral target for politicians, policies will be aimed at pleasing them, probably in inexpensive ways, where possible.  It is bad enough trying to stop the 16 year olds knifing each other, getting pregnant, drunk, vomiting in the gutters etc without  encouraging politicians to make these pastimes more available with teenage user friendly laws.

    By the way, just what is it about socialism that you, Brian, find so attractive? Can you see anywhere where it has been a success? I am bothered if I can.

    And a further thing,  with regard to freedom of information and the alleged passion of the Foreign Office for secrecy, do you not concede that there are obvious circumstances where saying things in public is or can be harmful to the public interest? Is Sir J Greenstock, to name but one, actually complaining about the withholding of his book or does he think the FO may have a case? 

    Brian writes:  I agree that yet another reason for not giving the vote to children under 18 is that doing so would cause yet more dumbing down of our national political conversation:  politicians would be tempted, or even forced, to over-simplify their message so as to make it intelligible and attractive to children.  It's bad enough already, thanks to the superficialities and headline-grabbing knee-jerk coverage of politics by much of the media, without that on top.  I don't however share your fear, Malcolm, that the misdemeanours of a small minority of teenagers would be encouraged or overlooked by government or parliament as a result of lowering the voting age.

    What I find attractive about socialism is I hope clear from my attempt to describe what the Labour party is, or should be, for.  Socialism has been put into practice in various forms and with conspicuous success at various times in, for example, Britain (during the Attlee government), most of the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand.  It begins to seem possible that the damage done to the image of uncontrolled capitalism by the anti-social rapacity and reckless greed of bankers and other financiers in the past year or two, dragging much of the world into recession and slump at the very time when collective action is desperately needed to combat climate change and mounting resource shortages, may force western governments and electorates to return to a degree of control of our economies in the global public interest, instead of allowing short-term private gain and the exclusive interests of shareholders to dominate what happens to all of us, rich and poor alike.  We may not be allowed to call a return to responsibility in the public interest 'socialism', but it seems likely to have many features of that ideology.

    As for whether Sir Jeremy Greenstock has complained about the continuing suppression of his book, which presumably contains much information of huge value to those, including historians, who want to know how Britain came to participate in the most appalling criminal blunder in its international relations since Suez, you'll have to ask Sir Jeremy, not me! 

  16. John Miles says:

    Michael says he can’t see anywhere where socialism has been a success.

    Can he – or can you – see anywhere where it’s been fairly tried?

  17. Brian,

    "But one thing that's common to all of them is that they don't and can't have enough experience of the complexities, ethical dilemmas, variable personalities, idealism and cynicism, genuineness and hypocrisies of political life to be able to make a well-founded judgement of how to vote."

    I don't think this is a reasonable basis on which to bestow the right to vote. By your reasoning, I feel like hardly anyone should be given that right. I'm not even sure that I have "an almost instinctual grasp of the broad set of values and principles represented by the competing parties and candidates". But then I'm only 28 so maybe I'm too young too? 😉

    "incidentally the idea of giving parents of under-age children extra votes would drive a horse and cart through that fundamental principle"

    Each person would have one vote, but that vote would be exercised by the parents until they reached a certain age. I don't really see how it's different to say child benefit. Why should parents of under-age children be given extra money? Answer: because their child needs it. Similarly, why should parents of underage children be given extra votes? Answer: because their child needs political representation as much as any of us.

    I suspect if children had the vote (by proxy or otherwise) there would be a change in how favourable parties' policies towards children were, and therefore they would be better represented. This is a good thing – votes are supposed to get you representation. Voting is not about choosing a "good" government, it's about choosing a representative one.

    Another way of looking at it is to say that if parents are voting in their children's interests as much as their own, then if children don't get a vote then the parents as it were only have half a vote, which is also in contradiction to the principle of one person one vote.

    "those who enjoy exercising their ingenuity by doing what the ancient Sophists were accused of doing: making the weaker cause appear the stronger."

    I think that's a little unfair. I believe my cause is the stronger, and so I'm arguing in favour of it.

    "politicians would be tempted, or even forced, to over-simplify their message so as to make it intelligible and attractive to children"

    I'm not sure this is true, and I'm not sure this is any different to how it is now. First of all, if 16 and 17 year olds were allowed the vote they would represent 3.3% of the electorate (estimated from That's not a huge proportion, why would they be such an important proportion that the whole political message would be redesigned specifically for them?

    Brian writes:  I think we're beginning to repeat ourselves, so I'll rest my case with what I have already written.  If my suspicion of sophistry was unfair, I gladly withdraw it.  Having carefully considered the arguments that you and others have advanced, I continue to believe that most sensible people, probably including many sensible children, will regard the proposal to give the vote to children under 18 as ridiculous, as I do.

  18. John Miles says:

    Sorry to be such a pain, but Dan seems to me to be talking quite good sense.

    When we oldies are on a sticky wicket it’s very tempting to come up with something like "I can’t be bothered to (wrinklyspeak for "I can’t") answer the points you’re trying to make,  young man, but what you’re suggesting simply isn’t practical; we’ve got to live in the real world."

    I should know, I’ve tried it myself, not very successfully.

    And so, I don’t doubt, have millions of others, ever since the building of the pyramids or before.

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