Opinion: Deliberately offensive cartoons did not begin in Paris in the last few weeks

george iv a voluptary gillray
James Gillray: “A voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion”, 1792, depicts the Prince of Wales at the time.

Cartoons in the last couple of weeks have perhaps had more attention that at any time before.

Deliberately offensive cartoons such as those published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo have caused much debate across the world.

From some published statements it would appear that some people seem to think that this is a new phenomenon or something particularly French. Far from it – scandalous and anti-establishment cartoons have a long tradition in the UK.

If you want something really offensive from an English cartoonist, a quick look at the works of Gillray will illustrate that Charlie Hebdo was not the first to make religious, political or social statements in a deliberately offensive manner.

I cannot pretend to be an expert on Gillray but, as someone who studied O-level history covering the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, my text books were generously illustrated with his work.

He was a bitter critic of the events of the French Revolution but, at home, he was equally critical of Whigs and Tories and he showed a particular joy in lampooning the members of the English Royal Family.

To pick an example (which may have some relevance in 2015) – ‘Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition feast’ is not exactly flattering:

Gillray : monstrous craws at a coalition feast

It mocks the Prince of Wales, the King and the Queen. The King is shown dressed as an old woman and all three of them are spooning gold coins into their mouths in front of an open door to the Treasury. You do not need to be an expert in the politics of the time to get some of the messages about Royalty and public finances.

One can only imagine what Gillray would do today with the subject material presented by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Gillray did not hold back when it came to the royals.

His social comment could be shocking.

The Whore’s last shift‘ is as bleak as it is uncomfortable to look at. His attention to detail in setting out the background is the work of a genius.

His political cartoons were very accurate and can illustrate a point with great mastery.

‘Plumb pudding in danger’ shows Pitt and Napoleon slicing up the world into spheres of influence.
One wonders if Putin has ever seen this one.

Gillray: Plum pudding in danger

Of modern cartoonists both Steve Bell and Martin Rowson pay tribute to Gillray as a great influence on their work today.

Religion is not spared Gillray’s attention, although ‘Smelling out a rat‘ includes atheism as well.

I am not at all sure what all the references are in ‘The Bishop of a Tun’s breeches; – or – the flaming eveque, purifying the house of office!’

But it is a striking image.

Offensive cartoons are a valuable asset for humanity and can help understanding and make points that a thousand books can miss.

Killing cartoonists is a madness — Nous sommes tous Charlie.

* John Tilley joined the Union of Liberal Students in 1970 and has been a party member ever since. For sixteen years he was a councillor in Kingston and has delivered Focus since 1973.

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65 Comments

  • I think there’s a generational issue here. The youngest generation – those in their teens and 20s – who among the non-religious seem to be shouting the loudest *against* offending religions, have grown up with the internet and without seeing or remembering the battles against authority that were fought in the 70s and 80s. Like all those who grow up accustomed to freedoms, they have little feeling for the determination and resilience that was required to win those freedoms, and have no memory of the battles with the likes of the Mary Whitehouse mentality, the CofE, and the Tory establishment that had to be defeated by the “middle” generation. It does seem to me that the younger generation is taking a step backwards from the boundaries set by the middle generation; not quite as far back the the “older” generation, but a step back nevertheless.

  • ” Ridicule kills ” and as everyone has an ego , no-one likes being ridiculed. The more conceited a person becomes by believing they are morally and intellectually superior to others , the more brittle their ego becomes. Consequently, those used to the rough and tumble of life working in heavy industry or the armed forces normally have a sufficiently resilient ego to cope with abuse . However, those people who believe themselves to be ” morally and intellectually superior ” and have only lived in a sheltered existence , far away from the rough and tumble of life become easily hurt .

    People,fail to distinguish between self confidence born of tough experiences which makes them resilient and pride which makes them brittle: it is the difference between the brittleness of cast iron and the resilience of a sword.

    I would suggest that the emotional, mental and spiritual reaction of a person to a cartoon shows their state of being. Britain has had a tradition of bawdy good humour which the Church has always tried to suppress. Much of the prim attitude to sex , the human body and drinking is largely a product of the Puritans, post mid 19C Britain and the influence of Queen Victoria. As shown by Chaucer, the Middle Ages were a time of bawdy good humour, partly because there was little privacy .

    The aristocratic Tories have always been indifferent to a persons morality. It was the Non-Conformist Liberal and Labour middle classes who were concerned about drink, gambling and large families. When a mistress threated to expose the first Duke of Wellington he said ” Publish and be damned “. When it came to sex, drinking, gambling, whoring , horse racing and bare knuckle boxing , the aristocracy and rougher elements of society happily rubbed shoulders: it was the priggish and prudish Non Conformist Liberal middle classes who disapproved.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Jan '15 - 12:25pm

    Most of us in this country do not understand the anti-clerical tradition, which is so much part of continental liberalism. In France the horrendous execution of the Chevalier de la Barre was a particular rallying point. I have noted elsewhere that in Britain opposition to religion tends to take a “Protestant atheist” form, assuming that religion is all about taking a literal approach to scripture and mocking the illogicalities of that, whereas in countries where Catholicism was the dominant religion, it takes a “Catholic Atheist” form, assuming that religion is all about ritual used to defend power, and mocking it on that basis. By “Catholic Atheist” what I really mean is anti-clericalism.

    In Britain, liberals tended to identify with non-conformist Christianity, whereas in the rest of Europe it tended to identify with the anti-clerical movement, which was atheist rather than Christian. I think this is quite strong factor in the distinction that used to be very evident (until the Orange Bookers came in with their determined effort to destroy it) in continental Liberal parties who were firmly on the right in economic terms, and the British Liberal Party, which was centre left. The social concern of Christianity fed into British liberalism from this non-conformist background, whereas in Europe it fed into the Christian Democrat parties, which might have been the parties of the right in terms of social liberalism, but were centre in economic terms.

    Anti-Catholicism in Britain tended to be used to enforce the establishment, rather than to attack it as in the Catholic parts of Europe (William Cobbett was just about the only one who pointed this out, and he’s an ambiguous figure – a hero to radical liberals, but in some ways he remained at heart a Tory). Charlie Hebdo in France very firmly maintains the old anti-clerical tradition, and that’s where the offensive cartoons come in.

    Horrendous things were done in the name of Catholicism in the past – though (as in fact with the Chevalier de la Barre) often by the state claiming to be acting in the defence of Catholicism and ignoring pleas for mercy coming from actual clerics. So, how did it end? Was it by being nice to Catholicism, and making excuses for it, and saying that it should not be offended? No, it was by expressions of disgust. The Catholic Church was shamed by expressions of disgust into seeing that even passive support for atrocities done in its name was not in accord with what its underlying message ought to be.

  • I’m pretty much with Matthew,
    I think one the things not being mention is that some of the pressure to nor offend religions comes from declining church attendances and religion becoming less important to the general population. There’s a drive to protect the political place of faith In Britain that as mixed with a Left wing tradition of standing up for minorities. Both. IMO, are rather ridiculously claiming that blatant religious extremism is somehow nothing to do with religion!
    To me criticism of religion as well as other oppressive institution is often driven by a liberal desire to extend personal freedom. Ridicule , whether aimed at religion, business or royalty, has always part of this drive. I personally do not worry whether or not a religion feels offended because my concern is for the people who feel threatened when they try to break with or question religion. Let’ s be honest sometimes Religion isn’t really a choice. A lot of people are born and raised within the faiths and kept within them through social pressure, which is very illiberal.

  • matt (Bristol) 21st Jan '15 - 2:36pm

    John Tilley, Gilray was in part drawing on an even earlier, 16th and 17th century England and German legacy of violent, nasty, irreverent religious propaganda and controversy expressed in woodcuts etc: see here for examples: http://shikan.org/bjones/Books/luther.html

    Matthew Huntbach: “In Britain, liberals tended to identify with non-conformist Christianity, whereas in the rest of Europe it tended to identify with the anti-clerical movement…”
    Matthew, as a (currently) practising Protestant nonconformist, I feel I should point out that this is because Protestantism generally contained within itself a form of anti-clericalism and presented an alternative way of expressing some of the ideas. Otherwise I agree with you. And you’re clearly right about the ideologicla / historical differences between British Conservatism and European Christian Democrary, particularly since Thatcher. This is one of the roots of Cameron’s issues with Europe.

    I am a Christian and I need the right to offend, too. (Although no one should claim it as a duty to offend, and we always consider seriously that there is a reasonable, responsible, moral choice to restain ourselves from giving offence to others.)

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Jan ’15 – 12:25pm

    Yes Matthew the differing traditions of Liberalism can be detected in the religious figures who became targets of cartoonists.
    In 2015 we live in a post-Protestant age where the largest group of practising Christians is once again Roman Catholic for the firsttime since Henry the Eigth. This seldom gets mentioned because the Estabishment do not want to admit that the CofE is almost dead on its feet. We live in a country where there are three times as many Muslms as there are practising Anglicans but the media andbthenpowers that be still pretend otherwise.

    Difficult to know how this will impact on the Christian denominations or on the depiction of “religion” in cartoons.
    It is usually best to avoid mention of the third Abrahamic faith for fear of provoking accusations of anti-semitism but I did see a modern USA cartoon recently where representatives from the three faiths were playing the game of who was the most put upon victim of “rampant secularism”. I have to say that outside of Turkey I have never seen many examples of “rampant secularism” and even in that country it is in decline.

  • Glenn
    I think you sum it up well when you say –
    ” ..criticism of religion as well as other oppressive institutions is often driven by a liberal desire to extend personal freedom. Ridicule , whether aimed at religion, business or royalty, has always part of this drive”

  • nvelope2003 21st Jan '15 - 4:12pm

    There are 5 million Muslims in France, many of them from Algeria which was ruled by France for over 100 years. It is estimated that 1.5 million Algerians died in the struggle for independence which was achieved in July 1962. Many Algerians who supported the French went to live in France, followed by others who did not and they are marginalised and often unemployed or have poor job prospects. It is not realistic to think everyone can just change or drop their religion to get on in life and why should they do so ? The cartoons were seen by many Algerians as an attack on them by those who hate them under the guise of freedom of speech and traditional French anti clericalism. Many refused to observe the minute’s silence for those who died. Attacking a monarch or some politician or cleric in a country which is culturally similar is not the same as attacking a prophet in a country where these issues are extremely sensitive. No doubt there were cartoons ridiculing the Pope at one time but we do not see many here now because we wish to get on with other people, not antagonise them.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Jan '15 - 5:12pm

    I saw on line a cartoon depicting the Sephardi Jews in Spain. I found it offensively and aggressive.

    If we are to live together in this world, there has to be a difference between arrogance and aggressive comments.

    I would not condemn a Christian or a Catholic or Protestant, everyone have a right to worship as they wish.

    Charlie, I agree, with you. Confidence is achieved, arrogance us another matter.

  • “No doubt there were cartoons ridiculing the Pope at one time but we do not see many here now”

    Um, what? Are you living in Antarctica or something?

    E.g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpIZ-fQafzY

  • MBoy 21st Jan ’15 – 11:00am
    I think there’s a generational issue here.

    MBoy,
    I think you are correct. Over the last few decades we have lived through a period of rapid cultural and technological changes. Each of the last four or five generations has grown up at a time distinctly different from that of earlier generations. Attitudes to religion and politics and public criticism of religion and politics as displayed in cartoons represents one of the defining differences. For example the Orange Book tendency seem to be dominated by men in their late forties who will have been teenagers when Thatcher was using the police to smash the miners — could this have influenced their later free market obsessions?

    I was hoping other people would pick up on your point. The 1930s 1940s cartoons of Low who brought Colonel Blimp to life provide history of the rise of facism, appeasement and the second world war. Low by the way was a member who frequently spent time at the National Liberal Club. His style was nothing like that of Gerald Scarfe whose cartoons gained notoriety in the 1960s ad 1970s.

    Every generatiom throws up a cartoonist to reflect their time.

    Steve Bell would not have been able in earlier decades to get away with portraying the Prime Minister as someone who permanently wets a giant condom over his head. Whereas the portrayal of Clegg as Pinochio with his nose growing as he tells more lies seems strangely old fashioned with reflections of early Disney.

    In the week when we are told we must celebrate an apparent change of policy by Murdoch’s Sun it is worth perhaps remembering Andy Capp, whose sexist, chain-smoking lifestyle seemed “ordinary” in the 1950s but looks distinctly odd today. Although some of the regular targets and characters in Viz seem reminiscent of older attitudes. One of my favourite strip cartoons from that stable is. ‘ Curtains for Al Quaeda ‘ .

  • nvelope2003 21st Jan ’15 – 4:12pm

    You seem to be forgetting that until recently Algeria was part of Metropolitan France. The French organised things very differently in francophone Africa — where incidentally Islam has a very distinct cultural background from that of the Wahhabis of the Saudi peninsular.
    One could point to many shared cultural assumptions between mainstream Algerians and people in France even after 50 years of independence. The France – Algeria relationship was and is as complex as the England – Ireland – Scotland relationship. Algerian cartoonists were not afraid to lampoon De Gaulle. I think you might be seeing or imagining an Algerian reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders through British eyes but I am no expert in the attitudes of French citizens whose grandparents or great grandparents happened live in Algeria. Maybe some other reader knows better and will comment.

  • nvelope2003 21st Jan '15 - 8:56pm

    Mboy: I do not live in Antarctica. This is the first time I have seen this ” comedian” who seemed to have only one word in his vocabulary. He and his audience obviously deserved each other. It was not a cartoon anyway but an orgy of swearing and ignorance. Shame on him. I am not a Roman Catholic.

  • nvelope2003 21st Jan '15 - 8:59pm

    John Tilley: General de Gaulle was a politician, not a prophet, even if he might have thought he was one ! No doubt there are differing views on the relationship between the French and those of North African origins but they do not seem to mix very much from my observations.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 9:13pm

    Try tapping in ‘suffragette cartoons ‘, and check out those images.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan ’15 – 9:13pm
    Try tapping in ‘suffragette cartoons ‘, and check out those images.

    Quite right Jayne, there is a very rich collection of cartoons around votes for women. My guess is that most of the cartoonists were men. page 3 of The Sun probably has had a lesser mpact than decades of cartoons attacking the role of women in society. There were of course cartoons on both sides and the suffragettes used some very effective images — the Cat and Mouse Act postcard is a classic.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=suffragette+cartoons+uk&client=safari&hl=en-gb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=rrHAVKPlN8a67gb4z4GgAg&ved=0CDUQ7Ak&biw=1024&bih=672

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan ’15 – 9:13pm
    Try tapping in ‘suffragette cartoons ‘, and check out those images.

    Quite right Jayne, there is a very rich collection of cartoons around votes for women. My guess is that most of the cartoonists were men. page 3 of The Sun probably has had a lesser mpact than decades of cartoons attacking the role of women in society. There were of course cartoons on both sides and the suffragettes used some very effective images — the Cat and Mouse Act postcard is a classic.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=suffragette+'Cat+and+Mouse+Act'+poster&client=safari&hl=en-gb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=1LTAVLbYG8aX7QaP6IG4Dw&ved=0CDIQ7Ak&biw=1024&bih=672#imgrc=32WMW-MeVcnk6M%253A%3B3JHMBWFR43CTtM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fih1.redbubble.net%252Fimage.12709607.6519%252Fflat%252C800x800%252C070%252Ct.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.redbubble.com%252Fpeople%252Fsimpsonvisuals%252Fworks%252F9456519-vintage-british-suffragette-cat-and-mouse-act-poster%253Fp%253Dtote-bag%3B800%3B800

    For a wide spread of suffragette cartoons —

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=suffragette+cartoons+uk&client=safari&hl=en-gb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=rrHAVKPlN8a67gb4z4GgAg&ved=0CDUQ7Ak&biw=1024&bih=672

  • nvelope2003 21st Jan ’15 – 8:59pm
    John Tilley: General de Gaulle was a politician, not a prophet, even if he might have thought he was one !

    Yes indeed nvelope2003 . If he had been a prophet he would not have called the referendum that resulted in his downfall. 🙂

    I have to thank you for reminding me of the hundreds of thousands of students marching down The Champs Élysées
    singing “Au Revoir, De Gaulle. Au Revoir !!”.
    I watched it on the TV News – but I so wish I had been there to witness in person that bit of French history.

  • SIMON BANKS 22nd Jan '15 - 9:57am

    There is a bit of a difference. The strongest objection to Charlie Hebdo was not cartooning Islam, but cartooning Mohammed, which comes under a specific Muslim prohibition on portraying the Prophet. One may well wonder if the original purpose of this was to prevent the veneration of images of the Prophet getting in the way of worshipping God and listening to Mohammed’s words, but thoughtful Christians, Jews and Hindus will be well aware of examples from their own religions of rules that have hardened while losing their original significance.

    While their is no equivalent Christian prohibition, most Christians would be far more at ease with cartoons lampooning bishops, churches, church ceremonies, Christian moral teaching or prayer than with cartoons lampooning Christ.

    That said, I consider the controversial cartoons in Paris were an excuse. The terrorists wanted a target and one popped up for them. Police officers and Jewish shoppers had not lampooned Mohammed, and neither had the children at the Jewish school said to have been a target.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '15 - 10:01am

    JohnTilley

    For example the Orange Book tendency seem to be dominated by men in their late forties who will have been teenagers when Thatcher was using the police to smash the miners — could this have influenced their later free market obsessions?

    The people leading it, maybe. However, judging from the many young contributors to Liberal Democrat Voice who seem starry eyed about free market economics, it’s not just men in their forties. Indeed, it’s very obvious that the resistance to the Orange Book push to the right in the Liberal Democrats is coming from older members – people who were around when Thatcher was Prime Minister. Look at all these people who are too young to remember those times pushing the lines that the division over free market economics in the Liberal Democrats reflects the party’s origin from the Liberal-SDP merger, just taken it as accepted truth that the Liberal Party then was what people like Jeremy Browne are trying to get labelled as “authentic liberalism”, when actually, if anything, it was the other way round.

    It seems to me that this free market ideology has taken the place that Marxism used to occupy back in those days – a ready-made ideology that pretended it had all the solutions, pushed with pseudo-scientific authority, and so taken up with enthusiasm by those a little too dim to be able to think through things themselves but who want to look clever, so like the idea of the off-the-shelf cleverness the ideology offers.

  • nvelope2003: This “comedian” is Al Murray – an extremely well known comic who is standing against Nigel Farage in Thanet.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Jan '15 - 10:51am

    @Matthew Huntbach “accepted truth that the Liberal Party then was what people like Jeremy Browne are trying to get labelled as “authentic liberalism”, when actually, if anything, it was the other way round.”
    Indeed. As a student member of the Liberal Party in the 80s, it felt like a left-of-centre party at a personal or individual level as opposed to Labour which was left-wing at a state or trade union level. But I always believed that those parties (and the SDP) were trying to “do the right thing” whilst the Tory approach seemed to be based on greed and self-interest.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan '15 - 11:09am

    @Matthew Huntbach”It seems to me that this free market ideology has taken the place that Marxism used to occupy back in those days ”
    The difference being that marxism a) led to the deaths of many many millions of people b) failed as an economic system where free markets and free trade has led to the greatest increase in prosperity in human history.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '15 - 11:23am

    nvelope2003

    The cartoons were seen by many Algerians as an attack on them by those who hate them under the guise of freedom of speech and traditional French anti clericalism.

    They were published in a magazine which has a general orientation to the left, and so has a history of standing up for the very people you say the French Algerians are. Perhaps the cartoons were seen in this way because there were powerful people, or people who wanted to be powerful, who had a vested interest in whipping up this sort of feeling. After all, it had a tiny circulation, so if people were offended they would need to be told about it to be offended.

    As I have said, the anti-clericalism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a tradition of attacking the pretensions of religious leaders, and they way they can use religious feelings and distort them to build up and defend power for themselves. Unlike the political left in Britain, Charlie Hebdo did not feel that Islam should be exempt from this sort of criticism.

    No doubt there were cartoons ridiculing the Pope at one time but we do not see many here now.

    Nonsense. The Guardian newspaper TODAY has a cartoon ridiculing the Pope. In the UK, Catholicism is seen a safe religion to attack and make fun of because Catholics don’t fight back. So often people who have an anti-religious point of view take out their frustrations on the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was attacked mercilessly over the child abuse issue (including several BBC programmes made and delivered while it was defending someone who has now been revealed as a prolific child abuser), and no-one considered that every attack made had to be larded with nice things said about Catholics and Catholicism and insistence that of course the abusers were not real Catholics and real Catholics were to be excused any blame for what they did in order to avoid hurt feelings.

    Now, the issue is that if you silence people from making criticisms and expressing their disgust at the hypocrisy that is often done in the name of religion, you will not stop them feeling that way. You will just cause them to become more resentful. Instead of an open debate, you get a closed feeling of antipathy building up, leading to only those at the extremes coming out and taking advantage of that to make the nastier sort of attack.

    Note, of course, that both Jesus and Mohammed made their reputation by doing just that – making criticisms and expressing disgust at the hypocrisy of what religious leaders of their times did in the name of religion. Read the Gospels and see, they come across as one big diatribe against religious hypocrisy. The people of the time told Jesus he shouldn’t do that, oh no, it was a wrong thing to do when the Jews were an oppressed people under Roman occupation. Then, when he carried on doing it, they collaborated with the occupiers to get him killed.

  • Mboy: I have heard of him but never seen him before and I do not want to see him ever again. He is not clever except at making money and he is not funny. Almost anybody could say those things but most have at least a modicum of self respect and do not do so, at least in public.

    Matthew Huntbach: I have given up reading newspapers. Well I guess their cartoonist would ridicule the Pope, that is the sort of thing he does. It is time he got a proper job and stopped boring the pants off everybody.

  • Matthew Huntbach: “Unlike the political left in Britain, Charlie Hebdo did not feel that Islam should be exempt from this sort of criticism”
    I do not feel that Islam or any other religion should be exempt from criticism either and it is inevitable that in a secular state where few people have any knowledge of religious beliefs that much criticism will be ill informed and that the Catholic Church especially will be attacked as it seems to be the most firm in its beliefs and is of course much more fashionable than the Pentecostalists etc. I guess that I was born and brought up in an age (and place in rural England) when ignorant criticism of Christianity was infrequent and the church was respected although most people even then knew it was not perfect. You are right that Jesus criticised religious hypocrites as did most people in the little village where I lived but then no one is perfect. We have all done things we should not have done and left undone those things which we ought to have done.

    One thing which does puzzle me is that the Greens and similar groups are advocating nationalisation and state control when Cuba and even North Korea are turning to the free market to deal with their problems and try to improve the standard of living. When are we going to see a cartoon ridiculing the nonsense spouted by these groups. I think we will have a long wait as all the well know cartoonists seem to believe all this same nonsense.

    Comments ?

  • Nvelope2003
    Both South Park and Family Guy regularly mock Christianity and Jesus, including Jesus and Santa fighting it out over the true spirit of Christmas, god has appeared more than once and Judaism has comes in for regular satire. When they tried this with Islam. They did not get protests. They got death threats and had to pull the show and had to alter the show. Mohammed. was replaced by a teddy bear.
    The Charlie Hebdo attacks by the were organised in Yemen by Al Qaeda and was part joint venture involving the race hate murder of Jews on the same day. They were designed to intimidate and silence. critics and further marginalise Jews who are leaving France in record numbers, partly because of the rise of the Right but also because of the extreme racism of some sections of the Muslim community. These were not random attacks by angry people. They were planned and involved training.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan ’15 – 11:09am
    @Matthew Huntbach”It seems to me that this free market ideology has taken the place that Marxism used to occupy back in those days ”
    The difference being that marxism a) led to the deaths of many many millions of people….

    Simon McGrath,
    Are you seriously suggesting for one moment that the so-called “free market ideology” has not led directly to many millions of deaths?

    Gillray would have fun with your version of economics!

  • nvelope2003
    “One thing which does puzzle me is that the Greens and similar groups are advocating nationalisation and state control when Cuba and even North Korea are turning to the free market to deal with their problems and try to improve the standard of living.”

    If you believe this statement – I can only assume you know less about this than you know about Al Murray the comedian.
    It would made a wonderful cartoon ! If we knew what you looked like we could draw a picture of you with a newspaper (perhaps wrapped round some fish and chips – as you no longer buy newspapers) — on one page a headline saying Al Murray is challenging Farago in Thanet on the other page a headline saying “Cuba – free health care and education for all results in better life expectancy than USA.”
    You could have a large exclamation mark over your head and the caption might read — “Am I really that out of touch?”

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '15 - 2:58pm

    SIMON BANKS

    There is a bit of a difference. The strongest objection to Charlie Hebdo was not cartooning Islam, but cartooning Mohammed, which comes under a specific Muslim prohibition on portraying the Prophet.

    Sure, and I certainly would not advocate doing such a thing just as a wind-up. The use of such images by Charlie Hebdo detracted from the criticisms they were trying to make, it did not help get them made.

    However, as others have pointed out, in accounts of his own life, Mohammed was at times insulted and ridiculed, and reacted back in a kindly fashion. That is the best way to defeat such ridicule, we have The Prophet’s own example to show us that. Early Christian martyrs were killed because they refused to do things they believed to be against their religion, and eventually this won their religion respect. However, they did not go out and kill others in response to what they felt was offensive.

    There was a bit of defiance in the post-murder Charlie Hebdo front cover cartoon, in that it showed a man, who it was presumed was meant to be Mohammed. But there was a sort of defiant “we will not be stopped by violence” in that, I don’t think it was intended deliberately to cause offence. Indeed, the somewhat ambiguous message “you are all pardoned”, was surely bravely conciliatory. A response that showed some sort of violent “we’ll get our revenge” message would have been horrible, yet isn’t this what we are seeing so often from some quarters? All those people across the world making a howling protest at this little cartoon they would not even have known about had it not been for their attention being drawn to it by people who wanted to see howling crowds, do they realise how it comes across? It comes across as nasty, and certainly does not give a good image to those doing the howling. They may build up fear of them in that way, but never true respect.

  • Glenn 22nd Jan ’15 – 12:55pm

    Yes — also the gentle comedy of The Simpsons regularly pokes fun at religion, especially the Christians next door.

    Fact can often be funnier than fiction. I most fell off my chair laughing some years ago when I read that according to opinion polls the best known Christian in the USA is Ned Flanders.
    For those who have never seen The Simpsons follow this link —
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ned_Flanders

  • nvelope2003 22nd Jan '15 - 3:29pm

    Mr Tilley: You use the internet but seem to be unaware that news is available on it, on the radio and many TV channels soon after it happens, not next day as in the newspapers. I suffer from eye problems so cannot do too much reading now.
    It is not just Cuba which has free health care and I hope they retain that but you have not dealt with my point about the restoration of private or free enterprise. I am not a supporter of the US system of health care. I listen extensively to reports from Cuba as it is a place which interests me and I remember when Fidel Castro came to power. The US embargo was one of the stupidest things even they have done so I am glad that Mr Obama has started to mend fences with the Cubans although there were numerous exemptions which enabled the US to trade with Cuba. No other country had an embargo on trade with Cuba at least in recent years. You appear to be unaware of the changes which the current President of Cuba, Raul Castro, has introduced, or plans to introduce ,to reform the economy. Put those newspapers aside and get out more. Or is the Cuban Government just making everything up. Maybe you know things the rest of us do not ?

    I do not care if Al Murray is planning to stand against Nigel Farage or Santa Claus. I hope neither of these “gentlemen” is elected.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan '15 - 3:43pm

    @John Tilley : “Simon McGrath,
    Are you seriously suggesting for one moment that the so-called “free market ideology” has not led directly to many millions of deaths?”

    Er yes. In fact through greater prosperity has saved millions if lives. How do you think the NHS is funded for example if not through a successful market economy ?

  • nvelope2003 22nd Jan '15 - 5:42pm

    Is there such a thing as free market ideology ? Unless there are laws prohibiting it as there were in the USSR and Cuba etc it is a perfectly normal thing for people to establish businesses if they wish to do so and have a talent for that sort of activity. Most of the things which we enjoy today were established by private individuals doing what they wanted to do. Health care existed before Aneurin Bevan nationalised it in 1948. When searching through some papers I found letters headed National Health Service dated before the Second World War although we are always told that it was introduced by the Labour Party in 1948. A very left wing friend who died some years ago said he thought the system established by Lloyd George was better than what followed. He was there so he ought to have known.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan ’15 – 3:43pm

    Simon, Can you tells us how you believe the free-market in the sale of cigarettes until the early 1960s saved lives ?

    Millions of deaths from cigarette smoking is even admitted by Mr Cameron and the Conservative Government that you support so loyally. Even the Big Tobacco now admits that smoking cigarettes kills. You know better?

  • nvelope2003 22nd Jan ’15 – 5:42pm
    Is there such a thing as free market ideology ?

    Well, nvelope2003, there is a measure of agreement between us on this one. You may have noticed that I often refer to the “so-called free-market ideology”.

    Somalia is perhaps the country that has the nearest thing to a completely free-market economy because there is effectively no government in that country.
    You will have noticed that despite what Simon McGrath might believe the ” free-market” country of Somalia is not exactly the most prosperous nation on earth.

    Gillray with his eye for exposing social inequality and the hypocrisy of the rich and comfortable would have been able to do a splendid cartoon on this subject.

  • nvelope2003 22nd Jan '15 - 7:49pm

    Re: the comment by “Charlie” (not hebdo ?) I am not aware that the Baptists or Congregationalists disapproved of alcohol though they might have disliked drunkenness, probably because the Bible forbids it. The Methodists certainly encouraged their members to avoid alcohol because of the terrible effects of drunkenness on some families where the father would spend all his wages in the pub, on gambling, racing etc, leaving the wife and children with nothing to eat. Perhaps you think that is amusing but I doubt if the impoverished families did.

    Queen Victoria was certainly not a prude as various writers on the subject attest. She did have a very large family and was apparently insatiable. Her husband and lovers seem to have been worn out by the strain.

    Simon Banks: “While there is no equivalent Christian prohibition” – but there is. One of the Ten Commandments says “Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image” which is the reason why the Puritans smashed all the statues in churches, whitewashed the beautiful wall pictures and broke the stained glass windows during the Reformation and again during the Civil War 1640- 1649. Although some stained glass has been restored (after it was hidden away in some cases) not many churches have statues with their heads still on and very few if any Non conformist chapels have any statues at all.

  • nvelope2003
    “One thing which does puzzle me is that the Greens and similar groups are advocating nationalisation and state control when Cuba and even North Korea are turning to the free market to deal with their problems”

    You have an impressive memory for events of many decades past, but seem to have forgotten that only six or seven years ago capitalist governments had to resort to a massive programme of nationalisation in order to keep their “free market” systems afloat.

    Here in Britain, polls regularly show that even most Tory voters want at least some of the old nationalised industries to return to state control. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of unfettered free enterprise.

    Of course, as anyone who ever did economics at school knows, free market vs command economy is a false dichotomy, since in practise every society has ended up with a mixed economy.

  • http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/14746/Dropping-the-Pilot-cartoon-by-Sir-John-Tenniel-commenting-on

    To respond to some of the less well informed comments on nationalisation and the so-called free-market approach I thought this cartoon of Bismarck being forced out of office might help.

    This is possibly one of the best known cartoons of the 19th Century.    

    For those not familiar with Bismarck he was accused by his enemies of being a “socialist”.
    President Barack Obama has suffered similar accusations from opponents who are either too ignorant or too stupid to know better.

    Germany became the first nation in the world to adopt an old-age social insurance program in 1889, designed by Bismarck, who was Germany’s Chancellor. 

    The idea was first put forward, at Bismarck’s behest, in 1881 by Germany’s Emperor, William the First, who wrote: “. . .those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.” 

    Bismarck introduced social insurance in Germany to promote the well-being of workers in order to keep the German economy operating at maximum efficiency.

    The German system provided contributory retirement benefits and disability benefits as well. Participation was mandatory and contributions were taken from the employee, the employer and the government. Coupled with the workers’ compensation program established in 1884 and the “sickness” insurance enacted the year before, this gave the Germans a comprehensive system of income security based on social insurance principles. 

    So decades before Cuba or North Korea even existed we have a fine example of state intervention in Imperial Germany.   

    I am looking forward to comments in this thread claiming that the Kaiser was really a dangerous leftwing socialist and that Germany was an economic basket case in the first years of the 20th Century.   Such comments would be just as daft as some others.

  • John Tilley#
    Cool post. Calculating deaths caused by Capitalist ideology is difficult because advocates of free market approaches. much like their Marxist counter parts, will insist that the deaths are caused by the governments in charge rather than the ideology. The get out clause for Marxists was always ” it was state capitalism what did it, guv” with free market fundamentalists ” It’s big government, thems who is to blame”. Really it depends on what you count and whether or not you think the world could be a nicer fairer place. Do we really need to make a profit on medical care, are unregulated businesses really more moral than other models , are workplace deaths caused by unscrupulous individuals or the philosophy that produces them, what causes wars, is trading with dictatorships not adding to suppression and is there a link between supply and demand and starvation?”. I think Matthew Huntbach is correct a lot of free market enthusiast have adopted a mantra that is every bit as rigid as Marxism and have a world view every bit as (un) realistic as Dr Pangloss. I’m a vegetarian liberal. I just want to see a nicer world and think that as long as people are killed over nonsense or starve or are mistreated then there is room for improvement, plus if the a government can deliver a better postal or train service then it’s best run by a government. The truth is that virtually the entire banking sector is now propped up by the public funding and if it wasn’t then 2008 would have seen a collapse that dwarfed the 1930s. Whatever works works is my view.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jan '15 - 10:33am

    Glenn

    The get out clause for Marxists was always ” it was state capitalism what did it, guv” with free market fundamentalists ” It’s big government, thems who is to blame”.

    Yes, I remember when I was young and finding my way politically, trying to talk with the 57 (or so) varieties of Marxists that were around at the time, and who you would join if you wanted to look clever and trendy, and asking them “OK, well, your ideas sound very nice, but how come every time they get tried, instead of giving the lovely fair and equal society you say they must lead to, actually it gives a cruel and badly managed dictatorship”. And from all 57 of them, the inevitable answer was something like “Oh, but that wasn’t true Marxism, it just needs to be pushed in a more extreme form, and it will all work out fine”.

    Now it seemed to me that was an indication of how bad these people were. They didn’t seem to have that sense of balance which enabled them to see the faults in what they were proposing, and so would mean they would be able to counter any problems that arose if their system ever did come into power. They lacked self-criticism, which I think is an essential aspect in anyone who I would want in any sort of leadership position. If their system is so good, I thought, how come it is so lacking in resilience that it always seems to go wrong, that there is always some “big boy came along and stole it” line to excuse why it didn’t deliver? If in retrospect so many of those in the past who used the same sort of lines as they were using weren’t true believers but just “state capitalists” how was I to tell that they weren’t the same? Was there some divinely appointed 1 of them that was the true thing, and how was I supposed to pick it out from the other 56?

    No, it seemed obvious to me that their system would always go wrong because it had deep flaws, and one of them was the arrogant lack of self-criticism that was inherent in it.

    I find much the same with many of the free-market enthusiasts, they seem to have much the same personality. When pushed as to why in practice their ideas don’t seem to lead to the wonderful freedom for all promised, it is always that what is needed for the same idea to be pushed in a more extreme ways, there are always these “statist” enemies that are to blame, never any sense of self-criticism which can at least acknowledge the weaknesses of some aspects of their arguments.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jan '15 - 10:44am

    John Tilley

    Thank you for contributing such an interesting article. The cartoons are brilliant and you raise a important point about freedom of expression and that religious establishments should be the subject of them. I agree.

    The thing that strikes me is what a high standard of mockery there used to be. I think Private Eye is in this tradition too. It’s a pity that Charlie Hebdo’s version of mockery is of such low standard and frankly, juvenile. They have the right to publish of course. People have the right not to buy it/boycott peacefully and without violence.

    Glenn

    ‘ I personally do not worry whether or not a religion feels offended because my concern is for the people who feel threatened when they try to break with or question religion. Let’ s be honest sometimes Religion isn’t really a choice. A lot of people are born and raised within the faiths and kept within them through social pressure, which is very illiberal.’

    Religion is not a thing and as a block does not get offended. It comprises of billions of people like you or I. A tiny number of violent fanatics are causing havoc. They do not speak or act for the vast, vast, vast majority.

    Actually following a religious faith is a choice. You may get brought up in a faith but you can make a choice to end your associations with it when you leave the parental nest or even before. It’s the same as if you were brought up as a Liverpool fan because your parents were fans. Plenty of people swap teams!

    You will always find exceptions eg: areas of Pakistan or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Bedouins who landed on trillions of dollars of oil) where a deeply conservative culture mixed with tradition of Islam exist but we don’t all live in Saudi. Most don’t.

  • John Tilley: I do not think either Bismarck or Lloyd George, or for that matter Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan were “dangerous socialists” but at least the latter three and possibly Bismarck did not wish to create a totalitarian system where the state controls everything and private individuals cannot even open a little business, as was the case in the USSR and Cuba until recently though curiously not so in places like Poland and Hungary which retained some private enterprise but heavily taxed. Poland and possibly Hungary seem to have been helped by having a knowledge of private enterprise while Russia only had illegal private firms which the members of the Party used to get the things the state did not provide which may explain the gangster capitalism which exists there.

    As a matter of interest I have just received a lot of information about Cuba where sadly the reforms permitting private businesses do not seem to have been extended to permit more freedom for those who do not support the Communist Party. Surely freedom of speech and freedom to trade go hand in hand or there will be corruption and monopolies.

    There have always been state systems to deal with poverty since the dissolution of the monasteries which previously provided poor relief. I do not know many people who think there should be no system of insurance for sickness, unemployment and old age etc, although a few misguided Americans seem to think so.
    It could be argued that as the banks and other private enterprises paid large amounts of tax when they were profitable this entitled them to help when things went wrong. Just as those who neglect their health by for example smoking , eating and drinking too much get free NHS care so those businesses who fail because of mismanagement might be entitled to state aid. In practice businesses are not normally saved unless their collapse would severely damage the economy. All those retail enterprises such as Woolworths, Comet, Jessops etc were allowed to go to the wall because there were others who were able to provide similar services, possibly more efficiently.
    Because of supposed public demand we have a state owned railway (Network Rail) which is expensive and heavily subsidised even though some of its services could be provided in other ways. The so called private train operators are simply Government contractors who have to carry out the Minister’s wishes, even down to how they operate and exactly what time the trains run so there is no opportunity for any innovation or more efficiency . I am not sure how the public benefits from this.

  • Helen,
    You keep singling out Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as exception. Do you think Boko Haram, ISIS. Yemen. Qatar or even Mormons, Scientologists, the Plymouth Brethren or for that matter any culture defined primarily by faith actually truly offers freedom of choice. A lot of the time breaking with a faith means breaking with family and community, which is not an easy thing to do. Even with seeming peaceful faiths there can be a lot of pressure to marry within that faith and even to deny ones sexuality. I’m not saying all religions do this, merely that it bothers me more that a lot do than whether or not people of faith feel offended when people of no or little faith criticise or lampoon religion. Sure, religion is not all bad, but nor is are all wings or everything in one wing of politics all bad either, but it seem to me perfectly reasonable to lampoon politics for it’s sometimes oppressive and silly aspects. Some of us simply apply the same rules to religion.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jan '15 - 2:35pm

    Glenn

    As I have said repeatedly on here satirists in a liberal society have the right to publish. Having just written that proves that at least one person of faith is not under Taliban-style rules.

    Of course, when you are dealing with the range and varieties of religious communities you can single out ones you don’t like. The point is, why not look at the communities that don’t behave like that?

    You will hear about the worst aspects of people who put tribalism before genuine faith on the media. Good news and compassion does not make great copy. Repressive cultures in the world tend to be deeply conservative in culture, politics and religion.

    To blame all the ills of the world on religion ignores the complexity and interplay of forces at work – power corrupts and people have enlisted and twisted religious feeling wrongly in the exercise of power for centuries.

    We have to sift the good from the bad and not condemn all.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “It’s a pity that Charlie Hebdo’s version of mockery is of such low standard and frankly, juvenile.”

    How many editions of CH have you actually read? Perhaps their standards will improve now that they have been forced by religionists to recruit a whole bunch of new staff.

    “Actually following a religious faith is a choice. You may get brought up in a faith but you can make a choice to end your associations with it when you leave the parental nest or even before. It’s the same as if you were brought up as a Liverpool fan because your parents were fans. Plenty of people swap teams!”

    Such blasé comments are pretty insulting, not just to the many millions of people unlucky enough to live in a country where apostasy is a criminal offence (sometimes punishable by death), but also to those people who have been murdered here in the UK for wanting to “swap teams” as you put it.

  • Helen,
    I was not blaming the ills of the world on religion I was simply saying that religion can be repressive and leaving it is not always that simple. It isn’t always down to Taliban style extremisms either. There can be all sorts of family and social pressures placed on people to stay within a religion. How exactly is saying this ignoring the complexities of religion?

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jan '15 - 8:40pm

    Stuart

    Stuart, I can’t work out what you are angry about. From what I have seen of Charlie Hebdo as a satirical magazine, it is no where near the standard of Private Eye.

    The Liverpool remark is simply an analogy. Within Christianity and Judaism outside of the small ultra-orthodox circles, it is much much easier to move between or from a religion. Of course, any decision a child makes contrary to its parents and upbringing is going to be controversial – that’s normal. It’s part of being in a family and community as long as healthy relationships are maintained.

    The fact I’m a Lib Dem is controversial in my wider family! (especially with the polls as they are).

    Glenn

    We seem to be exchanging a lot of comments about how religion is repressive as a whole. That’s why I have tried to make distinctions.

  • nvelope2003 23rd Jan '15 - 8:46pm

    Stuart: The UK Government bought shares in distressed banks. If those banks become profitable again the Government can either sell its shares or take the dividends so it would not be a loss. I am not surprised that some want renationalisation but when those industries were nationalised most people complained about them. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Where there is a monopoly situation there has to be some control over prices but where that control has been exercised purely for political reasons this has usually resulted in underinvestment and eventual bankruptcy, which is then used to justify nationalisation and then prices either shoot up or subsidies become unaffordable resulting in closures of service.

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Jan '15 - 9:10pm

    @ Stuart,
    You mention apostasy.

    A couple of days ago there was an article in The Independent by academic and practising Muslim, Ziauddin Sardar. ‘Islamic history is full of free thinkers- but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd.’

  • @Helen
    I’m not angry, but I do think you are trivialising something that for many is far from trivial. Saying things like “The fact I’m a Lib Dem is controversial in my wider family!” doesn’t come over as amusing when one knows that people (normally young women) have been brutally murdered for their “controversial” religious choices.

  • Stuart 23rd Jan ’15 – 10:12pm
    “.,.,. Saying things like “The fact I’m a Lib Dem is controversial in my wider family!” doesn’t come over as amusing …”

    Stuart, I am surprised that you say this. Helen will no doubt say if she meant this as an amusing aside. I did not read it like that at all.

    I know and have known a number of Liberals and Liberal Democrats who have suffered severe pressure from their wider family, especially if they are in public positions such as an elected local councillor. I have felt such pressure myself. One of the problems with public life is that when you stick your head over the parapet and open yourself to disagreement, ridicule and abuse you take your mum and dad, your auntie and all your children over the parapet with you.

    At the time of the book burning when Salman Rushdie first published The Satanic Verses in 1988 I had a letter published in the local paper. This was deeply upsetting to a close friend who told me so in no uncertain terms. More than 25 years later I still squirm at the thought.

    I found the book unreadable and could understand why religious people would be offended. However I thought it important that someone such as a local councillor should condemn public displays of intolerance. One particular book burning episode was if I remember correctly co pletely endorsed by Keith Vaz MP who was pictured in the press attending a book burning. I was appalled. I could have kept quiet, there were no votes to be gained in my ward by taking the stand that I took, and it would have saved me the reaction from my good friend. I just thought it was the right thing to do. I still think it was the right thing to do.

    Burning books is like killing cartoonists — it is a form of madness.

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th Jan '15 - 9:31am

    John Tilley

    Good comment. Yes it was meant as an amusing aside! Totally agree with your description of the Rushdie book – unreadable.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “Good comment. Yes it was meant as an amusing aside!”

    You seem not to have noticed that John’s excellent post was based on the premise that he believed your earlier comment not to be intended as “an amusing aside”.

    All I was pointing out was that although changing religion should be as trivial a matter as changing football team, often it quite clearly isn’t. For many people around the world – and even some people here in the UK – it is literally a matter of life and death. Your original comment didn’t show any appreciation of that fact.

  • John Tilley: Free markets depend on a system of law and therefore a strong Government is needed. Somalia is on the mend now so perhaps the People’s Republic of Donetsk, a state apparently run by Russian gangsters, would be a better example of the lawlessness you mistakenly associate with private enterprise. No one that I know thinks we should abandon firm Government – the very opposite I should think – but the efforts of Government in running businesses have not always been successful. If it had been why is it that those countries like China, Vietnam etc have prospered so much since they reintroduced private businesses. Yes there might be greater inequality but most people are much better off.

  • nvelope2003
    “…. No one that I know thinks we should abandon firm Government”

    Depends which Firm owns the government.

    The joke used to be that in France the government owns and runs the car industry – Whereas in Italy it is the other way round.

  • @nvelope2003
    “the efforts of Government in running businesses have not always been successful. If it had been why is it that those countries like China, Vietnam etc have prospered so much since they reintroduced private businesses.”

    You’re still missing the point. China, like the US and every other successful economy in history, is a mixed economy. Arguing about what is best, free enterprise or state ownership, is a bit like arguing about which pair of wheels is the most important on your car – the left side or the right side. The car needs both pairs of wheels or it won’t go anywhere.

    State ownership has a mixed record; so does private enterprise. But we can say with some certainty that significant state ownership can work perfectly well. If it can’t, how do you explain Singapore? The government owns around 60% of business (by GDP) and 80% of the housing. Singapore is the most successful economy on the planet right now.

    Another example closer to home: I buy all my electricity and gas from a highly profitable state-owned (mostly) energy company. Alas, the profits from this company go to French tax payers rather than British ones. Moreover, the British government has been forced to give this company a fantastic deal to build future generating capacity, since the privatised British companies have long since been sold off to foreign investors, or are otherwise incapable of planning for our future supplies. Little wonder most voters would rather go back to state-owned utilities. Of course the grass seems greener on the other side (and yes, I’m aware of how long you had to wait for the GPO to install a telephone line in the 1970s – though BT customers I know seem to get no better service today), but time and technology has moved on since the 70s/80s, and we have better models to follow from other countries about how to do this kind of thing well.

    The sensible approach is to acknowledge the fact that a mixed economy is the only proven way to go, abandon prejudices about whether state or private is best, and judge each situation on its own merits.

  • nvelope2003 24th Jan '15 - 3:46pm

    Stuart: The only reason I tried to put in a good word for private enterprise is because of the continual and never ending denigration on LDV of everything to do with the private sector which does normally make profits and pay taxes, although some foreign firms seem to avoid doing so. I fully accept that some things are best done by the public sector but not everything as seems to be the wish of people on LDV. Why don’t those people join a party that believes in full scale nationalisation like the Greens apparently do ? Surely the very word Liberal should indicate a belief in private initiative ? The Liberal Party sprang from the clash between the interests of those who lived off the state and the new manufacturing class formed of Non Conformists who made their money by their own initiatives and of course the work of their employees.

    I am not the only person in this world who worked in the public sector and found it a depressing experience but on moving to a small private company the atmosphere was such that my mood quickly improved despite initially lower pay.

    Singapore is a very small but rich country. I found it very interesting but it is not perfect as I discovered from chatting to the people but they have a lot to be grateful for and some do not really know when they are well off. I wonder if their public sector will still be as efficient in a few years time ? The precedents do not look helpful.

  • Nvelope2003.
    Straw man argument. No one on here has said everything should be nationalised, they’ve just pointed out that mixed economies work fairly well. What I would add, is that franchising public services is not the same as privatising them. The money still comes from taxation and actually it often means those services cost the tax payer more not less. Canada achieved quite a few of it’s budget reforms by ending expensive and inefficient franchised services and handing them back to local government. This government has wasted millions on funding private employment support agencies that have a very low success rate.

  • Alex Sabine 24th Jan '15 - 8:38pm

    Talking of straw men, I have seldom heard anything so ridiculous as the claim that Somalia is the best real-world example of a free-market economy. Utter hogwash. And the grounds? That thre is “effectively no government in that country”, as if the absence of government and a free-market economy are synonymous. Surely that is anarchism?

    On the contrary, almost every supporter of a free-market economy that I have ever met acknowledges that it can only work effectively in a social context of laws, property rights, other social institutions and a general presumption of trust.

  • @ Caracatus “Liberals have never supported free markets”
    This is simply incorrect and ahistorical, unless you equate “free markets” with “pure unbridled laissez-faire” – which, as I’ve made clear, I don’t. Nor, for that matter, do most supporters of free markets going right back to the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, a great liberal, who in both An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments stressed the importance of the legal and social context needed for a market economy to flourish and deliver its full benefits.

    Your assertion also ignores the stance of the Liberal party for most of its history up to at least the Second World War and arguably up to the 1960s (when all political parties – temporarily – turned their backs on markets and tried to direct investment and control prices and wages via the state).

    Interestingly, though, were you to make this simplistic link , some 19th century Liberals came closer to this position than any other British political party, and certainly than the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher. But even then, Liberals’ belief in free markets and free trade always went hand-in-hand with an opposition to monopoly and to vested interests in land and agriculture.

    Laissez-faire is a red herring; no political party has proposed this since perhaps the mid-19th century, if you mean a ‘nightwatchman state’ with little or no social welfare provision.

    On your Jo Grimond point, there are plenty of Grimond quotes I could point to that suggest he did instinctively believe in free trade and free markets, contrary to your assertion.

    For example in 1980 – when the choice between markets and statist solutions was pretty stark, and Grimond was impatient with the Liberal party sitting on the fence – he said: “The state-owned monopolies are among the greatest millstones round the neck of the economy… Liberals must at all times stress the virtues of the market, not only for efficiency but to enable the widest possible choice… Much of what Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph say and do is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy.”

    Now, I know what happens at this stage. You will accuse me of selective quotation. In fact, there are heaps more Grimond quotes along these lines, not just from the late 1970s and early 1980s but going right back to the 1950s. He once complained that Liberal policy often entailed “advocacy of large expenditure on every sort of thing from social services to Highland Development while at the same time saying that we were living beyond our means” and that “a great deal of Government expenditure today is not helping the poor or anyone – it is positively harmful”.

    As early as 1957, under a Conservative government and when government spending was at its lowest share of GDP of the whole postwar period, he argued that: “Neither the Government nor the local authorities make any wealth or have any money of their own. If we want them to spend more and more we have to pay. The remedy is in our hands. Stop running to them asking them to do this, that and everything under the sun – and demand instead that they stop doing and spending so much.”

    As far as I’m aware, Nick Clegg – who is ritually condemned in these quarters as a ‘dogmatic neoliberal’ who is in thrall to ‘market fundamentalism’ and a small state – has never expressed such a categorical preference for smaller government as Jo Grimond did in that 1957 comment. And before anyone says that 1957 was the height of welfarism and the context was different, Grimond was talking about the ratchet effect of public spending, and in 1957 government spending stood at 36% of GDP, actually lower than at any point since the war, much lower than it would reach in the 1969s, 1970s and 1980s and about the same level as it is forecast to reach in the UK in 2020 after a decade of austerity.

    Finally, you can’t have it both ways. Are we living through – and suffering from – the evils of laissez-faire, or is it a form of state capitalism whereby the state cosies up to corporate interests and supports them through corporate welfare, bank bailouts etc? At least let’s have some coherence to the critique.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Jan ’15 – 12:18am
    @ Caracatus “Liberals have never supported free markets”

    Alex Sabine, perhaps in an attempt to bolster your argument you have chosen to define “free-market economy” in a way that many reasonable people would say was a fairly good definition of a “social democratic mixed economy”.

    A cartoonist who was a contemporary of Jo Grimond but who worked for Beaverbrook at Express Newspapers usually followed the political stance of his proprietor depicting trade unionists and Labour politicians with a hammer and sickle armband. In those days the masthead of the Express had a Crusader bound in chains to represent this country under the shackles of state control – a cartoon in itself.

    For a flavour of Cummings cartoons —

    http://www.original-political-cartoon.com/cartoon-gallery/buy/caption-displayed/426/

    http://www.original-political-cartoon.com/cartoon-gallery/artists/cummings-michael-1919-1997/?c=uk-cartoons

    If as you say earlier “..almost every supporter of a free-market economy that I have ever met acknowledges that it can only work effectively in a social context of laws, property rights, other social institutions and a general presumption of trust.” then you must meet a very small circle of like minded people who have never heard of the IEA, Hayek and Margaret Thatcher.

    Do you live on some remote island where news of politics since 1979 has not reached you yet?

  • Alex Sabine 25th Jan '15 - 1:45pm

    @ JohnTilley
    I live in London and my background is in economic and political history, so yes I am well aware of Friedman, Hayek and the IEA, John. You will appreciate that they are at the more radical/purist end of the classical-liberal spectrum – but even they didn’t argue for a market economy in which there was no role for laws, property rights, social institutions or state-financed welfare.

    In areas like education the IEA proposed school vouchers but did not dispute the state’s role in ensuring educcational opportunities. It would have been strange had they done so, since, as you may know, one of the founders of the IEA and its foremost pamphleteer was Arthur Seldon, who was born in the East End of London to Russian-Jewish refugees and was adopted by a cobbler. As it happens the only political party he was actively involved in was the Liberal Party, including in the Orpington by-election of 1962.

    Personally I am more of the Sam Brittan/John Kay/Roger Bootle/Economist persuasion that is influenced by classical liberalism but sees a somewhat more extensive role for the state than our liberal forebears, including in correcting ‘externalities’, encouraging wider capital ownership, and stabilising the economy at the macro level through monetary and fiscal policy. Basically, I believe in ‘capitalism with a human face’, as Sam Brittan puts it.

    But I also agree with the great postwar German economics minister and chancellor Ludwig Erhard’s concept of a ‘social market’ economy, which differs fundamentally from how that term was later appropriated. As the German-born Labour MP Gisela Stuart pointed out in an interesting lecture a few years ago on Germany’s postwar economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder), for Erhard the prefix ‘social’ was meant to amplify rather than conflict with the ‘market’. “The market IS social,” he would remind people: in fact, “the freer an economy is, the more social it is”, since the coercive power of the state and monopolies is correspondingly less.

    Interestingly, Jo Grimond actually contributed to a number of IEA publications in the 1970s (three in 1978 alone, including a collection celebrating the IEA’s 21st anniversary) and 1980s. Evidently he didn’t regard it as beneath his dignity to do so, nor did he think that the IEA’s ideas were a threat to civilisation. But then he was interested in engaging with ideas across political battle lines, rather than the sterile name-calling and shrill soundbites that are such a wholesome feature of our politics today.

    I have in front of me an IEA article he wrote in 1986 entitled Still No Economic Liberalism. In it he argues, persuasively in my view:

    “Statism, though dented, remains the dominant political and economic philosophy in the UK… We live in a corporate state in which the organisation has become more important than the individual. Government takes a higher proportion of the national income than ever… The flood of legislation and government expenditure is out of control. So we who hoped for radical measures must be disappointed by acts and omissions.”

    This, I’d argue, is a much more intelligent and well-grounded critique of Thatcherism than the cartoon version, perpetuated by too many soi-disant liberals, that Thatcherism was about a doctrinaire obsession with small government, individualism and anti-statism. But no doubt Grimond will be dismissed as senile or a fellow traveller by then…

  • nvelope2003 25th Jan '15 - 2:58pm

    Alex sabine: How refreshing to hear something other than the usual stale rhetoric on this site.

    As regards Singapore it is an authoritarian state. Someone who lived there told me that if a public official failed to do what was expected he would be instantly dismissed and if it was found that he had engaged in any misconduct he would be expected to end his life or be publicly shamed, something which would be very hard for a Chinese man to accept.

    If we are to have public sector institutions running the economy there would have to be rules requiring instant dismissal without compensation for failure. This is the only way it could be made to work in the old Eastern Europe as there are not the financial inducements which private enterprise provides for success, although they also seem to have gone down the road of compensating failure which no doubt partly explains the sad state of so many of the Western economies, the poor productivity etc.

    I am not at all keen on franchising state subsidised public services either. It seems to lead to the worst of both worlds in some instances.

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