Friday, May 21, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 21st May 2010

1. I'm still pondering the political developments of the past couple of weeks, and doing some thinking about Liberalism and the Liberal-Democrat party. I come from a Methodist / Liberal background, and my heart has always been Liberal, even when my head has said otherwise. I'm trying to get to grips with what exactly are the core principles of the Liberals, as opposed to what are their current policies, and whether my long-held assumptions are correct. (Incidentally, for American readers, Liberal / Conservative in the UK political sense does not equate to liberal / conservative in the American sense.

2. In pursuit of the Liberal Party I've just started reading An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism by Conrad Russell. Wondering if the title means it is a guide for an intelligent person, or a guide by an intelligent person. I guess it is meant to be the former, but the latter is certainly true. Conrad (aka the 5th Earl Russell) was a tutor of mine at university and a man of exceptional intelligence, as was his father, the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Conrad, however, was also an exceptionally nice man; his father, by all accounts, was not. One of the questions I've been pondering about the Coalition government is "what would Conrad have thought?", and I'm hoping this book will answer that. So far, so good.

3. As a working peer (he was a Liberal spokesman in the House of Lords) as well as a working academic Conrad had to do a fair amount of diary juggling. As a result, I once found myself having a tutorial on Elizabethan finance in an interview room in the House of Lords. He also very kindly gave me tea in the Lords' tea room, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

4. A final Conrad Russell anecdote. I once stumbled across a TV broadcast of the Liberal Party conference in which Conrad was giving a speech. It included this rather spectacular piece of name-dropping: "And as my father said to Lenin ..."  (said as if your father having a conversation with Lenin was a perfectly normal, everyday thing!)

5. Cherub has suddenly decided she likes to draw. She sat for over an hour yesterday afternoon working through sheet after sheet of paper - I counted twenty-one separate drawings. They included a tooth fairy with a bag of teeth in one hand and a bag of coins in the other, two children standing on a mountain, a person holding a torch under a starry sky, someone covered in sun cream, a child with a party hat on her head and chocolate cake round her mouth ... not to mention three consecutive pirates!

6. All my digital photos are now on Flickr - over 1000 of them, labelled, dated and sorted into sets. Now I need to start scanning the old-fashioned, printed kind.

7. I meant to post this last week, but forgot. This miniature hobbit hole is just amazing! Click over and admire the detail. (HT: Someone on Facebook, but I'm afraid I can't remember who.)

Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary


Faith said...

That Hobbit Hole is spectacular. I'm going to show my kids! They'll love it.

That book you are reading sounds very interesting. So is the term 'liberal' in the UK more like the original meaning of the word or has it been transformed to mean something else, but something slightly different than what it means in the U.S?

The Bookworm said...

Hmmm ... I'm not sure what the original meaning of the word liberal would be - free, or generous maybe? If so, then yes, probably closer to the original meaning. If the definition of the liberal philosophical system given here is typical of how liberalism is perceived in the US (and is pretty much how I assumed Americans see it) then it is miles away from British Liberalism. In fact I think virtually every statement there would be so far wrong as to be laughable.

Anonymous said...

Wow that Hobbit Hole is amazing!

I think that the Liberals, historically grown from the Whigs (who believed in reducing the power of the Crown and increasing the power of parliament), are named liberal because they believe in relative freedom from governmental control - i.e. individual liberty (within the confines of reasonable social behaviour). They historically see themselves as the non-Socialist Centre alternative to the right-wing Conservatism. Funny that they are now in alliance with the Tories and equally that they are in favour of the European Union who seem to put bureaucratic nannying above individual liberty!

I'm not politically liberal but does that sound about right?

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy this article: Cameron and Clegg: who is more upper crust. I found it interesting.

The Bookworm said...

From what I've read so far, yes, individual liberty is important (within constraints), and equality under the law. The most important principle seems to be that power should be kept within limits, and that no government should be able to exercise unconstrained power. Part of the enthusiasm for Europe comes because the European Parliament can act as a check on the UK parliament, and vice versa.

Interestingly, the Liberals have swung between Labour and the Conservatives at different times. In the 50s they were far closer to the Conservatives, and shared electoral pacts with them. Although the Liberals are more "progressive" than the Tories, I can see why at this point a coalition with them is likely to work better than a coalition with Labour, as the Labour government was micro-managing in a way that should be anathema to Liberals.

I'm finding it all very interesting. I sort of knew where the Liberals were positioned, but didn't really understand why.

Enjoyed the article! (FWIW, I think Cameron is slightly posher.)