Opinion

John Lloyd

No Union, please, we’re English

John Lloyd
Dec 29, 2011 18:30 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

In France, it is les Anglais. In Germany, die Engländer. In Italy, gli Inglesi. In Russia, Anglichane.

The peoples of the United Kingdom, for most other peoples, are habitually “English.”

Not unnaturally. The English part of the UK accounts for close to 90 per cent of the country’s population; the language is English; the capital is London, long the English capital; the accents heard are overwhelmingly English; the long-held stereotype of the country is an upper-class English gent, snobbish, prudish and insular.

This suits at least some of the English, who often do the same as foreigners when referring to their nation state.  Frequently, without any malice, they have assumed that Britain is co-terminus with England (until recently, England supporters waved the Union Jack—which represents all of the British nations–at international football matches). Once, years ago, when speaking to a former senior Royal courtier, I mildly corrected his use of “England” to “Britain.” He wagged a humorous finger at me (a Scot) and said: “Now now, none of that Scots nationalism!” – which is, when you think of it as an answer to my objection, incomprehensible, except in terms of a certain English mindset. Yet, though illogical, it was also thoughtlessly generous: the English nation had dissolved itself into the state, and by waving the Union Jack, gave an implicit invitation to the other nations of the British state to do likewise – though only the Northern Irish did.

Ironically, had I held the views he ascribed to me, I would not have corrected him. From the point of view of  the nationalists of the UK – Scots and Welsh nationalists, Irish Republicans – the more that people at home and abroad think Britain is England and vice versa, the better they like it. It underscores their belief that the Union is an artificial thing–England with a few possessions historically acquired by conquest, trickery or both.

Finding a new role for churches

John Lloyd
Dec 21, 2011 17:38 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

There is a poem, written in 1955, by the English poet Philip Larkin, called Church Going. It tells of the poet’s solitary penchant for cycling about villages, visiting country churches, empty, sometimes ruined, each with a “tense, musty, unignorable silence.” In deft touches, he writes of taking off his bicycle clips in lieu of doffing a non-existent cap; of experiencing an inexplicable pleasure in standing in these “frowsty barns”; yet finishing his visit feeling “much at a loss.”

He ends with a reflection: that the church is “a serious house on serious earth,” and that

“… someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.”

This “hunger to be more serious” is acute now, in Christmas week, when, in the countries of long Christian tradition, the broadcast air is replete with carols, sacred music and invocations to rejoice in a miracle birth. It is a hunger which also contains something of a languorous sense of guilt – that something which should have been precious, or sacred, had been casually lost, dispensed with in the getting and spending of contemporary life. A stirring of regret that there is no solid faith beneath that yearning; and a nostalgia for a childhood acceptance of the message of Christmas, wrapped up in the pleasures of adult attention and the receiving of gifts (to be sure, reality can be quite opposite: but most of us sugar-coat such memories).

Do Russians really want democracy?

John Lloyd
Dec 13, 2011 23:18 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

MOSCOW — This weekend it was the Russians who took to the streets. Authorities claim there were no more than 25,000 protestors while organizers say there were at least 50,000. No matter the number, the protests have taken a sharp turn and seem to have depth in their anger.

Russia is far from a full democracy, but it is enough of one to prompt its electors to indignation that their presidential choices had been radically “improved”.

The current unrest on the streets and the widespread revulsion over solid-seeming evidence of ballot rigging show that many get very annoyed if their democratic choice is falsified. In conversations with students, regional journalists and a few older people in Russia last week, I was left in little doubt of the anger felt by many among them — and many among them had been Putin supporters.

As winter begins, an African Spring heats up

John Lloyd
Dec 8, 2011 13:53 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

The Arab Spring’s effects continue to ripple outward. As Tahrir Square fills once more, it gains new momentum. For months now, the autocrats of Africa have feared it would move south, infecting their youth in often-unemployed, restless areas.

That fear has come to the ancient civilization of Ethiopia, the second-most populous state (after Nigeria) in Africa. There, since June, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has cracked down hard on dissidents, opposition groups and, above all, journalists, imprisoning some and forcing others into exile.

The latest refugee is Dawit Kebede, managing editor of one of the few remaining independent papers, the Awramba Times. Kebede, who won an award for freedom from the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists last year, fled to the U.S. last month after he received a tip off that he was about to be arrested.

Freedom isn’t ruining lives

John Lloyd
Dec 6, 2011 18:07 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

My Reuters colleague Jack Shafer wrote a powerful piece, giving two cheers for the tabloids. He took his text, as I did in a quite contrary piece, from the current Leveson Inquiry into British tabloid journalism, which has its roots in the uncovering of the massive interception of phone messages – “phone hacking” – at the News of the World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s British stable, now closed.

Columnists working on the same patch usually pass by on the other side of an argument with each other. But this argument is important to the profession of journalism, now in several sorts of trouble, and it is important to the public which journalism claims to inform. So I want to take public issue.

Jack quotes the legal writer Stephen Bates in the Journal of Media Law & Ethics as arguing that the “freedom of the press in Britain has been constricted” by judgments made in the past few years in favor of observing the privacy of those about whom journalists have written. Shafer and Bates agree that such judgments will deprive the British working class of its favored reading material, and will delight the elite, whose sins, of whatever kind, will be safe from the public scrutiny they should have. These assertions need examples, which Jack doesn’t give. Here are two:

A deserving press

John Lloyd
Dec 1, 2011 06:00 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

An inquiry under way in the Royal Courts of Justice London, just a few hundred yards from Fleet Street, once the heart of the British newspaper industry, is becoming — in the low key way in which the British like to think they always do things (but often don’t) — a global event. It is the consequence of a crisis, as inquiries frequently are. But it will have consequences of its own: one of these may be to redefine journalism for the 21st century.

In July, the forward march of Rupert Murdoch and his son James through the British media and political establishment was halted — cruelly, abruptly, with every sign of the chaos and clamor which his tabloids usually love, indeed often create. The efforts by his British newspaper subsidiary, News International, to lock in the narrative that phone hacking at the Sunday tabloid News of the World was the preserve of one “rogue” reporter in 2006 — Clive Goodman, the Royal Correspondent, who had paid for his sins with a short sharp prison sentence — fell apart. Like Marley’s ghost from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, the awful truth came through the door, dragging a clanking chain made up of mobile phones, mementos of the hackings into the private lives of this celebrity and that politician and, most horrible, of ordinary people, caught in some media storm, for a few days the biggest story in town, and thus regarded as fair game.

No escaping that. Politicians, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, beat their breasts and said they had been too servile to the man who had four of the most important newspapers in the land and controlled the largest share of the only major satellite broadcaster, now rivaling the BBC. No more kow-towing to the Murdochs. The Press Complaints Commission, which handles complaints against the press and had foolishly said that nothing was amiss at the News of the World, was for the chop. A Commission, with full powers to examine and propose, was set up, under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Leveson, a judge with a reputation for probity and profundity.

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