Dabbler Diary – Democracy Doesn’t Work

To Bristol Zoo again, this time for bangless fireworks. Quick visit to the monkeys to say nighty-night first. The fireworks were bangless because animals don’t like bangs. Nor do tiny infants so we thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the youngest daughter to Guy Fawkes night. What a blunder. Overcrowded, freezing cold, and the children enthralled for six minutes then utterly bored. The fireworks were nice enough but a £16 family ticket seemed steep for what was approximately 14 minutes of ooh- and aah-ing. Not that we’d have wanted it to go on any longer; it was like Woody Allen’s gag in Annie Hall about the two ladies in the restaurant: “The food here is terrible.” “Yes, and such small portions.” Then when we got home our neighbourhood was banging deafeningly away anyway, almost as much as it will be this week for Diwali.


What do we make of the BBC’s latest meltdown? Newsnight is, apart from Radio 4’s Today, the best current affairs programme we have. The self-flagellation on Friday’s episode was cringe-worthy, but this one is pretty serious. Falsely accusing a living person of being a paedophile is worse than failing to expose a dead one, and it seems that this ghastly blunder was easily avoidable too. The BBC does have a left-liberal-London bias but this shouldn’t be overstated: go anywhere else in the world for a grim vision of what BBC-less media would be like. It shouldn’t work in theory but most of the time it does. I’d hate to have the US situation where people consume television and radio news as we do our newspapers: to have our prejudices confirmed.


On the BBC website, meanwhile, Martin Jacques writes a very odd article arguing that China’s leaders have more legitimacy than the US President. By his definition of ‘legitimacy’ – a lack of popular opposition – North Korea’s government is the most legitimate in the world. But these are admittedly strange days for democracy. The Greeks and Italians have surrendered it to Eurocrats. At the next General Election in Britain there’s a very good chance that the widely detested Liberal Democrats will be the only members of the current Government that remain in office – via a coalition with Labour that nobody will have voted for.

And what are we to make of the American system after last week’s multi-billion dollar exercise in retaining the status quo? Obama’s victory seems somehow unwholesome. He has, by any kind of objective analysis, failed to deliver as the Great Hope President he promised to be in 2008. He hasn’t created jobs, national debt has increased by a third, he screwed up over the Libyan embassy siege, he’s failed to close Gitmo and he’s cheerfully executing people with drones – something in there to appall you whatever your political stripe. He appears to have won in 2012 by relentless, largely negative campaigning in scientifically-identified swing states. He gave a good victory speech.

But then again, why would anyone want to vote for Romney either? A slippery nothing man of no principles – which he had to be because the system required him to be rabidly right-wing to win the GOP nomination, then swing dramatically to the centre to try to win the Presidency. There doesn’t seem to be any way a Republican could become President without being a slippery nothing man.

So does democracy work? Of course it doesn’t, but nor does anything else. What Martin Jacques’ article in defence of Communist dictatorship elides is that there are things lacking in China at least as important as legitimacy-by-popularity. Like the rule of law, separation of powers and the ability of the populace to remove a rotten government without violence. When China has that lot they can start preaching to the West.


The three stories about a pineapple were merely a warm-up for the latest demands on my powers of bedtime story-telling inventiveness. My three year-old now nightly expects at least four different, internally consistent tales featuring permutations of characters from a bewilderingly random cast, including Rupert Bear, a Bad Pirate, some Good Pirates, a Baby Pirate, four toucans (don’t ask), Buzz Lightman (sic), a crab, a Totoro, herself, Tinkerbell the fairy, various magnets that come to life at night, a wicked cowboy called Sidney and (my nemesis) Barney the Purple Dinosaur. She will select a number of these according to whim and command that I conjure a tale featuring them and only them. I may not introduce new characters nor omit any from her stated selection. I have reasonably free reign regarding plot except that the ending must involve (a) Buzz Lightman landing on his head, and/or (b) everyone going to bed without any supper – both of which are endlessly hilarious happenstances, apparently.


I trust that right now, as you read this, your lapel sports a poppy, your upper lip a Movember moustache (ladies included) and there is a Children in Need Pudsey bear tucked under your arm. If not, what kind of monster are you? Why, you’re no better than a Newsnight editor! Personally I would widen the Poppy Police’s jurisdiction beyond politicians and people appearing on television and give them powers to lock up anybody seen poppyless in public without charge or trial, just like wot they did to that poor misunderstood Mr Mosley in World War II. But in the meantime, you can sponsor The Dabbler’s very own folly-chaser Gwyn Headley – officially the World’s Most Hairless Man – in his valiant attempt to grow a cookie-duster for cancer charities here – good luck to him and his so far infuriatingly reluctant bristles, by the pictures it looks like he’ll need it.


Jonathan Law’s series on Henry Williamson is one of the best things we’ve run on The Dabbler. In her response Anne Williamson asks us to take a ‘more objective’ view of the author. I leave it to our readers to decide for themselves whether it is Jonathan or Anne (Henry’s daughter-in-law and keeper of his estate) who is likely to be the more objective. But Editorial’s final word on Williamson is this: as David notes in the comments to Anne’s piece, people who claim to be overly concerned with Truth should be treated with suspicion. Such as the 9/11 ‘Truthers’. I think we can all forgive people for misguided views formed in idealism or trauma or ignorance, but defending Nazism after we knew what we knew is unforgiveable and the best you can say of such beliefs is that they are mad. Tarka is a great book, of course.


Top commenter Peter – who is on a terrific roll at the moment – rightly admonishes Gaw for his anti-Canadian remarks. On Only Connect last week the ‘missing vowels’ round was themed, brilliantly, on Things Invented in Canada. Answers included Trivial Pursuits, the paint roller, instant mashed potato and the Wonderbra. For these, and for much else, thank you Canada, and God bless you.


Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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12 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Democracy Doesn’t Work

  1. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    November 12, 2012 at 11:35

    Analyses of how and why Romney lost are flooding the blogosphere and the Net, but one I haven’t seen yet is whether the appeal to ideological first principles (read the intent of the Founders) wasn’t a little too much in such mundane times–a bit like Churchill making his “We shall fight and the beaches” speech in 1953. It’s their strength and glory when tyrants are marching and folks need liberating, but I’m not sure it’s an advantage in tackling a budget deficit. Touting the virtues of hard work and self-reliance from the podium is all well and good, but if the message is “vote for me and you’ll have to work harder”, is it surprising there were more than a few second thoughts at the polling stations, especially among women?

    The reaction among American conservatives is visceral and alarming and recalls Hitchens’s quip that an outsider viewing American politics could be forgiven for thinking they were just two speeches away from another civil war. My first instinct was to stay politiely mum until the wounds cauterized, but I’ve changed my mind. Lads, America is divided and hurting and it’s time for her friends to come to her aid. The situation calls for a steady flood of criticism from Euros, Brits, Canadians, etc. about what a declining hellhole the place is and how it is run by rabid yahoos. No holding back, let’s trash them in language that would make even Rita squirm. The idea is to so piss them off that they will drink deeply of the wellspring of American patriotism, unite as one in the face of non-stop foreign trash-talking, solve their problems in lighting speed (“can-do”) and live to save us all.

    Kind of you, Brit, to tell the Dabblers why my little country deserves pride of place in the pantheon of great Western civilizational triumphs. You know how we hate to be pushy, but is there room to include the manure spreader and peanut butter? But proud as I am, I couldn’t avoid feeling a wave of that traditional Canadian self-doubt at the thought a world is giggling that we gave the world the Wonderbra while the Yanks came up with Victoria Secret.

  2. Worm
    November 12, 2012 at 11:40

    well the poppy police have decided to appear in most timely fashion –


    Soon it will become compulsory for all adults to spend 11/11 ululating and self flagellating before giant statues of soldiers cuddling dogs.

    Also, the BBC will set up a news channel called BBCWatch in which they just report on all the bad things that the BBC has done that day, including a live circular firing squad every afternoon at 5pm

    • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
      November 12, 2012 at 12:52

      Hmm, shades of the discussion a few weeks back about the American Pledge of Allegiance in that poppy story, Worm. I’m not sure I can decide who is more…umm…worrisome, people who see subversion in the burning of a poppy or people who see oppression in being prevented from burning one.

      Why can’t we all just brew a nice cup of tea and try to get along?

    • russellworks@gmail.com'
      ian russell
      November 12, 2012 at 14:08

      Eventually it’ll need to be compulsory to prevent it petering out. Telling to see how few poppy wearers there were in town on a sunny Sunday afternoon. At work, we’ll get an email reminder before the silence but during the silence business carries on as usual.

      What will they make of it in a couple of generations?

      • Brit
        November 14, 2012 at 13:42

        Strange, my feeling is that poppies are more ubiquitous than ever before.

  3. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    November 12, 2012 at 14:11

    It was an odd election. I can only infer that the more plausible candidates–mostly Republican governors from states running SW for Indiana–decided to wait for 2016, and left Romney as the candidate by default, a man without the liabilities of Perry, Paul, Gingrich, et al., but with no natural constituency. (No large natural constituency, anyway.) It must have been one hell of a year to own a TV station, particularly in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and such swing states.

    Martin Jacques’s article is odd. Measured by something like rates of income tax collection, the US is way out in front of most of the developed world in “legitimacy”. Nor do I understand at all what he means about China’s understanding of state as civilization. Weren’t the revolutions that began a century ago all about breaking with the past, especially during the Mao years? What definition of civilization do the billions of the PRC agree on?

    Peter, I hate to say it, but with the NHL lockout, it’s likely to be late summer in 2013 before we below the 49th parallel again remember that there is a Canada. Insult away, but don’t be disappointed or shocked if we look blank, or attempt a lame comeback involving Pierre Trudeau. Still, I am grateful for the paint roller, even if I’m not very handy with one.

    Poppies: the equivalent over here is I suppose the American flag lapel pin, which is a year-round accessory, and which apparently no politician wishes to do without.

    • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
      November 12, 2012 at 14:39

      before we below the 49th parallel again remember that there is a Canada.

      It always amuses me how Americans see that as a skewer rather than proof of the success of two hundred years of Canadian diplomacy. George, can you name any other great power that has ever been oblivious to its largest neighbour? Pretty crafty, eh? We aren’t so stupid as to trash you up front (you are much too excitable), we simply send some scholars in mufti to become Harvard professors who write doomsday bestsellers and let the New York Times do the rest.

      • george.jansen55@gmail.com'
        November 12, 2012 at 15:06

        Peter, I offer it not as a skewer, but as a matter of fact. The self-absorption of the US is profound. Profound to the point that I’m wondering which Harvard professor you have in mind, unless it’s John Kenneth Galbraith.

  4. bugbrit@live.com'
    November 12, 2012 at 20:50

    And lets not forget, on his 67th birthday, who it was that invented Neil Young.

    • Brit
      November 14, 2012 at 13:43

      And Megan from Mad Men.

  5. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    November 13, 2012 at 10:45

    The BBC does have a left-liberal-London bias but this shouldn’t be overstated

    One or two of us beg to differ. Boaden, having used our license fee money to hire lawyers, keeping this important information out of the public domain will now soak up more of the same as her lawyers sue us, the license fee payers.

  6. mcrean@snowpetrel.net'
    November 13, 2012 at 13:09

    Monkeys, fireworks and three stories about a pineapple – soooo much more interesting and refreshing than everything else in the news. All else is coalescing into a kind of mega-story: the BBC’s Jimmy Leveson inquiry into corporate tax avoidance by the Republican Party, in which a succession of stout and pretty cross elderly types talk about “getting a grip” and “the real issue is …”. I guess this is all proxy talk for “I don’t know what to do”.

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