On hoping that the Conservatives might become more conservative

I recently watched, and greatly enjoyed, the Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. This is a deeply moving portrait of a good man crushed by an inhumane and incomprehensible system. It might seem strange that a conservative is so sympathetic to such a classically socialist visionary as Loach – but that is because conservatism is generally greatly misunderstood, not least by the Conservative party itself!

To be a conservative is to be concerned above all with the husbanding of resources. I prefer that phrase to one that means something very similar – ‘the preservation of capital’ – because it is not only a more traditional expression, it is also one that is less likely to trigger premature associations with the word capitalism, with all the things that go with it.

The resources that need to be husbanded fall into four principal areas.

The first is economic, that is, all the various forms of financial wealth and property that our society values. This form is most easily associated with a conservative point of view, and runs alongside a respect for the rule of law and a high regard for private property and the rights associated with it. This approach, when taken to an extreme, shades into forms of libertarianism, whereby the state is only deployed in order to ensure the rule of law and such other elements as are essential to the continuity of the rule of law (such as the police and the armed forces). Libertarianism and conservatism are not the same, principally because conservatism also values three more forms of resource.

The second resource which conservatives seek to husband is ecological. Under this heading would come all the shared physical goods that a community enjoys that aren’t owned privately (or that only have private consequences). Much that comes under the heading of ‘green concerns’ has a natural connection with this area of conservatism, that is, everything which seeks to conserve our natural environment and preserve it in good repair. So a bias against pollution, a recognition of the need to preserve clean air and water, the preservation of species and biodiversity, all of this and more is conservative.

A third resource is social, and my favourite way to think of this form of resource is to think of Edmund Burke’s ‘little platoons’. These are all the ways in which human beings gather in order to seek mutual enrichment, and together these make up the very real and important human good which is called society. Under this heading would come things like the MICA centre, or the Lions, or Blindspot – activities and organisations and institutions which bind people together with mutual support. Much of what makes human life worth living falls into this section.

The last resource is human; that is, individual human beings, in all their glory and potential. Things like health care and education are important not principally because it keeps the economic wheels turning but rather because they enable individual human beings to thrive.

In the conservative vision, all of these forms of resource can be husbanded harmoniously together – so the preservation of our natural environment enables human beings to thrive and contribute to the social organisations which strengthen mutual trust and thereby ease the commercial endeavours that enable our prosperity – which then helps to pay for better care of the natural environment and so on. In a healthy society these things all work together in a virtuous circle, each one reinforcing the other.

Given this, how has Conservatism come to be seen as ‘nasty’ and uncaring? In many ways – as portrayed in the Loach film – the consequences of Conservative policies have indeed been despicable, but that is because they have been deeply anti-conservative, and have manifestly failed to husband the sorts of resources that I have described above.

I understand this through the use of my estate agent metaphor. I mean no offence to estate agents in using this (the estate agents I have had to deal with have always been very civilised people) but merely to bring home a clear distinction. If you sell your home then you are also letting go of a place which contains all sorts of sentimental attachments, memories and meanings. None of these are relevant to the price that an estate agent will place upon the property, for they are not relevant to the person who will be purchasing it.

In the same way, the problem with so much Conservative policy in the last few decades has been an over-emphasis upon the first form of resource described – financial – at the expense of all the others. The Conservative party was taken over by cynics who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing – or at least, not the value of the other three forms of resource described above. One tragedy of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership was that ‘One nation’ conservatism became identified with a ‘wet’ economic perspective. I rather suspect that if the Conservative party is to regain its strength and morale that it will need a strong voice that is both deeply ‘dry’ and strongly ‘one nation’.

At the heart of a properly conservative outlook, then, is a particular vision of what it means for human beings to flourish – human beings that are situated in a particular place at a particular time within a particular society – and a recognition that such flourishing can only take place when all the resources that enable that flourishing are husbanded properly.

The tragedy of Daniel Blake was that he was caught up in a system that did not recognise the human and social resource that he was; he was not valued and the rejection killed him. A naturally conservative response to such a situation would be to call for a universal basic income – in order to properly value, nurture and affirm all the human beings in our society. To not do so is to conduct our common life in the manner of a transactional estate agent – such an approach might be Conservative, but it is a long way from being conservative. It doesn’t simply fail, it deserves to fail.

A few thoughts about Game of Thrones

Lots of spoilers after the picture – be warned!

jon snow

So I’ve been thinking about Game of Thrones, most especially the differences between the books and the TV show, but also what might come along in the future.

It’s very rare for me to think of a TV or film being better than the books, but this may be one of those occasions – I won’t have a final view until both forms are finished. I think that the TV show is definitely benefiting from a forced economy of story line, which keeps things ticking over. Yet there are some elements where, despite the verbiage and distraction, Martin has got some wonderful things that the TV show either cannot or has not shared.

I miss Lady Stoneheart. I am looking forward to the resolution of her plot in the books.

I miss the emphasis on warging by the Stark children, most especially with Jon.

I miss the detailed POV account of Arya in the house of black and white, although here I think the show is doing reasonably well.

I miss Jaime in the Riverlands, and the way in which that aspect of the plot is working out (and the different way in which the Dorne plot has been taken through). I have a very romantic desire to see Jaime and Brienne end up together – alive and married and having children!

I don’t particularly like the different path show-Sansa has taken compared to book-Sansa.

I don’t miss the ‘young Griff’ stuff. I’m not sure anybody does.

I love the show though…

Yet what next? I keep thinking about Jon Snow, and what has happened to him, and whether and how he might come back in the next book/next season. For Jon to be dead – as in, definitely, finally, no coming back in any form dead – would mean that GRRM is a bad creator, and I do not think that he is that.

Quite how this is done I find a fascinating conjecture. Personally I don’t think that it can happen until the wall has fallen down – and I wonder whether the betrayal of Jon and the associated betrayal of the vows by the Night’s Watch – is what ‘undoes’ the magic of the wall and leads to the southern Ingress of the Others (love what the TV show has done on them). I don’t recall the horn of Joramun being mentioned on the show, but I could be wrong on that. Oh yes, another bit I enjoyed in the books – the sailors from the Iron Islands heading for Meereen.

Hmm. Yes. The show is brilliant – but actually, there is a lot in the books that hasn’t been incorporated, and it isn’t all lists of food eaten or long boring journeys along a river….

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

At the end of half-term week I went with my wife to the West End to catch The Master on the day of release (and in 70mm). Why go to such length? For the simple reason that Paul Thomas Anderson directed my favourite movie, and I really rate him as a director. So how does the new film rate?

Well, having avoided reviews and analysis before watching the film, I’ve been catching up on them in full over the last two weeks. Many are good, and pick out the most obvious elements, most importantly the phenomenal acting performances of the leads and the way in which the film is remarkably ‘static’. There is very little in the way of a conventional story arc – although there definitely IS one – and the film is best understood as being akin to a portrait of a relationship, rather than the story of a relationship.

However, there is one key element that I took away from the film which I have not yet seen in any other review, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one who has seen it – and that is to do with the Rorschach test. Anderson himself designed the publicity posters – example above – and I believe that this is a significant key for understanding the nature of the film. That is, I believe that the film itself is designed as a form of Rorschach test.

Mild spoilers follow.

It struck me towards the end of the film that it is structured symmetrically – that is, there are events in the second half of the film which mimic or reproduce events in the first half. Key ones are the shot of the foam trail behind a boat; the scenes on the beach with the ‘sand woman’; but also more particularly a correspondence between the scene of Freddie running across a field and the scene of Freddie riding the motorbike. There are others, but those were the ones that most struck me. So if my hypothesis is correct – in other words that Anderson has constructed a Rorschach test which invites us to bring our own meanings to the film, through which we discover things about ourselves – where does the ‘fold’ come? I haven’t analysed the timings in detail, so this could be wrong, but as soon as I asked the question I thought “it’s the jig scene”, which itself falls naturally into two halves, and which is ripe for an interpretation which links in with Freddie’s own response to a Rorschach test (first half) and also what happens at a bar towards the end of the film (a corresponding second half). Anderson is asking us ‘what do you see?’ – and suggesting, I believe, that we bring our own meanings.

Which does, of course, link strongly with the whole theme of ‘The Master’ and the establishment of a new religious cult, and whether the Master is a charlatan or a genuine guru – but those aspects have been well discussed elsewhere, so I won’t explore them further here.

In sum: a very, very fine film, 5/5 – still not an improvement on Magnolia, but I’m not sure anything ever will be, for me.

Film notes

This covers two months

Prince Of Persia – 3/5 Fun
The Sorceror’s Apprentice – 3/5 Better than expected
Aliens in the Attic 3/5
The King’s Speech – 5/5 A better balanced and more thoroughly excellent film than I thought it might be; a little bit more than oscar-bait
The Time Traveller’s Wife – 3/5 – now I know where Russell Davies got his ideas from
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 5/5 – wonderful and memorable. I liked it so much that I bought (and read) the trilogy it was based on. The next two are on order from LoveFilm.
Machete – 3/5 Silly
Race to Witch Mountain 3/5
Tamara Drewe 3/5 I want to give it more as there were some lovely moments but…
The Green Hornet 4/5 Did it for me
Monsters 5/5 One of the best sf/horror type films I’ve ever seen. Not perfect but a stunning achievement for $15k. We are the monsters – not an original idea but incredibly well executed. The only flaw was the occasional longueur, but I’m sure it will be one of my films of the year.
X-Men: First Class 4/5 Good, solid Marvel. Interplay between Eric and Charles gives it the extra point.
The Green Lantern 3/5 Competent, but it was DC…

Film Notes

Significantly fewer films this last month – partly due to general busyness, aka Easter, partly because I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Origins, which is remarkable (and thanks to blog-reader The Observer for recommending it, if memory serves me right) – it is due a long post of its own, once I have properly grokked it.

Silent Hill 3/5 had its moments
Secretariat 3/5 good family stuff
Piranha 2/5 Oh Elizabeth Shue, what has become of you?
Port of Call: New Orleans 3/5 I might have missed the point of this one
The Sorceror’s Apprentice 4/5 above average
Source Code 4/5 very interesting sf
Thor 4/5 right up my street 🙂

Film Notes

The Disappearance of Alice Creed 5/5 marvellous demonstration of what can be achieved on a small budget, very clever
Cop Out – 3/5 Bruce Willis was miscast
The Blind Side – 5/5 very good
The Other Guys – 3/5 meh
Easy A – 5/5 very well written, and as I’m a massive John Hughes fan, I loved the references…
Four Lions – 4/5 agreed with what + Alan said (and I keep thinking I’ve reviewed some of these already)
Daybreakers 4/5 above average
Planet 51 – 3/5 OK
Date Night – 4/5 funny
Stranger than Fiction – 5/5 had me thinking for ages about the character of God
All the boys love Mandy Lane – 3/5 meh
The Expendables – 4/5 looking forward to the sequel
How to train your dragon – 4/5 good fun
Nine Songs – 4/5 a worthy attempt
You only live twice – 4/5 I’m going through the old Bonds in order with my boys, oh what joy 🙂

Inception, and other film notes

Watched Inception again last night, and enjoyed it, but… here are some good articles about it:
17 criticisms of Inception
A Q&A with Nolan
A comparison with Tarkovsky’s Solaris

This month I’ve also watched:
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back – just because I could 🙂
Alpha Dog – a banal film about the banality of evil, 3/5
The Illusionist – well put together 3/5
Laurel Canyon – a little bit of ‘so what?’ 3/5
The Way of the Dragon – more Bruce Lee nostalgia 3/5
Hot-tub Time Machine – funny 4/5
Primer – too intellectual for my tastes 3/5
Dog Soldiers – Brilliant! 5/5
The Killer Inside Me – misogynistic twaddle 3/5
True Grit (original) – John Wayne nostalgia! 4/5
From Paris with Love – excellent chemistry between two leads; plot was meretricious twaddle 3/5
Jonah Hex – garbage 2.5/5
The Switch – amusing, twee, could have been a much more adventurous and spiky film 3/5
No Impact Man – see this which prompted me to watch it 3/5 (as a film)
The Ghost – very good, although, having read the book, I knew what was coming 4/5

Black Swan, and other film notes

Black Swan 5/5 Superb – and there’s enough being said about it already, so I won’t add much. It was very much my sort of film.
Please Give 4.5/5 Oestrogen-heavy, absorbing, perceptive, humane.
Jennifer’s Body 4/5 Brilliant script
The A Team 5/5 if only all action comedies were this delightful – ‘they’re flying the tank!’
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief 3/5 (barely) some good moments but a travesty of the book
Napoleon Dynamite 2/5 The PS3 has this excellent ‘watch at 1.5 speed’ button, keeping the sound, which I made extensive use of. The dance sequence was a good moment, but I found it too misanthropic on the whole.
Point Break (rewatch) 3.5/5 Bodhi!
The Joneses 4/5 witty critique of materialism
Painted Veil 4.9/5 a really wonderful film, beautifully shot and well acted, that falls short of 5/5 because I would quibble with the ending. Highly recommended though.

Film notes

Megamind 3/5 Quite fun
Clash of the Titans (remake) 3/5 OK
The Red Riding Trilogy 5/5 Stunning. Re-read ‘From Hell’ at the same time as watching through these – my head has been in a very dark place!
Gone Baby Gone 5/5 One of the best crime dramas I have ever seen, principally because of the exploration of moral character. Well done Ben Affleck.
Ghostbusters 3/5 – mainly watched again to entertain the kids (successfully)
Inkheart – 3/5 hmmmm
Collapse – 4/5 much better than expected, especially as a film