Wednesday, 30 September 2015

‘Speeching', preaching and protection

Over the years I have listened to or read countless speeches--some good, many poor and others downright tedious.  I remember being told many years ago that the essence of a ‘good’ speech is that it should have a beginning—where you outline what you’re going to say—a middle—where you say it—and an ending—where you sum up what you say.  I was also told that a good speech should have a clear theme—or ‘narrative’ in today’s parlance—and should make no more than three points.  Another rule of speech-making that I am reminded of is that if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it…there’s no point in making a pointless speech.  And finally, length of time speaking is no guarantee of a good speech…Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was delivered in a few minutes and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of public oratory while the two hour oration by Edward Everett that preceded it is now largely forgotten. 
Yesterday's speech by Jeremy Corbyn was, if these suggestions are valid, was far from being a good speech.  It went on too long…55 minutes.  It had no clear theme apart from persistent calls for a ‘kinder’ new form of politics, whatever that means: ‘a different Britain, a better Britain, a more equal, more decent Britain’.  It lacked real substance…perhaps not surprising as he has only been leader for a few weeks.  As a result it was more a ramble through aspirations, past personal commitments and principles that spoke to his already committed audience in the conference hall but had precious little to say to convince those outside the hall who he needs to convince that Labour really does have an alternative political strategy.  Unsurprisingly, it went down well with his supporters and has been roundly criticised by commentators and the press.  For me, it was a bit like a really nice uncle sitting me down and giving me a talk about what politics should be about. But perhaps that’s the whole point of the Corbyn discussion.
You may find many of the things Jeremy is saying appealing.  As an email I received from him this morning said: ‘are [you] fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty – and if you are too, I say this: join us. Join us and help strengthen this movement. Join us, and help us beat the Tories in 2020.’  It’s difficult to disagree with this unless you think that inequality, injustice and poverty are a necessary part of our modern society.  It’s a bit like saying ‘let those of you without sin throw the first stone’ and there’s no doubting the sincerity or, as the media would have it, ‘authenticity’ of his message.  By allowing a free vote on further intervention in Syria, something that appears now to be ‘policy’, he is acting on his long-held principle of reasoned opposition or, if you’re a cynic, recognising that Labour MPs would defy a party whip on the issue.  But, I think that today he has made a major tactical blunder.  Although it will appeal to his supporters and is perfectly in line with his own opinion that Trident should not be replaced, ruling out that he would not use Britain’s nuclear weapons if he was Prime Minister lays him open to the charge that a Corbyn government would be a threat to Britain’s national security.  This is something on which he now has no room for equivocation and will lay him open from now until 2020 to the charge that he is prepared to leave the country’s defences seriously weakened.  Speaking for himself is one thing but speaking for the nation is something different and Jeremy has yet to make that transition.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Tension in 1853

There had been some opposition in the Ballarat goldfield to the introduction of the license fees in September 1851 but this had passed without incident. In 1853, Dr Alfred Yates Carr, who had only recently arrived in the colony and Henry Silvester managed to form the Ballarat Gold Diggers’ Association. [1] The radicalism of the ‘Red Ribbon’ movement in Bendigo in 1853 does not appear to have found favourable roots in Ballarat. In early September, ‘Captain’ Edward Brown of the Bendigo anti-license committee visited Ballarat but his speeches were inflammatory in tone and made little impact on local diggers.[2] Even so two subsequent meetings of the Gold Diggers Association were sufficiently fractious that Carr and Brown were reported to have planned a duel.

The constitutionalist approach of the Ballarat Association in the second half of 1853 may have been less confrontational than the more radical campaign in Bendigo but this did not mean that Ballarat diggers were any less angered by the license fee and the coercive attitudes of the authorities. Following the resolution at the meeting on 29 August, on 6 September, Silvester sent the Legislative Council a petition signed by Ballarat diggers who were ‘alarmed’ by maladministration in the goldfields, looked with ‘abhorrence’ at the Commissioners’ conduct in chaining men to logs for not paying their license fees and commented that the monthly fee was unjust, unconstitutional and unaffordable. The Argus questioned how far the deputations from Bendigo and Ballarat represented majority opinion among the diggers while apportioning blame for the current situation firmly with the government:

A strong opinion is gaining ground that the cry of the day--the reduction of the license—is merely used as a blind by certain designing men, to lead the more ignorant and weakminded of the digging population, and the riff-raff of the gold-fields into acts of open hostility; by which they may either gain a short-lived distinction and power or a goodly share of plunder. [3]

Silvester also requested that a deputation should be heard at the bar of the House in support of the petition. In mid-September, he and Carr gave evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Goldfields dwelling on the injustices that stemmed from the license fee with Carr pointing to increasing opposition to the fee and the semi-military manner in which it was enforced. Silvester maintained there were some in Ballarat who anticipated the establishment of a republic in Victoria and Carr later concluded that dissatisfaction in 1853 was greater than in the weeks leading up to Eureka a year later. On 26 October, Silvester wrote to John Foster, the Colonial Secretary seeking the introduction of a bill to enfranchise diggers. Almost a month later on 21 November, he expressed his concern to Foster at the failure of the government to carry out its promises to the Diggers’ Association concerning the police in Ballarat. Eight days later, a petition from the Association was forwarded to Foster that opposed proposed legislation for managing the goldfields but added that the Ballarat miners had no sympathy with the ‘lawless and unjustifiable proceedings…at Bendigo’. Although the Ballarat diggers were unsympathetic to the nature of the protests in Bendigo, meetings on 19, 21 and 26 November and 17 December all expressed widespread support for immediately enfranchising the mining population. [4]

Radical activity died down in the early months of 1854 as population moved to other goldfields and in June 1854, Robert Rede the new Resident Gold Commissioner commented that the diggers had become more orderly and when police were sent into the Eureka only two unlicensed miners were arrested. [5] Government administration at Ballarat, as elsewhere, had been a source of growing complaint since 1851 but since 1853, resistance had steadily increased. The most visible form of official corruption related to the sale of alcohol and sly grogging was endemic on the goldfield. Police were bribed for the right to erect hotels or obtain liquor licenses. Charles Evans commented on one incident of oppressive goldfield management:

…A number of men who had marked out claims on a cart track were compelled by the Commissioner under a penalty of two pounds to mark out a new road today – It is certainly necessary to preserve a sufficient number of roads on the diggings, but in this case the measures taken were somewhat arbitrary for what the Commissioner was pleased to designate a road was nothing more than a few wheel marks on the sod. [6]

Relations between diggers and administrators on other goldfields had rarely been cordial but they reached their nadir at Ballarat in late 1854.

[1] See, Argus, 4, 25, 29 November 1853. Corfield, Justin, Wickham, Dorothy, and Gervasoni, Clare, The Eureka Encyclopaedia, (Ballarat Heritage Services), 2004, pp. 103-104, 472, contain brief biographical material.

[2] Argus, 2 September 1853, p. 4. Brown’s approach reflected his later trial on charges of intimidation and extortion: Argus, 8 September 1853.

[3] ‘Geelong’, Argus, 6 September 1853, p. 4.

[4] See, Argus, 22, 25, 29 November, 20 December 1853.

[5] Bate, Weston, ‘Robert William Rede (1815-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 6, p. 12.

[6] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans, Diary, 30 May 1854, p. 89.