Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Texas

It is currently 29 degrees Celcius (84 Fahrenheit) on Christmas Eve in McAllen, Texas, and I am starting to regret not packing more shorts and t-shirts, as well as failing to remember to pack my sunglasses for the fifth consecutive year.

Christmas in the Rio Grande Valley is very different to the Christmases I knew growing up on the Hertfordshire-Essex border in southeast England, but it comes with its own unique and wonderful traditions – waiting in line with half the town to collect a delicious order of tamales from Delia’s, taking in a movie on the afternoon of Christmas Day, driving around to look at the most opulently decorated houses and streets, and of course attending bilingual English/Spanish Mass (complete with Mariachi music) at the local Catholic church or at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle.

And of course there are the many unifying factors too, common to Christmas in Britain and America – coming together as a family, sharing a Christmas meal (including a smoked turkey over here), opening presents, making the day extra special for the children.

While I enjoy celebrating with my wife’s family here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas I also think of my dear family back home in England, including those who are sadly no longer with us but who had such a formative influence on me – particularly my grandparents and an aunt who did so much to make each Christmas special.

And of course I think of all of you, my growing family of readers on this blog. We agree, we argue, we (mostly) remain civil while passionately arguing our cases, we educate one another – or at least, you all educate me. I have a long reading list of new books and academic papers suggested by many of you which I hope to read in 2017 and a forthcoming New Year’s Resolution to read as many of them as possible, and hopefully reflect back a fraction of this distilled wisdom in the future pages of this blog.

To all those who are celebrating this weekend, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

 

mcallen-christmas

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Quote For The Day

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“Be yourself. Do your work. And they will find you. And serving those readers is all the reward you need.”

– Andrew Sullivan, at the time of his recent retirement from blogging.

 

This blog will continue to provide rigorous, semi-partisan political commentary through the remainder of the 2015 British general election campaign and beyond.

(I will be live-blogging the election results on Thursday night, here).

This blog will never serve as cheerleader for any one political party, but will continue to proudly champion the interconnected causes of personal liberty, economic freedom and national sovereignty – and give credit where credit is due to any party or politician who is willing to pick up the tarnished torch of liberty in an increasingly hostile environment.

Many thanks to all those people who include Semi-Partisan Sam in their daily internet reading – both those who have recently discovered the blog and those few who have been reading since Day 1.

After Another Hard Year, We Need A British Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving soup kitchen SPS

The time has come to institute an annual British Thanksgiving holiday

Take a trip to your friendly local Asda superstore in the next day or so and you will be treated to back-to-back in-store announcements about their upcoming Black Friday sale. “Get ready for Black Friday!” chirps the voiceover, as a cheerful, disembodied man tempts you with sweet promises about this magical event of a retail experience. Yes, Black Friday is coming to Britain.

This is as strong a contender for Tasteless Corporate Act of the Year (Large Retailer category) as we are likely to witness this side of Christmas. Asda, owned by Wal-Mart, has successfully imported the grubby, commercially lucrative, post-coital rump of a cherished American national holiday – Thanksgiving – while neatly skipping over all the pesky fundamentals that give it meaning in the first place: you know, those interminably dull things such as love, family, gratitude and patriotism, tiresome distractions that will never generate a good Return On Investment.

Earlier this year, I took part in a TV debate on London Live, arguing that we should absolutely not make the festivals of Eid and Diwali UK public holidays, for fear of muddying the cloudy waters between religion and state yet further:

 

I was outnumbered, but I made the case as strongly as I could that what Britain desperately needs is a public holiday that can bring us all together as one people – not another cynical, politically correct nod to multiculturalism.

The possibilities for such a unifying British public holiday are endless – after all, what other country has as rich a history on which to draw when trying to choose a new national holiday? I suggested a few potential examples at the time of the debate, but my list is by no means exhaustive. Britain has achieved so many military, scientific, cultural and social victories that continue set us apart as a truly exceptional, indispensable nation, the only difficulty would be narrowing the crowded field to a single expression of who we are and what we have accomplished.

But this year, perhaps more than ever, we need a British Thanksgiving holiday. Despite Britain’s economic recovery, many of us continue to live in the long, cold shadow of the great recession, with squeezed, stagnant or non-existent wages spread too thinly to pay for the basics and comforts of life. As our mainstream political parties scrap over the elusive centre ground and ideologically merge with one another, the British people themselves are becoming increasingly polarised and less able to empathise with or respect those with differing political views. There is a steady trickle of young, disaffected British Muslims who feel so little allegiance to their mother country that they are stealing away to Syria to pose with guns, play soldier and fight for ISIS. And it was less than three months ago that our United Kingdom nearly tore itself apart for good, as Scotland came unnervingly close to voting to secede from the union.

Whatever the improving economic indicators say, all is not well in today’s Britain. Whether you are indignant about ongoing austerity or mad as hell about uncontrolled immigration and its effect on the labour market, chances are that you believe Britain is on the wrong path, and are probably also sceptical that things will significantly improve in the near future. Now, of course giving Britain’s hard workers another statutory day off every year won’t make all of these problems go away. But if we picked the right day, selected the right cause or event to commemorate our shared British civic heritage, it might just shore up the foundations a little bit and help us to ride out the storm together.

Americans continue to faithfully observe their national Thanksgiving holiday in good times and bad, showing the world that it doesn’t necessarily require a fat wallet to get together with loved ones and be grateful for what we have. But perhaps we British need an extra reminder of this fact – we tend to obsess a lot more than our American cousins about what we should be getting from the government, be it benefits or public services, and are consequently more likely to feel continually aggrieved and bitter at the inevitable shortfall. Maybe it would do us all good if we had imposed on us a day where we were strongly encouraged to think about our blessings, and the difference that we – not government – can make in the lives of our fellow citizens.

For the sceptics out there, there is ample precedent for starting a new holiday – Canada has also long observed a day of thanksgiving, though its present position in the calendar was not fixed until 1957. American expressions of thanksgiving were also sporadic and uncoordinated until President Abraham Lincoln fixed the date as the final Thursday in November, while the Civil War still raged. These timings proved wise – contemporary Thanksgiving in North America acts as a bulwark against the encroachment of Christmas, and stores only get into the swing of Christmas once the Black Friday sales are over, a state of affairs which would be very welcome here.

Wouldn’t a British Thanksgiving be the perfect antidote to the incessant commercialisation and forward creep of Christmas, the decorations raised in late September, supermarket mince pies that expire in November, discordant Christmas songs blasting out from every shopfront and the inevitable, vapid re-release of “Feed The World”?

After a long, hard recession, a bruising recovery and a year in which the idea of what it means to be British has become increasingly muddled and uncertain, let’s humble ourselves and dare to take a lesson from our former colony. Let us find inspiration in our storied history, our unsurpassably rich culture and also from within our own hearts. Let us find that elusive common thread of Britishness that should unite us all, transcending race and religion and politics, and cling to that thread in these difficult times.

And even though gratitude does not always come easily and the words may sometimes stick in our throats, let us remember to give thanks for one another, and for our United Kingdom, the guarantor and protector of all that we have.

 

Thanksgiving Proclamation - Abraham Lincoln

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Music For The Day

 

A Gaelic Blessing, by John Rutter.

In memory of my dear friend Andy Pook, who passed away on 2nd November 2014 and whose uplifting presence is so sorely missed, more than any words of mine can express.

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you

Andy Pook Samuel Hooper SPS

Historic Clapton Building Faces Demolition

Week 3 of the Big Issue Online Journalism Training course saw me hitting the streets of Clapton, getting vox pops from passers by, corresponding with a local vicar by email and interviewing a local borough councillor. As well as gathering information for local publication the Hackney Citizen, our efforts led to this news article which I wrote up today. Next week: features, and the type of more in-depth writing that is closer to my heart and hopefully particularly helpful for my future work. The training continues…

Picture: Ian Aitken: Bishops Wood Almhouses on Lower Clapton Road Picture: Ian Aitken: Bishops Wood Almhouses on Lower Clapton Road

A seventeenth century Clapton building is facing demolition after a charity put it up for sale, claiming that renovations would be too expensive.

The Grade II listed Bishops Wood almhouses, which have housed poor elderly people for more than three centuries, are being put up for sale by owners the Dr Spurstowe and Bishop Wood Almshouse Charity which plans to use the proceeds to build a larger facility on a new site in Hackney.

However, the sale has raised fears that a private developer will purchase the building and demolish it to make room for the creation of more profitable luxury flats. Demolition would also mean the loss of the chapel, which is part of the structure and reputedly the smallest in the country.

The charity says that while the sale is regrettable, refurbishment would cost as much as £750,000 for only…

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