Music For The Day

A Christmas Carol

Christmas carol “In The Bleak Midwinter“, written by Christina Rossetti, in the Harold Darke arrangement performed here by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

This arrangement of this carol was always my late grandfather’s favourite, and one of mine, too. To hear it performed this afternoon by a choir at the Ritz Hotel while enjoying Christmas Afternoon Tea (marking the end of an indulgent weekend stay, but one which I consider fully justified in celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary) was quite special.

And now, back to work…

 

harold-darke-in-the-bleak-midwinter

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You Wouldn’t Buy A Song Praising HMRC, So Stop Worshipping The NHS

NHS Choir - Harriet Nerva

Buying and praising the NHS Choir’s Christmas single is not “harmless fun”. In fact, anyone who truly believes in improving healthcare should see through this complacent, self-congratulatory piece of propaganda

It’s amazing how easy it is to be published in the Guardian, just so long as you hold the “correct” right-on, trendily left wing views, and have distinguished yourself with some suitably ostentatious act of public virtue-signalling.

Enter Harriet Nerva, junior doctor and newly ordained High Priestess of the NHS. Nerva is one of the principal architects of that sappy piece of virtue-signalling NHS propaganda inflicted on the (sadly often-willing) British populace this winter – the “Bridge Over You” single which predictably made it to Christmas No. 1 in the charts.

I explained at the time why singing hymns to a powerful government monopoly was neither a morally virtuous nor a productive thing to do, and was met with a predictable chorus of criticism and accusations of being a Christmas Grinch. But the argument against this latest piece of NHS-worship needs to be restated and expanded, particularly in light of the failure of other commentators to utter a critical word, and also because of the nauseating victory lap currently being taken by the #NHS4XmasNo1 campaign chiefs.

In her self-aggrandising victory speech, published in the Guardian, Nerva begins by declaring:

As a junior doctor, I started a campaign that united the public, staff and patients in its demand for a free and properly funded healthcare service for all.

Already it starts to become clear that this is all about the Harriet Nerva Show first and foremost, long before any other consideration. The article continues:

Since becoming a junior doctor 18 months ago, I have felt immensely proud to work for the NHS. In particular, I’ve been humbled by how well we cared for one patient in their dying days, and felt privileged to have forged a relationship with this person in the last few weeks of their life.

Again, this is boastful and irrelevant. Nerva isn’t “humbled” by anything, she is proud of her accomplishment – and that’s fine, but not when it is wrapped in the pretence of promoting the NHS, or when the fact that she gave good care to a dying patient is misused as an argument for persevering with one very specific model of healthcare delivery.

Nerva concludes by inadvertently calling the song what it really is – a religious hymn:

This campaign has made it clear that the public, staff and patients are singing from the same hymn sheet. We are united in the belief that we should have a free and properly funded healthcare service available to all in our society, one that values and respects its staff and users. The choir have sung, the public have spoken, and now it’s time to listen.

Meanwhile, the Mirror reports approvingly:

Harriet told Mirror Online: “I didn’t have any links with the choir but what they have produced is a fantastic celebration of the NHS”.

“Seeing the video moved me to tears. The context of it is very powerful. I qualified 15 months ago and I love the NHS, I’m very proud of it. And I feel getting it to Number One would bring to the public’s eye the fantastic service it provides in very challenging times”.

But this reasoning is nonsense. Everyone in Britain already knows about the excellent and important work done by doctors and nurses, and the vast majority support the NHS. It’s hardly as though there is some massive popular revolt against our system of nationalised healthcare.

Most people seem content with our current system when they bother to think about it at all, and (left-wing scaremongering aside) no major politician from any party has serious plans to dismantle what currently exists, let alone end the principle of healthcare free at the point of use.

So, since there is no imminent threat to the NHS (it survived eighteen years of Tory government before 1997, and will do so again), what is this really all about? What really motivated a junior doctor to make us endure this turgid hymn to the NHS?

NHS Choir - Christmas Single - 3

By prancing around with her Twitter hashtags and handwritten signs, Harriet Nerva isn’t just saying that she shares our presumed love for the NHS or has a strong devotion to providing healthcare. What she is really saying is that she is a better person than you, because she A) works for the NHS, and B) organised a huge act of public NHS-worship.

“Think you’re a good person just because you like the NHS?”, Nerva is saying. “Well I’m ten times better than you, because I got the British people to collectively sing a hymn to the NHS on Christmas Day. I love the NHS so much that I made this extraordinarily extravagant public gesture. What did you do?”

And of course short of sacrificing ourselves on a huge pyre as a burnt offering to the NHS, there is nothing that we can do to better her accomplishment. Harriet Nerva wins.

But this is noisy, shallow virtue-signalling, and nothing more. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh or seems unpleasant to rain all over what first looks like a harmless act of charity, but the NHS Choir’s Christmas single is so much more than that. And so much worse. It is yet another part of the vast tapestry of reflexive NHS worship which smothers Britain, and prevents us from looking critically and dispassionately at one of the most important issues in our society.

And we need to wake up, stop patting ourselves on the back for the accomplishments of previous generations, and recognise that singing hymns to an outdated healthcare delivery model from the 1940s is going to do nothing – nada, zilch – to ensure that Britons enjoy the best healthcare in the world in this century.

NHS Worship - London Olympic Games 1

It is therefore heartening to see a few other brave souls also now daring to stick their heads above the parapet and call the NHS Christmas single what it is – emotionally manipulative propaganda.

My Conservatives for Liberty colleague and Creative Director, Paul Nizinskyj, also picks up on the pseudo-religious undertones beneath this latest act of NHS-worship:

This was encouraged by a message on the music video, which urged people to “Show how much you #LoveYourNHS” by buying the single. Well, this is a concept I struggle with, because I have no love for a catastrophically flawed system of healthcare which seriously fails its patients, despite the best efforts of its frontline staff.

But that distinction – between the structure of the NHS and the people who work for it – is one we seem to struggle with in this country. So, instead of a conversation about why the NHS continues to fail the people who pay for it, we again exalted it as an infallible deity, this time in a kind of Christmas Day papal coronation.

One of the Left’s greatest successes has been to conflate “Our NHS” with “healthcare” in the minds of the British people, so that the two concepts effectively merge to become one and the same. This was a war of words, and the Left won a total victory – now, even those people who are naturally sceptical of government monopolies often speak of the two terms interchangeably, and carve out an illogical exception for the NHS when they extol the virtues of competition and privatisation.

But as Nizinskyj points out:

I’m certain dedicated health professionals would be dedicated and professional under whichever system of healthcare they were working, but the results of that hard work often depend on whether the system is working with them or against them. And, when it comes to the NHS, I’m afraid it’s working against them.

This is the point which continually eludes the NHS priests and their congregation of grateful but uncritical Britons. Yes, of course the doctors and nurses who saved your life / delivered your baby / cared for your dying relative did an amazing job. But that is a reflection on them, not on the system in which they operate.

Lives are saved, babies are delivered and dying relatives cared for in healthcare systems all over the world. Many of these other healthcare systems do the job very well, if not better, than the NHS. Many of these other healthcare systems are also free at the point of use. Very few of them are like the American system, which is always cynically held up as a bogeyman to scare British voters and shut down debate. And yet mysteriously, none of these other healthcare systems copy the NHS model.

Think about that for a moment. Every day, people are treated with love and dedication in hospitals and healthcare systems around the world, and in many cases receive comparable or better care without being stuck with a bill that they can’t afford. Yes, poor people actually receive medical care in other countries, not just Britain. And yet we are not able to even look at these other systems or ask ourselves the question whether the decision we made as a country in 1948 is still the best choice in 2016.

Why are we not able to do this? Why can we not look at best practice from around the world and strive to emulate and build on these ideas so that we have the very best healthcare in the world, rather than being satisfied with an ebbing and subsiding parity? Because of people like Harriet Nerva, and the closed-minded viewpoint of legions of others like her.

NHS Choir - Harriet Nerva - 2

There are two forces are at work here. First, there is the British public’s irrational, unshakeable devotion to “Our NHS”, about which a bad word can never be spoken. Sure, you can criticise waiting lists, falling standards or the inevitable winter crises, but politicians question the wisdom of sticking with the NHS model itself at great peril – and so none do.

And secondly, there is the growing phenomenon of online virtue-signalling, fuelled by social media, in which your political stances are worn and discarded like this year’s latest fashion, and where your stance on key social issues is taken to determine whether you are a “good” or “bad” person. Thus thousands of Twitter bios proudly proclaim that the account owner is a “lefty” or that “I voted for Corbyn”, while people looking for love (or something else) on dating sites like Tinder will often have “don’t bother if you are a Tory”, or other dismissive words to that effect, emblazoned on their profiles.

Take the British public’s “pre-existing condition” of an uncritically sentimental attachment to the NHS and add the social cachet and sense of identity which now comes from blaring one’s political views online and wearing political stances like a fashion statement, and this is what you get: people taking selfies of themselves holding up devotional banners praising the NHS, and even more people singing hymns in honour of Saint Aneurin Bevan’s sacramental gift to our nation.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to get swept up in the NHS love-fest. You are guaranteed to get smiles from strangers and likes on social media with every unthinking post and re-tweet of a “Love Your NHS” meme. You will suffer no negative consequences at all for declaring your blind loyalty to this one particular branch of government, and in fact will be praised for doing so. Just by clicking a few buttons and sharing a couple of posts on social media, 90% of the population will think you are magnificent.

But it is not magnificent. It’s self-aggrandising, counterproductive and wrong. It actively detracts from efforts to improve healthcare for Britons, and it stifles and prejudices a much needed public debate before it can even take place.

I’m sorry to be Scrooge this winter, but there’s no other way of saying this: if you bought the NHS Christmas single, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

Christmas number 1 race

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Music For Christmas Day

 

Some neglected Tchaikovsky music for Christmas Day

Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no. 3 – Denis Matsuev / Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Orchestra

I was fortunate this winter to see the Royal Ballet’s excellent production of The Nutcracker with my wife, just prior to leaving Britain to spend Christmas in Texas.

For many people, of course, The Nutcracker is the quintessential Christmas music. But I have long felt that Tchaikovsky’s unfairly neglected third piano concerto has an equally festive and magical quality, one which also happens to work better as a standalone piece.

The third piano concerto was left unfinished, with only the first movement completed at the time of Tchaikovsky’s death. However, second and third movements do exist in the form of separate piano outlines which were fleshed out and orchestrated by Sergei Tanayev.

Few recordings exist of the piece in its entirety, but there is an excellent Naxos recording as well as several on YouTube.

The festive atmosphere of the first movement and its hushed bassoon opening contrasts well with the beautiful second movement, which always puts me in mind of a snowy town or village on Christmas night.

When and wherever you happen to be celebrating the holidays this year, I wish you, your friends and family a very Merry Christmas.

Christmas Wreath 2

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Gay or Straight, The Robert Dyas Christmas TV Ad Is Cheap and Cynical


Don’t praise Robert Dyas for their awkward, virtue-signalling Christmas television commercial. Condemn them for exploiting the hard-won civil rights accomplishments of others for monetary gain

If any further proof was needed that tolerance and equal rights have morphed from being simply the right thing to do into just another opportunity for ostentatious virtue-signalling, you need look no further than the bizarre Christmas television commercial recently released by Robert Dyas.

In the ridiculous TV advert – a parody of a 2009 satirical video by Rhett and Link – various Robert Dyas staff members are shown confessing their sexuality before going on to plug completely unrelated products stocked by the retailer.

(The original video showed black and white employees explaining how the products in their furniture shop were suitable for both black and white customers).

From the Telegraph:

The minute-long film, described as “the weirdest Christmas advert ever”, shows men and women declaring whether they are straight, gay or bisexual while describing unrelated products in the store.

In the clip filmed in one of the chain’s branches, a member of staff introduced himself by saying: “Hi, my name’s Marcus, I work at Robert Dyas, and I’m gay.”

Before showing off a large inflatable yellow Minion toy, he adds: “I like going out with my friends and playing volleyball. I also like showing our gay and straight customers a funky range of our Christmas gifts.

[..] The confusing advert then comes to a close with a shot of staff members and customers standing at the shop’s counter, and announcing in unison: “Robert Dyas – where gays and straights can buy drills and much, much more”.

Like all clever television adverts, this was clearly designed to be controversial and to generate discussion which would expand Robert Dyas’ marketing reach well beyond the number of people who will ever see the commercial on television. And as with the creepy John Lewis “Moon Hitler” commercial, also released this year, much of the weirdness is intended to get people talking – so mission accomplished.

But in this case it is worth taking the bait, because the message of the Robert Dyas commercial is symptomatic of a wider trend sweeping Anglo-American society, whereby it is no longer enough to quietly practice the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination in one’s own life, but rather we are continually encouraged to make ostentatious public displays of conformity with the new enlightened PC dogma.

Of course people of any sexual orientation should be treated with respect and dignity at all times, including people either working for or shopping at large chain retailers. But since when did it become the job of hardware shops to start preaching about social issues? How does the spectacle of individual staff members inexplicably revealing their sexuality help to advance equal rights? And what of those customers of traditional (or bigoted, depending on your view) beliefs, who do not agree with the message? Are they worthy of no respect, or magnanimity in the face of now-inevitable ideological defeat?

The Robert Dyas affair is not dissimilar to a similar action taken by Starbucks in the United States following the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Following that tragic death, Starbucks became possessed by the idea that they were going to make a meaningful contribution to race relations in America, and encouraged their baristas to “start a conversation about race” with customers while serving them in store.

In other words, Starbucks decided that it was no longer enough for private citizens to be non-racist themselves, and engage in whatever activism or campaigning on the issue that their hearts dictated in their roles as private citizens. Now, Starbucks – that beacon of moral enlightenment – would “help them along” by prompting them with guilt-tripping conversation openers about white privilege.

Quite how initiating a serious conversation about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” with a bleary-eyed morning commuter might meaningfully help the country was never fully explained. And no sooner was the proposal announced in a blaze of sanctimonious publicity than it was then quietly dropped in the face of public scepticism and mockery.

The Robert Dyas affair is much the same – an ostentatious display of “right on” progressivism from a corporate retailer, who rather than being lauded for their enlightened position on civil rights should be condemned for co-opting the still serious issue of discrimination against gay people and exploiting it in service of their viral Christmas marketing campaign.

Of course Robert Dyas has the right to say anything they like in their television commercials – that much is an issue of free speech which should be protected and defended at all times. But not every PC pronouncement is made for the “right” reasons, and we should be smart enough to see through the virtue signalling of the social justice warriors and the cynicism of the business interests, which are more about self aggrandisement or monetary gain than advancing important social issues.

Real social change – positive or negative – comes from the ballot box, the picket line, the popular culture, the academy and the hearts and minds of private citizens.

Real social change does not come from the marketing department of Robert Dyas or their advertising agency – though thanks to their cynical marketing they do stand to reap financial rewards from the hard-won accomplishments of others.

UPDATE – 14 December: As the sharp-eyed commentator below points out, the Robert Dyas video is a parody of a 2009 satirical internet commercial by Rhett and Link, which is very similar – except that gay and straight are replaced by black and white. Top of the piece is now updated to make this clear, though I don’t think this necessarily changes the validity of my argument. Robert Dyas still chose to make and release the parody, and their motivations were still likely to be as described, half viral quirkiness and half virtue signalling – only now we can add unoriginality to the list of faults.

Robert Dyas have yet to comment on the video.

Robert Dyas - Christmas TV Advert - Gay

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Coca-Cola: Where The War On Christmas Meets The War On Sugar

Coca Cola Christmas Truck - 2

The solution to the obesity crisis lies with adults and parents, not the nanny state

What happens when the War on Christmas meets the War on Sugar?

We are about to find out. On 17 December, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck (from the famous television commercials) will roll into Leicester on the final stop of its UK tour, bringing holiday refreshment to boys and girls in the Midlands. A lovely festive occasion, you might think.

Wrong. According to the League of Virtue-Signalling Health Nuts*, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck is a menace, bringing nothing but dental cavities and Type II diabetes to the hapless people of Leicester – innocent and impressionable souls who have no option but to ceaselessly guzzle from any can of carbonated toxicity placed within arm’s reach. Yes, Evil Santa is on his way to waterboard your kids with unwanted soda.

Leading the moralising charge against Coca-Cola is Keith Vaz, who thinks that sugary drinks belong in a locked cupboard under the sink, next to household bleach and drain cleaner. From the BBC:

Keith Vaz insists he does not want to be a “killjoy”, but said the truck would send the wrong message in a city where Type 2 diabetes is rising and a third of children have tooth decay.

He predicts people will protest if the truck does come to the city.

[..] “I know people like special things happening at Christmas, but Coca-Cola are coming to promote their product and in each can of Coke there are seven teaspoons of sugar,” he said.

Meet sugar, the new asbestos.

Of course Keith Vaz has form when it comes to demonising Coca-Cola. The MP for Leicester East also protested loudly against the company’s sponsorship of the London Eye, on the basis that the presence of a red-hued circle on the London skyline would instantly hypnotise Londoners into a soda-consuming trance. Really, it’s beyond parody.

This is just the latest in a long line of attempts to get the already over-active British nanny state to regulate such things as how much sugar we consume, how and where we enjoy tobacco, when we are allowed to gamble and even when we can shop.

Just last month, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gave evidence to a parliamentary health committee and called for a “sugar tax” to stop all of us uneducated plebs from getting too carried away with the Mars bars and sugary beverages (Oliver himself only uses Moral Sugar in his recipes and chain restaurants, naturally).

But an ostentatious concern for public health is only part of the story. Leicester also hosts one of Europe’s latest Diwali celebrations, where it is traditional to hand out – you guessed it – Indian sweets. Unsurprisingly, nobody is seeking to cancel Diwali or launching a public campaign aimed at Hindus, encouraging them to swap the gulab jamun for carrot sticks – because Diwali is not a global corporation, and many of the sweets are home made.

No, the protests against the Coca-Cola Christmas truck are sadly just another case of left-wing virtue-signalling. Keith Vaz and most of the protesters know deep down that the only way to tackle the obesity crisis is for adults and parents to exercise greater responsibility over what they feed themselves and their children, sometimes facilitated by better and more accessible education. But that’s just too dull, so instead they have to invent the menace of the Great American Corporate Bogeyman coming to give our children diabetes as yet another excuse to suck the joy out of life.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass or two of Coca-Cola, especially at Christmas. What’s really dangerous is treating grown adults and teenagers like mindless lemmings liable to developing a soda addiction at the mere sight of a big red truck. But because people like Keith Vaz derive their power and authority from presuming to tell us how to behave, we can only expect more such finger-wagging, faux-outraged protests in the future.

Maybe better to send the Coca-Cola Christmas Armoured Personnel Carrier to Leicester in place of the truck this year, just in case things turn ugly.

* Not (yet) a real organisation.

Coca Cola Christmas Truck

First published at Conservatives for Liberty

Conservatives for Liberty are holding a lobby evening on Wednesday
25th November called Forgive us our Trespasses: The moral case for
choice and responsibility. This event gives you the opportunity to
hear from a number of MPs about why they believe in individual choice,
and to ask them any pressing questions you may have.

The evening will focus on freedom of choice and the belief that adults
should be free to weigh pleasure and risk and decide for themselves
when it comes to products such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, alcohol,
and fatty or sugary foods. You can read more about the evening here.

If you want to attend, you will need to RSVP by emailing
stephen@con4lib.com. This event will be held in parliament, and the
details of the Committee Room will be sent to people who sign up. We
have a limited capacity, so you are encouraged to RSVP soon.

In the spirit of freedom of choice, and in true Conservatives for
Liberty style, there will be drinks after the event in a nearby pub.

Further details and updates can be found on our Facebook event here.

Bottom Image: coca-cola.co.uk

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