Loki on Health

reproduced with acknowledgments to The Scorpion, where this prescient article appeared in 2006

One advantage of submitting one’s copy to the Scorpion at (or beyond!) the ragged edge of the Editor’s forbearance with deadlines is that it does enable a certain topicality. So that I can open my remarks on the threat to the health of humanity posed by our present socio-economic system with the Dead Swan of Fife.

This is not the title of a sombre tone poem by some Scottish Sibelius, nor a dolorous ballad from the repertoire of Anne Lorne Gillies or Andy Stewart, but a deceased, and indeed somewhat decomposed, specimen of Cygnus cygnus found on a beach in the former Scots Kingdom of Fife a few days ago as I write. Although actually a whooper, it ended up as a very mute swan nevertheless bearing tidings of doom and despondency to be trumpeted throughout the media even unto the very gates of DEFRA (the British bureaucrats responsible for those relicts of our countryside not yet built over by the myrmidons of the sinisterly-named Office of the Deputy Prime Minister).  

The Dead Swan owed its unhappy state to an avian influenza virus, H5N1, which, having despatched a few dozen hapless Vietnamese and Turks who had evidently become overt-intimately attached to its principal host, wildfowl and poultry,  had been borne on migrating wings ever closer to our sceptred isle. Amid mounting media hype, usually of the form – page 1: NO NEED TO PANIC AS DEADLY BIRD FLU GETS NEARER (see pages 2-9 for further sundry scare stories and panicky reportage of the issue). 

This is of course the latest of a steady series of similar pandemic scares in recent years, from SARS to AIDS. Your author still has a London Sunday Times magazine issued in 1986 purporting to contain reportage from the AIDS-ravaged Britain of the mid-1990’s: millions dead, not a family in the land untouched etc etc. Sadly for such Government-sponsored prognostications, AIDS stubbornly refused to behave in the predicted Politically-Correct equal opportunity manner. Retreating into a bigoted epidemiology characterised by racism, sexism and homophobia. Disproportionately afflicting Africans, male homosexuals and women, even sinking to prey on disadvantaged drug-injectors. Shocking! Still, what can one expect of a mere virus…?

All, thus far, have proved specious. After the headlines and the hype departed, humanity carried on much as usual. So, nothing to worry about then? 

Sadly, not quite. Indeed, not at all. Regardless of how often or how speciously the media little boy cries “wolf!” there really is a big, dangerous beast out there. One we are pretty certain, sooner or later, to unleash on ourselves with apocalyptic consequences retroactively justifying every lurid headline and purple passage. As with almost every pestilence and plague throughout history, it will be in a sense self-inflicted, the price of the way we live. But not, this time, the unavoidable price, if we are prepared to change the way we live just a little. If we don’t, we will collectively deserve all we shall, sooner or later, get. 

First, it’s time to get to know Pestilence, the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. His colleague Death is several hundred million years old, introduced to our ancestors when they ended the arithmetically confusing practice of multiplying by division (binary cell-splitting or metazoan vegetative budding) and subcontracted reproducing to a minority of germ cells, leaving the rest to perish in an ageing body. Famine is probably an even more venerable fellow, manifesting himself to the first primitive mote of life to run out of primordial soup. War in the sense of battles between rather than within social groups of the same species introduced himself to our apish ancestors some millions of years ago. Ants and termites made his acquaintance much earlier. But, although he has been about since the first phage viruses began to afflict bacteria possibly billions of years ago, and pressed his unwelcome attentions doubtless upon our ancestors for much of the time since, Pestilence pretty much left our own personal ancestors alone for the past few million years, until relatively very recently.

The reason is that our ancestors, from perhaps 2 million to around ten thousand years ago, followed a lifestyle Pestilence found decidedly unconducive to his activities.  We were not herd animals, on and amongst whom pestilential pathogens could themselves graze, assured of finding another host when they used up the current one, either by rendering it deceased or immune. Our hominid, and Palaeolithic human, ancestors were thinly spread across the land. Living in bands of at most 200 individuals, each defending a tribal hunting and gathering territory and meeting in larger numbers only infrequently. A situation not conducive to plagues. If disease did break out in one band, it might well infect all its members quite quickly. But such an infection would have run its course, killing or rendering immune and pathogen-free those infected, before they were likely to have met anyone else to infect. In fact, extreme isolation is not necessary – if conditions were such that each person whilst infectious on average infected less than one other, any disease would, sooner or later, die out even if it managed to spread amongst more than one band. 

As was doubtless the sad (if one can spend sympathy on bacteria and viruses) fate of whatever disease organisms managed from time to time to jump the triple barrier that guards one species from the diseases of another. A barrier comprised firstly of the need to physically get from one host of one species to one of another. Not easy in the millions of years when humans generally only got close to other animals immediately before and during killing, cooking and eating them (which incidentally is why you won’t get bird flu from eating cooked chicken!). Secondly the disease has to actually survive and reproduce in the new host, without being simply swatted by the immune system that stops us being eaten, for example, by our own gut bacteria and the countless others that land on and in us constantly. This is especially difficult for viruses – bacteria basically just divide and multiply given a suitable food source, and we are quite suitable to many. But viruses, thousands of times smaller than bacteria, have to hijack a host cell, subverting it into making copies of the virus, before they can breed. Subversion which is highly selective in terms of whose cells can hear, and whose are deaf, to its genetic siren song. So the new disease has actually to succeed in making us ill. Thirdly – and this is the Third Barrier the H5N1 viral Bane of the Dead Swan of Fife has yet to cross – it has to be able to spread from one human to another before the first human is dead or all the germs invading him and her have been slain by the body’s very effective defences.  Having got that far, almost all diseases to afflict our pre-agricultural ancestors simply died out after a brief local epidemic when they ran out of new hosts having the dual desiderata of being both still alive and not already immune.  

To survive as a disease of human or humanlike hunter-gatherers, a pathogen had to gang exceeding warily. Being quite infectious, but not virulent, nor provoking a strong immune response. Subtly lurking in its hosts for decades, and killing, even debilitating most of them slowly or not at all. 

The result is that, as genetic evidence has revealed, only one major affliction of historic humanity ever managed to inflict itself on us lastingly before we started writing our first histories. Tuberculosis. Human TB, alone of all ills to which mankind is heir, is most closely related to its counterpart in our nearest nonhuman relatives, chimpanzees. And its genetic clock shows human and chimp TB diverged when humans and chimps themselves did. It was a disease of our common ancestors, several million years ago. Its practice of lurking, latent, in infected victims for years, even decades, before becoming active and infectious when their immune systems weakens for any reason means it can become endemic even amongst hunter-gatherers. The same genetic clock, the accumulation of random mutations in non-critical genetic material ticking away in lineages of life after they have divided, that shows TB is the one major indigenous human disease shows that pretty much every other human disease is little if at all older than recorded human history. Many are much younger. 

The reason is that both epidemic disease and recording history sprang from the same source. The “Neolithic Revolution”, the adoption of agriculture, the replacement of hunter/gatherers over wider and wider areas by farmers, leading in turn to towns, cities, civilizations, literacy and recording history. .  Pestilence likes farmers. 

There are a lot more of them to prey on, for a start. Even Neolithic-level farming can support tens of times, up to a hundred times, more people per square mile/kilometre than hunting and gathering.  People living cheek-by-jowl in villages, and soon towns and cities, in herds hundreds and even thousands strong. Amongst whom even the most virulent plague can spread quickly enough to be likely to find a fresh host before the current one has died or defeated it. Whilst an endless supply of interesting new diseases is assured by people living in close association and proximity, over long periods, with other species whose herding or flocking behaviour long enabled endemic diseases to evolve for them. Early farmers shared their homes with pigs and cattle (often housed at the other end of their houses or in a ground-floor byre under the living floor) with ducks and chickens underfoot (much as in those areas of SE Asia in the news lately for deaths from SARS and avian flu, by no coincidence whatsoever).

The result was that disease after disease crossed the species barrier from domestic livestock to man. Smallpox was originally the cowpox of cattle. The same species’ rinderpest mutated into human measles. Jumping the species barrier a second time to become canine distemper. Pigs contributed whooping cough – again passed on in turn to poor old Fido, who has got the short end of the stick medically speaking from being Man’s Best Friend.  Falciparum malaria was originally a disease of birds. The human form evolved from that found in ducks and chickens. Different strains of influenza have repeatedly crossed the species barrier to man from their original hosts in pigs and ducks. Southern China and Vietnam, where both pigs and ducks are kept in intimate proximity with impoverished peasants in unhygienic huts, has for this reason repeatedly contributed flu pandemics to the sum of human happiness. To help them make this contribution to mankind, said peasants have cultivated a taste for delicacies made from uncooked duck blood and similar suitably infectious tit-bits.

Agriculture, and the urbanisation it enabled, also allowed species we didn’t intend to share our space with to make themselves at home amongst us anyway and share their exciting diseases. Bubonic plague, for example, was in origin a disease of rats.     

Throughout the last few thousand years, disease after disease has crossed the species barrier and sparked pandemic after pandemic. In each case, the story is the same. Animal diseases were repeatedly exposed to potential human hosts living in intimate and insanitary conditions with their original hosts. Given the very short generation times of germs – some bacteria go through one generation every nine minutes – they evolve rapidly. Mutant strains arise all the time. In situations of frequent opportunities to infect humans, any mutant able to take advantage would prosper. At first, again and again, they would find themselves trapped in a human host, able to multiply and exploit him or her, but with no way of spreading out of the body they were in should it die on them or become able to kill them off. The only escape was a lucky mutation that could escape into another human. With populations in each infected hosts in the high millions and generation times in minutes, such mutations were generally not long in coming. And another new plague was unleashed on humanity…

With, in general, initially devastating effects on populations with little or no natural immunity or resistance. Mortality rates frequently of 25-75% in the first epidemic. Effects mitigated over time in the interests of the disease rather than humanity. Because the disease organism’s best long-term interests lie in farming rather than exterminating its food supply – us! Killing the host before he has time to infect anyone else is clearly a bad career move, which has spared us so far from the likes of the Ebola virus which do this. But even slaughtering the human host herd to the extent that the population drops below the minimum necessary to maintain the disease as endemic amongst it is also inefficient. Although it’s also inefficient to fail to harvest the maximum sustainable yield of germs from the bipedal food supply. On the other side of the evolutionary battle, a virulent disease is actually breeding, and socially selecting, its hosts for resistance to it – it is only the survivors of its attacks, or those who avoided infection, who survive to carry on their kind and/or their healthier way of life. 

The result is that, over time, evolution causes a gradual reduction in the virulence of each disease. And a progress away from devastating but intermittent plagues thereof to a permanent low-level endemic presence. Rinderpest, for example, is widely thought to have crossed the species barrier to become human measles in the 2nd Century AD, causing the devastating plague that caused over 25% mortality in the Roman Empire in the late 160’s AD, in the process ending the relatively idyllic Antonine apogee of Rome. After which it became endemic, with new mutations able to overcome immunity to earlier variants breaking out in a series of plagues of steadily decreasing virulence until, within a few centuries, it became what it was until the recent MMR vaccine came on the scene – a harmless (with the odd tragic exception) disease contracted by virtually every child in the host population, who thereafter became immune, and surviving at a stable level on that basis.  

Such human-adapted diseases can still wreak havoc on populations that have co-evolved with them. When Europeans reached the Americas and then the Pacific Islands, they inflicted a string of new diseases on the natives. Some, like smallpox, were still pretty dangerous even to Europeans, with mortality rates approaching 50%. Among the urbanised Neolithic populations of Mesoamerica those rates hit 95%. The 5% survivors of course passed their higher (though not total) degree of resistance to their descendants. But their society had been destroyed, easy meat for the Conquistadores. Even diseases fairly harmless to Europeans, like measles, could cause significant mortality in populations that had never been exposed to them. Lower mortality, demonstrating that the relative harmlessness of the disease in long-exposed populations was due not only to the hosts evolving resistance but to the pathogen evolving to be less lethal. An example of coevolution in action fascinating unless you happen to be a 19th Century Hawaiian!         

So the Dead Swan of Fife is not mere media hype. The fear that a new disease – or in this case a new variant of an old disease – will cross the species barrier from its non-human host and become an initially very deadly disease of people is well-founded. It is, as we have seen, the way we got pretty much every other disease to which humanity is now heir. From smallpox – first recorded in scabs on an Egyptian mummy from the 17th Century BC – to polio – the first epidemic of which was as recent as 1840, although it’s not yet clear which animal species we got that one from – and including wave after wave of New Improved Flus. Sooner or later – and more likely sooner than later – it will certainly happen again.     

The trouble is that next time, or at least one of the times in the next decade or two, this happens it will be a disaster on an unprecedented scale. Because of the way we live now. 

Disastrous disease epidemics, as we have seen, are already a result of changed human socioeconomics. Before we invented agriculture, they just didn’t happen. Now we have invented globalisation, they are about to get worse. A lot worse. 

Why? The simple answer is that there are more people than ever before, they move around more and faster than ever before, and the short-sighted selfish greed that is the ruling ethos of globalisation has made it much more difficult in a number of ways for us to defend ourselves against new diseases (and indeed made them more likely to arise).     

The unprecedented swarming mass of humanity, which has more doubled in number in the last 50 years to over 6,000 million, provides a feast for new pathogens as never before. Every year there are 74 million more juicy humans to prey on, an entire large European nation full – although the additional arrivals are not Europeans, of course. This seething biomass bred by Western medical and agricultural technology the prevailing ideology of the West caused to be sold, and sometimes given, to the rest of the World without thought of the consequences, beyond short term profit.   

Now they seethe like maggots, eating up the rest of the living world. Living in swarming squalor in their sewer-free shanty towns and favelas, sitting ducks for the next major pandemic and an ideal breeding ground for such a new human pathogen. The epidemiological antithesis of their ancestral scattered bands of Palaeolithic hunters.

Their sheer numbers also mean people are pushing ever deeper into formerly thinly peopled wildernesses, some of which, such as African rainforests, are rich reservoirs of potential pathogens, currently preying on species such as chimps genetically very similar (98%) to us, making the species barrier the germs have to jump temptingly low. To help the germs even more, the African rainforests are now being raided on an ever growing scale for “bushmeat” to be sold and eaten in the vast squatter camps around the continent’s cities. Chimp meat is, apparently, a particular – if 98% cannibalistic! – delicacy, as is that of various monkey species. From one of whom has already come AIDS. So as to enhance our experience of potential disease diversity here in Britain, recent Court cases reveal that Africans have been smuggling chimp and other bushmeat into Britain, where it is apparently a prized delicacy at a number of African restaurants in London. 

However, were any such diners to go down with some exotic germ here, they could be assured of swift and professional medical care. Not so in the teeming slums back home where most such prime cuts are more usually consumed. There any alien pathogens will be given every chance to try again and again to cross the species barrier to infect humanity in a medicine- and hygiene-free germ-friendly environment. Swarming with potential prey, their immune systems weakened by poor nutrition and in many cases in Africa AIDS. Welcoming any initially diffident bacterium or virus anxious to seek asylum from a rainforest animal host being hunted to extinction as its habitat is destroyed in the welcoming and abundant pastures provided by Homo sapiens – overwhelmingly Africa’s commonest large mammal. Though it would be churlish to pass over the peasantry of East and South-East Asia, living cheek-by-jowl with their pigs and ducks, in their efforts to help Mr Pestilence mount his horse for another good gallop through humanity.   

In fact, he has got his foot in the stirrup a few times already of late. Lassa, Ebola and Marburg viruses have all managed to evolve strains capable of infecting humans and spreading from one human to another. However, so far every outbreak has aborted itself because the viruses turn their human hosts into a bag of goo too quickly to allow effective transmission to a wider public. Any mutation of these viruses that makes them just slightly less deadly and they will be in business.  They don’t have to be any less deadly – and so far few have survived infection with Ebola or Marburg. They just have to be deadly a little more slowly, to take a few hours more to kill. And once these delightful creatures do manage mutate to epidemiological effectiveness (or maybe it will be something else not yet heard of, but we can count on  ex Africa semper aliquod something rather nasty  in the coming years) our delightful global Free Market economy will be there to waft Pestilence wherever he wants to go.

For not only is the vast human population swarming through the last wild refuges of exotic viruses and bacteria unprecedented. So is the speed and volume of human movement around the world. Fleets of jumbo jets roaring hither and yon in the service of the free movement of labour in the global economy.  So that a germ that was caught in a village in Gabon or a shanty town around Lagos or a street in Shanghai in the morning can be coughed out into a crowded London Tube, Paris metro or New York subway carriage the same evening. 

When the last big killer hit Europe, the Black Death in 1347, it took some years, and many thousands of germ generations, to spread West from its origin in China, giving the germ and its new host some chance to adapt to each other. Even then, one European in three perished. Now a germ can be in the heart of Europe and North America only a few tens of cell divisions, or in the case of a virus copyings by host cells of its genetic code from its first deadly incursion into our species. 

No-one is going to stop the carrier if the next Black Death from walking through Passport Control at Heathrow if his papers are in order even if he is looking a little peaky. Any suggestion of thorough medical checks or even quarantine periods on people entering the West from Third World plague danger zones would be howled down. 

Ostensibly, but doubtless effectively, with the parrot squawk of “racism” – though such controls would, to work, have to be applied with the same indifference to race, nationality and ethnic origin that most (though as AIDS shows not all) plagues themselves show.  But actually because they would interfere with the vast profits to be made by the multinational combines who own the West from shipping people quickly and freely around the world. Third World labourers to the West to be exploited in dirty, dangerous and low-paid jobs that no Western worker would do – unless they were made cleaner, safer and better-paid, and where’s the profit in that? And Western managers to run “offshoring” operations in the Third World, milking the low-paid labour at source. But if they carry on, one day they will get something very different from profit from the Third World.

The BBC recently released on DVD its chilling 1975 series Survivors, showing exactly the sort of pandemic plague this article is talking about in action. Then it was portrayed as an escaped Chinese germ warfare agent. But very likely Nature can still show human folly a trick or two here. But the opening sequence, showing the Death spreading around the World in days in a mix of footage of jumbo jets overhead and passport stamps at airports, is even more apposite today, when air travel is vastly greater than it was thirty years ago. Nor is the sequel depicted, of the swift collapse of government and civilization as all but one in ten thousand perished in weeks, dated in the least either. That mortality rate would be unprecedented in the history of humanity. But so is our current social situation, in ways that make such a killer plague far likelier than it was in the past. 

In fact, before the present day, Survivors’ plague, The Death, was, ironically, too deadly to spread around a world in which travellers were slower, better controlled, and fewer in number. More than a few decades ago, and Western Governments would have the time and the will to close their borders effectively as the Death rolled closer, to slam the gates in the face of onrushing Pestilence. With peoples who, as the patient endurance of the privations of the last World War by the ordinary people on both sides showed, were capable of reserves of discipline, dedication to the common cause and courage in crisis one suspects would be sought in vain amongst the consumerist hordes of their descendents, brainwashed into the selfish short-sighted greed that is the underlying ethic of 21st Century Western “civilization”.

Indeed, a few decades ago, not only would the next great plague of mankind be less likely to get into Western nations, there is a much greater chance it could have been beaten back even if it had done so. For the ingenuity and technological brilliance that is one of the better aspects of our civilization had, by the early 1940’s, come up with antibiotic “magic bullets”,  stunningly effective against bacteria if sadly not viruses. But being able to beat bacteria alone secures us against the Black Death, and leprosy, and even the ancient human killer tuberculosis. Combined with widespread vaccination, which does work against viruses, this lead the US Surgeon-General in 1962 to proclaim that humanity had won its war against Pestilence. 

Sadly, he reckoned without Pestilence’s good pal, Greed. And a socioeconomic system built on the mobilization of greed, and Greed’s ally Selfishness. The antibiotics, as everyone knew from the start, would eventually lose their effectiveness if they were used carelessly and promiscuously. So long as they were only deployed to save lives actually under threat and in controlled circumstances where the patient could be compelled to take the full course so there were no bacterial survivors of the attack, they would keep their effectiveness. Let them be used indiscriminately in doses not high enough or continued long enough to stamp out all the attacking germs, and some more antibiotic resistant germs would survive to pass on their resistance. Evolution by natural selection works if the best adapted organisms to a new environmental challenge – even if not yet fully adapted – get a chance to survive and breed. And, each generation, even better adaptation to the challenge was rewarded with better breeding success. With generation times in minutes rather than years, microbes can evolve fast and far – if they are given the chance.    

Capitalist greed gave them that chance. The antibiotics were soon the preserve of giant multinational pharmaceutical companies. Who saw there was no profit in hoarding them and using them sparingly so as to preserve their effectiveness. The more widely they were used, the more they sold. Helped by the fact that it was discovered that putting antibiotics into animal feed in the burgeoning factory farms enhanced yields of eggs, milk and meat. To the point that today 70% of all antibiotics made are not used to treat disease but are used in agricultural food production – fed to battery hens and pigs and the like. Much of the rest is wasted in, for example, bactericidal washing-up liquid and tissues. This was combined with the deliberate fostering of selfishness in the interests of profit, under the guise of “human rights” serving “freedom”. So that compelling tubercular drug addicts and Haitian illegal immigrants in New York to complete their courses of antibiotics was deemed an “infringement of their human rights”. 

The upshot was that bacteria were allowed to accustom themselves to antibiotics, constantly and widely exposed to dosages enough to favour resistant strains but not enough to kill them before their resistance had evolved to be complete. Thus Capitalism created MRSA – a strain of the ubiquitous bacterium of boils and zits, and wound infection and septicaemia, Staphylococcus aureus immune not just to methicillin but, in time, to every known antibiotic. Whilst tubercular trash of society exercising their “human right” to stop bothering to take their medication any more once it had cured their symptoms but before it had killed off the last most antibiotic resistant holdouts of TB germs in their bodies has bred a TB which is now almost as resistant to treatment as it was a century ago.    

Compulsory universal vaccination exterminated viral scourges such as smallpox altogether by the late 1970’s (apart from inside sinister secret US and Soviet Government labs). But again the pervading social spirit of selfishness promoted to create profitable consumer populations insidiously undermined the eradication of other viral plagues. 

To work, vaccination has to cover at least 95% of the host population, so the virus cannot find enough vulnerable hosts to sustain itself in the population. But it is not itself without a cost. Sadly, a very small proportion of those immunised are seriously harmed or even killed by the vaccine. Fewer than the disease used to maim and kill. But in today’s self-centred society the “rights” of the individual prevail against the good of the people as a whole. So, for example, a scare – later found to be unfounded anyway – alleging a link with autism caused British parents to opt their children out of the MMR vaccine. Which they were allowed, selfishly, to do. The result is that measles was not eradicated but broke out anew, and recently the first British child for decades died of the disease, whilst others were blinded or brain damaged because social selfishness backed by the courts allowed the eradication campaign to fail. In a different society – or our own a couple of generations ago – parents would have ensured their children’s vaccination out of social duty. Those few children who did die from the vaccine would be seen in the same light as soldiers who perished in battle or firemen who died on duty, as having given their lives nobly for the greater good of  the whole, by their sacrifice saving the lives of the far more children who would have perished had the populace not been protected by vaccination.      

One might think that, with antibiotics growing less and less effective and vaccination less and less universal, and with a general awareness, as the Dead Swan showed, of the danger of a new pandemic plague, those responsible for finding new drugs would be concentrating their efforts on better antibiotics to fight bacteria and cheaper antiviral drugs to fight viruses. But the big profits for the pharmaceutical companies to whom such research has largely, in the privatised market-run world of today, been abandoned do not lie in pills taken briefly to defeat a deadly germ. They lie in those taken lifelong to stave off a lesser chronic ill – a gyppy stomach or a creaky joint. Or mood-altering drugs to help people cope with their crazy world. Or perhaps really expensive and profitable pills to save a few from cancer rather than cheap and unprofitable ones to save many from germs.  So antibiotic research languishes and  resistant strains rampage through homes and hospitals. Necrotising fasciitis anyone?

So we are right to fear the message the Swan of Fife died to bring us. Modern, cosmopolitan, global market society is making the worst pandemic disaster in human history much more likely, and making it much harder to resist it when it comes. The global market is playing a game of Russian roulette with Pestilence. He pulls the trigger on the revolver’s chamber loaded with AIDS. Click! Spin the magazine. Pull the chamber loaded with SARS. Click! Ebola virus. Click! H5N1 flu. Who knows? The hammer is still falling on the chamber. But sooner or later- BANG!     

The last great pandemic, that caused by a new flu train in 1918, killed more people  in four months than perished in the four years of  the First World War. 80% of the United States soldiers who did not come back from serving in World War One died of this flu after the Armistice rather than in battle before it.   The next, spreading much faster amongst a much more closely connected world with lots more people in it, will doubtless kill many more people. Perhaps most people. Though almost certainly not all people. But quite possibly civilized society, which will collapse if enough of its productive people perish. We do not know how many individuals comprising a society need to die to bring down civilization with them. 50%? 75%? 90%? We may be about to find out…

Yet the predicament humanity has got itself into in the first decades of the 21st Century is so grim that such a pandemic is not the worst thing that could – and probably will – happen to us. Our teeming population eating the Earth like locusts has started a race to get us by all the Four Horsemen. Pestilence, as we have seen, is currently a few lengths in the lead. But, as we turn farmland into desert ever faster each year, partly from exhaustion of the soil in the Third World but increasingly in coming decades due to climate change brought on by our greed and filth, Famine is coming up strongly on the stand side. As rising sea levels force entire nations such as the Bangladeshis to pour inland seeking new land for their hundred millions and drought in a warming world displaces billions in Volkerwanderungen to dwarf those which flooded over and drowned the Roman West , War is beginning to spur on his steed strongly. Add the wider spectre of top tier biosphere collapse brought on by the mass extinction of other species at the hands of the spreading plague of excess humanity on a scale already surpassing that when the dinosaurs departed, and Death, currently hanging back and saving his mount’s wind in the certainty that he will get us all in the end individually anyway, must be the bookies’ favourite to sweep ahead in the final furlong and claim our entire species as his prize. 

Unless Pestilence rides a clever race and claims enough of us now to deny his fellow Horsemen their prey later. We are in such a plight by now, caused at root by far too many people, that a pandemic that killed enough people now might save us from worse to come. 

Not too many people, everywhere, though to collapse that Western technological civilization which, once it has sloughed off its Capitalist carapace, still offers the last best hope for the long term future of our species.  Indeed, resolute, determined and disciplined action in the face of pandemic might save one or a few Western nations more or less intact, whilst the rest of humanity perished. The survival of that part of human civilization which has stabilized its population already, freed from the certainty of being swept away in a tide of the desperate rest of humanity as it dragged us all down to disaster, might well be the last best hope of mankind. 

The tragedy of our current plight is that, for humanity as a species to survive the next thousand years, most humans must die as soon as possible in the next hundred. If he can do that for us, without reducing the survivors to savagery, perhaps Pestilence is our friend after all, and the Dead Swan’s message is one of hope in the hour of our coming desperation.       

Gangster president declares war on Iran

Donald Trump with IRA terrorist godfather Gerry Adams. Trump now seeks to emulate his old friend’s record of brutal and shameless murder.

Gangster president Donald Trump has this morning effectively declared war on Iran by ordering the murder of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the most significant state-sponsored assassination since Czech SOE agents killed Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 – and the most significant such assassination ever to take place outside wartime.

It is immaterial whether Trump’s action was dictated by his slavish devotion to the State of Israel, or was partly inspired by the need to distract attention from his own impeachment for criminal misdeeds.

During his election campaign four years ago, Trump gave American voters the impression that he would end the era of US entanglement in foreign conflicts. Instead he has today embroiled the US in what will be a far more serious conflict than the Iraq and Afghan wars combined.

The US now stands alone, without its NATO allies, as even the British Foreign Office rushes to distance itself from the White House Godfather.  The only cheers have come from Trump’s fellow crook Benjamin Netanyahu and the neocon cabal whose influence Trump once promised to end, but who now enjoy more control over US foreign policy than under Reagan, Clinton, or Bush.

Donald Trump’s political tutor was mafia lawyer Roy Cohn, seen here with (left to right) Donald Trump, nightclub owner and crook Steve Rubell, and Trump’s first wife Ivana.

Secret tapes show politicians once dared to speak about race

President Richard Nixon (above left) in conversation at the White House with Prof. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In July this year the US National Archives released a previously secret tape recording of then President Richard Nixon and future President Ronald Reagan speaking frankly about racial differences.

Today two American scholars writing in The Atlantic reveal that these forbidden views were not held only Reagan and Nixon, a man who of course has long been demonised by the political establishment, but by an ultra-respectable academic.

The President was conversing in October 1971 with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor who had previously been an adviser to Nixon but was more closely associated with the Democratic Party. Indeed despite his bipartisanship, Moynihan was for decades an icon of America’s liberal intelligentsia.

Yet on this White House tape and in an earlier memorandum, Prof. Moynihan explicitly recognised racial realities. Commenting on an article on race and IQ by Richard Herrnstein published earlier that year, Moynihan wrote: “Herrnstein is, of course, very much worth reading. The findings of intelligence testing, which he summarizes, have profound implications for social policy. …Psychologists now think they know something of the ranking of the major races. Asians first; Caucasians second; Africans third.”

Prof Richard Herrnstein was co-author of The Bell Curve, a book that pointed out the differences between black and white IQ.

Moynihan agreed with the President that in implementing federal programmes to promote black education, he had to bear in mind their fundamental weaknesses – that because of their IQ blacks would basically be at a disadvantage “when you get to some of the more, shall we say, some of the more profound, rigid disciplines”.

His memo to Nixon concluded with pragmatic advice that no doubt influences even those few politicians today honest enough to address racial realities: “Finally, may I plead that you say nothing about this subject, nor let anyone around you do so. There is no possibility of your concern being depicted for what it is, a desire to respond to knowledge in a responsible and prudent manner.”

Moynihan died in 2003, but he would not be surprised that 21st century journalists and scholars are using these newly revealed tapes not to challenge their own liberal multiracialist dogmas, but to demonise Moynihan himself.

U.S. Mid-Term Election Results Mixed, But Demographics Doom Republicans

(by James Knight for H&D)

The mid-term elections took place on November 6 in the United States. They were seen – correctly – as a referendum on President Donald Trump. In general, the results point to some trouble ahead for Trump. Despite a very strong economy, complete with low unemployment, Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives. They are now down by about 37 seats to the Democrats. On the other hand, the party increased its control of the Senate by one and now hold a two-seat lead in that chamber of Congress.

 

Most parties in power get defeated – often quite badly – in the mid-term elections. Trump’s losses are somewhat less that those suffered by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama in 1994, 2006 and 2010 respectively. Democrats had a significant advantage in fund raising as almost all of Hollywood and the ultra-rich US elite support “The Resistance” against Trump. And nearly every single close election recount had Democrats winning over Republicans, which was almost certainly due to election stealing/tampering (more common in the US than many suppose).

The demographics of the election show the usual breakdowns. Non-whites voted for Democrats with the following percentages:

Blacks – 90%

Asians – 77%

Hispanics – 69%

Actually, Trump did slightly better among non-whites in 2016 than previous Republicans such as Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Among whites, Republicans only won by a margin of 54% to 44%. White men broke 60% to 39% for Republicans while white women were split 49% to 49%. The fact that so many whites decided to vote for Democrats is a big warning sign for Republicans. For years, the Republican party has been drifting toward becoming the party of white people. With roughly 80% of non-whites voting Democrats, and with the electorate getting less and less white with every election, the writing is on the wall for the GOP. Unless Trump can get the white vote up to 60% Republican in 2020, he will likely lose reelection.

Donald Trump pursuing the white working class vote in West Virginia during his 2016 presidential campaign

Working class whites in states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania gave the election to Trump in 2016. This was due to his stance on issues such as immigration and trade and his populist rhetoric on economic issues. This base has been slowly drifting away from Trump in the last two years.

Likewise, the Dissident Right, which also came out for Trump in 2016, has been disappointed with his performance in the last two year. Ann Coulter routinely calls out Trump on Twitter for his tough talk but inaction on a border wall, birthright citizenship and stopping caravans of illegal immigrants. Gregory Hood of American Renaissance is even more blunt:

“President Trump has governed like a moderate, while speaking like a hardliner—the worst possible combination. He has done so unnecessarily. One struggles to recapture the sense of the 2016 campaign. In retrospect, it seems like something out of Homeric times, with almost supernatural forces intervening in the affairs of men. Everything had to break Donald Trump’s way; Hillary Clinton had to make every possible mistake. Somehow, everything happened exactly the way it had to, leading to one of the most remarkable upsets in American political history.

During both the primary and general election, candidate Trump seemed to run as much against the Republican as the Democratic party. Some of his promises had cross-party appeal—notably his calls for a massive infrastructure program and his pledge to protect certain entitlements. His health care proposals were admittedly vague, as he simultaneously promised to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something great.” However, because President Trump had directly attacked the policy preferences of Republicans such as Speaker Paul Ryan and free-market institutions such as the Club for Growth, it seemed reasonable to believe he could lead the GOP away from the unpopular, wonkish economic policies that had little appeal outside the Beltway Right. The victory of President Trump was a victory for right-wing critics of Conservatism Inc., as he showed that its support for a liberal immigration policy, an interventionist foreign policy, and slashing entitlements had no real support among the conservative grassroots, let alone the larger public.

Yet since taking office, with rare exceptions, President Trump has governed like just another Republican. The president’s first major legislative initiative was a disastrous attempt to replace Obamacare. It is not surprising that President Trump did not have a specific “great” plan regarding healthcare, yet the conservative establishment’s failure to provide a workable alternative to Obamacare is testament to its uselessness.”

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, once a pro-Trump campaigner, is now a critic

Demographic Realities

Since the election, the press has been making much of how demographics are turning formerly red states (Republicans) into blue states (Democrats). This is entirely due to mass immigration. The US takes in over 1 million legal immigrants every year. About 90% of these people are non-white.

My own Congressional district in northern Virginia (VA-10) is indicative of this. It went for the Democrats for the first time in 40 years. Conservative Republican Frank Wolf won the seat in the Reagan landslide of 1980 and didn’t relinquish it until he retired in 2014. That year, moderate Republican Barbara Comstock (who favors high immigration) won the seat by 16 points (56% to 40%) over her Democratic challenger. In 2016, her margin of victory was only 5.5 points. This year she lost by a margin of 56% to 44% to liberal Democrat Jennifer Wexton.

While there are many reasons for her loss, the main one is this. In 2008, VA-10 was 80% white. It is now 65% white.

Virginia used to be a rural, Southern and conservative state. It is now less than 56% white. Republicans have not won a state-wide election since 2009. This same trend is about to turn once solidly red states such as Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and even Texas blue. Orange County, California (outside Los Angeles) used to be perhaps the most reliably conservative district in the nation. It was the home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Yet it now has all Democrat representatives in Congress.

In terms of the 2020 elections, President Trump still has time to right the ship. Building his promised border wall with Mexico would be a great first step. He has also mentioned ending birthright citizenship (where children born in the US – even to illegals – are automatically given US citizenship) and affirmative action. If his actions can match his talking and threats, Trump can win reelection. But after 2020, demographics may permanently sweep the GOP away at the national level.

James Knight writes from increasingly vibrant northern Virginia.

Police join Antifa violence against Alt Right, ending U.S. tradition of free speech

[spacer height=”20px”]Today is the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham, on 13th August 1977, when 4,000 ‘anti-fascists’ (including many who had come equipped for a riot) fought police and National Front members in southeast London, attempting to prevent a lawful NF march.

The ensuing rioting saw the first ever use of police riot shields on the UK mainland. (Today’s edition of the left-liberal Observer newspaper has an anniversary feature, effectively celebrating the criminality of the far left.)

John Tyndall later wrote of Lewisham, and the tradition of extreme anti-fascist violence (tolerated by the state) which it spawned:
“It was noticeable that in the news media reporting of these clashes there was very seldom any honesty employed in directing the blame. The violence was wholly due to unlawful attempts by left-wing rowdies to stop perfectly lawful public demonstrations, but from the media’s treatment of the issue the public might have received the impression that the NF was at least half responsible, if not more so.”

In those days the USA (though in many ways already suffering from even worse racial problems) was seen as a haven of constitutionally protected free speech.

Four decades on, ‘anti-fascist’ violence has come to the USA, and this time the hypocrisy of the state is even more evident.

While police in Lewisham 40 years ago did at least try to enforce the law, this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, police actively collaborated with anti-fascists and helped them to target lawful White Nationalist demonstrators, including David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Americans can no longer be in any doubt that their entire heritage – constitutional and racial – is at stake.[spacer height=”20px”]

The Trump mystery is over

One of 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles launched from US ships in the Red Sea attacking Syria today

One of 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles launched from US ships in the Red Sea attacking Syria today

So now we know.

At the cost of many lives, with infinite destruction still to come, the USA has today demonstrated that Donald Trump’s victory changed nothing in terms of Washington foreign policy – except to make it much worse than Obama’s and probably about as bad as Hillary’s would have been.
A couple of days ago Steve Bannon (the closest thing to an ‘Alt Right’ voice in the Trump White House) was peremptorily removed from the National Security Council, after reported clashes with Trump’s influential Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Now we know why.
Today’s US airstrikes in Syria were rightly condemned by Russian prime minister Medvedev.  It shows the extraordinary times we live in that many H&D readers will agree with the Kremlin rather than with a supposedly ‘far right’ White House.
Medvedev wrote a few minutes ago:

“Nobody is overestimating the value of pre-election promises but there must be limits of decency. Beyond that is absolute mistrust. Which is really sad for our now completely ruined relations. And which is good news for terrorists.

“One more thing. This military action is a clear indication of the US president’s extreme dependency on the opinion of the Washington establishment, the one that the new president strongly criticised in his inauguration speech. Soon after his victory, I noted that everything would depend on how soon Trump’s election promises would be broken by the existing power machine. It took only two and a half months.”

Former Trump supporter Ann Coulter was equally dismayed:

“Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates.

“Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.”

Trump’s horrific blunder demonstrates one problem with “outsiders”, especially businessmen, getting involved in politics – vanity and an addiction to quick-fix solutions.

White America wakes up at the 11th Hour

trump-wins

G.K. Chesterton would have relished last night’s political earthquake! I don’t know whether Donald Trump knows Chesterton’s 1907 poem, The Secret People, but changing just one word its opening lines could describe today’s America.

Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.

Last night White America spoke: Wall Street and the world were forced to listen.

Hillary Clinton was the ultimate candidate for those Chesterton described as “new unhappy lords”:

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.

Last night those lords were confounded.  There will be time for analysis in the days ahead, and perhaps time for caveats.  Most urgently, we must hope that President-elect Trump will confound the Islamophobe faction’s hopes, and make clear that he endorses Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran – by far the most important foreign policy issue.

Sadly last night did not see the political renaissance of David Duke, who was defeated in the Louisiana Senate race. But Duke’s message resonated throughout America. The Trump Revolution is a phenomenon more in tune with David Duke’s America than Sheldon Adelson’s America. And for that we can rejoice!

 

Former White Nationalist Derek Black defects to “the other side”

(H&D editor Mark Cotterill reports)

Derek Black (second right) with a group of racial nationalists after the 2000 AFBNP 'Red, White & Blue' festival in Port St Lucie, Florida. Others present include then AFBNP webmaster Carl Clifford, AFBNP chairman Mark Cotterill, Don Black, and international guest speaker Paul Thompson, from Darlington BNP.

Derek Black (second right) with a group of racial nationalists after the 2000 AFBNP ‘Red, White & Blue’ festival in Port St Lucie, Florida. Others present include (far left) then AFBNP webmaster Carl Clifford, AFBNP chairman Mark Cotterill, Don Black, and (far right) international guest speaker Paul Thompson, from Darlington BNP.

In our previous news item yesterday, we reported on David Duke’s latest race for US senate. Duke is currently running at between 5 – 8% of the vote in Louisiana and has qualified for a live TV debate on November 2nd.

Duke is the godfather to Derek Black, son of Stormfront founder, and long standing White nationalist Don Black and Chloe Black (Duke’s former wife).

Derek Black, now in his mid-20s, who was raised in the white nationalist movement, continues to embarrass and confound his family. A few years ago, Black shocked the movement in general and his family in particular when he announced he was renouncing his white nationalist beliefs.

Derek claimed to be sorry for the damage he had done by his actions and his past endorsement of white nationalism.  He wrote in a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish or that other people’s races require me to think about them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements.” Derek claimed he came to this conclusion after going to college and travelling abroad (including a trip to the Irish Republic).

He had been seen by many in the movement as a rising star in the white nationalism.  Derek had his own radio show and ran for a seat on the Palm Beach Republican Executive Committee. Derek and Don Black were also once pictured with former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul at a Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) meeting. He dated the daughter of the late CofCC leader Gordon Baum and travelled all over the American South (mainly with his father) attending nationalist and conservative meetings.

Don Black speaking at a February 2001 meeting of the American Friends of the BNP, in Arlington, Virginia.

Don Black speaking at a February 2001 meeting of the American Friends of the BNP, in Arlington, Virginia, with H&D Assistant Editor Martin Kerr (left) and David Duke.

Derek’s family were of course furious with his rejection of white nationalism and his new life style, after he walked away from the movement he had been involved with since a small child.

However, those who knew Derek – through the movement – will tell you that he was always unstable, and it was only a matter of time before he jumped ship. I met Derek and Don many times between 1995 and 2002, and they stayed at my home(s) in northern Virginia five or six times. I visited their home in West Palm Beach shortly after my arrival in the States in 1995, and I went with Don to the cinema to see the Mel Gibson (anti-English) classic Braveheart.

Don was always more of an Anglophile than the rest of the Duke/Black family. Chloe his wife was very pro-Irish.

Don spoke at a number of meetings of the American friends of the BNP (AFBNP) and almost always brought Derek along with him. During my final month in the States, in October 2002, before I was excluded, I met Don, Chloe and Derek in Miami, for a final farewell dinner. (Nick Griffin and his family were also there – but that’s another story!)  Over the years, I got to know both Don and Derek very well.

Duke’s younger daughter Kristin stayed with me at the famous “Wacky-House” in Vienna (northern Virginia) for a couple of months. Kristin was always very close and protective of Derek. In her eyes (as in those of her mother Chloe) Derek could do no wrong.

Derek Black's godfather David Duke (far right) with H&D editor Mark Cotterill and National Alliance organiser Chester Doles, in Arlington, Virginia, at the AFBNP's St George's Day rally in 2000.

Derek Black’s godfather David Duke (far right) with H&D editor Mark Cotterill and National Alliance organiser Chester Doles, in Arlington, Virginia, at the AFBNP’s St George’s Day rally in 1999.

Derek quit (Infant) school when he was in the third grade, because he did not like it. Later he blamed non-Whites for bullying him, which may or may not have been true, but I guess he just hated the discipline of school life. So from the age of seven he was “home-schooled”, which to be fair a lot of movement children in the States are.

Derek basically did what he wanted, as his mother Chloe and big (half) sister Kristin had read a book by a liberal child psychologist academic which suggested that parents let their young children do whatever they want, whenever they want!

To give you one example, Derek wanted to have very long hair. Don did not want this as it made him look like a girl (he had quite feminine features anyway). Chloe/Kristin over ruled Don on this (and many other matters to do with Derek) so he ended up having very long hair. I recall a number of times while out in restaurants. The waitress would ask Derek “and what does the little girl want to eat/drink”. This was of course very embarassing for Don – but at the end of the day there was nothing he could do about it.

Chloe Black was the only one with a real job: she paid the bills that kept Stormfront running, as well as food on the family table. So what she said regarding Derek went. She would of course regret her actions many years later, when Derek defected to “the other side”!

I remember Zach (a member of our local northern VA chapter of the CofCC) who later went on to become a successful Virginia Lawyer, predicted that it would be Kristin who in years to come would defect to “the other side” and give their story to the SPLC and would be on “the Jerry Springer show” with a black boyfriend slagging us all off!

Zach was very wrong, Kristin, to her credit stayed the course and stayed loyal to the White nationalist movement, whereas it was Derek who defected and talked to the SPLC, and may in future appear on Springer with his black girl (or boy) friend – who can tell?

For the full story in the Washington Post, click here.

H&D editor left holding the baby! Mark Cotterill (far right) in West Palm Beach with members of the Duke-Black family including Kristin Duke, Derek Black (foreground second left) and Kristin's newborn baby Chloe Duke.

H&D editor left holding the baby! Mark Cotterill (far right) in West Palm Beach with members of the Duke-Black family including Kristin Duke, Derek Black (foreground second left) and Kristin’s newborn baby Chloe Duke.

Some good news for a change! David Duke qualifies for U.S. Senate election debate

David Duke campaigning for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, 2016

David Duke campaigning for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, 2016

With Hillary Clinton now almost certain to become U.S. President at next month’s elections, we’ve been short of some good news from the other side of the Atlantic!

But today we learn that the brave White Rights and free speech campaigner David Duke has shocked the establishment by qualifying for a televised debate in the race for a U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana.

The state of Louisiana has a unique ‘open primary’ system in which a large number of candidates compete in a first-round election (on November 8th, the same day as the Presidential election and many other Senate and Congressional contests).  The top two candidates from this first round then go into a run-off on December 3rd.

From 1989 to 1992 David Duke was an elected member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and is by far the most successful nationalist candidate of modern times in U.S. politics.  In 1990 he was runner-up in a U.S. Senate election in Lousiana, polling 43.5% statewide (607,091 votes)!  Then in 1991 he was again runner-up in the contest for Governor of Louisiana, polling 31.7% in the first round and qualifying for the run-off against Democrat Edwin Edwards, the most powerful figure in Louisiana politics at the time.  In the 1991 run-off Duke polled 38.8% (671,009 votes).

In the 1996 Senate primary Duke stood again, this time finishing in fourth place with 11.5% (141,489 votes).

In 2016 it has proved more difficult for Duke to raise funds and campaign, for all of the usual reasons that H&D readers will understand.  Yet he has again shocked the establishment by meeting the 5% opinion poll threshold to qualify for a primetime televised debate which will be broadcast across Louisiana on November 2nd.

Arguably our movement’s most effective media performer (certainly in the English-speaking world), David Duke is sure to make the most of this opportunity.  As he posted on Twitter yesterday: “I can’t wait to tell truth nobody else dares!”

David Duke's sensational second place in the 1992 gubernatorial election made front page news

David Duke’s sensational second place in the 1991 gubernatorial election made front page news

Trump vs Clinton: America’s first post-Christian election?

trump-religion

For European nationalists, American politics traditionally seem alien in several respects, including the role of religion.  Christianity (usually in its protestant, ‘fundamentalist’ variants) has been an essential ingredient of ‘right-wing’ political movements in the USA, whereas in most of Europe it was marginal (at best).

Donald Trump seems to have changed all that.  During the Republican presidential primaries, it was obvious that he had little support among Christian fundamentalists, most of whom rallied behind Trump’s main rival, Ted Cruz. Similarly the main Jewish Republican powerbrokers, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose financial clout has traditionally been allied to Protestant fundamentalists in promoting Republican presidential candidates since the Reagan era, have been lukewarm at best towards Trump.

As the critical phase of the campaign begins, with tonight’s first presidential debate, the so-called Christian Right is now (mostly) coming off the fence and declaring for Trump as the lesser of two evils, given that Hillary Clinton would be a nightmare candidate for traditional Christians on issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage.

One influential Christian Right leader, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, remains hostile to Trump.  Moreover there is now a clear divide within American Christianity: Catholic voters are heavily pro-Clinton according to latest polls.  This is partly because of the large bloc of Hispanic Catholics, who are for obvious reasons likely to be especially hostile to Trump: but this cannot wholly explain the swing.  Clearly Trump is also losing heavily among White Catholics.

Around one-quarter of the US electorate is Catholic, and in recent polls they have split 55-32 or 61-34 in favour of Clinton.  When Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012, he was only 50-48 behind among Catholics.  In 2004 George W. Bush won the Catholic vote, as did his father in 1988.

Caridinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Catholics, with former SNP leader Alex Salmond.  Among the most significant changes in recent Scottish politics has seen many Scottish Catholics abandoning their traditional adherence to Labour.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of Scotland’s Catholics until his disgrace in a homosexual scandal, with former SNP leader Alex Salmond. Among the most significant changes in recent Scottish politics has seen many Scottish Catholics abandoning their traditional adherence to Labour.

In the UK, there has traditionally been a clear lead for Labour among Catholic voters, although one of the most interesting aspects of last year’s general election was that Scottish Catholics for the first time backed the Scottish National Party in large numbers.  (The SNP was once seen as a Protestant party, but its former leader Alex Salmond assiduously cultivated the Catholic hierarchy.)

However in the UK the vast majority of voters are not genuine practitioners of any religion.  Only 11% of Britons now claim that they attend some form of religious service at least once a month, though there are much larger numbers of nominal Christians.

In the most recent detailed survey of England and Wales, those openly admitting that they have “no religion” amounted to 48.5%: for the first time this is now the largest sub-group, ahead of all Christians combined, who amount to 43.8% (though most of these do not practice their religion in any meaningful sense).  All non-Christian religions combined add up to just 7.7% of the UK population, though of course this is a growing minority, and most of these have more than a nominal attachment to their religion.

The sharpest declines are among practising Anglicans, once the bedrock of the Conservative Party, and the various (White) non-Anglican Protestant churches.  Every undergraduate history student, for example, was once familiar with the argument that the origins of the Labour Party “owed more to Methodism than to Marx”, yet the House of Commons post-2015 now has not a single Methodist MP. The typical non-Anglican Protestant today is more likely to be an inner-city African than an English or Welsh chapel-goer.

 

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