The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British Slave Trade by William St Clair. History of Cape Coast Castle, a coastal fort in Ghana used for slave trading from the 17th to 19th century.
It's pretty fascinating. For most of that period the British had only the most tenuous of holds on Africa: it wasn't part of the Empire. They recognized the authority of the local laws and local rulers, who cooperated with the slave trade for the enormous revenue it generated. There was no harbour, and transfers were dependent on local canoe-men, who had to be kept relatively happy.
Officers would generally take part in the local polygamous institution of marriage. Unlike the British dowry system where the bride's family pays the groom, they would pay the bride's family for a local "wench". If the arrangement was terminated, they would have to pay compensation. The "wenches" were often members of relatively important local families, and quite often their descendents would take positions in the Castle, for instance as clergymen.
This situation changed with the invention of "scientific racism" in the 19th century, and non-whites were excluded. Ironically, after the slavery era in some ways there was less tolerance for African customs, as missionaries tried to change them.
Overall, the book starts a bit slowly, with a lot of background, but St Clair's access to the castle records and letters provides a mine of useful and rare information about how the slave trade operated.
Well worth reading if you're interested in the subject.
Not disastrously bad, but worse than I expected.
First, I'm hugely impressed with the spin and the media handling. Cameron's done a great job with that. As Samuel Brittan pointed out in the Financial Times "the real argument should be on whether we need unparalleled fiscal austerity or not". But instead they've framed the debate as not whether but how: what proportion should be spending cuts and what proportion tax rises, what areas of spending should be cut. Using a mixture of media management and consultation exercises, they've manage to persuade the media and the public that their ideological decisions are somehow inevitable. Early polling suggests the budget is popular, though that may change when specific cuts take place.
The IFS has done some early analysis (PDF report, summary) There are two important points. First, the budget will "more than reverse the entire increase [in public services] that we saw under Labour". So, we can forget the "heir to Blair" line altogether: the ConDems are going straight back to a Thatcher/Major sized state in five years. Second, it's a highly regressive budget, hitting the poor a lot harder than the rich.
So, if anyone was expecting the Lib Dems to moderate Tory economic policies, that hasn't happened at all. I wondered at the time of the coalition how come the Tories had suddenly accepted constitutional reform after previous implacable opposition, but hadn't forced the Lib Debs to trade away their many cabinet posts. I think the answer has to be that the Lib Dems negotiated away any influence on economic policy whatsoever. They got Cabinet seats and AV in exchange for pure Tory economics.
The Lib Dem plan too was to cut half of the deficit in one Parliament. The Tory position was only that they would eliminate "the bulk of the deficit" in five years, which presumably meant 51% or more. The aim of the Osborne budget is now to eliminate the entire "structural" deficit in that time. I think this is generally a more aggressive deficit reduction plan than you'd expect from the campaigns, though the "structural deficit" isn't necessarily a meaningful concept.
I find it a bit worrying that so much of this budget is tied to forecasts. The "structural deficit" depends on forecasts of future GDP growth. The cost of linking pensions to earnings depends on inflation. From reading "The Chancellors Tales", former Chancellors have been repeatedly tripped up by the way economic statistics are unreliable even about the past (hence the revisions) and often hopelessly unrealistic about the future. I wonder if as a bright young thing with zero real world experience, George Osborne is over-confident in his theories.
Osborne was clearly hoping that the new Office of Budget Responsibility would raise the borrowing estimates so he could justify the budget as an emergency. In fact the estimates were lower, but fortunately the media's buying it as an emergency anyway.
What I would have liked to see was a less regressive budget. For instance, the tax rises could have been split more evenly amongst Income, VAT and Capital Gains, rather than weighting so much of it to VAT. Also, I expected Child Benefit to stop being given to the richer 50% of society, which makes little sense. But they're not willing to antagonize the middle class.
In general, it seems to me that the Con Dems have abandoned their pledges with faster than normal speed, and yet are taking almost no heat for it at all. Apart from VAT and front-line services they were going to rebuild Britain's manufacturing base. I'm a bit skeptical of the practicalities of that, but if you're going to do it, the Sheffield Forgemasters deal was a prime example of it, and also one of the first things to be cut.
So overall, this is a more hardline, Thatcherite budget than I was expecting. I thought it would be softer, either due to the kinder, gentler Tory campaign rhetoric, or due to moderate Lib Dem influence, but it isn't.
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