Saturday, 30 August 2014

We need sophisticated technology to deal with chucking

Darren Berry in Cricinfo

The Muralitharan case is more complicated than your garden-variety dubious action, given his flexible joints, rubber-like wrists, and the "carry angle" of the forearm © AFP

Let's get one thing clear from the outset - almost every offspinner in world cricket has a bend in his bowling arm. It is unnatural to bowl offspin without some degree of (flexion) bend. It is the degree of bend that is the contentious issue.
In fact, it's not the bend but the straightening (extension) of the arm as it rotates to bowl that causes the headaches. It is a complicated topic, but given the increased scrutiny and subsequent angst it is causing around the world it's time for some explanation.
It should also be recognised that it's not just offspinners who have this problem. Daryl Foster, a biomechanics expert with the University of Western Australia, and a former state coach, was recently quoted as saying he has greater concern with the fast men who bend it more than the highly scrutinised offspinners do. Some would be surprised to know that even the most pure actions of Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee had a degree of straightening as they flung down the ball in the '70s and '80s.
The legal limit of straightening of the arm is 15 degrees. In biomechanical terms, this means the angle (flexion) at the elbow joint when the bowling arm is horizontal prior to delivery is measured, and the degree of extension that has taken place at the point of release is also measured. If the change in angle is greater than 15 degrees then a bowler's action is considered under current ICC rulings to be illegal. Sounds complex? Well, it gets worse.
The most famous name embroiled in this "chucking" controversy was and still is the Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan, who was called 19 years ago in a Test at the MCG. It strained relationships and threatened to bring a halt to the series at the time. It also elevated to the surface a talking point that still rages today as to the legality of many bowling actions around the world.
In my experience, none of the bowlers I have worked with who have come under scrutiny deliberately try to throw the ball to gain an advantage. It is usually a biomechanical defect and/or a technical issue
The Muralitharan case is even more complicated given his flexible joints, rubber-like wrists and another complex biomechanical term: "carry angle" of the forearm. This is the degree of angulation a person has in the forearm when standing in the anatomical position (upright with arms by the side, palms facing outwards). In most cases the greater the carry angle the greater the perception to the naked eye is of the appearance of throwing as opposed to bowling. It would take a biomechanist to explain this comprehensively, but I have learnt a lot in this area through necessity in recent times.
My coaching experiences in this area over the last decade have involved a couple of fast bowlers from the subcontinent, who came under severe scrutiny during my time at the IPL (with Rajasthan Royals) and more recently my involvement with the current South Australia captain and offspinner Johan Botha. In my experience, none of the bowlers I have worked with who have come under scrutiny deliberately try to throw the ball to gain an advantage. It is usually a biomechanical defect (very hard to rectify) and/or a technical issue that requires constant drilling and alignment to remedy. For the record, Botha has been reported on three occasions and on each of them found not guilty in testing and cleared.
Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal is the most recent high-profile offspinner to be called for a dubious action. This week, he was laboratory-tested in Brisbane to clear his action, or face a lengthy ban. We will know the outcome in a few weeks. Laboratory testing is the most contentious issue, as trying to reproduce exactly what happens in a competitive game environment is very difficult. Until we have sophisticated 3D technology that can be used in games, a true reflection of exactly what is taking place will never be attained. Scientists testing in a sports lab will never be able to replicate or reproduce exactly what players do in a highly competitive game environment, hence the great debate continues.

Saeed Ajmal bowls in a training session, Lahore, October 1, 2013
It is vital the front arm acts like a rudder to steer the mechanics of the action © AFP 
What exactly does an offspinner tend to do to give the perception that he is chucking, and more importantly how can it be rectified?
1. The jump or take-off position and finishing position in delivery stride is crucial. Any offspinner bowling right-arm over the wicket who jumps from wide of the crease and lands close to the stumps at the point of delivery has started the kinetic chain incorrectly. The results of this in the lower half of the body will greatly effect what happens in the upper half during delivery. To make matters worse, if the feet are in an open position when the front foot lands, this also tends to increase the lag of the bowling arm and ultimately exaggerates firstly flexion, then the dangerous forearm extension at the point of delivery.
2. The result of point no. 1 will cause issues with upper-body lean or hyperextension of the spine in delivery motion, and this impedes the arm's natural pathway in the bowling action. The result is a compromised action, where the body lays back significantly to allow natural arm path and consequently a bent arm inevitably results. The lower half of the body has jumped in too far and does not allow a smooth, clean action to be completed.
3. The non-bowling arm is a crucial aspect in a dubious offspin action. It is vital that it acts as a rudder to steer the mechanics of the action. It must remain strong and assist to align the body correctly in a side-on manner. The bowler must look outside the arm in delivery mode, otherwise the action will be too front-on, which generally results in bowling-arm lag time and often increased flexion and then extension in the elbow joint as the bowling action is completed.
4. Load-up position of bowling arm and hand. This has proved to be another vital component in a dubious action. Any offspinner who allows his bowling hand to rise above the mid-line of the body in wind-up generally then turns his wrist and forearm open too early before the hand passes the hip at the start of the delivery arc, and a bend in the arm occurs before the bowling arm reaches the horizontal. The action always looks ugly in these instances.
5. Finally, spearing the ball or firing it in at a pace greater than the normal arm speed of an offspinner causes all sorts of problems. The bowler endeavours to keep the batsman pinned to the crease and thus increases the velocity on the ball. The natural windmill arc of the action is lost and a javelin-type of action results. The introduction of T20 cricket has increased this tendency and created bad habits among many offspinners worldwide.
Smoothing out chinks in a bowling action is not an easy task and only constant remedial work with slow-motion video and ultimately 3D technology will assist. The naked eye can be a powerful tool but my experiences in ICC-approved testing labs around the world (Canberra, Perth and Cape Town) tells me that until we have 3D slow-motion replays available in games, the debate over illegal bowling actions will sadly continue to smoulder.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Closed shop at the top in deeply elitist Britain, says study

Elitism so embedded in Britain that it could be called social engineering, social mobility commission concludes
Eton College
Eton College. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images
Britain is "deeply elitist" because people educated at public school and Oxbridge have in effect created a "closed shop at the top", according to a government report published on Thursday.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said its study of the social background of those "running Britain" was the most detailed of its kind ever undertaken and showed that elitism was so embedded in Britain "that it could be called 'social engineering'".
Alan Milburn, the Labour former cabinet minister who chairs the commission, said that, as well as being unfair, this situation was unacceptable because "locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be".
The commission's 76-page report mostly focuses on analysis, but it does include recommendations, saying government, schools, universities, employers and even parents all need to play their part in promoting social diversity.
Looking at the background of more than 4,000 people filling jobs at the top of government, the civil service, the judiciary, the media, business and the creative industries, the commission investigated where they went to school, on the grounds that going to a private school is reasonably indicative of a wealthy background.
Only 7% of members of the public attended a private school. But 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior officers in the armed forces, 55% of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords and 45% of public body chairs did so.
So too did 44% of people on the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of cabinet ministers, 33% of MPs, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of shadow cabinet ministers.
Oxbridge graduates also have a stranglehold on top jobs. They comprise less than 1% of the public as a whole, but 75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet ministers, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of shadow cabinet ministers, 24% of MPs and 12% of those on the Sunday Times Rich List.
The report says the judiciary is the most privileged professional group. About 14% of judges attended one of just five independent schools (Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul's Boys).
And senior armed forces officers are the second most exclusive group, the report says. Some 62% of them went to a private school, and only 7% attended a comprehensive.
Milburn said that having such little diversity at the top of society was "not a recipe for a healthy democratic society".
He explained: "Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences, they risk behaving in ways and focusing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society."
Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said the report showed the coalition was failing on social mobility. "Under the Tories, the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and the rest is increasing, millions of hardworking people are seeing their living standards go backwards and child poverty is set to increase," he said.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State spawned by those countries now in the lead to combat it.

Brahma Chellaney in The Hindu

Like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State has been inadvertently spawned by the policies of those now in the lead to combat it. But will anything substantive be learned from this experience?

U.S. President Barack Obama has labelled the jihadist juggernaut that calls itself the Islamic State a “cancer,” while his Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, has called it more dangerous than al-Qaeda ever was, claiming that its threat is “beyond anything we’ve seen.” No monster has ever been born on its own. So the question is: which forces helped create this new Frankenstein?
The Islamic State is a brutal, medieval organisation whose members take pride in carrying out beheadings and flaunting the severed heads of their victims as trophies. This cannot obscure an underlying reality: the Islamic State represents a Sunni Islamist insurrection against non-Sunni rulers in disintegrating Syria and Iraq.
Indeed, the ongoing fragmentation of states along primordial lines in the arc between Israel and India is spawning de facto new entities or blocks, including Shiastan, Wahhabistan, Kurdistan, ISstan and Talibanstan. Other than Iran, Egypt and Turkey, most of the important nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan (an internally torn state that could shrink to Punjabistan or, simply, ISIstan) are modern western concoctions, with no roots in history or pre-existing identity.
The West and agendas

It is beyond dispute that the Islamic State militia — formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — emerged from the Syrian civil war, which began indigenously as a localised revolt against state brutality under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before being fuelled with externally supplied funds and weapons. From Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-training centres in Turkey and Jordan, the rebels set up a Free Syrian Army (FSA), launching attacks on government forces, as a U.S.-backed information war demonised Mr. Assad and encouraged military officers and soldiers to switch sides.
 “By seeking to topple a secular autocracy in Syria while simultaneously working to shield jihad-bankrolling monarchies from the Arab Spring, Barack Obama ended up strengthening Islamist forces.” 
But the members of the U.S.-led coalition were never on the same page because some allies had dual agendas. While the three spearheads of the anti-Assad crusade — the U.S., Britain and France — focussed on aiding the FSA, the radical Islamist sheikhdoms such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as well as the Islamist-leaning government in Turkey channelled their weapons and funds to more overtly Islamist groups. This splintered the Syrian opposition, marginalising the FSA and paving the way for the Islamic State’s rise.
The anti-Assad coalition indeed started off on the wrong foot by trying to speciously distinguish between “moderate” and “radical” jihadists. The line separating the two is just too blurred. Indeed, the term “moderatejihadists” is an oxymoron: Those waging jihad by the gun can never be moderate.
Invoking jihad

The U.S. and its allies made a more fundamental mistake by infusing the spirit of jihad in their campaign against Mr. Assad so as to help trigger a popular uprising in Syria. The decision to instil the spirit of jihad through television and radio broadcasts beamed to Syrians was deliberate — to provoke Syria’s majority Sunni population to rise against their secular government.
This ignored the lesson from Afghanistan (where the CIA in the 1980s ran, via Pakistan, the largest covert operation in its history) — that inciting jihad and arming “holy warriors” creates a deadly cocktail, with far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on international security. The Reagan administration openly used Islam as an ideological tool to spur armed resistance to Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
In 1985, at a White House ceremony in honour of several Afghan mujahideen — the jihadists out of which al-Qaeda evolved — President Ronald Reagan declared, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of America’s Founding Fathers.” Earlier in 1982, Reagan dedicated the space shuttle ‘Columbia’ to the Afghan resistance. He declared, “Just as the Columbia, we think, represents man’s finest aspirations in the field of science and technology, so too does the struggle of the Afghan people represent man’s highest aspirations for freedom. I am dedicating, on behalf of the American people, the March 22 launch of the Columbia to the people of Afghanistan.”
The Afghan war veterans came to haunt the security of many countries. Less known is the fact that the Islamic State’s self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — like Libyan militia leader Abdelhakim Belhadj (whom the CIA abducted and subjected to “extraordinary rendition”) and Chechen terrorist leader Airat Vakhitov — become radicalised while under U.S. detention. As torture chambers, U.S. detention centres have served as pressure cookers for extremism.
Mr. Obama’s Syria strategy took a page out of Reagan’s Afghan playbook. Not surprisingly, his strategy backfired. It took just two years for Syria to descend into a Somalia-style failed state under the weight of the international jihad against Mr. Assad. This helped the Islamic State not only to rise but also to use its control over northeastern Syria to stage a surprise blitzkrieg deep into Iraq this summer.
Had the U.S. and its allies refrained from arming jihadists to topple Mr. Assad, would the Islamic State have emerged as a lethal, marauding force? And would large swaths of upstream territory along the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers in Syria and Iraq have fallen into this monster’s control? The exigencies of the topple-Assad campaign also prompted the Obama administration to turn a blind eye to the flow of Gulf and Turkish aid to the Islamic State.
In fact, the Obama team, until recently, viewed the Islamic State as a “good” terrorist organisation in Syria but a “bad” one in Iraq, especially when it threatened to overrun the Kurdish regional capital, Erbil. In January, Mr. Obama famously dismissed the Islamic State as a local “JV team” trying to imitate al-Qaeda but without the capacity to be a threat to America. It was only after the public outrage in the U.S. over the video-recorded execution of American journalist James Foley and the flight of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis that the White House re-evaluated the threat posed by the Islamic State.
Full circle

Many had cautioned against the topple-Assad campaign, fearing that extremist forces would gain control in the vacuum. Those still wedded to overthrowing Mr. Assad’s rule, however, contend that Mr. Obama’s failure to provide greater aid, including surface-to-air missiles, to the Syrian rebels created a vacuum that produced the Islamic State. In truth, more CIA arms to the increasingly ineffectual FSA would have meant a stronger and more deadly Islamic State.
As part of his strategic calculus to oust Mr. Assad, Mr. Obama failed to capitalise on the Arab Spring, which was then in full bloom. By seeking to topple a secular autocracy in Syria while simultaneously working to shield jihad-bankrolling monarchies from the Arab Spring, he ended up strengthening Islamist forces — a development reinforced by the U.S.-led overthrow of another secular Arab dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, which has turned Libya into another failed state and created a lawless jihadist citadel at Europe’s southern doorstep.
In fact, no sooner had Qadhafi been killed than Libya’s new rulers established a theocracy, with no opposition from the western powers that brought about the regime change. Indeed, the cloak of Islam helps to protect the credibility of leaders who might otherwise be seen as foreign puppets. For the same reason, the U.S. has condoned the Arab monarchs for their long-standing alliance with Islamists. It has failed to stop these cloistered royals from continuing to fund Muslim extremist groups and madrasas in other countries. The American interest in maintaining pliant regimes in oil-rich countries has trumped all other considerations.
Today, Mr. Obama’s Syria policy is coming full circle. Having portrayed Mr. Assad as a bloodthirsty monster, Washington must now accept Mr. Assad as the lesser of the two evils and work with him to defeat the larger threat of the Islamic State.
The fact that the Islamic State’s heartland remains in northern Syria means that it cannot be stopped unless the U.S. extends air strikes into Syria. As the U.S. mulls that option — for which it would need at least tacit permission from Syria, which still maintains good air defences — it is fearful of being pulled into the middle of the horrendous civil war there. It is thus discreetly urging Mr. Assad to prioritise defeating the Islamic State.
Make no mistake: like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State is a monster inadvertently spawned by the policies of those now in the lead to combat it. The question is whether anything substantive will be learned from this experience, unlike the forgotten lessons of America’s anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan.
At a time when jihadist groups are gaining ground from Mali to Malaysia, Mr. Obama’s current effort to strike a Faustian bargain with the Afghan Taliban, for example, gives little hope that any lesson will be learned. U.S.-led policies toward the Islamic world have prevented a clash between civilisations by fostering a clash within a civilisation, but at serious cost to regional and international security.

The establishment uncovered: how power works in Britain

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Owen Jones explains how the political, social and business elites have a stranglehold on the country
An establishment acrostic
How the establishment connects all areas of life in modern Britain. Photograph: Christophe Gowans/The Guardian
Definitions of "the establishment" share one thing in common: they are always pejorative. Rightwingers tend to see it as the national purveyor of a rampant, morally corrupting social liberalism; for the left, it is more likely to mean a network of public-school and Oxbridge boys dominating the key institutions of British political life.
Here is what I understand the establishment to mean. Today's establishment is made up – as it has always been – of powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote. The establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to "manage" democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population. As the well-connected rightwing blogger and columnist Paul Staines puts it approvingly: "We've had nearly a century of universal suffrage now, and what happens is capital finds ways to protect itself from, you know, the voters."
Back in the 19th century, as calls for universal suffrage gathered strength, there were fears in privileged circles that extending the vote to the poor would pose a mortal threat to their own position – that the lower rungs of society would use their newfound voice to take away power and wealth from those at the top and redistribute it throughout the electorate. "I have heard much on the subject of the working classes in this house which, I confess, has filled me with feelings of some apprehension," Conservative statesman Lord Salisbury told parliament in 1866, in response to plans to extend the suffrage. Giving working-class people the vote would, he stated, tempt them to pass "laws with respect to taxation and property especially favourable to them, and therefore dangerous to all other classes".
The worries of those 19th-century opponents of universal suffrage were not without foundation. In the decades that followed the second world war, constraints were imposed on Britain's powerful interests, including higher taxes and the regulation of private business. This was, after all, the will of the recently enfranchised masses. But today, many of those constraints have been removed or are in the process of being dismantled – and now the establishment is characterised by institutions and ideas that legitimise and protect the concentration of wealth and power in very few hands.
The interests of those who dominate British society are disparate; indeed, they often conflict with one another. The establishment includes politicians who make laws; media barons who set the terms of debate; businesses and financiers who run the economy;police forces that enforce a law that is rigged in favour of the powerful. The establishment is where these interests and worlds intersect, either consciously or unconsciously. It is unified by a common mentality, which holds that those at the top deserve their power and their ever-growing fortunes, and which might be summed up by the advertising slogan "Because I'm worth it". This is the mentality that has driven politicians to pilfer expenses, businesses to avoid tax, and City bankers to demand ever greater bonuses while plunging the world into economic disaster. All of these things are facilitated – even encouraged – by laws that are geared to cracking down on the smallest of misdemeanours committed by those at the bottom of the pecking order – for example, benefit fraud. "One rule for us, one rule for everybody else" might be another way to sum up establishment thinking.
These mentalities owe everything to the shared ideology of the modern establishment, a set of ideas that helps it to rationalise and justify its position and behaviour. Often described as "neoliberalism", this ideology is based around a belief in so-called free markets: in transferring public assets to profit-driven businesses as far as possible; in a degree of opposition – if not hostility – to a formal role for the state in the economy; support for reducing the tax burden on private interests; and the driving back of any form of collective organisation that might challenge the status quo. This ideology is often rationalised as "freedom" – particularly "economic freedom" – and wraps itself in the language of individualism. These are beliefs that the establishment treats as common sense, as being a fact of life, just like the weather.
Not to subscribe to these beliefs is to be outside today's establishment, to be dismissed by it as an eccentric at best, or even as an extremist fringe element. Members of the establishment genuinely believe in this ideology – but it is a set of beliefs and policies that, rather conveniently, guarantees them ever growing personal riches and power.
As well as a shared mentality, the establishment is cemented by financial links and a "revolving door": that is, powerful individuals gliding between the political, corporate and media worlds – or who manage to inhabit these various worlds at the same time. The terms of political debate are, in large part, dictated by a media controlled by a small number of exceptionally rich owners, while thinktanks and political parties are funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. Many politicians are on the payroll of private businesses; along with civil servants, they end up working for companies interested in their policy areas, allowing them to profit from their public service – something that gives them a vested interest in an ideology that furthers corporate interests. The business world benefits from the politicians' and civil servants' contacts, as well as an understanding of government structures and experience, allowing private firms to navigate their way to the very heart of power.
Yet there is a logical flaw at the heart of establishment thinking. It may abhor the state – but it is completely dependent on the state to flourish. Bailed-out banks; state-funded infrastructure; the state's protection of property; research and development; a workforce educated at great public expense; the topping up of wages too low to live on; numerous subsidies – all are examples of what could be described as a "socialism for the rich" that marks today's establishment.
This establishment does not receive the scrutiny it deserves. After all, it is the job of the media to shed light on the behaviour of those with power. But the British media is an integral part of the British establishment; its owners share the same underlying assumptions and mantras. Instead, journalists and politicians alike obsessively critique and attack the behaviour of those at the bottom of society. Unemployed people and other benefit claimants; immigrants; public-sector workers – these are groups that have faced critical exposure or even outright vilification. This focus on the relatively powerless is all too convenient in deflecting anger away from those who actually wield power in British society.
To understand what today's establishment is and how it has changed, we have to go back to 1955: a Britain shaking off postwar austerity in favour of a new era of consumerism, rock'n'roll and Teddy Boys. But there was a more sinister side to the country, and it disturbed an ambitious Tory journalist in his early 30s named Henry Fairlie.
Henry Fairlie Henry Fairlie, the journalist who popularised the term 'the establishment' in the 1950s. Photograph: Associated Newspapers/Rex

Early in his career, Fairlie was mixing with the powerful and the influential. In his 20s, he was already writing leader columns for the Times. But, at the age of 30, he left for the world of freelance writing and began penning a column for the Spectator magazine. Fairlie had grown cynical about the higher echelons of British society and, one day in the autumn of 1955, he wrote a piece explaining why. What attracted his attention was a scandal involving two Foreign Office officials, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had defected to the Soviet Union. Fairlie suggested that friends of the two men had attempted to shield their families from media attention.
This, he asserted, revealed that "what I call the 'establishment' in this country is today more powerful than ever before". His piece made "the establishment" a household phrase – and made Fairlie's name in the process.
For Fairlie, the establishment included not only "the centres of official power – though they are certainly part of it" – but "the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised".
This "exercise of power", he claimed, could only be understood as being "exercised socially". In other words, the establishment comprised a set of well-connected people who knew one another, mixed in the same circles and had one another's backs. It was not based on official, legal or formal arrangements, but rather on "subtle social relationships".
Fairlie's establishment consisted of a diverse network of people. It was not just the likes of the prime minister and the archbishop of Canterbury, but also incorporated "lesser mortals" such as the chairman of the Arts Council, the director general of the BBC and the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, "not to mention divinities like Lady Violet Bonham Carter" – the daughter of former Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith, confidante of Winston Churchill and grandmother of future Hollywood actor Helena Bonham Carter.
The Foreign Office was, Fairlie claimed, "near the heart of the pattern of social relationships which so powerfully controls the exercise of power in this country", stacked as it was with those who "know all the right people". In other words, the establishment was all about "who you know".
But important facets of power in Britain were missing from Fairlie's definition. First, there was no reference to shared economic interests, the profound links that bring together the big-business, financial and political elites. Second, his piece gave no sense of a common mentality binding the establishment together. There was one – although it was very different from the mentality that dominates today, despite the fact that, then as now, an Old Etonian Conservative (Anthony Eden) was in Downing Street. For this was the era of welfare capitalism, and an ethos of statism and paternalism – above all, a belief that active government was necessary for a healthy, stable society – was shared by those with power.
The differences between Fairlie's era and our own show that Britain's ruling establishment is not static: the upper crust of British society has always been in a state of perpetual flux. This relentless change is driven by survival. History is littered with demands from below for ruling elites to give up some of their power, forcing members of the upper crust of British society to compromise. After all, unchecked obstinacy in the face of demands for change risks bringing down not just individual pillars of the establishment, but the entire system of power with them.
The monarchy is a striking example of a traditional pillar of power that, faced with occasionally formidable threats, has had to adapt to survive. This was evident right from the origins of a power-sharing arrangement between crown and parliament struck in the aftermath of revolution and foreign invasion in the 17th century, and which continues to exist today. Many of the monarchy's arbitrary powers, such as the ability to wage war, ended up in the hands of the prime minister. Even today, the monarchy's role is not entirely symbolic.
"The Crown is a bit of a vague institution, but it is kind of the heart of the constitution, where all the power comes from," says Andrew Child, campaign manager of Republic, a group advocating an elected head of state. The prime minister appoints and sacks government ministers without needing to consult the legislature or electorate because he is using the Queen's powers: these are the Crown's ministers, not the people's. In practice, too, members of the royal family have a powerful platform from which to intervene in democratic decisions.

Prince Charles Prince Charles, as next in line to the throne, has a powerful platform from which to intervene in democratic decisions. Photograph: Picasa

Prince Charles, the designated successor to the throne, has met with ministers at least three dozen times since the 2010 general election and is known to have strong opinions on issues such as the environment, the hunting ban, "alternative" medicine and heritage.
In contrast to other European countries, Britain's aristocracy also managed to avoid obliteration by adapting and assimilating. In the wake of the industrial revolution it absorbed – much to the disgust of traditionalists – some prospering businessmen into its ranks, such as the City of London financier Lord Addington and the silk broker Lord Cheylesmore. The aristocracy continued to wield considerable political power throughout the 19th century, supplying many prime ministers, such as the 1st Duke of Wellington, the 2nd Earl Grey and the 2nd Viscount Melbourne. But following parliament acts passed by MPs in 1911 and 1949, this power was curtailed when the elected House of Commons enshrined in law its own dominance over the aristocrats' House of Lords. The legacy of centuries of aristocratic power has not vanished, though: more than a third of English and Welsh land – and more than 50% of rural land – remains in the hands of just 36,000 aristocrats.
Although less influential today than it has ever been, the Church of England retains the trappings of its old power. Indeed, the word establishment is testament to its one-time importance: the term is likely to derive from the fact that the Church of England is the country's "established church", or state religion, with the monarch serving as its head. The church's most senior official, the archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the prime minister on behalf of the monarch.
Even though Britain is one of the most irreligious countries on Earth, with just one in 10 attending church each week and a quarter of Britons having no religious beliefs, the Church of England still runs one in four primary and secondary schools in England, while its bishops sit in the House of Lords, making Britain the only country – other than Iran – to have automatically unelected clerics sitting in the legislature.
The establishment is a shape-shifter, evolving and adapting as needs must. But one thing that distinguishes today's establishment from earlier incarnations is its sense of triumphalism. The powerful once faced significant threats that kept them in check. But the opponents of our current establishment have, apparently, ceased to exist in any meaningful, organised way. Politicians largely conform to a similar script; once-mighty trade unions are now treated as if they have no legitimate place in political or even public life; and economists and academics who reject establishment ideology have been largely driven out of the intellectual mainstream. The end of the cold war was spun by politicians, intellectuals and the media to signal the death of any alternative to the status quo: "the end of history", as the US political scientist Francis Fukuyama put it. All this has left the establishment pushing at an open door. Whereas the position of the powerful was once undermined by the advent of democracy, an opposite process is now underway. The establishment is amassing wealth and aggressively annexing power in a way that has no precedent in modern times. After all, there is nothing to stop it.