Friday, April 29, 2005

BBC NEWS | Education | Head teachers complain of abuse

This is a telling story. My wife was a teacher. She would no more go back to it than I would become a spin doctor for New Labour. Why? She, and all her friends who were teachers, don't think it's reasonable that, in order to earn an honest living, they should have to put up with verbal and physical abuse from pupils and (as this article shows) sometimes parents as well.

We libertarians are assumed to be close to anarchists. That's not true. We believe in full enforcement of as few laws as are consistent with public safety and good order. The spurious "right" of the parents of disruptive pupils, or parents who are themselves violent or abusive, to have their children educated is a nonsense. As a wealthy society we can be proud that we provide - through taxation - state education for all. But citizens who abuse that provision should lose it - at the discretion of the head teacher responsible for the performance of that school. If they don't like it, then let them persuade another head teacher that they have brought their offspring under control, or let them pay someone else to educate them.

The "rights culture" in Britain is what gives the monsters of the underclass the impression they can behave as this article describes. A "freedoms culture" would be much better. The freedom to send your child to school to learn. The freedom of the school to expel that child if he or she disrupts the education of others. And the right of children, parents and teachers to expect to live their lives free of physical or psychological abuse - a right enforced by police released from bureaucratic fiddle-the-crime-figures work for the purpose.

BBC NEWS Education Head teachers complain of abuse

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Court tax ruling is 'black day for small businesses'

The trouble with progressive income taxes is that - in order to verify accuracy - the State needs to intrude far into our lives. This case is a typical example. This couple have done what any sensible person would do. They so arranged their affairs, on professional advice, as to minimise their taxes. The Revenue took the view (presumably based on Furniss v. Dawson) that the arrangements were artificial and should be ignored. A judge has agreed with the Revenue. So they have been taxed on a less favourable basis.

To form this conclusion (right or wrong) requires knowledge of the arrangements in a private household. In less regulated countries, family members would naturally pitch in to work on the family business. For them to do so in Britain now, they must keep detailed records of what they do to justify any share they may receive of the business's profits (or as they might see it, the family income).

A flat tax would avoid some of this. No allowances to be juggled with. Just x% of income. So no need to spread the income so as to use the allowances. But even a flat tax would leave the question of whether a family member really worked in the business or not - and how much work they did. A more small "l" liberal society than ours (I have to keep saying that, not just to avoid confusing US readers who think "liberal" means "left-wing" but to avoid confusing UK readers who know perfectly well what a bunch of interfering Statists the Liberal Democrats are) would find a solution. Perhaps any family member not paying tax on income from elsewhere could be assumed to be working for the family business?

Labour hates big business. There are days when libertarians and conservatives worry about it too. The irredeemably boring British high street is no advertisement for it; nor is Microsoft. But surely everyone should love the "Mom and Pop" businesses which provide a service which is almost always better for being personal?

One wonders at the use of State resources to pursue these apparently productive and law-abiding people.

Telegraph | Money | Court tax ruling is 'black day for small businesses'

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Veteran former Labour MP defects

Many British political blogs (including this one) featured Brian Sedgemore's stirring speech in the House of Commons (his farewell speech as it turned out) on the subject of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. It can be found in the archives here.

Now, after a lifetime in the Labour Party, he has defected to the LibDems and has - on their behalf - denounced Blair's "stomach turning lies".

Mr Sedgemore is to be commended for his principles. He is also to be pitied for having to turn his back on the party in which he had a long career. It can't be easy to leave old friends behind and to acknowledge that his whole political life was working towards the authoritarian clap-trap of "New Labour".

His former leader has dismissed his comments in predictably contemptuous terms. Blair said that the voters "...aren't particularly interested in someone they have never heard of..." That's a telling remark to make in the middle of an election. Elections are all about people Blair has "never heard of" deciding his political fate. His love of celebrity has clearly gone to his head.

BBC NEWS Election 2005 Election 2005 Veteran former Labour MP defects

Monday, April 25, 2005

Putin calls for end to tax terror

This story has no reference to liberty anywhere, but it's an interesting example of good politics. On the day you give businesspeople (including foreign investors) what they want (in dramatic terms -describing the tactics of tax inspectors as "terror"), you appease the reactionary elements in your society (in Russia the die-hard communists) by "regretting" the end of the Soviet Union.

Of course, you also - if you are President Putin - manage to squeeze in an implied threat to the "oligarchs" that they won't benefit from less "tax terror" unless they bring their money back home. Anyone want to put together a consortium to buy Chelsea FC?

BBC NEWS | Business | Putin calls for end to tax terror

Putin deplores collapse of USSR

This must sound strange to readers outside Russia. It may even make sympathetic readers worry if my choice of residence (in Moscow) is a wise one for a verbally-incontinent libertarian.

But Putin's purported longings for "the good old days" are no more realistic than a Tory "buffer" longing for the days when the British "Greeks" did not follow meekly in the wake of the Yankee "Romans". Or for that matter a Labour grandee longing for the heady days of 1946, when the illusions of "nationalisation" (yet another government euphemism for theft) had not yet been exposed to harsh reality.

Putin knows the past is gone. His people know it too. But can they be blamed for missing their former status in the world? Russia is a big country with a strong (and -culturally- quite justified) sense of its own importance. If you can't be loved, being feared comes a good second. To many proud Russians, being the "bad superpower" of a bi-polar world was better than not being a superpower at all. Almost every Russian seems angry about President Gorbachev's (real or perceived) mishandling of a transition which most of them accept had to happen.

They compare and contrast Russia's situation to the changes in China, where economic reform is happening without several generations being forced to admit that they lived a lie.

That President Putin should makes the occasional nod to such bitter nostalgia is not surprising. Some Americans may have enjoyed Condy's lecture in Moscow last week on democracy and freedom, but it was a hard pill to swallow for a Russian political class raised on enmity to, and moral superiority over, the United States.

BBC NEWS World Europe Putin deplores collapse of USSR

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Civil Contingencies Act 2004

I wasn't blogging when this became law, but if the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 doesn't scare you (and it should), then perhaps this will? It gives a government, in an "emergency" (broadly defined) powers to rule the country by fiat.

Civil Contingencies Act 2004

Telegraph | News | Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, faces death penalty

Here is an example of a terrorist being dealt with successfully through the traditional system of criminal justice in the USA. Why do we need the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 in Britain? Are our judges less to be trusted? Are our laws less effective?

Telegraph | News | Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, faces death penalty

Friday, April 22, 2005

Taxes again.

There's a nice debate on local taxes going on at Boris Johnson's blog. I was drawn into it and spent part of my lunchtime writing a long post, so thought I would save some time today by posting it here too (see below).

Despite his tousled, dozy image, Boris Johnson is an intelligent and thoughtful politician of libertarian leanings. It's a shame that Britain is now so snobbish against the "upper classes" that he has no hope of being prime minister. As a nation we really can't seem to get this "social class" thing right (i.e. recognise it as irrelevant). I really believe Boris would do a better job than most as PM - and he has a sense of humour too. I recommend his site to you (see link in sidebar). Meanwhile, back to taxes....

Local income tax is a very bad idea. Unless you think earning is a crime to be punished (in which case why not vote Labour and have done with it?).

A high earner is already paying progressive income tax, a further percentage of income as NI (aka stealth income tax) and probably higher-than-average VAT on purchases. S/he is consuming less (probably zero) "benefits" because s/he doesn't use State schools or hospitals, and is not (by definition) unemployed or (unless scrounging) on Social Security.

Now, because s/he has a house and a country cottage, the LDems want to take another two progressive slices out of her/his income. Where's the justice in that? Sure we should have a safety net for those genuinely down on their luck, but can the fourth richest nation on earth really need to spend one billion pounds a day on public "services" - much of it being wasted on the manifold inefficiencies that only a Government can generate?

Looking enviously at other peoples' money and demanding that State power be used to steal it and give it to you is a sin, guys.

Why is no-one demanding that the State's useless services (i.e. most of them) be closed down? That's the way to reduce taxes, not to manage the gender co-ordinators more efficiently.

I am coming sadly to Lenin's view that "the worse the better". Until the IMF sends the bailiffs men in again, even the Tories are going to be pimps for the State it seems.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Cost of Government

I read in The Economist that the cost of collecting US taxes is estimated at between 15-20% of the gross figure. I was curious to know how well the Inland Revenue does in comparison and was surprised to find that, according to the National Audit Office, it does ten times better. The cost of collecting income tax in the UK is just over 1.5%. Less than managing agents charge to collect rent. Less than estate agents charge to sell houses. Weird.

This is truly extraordinary. In a country where the National Health Service is as inefficient an organisation as could be conceived (delivering worse health at higher cost than any equivalent) and where most public sector organisations appear to be chaotic and anti-productive, the tax collectors are superbly efficient. How come? Why don't we distribute these paragons around the other public services to get wider benefit from their super-powers?

I cannot find much more information on this subject on the internet. I wouldn't mind betting that the difference is accounted for more by the method of measurement than reality. Maybe the US figures include the cost to taxpayers of compliance? Certainly the UK figures do not, and the amount of money and time expended in dealing with the Inland Revenue is a major cost to the UK economy. When the Inland Revenue calls, you drop all production and deal with them - such are their powers.

The Economist is advocating a "flat tax" for the UK, similar to that in Russia. As a Russian taxpayer, I can certainly confirm that the tax authorities here are easier to deal with. There are no complicated allowances; no higher rate bands. You declare your income and pay 13% of it. As simple as that. I signed my tax return this week and (unlike any I ever signed when I was a UK taxpayer) I understood it - even though it was in Russian it was clearer English than anything the Revenue ever managed!

Collection costs in flat tax regimes are confined to basic clerical work, investigative work on suspect returns and collection of unpaid bills. There's a PAYE system in Russia too, so I found that my company had paid most of the tax already and I have to write a cheque for a small balance. I can't find any numbers for the percentage cost of collection in Russia, but it must be pretty low.

Does anyone out there have comparitive data? It strikes me that a flat tax might be a good place to start in rolling back the British State. If nothing else, a country with fewer tax collectors must surely be a happier place - and as they are apparently Britain's most efficient Civil Servants they could be redeployed to run the Health Service to wonderful effect.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Statists all

I have never been happy with the authoritarian streak in Conservative thinking in Britain. The Conservatives are only marginally less inclined to tell us all how to live than Labour. This item from their website is typical of their defective thinking. They want to save "binge drinkers" from themselves by controlling the behaviour of all of us. What's wrong with simply punishing those who break the law when drunk, leaving the well-behaved majority to their pleasures? What's wrong with removing or adjusting the liquor licenses of those publicans and restauranteurs whose clientele cause a persistent problem, rather than controlling all licensed premises?

This is nasty populism in an ageing society which is increasingly less tolerant (and correspondingly more in need of protected civil liberties than ever). Sadly, Michael "something of the night" Howard is very much on the authoritarian wing.

Conservative Party - News Story

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Maybe we did well for our civilisation to last this long?

My feelings about the current election campaign are really summed up by the words quoted below. There is no discussion about issues of principle. No party is making an issue of the loss of civil liberties under the outgoing government. No party is offering to "roll back the State".

All the major parties are simply boasting about what they will do for us (with our own money). Or to be more precise, what they will do for most of us with the money of a few of us. Ethically, all three main parties have little to commend them over an 18th Century "highwayman" who at least (if literature is any guide) was occasionally chivalrous and witty when thieving. Robin Hood has a lot to answer for in the country of his birth.

The attribution of the quote is unclear, but if whoever said it (see link) was right , then Britain's democracy has had "a good run" and it is not surprising that these elections are degenerating into a squalid "benefits auction".

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again into bondage."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

James Hammerton's Blog: On Blair's "rebalancing" of the justice system

I commend this article to you. It displays the sort of logic that used to be the product of a rational education, but is now so rare in our emotion-driven public debates.

The key point, I think, is that in contrasting "accused" and "victim" (with all sympathy reserved for the victim), the proponents of "rebalancing" are guilty of revealing sloppy thinking.
James Hammerton's Blog: On Blair's "rebalancing" of the justice system

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Control order issued in "clerical error"

Those complacent citizens who think that the Home Secretary is to be trusted with the enormous power granted to him by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 might like to read this article from New Labour's "Pravda", the good old Guardian.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Home Office says sorry to suspects for ricin blunder

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass

When I first qualified as a lawyer, I briefly practised criminal law. I liked the theatricality of appearing in court, but I hated the time spent with the clients. Why? Because they talked of their crimes as if they were diseases for which they were not responsible. One said to me once "I was doing so well Mr. Paine, and then this happened. "This" was that he had been caught on the roof of a local electrical store, breaking in to steal the TVs. All my clients used the passive voice to signal that they were not responsible for their actions.

This book explores, among other things, why the "underclass" in Britain think, or at least talk, this way. Ideas of social determinism have filtered down from the dinner tables of the chattering classes to the streets. There they serve as a series of convenient excuses for bad behaviour. The author (a clinical psychologist working in hospitals and prisons) writes that when a patient excuses his criminal actions by claiming to be "easily led" he asks "...if he was ever easily led to study mathematics or the subjunctives of French verbs...". Exactly.

The increasing incidence of asocial behaviour in Britain is not caused by poverty. We are the 4th richest country in the world, with a much narrower range of economic inequality than most. It is caused by ideas, principally the idea that there are "social" explanations for an individual's choice to take drugs, commit crimes, or neglect his children.

And the more we look to such "social" explanations (as in New Labour's slogan - "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"), the more the criminals and other leeches excuse their actions using these theories. The cause of crime is criminals, Mr. Blair.

It degrades a man more to excuse his criminality than to hold him responsible. The army of social workers, probation officers etc. are signalling the belief of our rulers that we are not fully human; that we can no more choose to be honest, than a goat can choose to use a knife and fork. To blame crime on poverty is to insult the honest poor - the majority of the people on this planet.

Unfortunately this ludicrous fiction serves both sides. This book shows that criminals know exactly how to minimise their sentences using pop psychology. The people employed to listen to criminals' excuses know which side their bread is buttered. The politicians love these theories. They need more power to control the social circumstances of us all than they need to punish the criminal minority on our behalf. And so the State grows and our freedoms diminish as (in theory) we are all manipulated into behaviours and thought patterns consistent with abolishing the "causes of crime".

It is a shame the author's prose style is so pompous, because the ideas in this book are crucially important. Don't be put off by his style, it's a riveting read. Books: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass

Friday, April 15, 2005

a very British insurgency: Postal voting fraud crisis deepens

I am sitting in Frankfurt airport reading this in horror. What will it take to wake our people up?

When the IMF sent the bailiffs in on Britain in Denis Healey's time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, that national humiliation was a major cause of the Thatcher Revolution which overthrew 19th Century municipal, trade-union socialism.

Now we have international observers monitoring our elections; this in the country that invented modern parliamentary democracy. The only positive spin I can put on this humiliation is that maybe it will make more of our complacent countrymen THINK about what New Labour is doing to us and lead to similar wave of disgust.

I have no doubt that this election will be rigged using postal votes. If the government believed the postal votes were going to be honestly collected, they would not be mixing them in with the voting papers presented in person. Perhaps they don't want us to know that the postal votes are 110% New Labour, whereas the others are not?

a very British insurgency: Postal voting fraud crisis deepens

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Here is another "world gone mad" example of legislation (this time in the United States) punishing the respectable innocent, in the name of defending us all against crime and terrorism.

This is just one example. Here's another. Lawyers these days, like banks and others governed by Financial Services legislation, are required to "shop" their clients to the authorities if they suspect that they are money laundering or otherwised investing the proceeds of crime. We are supposed to do it without "tipping off" the clients, so we are not even allowed to discuss (and perhaps dispel) the suspicions.

It's nuts to put lawyers - who are in the business of advising their clients how to stay within the law - in a position where clients must treat them as potential policemen.

I was trained to view everything I learned about a client as confidential. Even the fact that someone is my client is confidential - unless he says otherwise. Now I am supposed, not to protect him from the police and advise him how to comply with the law, but to "denounce" him as a suspicious character. It's crazy. To the shame of the profession in England, it has been tamely submitting for a long time. To the credit of the French and Belgian professions, they are fighting to maintain the special lawyer/client relationship of confidentiality and trust.

It is a mark of a totalitarian society that all citizens are required to be policemen and that failure to denounce "suspicious elements" to the State will itself lead to punishment. Increasingly Britain bears that mark.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Passport applicants must give fingerprints

The Guardian reports that, having lost the Bill in Parliament, the government is proceeding with the introduction of the systems for ID Cards and National Databases using "the Royal Prerogative" - i.e. legislating without the legislature under powers reserved for emergencies.

The arrogance of these people is breathtaking. Few of us doubted that they would be back with their police state schemes if re-elected, but they are clearly bored with the democratic process and amusing themselves with the taxpayers' money in the rests between lying (sorry spinning) their way to victory.

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Passport applicants must give fingerprints

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Vote SNP for freedom?

The nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales are campaigning hard. They want "freedom" from England, but they seem unsound on liberty in general. They are Statist parties - they just want new States.

No libertarian candidate has a chance in Scotland - a fully Socialist country. Perhaps English libertarians should support the Scottish National Party? Scottish independence would remove from the Westminster Parliament many of the most hardline anti-libertarians; the true believers in "the State knows best" - men like Gordon Brown, for example. There's a man who never saw a freedom he liked, or a tax he didn't.

Scotland and Wales have provided more than their fair share of cabinet members and Prime Ministers. Partly that is because they have more than their fair share of Parliamentary seats, but it is more to do with the attractiveness of a political career to those more interested in "redistributing" the wealth of others than in the generation of wealth itself.

The "Celtic Fringe" has set the course of British politics for centuries. Public spending per head is higher in both countries than in England. Many English people would be amused to see the Scots and Welsh fund Socialism from their own resources, without English wealth to "redistribute".

It's a thought. But let's not forget that the main architects of the police state in Britain are Blunkett, Clarke and Blair. The first two are English, and Blair's Scottish roots are not particularly evident.

Prehistoric ethnic differences are of no interest to me. I am Welsh as it happens but I decline to hate my English mother because her ancestors arrived in the British Isles with a different set of primitive tribes to mine. It's just daft. But if the Scots and Welsh want to make something of it, maybe there is an opportunity here for English liberty?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Election 2005 - The Times on the vote rigging scandal

This is an interesting take on the story from a Murdoch-owned rag that has been backing New Labour for a long time.

Election 2005

Arrogant Labour knew risks of all-postal voting

The Daily Telegraph is at least trying to make this an issue (see my earlier post). However, it is only preaching to the converted. Where are the principles of the Guardian or the Times leader writers? The Guardian leader writer pontificates in a partisan way today on "the return of the nasty party" (i.e. the Tories dared to mention immigration).

The Times however runs, not a leader, but an interesting news story which I will blog in a moment or two.

Telegraph Opinion Arrogant Labour knew risks of all-postal voting

Labour activists had 'vote-rigging factory' to hijack postal votes

I really can't understand why this story is not dominating the election campaign. It amazes me that any party can survive such a scandal, given the clear evidence that the scheme of postal voting was all but designed to facilitate the crime, and that the crime itself was organised not by renegades but by the local Labour party.

The judge in the case said that, in relation to Labour's new postal voting system, "There are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been." He added "Until there are, fraud will continue unabated".

According to the Daily Telegraph the judge, Richard Mawrey, QC, said the councillors were responsible for a "massive, systematic and organised fraud" that was supported by the local Labour Party. He also said the scandal would "disgrace a banana republic."

Telegraph News Labour activists had 'vote-rigging factory' to hijack postal votes

Clarke pledges to push on with ID cards - ZDNet UK News

Is any comment really needed?

Clarke pledges to push on with ID cards - ZDNet UK News

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Social responsibility statement |

From the wonderful, which I cannot commend to you too much.

Social responsibility statement |

Whither England?

The blogosphere is quite as scary a place as the real world. As a new political blogger, I have been tracking the debates on more established political blogs. There's not a lot of "moderation" about, that's for certain.

Few people seem to subscribe to small "l" liberal values any more. The strong views of many are matched by a strong desire to impose them on others. A small example: many are prepared to "solve" the problem of low turnouts at elections by compulsion. Firstly, a low turnout is a message from the voters - that they are alienated from the political process. Deny them that method of making the point and they may emulate the disgruntled Austrians a few years ago who voted for neo-Nazis to give the system a quick kick. Secondly, why on earth should it be a crime for someone not to vote? Your not voting comes nowhere near hurting me and I have no right to force you to do it. Thirdly, anyone who really doesn't want to be there is probably going to spoil the ballot paper anyway, so what the hell would be the point?

New Labour has criminalised more than 1,000 formerly legal activities. Most of us can name only one (hunting with hounds) but there really are 1,000+ more. Given that the police in Britain don't enforce the laws against burglary - pleading lack of resources - what rational legislature would give them 1,000+ new crimes to enforce?

I have a proposal. Every law should have a "sunset clause", so that it will automatically expire on the 10th anniversary of the end of the Parliament in which it was passed. If it matters, it will be renewed (after all income tax has never been permanent and is renewed every year). If it doesn't matter, it can be allowed quietly to die. That way the "ratchet effect" by which ever more new laws criminalise or regulate ever more aspects of our lives would be reversed.

The only exceptions would be non-statutory common laws (against murder, theft etc.). Those predate Parliament itself in many cases. Britain is unique in that if all its statutes were repealed it would have - in the Common Law - a complete and workable (if rather quaint) legal system.

If we continue to tolerate a situation where every sad story in the tabloids leads to a new law, we will end up so hemmed in by rules that we will have no scope to live free. Arguably, we are already there! We should ask ourselves if we even have the right to mortgage the future of our posterity by imposing rules on them as to which they will have had no say at all.

It is too much to hope that our usually ill-educated and inexperienced members of Parliament will subscribe to Montesquieu's famous view that "If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary NOT to make a law", but at least we can limit the damage their legislative diarrhoea is causing.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A word from our sponsor

"It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government."

Thomas Paine

Friday, April 08, 2005

A nice quote to be found on Boris Johnson's blog

'One of the fundamental contrasts between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas, in the civic culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse' -

Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, Dean of law at Queensland University"

Farewell to Tam Dalyell

The longest-serving MP is not standing for re-election. His comments to the BBC about "patronage" and the Whips are highly relevant to the points I have been trying to make here. His comment about MP's with no experience of life outside politics is also relevant, as such people are inevitably more vulnerable to pressure from the Whips - thus undermining Parliament's role as a legislature independent of the executive.

Happy retirement, Mr Dalyell.

BBC NEWS | Election 2005 | Election 2005 | Dalyell waves goodbye to Commons

Labour begging for the Muslim vote

Here you will find Labour boasting to Britain's Muslim community about (amongst other things) how quickly the government condemned the assassination by Israel of the leader of terrorist organisation Hamas.

So let's get this straight, shall we? Terrorism is a bad, bad thing - bad enough to justify the end of habeas corpus and the building of a police state in Britain. Bad that is, unless there are a few million votes to be had by condemning Israeli actions in its War on Terror.

Principled foreign policy; don't you just love it?

The Muslim Weekly

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A law for the vindictive

How very "Guardian" of the sub-editor to see a law as "ill-targeted" that is actually massively authoritarian? Nonetheless a good article that reveals just how crazy today's Britain is. | Society | Nick Cohen: A law for the vindictive

Election tax plans in spotlight

The phoney war is over and battle has been joined. The parties are plugging away at their chosen subjects today. We free market, free society types are often accused of being too focussed on economics and not enough on "caring". But we are unrepresented in this election. And what are the "caring" Socialists of Labour (and the crypto-Socialist LibDems and Tories) talking about? Money of course.

The Tories are challenging Labour to confirm that taxes will not rise if they are reelected. Labour is dancing away from the topic - as everyone knows their spending pledges are underfunded. Unless they find a leprechaun to give them a crock of gold, taxes or borrowing must rise.

Labour is focussing on its "who can be trusted" posters on the economy. They continue to take credit for the consumer-led boom which has left Britain with its housing overvalued by about 60% (according to The Economist) and with the people of our small islands weighed under by 75% of all the personal debt in Europe (much secured on that same overvalued housing). It's a crash waiting to happen but, while the party lasts, Labour is taking the credit for it (and skimming off much of the money to waste on its pet projects to tell us how to live).

The LibDems are offering to spend more on education and cut tuition fees. Having no chance of winning liberates them from commonsense - so more for less is not a problem to them. They are full of ideas to tell us how to live - belying the "Liberal" in their party's name.

In short, the bribefest is underway. No-one is talking about individual liberty. The Tories are not threatening to shrink the State, just to grow it less slowly. The difference in their proposed State budget to that of Labour is only about 1% (well within the margin of error for the spending of other peoples' money).

Labour, the author of the police state that Britain has now become, doesn't have any real challenge to its ideas - just people offering variations on an authoritarian theme.

The only way to see this as an opportunity is that principled opponents of Labour have nothing to distract them. The various manifestos will be of little interest to anyone who cares about freedom. So we can focus on challenging individual candidates to state their personal position on the issues that matter to us: freedom of speech and thought, the protection of minorities against the tyrrany of the majority, a proper separation of powers between Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and of course the immediate restoration of jury trial, habeas corpus and double jeopardy.

In short, winning back the liberties that we pioneered, but have lost.

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Election 2005 | Election 2005 | Election tax plans in spotlight

Nil desperandum (well maybe a little)

It's very worrying that the summaries on news websites of the "key issues" for the election don't even mention civil liberties. What can be done to wake up the media and the people to this issue? Are the parties who sacrified key liberties to set the agenda?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Uniting the Libertarian Vote

Mr Blair has named the day and the people get their five-yearly squeak in the echoing corridors of power. Anyone reading this blog knows that civil liberties are the main issue in this election for me. But the people who care about the subject come from every point on the political compass. Left-wingers of the Tony Benn persuasion, right-wingers of the Thatcher persuasion and all kinds of soggy people in between all care about this topic. But how can we all vote to make our voice heard, when we disagree on so much else?

The Conservatives' record is poor on the subject. If the votes on the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 are taken as a "litmus test" of libertarianism, then the Tories fail it. They made a fuss, but they caved in.

The Liberal Democrats talk the libertarian talk and are undoubtedly sound on the issue of ID cards. But in the end they played Labour's game over the Prevention of Terrorism Act. All the mainstream parties were afraid of being branded as "soft on terrorism" in tabloid headlines.

Only the Green Party is completely sound on current threats to civil liberties. Unfortunately they are so unsound on almost everything else that only those prepared to live in loincloths around campfires are likely to vote for them.

Not voting is not an option is it? Our liberties cannot really just end with a shrug of the shoulders.

But it's hard to know what to do. I can only suggest going back to first principles. Forget the Parties. Look at the actual candidates on offer to you in your constituency. Beard them on the doorstep, in the street, at their "hustings" meetings. Write to them and tell them the price of your vote - i.e. the restoration of jury trial, habeas corpus, double jeopardy and respect for minority rights.

Ask them the really awkward question; "Would you vote against the Whips in defence of our ancient liberties."

Then holding your nose firmly if necessary, vote for the person who gives the "right" answer - however repellant you may otherwise find them.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Double jeopardy law ushered out

This from the BBC. I am ashamed to say it didn't make the front page of its news website. The strange sound you are hearing all over England is that of the great judges of the Common Law spinning in their graves.

BBC NEWS | UK | Double jeopardy law ushered out

The end of 'double jeopardy'

Another ancient protection against the State dies today. If the Crown Prosecution Service, with all the resources of the State behind it, cannot convict you the first time - it can now have another try. As a young lawyer I worked on the defence team in a couple of murder trials. I know what an unequal struggle they can be. Most people accused of crime are not rich sportsmen or pop stars who can afford large legal teams. Most are ordinary people, represented by overloaded lawyers doing their humble best.

For an innocent man such a trial is a terrible ordeal. The idea that someone should go through all that, be acquitted by a jury of his peers, and then have to face it again is a nightmare. Of course, it came as no surprise - this has been in the works for ages - but it is still a national disgrace.

In one month we have lost two rights so fundamental as to be written into the US Constitution - because our Constitution says no more than "Parliament is sovereign" - and our Parliament has been hijacked by the political parties and their "Whips".

Telegraph | News | Murder reviews with end of 'double jeopardy'

Economics (but please read it anyway)

As a social sciences graduate myself, married to an arts graduate, with two clever daughters at school disinclined to do science degrees, I confess to worrying that Britain's academic snobbery against science is at the root of our problems. We have a nation run largely by "airy-fairy" intellectuals brought up to think the arts and social sciences (which are not sciences at all) are superior to any kind of "hard" knowledge.

The economic illiteracy of our population may account for the two past generations having lived their socialist dreams by the simple expedient of dumping their debts on us. Our parents and grandparents took out of the national kitty by way of "free" benefits more than they deposited. They were "free" to them, that's true - but they remain to be paid for. And did they really assume that the population of our small islands would keep growing so that the workers of the future would pay for the workers of the past? I doubt they even thought about it.

What has that to do with liberty? Spoon-feeding by the "generous" State has taught only us the shape of the spoon - and a spurious affection for the "Nanny" who has been feeding us. There is nothing in history to suggest that an over-mighty State can ever be trusted. But we Brits trust ours to a dangerous extent. An understanding of economics (and other boring subjects) might put the State's "generosity" in context and help the scales to fall from our eyes.

Here's a link to a nice example of why our mathematical ignorance makes apparent paradox out of logic.

EconLog, How Everyone Can Get Richer as Per-Capita Income Falls, Bryan Caplan: Library of Economics and Liberty

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II

I lived in Poland for 11 years and I know how sad many of my friends there will be tonight. Pope John Paul II was important to all Catholics, but most of all to Catholic Poles. He denied that he brought down Communism, but he certainly contributed mightily to the liberation of Poland and the other nations of the former Eastern Bloc. He was a great man. RIP.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Media facing bans at EU complex - in case they see our representatives defrauding us

We oppressed Britons can hope for no moral direction from our Members of the European Parliament. The story below shows many of them don't care about anything much except their perks. And their leaders will protect them - as long as they keep it that way.

It is no credit to any of us in Europe that so many MEPs are third-rate losers "on the make". To Britons, it is sadly reminiscent of the many craven MPs in Westminster who will do anything the Whips tell them, as long as they can retain their pay and perks.

In any functioning democracy, stories like this would end careers; those of the MEPs concerned and of the officials who have tried to cover up for them. But in the twisted world of modern politics, we shrug our shoulders. After all, Europe's political doyen is widely known in the Blogosphere as Kickback Chirac - and that's considered funny.

These people need to fear us - as they plainly do not at present. All credit to Hans Peter Martin, the Austrian MEP who led the German reporters from Stern TV to the scandal, and to those reporters for trying to introduce these shameless rogues to the idea of democratic accountability.

Media facing bans at EU complex

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Liberty

It's the weekend. So let's lighten up a little. Has it ever struck you that Indiana Jones is the archetypal free man? He is intelligent, caring, enthusiastic and tough. He gets really pissed off if you even try to push him around. He's a linguist, a traveler, a scholar and the best kind of friend. He's fascinated by other cultures, but comfortably rooted in his own.

His opponents are usually the Nazis, the ultimate believers in the subordination of the individual to the collective. He hates those guys.

He is quirky, eccentric and open to spiritual as well as scientific ideas, but is suitably sceptical - "...if you believe in that sort of thing..." "superstitious hocus-pocus" etc. He's careful, but he's brave. He's taken the name of his dead pet, so he's a touch sentimental.

Square-jawed, academic, heroic, fond of animals and free-thinking. Let's face it - he is the Platonic ideal of the free man.

PS: Marion Ravenwood is a pretty good free woman too. "Nobody tells me what to do in my own place" should be the motto of all the oppressed citizens of Blair's sad new Britain.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Social Affairs Unit - Weblog: Civil liberties cannot be defended selectively

Here is a link to an excellent article. We really do need to start thinking about civil liberties in a principled fashion in Britain. The intellectual deterioration wrought by decades of undue political interference in our public education system is becoming very apparent.

The Social Affairs Unit - Weblog: Civil liberties cannot be defended selectively

Flight's supporters are banned from holding meeting - Britain - Times Online

More on Michael Howard and Howard Flight in this item from today's Times. It does not seem that Mr Howard gets the point.

Flight's supporters are banned from holding meeting - Britain - Times Online

The Edge of England's Sword: The Spirit of the Law

Lord Denning was always a hero of mine. It's good to see his words are still resonating.

The Edge of England's Sword: The Spirit of the Law

Bernard Levin and the Single Issue Fanatic

The Times was my newspaper for many years. I took out a half price subscription when I was in the sixth form which I maintained through my University years. I was a daily reader for a long time until Rupert Murdoch subverted its "voice" and began to turn it into New Labour's Pravda.

One of the great pleasures of reading The Times used to be the columns by the late Bernard Levin. Levin was an unashamed intellectual in an increasingly anti-intellectual society. He was perhaps rather eccentric by today's standards. To me, at the time, he seemed civilised, erudite and simply confident in his right to be himself. His writing was crisp and his thinking clear. His sensibilties were liberal. And he seemed to know everything.

Levin coined the phrase "single issue fanatic" to describe the sort of person behind the "lobby groups" which were then becoming a feature of British political life. Animal testing, gay rights, political prisoners, anti-smoking, global warming - whatever the issue was, these groups found that an obsessive focus had a more powerful effect than broadly-based political action. The single issue fanatics who powered such groups provided the obsession, and therefore the focus. They have had an undoubted effect. Their success may have been a factor in undermining wider participation in mainstream politics, leaving the major parties themselves small and unrepresentative.

To a polymath like Levin, SIFs were particularly annoying. He found them tedious, offensive and dangerous. They were simply bores, organised into armies. No educated and intelligent person could possibly become so obsessed. Life was too interesting. There were too many things to think about for any sensible human to become stuck in one line of thought.

Being a SIF is the intellectual equivalent of having a facial tic. One can feel sorry for the person concerned. One can sympathise to an extent, particularly if their "single issue" is one of the issues one cares about. But it is nonetheless a disturbing and unattractive trait.

Levin's writing on this subject influenced me. Prone as I am to serial enthusiasm, I have always been conscious of the danger of becoming a SIF. This blog has made me conscious of it again. Levin's ideas about SIFs have come back to me every time I "post" some observation about habeas corpus and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Of course, I could broaden my themes to cover politics generally. To be honest, it's hard not to take the odd sideswipe. This is not the only issue I care about. But it is a priority at this moment. It is also an issue that unites Left and Right, so why muddy the waters? This gives us a chance to build a coalition for liberty that no other issue could.

At this point in our history, this is the necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a return to political sanity. This is a point on which men and women from across the political spectrum can turn and take a stand against the ignorant and ethically-defective people who have taken over our political life.

Once our right to a fair trial is restored, we can - and must - move on to other issues. I cannot believe our people will cross this last ditch. Here we can - we surely must - turn and fight.