Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and liberty

As a lawyer advising foreign investors in Russia, I am asked more about the Khodorkovsky case than any other issue. As a guest in Russia I don't think it would be polite to comment here on fears that the case is politically motivated. If nothing else, that would be rude to my professional colleagues in the Russian judiciary. Until someone produces evidence that they have been corrupted (and a judge taking orders from the executive branch of government would be just as corrupt as a judge taking a bribe) I prefer to assume that they are honest.

Instead, let me use the news of Mr Khodorkovsky's conviction for tax fraud to highlight a point I have made before about the civil liberties implications of taxation. Income taxes, corporate or personal, force governments to be intrusive. They have to enquire into the accuracy of tax declarations to ensure they collect the full sums they need to do their "job". Inevitably, they take every bit as hard a view of people who don't pay their taxes as those of us in business take of those swine who don't pay their bills. Having a monopoly of military and police power in their countries however, they are able to do to their "non-payers" what the rest of us can only fantasise about doing to ours.

If Yukos and Mr Khodorkovsky had been taxed on their expenditures, not their income, this case would never have arisen. Mr Khodorkovsky and Yukos need never have made the disputed declarations. The taxes would have been collected without fuss and without temptation. Millions expended in pursuing the case would have been saved. A major Russian company would still prosper.

And potental foreign investors would not be asking impertinent questions about the probity of the Russian judiciary.

Monday, May 30, 2005

French say firm 'No' to EU treaty

Vive la France! My joy is only slightly alloyed by the bitter reflection that this historic rejection by the French people of the "European Constitution" will clearly have a more profound impact, to say the least, than any rejection by the British people would have had.

In Europe, France counts even when she's wrong. Britain doesn't count even when (occasionally) she is right.

The French rejected the Constitution for all the wrong reasons. Properly understood, by their own criteria, they should have given it a full-on Gallic embrace.

Britain would have rejected it (if given the chance) for all the right reasons - namely a belief that to subsume such widely differing legal, administrative and political systems in the federal Europe to which the Constitution was tending, would be about as likely to succeed in the long term as a relaunch of the Soviet Union.

I have spoken this morning to two influential European businessmen; a Frenchman and a German. Both said "Federal Europe is dead" and that Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey can "forget about" joining the EU. This may be the turning of the tide on the grandiose, nonsensical "European Project", which was such a profound and mistaken reaction of the WWII generation to the horrors of that war.

Perhaps we may even get back to the simple "free trade zone" that most modern Brits would prefer.

I guess all Eurosceptics must be grateful to the French for making such a mistake from their own point of view. For this blessing, we must supress our feelings of resentment that our own views would never have had such an effect. Merci, mes amis. We are all in your debt. Now we look to Britain's most constant friends in Europe, the Dutch, to give this dying beast its coup de grace.

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | French say firm 'No' to EU treaty

Saturday, May 28, 2005

An adventurous nation

Today, I took a break from a bitch of a week. Tomorrow (safe in Russia from the Working Hours Directive) I have to put in a full day at the office. So today I made an effort to distract myself from stress-inducing thoughts and took a walk. I visited the "Old English Court" - a building given by the Tsar in the 16th Century to the Muscovy Company. This was a City of London enterprise which enjoyed a monopoly of trade with Russia until it was expelled when another Tsar took exception to the way Cromwell treated monarchs.

As the "office" and warehouse of the company, the building was also the court of the English monarch in Moscow; effectively the embassy. It was the first such foreign embassy in Russia.

The story of how the Muscovy Company was formed is an interesting sidelight in Giles Milton's superb "pop" history book, "Nathaniel's Nutmeg". An English sea captain named Richard Chancellor was leading an expedition across the top of Russia to try to find a Northern passage to Asia and in particular to the Spice Islands. The expedition failed catastrophically, but the City merchants who financed it "lucked out" when Chancellor found his way to Moscow and won trading rights with the then-mysterious Russians. The building I visited was part of the deal he negotiated.

Standing in low barrel-vaulted rooms once occupied by predecessor English expats, I pondered awhile the spirit that led those men here. London was not just a three hour flight away then. Their comforts were slight. It seems they slept on the bales of hemp they bought from Russia, or near the treasure chest full of the wherewithal to buy it. They faced real hardships to make a living (not just the risk of deep vein thrombosis from too much time in economy class). In doing so they helped to equip the Royal Navy, whose ships were rigged with ropes of Russian hemp and masted with Russian trees. One of the texts on the exhibits claims that Russia played its part in the defeat of the "invincible Spanish Armada." Success has many fathers!

It's a long time since those guys built a network of trading routes around the world. The wealth England enjoys (and largely allows its government to squander) today was built by them and others like them. Brave men, perhaps a little avaricious, keen to hazard all to make their family's fortune.

What would they think of the "health and safety" culture in Britain today? A culture that prevents council pest officers leaning out of a window to clear a wasp's nest? A culture that leads police officers, their gutlessness dressed up as "procedure", to leave a woman to bleed to death?

What would they think of a shrunken people who childishly seek protection from all ills in the skirts of an all-powerful State? What would they think of millions living shamelessly on "social security" with no intention of ever working? What would they think of an English mother with three pregnant daughters under the age of 16, who blames the government's sex education curriculum?

I know what they would think. They would despise us. I have no doubt of it. They would be right.

The right to roam

Here's a good example of a "right" vs a freedom. It's a atrractive one. "Ramblers" have been given the right to roam freely over huge areas of Britain by a generous government.

But where did the Government get this "right" from? Did it buy the land? Did it compensate the owners for granting others "rights" over their property? Will it compensate the landowners for damage caused to crops, fences or livestock?

Of course it didn't pay. Of course it didn't - and won't - compensate. It would not even occur to it. In the black soul of this Government, resides the core belief - unspoken because yet unacceptable - that every piece of Britain and everything in it belongs to the State, to be disposed of as it pleases.

If you exercise this "right" of yours, remember where it came from. It was stolen from others by force. As you walk across their land, be careful with what remains of their property. Your own - humble or great - is just as vulnerable as the power of the State grows relentlessly.

As Barry Goldwater said, "...a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away..."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Doctors call for kitchen knife ban

Where will this "Nanny State" spirit ever end? The Daily Mail reports today that some doctors want to criminalise cooks who use kitchen knives for their designed purpose because bad people sometimes use such knives to wound others.

What about the wicked people who knock their enemies down using cars then? Or hit them over the head with cricket bats? Or strangle them with washing lines?

It is not the weapon that causes the crime, but the criminal. It is the behaviour of the criminal that needs to be addressed, not the implements available to him. The warped logic that claims deaths would be avoided if these knives were not available is no credit to the quality of teaching in our medical schools. If someone was prepared to equip themselves with a kitchen knife for offensive purposes, he will - if such knife is not available - equip himself with something else.

The idea that millions of existing kitchen knives (not to mention billions of them available as perfectly ordinary household objects in every other country of the world) can be banished from Britain is ridiculous too.

I have visions of Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes and Raymond Blanc lining up outside their local police station to hand in their kitchen equipment under the terms of an amnesty. I would laugh, but commonsense is so dead in modern Britain that it could happen.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Doctors call for kitchen knife ban

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Paine's Law of blogging

Have any other bloggers noticed that the busier they are, the more they blog? I have been working solidly all day (apart from a Russian lesson which partly consisted of translating my blog to a bemused teacher). I am under pressure, trying to bring a long-running deal to a satisfactory (or at least well-documented) close. But I have posted more entries than on any day since I started this blog. Any theories?

Teenager handed hoodie ban

Young Mr Carroll does not sound like the sort of chap I would like my daughter to bring home. Indeed, a spell in some kind of youth custody institution would seem to be in order while we wait for him to graduate to prison.

However, it still makes a farce of the law to use it for the purposes described here. Attacking people and cutting down lampposts are certaintly problems. The clothes he wears are not.

Why stop here? If he has short hair, why not make him grow it long? If he has red hair, why not make him dye it blonde? If he supports Man U, why not make him watch Man City? If he has a Nintendo, why not swap it for a PlayStation?

This is all such nonsense. I still identify with my nation and I find this just too embarrassing. Why on earth are the courts cooperating?

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Teenager handed hoodie ban

Click, click, click. If only saving half the world from poverty were so simple. (The Times)

I am ashamed to say my blog briefly sported a "make poverty history" virtual wristband. Who could disagree with that sentiment? Then, like Stephen Pollard, I read the programme behind the slogan and realised it would, as he says, "make poverty permanent".

The first world's tariff barriers do more damage to the third world than all our aid and debt forgiveness can rectify. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy is a case in point, but the Americans are not much better. The first world's contribution should be to let people in the third world sell their produce to us - even if that means a few French hobby-farmers have to work for a living like the rest of us.

The third world's own contribution should be to put their legal and administrative houses in order so that the accumulation of wealth by productive effort becomes possible.

PJ O'Rourke pointed out that modern Western aid to one African nation (I forget which and his book is not to hand) had been enough to buy every citizen there a farm. Yet they were poorer than ever. The money had been ripped off by a ruling elite quite content to keep their people poor; a ruling elite which has no interest in "open trade, reduced regulation and, critically, property rights." Those unsexy-sounding things are what could "make poverty history" - not celebrity posturing or politicians' generosity with other peoples' money.

I have no doubt however, that Blair and Brown will both sport their wristbands and throw away cash that could plug the "black hole" in our pensions making African dictators obscenely rich.

Stephen Pollard %u2022 Click, click, click. If only saving half the world from poverty were so simple. (The Times)

Guantanamo is gulag of our time, says Amnesty

The headline may be a massive insult to the former inmates of the Soviet Union's camps, but there is a kernel of truth in the article - namely the Amnesty International statement that the US and UK governments are "betraying the cause of human rights in pursuit of their 'war on terror'".

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Guantanamo is gulag of our time, says Amnesty

Boris won't pay to be abused by the BBC

The BBC licence fee is a tax. The worst thing about taxes - as this story neatly illustrates - is the amount of State power needed to enforce them. Once you have income tax, the State needs to know private details about your life in order to check you are paying the right amount. If every house with a TV must pay a TV tax, as in Britain, then the State must have powers to force entry to your home.

Simplification of taxes is not just a matter of saving money (although it is a fact that a portion of our national income is wasted enforcing complicated taxes). It is a matter of liberty. If income taxes were abolished and replaced by purchase tax, the government would need to know nothing about us at all. They would simply need to know the turnover of every retail business. Thousands of tax inspectors could be released from drudgery to perform socially useful activity. Since the richer one is, the more one spends the tax would be fair as well as simple. It would also encourage saving and investment - all without the need for the Government to look over our shoulders or harass us as it is currently harassing Boris.

The BBC licence fee is a simple problem. It should be abolished and the BBC permitted to advertise. Better yet, this antiquated leviathan of broadcasting should simply be closed. There is no need for a state enterprise to produce crap TV. There are plenty of private companies adept at this.

Telegraph | Opinion | I won't pay to be abused by the BBC

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Green Belts under more threat

Town & Country Planning is one of those issues that is difficult for British libertarians. The British tend to romanticise the countryside and to be natural nimbies (i.e. to subscribe to the "Not In My Back Yard" school of development). Developers are seen as "bad guys" and so nostalgic is the nation that we have the highest proportion of people living in housing over 70 years old of (I believe) any nation in Europe. In other countries, a new house is as much more desirable than an old one as a new car is more desirable than an old banger. Not in Britain. The old stuff often commands a premium. This is a nation more in love with history than comfort.

The "Green Belt" is a sacred cow concept of urban planning in Britain. The green belt around London restricts the capital's expansion and ensures a "green lung" of open land to balance the dense development of the city. However, when combined with increasing demand to live in the city and other planning restrictions (and infrastructure shortages) which make it difficult to build more densely, it inevitably drives up prices. The government's response so far has been to compel developers to provide low cost housing on each development in return for being given planning permission to use their own land as they wish. In the private sector, this would be known as extortion. Of course governments live by extortion (aka tax) so they tend not to think in such terms. The low cost housing will eventually find its way into the market at high cost so this is only a short term fix.

The libertarian issue with planning policy is that it interferes with the use of people's property. If a community does not want a particular type of building on private land, it should have to buy the land to prevent it, so that the owner's rights are not intrefered with. Why should the value of your property be enhanced by your using the power of the State to depress the value of mine?

We are all so used to planning controls, however, that we tend to think of it as an increase in value when we get permission to develop, rather than a theft of value that our right to develop was removed by the State. So much have we bought into this thinking that Governments have been known to tax the increased value they "create" or "give" on granting planning consents! Twisted thinking indeed.

Britons live in a country that is largely empty. They tell themselves not, but maybe they should fly over it more! As for Scotland, the place is effectively deserted. The British population is crammed into small houses which are getting smaller on average because of more restrictive planning policies. Those policies are so restrictive (not more than 1.5 parking spaces per dwelling) that there are reports of these little houses burning down because fire engines can't get past the cars parked in the narrow road.

Taxpayers (through the EU) are paying farmers to "set aside" (i.e. not cultivate farm land). Yet planning controls are preventing land owners from building more houses and preventing individuals from living where they wish. Our Alice in Wonderland housing market is impoverishing the population of one of the world's richest nations by soaking up all their free cash to finance their houses. Millionaires live proudly in "valuable" homes which 19th Century manual workers were once ashamed to occupy. It's bizarre.

Surely it would make more sense to invest in infrastructure to permit denser development in the places our people WANT to live. They are deserting the old Northern mill towns in their droves to move to the South-East. Fine. Why should the State get in their way? If we end up with a densely-populated South, but lots of "green lung" North, what is wrong with that? And if we want to keep the green belts, maybe we need to look are more agreeable ways of permitting denser housing in the cities they constrict.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Green Belts under more threat

Monday, May 23, 2005

Pubs call time on happy hour

Is it legal for a Government to influence trade associations to fix higher prices? If the French government was influencing a cartel of wine producers to indulge in anti-competitive practices, how would our Government react? Why is it any different for a cartel of publicans to agree not to offer discounts than it would be for a cartel of car dealers, lawyers or undertakers? Why should responsible, well-behaved drinkers pay more for their drinks because some idiots make fools of themselves when drunk?

Will someone please tell this Government that we are not its children?

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Pubs call time on happy hour

... and this is how Charles Clarke set a new Labour record for bogus claims

Someone needs to take this yob in hand and give him a short, sharp shock.

Telegraph | News | ... and this is how Charles Clarke set a new Labour record for bogus claims

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Chancellor to "aid" first-time buyers

Here's another brilliant idea to waste taxpayers' money. Gordon Brown knows that the "boom" in Britain is fake - fuelled entirely by billions of pounds of consumer debt. Britain has 75% of Europe's personal debt.

People are borrowing long-term (on mortgages and re-mortgages) to spend short-term (on holidays and cars). If they stop, the "boom" will stop and everyone will see that it had nothing to do with Mr Brown's friend "Prudence" at all.

So Gordon is going into the buy-to-let business - with your money of course. He will "go halves" with first-time buyers on their house and rent the taxpayers' half to them at 3%. That's a great investment, Gordon! What a good job you have access to money extorted by force. You wouldn't raise a lot for that deal any other way.

If Mr Brown was interested in making houses affordable, he could (as the State controls the supply of building land through the planning system) make more of it available. But Gordon is not really interested in "helping" first time buyers or anyone else. By intervening in the market, he will simply drive up demand and bolster ludicrous prices. He is aiming to buy the votes of those who bought at those prices - which long-term economic analysis suggests may be as much as 60% above sustainable levels. In other words, he is intervening in the market for electoral advantage.

The trouble is that when the market moves, no Government can stop it. Norman Lamont learned that on "Black Wednesday" when he cost the nation an estimated £3.8 billion "supporting the pound." All he did was dump taxpayers's money in the laps of cleverer men than himself (an estimated £1 billion to George Soros alone) and destroy the Conservatives' reputation as the party of economic wisdom.

Brown is not New Labour, any more than anyone else in his party. "New Labour" is a dishonest slogan; a meretricious "re-branding" of the same raddled old product - Socialism - that half the population of the world in the 20th Century suffered and in many cases died "market testing".

Brown is "taxing and spending" in an attempt to defeat market forces. That's as Socialist as can be. It will work every bit as well as it worked in the Soviet Union, Cuba and Eastern Europe.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Chancellor to aid first-time buyers

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Advisers to tackle unruly pupils

When this government is going to do something, it does it. From Daily Mail headline to new law can take weeks rather than years. When it is not going to do something, it forms a committee.

This government cannot do anything about indiscipline in schools because it cannot admit that the implementation of Labour's educational theories is the cause of that indiscipline. Unlike the Labour cabinet, I went to a comprehensive school. It was a brave new experiment then, and it was obvious to us guinea pigs that it was going to fail.

As a bright working-class kid who wanted to learn, I watched my teachers devote all their attention to keeping the thick kids in the classroom and reasonably quiet. Those kids should have been in another classroom or another school learning skills appropriate to their abilities. But socialist theory said they were disadvantaged, not stupid (although I was no more advantaged than they were) and that we should all be taught from the same curriculum in the same room. Clever or not, we were all more inclined to be unruly because our time was being wasted.

My education suffered. I left school truly disadvantaged and have educated myself as best I can from subsequent reading. Their education suffered because they were not given appropriate education for them, delivered by teachers specialised in their needs.

Margaret Thatcher's cabinet had more State-educated members than any cabinet of Blair's. Why? Because they had been educated in the golden age of British education. Grammar schools were a gateway of opportunity for the working classes. Comprehensive schools are locked gates to prevent social mobility and hold bright working class kids "in their place" - suitably alienated and inclined to be left-wing.

Somehow I don't think Ms Kelly's committee is likely to come to that conclusion.

BBC NEWS | Education | Advisers to tackle unruly pupils

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Gangs of more than two banned at shopping centre

Please note the historical resonances. Assemblies of "more than two" people can be broken up by police under the Chief Constable of Northumbria's interpretation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. The Daily Mail uses the emotional word "gang" in an unselfconsciously stupid way here.

My family of four, it seems, constitutes a potential "gang" to be broken up by police. Many will no doubt say that the police will not use their powers in that way, and I am sure most coppers won't. But it is a characteristic of a totalitarian state that almost everything is illegal and that selective enforcement gives the authorities wide discretion to harrass anyone they don't like.

Until my thirties I was happy to tell a policeman to get lost if he was exceeding his powers. Pulled over and given inappropriate grief by a Yorkshire traffic cop years ago I asked for his badge number and he backed off. I would be afraid to do that now. In fact I would no more do it than I would in Russia - where abject behaviour in the presence of policemen is the only, rather unreliable, alternative to a bribe.

As a respectable law-abiding person, I steer clear of any British policeman and would be reluctant to help him. I simply don't want to come to his attention. If I pointed out a crime to him and gave evidence against the criminal, he would not protect me from the criminal's revenge. As a terrible case in Henley a while back showed, he would put his "health and safety" above my own life if I were in mortal danger.

No British policeman ever solved a crime of which I was the victim (and there have been several). In fact none even pretended to try. Many have wasted my time, on the other hand, and shown me discourtesy in my capacity as a motorist (with a clean licence for more than two decades). Based purely on personal experience, I would be safer and happier without the British police.

Of course, I accept that personal experience is not everything. The police are a necessary evil. Given my experience of their pathetic performance, however, I am heartily sick of them pontificating and demanding extra powers. Until their forces perform decently in enforcing the laws we have always had, Britain's Chief Constables should have the good sense to shut up.

New police powers are not the answer to any of our problems. Yobs who didn't care about the old powers, won't care about the new ones. Only good citizens suffer from new laws, which alienates them from the police. Policing by consent is dying in Britain, if not already dead. The degree of force required to enforce order in a society which distrusts its police is much higher.

Laws should be clear and universally applicable. A law designed to be selectively enforced is a bad law. All the wicked behaviours ("general disorder, assaults and harassing people to buy alcohol") mentioned here by the Daily Mail agitprop were already illegal.

Supplementing laws which are not enforced with more laws will not make us behave differently. Of course the police should arrest and the CPS should prosecute teenagers (or others) who assault shoppers. But why should an innocent teenager talking to two friends be liable to this kind of (chilling phrase) "total policing?"

Are we trying to alienate the majority of good kids? Do we want a society run on the assumption that all teenagers are bad?

If the police were enforcing the laws we had 50 years ago we would be in a much better shape than we are now. We do not need new laws. The police do not need new powers. The politicians just need news stories like these. When we will see through the agitprop and wake up to the totalitarian dangers ahead?

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Gangs of more than two banned at shopping centre

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The non-jobs that you pay for

As the debt-fuelled consumer boom falls off a cliff, one wonders how high taxes will have to go in Britain to fund this kind of nonsense.

Blithering Bunny � Blog Archive � The non-jobs that you pay for

Suburban streets in the grip of feral youths, says police chief

My own little story earlier this month was as nothing to this, but was part of the same phenomenon. Blair's "respect" idea might make more sense if it were not that left-wing educational theories, as practised in Britain's State schools, are to blame.

A small minority of teenagers learn at school that they can abuse and even assault teachers without any comeback. They carry that "learning" out into the wider community, where they find that the police are no more inclined to deal with their behaviour. Is it any wonder that they are contemptuous of our decadence?

Meanwhile, Blair fiddles with ID cards while Rome burns.

Telegraph | News | Suburban streets in the grip of feral youths, says police chief

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fast track for ID cards

And so it begins. The first priority of the new Labour government is the introduction of ID cards and the national database associated with them.

This is a government with the support of a minority of British people; it is a government elected by a distorted electoral system; it is a government tainted by vote-rigging; it is a government which lost the election in England and is only in power because of the Scots.

It is a government with no respect or understanding for the libertarian traditions of England. It has abolished habeas corpus; it has abolished double jeopardy; it has limited rights to jury trial. It is - for some reason as yet undetermined - building a police state in Britain. Focussing relentlessly on terrorism, and now on "yob culture" (a culture which its education policies have engendered) it is appealing to the basest instincts of the least enlightened elements of the population.

I sincerely believe that liberty is in great danger in England. In the absence of an effective opposition, our democracy is not functioning. Our lack of constitutional protections for individual rights means we are at the mercy of authoritarian leftists.

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Fast track for ID cards

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Call to boycott 'hoodie' ban mall

A children's charity has hit out at the "stereotypes and prejudices" behind the Bluewater shopping centre ban on baseball caps and "hoodies".

This little story continues to have "legs" because it is revealing about attitudes. John Prescott has joined the debate, complaining that he feels "intimidated" by youths dressed in this way. As a man who has actually assaulted a voter in full view of TV cameras, one would think Mr. Prescott would stay out of this one!

New Labour really has become the New Establishment and seems determined to create "New Snobbery", "New Exclusion" and "New Boring-old-fartness" to cement its position. Its conviction that it has the right to rule as a "natural party of government" will distance it more and more from many who still think a Government is there to serve them, not to tell them how to live.

Those who commit crimes should face prosecution and punishment on an even-handed basis. Private shopping centres should be able to exclude any visitors they don't want, without having to resort to stupid rules which lump offenders together with the honest and respectable. But dressing in a way that frightens old sailors should not be the concern of Government.

BBC NEWS | England | Kent | Call to boycott 'hoodie' ban mall

Friday, May 13, 2005

Unruly pupils should 'go private'

Another wonderful idea from the British left-liberal elite. Let's take the hard cases who disrupt the education of others in State schools and have them disrupt that of children whose parents have paid for private education.

The private schools are under threat because the Government wants to remove their charitable status unless they provide wider "social benefits". This seems to amount to a planned nationalisation by stealth. It could result in those who pay high school fees (in addition to taxes for State education they don't use) paying yet more to compensate for the failings of State education. It would be disturbingly easy for the Government to add taking in disruptive pupils to its list of blackmail demands.

The private schools need to start buying land in Ireland now. This doctrinaire Government is perfectly capable of destroying everything that is good in Britain just to conceal how bad is the service it provides itself.

Note the implicit admission that the private sector does a better job. Doublethink is the norm in the Peoples' Republic of Britain.

BBC NEWS | Education | Unruly pupils should 'go private'

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Blair in war on yobs and 'hoodies'

"War on yobs" is not a problem - although the "war on" formulation is a little tired and unecessarily grandiose. Libertarians don't have problems with enforcing the laws necessary to preserve life, property and to keep people free from reasonable fear. But this is thinking worthy of Alf Garnett.

In the 1960's or 1970's reactionaries thought that "long-haired layabouts" were the problem. Long-haired layabouts such as Blair during his would-be pop star phase, perhaps? Our ageing population in Britain is increasingly afraid of its youth (most of whom are perfectly decent people) and far too inclined to repress superficial and irrelevant behaviours.

I know this runs contrary to his whole political experience, but Blair should acknowledge that actions, not appearances, are what matters. The law has no business in, and can never be effective at, regulating fashion. If we must proscribe something, it should be a well-defined action that a court can readily identify.

Theodore Dalrymple in his book "Life at the Bottom", debunked the "causes of crime" thinking of the liberal elite by pointing out that, using their logic, one could just as easily conclude that tattoos caused crime - since almost all the criminals he treated professionally were adorned with them. I laughed when I read that, but today I read that Blair thinks hoodies cause crime. Is that any more sensible?

As the fashion concerned originated with black youth, I think that Blair may even be playing the race card here. Are we thinking what he's thinking? I hope not.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | Blair in war on yobs and 'hoodies'

BBC NEWS | England | Kent | Mall bans shoppers' hooded tops

This is a perfect example of how life in Britain resembles more and more the life in Britain's schools.

These stupid rules (I wear a baseball cap sometimes, my daughter wears a hoodie) avoid the issue. The management of this shopping centre is afraid to use discretion to exclude troublemakers. If they discriminate in the true meaning of the word, they will no doubt be accused of discrimination in the bastardised modern sense of the word.

So the stupid rules are designed to give a "non-discriminatory" reason to exclude. Bluewater is a private complex and the owners should be able to exclude whomever they please without fear of claims. If they were, I am sure they would not resort to such nonsense.

I love the idea that baseball caps are worn to cover the face by the way. That may be the effect viewed from high security cameras but it does not mean that is the purpose. I wear mine to keep my head warm and my eyes shaded when driving my convertible, OK? And what about Islamic headgear then? Will that be excluded too? I think not.

BBC NEWS | England | Kent | Mall bans shoppers' hooded tops

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Europe-Asia Studies: Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War: a note - World War II

It has been interesting to watch the VE Day anniversary celebrations from two sides. The Russians see things differently and regard the war losses of the other Allies as trivial. They have a point. More than 8 million Red Army soldiers died in battle.

The Western Allies can't quite forget however that the Soviet Union began the war on the Axis side and only joined the good guys when attacked. They know, but politely don't say, that if Hitler had not barmily turned on his Communist allies the "Great Patriotic War" would have continued to be against them and yesterday's victory parade might have had a different tone. But then, had the Japanese not barmily attacked Pearl Harbour...?

The Western Allies don't know quite how to take the claims of 26-27 million "war dead" in the former Soviet Union - although most press reports are politely accepting it in the current commemorative atmosphere. In truth, the numbers were huge and horrible but no-one really knows how high they were. The article referenced below outlines the methodology used by the Soviet authorities, essentially based on what the population should have been on pre-war trends, vs what it actually proved to be after the war was over.

It is clear that the number masks victims of Soviet repression (the authors estimate 2 million, but your own guess will be just as valid) and those who took the opportunity of war to emigrate (again, your guess is just as good). It also includes those Russians who died fighting on the Axis side.

None of this is to belittle the contribution of Russia to defeating Nazism. We must be glad Stalin was forced on to our side and (pace my friends in Poland) should be duly grateful to the Russian troops who helped us win our freedom - with no hope of any for themselves. It's just a shame that the Allies cannot commemorate the anniversary together in a spirit of historical truth - especially as the defence of historical fiction seems somehow to require the glorification of Stalin.

In the end, the numbers don't matter. The individual men and women who died do. We should honour their memory by trying to learn the right lessons from history so that our descendants don't suffer the fates of our ancestors.

Europe-Asia Studies: Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War: a note - World War II

Monday, May 09, 2005

Vote for EU constitution or risk new Holocaust, says Brussels

Can you believe this woman? Margot Wallstrom, a member of the EU Commission, attributes Nazism to "nationalistic pride and greed" and claims that the EU is the alternative to the Holocaust.

Time and time again Eurosceptics are accused by EU fanatics of overstating their case and being extreme. I can honestly say that I have never known a prominent Eurosceptic say anything as outrageous as this. If the EU Commission can leave her in post after such a blatant piece of scare-mongering sensationalism, it must stand condemned by all reasonable people.

Telegraph | News | Vote for EU constitution or risk new Holocaust, says Brussels

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Blunkett back in Cabinet with pensions post

Britain's thickest Stalinist is in charge of repairing the damage done to our future pensions by Britain's most cunning Stalinist. God help us all.

Telegraph | News | Blunkett back in Cabinet with pensions post

Friday, May 06, 2005

So what does it mean for liberty?

The election results in Britain are scarcely exciting. The Tories are spinning a success from a result which would have lost their leader his job throughout most of the Party's history. Labour has a majority which would have been a stunning success at any time in the 20th Century and only looks bad by comparison with the outrageous "landslides" of the last two elections. The LibDems are pretending that being used as a protest vote wherever the Tories had no chance makes them a credible alternative.

That Tony Blair should have done so well when he is the author of an unprecedented assault on the liberties of our people amazes me. Liberty was not even an issue. No-one seemed to care. Voters interviewed during election night coverage cited low mortgage rates as a reason to vote Labour. As if that had anything to do with the Government. Rates will be rising shortly and the Government will wring its hands and say it's not to blame. One wonders if the idiots who voted on that basis will get the point when they are funding their ludicrous mortgages at higher rates from diminishing after-tax income as Labour funds the "black hole" in its spending plans.

The war in Iraq was the media's favourite topic but the voters didn't seem to care about that either. Except Muslim voters in East London who used our democracy to signal how much they loved Saddam Hussein's tyrrany by voting for Saddam's old chum George Galloway. Non-Muslim voters did not seem to care that they had been misled into supporting the war; perhaps they found it flattering that Blair thought them worth lying to?

Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor, speculates this morning that Blair may now lack the majority he needs to force through further "police state" measures such as compulsory ID cards. That is a heartening thought, but rebellions by Government MP's tend to vary with the size of the majority. Given a more "normal" majority, the "rebels" are likely to lose the courage of their convictions and fall into line behind their Party.

For those of us who care about freedom, the sight of the smile on David Blunkett's face as his voters re-elected him was enough to spoil the day. He is the deadliest enemy of freedom in Britain and he's soon to be back in office. It's hardly unexpected, but it sticks in the throat nonetheless.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Back in the Conservative fold - because I recall the 1970s

I was there in the 1970's too. It was a humiliating time to be British. This article doesn't even mention Denis Healey and the IMF or the Winter of Discontent - just the grey quotidian reality of seemingly inevitable decline.

In some ways, New Labour is engineering an even worse situation than then. In their next term, beginning tomorrow, I predict they will reach a level of public sector employment as high as 1978. But those employees will be even more unproductive than those of 25 years ago.

One University vacation in the 70's, I "worked" in the nationalised British Steel plant at Shotton in North Wales. It was a Disneyland of Socialism - an entirely different world from the hard graft of the small business in which I grew up. Try as I would (and I was a student unaccustomed to hard work) I could not make my day's tasks last more than half an hour. It was shocking to spend time amongst tens of thousands of men and women acclimatised by the State to unproductive near-idleness. I shall never forget the trick shots with a golf ball into a Castella tin which the men in the office where I worked had honed to perfection in decades of uselessness.

The State employees of the 1970's were proudly inefficient and idle, but at least some of them sometimes produced something. Even the plant where I worked turned out the odd thousand tons of steel. New Labour's hired captive voters will be clipboard-carriers and tax-gatherers almost to a person. According to reports from within the police, 95% of officers' time is spent on bureaucracy, so only 5% of the police count as productive. Don't even get me started on the NHS - the second largest employer on the planet, surpassed only by the People's Liberation Army of China (and about as ideologically sound and medically-effective).

Buy the Guardian. Look at the government jobs on offer. Decide if that's where you want 40-50% of the national income to go. Then vote - and may your conscience go with you.

Telegraph | Opinion | Back in the Conservative fold - because I recall the 1970s

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

However you vote, give Mr Blair a bloody nose

It sticks in my throat to blog a leader from the Daily Mail, but this one says quite well what many of us think. Lovers of liberty are on the back foot in Britain today. Few hope to see the party that abolished habeas corpus thrown out with all the violence that action alone deserves. Even the Mail concedes that a Tory victory is unlikely - not that the authoritarian Michael Howard is much of a torch-bearer for freedom.

Today's Mail leader column urges voters to use their vote tactically to reduce Labour's majority. It's the best we can hope for. Labour "rebels" are typically in safe seats. Labour MP's in marginals are most likely to submit tamely to party discipline. Without those pathetic sheep, Blair could never have succeeded in his assault on our liberties. Without them, there may be just enough principled libertarians in Labour's ranks to save us from the police state that he, Brown, Clarke and the odious Blunkett want to impose on us.

Our democracy is imperfect and it's very likely that there is nothing on the menu tomorrow that appeals to your tastes. Please use your vote anyway as the crude weapon that it is. Do whatever you can to weaken New Labour's power.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | However you vote, give Mr Blair a bloody nose

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An everyday incident in Blair's Britain

I am in England again. Two days ago, I took Mrs Paine, her sister and mother to Liverpool. We had lunch and went for a walk round the Albert Dock. All very agreeable. As we walked from restaurant to dock, however, two youths approached. They were expensively if informally dressed and appeared sober and healthy. One took position behind me and the other raised his arm at a curious angle, offering to shake my hand.

My exotic life has accustomed me to dealing with pickpockets. I therefore realised what was happening. I ignored the proferred hand and walked on. He slapped me on the back. I told him not to touch me. Mistake. The chorus of abuse began. I am two metres tall and not slender so I did not feel in physical danger. These men were abusing me only as they retreated. It was disturbing though. I have spent a couple of days trying to understand why.

I wasn't hurt. They went away. They did not pull a knife, as might have happened even on a sunny Sunday in a crowded public place. I had recognised and averted a danger. My family were safe; my goods and dignity were intact. So why was I upset?

I think I know. It was not the attempted theft. There have always been thieves. It wasn't the fear of violence; they were not that much of a threat. What was disturbing was that they had no shame. None at all. They were happy and relaxed as they swaggered around wearing expensive gear bought with the proceeds of their crimes. This attempt had failed, but they went cheerfully on their way to their next, jeering at their would-be victim. They felt no need to run or slink away. Modern Britain is their country.

These were young men who have never encountered resistance. They have never failed an exam. It is quite possible they have never been contradicted. To the extent they have any sense of their aggression and criminality, they feel no fault.

A few minutes later I encountered two police constables. They were laughing and joking with a drunk who was sitting on the steps of the Granada TV studios. Briefly I thought of telling them what had happened. Then I shrugged and walked on. In Blair's Britain the police are a threat to people like me, not to people like the would-be thieves. I am 48 years old and no policeman in England has ever pretended to try to catch the authors of any of the crimes I have suffered. Why should these Scouse coppers be different? I would just bog them down in paperwork and spoil their sunny walk.

This is not a parable. This happened. As I ponder its implications, I re-run the scenario in different ways. I am a big, reasonably strong middle-aged guy now. But in 10 or 20 years, my bulk will deter no-one. The story could have ended differently in so many ways; few of them good.

This is Blair's Britain and don't those two underclass scumbags just love it.

Curb parent power, say heads

When society's servants speak to their masters in this way, you know you are in trouble. I am all for head teachers having power to run their schools. To hold someone responsible for the performance of any organisation without giving them day-to-day power to make decisions is always a mistake. However, to blame parents in general for our current malaise is a bit rich. The ideas which Digby Jones of the CBI talked about to the head teachers' conference were imposed by the educational establishment.

EducationGuardian.co.uk | News crumb | Curb parent power, say heads

Monday, May 02, 2005

BBC News | Front pages from 2 May 2005

This made me smile. It reminded me of a Polish friend who grew up under Communism. Allowed to come to England to study, he went up to London for some tourism. He spent ages hunting for the "Morning Star" offices, imagining (from the fact that it was the only English-language newspaper he had ever seen in Poland) that they would be huge and impressive. Seeing what a shabby set-up the paper really had, he realised for the first time what a crock of **** everything he had been told as he grew up really was.

BBC News | Front pages from 2 May 2005

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Blair has reached his sell-by date

This article in today's Observer sets out beautifully and passionately what I have been trying to say in my humble way here. It is not an exaggeration to say that Britain is in danger. Everything that we instinctively feel defines us is on the brink of being lost. On Thursday British voters have a small chance to make a difference. Please vote for any candidate who cares about these issues - regardless of party.

If in Henley, vote for Boris Johnson. If in Folkestone and Hythe, vote against that miserable authoritarian Michael Howard. And whatever you do, if you are so blessed as to have a vote in the contituencies of David "Big" Blunkett (Sheffield Brightside) or Charles Clarke (Norwich South), vote whichever way will do those despicable men the most electoral damage.

This is the most important election of our lifetimes, not because the main parties have different programmes (they don't), nor because any party offers a genuine chance to extend our freedoms (they don't), nor because they will improve public services (they won't), nor because any of them will reduce the tax burden (they won't), but because it may be the last chance to signal determination NOT to accept a police state in our country. In the end, as living in ex-Communist former police states for 12 years has taught me, that matters more than the day-to-day issues of politics. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and Britons have slept too long.

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Blair has reached his sell-by date

Heads back parent lessons for all

I despair. A member of the National Association of Head Teachers calls for mothers to be compelled - on pain of losing their "child benefits" - to attend parenting classes. Is there nothing that the people of this country can be trusted to do for themselves? Can you imagine the politically-correct bs that would be peddled at these sessions?

"Re-education", "indoctrination", the juggernaut thundering towards a police state in Britain builds up momentum with every passing day.

BBC NEWS | Education | Heads back parent lessons for all