What's the difference between lobbying and telling your elected (or would be elected) representatives what you want from them? Is it whether it's done well or badly? Or whether it costs money or not? It seems that politicians just don't want to be asked for pledges, so that those asking can't publicise their refusals, or - worse - their subsequent failures to honour their promises.
The political parties are losing members by the hour, but still they consider themselves the moral superiors of every other group in society. I certainly hold no brief for the politicised fake charities of Britain. I am all for holding the entire third sector to the original definition of charity in the Statute of Elizabeth and treating all who fail to meet that definition as the political parties in disguise that they are. Nor am I fond of 'single issue fanatic' groups, professional lobbyists or 'think tanks' that are fronts for political parties.
But it is not for politicians to tell us how or when to talk to them. It is for them to shut up and listen. They are servants, not masters and are getting entirely too uppity.
This is a bad law and another embarrassment to Britain in the world.
In the excellent book Bring Home the Revolutionauthor Jonathan Freedland points out that the ideas embedded in the US Constitution originated in England. The USA has been a successful testbed for the ideas of our greatest thinkers (including, of course, the original and best Tom Paine).
The ideas were never implemented here for the reasons he explains in the book. We did have the benefit however of our most important (and now very little understood) legal inventions; the Rule of Law ('Be you never so high, the law is above you'), the presumption of innocence ('innocent until proven guilty'), habeas corpus ('the Great Writ' that ensured no-one could be imprisoned without due process of law) and freedom of thought and expression (an English yeoman's inalienable right to tell his neighours where to get off).
We lack an entrenched constitution and an independent supreme court to tell legislators and executives when they have overstepped its mark. We thought we did not need one because the British were famously difficult to govern. Even the Norman tyrants knew their limits as expressed in Margaret Thatcher's favourite lines from Kipling;
The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite. But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right. When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own, And grumbles, 'This isn't fair dealing,' my son, leave the Saxon alone.
You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears; But don't try that game on the Saxon; you'll have the whole brood round your ears. From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field, They'll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.
For most of our history, the greatest threat to our liberty was the Crown and we looked to Parliament to defend us. It did so pretty robustly at times, defining the constitutionality of our monarchy by the practical method of killing a King who insisted on his Divine Right. The monarch having been firmly put in his box, we seem to have taken our eye off the ball. In the end our protector has oppressed us as even the Normans couldn't.
As a young man, I recall reading of a Conservative MP out canvassing being asked by an elector whether permission was needed to cut down a tree in his garden. The MP reacted angrily; "It's your bloody garden man! It's your bloody tree!! Why the hell are you asking me?!" Can you imagine a politician daring, in these days of invasive busybodies, to say such thing now? Our land is built upon as the state directs. Our homes are heated, lighted and our sewage flushed, as the state directs. However competent we may be, we are not to do our own electrical work, by order of the state.
Even those of us who take a particular interest in these matters have lost count of how many state employees (and not just those with responsibility for law enforcement or fire-fighting) have the right come into our homes without our consent or that of a judge. I was not permitted to put security blinds (common in Continental Europe) on the windows of my former house in Chester because the state thought it would make our area look as though it had a high crime rate (it did). My late wife had to worry when druggie louts who had already tried to break in were about, because our political masters wanted to massage reality for electoral advantage. And of course she could not have a firearm to defend herself if they succeeded in breaking in the next time.
If (as I suggest is the case) the true owner of an asset is the person who has the legal right to direct how it is used, then the state owns my home. In a way it's worse than social housing, because I have had to put up the capital to buy it. I pay more in Council Tax to use it than my granny paid rent for her larger Council flat. When I die, my children will pay 45% of its value for the privilege of inheriting my obligations. In what real sense is it mine? If I fly an English flag from my balcony, how long will it be before a policeman or council busybody shows up to tell me to take it down. If I remark that Mohammed is a false prophet to my passing neighbours in hijab, how long before the police explain to me the limits of my rights?
I am embarrassed by the creeping communisation of Britain. I am embarrassed by the creeping tyranny that is destroying free speech. I am particularly embarrassed to read the linked article, which is an American perspective on our present situation. The author luxuriates in the benefits of 18th Century English thought, by virtue of his country's constitution. We, the people who came up with those wonderful ideas are increasingly lost to their merits.
The Misses Paine and I are off to cruise the Norwegian fjords from tomorrow. Our access to the internet will be patchy. So let me take this - perhaps final - opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, free New Year.
If I am quiet for the rest of 2013 it's not because I am reconciled to authoritarian Britain. I remain bemused that I live in a country where the Crown Prosecution Service deliberates solemnly on whether some words are bad enough to merit prosecution. I am baffled by a prosecutor speaking of a
"high threshold for prosecution"
in the context of opinions expressed or even threats issued on Twitter; a medium with powerful tools to block unwanted messages.
Not everyone in North Korea was killed last week for disagreeing with Kim Jong-un. Many failed to pass his threshold of murderous fury. I am happy for them, but still feel it is wrong for anyone to have been killed; even a major league scumbag like the Supreme Leader's uncle.
Similarly it already seems like a low "threshold" to me that anyone can be prosecuted for expressing a view, however hateful. Even uttering threats should not be a crime. At worst, if threats are reasonably considered to be both serious and plausible (having regard to the fact than someone intending to rape or kill would be pretty damned stupid to announce it) the police should act to deter their authors from carrying them out.
No society in which using words is only lawful if they are approved by authority - even authority derived from a majority view - will long remain free.
Have a great time over the holidays. See you in 2014.
We don't call them police forces any more. That's too explicit an acknowledgement of their role as the enforcers of our all-powerful state. Policing, God help us, is now a 'service'.
The question is; whom do our policemen serve? Is it us, the public, or the political class that guarantees their unfunded pensions from the incomes of taxpayers yet unborn? If, as they claim, it's the public, why does it sometimes feel they are serving us in the agricultural sense; as a bull serves a heifer?
Ordinary people don't believe the official crime figures because they don't accord with our experience. For years the Establishment line has been that the figures are accurate but that our fear of crime is the problem. We are neurotic and should be more trusting of our benevolent masters. Yeah right.
PC James Patrick, an analyst with the Metropolitan Police 'service' recently gave evidence to a House of Commons committee that the figures are improperly manipulated by senior officers to make police performance look better. He said
Things were clearly being reported as burglaries and then you would rerun the same report after there had been a human intervention, a management intervention, and these burglaries effectively disappeared in a puff of smoke.
How embarrassing for the political class that has used the rigged numbers to assure us it's doing its job of public protection! It seems our 'neurotic' belief that they were feathering their own nests while not giving a flying expletive about us except as sources of feathers was well-founded.
I have been waiting with interest for the state's response to this revelation. And, the Alistair Campbell approved interval for the story to die down having elapsed, here it comes. The Times reports this morning that PC Patrick has been placed on 'restricted duties' and forbidden to speak to public or media. The whistleblower has received his usual reward.
So that's clear then. Lying to make the state look good is fine. The public has no right to know the truth about the performance of the police service it is forced to fund. The career of any public-spirited person with a sense of duty and honour is unlikely to advance in the Met. In marked contrast to that of an officer who heads a botched operation that blows the head off an innocent man, for example.
Nothing to see here folks. Move along now please or you might just find yourself being served.
The traditional political division into 'left' and 'right' must be used with caution. For much of Europe 'right-wing' refers to nationalist authoritarians seeking to impose traditional values on society at large. I would be uncomfortable in such company. No right-winger on the Continent and few in America would share my stance on what they would call 'social issues' and I would call 'none of your damned business.'
The 'good guys' of Continental Europe are usually called Liberals. The bad guys of American politics have made that glorious name unusable in English. In their constant gee whizz quest for euphemism, our American cousins have made a cuss-word out of a formerly-useful term. They do that a lot. How little of a life would you have to have to keep up with American fashion on what to call a black man or a red indian, for example?
These labels matter more than they should. Serious political debate is of interest only to a minority. Most voting decisions are made on impressions rapidly formed by the free use of labels as either praise or abuse. How many voters analysed what Tony Blair meant by 'New Labour' for example? They simply thought of themselves as left, hated the mess Old Labour had made and welcomed a new brand they weren't embarrassed to be associated with.
For my part, I hate the Labour Party as I hate the very devil. Indeed I suspect Old Nick would make better company than any socialist and might actually have better intentions. Yet I hate the fact that saying so makes most Brits label me as what I am emphatically not; a Tory. I am, in truth, a Liberal. I happen to know from personal experience that there are gallant members of the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain still clinging to the true meaning of the L word, but they are out-numbered by leftists too snobbish (and who can blame them) to be in the same party as John Prescott. So the label I use in my head is no use in the wider world.
The conversations in my primary school playground were conducted in a higher register and exchanged far more complex information than most political 'debates' that make a difference to voting intentions. In the Labour heartlands where I grew up, calling someone a "Tory [Anglo-Saxon expletive of choice]" was all it needed to win an argument. I have never lived in a Conservative constituency until recently, and judging by the copies of the Guardian in evidence around here, I doubt it will remain one long. Perhaps there are Tory Shires where one could similarly raise the tribal flag to end all discussion? I don't know.
It's pointless to be a purist about this and dismiss the use of 'left' and 'right' altogether. They carry an emotional weight that cannot be denied. Just as every Brit knows which side he would have been on in the Civil War, he knows if he is left or right, often with an unjustified prefix of 'Centre-" to make himself feel moderate. It would be great to have more accurate labels, but we don't.
The easy route to explain my position to my fellow citizens is to say that I am socially-liberal and fiscally-conservative, but that doesn't tell the truth either. 'Social liberals' in Britain are highly illiberal. They are more like authoritarian Continental Christian Democrats in seeking to impose moral orthodoxy. Why, for example, was I expected to pay tribute to a dead foreign Communist before Fulham FC's game against Aston Villa yesterday? No similar tribute was offered when Margaret Thatcher died and rightly so. But a darling of the 'social-liberals' must apparently be lauded, however disgusting his political views.
For another current example, it's not enough that you don't give a damn who shags Tom Daley. They expect you to 'be supportive;' to 'ooh' and 'aah' sympathetically and tell him how 'brave' he is. If someone in my immediate circle is gay and wants to introduce me to his or her partner, I will buy them both a drink. If I liked him or her before the news, I will after (and will try to like the partner too). It's my business because I am a relative or friend and I need to know their situation so as to welcome their new partner into our family or group of friends. The sexual preferences of people outside my circle, however, are properly a matter of indifference.
Genuine liberals don't give a public damn what you consider to be right or wrong as long as you don't impose it on others. We only want laws to limit physical or economic aggression. As to the rest, go to it with a will and take all the consequences yourself. We afford you the tolerance we expect of you, but we don't demand or offer approval of private choices. The clue is in the adjective, 'private.' So don't be so needy. Shut up and get on with it. We will think what we please, to the extent that we become aware, and will factor it in in deciding whom to drink with or give the time of day to. Feel free to do likewise.
The right-wing and left-wing in Britain share a disgusting desire to shape thoughts and private preferences by law. They seek to pull in different directions. It's the pull I mostly resent. If they are of the Right seeking to reinforce traditional Christian views of marriage, they insult their God by thinking He needs the feeble help of Earthly powers to enforce His Divine will. If they are of the Left seeking to suppress the expression of 'inappropriate' opinion on Twitter, then they should have more trust in the ability of 'the people' to deal with such matters informally. Both expose the feebleness of their views by doubting their eventual triumph without misuse of law. Law is a blunt, violent instrument. It is not a teaching aid.
If you have a need for approval from strangers, I suggest you get professional help. You may think that's harsh but on the other hand, if you leave me to make my own life choices, I will happily take no interest in yours. Furthermore, I am remarkably unlikely to preach to you. Most likely, I will offer you no opinions on any subject not affecting my family's interests unless you are my friend and you ask me.
Does that make me right-wing or left-wing? You choose.
It's hard to like Gordon Mullen. He posted nasty remarks on Facebook about a little girl who was missing. She was later, sadly, found to have been murdered. Not by him, I hasten to add.
I like one of Mullen's Facebook 'friends' even less.
At Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, Mhari Mair, prosecuting, said one of Mullen's own Facebook friends alerted police to the comments he had made about the murdered schoolgirl.
Why did he need to 'alert' them? Because the remarks were made in a private text chat conversation. That's right. He did not publish them to the internet at large. He did not even post them to his 'friends' feed.
The judge said that if the dead girl's family had read the comments
they would have been absolutely devastated.
I am sure they would, but the only reason they now know something nasty was said about their poor child is because of this stupid case. Law enforcement in this country now has the time and resources to monitor what stupid people say to each other and make an expensive fuss about it. Yet, to listen to our public servants, there isn't a single cut to be safely made in public expenditure. Hmm.
The family only know of Mullen's existence because of a disgusting law, a vile snitch and a body of policemen who have nothing useful to be getting on with. Scotland being such an idyllic place, populated with happy, caring hobbits and entirely free of crime of course.
The pair had been in a three-way Facebook conversation, with each "trying to be more shocking than the other", the court had heard.
In other words, they - and their snitch 'friend' - had been channeling Frankie Boyle in a competitive fashion. I think we can safely say the snitch lost that game.
The most shocking thing to me about this case is that not one word has been uttered in the coverage about freedom of speech. That's a forgotten concept in modern Britain. No-one in the media is remotely inclined to quote Voltaire's famous remark
I disagree wtih what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it
Even his defence counsel, a man entirely unworthy of his fee on this evidence,
agreed with Sheriff McDonald's remark that Mullen's behaviour was "absolutely appalling"
Yes, perhaps, if you really have nothing better to do than go out of your way to be appalled.
I returned to live in Britain in April 2011. It was a while before I began to notice some of the changes since I left in 1992. Heraclitus said
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man
Healthy societies change all the time. It would have been surprising if I had found the place just as I had left it.
I had stayed in touch with the changes at some levels. At first I had read flown-in British newspapers at great expense. Then as online news sources developed I had become more involved, starting this blog in March 2005. Still, I had not noticed many changes in attitude and the linked article provides a good example. Here is a man who thinks it wrong to present a TV play based on real events because
The programme is not entertainment. They are profiting from my mum's death
Ignore for the moment the schtick about profit being intrinsically bad. Let's assume that he earns no money himself. Perhaps, for all we know, he lives on unicorn farts harvested voluntarily by fair trade fairies of working age. Perhaps he works for the super-ethical Co-operative Bank.
Please also ignore the weirdness of a middle-aged adult, adopted in infancy, speaking schmaltzily of a 'mum' of whom he knew nothing until he was 40. Indeed of whom he still knows nothing except for what he can learn from the writings of policemen, lawyers, journalists, authors and now playwrights all 'profiting' in his terms from her death.
Does he really believe that his private emotional response to a play he refuses to see is of any importance to the world? Does he really think free expression should be curtailed because of his feelings? Mary Whitehouse was laughed out of this life by people understandably amused that she felt her feelings gave her a right to prevent others seeing shows she didn't want to watch. How is his attitude any different?
Yet he's part of a disturbing pattern. He belongs with the woman who asserted with menaces a right to prevent her car being filmed obstructing traffic. He belongs with the head teachers who prevent parents filming their children at school sports days for fear some pervert may get off on the images. He is at one with any group with a 'respect' agenda that seeks to curtail criticism of its beliefs or lifestyles. He is at one with the celebrities who want the law changed so tabloids can't service the public's salacious interest in their coke-fuelled encounters with whores. He belongs with the police officers who presume photographers are up to no good. Perhaps he even belongs with the men who murdered a disabled man because he took photographs of youngsters he suspected of vandalising his hanging baskets.
This has been going on for some time. Margaret Thatcher sagely observed that
One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.
I fear that those in power are merely responding however to the mindless sentimentalism of the masses. When I flew into London shortly after the death of Princess Diana I was sickened by the ludicrous emotionalism. How could ordinary people be so inarticulately distraught over the accidental death of an aristocrat? I remember gagging as I watched a woman vox popped on TV during the funeral coverage saying (I kid you not)
No-one can explain the deepness we feel
I was angered by Tony Blair shedding crocodile tears for "the people's princess". Yet his personal stock rose with the public, while that of the Queen fell because of her measured, more English, more rational response.
Modern Brits over-rate the importance of their personal feelings. They tend to sickly sentimentality unmoderated by reason, religion, taste or manners. They also dangerously fail to distinguish between the private and public domains. They demand new laws in response to any private misfortune - even if compliance with existing laws, prudence or plain commonsense would already have avoided it. Some of the most dangerous words in the British media come from angry parents demanding a change in the law so that their child "did not die in vain". That hard cases make bad law is a wisdom lost forever. That some misfortunes are mere accidents and do not justify violent restrictions on the lives of others (which is what all laws are) is never considered amid all the tearful emoting.
Where does this sense of entitlement to control others on emotional grounds come from? More importantly, as politicians increasingly strive like fakely-tearful Blair to capture the cry-baby zeitgeist, where will it lead?
We are approaching a decisive moment. David Cameron nervously described Leveson's proposals to 'regulate' the British press as 'crossing the Rubicon' but as Paul Goodman says in the linked article his government is about to do it anyway. If people accept that government has a role in controlling commercial media (and 'regulate' is merely a statist euphemism for 'control'), then we are a blink away from wider controls. Already the daily fake 'scandals' about 'Twittter trolls' and 'Facebook bullies' are setting the scene.
Alea iacta estfor freedom of thought in Britain. It seems the police are already more interested in what we say than what we do. Barely a day goes by without some schmuck on Twitter being interrogated by the police and it's already a worse crime to beat up or kill someone if thinking certain thoughts at the time.
The Left have been making 'social' excuses for non thought-crime for generations. Our judges, educated in our solidly left-wing universities, now routinely spout sociological clap-trap while handing out derisory sentences. The notion of personal responsibility is dead. In a telling moment for me an academic at a conference last year (he claimed not to be a Marxist, but admitted most of his colleagues were) told me that my personal achievements were 'pure luck' and that I was not morally entitled to the proceeds.
It's the flip side of the same coin. The evil that criminals do is 'society's fault' and the state must address not their conduct, but the 'social problems' that 'cause' it. The success of honest citizens however is to the state's credit and it is entitled to the proceeds. Socialism, despite the abject failure of the greatest political experiment in history, with more than half of humanity ruled by Socialists in the last century, is back. Watch out, because this time the Leftists have learned guile.
The leader of HM Opposition feels it aids his electoral cause to use 'the S word' openly and to dog-whistle even worse by defending the reputation of his proudly-Marxist father. Ironically, given the Left's fixation on 'hate speech' and 'hate crime' Socialism is a doctrine based on hatred; class-hatred and envy-driven hatred of success. It should provoke exactly the same revulsion as its cousin; race-hate-based National Socialism. That it doesn't is because the Left has infiltrated our education system and our state broadcaster (tell me again why a free society needs one of those) so successfully. Now it's coming for the rest of us.
The consequence will be just as it was in the Soviet Union. The more talented or industrious will either contribute less for lack of incentive, or will become the criminals these idiots already think they are. This phenomenon was illustrated by two Communist-era proverbs I learned in my years in Poland;
"Standing up or lying down, it's a zloty an hour" and "You are stealing from your family if you're not stealing from the State."
Though I am sure the Labour Party will get most of the extra votes when we finally obey the ECHR order to restore the ballot to prisoners, that's not what the Left is up to. Nor are they claiming the credit for business-peoples' work just to damage our self-esteem. They are establishing as a 'given' in all political thought and policy-making the Marxist notion that individuals are mere flotsam on the tides of historical inevitability. They can only treat us as eggs to be callously cracked in their great steaming omelette of statism if they can convince themselves that we are trivial; that what we think, say and do and the choices we make don't matter. In short, that we are nothing in their great scheme of things.
To achieve the kind of sociopathic vileness that led their hero Hobsbawm (close family friend of the Millibands) to believe that twenty million deaths under Soviet rule would have been justified had the proposed communist utopia been created, or that it was sensible to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel (there's no anti-semite to rival a Marxist Jew) you need to reduce humans to ciphers. And to convince men and women that this is acceptable; that they really are mere pawns in a game that matters far more than the sacrifices made of them, you need to control their thoughts. It is no coincidence that the Left cannot abide the expression of non-Left views. It is not for nothing that they actively seek to make people fearful of non-Left thoughts. It is a Marxist necessity.
If our free will is irrelevant, our achievements mere luck and our wickedness attributable to our circumstances, then they are fully justified in using the immense power of the state to shape 'social forces', regardless of the human cost.
It is a short step from 'hate speech' to 'thought crime' and it's about to be taken. 'Regulation' of the press is just another brick in the wall.
Apparently it's a criminal offence in this country for football fans to call themselves 'yids'. Personally, I think the way Jewish and Gentile Spurs fans have together handled anti-semitic abuse by using and 'owning' the word 'yid' in their chants is marvelous. It's a great example of how to handle provocation gracefully and with good humour. Laughing at those trying to provoke you is just as - if not more - effective than responding with violence. Sadly, the Football Association begs to differ. Violence is apparently the only proper response in its view and if Spurs fans are not prepared to offer it then - via the legal system - it will.
This, says the FA, is because a 'reasonable observer' would find the word 'yid' offensive. I disagree. Frankly, even when its intended to be offensive (e.g. when other fans shout it at Spurs games) it's a mere breach of good manners, unworthy of criminal sanction. I actively prefer ignorant people to be as open about their nastiness as possible - wearing Ku Klux Klan robes or swastikas, ideally - so that I know not to buy them a drink, employ them or give them my custom. It would be just the kind of useful indication already thoughtfully given by wearers of Che Guevara T-shirts.
When I worked for a Jewish law firm, I refused to reveal whether I was Jewish myself because I learned so much about the occasional client or professional contact who really felt he needed to know. The more desperately he questioned my colleagues on the subject, the more I knew I didn't value him. It was very educational.
We have about 120,000 professional criminals who need to be locked up and about 80,000 places in prison. Is it really all that reasonable to set a criminal free to make space for a Spurs fan with a sense of humour?