Every little girl and boy that's born into the world alive Is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative
For most of my life I called myself conservative. Yet what is it that I want to conserve about today's Britain? Her welfare dependency? Her dumbed-down culture? Her lethal health service? Her chaotic and ineffectual schools? Her cowardly obsession with "health and safety?" Her cultural cringe?
Do I support the laws of the land? No, I think that more than 90% of them should be repealed. Do I support the institutions of the State? Hardly, since I would close most of them. What about "the boys in blue?" Every conservative loves them, surely? Well then I am no conservative, since I regard them (pacethe good souls still in their midst) as the IRA to New Labour's Sinn Fein.
They may not always hold office, but in public life the victory of the Labour Party has been total. Save for isolated
pockets of comically ineffectual resistance, its thinking now commands
academia, the media, the educational establishment and indeed all the
public services (including those formerly known as "forces"). If David
Cameron were elected tomorrow, that would not change at all. The pace of Britain's destruction might slow, but the trend would be the same.
Since he would conserve far more in our country than I would, Gordon Brown is more properly called a conservative than am I. Conservatives (the clue is in the name) favour
the status quo
in a broad sense; socially, economically and politically. And in such a
broad sense, Britain's society, her economy and her political
structures are all now Labour. It is the Labour barons who feel at home
in our country. It is the intellectuals of the Left who swagger,
unchallenged, amid our dreaming spires.
How can I call myself a Conservative when it would now take far more change to make a Britain of which I could approve than to convert her to a Communist or Fascist state? In the original sense of the word, I am now a radical since I desire root and branch reform. I am one of the alienated few who believe that - 999 times out of a 1,000 - free individuals making their own life choices with the informal support of family and community will do better for themselves and each other than will even the best-directed State.
Such people used to be called "conservatives". What should we call ourselves now?
Adam Boulton's interview with George Osborne today came at a significant moment. For the first time, with the Labour government visibly crumbling, Osborne's credibility matters. Boulton gave him a harder time than he would any interviewee from further left, but Osborne held up well. He avoided cheap attacks and refused to provide more policy ideas for his intellectually-bankrupt opponents. In the course of this fencing, he managed to land a few blows. Boulton persisted with the Labour Party line about the Tories just "knocking the government" while providing no policy alternatives. For a second I thought he had landed a killer blow when he said that, well before Blair's first election victory the Labour Party had given "clear pledges on tax". Osborne's response was masterful, apart from the strange hesitation which gave me my bad moment. Saying;
I don't want to pick you up on your history again, Adam...
he pointed out that those pledges were given just five months before an election, not two years. Perhaps his hesitation was about the word "again?" Perhaps he was concerned to avoid even such a subtle dig at an important commentator far too close to the establishment? Conservatives remain strangely keen to "play nice" in the face of Labour's consistently amoral tactics. David Cameron's prissy early comment about "Punch and Judy politics" was a big mistake. It gives mealy-mouthed Labourites the opportunity to criticise any Tory attacks, while gleefully urging on their own pack of political hounds.
Osborne sounded the right note of confidence when he closed Boulton down with the comment;
People will know exactly what we are doing about tax, when we have an opportunity to do something about tax, that is when there is a General Election
He went on to list specific commitments the Tories have already made and promised more over the next two years as the election approaches. His response to Boulton's partisan sneering at the International Monetary Fund "seeming to have persuaded themselves" that we face the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was good. He skilfully avoided any charges of schadenfreude or of "talking down" the markets without actually contradicting the IMF's (sadly plausible) view. He confined himself to pointing out that;
Britain is ill-prepared for this as we have the biggest budget deficit in the world
(is that really true?) and by mildly observing that
As far as I know, we are the only country in the world which is responding to the current crisis with tax increases
This was the issue on which, predictably, Osborne pleased me least. The dangerous suggestion that in Alistair Darling's unenviable place he might have stimulated the housing market with lower stamp duty made me shudder, as did his comment that he would have retained the 10p rate of income tax. The housing market is already light years beyond cloud cuckoo land and stimulus is the last thing it needs. As for income tax, in his place I would have proposed to take those on or around the minimum wage out of tax altogether. He could and should have attacked the cynical process whereby Labour takes poor peoples' money in order to buy their votes and control their lives by giving it back as benefits. This is something that Britain's working poor understand very well and Osborne missed a trick.
Nor was I particularly impressed by his suggestion that we might be able so to regulate the credit system as to prevent future debt bubbles. The only way to avoid problem debt is to let people suffer the consequences of their imprudence. They they will regulate their conduct more subtly than any government could hope to do. Osborne will live to regret those words, when future debtors blame him for failing to protect them from their own stupidity.
Boulton asked about the Prime Minister's political difficulties and raised the possibility of his stepping down. Osborne's response was so good that even Tony Benn could not accuse him of putting personality above policy. Saying he thought it was "unlikely" that Brown would step down [too right; Labour lacks anyone with the courage to be Tsvangirai to their very own Mugabe] he added that people in the Labour Party were not just unhappy with Brown's "manner" but with his policies. Then he commented that people must doubt if a Government "fighting with itself" can lead the country well. This was deliciously snide, yet delivered with an air of cherubic innocence.
On the whole though his performance was more workmanlike than inspiring. On the BAe corruption scandal, he avoided being skewered with the "destruction of thousands of British jobs" nonsense by saying the Attorney General should have the right to stop a prosecution on grounds of "national security" (not "national interest" please note). However any such decision should be subject to judicial scrutiny. Personally, I agree with Iain Dale's principled stand for the rule of law in this matter, but - politically - this was a good line. Osborne noted that arms represent only 2-3% of our exports and even made my point that other exporters will have their position damaged by the government's shocking (and illegal) action.
More impressive, in its way, was Nicholas Soames's handling of a dangerous question about the Shannon Matthews case. He responded by saying we should be concerned as to why there were so many dysfunctional families like Shannon's. He hinted at the problem of welfare dependency undermining the family without being all "Daily Mail" about it. He spoke up for the good people of Dewsbury and the community spirit they had wasted on such undeserving people. Well done Big Nick. Now please never appear on TV again for the good of your party. I know it's wrong that all the viewing public see is a fat toff but please have the sophistication to realise that's the only reason you are the media's favourite Tory. Well, that and the folk memory of your ex-wife's alleged comments about you.
Perhaps to a shadow education secretary who went to the King Edward's School in Birmingham and a leader of the Opposition who went to Eton College this makes some sense. Perhaps to them, embracing the failed educational radicalism of the 1960's is in some way hip. To someone who actually went to a comprehensive school, it is nothing less than a betrayal.
Nothing has damaged Britain more in my lifetime than comprehensive education. Ask my young relative who was reduced to pleading with his teacher to be allowed to work in a store cupboard so that he could be away from the chaos in his classroom. Ask Frank Chalk. The Soviet Union was never so ultra-left as to believe that one size fits all when it comes to schooling. The British Conservative Party is now officially to the left of the CPSU.
In a comparison of eight European and North American countries, Britain and the United States have the lowest social mobility
Social mobility in Britain has declined whereas in the US it is stable
Part of the reason for Britain's decline has been that the better
off have benefited disproportionately from increased educational
The researchers concluded that social mobility has declined over the last 30 years in Britain and that this is in part due to:
the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment
Precisely the relationship in fact that was, for a brief time in British education, broken by the Grammar Schools. Comprehensive schools are so destructive of working class opportunity that they might as well have been designed to keep clever working class children "in their place." Sometimes, I think they were.
While I continue my hard slog on the Cote d'Azur, there is an article of mine up on the Conservatives Abroad blog. All credit to the Conservative Party that it is willing to give a platform to a dissenting voice.
I may be about to set a record for the shortest membership of a political party. This week, David Cameron having recently announced a policy I agreed with, I sent off my form to join "Conservatives Abroad." Before the form has even reached London however the Conservative Party has managed to infuriate me. According to the Telegraph:
The Conservatives will also suggest - most controversially of all - rationing individuals to as little as a single short-haul flight each year; any further journeys would attract progressively higher taxes, a leaked document entitled Greener Skies suggests.
If this is true, Dave Cameron has lost all touch with reality. The Shadow Chancellor is saying that the proposals will target "frequent flyers," i.e. people like
me who fly at least once every month. Anyone who lives that way will tell you we don't do it for frivolous pleasure. We do it because our businesses require it. Businesses that send money back to Britain because our services constitute the country's "invisible exports."
would spell the end for the City of London. New York is the biggest stock exchange in the world, but only on the basis of American business. The biggest international exchange is in London. Why should that exchange, and the banks and professional firms that serve it, remain in a country that penalises international business? How will they visit, on competitive terms, the foreign businesses they serve?
These proposals would damage Britain's exports generally. Goods don't sell themselves and services need to be delivered in the shape of people flying to the customers to provide them. Better to locate the companies in countries that don't make that as difficult and expensive as possible.
These proposals would spell the end for airlines based in Britain. Since the Tories are talking of penalising anything more than "a single short-haul flight" per year, they would spell the end of a lot more besides. Britain has more expatriates than most countries, because its business is more international . Will Britain's mobile business people be prepared to expatriate, if they and their families will be increasingly cut off from home?
How can a conservative party, supposedly in favour of free markets, seriously advocate rationing? It's quite insane. As they are saying over at Samizdata, the Conservative nostalgia for the past has gone too far:
The Conservative Party has long been regarded as having a certain
nostalgic, and some would say romantic, yearning for the past. I had no
idea that this included a desire to drag us all back to the 19th Century
Fortunately, before they ever get the chance to kill the City of London, British exports or Britain's international business culture, these policies will kill the Conservative Party.
The A List is a constitutional issue. Why? The British Constitution is just three words long; "Parliament is sovereign." Whatever Parliament says, goes. Whether they want liberty or death camps or anything in between, the choice is with Members of Parliament. It's as simple as that.
For centuries, simple was fine. Candidate members of Parliament came forward of their own accord or were selected by local parties. Leaders of the Parliamentary parties had to work with the (often eccentric) materials at hand. Not any more.
Centralised party control of candidate selection means that few independent-minded individuals find their way into Parliament. Once selected and elected, they join a parliament of poodles. They must vote as directed by the Whips if their career is to advance. For the ruling party, that means taking orders, via the Government Whips, from the PM. "Damn your principles," as Disraeli famously said, "stick to your Party!" That he became angry enough to say it, suggests there were MPs who stuck to their principles. Not any more.
Unless you foment a rebellion too large to be punished (and manage not to be caught in the attempt), disobeying the Whips is career suicide. No promotion, no junkets, no pork barrels for your constituency. You may even be physically assaulted. The Whips are aptly-named. We have no "separation of powers" enshrined in a written constitution. If our Legislature submits, under such pressures, to the will of the Executive, we don't have a functioning democracy. It has and we don't. Not any more.
The party leaders' influence on candidate selection is therefore a constitutional issue. The chances of an independent candidate running on a "Save the Constitution" ticket are minimal. Don't think I haven't considered it. If candidates continue to be selected for their poodle-like qualities, the future is pretty bleak.
This has a chilling effect on debate. MPs stay relentlessly "on message", even when that means contradicting their known personal views. The Tories under Cameron have performed an astonishing volte face, with no apparent shame. They appear to be competitors in a bizarre self-degradation contest. It is every bit as distressing to watch as when Labour's proletarian boors tried to become New Labour metrosexuals in imitation of Mandelson, Blair and Brown. It may explain the S&M predilections of some MPs. If you want to be dominated, Parliament is the place.
Even those who aspire to be candidates are affected. 18 Doughty Street is a great idea but so far it has been a disappointment. Iain Dale's political ambitions undermine him as a would-be Paxman. He deftly steers debate away from any issue that might bring him into disfavour with the Party leadership. Melanie Philips made a whole series of strong anti-Cameron points in a short film presumably designed to stimulate debate recently. Iain just said "Well I don't think I agree with any of that" and moved discussion on to safer topics.
If even a potential candidate is afraid to discuss issues freely, what kind of a democracy do we have? Until there is even a remote risk of someone with my views being an MP, I feel disenfranchised. Judging by the turnout in recent elections, I am not alone.
There is no point in voting while the Conservatives are in a political cartel with New Labour and the (not very)LibDems. If we must have a mega-state of social workers, it is probably better run by a man who believes in it, rather than a man who pretends to do so just to get a Prime Ministerial Jaguar and a portrait on the Downing Street staircase.
Margaret Thatcher was no libertarian either (as witness her suppression of free speech by Sinn Fein politicians), but she genuinely trusted ordinary people and took serious steps to get the State out of their hair. Cameron is no new Margaret, but I have stopped hoping for that. Painfully, over many years, I have come to understand that Margaret was a delightful aberration; she was hardly a Tory at all. That's why she was perhaps even more despised by patronising, paternalist Tories than by patronising, paternalist Socialists.
Thatcher apart, to the extent the Tories have ever been for less State interference, it has not been on principle. They are usually more in favour (and no bad thing) of less tax. Less government is, for them, just the practical consequence. If they could get soldiers, policemen, social workers, teachers and NHS staff on the cheap, I suspect they would have just as many of them as would Labour. Cameron's "our NHS" meme is designed to plant in the subconscious the idea that the Tories are just as fond as its patrician inventor of perhaps the most inefficient, filthy and deadly public organisation on the planet.
As a libertarian, I would have as few public employees as practicable even if they came for free. To the precise extent that they perform a superfluous function, they do harm - regardless of their good intentions or those of their employers. Democracy itself becomes unstable when public servants are numerous enough to swing elections; turkeys will alway vote for more turkey food, rather than for Christmas. Generally, the more people divorced from wealth-creation, the more dangerous the position of wealth-creators becomes; and the more fragile the liberty essential both for wealth creation and (even more importantly) for true civilisation.
No-one sane, on Left or Right, is proposing a return to the old Clause 4 model of Socialism, with large scale economic production by State Enterprises. It was only slightly more efficient than slavery, and (in countries where it was the sole means of production) was a not entirely dissimilar experience for the workers.
Yet Labour is currently transferring jobs from the private to the public sector at the rate of about 100,000 people a year. The Camerloons propose no change in that respect. I can't imagine where they think it will end. Some public sector jobs are useful. Some are valuable. Some are even essential, but they are all, under our current model, costs. They generate no wealth and must be paid for by taxes from people in private sector jobs (taxes paid by public sector workers being, for this purpose, meaningless fiscal churn).
How long can post-Clause 4 Socialists count on the existence of a willing corps of private sector workers endlessly sacrificing themselves and their families to pay for a massive, and growing, State machine? When the last person in the private sector runs his own whelk stall and everyone else is some kind of social worker, his turnover will have to be sufficient to pay for £554 billion of public expenditure. Of course, if everyone but him is in the public sector, £554 billion won't even begin to cover it.
I hope you all like whelks. They are going to be expensive.
Martine Martin's experience of education turned her from Labour to Conservative. I found her CF article quite touching. It reminded me of my own counter-educational experiences at the hands of the Labour Party, which I have blogged about ad nauseam.
I didn't win an assisted place. None was on offer then. My local authority was red to the core and an early-adopter of the comprehensive fallacy. I struggled at a bog standard comp, as did my wife. We didn't go to the Universities we should have, but we still found our "way out." We were lucky. Perhaps we were tougher than most. Perhaps it was because we met so young and supported each other in the face of anti-educational "peer pressure." As I said; lucky.
My conscience still troubles me about the many young people from my background who, just like Martine's siblings, don't get the life chances they deserve. Tony Blair's conscience won't be troubling him, because that utter fake never met any such young people at his school.
The Guardianistas have a nerve to claim a monopoly on social conscience. The Labour Party, and its despicable middle-class fellow-travellers in particular, have done more harm to the life chances of working class kids than anyone.
Martine is working on a research project into "conservative-ish political blogs". If you have one of those, head on over to her site and volunteer to answer her questionnaire. This is a young woman who has earned the right to our support and encouragement.