THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
October 2006
Next month:
December 2006

November 2006

Their man in Moscow

This morning I listened to the US Ambassador speak to the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. In 15 years abroad, I have found American diplomats to be consistently more impressive than our own. Ambassador William J. Burns was no exception. Like every American diplomat I have met he gave the lie to European stereotypes of his countrymen.

His modesty was disarming. He reminded us that John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, was the country’s first Ambassador to Russia and then added “...the quality of US ambassadors has clearly gone straight downhill since then”.

He adjured his audience of, mainly, US businessmen to remember that, in the midst of our "differences”, there are many things that make it important we work together with Russia. He was generous in his praise, pointing out that Russia has enjoyed 7% average growth in GDP for 7 consecutive years; that foreign direct investment has trebled in 3 years and that the number of people living below the official poverty line has halved in 10 years. He pointed out that this year Russian GDP will pass $1 trillion and that it is predicted to pass $2 trillion by 2010.

But he gave his opinion forthrightly on the issues that divide the US and Russia. So much so that I could not quote him here without breaking my rule about commenting on Russian politics. Beneath the calm impression created by his carefully-chosen words, was a steely and impressive honesty.

The typical British diplomat would not sell his own grandmother. Quite the contrary, he gives the impression that the negotiations over price would be far too wearisome. He is a man whose grandmother is yours for the asking; who would hand her over freely with an insouciant, if rather world-weary, smile.

Of course, our diplomats (whatever Margaret Thatcher may have thought) do not represent the Foreign Office as an independent power. They prosper in their own careers, like all others in public service, by pleasing their political masters. Their cynicism is at the heart of our political culture at home. Our diplomats, like their political masters, are grandmother-brokers to a man.

We read a lot in the blogosphere about British “values”. They are under attack, apparently, from all sides. Listening to the people our Foreign Office sends abroad, you would be hard pressed to know that we have any; certainly you would never discern what they are.

FreeBornJohn: The Unconscionable Cruelty of Polly T

Link: FreeBornJohn: The Unconscionable Cruelty of Polly T.

Please read the linked post. It is a heartfelt, passionate condemnation of that appalling fake Polly Toynbee and all her ilk. It is also terribly sad. Only constant state intervention could have created the particular horrors FreeBornJohn so eloquently describes.

Polly's pernicious prattle is more than irritating. It is more than fine fuel for the Devil's Kitchen's epic and obscene anti-Polly rants. It is destructive, dangerous filth. Only Guardianistas with no experience of life at the bottom of British society could peddle it so smugly. That the Tory Party should even nod in that direction makes me heartily sick. h/t The Devil's Kitchen

Scots split would harm UK - Brown

Link: BBC NEWS | UK | Scots split would harm UK - Brown.

The only person South of the Border that Mr Brown is concerned about is Mr Brown. His career prospects would be severely limited if Scotland and England were finally to stop fighting like kittens in a sack called the "United Kingdom."

Scotland may contribute something to our culture, but I am sure they will still sell us their bagpiping CD's and shortbread when they are an independent nation. As for our economy, they are Slovakia to our Czech Republic. We will be richer (and a whole lot less Socialist) without them.

Tony Blair's 'sorrow' over slave trade | the Daily Mail

Link: Tony Blair's 'sorrow' over slave trade | the Daily Mail.

As my uncle always said if I tried to delve into the historical causes of modern problems, "...if you go back far enough, people used to eat each other." What will Blair apologise for next on our behalf? Cannibalism?

The reason why the Celts are still around to bother the Anglo-Saxons who came after them is that the Anglo-Saxons, unlike the Celts, did not butcher and eat bits of their defeated enemies. Maybe we should have done? On the downside, we'd have to apologise for it now. On the upside, it wouldn't be Tony Blair of that ilk doing the apologising or Gordon Broon waiting in the wings to take up the mantle of hypocrisy.

Only Denmark abolished slavery before Britain. The British Navy suppressed it wherever it could reach. We have nothing to apologise for in this connection. Perhaps the nations who still practise it (buying small African boys as camel-jockeys, for example) might like to get around to abolition now? They can wait 200 years to apologise apparently.

The most dangerous phrase

Before blogging saved me (and condemned my readers) I was a terrible bore. If I encountered a fellow-Brit at a social event, I would hold forth at impassioned length about New Labour and its apparent desire to march us all to New Jerusalem through an arch emblazoned "Arbeit macht frei" (or in Gordon Brown's version, "Steuer macht frei").

On one such evening, one of those toff Scots who would never pass muster in a Glasgow pub said - on the subject of ID cards - the immortal words "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"

I have heard that phrase, with a sinking heart, dozens of times since then. It is routinely used to justify ever-increasing surveillance. Britons are now monitored on an incredible scale. Yet most are so relaxed about it that I doubt they would demur if the government chose to insert subcutaneous CCTV cameras and microphones at birth, while tattooing an ID number onto the new citizen's forehead.

Britons have enjoyed liberty so long that they seem unable to appreciate how hard-won it was and how easy it is to lose. To call a man a "suspect" is enough, in the minds of our addled compatriates to justify treating him as guilty.

Sometimes a cliche is a cliche because it's true. Freedom is indivisible. We cannot deprive "bad people" of their everyday freedoms without similarly depriving ourselves. The price of our own freedom of action is that we allow others the same in the knowledge they may use it to do harm. Only when harm has been done (or where there is solid proof that it would otherwise happen) have we the right to ask independent courts to restrict a wrong-doer's liberty.

Thinking bad thoughts, saying bad things, even plotting evil plots should not be restricted, if we don't want to argue constantly for the goodness, or at least harmlessness of our own thoughts, words and deeds. I would argue that the recent conviction of Dhiren Barot, and his sentencing to 40 years in prison was quite wrong. He appears to have been little more than a sick fantasist, who had made no credible preparations, taken no serious steps and lacked any sufficient resources to put his fantasies into effect. He was no more dangerous than Stephen King and we have shown ourselves to be a nation of gutless milksops by trembling in fear of his pathetic fantasies (Barot's, not King's - although thinking about it....)

If we want to be free, we cannot always be safe. Even if we would prefer always to be safe, we must fear the forces we would have to create to provide that safety. We could never be safe from them.

Dear reader, is there truly nothing you have done in the past 10 years that you would not want your parents, your spouse, your boss or your children to see? A very surprising percentage of the supposedly staid British public claim to have had sex while driving a car. Are you one of them? Would you and your partner in this feat wish it to have a tape of it played to your mothers?

Can you really claim that, despite new criminal offences being created at an average rate of one per day, you have committed none of them - however minor? I doubt if it is even possible now to live in Britain for 24 hours without committing a crime, unless comatose.

If there is anything; anything at all, then you are a potential victim of blackmail. Someone (and in Britain that someone will almost always now be the government) who has the right snippet of film has you under control. At least, with the government, you are in no danger of financial blackmail. They have most of your money anyway and if they need more, they need only demand with menaces. tax.

If you have nothing to hide, what kind of loser are you? Get a life, quickly. You may then see the government that offers you safety and security in quite a different light.

Top Ten Things I Would Never Do...

Link: Iain Dale's Diary: Top Ten Things I Would Never Do....

I have been tagged by Tin Drummer to do my own version of this, so here it is.

1. Vote Labour
2. Convert to Islam
3. Give up hope that England will restore habeas corpus
4. Carry a British ID card
5. Return to live in England unless my hope (see 3 above) is first realised
6. Drive a Toyota Prius
7. Appear on a reality TV show
8. Eat snake (my wife has, but I really couldn't)
9. Shake Tony Blair's hand
10. Accept the "science" of climate change until the "scientists" explain why they have suppressed references to the mediaeval warm period

Thomas Paine

Link: Thomas Paine.

Occasionally, I am criticised for using Tom Paine as my "nom de blog." Leftists, in particular, object. They see good old Tom, once known as "the most dangerous man alive" as one of their own. They base this on his early promotion of income tax, social security, and old age pensions. They have no patent on those ideas. Nor do I think Tom would have approved the outrageous extremes to which they have taken them. I agree with almost all he wrote on the subject.

I draw the line at his idea that - as Man was a hunter-gatherer in his state of nature and needed to range freely to survive - private ownership of land should be subject to a kind of "ground rent" payable to the non-landowning would-be hunters who had lost their right to range. Private property - as Tom accepted - was essential to civilisation. Since civilisation benefits us all, so do its prerequisites.

Besides, land is not now as economically important as it was in Tom's day. Its special status in law, as compared to other forms of property is now faintly absurd, as are the special protections for users of land which hail back to the feudal relationship of landlord and tenant. If the "landlord" is a pension fund representing the savings of thousands of ordinary Joes, and the "tenant" is Microsoft, why does the tenant need special legal protection? Tom's views were inevitably coloured by the immense power of the landed gentry of his time. Their relicts are no more useful than their ancestors, but they are more comical than threatening.

As a justification for a tax, Tom's "ground rent" idea was at least elegantly argued and intelligently reasoned. We can enjoy the mere fact that he felt the need to justify a tax by the positive benefits he thought it would confer. Our modern tyrants feel no such need. They are content to use it as (a) a punishment for success and (b) to slake their own greed and desire for glory.

Leftists are not alone in objecting, however. My own daughter thinks me arrogant to have borrowed the name of such a great man. I can only say to her that I mean it respectfully. I don't claim to be a remotely worthy successor to a man who shaped three modern democracies. As a frustrated citizen, I am just an humble and somewhat envious admirer. If I could have one millionth part of the influence Tom had on the world on just one nation - my own - I would be content.

Sadly, I have none at all. My nation is dying, and I am a helpless family member at the bedside. Tom would never accept such a position. He would find a way to cure her. As long as my fellow-citizens won't even acknowledge the patient is sick, I honestly don't see how to do it. I know I am no Tom.

I have admired Tom since first I read his works as an A Level student of History. They weren't on the curriculum, you understand (A Levels haven't dumbed down quite that much in 30 years), but how else - pray - was I to understand the American Revolution? I found then, and I still find, that both his views and his tone suit my taste. What sums up the views expressed here better than his statement that

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one?"
Nor, with apologies to my more conventionally conservative readers, do I demur from his views on royalty. The Queen's a good person and does her job with dignity, but it's not a job that needs to be done. More, it's a job that needs not to be done.

As my readers already know, I share Tom's scepticism of organised religion, but have more sympathy than him for those who find it a comfort. Having known glory in the American Revolution, and having been a citizen of, and served in the Senate of, Revolutionary France, Tom died in poverty and disgrace in the USA, because he was believed to be what I am; an atheist. In fact, like Voltaire, Tom was a Deist. He believed in God. He just didn't believe God was interested in the day-to-day affairs of His creation.

Such a God, in my view, is not worth believing in. He is no more than what might be called a "deomorphism" of physics. Tom fell at that radical hurdle; perhaps because no man could function, in those days of belief, as an open unbeliever.

I commend my illustrious namesake's works to my readers. I apologise publicly to his shade, for any offence given by use of his name. None was intended. The world is a better place for the life and works of the greatest corset-maker (if not the maker of the greatest corsets) that Norfolk ever produced.