THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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February 2007

18 Doughty Street : Politics for Adults | TALK TV

Link: 18 Doughty Street : Politics for Adults | TALK TV.

I am delighted to report that I have access to 18 Doughty Street Talk TV again. I don't know what their techies have done, but all is well. I have been watching back episodes of Blogger TV with great pleasure, including one in which Devil's Kitchen, Dizzy, Croydonian, Mars Hill and Recess Monkey discussed the blogs of the Labour Deputy Leadership candidates.

They were unduly harsh about Harriet Harman's blog, with Iain Dale accusing her of not writing it herself. Actually it's so tedious that I fear he may be wrong. The fact is she simply doesn't "get" blogging. Notably she doesn't get the social dimension and she wants (or perhaps the people running it for her want) it to be a propaganda platform. For example, she posted to ask how Labour Party members could have more access to Ministers. I posted a comment as "Yates of the Yard," suggesting that better facilities for visiting prisoners might help. Perhaps not the best joke ever, but it was topical. It was moderated out. Given the limited number of comments, often grovellingly supportive, I imagine many more comments are accepted than rejected. That is not the way of the blogger.

She, or her minions, have accepted one comment from me despite it being highly critical of Labour's education policy. Generally, though, it's a thought-graveyard over there and I would be surprised if her traffic justifies the effort.

I have never deleted a comment, except for spam. The only reason I would ever do so would be legal (e.g. if a comment were defamatory and I could not be party to publishing it). The spirit of the blogosphere is knockabout, and politicians who don't want to engage in debate should stick to a conventional website.

What Price Justice?

Link: Law Society of England and Wales - Hot topics.

WpgthumbnailThe Law Society of England & Wales is to be relieved by Parliament of its regulatory functions, so English solicitors will no longer, in my view, be a profession. An independent legal profession is a key element of a free society. If an agency of the State can strike you off, you are not independent.

The Law Society is effectively becoming a trade union and I am no trade unionist. I have watched my wife's former profession descend into ignominy via trade unionism and the members of the so-called medical "profession" are little more than State lackeys. It is clear to me where my own lot are now headed. After 25 years I am therefore cancelling my membership, before my brothers and sisters at law declare a closed shop.

The Amalgamated Union of Cavillers and Pettifoggers fully supported this emasculation. Now it is clearly taking its new role to heart. It has launched a campaign to improve "legal aid" (State subsidies to litigants), complete with blogging solicitors calling each other "comrade," albeit (I hope) ironically. Many a true word, alas, is said in jest.

The Conventional Wisdom

Ex-Guardianista Will Hutton is currently addressing the conference I am attending in Paris and challenging the conventional wisdom that Europe is an economic, political and demographic basket case. In particular he dismisses the idea that India and China are tiger economies which will change the world, says that the USA's economic position is untenable, and suggests (this is a real estate conference) that European properties are "underpriced" because Europe's future is much brighter than generally thought.

He points out that the private sector in China is only 15% and argues that the Communist Party is still firmly in control under a style of government he calls Corporate Leninism. He claims that productivity is currently, despite all the hype, "lower than under Mao". He points out, more plausibly, that there are no Chinese brands in the world's top 100 and that, of the Chinese companies rated in the world's top 100 by turnover, all are loss-making state enterprises.

Interestingly, he points out that 200 million peasants have moved from the Chinese countryside to the East coast cities, in the world's biggest-ever migration. While Chinese exports are now $1 trillion p.a. and growing 25% per year, he predicts that will slow down. Even with such growth, China is delivering only 11 million jobs per year, when 24 million are needed.

He undoubtedly has a way with words and I enjoyed his observation that

Capitalism is more complicated than either American neo-conservatives or Chinese Communists think.
Of course, he went on to spoil that by arguing that the the lack of complication is to do (in both places) with the absence of a European-style "cradle to grave" Welfare State.

He suggests, surprisingly, that 60% of Chinese GDP is corrupt. How can that be measured? More seriously, he linked China's recent test of satellite killer weapons to an anticipated invasion of Taiwan, which he points out has always been a PRC objective. He suggests that the satellite killer techology will be used to render America's military "blind" while China moves 20 divisions of the PLA across the Straits of Taiwan. He further predicts that the next generation of Chinese leaders will preside over a period of major political change leading, after much turbulence, to political reform.

As for India, he points out that it is producing the same level of growth as China on half the amount of savings available for investment. However, he predicts that India will be held back by the caste system and illiteracy. He says the Indian government does not have "a single Enlightenment idea in its head" and that it can never generate the 30 million jobs it needs per year in order to achieve "social stability".

On the US, he says that in some ways the US undervalues its own business model. It has, he says, "a trade deficit with itself" because of its ownership of the world's top brands which produce much of their product overseas. He describes the US as "one of the strongest knowledge economies," but says it has "all kinds of downsides".

He predicts big fiscal and exchange rate adjustments and suggests US consumers cannot sustain continued economic growth by consumption. There is, he says, "real fear" in middle class America because of job losses arising from continual mergers and acquisitions. This, he says, is building "economic nationalism" as the 30 million US workers a year affected by such upheavals seek to blame foreigners. He criticises the Democratic Party of "playing with fire" by pandering to this isolationism.

Predictably, he also criticises the US for massively wasting energy and "failing to understand" the climate change issue. He describes the US as "the most protectionist, inward-looking country in the developed world"

His conclusion is that Europe is "the place to be". Germany is recovering after a decade in the doldrums which he ascribes to re-unification and entering the Euro at too high a rate for the Mark. Germany is a third of Europe's GDP, and is widening the gap between itself, the world's leading exporter, and the USA which is the runner up. It had the fastest growth in industrial production of any G7 country between 2005 and 2006. Crucially, by Anglo-Saxon standards at least, it has "no consumer debt" and a commitment to a "building business culture." He is convinced that the Rhineland/Nordic model works.

Less than 5% of German 18 year olds have no academic or vocational qualifications. In the US, the equivalent figure is 43%, which is much worse than 100 years ago. He calls that "...a disgrace and a betrayal of the Founding Fathers of the Republic".

Social spending, in his view, is good for growth, as long as it is well-designed. The Germans and the Nordics take care not to create "perverse incentives" and "poverty traps." Unsurprisingly, he didn't comment on the British government's amazing creativity in that respect.

He dismisses the idea that Europe is not capitalist, describing it as "a place of freedoms, as enshrined in the EU Treaty". He praises Europe's "Enlightenment Infrastructure." He concedes that badly-designed taxation destroys jobs, but he argues that European governments are quite good at designing taxation systems. Again, I find it hard to imagine he includes Gordon Brown in that sweeping praise.

As for the problems, he acknowledges the demographic issues (no European country is breeding fast enough to keep its population stable), but believes immigration can solve them. He praises Europe as an emergent "knowledge economy" and describes London, Barcelona, Munich, Helsinki, La Coruna, Nice and Bologna as ideopolises; cities which major on "knowledge economy" output. Conveniently for his political position, he sees "knowledge workers" as people who are particularly fond of "social inclusion" and "equality."

He wound up by listing the key threats to globalisation as; the Democratic Party, the "squeezed middle classes" in America, Chinese and Japanese nationalism and a predicted revival of India's traditions of protectionism. By comparison with all of these, he say, "Europe looks open."

Finally he cited the advantage that Europe was innoculated against war by WWI and WWII and predicted that the most likely place for regional conflict was in Asia, perhaps with the US and Japan "squaring up against" China over Taiwan.

A member of the audience asked the question I had in mind, which was "what about the Muslims?" This, Hutton fudged, saying that the Islamic world wanted to help write history, but seemed currently to lack good ideas. Interestingly he ascribed Iran's "swaggering" on the world stage to its support from Communist China.

I have blogged this "live" as he speaks, throwing in only the occasional comment of my own. I would be interested to hear what my readers think of Mr Hutton's ideas about the future.

Is there hope for London?

I am attending an international conference in Paris. Currently I am in a session on "Global Corporations and the future of Cities". The global corporations are represented by Siemens and Euro Disney. The Cities are represented by Paris and London. The voice of Paris is Régis Baudoin, CEO of the Paris Regional Economic Development Agency. He is a bureaucrat, of course, but seems a reasonable chap. The voice of London is David Lunts, formerly an employee of the intellectual giant who is our Deputy Prime Minister. He now glories in the splendid title of London's "Director of Policy and Partnerships."

Lunts' is a disturbing voice. Not just because of his whiney tone (he calls his boss "the Mare") but in his clear lack of understanding of market forces. He has just claimed that the "stealth tax" involved in forcing developers to provide social housing as a price for getting planning permission "works well" and "does not interfere" with increased provision of housing. A mafia Don would no doubt similarly argue that extorting protection money does not interfere with the small businesses of his "customers." How can anyone not understand that imposing costs tips marginal projects over into unviability and increases unit prices on those developments which do "work?"

In fact, in a private meeting earlier today, I heard real estate professionals working in London say that many housing schemes are rendered unviable by this extortion tax. They also said that developers now often seek planning permissions for commercial uses on sites where housing would otherwise have been (in the real estate industry's jargon) the "highest and best use". A man whose whole career has been in government, is of course unaware of such realities, not least because business well-understands the need to suck up to have good relations with the monopolists who exercise planning powers and are very unlikely ever to tell them the truth to their faces.

Given the appalling shortage of affordable housing in London, caused by government interference in the market through tight planning controls, the strict maintenance of the "Green Belt", and the simultaneous failure to invest over decades in upgrading infrastructure so that London can support more sustainable high-density development, this seems to me "brass neck" of Blair-like proportions.

Which city is more beautiful? London or Paris? Which City is more densely-developed? As a patriotic Englishman who loves his capital city, I regret to have to answer "Paris" to both questions.

I did enjoy his comment though on the need to "upskill" London's workers who will not "sell their physical strength" but rather their "professional skills" in future. I wonder how far he and his boss would have to be "upskilled" before they could make a useful contribution.

Does this remind you of anything?

President Hugo Chávez was granted an Enabling Law by the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 31, 2007.

The Enabling Law vests the President with legislative powers for 18 months in several areas, including nationalizations, hydrocarbons, electric utilities, telecommunications, taxes, social security and public finance, among several others.

Comrade Hugo has had the decency to restrict himself to 18 months of such powers, and to limit them to certain areas of law. That doesn't make him any more of a constitutional democrat than his friends in Britain.

Comrade Hugo is also more honest in his choice of name for his law.

It is really interesting to review the history of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and to compare the undertaking given by Jim Murphy with that given by Adolf Hitler in advance of the passage of his Enabling Act.

"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one."
The UK Bill has been toned down considerably, but its original form tells us all we need to know about the instincts of our rulers, which is that they are closer to those of Comrade Hugo than to those of Parliamentary democrats.

Several Cambridge University law professors wrote to the Times on February 16 last year on the subject (which I believe I have the honour of having been the first to blog about). Sadly the rehash of Times Online has trashed the online copy of their letter, but they pointed out that (as reported at the Save Parliament website)

a minister would have been able to abolish trial by jury, suspend habeas corpus (your right not to be arbitrarily arrested), or change any of the legislation governing the legal system.
I still find it hard to believe that, in the country which pioneered the concept of the rule of law, it is a seedy scandal over party finances that seems likely to bring down a government with such tyrannical instincts.