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

The TaxPayers' Alliance - Better Government: Beyond the Dome: Government projects £23 billion over budget

Link: The TaxPayers' Alliance - Better Government: Beyond the Dome: Government projects £23 billion over budget.

Could anyone in private business survive the revelation of incompetence on this scale? I do not understand why British taxpayers take no interest in these matters. I would be interested to see this huge number translated into taxpayer working lives. How many cities full of people laboured for nothing their whole lives so that these Socialist idiots could swagger about incompetently?

Congratulations to the Taxpayers' Alliance for its sterling work in exposing the Government's waste. We should all join.

Can Gordon Brown be trusted?

Browngordonlg In the Blair/Brown double act Gordon Brown was the straight man. Tony was the chirpy, charming chappie constantly taking Gordon for a mug. Gordon was the dour intellectual. Tony was the loveable rogue. I have never believed this line.

If a politician is to succeed, he must have followers. To have followers he must be (even if a woman) something of an Alpha Male. Alpha Males are, by definition, not victims. They are predators, not prey. Yet in briefing after briefing, Brown's advisers and spokesmen portrayed him as a victim of Tony Blair's wiles. It did not ring true.

Brown was clearly the senior partner, in both age and ability. It does not take much to be Tony Blair's intellectual superior, but for what it's worth Brown is. It does not take much to be Blair's ethical superior either, but on that the jury is still out.

I have suspected for much of the last ten years that this has all been play-acting. After all, New Labour has been masterful in "news management." Is it really likely that during a period when they had the press at heel, they could not control their two key figures well enough to keep such a "damaging" story out of the papers?

Ask yourself the question that usually leads to the truth; cui bono? By leading press and public to focus so much on supposed tensions within the ruling Party, Labour's spin-doctors managed to sideline the Opposition entirely. The Conservatives and LibDems have been out of the story for so long that many voters simply don't remember a functioning Opposition, or even understand its importance in a democracy.

As long as the public perceived the key political conflict to be Blair vs Brown, all else was irrelevance.

Why would they do this? A Prime Minister starts to sustain political damage the moment he enters Number 10. Such is the patronage he wields that he can enforce his will. Those he can't cow into submission, he can buy. Those he can't buy, he can discredit. But the exercise of such power makes enemies. Their existence is not immediately apparent, because open opposition is unwise, but eventually - in a closed system, where most high offices are limited to the 300+ members of the ruling Party in Parliament - the cowed, the bought, the discredited (and the disgruntled incompetents not worth buying, cowing or discrediting) become a majority. Blair and Brown were students of the Thatcher era. They both knew, and Brown was clever enough to analyse, how a political giant was finally felled by disgruntled Pygmies.

Any student of politics could have predicted that - however great a communicator he might be; however powerful his "common touch" - Tony Blair's shelf-life would expire around now. It is commonly regarded as a mistake on his part to indicate his intention to retire, but actually it was brilliant. It allowed Labour to use him in his final years as a scapegoat, soaking up the guilt for the Party's sins before being ritually cast out. During all this time Gordon Brown - supposedly anxious for the fray - kept aloof from all difficult or unpopular decisions.

Thus we have the present ludicrous situation that a Cabinet led by the true architect of New Labour; by the man who has - in all likelihood- had his hand in the Blair sock-puppet throughout, is perceived as a new beginning. "Now let the work of change begin", he said on taking office. Change from what? From the policies he has supported (and largely designed) for the last decade? Never in British history has the Treasury exerted such influence as under Brown. Number 11 has systematically interfered in the minutiae of every Minister's brief. More than anyone, including the lightweight Blair, he is responsible for whatever problems he now promises to solve. Yet, the public says "give him a chance." Politically it has been a master-stroke. Was it the chef d'oeuvre of a political obsessive who has plotted and schemed since late childhood? It may seem far-fetched, but it seems to me more credible than the official story.

Therefore, my question today is the easiest of all to answer about Brown. If the official version of events is true, he has been a treacherous colleague, systematically briefing against and otherwise undermining Tony Blair. If (and this is a huge if) Alistair Campbell can ever sensibly be believed, Brown was restrained from a coup d'etat only by Blair threatening to withdraw support for him as his successor if he moved against him.

If my theory is correct, Brown has been party to (and may even have devised) a political con-trick so monumental as to bring a blush to Machiavelli's cheek.

Either way, the answer is clear. He can't be trusted.

Image credit:

Gordon Brown and "British Values"

StalinI have been criticised, after just two short articles on Mr. Brown, for being unfair to him. As I move onto perhaps the most contentious of my topics, let me strive to give him his say by setting out in extenso what he has said about the British values he is so keen we should espouse.

The long quotation which follows (interspersed with my own commentary) is from his speech of 14th January 2006 to the "Britishness Conference" of the Fabian Society;

"So what is it to be British?

What has emerged from the long tidal flows of British history – from the 2,000 years of successive waves of invasion, immigration, assimilation and trading partnerships; from the uniquely rich, open and outward looking culture – is a distinctive set of values which influence British institutions.

Even before America made it its own, I think Britain can lay claim to the idea of liberty. Out of the necessity of finding a way to live together in a multinational state came the practice of toleration and then the pursuit of liberty.

So, in what seem uncontroversial enough, begins the spin. "Toleration" and "the pursuit of liberty" were not English characteristics, but had emerged from the "necessity of finding a way to live together" with such others as the Scots and Welsh.

Voltaire said that Britain gave to the world the idea of liberty. In the seventeenth century, Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’ put it as "if not equal all, yet all equally free.” Think of Wordsworth’s poetry about the “flood of British freedom”; then Hazlitt’s belief that we have and can have “no privilege or advantage over other nations but liberty”; right through to Orwell’s focus on justice, liberty and decency defining Britain. We can get a Parliament from anywhere, said Henry Grattan, we can only get liberty from England.

Thanks, Gordon, for that positive reference to England from an Irishman.

So there is, as I have argued, a golden thread which runs through British history – that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King; to not just one, but four great Reform Acts in less than a hundred years – of the individual standing firm against tyranny and then – an even more generous, expansive view of liberty – the idea of government accountable to the people, evolving into the exciting idea of empowering citizens to control their own lives.

A completely warped interpretation of history there; the State only enjoys the powers that citizens give it (where else can its power come from?) How then can it empower its masters? The State may only strengthen some citizens by weakening others. By the way, there was no "Britain" at the time of Magna Carta, Gordon.

Just as it was in the name of liberty (Actually, Gordon, and as a son of the manse we might have expected you to know it, it was in the name of Christianity) that in the 1800s Britain led the world in abolishing the slave trade – something we celebrate in 2007 – so too in the 1940s in the name of liberty Britain stood firm against fascism, which is why I would oppose those who say we should do less to teach that period of our history in our schools.

It is true that our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought in the name of liberty, but the British State went to war under a treaty to protect Poland. So far did it fail in its war objectives that it "saved" Poles from one tyrant only to hand them to a worse one.

But (...he has gone on too long for his Statist tastes about Liberty. By now he really needs the disjunctive pleasure of a "but"...) woven also into that golden thread of liberty are countless strands of common, continuing endeavour in our villages, towns and cities – the efforts and popular achievements of ordinary men and women, with one sentiment in common – a strong sense of duty and responsibility: men and women who did not allow liberty to descend into a selfish individualism or into a crude libertarianism; men and women who, as is the essence of the labour movement, chose solidarity in preference to selfishness; thus creating out of the idea of duty and responsibility the Britain of civic responsibility, civic society and the public realm., Gordon, no-one contributed to civic responsibility and the public realm in Britain, but that paragon of unselfishness, "the labour movement?" That is a vile slur on every non-socialist who ever served his country in public life.

And so the Britain we admire of thousands of voluntary associations; the Britain of mutual societies, craft unions, insurance and friendly societies and cooperatives; the Britain of churches and faith groups; the Britain of municipal provision from libraries to parks; and the Britain of public service. Mutuality, cooperation, civic associations and social responsibility and a strong civic society – all concepts that after a moment's thought (a moment's thought would allow us to see the precise opposite) we see clearly have always owed most to progressive opinion in British life and thought.  The British way always – as Jonathan Sachs has suggested – more than self interested individualism – at the core of British history, the very ideas of 'active citizenship', 'good neighbour', civic pride and the public realm.

Which is why two thirds of people are adamant that being British carries with it responsibilities for them as citizens as well as rights.

Dear God, I wonder that the other third think? And for whom they vote? I very much doubt that they include any libertarians or indeed any of Brown's political opponents.

But the 20th century has given special place also to the idea that in a democracy where people have both political social and economic rights and responsibilities, liberty and responsibility can only fully come alive if there is a Britain not just of liberty for all, and responsibility from all, but fairness to all.

Yes, the 20th Century was largely dedicated to such Socialist thought, Gordon. You may perhaps not have noticed how that ended?

Of course the appeal to fairness runs through British history, from early opposition to the first poll tax in 1381 to the second; fairness the theme from the civil war debates – where Raineborough asserted that "the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”; to the 1940s when Orwell talked of a Britain known to the world for its 'decency'

Passing reference to the Levellers there, not a notable political success.

Indeed a 2005 YouGov survey showed that as many as 90 per cent of British people thought that fairness and fair play were very important or fairly important in defining Britishness.

Indeed we do, Gordon. But not many of us think that there's anything "fair" about idle chavs having the Government fence them the proceeds of others' honest labour.

And of course this was the whole battle of 20th century politics – whether fairness would be formal equality before the law or something much more, a richer equality of opportunity.

Indeed it was, Gordon. And give me equality before the law any day in preference to your ersatz version.

You only need look at the slogan which dominated Live Aid 2005 to see how, even in the years from 1985 to 2005, fairness had moved to become the central idea – the slogan in 2005 was 'from charity to justice': not just donations for hand-outs, but, by making things happen, forcing governments to deliver fairness.

As if Government could deliver anything so major, forced or unforced.

Take the NHS – like the monarchy, the army, the BBC – one of the great British institutions – what 90 per cent of British people think portrays a positive symbol of the real Britain – founded on the core value of fairness that all should have access to health care founded on need, not ability to pay.

A moment’s consideration of the importance of the NHS would tell us that you don't need to counterpose civic society to government and assume that one can only flourish at the expense of the other or vice versa. Britain does best when we have both a strong civic society and a government committed to empowering people, acting on the principle of fairness.

A further moment's consideration might suggest that the NHS is the world's best argument for keeping Government out of anything remotely important.

And according to one survey, more than 70 per cent of British people pride ourselves in all three qualities - our tolerance, responsibility and fairness together.

So in a modern progressive view of Britishness, as I set out in a speech a few weeks ago, liberty does not retreat into self-interested individualism, but leads to ideas of empowerment; responsibility does not retreat into a form of paternalism, but is indeed a commitment to the strongest possible civic society; and fairness is not simply a formal equality before the law, but is in fact a modern belief in an empowering equality of opportunity for all.

So in my view, the surest foundation upon which we can advance economically, socially and culturally in this century will be to apply to the challenges that we face, the values of liberty, responsibility and fairness – shared civic values which are not only the ties that bind us, but also give us patriotic purpose as a nation and sense of direction and destiny.

And so in this vision of a Britain of liberty for all, responsibility from all and fairness to all we move a long way from the old left’s embarrassed avoidance of an explicit patriotism."

In this last passage, you need to note use of loaded language discreetly to blacken the concepts Brown is attacking. Individualism is - of course - "self-interested", "responsbility" is "paternalism" unless it involves a commitment to the "strongest possible" civil society and equality before the law is merely "formal."

I doubt if Gordon Brown can even understand what it is like to be us. I doubt he ever shared our values in the first place. The man is a lethal psychological mixture of Scottish Socialism and religious paternalism. He has no sense of humour. He has no sense of fun. He takes himself too seriously and he always has.

Thinking about Brown reminded me of a verse poking fun at two stiff-necked pioneers of womens education in Britain;

Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid's darts cannot feel
How unlike us
Are Miss Beale and Miss Buss

If anything , Brown is less like us, than were Misses Beale and Buss. His interests in life, to the extent they are not entirely unhealthy, are quite probably fake. He gives the impression of being from another species entirely. Lord Turnbull may have gone too far in accusing him of Stalinism, but he is, by all accounts but his own, the control freak par excellence.

When a narrow political fanatic who has devoted his whole life to gaining and wielding political power  speaks of the "golden thread of liberty," can it be for any other reason than to dupe fools into giving him more?

Gordon Brown and "Britain"

Much has been made, not least by his own publicists, of Gordon Brown's support for the United Kingdom and of his desire to see the Union Flag flying from all our public buildings. He is a proud Scot (and why not, there is much to be proud of) but he loves the United Kingdom and all her constituent parts too.

So he would have us believe.

Yet Brown's last act as Chancellor was to discriminate against England and almost his first act as Prime Minister was to insult her by appointing "Ministers" for her imagined "regions". Scotland and Wales are proud and united nations within the United Kingdom. England, the largest home nation is naught in Brown's view but a collection of provinces. England, whose language, culture and technological innovation shaped the modern world more than any other nation, is - in Brown's opinion - no nation at all.

Brown's repeated incantation of the phrase "the nations and regions of Britain" proves that his professed love is pure cant. He seeks to divide and rule England, as so many of her enemies before him.

The Claim of Right, signed by Gordon Brown in 1988, read:

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.

He has been true to his word. No-one denies the Scots' right to self-determination. On the contrary, a majority of the English now wish they would hush their noise and be off, taking Brown with them.

A mere 163,000 Scots are net contributors to the United Kingdom's Treasury, a situation for which Brown - after 10 years in charge of the nation's finances - must take the blame. The English people are the largest nation of the United Kingdom and, disproportionately, its paymaster, yet they count for less and less with each day that New Labour remains in power.

This man cannot remotely be trusted to protect their interests.

Is Gordon Brown a post-Communist?

Appearance and reality have rarely diverged so far in British politics as of late. The Labour Party of Blears and Prescott could easily have portrayed itself as the trade union stooge of old. The people were the same. The policies differed only in a shocking new authoritarianism designed to triangulate Conservative voters from the traditional party of Laura Norder. Yet the party chose to present itself as something new and has been accepted as such.

The New Labour "project" has been such an unqualified political success the the Conservative leadership feels there is no choice but to copy it. Yet it has never been more than a "rebranding" exercise, conceived largely by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. No-one who knows anything of either of them, could conceive of Blair as the intellectual leader in that.

Brown was always the senior partner. Blair's empty-headed charm pleased the cameras, but the ideas behind the Project were Brown's. Brown is a political obsessive. From the campaigning newspaper he founded with his brother, through his PhD on the History of the Scottish Labour Party, through his career in student politics to his only "honest job" as a political researcher for Scottish TV, he appears never to have thought of anything else. There was nothing "New Labour" about him when he edited and contributed to the Red Paper on Scotland 30 years ago, in which he trumpeted the historical inevitability of the victory of Socialism.

Brown’s own contribution condemned “the gross inequalities which disfigure Scottish life”, and argued that the times cried out for “a new commitment to socialist ideals”. He urged “a coherent strategy” of reforms designed “to cancel the logic of capitalism” and to lead “us out of one social order into another”. This would involve “a phased extension of public control under workers’ self-management and the prioritising of social needs by the communities themselves”. He called for “a planned economy” and for “workers’ power”, identifying himself with “Scotland’s socialist pioneers, Hardie, Smillie, Maxton, Maclean, Gallacher, Wheatley and others”—a pantheon that included both revolutionary and reformist socialists. What was needed was “a positive commitment to creating a socialist society”.9

(Source: International Journal of Socialism)

A man should be allowed his errors in youth. Though there was much that was psychologically revealing in Brown's career in student politics (not least his monumentally-vain demand for an official holiday for students when he stepped down as Rector of Edinburgh University) it would be unfair to judge him from those days. But the Red Paper was the first work of his maturity.

Apart from understanding the need to "sell" ideas in a democracy, it is hard to see how Brown has developed politically since those days. Leftists may feel that in shedding the Marxist jargon, wearing a suit and changing his presentation Brown has betrayed his younger self. It seems more likely that he has developed a more sophisticated style in order to win the power he has craved since his youth. Despite all the talk of "prudence" and his taking the credit for a solid period of economic growth driven by globalisation, his record as Chancellor is very "Old Labour"

According to the OECD UK taxation has increased from a 39.3% share of GDP in 1997 to 42.4% in 2006, going to a higher level than Germany.[18] This increase has mainly been attributed to active government policy, and not simply to the growing economy.


By their fruits, ye shall know them. For all the New Labour branding, Brown has taxed and spent like every Labour Chancellor before him, just as one might have expected the editor of the Red Paper to do. There has been a boom in public sector employment. This, during a period of strong economic growth when the private sector might have been expected to grow strongly. The jobs New Labour boasts of having created are largely non-jobs funded by the taxpayer. Or, as Wat Tyler has pointed out in relation to public sector pensions, as yet unfunded. If pension liabilities to the employees on the burgeoning state payroll are counted (as they should be) as debts, the National Debt is three times what the Government claims. So much for "prudence". The party's claimed success in reducing unemployment has, a recent study has shown (as anyone from areas of high non-employment already knew from everyday observation) been "a work of fiction."

Brown has been a bog-standard Labour Chancellor. He is a shrewd politician and has associated himself consistently (and falsely) with the concept of "Prudence." From the opinion polls since he became Prime Minister, it seems that the voters have fallen for it. How long before the scales fall from their eyes?

It's "Gordon Brown Week" at the Last Ditch

BrownThe British now face their immediate political future under the leadership of a man they hardly know. Is he a charmless thug, or a canny political operator? A good and kind friend, or a "Stalinist" who would turn even private grief to political advantage?

Or all of the above?

For the next 7-10 days, the Last Ditch will be dedicated entirely to a review of the politics and psychology of one man; Gordon Brown.

Posts in preparation include:

"Can Gordon Brown be trusted?", "Is Gordon Brown a post-Communist?", "Gordon Brown and Prudence", "Gordon Brown and British Values" and "Gordon Brown and Britain?"

We never chose him, but we've got him. Perhaps it's time we tried to understand him?

The Party's over...

Snapshot_001_5 Snapshot_002_5Snapshot_003_5_2

Despite all my protestations to the contrary, it seems I was nervous about yesterday's awards ceremony. When the Second Life server crashed at precisely the time we were due to start, my heart sank. Within minutes, however, the server was back up. My “land” was accessible again and the guests began to return. There may well have been attendees who had not registered with Blogpower in advance. If, so I was not able to teleport them back. If anyone missed the event because of the crash, I can only apologise. You would have been very welcome.

After the initial scare, things went smoothly, thanks to a lot of real life goodwill in our virtual room. Our founder James Higham struggled with his welcome speech via a dial-up connection (“what is dial-up?”, heckled someone) but in the end he made his points.

I galloped through the formal part as rapidly as cut and paste would allow. SL “chat” lingers on screen for only 15 seconds, so I had to paste in a paragraph at a time. We had twenty awards to announce and ten recipients on hand to receive their virtual trophies.

In about 30 minutes we were done and ready to adjourn to the bar. When the last part of my speech was cut and pasted onscreen, I confess I experienced a sense of relief. I had a lot of late nights preparing for this event. Time differences meant that bloggers experimenting with SL showed up at odd hours looking for guidance. I left none of them - knowingly - unsupported.

Exhausted, I left my own party to make something to eat, planning to return. In fact, I fell asleep and didn’t wake until this morning! I hear the party went on for several hours. Several who couldn’t make the awards showed up for the celebrations, notably DK of Devil’s Kitchen

At times in the past weeks, I found myself sharing the views of the cynics. The project sometimes seemed downright stupid. At other times,however, it was great to “chat” with bloggers whose writing I respect. Since they live as far apart as Minnesota, Kazan and Adelaide, how else was that going to happen? It was also amusing to find that many of our most serious bloggers have a suprising sense of fun!

In the end, stupid or not, it worked. I am grateful to everyone who took part - many of whose “avatars” can be seen dancing in the attached - deliciously silly - movie.


With apologies to others equally deserving, let me mention a few names in particular. My thanks firstly to Ruthie. She couldn’t be there on the day but she played a great part in the preparations, single-handedly charming many into familiarising themselves with the quirks of Second Life. Thanks also to Welshcakes and James. Second Life is demanding software and they struggled with the limitations of their equipment. Lesser mortals would have given up, but they were determined to play their parts. I salute them.

From outside Blogpower, Bag of Bag’s Rants deserves special credit for enlivening the proceedings throughout. Bag and Blogpower’s own Ian Grey were quick to discover gimmicks, gestures and unsavoury animations to keep us all laughing at the same time as selflessly helping out the “newbies” they had so recently been themselves. Thanks guys.

A file listing the Second Life names of everyone who attended the event, the after-party or both is also attached for the benefit of the curious. But now, the last of the cartoony pictures uploaded, it’s back to serious blogging for me.  Anyone want to buy some virtual land?

Download guest_list.pdf

The Blogpower Awards - today at 1400 London Time


Well, the day has arrived. And I think we are all ready. In a short time, and despite using a dial-up connection, James Higham has become quite at home in Second Life. The Blogpower community in SL has helped him through a rapid apprenticeship and yesterday we were finally able to rehearse.

WelshcakesshopsAlso yesterday, my SL neighbour Zhu and I took Welshcakes shopping. She is now glamorously attired, shod and bejewelled for her big day. Like James, she is accessing SL with a less-than-powerful computer and a poor connection, so it's a struggle. But, deo volenti, she will be there - as will at least one of her regular readers who came along yesterday to check out the venue.

If you have your account set up, don't start your Second Life software yet. If you have started it, quit. Instead, Just click this link or the similar links at other Blogpower blogs. It will launch the software and insert the correct address (see screenshot above) so that when you click "connect" to enter Second Life you will arrive at the right place.

Teleport_004Step forward to avoid the next arrival landing on your head and find yourself a place to stand. If you are in the running for an award, please stand near the front, where I can reach you to give you your trophy. All winners with Second Life avatars to receive them will be presented with one of the glittering (and expensive) trophies shown here. Alas they can only be displayed in Second Life itself.

I am happy to rent you a beautiful virtual apartment where you can display yours, or to provide a trophy cabinet on my airship - free of charge - where you can keep it. My security robots will be given your name so you can visit unmolested whenever you want. Your equally-prestigious winners blog badges will be your equivalent in Real Life.

Teleport_001I will open the ceremony at 1400 London time (0900 New York time) by introducing James, the founder of the feast. Within the hour, we will be done with the formalities and ready to adjourn to the bar and dance floor on the airship "Limoncello", some 200 metres above. The metal disk (pictured) on the grassy terrace outside the venue is a teleporter. Click on it, and it will take you to the bar.

At that point, you might also want to click on the "music" button at the bottom of your SL screen (see screenshot)  . One of our guests this week spent an hour or so dancing away in silence, because he did not notice that button!

Picture_1_2Apart from the lovely Welshcakes, we hope to see other Blogpower members and readers from the fairer sex, as well as some of the other beautiful women of Second Life who have promised to join the party. My neighour, Zhu, who has helped enormously in the preparations, as well as donating the tuxedos to be worn by the male guests, has promised to get up at 0600 her time to be there. We also hope to see the lovely Anais (pictured below in full bling) for whom James seems, from his blog reports, to have fallen very hard.

Our only regrets at this stage are that neither the doyenne of Blogpower, Ellee Seymour nor the lovely Ruthie Zaftig (pictured modelling a new dress yesterday, and who has given superb support and encouragement during the run-up to the awards) will be able to attend.

Welshcakes_006In the end, it's all just fun, but it has been a wonderful experience to "meet" and chat to so many of you as we prepared for this event. It has certainly brought the Blogpower bloggers together and we look forward, wherever in the world you are, to "meeting" you too.We can be recognised by the "blogger" titles hovering over our heads. Feel free to introduce yourselves.

For those of you who can't make it, SL has excellent facilities for video-recording and photography, so expect some serious red carpet reportage on the various Blogpower blogs tomorrow. For those of you who can make it, please do. We look forward to seeing you there!