THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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April 2008
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June 2008

May 2008

Tories pledge to curb use of CCTV cameras

Link: Tories pledge to curb use of CCTV cameras - Telegraph.

David Davis is no libertarian, so this news is quite a surprise. Another good policy from the Tories though. Credit where it's due. What a shame that the question of whether CCTV monitoring of innocent citizens is wrong, is being confused with the separate question of whether it's effective. Having established the first, surely the second is quite irrelevant?

Two million Britons emigrate in 10 years

Link: Two million Britons emigrate in 10 years - Telegraph.

It requires courage, enterprise and optimism to uproot yourself from the comforts of the culture in which you grew up and live somewhere else in the world. I am convinced that the Labour Government has systematically given Britain a "people transfusion," replacing disgruntled citizens who don't like Labour's authoritarian regime with Third World immigrants who find Soviet Britain relatively attractive. Sustained immigration is the only way to sustain the Ponzi scheme of the underfunded Welfare State. How else to find suckers to pay through future taxation the costs of today's pensions and benefits?

The error in their thinking is in the first sentence of this post. Just as the people who choose to leave Britain are likely - on average - to be of better quality than the ones kept in place by inertia, so are the economic migrants who arrive to replace them. The problem with the BNP's world view is that the lowest of the low in our country are not the immigrants at all, but those among the native "economically inactive" who choose to live as parasites on "benefits". If someone could find a way to persuade them to leave the country, we might be onto something.

Lies, Sex and BBC Drama

Link: Baroness Thatcher tried to seduce Sir Edward Heath for Conservative seat, new BBC drama claims - Telegraph.

Though the British Left hates her for appealing to the working classes more than they ever did, they have never been able to find any evidence of Margaret Thatcher behaving in an unprincipled way. Can anyone doubt they have tried? There is a reason for their failure, and it is neither their undoubted ineptitude nor the mist of rage that clouds their vision whenever they think of her. Now the shameless BBC describes a drama in which she is portrayed as trying to seduce Ted Heath "during her hunt for a Conservative seat" as "light hearted and imaginative." I cannot dispute the "imaginative" part, but I have no doubt their red hearts were heavy with malice.

Quite apart from the fact that Margaret is a devout Christian and quite possibly the least-likely woman on Earth to prostitute herself, she was rated by the first Conservative agent ever to interview her as the most promising candidate she had ever met. She had no need to resort to dubious tactics. Even if we are "imaginative" enough for a moment to consider that she might have considered it, I am quite sure that - even as a young woman - she was worldly-wise enough to know that such an approach to Mr Heath, a confirmed bachelor, would be counter-productive.

Sport and Alcohol; a marriage made in heaven or hell?

Link: Cook fifty fails to brighten rainy day - News Archive - Latest News - Lord's.

Thanks to the generosity of a client, I spent yesterday - my last full day in England for a while - at the very heart of Englishry; Lord's Cricket Ground. Although little cricket was played, I had a great day in the company of clients and business friends. I am ashamed to admit that I had never been before. It's particularly embarrassing as my paternal grandfather was a keen cricket fan, a lifelong member of Lancashire CC and played - pre-war- for our own (very very minor) county.

Lord's is a charming place; far more clean, modern and relaxed than any other sports venue I have visited. The staff were friendly, helpful and enthusiastic about cricket. There were bars everywhere doing brisk business, yet there was no hint of trouble. I have noticed the same thing at Rugby internationals. Alcohol flows freely, but with no consequent (or rather subsequent) misbehaviour As a lifelong fan of "the beautiful game", my heart sank at the disgraceful behaviour of Rangers fans at the match in Manchester this week. It sank even more at the inevitable cries for alcohol sales to be restricted during games. Incapability Brown was on the case immediately with measures targetted at anyone but the people to blame;

The Prime Minister said that the Home Secretary would explore with police how better to implement powers to stop people drinking in public in such situations.

Thousands of people had a drink in Manchester without turning to violence. I suspect that many of those who turned to violence did so without having a drink. Alcohol is simply not relevant to this issue, as cricket and rugby fans regularly prove. Why is this "collective punishment" tolerable? How can even a supposed "libertarian Tory" like Boris think that banning alcohol from Tube trains is an appropriate measure to reduce violence?

Just as alcohol is not the problem, neither is the law. The sickening violence in Manchester (which it is no longer possible in these days of camera-phones and YouTube to blame on a "tiny minority") was unlawful in many ways. The breakdown of social expectations is the problem. I asked my host, a member of the MCC, about the widespread drinking at Lord's. He said that those people who do get drunk, do so in a charming way. You may see someone at Lord's who is not in full control of his limbs, but you won't see him cause any trouble. The fact is that a cricket (or rugby fan) who behaved inappropriately in drink would lose the respect of all around him. Loutish soccer fans, on the other hand,  set out to earn a different kind of "respect".

Expectations are powerful. Children tend to behave in accordance with the expectations of their parents or teachers. This is largely why the lowering of educational expectations results in pupils leaving school at 18 less able to read, write or spell correctly than an old gentleman of my acquaintance who left school at 12. He was expected to equip himself to support his family in a hard world by the age of 12. The more education he could get in that time, the better he could hope to do. Crushingly little is expected of his modern successors - and the decline in expectations has yet to be arrested. Does it not occur to proponents of "child-centred education" who tailor lessons to a child's attention span, that it is part of their job to train pupils to be able to pay attention for longer?

Holding people legally and socially accountable for their conduct, whether or not they are drunk or otherwise intoxicated, is the most powerful way to modify behaviours. Banning drink will not reduce violence at football games. Rather it will lead to the sort of antics associated with school dances; binge drinking before entering the "dry" zone, or smuggling in intoxicants which are all the more appealing for being contraband.

If we want our fellow-citizens to behave responsibly, we must begin by expecting them to be responsible.  In asking the state to "do something" about every problem, we are behaving like little children wanting mother to make our pain go away. We need to take responsibility for our own actions (including those which follow our drinking or taking more drugs than we can handle). I am a jolly enough drunk, unless I get drunk on vodka. That does not absolve me from responsibility if I drink vodka. Rather, it makes me responsible for the consequences of not choosing whisky or gin. Only if we accept our own responsibilities, are we entitled to expect others to do the same.

The laws of England & Wales are the same at Wembley as they are at Lord's. That they are observed more at the latter than the former has nothing to do with the rules applied or the alcohol consumed and everything to do with social expectations.

Afghan aeroplane hijacker is working at British Airways training centre

Link: Afghan aeroplane hijacker is working at British Airways training centre - Telegraph.

Today, as I return to Russia, I shall face the manifold annoyances and humiliations of "security theatre" as losers in uniforms at the airport revel in their power to call me "mate," give me hell and generally make themselves feel important. Allegedly, this is all in the interests of my safety. At the same time, hijackers are being given security passes to Heathrow Airport. It's infuriating, but not surprising. During my recent trip to Europe by car, I was stopped and searched only once - on my way out of England.

If there were any logic at all to the British approach to security, I would have to conclude that the French, Swiss and Italian authorities don't care at all how many of their people are blown up by terrorists. I prefer to hope that their unobtrusive security measures are intelligently targeted on people who pose a real threat, rather than designed to cause maximum inconvenience to the travelling public.

Crewe & Nantwich

NantwichAs my maternal grandmother was from Nantwich and my grandfather from Crewe, the upcoming by-election is in familiar territory. The media is setting the Conservatives up for a fall by talking up their chances. Unless the world has changed more than I think, they are not great.

The two towns are very different. I still remember my grandmother's distaste at the constituencies being merged in 1983. She (a piece worker in a textile factory and as proletarian as any class warrior could wish) thought Crewe rather "common." Granddad, a worker in the (then) Rolls-Royce (now Bentley) factory at Crewe could not be bothered to demur from that view, at least openly. I distinctly remember that my grandmother was sufficiently fooled by Gwyneth Dunwoody's personal spin to think her "common" too.

In its short life as a separate parliamentary constituency, Nantwich was always Conservative. It has changed a lot since, but if it were once more a constituency in its own right, I could conceive of the Tories winning. Taken as a whole, however, the current constituency is very much English "rust belt" with a depressive (and depressing) tendency to the Left. Unless the substantial population of Polish immigrants in Crewe chooses to register and vote (as economic migrants they will be energetic with an instinctive distaste for native welfare addicts; as socially-conservative Catholics, they have cause to dislike Labour and as post-communists they will find Dunwoody the Younger's rhetoric disturbing) I can't conceive of the result that some polls are predicting.

My grandmother would never admit for whom she voted, though her distaste for Dunwoody the Elder may have been a clue. My grandfather (a proud participant in the News of the World Individual Darts Championship, who carried his quarter-finalist's medal with him until he died) belonged to whichever of the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Clubs had the strongest darts team at the time. I therefore have no idea for which outcome they would be rooting if still with us. I am sure they would have enjoyed the attention the by-election is bringing to the two towns where (Granddad's wartime service in what is now Israel apart) they spent their whole lives.

Apologies for absence

Img_0137My_routeI have blogged little for a while. I have been driving around Europe in my new car, taking the opportunity of being based in England for a couple of weeks to do by land what I would otherwise do (boringly) by air. Vittoria and I have now journeyed 4,000 miles together. I drove her from the North of England to the IMD Business School in Lausanne, where I had a work meeting. While there, I had the pleasure of taking carefully selected colleagues for a spin around Lac Leman to one of my favourite places to eat.

Then I drove from Lausanne to Nice, via the Grand St Bernard pass.  Up until this point I was alone, but I picked Mrs Paine up at Nice airport so we could spend a weekend together in Provence. We took the opportunity to stay at the place we have booked for our Summer holidays in August (with a view to changing our plans if we didn't like it). It was great and we also discovered (rare now for us) a great new restaurant. As of a few hours ago, I am back in London. I will head up North tomorrow, return on Saturday to take in a day of the Test Match at Lords and then fly back to Moscow (and workaday reality) on Sunday.

All kinds of political excitements have happened in my absence. I have been following them assiduously, but not posting. It's hard not to enjoy the painful public humiliation of Gordon Brown but equally hard to be optimistic as to a future Conservative administration. I was disappointed that Boris's first public act as Mayor of London was to ban alcohol on Tube trains.

It does not matter to me if a government is left or right. If its instinct is to treat citizens like children, then I am going to hate it. I feel cheated of my rightful pleasure at the long-awaited collapse of the NuLab fraud.

Tony Blair to buy John Gielgud's former home

Link: Tony Blair to buy John Gielgud's former home - Telegraph.

Gielgud_clockFinally Tony Blair and I have something in common; we both own something that used to to belong to the great actor John Gielgud. In Blair's case, it's the great man's house. In mine, it's his long-case regulator clock which used to stand there. I bought it at the auction  sale of the great man's effects, with the proceeds going to charity. I also bid by telephone for his BAFTA, but bowed out after what seemed like a long, exciting head-t0-head with "Dickie" Attenborough. I have a weakness for auctions and become terribly competitive. The BAFTA duly went back to the Academy. At least I ran him up a bit and it was for a good cause.

I was a great admirer of Gielgud; perhaps rather more (unusually for an actor) than he was himself. How he must have regretted his characteristically warm gesture in presenting (if I remember the story correctly) Edmund Kean's sword to Olivier. The sword had come to Sir John, via his aunt Ellen Terry. It was supposed to have been used on stage in a play under Shakespeare's personal direction. The tradition had been to present it to the finest Shakespearian actor of each generation. Gielgud honoured that by presenting it to Olivier backstage after "Larry" gave his Hamlet (although many thought Gielgud's finer). When he died (though Gielgud survived him) Olivier left instructions that, as there was no living actor worthy of it, it should be buried with him. I defer to no-one in my admiration for Olivier's acting, but he was no great human.

I have no sources for this story, by the way, so treat is as "internet fact". I was told it with great authority by someone who seemed to know, but theatricals are famously loose with facts. True or not, it illustrates the stupidity of our modern cult of celebrity. A man (Wagner, Olivier) may be a genius, but have opinions of very little value. We should honour the talents and ignore the man, except for the rare cases - such as another man I greatly admire - where his character was his talent. Generally, it's ridiculous to give credence to the opinions of people with a single (and often questionable) skill that happens to place them in the public eye.