THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2009

He's just a guy. Good luck to him.

The One

The weight of expectation on the shoulders of President Obama does him no favours today. No wonder he stumbled over the oath. Dr Martin Luther King's dream has still not been fulfilled. All the fuss today is not about the content of the new President's character. It is about the colour of his skin, a matter which should not be worthy of remark. I hope I live to see that dream truly fulfilled. Until then, good luck to President Obama and let's hope he's not nearly as a bad a man, politically, as I fear. Given that he thinks the question is not about "whether the Government is too big or too small, but whether it works," I c0nfess I am not optimistic.

On location in Second Life

I know my Second Life posts bore some and puzzle others, but please forgive me this short one. A film-maker in Second Life used my sci-fi project called "Sky City" as a location for a Doctor Who story. If you don't like sci-fi, Second Life or Doctor Who, I am afraid you are in for a bad time so don't bother. When I am not agonising about the state of civil liberties in Britain, I am afraid I like all three.

Sir John Mortimer, RIP

TheFatBigot Opines: Sir John Mortimer, a good hypocrite, RIP.

Sir John Mortimer was (and I think this is the best that can be said of anyone) a kind but flawed human. On civil liberties, he was 100% sound. If our political leaders felt in their hearts one-tenth of the reverence for "the golden thread" so beloved by Rumpole our country would not be in the mess it is today. I knew I would never be a Conservative again when John Major cut that thread by abolishing the right to silence, thus moving the onus of proof towards the accused. History will record him as a villain for that.

Yes, Mortimer was a Socialist. The FatBigot excuses him that because he thinks he was an hypocrite. In making his point, he sums up some of my own frustrations;

He was wedded to socialism as his religion of choice. That's the way life is and the way people are. No matter how much evidence accumulates that state control of an economy is a certain recipe for stagnation and bankruptcy, if you continue to believe in the theory you will dismiss the evidence as proof that the theory was not put into practice the right way. No matter how much evidence accumulates of social engineering leading to the poorest being trapped forever at the bottom of the heap and the able from modest backgrounds being prevented from achieving their potential, if you believe in the theory you will call for more of the same.

I have met - and liked - many of Sir John's ilk. He grew up in comfort. Being a nice man, he felt guilty that people around him had fewer chances. Socialism offered a vision of a world in which he would not have to feel guilty. Having committed to it when his intellect was young and flexible, it would have caused too much embarrassment, not least to his family and his circle of like-minded friends, to renege.

I doubt such an intelligent man failed to notice the evidence of his doctrine's devastating global failure during the last quarter of his life. I am sure he must have harboured doubts. But then I once spent a vodka-soaked Sunday with an old Polish soldier who drove a Red Army tank to crush the Prague Spring. He had little choice but to believe he had done right either. It takes more of a hero than most of us can be to admit one's life was lived in service of a lie. To Mortimer's credit, though a Labour man to the end, he more effectively opposed New Labour's onslaught on civil liberties than HM Opposition has managed.

I can perfectly understand people lucky enough to live at a distance from the consequences using their support for Labour as a tick box for "caring," thus avoiding the need to do anything more practical to assuage their guilt about their own success. They are not nearly such hypocrites as the machine Socialists who make suckers of each new generation of such kindly optimists.

These are the politicians who score salaries and benefits the market would never provide to those of such limited talent. Not to mention "expenses" so egregious that they must be exempted from the Freedom of Information rules lest their ripped-off electors find out. These are the trade union bosses living in apartments provided - all unknowing - by members of their union or another. These are the people in jobs funded at taxpayers expense to reward political allegiance These are also the educationalists who rise in their own careers by destroying social mobility. To provide a continued supply of mug Labour voters, they cut off kids like I once was from all hope of fulfilling their potential (and not just financially). These corrupt and cynical people, not the gentle souls like John Mortimer, are the hypocrites. In this I must respectfully demur from m'learned friend's otherwise excellent commentary.

I heard an anecdote over dinner last year, which puts this all neatly in context. I have been trying to substantiate it ever since because I would love to name the odious name in question. Recently I learned that the originator doesn't want the hassle of putting his name to it. I understand that perfectly. There is no legal aid for libel and the cost of defending court proceedings by a wealthy "man of the people" would be too high a high price to pay for me (merely a friend of a friend) to have a good story to post. I am sure he doesn't want the destruction of his private life either. So (unless some reader was present and prepared to substantiate it) this (naming no names) is what I was told allegedly happened. Contrary to my usual liberal comments policy, I will delete any speculation as to the identity of the villain.

Many years ago, a merchant ship was sailing from to California with a cargo of luxury foodstuffs. There was a strike at their destination port and the ship was not allowed to dock. Anchored in the offing, the officers and crew ran out of food. They broke open the cargo and ate some of it. When the crew learned that their employer proposed to deduct the costs from their wages they were understandably furious, especially as they suspected that the officers had taken more of the cargo than was necessary with a view to personal gain. They called in the union. A young official flew in from the UK. He retired with the officers to negotiate and hours later emerged, well-oiled and clutching bags of goodies. He told the men "Sorry lads, there's nothing we can do." Said "lads" threw him bodily, loot and all, into the Pacific. Sadly, he could swim.

Whether true, embroidered or a mere fable, this story represents the real Labour Party to me - the Labour Party behind whose lines I grew up and which I detest with all my being. It has nothing to do with hypocrisy or misguided kindness. It is a racket, preying upon the weak; actively promoting victimhood for political gain. That some befuddled middle-class types salve their social consciences by misguidedly aiding and abetting the racketeers is to be regretted. But then Barbara Windsor probably shouldn't have hung out with the Krays either. Perhaps she was struck by the false glamour and their freedom with their ill-gotten gains, but that doesn't make her an accomplice to their crimes. John Mortimer was a good man and I shall miss him about the place.

Bleed The World?

Bleed The World.

Catching up on emails now the Russian holidays are over, I got to a funny Christmas one from a friend which included this link. Poor taste? Brilliant satire? I leave that to you to decide. Don't send the requested donations though. Your loving government has already taken your unborn descendants' money for the purpose.  Save yours to leave to them. They are going to need it.

A tale of two cities

John Redwood MP » Digby tells an inconvenient truth.

Mr Redwood's blog is a good, serious read - especially by the dire standards of the politician-blogger. Today he makes an "off-message" point about civil service bloat that may get him in trouble with the party leadership. I found myself moved to "waste" what had been brewing in my mind as a piece for this blog by posting it as a long comment there. While it awaits comment moderation, let me share it with you;

I normally live in Moscow as an expatriate Brit, but have been in England for the last month traveling between Chester and London. In London, there is a visible recession. A taxi driver told me he was barely covering his cab rental and thinking of quitting the game. He said he had not seen London so quiet in 30 years. I have certainly never driven around Hyde Park Corner so easily in 30 years myself, nor jostled with so few people in the London shops at Christmas.

In Chester, however (apart from some job losses at the one major private employer - MBNA) there are no visible signs of a downturn. A high proportion of locals are dependent (one way or the other) on the state for their income. The recession is actually boosting their purchasing power. It is even making them feel good about themselves vis-a-vis the private sector sorts who (as they see it) are now getting their come-uppance. Their jobs (they believe) are safe and their pensions are secure, while those who have generated the wealth to support them are typically learning they have lost a third to a half of their pension pots and that their grandchildren are to be indebted (inter alia) to pay said state employees’ unfunded pensions.

I think the new “schadenfreude edition” of the feelgood factor among its key voters is one reason why Labour’s poll ratings are not as dismal as they should be given the economic situation. Bear in mind that Chester, while it deteriorated badly under a now-dismissed Labour council, is still quite a nice little town by Northern standards. It is a long way from the squalor of nearby ex-industrial towns where these effects must be even greater. It is a potential Tory gain on a modest swing and not merely because the incumbent MP, Christine Russell, is a waste of the air she breathes. But this Tory target is still economically a “company town” for the state so be careful about such posts as this!

Gordon Brown simply does not have the option to lay off 50% of this captive vote without losing office. So let’s not pretend we dont’ know the answer to your question “what’s stopping them?” More importantly, if you want such key marginals you need a better story yourselves for dealing with civil service bloat than “sack 50% now” (correct though that would be, if it were politically possible). The civil service is even bigger than you think. Many of my company’s employees provide no service, directly or indirectly, to our customers. They are there to collect taxes, enforce compliance with regulations etc. etc. They are state employees too and their wages are taxes by another name. A real attack on this problem would reduce their numbers by 50% too, but that would require de-regulation, which Labour has succeeded in making a bad word. It is just so much better at presentation that you guys are, even after discounting for their shameless and spiraling dishonesty.

The British state is more bloated now than it was in 1978. Far too many voters have immediate personal reasons to fear its contraction. Hard though it is to say it, therefore, when the country’s parlous finances dictate harsh and immediate action, the Tories need a long-term, principled, fully-justified but gentle plan to throw state mission-creep into reverse. I think it would be better-received than you may think, especially if you can raise your pitiful game on presentation. Just as in the 1970’s, the working-people closest to this corruption (because subverting state funds to buy votes IS corruption) understand it best. Mrs T. knew that, but the Tory grandees didn’t. This time around, the grandees are in charge, so the situation remains firmly and infuriatingly ungrasped.

The chance to triangulate the triangulators has finally arrived, guys, provided you can show the target voters a clear and plausible path to a different, more sustainable, future. You simply can’t just frighten them about losing what they have.

Sorry if you have already seen it over there. Feel free to comment either here or at the linked article. It is time to develop a credible plan before the state parasite kills its economic host.

Be seeing you

Patrick McGoohan - Telegraph.

I am not a number, yet. I am still, just about, a free man. You saw where we were going years ago and you expressed it in a startlingly memorable way. I fear that such a theme may never be explored on British TV again. Certainly not on the BBC, whose Andrew Marr spoofs The Prisoner on Sunday mornings, before going on to suck up shamelessly to the Number Twos who rule us. RIP Mr McGoohan.

A privatisation we should all oppose

Jack Straw plan for private inquests back on agenda | UK news | The Guardian.

When any government seeks to deny public justice on the grounds of "national security," alarm bells should ring. Politicians have a track record of confusing the nation's security with their own political convenience. In this example, making inquests "private" is a euphemism for making them secret. I cannot see how it can possibly jeopardise national security for state agents who kill to be cross-examined. Their identities can be protected during a public inquest as the law now stands. Why would a respectable government want more?

If you are a Labour supporter, I appeal to you in particular. It is long past time for you to recognise that dangerous lines are being crossed, day after day. It is not good enough to defend such things just because your party proposes them. You owe your fellow-citizens more than that. Please get in touch with your MP. Please go along to your next local party meeting. Do whatever you can to make it clear to Jack Straw that the magic words "national security" are not enough to make you abandon all decency.

Had this law been in place when the Metropolitan Police shot Jean Charles de Menezes, there would have been no independent public review of the conduct of his killers. It is hard to escape the ignoble conclusion that this is precisely why the government wants it.

Not that the inquest was an adequate process in that case. Had you or I killed Jean Charles in the mistaken belief he was a suicide bomber, we would have been charged with murder and a jury would have decided our guilt or innocence. Disgracefully, one arm of the British state (the Crown Prosecution Service) protected another (the Metropolitan Police) by deciding not to prosecute. That decision - a violation of the principle of equality before the law - is inexplicable in any but political terms.

The only jury the British state allowed near the de Menezes case was the coroner's jury. It

"...rejected the police account Mr de Menezes was killed lawfully by two officers who shot him seven times at Stockwell Tube in south London..."

Had it not, in my opinion, been misdirected by the coroner, I suspect the jury would have returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the de Menezes case. That would have made life difficult for the Crown Prosecution Service. We should not, perhaps, be surprised that the government wishes to avoid such narrow squeaks in future. Much though it has packed the judiciary at all levels with sympathetic types, it cannot (yet) guarantee that the coroner at the next such inquest will give such ferocious directions. Therefore, if Jack Straw has his way, the next such inquest will be held in secret. Or, as he prefers to put it, "in private".

This is a characteristic attack on our liberties. It is also an attack on openness and equality before the law. Both are essential to a free society. This is just the sort of issue that should be debated at the forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty. Not that this authoritarian horror of a government will pay the slightest attention to that. Not that, for so long as such actions are seen as a political virility test, we can rely on a Conservative government to be better. Only when men and women of goodwill make this what it should be - the central political issue of our age - will the juggernaut of tyranny be stopped in its tracks, let alone be reversed.

h/t Harry Haddock

Join us at the Convention on Modern Liberty

Liberal Conspiracy » Join us at the Covention on Modern Liberty | creating a new liberal-left alliance.

This is shaping up to be an interesting event. There will be a bloggers "summit" (which makes me laugh, isn't it more like a base camp?) hosted by Liberal Conspiracy and Comment is Free. I am going to be there (at the London event) and I look forward to meeting as many freedom-minded bloggers as possible. Please follow the link to Sunny's post on the subject for more details.

The idea of "a new liberal-left alliance" also makes me laugh. It sounds about as plausible as "a new virgin/rapist alliance." Nonetheless It will be interesting to hear what the leftists have to say. Goodness knows British liberty needs all the allies she can get, but people already allied to misogynists whose religion's name means "submission" are going to have a hard time convincing me they are for its very opposite, "liberty."

With the Guardian, the TUC and other dubious characters involved, I can't help but be suspicious that this is all a con trick designed to steal the very name of liberty just as leftists have already stolen the word "liberal." Only the involvement of Liberty (of which I am a member) is convincing me to attend. The more liberals-with-no-scary-qualifiers who come along, the better the chances of a successful outcome. Please make an effort. It may be liberty's last hurrah in Britain.

Liveblogging Dave on AM

As our country slides further and faster into debt, I am incredulously watching the leader of the allegedly Conservative Opposition propose continued increases in public spending. He is visibly terrified of the word "cuts" ever being uttered again in proximity to the word "Tory." He is craven in the face of Andrew Marr's ludicrous use of the words "slash public spending" to describe a mere reduction in the rate of increase. That fear alone is enough to ensure that he will make no difference if elected.

For all his green credentials, he is advocating that taxpayers should guarantee the loans of people who can't afford to buy new cars. That is neither conservative, nor green. He seems every bit as keen to get back to the abnormality of the last 10 years as Gordon Brown. I feel sorry for businesses that have, in good faith, geared up to supply goods to people who couldn't afford them. I feel very sorry for the workers in those businesses, who had nothing to do with that decision. But the credit-fuelled Vorderman Binge of the last 10 years was always unsustainable. It should never have started and it had to stop sometime. Trying to restart it is insane. Saying so would be genuinely conservative, which Cameron isn't - so he didn't.

Turning to the stupid story de jour, he ritually condemned Prince Harry's joshing with his Asian mate - saying that the use of the work "Paki" is completely unacceptable. No change likely on the politically-correct "bad words are more important than bad actions" front then.

At the next election, the choice will be between "Classic Labour" and "Labour Light". It is very hard to get excited about that prospect, much though I long to see this smugly cretinous and epically-incompetent government out of office.