THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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October 2010

Another one bites the dust

Mr Eugenides: The last post.
Eugenides demon eyes
I was in a good mood this morning. The sun is shining, there's a day of rest ahead, and Mrs P. (who was very ill this week) is chirpy again. Mr Eugenides has spoiled it. The Devil (who has the pleasure to know him personally) gives him his due here. For my part, let me just add that Mr Eugenides was one of the wittiest inhabitants of the British political blogosphere. He was as funny as he was spot on. It would be churlish to let the moment pass without thanking him for his entertaining efforts over the last five years. Thank you, sir and good luck. You will be missed.

Smoking on motorbikes

Continuing my theme of distentangling honest-to-Stalin Leftism from good old-fashioned British Puritanism, I was looking for an image to illustrate something Mrs P. and I noticed yesterday. Out on the town in Shanghai, we saw many motorcyclists riding (legally) without helmets and smoking en route.

Oddly enough, I couldn't find a suitable photo, but I did find these.



Let the debate between outraged statists and on-the-back-foot libertarians begin.

h/t Videogum and  DJ Mick

The Guardian gets it, at last

Hideously diverse Britain: School success – the Chinese way | UK news | The Guardian.

Whenever anyone told us that certain ethnic groups do badly in school because of discrimination, my wife and I asked (based on her experiences teaching in state schools) "...if teachers are conventionally racist, why do Chinese pupils do so well and white working class children do so badly?"

Now, even the Guardian seems to get the point.

The national average for pupils in 2009 who were eligible for free school meals and achieved five or more A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths was 26.6%. British Chinese pupils in the same category achieved 70.8%. In other groups, there was a wide attainment gap between the poorest and the most socially advantaged pupils. The rates for poorer and better-off Chinese pupils differed by just 2%. So they do better, and social deprivation doesn't seem to hold them back. Why is that?

Cutting through all the condescension in the linked article, the answer is simple; the parents. What is more it's hard to argue (unless you are unconventionally racist) that there is anything Chinese parents do that other parents couldn't do just as well.

Not only is the racism industry a self-serving scam that harms the people it purports to protect, but - joy of joys - the idea that social deprivation determines life chances is stupid and dangerous too. What a life-enhancing, liberating insight! There's no need for any parent to blame others for their childrens lack of achievement. They can just show up to their parents' evenings, encourage them to do their homework and generally make it clear to them that education matters.

Who knew? Well, obviously the Chinese - and every other parent uncorrupted by British orthodoxy.

To put it another way, the envy-laden, excuse-generating ideology of the Labour movement and its house rag is - and always has been - destructive nonsense. So when can we expect a change of editorial line and a thoroughgoing purge of left-wing educationalists who have trashed the life-chances of millions? Perhaps not just yet.

Compulsory debt?

Penalty for graduates who pay off student loans early - Telegraph.

This government is so much in love with debt that it wants to impose an early-redemption penalty on students who pay off their loans before they are due. That's bad enough but it's not a new idea. Long-term lenders have been known to impose contractual penalties on those who pay off their loans early, before they have had chance to make a profit. Of course, there is the slight ethical difference that it's a matter of contract. These students will not get to shop around.

The government is planning, however, to take the concept much further. They are going to penalise me for paying my daughters' university fees as they go along to avoid saddling them with student debt. Other middle class families take the relatively cheap money and invest it or pay off their mortgage. I have left it with the Treasury to be wasted in other ways. If you ask me, present and future taxpayers should be thanking me. Certainly it's pretty ripe to punish me, isn't it?

Tell me again, Polly, how this Cameron fellow is the heir to Thatcher?

I am a prudent man and generally averse to debt. For this, the value of my pension has been decimated by a stimulus programme designed to prop up those who borrowed beyond their means. My daughters (everyone's daughters, actually, not to mention their sons) have been indebted for their whole lives by the same programme. This government seems as keen as the last one for us all to be feckless chavs.

Whatever may we expect next as punishment for our financial eccentricity? Is every lender we ever failed to borrow from going to stick us with a penalty? What was it these politicians were saying about grasping bankers again?

How real Leftists approach alcohol

Mrs P. and I ventured out for an afternoon stroll and ended up at a bar. Sitting under a canopy outside on a warm, rainy evening, we did some people-watching here in the Peoples' Republic. It was all very enjoyable, despite being surrounded by (gasp!) smokers. Picking up the drinks menu (accustomed as we are to the conflation of leftism and puritanism back home in Guardian-land) how we laughed to read the following on the cocktails menu.

Quite different from all that miserable stuff, eh? I realise you must all be very worried about us, so let me hasten to report that Mrs P and I managed to "consommér avec moderation" despite the bar owner's wicked and self-interested recommendation. As far as we could see (as there was none of the behaviour that keeps middle-aged couples out of city centres on weekend evenings back home) so did everyone else.

And all without any advice from a government. Remarkable.

Hard cases and bad law?

Divorce laws should not be made by the grotesquely rich | Catherine Bennett | Comment is free | The Observer.

Pace Catherine Dorothea Bennett, Oxford grad., former Baroness Sackville and current squeeze of by-no-means-short-of-a-bob-or-two John Humphreys, laws are not made by those who are ("grotesquely" or otherwise) rich. In England & Wales they are made by the judges or Parliament. In the former case, highly experienced ex-advocates adjudicate real-life situations, setting binding precedents. In the latter case ex-postmen and PR men adjudicate the outcome of future situations based on their sick imaginings and/or grotesque political views. Give me judges and reality any day.

As this case illustrates, judge-made law evolves as society changes. At law school I was taught that pre-nuptial agreements were void ab initio as being contrary to public policy, which favoured the institution of marriage. That is now no longer true. While some of us may regret it, our society no longer regards marriage as so important. More than half Britain's children are born out of wedlock, after all. The Common Law of England is quietly doing its stuff as it has, reliably, for centuries. This flexibility, Ms Bennett dismisses haughtily:-

It is ... ancient tradition for the law never to be decided quite firmly enough that ... rich misers and resentful spouses cannot challenge it in future, which ensures that lowlier divorcing couples can never receive clear advice from their lawyers.

Judge-made law gave England & Wales one of the best (and certainly the most flexible) legal systems in the world. If ever you find an English law stupid, enquire further. You will usually find it originated in Parliament, not the courts. As a law student, I once asked Lord Denning if it was right, in a democracy, that he - an unelected judge - had had such an influence on English Law. He replied jokingly "Given the quality of the members of the House of Commons, young man, I think you are better off with me." He had a point. Democracy is the least bad way yet implemented of choosing men and women to administer the affairs of the state but does not guarantee the quality of legislators. English judges gave you equality before the law, habeas corpus and innocence until proven guilty.  Parliament gave you control orders.

Ms Bennett seems anyway far more exercised by the amounts at stake than the principle under discussion. Perhaps it's envy? Perhaps the amount at stake when she divorced the 7th Baron Sackville was not as much as she could have wished?

Of course it is an ancient tradition that English divorce law should be decided by cases brought by impossibly rich misers or their resentful spouses.

It's true of course that the judges more often adjudicate on the troubles of the rich. That doesn't make the precedents less useful. In fact, let me put this in terms our Dorothea might approve of; the rich pay a kind of "progressive" taxation whereby the money they spend on litigation benefits the little people. Arguably, it was the first such taxation in our history.

The thrust (if not the tone) of her point, when she finally gets to it after tedious paragraphs of envy-fuelled ad hominem (and gossipy trivia more worthy of Hello than The Observer) is not as bad as one might fear;

...if the Radmacher precedent saves just a few spouses from archaic laws and modern lawyers at the same time that it propels ex-trophy wives into gainful employment, the eponymous divorcee probably deserves her triumph. If nervous couples are thereby nudged up the aisle, the Church of England might also find itself indebted...

Quite. And can I just add that the only person (apart from the Supreme Court judges and my learned friends on both sides) who comes out of the Radmacher case with honour is the lady's wise father. Without his stern defence of her interests when she was "head over heels" in love, there would have been no pre-nup to uphold. Well done, sir.

Now, about that £81bn...

About that £81bn.

I have been rattling on here and elsewhere about how the government is unable to do what is required to public spending because - post Labour - the payroll vote is electorally decisive. Perhaps I am wrong. If the linked post at the Adam Smith Institute is correct, then (h/t Prodicus);

...the government starts by assuming that one half of public spending, departmental expenditure limits, will go up by 10 percent over the next five years, while the other half, annually managed expenditure, will rise by 23 percent. Any deviation from the growth is called a cut....

This is why the MSM, government and opposition are talking about "cuts", while the rest of us see government expenditure (and public debt) still rising. The word "cuts" here is what we lawyers call "a defined term" - and a very misleading one at that.

Why would a government genuinely trying to make cuts in the face of electoral opposition, define "cuts" so badly as to make them sound worse than they are?

Either they are as keen as expanding the state as their competitors, or they are trying to convince their creditors they have done something much, when they haven't. Or perhaps both?

I am open to other suggestions.

Why Labour doesn't need a financially literate Shadow Chancellor

Tax Research UK » Labour did not create the recession.

Tim Worstall needs no help from me in debunking Richard Murphy. He does so patiently, day after day. Today he didn't even need to comment; he just linked to Murphy's student union grade guff.  My own comment at Murphy's blog (awaiting moderation at the time of writing) says all I want to add so I reproduce it below:-

You are burning straw men here.
Of course Labour didn’t create the global recession (although they contributed). They did not manage our money properly during the boom; increasing public spending commitments beyond what was sustainable. Nor did they prepare any response for the recession, presumably because they believed their own propaganda that they had abolished economic cycles.
Even Keynes anticipated that the pumps would be primed with money saved during the good times. Labour increased the national debt during good times and had to resort (by their world view) to massive further borrowing for stimulus when bad times came. Personally I would have let the bankrupt banks fall. HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds TSB (had it not crippled itself at Brown’s request by taking on HBOS) could have picked their bones with their receivers and become even stronger. The shareholders of the bad banks would have taken the rap, as they should. Honouring Northern Rock’s deposit guarantees would have cost nothing compared to its bail out, for example.
Even worse than their economic “crime” is their systematic political corruption in building the public payroll to a point where it’s electorally decisive. The government simply can’t take the necessary action now (until our creditors force it). Yesterday’s announcement was largely theatre for those creditors. It involved no real “cuts”. Public spending - and borrowing - continues to rise. Why? Because the coalition parties fear the wrath of state-dependent voters.
As to your last point, no-one can reasonably blame Labour for lack of regulation (as a lawyer doing finance work I assure you there’s a LOT of regulation); but it’s responsible for the incompetent application on its watch of the regulations it had. Writing words down on paper doesn’t solve problems, even when the Queen scribbles the magic spell in Norman French that makes them law. Intelligent application of the rules is what matters.
Labour was not (and never has been) up to the job. They always spend themselves out of office. The Tories are so disliked largely because they are condemned to be the clean up team brought in to sort it all out so that voters can return to their something for nothing delusion and vote Labour again.

So why the title of my post? Because Labour and its camp followers have no intention of addressing the economic issues. Johnson is a perfectly adequate political bruiser for their purposes. After all, the last thing Odd Ed wants is for the villains of the piece to be confronting Gideon at the despatch box. Labour's hands are just too dirty. Therefore it's going to plug the yah-boo line that the Tories enjoy making cuts; that in Johnson's words it's "what many of them came into politics to do." They are going to play the man, not the ball, and for that they don't need any skills.

As, in government, Labour succeeded in breaking our democracy; stacking the electoral cards in its favour by building the public payroll, it will probably work because - nonsense though their denial that the defecit is a problem may be - it's what decisively-large numbers of voters want to hear. That was the thrust of my argument in an heated debate over at James' Higham's place recently. In my opinion it's now the key issue of our political times.

Anyone but Murray? Not today.

ShanghaiMasters4 Mrs P. and I had a pleasant time at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center today. On a beautfully sunny afternoon, we watched Melzer and Paes narrowly defeat Fyrtenberg and Matki in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters doubles competition.

Then in the late afternoon/early evening, we watched Andy Murray comfortably take the mens' singles title of the tournament in straight sets. It was odd, so far from the childish nationalisms that poison our home islands to hear the Chinese announcers introduce Murray as "from Great Britain" in English, but as "an Englishman" in Chinese, while his fans all displayed the Saltire. The only Union Flag on display was behind his personal entourage. Now he's at a level to be in line for the big sponsorship deals that come with popularity, it seems his camp would like the English on his side.

ShanghaiMasters3 ShanghaiMasters1
I am not of the "anyone but Murray persuasion" because of his supposed anti-Englishness. I was rooting for Federer today for other reasons. I find it irritating that someone so blessed with talent as Murray appears neither to appreciate nor enjoy it. He makes angry, whiney noises as he plays; he changes rackets or fiddles with his shoes after every mistake, as if there must obviously be an external cause. He scowls at the ball boys and girls (aspiring players themselves no doubt); gesturing to them peremptorily in marked contrast to the smiles and polite nods of other players. He never seems pleased to see anyone, in fact. I don't think he's so much anti-English as generally misanthropic. Compare and contrast all that with the charming smiles and easy manners of Federer; a man whose success no-one resents or envies because he is as gracious off the court as he is graceful on it.

Pressed by the Chinese master of ceremonies to explain why he never smiles, Murray played for sympathy and said "I'm shy."  Then, adding "...but I will try hard for you...," he put on a sickly Gordon Brown grimace. At that moment I thought that, if I were the marketing director of Rolex, I would be hoping Murray will never wear in public the watch I had just presented to him. In fact, I would be hoping he would agree to endorse some competitor's product.

ShanghaiMasters6There is no denying that Murray played the better tennis today, for all that the crowd cheered his opponent's every good stroke, while politely clapping his. Federer had played a match yesterday while Murray rested (one imagines in a darkened room with a duvet over his head). At the ripe old age of 29, Federer seemed tired and rather resigned in the face of the Murray onslaught. There were flashes of brilliance and some really quite extraordinary rallies (men's tennis is much improved from the boring era of grunts and aces when I tired of it) but for the most part he seemed almost ready to lose.

Federer is one of the greats of tennis and I am glad to have seen him "live" (and experienced the warmth he generates in his fans). There was a fin de siecle feel to it all though.

The game was over all too soon and we were watching the crowd warm more to Federer as he ventured a few words of Chinese, while laughing unsympathetically at Murray's embarrassing claim to be shy. If you want those sponsorship millions, Andy, you had best apply the discipline of your sports training to developing (or faking) some social skills. Otherwise, no matter how many tournaments you win, you will always be a loser.