THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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June 2011

Advancing liberty, one smoke at a time

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The cross-party group of MPs hosting this afternoon's sunny "Save our Pubs & Clubs" reception on the Commons Terrace comprised only non-smokers. Messrs Knight and Hemming, like me, have never smoked but feel strongly about liberty. The Labour co-host Roger Godsiff-is an ex-smoker, by his own free choice; a choice he defends for others. To cries of "don't give them ideas", he suggested it would be more honest and more honourable for antismokers to call openly for prohibition, as they clearly desire. Until they succeed in securing that, it was wrong for them to seek to hedge about a legal activity.

IMG_0071 It was nostalgic to hear a Labour man talk in such terms; an echo of the days when the working-class members of that party at least were not looking to replace one boss class with another. The hosts  spoke eloquently enough to an impressively substantial crowd, but I was most moved by the plain speaking of Mick McGlasham, General Secretary of the Working Mens Clubs & Institutes Union (CIU). He was genuinely baffled that, when pubs and clubs are ready to make ventilated smoking areas, anti-smoking fanatics are still determined to shatter the institutions at the heart of working-class communities. "Just give us the technical specs", he said, "and we will comply. It's time for some common sense on smoking legislation". He also pointed out that young children are being more exposed to cigarettes because their parents now have nowhere to smoke but at home.

A surprise appearance was made by artist David Hockney, who spoke passionately of the "mean-spiritedness" infecting our modern society. A mean-spiritedness that confronts old people who have smoked for years with the choice of shivering in sheds or staying home.

It was good to see and chat to fellow-blogger Dick Puddlecote there. We exchanged notes on blogging and the relative merits of writing (as I do) in mum-safe language, and (as he does) for a large audience! Forced to think about exactly what it is I have been doing here for the last seven years, I concluded that I am a specialist, small-scale wholesaler of ideas for retail distribution by the likes of Dick.

I also exchanged brief greetings with ũber-blogger Guido Fawkes, whom I have met only once before. Our man is now enough of an insider to go from twenty feet behind me in the House of Commons security queue to a yard ahead of me in the queue for a drink. And enough of an insider to look puzzled when it's mentioned! I look forward to reading their respective takes on the event.

En route to House of Commons Terrace

This life long non-smoker (cigars don't count, right?) is making a principled stand (glass of beer in hand, I hope) at the "Save our Pubs and Clubs" event this afternoon, hosted by MPs Greg Knight, Roger Godsiff and John Hemming. I shall report further in due course. For now I just hope the weather holds and (as I am running late from my previous engagement) the security is not too dire.

Isn't the BBC in the public sector too?

BBC News - Warning of public sector strike threat to UK travel.

I am looking forward to Thursday. Since the strikers won't be paid, the unions will deliver the first real reduction in public spending since this farce of a government was cobbled together. Thank you, brothers. The only thing that could possibly improve my day would be for the agitprop merchants at the BBC to remember that they are public sector workers too.

The Guardian: Offenders should NOT get their just deserts

Reverting to 'tough' justice fails both adults and children | Society | The Guardian.
When someone writes that offenders should "get their just deserts" you assume they are a tabloid journalist.
But when someone thinks offenders should NOT get their "just deserts" and indeed holds the very concept at arms length with disdainful quotation marks, you KNOW he's from that brainless, simpering gangster's moll of newspapers, The Guardian and is thoroughly turned on by a bit of rough.

Open Letter on the West Lothian Question

The Under Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, recently said;

I have always expressed the view that there is no desire for an English Parliament—and the same two people have always written to me afterwards to say that I am wrong.

To afford the honourable gentleman some variety in his correspondence, I sent him this email;

Dear Mr. Mundell,

You said recently in Parliament that there is "no demand" for equal constitutional treatment of England and Scotland. You will forgive me if I don't agree. You said in Parliament that only the same two people ever write to tell you that you are wrong about an English Parliament. Allow me to make a third.

It is offensive and wrong that you can vote on English issues equivalent to those reserved to the Scottish Parliament. It is unfair that the Barnett Formula values your constituents more than my wife, my children and me to the tune of £1,800 each per year. Not to mention "free" prescriptions, higher education, care for the elderly etc.

The injustice of the present constitution is creating hostility where there was (on the part of the English at least) none. Polls suggest more English people now favour an end to the Union than Scots. No wonder, when the Scots are voting themselves privileges without fiscal consequences! Perhaps people in England seething at this injustice don't all articulate it in the same formal way, but that is no excuse to dismiss their legitimate concerns so lightly. A Parliamentarian is a representative, not a delegate and should consider the interests of the whole country.

I have no desire to layer on more government. There is already far too much. It could be perfectly economical, however, to introduce an English Parliament as part of a scheme both to equalise the constitutional settlement of the UK and to democratise the Upper House. The Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish Parliaments/Assemblies could sit together in the Lords' Chamber as a Grand Senate of the United Kingdom, with entrenched powers to prevent constitutional changes adverse to the interests of any single constituent nation. Both Houses would then be elected without significant extra expense as the English Parliament could share the chamber with the Grand Senate and the costs of the House of Lords would be saved (as well as perhaps half the costs of the House of Commons). I suggest that the overall number of elected representatives (and therefore expense) could be kept the same or even reduced.

You may recall the poem Margaret Thatcher famously quoted in EU budget negotiations; Rudyard Kipling's "Norman and Saxon"

"When he stands like an ox in the furrow,
With his sullen eyes set on your own,
And mumbles 'this isn't fair dealing' My son, leave the Saxon alone."

The British Constitution, as perverted by Tony Blair's Labour Party in the vain hope of political gain, is by no means "fair dealing". I respectfully request that you stop being so flippant on this issue and consider a just and equitable reform.

I shall post a copy of this letter to my blog,, where I write under the nom de plume "Tom Paine." Please feel free to reply publicly there. Otherwise, if you give your permission, I shall post your reply there.

Yours faithfully,

I await a reply wih interest.

Mr Worstall speaks for England

Oh fuck off you miserable little wankers.
Tim is unhappy that our warriors fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be brought home to their families via the back gates of RAF Brize Norton rather than the streets of Royal Wootton Bassett. He says that;

Tories used to get this military shit and how did we come to a situation where even they are so damn ignorant?

In the comments, JuliaM remarks;

Sure, back when they were Tories

Quite. It's not time for me to rejoin the Conservative Party just yet, it seems. Please don't confuse my disgust at this decision with any sympathy for the war, however. Can anyone guess which politician so tellingly described our role as deputy to America's world policeman thus?

In our imagination the vanishing last vestiges... of Britain's once vast Indian Empire have transformed themselves into a peacekeeping role on which the sun never sets. Under God's good providence and in partnership with the United States, we keep the peace of the world and rush hither and thither ... putting out brush fires and coping with subversion. It is difficult to describe, without using terms derived from psychiatry, a notion having so few points of contact with reality.

I think you might be surprised at the answer.

Second only to Singapore for Government intrusion

Google report reveals British government web snooping - Telegraph.

Those friends who think my concerns for liberty in Britain overblown should consider the country's consistently high position, when adjusted for population, in Google's rankings for requests for private data from government intelligence services. To be up there with authoritarian Singapore is surely indicative of something?

Justice: RIP?

Justice: RIP? | Beneath The Wig.

In the wake of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Amanda ("Millie") Dowler, I have been conducting an unpopular defence of our adversarial system of criminal trials over at the excellent blog of Inspector Gadget. It's an important issue. Our rights to be presumed innocent if accused of a crime and to have our arguments put vigorously in open court to an independent judge and a jury of our peers are more important than our right to vote. Before anyone indignantly tells me that we owe those rights to politicians, please remember they predate democracy in England by centuries. The right to choose our masters is less valuable than the restraints on their power. Democracy itself has, after all, proved to be no restraint, as politicians bribe election-swinging minorities of voters with cash extorted violently from others.

The debate at Gadget's gaff has been depressing. If some of his readers are representative of Britain's police, our ancient rights are neither understood nor valued by a constabulary that would give us up to Continental style inquisitors in a heartbeat. The Bill, it seems, regards defence lawyers as the enemy; stereotyping them coarsely as mercenaries who profit from keeping offenders at large. That part, at least, is sadly not surprising to me. Burglars stole all our wedding presents in the weeks after our marriage. At the time I was practising (as I did for one year after qualifying) as a criminal lawyer. Mrs P. and I have a sad, humiliating memory of our tiny flat full of amused police officers (including an inspector). They showed up to gloat when they learned over their radios both that a criminal defence lawyer had been burgled and that he was living (we are self-made and were just starting out) in entertaining poverty. There was scarcely room for the scene of crime officer to dust the place for prints.

Even more depressingly, the influential Conservative blogger Ellie Seymour has failed to live up to her surname and joined the blindly sentimental tabloid frenzy claiming that the treatment of the Dowler family by Levi Bellfield's defence team amounted to a "travesty of justice". In particular she calls for defendants to be forced (at gunpoint, Ellie?) to testify. If neither our Conservatives nor our policemen understand or value the presumption of innocence and our open, adversarial system of justice, what hope is there for Liberty?

I was girding up my loins to write a piece here summarising my comments elswhere, when I read the linked post. It makes further effort on my part redundant and I hope as many people as possible read it. It is an important antidote to the sickly, cloying, Oprah Winfrey-style, sentimentalism of the media coverage of the Dowler family's ordeal. Hypocritical coverage given that the media's sickening pandering to the prurience of the British public made it an ordeal. Not to mention of course the prurience of the investigating police officers which had them taking their eye off the ball (the metaphorical ball, not the one in the father's gag).

I can't help but feel that the hue and cry for Bellfield's legal team is a cynical attempt to distract attention from the failings of others. The cosseted, self-esteem-laden products of our "all must have prizes" education system and our "no-one must be offended" victim culture may whinge and moan about the rigours of a trial their yeoman ancestors would have handled with courage. Our political class may curry favour with the ignorant by betraying the rights that made us free. Our journalists may sell papers with prurience and hypocrisy. Our constabulary may seize the chance of using a hard case to demand bad laws to make their lives easier (and ours more dangerous). But justice has, for now, been served. I am not optimistic, given all I have read, that it will always be so in this country.

Scraping the tax barrel

Wirral Resource Centre/Home Page.

Our country must really be in trouble. I knew tax offices were under instruction to turn every stone to find revenue for our desperate (and financially incontinent) government but who could have imagined this would involve reopening the 1990s tax accounts of charities? Had the error been in the Revenue's favour, of course, it would now be time-barred.

Fairness. Don't you just love it? Still, those shrill enemies of the Rule of Law over at #ukuncut will be thrilled.

As HMRC seems to lack the Big Society spirit, I urge you to follow the link to the charity's online donations page and drop a bob or two into its virtual tin. They only need £16,000 to be back where they were before some malodorous civil servant earned his collections bonus. I have given £100 and Mrs P the Elder has chipped in a tenner.

h/t Private Eye

Blood, soil and soccer

Half of Britons have German blood - Telegraph.
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The linked article is hardly news, surely? Most Anglo-Saxons have only a hazy idea of where the Angles came from (Angeln in Schleswig-Holstein) but surely all of us know the Saxons came from Saxony? We are known by the hyphenated names of two German places, for goodness' sake - as if it matters. Englishness is not, and has never been, a matter of blood and soil.

What is surprising and disapppointing is that Der Spiegel thinks the English are;

"...the nation which most dislikes the Germans..."

Really?! I am afraid your editorial team needs to get out more. Having worked in various countries in Europe over many years, I can assure you that this is a fiercely-contested title. The English are not even in contention for a place on the podium. If we ever feel animosity* towards the Germans it is usually in the context of football, which is rather a compliment given that it's our national game. Being feared on the soccer field is surely better than being laughed at?

Who buys more of your cars than us? We even take BMWs (described by my father years ago as "German Cortinas") seriously, which rather suggests a partiality in your favour. Have you forgotten that Audi sales in Britain increased when the company adopted its "Vorsprung durch Technik" slogan (market research having shown we didn't know Audis were German cars)? We rate your kitchens and kitchen equipment highly too, as well as other furniture. My house in England is furnished almost entirely from Germany, because I showed the interior designer the cockpit of the AMG car I then owned and said "make it like this."

Of course we don't drink your wine or eat your food, but that's because God gave us the French as our neighbours. Unlike you, we weren't so bloody-mindedly nationalistic as to cling to a foul cuisine when something better was on offer.

All this waving whole nations over one's head stuff is nonsense of course. A Jew, a German and two Poles are among the ten best people I have ever met. There are two Jews, three Germans and a Pole among the ten worst. From this, admittedly anecdotal, evidence I have concluded that peoples of all nations, tribes and religions come in all ethical flavours.That's why racism is so stupid as to be not worth worrying about. People who have no better criteria than ethnicity for ranking themselves against the rest of humanity are cretins. As are people who are attribute any importance to them - like the editorial staff of Der Spiegel.

*OK, the way they impose their unique scheme of queuing with inanimate objects outside their jurisdiction is also annoying.