THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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June 2012

World Builder

This award-winning short movie showcasing the CGI talents of Branit FX will resonate with those readers who have experienced the strange delights of building in Second Life. Others may find it of interest too (or not). Apparently it was filmed in a single day but took two years of post-production to complete!

It's not on topic. It's just an artistic diversion for the weekend, so please don't look for any civil liberties meaning! 

Classical liberalism - Part 1

The discussions here at The Last Ditch are generally (our friend and active contributor Mark excepted) informed by a broadly classical liberal view. has an interesting series of short video lectures by Dr Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies explaining five different schools of thought in modern classical liberalism.

I confess my own ideas are a muddle of them all; a muddle that is never tested because my own society is so far down the road to totalitarianism that the distinctions don't matter now. The ideas of the five schools are different road maps to where we should be, but we are so far away from there that we can all (even conservatives and more moderate socialists) head in the same direction for many miles before our roads diverge. Sadly, I don't expect to live long enough to need to sort my muddle out. It's more important to play whatever miniscule part I can in persuading people to set off in the right direction.

I am a practical man, not an academic. My concerns are for my children and (I hope one day) grandchildren. I hope they will need to sort their views out much more precisely one day.

Here is the introduction to the series. At the end you will find a menu that will lead you to the others. Or you can just relax and wait to see them here, as I will post them all in the coming days.


HSBC puts MPs under [their own] microscope

HSBC puts MPs under microscope | Money | The Guardian.

When practising abroad as an international lawyer, I often had to raise with clients dealing with companies associated with local politicians the delicate issue of money laundering. You can imagine how the politicians concerned reacted when informed that English legislation required enquiries as to their past, and contractual provisions as to their possible future, misconduct. I rather tired of apologising for it. I can't quantify how much business was lost because of these laws, but let's face it, the counterparties had other, easier choices.

As I never had to deal with UK politicians, I did not realise until this morning that they had exempted themselves. Here is the HMRC guidance mentioned in The Guardian article (my emphasis);

In some situations you must carry out 'enhanced due diligence'. These situations are:

  • When the customer isn't physically present when you carry out identification checks.
  • When you enter into a business relationship with a 'politically exposed person'. Typically, a politically exposed person is an overseas member of parliament, a head of state or government or a government minister. Note that a UK politician isn't a politically exposed person.
  • Any other situation where there's a higher risk of money laundering.

I suspect that HSBC, a truly global bank which just happens (for now) to be headquartered in Britain, simply decided to apply its procedures in this respect on a consistent, non-discriminatory basis. If so, it had the salutory effect of exposing some British politicians to the insulting insinuations they require British companies to make to their counterparts elsewhere. Isn't it amusing to read of the pompous indigation of the anonymous MP who brought his complaint to The Guardian? Isn't it amusing to see that sometime champion of equality take up the cudgels in defence of the exemption he had given himself?

The very least we can ask of our legislators is that they will never apply to us rules they will not submit to themselves. Apart from the ethical issue, it makes in practice for very bad laws. To enshrine in law an assumption that transactions involving "politically exposed persons" involve a higher risk of corrupt behaviour, while exempting their British equivalents, seems rather undiplomatic. If I regarded that word as anything other than an stupid incantation to kill thought and discussion, I might even call it "racist". Yet can the current position be understood in any other way? Had the people to whom I have had to apologise over the years have accepted it even less graciously, had they known the politicians behind the laws in question were exempt?

Now here's the rub. The only current hope of UK economic growth, is to do more business with what Jim O'Neill (the man who defined BRICs) calls Growth Markets. They are the reason the current economic difficulties are not a world, but an Old World, recession. Yet those are countries where, to put it politely, the boundaries between business and politics are even more blurred than they are here. I know from my own experience that people in those countries react with anything from amused incredulity to anger at Britain's constant moral lecturing. If America behaves as if it were the world's policeman, Britain sometimes seems to think it's the world's vicar.

As Britain's political (though not, I hope its economic) influence in the world declines, the polticians in those countries may be less inclined to look at our wagging fingers and listen to our homilies. They will simply not take it when, from a position of moral superiority, we assume that they are probably crooks. Even when they are. So if our politicians believe it's really necessary to jeopardise business by making these insinuations to politicians elsewhere, the least they can do is submit themselves.

Of course it would be preferable to accept that its better to let "dirty" money find "clean" uses than to have laws that force it to be reapplied to crime, while making the law-abiding majority's lives more miserable and their banking more expensive.

A danger to the state?

The Courier - 'I started laughing, and kept on laughing' — Olympic torch protester gets a police visit.

I was asked earlier this year at a professional gathering what change I had noticed on returning to Britain after 20 years. I answered that the police seem more interested now in what people say than in what they do. There was a polite silence as people digested this politically-incorrect observation. Yet is it really so controversial? In what possible universe can an elderly man's declaration of his intention to stand with a placard as the Olympic torch passes merit the time of two detectives to establish his precise intentions?

h/t Nourishing Obscurity

Off for a chat at Tom Paine's old "local"

The White Hart Hotel.

Though many leftists who focus selectively on his ideas on social security and land tax object to my using his name to blog, I am a genuine admirer of the original, best and only important Tom Paine. He was a man who - by use only of his untutored writing skills - earned a reputation as "...the most dangerous man alive..." and was instrumental in creating two of my favourite republics. His thinking still energises a wide spectrum of opinions today.

I also love that, like my other heroes; Shakespeare, John Harrison and Margaret Thatcher, he was from an ordinary background and attracted hostilty almost as much for his impertinence in having talent as for the nature of his activity. Snobs can't bear it when the peoples' voice is heard - and there are no greater snobs than those who believe patronisingly in their right to tell the people how to live, whatever class background or other "qualification" they base that "right" upon.

Above all, Tom appealed to reason and I love him for that. He didn't claim the right of one group to rule another, whether based on class, race or creed. He fearlessly advocated his views, though they cost him all the honour he earned in his life and meant that he died neglected and unloved. The greater of the two republics he founded has only rediscovered him in relatively recent times, though I seriously don't believe a better man ever lived. I use his name not from hubris but out of respect and I don't claim to be worth of cleaning his pens for him.

So I am genuinely excited to be meeting a good friend for lunch next Tuesday at the White Hart in Lewes where Old Tom sharpened his wits in political debate before setting out to change the world with his pen. I am looking forward to it and just hoping the weather permits of as charming a drive as the inadequate roads in Britain's economic heartlands (their wealth diverted from infrastructure to corrupt redistribution) permit.

My friend is an opinionated and intelligent Australian lady with a ready wit, sharp tongue and wide vocabulary so we will do our best to uphold the debating traditions of the venue. If any readers happen to be near at hand, please look for Speranza in the car park and come in to say hello.

Is this government stimulating the economy?

'Online snooping' scheme expected to cost at least £1.8bn | Technology |

The national debt continues to rise, yet the Tories have £2 billion to spare to snoop on our online activities. It will cost much more in the end no doubt, as government IT estimates usually bear very little relation to reality.

The government is very welcome to inspect my private communications if it has sufficient prima facie evidence of criminal activity to persuade a judge that it should be able to do so. That's how the law stands. For all the moral panic that the Home Secretary and senior policemen are trying to create and for all their bullshit about "total war on crime" no change to that position is necessary, desirable or affordable.

Theresa May can call us conspiracy theorists to her heart's content, as long as we retain the freedom to call her an authoritarian disgrace to a party that claims to believe in liberty. OK, Theresa? Of course, it might be better if we could converse about it intelligently. Some hope.

Incidentally, our leftist chums over at the Guardian's site are remarkably sound in their criticisms of the plan now that it's coming from the vicious, right-wing Tories. Check out the comments and you may find yourself amazedly applauding. I don't remember them being quite as vocal when this authoritarian twaddle was coming from the Labour Party.

Plenty to Hide?

Plenty to Hide.

"If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" is one of the most dangerous (and irritating) arguments advanced to justify state intrusion in our private lives. In the linked post at Lifehacker, Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union provides a handy set of six counter-arguments to present to those, often unwitting, handmaidens of authoritarianism who advance it. Can you suggest more?

Can any Canadian reader please help?


Another video by Ezra Levant did the round of the blogs a while back. You know it; the one in which he was filmed taking an Alberta Human Rights Commission functionary apart. Now there's a new one in which he takes the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to task for running a kangaroo court. Looking at the decision on the Council's website, and reading there how the Council is constituted, his basic points seem to be true.

Yet it's hard to believe that Canada censors private media companies while exempting the state broadcaster. It's hard to believe Canada's government is so hypocritical as to describe the Council as "voluntary" while making membership a pre-condition for a broadcasting licence. And it is extremely hard to believe that the rules of natural justice can be flouted in a Common Law jurisdiction like Canada in the way that Levant describes. Can it really be true that he can be judged without being heard? That he can be judged by his competitors and political opponents?

I don't know enough about Canada to be sure whether I can take this guy at face value. His tone is pompous, hectoring and bombastic and he sounds like - to put it mildly - a blowhard. I am not sure I like him, but he seems to be making important points. If they are true, I probably have to refine my personal stereotype of Canada as a relaxed, open, amiable free society. Can any reader help me understand please?

While I await enlightenment, I have to say - in fairness to a country that only Americans seem able to dislike - that at least Canada seems to have political diversity in its media. Nothing like Levant's Sun News segment is possible on Britain's airwaves. And nothing like his broadcast "**** your mother" to his censors is remotely imaginable. Which is - in a way - precisely why I blog.