THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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March 2013

Burning our money

Burning our money.
Mike_DenhamI have missed "Wat Tyler's" old blog, which has been silent for two years. It was the one to which I always referred sceptics about blogging. "Wat's" alter ego was the perfect person to counteract the stereotype of bloggers as opinionated idiots writing from their mothers' basements. Mike Denham is a professional economist who has worked both at the Treasury and in the private sector. He is erudite and thorough in his research and considered in his conclusions.

The good news is that the Burning our Money blog is back. The better news is that Mike has written a book with the same title. True to his diligent nature he has not just recycled his six years of blogging but has researched and written it from scratch.

I met Mike once before at a bloggers' party where we were the only two present of any reasonable vintage. I was happy to see him again this evening at the launch party for his book. Here he is (click to enlarge), holding up the copy he kindly signed for me. I can't wait to get stuck into it and, knowing his writing so well, I confidently commend it to you. I also recommend you subscribe to the revived blog. On past form, it will be a good source of hard data with which to smite the dishonest rascals in power.

The book is available from BitebackAmazon,Waterstones, and all good booksellers and the blog, of course, is here.

Parish Notice: Shortening your links

Your comments are always welcome and I am delighted when you post relevant links to support your case. The 'net natives among you should note that you don't need any HTML code to do so. The platform software converts URLs to links automatically. If your link is very long though, could you please use a URL shortener like goo.gl or bitly.com? Otherwise it throws off the formatting, making your comment unreadable. 

Where I notice such problems I go into your comment and insert a shortened version of the URL but I am not always around to do so. I often read and reply to comments via email, which means it may be some time before I notice one is wonky.

Thanks again for all your contributions. I don't come here to read what I think (because I know already). I come here to read what you have to say.

There is nothing Conservative about this Government

Anthony Peto QC: A very un-British Bill – my response to Robert Buckland MP.

Conservatives are supposed to defend ancient rights. In their hands the great principles of English Law such as "innocent until proven guilty" and the rules of Natural Justice should be much safer than with progressives who openly seek to sweep away ancient rights to build a new order.

Yet it was John Major who began the present un-conservative trend when he abolished the right to silence - a key element of the presumption of innocence. If a man is accused, it is for the prosecutors to make the case against him. Nothing should properly be inferred from his refusal to co-operate. So it used to be, but no more.

And now it's Ken Clarke who is sweeping into the trash can of history the principle of open justice. He is seeking to introduce secret courts in circumstances where "national security" is at stake. What does "national security" mean in such a context? Anthony Petro QC tells us in the linked article that evidence about a confession having been extracted by torture
...was successfully suppressed by the government on the grounds that it would damage national security...
Not exactly the most encouraging example.

Clarke tells us that we need secret courts to protect our intelligence sharing relationships with other countries. David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, has branded that a "scare tactic".

Former DPP Lord Maconald has said that 
Mr Clarke’s comments look like a smokescreen for plans which are aimed not at keeping the British people safe, but at sparing the embarrassment of the security services when they get mixed up in wrongdoing. Instead of promoting this thoroughly un-British legislation, which is designed to make our courts secret as though we were living in Europe in the 1930s, Mr Clarke and his colleagues in government should concentrate on holding the security agencies to account when they break the law.
Lest you think that these are just the voices of lily-livered sympathisers with our enemies, consider the words of the former top legal advisor to the British Army in Iraq, Colonel Nicholas Mercer
The justice and security bill has one principal aim and that is to cover up UK complicity in rendition and torture. The bill is an affront to the open justice on which this country rightly prides itself and, above all, it is an affront to human dignity.
 
The fact that some of those individuals who are complicit in rendition and torture can not only assist in the drafting of the bill but also vote to cover their tracks is a constitutional scandal.
The bill attacks the sacred principle of the Rule of Law that "be you never so high, the law is above you." It removes a citizen's right to bring a civil action against high officials for violations of their personal rights. As Anthony Peto QC says, 
These rights are so fundamental that for centuries they have been called the rules of “natural justice”.  This brand of justice has “Made in England” stamped all over it. It is our proudest and most enduring national product. This Bill would tarnish the brand for ever.
Could there conceivably be anything less "Conservative"?

Why can't our security services, like those in other countries, give evidence in court? If that threatens the secrecy of their activities, they can give evidence from behind a screen and via a voice changer, provided the judge is duly satisfied of their status. Then their evidence could be tested, they could be cross examined and justice could be done. Yet the British State prefers to screen them from scrutiny. It prefers to suppress evidence of their wrong-doing. It is entirely out of its box; a self-regarding beast operating in its own, not the national, interest. 

I have never been more sure that the greatest enemy of my liberty is the British State. Nor more sadly aware that this does not vary according to the politicians in charge. There could be no better evidence than this odious bill in which the state seeks to protects its own at the expense of those who are supposed to own it. It rather suggests it thinks it owns us.

British values

Alternately the most amusing and depressing aspect of British politics is the periodic discussion about "British values". Having lived outside Britain for half my adult life, I have a different perspective on the subject. Firstly, I find it odd that - although the most common "value" first named in such debates is "diversity" and/or "respect for other cultures", no-one baulks at elevating our values above those of other nations. Isn't the concept that there is anything different or superior about our values the last remnant of imperialism? Especially when the "values" listed are the merest commonplaces. Honesty, openness and fair play, equality before the law, politeness and tolerance are scarcely unknown in other countries. Far from having a monopoly on them, the other cultures in which I have lived generally regard modern Britain as rather deficient.

The courteous English gentleman exists only in literature, for all practical purposes. The French nickname of "les fuckoffs" is a more accurate stereotype. I can certainly never walk down a British high street without hearing Britain's favourite verb in its transitive, reflexive, ejaculative (ooh Missus) and imperative forms. I would go so far as to say that Britain is the rudest place on Earth now. I know I sound like Colonel Mustard (in the library with the lead piping) when I note that the presence of women or children introduces no restraint now. Yet as a young man I worked on building sites with men who swore like troopers, but would never dream of doing so in the presence of a woman or child.

Nor do I think Stanley Matthews or even Dixie Dean would describe modern Britain as the home of fair play. Not only do we indulge in the professional foul but - worse - the professional dive. One wonders if RADA is involved in the FA's youth training programme these days. It is a 3D form of slander or when televised, libel but it raises no eyebrows. Since I have been following my local football team I have noticed that the fans point these actions out to the ref without any sense of moral indignation. They simply want the free kick. Indeed they speak admiringly of a well-executed cheat by their own players. Only their naivity in believing the ref is listening to the crowd marks them as incompletely cynical. If I express my mother's (and my) view that you haven't won if you cheated, I am accused of membership of Baden Powell's paramilitiary organisation or looked at as if I am simple.

Honesty, to be honest, was never our strongest suit. Politeness rather inhibited frankness and always confused the hell out of speakers of English as a Second Language. Our business people have a global reputation for dishonesty perhaps originally because they were "too polite" to raise difficult issues (such as money) until it was both unavoidable and (from most other peoples' point of view) too late. When working abroad I much preferred German to British clients. Germans would argue about my fee for weeks before instructing me, but then paid promptly on presentation of the bill. Brits would wave their hands reassuringly if I tried to discuss remuneration, but then act (RADA again?) startled when the bill arrived. They were polite, but they more often defaulted. I don't call that honest. I don't call it decent. I see no nexus with fair play. Nor do most of our foreign business partners.

I like to think I lived my business life by the ethical standards I learned at my mother's knee. Yet it took me years to understand as a compliment (rather than to be hurt by) the common remark from foreign friends and clients that I was "not very British." At first I thought they nourished a Hugh Grant stereotype of Britishness and were referencing my unfloppy hair, humble background and flat vowels. In fact, they meant I was open and honest. My British colleagues, on the other hand, were more minded to see me as "difficult".

Lying is in fact the most common activity in Britain today. In my experience, no-one returns a phone call as promised. "I will call you back" seems to be the merest verbal tic, rather like "How are you?" No-one actually expects anything to follow from either remark. The last time my bank told me they would call back I replied "I am sorry, but based on recent experience I have to assume that's a lie. I will hold until you have the information if you don't mind." The bank employee's indigation seemed to suggest RADA is involved in HSBC's training programme too.

Nor is this limited to large organisations with call centres. Everyone has to be chased and no-one is embarrassed by it. I found myself smiling approvingly when an insurance broker replied to a chasing email by saying "I am sorry you have to keep chasing me". Not sorry enough to call or email when promised, however. Today was the second Friday when I had arranged to be available for a telephone discussion with my health insurer. I am less surprised that the call never came than their representative was last week when I raised his failure to keep a promise with him. He seemed to think it rude of me, though I did it very politely.

There is much current indignation in the blogs about some LibDem Lord propositioning women. I have little time for a political party whose very name is a double lie, but as there is no suggestion that he ever failed to take "no" for an answer, the fuss seems entirely fake to me. I wonder how the poor chap was ever supposed to have consensual sex without asking a woman if she would like some? This reasonable point is being made by LibDems, but denounced as "sexist" by most political bloggers (with honourable exceptions). Next week, it will be some randy Tory or Labourite and the same things will be said from different directions. The truth is not relative, and certainly not relative to political orientation. Therefore all these utterances are lies. Perhaps there is a story here. Wake me up when it emerges. Until then, this is all just playground yah-boo and I can't be bothered.

It seems to be that, from empirical observation in the year and a half since I returned to these isles, the key "British values" are dishonesty and sloppyness. Consider Helen Szamuely's critique of art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, for example. If what she says is true, the man is not so much expressing opinions as throwing labels about. But isn't that what our public dialogue is now like?

Not one system in my new-build home worked first time. It makes no economic sense to me as the builder's profits must have been consumed in after-sales service. If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well - so that you don't have to keep coming back to do it again, as it were. It brought to mind Gardner's famous remark that 

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. 

Where, pray, does that leave a society that has scorned excellence altogether?

Consider the Conservative suspended from the candidate's list for making, in a passing re-tweet, the obvious point that the Nazis were Socialists. The clue's in the name guys (and in their rampant statist conduct and rather forceful central planning when in power). She has been returned to the list, presumably having promised never to be rude to a Socialist again, but what does it tell us? Socialists (many of whom were pretty big on eugenics before Hitler brought the idea into disrepute) have been distancing themselves frantically from the Nazis ever since the war. They have ruthlessly smeared by association all of us on the Right by calling fascists "extreme right" or "far right" when they are clearly far closer to them, both politically and in authoritarian temperament, than to us. Yet they are all a-quiver with indignation if somebody calls them out for their ruthless, relentless and decades-long lie. So much for honesty.

And as for tolerance, let me spare the Left for once (as they are far too easy a target on this subject). Rather consider this story. Imagine! A politician doesn't like a newspaper's readers so he refuses to talk to its journalists.

While living abroad, I watched all this develop in our political life and felt sorry for my fellow-citizens. I imagined them labouring under the yoke of political correctness; desperate to speak the truth in their yeoman minds to power. It seems I was wrong. Britain's politicians do, after all, represent British values fairly. It's the values that stink.