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

On the road, at last

IMG_1233Speranza cleared customs today, as planned. Here she is just before being unloaded from the container in which she crossed the Atlantic.

I am sleeping tonight at my designated start point in New Jersey and will begin the great American road trip after breakfast tomorrow. I must first take Speranza in for a New York State-mandated inspection. That can be done at the local car wash (!), will take 15 minutes, cost precisely nothing and will bring my US motor insurance fully into force.

I have also acquired and successfully activated a US smartphone. You can now call or text me (for the duration of the tour only) on +1 (862) 485 7250 as well as tweeting me @tompaine or emailing me via the link in the side-bar.

I look forward to many interesting encounters along the way.

Out and about in NYC

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Friday morning began at our HQ in Battery Park. After a briefing we moved to the area around Ground Zero. Our tutors encouraged us to approach people to take their photographs and I struggled all day with my English reserve. When told we were students sent out to do street photography by our tutors, people were mostly inclined to be helpful. Education seems to be regarded as a good excuse for anything here.

From there we moved on to Central Park, which was buzzing with activity on a beautifully sunny day. Finally, we jostled with the crowds at "the Top of the Rock". The prime position for photographing sunsets was the prize in an international impoliteness Olympics, which was won by a very determined French lady. Still, the view was amazing.

During a gruelling day, I made 425 exposures of which five were so far selected by the tutors for public critique. Five or so more will get the same treatment today. Despite dire warnings about how brutal the lead tutor would be in assessing our efforts, he was surprisingly gentle. Like most New Yorkers in my experience, his bark is far worse than his bite. Mind you, my fellow-students' efforts were of an alarmingly high standard.

I still have no confirmation of when Speranza will be released from Customs purdah. My fingers are crossed that she will be at liberty on Monday, as planned.

New York state of mind

DSC_2152So far, it's all been fun. Speranza is still clearing customs but I don't need her yet as I am beginning my photography course in NYC this afternoon.

Last night I went out for drinks with an Austrian-American friend who divides his time between Vienna and Virginia but happened to be in town on business. Today I lunched with my friend who has facilitated this adventure by agreeing to take delivery of Speranza at his home in New Jersey. I met old friends and made new ones, all of whom gave me a lot of encouragement.

In an hour's time, my course kicks off and things may get a bit more demanding. I have not made things easier for myself by buying a new lens today to add to my already heavy pack of kit. Some day, I will stop being a collector of beautiful Japanese toys and become a photographer. Let's hope it's soon.

So far to travel, so much to learn


The great road trip begins tomorrow when I fly to New York to take part in a National Geographic photography course. Speranza is currently being subjected to an x-ray examination by US Customs. I hope to push the big red start button, deo volenti, next Monday. In the meantime, a Canadian friend has been trying to acculturate me in advance by means of this video.

I look forward to reporting to you from the road.

A Young Thatcherite's T-shirt

IMG_1200This young chap was sitting near me at the Freedom Association's funeral day gathering for Thatcherites of all parties (and none). As his T-shirt makes clear, when the enemies of freedom prefer state direction to the market, they are supplanting the free choices of all with the decisions of a few.

Perhaps it would be more persuasive if we called it economic crowd-sourcing?

My view of St Paul's

IMG_1192This was my view (click to enlarge) as I awaited, amid a friendly crowd, the arrival of Margaret's earthly remains at the West Door of St Paul's cathedral. The press has commented on the innovative three cheers she received as she left the cathedral. Not so many mentioned the boos for Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, or the second most rousing cheer of the day for Norman Tebbit's arrival. Not entirely appropriate on a solemn occasion, perhaps, but apt.

Hope's funeral

Margaret-Thatcher-and-the-order-of-service-for-her-funeralI promised myself long ago that, just as my grandfather stood in the rainy streets of London to honour Sir Winston Churchill as his funeral procession passed, so I would for Margaret's. He loved Churchill for much the same reason that I loved her. Hope. In dark days, when our country seemed likely to fail, they both persuaded us to buckle down, do our best and look to the future. They promised us that Britain could be great again.

Both promises failed. The Second World War delivered the Poles for whom we declared it to one of only two regimes on Earth worse than Hitler's. It left the Soviet Union stronger. It saved few Jews. It crippled Britain's economy and left us in massive debt to the Americans. Those Americans gave post-war aid to the Germans on such a scale that they rapidly overtook our war-damaged industries. A German who married one of my wife's relatives visited my home town in the 1950's, while rationing and post-war austerity was still in force. "Did you people really win?" she asked. "It doesn't look like it". The war left the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and it left us in, at best, the second division of nations. And in 1946, having delivered ourselves, as we thought, of Germany's National Socialists, we elected British Socialists to run the "commanding heights" of the economy for the nation.

When the post-war consensus between the barons of the landed aristocracy and the labour aristocracy brought us to our economic knees; when the bailiffs' men of the IMF came in to dictate terms; when rubbish swamped the streets and the dead went unburied; when my wife's family burned shoes to keep warm during power cuts and when families everywhere tightened their belts because their supporting wage-earners' working days were cut to three, we lacked hope again. Managed decline seemed our destiny. We told ourselves that our past successes were only to do with the wickedness of Empire and that a slide into poverty was now inevitable - and even deserved. It was a dark hour to be alive even if, like me, you were a young, optimistic graduate setting out promisingly on his life's work.

Thatcher brought hope and promised us a new Britain of opportunity. She promised to liberate the lives and resources tied up in non-jobs and fake industries. She promised us that Britain could be something again; not the old something but a new, vibrant place. And those of us who were not on the take from a corrupt Socialist state or living as parasites on the workers as trade union officials welcomed it. We set about working hard; doing well by doing good.

And for a while it seemed real. If when Neil Kinnock dies, he goes to Hell, the demons need not raise a sweat tormenting him. All they need do is play, on an infinite loop, the moment this week when a TV interviewer asked him if Britain was better or worse after 11 years of Thatcher. His tormented face told the truth even as his twisted lips mouthed the necessary lie. Necessary because without it he would have had to confess that his whole life has been a self-serving fraud. Without that lie, his career can only be explained as duping the working class to raise his talent-free family to undeserved wealth.

Yet Thatcher's promise too was like VE day. It was briefly, gloriously real, but then a sadder reality kicked in. The post-war consensus resumed. The British State moved steadily back to its pre-1979 position as the most important force in the country and the British people resumed their willing dependence. For all practical purposes, democracy is suspended because three out of four families in this still-rich nation are in receipt of money taken by force by that state from their fellow-citizens. David Cameron is far more like Macmillan or Hume than he is like Heath, let alone Thatcher. Ed Milliband, for all the contentious talk, is essentially as in favour of a "mixed economy" (and buttering up corrupt and destructive union leaders) as any post-war leader of his party.

So Margaret's career, in the end, was a waste of her talents and our time. Were it not for her, we might have hit bottom by now and be rebuilding a civilisation on the ruins of our decadence.

Yet I respect her because like Winston, she was sincere. She believed, probably to her death, that she had led us towards a better future. She certainly tried. No Prime Minister ever worked so hard or took so much flak in the process. That she failed is not her fault. It is ours. And that is why I will stand, head bowed, as her gun carriage rolls by tomorrow. She was the best of us and, all-too-briefly, gave us hope. I am grateful for the memory of that.

The Thatcher Test

Sands Media Services: Thatcher: Regionals capture the mood.

BHW6kfWCUAAlDkU.jpg-largeThough she presented her first Cabinet with a book by Hayek and told them "this is our programme", Margaret Thatcher was no libertarian. In her era neither was I. I joined the Conservative Party because she was its leader and because she - and Sir Keith Joseph - were turning it from its usual paternalism towards a classical liberal stance.

When the Party betrayed her, I left it and have been politically homeless ever since. I was never really a Tory. I never felt comfortable amid their weakness and wibble. Neither, I suspect, did Margaret. Still she used their party to do more good than since slavery was abolished.


She did not create division. Except in times of war (which may be why we are so sickeningly nostalgic for them) Britain has always been a nation divided against itself. And the divided parts know each other only as caricatures. On the night after she was first elected, I was standing in a bar in Wales when someone said "How can she have won? I have never even met a bloody Tory!"
Margaret Thatcher's political aggression forced us to look at each other. She relentlessly exposed the divisions, challenged them and - sadly - failed to bridge them. It seems we Brits like our stereotypes and our mutual hatreds far more than we like success. She remains a political litmus test. The very mention of her name exposes the fault lines that prevent Britain from realising its potential.

If you want to know who freedom's enemies are, mention her with approval. Mad eyes will light up all around you and foul sentiments will fill the air. Note their names and never leave them alone with anything you value; material, spiritual or ethical.