THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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March 2020

The truth about the Shrewsbury 24

Private Eye reports that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will send the case of the 1970s “flying pickets” back to the Court of Appeal. Six of these violent thugs, including the actor (and former member of the neo-Nazi National Front) Ricky Tomlinson, who intimidated construction workers into voting for a strike they had previously rejected were convicted in the nearest Crown Court to where I grew up and rightfully imprisoned. There were many more than six and the only injustice in the case is that they were not all imprisoned — and for longer. 


It is one of many lies accepted as fact in Britain’s leftist academia that the Shrewsbury pickets are innocent victims of Tory injustice. They are not. They were found guilty after due process of law by a jury of their peers. They had legal representation and every opportunity to defend themselves. Politics didn’t come into it but for the record this happened under a Labour government.

Justice was done. How can I be so sure? I was there. I blogged about it further here.

This strike, the most violent in British history before the miners’ strike led by Tomlinson’s friend Arthur Scargill, changed my life. I was a teenage Maoist — an advocate of violent revolution to establish a totalitarian Stalinist state. Like many young intellectuals (and a disturbing number of older ones) I craved the certainty of H.L. Mencken’s sarcastic observation that;

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

After my encounter with Tomlinson’s thugs, I told my Maoist mentor and school friend (still a friend and still a Maoist) about it. I expressed my disgust at the violent intimidation of my friends on the building site but he told me I was wrong.

Your friends are from the lumpen proletariat. The pickets were of the proletariat — the organised working class. What you saw was the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was Marxist, it was right and you should have been proud to be there.

It’s to my shame that I was ever mug enough to fall for communist ideas. I take comfort that, confronted with the violence I was stupidly advocating, there was something in me that was repelled. I asked the local librarian who had been dishing out Marxist books to me for something from the other point of view. My journey to becoming firstly chairman of my university’s Conservative Association and later a classical liberal/libertarian and a follower of the Austrian School of Economics began. 

Private Eye is supposed to be a satirical publication but its naive acceptance of the Left’s agitprop speaks volumes as to how far it has fallen. The campaigners probably know the pickets were guilty as charged, but don’t care. Their violence was class violence, it was good violence, it was “struggle” against the bosses’ class. Violence is only wrong to them when it’s directed against them.

They are well-organised and relentless in their lies. Tomlinson is rich from his later show business career. The working men they intimidated won’t want to waste their retirement or jeopardise their financial security by opposing them. I fear we shall live to see Tomlinson and his cohorts rewarded for their violence with hard-earned taxpayers’ money.

Life in the time of Corona

My conventional-thinking, main-stream media reliant friends sneer at the blogosphere; dismissing it all as "fake news". Yet at present they are furiously emailing, Facebooking, Whatsapping and Tweeting coronavirus disinformation by the shedload. Clicking on and deleting all this "fake news" from them affords me some amusement in a dark time. I do worry about the effect on the nation's morale however.

Humans didn't survive to become this planet's dominant species for lack of risk-aversion. We take in our stride the risks we are used to (e.g. driving) without worrying about the death rate but our instinctive response to novel risks is to over-react. Ex abundenti cautela, as lawyers like to say when lawyering an issue to death at great expense. 

What scientific knowledge I have is – at best – that of a dilettante. It was gleaned from the basics I learned at school before dropping every science I could at the first opportunity. That has been supplemented by casual reading of science articles in generalist newspapers and magazines. Quite a lot of it came from my boyhood reading of super hero and sci-fi comics, so I can tell you more about the properties of Kryptonite than of any virus. So, unlike my friends on social media, I shall not be commenting on the medical risk. I have nothing to add and anything I do say will change nothing, so mum's the word.  Actually, those theorising without data or expertise would do better (if they're lucky enough still to have her) to use that time to call their mum.

The only observations I have in the context of the present pandemic are to do with economics and political history.

Most economics errors (like the "broken window fallacy" first explained by Frederic Bastiat) stem from prioritising a seen effect over the unseen ones. In an emergency like the present one, governments – eager to be seen to "do something" – are likely to act forcefully on the seen economic effects of the crisis, while ignoring the unseen. Keeping their heads while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on them is hard for politicians at the best of times. Tending to narcissism or sociopathy anyway, they have less difficulty than the rest of us in seeing themselves as saviours. 

There is danger here. This article by Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute explains the danger well and I commend it to you.

Classical Liberals and the dryer kinds of Conservative feel threatened in such crises because we seem to lack the bold answers offered by authoritarian statists. Even Britain's classically-liberal Prime Minister, who is otherwise acquitting himself quite well in the circumstances, has promised state intervention on a scale and at a cost that might give Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders pause for thought. I predict that ten years from now it will be clear in retrospect that government actions to "save" the economy did more harm than good – even without taking into account the way such measures are bound to be gamed. Were I still practising law, I would be strategically positioning my clients under every tap of government aid that is about to be turned on. The lawyers, accountants and lobbyists of the big corporations will be doing just that.

As to political history, it teaches us that authoritarians love the opportunities presented by a crisis. I scoff at the conspiracy theories poisoning minds on the internet. No government (not even the monstrous Chinese regime) would cause such a pandemic on purpose, but all of them will seize the opportunity it presents to expand their power. Income Tax in Britain was introduced as an emergency measure to fund the Napoleonic War. Napoleon is no longer a threat, but still the tax bills keep on coming.

Any emergency measure should expire. If it doesn't, it's a fraud. Emergency laws (actually, I would argue all statute laws) should have "sunset clauses" so they expire unless specifically renewed. Parliamentary scrutiny is essential and any reader who has the ear of his or her MP should press these points home. As for the rest of us, let's just listen to the credible advice on offer, take what precautions we can and be kind to each other – especially the elderly and other vulnerable people who are most at risk. I hope all my gentle readers will come out of this pandemic unscathed. Here's wishing us all luck.

The Last Ditch Blogiversary

The Last Ditch (Archives): The opening shot.

Fifteen years ago today I uploaded the first post to this blog. The link above will take you to it. Almost no-one read it then and you may well think they were wise! I had fewer than 25 hits and remember being rather miffed. In truth, I completely missed the point of "social media"at that stage. Just as many MSM journalists still do, I made the mistake of thinking a blog was direct competition for them. Months later, a reader gently explained to me that it was far more like a conversation in the pub than a leader column in The Times. He advised me to engage humbly with other sites and to ask questions on my own blog – to join in the conversation rather than just "pontificate" like a golf club bore. 
Image 13-03-2020 at 16.43
Fifteen years on, I have written the equivalent of a novel or two on these pages. I have found my modest place in the information eco-system. This is a backwater of the internet's great flow but my circle of online friends means a lot to me. The Last Ditch is all I could reasonably have hoped it to be fifteen years ago (had I understood what I was embarking upon). It is my internet home. 
Years ago, the British Library contacted me and asked for permission to archive my posts for the benefit of future historians who won't have letters or diaries to read. They'll have so much other data online, however, that they'll need a lot of AI to sift it! If the worst happens, at least future historians can say there were a few of us warning against the legal, economic and societal wrong steps that were leading our civilisation to potential disaster.
I began blogging because I was angry about the assault on liberty in Britain by a Labour government led by a third-rate lawyer who didn't understand the key principles of the Common Law. Specifically the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005 had upset me hugely. The MSM didn't seem to "get it" either and hundreds of editorials positing a false dichotomy between liberty and safety had exasperated me so much that I felt I had to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Over the years, I began to blog about a wider range of subjects, but Liberty is always the theme.
It proved great therapy, if nothing else. It made the late Mrs P. a little happier. "You've found someone to share your concerns with other than me and that's great" was her take on it. I have missed her as my proof-reader and editor since she passed on. She was good at deflating a tendency to pomposity that my readers are too gentle to take on.
It's odd that, with all the leisure retirement brought 9 years ago, I have posted so little. When I was a Stakhanovite labouring on the front lines of international capitalism, I found time to post every day. Now it's once or twice a month at best. "If you want something done, ask a busy man" they say, and perhaps they have a point.
It's not that I care less than I did. I still worry that the Rule of Law, habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence (the "Golden Thread that runs through English Law" as Rumpole said at every fictitious opportunity) are little understood by the narcissistic, rent-seeking wretches inevitably drawn to power. I simply know that, at 63 years old (as I shall be next week) the responsibility has passed to the next generation. At best I can offer the odd word of advice, but if they take our society to constitutional and economic Hell, it's now their shout.
I worry, but I certainly don't despair. The next generations are no more a single unit than mine was. For every mouthy "woke" person there are 99 or more hard-working youngsters taking care of business and looking after themselves, the people they love and their communities. One of my daughter's school-friends has dedicated her working life to free market think tanks, for example. She's young but she's already done more to educate people about free market principles that I – who have lived my entire life by them – have ever done. The Misses Paine themselves, educated to the gills at the greatest single expense of my life – are contributing to the economy. Their generation certainly has a lot of leftists and identarian idiots in it, but so did ours. The number of idiots amongst them will wane as their lives progress. I was a young Maoist before I became first Chairman of my University Conservatives and then a Classical Liberal. I was a Welsh Nationalist before I came to despise people who attack others because of their prehistoric ancestry. I have been all kinds of idiot in my youth and have no locus standi to judge youthful fools now. I believe in the human spirit and its essential aspiration to be free, even if it doesn't always immediately understand the best path to that freedom.
The more young people have to conserve (not just economically but in their key social relationships) the more conservative they tend to become. Even the Leftest of the Left (e.g. Diane Abbott) make conservative choices about their own children's' education. We can view that cynically, or (as I prefer to do) we can smile at how the market works – not by force but by the gentle persuasion of Smith's "invisible hand". In the end, wisdom is at least partly the ability to reconcile our past idiocies, errors and hypocrisies with the reality of our lives.
Thank you to all of you, my gentle readers, in the past decade and a half. You have educated, inspired and encouraged me far more than I have been able to do for you. I am fond of you all (even my pet hostile who seems to have deserted me lately). Today, I have repeated my original error by pontificating rather than conversing. Despite that, please feel free to share in the comments what blogging, tweeting etc. has meant to you.