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

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Conservative Renaissance Conference 2018 organised by .@ToryProgress

I am not sure how I ended up on the mailing list but I was invited to this event today so I went. Part of me wants the Conservative Party once more to fulfil the function it did in Margaret Thatcher's time – as a radical opponent of Big Government, dedicated to free markets, deregulation and privatisation. I encounter the occasional member from the libertarian wing like Dan Hannan or Syed Kamall and hope springs once more in my naive breast. I had met Kamall at a Libertarian Home meeting. I found him somewhat wanting ideologically, but the fact he showed up raised hopes. It was his name on the programme and that of David Campbell-Bannerman MEP that made me decide to risk wasting a Saturday that could have been spent on my pleasures. 

The name of the organising group – Conservative Progress – should have tipped me off. Progress is a good thing, just like being social. But organisations that use either word in their titles are usually to be avoided. This one was founded by two enthusiastic young politicos named Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe and describes itself as follows:

We are a grassroots organisation founded by Conservative activists for Conservative activists. We host events that are relevant and engaging, and offer training that is beneficial to developing activists. We also promote and share good practice and offer a platform for the views of conservative minded political activists.

Most of the people at the conference were either pro-Brexit, or were Remainers who accepted the referendum result. The Soubry Faction was not in evidence. So the discussions around that issue were both illuminating and encouraging. Suella Braverman MP, Under Secretary of State at DEXEU, assured us that there is "a lot of unity" in Cabinet on Brexit and that the legal agreements to give effect to it are about 75% complete on terms that Parliament should be able to approve. She pointed out that if Parliament didn't, the only alternative would be a "no deal" Brexit. That would leave us dealing with the EU (as many countries successfully do) on WTO terms. 

Even more encouragingly, as he's not under Cabinet discipline, Campbell-Bannerman was just as optimistic. He said the EU has offered a free trade deal on better terms than with any other country and that we should simply accept it. He said the legal terms were "about 80% agreed". He was as relaxed as I am about a "no deal" exit but said that as a good "Canada++ free trade deal" was on the table, why not get it done? For me, accustomed to the views of the BBC and others longingly predicting the catastrophic outcome they desire and to those of Brexit bloggers fearful of betrayal, this was worth losing a few hours with my hobbies.

The rest of the speeches were less edifying. I was clearly not among the classical liberal elements of the Party. James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for example remarked that "Conservatives would find it hard to accept" his idea of capping development land prices at, say, ten times their agricultural value. Damn right they would. Price controls are economic idiocy that lead to shortages, rationing, violent expropriation and corruption. No true Conservative would find it easy to accept such wickedness. But no-one in the hall seemed to share my concerns. 

The logic behind Mayor Palmer's dottily immoral idea was that, if the Party can't solve the problem of millennials not being able to afford to buy houses, they will be lost forever to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. So to hell with the economic principles that a true Conservative Party would exist to preserve. Let's instead be "pragmatists" (as I have remarked before, Tory code for "unprincipled shits") and bribe young voters. I tried frantically to intervene during questions but the young moderators preferred mostly to call upon people of their generation; often friends whose names they knew. So I did not have chance to point out that while Mayor James and his colleague from London were blaming development companies, land banking and (God help us) "capitalism" for the housing shortage, the solutions are in the hands of national and local government. 

Real estate is not really a free market anyway. If a piece of land is worth £x without a planning permission and £20x with one, then most of the value of a development site is within the gift of the planning authority. This is why real estate is the most corrupt area in most economies across the world. If a piece of paper issued by a modestly paid local official is worth more than land; for most of human history the most fundamental of all economic assets, then that official is – shall we say – always going to be treated very well. The only reason planning engenders less corruption in Britain than in the other countries where I have worked (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and China) is because there is a legal presumption in favour of development that complies with published zoning plans and the appeals procedure is efficient. A bribe would get your project approved perhaps six months more quickly here and that time certainly has economic value. But usually not enough to risk gaol and disgrace. That, and not any moral superiority on our part, is what keeps us from the crookedness common elsewhere.

In London in particular the solution to the housing crisis is greater density. Our Capital City is far less densely built than, for example, Paris or Berlin. Where I live in Ealing, the world's first suburb originally spawned by the world's first metro - the District Line, one might almost be in a village judging by the terraced villas with their poxy little gardens and the grander homes interspersed amongst them. At the same distance from the Place de la Concorde as Ealing is from Trafalgar Square, you would be among high rises. Yet Ealing's planning policies forbid them and make even more modest multi-family housing more difficult to build. And the same Conservatives in Name Only who were blaming greedy development companies for pricing housing out of young hands campaigned on a slogan in the recent elections of "Keep Ealing low-rise." The other local politician on the panel understood this well enough to propose massive densification of public housing (occupied by Labour voters) but not for the private housing occupied by his own. How little like a true Conservative did he sound when proposing to build lots more council flats at subsidised rents mostly paid by welfare benefits to solve the housing crisis? I leave it to you to imagine.

Of course, to densify London would involve upgrading roads, sewers and utilities to support all the new residents (or the more widely dispersed millennials released from their squalid house shares). Yet when Labour has periodically set the economy ablaze and the voters have called in the Conservative Fire Brigade to quell the flames what has it done? Has it reduced the ranks of public servants doing pointless jobs? Has it reined in public spending and reduced taxes? Has it withdrawn from all the busy-bodying and prod-nosing begun by its Labour predecessors? No! It has usually just pushed back all the infrastructure projects the construction of which is one of the few valid jobs for government. Keep the "Diversity coordinators" and spend millions on "Public Health England" to nag us about our diets. But let the roads degenerate to Third World standards and let fatbergs block the Victorian sewers.

Even more terrifying than the support from Comrade Mayor Palmer was the wild enthusiasm for Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development. Mordaunt is a great speaker and I tip her as a future PM. She had the room eating out of her hand by saying all the right things if you believe that the State can ever be an efficient and honest dispenser of largesse to the world's poor. If you believe that nonsense, however, you're not a true Conservative and should not really have been in the room, let alone cheering her on. She was all for clever targeting of aid; directing it to relieve pressures that might otherwise lead poor people to become economic migrants for example. But she was naively confident that, six months into her brief, her talent was such that all British aid was now finding its way to deserving recipients. This, despite the fact she admitted that on her first day her department could not account for where any of it had gone until then!

She began by talking about how generous Brits are in donating to development and poverty relief charities but then, like any Socialist would, set about conflating the generous nation with its ugly, nasty guard dog, the State. A true Conservative would stop taking money from poor people in rich countries to give to rich people in poor countries and would let taxpayers make their own choices about charities to support. Ms Mordaunt is no true Conservative in that respect and neither were any of the people in the audience judging by the rapturous applause her meretricious speech received. 

The "Blue Labour" jibe against the "Conservative" Party seems well justified on today's showing. The people I spent today with were well to the left of any Labour government to date. They were only "Conservative" by comparison to the current Labour leadership, but then by that comparison Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin could have joined us. My subscription is up for renewal and I can't imagine I will stay a member.

And still it gets worse

Gagging bill defeat: Britain's democracy just got worse - Index on Censorship | Index on Censorship.

What's the difference between lobbying and telling your elected (or would be elected) representatives what you want from them? Is it whether it's done well or badly? Or whether it costs money or not? It seems that politicians just don't want to be asked for pledges, so that those asking can't publicise their refusals, or - worse - their subsequent failures to honour their promises.
The political parties are losing members by the hour, but still they consider themselves the moral superiors of every other group in society. I certainly hold no brief for the politicised fake charities of Britain. I am all for holding the entire third sector to the original definition of charity in the Statute of Elizabeth and treating all who fail to meet that definition as the political parties in disguise that they are. Nor am I fond of 'single issue fanatic' groups, professional lobbyists or 'think tanks' that are fronts for political parties. 
But it is not for politicians to tell us how or when to talk to them. It is for them to shut up and listen. They are servants, not masters and are getting entirely too uppity. 
This is a bad law and another embarrassment to Britain in the world.

It's not charity if it's compelled

Charities getting too much taxpayer cash, says think-tank - Telegraph.

That government uses "charities" as a front for its activities may be news to the Institute of Economic Affairs, The Telegraph and the government, but it has been widely known for years. There is even a website - - that seeks to identify those channeling taxpayers' money fraudulently. For example, the site's entry on ASH Scotland reads;

Of the £468,500 ASH received in grants and donations in 2006/07, £403,800 came from the Scottish Parliament. The remainder came from Health Scotland (which is part of NHS Scotland) and the British Heart Foundation (which receives £4m from the government).

The site also reveals that a mere £8,000 of Alcohol Concern's £1.1 million income comes from non-state sources. In what sense can such a state-funded organisation be seen as anything other than an arm of government?

Most pernicious of all are those (like ASH and Alcohol Concern) that are funded by government to lobby government for changes in the law desired by government. There is no way that such "astroturfing" can be characterised as anything but fraud. It involves multiple frauds actually. Government takes money from taxpayers under the false pretence that it is needed to fund legitimate state activity and then gives it to organisations lobbying for a bigger state. Those organisations raise money from genuinely charitable citizens seeking to alleviate genuine suffering but actually run political campaigns at the instigation of politicians. The lobbying funded by the government is then presented as "evidence" of a public desire for more state interference along lines desired by the ruling party.

At the heart of this is a moral point. Charity is a wonderful activity. The religious say it's good for the 'soul' and the rest of us (agreeing with the sentiment if not the words) regard the charitable impulse as the litmus test for a decent human. But while statists will warp this story into an imagined attack on charity itself, the truth is there can be no charity in any state-funded activity. Every resource the government has was taken by force. The OED defines "charity" as

The voluntary giving of money or other help to those in need

Voluntary" being the key word. Government "giving" to charity actually prevents genuine charity by those from whom the money was taken by both force and (in this case) fraud.

Statists may believe government aid expresses the charitable instincts of all of us but it really only expresses the corrupt desire of those in power to buy support with other peoples' money. Worst of all it expresses the great lie at the heart of state corruption of civil society; that government is both more benign and more wise than the people and knows better than those who earned it how their money should be spent. Please review your charitable giving and cancel any donations to charities receiving taxpayers' money. Give instead to the many wonderful genuine organisations, such as the RNLI, that carry on the true work of charity.

STOP PRESS Devil's Kitchen (who coined the name "fake charities" and set up the Fake Charities website) has more (and better) on this subject.

The James Garfield Christmas (And Hanukah) Miracle Returns. Sort of. —

The James Garfield Christmas (And Hanukah) Miracle Returns. Sort of. —


One of the most amusing voices on the internet is that of The Bloggess. She is the antidote to gloomy bloggers like me. She makes me the gift of a smile almost every day and some days in the past year that's been quite an achievement. The link above is to her Christmas (and Hanukah) appeal. It's done her way but something tells me it will work. Last year she raised $40,000 'by accident', which is more than this blog has ever done on purpose, so she's made me the gift of humility too. I have donated to one of the suggested charities and I recommend that you do too. If you don't like the look of them, then don't be a grouch; choose your own. Just make sure it doesn't appear here, ok?

The NSPCC, real or fake charity?

- Bishop Hill blog - The NSPCC - a danger to society.

Bishop Hill has upset me this morning. I have had a standing order to the NSPCC for some years. I was unaware that it was taking £14 million of government money and angry to find that it is supporting the government's current attacks on home schooling.

It's fine that Britain provides free-at-point-of-use state education for all. I have lots of issues with how it delivers that, but that's an issue for another day. There is no way, however, that state education should be compulsory. If I had not been lucky enough to afford private education for my children, my wife and I might well have preferred home schooling to a state system we knew well as ex-pupils and, in her case, as an ex-teacher. The government's campaign against home schooling has been disgusting - even implying that some home schoolers are doing it only to conceal their child abuse. The NSPCC's support for that campaign has nothing to do with its charitable purposes and - I suspect - everything to do with its status as a government front.

A charity that takes government money is not worthy of the name. Charity is all about voluntary contributions. Tax is, by definition, an involuntary contribution. Had the taxpayers wanted to give that £14 million to the NSPCC, they could have done so. They were not given the choice. Therefore nothing done with that money is truly "charity."

More insidiously fake charities, among which I am disappointed to suspect I must now number the NSPCC, are instruments of government policy and patronage. They are used to "astroturf" (create fake "grass roots" support for) government policies. They are used (through overpaid sinecure jobs) as a source of government party patronage. Many a Labour candidate in the next election wll boast of his or her work for charity, when in fact they were "parked" with that organisation by political influence.

I will cancel my monthly standing order to the NSPCC and write to explain why. My correspondence will no doubt be a waste of time. If the NSPCC's leadership is, as I now suspect, politically selected, the people concerned will know that full well. That one small donor has rumbled them is neither here nor there, in the context of £14 million extorted for them forcibly by their major sponsor in Whitehall.