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

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New Year, Old Story

Firstly, some sad news. Some of you will  – like me – have once followed JMB's Blog Nobody Important. It's open only to invited readers now but back in the heyday of blogging (when we all thought citizen journalism was going to change the world) you will remember her often mentioning her husband, whom she dubbed "The Old Scientist". I am sorry to report that he has passed away at the age of 89. I had the pleasure to meet him just once, when I stayed at their home in Vancouver on my North American road trip in 2013. He was a decent man who lived his life well and I feel for my friend in her loss.

Secondly, as I seem to have exposed more of my personal life than usual of late, just a brief report that – though my situation is as sad as before – I am getting on with my life and feeling better. I had a good run in Speranza to visit my parents last weekend. There are not many Ferraris in the world with over 91,000 miles on the clock, but (touch wood) she's in fine fettle and running well. I don't know why I don't drive her more. Call me shallow and materialistic, but she lifts my spirits every time. It is hard to feel sorry for yourself on the open road at the wheel of a bella macchina. I can't wait for borders to be properly re-opened so I can visit my friends on the Continent. 

Thirdly, a brief "state of the nation" summary from my point of view. If you think I am wrong, please tell me. Trust me; I would love to be wrong. 

It is gradually dawning on the British public that they've been had over COVID. They still don't tell the pollsters so but it's becoming an object lesson in the difference between stated preferences (which often signal "virtue" or seek to give the questioner what s/he wants) and revealed preferences (shown by how we behave in practice). For example, when out and about in London it's clear that only state fanatics and submissives are still wearing masks. I dutifully obeyed when on public transport in London for most of the Scare, but now I just carry one to wear if challenged by an official. Most travellers are not wearing them and the submissives now dare to do no more than cast a stink-eye. I hope the divisive hatreds stirred up by Government propaganda will now die down but I fear that many friendships have been irremediably broken. 

Most of the West panicked in a very similar fashion, though Florida has thankfully provided a control group for an experiment that would otherwise have lacked one. As data reveals the ineffectiveness of non-medical interventions (the use of state force) we can therefore expect a united front from the global establishment and its lickspittles in the media. Data will be spun. Evidence will be bought, paid for and rigged. Every government will point at all the others and say "we followed global best practice based on the data we had at the time." That may have been true for a month or two at the beginning but it's clear now that the British Government, for example, knew damned well that its tyrannical measures were not necessary. The real scandal of "partygate" is not that Downing Street civil servants at the heart of the state apparatus ignored the law. It is that their conduct reveals they knew their propaganda was false and/or wildly exaggerated. 

If they believed what they told us, the law would have been irrelevant because they would have been too scared not to comply. 

The British Establishment is safe however. Not least because, as it metaphorically thrashed the British public, HM Opposition's only complaint was that the whip was not thick enough, was not applied soon enough and was wielded with insufficient vigour. The Labour Party is not going to hold HM Government's feet to the fire for forgetting our every liberal tradition because HMG's ripostes will all be examples of Labour's demands for more, more, more state violence. 

It's hard to say now (as I have believed my whole life) that Labour cares less about Liberty than the Conservatives. I am not sure the latter has left any space at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum for Labour to occupy. The "Conservative" knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat was to boss us all about in excruciating detail, while borrowing on a colossal scale to throw public money at the problem. If a Labour manifesto were ever to be written in plain English, that's pretty much what it would say. As "Conservative" support for government tyranny weakened, Boris Johnson, in effect, became the Leader of the Labour Party – herding its lobby-fodder to vote for his measures. Every time he wrote about Liberty (and he has done so many times in his career as a journalist) he lied. He may be the cleverest PM we've ever had, but he's also (and I recognise this is a huge claim) the least principled.

Intelligence without principles is more dangerous than the politicians' usual dozy uselessness. I see no better replacement from either side of the House, but he must go. 

I cannot imagine ever bringing myself to vote again. I have always voted (as I remember explaining to my Polish teacher as she prepared to vote for the first time in the immediate post-Communist era) in the cynical manner of an intelligent citizen of a long-standing democracy. I know them all for rogues. Their aspiring to have power over their fellows while living on them parasitically reveals them as such. So I have always voted for the robbers who would steal – and the thugs who would bully – less. I never saw my vote (except perhaps during the Thatcher years) as anything more than a damage-limitation excercise. When push came to shove, however, it seems – even in my world-weary cynicism – I was deluding myself.

Can we hope for any useful lessons to be learned from the pan-panic? When the butcher's bill is received for the non-COVID patients killed by state action, will it give politicians pause for the next emergency? We can hope so. I fear what they have mostly learned, however, is that if they deploy their psychological-warfare "nudge" units effectively enough, they can get us to put up with far more than they'd previously dreamed of. Buckle up, friends. I suspect you're going to see more of your governing classes than you previously feared.


The uses of Law

In an interesting article in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan (arguably the British politician I least despise) makes some sensible points, which you can read yourself here

In the course of that he says indignation about #PartyGate is misplaced because, amongst other reasons, no-one strictly complied with last years COVID rules. Of the critics condemning the alleged “gathering” he says;

My point is not that they are hypocrites; it is that the rules are wrong. Laws that no one follows are, by definition, asinine laws. By all means blame politicians. But blame them for imposing these absurd prohibitions in the first place rather than for behaving like everyone else.

Hannan has a decent mind and sound instincts, but here he strikes me as naive. We tend to think of laws as rules proscribing bad behaviour or (less often) mandating good behaviour. Practising law for a few decades as I did will make a cynic of the best of us but even a politician should know there’s another use of law — to absolve a rule-maker of responsibility.

In the private sphere, if more of us read the “standard terms and conditions” we sign up to blind (often these days on a “click through” basis) when contracting for goods and services, we’d find rules the suppliers never plan to enforce. Their lawyers put them there to ensure that in myriad circumstances — foreseen and otherwise — where a problem might occur, their clients won’t be legally at fault.

If your child finds a website that encourages her to commit suicide for example, the company hosting it will point to a rule forbidding such use of its services. It didn’t make the rule so that it could enforce it. It has no employees combing its servers for breaches. It made the rule so it could point to it when your child dies. That’s a dramatic example, but there are millions of others to which you would probably say “fair enough.” Businesses couldn’t sell many goods and services economically if they were expected to take the blame for any wicked use of them.

The fact is that in the public sphere government uses law in similar ways to address what spin doctors call “the optics” of a situation. It feels that “something must be done” about a perceived harm and will often promote new legislation without even considering whether existing law covers the matter. How many of the thousands of new crimes created during and since the Blair years can you name? If it’s any consolation, I bet your MP can’t name any more than you.

The government didn’t make it illegal to visit your gran, hug your mum at your dad’s funeral or have sex with your new girlfriend with any expectation that you’d be so servile as to comply. It did it so that, if any of those ladies contracted COVID, it would be your fault. That’s why Number 10 staff partied, Cummings conducted motorised eye tests and Hancock and Ferguson shagged.

The intent of the law was neither proscriptive nor prescriptive but exculpatory. It was one rule for everyone, but no one was seriously (in those circles in the know) expected actually to comply. This is a subtler complaint than the angry “one rule for us and another for them” beloved of bar room ranters, but in its way it’s actually worse.

I have used this quote from Montesquieu so often that regular readers will be able to sing along in the original French;

If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law.

He also said — and how this still resonates today;

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice

You’d expect a libertarian to be cynical about laws, but anyone should be able to see the damage that such “click through” criminalisation does to respect for Law itself. I suspect the British government was as surprised by the servility of its citizens as I was disgusted. I tremble to think of our future now that it realises how weak we mostly are.

That said, I hope the mishandling of the pandemic by democratic governments almost everywhere will lead even the most servile to an understanding that Law is a dangerous tool that is lethal when misused. Make too much of it too lightly and you make criminals of us all — with criminal attitudes to compliance rather like Captain Sparrow’s approach to the Pirate Code — or Dan Hannan’s approach to the Highway Code!


What the British State has learned from COVID

No-one escapes the consequences of the government's response to the COVID pandemic, but the Paine Family has escaped unscathed from the virus itself  – so far. My elderly parents were vulnerable because of their age and health but have managed to steer clear of those hubs of infection - care homes and hospitals. Until this week.

I am currently staying with my frail, elderly mother while my frail, elderly father is in hospital. He collapsed when he attempted to get up on Sunday morning. He was retrieved from the floor and returned to his bed by kindly neighbours. He was eventually hospitalised on Sunday evening after a grandson had spent hours on the phone to medically-unqualified, algorithm-driven NHS gatekeepers in call-centres.

I say hospitalised but gurney-ised would be more accurate. He was not diagnosed until Monday morning when he was finally taken off his trolley, admitted to a ward and given antibiotics. Too late, it seems because he had developed sepsis (one of the most common agents of death in emergency care). Crowds of medics materialised and his life seems to have been saved from the threat their previous absence had quite possibly caused.

This sob story has, I promise, a point. The experience has exposed us directly to the interesting way in which the government health service in Britain has responded to the pandemic. My mother, my sisters and I faced a situation in which Dad seemed likely to be lost to us, but we were forbidden to visit him or be at hand. In normal times, we would have had opportunities to speak to his consultant. Instead we have a number to call. Sometimes a recorded message tells us all staff are busy. Sometimes an anonymous voice summons a staff nurse to give us an update. Sometimes she comes. Sometimes another anonymous voice tells us she's too busy.

After forty-eight hours of that, I asked if it was possible to speak to the consultant. This seemed to be considered a radical request. However I was given a name and told to call the main switchboard and ask for his secretary. I did so and left a message on her answering machine. I called again the next morning and left another. I then got a call saying my message has been passed on and "he knows you want to speak to him". I am still waiting. Despite her careful choice of words, I take some hope from the fact that his secretary did not seem to think it lese-majesté on my behalf to ask.

It's quite shocking how normal this all now seems to NHS staff. They seem actively to prefer not having to deal with the families of patients. Assuming (as I think is reasonable given the staff nurse's response to my request) that most families don't ask to speak to consultants, they at least must have a more relaxed life than usual. I suppose it's up for debate whether the time staff nurses spend on the phone to families is more or less than the time they used to spend dealing with them in person. 

I find it hard to imagine a socialised service untrammelled by market mechanisms will ever return to its old standard now the public has meekly accepted this kind of service. One of my sisters said that "someone will have to give them a rocket" but who, pray, is likely to do that? The Labour Party is the political wing of the public sector unions and the "Conservative Party" is now – at best – New Labour reborn.


Age and wisdom

Every stage of life has its joys, sorrows and consolations. Looking back, I smile at how stressful I found it to be young. I was so afraid of failure; so anxious to get things right. In middle age, with those anxieties largely allayed, I found myself burdened with responsibility for others; a responsibility I had campaigned earnestly to assume, by the way. As I approach old age, those responsibilities are gone too. No-one depends on me. My children are independent. I have no employees to worry about providing with work. I can even glory in the triumphs of the young people I mentored, who are now achieving their own successes. I could shuffle off this mortal coil today with no sense of a task left undone. 

Before COVID, I was enjoying that. I was as carefree as in my youth. In fact, more so as I was without the burden of parental, societal or –most onerous of all – personal hopes and expectations. I could reflect on my life and that of my nation or even species. I could read, think, visit museums and galleries, travel and engage in my photographic hobby. I could meet with my friends and smile during our conversations at the truth of the old joke that "the older we get, the better we were." Looking back on lives lived so anxiously at the time, our triumphs seem inevitable and perhaps even (after a few good drinks) deserved.

Post-COVID, things are different. I have not personally been directly affected by the disease itself. Only one friend contracted it and he, thank goodness, survived. Actually I should not thank goodness as he lives in a corrupt post-Soviet state and crimes had to be committed to save his life. He survived a seven hour wait for an ambulance by virtue dint of another friend paying a bribe for oxygen to be brought to his home. Best not to ask from where that was procured. Let's just hope it was not from the bedside of someone who still needed it. Then he avoided admission to a lethally-unhygienic state hospital that would have killed him by bribing the ambulance-driver to take him to a private facility. There even cash would not have secured treatment were it not for luck. He happened to have been the lawyer for the oligarch who owned that facility in connection with its financing and still had his phone number. Calling him and then handing the phone to the doctor denying admission finally saved the day – and his life. His story tells more about statism and the corruption it brings than it does about disease. 

At a micro level then, I continue to be blessed. I have a comfortable home in which to be confined. I have a loving wife with whom to be confined. I have every technical facility to stay in communication (I first wrote "touch" but that of course is forbidden) with friends and family. The only real cost to me has been the death of my last illusions. 

COVID has been a wet dream for every statist, apparatchik and thug. I have long said that an over-mighty state is a magnet for the worst in society. COVID has proved it. 

My nostalgic vision of the British Bobby protecting honest citizens from crime has long been out of date, I know. Yet it was hard to shake the feeling for the boys in blue my parents instilled in me. My mum would make a point of stopping and talking to the local policeman whenever we encountered him when I was a child. She would tell me this was the person I should go to if I were lost, in trouble or just needed to know the time. He was my protector and friend. Sorry Mum, but he isn't and never was. His true nature has been revealed as he has gleefully leapt on the chance presented by COVID to bully and swagger.

I was taught to revere teachers too. There is, I always used to say, no more valuable profession in any civilisation. A society could be judged by the value it placed on its teachers. COVID has exposed that as sentimental tosh too as the teaching unions have used the opportunity to dodge work and to hell with the education and welfare of the children in their members charge. All other public sector unions have done the same. Our public "servants" are our actual deep state masters and their contempt for us has been revealed beyond all reasonable doubt.

This is not COVID related, but has happened during the same period. The Court of Appeal destroyed my faith in the judiciary. I personally witnessed the Shrewsbury pickets in action. I know the truth, but to write it again would now be actionable – so I won't. All I can say here is that the law is an ass. 

Though I remember well how upset they were by the death of President Kennedy and how they grieved the death of Winston Churchill, my parents never taught me to love and trust politicians, thank God. So that disillusionment has not been so severe. In fact COVID has not made me think any worse of them. In fact, I have some sympathy with HM Government's plight as a panicked population has cried out for ever-more-tyrannical measures and HM Opposition has only ever opposed them for not acting harshly enough.

I have repeatedly said in the run up to elections that, this time, I will not vote. I have always gone on to do it. I was brought up to treasure democracy as something my ancestors fought for. I felt a duty to their memory to exercise my right. This time I didn't. Perhaps I would have done if I lived in Hartlepool; not from any affection for the party that won but to enjoy the discomfiture of the entitled villains who have so long believed they own the Northern working class among whom I grew up.

In London, there was no point. Khan was a nailed-on winner. There were no credible candidates running on a platform of more liberty and less state. It was – as all elections now seem to be – a menu of different poisons. None of the thugs, bandits and rent-seeking hoodlums in power can say this time that I supported them. Not that they care, but it gives me some small satisfaction.

The wisdom of age is the realisation of how little we can know and the humility that comes with that. It seems I am finally wise but I was happier being foolish.


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A disappointed idealist speaks

The Misses Paine once said "Dad is not a cynic. He's a disappointed idealist." This may be so. Equally, it could be said that a man who reaches his 60s without becoming somewhat cynical has simply not been paying attention. There are some things in Britain I can still trust. The way the Common Law develops itself quietly, sensibly and practically (when not over-ridden by statute) for example. The jury system, for another. I would still trust a panel of British jurors over any tribunal known to Man if I were charged with a crime of which I was innocent.

Sadly I can't trust Parliament any more. John Bercow saw to that. Nor can I trust British Democracy more generally, alas. The past few months have shown us – even more than the long years of defiance of the popular will over Brexit - that the self-selected, self-serving members of the permanent apparatus of the state are far more important in practice than our elected representatives.

Our rights were not quashed because our politicians exercised scientific judgement. People who act on science they don't understand are every bit as blindly faithful as the religious and our MPs are a particularly ignorant bunch. Not only, by any means, on matters scientific. They possess precious little knowledge of anything useful and usually no great experience of the real world. Apart from a brief honourable spell as a DJ, my own MP (for example) has never received a penny of income freely paid under contracts with people who had other choices. Before she was a Marxist trying to foist Communism on us by stealth in Parliament, she was a tax-funded sociology lecturer trying to indoctrinate our impressionable young.

We have had one scientifically-knowledgeable Prime Minister (the first major political figure in the world to pay serious attention to the problem of climate change by the way) and she is now universally despised by the liberal arts-educated bureaucracy and most of her political successors. Even to say her dread name with approval is to mark yourself out as an untermensch. There have been many times since the pygmies drove her out of office when I have wished she was in Number 10 still. Never more so than in the past few months.

Lockdown (a horrible euphemism drawn from the prison system) happened because the apparatchiki of the Deep State decided it was necessary to close the useful parts of society. They have deprived the productive citizens who pay for everything – private and public, of their livelihoods, because they saw an opportunity to reassert their power after their embarrassing setback at the peoples hands over Brexit. They saw the chance to take an extended holiday on full pay from jobs (often non-jobs) that already pay more (on average) than those of the productive and which yield pensions substantially greater than those the private sector taxpayers who pay them can ever dream of. "Serve them right", our Deep State masters no doubt thought while trashing our lives, "for we are their moral superiors because of our [well-paid, over-pensioned] lives of 'public service'". They service us, in my personal view, more in the agricultural sense than any other.

My respect for the teaching profession in principle is great. No more important group of workers exists in a well-organised society. I personally owe a great deal to one or two conscientious teachers among the throng of idlers, wasters, lead-swingers and intellectual under-achievers who staffed my bog-standard comprehensives. But it would take a greater idealist than I have ever been to keep on rose-tinted spectacles now in viewing British teachers. They have shown themselves (with honourable exceptions who should really find a profession with worthier colleagues) to have absolutely no concern about the education or welfare of the young people in their charge. They have used COVID 19 both as an excuse to idle and a political stick with which to beat a government they consider to be their political enemy. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" was always (I thought) a rather unfair assessment. Now it seems generous. Those who can't be arsed, teach, might be closer to the mark.

I made some of these points in conversation with a fellow-photographer at a shoot I attended today – pointing out that Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival were staged, the worlds economies continued to function and social and sexual lives were unaffected globally during the just as deadly Hong Kong Flu pandemic of the Sixties and that the UK death toll this year will likely be greater from untreated cancers and other serious diseases because of the "save the NHS" strategy than from COVID 19 itself. "It's one of those situations," he opined, "when the politicians can't do right whatever they choose." He has a point. The cynic in me agrees and even perhaps feels sorry for our politicians. They have, after all, seen voters (scared senseless by outrageous propaganda from Deep State agencies everywhere) back the apparatchiki in opinion polls. The Great British Public is, it seems, a bunch of submissives clamouring for more not less of a spanking from their government. The battered idealist, from some deep crevasse in my soul, cries out that leadership should still be a thing and that they could have stood up to their advisors – if they only had a single ragged principle to their sorry names.

I cringe now as I remember all the times I told colleagues, clients and friends in the post-Communist countries where I worked for twenty years that "Brits would never accept" the various impositions that their governments, administrations and police (conditioned by decades of totalitarianism) were still inclined to attempt. All my proud talk of "yeoman spirit" and the ghost of Hampden, seems to have been so much embarrassing nonsense now as I angrily watch my fellow-citizens drop all claims to freedom while clamouring for more discipline from stern Father State. The only winners here will not be us or our politicians but the staff of the state apparatus that rumbles on regardless of our votes. Unless a party emerges that promises to do to the entire state apparatus what Ronald Reagan did to America's air traffic controllers, I shall probably not be voting again. It's not a matter of not encouraging the politicians. It's just recognising that – as things stand in modern Britain – they don't matter.


Pandemic, or catastrophic government failure?

 

This is one Australian journalist’s take on the situation in his home state of Victoria.  It’s the kind of voice I grew up with; thoughtful and robustly sceptical. It’s the kind of voice that belongs to, nay is essential to, nay forms a free society. It’s the kind of voice that — with honourable exceptions — I am not hearing in Britain.

In a dispiriting conversation with an old friend this week I was barraged with “official” information and accused of callous indifference. The social media ban on criticism of official messaging on the pandemic (even where it’s self-contradictory) is apparently redundant. The population is policing itself; sending to Coventry anyone who dissents. I’m beginning to feel like metaphorical Coventry is my home town.

If you try to research the issue on Google you will find yourself steered to the state’s agitprop (sorry “official information”). I distinctly recall reading an article reporting a study by medical researchers at Oxford University, which estimated that 63,000 life years will be lost in the UK to cancers undiagnosed/untreated because of the “save the NHS” focus on COVID 19. I remember the detail that twenty years of a young cancer patient’s life could be lost to a late diagnosis. I remember mentally contrasting that with the weeks or months of life of those most vulnerable to coronavirus that might be “saved” by lockdown. Or rather might have been saved if it had not been combined with sending infected old folk back to their care homes. I should have kept a link because that article has vanished into the search engine’s sinister, algorithmic “memory hole”. 

The old-fashioned blogosphere comes into its own here (though weakened by search engine manipulation). This excellent post makes several important points, for example, and I suggest you add the blog in question to your regular RSS feed or bookmarks. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to take the blue pill and be happy in the carefully-crafted search engine matrix of мистификация (Russian for “mystification” or what we call disinformation)  

If the criterion is severity of the pandemic or likelihood of death from the disease, this disease is not unprecedented at all — and not even within my own lifetime. In 1968-69 we had the so-called Hong Kong flu. Look up how many people died of it, and you will find a figure of “approximately” 100,000. They didn’t even try to keep exact track of the figure; but of course the seeming precision of today’s number is an illusion anyway. The 100,000 may sound like a lot fewer than the recent Covid-19 numbers, but remember that the U.S. population was much smaller — under 200 million, compared to today’s 331 million. Gross up the 100,000 figure for today’s larger population, and you would have had about 165,000 deaths, which is approximately the same as the worldometers site is reporting today as the number of U.S. deaths in the current pandemic. Then there was the so-called Asian flu of 1957-58. U.S. mortality for that one is given at about 70,000, but this time with a population of only 172 million. Grossed up for today’s population would give close to 140,000 deaths.

What was different about the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu pandemics was not the severity of the disease or likelihood of death, but that governments and bureaucrats had not taken on the arrogance of power to think that they could make the disease go away by scaring everybody out of their wits and locking down the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. We went about our lives as normal. People went to work. Children went to school. Social events and plays and concerts continued. Indeed, the Woodstock festival was in 1968, just as the Hong Kong flu epidemic was cranking up.

Our Western leaders put us all under house arrest. Our leaders in the 1960s never thought to stop their “flower children” going to Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Consider how different our cultural history would have been if those “happenings” had been prevented. Quite apart from economic impoverishment and (for the most unfortunate among them) lost years of life, what Woodstocks has this generation lost? What moral right did our political leaders have to make these choices for them? What does it say about us that, not only did we allow it, but most of us ostracised or even demonised those who questioned?

 

POST SCRIPT

Encouraged by David Bishop's comment (below) I went back to Google and managed to track down if not the article (behind the Daily Telegraph paywall) that I was remembering, then one very like it referring to similar research. More helpfully I found the article in The Lancet Oncology that it was referencing, along with this alarming chart (click to enlarge). The number of "life years" lost seems to be more than I remembered, when you add up all their careful calculating, cancer by cancer (the effects of delayed diagnosis vary).

Image 10-08-2020 at 18.20

My "memory hole" point stands in that Google puts lots of approved data in your way when you are trying to find something specific. There are clearly algorithms that detect searches looking for such things as "lockdown causing cancer deaths" (which is what I searched for). Back at the beginning of this self-inflicted "crisis" I said I would not be surprised if measures to "fight" coronavirus caused more deaths than the virus itself. Given that these stats refer ONLY to cancer (and there will be lots of heart patients and others who failed to present for diagnosis because of the corona-panic) it's sadly beginning to look like I may have been right. I take no pleasure in that, but I do think heads should roll among the apparatchiki. With great power, as I believe someone's Uncle Ben once said, comes great responsibility. They must take responsibility for the way they abused the great powers we should never have granted them.

POST POST SCRIPT

This tweet links to the actual article I was remembering. I mis-remembered 63,000 as 68,000 and have corrected that above. 


Some consequences of Margaret Thatcher's mistakes

I joined the Conservative Party as a young man (having recently recanted my teenaged Maoism) because of Margaret Thatcher. She was not headed to the same destination as me, ideologically, but she was at least pointing in the right direction to be my fellow-traveller. She was socially-conservative in a way that I was not (I led my University Conservative Association on a gay rights march, for example and supported the Federation of Conservative Students' policy on legalising drugs that led her to shut us down) but she was clear-sighted, principled and above all moral.

Her morals were not entirely mine, but I would rather be led by someone with morals than without and she was the only moral Prime Minister of my lifetime so far. Most, like the current incumbent, were amoral going on sociopathic (fairly usual for high-achievers in most fields, to be fair) and some, like Gordon Brown or John Major, were actively immoral. Once she was hounded out, I left the Party. I was, for some years, a Thatcherite but I was never a Tory.

So I am not blind to the lady's faults. Leaving aside her inclination to use the state as an instrument of her personal morality, she also made some policy misjudgements and we still live with their consequences. 

She misidentified the key threats to liberty in Britain. Hindsight is cheap, I know, but the trade unions in mining and other productive industries were already on the way out. The real threat to our future was in our schools and colleges, where children were already being consistently taught a warped view of history and a contempt for economics in general and the market system in particular. In my education during the 1960s and 1970s I may perhaps have had a Conservative teacher. It's possible, but even then their discretion was by far the greater part of their valour. I can only surmise because no possibly Conservative school teacher dared say so. My Socialist teachers, of course, never shut up about it and when I studied Law at university, there was not even one discreetly-silent lecturer I could optimistically imagine to be non-Left.

Margaret, as Education Minister, should arguably have grasped that generation after generation of our youth could not be processed through such a thoroughly infiltrated, ideologically-monochrome system without lasting damage. Such was her own strength of character that I suspect she simply didn't understand the problem. She was not weak and pliable. No leftist teacher impeded her ideological journey. Why should others not see through them too? She was also focussed on achieving one of the great offices of State, and probably regarded the Ministry of Education as a "woman's job" with which she had been fobbed off. She may even have had a point. For myself, I regard education as supremely important – all the more so for having had to get so much of mine from independent reading, in spite of (and it really was quite often for the perverse pleasure of spiting) my would-be indoctrinators.

I recently finished reading the excellent book "Factfulness" mentioned in my last post. The research that was the life's work of its author Hans Rosling demonstrates that leaders in both public and private sectors waste much effort addressing problems that no longer exist. Like many people achieving power or influence in late middle age, Margaret was often focussed – at best – on the problems of her own youth, and – at worst – on those of her teachers' youth.

Arguably, a consequence of another of her errors is in the news this morning. Focussed as she was on reducing the state's area of operations, Margaret was resisted at every turn by the Deep State. As a leader who wanted a smaller state apparatus her main advisers throughout her premiership were the leading members of that apparatus, whose success in life was not gauged by their productive contribution to society but by the size of the department under their control.

So when the trendy idea of "care in the community" came forward it must have been a relief to have some advice that was consistent with her small state ideology – or at least that could be made to seem so. There was an undoubted need for reform of mental healthcare. There are well-documented cases of people who were unable to escape from what used to be called "lunatic asylums", despite having fully-recovered from the problems that led to their admission. In some cases, people were trapped in them for decades on the basis of a misdiagnosis. So the radical idea of closing them down and entrusting the care of the mentally ill to their families, local social services and other community institutions must have seemed attractive – especially as the real estate boom of the time (in which my career as a property lawyer was incubating) offered good returns from the large buildings in larger grounds that would be "liberated."

In fairness to the Deep State Leftists behind the idea, her government seized mainly on the "close and sell off the mental hospitals" idea and less on the "build community resources" part. If she had implemented the policy as they had wished (and I don't know why I bother to say so as it's true of everything they ever propose) it would probably have cost much more than the old system and would certainly have added to the Deep State voter-farm of public sector workers who can be relied upon to vote Labour in order to secure an ever-growing state for them to feed on.

According to Jonty Bravery's prosecutor

“He said he had to prove a point to ‘every idiot’ who had ever said he did not have a mental health problem; that he should not be in the community.”

I do not blame my local council's social workers for this psychopath's misdiagnosis, even though evidence was given during his trial that he told them he intended to kill to make his point. People say crazy things and, sadly, it's best that they are not taken too seriously unless and until they act on them. With hindsight we can all wish the poor Ealing employee (who must feel terrible right now) that Bravery told his plan had acted differently. So differently that his poor child victim and his family had been spared their insufferable horrors. In truth if they had made a fuss they would more likely have been criticised for it. I doubt it would have affected the outcome. I am not known for my empathy with state employees, but social workers do a job that, mostly, can't be done. They're often on a hiding to nothing whatever choice they make.

Yes, it's now clear that Jonty Bravery is a psychopath. He's crazy but he's not stupid. Yes, he was prepared to kill if it served his purpose. That's what differentiates psychopaths from the often high-functioning sociopaths I worked alongside in my profession and the various businesses we served. His essential point seems to have been (and in this respect he was right) that given his condition he could not be expected to live "in the community". He was one of those monsters Nature occasionally sends among us and well beyond being socialised. He needed to be in permanent, secure, residential care away from the community and under the supervision of trained carers.

Now he is.

From his tragically-warped perspective, everything is working out precisely as planned. It's horrific and scarring for his victim's family, but it's no surprise that he has smiled his way through his trial. His sentence is no punishment. He now has what he wants for the rest of his life. My point is that – without the Thatcher government's mistake in seizing upon a crazily misguided Deep State policy proposal, he could have had it without killing anyone. Maybe she should have stuck to her principles even more strictly than she usually did?


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.


Roger Scruton

I am not a Conservative by nature. My first political ideas and memberships were on the Left. I was luckily turned from that quite early by personal experience of leftist violence and intimidation. If you’re an essentially kind-hearted chap, it’s hard to align yourself with a “comrade” who is coming at you with a pick-axe handle to force you to overturn a vote.

My subsequent (and consequent) time in the Conservative Party coincided almost precisely (apart from a brief and depressing recent return over Brexit) with Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. Her assault on the “ratchet effect” in British politics, whereby every leftist innovation became settled policy protected by Conservative administrations, was radical. It stirred enjoyably ferocious opposition from the leftist establishment. It felt to a young, politically-minded chap like me, like a revolutionary cause. Because it was.

My ideological and (to be honest) intellectually-snobbish nature led me to seek academic grounding for my membership of a party supported by my loved, but not nearly trendy enough to be role models to a would-be hip young intellectual, elders. In the course of that earnest reading I found some writing that still informs my thinking (eg Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and its Enemies”) but also one book that didn’t resonate, at least consciously, Roger Scruton’s “How to be a Conservative”. 

Dan Hannan’s eulogy to his former tutor in today’s Sunday Telegraph reminds me exactly why Scruton didn’t capture my radical imagination like Thatcher, Hayek and later von Mises did. His answer to young Hannan’s question at their first meeting about the role of a conservative thinker in the modern world was

to reassure the people that their prejudices are true

That would have turned Young Tom off enough to leave the party immediately! I may have been contrarian enough — and have done enough independent reading — to join a party despised and derided by my every academic influence in the then One Party Labour North, but I had learned that in their vocabulary “prejudice” was a bad word. It would be decades before I came to understand that they were deliberately warping language in the way Orwell parodied as “Newspeak” to make it near-impossible to oppose them. What young person wants to be “anti-progressive” for example? How many pause to question whether the policies proposed by “progressives” actually represent progress? (Spoiler alert; they don’t).

So any influence Scruton’s other books had on me was, as Hannan puts it, as one of 

millions of people who haven’t read them and couldn’t name their author [but] will still be unwittingly quoting them at third or fourth hand.

I suspect from the obituaries I have read this week that it’s my loss. Perhaps I should read some more of them. I certainly buy his idea (quoted by Hannan) that;

Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means single-handedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull.”

I fear my psychological problem with Scruton still remains that he was a proponent of Conservatism as a good thing per se when, to me, it’s only as good as the institutions and policies it seeks to conserve. Every successful revolutionary (eg those in France, America and Russia) naturally becomes a conservative once he has the institutions he wants. It would take the revolutionary overthrow (or at least a major purge and serious reforms) of Britain’s ideologically warped institutions to make them things I would fight to conserve.

A society that thinks it’s feminist to rage about rich film stars or TV presenters earning less than male counterparts while deliberately concealing the sexual abuse of young working-class girls in Manchester because racism beats both sexism and class politics in a stupid intersectional game of victimhood Top Trumps is not one whose institutions I have any desire to conserve. The revolutionary overthrow and imprisonment of the leadership of Britain’s police forces and the purging of their indoctrinated officer class is not a conservative objective in Scruton’s terms. Nor is an administrative system where a lying leftist slur on an intellectual Titan like Scruton was enough to get him “cancelled” from a government appointment by an allegedly “Conservative” minister one worth conserving.

I hope Hannan is right that Scruton’s works will be read for centuries. I hope his generation, mine and my children’s will have been radical and revolutionary enough for there to be something in future Britain for his readers to apply his ideas to conserving