*Regular readers will have noted that, despite my advanced age, I am not so much a cynic as a very disappointed optimist!
Having cancelled my longstanding subscription to The Economist, which I used to love but which is now staffed by halfwit conventional thinkers aligned with the Leftist Establishment, I take The Spectator instead. Its Editor, Fraser Nelson, chaired the above event at the Southbank Centre this morning and I turned up because I was invited. I am a real estate man but always focussed on commercial property. Housing was not my thing professionally. In my personal life I take the view that much wrong with Britain can be traced to our weird relationship with it; seeing it as more than shelter to keep the rain off while we are eating, sleeping or watching TV.
It's a key political issue now. The Conservatives fear that if a way can't be found for twice as many young people to become homeowners as are managing it at present a generation of voters will be lost to them. That's probably true. I have heard some seriously stupid suggestions about solving that problem from Tories recently. I was hoping to hear more intelligent ones today*
I did. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, said some sensible things. She noted that housing in London now costs 12 times average salary. Given the UK's rising population (the only one in Europe) we must "let our cities off the leash" and allow them to expand. More importantly we must densify them. She noted that infrastructure was key to this and claimed that levels of infrastructure spending (as a proportion of GDP, the dubious way politicians always like to state such figures) is at its highest for 40 years. You could have fooled me but I suppose she would know.
She claimed, mystifyingly, that the Government was "generating more land". I assume she meant it is finding ways to encourage more of it (and Britain is only 8% built upon) into development. She said we need to overcome "the blob of vested interests" and "challenge the mentality of the comfortable" who would rather the fields near their homes stayed open while their children or grandchildren lived like students in grotty house shares.
She warmed the cockles of my old heart with talk of "streamlining the Byzantine planning system" and intervening if local authorities failed to implement their local plans to allow their communities to grow. All well and good and it was cheering to hear sensible talk emanating from the Treasury of all places. The problem is that key solutions are not in the hands of Central Government. Planning is a local competence and public opinion expects it to remain so. If a local council denied a planning permission only to be over-ridden by Whitehall, there would be hell to pay. Local electors (at least the kind inclined to make planning objections) are NIMBIES to a man and woman.
The most depressing work in my career was when I was a young lawyer in Cambridge. It's a beautiful city blighted by hordes of other-worldly academics with too much time on their idle hands. Any application for some sensible modernisation to make their medieval museum vaguely resemble a liveable modern town raises dozens of objections from such types. Some of them used to instruct me to lodge them with the Planning Committee. I vividly remember, for example, trying to stymie a slight increase in the size of the Cambridge bus station to accommodate vehicles that couldn't navigate the narrow medieval street without an increased turning circle. I was instructed to tell the planning committee that the tiny strip of land to be taken from "Parker's Piece" was sacrosanct because "WG Grace used to practice his cricket there".
In the recent local elections the Tories on my manor ran on a slogan of "keep Ealing low-rise". If London is to be more densely developed (and it's one of the least dense capital cities in Europe) then more multi-family housing is needed. Paris raises permitted building heights steadily the further one gets from the centre. At six to eight miles from Nelson's Column, Ealing would (if it were in Paris) be full of high rise buildings. The happy folk who would live here if there were a sensible planning policy, however, don't have a vote. The selfish incumbents who want to delude themselves that their pocket-handkerchief gardens make them heirs to the Romantic Poets do have a vote. They use it to ensure their grandchildren bicker over who nicked the milk in their student-style communal slums.
I am a radical on Town & Country planning as on other economic issues. I would abolish it. To me it is offensive that the value of a man's land is stripped from him by laws that deny him the right to put it to its highest and best use without grovelling to local politicians in thrall to his envious neighbours. If you fear the consequences, pray consider Prague. It's one of the most conserved and protected cities in the world. You can't move a brick without conservation types crawling all over it and – very often – bankrupting you by demanding you alter the scheme you spent millions on designing to make it a replica of some older structure, traces of which they have uncovered in their parasitical zeal. Yet almost nothing that is beautiful about that city dates from the era of regulatory prod-nosing. If a Prague building is worth conserving, it was built by free landowners who would have put any passing busy-bodies to the sword. If you want to see a screwed-up city, consider what was done to Birmingham in the 1960s by a massively empowered City Council.
Land is very valuable in cities and the people who own it are inclined to maximise that value. They may have bad taste or poor architects but some reasonable building regulations would be sufficient to ensure that whatever they build in their own interests is at least better than the sort of crap a planning authority would do.
The panel discussion that followed the Secretary of State's speech was depressing. Clive Betts MP, "token Bolshevik" and chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in the Commons predictably denied that planning was in any way a problem. In fact he wanted more prodnosing because technical standards in the UK construction industry are low (sadly, true) and would be improved by pubic servants regulating and supervising them (sadly as false as Satan's smile).
The people on the panel from the productive sector were steeped enough in the way British planning is run to know that no radical solutions are on offer. They cringed to their public sector masters and blathered about new technologies and creativity and "careful thought". They didn't seem optimistic about technology however, For example, modular systems speed the process of housebuilding in other countries and reduce the cost but on the narrow, winding streets of Britain's cities (especially London) to deliver a house in three truckloads would involve taking down lamp-posts and other street furniture along the route. Because of traffic congestion such deliveries would even then only be permitted in the wee small hours when, of course, the local NIMBIES would raise hell at their sleep being disturbed (and to hell with their grandchildren in bedsits).
Successive governments' consistent failure to maintain and improve infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population has created a bloody mess. It would take a generation to fix if we began now in earnest. We haven't and we won't. Hence the nervous looks as an enslummed millennial (who let him in?) asked "what can be done now to solve our problems?" The truthful answer (that nobody gave) was that what is needed to solve today's problems should have been done during the last twenty years. And wasn't.
Someone from the Adam Smith Institute suggested the "quick fix" of building on parts of the Green Belt around London based on such criteria as proximity to existing transport links. That would certainly help. The Green Belt was established in a different era for a smaller city and it's time for it to go. The city that has the most parks of any in the world is not going to choke if it expands onto that sacred turf. London is not a city in a bottle. It's surrounded by the lush, green Home Counties. The trouble with the idea (and it might have to be executed for lack of a better one) is that it involves London sprawling, rather than densifying when people increasingly want (and environmental factors suggest that they are right) to live in the cities and not outside them.
Another practical fix is to convert retail to housing. Shopping centres are emptying because of the ever growing online market. The representative of the Federation of Master Builders on the panel reported that the local authorities he works with think their high street shopping needs typically to be reduced "by half" to reflect this trend. But local busybodies will get sentimental about shopping centres they never use, just as they demanded that pubs be kept open whose doors they never darkened. Such people have votes that count disproportionately because of the low turnouts in local elections.
Market forces could sort all this more quickly than you imagine. I watched markets at work in in the post-communist capitals of the former Warsaw Pact, where things were screwed up by decades of Communism on a scale that Londoners could never imagine. My clients fixed things at an incredible pace because they could. The communist bureaucrats were banished to their dachas and there had been no time for the new democracies to build their payrolls. I remember telling an incredulous New York banker worried about where the "banking district" of the new Warsaw would be that "It will be wherever you put your building sunshine". He put one on the best site he could find and, sure enough, his competitors clustered around him.
But real estate is not a free market business in Britain or anywhere else with planning laws. Land worth X without a permission and worth 20 X with is a commodity whose true value is mostly in the public domain. Only investment in infrastructure and courageous deregulation can solve this problem in the medium to long term. Only the shattering of such shibboleths as the Green Belt can do some good in the short term. The current government lacks the political chutzpah, and I can't even blame it. Such are the demographics of its core voters that it would have to be more un-Tory than is survivable.
Which leaves Labour to "solve" it in catastrophic ways. Buckle up for a bumpy ride. And take your poor grandchildren out to a nice dinner from time to time to cheer them up in the squalor you've confined them to.
I attended Dr Peterson's event at the Apollo last night. I say "event" because I don't know what else to call it. It was actually a lecture on philosophy but "lecture" seems the wrong word for an address to five thousand excited (and mostly young) people who gave him a rockstar reception. If it were still the 1960s, I might call it a "happening".
Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report introduced him and observed that "tonight it feels like we are winning". It was certainly inspiring to me, having tried my humble best for years to defend the values of the West, to be in a room with so many like-minded people listening raptly to a man doing an oh-so-much better job of it. The dominance by the Leftist establishment of the public arena from the media through politics to the comedy for which the Apollo's stage is most famous has made me feel at times as though my few gallant readers and I were hiding in a forlorn, shrinking ghetto of ideas. Last night my adrenaline surged as I realised Western civilisation is alive, kicking and beloved. So I don't envy Dr Peterson his success where I have failed. Rather I am relieved by it - in every sense. I am relieved that we are not doomed and as a sentry on the borders of Western thought, I feel that I and my intellectual popgun have been relieved of duty by a Rambo armed to the teeth. I am happy to be to him one of the true friends he advises people to seek out. I delight in his success and I hope he has much more.
I am reading his book at present. I am both loving it and finding it hard going. He lays out twelve rules for life and justifies them with essays that cover prehistory, mythology, biology (human and other), religion, the ideas of the great philosophers and the wisdom of the great psychologists. It draws upon his extensive personal study, his experience as a clinical psychologist and his background in academia, where he has laboured long in obscurity among the cultural Marxists and malevolent identarians.
His talk last night was hard going too. In introducing the Q&A Dave Rubin commented that each talk so far on the tour has been different. This is no scripted, rehearsed event to promote a best-selling book. Peterson is an experienced educator who simply thinks aloud in the presence of his students, drawing upon his extensive learning. He does so at a intellectual level rarely attempted today in dumbed-down Britain. He makes no concessions to his audience. None. And they react as if they had been dying of thirst in the desert and he had happened by with a glass of water.
Rubin asked him about this week's article by Bari Weiss in the New York Times in which Weiss coined the phrase the "Intellectual Dark Web" and listed him as a member. He thought it amusing and said he was waiting to see how that idea developed. He had given some thought to what the IDW members had in common, however, and concluded that, in contrast to the condescension of the Left, it was "assuming the intelligence of their audience". He certainly did that last night. The audience stayed with him for an hour and a half as he wrestled with the great truths of being human; nodding and murmuring and sometimes cheering their approval and laughing at his occasional highbrow jokes. Gentle reader, though we have doubted ourselves in the teeth of our enemies' sneers, we are not the fools they take us for. There are millions of us longing – not for sound bites or dog whistles crafted by the likes of Alistair Campbell, nor for the kind of "Leftism Lite" offered by Conservatives in name only – but for a higher level of principled discussion based on an intelligent appreciation of our civilisation's core ethic; the "sovereignty of the individual".
I spent a lot of money to be in Dr Peterson's presence (£55 for a ticket plus an £8.50 "booking fee") but, given all the many hours of his lectures that are available for free at his YouTube channel, no-one needs to feel unlucky if they can't afford to do the same. Rising rapidly from obscurity because of the stand he took on Canada's "compelled speech" law making "misgendering" a trans person a "hate crime", he has become the most important public intellectual of our age. He says that, though of course there is a political dimension to the subjects he's discussing, his objectives are not political.
He says his career has been about talking to and educating people one by one to help them live better lives. That's how he set out to give his life meaning and it is still the rộle in which he is most comfortable. Besides, as he joked, "I don't think five thousand of you would have come out tonight to listen to Justin Trudeau." He is a brilliant, humble man who says (and I believe him) that he is both astonished and grateful that in the last eighteen months he has been able to help people on a scale he had never imagined. Asked how he was coping with his sudden fame his response was cool and telling. "I have always been a careful man," he said, "but I have learned to be even more careful now that there are people waiting to pounce on any error".
The enemies of the West who have marched through and seized control of our academic institutions hate and fear him. They will defame him at every turn. Rubin asked the audience last night to make a video to post on their Twitter and Instagram feeds using the hashtag #12rules of Peterson's answer to his question about that defamation. There will be dozens of technically-superior versions out there, but you can find my video here. I hope it will encourage you to watch many more over at his site.
Dr Peterson's message is that we should all seek to find meaning in our own lives, for our own good and for that of our loved ones and our community. It's tautology to speak of false idols because all idols are false. He declines to be our political leader but he is a wise teacher to whom we can all look for guidance. I commend him to you wholeheartedly.
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.
After my teenage flirtation with Maoism, I became Chairman of my Conservative Association at University and I remained a member until Margaret Thatcher was betrayed. I was not a "Tory" but a Thatcherite and was as utterly out of place in its ranks as she was (though she, impressively, was such a force of Nature that she wasn't aware of it). We didn't just think Socialism was a bad idea promoted by kindly fools. We thought it was an evil and destructive doctrine; a threat not just to prosperity (a point we didn't even need to make in those days, with trash and corpses piling up in Britain and the Soviet Union in evident collapse) but to freedom. We didn't apologise for capitalism and free markets. We loved them, while rigorously distinguishing between capitalism and capitalists and between markets and the people trading in them. We knew that what capitalists, business-people and socialists had in common was that they were human and therefore prone to lie, cheat and steal if given the chance. Deregulation and privatisation were designed precisely to deny them that chance by promoting more of the only thing that can keep homo economicus virtuous – competition.
How very unlike most Tories we were in that respect. Their stance was more that of a well-meaning but stupid vicar in a village full of social and economic problems. They condescendingly assumed ordinary folk can't take care of themselves. They were far too inclined to treat voters as children to be directed, protected and bribed with little "treats", rather than as adults free to make (or break) their own lives. In talking down to voters, they conspired with Labour (which openly and honestly sees people as mindless drones to be directed by the Guardian-reading "woke") to turn elections into corrupt and despicable "benefits auctions"; a destructive game Labour is usually bound to win. They were also inclined to "Buy local" economic parochialism. A Thatcherite doesn't give a damn who supplies goods as long as consumers get what they want. A Tory thinks the companies that fund his election campaign and employ his voters should be protected from nasty foreign competition and is therefore far too ready to be swayed by old Gerald down at the golf club into agreeing to raise barriers to market entry over a glass of electric soup. Or by old Den to temporarily nationalise the company his board has brought to ruin. Wet Toryism does more harm to economic competition than Socialism's open enmity to it.
Such Tories are every bit as much to blame for Britain's failure to fulfil its potential and for the decline in its citizens' freedoms as Labour. I am inclined to hate them more for it because of the way they "wave the Red Flag to oppose the Red Flag"; naming their child "Liberty" while selling freedom out at every opportunity. At least Labour is open about wanting to enslave you – "for your own good", of course. Tories incrementally rob you of your liberty while haw-hawing about freedom. Yes, Labour usually first proposes all the worst ideas but Tories fret, pander and make unprincipled compromises where they should fiercely oppose. Worse, they fail to make positive, principled proposals, leaving Labour to set a cretinous agenda. They are, as the Left calls them, "reactionaries" and I loathe them for it.
So, once these Tory "pragmatists" (their euphemism for "unprincipled shits") took back control of their Party from "that bloody woman", there was no place in it for me. Besides, with Tony Blair falsely but plausibly presenting himself as her heir, it seemed back in the 90s that the final battle against that insanely destructive doctrine was won. It took first John Major's assault on the presumption of innocence and Tony Blair's assault on habeas corpus to make me realise that the battle for freedom never ends. With that dark, slow realisation came a scary appreciation – doing business in two Continental European countries mainly with citizens of the others – that the "Social Chapter" of the acquis communautaire meant that, while the spectre of Communism may have been exorcised from Europe, the zombie of Socialism still walked. All this, while working cheerfully on helping my clients to rebuild East European economies it had wrecked.
There was little that I could do from a distance except blog. It never occurred to me to rejoin the Conservative Party. Stung by its betrayal and more aware of its true nature than most of its political opponents I probably hated it even more than the most partisan of my Labour relatives up North. I changed my mind after the EU Referendum result. The Party had been run (and its membership had been declining) for years on the assumption that its EU sceptical grassroots were simply out of touch with popular opinion. Suddenly the metropolitan liberals discovered that it was they who were the "swivel-eyed loons" on this subject. I felt that without the divisions about the EU (now far greater in the Labour Party) and with the inevitable return to the fold of UKIP voters, there was an epochal opportunity for the Conservatives to become once more the "natural party of government" in an essentially conservative nation. I wanted to support the Daniel Hannan classical liberal faction within the Party as it (I hoped) took control.
I have been disappointed so far. The nature of the beast is still just as I remembered it and Theresa May – possessor of a second-rate mind untroubled by principle - is its archetype. I was a Conservative Party counting agent at my local authority elections this week and spent a few hours in the dejected company of candidates and volunteers in a solidly Labour London Borough. My impression was of a Party that sees Labour as the engine and itself as the brakes. Or perhaps more kindly Labour as the arsonists and itself as the Fire Brigade. No Marxist ever subscribed so thoroughly to his doctrine of "historical inevitability" as these people. A consumer regulator might usefully force both parties to change their names to the "Let's Fuck it Up" and the "Let's Fuck it Up More Slowly" Parties. The only encouragement I took from the evening was when I wandered off and mooched around the Labourites. My God, what an unappealing bunch they are, at least in London.
The Trotskyite takeover of Momentum/Labour still offers an opportunity. So many young people have lost interest in practical politics because their votes really don't make a difference. The muzzle is off Labour's rabid hounds and as the recent elections showed, the voters don't like it that much. Where the Momentum push was hardest, the voters responded worst. If the technology existed to clone Owen Jones and Eddie Izzard so as to put one of each on every Labour voter's doorstep, the Conservatives could just stay home and prepare for government. More practically, I can't help but feel that there's an argument for the Conservatives to offer voters the first principled choice since Thatcher was deposed – so that our votes really do matter next time, as they always should.
What say you, gentles all? Should they? Can they? Will they?
Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.
I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it?
On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them.
I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings.
A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.
For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer.
In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent.
I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf.
By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister.
I take no satisfaction in having been right about the unnecessary election of June 2017. The voters punished Mrs May for putting party before country. In their ire they came close to inflicting upon us all a government Communist in all but name. We had a narrow escape. I was in New York and watched the result through the eyes of a baffled America that wants to like us but just can't help seeing us as has beens with baffling delusions of grandeur.
About the only lesson that everyone (but Mrs May) can agree upon is that she is an idiot. She's a dead woman walking and it's only gracious to avert our pitying gaze. So what now?
The contempt of our EU colleagues (for now) could scarcely be intensified but, having worked closely with Continentals for decades, trust me; they never wished us well. That's not to say that they can't be friends at an individual level. They can and are. But they are absolutely united in their humiliating folk memory of Britain astride the planet when (in their view) so clearly a barbarian, uncultured race far far below the salt of the cultural and legal descendants of Ancient Rome. We have put our Empire behind us and moved on but I doubt the erstwhile rulers of Europe's failed and far more vile empires ever will.
Here is my positive take. The next phase of our history is like an FA Cup match in which all believe us to be lower league minnows with little hope of success. Good. Expectations are low and those who wish us ill are over-confident that we can be lightly regarded and swiftly despatched. We have been here before. We shall be here again. So let's play the game as best we can and take what we can from the occasion.
The Brexit negotiation has its own internal logic. There is no reasonable compromise on offer because (to frighten others who might think of leaving) the EU can give us nothing. I am more afraid of betrayal from within. Since they can give us nothing, anything we pay them beyond their strict treaty entitlement will be a waste of resources we need to husband against an uncertain future.
I believe in Britain's prospects. I really do. But our future is ours to take — or throw away. Given the alarming proportion of young people who, on the evidence of last week, are economic illiterates, ethical degenerates and brainwashed identity warriors, there's no guarantee of success.
At least, after Brexit, we are under our own management. Win or lose the outcome will be ours to live with.
I know from the blogs I have been following during my purdah that the liberty-minded continue to despair and with good cause. Our government still knows no boundaries to its power and has no hesitation about interfering in the minutiae of our private lives. But there are some good omens, in my view.
Bill Clinton, or rather his spin doctor in the 1990s, pioneered the concept of "triangulation"; taking "your own" voters for granted and talking mainly to those on the other side. It worked well for him and has succeeded elsewhere. Tony Blair acted Labour but talked Tory. So much so that many on the Left hate him more than they hate some Conservatives. David Cameron's every public utterance seems directed, flirtatiously, to Polly Toynbee.
I always felt triangulation was morally wrong but could not work out how it might be opposed. Normal, decent humans glance at political headlines and half listen to sound bites. Who can blame them? Life is both short and full of distractions. Joe and Jane Public buy triangulation even though (or perhaps because) it is so far from the principled approach of "conviction politicians" aka scary bores. In a well-functioning democracy, where the role of government is limited, their trust should not get them into trouble. There is no shortage of geeks and bores who want to take care of the tedious stuff.
For so long as Parliament or Congress consists mainly of wily, unprincipled sneaks seeking to show a half-listening public they "care", however, we are easy prey for rent-seekers, lobbyists and narcissistic celebrity chefs. The politicians and those lobbying them have a freer hand the more triangulation hollows out our political parties. There are decent-sized fishing clubs with a greater membership than the once glorious Conservative Party. When I was born they had three million members but they stopped publishing their numbers in 2014 when they were down to 150,000. The Labour Party became so small that "entryism" returned. The hard Left now have their feet firmly under the party's table.
I think triangulation is beginning to fail precisely because of this "hollowing out." I have two arguments for this. Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump.
The faithful of the Republican Party have been complaining for some time about "Republicans in Name Only" (RINOs) and launching groups like the Tea Party to change its direction. The RINOs blundered on disdainfully, still confident no Tea Party member would ever vote Democrat. Now American conservatives have - as American conservatives will - reached for their gun. And the name on their piece is not Glock, but Trump. The GOP's bemusement as he rolls on regardless of his gaffes shows how they miss the point. Their voters are saying "Talk to us. Listen to us. Stop ignoring us. Or else..." His bizarre rants and the way he attacks people almost randomly; certainly without regard for political correctness or opinion polls shock the RINOs. They are meant to. Their rabbit-in-the-headlights horror is precisely their electorate's goal. If Trump makes it into the Oval Office every conservative leader is going to have to focus on making the GOP turn to face its traditional voters. And if he doesn't, the same. What he means for the rest of us remains to be seen, but he's a win win for Conservative America.
The same logic applies to Corbyn. My Labour voting relatives up North see Blair as a traitor and class enemy. He's no posher than Corbyn of course - and he's a hell of a lot cleverer. He's no less inclined than Corbyn to favour the fleas over the dog - as witness the growth of the public sector payroll and the way its average income passed that of the private sector on his watch. Not to mention all the stealth taxes that raised as much as the whole of income tax on the day New Labour was elected. But they are only reading headlines and hearing soundbites, remember? Blair rubbed them up the wrong way. On purpose. And they don't like it. He paraded John Prescott on a leash as his pet member of the Northern working class - the very people who founded the Labour Party and still believe they own it. But they were not fooled. They believe that Peter "ooh Guacamole!" Mandelson is his true friend. Are they wrong?
Blairites whingeing about Corbyn making the party unelectable miss the point. They don't want an unelectable idiot like Corbyn, but - more than they want an immediate Labour government, they want a leader who doesn't condescend to them. Corbyn is the brand name on the baseball bat they are waving at the LINOs heads. Judging by the snootiness of Pat Glass, Shadow Europe Minister, yesterday they are not taking it seriously yet. Those in the Westminster bubble don't yet realise that calling names doesn't work any more. Like advertising, it is so pervasive that it has faded into the background and can easily be ignored.
The good people of Sawley are more likely to remember Glass couldn't be bothered to check where she was before swearing never to return there than that yet another bubble-dweller called them bigots.
My first reaction to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was to rejoice that they are now unelectable. My second reaction was to realise it takes the pressure off the Conservative Party to stop talking pointlessly to Polly and recover its connection with its voters. My third reaction is to welcome the imminent return of adversarial politics from distinctly different political perspectives. I want to see politicians as opposing barristers pleading their cases to the jury that is us. The British people successfully steered their government for years as if it were a tank. They alternately accelerated or decelerated the left and right tracks. As they were only allowed steering inputs every five years or so, it was clumsy but over time it worked.
To try yet a third metaphor it is time for the boxers in red and blue trunks to return to their corners and pay attention to their coaches. I think it will happen and that's my ground for optimism. Dear readers I have missed your inputs so please let me know where I have erred.
The traditional political division into 'left' and 'right' must be used with caution. For much of Europe 'right-wing' refers to nationalist authoritarians seeking to impose traditional values on society at large. I would be uncomfortable in such company. No right-winger on the Continent and few in America would share my stance on what they would call 'social issues' and I would call 'none of your damned business.'
The 'good guys' of Continental Europe are usually called Liberals. The bad guys of American politics have made that glorious name unusable in English. In their constant gee whizz quest for euphemism, our American cousins have made a cuss-word out of a formerly-useful term. They do that a lot. How little of a life would you have to have to keep up with American fashion on what to call a black man or a red indian, for example?
These labels matter more than they should. Serious political debate is of interest only to a minority. Most voting decisions are made on impressions rapidly formed by the free use of labels as either praise or abuse. How many voters analysed what Tony Blair meant by 'New Labour' for example? They simply thought of themselves as left, hated the mess Old Labour had made and welcomed a new brand they weren't embarrassed to be associated with.
For my part, I hate the Labour Party as I hate the very devil. Indeed I suspect Old Nick would make better company than any socialist and might actually have better intentions. Yet I hate the fact that saying so makes most Brits label me as what I am emphatically not; a Tory. I am, in truth, a Liberal. I happen to know from personal experience that there are gallant members of the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain still clinging to the true meaning of the L word, but they are out-numbered by leftists too snobbish (and who can blame them) to be in the same party as John Prescott. So the label I use in my head is no use in the wider world.
The conversations in my primary school playground were conducted in a higher register and exchanged far more complex information than most political 'debates' that make a difference to voting intentions. In the Labour heartlands where I grew up, calling someone a "Tory [Anglo-Saxon expletive of choice]" was all it needed to win an argument. I have never lived in a Conservative constituency until recently, and judging by the copies of the Guardian in evidence around here, I doubt it will remain one long. Perhaps there are Tory Shires where one could similarly raise the tribal flag to end all discussion? I don't know.
It's pointless to be a purist about this and dismiss the use of 'left' and 'right' altogether. They carry an emotional weight that cannot be denied. Just as every Brit knows which side he would have been on in the Civil War, he knows if he is left or right, often with an unjustified prefix of 'Centre-" to make himself feel moderate. It would be great to have more accurate labels, but we don't.
The easy route to explain my position to my fellow citizens is to say that I am socially-liberal and fiscally-conservative, but that doesn't tell the truth either. 'Social liberals' in Britain are highly illiberal. They are more like authoritarian Continental Christian Democrats in seeking to impose moral orthodoxy. Why, for example, was I expected to pay tribute to a dead foreign Communist before Fulham FC's game against Aston Villa yesterday? No similar tribute was offered when Margaret Thatcher died and rightly so. But a darling of the 'social-liberals' must apparently be lauded, however disgusting his political views.
For another current example, it's not enough that you don't give a damn who shags Tom Daley. They expect you to 'be supportive;' to 'ooh' and 'aah' sympathetically and tell him how 'brave' he is. If someone in my immediate circle is gay and wants to introduce me to his or her partner, I will buy them both a drink. If I liked him or her before the news, I will after (and will try to like the partner too). It's my business because I am a relative or friend and I need to know their situation so as to welcome their new partner into our family or group of friends. The sexual preferences of people outside my circle, however, are properly a matter of indifference.
Genuine liberals don't give a public damn what you consider to be right or wrong as long as you don't impose it on others. We only want laws to limit physical or economic aggression. As to the rest, go to it with a will and take all the consequences yourself. We afford you the tolerance we expect of you, but we don't demand or offer approval of private choices. The clue is in the adjective, 'private.' So don't be so needy. Shut up and get on with it. We will think what we please, to the extent that we become aware, and will factor it in in deciding whom to drink with or give the time of day to. Feel free to do likewise.
The right-wing and left-wing in Britain share a disgusting desire to shape thoughts and private preferences by law. They seek to pull in different directions. It's the pull I mostly resent. If they are of the Right seeking to reinforce traditional Christian views of marriage, they insult their God by thinking He needs the feeble help of Earthly powers to enforce His Divine will. If they are of the Left seeking to suppress the expression of 'inappropriate' opinion on Twitter, then they should have more trust in the ability of 'the people' to deal with such matters informally. Both expose the feebleness of their views by doubting their eventual triumph without misuse of law. Law is a blunt, violent instrument. It is not a teaching aid.
If you have a need for approval from strangers, I suggest you get professional help. You may think that's harsh but on the other hand, if you leave me to make my own life choices, I will happily take no interest in yours. Furthermore, I am remarkably unlikely to preach to you. Most likely, I will offer you no opinions on any subject not affecting my family's interests unless you are my friend and you ask me.
Does that make me right-wing or left-wing? You choose.
Cameron warned against crossing the Rubicon of state control of the press. His Government is now preparing to cross it. | Conservative Home.
We are approaching a decisive moment. David Cameron nervously described Leveson's proposals to 'regulate' the British press as 'crossing the Rubicon' but as Paul Goodman says in the linked article his government is about to do it anyway. If people accept that government has a role in controlling commercial media (and 'regulate' is merely a statist euphemism for 'control'), then we are a blink away from wider controls. Already the daily fake 'scandals' about 'Twittter trolls' and 'Facebook bullies' are setting the scene.
Alea iacta est for freedom of thought in Britain. It seems the police are already more interested in what we say than what we do. Barely a day goes by without some schmuck on Twitter being interrogated by the police and it's already a worse crime to beat up or kill someone if thinking certain thoughts at the time.
The Left have been making 'social' excuses for non thought-crime for generations. Our judges, educated in our solidly left-wing universities, now routinely spout sociological clap-trap while handing out derisory sentences. The notion of personal responsibility is dead. In a telling moment for me an academic at a conference last year (he claimed not to be a Marxist, but admitted most of his colleagues were) told me that my personal achievements were 'pure luck' and that I was not morally entitled to the proceeds.
It's the flip side of the same coin. The evil that criminals do is 'society's fault' and the state must address not their conduct, but the 'social problems' that 'cause' it. The success of honest citizens however is to the state's credit and it is entitled to the proceeds. Socialism, despite the abject failure of the greatest political experiment in history, with more than half of humanity ruled by Socialists in the last century, is back. Watch out, because this time the Leftists have learned guile.
The leader of HM Opposition feels it aids his electoral cause to use 'the S word' openly and to dog-whistle even worse by defending the reputation of his proudly-Marxist father. Ironically, given the Left's fixation on 'hate speech' and 'hate crime' Socialism is a doctrine based on hatred; class-hatred and envy-driven hatred of success. It should provoke exactly the same revulsion as its cousin; race-hate-based National Socialism. That it doesn't is because the Left has infiltrated our education system and our state broadcaster (tell me again why a free society needs one of those) so successfully. Now it's coming for the rest of us.
The consequence will be just as it was in the Soviet Union. The more talented or industrious will either contribute less for lack of incentive, or will become the criminals these idiots already think they are. This phenomenon was illustrated by two Communist-era proverbs I learned in my years in Poland;
"Standing up or lying down, it's a zloty an hour" and "You are stealing from your family if you're not stealing from the State."
Though I am sure the Labour Party will get most of the extra votes when we finally obey the ECHR order to restore the ballot to prisoners, that's not what the Left is up to. Nor are they claiming the credit for business-peoples' work just to damage our self-esteem. They are establishing as a 'given' in all political thought and policy-making the Marxist notion that individuals are mere flotsam on the tides of historical inevitability. They can only treat us as eggs to be callously cracked in their great steaming omelette of statism if they can convince themselves that we are trivial; that what we think, say and do and the choices we make don't matter. In short, that we are nothing in their great scheme of things.
To achieve the kind of sociopathic vileness that led their hero Hobsbawm (close family friend of the Millibands) to believe that twenty million deaths under Soviet rule would have been justified had the proposed communist utopia been created, or that it was sensible to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel (there's no anti-semite to rival a Marxist Jew) you need to reduce humans to ciphers. And to convince men and women that this is acceptable; that they really are mere pawns in a game that matters far more than the sacrifices made of them, you need to control their thoughts. It is no coincidence that the Left cannot abide the expression of non-Left views. It is not for nothing that they actively seek to make people fearful of non-Left thoughts. It is a Marxist necessity.
If our free will is irrelevant, our achievements mere luck and our wickedness attributable to our circumstances, then they are fully justified in using the immense power of the state to shape 'social forces', regardless of the human cost.
It is a short step from 'hate speech' to 'thought crime' and it's about to be taken. 'Regulation' of the press is just another brick in the wall.
Not because he is wrong (though he is) but because he is incompetent. He has embarrassed the nation by stupidly offering military support to our best ally that he should have known he could not deliver.
He should have sought Labour's support before ever recalling Parliament. When refused that support, he already had his answer (as his Whips could have told him) without this debacle. He could have politely and discreetly informed President Obama.
He has lost the trust of many of his own MPs, who are briefing the press that they are "unwilling to take him at his word". Since his word is given and retracted regularly in the face of mere opinion polls, let alone parliamentary defeats, who can blame them?
The man is a lightweight unworthy of his office - or any position of responsibilty. There should be no portrait on the Downing Street stairs, no pension and no peerage. He should just go quietly and let us begin to forget him.