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

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Can any Canadian reader please help?


Another video by Ezra Levant did the round of the blogs a while back. You know it; the one in which he was filmed taking an Alberta Human Rights Commission functionary apart. Now there's a new one in which he takes the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to task for running a kangaroo court. Looking at the decision on the Council's website, and reading there how the Council is constituted, his basic points seem to be true.

Yet it's hard to believe that Canada censors private media companies while exempting the state broadcaster. It's hard to believe Canada's government is so hypocritical as to describe the Council as "voluntary" while making membership a pre-condition for a broadcasting licence. And it is extremely hard to believe that the rules of natural justice can be flouted in a Common Law jurisdiction like Canada in the way that Levant describes. Can it really be true that he can be judged without being heard? That he can be judged by his competitors and political opponents?

I don't know enough about Canada to be sure whether I can take this guy at face value. His tone is pompous, hectoring and bombastic and he sounds like - to put it mildly - a blowhard. I am not sure I like him, but he seems to be making important points. If they are true, I probably have to refine my personal stereotype of Canada as a relaxed, open, amiable free society. Can any reader help me understand please?

While I await enlightenment, I have to say - in fairness to a country that only Americans seem able to dislike - that at least Canada seems to have political diversity in its media. Nothing like Levant's Sun News segment is possible on Britain's airwaves. And nothing like his broadcast "**** your mother" to his censors is remotely imaginable. Which is - in a way - precisely why I blog.

The brittleness of cast iron

David Cameron to shed 'cast iron' pledge on Lisbon treaty | Politics | The Guardian.

David Cameron was elected to lead the Conservative Party for his political and presentational skills, not his convictions. It remains to be seen if he has any convictions, but now we must also question his skills.

He has a tendency to give hostages to political fortune. He tried to seize the moral high ground on becoming party leader by pledging to avoid "Punch and Judy politics". He has been persistently prodded with political pitchforks by Mandelson and the lesser demons ever since, but if he responds in kind, they jeer "Punch and Judy" at him. I fear the phrase "cast-iron guarantee" is going to haunt him in a similar fashion.

People don't trust politicians and it's not entirely their fault. It is a defect in democracy itself that if you don't tell people some approximation of what they want to hear, you can't get elected. We all like to believe in the wisdom of crowds, but the truth is that the majority of modern Britons want to hear that the state will solve life's problems, without effort or cost to them. Politicians are torn between over-promising to stay in power and the fear of their lies becoming so obvious as to discredit them. Their corruption is a mirror held up to decadent, economically-ignorant, essentially amoral voters.

Politicians' careers are an assault course, during which they sustain repeated political injuries. For a while they run on bravely, but eventually the damage is too much and they fall. The most typical injuries are failures to deliver on those promises they would have preferred not to give. Gradually, inevitably, they become too discredited to continue.

Margaret Thatcher was the exception. She was principled. She promised nothing she could not deliver and she was utterly relentless in making sure she did. In pursuit of her objectives she fired one minister after another, making enemies within her party faster than outside it. In the end, the pygmies with wounded pride were numerous enough to bring down a political giant. I was at a dinner in the City with Francis Pym, prominent among the pygmies, on the night she fell. As all my hopes for the arrest of Britain's decline died - I bitterly watched him drink in gleeful celebration. There must have been dozens of others doing the same that night.

But Cameron's injuries were never going to be of Thatcher's kind. He is one of the pygmies, lacking her political courage and her moral vision. His was always going to be the routine political failure of one too many broken promises. That's why his "cast-iron" pledge of a referendum over Lisbon was so foolish. He will now suffer more injury from every future broken promise because of one broken before he even took office. A promise he need not have made.

A referendum only made sense if it would prevent the adoption of the EU's constitution-in-all-but-name. Once it had been adopted, any referendum (as the Euro-sceptics baying for it well know) would be on our continued membership. The issue of the EU dangerously divides the Conservative Party. Any Conservative leader must manage the issue constantly and cleverly. Cameron's mistake was not to break the promise. It was to make it in the first place, and to make it - again - in such memorable terms.

Margaret Thatcher will go down in history as the Iron Lady. This farce means that Cameron will be remembered, if at all, as "Cast Iron Dave".

What is the best we can hope for from the Conservatives?

The Conservative Conference in Manchester is effectively the beginning of the Tory campaign for the 2010 General Election. We can confidently expect that Labour will pay the price in that election for its epic fail as a government. Once again Labour will leave Britain with worse education, more structural unemployment, a debased currency, massive debts and a moribund economy. The election will give the people their moment of revenge, but can we hope for more than that brief pleasure from the Conservatives?

David Cameron personifies High Toryism, with its noblesse oblige approach to social problems. He sees a powerful role for the state in "improving" our lives. His version of the traditional High Tory concern for conserving the countryside is a radical approach to "Green" issues. Advised by his chum Zach Goldsmith, he embraces the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming and is ready to use authoritarian measures to "save the planet." While previous Conservative leaders had to pretend to believe in the Soviet-style National Health Service for political expediency, Cameron actually does. If you believe the important healthcare industry works best as a state enterprise, why stop there?

In short, the man is barely a Conservative at all. Still less is he a free-market classical liberal. He is as much a Statist as Gordon Brown, but merely wishes to pull the government's levers to (slightly) different effect.

New Labour has criminalised well over 3,000 formerly legal activities. It has been one of the most authoritarian governments in British history. Cameron's Conservatives are suggesting the repeal of none of them. The "ratchet effect" Margaret Thatcher struggled to combat is back. If the New Conservatives repeal none of New Labour's laws and then add more of their own, all we can confidently expect is to be less free after their first term. I am far more interested in a programme of legislative repeals than in any new measures. No such programme is on offer.

To fix "broken Britain" needs courage. Taxes for the lower paid should be reduced, both to eliminate the nonsense of minimum wage-earners paying income tax and to open a wide gap between those on benefits and those who earn. Only then will we get our 6 million "economically inactive" back into production. The benefits system needs to be radically simplified and all abuses ruthlessly eliminated. The National Health Service needs to be replaced with a compulsory insurance system and all healthcare providers privatised. Education too should be privatised and the National Curriculum eliminated. Not only will Cameron's Conservatives not attempt all of this, they will not attempt any of it. They lack the testicular fortitude.

I fear the best we can hope for is for the Conservatives to slow the rate of economic decline and the drift to a police state. Not very inspiring is it?

What is Thatcherism?

ConservativeHome's ToryDiary: What is Thatcherism?.

Conservative Home is inviting definitions and has stimulated the usual polarised debate. It will take historians as yet unborn to set Margaret Thatcher in context. She is simply too great an historical figure for us to evaluate her without the benefit of distance.

Right now, people see her as either demon or angel. Of course (though I incline more to the angelic view) she was neither. I have ventured my own definition in the comments there. Why not click on the link above and have a go yourself? Let's at least give those poor future historians some contemporary, non-establishment, sources to work with. Here's my definition:

A belief in the family as the basic unit of society; free enterprise as the main engine of economic, scientific and social progress and the people - as represented by parliament - as the only legitimate source of political authority. All this, combined with duties of; public service for those with the right talents, self-reliance for those capable of it and responsibility to help the less fortunate. Finally, an affectionate (though critical) regard for tradition.

Labour have failed to control binge drinking. No ****, Sherlock

Link: Labour have failed to control binge drinking - News Story - Conservative Party.

I was a member of the Conservative Party for years. I led my University's Conservative association to control of our student union. I have an instinctive affiliation with the party. Knowing that I will probably not live to see the new Libertarian Party have real influence, let alone office (it took the Labour Party 24 years from its foundation to see office for the first time) I must still hope for Conservative electoral success.

Conservatives are not naturally so extravagant as Labour, which means a smaller state. They are not naturally so authoritarian neither, though the mumsy/chumsy wing are paternalist authoritarians - “for your own good, dear." 

DrunkFor two days this story from the Conservatives' site has been sitting in my RSS feeds infuriating me. What people do with their money and their bodies is entirely a matter for them. Yes, when people are drunk they sometimes do bad things, as they sometimes do when sober. So hold them accountable for their actions in either case. In choosing to become intoxicated, they took the risk that alcohol's dis-inhibiting effects (for which they bought it) might lead them into trouble. Their choice; their responsibility. Without alcohol's dis-inhibiting effects, the reserved British would probably die out. Or at least only the physically attractive would be able to breed, which would mean that the political classes would die out. Is that what the Conservatives want?

To make the political point that Labour has “failed to control” binge drinking is to accept that they have the right to do so. It is also to imply that the Conservatives will succeed in controlling it, which is a particularly stupid hostage to give to political fortune. Has the Shadow Health Secretary any idea how much state power he would need to deploy to stop all those who want to get drunk from doing so? Does he not realise that the consequences of such power would be worse than the evil he seeks to cure? If not, does he not realise that he is in the wrong political party?

To bracket "excessive drinking" and "associated violent crime" is to  exonerate criminals and blame alcohol. Then action on alcohol can be "spun" as genuine action on crime (and to hell with holding people responsible for their own actions, as a civilised society must). It is is just the sort of sodden thinking that got us into our current social nightmare. It has no place in the Conservative Party. But then neither, these days, do I.

David Davis: fool or hero?

Link: Analysis: David Davis' hollow victory in Haltemprice by-election - Telegraph.

The received political and media wisdom about David Davis's "one issue by-election" says more about the commentators than the man himself. To a cynical, unprincipled careerist (and a journalist accustomed to reporting on such creatures) Davis's actions make no sense. All they can see is that he damaged his "career" by distracting attention from his Party's leader to the latter's annoyance.

Perhaps that is even how David Cameron sees it. I hope not. As Gordon Brown is discovering, no PM can stand alone. He needs to be surrounded by high quality people to prosper.

Davis has proved that to him there are things more important than his career. I would hope that is true for all of us. As the things Davis values are those that our ancestors valued more highly than life itself, it should not really be shocking. That our political classes are shocked shows how much our island race has dwindled.

It used to be a commonplace that people went into politics out of a spirit of public duty. They had a desire to "give something back" to a society of which they were proud. We can all think of many historical politicians who derived only the dubious benefit of fame from their careers. By their cynical comments on Davis's actions, our modern politicians and pundits are proving that those days are over.

Since parties began to prefer "career politicians" as candidates; men and women with politics degrees and a "real life" background only in think tanks, lobbying, political journalism and government consultancy, people have increasingly lost faith in the political process. Politics should not be a game. It should be an honest pursuit for concerned citizens; ideally those whose experience and understanding of real life equips them for the job.

Only those who see it as a game with prizes could see David Davis as a failure. Since the "prizes" are paid for by the rest of us, we should aspire to exclude such people from politics. I regard David Davis's campaign as a useful litmus test. Every politician and journalist who sneered is to be regarded with suspicion.

What am I?

Every little girl and boy that's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative

For most of my life I called myself conservative. Yet what is it that I want to conserve about today's Britain? Her welfare dependency? Her dumbed-down culture? Her lethal health service? Her chaotic and ineffectual schools? Her cowardly obsession with "health and safety?" Her cultural cringe?

Do I support the laws of the land? No, I think that more than 90% of them should be repealed. Do I support the institutions of the State? Hardly, since I would close most of them. What about "the boys in blue?" Every conservative loves them, surely? Well then I am no conservative, since I regard them (pace the good souls still in their midst) as the IRA to New Labour's Sinn Fein.

They may not always hold office, but in public life the victory of the Labour Party has been total. Save for isolated pockets of comically ineffectual resistance, its thinking now commands academia, the media, the educational establishment and indeed all the public services (including those formerly known as "forces"). If David Cameron were elected tomorrow, that would not change at all. The pace of Britain's destruction might slow, but the trend would be the same.

Since he would conserve far more in our country than I would, Gordon Brown is more properly called a conservative than am I. Conservatives (the clue is in the name) favour the status quo in a broad sense; socially, economically and politically. And in such a broad sense, Britain's society, her economy and her political structures are all now Labour. It is the Labour barons who feel at home in our country. It is the intellectuals of the Left who swagger, unchallenged, amid our dreaming spires.

How can I call myself a Conservative when it would now take far more change to make a Britain of which I could approve than to convert her to a Communist or Fascist state? In the original sense of the word, I am now a radical since I desire root and branch reform.  I am one of the alienated few who believe that - 999 times out of a 1,000 - free individuals making their own life choices with the informal support of family and community will do better for themselves and each other than will even the best-directed State.

Such people used to be called "conservatives". What should we call ourselves now?

The Line, the Bitch and the Wardrobe

Osborne Adam Boulton's interview with George Osborne today came at a significant moment. For the first time, with the Labour government visibly crumbling, Osborne's credibility matters. Boulton gave him a harder time than he would any interviewee from further left, but Osborne held up well. He avoided cheap attacks and refused to provide more policy ideas for his intellectually-bankrupt opponents. In the course of this fencing, he managed to land a few blows. Boulton persisted with the Labour Party line about the Tories just "knocking the government" while providing no policy alternatives. For a second I thought he had landed a killer blow when he said that, well before Blair's first election victory the Labour Party had given "clear pledges on tax". Osborne's response was masterful, apart from the strange hesitation which gave me my bad moment. Saying;

I don't want to pick you up on your history again, Adam...

he pointed out that those pledges were given just five months before an election, not two years. Perhaps his hesitation was about the word "again?" Perhaps he was concerned to avoid even such a subtle dig at an important commentator far too close to the establishment? Conservatives remain strangely keen to "play nice" in the face of Labour's consistently amoral tactics. David Cameron's prissy early comment about "Punch and  Judy politics" was a big mistake. It gives mealy-mouthed Labourites the opportunity to criticise any Tory attacks, while gleefully urging on their own pack of political hounds.

Osborne sounded the right note of confidence when he closed Boulton down with the comment;

People will know exactly what we are doing about tax, when we have an opportunity to do something about tax, that is when there is a General Election

He went on to list specific commitments the Tories have already made and promised more over the next two years as the election approaches. His response to Boulton's partisan sneering at the International Monetary Fund "seeming to have persuaded themselves" that we face the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was good. He skilfully avoided any charges of schadenfreude or of "talking down" the markets without actually contradicting the IMF's (sadly plausible) view. He confined himself to pointing out that;

Britain is ill-prepared for this as we have the biggest budget deficit in the world

(is that really true?) and by mildly observing that

As far as I know, we are the only country in the world which is responding to the current crisis with tax increases

This was the issue on which, predictably, Osborne pleased me least. The dangerous suggestion that in Alistair Darling's unenviable place he might have stimulated the housing market with lower stamp duty made me shudder, as did his comment that he would have retained the 10p rate of income tax. The housing market is already light years beyond cloud cuckoo land and stimulus is the last thing it needs. As for income tax, in his place I would have proposed to take those on or around the minimum wage out of tax altogether. He could and should have attacked the cynical process whereby Labour takes poor peoples' money in order to buy their votes and control their lives by giving it back as benefits. This is something that Britain's working poor understand very well and Osborne missed a trick.

Nor was I particularly impressed by his suggestion that we might be able so to regulate the credit system as to prevent future debt bubbles. The only way to avoid problem debt is to let people suffer the consequences of their imprudence. They they will regulate their conduct more subtly than any government could hope to do. Osborne will live to regret those words, when future debtors blame him for failing to protect them from their own stupidity.

Boulton asked about the Prime Minister's political difficulties and raised the possibility of his stepping down. Osborne's response was so good that even Tony Benn could not accuse him of putting personality above policy. Saying he thought it was "unlikely" that Brown would step down [too right; Labour lacks anyone with the courage to be Tsvangirai to their very own Mugabe] he added that people in the Labour Party were not just unhappy with Brown's "manner" but with his policies. Then he commented that people must  doubt if a Government "fighting with itself" can lead the country well. This was deliciously snide, yet delivered with an air of cherubic innocence.

On the whole though his performance was more workmanlike than inspiring. On the BAe corruption scandal, he avoided being skewered with the "destruction of thousands of British jobs" nonsense by saying the Attorney General should have the right to stop a prosecution on grounds of "national security" (not "national interest" please note). However any such decision should be subject to judicial scrutiny. Personally, I agree with Iain Dale's principled stand for the rule of law in this matter,  but - politically - this was a good line. Osborne noted that arms represent only 2-3% of our exports and even made my point that other exporters will have their position damaged by the government's shocking (and illegal) action.

Wardrobe More impressive, in its way, was Nicholas Soames's handling of a dangerous question about the Shannon Matthews case. He responded by saying we should be concerned as to why there were so many dysfunctional families like Shannon's. He hinted at the problem of welfare dependency undermining the family without being all "Daily Mail" about it. He spoke up for the good people of Dewsbury and the community spirit they had wasted on such undeserving people. Well done Big Nick. Now please never appear on TV again for the good of your party.  I know it's wrong that all the viewing public see is a fat toff but please have the sophistication to realise that's the only reason you are the media's favourite Tory. Well, that and the folk memory of your ex-wife's alleged comments about you.