*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 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?
Sympathy for the underdog is one of the most agreeable Anglosphere traits. I am prone to it myself; instinctively cheering on West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City against the likes of Manchester United. Fans of the Red Devils will bitterly tell you of the phenomenon known as "ABU" - Anyone But United, which is the same trait viewed from their perspective. It's logical then that we Brits should empathise with the downtrodden and – depending on our analysis of how they came to be underfoot – seek to right their perceived wrongs.
Humans have always been too quick to analyse their problems in terms of perceived malice from "the other". For example, I grew up in t'North in a heady atmosphere of victimhood. There were plenty of logical reasons for the relative poverty of our post-industrial towns and cities. Many of them would simply never be built in modern circumstances. They are there for long-gone reasons but their communities, bound together by tribal loyalties, cling to them with ferocious sentimentality. It would amuse their ancestors who left rural poverty all over our islands during the Industrial Revolution to flock to opportunities in dark, Satanic mills. To seek betterment elsewhere, as their ancestors did and as I could not wait to do, is perceived as defecting to the enemy. Better to live on, more or less supported (as their plucky ancestors never were) by a Welfare State that subsidises such wilful victimhood.
Even after I had left, it took me years to shake off those ideas. At University my law tutors urged me to apply to the major London firms but I declined, having grown up with the ridiculous but unchallenged view that our capital city was a nest of predators living idly on the sweat of honest working folk. The flip-side ABU-equivalent is the way that London football fans sneer-chant at provincial supporters "We pay your benefits". Now that I live in "that London" I have also heard Londoners claim victim-status themselves, bemoaning the high cost of living (particularly housing) and claiming that the capital is the only city on these islands to make a positive net contribution to HM Treasury.
Humans are tribal. If a language is really old, like Chinese or the tongues of the Native American tribes, the word for ones own people is "human" and the words for other peoples are derogatory – "foreign devil" or the like. The names we use for the Plains Indian tribes are given by their enemies because their own names would all translate to the same word. More recently, even "Wales" and "Welsh", the English names for the place I was born and the people among whom I was raised, are from the Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner". I would argue that where things have begun to go wrong in the West is that tribalism and victimhood have converged and an identity arms race encouraged by the anti-discrimination lobby has set all the "tribes" against each other.
This, I would suggest, is what the present furore about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the scandal about statutory rapes in Telford, the murder of an elderly Jewish lady in Paris, the emergence of the Alt-Right, Black Lives Matter and AntiFa have in common. In their game of "victimhood trumps" various would-be underdogs have both strengthened their own tribal bonds and awoken the tribalism of others.
It's dangerous to enjoy the sight of the Labour Party – home of cynical grievance-mongers for decades – hoist by its own petard over anti-Semitism. It's perilous to succumb to anger over the way that Leftist political correctness has thrown thousands of white girls in Telford or Rotherham to the wolves for fear of the juju word "Racist". Lives are being lost (and many more lives degraded) in the United States as the uncontroversial assertions that "Black Lives Matter" and "All lives matter" are used as tribal battle cries. The Alt-Right's so-called "fascism" would evoke snorts of derision from history's real Fascists, as it amounts to White people lamely joining the destructive game of identity politics.
When growing up in Wales I once told a fanatical Welsh Nationalist that if he really had nothing better to be proud of than his ethnic roots, he should take up macramé so as to have an actual skill to take pride in. I felt free to mock his parochial obsessions because I could never imagine him presenting a threat but that kind of thing is more dangerous now. At one of my first partners meetings at a law firm in London where most of my partners were Jewish, I was surprised when one said we had no chance of winning a bid for some work because of anti-semitism. I told him, truthfully, that I had never heard an anti-semitic remark in my life and doubted the thought would even cross the potential client's mind.
That anti-semitism is back in Britain, as it clearly now is, is due to the Labour Party's attempts to use identity politics to build its own base. Rejecting (or rather rejected by) its traditional base, Labour has sought to put together a coalition of victims, including – though socially and economically there is no more "conservative" group around – British Muslims. To do so it has become uniformly pro-"Palestinian" and anti-Israel and thus attracted into its midst many members reared with a hatred of Jews as unchallenged as my early hatred of "the South".
I reject the Alt-Right because fighting fire with fire just doesn't work. The answer to the poisonous ideas of identity politics is not to join in. It's to reject them for what they are– inimical to the best values of Western Civilisation. Our highest value is the Rule of Law – a much misunderstood phrase, particularly on the Continent where it's often used to mean "shut up and do as you are told or we'll set the police on you". The best way to explain it is in the resonant phrase – "Be you never so high, the Law is above you". Your social status, your ethnicity, your family background, your education, your political power and your wealth are all irrelevant to the Law, in the august presence of which we are all (as we are not in any other context) equal. When you say your favourite class of "victim" deserves special protection from the Law, you are shattering the only important equality – the one on which our civilisation is built. We in the West have done that repeatedly and with the terrible consequences that are now emerging as we have sought to signal our virtue by "protecting" various underdogs.
The Labour Party will not extricate itself from its present mess by re-ordering the hierarchy of victim-groups. I hope and believe that was not what the British Jews protesting yesterday were asking for. Nor by classifying her murder as an anti-Semitic hate crime will we bring back to life the murdered Parisienne or protect future such victims. We can all only emerge from this destructive and hateful shambles by restoring equality before the law and abandoning the damaging notions of identity politics in general and "hate crime" in particular.
Human progress is driven by free competition of ideas. It is hindered by the sort of tribalism that means you must know someones race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender before you can evaluate the credibility of their ideas, their rights to express them or the correct punishment for someone who hurts them.
The linked Hoover Institution article is excellent and explains, if you correct for their assumption that all European nations are like Germany, remind yourself that Locke was English and that the American Revolution was conducted on the principles of English philosophy, why Britain cannot remain in the EU.
It is no coincidence that the totalitarian ideas of the nineteenth century were so widely embraced in Mitteleuropa and bore such terrible fruit in countries influenced by the cancerous thought of that region’s universities. Germany’s tragic history in the twentieth century grew from a notion still held dear by its people.
Kant explicitly stated that, if called upon by his state to die, the individual should willingly do so. His successors Hegel and Marx were equally inclined to see individuals as eggs in the state’s great omelette. The EU’s open disregard of the views of member states’ citizens is not a bug but a philosophical feature.
In their — to them entirely uncontroversial — world view, which sees Anglo-American individualsm as shallow and selfish, the greater good of the collective as defined by the elite takes priority over the will and even the life of a mere individual. If “unenlightened” humans vote the wrong way, it is perfectly natural for Kantian elites either to ignore them, rebadge the measure to foil them, or if trapped into the need for a positive vote to conduct it repeatedly until it yields the “right” result! It’s actually noble to their minds to behave in ways that to our minds seem outrageously vulgar.
Continental poltical thought always carries the embryo of the next totalitarianism in its belly because to their thinkers Liberty is a gift of the lawmaker, whereas we see ourselves as born free, see law as a (sometimes) necessary evil, and expect lawmakers to defend Liberty above all other goods.
When Europeans speak of geopolitics we think mainly of trade. When Merkel asserts the primacy of politics (a game) over economics (a science) we are bemused. We don’t see trade as a weapon of war or even a diplomatic bargaining chip but as a human activity as natural as sex. Tell us neither whom to love nor with whom to bargain. Call us “a nation of shopkeepers” and we’ll wonder why you think it an insult.
The author’s mistake here is to lump us in with the people of Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Marx when we were the people of Locke and Smith before their young Republic was born. And God willing we always shall be.
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.
one approach I am quite certain does not work is candlelight vigils, weepy hashtags and a refusal to face up to who the enemy is and why they are doing what they are doing.
He makes a good point but what will?
To begin with we should do nothing to validate the belief of these losers™ that they are special. The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 – a piece of knee-jerk legislation that led me to begin this blog long years ago – was (and this is the least of my criticisms) a mistake in psychological terms. It dealt differently with those who murder for political reasons thus confirming their view that they were more than "common criminals". This was a very different approach to that of Margaret Thatcher. She always insisted that Jeremy Corbyn's chums in the Provisional IRA were not "soldiers" or "political activists" but criminals like any other; that their motives made no more difference to the legal analysis of their actions than they did to the reality of the outcome for the victims and their families. One is no less dead for being murdered in a cause and one's killer is no more for it.
Such criminals should be detected, arrested and tried. If convicted they should go to the same prisons as other murderers and be treated exactly the same. Murder carries the maximum penalty presently permitted under English Law because it is the worst crime. Any special treatment of terrorist murderers and their accomplices is legally a distinction without a difference and – worse – will be in their eyes a badge of honour.
If, statistically, Muslims are currently producing more terrorists, I see nothing illiberal about controlling future immigration from their countries until the terrorism has been defeated. Let's acknowledge we have a problem among the Muslims we already have. Let's own it, address it and while we are doing so prevent it from becoming worse. Some people will call that "racist" but they should not confuse us with people who give a damn about their playground name-calling. Repeal whatever legislation prevents such a policy and put it in force — just as President Trump has been wading through the Deep State swamp to attempt in the USA. Opinion polls suggest there is massive democratic support for such a policy across the whole of Europe.
That leaves the question of the already resident Muslim population most of whom, thank goodness, pose no threat. We can maximise that proportion by some common sense measures:
- Change our relationship with Saudi Arabia, the heart of Islamic darkness. It does not permit Christian evangelism on its territory. In contrast, as a civilised country, we permit all religions to be practised, but that does not mean we have to allow the Saudis to fund theirs. Currently there are more Wahhabi Korans in the UK than any other versions because Saudi Arabia provides them free of charge. Wahhabism is a particularly dangerous sect and motivates a disproportionate number of terrorists.
- If this is thought likely to affect arms sales to that Kingdom, then perhaps we should form an Organisation of Weapons Exporting Countries to fulfil a similar function to that of OPEC in relation to oil.
- It may be necessary, after appropriate research, to prevent other countries from funding mosques and madrassas in Britain. I see no problem with that either. I am sure local Muslim philanthropists will step into the breach.
- We should ditch the doctrine of multiculturalism and make it a matter of immigration policy that new arrivals are welcome only on the basis that they agree to integrate into our society and live according to our values. There is no ethical problem, in my opinion, in stating definitively that Shariah Law is incompatible with those values. New immigrants should swear an affidavit on entry to confirm that they understand and accept this.
- We should break the news to our Muslim communities that they and their families have come to live in a Christian culture. Most Brits may not be religious now but still our country is one formed by Christian values. Constitutionally, it is actually a kind of mild Christian theocracy as we have no separation of Church and State. The Church of England is Established and twenty-six of its bishops – the Lords Spiritual – are ex officio members of Parliament. In this quirky theocracy, the Theos is Jehovah, not Allah. Daft, in my personal opinion, as I very much believe in the separation of Church and State on the American or French model, but no less true for that.
- We should deliver public services only in the official languages of the United Kingdom. When I lived in Poland, Russia and China I could not expect to deal with the authorities in English. They took the perfectly reasonable view that my weakness in their languages was my problem. To the extent I could not cope I found friends, colleagues or paid translators to help me. By dealing with immigrants in their own languages, we have encouraged them NOT to assimilate and have made it unnecessary for them to learn English. It is our fault, not theirs, that so many Muslim mothers live and raise their children dangerously outside our society's mainstream. I am sure most were initially astonished to find that our public sector is prepared to deal with them in their own languages at taxpayers' expense.
- We should cut all other services (e.g. translators to sit with children in classes, chaperones to accompany ladies to medical appointments) that discourage integration. Of course we should be tolerant of the needs of learners to bring English speakers along to help them out until they are fluent. I am sure there would also be some doctors prepared to allow male members of Muslim ladies' families to accompany them to consultations. I would not make any doctor do so, however. The ladies in question chose to come to a country where such an approach is alien (and rather insulting to our doctors). No-one forced them to come. They could have stayed in their countries of origin and these issues would never have arisen.
- We should provide English classes for refugees. They didn't choose to come and it's only decent to help them out. Economic migrants, like me in Poland, Russia and China, should pay for their own damned language lessons.
- Finally we must recruit thousands of members of the police, the Special Branch and MI5 from among our Muslim citizens. We are so often assured that most of them are peace-loving and loyal that I cannot imagine this will be difficult. As a young lawyer in Nottingham I personally administered the Oath of Allegiance to many new Muslim citizens and kept a Koran at hand for the purpose. I am sure many of their families have suitably qualified members now.
I don't put forward any of these suggestions to punish British Muslims or even to deter future immigration once the problem has been solved. But if we are to reduce terrorism here, rather than just accept it as "part and parcel of life in a big city", I think measures like these are necessary. Do you agree? If so what other measures would you suggest? If not, then how do YOU think we should defeat Islamic terror?
The current public discussion about the so-called "divorce bill" or "financial settlement" claimed by the European Union in relation to the UK's termination of its membership is ill-informed on a cosmic scale. I decided to flex my neglected skills as a retired international lawyer and do a bit of research.
The EU has yet to produce any legal justification for its claim. It is simply asserting, as a negotiating position, that it will discuss nothing else until a payment has been agreed. This is an oddly weak stance. If there is a legal basis for the claim, they don't need it signed off in advance. It would simply be a contractual consequence of the treaties. The European Court would rule if the principle or amount were disputed.
To someone who negotiated for a living for decades, it has the aroma of, to be polite, bravado or, to be less polite, something else beginning with a "b".
That impression is reinforced by the fact that the EU has not produced its calculations. According to press reports it is demanding between sixty and one hundred billion Euros. Nor has it offered any legal analysis. We are told that the British government has clear legal advice that no such payment is due. Of course it won't publish that advice until the EU has offered some justification.
Lawyers for Britain (disclosure: a campaign group in support of Brexit) has however commissioned and published a counsel's opinion by Martin Howe QC entitled The withdrawal of the UK from the European Union: Analysis of potential financial liabilities. The full opinion can be downloaded here. I have also hosted a copy of it on this site and put a link in the sidebar. It is well and clearly written. I suspect many of my esteemed readers will actually enjoy reading it even if they are not accustomed to such documents.
For now, I will cut to the chase however and quote the conclusion of pages of dense analysis:
For the reasons set out in this paper, there is a powerful legal case that the UK will not owe the EU any monies on withdrawal, and will be entitled to a net payment representing the value of its capital in the European Investment Bank.
Those readers who, like, me, actively want a "hard Brexit" should take the following comfort. If the EU's negotiators stick to their present position, there can be no further negotiation. The UK will exit without any agreement. It might even be possible (though I doubt any possible government after the election would have the testicular fortitude to go for it) to dispense with the two year notice period and stop subsidising our Continental chums sooner.
We would then trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) standard terms, which will allow either side to impose tariffs averaging 2.3% on imports of non-agricultural goods (agriculture is a pampered business everywhere and the WTO has failed to broker any agreement to reduce protectionist tariffs). Britain is of course free to impose no tariffs on EU goods. The WTO sets a maximum, but no minimum. In my view that is precisely what we should do. It helps our consumers not one jot or tittle to pay more for our Audis and Camembert. As a supporter of free markets, not crony capitalism, I favour the consumer over the producer every time.
One can love capitalism without loving capitalists - or at least not loving them more than ones fellow humans in general.
It is likely of course that the mercantilist, anti-free market, corrupt crony capitalist EU will impose such tariffs. It will be true to the antiquated and discredited ideology that made us want to leave. However the adjustment in the value of the pound sterling (the genius of the Free Market at work) has already more than covered the effect of WTO tariffs and the Government has (rashly and wrongly in my view) promised British farmers that they will be compensated from public funds for any negative effects.
Much as I disapprove of that, it will cost far far less than our payments to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which routes subsidies not just to jolly Continental peasants but to rich people such as the French, Austrian and German partners in the international law firm to which I used to belong, who owned farms and vineyards not to feed and cheer the masses, but to garner CAP subsidies from their far poorer fellow-taxpayers.
I watched Trevor Philips' programme with interest. He became President of the National Union of Students just as I was leaving student politics for the real world - back in the 1970s. He was a familiar presence at the NUS conferences I attended in the years before he was elected to that job.
Conservatism was generating all the new ideas at that heady time so Trevor and his comrades of the Broad Left (the Labour / Communist Alliance in "power" at the NUS) seemed like dinosaurs. Their policy of "No platform for fascists and racists" for example was simply not supported by sane students. I don't recall ever falling out with my Labour counterpart at university (where I was chairman of the Conservatives) on issues of free speech. As I recall it, he thought "no platform" was daft too. But the sane students went off into the real world. I became a lawyer and my Labour counterpart became a doctor. The "no platformers" like Trevor and his successor David Aaronovitch didn't. They went into politics, the media and academia and kept droning on about identity politics and multi-culturalism while the rest of us earned not just our living but - through the tax system - theirs. Their relentless efforts at promoting cultural Marxism have borne vile fruit so that now, he reported in his programme, two thirds of all British students support the NUS's current "no platform" policy, which has gone well beyond anything he and Aaronovitch ever argued for.
Trevor spent his whole career in the public sector and rose to be the head of the British "thought police" - the Equalities Commission. He was in that role when I next came across him at the Battle of Ideas conference at London's Barbican Centre about three years ago. He was speaking about how certain ethnic groups (notably black boys) underperform in Britain's schools and I challenged him from the audience. I pointed out that while black boys were at the bottom of the educational rankings, black girls performed better. What kind of racist makes an exception for the females of an ethnic group? I pointed out that, while Pakistani children did little better than black boys, Indian children were the second best performing group. Pakistan was an artificial construct imposed when the Brits granted independence to India. Ethnically, these kids were identical. What kind of racist would distinguish between them? It seemed to me that if teachers were the problem, then they were bloody strange racists. Apart from these other quirks they seemed to favour the Chinese. as their children were easily the highest performing!
To Trevor's credit, he listened politely and laughed at my sarcastic humour even as the aspiring members of the left-liberal ruling elite howled me down. If racism was not the answer to this question, he asked politely, what was? I told him it was a question of parental attitudes informed by culture. I had worked in China where every mother saw education as the highest good. If West Indian and Pakistani women (not to mention working class white ones) wanted their children to do well at school they should make like Tiger Mothers. Teachers, schools and the educational establishment would not stop their children learning if they showed up at school wanting to.
From watching his show - which has received damning notices from his fellow-lefties - it almost seemed I had struck a chord. I would certainly like to think so. His contribution was thoughtful and intelligent. He senses that the Left has gone too far and alienated ordinary folk. The depressing parts were his interviews with students - who really do seem to have left the reality-based community - and his experiments with Mancunians ("straight-talking Northerners") who seemed culturally whipped but still craving more of the lash.
If you get the chance to watch it, do. It's as good a political thought piece as the biased media is currently likely to produce. The link above will expire soon.
The closest I came to despair during the long dark political night I hope is now ending was during the affair of Jean Charles de Menezes. It wasn't so bad that panicked policemen made a tragic error in the wake of the 7/7 bombings. That was both understandable and forgivable. Had I been a juror in a murder trial of the officers who blew that poor young innocent's head from his shoulders with soft nosed bullets proscribed by the laws of war, I would have voted to acquit.
I am sure they did not kill him for the hell of it. They believed (or believed their commander believed) that he posed a genuine threat to them and the Londoners around him. Their legal defence would have been self defence under a misapprehension and I would have believed it. They were negligent at worst. They were negligently led. The family of the young Brazilian should have had civil compensation, the Metropolitan Police should have apologised for a tragic error and the officers concerned should have been disciplined and retrained.
My despair was rather driven by the Establishment's response to the incident. It closed ranks on the rest of us and on Justice herself. It lied. It destroyed evidence. It committed crimes. Had you or I killed Jean Charles under the mistaken apprehension that he was a suicide bomber we would have faced trial. His killers were state agents and didn't; making a mockery of equality before the law. They were sent away on holiday at taxpayers expense as a reward. Their identities are still unknown. The government drummed up a stupid "health and safety" case to make the matter sub judice and give ministers an excuse not to comment until the fuss had died down. That was the nadir of Alistair Campbell-style political cynicism — manipulating the law, the press, and the public's limited attention span to mask a terrible injustice and an embarrassing failure of state power.
Justice was not done and was seen NOT to be done. An innocent died with consequences neither to his immediate killers nor to those, police and politicians, who issued the fatal orders. That Labour Government proved once and for all that the Labour Party is nothing more than the political wing of the public sector unions. The rest of us are of little concern — even if we lose our lives — compared to the privileged brothers and sisters under the leftist state's partisan protection. Even Jean Charles's usually-privileged ethnicity didn't count when the state's loyal servants needed protection. I wish I could believe it was different under a "Conservative" government but the sneer quotes say all you need to know of my view on that
This is why I am so saddened to learn that the commander of the unit responsible for this tragedy now heads the Metropolitan Police. She commands the force I rely on to keep me safe in my home town. Her loyalty to the political élites (not to her officers, by the way, as she was cynical in shifting blame down the chain of command) trumps the safety of the public her force exists to serve and protect. Neither ordinary Londoners nor the officers under her politically-correct command should feel safe this morning .
She's the Metropolitan Police Commissioner not on her merits as a police officer but because she fits a Politically-Correct narrative. I would love to celebrate the appointment of the first woman to command this important force - the mother force of world policing. I can't because (for reasons unrelated to her sex) she is unworthy of the rôle. I shall sleep less easy in my bed in London tonight.