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

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Don't blame the millennials, blame their teachers

Trigger warning: This post is full of generational generalisations. 

I don't share the general pessimism of my age group about the millennial generation. The Misses Paine are millenials. They are serious intellectuals, hard-working women who want to make a contribution to the world they live in and generally fine human beings. So are all their friends that I have had the pleasure to meet. I would go so far as to say that the millennials I know (admittedly a sample limited by my daughters' excellent taste and my former profession) are more sober, hard-working and serious than I was at their age.

In the wake of 2008, many millennials are having a much tougher time than the late Mrs Paine and I did at the beginning of our working lives. We walked, debt-free, out of university straight into employment. We earned enough to leave our parents' homes and pay our frugal way. We were able to marry at 23, rent a crappy flat for a couple of years and buy our first modest home. Neither of us were unemployed until we chose to be. We worked hard, took things seriously and struggled at times, but our lives look golden in retrospect compared to the struggles of the average millennial.

Nor do I join the Daily Mail and today The Times on reviewing this report (actually about post-millennials currently at university but I suspect reflecting similar beliefs), in fearing for them ideologically. They are not a political bloc any more than our generation was. They are socially liberal but they are also sceptical of politicians' promises to fix their economic problems. Some go so far as to criticise previous generations for having voted themselves unfunded benefits, incurring massive government debts now dumped on them. They are right. They have been screwed.

To the extent that they have scarily illiberal ideas, I think the interesting question is why? Based on my daughters' experiences at British universities, I blame lecturers of my generation. We may have won the debate in 1970s student politics about "No platform for fascists and racists" on a pure free speech argument. But then most of us on the winning side went into productive work and many of the "no platform" losers went into academia. They have indoctrinated subsequent students to the point where only 27% of them (and only 22% of women) believe that "Universities should never limit free speech".

Screenshot 2016-05-23 09.38.01

Some of this is simple confusion about the difference between good laws and good manners. Laws should only prohibit real harms, which do not include hurt feelings. I might ban from my circle of friends someone who went off on a racist or anti-Semitic rant, but I would not call the police. Universities can make their own rules, just like me at my dinner table. But the consequences are very different because they are rather more important fora for intellectual debate.

If students are not prepared to confront the ideas they dislike in the comfort and relative safety of a university lecture hall, how are they going to deal with them in the real world? And what, whisper it softly, if some of the ideas they hate turn out to be right?

Leftists have divided society into a hierarchy of victim groups entitled to dismiss the views of their supposed oppressors. But in the tradition mocked in "Life of Brian" when the Judean Peoples Front fought the Peoples Front of Judea, they have also allowed their zealotry to divide them in frankly hilarious ways.

Feminists like Germaine Greer are now banned from campuses because of remarks like her infamous "transphobic" observation that;

Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn't make you a ******* woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a ******* cocker spaniel.

An interesting phenomenon in this context is the emergence of the "licensed dissident." The only people who can easily challenge illiberal views are those from the Left's pantheon of the oppressed who as Milo Yiannopoulos puts it, "go off the ideological reservation". Hence the importance of his "Dangerous Faggot Tour" of American campuses in which he systematically "triggers" the "spoilt brat rich kid social justice warriors" and exposes their idiocy by posting videos of their screaming on YouTube.

 

My favourite of his videos is this one of a panel at UMass with Steven Crowder and Christina Hoff Sommers. I particularly enjoyed her summary of "gender studies"

It's ideology pretending to be scholarship. It's propaganda pretending to be fact.

Milo is even more amusingly forthright on that topic and more seriously says in the course of the discussion;

The violence is coming not from the right but from the left and it is informed and justified in the minds of activists by this zealotry.

Yes, I see millennials behaving as absurdly as my leftist contemporaries but I also see them arguing against such absurdities with great verve and skill. I also hope that soon the effects of 2008 will be behind them so they can start to earn properly and pay more taxes. Nothing produces economic liberals faster than excessive tax. So, once again, and perhaps to my own surprise I am on the side of optimism.


Left, Right, Wrong

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.


Of poverty and privilege

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land. I am particularly tired, for example, of the overused word "privilege". To me, the great enemy of mankind is not privilege but poverty. Those of us who are not poor represent a problem solved. The question is how to increase the wealth of those who still are. As a purely economic issue, that's a question long since answered.

History shows us that free markets cure poverty fastest. History also shows us that socialism increases poverty. Ask the millions of people in the former Soviet Bloc. It is a stupid, nasty, hateful doctrine; the moral equivalent of deliberately infecting the healthy with disease in order to reduce health inequality.

Socialism's obsession with material goods ignores the fact that the ability to accumulate wealth, important though it is as an engine of economic development, is not that big a deal at a personal level. Faced with my late wife's cancer, our life's savings could ultimately only buy her more comfortable surroundings in which to die. Material rewards for a life of hard work are all very well, but any sane person knows that true happiness comes from things that have little or nothing to do with money; health, culture, education. recreation and family. 

There's a wonderful passage in one of Billy Connolly's shows where he talks of a man at a dinner party who, asked what he did, said "I am a tobogganist". Connolly has much fun imagining what his Glaswegian working class father would have said if he had told him that's what he wanted to be. I have recently been reading about the famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Both came from rich families. Both walked away confidently from their material comforts (although Frank occasionally took money from his parents to help him along) in order to embark on artistic careers. Their equivalent, if you like, of tobogganing.

The confidence, perhaps even arrogance, of such people about the importance of their life choices derives from the fact that, unlike Billy Connolly (and most working-class children) they have no practical-minded parents telling them, with their best interests at heart, to "get a real job" The confidence, or indulgence, of their parents is helped by money, of course. If you can't support your child for ever, you are understandably more anxious to see him support himself. But their "privilege" was more complicated than that. Their parents did not laugh at them when they aspired to be "tobogganists". Rather, they expected of them, if that's what they were going to do, that they should head for the highest Alp. That expectation is the true nature of privilege.

Yes, it's easier with money but it's also possible without. Chinese children do not do best in Britain's schools because Chinese parents are, on average, richer. They do better because their parents, on average, value education more highly and expect more effort. A "tiger mother" may not feel like a privilege when you are under her care and control, but she is worth more than all the money in the world. Any parent, rich or poor, educated or not, can be a good parent - with better effect on their child's ultimate happiness (and, incidentally, the nation's prosperity) than any redistribution of wealth.

I remember two long-lost school friends in my scruffy home town up North. Their father was a dustman devoid of all aspiration. Their mother, however, had a dream. Both arrived at infants school able to read because she had pushed them around town in their prams teaching them to do so from the road signs. Unashamedly eccentric herself, she empowered them to be different from their contemporaries and not to give a damn about the relentless peer pressure to be stupid at our bog-standard comprehensive school.

She wasn't Chinese. She was from the white working class; now the second-worst performing ethnic group in Britain's schools. She did nothing any parent, grand-parent or aunt - rich or poor - could not do. I wish all the whingeing envy-ridden half-wits banging on about "privilege" would shut up and be like that scruffy, oddball, utterly splendid mother. She refused to be defined by her circumstances. So - if we have any dignity - should we all.

If you have economically under-privileged kids, if you teach them, are related to them or even just have them as neighbours don't tell them they are doomed. Don't encourage them to hatred and envy. Encourage them to dream of "tobogganing" and lend them the occasional book. Let them see you reading for pleasure (pretend if you have to) so they think of it as normal. Then they will be privileged kids too.


What chance to our children have of hearing these arguments?

Follow-Up Letter to a Very Bright 11th-Grader

American state school teachers may, for all I know, be as consistently left-wing as ours. One needs no conspiracy theory to account for it. People who choose careers financed by force either have no scruples about it when they sign up, or soon learn all the excuses necessary to live with a clear conscience. Such careers are simply not attractive to those of an independent spirit - though many such are to be found teaching in private schools.

It's heartening however that - because so much of it is independently-financed - American higher education (though hardly pure) still has enough diversity to allow the linked exchange between an economics professor and an 11th grader.

Can anyone imagine such correspondence with a pupil in a British state school?


And when they are not immoral, they are incompetent

This is a direct quote from a note sent today to all the students on a post-graduate course at a particular English university. It is from the programme director of the course, who teaches English.

Can I also empaphise the imporatnce of arriving at lectures and seminars so that you are ready to start on time. Arriving late can cause disruption and distraction. It is customery and curtious to offer an apology and reason to your teacher.

I do not dissent from his sentiments. Punctuality is a much-neglected form of politeness. However, it seems England's academics are as relaxed about spelling as they are militant about politics. But then, their organisations are largely funded by force, so why should they care about quality?


An evil influence

Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95 | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Eric-Hobsbawm-010
When friends doubted my assertion that Britain's establishment is more Marxist than Russia's ever was, Hobsbawn was always the name I mentioned. If you were educated in a British school or read history at a British university, you have almost certainly studied from one of his texts. If you have read British newspapers, listened to or viewed BBC programmes you have encountered his pervasive influence.
He became a fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was awarded the companion of honour in 1998.

What kind of country gives its highest honours to a man dedicated to the destruction of its free society? To the destruction of the economic system that made it capable of sustaining him in a life of contemplation? A man who supported the Soviet Union even after it crushed the Hungarian Uprising? A man who remained a member of the British Communist Party until its collapse - long after all with any decency had resigned? A man so monumentally misguided as to support to his end an ideology that had led directly to the slaughter of millions and the impoverishment of billions?

You tell me.


A message from the 1970s

A message from the 1970s on state spending - Telegraph.

The 1970s were when my political views were formed. In that decade, I was suspended from my bog-standard comprehensive for my revolutionary activities. I was a member of a Maoist school students union, which organised the only pupils strike in the history of British education. I sold "Quotations from Chairman Mao" and "The Little Red Schoolbook" to my fellow pupils. I refused to be a prefect or to apply to Oxbridge (alas) because I was anti-elitist.

I had a Damascene political conversion as a result of seeing men on a building site where I worked in my school holidays subjected to violent intimidation by the Shrewsbury Pickets. I had already read my Marx but that led me to my Hayek and Popper. I went on to lead my university's Conservatives to take control of its Student Union from the Left for the first time and was one of the first people to call myself a "Thatcherite". I met and discussed politics with Sir Keith Joseph and discovered I was a good judge of character when I also met the pompous, wet and unreliable Sir Geoffrey Howe. I didn't like him the instant I set eyes on him and was not surprised when he later played Brutus to Margaret's Caesar.

But the truly formative event was the national humiliation wrought on Britain by Labour bankrupting the British state and calling in the IMF. I don't think anyone who was there and understood what what happening could ever forget it. It has informed my every political and economic thought since. It's why I am so scared by the nonsense flickering across the synapses of commenter and erstwhile guest blogger Mark (and virtually everyone else in Britain, alas).

Every new Labour leader should stand before his first party conference and recite Jim Callaghan's words, because they nail the greatest lie in modern politics and economics; that the state can drive growth. It cannot. At the most it can facilitate it, by providing the rule of law and consistent, predictable regulation that businesses can plan for, but otherwise getting the hell out of our way. This is what he said.

We used to think you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists. And in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion ... by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.

I agree with , author of the linked article in The Telegraph, that these are among the most important (and I would add almost certainly the most honest) words uttered by any British Prime Minister. That they have been forgotten so quickly horrifies me. If all my efforts in writing this blog achieve nothing else, I hope I can bring people to Mr Callaghan's honest, if no doubt disappointing for a lifelong Socialist, realisation.


Government "savings" in perspective

Government savings infographic in perspective | Burning Our Money | The TaxPayers' Alliance.

This (click to enlarge) is the tool we need in our everyday conversations with the Thoughtless. The method to show them, in terms they can understand, that there are no cuts. No austerity. Just a fractional slowing in the rate at which the government spends the money it takes by force from the productive - or their posterity.
Spending-perspective

Surely they must understand it now? Mustn't they?


No-one should have anything better than mine

Left Watch | Conservative Home.

They never learn and they will never stop until they have laid waste to all that is good. The Labour Party is the greatest enemy of the British people, bar none. Education on the other hand is the greatest hope of our (and any) people. Anyone who provides good education, on any freely-agreed terms, is a benefactor not just to the nation, but mankind. And anyone who pays through taxation for a service they then choose not to use is also a public benefactor. Such people subsidise handsomely the public education system Shadow Ministers should be plotting to improve. 
Enviousshit
The mean, dark, crooked heart of The Labour Party is envy. Better for them that all should grovel in the mud than that some should look up at the sky.

STOP PRESS: Robert Peston has a good idea

Robert Peston sends star speakers to state schools | Education | guardian.co.uk.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Cheltenham Ladies' College, my daughters' private school, was Speech Day. Partly because the then Principal had a wicked sense of humour and gave an hilarious, but still informative, account of the year's events. But mainly because of the 'old girls' who came back and gave, for the most part, very inspiring talks. Nothing could have been more empowering than for the pupils to see what girls before them had gone on to achieve. I said to Mrs P. on one such occasion that it was a shame our old school, a bog-standard comprehensive up North, didn't ask former pupils back to speak. I remembered how little idea we had of the world's possibilities at that age and imagined how it might raise the aspirations of kids like us to hear about interesting lives. She observed drily that 'no-one remembers we were there so how can they ask us back?'

Private schools have an ethos, a history and a need to maintain contact with pupils and their families for marketing and fund-raising. State schools don't. Not only do they have no incentive to tell the world what a good job they do, they are under no pressure to be any good. In the topsy-turvy narrative of the state sector, outcomes are determined by social conditions. Success and failure are mere accidents to be equalised. They have nothing to do with talent or effort. Given such a world-view, it's amazing that any state schools do great work. The occasional inspiring leaders who make that happen deserve to be national heroes - not treated with suspicion by their 'right on' professional colleagues.

I have encountered many interesting jobs in my professional career that I had never heard of when I was at school. As the teachers had effectively never left school, they were no help in this respect. The idiot careers teacher even suggested Mrs P join the local electricity board as a telephonist. How epic a fail was it to recommend a job that would shortly cease to exist anywhere in an organisation that was about to be abolished? But she was a working-class girl from a council estate. Her life outcomes were socially-determined. For her to do better than end up on the dole would have undermined that all-important narrative.

Not to cavil, because I am genuinely pleased by Peston's scheme, but the one flaw is that it's not going to match speakers with their own schools. It's much more confidence-inducing to meet someone successful who once sat in the same classrooms as you. For example, it's great that the Prime Minister has volunteered to take part. I congratulate him, but will it really be empowering? It may only confirm the self-destructive ignorance of the public sector narrative. There's nothing wrong with Eton, you understand. It's a great school. If the Misses P had been Masters P, that's where we would have sent them. But surely the last thing Eton needs is to perpetuate the legend that it can put rich buffoons into positions of power?