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

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An unexpected encounter with a monster

I went to a series of talks on Sunday at Birkbeck College. They are part of the Weekend University programme established by Niall McKeever — an excellent initiative that I commend to you. They were about the psychology of behaviour change and I thought they might help me in my quest to establish healthier habits as I seek to address my long standing weight problem.

I did glean some useful ideas but one price I paid was to sit, horrified, through the presentation of Dr Paul Chadwick of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change. I don’t doubt the quality or value of Dr Chadwick’s research. He seemed very intelligent and competent. I am sure as a clinical psychologist he can be very effective in helping people who want to change their behaviours. But from his anecdotes it seemed that CBC’s main focus is on assisting government agencies such as Public Health England and the NHS in changing behaviours non-consensually.

I listened aghast as he spoke at length about what “we” need to do to change the behaviour of the stubborn “people” who are so stupidly resistant to doing “the right thing”. Who, I wanted to ask, is included in this “we” of whom you speak? All I could tell from his smug, arrogant, flippant demeanour is that it was emphatically *not* the addition of me or anyone I care about that makes it the first person plural. As for this mysterious “we’s” right to determine “the right thing”, that was a given; something his fine mind never apparently questioned — not even when a programme of behaviour change (for example the government’s “Sure Start” policy) turned out to have unintended results.

The truly scary thing to a classical liberal like me is just what a nice chap he seemed to be. I don’t doubt his good intentions or his good humour. If he were my son, I would be proud of him. Which raises the terrifying question; just how far has our society slipped that a clever young man like him, full of scientific rigour and desire to make a better world, only addresses moral questions accidentally? He did address the question of volition but only in terms of avoiding a “backlash” (his word) if measures had not been the subject of “consultations” (in the formal public sector sense) with “stakeholders”.

He doesn’t mean to be a monster and I don’t want to see him as one, but in his presence my blood ran cold. I was afraid of him. I was even more afraid of the way the earnest folk in the room laughed as he joked about the unintended consequences of various programmes to clean up the act of the idiotic, self-destructive great unwashed, I realised that I might be the only one there who included himself in the category of “the people” to be shaped as opposed to the smug elite doing the shaping.

No one seemed remotely concerned for the freedoms of those on the receiving end of Dr Chadwick’s mind bending, “nudging” and manipulation — the benighted mugs who ultimately pay to have such well-shod professionals sneer about them behind their backs.


Cressida Dick

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. 


A recipe for a poor nation

BBC News - Lord Smith: Environment Agency 'bound by Treasury rules'.

Ingredients: 

  • One rich free-range nation, reared on fertile terrain
  • Millions of productive citizens
  • Thousands of intellectuals, incubated in ivory towers well away from reality
  • Complacency
  • Belief in the virtue of the state apparatus (common name: credulity)
  • Problems (foraged ingredients, to be found anywhere)
  • Demands for government to solve all problems
  • Left or right-wing political pretexts (according to taste)

Equipment:

A big stick

Method:

  1. Add complacency and credulity to your rich nation
  2. Mix your intellectuals with your demands that government solves all problems
  3. Beat your productive citizens with big stick to extract juices
  4. Use juices to coat the problems, observing (but ignoring) the increase in risky behaviours
  5. Wait for problems to re-occur
  6. Heat on a high flame of opposition criticism of inadequate government action
  7. Turn up heat as politicians in power blame their officials
  8. Bring to the boil as officials blame the government for not employing enough officials
  9. Marinade the situation in productive citizen-juice and coat with a thick crusting of more officials
  10. Season with political pretext of choice

Who serves whom?

We don't call them police forces any more. That's too explicit an acknowledgement of their role as the enforcers of our all-powerful state. Policing, God help us, is now a 'service'.

The question is; whom do our policemen serve? Is it us, the public, or the political class that guarantees their unfunded pensions from the incomes of taxpayers yet unborn? If, as they claim, it's the public, why does it sometimes feel they are serving us in the agricultural sense; as a bull serves a heifer?

Ordinary people don't believe the official crime figures because they don't accord with our experience. For years the Establishment line has been that the figures are accurate but that our fear of crime is the problem. We are neurotic and should be more trusting of our benevolent masters. Yeah right.

PC James Patrick, an analyst with the Metropolitan Police 'service' recently gave evidence to a House of Commons committee that the figures are improperly manipulated by senior officers to make police performance look better. He said

Things were clearly being reported as burglaries and then you would rerun the same report after there had been a human intervention, a management intervention, and these burglaries effectively disappeared in a puff of smoke.

How embarrassing for the political class that has used the rigged numbers to assure us it's doing its job of public protection! It seems our 'neurotic' belief that they were feathering their own nests while not giving a flying expletive about us except as sources of feathers was well-founded.

I have been waiting with interest for the state's response to this revelation. And, the Alistair Campbell approved interval for the story to die down having elapsed, here it comes. The Times reports this morning that PC Patrick has been placed on 'restricted duties' and forbidden to speak to public or media. The whistleblower has received his usual reward.

So that's clear then. Lying to make the state look good is fine. The public has no right to know the truth about the performance of the police service it is forced to fund. The career of any public-spirited person with a sense of duty and honour is unlikely to advance in the Met. In marked contrast to that of an officer who heads a botched operation that blows the head off an innocent man, for example.

Nothing to see here folks. Move along now please or you might just find yourself being served.


Compare and contrast

Sir David Nicholson admits failings over Mid Staffs but refuses to resign - Telegraph.
Sir David Nicholson, were our society organised as the defunct British Communist Party to which he once belonged might desire, would now be put up against a wall and shot. In our wet British version of Soviet Healthcare, however, he avoids all responsibility for the NHS's lethal failures. After all, there are plenty more patients where those came from.

Compare and contrast with one Andrew Mason, who wrote to his staff before leaving;
After four-and-a-half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding, I was fired today ... As CEO I'm accountable.
I rather suspect that Mason has put more efficient and vigorous effort into the success of Groupon than Nicholson has to that of the NHS. Yet he was held accountable by his board on behalf of his shareholders and accepted it with grace. Good for him. He failed this time, but with an attitude like that, I am sure he will yet do great things. I would hire him, if I owned a suitable company. I wouldn't employ Nicholson to clean my boots.

So is the success or failure of a company that organises online discounts more important than that of a whole nation's healthcare system? Should the bosses of an internet start-up be stricter with their CEO than Parliament is with the head of the NHS? What other conclusion, exactly, could a man from Mars infer from these two items of news?

Incidentally, Nicholson claimed expenses of over £50,000 a year on top of a basic salary of £200,000 and benefits in kind of £37,600 at a time when he was in charge of health service "cuts". His current wife, twenty years his junior and a former graduate intern in his office, is the £155,000 a year chief executive of Birmingham Children's Hospital. He wrote references for her during her meteoric rise through the NHS management ranks. Ain't life grand in the public service?

The NHS may not have adopted the iron discipline of the Soviet system, but it seems to have all the other elements. Generally, I prefer gentler market systems of accountability, but for aparatchiks like Nicholson, I could make an exception.

The people who should be our puppets use their puppets to make puppets of us

Euro Puppets: The European Commission’s remaking of civil society | Institute of Economic Affairs.

Tell a statist that the government spends too much of GDP; that the state should be scaled down and taxes reduced and the response is highly predictable. He will start talking about doctors and nurses, teachers and policemen. Within minutes, unless we are battle-hardened by many years of political debate, he will have established an apparent moral ascendency. Onlookers will wonder how we could be so cruel.

But that's not just, or even mainly, how tax money gets spent. For example, I was horrified to learn from Chris Snowden's linked report for the Institute of Economic Affairs that an estimated €1 billion of the EU's budget is handed over to "sock puppet" charities, NGOs and other fake "civil society" actors in order to promote the political objectives of the EU Commission.

Most of these "civil society" organisations would not exist at all if it were not for EU funding. So far from being genuine expressions of voluntary, non-governmental and non-corporate opinion, they are mere political creatures. It is astro-turfing on a massive scale. The table below (from Chris's report) takes the list of the EU Civil Society Contact Group's members from its own site and shows both the income each receives from the European taxpayer and the percentage of its funding that represents. 

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 08.50.43
Nota bene that much of the remaining funding for supposedly independent "civil society" groups is received from taxpayers at the national level! For example
Women in Europe for a Common Future received an EC grant of €1,219,213 in 2011, with a further €135,247 coming from national governments. This statutory funding made up 93 per cent of its total income while private donations contributed €2,441 (0.2 per cent) and member contributions just €825 (0.06 per cent). 
In what universe can even the most dewy-eyed believer in the essential goodness of the state justify such a monstrous lie? If an organisation raises just 0.06% of its funding from its membership dues, it is not independent. If it gets 93% of its money from the state, it is the state's creature. This is taking money by force from the masses to tell them what to think - most notably about money being taken from them by force!

This is not about being pro- or anti-EU. It is not even on this occasion about being pro- or anti-state. Democracy is supposed to be about the people agreeing what they want done by state bodies and appointing public servants to get on with it. The servants are not supposed to steal their masters' money in order to promote their own objectives. That they do so is corruption, pure and simple.

Come on, statist readers. Justify this gangsterism if you can. And spare us the "doctors and nurses" bullshit for once.

Tories appointing Labourites to public jobs?

In the last year five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories The Tory Diary.

The Tories over at Conservative Home are in a tizzy about dilettante Dave's failure to be as ruthless about political patronage as New Labour was. I can see their point. The Civil Service used to be, at least in theory, impartial but Blair and Brown packed its highest echelons with their people. Indeed my one contact within the judiciary tells me they were similarly ruthless there, which - as judicial impartiality is a keystone of civilisation - is even more worrying.

Perhaps the problem is more fundamental? Is the British state simply now too enormous to be staffed by competent, conservative-minded individuals? Most such people would anyway presumably prefer, because of their world-view, to be in profit-driven ventures? Labour-minded individuals, on the other hand, can presumably be relied upon not to give a damn about whether their lives are economically productive, as long as they get to boss people about, indoctrinate their children and conduct socialist agitprop at the taxpayers' expense?

The BBC is a worker's co-operative

A-JIMMY-SAVILE-640x468I applaud the BBC's decision to allow Panorama to investigate what it knew about Jimmy Savile's misconduct and why the Newsnight story about his alleged paedophilia was pulled. The video is available for a while to UK residents on the BBC iPlayer here:

Any organisation that is not dependent upon its customers, whether a state or private monopoly, will eventually become self-serving. During my career I was party to many conversations about how to maximise profit for the owners of our businesses and provide attractive employment terms for our staff, but they all turned in the end to what our customers would want, or at least accept. We spent much more time worrying how to please customers than please ourselves. Satisfied customers who choose to come back are the only guarantee for owners, managers and workers in the private sector that they can achieve their personal goals.

As will all state enterprises funded by taxation, the BBC has become, in effect, a worker's co-operative. The "customers" have to pay regardless, so they become irrelevant and the focus turns to the interests of its own people. No private business would survive the shit storm that is heading the BBC's way. The share price would now be collapsing as investors tried to get out before the lawsuits begin. I confidently and sadly predict however that the BBC will survive. It has the coercive power of the state behind it and will simply take your money to settle the cases. It is the left establishment's propaganda arm and they will rally to restore its reputation.

We are about to have an instructive, but depressing, demonstration of the realities of modern Britain. We will be able to compare and contrast the BBC news and current affairs teams' handling of this story with their campaign against News International. Just imagine if the phone-hackers had worked for Newsnight and Savile had worked for Sky News!

Predictable though it all was, it was still disturbing to follow Panorama's account of the decision-making process within the Corporation. There was lots of high-falutin' stuff about editorial independence and a clear concern for the BBC's reputation. There was also some po-faced nonsense about depending on the trust of a public that, trusting or not, it will continue to plunder by use of state force. Not one person (apart from those making official statements once the story was out and the lady reporter from Newsnight who will no doubt pay for it when the storm has passed) expressed any convincing concern for their customers-by-force. Some of whom have, it seems, been abused by members of the collective and friends under their protection.

I watched the faces of the people making the allegations and it brought back another memory from the days of watching Jim'll Fix It. I found a girl from my school in a drunken heap at the side of the road on my way home from a date with my girlfriend one night. I tried to help her to go home. It turned out she was in social services care and lived in a nearby childrens' home. When I offered to take her there she begged me not to. She offered sex if I would take her somewhere, anywhere, else. Indeed, "offered" is something of a euphemism. If I had a victim mentality, I would say she attempted rape. I was able to restrain her and decline her offer.

I asked if she had relatives and she told me about an uncle who lived in the area. In retrospect, I worry that she made him up or that her relationship with him was rather different, but I was a naive teenager. I took her to a nearby pub and gave her the money to call him. I left her in the care of the publican, once assured her uncle was on his way.

I later found out that she lived in one of the homes at the centre of a notorious scandal. It rather explained both her reluctance to go there and her use of sex as a currency. I now dread to think what she was going through while I was enjoying a safe and happy childhood. I am ashamed to have ever thought myself hard done to by my strict parents, when I consider what that girl had been put through by the "caring" state professionals paid to look after her.

Here is the fatal flaw in all collectivist thinking; the reason why public service organisations are all more or less corrupt and can never fully be trusted. Here is the reason why Britain's public intellectuals are not merely gullible, idealistic, fools but a serious threat to our welfare.

All organisations funded by force are essentially immoral.

In their detachment from the relentless reality of having to satisfy customers and in their assurance that livelihoods do not depend upon that satisfaction, selfish, abusive behaviours will grow among their staff. Whether in care homes for the elderly, childrens homes, the Parliamentary expenses office, army barracks or police stations bad things will happen not by accident but flawed design. To be clear, I am not saying that public sector workers are all, or even mostly, evil or ill-intentioned. I am just saying that a disproportionate number of the lazy, greedy and wicked in any society will be attracted, as Savile was, to positions they are able to abuse. Nor am I saying there should be no public sector. I am not an anarchist. I accept the need for a state. But here is a strong argument for it to be kept to an absolute minimum.

There is a reason socialist states have always had to resort to prison camps and shootings to maintain discipline and reduce corruption in the ranks. At least, that is, within limits that don't threaten the corrupt gains of their ruling elites. In the absence of Stalinist discipline, what happened at the BBC - the way the collective closed ranks to protect an insider - is not a sad exception to the rule. It is the rule.


Learning to love public servants

Should Romney Seek the Public Sector Vote? — The American Magazine.

This is one of the more interesting posts I have read on the US elections and I wonder how similar the statistics would be in the UK. Libertarians and small state conservatives tend to generalise about public servants in negative terms, but the author Pete Peterson makes the point that:
...it might serve Republicans better to take a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” approach to their attacks on government spending. The attention should move from the personal to the systemic—to bureaucracy—and its naturally problematic qualities.
It's fair enough to complain about useless, pointless jobs in the public sector, and even more so about "public service" jobs that actually harm the public. That doesn't mean our fellow-citizens who do them are themselves useless, pointless or deliberately harmful.

Some public sector jobs actually attract people with conservative, if not libertarian, values. Think of policemen, soldiers and - well there must be a third category even if it doesn't immediately spring to mind. While joining the judiciary sadly appeals to some busybodies and even authoritarians, the role of judge is - especially in a Common Law system where the law did not originate as a tool of government - a public service job that suits libertarians. Indeed the role of the judges in upholding the Rule of Law against the over-mighty in government and business should attract them.

The statistics in the linked post even suggest that American public servants are not as pro-Big Government as their own self-interest might seem to dictate.
61 percent of the government employees surveyed ... agreed with the statement that “the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.” While not as high as the response by private sector respondents (74 percent agreed) this is still a revealing admission.
Even more encouragingly:
...more than half of both public and private sector workers “believe government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.” And 59 percent of government employees surveyed agreed that they “trust the judgment of the American people over political leaders.”
What results would a similar poll in Britain produce?

Less surprisingly, American public servants are more likely to vote than their private sector counterparts. Some of this can be accounted for by demographics. Public servants there tend (wastefully) to be better educated than the general population and the more educated an American is, the more likely he is to vote. The rest may be accounted for by a desire to influence government to spend more, but America's public sector vote at least is not uniformly leftist. President Obama's lead among the 21.7 million American public servants is only one million. If Romney stopped bashing bureaucrats, who knows how that might change?

When the glad day dawns on which the state begins to downsize, we can confidently expect the attitudes of public servants to harden. Until the benefits for employment of setting the people free become clear, people will be understandably afraid of losing their jobs. Still, if we are to persuade our fellow-citizens along that path (and as libertarians we have no resort to our opponents' beloved violence, so persuasion is our only weapon) we might do well to play the ball not the man when it comes to discussing the public sector.

Protect your Freedom – Please retweet and respond!

Protect your Freedom – Please retweet and respond! — Anna Raccoon.

I refer my gentle readers to Anna's linked post today. It is important. The state is seeking extended powers to interfere in personal relationships between citizens with legal capacity to make their own decisions. Telling social workers to "get lost" will result, if such powers are granted, in actions incompatible with a free society. Telling self-selected statist busybodies to "get lost" is often, of course, the first duty of a free citizen.

Most responses to the Department of Health's consultation will be, in the natural course of things, from the aforementioned self-selected statist busybodies - either those serving the state or their political cheerleaders.

Please therefore consider following the links in Anna's post or this one to obtain the consultation questions and then file your own responses by email or post. I have reproduced my own responses (submitted in my real name) below but please respond in your own words. You might like to consider not picking up the civil servants' poor use of English, for example, as I failed to resist doing. Your objective is to persuade, after all. Good luck with that.

Question 1: Do you agree that there is a gap in the proposed legislative framework for people with mental capacity, which this power would address?

No

Question 2: What are your views on the proposal that there should be a new power of entry, enabling the local authority to speak to someone with mental capacity who they think could be at risk of abuse and neglect, if a third party prevents them from doing so?

I strenuously object to the creation of any such power. In fact I would welcome the abolition of most existing such powers.

Question 3 (for care and support professionals working in adult safeguarding): How many times in the last 12 months, have you been aware of a situation where, had this power existed, it would have been appropriate to use it? What were the circumstances?

N/A

Question 4: What safeguards would we need to ensure local authorities use such a power effectively and appropriately?

Any such safeguards would merely raise the question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" There is no appropriate use of such a power. A person with legal capacity should never have his or her choices second-guessed by the state. This is a dangerous, immoral (perhaps even amoral) proposal incapable of being ameliorated by safeguards.

For example, would the following provide adequate safeguards?

• A warrant would be applied for from a Circuit Judge (e.g. a nominated judge of the Court of Protection).

This would only help if the legislation granting the powers was clear (as it could not by definition be) that the state has no right to interfere in the life choices of those with legal capacity. Since the intent of the proposed legislation is precisely to create such a right, the judge would have no ability to restrict such action and the warrant would merely use the judiciary as camouflage, further soiling its reputation for independence in the process.

• The local authority would present the court with evidence of the need for the warrant.

See above.

• The local authority would ensure that there is a process by which the occupiers of the premises understand that they can complain about the way in which a power has been used. The local authority would have to verbally inform the affected persons how they might access that process

See above. There is no point in a right to complain about such a loss of liberty, if it is backed by law. One wonders, by the way, how they would inform anyone other than "verbally". Draw them a picture, perhaps?

Question 5: Do you have any other comments?

The British State is too powerful. After decades of growth to the point where it now consumes the majority of national resources and is strangling to economic death the nation it purports to serve, it is unsurprising that it attracts employees who have no sympathy with personal liberty. In my view, no-one who respects our right to live life as we please would wish to be part of such an aggressive apparatus. Once the state is staffed by substantial numbers of such people, proposals like these are to be expected and it is the job of government, as the people's representative, to oppose not promote them.

No further extension of the state's already-excessive power can possibly be justified. Any government worthy of the names "conservative" or "liberal" or "democrat" would be slashing its powers in order to set the British people free not listening to calls to authorise meddling in the lives of those with legal capacity.