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

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A book Jeremy Corbyn should read

Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World (Penguin Modern Classics): Amazon.co.uk: Jan Karski: 9780141196671: Books.

I have just finished reading this book; a gift from a Polish friend. It was first published in the United States in 1944 and I am ashamed that I had never heard of its author or his story before. Jan Karski is one of the great heroes of Western Civilisation. 
 
He was a young officer in the Polish Army so swiftly defeated by the German and Russian pincer movement at the beginning of World War II. Captured by the Red Army, he faked papers in order to be released to the (as he thought) more civilised Germans. He then found his way to Warsaw and into the Polish Underground - the "Secret State" of the title.
 
Gifted with language skills and a photographic memory, he became (after dangerous adventures) the Underground's courier to the Allies. It was he who delivered the first news of the Holocaust to the Allied Powers. His were eye-witness reports. To ensure he would be able to convince people of such monstrous behaviour on behalf of the nation widely regarded as the world's most civilised, the Underground smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto. By bribing an Estonian guard to lend him his uniform, they also smuggled him into Bełżec, the death camp – or rather simple killing field – where most of Poland's Jews met their end. I have visited that place myself and you can see my photographs of it here. At the stage Karski was there, the gas chamber had not yet been invented though it was later trialled there before being used to kill Jews from the rest of Europe in the more famous concentration camps whose names we all know.
 
As part of this exercise Karski also met with the Jewish Underground, specifically the Polish leaders of the Jewish Socialist Alliance (the Bund) and of the Zionist organisation. Both knew they would not survive. 1.8 million Polish Jews had already been killed and they told him the Germans would finish that job before turning to those from the rest of Europe.
 
Karski asked them what they wanted Jewish leaders in the West to do and they told him this;
Tell them to go to all the important English and American offices and agencies. Tell them not to leave until they have obtained guarantees that a way has been decided upon to save the Jews. Let them accept no food or drink, let them die a slow death as the world is looking on. Let them die. This may shake the conscience of the world.
In between delivering his intelligence reports to the Allies and his messages to the Polish government in exile in London, Karski delivered that message. He met Szmul Zygelbojm of the Bund at Stratton House in London's West End; the headquarters of the Polish Minister of the Interior. Zygelbojm responded, horrified;
It is impossible, utterly impossible. You know what would happen. They would simply bring in two policemen and have me dragged away to an institution. Do you think they will let me die a slow, lingering death? Never ... they would never let me.
Nonetheless, he tried. Again I am now ashamed I didn't know his name before. Karski wrote; 
On May 13, 1943, came the epilogue to our meeting. I will remember that day till I die. I was sitting in my room in Dolphin Square during a brief respite, resting, when the telephone rang. I deliberately let it ring three or four times and then I picked up the receiver reluctantly. It was an employee of Stratton House. 
"Mr Karski, I was told to inform you that Szmul Zygelbojm, a member of the Polish National Council and representative of the Bund in London, committed suicide yesterday. He left some notes, saying that he did all he could to help the Jews in Poland, but failed, that all his brothers will perish, and that he is joining them. He turned on the gas in his apartment."
I hung up.
At first I felt nothing at all, then a wave of mingled, shock, grief and guilt. I felt as though I had personally handed Zygelbojm his death warrant.

Having met with the Polish Prime Minister and General Sikorski, with Sir Anthony Eden and with the one time Deputy Leader of Jeremy Corbyn's party, Arthur Greenwood (among many others) Karski was ordered to Washington DC, where he met President Roosevelt. He stayed on in America and went on to have a distinguished career as a professor at Georgetown University. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012.

I commend his book to you. I put off reading it for some time because of its dark content. That decision meant I was finishing it against the background of the Labour Party's antisemitism scandal. It was particularly poignant and difficult to be reminded of those horrors while listening to Corbyn's mealy-mouthed denials of his obvious sympathies with those who would drive the descendants of Europe's surviving Jews into the sea. It made even more disgusting the statements of the demented, ignorant "Momentum" rabble comparing Israel to Nazi Germany as they court the votes of Britain's Muslims whose ancestors mostly sided with Hitler and whose home countries' schools and madrassas (and some of their Imams here) still teach hatred of Jews.

Poland has much to be proud of in relation to its conduct under German occupation. There was no Polish Quisling or Lord Haw Haw. The Underground ran a secret state in the face of extreme violence. In the end, though the Allies "won" they saved few Jews. They also delivered the brave Poles into the hands of one of only two historical leaders even worse than Adolf Hitler – leaders respected, incidentally, by many in Momentum.

Poles can be particularly proud of Jan Karski, a hero not just to them, but to all decent humans. If Jeremy Corbyn really wanted to solve the anti-semitism problem in his ranks, he might consider requiring every Momentum member to read this book. Somehow I doubt he will. 


The poison in our civilisation's veins

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.


Book review: The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

The Shortest History of Germany: Amazon.co.uk: James Hawes: 9781910400418: Books.

I mentioned this book in a recent post and read it with great pleasure the following day. I commend it to you. 

 

Sadly, most Brits only study the least appealing parts of German history. Arguably the only true historical consensus in divided post war Britain is that the Nazis were not nice chaps. I hope I can claim to have done better than that because I studied European History to A level and have also read a fair amount since for my own amusement but this book nonetheless covers parts of German history of which I knew little and understood less.

 

I have to confess that I had the mental stereotype of Germany; one of "state worship, puritanical zeal and scar-faced militarism" that the author feels the need to refute. In fairness that stereotype — apparently more Prussian than German — was in some cases reinforced by German colleagues with whom I worked closely in my career. That might be because they act up to it. Just as Brits abroad, when tired of pointing out that we're not all floppy haired effeminates like Hugh Grant, eventually give up and act the part to comic effect. I did actually attend meetings with an elderly German colleague who sported duelling scars, for example. No really. I know. I would have called myself racist to imagine him, if I had not actually met him.

 

Some of the most interesting parts of the books are about prehistory. The Romans invented Germany as a term to describe the disparate and unconnected mutually warring tribes who lived beyond the Rhine. Rather like the British made a polity (and later, mistakenly, two) from mere geography in India, the Romans invaded, recruited to their armies and civilised this imaginary ethnic group and then defined its furthest limit by giving up at the River Elbe. What I mostly learned from reading this book is that when we Brits respond emotionally to the idea of German-ness we actually have the people beyond the Elbe in mind. The "real" Germans (as defined by the author) respond to these trans-Elbians, interestingly, rather as we do. Hitler's support was largely to be found there as today is more of the vote for extremes of Right or Left. 

 

The era of West Germany was a Golden Age not just because of Marshall Aid and the Economic Miracle but because those pesky Trans-Elbeans were sequestered in the DDR living down to our mis-targeted stereotype. "Why are the Chinese so happy?" goes a modern German joke. "Because they still have their Wall". 

 

For much of our history Brits thought of Germans as cousins. The Common Law probably began in long forgotten forests in Saxony and English is arguably German garnished with French. It has been a long sad collapse from that familial feeling to the present unpleasantness of shouting "two world wars and one World Cup" at their football fans. 

 

I don't regret Brexit a bit but sadly it probably won't help with this estrangement, given how devoutly Cis-Elbean Germans believe in the EU. The best that those of us who like Germany (and not just its excellent cars and kitchens) can do is read this book, encourage fellow Brits to read it, play nicely with such German friends as we may have and hope. Mostly we should hope for our two nations to feature in each others history books more, and more peacefully, in future. When they shake off their misguided obsession with the EU (or more likely it collapses under them) we will still be neighbours and - let's hope - friends.


The most dangerous man alive

Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809) is my political hero. I didn't adopt his name as a nom de guerre because I agreed with all he wrote. I hubristically purloined it because I admired the force of his writing. "Common Sense" was the most influential pamphlet in the history of the world and - had the internet existed in the 18th Century - it would have been a blog post. In a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt at sympathetic magic, I hoped - when I began this blog over eleven years ago - that it might have half as much effect.

He left school at 12 and never went to university. He was an autodidact, spending spare cash on books and spare time on attending lectures and debates. It speaks to his greatness that he is claimed these days by both Left and Right - each conveniently ignoring those parts of his thought that don't match their thinking. He believed in society taking care of the weak and unfortunate but he did not confuse society in any way with the state. He was a sceptic when it came to government. He was reviled and assaulted in the USA he helped found because no sooner was the revolution over than he was attacking corruption in the new government. He was sentenced to death in Revolutionary France, where he sat in the National Assembly, for opposing the execution of the King and denouncing the Terror.

He died thinking himself a failure; disappointed with the outcomes of both the French and American revolutions and sad that he had not been able to incite one in England. But his words still echo. He proved that one person can make a difference if prepared to put his work before his safety. He's not alive any more but he's still dangerous. More so perhaps than the Lenin and Marx with whom Steinbeck once bracketed him. His ideas will live as long as free men breathe.

I was pleasantly surprised by the even-handed approach of Melvyn Bragg - a Labour luvvie if ever there was one - in presenting Paine's story in his "Radical Lives" series. I commend his programme to you. 


Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives E02 Rights of Man... by DemonPreyer1 

At this moment of British Crisis, with rogues on both sides of the referendum debate playing on our fears, I also commend to you the words from Paine's American Crisis that Washington read aloud to his troops before the Battle of Trenton;

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” 

I will not lower myself to conscript the dead to my cause as both Leave and Remain have done with Thatcher and Churchill. For all I know, Paine might have supported the EU, while demanding more effectively than we have ever done the application of real democracy and the extirpation of corruption in its governance. Still, I feel sure that the emotional response of free men and women to the aristos of the European elite should be the same as that of Paine to the "asses for lions" of the 18th Century. Our modern aristos are self-selected, rather than picked at random by nature, but their contempt for the people they seek to rule and their sense of entitlement to lord it over us, is every bit as profound. They should meet the same fate and I hope - in my own name not Tom's - that June 23rd begins their procession to a figurative guillotine.


The aspidistra has crash landed

Miss Paine the Younger made me the perceptive gift of this book. I read Orwell's books and many of his essays at school, but knew nothing until now about the man himself. So influential were his words on my young mind that Shelden's biography explains me almost as much as his subject.

Orwell is one of few famous socialists I could have liked. There are many I know in everyday life and am not such a bigot as to discard, but I hold influential men to higher standards.

Those acquainted only with 1984 or Animal Farm might not even think of him now as a Socialist. Both books parody Soviet Communism with which most British Socialists (with reservations varying inversely with their immorality) sympathised. So, in fact did Orwell. 

I think that if the USSR were conquered by some foreign country the working class everywhere would lose heart, for the time being at least, and the ordinary stupid capitalists would be encouraged ... I want the existence of democratic Socialism in the West to exert a regenerative influence upon Russia.

He thought the Russian Revolution good, but that it had been hijacked by the power hungry. He was sage enough to realise those are the very people likely to lead revolutions but naive enough to imagine

that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job

How could an intelligent man harbour such a fantasy? Any chucking 'the masses' did would be at the suggestion of leaders out to replace the revolution's victors! Surely any fool could see they would not only be nastier and more cunning but at least as power-hungry? Socialism, whether achieved by revolution or democracy, requires enormous state power. Such power will attract the scum of the Earth. That's not a bug, it's a feature.

The most interesting passages, scattered through the book, deal with Orwell's romantic imaginings of a democratic Socialist England, somehow untinged by authoritarianism. His biographer writes that

The England that Orwell declares his loyalty to is a place where tyranny cannot easily establish a foothold because of the deep commitment to what he calls 'private liberty', by which he means 'the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above'.

He loved freedom as much as the fieriest modern Libertarian but, economic illiterate that he was, failed to see that the only alternative to incentive is force. He imagined a society in which no-one could earn more than ten times than the lowest paid, but gave no thought for the violence required to prevent them earning more or seize their surplus. Not only did he think men had only to be shown what was right in order to do it, he ludicrously imagined that, in a free society, all would meekly accept a single view of 'what was right'. He romantically imagined

... a specifically English Socialist movement, one that appeals to the English character, and is not tainted by Marxism which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. His Socialism would not be 'doctrinaire, nor even logical', and would leave 'anachronisms and loose ends everywhere' - the lion and the unicorn will still be resplendent on the soldiers' cap buttons, the old judge will still wear 'his ridiculous horsehair wig.'

In his day successful Socialism was perhaps, if your understanding of economics was sufficiently limited, vaguely plausible. He probably expected the industries nationalised in 1946, for example, to perform much better under state control. There is no such excuse for Labourites today.

Most of all, he and his generation failed to grasp that if the state is player rather than referee in the national game, it will soon no longer be 'cricket'. Pretty much everything he hoped for was achieved by post-Orwellian Labour governments, with disastrous economic consequences. In the process "the English character" he so admired has been profoundly damaged.

Part of me, liking this well-meaning corduroyed buffoon of a provincial schoolmaster as I do, is glad he didn't live to see what nonsense it all was. Part of me wishes he had not died so young so that he could have satirised it with all his skill. 


238 Years of Common Sense

CommonSenseTitlePage-lgOn January 10, 1776 the great man whose name I misuse on this blog published his famous pamphlet, Common Sense.

It had a powerful effect. General Washington had it distributed to his soldiers. I can imagine them reading it to themselves and to each other. George Trevelyan in his History of the American Revolution wrote

"It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting"

That pamphlet is the real inspiration for this blog and the reason I so hubristically use Tom's name. If the internet had existed then, he would probably have blogged it without the aid of Mr R Bell of Philadelphia, especially as being his publisher put Mr Bell at such risk. Tom himself remained safely anonymous at that point.

Common Sense was the pre-digital equivalent of the most successful blog post imaginable. I would be content to have one-millionth part of the good influence on the minds of men it did.

Happy anniversary, Tom.


Remembering 9/11

There are no more words to say. This image - by Ira Block, the lead tutor at the photographic course I attended in NYC earlier this year - says it all for me today.

Here's to the memory of those who fell and to the families who still suffer the consequences. And here's to finally understanding that sacrificing liberty in pursuit of security is just to hand freedom's enemies their victory. God bless America and guide her leaders from their wrong-headededness.


'Never go through life saying you should have'

 

This is what we have lost in Britain; I fear forever. The Welfare State has convinced many of us that we are not the answer to each other's problems. Yet in America, as I saw in Moore OK on my recent tour, the first instinctive reaction to a crisis is still 'what can I do?'

The men in this video are ordinary blokes. Working stiffs. The kind of people my condescending metropolitan friends believe unable to run their own lives without constant government 'help'. The call went out for boats and they turned up in their hundreds. At their own expense. At the risk of their own lives.

They didn't ask if it was their problem or what the governement was going to do. They didn't ask what approved group the people they helped belonged to, or what approved thoughts they might have. They acted on their best instincts, and their only reward is that - as they say in the video - they had the best day of their lives; the day of which they can most be proud.

Not for them, existential angst. They know what their lives are for.

Nearly five hundred thousand people were evacuated by boat in less than nine hours. I had no idea that it happened until I was sent this film today. Yet it was the greatest seaborne evacuation in history; bigger even than Dunkirk. Like Dunkirk, it wasn't ordered by anyone. It wasn't funded by force. People needed help and other people responded, at their own willing risk. It's utterly magnificent.

Never let anyone tell you that humanity is so defective that 'kindness' must be enforced. When someone says that, it says nothing about humanity and everything about them.

H/T an American friend.


Limiting the power of government - money [Guest post by Mark]

Since the 17th/18th century capitalist seizure of government power, and specifically following from the 1694 creation of the Bank of England, the government's debt has been the basis of our monetary system. This combination of government power and capitalist credit money made possible a broader based integration between government and the economy - contributing directly to the explosion of British economic, industrial and military power which later gave birth to the British Empire.

This system has obvious advantages with respect to the coordination of a mass economy but from the perspective of individual freedom it is deleterious.

Some argue that the private creation of government money is a separation of powers which itself limits government. In reality, the opposite is true. Finance is government and government is finance - and at the same time, if we wish to do business, we cannot help but be drawn into this government-private hybrid money nexus. The power of government is surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) extended to every aspect of economic life.

Not only is it nearly impossible to escape this system but also, if the government relies upon and controls the private money system, we face the twin dangers that (1) control of government/finance becomes the most profitable activity in society and (2) the temptation to raise revenue for government takes precedence over real economic considerations.

The Fred Goodwins of the world, or the trend for physicists to become bankers are a result of (1) while the austerity/ higher tax campaigns are a result of number (2).

Libertarians would generally seek to solve these problems by eliminating the government from money creation. There are a number of problems with this approach. Firstly, credit networks without government support tend to be either small and personal, or entirely unstable. Secondly, there is no evidence that pure "commodity money" has ever existed or that barter can be used to run a large scale economy. Thirdly, almost everyone agrees that there must be some role for government and if government must use private money we again run into problems (2) + (1) - because government relies upon private money it cannot be separated from private business.

Now, there may well be a trade off between the ability to run a mass economy and individual liberty, in order to be free we might have to accept fewer things. I'm relatively comfortable with that - from the perspective of libertarians the destruction of the mass economy may well be a feature rather than a bug. However, I do feel that, rather than eliminating government money creation, as libertarians suggest, (or eliminating private money creation as per the positive money proposal) - we should allow both systems to operate alongside each other, but to exist, entirely and conspicuously separately - in essence, make using government money and engaging in the mass economy a choice.

Government created money could be a form of virtual commodity, (with the function of gaining respite from the taxman - essentially a tax credit). If the government did not require private money, there would be no (revenue related) reasons for it to tax these transactions. Therefore, it would be relatively easy to eliminate VAT, income tax, capital gains tax and replace it with some form of flat tax on tax credits only. In this way, the ability to do business would be separated from the need to pay tax.

Personally, I would set up the system in such a way that it would be possible to choose through lifestyle to avoid tax entirely. (For example - we distribute 100 tax credits to each citizen every year and tax on the basis of natural resource consumption- 100 tax credits for every 10 squared meters of land - by making a lifestyle choice to consume fewer natural resources you could avoid taxation and then be free to engage in whatever other business you choose - obviously many people would insist that people did "work first" before they get credits.)

You could then choose to conduct business either using surplus tax credits (which would offer the mass stability of government money), private credit agreements or barter/commodity money. These entirely independent monetary systems would provide a *real* division of economic power and be based entirely upon voluntary exchange.

As I say, I don't know if this would be more efficient from the perspective of production or "raise GDP", but I do think it would be more conducive to personal liberty.


Hope's funeral

Margaret-Thatcher-and-the-order-of-service-for-her-funeralI promised myself long ago that, just as my grandfather stood in the rainy streets of London to honour Sir Winston Churchill as his funeral procession passed, so I would for Margaret's. He loved Churchill for much the same reason that I loved her. Hope. In dark days, when our country seemed likely to fail, they both persuaded us to buckle down, do our best and look to the future. They promised us that Britain could be great again.

Both promises failed. The Second World War delivered the Poles for whom we declared it to one of only two regimes on Earth worse than Hitler's. It left the Soviet Union stronger. It saved few Jews. It crippled Britain's economy and left us in massive debt to the Americans. Those Americans gave post-war aid to the Germans on such a scale that they rapidly overtook our war-damaged industries. A German who married one of my wife's relatives visited my home town in the 1950's, while rationing and post-war austerity was still in force. "Did you people really win?" she asked. "It doesn't look like it". The war left the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and it left us in, at best, the second division of nations. And in 1946, having delivered ourselves, as we thought, of Germany's National Socialists, we elected British Socialists to run the "commanding heights" of the economy for the nation.

When the post-war consensus between the barons of the landed aristocracy and the labour aristocracy brought us to our economic knees; when the bailiffs' men of the IMF came in to dictate terms; when rubbish swamped the streets and the dead went unburied; when my wife's family burned shoes to keep warm during power cuts and when families everywhere tightened their belts because their supporting wage-earners' working days were cut to three, we lacked hope again. Managed decline seemed our destiny. We told ourselves that our past successes were only to do with the wickedness of Empire and that a slide into poverty was now inevitable - and even deserved. It was a dark hour to be alive even if, like me, you were a young, optimistic graduate setting out promisingly on his life's work.

Thatcher brought hope and promised us a new Britain of opportunity. She promised to liberate the lives and resources tied up in non-jobs and fake industries. She promised us that Britain could be something again; not the old something but a new, vibrant place. And those of us who were not on the take from a corrupt Socialist state or living as parasites on the workers as trade union officials welcomed it. We set about working hard; doing well by doing good.

And for a while it seemed real. If when Neil Kinnock dies, he goes to Hell, the demons need not raise a sweat tormenting him. All they need do is play, on an infinite loop, the moment this week when a TV interviewer asked him if Britain was better or worse after 11 years of Thatcher. His tormented face told the truth even as his twisted lips mouthed the necessary lie. Necessary because without it he would have had to confess that his whole life has been a self-serving fraud. Without that lie, his career can only be explained as duping the working class to raise his talent-free family to undeserved wealth.

Yet Thatcher's promise too was like VE day. It was briefly, gloriously real, but then a sadder reality kicked in. The post-war consensus resumed. The British State moved steadily back to its pre-1979 position as the most important force in the country and the British people resumed their willing dependence. For all practical purposes, democracy is suspended because three out of four families in this still-rich nation are in receipt of money taken by force by that state from their fellow-citizens. David Cameron is far more like Macmillan or Hume than he is like Heath, let alone Thatcher. Ed Milliband, for all the contentious talk, is essentially as in favour of a "mixed economy" (and buttering up corrupt and destructive union leaders) as any post-war leader of his party.

So Margaret's career, in the end, was a waste of her talents and our time. Were it not for her, we might have hit bottom by now and be rebuilding a civilisation on the ruins of our decadence.

Yet I respect her because like Winston, she was sincere. She believed, probably to her death, that she had led us towards a better future. She certainly tried. No Prime Minister ever worked so hard or took so much flak in the process. That she failed is not her fault. It is ours. And that is why I will stand, head bowed, as her gun carriage rolls by tomorrow. She was the best of us and, all-too-briefly, gave us hope. I am grateful for the memory of that.