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

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Can any Canadian reader please help?


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

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

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

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

Free Asia Bibi - What can I do?.


I have made a donation today to the British Pakistani Christian Association to support its campaign to free Asia Bibi, a Christian in Pakistan who is to be hanged for "blasphemy." The alleged crime is described variously as having taken the form of refusing to recant her Christian beliefs or "drinking from a well designated for Muslims only".

I am prepared to match the donation to the first British Muslim organisation which formally joins the campaign. Some of my intellectually sterner readers complain when, despite my own atheism, I sympathise with the religious. This case offers fuel to their views, but also an opportunity for believers of all faiths to prove them wrong.

Two Christian politicians have been murdered in Pakistan for opposing this barbaric blasphemy law and there are threats from Muslim clerics that people will "take the law into their own hands" if Asia Bibi is released. It is disturbing to think that there are people of Pakistani origin living in this country who nurture such hatred in their hearts, but apparently - according to Harry's Place - that is so. Sitting here in my London home I can't say that I have ever read more chilling words than these;

There is evidence that the case against Bibi is being directed, funded and organised from London.

If so, then shame on those who are doing it. I hope their fellow British muslims will persuade them to see the error of their ways. There should be no place on these islands for such barbarism. The purpose of this blog is to oppose the erosion of liberty in Britain. British citizens baying for the execution of a woman exercising her freedom of thought is - to put it mildly - part of that problem.

h/t Harry's Place

Why Wikipedia is dark today


We could all be dark if this legislation goes ahead. This is a classic example of Big Government treading on the people in the interests of Big Business. Please spread this video (or create your own content on your blog, Facebook page or Twitter) to get the message out. Wikipedia is showing us what our digital world could be like if SOPA and/or PIPA become law.

Informed Democracy?

Nobody Important: Democrasy. Is it working?.

Our regular commenter Moggsy is a blogger herself, posting at our mutual friend JMB's site, Nobody Important. Today she considers the problems of democracy. She proposes, controversially, that the votes of different categories of voters should carry different weights. Even more controversially, she suggests that voters be licensed like motorists.

One man, one vote is such an established principle that to challenge it is almost unthinkable. Yet this model of democracy seems to tend to economic collapse. Majorities or decisive minorities of financially illiterate or irresponsible voters demand ever more from the state. Governments (or more precisely politicians who want to remain in government) are forced to tax or borrow from the prudent in order to deliver. Holding down interest rates while inflating the currency with Quantitative Easing is merely one current example of the state impoverishing the prudent to bail out the feckless. If interest rates returned to their historical average (so that the prudent earned from their capital) millions of over-borrowed voters would be bankrupt and house prices would collapse to sensible levels.

So democracy requires that economic justice be denied.

Harvard Professor of Economics, Martin Feldstein, recently wrote in the FT that a mere 3% cut in Italy's public spending would solve its financial problems. I am sure he's right but will Italy's state 'payroll vote' permit it? After all our public sector workers are out on the streets in 'righteous' indignation when our feeble government is not (contrary to their claims) making any cuts at all. Government expenditure in Britain continues to rise. The hated 'cuts' are merely a reduction in the rate of increase. It's as if the massively-indebted British nation was on its way to buy a Bugatti, but 'prudently' decided to buy a mere Ferrari instead. The National Debt continues to rise apace (see the debt clock now in my sidebar). Yet such is their sense of entitlement that our cocky 'servants' demand even more.

It has been said that;

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing.

Could a reform of our democracy prevent that collapse? My own preference would be rather to scale down the state and prevent its re-expansion by an entrenched constitution permanently limiting its scope. We could then safely continue with 'one man, one vote' as, while it's a terrible way to choose a master, it's a perfectly adequate way to choose a servant. But whether you favour my approach, Moggsy's suggested electoral handicapping or some pipe dream of your own, how can any reform ever be achieved when the state payroll vote is now decisive?

Unless a truly charismatic leader emerges to explain patiently, relentlessly and - most of all - convincingly that we can't keep spending more than we earn, our model seems doomed to collapse. Every state's credit has a limit and its cheques will eventually bounce so that its dependents starve. Yes, a small state might then be built on the impoverished ruins of the old, but at what terrible human cost?

Rupert Murdoch is a business genius?

When the News of the World (closure of) is the news |

As Rob comments on the linked story over at Samizdata:

Great opportunity to cut staffing costs and still have a Sunday paper, while keeping all the advertisers. How would Murdoch have sacked all those people without a squeal from the left without this convenient problem?

The quaint British model of having a separate staff and overhead to publish differently-branded Sunday versions of a newspaper is costly and of no particular benefit to the proprietors. Will any of the other owners be able to get the Labour Party, BBC and trade unions to applaud job-destroying restructuring? I doubt it.

I am sure Mr Murdoch doesn't welcome this situation, but he's already found one way to take advantage of it. I take my hat off to him even as I ponder what his next "win" might be. How else is one to interpret his throwing Andy Coulson to the wolves but as a rattle of the sabre in David Cameron's direction?

General elections boost viewing and circulation figures for news media no end. Hmm.

Justice: RIP?

Justice: RIP? | Beneath The Wig.

In the wake of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Amanda ("Millie") Dowler, I have been conducting an unpopular defence of our adversarial system of criminal trials over at the excellent blog of Inspector Gadget. It's an important issue. Our rights to be presumed innocent if accused of a crime and to have our arguments put vigorously in open court to an independent judge and a jury of our peers are more important than our right to vote. Before anyone indignantly tells me that we owe those rights to politicians, please remember they predate democracy in England by centuries. The right to choose our masters is less valuable than the restraints on their power. Democracy itself has, after all, proved to be no restraint, as politicians bribe election-swinging minorities of voters with cash extorted violently from others.

The debate at Gadget's gaff has been depressing. If some of his readers are representative of Britain's police, our ancient rights are neither understood nor valued by a constabulary that would give us up to Continental style inquisitors in a heartbeat. The Bill, it seems, regards defence lawyers as the enemy; stereotyping them coarsely as mercenaries who profit from keeping offenders at large. That part, at least, is sadly not surprising to me. Burglars stole all our wedding presents in the weeks after our marriage. At the time I was practising (as I did for one year after qualifying) as a criminal lawyer. Mrs P. and I have a sad, humiliating memory of our tiny flat full of amused police officers (including an inspector). They showed up to gloat when they learned over their radios both that a criminal defence lawyer had been burgled and that he was living (we are self-made and were just starting out) in entertaining poverty. There was scarcely room for the scene of crime officer to dust the place for prints.

Even more depressingly, the influential Conservative blogger Ellie Seymour has failed to live up to her surname and joined the blindly sentimental tabloid frenzy claiming that the treatment of the Dowler family by Levi Bellfield's defence team amounted to a "travesty of justice". In particular she calls for defendants to be forced (at gunpoint, Ellie?) to testify. If neither our Conservatives nor our policemen understand or value the presumption of innocence and our open, adversarial system of justice, what hope is there for Liberty?

I was girding up my loins to write a piece here summarising my comments elswhere, when I read the linked post. It makes further effort on my part redundant and I hope as many people as possible read it. It is an important antidote to the sickly, cloying, Oprah Winfrey-style, sentimentalism of the media coverage of the Dowler family's ordeal. Hypocritical coverage given that the media's sickening pandering to the prurience of the British public made it an ordeal. Not to mention of course the prurience of the investigating police officers which had them taking their eye off the ball (the metaphorical ball, not the one in the father's gag).

I can't help but feel that the hue and cry for Bellfield's legal team is a cynical attempt to distract attention from the failings of others. The cosseted, self-esteem-laden products of our "all must have prizes" education system and our "no-one must be offended" victim culture may whinge and moan about the rigours of a trial their yeoman ancestors would have handled with courage. Our political class may curry favour with the ignorant by betraying the rights that made us free. Our journalists may sell papers with prurience and hypocrisy. Our constabulary may seize the chance of using a hard case to demand bad laws to make their lives easier (and ours more dangerous). But justice has, for now, been served. I am not optimistic, given all I have read, that it will always be so in this country.

This is what "equality" looks like...

In Entitlement America, The Head Of A Household Of Four Making Minimum Wage Has More Disposable Income Than A Family Making $60,000 A Year | zero hedge.

It's not just in Britain that the Welfare State has become a quagmire of perverse incentives. Consider this chart (click to enlarge);

Money Earned

Does anyone (perhaps someone on benefits) have the time and energy to do the equivalent calculations for the UK system?

h/t Zero Hedge

Equality does not equal fairness

The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-checking the Left's New Theory of Everything: Christopher John Snowdon: Books.

Cold Capitalists
I am reading Christopher Snowden's book, The Spirit Level Delusion, which sets out to rebut - graph by graph, statistic by statistic - the thesis of Wilkinson and Pickett's work The Spirit Level. These books are both worth a read (the latter - it seems - more for its influence than its accuracy).

The Spirit Level has been embraced by socialists of all parties as proof that equality makes everyone happier, healthier and kinder - and that redistributive taxation is therefore good for all. As someone who has lived in the former Soviet Union, it only proves to me (a) how short human memories are and (b) the truth of Paul Simon's youthful insight that;

"...a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."

Let me cite one paragraph from Snowden's counterblast, referring to the chart clumsily reproduced above. The further right the country, the more "unequal" it is, apparently;

"Equal and unequal countries donate part of their GDP to good causes in their own way. More egalitarian countries use money from high taxes which is given away as politicians see fit. Low tax countries allow people to give to charities and causes as they see fit. But although one system relies on compulsion and the other relies on charity, it is the voluntary system that generates the greatest sums. As shown ... the amount France gives to charity amounts to just 0.14% of GDP, twelve times less than the USA (1.73%). Even if we add the 0.39% France gives in foreign aid, it is still a quarter of the American total of 1.91%. When the contribution of individuals is combined with that of the state, it is clear that less equal countries are at least as philanthropic as the rest and often more so."
Next time you feel inclined to dismiss libertarian advocacy of volunteerism as mere camouflage for uncaring stinginess, please consider that the state is as inefficient at generosity as at everything else. These statistics don't even address how much it costs to deliver state, as opposed to voluntary aid. I am prepared to bet the wastage on administration is much, much greater; leaving even less for the deserviing recipients.

Hard cases and bad law?

Divorce laws should not be made by the grotesquely rich | Catherine Bennett | Comment is free | The Observer.

Pace Catherine Dorothea Bennett, Oxford grad., former Baroness Sackville and current squeeze of by-no-means-short-of-a-bob-or-two John Humphreys, laws are not made by those who are ("grotesquely" or otherwise) rich. In England & Wales they are made by the judges or Parliament. In the former case, highly experienced ex-advocates adjudicate real-life situations, setting binding precedents. In the latter case ex-postmen and PR men adjudicate the outcome of future situations based on their sick imaginings and/or grotesque political views. Give me judges and reality any day.

As this case illustrates, judge-made law evolves as society changes. At law school I was taught that pre-nuptial agreements were void ab initio as being contrary to public policy, which favoured the institution of marriage. That is now no longer true. While some of us may regret it, our society no longer regards marriage as so important. More than half Britain's children are born out of wedlock, after all. The Common Law of England is quietly doing its stuff as it has, reliably, for centuries. This flexibility, Ms Bennett dismisses haughtily:-

It is ... ancient tradition for the law never to be decided quite firmly enough that ... rich misers and resentful spouses cannot challenge it in future, which ensures that lowlier divorcing couples can never receive clear advice from their lawyers.

Judge-made law gave England & Wales one of the best (and certainly the most flexible) legal systems in the world. If ever you find an English law stupid, enquire further. You will usually find it originated in Parliament, not the courts. As a law student, I once asked Lord Denning if it was right, in a democracy, that he - an unelected judge - had had such an influence on English Law. He replied jokingly "Given the quality of the members of the House of Commons, young man, I think you are better off with me." He had a point. Democracy is the least bad way yet implemented of choosing men and women to administer the affairs of the state but does not guarantee the quality of legislators. English judges gave you equality before the law, habeas corpus and innocence until proven guilty.  Parliament gave you control orders.

Ms Bennett seems anyway far more exercised by the amounts at stake than the principle under discussion. Perhaps it's envy? Perhaps the amount at stake when she divorced the 7th Baron Sackville was not as much as she could have wished?

Of course it is an ancient tradition that English divorce law should be decided by cases brought by impossibly rich misers or their resentful spouses.

It's true of course that the judges more often adjudicate on the troubles of the rich. That doesn't make the precedents less useful. In fact, let me put this in terms our Dorothea might approve of; the rich pay a kind of "progressive" taxation whereby the money they spend on litigation benefits the little people. Arguably, it was the first such taxation in our history.

The thrust (if not the tone) of her point, when she finally gets to it after tedious paragraphs of envy-fuelled ad hominem (and gossipy trivia more worthy of Hello than The Observer) is not as bad as one might fear;

...if the Radmacher precedent saves just a few spouses from archaic laws and modern lawyers at the same time that it propels ex-trophy wives into gainful employment, the eponymous divorcee probably deserves her triumph. If nervous couples are thereby nudged up the aisle, the Church of England might also find itself indebted...

Quite. And can I just add that the only person (apart from the Supreme Court judges and my learned friends on both sides) who comes out of the Radmacher case with honour is the lady's wise father. Without his stern defence of her interests when she was "head over heels" in love, there would have been no pre-nup to uphold. Well done, sir.