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

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Leery about Leveson

It's too soon to react properly to the Leveson Report, as has been graphically illustrated by the meanderings of people trying to do so on TV in the past hour. Two thousand pages of judicial prose are hard to digest. He has played a canny political game. By declaring he will take no further part in the debate to come he has cleverly ensured his reputation for posterity. Any bad things that happen in his wake will be the fault of others. As he said, the ball is back in the politicians' court.

As he was only asked to review the dying, if not yet quite dead, duck of the mainstream media, the main effect of his efforts will be to widen the already hilarious gap between what newspapers publish and what is available on the internet. That will weaken the credibility of the print media, and its demise will be accelerated in consequence. That worries me. The idea that the only professional news-gatherers in the world of journalism will be those in the broadcast media is a dire prospect. Newsnight, anyone?

The BBC is already the most influential news medium in Britain. If its undue influence is further bolstered, then let's at least drop the myth of its impartiality. Let it be set free to be openly the Pravda of British broadcasting and let Murdoch launch Fox News UK. Let a hundred schools of thought contend and let the public be the judge.

The idea that a press Code should be enforced by a regulator independent of both the industry and the state sounds great, but OfCom - the body Leveson suggests should "validate" the regulatory regime is a state agency staffed by well-paid and self-interested bureaucrats. People will angle for such jobs and obtaining the favour of politicians will be far more relevant to them than that of editors. Corruption will creep in, as it must in all bodies funded by force. The "great and the good" will dominate. If OfCom has any scope to "de-validate" the regulator or veto individual appointments to its review panel, directly or indirectly, then it will pretty soon be pulling strings behind the scenes. In a very British way, of course - with a nod and a wink over a G&T.

My only immediate criticism of the specifics of Leveson's report is that I am alarmed by his idea of what might be a meaningful incentive to newspaper owners to sign up for "voluntary" regulation. The only suggestion I have heard from him in this respect is for aggravated or punitive damages in libel cases where the relevant publication had not submitted to the Code. That's a frighteningly subtle suggestion. After all, most of us will be outside the Code. I heard someone from the Huffington Post (I think) on Sky News express total confidence that blogging is safe from all this, because internet publication is, or can be, extra-territorial (like this blog, hosted in the US and protected by the First Amendment). But our defamation law has extra-territorial reach, as witness those men of power who visit our courts specifically to use it to silence their critics. Guido Fawkes' blog is offshore but Paul Staines can be sued for libel in England so long as it can be read here. Foreign courts (including those in the US) will enforce any judgements against him under international treaties, without question.

If aggravated damages for libel by "outlaw" publications become the norm, can anyone seriously imagine that the social media will long remain aloof? Guido's readership, after all, is already far greater than that of all the political journals in Britain combined. It's likely to grow far more as the chilling effect of the new code takes effect. Indeed, I suspect he will be the only real winner from Leveson as fear of big fines further emblandens the mainstream press and as politicians obliged to disclose their every contact with journalists turn to him (as some already do) to publish the leaks and smears that are the tools of their revolting trade.

How politicians act on Leveson's recommendations, given that he has trodden such a delicate political line, is now far more important than the detail of his report. We must be alert to their games. Leveson hasn't killed free speech in Britain, but that's not to say they won't use his magnum opus as cover to do so.


A dangerous day

Today is a dangerous day for freedom. Lord Leveson's report has been read overnight by the politicians and civil servants and will be revealed to us this afternoon. All we know is that it's 2,000 pages long and composed by, and under the advice, of people who trust the state more than they trust Rupert Murdoch.

I am not sure any sensible person should trust either, but here's a suggestion as to someone we should definitely distrust; anyone who says freedom (the absence of external restraint) can strengthened by regulation (external restraint). All such people are - at best - dishonest. They are not confined to the overtly authoritarian Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Listen for their characteristic siren call today. They are your enemies.


Hysteria. His or ours?

How do we escape the hysteria that threatens to erode public debate? | Peter Beaumont | Comment is free | The Observer.

The linked article by Peter Beaumont cheered me up immensely. If the control-freaks of the left-wing press, so intent on setting every possible parameter of public debate, fear that;

The blogosphere, increasingly fuelled by toxic language, is hindering honest engagement rather than encouraging it

then we political bloggers are doing well. To quote (as I have not done in such style since my misguided Communist youth) from Chairman Mao:

It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves but have achieved spectacular successes in our work.

The truth is that the elite Beaumont calls "opinion formers" feel threatened by electronic democracy. They had long ago managed to infiltrate and subvert the old media to present a consistent statist view that has been acquiesced to, but never truly accepted, by what Mao would have called "the masses" and I just think of as "us." We express this division of reality by the term "politically correct". If it wasn't different from that which is merely "correct", there would be no need for the qualifying adjective.

Beaumont considers any view that is not politically-correct as "hysterical", but I think the only hysteria here is his. True democrats seek to serve the people, not mould them. They certainly don't despise them, fear them and regard their use of language as "toxic". I only wish I could be as optimistic as he is pessimistic that his game is up.

"Opinion formers" everywhere are seeking to manage the internet. Communist China employs legions of trolls to contradict every anti-government view expressed online in an advanced form of electronic agitprop. The corrupt elites of the world will fight to keep their thieving hands on the levers of power. They will seek every possible way to hinder the resistance of those they regard as their lawful prey.


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?


A dialogue of the deaf (and dumb)

A woman was in full niqab at my local Tube station today. That I respect her right to dress as she likes, is for most libertarians all that there is to say on that subject. In truth, of course, there is much more. A wise friend of mine said recently that libertarians are wrong to treat such issues as cut and dried. We give the impression that we are uncaring, cold and more unlike other people than we really are.

This post of mine was a good example. My friend rebuked me for saying that "I don't care" if people want to enter into polygamous/polyandrous marriages, when I would actually be very concerned for any family member or friend embarking on one. He has a point. As witness the conventional lives that most of us lead, libertarians generally have a similar range of ethical scruples to everyone else. In a sense, we just have an extra scruple about interfering in the lives of others.

I would never advocate interfering with that young lady's right to dress as she does. That doesn't mean I don't have any other response. In truth my reaction was the same I would have to seeing her paraded in public on a leash. However much she and they might deny it, I feel it's degrading that her menfolk claim the right for her to be seen only by them. I feel her garb is the sign and symbol of misogynistic subjection.

Other libertarians might have different responses. We are not an army of liberty-minded robots. We are diverse, mostly rather ordinary humans with a range of views.

Why then do I feel so uncomfortable in expressing such a personal view? I am not afraid of being accused of islamophobia. As used in public discourse in Britain, I regard it as a bogus concept designed to close down discussion. Rather like racism, sexism and homophobia, it is usually no more than an incantation; a magic spell to shut opponents up.

Nor do I recognise the lady's right not to be offended. Someone is offended by any point of view. I am very offended by those who advocate enslaving their fellow-men on a time share basis; making them work for the state for months before permitting them to earn for their families. Yet I don't claim the right to suppress their foul views. There is no free speech without offence - real, imagined or bogus. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but if we want to live in a free society we can't ever allow mere words to hurt us.

My wise friend is right. If we don't talk about the many concerns we share with non-libertarians, we make it harder to win them over. We sound like cold, hard people lacking concern for our fellow men. It's not enough to say the lady in the niqab is entitled to wear it. We also need to say that, like our fellow citizens, some of us at least feel sorry for her and disgusted by the misogyny her garb represents.

In modern Britain, libertarians inevitably spend most of our time arguing against the increasing intrusion of the state into private lives. We need also to make clear that we only do so as a matter of ethical principle. It's not because we approve of whatever "evil" the state pretends it is trying to cure. We would oppose a hijab ban à la française in England for example, but that doesn't mean any or all of us are happy for the women concerned. Just because we claim no right to interfere doesn't mean we lack a moral response.

Perhaps the confusion arises from the fact that, in a radically statist society like ours, where government accepts no boundaries on its right to interfere, moral criticism is almost always the precursor to an attack on liberty. We used to separate the immoral (to be avoided in oneself and discouraged in others on ethical grounds) and the illegal (to be suppressed for the protection of others from genuine harm). That distinction has somehow been lost.

The loss is no accident, in my view. To advance their cause, statists have - in a cynical agitprop exercise - sought out "oppressed" groups and offered them the state's protection. They have given the right to those favoured groups (selected for the sympathy they evoke in a population of generally decent people) not to be offended and not to have hatred expressed against them. In doing so they have chilled free expression so effectively that it's hard not to imagine that was their objective. And they have caused a clamour from other groups to be added to the list of the elect.

The British media demonised the Polish and Ukrainian peoples as racist bigots in advance of UEFA 2012, for example. I am familiar with both countries and don't believe racism is more prevalent there than here. I simply think we have suppressed its expression here and in doing so may even have increased its incidence. Does that really make anyone's life better? Does it increase the chance of different communities growing together; learning to understand each others' concerns and to build trust? I think not.

The lady on the platform today may, as most human communication is non-verbal, have detected my unease. She may speculate as to its causes but she will never know the truth. Unless it's possible to talk openly to each other, how can we progress? How can we explain to those who are taught to assume we are hostile by our racist, sexist, homophobic and islamophobic natures, that we stand by the old English principle of "handsome is as handsome does?" That we really just want people to stop calling for us to be controlled like dangerous dogs and for all of us - citizen familes old and new - to sign up to the standards of tolerance and mutual respect that we think should define our society?

The key question is, as always, cui bono? I don't think it's the young lady in the niqab, who might well enjoy having me as a neighbour if not taught to fear me. I don't think it's the black and brown football fans who missed out on two wonderful countries. The only beneficiaries of this moral panic agitprop are those who seek ever more control over our lives. Every time we edit our speech for fear of PC "offence" we are losing the battle for our freedom.


When will they ever learn?

Watching Question Time from my old stamping-ground of North-East Wales this week (Paine the Elder and I used to have season tickets to Wrexham AFC when I was a lad) was a dispiriting experience. I could barely contain myself as, commenting on the care homes scandal, a Plaid Cymru MP droned pompously that;

"Once the profit motive takes over from the giving of service, that kind of thing is more prevalent".

Most of the audience in a solidly Old-Labour area seemed to agree with him. Even after their ideology was tested to destruction on more than half of humanity in the 20th Century; killing millions and impoverishing hundreds of millions, there are still idiots who believe in the intrinsic moral superiority of state-run services. Even, can you believe, in a part of the world where childrens homes were run for twenty years by local authority-employed paedophiles (as I have posted before)? The social workers in question were not motivated by profit, so presumably that's all right then? I despair.

When I worked in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, a colleague had a serious road accident while exploring the countryside one weekend. The people sent to help found him in a bad way in the local hospital. Knowing how health care in that country had worked under Communism (and still did at that point) he asked to be left a supply of $100 bills so he could bribe the staff not to let him die. Those nurses were motivated by profit for sure, but the organisation running the hospital wasn't.

When can we bury these ludicrous (and insulting) notions that people are ping-pong balls wafted around by social, political and economic winds? My blood boiled particularly as a woman in the QT audience said the people who committed the care home abuses were "...probably on minimum wage..." while somebody made "...a fat profit..." I can hardly conceive of a less relevant observation.

Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of motive. Profit made by people for doing good work is good. Profit made by cheating customers of the service they pay for (whether it's plumbing, rubbish collection or the care of vulnerable family members) is wrong. The same applies to wages earned by employees in public service, whether on the "front line" or in management. None of the wicked behaviours captured by Panorama's hidden cameras would have been less so if filmed on NHS or local authority premises (as the BBC could easily have done) or even in a charity home run by unpaid volunteers.

If carers neglect or abuse the people they are paid to look after, then the issue is not whether their bosses were motivated by profit for their shareholders, or by a desire for a cushy job-for-life with an unfunded pension. The issue is their wicked behaviour, for which they are directly responsible (both as a matter of civil and criminal law) and their employer is vicariously liable. Heads should roll, contracts should be cancelled and the local authority supervisors who failed to monitor the service they were paying our money for should be disciplined.

It's a little depressing that the debate has not moved on in that part of the world in the thirty or so years since I moved away.


Where is the Guardian's England?

Watching the Royal Wedding, I could not help but wonder who all those people in the streets of London were. Experiencing England, as I have, mainly through its media for the last twenty years, they seemed unfamiliar. They were clearly untroubled by envy, for example. They cheered the succession of impressive British motor cars (as well as the dowdy VW minibuses). Where were the Prius-driving prigs? Where were the equality fanatics? Where were the alienated youths, the anti-Christians and - for that matter - the aggrieved immigrants decrying the home culture (or lack of it)? Who were the polite people processing sedately behind a one-officer-deep police line to get a view of "the balcony scene?"

Could it be that England has not changed as much as the Guardian would have us believe? Could it be that the carefully-cultivated BBC and Guardian view is only a bad dream from which we might wake at any moment? Like my illustrious namesake I am a republican, for reasons to be discussed some other day, but today - thanks to the Royal family's celebrations - London felt like home. As G.K. Chesterton put it;

...we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet

Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

We are a funny bunch, no doubt, but from the scenes on the streets of London today, we are not finished yet.


How can we save the Left?

More stuff does not make us happier. Doing stuff, especially for others, does | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Beauty if correctly viewed
Suzanne Moore thinks, apparently, that being left-wing involves trusting people. You don't have to have lived (as I have) in socialist countries with a massive apparatus of control (or in post-socialist ones happily dismantling it) to find that comically delusional. Anyone who lived through the New Labour era must marvel too at her claim that;

...surely anyone vaguely left-wing is more optimistic than those on the right, because we tend to believe that people given power and freedom will do good things for each other...

If she tried, could she be more wrong? We libertarians are constantly mocked by Leftists for believing that (while bad people will always do bad things) if left to our own devices, most of us will look after ourselves and our families and a good number of us will act selflessly on occasion. The Left, on the other hand, never stops demanding (for our own good, of course) more control. That's precisely because what they truly believe is what Moore has the nerve to attribute to her political opponents (based on observing her own children);

...without socialisation we would simply bite each other, grab whatever we goddamned want and shove it in our mouths...

No we wouldn't. For centuries of human progress before Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Neil & Glenys Kinnock, John Prescott, Tony Blair and other con-artists learned the power of political hypocrisy as the perfect cover for doing precisely that, we trended in the opposite direction, building cooperative ventures and steadily improving the human condition.

I am still optimistic about the potential of the human race. But I am pessimistic about the prospects for people capable of such astonishing self-deception. I can only wonder what such a fantasist sees when she looks in the mirror. Katy Perry, presumably.


The reaction is more interesting than the Rally

I'm attending the Rally Against Debt. And that makes me worse than a Nazi, according to the hysterical Left – Telegraph Blogs.

If you are following the #RallyAgainstDebt discussion on Twitter or elsewhere, you will have been struck by the ferocity of the Left's reaction. The cuts only started yesterday and they are mild. They are little more than Labour promised, and probably pretty much what it would have had to do, if re-elected. They are being implemented without enthusiasm and are inexplicably not targetted on social engineering projects.

There is no ideological sea change here. Press and public may confuse "deficit" (the shortfall in government revenue) with debt, but that's just stupid. The cuts are only in the rate of increase of national debt. There is no plan to repay it. On the contrary, it's planned to grow. Like only the most improvident households, the country is borrowing to service borrowings. If Ministers were the directors of UK PLC, as they like to fantasise, they would be jailed (and personally bankrupted) for "trading while insolvent."

Debt service is already a major government expense and will continue to get worse during the life of this Parliament. No reasonable person can disagree (indeed even Ed Balls can't disagree) that action needs to be taken. Taxing the rich won't cover it. There aren't enough of them and they are too mobile. The ones who are not mobile will disengage economically if not allowed rewards for the risks they take with their capital. Right now, those living on their savings are losing value by the minute on their deposits. They are hardly going to risk them elsewhere unless there is some return. With idiots demanding that even loss-making companies pay taxes, there's little danger of that. Money needs to be put to productive work for jobs to be created.

The greatest burden of taxation in this country falls on ordinary workers. In our funny snobbish British way, they may fancy themselves "middle class" now, but they are workers by hand and brain who lack enough capital to live without employment. They pay most of the tax and have no realistic capacity to pay more. They have been indebted by politicians buying votes with borrowed money on the basis that their careers will be over by the time the vultures circle. It has been trans-generational piracy on an epic scale.

The TUC, UKUncut and the so-called "anarchists" protesting on our streets (as far from anarchism as can be conceived, but less violent leftists want distance from them) are not kind, gentle, caring people whatever they may say. They are demanding that money we don't have be spent on them. The trade unionists were demonstrating for their own pay and perks. These are selfish, hypocritical and judging by their online incitements - violent people. They have hijacked the language itself to demonise all who oppose them, however gently and reasonably.

Toby Young has not been unfairly selective in the quotes he has chosen to illustrate his article. I have been following the #RallyAgainstDebt Twitter exchanges for days and;

Hopefully, it’ll all kick off in fairly violent style

is pretty typical. As for the BBC, that its "talent" should be tweeting that;

Its like Toby Young thought ‘I dont think enough people think I’m a c**t yet’

is no surprise. My first public spending cut (and it wouldn't hurt a single vulnerable person - Polly Toynbee is financially-independent and can blog her nonsense just as easily as publish it on dead trees) would be to deny The Guardian its advertising revenue by offering all government jobs online. The second would be to shut down the BBC, enemy of all freedom and enterprise and comfortable nest for all the vipers who hate us most.


Why don't we have politicians like this?

 

I don't ask because of his policies but because of his honest, direct style. Since the days of Tebbit and Thatcher, there has been next-to-no honesty in our national debate, precisely because of the galvanising effect of their transparent honesty on the working-class electorate. Is it too much to ask that our state is run by people elected on the basis of honest debate? Apparently it is, because it means we, the people, will not make the choices the statist establishment wants.

Political correctness is not a fashion or fad. It is a deliberate construct designed to stifle debate. It amounts quite simply to smearing all who venture an opinion outside left-liberal parameters. It has turned "Tory", "Conservative","right-wing", "free enterprise", "entrepreneur", "banker", "businessman" and even "libertarian" into terms of abuse. To describe oneself in those terms now seems more an admission than a boast. It will take politicians lke this guy - ideally of all political and economic persuasions - to restore honesty to our political lives.

Given how well dishonesty has served those now in power, it's sadly rather hard to imagine.

h/t Peter Risdon