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

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A fantastic day for democracy?

So says Anna Soubry, an MP for a party with literally zero support. Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader with the lowest approval rating since records began, agrees. On the back of the Supreme Court’s apolitical decision, would-be plutocrat Gina Miller smugly continues her well-funded political assault on the biggest democratic vote in the history of our nation. She does so flanked by the leaders of minority parties too “frit” to face an election. This is democracy Jim, but not as we know it.

The law is now clear. The PM erred. I am sure he will respect the decision. That legal judgement is one thing but the jubilant fake-democrats’ equally clear determination to use it to thwart our decision to leave the EU is another. Please don’t quote me that “no mandate for no deal” nonsense, by the way. No deal acceptable to Parliament is on offer and they are doing all they can — in active concert with the other side’s negotiators — to prevent the government achieving a better one.

They will accept nothing short of stopping Brexit. All else is lies, mystification and agitprop.

Several of them referred reverentially to the Supreme Court as the “highest court in the land” but that is a blatant lie. They are straining their every sinew to ensure that our highest court continues to be the European Court of Justice, that our highest political authority remains the EU Council of Ministers and that our government is the EU Commission. These self-proclaimed “democrats” are today celebrating the chance this decision gives them to fight for our judiciary, legislature and executive to remain on foreign soil unaccountable to the British people.

That’s not a fantastic day for democracy but it is a great day for fantasy democracy, fake democracy — for Britain remaining a colony of a foreign power. Because if your Supreme Court is in another country, that’s what you are — a colony. As Tony Benn warned decades ago and as Guy Verhofstadt recently confirmed to rather surprising wild applause at the LibDem Conference, the EU sees itself as an empire. The days of European imperialism are not over, it seems, until the failed imperial powers of the past have another go. 

Unlike the Remain ultras, I can accept a decision I don’t like. The court’s ruling surprises me in light of the Bill of Rights but I am no constitutional law expert and I now accept our constitution is as they say. I have nothing to say against the judges concerned. I won’t reargue a case determined by the court I (unlike Anna Soubry et al.) believe should be the highest in the land.

It changes nothing as to the political and moral rights and wrongs of Brexit however. 

Those calling for the PM’s resignation are hypocrites. He has offered to resign by calling an election. Knowing they would lose, these triumphant “democrats” refuse to let him do that. They don’t want to back him, but they refuse to sack him. Knowing a new Parliament would (if the Conservatives see sense and act in concert with the Brexit Party) be solidly for an immediate Brexit, they prefer to hold him in place and try to use him as their puppet.

The court’s decision is disappointing but the Millerite thugs’ hypocrisy, elitist disdain for the British people and cynical hostility to true democracy is drearily predictable and utterly infuriating to decent patriotic Brits. They are playing with fire and I hope only they get (metaphorically) burned. 


The morality of public “service”

I was brought up to respect policemen. I still do. Even a libertarian state would ask good people to put themselves in harm’s way to enforce its few laws. The harm they do is rarely the fault of the (mostly) good policemen enforcing our current monstrous state’s thousands of bad laws. 

The same can be said for judges. They have an honest, important and necessary job to do that is foundational for civilisation but also apply and interpret thousands of laws that should simply not be. Their hands are dirty but it’s not their fault. Our soldiers too and perhaps (though here it gets murkier) even some of our civil servants.  

Though my conscience might still (just) handle being a judge (and relish the chance to lean hard toward Liberty in interpreting our laws) I couldn’t be a civil servant, soldier or policeman in modern Britain any more than I could be a politician for a mainstream statist party. I could not serve a gangster state that interfered with the citizenry’s freedom while violently extorting from it the money to pay me and hope to sleep at nights. 

Which raises the awkward question, who can? Being a judge, a soldier or a policeman is noble enough (and a civil servant harmless enough) in principle but to choose such a career serving the states we have now is morally questionable at least. Watch the French police currently beating up the gilets jaunes, for example. You’ll need to scour YouTube as the MSM is oddly reticent on the subject. These thugs are not conscripts. Each studied, applied, trained and freely signed a contract. Why would a decent human choose to do that job?

We have been watching Kiefer Sutherland’s Netflix show “Designated Survivor” and enjoying it well enough. I view it as the entertaining  tosh it is intended to be but wince at its po-faced portrayal of its heroes. They are cynical foes of Liberty and (literally) murderous enemies of the Rule of Law but we are expected to see them as paragons of selfless virtue. Given the boundless power of modern Western states, and the extent of their control over our personal lives, just who else would we expect to work for them but narcissists and sociopaths?

A children’s home (or church trusted by parents with their children) needs to be particularly alert to the possibility of child abusers wanting to work there. A powerful state should be similarly so about sociopaths. Neither our children’s homes, churches nor governments seem to have shown any such concern. I fear the abusers are now in charge of recruitment. 

This at least partly accounts for the relentless “mission creep” of the modern state. It certainly accounts for “Conservative” ministers, surfing smug tides of Liberty-minded rhetoric, interfering in the minutiae of our lives indistinguishably from openly authoritarian Labourites. There was a time when a moral man like this would become a civil servant but the people who staff our state now lack — almost by definition — any moral scruples about its rôle.

Please tell me I am wrong in this pessimistic analysis. If not, how can we hope peacefully and democratically to roll back the power of the state? If we can’t, then how does the story of our civilisation end?


Truth, morals and democracy

Democracy does not determine right and wrong. Democratic outcomes are not necessarily correct. If you live in an unfettered democracy like that of the United Kingdom, you will often find yourself on the wrong side of majority decisions that are misguided at best and quite often wicked. Classical liberals must be careful of crowing about "the will of the People" when they find themselves on the right side of a vote, because we are far more often on the wrong side. 

Opinion polls suggest that relatively few Britons support free-market economics, freedom of expression or even (apart from their own) private property. A majority of "Conservative" voters, for example, seem to support Labour's new policy of issuing unpaid-for shares to employees and appointing trade-union directors to company boards. Those shares will not be "free." Their issue will dilute the value of existing shares. The value they represent will have been taken by force from the company's owners. Also, when investors find companies with employee shareholders less attractive, the value of the company will be further reduced. Appointing employees whose interests conflict with theirs will have negative consequences to the shareholders who own those companies. If they wanted such directors, they could have appointed them at any time. It is said that Labour intends to have employee directors trained by the Leftists of the Trade Union movement, so they will (like the party under its current leadership) be hostile to the very concept of capitalism.

No amount of democratic perfume can make such theft and economic vandalism fragrant. It's immoral. It's wrong. And yet the national debate is not about ethics but practicalities. If a mugger steals your watch at gunpoint, you don't reserve judgement on the morality of his actions until you know what motivated his crime or what it will do to the reputation of the neighbourhood. Yet, when the BBC news reported on Labour's new policy, its "expert" merely commented that Britain's status as one of the world's top destinations for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) may be adversely affected. The rights of pensioners, life assurance policy-holders or people like me living in retirement on my investments count for nothing – unless we are foreigners with other choices who might take our money elsewhere.

A democratic vote is not a sacrament. It is just an alternative to violence as a way of settling societal differences. When we are on its losing side, we had best remind ourselves of that. To oppose a democratic outcome is to encourage a return to violence. That is what the Remainers in Parliament are risking. I was for Leave but if the vote had gone the other way I would have respected it. Our unity as a nation is more important to me than having my own way – even on a subject as to which I have been passionate, angry and frustrated for decades. It seems I was naive. Neither the unity of our nation nor favouring non-violent ways to resolve disagreements means anything to some prominent Remainers.

My grandfather returned from his military service in World War II as a cripple. His country's reward was to "nationalise" (i.e. confiscate) the trucking business he and his brothers had built pre-war with their own sweat and their savings from working as boys, teenagers and young men down a coal mine. Elected on a manifesto that promised the "nationalisation," the Labour government had appointed the only local valuer they could find who was a party member to fix compensation as low as possible. Successive governments then took decades to pay it, in ever more debased coin as inflation eroded the already-rigged value. I asked him years later how that had felt. He told me this.

My friends and some of my family voted for it. Labour people sincerely believed the government could run my business better than I could. I knew they were wrong and time proved me right but at the time what was I to do? I could have been angry with my neighbours and miserable for the rest of my life. Or I could accept the democratic vote, get on with my life and do the best I could.

I loved, admired and (for all his faults) respected my grandfather. Never more so than at that moment. 

This week I visited the "I Object" exhibition at the British Museum co-curated by Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye. His co-curator Tom Huckenhall talked me and other members through the displays at a private viewing. One of the subversive pieces is an image of Egypt's last Pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra, copulating with a crocodile. Tom commented that "sexual slander" has always been used as a political weapon. Interestingly he also said that this was one of several pieces in the exhibition that had not been created by or for dissidents but had instead been commissioned by a political opponent. It was part of a slanderous campaign by Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) to strengthen his claim to be Emperor over that of Cleopatra's lover, Antony.

I cannot have been the only person present who thought of the US Democratic Party's campaign to discredit Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court. Sexual slander is indeed a potent political weapon, now as in 30BC. Its being perpetrated by democratically-elected politicians does not make it any less vile and rotten than when committed by a would-be tyrant of the ancient world. As I watch my beloved America torn apart by a politically-motivated sham as far from the truths so self-evident to the Founding Fathers as could be conceived, I remind myself again that democracy is not an ethic. It's just a very human, practical but flawed device to avoid violence.

It is not, has never been and never will be a means to divine truth, justice or morality.


The Spectator Housing Summit 2018

The Spectator Housing Summit | Spectator Events.

Having cancelled my longstanding subscription to The Economist, which I used to love but which is now staffed by halfwit conventional thinkers aligned with the Leftist Establishment, I take The Spectator instead. Its Editor, Fraser Nelson, chaired the above event at the Southbank Centre this morning and I turned up because I was invited. I am a real estate man but always focussed on commercial property. Housing was not my thing professionally. In my personal life I take the view that much wrong with Britain can be traced to our weird relationship with it; seeing it as more than shelter to keep the rain off while we are eating, sleeping or watching TV.
 
It's a key political issue now. The Conservatives fear that if a way can't be found for twice as many young people to become homeowners as are managing it at present a generation of voters will be lost to them. That's probably true. I have heard some seriously stupid suggestions about solving that problem from Tories recently. I was hoping to hear more intelligent ones today*
 
I did. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, said some sensible things. She noted that housing in London now costs 12 times average salary. Given the UK's rising population (the only one in Europe) we must "let our cities off the leash" and allow them to expand. More importantly we must densify them. She noted that infrastructure was key to this and claimed that levels of infrastructure spending (as a proportion of GDP, the dubious way politicians always like to state such figures) is at its highest for 40 years. You could have fooled me but I suppose she would know.
 
She claimed, mystifyingly, that the Government was "generating more land". I assume she meant it is finding ways to encourage more of it (and Britain is only 8% built upon) into development. She said we need to overcome "the blob of vested interests" and "challenge the mentality of the comfortable" who would rather the fields near their homes stayed open while their children or grandchildren lived like students in grotty house shares.
 
She warmed the cockles of my old heart with talk of "streamlining the Byzantine planning system" and intervening if local authorities failed to implement their local plans to allow their communities to grow. All well and good and it was cheering to hear sensible talk emanating from the Treasury of all places. The problem is that key solutions are not in the hands of Central Government. Planning is a local competence and public opinion expects it to remain so. If a local council denied a planning permission only to be over-ridden by Whitehall, there would be hell to pay. Local electors (at least the kind inclined to make planning objections) are NIMBIES to a man and woman.
 
The most depressing work in my career was when I was a young lawyer in Cambridge. It's a beautiful city blighted by hordes of other-worldly academics with too much time on their idle hands. Any application for some sensible modernisation to make their medieval museum vaguely resemble a liveable modern town raises dozens of objections from such types. Some of them used to instruct me to lodge them with the Planning Committee.  I vividly remember, for example, trying to stymie a slight increase in the size of the Cambridge bus station to accommodate vehicles that couldn't navigate the narrow medieval street without an increased turning circle. I was instructed to tell the planning committee that the tiny strip of land to be taken from "Parker's Piece" was sacrosanct because "WG Grace used to practice his cricket there".  
 
In the recent local elections the Tories on my manor ran on a slogan of "keep Ealing low-rise". If London is to be more densely developed (and it's one of the least dense capital cities in Europe) then more multi-family housing is needed. Paris raises permitted building heights steadily the further one gets from the centre. At six to eight miles from Nelson's Column, Ealing would (if it were in Paris) be full of high rise buildings. The happy folk who would live here if there were a sensible planning policy, however, don't have a vote. The selfish incumbents who want to delude themselves that their pocket-handkerchief gardens make them heirs to the Romantic Poets do have a vote.  They use it to ensure their grandchildren bicker over who nicked the milk in their student-style communal slums.
 
I am a radical on Town & Country planning as on other economic issues. I would abolish it. To me it is offensive that the value of a man's land is stripped from him by laws that deny him the right to put it to its highest and best use without grovelling to local politicians in thrall to his envious neighbours.  If you fear the consequences, pray consider Prague. It's one of the most conserved and protected cities in the world. You can't move a brick without conservation types crawling all over it and – very often – bankrupting you by demanding you alter the scheme you spent millions on designing to make it a replica of some older structure, traces of which they have uncovered in their parasitical zeal. Yet almost nothing that is beautiful about that city dates from the era of regulatory prod-nosing. If a Prague building is worth conserving, it was built by free landowners who would have put any passing busy-bodies to the sword. If you want to see a screwed-up city, consider what was done to Birmingham in the 1960s by a massively empowered City Council.
 
Land is very valuable in cities and the people who own it are inclined to maximise that value. They may have bad taste or poor architects but some reasonable building regulations would be sufficient to ensure that whatever they build in their own interests is at least better than the sort of crap a planning authority would do.
 
The panel discussion that followed the Secretary of State's speech was depressing. Clive Betts MP, "token Bolshevik" and chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in the Commons predictably denied that planning was in any way a problem. In fact he wanted more prodnosing because technical standards in the UK construction industry are low (sadly, true) and would be improved by pubic servants regulating and supervising them (sadly as false as Satan's smile).
 
The people on the panel from the productive sector were steeped enough in the way British planning is run to know that no radical solutions are on offer. They cringed to their public sector masters and blathered about new technologies and creativity and "careful thought". They didn't seem optimistic about technology however, For example, modular systems speed the process of housebuilding in other countries and reduce the cost but on the narrow, winding streets of Britain's cities (especially London) to deliver a house in three truckloads would involve taking down lamp-posts and other street furniture along the route. Because of traffic congestion such deliveries would even then only be permitted in the wee small hours when, of course, the local NIMBIES would raise hell at their sleep being disturbed (and to hell with their grandchildren in bedsits).
 
Successive governments' consistent failure to maintain and improve infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population has created a bloody mess. It would take a generation to fix if we began now in earnest. We haven't and we won't. Hence the nervous looks as an enslummed millennial (who let him in?) asked "what can be done now to solve our problems?" The truthful answer (that nobody gave) was that what is needed to solve today's problems should have been done during the last twenty years. And wasn't.
 
Someone from the Adam Smith Institute suggested the "quick fix" of building on parts of the Green Belt around London based on such criteria as proximity to existing transport links. That would certainly help. The Green Belt was established in a different era for a smaller city and it's time for it to go. The city that has the most parks of any in the world is not going to choke if it expands onto that sacred turf. London is not a city in a bottle. It's surrounded by the lush, green Home Counties. The trouble with the idea (and it might have to be executed for lack of a better one) is that it involves London sprawling, rather than densifying when people increasingly want (and environmental factors suggest that they are right) to live in the cities and not outside them.
 
Another practical fix is to convert retail to housing. Shopping centres are emptying because of the ever growing online market. The representative of the Federation of Master Builders on the panel reported that the local authorities he works with think their high street shopping needs typically to be reduced "by half" to reflect this trend. But local busybodies will get sentimental about shopping centres they never use, just as they demanded that pubs be kept open whose doors they never darkened. Such people have votes that count disproportionately because of the low turnouts in local elections.
 
Market forces could sort all this more quickly than you imagine. I watched markets at work in in the post-communist capitals of the former Warsaw Pact, where things were screwed up by decades of Communism on a scale that Londoners could never imagine. My clients fixed things at an incredible pace because they could. The communist bureaucrats were banished to their dachas and there had been no time for the new democracies to build their payrolls. I remember telling an incredulous New York banker worried about where the "banking district" of the new Warsaw would be that "It will be wherever you put your building sunshine". He put one on the best  site he could find and, sure enough, his competitors clustered around him.
 
But real estate is not a free market business in Britain or anywhere else with planning laws. Land worth X without a permission and worth 20 X with is a commodity whose true value is mostly in the public domain. Only investment in infrastructure and courageous deregulation can solve this problem in the medium to long term. Only the shattering of such shibboleths as the Green Belt can do some good in the short term. The current government lacks the political chutzpah, and I can't even blame it. Such are the demographics of its core voters that it would have to be more un-Tory than is survivable. 
 
Which leaves Labour to "solve" it in catastrophic ways. Buckle up for a bumpy ride. And take your poor grandchildren out to a nice dinner from time to time to cheer them up in the squalor you've confined them to.
 
___________

*Regular readers will have noted that, despite my advanced age, I am not so much a cynic as a very disappointed optimist!


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.


Another boat burned

 Today, I let another part of my old life go. In a pleasant conversation with a lady from the International Bar Association, I explained that I did not plan to renew my subscription  of more than 20 years. I had only been maintaining it out of nostalgia for the days when I used to attend its conferences in locations chosen to give its mainly American membership tax deductible vacations for themselves and their families. HMRC was never so flexible or gullible as the IRS but for me it meant networking with colleagues in agreeable cities with great shopping for cash rich / time poor professionals bribing their spouses to accept neglect. And of course intelligent discussion on subjects relevant to my international practice of law. 

Reading my last copy of the IBA's journal I realised another reason why I was content to let go. The tone of the articles has changed.  Lawyers are always in danger of going to the dark side because, good or bad, new laws tend to make them richer. Arguably the worse the laws the more work they generate. Only noble traditions passed on at an individual's age of peak naivety in Law School helped most of us understand that law is at its very best only a (sometimes) necessary evil and that every problem solved even by the best law introduces several new ones. 

The capture of academia by Cultural Marxists / post modernism has killed that protection. Every article introducing a new law now seems to bemoan that it did not go further. For example a new law in France requires companies to monitor their suppliers for human rights and environmental concerns. French companies are required to increase their costs, making their goods and services more expensive to consumers, to "police" suppliers beyond the reach of rich world legislative activists. It repeats an unjust pattern of punishing the decent and near at hand for the crimes of out of reach bad people. It makes life more expensive. It may make companies avoid dealing with countries that fall short of Western ideals, perpetuating poverty there and increasing dependency on aid. The commentator makes no such "law of unintended consequences" points. Rather she bemoans the exemption for small companies!

The same journal contains a piece discussing President Trump's nominee to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court bench.  It expresses surprise that the nominee is a critic of the "Chevron doctrine" under which the Presidency has taken powers from Congress. 

 Michael Dorf of Cornell Law School puts the problem succinctly: "it's weird that a Republican Congress would be trying to get rid of deference to the executive branch while there is a Republican president"

If it's "weird" that a politician should ever act on principle against party interest then we are not in a post-truth but a post-ethics world. Sure, I cynically assume most will often do the wrong thing if torn between the right thing and self-serving but surely it's going too far to assume the right thing is beyond reach all the time for everyone!

The correct, ethical role for lawyers is surely to support only good and necessary new laws, to critique proposed new laws to that end and then to ensure that their clients suffer from them only to the minimum extent necessary to do justice. It's neither to assume that the more laws the better nor to challenge the sanity of legislators who seek to roll back executive power. 

The only  sensible article in my last copy of the journal is on the subject of "fake news".  As the authoritarian Valkyries in Britain and Germany gear up to  introduce censorship, the article discussed in a mostly balanced way the risks to free speech of giving government power to "regulate" so called "fake news". It's a good piece on the side of the angels but stands out from the others in a telling way.

I couldn't practise law in Britain now because I couldn't morally comply with laws requiring me to shop my clients to the authorities. I was relieved to retire without ever having encountered that dilemma and horrified to discover, when serving on my firm's management committee in the last years of my career just how often my colleagues were dropping a dime on the people they exist to serve. But I'm not sure I'd want anyway to be the kind of modern lawyer who relishes regulations and argues for ever more. I still stand with Montesquieu who said "If it is not necessary to make a law it is necessary NOT to make a law".

Thank goodness I have the financial freedom to avoid the pressures on my successors in the profession. I hope they escape their careers with their souls intact. 


The lesson of Orlando

The Orlando massacre tells us nothing about the killer save that he was insane, but it's telling us a lot about ourselves.

Just look at the politicians warning of islamophobia. The people virtue-signalling on Facebook. The triggered leftist storming off British TV because he thought the discussion was focussing on the terrorism angle rather than the hatred of gays. Donald Trump turning the horror to predictable political advantage. Give it a day and the gun control advocates will be complaining about the ease of buying weapons in America and the NRA will be calling for more heavily-armed homosexuals. Plus ça change...

We need to learn lessons but for that we need to open our minds. Every comment I have read so far is someone seizing on a new event as proof of the correctness of old ideas and the continuing wickedness of old adversaries.

If facts don't change our minds what is the point of having them? We might as well all curl up in a corner and live in our deranged imaginations whatever life we fancy. Or to take my ambiguous question the other way, why have minds if facts don't change them?


Free speech

Is this what our law has come to?

A Muslim extremist linked to Woolwich killer Michael Adebowale was jailed for five years and four months today (Weds) for glorifying the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in a series of YouTube videos. Royal Barnes, 23, was filmed by his veiled wife Rebekah Dawson, 22, laughing hysterically as he drove past the scene of the attack. Dawson, who has caused nationwide controversy by refusing to remove her niqab in court, was jailed for one year and eight months. The couple ridiculed the memorial flowers left by friends, family and members of the public for Drummer Rigby and Barnes described the murder as 'absolutely brilliant'. Dawson also boasted in a text to a friend: 'Did you watch it? It was really inciting and almost glorifying lol.'

Two young idiots upload stupid films to YouTube. They express primitive, ignorant, violent opinions. Opinions rather like those expressed by revolutionary socialists every single day (but with far less chance of influencing anyone).

Did their childish, ignorant words represent a threat? If so, then we are a feeble society too decadent to deserve survival. This is using the sledgehammer of the criminal law to crack something that merited the toffee hammer of an Anglo-Saxon imprecation at best.

These idiots are pathetic, yes. But so are we for having nothing better to do with the hard-earned money taken by force from decent people than to pay policemen, lawyers, judges and prison officers to deal with them. And for not understanding that it's better to hear dangerous opinions and know where threats may come from than to drive them underground.


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.


What you are, not what you want

I learned during my long-ago university days of the key historical change from 'status' to 'contract'. In a sense, modern civilisation began when, not only were rulers subject to the law, but your legal obligations depended not on who you were but what you had agreed.

No more jus primae noctis or knight service. Your obligations depended upon the contracts you entered into. Moderns might think themselves 'wage slaves' because of a real or perceived lack of job opportunities, but their employer had no claims over them qua employer, only by reference to their contract of employment. Their serfdom was therefore metaphorical at most.

As recently as the 1970s then, this was seen as progress in itself and as a key enabler of progress. It was a thoroughly civilised way of organising human relations. Modern society was not possible without it. Indeed my legal history lecturer (leftist though he was) presented it as a key enabling factor of the industrial revolution and therefore of all modern prosperity.

Yet the drift back to status was already well underway. English law, for example, limited an employer's response to the breach of contract involved in refusing to work if it was in the context of a protected strike lawfully organised by a trade union. The status of being under the protection of a trade union (a modern descendant of a medieval guild) alters your employer's legal rights and - in a certain sense - justifies your breach of contract.

For a long time the police operated with the same power of arrest as any other citizen. If someone commited a felony (now an 'arrestable offence') you or I could arrest them and so could a copper. The only difference was that he was paid, trained and expected to do it. I always thought that was a wonderful check and balance on police power. It's a dangerous thing to have a professional police force because, among the honest decent people attracted to such work, there is bound to be a higher-than-average proportion of thugs and bullies. Bossing people around attracts bossy people.

Now the status of being a police officer or enjoying one of a large number of other state-granted statuses, confers special powers of arrest, search, seizure and forced entry. Even, as we have seen in recent days, forced entry to a mother's womb.

CoyoteLandlord and tenant law tends to assume (ridiculously in the modern era when he might be Google or Microsoft and his landlord might be your mother's pension fund) that a tenant is a weaker party entitled to special protection by virtue of his status.

Similarly consumer legislation operates on the basis of a cartoon caricature of a buyer like Wile E Coyote; endlessly supplied with disappointingly non-lethal-to-road-runners goods by ACME.

The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 specifically prevents people from entering into, or at least from being bound by, contractual obligations, based on their status as 'a person dealing as a consumer.'

The notion of 'positive discrimination' confers for the first time in law an actual right to be racist (if you ignore, as I do with utter contempt, the socialist claptrap about racism being by definition a problem exclusive to white people).

The concept of 'hate crime' makes it more serious to insult, hurt or kill people enjoying a specially protected status. Current law thinks some deaths diminish me more than others. I disrespectfully disagree.

Your status as a citizen imposes all kinds of obligations on you. For example you must surrender a percentage of your earnings to the state, pay your local council for the privilege of living in your own home and hand over 45% of your parents' wealth above a certain value on inheritance. 

It would be amusing if it were not so sad that modern 'progressives' have for decades been busily restoring a key concept of feudalism and systematically undermining a key legal foundation of post-feudal prosperity. Their labels may not openly be 'lord' and 'vassal' but their world view is founded just as much on different rights and duties for different classes of human.