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

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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.

Midday train to Georgia

I am on The Freedom Association's Facebook list and the invitation to today's Freedom in the City meeting caught my eye. It was addressed by the Georgian Ambassador to London, Mr Giorgi Badridze. His Excellency has been rather forthright in the past about his country's relations with Russia. I knew the other side of that story and wanted to hear his.

I was living in Moscow in 2006 when Russia embargoed Georgian goods. The police came to Moscow schools looking for children with Georgian names, so that the whole family could be deported. Georgian wine (80% of which had previously been bought by Russians) suddenly disappeared from supermarket shelves and the Georgian-themed hotel in the same street as my office was speedily renamed.

I was also there for the 2008 war during which Russia siezed some Georgian territory. It is still occupied by Russian troops, both FSB and regular army. Understandably therefore, and with diplomatic relations broken, the ambassador pulled few punches. Georgia, he said, had shown that a country with a history of totalitarianism and corruption could move forward to a better life. He hoped Russia would soon also "join the civilised world".

I wince slightly to think of the reaction of my charming Russian friends to his words. I suggested to him that the real problem is Russia's continued (and unecessarily) negative view of "The West" (whatever that may be). Even the educated, intelligent Russian people I worked with could not understand why Georgia should want to join the West in general and NATO in particular. The Chekists in the Russian elite are using Georgia as a proxy to sustain a unifying, but rather nasty, anti-Western nationalism among the wider population. I suggested Georgia might have a role to play (given that - unlike us - the Georgian people enjoy Russian affection) in solving that greater problem.

He feared that the old goodwill had been killed by propaganda. He pointed to the fact that anyone with "southern" looks is now likely to be beaten on the streets of Moscow by nationalist thugs. Sadly he's right about that. An Anglo-Indian former colleague was taken for a Georgian or Chechen and thoroughly beaten while in Moscow to visit our office. As further evidence of the nastiness being dangerously fostered in Russia, he cited the hero's funeral (with senior politicians in attendance) given to disgraced Colonel Yuri Budanov. Strong stuff.

I read with interest the recent comments by Robert Gates, about to retire as the United States' Secretary of Defense. Personally, I would be delighted to see NATO disbanded, as I think it should have been immediately when the Soviet Union fell. It was formed as an alliance against the USSR and, while it genuinely sought (as any redundant bureaucracy will) to re-task itself, its continued existence sent all the wrong signals. I have no doubt that Poland, for example, joined NATO as a deliberate and typically exuberant provocation to its former comrades masters. Not that I justify Russia's behaviour, but it should have been no surprise to the West's governments that Russia reacted badly to Georgia's membership application.

What has all this fascinating stuff to do with the mission of The Freedom Association (or this blog)? Most of the ambassador's presentation was not about Russia, but about the reforms in post-Soviet Georgia. The government there dismissed the entire corrupt police force and recruited anew; beginning with the traffic police. Interestingly, road accidents declined during the handover month when there were no traffic cops! Public confidence in the police (polling at 3% before the reforms) has risen steadily since and corruption has, he claims, been eliminated.

Under the Shevardnadze regime, taxes were both heavy and numerous. It was impossible to do legal business profitably, as the whole system was designed to drive businessmen into the arms of corrupt officials. There are only six taxes in Georgia today (Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Value Added Tax, Customs, Excise and a local tax to fund local authorities). Income tax is flat and the results would, His Excellency claimed, "...put a smile on the face of Mr Laffer of the famous curve." GDP increased 12% in the year after the tax reforms and even now, post-crisis, was running at an annualised 8.5% in the first quarter. One of the questioners from the floor asked, "Could your government send ours a manual?" Quite.

I am not a member of The Freedom Association. After my flirtation with the Libertarian Party (of which I am no longer a member) I am in no mood to join any non-mainstream group at present (though I may venture a bit of Libertarian entryism shortly). Perhaps I should be braver, but I simply don't want to hang out with any weirdoes who might, by association, undermine the credibility of the common-sense political ideas I wish to advance. I was therefore curious to see what manner of folk might be found in TFA's ranks. There were a couple of eccentrics among the 20-30 attendees, including a splendid character in hiking-boots, bush hat and Union Flag tie, but most of the mixed crowd of all ages seemed well within normal operational parameters for the human race.

TFA does good work and - whether or not you decide to join - I commend its events to you. Now I am a Londoner again, I shall probably go to more of them myself.

"I had no in-service training"

A man surely does not need "in-service" training to know right from wrong. Or does he? This film is a metaphorical bathyscape from which to peer out in wonderment at the depths of human stupidity. Hard though it will be for anyone capable of reading this post to imagine, such people really do exist. And they are sometimes elected to Parliament. It seems that Councillor Terry Kelly is not the most stupid member of the Scottish Labour Party after all. We owe Fidel's biggest fan an apology. Sorry, sir.

Sadly for Jim Devine, M.P., ignorance of the law (and of all morality) is no excuse; perhaps least of all for a legislator! Hilariously, his lawyers had issued a statement in his name (and that of their other MP clients) saying they would not be giving an interview. Watching this video, I can quite understand their reasoning. I watched it picturing their faces as they viewed it and laughed even harder.

This interview is highly incriminating, not only of Devine but also of the fools who voted for him. I tip my hat to "Dundee wifey" Subrosa. She quotes the old saw that Labour voters would elect a monkey wearing a red rosette. Frankly, in this case, that might well have been a more intelligent choice.

The Dishonoured List

No place for MPs and bankers in unflashy New Year honours list | UK news | The Guardian.

Dick I have long believed that the system of "honours" is at the heart of British Establishment corruption. Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about honouring lifetime achievement or social contribution. There is, however, something very wrong about politicians making the selection.

It is a minor piece of corruption for politicians to "honour" the nation's favourite footballers or pop stars. Like ugly, uncool Prime Ministers inviting beautiful people to Downing Street, they do it to win votes by associating themselves with popularity. That's what leads to such nonsense as rockers with more letters after their name than chords in their repertoire.

But that is the least of it. There are the party apparatchiks who work loyally in the hope of a chance, one day, to lord it (perhaps even literally) over friends and neighbours. There are the newspaper editors who know that to allow their journalists to speak truth to power will jeopardise the knighthood that otherwise comes up with the rations. Even if they don't care for such trifles themselves, they will have a disappointed family to contend with. Perhaps a wife who loses the right to be "Lady X." Or a mother who misses a Buckingham Palace investiture. Such subtle pressures are enough to keep many in line.

Of course, this is all rather English and understated. Rarely does the system shows its fangs. This year's New Year's Honours list, however, features a major, yellow-toothed, foul-breathed snarl;

...the Queen's Police Medal goes to assistant commissioner Cressida Dick, who runs Scotland Yard's specialist crime wing, but was in charge of the operation that led to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station in 2005.

Yes, the jury in the "health and safety" show trial - used by the state to put the matter on hold until it was "old news" - specifically exonerated Ms Dick. Perhaps the lethal errors were all made after she - as Gold Commander - transferred control to CO19. Certainly there is no proof she was involved in discrediting an innocent victim in the disgraceful campaign of lies and spin which followed Jean-Charles's murder.  Perhaps history will even remember her for her role as head of the Metropolitan Police's "Diversity Directorate" more than for that day of national disgrace. Perhaps.

The question still remains. In honouring a woman whose name is tied to that monstrous injustice, what message, dear reader, does our Prime Minister intend to convey?

Woman of the year

2009 in review: MPs' expenses | World news | The Observer.

Heather Brooke gave us our only political hope of 2009. She is what all our journalists should be. She explains her motivations for researching MP's expenses succinctly (and rather sadly) in the linked article;

I was trying to make sense of the way the country worked for myself, having just moved here from America. It seemed crazy, very hard to find out what public money is spent on. In America we think, "We're paying for it and we want to know where every penny is going." Here, there's a terrible apathy.

Britain's apathy is indeed terrible - and terribly dangerous. In my years in Russia I learned that voter expectations set a ceiling on political morality. If an honest man ran for office there, first people would laugh at his naiveté. Then they would disbelieve him, assuming he was laughing at theirs. Soon, given that everyone assumed he was a crook, he would decide he might as well become one.

This is the helter skelter of negative expectation down which Britain is careering. My elder daughter once told my wife "Dad is not a cynic. He's a frustrated idealist." Perhaps so. Certainly, I believe that once a nation truly lowers its sights, it is finished.

Russia is - and has always been - potentially far richer than Britain. It has vast resources, endless land and highly educated people. It has a truly magnificent culture and a strong patriotic spirit. It should be the richest nation on Earth, by quite a long way. But it is a cold version of Nigeria because its people expect too little of their political class. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true apathy. Corruption is its inevitable consequence. Left unchecked, it's terminal.

Next year will see a new government in Britain. Left or Right it will - sadly - be statist. Many politicians know full well that our state has already over-reached, but will continue to pretend. Why? Because they face - like every democratic government - a population clamouring childishly for simple solutions to life's problems. For a politician to maintain his idealism - even the frustrated variety - in such circumstances is tough. We really need them to try though. After a year in which they were caught with their hands in the till, we also need opportunities to catch them doing something right.

I have seen the alternative and it's not pretty.

Lord Mandelson and the passive voice

Lord Mandelson admits public were misled over relationship with Russian oligarch - Telegraph.

I have remarked before that, during my brief stint as a criminal lawyer, I noticed that the bad guys are fond of the passive voice. Thus, not "I deceived the public", but "the public were [sic] deceived." My amateur psychological theory is that it disassociates the wrongdoer from his victims to make them appear the subject, not the object, of his sentences. Are there any psychologists among my readers who care to comment?

The Sith fall to the blogging Jedi

Link: Think tank boss resigns after Gordon Brown links criticised - Telegraph.

Gf_jediThe Smith Institute is a scam. It purports to be a charity in order to defraud the Treasury. The Treasury has cooperated because the fraud was for the political benefit of the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister. Resignations and apologies are really not sufficient. If any of us had faked a charity to avoid taxes, we would face jail. The worst thing about New Labour has been that it has validated the old working class belief that "there is one law for them and one for us." I grew up hearing that, but I never believed it was true until Blair and Brown made it so.

Guido Fawkes did excellent work in exposing all of this. He is a the kind of a citizen every government fears and every democracy needs. The Charity Commission would never have investigated without him. So what is it with Britain's mainstream media that they cannot bring themselves to mention him in reporting on this? Perhaps it is because they know they failed in their duty to identify and report such abuses of power? And now they abuse their power to conceal their own embarrassment?

To hell with them and their vanity. Well done, Guido. You may be crap on television, but you are an inspiration in pixellated print.