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

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The uses of Law

In an interesting article in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan (arguably the British politician I least despise) makes some sensible points, which you can read yourself here

In the course of that he says indignation about #PartyGate is misplaced because, amongst other reasons, no-one strictly complied with last years COVID rules. Of the critics condemning the alleged “gathering” he says;

My point is not that they are hypocrites; it is that the rules are wrong. Laws that no one follows are, by definition, asinine laws. By all means blame politicians. But blame them for imposing these absurd prohibitions in the first place rather than for behaving like everyone else.

Hannan has a decent mind and sound instincts, but here he strikes me as naive. We tend to think of laws as rules proscribing bad behaviour or (less often) mandating good behaviour. Practising law for a few decades as I did will make a cynic of the best of us but even a politician should know there’s another use of law — to absolve a rule-maker of responsibility.

In the private sphere, if more of us read the “standard terms and conditions” we sign up to blind (often these days on a “click through” basis) when contracting for goods and services, we’d find rules the suppliers never plan to enforce. Their lawyers put them there to ensure that in myriad circumstances — foreseen and otherwise — where a problem might occur, their clients won’t be legally at fault.

If your child finds a website that encourages her to commit suicide for example, the company hosting it will point to a rule forbidding such use of its services. It didn’t make the rule so that it could enforce it. It has no employees combing its servers for breaches. It made the rule so it could point to it when your child dies. That’s a dramatic example, but there are millions of others to which you would probably say “fair enough.” Businesses couldn’t sell many goods and services economically if they were expected to take the blame for any wicked use of them.

The fact is that in the public sphere government uses law in similar ways to address what spin doctors call “the optics” of a situation. It feels that “something must be done” about a perceived harm and will often promote new legislation without even considering whether existing law covers the matter. How many of the thousands of new crimes created during and since the Blair years can you name? If it’s any consolation, I bet your MP can’t name any more than you.

The government didn’t make it illegal to visit your gran, hug your mum at your dad’s funeral or have sex with your new girlfriend with any expectation that you’d be so servile as to comply. It did it so that, if any of those ladies contracted COVID, it would be your fault. That’s why Number 10 staff partied, Cummings conducted motorised eye tests and Hancock and Ferguson shagged.

The intent of the law was neither proscriptive nor prescriptive but exculpatory. It was one rule for everyone, but no one was seriously (in those circles in the know) expected actually to comply. This is a subtler complaint than the angry “one rule for us and another for them” beloved of bar room ranters, but in its way it’s actually worse.

I have used this quote from Montesquieu so often that regular readers will be able to sing along in the original French;

If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law.

He also said — and how this still resonates today;

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice

You’d expect a libertarian to be cynical about laws, but anyone should be able to see the damage that such “click through” criminalisation does to respect for Law itself. I suspect the British government was as surprised by the servility of its citizens as I was disgusted. I tremble to think of our future now that it realises how weak we mostly are.

That said, I hope the mishandling of the pandemic by democratic governments almost everywhere will lead even the most servile to an understanding that Law is a dangerous tool that is lethal when misused. Make too much of it too lightly and you make criminals of us all — with criminal attitudes to compliance rather like Captain Sparrow’s approach to the Pirate Code — or Dan Hannan’s approach to the Highway Code!


Arthur – a child, betrayed

Ambush Predator: Maybe It's Time You Stopped Talking About 'Learning Lessons' And Actually Learned Them..?.

Julia M at Ambush Predator's heart is – as always – in the right place. Her scorn for the ritual public sector response to the cruel abuse, torture and death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is palpable and justified. Our "servants" in the Deep State indeed played a role and their meaningless mantra of "lessons will be learned" is truly sickening.
 
Six year old Arthur was murdered by a wicked stepmother worthy of the Brothers Grimm. She was egged on in tormenting him by Arthur's father, who was besotted by her. The couple took good care of her children, so there's no question that they were capable of better. They alone are to blame for what they did, for their lies to social workers and for their exclusion of those (like the child's grandmother and uncle) who might have protected him.
 
Arthur's wider family blame Solihull Council's social workers. Perhaps those functionaries could have done more or better, but he might have had a better chance if they did not exist at all. This story illustrates perfectly how the British State has elbowed aside those in the family and community who would otherwise often have done a better job. The Welfare State's pledge to take care of us all from cradle to grave is, and always was, that most meaningless of all promises – an election slogan. 
 
Election slogans persuade voters to give up their rights and responsibilities to an all-caring, all-embracing, all-controlling state. They farm voters by creating "jobs" for those most likely to vote for an even bigger state and rewarding them with average pay in excess of that earned by the productive voters who pay for it all. The promise is that all these farmed voters will serve and protect us. Yet what do we actually get?
 
The social workers were easily sent packing with a stupid lie. Poor Arthur had an uncle who worried about him and wanted to intervene. Our "servants" in the police force service (there to protect us, right?) threatened him with arrest if he intervened. His grandmother feared for his welfare but the wicked stepmother was easily able to exclude her and the state would have supported the killer if she'd forced her way in. 
 
People who have to be paid to care for you don't. In this world, the best hope of help you have if you're in trouble is your family or your friends. The underlying evil of the Welfare State is that it displaces family, friends and neighbours. It reduces us all, psychologically, to children under its protection. It prevents the development of responsible adults who care naturally for others, without being paid to do so. It infantilises those who might have protected vulnerable infants like Arthur.
 
This is not to say that children weren't abused, tortured or killed before the Welfare State was invented. There were always evil people amongst us, but I wonder if more victims were not saved then than now.
 
My grandfather once asked my uncle's school friend about his black eye. When told that the boy's father regularly beat him when he tried to prevent him abusing his mother, my grandad didn't call the police or social services. He turned to my grandmother and said "make up a bed, he lives here now." When the boy's father turned up on the doorstep, drunk and raging, grandad (a war cripple, but still feisty) sent him packing. The boy grew up with my family.
 
Ask yourself how that story would end today. With my grandfather in jail, probably. Our modern police are tough with the law-abiding who pose them no threat and weak with the evil ones who do. More likely, conditioned by decades of Welfare State, grandad (hard though it is for me to imagine, knowing him as I did) would have just relied on the authorities to deal with it. I can't envisage – thinking of poor Arthur – that would have led to a better outcome.
 
Before the Welfare State, people knew that there was no-one but them to solve the problems they saw around them. Families, neighbours, vicars and priests were far more inclined to intervene and the police would not threaten them if they did. There were churches and charities staffed by volunteers motivated, not by an above-average salary, job security regardless of performance, and a pension guaranteed by state extortion taxes but by actual, honest caring. 
 
If Arthur's uncle or grandmother had not relied (as the law encourages them to do) on state "carers" and if they had ignored the police threats, he might live in safety today. Sadly given the woeful history of state children's homes in the U.K., he might also now be suffering abuse at the hands of other state employees.
 
How many times do we have to read such stories before we realise the Welfare State is a wicked con trick? It exists, not to serve us, but to provide jobs to the mediocrities we so regularly hear reciting the "lessons will be learned" mantra.  If we really care about vulnerable children like Arthur, we will demand changes to the law to allow access rights to wider family. We will give families back their confidence to intervene when children are suffering. The solution to the failings of the state cannot always – surely – be more state?

Doctor Dalrymple's insights

The Pleasure of Apparatchiks > Theodore Dalrymple.

Theodore Dalrymple is the nom de plume of Anthony Daniels, formerly a physician/psychiatrist at Winson Green Prison but now better known for his writings. Wikipedia describes him as a cultural critic. He's certainly one of the best commentators on the culture of modern Britain. He's clear-sighted, thoughtful, tolerant and articulate. He's everything I would hope our society's leaders would be yet spends most of his life quietly documenting how little like him they sadly are. 
 
The linked article recounts his experiences pitching an idea for a television series; a series of interviews with deposed dictators. It would have been fascinating but the TV executives were not buying it in either sense of that expression.  
... the experience was valuable, in a way. It gave me an insight into the pleasure experienced by apparatchiks obstructing the creative and imaginative, such power to do so being a kind of consolation prize for being without original ideas of one’s own...
In my current circumstances – negotiating my father's future with apparatchiks – this rings very true. Their tone  signals the pleasure they take in their position. We're not allowed near him to assess his health or state of mind ourselves. One look in his eyes would tell us all we need to know, but that's forbidden. It seems to annoy them that we press for more details. We have been incredibly polite throughout (our loved one is at their mercy, why would we risk being rude?) but still their lips purse when we don't meekly walk away. 
 
We are concerned about reports of elderly patients languishing for weeks in wards unnecessarily – and at present denied all visitors. We were told there were 150 patients in that position at this particular hospital because of a waiting list for home support; known in the inelegant jargon as re-ablement.
 
Both parents were frail before this latest episode. My sisters and I decided they now need carers at home and found a company to do two visits a day. We have also discussed with them stepping up that care temporarily when Dad is discharged.
 
Yesterday I called the "Discharge Liaison Nurse." She said Dad was not on her professional horizon because he was "not medically fit". Nor was there any discussion of moving him to a rehabilitation ward. I pointed out his consultant had told me he was now "medically well" but in need of physio and that the staff nurse had told me last week they were looking at moving him to rehab. She was unimpressed until I also mentioned the magic words "private care". She said she would talk to the ward staff and have someone call me.
 
In the afternoon I went to pick up laundry etc. and asked to speak to a nurse. She said they'd heard we had private care so we could take him home on Friday. I pointed out the care didn't start until Monday (and we'd have to discuss whether the company could step it up to cope with Dad) so she said "fine, Monday then". I asked about evaluating his needs for care and she said "that's for when social services are going to provide it. If you're doing it yourselves that's up to you."
 
In a few short hours we'd gone from "not fit to be moved to a rehab ward" to "take him home now". 
 
The good news is Dad made it and his discharge is under discussion. The less good news is that the NHS and authorities charged with elder care really don't seem to play nicely together. I worry about the 150 patients on that local waiting list who must be atrophying literally and figuratively on hospital wards while the state apparatus "cares" for them and keeps them away from their loving families. I worry that people always insulated from market forces and – during COVID times – now also insulated from concerned families are quietly enjoying their irresponsible power.

Heresy and the clerisy

Reader Ian emailed me a question and was kind enough to hope it would provoke a post. It has. His email was long but the crux of it was this;

Why do you think commentators are so keen to present the "anti-vax" side as deranged?
 
The entire public debate seems to be "they work" so "you should take it" and if not you are an idiot who wishes harm on others.
It's a good question. I won't debate the pros and cons of the various vaccines, but will try to analyse why rational debate is so difficult. I have never been shy of expressing my views but even I have gone quiet during COVID.
 
My first thought is that it's a function of how un-nuanced public discussions have become. Many now conduct political debate at a comic book level. If your opponent is evil rather than misguided, your response is more severe. Ian and I thought about the vaccines and took different decisions but think no less of each other for that. If we functioned quasi-religiously, we'd cry heretic at each other and threaten hellfire.
 
It reminds me of an old post called Credo in which I lamented my loss of faith. As a first-generation atheist, I am still functionally Christian. I feel guilty if I break one of the commandments, even though I don't believe they came from God. The fully godless however tend to seek substitutes. Religion fills some need in our psyche and when it's gone we are vulnerable to other nonsenses-on-stilts. As Chesterton said;
When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything"
Whatever the rights and wrongs of any given issue; political, societal or economic, it cannot be good if they can't be discussed. Traditional Marxism, for all its faults, was (at least in Western academia) a genuine attempt to analyse social and economic interactions rationally. Its thesis was finally discredited when the fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by a rapid and undeniable improvement in the lives of Eastern Europeans. Free markets delivered in a few short years what had been denied for decades and Marxism (as Marx understood it) died out in sane circles. 
 
Yet its former adherents did not return to the free market fold. Like those atheists they sought a new faith that met their same needs. There is a certain type of human – aspirant alphas we might call them – who will not accept the rewards and prestige that the market offers their skills, endeavours, risk-taking and luck. They yearn – whatever the consequences – for a new order that ranks them higher. My MP had no power or prestige as a sociology lecturer in a crappy ex-Polytechnic. Her life quest – camouflaged by screeds of turgid prose – is for a new order than rates her as highly as Bill Gates. 
 
Denied the old Marxism as an intellectual excuse for their aspirations, these types have constructed others. They had already been doing it for some time because, while they were still pretending the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were defamed paradises, the proletariat in the West was rejecting their ideas. They had long sought new justifications for revolution and targeted new revolutionaries. Because, let's face it, the marshmallows of academia are never going to man the barricades themselves.
 
Different races and sexes, heterosexuals and homosexuals, the able and the disabled; all these and more "identity groups" were to be herded into opposing camps and incited to mutual hatred. Why? For the same old reason. To create problems that only an almighty state staffed by a clerisy of aspirant alphas could "solve".
 
It's not working so far. We rub along nicely for the most part. To the extent there's significant hatred it's mostly what they've cynically generated. They are going to fail again, but like their classically-Marxist predecessors they are going to do it slowly while ending a lot of lives prematurely and making the remaining ones poorer in every sense.
 
The main cost of their ideology at present is its intensification of divisions in debate. Their reduction of everything to simplistic binaries has crippled thought in the home of the Enlightenment. Whether talking about issues that affect every family (like the response to COVID) or recherché stuff like transgenderism, it's always now "the righteous" versus "the heretics". A crypto-religious fervour has people berating their families and friends when all should be focusing with calm, scientific rationality on the best way to preserve/improve the most lives.
 
I hope Ian can forgive his angry friends one day. In the middle of a witch-hunt, it's safer to cry "witch" than deny witchcraft exists. When I look back on my own conduct, I fear I shall not be proud. No I didn't cry "witch", but I lurked in the background trying not to be noticed while HM Government committed democide and HM Opposition bemoaned their lack of sufficient enthusiasm. I had no appetite to have "die, heretic!" screamed at me. Meanwhile, innocents died in care homes, of untreated cancer or heart disease or suicide. No I didn't take those lives, but I didn't save any either.
 
Let's hope the democides in the state apparatus – and friends who screamed "heretic" at their behest – have similar moments of self-reflection. Let's hope we see through the incitement to hatred that permeates critical race theory and its sister-doctrines and embrace the Age of Reason again.

Overheard at my health club

Two svelte American ladies of a certain age were having coffee today at my West London health club. They were in the next "pod" to me outdoors as I had a post-swim coffee before heading home. Perhaps it's those wide-open prairies but Americans, bless them, always speak a little more loudly than us so I didn't really have a choice but to listen to their conversation.

The topic was their mothers. Both moms back in the States are apparently unsure of the wisdom of being vaccinated. One cost of parenthood no-one tells you about beforehand is that one day you will be judged and found wanting by humans you could not love more; your children for whom you would cheerfully die. I confess their mothers immediately had my sympathy, regardless of the correctness of their views.

There was a good deal of sneering about conspiracy theories circulating on the internet. I found it surprising that both errant moms believed 5G was involved, but having listened quietly for another few minutes discovered that neither had ever said so. Their daughters were simply assuming that if they doubted government advice on vaccines, they believed all the other stuff too. One of the mothers is apparently a 9/11 "truther" and her daughter's observation that no government is capable of keeping such a dark secret struck me as fair. 

I have read all I can about the vaccines. As a lawyer I was uneasy that – whereas normally pharmaceutical companies complain of the time taken by regulators to license new medicines – in this case they were only prepared to release them so quickly if governments indemnified them against claims for adverse side effects. They were not prepared to stand behind their products and that concerned me. I was also concerned that, while I am sure regulatory regimes in America and the UK involve much pointless bureaucracy, delay and legal overkill, they were being swept aside so casually. I have no medical expertise, but my legal training made me uneasy.

Britain has been pretty quick in vaccinating its population, but (fortunately or otherwise – only time will tell) it was not the quickest. I read what I could about the effects of the vaccines in Israel and, based on that data, made a risk assessment in favour of being vaccinated. My concerns are still there, but I made a choice. I could easily have chosen the other way and I respect the opinions of those (like my fellow health club members' mothers) who did.

There are available facts and facts that will only become available in the future. People must make their choices based on their own risk assessment today. That useless truism is not the point of this post. The truly significant thing I overheard was this. Having sneered at her mother's belief that "we can't trust government", one of the ladies said;

I thought to myself – Mom, I don't want to believe what you believe because if it's true I can't have any of the things I believe in.

There, I thought, was a moment of insight; a moment (almost) of self-awareness. If government can't be trusted, then the societal change she wants isn't possible. Therefore, whatever the evidence, government must be trusted. That pretty much sums up the statist mindset. 

I don't know whether these mothers or daughters are right about this issue. I do know that one of the daughters (and her companion seemed to agree) is allowing her desires to displace her reason. In consequence, sadly, her mind will only ever be changed by a catastrophe I would never wish upon her.

I suspect many such earnest, well-meaning souls as Goneril and Regan (as I christened them) felt they needed to believe the state could be trusted at key points in the deadly history of the 20th Century. If the brave new world of Communism was to happen, for example, government had to be trusted with enormous power to make immense change.

Many Gonerils and Regans must have ruefully reflected on that in the Gulag.


Age and wisdom

Every stage of life has its joys, sorrows and consolations. Looking back, I smile at how stressful I found it to be young. I was so afraid of failure; so anxious to get things right. In middle age, with those anxieties largely allayed, I found myself burdened with responsibility for others; a responsibility I had campaigned earnestly to assume, by the way. As I approach old age, those responsibilities are gone too. No-one depends on me. My children are independent. I have no employees to worry about providing with work. I can even glory in the triumphs of the young people I mentored, who are now achieving their own successes. I could shuffle off this mortal coil today with no sense of a task left undone. 

Before COVID, I was enjoying that. I was as carefree as in my youth. In fact, more so as I was without the burden of parental, societal or –most onerous of all – personal hopes and expectations. I could reflect on my life and that of my nation or even species. I could read, think, visit museums and galleries, travel and engage in my photographic hobby. I could meet with my friends and smile during our conversations at the truth of the old joke that "the older we get, the better we were." Looking back on lives lived so anxiously at the time, our triumphs seem inevitable and perhaps even (after a few good drinks) deserved.

Post-COVID, things are different. I have not personally been directly affected by the disease itself. Only one friend contracted it and he, thank goodness, survived. Actually I should not thank goodness as he lives in a corrupt post-Soviet state and crimes had to be committed to save his life. He survived a seven hour wait for an ambulance by virtue dint of another friend paying a bribe for oxygen to be brought to his home. Best not to ask from where that was procured. Let's just hope it was not from the bedside of someone who still needed it. Then he avoided admission to a lethally-unhygienic state hospital that would have killed him by bribing the ambulance-driver to take him to a private facility. There even cash would not have secured treatment were it not for luck. He happened to have been the lawyer for the oligarch who owned that facility in connection with its financing and still had his phone number. Calling him and then handing the phone to the doctor denying admission finally saved the day – and his life. His story tells more about statism and the corruption it brings than it does about disease. 

At a micro level then, I continue to be blessed. I have a comfortable home in which to be confined. I have a loving wife with whom to be confined. I have every technical facility to stay in communication (I first wrote "touch" but that of course is forbidden) with friends and family. The only real cost to me has been the death of my last illusions. 

COVID has been a wet dream for every statist, apparatchik and thug. I have long said that an over-mighty state is a magnet for the worst in society. COVID has proved it. 

My nostalgic vision of the British Bobby protecting honest citizens from crime has long been out of date, I know. Yet it was hard to shake the feeling for the boys in blue my parents instilled in me. My mum would make a point of stopping and talking to the local policeman whenever we encountered him when I was a child. She would tell me this was the person I should go to if I were lost, in trouble or just needed to know the time. He was my protector and friend. Sorry Mum, but he isn't and never was. His true nature has been revealed as he has gleefully leapt on the chance presented by COVID to bully and swagger.

I was taught to revere teachers too. There is, I always used to say, no more valuable profession in any civilisation. A society could be judged by the value it placed on its teachers. COVID has exposed that as sentimental tosh too as the teaching unions have used the opportunity to dodge work and to hell with the education and welfare of the children in their members charge. All other public sector unions have done the same. Our public "servants" are our actual deep state masters and their contempt for us has been revealed beyond all reasonable doubt.

This is not COVID related, but has happened during the same period. The Court of Appeal destroyed my faith in the judiciary. I personally witnessed the Shrewsbury pickets in action. I know the truth, but to write it again would now be actionable – so I won't. All I can say here is that the law is an ass. 

Though I remember well how upset they were by the death of President Kennedy and how they grieved the death of Winston Churchill, my parents never taught me to love and trust politicians, thank God. So that disillusionment has not been so severe. In fact COVID has not made me think any worse of them. In fact, I have some sympathy with HM Government's plight as a panicked population has cried out for ever-more-tyrannical measures and HM Opposition has only ever opposed them for not acting harshly enough.

I have repeatedly said in the run up to elections that, this time, I will not vote. I have always gone on to do it. I was brought up to treasure democracy as something my ancestors fought for. I felt a duty to their memory to exercise my right. This time I didn't. Perhaps I would have done if I lived in Hartlepool; not from any affection for the party that won but to enjoy the discomfiture of the entitled villains who have so long believed they own the Northern working class among whom I grew up.

In London, there was no point. Khan was a nailed-on winner. There were no credible candidates running on a platform of more liberty and less state. It was – as all elections now seem to be – a menu of different poisons. None of the thugs, bandits and rent-seeking hoodlums in power can say this time that I supported them. Not that they care, but it gives me some small satisfaction.

The wisdom of age is the realisation of how little we can know and the humility that comes with that. It seems I am finally wise but I was happier being foolish.


Bread & Circuses

In their prime my paternal grandparents were each – in their different ways – formidable members of the "great generation". They didn't suffer fools gladly or (unless obliged by family ties and then with open scorn) at all. They thought psychology was fake. They thought depression was weakness glorified. My grandfather was a cripple and, as I learned the hard way, got angry if you used the euphemism "disabled".

Why are you playing with words? Calling me something else makes me no less crippled you bloody fool!

They thought hard work, prudence, patriotism and family loyalty were the keys to all progress. 

They may sound scary and  – to their first of many grandchildren – they often were, but they were impressive too. This, despite having suffered losses that would justify many moderns in claiming lifelong victimhood. They just accepted them as their fate, got on with life and became angry if you mentioned them.

My grandmother had received "the telegram" from the non-euphemised War Ministry during WWII after my grandfather broke his back in an accident on a troopship. His commanding officer had assumed he wouldn't make it and sent a premature report of his death. He survived, but was told he'd never walk. Grandmother's first inkling that the MoW had erred was his knock at the door, having walked several miles from the railway station. They expected no apology for the Army's incompetence and lack of concern for their welfare or (God forbid) feelings. They suffered no PTSD. They never thought to sue. There was a war on. Worse had happened to others. Worse still needed to be done to others, so the war could be won.

Grandfather was not confined to the long-promised wheelchair until his eighties, by dint of forcing himself to walk miles every day in agony. His country had rewarded him in 1946 by seizing the transport business that he and his brothers had founded with their savings from working down a coal mine as teenagers. He never complained about that, saying that the Labour Party was sincere, if misguided, in taking it and that his fellow citizens (including his sister) had voted for it genuinely believing the country would run it better. It hadn't (as he had predicted to them at the time) and he'd lived to see his business re-privatised. He had also lived to see the Soviet Union fall and died thinking such nonsenses were now ancient history. He never bemoaned his own fate in that experiment; saying when I pressed him on the subject near to his end, that to be angry at his Labour-voting family and friends would have achieved nothing but to make him miserable. Life wasn't ever fair. He didn't vote Labour precisely because he wasn't naive enough to think it could be. 

Why do I tell these stories now? Because I remember watching the personalities of these formidable folk crumble when old age and frailty confined them to their conservatory. Their view of the world became distorted as their direct experiences of it dwindled. Their news of events in their old orbit was limited to what visitors chose to share. These fiercely-independent people began to live inside their own heads and to get things wrong in ways their admiring, if fearful, grandson would never have expected.

As I have watched my country during the pandemic from my own equivalent of their conservatory; locked-down not by ill-health but state force, I have been alert to parallels between my experience and theirs. My information sources were limited as were the range of friends with whom I could discuss them. I feared to blog about the issues, not because I was afraid to be in a minority – I have been in that position for many decades now – but because I sincerely worried that I might be losing touch with reality. The situation was so artificial that I feared for my own judgement. I thought my mind might be failing me as theirs had in their isolation. As we begin to return to normality, I begin to realise I drew the wrong parallel.

I have been inclined to despise my fellow-Brits to be honest. Opinion polls suggested they were not the potential John Hampdens I had always imagined, but actually more like Pavliks. Even friends I had considered essentially "sound" were in fearful submission to, essentially, whatever the hell the establishment chose to tell them would save them from the plague. I kept quiet because I feared I might be wrong – and I was, but not in the way I thought.

We Britons have let ourselves down in this crisis. We have looked for answers elsewhere rather than seeking them out ourselves. We have listened too much to authority, while demanding it give us bread. In the last few days we've allowed ourselves to be distracted by authority posturing about the modern circus that is football. But in some ways we have been like my grandparents at their best, not their worst. Terrified by data deliberately warped to maximise our fears, we have tried our best to be good citizens in the face of danger. "There's a war pandemic on" we told ourselves, so normal rules don't apply and it would be disloyal to moan. Others have it worse (look at what a mess those idiots in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have made, for example) so we should just get on with it as best we can. 

Yes I was in my equivalent of my elderly grandparents' conservatory, but I was not alone. The whole frightened nation was in it too. The difference is that – unlike my grandparents – we're going to emerge. We have not yet failed the test of who we are as a nation. It is about to be set as we return to normality. I hope we pass it in a way that would make my grandparents in their prime proud.


Lost for words

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and that it's not too late to wish you a happy new year. I hardly feel able to call myself a blogger now, given how infrequently I post. I blogged because I thought it better to light a candle than curse the darkness, but public support for our state's response to COVID-19 now seems to suggest modern Britons love the dark. 

It's hard to know what to write of the present situation. In a democracy no wise elector expects perfectly-right choices. We try to select the least bad of those on offer but what are we to do, say or think when government is wrong and opposition only demands it should be more so?

I confidently believe that historians will one day bracket the story of COVID-19 with those of the South Sea Bubble, the Salem Witch trials, and Tulip Mania. That's not to say the virus is not real or serious. It is. There was a South Sea Company. There was a trade in tulips. There may even have been witches in Salem. It's not the fact of the virus that I dispute but the validity, efficacy and morality of our response to it.

We are now many months into the "two weeks to save the NHS" in Britain and still that powder puff of a hulking institution is not safe. Not, at least, according to the rent-seekers who live upon it or the political types for whom it is the most sacred of all cows. It's certainly not safe for its customers. Many of those who caught the virus did so in its hallowed halls or in the care homes to which its angels of death despatched them for said angels' convenience and/or protection. In a classic example of Bastiat's notion of the error of focussing on the seen versus the unseen, our entire funded-by-state-force medical system is concentrating (with a remarkable lack of success even by its own low standards) on one virus while paying the least possible attention to all other ills.

I must move in unusual circles. Only one couple in my group of contemporaries is in the "lock us up, we're scared" camp to which opinion polls suggest most Britons belong. My other friends and family my age and older agree with me. None of us think there's a conspiracy. None of us deny the virus is real and dangerous. None of us question the need for a public health policy response to COVID-19. But all of us agree that the British Establishment is drunk with power and gleefully revelling in its unconstrained exercise. All of us agree that terrible damage is being done, not to some abstraction called "the Economy", but to the life expectancy of cancer, heart disease and other patients, to the livelihoods and future employment prospects of business-people and their employees, to children's education, to the mental health of people (and especially young people) denied healthy social outlets, and to the liberties of us all. All of us agree that the legions of the state are using this epidemic to bolster their power, increase their funding (and their numbers) and in many cases to enjoy even more well-paid leisure than usual; to make sinecures of jobs that were scarcely onerous to begin with.

I have tried to follow my own advice to my elders frustrated by this situation. "You are not in charge here. These mistakes are not yours. Focus on the joys you still have and remember that you're well-off compared to people really suffering. Read a good book. Read some poetry. Phone a friend. This too will pass." It's good advice because if I think about the political situation, I tend to despair. I am saddened that the liberties I praised and defended were so chimerical. At the first plausible pretext, the men of power suspended them so comprehensively that it seems they never existed. They were mere indulgences permitted to us by our masters rather than (as I had always thought) our inalienable rights as humans.

The man whose name I hubristically usurped as my nom de blog spoke of "the times that try mens' souls" to rouse his contemporaries to action. So faint a shadow am I that I am close to admitting my own soul has been tried and found wanting. The best encouragement I can offer is this. When the truth emerges, as it must, and the consequences of policy responses to this pandemic become apparent to the meanest of intellects, there will be the best opportunity in modern history to expose both the evil effects of statism and the wicked, self-serving natures of many within the state apparatus.

Keep your powder dry, fellow-citizens, and repeat under your breath Tom's wish that “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Let's strive to ensure that the gross misconduct of our authorities finally reveals to our young people (so sadly indoctrinated to the contrary by state-funded teachers and Marxist academics) Tom's truth that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A disappointed idealist speaks

The Misses Paine once said "Dad is not a cynic. He's a disappointed idealist." This may be so. Equally, it could be said that a man who reaches his 60s without becoming somewhat cynical has simply not been paying attention. There are some things in Britain I can still trust. The way the Common Law develops itself quietly, sensibly and practically (when not over-ridden by statute) for example. The jury system, for another. I would still trust a panel of British jurors over any tribunal known to Man if I were charged with a crime of which I was innocent.

Sadly I can't trust Parliament any more. John Bercow saw to that. Nor can I trust British Democracy more generally, alas. The past few months have shown us – even more than the long years of defiance of the popular will over Brexit - that the self-selected, self-serving members of the permanent apparatus of the state are far more important in practice than our elected representatives.

Our rights were not quashed because our politicians exercised scientific judgement. People who act on science they don't understand are every bit as blindly faithful as the religious and our MPs are a particularly ignorant bunch. Not only, by any means, on matters scientific. They possess precious little knowledge of anything useful and usually no great experience of the real world. Apart from a brief honourable spell as a DJ, my own MP (for example) has never received a penny of income freely paid under contracts with people who had other choices. Before she was a Marxist trying to foist Communism on us by stealth in Parliament, she was a tax-funded sociology lecturer trying to indoctrinate our impressionable young.

We have had one scientifically-knowledgeable Prime Minister (the first major political figure in the world to pay serious attention to the problem of climate change by the way) and she is now universally despised by the liberal arts-educated bureaucracy and most of her political successors. Even to say her dread name with approval is to mark yourself out as an untermensch. There have been many times since the pygmies drove her out of office when I have wished she was in Number 10 still. Never more so than in the past few months.

Lockdown (a horrible euphemism drawn from the prison system) happened because the apparatchiki of the Deep State decided it was necessary to close the useful parts of society. They have deprived the productive citizens who pay for everything – private and public, of their livelihoods, because they saw an opportunity to reassert their power after their embarrassing setback at the peoples hands over Brexit. They saw the chance to take an extended holiday on full pay from jobs (often non-jobs) that already pay more (on average) than those of the productive and which yield pensions substantially greater than those the private sector taxpayers who pay them can ever dream of. "Serve them right", our Deep State masters no doubt thought while trashing our lives, "for we are their moral superiors because of our [well-paid, over-pensioned] lives of 'public service'". They service us, in my personal view, more in the agricultural sense than any other.

My respect for the teaching profession in principle is great. No more important group of workers exists in a well-organised society. I personally owe a great deal to one or two conscientious teachers among the throng of idlers, wasters, lead-swingers and intellectual under-achievers who staffed my bog-standard comprehensives. But it would take a greater idealist than I have ever been to keep on rose-tinted spectacles now in viewing British teachers. They have shown themselves (with honourable exceptions who should really find a profession with worthier colleagues) to have absolutely no concern about the education or welfare of the young people in their charge. They have used COVID 19 both as an excuse to idle and a political stick with which to beat a government they consider to be their political enemy. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" was always (I thought) a rather unfair assessment. Now it seems generous. Those who can't be arsed, teach, might be closer to the mark.

I made some of these points in conversation with a fellow-photographer at a shoot I attended today – pointing out that Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival were staged, the worlds economies continued to function and social and sexual lives were unaffected globally during the just as deadly Hong Kong Flu pandemic of the Sixties and that the UK death toll this year will likely be greater from untreated cancers and other serious diseases because of the "save the NHS" strategy than from COVID 19 itself. "It's one of those situations," he opined, "when the politicians can't do right whatever they choose." He has a point. The cynic in me agrees and even perhaps feels sorry for our politicians. They have, after all, seen voters (scared senseless by outrageous propaganda from Deep State agencies everywhere) back the apparatchiki in opinion polls. The Great British Public is, it seems, a bunch of submissives clamouring for more not less of a spanking from their government. The battered idealist, from some deep crevasse in my soul, cries out that leadership should still be a thing and that they could have stood up to their advisors – if they only had a single ragged principle to their sorry names.

I cringe now as I remember all the times I told colleagues, clients and friends in the post-Communist countries where I worked for twenty years that "Brits would never accept" the various impositions that their governments, administrations and police (conditioned by decades of totalitarianism) were still inclined to attempt. All my proud talk of "yeoman spirit" and the ghost of Hampden, seems to have been so much embarrassing nonsense now as I angrily watch my fellow-citizens drop all claims to freedom while clamouring for more discipline from stern Father State. The only winners here will not be us or our politicians but the staff of the state apparatus that rumbles on regardless of our votes. Unless a party emerges that promises to do to the entire state apparatus what Ronald Reagan did to America's air traffic controllers, I shall probably not be voting again. It's not a matter of not encouraging the politicians. It's just recognising that – as things stand in modern Britain – they don't matter.