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Saturday, 27 December 2008

Burnham's barmy State

One of the outcomes of a decent education is the teaching of discrimination. Discrimination is, contrary to the hijacking of the word by every victim group in the country, a good thing. We discriminate between substitute goods when buying. We discriminate each time we reach for the TV channel controller. Education, particularly advanced education, equips us with the intellectual tools to discriminate between what is printed in the National Enquirer and the New York Times, or between a book written by David Irving and one written by Antony Beevor. Dicrimination allows us to look at a government website or press release and know that at best it's only partly truthful. Discrimination allows us to look behind the distorting and misleading claims - 'ID cards will protect your children from paedos' - and see the reality beyond - 'ID cards will give the government an increased measure of control over the population'.

Now I believe that each one of us should have developed scepticism, caution and a talent for discrimination to a high degree. In an information world, the ability to find, to filter and to discriminate between millions of sources of the greatest mass of information man has ever known is not an optional extra; it is an essential skill.

I also believe that our youngest citizens who have not fully developed their senses of discrimination need some protection, and that this is primarily the job of their parents. As far as the web goes, ISPs have already gone some way in classifying content to assist parents and families. This is good and should continue to develop as a voluntary resource for families.

Burnham, being a Labour fool, sees little of this; he reveals today that he thinks it's the State's job to regulate the web and make these decisions on people's behalf. Given the choice between increasing individual discrimination and the State doing it for you, he of course wants the State to do it. It doesn't seem to occur to him that robbing the nation of their power of discrimination also robs the nation of competitive advantage in an information age. Or perhaps, sinisterly, he does.

A government and its ministers soon come to believe the lie that the interests of government and the interests of the nation are one and the same; inevitably they become less tolerant of informed criticism, frustrated at the countervailing ideas being freely floated around, angry that we aren't listening to them with the attention they demand. Before the web this could be countered by two things - money and regulation. Money to pay for 'push' propaganda, and regulation to threaten any publisher not to step too far from the State line. Labour, and Burnham, have never fully understood the 'pull' nature of the web, nor its resilience, nor its internationality, nor even the global impact of the US First Amendment since the rise of the web.

So I wouldn't get over excited about his latest lunatic pronouncements. He might as well have stated he wants to ban the colour yellow, or turnips. This won't stop Labour, of course. That the State has no role in controlling the web is a matter of deep frustration to them, and they'll keep pushing lunatic schemes such as this until we consign them to history's dustbin.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Gauntlets can tame the bane of fruit injuries

I am grateful for Hugo Rifkind's piece in the Times today decrying the Nanny culture for reminding me what an excellent database is provided by ROSPA; it details in pedantic exactitude the injuries suffered each year by our fellow citizens of sufficient seriousness to land them in Accident & Emergency.

Food strikes me as being particularly dangerous. Each year 9,835 of us are injured by fish; piscean hazard is eclipsed only by injuries from meat and poultry, which land 10,912 of us in casualty each year. For those of you who imagine Vegetarianism might provide for a lower-risk life, think again. Over 1,000 of us each year are wounded by cheese; nuts seriously injure another 1,289 of us and even eggs account for 612 injuries a year. Cakes (including scones) are in contrast amongst the safest of foods, causing only an annual 567 casualties.

However, in the premier league of dangerous food lurks deadly fruit, causing some 6,355 serious injuries each year. ROSPA provide an analysis of the body parts injured by fruit as follows;

Head / face - 1,115
Neck / throat - 511
Thorax / chest - 98
Lower trunk - 558
Arm(s) - 3,193
Leg(s) - 808
Whole body - 18
Unspecified body part - 54

This tragic toll, this lethal carnage is unnecessary. Firstly, we must protect our children; fruit should be banned from schools immediately. Secondly, supermarkets must institute controls to prevent those under 18 years old from buying or handling fruit. Thirdly, councils must employ Fruit Advice Outreach Workers to assist those at risk of fruit injuries, particularly the elderly and disadvantaged.

And finally, a mass public information campaign to advise on protective equipment to be used to minimise risk to the most vulnerable body parts; as a minimum, a kevlar reinforced mask and gauntlets must be used at all times when handling, transporting, preparing or consuming fruit. Backed up with a comprehensive system of fines, regulation and enforcement, we can eliminate the serious harm caused by fruit by 2011.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas all

For those of us with the joy of our families on this day, a turkey in the oven, the warm smells of cinnamon and citrus and the prospect of a decent glass of port or two in the security of our homes, Christmas Day will probably have been set in a pattern since our earliest years. Forty years or so ago broadcasters could announce that 'across the nation ...' we were celebrating the Nativity of Christ.

But for those without the dignity and belonging of work, for children in care homes sharing the proxy efforts of their keepers that is no substitute for a parent's love, for prisoners, for the feckless and addicted for whom today is a trial to be got over with and for those for whom the State has displaced family and community, today will be not a cause of joy and celebration but a reminder of all they have lost.

To all of you, and to all of them, my heartfelt best wishes and may our hopes for the future keep alive a spark of Christmas joy in all our breasts.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Been a few months, so time to give this a Christmas outing ...

State makes further provision to take direct control of police

Throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, police forces were very much local institutions under the control of local bodies. The borough forces were under tight local democratic control, but the newly-formed county forces that caught up with them were less so.

The Home Office has long yearned for direct control over the nation's police forces; it failed to get the borough forces in the 1850s (strongly locally resisted), got a greedier taste for more control from wartime emergency powers, and tried from 1919 to 1964 by a variety of methods (using variously 'efficiency', 'economy' and 'national security' as unsuccessful excuses) to do so. The 1960 Royal Commission was steered by the Home Office to reflect a centralist outcome, and the 1964 Police Act was the result. Strong local borough control was abolished, and weak structures based on the old county models of governance were instituted, mostly with a Police Authority left in place with some residual functions including the appointment of senior officers.

The Home Secretary is now preparing to seize even those limited functions left to local police authorities. Not only is she not 'minded' to explore greater democratic control, she is proposing to give herself powers to act with ACPO to determine all police appointments above Chief Superintendant rank in all police forces. As a sop she is inviting the Association of Police Authorities to send a representative to sit on her appointments panel, but there is no doubt she is effectively neutering the sole remaining power of individual police authorities.

The amendments are contained in s.2 of the Policing and Crime Bill.

As always with Liebour, this is being spun as 'increasing public accountability'; in a risible and cynical insult to police authorities that will now be bereft of their sole remaining power, they will be required to take into account the views on policing of local people - which will be 'more, please' - to continue to raise even higher taxes locally to pay for the Home Office's police forces.

It's a good con, isn't it? The Home Office sets targets for operational police activity that means they don't have the resources to meet the public's expectations by attending burglaries and the like, the public's demands translate into 'more police, please' and local working people pay more for even more police activity directed by the Home Office that doesn't meet the public's expectations ....

Time is long overdue for a new Royal Commission on policing; many serving police officers are now also calling for this. The terms of reference must not make the mistake as in 1960 of placing the Commission under a rigid Home Office agenda.

We are sleepwalking towards a national police force under central State control. The whole political class and a dangerously Statist civil service are manipulating us towards this outcome - one I'm sure the English people don't want.

Please add your voices to the call for a Royal Commission on policing.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Political Class of no real worth

The Labour Party is bankrupt of ideas. There is nothing it can offer the people of Britain at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil; no hope for the future, no credible vision, no stirring goal worth the pain and the anguish and the effort.

The trouble is, neither have the Conservatives.

The news today that Dave is quite happy for a part-time front bench, with shadow ministers' personal financial interests being considered as important as the dreadful crises facing the nation does nothing but inspire derision and contempt.

They are all, it seems, conforming exactly to Peter Oborne's description of an anchorless political class devoid of ideas, ideology or convictions but concerned only for their personal advancement, well-being, comfort and welfare.

There is a reckoning to come; it will not be such a labour of Hercules to clear the accumulation of well-suited ordure from those Augean stables, but it will cost in the pain, misery, betrayal and loss of our people at the manicured soft damp hands of this political class.

Adam Smith, welfarism and Distributism

I'm grateful for a comment below that's pointed me in the direction of a useful online collection of essays from Civitas, 'Before Beveridge' and in particular to David G Green's piece on The Friendly Societies and Adam Smith Liberalism.

As the founders of the IEA pointed out with great regret, at a time when more than three quarters of the working class had made welfare insurance provision for themselves, and memberships of Friendly Societies were growing quickly and were set to provide nearly all but the improvident underclass with unemployment, sickness and even pension benefits, the State took fright and stepped in in 1911 to nationalise welfare.

Adam Smith liberals who believe there is a trade off between State coercion and private moral authority, wanting less of the former and more of the latter, will recognise the 1911 Act not as a forward thinking piece of legislation but as the start of the rot and of a system of State welfarism that has brought us to our current sorry condition. As Green writes;
This approach to morality placed a heavy burden of responsibility on private individuals, as parents and as participants in the organisations that make up their local communities. Each person’s daily conduct was in some way a contribution to upholding or modifying the prevailing order. Every supportive frown or raised eyebrow as well as every complacent shrug of the shoulders made a difference. The value of a moral tradition that embraced both disapproval and toleration had been learnt from hard years of religious persecution.

Such were the main elements of the ideal of liberty upheld by writers such as Smith, Hume and Tocqueville. A free society for them should be made up of many organisations pursuing particular purposes but also based on liberal principles: a framework of rules, morals that were upheld but susceptible to gradual change, individuals guided by a sense of duty to others and aware that their personal contribution to upholding moral rules counted. And here lay the true significance of organisations like the friendly societies. They were examples of the best in this liberal tradition.
That State welfarism is corrosive of personal morality is axiomatic.

Both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were followers of a movement termed Distributism; it's not any easy one for us to understand today, being somewhat a creature of its time, but it shares with Adam Smith liberalism a belief that a society founded on the moral authority of family, community and intermediate organisations rather than on State coercion is a healthy one. Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum;
The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop. Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself.
That black rogue Rousseau (and this will be my last mention of this villain on this blog in 2008) who would separate children from their fathers lest they distort the ownership of the State of the individual and whose perverse form of enlightenment 'liberalism' forms the basis of State welfarism would of course have gone for coercion over moral authority every time.

As Wiki has it, "
Distributism sees the trinitarian human family of one male, one female, and their children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning distributist society and civilization".

Let's hope that 2009 and all that it brings will see a shift back to families, neighbourhoods, communities and intermediate institutions, friendly societies, mutual building societies and credit unions, localism, liberalism and the small State. We lost our way in the twentieth century; let's find it again in the twenty-first.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The naming of streets

How many Waynes, Kylies and Sades have grown into adulthood in a state of embarrassment at their parents' brief but dated fascination with a sleb a score years past? The New Local Government Network is now suggesting that an X-factor type contest should be used for the naming of streets.

No thank you. My Nigerian postman has enough difficulty telling the door numbers from one another without the added complication of which Princess Diana Road of the 43 newly named ones the letter should go to.

The NLGN is making the mistake of equating popularity with merit. Existing street names should remain unchanged; they often come down to us from centuries ago, and are as much a part of our historical environment as our ancient churches. The Pightles, Buttermarkets, Cornmarkets, Love Lanes and Grope Lanes of mediaeval literality, the Nelson, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Inkerman, Victoria and Balaclava Roads of nineteenth century empire, the new housing estate roads named after municipal figures obscure even in their own time are all part of our rich cultural heritage and should be preserved as avidly as any Grade I listed building.

As for new roads, beware transient popularity. Who now would be happy to live on Gary Glitter Avenue? Pop idols have feet of clay.

'The naming of parts' by Henry Reed was written in 1942. It starts;

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

I can't believe Bob Quick would break the law

The Mail on Sunday story describes how Mrs Quick runs a car hire business from their home.

The Quicks will, of course, have determined with their local planning authority whether this constitutes a material change of use in planning terms, and if so will no doubt have applied for planning consent for the appropriate use under the Use Classes Order.

If so, they will no doubt be paying business rates on the appropriate parts of the premises (garages, office) and these will comply with the requirements of health and safety and workplace legislation.

HMRC will also no doubt have carefully examined Mrs Quick's tax returns to ensure she is not overclaiming on domestic expenses for the business.

And no doubt those 'ex police drivers' will not have been paid cash-in-hand but will have either produced the appropriate self-employment documents or will have been properly employed by Mrs Quick.

I can't believe an officer as senior as Bob Quick could condone any breach of the law by his own wife. That would be corrupt, wouldn't it?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

This time, Labour is right

Both Chris Grayling and Labour MP Terry Rooney, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, have excoriated James Purnell this morning for proposals to charge interest on social fund loans. But this time Purnell is right. There, I bet you never thought I'd ever write that.

Behind the row is the commendable aim of getting more people to join credit unions, to save small amounts regularly and thus have recourse to a loan fund in times of need. Credit unions don't make profits for wealthy bankers; they can pay out a dividend of no more than 8% to their savers, and are restricted from charging more than 2% a month interest on loans. Most charge 1%. Members need to have saved regularly for a while (usually about 12 weeks) before they can apply for a loan.

Politicians of both main parties have long stolen responsibility and self-sufficiency from the poorer classes. As the IEA's Arthur Seldon said in a conversation with Ralph Harris;
I was appalled by the insensitivity of governments to the efforts of the working classes to help themselves - the belief that they could not do all the necessary things. I began to sense a sort of anti working class sentiment in all parties. They wanted the State to do these things. They didn't like people to do things for themselves. They thought that ordinary people weren't capable. They forgot all the history of the working classes. The records are that the working classes were sending their children to schools by the 1860s. They were insuring for health cover and so on by 1910 - 11 when all parties in England, the main ones Tory and Liberal, with people like Lloyd George and Churchill and Beveridge at the centre, passed the infamous act of 1911 which forced the working class to insure with the State despite the fact that nine tenths of them were already covered by private systems. Politicians seemed to me to be saying you are not capable, you need us to ensure you take care of your families, which was nonsense.
Many Tories and Labourites committed to the role of the central State will, like Grayling and Rooney, condemn this move. Neither trust people with responsibility for their own lives. Encouraging people to save with credit unions - and cut their ties of dependence on the State - is a good first step in allowing our people to win back control of their own lives and futures.

Hayek would approve of Purnell's suggestion. And so do I.