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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Phillip Pullman on Albion's sickness

I saw this in the Times yesterday and wanted to come back to it, but as An Englishman's Castle discovered before me, it's been taken down. Pullman wrote it to mark the Convention on Modern Liberty. With thanks to the Castle for finding a copy of it, which I in my turn have copied below.

Are such things done on Albion’s shore?

The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake’s prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.

We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.

We are so fast asleep that we don’t know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?

The new laws whisper:

You don’t know who you are

You’re mistaken about yourself

We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless

We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you

And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity

Whatever your opinions are, we don’t want to hear them

So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are

And we do not want to hear you arguing about it

So hold your tongue and forget about protesting

What we want from you is acquiescence

The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.

You are not to be trusted with laws

So we shall put ourselves out of your reach

We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition

You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them

You do not need to hold us to account

You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?

Who do you think you are?

What sort of fools do you think we are?

The nation’s dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don’t mind if we are. They don’t think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night

We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you

We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people

We can see you have abandoned modesty

Some of our friends have seen to that

They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible

In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide

We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural

We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.


And those laws say:

Sleep, you stinking cowards

Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms

Freedom is too hard for you

We shall decide what freedom is

Sleep, you vermin

Sleep, you scum

Blog housekeeping

It's high time I tidied up the blogroll; there a few that need weeding, and many I read regularly that don't appear. I'm tempted to group them under 'Hungry for change', 'The Political Class' and 'Others'. This would reflect the hunch I have that the political agenda will increasingly be about reform vs. entrenchment rather than about right vs. left or even liberalism vs. authoritarianism.

Divisive or useful?

Review of Reform's policing recommendations

I've had time this morning to go through Reform's 'A New Force'. A well researched and written document, by authors who clearly know the ground well, it sets out some useful and business-like recommendations. However, exciting it isn't.

Back in 1960 when our last Royal Commission on policing convened, the telephone was the primary means of intra-force communication, with radio-cars still an innovation. A policeman's call for help was still with a whistle. There were no computer records, and manual files were bulky things filled with flimsy and semi-legible carbon copies. Photographs were few. Moving images rare as hen's teeth. The recommendations made by that Royal Commission, within the framework of the very limited communication and information sharing technology of the day, essentially gave us the force structure we still have today. Smaller forces were abolished and medium forces amalgamated; the 1960 RC decreed that a population of 250,000 was the minimum size for a police force.

One of Reform's most useful recommendations is to reverse this; they quote research that smaller operational units are more efficient and make more arrests and solve more crimes. They propose a new force structure that is far more locally focused, with force boundaries coterminous with the civic and municipal ones that ordinary people recognise. This is good.

They recommend greater local accountability and direction, with a more independent role both for Chief Constables and for police authorities, which is good. However, they don't go further which is a shame. One Chief officer is quoted as saying he's accountable to at least a dozen different authorities, including the Audit Commission and HMIC. Switching accountability from the Chief Constable to the police authority - with the CC solely accountable to the police authority - would strengthen the role of the PA and involve them more meaningfully in process as well as outcomes.

Recognising a local tier of policing under local control, and a national tier is good. They recommend the Met as leading in effect a national police force for serious and organised crime, terrorism and the like. I'm not sure about this. They cite police cultural resistance against 'outsiders' as a key reason why SOCA doesn't work, and this is the argument against a new, separate FBI-like national crime agency. This needs more thought.

The refining of the Home Office's responsibility away from operational policing, with its culture of central targets and budget 'rewards' is to be commended. But again, they could go further; if the police authority is to hold the purse-strings, then finance for local forces needs to be raised locally, and not distributed at the whim of the Home Secretary.

In general, the paper is a useful contribution to the debate, but I don't think it has all the answers. Nor do I think that reform can come without another Royal Commission.

Sometimes it's the little things, rather than grand strategy, that can have the most effect. Yesterday I stood waiting for a cab as two police women strolled by on patrol. They were deep in conversation and enjoying eachother's company. What they weren't doing was looking and watching the street, or being ready for a member of the public who wants to talk to catch their eye, or taking the initiative to start a chat with someone. They were in their own world, cocooned, walking aimlessly, waiting for an instruction to come through on their radio.

Requiring police officers to patrol in pairs may tick the risk assessment box, but it doesn't just halve the effectiveness of beat patrols, it destroys it.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Niall Ferguson: Europe in chaos

H/T Sackerson

It's well worth reading the original Globe and Mail interview in full; Ferguson thinks the US is best placed to weather the storm, but things are not so rosy for Europe.
"There will be blood, in the sense that a crisis of this magnitude is bound to increase political as well as economic [conflict]. It is bound to destabilize some countries. It will cause civil wars to break out, that have been dormant. It will topple governments that were moderate and bring in governments that are extreme."

"I was more struck Putin's bluster than his potential to bite, when he spoke at Davos. But he made a really good point, which I keep coming back to. In his speech, he said crises like this will encourage governments to engage in foreign policy aggression."

"European banks are far more leveraged than American banks. I don't see Europe as offering up any particularly good model in any respect. In fact, I think Europe's prospects could get a whole lot worse this year, to the extent that it could be very, very hard indeed to keep the Euro zone together. I think it will be possible because the costs of leaving will be so high. There will be howling anguish, all kinds of pain, conflict between Germans and the others. It's going to get very uncomfortable indeed. No, I wouldn't look to Europe for inspiration."

"The two great zones of conflict in the 20th century were central and eastern Europe, and a critical part of northeast Asia – Manchuria, Korea. It makes me a little nervous that those are also places that are going to take a very heavy share of the pain."
Despite the gloom, Ferguson is dismissive of the prospects of global conflict - no World War III - but doesn't rule out military conflict in Europe. It's at times of crisis that our nation needs to look to its defences, and to our abilities to defend our interests. As Europe's only militarily competent nation, you can bet that when it goes pear-shaped we'll be the first that they cry for help to.

A cavalier indifference to the nation's good

Both Capitalists at Work and the Telegraph team quickly spotted the signs of government spin yesterday, with Goodwin's pension details leaked to cover what would otherwise have been the top news stories - the FSA's confirmation that Gordon's fingerprints are all over his Boom and Bust, and the scale of RBS' losses, with Lloyds to come today.

Myners released his letters, and in retaliation Goodwin released his. The egg rebounded to splatter on the government's face. Yes, the size of Goodwins pension is so morally wrong, but so legally right, and the government agreed it.

This is a government that considered at cabinet level the pay-off and pension of Sharon Shoesmith, and proclaimed publicly that they would ensure she didn't benefit from her incompetence. Those sums are chicken feed in comparison to the package they agreed for Goodwin; it's simply not credible to claim they didn't consider his pension pot. They did. And at the time they thought it reasonable.

Brown stoked the boom, and leashed the FSA to allow his banking foxes free run amongst the nation's assets, for personal political advantage. He exhibited a cavalier indifference to the nation's good. He's been not only incompetent, but wilfully culpable, wilfully negligent and criminally reckless. When the electors summarily dismiss him, who will do to him what he did to Sharon Shoesmith? Who will block any pay-off to Brown? Who will seek to reduce his pension pot? No-one of course. Only bankers and social services directors are held responsible - the political class make damn sure that their own don't face financial penalties for wrongdoing.

The real injustice is not the size of Goodwin's pension, but of Brown's.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Parris is right. The Commons struck an off-note.

My deep sympathies go out to David and Samantha Cameron for their loss, and of course there is no implied criticism of them in what follows. But Matthew Parris is right in writing in today's Times that the Commons got it wrong yesterday.

Firstly, it elevated the importance of the grief of the political class above the grief of the rest of us; Oborne has said they have more in common with each other than they do with us, and they demonstrated it yesterday. The life of a Fusilier in Afghanistan, or a black teenager in Peckham, is worth no less than the life of a politician's child - but yesterday's gesture gave a very different message to the nation. It was self-indulgent and divisive.

Secondly, there is no place for mawkish saccharine sentimentality in the business of making laws and holding the government of the nation to account. A work colleague lost her husband just after Christmas, but we didn't send the whole office home for the day. During two world wars when MPs were losing sons in battle and families in the blitz not one sitting was suspended. They knew something MPs today seem to have forgotten - they are there to do a job for us, not for their own benefit.

Yesterday was the political class at its self-obsessed worst. It was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I'll tell YOU about fairness, Gordon

Fairness is not a political value - it is a British virtue. Fairness means taking your turn in the queue, it means (to borrow the Australian phrase) a 'fair go' for everyone, with no barriers to any citizen. Fairness is based on common-sense morality; it means not taking advantage by foul means. Fairness in WWII gave every person in Britain, including the King, the same ration card. When there's hard work to do, it's 'fair' that everyone lays their hand to the capstan.

So how fair is it that an increasingly corrupt political class can steal, cheat, dodge, obfuscate and fill their fists with public cash with no sanction whatsoever? Like a protected criminal species, immune from prosecution, their avarice a stench in the public's nostrils and a gag in our throats.

So how fair is it that you are using the whole panoply of State propaganda to hide your regime's culpability for Britain's Bust? You, who told the FSA to apply a 'light touch' and not to ask awkward questions; you, who encouraged the nation to live beyond its means, you who engineered an unsustainable bubble boom for your narrow political ends. Wouldn't it be fair for you to hang your head in shame, even at this stage?

And how fair is it that you use the power of the State to protect and shield the 2003 War Criminals whilst mouthing trite platitudes about upholding the virtues of right and justice? If you had a microgram of right or justice flowing in your frozen veins you would sanction a full and comprehensive independent investigation with the power to recommend criminal charges.

How fair is it that whilst you piss billions away in lunatic social engineering experiments that our fighting forces are dying for want of adequate vehicles and equipment, men and women whose courage is a quality with which you are wholly unacquainted?

And how fair is it that you continue to deny the country the referendum on Europe that you promised, a referendum that an overwhelming majority of us are hungry to have? How fair is your mendacity, your corruption, your spin and your denial of the will of the British people?

Is it fair that even at this stage you're pouring further billions into an ID card scheme that we don't want, won't co-operate with and which will be abolished just as soon as you and your criminal cabal are despatched in tumbrels? Or an NHS records scheme that's on its knees? Or further lunatic proposals for yet more Leviathan State IT projects?

And is it fair that when you've directed just £12bn in pointless VAT cuts at those 'hard working families' that you actually despise and have spent a decade trying to destroy that £500bn goes to your buddies in the banks, the Scottish Raj, with that chiselling little crook Goodwin drawing a £650k a year 'pension' underwritten by us?

Fairness, Gordon? Don't make me laugh. You don't know the meaning of the word.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Cultural congruence and shared values

At a time when it's becoming apparent that both government and opposition are flailing around like headless chickens, both mired in sleaze, both disliked and mistrusted by the public, ordinary people will look more and more to themselves. Heffer makes the point well in the Telegraph this morning, and you'll see the reassuring message under a King's crown in the column thingy on the right. And the symbol above the crown, above the Sovereign and above her people, that appears everywhere from the cipher on a post-box to the badge on a policeman's helmet is the Christian cross.

The networking that's going on furiously and the small social and personal ties being re-discovered are part of the expansion of social capital that happens when the political class loses all direction. Experts have suggested that greater diversity in society will inhibit the formation of social capital, but I don't think this necessarily the case. Social capital is about all those informal horizontal bonds that bind us when mutual assistance is necessary. I've said many times before that our identity is about cultural congruence and shared values, and not skin colour, caste or creed. I'm confident that we're sensible enough to realise that all the peas in the pod don't have to be a uniform green for them to form a cohesive whole.

But what of those elements living in this country with no interest in cultural congruence and less in espousing shared values? Well, I don't think they'll inhibit the formation of social capital. I rather think they'll become the exception that qualifies the norm. And that they will be tangibly excluded, and even the public targets of disfavour and opprobrium. Public patience with those 'not with us' will run out. The 'them' and 'us' process will help strengthen our social capital at their expense. This isn't by some malignant and intolerant design, but by the inherent tribalism that lurks in the DNA of each of us.

The days of our tolerating militant Jihadists are coming to an end. Those uncertain of where their loyalties lie might do best to look at relocation options. And paradoxically, the weaker and more impotent that government and opposition are about the crisis in general, the greater and stronger the drive to make up for it ourselves.

What postal service do you want?

The national fall-out from implementing an EU directive on postal competition, combined with decades of government mismanagement and underinvestment dating from when Postmaster General ceased to be a ministerial title brings into sharp relief two widely contrasting visions of our postal service.

First is the Euro vision of a pan-European postal service with homogenous postal rates and a single set of stamps for the whole continent that reinforces the integration of Europe. Moving and delivering the post to be carried out by a variety of commercial firms awarded short term contracts in order to realise the benefits of competition. Homogenous service standards which will not be high. In this model the branding of a European Universal Postal Service is the key objective; the handling of mail is secondary.

Secondly is the vision of a postal service as a key component of national infrastructure that fosters national cohesion and reinforces national identity, in which the security of the mail is uppermost and the probity of those tasked with handling and delivering it beyond question, to the extent that they are Crown servants and the mail is protected by strong laws.

There are, it must be admitted, good arguments for both models. The Euro model offers economic efficiency, and when the bulk of mail is business mail rather than personal letters, and for which time-to-deliver is less critical and security less important. The Royal Mail model offers greater security not only for financial instruments such as cheque books, bank cards and the like but at a time when identity theft poses huge risks for individuals, offers greater guarantees over sensitive personal information entrusted to the post. But at a cost. Permanent postmen are also valuable members of local communities, part of our social glue, and have saved countless lives by just noticing something wrong or out of the ordinary about a home on their beat, or 'walk'.

You won't be surprised that for me the advantages of a monopoly Royal Mail service with a strong national identity, permanent staff who are Crown servants and our own stamps with the Sovereign's head on them outweigh the economic efficiencies of the alternative. The additional cost is a price worth paying. That the idea is anathema to the Euro-cultists also makes it hugely attractive. Yes, working practices need changing and government investment is desperately required, but the Royal Mail is one of the few really good things about this nation that we have left. I will join the fight to save it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Turkey doesn't vote for Christmas shock

As one of the four key responsible ministers at the time of the Iraq invasion, Jack Straw, along with Blair, Hoon and Irvine is a cert to take his place in the dock at the International Tribunal if and when criminal charges are brought against the criminal cabal.

So it can hardly be a surprise to anyone that Straw has vetoed the release of cabinet minutes ordered by the Information Tribunal on the grounds that they might incriminate him cause damage to confidence in cabinet government.

Humphrys and compulsory community service

At 7.40 on today's edition -

R4 Today guest: "Most young Moslem men go to the mosque five times a day to pray ..."
Humphrys: "How on earth do they manage to hold down a job?"

That a majority of 18-30 year olds are in favour of a year of compulsory community service for all under-25s may not be as misguided as it at first appears. Religious zeal in young men of whatever creed is worrying. Mormons and Moslems both could well thank us in the long run for the experience of compulsory daily attendance at a workplace that keeps them out of the mosques or the churches.

Is the Guardian preparing to ditch Brown?

Following Brown's recent savaging by its readers, could the Guardian be about to reposition itself?

Mike Smithson on PB comments on the Grauniad's front page splash on Brown's poor poll showing:
So what are we to make of the Guardian’s splash this morning - leading on the numbers that are most damaging to Brown’s leadership? Is the paper trying to influence opinion within the party in the hope, maybe, of getting change at the top? It certainly appears that way.
Or perhaps a case of the ship leaving the sinking rat.

Straw backtracks on Clause 152

The Indie is reporting today that Straw is backtracking on Clause 152, the data sharing clause, in his Coroners and (in)Justice Bill. I suspect the Lords would have hammered this anyway, so it's more of a face-saving retreat to avoid a defeat than a change of heart.

The danger of 152 is not that the government or security organisations need it to combat crime or terrorism - they have powers enough for that - but that it would embed Nanny in each of our lives. The purpose of the information sharing proposed was in furtherance (50A(4)) of government 'policy objectives'. The safe drinking initiatives, the anti-smoking crusade, the low-fat raw vegetable drive and all the lunatic social engineering tinkering that Labour love so much. For 'policy objectives', nothing more, was Straw proposing to allow council prodnoses to see our medical records, alcohol quangos to access our tax records, carbon-saving do-gooders to see our vehicle details from DVLA plus our business mileage from HMRC and so on, to enable 'focused targeting' of Nanny's policy initiatives.

There has quite rightly been widespread concern over this. This is a temporary retreat by Straw, not an admission of misguidedness. Labour can't change its spots.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Food loonies and an area the size of Wales

1. Defra's latest figures show that 51% of all the food we eat is imported. Certain lunatic elements in the UK are suggesting that we replace this 51% by growing our own.

2. Say an adult male requires 2,400 calories a day. Especially if he spends it grubbing in the dirt with a stick. We need to replace (2,400 x 51%) x 365.25 calories a year; 447,066 calories a year.

3. 1kg of potato contains 790 calories. Each of us would therefore need to grow 447,066 / 790 kg of spuds a year; 566kg of potatoes a year. Potato yields are say 8 tons / acre, or 8128kg / acre.

4. Each person in the UK would therefore need a bit less than a tenth of an acre. Multiplied by 60m people this comes to an additional 5.8m acres under cultivation. That's about 23,600 sq km.

5. Wales is 20,764 sq km in area.

Right. Carry on.

Police identify the middle-class as the enemy

So it's finally happened. After a decade or more of criminalising the law-abiding middle-class, once the staunchest supporters of the police and of the maintenance of law, the police have now formally identified us as the enemy.
Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.
So we - and particularly we dangerous middle-class bloggers, or 'activists' as the police will term us - will now be the targets of surveillance and sanctions including arrest and detention on the grounds of the maintenance of public order.

How convenient that the class calling most loudly for police reform can now be so easily identified as potential terrorists.

Well I've got news for Superintendant David Hartshorn. I view him and his kind as the greatest threat to democracy and good order that this nation faces. Without radical reform of policing in Britain, we will soon have passed a point of no return on the path to a State to the authority of which I will not consent.

Could this be 1931 over again?

The 1931 General Election saw Labour down to 52 seats, winning just 10% of the seats they contested. That election followed a period of national government under Ramsey MacDonald in which it was apparent that the government had no convincing answers to the economic crisis, and with the Labour and Liberal parties split on policy. The Conservatives, running on a strong protectionist manifesto, also gained an absolute majority in terms of votes cast - the only time this has happened.

Labour recovered from this nadir, of course; the strength of a real working class identification and aspirations in the 1930s led to the post-war changes that have given us the nation we have today.

So could the next election see Labour down to 60 seats? Possibly. But if it does, there is no prospect of recovery for Labour this time. With a grass-roots membership haemorrhage, a wipe-out from local government and the atomisation of the old working class there is no ladder for Labour to climb from the pit. Their own reforms of Parliamentary allowances, which reinforce incumbency, will also serve to keep them from regaining their old seats. They would become a small regional party, centred in the north-east and north-west. Personal donors would dry up, and the unions would look to buying influence instead from a party that actually mattered.

The depth of public anger with Labour this time around could mean not just a cyclical electoral kicking, but a death-blow.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Oh Gordon, you've done it now

The Guardianistas are not taking well to Brown's little homily on CiF. I can find remarkably little support and encouragement in over 250 reader comments, and this one, by Dan McNeil, is at the politer end of the spectrum:

"I'm really sorry Gordon. Really sorry. I tried to read your article. Believe me, I tried. Oh, I tried so hard. It's monkey-typing-at-the-keyboard-gibberish though. I suspect you know this.

Honestly, if I were to blindly assess the intelligence (right and left brain) of the writer of this article, I'd have them marked down as deeply average. Not imbecilic, mind you. But not particularly clever either. Your writing is incredibly robotic. Sorry, I'm being polite - actually, your writing is magnificently dull.

Your prose is exciting and inspirational in the same way that the prose of a washing machine instruction manuel is exciting and inspirational. You have the charisma of roof shingle. I cannot believe that you are the Prime Minister of the UK. Compared to you, John Major was the life and soul of the party. Oh yes.

It wouldn't matter if, behind your dullness, you were actually capable.

But you're not.

Oh God."

The humour of revolution

Both EU Referendum and Looking for a Voice are doing a pretty good job of keeping an eye on insurrection around and about so I shalln't repeat what they're both doing already. Whether it will grow to the proportions of the worldwide riots of 1968 I don't know. The Times reports that militant students have now occupied the Sorbonne, just as they did in 1968 - but are they exhibiting the same humour in painted (or sprayed, these days) wall slogans?

Sous les pavés, la plage! Went one famous slogan, though the picture suggests few sandcastles. L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire proclaimed another, possibly in response to the thoughtful Nous ne voulons pas d'un monde où la certitude de ne pas mourir de faim s'échange contre le risque de mourir d'ennui. SEXE : C‘est bien, a dit Mao, mais pas trop souvent may have come from an English exchange student perhaps, and Ni Dieu ni maître! echoed our own much earlier apprentice riots, but Dans une société qui a aboli toute aventure, la seule aventure qui reste est celle d‘abolir la société is pure Simone De Beauvoir.

Will the French students of 2009 display half as much wit and care as their 1968 counterparts?

Where is the leadership in all this?

To a city-dweller looking at a herd of cows in a field they will all look the same. A cowman will pick out the leader, the matriarch; where she leads, the herd will follow. You don't need to define a relationship with the whole herd, just with one cow. When the matriarch comes when you call, you can walk a mile down a country lane without once looking over your shoulder, absolutely confident that every single member of the herd will be strolling behind you, udders swinging. No cattle-prods, no brute force, no 'nudge', no coercion - just leadership.

Rawnsley writing in today's Observer says:
Many of the voters are in an aggressively anti-establishment, anti-political mood, distrusting anything promised to them by anyone. And no wonder. This helps to explain the recent lift in support for the Lib Dems and may foreshadow successes in the June elections for the likes of Ukip and the BNP. The current polls are a referendum on the recession. They express vast dissatisfaction with Labour more than they indicate any swell of enthusiasm for being governed by the Conservatives. "They are losing more than we are winning," Mr Cameron has been heard to confide to colleagues.
And ain't this the truth. But it's not just disillusionment with the political class that's driving 'wild voting' but the palpable absence of any leader figure on the horizon that the nation would follow. Brown is almost universally loathed, but not quite as much as Harman. Cameron is utterly convincing and sincere in the same room, but once he's on TV something is lost; the gravitas turns to helium, the sincerity to disingenuousness. There is a deep longing amongst Tories for Mrs Thatcher, which is really a longing for leadership; old YouTube clips of her more memorable moments appear regularly now on Conservative blogs with a sort of sighing nostalgia.

The Sundays are full of advice for Cameron to be more explicit on policy, as if this will somehow boost his leadership-quotient, but why should he?

Now I'm fully alive to the dangers of wishing for strong leadership so I should qualify this by saying there's a world of difference between moral authority and authoritarian Statism. Moral authority is the herd following you; Statism is the cattle-prod.

Take the matriach out of the herd and they immediately become unmanageable. Offer voters electoral choices with no clear leaders and wild voting results. Panic in the herd is contagious. Injured cows and broken fences. And that, I fear this Sunday morning, is where we're heading.