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Friday, 29 January 2010

Satisfyingly useless

Nanny Ashton's utter uselessness as the EU's Foreign Minister is satisfying beyond words. Even Banana Boy performs more credibly on the international stage.

Her complete failure over Haiti signals that after several weeks in her new job she is now ready for retirement. For the third time. Another pay-off, another £260k in transitional allowances and another fat pension pot will see her comfortably ensconced in some unfortunate English village where she can encourage young girls to become pregnant, as she did in one of her previous brief careers.

No, there is only one person who can fill Nanny's shoes in Europe; I nominate John Bercow.

1979 was a turning point

Comments below have quite rightly pointed out that we didn't go from 0 to 70 in 1979, that there had been precursors, such as the retrograde police reforms of 1964, and the monstrous local government reorganisation of 1974, and the great social changes of the 60s and early 70s that reverbrated amongst a newly Godless society. However, I hold that the late 70s - and 1979 seems right on the button - marked the beginning of a period of change of quite a different order.

The baby boomers, the dominant population cohort of our lifetimes, born during the '50s, reached young adulthood in the late 70s. In their testosterone fuelled 20s and 30s, they were the beneficiaries of Thatcherite opportunities, and they grabbed the 80s with both hands. They were also the beneficiaries of 60s liberalism, and though the contraceptive pill was as available as aspirin by the 70s, it was the boomers who pushed bastardy through the gates from 1979 - leaving us with a massive problem now from the underclass that they bred (see below).

And it was Thatcher's war on local government - on the independence of her own Conservative councils as well as the rainbow coalitions of the nuclear-free Left - that did more than anything to establish the corrosive Central State and establish the poisonous metropolitan political class. She stopped listening to Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon and stopped reading Hayek. It was the start of 'big government', to the dismay of her former advisors;
Alas, you need government, but big government is subject to such flaws, incorrigible flaws. Big government is irresponsible government because they can’t know all the circumstances of the nation, the society, the families that they are administering. Big government leads to all kinds of deals, backstage deals about policies, and all the time they are governed not by the public interest, but by the self-interest of the politicians to maintain their power. You need politicians, but the more you can contain politicians to the central tasks they have to do, the less you tempt them into this vote-grabbing, this corruption and deceit which is inseparable from modern, mass, undiscriminating democratic politics.
Thatcher forgot Burkean remedies and neglected the little platoons. As Blond has it;
Conservatives who believe in value, culture and truth should therefore think twice before calling themselves liberal. Liberalism can only be a virtue when linked to a politics of the common good, a problem which the best liberals—Mill, Adam Smith and Gladstone—recognised but could never resolve. A vision of the good life cannot come from liberal principles. Unlimited liberalism produces atomised relativism and state absolutism. Insofar as both the Tories and Labour have been contaminated by liberalism, the true left-right legacy of the postwar period is, unsurprisingly, a centralised authoritarian state and a fragmented and disassociative society.
I know there are those who bristle at the slightest criticism of the Blessed St Margaret, and she is in truth a giant amongst politicians, a Statesman of international dimension and the most important political figure in Britain since Churchill, but even our idols have feet of clay, and Thatcher's was her part in the establishment of the Leviathan that is now strangling the nation.

So I'll stick with 1979.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

"Only connect ..."

From Chris Blackhurst in tonight's Standard (normally the City comment, but..):
The evidence is laid bare in clinical detail that Britain's is indeed a broken society, as David Cameron never ceases telling us. But his own creed of putting faith in marriage, and of localised “bottom up” solutions to the nation's social ills, also smacks of massaging. Plus, as the National Equality Panel makes clear, the seeds for much of the inequality we're experiencing now were laid between the late Seventies and early Nineties, much of it during the years of Tory rule.

What changed in that period? It's when Britain underwent a profound shift. Grammar schools were abolished and the lowest-common denominator was made to prevail. I went to a grammar school and recall how we were taught, how the teachers struggled and succeeded, even on limited resources, to provide us (many of whom came from poor backgrounds) with the same education as a fee-paying school.

The pursuit of academic excellence was one of the nation's pillars. Others were community and mutuality. And industry. The language of the City came to the fore. We had privatisations, the share-owning democracy, the disappearance of building societies, council house sales and 1986's Big Bang in the City. New Labour picked up the baton so that every school and hospital must be given a place in a league table, civil servants receive bonuses, and private companies are encouraged to operate public services.

We're now stuck with a nation that is little more than a collection of retail parks, industrial heritage sites and housing estates. I get the same feeling going to parts of Britain that I got on holiday in Greece last year: I don't know what the locals do.

We've handed out welfare like never before, encouraged more pupils go to university (when in the past many of them would have begun apprentice schemes, now being hastily restarted), squandered the profits of North Sea oil, borrowed like mad and relied on a booming — and as is now obvious, deeply flawed — financial sector.

The result is a society that has stalled, that continues to produce inequalities which the panel that compiled the report find “shocking”. Things can only get better, we were promised. They did, but only for a few.

As frequently repeated on this blog, 1979 marked the start of the carcinoma-like growth of the Central State and the start of the destruction of local institutions. The year also saw the start of a boom in bastardy and a loss of moral standards that has continued unabated. It saw the start of a process under which parties ceased to be mass membership organisations and became national consumer brands; the Conservative Party lost well over a million members between 1979 and 1997. 1979 was the birth-year of the modern Leviathan State, started under Thatcher and built to fruition by Blair and Brown.

Does it not occur to anyone else that a mass devolution of power, the reform of our cesspit of politics and corrupt parties, the restitution of the authority of local institutions and a radical diminution of the presence of the State in our lives might do something to reverse the sick nation we've become? Just me, then?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Willetts and Hills must be read together

At the end of the last war Britain was a leaner, fitter nation and one ready to breed. It is perhaps an ur reaction of human tribes recovering from warfare to restock the population, and perhaps has been so for tens of thousands of years. A great bulge in the population resulted, a bulge that has swept forwards like a Spanish Wave, dragging a concavity behind it. Now that wave is at its zenith in economic terms - having benefited from free tertiary education, high levels of home ownership, occupational pensions and the like.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the gap now between the richest and the poorest in our society is at its widest.

Two publications must be read together. One is the new Hills Report, fat and replete with tractor production stats but thin as gruel on comment and analysis. The other is David Willetts' book The Pinch.

Hills bears the drear hand of government corrective editing which seems to have removed every comment that might have been taken as a criticism of Labour policy; they've learned a lesson, it seems, since Hills' last and outspoken report on social housing. This is a work of reference rather than a work of policy analysis.

And unsurprisingly, the role of demographics in today's inequalities is barely hinted at. For that, you need to read Willetts. And despite Harman's fixation on intragenerational inequality, the evidence suggests that it's intergenerational inequality that's the more significant; the children of those wealthy baby boomers will continue to do substantially better than those dragged along in the concavity of its wake.

The pertinent questions from policy makers must be around whether it's worth trying to do anything about it, or better to allow it to work itself out of the system over time. Anyone with any experience of the sea will know the power in a single wave, and that allowing it to ground itself on the shore is far easier than trying to attenuate it at sea.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

'Charity' is away with the fairies

The BBC's news lead that 'Severe Child Poverty is going up' disguises a definition of poverty that can only have come from the minds of people who have absolutely no idea what real poverty is. This angers me beyond belief - for as long as they peddle these spurious minimum standards, then they are doing no favours for those truly in poverty. Save the Children's spreadsheets demonstrate that a couple with two children are in a state of poverty if they fail to achieve a weekly income of £626.43

This includes a fortnight at Centreparcs every year, plus £32 a week on social activities for the parents, in addition to 8 cans of beer and a bottle of wine a week. It includes an allowance for not only wine glasses, but for a home furnished with every convenience that the researchers can think of, for cycle ownership, home insurance, the TV licence and a shopping bill that includes every foodstuff known to the middle-class kitchen. "Some children don't have a Winter Coat" runs Save the Children's pious press release, but presumably they have everything else on a list that includes;

Dressing Gown - 1
Jeans - 3prs
Jumpers - 4
Jumpers - 3 (different?)
Pants - 10prs
PE shorts - 2prs
Swin shorts - 1
PE tops - 1
PE 'T' shirts - 2
Plimsoles / trainers - 1 pr
Polo shirts - 6
Pyjamas - 2
School shoes - 1pr
School socks - 5prs
Shorts - 3prs
Socks - 10prs
Tracksuit bottoms - 2ps
Trainers - 1pr
Trousers - 4prs
T-shirts - 5
Vests - 10
Waterproof coat - 1
Wellington boots - 1
Winter Coat - 1

Not having a Winter Coat sounds so much more emotive than "Some children don't have a Dressing Gown", or "Some children only have nine vests", doesn't it? God in Heaven, this list is twice the length of the one of the items with which I had to be provided at boarding school.

Until these fools recognise that poverty is not being able to pay the TV licence at all, that poverty is feeding the kids on £1 Iceland pizzas every day, that poverty is unwashed pissed bedsheets, skunk deals and snuff videos - in other words, the sort of home life suffered by the Edlington 'killers' - then we risk misdirecting resources away from those that need support the most.

Disillusionment with parties grows

One interesting snippet from the Social Attitudes Survey revealed today; those who think it's not worth voting have risen from 8% to 18% since 1996. I make that an increase of 125% - about the most significant change in the entire survey.

You won't hear it from the BBC, though. Their take on the survey headlines the gay rights changes.

There's an almost universal self-delusion amongst the political class - politicians and their dags, political commentators and journalists - that manifests itself as 'business as usual' in British politics. Despite the main parties' membership having fallen below 1% of the electorate. Despite the danger that turn out at the next election will fall below 50% for the first time ever. Despite the main parties being funded by Oligarchs and foreign governments. Despite the opprobrium in which the nation holds this Rotten Parliament.

As the main parties have become national consumer 'brands' rather than local mass-member associations, so they have haemorrhaged local support and funding and so confidence in democracy has waned. And with good reason. People know that real power is exercised by an unelected antidemocratic cabal in Brussels, and that this is maintained and supported by a crooked and disingenuous domestic political class operating across the political spectrum.

Cameron's refusal to give the British people a choice on Europe is costing him dear; he's barely scoring the 10% lead he needs to achieve a hung Parliament. I estimate the referendum U-turn is costing him a further lead of 6% - 7%, but it's a hit he's prepared to take for Europe's sake.

This sickness in our democracy will not go away, no matter how much the political class pretend it's not there. Our inaction now will come back to haunt us.

Monday, 25 January 2010

More exploding Jihadists, please

Humour is the English (and I mean English, not British) weapon of choice when faced with a threat against which we cannot either effectively retaliate or defend ourselves, and I'm surprised it's taken us this long since 7/7 to produce a comedy film about exploding Jihadists.

Chris Morris' 'Four Lions' premiered at the Sundance Festival over the weekend, and the Guardian publishes a clip here well worth watching. It can't be too soon before it's rolled out on Network TV.

And let's have more exploding Jihadist comedy. Let's have a series penned by Armando Iannucci, a Christmas Special from Marks and Gran, a film from Sasha Cohen; let the airwaves be filled with Bowel Bombers and twots setting their testicles on fire, with blind and fingerless Jihadists whose competence at handling explosives matches their theological nous.

I'll bet Four Lions will change the way we view Jihadists and make Geert Wilders look like one of those 1950s nuclear danger films; when we chuckle at the sight of a bearded and capped Muslim, we'll have won. Whatever they do.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Cameron - Brown TV debate row

The NOTW describes a behind-the-scenes row between Labour and Conservatives over the composition of the audience for their live TV debate. Neither, of course, wants to be ambushed as Blair was over GP waiting times, or to be heckled or booed, so they are asking for the audience to be completely silent, and ask no questions, during the debate.

Brown wants a Labour majority in the audience to reflect his Commons majority, whilst Cameron wants a majority to reflect his poll lead. I think both are wrong. Since both head parties shunned by ordinary voters, I think the audience should be composed of each party's significant funders, possibly as follows;

Labour Audience
Trade Unionists - 20
Millionaires - 2
State of Israel - 2
Ordinary members - 6

Conservative Audience
Millionaires - 19
Russian oligarchs -2
State of Israel - 2
Ordinary members - 7

Don't you hate it when ....

Like many, I use the January clearance at John Lewis to stock up on a few new household textiles; threadbare towels get consigned to the boat to be replaced by fluffy thick ones, and the tallboy gets a supplement to the household bed linen. This year I bought two complete sets in a fetching shade termed 'Storm Teal' that caught my eye and that I imagined was different and exclusive.

Now just weeks later, the ruddy colour is everywhere. The TV, posters, even colour schemes for new websites now all seem to ape my bedsheets. I think I'll go back to white.

There is no 'right' to be happy

I'm not sure where it came from - perhaps a half-heard comment on the radio - but my rage is building this morning at hearing that most fatuous self-justification in the English language; "I have a right to be happy".

The phrase is normally heard in circumstances in which it means precisely "I have a right to be selfish"; by those walking away from their family to indulge in a hedonistic sexual fling, by those who steal, cheat, breach oaths and promises and ride roughshod over moral fundamentals to accrue wealth, fame or a prolonged state of inebriation or drug-hazed fatuity, or by those who run from their responsibilities to others for their own sakes.

Every time you hear it, reader, whether on a TV soap, mouthed platitudinously in a newspaper interview, or from some vapid addle-brained shop-girl on the tube, I urge you to say quietly "I have a right to be selfish".

The fault of course lies with the wording of the US Declaration of Independence. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is not an invitation to nihilistic hedonism, and the thought that this phrase was being used to excuse the most immoral of behaviour would leave the founding fathers spinning in their graves. The clearest explanation of the context of 'happiness' comes I think from Adam Ferguson;
If, in reality, courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character. If this be the good of the individual, it is likewise that of mankind; and virtue no longer imposes a task by which we are obliged to bestow upon others that good from which we ourselves refrain; but supposes, in the highest degree, as possessed by ourselves, that state of felicity which we are required to promote in the world
True happiness, to abuse another platutude, comes in other words not from what you can screw from your country, but for what you can do for your country and your people.

Finally, I must declare a certain sympathy for the words of a Boer father from some half-remembered novel to a son who was leaving the farm to go to Cape Town to be gay, on the basis that he had 'a right to be happy'. The response was something like "You have no rights other than the rights to fulfil your duties; to serve your nation, to love the Lord your God and to honour your family".