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Wednesday
Nov292006

Lib Dems in liberalism shocker?

Brian Micklethwait was on 18 Doughty Street on Monday along with James Oates from Cicero's Songs. One of the best things I've seen on the station so far.

Before the show went out Brian seemed to have been pretty suspicious of James. In a posting on his blog earlier in the day he had this to say:

[W]hen you meet a Liberal Democrat you never know what he will believe.  The one who talks to you is likely to say what you want to hear.  But the others will simultaneously be telling other people with quite different views what they want to hear.  So don’t vote for these lying creeps.  At least the two leading parties do stand for a recognisable attitude that unites their members, although less and less as time goes by.

Having had some correspondence with James and having been favourably impressed (EU-enthusiasm excepted), I was interested to know what Brian made of him.  The answer was..

I liked the guy, and he convinced me that the Lib Dems may indeed be moving towards a more principle classical liberalism than was the case in former years.

Which I thought was quite an interesting thing to say. I've spent quite a lot of time hanging around LibDem blogs in the last year or so, trying to assess just this issue. I so think that, in common with the rest of the blogosphere, there is a libertarian feel to the LibDem blogs. Cicero is sound, Jock Coats is sound. Liberal Review is pretty good too, although some of their guest posters occasionally come up with some good old fashioned statism. Whether the rest of the party is liberal too is another question - as a commenter to a post of Jock Coats about the political compass makes clear. Tom Papworth of Liberal Polemic says:

I expect there are a lot of us in the truly liberal bottom-right. Just none of our leaders. This is the lamentable lot of the liberal!

How right he is. As an example of just how statist the party remains, take a look at this thread on the Liberal Democrats Youth and Students forum (an excellent site, by the way, with a well-mannered clientele - but my God, the statism, the statism!)

The problem seems to me to be that the Lib Dems are still effectively two parties. There is a liberal wing, and a social democrat wing -it just hasn't been exposed because the LibDems are never going to win an election outright and so are never subject to the same scrutiny as the other parties.

Mind you, the Conservatives are just as split with the big-state, "one-nation" wing apparently having the upper hand at the moment, and the small-state libertarians in retreat.

It's very, very sad that the liberal movement is split between two parties and has found itself in the minority in both. This is the tragedy of liberalism in the UK.

Tuesday
Nov282006

It's hard to take seriously

It's hard to take seriously a proposal that is a blatant case of bureaucrats trying to expand their remit, and is also one which is supported by Alastair Campbell.

Blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the UK, a conference has been told.

Well, let me tell you, the current voluntary option has failed. Shan't sign.

(Hat tip: Longrider)

Tuesday
Nov282006

Michael Grade

Is it just me, or is the reaction of ITV head office staff to the arrival of Michael Grade just a tad suspect? Especially when you recall that he had the same cheering crowds when he arrived at the Beeb.

What sort of person voluntarily hangs around in the reception and applauds the arrival of their new boss? Is everyone in television naturally sycophantic? On the other hand maybe they were rounded up and parked in reception by the higher-ups. But the question is, "Who". Did Grade request this reception himself or did someone think it a good career move to arrange a welcome committee for the new boss?

We need to know. 

Monday
Nov272006

More on poverty

Now that we've had a snigger at Greg Clark's confusion over what is poverty and what is inequality, we can speculate a little about what exactly the problem is. This might at least set us on the road to a solution. As in my earlier piece I will refer to poverty and inequality as two distinct phenomena. I wish everyone else would do the same.

Various commentators, Clark included, have talked about a "lack of social cohesion" and the poor being "excluded from society". None of them seem to be willing or able to explain precisely what they mean by these terms. Are we talking about those who work, but whose income is low? People, in other words, who are upright, law-abiding citizens but who do not have much money? Is Greg Clark saying that these people are the problem? If so, then in what way are these people excluded from society? What is it that they are unable to do? They work, they meet friends, they can go to churches and schools, join clubs, vote, go shopping. They are part of society in every way and cause no problems to their fellows.

Then again, we might be talking about those who are unemployed, but are in other ways no burden to the rest of us - upright and law-abiding in every way. Are these people excluded from society? It's hard to see how they are: because of the crazy marginal tax rates endured by low-paid workers, the upright unemployed probably only have slightly less money. In other ways their circumstances are very similar and society is open to them in the same way.

I conclude then that the problem must be with the underclass - those who are not upright citizens. They are probably unemployed, perhaps criminal. They are certainly a nuisance to their neighbours, most of whom will be the upright low-paid and upright unemployed.

The thing to notice is that money or inequality are at best only contributory factors. The underclass has no less income than the upright low-paid and the upright unemployed - probably they have more, given their access to illicit earnings. They are no more unequal either. So Clark and his co-enthusiasts for inequality need to demonstrate the other factors which cause someone in the lower echelons to join the underclass rather than the upright classes.

The corollary to this is that money or inequality might not actually be contributory factors at all. Again, Clark needs to make his case. He needs to describe the mechanism by which a doubling of someone's income can help make someone else decide to join the underclass. It should be interesting if he ever sticks his head above the parapet to explain. In the absence of this "inequality mechanism" it's reasonable to conclude that there are other causes to the underclass problem. What these other causes might be will have to wait for another posting.


Sunday
Nov262006

farmsubsidy.org

Here's an interesting site: farmsubsidy.org is a Europe-wide campaign to win transparency about payments under the Common Agricultural Policy. Lots of politicians have their noses in the trough by the look of it.

Sunday
Nov262006

Oratory practice

Time for David Davis to practice his oratorial skills?

Sunday
Nov262006

Quote of the day

Discourage self-help, and loyal subjects become the slaves of ruffians.

A V Dicey

Jackie Danicki knows about this. If you're in London you should see if you can help. 

Saturday
Nov252006

Conservatives on inequality

The Conservatives recent shouting match over poverty has been nothing if not fun to watch. At least one Conservative blogger was moved to a swearblogging extravaganza that would have made DK proud.

I have come to the conclusion that Clark has no brain. In fact, I reckon that when he was a kid, his parents cracked open his skull, scooped out the minimal grey matter contained within, and then elected to use their child’s skull as a latrine/toilet bowl. Because there is no other logical explanation for the absolute shite spewing from Clark’s mouth. There is no other reason why an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition would be chomping at the minge of the atrocious Toynbee. There is no other reason why a member of the Tory Shadow Cabinet, just as the party stands for the first time since 1997 within grasping distance of power, would turn to the fucked up, unworkable policies of the twat Polly – policies so inane that even the Liberal Democrats would think twice before advocating them.

What would have made DK even happier the author's intention to join UKIP.

Today, Matthew Parris attempts to defend Greg Clark's report:

Pointless, I suppose, to recommend looking at the original document rather than media reports of it, but you should. The headlines were all about Winston Churchill and Polly Toynbee, but Mr Clark’s paper for the Conservative Party’s Social Justice Policy Group is not, in fact, an attack on Churchill and nor is it a headlong rush into the embrace of a female left-wing Guardian columnist.

Like everyone else, I have only read the headlines and so, goaded by Mr Parris, I tracked down a copy of Greg Clark's paper. It's here. And I must say, it seems to me to be pretty much as reported. While Polly Toynbee is mentioned only once in passing, it seems to me that the key sense of the report has been accurately related and that Matthew Parris' insinuation that it is otherwise is disingenuous.

The thrust of the paper is that we should accept the left's redefinition of poverty:

In the absence of significant levels of absolute poverty, one cannot accept that poverty is a real phenomenon in contemporary Britain unless one is defining it in relative terms. So what Letwin, Willetts and Duncan Smith all said implicitly, we should now say explicitly: Poverty must be defined in relation to changing social norms. We should reject completely the notion that poverty can be defined in absolute terms alone.
Let's be absolutely clear. What we are talking about is inequality, not poverty. We have two words with distinct meanings. Poverty means a lack of material possessions. Inequality means having less than other people.  Anyone who believes in honesty in public life should refuse to accept this Orwellian redefinition of the one thing as the other. Conservatives should be denouncing it.

 

Clark himself recognises what he is doing:

Whether one wants to call it poverty or not, this huge increase in income inequality has been rightly described as “one of the biggest social changes in Britain since the Second World War.”

So let's look at the logic of Clark's case using the proper terminology - namely inequality.

Firstly he attempts to make the case that inequality is a problem that needs addressing. In a section called "The Problem with Safety Nets" he writes:

In an age when absolute poverty [sic] a real danger for millions of people, the safety net represented an enormous advance. But in our own age, our ambitions should be higher. As individuals we should all have the chance to move forward and as a nation we should move forward with a sense of cohesion.

This will leave any critical reader completely in the dark as to what the problem with inequality is.  He might also ask "Why should our ambitions be higher?" and what on earth "moving forward with a sense of cohesion" means. It might also occur to him to question whether any of proposed solutions might bring such a sense of cohesion about. There is another section called "Social Exclusion Matters" in which we are told that inequality "separates the poor from the mainstream of society". Again we are not told what this means. Clark unfortunately spends most of the rest of the paper trying to justify his acceptance of an Orwellian bastardisation of the English language and leaves us none the wiser.

He goes on to consider the history of poverty and inequality during the eighties. He demonstrates that poverty has been falling, but that inequality has risen. He looks at the reasons for rising inequality - two earner versus no-earner households in the main - then, hilariously, he seems to get confused by his own redefinition and tells us that

In large part beyond the control of the state, the extraordinary confluence of these factors programmed rising poverty and inequality into the system. 

Two pages earlier, you will recall, he told us that poverty had fallen. My advice would be to say "inequality" when you mean inequality and "poverty" when you mean poverty. It's simpler that way.

Having failed to demonstrate that there is a problem and having become disorientated by his own terminological manglings Clark sees fit to tell us what Conservatives should think.  

The answer is, apparently, to accept the definition of "poverty" which has just so confused him. He also talks about redistribution, and says that the Conservative party has always redistributed. It is of course a fallacy, an argumentum ad antiquitam, to invoke past actions in support of future policy. The question that needs to be asked is whether redistribution has worked. It hasn't of course, and the determination to continue with redistribution despite this fact is why so many people think it's time to leave the Conservatives.

Saturday
Nov252006

New libertarian blogger

Jock Coats has found that his political compass score is now in the south-eastern quadrant of the political compass - he is now officially a libertarian. Perhaps there is hope for the LibDems after all.

 Bravo Jock! Anarcho-capitalism beckons!

Thursday
Nov232006

Stop press!

Plague of doors in Geoff Hoon's office!!

Questions asked in Parliament!!

According to The Daily anyway.

Following the revelation that Europe Minister Geoff Hoon’s new office door plague now reads, “Minister for Europe - Attending Cabinet”, theIndependent reports that a Parliamentary Question has been tabled asking to know the cost of the new plague.
Wednesday
Nov222006

HSE closes Riding for the Disabled

According to Mr FM, the Health & Safety Executive has closed down his local branch of Riding for the Disabled because its toilet facilities were "not compliant with the Disability Access Act".

Upon hearing this, I remarked that it didn’t seem too unreasonable to expect an organisation that handles disabled people to have DAA compliant loo facilities …. big mistake(!). As Mrs FM pointed out once she had dropped the piece of ‘fourbetwo’ she was hitting me with (the doctors say that the kidney bleeding should clear up in four to six weeks) those punters that aren’t very disabled (i.e. at least 100% black blind) are quite capable of using a common or garden kharzi: however the overwhelming majority of them are so bl**dy disabled they have colostomy bags!

Tuesday
Nov212006

Pravda, London edition

One for Burning Our Money via Chark Blog:

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has become a publisher too. Another free newspaper dropped through my letterbox. It's The Londoner and it is absolute rubbish.

livingstone.jpg

After a bit of badgering I've discovered that each issue costs £288,000.I'm still trying to establish whether that is the full cost, including overheads and distribution, and how many issues are planned each year. The reason for the questions is that I am paying for this newspaper through taxation and the newspaper is totally dedicated to the glorification of the politician who happens to be its publisher. It's too much like the old Soviet Union.

One might point out that Ken is more of a Cuba fan these days, but the sentiment is a valid one. And while the amount is piffling in the greater scheme of government waste, this doesn't alter the fact that it's immoral.

 

Tuesday
Nov212006

Two new blogs

Two new ones for the blogroll.

 First up is The Language Business, which is very interesting on the subject of the British Council - not a benevolent institution at all.

Secondly is Red Tape - the blog of Ross Clark, the author of How to Label a Goat. 

Speaking of which, did anyone hear Ross Clark interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio Trot?  I've heard gentler interviews given to politicians by Comrade Naughtie. Yes, the BBC admits it's biased. Doesn't mean it intends to change though.

Monday
Nov202006

School boards

 

Ain't gubmint a wonderful thing? Where would we be without them?

Today our protectors in Holyrood have announced their long-awaited plans for school boards:

Deputy Education Minister Robert Brown said:

"Parents and headteachers are probably the most important influences on children's experiences at school. It is vital that we build strong partnerships and ensure that parents are an integral part of the appointment process. Indeed, this is only part of our wider programme to involve more parents in their children's education.

creep.jpg 

Robert Brown, Deputy Education Minister & Dissimulating Creep 

Unfortunately for parents of school age children in Scotland Deputy Education Minister Robert Brown is a dissimulating creep. Well, actually he's a real creep, but he is dissimulating.

At the moment parents currently occupy half of the seats on each school board in Scotland. This gives them a great deal of power, particularly in the appointment of headteachers. Of course the teaching unions don't like this one bit - can't have uppity parents having any say in their children's education can we? And of course money talks, so Labour, supported by their LibDem acolytes have decided to bow to their paymasters' demands and to do away with school boards.

And what will replace them? Well, according to the Creep, the new regulations will

The proposed regulations will:

    ensure that parent councils are consulted before any recruitment process begins
    give parents a legal right to be involved in the short listing process
    guarantee parents make up at least one third of any appointment panel

As everyone knows "consulted" is a word which, in government circles, means "ignored". To "be involved" means that they can watch the grownups talking. And making up a third of the appointment panel means that they can be outvoted by the education establishment. The decisions are now out of the hands of parents and the nanny state will look after us.

Ain't the gubmint a marvellous thing. 

Monday
Nov202006

Joined up government

Blognor Regis notes a marvellous opportunity for some joined up government. And the Independent's conversion to libertarianism.