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Entries by Bishop Hill (6700)


A response to Ellee Seymour

I left a comment on Ellee Seymour's site in which I questioned her proposal to place further restrictions on knife ownership.  In her response she said that it would be a nonsense if guns were as freely available as knives.

Firstly I agree that it would be wrong for guns to be as freely available as knives. I also accept that restrictions on gun ownership is part of received wisdom. There is, however, a case that guns should be more freely available than they are.

At the moment any criminal who wants a gun is able to get one cheaply and easily. I think this is now pretty much undisputed, and I have had it confirmed to me by a friend who works in police intelligence. Currently, the only disincentive to the criminal is the slight possibility of being caught in possession. Any criminal who feels they need a gun can and will arm themselves.

If gun ownership were liberalised, what would change? That would depend on how the legislation was framed, but I would outlaw anyone with a criminal record from legally holding a firearm. In this way the disincentive to the criminal would remain in place. But what liberalisation would also do is to create a major new disincentive to using a firearm, namely the possibility that the intended victim might shoot back. This disincentive also applies to any number of criminal activities - mugging, burglary, rape, you name it.

Don't think for a moment that I'm suggesting that people should be allowed to execute anyone who tries to mug or rape them. Pointing a gun at them and inviting them to go away should be sufficient, and the law should require them to act on this basis. But until people, particularly the weakest in society, are able to defend themselves we are going to remain a people plagued by violent crime. As A V Dicey pointed out as long ago as 1885: "Discourage self-help and loyal subjects become the slaves of ruffians".

Would this lead to an upsurge in gun-crime? It's hard to say. The evidence points both ways depending where you look. America has high gun crime, but has high knife crime too. Nobody suggests that this is because they have more knives than us. Switzerland has automatic rifles in every house but relatively low crime. Gun crime has increased every year since the handgun ban in 1997, a fact which does more to support my position than Ellee's.

But even if Ellee is right and there is a cost to be borne, it is entirely fallacious to let this be the basis of a decision. We have to assess the costs and benefits on both sides. We are bearing a huge cost now in terms of criminality against the weak - old ladies mugged, young women attacked with impunity. Can we really continue to treat the most vulnerable in society as expendable? Is this the mark of a civilised society? Could it be that there are worse things than widespread gun ownership?


The rule of law

A V Dicey defined the rule of law under three heads:

  1. There should be no punishment except for breaches of the law.
  2. Everyone is subject to the law and equal before it.
  3. The law of the constitution is a consequence of the rights of individuals as defined by the courts.

These simple concepts seem to have eluded our political masters though. The Telegraph reports today that, apart from withholding information from the police enquiry into loans for peerages, Downing Street has been making it know that

the Prime Minister is happy to co-operate [with the enquiry] but should be interviewed as a witness.

I can't think of any other case in which the subject of a police investigation would even think of attempting to define how he is interviewed by them.  

I hope Yates of the Yard has no truck with this sort of posturing. If he prevaricates: nick 'im. 


Leather (again)

This piece was originally published on my old site, shortly before I switched to Squarespace. I've reproduced it here in view of Guido's story about the Charities Commissioners looking at the status of Gordon Brown's Smith Institute. (In other words, it's a naked attempt to generate a bit of traffic).

Sometimes you have a dull moment and you just fancy reading something that you know will make you really angry. I usually find the Times "Public Sector" supplement just the job, and last week's edition was no exception.

In it we had a piece about Dame Suzi Leather, the new head of the Charities Commission and, by the by, a woman whose very name can excite paroxysms of delight in readers at Laban's place.

It's not terribly exciting - we learn that she knows nothing about charities, but has a background in regulation. She was born in Uganda and has done some paragliding. But then this appears at the bottom.
1979-84 research officer, Consumers in Europe.
1984-86 trainee probation officer
1997-2001 chair, Exeter and District NHS Trust
2000-02 deputy chair, Food Standards Agency
2002-06 chair, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
2005-06 chair, School Food Trust
Read that again.

She went from being a research officer at an NGO, to training as a probation officer and then, after a gap of ten years was considered suitably qualified to head up an NHS trust. That's a neat trick if you can pull it off.

What on earth was she doing in that ten year gap to suddenly make her top management material? A bit of digging turns up this article which reveals that she was a "homemaker and freelance consumer consultant". So from her published CV she started in her position at the tiller of an NHS trust with no professional management experience whatsoever. This might go some way to explaining the performance of the NHS.

What possible reason can there be for this extraordinary advancement? Perhaps she is just extremely good at interviews or just plain lucky. Perhaps we'll never know.

In unrelated news the Guardian notes:
Dame Suzi, as she has been since January, [is] a committed member of the Labour party.
It's also interesting to compare the press release on her appointment to the FSA to the CV above:
[Sir John Krebs'] Deputy will be Ms Suzi Leather, who has twenty years of experience in consumer representation.
(My emphasis)

Still look on the bright side she says she's going to be robust in making charities submit their accounts on time. Perhaps she'll be dealing with the Moslem Council of Britain who have never actually submitted their accounts since their formation ten years ago.




The government clearly decided on day one of their administration that the populace should be treated with the utmost contempt. Perhaps it's true that we get the government we deserve.

Hardly a day goes by without a policy announcement, ministerial bullshit dutifully regurgitated by unquestioning hacks in the mainstream media. The assumption is that once an announcement is made, no further action need be taken. Nobody will ever follow up and ask what the results were.

In 2004 the schools minister, David Milliband told A-Level students that the exam was

as testing as ever

He went on: 

I am not claiming that today's students are cleverer than their parents; I do say that schools are getting better at teaching them well. Improvements in education have released the potential of middle England.

Good. Win-win. Everyone happy. Keep going just as we are, cos everything's fine. Right?

Today, however, it was announced that:

Tony Blair will endorse the International Baccalaureate Diploma as an alternative to the "gold standard" A-level today and promise funding to allow state schools to make the switch.

I leave it to my readers to decide whether Milliband was telling the truth or not.

Meanwhile, on the GCSE front ministers loudly ordered a rethink of the qualifications on offer, commanding a consultation on whether the International GCSE should be offered instead. Just one month later, the bureaucrats have come back and told him that the IGCSE is not suitable

Does anyone seriously think that these jokers should be in charge of the education system?


Unfair dismissal

No, not a posting about my readers' reactions to my postings, but a better way to deal with relations between employers and employees.

In a previous job I was witness to the corruption that is the employment litigation industry. An employee at my place of work decided she had had enough of it. She stormed into her boss's office and screamed that she was leaving and not coming back. She was gently told to calm down and to come back after the weekend and talk it through. On Monday she reappeared, armed with her letter of resignation which she slapped down in front of the boss man, and walked out.

"Fine", he thought.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later he received notification from her lawyers that she was suing the company for unfair dismissal!

At this point the lawyers had to be called, and the fees started clocking up. The first reaction was to offer an out of court settlement (a couple of grand, if I recall correctly), which was duly done. Unbelievably, this was rejected out of hand, and the case went all the way to tribunal. Here, a few thousand in fees later, it was peremptorily thrown out. Of course the tribunal was asked to award costs but this request was rejected by the tribunal. Costs in these kinds of cases are virtually never awarded to the employer.

This is absolutely typical of employment tribunals. Grasping employees are in a win-win situation. It is always worth their while to "have a go" because they are funded by legal aid (in Scotland, at least), and they know that costs will not be awarded against them. The losers are the honest employees whose own wages will bear the brunt of the costs.

And none of the political parties is proposing to do anything about it. 

So what to do about it? There is a much simpler and better way of dealing with it. In Switzerland (that den of exploiters of the working classes) the relations between employer and employees are governed by ...wait for it...contracts of employment. Everything clear and simple. Liberal. Fair.

It could never happen here.

(Hat tip: Libertarian Home


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.


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)


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. 


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.


Here's an interesting site: 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.


Oratory practice

Time for David Davis to practice his oratorial skills?


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. 


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.


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!


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.