THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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July 2008

Parp! Parp!

Mr_toad_is_offIt's that time of the year again. My desk is cleared (more or less) and my Outlook "out of office" message has been cheerfully crafted and set. Tomorrow (Swiss airlines permitting) I shall return to England to collect Mrs Paine and Vittoria. We shall drive from the North of England to Epernay in France on Friday to begin two weeks of recreation in the only country that makes me doubt that, if there is a God, He is an Englishman. After resting a night in champagne country, we shall head on to Lyons and then to Provence.

A couple of thousand miles or so will be driven, much fine food will be eaten and much splendid wine will be drunk (but not all at the same time). One nice thing about living in Moscow is that barely-tolerable French wine here costs as much as the finest Grand Cru in France. So the trick is not to lower one's budget while on holiday. Cote d'Azur, here we come! This blog may be active from time to time, but will probably be too mellow for easy recognition. Here's hoping so, anyway. This holiday is already doing me good in the mere contemplation of it.

Parp! Parp!

h/t The Bridgeman Art Library for the splendidly evocative image. Please head over there and buy a print, so this counts as a review and they don't spoil my holiday with a "cease and desist" letter.


More Time for Politics

Link: More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007: Tony Benn: Books.

Tony_benn_diariesThe first time I remember hearing the name "Tony Benn" was in 1975. I was discussing with my father how to vote in Harold Wilson's referendum on whether to remain in "the Common Market". This was my first vote and I was terribly serious about it. Given a lethal combination of youthful idealism and an attraction to cheap French wine (whatever happened to that benefit of the EU?) I was going to vote "Yes". My father said he had planned to vote "No" but, learning that would put him on the same camp as Tony Benn, he had decided he must be wrong. "Generally speaking," he said, "whatever that man says, you should believe the opposite."

I was a young lefty then and rather shocked by his approach, but over the years (except over the EU) my father's rule of thumb would have worked pretty well. Even though I was then on his side, politically, I didn't like the man. There's something rather patrician and condescending about him; in a way no patrician who was not of the Leftist Establishment would dare.

A couple of years ago, I bought a DVD of one of his one-man shows. I rather enjoyed it. I have to confess that, while still infuriatingly condescending, he has a certain personal charm. Most politicians do, up close (how else would the rogues get elected?). He certainly has a way with a friendly audience. My surprised comment to Mrs P. about how much I enjoyed it was relayed to her Northern Labourite mother. The result was that I was given the latest volume of his diaries for Christmas. Ever the optimist, my mother-in-law probably thought she could help me towards her dead-but-still-poisonous 19th Century ideology. I smiled at this thought (I love her dearly, despite her manifold political delusions) and added the book to the bottom of my "to read" pile

Finally, I have read it. Again, he has surprised me. Contrary to what I have thought all these decades, he's not a bad man at all. He may even be rather a good one. Making allowances for the fact that his more recent diaries are self-consciously for publication (one way to have him like you, it seems, is to tell him how much you enjoyed the earlier volumes) he's a sincere, kind, familial human being. He's not a villain at all, but an absolute fool.

Continue reading "More Time for Politics" »

What has this to do with the the state (or me?)

Link: Tory MP Alan Duncan to enter civil partnership - Telegraph.

AlanandjamesI wish Alan Duncan and his partner every happiness today. I don't know anything about Mr. Dunseath, but Mr Duncan seems a nice, amusing chap and I am happy for him that he has a relationship he wants to celebrate. I hope they have a damn good party and that both families have a great time.

However, I don't see what it's got to do with me or why he needs the state's approval of his private choices.

Many years ago next month, my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows. We did so in her family's church, which was so nonconformist that it was in a communion of its own. There were no other branches. The pastor officiating had a day job as an official of the local Water Board. Neither of us cared. We were not religious. The ceremony was for the families.

As we were not in the established church, the marriage took legal effect when a nice lady Registrar, a state employee, signed the book she brought along for the purpose. I was too conventional then to do more than say "thank you" and pay her, but looking back it all seems very strange. For Mrs Paine and myself, we were married of and by our own volition. For the obscure Church where our families enjoyed the charming ceremony, we were now licensed to do what had previously been sin. We had chosen to involve the church, but what legitimate interest had the state in the matter? Why were we only married when this obscure official said so?

Religion was the way in which societies were ordered before an effective state was established. It worked pretty well. God is an ideal policeman, permanently on the beat. Omniscient and omnipresent, no crime sin escapes his notice and - while sinners may everywhere be seen at their work - the good need neither despair nor lobby the Home Secretary. Unerring justice will eventually be done - and with a severity to satisfy the most bloodthirsty reader of the Daily Mail. It is hard for the state to compete with that.

In primitive societies where a girl who was "ruined" would find herself without support when her father died, the institution of marriage - essentially the licensing of sexual relations on certain moral conditions - was crucial. A man who made such a commitment to God was under strong obligation to support his woman and their children. A man who abdicated that responsibility would face first the scorn of Man and then the wrath of God. For societies to grow and prosper and for children to be safe, this was important. It worked. The state probably only ever got involved because otherwise marriages made under minority religions would not have been respected.

Now that woman are able to support themselves (and goodness, how we parents of girls now encourage them to be independent so no rascal may ruin their lives) what is the point anymore? Women are not uniquely vulnerable. Indeed the common experience of married men is quite the contrary. Today, if your particular church regards fornication as a sin, let it license it for you. That other churches may still regard you as fornicators is surely now of little concern? It seems almost a comical question. If there is to be marriage (and why not if people want it?) what on Earth has the state to do with it? The law could easily be adjusted to eliminate what small difference remains between the rights of a live-in partner and those of a spouse. For that matter, why not leave the matter entirely to private negotiation? After all, the average person is now likely to have a longer-term contract with his or her bank, than his or her spouse. Yet we don't need the state to bless our account agreements.

All civilised men and women in the anglo-saxon world now recognise how ludicrous it was for homosexuality to be a crime. The "victims" were volunteers, no-one was hurt and the whole thing exposed hapless individuals (with no more choice in the matter than those of any other sexual orientation) to blackmail at worst and social exclusion at best. It drove a minority which existed at a pretty consistent level throughout human history into a sub-culture, when its members could otherwise perfectly well  function in the mainstream.

I am sure we all accept it should be lawful. But we must not make the common modern error of confusing lack of prohibition with approval. That is the mistake which drives so much of the modern Nanny state. Personally, I don't give a damn what people do in bed as long as they don't hurt anyone without their consent. I am inclined to think that homosexuality, far from being unnatural, may even be one of Nature's gentler devices for taking certain genes out of the pool. As such, it is rather to be approved and left alone just as we should (in my opinion) cheerfully accept infertility. Nature knows what she is about and should be left to get on with it. Others, however, have strong religious, moral or other objections. Pace Mr Dale who recently threw an almighty wobbler on the subject, so what if they do?

Civil partnerships can fulfil no religious function. For those religions for which homosexuality is a sin, no amount of secular mumbo-jumbo can legitimise it. In demanding parity (probably just out of the habit of recent decades) it seems to me that homosexuals have taken a wrong turn. They should have asked the state to get out of these private matters entirely; leaving marriage for the religious and private contracts for the rest. Let's face it. The Registrar at my wedding fulfilled no useful purpose. The money spent on her was a waste. Her job should long since have been scrapped. If it had been, then none of us - disapproving, tolerant or gay - need ask ourselves today why the shadow business secretary's private contractual arrangements are anyone's business but his own.

If Glasgow East isn't a Labour seat...

Link: BBC NEWS | Scotland | Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West | SNP stuns Labour in Glasgow East.

...where is? Is this the end of triangulation in British politics, with the core vote taken for granted by New Labour finally biting back? Does it signal the end of the United Kingdom? Democracy is such a crude tool when you think about it. For all my undoubted schadenfreude at Labour's richly-deserved humiliation, I am not sure what the voters of Glasgow East have said.

Labour have failed to control binge drinking. No ****, Sherlock

Link: Labour have failed to control binge drinking - News Story - Conservative Party.

I was a member of the Conservative Party for years. I led my University's Conservative association to control of our student union. I have an instinctive affiliation with the party. Knowing that I will probably not live to see the new Libertarian Party have real influence, let alone office (it took the Labour Party 24 years from its foundation to see office for the first time) I must still hope for Conservative electoral success.

Conservatives are not naturally so extravagant as Labour, which means a smaller state. They are not naturally so authoritarian neither, though the mumsy/chumsy wing are paternalist authoritarians - “for your own good, dear." 

DrunkFor two days this story from the Conservatives' site has been sitting in my RSS feeds infuriating me. What people do with their money and their bodies is entirely a matter for them. Yes, when people are drunk they sometimes do bad things, as they sometimes do when sober. So hold them accountable for their actions in either case. In choosing to become intoxicated, they took the risk that alcohol's dis-inhibiting effects (for which they bought it) might lead them into trouble. Their choice; their responsibility. Without alcohol's dis-inhibiting effects, the reserved British would probably die out. Or at least only the physically attractive would be able to breed, which would mean that the political classes would die out. Is that what the Conservatives want?

To make the political point that Labour has “failed to control” binge drinking is to accept that they have the right to do so. It is also to imply that the Conservatives will succeed in controlling it, which is a particularly stupid hostage to give to political fortune. Has the Shadow Health Secretary any idea how much state power he would need to deploy to stop all those who want to get drunk from doing so? Does he not realise that the consequences of such power would be worse than the evil he seeks to cure? If not, does he not realise that he is in the wrong political party?

To bracket "excessive drinking" and "associated violent crime" is to  exonerate criminals and blame alcohol. Then action on alcohol can be "spun" as genuine action on crime (and to hell with holding people responsible for their own actions, as a civilised society must). It is is just the sort of sodden thinking that got us into our current social nightmare. It has no place in the Conservative Party. But then neither, these days, do I.

The Englishman on "Saint Al"

Link: An Englishman's Castle: Balance on Channel 4.

I have said this often to my friends and colleagues, but have never published it. The Englishman's post stimulated to me to write it in a comment over at his Castle, so I reproduce it here (with apologies for quoting myself);

Al Gore is the 21st Century's Karl Marx. His influential presentation of pseudo-scientific gobbledegook and its adoption as gospel truth by the gullible masses (of intellectuals) will kill millions of the real masses and ensure that hundreds of millions more live their whole lives in unnecessary poverty because of arrested economic development. His ideas justify ruthless centralisation of state power on "humanitarian" grounds and are therefore irresistibly attractive to politicians of a certain ilk, who will live high on the hog behind closed doors while their subject peoples suffer and die. Stupid mug punters will fall for the spiel because it's "for a better future." It will all collapse in chaos, with only Guardian journalists and British academics still believing in it when the scales have fallen from everyone else's eyes. The parallel is exact.

There. I have it off my chest. Now the anthropogenic climate change fanatics can use their sophisticated debating skills (i.e. calling names which draw parallels with neo-Nazis) on me. See if I care. History, I fear, will prove me right. I am sorry to disappoint Osama bin Laden, who no doubt covets the title, but Al Gore may just be the most dangerous man alive.

Dr. Dragan Dabic's Website

Link: Dr. Dragan Dabic - Neuropsihijatar i Bioenergeticar - Neuropsychiatry, Alternative Medicine and Energy, Eastern Meditation, Yoga, Spiritual Cleansing, Chinese Medicine, Medicinal Herbs and Macrobiotic Diet.

DragandabicstojiHere's an interesting website to check out before it goes down. I have always thought you have to be careful about some of these Prince Charles-type quack doctors. I wonder what kind of alternative therapies he offered? Combined colonic irrigation and ethnic cleansing anyone?

What a good job Cherie Blair never met him. He might have ended up hiding out in 10 Downing Street.

Michel Roux, French chef, quits Britain

Link: Michel Roux, French chef, quits Britain for safer Switzerland - Telegraph.

Michel Roux should have been knighted and feted and given the Freedom of the City of Westminster. Perhaps even elevated to the House of Lords. Instead, after 40 years, the most important fact about him to the Telegraph is that he's French. This is a man who, with his brother Albert, did more than most to bring food civilisation to our benighted (in culinary terms) islands. I thank him for Le Gavroche which has been a source of (sadly infrequent, given where I live) pure pleasure since I first visited some 20 years ago. I have still to visit, shamefully, The Waterside Inn. Sadly, it's nowhere near my usual UK stamping grounds but it enhances my life just to know that it's there.

I hope it's a very long time before Albert and the young Roux follow suit. They should be given permanent police guards to ensure they feel safe enough to stay. They are much more important to civilisation in England than any politician currently enjoying such protection (with one notable exception).

Enjoy your retirement in Switzerland, chef. I am sorry your adopted homeland isn't safe any longer. I wish I could disagree with your assessment, but you are quite right. Anyone who can afford retirement to a safer place should do it.

The strange joys of blogging

Link: The Truth Laid Bear.

After over three years of blogging labour I have worked my way up from being "an Insignificant Microbe" in The Truth Laid Bear's blogging "ecosystem" until yesterday, briefly, I was ranked as "a Large Mammal". Today I am back to being a "Marauding Marsupial" and confidently expect to slip further to my just-about-sustainable ranking as "an Adorable Rodent". What, you may ask (what the ****, if you are a swearblogger) are you talking about? Essentially the TTLB "ecosystem" is a picturesque system of ranking blogs automatically by reference to incoming links. The top ten blogs count as "Higher Beings", currently led by the mighty Daily Kos. This is the US site that gives the lie to the feeble excuses for of Leftist bloggers in the UK. In the Land of the Free, where the entire political spectrum would fit comfortably in the right half of the Conservative Party and where David Cameron would be considered a dangerous pinko an unabashedly Left-wing site rules the blogging roost. Even her relentless energy can't get the formidable Madame Malkin out of second place.

The next thirty blogs are ranked as "Mortal Humans", including Hot Air (largely the petite Michelle Malkin again), Jihad Watch and The Volokh Conspiracy. If you have heard of any blogs at all, you must have heard of these. The next seventy are ''Playful Primates" and among this sub-elite are to be found Wonkette, Pajamas Media and the excellent Stuff White People Like. To put this in context, this is the level at which you will also find Engadget and Gizmodo, two sites with attractions well beyond those of political bloggers.

Our own big boys of political blogging such as Samizdata, ConservativeHome and Iain Dale cannot get higher than the status of "Large Mammal", which goes from the 101st most linked all the way down to the 2,617th. I can only assume (though I cannot be certain as the TTLB search facility sucks) that Guido disdains to register. If he did, I guess he would be a Large Mammal like Iain Dale. It is sobering to think that a blog about motherhood in Alaska (with "favorite recipes, reviews, crafts and giveaways mixed with stories of life in the Last Frontier") can comfortably outrank even those British political bloggers with enviable readerships.

I would encourage you to register with TTLB and to be brave enough to feature your ecosystem ranking in your sidebar. If I could cope for months with being "an insignificant microbe" so can you. TTLB's creator NZ explains that the "whimsical" names on the rankings are to remind us not to take them too seriously and of course he's right. No blogger's life depends on being ranked as a "higher being". However, it's a more accurate assessment of your blog's progress than most and if your blogging matters to you at all (why would you do it if it didn't?) it's hard not to smile at being moved up the TTLB ladder of blogging life.

Shrugging off billions, while the press looks on

Link: Billions wasted and they just shrug it off - Telegraph.

I was pleased to read such a piece in the Daily Telegraph, albeit in the obscure "opinion" section. 90% of the article is comprised of hard facts, so presumably it's "opinion" because it calls for heads to roll? These facts don't surprise me (nor the opinion neither). I am a keen follower of the splendid blog Burning our Money, where the redoubtable Wat Tyler regales readers regularly with both. The surprise is to see such facts and opinions in such proximity in a mainstream newspaper.

With notable exceptions, British political blogs rant less against the "main stream media" or "MSM" than their American counterparts. This is odd because, while American bloggers on the right will tell you that their MSM are riddled with pinkoes, the average US journalist is sane compared to his British equivalent. Apart from the odd grumpy curmudgeon seemingly selected by the editors to discredit right wing thought, our political inky hacks live in a statist fantasy world where only government matters. Given the growing Socialist dominance of British academia since the 1930's, our journalists have been steeped in left thinking for so long that we have not even a folk memory of serious coverage of classical liberal or Conservative thought. We don't know what to complain about, because our journalism has been this way since our grandparents day.

01goldbar24kThe points in the linked article are as sad as they are true. How does Gordon Brown escape personal bankruptcy for having squandered other peoples money on such a monumental scale? He only had the use of the money as our  trustee. He used billions, not for the public good, but to advance his own political career and buy votes for his party. So why is our system so defective that there is no-one to send him the personal bill? It can be and is done to mere councillors, so why not to a Chancellor and Prime Minister?

Sadder yet, however, is that for so long as the people had cheap credit to buy holidays and cars and were thus content, the Fourth Estate in Britain failed to do its job. Only now, when unemployment (even after the numbers have been rigged by encouraging the hale and the hearty onto "the sick") is set to rise above two million again, are the facts even being reported in the MSM. Where were these media professionals with all their training and resources when the mistakes reported here were being made? Not reading Wat Tyler's writings, clearly. Nor attending the meetings of the Public Accounts Committee as he does. Though they are paid to, and he does so merely as a concerned citizen.

Thomas Jefferson's remark comes to mind;

...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter...

I am afraid that for the whole of the New Labour era, functionally, we have had the former. The press must shoulder much of the blame for the parlous economic state of Britain today. They whistled Dixie while New Labour brought us to our knees.

I have never thought that blogging had much to do with the press (though the latter has tetchily seen us bloggers as amateur competition). We don't have the apparatus or the staff to do the proper job that Jefferson had in mind. We are mere observers, when real journalists can (and should) act. With honourable exceptions where the blogger has built his own insider sources, blogging is more like an incidentally public conversation at the local bar than a publication. It has revealed a popular desire to be heard and this has changed the MSM somewhat, leading to comments facilities on the web versions of their articles for example. Clearly "proppa bloggas" and the proper press influence each other, but we are not part of the same thing. I have to ask though. If the British media were not so poor, would political blogs be remotely as popular?