Sep 112011
 

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, p. 269:

If I could increase gradually the rate of VAT to 19 or even 20 per cent, I could scrap the National Insurance increase. I could compensate low earners with a package of measures to negate the impact of the VAT increase. On top of that, I could surprise people by cutting both the basic rate of income tax and corporation tax in order to boost growth. I tried this out with Gordon, but was met with an emphatic no. I talked to both Peter and Ed Balls, trying to convince them that we needed something big if we were to come out of this with any momentum at all. While Peter this time had an open mind, Gordon and Ed remained implacably opposed to the VAT increase. There was nothing more I could do, so we stuck with the tax measures previously announced.

Two years later, and thanks to Brown and Balls, not only do we still have their increased NI and income taxes, we also have 20% VAT.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a fucking bunch.

Jan 202011
 

It appears that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal last year’s bloated healthcare act and has put committees together to draft new legislation to replace it—without a timetable.

As you will know, the ‘without a timetable’ aspect is something I lean toward favouring, as I criticised the act heavily, in large part for this reason:

Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream.

But this vote is not a repeal in itself, of course. That whole ‘checks and balances’ thing means that the repeal bill will have to go before the Senate and win passage there, and then go before… the president. And, typically:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

‘Shelving’ essentially means that the Senate Majority Leader, one egregious Harry Reid, can simply refuse to put the House bill onto the Senate’s legislative timetable—more or less indefinitely, if he so chooses. And even if, by some miracle of organised crime, intimidation, and sweet sweet reason, Republicans get the bill put on the Senate timetable and manage to pass it there, Obama can employ a number of veto tactics depending on when over the course of the legislative session the bill is presented to him. (Although he is required to submit his reasons for vetoing in writing; I wonder what boilerplate he’d spew on that occasion?)

The Congress can override the veto, but only with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses. So that’s pretty unlikely unless the Tea Party start getting uppity again.

I’m pleased the Republicans in the House have taken this first step, and they have a backstop in the fact that the healthcare act is being challenged in a number of cases and has already been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. (That ruling is under appeal, naturally.)

But they won’t get anywhere in the absence of some serious pressure from the American people, and given how the sheeple are, and how blind the Democrats are to protest and demonstration when it’s against their policies, I think the actual repeal of this hideous act will not occur. It’s more likely to be struck down by the high court, and even that’s pretty pie-in-the-sky.

Still, I wonder if the Democrats will now begin to hyperaccuse themselves of being obstructive, partisan, and resistant to the expressed will of the demos. It’s hard to imagine anything that demonstrates those qualities more than:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

UPDATE: Hmm, seems I forgot about those little things called states…

May 082010
 

Whenever constitutional reform is mooted here in the UK, the drive seems to be something along the lines of: the executive has too much power, MPs have too little, and oh yeah, unelected Lords have no place in a democratic nation. (Let’s pretend in this discussion, for the sake of simplicity, that the Lisbon Treaty hasn’t made Parliament redundant.)

What kind of reforms would be required, then, to address these perceived problems?

The House of Lords is easy: sweep out all of the old peers and bishops and allow people to stand for election. Presumably the old peers and bishops would be permitted to stand if they wanted to; certainly they would have to have the franchise returned to them.

It’s not as easy as that, though, is it? First of all, how many members of an elected Lords should there be? Will it be fixed, or determined by population the way Commons constituencies are? Should it even be called the ‘Lords’ any more? What will be the length of term – same as the Commons, or staggered, or fixed terms? What will its constitutional functions be?

At the moment, its high-court responsibilities having been snaffled away, the Lords exists primarily to scrutinise Commons legislation. Because the lords themselves are supposed to be non-partisan, they are meant to be able to judge legislation on its merits, rather than according to who drafted it and who’s whipping them into place. In reality, however, the Lords rarely scuppers Commons legislation. A part of the reason for this is probably because they are unelected, and Commons legislation is supposed to represent the will of the people. Another part is probably because, though supposedly non-partisan, a great many of the lords themselves are ex-party higher-ups. Does anyone really think Kinnock, Mandelson, and Martin, for example, have been busily scrutinising Commons legislation on its merits?

So we end up with a conundrum. The lords are granted the power to scrutinise legislation, but only because they are meant to be non-partisan. But non-partisan also means unelected, so they can’t scrutinise too closely or they’ll be usurping the power of the people as represented by the Commons. But if we start electing them, they’ll no longer be non-partisan, and there will no longer by any point in their scrutiny because it won’t even have the current veneer of disinterest.

Okay, that’s a little too tough for a Saturday afternoon. Let’s look at MPs and the executive, because they go hand in hand. Absent the European aspect, the reason MPs have so little power is because the executive has so much. The executive controls the parliamentary calendar of bills, it introduces bills, it whips its party’s MPs to vote on those bills. Ministers have extraordinary powers in their departments to introduce measures that don’t have to go before the Commons at all. This is why the executive is called the Government, and the Commons is just a bunch of fat-chewers.

The current hung parliament really throws this into stark relief. Why is there such consternation? Because Britain, at this precise moment, has no government. Or rather, no Government. The people have had their say, and there is certainly a legislature. But the legislature can’t act, because no executive exists to, well, execute any action. The executive is, by constitutional tradition, the leaders of whichever party holds a majority of the seats in the Commons. No majority means no executive means no Government means that, even though MPs have been duly elected all over the country, they are sat on their asses with nothing to do at the moment. They are, in a word, powerless.

Now, that’s weird, isn’t it? Normally MPs have no power because the executive is over-bearing. But then we discover that they also have no power when there is no executive at all. So what is the point of MPs, exactly?

Quite clearly, then, we see that the only purpose of MPs is to provide a count by which it is determined which party’s leaders will rule the country. The electorate are not choosing a person to represent their interests in the legislature; they are choosing a counter for the party’s leaders to whom they wish to give power. After an election, the party leaders tally up their counters, and whoever has more than half gets to be dictator for 4-5 years, as long as he maintains his number of counters. He gets to choose the rest of the executive, and the executive rules the nation.

We can see now how pathetically laughable are all of the ‘reforms’ that have been mooted to give some of the executive’s power back to the Commons. Committees? HA. Relaxing the whips? Slightly more muted, but still ha.

The only thing that will transfer power from the executive to MPs is to change the way the executive is chosen. And the obvious solution is for the people to elect the executive separately. We can even be generous and just elect the Prime Minister separately. Then parliament can approve, by vote, his or her Cabinet choices.

Except – wait! Remember that newly-elected House of Lords with little to do because their partisanship has destroyed their previous role? Hey, why don’t we let them ratify the Cabinet? Let’s let them ratify the executive’s choices of important judges, too, just for funsies. Keep them busy with something, since we’ll be paying them to sit there. And maybe they can still have their scrutiny of legislation, because the balance of parties in the Lords may be quite different from that in the Commons.

We can also open up the Commons a little bit too, now. The parties can still have their whips, of course – otherwise what’s the point of parties? And the executive can even decide the calendar. But instead of introducing legislation, the executive will have to get its MPs to do that – because of course the Prime Minister et all won’t be members of the legislature any more. So now the legislature will actually be able to control legislation. As it should be.

And so at the end of all of this, we get a less dictatorial executive, a legislature that is actually in charge of legislation, and a democratically elected House of Lords (or House of Whatever) that can act as a legitimate check on the power of the Commons. We’ve spread all of the power around, you see, and because every elected representative will have a greater say in what the government does, so will the people who elected him (or her). The democratic deficit is reduced, the parties become less tyrannical –

– and there are no more hung parliaments.

What’s not to like? Come on, you constitutional reformers out there: propose something like this, and maybe we can stop nominating you for Biggest Bullshitters of the Millenium award.

Apr 142010
 

So. After two years of slowly building itself in the wilderness, crafting press releases that media outlets file carefully in the bin, organising speeches, events, and awareness campaigns, and spreading the libertarian word to individuals bit by bit (from giving party cards to shopkeepers to chatting with taxi drivers and barmen), the LPUK has finally appeared on the national scene, doing two television appearances in one week. It never rains but it pours, eh?

Publicity bite number one came this past Sunday, when LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to debate the question, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ on The Big Questions.

As a matter of fact, he was not being asked to form part of the panel – a detail which the producers failed to mention until he actually walked onto the set for the live broadcast. In reality, he was to present a single point of view, in company with a doctor from the BMA, a grieving mother whose son was killed by a driver over the 80mgs limit, and a representative of an auto association. He also discovered when he walked on set that the question was not, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ but rather ‘Should drivers drink?’

Now, it is not for a political actor to complain that the media do not play fair; when he realised his carefully researched data were going to be useless in context, Chris manned up and did his level best to demonstrate that there is no statistical benefit to prohibiting drivers from drinking at all. Unfortunately, he ran straight into:

Maxim 1 of Political ‘Debate': Your opponent will always lie.

The doctor from the BMA had come armed with her own ‘data’ to prove that, hey, a tiny bit of alcohol slows reaction times by 12.5%, and with 80mgs of drink in the blood reaction times are 10 times slower than with 50. Subsequent research has shown these claims to be rather dubious.

Furthermore, he encountered:

Maxim 2 of Political ‘Debate': The victim (or his mother) is always right.

Never mind that only a tiny proportion of people are killed in drink-driving accidents; never mind that only a tiny proportion of drink-driving journeys result in accidents at all. Anyone who does not utterly oppose the conjunction of alcohol and driving, however limited, is essentially an advocate of manslaughter – and, incidentally, a total monster for making a grieving mother cry.

That said, he did at least have the opportunity to say one or two things about libertarianism, and it was encouraging to find the audience applauding rather less enthusiastically for the bansturbators than they had done earlier for those guests who averred that priests abusing children was a disgrace. If banning drivers from all alcohol consumption was such an obvious no-brainer, surely the audience would have given it the same acclamation they gave to the many other no-brainer statements made on the programme that day.

Publicity bite number two occurred this very morning. Again, LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to speak about the party, this time on The Daily Politics. The producers contacted him to say the interview would be part of a segment on the ‘small parties’ and their policies – as if to suggest that, alone of all media outlets, The Daily Politics was responsible and engaged enough to tell its viewers that there actually are more than three political parties in the United Kingdom. Again, Chris agreed to appear.

And again, he found himself wrong-footed. The ‘interview’ would turn out to be a two-and-a-half minute segment during which Andrew Neil actually did most of the talking. Outliers of all types have to be kept in the liminal spaces, of course, and with small parties, there is a distinct danger that if the media actually report their actual views in any kind of detail, those parties might cease to be quite so small.

Andrew Neil obviously entered the ‘interview’ with that in mind, and ensured that every one of his questions reinforced that marginalisation. He asked not one single question about the party’s policies, manifesto or activities during the course of its two-year existence; instead, he asked, ‘Why are you so small?’ and ‘Why are you standing only one candidate?’ These are not invalid questions, per se, but they have as much relevance to what the party advocates as why they chose blue and gold for the party colours, or a gryphon for its logo.

Maxim 3 of Political ‘Debate': If your position is generally perceived to be marginal, your opponent will focus solely on marginalising you.

During a general election when the media is prepared to demand ridiculous levels of detail about main-party policies, they are certainly not going to waste valuable time asking what is the general goal, outlook, or most prominent policy of any small party. It might suck up the time they’d rather spend reporting on Sarah Brown’s wonky toe.

But fair enough. Chris was there to answer Andrew’s questions, and he did a good job. He explained that the party is young and not well enough funded to pay deposits for many candidates, but that the membership is growing steadily.

Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew asked about Chris’s blog. And thereby made a colossal tactical error. First, Andrew named the blog, breaking:

Maxim 4 of Political ‘Debate': Never give your opponent free advertising.

Then, he repeated several times that he was not permitted to articulate the blog’s content on television! He made it forbidden fruit, thus also breaking:

Maxim 5 of Political ‘Debate': Never make your opponent’s position look attractive or intriguing.

Unfortunately, Chris was not prepared for a fuck-up of this magnitude on Andrew’s part, and found himself rather at a loss. Should he apologise for the unrepeatable content, or should he remain unrepentant (and thus raise his danger appeal even more)? In the end, because he is a gentleman, he plumped for an non-committal statement of regret. One wonders whether he regretted writing ‘inappropriate’ remarks about public figures, or whether it was simply that he regretted Andrew felt the blog was at all relevant to the LPUK manifesto.

The LPUK, and libertarians in general, have now learned some valuable lessons.

First, Chris was right to go and speak on these programmes. Most of the speaking engagements we libertarians do tend to be in front of other libertarians, which is great but is also preaching to the choir. Although these appearances will not have enlightened anybody about libertarian views, they have nevertheless made a lot of people aware of the existence of a libertarian party. We on the series of tubes lose sight of this sometimes (pace Boaty & D), but there are lots of libertarians out there who aren’t bloggers or blog readers, but who do watch television. Now some of them will know there is a substantial, organised community of libertarians out there that they can be part of.

Second, our assumptions about the media have all been true. They are not interested in reporting, nor are they in any way responsible holders-to-account of public actors. They are a business, and like all businesses they exist to sell their product. Consumers of news media enjoy both outrage and scandal, which unfortunately run-of-the-mill public figures do not provide in great supply. Liminal public actors, therefore, must take up the slack by submitting themselves not to questions designed to elucidate, but to statements designed to confront and incite. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this, but it does require the we liminal types adjust our own strategy accordingly. If the media want shocking interviews, we must shock unapologetically. If the media want to focus on what makes us marginal, we must learn to wear those marginal views with pride. After all, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Pity and guilt have no place among libertarians.

We often wish that public figures did more straight speaking during interviews – the constant diet of pabulum fed to us by the news outlets is so wearying. This criticism still applies to print news, of course, but I think we can all recognise now that live interviews are very different. Whether you’re a shady MP or a total nub, your interviewer’s goal is the same: to ask you only questions that put you on the back foot. I guess that’s why MPs have obfuscation techniques drummed into them from the second they join the party. We, at least, don’t have to obfuscate, so I suggest a different strategy. Instead of assuming that such questions are meant to draw us into a discussion, we should realise their purpose is to back-foot. And instead of stepping neatly into this trap, we should refuse to play – by answering the question, and nothing more.

So that when Andrew Neil says, ‘So you’re a five-man band?’ we don’t explain. We simply say ‘No’ and wait courteously for the next question. So that when he says ‘Do you think this kind of unrepeatable language is appropriate?’ we don’t qualify. We simply say ‘Yes.’ Because that’s the honest answer. And if Andrew Neil wants to call us unmitigated monsters, then the only appropriate response to such idiocy is an insolent shrug. That’s the only response it deserves.

Finally, we know that preparation is pointless. For a twenty-minute speech to other libertarians, we come armed with facts. In such company, we expect to be asked to justify our views with reference to reality. Well, plainly facts and reality are not wanted by media hosts and audiences – and even if they are wanted, the host will negate any you’ve gathered by changing the question at the last moment. So no more data, no more evidence, no more statistics. Why bother? Even when people do listen, they have no idea whether or not you’re telling the truth. If our integrity is such that we can’t permit ourselves to lie outright, then we simply emphasise over and over whichever single statistic most powerfully proves (or supports) our point. Otherwise, extemporise. Then we’ll be flexible enough to respond to the questions we actually end up facing.

After his appearance this morning, Chris offered his resignation to the party. The LPUK refused to accept it. Libertarians, we are who we are. Chris’s only mistake was assuming his hosts actually wanted a calm, logical defence of libertarianism. He was nevertheless magnificent. And the LPUK were right to refuse his resignation. What they need is a leader who is fearless, unapologetic, and completely certain of the rightness of his position. As we all know that’s exactly what the Devil’s Kitchen is, Chris Mounsey need only be himself to succeed.

And lest you think my point of view is biased, allow me to direct you to other apologia here and here and here and here.

UPDATE: And here. And here and here and here and here (sort of) and here and here.

UPDATE 2: And here and here and here and here.

On the other hand, if self-congratulatory I-told-you-sos are more to your taste, go here. With what horrific vocabulary is the Devil’s Kitchen accused of crimes against decency! Bad Conscience is tearing into first place in this contest of the vapours: ‘Highly offensive’ – ‘frequently deliberately outrageous’ – ‘heinously and wilfully offensive’ – ‘personalised, pornographic, narcissistic, grievously offensive invective and vitriol’ – ‘heinously offensive [again]’ – ‘disturbing’ – ‘nasty vitriolic crap.’

Please, dude. Don’t make yourself such a Victorian lady. I bet you’re the first to proclaim what a magnificent satire of the selfish Thatcher-and-Reagan era is Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. And the Devil’s Kitchen has nothing on him.

Apr 112010
 

John Demetriou has responded, with equal reasonableness and clarity, to my post from earlier today. I wrote before that I have a lot of sympathy with his position, and after his response, I find that I have even more. I feel I understand better what is driving his actions on this question of libertarianism, libertarian bloggers, and the public image of the Libertarian Party. In fact, after reading his post, I find I understand my own position somewhat better, and that is one of the reasons why, despite our arguments, I continue to have a lot of time for JD.

And so there is a further point I wish to make.

In his post, JD says:

What is important is that libertarianism, for the first time, became sort of ‘incarnate’ once the [LPUK] came into being. The day the party was formed, it was like the soul and future purpose of libertarianism was hoisted up off the ground and placed upon the shoulders of this vehicle.

Well, why else would it form? It must have had a purpose? This purpose was surely to seek out electoral popularity and success, in the long term. Libertarianism does not really exist in other parties (I do believe that for a fact), and so people like me and other like-minded liberty lovers look at the LPUK and think ‘please succeed and please advance our philosophy’.

Since this is his view of the LPUK, his position on Old Holborn and other libertarian bloggers and everything else is perfectly justified. If I shared this point of view, I would be behind JD one hundred per cent.

But reading his words, I realise that I don’t share this. I’m not saying he’s wrong; just that I don’t feel this way about the LPUK.

Partly this is because I think political parties, to a very real extent, inhibit true democratic representation. Parties, because they are large, necessarily have to moderate their policies and make compromises in order for their candidates to get elected. They promote a handful of generalised, core values that are broad enough to appeal to large numbers of voters and vague enough not too put too many voters off. In practice, they end up chasing the ‘centre ground’, and in practice end up standing for nothing in their pursuit of populism and inoffensiveness. I would much rather see individual candidates lay out their individual views and intentions and for the voters to choose based on the merits of those individual candidates. But because of the way the British government is structured – in which the party with the majority of candidates elected to parliament forms the Government and controls the business of the legislature – what I would like to see is not practical. So although I understand the practical necessity of having a Libertarian Party, especially as none of the other parties promote anything remotely like libertarianism, I have no great faith in the concept of political parties in general.

Moreover, as an American I have witnessed the evolution of the Libertarian Party there, and it does not inspire much confidence. I’m not saying the same will happen to the LPUK; I hope it doesn’t. But the Libertarian Party in the US has endured several regrettable developments. For a time, it was popularly known as the Party of Stoners because of its capture by single-minded advocates of marijuana legalisation. I am entirely in favour of marijuana legalisation, of course, but their harping on the point to the virtual exclusion of all other aspects of liberty made them appear to be fringe cranks who cared only about their desire to smoke a doob. More recently, they have fallen victim to the ‘populist and inoffensive’ trap, to the extent that their presidential candidate in 2008 Robert Barr, a former advocate of drug prohibition and one-man-one-woman marriage who voted for the Patriot Act in Congress, was widely believed to be so un-libertarian that many LP members absolutely refused to campaign for him. He is also a total moron. Here he is in Reason talking about why he voted for the Patriot Act:

The administration also, from the attorney general on down, gave us personal assurances that the provisions in the PATRIOT Act, if they were passed and signed into law, would be used judiciously, that they would not be used to push the envelope of executive power, that they would not be used in non-terrorism related cases. They gave us assurances that they would work with us on those provisions that we were able to get sunsetted, work with us to modify those and to look at those very carefully when those provisions came up for reauthorization. The administration also gave us absolute assurances that it would work openly and thoroughly report to the Congress, and by extrapolation to the American people, on how it was using the provisions in the PATRIOT Act. In every one of those areas, the administration has gone back on what it told us.

No intelligent libertarian would be this stunningly naive.

Quite apart from the inconsistencies of the US Libertarian Party, I also see that most of the real progress of the libertarian movement in the US in the last five years has been achieved by people who are not members of the party. Ron Paul has won hearts and minds for libertarianism all over the United States, especially in that all-important ‘young voter’ group who were unengaged in politics. In late 2007 it was not uncommon to see first-time voters at Ron Paul rallies bearing signs that read ‘Ron Paul Cured My Apathy.’ To my total bewilderment, he received a lot of criticism from the higher-ups of the LP for, of all things, being a Republican. That only served to reinforce my view that political parties do more harm than good: for who cares what party a libertarian is in, as long as he is a libertarian?

The Tea Party is another entity that has out-libertarian’d the LP in the United States. They’re not a political party (yet), they have only the most basic shared ideology, and they do not call themselves libertarians; but the vast majority of what they advocate is libertarianism by the back door, slipped into public discourse without the terminology that has become so tainted by faction and party hypocrisy, such that millions of people have rallied around them and so become libertarians without even realising it.

Given all of this, then, I do not hold the idea of a Libertarian Party in the UK in quite the same hopeful regard as John Demetriou. I support them in the ways that I can, I believe in them so far, I hope they win electoral success by the bucketload, and I would vote for them if I could. But if the LPUK fails, or splits into factions, or becomes associated with fringe nutjobs, I don’t believe it will necessarily set back the cause of libertarianism. For failure, factionalism, and fringe movements are exactly what has happened to the Libertarian Party in the US, and yet libertarianism as a politico-philosophical position is more popular and more successful there now than it has been in my lifetime.

In short, I want the LPUK to enjoy tremendous electoral success while maintaining their ideological integrity. But if they don’t, well… no biggie. Libertarianism abides.

Apr 102010
 

I am coming late to this, I realise, but in case you were not aware, LabourList decided it would be a sweet idea to post, on Easter Sunday, an article by Christian Socialist Andy Flannagan called ‘Ten Reasons Why Jesus Might Vote Labour.’ Apparently the original version was an ‘old draft’ and the post has since been updated ‘in its full context’, so I don’t know what nonsense it might have contained when it was first posted – but the nonsense it currently contains is enough to be getting on with, really.

Many of readers here are, of course, not Christians, so I will try not to be too theologically tedious*; but we all hold certain ideas and principles quite dear, so I hope you can sympathise with my incredulity that Labour have attempted to co-opt Jesus, and with my desire to point out just how pathetic and mistaken are their justifications for it. (Imagine, if it helps, how furiously you would want to fisk an article called ‘Ten Reasons Why Libertarians Might Vote Labour’ in which absolutely no mention was made of the central principles of libertarianism.)

I’m not exactly taking issue with Flannagan’s characterisation of Jesus; he lists nine of Jesus’s qualities or beliefs that are, as far as I know, reasonably accurate (and heavily paraphrased by me to strip out Flanagan’s politics-speak):

1. Jesus identified with the poor and the marginalised.
2. Jesus believed the kingdom of God was more important than any earthly kingdom.
3. Jesus promoted working for ‘the common good.’
4. Jesus is central to the story of creation and redemption.
5. Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of speaking for him while acting against him.
7. Jesus affirmed the dignity of work.
8. Jesus was passionate about families.
9. Jesus asserted that all were equal in God’s eyes and image.
10. Jesus believe there was such a thing as society.

[I’ve omitted no. 6 because the insertion of the concept of trickle-down economics into the early Roman empire is an absurdity.]

Indeed, these are all true. But Jesus was not a social worker. Jesus was, according to Christians, the Son of God, and according to most Christians, true God from true God, of one being with the Father. I would expect the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement to be at least as well versed in the theological tenets of Christianity as any Catholic child who goes to Mass regularly enough to have learned the Nicene Creed. Why is this relevant? Because Jesus’s teachings, whatever they may suggest to us about the proper ordering of human interaction, were ultimately eschatological: that is, concerned with the final outcomes of death, judgment, and the destiny of the human soul. His advice is to individuals: how to purify the soul in anticipation of meeting God. Actions, such as caring for the poor, working for one’s sustenance, and treating others as equals, are merely the outward manifestation of a genuinely held personal belief that the most sinless soul is the one that wishes only good, wishes no harm, and accepts God’s love as a gift given in spite of our imperfections, not because of our good works.

Good actions that are driven by the desire to perfect an earthly society, rather than the individual soul, are the hallmark of the non-Christian. I am not saying this is a bad thing; far from it, actually. But advocating good works for the sake of perfecting society is not a religious attitude, and Christianity is a religion, not a charity club. And the desire to perfect the soul before God is what differentiates a Christian from a nice person – and we all know the world is full of nice people who are not Christians.

So this characterisation of Jesus and Christianity as being focused on improving society actually strips both of their essentially religious nature. Doing good works is wonderful, because it makes life on earth liveable; but the distinguishing feature of Christianity is that of the perfection of the soul in preparation for death on earth; and each of us dies alone, and will face judgment alone in front of God, with Christ co-substantial and co-eternal at His right hand.

But, of course, that is only part of the religion that is Christianity. I’ll say again, Jesus was not a social worker. Jesus was and is the path by which Christians perfect their souls. Again, I would expect the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement to understand this, especially since he makes special mention of Jesus’s central role in redemption. For if you are a Christian, Jesus is the Redeemer, God’s gift to humanity of His mercy, and Jesus’s death was the Atonement in advance for our imperfections. Before Jesus, God punished wrong acts, as a manifestation of inward imperfections, immediately and directly on earth. The Old Testament is full of examples of this; God was above all a just God. After Jesus, God ceased to punish wrong acts on earth; the God of Christians, the God of the New Testament, is a merciful God, who forgives you your imperfections for the whole of your long life, knowing that the entire length of your life is necessary in order for your soul to pursue perfection. That punishment, which before Jesus He would have visited immediately, was taken by Jesus in your place, in advance, to provide you with the free will to pursue perfection at your own pace, in the ways which are open and suited to you as an individual.

The road to perfection, therefore, is to wish good and thus to do good, to wish no harm and thus to do no harm, and with gratitude to accept the free will granted by Jesus’s self-sacrifice and to use that free will to pursue closeness to God. To focus, as Flannagan does, only on the good of society and others as what Jesus taught, is to obviate Jesus’s absolutely central role in individual redemption.

Now, I understand that for many non-Christians, the idea of anyone’s (even Jesus’s) suffering punishment, for not believing in a God whose existence is unproved and not believing in a soul whose existence is unproved, is barbaric. I understand that many non-Christians accept that there is only one life, to be lived on earth, and that there are only right acts and wrong acts, and that right acts improve this one life and wrong acts damage it. I love that this is so, because it makes everyone’s life on earth better and harms nobody else. Thank God for the non-Christians, because they will not accept that life is a vale of tears, and in their non-acceptance, they ensure that life is not a vale of tears. In their way, they pursue perfection too.

For non-Christians, then, actions are all. For Christians, however, actions are a by-product of the state of the soul. I would expect anyone, like the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement, who presumes to speak as a Christian authority to recognise this. But it seems that for such people, Christianity is now a brand to be decontaminated, and apparently that means downplaying its ‘barbaric’ theology and promoting only those aspects of it which are, in fact, not ‘Christian’ at all, but practically universal among humans, be they Muslims, atheists, or even Druids.

For this reason Flannagan’s ‘reasons’ why Jesus might vote Labour are worse than just a cynical ploy to reconcile his beliefs with his politics; they are also completely devoid of any specific Christianity. Tim Montgomerie, who I’m told is also a Christian, attempts a fisking and falls neatly into the same trap. To the contrary, he cries, Labour’s policies as Flannagan has interpreted them are not in line with Jesus’s teachings as above! For every Labour policy that Flannagan asserts is totally Jesus-compatible, Montgomerie points out one that is totally Jesus-contradictory within the same sphere. But like Flannagan, Montgomerie ignores the fact that in Christianity, actions are a by-product and the soul is all. The only real way to measure how Jesus-like Labour’s policies are is to ask, ‘Has doing this helped to perfect the soul?’ As government policies have everything to do with society and nothing to do with the individual soul, the only possible answer is ‘No,’ regardless of which party’s policies are in question.

***

So how would Jesus vote, if he could vote in this election? (He couldn’t, of course, being a non-European immigrant.)

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, he said. If Caesar, in the guise of democratic duty, requires your vote, you vote. Fortunately, Caesar does not quite control how we vote; so if you feel compelled to render unto him a ballot, you may at least choose from the options on it that which best fits your conscience and your pursuit of spiritual perfection.

But Jesus has no conscience. Jesus, being of one substance with God, is already perfect. For him, there is no party or candidate who is a ‘best fit.’ To him, all parties are imperfect, all parties are wholly worldly; none are concerned with the redemption of the human soul. The choices available offering no avenue for individual spiritual perfection, and Jesus in need of no such thing anyway, I doubt you would find him at the ballot box at all, much less voting according to the conscience of Andy Flannagan or Tim Montgomerie.

*Sorry, I failed.

Feb 282010
 

Written by Fabian Tassano, this post gives remarkably prescient advice to the Conservatives on how to win the election following this one, after David Cameron has led the party to yet another shameful defeat. Of the thirteen strategies he identifies as being likely to lead to victory, the Tories have abandoned every single one, particularly these:

9) Whatever you do, do not try to imitate the Labour Party or outdo them on their own terms. This will badly backfire. You will be seen as the worst of both worlds: associated with the morally unfashionable Conservative brand, while also repelling those who dislike nanny statism. Interventionism is only appealing if it comes with a trendy ‘radical’ or ‘progressive’ label, and this is something which is beyond your reach.

10) Don’t try to seem cool or trendy. This will never work. The best thing you can do is to seem boring and sensible. That way, when the country’s infrastructure gets badly unstuck (as it will), you will be the safe default option.

With the Tory lead today at 2 points – well within the statistical margin of error, probably – Cameron would do well to heed this advice now, instead of leaving it for his successor to attempt.

Why are the Conservatives so unpopular? Because of no. 9 above. They offer the voters no real alternative at a time when voters desperately want one. The electorate doesn’t expect Labour to offer anything new, but they were hoping for some real radicalism from Camerhoon. Instead they get boring, unworkable, more-of-the-same policies. And this phenomenon makes voters hate the Tories almost more than they hate Labour, because in addition to thinking Tory policies are crap, voters feel betrayed by them, too.

I suspect Obo’s position is going to become a lot more popular over the next couple of weeks…

Feb 202010
 

It strikes me that the Conservative party came to power in 1979 for the following reason.

The Labour party said, ‘The country is fucked up and needs to be fixed, and we will do so.’

And the Conservative party said, ‘The country is fucked up and needs to be fixed, and we will do so.’

And the British people saw and agreed that the country was fucked up and needed to be fixed, and decided the Conservatives’ plans were more convincing. There was only one step required on the path to judgment, and that step was determining who was more likely to fix the country properly.

The Conservative party has a much more difficult battle this year, because Labour cunningly refuse to agree that the country is fucked up and needs to be fixed. ‘Everything is fine,’ they say, ‘indulge your submerged optimism. Sure, there have been hiccoughs, but all is under control, and any attempts to say otherwise are paranoid, eschatological scare-mongering.’

So now the British people must take an extra step on the path to judgment. First, they must determine whether the country is fucked up and does need to be fixed. Then they may proceed to evaluate which party will do a better job of fixing.

But suppose the British people have determined that, as Labour says, the country is not fucked up at all? Then the Conservatives’ campaign tactics, which revolve largely around trying to convince people that they will do a better job of fixing things, appear non-sensical. In fact, the Conservatives’ policies only make sense if one believes in the fucked-upness proposition. And since Labour have cunningly refused to concede the truth of that proposition, belief in it is by no means universal.

This, I postulate, is why the Conservatives’ lead is not nearly as large as one might expect, or as it was projected to be in 1979 when conditions were similar. Labour have undermined the Conservatives’ appeal as fixer-uppers by claiming that, in fact, nothing is broken.

Therefore I propose that if the Conservatives want to win, they alter their campaigning tactics immediately. Forget ‘broken Britain,’ forget fixing Labour’s mistakes. These are not effective targets because not everyone believes they exist. Focus instead on things that virtually everyone believes in: making government more accountable, democratic, open, responsive, etc. Shoring up civil liberties and the political rights of the people. Almost nobody will argue with these. Stop blabbing on about the deficit, cuts, blah blah finance. Nobody who denies these are problems wants to listen to you going on about them; nobody who accepts these are problems is going to take your puny promises seriously.

First, begin immediately to practise what you preach re: accountability, openness, responsiveness by operating the Conservative party according to these standards. The party is a large organisation very like a government; its own record on these matters will be viewed as an accurate predictor of how the Conservatives will run the government itself. So stop the stupid infighting about selection. Stop providing local associations with shortlists chosen by non-local party leadership. Sure, you might end up with a load of straight, white male PPCs as a result, but that won’t matter because you’ll have shown that you encourage localism and democracy within your own organisation, thus giving voters more confidence that you’ll encourage it across the nation when you’re in charge.

Second, announce everything you intend to do to protect or, if necessary, restore civil liberties. Without mentioning Labour, enumerate every piece of legislation you will repeal or amend to this end. Commit to destroying the NIR and ID cards, repealing the Coroners and Justice Bill, the Digital Economy Bill (if these things have passed), the Civil Contingencies Act, RIPA, etc. If you think a Bill of Rights is desired by the populace, produce a draft and circulate it. Invite suggestions, consultations, the contributions of legal experts, constitutional experts, and so on. Actually tell the country how you intend to ensure the restoration and protection of ancient and long-held liberties.

Then leave the money stuff for later. You’re the opposition party; you don’t have access to the information you need in order to make credible promises about finance. You don’t have access to the civil service brains in the Treasury who could explain the ins and outs of the budget and recommend cuts that wouldn’t affect ‘frontline services.’ You don’t even really know where the money comes from. So quit throwing around silly figures like £7 billion. Instead, reassure people that you are committed to responsible financial management and eliminating waste, and promise that one of your first, if not your actual first, undertakings in Government will be a thorough and completely open auditing of the country’s books, after which you will commit to responsible financial practices and put the budget back into the hands of Parliament as a whole – in which every expenditure, saving, tax cut, or tax rise will have to be approved by the legislature before you can implement it.

Of course, cynicism assures me that none of this will happen, if only because the toothpaste can’t be put back into the tube. Whatever the Conservatives may say, open government, civil liberties, and responsible accounting are inconvenient roadblocks, hardships which no incoming government would deliberately impose upon itself. If you doubt this cynical worldview, all you need do is look at the glorious President Obama, who campaigned on a platform of reversing Bush’s abuses in all these regards, but since winning the election has done precisely nothing to reverse any of them.

In fact, most of Obama’s campaign was a big fat lie, if his actual record as president is anything to go by. But at least he had the sense to lie in order to win. The Conservatives, apparently, lack even that dubious distinction.

Tom Harris MP on old parents

 indolence  Comments Off on Tom Harris MP on old parents
Jan 192010
 

Tom Harris MP writes on his blog about a 60-year-old IVF mother:

Apparently, there’s a debate taking place in Britain about whether 60 is too old to become a mum. What a depresing thought. There has to be a debate about it? Why? Are we really so stupid and shallow that we need a debate before we reach the obvious conclusion of “Yes, of course 60 is too old to become a mum”?

The only up side to this story is that Mrs Tollefsen had to go to Russia to receive this treatment because she wouldn’t have received it in the UK. I wish the same could be said for every country. There are those who are so wedded to the concept of “rights” for everyone (except the rights of infants, obviously) that they will campaign for such treatment to become available here also.

They must be opposed. That will be heartbreaking for many older childless women. But it is fairer to children, and in this equation, that’s all that matters.

As it happens, I agree with his opinion.

Of course the state should not pay for the fertilisation of old women. Of course having a child is not a ‘right.’

But any reasonable person must then speculate: perhaps the state should not pay for the fertilisation of any women, given that if having a child is not a right for old people, neither is it a right for anyone else.

Unfortunately, Tom Harris MP does not mention this. He says:

But what’s even more unfair is knowing that a child is born with the near certainty of being left motherless before it reaches its teens, or will spend their formative years as a carer.

Children are not lifestyle choices. They’re not possessions to be added to our collections of material wealth as we grow older: first car (used), first flat, first house, second car (new), baby, bigger house… Children are precious for their own sake. The happiness and fulfilment they offer to their parents is secondary.

Too true. It’s also unfair that many children in this country are born in poverty, in welfare traps, in sink estates, into single-parent households, into negligent or abusive households – all of which have been shown by countless studies to be seriously disadvantageous to children and to be primary factors in curtailing children’s chances of becoming successful, healthy, well-adjusted adults.

But while the state can refuse to fund fertilisation, it can’t stop people having children – even those people we might personally think entirely unsuitable for the job of being parents. And it seems ridiculously petty to take issue with an older woman having a child because she might die while the child is young, when there are so many people in this country who do far worse to their children day in and day out than give them as much love as they can for as long as they can.

It is terrible for a child to lose a parent, and it is sad to imagine a parent who knows full well she probably will not see her child leave school, go to university, get married, or have children of its own. But this situation is not the worst one a child can be in. It’s not even in the top ten.

And I would prefer it if Tom Harris MP and his party of Government addressed those top ten worst situations before pontificating about what a woman should and shouldn’t do with her body, and who should and shouldn’t be having children.

UPDATE: Some of the commenters on Tom Harris MP’s post seem to be complaining that, in addition to the IVF diverting NHS resources from actual sick people, it’s terribly unfair that the state should have to support the children of parents who made the irresponsible decision to get knocked up when they knew their deaths from old age might leave those children without care.

Say what? Right, because obviously the state is currently in the business of supporting only the children of parents who made responsible decisions. *boggles*

Dec 032009
 

Charlotte Gore has written an insightful post about the challenge of taking libertarian political ideas, and the Libertarian Party, mainstream. As she points out, libertarianism is still more popular online than out in the ‘real world.’ There are a number of reasons for this, but she flags up two rather important ones: first, it can seem intellectually exclusive, given the complex character of libertarian literature; second, the online libertarian community consists largely of self-selecting, not to put too fine a point on it, geeks.

The combination of these factors can often result in accusations that libertarians act both superior and selfish, and in a perception that the community is either anti-social or misanthropic.

She uses DK’s election to the leadership of LPUK as an example of this:

So Chris Mounsey’s election to leader of the Libertarian Party is fantastic news for fellow “evil nerds”, but can Chris reach out to a more broad audience? Chris runs the infamous and fantastically sweary Devil’s Kitchen blog, and because he’s one of the naughtiest geeks (second only to the incredibly, incredibly naughty Guido Fawkes) he’s right at the top of the evil dork hierarchy.

Sadly political change doesn’t come from a small hardcore niche of political obsessives though – at least, it doesn’t end there. It starts there (and you can argue that the internet has made that easier) – but movements either go mainstream or they remain in the shadows like mental state socialist and communist groups of old.

So the challenge for Chris – and all libertarians – is to find a way to communicate a libertarian message to non-geeks, to ‘normal’ people. I know I’m stumped on this, and have been for some time – but still doesn’t change the fact it needs doing.

Obviously I’m biased, but I think this is an incomplete, and slightly inaccurate, view.

During the course of my time here in the UK, I have met any number of libertarians, some of whom are members of LPUK, some of whom are bloggers – and some of whom are one or the other or neither. And with rare exception, they are friendly, sociable, articulate, and down-to-earth. There is nothing inaccessible about them. They are fine people, and perfectly ‘normal’ in that they go about living their lives with as much practicality, robust good sense, and everyday concerns as anybody else. Libertarians are not freaks.

Chris is no different. As anybody who has listened to him speak, watched him on 18 Doughty Street back in the day, or met him in person knows, he is not a raving, swearing lunatic. The Devil’s Kitchen is a persona, the kind of irreverent ranting we do inside our heads but rarely share – and the fact that most of us have a Devil’s Kitchen version of ourselves in there does much to explain why his blog is so popular. It doesn’t mean that’s how we, or Chris, conduct ourselves in the usual course of things.

In saying all of that, I mean that libertarians (and Libertarians) are both ‘normal’ and entirely capable of reaching a broader audience of other ‘normal’ people. How to accomplish this was a topic of much discussion at the AGM last weekend. The problem is not the messengers; it’s the message.

And that’s because most people live in constant, low-grade fear of any kind of risk. The power and largesse of the state allow them to pool that risk, to shuffle it off onto others, to deny (usually quite legitimately) their own responsibility for the big things that go wrong and to absolve themselves of blame and the consequences whenever little things go wrong. The state is their protection from risk: because it is big, because it is distant and complicated and unfathomable, because ‘smart’ people are running it, but most of all because it has the power of compulsion. It can force people to help you when you fuck up, even if they don’t want to, and that means the state protects you from the biggest risk of all: trusting in the basic humanity of other people.

Because we all know people are assholes, right? A couple of weeks ago, DK was giving a talk at the ASI about friendly societies. There was a Tory chap there whom I was chatting with afterwards, and he said he thought it was a nice idea but it wouldn’t work – especially the charitable aspect – because people wouldn’t use their money to help others.

I found this hard to believe – people give to charity now, even though they have a lot less money in their pockets than they would do if the state didn’t take so much of it away – and asked him if he would voluntarily donate to help people in the absence of expensive state welfare. He thought for a moment and said, ‘No, I don’t think I would.’

This is not meant to bash Tories – I’m not suggesting this particular guy was in any way representative of that party as a whole – but to illustrate that even people who are sympathetic to the economic case for libertarianism don’t trust in their own basic humanity. I fear for libertarianism specifically, and the world in general, if what that guy believes about himself, and others, is true. Because it would mean that people want to avoid responsibility for their right acts as well as their wrong ones. That not only do they need the state to stop them from being evil, they need the state to force them to be good.

This suggests there is a profound flaw in the moral code of our society, wherein the highest social virtue is not doing what is good, but doing what is safe. As long as this flaw persists, no amount of personable, ‘normal’ libertarianism is going to sell the message.