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.

Via @Athena_PR, this:

Nadine Dorries: We should shut down social media networking sites during a public disturbance

I don’t think I’ve written much about Nadine Dorries, but I’ve read the on-going rhetoric wars over her between Dizzy and Tim Ireland, and I know of the bogus ‘hand of God’ scandal. But I was willing to give her—and her party—the benefit of the doubt in some respects until I read this blog post—this blog post—condemning the very web-based social communication that the post itself embodies.

Let us consider: why would Nadine Dorries want to write a blog post for ConservativeHome? First, because it has a large audience to whom she can suck up. Second, because writing a blog post that reaches a large audience is easier than the hard slog of doorstepping, campaigning on the ground, and connecting in person with individuals. Third, because writing a blog post is a crap-ton easier than going on the media rounds, being interviewed by journalists who jealously (if inconsistently) guard speech privileges and who love nothing better than wrong-footing a politician.

So we’ve already identified a host of practical (if cynical) reasons why social media is good for Nadine Dorries.

But curiously, it is this same social media (ooooh, watch out) whose restriction she advocates via the medium of social media.

She says:

During 7/7, mobile networks were instantly closed down.

The justification for this, as I recall correctly, was to stop the overloading of networks, which would interfere with emergency response systems. Leaving aside whether or not that makes sense, what Nadine actually says is that:

The precedent to prevent those who present a threat to the safety of civilians from communicating with each other is already set, even though possibly not officially acknowledged by the intelligence services.

So, she acknowledges that the justification given at the time was a lie, and that the actual purpose was to stop ‘civilians from communicating with each other.’

What did it stop? More terrorist attacks, that had been planned and coordinated in advance by people meeting in person? Maybe. More likely, it stopped ‘civilians’ from contacting their loved ones to make sure they were safe, to find out where they were, to help each other, to advise each other, to mourn together, to make plans to meet up and feel the comfort of one another’s company. I’m not at all convinced that interrupting communications networks in the aftermath of disaster is a good response; nor do I believe that causing definite worry and pain to the innocent is negligible when compared to the possibility that further terrorists might be inconvenienced.

Presumably, however, Dorries does: deal with it, you civilians, it’s for your own good.

She carries on:

To compare the intention of a democratically elected, heavily scrutinised Government, to restrict social media use during a public disorder in this country, with the autocratic, secretive regimes of others such as Iran and China, is simply not a sustainable argument.

It is a sustainable argument, actually, when one isn’t tilting at straw men. The intention behind the shutting down of a speech channel by government, and the nature of that government, are immaterial. Whatever the intention or the government, the outcome is the same: a speech channel is shut down. Dorries should know, due to her Christian advocacy, that Christ is not concerned with the roots, but with the fruits. And as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I for one do not give a stuff about the government’s intentions, or its democratic legitimacy. What I am concerned with are the outcomes of its policies. It is possible for an autocrat to lead a blissful society. And it is possible for a democrat to preside over a dystopian one.

But hark! To Dorries, this sort of statement is not hypocrisy, for as she says of another suspiciously grassy figurine:

A peaceful demonstration, voicing a desire for freedom of speech, or free and fair elections in other countries cannot be compared to mass criminality or violent social disorder, which is what we saw take place here during the riots.

Allow me to deconstruct this for you in simple symbolic logic, if I can, for it makes little sense, but I’ll give it a go.

Oppressive regimes = bad.
Violent disorder = bad.
Social media = ?

Where are social media in this argument? Nowhere. What Dorries is saying is that condemning oppressive regimes whilst condemning disorder is not hypocrisy. Well, duh. In other news, comfort is good and pain is unpleasant, and the pope shits in the woods. What has this got to do with anything?

I think I would like Dorries better if she was prepared to talk the talk and walk the walk. If one is going to address the criticism that shutting down social media makes the British government no better than China or Iran, one should really go all out and just admit something along the lines of, ‘You know what? China and Iran have their problems, but this is one issue they have bang to rights. Having one or two things in common with them doesn’t make us fascists, too. After all, Hitler liked dogs and watercolours.’

She’d still be wrong, but at least she wouldn’t be a mealy-mouthed, lying, self-deluding, patronising hypocrite.

And there’s still more to come:

The argument put forward this morning by Andrew, on the Today programme, that a Twitter message may have saved a person in a burning house is false and unprovable. It just didn’t happen. What saved a person in a burning house was screaming out of a window.

Does anyone really think that an individual when sat in the middle of a burning building, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter and post a message which says ‘help, help’?

Well, maybe. I can’t speak for this Andrew chap. He strikes me as something of a dimwit. Of course nobody tweets ‘Help, help.’ But maybe what they tweet is, ‘Hey you guys, is there any rioting near Brixton station? I usually go home past it.’

And maybe what they get is, ‘Yes, there is: find a different way home or you might get hurt.’ So there you go: social media can prevent harm as easily as it can contribute to it.

Conversely, rather than saving lives, the overwhelming use of social media during the riots was seriously harmful. It disseminated information so quickly that it undoubtedly helped to spread the riots across a wider area. This resulted in the tragic loss of life in Birmingham and chaotic disruption in other major cities.

This is a total exaggeration. How many people were involved in the riots, vs how many uninvolved people were helping each other through social media channels? Given the numbers rioting were, you know, small in the grand scheme of the online population, I have to call bullshit on this one.

Especially when one considers the fact that, in the grand scheme of riots, this was pretty paltry. It sucks that people died, and that others’ livelihoods and homes were destroyed. But come on, they had way bigger riots than this in 1381 when barely anybody could write, let alone use Twitter. Social media didn’t facilitate widespread, destructive social upheaval. It partially facilitated shitty little riots, characterised mostly by looting, undertaken largely by people with criminal backgrounds.

You know what else social media facilitates? Widespread communication of condemnation of itself, by hypocritical assholes like Nadine Dorries. The tool that allows rioters to reach a wide audience of fellow rioters is the same tool that allows fascist scum like Nadine Dorries to reach a wide audience of fellow fascist scum. Funny, that. I guess social media can be used for good and evil. But just because Dorries is polluting the series of tubes with her authoritarian wickedness doesn’t mean I think the series of tubes should be switched off.

In proposing to close down social media networking sites when threatening public disorder starts to break out, this Government is acting responsibly in using such a measure as an exercise in damage limitation.

It’s also acting to disrupt a much wider-ranging exercise in damage prevention. Everything has a cost.

We must also remember that Twitter and Facebook were used to spread false rumours, to disrupt vital life saving services such as the Fire and Ambulance services…

Ooh, yet again, the justification that the emergency services need these networks to be clear in order to do their life-saving jobs. As Dorries has already admitted the falseness of that justification with respect to the closing of mobile networks on 7/7, it’s not a particularly effective piece of rhetoric here, but let’s return to something, shall we?

Does anyone really think that an individual when sat in the middle of a burning building, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter and post a message which says ‘help, help’?

Does anyone really think that emergency services personnel when sat in the middle of a riot zone, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter or Facebook, and check for a message which says ‘help, help’?

Finally:

To the Libertarians who are constantly arguing against the use of CCTV and the very temporary shutting down of social media when necessary, you have to ask yourself this. Is your political principle really more important that the families who lost sons, the shopkeepers who lost their business and the children who have been burnt out of their homes?

My answer: yes.

Because the failure to prevent rioting negatively affected a few thousands, while the failure to protect my principle negatively affects everyone on this planet. Don’t make Stalin’s mistake in thinking that a few thousand horrors is a tragedy, but a few billion is merely a statistic.

I think what bothers me the most here is not that Dorries believes these things, for I’m sure she’s not alone and I know a lot of people sympathise with her views. What really gets my goat is that she is a representative of the Government of this nation; and her well-paid advisors, her party’s well-paid advisors, and the Government’s well-paid advisors appear to have no objection to her advocacy, on a very popular and highly-read social media forum, of the shutting down of social media in technology-based, 21st-century Britain, all in the name of the possible prevention of criminal behaviour that is barely on a par with the kind of social disorder and criminal behaviour that persisted in eras when social media wasn’t even a gleam in your mother’s eye.

I can only assume, from this and from Cameron’s recent waffle, that the Conservative party endorses this kind of bullshit, and that its supporters and voters endorse it as well. And if this is what passes for democratically elected, heavily scrutinised, first-world, free-world governance, then I fear deeply for democracy, elections, scrutiny, and the civilised world.

Dorries notwithstanding, I’m extremely unlikely to support the Conservative party ever, but you entryists out there (and I know there are fuck-tons of you, because you’ve tried your entryism on me), take note: if you don’t stand up and condemn what Dorries and Cameron are saying, you will earn for yourselves many enemies. And if you, by your silence, permit Dorries, Cameron, and their ilk to follow through on this ragged rhetoric with actual policies, you will earn for yourselves so much implacable hatred that you will consider rock bands claiming they will dance when you die to be an expression of positive affection, and moan about how easy Thatcher had it.

I know lots of people have already remarked on this, but this Guardian blogpost about MPs’ expenses rules has my eyes literally burning with rage.

Not because of what the rules are, of course, but because of the unattributed comments from MPs about them.

We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grille?

Implicit snobbery vis a vis benefits claimants, much? As Old Holborn has said, you are benefits claimants. The only difference between an MP’s pay and a benefit claimant’s handout is that the MP pretends to do work for it. Being an MP is obviously not a hardship in any way, despite some of the slogging they have to do (constituency work, natch). The non-monetary compensations are clearly huge, else there wouldn’t be nearly so many toes scrabbling their way up the greasy pole. MPs, don’t pretend your actions are self-sacrificing, or that you are in some way noble for doing the job. You’re not – you can quit at any time, and very likely go into some other job that pays much more. (At least, those MPs with actual talent and intelligence can). But you don’t, because there’s something about being an MP that gets you off, which other jobs wouldn’t do. You’re not serving the public; you’re serving yourself, and you’re doing it with our money. So get used to being treated like benefits claimants.

For Christ’s sake, what has happened if this bloody authority doesn’t believe me when I say my wife is my wife? A utility bill to prove co-habitation? Good God.

None of the bloody authorities believe the rest of us. You want special perks from the state because you’re married? Then you have to prove over and over again that you’re actually married, actually co-habiting – check out the list of documents Shane Greer had to hand over to the state when he wanted permission to marry a foreigner. And of course those all had to be originals. And I’m willing to bet the state kept them a hell of a lot longer than IPSA will be keeping MPs’ utility bills, marriage certificates, and birth certificates. Welcome to the world you helped create, MPs: if you have to hand over original documents to the state to prove every little thing, well, you’re only living the life you’ve imposed on the rest of us.

What happens on a January night in London? I suppose I will have to take the tube, then a bus and then a long walk home. That is not safe.

We just have to accept this because the public is not with us. It will take something really horrendous, such as a woman MP being stabbed on the streets of London because she is not entitled to take a taxi home late at night, before people wake up and realise how unfair this is.

You know what? FUCK YOU. How many winter nights in London have I had to take the tube, then a bus, then walk home? Not only that, I paid for it MYSELF. Let’s put into perspective what these fucking precious female MPs are whining about: before 11pm, they can only claim for travel on public transport. After 11pm, they can claim for taxis.

I’m a woman, I never get to claim for any of these ‘not safe’ journeys on the tube, bus, etc., let alone for the luxury of a fucking taxi, and nobody in parliament worries about me getting stabbed or raped or whatever as I pay my own costs on the ‘not safe’ way.

Ooh, of course, the public will wake up and realise how ‘unfair’ this all is when a woman MP is attacked. You know what? FUCK YOU AGAIN. Women all across London are attacked on a daily basis – it’s really unfair – and MPs refuse to wake up and give a shit about the astounding amount of criminality in Britain. If an exalted lady MP feels unsafe on the fucking BUS before 11pm, how does she think we proles feel about it?

What makes me angriest, however, is the fact that, actually, tube and bus etc. aren’t even that unsafe. I’m on them constantly at all hours – including January nights – and never once has anyone threatened me, harassed me, attacked me, or made me feel even remotely uncomfortable. And, unlike these lady MPs, I’m not going home to Islington, I’m going home to fucking Brixton. If I can walk from the bus stop to my flat in Brixton without a problem, I think these bitches can do the same, especially since they still won’t be paying for it themselves.

Assholes.

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Industrial alcohol is basically grain alcohol with some unpleasant chemicals mixed in to render it undrinkable. The U.S. government started requiring this “denaturing” process in 1906 for manufacturers who wanted to avoid the taxes levied on potable spirits. The U.S. Treasury Department, charged with overseeing alcohol enforcement, estimated that by the mid-1920s, some 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen annually to supply the country’s drinkers. In response, in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge’s government decided to turn to chemistry as an enforcement tool. Some 70 denaturing formulas existed by the 1920s. Most simply added poisonous methyl alcohol into the mix. Others used bitter-tasting compounds that were less lethal, designed to make the alcohol taste so awful that it became undrinkable.

To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to “renature” the products, returning them to a drinkable state. The bootleggers paid their chemists a lot more than the government did, and they excelled at their job. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country. So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products far more deadly.

By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.
The results were immediate, starting with that horrific holiday body count in the closing days of 1926. Public health officials responded with shock. “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol,” New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. “[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Governments, yes, always act in the best possible ways for the largest number of people (‘THE GREATER GOOOOOOOOOD’). I hereby renounce my doubting ways and surrender myself to its loving embrace.

The Prime Minister’s speech at the RSA on Tuesday deserves a good kick up the metaphorical backside, for it is an excellent example of how the language of liberty and change has been appropriated to describe actions which are entirely contrary to the principles of liberty, self-government, and human rights – and, of course, change.

Many people have assured me that, without government, there are no rights (‘Look at Somalia!’), and to a certain practical extent, I believe this to be true. If one’s right to life can be trampled upon by someone else with impunity, that right is de facto non-existent. Some government or authority is necessary to guarantee that others cannot infringe my rights – what is known as the rule of law. But that right is equally non-existent if the government itself can trample upon it with impunity, which is why I advocate a limited government without the power to infringe rights. There is naturally room for argument about what system of government best enables that ideal, and about the nature of its limitations and how they are guaranteed. But the ideal itself is sound.

It goes without saying, then, that rights supplied by the government, either through provision or financing, are not what I consider to be ‘rights’ at all, but entitlements; and that a government in the business of providing entitlements is ipso facto approaching the opposite end of the scale from my limited-government ideal, whatever else its virtues may be.

Notwithstanding the question of rights versus entitlements, another advantage of limited government is its inability to change itself. Not only does this confer stability, which is certainly an important consideration, it means that the government has not the power to grant itself more power. However small a remit the government might start out with, if it has the wherewithal to arrogate more and more aspects of public (and private) life to itself, it will not stay a limited government for long. So in addition to safeguarding the rights of the people, a truly ‘limited’ government must not contain within itself an easy mechanism for expansive self-alteration.

Only under the auspices of a government weak in all aspects except the rule of law can a people be both in word and in practice free. That, my friends, is liberty.

Gordon Brown clearly does not see things my way.

His speech, called ‘Transforming Politics,’ displays a curious mixture of impotence, brazenness, and lies.

Impotence, because he is the Prime Minister, and most out of all other Britons has the power to transform politics – yet he insists that the people in their diffuse millions must do this, people whose jobs, families, and responsibilities lie outside the realm of politics, people whose sole real political power is a single vote, warped and distended and subject to pressures far more numerous and dislocated than an individual’s choice of candidate. Gordon Brown has his hand on the tiller; he gets on with the job at hand; he single-handedly saved the world’s banking system. Why, then, is the hand he wraps round the lever of the nation’s political culture so weak?

If he truly wanted to transform politics, he with his executive orders and compliant cabinet and virtual stranglehold on his parliamentary party could do so. There is nothing to stop him. He claims to know what the people want, and he unquestionably has the power to make it happen – why insist that nebulous public action be a necessary condition?

Politicians, and Gordon Brown is no exception, must find it tremendously hard to imagine what they would want from politicians, were they regular people on the street. They have entered the rabbit hole; they are incapable of stepping outside of their own frame of reference. Ask any man or woman in the grocery store or the bus queue, and they will tell you: politics should be practised by decent people who are not obviously fraudsters, liars, confidence tricksters, or panderers, who realise that their job in a democracy is to represent the will of their constituents and advocate for policies that are beneficial, practical, and above all reasonable.

Ask a politician what sort of person should be practising politics, and who the hell knows what answer you’ll get. It might be the one I mentioned above. It might be ‘whoever knows what’s best.’ The honest answer (which you’ll never get from a politician, obviously) is either ‘me’ or ‘whoever can get the votes.’ This is not unfounded supposition; it is revealed preference.

Brazenness, because he appears to believe that if he repeats well-worn memes often enough, someone, somewhere, might derive meaning from them. How many times have we heard the following:

‘power back to the people’

‘democratically accountable’

‘giving people… rights to control the services they depend upon’

‘change’

‘power redistributed away from the centre’

‘fair access to all’

‘improving public services’

‘lasting peace and shared prosperity’

‘neighbourhoods’

‘diversity’

Brown endlessly repeats the buzzwords and key phrases, empty assurances that nobody disagrees with and which therefore mean nothing. Brown’s key speech about transforming politics is a repetition of all that his Government has been saying for the past decade. And he does not imagine his listeners will pick up on the obvious contradiction: change and transformation are in reality more of the same.

Lies, because he represents himself as a champion of the people against an outdated, unfair, and ossified constitution – which was equally outdated and ossified thirteen years ago when Labour won a landslide of seats under its unfair auspices. If the need for constitutional reform is so obvious now, it was equally obvious then, yet Labour did nothing. If, as Brown says, the choice is between ‘a new politics, where individuals have more say and more control over their lives,’ or ‘a discredited old politics, leaving power concentrated in the hands of the old elites,’ why were the British people not presented with this choice thirteen years ago, when it was no less real and pressing?

Constitutional reform is the last refuge of the desperate. With little prospect of a democratic mandate under the current system, acutely aware of his general unpopularity but clinging on to power with determined and bloody fingertips, the constitutional reformer sets out to circumvent imminent oblivion in the only way left to him: changing the rules in the middle of the game. It isn’t that the rules don’t need changing; it’s that he hadn’t the will to change them when he was winning. Now that he is losing, he suddenly apprehends that the same rules which used to give him unfair advantage will now deliver unto him unfair defeat.

What were once unfair rules must now become fair, before the game is over, while he still has the power to change them. He is a creature of the immediate; he will not bide his time until the next game.

Does Gordon Brown believe we will not notice this? And if we do notice it, does he expect we will trust in his party to deliver the constitutional change that best suits the people rather than what best suits the Labour party? He, with his parliamentary majority, his executive authority, his supine monarch, his cowardly cabinet, his draconian whips, his placemen in the upper house?

And so he promises us change for our own good, change that will empower the people and enhance their liberty, change dressed up in the beautiful language of freedom and democracy, concealing the meretricious reality beneath: that this government has great power, too much power, and cannot be stopped from infringing the people’s rights or changing itself to accrue yet more power. If this were not so, Brown’s constitutional reforms would be a pipe dream. And yet we are supposed to believe that the endpoint of this vast exercise of authority is to reduce that authority.

Forgive me if I’m a bit doubtful.

And yet it’s all so plausible, which is how he gets away with it. What reforms, specifically, is he proposing?

1. A democratically accountable House of Lords.

…a modern democracy cannot tolerate power to initiate and revise legislation being held for ever by those without a mandate from the people.

Quite right. While there are certain advantages to having an upper house that is not susceptible to the whims of the populace, such a chamber is manifestly not representative of the will of the people.

The cynical interpretation: an undemocratic upper house is also not susceptible to the whims of the Commons and acts as a bulwark against hasty, radical change and as a brake on the tremendous power of the Commons. More than in practically every other Western democracy, the majority party in the elected legislature of Britain wields almost unchecked authority. The unelected, (theoretically) non-partisan Lords is one of the few impediments.

But, I hear you say, the upper house in the United States, the Senate, is elected and partisan, and still gets the job done! To which I reply, the lower house in the US, the House of Representatives, has nothing like the power the House of Commons wields. The majority party in the House of Representatives is not the Government, and its leaders constitutionally lack executive authority.

Only when executive authority in Britain is separated from the majority party in the Commons does having an elected House of Lords make sense. While the majority party in the Commons continues to control both the legislature and the executive, making the Lords both partisan and elected will only strengthen that control, not weaken it.

So does Brown propose to reform the Commons in accordance with this prognostication?

No.

2. Increase parliament’s ability to hold the Government to account.

…parties should elect their own members of select committees in a secret ballot; select committee chairs should be elected by a ballot of the whole house; and non-government business should be managed by members of parliament, not the executive.

Quite right. Parliament is in theory sovereign; it should also be so in practice.

But:

…the proper role of parliament is, indeed, to scrutinise the executive and it should be given all the necessary tools to do so.

Parliament should, at this moment, deny Gordon Brown the ability to give them these tools. For tools which can be given can also be taken away. And once it is statutory that Parliament scrutinises the executive at the will of the executive, the legitimacy of that will is forever enshrined in the constitution. When power is granted, it is just as important to examine the implications of the granting as the actual power. This reform serves only to cement further the control of the executive over the operation of the sovereign legislative body.

3. Electoral reform, from FPTP to AV.

The alternative vote system has the advantage of maintaining the benefit of a strong constituency link…

I am sure this is true.

However:

The first past the post system maintains a clear link to a member of parliament’s constituency and it has usually given governments a clear mandate to govern.

If this is true, why change it? We don’t fix what isn’t broken. FPTP maintains the same strong link to the constituency as AV would; in addition, it has the advantage of usually conferring a clear mandate to govern. What does AV offer that overcomes this obvious advantage of FPTP?

…it also offers voters increased choice with the chance to express preferences for as many of the candidates as they wish.

Ah. AV allows a major party candidate to slide into office as the second preference of those who voted first for a smaller third party. The alternative-vote system will clear up that nasty problem of marginal seats while having little negative effect on elections in safe constituencies. To complete our journey through cynicism, all we need ask is: what is our biggest third party, and which major party are its voters more likely to prefer as their second preference?

Hands up all those who voted Lib Dem in 2005 because they hated Blair the war-monger but couldn’t stomach voting Conservative.

4. Transparency in public decisions and documents.

Over and above our commitment to transparency through FOI we are committed to progressively reducing the time taken to release official documents – ensuring the public have access to public papers far quicker than ever before.

Excellent.

I have no problem with this, actually; it’s one of the few pieces of wheat in all of this chaff. But it is only a small step in the right direction; the government of this nation needs to realise that all public business – everything done in the name of the people with the democratic authority of the people as its claim to legitimacy – must be open to the people. All documents should be official, and all documents should be public. All meetings, committees, hearings, inquiries, and the record of their business should be accessible to the electorate. Everything done in the name of the people and by right of their democratic authority belongs to the people.

5. Make public services more responsive to individual users.

Public services will not only be more personal in future but they will be more interactive – with the ability of the citizen enhanced to make their views known directly and influence the way our communities work.

Great.

Just one problem. At the moment, public services are accountable to the government. The government, as properly elected representatives of the people, oversees their operation, officially assesses their quality, and controls their funding. The government is the middleman, the mediator, between the public and the public services. The best way to make the public services directly accountable to the public is to remove the middleman. Will the government now allow the people to directly oversee the operation of public services, to directly assess their quality, and to directly provide and control their funding?

No, because:

…we do not rest our case on the delivery of better services to people merely on aspirations or targets: we are offering personal guarantees to citizens about the rights they can expect and enjoy.

The government will still be the mediator. As mentioned above, whatever it is in the power of government to grant, it is also in the power of government to take away. And so more and more authority gathers at the centre. Rights which are granted by government are not rights at all, but entitlements; and entitlements granted to the people are as far from being ‘subject to people’s direct control’ as it is possible to be.

6. Strengthening local government.

Local government should be free to innovate and to be creative in delivering better public services.

Quite right.

But:

…we inherited a situation where local government had been starved of funding and had very little power over decisions taken that affected their communities.

This is an implicit admission that he who controls the funds controls the power; and by starving local government of funds, central government had also starved it of power. Nothing in Gordon Brown’s proposals mentions giving local governments responsibility for raising their own funding. As long as local authorities must rely on the central government to pay for whatever it is they deliver, they will always be at the mercy of central government’s demands, no matter how ‘free to innovate’ they may theoretically be.

In fact, Brown skirts around this issue with admirable vagueness (if vagueness is the sort of thing one admires):

It is true that in the past local government has had too many streams of funding from a multitude of central government sources. Our total place reforms are potentially transformative in the better use of resources: they will allow local government and its partners to reach across all the funding coming into an area and enable better choices to be made at a local level about how this money is spent.

I’m not even sure what he means. What are ‘total place reforms’? How reassuring is that word ‘potentially’? What he appears to be getting at is that although the funding will still come from central governments, it may no longer be hypothecated, so local authorities will have more say in how to spend their hand-outs. I’m at a loss as to why he needs such an elaborate circumlocution to make that point, unless it is his desire to gloss over the fact that central government will still control the extent of local spending.

7. Codify Britain’s unwritten constitution.

…I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to lead work to consolidate the existing unwritten, piecemeal conventions that govern much of the way central government operates under our existing constitution into a single written document.

The various arguments for and against written constitutions are numerous and complex, and it may well serve the British people to have a definitive document; others will know better than I whether this is the case.

In the summer I announced that we would consult on the question of codifying our constitution as part of the consultation exercise on the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

For those of you who have not read the consultation document on the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, allow me to draw your attention to some of the key points contained in the Ministry of Justice’s green paper.

First, the government considers that the key constitutional question in need of answering is

of the relationship between the citizen and the state and how this relationship can best be defined to protect fundamental freedoms and foster mutual responsibility as this country is going through profound changes.

The impetus for this kind of constitutional codification is explicitly the presence of change and crisis. Gordon Brown believes that ‘if we are to decide to have a written constitution the time for its completion should be the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in Runneymede in 1215.’ That gives us five years, during a time of change and crisis, for formulation, deliberation, debate, revision, judicial scrutiny, and finalisation. Enforcing an arbitrary time limit on a process that requires deep scholarship, consultation, bipartisan agreement, and lengthy deliberation during a time of change and crisis when that process cannot even command the government’s full attention is a recipe for disaster. (And the time limit is essentially arbitrary. There is no pressing need for a codified constitution by 2015. The year just happens to be the anniversary of something vaguely historically relevant on the popular connotations of which Brown would like to capitalise.)

Second, the codified constitution being mooted is not the lofty, concise document the United States enjoys, which merely sets out the fundamental rights of the people and the operation of their government. No, the British version will contain much more:

How individuals should live together, what rights and freedoms we should enjoy in relation to one another and against the state and how they should be balanced by the responsibilities we owe each other are among the most fundamental questions in politics. They are not abstractions, removed from the practical politics of jobs and housing and healthcare and education, because they concern the constitutional arrangements which determine how power is distributed in our country. They determine how every other question in our public life will be answered. They are not just about the historic protections of the individual against the state and balancing liberty and security. They are also about the frustrations that can arise in daily life, especially when using public services, and reflect the key role for town halls in tackling these frustrations by making information easy to access and involving local people in the decisions which affect them. They are about getting support to combat anti-social behaviour and to tackle the discrimination and prejudice many of our people still have to endure. They are about the smoking ban, the hunting ban, and taking action to prevent climate change.

This constitution is to be about everything a Briton encounters in his public life – except, apparently, the structure of his government, which is nowhere mentioned.

Third, this constitution will deliberately not include some of the things we have come to consider fundamental rights. Consider, for instance, this passage:

Additional protections in relation to liberty of the person or fair trials may not be necessary as the belief in their fundamental nature is already so deeply entrenched, culturally and politically, and there is no fundamental threat to them. At this stage, the Government does not propose the inclusion of the principle of habeas corpus or a right to trial by jury in any new Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, but it remains open to all arguments for and against as part of an informed public debate.

The Government does not propose to include habeas corpus, fair trials, and trial by jury in the written constitution as, apparently, there is no threat to these rights and no current need to protect them. You may draw your own conclusions about the wisdom of that plan.

Fourth, the proposed constitution is not intended to have legal effect – that is, the rights or responsibilities codified therein are not intended to be enforceable by an individual in court. It is not intended to have the statutory force of an Act of Parliament. In fact, its purpose would be only this:

A non-statutory declaration could be readily amended and updated over time. Its effect would be intended as primarily political and symbolic rather than legal. The fact that a charter or declaration might not have statutory force or was otherwise not justiciable would not mean that the exercise or the text itself lacked force. It could still carry great legitimacy in the wider sense of that word, by the strength of the consent behind it, and by the way in which it helped to set standards, as yardsticks of the behaviour we expected of others and of ourselves as members of UK society.

In short, Brown’s ‘written constitution’ would be a poorly-drafted, cumbersomely huge, non-traditional, non-justiciable framework setting out the minutiae of Britons’ lives without holding the government to any definitive principles of action or, even, guaranteeing its legal responsibility to protect the rights listed therein, let alone enforce the many entitlements also included.

(There are numerous other problems with this proposed ‘constitution,’ which you may identify by reading it yourself provided you accept the risk to your blood pressure.)

The rest of Brown’s speech is a clever call for his political opponents to agree with him. This, truly, is the language of politics: for if they disagree with him, they would entrench privilege and unfairness at the expense of the people; and if they agree with him, there is no need for them at all.

The not-so-clever part of his peroration is the constant call for change. Change, by definition, would be something different from what we have now. And what we have now, what we have had for thirteen years, is Labour. I have to wonder at Brown’s motivation for reminding us all of that. And for enumerating a deliberate and concentrated program of attacks on the existing checks and balances on the Government’s power that are, at the moment, the only institutions and processes in the country that limit the majority party’s near-incalculable power over public life and protect the few fundamental liberties remaining to the people of Britain.

What the f*ck is wrong with you British people? Seriously, is every single one of you on crack?

How in the name of all that is holy and good does THIS pass for effective campaigning by an opposition party that wants to be the party of Government?

HOW?

We can make you behave

Even the Guardian is taking the piss out of this idea, which speaks volumes.

…a Conservative government will impose a seven-day cooling off period for store credit cards, so shoppers can’t immediately rack up debts on them when they sign up at the till. That’s a far less intrusive way to tackle problem debt than banning store cards, for example, or introducing a new tax.

MORE LEGISLATION.

A Conservative government will require all public bodies that want to launch marketing campaigns to state precisely what behaviour change the advertising is designed to bring about, and an element of the advertising agency fee will be made contingent on achieving the desired outcome

PROPAGANDA.

The new insights from behavioural economics and social psychology are helping us to apply that principle to today’s problems, and cut burdensome regulation and costs. In fact, when you come to think about it, it’s all pretty rational, isn’t it?

ARE YOU PEOPLE INSANE?

I can’t believe that, in this once-great nation, the populace has created for itself the choice between authoritarian control-freaks and authoritarian control-freaks. Is this really what you want? People in absolute charge of you who all think they know better than you? People who think you need a cooling-off period, like a child on the naughty step, before you can make a decision about what to do with your own damn money? People who think you need to be told by public agencies how to use your own brains to make rational decisions? Do you really find life such a complicated hardship that you want a government to hold your hand from cradle to grave?

What the hell could possibly make you think George Osborne knows better than you how you should live your life? Why on earth should people whose only skill is kissing your ass have this kind of responsibility? What set of facts makes you believe that the people who run your country are immune to irrational action?

WHY DO YOU PUT UP WITH THIS CRAP?

Answers on a postcard. I’m off to have a drink.

UPDATE: Alex Massie writes in the Spectator:

Kinder, gentler, subtler authoritarianism is still authoritarianism and makes a mockery of Tory rhetoric. That rhetoric is quite appealling but when you actually look at what the Tories actually want to do then, more often than not, their plans bear little or no relation to the meaning of their words. So why should their words be taken seriously?

Then again, this should not be a surprise. As James points out in his excellent column this week, Cameron and Osborne run an unprecedentedly centralised operation inside the Tory party. There’s little reason to suppose that their approach to government will be any different. Your freedom is severely constrained by their idea of that freedom. But that’s ok because Muesli Authoritarianism is good for you!

Beneath, commenter Fergus Pickering likes the credit-card cooling-off idea:

Actually I think the store card idea is a good one. But perhaps, Alex, you haven’t yet had the pleasure of teenage daughters. When you have had, that’s when I’ll listen to you on this. Teenage girls spend what they haven’t got. It’s in the genes.

To which I can only say, Fergus, if you need the government to police your daughters’ spending habits, you should never have become a parent. And really – ‘it’s in the genes’? You sexist asshole.

Meanwhile, I am reminded that Osborne co-wrote this article with one Richard Thaler. Thaler has a history of co-writing, as it is he who co-wrote the original libertarian paternalist Bible, Nudge, with none other than our old friend, Cass Sunstein.

Cranmer highlights another step in Evan Harris MP’s campaign to amend the ban on members of the royal family marrying (or being) Catholics. He points out some interesting features of this campaign, not least that it is centred around the wrong Act of Parliament.

It turns out that the Act of Settlement of 1701 is, apparently, in breach of some articles of the ECHR, namely the right to marry and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Let’s put this into perspective, y’all. The rules of succession of this country are a nonsense, and always have been, and the idea that there is any fixed procedure besides expediency – let alone one that takes into account anyone’s rights – is ludicrous.

First, members of the royal family are allowed to marry Roman Catholics. There is nothing to prevent them. But if they do, they cease to be considered in the line of succession to the throne.

As far as I’m aware, being in line to the throne is not a right enshrined in the ECHR. So if you marry a Roman Catholic, you lose your place in that line. But your human rights have not been breached.

This attempt to make the line of succession some kind of equal-rights procedure seems very silly to me. By its very definition, the royal family is not an equal-rights institution. It is a family. Everyone who is not a member of that family is debarred from taking part in what it does. If there are then further conventions about who in the family is permitted to do what and when, fine. If the rules of the family say you can’t be the head honcho if you marry (or are) a Roman Catholic, meh. Those are choices you, as an individual, have to make. Peter Phillips and his bride made just such a choice – she converted to Anglicanism before their wedding. She didn’t have to do that. And he didn’t have to marry her. These were voluntary decisions made in full knowledge of all the consequences.

Second, Evan Harris MP seems bothered by the fact that succession in this country is by male primogeniture. Nominally it may be, but in reality this is piffle.

The ‘male’ part, of course, a holdover from the warlike-chieftain days of yore, when the leader of the tribe was also the leader of the war-band, so he kind of had to be a man. But, as Tacitus relates in the Germania, the line of succession in the Germanic tribes from whom the English were descended was always through the female. The chieftain’s brothers, and the children of his sisters, were his successors. A man’s sister’s children were closer to him than his own, always.

Why? Because they were the children he could be sure were related to him by blood. His wife’s children may or may not be of his blood, but his sister’s children surely were. And so the chieftain’s nephews would be his successors in the next generation, and the chieftain’s nieces would carry on the bloodline in their own offspring.

This tradition continued, generally speaking, during the Anglo-Saxon period in England for a good long while (with a few alterations). Brother succeeded brother; nephew succeeded uncle. The significant alterations came in when this was not possible, or when the natural successor was considered unfit by the witan or the war-band. Then an alternate might be chosen by election (roughly) or acclamation.

It wasn’t until William the Conqueror came over with his feudalism and his Norman barons and his hey-that-hurts that this all changed. The Norman nobility had a different system, and when they became the nobility of England, that system took root. It was not the sons of the sisters who took precedence, but the sons of the chieftain himself. Though the Normans had been Germanic, too, they were also the vassals of the king of France – and French succession operated according to a version of the Salic tradition of direct male descendants.

In this tradition, the remote chance that the chieftain’s wife had cuckolded him was apparently considered a negligible problem when laid against all of the advantages and skills a child would have who had been trained and brought up by the chieftain himself. And rules of succession, wherever one may have been, could be (and sometimes were) bent to the point of breaking if the legal heir was considered unfit.

And so England’s throne became one of direct male primogeniture, in general. But then this got screwed up in 1399, and direct male primogeniture has been a happy fantasy ever since.

The first hiccough: Richard II, grandson of Edward III through his first-born son the Black Prince, was deposed for being ‘unfit’ by Henry IV, also a grandson of Edward III but through his third son, John of Gaunt. Eventually this led to the Wars of the Roses, out of the wreckage of which came Henry VII – whose only blood claim to the throne was as the son of the great-great-granddaughter of Edward III (by his third son, John of Gaunt). Sound torturous? Yeah. Male primogeniture took sort of a back seat there. Restoring it was still a happy hope until Henry VIII came along, who fucked it all up.

When he died, Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) had no sons or brothers, and Henry VIII had no brothers with issue, and Henry VII had had no brothers, and before that there had been a massive tangle. Finding direct male descendants of the last absolutely solid English king, Edward III, would have been pretty fucking difficult by 1553 even had Henry VIII not had most of them judicially murdered to preserve his own claim to the throne. There was no question that succession would have to go through a female line somewhere.

Henry VIII had had two sisters: Margaret, who married the king of Scotland, and Mary, who had married lesser nobleman Charles Brandon. At that point, primogeniture should have demanded that Margaret’s male descendants inherit the throne of England; unfortunately, she had none, and the monarch of Scotland at the time was an 11-year-old Catholic girl engaged to the Dauphin of France. The prospect of one day becoming part of the kingdom of France was intolerable to the English, never mind the abhorrent Catholicism. So they turned to Mary’s line. And, alas, she had no male descendants either!

There was a female, though, a nice Protestant girl called Lady Jane Grey. She was proclaimed queen in short order, with the prior approval of the dying Edward VI.

But this was stupid, no? If there were going to be a female monarch, as there had never been before, why someone with such a tenuous blood tie to the previous king? Why not Edward VI’s older sister Mary, the legitimate (de facto if not de jure) daughter of Henry VIII? Mary thought so too, and rocked up in London immediately. Parliament heaved a massive sigh of relief, declared her the rightful queen, and started praying that, even in her late age, Mary could somehow produce a son.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but you can see the tangled crap that has always been the rules of succession in England. They were so flexible, in fact, that Henry VIII and Edward VI both tried legal means to straighten them out. Henry VIII used Acts of Parliament; Edward VI tried to circumvent them in his will. Neither was successful.

There was another hitch when Mary died without children; the Catholic queen of Scotland was by then no longer attached to France, but the English had had enough of Catholics, so they chose Elizabeth – who also died without children. And, at long last, they found a man: James, the good Protestant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, whose relationship to Elizabeth was remote but who was at least a direct descendant of Henry VII, if though a bunch of women.

By then, of course, the English had decided it was okay to have queens if you couldn’t find a suitable king, which was how the country ended up with Mary II and Anne: there were available men by that time, but they were ‘unsuitable.’ But when Anne died without surviving children in 1714, the English (well, British by this point) had to go on the hunt again – this time even more circumscribed by the ‘no Catholics’ rule – and finally lit upon some random Hanoverian who was descended from James I (through his daughter) and bore absolutely no resemblance to anything that could be called a ‘direct male descendant’ of anyone who had ever been king of England.

And of course the present monarch is not even his ‘direct male descendant,’ since she is not only not a man, but she’s descended from him through a woman (Victoria).

So. Given that male primogeniture was a rule only when it could be applied, and has only rarely been applicable since 1399, why mess around with it now? It’s not like the English have ever given a shit, and who the monarch is hardly even matters these days anyway. Let the royal family sort it out for themselves. Surely there are better uses for Evan Harris MP’s time.

From the Telegraph:

Republican leaders in Congress called for a reworking of the bill, which would provide near universal coverage and aimed to bring down long-term costs. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, argued that because Massachusetts already had near-universal health coverage under a state law, the vote should not be seen as a referendum on the issue.

“We don’t say a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should. We will get the job done. I’m very confident,” she said.

It’s because Massachusetts already has just such a health care system as the one Pelosi’s Democrats are proposing that the opinion of their citizens is worth more than that of any other state’s.

They know what it’s like. They know what it costs. And they know that if the Democrats get their retarded bill passed, the citizens of Massachusetts will be paying through the nose twice.

That’s one of the great things about the federal system, you see: experiments can be tried in the states that want them, and the results can be judged by the rest of the country as either worth duplicating or worth abandoning. Massachusetts has done the experiment the Democrats would like to foist on the whole country. Not only have the other states looked at Massachusetts and said, ‘Dude, that doesn’t look like it’s working out so well, maybe we’d better not try it here,’ the people of Massachusetts themselves have said, ‘This isn’t going so well for us! Don’t try it at home!’

I reckon Nancy Pelosi should take a long, hard look at what’s happened to the healthcare system in Massachusetts, if for no other reason than because costs there have skyrocketed beyond all expectation, and seriously reconsider whether she wants to push the same money-suck on the entire rest of the nation.

Unless, of course, she wants to go down in history as the Politician Who Bankrupted America. Because you can bet your sweet buttocks it won’t be Obama who gets blamed. A man who can rise to president from two years’ experience of national office and prior experience in a Democrat safe seat and in a Democrat safe state’s legislature is more than canny enough to figure out a way to let some other poor bastard take the fall.

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*

Apart from his stupid name, the first thing I really learned about Ed Bollocks is that his modi operandi are, primarily, lying and intimidation. Which tactic is he employing in his most recent Guardian piece, I wonder?

True Statements:

The Tories and their media friends want the election to be a referendum on the government.

That’s what an election is, no? That’s certainly what Labour wanted the elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005 to be: first, a referendum on the Conservative government (which many people hated), and then a referendum on the succeeding Labour governments (which Balls and the rest of his party claimed had been so successful that there was no need for change). Is it really necessary to cry foul now?

[The Tories] don’t want any scrutiny of their policies and they don’t want the election to be a choice.

Of course. None of the main parties wants any scrutiny or choice. That’s why they’re all working so hard to pump out the blanket statements, bland platitudes, and vague reassurances (as we shall see in the rest of Balls’s piece).

False Statements:

That’s why [the Tories] dismiss talk of policy differences or dividing lines as “false”, “partisan” or, ludicrously, as “class war”.

But it’s only in the last few weeks that the Tories have called this “class war” in a bid to stop any scrutiny of their policies.

Oh – so it was the Tories who came up with this ‘class war’ movement? Not to mention I have trouble imagining the Tories really want to publicise their policies as not being different from Labour’s and not as dividing lines. This statement is rubbish.

And, while the leaders’ TV debates will inevitably draw the attention, I hope we will see the cabinet and shadow cabinet debating too.

I bet this is the last thing Balls hopes for, if for no other reason than that he is supremely un-telegenic.

Now, as in 1997, our education policy is driven by the core New Labour idea of opportunity and aspiration for all, not just some; improving standards and expanding opportunity in every school, not just a handful in each area.

Balls to that one, too.

[The Tories'] proposal is that, regardless of local need, those parents with time on their hands should be given taxpayers’ money to set up and run a new school for their children, including those now in private schools.

Misrepresentation. From what I understand, their proposal is that, actually, anybody with ‘time on their hands’ could set up and run a new school – meaningfully, this includes teachers, who not only know how to do such a thing better than random parents, but many of whom would also love the chance to free themselves from the shackles of state-school regulations, paperwork, and bureaucratic oversight. Many private-school teachers would jump at the opportunity, too.

Hyperbole:

And this year, Britain faces the starkest choice for decades – on the economy, public services and our relations with Europe.

Sure, sure. Every election is the starkest choice for decades, every election is the most important since the last big crisis. And yet some party or other wins every election, and shit always happens, and we always need another election. Give this overblown idea a rest.

Tory education policy is an elaborate con trick on millions of parents and pupils. Just like the Tory assisted places scheme, or the “pupil passport” proposed by Cameron in 2005, they want to take resources from the many to fund the education of a few.

Yes, that’s exactly what the Tories want to do! Screw 90% of the electorate; they’re only out to help the richest decile! Because, obviously, that’s a great strategy for winning elections. Seriously, what is this man on? And why does he imagine it’s perfectly fine for the minority (whatever kind of minority) to suffer for the good of the majority?

Oh yeah – because that’s the political philosophy his ‘core’ supporters cherish:

This, after all, is the tragedy of political decision-making: sometimes some people just have to lose and it’s up to the political decision-maker to choose which.

All politics is struggle and conflict; the sacrificing of some values and people in favour of those you prefer.

Nonsense:

Do we guarantee one-to-one tuition for children falling behind, and education and training up to 18 for all young people? Do we stop treating vocational qualifications as second class? Do we give parents more information on how local schools are performing by introducing new school report cards?

With a national shortage of teachers, the barriers to entry into the teaching profession being raised ever higher, and powerful teachers’ unions, where is the country going to find one-to-one tutors and teachers to guarantee a further two years of education to everybody? How is the country going to pay such people? How will the government force employers to consider vocational qualifications as ‘first class’? In what way is a ‘school report card’ different from a league table? How is such a thing going to make one bit of difference when most parents can’t choose their child’s school anyway? Labour have not considered these questions; these policies are plainly unfeasible.

But we would never forgive ourselves if we allowed the Tories to emerge from [the election] claiming by default a mandate for their policies to wreck our economic recovery and frontline public services.

Actually, I think the Labour party would adore to lose the next election, and see the Conservatives reap the unpopularity from the disaster Labour have sown. They will crow as the country falls to ruin and blame it entirely on Tory policy. They will campaign in four years’ time as the party who presided over boom and prosperity, hoping that everyone forgets they caused the national budget collapse, and they will absolve themselves of all responsibility for whatever pain and austerity the British people face over the course of the next five years.

Our country faces hugely important choices. And on education, the Tories have made theirs: to pursue a reckless free market experiment with the state system, and to cut the frontline schools budgets relied on by millions to give an inheritance tax cut to the wealthiest few.

Ah, all the evil keywords: reckless, free market, cut the frontline, tax cut, wealthiest few. Yes, the Tories’ Swedish plan is a reckless experiment that has worked so poorly in Sweden that, if we were to try it here, we’d have to cut inheritance tax and favour the wealthy few over the ‘millions’ of poor.

The sad thing is, Balls doesn’t seem to realise that, after twelve years of Labour education and redistribution policy, many people are still poorly educated, and most people are still ‘poor’ (i.e. not rich). Nobody was talking about one-to-one tuition twelve years ago, because there weren’t that many pupils falling behind. Nobody was talking about extending education for a further two years, because 16-year-old school leavers could still get jobs. Nobody was talking about school report cards, because parents weren’t so dreadfully dissatisfied with their local state schools. And now these things are on Ed Balls’s to-do list, not because schools have got so much better under Labour, but because they’ve got so much worse.

He says Tory policy won’t work; fair enough, maybe it won’t. But Labour policy is trying to mend the giant rents they themselves have made since 1997. And that’s not exactly a great advertisement for the Labour party.

They really can’t help themselves. Every goddamn thing this government proves even further that they’re not only unfit for office, some of them are unfit to live.

Alan Johnson has sacked Prof. David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

This advisory body is supposed to provide the government with the scientific data it needs to inform its drugs policy. So why has Prof. Nutt been sacked? He hasn’t been providing data that matches what the Home Office wants its policy to be.

Earlier this week Prof Nutt used a lecture at King’s College, London, to attack what he called the “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

The professor said smoking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness, and claimed those who advocated moving ecstasy into Class B had “won the intellectual argument”.

This didn’t jive with Alan Johnson’s policy-based evidence making*:

In a letter, the home secretary wrote: “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD.

“I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect.”

Prof. David Nutt: This is reality, minister. Let me show you it.
Alan Johnson: No! That’s not how I want reality to be! [throws toys out of pram]

Cunts.

*H/T the Heresiarch, where I read this term first. It’s great.

My MP is my hero. This afternoon I received a letter informing me that he has written directly to the Home Secretary on my behalf.

Let it never be said that all MPs are useless.

It is an oft-cited fact that, in the United States, one is completely free to say whatever one pleases with two exceptions: one may be prosecuted for shouting ‘Fire!’ in an enclosed space – if there is no fire and if damage to person or property results; one may be prosecuted for stating one’s intent to harm the President – but only if credible evidence is uncovered that suggests one’s intent was in earnest (otherwise, those wish-fulfilling fantasists who made that documentary about the assassination of George W. Bush would have been thrown in prison for the duration of his presidency).

My understanding of freedom of speech in Britain is a bit different. Lacking a codified Constitution like the United States’, this whole freedom-of-expression thing has long been a part of tradition, common law, and more recently, human rights legislation. But the caveats on it seem to come thicker and faster than those in the US. For example, one is not permitted to advocate the abolition of the monarchy in print.

(Or so I’m told. I never would have known this had, several years ago, I not encountered a leaflet taped to a bus stop that did exactly that; a nearby genuine British person shook his head sorrowfully and opined that it really ought to be taken down before it got somebody into trouble.)

One is also not permitted any speech which is an incitement to violence. Nor, it seems, any speech which is an incitement to hatred. I quote this article in full because, although it is from The Sun, it is clear, concise, and fascinating:

A BID to halt legislation banning gay jokes which stir up hatred was defeated yesterday.

MPs from all parties tried to include a defence of “free speech” into the Bill which makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred over sexual orientation.

But their attempt was defeated in a Commons vote by 328 to 174.

Campaigners had said the Bill would limit freedom of expression. Some comedians even claimed it could lead to them being prosecuted.

Critics of the Government’s move included Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who said it could stifle creativity for writers and comedians.

But ministers said if the “free speech” amendment was accepted it could provide a loophole for people wishing to incite hatred.

Now, a ban on speech that incites violence is possibly understandable, though I don’t agree with it. But there is a material difference between violence – initiation of force against another’s bodily integrity – and hatred, which is an emotion or state of mind. I grant that hatred may lead to violence; I grant that there are certainly crimes motivated by hatred. But to outlaw speech that incites hatred is equivalent to outlawing speech that incites boredom, or frustration, or joy – these are states of mind, and those who hold them can never be proven guilty of doing so, for how does one prove the possession of an emotion or state of mind except through the actions that betray it? And the action of initiating force against another person’s bodily integrity is already illegal.

It was already a crime to incite violence, regardless of whether the speaker participated in the violence himself; now it is a crime to incite an emotion, regardless of whether the speaker holds it himself. These laws make the speaker, regardless of intent or participation, responsible for the feelings and actions of others.

And, giving the situation some thought, I begin to realise that there is no better way, really, to force the citizenry to change, if not its views, then at least its expression of them. In the glory days, when we were free to say what we thought as long as we did not act on it, we relied on social ostracism to eradicate the airing of distasteful views. Social ostracism is a powerful tool, but not, it seems, powerful enough, for there were still some eccentrics wandering round spouting bigotry in contravention of all behavioural norms. Caring nothing for the opinions of society, therefore, they must be made to fear legal sanction for their unpleasantness instead. And this has been done very cleverly indeed. If the law were made against expression one’s own hatred, well, there would be martyrs to it everywhere, for to take on oneself the penalty of an unjust law has in it something of nobility, however repugnant the views for which one is willing to accept punishment. But because the law censures you for what others do, it is much more sinister, and much more nebulous, and much more difficult to stand against bravely.

And so we shut our mouths and keep our opinions to ourselves, not because we dislike the idea of going to prison for our own actions, but because we fear the prospect of going to prison for the actions of others.

How is this justice? How is this freedom? How is it possible that, in a civilised society, we are answerable at law for the opinions and behaviours of individuals not ourselves, over whom we have no provable influence and certainly no control? Each of us has, if not legally, at least morally a responsibility to avoid sins of omission; if I witness a mugging, I have a duty, it can be argued, to try to stop it, or to assist the victim. But if a mugging happens out of my sight and hearing and knowledge, I cannot be held accountable for omitting to help. On the other hand, it seems that if the mugger overheard me on the Tube telling a joke about homosexuals, or saying wistfully that Jews deserve to be robbed, I am as responsible for that crime as the mugger himself, if he can finger me as the one who incited his behaviour. Even if he doesn’t mug his victim, but merely spits and calls the victim an unkind name, I am made a criminal, even if the action that damns me happened out of my sight and hearing and knowledge.

Who knows what our stray remarks may lead others to do? And while most of us recognise the justice of being imprisoned for our own behaviour, very few of us see it in being punished for someone else’s. Therefore we remain silent.

But ministers said if the “free speech” amendment was accepted it could provide a loophole for people wishing to incite hatred.

Free speech is a loophole in the minds of our ministers. Rather than being a right which the government must not infringe, it is a loose end to be sewn up. We are only free to speak that which is not prohibited at the whim of each successive Parliament. We are made criminals not only by what others do, but by what others might do. This government has achieved what enemies of freedom have advocated for decades: each man is truly his brother’s keeper, and will pay the price for his brother’s folly.

His Grace today quotes Michael Gove, Shadow Secretary for Schools, Children, and Nuclear Units on the subject of marriage:

Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations.

Fuck me if he doesn’t make it sound really unappealing. No wonder nobody’s doing it any more…

An Act to make provision for and about the temporary and specific waiver of contract law, the acquisition and nationalisation of pension funds relating to Sir Fred Goodwin, the carrying out of deprivation, the use of executive power and the acquisition of the means by which Sir Fred Goodwin was to be compensated; to provide for Commissioners and a tribunal of public opinion with functions and jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to the seizure of any and all such funds and related funds as unwarranted remuneration of failure, incompetence, and general arrogance; and for connected purposes.

[2nd March 2009]

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

This article is on the front page of the print edition of the Times today, although not, oddly, on the website:

Plans to axe new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation, are threatening to blow open a Cabinet rift over how Labour should respond to the economic downturn, The Times has learnt.

The proposals, outlined in the Queen’s Speech just two months ago, and championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, are at risk after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor called for a moratorium on any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses. Right-to-roam legislation and powers to allow councils to ban alcohol promotions are also under threat as the Government prepares to gut its legislative programme in the face of the recession.

This proposal is so eminently sensible that I have trouble believing that Mandelson himself is the originator, but lo! Somewhere along the line, he twigged that imposing extra costs on businesses during an economic slump was a fairly counterproductive move.

But my delight continues to grow:

Senior figures say many of the policies targeted are those promoted by Ms Harman, who has argued Labour should take a harder line on those to blame for the financial crisis and do more to protect its victims.

Snigger, snigger. Looks like Harman’s intention to become party leader when Brown finally cracks – as signalled, apparently, by a critical speech to her constituents and speculated upon heavily last week in the blogosphere – is being nipped in the bud. Ah, the Machiavellian machinations!

Sources close to Lord Mandelson defended the move to stop the new laws. saying that proposals to enhance maternity leave were almost certain to be scrapped, as were new measures to ensure that government contracts were awarded to firms with good records on equality.

Some regulations, such as a ban on cigarette displays in small shops, have already been delayed.

And so, at long last, Mandelson is doing his job and defending the interests of the business community (though not, admittedly, of the banking sector). It’s a positive step at the very least; even more preferable would be not a moratorium on such intrusive social engineering but a stop to it entirely – but any move critical of the government’s zeal for excessive legislation is better than no move at all.

While Lord Mandelson has risen in my estimation this day, however, proof remains that many Labour MPs are still absolute tits (emphasis mine):

Jon Cruddas, an influential left-wing Labour MP, warned last night that the Government was split over how to deal with the downturn. He said: “If the most progressive of our policies are the first to go under the hatchet, that will cause deep unease across the party. Genuflecting to the free market got us into this mess and the solution is not more of the same. There is now a deepening ideological divide about what to do next.”

I wonder if Jon Cruddas MP ghost-writes for Polly Toynbee…

Evidently, in the opinion of Harry Reid (D), Senate Majority Leader, paying taxes in the US is voluntary, whereby ‘voluntary’ means ‘your employer doesn’t withhold the full amount owed.’ Because you can cheat on your taxes, says he, the American taxation system must be described as voluntary. He contrasts this with ‘many European countries’ where the full amount owed is withheld by employers. Because in ‘many European countries’ people do not file their own income tax returns, those systems must be described as forced taxation.

The interviewer really sticks it to him at 2.20. And what, may I ask, is this word ‘phrase-ology?’

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7mRSI8yWwg&hl=en&fs=1]

Just happened across an amusing fantasy in the Daily Mash, my favourite part of which is this:

But last night chancellor Alistair Darling was like: “Hang on a minute, how come it’s always us?…What does IMF stand for anyway? International Mother Fuckers?”…

An IMF spokesman said: “Do you really want to know why? Fine. Your banks were the entire basis of your economy and now they’re shite. Your currency is used bogroll, you don’t make anything of any value, you’re governed by clueless arseholes and 99% of your population is up to its tits in debt. That’s why.”

Mr Darling added: “Yeah, fair enough.”

I recalled suddenly that last night I had a dream about loss of supply, complete with a vision of Brown and Darling standing open-mouthed at the dispatch-box, staring at one another in horror until one of them says, ‘Automatic dissolution? That can’t be right! How come nobody told us…?’

But never mind; we must square our shoulders bracingly against the winds of ill fortune. Worse things happen at sea. And all is not lost: my father has just sent me an email that says, in its entirety, ‘I read this morning that the pound increased in value against the dollar; that should help you some.’

[bella goes away to ponder whether weak dollar at all related to this]

Via Tim Worstall (yes, again), I find this piece in the Telegraph, in which the General Teaching Council for England indicates that it would very much appreciate it if all private school-teachers acquired an official teaching qualification as teachers in the state sector are required to do.

Such a qualification can be obtained on a one-year post-graduate teaching course, a one-year qualification-cum-experience course, or a degree in education.

Tim rightly takes issue with the box-ticking, hoop-jumping nature of this sort of requirement, labelling it ‘part of the spread of the hateful credentialism of our times.’

My own criticism is related to something else entirely, and not in any way influenced by the fact that I myself am an unqualified private-school teacher. According to the UK immigration website, teaching is a shortage occupation. Which means – I think I’m right in saying this – that there aren’t enough teachers.

So the solution to the teaching-shortage problem is to make it even more difficult for people to become or remain teachers. Riiiiiiiiight.

Going over some visa paperwork this morning on the UK Border Agency website (the loading of which sucked up my computer’s entire capacity to do anything for four minutes), I found myself slogging through stupid shit and remembered, with considerable fury, this fucking abomination from a couple of months ago.*

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary and total whore, announced in November that all foreign nationals wishing to live and work in the United Kingdom must acquire an ID card containing, among other things, their fingerprints and facial-scan data. This includes foreign nationals already living and working in the UK, who will need to apply for their ID cards when they seek to renew their visas.

She had this to say about it:

Foreign nationals living, working and studying here legally want to be able to prove that easily. We want to prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain.

Erm… I do not care about being ‘able to prove’ my legality ‘easily.’ As far as I’m concerned, the reason I apply for (and pay through the nose for) my visa and work permit is to put the onus on the government: it is their job to prove I am here illegally. Unless there is some reasonable cause to believe otherwise, the assumption should be that I am a law-abiding member of the public whose presence in the UK is perfectly legal.

Businesses, other employers and colleges want to be confident that those they are employing or taking onto courses are who they say they are, and have the right to work or study in our country.

I am certain this is true, but the reason businesses, employers and colleges want to be confident of this fact is so that the government does not investigate and/or fine them for paying/admitting ‘illegals’ to work/learn.

Immigration officers and police officers want to be able to easily verify identity and detect abuse. We all want to see our borders more secure and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled.

What kind of ‘abuse,’ exactly, would this be? Never mind the fact that most of the humans trafficked into the UK or committing benefit ‘fraud’ are from within the EU. The EU, of course, does not count as ‘foreign’ because one of the purposes of the EU is to ensure the free movement of labour. Can we please, please also acknowledge that, for instance, the 7/7 bombers were ‘”ordinary British citizens“‘, and the common excuse for these ID cards (the safety of the public and prevention of terrorism) is a complete prevarication?

The remark about benefit fraud particularly amazes me. If this government is so stupid, ineffectual, and incompetent that it cannot keep track of who is who and what benefits they should be getting, perhaps the solution is not ID cards but instead (a) to throw out the present government, or (b) dispense with the benefits system.

Along with the new points system starting this week, ID cards for foreign nationals will bring real changes to how we control migration by locking foreign nationals to one identity – using fingerprints and facial images.

Fingerprints and facial images, eh? And this data is going to be oh-so-secure, isn’t it, o Mighty and Wise government who lost the personal and bank details of 25 million (yes, million) people on a carelessly-posted disk, lost 17,000 asylum-seekers’ data, lost the details of 3 million learner drivers on a hard drive left in the USA, and left a wodge of Foreign Office briefings on the seat of a fucking train? Even those shits at the Guardian are unimpressed.

Within three years everyone coming here from outside Europe for more than six months will be given a card showing they have the right to be here and work or study.

I’ve already got a bloody document that shows I have the right to be here and work! Why must I be issued with another one?

The National Identity Scheme will deliver a secure and simple proof of ID for all those legally entitled to live and work in the UK – and the majority of people say they welcome identity cards and the benefits they will bring.

Is this for fucking real? The majority of people what? Where is the survey in which over 50% of people claim to welcome these ID cards? Who are these lunatics? They certainly aren’t the poor foreign nationals who will be forced to carry them around.

Let us also keep in mind the salient fact that foreign nationals, the first people in Britain for whom this identity ‘scheme’ will be mandatory, are in fact the only people living in the bloody country who are not allowed to vote. Coincidence? Je pense que non.

That is why I will be inviting those who want the chance to get one of the first UK identity cards to pre-register their interest.

Yes, let us see how many takers you get on this one.

I am confident the small group of volunteers chosen for these first cards will quickly realise, like I already do, that identity cards are secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.

This final paragraph is particularly galling. A small group of ‘volunteers?’ Presumably these are the lunatics who will be ‘pre-registering their interest.’ And yet the selection of the word ‘chosen’ suggests either (a) these may not necessarily be volunteers, or (b) this is the government’s pathetic attempt to make it sound as if the pool of ‘volunteers’ will be so big that they’ll be stymied by their surfeit of options.

Either way, I am fucking floored by the characterisation of the ID cards as ‘secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.’ How is giving all ten of my fingerprints ‘convenient’? Surely I will have to take myself to a special face-scanning station to get my face scanned; it’s not as if there will be booths for it in Tesco (as there are for passport photos). And there is no question of ID cards being free, surely? Will I have to pay another £90 for it on top of the £800 I already pay for my visa and work permit?

‘Secure,’ hmph. Vide supra.

‘Helping to protect us all’ is another good one. From what – benefit fraud?

The assumptions being made in this ‘article’ are astounding. First, that I as a foreigner am happy to surrender my privacy, and to pay for the privilege of doing so, to protect the British public. Not being able to vote, I have been given no choice in this matter whatsoever. And the British public I’m surrendering my privacy to protect are, if Ms Smith is to be believed, in favour of this scheme, which will save us from the scourge of ‘illegal working and benefit fraud.’

Second, let us not forget that I already possess two documents that prove I am living and working here legally: my visa and my work permit. These documents do not, of course, contain biometric data. They also do not need to be carried on my person at all times. How long will it be, I wonder, before it is announced that ID cards must be carried always and produced upon demand? And of course, the demand will require reasonable cause, but here in the UK, where the police can (or so I’m told) ‘demand’ your DNA when they question you, even if you have done nothing wrong, or lock you up for, what is it now, 28 days? without charge, how ‘reasonable’ is the demand to see my ID card going to have to be?

I object to being scanned, printed, and tagged like a piece of fucking livestock.

*It really ruined my afternoon, all right?

© 2013 bella gerens Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha