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Showing posts from January, 2006

The Land Song

I have always had some sympathy with Land taxers. I know -it is like confessing that you are a Chartist or supporter of some other High Victorian worthy cause like the Temperance Movement. However, as we examine the facts about land ownership in the UK, I can not help feeling that Land Use has become a massive problem. As you fly over the UK, it is fairly easy to see that urban development is a very small percentage of land use. While I for one am not in favour of unrestricted development, I am also not in favour of building homes in places where it is dangerous to do so- like flood plains. Yet more and more we are doing just that. Meanwhile the large majority of land in the country remains under the ownership of the same families, in some cases for centuries. Since the Landed Estates are structured as trusts and their legal ownership (as opposed to the beneficial ownership) does not change over the generations, there is a large percentage of our country where land title is not even re

Under watchful eyes

After the embarrassment of CK's downfall and the further embarrassment of Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes' little display of hypocrisy is making me feel murderous thoughts about the Liberal Democrats' Parliamentary party. The purpose of this election was to heal, and if Simon truly believes that he is a healing figure then he is frankly deluded. His stupefying ineptness with the media marks him out as one to avoid- after what has happened in recent weeks, he still chose to bluff his way though- that is to lie, even when he must have been aware that a tabloid expose could not be far away. I will not even give Simon a preference, and he should reconsider his position. As far as I am concerned, this contest is between Chris Huhne and Ming Campbell- I have already pledged my support for Ming, I would be content with Chris- I would be appalled if Simon comes anywhere close. What particularly makes my blood boil is that this truly is a battle about scrutiny: not the tabloid scrutiny of


The media have obviously decided that "the story" is the fall of the Liberal Democrats. So, we are going to have to put up with endless stories of minor defections and alleged "crises" for some time to come. However, I think that we should be looking beyond this rather purple patch. I do not believe that David Cameron, even if he is able to become Prime Minister, will be an effective, let alone a Liberal (or even liberal), leader. He will be more attractive than his predecessors, who were mostly awful: Major, Hague, DFS and Dracula. In such company of course DC looks better. He may well get his party together and even win. However this is just the pendulum of politics. What Liberal Democrats must do now is to distill Liberal principles into a coherent programme for government. The Labour government has shown that over government and micro management is not the answer. Liberal Democrats must show why local control and smaller government is more efficient. All DC offe

The gaity of nations

I know, I know, we are supposed to be very po-faced about sordid sex scandals. Nevertheless, the fact is they are just great fun... that is why our down market rags are so full of them. The Brits adore the lovely juicy details (and who cares whether its is true that David Mellor wore his Chelsea strip when "frolicking" with Antonia da Sancha or not?). These things run to a formula- the hard faced journalist teasing out the details from the young ingenue (or rent boy), doubtless under the baleful eye of Max Clifford. The paper then making the absurd and utterly unjustified claim of "the public have a right to know" followed by the complete embarrassment and shame of the protagonist- mostly utterly deserved. There then follows the tearful and shocked family- whose lives, of course, will never be the same again. Well, after Aitken and the whips, Archer and the spotty back, Major and Edwina Currie, Harvey Proctor and the rent boys, Piers Merchant and the poetry and all

When and not if

As Alan Greenspan finally leaves the US Federal Reserve, it is hard not to feel that some fundamental economic realities are changing across the world. The continuing economic imbalances in the US economy are not fully understood, but the scale of military expenditure that "big government Conservatism" implies can not be sustainable over the long term. George W. Bush is driving his country into some serious economic problems- can a US retrenchment be long avoided? And what does that mean for the wider world? In Britain, the failure of yet another PFI- the new St. Barts hospital project- confirms the strain on public finances that seems more evident every week. As the United Kingdom overtakes Germany in the percentage of economic activity devoted to taxation, an air of gloom is settling over the UK Treasury. The economic forecasts so confidently put forward by Gordon Brown are about to be trashed from all sides. The Labour government will finally have to make some genuinely &q


Cicero has yet to come to a final conclusion about the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. It is a shame that Mark Oaten was such an uninspiring figurehead for the so-called "right" of the party. There is a case for "tough liberalism", that is to say that not everyone gets prizes in our society, but Mark did not make such a case with particular conviction. He was also mistaken on the smoking issue- the reason for regulation of smokers is the damage that they do to others through secondary smoking, not the damage that they do to themselves which, higher healthcare costs aside, is not a concern of the state. So all in all his campaign began in confusion: the cringe-making response to Andrew Neil's charge: "Four words: unlimited ambition, limited ability"- Oaten: "That's not four words" ,is best put behind us. I therefore welcome his sensible decision to withdraw. Simon Hughes, the supposed standard bearer of the "left", has been


On 18th January 1943 Jewish Prisoners in the Warsaw ghetto made the first organized resistance to their treatment by the Nazi occupiers of Poland. Armed civilians fought against the second expulsion of Jews to the camps. Already the Nazis had created Treblinka, Auschwitz, Majdanek and Sobibor. The previous concentration of over 380,000 Jews into the cramped confines of the walled ghetto had already weakened and killed many through disease. The four day resistance, though it surprised the Germans considerably and delayed the expulsion, did not ultimately prevent the dreadful ovens at Treblinka from receiving their victims. The heroism in the subsequent Warsaw ghetto uprising, that lasted over much of the summer of 1943 only put off the appointment with the clanking cattle trucks. It pays to think about what we have lost. The enormous resource of culture and intellect that much of European Jewry represented can be seen in Jakob Bronowksi. His humane and thoughtful insights on the human c

Liberalism and Liberty

As the Liberal Democrat leadership race gathers pace, much is being written on the subject of what Liberalism is. It was encouraging to hear J.S. Mill being quoted by at least one of the candidates. Even more encouraging to hear the beginning of a sensible argument. The key for Liberal Democrats will be to articulate the point that there is a strict limit as to where the boundaries of government should lie. All Liberal Democrats deprecate the intrusion on our civil liberties that the so-called "war on terror" is creating. The constant slew of regulation and legislation being passed at an ever increasing rate is an example of the "something must be done" mentality. Liberal Democrats should not give in to this regulatory temptation. I will be casting my vote for the candidate that articulates this Liberal vision with the greatest clarity: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is t

World View

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." -- Dante, The Inferno January seems to be the time of year when journalists catch up with strategic changes in the world. Much has been written in the first two weeks of the year on certain ideas that are themes of the blog. The Wall Street Journal this week has a front page lead on the growing challenge of Russia. The breakdown of the rule of law and the corruption of the Putin regime are things that exercised Cicero for some time. Meanwhile, the growing strength of China is attracting attention too. The People's Republic of China (sic) will probably overtake The United Kingdom as the world's fourth largest economy during the course of 2006. The almost unlimited demand for global resources that a resurgent PRC requires represents the biggest environmental challenge facing the planet at this time. Politically the rise of authoritarian states within the intern

Thinking On...

No Liberal Democrat can have enjoyed the spectacle of Charles Kennedy's removal. As is often the way, few things became his leadership like the leaving of it: dignified, thoughtful, calm. This contrasted with the rather brutal manner of his defenestration- yet it underlines that Lib Dems are "in it to win it"- and perhaps this might give some of our political opponents some pause in their ill disguised gloating. The question now is going to be a more open debate about how Liberalism can be advanced. I do not believe that Cameron can continue his attempts to be all things to all men without either alienating many in his party, or making the wider electorate think that he will say anything to be elected. I do believe that the positions of Tory and Labour on a wide range of issues have converged, and that the Liberal ideas of "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform", now mark out a distinctive political voice. The media take on the Liberal policy debates: right-left splits

Twelve Steps

I have known Charles Kennedy on and off for more than twenty years. He is a thoughtful political voice in the often unreasonable swirl of British politics. He is charming, graceful and humorous. He has a political toughness that has stood the Liberal Democrats in good stead while he has been the leader of the party- it was largely his work that the Liberal Democrats stuck to their principles over Iraq. However, his problems with alcohol have been an open secret for several years. The fact of Charles Kennedy admitting to his alcoholism, is of a piece with the man- and it demonstrates his integrity. However, his Parliamentary colleagues have been very concerned for some time that he has not been able to control his illness. It is clear that, if nothing else, British political life is entering a new and more competitive phase. The stakes are very high: Labour looks tired and the Blair-Brown big government approach distinctly past its sell-by date. The Conservatives, despite their shiny ne

Spin cycle

I must admit I listened to David Cameron speaking to Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme with a degree of astonishment. This "compassionate Conservatism" has so many echoes of George W Bush. Yet as far as Cameron is concerned, it just won't wash. This is the man who wrote the most right-wing Tory manifesto in a generation. So either he is serious, and has changed his mind on most of the views he offered to the electorate barely more than six months ago or is not serious and is as cynical a politician as any produced by Labour's spin factory. If he is serious, then I find myself substantially to the right of the Tories- ironically, considering that they were accusing me of being "well to the left of Labour" at the last election. Nevertheless, I have not changed my principles one jot. The ideas that Cameron is putting forward are so similar to the "But-skillism" of the 1960's- the decade when British economic prowess was nearly fatally undermined