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Showing posts from March, 2007

Oh the irony...

Scene: Outside 1970s house in Ross on Wye: Canvasser, Cicero (for it is he), knocks on door which opens: Elderly Lady: Yes.. Cicero: Hello Mrs Xxxxx , I am calling on behalf of Chris Bartrum , your Liberal Democrat candidate in the upcoming Herefordshire elections, I wonder if you will be coming out to vote on May 3rd? Elderly Lady: Oh I don't think so.. Cicero: Can I ask if you have voted our way before? EL: Well, no, you see we are Jehovah's Witnesses and we never vote. Door closes. Exit Cicero grinning evilly and cackling...


As the days have gone by it has become a little easier to judge the impact of Gordon Brown' last budget . In particular it reinforces the feeling at the time- that Brown had run rings around a lightweight Conservative leadership. While it is fair to say that the budget response speech is extraordinarily difficult, after all the opposition has no notice of the measures to be announced, and must respond pretty much off the cuff, the fact is that Cameron made three too many Stalinist jokes, but missed the whole point of the Chancellor's policy, he even believed that there had been tax cuts- when in fact the budget was revenue neutral. By contrast Ming Campbell was able to go straight to the point- the Chancellor had pulled a fast one: a masterly piece of politicking, but an indifferent practice of economics. Despite their poll lead, the last month has shown just how shallow and confused the Conservative front bench has become. The unworkable gimmick of the frequent flyer tax, the

The times they are a'changing

The last episode of "The Trap: What happened to our dreams of Freedom?" proved to be a final summary of Adam Curtis' argument. His hypnotic juxtaposition of images and narrative continued the high standards that had been set in the previous two episodes. Yet I felt that there was a slight misunderstanding of Isiah Berlin's views. Throughout, the idea of negative freedom was derided as being empty and meaningless, and the conclusion was therefore that a positive agenda was now needed. Yet that was the whole point of Berlin's arguments- that humans should not impinge on each others liberty was precisely so that they could reach their own accommodation with life- personally: politically, economically and spiritually. Negative freedom, by definition does not seek to supply the great answers, it only seeks to provide a framework whereby these answers may best be sought. Of course negative freedom is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for benign politics. The i

300 not out

There are periodic miles stones in this blog, and I have reached the latest: this is the 300 th posting. Unfortunately I have been so relentlessly busy that I have not been able to blog with any great frequency in recent weeks. However I hope that normal service will be resumed after Easter.

Tipping Point

A few years ago, Conservatives used to comfort themselves that although the polls were against them, the cumulative effect of unpopular government policies and a desire for change would get to the stage where a rapid and dramatic move could take place in the relative support of the political parties. Well, the Tories have been waiting a long time. I do not yet believe that they have reached such a point. However the conventional wisdom is changing. Gordon Brown's budget was very politically astute- cutting the headline rates of tax, while still being essentially revenue neutral was both prudent and bold. It undermines David Cameron's "sharing the proceeds of growth" rhetoric in the eyes of his own supporters. The Conservative leadership are now likely to struggle a little to come up with a coherent economically literate response. The budget is clever but not necessarily popular- and Gordon Brown needs to work hard himself to overcome the whispering campaign against

The strange death of political parties

As I was listening to the comments from the Conservative spring conference, it occurs to me that party politics as we have known it has finally died in the UK. Without exception every Conservative expressed reservations about how David Cameron is leading his party- several even questioned whether the party even was Conservative any more. These views, remember, were being expressed to journalists- it was public dissent. In private, many of my Conservative friends are even more deeply anxious about what Cameron is doing, but their basic sense of loyalty would never allow them to voice these concerns in public- even though their views are deeply held. It occurred to me that what holds for the Conservatives is true for Labour too- the membership do not have a central role any more. In fact both parties now fight "virtual" campaigns: they don't need members to canvass, because they buy detailed data bases that give better accuracy. They don't need members to leaflet, beca

Lest We Forget

I was showing an American friend who is leaving the UK around London for the last time. He pointed up at St Paul's and said that in his three years living here he had never visited the cathedral. So we went in. Of course, Wren's masterpiece is one of the most spectacular buildings in the world, befitting its status as the cathedral of the capital. The Dome with its spectacular views; the Crypt, containing the tombs of many of the great and good of British History all help to give a visit to St Paul's a sense of occasion. However, perhaps the most moving part of the cathedral is the American memorial chapel at the east end, behind the High Altar. It honours American servicemen and women who died in the Second World War and was dedicated in 1958. It was paid for entirely by donations from British people and the roll of honour contains the names of more than 28,000 Americans who gave their lives while on their way to, or stationed in, the United Kingdom during the Second World

Dressing to the left

Having accepted higher taxes, more state interference, and virtually all of the Blairite agenda, even David Cameron's hair has moved left. The one thing that David Cameron is not is a Liberal of any description; his controlling agenda now differs little from the surveillance state enacted under Labour. The paternalist agenda of the Cameroons is now clear, even without a whisper of actual policy. So, although the desire for a change from NuLabour is becoming stronger across the country, there is little enthusiasm for the Cameroon clique, even (in fact, especially) amongst liberals in the Conservative Party. Although many Conservatives are grateful to be a bit more popular, the current lead in the polls is fragile, and plenty of economically literate commentators are becoming hostile towards the Tory leader and his half baked ideas. To my mind, I do not see Controlling Conservatives as an improvement on NuLabour failure.

What is Freedom?

Mark Curtis TV film, " The Trap: what happened to our dreams of freedom?" the first part of which was broadcast on BBC2 last Sunday, was genuinely good television. It asked difficult and profound questions in a new and interesting way, a sharp contrast to the sloppiness of Mark Durkin's hatchet job on environmentalism. for Channel 4 the "Great Global Warming Swindle" . Curtis' big idea was that contemporary ideas of freedom fail to recognise critical elements of human psychology, and in particular they treat human behaviour is simply a stimulus-response mechanism. In its most reductionist form, Curtis has a point- human beings often act altruistically and the whole idea of free will admits the possibility that humans will behave in ways that may appear to be against their ostensible interests. Curtis thesis was informed by a variety of different sources, using ideas and images from game theory to the NHS to Hayek. It was almost hypnotic - and a wonderful u

Followship not Leadership

The policy announcements from the British Conservatives on the environment turn out- as usual- to be as badly thought out as ever- VAT on domestic flights and a "frequent flyer tax". I am a frequent flyer myself, and if there was another way to conduct my business, which did not involve bleary eyed, early morning flights then believe me I would do it- but as yet there is no substitute but for the personal inspection of a business and with it face to face meetings with management. The idea that something so vital to the investment process can be dramatically curtailed by these taxes is simply laughable- all you do is increase costs. Meanwhile, given the state of the railways in the UK, VAT on flights simply reduces efficiency and increases costs still further. In any event, flying is still a very small part of total carbon pollution, albeit a fast growing part. Meanwhile Conservative councils are those most likely to reject renewable energy schemes- and electricity gener

Not fit 4 Purpose

John Reid- a strutting popinjay of a politician- announces that his department (you remember the "not fit for purpose" Home Office) will now text those whose visas are about to expire to ask them to leave the country. He denounces scrounging foreigners who come over here stealing our benefits... So how many illegals do in fact claim benefits? Er... not known. Is it a serious problem or not really? Er... not known. How many people are in the UK illegally? Er... not known. Is John Reid a loud mouthed incompetent more interested in headlines for himself than actually tackling what may or may not actually be a serious problem? Frankly, for bringing the unlovely formulation "not fit for purpose" into more general use alone, he should suffer the wrath of the voters... Not to mention the unanswered questions about his former friendship with friendly neighbourhood war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, cannabis use at his house... and his Communist past of course.

The political pendulum

If I was happy with the state of British politics I would not want to change it. There has been a long history of two party politics in Britain. whether it was the "King's Party" versus the Puritans or the Whigs and the Tories, Liberals and Conservatives, and later Labour and Conservative, the tradition, indeed the very structure of the British Parliament is based on a division into two groups: Aye versus No. The result was that British political parties have had to be large coalitions. Blairites and Communists coexist in Labour and Social Conservatives and Libertarians coexist amongst the Tories. Power alternates between two parties and they survive in power depending on the irritation factor of the electorate. The pendulum of politics swings, and no one group achieves dominance- it was not a bad way to protect democracy. The problem is that the political duopoly has smothered ideas and genuine debate. The parties are afraid of dissent and can expel members who will no

"A voice, crying in the wilderness"

Just recently I have felt a little lonely as a Liberal. The screw up at Harrogate: where it looked that Ming's bias against the Tories was driving him to shackle the Liberal Democrats to the Labour corpse. The reversion to talking about voting systems rather than why we should be in power. The opportunist attempt by the cynical David Cameron to claim credit for Liberal Democrat ideas. All were conspiring to create an air of gloom. And then, Paddy Ashdown comes to the rescue: "In a nutshell, liberals believe in individual freedom, accountable government, the dispersion of political power, social justice, the rule of law, the free exchange of opinions and goods, and the protection of the natural environment. What could be more relevant to today's challenges? Above all else, liberals value individual freedom, because we believe that people are best able to decide for themselves what to do with their lives – no-one else, whether government minister or religious leader, can do

Backing the wrong horse

Several of my friends were standing for election to the Estonian Parliament. Estonian politics are quite tightly defined. In many ways the cross party debates that take place in Estonia are mirrors of the debates that take place within the Liberal Democrats in the UK- so dominant is the Liberal strain of thought in the Estonian body politic. Two parties: Reform and the Centre Party are members of Liberal international, while the leading right wing party also defines itself as a classical liberal party. Even the Social Democrats espouse overtly liberal policies. The outgoing coalition was between the Centre Party and Reform, with the support of the smaller, conservative and agrarian party, the National League ( Rahva Liit ). In fact, although ideologically liberal, the Centre Party is dominated by the populist personality of its founder and leader, Edgar Savisaar . So, while Lembit Opik was able to persuade the Centre Party to join the European Liberal group, in fact Savisaar is a

The dispossesed of Earthsea

Like many people I read the Earthsea books of Ursula K. Le Guin when I was a teenager. I enjoyed the mystical sweep and the moral dilemmas that were presented in the stories. Unlike the traditional sward and sorcery genre, actions in Earthsea tend to have consequences- bad as well as good- and there are no particularly easy answers. I was talking with some fellow bloggers the other day and they also remembered the books warmly. Recently, whilst at an airport somewhere, I found several sci- fi books by the same author. I have always enjoyed the technical sci- fi of writers like Asimov and Arthur Clarke. However Le Guin's work was a revelation. I read The Telling first, possibly because, being a fairly recent book, it was more prominently displayed. The latest book I have read is The Dispossessed which I enjoyed even more. Le Guin's talent is to write from a certain point of view without sounding preachy. The subtleties of Earthsea are repeated on a wider and far mo