One out of three is bad

Not unexpected but you have to worry why.  The phrase stealing about the ears is that the mood is rather ‘Late Major’.

Thirteen years of Conservative or Conservative-led government means there is no one else to blame the woes of the nation on, and there is justified blame. The solution though is worse:  it is as if a man said to himself ‘eating chocolate has given me diabetes, so I will change my diet and eat pure sugar’.

In thirteen years, the narrative wants to move on. to show change is possible. Napoleon III lost his grip in the good times, when the nation felt ‘La France s’ennuie’; and we are not in good time, and Rishi Sunak is no Bonaparte.

The reasons for the decline are well known and were perfectly predictable when the Conservatives put them in place: high tax and the lockdown principally, and now high interest rates. Oh, and the Ukraine War. All these (apart from the last) and Labour-lite policies, which Starmer promised to do more and harder.  And now he is less than a year from being empowered to do so.

Now we have the Renters’ Reform Bill, almost hard-Labour, which can only hurt renters, and landlords, and Starmer will make it worse, but renters will vote for him.

So what do we do?  There is no realistic alternative with actual Conservative policies. The only other sane party with largely sensible policies is Reform UK, and the system does not permit them to advance. So I stick with the Conservatives, in the receding hope that they will reform and grip the system entrusted to them against their own reluctance.

The ‘youthquake’ is real – hatred for the Conservative Party is there. It does not necessarily mean though that they are all socialists. There are plenty of libertarians and hard-conservatives amongst them. They will trickle into the polling booths and vote in a socialist. Such is the madness of the system.

There is no inevitability about anything in politics, except despair.

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Illogical crisis

I have been stunned. The right decisions were made, doing what the public demanded, and it is suddenly the worst, most unpopular thing ever. Deeper issues are behind this.

The fortnight has calmed down a bit, the markets are up, but the mocking continues. What did Liz Truss do wrong? That would take some unpicking.

Plenty are out to get her, and this time not just Keir Kneeler – picking a government only of those who supporter her bid for leadership and casting out able, experienced ministers would always cause rebellion from her own side – throwing out a whole establishment has been the end of many a ruler, as the shades of half a dozen mediaeval kings could tell, and the dynamics of the House of Commons are like a mediaeval court.

Then there are the establishment experts, who really needed to be cleared out, but the market was spooked, and that was a deathly blow.

The markets have been recovering. The pound is up a bit – Europe is still crashing, as you expect, but British viewers will not see that – we only look at our own. This is no time for faltering – Liz must hurry to achieve a transformation before the looming General Election.

One would have thought, logically, that all would realise that taxes are far too high, stifling the growth that has been trying to reassert itself since we were released from lockdown. The spending however, the excess spending, on a relentless ratchet – too many are sucking at the teats of the Treasury to let go easily, and they know, like any baby, that the more they suck, the more milk is produced. Spending must come down, dramatically; the budget deficit must be slashed, ideally to zero. Let those who live of the taxpayers’ largesse start complaining about their cost of living crisis, but let those of us who work for a living to create value have the money we have earned.

Then again, as taxes are reduced, the money is swallowed up in inflation and mortgage interest.  The average household will not make a distinction between money lost to tax and money lost to price rises and interest payments – it is all money taken out of their pocket. Then there is a contradiction: instruct the Bank of England to stop hiking mortgage rates, and the market gets spooked again, but leave them unsupervised and th rates shoot up.  I always thought that interest rates were increased to tackle inflation because this stops high spending  and so the demand in supply-and-demand, but now there is not enough spending, and the inflation is caused by energy prices and high taxes. Is the Bank so one-dimensional? Possibly.

Cut taxes, and re-educate the Bank of England if you can, but cut taxes or we really will crash

It is almost as if there were a conspiracy. Conspiracies are usually nonsense, but here you wonder: the high-tax low-growth economy is unsustainable, but plenty have come to expect and to rely on it. If the teats run dry, they have a great deal to lose – they might have to get proper jobs for a start. There is too much self-interest in all this.

It appears that Liz Trus was right: it is not just a question of adjusting rates and spending, but of breaking the ratchet, the system of baked-in decline and recasting the government machine into something more (what’s the word?  Ah yes -) Conservative.

Also, taxes are not all that matter – the 2019 manifesto is still there waiting to be honoured.  It is a good manifesto apart for a couple of really bad points on social and housing policy – so get that done and let the nation see it is being done.  There is little time, so speed up.  Cast out the Blair-age laws against freedom; sack the wokery and outlaw their practices from the state, making Starmer a clear danger as he threatens the opposite. Drive back the boats and cancel the abused right of asylum. Aye, and cut taxes again and again.

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Moderation, in moderation

Extremist governments murder millions: moderate ones let them die of neglect. The idea of moderation in opposition to extremism though is a wilful deception. The only solution – is a dangerous fallacy.

The murderous fault of the extremist is his one-dimensional approach. Marx was one-dimensional in his theory and it led to evil beyond anything seen before him. Adam Smith (for example) looked at a huge sweep of data and effects and produced more benefit to mankind than any mortal man has done before. I could not call Smith ‘a moderate’ because when you step out of the single dimension, the word is meaningless – ludicrous in fact.

The faults in the infamous dictators of the twentieth century were worsened immensely by their belief in false theories of Marxism and racial  theories, which are still haunting us; as Churchill put it “a Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”. Bad science is always with us and does not always lead to the death camps. My concern here is the nature of extremism or what we think of as extremism.

I have previously taken a cynical view of the demand that a political candidate  be a moderate candidate: commentators who use the word often mean ‘one who agrees with me’. It is worse than that though. The word ‘moderate’ assumes that the subject can be placed somewhere on a single scale, moderating between extremes. There is no single scale though, unless the ideologue sets one and refuses to look outside it, and that makes for what we call extremism.

The words “left” and “right” are one-dimensional words. They are nonsense for a thinking politician. You could define a specific spectrum and look at placement along the spectrum on a specific issue, but that tells you nothing of issues outside that spectrum.  The idea of a right-left spectrum running from Hitler to Communism is a spectrum only of socialism: most people and politicians are not socialists and have no place on that spectrum. One could try a spectrum of libertarianism, presumably from anarchy to Hitler-and-Stalin, but again that tells you nothing much of value, as attitudes to liberty depend on every other opinion and balance reached.

There is no moderation between left and right because left and right are without meaning.

The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words

I  have ranted in the past about America’s liberty to have guns taking away the practical liberty to walk freely without fear, and that is just one, narrow point of balance. Every element of political policy leans upon every other: spending priorities against tax against deficit management against economic effects against levelling-up, will be just one network of competing forces familiar to all. Effective law enforcement against liberty-and-due-process against efficient use of taxpayers’ money begins another.

The only solution is – no, it is not the only solution. The idea of there being one answer to any situation is in itself is a self-deception. It is adopted to avoid the horrible realisation that one may have to think and reason through a complex matrix of factors; but if a policy-maker does not think through that complex matrix, testing the interactions and likely results, he or she is not competent to make choices.

A journalist can catch a politician out by asking a one-dimensional question, as a simple answer may show the politician as foolish and a complex one as evasive. It gets a headline for a day, and provides something to wrap the fish and chips in tomorrow.

The deathly fault of those we call extremists is not their absolute belief in an idea, but that they have no other. He will take one aim and pursue it in spite of all the other factors, leaving millions slain in his wake and ruin for his nation. A responsible politician may be just as extreme in their belief in certain ideas, but will pursue the idea in the context of the web of factors affected by the pursuit. Those of us who campaigned from Brexit knew there were some in the camp who had no other idea and would have ruined the nation in its pursuit, but those who led with their heads knew that Brexit had to be just one outcome of a push for free trade and sensible government, without which Brexit would be an empty gesture.

The terms ‘extremism’ and ‘moderation’ are misnomers and I would rather they be abandoned where they offend against Hobbes and his requirement for sound ratiocination.  The distinction is not in absoluteness of belief or action as that belongs to both: it is the extent to which the politician takes account of the whole of reality and its multitude of factors.

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The Bill and the Rights

Today a reform promised some ten years ago appeared before the House of Commons: the ‘British Bill of Rights’ promised back in David Cameron’s time, a promise promptly ignored. It is a scrap of the red meat promised to the backbenches, and another rare thing to see: something the Manifesto promised us actually being done.

This is the ‘Bill of Rights Bill’ (which will become if passed not the ‘Act of Rights Act 2022’ but the ‘Bill of Rights 2022’).  It is not the first Bill of Rights: we have the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Claim of Right 1689  still in place.  They are grand but practical declarations of freedoms we now take for granted without thinking of them.  The new Bill is certainly not that, and is unworthy of the name of its forebear. It may be just what was squeezed out of a committee. That is not to criticise it: the Bill does what has been trailed, as a practical tidy-up, not a new order.

Don’t expect to get excited by the new Bill of Rights – this is not 1688 nor 1789.

The first thing is that the Bill repeats the rights set out in the European Convention des Droits de l’Homme (not every Article, as many are introductory or concern the court in Straßburg), but all the actual rights are recited.  Blair did it by just referring to the Convention as a known thing – this Bill sets the relevant Articles and Protocols out, which is the normal and proper way for Acts of Parliament incorporate treaty conventions.

‘Which rights do you disagree with then?’ is the usual (understandable) accusation thrown at those who rail at Strasbourg law. The answer here is ‘None: the rights are all exactly as we would have them – it is just the interpretation which is a problem.’

The issue with the rulings pumped out by the European Court of Human Rights in its ivory tower in Straßburg is that it has declared, of its own authority, that the Convention does not mean what is written plainly in the text but is a “living document” to be interpreted widely according to the changing spirit of the age, or at least the spirit of the sort of people who sit as judges. This ‘living document’ doctrine allows them to disregard the parts they do not want and to invent entirely new rights that would not have entered the heads of those who agreed it. The Bill is meant to deal with that.

It does look mean-spirited: having recited the lofty liberties, the Bill then takes aim at rulings which have prevented the expulsion of foreign criminals, in particular the ‘family life’ argument (which is a self-fulfilling argument: land on the beach, smile at a local lass, and you are immune from expulsion, or so it has been alleged). It clears up other little annoyances too: there is no claim for things the armed forces do on active service outside the British Islands (they might think about adding ‘or British overseas territories’ there, but a certain ‘Death on the Rock ruling still rankles).  All these are in essence replies to outrage on the pages of the Daily Mail and from Priti Patel’s office.

In the same category you might place the odd Clause 4, on Freedom of Speech, that “a court must give great weight to the importance of protecting the right”. Yes, good – but will the court not be giving great weight to all Convention rights?  This needs some beef, like repealing existing laws on offensive or distressing speech, or specifically protecting against discriminatory treatment those who express dissent on political or social matters. It is not there. The clause sets out to do good, then fizzles out. Perhaps it was sent to a civil servant to do and he responded “Do I have to?” and put in a minimal job of work.

It does mention trial by jury as the way we do fair trials in this land.  It does tell courts not to demand the disclosure of journalists’ sources unless the really want to. That is thin gruel for a Bill which could have been used to bring in a newly libertarian age.

If this Bill were serious about entrenching liberties, it would not be so cowardly: if it were serious, it would go through all illiberal legislation since the Blair years and strike them down. It does not.  It fizzles out.

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Levelling, locality, labyrinth

The showpiece of the Queen’s Speech is the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. It is just the sort of measure which should have been taken many years ago, at least in Part 1. The rest of it has the appearance of a jumbled-together bag of ideas, which perhaps had been sitting in a back drawer waiting for a Bill to jemmy them into, giving the look of sections far too hastily put together. It is really four or five Bills stuck together in a vaguely coherent manner to put it generously.

That is not to say that the individual ideas are poor, but they are hurriedly put together, when they deserved better, individual consideration.

Most of the Bill is to be welcomed. The Part I general duty on government to address regional disparities has been talked about by every shade of government for as long as I can recall, but never set out in quite this way. I could say that this duty is a Hobbesian necessity, after all:

The safety of the People, requireth further, from him, or them that have the Soveraign Power, that Justice be equally administred to all degrees of People; that is, that as well the rich, and mighty, as poor and obscure persons, may be righted of the injuries done them; so as the great, may have no greater hope of impunity, when they doe violence, dishonour, or any Injury to the meaner sort, than when one of these, does the like to one of them: For in this consisteth Equity; to which, as being a Precept of the Law of Nature, a Soveraign is as much subject, as any of the meanest of his People.

No one region has any more call upon the benefits of government than any other, which would constitute as Hobbes might put it, πλεονεξία, and for the state to grant it would be προσωποληψία.

There should be no need to spell such a duty out, because the government should always act in that way, but forcing the civil service to produce plans may actually change something. This essentially leads on from the “union agenda” intended to end accidental disadvantages which businesses in Scotland and Ulster suffer because of thoughtlessness in the way that regulations are drawn up.

Part 2 is a mess though. This one could be excised from the bill without harming the rest. It would be given better thought in a bill on its own. In this position it jumps into an already ramshackle system and makes it even more incoherent. Part 2 will create yet another new form for local authority, the ‘combined county authority’: why they call it that when the area can bear no relation to any county is perhaps best answered by assuming it was given little analytical thought.  These new bodies will be appointed by existing councils, plus additional members chosen by the councillor-members, or by bodies they nominate to nominate members, and to give them a purpose, powers will be stripped from local councils and granted by the minister, individually.

This blog has argued before – see “Now for LGAxit” – that the systems of local government are so complicated and so far removed from the assumptions underlying the Local Government Act 1972 that the Act should be wholly repealed, immediately, and replaced by one which reflects reality. Changes over the last decades have accelerated, each one making an exception to the requirements of the 1972 Act – so now it is a chaos of clashing and contradicting provisions, and when we have the new Part 2 (which only marginally coherent itself) then it will be intolerable. When the exceptions from the rule are more common than the original rule, as we have today, then something is wrong with how things are being done – when the assumption is that the original rule  will not apply then it is no more than a legal fiction, and you need to start again.

Mr Gove should not be tinkering at this stage: he should be repealing the old Act and getting a new one.  The new Bill just emphasises it all the more.

Furthermore, the terminology gets in the way of the intention. by suggesting that the new combined areas are in some way “counties” is to bring resistance to them. There is no way that a collection of governmental areas enrolled for mere convenience can be the equal of Yorkshire or Cornwall or Surrey or any of the famous counties of the realm. By choosing that one name, “county”, it suggests to local folk that own own, ancient places are being taken away and replaced by an ill-shapen imposition, and the resultant resistance will hold the plan up.  It can be saved by changing that one word to another, say “combined strategic areas”, as that seems to be what they are, or just “combined government areas”. The Ministry do not know how to make it easier for themselves.

There is a great deal to be said for the Bill, and the many elements  have not even touched upon, but the wise heads need to change Part 2’s self-defeating terminology, or remove it to work on later in the context of ‘LGAxit’ and a rationalisation of local government systems.

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