The silence; the shock

There are no adequate words for such a deed. A family weeps, a community weeps. That someone should strike in such a way against a husband and father, against the community and against democracy itself: it is not who we are.

Back in the different world that was 1983, Margaret Thatcher’s future was in the balance – the catastrophic economic conditions of her first years in office were not forgiven by many, but the J-curve had been passed, the economy was beginning to soar, and the euphoria of the Falklands victory was glowing in a newly confident nation, but still a nation with problems. The General Election held the future of the nation in balance, and no one knew what would happen.  Then as the first results came in, it was Basildon, working-class Basildon, and they elected a Conservative, which signalled the landslide that was coming. The harbinger of that landslide, Basildon’s fresh-faced young, smiling MP, was David Amess. He became a symbol of that night and of the new breed of Conservatives.

A face of the confident 1980s, David Amess served in Parliament long past that decade, never being appointed to ministerial office, being too much the backbencher, principled, keeping governments in line and speaking as a Member of Parliament should but as few do. He drew praise from all who knew him, frustration from his opponents, and worked hard, very hard, for all the causes, local and national, he turned his hand to.

That he should be struck down like this, in the course of his service, is too unspeakable. Ours is not  land where this can happen – but the wounds from the murder of Jo Cox six years ago are still raw, and Stephen Timms still bears the scars of an attempted murder that echoes yesterday’s. These murders and that attack were an attack upon democracy, utterly alien to all our nation has stood for. Since the creation of the United Kingdom, only nine MPs have been murdered in office: one yesterday, for motives we can guess, one five years ago by a nationalist, one two hundred years before by a mad bankrupt, and six by Irish nationalists. It is rare, very rare, and still too common.

Perhaps there is no way to predict when a solipsistic mania will seize a man and drive him to murder. One thing is certain – if it ever happens again, it must never cease to be less than utter outrage.

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Lashings of a wounded tiger

Hark, hark the dogs do bark; the beggars are coming to town –
Some on commissions and some with petitions,
And all with an earnest frown

Clearing out the Augean stables of Whitehall is no mean task, so embedded are those who foul them. Eleven years of Conservative government, and nothing visible has been done about it, until recently. There must be a change, because the beggars are fighting back.

Until Boris came along, it was understood that the head of Harriet Harman’s Equality and Human Rights Commission would be a self-selected social justice warrior with the unique take on equality and rights that the left have, but no – it now has a level-headed chairman who actual believes in the brief, about equal treatment, and respecting diversity, not suppressing it.

Other posts too have started to fill with either conservatives or politically neutral nominees with brains and determination to do their jobs for the benefit of all, not to push specious philosophies, and not with non-entities who will fold before threats from social justice warriors in their teams. No wonder the embedded lefties are furious. No wonder they are working hard to reshape the landscape while they can.

Yesterday, the Home Office cancelled a series of training seminars run by a notorious race-hustler who has personally insulted the Home Secretary and belittled her family’s race. Naturally, she had been hired to talk about racial equality in the workplace. It is a bit like hiring Al Capone as an expert in avoiding police corruption. This cancellation was only after the lecture series was exposed by the eminent blogger Guido Fawkes – otherwise we have every reason the think it would have gone ahead, along with many others from worse hustlers than this one. The cancellation is a start, but how many more such seminars are still on the calendar.

I have met enough civil servants to have some sympathy with their position. They know that they do not understand all the things that are put in their hands and they need external expertise. Sharks are circling as they reach out. If you advertise ‘We need to borrow some cash’, it is not Barclays who will knock first but Micky ‘The Razor’ Fraser.

Who then is hiring people like Afula Hirsch in spite of her appalling reputation? It might be a junior clerk with Google as his expert. It might be a determined, embedded wokeist seeing an opportunity. They might just submit the name with an innocent face, or threaten accusations in the familiar way. Threats of denunciation should be regarded as bullying; a sackable offence.

The tide of wokery is intensifying, not because it is on a roll but because its position is under threat. The Spanish Inquisition was started not when Rome had a secure monopoly on ideas, but when it was threatened.

We must expect therefore a greater push for Critical Race Theory and Gender Awareness propaganda for years, and if it is not met with a forceful pushback, it will seize the narrative, and the appointments process. Minsters are in charge of every aspect of their departments, and must make their authority felt.

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Righting the rights

We have been promised a reform of the Human Rights Act for the last eleven years. It has been in Conservative Manifestos – now it is in a conference speech, will it actually be done?

Most interestingly is the timing:  the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is Dominic Raab, a lawyer who has written two books on the need for reform of the area. Now his text may start to find its way towards the statute book.

There are two particular problem with the Human Rights Act: one in the legal realm and one deeply political.  I will look at the legal one: the deep political danger is for another time.

Each of the rights set out in the Convention européenne des droits de l’homme is one which is respected by British common law, so one would think there should be no issue with any of it. The common question from supporters of the Act is a sensible one: ‘which of those rights would you forego’?

The answer?  Not one; but that is not the problem. The Convention rights are in briefest summary, the right to life; freedom from torture or servitude; liberty and security; fair trials; against retroactive laws; privacy; freedom of conscience and religion; free expression; free association; marriage between a man and a woman; the right to an effective remedy etc.

No Conservative would argue with these. One would argue though with the activist interpretation which has been put on some, going far beyond the words, and some interpretations which plainly disregard the words. A second element is the way that it disfigures the culture of law enforcement.

I will leave it to petty editorials in the Daily Mail to list examples of the Act going wrong. It is meant to defend the noble oppressed struggling for liberty; in a land which has freedom as the default setting, it is a remedy of last resort of the scoundrel. The events editorialised to draw the reader’s outrage may be nothing to do with the words of the convention nor the way it has been interpreted judicially, but the way the police or public servants defer to what it might be – an armed criminal with hostages demanding food as a human right and other such things, and the police complying in fear though there is no need.

However, there are genuinely outrageous judicial decisions, arising from the judges of the Convention’s own court, in Straßburg. Their fault is the decision, since 1978, that the Convention is a ‘living instrument’, not meaning what it actually said as intended in 1950, but meaning whatever the judges want it to mean according to the spirit of the times, or their idea of what the spirit of the times should be.

The Convention so read is a jelly. To call it any form of law is to insult the very concept of law. To set British judges to determine such an insubstantial mass  is an insult to their vocation: European judges may have different standards.

If the Convention is a ‘living instrument’ it is not law, and its administrators are no judges.

There is a long history of discontent with the European Court of Human Rights. In the 1970s and 1980s the Strasbourg court handed out a string of judgments against Britain that seemed political; mainly judgments condemning actions taken against IRA terrorists. (Such judgments could only be made in an ivory tower, not by those who had seen their towns shattered by a bombing campaign, not by who wake in sweat in the early hours waiting for a knock and a gunshot.) More recently the discontent is in more personal matters. Wild judgments are , such as the one of a few years ago demanding that prisoners have an equal vote with honest men, is nowhere in the relevant Protocol to the Convention, but is determined by judicial sleight of hand. Other judgments look to force liberal preconceptions by a ratchet effect.

As improper are the cases that clear permit states to trample on freedom by allowing the action under the heading that it may be “necessary in a democratic society”. That is a phrase that can drive  a coach and four through any right with that proviso. Enactments to silence dissent as ‘hate speech’ are becoming commonplace in Europe. In America such a law would be struck down at once by their Supreme Court, but in Straßburg it is more likely to be lauded as a necessity.

How long the European Court of Human Rights will continue as a liberal stronghold is hard to tell, as more conservative-minded judges are being appointed in Eastern Europe. The norms of Austria, Hungary and Poland are not those of Belgium or France.

If there is a pretence that the Court is a court and that the Convention is to be treated there as law, the political bent of the judges should be irrelevant. It is relevant though, for the Convention is like no law the British tradition could understand.

Reform then on these shores need not tackle the wording of the enumerated rights in the Convention itself as written in 1950, or its Protocols 9to the extent they are accepted. It would nail the jelly to the table, and read the rights as they are written.

In Dominic Raab’s book “The Assault on Liberty“, he makes the case for a ‘British Bill of Rights’ that actually resembles law. The timing of the book is important: it was written when he sat in Opposition, in the Blair period.  It was not a demand for Parliament and Whitehall to be loosened from constraint, but a plea to impose more, better restraint upon the overuse of power.  It was Mr Blair who pushed the Human Rights Act though Parliament and he declared himself thus a champion of liberty, but his ministry saw the greatest abridgment of personal freedom since, well, since the previous Labour government. Mr Raab’s called for liberty; and now he is in charge.

Reform is possible, but the Convention on its own may be impossible to save.  Read straight as it was written is a necessary start: even read straight though the Convention is wobbly: that phrase “necessary in a democratic society” is incapable of definition except politically.

Rights restraining subsidiary legislation can be written in. The tendency since Blair’s time is for freedom to be curtailed and government power ever increased under the fig-leaf of the Act (which is a separate article).  A restraint on delegated power is therefore needed. This may be Mr Raab’s ‘British Bill of Rights’, and it would be enforceable with judicial review.

The fuzzy political boundary is still there though and judges should not be pushed into those areas in which politicians must be made to accept responsibility.  There may be a case therefore to tear the judicial element out. We would not have a British version of the Strasbourg court, but perhaps a quasi-judicial figure as a “Superintendent of Conventional Rights”, able to opine, to report and to chide.

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What do we make of Boris now?

A conference speech is just a PR exercise, a rally-rouser, but it signals something of an approach, perhaps, even if it just shows how the speaker perceived what the grass-roots members of the party want to hear as their priorities.

Boris is a stand-up comedian – the only one to reach such high office since Disraeli- and he can speak.  It was another virtuoso stream-of-consciousness performance with jokes, roasting of colleagues’ foibles, plenty of classical references and populist touches, woven seamlessly around disparate themes.  The paean to the NHS makes the teeth grind a bit, but it is the religion of the people so it has to be said, just as the candidates in the Roman Forum threw in praise for Jupiter and whoever was the favourite goddess of the day. This has been a very medical two years.

The theme of opportunity is a key Conservative theme, and sound money – though reconciling sound money and elimination of debt  with the big spending he also announced is a head-scratcher to be sure. he hinted that tax revenues are going to be bigger – but shall we see tax cuts, a month after a manifesto-breaking tax rise?  It sounds unlikely, yet, but that is what the grass roots and the Old Red Wall want to see.

Yes, the levelling up is good, and long overdue, but there has been a Conservative PM in office for eleven years and progress has been invisible. Admittedly Michael Gove was not put on the case before.  Yes, he railed with force against left-wing wokery, but that rubbish is being spewed out of Whitehall with ever greater intensity: even the Army this week were handed a leaflet telling soldiers about preferred pronouns and multitudinous genders – is the Government not in charge?

It was a good speech, full of triumph, patriotism and hope. It will sour though without action. Action is possible and imperative. Let us see what the months ahead bring.

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Berlin

Berlin is a beautiful city and much of it is very new, but it looks old:  it is long-established and aged but with the paint still wet.

The first time I visited was not long after the Wall fell, and where the Wall  and the Death Strip had, there been was a gash through the city, increasingly filled with bulldozers as a sign of the future, but the East was still a separate city.  I could hardly recognise the place less than thirty years afterwards, and it has changed even more since.  The old East Berlin was a wreck of poorly built and neglected buildings, and the place where the wall had been was a wasteland,  One of the old hubs of the Imperial city, Potsdamer Platz, was a desert.  Now, all trace has gone, or almost all; the city surges back and forth across the old divide that is not there.  Under den Linden is once again a Belle Epoch street  as it was in Imperial days, of commerce and diplomacy, and Potsdamer Platz is a new-old hub of the commercial, social city.  Some sections of the wall stand there as a monument, and the platform on which Kennedy and Reagan spoke, but they are out of place, leaving what went before unimaginable.

One part of the city is silent: the new ‘Bundesdorf’ around the Reichstag and the Kanzlerei. Tourists and activists bumble around and wave banners in the midst of the day – I saw Peruvian pan-pipes with an Inca nationalist flag, and some group promoting a mystic conspiracy theory and all sorts I could hardly describe, but all in a narrow space by the Brandenburg Gate, where the cameras are.   In the wide, modern park between the Reichstag all was quiet (apart from a small band of Alt-Jugend types once with a Prussian state flag: had they flown a Nazi flag they would have been arrested), in the beating heart of one of Europe’s biggest cities, between the main station and the axis thoroughfare. There was no traffic, but then it is tucked beside the river and there is only a pedestrian bridge. It is still eerie in the silence though. It would be unimaginable in a natural city.

The Reichstag is stately and magnificent, even with the Norman Foster additions (which were toned down at the insistence of the German government commission).  The Imperial building is no more than a shell and all inside and on top is Foster’s work: after the Reichstag Fire in 1933 little was left, and such as survived the fire was mauled by British bombs, and such as survived that was destroyed by the Soviets. The four towers at each corner stand for the four kingdoms within the German Empire: Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg, and carving run like tapestry down the surfaces in honour of the Princes of Germany now united.

From those towers fly huge flags – the German flag of black-red-gold, and the blue European flag.

That is the oddest thing to British eyes: at the very heart of the German state, the European Union flag being flown, and it is flow over the Kanzlerei, the Chancellor’s office / residence also.  Looking into the very chamber of the Bundestag, the European ring of stars is given equal status with the German national flag.  Even before Brexit that would have been unthinkable in London.

Politics in Germany is not normal, by Anglosphere standards, and that may be a good thing as we have seen what happens to German culture when left to its own devices. The pathology behind for the ways of Germany’s politicians may be another article. Now, they face each day afresh. As I write, political parties with little in common are trying to thrash out a coalition of impossible contradictions to form some sort of government and issue the commands that the Bundestag will rubber-stamp over the next few years, and they consider this normal. It is not Weimar though, thank goodness, and life will go on.

The Bundesdorf is a silent quarter still, beside a vibrant, noisy city. Berlin was created as a capital city, built in a swamp for a Mediaeval frontier Margrave; it grew great as a city for a King with a fresh crown, and grew as his Prussia grew. It exists for rulers and is shaped by them; it was shattered  into burnt ruins because of a twisted ruler and has been rebuilt from ruins  because it has to be a capital but its life is beyond that cloistered set.

The miraculous rebirth of the city is in part thanks to the politicians, but largely because their intervention was to lift restrictions and taxes. Unbound, developers could build, and they did, sweeping away the ruins of the past and creating a new-old city. Shining office buildings and apartment blocks have appeared as if overnight, because there is profit in providing the best.  I also spotted in corners though shipping-container homes stacked high, possibly temporary – I hope so. All the glass and still speaks of hope and enterprise, allowed to run free over a city.

At the same time, the past is being restored: the old Hotel Adlon inside the Brandenburg Gate was recreated from nothing, and the Stadtschloss, the Kings’ town palace, has been too, the latter with the generous if unwilling contributions from taxpayers all over Germany. (The Crown Prince is not to be allowed to live their though: it is a museum; he has to slum it in Potsdam.) It looks as if Berliners are puzzled about whether to look at the past or the future and are getting the best of both. The Stadtschloss is new-built as a centuries-old building.

Breathless change has its blow-backs.  The voters of the city have voted by over 50% to expropriate private corporate landlords and hand their property to a faceless bureaucracy. That is foolishness. They experiment with rent-controls too, which we all know are the best way to destroy a city short of bombing, but Berlin knows all about that.

This regeneration by free enterprise has made a broken city flourish It is a lesson to the world.

Other cities in Germany have grown big and prosperous, but they are not the same, having different roots. The federal system imposed on Germany after the War was meant to spread power all over the country and allow local towns to stand on their own, and they do well but Berlin is unique.