Saturday, April 25, 2009

Give MPs Something To Do

Douglas Carswell has proposed an excellent reform to further keep the executive in check...

Here's a simple idea.  Require every Whitehall department - and each associated quango - to have it's budget annually ratified by the relevant House of Commons select committee.  No approval, no money.

Now that really would be a fundamental shift in power. It would also bind the hands of the opposition parties more firmly, since their fingerprints would be over the governments spending plans, either in approval or disapproval. It would require opposition parties to have firm principles over public spending in the long term. However it could present an unfortunate side affect of binding parties to such an extent that HM Opposition could not present a radically divergent spending programme at the election because of this.

It would, though, fundamentally weaken the executive, forcing it to justify every £1 it taxes and spends. And it would help empower Parliament - changing the composition of Parliament would mean something.

It strikes me, however, that this reform would make most sense under a system where the executive is directly elected.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prisoners To Get The Vote

The news that 28,000 prisoners are to be given the right to vote in elections is outrageous. The Daily Mail reports with characteristic alarmism...

Rapists, paedophiles, burglars and muggers could be among 28,800 prisoners handed the right to vote, it emerged last night.

The Government is preparing to demolish 1,000 years of legal practice by proposing that inmates serving up to four years in jail will be allowed to help elect MPs and councillors.

Labour is implementing a verdict by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled five years ago that it was unfair to stop convicts casting their vote.

The most sensible comment comes from Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, for one, who says...

'Civic rights go with civic responsibility, but these rights have been flagrantly violated by those who have committed imprisonable offences.

As the article also notes, it has long been established for over 1,000 years that convicted criminal are considered outlaws - outside the law and its privileges. That civic rights go hand in hand with civic responsibility is not only a moral position, but it is also a pragmatic one. Should those who have breeched the laws laid down by society be able to wield political influence?

One can quite imagine a situation where an entire prison population in one marginal constituency could hold the balance of power in that seat. The prospect of candidates canvassing for the votes of prisoners is bizarre - since the prisoners life would be very small and narrow, surely their interests would be very specific (probably more liberal attitudes to law breaking, more family visiting time, etc, etc). If we as a society send people to prison as punishment, then what when politicians rely on their support?

The whole affair simply highlights again the flawed European Convention on Human Rights, and all the muddles and conflict caused by competing positive rights. While the UK subscribed to the ECHR as a sovereign government, our EU membership ties us to it irrevocably. Therefore in order to withdraw from the ECHR and repeal our Human Rights Act, we would need to leave the European Union.

Is it really too much to ask that the British government and British legislature make British laws for British people, and that both are elected by British voters? Why should we have to put up with nonsense imposed upon us because our incompetent and ignorant politicians have signed us up to things of which they have little understanding and concept of the consequences, and which they quite probably did for political gain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Freedom Of Association

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has a fantastic article in the New Statesman on the importance of freedom of association. Can you imagine such a cogent and philosophically ponderous statement of values from Gordon Brown, David Cameron, or Nick Clegg?

It sounds odd to use a book on the economics of sport as a source of what is going wrong with our society. But Stefan Szymanski’s new “Playbooks and Checkbooks” provides us with the raw material for just that.

Szymanski explains why so many of the games played around the world were first encoded here in the UK , why they spread with their methods of organisation. Yes, Empire gets a look in but more important is the development of “associative society”. After the Civil War the monarchy and government were no longer the instigator, regulator or supervisor of every public affair. People were, for the first time, free to combine in clubs, whether for sport, for drinking, journalism or science, without permission.

This led to an explosion of clubs and associations in every corner of life. As he says:

“By the end of the eighteenth century visitors to England became quite bored with the tendency of Englishmen to proclaim their liberty and to declare that other nations lived in servitude. Contemporary Germans and Frenchmen often found this national pride quite puzzling, because they did not see what the English were free to do that they were not.”

By contrast, in France at the time any association of any kind required a licence from the King.

Moving from sporting matters, that same freedom of association is what led to the explosion of the communal and social groupings that followed. The friendly societies, the providents, mutuals, owe their genesis to the fact that people were free to associate in such ways. There was no requirement for permission, a licence, from those in authority stating that they would be privileged by an allowance. It was a freedom to be exercised as of right not applied for. Yes, this was sometimes more honoured in the breach, as with unions and the Combination Acts but those exceptions were indeed exceptions.

Freedom of association is something that I fear we’ve lost in our society today. Retained firefighters are about to fall foul of the Working Time Directive. We used to understand that those who offered themselves on call to help in an emergency were a benefit to society. Now we make such public spirit illegal.

To take an entirely trivial example, it is currently illegal to add apple geranium leaves to gooseberry jam but legal to do so to quince. To avoid a 6 month jail sentence and or a £5,000 fine by doing so one would have to petition the European Commission to change the jams and jellies regulations.

Not all of these restrictions come from Brussels. You couldn’t have a folk music club meeting in a pub these days without a licence, you can’t stick up a barrel of beer at the line dancing club without one: indeed you cannot have either dancing or music without permission from someone, somewhere.

Perhaps line dancing, folk music, jam, even our unique system of retained firefighters, are not important matters. But if civil society is to flourish, then we have to be free to be civil society without permission or a licence from anyone. In short, we need to reclaim our freedom to associate if we’re to have an associative society.

Of course, Edmund Burke got there first when he described society as relying upon the “little platoons”. This is only true if said platoons are not regimented, ordered, inspected and controlled. Only when we strip away that regimentation - whether it comes from Brussels or Westminster - will we see a flourishing of civil society to match that of our forefathers, that thing which so confused and confuses the French and the Germans.

Just fantastic, and a wonderful example of why I am a supporter of Nigel Farage and UKIP. Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems have so covered their philosophical foundations with dirt trodden in from the muddy pavement of party politics and power seeking, that they are blown in the wind like a plastic bag on a breeze.

The political cross-dressing we see today is a direct result of political position for the sake of power, rather than driven by any underlying belief system. To bow to mainstream populism, without attempt to argue your case passionately, is to betray your principles and ideology. Yes, political parties have to maintain broad appeal to secure influence, and must to a certain extent compromise with populist will, but when the compromise takes precedent - when desire for influence subordinates desire for just and meaningful change, then politics is debased.

In Britain we need a political party with an ideological core to speak up for liberty. When the party's external actions reflect that of its foundations, it is coherent and thus should be able to debate openly and honestly with opponents whose philosophically untethered position has caused them to wind themselves up in hypocrisy and incoherence.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Economic Meltdown & 45p Tax

I have long said that the single biggest opportunity afforded by this crisis is a total reform of the tax system. Having snapped the Treasuries fiscal rules to match sticks, and opened the borrowing floodgates, Brown could have used the opportunity of temporary fiscal recklessness to at least upturn the whole structure of the tax and even welfare systems and leave a lasting legacy of a reformed and vastly improved structure.

Reading this morning an interesting piece by the ASI on the cost of minimal government it set me thinking.

Using, I worked out that the annual budget for 'defence' and 'protection', the categories which more or less correspond to those 'core duties' of government mentioned above, is about £70bn. Interestingly, that's about how much VAT set at the minimum rate of 15 percent should raise. Wouldn't it be nice if that was the only tax you paid?

OK, so maybe that's not realistic. But here's a still-radical proposal with a little more relevance to the real world: first, go ahead and restrict the Westminster Parliament to those core functions, and that limited tax base.

Then replace the welfare state with the kind of compulsory savings system that they have in Singapore and Chile, and which the ASI advocated in our reports on the 'Fortune Account'. Essentially, national insurance contributions, rather than going to the government, would go into personal, privately-owned accounts, consisting of health savings, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and a retirement fund.

Sexy stuff huh? Ok, so it's just sado libertarians like me who get excited by such things, but think about what it means.

What is being proposed is the decoupling of the business of government and the broad area which can be called 'welfare' or 'redistribution'. To do this would be to fundamentally alter the political landscape, since governments could no longer shuffle money around and disguise transfers, but would have to explicitly propose changes in taxation for the two categories of government activity. The two categories broadly resembling the traditional role of government (that which libertarians would support) and that which modern governments have adopted (that which libertarians would not support).

I proposed something similar a while back over at Curious Snippets...

Every newborn child should have a 'personal welfare' fund opened, in to which the government should pay, say, £5,000 each year until the child reaches 18. The fund should be private, like a pension fund, and thus invested, not a state operated fund financed from present tax receipts. The fund would accumulate £90k in static terms and should provide well over £100k (rough calcs anybody?) after investment returns on maturity.

This fund should be the only handout from the state, ever, to citizens. No more child benefit, no more unemployment benefit, housing benefit, tax credits, etc etc. The fund can be used the the individual as they see fit. They could spend it all on booze and fags, but then they would receive no more help from the state and would rely on any private charity. People could spend it on buying a house, financing their University degree, buying a car, wedding, paying for kids etc. People could top up the fund through their working life, and the fund would act like a buffer against the volatile nature of life. If you found yourself unemployed you draw on the fund, if you get sick or disabled you draw on the fund etc

The Death Penalty

This morning I was watching Andrew Marr on BBC 1 and then watched "The Big Questions" afterwards. One of the issues under discussion was the death penalty, and it triggered a few thoughts.

Firstly I would oppose the death penalty primarily on the grounds that it is virtually impossible to grantee beyond all doubt the guilt of a suspect. Even DNA evidence does not prove guilt, it simply establishes the presence of the DNA and how it got there is a puzzle for the investigators to complete. I cannot bring myself to accept the miscarriages of justice which will inevitably occur as a price worth paying for ridding us of a handful of truly despicable individuals.

Secondly I would also oppose the death penalty on the grounds that since individuals do not have the right to murder another individual - infringe their liberty - then that power cannot be delegated to the State.

However, in principle, I have no objection to the 100% guilty being obliterated - it is not the death I am repulsed by.

The people who do not support the death penalty tend to support, on the whole, genuine life sentences. And I have to wonder, is there really any material difference between depriving an individual of their liberty for the rest of their life, and killing them? Surely without the freedom to live life then life simply becomes existence, and thus the imprisoned become the undead, the un-human, and by all intents and purposes they become deceased.

I have thought about this all day and cannot find any key philosophical distinction, and yet opponents of the death penalty seemingly see a substantial distinction.

On this basis might a compromise be that under a system where life sentences mean life, that the convicted be given the choice at any time of their sentence to request assisted suicide. This preserves the freedom of the convicted to remain alive, and thus for the wrongly convicted to continue to fight for justice, but also allows for the genuinely convicted to die and alleviate society of themselves.

I would be interested in your thoughts?

Rights And Liberties

Devils Kitchen has a fantastic post on the superficially subtle but fundamentally vast chasm between Human Rights and Liberties. In my view his quoting of Bishop Hill sums up the difference, and gives perfectly clear reasoning as to why rights pose the greatest threat to liberty today.

I've been wondering about the distinction between human rights and liberties for some time now and in recent weeks have come to the conclusion that a human right essentially defines an entitlement and therefore a duty on government (and perhaps on others), while a liberty defines a restriction on government (and perhaps on others). I've also concluded that human rights are potentially disastrous.

So what has this got to do with human rights? Well, from the HE perspective, how come then the state can demand entry to your home? How come they can force your children to talk to them? How come they can demand that you not be present? Haven't you got a right to privacy? The right to a family life? You would hope, wouldn't you that your human rights would protect you against this sort of thing. But you'd be wrong. The government will argue that the mere possibility of the loss of the child's rights justifies the loss of parental rights to privacy.

And this is the problem with human rights. By creating entitlements, but no understanding of how to balance different people's entitlements off against each other, they create confusion and sow discord and eventually leave the field of debate entirely empty, ready for government to legislate as they wish.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Proportional representation, Again

For all my loathing, repugnance, and despisal of Polly Toynbee, she does make a cogent case for proportional representation, highlighting some unarguable truths...

The last election swung on just 200,000 votes in a handful of marginals. The derelict first-past-the-post electoral system leaves the nation's fate to a tiny proportion of the politically indifferent, disenfranchising everyone else. Crass election messages try to catch the fleeting attention of a few bored people, the only ones that matter.

Indeed this is an undeniable fact. However, before considering her argument further it is worth expanding on this thought and considering why we have a First-Past-The-Post system.

Firstly, we have a Parliamentary system to which we elect individuals to represent our views. Historically, knowledge and information was the possession of relatively few and communication was slow, so a largely uneducated populace delegated their voice to those able to devote the time and those with the intellect.

Secondly, there were no national campaigns of the kind we have today. These have been largely enabled by Radio and Television, and more recently the Internet. Certainly individuals could not travel round several counties easily, let alone the whole country. And so having geographically manageable constituencies was sensible (a similar rationale behind the electoral college in the USA for electing the President).

Thirdly, the morality or otherwise of FPTP rather depends on whether the composition of Parliament as a whole is important, or whether you take a local view of electing your representative (the final composition of the Parliament as determined by many constituencies thus being a by-product of the process, rather than the principal purpose of the process).

A proportional system means every vote counts, no longer piled up in safe seats or wasted in hopeless seats. The two near memberless old parties have the system stitched up and voters are on strike. Tony Blair won just 25% of the electorate in 2005

Again, it is true that FPTP favours those most likely to win - normally the top two candidates in any seat. Therefore voters find themselves voting for the least worst option in the hope of toppling the worst, when in fact they do not support either party and would rather vote for a minority candidate/party.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that our Parliamentary system draws the executive from the elected members. Today this is by convention the leader of the largest party, but historically partisanship was much weaker, and the Prime Minister was he who could command support in the House of Commons in order to form a government and pass legislation. Today, also, the strength of the party system, ensures the flip flop of executive control between two camps.

My problem with replacing FPTP with PR for our current Parliamentary system is that this very problem would be exacerbated. Supporters of PR say that it results in a more representative composition of the electorate by helping smaller parties. They say that coalition governments are weak and accountable because they rely on compromise between the represented groups to hold power, and that small parties can exert influence by supporting the governing party and creating a working majority. All these arguments are indeed true, but what of the opposing arguments?

PR creates a perpetual coalition since it is virtually impossible for any one party to obtain an absolute majority. Weak government is not necessarily best, and can lead to stagnation. Also, just as under FPTP where the composition of Parliament is a byproduct of the system, so in PR the government could be composed of a majority of parties for whom you did not vote - for example a party could gain 40% of the vote, but the government formed by a coalition of parties who form 60% of the vote - thus leaving a party representing mainstream opinion quite isolated and powerless. In Germany voters kicked out Schroder, only to find a grand coalition between the two major opposing parties - not an outcome anybody voted for but which was necessitated by the eventual composition of the Parliament after the election.

I find myself in support of the principle of PR but against it in practice, unless the Parliamentary system were to change. What if the Executive were directly elected - as with the President of the USA, voters could directly elect the Prime Minister. Thus separating the business of government from the legislature, and those specifically elected to represent the views of the electorate. Not only would this improve separation of powers but also improve democratic representation whilst retaining strong executive government, as the House of Commons and/or the House of Lords would be elected under proportional representation.

For sure, it is possible to argue for both FPTP and PR under such a system I propose - a case can be made for FPTP where MPs are elected to represent a constituency since the composition of the legislature does not determine the government, and also for PR where the composition is reflective of the electorate. Either way the system would be more democratic and accountable, and it is an idea to which I am warming greatly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mary Honeyball On Quotas

Mary Honeyball MEP has been sounding off, impervious to rational morality...

I am very much in favour of mandatory quotas to further women's representation in the workplace and politics. Men already give preference to other men, so in a sense quotas already exist

No, Mary. Firstly a quota is a mandatory outcome objective, whereas giving preference to particular workers (for whatever reason) is not in the slightest bit similar.

It took all-women shortlists to raise the number of Labour women MPs to 27% of the parliamentary Labour party. Compare this with the Tories – who, incidentally, oppose quotas – of whom only 9% are female. Quotas do work, and I do not believe we will get significantly more women elected representatives without them.

Of course quotas 'work' - they are quotas! But they do not achieve the objective. If the reasoning behind quotas is to ensure that woman are not unfairly discriminated against because of their gender, then quotas are entirely the wrong tool.

To set quotas is to prioritise an arbitrary characteristic such as gender above merit, and is to ignore the different skill sets men and women possess, and the lifestyle choices they make. Surely the objective should be to ensure that there are no artificial barriers to women? Much harder, but certainly tackles the root of the issue and, unlike quotas, preserves the dignity and respect of women. Yes, Mary, elevating gender above merit devalues the contribution and achievements of women since their peers can no longer be sure of their merit but suspect the hidden assistance of immoral law.

What of the employer faced with a woman and a man applying for a vacancy? He (or, of course, she) will now be thinking "has she achieved her current position on merit, or because the company would be fined for not meeting their quotas?". If the cost to her current employer of employing her (gross wage + benefits, desk space, etc) is lower than the fine that could be imposed by not employing her then the company will. But can the existence of such a system, whether it impacts the life of the women above or not, help women to achieve equality with men? The fact is that the very existence of the system would throw a blanket of doubt over all women.

Also take a company, say a IT network engineering company. Now that industry is dominated by men. Why? Not because because of rampant discrimination, but because men's brains are more suited to engineer/IT type roles, and women on the whole are both less suited but also less interested in it. Would that be wrong, Mary? Would that company have to employ lots of women, even if only to sit in the corner and look pretty, to avoid an astronomical fine?

Fears that women who gain positions through quotas will see their authority undermined are cited. But without big steps, women's representation in the UK workplace and democracy is stagnating. The pay gap is starting to increase again in the UK, rising 1% to 17% this year, and women's representation on company boards and in parliament is increasing so slowly that it will take another 100 years for them to reach parity with men.

But what is "parity", Mary? You say it is outcome based - ensure there are equal number of both men and women. I say that is moronic and wholly immoral, and that the only justifiable measure should be process/input based. In other words, we should be looking for artificial barriers to women succeeding, and not looking at how many do.

Only by getting more women into parliament will some of the structural barriers that prevent more women from being elected be removed.

Er...what? If more women get elected then the barriers are not structural. And if they are elected, then we have surely reached the point where legislation and quotas are not necessary.

Needless to say I will not be supporting her 50:50 campaign!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Never Fear - Polly Is Here

Oh to live in Pollyanna. There is no problem to which the solution is not simply more Government...

Yesterday George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, laid out an economic policy that looks to any Keynesian like the perfect recipe for turning recession into deepest depression. It's Margaret Thatcher in 1980 all over again - cutting, sacking and reducing debt just when the state should expand.

No, no, no. The solution to recession is, by definition, to get the economy expanding. Yes, the state is one element, but it is also the non wealth producing sector. Far better to look at ways to stimulate the private sector which can both generate the wealth, and consequently the tax £s, to pay for the 'cost' of government help, rather than seek to bloat the state with the result of crowding out the private sector and stifling the very wealth creation which will have to pay for it all.

Here's his programme: cut corporation tax and stamp duty on shares; abolish tax on savings; "come off Labour's unrealistic spending plans" and "bring national debt under control"; no investment in "public works projects" but instead "confront uncomfortable truths" - which means "government can't just spend money on every worthy cause that comes knocking on the door". Never mind what nice Mr Cameron says about "capitalism with a conscience", it's the numbers in nasty Mr Osborne's calculator that count.

Re shares it is a good idea to cut/scrap stamp duty on transactions, and while George is at it he might wish to reinstate capital gains tax back at 40% with a modified taper relief since it an economically efficient tax (capital being infinitely inelastic in the short run). As for saying government shouldn't just throw money at everything that comes its way, well that sounds rather good to me!

But this is just a wonderful piece of idiocy...

That is why Compass puts PR top of its manifesto. Without it, every spark of new political life is extinguished. You can march or throw green custard or sit down on airfields - but it's wasted effort if your votes have no chance of winning representation. Yes, PR may mean the BNP wins a few seats. Yes, it means coalitions. No, don't point to Italy or Israel's absurd, extreme systems. People deserve a choice closer to their views - a left-of-Labour group, maybe this mythical Red Tory party or a pro-Euro Tory group, an unwasted Lib Dem vote, a Green voice, a David Davis English yeoman vote.

What I find so amusing is that the Israeli electoral system is based on the d'Hondt PR system also used in the European Parliament elections. If Polly doesn't think it a particularly good PR system will she be campaigning for a change there as well?

And as Simon Jenkins points out so eloquently in this article from 2007, to support PR at Westminster fundamentally misunderstand our system of government. Parliamentary democracy is not suited to it. If we decided to make a break, however, and directly elect the executive and then turn to some form of PR for the Commons and/or Lords, then that would be perfectly legitimate.

Police State

Now here is an interesting one, regarding the sliming of the slithery one...

In broad daylight, right in the centre of the heavily surveilled capital city, outside a major official meeting, an audacious campaigner flings an unknown substance at the widely loathed second most powerful figure in the regime, a man notorious for his links with some of the most powerful oligarchs on the planet ... and then gives a series of media interviews while police stand around and do nothing and the government strongman dismisses the protest as unimportant.

If, as some too readily claim, we were all now living in a British police state, then the official response to Leila Deen's green custard assault on Lord Mandelson in London this morning would not have passed off so easily

Well, I want to know why the police didn't do anything. Now, don't get me wrong, I found the whole incident highly amusing and revelled in Mandelson's humiliation, but this was verging on physical assault on another individual.

Now I also generally dislike Plane Stupid, and in particular I despise left-wing feminist socialists who have a self inflated view of themselves, and in particular their moral superiority. However, democracy is democracy. It is rule by the mob, and only liberties which restrict government action can help prevent injustices, but there will always be a need to decide some things as a society.

By all means let's look at restricting Government. Let's look at improving the accountability of our Government. At, of course, let us allow peaceful protests which do not infringe on the liberty of the object of the protest. But to turn up and 'slime' a public figure, I think, is crossing the line. If I walked up to a person in the street and did that, would it not be assault? If so then why should public figures have to put up with it?

Indeed, it may not be classed as assault under the law, and there may be good reason for not doing so. The libertarian in me screams - If no physical harm is caused then what is the fuss? But then my gut retorts - people should express their views through the ballot box, and like them or not government ministers are carrying out a job and should be able to get on with it. By all means protest, or scream at him, or whatever, but don't cross the line.

Incidentally, I would like to see more use of referendums on 'hot potato' issues like Heathrow if only because it would legitimise the result, whichever it was, and allow us to move on to the next issue. That Democracy is purely representative is an historical anachronism, borne out of the necessity or a largely uneducated populace and at a time when access to information was hard. Today with the Internet, in particular, information is easily accessible and campaigns relatively easy to mount, and so consulting the people (the purpose of democracy anyway) on specific issues becomes much more viable today. I would also support general elections every 3 years, and even go as far as to support a directly elected executive separate to Parliament to greater improve accountability.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Retrospective Legislation

There is nothing more dangerous than the departure from the rule of law. But that is exactly what is being proposed by Harriet Harman and her band of merry men (and women, of course).

The deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, today stepped up the pressure on the former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin to waive his £693,000 pension, saying the government aimed to take the money back from him.

"The prime minister has said that it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"It might be enforceable in a court of law, this [pension] contract – but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion, and that is where the government steps in

Dan Hannan hits the nail firmly on the head...

Harriet Harman is proposing that a law be introduced aimed at a specific individual, retrospectively to criminalise something that was legal at the time. Such laws were known mediaevally as Acts of Attainder: they declared someone guilty after the event, and with no trial. Attainder Bills were introduced very rarely, usually following a gross abuse of ministerial power or an open insurrection

To legislate retrospectively to persecute a particular individual who happens to be the public enemy of the moment is a serious and fundamental demolition of a core pillar of liberty. No Government should be above the law. The fact is Sir Fred should probably not have received the pension he did - he waives his £1.29m salary and £300,000 of share options, but because he retired early his pot increased. But the Government approved the deal, when it perhaps should not have.

Sir Fred is perfectly right when he says that he is not giving anything up voluntarily - he is in the right as far as the law in concerned, and when Government has the power to force people, whether by retrospective legislation or moral coercion, to do something then we have descended into a state of servitude.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Twitter And Such

For all those who are interested and wish to follow me - in a non-stalkerish sense - I joined the Twitterati a few weeks ago.

Now since I twitter under my real name, I ought to briefly explain the situation for clarity:

As many of you know I write Curious Snippets  and Musings on Liberty under the pseudonym Vindico. The reason I chose to do this was because Vindico is a character, possibly an exaggeration of part of myself, and has given me a certain degree of freedom in compiling rants and some of the less polite posts. Everything written here is supposed to be taken in a humorous manner and thus crafted in that context.

I am also a UKIP member and candidate, and so run another blog, which is my candidate blog.

To keep things clean and tidy I have attempted to keep my prattles on the web within the Vindico umbrella, and to keep all my 'real' personal and professional prattles under my real name. This, I think, is the best and honest way of separating the two.

So in summary, nothing written under my Vindico pseudonym should be taken to reflect the 'real me', since Vindico is a creation of my imagination.

I hope that is clear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guardian Economics

Now I would never be so impolite as to accuse the Guardian of economic retardation, but for this there is no excuse...

The claim that protection for workers in jobs can come at the expense of workers with no job at all is not always wrong, but it emphatically is so in connection with the minimum wage in 2009. The rate of £5.73 for an hour's work is extremely modest, so modest that all the studies show it has had no employment effect. All respectable employers are more than happy to pay it. Besides, job losses today are not a product of wages - which are rising at a snailish 3% - but instead a collapse in demand

I'm sorry, what?

(1) How exactly can studies tell if the minimum wage has had an effect? Presumably only by the presence of job losses, since trying to measure the numbers of jobs not created due to the minimum wage is impossible?

(2) Job losses are not a product of wages, but rather demand? Er,...wages are a product of demand, sweety. It's all inter-related. But when wages are sticky, and the employer cannot negotiate pay downwards to respond to a fall in demand, then job losses will occur.

(3) Is it ok for the hundreds of workers who have taken a voluntary pay cut of up to 10% to do so because they earn higher wages, but it is not ok for a low paid worker to do the same to safeguard their job?

An employer cannot pay below the market rate - true value - of a job in the absence of a minimum wage. It is impossible, by definition. But a minimum wage raises the pay floor and therefore impacts on both labour demand and supply, again by definition since there is no point to having a minimum wage that has no effect.

So which is it? Either minimum wages have no effect and therefore are useless and should be scrapped, or they do have an effect and thus impose a cost on business. Which? You cannot have it both ways.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freedom To Speak

A Dutch MP who called the Koran a "fascist book" has boarded a flight to the UK despite being banned on public security grounds.

Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders was invited to show his controversial film - which links the Islamic holy book to terrorism - in the UK's House of Lords.

So this has caused a furore in political and media circles, while ordinary people probably couldn't give a damn one way or the other. Such is life. But this situation is incredibly important, because it shows up the chinks in our freedom and exposes our political leaders.

Take this snippet, for example...

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said he had watched the film, which he called "revolting", and backed the ban.

"Freedom of speech is our most precious freedom of all, because all the other freedoms depend on it," he said.

"But there is a line to be drawn even with freedom of speech, and that is where it is likely to incite violence or hatred against someone or some group."

Now, it is widely recited that the limit to freedom of speech is shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre, and this is indeed the thrust of Chris Huhne's argument. He is saying that direct incitement to hatred or violence is beyond the pale, though there is much to take issue at here in itself - in WW2 would inciting hatred and violence against German's, or more specifically the Nazi's, also fail Huhne's 'freedom hurdle'? Surely feeling motivated to direct violence towards somebody is not a crime unless it is acted upon; afterall, the real crime underlying the law's purpose is the the act of violence itself upon innocent people. So it is perhaps important that a distinction is made.

Secondly, Chris Huhne describes the film as "revolting" and supports the ban. Now the context of that statement implies he supports the ban because he feels the film is revolting. But even if he did feel it was revolting, that is no justification to prevent it being shown, and certainly not justification to censor Geert Wilders and impose censorship on the public.

So returning to my first point about Huhne's insistence that inciting "violence or hatred against someone or some group" is wholly wrong, let us examine it further. Surely it is the incitement of hatred or violence against and innocent person or group which is really wrong. Inciting hatred or violence against individuals (religion is immaterial here) who perpetrate violent acts can surely not be immoral and unlawful. To re-use the WW2 analogy, the government's propaganda could be construed as just that, and yet there was perfect justification for people to feel that way due to the actions of the enemy. But there is yet one further distinction here - that between war and defence. Violence is perfectly legitimate and justified in self defence, and the British government's WW2 propaganda is precisely that. Initiating violence against an innocent party is different.

So we can see that the moral argument must run as follows: that the limit to speak freely resides at the point whereby speaking would precipitate and directly lead to a direct breach of the liberty of another, innocent, individual.

I have not seen Fitna, and have little desire to. From what I understand it expresses an opinion that the Koran should be banned, suggesting it directly leads to the undertaking of violence by a small number of extremist religious radicals. This description, if accurate, does not fail my morality test above, and can even be said to pass Chris Huhne's own test. What it does fail is the sensibility of some of our politicians who wrongly believe they have claim over the freedom of the rest of us; who wrongly believe that their morals ought to be imposed on the rest of us.

On The Minimum Wage

Christopher Chope MP, you rock!

Mr Chope has introduces a ten minute rule bill calling for more flexibility in the National Minimum Wage to enable "voluntary opt-outs". His speech can be found in full over at ConservativeHome, but here are is the distilled goodness for your delectation...

Two months ago we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Article 23.1 states:

    “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party, states:

    “The State Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right to work which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

It may come as a shock to many Members of this House to know that, currently, many people are not given the rights to work enshrined in those important United Nations articles

Indeed. Today there are many barriers to free contract, but no doubt that bombshell whizzed over the empty heads of many, as I'm sure did the importance. But no fear; Christopher carried on to alliterate...

The second and much larger group who will be helped by my Bill are those who are currently out of work but would be willing to work for less than the minimum wage, which is £5.73 an hour or £11,918 a year based on a 40-hour week. Our Government make it illegal for an employer and an employee freely to negotiate the level of remuneration if it is less than £5.73 an hour for an adult, unless, of course, the work involved is unpaid voluntary work.

Before anybody accuses me of wanting to impose poverty wages, let me emphasise that I am talking about arrangements for freely consenting adults. The Government regard an income of £11,918 per year as much in excess of an employee’s personal needs. That is why a single person on that salary is required to pay no less than £1,887 in tax and national insurance, thereby effectively reducing their take-home pay to £4.82 an hour instead of the £5.73 that it is nominally.

Why should it be illegal for someone voluntarily to accept pay of £4.82 an hour? After all, that is all that is left in their pocket if they are paid the minimum wage of £5.73. Giving people the freedom to opt out of the minimum wage would help not only those who are out of work but those in the hard-pressed retail and hospitality sectors where businesses are going down like ninepins. How many such small businesses could be saved if those working in them had the freedom, in conjunction with their employers, to agree to reduce their wages?

Fantastic stuff. Why should employer and employee not be able to set their own wage level? Particularly, low wage jobs are generally among the hardest hit and first to go in times of economic difficulty. Low wage jobs tend to be low skilled jobs and thus exposed to the greatest competition as newly unemployed skilled workers are capable of filling the role if needs must.

Allowing pay rates to revalue according to the economic situation would help restore natural correction to the economy, and allow those at the lower end of the income scale to maintain their jobs, albeit with a pay cut. Or to look at it another way - why should higher paid skilled workers be able to negotiate a pay cut in return for keeping their jobs, but low paid unskilled workers denied the same opportunity and be forcibly thrown back on to the unemployment heap?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): It would be unfair competition.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman says that it would be unfair competition, but we are talking about the marketplace and people should be free to compete in the marketplace without restriction. A reduction to, say, £4.82 would be more than 15 per cent. below the minimum wage and would also save employers national insurance on-costs. It could thereby transform the economic viability of such a small business by substantially reducing overheads.

Voluntary wage reductions are increasingly commonplace in the private sector. I visited a small engineering company in my constituency on Friday where everyone has voluntarily taken a 10 per cent. pay cut. About half the work force have also been made redundant. Workers in other large firms such as JCB and Corus are reported to have done the same to enable their firms to be more competitive and to reduce the overall number of redundancies.

Of course we should hardly expect such a eloquent and reasoned explanation to be understood by such an odious and illiberal MP. Quite how free competition and voluntary agreement is unfair is beyond me. Mr Chope is, of course, right that a reduction in wages does help maintain the viability of a job and the employer itself. It makes the employer more competitive and it reduces on-costs.

One further sting in the eye of authoritarian socialism was offered by Mr Chope...

The right to work covers not only the issue of remuneration but how many hours are worked. I have received letters from constituents who are worried about the potential impact of the loss of the opt-out from the 48-hour week, which was applauded by Labour Members of the European Parliament only late last year. My constituents argue that they should have the freedom to work whatever hours they decide, in conjunction with their employers. What reasonable man could argue with that? Indeed, that right is recognised by the United Nations, even if not by the European Union.

Absolutely. No Government should ever have the power to deny any individual the freedom to apply their labour and time in any way they so wish.

The solution to the current economic problems is freedom. Allow the economy to naturally adjust and rebalance and the pain will be no longer than it needs to be; attempt to control and frustrate the change and the pain will be be longer and deeper.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sex, Teens & The Law

The Government, ever desperate to control what people do, continues to dream up new ways to restrict the private activity of the Proles, though luckily in Scotland...

Ministers are to consider making it illegal for teenagers under the age of 16 to have oral sex as part of a shake-up of laws on sexual offences.


A report by the Holyrood committee said the failure to include oral sex could send out a wrong message that society considered such activities to be "acceptable and risk free."

Ah. I thought legislation was there to protect individuals from each other and from the state. Silly me. I didn't realise it was all about 'signaling'! I personally consider any activity, undertaken consensually between two individuals that are aware of the ramifications of their actions to be perfectly morally agreeable.

Believe it or not, I was 16 once. It was not so long ago, and I was more than aware of the ramifications of engaging in sexual activity. I would consider myself at age 16, and others that age, to be perfectly capable of forming rational judgements, though that is not to say the idiocy of some will lead to undesirable consequences. Indeed I would go further to say that 'young adults' (I do not feel the word 'children' is really appropriate for teenagers) are probably largely capable of making such decisions upon entering their teenage years.

I knew a few people at school at that time who were engaging in all kind of sexual activities while besotted in 'first love' relationships. I would also deem them perfectly aware and mature; of course not as mature as an older adult, but then is maturity not partly gained through experience and knowledge? Young people will make mistakes, and some worse than others, but we cannot try to prevent them from doing so and nor should we try.

It urged ministers to reconsider the issue, stating that the government had not provided "sufficient justification for treating oral sex differently"

How about...16 year olds are perfectly capable of entering into consensual activities of this nature, and oral sex is indeed inherently less 'risky' than full unprotected penetrative sex? No?

It also sets out the law on underage sex, stipulating that it applies to girls as well as boys

Well whoo-hooh, so it damn well should. Any law should apply equally to every individual, for to do otherwise would breach the fundamental principle of equality before the law, the principle bastion of individual liberty.

But the MSPs also stressed that in reconsidering the matter the "government must ensure that normal teenage consensual activities such as kissing are not made criminal"

Hmm. "Normal". How does one define that exactly? Among the present generation of teenagers oral sex might be considered a normal activity. Not so many years ago it was considered normal for a girl to marry at 14 years of age. In 1371 the average age of marriage in England for a woman was 16, and as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet...

But saying o'er what I have said before:
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Younger than she are happy mothers made.

Of course kissing should not be made illegal, and for a politician to suggest as much would be considered outrageous. But it is in fact no different materially from other sexual activities. It is fundamentally a consensual activity of a mild sexual nature, and it seems the only aspect to 'stronger' sexual activities disliked by these politicians is their more taboo nature.

Young children (pre-teenage years) are essentially disinterested anyway, until the onset of puberty. At this point a young adult has a fair degree of maturity, and are largely fully aware of many details of sex. To suggest otherwise is simply to perpetuate a myth of polite society by preferring to believe in the innocence of children. While at age 13 or 14 nobody is emotionally mature, they are certainly aware of the mechanics and potential consequences (e.g. pregnancy or disease) and of the need for contraception. And if you don't believe me let me say I remember the conversations at age 12 with friends on these matters!

Now the fundamental problem as I see it is that young adults of that age may be less independent of mind and feel less able to resist being pressured into sex. But the law will not stop this. And the second problem is that of the rapid and accelerating maturity which can mean that only slightly older peers are significantly more mature and thus could exploit the less mature and younger either intentionally or unintentionally.

There should indeed be an age of consent in order to protect the young and less mature from those of substantially differing age and maturity, but the law should never stand in the way of genuine, mutual, and consensual love or sex. Any law that does so will necessarily trip up the 'good' in order to prevent some of the 'bad'. It is about striking a balance, and in my view the current law is already pushing on the wrong side of the line and is not justified in going any further.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wither Democracy

A good article in the Times on the withered and shriveled remnants of our Democracy...

If MPs cannot amend legislation, what are they there for? If Gordon Brown cannot regulate (or even bribe) the banks, what is he there for? If the Government cannot protect British jobs from European workers when necessary, then what is the point of it?

Indeed, if Government cannot govern because its hands are tied by supra-national legislation or agreements, whether EU or other, and Parliament similarly cannot legislate, then what is the use of the whole damn edifice?

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats led a debate on constitutional reform: “Parliament must be fundamentally reformed - Heath.” Amid much honourable waffle, one point stood out. John Redwood, the Tory MP, asked the following: “Is not another problem that the Government are afraid of proper accountability and probing? For example, they spend £37 billion on bank shares, yet none of us can ask them, ‘Why don't you do proper due diligence? How much are those banks going to lose? How much will they pay in bonuses?' There is no accountability.”

That £37 billion was passed in an hour and a half - £410 million a minute. The £50 billion for the second bank bailout bypassed the Commons altogether. Government has been hived off to bankers, accountants and officials, the taxpayer merely asked to keep signing the cheques.

Every time power is siphoned off to a new quango or another management consultant, the taxpayer is taken one step further away from democracy and Parliament shrivels a little more. Pace Mr Blair, everyone is in opposition now. They cannot do; they can only talk.

Indeed. When the executive has such enormous freedom to act without the need to seek Parliamentary approval, so the accountability of that Government diminishes. Democracy is not a mark on a ballot every 4 or 5 years, it is a continuous and systemic process.

We are in dire need of fundamental constitutional reform. Forget tinkering around the margins, and debating the merit (or serious lack thereof) of a Bill of Rights; what we need is a wholesale restructuring of the powers of each branch of our government. The Executive should be severely curtailed and weakened; Parliament should be emboldened with more power to control the passage of legislation and by obtaining royal prerogative powers; the Judiciary should be fully separated from Parliament and the Executive, and similarly emboldened with powers to strike down legislation found contradictory to a new codified constitution that enshrines the liberties of the people and limitations of the frontiers of the state.

This new constitutional settlement should finally be put to the people in a referendum, and the people should regain ownership of their government.

Control Is Freedom

The BBC news website is giving prominent position to this egregious piece of drivel...

The term 'nanny state' is not normally used as a compliment. But public health expert Dr Alan Maryon Davis says we need more nannying, not less.

Can you see where this is going? Ugh!

On the contrary, there's plenty of evidence that people want to see the government doing more to help us avoid big killers like heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Attitudes have changed radically over the 30 years I've been involved in promoting and protecting public health. I see an increasing acceptance that we, all of us, need not only more information and guidance from government, but also more legislation to save us from ourselves.

We accept the laws on seat-belts, crash helmets and drink-driving because we know they reduce road injuries and deaths.

What? Seatbelts really help other passengers. Remember the advert with the kid in the back slamming into the driver's seat? Equally drink-driving laws are there to protect the other road users. Though he has a point regarding cycle helmets. But we don't need legislation to "save us from ourselves". Why? Laws are there to protects us from each other.

We are happy to see bans on tobacco advertising and the selling of alcohol and tobacco to minors because we understand the dangers for young people.

That is rather different is it not? Children are not necessarily capable of making informed and rational judgements in the same way as an adult. Society widely recognises this with many 'dangerous' or 'self harming' activities limited to those below a certain age. Generally one is assumed to be a fully fledged independent adult at 18, but with degrees of maturity from 15-21yrs.

And to my mind the really shining example of how far the public have come in accepting laws to help protect us from self-harm is the huge support for smoke-free public spaces and workplaces throughout the UK.

Well I think you'll find the reason for the support was due to (1) the preference of a smoke free atmosphere in general, (2) protection from the second hand smoke of others (not protection from oneself!), and possibly (3) a small degree of feeling that smoking is generally bad and should be discouraged.

But it was ordinary people who really tipped the balance to change the law. It was the steady shift in public opinion that gave legislators the courage. It proved that we, the people, can have a powerful influence on the way laws can be made on our behalf.

Well, I should bloody well think so. It is a democracy after all. But let's not even go into the fact that democracy is nothing more than tyranny of the majority. Ok, I can't resist. Democracy is by definition majoritarian and collectivist, and thus in any liberal democracy there must exist cast iron liberties to protect minorities, and the individual is the smallest minority, from "Mobocracy" (rule by the mob).

We need to press for more legislation to improve and protect health and well-being.

I don't want protecting, thanks. I can look after my own well-being, and I don't want some jumped up little fascist telling me what is and is not in my own interests, nor even preventing me from doing harm to myself. That is my business and nobody else's.

What next? I would like to see a ban on smoking in cars with a child on board and a ban on displays of cigarettes in shops. I would like to see a real hike in tax on alcohol and a ban on deep price-cuts for booze. I would like to see a wider ban on junk-food adverts around TV programmes watched largely by children.

I would like to see a whole raft of other legislation for health. This is not 'nannying'. This is responsible government acting on behalf of a consenting public.

Campaigns, guidelines and voluntary codes aren't enough. We need more laws to ensure that the world in which we live, work and play will help promote and protect our health.

He really is of Nazi brethren, isn't he? Don't forget it was the Nazis who first introduced a smoking ban! The problem with Dr Alan's argument is that he fails to understand the fundamental difference between external and internal 'costs'. Indeed people should be protected from others, and this can be drawn as far as second hand smoke, drink driving, food advertising to children, etc, but people should not be protected from themselves. If I choose to 'supersize me' then I should be perfectly free to eat burgers to my heart's content (or coronary).

It is unfortunate and highly terrifying that we have individuals with such belief in collectivism, such belief in their righteousness, and such little belief in freedom and individual liberty, in such positions of influence. One has to ask oneself the question - would I rather live under a democracy or benevolent dictator (if there were such a thing) who upheld the law and ensured maximum individual freedom? I would have to choose the latter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Proportional Representation

Polly Toynbee raises the question of proportional representation again, which I feel deserves a little bit of comment on this blog.

Columnist Polly Toynbee thinks this unlikely, but says if the result was a hung parliament that ushered in proportional representation that could prove a good outcome for progressives.

Now I have a fundamental problem with the idea of introducing proportional representation into our Parliamentary system. I think it leads to weak governments, where coalition is virtually always necessary, and it cuts the constituency link between MP and constituent.

However, I do have some sympathy with the proponents of PR, and recognise the more desirable aspects of a more representative system where smaller parties have a larger voice and no person's vote is wasted.

So perhaps the solution is actually more radical and even more democratic - have direct elections of the Executive, reducing Parliament to a humble legislature, and introduce PR for Parliamentary elections. This way the government will always be strong, mimicking the USA Presidential system, while the legislature which keeps a check on the executive would be more representative.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

More On Rights And Wrongs

Comment Is Free is frothing with talk of civil liberties. However failing to make the distinction between liberties and rights, Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty says...

Like all bills of rights, the Human Rights Act is neither magic wand nor computer program. It does not end vital debates about competing rights and freedoms.

Well, how very surprising! If there is a situation where two or more rights or freedoms are in conflict then they are clearly not all liberties, and clearly not well thought out. It again brings us back to my continual frustration of the lazy fusion of rights and liberties, and casual use of the terms interchangeably.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Rights And Wrongs

Following on from my previous post on a UK Bill of Rights, a fine example has just landed in my inbox from Open Europe...

The Mail reports that the European Court of Justice has ruled that employees on long-term sick leave are still entitled to paid holiday. It means that staff can take their annual leave built up while off sick as soon as they return to work. In addition, any worker who is sacked or who leaves a firm while off ill must be financially compensated for the holidays not taken. EUobserver notes that the Court based its decision on a clause in the EU's Working Time Directive that states that employees have the "right to a minimum period of paid annual leave."

This is how a 'right' is stretched and interpreted, and leads to results not foreseen. In doing so it essentially steps in between a private contract decided between employer and employee. In other words in order to uphold that right, a freedom must necessarily be eroded.

Now it may or may not be a good thing, but that is a question for the government of the day to decide, not lawyers. If people want it then let a political party present it in their manifesto at an election, and let any future government have the ability to repeal it. This should not be a matter of legal interpretation.

Bill Of Rights

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights continues its deliberations over a UK 'Bill of Rights', and has published the Government's response to its original report. Frankly, it terrifies me to the core as I see a charge down the path of "rights" instead of liberties...

The Committee notes that the Government has agreed with a number of its recommendations, particularly in recognising the place for developing social, economic and environmental rights in an enduring constitutional document such as a Bill of Rights

Here we see an attempt to use rights to interfere in the political domain. In the future the hands of government will be even more severely limited than they are today, and the all out assault on the liberty of the freeborn Englishman; the shift in principle from the individual to the collective; moves us inexorably in the opposite direction of freedom and towards socialism.

The report is further muddled when looking at the issue of "responsibilities", a fallacious buzzword which distorts the underlying ideological complexity of the issue...

It regards responsibilities as a cornerstone of our democratic society and as such they merit a prominent place in any future Bill of Rights . It appears to have in mind "a wide range of responsibilities in the legal, social and moral spheres." We acknowledged in our Report that responsibilities have some role to play in bills of rights, but we pointed out that they fall far short of being directly enforceable duties.

Of particular concern here is the insistence on responsibilities in moral spheres, which would seem to attempt to legislate morality. What might such a responsibility be? How about a responsibility to treat everybody equally, or not to discriminate? Well that could initiate claims left right and centre and drag hitherto 'human' problems, which are resolved privately between individuals, into the legal domain. And the Government seems to desire a move into very dangerous territory...

consideration could be given "to the degree to which it would be possible to underline to the courts, in more explicit language, the fullest extent of their discretion to factor in the fulfilment of the parties' duties and responsibilities." It also appears to disagree with our conclusion that the Government's interest in "responsibilities" is misconceived to the extent that it is an attempt to "rebalance" human rights law by increasing the weight to be given to considerations such as safety and security

The Government appears to be suggesting that somehow rights can have different importance. And this brings me back to my underlying point that rights, by their nature of positive entitlement, end up being contradictory.

Conservative Home has a pretty good analysis on the problem of rights, though it also fails to grasp the deep importance of liberties, which are protecting, and the problems created by rights, which are empowering...

As our fundamental freedoms are pawned off cheaply, Britain is suffering a rights contagion – with endless novel grievances metamorphosised into human rights.... And the government is contemplating a whole new brand of economic and social rights. Historically in this country, liberty-based rights protected the citizen from the state. But, New Labour’s approach to human rights inflates the role of the state, promoting dependency on it. This creates three problems.

First, legal turmoil. The rule of law requires predictable rules. Yet, the rapid spread of rights creates widespread uncertainty, saddling public servants with stultifying bureaucracy and paralysing legal liabilities...

Second, the proliferation of rights - through judicial legislation at the European Court of Human Rights, exacerbated by the Human Rights Act – conflicts with basic principles of democracy. New law is created - and public services prioritised - by lawyers and judges in courtrooms, when they should be debated and decided by elected law-makers.

Third, the expansion of novel rights – and accompanying compensation culture - undermines social responsibility. Parents, police and teachers have been shorn of their traditional respect. The public just see common sense turned upside down. The right to family life now facilitates divorce. Prisoners claim the right to twigs to practice paganism in their cells. And a paratrooper, who lost his legs and suffered brain damage from a Taliban landmine, has to haggle for the same compensation that a transsexual soldier gets for injured feelings, having been required to wear a male uniform. 

Indeed. Many politicians and commentators see rights and liberties as one and the same thing - both, they see, are there to protect the individual. This, however, is not the truth. Liberties create a 'bubble' of safety around the individual to protect them from the state and also from their fellow men. Rights erode those bubbles of freedom by laying entitlements upon some people and corresponding obligations on others. That is not to say rights are wholly wrong in themselves, but rather that they must be understood and seen for what they are, and most certainly not confused with liberties.

Gordon Brown said early in his new Premiership that people have a freedom not to be blown up, and that to protect this 'freedom' the government needed to take other freedoms away. Not only is this deeply incorrect and contradictory, but 'rights' are being used as justification for the erosion of liberties. Ultimately, not only is it a lesson borne out historically time after time, but the erosion of liberties does little to increase security, and generally reduces individual security as the power of the state grows.

The legal power to take action against nuisance neighbours who continually play loud music late into the night could be interpreted as a right to reasonable peace within one's home, however if that were a legal right it would lead to a myriad of cases and used in the most bizarre of situations. Instead, awarding the specific power to erode the liberty of another person where they are infringing on your liberty, is both morally sound but also specific and explicit and unlikely to 'creep'.

Britain needs a true Bill of Rights; one which clearly sets out the limitations of the state and which erects a solid ring of steel around individuals. What we do not need is a bill of enshrined rights, which lay entitlements and obligations on citizens.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Euro Trap

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has a brilliant piece in the Sunday Telegraph. Every now and again a commentator strikes at the core of the issue as in this instance.

Events are moving fast in Europe. The worst riots since the fall of Communism have swept the Baltics and the south Balkans. An incipient crisis is taking shape in the Club Med bond markets. S&P has cut Greek debt to near junk. Spanish, Portuguese, and Irish bonds are on negative watch.

Dublin has nationalised Anglo Irish Bank with its half-built folly on North Wall Quay and €73bn (£65bn) of liabilities, moving a step nearer the line where markets probe the solvency of the Irish state.

A great ring of EU states stretching from Eastern Europe down across Mare Nostrum to the Celtic fringe are either in a 1930s depression already or soon will be. Greece's social fabric is unravelling before the pain begins, which bodes ill.

Each is a victim of ill-judged economic policies foisted upon them by elites in thrall to Europe's monetary project – either in EMU or preparing to join – and each is trapped.

As UKIP leader Nigel Farage put it in a rare voice of dissent at the euro's 10th birthday triumph in Strasbourg, EMU-land has become a Völker-Kerker – a "prison of nations", to borrow from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The straight jacket of a single currency, binding together economies with different dynamics, different needs, different problems, is perhaps the most idiotic concept ever conceived, and the most incredible display of hubris by politicians. Ambrose goes on with a devastating analysis...

These three states are all members of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM2), the euro's pre-detention cell. They must join. It is written into their EU contracts.

The result of subjecting ex-Soviet catch-up economies to the monetary regime of the leaden West has been massive overheating. Latvia's current account deficit hit 26pc of GDP. Riga property prices surpassed Berlin.

The inevitable bust is proving epic. Latvia's property group Balsts says Riga flat prices have fallen 56pc since mid-2007. The economy contracted 18pc annualised over the last six months.

Leaked documents reveal – despite a blizzard of lies by EU and Latvian officials – that the International Monetary Fund called for devaluation as part of a €7.5bn joint rescue for Latvia. Such adjustments are crucial in IMF deals. They allow countries to claw their way back to health without suffering perma-slump.

This was blocked by Brussels – purportedly because mortgage debt in euros and Swiss francs precluded that option. IMF documents dispute this. A society is being sacrificed on the altar of the EMU project

I do like the metaphor of the ERM as a pre-detention cell, particularly since it is so apt. The surprise is that, while any objective commentator can see the impossibility of economies with such vast troubles ever comfortably unifying themselves within the Eurozone, the EU is literally sacrificing entire societies on the alter of the EMU project. The Euro is and has always been a political project.

The political capital invested, and the importance of a common currency in the eyes of Europhiles, who see it as a necessary pre-requisite to a single federal European state, drives the process forward at breakneck speed. To hell with the consequences, to hell with the damage wrought on the lives of families in these countries - the pain is but a necessary evil; to recycle the words of Normal Lamont on unemployment it "is a price worth paying".

Latvians have company. Dublin expects Ireland's economy to contract 4pc this year. The deficit will reach 12pc of GDP by 2010 on current policies. "This is not sustainable," said the treasury. Hence the draconian wage deflation now threatened by the Taoiseach.

The Celtic Tiger has faced the test bravely. No government in Europe has been so honest. It is a tragedy that sterling's crash should have compounded their woes at this moment. To cap it all, Dell is decamping to Poland with 4pc of GDP. Irish wages crept too high during
the heady years when Euroland interest rates of 2pc so beguiled the nation.

Spain lost a million jobs in 2008. Madrid is bracing for 16pc unemployment by year's end.

Private economists fear 25pc before it is over. Spain's wage inflation has priced the workforce out of Europe's markets. EMU logic is wage deflation for year after year. With Spain's high debt levels, this is impossible.

Italy's treasury awaits each bond auction with dread, wondering if can offload €200bn of debt this year. Spreads reached a fresh post-EMU high of 149 last week. The debt compound noose is tightening around Rome's throat. Italian journalists have begun to talk of Europe's "Tequila Crisis" – a new twist.

They mean that capital flight from Club Med could set off an unstoppable process.

When economies are deprived of a floating exchange rate, which would ordinarily allow the economy to re-value according to economic pressures, the pain must necessarily show in other ways. The Eurozone economies are merely experiencing this - wages and unemployment.

Don't expect tremors before an earthquake – and there is no fault line of greater historic violence than the crunching plates where Latin Europe meets Teutonia.

Greece no longer dares sell long bonds to fund its debt. It sold €2.5bn last week at short rates, mostly 3-months and 6-months. This is a dangerous game. It stores up "roll-over risk" for later in the year. Hedge funds are circling.

Traders suspect that investors are dumping their Club Med and Irish debt immediately on the European Central Bank in "repo" actions.

In other words, the ECB is already providing a stealth bail-out for Europe's governments – though secrecy veils all.

An EU debt union is being created, in breach of EU law. Liabilities are being shifted quietly on to German taxpayers. What happens when Germany's hard-working citizens find out?

Well, there you have it folks. The Euro is in meltdown and will most likely fail, as many multi-national monetary unions have before it. Thank God we in Britain are not in the Euro. Where would we be if we were unable to devalue as we have in recent months? The Euro is doomed, I just hope we have the sense to keep well out of it, and that its inevitable demise doesn't drag us down with it!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Impotence Of Parliament

Fundamental to any democratic system of government is the separation of powers between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch. In the UK, particularly in the area of foreign relations and treaties, the Executive branch is extremely powerful as it exercises the royal prerogative.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch has asked how many times the Government has overridden the scrutiny reserve of the Parliamentary European scrutiny committees, and received the following answer...


House of Lords

House of Commons

Jan-June 2003 30 26
July-Dec 2003 34 33
Jan-June 2004 13 16
July-Dec 2004 20 22
Jan-June 2005 28 52
July-Dec 2005 17 19
Jan-June 2006 14 12
July-Dec 2006 24 29
Jan-June 2007 6 5
July-Dec 2007 9 14
Jan-June 2008 7 4

The Scrutiny committees are weak and powerless, as examined by Open Europe; mere sifting committees with no teeth to oblige the Government to adopt a particular line in voting or negotiations.

At the very least, while we are inside the EU, in order to have any degree of democratic accountability, the role of these committees ought to be significantly enhanced. The committees should have to pre-authorise Government action in EU affairs, and force full parliamentary votes on EU legislation of significance. It should be able to bind the hands of Government.

In an ideal world, Britain would regain Independence from the EU, and cooperate with our neighbours through a loose forum rather then political union. In this situation, a new "International Scrutiny Committee" should be established with full powers to bind the hands of Government. An unrestrained Executive is dangerous and undemocratic. National Legislators determine the remit of the Executive, and where international relations are concerned so national Legislators should be directly involved.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Can We Leave The EU?

There is a rather interesting post over on Conservative Home, which I have been meaning to get to, by Rupert Matthews, a freelance Historian and Conservative MEP candidate. He asks what would happen if Britain tried to leave the EU?

In recent months I have been looking at the build up to the American Civil War and have been struck by the fact that the political and constitutional debates that took place in the USA in the 1850s are strikingly similar to those that I have been hearing recently in this country.

That set me pondering on the question: Would Britain be allowed to leave the EU?

He gives the following background...

There were, essentially, three positions on the question of how a state should legally and constitutionally secede from the USA.

States Rights. Most prevalent across the South was the view that since the Union had been called into being by the various state legislatures passing into law the Constitution of the USA, then a state could secede by passing an act through its legislature repealing that law. Effectively this meant that a state could secede any time it liked.

Union Rights. Most people in the North held that by joining the USA, the individual states had pooled part of their sovereignty to create a new body with sovereign powers of its own. A state could leave this Union only if an amendment were passed to the Constitution of the USA. Effectively this meant that a state could secede only if the other states let it do so.

Inviolable Union. A few hard liners in the north held that the creation of the USA had been an irreversible act and that no state could ever leave it.

Needless to say, I take option 1 as holding true for reasons I will get to below.

In 1861 South Carolina decided to secede. The state legislature of South Carolina passed a law repealing the law that had taken it into the USA. Over the next few weeks six other southern states did the same. Those states then began acting as if they were now independent states.

The newly elected President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, refused to recognise the secessions. He declared that all those who had been involved in passing the secession laws were traitors to the USA and so liable to arrest and trial. But Lincoln could not actually have them arrested since the enforcement of law and order was a function of the states, and the seceding states were hardly going to arrest their own people.

The legal and constitutional impasse was, of course, solved by the Civil War, which was won by the North.

The legal argument over the constitutional position regarding secession from the USA finally reached the Supreme Court in 1869...The Supreme Court effectively discounted all the provisions of the Constitution of the USA as being irrelevant. Instead they focused on the preamble, and on one particular phrase within it. That read that in forming the USA the states were desiring to create “a more perfect Union”. The Court ruled that having signed up to that phrase, no state could ever secede from the Union.

Roll forward to 2009, and look at the current EU. The EU has a supreme court that, like that of the USA in the 19th century, has consistently given rulings that favour the Union over the states. And the EU is founded on a series of documents that include the all-encompassing phrase that the states wish to form “an ever closer Union”.

The phrase “an ever closer Union” is disturbingly close to the phrase “a more perfect Union”. Would the EU supreme court follow the lead of the USA supreme court?

Now, the question is over sovereignty. In Britain the legislation which took us in to the European Community, and from where authority to implement EU regulations, etc, derives is the European Communities Act of 1972. In the preamble to the Act, as with all Acts of Parliament, is the most powerful sentence in the English language...

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 implies to me that no matter what comes after, Parliament remains sovereign and able to repeal the Act and secede from the EU. Further, there is the issue of practicalities, and I find it hard to conceive of EU nations refusing to honour the will of the people and government of Britain.  And even if the EU did not recognise it and attempted to wage war, which I feel enters the realms of fantasy, the international community may have something to say about it!

As one commenter says in response tot he article...

Surely its just a matter of asserting our Constitutional law , like the Bill of Rights 1689....

...'That noe Forreigne Prince Person Prelate, State or Potentate hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction Power Superiority Preeminence or Authoritie Ecclesiastical or Spirituall within this Realme'...

And I also take the view that these two principles alone should be sufficient to assert our sovereignty. However, might this alter when the Lisbon Treaty comes in to force?

The Lisbon Treaty introduces a new clause setting out the right of a member state to voluntarily leave the EU. However, the clause reads...

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 188 N(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned,
unanimously decides to extend this period.

In other words, a member state must ask to leave, at which point an agreement of secession is negotiated. This agreement has to be approved by Qualified majority. Although the treaties will cease to apply after 2 years in the absence of such an agreement.

Now, this is a shift in power and sovereignty to the EU. The EU allows us to leave, and even once we have decided to leave the EU can still apply treaty provisions for 2 years. Our Parliament has ratified the Lisbon Treaty, and thus presumably has subordinated Parliament to EU supremacy. And let's not forget the treaty is self amending, allowing this clause to be altered or removed.

So the answer is yes we can leave now and we can leave after Lisbon. I maintain that even after Lisbon a strong Government could rip up the treaty and refuse to wait 2 years, and set about ignoring the EU entirely - what would the EU do? Invade?!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Email Database

Rules which force Internet providers to retain information of all emails sent in the UK have been damned as a waste of money and an attack on civil liberties

The new rules, part of the European Commission directive, will start on March 15th, and will require all internet companies to store every email sent in the UK and make the data available to public bodies.

It is believed the government may have to shell out £25 to £70 million to help ISPs set up the system.

Now, I have been following this for some time. It is completely outrageous that it was even considered, let alone implemented. On cost grounds alone, let alone issues of liberty, this is an horrendous extension of state power.

Now I was at an industry event recently and was talking to a couple of fine people who work for major ISPs. There was even a frosty round table 'debate' with some poor fellow from the Home Office defending the plans. The consensus was that the costs to be borne by ISPs will be significant, place burdens of judgement on ISPs beyond their remit, and then there is the issue of spam emails which would also have to be stored. But, crucially, this is the bit that gets my beef...

"Implementing the EC directive will enable UK law enforcement to benefit fully from historical communications data in increasingly complex investigations and will enhance our national security."

The industry is also concerned about the practical implications that this move will have, especially the effect on the smaller companies. Malcolm Hutty, from Linx, told "The larger companies that already retain this information voluntarily will not see any adverse affects.

"The smaller companies, which will be excluded from this, are worried about what happens when the company grows to a size that the Home Office takes notice of. Will they be expected to implement the rules immediately and how much will this extra expense be, which did not figure in their business plans?"

Did you get that? Small ISPs will be exempt. Forget them worrying about becoming big enough to incur the costs - any terrorist or 'undesirable' with 1/10th of a brain cell will just use the ISPs not on the list and so render the entire project completely useless. This point was again raised at the industry round table. I mean seriously, are we this stupid?

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