Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Youth sentenced to community service

A couple of years ago, the government decided to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18 - something that the LPUK opposes. One of the great benefits, from a political point of view, is that it improves the statistics. Keeping young people in school not only keeps them out of the unemployment statistics, but it also keeps them in the education statistics, so that the government can boast of the proportion of young people the country has in education. From a public relations point of view, it’s a win-win situation. And the government’s method is compulsion - telling young people what they have to do.

Such is this government’s enthusiasm for compulsion, that one is not surprised at their plan to introduce compulsory community service for young people - described as “investing in young people.” Many have written about the government’s plans, but I am indebted to Mr. Walker at the Melangerie for pointing out that compulsory community service has generally been seen as punishment for petty crime in the country. Even the language used (they will be expected “to give something back to their communities”) suggests that this is about restitution. Far from “investing in young people", it is treating young people like criminals. (I look forward to the day when judges sentence convicted criminals with the words “The government will be investing in you for a period six months”)

I don’t know if the government’s determination to treat young people as petty criminals is because it sees the young people of this country as petty criminals, but if the young people of Britain see most politicians as petty (or not so petty) criminals, they might not be far wrong.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Will Christians stand up for the rights of the BNP?

Anti-discrimination law is one of the passions of our current government, and several groups are finding themselves affected. The British National Party was recently told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that it must accept members from ethnic minority groups or it could be in breach of the law. A couple of days later, the JFS, a Jewish school in London, was told that it had broken the Race Relations Act by refusing admission to a boy because his mother was not officially recognised as a Jew. It struck me as rather ironical that a Jewish school, in attempting to maintain its Jewish ethos, should fall foul of the same legislation as the BNP.

Race relations legislation of this sort undermines freedom of association, and it is none of the business of the state to tell a non-governmental organisation who should employ, accept into membership, etc. I must confess that I am sad that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have (to the best of my knowledge), promised to repeal any of this legislation.

Now, it must be said that I personally cannot see why the BNP doesn’t allow members of ethnic minorities to join. Nor can I see why anyone from an ethnic minority would want to be a member of the BNP, or even be employed by it, and it doesn’t seem to me that the BNP is doing anyone any harm by its ethnicist membership rules. In fact, they simply flag up the sort of party that it is, and say “caveat emptor”.

With regard to the JFS, I cannot see why the state should tell them to change their definition of Jewishness. It is not for the state to tell a Jewish organisation what constitutes Jewishness.

But the point that I, as a Christian, want to make, is that Christian organisations, such as the Christian Institute, rightly publicise the ways in which anti-discrimination legislation affects the freedom of Christian organisations. Last month they pointed out that “the Government says its new Equality Bill will force churches to accept practising homosexuals or transsexuals in youth worker posts and other similar roles.” I believe that the Christian Institute is right to criticise this legislation.

My problem is that Christian organisations seem to complain bitterly when anti-discrimination laws affect them, but say little about it when anti-discrimination laws affect other groups. Will Christians stand up and defend the rights of the JFS? Will they (dare I say it?) stand up and defend the rights of the BNP?

The answer is that we Christians have been pretty silent in our opposition to anti-discrimination laws, except when it affects us. We have generally sought exclusion clauses for ourselves, while being happy that everyone else has to abide by laws that diminish our freedom. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) principle means that if we want other people to give us liberty, we ought to be seeking it for everyone else too.

Friday, 26 June 2009

British roads - apparently now safer than ever

The latest figures show that last year 2,538 people were killed on the Britain’s roads, the lowest total since records began in 1926. The figure for 2007 was 2,946, and for 2006 it was 3,172, so that represents a fall of 14% in the past year. The number of pedestrian deaths fell below 600 for the first time, reaching 572. It seems that the roads are getting safer all the time.

In March, it was announced that government ministers were drawing up plans to cut the speed limit on single-carriageway roads in the countryside from 60mph to 50mph as part of the government's campaign to cut the number of deaths on Britain's roads. As I pointed out at the time, this is basically because, in 2000, the Government set new targets for reducing casualties by 2010, wanting to see a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents compared with the average for 1994-98.

I repeat what I said then: “the government is fixated with arbitrarily set targets and league tables, and will do anything, however unlikely it is to work, in order to try to meet them.”

The fact that casualty figures have been falling rapidly without any change in the national speed limits makes one wonder whether changing the NSL will actually have much effect at all. Mr. J. J. Leeming, who researched these matters in some depth, argued that lowering the NSL may actually make roads more dangerous. My fellow blogger Patently would agree.

It will be interesting to see whether the latest figures have any effect on government thinking.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Policing and utter madness

Another video from the Christian Institute about policing. In some ways, very similar to the one I posted a few days ago. But no, this is not a posting which effectively duplicates the last one. The point is that there is a pattern emerging, and the Christian Institute is providing a helpful service in highlighting these incidents. I hope that they emerge as a consistently libertarian organisation.

The gent in the video speaks about the action of the police as being a disproportionate response, and a large waste of police time, and that strikes me as a bit of an understatement. The actions of the police were completely silly, and one rather suspects that the officers involved knew perfectly well that it was silly, but that they had no choice but to follow orders.

Where are their orders coming from? The agenda is clearly that of the government, and it appears that the way that the government implement their agenda is through ACPO. Interestingly enough, ACPO do not operate in Scotland, and I cannot recall hearing any reports of incidents of this type of police activity in Scotland. (If any readers have, I’d be interested to know.)

The comment about wasting police time is well made. The police seem to have plenty of resources for certain purposes - including, er, ahem, those which seem to be involved in restricting freedom of speech and freedom to protest peacefully. These things, however, are not what most people see as priorities for policing. All these things suggest that we need elected chief constables now, who are answerable to the electorate, and not to the state.

Hat tip, by the way, to Mr Gary Benfold.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Human rights vs. freedom of speech

The Libertarian Party of Canada has produced a video featuring Ezra Levant talking about the Steven Bessoin case and the implications for freedom of speech. And while I don't always agree with Mr. Levant, I do share his horror at the outcome of this case.

Two things fascinate me. One is that a democratic country with a long tradition of freedom should throw away freedom of speech so easily. One thinks that freedom of speech is most in danger in undemocratic countries, and in countries with no tradition of freedom of speech. But no, in countries like Canada, freedom of speech is being trampled underfoot.

The other thing that fascinates me is that freedom of speech is being rejected because of a concern for human rights. The concept of “human rights” has now become the enemy, not the friend, of freedom.

The conclusion that I come to is that freedom of speech is a very fragile flower, one that will become increasingly hard to find - unless those who love it are prepared to do something about it.

Many thanks to Greg at The Holy Cause for this. He also helpfully provides fairly full background details of the Bessoin case.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Government, tuck shops, and nutrition

In August, the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008 will come into force. This means that all food and drink provided by schools complies with strict (and yes, I do mean strict) requirements specified by Scottish government ministers. Which means that politicians are micro-managing schools. All food sold in tuck shops must meet the following requirements:

Pre-packaged snacks based on potatoes, vegetables or cereals (crisps, corn snacks, tortilla chips, pretzels, sweetened or salted pop corn, prawn crackers, flavoured rice cakes, Bombay mix, salted nuts and seeds) must meet the following criteria and can only be sold or provided out with the lunch time service:
* pack size no more than 25g
* no more than 22 g fat per 100g
* no more than 2g saturates per 100g
* no more than 0.6g sodium per 100g
* no more than 3g total sugar per 100g

Sugary or diet fizzy drinks, squashes, flavoured waters, sports drinks and any drinks with added sugar are not permitted.
Acceptable Drinks are
- Plain, Still, and Sparkling Water - in any quantity
- Pure Fruit Juice, Vegetable Juice and Blends/Smoothies - though these can only be sold in quantities up to 200ml.
- Pure fruit juice & water combinations - but these must have a minimum of 50% fruit juice, and a maximum of 200 ml fruit juice and 20g sugar per portion, and, (of course) no added sugar.
- Milk & Yoghurt Blends, but these must have a maximum of 1.8g fat per 100ml, 10g sugar per 100ml, and 20g sugar per portion.

(Needless to say, that means no full cream milk. It takes me back to my school days when we were given milk to drink - and it was full cream milk.)

The irony is that since these regulations do not apply to what pupils bring in from home (thankfully!), they will probably have very little affect on their overall diet.

They don’t affect lunches either. There are separate regulations for school lunches which are already in force, though these regulations didn’t prevent one pupil at my local school from having both a bowl of rhubarb crumble and a chocolate mousse for his lunch one day.

It is truly amazing what politicians manage to come up with. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they have too much time on their hands.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Survival Guide for Decent Folk

NightJack’s Survival Guide for Decent Folk is available on the Internet in various places. I picked it up at Samizdata and read it. It makes very interesting reading. I will assume that it is posted with the best of intentions, and that NightJack honestly believes that it is the wisest policy. I will even assume that he is completely correct.

But it immediately made me think of some other words of wisdom: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:39-42)

Fitting the instructions of Jesus Christ with the kindly advice of NightJack seemed a little difficult. Perhaps the relevant teaching of Jesus was actually Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

The truth of the matter is that NightJack’s advice should make us weep. He basically suggests that decent folk should be prepared to make false allegations. He says “So don’t do the decent and honourable thing . . .” He is telling us that the way the criminal justice system works, honesty is not the best policy.

Now, I’m sure that he himself finds it highly depressing that the system works the way it does. It probably depresses him more than it depresses me. I’m sure he wishes that doing the decent and honourable thing would always be the best policy.

The point is that if NightJack is right (and I have little doubt that he is), then there is something rotten about the system. The system is designed to reward dishonourable and dishonest behaviour, and to penalise decent and honourable behaviour. In other words, the actions of our governments, the laws that have been made, the instructions that have been handed down, all have the effect of rewarding wickedness and penalising goodness. Which means that our legislators have either been terribly wicked or terribly stupid - or perhaps it is just a combination of moderate wickedness with moderate stupidity.

There is a message here for politicians (and would-be politicians). The system needs to be fixed. It needs to be redesigned, so that honourable behaviour is rewarded, and dishonourable behaviour is punished. That, I thought, was why we had a criminal justice system.

Free speech and morality

The Times has revealed the identity of NightJack, a blogging detective. The Times had the legal right to reveal his indentity to the world, and as a libertarian, I would strongly support them in having that right.

The big issue here, however, is not freedom, but decency. The sad thing is that people often use their freedoms to do what is dishonourable, indecent, nasty, and not in the public interest. In my opinion, it was not in the public interest for the identity of NightJack to be made public, because he provided a very useful insight into the workings of the police in Britain. But The Times has not only acted against the public interest, they have also been very unkind to NightJack himself.

And so, may we libertarians unite in saying "We will defend to the death your right to do what you have done, but we unequivocally condemn you for using your freedom to do something that was completely immoral."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A few interesting statistics

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat) on the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill (3 June 2009):
The Bill is the 66th criminal justice Bill since 1997. Between them, they have created 3,600 new criminal offences. We feel that the Government have still failed to understand that you cannot solve social problems by making criminal offences of them; you simply fill up our courts and prisons. The prison population has reflected this, increasing from 61,114 in 1997 to 82,586 in February 2009, an increase of 35 per cent. The Bill does nothing to solve that situation.
(Thank you to Patrick for that.)

"As of 1st May 2009, there are 17,314 EU Acts in force."

(For this, I am indebted to Raedwald, who adds “To be fair, not all of these apply to the UK. ”)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Whose children are they anyway?

Once again, the impression is being given that many people think that the state owns the nation's children. The latest indication comes in Mr. Graham Badman's Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England.

For succinct comment, see The Melangerie.

For detailed and incisive comment, and lots of helpful links, see Renegade Parent and Blogdial.

Dr. Sean Gabb has also written an excellent piece.

And so have many others, so there is probably no need for me to say anything more.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

MPs and madness

And now, for your entertainment, this item of news, for which thanks to Bishop Hill. Well, maybe you don’t find it amusing, but I find the story of Sir Gerald Kaufman and the grapefruit bowls so funny that I find it difficult to be angry at him for taking my money to buy a couple of nice pieces of Waterford Crystal.

Sir Gerald attributes his action to a mental disorder. It seems to me, that there are three aspects of his action. First, there is the fact that he had to have two grapefruit bowls. Then there is the fact that he felt that tax-payers should be obliged to buy these bowls for him. And third, there is the fact that the bowls had to be made of Waterford Crystal.

As there are three aspects to his action, are there three mental disorders at work? One which means that he has to have two bowls, one for himself and one for guests, one which means that he believes that the tax-payer should buy the bowls for him, and one that means that he requires to use a bowl made of Waterford Crystal?

Sir Gerald has a long (39 years) and distinguished career as an MP. And yet there are signs that the man suffers several mental disorders which cause him to think that certain things are reasonable, when most of us would think that they are actually rather unreasonable.

What are we to make of this? Two possible conclusions occur to me. One is that madness is endemic among politicians, and the less power that they have over the rest of us, the better. (In other words, let’s cut back the power of the state.)

The other conclusion that occurs to me is that prolonged service as an MP can cause madness. The obvious solution is that no-one should be permitted to be an MP for more than 10 years.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Voting intention and religious activity

There are some interesting things in the recent YouGov poll on the European elections. Jonny Newton (scroll down to the "update") and Phil Walker have pointed out some of them.

For myself, I was intrigued by responses to the question “Are you a member of a church or religious organisation?” The proportion who said “yes”, by political affiliation, was as follows:

Conservative - 12%
Labour - 12%
LibDem - 13%
Green - 10%
UKIP - 9%
BNP - 5%

So, LibDem voters are (by a small margin) the most likely to be members of a ‘religious organisation’, and BNP voters are (by a considerable margin) the least likely to.

I suppose that it would have been interesting if “church or religious organisation" had been split into “Christian church” “mosque” “synagogue”and “other”, but we can’t have everything.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

What kind of libertarian are you?

An interesting quiz, for which thanks to Mr. Allan. Libertarians are a varied and diverse group, and while we are all good friends, we don't all see eye to eye on everything.

My results were as follows:
You Scored as Minarchist

Paleo-libertarian 100%
Minarchist 92%
Left-libertarian 67%
"Small L" libertarian 50%
Anarcho-capitalist 33%
Agorist 25%
Neo-libertarian 17%
Geo-libertarian 17%
Libertarian socialist 0%
Now you know everything about me - not that I know what all these words mean!

Try it yourself, though I suspect that it will tell you that you are some sort of libertarian, even if you aren't.

Freedom of speech - and the police

This is quite extraordinary.

Are the police are making up the law as they go along?

It sounds like someone in the police sent two officers out to infringe freedom of speech. That can only be because they are ignorant of the law, or because they have an agenda to limit freedom of speech. The fact that this is not the first time that this has happened, and that this is not the only police force in England and Wales where it has happened, suggests that this is coming from the top. In other words, ACPO.

(Thank you very much to Cranmer for this)

Monday, 8 June 2009

The European Elections: some number crunching and reflections

30 years ago yesterday, on June 7th, 1979, the United Kingdom voted for the first time in an election to the European Parliament. The turnout (32.7%) was less than half that of the General Election that had taken place the previous month, and the result was dismal for the Labour Party who were defeated even more convincingly by the Conservatives than they had been in General Election. The Conservatives polled 50.56% of the vote in England, Scotland and Wales, with the Labour Party getting 33.04%. The Liberals were a distant third on 13.13%. (Under the First Past the Post system, Labour got a mere 17 seats, compared to Conservatives’ 60, and the Liberals got nothing.) Other than the SNP and Plaid Cymru, other parties polled insignificantly.

Since then, there have been 6 elections for the European Parliament. Turnout has continued to be poor, though it is considerably higher when there are local elections on the same day, as was the case last week. And what of the results? I have produced a table showing the results of the three main parties, and also of the three main minor parties - which in terms of votes cast, no longer includes the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Vote (as a percentage of votes cast in England, Scotland & Wales)

* Liberal/SDP Alliance in 1984
** At that time know as the Ecology Party
*** Result for the NF

It will be noted that European Elections have not generally been good for the Labour Party - they’ve only come top twice in seven elections. But even so, last week’s election was a disaster.

For the Conservatives, the election may have looked good enough - but in fact, it was their second worst performance ever. Only in 2004 did they actually get a lower share of the vote.

The LibDems had a reasonable election, but it was not actually much better than the result of the Liberal Party 30 years ago, and well short of the Alliance vote in 1984.

The introduction of the List System has worked wonders for the minor parties - UKIP, the Greens, and the BNP are all going from strength to strength, though one suspects that the general discontent with the big parties at the moment probably has a lot to do with that. Six months ago, I would never have guessed that UKIP would actually improve on their performance in 2004.

And notice that even though the Greens had a very successful election, they are still a long way short of their remarkable result of 20 years ago - which was achieved largely at the expense of the LibDems.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Authoritarian church?

I recently came across the phrase “authoritarian church” on the blog of a Scottish clergyman, the Rev. David Robertson of Dundee. We libertarians often decry authoritarianism, so my eye was arrested. By happy co-incidence, both the city of Dundee and the name Robertson are strongly associated with marmalade, so I felt obliged to investigate further.

Mr. Robertson spoke of the General Assembly of the Church becoming “the Magisterium - a court which may use the Bible but which in reality tells the rest of us what God says,” and continued “This is a recipe for an authoritarian church that limits the freedom of the believer to follow the Word of God, which IS synonymous with the Bible.” His point is that if a church is not committed to believing what the Bible says, then the final authority in that church will not be the Bible, but the leadership of that church, and that the beliefs and pronouncements of that leadership will become effectively the word of God for members of that church.

Mr. Robertson’s use of the word “authoritarian” is interesting. He clearly sees authoritarianism as something that limits freedom, and in particular he sees authoritarianism in the church as a situation in which the leadership of the church limits the freedom of the individual member. In all this, libertarians would agree. Furthermore, for Mr. Robertson, freedom is freedom to do what the Bible tells them to do. And libertarians would strongly agree that the state should permit such religious freedom.

The interesting thing about this is that Mr. Robertson appears to assume that a church that does believe what the Bible says is less likely to become authoritarian than one that does not. Many would say “But surely if the church believes what the Bible says, the church would expect that individual believers will do what the Bible says. Would that not be authoritarian?” And the answer to this is that it depends on one’s view of the Bible. For some people, doing what the Bible says is effectively slavery. But for Christians, there is a long tradition of believing that doing what the Bible says is freedom - it is a way of life that leads to freedom.

To put it another way, the word gives freedom: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25)

Does the written word give freedom? And here, in the sphere of politics, would say yes. We believe in the rule of law, and in having a written constitution. Authoritarianism, by contrast, is characterised by the rule of leaders who are not constrained by laws or constitution. For libertarians, a written code is a good thing (provided that it says the right things) and the absence of written codes is positively dangerous. We hold that written codes that are firmly held to are necessary to protect freedom, because they restrict the power of rulers to use their power in arbitrary ways. (Which is why, in America, Ron Paul, is such a strong champion of the Constitution.)

If this is true in the sphere of politics, could it be true in the spiritual sphere as well - i.e. that Mr. Robertson is right in thinking that churches which do not hold strongly to a written code (such as the Bible) are likely, in the end, to become authoritarian?