Thursday, 30 July 2009

The right to die? Or the right to kill?

The BBC report the latest in the case of Debbie Purdie under the headline "Result due in right-to-die case".

Mr. Tom Paine has written a most helpful article on his blog, which I reproduce below, basically asking the question "Is this really about the right to die? Or is it actually about the right to kill?"

I follow the discussions on euthanasia with interest, but I am puzzled by the terminology favoured by the media. This lady's "right to die" is not in question, although the religious may say it's morally wrong. Suicide was legalised long since - and rightly so.

I have nothing but compassion for anyone who chooses to end a life they consider unbearable. It's that person's life and choice. But this is not about the "right to die". It's about the right to kill, or to be an accessory to a killing. It's about introducing a new defence to the crime of murder. The debate might be conducted more rationally, if more honest words were used.

The euthanasia laws in the Netherlands have resulted (that law of intended consequences again) in sick people refusing to go to hospital. They fear the convenience of euthanasia to medical staff who prefer to work on potentially positive cases rather than palliative care for those nearing the exit. In socialised healthcare systems, they fear being pressured to stop "bed-blocking;" consuming rationed resources that could be used by others. They may also fear the convenience of euthanasia to impatient heirs.

It's bad enough to be terminally-ill, without being pressured to get it over with for the good of others. Can it ever truly be selfish to want another moment of life? On the other hand, is it not enormously selfish of a dying person to blight the life of a surviving loved one by asking them to live with the memory of having killed?

The fundamental tenet of all libertarianism is that it is wrong to initiate violence. Much though I sympathise with the families of people in this terrible position, I do not believe it's right to legitimise pre-meditated, active involvement in another's death.

Box of chocolates? We’ll need to see some ID

Two recent stories seem to sum up modern Britain. In the first, a customer at Marks and Spencer was asked for identification to prove her age when she attempted to buy a pizza cutter. In the second, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that it was going to ask manufacturers to cut the size of chocolate bars, confectionery and cans of fizzy drink, in order to tackle rising rates of obesity.

The reason the customer at M&S was asked for proof of age to buy a pizza cutter? A spokesman explained “Our policy is not to sell knives or bladed articles to persons under 18, and a pizza-wheel fits into to that category. We are a responsible retailer, and our customers expect us to be vigilant in providing blades if people appear to be underage.” (In fact, it is a criminal offence for a retailer to sell including knives, axes, and razor blades to anyone under 18.)

Now, I have no problem with M&S wishing to be a responsible retailer, and adopting such a policy. If the customers are happy, then there is no problem. My problem is with legislation that forbids retailers from selling knives, axes and razor blades to those under 18. In 21st century Britain, we accept this nonsense. A couple of hundred years ago, in the age of enlightenment, most people would have reckoned that a) the average 17 year old would have no difficulty finding axes, knives and razor blades around the home, and b) 26 year olds were just as capable of using malicious weapons as 17 year olds. Still, this is the 21st century, and we can’t be expected to be as smart as we were in the 18th century.

As for the brilliant proposal of the FSA to make chocolate bars smaller - well, at least it is only a recommendation, rather than a proposed law. Though one suspects that if manufacturers don’t fall into line, the government will act. Again, one suspects that in the 18th century, people would have scratched their heads and asked what was to prevent people from buying two chocolate bars, instead of one. Presumably this will not occur to 21st century Britons.

What next? Well, I fully expect that in a few years time, we will see new laws that require housewives to keep their kitchen knives in a locked cabinet. And of course, anyone wishing to buy over 100 grams of confectionary will need to show proof that they are over 18 years of age.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Norwich North: What hope for minor candidates?

The by-election in Norwich North has come and gone. The LPUK candidate, Mr Thomas Burridge, got 36 votes, which was generally regarded as not very good, considering that 34,377 people voted. There was considerable sadness and soul searching among members of the Libertarian Party, as we asked “Why did people not vote for our candidate?”

Of course, we were not the only people to ask that question, since some other candidates and parties did not do as well as hoped. Mr. Craig Murray, who stood under the label “Put an honest man into Parliament”. Mr Murray received 2.77% of the vote - compared to the 4.98% he received in Blackburn in the 2005 general election. He subsequently wrote a fascinating piece in the Mail about his campaign, and why he believes it failed to win over the voters. Key lines are “Media access was our biggest problem,” “When Stuart eventually got back from holiday, he found 27 separate Tory leaflets waiting for him,” and “The public were in no mood to view anybody's material.” He speaks of being “crushed by the party machines.” And he notes that “the combined vote of the three main parties fell from 42,000 to 23,000.”

So - what are the prospects for candidates like Messers Burridge and Murray?

My reckoning is that they face two big problems. The first is that the average Briton is not actually very interested in politics, and may be becoming less so. In fact, if you go round door-knocking for a political candidate, many people will be no more interested in your message than they would be in the message of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, the majority do vote in general elections, but that is about it. Only about half vote in by-elections, and fewer still vote in council elections or European elections. How can you interest people in a new political movement if they are not even interested in politics?

The second is that the average voter will probably not give serious consideration to anyone other than the Labour and Conservative candidates. We always get Labour or Conservative governments, so it stands to reason that all other votes are pretty much wasted. Of course, there are areas where the LibDems have a strong local base, and may routinely come second or even first, and in those areas, things are different. Similarly, in Scotland, the SNP routinely comes second or even first in may areas, and the same could also be said of Plaid Cymru in Wales. (Northern Ireland, needless to say, is a rather different political animal.)

So - is there any hope for minor parties and independents?

Yes. Some voters are prepared to vote for minor parties. However, they have to be not only disillusioned with the main parties, but also fairly familiar with the minority party they are voting for. The Greens, UKIP, and the BNP are well known, because they have been around for a while and have a clear simple message. In fact, in the Norwich North by-election, the 3 main parties only got 71.7% of the vote, as compared to 94.3% at the 2005 General Election. UKIP and the Greens both had a substantially increased share of the vote, and UKIP managed that despite relatively little media attention. After all, they have been around for 15 years, and have had a reasonable amount of media attention over that time. And they have fought several parliamentary, council, and European elections in Norwich. Mr. Murray and LPUK were completely new to the voters of Norwich.

Independents and minor parties do well out of single issue voters, who will vote for just about anybody if that person campaigns or takes the right view of that issue. This is crucial for UKIP, the Greens and the BNP. It is hardly surprising that they do well, because British independence, the environment, and immigration are all important matters, and most people recognise that. On other issues, such as abortion and legalising cannabis single issue candidates have the potential to get a lot more votes than LPUK did in Norwich North - but they are unlikely ever to get more than 2% of the vote - and hence will remain permanently on the fringes.

A different, but closely related phenomenon, is the success of Richard Taylor, the local hospital candidate in Wyre Forest, or Martin Bell in Tatton. Just occasionally, a single issue can be something that strikes a chord with large numbers of voters. But what is notable in these two seats is that the LibDems stood aside in Wyre Forest, and both Labour and the LibDems stood aside in Tatton. That provided massive credibility for the independent candidates, and is something that is not going to be repeated very often.

So Norwich North does offer hope for minor candidates. UKIP and the Greens posted their best ever parliamentary election results, and were not far behind the LibDems. In other words, they could be on the verge of a breakthrough - though they probably are not.

It will take many years of work before the Libertarian Party becomes well enough known to the voters to be seriously considered by more than a few hundred - or even dozen - voters in a parliamentary constituency.

Monday, 27 July 2009

More on BBC bias in Norwich North

A postscript to my previous posting.

I thought that Mr. Hannan’s piece was so interesting, that I printed out a copy to show to my wife. Somewhat to my surprise, she was quite upset by it.

You see, her source of news is BBC Radio 4. (I rarely listen to radio news, and never to TV news - I rely on the internet.) She told me she had no idea that UKIP had done so well. She also told me that Radio 4 news had reported the figures for the Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens, but not mentioned UKIP - and hence she had simply assumed that the four parties mentioned had been the top four. The BBC had deceived her, and she had swallowed it - hook, line and sinker.

Hence her reaction. She reckoned that surely the BBC could be sued or fined. I reckoned that they had consulted their lawyers before doing this, and knew they were safe.

I reflected that most of my friends and neighbours will never learn this - unless the press picked it up and ran with it. And what do you know? The silence of the press is deafening.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

BBC: not just biased, but blatantly so

Many thanks to Bishop Hill for pointing me to to this item from Mr. Daniel Hannan's blog, about the BBC's determination to give UKIP as little coverage as possible in the Norwich North by-election.

I must confess that even I am shocked. It is just a little too blatant.

Freedom of speech includes the freedom to express daft opinions

An American group (the American Jewish Committee) wishes to sue a German company ( for eroding German laws. Well, I may be wrong, but this looks like some Americans being determined to stick their nose into other people’s business. After all, Holocaust Denial is not a criminal offence in the USA. And yet, the American Jewish Committee said “We cannot let the spread of internet sales erode laws that ban Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred of minorities in Germany.” Is there not something ironic about people who live in a nation that has a certain freedom of seeking to support the suppression of that freedom in another land?

I’m not quite sure which I find more ridiculous: Holocaust Denial, or the fact that some nations have actually made Holocaust Denial a criminal offence. Holocaust Denial may annoy some people intensely, it may shock and horrify people, but it harms no-one, and criminalising it is a basic infringement on freedom of speech.

On reflection, I think that people should be far more horrified at the criminalising of Holcaust Denial than at Holocaust Denial itself.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

My journey to Libertarianism: 4

(Part 3 is here)

The 1990s were a time when my political outlook didn’t change much. I was basically anti-Labour, but couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm for the Conservative Party. In fact, they got worse instead of better. Mrs. Thatcher, for all her faults, was a conviction politician, and clearly had a vision. If Mr. Major had a vision, it was difficult to see what it was. He spoke of wanting Britain to be ‘a nation at ease with itself’, which to me at least, sounded as if the goal was complacency. The Conservative Party’s sole purpose appeared to be to remain in government, and their MPs, for the most part, seemed to be people whose main interests were holding on to their seats, getting richer, and advancing their careers. Idealism was out of fashion. Despite my desire to keep Labour out, I was reluctant to vote Conservative.

Did my thought move in a libertarian direction? Not really. But a couple of things happened which helped prepare the ground. First, I read an article about Fractional Reserve Banking, which took the view that this practice was essentially fraudulent - a view which is not mainstream - but which is fairly standard among libertarians - (see, for example, this article by Murray Rothbard.) Well, I don’t know much about economics, and I’m not about to mind on the subject on the basis of one article - but I must confess that it sounded convincing to me.

Perhaps more significantly, I found myself moving in a eurosceptic direction. I had always been a supporter of the European Union. When I was a youngster, I was told (on good authority) that going into the EEC would make sweets and chocolate cheaper. That sounded to me like a move in the right direction. When I was a little older, I listened to my parents and their friends talking, and it was clear that enlightened and broad-minded people supported membership of the EEC, while those who were opposed were, at the very least, nationalistic - and probably xenophobic. I joined the Liberal Party, and heard about how the Labour and Conservative Parties were not really committed to the EEC, and so Britain was not really benefiting from membership as much as we might. I took it as axiomatic that the EEC was good, and never really questioned it. (Funny that. I had lots of questionings and doubts about God and the Bible, but never about the EEC!)

Why did I develop doubts about the membership of EEC / EU? Basically because what had started off as simply a common market was moving slowly but (it seemed) steadily toward becoming a European Super State. The number of British laws that were coming from Europe seemed to be increasing - and a lot of them didn’t seem to be very good. The defining moment came when an American, who had been living in Britain for a few years, remarked to me that he really couldn’t understand why we were giving up our independence to the EU. And it struck me that he was right - that was precisely what we were doing.

And so three more pieces of the jigsaw were in place: a disillusionment with all the main British political parties, an openness toward Austrian Economics, and a conviction that British membership of the EU was not a good thing.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A small victory for free speech - and more about hate crimes and policing

This is almost two weeks old, but, for the sake of completeness, I’m writing about it anyway. On July 9th, the House of Lords debated Clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill. Clause 61 of the Bill proposed the deletion of Section 29JA of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which reads: “In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”

Section 29 had been inserted into the Act by the former Conservative Home Secretary, Lord Waddington, in order to protect freedom of speech, and the government has been determined to remove it - hence Clause 61. Lord Waddington could hardly be classed as a libertarian, but he is concerned about freedom of speech. Their Lordships agreed with him on this occasion, and voted, by 186 to 133 to reject Clause 61. (The story has been covered by the Independent and the Christian Institute, and full details of the debate are in Hansard.)

To their credit, there are Labour members of Parliament who have voted against the government on this measure, such as Lord Anderson of Swansea, and, in the Commons, Mr. Tom Harris.

One aspect of this that particularly interests me is way that it is policed, as readers of this blog will realise. Lord Dear, who was Chief Constable of the West Midlands from 1985 to 1990, (and who successfully lead opposition in the House of Lords to the Government's proposal to extend from 28 to 42 days the length of time that suspected terrorists could be held without charge), speaking in the debate in support of retaining Section 29, addressed this subject, and said:
“ . . . prior to the Waddington amendment, the police regularly received complaints from homosexual groups that exception was taken to remarks that homosexuality was deplored on religious grounds. The police were forced to act. They operated, as we have already heard alluded to, against a background of the Home Office’s guidance notes on how to handle hate crime under the Public Order Act 1986, to which the issue of sexual orientation was added by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

The so-called guidance notes in fact required rigid adherence. Any complaint of hate crime, by whomsoever made, even a bystander, had to be recorded as such and fully investigated. No exercise of discretion was countenanced. Accordingly, the police, and later the CPS, when faced with a complaint concerning remarks about sexual orientation, would follow the Home Office’s guidance notes, go through the whole procedure of interview, sometimes following arrest—fingerprinting, taking DNA samples, police bail, sometimes charge—even though pretty well everyone in the official process knew that there was little or no chance of a prosecution, much less a conviction, following.”
He added the following comment:
“What a waste of time, what a waste of money and resources, and what a terrible burden to place on the person being arrested or interviewed, often waiting months for an outcome that was obvious to everyone except them. In many cases, the tactics were obvious: a complaint from a pressure group, police pressured into action with an implied threat of a complaint against them for neglect if a full investigation was not carried out and the inevitable chilling effect, about which we have heard already, on others who might be tempted to protest similarly in the future. In short, it was a very successful tactic to limit freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
(Some people seem to like to do this!)

And he went on to say,
“Perhaps the most important question of all is what has happened since the Waddington amendment a year ago. Despite intensive research, I cannot trace a single instance of police intervention during that time in these circumstances.”
Lord Dear also comments on the roll of ACPO:
“However, my recent discussions privately with senior ACPO figures, including those most closely involved with issues of this nature, reveal two facts critical to our debate today: first, not only has ACPO not declared an official stance but it has not given an unofficial view in any quarter; secondly, it would much prefer to see the defeat of Clause 61 and the continuation of the Waddington amendment. The reasons given to me for this are simple and perhaps obvious. With the Waddington amendment in place, the police are released from the virtual straitjacket imposed on them previously; they can exercise common sense and good judgment on the day; and they can police with the light touch which is so often sought and required by society.”
(So if Lord Dear is correct, it seems that some of my previous comments about ACPO were too harsh, and the Home Office - and governments - must bear the blame for the ridiculous things that police officers are asked to do.)

Sadly, the Government have not been swayed by the arguments of Lord Dear and others, and will seek to reverse the decision of the Lords when the Bill returns to the Commons in the autumn.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The youthfulness of Thomas Burridge

Young Mr. Burridge is the Libertarian Party candidate in this week’s Norwich North by-election. And he is young - 18 years, 2 months, and 6 days on the day of the election. Some people might just say “too young.” Indeed, one or two have.

This is interesting, considering that we live in a culture which tends to think that being young is a good thing, and where political parties seem to prefer to choose young leaders. Mr. Blair became leader of the Labour Party at the age of 41, Mr. Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party at the age of 39, and Mr. Clegg became leader of the Liberal Democrats at the age of 40 - though all of these gentlemen must give way to Mr. Hague, who became Tory leader at the age of 36. There is no question about it - youth is in, and age is not respected the way it once was.

How different it was in Biblical times. In the Book of Proverbs we are told “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (16:31) And in the prophecy of Isaiah (3:4-5), when God warns his people of the judgement that he is going to bring on them, one gets the distinct impression that youthfulness was not exactly prized:

I will make boys their officials;
mere children will govern them.
People will oppress each other -

man against man, neighbour against neighbour.

The young will rise up against the old,

the base against the honourable.

And yet even in Biblical times, there is another side to it. In the Book of Ecclesiastes (4:13), we are told “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.”

And the apostle Paul, when writing to a younger church leader called Timothy (I Timothy 4:12), tells him “Let no one despise you for your youth.” The point of course, is that Timothy may be young, and some people may have doubts about him for that reason, but he has the confidence of the older leaders.

And then, of course, there was the boy David, who, when he volunteered to fight Goliath, was told (I Samuel 17:33) “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy.”

Mr. Burridge may be young, but when I look at the actions and policies of most of our older and more experienced politicians, I see a remarkable amount of folly. Age and experience do not, by themselves, bring wisdom. And when I listen to him, I reckon that he has a lot of sense. And I believe that the policies that he advocates are wiser than those advocated by the older and more experienced candidates. Yes, he is very young. But I do not see that as a problem. I would certainly vote for him. And I hope that many of the voters in Norwich North will do so. It’s time to get begin the fight back against the Philistines who are intent on making us their slaves.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

More on policing and utter madness

The other day I was commenting on policing in Britain, and the way the priorities seemed to be all wrong. A lot of police time seems to be, er, wasted on clamping down on politically incorrect speech and peaceful protest. The result? According to the European Commission, there has been a 77 per cent increase in murders, robberies, assaults and sexual offences in the UK since Labour came to power. Inevitable, I suppose.

Thanks to Tom Paine, who has an excellent piece on it here.

By the way, I need a break from computer screens and blogging. Expect little or nothing for the next week or two.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Something the government isn't allowed to ban

Björn Ulvaeus, formerly a member of the musical group ABBA, has recently expressed strong views on the subject of education and indoctrination. He believes that schools should provide a safe haven from indoctrination. I personally believe that it completely impossible for a school to be an indoctrination-free zone, and that it is inevitable that there will be an element of indoctrination mixed in with education. The essential thing, in my view, is that parents know and approve the values and beliefs that their children will be indoctrinated with in school. (I have given some of my thoughts on this whole issue here.)

Mr. Ulvaeus, however, says something rather extraordinary. (At least it will seem extraordinary to those of libertarian outlook.) “Unfortunately the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't permit the banning of independent religious schools.” He believes that the state should be free to ban independent schools. In other words, Mr. Ulvaeus thinks that the state needs more freedom - more freedom to ban things. In other words, more freedom to take away the freedom of its citizens.

This European Convention on Human Rights clearly has its uses - protecting us from people like Mr. Ulvaeus, the ‘ban-everything’ brigade, and those who want more state control.

(Thanks to Mr. Cranmer who has written a witty piece alluding to many of Mr. Ulvaeus’ songs.)

For Christians only

This is a political blog. It is my policy that I restrict myself to blogging on matters political, and particularly matters that are of interest to libertarians. I don’t post items which are simply to encourage and challenge my fellow believers spiritually. However, I'm making an exception. I found this item so interesting that I thought I would post a link, because I think that it will be helpful for Christians.

It concerns an apology from a well known pastor, pornography, and how to keep your licence fee money out of the BBC’s grubby paws.

If you are not a Christian, you’ll probably find my other posts more interesting and relevant.