Monday, 31 August 2009

Daniel Hannan, Enoch Powell, and quality of political discourse

I remember, back in the 1980s, listening to Any Questions on Radio 4, on an occasion when Enoch Powell was on the panel. When he spoke, a group of people sought to drown him out by chanting “Enoch Powell is a racist.” I disagreed with Mr. Powell’s views on immigration (and indeed, on much else), but I could not see how anyone who listened seriously to him could believe him to be a racist. Some people, however, were not only determined not to listen seriously to Mr. Powell, but also determine to ensure that no one else did, either. For these people, open minded political discussion is not on the agenda. In fact, any intelligent, rational, political discussion is not of much interest.

And when Enoch Powell is mentioned, not much has changed - as witness the reaction to Daniel Hannan’s reference to Mr. Powell in his Reason TV interview. Mr. Hannan said:
“He was somebody who understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative."
Lord Mandelson waded in, and Parmjit Dhanda, Labour MP for
Gloucester, called on Mr Cameron to remove the party whip from Mr Hannan, and said: “When another Tory candidate praised Enoch Powell in 2007, David Cameron criticised him and he was forced to resign.”

The two cases, however, are completely different. The Tory candidate in question, Nigel Hastilow, had said that Powell was right about immigration. But not only did Hannan not praise (or mention) Powell’s views on immigration, he doesn’t even agree with them. Mr Dhanda is either being stupid, or intellectually dishonest.

And this is the thing that depresses me. The level of political discourse in this country should be a little higher than “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” It shouldn't be based on ignorance and dishonesty. And yet members of parliament can come up with pure idiocy, and not face deselection.

Last year, Hazel Blears complained about political blogs:
"Mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy. Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."
I’m sorry, Ms. Blears, but I do despair of politicians, and I am cynical about them. And there is dishonesty, stupidity and hypocrisy among politicians. Political blogging does add value to our political culture. It points out dishonesty, stupidity, and hypocrisy. And it also allows new voices and ideas.

And, at least with most of the blogs that I read, blogging provides a level of rational political discussion that is well above what we often get from career politicians like Lord Mandelson and Mr. Dhanda. If only the result of their silly remarks was a public outcry about the stupidity and intellectual dishonesty that so often characterises political discourse in this country.

Friday, 28 August 2009

My journey to Libertarianism: 6

(In which a young bear gentleman from darkest Peru hears the footsteps of the Stasi in 21st century Britain.)

The political event that really shocked me (and yes, it was a political event) took place in November 2003. The Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, was questioned by Cheshire Constabulary over statements he made to the Chester Chronicle.
(See, for example, here, here, and here.)

In the report on what the Chronicle called his “traditional and controversial views” (there’s an odd combination) the bishop was quoted as saying
Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject - that's in the area of psychiatric health. We want to help them but I don't offer it as a panacea.
Nothing remotely inflammatory there - even though many people would disagree. But a complaint was made to the police, and they launched an investigation to see if an offence had been committed under the Public Order Act 1986. No charge was brought.

But the bishop was visited by the police. And that is significant, because most people will take the view that if saying something publicly gets you a visit from the police, then you are not going to say it.

What was the point of the visit, anyway? What he said was in the public domain - the police could have a look at it and decide whether a crime had been committed. In previous statements he had said it was important to act with compassion towards gays and lesbians. Clearly, he was questioned, not in order to ascertain his views or find out what he had said, but in order to send the message that he should not have said it.

This was confirmed by the Chief Constable, Mr. Peter Fahy, who, far from apologising, said
Cheshire Police, day in, day out, deals with offences against members of minority communities which are generated by hate and prejudice. I think all public leaders need to make sure that comments they make are balanced by that need for all of us to be giving clear leadership on this issue and to make sure that vulnerable groups are protected and that people have an awareness of the needs and the backgrounds of all these various groups.

He has got his own personal view and I'm sure his comments are based on very strong personal religious conviction. But I do think we need to remind ourselves how this translates. The whole issue of diversity comes down to individual members of minority communities often being targeted, feeling under-protected and being victims of crime because of their sexual orientation, their colour or their religious beliefs. I think in a civilised society that is totally unacceptable.
That is simply Orwellian newspeak for “He shouldn’t have said what he said, and if you publicly express traditional Christian views on homosexuality you should not be surprised if you get a visit from the police.”

Free speech was being strangled. And that reminded me of the occasion 20 years earlier, when I was shocked to find that some Liberal Party activists saw nothing wrong with trying to silence the NF/BNP. (see here)

But there were three differences.
1) On that occasion, the action was taken by private individuals; on this occasion it was taken by law enforcement officers.
2) On that occasion, the individuals targeted might have been described as a group of chavs; on this occasion, it was a highly respected (and highly educated) member of the House of Lords.
3) On that occasion, the offensive philosophy was neo-nazism; this time it was traditional Christianity.
If you couldn’t see which way the wind was blowing, you weren’t paying attention. Niemöller’s dictum looked very appropriate.

Yes, the way the bishop was treated wasn’t exactly thuggish - more Brave New World than 1984. But it was still the deliberate stifling of freedom of speech. And who was to say that it might not become nastier?

The big shock for me, however, was not simply what the police did. It was the political reaction. Would the government say something vaguely apologetic? Would the Conservatives seize on the incident to speak out and oppose what New Labour was doing to traditional British freedoms? Would the LibDems speak up as the party of liberty?

But there was no political reaction. Peter Fahy, whose career should have come to an inglorious end, was actually promoted and is now Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. It was clear that the political establishment - particularly Labour, but also the Conservatives (who were, of course, responsible for the Public Order Act 1986) and the LibDems - all believed that there were some opinions that were so dangerous that people should be discouraged from expressing them - and discouraged by using law enforcement officers. If that wasn’t the beginnings of a police state, what was it?

Well, so it seemed to me. Nobody else seemed to think so. At least no-one was saying anything publicly. And I found the silence deafening.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Selective omission, labelling, and the creation of fear

Is this the face of the anti-Christian left? Or is it the face of the neo-Nazi right?

It is, in fact, the face of James Wenneker Von Brunn, the 88 year old man who has been charged with the shooting which took place at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 10 this year.

Read Wikipedia and you find him described as a white supremacist and Holocaust denier. He is also regularly described as neo-nazi, anti-Semitic, and far-right.

However, there are things that Wikipedia and the MSM don’t tell you. They don’t mention that Von Brunn was a self-proclaimed socialist, and wrote:
“[capitalism] is past history; . . . WESTERN SOCIALISM, represents the future of the West, and the end of JEWRY on Western soil.”
They don’t tell you about his hostility toward Christianity, and particularly toward the apostle Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus. Von Brunn wrote:
Saul -- a Roman citizen -- suddenly realized how he could destroy Rome! . . . . He would simply promulgate the insane teachings of Jesus! . . . . Saul decided to begin the HOAX by inventing a miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus with the reincarnated Jesus the Christ! . . . he named his hoax "Christianity." . . . . The Big Lie technique, employed by Paul to create the CHRISTIAN RELIGION, also was used to create the HOLOCAUST RELIGION . . . CHRISTIANITY AND THE HOLOCAUST are HOAXES.
What is it about? It’s about labelling people. (Labelling people is not always wrong. Some people fit nicely into categories. But not everyone.) But this is about more than labelling. It’s also about guiding the way people think. It’s about leaving out certain details so that people will draw a certain conclusion.

And the reason for that is to scare people. The thinking is “Let’s scare them into thinking that neo-nazis are a threat. Let’s scare them into thinking that ‘right wing’ is dangerous. But whatever we do, we must not give people the impression that socialists, or those who hate Christianity, might be dangerous - because that would give people the wrong idea.”

Some things are dangerous. If you think something is dangerous, and it scares you, then by all means try to persuade other people. But if you are highly selective with your facts, and omit important details, don’t expect people to believe you.

After all, we libertarians would never do that, would we?

(Thanks very much to Jonny Newton at Entering the Whirlpool.)

Post Script: Here is another one. For sheer dishonesty, this is hard to beat. Watch this video.

Then watch this one.

Interesting, isn't it?

(Thanks for those to Greg at The Holy Cause, who has also written a helpful piece on the subject.)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Liberty to the captive

Incarceration is, to the lover of freedom, the ultimate cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is not so strange, because we must all die some time, and it may turn out to be tomorrow. But incarceration in a prison is unnatural, and most of us hope never to experience it. And to be incarcerated for life, even in a gilded cage, is abhorrent. Perhaps this is why there is no mention of incarceration as a punishment in the Old Testament penal code.

And hence I have some sympathy with Mr Kenny Macaskill, the Scottish Justice minister, and indeed with the Scottish Government, who have decided to release Mr. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Indeed, if one is compassionate, one must have some sympathy with Mr. Megrahi himself.

Mr. Macaskill has come in, however, for a good deal of stick. And I have some sympathy for his critics as well. Releasing someone from a sentence, simply because he is terminally ill, does seem to go contrary to natural justice. Were it standard practice to do so, and if everyone knew, when Mr. Megrahi was sentenced, that he would be released and allowed to go home to Libya if he became terminally ill, then no one could complain. It is the fact that the Scottish Government has released him unexpectedly that is the problem. Predictability is part of the essence of a good legal system. If people cannot predict how prisoners are going to be treated, it is inevitable that they will feel that something unjust is going on. And for that reason, I think that the Scottish Government has made a mistake.

However, it is a pretty small mistake. It may turn out to be expensive for Scotland - though I doubt it. But even if the repercussions are big, the fault is small. It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Megrahi spends his final weeks in Libya or in Scotland. Making him die in a Scottish jail will not bring back any of the people killed in the Lockerbie bombing. This is a storm in a tea-cup, and while it may excite public opinion, it is not much more important than the news stories about rich and famous celebrities that also seem to excite public opinion.

There are thousands of much bigger mistakes that have been made by the British and Scottish governments in recent years which have not attracted anything like the criticism of this decision. The way that Labour, Conservative and LibDem MSPs have lined up to attack the SNP for this smacks of political opportunism.

The truth of the matter is that the real scandal is that tax-payers are paying these MSPs to debate matters of so little importance - and that they are paying Mr. Macaskill to visit Mr. Megrahi in jail. Do politicians have nothing better to do with their time?

Actually, I’m afraid that the answer is probably ‘no’.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Honesty is what it is about

Honesty is what it is about. We have got to speak the truth. Leaking and spinning, at the end of the day, are not helpful. (Richard Dannatt)

Next week, General Sir Richard Dannatt steps down as Chief of the General Staff. In an age of spin, when almost no one in public life seems to have the guts to tell the truth lest it cost them dearly, General Dannatt stood out. It appears, not surprisingly, that he was intensely disliked by some in the current government.

As David Crosthwaite-Eyre says, “Imagine how wonderful it would be to have someone wielding real political power who didn't care a jot for spin, who isn't afraid to speak their mind. Who actually wanted to do the right thing for the right reasons.”


Unless we actually know exactly what the problems are, we are unlikely to come up with the correct solutions. And if people in power are determined to suppress the truth, we are less likely to know.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Maybe street preaching offends too many people . . .

The "open air preaching" was offending too many people, so we decided to try "open air liturgical dancing."

Borrowed from a caption competition at Calvinistic Cartoons (I kid you not). The caption was submitted by Craig Boyd.

(Well, you didn’t think I would think of a clever caption, did you?)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

My journey to Libertarianism: 5

(In which a young bear gentleman from darkest Peru watches with wide-eyed disbelief as the world’s most modern and enlightened progressives take Britain into a foolish war of aggression.)

For me, tyranny was always something so dreadful, that it was worth taking up arms to oppose it. I may abhor bloodshed, but I have never been a pacifist, and have never had much time for disarmament movements.

I have also generally taken the view that unprovoked aggression should not be allowed to succeed. Hence I supported Britain’s use of military force against Argentina in the Falklands war and against Iraq in the Gulf War.

In fact, I always seemed to be on the pro-war side.

So when the Iraq war in 2003 arrived, my gut instinct, through force of habit, was to support the war. But my head told me differently. And I passionately believe that one should listen to one’s head rather than one’s heart.

I had three major problems with Britain’s involvement in the invasion.

1. In the debate on March 18, 2003, which ended in Parliament voting to support an invasion, the heart of Tony Blair’s argument was that Iraq had not complied with UN Security Council Resolution 1441. The key phrase in the Government’s motion was that "This House . . . believes that the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it, and therefore supports the decision of Her Majesty's Government that the United Kingdom should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.” In other words, it seemed to me that he was saying that Iraq must be invaded because it had defied UN resolutions. I cannot agree that upholding the authority of the United Nations is of such consequence that we should go to war over it. Nor to I believe that the UN has the authority to tell a sovereign nation to disarm.

2. I believed that the probability of a democratic, stable, free, pro-western Iraq emerging as a result of the war was about nil. (Did George W. Bush and Tony Blair really think otherwise?) There was, in other words, little chance that the invasion would be a success, except in the limited sense that it would eliminate the possibility of Saddam Hussein using any WMDs that he might have. To fight a war that would leave a complete mess in its wake seemed to me to be wrong.

3. Most fundamentally, we were the aggressors. Everyone could see that. In the first Gulf War, Iraq started it. This time we did.

The fact that I came down against the invasion did not, in itself, make me a libertarian, of course. But it did mean that I would be interested in opponents of the war who, like me, were not on the political left. And this was, in due time, to land me in the company of libertarians . . . .

(Part 4 is here, by the way)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Footnote to the Miguel Hayworth story

Interestingly enough, the police chief of Greater Manchester, Mr. Peter Fahy, who has been written to by the Christian Legal Centre, is no stranger to controversy in these matters.

In 2003, the police questioned the Bishop of Chester, the Right Rev Dr Peter Forster, after Dr Forster was quoted as saying "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject - that's in the area of psychiatric health."

Mr. Fahy, at that time Chief Constable of Cheshire, afterwards was highly critical of Dr. Forster, saying,
"Cheshire Police, day in, day out, deals with offences against members of minority communities which are generated by hate and prejudice. I think all public leaders need to make sure that comments they make are balanced by that need for all of us to be giving clear leadership on this issue and to make sure that vulnerable groups are protected and that people have an awareness of the needs and the backgrounds of all these various groups.

He has got his own personal view and I'm sure his comments are based on very strong personal religious conviction. But I do think we need to remind ourselves how this translates."

Monday, 17 August 2009

Street preaching and the police - again

The Telegraph has covered the story of Miguel Hayworth, a street preacher in Manchester who was spoken to by the police on July 25.

Mr Hayworth’s side of the story is as follows:
“At 2pm, I was approached on more than one occasion by several police officers who falsely accused me, stating that I was inciting hatred with homophobic and racial comments. One plain-clothed officer, who was with the other two uniformed officers, said: 'It is against the law to preach and hand out tracts: preaching causes offence and handing out tracts is harassment and could result in an arrest.'”
For the police, Chief Inspector Chris Hill, of Greater Manchester Police, said:
“Police were called to St Ann's Square in Manchester city centre following complaints from members of the public who considered the comments being made by two street preachers as racist and homophobic. When spoken to, the men said they were quoting from the Bible. The officers confirmed they were entitled to preach on the street, but advised them offensive behaviour is not acceptable.”
You will notice that there are differences between the two accounts.

1. Mr. Hayworth says that officers falsely accused him, stating that he was inciting hatred. Mr. Hill implies that the officers made no accusations, but simply advised Mr. Hayworth and his co-evangelist that offensive behaviour was not acceptable.

2. Mr. Hayworth says that the officers told him that it was against the law to preach and hand out tracts, whereas Mr. Hill says that the officers confirmed they were entitled to preach on the street.

Someone’s story is not strictly accurate.

Intriguingly, the Telegraph tells us “The second officer, Mr Hayworth claimed, also warned him his actions were being videoed and recorded, and he stopped preaching.

Now, if the whole thing was videoed and recorded, and the recording made public, we would be able to hear for ourselves what exactly Mr. Hayworth had said - which would be helpful to know. But it would be even more helpful to know what the police said. Would the police have been happy to have their actions and words recorded? And if not, is there any way of actually finding out who is telling the truth?

I note that the Christian Legal Centre has instructed Paul Diamond, a religious rights barrister, and has also written to the police. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.

In the meantime, there is something that interests me. There have been several incidents in the last few years (e.g. this and this) when street preachers have been approached by police officers and either warned or told to stop. The police who approached Mr. Hayworth must surely have been aware that there was a strong chance that this story would make the press, and that there would be another “Police-curtailing-freedom-of-speech” story. What do the police actually think of this?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Image is everything . . . at least for some

Actually, it has always been that way. A couple of millenia ago, Jesus said of some of the religious leaders of his day, “Everything they do is done for men to see.” And he continued:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness*. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ” (Matthew 23:5, 27-28)
In other words, they were seen as decent blokes, due in no small part to the fact that they carefully cultivated their image. We might say that they did a fairly good job of fooling most of the people, most of the time.

In politics, image is particularly important. (In fact, when it comes to getting elected, it is everything.) And in modern Britain, a politician's image needs to include "caring".

What we need, however, are not politicians who appear to be caring - but who care for little other than their own image. We need politicians who actually care.

And who care about things like the fact that Britain’s cancer survival rates are among the lowest in the western world.

And who are prepared to ask hard questions about why that is.

And, who will, if need be, say unpopular things to the electorate about what might require to be done.

*dead people’s bones and uncleanness. You just know that this post is going to be about the NHS, don’t you?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Is Daniel Hannan old fashioned?

According to the Daily Telegraph:
“Mr Hannan is a popular figure among grassroots Tories because of his strong right-wing views. His blog and his public harangue of Gordon Brown in the European Parliament earlier this year also made him a political celebrity in the US.

However, his agenda is at odds with the modernising message of Mr Cameron, who has repeatedly promised that the NHS would be the top priority of a Conservative Government.” (italics mine)
So, if I understand this, Mr. Cameron is a moderniser, and Mr. Hannan is old fashioned - at least with respect to the NHS and the deliverance of health care.

My impression was that Mr. Hannan felt that the NHS was in need of significant change because it was based on a 60 year old model, and that it should be replaced by a system based on more recent models, such as those used in France, Germany, and Singapore - while Mr. Cameron wished to basically keep things the way they have been for decades.

I’m a bit puzzled. I thought that modernising was about changing things to make them more up to date. Have I got that wrong?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The NHS owns your body

Mr. Daniel Hannan has been in America, telling them about the drawbacks of the National Health Service. There is one drawback of the NHS that me may not have spoken of, which is illustrated by the experience of Lisa at Renegade Parent.

I suggest you read the whole account, but the part that struck me is this. When, at just over 41 weeks pregnant, she had not gone into labour, her midwife was of the opinion that she should be induced. Lisa writes:
“When I informed her that, for as long as the baby and I were healthy, I did not want to be induced, the tension increased a notch and she said: "I do not have the authority to allow you to refuse, so you will have to see the registrar at the hospital. He will decide whether you can continue with your pregnancy."”
Lisa opted out of the NHS and got herself another midwife.

I am completely shocked by the line “I do not have the authority to allow you to refuse.” I’ve always been a big fan of the NHS, but this makes me wonder. When a system becomes a virtual monopoly, and is funded by the state, and has power of the state behind it - especially in a country where the state has an urge to interfere in just about every aspect of people’s lives - isn’t it more likely to start treating patients as if it owns their bodies?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Adultery, expenses, and the morality of politicians

The Prime Minister is not the only Scottish son of the manse who is going through times of political difficulty. Mr James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, is a son of a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (the Very Rev. John Gray of Dunblane), and is facing possible de-selection because of his behaviour. He could hardly be described as a good husband, having abandoned his wife (when she had cancer) in order to take up a relationship with another man’s wife. According to the Telegraph “It was not just that Mr Gray left his wife but his attempts publicly to play down the extent of her cancer which caused such distaste. . . . In trying to belittle her struggle with the disease he outraged even some of his own supporters.” He has shown, at the very least, a lack of integrity and a fair amount of callousness and selfishness. He took what he wanted and showed no concern for his wife or his mistress’s husband.

These are very similar to the qualities that many people detected in business of MP’s expenses. The MPs took what they wanted, and showed no concern for the tax-payers who they charged for items that most of us have to buy for ourselves. And they showed a lack of integrity in that they agreed to a system that kept the tax-payers in the dark.

Does this mean there a connection between philandering and troughing? Well, I suppose that the greed, callousness and lack of integrity a person shows in one area may be a sign of a more general problem. But it is also true that someone who has an extra-marital affair may, in other respects, be a person of integrity. And a person of complete marital fidelity may be, in other respects, a scoundrel. In other words, the fact that a man treats his wife badly does not mean that he is going to treat the voters badly.

The business of claiming expenses is different. Mr. Gray, we are told, claimed £2000 “for the future redecoration of his 'second home' on the day that he moved out of it.” In other words, he seems to have treated the money of tax-payers as if it was a pot from which he could help himself. This is more serious, because it indicates that he does not see tax-revenues as money that basically belongs to tax-payers. It tells us something about his underlying political views and philosophy. And that, it seems to me, is even more worrying than any lack of financial honesty that might be assumed.

And here we need to remind ourselves what MPs are for. They are not glorified social workers - constituency work is not their main job. Nor are they moral roll models. They are law makers. Their job is to scrutinise and vote on proposed legislation. The state of the nation does not depend on the moral integrity of politicians, nor on whether they are able to help constituents in difficulty, but on the quality of the laws they make.

Voting for a candidate who supports bad policies, simply because he is decent and honest, is extreme foolishness. And the same is true of rejecting a candidate who supports good policies, simply because his personal morality is shameful. The legislation that parliament enacts has far more effect on the morality of the nation than does the private morality of individual MPs.

MPs need integrity, but the integrity they need is not marital integrity, or financial integrity, but intellectual integrity and political integrity - a willingness to change their mind when the evidence shows that they are wrong, and to stand up for what they believe when the pressure is on them to back down. But even more than these things, they simply need to have the right policies.

There may be good reasons why Mr. Gray should not continue to be an MP. There is that expenses claim. His political beliefs are not quite what some of us would want to see. There is even the fact that he has already been an MP for 12 years, which is quite long enough for anyone.

But even though I think that his adulterous behaviour is disgraceful, I do not believe that it is, in itself, a reason why voters should reject him.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Can ACPO get worse?

Can the Association of Chief Police Officers get any worse than this?

Yes, and they probably will.

If this is true, then heads should roll. This is a disgrace. In my opinion, it is far worse than the MPs expenses saga, and we, as a nation should horrified.

Dishonesty, corruption, greed, and filching tax-payers we have always had with us. But the leaders of our constabulary taking the view that they can ignore the law is rather more unusual and serious.

You and I cannot tell a police officer that we will choose which court rulings we will obey, and which we will not. Nor can the police pick and choose. More than anyone else, we expect those charged with enforcing our laws to show complete respect for the law.

As Guy Herbert at Samizdata asks "What does one call a state partially ruled by a club for police chiefs and 'law enforcement' bureaucrats who do not wish to obey the law?"

Friday, 7 August 2009

Something for nothing?

You can see why I like the internet. I do, after all, have a reputation for having a very good eye for a bargain. And once I get on the internet, I can get huge amounts for free, including the content of most newspapers. It all seems a little too good to be true, however, since I generally hold to the adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

And sure enough, Mr. Rupert Murdoch thinks that it is ridiculous that one can read his newspapers free on the internet, and is planning to make changes. By the end of next June, online readers of his publications will have to pay. "Quality journalism is not cheap,” says Mr. Murdoch, “and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting." And it is not only quality journalism that is expensive. Even the most shoddy journalism costs money.

Well, if one has an eye for a bargain, then getting things for free is about as good as it gets. I remain amazed that I can use Blogger for nothing. I reckon that there must be a catch somewhere. And the most obvious one is that the bubble will burst, and we’ll have to pay for everything.

The curious thing is that I remember reading an article 10 or 12 years ago about the future of the internet. It basically said “The future is that free stuff will disappear, and we are going to have to pay for what we view.” And I held my breath and waited, and nothing happened.

I have no idea what will happen. On the one hand, Mr. Murdoch is a pretty shrewd judge of money matters, and if he plans to start charging, then maybe that is what the future will be. And, as I say, my gut feeling is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

On the other hand, there is also vanity publishing, not to mention altruism. There will always be some people who will want to make good content available online, and who will not charge for it. As long as (and that is the key phrase) it is not too expensive for them to do so, they will do so. And as long as they do so, those who try to charge will find it rather difficult to do business.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Could Mr Clinton please come here?

Mr Bill Clinton, the former American President, has visited North Korea, and his visit apparently managed to obtain the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labour.

Is there any chance that Mr. Clinton visit Britain ASAP?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Political name-calling

Some of my fellow-libertarians have a habit that annoys me. Not many, but a few. They tend to be American rather than British, and I suspect that most of them are very young. What is this annoying trait? It is the use of the words ‘fascist’ to describe those of non-libertarian outlook, and to talk about they way their country is moving toward ‘fascism’. I suspect that Aaron Russo’s film “America: Freedom to Fascism” has something to do with it.

In 1944 George Orwell wrote: “It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless” and added that it was almost “impossible to define fascism satisfactorily”. As the Ugley Vicar writes, “the use of the word 'Fascist' is (still) an excuse for not thinking, not defining and not engaging.”

However, ‘fascist’ is not the only word that is used in this way. In America the word ‘communist’ was thrown around in the middle years of the 20th century, and applied to people like Martin Luther King and anyone else one didn’t happen to like much, especially if they were not politically conservative.

Now I am not saying that all these uses of the words in question are equally careless or unthinking. But all of them fall into a pattern of seeking to apply derogatory labels to people. Daniel Hannan recently described how several people (Denis Macshane, Timothy Garton-Ash; and James Macintyre) are determined to pin the ‘anti-semitic’ label on Michal Kaminski. (Edward McMillan-Scott is another person who has recently sought to label Mr Kaminski in this way.) And to the ‘fascist’, ‘communist’, and ‘anti-semitic’, we could add ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ and a few more.

I find this kind of political name-calling incredibly tedious. It is basically about trying to stick a label on someone that will scare people. Some people do it with great sophistication and erudition, some are more crude. But it turns me off. Messers Macshane, Garton-Ash, Macintyre and McMillan-Scott may well not be knaves and scoundrels. But if they want me to accept them as men of integrity, they’ll need to change the way that they argue.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

OK, I’ve voted.

Several of the blogs I read encouraged me to vote in this year’s Total Politics Blog Poll 2009 - polling closed yesterday - and I have done so. (Some bloggers even had the cheek to encourage me to vote for their blog!) At least I assume that I have voted. I sent off an email with my top 10 list, as instructed, and while I didn’t get an acknowledgement, my email didn’t bounce back either.

I’m so new to this blogging business (as I suppose you can tell) that not only did I not vote last year, but I was completely oblivious to the poll last year. In fact, I doubt if I could have named 10 political blogs 12 months ago. Choosing my 10 favourite blogs wasn’t that easy. Some blogs I read don’t really touch on British politics at all, and were easy to eliminate. Others cover a mixture of politics and other subjects - and I reckoned that if at least 25% of the posts were on politics, then they could be included.

But the real problem was deciding whether I preferred blog X to blog Y. What made for a good blog? Was it the eagerness to which I turned to each blog first thing in the morning? Was it the amount of interesting information or insightful comment? Was it one the feeling of personal warmth that I felt to the blogger? Was it the extent to which the blogger shared my political opinions? All of these played a part.

As I pondered my choice, I was very aware of how my feelings about different blogs come and go. A couple of months earlier, and my list would definitely have been different. In fact, I suspect that even a week would have made a difference. One or two posts which I particularly liked, or one or two which I didn’t care for, and a blog might have risen or fallen several places in my estimation.

I shall not reveal how I voted. I would like to say, however, that not a single one of my top 10 was in the top 10 of either the current Wikio Blog rankings* or of last year’s Total Politics UK political blogs**. What does that say about me?

*Wikio Blog rankings - July 2009
1. Iain Dale
2. Guido Fawkes
3. Liberal Conspiracy
4. Labourlist
5. Political Betting
6. Liberal Democrat Voice
7. Dizzy Thinks
8. Harry’s Place
9. Old Holborn
10. Tom Harris MP

**Total Politics Blog Rankings 2008
1. Guido Fawkes
2. Iain Dale
3. Conservative Home
4. Dizzy Thinks
5. Political Betting
6. Devil's Kitchen
7. Spectator Coffee House
8. Burning our Money
9. John Redwood
10. Ben Brogan