Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The New Conservative Middle Way

A new Conservative think tank, Onward, has been launched this week. This is clearly an attempt to do a Macron and to help rebrand the Tories for a modern generation that is being attracted to some of the populist, not terribly well though through, knee-jerk politics of envy being proposed by Chauncey's Marxist Labour Party.

It's not clear what sort of ideas this new think tank will come up with but it is branded as liberal and so that is certainly a clue.

A better word surely would be pragmatic. Perhaps it is time for Conservatives to make more use of that word because it is a better description for the middle way politics we actually largely support. Even Brexit, which opponents routinely try to label as extremist, is actually an example of pragmatism because it is a reaction to the unbending zealotry of the federalists in Brussels.

The Tories do of course need a rebrand. We also need a rethink. I am as guilty of being unbending as many in the party on economic matters, but I flatter myself that I am open minded about most things. I never had a problem with gay marriage for instance and couldn't really understand why anyone would object to it.

Where the party has the opportunity to change minds about is on issues that have helped brand us, often unfairly. At every election of the last 40 years, Labour has tried to claim that Tories want to privatise the NHS. But even Mrs Thatcher in her pomp never dared to take on the NHS. It has been tinkered with here and there but remains as it has always been. That is actually part of its problem, but it is part of the proof of our pragmatism nevertheless.

And we should also hold up our hands and accept that whilst privatisation of many industries has been a triumph it has been less successful in others. I argued last week as I have always argued that the reason rail privatisation has now been as successful as we hoped - although it's still carrying more passengers on new trains - is because it was privatised badly. But maybe we should use the East Coast effective nationalisation as a test case and announce it as such. The Government is prepared to be open minded on the issue and see which works best. If a publicly owned service acquits itself well then it might be extended. This is not the same as bringing back British Rail, which was also an ignominious failure. What it is is pragmatism.

And perhaps it would be as well now to admit that, though austerity was necessary and the public finances are now looking much healthier, cuts to some services may have gone too far and resulted in issues that need addressing. Cuts to defence and the police have gone too far and the reason that crime is rising is because criminals have realised that they can act with more or less impunity in some areas and committing certain crimes. When criminal gangs can stop traffic on a London bridge in order to steal some BBC cameras in broad daylight it is more than arguable that police cuts may have gone too far. Investment in more police is urgent.

The same is true of defence in an increasingly dangerous world. Britain remains an island with a global outlook and reach and we need to invest to ensure that remains the case. The time has come to reconsider the 0.7% of GDP spent on international aid when we are struggling to fund our own security in a world where Russia also thinks it can act with impunity on our own streets.

In truth Conservatives have always been pragmatic. We have always wanted a balance between public and private, between state intervention and libertarianism that argues to get out of people's lives. Sometimes we get the balance right and sometimes we get things askew. But pragmatism is broadly a small C conservative approach and is that of the British people. It isn't an ideology.

And broadly we are in favour of lowering taxes as far as possible whilst delivering decent public services and giving a hand up to those who need help. That is the diametric opposite of punishing people for getting on in life, hitting them with punitive taxation and ending up disincentivising hard work and thrift. At the same time we have to recognise that there are unique challenges facing the country in the globalised world in which AI may soon be putting people out of work and in which we are more and more living in a gig economy of no stability and job security. We need to build hundreds of thousands of new homes across the country and the market is simply not providing them. If it falls to the state to do so then so be it. Conservatives did this before in the 1950s, they most assuredly can do so again. And should.

That should be the thrust of Conservative policy and should have been the thrust of last year's manifesto. Do we really need a new think tank to tell us that?

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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

This Is Socialism

The left's ability to twist the facts according to their prejudices is astonishing isn't it as we are seeing with the implosion of Venezuela with much worse likely to come. And yes I know that this cognitive dissonance is not unique to the left. It is a very human trait. it is just that we on the right are less prone to have to resort to this kind of fact twisting because our particular ideology isn't really an ideology at all. Capitalism or free markets are just a natural and organic way for the world to operate. It's how the world operated for millennia with modern economies growing and organising as they became more complex. Socialism is the opposite of organic.

At the weekend John McDonnell, still the Shadow Chancellor in much the same way that Ken Livingstone managed to cling on to this Labour Party membership for two years despite everything, admitted that he still wants to foment the overthrow of capitalism even if he doesn't know how to spell foment. This was a rare moment of honesty for the nasty old would be dictator. Unfortunately he then reverted to his norm by claiming that his party or at least his wing of the party have not long been apologists and even cheerleaders for the Chavez and then the Maduro regime currently stealing elections and the futures of millions of their countrymen.

It's not real socialism in Venezuela, McDonnell claimed. Well that's not what he and others in the party hierarchy used to say. Indeed Chauncey used to point to Venezuela as an exemplar of socialism. Others like Richard Burgon and the egregious Chris Williamson have frequently defended not just Chavez but his successor. The now departed less than cuddly Ken Livingstone once excused the failings of the Maduro regime by claiming that they made the mistake of not executing the elite when they first came to power. That's a humdinger of an excuse if ever I heard one.

But the claim that Venezuela is not real socialism is arrant nonsense. This is socialism just as we have always got to know it. Maduro, the proto dictator, has turned into a dictator precisely because he is a socialist and his policies have failed and caused misery as they always do. And so, just like McDonnell, instead of facing the reality that his prejudices and resultant failings of led to misery amongst the very people that he is supposed to be in politics to help, he doubles down, blames everyone but himself and becomes a tyrant.

It has become a cliche now to point it out, but Venezuela has more oil than any other country in the world. It's reserved are greater than that of Saudi Arabia. Yet its oil production is now down to 1950s levels. Why? Because of catastrophic mismanagement leading to low investment and staff fleeing abroad. Venezuela tried the standard socialist policies of price controls, high taxes,  nationalisation, welfare bribery and managed to run out of money in a country awash in oil. That is what socialism always does. It is a failed experiment that sounds fair until it is tried because then it always comes up against human nature. It is a failed experiment that has failed every time it has been tried meaning that its apologists have to make excuses for it.

That is why capitalism works. It works because we are all essentially selfish creatures who work for our own betterment. Even Chauncey realises this without realising it because he promises free stuff to students and everyone else he can think of all paid for with other people's money. Then when they try it they find that the money runs out. And thus the descent into underinvestment, punitive taxes and punitive policies ending up in repression or worse. It happens every time.

Venezuela is now a basket case economic disaster that is failing to feed 90% of its population, has been seized by a kleptocracy because that is the only way Maduro stays in power. Maduro sends his kids to foreign universities typically. The country is rapidly imploding, cannot pay its debts, has levels of inflation that put Zimbawe to shame and its people are leaving in droves, flooding to neighbouring countries that are struggling to cope. It's got so bad that even our own Marxist Labour Party has stopped calling it all fake news. Now they just claim it was never really socialism at all.

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Monday, 21 May 2018

The Trump Car Crash Keeps Crashing

The Mueller inquiry into possible Trump campaign collusion and other crimes and misdemeanours is a year old as of this week and looks set to rumble on for a while yet. Mueller himself has been a model of propriety and commendable silence on the issue. His inquiry doesn't leak, it doesn't play the media games, it doesn't respond to the name calling. The same cannot be said for Trump and his enablers.

The chances are that Trump will not be indicted by Mueller. It is a moot point as to whether he can, but the constitutional route is for a president who has broken the law to either censured by Congress or impeached and removed from office.

Yet even without this inquiry there is so much going on with Trump that his unfitness for office is demonstrated on a near daily basis. After all of the talk of fire and fury against North Korea he is being played by them and is now appeasing them so desperate is he for a deal and the opportunity to proclaim it the greatest deal ever. Yet the likelihood is that he will do a shabby deal akin to Obama's with Iran that he has just pulled out of. North Korea has no intention of denuclearising and can see how keen Trump is for a deal. They will extract concessions, will offer little in return and will then cheat on what little they do offer. There is no sign whatever that they are intent on real peace and indeed their intent may be to try and get American forces off the peninsula so as to use force to reunite the two Koreas at some point in the future. The overtures were always suspicious. Trump seems incapable of seeing this because he is always looking to what is best for him in the short term rather than what is best for America and the world in the long term.

Why is Trump so keen to do such a deal? As a distraction from his domestic woes. His approval rating is still plumbing new depths and for all of his bluster and boasting he has little to show for his first year a quarter in office. And right now he has control of Congress. It is looking increasingly likely that he will be rendered impotent this November.

Speaking of impotence Trump was forced to admit last week that he did indeed pay Stormy Daniels and did indeed lie about it just a few weeks ago when asked. His fixer Michael Cohen is in big trouble and knows intimate details of Trump's private life, business deals and where the figurative bodies are buried. Trump has been more infuriated by the raid on Cohen than on anything Robert Mueller is doing.

This weekend it was also revealed that Trump has been trying to use the powers of his office to damage a political enemy, namely Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame and the owner of the Washington Post. Trump tried to have the shipping costs of Amazon through the US postal service raised, something he cannot do. Nevertheless he keeps trying. This is not so very different to the kind of behaviour that saw Nixon impeached.

Oh and this week we learnt from Bill Gates that Trump doesn't know the difference between the HPV virus and HIV. As someone who has consorted with hookers and porn stars you might imagine that that is something even he would have bothered to become an expert in.

Worst of all though is that America once again suffered a gun massacre last week, this time in Texas, only 3 months on from the last one in Florida. One student expressed her lack of surprise at this. America's schools are under continual threat that they will be next because politicians prefer to protect the rights of gun users to those of teenagers to not live in fear.

Remember the weasel words that Trump issued after the Parkland shooting earlier this year? Remember how he promised action? Remember how he berated his fellow politicians about being in the pay of the NRA? Yet only a couple of weeks ago Trump attended the NRA conference and promised to protect their rights to own guns. It was a shameless and disgusting exhibition of selfishness and stupidity. We always knew that the next attack would not be long delayed. Trump's latest weasel words about this evil just serve to remind us that he and his fellow Republicans have blood on their hands.

With the midterm elections just six months ago that ought to be the most salient issue of several that see Americans vote to punish this vile man. We do not yet know his worst excesses, but those we do know about are bad enough. The American people cannot remove him this November, but they can certainly ensure that Congress is empowered to constrain or even remove him.

Reflections on the Royal Wedding

I don't propose to join in with all of the fulsome hyperbole that has surrounded the Royal Wedding at the weekend. As I said in my Video Diary: I don't really care, but I do wish them well. I don't want to watch it on TV or join in with the speculation about the dress or opine about the ceremony, but the whole thing seems to have gladdened some people's hearts so good for them. She is a welcome sign of modernity (not diversity as some cretins have been opining) in this most ridiculously fusty of British institutions and that is all to the good. Her prince too has turned into an estimable and admirable man, someone his beloved mother would have been hugely proud of.

And here's the clincher: this is a couple who have very clearly married for love and that, I would suggest, is why so many people have been caught up in this very modern fairytale. They clearly adore each other and that brings a tear to the eye of even an old cynic like me. I don't care that she is a foreigner with black ancestry and I doubt that most people do. She is however an intelligent woman who had a career and will be her own person.

There was a time when I would have echoed the killjoy hatred of the left who resent this wedding and the Royal family. In particular Emma Dent Coad, the accidental MP for Kensington, has been vile on the subject. That is their tragedy. To hate people on their wedding day is disgusting and unnecessary. This was a great day for modern Britain. They looked in love, the castle looked splendid, the weather was perfect and Britain basked in the glow. It hasn't quite turned me into a royalist, but I have to admit that I have sneaked a look at the coverage. Just for research you understand.

And it has been fascinating to see how this whole story has been covered in the media. Here in the UK there has been the predictable fawning and the snooty derision from the usual places. The BBC managed to be fawning but at the same time to inject their inclusive agenda with all of the subtlety of a crowbar.

And then there has been the US reaction, which has been a similarly peculiar combination. On the one hand they have regarded it in much the same way as we have with indifference coupled to a bit of  noses pressed to the glass fascination. But at the same time their patronising narrative of the need to import some new blood into this backward old country has irritated. It is the same as their coverage of Brexit, but then the US media tends to only read the Guardian and watch the BBC and so what should we expect.

Either way I suppose it has been an excellent bit of branding for Britain, because that is mostly what the monarchy is for these days. I always used to reject that argument. Now I'm forced to accept that they may have a point.

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Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Deuteronomy: Chapter 23: God Gets Down and Dirty

Deuteronomy is a kind of tidying up exercise; it's a book of the Bible concerned with afterthoughts and editing. So the rules here are like an addendum to the rules that were outlined at tedious length in Leviticus and Numbers. There are endless rules. God is detail obsessed. In this chapter he even talks about shit. Yes, he's watching you when you go to the toilet.

So this chapter is yet more discursive rules about anything and everything. The authors of this rubbish just seemed to be ranging around, coming up with rules as they occurred to them or as they became necessary. That is how religion works. It legislates for people by claiming the rules come from God. It makes the imaginary God in question look rather strange, petty and inconsistent though.

For instance some of this is just bizarre. If a man, we are told, had injured his stones - do I need to tell you what that means? Good. Well if he injured his stones or any other appendage down there then God didn't want him in his congregation. It's just another superstition of course, but one of the more strange ones. Oh and bastards were also not welcome. Even if you were the tenth generation descendant of a bastard you were still not welcome. Did they have DNA testing back then?

Then we come back to the cousins of the Israelites. These were the supposed descendants of figures back in Genesis: the Moabites and the Ammonites. Back in chapter 2 of Deuteronomy we were told that God had told his people not to steal from these people and to buy food from them. Now he had had one of those characteristic changes of heart and said that these distant cousins were not welcome in his temples. Of course along the way the Moabites had got involved with a prophet and his talking donkey, but God was sending out mixed messages here especially when he then said that the Israelites should not abhor the Edomites or the Egyptians. If his people had children with Edomites and Egyptians then they only had to wait until the 3rd generation to be admitted into his congregation. They must have been fantastic sermons to wait that long for.

Then we get to the most important part of this chapter though. Now we talk about bodily functions. Firstly any man who had a night time emission, if you see what I mean - a wet dream - then he was unclean and was to be cast out of the camp until he was clean. It's not really clear how anyone would know about this and that would have meant a lot of unclean teenagers wandering around wouldn't it. Fortunately there are instructions for how to make them clean again.

And then we get to shit and my favourite line in the Bible so far.  God was concerned with night time faeces and what to do with them. God wanted a location for this to take place and even specified a spade to cover it all up with, for, said God, he often walked about in the camp and he didn't want to go treading in things. But this is new information. God walks around in the camp at night. And by the sound of it he wears sandals. Nasty! You can't help wondering if this part was written shortly after one of the authors trod in something dirty one night and was furious about it.

If slaves escaped from their masters and fled they were to be given sanctuary and allowed to stay in the Promised Land. That's nice. Very generous. Its not mentioned if they would remain as slaves.

There were to be no prostitutes allowed in the Temple. You might have imagined that was something of a given. But also no homosexuals were allowed in there either, more ammunition for those who regard homosexuality as an abomination. But then you also have to believe that God walks around at night and doesn't want to soil his sandals on your faeces.

Then we make another tangential jump because suddenly we are talking about interest on loans. This was permissible on loans to foreigners, the ones who hadn't been slaughtered presumably, but not on Israelites.

God also said that vows should be honoured. Good advice. Oh and when you are on your neighbour's property you are free to eat whatever produce is on his land, be it grapes or other crops. But you must not take the produce off the land. And if this caused you diarrhoea, God could not be more clear, clean up after yourself. Use the shovel provided.

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Friday, 18 May 2018

Oh Chauncey's A Box Office Flop

You may recall that last year Chauncey was serenaded by the crowds at Glastonbury to the tune of a White Stripes song. We were in peak Chauncey territory then. The dopey old fool honestly believed that he would be PM by Christmas and that he was on the cusp of a glorious socialist awakening.

Clearly all of that hero worship that the feckless few indulged in for a few months until reality dawned went to Chauncey's head. So much so that Labour decided to try and get down with the youth again and give them the opportunity to sing to him this summer too.

There is no Glastonbury this year. It's in its fallow year to give the land and the neighbours a rest. But Chauncey wanted to give people the opportunity to adore him again. And so a Labour festival was dreamt up called London Live to be held at the White Hart Lane recreation ground. There you can go along to see the silly old sod and his friends and hangers on like Little Owen Jones - who will give a speech and then block you on Twitter if you say anything disobliging about it. There are more people in that club, including this blogger, than there are attendees at London Live.

Because, it pains me to say, Chauncey is so past his peak that Labour are struggling to sell tickets for the event and it is fast approaching. 20,000 tickets are for sale and thus far they've only sold 1800. And this despite there being the opportunity to listen to John McDonnell, Kate Osamor, the aforementioned Little Owen and Rachel Shabi. There's some music on offer too, although not by anyone you will have actually heard of.

Labour describe this as a fun filled day out for all of the family with music, art and politics. To be fair this really is what Chauncey and co think of as fun, or at least it would be if there was more talk of manhole covers and allotments. Maybe the people of London need sending for re-education.

What with the election results this month and recent opinion polls Labour are not so much as live as on the cusp of needing resuscitation. Oh Jeremy Corbyn indeed. They will likely be singing that to a rather more lachrymose tune this June.

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Thursday, 17 May 2018

How To Mend Our Railways

Michael Gove has pointed out this week that Conservatives need to do more than merely point to the car crash that is Venezuela and try to trot out the same arguments that worked in the 1980s in order to win the next election, which could easily come sooner rather than later. He is most assuredly right. Conservatives are supposed to be the pragmatists and yet we can often come across as hidebound ideologues every bit as bad as the worst Chaunceyites.

Part of the problem is that Theresa May is not what you would call an original thinker. She is a safety first politician, a technocrat who looks suspiciously at anyone coming up with new ideas. This is part of the reason why she is failing on Brexit. But her leadership has failed to combat the statism and revisionist policies of Labour too and that is a problem, because for many of our fellow citizens, some of their policy prescriptions sound attractive.

This however represents an opportunity for Tories if they can only grasp it. Take the railways. This week Chris Grayling has had to announce, in as furtive a fashion as he could get away with, that the East Coast Mainline franchise has once again failed and will once again be taken back into public ownership. Grayling is lucky to still be in his job and this again is a failing of May because he is serially bad at it. His fundamental lack of imagination or flair is part of the problem.

But Tories should acknowledge that rail privatisation has been a failure. This blog has been arguing for years that a bad model of privatisation was followed, one that just transferred a public sector monopoly into the private sector. Private companies handed a monopoly did what they were bound to do. They raised prices and profited handsomely. It is a testimony to the unique challenges of the East Coast that they still couldn't turn a decent profit, although part of the reason for that is that they promised to hand the government a handsome return.

Rail privatisation should have been a way to give travellers real choice and real competition. There should be at least two operators on each line and preferably more. Network Rail should be like an airport operator, handing out slots for trains to operate with operators buying packages of slots including the lucrative peaktime ones packaged with off peak late night trains that run half empty. The way that the industry has worked has instead just seen operators handed their franchises with travellers with no choice. That is why costs have not been cut as much as they should and why the unions still have the whip hand. Having said that if you think it is bad at present, renationalising them and bringing back British Rail would just give the unions a monopoly instead. Imagine the consequences of national rail strikes they would call for no good reason if that were allowed to happen.

Most of our rail network actually works well and efficiently and carries far more passengers than when it was last publicly run. The trains are modern and clean and efficient, services are mostly better, the safety record has never been better and though there are still plenty of problems with late running and cancelled services this is more to do with the failings of publicly owned Network Rail than the private operators. But some of the private operators have been arrogant and inept and it is as well to acknowledge this. It can happen in any industry and rail is not immune. The difference is that the current model gives passengers no choice but to use them anyway. The question Labour need to answer is how would a nationalised monopoly be any better? They cannot answer this question though because they assume that public ownership automatically confers superiority by a peculiar and ill defined process of osmosis.

Our railways, though better than they used to be, are still not as good as they should be and could be. The only way to address this is to completely rethink the way franchises are handed out. The Government should hold up its hands and admit this and acknowledge that mistakes have been made. Prices need to come down, more competition injected to achieve this and there needs to be greater investment in new technology and facing down the inevitable union resistance to this. Where there aren't enough private companies competing to operate lines then a nationally owned franchise should be inserted to shake things up, or perhaps a not for profit operator.  That requires boldness and imagination and fierce determination. It requires someone other than Chris Grayling. It may also, I admit, need a parliamentary majority. One for after the next election. But it's a better story for the next manifesto than nationalisation.

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