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Joined up government

Blognor Regis notes a marvellous opportunity for some joined up government. And the Independent's conversion to libertarianism.

Two good things to read elsewhere

Outside Story on how there used to be a party which was genuinely in favour of small government:

In this connexion the thing to be remarked is that the Whigs proceeded by the negative method of repealing existing laws, not by the positive method of making new ones. They combed the Statute-book, and when they found a statute which bore against "the liberty of the subject" they simply repealed it and left the page blank. This purgation ran up into the thousands. In 1873 the secretary of the Law Society estimated that out of the 18,110 Acts which had been passed since the reign of Henry III, four-fifths had been wholly or partially repealed.

and Jock Coats on the hapless Matthew Taylor.


Blair's legacy

Magnus Linklater has a strange op-ed in Scotland on Sunday today on the subject of Blair's legacy. In it, he points out the obvious - namely that Blair will be remembered for telling a lot of lies. He also thinks that for some "viscerally hostile critics" the buying off of New Labour by Ecclestone et al and the selling of peerages might also be remembered as having eclipsed the "stunning victory" of 1997.

But, according to the sage of Princes Street, this is

a simplistic, and ultimately misleading view, which ignores the way that Blair has fundamentally changed politics and political perceptions in Britain. Behind the scandals, the spin and the whiff of corruption lies a legacy of reform which no future government can possibly ignore. No Tory party would now dream of attempting to reverse the foundation hospitals, city academies, welfare-to-work programmes, Private Finance Initiatives, pension reforms, Sure Start initiatives or the bids to end child poverty which have been the hallmarks of New Labour. There will be arguments about how effective they have been, as well as complaints about their fairness; but they are now an indelible part of modern society.

Eh? Run that by me again. It is unthinkable to reverse the policies of foundation hospitals ( expensive, bureaucratic and inefficient according to some), city academies (among the worst schools in the country), welfare to work (what welfare to work?), PFI (ludicrously overpriced), pension reforms (you mean causing the closure of just about every final salary scheme in the country - what planet are you on Magnus?), Sure Start (ha, ha ha), and bids to end child poverty (which have completely failed)?

Mags says that there will be arguments about how effective these policies have been. Too bloody right. So why then is it unthinkable that they should be scrapped?  Out in the real world, if something doesn't work it is usual to try something different. Only in the wacky, unaccountable world of Westminster is a policy failure met with a claim that to change is unthinkable. It's this sort of head-in-the-sand attitude that is going to kill the mainstream parties, and hopefully their acolytes in the mainstream media too.

Then again perhaps it's something else. Are you after a knighthood or something Magnus?



Natalie Solent hits the nail right on the head on the subject of the Dutch burqa ban.

The burqa is obviously bad. Where it is not oppressive it is arrogant. The situation ought to be
- you want to wear it in the street? OK, if you must.
- you want to wear it in my shopping centre? Sorry, against company policy. OR Welcome inside. Depends on the company.
- you want to wear it in an airport? Ha ha, most amusing madam. This nice gentleman will now escort you to the exit.

But as she points out, we must not accept that the state has a right to dictate what clothes we wear. If they can enforce that, they can enforce pretty well anything. Burqas may be offensive and a crime against fashion, but hey, so is wearing greying y-fronts and most members of parliament (except perhaps Chris Bryant MP, a man who is proud of his kacks) are probably guilty of that particular sin.

I'm probably not the first to say it, but illiberalism usually breeds more illiberalism.  Civil society would, if unhindered, deal with burqa-clad agents provocateur by shunning them and refusing them access to shops and jobs. But this is impossible because of the morass of legislation making this sort of gentle pressure illegal.  Liberals need to recognise just how illiberal the race relations legislation is. What on earth do those on the left think that freedom of association means if not the right to choose who you associate with? Deprived by this illiberal legislation of a response to the burqa brigade, we now have the crazy situation where we have to suffer the removal of yet more of our liberties - which is precisely what the Islamists want.


Freidman and Marx, Adams and O'Rourke

Richard Adams has a piece on Milton Friedman on the pages of Comment is Free about Milton Friedman.

Milton Friedman, who has died aged 94, was not the most important economist of the post-war era - that title belongs to the brilliant Paul Samuelson - but he was certainly the most controversial. Yet despite his views being championed by so many politicians on the right, it may come as a surprise that Friedman's career as a policymaker largely ended in failure.

Which reminded me of PJ ORourke's comments about the "brilliant" Paul Samuelson.

Professor Samuelson [...] turns out to be almost as much of a goof as my friends and I were in the 1960s. "Marx was the most influential and perceptive critic of the market economy ever," he says on page seven. Influential, yes. Marx nearly caused World War III. But perceptive? Samuelson continues: "Marx was wrong about many things ... but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist." Well, what would? If Marx was wrong about many things and screwed the baby-sitter?

(If you visit the piece on CiF, you will need a strong stomach. Some of the comments fom are pretty revolting. The left has some truly disgusting people in its ranks.) 


Cicero singing from wrong hymnsheet

Cicero's Songs is a blog by a LibDem of the liberal persuasion. He's usually very sensible, but today there is a startlingly silly piece about the EU.

I see that the more rabid conservative bloggers are advertising a meeting of the Bruges Group over the weekend that intends to discuss policies for "a post EU" Britain.

You might expect to see such immaturity on the amusing Guido Fawkes blog- but I was moderately surprised to see the same event given equal coverage on Iain Dale's blog.

This is not much better than name-calling. Why "rabid"? Why "immature"? There is not a shred of explanation for the use of these insults. What is immature about wanting to leave the EU, or indeed for discussing what life might be like outside its embrace?

The EU is an organisation of which Cicero himself has elsewhere recognised the failings:

The European Union seems to have become a bloated failure, bogged down in over regulation and elitist projects that do not connect with the general population.

 Surely immaturity and rabidity lies in sticking with a bloated failure, not with demanding withdrawl?

He continues with the, now traditional, accusation of triviality: 

[T]he majority of British Conservatives can no longer have a sensible debate about the costs and benefits of membership of the European Union and have taken the maximalist position of complete withdrawal...

This seems to be a standard tactic of EUphiles - roll the eyes and say that rational debate is impossible. This is surely nonsense - plenty of bloggers are filling their postings with detailed argument about the costs and (purported) benefits of the EU. EU Referendum anyone? And what about the more formal critiques of the costs of membership?-

The Civitas report on the costs of membership, which found that the UK would be better off out by between £17 and £40bn per year, was linked to by precisely zero LibDem bloggers. No attempt to engage in debate there then; not even rolling of the eyes.

Patrick Minford recently published a report estimating the costs of EU membership as £25bn a year. Again, I have been unable to find a single LibDem linking to the press release at the IEA, Tim Worstall's related article, or any of the numerous other articles discussing Minford's work. So where is the LibDem debate?

Cicero goes on to describe Conservatives:

Either they are fools who do not understand the vast political and economic costs that withdrawal would inflict on the UK, or they are hypocrites who know those costs but like to fantasize about withdrawal in front of the electorate, while all the time knowing that they could not take the final step.

It's worth remembering that Patrick Minford is an eminent economist. The Bruges Group also includes another outstandin economist, Professor Tim Congdon, among its commentators. LibDems cannot simply brush aside their views. If they are wrong, tell us why. Calling them names like "fools" and "hypocrites" reveals more about the author than it does about the subject of the invective.

And while we're about it, how on earth can the LibDems explain the contradiction between their love of the EU and their claims to support localism. And no nonsense about subsidiarity please - when did subsidiarity ever happen in practice? 

Oh yes, and wasn't it ridiculous of Menzies Campbell to criticise Labour for the volume of legislation they produce

"The government is addicted to legislating. It feeds its appetite for headlines with proposals and bills that are often confusing and repetitious," the leader of Britain's third biggest party said.

The Lib Dems calculated that since coming to power in 1997, Labor have passed 370 parliamentary acts and 32,776 statutory instruments.

Ming accidentally forgot to mention that most of those 32,776 statutory instruments were forced on the UK by our European colleagues. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. 

The EU is protectionist, has legislative diarrhoea, is a financial shambles, and is corrupt and ineffectual. The Liberal Democrats recognise most of these criticisms but still say we should stay in, arguing that we should win the arguments within the EU. And they say the Bruges Group are immature?


Milton Friedman dies

Via Tim W, the Cato Institute has reported the death of Milton Friedman at the age of 94.


The thought has just occurred to me that we have lost both Friedman and John Cowperthwaite this year. Not a good year for freedom. 



Tony B has a new website where you can start online petitions for him to ignore.

Two must-sign ones are:

Referendum on continued membership of the EU.

Scrap ID cards

Get over there and sign up now. NOW!


Stupid party

Tory MP: Global warming is my generation's Dunkirk

"Climate Change is the defining issue of our age. Previous generations had to deal with the rise of Nazism or communism. This is the issue on which my generation of politicians will be judged. This is our Dunkirk."

- Richard Benyon MP


Being the stupid party has its drawbacks when matters scientific are being discussed.  God preserve us from idiots like Richard ("Nice, but dim") Benyon.


Profiting from crime

Richard Charkin is the managing director (I think) of the publishers MacMillan. He also has a blog (a real one with opinions and comments rather than a series of corporate press releases).

He has written an interesting piece about the government's plans to prevent criminals from profiting from the writing of their memoirs.

I suppose Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom was written in prison and he earned money from it. Some people would regard George Bush's invasion of Iraq as criminal. Should he be banned from selling his memoirs? I sense an interesting debate in the offing.


I suppose this is just headline grabbing by the government, but I suppose we will have to go through the motions of opposing it. 


Fairtrade not fair

Gavin Ayling reckons that Fairtrade isn't fair.

Fair trade means that those lucky few who get themselves involved in a cartel can sell their products for a marginally higher price which, at least in theory, gives them dignity. What it means in reality is that a majority of food growers now must compete not only with CAP and US assisted first world producers but also cartel members.

DK agrees.

Well, it's also worth pointing out—for those who do not read Private Eye—that the people who really make the massive amounts of cash are the retailers and the Fair Trade company itself.

John Band (in the comments) takes a different view 

Fair Trade works because it takes commoditised goods and raises their value to consumers by giving them a credible brand.

Non-Fair Trade farmers aren't harmed; the extra money received by producers is entirely extracted from the Guardianista buyers who are willing to pay a price premium. It's not a socialist system at all - it's capitalism in action.

There is something to be said for both views. Fairtrade is an exercise in marketing. A brand is being built up based on the argument that to buy the brand is more moral than to buy the competing brands. It's nicer to poor people. The argument is also advanced that Fairtrade cuts out the middleman who is unfairly extracting the bulk of the profits.

The fact that Fairtrade has (presumably) a small market share suggests to me that there isn't, as yet, a cartel. If Fairtrade started to dominate the market then this would no longer be the case. What we have is the beginnings of a cartel, not the finished article. But it's hard to see a fully-fledged cartel emerging since the Fairtrade operators charge a premium to the rest of the market.

And it's voluntary too. Nobody is forced to join the collectives. If you want the Fairtrade premium you give up your right to self-determination, to expand your business and so on, but you do so voluntarily. A swivel-eyed libertarian like me is not going to argue against Fairtrade on these grounds.

But I still think it's wrong. Fairtrade is based on two great lies.

Firstly there is no unfair capture of profits by middlemen. We know this because Fairtrade has to charge a premium to the rest of the market. If they were cutting out middlemen then they should be able to at least match the free trade product if not undercut it, and still give a better price to the suppliers.

But the bigger lie is that Fairtrade makes the poorest better off. Buying Fairtrade will have to two effects and neither will help the poorest.

Firstly it should make the market smaller. Fairtrade is more expensive than free trade and basic economics tells us that a price rise will cause a drop in demand. A smaller market will tend to put some coffee farmers out of business. I would have thought that it was more moral to have two poor farmers than one rich one and one dead one. (I may be exaggerating, but you get my drift).

Secondly, unless Fairtrade manages to completely dominate the market, some farmers will remain outside its umbrella. As the market shifts towards Fairtrade, these poorest farmers will actually lose out as they see their customers are taken from them by Fairtrade cooperatives. The effect of Fairtrade is therefore a  double whammy for the poorest farmers - a shrinking market and a loss of customers to Fairtraders. This can have only one effect on their wages, and it's not a good one.

The argument the Fairtraders make to justify their premium price is misleading.  We should do the moral thing, therefore: buy exploitation coffee and bid up the wages of the poorest. 



Moron-only short lists

Today Iread that Graham Hoyle, the chief executive  of the Association of Learning providers had said:



I wondered if perhaps demand should drive a demand-led skills strategy. 

Then, in the comments thread to this posting at Devil's Kitchen, I saw Wet Herring advance the theory that government has a policy of "moron-only" shortlists for employment vacancies. At this point I understood.





Homeschooling in Scotland

"Education, education, education" went the pre-9/11, pre loans for peerages mantra. As Tony Blair's priority for domestic policy, the education system should be the one area where Labour has no excuses. They have had both the time and the money to show us exactly what their "third way" can acheive.

Here in Scotland they have had it even easier. The Scottish education system is widely held (among Scots at least) to be superior to the English. It's broader, and less prescriptive and doesn't suffer from the imposition of a national curriculum.

So Scottish parents should, by now, be pretty impressed by ten years of focus, focus, focus on education, education, education; right? Well, actually, not entirely.

The Scottish Executive today publishes a report into the extent of homeschooling in Scotland. The press release and links to the data are here.

In 2005/06, 580 children were known by local authorities to be receiving home education as a result of parental choice, who had at some point in the past been in local authority school education. This figure had risen by 163 (39 per cent) from the previous year, although this varied between local authorities.


We should be clear about two things. Firstly 580 is only the number of children the authorities know about. Children who have never attended school in the first place are not known about and are not counted. But secondly, the figure is dwarfed by the number who remain the (ahem) beneficiaries of state education.

This said, the growth in homeschooling is startling. The number of people who are trying state education and are getting out has risen by the best part of 40%. Expect the number to grow further when the new Scottish Charities Commission starts attacking the charitable status of private schools.

Whichever way Labour spins it their policies aren't working. 

Education, education, education?

Failed, failed, failed. 


Cracking down on free speech

Gordon Brown's call for new race hate laws following the acquittal of the BNP's Nick Griffin has met with a round of condemnation from the majority of the UK blogosphere.

One exception stands out from this commendably liberal crowd - the fervently left-wing Daily is right behind the Chancellor:

Freedom of speech is one thing, but, as the old cliche goes, it’s not ok to shout fire in a crowded theatre. BNP leader Nick Griffin’s comments are exactly that, a false claim that could wind up causing people’s death or injury.

They quote Griffin's comments about Asian Moslems "seducing and raping white girls" and go on to welcome the Chancellor's proposals.

It will be important to draft any new laws carefully. Freedom of speech must be safeguarded and that includes the freedom to criticise religions. But it can’t be impossible to draft a law that makes it illegal to use inflamatory language to provoke people in hotspots like Keighley.

Now there appear to me to be two major flaws in this argument. Firstly the claim that Griffin was lying about grooming of white girls by moslem men. This pattern of crime has now been reported several times both by mainstream sources (Channel Four, Radio Five) and by bloggers like Pickled Politics. Labour MP Anne Cryer has been at the forefront of the campaign to get something done about it. The onus is on The Daily to tell us why all these reputable sources are mistaken.

The Daily goes on to point out comments in the Telegraph:

The BNP thrive in areas where people feel forgotten by the mainstream parties. There are signs that the fascist party is becoming a home for many disgruntled former Labour voters.

Surely they can see that by trying to sweep the issue under the carpet they are part of the problem. They are acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very BNP they despise so much.  

The other problem with the article is the idea that it is possible to frame legislation that will permit Anne Cryer to complain about the Asian men grooming white girls, but will at the same time prevent Nick Griffin from complaining about Asian men raping them. The accusation is to all intents and purposes the same one.

If th Daily gets its way and this legislation does get through, expect the BNP's membership to swell, and wave another set of liberties goodbye.


Spending, waste and the left

The Burning our Money blog reported last week on the truly amazing scale of waste at the Football Licensing Authority (FLA). This emerged as a result of Greg Clark MP's grilling of the department's permenant secretary Jonathan Stephens in select committee. Clark had ascertained that the FLA was spending ...(wait for it)... £180,000 a year to house its six employees in one one of the most prestigious addresses in west London.

Stephens was absolutely determined to avoid saying whether this represented good value for money. His pathetic evasions would have been comical if it wasn't for the seriousness of the matter. Let's face it, the best possible spin that can be put on it is that it's gross incompetence. It could quite conceivably be graft. It will almost certainly be forgotten by next week and the waste will continue unchecked.

Burning Our Money has been tireless in its reporting of this sort of incompetence and excess in the public sector - if you are going to be successful in the propaganda game you need to keep grinding your message out week after week.  These efforts have been rewarded with a very respectable technorati rank, so we can hope that the message is getting out. But if you do follow that last link, you might like to take a look at who is linking to Burning our Money. In essence it's the right and the libertarians. The left (or indeed the LibDems) are nowhere to be seen. So the question is "Do the left care about waste in the public sector"?

Now it might be possible to argue that Burning our Money is a right wing blog and will therefore predominantly attract readers from the right, but my impression from the Labour blogs I follow (Kerron, Paul, Bloggers4Labour) is that public sector waste is not a significant issue to left wing bloggers. Kerron had a post last year about Portcullis House, and I also read a post somewhere which said the left ought to take the issue more seriously. And that's about it.

This is a pity, because if any issue should be able to get a cross-party consensus it's wasteful spending. The example of the Porkbusters campaign in the US is a case in point - left and right getting together to force the government to change its ways. And it's surely in the interests of the left to get to grips with this issue. The scale of waste will not go unnoticed by the general public forever, and if they ever do become aware it will be the left that will suffer.

At the end of the day, if we are to have "democratic accountabililty" there has to be real accountability. If someone cocks up there has to be some sort of sanction applied. Heads actually need to roll, including those at the top. For me, I think Jonathan Stephens should be summarily dismissed, as he would be if he were the CEO of a private company.  I'm interested to know if those on the Labour or LibDem left share this view, and whether they feel that they hav spent too long arguing for higher spending while avoiding this issue of whether the money has been well spent.

Answers in the comments please.