Heseltine gets handbagged – one last time

Posted on April 11, 2013

An email arrives. Even after her death, it seems the Iron Lady still has an acute political aim:

 

APPG MEETING 17 APRIL  CANCELLED

Rebalancing: A discussion with Michael Heseltine

THE DISCUSSION WITH MICHAEL HESELTINE ON WEDNESDAY 17 APRIL HAS UNFORTUNATELY BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO BARONESS THATCHER’S FUNERAL. PORTCULLIS HOUSE WILL BE DIFFICULT TO ACCESS ON THE DAY BECAUSE THE FUNERAL PROCESSION IS SET TO START FROM WESTMINSTER AND THERE WILL BE SUBSTANTIAL SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS. WE WILL ANNOUNCE THE RESCHEDULED DATE IN DUE COURSE.

 All Party Parliamentary Group on Rebalancing the British Economy

Thatcher the Revolutionary

Posted on April 09, 2013

Thatcher the RevolutionaryThere has, by now, been more written about Margaret Thatcher than anyone can possibly read. Some of it is fantastic. Some of it is wicked. Much of it is more about the myths, good and bad, than it is about the actual political leader.

I don’t intend to add at great length to the reams of discussion already produced, but it seems to me that perhaps her longest-lasting impact has been neglected. Indeed, it is so long-lasting that it is yet to fully play out, even now.

Margaret Thatcher changed the Right from a reactionary movement into a revolutionary one. She embraced the crucial realisation that institutions and traditions are not inherently right, and embedded elites are almost always inherently wrong.

She was not afraid to tear up conventions and topple mouldering monoliths to pass opportunities and rights to the masses.

The traditional and aristocratic elites in her party hated her for it. So did the bosses who had grown fat on inefficient state industries, where failure was something to be managed, not eradicated. The millions who had suffered the result of symbiotic, comfortable relationships between the trade unions and the conservatives who contented themselves with a top deck cabin on Britain’s sinking ship, cheered her on.

It is easy now to imagine she was one of the establishment, by simple virtue of having been in Government for 11 years. But she wasn’t – she entered Parliament against bigotry over her class and gender, and she faced exactly the same bigotry (from all sides) once she got there. Small wonder that she liked plain-speaking grammar school boys more than aristocrats with land and estates.

A marvellous note survives from ICI’s personnel department, on the rejection of her application to be a research chemist in 1948. It reads: “This woman is headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.” In the view of ICI, she didn’t know her place, she dared to speak her mind and she was therefore a threat to their established order.

They were right – if wrong to reject rather than recruit her as a result. She came to bury the elite, not to praise or preserve it.

In her time, she had successes and failures, as all politicians do. It was certainly not the case that everything she did fitted the revolutionary ideal that I’ve just laid out – and nor did all of the revolutionary steps that she wished for come to pass.

But in having the realisation that conserving what came before is not enough, she changed the direction of centre right thinking. She was no libertarian, but she set the tone for the British Right to wake up to libertarianism.

The practical results of her time in power were positive overall. There were many ways they could have been improved, but it is undeniable that she revolutionised Britain. The way she changed the course of our thinking in the coming decades, though, will eventually come to outweigh even the way she changed our lives, our rights and our economy in the decade she made her own.

Philpott case: Don’t ignore the criminal justice system’s responsibility

Posted on April 03, 2013

The story of the Philpott children, killed by their parents in a deliberate house fire, is appalling. Kids who were born to a chaotic household, whose father and mother reportedly showed no remorse after burning them to death.

It’s right, therefore, that we should look for ways in which this might have been prevented. While the Mail’s assertion that Mick Philpott was made into the monster he is by the welfare state goes too far, Guido is right to point out the uncomfortable truth that the benefits system coddled him, funded his abusive lifestyle and ultimately played a motivating part in his sickening decision to start the fire.

But to focus on the distortions and failings of the welfare system is to miss other, crucial points. How does this case reflect on our social care and criminal justice systems?

By all accounts, Mick Philpott had a decades-long history of predating upon, taking advantage of and violently abusing vulnerable young women. It is hard to imagine his repeated abusive relationships with teenage girls over the course of the last 30 years had gone unnoticed – and impossible to believe the relevant authorities  still didn’t pick it up when he became a minor celebrity in the papers and on the Jeremy Kyle Show. With catastrophic results, they were aware and they decided it was not important enough to address.

Even worse, this case reveals an obvious and disastrous failure in our criminal justice system. In 1978, Philpott’s fiancée dumped him. In response, he broke into her house at night and stabbed her 27 times, slitting open her stomach and telling her: “If I can’t have you, no one will”. He then turned the knife on her mother and left the two of them for dead.

He was caught and convicted – and sentenced to seven years in jail. It is hard to think of a more comprehensive demonstration of wickedness and willingness to act upon it than what he did in 1978, and yet he was released a few years later, giving him decades to build up to the atrocity daubed over today’s newspapers.

This is a simple fact in a complex mess: if Mick Philpott had been sentenced to life (real life) in prison, he would not have committed his later crimes. Our criminal justice system could and should have stopped him – it did not.

Shami and Liberty’s Leveson silence

Posted on March 27, 2013

Shami Chakrabarti has never been loathe to appear in the media. At every conceivable opportunity, up she pops to the extent people joke about her omnipresence.

That’s fair enough – after all, it is her job. But such constant coverage on so many topics also makes it easier to spot issues on which she and Liberty have maintained a peculiar silence.

Last year, it was striking that despite the range of threats to freedom and civil liberties that arose in the hosting of the London Olympics, Liberty had almost nothing to say on the subject. At the same time, Big Brother Watch dealt with a large number of different freedom issues directly related to the Games . There was no shortage of things to be concerned about.

Then, during Danny Boyle’s brilliant Opening Ceremony, Shami appeared – not to protest against the DNA database or the proliferation of CCTV, but to carry the Olympic flag as a “champion” of the Olympic movement. Suddenly the uncharacteristic quiet of the previous months made sense.

Now it’s happening again.

With Leveson’s proposals being mashed into law in a late night stitch-up, 318 years of British press freedom is coming to an end. Exemplary damages are hanging over the heads of bloggers and journalists alike, as a punitive means of forcing people into a supposedly voluntary system. Pens are being blunted for fear of state-backed punishments. And where are Liberty?

Well, they were in the media back in November – welcoming the Leveson plan, including the oppressive exemplary damages and explicitly supporting the idea of regulating the blogosphere.

Then Shami released a statement in December clarifying that, despite speculation, she was still supporting Leveson’s proposal for state-backed regulation of the media. While she opposed compulsory membership of a regulator, she restated her enthusiastic backing for exemplary damages to ensure anyone who did not voluntarily join would be at risk of ruin.

Since then, nothing. Literal silence from the group whose website claims they believe that:

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour. Many rights depend on each other to be meaningful – so, for example, the right to fair trial would be meaningless without the prohibition on discrimination, and the right to free speech must go hand in hand with the right to assemble peacefully.

They’ve talked about secret courts. They’ve tweeted to raise funds. But they don’t appear to have given a damn about the prospect of three centuries of a free press going down the drain.

Why could that be?

To find an answer, we need to look back to 20th July 2011, when Liberty reported that:

Today it was announced that the director of human rights group Liberty will be one of the panel members of the judicial inquiry into phone hacking.

Oh, right.

What happened to human rights being sacred and indivisible? What happened to Liberty’s self-declared status as a fearless group speaking out against any attack on freedom? For that matter, what happened to the meaning of the word Liberty?

It seems Liberty has become a brand, not a concept to fight for. The indivisible has become the malleable – and all those principles have been sold for a scrap of establishment prestige.

If you’re interested in real civil liberties and real freedom, I’d suggest you lend your support to Big Brother Watch and The Freedom Association (on whose Council I am proud to sit). They, at least, won’t sell their souls – or our freedoms – for a moment in the spotlight, or a seat on a prestigious panel.

Student riots are back – and they’re infecting the Left

Posted on March 25, 2013

The anti-everything student movement has plenty of practice at shooting itself in the foot. Attacking war memorials, smashing up taxpayers’ property, even burning down Christmas trees – you name it, they can turn it into an incident which discredits their already confused message.

It might have seemed reasonable to hope that after it turned out rioting wasn’t a good way to get Middle England on their side, they might have changed tactics.

Not a bit of it.

Occupy Sussex, the Sussex University branch of the Occupy Movement, are up in arms about plans to outsource 10% of the University’s admin. While their issue of choice isn’t exactly the moral equivalent of Tsarist serfdom in Russia, it doesn’t seem to have stopped the usual suspects rushing to rally against outsourcing and for “communism” instead. Eevidently the fresh air of Sussex is a febrile, revolutionary atmosphere.

For some reason, this has turned into a national student demonstration, held today. The ever-sharp Chris Snowdon raised the first concerns over the weekend that perhaps it wasn’t set to be the most productive event humanity has yet seen:

And, lo, it came to pass. What started with the usual pompous slogans…

…moved on to smashing up University buildings…

…burning files from Barclays…

  ….and, inevitably, trite comparisons between themselves and Martin Luther King. All in all, an impressive way to discredit their own argument, waste taxpayers’ money and divert the police and fire brigade from what they are meant to be doing. This trend of legitimate (if wrong-headed) lefty protests turning violent is a serious problem for so-called “progressive” campaigners. Owen Jones wrote this morning  that the Left needs a group as effective as the TaxPayers’ Alliance – which is why he is launching the People’s Assembly this week. Owen may be wrong about almost everything (apart from the TPA’s effectiveness), but he’s not stupid – he’s already declared his new movement will be mainstream, and reject the malign influence of the cult which is the Socialist Workers Party. He wants to build a hard-hitting but respectable movement. His problem is that almost the whole of the Left has now been to some extent infected by the unattractive attitudes and behaviour on display at Sussex University today. For example, here is a paid campaigner from Unite – one of the main backers of Owen’s new gang – inviting the Occupy Sussex rioters to speak from the People’s Assembly platform:


This just isn’t going to go away. Unless he and other prominent left-wingers denounce the violence and the burning that a growing number of lefties seem to fetishise, I suspect Owen’s bid to make socialism mainstream and acceptable will never leave the runway.

PCS boasts reveal the true victims of their strike – the public

Posted on March 21, 2013

Yesterday, the civil service PCS union went on strike – in a predictable, if unsuccessful, attempt to hijack Budget day for their own publicity.

The slogans were hackneyed, the reasons were predictable. “Get the Tories out”, “General Strike Now” declared the placards while PCS leader Mark Serwotka proclaimed that they were starting a fightback to get more pay and preserve gold-plated pensions, regardless of the fiscal mess the country is in.

Strangely, Serwotka didn’t seem keen to discuss his own pay (£88,675) or pension (£26,159 in annual contributions, the same as the average British worker’s annual wage).

Hypocrisy at the top wasn’t the only travesty, though. Despite all the rhetoric about striking against Government policies, or to “get the Tories out”, the PCS’ own website revealed who the union was really hitting: the public.

Their live blog of the strike openly crows about their success in letting down the 99% whom they claim to have solidarity with. Here are just a few extracts:

09.13 Business in the [Welsh] National Assembly has been severely curtailed today because of the effects of the strike.

09.45…we’ve had some superb strike news from DWP Jobcentre members across the country.

  • 75% out at Horsham JCP
  • 85% out at Haywards Heath JCP
  • 90% members out at Watercourt site in Nottingham
  • 100 Members on strike at Airdrie JCP, Lanarkshire. Signs up to say the office is closed.
  • 97% members of Brighton out on strike. 20 on picket and more joining all the time. Supported by Caroline Lucas MP, various councillors, Socialist Party Brighton Benefits Campaign and unemployed centres.
  • 95% are on strike and ten pickets in place at Folkestone Jobcentre.

10:15 Some news from HMRC offices around the country:

  • 90% support for strike at Dorchester House, Belfast. Support from NIPSA staff and Socialist Party.
  • 85% out at Dorset Harbourside Branch
  • 80% on strike in Greater Manchester
  • 70% on strike at Ralli Quays
  • Over 80% out at Merry Hill contact centre

11.13 Strikers celebrating a very succesful morning at the National Gallery which has resulted in a number of galleries and rooms having to close.

Rep Candy Udwin said: “Large school parties have been turned away because they don’t have enough staff to keep them open.”

11.43 Three out of 14 court rooms open at Preston Crown Court.

12.30 The Tate in Livepool has been closed by the strike

12.48 HMRC – 92% out at Portmadog so the office is closed and there is no Welsh language service today.

15.13 ARMs member David W took part in a ‘Guinness Book of Records’ challenge to see how many HMRC Offices he could phone in two, one-hour sessions (AM and PM) following a suggestion made by one of the group members.

“I reckon it could be fun and of course when I am asked what my enquiry is I shall say something like: “Why are you working while your colleagues are out on strike fighting your battle for you?”

Given that only three days ago MPs criticised HMRC for letting down the public by failing to answer 80% of calls promptly, it’s surely wrong that the PCS – who claim to be on the side of ordinary people – are urging anti-cuts activists to clog the lines with prank calls attacking the workers who actually turned up to serve the public.

By my count, the above list shows the people actually affected by this strike were: unemployed jobseekers, victims of crime, schoolkids hoping to learn about art and taxpayers phoning HMRC to resolve their problems.

It might be great fun for Serwotka and his mates to have a day off and do some shouting, but I doubt the ordinary people let down by them agree the strike action is “superb”.

Gosh, crikey – Hugh Grant breaks Leveson’s ethics proposals

Posted on March 14, 2013

As the self-appointed arbiter of media standards in the UK, Hugh Grant has a lot of opinions about what is and isn’t ethical journalism. Apparently the Guardian is perfectly ethical, while papers which report on, I don’t know, sex scandals involving English celebrity romcom actors are beyond the pale. Who knows how he settled on that view?

However he came by his moral code carved in stone doesn’t matter, he’s marched down the mountain and has spent several months using the tablets to lay about any who stand in his way.

Except perhaps he should read what they say before using them to clobber others. Take today’s tweet from the Media Moses:

That’s quite a big claim – that Rupert Murdoch personally ordered the Times Editor to order the Prime Minister to follow a specific policy and set of actions, which the PM immediately obeyed. What starts as a “rumour” has become, by the end of the tweet, supposedly solid fact that “Murdoch rules.”

Surely an ethical reporter would have given some evidence, quoted a source or even given any reason at all to believe it?

In fact, I seem to recall that the Leveson report had something to say about exactly that:

“45. A new regulatory body should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to the sources used for stories, including providing any information that would help readers to assess the reliability of information from a source”

In short, Hugh Grant is promoting adopting the Leveson proposals by, err, going dead against Leveson’s proposals on evidence and sourcing. His “rumour” could have come from Tom Watson. It could have come from one of Murdoch’s own competitors. For that matter, Hugh Grant could just have made it up – but he has merrily injected it into the public debate, with no evidence or source in sight.

It’s hardly “ethical reporting”, is it, Hugh?

Civil Service activism and the GOD delusion

Posted on March 04, 2013

Tomorrow, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service known in Whitehall as GOD, starts a new BBC series titled “In Defence of Bureaucracy“. The adverts trailing on Radio 4 rather smugly quote people saying bureaucracy makes them think of “Stalinist Russia” before presenting Tony Blair and the voice of GOD himself to reassure us that in fact bureaucracy holds us in its warm embrace from cradle to grave.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Sir Gus has recently set out to make himself the UK’s Mario Monti – a top-down technocrat who thinks that if only the grubby masses would stop poking their noses into how things should be run, then the clever suits in Whitehall could get on with making this country into a statist pleasure-dome.

In 2012, he essentially put up his own civil service candidate to be Mayor of London – happily, Siobhan Benita got a worse drubbing than the Italians dished out to Monti, coming fifth with 3.8% of the vote.

It is true to say that the British Civil Service was once a fantastic institution – but that is not the same as thinking they should ever hold political power. In fact, not wanting to force their own views on our democratic institutions was essential to their success and standing. The GOD delusion that civil servants should now run the show is both a symptom and a cause of Whitehall’s downfall.

To see how times have changed, just look at today’s news. Yet again, Ministers who went into government opposing ID cards are having the wasteful, illiberal policy foisted upon them by officials.

Somewhere in Whitehall it seems there is a civil servant whose only job is to review new government policies in the hope of finding an excuse to use them as a vehicle for re-introducing ID cards. Who cares that the electoracte, and their representatives in Parliament, oppose the scheme? Why should righteous civil servants sit back and accept such opinions when they know themselves to be wiser than the people?

Politics was traditionally about the interaction of voters and politicians. That perspective worked well when the civil service appreciated the essential limits on their role. As soon as some in Whitehall decided they should give the orders, rather than take them, our democracy proved startlingly vulnerable to civil service activism. Through every window of opportunity, a pinstriped arm reached to grab another bit of power from the people.

This trend has flourished in the last fifiteen years, and it is going on right now, as you read this. The cost to our pockets, our freedom and our democracy has been vast. Sir Gus O’Donnell will take to the airwaves tomorrow morning to spin in its defence, paid for by you and me.

CrashBangWallace on Question Time

Posted on February 28, 2013

I’m pleased to report that this evening I will be joining the panel of the BBC’s Question Time as their @BBCExtraGuest. This means I’ll be responding to the questions, commenting on the show and debating/arguing/falling out with the Question Time audience on Twitter.

The show is being broadcast from Eastleigh, for obvious reasons, and the panel includes Jeremy Browne MP,  Angela Eagle MP, Claire Perry MP, Neil Hamilton and Ken Loach so it should be a fairly provocative discussion.

If you’d like to follow my tweets and join in live, I’ll be tweeting from @BBCExtraGuest from about 10 minutes before the show starts. I hope you’ll join me there!