Moving to Conservative Home

Posted on April 15, 2013

I’m very excited to announce that I have accepted the role of Executive Editor of Conservative Home.

As Paul Goodman, the new Editor, writes today, I will be joining the site in a few weeks as part of the new team following Tim Montgomerie’s departure to The Times.

ConHome has always been a huge influence on my political campaigning and blogging, as I know it has for many others on the centre right around the country, so I’m very much looking forward to making my own contribution to its future at an important time in British politics. Over the last eight years, Tim has had a huge impact on many people, me included, and we have a big job on our hands to live up to his example.

All of you as readers of CrashBangWallace have made this possible through your support, your feedback and your (constructive) criticism, so I would like to thank you. When I started this blog I did so to communicate libertarian ideas and to have some fun – both of which I hope I’ve achieved.

I never anticipated the reach and readership this site would secure, and I certainly never imagined political blogging might one day become my job. Now that it is going to, I hope you will continue to read my writing over at ConHome whether you’re a capital-C Conservative, a small-c conservative, a libertarian or just interested in politics and ideas. I’ll still be writing on fundamental issues of freedom and the political topics of the day, as well as exploring new, wider topics.

I will maintain this site as an occasional outlet for non-ConHome political writing, a resource linking to my work elsewhere and an archive of CrashBangWallace blogposts. I will of course still be tweeting at @WallaceME, too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the last two and half years of blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them – and that you’ll continue to follow my work at its new home.

Thank you again – keep on fighting.

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.

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”.

EU Budget: How did British MEPs vote?

Posted on March 15, 2013

The EU Budget negotiations have not run as smoothly as in previous years. In the past, the process was simple: everyone sits down, agrees to pay more cash to Brussels then off for champagne and canapes.

Then David Cameron shook things up a bit, pressing for an EU budget cut given the austerity member states are implementing. He secured an agreement with the other national leaders – which should have gone further, but was still an improvement on what went before.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted against the proposal. It wasn’t the final vote, but it was intended as a blocking measure to force the collected national governments to rethink their decision. The fact that various federalists in the Parliament tried to make the ballot secret – a scandalous attempt to avoid public scrutiny – shows that they know how unpopular that step is.

You would be hard-pressed in Britain to find anyone who thinks that while we are trying to save money at home, we should be paying even more to wasteful, undemocratic EU institutions. So how did British MEPs vote in our name?

Voted for the budget cut

Conservatives: Marta Andreasen, Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Philip Bradbourn, Martin Callanan, Giles Chichester, Nirj Deva, Vicky Ford, Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Anthea McIntyre, Jim Nicholson, Struan Stevenson, Robert Sturdy, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey van Orden and Marina Yannakoudakis.

Labour: Michael Cashman, Mary Honeyball, David Martin, Linda McAvan, Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson, Catherine Stihler, and Glenis Wilmott

DUP: Diane Dodds

Ex-BNP: Andrew Brons

Voted against the budget cut

Liberal Democrats: Catherine Bearder, Philip Bennion, Chris Davies, Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, Edward McMillan-Scott, Rebecca Taylor and Graham Watson

UKIP: Stuart Agnew, Gerard Batten, Godfrey Bloom, Derek Clark, Nigel Farage, Roger Helmer and Mike Nattrass

Labour: Claude Moraes, Peter Skinner

Greens: Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor

Plaid Cymru: Jill Evans

BNP: Nick Griffin

So there we have it. I imagine that the Lib Dems are going to have some explaining to do, voting against the deal that their own party supported in Westminster.

As for UKIP, they are trying to rationalise away voting against a measure to save British taxpayers’ money by explaining that they want there to be no EU budget at all. That’s fine, but it isn’t a justification for voting for a bigger, more expensive Brussels right now.

As a Tory source points out, if UKIP vote this way in the final budget ballot then they may well be lining up with federalists to deliver an EU budget that grows every year…probably not the story they want to tell back home.

Is Berlusconi set to confound the pollsters?

Posted on February 25, 2013

The polls for today’s Italian General Election have been clear for quite some time. Mario Monti, the EU’s pet technocrat, was going to get a welcome kicking in a popular rejection of unaccountable, top-down government from Brussels. Silvio Berlusconi, clambering from the grave like a permatanned Dracula, was going to be roundly beaten in both Houses of Parliament by the Leftist “Common Good” coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani.

Well, it seems the pollsters shouldn’t have been so certain. Early voter samples by TV station RAI in the key battleground of Lombardy suggest that while Bersani is leading in the Lower House, Berlusconi may be on track to be the biggest political player in the Senate – meaning he will have the power to gridlock the Left’s plans. Cue all sorts of impacts on the stability of the Euro and its so-called recovery…

If RAI’s numbers are correct, and Berlusconi really is going to hold the Left to an effective draw of one house each, what has happened to make the polls so far off?

The UK General Election in 1992 holds some of the answers. The polls predicted a big win for Kinnock and the Labour Party, but on the day the Tories won out (not, arguably, to the long-term benefit of the centre right in Britain, but that’s for another day).

The explanation was simple: people lied to the pollsters.

It turned out that the human element still persists in polling – plenty of voters either wanted the Tories to win or feared the consequences of a Labour victory (or both), but were too embarrassed to tell a stranger from a polling company “I’m voting Conservative.”

The same may have happened in Italy – quite plausibly, given the very public pillorying Berlusconi came in for after his disastrous handling of Italy’s sovereign debt. Bizarrely, that would mean that the Italian equivalent of John Major in 1992 might be Silvio Berlusconi today – not a comparison anyone ever expected to be drawn.

It seems that supporting Silvio, perhaps the world’s most consistently brash political extrovert, has become a very private matter. If his supporters have gone to the ballot box to put him back in the limelight, I doubt he’ll care about how proud or public they might be.

Bunga Bunga…

David “Mystic Meg” Tredinnick MP to judge Science and Technology

Posted on January 31, 2013

Back in 2009, at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there were plenty of hilarious, infuriating and odd examples of politicians wasting taxpayers’ money. Some have become immortal – duck houses, moat repairs, Jacqui Smith’s porn claim and so on.

Sadly, one of my favourites has largely been forgotten – the case of David Tredinnick MP, who charged the taxpayer for the software and tuition required so he could become an astrologer. No, not an astronomer like Brian Cox or the much-lamented Patrick Moore – an astrologer. Think Nostradamus, carnival sideshow con artists and newspaper horoscope columns that say things like “As the new phase of Venus enters the Cancerian optimum, consider buying a scratch card – or a second hand Vauxhall.”

I wrote about it for the TPA at the time, suggesting the public might like to email Mystic Tredinnick and request he read their future, given that they had paid for his so-called education. He didn’t take it very well, and as far as I’m aware he never did agree to give out any lottery numbers in advance – though he did later agree to pay back the money he had claimed.

This wasn’t a one-off. As well as his taxpayer-funded foray into the territory of Gypsy Rose Lee, the Member for Bosworth has also pressed the NHS to fund homeopathy, claimed that “remote healing” via telekinesis works despite the total absence of evidence and argued that surgeons and police officers should plan their work according to the cycle of the moon.

Now it has come to my attention, via The Geek Manifesto, that not only is the Parliamentary equivalent of Paul Daniels still going, but he has been elected onto the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is an MP who not only believes in just about every debunked alternative therapy going, but who openly and repeatedly places anecdotal evidence above statistical studies. The ability and the willingness to assess and weigh evidence is the foundation of science – and yet science policy will now be studied by someone who rejects the very concept of what is and is not evidence.

One of the Select Committee’s upcoming Inquiries is into the way clinical drug trials are carried out in the UK. Will the people really be best served by someone who rejects the evidential proof that homeopathy does not work?

It doesn’t take David Tredinnick’s crystal ball to see that this is a car crash waiting to happen.

Owen Jones is right – Britain doesn’t have enough lefty campaign groups

Posted on January 22, 2013

Owen Jones, that youthful paladin of the Left, has come up with an innovative idea: a new, left wing campaigning organisation. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Maybe he’s got a point – there is a total vacuum of socialist organisations in Britain. I mean, I’ve racked my brains and the only ones I can think of are:

the Socialist Workers Party, UK Uncut, Occupy, RESPECT, the TUC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Communist Party of Britain, the Fabian Society, Compass, the Socialist Unity Network, Socialist Resistance, Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, Youth Fight for Jobs, the Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, the Socialist Party, the Stop the War Coalition, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Coalition Against Cuts, False Economy, the Anti Academies Alliance, the Anti-Atos Alliance, Boycott Workfare, 38 Degrees, Campaign For A Fair Society, the Coalition of Resistance, the Other TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Public Services Alliance, Cuts Disgust, Defend Our NHS, the High Pay Centre, IPPR, Unite the Resistance, Right To Work, Lost Arts, the Labour Representation Committee, Queer Resistance, Tax Justice Network, the Fawcett Society, Left Unity, Women Against the Cuts and of course Owen’s own think tank “CLASS”.

With such a shortage of organisations, it’s clear that what Britain really needs is a new left wing outfit.

As Owen says, “it is a mystery that such a network does not already exist”. I guess it would do, if it wasn’t for all the splitters

UKIP’s Ollyshambles has serious consequences

Posted on January 09, 2013

UKIP’s internal tensions have been obvious for some time. As the main party has gathered points in the opinion polls by picking up kneejerk reactionary positions on gay marriage and the burkha, the youth wing – Young Independence (YI) – has seen its own surge on the back of libertarian activism.

As I tweeted a month ago, after witnessing a debate on gay marriage between an old guard member and Olly Neville (a leading member of YI):

All parties – and the country at large – have that growing generational difference, particularly when it comes to the understanding of individual liberty. The test of their character is how they deal with them. And that’s where UKIP are now in big trouble.

In what some have inevitably dubbed the #Ollyshambles, Neville – who recently became the popular Chairman of Young Independence – was last night sacked from his post by the party’s leadership. His crime? He dared to disagree with them over gay marriage and on the idea that European Elections were more important than Westminster – both perfectly sensible positions for a libertarian eurosceptic to take.

So why should anyone care? After all, I hear you say, he was just the youth leader of a political party which has no Parliamentary representation. That’s true, of course, but the Neville affair does have some important ramifications for UKIP and for our wider politics.

Consider the context: UKIP are at 16% in the polls, widely touted as headed for first place in the 2014 European Elections and according to the Mail on Sunday set to deny David Cameron any chance of a General Election victory, all at a time when the EU is an increasingly important issue. Whether they convert their current polling into votes, and how they campaign matters a great deal.

The implications are numerous.

First, there’s the impact on UKIP’s effectiveness. The party’s youth wing had been signing up activist after activist from Conservative Future, based on its message of good humour and libertarian politics. That is now shattered, as the leading proponent of both is roundly duffed up. UKIP have already had resignations over the scandal, meaning they are losing energetic young activists as well as the gloss which an active youth organisation gives to a brand.

Then there’s the damage this does to UKIP’s message that it is a different kind of party, one that rejects top-down control and the enforcement of toeing the line. They have made great hay with this – look, for example, at the comments given by former CF Deputy Chair Alexandra Swann on her much-publicised defection to UKIP:

“As a member of Conservative Future, with no real power, I was monitored and forced to stick rigidly to the party line. The Tories stifle debate, and no one gets along, whereas UKIP encourage debate and they all get along fine.”

That sounded great for them at the time, but now rings extremely hollow. Small wonder Alexandra was looking rather uncomfortable on Twitter last night in the face of the news.

Given that the Conservatives allow MPs to break ranks on leaving the EU or opposing green taxes, while Labour keep Frank Field, Lord Adonis and plenty other outspoken rebels in their ranks, UKIP risk their anti-politics reputation by sacking people for simple disagreement.

Perhaps most serious for Nigel Farage is the impact this has on his own core messages about what UKIP believes. Time and again we’re told it is a libertarian party, and yet it seems that speaking your mind in favour of libertarian positions is a sackable offence.

The same goes for the question of who their leader backs or sacks. When Winston Mackenzie, the UKIP candidate in the Croydon North by-election, became the latest official representative of the party to say something horrendously bonkers by announcing that gay adoption was a form of “child abuse”, we were told that UKIP is a party that lets its people hold their own opinions.

As recently as Monday, Farage was on the Today Programme defending his troops from the Prime Minister’s allegations of oddness on the grounds that:

“…we’re eccentrics, and we tolerate eccentricity.”

So either it’s acceptable “eccentricity” to insult gay people, but unacceptable to suggest they should be allowed to marry, or this is an overnight change of position. If it’s the former, then that’s pretty horrendous. If it’s a change of position,  presumably UKIP will now sack anyone who breaks from any policy at all. That would be awkward for them, given a) the tendency of their candidates and MEPs to do so and b) the fact that Nigel Farage himself has publicly gone on record as opposing their policy on drugs.

Next time (and there will be a next time) a UKIPper says something genuinely awful, how will Farage fight off the demands to sack him or her?

All in all, this is a pretty mess: young activists alienated, a libertarian and anti-politics reputation fundamentally undermined, and a total inconsistence with their own leader’s attitude to sacking and policy cohesion. Anyone acquainted with the history of UKIP will know that they are no strangers to arbitrary purges – indeed, they are probably the only political party with far more ex-members than members. It’s fair to say a return to that bloody heritage is not the road to political success.

2012 may have been UKIP’s year to party, but the Ollyshambles suggests 2013 may be the year of the hangover.

How high taxes killed our belief in helping others

Posted on January 08, 2013

When all factual and economic arguments have failed, Britain’s proponents of high taxes fall back upon philosophical justifications for their position. “Tax is the thing that makes us civilised”, they declare, “It brings us together as a society”.

Such arguments are dragged out to perform again and again, like those 1960s pop acts who were fleeced of their retirement pots by unscrupulous managers. Of course, there’s no actual evidence for them – that’s the point, they are declarations of conveniently unmeasurable truths.

But even such intangible claims are starting to look shaky. As the debate about cutting benefits for the better off intensifies, it is increasingly clear that high taxation has killed our national sense of helping others, of the well to do making sacrifices to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Just look at the row over Child Benefit. There was a time when people recognised that if they earned a good salary, they didn’t really need welfare to top up their income – whereas others who were barely getting by did.

Now, the letters pages and radio phone ins communicate a very different world view. Those who have been squeezed over and over again by successive Chancellors grabbing at their earnings, their savings, their pensions, their petrol bills and their pasties want something back in return. The idea that just because they might be earning £50,000 a year then they shouldn’t get Child Benefit enrages large numbers of people – the payment is one of the few things they get back from the large amounts they have to pay to the Exchequer.

That is a remarkable shift from the widespread sense of “middle class oblige” that once existed to the far less attractive sight of well-heeled parents defending their right to be welfare recipients.

But people who want to hang onto their payments cannot be blamed for feeling that way. It’s a natural reaction to want to get at least a bit back when you are shelling out a small fortune every year through constant, multiple taxation. It is our politicians, and particularly the high tax lobby, who are responsible for the near-total erosion of that sense of sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course it is an absurdity to pay welfare benefits to the well-off. It is a perverse interpretation of a welfare state that was intended as a safety net – particularly at a time when there are plenty of families who can only dream of earning £50,000 a year. Worse, it means cycling cash through a wasteful tax collection and benefits payment system, only to return some of it to the pocket where it originated.

The welfare bill must be brought down, and the just way to do that is to withdraw benefits from those who need them least. High taxation has driven out the sense of responsibility which would once have made that the obvious and natural thing to do for most Britons. Far from making us “civilised” or “bringing us together”, overfeeding the tax man has made us selfish. Taking more and more money from workers has made them grip what they have left all the tighter.

The moral case against high taxes must be made or – counter-intuitive as it may seem – the moral case for helping others will continue to fall on deaf ears.