The tale of Climategate and its aftermath is not an edifying one. As we look back over the ten years of this story, the impression we get is a wave of dishonesty, a public sector that will spin and lie, and mislead and lie, and distort and lie, and lie again. If one lie fails then another lie is issued and if that fails then they simply lie again.
- Andrew Montford, Hiding the Decline: A History of the Climategate Affair, p307. Having chronicled in painstaking detail official attempts to save face and hide the truth, Bishop Hill (as he is otherwise known) finally loses his temper.
In my perusal of The Times from a hundred years ago I frequently come across examples of gun crime. Here’s one from 30 September 1912 involving a spree shooting in a hotel:
THE SHOOTING AFFAIR IN AN HOTEL
And here’s another from the same edition involving the murder of a woman in a cab:
WOMAN SHOT IN A TAXI-CAB
If anything this one, from the 18th inst. involving striking dockers, is even more disturbing:
THE DOCK STRIKE SHOOTING AFFRAYS
This is at a time when Britons could own guns more or less without restriction. Oddly enough, to the modern mind, there are no great calls for gun control. The recently-passed Sullivan Act in New York seems to be regarded by most Britons as simply ridiculous.
In 1912, the murder rate in Britain was about half the rate it is now (see Part VI). This is particularly surprising given the subsequent advances in medicine which means that many people who, in 1912 would have ended up dead, today do not. Or, maybe, the National Health Service is even worse than we thought.
I, like lots of people from around these parts, am not a democrat. It seems to me that as the franchise has been extended – especially to people who aren’t paying the bills – so, freedom has been lost.
But Douglas Carswell MP, begs to differ. I recently interviewed him for Cobden Centre Radio about his new book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. One of his central claims is that we shouldn’t be blaming democracy.
Now, I appreciate there will be people out there thinking: “Well, he would say that wouldn’t he?” Which, of course, is true – it would not be in the interest of any politician to say that he was about to take away the vote from, say, 47% of his electorate.
But that doesn’t mean he is wrong.
To save you the trouble of reading the book or listening to the podcast (although I would be delighted if you did – it’s one of my better ones) this is the short version of Carswell’s argument: the United States was a democracy long before that state started to expand. The state only started to expand after the invention of what Carswell calls “unequal taxation” – taxes that only some people pay. Ergo, don’t blame democracy.
So, has he got a point?
David Cameron thinks it was. David Cameron thinking anything is reason to believe the opposite.
Seumas Milne thinks it wasn’t. Seumas Milne thinking anything is reason to believe etc, etc.
Up to now I’ve tended to the Cameron line: appalling war, unsatisfactory conclusion but still worth fighting. But is that true?
We can begin by throwing out some of the canards that Milne so usefully supplies. The fact that Belgium’s government had acted appallingly in Congo does not mean that Belgians had no right to self-defence. It also does not mean that Britain was wrong to aid that defence.
Incidentally, I would be curious to know, were the imperial regimes any more or less brutal than the regimes that either preceded or followed them? Was George Washington really an improvement on George the Third? If commenters plan responding to that last one I would appreciate if they come armed with some comparative facts.
Milne also seems to confuse causes with justice. It may be true that the war was the result of imperial rivalries but that does not mean there weren’t good guys and bad guys – or perhaps more accurately, bad guys and worse guys. And in a fight between bad guys and worse guys I favour the bad guys. Human progress is almost never a case of the good taking over from the bad and almost always the bad taking over from the worse. For example, Deng taking over from Mao.
Getting back to the subject in hand and talking of imperial rivalries – I really don’t think that was a major cause. Europe was going through a political revolution. The masses no longer accepted that monarchs had a god-given right to rule. Ideas such as socialism, nationalism and democracy were challenging the old order and the old orders were scared. Even in liberal, prosperous Britain, suffragists were breaking windows, trade unionists rioting and Irishmen preparing for civil war. When there’s trouble at home regimes start making trouble abroad.
Anyway, back to those canards. Germany was far more of a threat to Britain in 1914 than it was in 1939 (note to Seumas: the second world war started in 1939 not 1940). In 1914 Germany had a powerful navy and it was coming our way. Moreover, in 1939, Germany had a clear ideological commitment to expanding to the East. In 1914 it was far from clear what it was trying to do.
That Britain had a right to defend Belgium is not the same as saying it had the obligation to do so or that doing so was sensible. However, if you are going to go to war with one of the most powerful countries in Europe it is usually a good idea to do so as part of a coalition. In that regard the prospects in 1914 were much better than in 1939. Really, can anyone think of a worse decision in the 20th Century than the Soviet Union signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany?
So, if there ever was a time to go to war with Germany, August 1914 was that time. But that is not the same as saying it was sensible. Two Liberal cabinet ministers, John Morley and John Burns, resigned over the declaration of war. In looking into Morley’s reasons I came across this and then this. I haven’t finished reading either but they do put a rather different perspective on things. Was the Triple Entente as much to blame as the Triple Alliance?
Andrew Mitchell, the government enforcer, allegedly calls a policeman a “*u**i** pleb”. George Osborne, the finance minister, boards a train with a second class ticket and proceeds to sit in first class. MPs, of all parties, are found to be scamming the taxpayer by owning one house and living in another – no, I don’t understand how the scam works either.
So, why are we getting so many scandals now? Is it because this is a particularly bad time for it? I don’t think so. My guess is that the amount of obnoxious behaviour by politicians is more or less constant over time. The variable is the press.
Older readers, and those with a fascination for history, will remember the spectacular collapse of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s. Originally elected in 1979, for over 10 years there was an almost complete absence of sleaze stories. About the only one I can think off the top of my head was Dennis Thatcher’s use of No.10-headed notepaper. And then, all of a sudden, in about 1992 they all started coming out: cash for questions, three in a bed, secret love children, more cash for questions, affairs with actresses. Every day a new scandal.
As I said, it seems improbable that Tory MPs were for 10 years purer than the driven snow and then, all of a sudden, dropped all principle like it was a form of radioactive waste. No, what happened was they had always been acting like this; it was just that now the press started reporting it. And why now (or, is it then?)? Because of Black Wednesday. Black Wednesday – Britain’s forced departure from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in September 1992 – had demonstrated in the clearest possible terms that the government didn’t know what it was doing when it came to the economy. At that moment the press got angry. So long as they believed that these people knew how to ensure prosperity they were prepared to turn a blind eye to the odd peccadillo. But now they realised that they had been hood-winked. After that any Conservative was fair game.
Now, Cameron’s government has not had an ERM moment as such. But then again, it has never demonstrated any great degree of competence. Faced with the greatest economic calamity in living memory (or the Second Great Depression as Brian likes to call it) it has drifted and the press has started to notice. The feeling of hoodwinkedness and corresponding anger is now fully fledged. I unconfidently predict a stream of scandals until Cameron leaves office.
A couple of weeks ago the government announced (with pens hovering over contracts) that it was prematurely ending the process for awarding the West Coast Main Line (WCML) franchise. This came after Virgin – the loser – initiated legal action to force the government to disclose why it had provisionally awarded the contract to First. During the process of preparing for the case the Government discovered that it had got its sums wrong.
We can argue that it shows that the government is incompetent. We can argue that it shows that Beardie is not a man you want to mess with. We can possibly argue that over-optimistic assumptions about the economy have a lot to do with this. And we can certainly argue that this creates a lot of uncertainty and this is a bad thing because train operators will not be able to make any plans.
But really this is wood for the trees stuff. The fact is that the government (or, to put it another way, the violent part of society) should have nothing to do with the railway. Decisions about the railway should be made by the market (i.e. the peaceful part of society).
Hence, we shouldn’t have franchising, or subsidy, or the split between the wheel and the rail. Yes, unbelievable as it may sound to the uninitiated, in Britain train operators are not allowed to own the track and track owners (or owner – there’s only one) are not allowed to run trains. Railways should be liberated from the state and allowed to stand or fall on their own merits.
My guess is that they will stand (or at least the WCML will). I’ve just returned from Japan where the railways were (mostly) liberated from the state 25 years ago. Trains are frequent, clean and modern. The main railways are profitable.
At this point people someone’s bound to complain that Japanese trains are overcrowded. What about all those people pushers? Every time I’ve been in Tokyo (this was my fourth trip) I’ve tried to find them and haven’t succeeded yet. True, most people have to stand in the rush hour, and from time to time things get very uncomfortable but much the same is true of London too. And for the same reason: fare control which depresses the price and increases demand.
Yamanote Line train somewhere between Shinagawa and Shibuya 0730, Thursday 11 October 2012:
This is 1912 I am referring to (of course), when Britain had ended up behind the United States and Sweden, and not more recent times. A certain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who you may have heard of) is particuarly upset:
All who have our reputation as athletes at heart owe a debt of gratitude to you Correspondent at the Stockholm Games for his very clear and outspoken comments on the situation. We can now see the causes of past failure.
But he has a solution:
1. The first is the formation of a British Empire Team…
Like the Australians know anything about winning at the Olympics. Ha!
Actually, Sir Arthur is kinda sorta touching on, what is, in 1912, for Britain, a worrisome issue. Britain’s lead is slipping. France, Germany and the US are all catching up. Meanwhile, the colonies, especially Canada and Australia, are becoming less dependent on the Mother Country. Britain wants to retain some influence without getting into the same mess it got into with the Americans. Hence ideas are being floated for a combined tariff wall, a combined defence staff and (in this case) a combined Olympics team. They won’t work, of course, but Britain does, at least, manage to avoid a war of colonial repression. And the colonies manage to show up on time for the world wars.
The Times, Tuesday, Jul 30, 1912; pg. 6
In the Telegraph, Tom Chivers asks: what would it take to change your mind? It’s a good question; I’m forever using it in imagined arguments with socialists. It’s good because it helps distinguish beliefs that are rational from those that are religious. If you can answer it without being facetious or coming up with an impossible and improbable test then your beliefs are rational. If not, they’re religious. It’s a question I ask myself from time to time, as in: what would convince me that freedom is wrong?
Chivers here is specifically referring to global warming – he is a warmist. I’m not: I think it is a pack of lies. But if I’m claiming to be rational I should at least have a go at answering it.
Before I do I should point out that it doesn’t matter that much. Global warming is only part of a much larger issue: CAGWIT (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming Inspired Tyranny). Warmists have to prove all of that. They can start by proving that tyranny works or even that a watered-down version of it works. I’m not holding my breath. Next they can prove that AGW is C. Haven’t heard too much on that front either.
But that still doesn’t quite answer the question. What would change my mind? On the AGW bit, that is.
In trying to answer it right from the start I hit a huge snag: I can’t rely on the authorities. You need only ask yourself what would happen if they turned around and said: “Terribly sorry, we’ve got it wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” You can almost hear the sound of research grants drying up. Scientists are people too. They have families and cars and mortgages and titles and positions and they don’t want to give those things up. If they tell the world there’s a crisis the money keeps coming. If they don’t it doesn’t. They’re compromised.
However, I am still going to have to refer to some sort of authority. I do not have the ability to determine whether the planet is warming up or even if CO2 concentration is increasing. Or even if one begets the other and which way round. But if I am not prepared to believe the state-sponsored scientists who am I prepared to believe? The non-state sponsored ones? Or to remove the (mythical?) ones who are funded by big oil (just as dubious) – the non-sponsored ones. If Macintyre, Bishop Hill or Watts et al changed their minds I would be all ears. But having said that I am not entirely happy with relying on such a small number of people. And I’m getting very close to coming up with an unrealistic test. Has anyone out there got any better ideas?
One last point. I have to take issue with Chivers’s idea that taking advice from climate scientists is analogous to taking advice from a doctor (assuming, that is that anyone ever does take advice from their doctor). The reason I take issue is that the medical profession has a track record of both diagnosis and treatment. Climate science has to confine itself to diagnosis – treatment (should it prove necessary) is for economists. The problem is that even when it comes to diagnosis it has no track record – its theories are as contentious now as they were 40 years ago.
Dr Frederick L. Hoffman, speaking at the International Eugenics Congress, as reported in the Times of 27 July 1912:
He said the statistics were taken from the [Rhode Island] State Census of 1905. They showed two things – first that half the population of this typical New England State were of foreign extraction, and, secondly, that fewer native-born women were married and had families as compared with foreign-born women. The statistics also showed that a far larger percentage of Roman Catholic married women were mothers. Therefore, this originally Protestant State was in a fair way of becoming Roman Catholic. He thought these figures showed an alarming tendency in American life.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. These are exactly the same fears we hear today and they are no more valid now than they were then. Well, I say that. I assume that Rhode Island is a functioning state albeit a social democratic one.
As this is a eugenics conference I can’t help being reminded of this choice quote from Niall Ferguson:
The crucial point to note is that a hundred years ago work like Galton’s was at the cutting edge of science. Racism was not some backward-looking reactionary ideology; the scientifically uneducated embraced it as enthusiastically as people today accept the theory of man-made global warming.
At some point in the next 24 hours* a Briton clad in figure-hugging lycra the colour of a canary, wearing sideburns the size of a département and sporting the logo of the MSM’s least favourite organisation will cross a line on the Champs Elysées in Paris and become the winner of the Tour de France. It will be the greatest achievement in British sporting history.
I say “greatest achievement” because there is nothing to compare with the Tour de France. It is by far the toughest event in sport. Just to complete the course is an achievement – three weeks of aching legs plus burning lungs plus crashes plus saddle sores plus mountains thins out the densest of fields. It towers above other events in cycling. Sure, the sport may have a World Champion (a Briton, as it happens) and Olympic champions (including many Britons) but the winners of those competitions would give their eye teeth (plus molars, incisors and anything else they could find in their mouths) to win the Tour.
Up until recently Britons had never been particularly good at cycling and awful at the Tour de France. Prior to the 1990s only one Briton had ever worn the leader’s yellow jersey. In the 1960s the British team – it was run on national lines in those days – had to pad itself out with anyone who could get a passport. This included one rider, Michael Wright, who despite being born in England with an impeccably English name could barely speak the language.
So, what happened? Reading between the lines of an ITV4 documentary the other night the answer would seem to be ruthless professionalism. Team Sky, Wiggins’s employers, building (loathe as I am to admit it) on state-funded Olympic success have left almost nothing to chance. Wiggins’s training has combined significant weight loss (so he can climb faster) with special exercises to strengthen his lower back (so that his torso has greater rigidity which creates less drag so making him time trial faster). His highly-talented team mates have had to sacrifice their own ambitions for that of the team. Twice, mountain specialist Chris Froome (who will be runner-up tomorrow and may well go on to win the Tour in years to come) has had to wait for Wiggins when a stage victory was there for the taking. Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish, the greatest sprinter in the world, has spent large parts of the tour as little more than a water bottle carrier.
By the way, I can’t help notice that the team’s sponsor, Wiggins’s coach, his late father and a couple of the riders are/were Australians. So, Australia’s greatest ever sporting achievement then, if it wasn’t for the fact that an Australian won it last year? Oh, and the fact that they count test cricket as a sport.
* Barring a truly bizarre set of events or a positive dope test. (It will not, not, not be to do with someone riding faster than him.)
Even “knobhead” makes six appearances.
- Matt Scott, reporting on the judgment in the John Terry racism trial for the Telegraph. This trial holds the distinction of making everyone involved, from the accused, to the accuser, to the sport’s governing body, up to the politicians who came up with the law, look very stupid indeed.
In India we used to have a more socialistic economy. Everything was rationed. Sugar was rationed, kerosene was rationed, rice was rationed.
[What I can remember of] a remark made by one of the commentators on the Indian Premier League cricket match between the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals. It was prompted by Chennai’s apparent “rationing” of all-rounder Albie Morkel, who despite being restricted to a mere 6 balls, still managed to score 18 runs, thus saving the game, Chennai’s interest in the tournament and, by extension, civilisation itself.