Douglas Murray argues that in today’s supposedly anti-politics culture, a distrust of the current crop of folk in power does not translate into genuine liberalism and accountability – such as would happen if Whitehall and Brussells were cut down to size – but something potentially very nasty indeed. And he takes a look at the likes of Owen Jones and Russell Brand as symptoms of a wider problem:
Writing about those rioters who in the summer of 2011 smashed, burned and looted shops across Britain, Brand writes that their actions were no worse than the consumerism which he describes as having been “imposed” upon them. And this, I cannot help thinking, is an especially revealing phrase — entirely at one with a popular world view. That view sees “us” as poor victims of forces and temptations which are not only pushed upon us, but to which, when they are pushed upon us long enough, we will inevitably and necessarily succumb. If you are in a “consumerist” society long enough how could you be expected to just not buy crap you can’t afford when you don’t need it? No — the answer must be that of course you will succumb. And from there any bad behaviour — even looting and burning — will be excused because it will be someone else’s fault.
This is the world view of an addict. And the answer to all our society’s problems of the addict Brand is one answer which some addicts seek for their addiction — which is that everyone is to be blamed for their failings except themselves. Grand conspiracy theories and establishment plots offer great promise and comfort to such people. They suggest that when we fail or when we fall we do so never because of any conceivable failing or inability of our own, but because some bastard — any bastard — made us do it, has been planning to do it and perhaps always intended to do so. Of course the one thing missing in all this — the one thing that doesn’t appear in either of these books or in any of their conspiratorial and confused demagogic world view — is the only thing which has saved anyone in the past and the only thing which will save anybody in the future: not perfect societies, perfectly engineered economies and perfectly equal, flattened-out collective-based societies, but human agency alone.
This analysis is spot-on, and it explains why, even though concepts such as “the ruling class” or “establishment” can have some sort of value in explaining how groups of people act and think, they can become very dangerous without understanding that people respond to incentives, and that we make a mistake in seeing events as being driven by close-knit cabals or groups wielding enormous, but somehow secret, power. In other words, what I have learned from subjects such as “public choice economics” or the insights of writers such as Milton Friedman or a Henry Hazlitt is that seeing dark forces at work to explain things like bank crises or environmental problems is more about what people find emotionally satisfying than what actually happens 99 per cent of the time.
Although I should not have to spell it out, in the past, a lot of the sort of thinking that is being described here took the form of anti-semitism. And it is probably no great accident that this is also on the rise at the moment.
When David Cameron used his speech to Conservative party conference to announce that he wants to increase income tax thresholds there was uproar from his critics on the left. How dare the Prime Minister promise a tax cut when the UK is still running a giant deficit and adding to the debt burden with each passing day?
The UK Treasury’s ‘Ready Reckoner’ estimates that the changes to the higher rate of tax and an increase in the personal allowance would “cost” £7 billion. Officials have been briefing that they have concerns about whether the threshold changes are “affordable.”
But this is nonsense, pure and simple. A hike in the thresholds doesn’t cost a penny – it just means politicians have less of our money to spend. So you can either cut back, or you can borrow; we’ve tried the latter, and we’ve now got a £1.45 trillion debt pile to deal with whilst paying more in debt interest every year than the country spends on defence. I’d counsel, therefore, that the former is a rather better option.
Indeed the very concept of tax cuts costing anything at all implies that all the money in the economy belongs to the government, and that which it deigns to allow us to keep is some sort of present from a Chancellor who once a year puts on a jaunty Santa hat to hand out alms to the masses.
– Johnathan Isaby
Reported in yesterday’s Daily Mail:
Company bosses who claimed £130,000 in benefits for sign language interpreters despite not being deaf walk free from court
Two company directors who pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money from bogus claims for sign language interpreters have swerved prison.
Tracy Holliday, 39, and Ian Johnston, 43, sent their children to private school off the back of the £134,000 they made from bogus claims for interpreters and support staff they did not use.
Despite their crimes being branded ‘sickening’ by the Minister for Disabled People, the pair have walked free from court on suspended sentences.
The Northern Echo has the same story, although Ms Holliday’s name is given as “Tracey”, as it is in several other sources.
This being the Daily Mail, everybody is outraged about everything. The Mail commenters are outraged that the couple committed the fraud, that they escaped jail, and that they get to keep the money. “People like this are crippling our welfare system by stealing from us daily – they never suffer any kind of real punishment and so it will continue,” runs a typical comment.
The Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper, shares the commenters’ outrage and manages to get in a plug for the Access to Work scheme the defendants were abusing, “This is a sickening example of two people milking a system designed especially to support disabled people to get or keep a job. ‘Access to Work helps over 35,000 disabled people to do their job. More and more disabled people are getting into work thanks to this fund and our Disability Confident campaign – as employers recognise the tremendous skills they bring to business.”
Even Ms Holliday and Mr Johnston themselves manage a little hopeful outrage, over the way that that they were, they say, obliged by family circumstances to plead guilty with all its potentially unpleasant consequences (not that the actual consequences for them were much more than bad publicity), when really they just didn’t get how the system worked and hadn’t noticed the illegitimate origin of all that cash piling up in their bank accounts.
No one seems outraged or even surprised by the idea that even if Ms Holliday and Ian Johnston’s claims had been genuine, their company would be getting services worth approximately forty-five thousand pounds a year provided by the government to make it worth their while to employ deaf people who could not do their jobs without an interpreter. You don’t get 45 grand per annum to make it worth your while to employ monolingual Tagalog speakers, although by some counts the number of people in the UK whose first language is British Sign Language and whose first language is Tagalog is similar. You might argue that, unlike those who have a foreign mother tongue, deaf people have a disability making them deserving of state aid to compensate for their misfortune – but if you did you would be contradicting Deaf (note the capital D) activists who maintain that deafness is not an impairment but a cultural choice, not to mention government guidelines on how to refer to the Deaf community.
Nobody seems to give any credence to Holliday and Johnston’s claim that they just did not realise that what they were doing was wrong. Could they really be capable enough to run a business and yet still be under the impression that the government would every year squirt tens of thousands of pounds in their direction without checking how it was spent, just because some of their employees were deaf?
Be fair, why should they not have received that impression since that is indeed the way the system is meant to work?
Here is an almost spookily similar case from 2008. Notice how the culprits in that case sought out employees disabled enough to qualify for the Access to Work benefits. Applicants who could not apply for AtW support were ignored. Notice also how the real business of the “businesses” in both cases was subsidy farming. There are thousands of deaf employees and employers doing real work, providing things that people both deaf and hearing really want enough to pay for – including, of course, translation between signing and English. There are no doubt thousands more who would like to do likewise, but the mushrooming of “Community Interest Companies”, “Social Enterprises” and similar much subsidised and little scrutinised sources of employment has normalised a sort of performance dance choreographed to look like people working. Deaf employees, sign language interpreters, support workers, and those whose jobs depend on administering and policing Access to Work and similar schemes all join the dance, gracefully exchanging partners until La Ronde is complete.
So Oxford student Niamh McIntyre writes in the Independent. She says,
The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women . . . In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.
Oxford Students For Life (OSFL) originally planned to hold the debate in Christ Church college. The Oxford magazine Cherwell quotes the Christ Church JCR Treasurer, Will Neaverson, as saying:
“I’m relieved the Censors* have made this decision. It clearly makes the most sense for the safety – both physical and mental – of the students who live and work in Christ Church.
A blog post by OSFL (see link above) indicates that Niamh McIntyre’s pleasure and Tim Neaverson’s relief that debate had been shut down were not spoilt by anyone finding an alternative venue. You can, however, read what Tim Stanley had planned to say had the debate taken place in an article in the Telegraph.
Hat tip: Instapundit and Eugene Volokh.
*The two Christ Church Censors are the equivalent of college deans and only occasionally censors in the other sense.
But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.
– Tim Black
My only objection to this…
The England band were completely unaware they were providing the background music for anti-IRA songs during Tuesday’s friendly in Scotland, their leader has said. The band, loosely associated with the Football Association, unwittingly provided the tune for chants of “Fuck the IRA” in the first half of the 3-1 win at Celtic Park.
… is that it was ‘unwitting’
In a Reuters article titled British EU exit debate scaring off investment – Hermes funds I hit a line that made me go: say what?
Political rhetoric raising the possibility that Britain may leave the European Union could already be deterring foreign investment and harming London’s financial services industry, a top UK investor said (…) Another effect could be to weaken the allure of the City of London as a base for international financial systems with rival banking and investment hubs New York, Singapore and Zurich likely to benefit.
I was particularly struck by “and Zurich”. So Zurich, also in Europe but not in the EU, will benefit if London is not in the EU? Really?
As reported in most entertaining style by the Guardian, Ed Miliband had rather an ordeal at the hands of Myleene Klass.
Looking at the picture Guido has up, the converse is also true.
UPDATE: Second link seems to have collapsed. Here’s the Twitter post (including the [ADDED LATER: fake] relevant photo) from Mark Flanagan’s twitter feed that Guido linked to.
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: In fairness, a lot of people, including Mark Flanagan himself and many who are no friends to Ed Miliband, are saying the picture has been maliciously photoshopped. The transition between hand and wrist does look odd. The more I look at it the more sure I am it’s fake, made by manipulating this picture here. Guido’s link has changed, and the picture no longer appears on his post.
Back in the bad old days, Kremlinologists used to try to figure out what was going on in the leadership of the USSR by observing signs and portents.
During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to “read between the lines” and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as “First Secretary”, the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper “Pravda” and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.
To study the relations between Communist fraternal states, Kremlinologists compare the statements issued by the respective national Communist parties, looking for omissions and discrepancies in the ordering of objectives. The description of state visits in the Communist press are also scrutinized, as well as the degree of hospitality leant to dignitaries. Kremlinology also emphasizes ritual, in that it notices and ascribes meaning to the unusual absence of a policy statement on a certain anniversary or holiday.
Brian Micklethwait has often written of the “sovietisation” of various parts of the British State such as state schools and the NHS. To illustrate this process, take a look at the way a “major incident” at Colchester Hospital has been reported.
What major incident you ask? My point exactly: you ask, they don’t answer. Likewise “safeguarding” is repeatedly mentioned. Something needs to be safeguarded.
Late last night or early this morning there were oracular bulletins from the Telegraph and Times, all chock-full of unspecified “incident”. From the Times:
On Wednesday, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected Colchester Hospital’s accident and emergency department and emergency assessment unit and told trust it had concerns over “safeguarding” there.
The major incident is likely to last for a week, and the trust has reminded members of the public to only visit A&E if they have a “serious or life-threatening condition”.
A spokesman for the hospital said the inspection was not the sole reason for the major incident being declared, although it played a role.
All clear now? There was a similarly opaque article on the AOL homepage. It has been updated since, as has the Telegraph one, I think, but the Times, like a good horror movie, is delaying the big reveal.
The BBC followed suit: “Colchester Hospital declares major incident.” The BBC did tell us what sort of general thing might constitute a “major incident” but not about this major incident. As a result everyone thinks it’s ebola and as I write this it’s the most looked-at article on the BBC website.
Stand down. It’s not ebola. The Guardian was slow to get the story but does actually tell it:
A major incident has been declared at Colchester hospital after a surprise inspection this week found patients being inappropriately restrained and sedated without consent and “do not resuscitate” notices being disregarded.
The ward concerned has been closed to new admissions, an emergency control centre has been put in place to address capacity problems, and patients are being urged to go to A&E only if they have a serious or life-threatening condition.
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that the Essex hospital is struggling with “unprecedented demand”, but the Guardian understands concerns were also raised about safeguarding issues relating to inappropriate restraint, resuscitation and sedation of elderly people, some with dementia.
Oh dear, what a let down. Just as it used to in the days of Pravda and Izvestia the secrecy concealed mundanity. It’s just the NHS in crisis again. Can’t they do anything right? The zombies they make aren’t even dead yet.
Nigel Farage: the armistice was the biggest mistake of the 20th century
Farage is quoted as saying,
“But had we driven the German army completely out of France and Belgium, forced them into unconditional surrender, Herr Hitler would never have got his political army off the ground. He couldn’t have claimed Germany had been stabbed in the back by the politicians in Berlin, or that Germany had never been beaten in the field.”
Most of the Guardian commenters take this as proof of Farage’s bigotry and ignorance.
“That’s because he wasn’t doing the fighting. Even if he was alive at the time, little silver spoon establishment posh boys don’t do the fighting anyway. They send others to their deaths,” says commenter “steemonkey”, getting lots more recommends than the reply from “FenlandBuddha”:
“Actually the upper classes suffered worse proportionally than anyone else because you were more likely to be killed as a junior officer than a private. The Prime Minister Asquith lost one son, the Conservative leader Bonar Law lost two.”
The EU sticks us with a bill. Ministers double it, apply the rebate, return to the original figure and claim victory. We’re meant to cheer?
– Daniel Hannan MEP
As has been pointed out before, we are not edging closer to be becoming a police state in the UK, we already are one.
Two effigies of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond have been withdrawn from bonfire celebrations in an English town after a storm of protest on social media. Thousands of people attended the bonfire celebrations in the East Sussex town of Lewes. Sussex Police said the effigies of Mr Salmond would not now be set alight (…) Just before 21:00 on Wednesday, Sussex Police tweeted: “For those enquiring we have been advised that there won’t be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes. It is understood three effigies – two Alex Salmonds and one Nessie – were confiscated and removed”
I would be curious to know what legal grounds were invoked to confiscate these items of private property that were being used for political expression.
UPDATE: The BBC article has been changed and now no longer contains the following section which I cut and pasted from the original article:
“Just before 21:00 on Wednesday, Sussex Police tweeted: “For those enquiring we have been advised that there won’t be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes. It is understood three effigies – two Alex Salmonds and one Nessie – were confiscated and removed”.
And indeed I do not see that on the Sussex Police twitter either. Removed? Interesting.
UPDATE 2: Ah, this makes me proud to be English