We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Is justice served by confirming a raid to the TV news in time for them to hire a helicopter?”

The police show off. A reputation is shattered.

- Libby Purves has written in the Times about the recent extremely well publicised police raid on Cliff Richard’s house. The article is behind a paywall, but here are some choice lines:

Lost in an unfamiliar landscape? Ask a policeman. What I want, officer, is statistics on the usefulness of dawn raids, especially where the allegation involves not weapons, drugs, account books or contraband but a sexual misdeed 30 years ago. Do you generally find a diary from 1985 saying “Molested X today”? Or is there always some extreme porn left around to confirm dodginess? Does this apply even if it is only one of the suspect’s homes you raid? Suppose all his wicked stuff was in Barbados all the time?

More pressingly, officer, is justice served by confirming a raid to the TV news in time for them to hire a helicopter? Then complaining that this causes them to turn up? How do you square it with the College of Policing guideline that without compelling reason suspects shouldn’t be identified? Is the fact that chummy will make headlines a compelling reason?

And

And there are flaws in the theory that famous names must be named: when some ordinary joe is accused there is no publicity, yet convictions are achieved.

Another problem is the risk of attracting hysterics, liars, and fantasists keen to surf on the excitement and waste police time.

Alex Salmond said what?

According to the Guardian, in a meeting with SNP backbenchers after his disappointing performance in the debate with Alistair Darling, this:

He [Salmond] said, using the pound without a formal pact – an option known as “sterlingisation” or the Panama option – was “quite attractive”, but insisted the Treasury would never allow that to happen because it would let Scotland walk away from more than £100bn in debt. “No UK chancellor would allow himself to be in a position where an independent Scotland gets away scot-free without the debt,” Salmond said.

Mr Salmond may have been misquoted. I may have misunderstood. But the notion that if an independent Scotland decides to use the pound in the manner that Panama or Ecuador uses the dollar (a quite sensible idea in itself, though it would require fiscal discipline), that somehow negates Scotland’s share of the UK national debt sounds delusional to me. At least, I suppose Scotland could default – Argentina does it all the time – but there are huge practical penalties to that. Lenders demand a high risk premium before they will lend to defaulters, particularly unrepentant defaulters.

Having written the above, I’ve just found another link confirming that Mr Salmond was not misquoted. He really is claiming that the famous missing Plan B is, in the event of the remainder of the UK refusing a currency union, for newly independent Scotland to refuse to take its share of UK debt.

Alex Salmond defends Plan B currency stance after losing Scottish debate on TV.

“If the UK Government’s position is “‘thou shalt not be entitled to your own currency” then “of course we have no entitlement to take liabilities either,” Mr Salmond said.
“If we had a zero share of debt then Scotland would be in both balance of payments and budgetary surplus in the first year of independence. We wouldn’t be paying up to £5 billion in interest payments.
“That is the logical conclusion of the UK Government claiming all of the assets of the country – they end up with all the liabilities.”

Wow. To me, those words above look like a bigger misstep than anything he said in the debate.

Samizdata quote of the day

Warsi dismissively described Osborne as “a good friend of the Israeli government”. The more subtle truth is that Osborne, along with a handful of other senior politicians, is prepared to step back historically and geographically, and to remember that the state of Israel was founded by a people that had heard the approaching silence of absolute extinction, and resolved never again to face that void.

Israel is bigger than Gaza and the West Bank, but it is smaller than almost everywhere else. Less than a century old, it is a democracy surrounded by hostile nations and under permanent attack by terrorists who wish to see it wiped from the surface of the Earth. What is a “proportionate” response to a hydra-like enemy who sees the Final Solution as work in progress? All terrorism aimed at Israel is genocidal in spirit. What would a “proportionate” response to that ambition look like?

- Matthew d’Ancona

A glorious bit of capitalism!

Talk about a fine bit of opportunistic business! Well done!

From the earth’s core to the uttermost star: how far up and down should property rights extend?

I see that government ministers have authorised an expansion of fracking in the UK. In general anything that riles up the Greens pleases me. But only in general.

As I understand it – OK, make that “I think I remember reading somewhere” – it has hitherto been the case in the UK that if you own a property you also own what lies below, not just immediately below such that you can prevent someone excavating their bomb shelter under your house, but all the way down in a long thin cone to the Earth’s core. So a property owner can forbid fracking beneath their land however deep the drilling. Anyone know, is this right? And whether it is or not, should it be?

I really do remember reading somewhere a science fiction story in which the entire universe had been assigned to various Earthly nations based on what cone of sky was above the territory of each country at midnight on a particular date. I cannot recall how or if that story dealt with either the effects of terrestrial boundary disputes, possible objections from as yet undiscovered alien species at their involuntary inclusion in one of these thin but infinite empires, or the curvature of spacetime. Granted that “to the edge, if such exists, of the universe” is taking property rights a tad too far, how far above your house should your property rights go?

Government is not the community

Local government wants to tax supermarkets where most people buy their food in the UK because:

In its submission, the council says that while supermarkets bring some benefits, they have an overall detrimental impact on the sustainability of local communities. “Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good, compared to just 50% from local independent retailers; this levy is a modest attempt to ensure more of that money re-circulates within and continues to contribute to local jobs and local trade,” its report states.

So apparently providing food to a community brings ‘some benefits’. Who knew?

The whole idea is based on a central fallacy: Increasing tax taken means “putting money back in the community”.

Government is not “the community”. The give-away phrase: “We’ll be able to improve public services.” In other words, we will increase the size of the state and increase the cost of food to the actual local community, which are the people who shop at the supermarket. Oh great.

The blistering English heatwave

Yesterday, after a walk in the warm weather, I went into a pub. I am going to name and shame here – it was the King William IV in Chigwell. It’s a nice place with fancy decor, an elaborate menu and London prices. I attempted to order a pint of lager.

However, beer was only coming out of the taps in a little dribble. One of the staff members vanished for a few minutes, returned, shook his head to one of his colleagues, and came over to me and said something along the lines of “Sorry, we are having a little bit of trouble with the draught beer due to the temperature in the cellar. This means that the beer is not coming through to the taps. It’s the hot weather, see”.

The temperature was a horrific 32 degrees Celsius – 89 degrees Fahrenheit. As an Australian, I would describe this as fairly warm but not especially hot. In England, though, it becomes quite unpleasant, due to the lack of any infrastructure for dealing with it, for instance the ability to provide beer when temperatures go over 30. (Cold drinks in newsagents and other shops are normally kept in strange cooling devices that are open to the air, rather than in proper refrigerators with closed doors. These lose the ability to keep drinks cold when the weather gets hot – ie when you most want your drink to be cold). Buildings simply aren’t designed to keep heat out, nor are they designed to be easily cooled when it gets in.

I could just say that the English inability to deal with warm but not especially hot weather is simply a consequence of their not hot climate, but then one also must think about the English inability to deal with cool but not especially cold weather, their inability to deal with weather that is a bit wet but not especially stormy, and indeed to deal with weather that is dry but not especially droughty.

Seriously, though, a pub that cannot provide beer when the temperature gets over 30 belongs in an Australian comedy sketch.

Samizdata quote of the day

My understanding is there was an argument inside government between the two halves of the coalition and that argument has gone on for three months. So what the coalition cannot decide in three months this House has to decide in one day. This seems to me entirely improper because of the role of Parliament – we have three roles:

One is to scrutinise legislation, one is to prevent unintended consequences, and one is to defend the freedom and liberty of our constituents.

This undermines all three and we should oppose this motion.

- David Davis MP

…he is the one the Stupid Party rejected for Cameron.

Samizdata quote of the day

I too have acquaintances who, whilst aware of and loudly bewailing the many many failings of the NHS, and the unnecessary deaths – sometimes thousands of deaths – that it causes, will in the very next sentence say something like “but aren’t we lucky to have it, if it wasn’t for the NHS I’d be bankrupt and dead” or some such piffle. They are so brainwashed that they cannot even conceive that there might be any other way of organizing things – even though alternatives are all around us, and all of them without exception produce better outcomes. Astonishing.

- Andrew Duffin

Austerity

The public sector strike the other day, which Perry welcomed and I did not notice, was nominally about austerity. I have heard various conflicting claims about UK government spending, so I decided to find out myself and make my own graphs using figures from ukpublicrevenue.co.uk and ukpublicspending.co.uk.

ukgov_spending_fixed

Spending did go down a bit in 2012 and 2013, so I suppose that is the austerity. But it is still higher than in 2009, and much higher than revenue, even though the latter has increased every year, contrary to the narrative that austerity is to benefit rich taxpayers.

The years 2014 to 2016 are estimates, which if to be believed indicate the plan is to resume the growth of the state.

These are absolute numbers. Other charts I have seen correct for inflation or GDP and population. I do not trust official inflation figures, and I think government spending makes the GDP statistic less useful. So I got average earnings figures from measuringworth.com and using the population figures from ukpublicrevenue.co.uk calculated spending per person as a percentage of average earnings. This makes sense to me because the fraction of my earnings that are appropriated by the state is what directly affects me.

ukgov_spending_over_income

The graph ends in 2013 because I have no estimates for average earnings. There has been a slight decrease in spending by this measure in 2012 and 2013, but no return to conditions before the step change in 2008.

In short, there is a lot of talk about not a lot of action. I have a suspicion that small cuts have been made to the wages of particularly vocal and popular public servants in order to make austerity seem like a bigger deal than it is while keeping powerful public servants in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

You can see bigger graphs and my working out in my spreadsheet.

Edit: I had mis-labelled the y axis on the first graph; it shows revenue and spending per person in Pounds. I have fixed the labels now.

Samizdata quote of the day

Suddenly we’re told there’s a brand new bill that looks like it was written by the National Security Agency that has to be passed in the same manner that a surveillance bill in the United States was passed in 2007, and it has to happen now. And we don’t have time to debate it, despite the fact that this was not a priority, this was not an issue that needed to be discussed at all, for an entire year. It defies belief.

- Edward Snowden

An imaginary emergency

As the rest of the world becomes more skeptical about mass surveillance, there is one country where it is seldom ever mentioned, except to babble about the need for more of it. The country that the romantic conservative Daniel Hannan says “invented freedom“: Britain.

The latest symptom of the “polite and commercial people” of Britain’s complacent unconcern with freedom and privacy is emergency legislation to be passed through all parliamentary stages early next week, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill or Act, as we shall have to call it almost immediately. There is little doubt this will happen. All three major parties are agreed they will drive it through.

The “emergency” is a confection. It is ostensibly because of a legal challenge to regulations under an EU directive which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice – which took place in April. So obviously it has to be dealt with by hurried legislation to be passed without scrutiny and not even adumbrated in public till Wednesday. This is the order of events:

  • 8th April – ECJ declares Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC invalid – in theory telcos and ISPs no longer required to gather certain data
  • …wait for it…
  • 7th July – Rumours surface in the press that “something will be done”
  • 9th July – The Sun in the afternoon carries a “security beat privacy” piece boosting the scheme as the only way to beat terrorists and paedophiles.
  • 10th July,  8am – Emergency cabinet meeting briefs senior ministers.
  • 10th July,  11.18am – Bill becomes available on gov.uk website (still not available via parliament), Home Secretary makes statement in parliament.
  • 11th July (Friday), 4pm – Draft regulations to be made under the Bill as soon as it is enacted made available.
  • 15th July (Tuesday) – All House of Commons Stages of the Bill (normally about 4 months).

The pretext, reinstating these regulations (which the Home Office has claimed are still subsisting in the UK anyway) is hard to accept as “vital”. Other countries manage fine without them, and they only existed at all because of some bullying by the UK of other EU states after the 7th July 2005 bombings. I covered this background in an article for City AM written on Thursday. But since then we have had a chance to read what is proposed.

Reinstating the regulations – or anchoring them against legal challenge, since they are still operating – would be simple. The new Bill need only say that parliament enacts the content of the regulations as primary Act of the UK parliament. I wouldn’t be pleased. But it would be doing what was required by the ostensible emergency. That however is not what is happening. The new Bill would broaden the regulations and the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act under which most state snooping in Britain is conducted and give the Home Secretary powers radically to expand the data required, by further regulations. It is a move in the direction of the supercharged surveillance regime set out in the Communications Data Bill, which was dropped as too controversial ante-Snowden. The clearest detailed analysis is by David Allen Green in the FT, he says:

The removals of civil liberties, and the encroachments of the state, are rarely sudden and dramatic. It is often a subtle change of legal form here, and the deft widening of legal definitions there. And before one knows it, the overall legal regime has changed to the advantage of officials and the otherwise powerful, and all we have done is nod-along as it happens.

I fear it is worse than that. Politicians and press have been so comprehensively suckered that some who would normally stand up for civil liberties are burbling about how “it offers [the] chance to bring rise of surveillance state under democratic control”. DRIP.

The Liberal Democrat politicians who have been most reliable n this topic all appear to have been bought off with a sunset clause and the ludicrous promise of “a review”, even though they have now had several years of experience of arrant avoidance of their questions by the intelligence services. DRIP

Even this cannot persuade them that the security state (sometimes called the “deep state”, though that flatters its dysfunctional smugness) is mocking them. DRIP.

Our permanent establishment in Whitehall treats ministers with condescension, and mere parliamentarians with the same contempt it reserves for ordinary citizens. But those in public life need to believe the state is their honest servant. DRIPS!