A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:
“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”
Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?
Obama is described in the web novel Unsong:
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton originally looked set to sweep the national vote based on her connections and name recognition. Then things got interesting. People all around the country started talking about “hope” and “change” and “yes we can”. New political phenomenon Barack Obama inspired huge crowds wherever he went. The older, stodgier candidates were swept aside in the wave of enthusiasm at the revolution he promised.
Me, I figured he was probably a demon.
I mean, I’ve read enough folktales to recognize the basic arc. A mysterious tall dark stranger arrives in the capital and quickly gains the ears of the court. There’s no particular reason why anyone should like him, but everyone who listens to him can’t shake the feeling that he’s a trustworthy, intelligent figure. When he’s out of earshot, the nobles of the land plot against him, wondering how such a relative lightweight could dream of usurping their power – but as soon as he speaks to them in his smooth, calming voice, they immediately forget what they were going to do and join in the universal chorus of praise.
And in every one of those folktales, the stranger turns out to be a demon.
This post was necessitated by a conversation at Brian’s Friday.
Why I’m an engineer: I decided long long ago that I wanted to avoid any field where the measure of success was a subjective judgement by some authority.
– Samizdata commenter ams, explaining why I am happy I became an engineer (of sorts) even if I was not consciously doing it for that reason at the time.
“Yes, you hear constant denunciations of institutions, parties, leaders, donors, lobbyists, influence peddlers. But the starting point of the bipartisan critique is the social, economic and geopolitical wreckage all around us. Bernie Sanders is careful never to blame Obama directly, but his description of the America Obama leaves behind is devastating — a wasteland of stagnant wages, rising inequality, a sinking middle class, young people crushed by debt, the American Dream dying. Take away the Brooklyn accent and the Larry David mannerisms and you would have thought you were listening to a Republican candidate. After all, who’s been in charge for the last seven years?”
Of course, for a certain type, criticising Barack Obama for presiding over the messes of the past few years is unthinkable. He was going to make the sea-level drop, remember. And anyway, what happened was all the fault of Dubya, or “bankers”, or the Chinese.
All this leads me to link to an excellent essay by Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, penned a few years’ ago, called The Cult of the Presidency. The office of President matters far too much than it should for the sanity of Americans, or indeed other parts of the world. It could and should matter a lot less. The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned: we should not treat a country as big and complex as the US, full of people with different aims and ends, as a single corporation under a CEO who is, allegedly, “in charge”.
Thirteen members of a Loyalist marching band, the Young Conway Volunteers, have had their criminal convictions for ‘doing a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peace‘ quashed after the Public Prosecutor agreed not to oppose their appeals.
The non-offence occurred after the marching band found themselves marching in a circle outside St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) in north Belfast, whilst playing (allegedly aggravated by hostility) a tune alleged to have been ‘the Famine Song’ with the presumably catchy refrain ‘The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?‘, but what they said was the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B‘ (reportedly an easy mistake to make, the basic tune is widely used). How this was proved at the original trial when they presumably were playing a tune on instruments and not singing was not made clear.
Although now acquitted, the band members agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 2 years (not a conviction but a promise of good behaviour, breach of which could lead to a 7 day jail term).
Whilst this acquittal in the face of ‘hate legislation’ is certainly a good thing for liberty, I note the apologetic tone of the response of the Orange Lodge, which presumably has some connection to the band:
In a statement, The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast welcomed the successful appeal.
“We are glad that justice has finally been achieved for these band members who had been wrongly vilified by the media and nationalism,” it said.
“There never was an intent to cause offence.”
One might ask what on Earth were they marching for if not to ‘cause offence‘ (in the subjective sense) on 12th July by their celebration of the lifting of the siege of Londonderry? To say that there was ‘no intent to cause offence‘ appears to concede that offence was caused, rather than taken or even perhaps rejoiced in as an opportunity to throw the legal machinery of the State at the band.
Why not say that this legislation is oppressive, tyrannical and makes the law itself a politicised weapon, a sword, not a shield?
To me as an Englishman, the whole shebang seems utterly alien, the intolerance and fanaticism on both poles of the Ulster divide mark them as having more in common with each other than with insipid, fundamentally apolitical England. Whether or not that is a good thing for Northern Ireland, or for England, may in the long run be another matter.
I believe current dogma is that men and women are absolutely and completely identical except men are bastards.
– Samizdata commenter “Ellen”
We need to get people of all races, colours, and creeds to come together and agree with Sharon Kyle.
– Jim Treacher is not impressed by the Netroots Nation 2013 version of “diversity”.
David Thompson also likes the bit with this sentence in it.
“England has 39 police forces, headed by 39 chief constables or commissioners. In the past 18 months, seven have been sacked for misconduct, suspended, placed under criminal or disciplinary investigation or forced to resign. That is not far off a fifth of the total. In the same period, at least eight deputy or assistant chief constables have also been placed under ongoing investigation, suspended or forced out for reasons of alleged misconduct. No fewer than 11 English police forces – just under 30 per cent – have had one or more of their top leaders under a cloud.”
– Andrew Gilligan
The Tories are re-learning the point that unionised organisations tend, over time, to pursue their self interest in ways that, unless subjected to the rule of law, will be destructive. This conduct is some way off from the ideal as set by Sir Robert Peel.
“[…] the cards do represent an attack upon the culture of liberty – upon our sense that we can do as we please within the law, and mix freely with others. What ID cards represent is a society where we are constantly having to answer for ourselves – constantly having to say who we are, to prove our identity to officialdom. They also symbolise a society where we are mistrustful of our fellow citizens. In Blunkett-world, we should only trust those who have become a member of the ID-card community, and are allowing the powers that be to keep tabs on them.”
– Josie Appleton
This minute is my contribution but I should re-emphasise that I remain unconvinced by the overall policy. I believe the proposed plan is flawed, and that no tinkering with particular issues will be able to resolve what is a fundamental political matter. We remain as far apart as ever on the acceptability of charging. How will we get people to accept a fee when asylum seekers get the card free? What about the practicality of ensuring every citizen provides a biometric sample while no effective procedures are in place for those who refuse? The potential for a large-scale debacle which harms the Government is great, and any further decisions on the next steps must be made collectively. I will continue to urge strongly that this issue be shelved.
–Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, asking David Blunkett some very good questions in a leaked Cabinet document, as revealed in the Sunday Times.
As British citizens we have very little actual power to influence government. One weapon we do have is words, that’s why we write blogs. However if we’re honest the impact is small. Only a tiny proportion of the population will ever read any blog at all. Most will read ones they agree with – we’re largely preaching to the converted.
What we need to do is take our words out on to the street – to get other people using them for us. We can do that not with lengthy arguments or rants but with simple phrases that encapsulate our position. Soundbites, memes, call them what you will. Politicians, advertisers and the media all know the power of a simple slogan: “Things can only get better”, “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “the innocent have nothing to fear”…
The term I want to popularise is Big Blunkett. David Blunkett is an authoritarian Home Secretary who believes in monitoring innocent citizens. He is responsible for some of the worst threats to civil liberties this country has seen for many years. In particular he seems determined to introduce compulsory National Identity Cards – yet the average person on the street seems unaware of the threat he poses.
I’m not trying to offend or hurt David Blunkett personally. He might be a really nice man socially – but as a politician he is dangerous. The thought that he might become Prime Minister is frightening.
The expression “Big Blunkett” sums up the dangers simply and effectively, especially in the Orwell centenary year. When people hear the name David Blunkett they should automatically think “Big Brother”. The fact that Blunkett is blind simply adds irony and provides a talking point.
I want to get “Big Blunkett” into common usage and I want to do it fast – time is running out. Please help me. Use the term “Big Blunkett” at every opportunity. Use it with your mates down the pub, use it in your blogs, use it in letters/emails to the media. If you’re a journalist use it in your reports, even if only to the extent of saying “some people are calling him ‘Big Blunkett'”. I search Google daily for the phrase “Big Blunkett”, hopefully soon I’ll find 5000 entries instead of just 5.
Words can make a difference. Let’s use them.
I don’t want Big Blunkett watching me.
Cross-posted from An It Harm None and the brand new Big Blunkett blog.