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The environment – state and voluntary

In the Daily Telegraph there was a story about the decay of Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire. Paths worn out, litter, and general decay. Even the purple heather is being overwhelmed by bracken (perhaps a lesson to all those who think that ‘Mother Nature’ will always make things nice if she is left in charge). As usual ‘underfunding’ from the government (national and from the local government of the city of Bradford) got most of the blame.

But there were some other things mentioned. The pressure of the number of visitors was pointed to (no price of entry, no real owner… ‘tragedy of the Commons’ anyone?).

The removal of power from the local town to the city of Bradford back in the early 1970’s (by Edward Heath and Peter Walker the Conservative party ‘modernizers’ of their day – people much like David Cameron and Francis Maude in our own time). Was attacked by some people. Some people wanted to copy the ‘Malvern Hills Conservators’, a voluntary group in Worcestershire (or whatever it is called these days) which has been protecting the Malvern Hills since the 19th century – rather than trust either the city of Bradford or the local town council. And some local people pointed to something of interest.

Anne Hawkesworth (now that sounds like a Yorkshire name), from the local town council is quoted as saying “If you stand in the centre of Ilkely and look up, on one side you see the purple of the Beamsley and Devonshire estates, but on the Ilkley side you just see bracken”.

J.S. Mill (not a man I admire, as some readers here may know) said that private ownership of great estates could only be justified by the owner acting as a guardian for the people. I believe that such private ownership needs no ‘justification’, any more than Mr Mill should have had to ‘justify’ owning his house or his boots.

However, there is no denying that private ownership has proven to be a better guardian of the environment than the state.

17 comments to The environment – state and voluntary

  • Michael Taylor

    The local government “reforms” of the Heath government are a good candidate for the most destructive act of that whole wretched government. It replaced the societies which had evolved naturally over hundreds of years with “administrative units” which had no natural coherence, and were not natural vehicles through which local service and eminence could be done and achieved.

    As a direct result – and how unexpected can this really have been? – local government became primarily the playground for trainee party politicians and a useful source of patronage. As administrative capacity and performance plunged as a result, so power coursed naturally upwards towards the centre. And that’s a world in which there are that fewer barriers to the manipulative populism which takes the “representative” out of “representative democracy.”

    If society in its widest sense is to be rebuilt, it can happen only at the local level, and that “local level” must as far as possible be definable as the locality at which communities can usefully perceive and achieve collective ends. As far as I can see, if you had units of government like this, there would be little advantage to be derived from any party representation at all.

    Interestingly, the (N Yorks) town I have the luck to live in retains a strong civic personality and self-perception. Its local council is Conservative, but in constant danger at every election of going Independent.

    And maybe that’s the point for the Blair/Camerons of this world: genuine civic societies are most unwelcome in their worldview. Well, I’m guessing . . .

  • So, let’s get to the real question about Ilkley Moor: Is it “bat’at” or “baa’tat”? And what does that mean, anyway?

  • Guess I should have read the article!

  • guy herbert

    Well Gordon Brown thinks John Stuart Mill had an “extreme view of liberty” that must be rejected, Paul. So there must be something to be said for him.

  • I suppose there is some irony in the fact that most moorlands are themselves the creation of human activity long past of clearing out of vast forest for farming and grazing. The loss of the trees lead to a loss of soil which led to the scrubby moors as the stable state.

    Similar circumstances exist in the US were native Americans altered the environment on a large scale. When all human influence was removed the environment shifted not back to the pre-European mode but to something completely different.

  • ian

    bah’t hat = without a hat

  • veryretired

    I think your point is well taken, Paul, but the difficulty of ever convincing a confirmed statist that less government is needed instead of more is that such a solution is literally inconceivable to anyone in that mindset.

    It is not a matter of making an effective argument, or marshalling all the relevent facts, or showing the cause and effect relationship—rational, empirical analysis is meaningless when it comes up against an ideological committment to the efficacy of state action in any and all circumstances.

    For the statist mind, only statist solutions are possible.

    This is the reason Rand frequently stated that in any compromise between the advocates of freedom and those representing the state, only the statists can ever win. These latter will, no matter what the situation, the facts, or the track record of previous actions, always propose that more state action is needed.

    It has fascinated me for decades that this “one trick pony” is considered the approach of those who are nuanced, thoughtful, sophisticated, subtle(!), tolerant, etc., etc., etc., while those who propose allowing the private citizenry to work problems out on their own are simplistic, unrealistic, impractical—well, you’ve heard it all so many times.

    The tragedy of the commons is that it is so very, very common, indeed.

  • guy herbert

    Quite, veryretired. Occam’s Razor is forgotten in the policy world. Simplicity is regarded by the establishment as a token of implausibility. (Which well may account for the ubiquitous presence of conspiracy nutters in the modern world.)

    Yet at the same time false dilemmas, reification of tendentious description, and superstitious entanglements of ideas are commonly adopted to overconstrain the world and simplify thinking about it. In the question of land planning, which Paul peripherally addresses here, this is very evident.

    An example. Statist thinking in the UK now divides housing into “affordable accomodation” and “market accomodation”. The former implies subsidy (further implicitly, which ought to be offered to favoured groups deemed worthy); the latter is deemed to imply much greater cost to the occupant. And it does when building, converting, buying, selling and renting are highly regulated to increase costs and risks to owners and developers, and decrease absolute supply as well. The Adam Smith Insitute recently made very mild suggestions for loosening planning controls to allow more (and therefore cheaper) housing to be built, particularly in rural areas.

    But the statist mindset (broader, the bureaucratic mindset, since this is a special case of what I call ‘the CBI fallacy’) cannot conceive of its categories as descriptive rather than fixed sets of properties. Housing and environmental experts have lined up to condemn this, pronouncing that building more “market housing” cannot solve the problems of poorer people being unable to find somewhere to live, since “market housing” is by definition expensive. What is needed is more “affordable housing” which by definition is *not* cheap and available to anyone who will pay for it, as the adjective might suggest, but paid for from taxes and rationed by them to their clienteles.

    This is self-service dressed up as concern for others, but I suspect mostly transsexualism not tranvestism: they really believe this stuff and their whole lives revolve round it. You might as well try to convince a priest that the observances of his faith cannot be certain prescriptions for salvation in their current form because they are different from what they historically were, and are contradicted both by scientific knowledge and other religions.

    The post-modernists, though they can be counted on to be on the wrong side of any political argument, have a point about categories of thought deployed to bolster the structures of power. We are ruled by rhetoric primped into definitions to defy the facts. This is as true in the West as under the savagery of the House of Saud.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’m quite surprised that you pick up on the somewhat trivial Ilkley Moor article, as opposed to the more pressing concern of the state, via local council, being able to dictate the sale of second homes, or indeed where you might be allowed to buy a second home.

  • John K

    The Heatho-Walker local government changes were indeed evil, one of the worst things that awful government ever did. I was only a kid at the time, but even so it just felt wrong to me. I mean, Humberside, wtf?

    I am currently engaged in a legal battle with my metropolitan borough council, and as part of my research I found some old letters written to householders in 1967 by the town clerk of our then local council. He signed them all personally. His office was in the town hall in the centre of town. Now we have a “chief executive” who’s paid more than the Prime Minister, and you just try going to see him if you have a problem. As if he’d bother himself with the little people!

    I comfort myself by imagining what the devil is even now doing to the vile Heath with a red hot poker.

  • Michael Taylor

    I’m glad it’s not just me who feels this way – I was a kid at the time too, and to me it also felt wrong. In my case, they created “Kirklees” out of two towns: Huddersfield and Dewsbury. These two towns are close on the map, but in no other way: in all my life, I’ve never had occasion to go to Dewsbury (seriously). What’s worse, whilst Huddersfield prided itself on its worsteds industry (until it closed down), Dewsbury was the home of the “shoddy” industry (if you don’t understand that, look it up).

    Has Kirklees worked – I mean for those that pay for it, not for those paid by it? I doubt it. The latest thing is that the maternity unit in Huddersfield is being “relocated” to Halifax (another town that’s near on the map, but not in reality).

    Sorry to get parochial, but parochial is the point. Huddersfield, believe it or not, used to be a model of how a raw industrial town can achieve a form of civic solidity and pride. I kid you not, in the 1950s the World Bank (no less) published a book called “The Road to Huddersfield” using it as an example of civic creation. Now even the maternity unit is going. Can you imagine all those iron-watch-chained Victorian Yorkshire aldermen spinning in their splendid graves?

    Is this vertiginous decline solely the fault of “Kirklees”? Of course not – the textile industry was doomed anyway (of course). But there’s no doubt in my mind that the Heathite “reforms” tore the civic heart out of the town, and stripped it of its ability to respond to adversity.

    Meanwhile, I think I am correct that one of the 7/7 bombers came from . . . . Kirklees – a young man apparently with so little connection to society that he did what he did. It’s hardly surprising: “Kirklees” isn’t a town, isn’t a society, isn’t anything. And once you take the civic setting away, what are you left with?

    Yes, that’s right, I’m still bitter, and frankly furious after all these years.

  • Nick M

    I suspect the real issue is that while these artificial local government areas might look organic and sensible on a map (but then, so would gridding the entire country) they have no relation to reality. They are therefore top-down not bottom-up artifacts.

    Where it goes horribly wrong is when they attempt to connect up completely disparate areas. How can a local authority work if its area is half urban and half rural? This might appear to be the case with Bradford and Ilkley Moor.

    Underlying all of this is the undermining of any real local power. This has gone on under successive governments for many, many years. Politicians complain that the electorate is increasingly disconnected from voting. One wonders why!

  • Paul Marks

    Mr M. Taylor – I agree with everything you say here.

    John Kay – I also agree with everything you say here. Now we have “Chief Executives” and “Deputy Chief Executives” instead of a Town Clerk – and then tells us all we need to know about modern Britian.

    veryretired – as usual, I agree with you.

    Mr J. Taylor – no doubt you have a point about second homes. Perhaps a posting from you on the subject would be the way to go.

    Guy Herbert – no the fact that Mr Brown opposes J.S. Mill does not mean that J.S. Mill is any good (although, I admit, that there is some good in Mill’s writings).

    It just means that Mr Brown is ignorant. I have long noticed that successful people tend to be ignorant – perhaps because they spend so much time making sure they are they are successful (by sucking up and/or backstabbing – depending on the situation) that they do not have the time to read works that are not directly related to their own advancement.

    This is even true in modern academic life. The successful student (the one who does all his “assignments”, gets good grades and then goes on to get a good job) is likely to be a blank slate in terms of knowledge of the subject which he was supposed to be studying.

    I suspect that this is even true of many academics themselves – but that would be a hard thing to prove.

  • Michael Taylor

    Just thought I’d make one more point. The government is going to respond to the 7/7 bomber from “Kirklees” who had so little connection to the (eviscerated) local society with . . . . a centralised ID card system.

    What folly, what absolutely criminal folly.

    If you’d have retained a proper civic society (town clerk, aldermen et al) your chances of producing an alienated suicide bomber would have been correspondingly slimmer. And your chances of catching such a disastrously dislocated maniac before he killed correspondingly higher.

    In the absence of properly functioning societies, we are expected to believe that some bored civil servant browsing the central database is going to protect us. God, it makes me sick – the stupidity, the arrogance. The absolutely bloody arrogance of it.

  • Nick M

    Paul Marks,
    Interesting side-issue. I suspect the combination of success and ignorance is down to a lack of curiosity. A lack of curiosity and the consequent inability to even see the other guy’s point of view leads to a relentless path in one particular direction (and damn the opinions of others, or even the bald truth). If the chosen path goes along with the “correct way” within any power structure then this relentlessness breeds success. Or as they’re otherwise known Kelly, Jowell, Milliband…

    I wont go on, I’m feeling nauseous. Except to bring this back OT. These people think, really think that they’re doing good by making disparate areas conform to whatever ideology they blindly consider to be The Truth. The idea of “horses for courses” is one they are incapable of thinking of.

  • That’s a shame. I do agree, the state rarely takes good care of the environment. If you look at the history of the Appalachian Trail, the government has done a lousy job by allowing plants and animals to go extinct, and all sorts of other atrocities to occur without stepping in to stop it.

  • Paul Marks

    As News lady points out government messing up the environment is not just a Britsh thing – and yet Greens look to government and denounce private ownership (whether by individuals or by foundations), it is odd.

    M. Taylor – I remember pointing out to an old friend that councilors in my home town were not even allowed to speak against the sacred “Chief Executive” (the Deputy Prime Minister’s “Code of Conduct” was what they feared) and he simply accused me of relying on “slanted newspapers accounts”.

    Of course there had been no newspaper articles of the fears of councilors in Kettering Northamptonshire – but my old friend has been in the Civil Service for many years and it (at least the new mutated “The Project” form of the Civil Service) may be starting to have an influence on how he responds to things.

    Had I stayed in the Civil Service (rather than leaving in 1992) perhaps I would now be responding to things in the same way.

    On Nick M’s point:

    Well yes, the same people who say there is no such thing as objective truth and that we must be “accepting” of everything, also will not consider any view apart from the official doctrine.

    A contradiction?

    Perhaps, or perhaps if people have no respect for truth (and saying there is no objective truth is showing a lack of respect for truth) they do not care to spend the time considering different points of view to try and work out what the truth is.

    They just support the official doctrine – which is rather good for their own interests.