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]

On the ethics of shouting at the help

Here in the UK the week began with shouting at tea and is ending with shouting at permanent secretaries. Home Secretary, Priti Patel is accused of doing the shouting and as a consequence there be ructions. Now this is probably not the time to offer an opinion on whether Patel is guilty of this non-crime, but it does raise the question of whether we should care or not.

Being shouted at is not a lot of fun especially by your boss. All things being equal bosses shouldn’t do it. But bosses are not paid to be nice they are paid to be effective. So, does shouting help? Or hinder? Or not make much difference?

Some examples come to mind:

Churchill. He used to have blazing rows – hours-long blazing rows – with Alanbrooke. But the shouting was both ways. Also – outside 1940 – was Churchill effective? Discuss.

Margaret Thatcher. Despite her fierce reputation rumour has it that she was nice towards her staff. Much the same used to be said about her colleague, Norman Tebbitt, the Chingford Skinhead.

Douglas Haig. Apparently he was very calm. As a subordinate you had to really push it get him angry. But was he effective? I have studied him for years and I am still not sure. Probably yes. Paul Marks, on the other hand, has no such doubts. Definitely not.

In my personal experience, the calmer bosses seem to be more effective but as an employee it’s often difficult to tell.

The Spoils of War

Frank Falla was a Guernsey journalist when the German occupation began in 1940. He became involved in the production of an underground newspaper and when he was eventually caught he was sent to a German prison (not – please note – a concentration camp). By the time the Americans liberated him he was little more than a bag of bones and close to death. The Americans put him up in a hotel so that he could recover. There he was served breakfast in bed by a German civilian. He writes:

I think her name was Trudi – and she was to spell trouble for some of the American boys. She was a young, attractive brunette who a week later had a pretty rough handling from some soldiers who found out where her bedroom was. Three of them took turns to sleep the night with her. Some of these boys were completely sex-starved after long training in England and fighting their way through France and Germany, and they took it out on this poor girl, who was a week recovering from the ordeal. Still, c’est la guerre!

And all this in an area that was later handed over to the Soviets.

What, if anything, should we be doing about Huawei?

There is a kerfuffle here in the UK over 5G. I can’t in all honesty say that I have the slightest idea what 5G is but I surmise that it is one better than 4G. The issue is around whether the Chinese company, Huawei, should be allowed to supply some of the equipment. Lots of people, including James Delingpole say, “no”. And very few people say, “yes”.

The first question that springs to (my) mind is, what has this got to do with the government? Which I suppose is bound up with the question of what is the threat? Assuming that there is a threat and that government should be “doing something about it”, what is that something?

About the only thing I know about China and telephony is that you should never take your phone to China.

Oh, and one other thing. Guido Fawkes observed that the real scandal is that Chinese technology should prove to be better than western technology. Is this true and is it a portent?

Plus ça change…

I’ve been rootling around in the Samizdata archives (more of which to come, perhaps) and I found this:

In the bubbled, hypocritical mind of some in Hollywood, the only reason Gervais crossed a line is because he went after them. Had he been as relentless in ripping apart Sarah Palin, her young children, Jesus Christ, or George W. Bush, today the comedian would be celebrated as “edgy” and “courageous” — because only in Hollywood is throwing red meat to a hard-left crowd considered “edgy” and “courageous.” But Gervais didn’t do that. Instead, he trained his satirical fire on Hollywood Power and today there’s serious talk about whether or not the comedian will be brought back to the Golden Globes next year as host.

As you can probably guess from the mentions of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush this is from a while ago – January 19th 2011, to be precise.

Ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated?

The forgotten defence of the Falklands

April 2, 1982 is a date seared into my memory, for that was the day that Argentina invaded the Falklands: British sovereign territory. (Or should that be European sovereign territory? Not quite sure.) Anyway, it happened and it was humiliating and doubtless felt just as keenly in Paris as in London.

As we all know the islands were soon recaptured but I’ve always been curious as to what happened in that initial defence on April 2. All I’ve “known” is that the defenders were massively outnumbered and it was all over pretty quickly, there was no defence to the last man and only one Argentine was killed. Was it really that perfunctory?

Well, according to Ricky D. Phillips in The First Casualty it wasn’t, not by a long chalk.

According to the Royal Marine garrison they (and, ahem, “others”) put up the best defence possible, despite being outnumbered 100 to 1. In doing so the defenders managed to kill 60 Argentines, knock out one tracked vehicle and one landing craft. All that for no British casualties which is all the more remarkable when you consider that there is an awful lot of talk in the book about incoming fire being “heavy and accurate” and that the Marines’ plan started to go wrong more or less immediately.

So, why haven’t we heard this story? Why didn’t we hear it at the time? And why the continuing confusion over something as seemingly straightforward as the body count?

Phillips tries to answer this. One of the problems is the fog of war. Perhaps that should be the “smoke of war”. What colour was that smokebomb he asks? One eyewitness says white, another purple, other answers include red, yellow and green. Multiply that sort of confusion over something so simple a few times and you end up with a lot of uncertainty. And this is a small engagement involving small numbers over a short period of time.

The Argentine dictatorship had no interest in publicising a story of substantial Argentine losses – a position that persists to this day. British officialdom, on the other hand, were in no position to count although Falkland Islanders saw plenty of “Erics”, as they came to term dead Argentines.

When it comes to why it has taken so long for the story to come out Phillips theorises that the British government wanted to curry favour with world opinion. I am not sure I buy that, surely a story of stout defence would indicate to the world that you care?

Perhaps a clue lies in the reaction of a fellow Samizdatista at the time. While I was incandescent with rage, he could not believe that Britain was attempting to retake the islands. For a lot of Britons – especially those at the Foreign Office – who had gone through the loss of Empire it must have seemed like just another chapter in a familiar story. For us younger ones, if felt like there was a principle at stake and an important one at that. Mind you, as Phillips points out Argentines felt just as strongly.

I suspect that the Foreign Office was all ready to dole out a story of capitulation. It took time for Margaret Thatcher to make it clear that that wasn’t going to happen and by that time there were bigger issues than the honour of the Falklands’ defenders.

The First Casualty is not without its lighter moments. For instance, Argentine troops were bewildered when it turned out that the “liberated” Falkland Islanders didn’t speak Spanish. More amusing is the tale of a wizened old Admiral being brought in to look at the invasion plans. “Fascinating,” he said, “now where are your plans for taking London.” They thought he was mad. He thought they were mad. And, as it turned out, he was right.

Some – mainly Wikipedia editors – have questioned Phillips’s credibility. All I can say is that if it’s a pack of lies it’s a good one. There is a lot of detail, a lot of thought and a lot of doubt.

Does Trump have a case to answer?

I have not been following the Trump impeachment hooha with any great interest but I can’t fail to notice that it is dominating Sky News’s coverage today. Some might say they are doing so to distract attention from their defeat in last week’s general election but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Anyway, I would be grateful if the commentariat could help to bring me up to speed on this. For instance, does Trump have a case to answer? Has he done anything illegal and – more to the point – has he done anything wrong? Perhaps even more to the point, has he done anything that other US presidents – Obama for instance – wouldn’t do?

I can’t help but notice that people I trust have been rather quiet on this.

Ulster for Beginners – Part IX

This is the final part and on a day when Ulster politics could have a big impact on British and by extension EU politics. I hope to put up a follow up post – Reflections 20 years on, that sort of thing – but I hope all sorts of things that I never get round to.

Britain’s Role (continued)

Almost since the moment the Troubles began, British governments have been is search of what T E Utley described as the “mythical centre”. There is a belief that with just a few tweaks here and a few drops of the old diplomatic oil there, a solution can be found that can satisfy all. Thus Ulster has seen a succession of negotiations since 1973, all of which have ended in failure of greater or lesser magnitude. Ulster’s colonial masters simply cannot seem to get to grips with the idea that there are some disputes which cannot be resolved by compromise. The politicians might as well have tried finding a compromise between driving on the left and driving on the right. Or between a murderer and his intended victim. Or jumping out of a window and not jumping out of a window (elasticated ropes perhaps?). There is a reason for this. There is no compromise between going to war and not going to war. Or being governed by people you trust and people you do not trust. Or being forced to learn Gaelic and not being forced to learn Gaelic.

[Slightly overegging the omelette here but the point is clear enough: there is no compromise to be had.]

This belief in compromise has led to successive governments making all nature of concessions to nationalists. In the early stages this included standing down the B-Specials, disarming the RUC, permitting the creation of No-Go areas and generally taking a softly, softly approach towards terrorism. In more recent times the Government has sought to appease nationalism by introducing “Fair Employment” legislation, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and declaring that it had “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” in the Province.

[I should perhaps explain what a “no-go” area is. Or was. It is an area the police and the army do not enter. According to unionists this gave the IRA the opportunity to arm and organise.]

Such compromises might have been justified had they had the effect of reducing tension. Of course, they have done no such thing. The IRA had taken enormous comfort from government concessions, seeing them as a reward for their campaign of violence. Meanwhile nationalists, far from running out of things to complain about, have merely switched from demanding civil rights to demanding joint sovereignty.

Although government policy towards Ulster has, in many ways, been weak, there is one area where the Government has been right. Throughout the Troubles the Government has accepted the principle of self-determination and that the people of Ulster have the right to determine their own destiny. Credit where credit is due.

The Way Ahead

Ulster’s tragedy is uncertainty. For the best part of thirty years they have had to suffer a government whose actions have been contradictory and confusing. While Ulster’s people are unsure of their destiny and governments make little effort to put their minds at rest then there will always be those who believe that violence can pay political dividends. On the other hand, were there no doubt that Ulster was British and was going to stay that way then the IRA would soon lose support and melt away.

[Is this true? This question came up in a Samizdata post in its very early days. The best explanation I thought for the peace that had broken out was the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of a sudden, the supply of arms dried up. Which I suppose suggests that there is little fear of a resurgence in republicanism – unless that is a post-Brexit European Union gets into the arms-smuggling business.]

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX

Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII

Consequences of a British withdrawal

Many people on the mainland ask themselves why the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be preserved. Wouldn’t the world be so much easier if they just got out?

There can be no doubt that such a withdrawal would be a massive betrayal of a people who feel themselves to be British by a nation that used to be renowned for keeping its word [Why else would foreigners refer to “Perfidious Albion”?]. It cannot be in Britain’s interest to gain a reputation for selling out its friends.

In addition to the objections of principle there are a number of practical difficulties. First of all, Ulster would become a highly unstable area which would be bound to affect Britain in one way or another. Secondly, Britain would have shown that she allows herself to be pushed around by a bunch of terrorists. The lesson would not be lost on others. Running away from problems is no solution – they have a funny habit of catching you up.

Britain’s Role

“Despite the many attributes of the English, a peculiar talent for solving the problems of Ireland is not among them”. So said the Labour politician, Roy Jenkins. He was remarkably perceptive. There are a number of traits of British politicians that have undermined Britain’s ability to deal with Sinn Fein/IRA violence. One of the greatest of these is guilt.

[Quoting Roy Jenkins, Crozier? Bad move.]

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII

Samizdata quote of the day

One incident of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland does stick in my mind – myself and a friend were dropping off a car at a “park and ride” in Belfast and went for a bus – I went to buy a ticket and the driver said “We are full”, the bus was half empty so I tried again and got “WE ARE FULL” as a reply, and the bus drove off.

I asked my friend what that was all about – and he said “it is your English accent” and when I questioned further I got the further information “the driver was clearly from the Nationalist Community”.

So there you are – my own “Rosa Parks” moment, except that the lady was told to sit at the back of the bus, whereas I was not allowed on the bus at all.

Paul Marks

Ulster for Beginners – Part VII

[My apologies for the large gap in installments. Holidays, ingrained sloth etc. Anyway, back to the grind, and this time we have a cracker…]

Civil Rights

The civil rights campaign was the single most important factor in shaping Ulster’s recent history. Its allegations [ugh] provided the pretext for IRA violence, the belief amongst many that Ulster is all about nice Catholics and nasty Protestants and the belief in government circles that in Ulster, at least, democracy does not work.

But were the allegations true? If they were, were they evidence of a corrupt state or merely the odd corrupt official?

Here are some of the more famous accusations of injustice:

Londonderry gerrymandering

This is one of the most oft-repeated Stormont scandals. The charge is that Stormont arranged Londonderry’s electoral boundaries in such a way as to ensure that a city with a Catholic majority returned a Unionist-dominated council. This assumes that Nationalists used to get more votes than Unionists. The truth is that we will never know as in the years between 1936 and 1968 there was not a single occasion when Nationalists and Unionists fought each other in a City Council election. There is a second assumption: that the boundaries were drawn up for the sole purpose of ensuring a Unionist majority. Once again we may never know the facts because the boundaries were drawn up in 1936, long before the Civil Rights Era. What we do know is that the Nationalists of the day did not propose an alternative. It is a peculiar variety of grave injustice that is not worth complaining about. Even when the boundaries were changed in 1973, nationalists still failed to get a majority of the votes.

Housing Policy

The charge is that Unionist councillors discriminated in favour of Protestant tenants when handing out council properties. This does not correspond with the facts. In the late sixties, according to surveys taken at the time, 40.9% of Catholic families lived in public sector housing, compared to 32.6% of Protestant families. Of course, this says nothing about the quality of the housing; it could just be that the Protestants had all the nicest houses, or about the proportions of the two communities who would have been eligible for public sector housing. As it happens, in Londonderry the Protestants did occupy slightly better houses, but their Catholic neighbours occupied considerably better properties than Protestants in Belfast, or for that matter Protestants living in the Fountain estate near the Bogside.

[For that matter, housing in the (unionist) Fountain estate is still clearly in a worse state than housing in the (nationalist) Creggan.]

Employment Statistics

Professor Richard Rose’s 1968 study Governing without Consensus found that there was “…a limited tendency for Protestants to have a higher occupational class than Catholics.” Much of this could be explained by reference to geography: the Catholics tended to live in the West [of the province] and the jobs tended to be in the East. After 24 years of direct rule from Westminster things have changed slightly, but even now Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants. There are two possibilities: either the British are as bad as Stormont, or Stormont was not half as bad as is claimed. In explaining differing rates of unemployment it is important to bear in mind the existence of other factors.

[It occurs to me that this is a rather bizarre argument. Why would people continue to live in a place where there is little work?]

Treatment of Catholics

Much is made of the recruitment, or lack of it, of Catholics into the Stormont government and other industries. That discrimination happened is undeniable and regrettable, but there are a number of mitigating factors and Catholics must take some of the blame for the fate that befell them.

[Regrettable. Really? Why employ people who are opposed to your very existence? Or might be.]

Catholic Attitudes

Much is made of the way the state treated Catholics, but just as important was the way Catholics treated the state. Throughout its existence the Catholic church and the Nationalist parties refused to accept the legitimacy of Stormont (or, for that matter, that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom). They discouraged Catholics from joining the police and civil service and for most of Stormont’s history the Nationalist party boycotted Stormont. Patrick Shea, a Catholic who did join the civil service, described how the Catholic community’s view of him and those like him was that “we had joined the enemy; we were lost souls.”

Education provides another example of how Catholics tended to distance themselves from the state. Initially, the Northern Ireland government had wanted to create a non-denominational school system. The Catholic church made it plain that it wanted Catholic children taught in Catholic Church schools and not state schools. This provided the Unionist government with two headaches. Firstly, under the Government of Ireland Act [1921] it was illegal for the government to “endow any religion”. Secondly, by funding Catholic schools it would be creating an anomalous situation where public funds would be being used to subsidise private assets ie. Catholic schools. Eventually, a compromise was reached where Catholic schools were funded, but at a lower rate. All said and done, lower funding did nothing to improve the educational prospects of Catholics.

A further self-inflicted disadvantage was the tendency for Catholics to have larger families than Protestants. This had two effects on employment. Firstly, unemployment tends to be highest amongst the young. If a group has a higher birth rate it will have more young people among its population and therefore higher unemployment. Secondly, mass surveys have shown that the more children there are in a family the poorer the educational attainment. None of this had anything to do with discrimination.

What people often forget about the situation prior to 1969 was that the system had safeguards. The Stormont government could not just do as it pleased. The safeguards were written into the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which included clauses outlawing discrimination by the government on the grounds of religion. These clauses were never used to launch a legal action against the Stormont government. One can only conclude that civil rights campaigners knew that their evidence was flimsy and that allegations of discrimination were used to promote a united Ireland rather than to right wrongs.

Even if the claims were correct and even if the system could never have been made to work this is hardly relevant now. Ulster has had direct rule from Westminster for a quarter of a century. Whatever, the vices of Ulster’s English governors may have been, sectarianism cannot be numbered among them. The period since 1972 has seen an enormous growth of laws, agencies and funds aimed at eliminating discrimination. Ulster has a Fair Employment Act and a Fair Employment Commission to ensure that employers do not discriminate on religious grounds. The Community Relations Council promotes cross-community understanding [Ha!]. Housing has been taken out of local government control and put in the hands of the Housing Executive. The Standing Commission on Human Rights monitors Ulster’s human rights record.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX

Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

The Republic of Ireland

While people will usually accept that the majority of Ulster’s citizens object to a united Ireland many still find themselves wondering why. After all, they say, the Republic seems a very pleasant, friendly sort of place and it is a modern democracy and a member of the European Union.

One might as well ask why Southern England doesn’t unite with France. After all it’s a modern democracy and a member of the European Union etc. The simple truth is that the people of Southern England have no desire to become French. To them the idea is simply absurd. The same holds for the British people of Ulster.

Another example is that of Canada and the United States. There, with the exception of Quebec, both peoples share the same language, a similar culture and a similar constitutional tradition. And yet, there is absolutely no desire on the part of Canadians to become Americans. Although a union between those two countries would almost certainly work there is something about being Canadian that Canadians wish to preserve.

Let’s, for a change, put the boot on the other foot. Why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland put an end to all this bother and rejoin the United Kingdom? After all, the two countries share similar geographies, languages and culture. Once again, to the vast majority of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland the idea seems absurd. But if union with the United Kingdom seems absurd to them why should union with the Republic of Ireland seem any less absurd to Ulster unionists?

All this does not bring us any closer to a rational explanation of the resistance to a united Ireland. Maybe there isn’t a rational explanation for national feeling. But the fact that something is not rational does not mean it does not exist.

In addition to what might be described as “national feeling” there are practical, real-world reasons why Ulster’s majority oppose a united Ireland.

One of these is the influence of the Catholic Church which plays the dominant role in administering the education and health systems of the Republic of Ireland. It does not like mere politicians interfering in that role. In 1952, Noel Browne, Irish Minister for Health, proposed a modest set of health reforms, known as the Mother and Child proposal. This was condemned by the Catholic Church and the proposals were dropped.

[Well, this is out of date!] → Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

Boastful Boris’s big bad boondoggle

So, Boris wants to build a new railway line. Between Leeds and Manchester. He says he wants it to do “…what we did with Crossrail in London”. An interesting argument given that the only thing the still-unopened Crossrail has done so far is saddle the people of the South with some very big bills.

But that aside, there really is an awful lot of woolly-headed thinking going on here.

First of all there is the idea that the North should be as rich as the South; that “our” economy needs “rebalancing”, as the saying goes.

But should it? Maybe there are reasons the North is poorer than the South. There was a time – during the Industrial Revolution – when the opposite was the case. Probably due to presence of coal mines and ports. But historically, that was the exception. Historically, London has always been the richest part of the British Isles – doubtless due to its proximity to the Continent.

For how long have I heard politicians going on about doing something for the North? As long as I can remember. Surely, you get to a point when you realise that nothing can be done? Maybe the best option is rather than moving the jobs to the people to move the people to the jobs. Except you can’t because no one can afford to live down South because the government won’t allow anyone to build a house.

Western civilisation will end if anything is built on this land. Oh, it already has. OK, OK, some housing is getting built but very little.

Secondly, we have the idea that the government can do infrastructure. This is not completely stupid. A new rail line can make a profit. But typically it is the owners of land near the stations that gain and not the rail company. This is how Japan’s bullet trains got going with the first line being built between Japan’s biggest city, Tokyo, and its second biggest, Osaka. It was probably – I don’t think anyone was counting – a success. But the problem was that after that everywhere – from Nowhereyama to Nowhereshima – wanted a bullet train. And through the wonder that is that state, they got them. That’s a lot of debt.

Thirdly, we have the idea that railways are the answer to… well… anything really. Actually, I am being unfair. Nowadays, what railways are good at is moving large quantities of people or goods from one point to another. They are great for commuting in large cities. They are great for intercity travel [so long as the total journey time is less than three hours at which point aircraft are better]. They are great at moving huge quantities of grain from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the St Lawrence. But for everything else they’re useless. There was a time when railways were the national transport. But those days are long gone. Nowadays they are niche players. Roads are better.

It occurs to me that it’s just possible – and I cleave to this hope – that Johnson’s announcement is part of the plan to cancel HS2. “HS2 is a marvellous idea but, zoinks! it’s expensive. Look at Leeds – Manchester. A much better bet. This shows this government’s commitment to rail, blah, blah, blah…”