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]

The King can do no wrong

George Archer-Shee died at nineteen, in what might almost be called a natural death for a young British man of his class at that time – he was killed in the First Battle of Ypres. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate but he has no known grave.

He shared the manner of his death with thousands of others, but, quite against his own wishes, his short life before that had taken an unusual turn. At the time of his death he had been famous for six years.

It all started in 1908 when George Archer-Shee was thirteen and a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne. He was accused of having stolen a five shilling postal order intended for another cadet. An elderly post office clerk said she remembered Archer-Shee as having cashed two postal orders that day, one of his own (which no one denied) and the stolen one. Archer-Shee protested his innocence to no avail; he was expelled without much ceremony.

That should have been that, a minor story of Edwardian disgrace, but his father refused to take it lying down. He engaged one of the most celebrated lawyers of the day – Sir Edward Carson, famous for many reasons, some of which are still controversial today, and determined to pursue the case to the highest court in the land. But there was a slight problem: if I have understood it right, at that time one could not sue the Crown.

Quoting a 1939 article in the Pennsylvania Law Review:

It was early recognized in England that while an action could not be brought against the King, yet as the “fountain of justice and equity” he would entertain petitions from his subjects for the redress of their wrongs; and it was established during the reign of Edward I that the subject might bring a petition of right, which, if approved by the King, would be heard in his courts. The King indicated his approval of the petition by writing on it, “Let right be done”. A petition of right, as distinguished from a petition of grace, asked “for something which the suppliant could claim as a right, if the claim were made against any one but the King”. Originally a petition of right was employed only to recover some interest in land, and there was doubt whether it would lie to recover chattels, but by the time of Henry VI it was settled that it would lie for the recovery of goods and chattels. It was not until 1874 that it was decided that the petition would lie for breach of contract. It would never lie for a tort, for the King can do no wrong.

At the time the petition of right was filed in the Archer-Shee case the law was clear that those in the service of the Crown, whether military or civil, could be dismissed at will and were without remedy by petition of right or otherwise.

Carson won in the end, as he usually did. Archer-Shee was exonerated. And the important precedent was set that the King can do wrong, and can be sued.

So far, so Whig history. The setting of that precedent is how I come to know about the case. I think I read a rather good account of it and why it mattered in Look and Learn magazine in the mid 1970s. Terence Rattigan wrote a play loosely based on the story called The Winslow Boy. It has been filmed at least twice.

But a more recent event also involving the Post Office – and the refusal of the Post Office to admit the possibility of error – and the refusal of the British State as a whole to admit the possibility of the Post Office being in error – and the blackening of the names of innocent people – made me think that we need to learn that lesson again.

Let the BBC tell the story:

Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about

A group of former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have seen their names cleared at the Court of Appeal after the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.

It marks the latest stage of a computer scandal, and a long and complex legal battle, which could leave the Post Office with a huge compensation bill.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses – an average of one a week – based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon.

Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, many were financially ruined and have described being shunned by their communities. Some have since died.

Edit: In the comments Rudolph Hucker pointed out that the doctrine driving the Post Office’s reckless prosecution of so many of its own employees bore an even closer parallel to the doctrine, supposedly overturned by the Archer-Shee case, that “the King can do no wrong” than I thought. He linked to a piece from the radio station LBC called ‘The Post Office were mendacious in the way they denied justice’ The title is a quote from Nick Wallace, a journalist who has been covering the Horizon scandal for many years.

Due to its long legacy, the Post Office has a “proximity to state power that is almost unparalleled.”

Mr Wallis continued: “It was able to use its own investigation and prosecution units to bypass the CPS and the police force to prosecute its own employees to the tune of one a week for 14 years. There were 736 successful convictions just using Horizon IT evidence.”

He told Shelagh that when the Post Office found out its prosecutions may be unsafe, “they covered it up.”

“They went out of their way to say to campaigning MPs and the Justice for the Postmasters’ Alliance that nothing was going wrong with the IT system and there was nothing wrong with their prosecution.”

They then “threw tens of millions of pounds trying to deny the subpostmasters justice,” Mr Wallis said.

“They were mendacious in the way they went about denying justice and they colluded with the Government in order to do this, because the Government is 100% shareholder of the Post Office and it has skin in this game.

Samizdata quote of the day

How do you feel about the palace hearing you speak your truth today?

“Your truth”. That phrase slipped off Oprah’s tongue with such ease during her interview with Meghan and Harry. But on this apparently simple construction hangs a question that has divided us with an explosion of animosity: how many truths can there be?

With the new world once again pitted against the old, I find myself reminded of the words of another Royal confidante, those of Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “To thine own self be true,” he advised his son. This sentiment seems to encapsulate so much of what is philosophically at stake in this interview, with the Prince and the Princess expressing “their truth”, a truth that was as much a function of the need to be true to who they are, as it was a reference to objective reality.

Put aside for one moment the on-going debate about their claims concerning Royal racism, for it seems to me that there is a troubling tension between two meanings of truth going on here: being true to yourself, something we have come to call authenticity, and truth as an empirical statement of fact.

Giles Fraser

The BBC used to at least pretend to be impartial

The current BBC News headline is:

LIVE US vote goes to wire as Trump falsely claims fraud

The URL above is just the standard https://www.bbc.co.uk/news. The content to which it links will change. I have tried to insert a screenshot of the current headline below. I am very tired. My apologies if I have got it wrong:

How does the BBC know Trump’s claim is false? Has it carried out an investigation?

Not that I deny that the BBC has longstanding expertise when it comes to matters of fraud:

Princess Diana’s brother accuses BBC of ‘whitewash’ over faked bank statements that led to historic Panorama interview

Is anything happening?

Just curious.

The anti-Watergate

Did you ever watch All The President’s Men? It was a true story about two heroic journalists doggedly tracking down and bringing to light a scandal at the heart of American politics. “The list is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire US intelligence community. FBI, CIA, Justice. It’s incredible.”

There won’t be a sequel any time soon.

Gerard Baker, the sole Times regular who is not rooting for Biden, writes,

Anti-Trump censorship threatens democracy

For all the media hysteria about the existential menace Donald Trump supposedly represents to American democracy and western liberalism, there’s a softer but more pervasive authoritarianism that poses a greater threat to the freedoms on which our way of life rests.

Suggestions that four years of Trumpian oppression have left America’s journalists and news organisations cowering in fearful submission to the iron fist of a repressive regime would be hilarious if they weren’t so widely believed.

There can’t have been a better funded, more vocal, less suppressed “Resistance” in all of human history. Flick through the TV channels any evening and watch “pundits” and “entertainers” loudly mouthing uniformly expressed complaints about the condition of the nation. Media companies that were dying a quiet, unmourned death from sheer tedium and obsolescence before Bad Orange Man came along have sprung back to life on a saline drip of Trump-hatred. Online, search and social companies play host to every conceivable form of critique, ridicule and denunciation of the president, his administration, his party and anyone associated with them.

And good luck to them all. If liberty means anything, to paraphrase the man, it means the right to tell me things I don’t want to hear. But that’s the problem. It’s not Trump-loathing that the people with the best access to the public square don’t want us to hear. It’s everything else.

The much larger threat to the sort of free and challenging debate about issues of public importance is socially enforced ideological conformity to the prevailing orthodoxy of our cultural leadership.

and

Typically, such a story from one of the nation’s most well-known newspapers would have birthed a frenzy of follow-up reporting to confirm, expand or clarify the original reporting. Not in today’s media.

Instead what we got was a fullbore effort by virtually every major media and company in America to discredit the reporting. Journalists dashed to social media and TV studios to defend the Bidens and condemn fellow reporters. Beating up on another news organisation is not unheard of. But this was more than that. The story was not just sloppy or biased, they claimed, it was the result of a campaign of Russian disinformation, planted by the Kremlin’s ubiquitous intelligence people.

“We are reducing its distribution on our platform”

The New York Post has a big story. Very big.

Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad

By Emma-Jo Morris and Gabrielle Fonrouge

Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads

An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.

The blockbuster correspondence — which flies in the face of Joe Biden’s claim that he’s “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings” — is contained in a massive trove of data recovered from a laptop computer.

But the story of what is happening to that story is even bigger. The Daily Mail reports,

Outrage as Facebook AND Twitter throttle story about Joe Biden meeting son’s Ukraine partners until it’s been vetted by its third party so-called ‘fact-checkers’.

The Mail article describes how Sohrab Ahmari, an editor at the New York Post, tried to tweet about his paper’s story, and got this message:

Tweet not sent

Your Tweet couldn’t be sent because the link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful. Visit our Help Center to learn more.

And Andy Stone, policy communications director at Facebook, has announced:

While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.

Edit: Not knowing much about social media myself, I have two questions for readers. (1) What can people do to spread the New York Post‘s report about Joe Biden’s lies regarding Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the Ukraine? (2) What can people do to spread the even more important news that Facebook and Twitter are censoring this story?

Update: Via Instapundit, I learn that Sohrab Ahmari’s twitter account has been suspended. They are silencing the opinion editors of major newspapers.

Samizdata quote of the day

Woman who no-one had heard of until she married a royal “set out to prove that women don’t need men to give them status”. I mean I agree but she’s got her work cut out.

– Rob Fisher, commenting on this.

Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

Rightly not trusting our leaders to deliver on their statements (there were, IFUC, no promises about leaving the EU from Mrs May), the Sage of Kettering and I have left the EU in that recently, we have visited our nearest escape hole, the Channel Islands. A fleeting visit, one day in each, but we have seen a future, and it works, more or less. For our more distant readers, Jersey and Guernsey are ‘Crown Dependencies’, historically part of the Duchy of Normandy, owing allegiance to the British Crown but not part of the UK. The UK government has arrogated to itself the overlordship of the islands, holding responsibility for foreign affairs and defence (well, sort of, as we shall see), but the two Bailiwicks are otherwise independent jurisdictions with autonomy in most areas, crucially taxation, and are outside of the European Union, albeit within EU Customs arrangements, allowing them to trade with the EU. Here, they say, the Queen is the Duke of Normandy, although monuments refer to ‘la Reine’. She is the only Duke I can think of married to a Duke. Whether or not they can simply declare independence is constitutionally unclear, but with Labour dangerously close to power, they might be advised to make some plans.

→ Continue reading: Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

Money without Kings

It appears that Kenya has some something surprisingly sane: it has decided to remove portraits of real people, especially politicians, from its currency.

At one time, policy in the United States was quite similar; anthropomorphic representations of abstract concepts (like “liberty”) were the only human images permitted on government produced money. Then, slowly, the inevitable happened, and politicians began to be deified by putting the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the rest on coins and bills.

I think the notion that senior politicians are not, in fact, kings and emperors, and ought not be the subject of secular worship, remembered with expensive public memorials, put onto money, have bridges and airports named after them, etc., is a rational one, and I hope that it someday becomes much more widespread.

Atlas shrugs as Sark faces the shocking truth about price controls

The island of Sark, a small, remote Channel Island, with a population somewhere around 500, part of the Duchy of Normandy and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but almost entirely autonomous, noted for not having any cars, having been one the last feudal jurisdictions in the World and having had very low taxes, is currently in crisis over its electricity supply. The problem can be summed up in two words ‘price control’. Sark is taking on the appearance of a small, cooler, oil-free Venezuela (or perhaps a preview of Corbyn’s – or even May’s- UK in 2022). It even has the example of France, home of ‘égalité‘, the guillotine and generally poor economic ideas (and some excellent ones), a few miles away over the choppy Channel.

It will no doubt not surprise almost all our readers that Sark, having in recent years had democracy foisted on it, has got a legislature (28-strong) that seems to think that it has solutions to problems. The islanders have also found that as the price of electricity has risen in recent years, and as people have not been happy with the sole supplier to the Island, they have been generating their own power. Falling demand has led to higher unit costs for the supplier, which creates a vicious circle.

Enter the Commissioner established and authorised, nay, required, under the The Control of Electricity Prices (Sark) Law, 2016 to look into the price of electricity and to set a ‘fair and reasonable price’.

Looking at his powers more closely we see that they are in fact, nothing short of miraculous, under Section 13:

Determination of fair and reasonable price.
13. (1) Following completion of an investigation under this Law, the Commissioner shall, determine whether a price which is charged by a regulated electricity supplier for the supply of electricity is, or is not, fair and reasonable.

(2) In determining whether a price is, or is not, fair and reasonable the Commissioner shall take all material considerations into account, including without limitation the following matters –
(a) the cost of generating and distributing the supply of electricity, including the cost of –
(i) acquisition and maintenance of any plant and equipment,
(ii) fuel and other consumables, and
(iii) labour, required to generate the supply,
(b) the replacement cost of any plant and equipment required to generate and distribute the supply,
(c) the quality and reliability of the supply of electricity and the economy and efficiency with which the supply of electricity is generated and distributed,
(d) the margin of profit obtained by the regulated electricity supplier,
(e) the margin of profit obtained by such other electricity suppliers, generating and distributing a supply of electricity in similar circumstances in such other islands or territories, as the Commissioner thinks fit,
(f) the entitlement of the regulated electricity supplier to receive such reasonable return, as the Commissioner thinks fit, on the value of assets (including plant and equipment and working capital) operated or used by the supplier for the purpose of generating and distributing the supply, and
(g) any representations made in response to a request given under section 14, or otherwise.

Funnily enough, he is not expressly directed to consider the laws of economics, or supply and demand. You can see where this is going I am sure. So why can’t the fools on Sark? How many thousand of years and examples will it take? Here we have the closest thing to a laboratory for economics, 500 or so ‘lab mice’, and yet we already know how it ends. Here is his consultation paper.

So cutting to the chase, a price control has been issued, and the Island’s sole electricity provider intends to close on 30th November 2018, as they are losing £20,000 a month supplying power at the ‘fair and reasonable‘ (and that’s official) price. May I introduce here, the Managing Director of the Sark Electricity Company Ltd, Mr Atlas Shrugger (I jest), his name is… Mr Gordon-Brown (David being his first name), and his company wishes to challenge the commissioner’s decision.

SEL was to mount a legal battle against the commissioner move this December.

However, a review of the company’s financial affairs by its independent auditors found that although the company could withstand the temporary £20,000 loss per month caused by a new 52p price for electricity, SEL could not afford to mount the legal case at the same time.

Back in December, the tariff was set at 69p per unit.

‘We have already suffered through a 40% decline in consumption caused by Sark’s economic collapse and we cannot cut our costs any further,’ said SEL managing director David Gordon-Brown.

‘A 25% price cut for a company that has already lost £65,000 this year is obviously unmanageable.

‘Attempting to operate the company under these conditions would be a breach of my responsibilities as a company director.’

He said if Chief Pleas wanted the company to continue providing power, it would have to provide for the cost of fighting the commissioner order.

‘We cannot operate the company at a loss over £20,000 a month under the new pricing scheme nor can we find the money necessary to fund the legal fight.’

He added that if Chief Pleas did not come to the table as a financial backer in time, it would be required to shut down, leaving the island without water or electricity.

This, I understand, is because the cost of a legal challenge (in this tiny island) to the Regulator would be in the region of £250,000, and Mr Gordon-Brown has asked the Chief Pleas (the Parliament of Sark) to fund a legal challenge to the body established by the Parliament, as obviously, his company can’t afford that sort of money. Can anyone else see the obvious short-cut here, the one that doesn’t involve legal fees?

Mr Gordon-Brown was reported last December as saying:

David Gordon-Brown, the manager of Sark Electricity, says the recommendation by the island’s first electricity regular to reduce electricity prices tells “a story of betrayal”.
For the past eight years the people of Sark have been betrayed by a committee of incomers with so little understanding of Sark that they expect Electricity Prices here to be comparable to their experience in the UK.

Now the Company has been betrayed by a commissioner with so little understanding of Sark that he expects the costs of producing electricity here to be comparable to his experience in the UK.

The commissioner is doubtless a dedicated and decent chap, committed to fulfilling his statutory duty, he is only following the law and only giving orders, safe, as it happens, in his home in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, England.

But has the Commissioner considered economies of scale, transportation costs, economic law and reality? Does he have to?

The situation now is that the Electricity Company is shutting down on 30th November 2018, and they supply water.

I have to say that all those who voted for those who voted in this law, and those who voted it in and implement it, are quite simply, fully deserving of their adumbrated trip back to the Stone Age. I would propose evacuating from Sark all those who opposed it, or were too young (or insane) to know better (i.e. under 16), and leaving the rest to enjoy their new, low prices. To keep us safe from contamination, we should establish an an air and sea blockade, and air-drop a copy of Bastiat’s writings so that they may learn the error of their ways. Socialism (or price fixing) is just slow-motion cannibalism. It looks like Sark is heading that way, by choice. But as the BBC reported, they did have this terrible problem:

In August 2018, Sark Electricity was forced to lower its price by 14p to 52p per kilowatt hour (kw/h) after the island’s electricity price commissioner found the cost “neither fair nor reasonable”.
Despite the reduction, Sark residents still pay significantly more than the 17p per kw/h in nearby Guernsey or the UK the average of 14p.

Meanwhile over in Jersey, the press speculate about the evacuation of the island.

Asked if there was a real possibility of people having to leave Sark, Mr Raymond -(deputy chairman of Sark’s Policy and Finance Committee)- replied: ‘Not if we can get our contingency plans in place.

‘They are in the development stage at the moment so I can’t give out too much detail, but it will involve consolidating around certain centres – making sure there are certain buildings that have power so people can congregate there. It really is a war-time mentality. Do you really expect people to be living like this in the 21st century?’

Yes, I do, because if they are socialist dickheads implementing their plans, they will eventually get what is coming to them, good and hard.

Is it time for Parliament to dust off impeachment?

Our friends in the rebellious Colonies have the still active remedy of impeachment for those in office who, one might say, go off the rails, and other remedies as well. In the UK, impeachment is now considered ‘obsolete’ as a means of removing Crown officials, but ‘obsolete’ does not mean ‘defunct’:

As a House of Commons Paper puts it (in the link at the bottom to the pdf.):

It was a medieval means of removing the protection given to a royal servant whom the Commons found objectionable but could not otherwise persuade the Crown to dismiss.

Of course, different parts of the Commons may find the current First Lord of the Treasury ‘objectionable’ for widely varying reasons, either that she is not an avowed openly Marxist destroyer, or that she is simply a ‘Tory’, or that she is far from satisfactory in terms of her integrity.

But we appear for now to be in a situation where neither a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons on Mrs May’s government, nor a vote in her Party via the 1922 Committee in her as a leader, appear to be imminent or practicable.

As the Commons briefing paper notes:

No Prime Minister has ever been impeached. Ministers have been impeached, but those instances occurred before the modern concept of the Cabinet was established.

The first edition of Erskine May, published in 1844, describes impeachment as: “the commons, as a great representative inquest of the nation, first find the crime and then, as prosecutors, support their charge before the lords; while the lords exercising at once the functions of a high court of justice and of a jury, try and also adjudicate upon the charge preferred”.

Let us look at some of the criticisms of impeachment:

Impeachment operated in an era when Parliament and the courts had very limited oversight of government power. Different mechanisms have developed in modern politics to allow for the scrutiny of the executive. These include parliamentary questions, inquiries by select committees and independent committees of inquiry. The growth of the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility, and the use of confidence motions have both contributed to the disuse of impeachments in modern times. Judicial review also now provides an effective check on the legality of the actions of public officials and government ministers. The impeachment process, last attempted in 1806, has not been revised to reflect the fundamental changes that have occurred in Parliament.

What use is a Parliamentary Question when the Prime Minister has misled the House and the Country for over 2 years? Who would trust an answer now?

Select Committees? All very well for getting some MPs to look at something in-depth, but when there is a cowpat in the Ballroom of State, the answer is steaming away in front of you for you and all your guests to see.

Collective Cabinet responsibility? The Cabinet largely remains in place, happy for this farce to carry on. They are not acting responsibly.

Confidence motions? As noted, there is a confidence motion procedure for the government, which due to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act now has a cooling-off period, and it is not the government that is the major problem (although it is a big problem generally), but the leader of it.

Party confidence motions are internal matters, nothing to do with Parliament.

Judicial review: Sir Edward Coke left the Bench long ago. Judicial Review is not applicable to this sort of situation.

The beauty of impeaching the Prime Minister would be:

1. It would enjoy cross-party support, helping to ‘heal the wounds’ caused by the contentious issues we face 😉 .

2. It would leave the current Parliamentary composition intact. After all, it is removing a Crown Servant, not a Member of the House. Mrs May would remain an MP.

3. It would leave Mrs May as the unelected Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, and put her in the same situation as another notorious appeaser, Neville Chamberlain as leader of the Party and an MP but not Prime Minister. Not quite following the Joseph Chamberlain that she aspires to emulate, but as close as we can manage for now.

4. It would revive the prestige of Parliament, at a time when Mrs Battenberg’s presumed function of ‘to advise, encourage and to warn’ appears to be obsolete. After all, it has recently (in Constitutional timeframes) been used in the United States, an offspring jurisdiction of England, so why should it be ‘obsolete’? We may have reached the lacuna where the remedy has some use.

5. It would (or should) save us paying Mrs May a Prime Ministerial pension later on in a richly-deserved retirement. That will help to reduce our ballooning public sector pensions liabilities.

6 It would cement Mrs May’s place in history, whether or not the Lords were to convict.

Samizdata quote of the day

What I found particularly annoying is the degree to which certain commentators elevated the importance of Meghan Markle’s race. If the media hadn’t told me, and then not shut up about it for months, I would never have guessed she was the daughter of a black mother and white father. To me, she looks as much Spanish, or Italian, or Lebanese as mixed-race American. Her mother simply looks like someone you’d see shopping in Marks & Spencers in Croydon, so why anyone should think her race is even worth mentioning I don’t know. Actually, I do: it’s because some people think race is the be-all and end-all (e.g. David Lammy, Katie Hopkins), and others simply took the opportunity to virtue-signal, rubbing people’s nose in the subject of immigration.

Tim Newman