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 Queen indirectly honours Dr Shipman

HM The Queen today presented the George Cross, the UK’s highest award for bravery not in the face of the enemy, to the National Health Service, (for the response to the covid pandemic etc.), surely making the NHS Eisenstein’s ‘mass hero’ of our age. This is the third ‘collective’ award (one not to a real person – living or dead) in the history of this medal, founded by her father in 1940; the other recipients being the island of Malta for the bravery of the populace in what seems to me to have been ‘in the face of the enemy‘ as being bombed for years by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe wasn’t just that, what was it?; and the other was the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was scrapped and given the George Cross as a consolation. However, one of the Palace bureaucrats celebrating the award is quoted as below:
Lt Col Michael Vernon, comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s office with responsibility for organising ceremonial events, said: “This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations.
So being snarky, that includes perhaps the most prolific individual murderer in British history, Dr Harold Shipman, a GP fond of polishing off his elderly patients, for free. And of course, this gushing tribute necessarily covers former nurse and convicted murderer Beverley Allitt, who also did not charge her victims. But of course, there have been systemic issues, like the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal. But looking at it in the balance, it seems that the NHS deserves its honour, despite being a bureaucratic abstraction, and an expensive and ineffective one at that. I seem to recall the Army being drafted in during the coronavirus pandemic to (give the impression that the government could) do something about the appalling logistics in the NHS. And now the token medal is going on tour, a holy relic, as if a modern-day equivalent to the bones of a saint:
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard paid tribute to those who worked on the front line and said the vaccine programme saved hundreds of thousands of lives. She told the Queen that the medal will go on a tour of the NHS before a permanent home is found.
Is it heresy to say that honours don’t really exist? That an honour is just a piece of cloth and metal, with a document relating to it? That veneration of medals is simply absurd, it is simply reflective of the opinion of a committee, the absurdity of it made evident here for all to see. And, if you are to think of honours, not deeds, as somehow noteworthy, let us not forget that the first time that the Queen awarded a George Cross, it was to the widow of Flight-Lieutenant John Quinton, who gave away his only parachute after a mid-air collision. If you wish to measure the decline of this nation under (but not, I say, due to) Elizabeth II of England, I of Scotland, compare the two awards and all that happened in-between. Can we please stop pretending that the State can make things not what they really are?

“Biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children”

“Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened”, writes Martha Gill in the Guardian.

I had been beginning to forget that the Guardian occasionally publishes good journalism that expresses opinions outside the comfort zone of its readers. Ms Gill’s previous work had not led me to expect this example of exactly that to come from her. She writes,

Then there are the very young. During the pandemic, parents spoke heartbreakingly of having to tell toddlers to stay away from others and not to hug their friends. In May, research published by the Education Endowment Foundation claimed that lockdown had affected England’s youngest children worst of all. Four- and five-year-olds were starting school far behind, biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children and unable to settle and learn.

It came of necessity, perhaps, but we need to admit it. From 2020 to 2021, we conducted a mass experiment on the young. In recent history, there is perhaps just one comparison point: evacuation during the Second World War. Only it’s the opposite experiment. In 1939, children were sent away from their parents. In the past two years, they have been shut up with them.

and

Lockdown Britain had all the aesthetics of fictional big-state dystopias – the empty city squares, the mass-testing centres, the tape around park benches, the twitching curtains of neighbours who would love the chance to report you to the police. It was easy to see then that something bad and lasting might be happening to us all. But the unworldly, futuristic atmosphere disappeared as infections cleared up – and life has mostly snapped back to normal.

But we have to remember what we did. Keeping a generation of children away from their classrooms and friends felt unnatural and harmful, because it was unnatural and harmful. We should at least be collecting far more data on the matter than we seem to be doing. We have, after all, done the experiment. Now we must bother with the results.

Samizdata quote of the day save draft publish

‘End Of Quote, Repeat The Line’: Biden Reads Teleprompter Instructions Out Loud During Speech

With Joe more voicemail than man and Boris only just clinging to the wreckage, at least the Anglosphere is demonstrating that it can get by without anyone in charge. Though we have much to learn before we can challenge the true masters of the art of doing without a government.

Thoughts on the resignation of Boris Johnson today

I put these remarks into a comment thread below but thought I might as well bung them here, loud and proud:

I am saddened that Boris Johnson’s administration has ended this way, but not surprised. His personal failings, such as inability to run and manage a team, meant that he was unable/unwilling to push forward on a handful of areas where a government can make headway. As a result, the “Whitehall Blob” was able to stand in his way. He had no talent for strategy and process. It sounds deadly dull and management-speak, but it is important. Dominic Cummings is an overrated character, who seemed to alienate people unnecessarily. He was a technocrat, not an original thinker. Even so, he gave a certain sense of drive to Johnson. Once Cummings left in the lockdown kerfuffle, things began to unravel.

I read the conspiracy theory sort of charge that the media and much of the political class who wanted the UK to stay in the EU were determined to destroy him, so angry were they that the UK has had the cheek to leave the tender cares of the EU. There’s some truth to this, of course. He achieved an excellent 2019 General Election result, and was also fortunate to be up against an extreme Leftist and anti-semitic guttersnipe such as Jeremy Corbyn. And he also got a tailwind from cultural realignments of political loyalties, with voters in the Midlands and North, for example, turning against Labour decisively. But from then on the fizzle went out of Boris. Yes, he signed a treaty to take the UK out of the EU, but work needed to be done on the Northern Ireland border, and if necessary, we should have threatened to abandon the deal. The EU did not think we would do so, and the likes of Barnier in the EU and Macron in France have weaponised the Northern Ireland border issue shamelessly. Johnson never quite gave the impression he was prepared to push back hard enough. (The idea that the NI border is some insuperable obstacle for a meaningful deal is bunk.)

And then there was covid. Unlike some, I don’t give him a hard time for the first lockdown, but the cronyism about medical contracts, the “save the NHS” sentimentalism, the failure to stress that furloughs were very temporary, was a mistake. As was the failure to do a proper costed analysis of lockdowns, and be honest, quickly, with the public about the costs. That was a failure of leadership. There were results on the vaccines, but even then, and without following the anti-vaxxers on this, I thought too much stress was put on these, rather than a range of treatments, including so-called “early treatments”. (Johnson also, like far too many other leaders, gave China an easy ride on what caused this clusterfuck and its culpability for said.)

Then there was the whole “Green transition”, “build back better”, “Great Reset” nonsense, at a time when the likely spike in inflation/energy costs could have been predicted by anyone who had not forgotten monetary realities. The commitment to Net Zero, as our late Samizdata commenter Brian Micklethwait told me not long before he died, was a fatal mistake for Johnson, as it will be for several other political leaders around the world.

Then there were the tax hikes to pay for unreformed public services, such as the rise to National Insurance Contributions, the freezing of tax brackets, etc. There were no clear attempts to recalibrate our universities and reduce an obsession with sending every student with a pulse to university. And finally, there was no concerted attempt to use the freedoms we regained outside of the European Union and its customs union to slash tariffs, repeal EU legacy legislation, and put sunset clauses into any new laws. (I liked the Trump idea that for every new regulation hitting the statute book, two must be removed.)

There was a lot to do after the GE in 2019, and it would have taxed the skills of the most effective of Prime Ministers, such as a Peel, Thatcher or Gladstone. Boris is a colourful character, whom I have met a few times, and like personally. It was plain he was not in the mould of such political statesmen and women, however.

It is also worth noting that some of the dislike seems to be borne of a priggish dislike of someone who seems to have had a gilded life, and I find that rather unpleasant.

A final, added thought here is that the zero-sum world of politics, with its plots, nastiness and scrapping for the spoils of office, its use of tax and spend to push this or that cause, contrasts with the positive-sum world of free enterprise, where success comes from adding value, not predation. For a person to live with honour, business is far preferable to politics.

The end of the affair

UPDATE 9.30am BST, 7/7/2022 ‘Boris Johnson to stand down as Tory leader after wave of resignations’ – BBC.

UPDATE 7.30pm BST, 6/7/22: Et tu, Brute? ‘Boris Johnson latest: Nadhim Zahawi leads cabinet call for PM to go’, the Times reports. Zahawi was given the job of Chancellor by Boris a little over twenty-four hours ago. This is better than Game of Thrones. Oops, my bad, the Times headline changed a few seconds after I posted the link. Now it says Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has “joined her cabinet colleagues Grant Shapps, Nadhim Zahawi, Michael Gove and Simon Hart in calling for his resignation.”

UPDATE 7pm BST, 5/7/22: The Tory MP who spoke to Tom Swarbrick of “the final hours and days of this Government” was not kidding. The Wikipedia entries for Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid are changing minute by minute.

Original post from this morning follows:

‘Downing Street claim Boris forgot about FCDO investigation into Pincher’ – Guido Fawkes:

This afternoon’s press briefing has just wrapped up, having started over half an hour late. It was a disaster. The briefing opened with a question for the ages: “Are you planning on telling truth today?”. Downing Street spokesperson Max Blain responded with “in short, yes…”

The new line from No.10, it seems, is that Boris simply “forgot” about the upheld claims against Pincher from 2019 when the scandal first broke last week, only to miraculously remember at some point in the last 24 hours – when, exactly, is not clear. When pressed to confirm if that was true, Blain insisted it was “broadly” correct. Either way, it doesn’t appear he told Deputy PM Dominic Raab about this sudden recollection before sending him out onto the media round this morning…

LBC radio presenter Tom Swarbrick says, ‘A Tory MP gets in touch: “We are eeking out the final hours and days of this Government. We aren’t talking about weeks or months”’. Speaking as someone who misspelled “siege” as “seige” in a post title a couple of days ago, I am in no position to get snippy (when did that ever stop me?), but the present participle of the verb “to eke out” is “eking out” not “eeking out”. Never mind. The only possible comment is “EEEEEK!!!”

Is it Sir Keir Starmer’s hour to shine then? Maybe not. Also from Guido: ‘In the last month the implied probability of Keir Starmer resigning as Labour leader this year has risen from under 10% to over 30% as gamblers increasingly believe the Durham Police investigation could go badly for Starmer.’

If Starmer quits the political stage, he will do so having done something that makes the prospect of a Labour government a lot more palatable for many: ‘Starmer ends Labour silence on Brexit as he rules out rejoining single market’, the Guardian reports. Does he make this commitment to respect the result of the referendum out of principle? Of course not – he has ratted twice, once when he said, “The referendum is clear and has to be accepted. We can’t have a re-run of the question which was put to the country”, then jumped on the People’s Vote bandwagon as soon as it became temporarily popular, and again when, as Diane Abbott correctly observed, he dropped every single one of the 10 pledges he made in 2020 to get elected [Labour] leader. The pledges were insane, but even so, his abandoning his previous promises with such ease causes me to doubt any future ones he might make.

What times!

What next?

UPDATE: What next? This! Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resign as Boris Johnson apologises for Chris Pincher ‘mistake’ – from the Guardian‘s “UK politics live” thread.

(I put updates covering later developments at the top of this post.)

The law will find you eventually, evildoer (bin crime edition)

I was arrested & thrown in cell by cops for putting rubbish bags next to my bins EIGHT YEARS ago – the Sun.

A MUM-of-two claims she was arrested and thrown in a cell by police for putting rubbish bags next to her bins eight years ago.

Heather Underwood says she was “shaken” when cops came knocking with a warrant on Thursday morning over the 2014 incident.

The 32-year-old was taken to a custody suite where she was told she had left several black bags next to the bins at her old house.

She was then kept in a locked cell for four hours before finally being told the case had been discontinued.

The charge was for fly-tipping, but Ms Underwood says that at that time in 2014 she had only just moved into the property and found the bins already filled by the previous tenants, so she put her own rubbish in bags next to them. It never occurred to her that this was not allowed, let alone an offence that would be pursued for eight years.

Who is the Inspector Javert of Knutton, Staffordshire? Surely their devotion to duty should be recognised.

There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from God
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
‘Til we come face to face
‘Til we come face to face

Unless… the Sun did let slip that this lady works as an OnlyFans model. I very much hope that had nothing to do with the police pulling her in.

“The most degrading part of it was when I had to use the bathroom and the toilet just had a glass window, I didn’t even have any privacy.”

The siege

“I’ve farmed this land my whole life. I won’t sell.”
“We’ll see about that, old man. We own the land all around yours. We control your water supply.”

A scene like this could have come from the trailer for a cowboy movie set during a ranch war, or perhaps for a film set in a future propertarian dystopia. I wouldn’t have guessed Cambridgeshire, 2022.

This series of tweets by the Fews Lane Consortium beginning with the words, “This is Clive’s farm. Clive has lived here his whole life” and later including the words,

To get rid of the groundwater that fills Clive’s well and that Clive uses to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers, developers installed at least 800 underground well points and pumped the groundwater out of the ground near Clive’s farm.

describes a situation that reminds us that, although it is certainly true that the State is the prime oppressor, it is not the only oppressor. When I was first getting interested in libertarianism, I remember reading a lot about scenarios that were a challenge to it – e.g. where a property owner could inflict outrageous harm on another person without breaching the latter’s property rights – but as the years went by, the prime oppressor kept my outrage-tank filled and I’m afraid I largely stopped thinking about such things.

Perhaps I am off the hook. In the modern UK any question of land use inevitably involves the State, in the form of your friendly local council. This report from 2020 suggests that the developers might be hand in glove with the prime oppressor after all: “Cambridgeshire council ‘completely ignoring the law’ is taken to the High Court”:

The council [South Cambridgeshire District Council] is accused of having secret, unannounced meetings, from which no agenda or minutes are ever published, in violation of the Local Government Act 1972.

Another issue is that the council apparently announced a public consultation on a planning application, but then approved it anyway before the consultation had closed.

The council constitution is also allegedly being violated, but instead of rectifying the situation, the council has confirmed it intends to change the constitution, so it is no longer in violation of it.

and

The council has allegedly been acting in violation of this for at least two years by deciding whether to take the decision to the committee behind closed doors with just the chairman, vice-chairman, and a council officer in attendance.

The claims are being brought forward by the Fews Lane Consortium, a community group advocating for sustainable development around the villages, of which Mr Fulton is the director.

The decisions made by the council have had a damaging environmental impact too, according to the consortium.

I must also bear in mind that I have only heard one side of the story.

Nonetheless, I think that supporters of property rights should think about hard cases like Clive’s. What do you think about it?

Banishing the demon drink from Wales

My late mother-in-law used to tell a funny story about how, when she was a child in Wales during the 1930s, she was taken to the doctor. Her mother feared there must be something terribly wrong with her because she did not like tea. Why, she wouldn’t even take a cup with when the minister visited!

Wales is a different place now.

Sale of coffee and tea to under 16s could be banned in Wales

Samizdata quote of the day

“The British Courts and our legal system are the envy of the world. We know this, because so many people choose to illegally cross the Channel in order to exploit them.”

Lee Rotherham.

Autumn is coming

You may think that mid-June is a little early for me to be saying that, but I do see signs that Britain, and perhaps the world, is not as green as it once was:

  • Ben Spencer and Harry Yorke in the Times: “Ministers quietly abandon ‘green crap’ as focus shifts to food security”

    Boris Johnson has scaled back plans to rewild the country as the government retreats from the green agenda to focus on the cost-of-living crisis.

    Ministers last year announced a post-Brexit scheme that would pay farmers up to £800 million a year — a third of the farming budget — to transform agricultural land into nature-rich forests, coastal wetlands, peatlands and wildflower meadows.

    But the fund, called the landscape recovery scheme, has been quietly slashed to just £50 million over three years, less than 1 per cent of the budget.

  • Nick Cohen in the Guardian: “Why bankers close their ears to the ‘climate nut jobs’ talking about the end of the world”

    If the future remembers any corporate villain from 2022, it will be Stuart Kirk. The satirically titled head of “responsible investment” at HSBC looks the part: shaven headed, tightly trimmed beard, hard, sharp eyes. Like all the best villains, the banker’s arguments are insidiously appealing. He says out loud what his audience thinks, cutting through polite society’s pious crap to reveal its selfish desires.

    “There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world,” he told the Financial Times’s Moral Money conference – and I haven’t made that title up either. “Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages and that’s a really nice place.”

  • A poll by Redfield and Wilton Strategies asked, “Would Britons support or oppose the Government suspending its environmental taxes to reduce the cost of living?” The result:

    Support 49%
    Oppose 18%
    Neither 23%

    A majority (58%) of 2019 Conservative voters and a plurality (46%) of 2019 Labour voters support the suspension of environmental taxes.

  • An end to medical progress

    Mark Johnson writes about ‘Health misinformation’: the latest addition to the Online Safety Bill

    … we have seen Big Tech increasingly taking on the role of online speech police in recent years. During the coronavirus era, this reached new extremes. At the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook took the step of removing content which promoted face masks as a tool to combat the spread of Covid-19.

    Yet within a short space of time, the medical consensus on masks changed. But rather than acknowledge that it was wrong, Facebook flipped its position and censored in the other direction. A high-profile example saw Facebook label, discredit and suppress an article in The Spectator, written by the Oxford academic Carl Heneghan, disputing the efficacy of masks. What grounds or competency Silicon Valley’s fact-checkers had to overrule reasoned arguments by a Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine remains to be seen.

    This approach is a direct threat to the epistemic process, so central to the free and open development of knowledge and ideas in liberal democracies. The fact that not even academics can escape this kind of truth arbitration speaks volumes.

    Censorship is indeed a threat to the epistemic process, and one that is not limited to the UK. The threat is particularly dire in the field of medicine, where progress depends on a flow of information about the symptoms of illnesses and the efficacy of treatments coming in from patients and doctors.

    Related: Facebook’s hired “fact checkers” versus the British Medical Journal.

    The Lady of Heaven did not stay long

    It is a film that is “more interesting on paper than in practice”, according to this review:

    This British-made epic earns a significant accolade: it is the first film to put the “face” of the prophet Muhammad on screen. No single actor is credited with playing him, or any of the other holy figures in his entourage. And, as a nervous initial disclaimer points out, their faces, often shown in dazzling sunbursts, are computer-generated. Presumably, this is enough to placate Islam’s prohibition on visual representation of the prophet, but this is a Shia-aligned film that is evidently a little more lenient on the issue.

    The Guardian‘s reviewer underestimated the interest that the film would generate. UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests, the same newspaper reports today.

    Paul Embery tweets, “This is reportedly the manager of a cinema in Sheffield addressing a theocratic mob protesting at the screening of a “blasphemous” film (The Lady of Heaven). Thoroughly depressing to see him capitulate to their demands and confirm the film has been binned.”