Saturday, November 09, 2002
The Gibraltarians show their patriotism and shame Britain's government
ON AN 88% turnout, 99% of Gibraltarian voters (and 87% of all Gibraltarians) voted to remain British on Thursday. The final results revealed 17,900 supporting full British sovereignty over the rock, against only 187 supporting shared sovereignty with Spain. To any true democrat, this would settle the matter here and now. But Tony Blair is no democrat, and his willingness to carry on negotiations over British sovereignty is just further testament to his wariness of anyone who wants to remain British, and his contempt for his own countrymen. All decent people should now support the people of Gibraltar, and no one should ever again accept the idea that it is possible to support New Labour and still be a patriot.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:04 | Permanent Link |
Friday, November 08, 2002
There is no one "British public"
OCCASIONALLY, but not too often, I come across a book or article that really gives me a new perspective into an issue. David Frum's column in yesterday's Telegraph is an example of this. A former speechwriter for President Bush, he says it is time for the Tories to end their assumptions about the homogenuity of the British voter, and instead look at the differing views of a diverse electorate.
In the United States, we're accustomed to thinking of the electorate as a big mosaic with a thousand pieces sorted by race, religion, sex, education, income, and a dozen other factors as well. Nobody who does politics for a living over here would worry: "What do the voters think of our performance?" They would worry: "What do nonHispanic white mothers with two years of college or less who work part-time outside the home and bring in under $34,000 a year think of our performance?"
Having read this great piece, a lot of politics, particularly in terms of Tory divisions makes much more sense. It is senseless electorally to talk about the British public as a whole moving in one direction and then to base our programme on this alleged shift. Instead we should examine the ways we can develop Conservative principles to offer something to all sorts of groups in society who may choose to vote for us. Aiming at "Peedledash man" or "Mondeo man" may help a party, but in normal circumstances it will never be sufficient. We should aim to please and win the support of a great majority of people, all of whom will benefit from what we have to offer. This suggested new outlook could really help the party right now, and boy does it need that help at the moment.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 21:01 | Permanent Link |
Conservative Party Function: Speech in Gateshead by the Leader of the Opposition
ONLY A WEEK ago did I find out anything about Iain Duncan Smith's plans to visit a private meeting for Conservative activists in the North-East. The fee was £12, and after negotiating a lift from my dad, I was very keen to go. I arrived at 4:40pm, fairly early for a meeting that was scheduled to begin at 5pm. The younger party members all gathered around one of the room's central tables. A few others came to chat to us, and I was greeted by Martin Callanan, the North East region's only Tory MEP. An elderly member also told interesting tales, particularly about the Liberal Democrats, whom she said would go from door to door agreeing with everything the person inside said, knowing the media would not hold them to account. She had recently lost her seat on Gateshead Council, she explained, through Liberal campaigns. They went around her ward explaining that as there was no Conservative candidate, they should vote Liberal Democrat. Though when she went from door to door she was able to tell many voters this was a lie, it wasn't enough and the seat was lost to the Liberals. Lovely, nice, honest, cuddly sorts those Lib Dems aren't they?
By about 5:30pm, it was clear something was very wrong. Then one of the hosts rose to explain: the UN Security Council had supported the Bush resolution against Iraq, so the Tory Leader was giving lots of unplanned interviews. He would arrive within half an hour. At around 6pm, he did finally come in. After a quick introduction and presentation of gifts to retiring councillors, he began his speech. I must say I realised about half-way through the speech that not only was IDS a particularly good orator, but that he is a lot more Conservative than I thought, and more right-wing than me. It will surprise a lot to hear this, but in person he is sparky, very friendly and articulate and - dare I say it? - even charismatic.
He talked of the necessity of removing the shabby Labour councils, which were inevitably corrupt, and of his passionate love for his country, and the British, whom he described as "the greatest people in the world: the most tolerant, the most decent". On the events of this last week, he said he wanted to explain why he did what he did in making his statement this Tuesday. He said he had seen William Hague face his own backbenchers undermining him and his authority for years, and that he wanted now to lance the boil and make clear the reality of the Tory plight. Slightly changing his metaphor from Tuesday, he said that were the party not to unite, it would hang individually. All the way through his speech he won warm applause, and the support of the couple of hundred in the room was genuine.
On the key public services, he said they presented a real opportunity to the Conservatives, but that people were not willing to listen just yet. "For the moment", he explained, "They are in work, their mortgage rates are low, their house prices are high" so although they were opposed to the government, they were not yet willing to look for an alternative. But they soon would be, and the party's 25 new policies would be key.
He won a warm ovation as he finished what was actually an excellent demolition of Labour policy. Perhaps he felt more willing among his own supporters to express his true feelings than in public debate, where polite analysis rather than "yah-boo" is now vogue.
There was time for a few questions. The first was on waste disposal and fly-tipping and how Labour's plans for the Queen's Speech involve major emphasis on these matters. IDS agreed with the questioner that this was absurd, giving a whiff of what may be in his response to the Queen's Speech on Wednesday: "Manufacturing is in recession, with 25,000 jobs being lost in the last year, farming is in recession" and he listed some of the problems of the public services. "Yet what is Labour's priority? Fly-tipping, when we already have laws to deal with it that allow prosecution."
Someone brought up regional assemblies, and urged him to fight as much as he could against them. Iain Duncan Smith agreed strongly, saying that the Tory way for devolution would be giving powers back to county councils, not sucking it up to regional assemblies. He said that there was a media stitch up on this matter that prevented real criticism: if regional assemblies were introduced, then regional journalists and newscasters would rise greatly in status, a rise matched in their salary. But he warned that what might happen was the North East ending up the the only area of the country to face this new level of bureaucracy, with regional competitiveness suffering as a result.
The last question came from me. It was more or less a summary of the points made in my post urging the Tories to "Turf social policy back to the periphery":
"I fear that after a decade of the party being divided over Europe, and with those divisions now more or less healed, the media is now starting to open up divisions over social policy.
This example probably had particular resonance for Iain Duncan Smith, both because he was a prominent Maastricht rebel, and because he led Redwood's 1997 Leadership campaign. I went on:
"I think it may be a good idea to take his advice now in social matters and allow a free vote on issues like drugs and gay rights. This would mean the party could all unite around the issues that matter most to people: health, crime and education, and we would no longer be accused of being divided, because it would be a matter of individual conscience, like abortion or hanging. We would leave it up to individual MPs to decide their position and then we could unite and fight on the issues that are most important to people."
There were some clear grumbles of discontent halfway through my question, but they were matched by a few "Here, here"s as I finished. It was certainly the most awkward of the questions he was asked, but it was heartfelt, and I believe that doing as suggested would help the party. Unsurprisingly, IDS was not willing to commit himself to something like this, and instead talked about drugs, which he said were "evil" and that Britain's major social problems could be solved by tough rules on drugs and drug treatment. "This," he said, "matters more than getting hung up about our parliamentary policy on it".
As he finished the answer, the meeting closed and someone approached to congratulate me on a "good question". I noted that it was a shame it went unanswered but expressed to him my feeling that IDS was the best man for the job of Tory Leader.
I am pleased I got the chance to speak, and I can always hold the vague hope that he went home tonight considering what I had said and wondering whether I might be right.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 20:53 | Permanent Link |
10 fallacies in the abortion debate
1. The foetus cannot be taken seriously as a person
The facts were what changed my mind. Of course the unborn child is not some special class of human being, somehow less of a person because it exists in the womb. By any scientific criteria you can name, a complete human life is formed at the moment a sperm fertilises an egg. The creature formed is alive - growing, maturing and replacing its own dying cells. It is human - already unique from any other human who has ever existed, of the species homo sapiens sapiens, with 46 human chromosomes, and can only develop into an adult human as opposed to any other creature. And it is complete - the person in question will grow a great deal over the years that follow conception, but all that is added is just replication of what is already there. There is no scientific doubt whatsoever that a 23 week old baby inside the womb is every bit as human and every bit as alive as a 23 week old baby outside the womb. Yet one is given the full legal rights we all take for granted, and the other can be killed as an inconvenience.
Some pro-abortion debaters argue that their side talks of foetuses and the other side talks of babies, as suits their agenda. So there is no reason to say one particular side is being dishonest in their use of language to suit their argument - one uses medical terms and one uses more emotional terms, that is all. But this ignores the reality of how people speak from day to day. When a woman is pregnant, all inquiries are after the baby, not the foetus. No one talks about the foetus kicking. No mother who suffers a miscarriage talks about losing their foetus. It is only when the discussion turns to abortion that the medical terms are rolled out to describe the baby that will be killed. It is only when defending abortion that we dehumanise the baby to make the argument for killing her easier. This is not a new tactic. From 'Untermenschen' to 'Nigger', bigots have always invented terms they can use to avoid describing that which they want to kill as human. But calling a Jew 'Untermenschen' does not make him any less human and calling a baby a 'foetus' (a word ironically actually meaning "little child") does not make her any less human.
No pro-lifer argues that the baby should take precedence over the mother. But to fail to recognise that there are two human lives in this question is wilful blindness. In circumstances where neither will die, why must a life be taken at all?
This isn't an argument that stands up for long. No sane person advocates abortion in every case, so to base one's claim to be neutral between an argument that does exist and an argument that doesn't is clearly nonsense. But the key point that refutes the idea of "pro-choice" equating to neutrality is that it asserts that the choices of the mother should always take precedence over the life of her son or daughter. By siding with "choice", one is declaring oneself opposed to the idea that innocent human life should take precedence over another human's choices, and siding with the abortion-rights idea that what they like to call "a woman right to choose" should come first instead.
The debate on abortion is not between those who want no abortions and those who want all aborted, but between those who want abortion for the convenience of one or both parents, and those who think human life should take precedence over human choice. In the life/choice dichotomy that is the abortion debate, you can be indifferent as to which takes precedence, you can be undecided, you can be unsure, and you can have no opinion at all. But what you cannot be is neutral, because there is no neutral position. Either life comes first or choice does.
If abortion is a religious issue, then nearly everything is. What people usually mean by this is that abortion is exclusively a religious issue, of no concern to those who do not share the unproven faiths of pro-lifers. As many religions stress the value of an eternal human soul, and many pro-lifers express themselves in religious terms, the two are not unconnected. But it is entirely wrong to suggest that an ethical issue like abortion becomes entirely a religious matter because the religious give their views on it. The book of Exodus commands that no one should commit murder. That does not mean murder is an exclusively religious issue, and it certainly doesn't mean that laws against murder would breach a tradition like the United States' separation of church and state.
Not only is it false to say that opposition to abortion is a religious position, rather than ultimately one of civil or human rights, but it is insulting. Do such people really believe that it is impossible for an atheist to care about the unborn? Do they honestly think that the supreme value and importance of innocent human life is something only a religious person can understand? I certainly hope not.
So it would not be imposing religious morality to restrict abortion. But would it be wrong on the grounds that it is imposing any sort of morality? Well the trouble with this argument is that every law is imposing morality. A law that bans theft imposes anti-theft morality on others. No one has a problem with this because no one is really a moral relativist in practice. We all know that individuals have certain rights that surpass the wishes of others to do as they please. Whether the Lockean rights to life, liberty and property, or the more expansive rights of the European Human Rights Act, all of us accept that some individual protection should be granted. For the unborn, pro-lifers ask only for the most basic right of all - the right to life. This is not about imposing on anyone, but about preventing the greatest imposition of all: an execution of a person innocent of any crime, and guilty only of being an inconvenience. That would be the true imposition, the true case of illegitimate force.
Ironically, pro-abortion people always accuse their opponents of what they are most guilty of. It is they who want to make laws based not on an objective criterion like the protection of innocent human life, but on the subjective valuations of the mother. Try telling someone who favours abortion that abortion should be illegal because it kills, and they will say that that doesn't matter, because it only kills a foetus. Explain that a foetus in a human womb is a human being by any scientific definition, and they will say that it is not alive. Tell them that the baby in the womb is in fact alive, and they will say that the baby may be a human life, but it is not what they consider to be a person. So by an entirely arbitrary and subjective notion of what does and does not deserve the right to life through being their notion of a person, they defend themselves. That is a truly unjust case of imposing morality, every bit as much as justifying slavery because although the black man is a human and is alive, he is not a person in the sense that you mean it.
Having categorised boxing, coffee and hunting as three things one can quite consistently dislike without believing they should be banned, we ought to examine some things one could not consistently oppose without wanting them banned. A clear example would be rape. It would be utterly absurd to say "Don't like rape? Then don't commit any". This is because when someone is saying they find rape distasteful, they are not simply talking about disagreeing with the choices others make, as may be the case with hunting, but they are opposed to the very idea that anyone should force a woman to have sex with them.
The question is whether abortion goes into the first category - a matter of choice, like boxing or coffee-drinking, with no essential rights involved - or the second - a matter of fundamental individual rights, which cannot be negotiated and are not simply about the preferences of one person. Whichever side one takes in debating it, abortion does not fit into the first category, as both of the above statements wrongly suggest.
If one holds that innocent human life is sacred and valuable and that this value remains whatever the preferences of others, then abortion is clearly a matter of individual rights. No one can hold that abortion is a violation of individual rights while thinking it should remain legal anyway. That is what is so absurdly hypocritical about those who claim they personally oppose abortion but still want it legal. Logically, the only reason to believe that it would be wrong personally to have an abortion is if you thought the baby that would die has a right to life. But if your own baby has a right to life, why doesn't anyone else's? If the baby in your womb is an innocent human being, how does that change for babies that end up in the bodies of those who would be willing to have an abortion? Does the body know at conception whether the mother is pro-life or pro-abortion and produce a human baby in the first case but not the second? What if the mother changes her mind in the middle of the pregnancy? It is here that the absurdity of this position becomes clear. They are essentially arguing that someone's right to life should depend on the standpoint their mother took on abortion - that their own children have a right to life but the children of pro-abortion women do not. If this is not hypocrisy, nothing is.
Equally, to say that opponents of abortion should simply "not have one" is to miss the argument completely. Pro-lifers are not saying that it is their personal preference that individuals have rights, but that innocent human life should be protected whether in the body of a fervent pro-lifer or a conscienceless woman on her seventh abortion. It makes no sense at all to argue that if someone doesn't like slavery, they don't have to buy a slave. Yet that very argument was used in the US in 19th century, and is used now as a defence of abortion. Abortion is either murder or it isn't. To sidestep this question and pretend it is merely a matter of preference, like the choice between washing powders, reveals either ignorance or dishonesty.
The answer to this is a simple biological fact: half of unborn babies are female. So for every male aborted, a girl dies too. The ratio is actually less favourable to women in countries where boys are valued more highly than girls. For example, in India it has now become common for women to pay for a cheap ultra-sound scan and then pay for a cheap abortion if the baby is revealed to be a female. They then rinse and repeat until a boy comes along. So the idea that abortion is a blow for women is belied by the reality of millions of girls being killed in the most brutal and cruel way.
Well, okay, maybe abortion does kill at least as many girls as boys, it is conceded, but with men unable to become pregnant, women are the ones who have abortions, and usually get to decide. Therefore, the issue is for women to decide on, not men. But this argument is contrary to all democratic principles. We do not require that only servicemen get to air their views and cast their vote on matters relating to war. Nor do we demand that only the sick get a say in healthcare. Democracy gives everyone a say. One need only see where such an argument will lead to see its greatest flaws. To argue that because only women can commit abortion, they should be the only ones to decide the laws relating to it is equivalent to arguing that rape laws should only be determined and discussed by men, because they alone can commit this offence. Democracy means everyone having their say, whether or not the issue in question directly affects them, or directly benefits them.
The answer is that like "pro-choice", "pro-life" is perhaps not an accurate way to describe opposition to abortion. Most people oppose abortion because they put special value on innocent human life. They believe it either to be sacred, or that its worth cannot be wished away simply by being inconvenient. I am not pro-life in the sense that I oppose taking any life, because I eat meat and do not object to killing animals to that end. Nor am I pro-human life in the sense that I oppose taking a human life in any circumstances. In war, I support shooting the enemy, and where a murder has been committed, I am willing to support execution of the killer. The key word is innocent. It is simply not possible for an unborn baby to commit a murder. So there is no contradiction in supporting executing murderers and opposing executing innocent babies. The same principle inspires both convictions: that innocent human life is so valuable it should not be destroyed, and that those who take an innocent human life should pay a high price.
It is not those who are pro-life and pro-capital punishment who are inconsistent, but those who favour abortion and oppose capital punishment. Their position is to execute the innocent and protect the guilty.
To say that one cannot oppose abortion without being willing to adopt half a dozen children is like saying that one cannot support a war without offering oneself up to fight or that one cannot oppose slavery without being willing to feed and clothe many former slaves. To support the right to life, liberty and property of a person does not mean one must support them in other ways. An injustice is an injustice.
Again, the greatest hypocrisy comes from the general position of the left. If a man impregnates a woman, they say, then it is only right that he take responsibility for the baby. Even if the father didn't want her, he should still pay child support to her meals, clothing etc. He chose to risk pregnancy, they tell us, so he should take responsibility for the consequences.
This all sounds reasonable enough, and it would be, if only they applied the same argument to women. But they don't. They do not say that the mother chose to risk pregnancy and now must take responsibility for the baby that results. Instead they say the choice over whether the baby lives or dies is entirely up to her, and one she can determine to her own convenience. This is real hypocrisy and inconsistency.
But what about the accusation that abortion means more deaths from backstreet abortions? In fact, the declining number of deaths by backstreet abortion continued pretty much unaffected in both Britain and the United States after abortion was legalised. It should also be emphasised how few this was: around three dozen a year in the whole of the United States, or fewer than one per state. So either illegal abortions were very rare, or very safe. If they are very safe, then one cannot argue that an abortion ban would be a threat to women's lives. If they were very rare, then clearly, pro-life laws did discourage illegal abortions, saving lives of the women in question, and the babies who were conceived.
As a final example of this tendency, Poland banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest or disability in 1993, and in the following year, 782 babies were legally aborted (as against 100,000 a decade ago) but no one at all died from an illegal abortion.
First, one must question the idea that the population of this country, or any modern Western country is too high. In Britain, our population is actually predicted to be more or less stable over the next fifty years, dipping a little. For stability in a population, each woman must have an average of 2.1 children (2 to replace herself and the father, and 0.1 to account for deaths in childbirth etc.). In Britain it is currently about 1.8, and we are predicted to face 2 million immigrants over the next decade. Our problem is not too many children, but too few. Much of modern Europe is now losing its culture through so many abortions necessitating mass-immigration.
Second is the argument that abortion disproportionately affects the sort of class of people who become criminals, and therefore abortion cuts crime. Killing another human being in order to do this is a brutal enough solution. To execute them in their infancy for a crime they cannot any longer commit is barbaric. A good criminal justice system and police force, and respectable social attitudes cut crime best. We should not think that killing innocents is an adequate or moral replacement.
Third comes the suggestion that many babies would be better off aborted than adopted or unwanted. The arrogance of such a position is clear: who are they to decide this for people who have not yet even been born? What gives them the right to declare another person's life so miserable it must be cut off just as it is beginning?
Ultimately, civilised morality is based on non-negotiable principles: the right to life being one of them. To say that such notions can be overrun for the convenience of society in general is a monstrous and pointless defence of abortion. If innocent human life deserves protection, then it is irrelevant. If it does not, then it is superfluous.
One also wonders about the legal rights and duties of parents and their children. No mother would legally be allowed to throw her baby out into the cold one day because she had paid for the house, as was her right. Why? Because certain legal obligations are imposed along with motherhood. We therefore grant the right to life and to "impose" to a born baby, and rightly, but not an unborn baby. This is not a permanent obligation, and this mother could look after the baby until the point at which she could give her up for adoption. But this could just as well be done by a pregnant woman who did not want her baby in the womb. What we do not allow with born babies of 23 weeks in the womb is for the mother to kill them. Sadly, for no reason anyone can explain logically, we do allow babies of 23 weeks inside the womb to be "evicted" in a murderous way. No one suggests the baby is not a human life, nor that she is guilty of any crime. But still we let our own convenience come first.
Rather than make the case against abortion, I thought I'd just puncture some of the pro-abortion myths. This turned out to be more structured and more fun. Hope it inspires some thought. I'll close with a quote that sums up the pro-life position fairly and succinctly:
"The old law permitted abortion to save one life when two would otherwise die. The new law permits abortion to take one life when two would otherwise live." - Herbert Ratner.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 06:31 | Permanent Link |
Pay silly people enough and they'll tell you anything - it doesn't make it true
I AM NOT one who follows trials too closely, even when they involve political figures such as Jonathan Aitken or Jeffrey Archer. This one about the Royal Butler is another I just cannot be bothered to read much about. So far as I understand it, Paul Burrell, a butler to the last Princess of Wales, was accused of taking some bits and bobs from Diana after her death and putting them up for sale. Then the Queen stepped in to stop the trial and he was aquitted, claiming he took them only to remember her by. Well, whatever the story, the loyalty for which everyone seems to have commended him came to an end with a Mirror offer extending to the hundreds of thousands of pounds. The reported remarks sound exactly like the sort of thing a silly conspiracy theorist out to make a buck would cook up. I couldn't agree more with the Telegraph's take on it all:
According to Mr Burrell's account in yesterday's paper, the Queen told him: "Nobody, Paul, has been as close to a member of my family as you have. There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge." He took it from this, he says, that the Queen was warning him that his family was in danger, and advising him to be vigilant.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 01:44 | Permanent Link |
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
Another penalty for buying better services than the government offers
UNIVERSITY TOP-UP FEES may be a necessity if our universities are to remain in the top rank. I have no problem with the people who will most benefit from a university education paying for that education, though I'd much prefer the payments to be made once the person is in the high paid job that results from the degree. This is not only fairer on the general taxpayer, who often earns a fraction of the graduate's wages, and should not have to fund so much the education that got them there. It also provides a good disincentive to people who would consider wasting their time on pointless degrees such as Media Studies, Sociology or the History of Rap Music, prompting them to wonder whether they really wouldn't be better off doing something else.
But one left-wing think tank, the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, has actually suggested charging top up fees only to students whose parents paid for them to go to public school. As Liam Fox has said in relation to health, relieving the state of the burden of educating your children, while at the same time funding the education of others through taxation, is something any sane government would encourage. The suggested punishment for those who do the right thing is taken apart skillfully by Alice Bachini at Samizdata:
Independent schools produce pupils better equipped to do well in life and earn more money. Success breeds success... and it seems that to many this is an outrage: how dare they! They must be made to pay!Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:35 | Permanent Link |
It's more the parliamentary party than the leader
ED VAIZEY, editor of A Blue Tomorrow and the Blue Books on Transport and Health, is one of the most interesting and clever of new Tory thinkers, and his column in the Guardian today shows that well. The current Conservative strategy is the right one, he says, and those in the party who would blame Iain Duncan Smith for all its difficulties should look to closer to home:
The irony is that the Conservative party in parliament should not blame its leader for its difficulties, but itself. Labour learned long ago to argue in private and cheerlead in public. IDS needs to hold up a mirror to his parliamentary party and ask them to take a long, hard look at themselves and their behaviour. He has changed; they should too.
Vaizey's optimism about the future is, I believe, well placed:
The government has had a clear run with a benign economy. But it has done and achieved almost nothing in five years that would not have happened in the normal course of events. Quite the opposite, in fact. It has gambled everything on a huge and unsustainable injection of cash into the public services. But as tax rises come on-stream and the chancellor is forced to borrow to sustain his ambitious plans, people will start to look for alternatives. Duncan Smith has positioned the Conservative party in just the right way to catch a wave of discontent in 2003.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:59 | Permanent Link |
America deals a fierce blow against those who would appease or ignore evil
I AM DELIGHTED with how last night's elections in the US went. For the first time since 1934, the governing party has made gains in mid-term elections in both houses. This is an achievement the Republicans themselves haven't managed for a hundred years.
The ramifications of the GOP now controlling every branch of government are clear: Bush's Supreme Court nominees will get through, the war on Iraq will not be undermined at home and Bush looks set to be President until 2009. What a great victory for the Republicans, and for Americans, who have shown their resolve and their determination in the last 14 months in a way that terrifies all those who love evil or who can't distinguish it from good. Let it continue.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:22 | Permanent Link |
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Let's turf social policy back to the periphery, where it belongs
AFTER THE EVENTS of the last two days, I have changed my mind on how the Tory Party should operate. The recent divisions on Europe took nearly a decade to heal, basically through total victory for the Eurosceptics and the victors' subsequent choice to ignore the issue. We cannot allow the final recovery from these problems to be followed by equally damaging divisions over social policy.
In the depths of the Major government's problems over Maastricht, Welsh Secretary John Redwood suggested a radical solution: a free vote. This would not only end the months of embarrassment the government faced, but it would expose Labour divisions and allow mature acknowledgement that all the parties have people who take different views on the matter. I am certain this would have been of great benefit to the party if implemented. Sadly, Major's pride got in the way. The myth that he had boldly negotiated Britain's opt-outs from the Social Chapter and Single Currency prevented him from then saying that the matter was still up to individual members of his party to decide. His credibility rested on his success in gaining the opt-outs which supposedly answered Eurosceptic criticisms. In fact, as Norman Lamont has confirmed, this was no great achievement. Brussels granted the concessions without any great battle, knowing it was the only way to ensure Britain was a Maastricht signatory.
A year ago, Redwood suggested a similar solution to the divisions that were opening over social policy: not making them a major part of the party's programme, but allowing a free vote on such matters. One week ago, I congratulated Iain Duncan Smith's decision to make married adoption a three-line-whip issue. I now recognise that this was a grave mistake. John Redwood is right, particularly about exposing Labour divisions. For every Conservative rebel in last night's vote, there were three Labour MPs who agreed with the Tory line on adoption. What the Conservatives' past European and present social divisions have in common is that they are both peripheral issues as far as the electorate is concerned. Contrary to the liberal media's constant assertions about the politically correct nature of the modern voter, I am sure there is no great public appetite for homosexual adoption or for legalised cannabis. But equally, opposition to them does not win us much support either, certainly not among those who don't vote for us already. By fighting over these issues, we only prove how isolated we are from what really matters to people, reveal deep divisions unnecessarily, and concentrate too much energy on too few votes - or none at all.
I now support John Redwood's call for a free vote on social issues. The British public is more or less satisfied with how things presently are socially, so even if the votes were there for the grabs on such matters, we would probably alienate as many people as we would win over with the choice to go in one direction. For the sake of party unity and in the hope that we can relatively soon see decent governace by decent people return to this country, Conservatives must turf social policy back to the periphery in which the electorate place it, and work as one in fighting for better healthcare, better education and lower crime. That is the way to party unity and the way back to power.
[Edit: I put this question to Iain Duncan Smith on Friday 8 November. See my report of his comments here.]Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 21:53 | Permanent Link |
More pussies than militants?
WITH YET ANOTHER fireman's strike cancelled, I am beginning to wonder how seriously we should take the FBU. The only thing worse than making threats is making idle threats, but that seems all the FBU can do. Maybe Andy Gilchrist's heart just isn't in this. He may win a generous pay offer for his members and settle this amicably after all. Even a Labour government may be able to keep a lid on this one. In the sense of failing to show Labour up, I am almost sorry this fight seems to be dying down. This was apparently the FBU's final concession, so perhaps we shall see what happens soon. Whatever happens, it seems the militancy of car park strikes is gone in this country for good.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 21:01 | Permanent Link |
7 sentences that say it all
SIMON CARR IN The Independent says about all that deserves to be said on the recent difficulties (or idiocy) of the Tory Party. I am so exasperated I honestly don't want even to think about it.
Mr Thing, who you may remember is caretaker of the Tory party, is against same-sex couples being allowed to adopt children. The arguments are strong both ways if you're a modernising Conservative. So Mr Thing put out a decisive, binding, three-line whip, indicating compulsory attendance and a block vote against the Government. Then in a domineering display of personal power he said that MPs didn't have to turn up if they didn't want to. Mr Bercow wasn't having that, so he resigned. And was immediately given another job. Oh come on, laugh, it's funny; you have to laugh.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:47 | Permanent Link |
Could pigs help us fight Al-Qaida?
I'M EXTREMELY GRATEFUL to Natalie Solent for pointing out a great new Russian idea for stopping Chechnyan rebels from being quite so keen to sacrifice themselves. Bodies wrapped in the skins of the unclean animal that is the pig cannot, according to Muslim belief, ascend to paradise. So it seems that the simple act of wrapping terrorist corpses in pigskin will deprive them of every one of their 72 virgins. All notions of martyrdom suddenly become impossible. How many fewer of them will be willing to sacrifice their lives knowing what their enemies will do to their bodies afterwards? I can't imagine why Russia, Israel, the US and everywhere else that is threatened by militant Islam shouldn't do this. We can't let respect for dead terrorists come before respect for innocent human life. If it saves even one civilian, it is worth burying every Islamic terrorist on the planet this way.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:20 | Permanent Link |
Americans: Get out and vote Republican
FOR THE SAKE of a safer world, I really hope the Republicans do well in today's elections. As Jonathan Last made clear in the Weekly Standard yesterday, they certainly deserve to. From breaking electoral laws to registering the dead as voters, the Democrats seem ready to use every dirty trick available to undermine the democratic rights of the American people. In three separate contests, they have used the most virulent rhetoric to undermine Republican candidates who happen to be gay, just as they have undermined their commitment to racial equality in Maryland with racist canvassing against a black Republican. After such campaigns, if the Democrats make gains this evening, all those who voted for them should hang their heads in shame.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:35 | Permanent Link |
VERY BUSY DAY yesterday, so a quick roundup of interesting pieces:Permanent Link |
Sunday, November 03, 2002
Netanyahu returns to government
AFTER TALKS WITH Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu is now replacing Shimon Peres as Israel's Foreign Minister. As I said on Thursday, I do hope this will mean his eventual return as Israeli Prime Minister. A ruthless opponent of terror and a fair peacemaker, he is the hard-hitting solution to the present deadlock, and would be a sure sign that Israel will not be bullied into negotiations, and that murder and bloodshed will not win the Palestinians anything. The present incumbent has been a good leader, and Israel is now winning the war on terror. Let us hope it could soon be up to Netanyahu to complete what Sharon has begun.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 21:04 | Permanent Link |
Does modern Britain need a truly modern Tory leader?
MAX HASTINGS MAKES an interesting case for the departure of Iain Duncan Smith, arguing first that the Right (and notably the candidates Thatcher endorsed in each leadership contest) has chosen the wrong leader every time since the 1980s:
Iain Duncan Smith is the third successive leader foisted on the Conservatives by the party's Right wing, in the belief that he would champion Lady Thatcher's legacy.
He continues with a gloomy but accurate depiction of modern Britain, where the only virtue a huge number possess or recognise in others is tolerance of all behaviour:
We now live in a society in which Posh and Becks are held in higher regard than most of the Royal family. Respect for business leaders has never been lower. For generations past, those at the bottom of the social ladder aspired dimly to the values of those at the top. They wanted to talk proper, to wear suits. They respected "real gents". Not any more.
Given this reality, a modern leader is a necessity:
The consequence is not that the leader of the Conservative Party must be a yob or a drug-user or an unmarried mother, but that he or she must be able to talk to a nation in which there are a great many of these people.
I am not sure I can go along with all Hastings says here. Conservatism isn't just about winning elections: it's also about implementing Conservative principles. Accepting modern Britain, warts and all, does not mean we ought to reconcile ourselves to its problems. Aiming at curing mass illegitimacy, drug-abuse and thuggery should be a huge part of what true conservatives stand for. Unrealistic as it may now seem to believe that this could be done, we only need to look back at the pessimists of the mid-1970s, who deemed Britain ungovernable and the unions unreformable. We owe our basic liberty and prosperty to those who refused to give up. I am not ready to give up hope for a decent society yet and nor should the Conservative Party.
I also wonder whether the oft-spouted idea that coming to terms with social liberalism (which is in fact extremely authoritarian and illiberal) is a necessity for electoral victory. Melanie Phillips and others have made a very convincing case that Blair's appeal was not to a heartless, politically correct libertinism, but to those who felt society had broken down under the Conservatives, and who wanted it fixed. This analysis would suggest not that to win again, the Tories must go along with political correct ideals, but that they should instead articulate an idea of a united and peaceful society of responsibilities and duties. Oliver Letwin's approach to this task has been admired across the political spectrum, and Iain Duncan Smith's similar choice to work on solving the problems of the vulnerable is an example of the same outlook. Instead of giving up on the family, on moral norms and ideas of responsibility and respect, we should fight for them. The left never really stood for such things, but we allowed them to look like their champions by permitting them to mislabel Thatcherism as a selfish, socially destructive creed. Ironically, the British left struck the best notes when it sounded like the force more devoted to conserving the social bonds and duties that their own doctrines had destroyed. It is political correctness and indifference to the family that causes such destruction, not Thatcherite economics.
However loudly the politically correct media may deny it, there is no great mood in the country for a great extension of the 1960s revolution. Many of the sorts Hastings mentioned do not vote anyway. Meanwhile, we have millions of our non-voting core supporters to win back.
There is much wrong with the modern Conservative Party, but further concessions to political correctness are unlikely to improve the party's standing. We can always be outbid on that by the other two main parties, and by emphasising it we only highlight internal divisions and frustrate millions of those who remain supportive of the party. We must instead unite and fight the government on the great issues of the day - on their failing health and education systems, and on rocketing crime. When Labour's last ditch effort at social democracy fails, as is certain to happen, this will be the key to power. Only by concentrating on these few key issues will we be able to present the strong, united front that can win again.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:43 | Permanent Link |
Saddam gets desperate - and for good reason
SADDAM IS CLEARLY deeply afraid of what is to come, judging by his most recent major decision. He has now secretly ordered the assassination of Iraqi opposition leaders currently resident in the UK in case they succeed him after the Second Gulf War ends. That this 'secret' order was printed right in today's Sunday Telegraph, giving plenty of notice to the opposition figures in question, also reflects poorly on the stability of his regime. He clearly isn't complacent, and now, forgetting even the American and British threat, it seems he is right not to be.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:25 | Permanent Link |
If the public rewards a company executive more than a fireman, diminishing freedom is the only solution
RICHARD REEVES ASKS "What's a fireman worth?" and concludes that the market is no fair judge. A system that pays the wages of 400 firemen to Bart Becht, Britain's highest-paid executive, is a nonsense, he contends. First, one should note that firemens' wages are not decided by market principles at all. Isolated from the market, these wages are determined by public lobbying, including of the disgraceful sort that begins on Wednesday, consisting of letting people burn to death. The union barons of the 1970s famously declared their cause more important than loss of individual life: "If people die, so be it". Thirty years later, the FBU's message is essentially 'If people fry, so be it'. This isn't market forces determining wage levels but emotional blackmail and political capital doing so.
But let's assume for the sake of argument that firemens' wages were market based. What should we conclude? To start with we should note that the wage level is not a barrier to recruitment. Across the public sector, especially in hospitals, police stations and schools, there is the need for more employees. But in the fire brigade, there is no shortage at all. This isn't a problem likely to develop any time soon, either, when so many more are keen to take the job. When fifty fire-fighting jobs were advertised in Manchester recently, 7,000 people applied. So if anything, the wage level is excessive by market levels, because all the firemens' jobs could still be filled at a lower wage level.
Why are so many keen on taking this job at such a modest pay? The answer lies in the working hours and the qualifications. With firemen having to work four days in a row then getting the next four days off in such a cycle, is it any wonder at the numbers wanting the job? Which of us wouldn't want the equivalent of a four day working week, followed by a four day weekend, permanently? The qualifications for the job are equally kind. As long as one has strength, agility and a driving license, the only other requirement is training. According to the RFU, this training can be done in total in just 22 days: five for learning to drive a fire engine, seven to learn to use special cutting equipment and ten in using breathing equipment.
As was pointed out to me on Friday, what would be the point in most people going on to take A levels and a degree course if they could earn £30,000 after three weeks' training? A handful of firemen die each year, it is true, but who would be willing to forgo such a generous pay and working hours offer solely through fear of a ten-thousand to one shot?
The allegation that the market doesn't reward fairly is an interesting one. Is Britain's best company executive really four hundred times as worthy as a fireman? Well, that's a decision for you and me to make individually in each of our purchases. In a free market, it is not any one person, any one politician, who makes this decision, but each of us collectively in all our purchases. The wages paid to one person are twice as high as another if that one person's skills are in twice as much demand by the general public. Wage differentials are not arbitrary or unfair, but a simple reflection of the forces supply and demand, of the public will expressed through the financial choices they make. When lefties say the market does not reward people fairly, what they mean is they want the coercive judgements of certain key political figures to take precedence over the voluntary judgements of all of us. I'd much rather throw myself on the mercy of people in general, them paying me in terms of what they feel I offer them, than have a politician determining my worth. Attacks on the free market of the sort Richard Reeves indulges are really attacks on individual freedom, the real and best determinant of wages. Although we may respect his desire for equality, we must never forget what his ideas mean in practice.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:04 | Permanent Link |
A depressingly accurate analysis
ANDREW RAWNSLEY CAN be an excellent political observer when he wants to be. Regretfully, I must say I agree with every word he writes on the Tory Party, today. I remember just after David Davis' sacking laughing at the idea proposed by some that the party's new found unity over Europe would only give way to further battles over political correctness and group rights liberalism. Now it seems that is likely, and even if it does not occur, unity over policy is no longer sufficient, as there is always the leadership to argue over.
Once upon a time, the Tory party's internal battles were also about differences of high principle. The schism over Europe that tore them apart under Thatcher and Major was a struggle between people of sincere and passionate opposing beliefs.
Rawnsley also makes the excellent observation that David Davis' pledge on Thursday's Question Time was essentially worthless:
DD swears that he will 'never challenge Iain' for the leadership, a loyalty oath which is absolutely worthless. Mr Davis knows his Tory party rule book. Thanks to the way it was rewritten by William Hague, no one who wants to be leader has to take the risk of challenging the incumbent. All that has to happen, and it can happen at any time, is for 25 Tory MPs to sign a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding a vote of no confidence. If the leader loses, he is deposed and a contest for a new chief begins.
It's time for the Tory Party as a whole to grow up and unite around its leader and its fantastic and right policies. After eight or nine years of a Labour government, no one is going to believe that their failure in the areas they were elected to fix requires a third chance. They will expect results and be ready to punish those who have failed them. The Tories must unite and capitalise, offering a radical vision for the future of tough attacks on crime, parental choice in schools and patient choice in hospitals. Unless Blair slips up badly, there will be no instant surge in support for the Tories. They just face a long, hard slog back to power. The sooner the Conservatives reconcile themselves to this and come out throwing every fist at the government, instead of at each other, the better they can do.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:38 | Permanent Link |
Eurodemocracy is a grave threat to our independence
PREDICTABLY, the europhile reaction to widespread British concern about a new EU constitution - which would be overarching, binding on member states, and could easily include a 'slavery clause' that would make it illegal for any nation to leave without support from 75% of all members - is to dismiss all worries as paranoia, xenophobia, flag-waving nationalism and so on. Will Hutton does this rather effectively in his column, though going a little far in his "everyone's stupid" ideas. But at one point he slips up, and really lets the cat out of the bag:
Europeans are lucky that unlike, say, South Americans or Asians, they have a multilateral structure in the form of the EU through which to react. In this respect, the EU's attempt to introduce true democracy into multilateral processes is the future, not the past.
You could easily miss the implications of this sentence altogether, but they are very stark. Multilateral democracy would mean democratic decisions taken not at the level of the nation state, but at the European level. No longer would the key decisions on foreign policy, for example, necessarily by made by the British people's representatives in Parliament, but by a collection of supposedly democratic representatives in Brussels, their decisions binding every EU member state.
At this point, someone always jumps in and claims that this it is not surrender of sovereignty, but a pooling of it. We wouldn't have much control over our own country any more, this argument goes, but at least we'd have more control over Sweden, Belgium and Portugal. I don't know about you, but I don't want more control over the rest of Europe. I value their independence and democracy strongly and I hope the domestic populations there can retain their liberties and their right to decide the central questions of politics for themselves. I only wish for Britain the democratic rights I would hope for every nation state.
There is no strong European identity, no European culture, and no sense of patriotism linking European countries together. We can and should be friends and allies of good governments across the nations of Europe, but we do not need to share a government with them. If anything, Europe and Britain need decisions to be taken more locally, not less.
D'Estaing's preliminary draft constitution offers the chance of real improvement, but only if you believe in the EU. That, in the end, is the heart of the matter.
Thankfully, the British people do not believe in the EU in the sense that Will Hutton means it. We share bonds with Europe and hope to trade freely with them, but these bonds extend to the rest of the world, to the United States, to Canada and Australia, to Pakistan and India, to all over the Commonwealth. However the rest of Europe may feel, we don't share a sense of European identity distinct from the rest of the world. As we have been for centuries, we remain internationalist and interested in the whole of the planet. But we don't want to be tied down to the destiny of any one part of it. Though not a superpower, we are truly a global player and a world leader. It is in Britain and in a peaceful, freely trading world that we believe, not in European unity.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 12:57 | Permanent Link |
BOOK REVIEW: "Third Way - Which Way?" by John Redwood
IF MARGARET THATCHER was the mother of privatisation, John Redwood was its father. The original and creative thinking he used to liberate British industry now return in "Third Way - Which Way?", a very radical tome on the future of British public services.
Surprisingly, the book's first chapter is by far the best. Objectively and in detail, the author examines in turn each of the eight possible ways a service for the public can be run, from public sector monopolies to private labour contracted out to the state, paid for through taxation, right up to private sector organisations each competing for a larger market share. Without making the case directly, Redwood succeeds in the first chapter in opening the reader's mind to all the possibilities for public service provision. With all these options presented as different sorts of service, suddenly the public/private dichotomy that is usually put up for debate seems stale and simplistic. Equally, it belies the suggestion that privatisation is a dogma: the real dogma, it automatically appears, is a dogma declaring that one of these eight options - the public monopoly - offers the best services in all cases. So this opening chapter gives a very welcome perspective to the whole debate and what will follow in the rest of the book.
The rest of the book is then devoted to ideas on transport policy and why private finance and other ideas offer the best hope for Britain's roads, rail network and skies. The detail is very good, and the suggestions simple, old-fashioned good ideas. A few of these chapters are esoteric and probably not of general interest as much as the start of the book, for example "Waterways - a story of public sector decline". But they can be skimmed quickly without the general argument being lost.
Throughout the book, the most refreshing feature is the imagination shown, a depressingly rare commodity in modern politics. Ideas such as letting private companies provide services including digital television, phones and beauty treatments within the NHS for a fee, or ensuring that traffic lights on busy roads are placed in line with bridges to offer the choice between waiting to cross or going straight over the bridge, are exciting and simple, but could have great positive impact. On the back cover, Janet Daley is quoted as pointing out the paradox that is the radicalism of “Third Way – Which Way” combined with its common sense. But this is not a paradox if one comes to agree with the author that nationalised systems under political control have been allowed to stray far from the ordinary wishes of the consumer. It would be a very radical step to return such bureaucracies to common sense principles, but that is precisely what the book suggests, arguing powerfully that political involvement is not the solution to the greatest problems of Britain's public services, but the cause. Instead, private finance and market forces provide exciting new options for solving these crises.
Though some parts of the book are better than others, "Third Way - Which Way?" is fair-minded, pragmatic and imaginative, turning the dry subjects of public finance and state sector difficulties into a persuasive and lively case for a society of greater choice and diversity. A timely contribution to the developing debate, it will be of great value to all those asking themselves how public services in general should operate over the decades to come.
This review can be read and this book ordered at Amazon.co.uk (linked by banner at top of page).Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 03:04 | Permanent Link |
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