Conservative Commentary
Recent Referrers
Great Weblogs
The Enemy Within
"We admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war." - Saddam Hussein, February 2003

Saturday, February 15, 2003  

Million Moron March across London

YOU SEE THE quote at the top of the page? Saddam must think his prayers have been answered, as over a million march across London, Iraqi flags in hand, to protest the liberation of 23 million Iraqi people and the destruction of the weapons with which Saddam hopes to threaten us all.

Images from pro-Saddam protests in Britain in the last few months

When Louis Farrakhan's sick little demonstration drew around 800,000 people, it was deemed a Million Man March. Well this demonstration does seem to have drawn around a million people, and this truly is a Million Moron March. These people either don't understand the threat Saddam poses, don't care, or rejoice in his evil. There will surely have been large chunks of all three on London's streets today. But history will soon be on the wrong side of all three. As Mark Steyn made clear in the Telegraph today, urging that his readers not go on the march, the people of a soon to be free Iraq will loathe and despise those who marched in favour of their continued persecution.

I was in Montreal last week, which has the largest Iraqi population in North America. I've yet to meet one who isn't waiting eagerly for the day the liberation of their homeland begins. Then they can go back to the surviving members of their families and not have to live in a country where it's winter 10 months of the year.

They're pining for war not because they like the Americans, or the Zionists, or me, but because they understand that, as long as there's Saddam, there's no Iraq. Saddam has killed far more people than Slobo, Iraq has been far more comprehensively brutalised than Kosovo. Marching for "peace" means marching for, oh, another 15 years of Saddamite torture and murder, followed by a couple more decades under the even more psychotic son

Marching for "peace" means marching against the Iraqi people: it's the equivalent of turning them away as, to their shame, many free nations in the 1930s turned away refugees from Germany.

[Y]ou ought to know that, as long as Saddam sits in Baghdad, there will never be a Palestinian state. Never. Chance of the "Palestinian Authority" becoming a fully fledged People's Republic: zero.

Saddam serves as principal sugar daddy to the relicts of suicide bombers and neither Israel nor America is going to agree to a Palestinian state where the prime business opportunity is strapping on the old explosives belt and telling Baghdad where to mail the cheque. We're talking cold political reality here: keeping Saddam in power may stymie the crazy Texans, but also those downtrodden Palestinians. If you're serious about them, you might want to think that one through.

Do you really think not invading Iraq will make all the bad stuff go away? Do you honestly believe the fig-leaf argument that, because Saddam is a nominally secular Ba'athist socialist, the Islamists would have nothing to do with him? ... [Y]our argument depends on giving both Saddam and al-Qa'eda the benefit of far more doubts than their prior behaviour warrants. Your line is basically: we can't really be sure he'd sell suitcase nukes to terrorists until one goes off in Birmingham. Then you and Armando will say, oh, OK, maybe there's a link after all - unless, of course, you're among the dead.

... Today's demo is good for Saddam, but bad for the Iraqi people, and the Palestinian people, and the British people. One day, not long from now, when Iraq is free, they will despise those who marched to keep them in hell.

The people who march against this war today are not being brave, or compassionate or caring. They are fighting for a world in which conflict can only begin at the whim of the terrorist, in which fighting to prevent a disaster on the scale of 9/11 is worse than allowing the disaster to occur, and in which the selfless efforts to protect the world by its leading superpower are shunned and attacked until the point at which America leaves Europe to her fate. If anyone really wants to live in such a world, move to France or Germany, both of whom seem determined to build one, but don't march for its madness here. ®

Images from pro-Saddam protests in Britain in the last few months Images from pro-Saddam protests in Britain in the last few months

Images from pro-Saddam protests in Britain in the last few months Images from pro-Saddam protests in Britain in the last few months

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 21:09 | Permanent Link |

A step in the right direction, though not in the right country

THERE'S NO POINT pretending the French get everything wrong. Although they may sacrifice the safety of the world in their selfish quest to weaken the power of the Atlantic Alliance, their efforts at home are sometimes in the right direction. Their new crime bill is for the most part exactly the sort of thing we should introduce here. Some of the positive provisions include crackdowns on prostitutes, aggressive beggars, teenage louts who loiter in apartment doorways and those who threaten state employees.

Complained one whore as the bill was voted through parliament: "They are trying to make us out to be delinquents, even criminals." Yeees, that is indeed the very point of the bill, and there's no making anything out - it's a fact. I just hope she has looks.

French prostitutes demonstrate against the bill
Some of the measures are not so encouraging, for example further restrictions on the use of guns to defend against criminals, and legislation to criminalise booing of the national anthem. While the latter offence may be a disgusting thing to do, I'd rather it remained something shunned by decent people rather than met with the force of the law. It seems the bill was not-so-secretly drawn up to deal with the wave of hatred sweeping France's growing Islamic population. While this is obviously a problem, perhaps a better way to combat it would be to support the US and UK as they fight the very same militant Islamists whom France is legislating against, explaining that the leading Western powers are right about this one. The current French attitude seems to equate to passing anti-Nazi laws in 1930s France while condemning abroad any pre-emptive strike aimed at keeping the Nazis in check.

But then I think you really have to be French yourself to fathom the way they operate. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 03:15 | Permanent Link |

Friday, February 14, 2003  

Permissive liberalism a victim of the war on terror? We can only hope

AS THE BRAVE passengers of the plane destined for the White House on 9/11 realised their fate, they did all they could to take over the plane, in the end bringing it down over Pennsylvania. As the following year began the President reflected on what they said as they began the fight back: "let's roll".

For too long, our culture has said: 'If it feels good, do it.' Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: 'Let's roll.'

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people think 'If it feels good, do it' is a pretty good way to live ones life, and they are none too happy at this transformation, which shows every sign of extending beyond the United States. Guardianista Jackie Ashley is one of them.

The potential victims of the war on terrorism are easy to imagine, impossible to number... But we should add one more potential victim: progressive, liberal politics itself.

I certainly hope so. We've had an age of trivial, pitiful self-gratification for nearly four decades, and whatever reversal of socialism we may have achieved in the 1980s, 'If it feels good, do it' is still the only guiding principle of millions. If it takes the terrorist murders of the present for people to come to their senses and see how shallow is the liberal vision of a life of consequence-free sex in youth and welfarist "care" in old, then it's a sad reflection on how bad things have got. But it does give us hope for a better future in decades to come.

History has shown again and again that there is nothing inevitable about moral permissiveness. There is a fascinating moment in Robert Graves' I, Claudius, where the aged Livia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, debates with Claudius the merits of Republicanism. She tells him that a global empire can no longer go back to the government it had in its days as a city state than the chaste and decent morals of those times can be expected in any civilised country of the future. How wrong she was, as countless historical periods since have shown. We may not be able to turn back the clock, but we can help it move forward to a better future. If it takes Bin Laden and Al-Qaida to induce the will to do so in us, as it took Hitler and the Third Reich to bring out the best in those who came of age in the thirties and forties, then it won't only be Iraq and Afghanistan who could emerge from this conflict immeasurably better off. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 23:08 | Permanent Link |

Canada's finest on the world, politics, war and terror

FANTASTIC MARK STEYN INTERVIEW from Right Wing News this week. I'd quote some of it, but the whole thing is just marvellous, so I wouldn't know which bits to pick. From Britain's Tories to the Middle East countries we need to stop trusting, Steyn is extremely well informed and thoughtful in his judgements. If you haven't read the interview already, check it out now. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 08:57 | Permanent Link |

Tobacco advertising and a mountain of inconsistencies

WITH THE BAN ON TOBACCO ADVERTISING finally in force (except in industries whose leading figures are big donors to the Labour Party, naturally) I wonder what will be next. As Simon Heffer said yesterday, alcohol does huge damage to the liver, burger bars encourage obesity and fast sports cars promote reckless driving. That covers a large majority of advertised products right off, but somehow I doubt they will face such harsh rules. So why tobacco?

Marilyn Monroe smoking
Condemning cigarette marketing, the Health Secretary says that the tobacco companies that advertise most are the ones whose products sell the best. He draws the conclusion that this means advertising pays off and gets people smoking the advertised brand. Well, maybe. But you could just as logically conclude that the companies that draw the most customers can afford to advertise the most. Given only these facts, there's no way to know which way around it is.

The fear seems to be that advertising smoking encourages young people to take up the habit, viewing it is as 'cool' and rebellious. I don't know why they think this impression is gained from tobacco advertising, usually very plain stuff included in the stalest of magazines. Far more likely it is encouraged by anti-smoking efforts like this, which only encourage the notion that by using tobacco one is doing something mean and anti-social. Political correctness be damned, smoking is cool, and being able to handle cigarette smoke is a sign of physical maturity. For girls in particular, cigarettes can be a real aid to elegance, as proved by Marilyn Monroe and the like. The more that people at the top deny this obvious truth, the more incitement there is among the young to earn their disapproval. I think a large measure of indifference to smoking from the authorities would do far more good.

No one in elite circles will accept the notion of moral guidance in lessons educating schoolchildren about drugs or sex, and certainly will not countenance suggesting simply that the kids say "no". But when it comes to cigarettes, ultimately an issue of far fewer moral, social and health concerns, "no" is the only answer even suggested. Interesting, isn't it?

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 08:14 | Permanent Link |

Thursday, February 13, 2003  

Road congestion regulates itself – charges just aren’t needed

BORIS JOHNSON CONDEMNS the new congestion charge, set to be introduced in London this Monday, charging motorists £5 to drive in the centre of our capital. Boris points out that as with many such bureaucratic ideas, it’s neither necessary nor fair, road congestion itself being both the problem and the solution.

[I]t doesn’t necessarily follow that it is the business of government to seek to control the right to drive until the point at which motorists and available road space are in approximate equilibrium. There is already a perfectly good mechanism for ensuring that this is the case. It is called congestion.

Anyone who attempts to drive along the Marylebone Road at 8:30 in the morning will find themselves caught in heavy traffic. The next day, if you possibly can, you are likely either to time your journey differently, catch the Underground or not leave home at all. Congestion is self-limiting, which is why roads never reach the armageddon of ‘total gridlock’ frequently forecast by the roads lobby and the anti-roads lobby alike.

Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge may well cause many motorists to make the desired switch from car to public transport, but it will achieve that end in a way which is considerably less fair than leaving the job to congestion itself. The charge as conceived is a horribly regressive tax which will impose the same fee upon a nurse pottering to work in her ten-foot Mini Metro as upon a capitalist swell barrelling along in a 20-foot limo. Those who can afford to travel about by taxi — including, thanks to taxpayers’ largesse, Mr Livingstone himself — will escape the charge altogether. The charge is equally perverse in the way it values some neighbourhoods more than others. Why is congestion such a problem for residents of Mayfair that they deserve a congestion charge to be set up for their benefit, while people who live in the backstreets of Elephant & Castle will have to put up with the extra traffic generated by the congestion charge?

Regarding the “total gridlock” point, it is also worth pointing out how silly are similar fantasies of petrol one day running out and rendering all the millions of cars everyone then has useless. As the supply of any quantity falls relative to demand, the price rises to stave off the excess demand. So as oil becomes more rare, the cost will increase, and fewer will choose to travel by car, choosing alternatives that become more economic with every rise in the oil price. Individual responses to the price mechanism ensure that oil will essentially never run out, just as individual responses to congestion ensures there will never be the dreaded “total gridlock”. Britain has many real and existing transport problems, but we don’t help solve them in any way by worrying about transport problems that do not exist. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:55 | Permanent Link |

Is an international authority necessary?

I’VE HAD TWO REPLIES thus far to my challenge to anyone to explain why people should put their trust in the United Nations, why its decisions should be supported whether or not it sanctions war. Both are included in full below this post, and thanks to both of those who made the effort.

In some ways, both made very similar points: that moral authority or not, the world needs some sort of international body to determine the rights and wrongs of certain actions. As Matthew Baines put it:

The United Nations is not about the rights or wrongs of a war, it is about what serves to protect our world order in the best way.

I think the best justification of the pro-UN position came again from Matthew Baines (Jaakko Haapasalo was broadly in agreement with me) when he said that the UN was like a government that kept the individual nations in line the way a national government keeps individual people in line.

It is rather like Rousseau's principles of society: it being impossible for all the people in a society to run a society all at once, we must make a social contract with the elected leader. With that leader we entrust the running of our society for the better of its people. This is the principle by which we elect our Prime Minister. Equally, on a larger scale, it is impossible for all the Prime Ministers of the world to run the world as we would otherwise be running in all directions and starting wars all over the place.

If I might rephrase this argument into a form that I find most convincing, just as we need a government and courts to determine the way the law should apply between individuals, we need the United Nations and its Security Council to determine how international law should apply between nations. This is not to say that national governments are made up of superior beings of greater moral integrity or that the government’s own sanction can make any act morally right. But it is to say that society has agreed to respect the decisions taken by this authority.

So just as a national governments might create laws that are unjust and unfair, the UN might make mistakes in its decisions. But that is not to say we should disobey the UN, just as we would hopefully not break the law any time we disagreed with it. Instead, we would hopefully work from inside that institution to change its decisions.

This is all very well, and I think it is a coherent and original outlook that isn’t really proposed properly in any defences of the United Nations. However, it is all based in theory, and the difficulties come when one sees the effect in practice.

Just as you can have a bad system of national governments, with proportional representation or elective dictatorships, you can have bad systems of international governments. This could mean that the worst elements of society can take over, the elements that kill and rape and steal relentlessly. The UN, by any measure, is slowly being dominated by this latter kind. With its leading commissions on human rights and disarmament headed by the greatest offenders against these principles, the UN does not so much resemble a democratically elected government as a military kleptocracy.

And this is the problem. We accept the legitimacy of democratically elected governments because they are put there by the largest number of voters. Matthew Baines puts it thus:

We (the UK) elected Tony Blair to be our Prime Minister and we trust him to do everything that is right for this country. We might not agree with some things he does, but the Social Contract we have with his Government is such that we entrust him to do the right thing. I don't believe he should take our country to war, but if he decides to do that as my Prime Minister, I can only conclude that he did it because he thinks it is the right thing to do. The same principle applies to the United Nations.

Except the same doesn’t apply to the United Nations. The whole basis for the Prime Minister’s legitimacy is that he was put there as an elected ruler. The United Nations was not elected by anybody, and there are members of its Security Council who weren’t even elected to their role as heads of government.

The sort of world government proposed by Matthew Baines, in which key foreign policy questions were taken out of the hands of national governments, could not be justified except by election. That the controlling force of national governments is elected is not beside the point, but the very point.

The structural problems are equally great. Baines sees the UN’s role as “keeping a check on the unilateralists”. This is a notion I have real trouble with. For a start, “uni” means “one”. It’s a very simple concept, but by goodness it seems to foil so many anti-war commentators. Currently over forty countries support the United States over Iraq, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Poland and Italy. Bearing in mind that there are fewer than 200 countries in the whole world, this is particularly interesting. Set all this support against the prospect of a French veto. If the French took the decision alone to veto military action, that would be unilateralism, but quite within the rules of the UN, which by its vetoing powers encourages unilateral approaches. Just imagine if a national government’s cabinet could “unilaterally” veto any of the government decisions.

Fundamentally, the UN as an institution and in terms of its members, then, cannot live up to the Roussauean standards Baines sets it. It draws its claimed legitimacy from nowhere, and operates to encourage the sort of unilateral approaches he deplores.

But what we accept all of this and still say that a UN-like authority could work. It could be elected, its decisions determined by majority coalitions. We could have an effective world government deciding the key questions of foreign affairs and warfare. Let’s just imagine all the practical difficulties and legitimacy problems dissolve.

Would this proposed UN really be justified? I don’t think so. It remains the case that the majority can get it wrong, that might and numbers do not always make right. To surrender this belief is extremely dangerous for the future. When Britain abolished slavery, and the slave trade, it did so unilaterally, and was proud of that fact. We wanted to set the standard for the rest of the world and prove them wrong. As this happened in some cases, we also tried gunboat diplomacy in others, putting many sailors at risk in valiant efforts to end the slave trade. This was unilateralism, defying world opinion because we dared to believe we knew better. And who would now deny that we did?

Unilateralism is not some bogeyman concept of left-wing fantasies, but a moral and decent position adopted by nations who believe that what they stand for cannot be dropped merely because it is part of a temporary minority. Democratic governments rarely if ever go to war with one another, and the threat is not from them, but from the dictators and tyrants who ignore the wishes of their own people and inevitably soon threaten others. We who elect our governments do not need to be restrained, and if we submit to international restraint when they are strong, we may regret doing so when we are weak, and the tyrants of tomorrow have the power to break free of the shackles of international law and threaten us all. In no case is that truer than Saddam’s. ®


I can't understand why you take such an objection to the UN, other than you happen not to agree with what it concludes on. The purpose of the UN is very simple. As an international body it allows a forum for discussion as a means of creating as near a cohesion of world-thought as is possible. It is rather like Rousseau's principles of society: it being impossible for all the people in a society to run a society all at once, we must make a social contract with the elected leader. With that leader we entrust the running of our society for the better of its people. This is the principle by which we elect our Prime Minister. Equally, on a larger scale, it is impossible for all the Prime Ministers of the world to run the world as we would otherwise be running in all directions and starting wars all over the place. Thus, as Great Britain, we have made a social contract with the United Nations (by subscribing) to run the world for the best of all people in that world, rather than just their self interests. By issuing resolutions the United Nations is showing to the world what the general consensus is. By issuing a resolution on the Iraq crisis, the United Nations is advising the world what the best approach should be. Obviously we are at liberty to ignore the advice of the United Nations (as indeed UK and USA are tending to do in this current crisis). But it is rather against the spirit of the whole thing and risks isolating those countries, as well as causing resentment amongst others. The bottom line is either we subscribe to the club, or we return to the world anarchy that existed before the First World War. We (the UK) elected Tony Blair to be our Prime Minister and we trust him to do everything that is right for this country. We might not agree with some things he does, but the Social Contract we have with his Government is such that we entrust him to do the right thing. I don't believe he should take our country to war, but if he decides to do that as my Prime Minister, I can only conclude that he did it because he thinks it is the right thing to do. The same principle applies to the United Nations.

The United Nations is not about the rights or wrongs of a war, it is about what serves to protect our world order in the best way. By its very nature the world will never be in complete harmony over its decisions, just like less than 50% of the population voted in the last Government. I think you are taking your disagreement with its decisions as a reason why it is not a legitimate body. You are suspicious about who runs it, which is why its commissions are rotated. There would be plenty of countries in the world deeply suspicious of the US chairing the next Commission.

If you like you could view it as the global version of our House of Lords, ratifying or not, the actions of individual countries; keeping a check on the unilateralists. I for one would rather the world was not run by the United States alone. Why should they police the world on their own? Why should we subscribe to what the United States thinks is right? The US is not an international body, taking into account the point of view of all member states. It has it's own interests at heart and God forbid us all if we contradict that.

I hope that answers your questions.


Matthew Baines

This is a somewhat tame (lame?) response, as I mostly agree with your post regarding the Polly Toynbee column and the moral standing of the UN.

Here is the main reason why UN approval of military action in Iraq mattered to me, at least until recently:

We should defend the UN on pragmatic, "realpolitik" grounds referring to its utility as a diplomatic tool in restraining both heavy-handed superpowers (I'm thinking more China than America) and tin-pot despots from killing too many innocent people. This would also confer some moral status on the organisation, if at the end of the day it was seen to lessen human suffering. I think this is also the main premise behind opinions like Miss Toynbee's that bypassing the UN is unthinkable: the UN is a useful diplomatic tool that lessens human suffering in the world. Resonable people can disagree about the truth of this, but if it were true, then generally supporting the UN or at least not looking to hurt its standing would probably be the moral thing to do, at least in some utilitarian sense.

Here are two more thoughts, with which I do not agree, but which might go some way towards explaining some of the more passionate defenses of the UN route:

1. For the UN to be diplomatically effective without resorting to military pressure (an affront!), it must be seen to possess moral authority. The UN is moral or at least can confer morality to actions taken with its blessing, because it must be so, because there is no alternative organization that can do so. Individual conscience, the world religions, or the will of liberal democratic nations does not count, each in turn has been disqualified from this post by various relativist or postmodern arguments. I don't know what to thing of this approach, which seems to take morality itself

2. The UN is a "democracy of nations", and whatever legitimacy and moral authority modern liberal democracies are seen to possess, applies by analogy to the UN.

Finally, here are the reasons I now support military action to destroy the murderous tyrant Hussein and his hideous terrorist-cuddling, WMD-brewing, child-killing regime, even if the world at some point comes to a consensus that UN blessing is or was not given:

1. I believe liberating the Iraqi people from their current regime is the right thing to do. Sod the UN authority.

2. Inaction is slightly more risky than intervention, post 9-11.

3. I believe the United States has made a sufficient case for pre-emptive self-defense. Saddam is not entitled to even an iota of the benefit of the doubt. I am only worried about civilian suffering and casualties. I hope they will be minimal.

4. Resolution 1441 together with Saddam's subsequent and irrefutably demonstrated non-compliance amounts to UN authorization for the use of force. If the UNSC decides to later contradict itself, it will prove itself irrelevant.

5. I no longer think the UN is, on balance, a force for good in the world, so its possible opposition to an intervention in Iraq is morally irrelevant. The evidence just keeps piling up: UN-monitored genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Libya chairing human rights deliberations, Iran and Iraq presiding over disarmament... aargh! Add to this the circumstantial evidence: a burgeoning bureaucracy with no democratic accountability. No bright future here.

Great blog! Best regards,

Jaakko Haapasalo

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:02 | Permanent Link |

Down with the BBC poll tax

AS THE BBC LICENSE FEE increases by 1.5% above inflation, Samizdata's Alice Bachini is angry to see yet another £100 million "provide the unelected lefty-establishment BBC" with the funds for further "lavish lesbian costume dramas and unintelligible Open University nonsense".

She has little time for the claim that the BBC can be free of advertising because of its poll tax:

Actually, the BBC is stuffed full of advertising: mostly advertising for itself and its own products.

How true. And the organisation is hardly destroyed by all this, is it? The BBC's cringe-inducing, patronising advertising of its own programmes is somehow a special case, but why? They don't even work on the basis of informing people of something they may wish to watch. Often, a programme will be advertised in detail on BBC1 or BBC2, then at the very end you find out only BBC4 viewers can even see it, the terrestrial BBC channels instead seeing their duty as making up for the criminal shortage of cookery and gardening programmes on British TV. What purpose does this advertising serve beyond flogging off more digital boxes - ie. commercial interests? Advertising its own programmes, services and books does not kill the BBC, so why would it be so bad for it to advertise washing powders or something?

Of the 'public interest' argument against advertising, she is even more dismissive:

[P]eople choosing what to buy is the general public interest: it's ordinary people doing what they want with their own money. If people don’t buy any more revolting liqueurs because of "Sex and the City" sponsorship, the sponsorship will stop and the annoying mini-ads will go. But the point is, however annoying those ads, who do you know who would choose to pay £116 a year to opt out of seeing them?

Finally, dealing with the notion that working to raise money through advertising is somehow more shameful than getting your funds through a poll tax, Bachini attacks the smugness of this attitude:

What I loathe most of all, however, is the idea that living off coerced money rather than earning it like everyone else makes you a superior benevolent authority better able to judge and further the 'interest' of the people you stole from.

There may be many who no longer watch the BBC, having so many other channels available to them. They benefit not a bit from the BBC's decision only to advertise itself, yet they must still pay for the privilege for as long as they have a television. The days are behind us when the BBC's license fee made sense, if it ever did. Now, in days of 50+ channels, the notion that a small handful of them are important enough to merit this fine is anachronistic.

Even if you would genuinely be willing to pay £116 every year to stop the BBC advertising something other than itself, I wonder - how do you justify forcing everyone else with a television to do the same? This coercion is the ultimate moral problem with the license. An optional fee paid to avoid advertising would be fine, but forcing that fee on everyone else, whether or not they even view the channels, is just not justifiable any longer.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 09:22 | Permanent Link |

Wednesday, February 12, 2003  

Campbell becomes Deputy Liberal Leader as Beith moves on to chair paperclips committee

MENZIES CAMPBELL WAS today elected Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, beating Malcolm Bruce to the post by 31 votes to 22 among Lib Dem MPs. Like at least 99.9% of the public, I had no idea this election was taking place. Apparently the post became vacant after Campbell's predecessor, Alan Beith, resigned to become Chairman of the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department. Doesn't the fact that Beith would rather chair perhaps the most obscure Select Committee than be Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems tell you everything about the party's pretentions to significance, and about how little stock even its leading figures put in such fantasies?

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 23:05 | Permanent Link |

Support for the UN - a baseless, secular faith?

POLLY TOYNBEE CONCLUDED her column today by expressing opposition to the war on Iraq, but urging her readers to support it if it is backed by the United Nations with a second Security Council resolution.

Without a UN resolution, the rightness of the cause is clear cut. Only the UN confers legitimacy on any invasion and afterwards the UN will be essential during a long and difficult occupation. Even when liberated Iraqis are dancing in the streets revealing the full horror of the Saddam era, the future will look dauntingly dangerous - and unthinkable without the UN sharing that responsibility. If Tony Blair takes Britain to war without the UN, he is sunk.

But for the same reasons, if the UN does ordain this war, then its authority has to be supported even by those of us who deeply doubt its wisdom. UN or bust.

As ever, the same familiar argument that somehow the United Nations has the power to make a war right or wrong. I decided to fire off an email to her asking her to defend this reasoning.

Dear Miss Toynbee,

I read your column today with interest, especially as it concluded with an exhortation to judge the case for war not on its own merits, but based on what the UN decides. You say that this organisation alone can provide the moral legitimacy for war, and I want to understand where you think this legitimacy comes from.

I can appreciate the argument of anyone who believes that a particular war is unjust and unnecessary whatever the UN might think, and equally the case made by anyone who argues that a war is just and necessary whatever the UN might think. What I don't see is how the UN's approval alone can tip the balance, turning a just war unjust or making an unnecessary war necessary.

The United Nations is revered in some circles as a sort of secular Pope, infallible in its judgements and possessing of moral powers unapproached by anyone else. But this is an organisation about as respectable and moral as the Axis powers during World War II. As you will know, its Human Rights Commission is headed by Libya and its next Disarmament Conference will be hosted by Iraq (it is currently run by Iran). The UN's Durban Conference in September 2001 declared even support for a Jewish state as racist, and voted in favour of every anti-Semitic measure short of asking Jews to wear a Star of David. To any objective observer, the UN should appear a fallible, flawed organisation that gives a platform and a position of respectability to the world's most wicked tyrants.

As we live in a world in which tyranny, human rights violations, anti-Semitism and the like are frighteningly common, it is to be expected that any platform for discussion between all the countries of the world would include such unpleasantness. That is fine, so long as the organisation is not then invoked as the supreme ethical authority. But that is what you happily do, treating the judgements of the UN and its Security Council as morally binding on us all. Does the political and economic horse-trading of the people who brought the world Tiananmen Square - and a French President who would be in jail were he not in the Fifth Republic's highest office - really deserve this accolade?

Perhaps you think the mere fact that a majority of world leaders supports something makes it right automatically, as if people who were in a minority have never been right. I ask you where this sort of thinking stops. If the UN can determine for you the rightness or wrongness of war, why not slavery? If for example, the UN Security Council had given two resolutions in favour of South African apartheid, would you equally be writing columns urging people to grit their teeth and lend their support to oppression of black Africans? At what point can people think for themselves and wrestle with their own consciences, rather than merely defer moral judgement to Jacques Chirac?

You have written quite a lot about the damage you feel is done by religious faith in unproven concepts and beliefs. But faith in the moral judgement of the United Nations seems at least as irrational, for no informed person can on a serious evaluation of the evidence conclude that the UN has some sort of moral authority that is not held by the leaders of peace-loving, freedom loving governments, or indeed by anyone who reads your columns and cares about right and wrong. I am reminded strongly of Orwell's condemnation of the nationalist: he decides the rights and wrongs of an act not on its own merits, but based on whether or not their own country did it. In your final two paragraphs today, you made clear that this anti-evidence, unreasoned attitude is exactly your own position - only you apply this reasoning to the UN rather than to the UK.

So discarding unreasoned faith, why do you think we should defer judgement to the United Nations rather than make up our own minds about the morality of war? I would really like to hear a reason.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Cuthbertson.

So there was the challenge. Give some reason to believe in the UN - supply an argument for its moral legitimacy. Unlike the rest of her Guardian colleagues, she did at least reply:

War without the Un is unthinkable - if the Us can't even opeursuade the rest of the world with all its powerful cajolery - War with the UN will liberate teh deeply oppressed people of iraq, with some guarentees for future nation-building. It's not a perfect argument. But nor is no war and leave the Iraqi's to suffer, depsite UN supprt for liberating them..

Well, there we are. We should do what the UN says because to do otherwise is "unthinkable". Why, why, why? No answer given. She says that no attack on Iraq despite a UN resolution would leave the Iraqis to suffer. Surely it is obvious that the Iraqis would suffer in any case so long as Saddam is left in power, UN resolution or not? How does the Security Council's view change things? No answer given. If a UN resolution can determine the rights and wrongs even of war, can it do the same for apartheid? No answer given. Where does the UN's moral authority come from, and why should we decide the rights and wrongs of foreign policy questions based on its rulings? No attempt at an answer.

Well, I still await a proper answer to the email above. Send them in, folks. If the UN's support is what will make your mind up for you on this war, explain why you think this way. In the interests of good debate, I'll put up the best one, though I can't promise it will be without a good fisking. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:42 | Permanent Link |

Guilt is good

LIKE A LOT of the anti-war lobby, I am fearful of the proposed anti-guilt pill, though perhaps not for the same reasons. The idea of it is that those who feel "traumatised" by the necessities of war can take tablets that will make them forget what they have done.

I fear that it would become widely available, a response to the incessant demands of pop psychology. The idea that anyone should have a good reason to feel guilty is curiously out of step with the modern age, almost puritanical and political. Guilt, as the enlightened know, is bad. Almost irrespective of the cause, it must be purged, as though a conscience is a character flaw. The other side of this self-obsessed mentality is reverence of self-esteem. I don't remember the last time I saw the word esteem written without "self-" in front of it. And indeed, self-esteem matters intensely, far more than doing something to earn it. If you feel guilty or low in self-esteem, the idea that it is a problem to be rectified by a change in behaviour rather than psychiatry is now quite revolutionary, the sort of thing you just can't say in polite company any more.

The release of these psychiatric "solutions" in pill form would make this change complete. The concept of the moral problem would die out, few any longer even capable of improvement, depriving themselves even of the feelings that could motivate them to strive to be better. In this banal, self-obsessed age, we need to remind ourselves that there is more to existence than instant gratification and our own happiness. This pill can only lock us for ever in the carnal, self-indulgent mindset of the animal. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 05:57 | Permanent Link |

France frog-marches Germany down the path Petain walked

PERHAPS ATYPICALLY FOR A CONSERVATIVE EUROSCEPTIC, I am quite strongly pro-German, so it pains me to see the country acting as it now does, smashing NATO and putting Turkey at risk in response to America's justified destruction of the United Nations.

Andrew Roberts writes worriedly that for France this is just a matter of course, but that for Germany this is a quite radical step, and a step in the wrong direction.

[The Franco-German] plan is to redraw the global balance of power in such a way as to circumscribe Washington and London's freedom of action in the Middle East, North Korea and elsewhere. George W Bush has made it more than plain that this cannot be done in the UN, since America will act unilaterally in defence of what it perceives as its national interest if need be, so the chosen forum is Nato.

Hence the present, despicable, Franco-Belgo-German moves to deny fellow Nato member Turkey the relatively modest provision of wholly defensive materials such as Patriot air defence missiles, early warning planes and anti-chemical and biological units.

Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary, has rightly described this effective denuding of the Nato ally geographically closest to Iraq as "inexcusable" and "shameful", but another adjective could simply be: "French". Throughout its complex love-hate relationship with Nato, France has shown itself willing to put its own self-interest first and the concept of collective security nowhere at all.

But it is not France whose behaviour should truly trouble friends of the most effective peace-keeping organisation since the Middle Ages. Rather it is the attitude of Germany, a loyal member of Nato since 1955, that is of far greater moment.

Read the whole thing. It's an acerbic and convincing analysis.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 04:54 | Permanent Link |

We are back

AT THE END OF LAST MONTH, I wrote optimistically of the slow and steady progress the Tories are making, resulting in a Labour lead of just 4% in the opinion polls. That lead is now just 1%, Labour being at 35% to the Tories' 34%. These positive polls aren't insignificant, and they confirm each other. Labour's honeymoon period is well and truly over, and the British public will soon be willing to listen to what we have to offer. I believe that when that time comes, they will like what they hear. The days are rapidly coming to an end when people will put up with being given all the choice the market has to offer when they book a holiday, but having no choice at all when it comes to the hospitals and schools their family uses. Only the Tory Party offers something better, and people will soon be ready to acknowledge that and vote accordingly.

But even now, the Conservatives are getting poll ratings we haven't attained since before Britain left the ERM, and Labour has hit its worst ratings in ten years. Let's hear no more talk about a moribund Tory Party. The Conservatives are back.

IAIN MURRAY NOTES in his comments on the same poll that the Liberal Democrats are clearly not benefiting greatly from their anti-war stance. If there was ever a time for the Lib Dems to pick up lots of support, it is now, with the leadership of both main parties supporting a war to which the majority of the British people are opposed. That they have not shows the limits of their type of vicious, dishonest, puerile campaigning and policy-making, and is a credit to the people of this country. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 04:01 | Permanent Link |

Libraries must be about books

IT'S TYPICALLY NEW LABOUR to say that the definition of books includes "talking books, videos and CDs". Even sadder is their definition of the role of a public library: to offer "neutral welcoming community space and support active citizenship". Apparently those who think their role is supplying the written word in hardback or paperback format fail to see the bigger picture.

The Telegraph concludes that this amounts to a hatred of books. I would not go so far. It is really just about the same thing as always: sacrificing culture and learning in an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator and capture a mass audience in an age when those leaving schools able to read properly are barely the majority.

When public libraries first began, they were inspired by the noblest of intentions: ensuring that the greatest works of literature and civilised thought would not be available only to those who could afford to buy the book, but also granting the poor access, producing a more cultured and educated people. Now we see not the aspiration that the uncultured can improve themselves, but the lowering of libraries down to the level of the Big Brother-watching Eminem fan.

I believe strongly in the free market, but I am not one of those libertarians who opposes any government effort that doesn't either secure the realm against invaders or fight crime. So I strongly support the library system. Yes, because the institution is state owned and run, there is rationing in the form of waiting and available books, but this is not at the expense of a thriving private sector in books for sale. The only cost is in tax money. Consequently, the way to ration is obvious: you offer in libraries the reading matter that will educate and hopefully entertain. It is still in every taxpayer's interests to have a literate, well read populace, whose skills and learning are sure to be of benefit.

Quite how loaning out anything else but books aids the taxpayer in this way I do not understand. Sure, they may lend video tapes at a rental cost to make up funds. But if a library can make a lot of money from a video tapes section and nothing but fine payments from a hardback fiction section, then the pressure will always be to take up more and more of the library's space and budget with the money-making part of the enterprise. There comes a point when it turns into nothing more than a nationalised Blockbuster Video with a few books for hire. The state shouldn't be involved in such things. The private sector can handle it more than adequately.

In the meantime, the neglect is in the sector that matters - that which has something to offer the ever-declining literate and intellectually curious section of the population. As ever, the decent, silent majority who keep this country afloat lose out to the rest. For as long as there are politics, it seems that will be the way.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 03:32 | Permanent Link |

Monday, February 10, 2003  

If a headteacher wants to expel a school thug, no bureaucrat should stand in the way

DAMIEN GREEN'S PROMISE to abolish Labour's bureaucratic appeals panels on school expulsions was supported by one of those Conservative arguments so sensible and irrefutable that the media and government simply ignored it. The suggestion that the headteacher of a school is not the best person to determine whether a young lout is fit to be taught there is exactly the sort of command management that is ruining our public services.

It has been said that as the appeals panels only overturn 3% of expulsions, they are hardly a thorn in the side of every teacher. To me this only suggests their redundancy. If 97% of the work any group did only confirmed that the person who made the original decision got it right, then you would ask questions about the necessity of keeping them on. But when it comes to school bullies and hooligans, the case against such panels is greater still, for although that 3% may be negligible in terms of the total, even one aggressive and vicious pupil can do much harm to a school. Take the latest successful appeal, which returned to school a lout of 11 who shot his teacher in the neck with the pictured gun. His return will be a signal to every other lout in the school that you can get away with almost anything, and will doubtless instill fear in every pupil and teacher the boy deals with.

A 2.9% wage increase for teachers may be too small. But a more important way to help teachers do their job and show respect for their decisions would be to bring an end to the appeals panels that second guess and overturn even the most justified of expulsions. This isn't an isolated incident, but just another outrageous example of the incomprehensible decisions that these people regularly make. It's only a few months since some children expelled for sending death threats to a teacher were returned to their school by the same process.

This isn't about politics as much as a basic respect for the profession of the teacher and the decisions taken by people working in schools. It's about a little common sense. The school appeals panels should be scrapped, certainly for the good of every decent teacher and pupil, and ultimately for the sake of the louts too, whose only hope of change may be the sudden sharp shock of realising that such behaviour is not acceptable. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:47 | Permanent Link |

Sunday, February 09, 2003  

Let's accept Brussels' offer to be in Europe, not run by Europe

ON 5 DECEMBER, I welcomed the suggestion of an associate membership option for EU states as the solution for all concerned. For Britain, it would mean we can continue trading freely with the rest of Europe without fear of political dominance from others. For the majority of the EU, it would mean they could progress with the superstate they so desire without the people of this country for ever dragged their heels.

Responding to the clearly federal draft EU constitution, the Sunday Telegraph argues the same, convincingly. It's not only easier for the government, but it's what the people of this country voted for.

For a sense of the document produced by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who presides over the drafting body, consider just one clause: "The Constitution, and law adopted by the Union institutions in exercising competences conferred on it by the Constitution, shall have primacy over the law of the Member States" (Article 9). For the avoidance of doubt, the draft goes on to list the areas of policy where EU jurisdiction will pertain: transport, agriculture, energy, employment policy, the environment, trade, competition and home affairs among others. No wonder Tony Blair keeps talking about "schools'n'hospitals": under these plans, they are about all he would have left.

... [Faced with some nations' concerns] the Convention is discussing a rather intriguing solution. If most of the member states ratify the constitution, but one or two baulk - perhaps because their populations vote "No" in referendums - the non-signatories might become "associate members" of the EU. What this means has not yet been clearly defined; and it is fair to say that many of those proposing the idea envisage it chiefly as a threat to cow potential recalcitrants into voting "Yes".

Yet a form of what in London clubland would be called country membership - participation in a common market but exclusion from political union - almost perfectly describes the aspiration of British voters, many of whom believed that this was what they were voting for in the 1975 referendum. Such a deal would of course be anathema to Mr Blair, who is driven by the conviction that Britain must lead in Europe. But not even he can hold out forever against an idea whose time has come.

So long as the people of this country are given a say, they will not accept dominance by Brussels. We want to trade and ally with those European countries that desire the same, but we value our democracy and independence too much to wish to be governed by Europe. Blair cannot get what he wants, so his duty is to fight for what is best for Britain. Let's grab associate membership of the EU with both hands, letting full members go ahead with their plans, and ensuring for our country both self-government and free trade with Europe - the best of both worlds. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:09 | Permanent Link |

Have the courage to stand up and say what your true pacificism means

IN AN INTERESTING COLUMN on modern Irish pacifism, Henry McDonald refers back to Orwell (always a good idea at times like this), and what he said against pacifists who felt compelled to disguise what it was they stood for.

While Allied forces were fighting and dying to liberate Europe in the summer of 1944 Orwell took the pacifist tendency in Britain to task. He said that he judged pacifists by the subjects they avoided: 'A courageous pacifist would not simply say that "Britain ought not to bomb Germany". Anyone can say that. He would say, "The Russians should let the Germans have the Ukraine, the Chinese should not defend themselves against Japan, the European peoples should submit to the Nazis, the Indians should not try to drive out the British." Real pacifism would involve all of that...'

As a logical consequence of pacifist doctrine, this is undeniable. But it was so monstrous that few would admit that they stood for it, not even to themselves. Today, I wonder if anyone opposed to the war is willing to admit the same. It is very easy to express opposition. But as Estelle Morris pointed out on Thursday, it almost seems as though people believe the choice is between war with Saddam on the one hand and no harm coming to anyone on the other, as though there will be no adverse consequences if we do not enforce resolution 1441. This is of course nonsense, and a genuinely courageous pacifist would admit this. The honest opponent of war would confess to a willingness to see Saddam Hussein develop a nuclear bomb, that he should not be stopped in his quest to dominate the region, that it is better that the people of Iraq live under the tyranny of Saddam and then his son than be liberated by war, that the threat of Iraqi weapons being given to Al-Qaida and others does not justify acting in self-defence, that every Briton, American, Israeli, Frenchman, Iranian and Kuwaiti who gave their lives fighting to contain Saddam died for nothing.

Admit it or not, though, this is the standard anti-war position now. It is hard to think of a more selfish, wilfully blind and morally bankrupt view. The only perspective I can imagine that is worse is the view that a second UN resolution makes an unjust war just and that the lack of one makes a just war unjust. This warped position states that one should not wrestle with his own conscience on this issue, but instead defer moral judgement to a man who would likely be in jail were he not French President, and to the dictators who brought you Tiananmen Square. Sadly this is a view held to vigorously by an even larger chunk of the anti-war brigade. ®

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:51 | Permanent Link |


AS THE DAILY MAIL fearlessly exposed every sordid detail of the Cheriegate scandal, the Guardian and BBC and other snooty newsmakers were unrestrained in their contempt for anyone who felt let down by what happened or saw it as a serious issue. The Prime Minister's wife getting Downing Street employees paid for by our tax money to lie to the people of this country? What a trivial and silly thing to get all worked up about.

With the disgraceful Iraq dossier now exposed as having been largely plagiarised from a one time Californian student's thirteen year old post-graduate thesis, we see the real effect. When the Mail warned that once we lost trust in Downing Street officials in one area, we could not trust them properly in any other, the enlightened response was scoffing. Now we see how right this was.

I support a war to liberate Iraq, but I want to win people over with the facts, with the moral and security based case for stopping Saddam before it is too late. This sort of outdated, exaggerated propaganda only serves to support the wildest conspiracy theories of the pro-Saddam lobby. Even when it gets things right, as with Iraq, this is a crooked, unscrupulous government, basing its every operation around spin and manipulation. I'd love to be able to trust it completely on this issue, but I cannot, and no one should. For whatever achievements Blair may be remembered, I am starting to wonder if the first thing that will enter people's minds when he is mentioned ten years hence will be sleaze and cheating. As Damien Green has warned, whatever its other achievements, this is largely true of the Nixon (and indeed Clinton) administration now, and could easily be the case for Blair, too. More than any of his predecessors in living memory, this Prime Minister just cannot be trusted.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:53 | Permanent Link |
Click to visit the web page of Peter Hitchens

The first counter (top right of this page) tracks the total number of hits the site gets. The second tracks the number of individual visits. If you refresh this page, the value on the first counter will increase because you viewed the page again, but that on the second will not, because it is the same visit.

Search WWW Search

Link of the Week
Great Sites
Tory Party