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26 May 2005
The EU has not prevented war and may actually create one

I have always been rather dubious about the claim that the EU and its predecessors have prevented a war in Europe and so I was looking forward to reading Helen Szamuely’s take down.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand it so I thought I’d have a go myself.

Wars start because states find issues on which they disagree.  The First World War started because Britain thought Germany was too powerful and Germany thought she wasn’t powerful enough.  Ditto the Second World War.  The Iraq War started because the Allies didn’t like the look of Saddam Hussein.  Saddam Hussein, underpants aside, thought his looks were just fine.

The Big Dispute in Europe between 1945 and 1989 was over communism.  The Warsaw Pact thought that it should expand.  NATO disagreed.  That dispute could have escalated into a real war at any time but it didn’t.  Two possibilities: the ever present threat of instant annihilation posed by nuclear weapons or the EU (oh, hang about that didn’t come into being until 1992, I mean the EC, oh hang about that didn’t come into being until 1986, I mean the EEC, oh hang about that didn’t come into being until 1958.  No what I mean is the European Coal and Steel Community.  Yes, that’s what Euro-fanatics would have us believe kept the peace between 1950 and 1958.  That we didn’t get vapourised in the five years before was just good luck. )

No prizes for guessing which one I would plump for.  But, hey, let’s give them a chance.  Maybe, there was indeed a conversation in the Kremlin that went like this:

Boris: Let’s invade Western Europe.

Vladimir: No, Boris.  They have the Common Agricultural Policy and a Common External Tariff.  We’d never stand a chance.

OK, well that gets up to 1989.  What then?  Well, the problem is the absence of a major dispute between the major European powers.  France doesn’t grieve over Alsace-Lorraine.  Germany doesn’t want to invade Poland.  No disputes, no war.

The funny thing is about the only disputes that do exist are the creation of the EU itself.  Britain doesn’t like the Common Fisheries Policy.  France doesn’t like Spain’s wine.  Danes don’t like German immigrants.  No one likes Britain’s rebate or Greece’s budget deficit.  So far, they are survivable.  But what if they got really serious, like a demand that Britain fund the Continent’s pensions?

I don’t remember the period before 1973 (when Britain joined the EEC) that well but I am not aware of any disputes we had with our neighbours.  Nowadays, thanks to Europeanism we have them aplenty.  How long before one of them starts a war?

14 May 2005
Proud to be British

Mattias Matussek, Der Spiegel’s London correspondent and brother of the German ambassador, certainly knows how to put a cat among the pigeons.  In an article (via A&L Daily), to coincide with the 60th anniversary of VE-Day he makes a number of charges:

  1. That we still think that the Germans are a bunch of Nazis
  2. That we overestimate our contribution to victory.
  3. That in taking pride over our achievements in World War II we tend to gloss over things like Dresden, the failure to do anything about the concentration camps and various other imperial crimes.

I have to say, on Charge 1 I tend to agree.  This attitude is most apparent at England-Germany football games.  I find the boorish behaviour of England fans so embarrassing that it has not been unknown for me to find myself supporting Germany.

Having said that I do find myself wondering how this came about.  It doesn’t seem to happen in the States and it doesn’t seem to have been present at the 1966 World Cup Final.  I can’t help thinking it is at least in part related to the British establishment’s self-loathing and to the left’s take-over of the history curriculum.  Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to join the dots on this one.

As far as overestimating our contribution well, who can say?  There are no parallel universes where counter-factuals are allowed to play themselves out.  I will say this though: I do not see how freedom could have returned to Western Europe had Britain been knocked out of the war in 1940.  And without the bomber campaign and the threat of an invasion of France the balance of forces on the Eastern Front might have been quite different.

However, the part of his article that I find most disturbing is the accusation of glossing over.  For starters it’s a complete mismatch.  You cannot usefully compare actions (such as the Holocaust) which were primary policy with actions like Dresden which may or not have been mistakes committed in the pursuance of primary policy.  The killing of Jews was intentional, the killing of German civilians was incidental.

But what is really alarming about this charge is its motivation.  By dragging up things like this Matussek is effectively saying: your ancestors were no better than ours.  Now whether this is an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis or to belittle the World War Two generation I can’t say but I can’t help but think this is somehow wrapped up with Europeanism and the desire to eliminate national feeling.  Whatever, the case may be he’s wrong.  Our ancestors were a great bunch.  And so long as we honour and preserve the culture that made them we can be proud of them.

09 May 2005
Crozier for leader

OK, so I am not an actual member of the Conservative Party but nothing ventured nothing gained (not that I am actually venturing anything except opinions).  But anyway, if I were in the ring this would be my pitch:

“Fellow Conservatives, we seem to be in a slightly funny mood at the moment.  We have gone down to a third straight landslide defeat and yet because we picked up a few seats we seem strangely light-headed.  Almost joyous.  Just in case any of you are still feeling like that I would bring you back to reality: we lost and we lost badly.  Again.  This is a wholly unprecedented run of bad results for the Conservative Party.

So, what do we do about it?  Modernise, radicalise, change our tone/look/tie widths?  No.  First of all, we work out why we lost.  Then we work out what, if anything, we need to do about it.

The principal reason why we lost is because we do not come across well on television.  We do not come across well because we are not allowed to.  We are not allowed to because the broadcast media despises us.

They despise our values.  They despise free enterprise, they despise tradition and they despise personal responsibility and the idea of free will.

So, what do we do about it?  Well, we could say all the things they want to hear.  We too could go round blaming Bush, Thatcher, profit underfunding,  McDonalds, the banks, the oil companies, the drug companies, the chemical companies, food lobbies, gun lobbies, tobacco lobbies and SUVs in that lazy way so many do because it beats thinking.

But it wouldn’t be credible.  We are Thatcher’s Children.  We are the heirs to her belief in low taxes, low inflation and free enterprise.  For many of us Margaret Thatcher is the very reason we joined the Conservative Party.  And the electorate know that.  Even if we all had a sudden Damascene conversion and became right, proper politically-correct drones, the electorate still wouldn’t believe us.  We couldn’t change our spots even if we wanted to.

Incidentally, the reason Labour changed and I believe it was a genuine conversion was because their core beliefs were proved wrong.  In contrast our beliefs are still standing.  That is because they are right.

So, if we can’t change, then it has to be the media that changes.  Either they have to be persuaded of the merits of our beliefs or they have to be bypassed entirely. 

Change the media?  Yes, I know, they look all-powerful and all conquering and up until very recently I wouldn’t have given us much hope.  But things are starting to change.  In the the United States the internet is starting to become a significant factor in national politics.  This has been especially true since the rise of the so-called Blogosphere.  And the internet is now starting to challenge the the mainstream media, or MSM.  And about time too.  For years, just as over here, the MSM has been drunk on its own power.  Objectivity, accuracy and open-mindedness have been thrown out of the window to be replaced by sloppy, slanted and selective reporting inspired by a rigid liberal world view.  They could get away with it because there was no competition.  No one to point out their mistakes.  But now there is.  This was shown most dramatically in the Rathergate Affair.  CBS produced an appallingly sloppy attempt to smear the President.  Within hours the Blogosphere was pointing the many inaccuracies in the story.  The fallout continues but up to now it has included the resignations of several senior CBS executives.  And Bush, as you may recall, was re-elected.

This is still early days but I believe we will only see more of this.  The MSM is losing power in the US.  And if it can lose power in the US it can lose it here.  And when it starts to it will lose a lot of that arrogance and with that will come some genuine reporting and with that a fair hearing for Conservatives.

So, to Conservatives out there I say this: change nothing.  Stick to your guns, have faith in your beliefs.  Things can only get better.”

08 April 2005
Don’t mourn Railtrack

She who must be obeyed aka Natalie Solent has been badgering me for a couple of days to say something about the snuffing out of Railtrack (the former rail infrastructure company) seeing as the whole issue has once again re-emerged - this time courtesy of the ASI Blog.

Natalie, your wish is my command.

But I will say this: I am not enjoying it.  When writing about Railtrack I feel rather like Lord Palmerston on the Schleswig-Holstein issue who said something like:  “There are only three people in Europe who understand it.  Of those, one is dead, one has gone mad and the other has forgotten it.” 

To be blunt the whole history of rail “privatisation” is so fiendishly complicated and compromised that to discuss the death of Railtrack in isolation is close to pointless.

To my mind, the question that really matters is: is Railtrack an institution that free marketeers should seek to defend?  Was it our baby?  Should we take responsibility?  My answer is no.

Let me explain.  I am a libertarian.  I believe in freedom.  I want to see as little coercion in this world as possible.  I want that principle applied to individuals and their property and to businesses and their property.

To that extent I believe that a business should be able to decide who it sells to, how much it sells and at what price.  I believe the same freedoms should apply when it comes to buying from suppliers I believe it should be able acquire businesses in the same industry and (should the fancy take it) completely different industries.

But Railtrack couldn’t do any of these things.  It was the state via the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (and later the Strategic Rail Authority) who decided which train operators would use Railtrack’s infrastructure.  It was the state via the Office of the Rail Regulator who decided how much it would sell and at what price.  It was the state, via the 1993 Railway Act that prevented Railtrack from buying up the train operating companies.  It was the state (if memory serves) which foisted on Railtrack its maintenance contractors and the state again (again if memory serves) that signed it up to a commitment to rebuilding the West Coast Mainline - a project whose costs shot up from £2bn originally to nearer £10bn in the end. 

Now, contrast that with the private Japanese rail company JR East.  To the best of my knowledge JR East could contract out the running of its trains but doesn’t.  It could contract out the maintenance of its tracks but doesn’t.  It is under no contractual obligation to build or renew railways.  Result?  Profit and punctuality, comfort and reliability.

The only real problem is with overcrowding which is the direct consequence of state-enforced fare control.

Free marketeers have to be careful not to fall into the trap of demanding perfection from market institutions.  All enterprises are to some extent or other buggered up by the state.  Even JR East is subject to far more regulation than the average newsagent.  But Railtrack had so little freedom that (in my book) it wasn’t part of the market at all.

18 March 2005
New Labour’s ideology

Non-trivial Solutions has it in for New Labour:

Blairism is pragmatic, reactive government. It’s headline-hunting, poll-watching, focus-group-monitoring, ideology-free mush.

I hear this a lot and I think it’s highly dangerous.  Not only is it wrong but it encourages people to underestimate the enemy which is always bad news.

I think, on the contrary, that New Labour is highly ideological.  At it’s root is a coherent set of ideas which inspires many, if not most, of its actions.

This set of ideas does not (yet) have a name.  The phrase “political correctness” is sometimes used but New Labour’s ideology goes way beyond that rather vague description.  The fact that it’s ideology is nameless intrigues me.  It may be intentional: a way of smuggling in change without anyone noticing.

By the way, when I say “coherent” I do not mean “sensible”.

So, what are these ideas?  Here are a few:

1.  Don’t fuck with the economy.  Well, there’s a bit more to it than that - it’s more like “don’t fuck with those parts of the economy that we know produce wealth.”

2.  We are all members of groups eg. women, gays, blacks.  All groups, on average, are the same in all respects.  Women are as strong as men.  Whites are as good sprinters as blacks etc.  Any difference in outcomes between these groups is the result of prejudice.

3.  Britain is guilty.  Big time, long term.  Hence, tradition is to be despised.

4.  While capitalism can shift the goods it cannot shift the safety/equality/niceness.  Therefore, the state must intervene in the form of gun bans, minimum wages etc.

Funnily enough, I am not quite sure where schoolsnhospitals fit into all of this.  I suspect they don’t.  If they were already in the private sector there would be no great rush to nationalise them.

However, I think just about everything New Labour does can be seen through this prism.  It gives its supporters a guiding light (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor).  It means that whenever a “problem” arises they can identify, more or less immediately and without being told, both the “cause” and the “solution”.  This is particularly useful in the case of New Labour’s acolytes in the media and elsewhere.

So, ideologically-rich mush, then.  And I really think it’s about time it had a name.

15 March 2005

The IRA can be defeated

In comments to Brian’s piece on the IRA (which links to here - thanks Brian) I see the re-occurrence of that old canard that the IRA cannot be defeated by military means alone.

Yes it can.

It has to be.  If democracy cannot defend itself against its enemies then it is doomed.  Now, I might have all sorts of doubts about democracy but it’s the best thing we have right now and a damn site better than the fascist alternative of the IRA.

The strongest objection of the opponents of force is the claim that we tried it in the early 1970s and it didn’t work.  Well, certainly something didn’t work.  But that was not the first IRA campaign.  There were others notably in the 1920s, 1940s (yes, really) and 1950s.  They were all defeated.  So, the question has to be: what was different about the 1970s?

First of all, there was the disbandment of the B Specials.  This led to a loss of intelligence and it becoming much harder to patrol the border.

Secondly, there was the creation of no-go areas - areas which the police did not enter and where the IRA could operate with impunity.  This allowed the IRA to organise effectively.  It also further deprived the security services of intelligence.  This meant that when internment was introduced many of those who should have been detained were not and many of those who shouldn’t have been were.

Thirdly, no pressure was applied to the Irish government.  This meant that the IRA was allowed to organise in the south.  It also meant that when internment was introduced it was introduced only in the North and not in the South.

Fourthly, the UK government progressively watered down internment after Bloody Sunday I.  I can’t quite remember the details but I seem to remember they got the courts involved and released a whole bunch of people.

Despite this (and this is one of the great secrets of the early 1970s) and even in its watered down form, internment was working.  How do we know this?  Partly, because then-IRA member Sean O’Callaghan says so and partly because of the numbers of dead.

The claim is often made that internment acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA.  If that is true why is it that on previous occasions on the introduction of internment violence had gone down and not up?  If it is true how come the number of dead went down in 1973?  Where were all these eager, young and freshly-trained terrorists?

Defeating terrorism is an ugly business - a lesson we are currently relearning - think Guantanamo Bay, think Abu Ghraib.  But it can be done.

10 March 2005

Brian Micklethwait extols the virtues of democracy.  Or, at least, he appears to.  He claims that democracy is good for freedom.  Unfortunately, unless I’ve missed something, he never makes good on that claim.

What he actually says is that democracy prevents civil wars.  The implication (I don’t think he actually ever says this) is that civil wars are bad for freedom.

First of all, democracy does not always prevent civil wars.  Think Ulster, Euskadi (aka the Basque Country) and, of course, America in the 1860s.

Actually, that last example, occuring in a country in which (I think) there was a restricted franchise - and not just for slaves - does beg the eternal question of just what a democracy is.

Secondly, I am not happy with the equation: preventing civil wars = good for freedom.  Some civil wars are good for freedom eg English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the American War of Independence.

(The American War of Independence was, indentally, at least in part, a civil war.  Not every colonist was a rebel.)

I am also not happy with that equation because even if one accepts that civil wars are bad for freedom they are bad in a general purpose way rather than a specific way.  Civil wars are awful.  Let’s put it this way: even communists think they are a bad thing.

Hmm.  It occurs to me that by bringing up those “good” civil wars I am doing Brian a disservice.  He is making the point that where the option is available democracy is better.  Of course, in the examples I give the option was emphatically not available.

UPDATE.  Incidentally, from a “how do we promote freedom” perspective this is all rather academic.  If libertarians do badly under democracy right now then they aren’t going to do any better by taking up arms against the state.  The only real course of action is to keep on trying to spread the ideas and hope for the best.

23 February 2005
Internment works

I see internment/house arrest/detention without trial is getting a bum rap.  Can’t say I like it that much either, but I am always mindful of one killer fact:

When you are confronted with a terrorist organisation that is able to hide itself amongst a distinct and separate community, you cannot hope to win without internment. This has been proved time and time again, in campaigns against the IRA in the 1940s and 1950s, in the Malaya Emergency and in Kenya.  It’s not the full story - you need a few other things like good intelligence and robust defence of your borders - but it is an essential part of the story.

When you ditch it (as we did in Ulster after 1972) you lose.

The bizarre thing is that people are kicking up a fuss now.  It’s not as if it’s a new thing.  It had been on the statute books for yonks.  I am pretty sure that it was only repealed shortly before 9/11. I don’t seem to remember finding it particularly repressive.

13 February 2005
Eason Jordan and the rise of the Blogosphere

For those unfamiliar with the Easongate, I am probably not the best person to go to for a summary but here goes:  Jordan was a CNN executive.  In a meeting in Davos, Switzerland he is alleged to have claimed that the US military was assassinating journalists.  There was a tape of his remarks.  He was alleged to have prevented that tape from being broadcast.  The blogosphere kicked up a fuss.  The MSM (mainstream media) did almost nothing.

And now he has resigned.


In Rathergate the MSM did take notice.  But in this case they didn’t.  And still the guy had to go.  How come?  I am flabbergasted.  The only explanation (that I can think of) is that the Blogosphere is so powerful these days that the MSM can no longer even protect one of its own.

But how is that?  It’s not as if blogs are that widely read.  Glenn Reynolds gets some 150,000 hits a day.  That’s about one out of every 2,000 Americans.  And he’s the biggest.  But he’s clearly punching way above his weight.  I can’t imagine the brahmins of the MSM particularly care or, indeed, know of his opinions.  But they are clearly acting on them.  The only thing I can imagine is that, in some way, opinions seep, partly via the internet, partly via word of mouth.


20 December 2004
Bomber Crew
A US B17.  Oh, the perils of taking photos of the telly

It is difficult for me to be entirely detached when watching Channel 4’s Bomber Crew.  This is the programme that takes five grandchildren of WWII RAF bomber crewmen and trains them to fly an Avro Lancaster.  It is difficult for me to be detached because like them I too am the grandchild of a WWII bomber crewman.

The programme is divided into two sections. Half of it is devoted to the training and half to the history.  The training is the weaker part.  The hope is that the grandchildren will gain some appreciation of what their grandfathers went through. But it doesn’t really work.  There is an essential ingredient missing.  Their grandfathers knew that every day could be their last.  Today’s generation don’t.

The history part is better.  And it doesn’t pull its punches. The losses were appalling.  50,000 died.  Four out of five who took to the air never came back.  By way of comparison in the Great War four out of five who fought did come back.  I have this awful suspicion that you had a better chance of survival as a Kamikaze pilot.

The tale was told of a bunch of freshly-trained crewmen arriving at their new base.  They eagerly asked how long it took to complete their 30-mission quota.  They were given rather vague answers.  No one knew how long it took: no one had ever done it.  At that stage of the war (1941) being in Bomber Command was a death sentence.  That was precisely the same situation my grandfather was in.  He never saw 1942.  Or Germany for that matter: flying bombers was dangerous enough even without people trying to kill you.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with a man who took his basic training alongside my grandfather.  He was posted to the fighters and in the entire course of the war never took part in a single operation. Another aquaintance was even luckier.  Eighteen in 1939 and German it should have been curtains.  But he was living in England.  He was interned straight away and spent most of the war working in a Canadian abbatoir.  Such is life.

Bomber Crew, Channel 4, Mondays, 2100

04 December 2004
We don’t need no legislation

Seeing as no one else has spotted what Brian was really getting at (or, at least, what I think he was getting at) in his piece on Lycos’s spam-busting screen saver, I suppose it falls to me.

What he is actually saying is that not only do we not need the state to enforce the law but we don’t need the law in the first place.

You see cyberspace is a bit like a Hobbesian state of nature.  The forces of law and order are so far behind the game in both the “force” and “law” sense that they might as well not exist.  But is Cyberlife nasty, brutish and short?  Not really.  The only real problem in our Cyberanarchy is the spammers and it looks like Lycos is about to give them a sound kicking.  Problem (possibly) solved.

So, if is true that the virtual world doesn’t need the state why shouldn’t the same be true of the real one?

24 November 2004

The purpose of this blog is to reinvent the blog from the bottom up; to question absolutely everything and to assume nothing.  Mind you, there is an assumption in that statement: that I want a blog.