Thursday, 24 November 2011

Cuba will survive :-)

Sat with my tea, after a long days toil, I decided to watch the news and catch up on the days events. One story in particular riled me more than any other, even more than Rob Andrews refusal to quit. There was a five minute package on what a terrible place Cuba is under the Castro's. Being a man on a low income, living in the UK, I found this particular package almost laughable to the point that it was borderline propaganda. Some filthy stinking rich Tory scum International Development Minister then came on and continued the tirade against Cuba calling the Castro's "tyrants". The question I wanted to pose to this revolting tory was "are the Cuban people liberated from most of the misery that afflicts most of the people of the third world?" The answer to that would be yes, people in Havana live longer than people in Washington DC and they receive free education from primary school to PhD. But all this particular minister cared about was the fact that the people of Cuba couldn't vote. But we all know that Tories and capitalists in general don't recognise health, longevity and free education as basic human rights. All they care about is that we turn up every four years and endorse their antiquated political system. Elections in the UK are more like the Oscars.
I firmly believe that if it were not for the 50 years of siege, assassination attempts and invasions, from the United States, then democracy could have been achieved in Cuba. The United States has done everything it could to destroy the Cuban Revolution, the CIA has made 600 known attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. America have done this precisely because Cuba is an inspiration to the poor of the world. So Washington is to blame to the absence of democracy in Cuba. Because sadly when a nation like Cuba is under constant threat, like Britain was during WW2, democracy has to be suspended in favour of a stable government. There were no elections in Britain between 1935 and 1945, British political parties did not fight each other throughout the course of WW2. Cuba, like Britain during WW2, has a rather powerfull and aggressive country that has a proven track record of kicking the shit out smaller countries, right on its door step. The United States is a mere 75 miles from Cuba and has been trying to destroy the Cuban and the Revolution for over 50 years and thus universal suffrage has been suspended. Also if one analyses the current political climate of Latin America it would appear that the only way to get elected is to profess admiration of Fidel Castro and opposition to capitalism and US foreign policy (see Hugo Chavez, the worlds most popular politician).
However, despite the fact that Fidel is no longer President, I firmly believe that Socialism will survive, the free health service will survive, free education will survive and the Cuban Revolution will survive. In spite of pro-capitalist propaganda Cuba will continue to be an inspiration to the poor of the world, and Fidel will always be an icon to people who want liberation from bone the grinding poverty and back breaking toil which has been inflicted upon them by a brutal and opressive capitalist system. Anyway, until next time comrades. Peace and Love!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Libertarian Left or Right?

Libertarianism, if it be the promotion of individual liberty and individual responsibility, is neither left nor right. In the British context it is neither Conservative nor Labour. It is not, essentially, about a political form at all but rather the removal of 'politics', of controlling power and coercion, in the life of the individual. (If only the directors of the now almost deceased Libertarian Party had embraced that!)
Insofar as the Conservative Party has its roots, and demonstrates its adherence to those roots, in the old aristocracy that ruled and controlled day to day life, it is anti libertarian. However in the 21st Century, and in much of the 20th, it has been Labour that has been the party of centralised control and intervention in the daily lives of the people.
In fact the Conservatives of Thatcher would probably have had more in common with the Whigs of old, and the Labour control-freaks and micro managers more with the old control-centred Tories of two centuries ago.
For the last 50 years or so both parties have indeed been different flavour of the same stuff. Today even, Cameron is less conservative than Blair was when he came to 'power', which he did by appealing to the popularity of conservative sentiment in the voters more effectively than the 'depleted-Conservatives' did in 1997.
During the 20 or so years before Labour's return under Blair, and for some years after, freedom did regain that bit of a breathing space because individuals within the Conservative Party had seen the individualistic beliefs they held dear, as well as simple, survivable reality, being dangerously eroded under old Labour. The changes in sentiment the Conservatives introduced after being elected in 1979 were not eradicated by New Labour until the collective public memory of why the Conservatives had been voted in had been obfuscated, re-written, and had faded. To repeat, the policies did not hit the buffers, the Party did after it abandoned those policies.
And now the forces that rolled back centralised control have been largely contained and neutralised and that breathing space for freedom is closing up very, very fast. The spirit of centralised controlled as exemplified previously by the USSR rides again with a whole new dimension on totalitarian terror from a different quarter; out of the Middle East and Middle Ages.
Politics is a shifting game and will always be open to deception. It is inherently dishonest being as it is, about power, and the manipulation, coercion and control of others.
Further, all too often one sees political debate revelling in tricks of thought and speech rather than with substance. It's about winning rather than addressing the truth.
However it would seem there would be more hope to promote libertarian agendas within the Conservative Party than within Labour. There is a spirit that has flourished from time to time amongst some of those in the Conservative Party that is far more libertarian than could ever be expected in Labour, unless that party were to go beyond the robust addressing of reality that occurred during Blair's first few years in power, and that probably actually came from Alistair Campbell, whatever his world view, and Labour actually seriously committed itself to the truth.
Self reliance, responsibility for one's self and actions, is far more in keeping with those who have built the nation rather than those who have used it to fund themselves, their programmes and their Utopian hopes

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Food For Thought

Now this particular inhabitant of the burrow is not usually one to bang on about politics (namely because my interest equals my knowledge), however as an enthusiastic sinophile this particular subject really irks me. How many times have you been sitting there watching the news or listening to radio 4 and you have to endure some moronic cabinet minister witter on about the under representation of women, people educated at state schools, Muslims, Afro-Caribbeans, etc in parliament. I know, its boring and its patronising. But arguably it is a fair point, the argument that the composition of a parliament should mirror the make up of the nation which it represents. However never once have I heard Cameron or anyone in British politics mention just how under represented Britain's Chinese community is in the UK Parliament. With almost half a million people of Chinese origin living here, abiding by our laws, working here and paying taxes here, surely, if one were pursuing Cameron's A-list logic, they are entitled to some parliamentary representation too. Or maybe that's the problem, the fact that Britain's Chinese community is perhaps the most law abiding ethnic group in the UK and embodies the very concept of the 'protestant work ethic'. They make no complaints of racism, have no chip on their shoulder regarding slavery or European imperialism and are quite happy to just live here, work hard and make money. So there is no need for Cameron to have to be seen 'reaching out to them', as he likes to be seen doing with so many other minority groups in the UK.

So the next time you hear some unelectable Communities Cohesion Minister or brain dead Minister for Diversity harp on about under representation of one group or another in parliament, just ask yourself, are uneducated people represented in parliament? Or if parliaments composition were to mirror the electoates composition as accurately as Cameron wants it to, shouldn't there be a larger amount of 'unintelligent' people in parliament? Its just a thought...........

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Tory Party began dying a long time ago. It cannot be saved.

In early 2009, when I had my interview with my local Conservative group to become one of their council candidates, the news broke that Ken Clarke was invited to take a job in the Shadow Cabinet. The topical question of my interview, the one my interviewers threw right at the end as a "curve ball", was what did I think of Ken Clarke? I tried to give the the interviewers the answer that they wanted to hear and the result was stuttering non-committal to an opinion. This is one of those events I look back at with some regret about my cowardice.

Ken Clarke is the personification of everything I loathe about the Conservative Party. He is a liberal imposter; pro-Europe and limp about crime and punishment. A few weeks ago, Radio 4 interviewed Liberal Democrat voters about which of their coalition partners do they like. I seem to remember that Lib Dem voters approved of Ken Clarke most of all. I think one voter even gave Clarke the epithet "good" or "normal", or some similar positive attribute.

Ken Clarke is a liberal democrat if not a Liberal Democrat.

And so is David Cameron. I think David Cameron sometimes uses Clarke as a foil for his own liberalism, or as a weather vane to test the direction of the prevailing wind. When the storm brewed over halving sentences for criminals including rapists, Cameron performed a U-turn to fit in with public opinion. He came out against Clarke's proposals to give soft - actually softer - sentences to criminals. It is Cameron's wont to, at critical times, suppress his liberalism to offer a sop to Tory voters. Tory voters who are too deluded or tribalised to see Cameron for what he is.

Take a look at "Catgate". When Ken Clarke wagered that, contrary to Thereasa May's claim, that a pet cat did not feature in a judge's decision not to deport a Bolivian immigrant, Cameron appeared to slap down Ken Clarke. Not because Cameron disagreed with Clarke's softness on immigration, but because the Tory conference was one of those critical moments - much like election times - when the media is concentrated intensely on Cameron's Tories and he needs to be seen to do the populist thing. Knowing that the public is worried about high levels of immigration (levels that Cameron will do nothing to reduce) he seized the opportunity to side with May.

Remember Cameron's U-turn over his "cast iron" guarantee on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty is undemocratic and Soviet. The Lisbon Treaty was a treaty that was allowed to "amend" itself. As such, any changes to the Treaty can be made within the Treaty itself, without having to publish a new Treaty. Because changes to the constitution can be made without publishing a new treaty, the EU Commission can acquire more power from member states without the inconvenience of member states holding referenda over their ceding of power to the EU.

It is anti-democratic and harmful to sovereignty. A Conservative Party - that is, a conservative and patriotic party - would have used the Lisbon Treaty as a good excuse to withdraw from the European Union. But David Cameron reneged on his cast-iron guarantee of a referendum on the European Union because his anti-EU posturing had ceased to be profitable. When he dropped his guarantee of a referendum he had a lead of double-figures over Gordon Brown and probably believed that he was more popular than he actually was and could jettison that burdensome referendum.

He always knew that the Czechs would ratify the Treaty so he could use this as a justification of his reneging on his "cast iron" guarantee. Deluded Tories see Cameron's reneging as proof that the Tories are the party of pragmatics. They do what they can do. They are not idealist or utopian. On the contrary, no Conservative leader has surrendered more to left-wing idealism than David Cameron.

Look at Cameron's meddling in his Party's own candidate selection procedures prior to the 2010 electoral contest. Look how he manipulated the South West Norfolk selection committee into choosing the young, female Elizabeth Truss as its candidate. For someone who ought to dislike powerful central executives, Cameron acts very much like a powerful central executive. It wasn't only Elizabeth Truss, but other female and ethnic minority candidates were "parachuted" into good constituencies in a way Cameron's mentor Tony Blair would have been proud of.

If Cameron's Tories cannot leave his Party's candidate selection procedure to meritocracy, what chance does our dreadful education system have? A truly Conservative Party would restore the tripartite education system; having grammar schools around the country would improve educational standards and give bright but poor students a chance to go to the top of society. But they won't restore grammar schools because they are ideologically wed to comprehensive egalitarianism - a system that places political correctness and equality of outcome above academia.

I know a lot of Tories who are cynical about David Cameron look fondly upon Margaret Thatcher, as if she was the apogee of conservatism. The truth is she was not. Her fixation with markets restored our economy to a position of greatness in the world but it did nothing for conservative values. If you look at the Conservative prime-ministers since the Second World War, none have been conservative.

It is not a new thing that the Tory Party has lost its identity and betrayed its conservative supporters. David Cameron's Tories are simply the most painfully blatant example of a party that has ceased to be useful and ceased to serve its purpose. This is why those Tories who cling to the Party in the hope that the next leader will hold conservative values will be disappointed: The Tory Party's dying isn't a recent phenomena. It has been dying for over half a century.

It cannot be saved.

James Garry is editor of Politics On Toast

Friday, 7 October 2011

Unsung Heroes

The advent of email, twitter, youtube and facebook has resulted in a serious decline in traditional, some would say more romantic, forms of communication. One form of communication which has all but ceased is the 'message in a bottle'. Or so I thought until I saw this clip on the bbc webite. It appears one truely inspirational individual in Canada, who goes by the name of Harold Hackett, is still practicing the worlds oldest form of social networking. Watching this short clip got me thinking. Sometimes in life we are all too ready to lavish admiration upon politicans, businesspeople, athletes, artists, scientists and and so forth. However, equally amazing (in my opinion) people like Harold get overlooked or dismissed as 'ordinary guys'. I meet wonderful, interesting people like Harold every day when I'm walking my dog or down the job centre, they make life into a rich tapestry. Sure,their not doing anything for world peace, but you know what, their a darn site more interesting and they have far more impact on my life than Morgan Tsvangirai or Bono. Here's to ya Harold! I'll keep an eye for your bottles mate.


When I am done
and this old heart stops beating
and this well warn frame has had enough of fleeting time
and my spirit flys free
with smoke upon the air

Do not feel bereft
for I am there
that shadow on the edge of the wood is I
watching in the field
the wild cavarting hair
and when the dog barks distant in the wind
its only me, walking tasting the silver moon
watching changing stars
and listening to owls talking in the trees
when you hear small stones rattling high in the ghyll
its by my misty feet dancing on the rock
be still

I love this land too much to leave it
yet greater men taste the cosmic glory
leaving me here to join the wind
to watch the never ending story
and fly with clouds across the autumn hill
and chase the dancing leaves down the hazel'd lanes

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Nationalised services in all but name

Privatisation was introduced as a policy in the late 1970s by politicians who saw the benefit to the consumer that would result from competition between the suppliers of goods and services. The naturally regulated ebb and flow of those who seek their own interest in the process of supplying such goods and services to others for personal gain.

Earlier, one of the first movers to challenge nationalised industries was Freddie Laker who took on the national flag-carrier airlines much to their abiding horror. They managed to substantially defeat him personally, but not the move that he had started as can be seen in the proliferation of budget airlines today.

It did not take long for some of those suppliers of the nationalised functions to see that the huge captive market they benefitted from as a nationalised goods or service provider was something to be retained if possible.
And of course, anything is possible more or less, if one puts one's mind to it.
As they saw the great cash cows slipping away perhaps they simply set up "private" corporations to supply the goods or services that had been supplied by the nationalised industries?

This revised privatisation mantra indeed spread around the world during the 1980s and 90s and in some situations the instigators did not even bother to conceal their identity with the state. They simply formed private companies wholly or majority owned by the state. Such as Telkom, in South Africa.

In Britain it seems to have been more subtle in its outworking, but the monoplised or cartellised situation of supply would seem to have been achieved none the less.
So much that has tried to pass itself off as privatisation since its earlier days of more honest implementation circa 1979 looks basically like a con game.
It's not the banker's bonuses one needs to be looking at so much as the people, who may be bankers or have interests in banks, or in large corporations, companies or global service providers, who may also be in state employment or rather, simply influencial in the state structure.

Privatisation as now practised would clearly seem to have been transformed from a policy of throwing open nationalised industries to free enterprise competition, into that of throwing open the nationalised sector to monopolistic cartels.

Effectively, back to business as it was, with the market controlled by suppliers rather than consumers, and in hallmark style of the enemies of freedom, giving freedom a bad name in the process as they have allowed standards to erode.

It was tragic that the Herald of Free Enterprise was sunk.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Freedom and Piracy

After the non-aggression axiom, the right to own property has always been high on the list of fixations of those of a libertarian instinct. How property is defined, however, has been a matter of much debate, particularly with regard to “intellectual property”.

On the one hand, Ayn Rand wrote that “patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man’s right to the product of his mind” whilst, on the other, Roderick Long considers that “prohibiting people from using, reproducing, and trading copyrighted material is an infringement of freedom”.

So who is right?

Well, there are two strands to the debate and the first is to question whether intellectual property rights help or hinder progress. And I would argue they usually hinder.

Supposing, for example, someone discovers that cold fusion occurs when Dettol is mixed with HP sauce (original recipe).

Would the world be better served if he patented the formula and spent the next twenty years trying to develop it himself or would progress be quicker if he made the information available to all manufacturers to compete in developing the best DHPS generator?

And would it then help or hinder progress if the company who devised a working generator patented the design and prevented their competitors from building similar machines?

There is a real historical example of this happening when James Watt took out patents on the basic design of the steam engine and found they didn’t help much.

“Ironically, not only did Watt use the patent system as a legal cudgel with which to smash competition, but his own efforts at developing a superior steam engine were hindered by the very same patent system he used to keep competitors at bay.

An important limitation of the original Newcomen engine was its inability to deliver a steady rotary motion. The most convenient solution, involving the combined use of the crank and a flywheel, relied on a method patented in 1780 by James Pickard, which prevented Watt from using it. Ironically, Watt also made various attempts at efficiently transforming reciprocating into rotary motion, reaching, apparently, the same solution as Pickard.

But the existence of a patent forced him to contrive an alternative less efficient mechanical device, the “sun and planet” gear. It was only in 1794, after the expiration of Pickard’s patent that Boulton and Watt adopted the economically and technically superior crank.“

And thus the 18th century technological revolution was significantly delayed.

But the second strand of the debate is to ask whether a lack of IP protection is equitable – to companies who have invested in research and to individuals who have had their work copied.

Let’s take music as an example because, in music, there has been no effective protection of copyright since recording it became possible and, in the internet age, it is ludicrous to try to pretend that IP rights can be enforced.

Yet, even without any real protection, good musicians can still earn an excellent living and it is the big corporations that have lost out. Indeed, we have arguably never had a more interesting and vibrant music scene since the advent of file sharing- low barriers to entry for new artists and established bands producing live music, rather than relying on revenue from recordings.

Do we really want to go back to the days when record company executives devised and manufactured the “next big thing”?

But what about the lack of incentive for companies to develop new products if the profits cannot be protected? Would the new wonder drug that cures cancer be discovered at all if the results of research could not be patented and the company concerned reap the rewards?

On the other hand, is it ever reasonable that the patent holder of a new drug allows millions to die whilst they price it for the treatment of the very few that can afford it?

Not easy questions and it may be that, in a world without IP protection, there would be less total money spent on medical research (though I also think that the drugs market is skewed because of state involvement in healthcare provision and the regulation of medicines).

Anyway, perhaps inspired by the relative anarchy of the internet and the perceived need to defend it, it seems that anti protectionist views are gaining currency and, in Germany, the Pirate Party recently won 9% of the vote and 15 seats in the Berlin state parliament.

Absolutely astonishing for a party only founded in 2006.

Their platform is the preservation of rights in telephony and on the internet. In particular they oppose the European retention policies and Germany’s new internet censorship law. They also oppose artificial monopolies and various measures of surveillance of citizens.

I think I could vote for that.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Conservative Conservatives - can it ever happen again?

The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher swept to power with a public, absolutely fed up and disillusioned with collectivism, firmly with the new harder line Conservatives and secure in a knowledge of the truth and reality of their cause. It was a time when it seemed that the Soviet Union was set to take over the world and the popular perception was that: Russia's gonna beat us (and perhaps they should).
This conservative knowledge and certainty survived the batterings of collectivist orientated thinking for (just) 18 years.
The Thatcher Government promoted individual liberty, the values of good house keeping (she is a grocer's daughter) and degrees of sound free market economics. It worked because it undid the bonds of state interference, to the extent that it did, and allowed in a profoundly liberating breath of fresh air. It did not achieve its full potential and it was thwarted and hobbled by enemies of freedom within the Conservative Party itself. However there was a spirit of freedom at work, a genuine desire and intent to liberate people from the three day week, the winter of discontent, bullying tactics of unions (led by figures who are now at the top of the Labour Party), a mindset of dependency, and other attempts at, and results of, stupidity.
The battle lines for freedom were indeed manned and commanded by conservative Conservatives. One of the first front lines was the Grunwick strike, an attempt to close down a film processing laboratory because the management and workers refused to be dominated by the totalitarian collectivist unions. Surrounded by violent pickets who refused to allow goods in or out, and a hostile postal workers union that refused to deliver the processed photographs from the laboratory to the public, the company faced bankruptcy and most folk from all political sides, in the collectivist mindset of the time, simply waited for it to happen. A group of "right-wing conservative libertarians" led by the late John Gouriet, smuggled the backlog of processed film out of the laboratory and distributed it into the postal system all around the country so that it became too dispersed to be identified.
The siege of Grunwick was broken.
Many battles were subsequently fought and won against collectivist, centrally controlled and manipulated labour unions acting simply for political power such as in the mines and ship building industries.
However any movement can be subverted with patience and cleverness.
A movement for freedom was subverted into other somewhat similar but secondary aims first by association and then after 18 years of collectivist attack by complete revision, and the Conservatives were voted out by a bored and complacent public that had come to take the advantages of relative freedom for granted. Again.
Subsequently, over a period of years, the whole movement for liberty was re-written by collectivist hacks as a failure that those who loved freedom should have jumped off before it hit the buffers.
But it was not the drive for freedom that hit the buffers. It was the Conservative Party that had been subverted from within and had simply abandoned the principles of freedom. Once the Great British Public became aware, at that level where all people recognise the truth, they abandoned the Conservative Party that had been deceived back into collectivist policies and voted Labour which had by then re-invented itself and was, in spirit, sounding more conservative that the Conservatives.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

If we want schools to be safe places for our children, we need the cane

The maxim goes that every generation thinks of its own childhood as being more innocent than the childhoods of the current lot. It is suspected that this is the succour of memory. There may be some truth behind this suspicion, up to a point. But, in my experience, opponents of corporal punishment in schools (especially those on the Left) use this maxim as a weapon against corporal punishment, the logic of which effectively runs like this: Your wistful imagination tells you that young people were better in the past. As they are really no worse than you were, then there is no need to lash them with the birch.

As I said, there may be some truth in this up to a point. That point was probably somewhere in the 1980s. Looking back twenty years ago to the time I was at secondary school (the early '90s) and comparing it with today, I can't assert that my generation was better. It wasn't. I assume that a moral pit was reached in the 1980s because a whole generation had intervened since the 1960s Cultural Revolution and, in that time, Britain's moral foundation had fell away.

Schools - particularly comprehensives - today are as bad as they were twenty years ago: The lack of academic competition between pupils has been replaced by competition for physical dominance. Physical aggression has gone far beyond a bit of fraternal rough-and-tumble. Cannabis is carried in, and sold from, rucksacks. When rucksacks aren't used for porting illegal substances, they are used for smuggling guns and knives. School lavatories are places where precocious teens unburden themselves of their virginities. Playgrounds are incubators of gang culture. Unruly children are as disruptive in class as they please. Unless a teacher has a specially forceful personality, unruly students find it easy to intimidate him. Academically-minded pupils suffer in silence, or give in and join in the chaos.

There is some public clamour for corporal punishment to be reintroduced into schools to combat the terrible decline of standards. I am all in favour of birching. However, the absence of the cane is only part of the explanation why discipline in schools has worsened. To improve discipline in schools there must be a complete remoralisation of society; grammar schools need to be reintroduced; the only type of family that ought to be promoted is the one consisting of a married couple; comprehensive education must be abandoned along with all the concessions made to "pupil centred" learning; teachers should be competent and not a rag-bag of semi-literates, thickos, diffident types and insipid sorts who are just doing the job for the "Golden Hello" and the generous holidays.

Above all we need to withdraw from the European Union because its doctrine of Human Rights makes birching pupils impossible.

If teachers could administer a lash of the birch without fear of reprisals, it would restore the balance of power in favour of the teacher. The concept of behavioural conditioning is not hard to understand: If you do something which is wrong you get beaten. No one likes being beaten so all but the most insensible would elect to stop behaving wrongly, some of the time.

I don't believe that other forms of punishment in schools work. The alternative to corporal punishment is detention. As multiple children are detained at the same time, detention is far from boring. It is treated as a bit of extra time to do some more of the things that got you detained in the first place.

I know in the debate about corporal punishment the character of the sadistic house-master is raised. I don't doubt that a tiny minority teachers would derive wicked pleasure from beating children. But it is not as if removal of corporal punishment also removes perverted teachers from the school. They are still there, free to enact their fantasies in different ways. Why else are their so many teachers in caught cavorting with underaged children or engaging in acts of child abuse?

People who call for the reintroduction of corporal punishment are sometimes accused of being "authoritarian". Well, I believe that teachers should have authority over children. Only the naive could disagree with this. But the word authoritarian has more sinister tones than that. It plumbs the depths of Orwellian darkness. That is why it is used as a smear. The reason I want corporal punishment reintroduced into school is because my concern lies with studious children who want to learn, who don't want to spend their day surrounded by unruly bullies and general disorder. I imagine how traumatic it is for them.

Isn't it better to make the bad suffer than make the innocent suffer? Sociological thinking has been with us for fifty years now. Nasty pupils have often been seen as victims; we are told that they (conveniently) lack some unspecified quantity of mythical self-esteem. They don't. There is no such thing as self-esteem. Or, if there is, they have it in abundance. Bad pupils do bad things because they enjoy it and because weak, indisciplined schools allow them to get away with it.

In the case of corporal punishment as with capital punishment, we must make a choice between the freedom and happiness of the good and the freedom and lust of the bad. The only person who benefits from the absence of corporal punishment is the misbehaving child. This cannot be doubted. Reintroducing birching would create more studious, academic learning environments. Good students would be happier and calmer. They would be more likely to fulfil their academic potential. Bad students would be less bad; some would even learn the errors of their ways. I am sure that some hitherto bad students would carry their conditioned fear of school rules into society at large and refrain from violating the laws of the land.

If your concern is solely for the bad pupils, corporal punishment must be hard to accept. If your concern is to free bad pupils from feeling transitory pain, then you have had what you want for a few decades now. Go into any inner-city comprehensive and see the effects of your concern. It's not pretty. The reintroduction of the cane, among other things, would help to correct the indiscipline of these schools.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Corporal Punishment got a Dishonourable Discharge - and not Without Good Reason

An interesting and perhaps surprising statistic emerged in a poll that was conducted last week regarding discipline in our education system. By a majority of 49% to 45%, those who answered expressed support for some form of corporal punishment to be restored as an option for teachers in Uk schools (presumably the other 6% were undecided). As this throws the issue under a spotlight of sorts, I'm here to argue the case against the restoration of canes, birches and other weapons as forms of discipline. James Garry of Politics on Toast fame - has kindly agreed to put forward the opposing case on these pages in the near future.

Other results from this poll told me that things were a whole lot worse in the British education system than I first thought. Having left what was a pretty miserable experience behind, my insight into the subject, like that of many, has been through a combination of anecdotes from teachers I have known and reports of classroom episodes that have made their way into the printed, spoken or broadcast media. When tales of students fighting or hurling chairs at their teachers become too frequent to be discarded as a freak occurrence or one-off, the general perception grows that things have undeniably taken a turn for the worse.

However, this bunny always tempered this with a gentle reminder to himself that 'most kids aren't like that - it's just that the vast majority who are generally well-behaved and pass through education in an uneventful fashion are never going to make the newspapers or television'. I still believe this analysis to be fundamentally correct, but there is a statistic from a separate poll on the same subject which suggests that even kids who are possessed of natural mischief without being 'bad' as such have drawn the line.

While 93 per cent of teachers seeking greater powers to impose classroom discipline is an unsurprising figure, the fact that 68 per cent of pupils are calling for exactly the same thing certainly is. My immediate thought was a rather juvenile one - an episode of the Simpsons, where Principal Skinner is sacked from his job at the Elementary school and replaced by cute, cuddly, do-gooding Ned Flanders. The school rapidly disintegrates into mayhem, with Ned explaining to Homer and Marge that his 'kid gloves' approach was a response to the unwelcome 'tough love' of his father. This flashback to the 'harsh discipline' imposed on young Flanders is utterly priceless:-

The serious point is:- Springfield Elementary descends into such unchallenged chaos that even Bart recognises the fun has gone out of it, so he instigates a plan to have Flanders sacked and Skinner re-instated. This bunny can just about recall enough of his childhood to remember that as a general rule, kids are loathe to giving adults greater authority over their lives - so for more than two thirds of them to come out in favour of more power for teachers to impose discipline in schools, something must be dreadfully wrong. A slice of this 68 per cent will of course be those mischief-free students who simply wish to bury their heads in books and get something resembling an education from the whole thing - and good luck to them.

What of the rest? Has it gone too far and become too easy, as Bart ultimately realised? I never thought I'd be referring to the Simpsons in a serious piece of writing, so either a) this bunny is finally going mad or b) our schools really have degenerated into something resembling a cartoon. Or possibly both.

So we're in a mess, the dynamics of which we should probably explore in a separate discussion. It's a quite frequent occurrence that when presented with what might be a complicated set of problems, people are tempted by the presentation of what appears to be a swift and simple solution - in this case, dragging 'the big stick' out of retirement and inflicting it on misbehaving children (I'm not lumping James into this category by the way as I'm sure he would regard this as only one part of any answer). However, there are three main angles from which I seek to explain why support for corporal punishment is deeply misguided - the humane element, assumptions that it makes about 'virtuous' figures of authority and the not insignificant question of whether or not it would have the desired effect in the 21st century.

The banning of corporal punishment in Uk schools was instigated by that most dubious of institutions, the European Court of Human Rights, in 1984. I'm no fan of the ECHR, seeing it as one of several very good reasons in favour of this country withdrawing from the European Union. Of course it would have been a far more satisfactory outcome had this, as with many other changes to our law, been dealt with solely on these shores. As it is, we're left with the view of the ECHR that corporal punishment has no place in schools on the basis that it is 'inhumane' and 'degrading'. My opponents may not have much issue with these words, seeing as the whole thing is supposed to be humiliating/degrading and bloody hurt - hey, it might make the little shit think again next time he's presented with an opportunity to fight, steal or vandalise?

There are, however, several holes in this line of argument. First up, many of us are uncomfortable at the prospect of 'degrading' other people and somewhat squeamish about the thought of canes or birches being used to inflict serious short to mid term pain on them. I'm sure that this bunny is far from alone in not wishing to hear or see anything of the sort, and you're going to come across senior teachers who share that sense of discomfort about the use of force. We're then faced with a choice between either compelling adults to use canes/birches on children against their will, or operating a two-tier system, where corporal punishment operates in some schools but not others. The first scenario sounds nothing less than horrific, while the second would no doubt cause great resentment amongst those kids who 'drew the short straw'.

There are other significant questions, such as - what does corporal punishment teach children on the issue of conflict resolution? Throughout our lives, we are all going to encounter 'difficult' individuals, be they at work, in our day-to-day dealings with people, even on the blogosphere. Most of us understand that resorting to violence is neither a smart move nor an acceptable one, and that anger, frustration or disappointment are not valid excuses for that initiation of force. Wielding a cane or birch and causing physical injury to resolve classroom conflict flies directly in the face of this lesson that we would wish to teach young people, and we need to be very careful about the signals that we are sending as a society.

While corporal punishment has been demonstrated to have some success with 'good kids', several studies have concluded that it can also have a counter-productive effect on those at risk of 'going off the rails' - ie the children that it would in reality be most seeking to 'correct'. When an individual is lacking direction, attempts to physically discipline them may unwittingly sow the seed of 'violence as a solution' in troubled minds. The dreaded law of unintended consequences knows no bounds - after all, it can't be easy for a headteacher to birch seven shades out of a teenager for fighting, then explain to him why violence is so terribly wrong...

The existence of corporal punishment also devalues other, more subtle techniques that could present more lasting consequences to those who misbehave. Belt buckle against flesh was a quite dreadful feeling with which I became familiar when growing up (and deeply resent to this day - does that count as an 'emotional stake' in the issue? I'm genuinely unsure), but the deprivation of privileges such as my allowance and being 'grounded' for a period of time undeniably had a more profound effect on this bunny than any thwacking did as soon as the pain disappeared and/or bruising healed. One of the many problems that comes with the use of force as discipline is that to stand any chance at all of working within a large institution, it must be applied consistently, yet human nature tells us that some individuals respond far better to it than others.

To suggest that 'big adults hitting small children' constitutes a form of bullying might be going too far, but it certainly re-enforces the notion that the bigger, meaner, more intimidating individual is always right, and just with the 'lessons' regarding violence, this is not a sensible message to be sending out to young people. In truth, teachers are just a cross-section of society, and as a breed are no more or less likely to abuse any power given to them, or pursue a personal vendetta against someone they don't like than anyone else. Not every caning in the past was fair, and this bunny is naturally suspicious about granting powers to cause physical harm that work on the assumption that authority is automatically virtuous.

In short, it isn't - in fact like all authority, it attracts some of the worst and most inept people one could imagine. Some teachers, in case one has not already noticed, positively despise children, and should really have not been allowed into the profession. These are precisely the types who would actually quite enjoy the prospect of caning or birching a misguided youth (as many used to, unfortunate as that is), and by definition are the last people one should entrust with the power to do so. Something I noticed during my own time at high school in the 1990s and appears to have continued since is an alarming decline in teaching standards across the board. Without for a second denying that the Uk possesses more than its share of hell-raisers, why when the conversation turns to school discipline does 100% of the focus invariably fall on pupils?

The apparent death of a certain type of guiding hand, who could command a classroom without ranting or becoming hysterical, surely has far more to do with the current state of affairs than has previously been acknowledged? If schools were private companies, paid solely on results, how many teachers would actually keep their jobs? Sometimes it's easy to blame children for everything, but this bunny honestly believes it not to be as simple as that - the presence of too many crap teachers has contributed much to the problems that our schools face, and every time we focus solely on the unruly kids who don't take them seriously, the inept and half-hearted get a free pass. Until we find the stomach to really challenge one of our 'sacred' professions, we will only stand a chance of tackling half of the problem.

Something that supporters of canes/birches may also have neglected to think about is the ripple effect that it would have throughout education and wider society. I remember one teacher at my school who clearly failed to understand that the heyday of brutality against kids was over - one of his favourite tricks was (quite skillfully) spotting a pupil 'illegally' running through a corridor then, as he approached, grabbing the miscreant by the collar and pinning him against the wall - quite how he kept his job is beyond me, but keep it he did. The thought of this kind of 'open house' on physical assaults against pupils is deeply unsettling, yet once you break the taboo that says 'teacher violence is wrong', is allowing this sort of thing not the next logical step?

Schools could become very sombre and intimidating places rather quickly once this taboo is broken, and as somebody who seeks a happy medium between the do-gooder anarchy that dominates at the moment and the opposite extreme, the prospect of 'boot camps that also educate' is one that worries this bunny immensely. Presumably, those favouring the use of corporal punishment as discipline in schools would grant the same privilege to the legal guardians of the child? I ask because, while I wouldn't wish to criminalise the application of a light smack to a child who fails to (for example) look before crossing the road, granting bad parents who take out personal frustrations on their kids the legal use of a weapon like a birch is no more than state-sponsored child abuse.

Would corporal punishment have sufficient deterrent value to make it work? Perhaps were it applied consistently across every school in the Uk it would have a fighting chance of making some kids think twice before misbehaving. However, many senior teachers would simply refuse to operate it as a punishment, which seriously undermines its effect - and that's before we get to the ground I covered earlier regarding the price paid for these dubious benefits. Moreover, never underestimate the creative ability of a hell-raiser to turn a punishment into a badge of honour. Remember how ASBOs became status symbols that served as an indicator that a misguided youth had 'made it?'. What is often forgotten is that the shame and stigma of being caned was probably more important in its previous role as a (fairly successful) punishment in schools than the physical pain itself - you've heard the line that went 'you didn't tell your dad you'd been caned in case he hit you again'.

With the punishment regarded as a badge of honour or rite of passage by those on the receiving end, and neither parent working or generally giving a shit about much, could that shame and stigma be re-created in 21st century Britain? I very much doubt it.

There's so much we can do to get the ineptitude out of our teaching profession, make the curriculum more relevant to pupils and apply punishments to their misdemeanours, then actually follow them through. Assault on a teacher or anyone for that matter is a criminal offence, and kids need to understand that when they pick fights with adults, they run the risk of adult consequences. This bunny firmly believes in the right to defend oneself when presented with a physical threat, be that through retaliation or redress from the courts (if this means changes in the law then no argument from here). The initiation of violence against another human being is always wrong, and teaching this lesson clearly and unequivocally to our young people can only help us as a society - so put that big stick down, it has no business here. Take care and I'll catch you soon.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Economic woes - zero sum game thinking seems to be taking over again

The thinking of theft is profoundly destructive. It tends to corporatism, mercantilism, socialism, all the systems that lead ultimately to poverty and destruction.

It is thinking based on: Any benefit for me has to be at the expense of you, so toughies to you. Or if its the other way around – you rich swine, you have obviously ripped off the poor and now I must steal your wealth away from you and give it back to those from whom you stole.
The cake is finite and for some to have more they must have deprived or must deprive others to get it.

That thinking is terribly sad, because not only is it untrue in all but the very short term, it leads to much of the misery, despair and death with which we live and die.

The libertarian approach is a blessing in that it recognises our ability to achieve and allows the freedom to pursue every course that is not based on the destruction of others.

Unfortunately, because the zero-sum-game mentality has become so embedded in our psyches, it is but a slip of the mind away from taking over, yet again, and depriving all of us of opportunity and achievement.

The businesses that succeed tend to employ the approach of promoting the interests of everyone involved. Those that tend towards failure are more concerned with taking the creativity from and ensuring the minimum return for its employees.

It seems that the fashion is to regard colonialism as an evil curse. This, after all, was the process by which the wealth of say, Africa was ripped from the ground and transported to Europe.
Whether one sees the western, Europe-originated, way of life as a curse or a blessing is an opinion, but certainly, the establishment of the colonies brought massive infrastructure in the lands they colonised and enabled all the western advantages such as roads, telephones, technology, medicine, agricultural cash crops, air transport, the whole modern way of life that continues to exist despite prevalent zero-sum-game attitudes and consequent breakdowns.

Life does not have to be a zero sum game, and is not, when creative people have the freedom to seek their own benefit.

Certainly, what has come from the alternative approach has only ended in death and failure.

I can imagine the response: But what about those who start from a background of deprivation and disadvantage?
I am afraid that is the zero sum game speaking, as it is when an entrepreneur seeks to build any business based on taking wealth from others rather than wealth generation.
It is an approach that is untrue and unhelpful and just needs to get left behind.

The way out of deprivation is through achievement and for there to be achievement there first has to be the freedom to think and to express. And then to do and create without the hinderence of some trying to make sure you do not deprive others by your efforts, and slapping all sorts of regulatory requirements on you.

You cannot legislate creativity.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Benedict Le Gauche and his Contrarian CV

Many thanks to the friend who pointed me in the direction of this story - The pitching of a CV to attract a favourable response from prospective employers is a difficult business - I've met people who possess a multitude of them, crafted specifically to meet the requirements of the role for which they have applied. Most of us, this bunny included, restrict our take on the hard sell to a single document that masks our obvious weaknesses while wildly exaggerating the scale of anything that might, at a stretch, constitute some sort of achievement.

All part of the game, yeah?

28 year-old Mancunian Benedict Le Gauche's attempt to make himself an attractive proposition to life's movers, shakers and go-getters could only be described as authentic, original, and in its own more than slightly unstable way, quite brilliant - Perpetual lethargy, petty theft, habitual lateness and an overwhelming sense of utter boredom regarding the "boring, drudgerous and disheartening" world of earning a living all make an appearance in a CV that could only have been crafted by an individual in possession of a genuine flair for the written word. Conversely, this document can also be interpreted as a full-on expression of disdain for the very notion of work itself, as well as a sentiment that 'whatever role I am likely to get, I will always feel it is that bit beneath my talents'. Like most who are individualistic and eccentric, De Gauche is far from simple to figure out - as a result, this bunny remains somewhat non-committal in regard to whether or not he likes the man.

Much of what he says, albeit indirectly is completely true - the pressure on individuals to compete with each other both to get into a workplace and then progress there can trap many in a cycle of ambition and the process of whoring oneself that appears to become an inevitable part of achieving their goals. Kids are coached at school in the 'art' of job interviews and selling themselves as the perfect, flawless employee which by the very laws of humanity they, and in fact none of us are. Much of what goes on in the occupational sphere is little more than a human chess match - the choice merely lies in the degree to which we as individuals choose to take part. At one extreme end of the spectrum is the 'company minded team-player' who, when asked what his weaknesses are at interview, responds "I'm a perfectionist and I work too hard", before impressing those in the finest hats with a cocktail of arse-licking, sycophancy and maybe a spot of hard work.

Several stratospheres in the opposite direction, and determined to take any element of unwelcome surprise out of the equation is Le Gauche, a man who clearly defends his individuality and sense of self with fierce determination that belies the apathy towards other areas of life in which he clearly takes a perverse degree of pride. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - this bunny, being honest, leans further towards Benedict's end of the spectrum than many would be comfortable with, which is why he perhaps feels a tad more warmth towards the talented idler than most (I know our contributor Tommy Atkins may go slightly further than this -

However, there are some troubling aspects to Benedict's 'search for work' , most notably the fact that he lives off a combination of a girlfriend with two jobs and a large overdraft. 'Being your own man' is, if anything, to be encouraged, provided of course that it is not at the expense of others. In the MEN's piece on the same subject, the interviewer notes that Le Gauche feels 'guilt' about this fact. It's perhaps unfortunate that such emotions do not stretch to a willingness to park a slice of whatever self-respect/pride he is (not) working to retain and just temper things sufficiently to become a viable proposition to someone, somewhere - unless of course this exercise is little more than a means by which to render himself unemployable, a thought that has probably occurred to most of you.

It's clear as a bell that Le Gauche is a young man who is thoroughly disenchanted with at least one significant area of life, but it is difficult to feel much in the way of sympathy when "part of the problem is I don't know what I want to be". This in itself is a highly puzzling statement given that he is clearly of above average intelligence, but may be a substantial part of whatever 'solution' Benedict is looking for.

Many of us get little in the way of enjoyment or genuine satisfaction from the job we do - some cling on to whatever unlikely aspirations and hopes they had while the clock ticks by, while others accept over time that the moment in which they were going to 'make it happen' has long passed (of course, the transition from the first of those phases to the second is a fairly natural one). Either way, it's a means of rationalising, compartmentalising and dealing with an area of our lives that we may not particularly like:- as 'what we have for now' or 'all we will ever have - and hey, it's not that bad'. It may be simple and convenient to dismiss someone like Le Gauch as a 'dreamer', but from where this bunny is stood, his CV is the work of a disillusioned thinker who in fact does not dream nearly enough. After all, 28 is far too young an age at which to accept being 'ordinary'. Take care and I'll catch you soon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Truth and the Collective

From what I read in the more left wing publications, libertarianism is often dismissed as selfish, self-concerned, lacking in the milk of human kindness, harsh, and a lackey philosophy of the uncaring exploitative business class. A Tory plot to dispossess and destroy the cooperative harmony of the people, perhaps?

However it seems to me that such thinking is part of a greater desire to conceal the circumstances that constitute true freedom and cooperation. What might be considered the true collective.

Trying to define reality in human relationships, with both our own capacity for self deception, especially when our egos are at stake, and the subtle but powerful deceptions being promoted by those who have vast interests involved, is difficult and is possibly set to become much harder as those interests promote more obscure and untrue divisions, straw man arguments and illusory comforts of the mind. Facts are massaged until they are able to support attitudes, actions and conclusions that bear little resemblance to reality.
In fact it seems, now, that the attacks on truth/reality are taking us back to a wasteland of mind and spirit that has not been around as the dominant political and philosophical landscape since the mid 1970s (even though the number of street cameras has been steadily growing all the while, in anticipation perhaps, of this fresh awakening of death?).
To perceive the truth and resist the intellectual temptations of deception on offer will become ever more difficult. Liberty is being made unfashionable.

In any situation the basic truth is simple.
What we spend our time, energy and effort trying to find out, to "discover" is literally, doing just that - "dis-cover". To remove the cover. To penetrate obfuscations, lies and deceptions that surround simple truth. Whether we told them to ourselves or someone else did it for us.

The truest and most honest collectivism (collective action) is the free interaction of individuals. The evil, coercive collectivism as perceived by those who cherish liberty is actually the coercion exercised by individuals promoting their interests by dominating and manipulating the collective. It is a deception. The true, benevolent, collective is the spontaneous co-operation of individuals working according to their own natural requirements and desires and in response to the requirements and desires of those around them, and thus the truest collective is the free market. The spontaneous interaction of value judgements. It becomes corrupt when one particular interest group achieves an unnatural dominance and thus promotion of its interests through trickery. Be it corporate or communist in name it is the force of an individual or some individuals, not the collective.

It would thus seem the accusation that libertarians and those who cherish the value of the individual are selfish, and only concerned with their own interests and thus lacking in that kindness that flows more naturally through the veins of coerced but caring socialists, is actually based on a string of false assumptions initiated by someone's concealed agenda to control.

Perhaps even one's own.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What a riot

So many serious people are pontificating on the cause of the recent riots around Britain, and what should be done about them, that I feel almost too overawed to comment.
Surely such great minds can deal with this?

It truly saddens and alarms me that so much time, effort, mind power and TV exposure can be put into evading reality.

Why have individuals gone on a rampage? Because they can? But why would they want to?

As far as I can see it is the result of, a response to, the simple old control lust that runs through all of us and that a nice preacher-psychologist that I once heard referred to as the cause of all mankind's woes: The desire to tell other people what they must think and do.

The solutions being mooted are more of the same. We should do this, or that. Harsher sentences. More remedial actions. Build better social services. Simply put - interfere even more than before. That very interference and micro-management that has caused the problems in the first place.

What should be done?

NOTHING! Back off and leave alone. Stop interfereing in the detail of people's lives.

Where a crime against someone or their property is committed, sure, prosecute and sentence. And err, if at all, on the side of hardness.

But otherwise leave people alone to run their own lives.

And before the old control lust kicks in and we start trying to teach people to be individually responsible and free - again, stop!

Sure, the information that individual freedom and individual responsibility is the key to a happy community (because the individuals are happy) can be made available.
And the example of a personally free and a personally responsible lifestyle can be presented through one's own life.

But this ghastly urge to muck other people about has got to stop.

Simply. The cause of the riots is that individuals have run out of a sense of personal responsibility. They have run out of a desire to be personally responsible because someone else is assuming this for them, and doing so, if they would admit it, to further their own lust for control.

One cannot control people into becoming more individually responsible.
They need to understand the concept because it makes sense (as have better politicians understood that smaller government is better government) not because someone tells them it is true.

But of course, to the empire builders, such ideas of individual freedom and responsibility are anathema.

The empire builder in all of us - that which would would control - is the cause.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


It is strange how many subtle changes can alter an entire national perspective. The Britain I last lived in about 30 years ago was radically different from the Britain today.

Take Binism.

It seems Britain has a new religion that has been added to its cultural diversity.

Where I am now living Binists studiously prepare their offerings once a fortnight and then in a moment of magical mystery wheel out their dedications in the dead of night to be accepted by the great recycling god in the early hours of the new day.
Great precision and dedication goes into preparing the offering with no attention spared to correct presentation.
Plastic to plastic, paper to paper, glass to glass is presented in wee, tiny boxes laid out in front of one's dwelling.
Offerings from the garden such as precious grass cuttings and leaves tend not to be offered back to the soil but are wheeled out in mighty brown bins to be taken up by the Binist priests shortly after the sun has risen above the horizon.

Sometimes there is a procession of differing orders of Bin priests.
Those who take the plastic, glass and paper seriously and indifferently accept the boxes of offerings, casting the containers back before the dwellings.
However, the great excitement is in the great Bin god priest machines that stalk the streets.

Ah, such drama! Ah,what splendour, what glorious exhaltation!
The dawn is broken by the crashing roar of priest machine gods that thunder and tumble in the streets. True magnificence.
Bin priests scurry from dwelling to dwelling, receiving the offerings and presenting them to the great machine god thunderous beasts.
Any unwary traffic at that time swiftly retreats and cowers in alleys and doorways before that presence.

With swift deference the bins are presented by the priests to the great machine gods that lift and quaff them as you or I would a glass of ale.
And then they roar, belching smoke and fire into the crystal day morn and consume one's petty offering.
The bin priests run from dwelling to dwelling seeming enthralled in greater knowledge, wisdom and ecstacy than such as we, mere lay folk, can hope to know.

And then the great machine god calms, perhaps hiccups, and grandly moves ahead.

Long after the great bin gods have consumed ones' streets with power and glory, one may hear them strutting the neighbourhood challenging mere mortality.
Sometimes closer, sometimes further, until at last the mighty thunder is heard no more.
We are cleansed.
Great catharsis. Great terror and upliftment.

We wait in glorious anticipation for our next encounter with humanity's true grace and wisdom.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Rule Of Law Breakers

Those of us who believe that central government has increasingly encroached upon our civil liberties over the last few years should be very worried by the events of the last week. Because, by interfering with the independence of the judiciary and insisting on harsh sentences for those involved in crimes related to the recent riots, Cameron has driven a coach and horses through the UK constitution and demolished one of the principal pillars on which it is supported.

The Rule of Law is the critical last line of defence for civil liberties, ensuring each of us an entitlement to a free and fair trial. It is our guarantee of independently administered justice, free from political influence.

Yesterday it was reported in the Evening Standard that, in a case in Camberwell Green

“the chairwoman of the bench told lawyers she had received instructions to jail all rioters….The court clerk, Claire Luxford later said magistrates had been emailed by a manager within the HM Courts and Tribunals Service telling them to ignore normal guidelines.”

The Telegraph also reported that

“The guidance for tougher penalties was issued amid growing concerns that courts were being soft on offenders. Looters and rioters walked free last week in a series of cases, including David Atoh, 18, who admitted stealing two designer T-shirts in Hackney, east London.

A magistrate told him the two days he spent in a cell awaiting his hearing was adequate punishment and freed him. Despite Mr Cameron’s pledge that young offenders would face punishment, a string of juvenile criminals were allowed to return home to their parents."

But following the Ministry of Justice directive, referred to above, almost everyone coming before the courts for riot related offences was getting significant jail sentences, even for crimes like stealing water or receiving a stolen pair of shorts. Undoubtedly, this tougher sentencing will have been popular with the public, and the cynical might suspect that is why Cameron has made sure it happened, but an important principle has been broken here.

Because it is now clear that, in the UK, the judiciary is NOT, after all, independent of the executive arm of government. The sentencing guidelines in these cases have been overturned by central government edict meaning that our system of independent justice itself has, itself, been subverted and that our citizens can no longer be guaranteed a fair trial. That is pretty serious for us all, and by subverting the Rule of Law in this way I believe the government has acted quite unconstitutionally.

Incidentally, had the CPS seen fit to charge offenders with the crime of riot, and they had, subsequently, been fairly convicted in court, and the judge had handed down a maximum 10 year sentence, I would have had no objection whatever.

Bur clearly it was simpler to ignore the constitutional rights of our citizens and lock them up on David Cameron’s whim…………..

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Politics and Policing Where Do They Divide?

In the wake of the riots we are bombarded with competing claims about who controlled them. The police are sure that the successful tactics were evolved by them while the politicians say that it all got sorted when they returned from holiday. I think that the riots stopped because the weather turned bad, but there is a serious issue about who should do what in keeping us safe from crime.

The government have said that they will scrap the costly and useless police authorities and replace them with elected commissioners. Well OK, but what exactly is a commissioner? The chief of the Met Police is called the Commissioner whereas the people who run all other UK police forces are called Chief Constables. If the Metropolitan Police Authority is to be replaced by an elected commissioner they are going to have to sort out the titles.

The real issue, of course, is what part of policing should be decided by politicians and what is decided by the police chief. The standard answer is that policy is for politicians and operational matters are the responsibility of the uniformed cops. But where exactly is the line drawn between these? Many libertarians support the idea of directly elected police control in some form because they want policing priorities to be responsive to citizen concerns and they also wish t oget policing to be closer to specific community conditions. These are legitimate aspirations, but I would suggest that focussing on election of a figurehead does not address the right issue.

Britain is unlike most other countries in its insistence on having a single police service in which personnel deal with everything from dropping litter to multiple murder, parking infringement to complex fraud. This is all done through 43 different police forces, roughly relating to counties, that are far too big to provide genuine local accountability and much too small to address large scale, organised crime.

The apprehension of criminals and even the prevention of crime is a technical process which most people would agree requires skills, experience, training and a high degree of efficiency. Quite obviously these are things which require stability and are not compatible with the turnover resulting from elections or the absence of appropriate background that election candidates are likely to have. Whatever title you give them, the operational head of any level of policing cannot and must not be determined by popular election.

At present, Police Authorities do not perform any worthwhile role. They are meant to be the means by which Chief Constables, or the Met Commissioner, are accountable for the performance of themselves and their force. The reality is that the Authority is composed primarily of Councillors selected by the local authority who have no knowledge of policing and no idea how to hold the professionals to account. Serving on the Police Authority is just another little source of responsibility allowance and a diverting couple of hours from time to time.

An elected person with specific responsibility for setting policy frameworks for police and holding the Chief constables to account would have more focus and authority and might gain sufficient insight to be able to probe the effectiveness of the force if s/he held office for long enough. The problem is that this doesn't deal with the problem of getting policing organised on an appropriate scale to deal with the whole range of crime and public safety that is required. Also, in those places which have an executive mayor, particularly London, the elected Police Commissioner is going to be a competing figure to the mayor and a dilution of the executive mayor role.

A few years ago it was unquestioned that only the state could run prisons and handle prisoners. Now we have many privately owned and run gaols and prisoner transport is largely contracted out. Tiny steps have been taken to improve policing by de-criminalising some traffic management roles and introducing Police Community Support staff to deal with anti-social behaviour and petty crime. Even these micro moves have been met with implacable hostility from the Police Federation which, although they are prohibited from organising industrial action, is one of the most intransigent and powerful trade unions in the country. Apart from the rank and file union, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is a formidable barrier to reform. ACPO is the senior officers trade union, but at the same time it gets large amount of taxpayers money so it is one of those strange hybrid organisations by which the state extends its tendrils where they shouldn't be. Financial pressures brought about change in the prison system and that will go further. The present economic constraints should be an aid to breaking the massive institutional barriers to police reform.

The way forward is to go ahead with abolition of Police Authorities. In those areas with an executive mayor policing should become part of his/her responsibility. In the rest of the country an elected police commissioner would be OK.

The real job though is to get the right sort of policing. Major crime and the contingency arrangements for large scale incidents must be coordinated nationally and internationally. All motoring offences, which does not include such things as manslaughter by use of a vehicle, should be de-criminalised. The task of enforcing the civil motoring laws needs to be contracted out to private providers. Local crime and crime prevention needs to be separated into its specialisms of theft and burglary, rape and sexual offences, fraud, etc. and delivered in the manner chosen by the communities they serve.

It is my view that the vast majority of policing and public safety would be best handled by private contractors, but there is no reason why mayors or commissioners should not keep it as a directly employed service or a mixture of public and private provision.

More Libertarian political thought at:

Friday, 12 August 2011

Evicting Rioters & Their Families?

Among the many knee jerks following the riots is the proposal that those convicted of rioting offences may be evicted from council housing.

Cameron backs plans to ensure that council tenants found guilty of taking part in the mayhem will be evicted. Ministers are re-drafting consultation documents to ensure that councils get those powers. The Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, was tightening the law to make sure that even if a rioter was convicted of a crime outside their borough they could lose their council home, something that is not possible at the moment. ''Criminal or anti-social behaviour in the local neighbourhood by a tenant or a member of their family can provide grounds for eviction,'' he said. ''The government is looking to strengthen those powers and so anyone involved in the unrest should stop and think about the long-term impact that their actions will have on the rest of their lives.''

David Cameron told MPs it "should be possible to evict them and keep them evicted". He said: "Parents have a responsibility to control the young people living in their home. If young people living in your home have been involved in the violence over the past few days, they are putting your tenancy at risk."

Some sensibly pointed out that it would mean moving problem social-housing tenants to different areas, but there is a much deeper issue involved here. The whole idea of social housing is wrong and local government certainly should not own or let housing. However much you might try to avoid it, being a council tenant is stigmatising. Being is social housing labels people in a way that depresses expectations and and diminishes the chances of social mobility.

It will be said by some that housing is a fundamental right and it is necessary to subsidise the housing needs of poor people. Well food and clothing are just as essential needs, but not many people would say that the state should produce these needs. The truth is that the state is a very bad landlord and there is no more reason that they should be in that business than that they should be making jeans or baking bread.

There is very strong competition and highly efficient supply of functional clothing and basic food. Contrast that with long housing waiting lists, poor maintenance standards and enormous tax burden in the provision of council housing. What is required is for all housing to be privately owned and available in the same market irrespective of whether you are wealthy or poor. Supply will then meet demand, subject to it not being distorted by stupid planning laws, and people will be able to buy or rent accommodation that is suited to their means and needs.

Another aspect of the eviction proposal is the collective punishment involved. Stalin used to send the families of his political opponents to Siberia after he had shot the main irritant. This was generally regarded in the west as being a bit unfair, but it seems that we are happy with the principle. Is it really right that a woman and children could be put out onto the street because the man of a house is a looter. Not in my view.

We need clarity and to remain rational. It can be no part of a civilised justice system for a person and their family to be thrown out of their home as punishment for a crime unrelated to their use of that home. The state would not get into this muddled thinking if it understood its proper role and left housing to the the citizens who own and live in them.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

OK! I Surrender

At the age of 63 and a life long non-smoker, I have finally given in to the welter of government and health pressure group hectoring and I have finally taken up smoking.

The build up has been a long time coming with many stages, but the final straw came tonight with the local news saying that the local authority in Cumbria was going to ban smoking in public parks.

Let’s face it, Cumbria isn’t anything other than a public park is it? A county that depends entirely on tourism wants to tell visitors that they cannot have a fag in the big open spaces of the lake district. Brilliant. Of course it is all dressed up as a campaign to make it socially unacceptable to smoke in the presence of children, but the objective is abundantly clear. The aim is to stop anybody smoking anywhere.

Prohibition of alcohol failed catastrophically in the United States. When alcohol was prohibited in 1919 it immediately resulted in illegal brewing and distilling being taken over by organised crime and the law had to be abandoned in 1933. The crime syndicates born out of the ban on alcohol did not die with abandonment of prohibition, they just moved on to protection, prostitution and drugs.

The hair shirt fanatics in the UK have learned lessons from history. Instead of trying to get an absolute ban in a single law they have sought to make smoking and drinking gradually more expensive and difficult over a period of time. This has now got to the position where we are being told that we cannot smoke in the open air of the wide open spaces of the lakes and fells.

Never being a person to do anything by halves, on hearing the news of the proposed new smoking restriction I set out for the nearest tobacco retailer and bought a pack of cigars. Knowing nothing about them I bought the largest and most expensive ones on the basis that they would be most likely to be particularly offensive to the antis.

Such has been my dislike of smoking that in my student years I used to take my cannabis in cakes or by chewing resin rather than puffing on a joint. Well, I am a lot older now and I have sucked on a few spliffs in the intervening years so I thought it would be OK to join the dwindling ranks of the smokers.

I settled in to the front terrace of a nice wine bar with a large glass of red, assured myself that the ash trays were an indicator that smoking was permissible and guiltily lit up. It is utterly absurd for a man in his 60′s, but I felt really naughty lighting up this cigar in a public place. I think that my wife was rather pleased that I was showing some signs of being a normal human being, but I am not sure that she is the best person to judge.

Anyway, I rather enjoyed it. I am now going to sample some different brands and take my new habit to other parts of town. I may even go to Stony Stratford to ostentatiously smoke in their streets. I doubt whether I will ever take cigar use to the levels enjoyed by Bill Clinton, but thanks to the nanny state I am looking forward to a new area of enjoyment in my retirement.

Cross posted from:

Sunday, 7 August 2011

More Sports Documentaries - An Impossible Job

A recent OutspokenRabbit post (kindly crossed by the good people at Anna Raccoon) - concerned 'Orient for a Fiver', a behind the scenes film which provided an insight into a club enduring serious hardship. Its televisual brilliance owed much to the way in which Orient's on-field woes actually became a sub-plot to the gradual breakdown of joint-manager John Sitton. For any work of film or literature on sporting matters to appeal beyond the standard demographic, there has to be something else in there to disrupt the predictable flow of games, results, heroes and villains.

In that regard, 1993's 'an Impossible Job', centred around the failure of Graham Taylor's England side to qualify for USA '94, falls just short of the mark set by the cinematic epic of 'Orient for a Fiver'. However, the way in which it prompts the viewer to re-assess Taylor as a man, then the manner in which he was treated by a blood-thirsty media, makes it a fascinating piece of television nonetheless. Of course, it also spawned the memorable phrase "Do I Not Like That", which has become part of English sporting folklore.

The footballing background to the context of the film is probably worth explaining to anyone who has either chosen to forget England's dire period in the first half of the 1990s, or never took an interest in football anyway. Taylor's side had scraped through to the 1992 European Championships in Sweden after a tough qualifying group that also contained the Republic of Ireland and Poland. Two draws against Jack Charlton's emerald-clad over-achievers were probably more than England had deserved, and even then it had taken a late strike from an ageing Gary Lineker in Poznan to book their place in the finals. The sense that the wrong side had somehow made it to Sweden was backed up by performances and results. England, a dull and functional outfit who relied desparately on the goals of David Platt, managed two scoreless draws before Tomas Brolin sent them home with a flash of the brilliance that was eventually lost to junk food.

So the coach was already under substantial pressure to start England's World Cup Qualification campaign with a few positive results. Norway, under the guidance of soccer-scientist Egil Olsen, would be the surprise package of not only the group, but European football itself. Their organised defence and use of 'the Flo Pass' to create openings from deep would prove mightily effective and completely upset the conventional wisdom that it was England and the Netherlands who ought to progress. The Poles, drawn in their third successive qualifying round with England, completed the 'serious' opposition, with the numbers made up by Turkey (who were pretty useless back then) and the footballing cannon-fodder of San Marino.

Taylor had already been subjected to a rather tasteless 'Sun' headline following their elimination from Euro '92. 'SWEDES 2 TURNIPS 1' carried with it an unflattering shot of Taylor in wideframe, with the top half of his head having been replaced by that of the root vegetable. Nobody was to know that his team's performance against the Norwegians at Wembley could later be viewed as an excellent one - England thoroughly battered their opponents, who by the autumn of 1993 were ranked second by FIFA. Only an exocet from Kjetil Rekdal gave the visitors what was an unmerited share of the spoils, and it would of course turn out to be two crucial points dropped. The shouts of "we want Taylor out" at the end of the game probably reflect pre-match antipathy towards the man more than anything that actually occurred during the 90 minutes.

The documentary rightly focusses on the matches that ultimately decided England's fate, with a truly dire performance in Katowice from which a 1-1 draw is somehow salvaged. Following this is another nightmare in Oslo, where it becomes apparent that Taylor has perhaps been too loyal to senior players who are on the slide at the highest level. The 'showdown scene', if you will, takes place on a fateful night in Rotterdam. England play as well as they have at any point in the previous three years and create numerous opportunities to score. One of them falls to Platt, who is dragged back by opposing skipper Ronald Koeman on the edge of the penalty area. Whether the offence took place a fraction inside or outside the box is debatable.

What was utterly beyond doubt at the time and remains so is that Koeman (who, while a world-class distributor of the ball was never actually that hot as a defender) should have walked. With half an hour against a pretty dysfunctional Dutch outfit and a one-man advantage, it is difficult not to see England at the very least drawing the game with some comfort. As it was, Koeman gets away with a yellow card and then scores the opening goal with a well-executed free kick ten minutes later. A second on the break and England's qualifying campaign was over, though not before the embarrassment of going a goal down to the tax haven of San Marino in Bologna. This was the first time that the principality had ever led in a competitive international, and the timing of the goal at 8.3 seconds from the kick off remains a World Cup record.

Taylor's England failed dismally when it mattered, but watching this unfold ponders further questions as to how much of a disastrous campaign was really his fault. The robbery in Rotterdam owed far more to bad luck and shoddy officiating than it did to any sense of English ineptitude, and there is a brilliant moment where a coach at the end of his tether badgers a FIFA official on the injustice of it all, then explains the ramifications to the linesman, "I was just telling your colleague that the referee has got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that won't you?". This sense of frustration regarding events that are totally out of his control also extends to his players as a visibly apprehensive Taylor is forced to endure error-strewn performances that fly in the face of direct instructions.

It's a toss of a coin between the trips to Poland and Norway as to exactly where England hit rock bottom in this qualification series, but the first half of that match in Katowice was summed up by the coach as follows, "you talk til you're f***ing blue in the face...CAN WE NOT KNOCK IT?", shortly followed by an observation that "they've done everything that we've told them not to do". Sometimes the man in the dugout really is helpless once his charges cross the dreaded white line, and watching his side turn in a hot-headed performance, littered with individual mistakes, is the sort of experience that can explain the link between football management and long-term health problems. In reality it does not get much better after the break, but against less than cohesive opposition, with a Dracula-esque fear of crosses, Ian Wright scrambles an equaliser and complete disaster is averted, if only for four days. Is Taylor's spontaneous leap off the bench one of joy, relief, or that of a man who knows he and his side to have got lucky?

Graham Taylor was actually a superb hands-on coach, and I suspect this may have been part of the problem. His previous success with Watford and Aston Villa had been built around attention to detail and thorough preparation of restarts and set pieces. He explains to his players in the Polish rain that, "until they change the laws of the game, restarts and set pieces will always win and lose games". Perhaps that analysis would differ today, but it still held considerable merit the best part of two decades ago. However, deprived of the opportunity to instill his methods on a day-to-day basis, as he would have had at club level, Taylor had to watch his side making errors that could be ironed out during an effective pre-season that would never arrive.

The three-man central defence that backfired badly in Oslo was something that had served his Villa side well as they finished second to Liverpool in 1989/90 - the key difference here is that unlike the triumverate of Nielsen/McGrath/Mountfield that had worked together on a daily basis for months, Taylor's England would never get the opportunity to work on a detailed gameplan for a sufficient length of time to execute it well. There are some enjoyable moments here, such as where a training ground routine involves Stuart Pearce meeting a touch-stop free kick and blasting it home. There is a quite justified sense of satisfaction for all concerned when it is reproduced to perfection in England's win against the Poles at Wembley. Taylor talks more than once about the frustration of international management, with the long period of inactivity that might follow a negative result. Some of this simply reflects his wish to put some points on the board at the next available opportunity, but from watching his enthusiasm for working with players on a daily basis, one wonders whether he and the job were ever a suitable marriage.

This is not to say that he did not make a few significant and avoidable mistakes. Firstly, a look at some of England's players from the period provides immediate insight as to why they failed to perform at international level. Many were simply not good enough, while Des Walker and Chris Woods, who clearly had been but a few years earlier, now appeared to be the beneficiaries of selection based on name recognition and the efforts of a footballing lifetime ago. More than one player was experiencing difficulties with drink, drugs or gambling while a few appeared not to understand the gravity of the situation in which they were involved. After that dreadful effort in Katowice, Taylor closes his address to the squad by saying, "well done lads" - the words of a man who was either over-keen to keep his charges onside, or had simply watched a different match to the rest of us. If ever there was a time to read the riot act to a team who had been outplayed and got a fortunate break, then this was it.

It is difficult for anyone apart from Taylor himself to be the star of this programme, but with his brief and thoroughly useless cameo appearances, Phil Neal almost manages to steal the limelight. As assistant coach, Neal's 'job' seems to involve little more than parroting the last words spoken by his boss, swiftly following it up with a quick flapping of the arms. For anyone who doubts this bunny's analysis that sycophancy will get you further in life than raw talent backed by some sort of work ethic, then take a look at the ex-Bolton manager's hilarious impersonation of Waylon Smithers from the Simpsons, and ask how the hell he ever made the coaching staff of an international football team. Lawrie McMenemy, whose role, let alone practical use in the operation escapes the viewer, had become little more than a media man by the 1990s, who had been left behind by a changing game (ask fans of Northern Ireland, who he later managed with less than sexy results).

Taylor, perhaps too nice to pull the trigger, retained the 'services' of these people, and it was quite apparent that ideas on the touchline were coming from a single source. The Peter Taylor or Brian Kidd figure who could explain to the gaffer that his original team shape was all wrong, or that one of his favourites needed to be dragged off for the benefit of the team, was sorely lacking. Neal, whose 'peak' arrives during the quite brilliant "this will be a test" moment in Norway, contributes the square root of nothing to the cause, either because he believes his brainless efforts as a 'yes man' to be what Taylor wants, or for the more innocent reason that he had precisely no independent thought to offer on any subject. Either way, he was painfully out of his depth and Taylor should have displayed sufficient balls to get rid.

On that theme, what do we make of Paul Gascoigne from watching all this? England's most naturally gifted footballer in a generation and occasional Geordie rapper (yeah I couldn't resist and have attached 'Fog on the Tyne' - was enduring an unhappy spell with Lazio in Italy and it was clear that this unsuitable environment had effected him adversely in a multitude of ways. Overweight and often a marginal figure in games where England needed the whole team to be firing, a strong case emerges for dropping Gazza from the starting eleven, and possibly the squad altogether. Perhaps the prolonged absence of Alan Shearer, which did huge and untold damage to Taylor and the quality at his disposal, did more to safeguard Gascoigne's 'automatic pick' status than anything?

After being the first coach to talk about the player's "re-fuelling" problem, Taylor turns the question round on the journalists who push him on the subject, "there are a lot of you who think he should be out but won't say so". This is something of a cop-out given that these are decisions that the coach himself is well paid to make. When asked by FA bigwigs for his feelings on Gazza as a player, Taylor explains, "with regards to Gascoigne himself, part of the problem that I've had as a manager is I've spent far too much time talking about him". With Platt, comfortably England's best performer at the time, operating as an attacking midfield player himself, it is worth asking whether both he and Gascoigne could both be accommodated while retaining team shape. If this bunny had to pick one and only one of them to take the field for England circa 1992-93, then Platty wins that particular joust hands down.

However, the coach comes out of this as a thoroughly decent man, despite his propensity for swearing on the touchline. He defends his players, shows them considerable loyalty, goes out to meet Platt in person to explain why he is no longer captain, and rises above both the bloodhounds of the gutter press and the hatred that can occasionally be heard word for word in the crowd. When a 'fan' turns racial on John Barnes (who by this time is well past his best), Taylor takes on the bigot, who strangely enough appears to be sat in the VIP area. "You're talking about another human being so just watch your language". Well said Graham, and it is worth noting that in the years since what was a bleak time for English football, those players who have spoken about their ex-coach have had almost entirely positive things to say about him.

Someone who might also have a lot to thank Taylor for is Rob Shepherd, who provides a moment of gold during the press conference ahead of the game in Rotterdam. The Today hack makes no effort to disguise his feeling that armageddon is imminent, and wears a distinctly worried expression throughout. Taylor tells him, "you worry Rob - but don't make the rest of us f***ing worry - go and worry on your own". Both men would be half right, with the team chosen by Taylor performing well, only for Shepherd's concern about the eventual result to be proved right. Fast-forward a decade, and Shepherd (then of the Express) has run into difficulty in a wine bar and finds himself charged with GBH. Who appears as a character witness as part of his defence's call for leniency? None other than Graham Taylor, who clearly didn't do grudges.

The media pack themselves do not come out of this with a great deal of credit. Many of them appeared to feed their readers with a misplaced notion that England should be flattening all but the strongest opposition, and this in turn leads to unrealistic expectations. When you look at the pool of talent that Taylor had to pick from, it was probably one of the weakest that England had possessed in a generation. The reason for many of Taylor's one-off, horses for courses and seemingly random selections was simple - the absence of players who were proven at international level meant that picking an eleven to win a specific match was a very difficult task for any England coach at the time. Sometimes, most notably in Norway, he got it badly wrong, but was often hamstrung by the resources he had to work with.

Taylor is probably far more courteous to his press tormentors than many would be had they been depicted as a turnip, an onion, or been labelled 'Norse Manure' on the back page of a national rag. Tellingly, he reminds the journalists "my team has to go out and play - your selections never carry that responsibility". I got the impression that Taylor felt he was also more responsible for his words than the hacks who hounded him would ever be, and that this was a cause of much irritation. They didn't have to wake up to vicious and personal attacks in the newspapers, then smile and be polite to the people who had written them. Watching an uneasy relationship develop made this bunny (who, like many, thought Taylor to be simply inept at the time) re-evaluate exactly who the good guys were.

Another interesting face making a brief appearance is that of Charles Hughes, then the FA's director of coaching. Hughes had also authored their official manual on the subject, and discovered through statistical research that most goals were scored by moves that involved three passes or fewer. This may well have been true in the 1960s and 1970s, but two decades on, the dynamics of football were changing and the 'position of maximum opportunity' espoused by Hughes and his advocates (of whom Taylor had been one) was now somewhat limited in its scope. European sides at both club and international level were now fitter, stronger and retaining the ball with greater efficiency. A long punt towards the penalty area may well be proceeded by ten minutes chasing shadows, with the same pattern repeating itself ad nauseum throughout the match.

Coincidentally, Egil Olsen had propelled Norway above England in their qualification group with a tactical approach that owed something to Hughes and his philosophy on winning matches. The use of 'the Flo pass' in particular was based on a calculation that a percentage of high balls aimed at a tall wide player would result in some sort of goalscoring opportunity, either for the central striker or two midfield players breaking from deep. With the right personnel, this style of play can still bring limited success even now, but whether the players available to England could have enabled Taylor to play in the way that he really wanted to was an altogether different question - he and his side frequently appeared to be in a tactical no man's land as a result. Moreover, that Hughes was the man 'coaching the coaches' told you a lot about what was wrong with English football.

Finally, it is worth mentioning an emerald elephant that was permanently in the room, but for obvious reasons had no natural place in this programme. Much of the frustration around England's perceived or real under-performance owed itself to the achievements of a certain team from across the Irish Sea. As stated earlier, it was they and not England who had deserved to go to Sweden in 1992. The Irish were consistently above England in the world rankings, achieved results against top-drawer opposition that were beyond the efforts of Taylor's side, and most notably, managed to qualify from a group containing Spain and Denmark for the 1994 World Cup with a brand of football that was distinctly British in its character (in fact half of that Irish team had actually been born in the Uk). Whatever low-points may have followed in later years, England have usually retained the claim of being the best international team from these isles.

Hey, even Wales came closer to making those finals, which tells you something. Take care and I'll catch you soon...