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.