Thursday, 31 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 3

Hi again - this is the final instalment of 'Democracy Doesn't Work'. You can go back to Vol 2 and Vol 1 here if you want to read this series in full.

A tyrant is a tyrant is a tyrant. Whether someone is elected or not is at best of secondary importance. What is of greatest significance is action, the manner in which the character and dyanmics of a place change under that individual's rule, the recurring themes that suggest some deeper underlying principle. Whether a bloodbath was by majority decision or the act of a lunatic who ruled by fear is something of a moot point.

One of the great falsehoods peddled by those who support the concept of representative democracy is that by following the instruction of an elected government, the ordinary citizenry are 'only obeying themselves'. This is a line of argument that can be easily destroyed on a number of levels.

Take our 2001 General Election as a classic example of where this view of the world falls down. Turnout amongst those registered to vote did not pass 60%, so New Labour's monster majoritiy of 160, sufficient to form what was basically an elective dictatorship, was built on the mandate of less than 30% amongst those of voting age. What happens to the 70% that either did not vote at all or made a conscious choice for something other than what they got? Are they 'obeying themselves?'.

That's before even thinking about the unknown number who go off grid and 'forget' to register. By definition, we don't know how many of these people there might be.

Then there's the practical issue - finding a candidate with whom you agree on everything, or even most issues of the day, is exteremely difficult and therefore highly unlikely. If one must vote, then the choice is inevitably built around figuring out which of the candidates is least worst, rather than being presented with one who chimes with your own sentiments eighty per cent of the time. It's a very messy business and outside of party loyalists, how many people will really walk out of the polling booth believing that they might have changed a nation and its history for the better? One susepects these are few and far between, and those that do might find themselves disappointed in the long run.

Politics is a of course ane immensely dishonest game, and representative democracy cultivates and offers fertile ground for such duplicity. A manifesto takes no account of unforseen circumstances that might render initial objectives obsolete, be they constitutional crises, some sort of economic meltdown like we're having now, a coalition arrangement that nobody had properly anticipated or planned for, whatever. The politician promising you the earth on the doorstep is doing so only in the present tense, based on the citcumstances of right here and right now. Oh, and he or she is probably lying through their teeth anyway, since that is what people seeking election will always, always do.

One of the massive problems that Libertarians have in a democratic system is that the rules of the game that plays out on the doorstep are loaded firmly against them. Before you accuse me of being some bitter and twisted malcontent, let me explain. Getting elected in the modern era invariably means promising that the state will give the voter certain 'things' that they want. Elections invariably descend into auctions where the various candidates pledge to lavish the inhabitants of no4 with more of no12's money than the last guy promised.

With a mantra of "the first job of the state is to fuck off and let you sort your own problems out better than it could", where do Libertarians fit into that picture? The short answer is that they don't, but this serves to illustrate how being in a distinct minority does not automatically make you wrong.

So in short, if you voted for the government, agree with it on (nearly) everything, their manifesto pledges turn out to be completely honest and circumstances do not throw up new challenges that could not have been predicted in advance then you might, just might be 'obeying yourself'. How likely is that?

I mentioned unforseen circumstances and curveballs earlier and the truth is that governments of all persuasions love them since they provide an excuse to follow through what Statists always wanted to do in the first instance . After 1945, authoritatian and/or Marxist types got clever. They worked out that they could achieve their aims within a democratic system by cashing in on crises, turning the fifty-one per cent against other forty-nine and manipulating the masses to cash in further slices of personal freedom in exchange for all sorts of nice words - security, identity, community, fairness, even freedom for fuck's sake!!

Benjamin Franklin probably said it best, "people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both".

World Wars 1 and 2 provided governments with the opportunity to construct 'a Land Fit for Heroes' and impose welfarism on future generations. In later years, overseas conflict became the basis on which to imprison without charge, curtail personal liberty and apply no-questions-asked snooping on any member of the population that nanny chose. A pensioner was famously removed from the Labour Party conference and held in custody on anti-terror legislation for daring to heckle a prominent cabinet member.

Nice to know nanny is keeping us safe from these 'dangerous' people...

Just as the NHS was not unravelled after the passing of those who saw off the Nazis, not one law passed in the 21st century in the name of fighting terrorism has a sunset clause attached to it. Of course we're assured that these things are temporary and will only be applied to 'real terrorists', but then who gets to decide when 'it' (whatever 'it' is) is over? And who gets to decide the identities of those 'menaces to society' that need locking up?

Is it any wonder that authoritarians, along with the politicians who represent their views, love wars as much as they do? Industrial loss of life on both sides and the tendency of invading foreign lands to paint a target on one's back works as a licence to print money for those who want it to. It's easy to whip up popular support for a foreign war when you tell them it's a gimme on the scale of playing North End at home, as governments of all persuasions have done. Then of course it's 'our war' and we all have to pay the price for it. In Britain we got waves of draconian anti-terror and 'hate crime' legislation, whle the Redneck tendency across the pond cashed in on the chaos by passing the quite terrifying Patriot Act. A penny for the thoughts of Washington, Jefferson et al on that one...

Many quotes have been attributed over the years along the lines of "democracy is the least worst system" or whatever. They may or may not be right, but of much greater significance is that any nation, be it a demoracy or otherwise, is governed first and foremost by a constitution that is sacred, prevents society from descending into mob rule and acts as a framework around which the law of the land can be built. Once this is established the scope for legislators becomes rather narrow, so does it matter how many we have, or whether they were chosen by popular vote, as long as they honour those principles that are stronger than this week's fashion?

Democracy may be great as a basis for making decisions in a poetry or tennis club, where members are present of their own free will and have the right to walk away at any time they choose should they find themselves amongst an uncomfortable minority. The barriers to leaving a nation for a new one are of course much greater - language, means, employment prospects, the finite list of countries who would actually take us. Nobody chose to be born and so the basis on which people win or lose cannot simply boil down to a question of whether they are members of the fortunate fifty-one or the fucked-over forty-nine.

All in favour of abolishing democracy, say aye. Take care and I'll catch you soon.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 2

Welcome back to Democracy Doesn't Work, the gameshow in which an audience get to vote on all the issues discussed, but that vote means absolutely nothing.

Here's the link to Vol 1 in case you missed it or (god forbid) want to read it again.

Oh, the things people do to be popular. Back in the day this bunny cared far too much and was practically obsessed with the notion of whether he was popular or otherwise. One needs to mature before realising that it really isn't nearly as important as being an individual of substance, or being right every now and then. It's a work in progress but this bunny's neurosis is channelled in an altogether more healthy direction these days.

To some people, being the good guy is a fix that they never quite shake. Upon realising that we had a three-parter in the pipeline I went off on some most perculiar trains of thought and an episode from many years ago sprang to mind as significant to the general theme. I was nearly nineteen, still living with my parents and had just started my first 'proper job'. Cash in the back-burner was a new experience so one payday I bought a bottle of Scotch on the way home.

Now in that situation, it's always wise to 'rope in' the authority figure by inviting them to have a couple themselves. They are then tainted by the whole thing so cannot have a pop at you for drinking the rest and getting slightly pissed (little tip there for any young people looking to negotiate the issue of alcohol with their parents). Anyway, my sister, seven years old at the time, had one of those fits along the lines of "somebody else can't have something without me having it too". It's what children do, yeah?

Anyway, I politely explain why I'm not going to load a seven year old on 40% spirits. She wails, she cries and questions my parentage (ironic really since they were stood right in front of me). In response, my dad walks into the kitchen and pours her a measure of the scotch, my scotch that was not his to take. He comes out of that scenario as the hero, this bunny as some cold-hearted piece of shit - and I paid for it. Nicely done...

The serious point is:- this is what wanting to be the good guy, at least in relative terms to someone else, does to those seeking popularity. It forces them to take steps that are reckless, unaffordable and require the theft of another person's money. We've had a gradual slide towards the position we are in now, where very tough and immensely unpopular decisions have become an absolute and immediate necessity. Yet if you'd watched the television debates before the last election, all three parties were promising to spend vast quantities of the stuff that they conclusively knew not to exist (of course Liam Byrne famously left a note to that effect at the Treasury, so must have known his party's manifesto was profoundly dishonest).

Remember the ridiculous argument about the phantom £6 billion that was officially the plot of land over which the whole fiscal argument was fought? This bunny suspects that most of us knew this stuff to be nonsense, but there was this strange sort of telepathy going on between the various candidates and ordinary voters. The democratic race to a workable majority creates a strange world in which none of us admit the reality, let alone dare to confront it until things get out of control. It's a bit like that thing where you go to a cashpoint and dare not check your balance.

£20 cash, sir - would you like a receipt with that?

To be honest - no I'll just keep pretending I'm actually loaded - until I run out of money anyway. Then I'll either panic, go into prostitution, or give Mickey Thomas a call - that's if his machine hasn't got a full orderbook from the government...

Politics of course attracts all of the wrong kinds of people and representative democracy puts these vultures in a place where the choice is often between recklessness with other people's money or electoral wipeout. The bank bailouts could not be afforded, while the obscenity of public sector pensions has been a ticking timebomb for two decades and counting. Rewards for failure, final salary pensions for anyone working in the right place at the right time, plod retires at 50 and can collect his pension for longer than he actually worked. How the fuck does that compute with reality?

Still, everyone's a winner, eh?. If we run out of money, we can always print some more...

Some of the issues here are not just about politics or winning elections - both major parties have serious financial problems, having spent money they didn't have on tedious election campaigns that chewed up their resources. Labour need their union chums while both dud parties had the begging bowl out in the city back when the times were good, Upsetting these powerful client groups (covered in Vol 1) is never a smart move in a democracy, and when these are also your paymasters then it makes commercial sense to let them call at least some of the shots.

The founding fathers of the USA figured out that a democracy would only work until people discovered they had the ability to vote themselves a little extra from the treasury. Once this happened you'd see a one-way ratchet where the government's slice of the cake would gradually increase as they sought to bribe voters with their own, or somebody else's money. Finding out that you have the legal means to steal from someone else probably produces the same rush that you would get from drinking, smoking or masturbating for the first time. It's exciing, empowering and you wanna do it again, but preferably in the privacy of a polling booth.

Secret Ballots (which are of course a good thing in isolation) enable you to walk past somebody on election day, weigh up that he might have more money than yourself and then elect that a slice of it travels from his bank account and into yours. Aside from the money itself, it's not in the interest of any candidate standing for election to take that power away from you. Reversing this spiral of taxpayer funded largesse is so unpopular as to make it practically impossible, since the mob rule of democracy means that 'empowerment' comes at the expense of someone else.

But what about Thatcher? Did she not buck the trend and roll back the frontiers of the state when she was in office? Isn't that why she's both worshipped and hated in equal measure? Not quite. The 'Thatcher smashed the State' myth is simply that, perpetuated by both sides as a matter of convenience over the years. Government spending soared, and while nanny's take of the national share fell ever so slightly during Thatch's eleven years in office, this was actually funded by a trebling of the national debt in the same period.

There was also the small matter of some 2 million people, moved off unemployment benefit and onto long-term sickness solely for political reasons. 3 million unemployed sounds like utter failure. but then how about 5 million? The tough choice would of course have been to accept and then deal with it, but then Thatch made far fewer of those than both her admirers and enemies would have you believe (I know John B will be on to argue the opposing case and look forward to that debate).

So instead of sustaining government largesse through taxation, Thatch did it by borrowing, therefore keeping the tax rate for the current generation down. One of her election victories was of course against Michael Foot, co-author of 'the longest suicide note in history' in 1983. Now Foot was wrong about just about everything and even when he turned out to be right it was either by accident or for the wrong reasons. However, he was probably the last serious Uk politician to work on the Henry Clay principle of "I'd rather be right than be president".

The rule of 51 per cent clearly held no sway with him, and while 'right' in his case was actually wrong, Foot was at least sincerely wrong. In a curious way, I can't help but admire that. His case is interesting for two reasons - firstly, the wish to have a more cordial relationship with the Soviet Union was political dynamite back in 1983, but he stated this openly and took a hammering rather than adopt a more 'acceptable' position. Much could be said about some other Labour policies at the time, such as their pledge to work towards nuclear disarmament - it really was suicide, but more in the 'honourable' tradition of Japanese soldiers circa 1944 than anything vulgar.

Then there's this curious paradox about confirmed 'tax and spend' politicians. Although that's the type of economy we have clearly moved towards since 1945, there seems to be this nominal suspicion about anyone who is honest enough to admit that they will continue the trend, as if that somehow makes them 'dangerous'. To win an election, Tony Blair promised anyone who would listen that he would increase the size of the state to exciting new levels while raising not a penny of the money required by increasing an existing tax or inventing new ones. Everyone knew this to be a blatant lie and yet we all remember the Tory wipeout of 1997, the fake spontaneous demonstration that followed, the techno-cheese of D-Ream and all that.

When the pips started squeaking and they ran out of new taxes to invent, Labour borrowed on an industrial scale again - it's what Labour governments (and some Tory ones) always, always do until they finally run out of money. Most of us know this, and yet it seems that the big government-representative democracy combo has this strange ability to infantilise and delude people that "this time it's going to be different", as if the country is a mass of beaten wives desparate to believe that their abusive spouse really has changed...this time. To use another analogy, these are the people who, upon receiving a 'YOU'VE WON £10,000' coupon through the front door, actually ring up and give their credit card number.

A cocktail of greed and stupidity rarely ends with sexy results - bogus roofers, Nigerian phone scams, 'YOU'VE WON £10,000" texts and coupons, politicians on the doorstep. They were taken in by all of them.

Almost everyone accepts the need for government spending to be cut, as long as those reductions come in areas that don't directly impact their own lives. By the same token - "yeah, put taxes up, as long as they aren't ours. Hey, what about that guy up the road who earns more than we do, there's only one of him and there are loads of us - lets mug him, legally mind you". After the last election, I grew sick and tired of public sector employees crowing to third rate BBC hacks about how they and their place of work was a special case and any attempt to bring spending on that area back in kilter with reality would be 'savage'.

The truth is, everyone thinks they're a special case.

In a democracy, everyone can be - it's whiskey all round, even for the kids. Don't worry, someone else is paying, just as 'someone else' always does...

Meanwhile, the deficit is racking up, the economy is moving at the same pace that old people fuck and we keep hearing from the Bullingdon clan that 'tough choices' are necessary. Trouble is, when the cost of being right is a one way trip into Michael Foot-esque oblivion, who is going to make them?

Part 3 of 'Democracy Doesn't Work' to follow soon. Take care and thanks for reading.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 1

Thanks to ManNotNumber, one of the many people who have helped my political education over the last few years. This one is for you.

Adolf Hitler and Robert Mugabe have two very important things in common. The first is obvious, namely that they are both members of what could unfortuately be described as the Premier League of tyrants and dictators. Hitler's crimes against humanity are known to anyone who bothered to attend school, while Mugabe's demented anti-white racism destroyed what was once known as 'the bread basket of Africa'. In terms of scale, he was of course nowhere near the 'achievements' of Herr Hitler, but in all likelihood this owed more to opportunity than it ever did to motive. Mugabe was and remains one of the most evil pieces of shit in modern history.

But here's the second piece of common ground - both were victorious in elections that, at least nominally, could be considered free and fair at the time. This makes you think about democracy itself, something that I thought must always be a positive thing until I grew up, met a few wise sages who actually knew their politics and began to appreciate the differences between democracy and liberty. People make the mistake of equating the two with each other, as I used to, but they are of course entirely removed and can often run counter to each other.

It's worth exploring why I made that mistake. Part of it probably came from a working class background where the representation of us 'little people' meant something against a backdrop of Tory rule. Whatever this bunny thinks of the Labour party, make no mistake about the useless Tories. They are only a microscopic fraction better, their governments are invariably rotten to the core and diseased by corruption. They steal, they lie, they preach morality and 'family values' to you and I, then get caught getting spanked by a prostitute in a hotel room (or something like that - not that I'd otherwise be bothered what consenting adults get up to).

Meanwhile, they serve their client base, namely the vulgar yuppie class and undeserving rich, with aplomb - but more of that later,

Watching the House of Lords on television as a kid is enough to turn you off the hereditary principle and support just about any alternative. Most of those dinosaurs were clearly drunk, asleeep, or both. Many of them appeared perilously close to the trapdoor laid out by the man upstairs and can not possibly have been at anything like the peak of their powers. As times have changed, ridculous and incoherent old men whose great grandfathers had successfully shot a grouse back in 1794 have given way to failed ex-politicians who stood for election and got the snot beaten out of them (see Neil Kinnock, Baroness Warsi).

Is an elected second chamber preferable to the current circus or the old one? Probably, but that doesn't mean it's the right answer, for reasons I'll go into. Quite what the solution is I don't know. Most of the ideas on the table sound positively vile and this bunny is far too busy to come up with his own.

So the reasons for thinking democracy to always, always be a good thing were more than a tad naive but one hopes you can put this down to the relative stupidity of youth. Most who appreciate the concept of liberty will regard the original draft of the US Constitution as one of the most important documents in history. It set out how a nation intended to carry on by laying down clear markers as to what the state could not do to the individual. Of course, the likes of Woodrow Wilson, FDR and that disaster zone of a president George W Bush did their best to chip away at all that the founding fathers stood for, but that is a failing of politicians, Supreme Court judges and a lack of wll to defend a documnent that was sacred, not the document itself.

Let me ask you this - how many times does the word 'democracy' appear in the US Constitution?

The answer is none, which is inmensely important. Thomas Jefferson once described democracy as a system by which "fifty-one percent of the population may take away the rights of the other forty-nine". I'll start by being playful - tonight's dinner was spaghetti, garlic bread and a couple of glasses of Shiraz (it's been a hard week at the office). Now, what should I have tomorrow? Maybe I should put it to some sort of democratic vote - here are the choices:-

Jamaican Curry
Fish cakes with savoury rice
Ham and Mushroom Taglietele
Ready Meal Paella (perfect as it means I just bang it in the microwave)
Fish and Chips (takeout, not done myself)

In the interests of a free and fair ballot, I should state the following:- I hate both ham and mushrooms, while any sauce with too much cheese in it is bound to make me violently ill. Of course, this would have come up anyway in the pre-dinner debates that appeared on some very obscure TV channel. All of the other options are cool with me, so you know where to vote if you're feeling spiteful.

This discussion may seem rather odd, but then democracy generally is - the point is that whatever you vote for, this bunny is the one who picks up the tab and has to pay for it. That's basically how things work in a democracy and is what Jefferson was getting at - the fity-one per cent are able to demand not only 'things', but that the other forty-nine will be those that pay for them. If you look at the current debate, what you end up with is a set of competing client groups, represented by dud parties doing their bidding for them at the expense of someone else. The Holy Grail is 51%, or more like 37% in a first past the post system.

Parties need their client groups to survive, but the paradox is that they reach beyond them by essentially denying the existence of that client group. For example, the Tories rely on crony capitalist filth for donations while claiming that any economic system that makes people rich must be a good thing - ergo, the undeserving rich do not exist. Labour attempt the same magic trick with the workshy and public payroll leaches looking for an easy life. Little Englander or Racist parties (BNP, English Democrats, a section of UKIP) deny their own existence while lamenting the PC nutters of the Lib Dems, Greens and a section of Labour. The opposite also applies.

These groups compete against each other in what we call 'democracy', while the rest of us, who know that all of these unfortunate factions exist to some degree, wonder what the fuck is going on. No wonder so many of us can't be bothered taking part and feel detached from the whole thing. Democracy is not for 'ordinary' people, and caters instead for those who really have something to win or lose. What do you think the turnout is amongst those protected from reality by the taxpayer gravy train, be they public sector leaches or bailed out bankers? Or people who are openly racist? Or PC loons? I'll have 20 notes on it with you that it's a lot higher than the national average.

If prisoners get the vote, it could have all sorts of unintended consequences - we've had the Pensioner's Party, so why not the Prisoner or Porridge Party? They would have no problem choosing a colour for their rosettes on election night - it has to be black and white stripes. I can imagine their policies now:- cigarettes to become legal tender, increase the £9 a week pocket money to £900, make hetrosexuality illegal (to steal a great line from the film 'Layer Cake', "fucking women is for poofs").

Back to reality - what is really required in this country is a written constitution or Bill of Rights, something that makes absolutely clear what the State cannot do to or take from you. To work, it needs to be bigger than whoever is in office at that moment in time, backed up by an independent Supreme Court that can prevent governments from passing laws that are unconstitutional - regardless of public or parliamentary opinion at the time. All of this is profoundly anti-democratic, illustrating how liberty and democracy frequently pull in different directions. If you have nine people living on a street, and five decide to enslave the other four, then steal their possessions, is that ok? Yes, it's democratic, but is it right?

And is what I have for dinner tomorrow really anyone's business but mine? Be assured I wasn't planning on eating someone else a la Dennis Nielsen...

One of the major issues that came up but a few months ago was that of elected police chiefs. I was going to write a lengthy piece on why they were a disaster waiting to happen (for utter shame, LPUK supported them). Then John Prescottt announced that he was one of the candidates and I rationalised that this in itself was enough to win most of you over to this bunny's side of the argument. Elected thugs in uniform is one of the worst instances of 'democracy gone bad' I can think of, and Prescott in uniform, well do we need to go there?

When finally figuring my politics out a few years ago I stumbled across something called the Nolan Chart, which explains the two dimensions of political thought. On the axis for social and constitutional policy, the authoritatian end was bracketed (Populist) and it makes complete sense. Anti-terror laws that imprison without charge, the prospect of restoring the death penalty, nationwide e-mail snooping and other wacky authoritarian measures are popular, because  a mass of incredibly stupid people never believe these things will impact their own lives. Perhaps they accept that abuses of power take place, but there is a failure to compute with the sense that this makes themselves as vulnerable as anyone else.

So I'm not surprised that elected Judge Dredd wannabes are popular, and expect the contests to be a sort of 'race to the bottom', both politically and constitutionally. "I will uphold the rule of law, defend civil liberties, protect the presumption of innocence at all times, seek to limit the use of surveillance to its minimum and ensure that every defendant gets a fair hearing" is at best an unlikely vote-winner. We're back into the Dutch auction on who can be 'toughest on crime' again.

More 'Democracy Doesn't Work' to follow soon. Take care and thanks for reading.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Failure of the Modern Political Class


The unemployment rate stands at over 8% of the population. Millions of the remaining 92% are underemployed, eking out a living with part-time and temporary work, relying on the state to pick up the slack. The economic future rests on a knife-edge, dependent on the decisions of politicians and bankers in other countries. Children who have not yet been born are expected to pay for the living costs of people alive now. People alive now, whose ancestors may have lived in the same place for generations, are expected to pay for the living costs of people who have only just arrived here. Basic personal freedoms are left unprotected and unvalued, while the financial, political and social elites are able to act with impunity, regardless of the detriment to others. This is not some kind of apocalyptic vision, this is Britain today. Who is responsible?

Our Leaders

Ordinary citizens cannot be blamed for our situation. While they may contribute to it, the ability of the people to determine their own destiny has been stripped away over the years. The people are, and feel, powerless. Those on both the traditional political left and right are equally to blame for our current situation. No-one in power genuinely challenges the state and its role; some may tinker around the edges, but they do not address the debate in terms of the relationships between the state and the individual. They address it in terms of how the state can make changes to the way things work. That is where our political class fundamentally fails, and is likely to continue to do so. To the political ruling class, we need to add the economic ruling class, as the two are heavily linked. Our economic system is heavily corporatist, working in the same way as the government does to entice people in to a sense of false confidence in rulers, and leaving them unable to do anything for themselves. Just as the government paralyses people with tempting promises of cradle-to-grave welfare benefits, so the banks do with offers of money back credit cards. These things benefit people financially in the short term, but in the longer term, they leave them unable to exercise their basic personal freedoms, as they are trapped in dependence, taxation and debt.

What Can Be Done?

Libertarian politics does not (unlike many forms of political thought) offer a quick fix. What it does offer, is a return to real, human values. Free from dependence on the state, people would be free to rediscover their ability to help themselves and to co-operate to help each other. As humans, our nature is to help each other on a local scale. This can be seen all over the world from cooperation to hunt and farm land to groups trying to invent solutions to environmental problems and intervening on behalf of a stricken friend to help them turn their life around.

Stripped of the need to do so by the state, we no longer do so. A system based on local economics, real free markets and devolved politics, rather than the faceless part-corporatist, part-socialist system we have now would not suffer the kind of collapse we are seeing now. The current economic failure is a failure of corporate capitalism, not a failure of free markets. It is also a failure of our elites to recognise the dangers inherent in their own system, and to protect us from them. While promising to help the people and keep them from harm, they failed to work to prevent it.

What Will Be Done?

The EU and national governments continue to work to try and limit the damage their policies have caused. The difficulty is, the cause of a problem is rarely the solution to it. It is looking increasingly likely that Greece will have to leave the Euro and default on its debts. That could cause a domino effect, with other hard-hit countries including Ireland, Spain and Italy possibly following suit. It is difficult to see how the currency could survive given that scenario. There may well be more bailouts, with the rotten system we have being further propped up with the tax money of ordinary people. This may be an opportunity for new ideas to spread, as people begin to get angry. In Greece, all kinds of smaller parties have emerged in the wake of the crisis. There is not yet a coherent libertarian movement there, but the appetite could be there, as it could be in the UK. There is a real need for genuine alternatives to be presented to the people, so that the people can begin to determine their future.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

We're into Mancini time...

Three posts in one night - I take your point about London buses, but the comparison is unfair. I haven't put on THAT much weight.

Anyway, this bunny has always been a bit anti-Man United, but having written specifically about football in the past tries to keep some degree of objectivity. There are many reasons for disliking all things Old Trafford - their sour-faced, excuse-making, ref-blaming twat of a manager, the intimidation of referees by an angry mob of players at every meaningful deicision that goes against them, serial divers such as Ronaldo and Ashley Young (the new Ronaldo, only nowhere near as good). Prawn sandwich eating, business class fans, encouraged first by that vagabond Martin Edwards and now the Glazers.

In the interests of balance, some things to like about United - Bryan Robson's steel, drive and will to win, the immaculate and personable Denis Irwin. Then there's Schmeichel, both the greatest goalkeeper of the last 25 years and the most famous dog in television. Ryan Giggs, just for being Ryan Giggs. Roy Keane's presence, ability to drag his team through matches by the hairband and the fact that YOU WOULD DIE to have him in your dressing room. Nemanja Vidic's balls, bravery and no-nonsense defending (also see Gary Pallister and Jaap Stam). Mark Hughes, possibly the bravest striker of the last 25 years - I've never seen his balls, but they must be fucking huge.

So my anti-Unitedness is tempered slightly (and I didn't even mention Cantona, who is an entity entirelty removed from United in my view). As a result, I can't get too excited about City's successful purchase of the Premier League title. Two goals in what can only be called 'Mancini time' turned their match with QPR (that reminds me to call my Rangers and Ireland-supporting friend - the Euros are coming up). I can't help but conclude that the Hoops' players discovering their own safety (Bolton could only draw at Stoke) led to them switching off and conceding a last-gasp goal at the Etihad Sports Arena inc. City won the title at a point when their opponents had no reason to respect the competition's integrity.

Hey, I've won a bet on this with a United-following workmate of mine over this - but it still sucks.

Then there's the whole soulessness of spending £8 trillion on players and celebrating like lunatics after edging out a Glazer-drained United on goal difference. I know their fans have suffered long and hard, but wasn't the point of being a City fan that it brought with it a degree of martyrdom? Aren't you the 'real Manc team' that revel in being skint, shit and riddled by bad luck? Or is what makes United a soulless, nasty corporate entity (agreed) suddenly good enough for you?

I'm fast falling out of love with football and stopped giving a shit about the Premier League many years ago.

I can honestly say that if North End were bought by some oligarch or asset stripping venture capitalist, I'd walk away and support someone else. Suggestions are of course welcome - take it easy.

Am I Principled, or just a Contrary Bastard?

Everyone likes to believe that they have principles, a set of ideals that drives their every action and is applied consistently in their everyday lives. Of course, we're all deeply flawed human beings, prone as we are to sacrificing our stated beliefs for a much-needed pound note or whatever else. It's often been said that principles are a wonderful thing, as long as you can afford them. In the real world of soaring bills and declining living standards, it would be churlish to condemn anybody for not being sufficiently 'pure' in this sense.

But here's something that I can definitely pull off without any difficulties. On Tuesday 5th June, we've been offered the luxury of a day's paid leave to 'celebrate' Lizzy's golden jubilee. Now I've got a serious bee in my bonnet about the concept of royalty as regular readers of this site will know. I'm a great believer in hard work (even if the style within those long hours is that of efficient laziness) and that what individuals get out of life should reflect the effort and skill that they put in. Entrenched privelege helps absolutely nobody, not even those who benefit from it in the shallow sense.

The monarchy is a throwback to the middle ages as far as I'm concerned. It presents no benefits of note and those pushed by its supporters are invariably contradicted by reality. We're told that an 'apolitical monarchy' is a good thing, but Charles is constantly poking his nose into issues of the day that officially should not be his concern. Members of the Windsor clan have made considerable monies from 'business ventures' that were only possible because of their name recognition. Either live in the real world, or hide behind your titles playing Kings and Princes. Don't insult my intelligence by straddling both sides of the fence - by the way, if you want to go into business and be free to fail, then good luck.

So in my heart of hearts, I know that a day off work to mark an institution that I regard as a fraud is not one I should take. Earlier this year, I spent many Saturday mornings of my own volition, punching in data to satisfy the auditors. There is still some left and I'm quite happy to use my 'day off' to carry on with the project - I know that someone, somewhere will appreciate it. Last year's royal wedding day saw me switch the TV off, draw the curtains and record a re-mastered edition of an old song called 'Get the Measure'. This was after turning up at my place of work to find the place padlocked and then being told to leave by security.

I'm available for work again, and if anyone wants to offer something that can generate a bit of extra income for myself then I'm listening. You can email me directly at darren.pearce@googlemail.com - however, something that has occurred to this bunny though is this:- having turned 30 earlier this year, have I not got bigger battles to fight than refusing a day off given by a fraudulent and archaic throwback? Having never thought I'd ask this question, it's an uncomfortable one to ask:- am I just an awkward, difficult, contrary and miserable bastard?

That Leveson Thing...

I've been trying to keep an eye on the Leveson Enquiry, but then it's been difficult to generate any particular level of excitement while watching, reading about or listening to it. Perhaps the most amusing moment was Rupert's not wholly convincing impersonation of Monty Burns from the Simpsons in an attempt to pass himself off as some senile, bordeline alzheimers-riddled old fool.

My god, Wendi must be bored out of her fucking tree.

Meanwhile, Dave thought LOL stood for 'lots of love' as opposed to 'laugh out loud'. LOL!! (and by that I mean 'laugh out loud').

Anyway, it just seems like another of those episodes that chimes with the chattering Westminster classes, but lost the sustained interest of most people some time ago. Hearing that the government is in bed with the populist press and its ministers have been bending over backwards to do it favours is about as shocking as waking up to discover that the Pope is a Catholic. Seeing as most of us lived through the Blair years, the relationship enjoyed by Digger and the Eton Rifles seems positively distant by comparison.

A question that might be more relevant, and so predictably it does not come under the Leveson radar is this:- why have successive governments since the 1980s felt the need to court the likes of Murdoch so openly?

The truth is that in the Uk, there are only two games in town politically. One of our dud parties forms a part of the current government and is almost certain to form at least a senor partner role in the next one. We have Labour, a party of easy answers, wooly fantasia and 'niceness' that appeals to some people regardless of the fact that whenever they have been in office, the country has eventually run out of money. It just took them slightly longer than usual last time, thanks to a debt-driven boom and their shameless encouragement of a bubble in the financial sector.

Make no mistake, our current mess was a Labour one aided and abetted by rogue traders, not the other way around as per the popular myth that is propagated.

In the opposing corner, the useless Tories combine a perceived 'nastiness' with the sort of bumbling ineptitude that can only be bettered by the other side. It was not ever thus - at one time they were clearly the more 'competent' tribe in the battle regardless of whose side you were on. Over time, their ranks have been swelled by careerists minus any real world experience (presumably to replace the ones who actually croaked), while instead of sticking to their guns the useless Tories' answer to regular electoral wipeout has been to slide ever closer to their rivals in policy terms - to such a point that they are now indistinguishable from each other.

Yeah, nice strategy - it's worth remembering that last time out we were in the midst of an economic meltdown and Labour had what could politely be referred to as a lame duck leader. Yet the Tories still did not win outright. Their membership is quite literally dying out and they no longer mean anything to anyone outside of their own dwindling ensemble.

To use a technical term, they're fucked.

So what we have is two major political parties, neither of which can be referred to as remotely popular, and a third that has flushed whatever (alleged) credibility it had down the toilet by forgetting that they existed solely as a protest vote against the other two. Yet they wield a disproportionate influence over society, and the increasing role of the state in our lives means that they actually matter, whether we like it or not.

New Labour of course took the courtship of Digger and his empire to filthy new levels, but who remembers how they came about? Johnny Major was a truly pathetic PM who picked fights with his own side and rolled over a la Audley Harrison when faced with the threat of an EU steamroller over Uk sovereignty. However, he was fortunate enough to find that in 1992, Labour managed to put up a candidate even worse in Neil Kinnock. Faced with the prospect of these shores becoming a fully-fledged banana republic, people who'd opposed Major in the polls saw him as the lesser of two evils.

Or alternatively 'IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT' - a strange headline about the whole Uk population emigrating, or something like that. In life, people are loathe to the sort of self-examination that enables them to ask themselves hard questions (I say this from previous experience and am surely not alone?). It just seemed easier to believe that they had only lost to the god awful Major because he had the support of the Murdoch press than it it ever would to ask if Kinnock was just a truly dreadful sales pitch for their own party. Equally, the useless Tories ability to blame their wilderness years on a lack of Murdoch support was awfully convenient - 'the quiet man' had nothing to do with it, honest...

The truth is that a cat in a red rosette could have beaten the useless, corrupt and intellectually bankrupt Tories in 1997. Conversely, any vaguely competent Tory candidate would surely have won that outright majority in 2010, despite the fact that they are the most hated institution in Britain - that they put up a vacuous PR goon as their frontman is the sort of move only the usless Tories could pull off and keep a straight face. However many people read the gutter press of Murdoch and others, the ability to make brilliant people look useless and vice versa remains way beyond them. They just aren't that powerful.

If only someone, somewhere had realised this then an immensely boring aspect of a rather boring enquiry would not be taking place. Take care and I'll catch you soon...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Europe: Anti-Austerity and Extremism at the Ballots



The global recession has put pressure on governments all over the world. We have seen incredible rises in unemployment and poverty, while seeing huge declines in industry and production. There has been civil unrest the world over as governments try to tackle the economic downfall in various ways. The European Union has not been immune to these problems and while individual countries have been shaken, the EU has for most part kept relatively strong. Over time though, cracks have begun to appear all over and it seems the EU gets shakier by the day with no solution in sight. In countries across the entire bloc, populaces have fought while governments have stayed their course, but with elections across a number of countries some of these governments are no more. What does the future hold for Europe? With the rise of extremists parties on both sides are we seeing a repeat of the economic instability of the 1930s or is this just a passing phenomenon that a more unified Europe will brush off over time?

Nicolas Sarkozy
Since the 16th of May, 2007 France was run by Nicolas Sarkozy and the Union for a Popular Movement (French: Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, UMP) party. By the 15th of May 2012 he will be gone. He became the first one-term president since Valery Giscard d'Estaing was defeated in 1981 (d'Estaing was also beaten by a Socialist, Francois Mitterrand). The person that will replace him is Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate. The final vote was incredibly close. Hollande won by just 3.26% with a voter turnout of 80.35% (a slight increase on the turnout for the first round of votes). What we had here was a very pro-austerity candidate kicked out in favour of one who wishes to end austerity. Hollande isn't too radical though. He has no plans to make rash changes, but he made an effort to be clear that he will be moving away from austerity from the start. It is unsurprising that he got the edge in the vote as it is clear to see across Europe that people are fed up with cutbacks and the lack of immediate results they are giving.

What is also interesting is the results of the first round of votes. Here we saw, as in the second round, Hollande just poke ahead of Sarkozy (by 1.45%), but neither of them got over 30% of the vote. What we did have though was Marine Le Pen's far right party, the National Front (Front national) get a staggering 17.9% of the total vote. The far left party, Left Front (Front de gauche) also gained a decent sized 11.1% chunk of the vote. Just five years before these parties were not getting anywhere close to that. The question is though, is whether this swing to the extremists is ideological or purely in protest against the government. At this time it is hard to tell, but with upcoming regional elections in France the picture will become much clearer. It could very well be that the National Front and the Left Front will make up nearly 30% of the government.

Greece has also recently seen elections, but has had a lot more internal conflict than France due to the EU bailout that was accepted by the government of the time. The Greek people have not been happy with protests and violent riots being a regular occurrence. There have been days where cities have been so ill-affected, that even picking up a parcel would have been impossible due to the traffic gridlock and protesters blocking the roads. Greece has also seen its citizens commit self-immolation in protest. It has been a country of serious turmoil for some time and it seems their elections have reflected that. The two parties that have been running the country since the 70s have been decimated. Both of them are in support of the bailout, while the left-wing bloc, Syriza, are opposed to it and ended up doing extremely well. At this time though there seems little hope of any party being able to form a viable coalition to run the country. If no solution can be found then a new election will be held. We saw in this most recent election extremists again gaining ground with communists getting more support and also the party Golden Dawn getting a 7% share. This neo-Nazi party who sieg heil each other is a sight that has caused worry to many people. They are the extreme of the extreme and have now been given political legitimacy.

There are varying views of what all these elections mean. Some see it as the 1930s repeating itself, with extremists on both sides taking advantage of a bad situation to further their aims. This is a common occurrence when things aren't in a good way, but it seems this time that it may have a significant effect. It is likely, if the recession is to continue and the EU zone face more peril, that countries will begin to lurch to the left or right. This will threaten the entire structural integrity of the EU zone itself. It is hard to say how all of these effects may pan out. We could just be seeing populaces letting off steam with protests votes, or we could genuinely be seeing a mass move towards extremists politics. Either way, a close eye has to be kept on the European Union as it seems the next few years may shape it for decades to come.   

Monday, 7 May 2012

THOUGHTS ON A FUTURE LIBERTARIAN PARTY


INTRODUCTION

As far as I know, there have been two explicitly Libertarian parties formed in the UK in recent history. The first one was the Independent Libertarian Party, formed by Antoine Clarke and Paul Marks in 1998, and since disbanded (follow this link for a little bit of background: http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/tactn/tactn025.pdf ). I know very little about the history of this organisation, and nothing about why it no longer exists. My experience was with the Libertarian Party (often wrongly described as the Libertarian Party UK, or LPUK for short). That party was founded with high hopes in September 2007 but never got properly organised and was taken over in a coup mounted by former members of the National Co-ordinating Committee (NCC) last year. Although the Party still exists as a registered entity, the membership list and bank account are not under the control of the legitimate NCC and has failed to put up any candidates in this year's local elections. The gang that hijacked the Libertarian Party run a website and take people's money – your guess is as good as mine as to what that money is used for.

Since some of us do actually want an effective Libertarian Party to exist in this country, there's been some discussion recently about starting up a Mark 3 version – hopefully learning from the mistakes of the past with the benefit of recent experience. This initiative is being headed up by Gavin Webb, the only councillor the Libertarian Party ever had – if you'd like to register your interest in a new party, please visit his website http://gavinwebb.com/libertarians/ (no obligation). There's also discussion going on at Libertarian Home as to what shape it should take: http://libertarianhome.co.uk/

What follows are my thoughts on what a new Libertarian Party (whatever name we adopt for it) should be trying to achieve, and how it should be organised.

I'd better tell you a bit about myself first, so you can decide for yourself how well-qualified I am to pontificate on this subject:

My name is Stuart Heal and I live in Manchester. I joined the Libertarian Party as soon as it started recruiting members, early in 2008 (Membership Number 12). This was my first experience of being a member of a political party. I co-wrote the weapons policy and became the Regional Co-ordinator in the North West (only because no-one else wanted the job). A couple of weekends in 2009, I travelled to Wisbech in East Anglia to help deliver leaflets as part of our first election campaign, when Andrew Hunt stood for the local council. The following year, in 2010 I stood in the local elections in Manchester. I was due to stand again the following year, but changed my mind, partly due to being too busy to take time off from my job and partly due to the lack of support for local candidates from the NCC.

THE MISSION

The objective of a functioning libertarian party should be to promote the ideals of small government and personal and economic freedom, and to make sure that libertarian-minded people are elected to positions of power.

Note the last part of that statement: “make sure that libertarian-minded people are elected to positions of power”. Some fools maintain that libertarians seeking power is a contradiction. The reality is that governments exist and will continue to do so as long as homo sapiens exists – possibly humanity may evolve beyond the need and desire for governments one day, but that day may not dawn for a million years. In the here and now, we have governments and will continue to do so – so they should be staffed by people who understand the legitimate limits of government power and who mean to increase the freedom of the individual at any opportunity. Opting out of the political system just means handing power over to people who don't think like us.

ORGANISATION

One of the reasons the Mark 2 Libertarian Party (hereinafter referred to as LPUK) failed is that it didn't have an effective organisation – by that I mean an organisation suited to a small political party, and one that ensured adequate oversight and internal communication. It also failed to utilise our greatest resource – individual members.

The organisation of the new party (hereinafter referred to as the Party) has to be suited to our likely size (likely to be in the low hundreds for the first few years) and geographical spread (all over Great Britain and possibly beyond). So it needs to be as simple as possible, and every member has to be able to do something useful, even if they're the only libertarian in their neighbourhood.

I envisage three levels of organisation – national, local and individual.

NATIONAL ORGANISATION

There needs to be a governing committee of some kind. The bare minimum would consist of the Party Leader, Chairman (possibly combining those jobs?), a Treasurer, a Membership Secretary and a Communications Director. Call it five bods in total – a large enough group to have a sensible division of labour and small enough to make it easy to make decisions quickly. All officers should be democratically elected by the membership at the Annual General Meeting, and their job will be to do the day to day admin work, establish the organisation, approve and support candidates, administer the website (including a members' forum), produce and distribute a members' newsletter, make propaganda/campaign material available to members, put together a Party manifesto and approve the formation of local branches. They would also have the power to suspend or expel members under certain circumstances.

Some will mistakenly describe the list of powers and responsibilities described above as authoritarian or unlibertarian – it isn't. A political party is a voluntary organisation – if you're not happy with the way it's run you're free to stand for election to the governing committee, to resign from the Party or not to join it in the first place. And to have a chance to achieve anything, the Party also has to have an organisation, enforceable rules and discipline.

Most importantly, proper attention has to be paid to the internal workings of the national committee itself, in order to avoid the mistakes of last time, so I'm going to go into more detail about this:

Trust no-one

It shouldn't be necessary to tell Libertarians no to trust leaders, but for some reason most of us who were in LPUK let our guards down in this respect – and ended up having the party stolen from us. The new Party should be organised on the assumption that even the most respected people are going to make mistakes or go off the rails from time to time – and that's not counting outright criminality. So we need safeguards. I have four ideas about this:

First, I think that anyone who is elected to the governing committee should be required to sign a legal contract agreeing to them to comply with the Party constitution and to hand over any records, access to bank accounts etc to their successors on leaving office.

Second, no-one should have sole access to either the financial records and bank accounts or to the membership records. There should be a Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer, and a Membership Secretary and Deputy Membership Secretary (or whatever titles are agreed on). That's the best protection I can think of against a repetition of what happened last year, when the coup plotters managed to monopolise control of both the financial records and membership list.

Third, I don't believe that any money should be released from the Party bank accounts unless the expenditure is approved by a majority of the committee.

Fourth, I believe the committee should have regular face-to-face meetings – at least once every couple of months – it's hard to gauge someone's character when your main means of communication is by email.

LOCAL ORGANISATION

In most areas, for the first few years, I would expect local organisation to be non-existent, but developing organically as geographical membership clusters emerge. The way I see local organisations emerging would go something like this: a member wants to get in touch with others in his area, so puts a message on the online forum and/or the newsletter asking people to contact him to arrange informal pub meetups. When there are enough members in a defined area that comes under the same local authority (ie at least 10 members in a particular town or city) they can apply to the central committee to set up a local Branch. This would have it's own local committee running it, it's own budget, authorisation to produce it's own leaflets using Party templates but covering local issues, the ability to select their own candidates for local elections and write their own local manifestos, contact the media as official Party representatives etc. This is going to be a vital development, because the Party will never make any headway in national politics until it has a good track record at the local level. The national committee should do whatever it can to support local branches once they're formed, including providing leaflet templates, instructions on how to mount a local campaign and stand for election, support on the Party website with contact details, and financial support within reason. I absolutely believe that LPUK would have had more local candidates if more support from the centre had been forthcoming.

THE INDIVIDUAL

LPUK had such a small membership (never more than a few hundred) that there must have been people who were literally the only members in their county. You might think that with no organisation in the area, there'd be nothing an individual member can do – but I don't believe a small party can afford to waste a single potential activist, and libertarians are supposed to believe in the potential of the individual. So I see part of the national committee's job as being to support these isolated members and give them something to do. Not long before last year's coup, during the run up to the local elections, I developed an idea for an ongoing series of leaflets called “The Libertarian”, which I tried to get the NCC interested in. The idea was to produce a monthly two-page bulletin in a populist style that could be downloaded as a PDF file from the party website by any party member or supporter who wanted to print a few off and distribute them in his area. Each issue would have covered two or three national news stories, but from a libertarian perspective, and including contact details for the party. I'd already designed and distributed a local version of this the previous year, as a warm-up leaflet for my aborted second local election campaign in Manchester. The advantage of this is that it would cost the Party nothing in money - just a day or two's work for whoever edits the monthly bulletin. Contributions to it could even be solicited via the Party members' forum (assuming we have one, which I think we should). So any individual member can print (say) 100 copies off once a month and deliver them round his area. If a 100 members do that, that's 10,000 leaflets delivered nationwide per month – the publicity equivalent to an election campaign without any money being spent by the Party. It seems to me that this could be particularly useful to people wanting to set up libertarian societies in universities, or members of more general political societies who want to promote a libertarian point of view – thus hopefully lining up the next generation of Party members.

So that's my idea for what the Party organisation should look like – it needs fleshing out of course, preferably by people with more experience of running political organisations than me. Getting the organisation right this time is vitally important in my view. But once it's set up, what sort of strategy should the new organisation adopt? How is it to achieve its goals?

ELECTORAL STRATEGY

When LPUK was set up, there was a lot of grandiose talk about putting up multiple candidates for Parliament – one fool on the forum even said we'd form a government in 15-20 years. There was very little discussion about local politics. We were trying to run before we'd even learned to walk.

START SMALL, THINK BIG

Let's say you wanted to become a millionaire – you dream of being the owner of a big concern, sitting in your office in a skyscraper full of loyal employees all doing your bidding, getting on the phone and making million pound deals, inspecting your factories and warehouses.

But you haven't got any money – you're struggling to pay your rent, utilities and council tax.

So what do you do?

Do you max out all your credit cards and gamble all your money on one big, extremely dodgy deal that will either net you your first million or wipe you out completely?

Do you give up and resign yourself to a life of poverty?

Or do you concentrate on what you can do? Do you use your decrepit second-hand computer in your spare room to set up a little micro-business which will only bring in £10-£20 a week at first? That £10-£20 a week may not be much, but it's money you wouldn't have had otherwise, it's money you can put to one side to build up a stake for when you feel ready to try something more ambitious – and in the meantime you're building up experience and a reputation. Starting off small, you're at least making some kind of progress and giving yourself a chance – and maybe one day you will be that millionaire.

Politics works the same way. New political parties don't just sweep into power – that takes a lot of money, and even more importantly, name recognition. In my opinion putting up Parliamentary candidates is totally futile, except under exceptional circumstances – no LPUK Parliamentary candidate ever got as much as 1% of the vote, whereas Andrew Hunt got nearly 8% in our first local election campaign. It seems to me quite clear that the main effort should be at the local level – people are much more willing to give minority parties a chance in local elections, especially if the candidates focus on local issues – this is why UKIP, the Green Party and even those losers in the BNP have local councillors. And the idea of us ever having an MP before we have a strong local presence is so ludicrous it's hardly worth thinking about.

Apart from the near impossibility of getting anyone elected to Parliament in the near future (say the next 20 years) there are excellent reasons for Libertarians to try to get elected to their local councils. Councils very often have more of an effect on people's daily lives than the national government. It's your local council that will steal your house using a Compulsory Purchase Order and knock it down to make way for a supermarket. It's your local council that will deny you planning permission to improve your house – or if they do grant permission, they will then use the improvements to reclassify your house in a higher Council Tax band. And if you can't afford to pay your Council Tax – or even if you're just a few weeks late paying – it's your local council that will take you to court and send the bailiffs to your door (and I can tell you from personal experience that a visit from the bailiffs is no fun at all). People who find local politics boring aren't paying enough attention to what goes on in their neighbourhood – you should do, it's where you live. I bet if you bought a copy of your local paper tomorrow and read right through it, you could find at least one local issue that can be attacked from a libertarian angle.

Local election campaigns can also be quite cheap to run. I only spent about £90 on mine, not counting petrol and shoe leather. To stand for Parliament you have to pay a deposit of £500 just to get on the ballot. Even better, some local councils – away from the urban centres – are under-staffed. Andrew Withers walked into his parish council seat uncontested last year, and didn't have to spend a penny on campaigning. A friend of mine who lives in a smallish town once joked that if I moved to his town we could take over the local council between us.

So local politics is cheap to get into and important enough to bother with. It can also be a stepping stone to bigger things. Let's say we do get some councillors elected in the next few years. One of them serves a term or two as a councillor and gets a reputation among the voters for being good at his job – as he's popular with the people in his ward, he might decide to have a go at standing for Parliament, and the Party might think it's worthwhile supporting him. Who knows what could happen? But we won't get anywhere without having some “form” at local level first. All politics is local politics.

OTHER CAMPAIGNING ACTIVITIES

There's no reason we can't attach ourselves to any political demonstrations that support causes that we're in sympathy with – No2ID, any campaigns against future gun bans, drug legalisation etc. In those circumstances we should do what groups like the Socialist Workers Party do – print up our own banners, leaflets etc. It doesn't have to be expensive, it's cheap publicity and can attract new members.

When there's a demonstration that we're opposed to, we can also stand on the sidelines and hand out leaflets giving our point of view to members of the general public. In those situations, a slightly lower profile and a good pair of running shoes might be advisable, but I personally do get sick of seeing the same old gangs of socialists demonstrating for the same old discredited causes with no-one opposing them.

JOINT MEMBERSHIPS

I'm coming towards the end of this article, you'll be glad to know, but there's one last area I want to mention. LPUK had a policy against members also being members of other political parties. This was a policy I supported at the time, but in the last few months I've had second thoughts and I believe the new Party should allow joint memberships. The reason LPUK didn't allow joint memberships was that this was thought to create a conflict of interest – if someone's a member of (say) LPUK and the Lib Dems, who should he campaign for at election time? It seemed to me at the time that you should just commit to one party – but this forced people to make a choice, and we definitely lost members because of this policy. Apart from anything else, it was practically unenforceable. One guy stood as a local candidate for UKIP and the election was over before we found out and expelled him. To his credit, he accepted his expulsion with good grace. His reason for standing as a UKIP candidate and not an LPUK candidate was that they had an organisation in the area to support him – I can understand this, having stood as a candidate myself. I think the benefits of allowing joint memberships outweigh any potential drawbacks, and include the following:

The potential to have a larger membership base. We know there are libertarians in UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party. By excluding them, we'd be depriving ourselves of potentially useful members.

In a lot of areas there will be no Party organisation – we just won't have enough members. So if isolated members want to join a larger party in order to have some kind of influence over the local political scene, I see no reason to stop them, especially if the candidate they're supporting is libertarianish anyway.

Gaining experience. LPUK had a lot of members with no previous political experience – probably the majority. The new Party will probably have the same problem. By joining more established parties, members can potentially learn a lot about how to run campaigns properly. And a guy who spends time leafleting for (say) UKIP in one election might develop the self-confidence to stand as a Party candidate next time, who knows?

Influencing other parties. If we're ever to change the political landscape of this country in a more libertarian direction – and I think we can – we need to influence members of more established parties and try to get them to adopt more liberal ideas. So joining these parties, going to meetings, talking to members and maybe circulating leaflets seems to me to be worthwhile.

Reality check: Associating with people who have different political opinions can have the beneficial effect of forcing us to double check our own beliefs to make sure they're still in line with common sense. There's a danger that probably all radical political parties face – when activists are only associating with other activists of the same stripe, they can lose their common sense to theory. I've been in libertarian meetups where people have argued for or against a particular policy idea based not on whether it's morally correct, or practical, but on how “libertarian” or “unlibertarian” they think it is. One ex-leader of LPUK even commented in a blog post that it would be “unlibertarian” to intervene in a mugging unless the victim asked you for help! That's how far off the rails theory can take you – so yes, I think associating with people who aren't quite on the same wavelength as you can help you stay anchored to reality, as well as honing the debating skills.

CONCLUSION: CAN WE SUCCEED?

I think we can. The present might look fairly bleak and statist, but there's no reason for the future to go on in the same vein. It's important to remember that what we now call libertarianism would have been called liberalism in the 19th Century – and the Classical Liberals did OK. The 20th Century was dominated by statist ideologies, especially the twin evils of socialism and racism. It's time for the pendulum to swing back, and I think current social and technological trends are pulling society in a more individualist direction – the rise of the internet has meant that not only can people promote their political views more easily, and network more easily, it's also made it possible for practically anyone to have a go at setting up a business from home – look at people who make a living through eBay for instance. That's going to give rise to a more entrepreneurial small-business culture than has existed in the past – just the type of people who are our most natural constituency. It's also made it easier to raise money for charity, lend money to small entrepreneurs (or get a loan if you need one), do research etc. I think the 21st Century will be dominated by individualist philosophies just as much as the 20th was dominated by collectivist ideas. We can be part of that.

Can we ever form a government. Maybe, I don't know. Not in the short term, but longer term, who can say? Do we need to? If we can take control of some councils and show how to apply libertarian ideas to improve our communities, if we can influence other parties by sharing members with them – will we even need to get into Parliament? Not necessarily, as long as people with the right ideas are getting elected, whatever flag they fly under. If a future Prime Minister stands up in Parliament and introduces a raft of legislation including the abolition of Income Tax, re-legalisation of pistols and concealed carry, the scrapping of most of the red tape that gets in the way of small businesses functioning, re-introduction of trial by jury in all criminal cases – he's getting a round of applause from me even if he's a member of the Labour Party!

We can win. Victory means getting the government off our backs, whether we're actually in government or not. As long as we've got a clear idea what we want, as long as we're willing to put the work in, and as long as we're properly organised, we can do it.

So those are my thoughts on how a new libertarian party should be organised and how it should operate. It's not a complete blueprint, just an outline – better-qualified people than me would need to flesh it out. But I think it's workable.

Of course there are other options...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Another Mid-Term Kicking - Why the Fuss?

This is nothing new. Those of the general population that could be bothered to vote decided to give the coalition a bit of a kicking on Thursday. Red Ed, easily the Tories' biggest and most productive weapon come the real thing in 2015, seemed to be of the view that a moderately successful night in the cirumstances represented the first step towards a triumphant, sweeping return to government.

Maybe he felt it necessary to make such claims and/or that the circumstances permitted it? Alternatively, Red Ed is wrong, as he is on just about every other major political issue. For whatever reason, people are quite fond of expressing their frustations about national policy when mid-term locals come up. In an age where politicians across all of the mainstream parties are, well, just not very good, then the scale to which voters 'lash out' is bound to increase. By definition, it's the official opposing party that stands to benefit most in that situation.

As if to emphasise the validity of that point, even William Hague had one night where he gave Blair a bloody nose (I remember staying up until silly o'clock in the morning to watch it). Come the 2001 election, only a handful of seats switched hands from the wipeout of four years earlier and Hague, a man with a great deal more natural aptitude than Red Ed (not that it's saying especially much) had to go. Are there really enough people stupid enough to trust Labour again? Does anyone really believe their unique take on history, namely that the solution to maxing out one credit card is to take out another - and hey, if we run out of money, we can always print some more?

But here's the other side of the problem - the coalition are but a fraction better than what's in the opposing corner. I've heard many explanations as to why the Conservative Party has become something of a joke in the Uk. Is it too Conservative or not Conservative enough? Has it lost touch with what is, apparently, a 'naturally conservative country?' (not that I believe that for a second). Its membership is quite literally dying out and at least Labour has the advantage of still appealing to youth and misplaced idealism.

Something Dave focussed on rather heavily when he became leader was the 'decontamination' of 'the Tory brand'. It showed an impressive level of awareness to realise that the Conservative Party are possibly the most hated institution in Britain. Quite why this is, I'm unsure. Have myths about the Thatcher years been passed down the next two generations, meaning that entire working class towns and middle class, Islington types will never vote Conservative again? I used to think that was the most rational explanation, but then it's easy to over-analyse and complicate these things.

The truth is that since the late 1980s, the Tories have been pretty useless at just about everything, be it the economy, law and order, education, whatever. In terms of getting taxpayer value, they have been and remain but a fraction less worse than the other side. People will tolerate 'nastiness' as long as there's a degree of competence underpinning it. I sometimes like to express this stuff in the form of a mathematical equation so:-

Niceness - Competence = Dud Party that a few people like (Labour)
Nastiness - Competence = Dud Party that nobody likes (Tories)

One of them will die inside a generation, and the smart money would be on the uesless Tories croaking first.

A natural consequence of disaffection with the two dud parties is that the 'others' share of the vote increased, largely at the expense of the LibDems. Their problem seems to be that they became a whole lot bigger than was ever envisaged. It's immensely difficult to go from being an obscure indie band that remain a secret amongst their followers, then rocking up at Wembley, banging out a couple of new, shiny hit singles and not pissing off the hardcore element who remember when "it used to be about the music man". We already had two dud parties passing the parcel of government between themselves and didn't need a third.

Surely the whole point of the LibDems was that THEY WERE NEVER GOING TO BE THE GOVERNMENT!!, so voting for them (or being a LibDem MP) represented a distant declaration of smug superiority. The same issue applies to UKIP, who started as a single issue pressure group gatecrashing Euro elections and have now reached a level where becoming the third party in British politics has to be their next aim. I've voted UKIP at the last two Euro elections, but wonder what direction they are going in. The very name is that of a pressure group, not a party with solutions to a range of national issues. However, the same  name has accrued a level of positive brand recognition that required more than a decade to establish.

Disaffected Tory MEPs and their biggest ever donor have come on board, but then is 'party for old ex-Tories who got a bit pissed off' really something you can sell to people on the doorstep? They're far too big to start again, but are probably at the zenith of what they'll ever achieve in their current guise. Anyone who wants us out of the EU (myself included) can only regard this as a bad thing.

I'm gonna try and get something else done later on - thanks for reading and take care.