Friday, May 30, 2003
While idly reading an online debate
about the NHS (National Health Service to Americans who don't know what NHS means), I came across this paragraph, which contains much sense.
First, I don't think the NHS is cost-efficient. It is cheap because it lowers standards and withholds or delays care. It is impossible to reconcile egalitarianism with choice. Moreover, egalitarianism is used in more than one sense. If it means that 'no one should receive less than an agreed civilised standard of care' - no problem. But if it means 'no one should ever get more than anyone else' then it will lead to the suppression of higher standards of care that cannot be made available to everyone at a given time. In any improving system the disparities show us the way ahead. Egalitarianism in the latter sense should go; instead we should aim to provide universal access to a high standard of care.
This is the old socialist argument again - it's better for everybody to be in equal misery than to have a system which provides generally a good product or service, whatever it may be, but is deemed not to be "egalitarian" - this being the infamous Two Tier system, the progressive nightmare where all the plebeians receive a (poor) NHS service, while the elite pay for their own better service with private funds, thus being a tier above the oppressed workers.
I'm a fan of health vouchers myself. I'm not against health care being funded by general taxation, perhaps a little surprising for right wing me. I am against that money being spent by Whitehall diktat though. There are better ways to harness that cash than a Soviet-era bureaucracy, of which vouchers are but one.
Of course, while I'm broadly in favour of healthcare being paid for by taxation, there is a problem in that healthcare is a potentially bottomless pit. You could spend 100% of the nations GDP on healthcare (CAT scan for anybody with a headache perhaps?), the demand for healthcare, given the vast array of modern remedies, is potentially almost infinite. Someone, somewhere, has to draw a line. In the United Kingdom's NHS, at least when I worked at the Audit Commission, the organisation that has that onerous and politically charged job is the somewhat euphemistically named National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE. Among other tasks they are the ones who tell the unfortunate patient that the NHS will not treat their illness, as the line has been drawn in such a way that the unfortunate patient is on the wrong side of it.
Of course, nothing here is ever clear cut, the NICE doubtless do their best to be fair, as much as a bureaucracy can be, but if your said patient it must seem terribly unfair. Which is one reason why what treatment you can get on the NHS, and what you can't, is such a hot topic.
The problem occurs when idealists refuse to acknowledge that such a line is a permanent fixture of any healthcare system. In the name of egalitarianism they try to keep that line is kept at a fixed (miserable) level while doggedly attempting various initiatives to remove the line altogether. It simply cannot be done. The problem is unfortunate, but ultimately intractable. Progressives should give up on egalitarianism being perverted into All Equally Bad, and concentrate on doing what they can on the level of individual hospitals to make care standards exemplary. If that means ideas like the patient being able to purchase extra care from the NHS with private money, so be it. (If hospitals actually made profit it could be, in a sense, that those who buy healthcare could even subsidise the poor who don't due to the hospitals own investment. Capitalist and somewhat egalitarian, and a better service overall to boot). Less focus on bringing the rich down to the level of the poor, more focus on simply delivering a good service.
Broken promises of yesteryear
don't often surface in the media, obsessed as it is in the present, but every so often you find an article like this which tells you just how useless Tony Blair can be.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Steven Den Beste pointed me to this article
where he discusses (read it all, it's good stuff) and compares the democratic process with a telecommunication system.
As is usual I find no fault with what Steven has said. Though I would like to note that while a proportional representation (PR) based system certainly "has a lower threshold for noise rejection; it gives minority viewpoints greater opportunity for representation and influence than the US system", as can be seen in the hugely varied coalition governments of continental Europe, the British first-past-the-post system is far less encouraging of diversity. (A case in point, the Liberal Democrats, the UKs third largest political party, is generally relegated to having about 30 or so seats out of 650 odd in the Commons, where the vote for them as a proportion of the total usually is around 20-25%. If the Commons was elected by PR they could expect more like 150 seats. No wonder the LibDems are such avid fans of PR.). Which is, of course, the key thrust of the arguments made against it by those, like the LibDems, who want it changed.
There are many different breeds of parliamentary democracy, after all.
Currently the UK is pretty much without an Upper House, their lordships have been (probably rightfully) discredited and are no longer really a credible revising chamber, sadly - though I maintain that the House of Lords does a very good job. The Upper House is in a state of transition (which Blair seems unwilling to end), so our constitution is particularly weak at this critical moment in history.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
An update for those who think the parliamentary form of democracy involves being "ruled" in some way as opposed to being governed by consent. This paragraph is written by Professor Hutt, known for being a liberal economist who worked in South Africa;
"In Civil Government [John] Locke expounds the Individualistic view of private property, and again lays down the quintessence of Individualism. 'The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.' He qualifies his theory of a Social Contract, Compact, or Covenant, by pointing out that 'men when they enter into society give up ... liberty of a kind; yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property,' the power conferred 'can never be supposed to extend farther than the common good, but is obliged to secure everyone's property,' etc., etc. This artful qualification of the common good, serves as a complete defence of the 'Glorious Revolution,' which gave us effective parliamentary government."
This is the philisophical underpinning of the UK government. It has admittedly taken a considerable length of time to mature, but Civil War era philosophers like Locke remain, and have always been since Cromwell, the bedrock of the government we have.
Already, the cracks are appearing
. Under pressure of this sort, I believe the government will eventually buckle.
Also, Janet Daley talks about education. In particular, notice her talk about equal opportunity, not equal reward, which was the topic behind my blog on MUSH politics a couple of days ago.
A post worth reading here
. I tend to disagree with this - I see a difference between theoretical power and actual power. The Queen has a great deal of theoretical power, but her actual power is about near zero. While Parliament would still be the theoretical source of governmental authority should the EU constitution be ratified, it's actual power would be greatly curtailed, possibly even to irrelevance. What matters in practice is more important, ultimately, than what could theoretically happen.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Oh, another quick post in response to that Clueless article described below...
Which brings up another deep difference between them and us: we think of our elected representatives as leading us. They think of theirs as ruling them. Our representatives are expected to implement programs and policies which the majority of us would support; they think of their representatives as making decisions without really paying much attention to what the voters would want. Blair thinks that integration with Europe is important, and doesn't intend to let the fact that the majority of British voters disagree stand in his way.
This is just... untrue. Case in point, George Bush. He was elected on a platform of caring, sharing Republicanism. Now he is the Scourge of Al Qaeda. I don't follow presidential antics very much, but I can see that Bush is no different in his core from any other politician. His first priority is to do what he wants to do (and I'm not attempting to be derogatory here, I think Blair/Bush do what they do because they honestly believe it to be the right thing for their respective countries). And this will be tempered by public opinion. I'm sceptical as to how well a president elected by 280 million people in a party based system can truly claim to be representative of the electorates views. It cannot be. This is no different from politicians here. As to how tempered by public opinion they will be, that depends on the politician, and both the US and UK systems have incentives built into them to ensure that tempering goes on (separation of powers being the big thing in the US). I would say if anything we in the UK have the advantage, because while a president is elected for a full term unless he does something seriously wrong, a prime minister can removed at any point, if public opinion is against him. That almost happened, over Iraq, and if Iraq turned out to be a drawn out Vietnam (that prospect I always thought was ridiculous, but hypothetically speaking), Blair would have found the political pressure intolerable very quickly.
I do think statements like Steven's just reveal how profoundly different a parliamentary democracy is from a presidential one. It's values are different, it's checks and balances are different, it's entire ethos is different. It is important to remember where the real power in a parliamentary democracy lies, and it's equally important to remember just how small the constituency of an MP is, and thus by extension how important an individual is in the great scheme of things.
I think speaking for myself, a parliamentary democracy is the best form of democracy yet devised provided the country is quite small and the MPs electorate can be kept small. For a larger country, like the US, I don't think it would be feasible. You would either have a vast number of MPs or a vast number of people in a constituency, so the entire point of it, the reasons why it works, would be lost. For a large nation, I would think that the American presidential system is probably the best method - decisive, yet regulated. Certainly, for the European Union, an American style constitution would seem to be the only way of setting up a government that would be even remotely feasible.
We'll get our referendum, of that I will have no doubt, by hook or by crook, even if Blair says we don't get one.
A good post at Clueless
today, and one which provokes me to respond.
Firstly, the issue of freedom. People here are pretty much free to do whatever they want, within the law. The government making the law is a democratic one, indeed, I would hazard in many ways it's more democratic than the US government, if only because the United Kingdom is a smaller country. To my British eyes, the President is just one man in a country of 280 million people, an extremely distant figure. While there are checks on his power, he is still only 1 man. My vote is lost in the millions. In the United Kingdom, power is held not by the Prime Minister, but by Parliament. The PM has no intrinsic power, he has merely the power of his party, and the power of patronage. He is there because the MPs put him there, and my MP is an easily accessible figure who is far closer to me, the elector, than any presidential candidate. Imagine a fanciful EU where the constitutional arrangements was identical to that found in the US. Suppose I had a choice between A German and A Frenchman for president. Suppose I even got a vote. I really wouldnt care less one way or another, these figures are so remote to me as to be insignificant. I'd rather have an MP who I can lobby against and have lobby on my behalf. As I ranted about before, the ability to get your local MP to get your voice heard at the highest level is both effective, and something I am loathe to give up. It is the strength of a parliamentary system, and speaking for myself, I would much rather live under a parliamentary form of government than a presidential one. It's easy for me to think what it would be like. Remove the House of Commons, replace with a President. Beef up the power of the House of Lords, replace their lordships with elected senators. I doubt the UK would need a third House, but local government could be enhanced a bit to make up. Would I want this system? No. I like the precarious Prime Minister and MPs who I can harass, and a House of unelected Lords that tends to be, on the whole, an inherently conservative organisation which serves as a fine brake yet while ultimately subservient to a clear democratic majority.
I think Americans mistake things like gun control as matters of constitutional importance (because it's written into the US constitution, and thus a thorny issue), but here, it's just a law. Your not allowed to possess heroin either. Gun control is just a law. Same as any other. Not a matter of fundamental liberty and constitutional wrangling, as it is in the US. If enough people whined about it here, if there was an NRA, if the gun control issue was as politicised as it was in the US, that law wouldn't pass, and thats what liberty really is. Americans might be interesed in polls showing how people in the UK would like guns to be legal, but in actuality, it's a side issue. I've never discussed gun control at all in the pub here. The only time it ever comes up is when I'm talking to an American. It doesn't come up. Nobody cares. It doesn't infringe upon the electorates liberties, because if they felt it was, they could do something about it (Remember the poll tax riots? That was the electorate voicing their displeasure. And the poll tax was removed. And so we have democracy, though perhaps that was a little... extreme.). Anyway. Enough on liberty, this leads me on nicely to the next part.
I feel there is no risk of me being disenfranchised by the UK's lack of a written constitution. The reason why is hidden in that last sentence, while we don't have a written constitution, it is fallacy to assume we have no constitution at all. The odd thing is, it is as much tradition and precedent as it is hard law written in black and white. Tradition is not something which is quantifiable, like, say, The First Amendment, but it is there nevertheless, and it is binding. We are talking about institutions here - the Commons, the Lords, the judiciary. One Blairite reformer is not enough to upset the applecart. (There are still hereditary peers in the Lords, 5 years after Tony Blair said they would be out. That is the inertia of the Establishment, in a constitutional sense, demonstrated).
Tradition is backed up by precedent. The unwritten constitution is a constantly changing thing. The UK has developed a taste for referenda recently, and I have seen it argued by a constitutional lawyer that given the precedent for referenda on constitutional issues, it may well be that a referendum on the European constitution is now pretty much required even if the government doesn't want one, as the precedent is already there. Interesting fodder for the courts, anyway.
I think one of the key cornerstones of the UK parliamentary system though is it's fragility. It has been said that a week is a long time in British politics, and this is true. The Prime Minister derives power not from his position or any form of constitutional authority, the authority rests squarely upon Parliament as a body (Lords, Commons and Monarch), no one man. The Prime Minister can be unceremoniously evicted from his position, at any time. It's hard to get rid of a President, but a Prime Minister's position is an inherently shaky one. Thatcher never even survived to be voted out by the electorate, she was disposed of long before she had to do that. Her policies were extremely unpopular with the electorate near the end of her reign, and she was removed from power by a restless party in short order. Such is the power of democratic opinion. Bear in mind power flows from MPs, not an individual. Those MPs are close to their electors, people like humble me, and if I turn up in the streets of their constituency waving placards, they get nervous. If there are enough placard wavers in enough constituencies, whatever the Prime Minister says or does becomes irrelevant, because he's not got the power. This gives governments an inherently cautious bent. A case in point - Gibraltar.
In efforts to placate Spain (the EU rears its head again, though behind the scenes) Jack Straw has been trying very hard to ditch the British territory to the Spaniards, without actually consulting the Gibraltarians - who, lets remember, are far less politically enfranchised than I am. While the Rock is self governing they still answer to Westminster on many matters, and Westminster enjoys no democratic mandate over Gibraltar at all.
The Gibraltarians voiced their displeasure by holding a private referendum, in which 98% of the electorate there voted to remain wholly part of the United Kingdom sphere, with no joint sovereignty with Spain. This stopped the government in their tracks. Straw is trying hard to slip it by under the carpet, secret negotiations and such, but the governments efforts have been dogged by leaks and damaging revelations on the subject. It's not really going to be politically feasible to sell the Rock out given the fact of that referendum result. The reason is simply the fragility of the government. Too much damage, too many placard wavers, and the government suddenly becomes extremely vulnerable.
And finally thus we swing on to the matter of a European constitution. To be ratified, the treaty will have to run the gauntlet of the Commons, and then the Lords (somewhere along the line someone will put in a clause demanding a referendum. Supposing the Lords refused to allow it without one? Would the Commons use the Parliament Acts to force the issue? I doubt it, imagine the public outrage). All the while the press will be whipping up a storm. Lots of placard waving. MPs will get nervous, very nervous, fearing for their jobs. The MPs will voice their concerns to the Prime Minister (and remember, it's the MP's who have the power). This is potentially far bigger than Iraq was, and Iraq had Blair's back to the political wall. If there was a private referendum and it went against, you can almost guarantee a grudging climbdown. To press on would have terrible consequences for the government, it would split the Labour Party right down the middle, and it might not even survive the courts.
In short - it won't happen.
The UK does not have a constitution, but my rights are, I feel, adequately protected. My worries with the EU are not that I won't even be allowed a say, thats just impractical. No way. I'll get a referendum, almost certainly, and even if I don't, I have the power to make my MP, and by extension the Prime Minister, nervous, and I could start doing that tomorrow, let alone the next election. Maybe my MP will be instrumental in the coup of 2004 where Blair is cast down by his own peers?
No. My worries are more that the electorate will be lulled by the propaganda machine into going along with something that really is not in their interest. But thats not so much a fault of the system, as, unfortunately, a fault of the electors, and the relentless propagandising from the likes of the BBC. I really blame the newspapers at least, as right now most of the tabloids and at least one and a half broadsheets are arguing extremely strenuously for a referendum, practically to the point of being on the "Leave the EU, Join NAFTA" bandwagon.
Friday, May 23, 2003
As if via some sort of psychic link, while I'm idly voicing my opinions on journalism, John Derbyshire
is doing the same - of course, in a far more witty and erudite fashion than humble I. Derb is worthy of your regular attention.
It seems to be a part of our unwritten constitution that, with the House of Lords not being democratically legitimate and thus at a disadvantage when acting as a brake on the House of Commons, the press can sometimes step in
and do a little braking themselves.
I suppose one might argue that an overly influential media is a Bad Thing, but we do seem blessed with a reasonably diverse bunch in this country. There is the BBC, institutionally left wing and possessed of immense, government sponsored power, funded through what is in effect taxation. Then we have the likes of the Guardian. But there is a strident right wing press as well, in the form of the Telegraph Group, and not to mention tabloids like the Sun.
The press certainly seem to do a very good job of holding politicians to account before the electorate (mainly by falling upon the weak and the lame of the Commons like jackals whenever the opportunity arises) in a way that the Lords often do not. I only hope that the media here retains its broad spectrum though. The power of the press is a very real thing, here at least, and I would hate to see such power in the hands of a single group.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
I disagree with Gordon Brown fundamentally on many issues, but on the euro, he and I seem to be agree
more than not.
The German economy is not something we should wish to emulate. Making pro-euro arguments about the from an economic perspective is clearly a no brainer, just watch the news. It's not even "anti euro" bias, if Germany is in recession officially thats not so much anti euro spin so much as fact that even the BBC cannot ignore. However, the whole point of the EEC/EU was economic. The British electorate have never shown any great eagerness to subsume the United Kingdom into a United States of Europe, and they have never given such an enterprise any mandate. The euro arguments in this country have always been economic (and always dubious, before the EEC there was the Commonwealth after all, and after joining the EEC there was the Winter of Discontent) and not political for that very reason. The government is not stupid, and the government chose not to fight on the political merits of the euro, because the electorate think that giving up sovereignty in the hope the French do us the occasional favour in the future is bunk. (Given French antics over Iraq, BSE, farmers blockading British produce, their own abysmal record in obeying EU directives that have any negative impact on them whatsoever, their refusal to reform the dead elephant which is the CAP, etc. etc. etc, the electorate are right).
It's the economy, stupid. And Brown is taking matters seriously it seems. The answer is no. (I dont think a 2500 page report was needed to say that). End of subject. Only a politician as personally ambitious as Blair would willing mess up his country's economy (which means of course that real lives will be ruined - real people will go out of work, real misery will be fostered - the Economy is Real People, ultimately) purely so that his name is put down in the history books.
Blair should consider what, in 100 years time, he will be remembered as. If he pushes Britain into the EU, and if the EU falls apart (good odds) he will be about as popular to the Brits in a century's time as the Bolsheviks are right now in Russia.
A brilliant column in the Telegraph
today. Something of a long build up (which you have to read to better appreciate the brilliance), but the ending is particularly good.
Monday, May 19, 2003
Some worthy observations on the French ex-president turned EUrocrat (he's a politician and he can't win an election, EUrocracy is clearly his best bet), Valery Giscard d'Estaing
, he who likes diamonds
Nothing to see here of course, these remarks about Monsier d'Estaing must be disingenious, as our Welsh Secretary says. The tidying up exercise, sweeping away these old outdated democratic concepts, must proceed apace.
Friday, May 16, 2003
Words fail me, once again. Look at this
. Who is it who dreams up these ideas?
Bit of an odd blog today, and doubtless one that will ruin what little reputation I have, though bear with me - this Friday morning blog is going to be devoted to MUSHes.
For those who don't know, MUSH stands for "multi user shared hallucination", and it is a generally text based, online roleplaying game. A swift Google on the world will bring up, doubtless, countless examples, as there are quite a few of these things around.
Now, what interests me, and the specific topic of this blog, is the sociology at work in these places. The MUSHes I play on have about 100-150 players each, and perhaps 10-15 of those will also be "staff" - in that they administrate, referee and maintain the game, as well as giving it some direction and impetus to make it a fun place to play on. The Staff can be thought of as a government, and I've often seen it referred to as such by other players. And it is interesting to see many of the philosophical issues faced by a real government, being faced on a MUSH as well.
And now, we begin our tale. It so happens that for a particular brand of game, Shadowrun, there are three long standing mushes, the oldest one being around for about a decade. The traditional MUSH "government" is in the form of a benevolent dictatorship usually - the guy who actually set the place up and provides the hardware is God, and while he may have a few minions, its basically run in an authoritarian fashion. The Oldest Shadowrun MUSH follows this time honoured system, and it, in general, works well, depending on the quality of the Dictator of the Day. As might be expected though, issues like corruption and elitism are often directed at this place, as might be expected with any benevolent, or not so benevolent, dictatorship. The Second Oldest MUSH was also once a benevolent dictatorship, but a recent period with a Saddam-like despot at the helm caused a revolution and it mutated into an oligarchy, where all the staff as a collective group have roughly equal say in what goes on.
And the most recent MUSH threw all these usual practices away and is run with the intention of it being communist.
Bizarre though this may seem, others share this view. (Just read the first paragraph). And it's interesting to see how the Shadowrun gamer community's one and only Communist government has fared.
Initially, when the place had just opened, all was Utopia. (I was there, and it really was). Everybody co-existed in piece and happiness, there wa no acrimony between the players as so often happens (roleplayers are generally an opinionated and obsessive bunch, just look at me), and it was generally a productive and smoothly running MUSH, if a little fuzzy. The Communist government forbade any infighting, no player vs player in character fighting or anything like that, which irritated a few a little, and so although it was perhaps a little bland and lacked the "bite" of the others, it did work.
Then, however, the place grew.
While the original cadre of players were all eager, knowledgeable and wanting very much to get into the spirit of the game, as might be expected from a MUSHly equivalent of the Founding Fathers, the new starters were generally - not. A number of them had already been kicked out of other games for conduct unbecoming (cheating, harassment), or had left anyway because they were not "Playing the Game" (a contentious subject, but basically, deemed to be ignoring the stated theme of the game and acting however they please, to the annoyance of other roleplayers who want their setting to be "pure", whatever that may be. As you can imagine, this caused fun arguments).
The land of the communists was fertile ground. Part of the communist ethos was that everybody, and I mean everybody, would be allowed to advance and develop on this game. Most games have some form of scoring system, and MUSHes are no exception, but here, just about anybody would score, and everybody would generally be scoring the same. This is one reason why the place had such broad appeal.
However... as time went on, a rot set in. The Founding Fathers, those players who had been there for a long time, had all worked very hard, entertaining each other, providing good roleplay, and generally making the place sparkle. A lot of the new players were, and I speak with slight bias here, layabouts who "contributed" (another contentious subject) nothing to the game. (Human nature being what it is, a fair few of these seemed to think the MUSH was a XXX site, much to the annoyance of the more puritan players). There came a time of somewhat uneasy coexistence, punctuated by the occasional rant from one side or the other. But it was made very clear by the Communist government that everybody would be treated equally, and the policy of "Tolerance" came into force, punishable by time in the gulag (This place ended up taking punishment so seriously, functions were programmatically coded into the game to revoke various player abilities, which none of the other mushes in this genre bothered with). The Communists never actually kicked anybody out of the game (the infamous siteban) for these crimes against Tolerance, though the government did hound a few miscreants to such an extent that they left on their own accord.
As time went on, and the productive members (yet more contention) discovered that refereeing stories for other players and other such game enhancing activities garnered no more reward above and beyond what you simply got by logging in and "doing time", they slowly either became unproductive, or left to where they would be more appreciated. A few members of the Communist Party turned out to be rewarding themselves a little more equally than others, and the government tried hard (and failed) to hush it all up, causing even more discontent among the productive crowd, who saw precious little reward going their way. New players, who would normally pick up experience from the productive people, became bored and indolent, waiting for their handouts rather than working to improve the place.
Eventually, the productive members became a minority, and still further forward in time, almost died out altogether. Only a few diehards (well, one actually), who didn't care about the inequality in the equal system, stuck around. The place soon stagnated without the dynamic input of those who worked to make the place great. It was still popular, of course, anything which appeals to the lowest common denominator always will be. But the shine had gone, probably forever - the plots were silent or vapid, the roleplay pointless without the backdrop of the plots, the discussions concerned not with playing the game, but how to spend the next handout. Of course, tolerance and blindness to effort means the government refuses to even acknowledge that one is better than the other, for all must
be equal, and to say otherwise, is to oppress.
The analogies to real world socialism and politically correct "tolerance" are striking to me, who saw every stage in this process first hand, with a mixture of unhappiness and, vague amazement that it was actually happening before my very eyes. Socialism cracks down on entrepreneurs, the productive members of society, in an attempt to make everybody equal. I call it the Tyranny of Equality. So most of the entrepreneurs leave, and indolence is fostered, thus creating a society which can only be described as "degenerate". Once that indolent atmosphere is created, its very hard to break out of it (cf. the demonstrations in France, or the various flame wars that these MUSHes spawn every so often on the subject of effort -> reward), and it feeds on itself, drawing others who might be productive into its embrace.
Of course, equality is a good thing. However,what should be equal is not reward, but opportunity. Everybody needs to be given a shot at bettering themselves, whether its attending university in the real world, or wanting to run plots in a MUSH. In the dictatorial model of government, often "equal opportunities" is lost, and opportunity arises more from being the dictator's buddy than putting in effort. In the communist model, commensurate reward is lost, with the result that everybody sinks to the lowest common denominator.
Human nature is a bitch, and socialist idealists ignore it at their peril. Capitalist, equal opportunity models of society are the best way humanity has yet devised to mobilise a society productively.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
As I blog, so it is. My earlier comments on how if we are subsumed into an EU superstate, democracy is dead, seems to be bourne out by this
. Look at the question titled "Do you think the British people are being "hustled" into a single European state..." and you will notice a crushing majority saying that is true to a varying degree.
If this new country, the Unites States of Europe, ever comes into being, it's birth will occur not with the support of the people, but with the people dragooned, unwilling but resigned, into it. Is that a good foundation for such a state? I think not. It is a deplorable state of affairs that the politicians who are there to represent the people seem so unwilling to actually do so.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
More signs of the death of democracy
in this country. OK, the source is partisan, but the numbers quoted speak with authority. The public is generally vaguely eurosceptic, and certainly sceptical of any economic benefit which is being touted by the europhiles. Yet, the public fatalistically assumes we'll be bamboozled into EUtopia, regardless.
I think the behaviour of the politicians in this regard is nothing short of contemptible. There is much talk of Blair wanting his Place in History, it could well be rubbish, but if it isnt - Blair is acting like a dictator purely to satisfy his personal ego.
In any case, these are damning figures for democracy. Notice how there has been a constant majority, though sometimes a minor one, against joining the eurozone. Given the massive constitutional effects this will have on this nation, I would have thought joining would be impossible without a referendum which garners an unquestioned mandate from the electorate.
And pigs may fly.
The steel tariff loving United States is having a go at the EU about breaking free trade rules
, as GM foods have been banned here. Much as it's fun to point out hypocrisy, the free market should clearly reign here. However - the food should be labelled clearly as being of GM origin. Whether Unilever or whoever it is makes this stuff likes it or not, the European consumer considers this to be an issue. If these companies are afraid that people won't buy the stuff if its origins are unknown, well, too bad. They should fire up the marketing department. (They have some catching up to do, unfortunately for them, this is true).
Insisting on not adequately labelling their products and demanding they can trade the goods freely is not free market principles, it is deception, pure and simple. The American consumer can eat as much GM food as they want, as is their choice in a free market. I suspect that even if the stuff is labelled as such here, people will also wolf it down in vast quantities. The people who care enough to change their shopping habits are usually a comparatively minor market (look at the organic food industry for example), so the companies likely have little to fear by labelling their food anyway.
One of the areas where I dislike US policy is the strong whiff of double standards that emanates from them on occasion. (The EU nations are far worse, I hasten to add, but still). Free trade or protectionism, whichever works, is the typical US strategy. This is realpolitic, after all.
Apparently if the Government decides to go with the highly illiberal EU constitution I blogged about a few days ago, we the voters won't get a say
. The usual reasons are being given, which can be paraphrased to roughly "Oh, this is just a trifling little matter. No need for a referendum for something this trivial (loss of control of defence policy, foreign policy, taxation policy, etc. etc.).". This has been the call of every europhile since Major if not before.
The constitution of the EU is most certainly a major matter of consideration to the electorate. In fact, like it or not, it's going to be a major political event with worldwide ramifications - it will represent the creation of a new (doubtless sclerotic) state, of approximate 400 million inhabitants. Of which the UK will be an appendage of. And this is, apparently, a trivial matter.
Vote these guys out - before it's too late.
The Conservative Party have recently announced they plan to abolish tuition fees at university, among other things, as part of their new "Fair Deal"
strategy. Most of this seems to be just watered down socialism. The Torygraph, of course, is staunchly loyalist, but other right leaning papers like The Times
are more, to put it mildly, critical. (As are the chaps at Samizdata
The problem, as I see it, is that in the UK, students receive practically no support from anybody to go to university. Speaking for myself, having finished an MSc last year, I got very little in the way of support, and had to tap my old man to the tune of 5000 pounds, give or take, to manage it. It ain't easy. Now, while the USA does not have grants, they do seem to have significant support from the private sector, and if nothing else, the US Army (!) to help out with going to university. These all are in the form of loans, but I didnt even get the option of a loan, myself. I managed to wheedle an overdraft from NatWest for about 700 quid, but that was it.
This is woefully inadequate. No wonder it seems that tuition fees should be abolished. But - there are alternatives to state funding. Private schemes could be encouraged. Deals with government agencies like the thing the US army has going in the US could be considered. In other words, Tory, rather than socialist, ideals could be deployed to solve the problem. IDS is basically trumpeting merely a different brand of social engineering here.
Monday, May 12, 2003
Being somewhat bored and with an internet connection right now, I happened across a website outlining the Whitlam Dismissal
, which happened in Australia in 1975. For those who do not know and don't plan on reading through a website full of material, after parliamentary deadlock between Senate and House of Representatives in Australia, and a constitutional crisis as a result, the Governor-General of Australia - the Queen's representative - dismissed the government and called for an immediate election. While constitutionally within his power, obviously such behaviour is extremely questionable (Life would be interesting if the Queen did the same to the British parliament, most certainly...).
Speaking for myself, I think the governor-general acted somewhat hastily, though I am certain that he acted with the public trust in mind at the time. However, that is not really what I want to briefly note in this small blog. Rather, I draw attention to this - the last five paragraphs, in particular.
The sheer hatred and vitriol to a man who is surely undeserving of it is plain for all to see. Is it a coincidence that these are the remarks of Australia's Left? You might not agree with what the man did (On balance, I do not think I do) but as a dispassionate outside observer, not being Australian, I look at these comments and wonder why such acidic remarks are necessary. The fact that the man is now dead and unable to defend his good name just makes this behaviour even more contemptible. Even Margaret Thatcher doesn't get abuse like that from the most hardened public "progressive"...
Oh, and as an aside, look at this. I can't say I know Whitlam very well, but he comes across as an insufferably arrogant, smug individual with very little real achievement to back up his assertions.
Now I'll stop being judgmental on Australians who I know very little about, and return to the wiser course of action of blogging only on things I know a little about. :)
A very worrying report in the Times
on the European Union constitution
(Have a read - its either sickly amusing or terrifying to see just how deeply buried democracy is in there beneath Commissioners and Councils and politician "elected" Presidents) which is being drafted as I write this. I find this paragraph particularly worrying :-
The drafts so far published will be subject to further revision and negotiation. They involve a total change in the nature of the government of the United Kingdom and of all the other nations of the European Union. In simple terms, we should all cease to be independent nations; the sole independent nation would be the EU itself. And that nation would not be a democracy.
This whole procedure has, in my view, gone on on quite far enough. When the tabloid press (and a couple of right-sympathising broadsheets) are the only sources which are not ardently europhile (note the mention of the bias
of the all pervasive BBC in there) we live in dark times indeed.
I am not happy with the way the entire EU process has been handled, to put it mildly. There is in the political air a palpable sense of helplessness - like this is going to happen, no matter what. If there is a referendum, and the British people vote no to this EUrocracy, another vote will be called as soon as is politically feasible, and in we will go. (Though, if that article is anything to go by, we might not even get a referendum in the first place...). It almost seems pointless to even try to resist in the face of such a united front from our political leaders. On top of this is the blatant deceit employed by politicians to get what they want, one step at a time. The Telegraph touches on this, particularly with this pararaph...
How often have we been assured by the Pattens and Kennedys and Blairs that "No one wants a European superstate"? This "No one" is plainly a pretty influential fellow in Brussels. Remember how "No one" wanted tax harmonisation, the social chapter, a European army? It seems that what "No one" wants today becomes law tomorrow.
At this rate I'm going to have to vote BNP or something in protest, even though putting my X next to the name of a neo-Nazi turns my stomach. Well, no, thats a lost vote - the Tories will keep their grip on my soul.
(As an aside - I'm curious if anything like the EU has ever been tried in history before. I'm aware of a few terminologies for governments - oligarchy, democracy, confederacy etc. etc., but what is Europe? It seems to be an entirely new concept in governmental terms - so I guess EUrocracy it will have to remain.)
And to see the left wingers getting in a snit about the monarchy and the House of Lords for being undemocratic while this is going on with their enthusiastic support...
Friday, May 09, 2003
Sorry to say, but I mostly agree with this Observer
article. Now, to qualify the situation, I am a monarchist, as most of those on the British right seem to be. Republicanism seems to be invariably the province of lefty nihilists, and simply another expression of their hatred for their own country and history, as epitomised by the Royal Family.
On the other hand, I also believe that the unwritten constitution of this country should be adhered to. I complain about Blair and his trampling over traditions built up over centuries, and I'll moan about Charles as well, which is what todays small blog is about.
I think the Queen had the right idea. She remains aloof from all political affairs, and fulfils her constitutional role as a public, neutral figurehead brilliantly. Thats not to say she's powerless, she has considerable influence, but on the other hand, it must be galling for someone who is outspoken like Charles to hold his tongue, which is what the constitution of this country requires of him. Perhaps he is only exercising his political muscles while he's Prince, and will become more sedate as King, but to be honest, I doubt it.
One of the worst aspects is that the Prince clearly doesn't know a great deal about the issues he's championing half the time. This distrust of science of his is simply, extreme, and it makes him cut a somewhat ludicrous figure. A ludicrous figurehead is not one good for the country, and, I expect, not one the country will tolerate.Amor Populi Praesidium Regis
- the love of the people is the kings protection. Charles should consider this, before he makes himself an irrevocable object of public derision, and considers the ruinous course of trying to be a political constitutional monarch.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
In case you read this and wonder about the huge gap in activity here, well - that was my period of time at university, where a mix of hedonism and hard graft meant that this blog was very much low on my list of priorities. As an additional distraction from blogging, I'm active (perhaps too active) on a number of MUSHes, particularly this one, Shadowrun Detroit
Now I'm working however, at ABB
, blogging has been moved up a priority or two. I've never worked in a large private company like ABB before, and I have to say - in the month or two I've been here, it's been almost exactly like working for the government. I was almost... disappointed, on one level. On the other hand, what I'm doing (I am involved, in a very modest way, in the building of an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey) is refreshingly "real" rather than my old job at the Audit Commission
which I thought was something of an ivory tower job (yes, I myself was a public sector bureaucrat).
The Audit Commission did expose me in part to the NHS and local government in this country though, and looking back on it, it's an experience I valued - it opened my eyes.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Another day, another risible Guardian article
. Polly Toynbee this time, no less. So, point by point...
1. The NHS isn't bad. I've had the misfortune to grace the hospital more than once, and whenever I've been there, it's been an acceptably good service for me. What good the state does, I'm sure Polly hankers after the old National Coal Board and British Telecom (thank GOD they privatised the telecoms industry - does anybody remember what it used to be like in the golden age of socialism? BT may be a joke these days, but hey, I use NTL
, who's competition managed to shave off a truly ungodly amount of money from my massive internet use bill. Thank god for competition and consumer choice, things that health services even in the rest of EUtopia seem to appreciate, just not here. The ghost of Nye Bevan still haunts us.
2. CEOs are responsible for a lot of cash, and with responsibility, comes salary. If it's a public company the shareholders can turf the CEO out. if it's not, well, the CEO earned it from the sweat of his brow, and I wish him/her all the best in continuing to run a successful business - it's more than I've managed to do. Bravo!
3. Equal is such a dangerous word. Polly doesn't seem to want everybody equal, she wants everyone alike. Why not just give everybody 23,000 a year (the average, i believe) and leave it at that, after all? Equal opportunity, yes. But hard work and high achievement should be matched by salary. Half the problem with this country is that the link between effort and reward is broken. Having been on benefits myself, I have to admit, I'd never stack shelves in a supermarket. For 10 pounds a week more, it's not worth it, and I can live on 50 pounds a week after rent and bills, no problem. It is, after all, more than students get in this country.
4. Ahh, grandiose, expensive and pointless schemes. Reminds me of the Millenium Dome.
5. Make Britain less hated in Europe, she means. *shrug*. France is hated by the entire civilised world it seems, they should get their house in order. The Iraqis were chanting Blair's name upon being liberated, Britain has no problems with foreign relations. The gratitude of the filthy French is not worth the loss of our democratic rights which Polly seems to value so much. Which brings me to...
6. See 5 and other screeds on the joys of EUtopia for one issue I have with this. PR is utter bunk. PR is a recipe for parliamentary deadlock, which encourages dubious coalitions and deals behind closed doors which the electorate never get to hear about - not very democratic. Seems to me half of Scotlands parliamentary problems come from the ridiculous system they have which incorporates a PR element. Worse, with PR you dont vote for a politician, you vote for the Party, which isn't very democratic either. I value the link with my constituency MP very much. As it happens I've spent all my adult life in Labour dominated constituencies, even so, whenever I had dealings with my MP, I've been impressed, nay, astounded, by the quick and highly effective response I got. Now, this is democracy - access to my MP. I even voted for Labour once, in gratitude, solely on the merit of the guy I was voting for.
(Ben Bradshaw MP, though you sit on the opposite bench from me in the debating chamber of my mind, I wish you all the best, and you have my thanks).
Representative democracy entails giving people governmental power of you, in exchange for the right to turf them out if they turn out to be failures every few years. If my constituency MPs do a bad job, out they go. Their job in parliament is to represent me, not The Party.
7. Heh, bit like I do to the left wing press, I suppose.
8. Fair enough. I'm lukewarm on Lords reform. It worked just fine before reform, and given a choice between selection based on heredity or patronage, I'll take heredity. Exactly how a chamber packed with appointed yes-men is supposed to act as an effective brake on the individual that put them there, I do not for the life of me understand.
9. While the burglar is in jail, the burglar is not robbing my house. This is a good thing. Every criminal locked up is a criminal not able to commit any crimes upon the law abiding. If recidivism is an issue, keep them locked up. I fully support any and all means to reduce crime, letting criminals out on our streets is not such a means, however. As for tagging, well."
10. Pollys Lore seems to be mostly bunk to me. Tony seems to be getting more Tory with age if anything, lets hope the trend continues.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
I havn't updated this blog for many moons, but having just read this EUtopian piece
in the Guardian today, I feel compelled to respond to this laughably risible example of pro-euro opinion. Where to begin? Firstly - democracy."Though I argued last week that failing to hold a referendum soon would begin the reversion of Britain into a country distancing itself from the whole EU project, I do see that the price of ducking out of a decision is matched by a risk entailed in ducking into one. The people, after all, could go the wrong way."
Two points here - "The Project" isn't exactly doing very well. Wim Duisenberg is battling to keep inflation low in the eurozone, the euro economies are all sluggish, to put it mildly - in short, the Project is not exactly fulfilling the EUtopian ambitions of the europhiles. (Or maybe it is, as it is a democratically suspect organisation of busybodies and social engineers, who have a dismal history of being on the take and delivering poor value for money, which is, I guess, a socialist hacks dream). Which brings me neatly to the second point - democracy. "The people could go the wrong way" speaks volumes of this commentators respect for the tiresome obstacle before EUtopia called "democracy". If I was him, I wouldn't worry, you could after all keep asking the same question (see Ireland/Nice) until the electorate, subdued by a mix of propaganda and doomsday scenarios, give the right answer. "A further difficulty is that so little of the ground has been prepared. People say there has been a great debate here. There hasn't. Far from the steady drip of pro-euro propaganda, as eurosceptics claim, government has created an arid wasteland of non-argument. It set up a campaign group, Britain in Europe, but for several years forbade it to mention the euro. The chancellor has spread his glowering scepticism across the entire scene, issuing diktats against any colleague who dared to contradict him, which most of them pitifully failed to do."
Well, the BBC seems to do a good job. It's a fact that most of the UK media is of left-leaning sympathy, and another fact that generally they are supporters of the euro agenda. The economic arguments for euro membership are clearly pretty pathetic with the eurozone doing so badly, and the political arguments are equally pathetic. What advantage is there for me of surrendering my democratically accountable government for a, in effect, completely unaccountable EUrocracy? The Grand Socialist Vision of a Europe filled with Glorious Unaccountable Regulation strangely does not appeal. Ruling the World, well, we Brits have done that already ( :) ) so it gets a bit of a shrug (costs a lot of money don't you know), but even if thats what its about, the EU has shown a tendency to write down things like a rapid reaction force which exist mainly on a bureaucrats spreadsheet.
I think we can do better by ourselves. Especially if the government actually pays for those two medium carriers for the Royal Navy."So the propaganda has been exclusively from one side. Not a single government minister has ever given a speech, let alone been part of a campaign, making an unambiguous case for the euro. "
Well, thats because they know electoral suicide when they see it. In a way, I'm glad - this -is- supposed to be a representative democracy, roughly 80% of the electorate, depending on which figures you believe, are at best luke warm towards "The Project", and therefore its good to see our leaders going with the national consensus. Thats a good thing, it seems - democracy in action. Or, democracy being a tiresome obstacle, I leave it to the reader to decide."Now we await the verdict on the tests. The economic case, as I've argued for years, will never satisfy everyone."
Odd. Back when the EU was the EEC, the economic arguments were what it was all about. That is also what the UK signed up for in the seventies, after being gulled by unscrupulous supporters of the Project. Hopefully, they won't be gulled again."Meanwhile, however, other things will have become clearer. The British economic agonising could continue inconclusively for years, but the EU will not stand still. Both the union and the euro-zone will develop, in the hands of the members most fully committed to them. While we sit here demanding that the central bank and finance ministers change their rules before we deign to join them - and some changes are essential - they will ask themselves who we think we are. When the EU develops its own new constitution to cope with the new entrants, it is sure to ask itself how intently it should listen to a major member that has chosen to remain outside its most cementing project. "
This just gets a big, "So?". Switzerland seems to be doing well enough for themselves. So, in a somewhat trite argument, is the USA. There are many developed countries in the world that are not EU members, and they seem to be doing just fine - in fact, economically speaking, better than the EU is. My personal position is to stay well away from the EU, in perpetuity, unless the political situation there improves. I think it has equal if not more chance to devolve into a wholly Marxist state than suddenly develop a taste for democracy.