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Machinegun the tents

Sorry, this headline is just a cheap trick to catch your attention. I’m not suggesting the tents outside St Paul’s or Westminster Hall should be shot up, although the idea isn’t without some theoretical, purely aesthetic attraction. But in practice not only such a measure would be inhuman, but, as the Americans prove, it is also unnecessary. The other night New York’s finest, taking their cue from similar actions in Oakland, California, and Portland, Washington, managed to wipe out their own obscene eyesores without resorting to anything heavier than batons, floodlights and pepper spray. In the end, they didn’t even have to use the spray.

But then of course they didn’t have to worry about Vince Cable and the Archbishop of Canterbury telling them, as they tell us, that the tent dwellers have a point. Which point is that, other than that of those scrofulous youths being as feeble of mind as they are infantile of emotion? Contextually, it has to be that capitalism is to blame for our present misfortunes. Therefore we must have no, or at least less, capitalism and more, much more, socialism. How much more, exactly? At present HMG spends close to 50% of our GDP, about 75% in the Celtic fringe. Should it be as high as in Stalin’s Russia (85%)? Higher? But there such tents really would have been machinegunned, with all the dwellers’ families shipped off to concentration camps. Would the St Paul’s youths take this kind of rough with the smooth of socialism? Those of us who, unlike the youths, pay taxes tend to pay about 60%, all in. Should it be 100%? But then, if Arthur Laffer is to be believed, as in this case he should be, no one would work and HMG would get no revenue at all. Even the 50% marginal tax rate has produced a loss of revenue, though Vince thinks it ‘sent an important message’. The same message, one supposes, as that sent by the tents.

It isn’t capitalism but socialism that’s the immediate culprit in our current plight. Specifically, it’s the morally corrupting and financially unsustainable levels of public spending, promoted by our spivocrats. Ever since they discovered the trick of buying their votes with our money, there has been no stopping them. The calculation is simple: in the absence of moral restraints that can in the West only come from Christianity, there will always be more non-working wealth consumers than hard-working wealth producers. So give them what they want, squeeze the producers, and our spivocrats will have jobs for life, here or in the EUSSR. And if there aren’t enough homegrown freeloaders, then we can always import millions of likeminded outlanders — salt strewn on our civilisation to make sure nothing else will ever grow again. Give them a few years to become voters, and they’ll never have to become workers. Will they vote for a party that inscribes small government on its banners? Fat chance.

That’s the real logic behind the welfare state, and never mind the mock-Christian noises about looking after the less fortunate. Those truly bereft of fortune die of neglect in our welfare state’s hospitals or freeze to death in their welfare state’s flats. We’ve always had the poor (‘the poor always ye have with you,’ went the un-PC adage of that formerly popular proto-conservative). But never in the past did we have governments that self-perpetuate by trying to impoverish the whole population.

Is that the message, Mr Cable? Is that the point, Archbishop?

After ordering the clearout of Wall Street occupiers, Michael Blomberg, New York’s mayor, said something no European politician would ever utter: ‘Given the choice between human rights and public safety, I’d choose safety every time.’ A simple message, unadorned by any ‘gosh-crikey-jolly-hockey-sticks’ twitches we find so endearing in our own politcians. I wonder if he’d fancy the job of Mayor of London. Or that of Archbishop of Canterbury. Yes I know Mr Blomberg’s isn’t a Christian, but then Dr Williams isn’t much of one either. 

Women aren’t qualified to be judges

Neither are men. However, some women are qualified to hold high judical jobs. So are some men. Some women are better qualified than some (or even any) men. Some men are better qualified than some (or even any) women. Now, societies in which such primordial truths have to be enunciated are in deep trouble. And societies in which Ken ‘Kenneth’ Clark can be the Justice Secretary and Lord Neuberger the Master of the Rolls are in deeper trouble still.

Mr Clark wants priority to be given to women and ethnic minorities when it comes to top judicial jobs. He agrees with Lord Neuberger that the current proportion is ‘worryingly’ small. Both refer to Section 159 of the 2010 Equality Act as a justification for their unjustifiable worries. Both accept the Act’s provision that ‘A [must be] as qualified as B to be recruited or promoted’ ahead of B. Let’s ignore that, if an Equality Act talks about hiring A ahead of B, it ought to be more appropriately called Inequality Act. It’s logic and semantics I’m talking about, not politics.

What worries me is the modern tendency to treat people not as heterogenous individuals but as homogenous groups. This propensity goes against the grain of what used to be called Christendom — and is one of the reasons why Christendom ‘used to be’, but no longer is. That each person is a free, autonomous and unique entity was a founding truth of our civilisation when we still had one. But I don’t wish to take Messrs Clark and Neuberger out of their depth by referring to such matters. Instead, they ought to consider observable, empirical facts.

Such as that it’s borderline impossible to find two equally qualified candidates for any high-level job. At least, I never saw such a pair in the 20-odd years that I was in a position to hire. It is possible to find two similar CVs. But CVs don’t do the work — it’s people who do that. And all sorts of imponderables come in when two persons’ ability to do a top job is being considered, the kind of things one can’t put into a barrister’s CV: strength of character, firmness of convictions, ability to work with others, sternness leavened with mercy and so forth. (I know all this sounds too trivial to mention, but I’m trying to make the point for the benefit of Messrs Clark and Neuberger so even they can understand.)

It takes much sagacity and experience to weigh all those factors to choose the right candidate. Thus a candidate’s belonging to any group defined by sex, race or complement of limbs is an utter irrelevance, one that needlessly encumbers a process that’s devilishly difficult to begin with. Such group identity should not even be a remote consideration in a country ruled by law, where top judicial appointments ought to be the most critical of all.

But in a country increasingly ruled not by laws evolved over centuries but by diktat from the EUSSR, perhaps such appointments really have little significance. So perhaps Messrs Clark and Neuberger have a point after all. Do let us have judges who are all black, lesbian cripples appointed to the job specifically because they possess those characteristics. It doesn’t matter any longer. But, for old times’ sake, can we at least make sure they all have law degrees?

Let’s hear it for democracy in the Middle East

US and EUSSR politicians are making bien-pensant noises along the lines of ‘Egypt’s future will be determined by Egyptian people.’ In other words, by a democratic process. A laudable idea, that. And it would be even more so if proponents of democracy über alles were to consider the substance of what they are proposing, not just the form. For what matters isn’t method of government but the kind of society it produces. So what kind of society is democracy likely to produce in Egypt (and elsewhere in the region)? We don’t know for sure. But do let’s listen to what the Egyptians are saying.

According to a recent Pew poll, 82% of Egyptians regard stoning adulterous women as just, 77% approve of chopping off thieves’ hands, 84% favour the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, 59% describe themselves as fundamentalists. A question arises: Following perfectly democratic elections in Egypt, how long before we develop nostalgia for Mubarak?

We can argue the pros and cons of democratic method till the fundamentalists come home. But it’s clear that at times, and in places, there is madness in it.

 

 

Olympic missiles

According to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed to protect the 2012 Olympics. Since by then our armed forces will have dwindled away to nothing, I wonder who’ll fire the rockets should the need arise. Presumably it’ll be social workers, the only public servants this side of HMG/EUSSR who have secure job prospects. I do hope they’ll be trained to tell the difference between a jumbo jet descending on Heathrow and one about to crash into Wembley stadium. Just in case, remind me not to fly during the Games.

Full Monti

I apologise for the title: the pun is too obvious. It is, however, appropriate. ‘Cadres decide everything,’ taught Comrade Stalin, and the comrades who run the EUSSR obviously agree. This is laid bare by the appointment of the former European Commissioner Mario Monti as Italy’s new PM. Euro apparatchiks are now at the helm in Italy, Greece and Britain (for the time being only as Deputy PM). Does anyone seriously think these gentlemen will pursue national interests? Just like in the EUSSR’s role model, ‘national’ leaders are selected, not elected. But didn’t Comrade Marx teach that the proletariat has no motherland? What matters isn’t parochial interests but bigger ones: the good of the apparatchiks. I hope someone cancels this obscene show.

Patrick Mercer is wrong

The Tory MP was wrong in saying that ‘David Cameron is the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone’. Dave ‘David’ Cameron has ways to go before he can challenge for that prize. Given enought time, I’m sure Dave will get there; he has taken a highly promising start. Dave (I wonder how long before he begins to pronounce his name as even a more vote-winning ‘Dive’) also has the right qualities: understated intelligence, overstated arrogance, absence of principles, no will power in any area other than self-promotion, incompetence even at winning votes (not scoring an outright victory against the party that had steered Britain to economic disaster takes some doing). The boy is clearly going places — but he hasn’t arrived yet. For now, Tony ‘Anthony’ Blair stays way ahead. His leadership position is being maintained even out of office: Glottal-Stop Tony said the other day that we may still want to join the euro in the future. Now here’s a man who has the power of his no convictions. Dave has to work harder before he can unseat Tony.

The hardest words to utter

‘I was wrong’ usually claims this distinction. If so, then Andrew Gowers, the former FT editor, ought to be applauded for his fortitude. He did admit, in the Sunday Times, that he was wrong when agitating for Britain’s entry into the euro 10 years ago and in general cheerleading for the ‘European project’. But there are words that are much more unutterable than admitting one’s mistake. These are ‘I am stupid’, closely rivalled by ‘I am ignorant’. The problem is that those who qualify to makes such admissions are ipso facto incapable of making them. Nothing personal and all that, but Mr Gowers falls into that category. Otherwise he would have known from the word go that the ‘European project’ was wrong historically and culturally — an attempt at creating a federation even out of the culturally, ethnically, religiously and linguistically close states of America led to the bloodiest war in the nation’s history. Closer to home, the contrivance called Yugoslavia had to break up with much bloodshed, even though the differences between, say, Croatia and Serbia were minor compared to those between, say, Greece and Holland. It was wrong politically — as Western governments are supposed to derive legitimacy from public consent, who in his right mind would expect the Finns and Italians to agree on major policies? It was wrong morally — in the absence of public consent the EU can govern only by coercion, blackmail and bribery, even if for the moment it is refraining from the use of violence. And, more appropriate to Mr Gowers’s stock in trade, it was wrong economically — well, you can see why. Now, ‘I told you so’ are possibly the easiest words to roll off one’s tongue. My friends and I, who have been saying all this since before the ‘project’ kicked off for real, are variably successful in restraining ourselves. So here’s my undertaking: if Andrew Gowers says the really hardest words, I promise never to say the easiest ones.

Today’s Cable

Our venerable Business Secretary has declared that he has ‘sympathy with the emotions that lie behind’ the St Paul tent city. ‘Some of their recommendations aren’t terribly helpful, but that’s not the point.’ I agree: never mind ideas — it’s emotions that count. Driven by his noble feelings and nonexistent ideas, Mr Cable himself ought to move into one of those smelly tents, doing on the floor of St Paul’s what he is doing to the British economy. It has to be said that, in choosing emotions over thoughts, Cable has form. Not so long ago he defended the 50% tax rate by saying that, though the financial effect of it is negative, it does send the right message. Again I agree; it does. And the message is that the likes of Cable ought not to be allowed within a mile of Whitehall — not even as tourists. But not to worry, Vince. There are plenty of opportunities at the EU for bright, emotional men like you.

Tony and Nancy: a tryst made in heaven

According to today’s papers, Sven-Goran Eriksson, England’s awful ex-manager, was madly jealous of his girfriend Nancy Dell’Olio, whom he suspected of sleeping with Tony Blair. That gave rise to speculations along the lines of ‘did they or didn’t they?’ Well, if they didn’t they should have done — should still do it for that matter. They are a perfect match, twin emblems of our soulless, mindless modernity. When Nancy broke with her priapic boyfriend for having played away from home, she said she no longer needed him. ‘I,’ she declared, ‘can become a celebrity in my own right.’ Now a celebrity being by definition someone I’ve never heard of, achieving this status these days requires no real achievement. All one needs is a couple of friendly reporters, a good PR flak, an effortless ability to mouth New Age platitudes and a prurient public willing to listen. So Nancy has been as good as her heavily accented word. She has indeed become a celebrity, appearing on Strictly Come Dancing and putting on her garter belt the notches of such A-Listers as Sir Trevor Nunn. In short, she is the signature type of our time: an important nonentity. Her once (or future) friend Tony is the same. His scale was grander, but the qualities he brought to the task of becoming a celebrity are similar to Nancy’s: the Nordic male equivalent of her sultry menopausal charms, intellectual vacuity, lack of any noticeable principles and a gift for self-promotion. That elevated him to the honour of becoming arguably Britain’s most destructive PM ever, and the list of aspiring candidates is long (Dave Cameron, call your office). But now he’s between jobs, he does what Nacy is also good at: staying in the news, charging huge fees for speaking much and saying little (who in his right mind would pay to hear Tony run off at the mouth?) and lobbying for whomever can pay the ticket. So if this isn’t a tryst made in heaven, I don’t know what is. Sorry, Cherie, even you must see the two are made for each other.

War. No peace.

American neocon publications (The WSJ, Commentary, Weekly Standard etc.) are these days full of commiserations about the impending withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. With newly found precsience, the hacks predict much strife in the country, complete with massacres, deportations, foreign invasions neatly harmonised in the background with a civil war from hell. A prolonged US military presence would allegedly prevent such outrages, they claim. How prolonged? Well, who’s counting among friends? A generation or two, maybe a century or two — it’s the thought that counts. Of course, American presence there since 2003 was coextensive with the best part of a million Iraqis (not to mention 4,500 Americans) dying violent deaths, a coincidence that makes sceptics talk causal relationship. But the neocons are adamant: no sacrifice is too big for democracy. Those poor Iraqis had to die for the bright future of their country becoming like, well, Norway. Or even, do let our imagination run wild, Idaho with oil but no potatoes.

 

Nowhere does one see a regret, not even a mild misgiving, about going in to begin with. And yet the war was criminally stupid and stupidly criminal from the very beginning. Far be it from me to make pacifist noises: ever since Augustine put the concept of just war into a Christian context, pacifism has lost a natural home in the West. Some wars are just and must be fought; some are unjust and must be avoided. But putting justice aside for a moment, a government thinking of going to war must first answer three questions: 1) Why are we doing it? 2) What end to the war do we seek? 3) Do we have the means to achieve this end? The US attacked Iraq without first finding satisfactory answers to any of these. That’s why the world is much worse off than it was in 2003.

 

The declared objectives have been changing kaleidoscopically from the very beginning. First, it was ridding Saddam of WMD. What, no WMD? Gee, sorry. What we meant was preventing terrorism. Oh, Iraq was implicated in this much less than others, including some of our close allies? Okay, so it’s about getting rid of Saddam anyway. He’s a nasty bit of work, no? Well, there you are then. Okay, okay, so Saddam is gone and we aren’t. We’re still here to build the Iraqi nation, to turn them into PLUs (People Like Us). Two cars in every pot, two chickens in every garage, democracy, PTA, Little Leagues, that sort of thing.

 

Now that the cars are blowing up, the chickens are running scared, not knowing which street to cross, and the street is no longer there, the absurdity of it all ought to be clear to anyone other than neocon zealots. No war can be won that starts with such moronically obtuse answers to the critical questions. No one has a right to be so moronically obtuse as not to see that democracy anywhere in that region is neither achievable nor realistically desirable. Just as democracy is unravelling in Europe, where it goes back centuries, it takes an IQ below room temperature (Celcius) to believe it can be installed in an area that has no historical, cultural, political or religious premises for it. The neocons remain true to their DNA, combining Wilsonian imperialism with Trotskyist temperament. This sort of heredity is never going to produce a truly democratic offspring.

 

It is of course possible to coerce or bribe the natives into holding Potemkin villages of sham elections. Indeed, all sorts of thugs have learned that, if they put ‘democracy’ into every sentence, Western money will zigzag its way into their Swiss accounts faster than you can say ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’. For neocons, this virtual democracy seems to be sufficient. Ever since ‘manifest destiny’ has acquired a laser-guided aspect to it, that’s the only kind they’ve ever been able to get. The only kind they’ll ever get. Democracy for them is a meaningless shibboleth, all form and no content. It’s a bull’s head sitting on top of a totem pole. Or else a battle cry to put fire in people’s belly. 

 

I’m not lamenting the passing of Saddam or, for that matter, the rapidly approaching one of Mubarak. Couldnta happened to nicer guys, as neocons no doubt are saying. But I do lament the rapid islamisation of the Middle East (say what you will about Saddam, but a Muslim fundamentalist he wasn’t) as a direct result of the West’s involvement in Iraq and elsewhere. Nor am I happy about the erosion of America’s and Europe’s will to face real challenges to peace in the world, such as a nuclear-armed Iran. The US is a sprinter, not a stayer (and Europe these days is neither). A decade or so of even limited warfare she can just about handle — after that it’s usually ‘Hell no, we won’t go’. Let’s pray that, just as the invasion of Iraq eventually produced the present debacle, the Arab Spring won’t lead to a nuclear winter.