Thursday, November 30, 2006

The end of an American odyssey

My American odyssey comes to an end later today. I have spent three very interesting months in the DC area, during which I have learnt a great deal.

The political world in the US is in many ways very different to that of the UK. The vast sums of money pumped into politics is a prime example of this, the polarisation of public opinion on certain issues is another. However despite these differences there is a great deal we can learn from our cousins across the pond. We share a lot of the same values, but very few of the same successes. Let’s hope that can be changed before it’s too late.

Sharia law being applied in the UK

Clive Davis has a worrying post about the spread of sharia law in the UK. Very worrying indeed.

Are we reducing or redistributing government?

Nick Hurd MP has pledged to support David Cameron’s Sustainable Communities Bill. In doing so he had the following to say:

"At present, we have a vastly over-centralised system. We need to end Labour's 'dictate from Whitehall' approach, and let communities take action on their own initiative. And by giving local government and local people greater powers to decide local spending priorities, this Bill gives people much more say over how their community looks and feels, and how it is run."

On the whole it’s a fine statement. It goes without saying that power has to be moved away from the centre and into the hands of private individuals. However it is worth bearing mind that a transference of power from central government to local government is not a reduction in government size, rather it is a redistribution of that power.

If a true reduction is to be achieved a concerted effort must be made, not to change who in government makes the decisions, but instead to reduce the number of decisions people in government can make.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sporadic blogging

Unfortunately blogging will be going on the back-burner for a few days. I return to the UK on Thursday and so have a hundred and one things to before then. Hopefully I should be able to get a few posts up though.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tories to enforce a 35 hour week?

Cameron’s Quality of Life policy group is apparently considering whether a Conservative government should impose a 35 hour week. Of course it is important to bear in mind that their investigations are very much in the preliminary stages. This being so it is very easy to pay only cursory attention to the possibility of such a regulation eventually becoming Conservative Party policy. However as conservatives we should be deeply concerned that such a proposal is in any way being considered.

Aside from anything else people should be free to work the hours they wish to work. Personally speaking I have no problem with the 40 hour week, equally I don’t have a problem with working a 60 hour week. The central point though is that that choice is mine to make.

Moreover the question of whether a 35 hour week would increase the UK’s productivity is one that should be left to the market to answer.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tony Blair’s successor being sought

It would appear the hunt is on for the next MP for Sedgefield. This of course got me thinking about who would be suitable. In doing so it occurred to me that since we are cozying up to Polly Toybee (hopefully for no other reason than to widen our appeal: and given Cameron’s poverty speech this may be the case), perhaps the Labour Party should offer the candidacy to Simon Heffer.

Any better suggestions would be welcomed in the comments.

Conservatism may still be strong…

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by David Cameron’s poverty speech. Reading between the lines it would appear, and I may be wrong, that Mr. Cameron is true blue, through and through. The speech is couched as one would expect in the ‘arms around the world’ language which currently appeals to the electorate. However if I were to identify a central theme it would be that power should move away from the state and into the hands of individuals. For example:

The poverty-fighting agenda I have outlined today is a radical one for my Party, because for the first time it commits us to tackling relative, not just absolute poverty. But it is also a radical agenda for politics in this country, because it involves a dramatic decentralisation, a big shift in emphasis… …from the state to society.

And also:

Throughout Britain there is a yearning for more control and more responsibility. People are fed up with having their communities managed for them by the state – especially when they are often managed so badly.

Furthermore the following extract contains a number of signals, albeit ones couched in vague terms, that conservatism is strong in Camp Cameron:

I know full well how important funding is. The task is to ensure that money goes where it’s needed and where it will make the most difference. Of course, some may fear that state funding of smaller, local organisations will crush the independence and flexibility that makes them effective in the first place.

Well, it depends on the state’s attitude. It depends on how the funding works and how the contracts are managed. There’s no reason to think that state funding automatically damages a local organisation. We need to be more trusting, more open to risk. [Note that Cameron indicates the need to change the way state funding works, without committing to any specific change]

That way we will avoid the voluntary and social enterprise sectors becoming indistinguishable branches of the state. Finally, some ask whether there is enough capacity in the voluntary sector to do the job. The straight answer is – no, not yet. That’s why I will never pretend that the big shift from state to society can be achieved overnight. [Clearly a big shift from state to ‘society’ is intended. However Cameron quite sensibly accepts that such a change will take time; the length of time however is sidestepped]

But I am supremely confident that as we allow communities to take over responsibilities for their own neighbourhoods… …as we change the funding system to reward creativity and innovation… …we will witness a fantastic flowering of social enterprise, the like of which we cannot even imagine today. [A clear reference to Cameron’s intention to devolve power form the state to the individual]

For years, we Conservatives talked about rolling back the state. But that is not an end in itself. Our fundamental aim is to roll forward the frontiers of society. We understand that a strong society means moving forward together, no-one left behind, fighting relative poverty a central policy goal. [The rolling back of the state may not be seen as an end in itself, but Cameron clearly believes it is a fundamental goal of the Conservative Party]

In short, my previous concerns may have been misplaced, or perhaps overstated. Cameron may yet prove himself to be the conservative leader our country so desperately needs; time will tell.

It is worth adding of course that the poverty speech was not pleasing in its entirety. A tendency toward overregulation was still present:

…at our Debt Summit on Monday we announced a range of policy proposals to help address the issue, including: Tighter rules on the marketing of Individual Voluntary Agreements… Ensuring that home credit companies are subject to the same data sharing requirements as mainstream lenders… Requiring credit card companies to provide clearer information on repayment terms… And a cooling-off period for store cards.

What about personal responsibility?

Despite this hint at overregulation the speech may have provided us with a unique view of Cameron’s Britain. And contrary to the prevailing wisdom, it may yet turn out to be a very conservative Britain indeed. Let’s hope that is the case.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ten things I would never do

Martine got me with a meme, so in the spirit of the blogosphere here goes.

Ten things I would never do:

  1. Buy a Mac
  2. Start reading the Morning Star
  3. Get a tattoo, or piercing
  4. Join the Labour Party
  5. Live in Northern Ireland again
  6. Choose to listen to Techno
  7. Believe in big government
  8. Watch big brother
  9. Start smoking
  10. Join the Fabian Society

In keeping with standard meme practice, I nominate the following bloggers: Ross Cowling, the Devil, and Kerri Parish.

British Airways boycott

It would appear the boycott of British Airways is gaining pace.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Greg Clark must be stopped

If Greg Clark gets his way all is lost. We will no longer be a party shifting ever closer to the centre ground, instead we will be a party sitting in the very heart of socialist territory. Greg Clark would have us believe that “Polly Toynbee is a serious thinker about social policy… it would be ridiculous not to benefit from effective analysis." However in reality her analysis of social policy is typical of someone completely out of touch with working class life, although she has dabbled in it. Her opinions are formed around an implicit sense of superiority, a belief, albeit not one openly admitted, that her and people like her know best; that they alone can deliver the poor wretched masses from a life they are too stupid to save themselves from. If we choose to adopt her proposals on social policy then we should do so in the full knowledge that we would no longer be a conservative party, we would simply be the old Labour Party known by a different name.

Toynbee believes in addressing relative poverty; which, if you distill her latest article, essentially means raising taxes so that welfare will be able to pay for people have mobile phones, computers, and yearly holidays etc. Not only that though, it also means “giving everyone as a right their own home, once they have money to pay for the upkeep.” Who pray tell will pay for these homes? The taxpayer, who incidentally is most likely already paying for their own home in the form of a mortgage.

Of course what’s most interesting about relative poverty is that it never goes away, it is after all relative to the prevailing living standards etc in the country at any given time. So if the possession of a blackberry, laptop and golden monkey were to become a standard feature of middle class life, then all those without said items would be, you guessed it, impoverished. Woe is me, I have no golden monkey!

As conservatives we believe fundamentally in the need to raise the standard of living for everyone. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to be all they can be. We believe in equal opportunity, indeed equality of opportunity, for all. But most importantly of all we do not believe that government is entity to provide these things. As Barry Goldwater so rightly said, there is a difference between believing something should be done, and that it should be done by the government. Instead we champion the ability of individuals to improve their own lives. If, in an effort to get elected, we turn our backs on this most basic of our beliefs, then what have we to offer but philosophical mediocrity and political uncertainty (for who knows what we are if we are driven by what is popular at any given moment).

We must do all we can to ensure that Greg Clark’s absurd vision of a Conservative Party that is big on taxes and big on government spending does not come to fruition.

Edit: the Devil has an interesting piece on this whole affair

Business community uncertain about the Conservative Party

In an interview with the Independent, Richard Lambert, the head of CBI’s employers’ group has indicated that “company bosses are “uncertain” about the Conservative Party’s attitude toward business.” We should, but probably won’t be, deeply concerned by this. The very idea that the business community would be concerned, in any way, by the possibility of a Conservative government, should give us pause for thought.

Lord Saatchi has rightly warned of the fallacy of our gravitation toward the centre ground. The further we move toward this seemingly fertile electoral soil, the more we are forced to abandon that which makes us who we are. This warning from CBI places in plain sight how close we are to the abyss; an abyss we seem certain to fall into.

If we do fall in, if we win the control of Parliament on the basis of a centrist manifesto, what can we achieve as a conservative government? The answer I fear is all too obvious.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shock horror: Brown good for Tories

In a shocking article, utterly surprising in its content, the Guardian draws our collective attention to the startling revelation that the Conservative Party would benefit from Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister.

In other news, apparently mice would benefit from cats not eating them! Astonishing stuff.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Welcome to Tory in the Wilderness

Welcome to all you ConservativeHome readers who have linked here from my article in the CF Diary. I hope you enjoy the blog, and if you do I would be delighted if you subscribed to my RSS feed (which you can access through the link on the sidebar). To be honest though, I’d be delighted if you subscribed to the feed even if you don’t like the blog. I’m not sure how likely you would be to do that though.

Anyway, enjoy...

Who's really out of touch?

Hazel Blears, in a blatant attempt to raise her profile, has attacked David Cameron and the Conservative Party for being, surprise surprise, out of touch with the ordinary man. What’s amazing about of course is that it is the Labour party who are philosophically committed to the perpetuation of the welfare trap; the system which imprisons previously working class areas in a cycle of economic dependence, removes any incentive for enterprise and hard work, and dampens the spirit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shouldn't the market dictate?

If Cardiff really needs a new national art gallery, wouldn’t the free market ensure that one is built? Not in the view of Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne, who apparently believes in increased public spending.

BA to force Muslim women to remove headscarves?

I wholeheartedly agree with Iain Dale that we should boycott British Airways. The decision to ban Nadia Eweida from wearing her crucifix is yet another example of the current PC trend towards the persecution of Christians.

I wonder whether BA will extend the action (reductio ad adsurdum), and ban all religious symbols. Will we see them, for example, banning female Muslim employees from wearing headscarves? I think not. After all it’s only legitimate to discriminate against Christians. Everyone else is protected (some through fear).

Labour recognises the threat Cameron poses

I may not be the biggest fan of the Conservative Party’s current move towards the centre ground, but one thing is for sure: Labour is scared of the threat Cameron poses. One look at the news section of the Labour Party website will confirm this; 50% of the articles currently listed attack the Conservative Party in one way or another. Hardly surprising you may think, but then again you know what they say; when your opponent starts acknowledging you it means…

Lord Saatchi – the “myth” of the centre ground

I have to concur with Lord Saatchi in his attack on the Conservative Party’s attempts to move the party to the centre ground in an effort to secure electoral victory. I don’t doubt this strategy may pay off, but at what cost? A victory achieved at the loss of one’s principles is after all no victory at all.

Furthermore it is worth bearing in mind that the closer the Labour and Conservative Parties are to the centre ground, the less there is to distinguish them in the eyes of the electorate. How very sad it is that we as a party have strayed so far from our principles, that the day is in sight when the electorate may not be able to distinguish us from Labour.

If it aint broke, don't fix it

Apparently 80% of the House of Lords should be elected, with that 80% being referred to as Senators. Why? What is so wrong with the House of Lords that we have to so radically alter it? I may be wrong, but it has always been my opinion that being a conservative was, at least to a small degree, about conserving things (in particular, things that work perfectly well, and have worked perfectly well for centuries).

Perhaps I am wrong though. Maybe we should ditch the titles ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ and replace them with ‘The Peoples’ Champion’. In fact, perhaps The Peoples’ Champion should be elected through a Pop Idol style process.

I think I may be on to something.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Christians = bad

I absolutely couldn’t believe it when I read on Cranmer that certain British universities are attempting to ban their Christian Union societies. These groups it would seem hold views which are so abhorrent, so bigoted, as to necessitate the freezing of their bank accounts, and the negation of their rights to express their opinions on campus. Of course it will come as no surprise that certain other religious groups are unaffected by this persecution. These groups are after all untouchable, protected as they are by the politically correct who are only interested in taking action against people and groups who are in no way ideologically opposed to our way of life. David Lister has perhaps captured the absurdity of this persecution best of all:

“At a time when Islamic militants are accused of recruiting activists at universities across Britain, at least four Christian unions are threatening legal action against their university student unions after being banned or denied access to facilities.”

Whatever happened to free speech?

The party of over-regulation

When the Guardian complements a Conservative Party proposal something must be terribly wrong. Either a right-leaning journalist has sneaked into Guardian HQ and slipped some of his own musings into the final draft of the morning’s paper, or the Conservative Party is on the wrong track. No prizes for guessing which is more likely.

It will come as no surprise therefore that Jill Insley’s praise for Conservative Party proposals to deal with personal debt, financial illiteracy, and financial exclusion were immediately met with warning bells on my part. Sadly, rather than promoting individual responsibility the Conservative Party wants an increase in regulation (a ‘cooling-off period’ for credit cards for example). In the words of George Osborne the proposals are "...about achieving the right balance between giving people freedom to manage their money while at the same time having a check against irresponsible borrowing. " Aside from anything else, I would point out that freedom has never been something you can give, only something you can take away from. With that said we should ponder the following questions. When did we become the party of interference? When did we become the party that doesn’t trust people to make their own decisions, and to take responsibility for their own actions?

When we start receiving praise from someone who believes in the forcible redistribution of wealth, we should start to question whether what we are proposing is really in keeping with our philosophy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

At least the Chancellor gets body armour

Iain Dale has made an interesting point about the Chancellor's visit to Iraq and the shortage of body armour for British troops; how much responsibility does he share for that shortage? Regardless of the answer this question at least we know one thing, there was more than enough money available to make sure the Chancellor didn’t go without.

What is the end-game in Iraq?

Frederik Kagan has argued that the proposal, by some members of the Democratic Party, to withdraw coalition troops to the borders of Iraq would be a mistake. This raises an interesting question; if staying embroiled in the conflict in Iraq is the right thing to do, indeed the best thing to do, what is it that we hope to achieve by staying in? What is the end-game we have in mind? If, to borrow from the Americans, we should “stay the course”, where exactly is it we expect that course to lead us?

I’m not so sure any definitive victory may be had in Iraq. A free and stable democracy is, I fear, too much to hope for (at least in the near future). That being so, in deciding what course of action to take, our deliberations should be guided not by lofty, but unrealistic aspirations, but instead by which outcome would be the least detrimental to our long-term ambitions.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Taxpayer's poetry

Burning Our Money has an interesting post about a poet who has been given £7,000, by Arts Council England, so that he can fly to Australia to… watch cricket! It brought to mind my recent entry regarding legal plunder, and the abuse of tax-payers’ money to support ventures that should, by all rights, be self-supporting.

What possible justification is there for this? What possible benefit does the average tax-payer derive this Australian odyssey?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Legislation, legislation, legislation

The BBC has highlighted the focus in the Queen’s speech on security. I however would describe the governments focus in the coming year as ‘legislation, legislation, legislation’. Seriously, do we really need another criminal justice bill?

Osborne's bill a waste of taxpayers money?

George Osborne deserves unadulterated praise for his bill which, if enacted, would require the Treasury set up a website detailing all public spending over ₤25,000. For too long the taxpayer has been denied the ability to find out exactly how their hard-earned money is being wasted by public bodies, which have never had to account for their mismanaging of public funds.

Wouldn’t it be ironic though if Labour opposed the bill for being a waste of taxpayers’ money?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Education over legislation

Lord Goldsmith is currently investigating an apparent ‘gap’ in race hate laws following the acquittal of Nick Griffin. However I am not convinced a knee-jerk legislative reaction is what is called for. Responding with legislation provides us with the reassuring feeling that we have taken appropriate and effective action against something we perceive to be wrong. But in this situation it is far from effective. It does not address the root causes of the BNP’s success.

I submit that if we are to defeat the BNP we must engage with the communities which have succumbed to their message of hate. It is quite simply a case of education over legislation.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army
Published by Punch 8 December 1915

Friday, November 10, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion

For those who are interested you can listen to an interview I did on Radio 5 on election night by clicking here. I should add that when I was talking about the 1982 midterms I meant to say that control of the Senate changed hands, not the House.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In politics you're always one 'macaca' away from disaster

Sadly I did not get the opportunity to live-blog as I was busy watching the results flow in, whilst also feeding information to Leslie Sanchez who was taking part in a live 5-hour debate. Suffice to say though a nerve-wracking night was had by all.

We knew from the start the Republicans were going to lose the House, but felt there was a reasonable chance of them retaining the Senate. Of course as we now await the final numbers from Virginia (which we knew Allen was going to lose from about 10pm last night) it has become abundantly clear the Democrats will seize control of the Senate as well. As one of the Crystal Ball pollsters put it, Allen’s was the worst managed campaign of 2006. In politics it is important to remember you are always one ‘macaca’ away from disaster.

The next two years are going to be very interesting in US politics.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

US Mid-Terms

I will be at BBC HQ in DC this evening as the results come in. Hopefully I should get to do some live blogging. We’ll see.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Legal Plunder

As Iain Dale highlighted earlier today, David Cameron has unveiled a new Sustainable Communities Bill. Essentially the bill proposes to grant local government the power to determine how central government funds are allocated in their area (I oversimplify of course). I must admit to having no problem with the underlying premise of the bill, i.e. that a determination must be made as to whether tax-payers money is being utilised in the most appropriate manner. However I submit our action as conservatives, based on this premise, should extend much further than simply granting local government the power to redistribute spending.

As conservatives we would do well to remind ourselves of the concept of legal plunder as expounded by Frédéric Bastiat, and Barry Goldwater’s warning against viewing the raising of taxes as anything other than an issue of individual liberty.

Perhaps we should consider devolving power over spending to the taxpayer. Obviously certain things should and must be publicly funded; the military for example. Accordingly there should be no possibility of opting out of the part of one’s taxes which go towards national defence etc. However there are a great many things which tax-payers’ money currently goes towards, which may or may not be viewed by the taxpayer as something that taxes should pay for. In this regard it is worth bearing in mind that believing that something should be done, is different to believing it should be done by government.

If we believe that the government which governs least is the government that governs best, and that individuals are much better at spending their own money than the state, then surely individuals should as a matter of principle have much more control over how their income is spent. Bastiat would certainly agree with that.

If therefore person X does not wish to support the arts (and so-called art) why should that individual be forced to foot the bill, through legal plunder, for artist productions? I submit they should not be so forced.

I offer the preceding merely as food for thought. Sadly at 1am I have no desire to write a comprehensive proposal on the subject (although perhaps I should).