Thursday, 18 October 2012

Australia's PM: neither powerful nor a lady

Lady Thatcher: can you imagine this woman ever complaining she was offended by anything?
Margaret Thatcher once likened being powerful to being a lady. If you had to tell people you were, she quipped, then you most definitely weren't.

I was reminded of this pearl of wisdom this morning during the unfortunate combination of breakfast and a video of Australian prime minister Julia Gillard on the news.

The highly unpopular and severely weakened Labor premier was screeching like a hysterical baboon at Liberal leader of the opposition Tony Abbott that she had been offindid by what she saw as his sexist behaviour toward women.

Examples of this 'sexism' included Mr Abbott once having stood next to a sign reading 'ditch the witch' and of 'cat-calling' across the dispatch box 'if the prime minister, politically speaking, wants to make an honest woman of herself...'

This was, she felt, sufficient to charge him with being 'sexist' and 'misogynist' on the grounds neither of those terms could have been used against a male prime minister. But it gets worse. She also presumed to be offindid on behalf of every woman in Australia that Mr Abbott once described abortion as 'the easy way out'.

I understand Australians have something of a reputation for being 'uncouth' but, as my libertarian friends never tire of pointing out, offence may be taken but it cannot be given. With that in mind, let's review the accusations Miss Gillard is levelling against Mr Abbott.

In the first instance, she is claiming Mr Abbott is being sexist and misogynist because he is using gender-exclusive terms in attacking her, such as 'witch'.

This is an important point because it is not that Mr Abbott is being deliberately rude to her that the prime minister finds so offinsive but that he is doing so in a way which identifies her as a woman.

But, while it is true no male prime minister is likely to be called a witch, Miss Gillard is discounting the fact she is herself unlikely to be attacked with the armoury of generally male-exclusive expletives so favoured by the antipodean lexicon such as 'dickhead', 'wanker' or 'bastard'. All these words are designed to be offinsive in context but not because they are gender-specific - it is merely incidental that most expletives happen to be so.

In this light, it is difficult to see how these comments could convincingly be described as sexist, if we take this to mean discrimination against women. Nor, for that matter, under the Australian Macquarie Dictionary's revised definition of misogyny as 'an entrenched prejudice against women'.

Mr Abbott's opinion that abortion is 'the easy way out', too, is just that - an opinion. Certainly, with the coldness many advocates of abortion refer to it as 'destroying a parasite', one would be forgiven for holding such a view. But that is not the point. Attitudes on both sides of the fence are neither objectively nor universally offinsive to anyone, least of all the entire female population of a country.

So why do it? The real trouble here is Miss Gillard, like so many socialist politicians, is attempting to disguise her weakness and failings as prime minister beneath the cloak of victimisation. Unfortunately for her it serves only to accentuate them.

Take Margaret Thatcher. She could easily be described as one of the most hated politicians in modern history and was, in office, subjected to some of the most grotesque insults from Labourites, trade unionists and members of her own party. 'That bloody woman' and 'the grocer's daughter' were among the tamest and she is universally identified as a 'bitch' by almost everyone on the left even at the age of 87.

But did she ever complain? Did she ever winge about things being offinsive or even acknowledge the abuse hurled at her? No. Not a bit of it. She just got on with the job. As for being treated differently because she was a woman, rather than cry about it, she mercilessly exploited it. As Douglas Hurd once said, 'Some people find it difficult to argue with a woman prime minister, and shrivel up.'

As someone who is neither powerful nor, arguably, much of a lady - Miss Gillard could learn a lot from Lady Thatcher. She might even find her someone she can do business with. 'When I'm out of politics I'm going to run a business,' the great lady once said. 'It'll be called rent-a-spine.' Quite.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Why did I become a Conservative?

This is one of the strongest reasons I became a Conservative.
It is now some five and a half years since I took that great leap from ill-informed, unaligned socialist to committed, born-again Conservative. After returning from my second, and by all objective measures best, Conference to date my mind turned to what had caused me to join in the first place.

I am now only three years from 30 which, apart from being something of a last port-of-call for adulthood, will also see the end of my Conservative Future membership. I needed to know exactly why I was in this and what I wanted to do with my continued Conservative party membership.

It was certainly not to swan around in white tie and 'pretend to be posh' - as a certain Sunday newspaper might have it. But the manner in which this purely private and, let's face it, rather superficial social activity was blown out of all proportion by the press encouraged me further to really get down why I call myself a Conservative.

My belief in free markets, personal responsibility and the small state factored greatly in my decision to join the party in February 2007. But these convictions do not significantly set me apart from a large number of Liberal Democrats or, indeed, the wider European liberal movement. I could quite easily have remained nonpartisan and joined a group like the Freedom Association or Adam Smith Institute.

No, it was a far more emotional - and therefore much more powerful - reason, based on personal experience, which prompted me to join. I regularly kept a journal in those days which charts, in rather intimate detail, a radical personal and intellectual journey.

One snippet in particular stands out from the myriad of economic quotes from Friedman and Hayek. It was my reaction to David Cameron's 2006 Conference speech. That year he laid down in plain but forceful English the emotional benefits of marriage. Specifically, on how it provides the necessary foundation for the citizen to really make something of their lives and, in doing so, contribute to the national economy.

The tone of the speech is so far from the rhetoric of a prime minister understandably preoccupied with the continued economic woes of our island nation that I felt it necessary to reproduce said snippet in full. Speaking in Bournemouth, Mr Cameron said;

"I'm not naive in thinking that somehow the state can engineer happy families with this policy or that tax break. All I can tell you is what I think. And what I think is this. There's something special about marriage. 
"It's not about religion. It's not about morality. It's about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it's in a church or anywhere else, what you're doing really means something. 
"Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it's not just about 'me, me, me' anymore. It is about we: together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters."

The speech had a profound effect on the mind of that 21-year-old art student watching Conservative Party Conference at home on television. It was probably the first time in my life I began to think of marriage as a good idea.

But this was not purely based on Cameron's words. His message had touched upon something I was already beginning to experience. Because, as he went on to say, this commitment does not simply apply to the traditional definition of family.

This was, of course, a reference to his support for civil marriages (which has now grown to a planned parity between heterosexual and homosexual marriage) but to me it sounded as though he was describing my very own little 'family'.

We may have been only five close friends sharing a house but there were things about the arrangement which had already had a profound effect on my mental state. It sounds ridiculous now but the commitment we made in putting down deposits on the house, together with the 12-month tenancy contract, provided me with a much-needed sense of stability.

Putting an equal share in the kitty for the weekly shop reinforced this and the practice of one member of the household cooking dinner for everyone else each day of the week kept us close.

I was going through a difficult patch at university at the time, having realised I may have made a grave mistake in even going, but every day I felt strengthened by the fact that, whatever I went though, my 'family' was always there for me at the end of the day while we sat around the dinner (or rather, coffee) table.

Being able to relate that experience to Cameron's moving description of marriage fundamentally changed my view of that institution and, in the coming months, what Conservative party membership could offer me.

So it struck a chord with me reading, exactly six years later, Jill Kirby's words in the ConservativeHome Daily newspaper on Tuesday in which she asked of Cameron 'What had happened to that passion?' It was her opinion the prime minister only spoke passionately on the subject these days in reference to gay marriage.

Now, I fully support the Government's plans to include homosexuals in the definition of marriage. It does, after all, only apply to civil marriage as religious marriage is not recognised in law. But this must not come at the expense of making clear, at every opportunity, the emotional benefits of the institution as a whole.

Because, however much we may dislike it, people vote with their emotions. Furthermore, even men like Friedman and Hayek knew that a liberal democracy and free market economy can only work if people have strong familial and community networks of support. If you destroy those foundations, or allow them to wither, statism is inevitable.

John Redwood, a man I greatly admire, said 'The Conservative party is a tax cutting party or it is nothing'. But I say it would be poor shadow of its former self if it ever ceased to be the party of family and of family values - however unconventional the model.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Why republicans should cheer up and enjoy the jubilee

Pomp & Circumstance: How could you not love this?

As a republican, one of the things that really dismays me about most of my supposed peers is the way they seem to be more against the monarchy than for any particular political system.

You rarely hear anyone passionately explaining the many benefits of their preferred constitutional arrangement. Instead you tend to get a barrage of abstract and largely inconsequential arguments about equality such as 'why should one family have that much wealth and influence?' and 'everyone should have the opportunity to become head of state'.

Harnessing this as the lowest common denominator, you end up with the ludicrous situation of groups like Republic proposing we elect a president simply to give him or her the exact same job as the Queen (which is so minimal the turnout figures would put even the AV referendum to shame) but without any of the things that make it worth while. Namely the splendour, the continuity and the sense of a nation personified.

Personally I have no problem with the monarchy. I love the Queen and the institution itself embodies so many of the things I, and tourists, love about Britain - pomp, pageantry, camping it up a bit and putting on a damn good show. And you can add to that a stiff upper lip, which was out in spades today, as the Royal Family and the public said 'tosh' to the bad weather.

Despite this, I believe it important to have an elected head of state (for reasons I have explained here, here and here) and favour the French system of having a fairly powerful president, who then shares that power with his or her chosen prime minister. But, if there was a referendum and this system wasn't one of the options, I would vote to keep the monarchy.

So, for me, there's absolutely no feeling of hypocrisy in celebrating the Queen's diamond jubilee and singing 'God Save the Queen' at the end of a black tie dinner on Friday. There's the faint guilt of knowing I could one day put said Queen out of a job, sure, but one should follow the logic of one's political convictions wherever they may lead.

There's also none of the grumpiness  you will no doubt encounter from republicans at some point this weekend. Said grumpiness has led to a few arguments with some of my fellow libertarians - who I actually had no idea were so inclined to the explicitly anti-monarchist republicanism detailed above.

You got your usual, slightly hysterical, reasons for not joining in with the fun (an allusion to third world dictators and the cult of personality being one of the more outrageous) but the only point at which I was truly stumped was on the use of public money to fund the festivities.

Particularly at a time of such austerity, it's a little difficult to justify using the money you've taken from people by threat of force to fund an outrageously bombastic celebration of a very wealthy lady's anniversary, however lovely she is.

'But the Queen is so popular!' you may well say. 'Look how many people turned out to see the pageant!' you might well add. Well, yes, but that still doesn't make it very fair for those people who don't agree with the thing in the first place.

But I have the answer. Recently I had the pleasure of leafing through my newspaper's archives to see how Barnsley celebrated Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. The event was far larger and more magnificent than anything going on in the town this weekend but here's the good bit - not a penny of taxpayer's money was spent on it.

In the days when income tax was paid only by the super-rich - and even then at less than one per cent - the mayor instead appealed personally to the townsfolk to donate by public subscription. In the end they raised £600 which, in today's money, is a staggering £64,000. Not bad for a small Yorkshire town and, of course, paid only by enthusiastic monarchists.

So, presuming Her Majesty still reigns in 2022, my suggestion is the platinum jubilee celebrations be funded in a similar fashion.That way the grumpy republicans can't complain their money is being spent on something they so heartily disagree with and, you never know, they might even cheer up. Win win!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Neither Brussels nor Washington but national independence!

If Mickey is about to stick his head up his arse it must be through shame of his country
It is an oft-repeated line that, following the Second World War, Britain had 'lost an Empire and has not yet found a role.' That was Dean Acheson, a key player in the Truman administration.

Acheson died in 1971 but I think it's fair to say his assertion still stands. That said, I don't believe Enoch Powell was wrong when he said in 1983 that 'Britain's fondness for America has turned this country into something horribly resembling a satellite of the United States.'

I have remarked before on the way in which the myth of the 'special relationship' serves only two purposes; namely to delude Britons into believing they still hold any relevance on the world stage and to serve American strategic interests. Only one benefits from this arrangement.

Insofar as any 'special relationship' has ever existed, it has done so only personally, between presidents and prime ministers such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

America's open agression towards the British Empire, its betrayal over Suez, its funding of the IRA, its invasion of Grenada and its support for Britain's deeper integration into the European Union all overshadow these all too brief partnerships and emphasise how little love we can really share with a nation in which we were violently separated over 200 years ago.

Readers of this blog will know that, despite all this, I nurture a deep affection for the Great Republic, its Revolution and its Constitution. Indeed, were I alive at the time, I would most certainly have supported the Patriots over the redcoats of  George III.

And, despite the United States' disastrous foray into imperialism since the war, it is a country built on the principle of anti-imperialism - and any powerful country will attempt to use other nations for its own strategic interest. My beef rests with the vain, deluded and spineless politicians of this country who allow this exploitation with no resistance.

In their unquestioning loyalty as vassels of Washington and their treasonous treachery in Brussels, they have destroyed the independence of this nation. In the pursuit of foreign adventures, the memory of Empire, phoney prestige and the empty promise of lucrative markets, they have made this country the puppet of alien powers.

Nothing can be more exemplary of this than the grotesquely one-sided extradition treaty which exists between Britain and the United States. On Friday, Richard O'Dwyer became but the latest victim of this most unjust arrangement.

Richard, who in running the TVShack website provided links to pirated US films and TV shows in much the same way as Google does, now faces extradition to a country in which he has not set foot in since he was five years old and for actions which are not even considered a crime in the UK.

It is an infantilising arrangement eerily reminiscent of the extraterritoriality western powers imposed on China and Japan in the Unequal Treaties - in which western nationals were forbidden from being tried by oriental courts in favour of western consular authorities.

And, while much is made of the (very real) threat the European Arrest Warrant poses to the liberties of British nationals, Richard's mother Julia made the very good point when I spoke to her today that, at least those extradited under the EAW are accused of committing crimes in the extraditing country. Richard is being extradited for breaking US law while in the UK.

This is a moral, legal and sovereign travesty as well as the most compelling vindication of Enoch Powell's view of Britain as a US satellite. Though even he may not have foreseen the very literal unfolding of this observation.

During the Cold War, Trotskyites summed up their opposition to Stalinism and capitalism with the slogan 'Neither Moscow nor Washington but International Socialism!'

Despite recent articles arguing a choice for one or the other (here and here), I suggest a new clarion call, for true patriots of this country; 'Neither Brussels nor Washington but National Independence!'

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

If we can have fairness on a shoestring, why did it cost the Earth last time?

Miliband! Pay attention!
Ed Miliband really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't he? Hot on the heels of the #blackbusters débâcle, his latest cock-swinging assertion of leadership has managed to skilfully avoid rhyme, reason and - as usual - detail.

This last point is hardly out of keeping with what we've come to expect, of course. Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition has hitherto failed to spell out exactly how it would avoid the 'cuts' the present Government is having to make, despite having almost a year and half to think it over.

No, what astounds me, is how Mr Ed has managed to turn one of the more persistently ludicrous socialist mantras on its head into something even more ludicrously nonsensical.

Those of us on the more fiscally responsible wing of politics have often scoffed at the way in which socialists (including those masking as 'liberals') presume that they can 'create jobs' by taking money out of the economy through tax, losing a great deal of it in the machine of bureaucracy, then injecting it back into the economy as a 'stimulus'.

The logical question to ask of course is, if spending $450bn really does create jobs, why not spend $900bn and create twice as many? (Hat-tip, Daniel Hannan).

Praise must be given to Mr Miliband for not falling into this trap, however. He has, after all, finally admitted that a Labour government would have to make some 'difficult choices' with a severely curtailed exchequer - even if he is blaming this on George Osborne rather than his former master (to whom we should not forget he was a 'special advisor').

No, declining to fall into one trap, the Leader of the Opposition has decided to jump head-first into another of his own making. The key point in his address at the Oxo Tower today was that a future Labour government could still 'deliver fairness' even on a budget.

The logical question to ask of this, then, is, if he can so easily deliver this fairness on a shoestring, why did his government squander billions of pounds worth of the nation's wealth pursuing it during the good times? Couldn't we have done it on the cheap then, too?

Let us not forget that, even before the financial crisis hit, ten years of Labour irresponsibility had already ensured the UK had the largest budget deficit of any European nation - at £58bn. (This was then doubled by Gordon Brown upon his succession to the premiership via the 'stimulus delusion' we have touched upon).

No, as ever, when a Labour politician attempts to sound remotely competent, responsible and realistic on the economy, it only goes to show what precious understanding they have in that lunatic little world they live in.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Don't forget GB was forged in the same manner as EU

The Acts of Union were not nearly as civilised as Walter Thomas Monnington imagined
How short our memories are here in England. Okay, so I don't expect anyone to remember the Acts of Union. They were given Royal Assent more than 300 years ago, after all, and I'm not Connor MacLeod.

But it is interesting to note that many of those who do not believe the Scots deserve a referendum on the question of independence from the Great Britain are the very same who argue the UK is being absorbed into a Continental Union without its people's consent.

The irony is, the Kingdom of Great Britain was brought into the world in a manner strikingly similar to that with which the EU is currently constructing itself. Namely through bribery, deceit, corruption and in a vacuum of democracy.

It may have been 300, rather than 40, years ago - and the fruits of Union may have been plenty - but the fact remains; Scots have never actually had a say on whether they wanted to be in the Union. Shouldn't someone have asked them by now?

It is, of course, a fair point to make that, in 1707, democracy will never have been on the cards. There were still some 70 years to go before the American Revolution and democracy was still seen as an ancient, dangerous and infantile idea.

But that does not make what transpired any more palatable. The fact remains that Union was incredibly unpopular in Scotland. Despite the country's dire straits and the clear economic advantages of Union, the vast majority of Scots were vehemently against being absorbed by the auld enemy and effectively losing their country.

Indeed, the Act of Union was only passed by the Scottish Parliament because the English Exchequer had enriched many of its MPs - a number of which had accumulated large debts following the very Darien disaster that prompted the issue of Union in the first place.

Sound familiar? EU pay and pensions are exceedingly generous for good reason - money encourages loyalty in weak men and makes it far easier for them to betray their country and people. In this sense there really is no difference at all between what the Duke of Queensbury did then and what everyone from Edward Heath to David Cameron have done since the 1970s.

All the arguments which call for the British people to have their say on membership of the European Union apply in equal force to Scotland. As Alex Massie points out, on the Spectator blog, it is no good telling Scots that Union is for their own good and that they get a bloody good deal financially from England.

Apart from the fact that this is one aspect of Union least likely to engender loyalty in the Scottish breast, it is very much like David Cameron's response to calls for an EU referendum - namely, I think Brussels is good for us, so you don't get a say. If the mutual benefits are so obvious, are we not confident of putting them to the test? Nick Clegg used to think so.

It is interesting to note, too, that it is often Alex Salmond and the SNP portrayed as splitting up the Union, not the Scottish people. This must surely be due to the fact that polls consistently show a lack of enthusiasm among Scots for separation. But the point remains; they have a right to be asked.

The argument over whose terms the referendum ought to be conducted displays a similar level of hypocrisy. Would any Unionist eurosceptic feel comfortable with a referendum on EU membership being conducted by Brussels rather than Westminster? No, I didn't think so.

None of this is to say this writer is against the Union. On the contrary, I agree with David Cameron that it has served the people England and Scotland greatly and has much yet to offer us. But Scottish membership of Great Britain and UK membership of the European Union are twin issues. And in both cases it ought to be the people, not the politicians, who decide.