The Paul Gascoigne of Politics?

That is how I feel about David Cameron this morning. I want him to do well. He seems to have all the attributes to dominate the British political scene. He produces an amazing piece of skill that lights up his supporters. Then he falls flat on his face trying to do a shimmy in his own penalty area and the opposition scores.

Yesterday summed up this tendency in Cameron for me. First he had the skill, and indeed integrity, in the House of Commons when he bravely refused to have anything to do with the fudged confused, statutory regulation that wasn’t really statutory regulation from Lord Justice Leveson. He made Miliband look like the opportunistic, unprincipled, intellectual flyweight he is. The PM should have left it at that. A few tap balls with Miliband and Clegg around the centre circle, then everyone behind the ball and let Clegg and Miliband score if they can. And they can’t, in terms of striking ability – and it breaks my heart to say this – they are the political equivalent of Sunderland without Stephen Fletcher.

But no, he had to run back to his own penalty area and do the shimmies. Officials are apparently ‘drafting legal clauses which Conservative sources hope will demonstrate how a press law would be unworkable.’ (Telegraph)

I don’t know if it was DC himself who came up with this wheeze, but presumably the ‘Conservative sources’ wouldn’t have spoken to the press without his say so. Apart from anything else such a statement is naïve in the extreme. The statute books are full of unworkable laws. The Hunting Act, the Dangerous Dogs Act, and virtually all Drug Laws are unworkable, it doesn’t stop them being passed and attempts being made to implement them which invariably make the situations they were intended to remedy worse.

So, Prime Minister, please sir, from a well-wisher, continue being brave, continue following your principles. But learn that there are times when you can be too clever and that there are times when you need to get right behind the ball and keep hoofing it into the stands. After you’d scored a blinder in the House of Commons, yesterday was definitely one of them.

 

On Being Conservative 50 Years On or What Every Conservative Cabinet Minister should have in their Christmas Stocking

In 1962 Michael Oakeshott’s most thorough statement of Conservatism On Being Conservative was published in his magisterial collection of essays Rationalism in Politics. I was re-reading it recently and I was struck by both the beauty of its prose and by the timelessness of the arguments. His description of the conservative disposition cannot be bettered:

‘To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss’

For a conservative:

‘the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one’s own fortune, to live at the level of one’s own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one’s circumstances’

For Oakeshott, conservatism is primarily a state of mind that is translated to political prescriptions. It offers an alternative to the ‘jump to glory’ approach to government which has at its heart

‘a vision of a condition of human circumstance from which the occasion of conflict has been removed, a vision of human activity co-ordinated and set going in a single direction and of every resource being used to the full…[To govern in such a manner] is to turn a private dream into a public and compulsory manner of living. Thus politics becomes an encounter of dreams ..’

What Oakeshott leaves unsaid, because it is so painfully obvious, is that one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. By contrast the conservative disposition of governing is to be found in the acceptance of a condition of human circumstances where we have the propensity to make our own choices and to find happiness in doing so. The office of government then is not to:

‘impose other beliefs and activities upon its subjects, not to tutor or to educate them, not to make them better or happier in another way, not to direct them, to galvanize them into action, to lead them or to coordinate their activities so that no occasion of conflict shall occur; the office of government is merely to rule.’

And the ruler is merely the umpire whose business it is to administer the rules of the game. Governing in this sense is a specific and limited activity, it is not the management of an enterprise but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. Government is:

‘not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ …its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness.’

No one can do justice to the subtlety and beauty of Oakeshott’s philosophy and prose in a short blog. The man himself once said ‘to know the gist is to know nothing.’ But by outlining some of his ideas about the nature of conservatism and the conservative manner of governing we can perhaps see how far we have strayed from where a true conservative would be comfortable. We have a conservative led government which is currently trying to make us better as they see it, by reducing our alcohol intake, by insisting that in employment we undertake diversity training (I deliberately failed mine) and by using the language of rights in the most irresponsible way imaginable in the case of Nick Boles. Most seriously of all, today we may well see the government advocating a return to censorship of the press. This is not what a conservative government should be doing. Perhaps, we should send each Conservative member of the cabinet a copy of Rationalism in Politics for Christmas. It won’t do any harm; it may even do some good.

 

Hysterical, scaremongering latter-day Luddites V Minister who believes in the Tooth Fairy

I’m a hysterical, scaremongering latter-day Luddite and proud of it. In today’s Telegraph Nick Boles so described those of us who oppose concreting over another 1500 square miles of English countryside. That is an area more than twice the size of Greater London. Apparently, the alleged need for this housing is based on research by a dodgy left wing think tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research. Its website describes it thus:

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research, is the UK’s leading progressive thinktank. We produce rigorous research and innovative policy ideas for a fair, democratic and sustainable world.

Note the buzz words ’fair’ ‘sustainable’ ‘democratic’. Who could possibly argue with any of that? It would be the intellectual equivalent of strangling a fluffy bunny, but although they’re clearly dab hands at writing vacuous mission statements their research leaves a lot to be desired. For a start they use the wonderful word ‘models’ to predict the rise in demand. I assume they are computer models, and we all know how accurate they’ve been in predicting ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ or whatever the trendy phrase amongst bunny hugging ecofascists is these days to justify their desire to take us back to the wonderfully sustainable world of medieval feudalism.

In fairness, IPPR do admit the greatest increase in housing demand will be in the South East while the smallest increases will be in the North East and North West. Well, if you’d paid me whatever they paid for doing that report I think I could have told them that, at half the price in half the time. The ramifications of this are quite simple and should be causing any Tory MP with more than half a brain to have kittens. These are that the building is not going to take place in the Labour heartlands of the North; most of the two new Londons are going to be built in the South, in true blue Conservative territory. As the UK birth-rate is declining most of the people who will live in these new Londons will be first generation immigrants. 80% of whom vote Labour.  That was why Labour opened the immigration floodgates to begin with. Nick Boles hasn’t produced a policy; he has produced a suicide note for the Conservative Party in its heartlands.

But the, the compassionate amongst you – and possibly the terminally stupid, who agree with one of Boles’ more ludicrous statements that: “I think everyone has the right to live somewhere that is not just affordable but that is beautiful and has some green space nearby.” Yes mate, we’ve all got rights to Santa Claus, Angela Lansbury as a gran and the tooth fairy as well.’  – will say yes, but if we have these extra households they are going to need houses. I mean you don’t want people living in garages do you? No, although much of the demand could be averted if the government actually did clamp down on immigration, as it promised it would in its manifesto, and pulled us out of the EU to prevent us being swamped by yet another wave of East European migrants.

However, although I remain optimistic on the likelihood of an in/out referendum let’s assume that the government does not deal with the immigration time bomb by 2025 and those houses are required. The last place they should be built is the south of England. Although, I’m a Mackem born and bred I used to live the leafy suburbs of Farnborough, leafy suburbs that spread from the Channel in the south to Northampton in the north, from Broadstairs in the east to Dorset in the west. In other words, the south is full. Unless you want to make the place completely unlivable, and wreck the only region in Britain with a vibrant economy, leave well alone.

So, where do we build the houses that are going to be required? There’s nothing the matter with continuing to build on brownfield sites and indeed on greenfield sites within the boundaries of settlements in the south east, but not on greenfield sites outside boundaries of settlement.  A significant proportion of the rest might be found by bringing empty houses back into use, but most of the empty houses are not in the South East. There are also numerous brownfield sites scattered all over the post-industrial north as well as greenfield sites within boundaries of settlement. These should be the focus for housing development.

This begs the question; what if people don’t want to move north? Well before the likes of Nick Boles, Conservatives used to believe in markets instead of tooth fairies and Santa Claus. Land and housing is cheaper in the North. You can have a better house for less money. You can rent office and factory spaces for businesses more cheaply and because the cost of living is lower you can pay people less, so your business is more competitive. The roads aren’t as congested so it is easier to transport your products and for workers to get to work.

So here’s a revolutionary idea for Mr Boles, relax planning restrictions for both housing and business development in the old industrial areas of the North. Leave the South well alone. Let the market do the rest. Not only is it a housing policy, it is a damn good regional policy as well.

The perils of Blogging and Tweeting

I’ve been active on twitter for about a year now. I originally intended it to be an amusing commentary on my everyday life of dogs, cooking and philosophy – I’m an academic by profession. It was not going to be controversial so I didn’t take any steps to be anonymous. I used my own name and my username was a combination of the two dog breeds we then owned.

Needless to say I got rather sucked in to political arguments. I’ve always been a politics anorak and when I turned up on twitter I somehow got dragged into a series of debates about the Falklands. It was fun; I enjoyed arguing with some lunatic Argentinians, and some very nice Argentinians in cyberspace. I also enjoyed making the twitter acquaintance of a lot of fellow Brits, Americans and indeed Argentinians who supported the Falkland Islanders’ rights to self-determination as much as I did. No one knew me, so I could be as rude, iconoclastic and irresponsible as I liked.

Then it occurred to me that I was actually using my own name. Suppose my right on, politically correct employer found out that I had been flying HMS Conqueror’s Jolly Roger and explaining precisely how Buenos Aires would be flattened if Argentina decided to have a replay over the Falklands. I thought I really should be a bit more mature. But not before I managed to get myself blocked by the President of Argentina herself.

This lasted for maybe a week until I started following Sally Bercow. If ever a woman fulfils every criteria for being a completely dumb blond it is she.  When I politely pointed this out, she blocked me, shortly afterwards I had a similar conversation with Owen Jones and he blocked me too. So, I decided to give up trying to be polite and just be me. The process continued when I started this blog. I was rude about David Cameron, although I did suggest he shouldn’t fall under a bus immediately; I was rude about politicians in general and absolutely horrible to the BBC. I even condoned terrorist attacks on wind farms and suggested a campaign of TV license non-payment.

I was happy, relaxed and when I actually got sixty readers one day for a blog comparing Common Purpose to Stalin I thought that I was the next Archbishop Cranmer. Then disaster struck. At a family get together at the weekend I was checking my email on my iPad when I received a twitter notification saying that someone I had met, personally, in real life, was following me on twitter. It meant not only that he could read my tweets, he could follow the link to my blog; complete with appeals to blow up wind farms and for David Cameron to fall under a bus, although not immediately. Panic ensued, I retreated upstairs with a headache and the iPad. The blog was rapidly edited; tweets where I had suggested the use of snipers against certain well-known personalities were deleted.

So, from now on I am going to try to be intelligent and serious. At least until the next time I desperately need to vent; or until I feel the need to point out that Stuart Wheeler is several sandwiches short of a picnic. As, indeed, is any Tory MP dumb enough to have had a conversation with him.

 

 

The Appointment of a Canadian Governor of the Bank of England reminds us Who We Are

Yesterday George Osborne announced the appointment of a Canadian Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England. I’m in absolutely no position to comment on his suitability or otherwise, but what interests me is an attitude amongst some people over his immigration status. Mehdi Hassan for instance tweeted ‘Is Mark Carney’s appointment as the new governor of the Bank of England exempt from the coalition’s immigration cap?’ As his wife is British the question is irrelevant, but the fact that someone could ask the question at all shows how wrong we are on immigration and how damaging it has become to our sense of ourselves.

From next year Bulgarians and Romanians will have the right to live and work in the UK. People who have no cultural, historical or linguistic connection with this country will be allowed unrestricted access to Britain whilst Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders face humiliating restrictions and visa requirements.

This flies in the face not only of common sense but our understanding of ourselves. If Benedict Anderson is correct and nations are ‘imagined communities’ what is the community we imagine ourselves to be? The most accurate account, in my opinion, comes from Roger Scruton. He outlines it in most detail in England: An Elegy. Scruton’s answer to who WE are is couched in terms of people who belong to a particular home. That home is almost entirely territorial. For Scruton;

‘That territory was England – and it was an enchanted territory, which called to its children in every far flung corner of the globe, furnishing them with the idea and love of home.’

As Scruton goes on to say the disquiet felt in Britain and particularly England over immigration is the result not of racism, ‘but of the disruption of an old experience of home, and a loss of the enchantment which made home a place of safety and consolation.’ On a personal level I feel this very strongly. When I leave our fell top and stray away from the small villages and market towns that surround us and go into large cities I am afraid because I have become a stranger in the land of my birth. The denizens of those cities do not have even tenuous links to the idea of England as home.

It is perhaps an anachronistic idea, but it is nonetheless valid even today. For instance, when the corrupt neo-fascist Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner was using the risible Argentinian claim to the Falklands to deflect public opinion in Argentina from the economic failings of her own government at the Summit of the Americas in April, it was not the Prime Minister’s alleged ‘friend’ Barack Obama, who stood up for the rights of the Falkland Islanders, it was Stephen Harper the Canadian Prime Minister.

Harper’s principled action demonstrates both a common concern with the rights of individuals and a deep and abiding friendship that stems from a shared history, a common language, a common political culture and a shared idea of home.

Such ideas cannot be universalised, nor should they be. Instead we should celebrate them and recognise that they should privilege the people with whom we share them ahead of those who simply belong to the same cobbled together marriage of convenience. It is yet another reason why the EU is completely incompatible with who we actually are. And if the appointment of Mark Carney helps remind us of our links with the old Commonwealth then, provided he is a competent central banker, it has to be a good appointment

Can UKIP Restore the ‘Angels in Marble’?

It was said in Disraeli’s obituary in the Times that he discerned the ‘Conservative nature of the working man in the same way as a sculptor discerns an Angel in marble’. The high percentage of the working class that voted Conservative during the 20th century – often as high as 40% – was the bedrock of the party’s electoral success. It allowed them to win parliamentary seats in industrial towns and cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Sunderland. Today the Conservatives have very few if any councillors in those urban areas, never mind MPs.

Depending on your point of view the reason for this could be that the New Right in the 80s betrayed the Conservative’s working class supporters who defected to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Alternatively, it could be that while the Conservatives won the economic war, they lost the culture war, and left wing hegemony in the media ensured that they were portrayed as sleazy, arrogant, nasty and out of touch with the aspirations of ordinary working people. The result has been the emergence of a visceral hatred of the Conservatives through much of the industrial north, which is still being reinforced by the posh and privileged narrative used against George Osborne and David Cameron through much of the media. Ultimately, the cause does not matter too much. The issue that needs to be addressed is whether or not the angel is still in the marble? And if it is how do we restore it?

My guess, from regular visits to the northeast where hostility to the Conservatives is very strong, is that the angel is probably still there. Working people are still patriotic, they still resent the fact that they work hard, whilst in their midst are people who take advantage of the system and do nothing in return. And they are still hostile to immigration, which they see as a threat to their jobs, neighbourhoods and living standards.

The question then becomes can the Conservatives ever regain the trust and support of the working class voters they have lost? All things are possible and I would never rule it out entirely, but it took us a generation to lose that support, it may well take us another generation to get it back. However, might there be a shortcut?

Like most people, I was appalled by the treatment of the foster parents in Rotherham who had children removed from their care because they were members of UKIP. It smacks of totalitarianism and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the council’s Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Joyce Thacker, is yet another graduate of Common Purpose. But what was more interesting to me was that the two foster parents were not former Conservatives but former Labour supporters who had joined UKIP. Could UKIP be a vehicle to win back the working class right wing vote? The signs are not wholly promising, apart from a third place in the Corby by-election UKIP has performed spectacularly badly in Westminster elections, but they are now becoming established. It was noticeable that even James Naughtie at the BBC in an interview with Thacker on the Today programme referred to them as a ‘mainstream’ political party. The regional list system used for European elections favours them and I would be very surprised of they aren’t first or second in terms of MEPs in the next Euro elections in 2014.

In Westminster elections, however, a UKIP vote is a wasted vote. It took first the Liberals, and later the Liberal Democrats over 40 years of campaigning on parish pump issues to shake off that particular stigma. UKIP just don’t have that time. Nonetheless, as a Conservative I’m starting to ask myself; who would I rather see as David Cameron’s deputy Prime Minister in a coalition, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage?

I would love to see a Conservative majority at the next general election, but sadly I don’t think it will happen. The Lib Dems broken promise over the boundary review will more or less guarantee it. In the past I have always opposed electoral reform, but I am beginning to think it might have its attractions. A system like the regional list system would instantly decouple Lib Dem MPs from the constituency base which is the main source of their electoral strength. It would mean that a UKIP vote was no longer a wasted vote and it would allow them to appeal to working class voters who will no longer consider voting Tory, but who are fed up to the back teeth of being treated as electoral cannon fodder by Labour.

I started this blog with a quotation about Disraeli. To conclude, another one is apposite. Disraeli was Conservative leader in the Commons when the Second Reform Act was passed. The Act instituted household suffrage and was the first significant step towards enfranchising the Working Class. Lord Derby, the Conservative Prime Minister in the Lords, described it as a ‘leap in the dark’. It was a leap which helped win a significant proportion of the working class vote for the Conservative Party. It may be time for just such another leap. It won’t win back the working class vote for the Conservative Party, but it could well win it back for Conservatism. In my view it’s worth the risk.

 

Islam and the West: The Clash of Civilizations (almost) 20 Years On

In 1993 the American Political Scientist Samuel Huntington published an article in the journal Foreign Affairs that argued that the Cold War had been succeeded by a “clash of civilizations”. He identified eight potential rivals, these were (i) Western, (ii) Latin American, (iii) Islamic, (iv) Sinic (Chinese), (v) Hindu, (vi) Orthodox, (vii) Japanese, and (viii) the African.  Potentially, all these civilizations could still clash. However, where Huntington appears to have been perceptive is that he predicted the potential class between the West and Islam. It is this clash that is shaping contemporary politics globally, and having a baleful impact on politics here in the UK.

Internationally we see the devastation in Gaza; and the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran should ruin everyone’s sleep. It is one of the many reasons why I believe that the defence cuts undertaken by our current government are nothing short of lunacy.

However, the problem I want to explore today is that of the problem of Islam within a modern western state, specifically Britain. My – admittedly imperfect – understanding of Islam is this: Islam is based on a sacred text whose law may be misapplied but not altered. It defines itself in terms of submission to the sacred text handed by God to the Prophet Mohammed. The Muslim is one who has submitted to the sacred text.

It means that freedoms we take for granted in the west are denied in Islamic countries and children can be shot by fanatics for demanding them. Ironically, as Islam also promises security, most of the world’s refugees are Muslims fleeing from places where their religion is the official doctrine; the charming Abu Qatada is just the most notorious example. By contrast, western civilization is currently defined by its adherence to freedom. (For reasons too long and complex to go into in a blog I think this is a fallacy, and the emphasis on liberty and rights is actually destructive of the true foundations of western civilization. If anyone wants to explore these, then by far the best summary is given in Roger Scruton’s book The West and the Rest.)

Nonetheless, there is a split in our society between the host community and, at the very least, a significant minority of Muslims over core social values. These are issues like ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse of non-Muslim children by Muslims and forced marriage. These are problems that do not arise in other ethnic communities in Britain, even those, such as Sikhs and Hindus, from areas in close proximity to the regions where most British Muslims originate. The issue is therefore, one of religion not race.

Nowhere, is this seen more starkly than in the grooming of non-Muslim children for sex by Muslim men. This is not just a problem with white children, Hindu and Sikh groups have also complained to the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, saying that she has ignored their concerns about Muslim men targeting Hindu and Sikh girls. In fact, in a report published yesterday the prevalence of Muslims in such grooming was ignored despite the fact that 33% of offenders whose ethnicities were known were Asian, mostly British Pakistanis. Only 2% of the population is of Pakistani heritage.

There are also good reasons to believe that the problem is more widespread. A couple of weeks ago I heard a speech from Kris Hopkins the MP for Keighly and Ilkley. No arrests for child grooming have yet been made there, but he was adamant that his area was experiencing severe child exploitation problems. Like others, such as the Sikh Media Monitoring Group, he believes that we are dancing a politically correct tune around the issue rather than dealing with it.

The crux of the problem, that we need to tackle head on, is that Muslim men do not appear to view non-Muslim girls with any respect. That is not surprising, as many British Muslims, particularly from rural areas in Pakistan, have no respect for the society in which they live. In that sense the multiculturalism pursued since Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in the 60s has failed spectacularly. If we cannot get over to a group of our citizens that child rape is wrong how can we inculcate in them values of civic engagement and patriotism. The answer is we can’t, anyone who has visited northern towns such as Blackburn, Burnley or Bradford knows that they operate under a system of apartheid. There is no integration whatsoever between communities. It cannot be allowed to continue. For their own sakes, as well as the well-being of the wider community Muslims must integrate. To begin with we should accept that multiculturalism has failed and end multilingualism in government departments.

It would be wrong to ban the Burkha, but if people wish to enter banks or government and local government offices it is legitimate to demand that they are removed. Equally, the practice of bringing spouses from Pakistan has to be stopped. All that does is reinforce community separation. However, the thing that would do most to end the apartheid in our communities would be to apply the laws we have and stop treating Muslim communities with kid gloves for fear of being considered racist.