Tuesday, February 28, 2006

David Cameron radically redefines the Tories

'David Cameron will ask Conservative members today to back a radical redefinition of his party's goals... Mr Cameron has been praised in the party for his energetic approach to the leadership but he has alarmed some colleagues by targeting traditional Conservative policies' such as promoting conservatism. 'Recent weeks have seen private concern... about the direction Mr Cameron is taking the party. The document was unveiled late last night... It commits the party to policies aimed at putting to bed its' conservative past.

David Cameron explained that the recent Power commission had identified 'the main political parties [being] widely perceived to be too similar and lacking in principle' as a major cause of public disillusionment with the political process. He said for the Tories to get back into government they needed to put clear water between themselves and Labour. "It's about saying to people don't think we aren't different, here it is, don't think we are just about PR and empty of values, here it is," said one shadow cabinet member last night.

David Cameron describes his moment of revelation as coming shortly after a dinner party conversation with a Marxist academic about the best way to puree organic avocado. Up to that point, he said, he'd passively accepted the capitalist system. Suddenly he realised that breaking this consensus was an excellent way of staking out new political ground.

His plan sets out eight defining ambitions for the party, emphasising a compassionate agenda that focuses on helping the disadvantaged.

The plan begins by pledging 'to secure for all the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry of service'.

The test of Tory policies must be 'how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich", it says, reversing Margaret Thatcher's famous phrase to declare "there is such a thing as society".... Government can be "a force for good", it declares.... It also picks up on last year's mass campaign to end developing world debt, arguing that "it is our moral obligation to make poverty history'...

The document concludes by arguing that 'the [most disadvantaged in society] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. [Poor] of all countries, unite!'

Last night some Conservatives - although not Mr Cameron - argued that the document sounded oddly like communism. Mr Cameron remained defiant:

"I think the right thing to do is to put out what the party stands for and is fighting for," Mr Cameron told the BBC last night. "We don't have a clause four so I'm not asking the party to junk something."

He explained that Conservatism wasn't really thrusting and modern enough for the 21st century, especially when even Prince Charles thinks of himself as a political dissident. It was a bit backward looking and, well, conservative. He said the way forward for the Tory party was to borrow from other, more radical, political philosophies. He quoted the Power Commission who said many people nowadays felt that 'voting [was] a waste of time' and argued this fitted perfectly with a Dictatorship of the Most Disadvantaged. He discussed the Commission's discovery of increasing citizen engagement in extra-parliamentary politics such as single-issue campaigns. He said there were lots of young people on the Make Poverty History demo wearing Che Guevara t-shirts - this suggested Communism was a great way of appealing to the younger voter.

"Initial reaction to the document inside the party appeared positive last night, although at least one shadow cabinet member is believed to have opposed plans to take it to a vote of party members.... Conservative sources said last night that the document was more than a caving in to New Labour's agenda."

Instead it was out-gunning them.

Nick Griffin's ego has entered the building...

I found this whilst following one of my Google backlinks [Mark Collett pink tie WTF?!]. It's a blog charting Nick Griffin's recent trial, apparently by the man himself. I wouldn't be surprised if it *was* written by Nick Griffin - the blog reads like a US courtroom drama script in which 'persecuted-hero-of-the-moment' single-handedly steals the day, etc. If he loses the retrial, I recommend he does an Archer and writes books:

We go downstairs to the foyer. Outside we can see to the left the wildy waving flags of our loyal crowd of supporters. And a bank of TV cameras and still photographers like I’ve never seen before. This is going to be wild!... I grab Mark’s hand and raise our twinned hands in victory. There are ‘V’ signs everywhere... Our crowd is ecstatic. “Freedom, freedom, freedom” rings out across the precinct.

I found it interesting (know your enemy and their every trick... and so on) so wanted to share. But with [obvious] disclaimers - watch out for the bias, don't believe everything you read and I take no responsibility for the libellious content of links, etc. outside of this blog.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Spread the word: The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

You can get information about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill as well as blog buttons, etc. here.

The five-minute blog break

I'm linking to this chap because he asked nicely, although we won't be blogging about Welsh nationalism since we know nothing about it (sorry).


Tristan has deleted his article on economic liberalism. I'd linked to it since I found it excellent - please bring it back!

This article makes an almost identical argument to mine that it is middle-income women who are the group unable to justify having children. Often because they're likely to be downgraded or made redundant.

Sceptical about Big Brother

Only 52% of people favour ID cards according to a YouGov poll. But out of those interviewed:
  • 80 per cent of YouGov's respondents are convinced that determined criminals and potential terrorists will always find a way of forging the cards
  • More than 70 per cent of those in the survey believe that the proposed national system of cards will be enormously expensive to install and maintain and will certainly cost far more than the Government claims
  • More than 70 per cent are also convinced that some of the data stored on people's cards will inevitably be leaked, sold, hacked into or used improperly in other ways
  • Perhaps because they recall the passport fiasco of the late 1990s, 60 per cent fear that the introduction of cards will be time-consuming and cause an immense amount of disruption and inconvenience
  • Roughly 61 per cent fear that the data on people's cards will sometimes be passed on without proper authorisation to foreign governments and other foreign agencies

You've not convinced me, Mr Blair

And now for that Tony Blair article. He's added a couple of paragraphs since yesterday, but it's still a big pile of balderdash. His claims are two-fold. First - the 'right' are conspiring to make Labour look authoritarian now they can't attack them for being socialist:

The reason right wingers are keen on this is clear. New Labour has eschewed traditional forms of leftist statism. So the type of claim they used to make about the Attlee or Wilson governments they can't plausibly make about us.

And second - the world has become more dangerous and we don't now have the luxury of piffling things like freedom of speech and civil liberties:

Here, we must put a new case about liberty in the modern world.... the 'rules' are becoming harder to enforce.... For me, this is not an issue of liberty but of modernity... In theory, traditional court processes and attitudes to civil liberties could work. But the modern world is different from the world for which these court processes were designed.

I've already examined the first claim in another blog post. Nationalising industries was never all that Labour stood for and most of the ideological baggage remains. That ideological baggage includes a focus on the rights of the many and not the few. Tony Blair writes:

The question is not one of individual liberty vs the state but of which approach best guarantees most liberty for the largest number of people.

If you define 'the right' as a group focused on individual freedom rather than collective action then he's right - nationalisation is no longer the primary critique of a Labour government. But it's a straight clash of ideologies not just political point-scoring. Tone thinks otherwise and evidences his numerous sacrifices on the altar of citizen power.

But first, the true record. This government has introduced the Human Rights Act, so that, for the first time, a citizen can challenge the power of the state solely on the basis of an infringement of human rights...

... and 'has regretted it ever since since it's impeded our anti-terror and asylum legislation'. He didn't add that? What a surprise!

and the Freedom of Information Act, the most open thing any British government has done since the Reform Acts of the 1830s.

I'm happy to concede him that (for the moment) - he didn't need to pass this act. But in terms of real disclosure, there are telling exemptions, namely 'qualified exemptions mean the public body... has to judge whether the "public interest" in keeping something secret outweighs that in disclosing it... Others are vaguely worded - one exemption covers material relating to "the formulation of government policy" - leading critics to predict the legislation won't be as open as people hope.' And IIRC Anthony Sampson was pretty scathing about how much difference has been made.

We have... restricted the Prime Minister's right to nominate to the House of Lords.

I don't know how Tone's claiming that - the BBC website says about the current composition of the HofL 'the majority of those left in place are also not elected, known as life peers, they are appointed by the prime minister, in the name of the Queen.' Admittedly the intended reforms were never completed because of the HofC was unable to settle on a solution but even if the government had got its way - 'the government remained committed to a largely appointed chamber' and 'Mr Blair has come under repeated fire for "cronyism" in his appointment of peers'. So was the reform of the HofL really about democracy and accountability? Or was it about traditional class war? History may suggest the latter.

Tone argues how open and accountable he is:

As for parliament, I have spent proportionately more time answering questions than any predecessor; given more statements; am the only PM ever to agree to appear before the select committee chairs; the only one to give monthly press conferences. And I gave a vote specifically on whether to go to war.

At least two of those are completely invalid as evidence of a commitment to democracy - 'given more statements' and 'monthly press conferences' are about spin and not accountability. Answering questions and appearing before select committee chairs may encourage openness, depending on how you're answering the questions. But the vote on Iraq was taken with a large commons majority and against a backdrop of major public scepticism. Does that make you a passionate advocate for parliamentary government? Or just a canny politician?

So how does Tone defend his ideology? Well, this is where the second part of his argument comes in.

am from the generation that I would characterise, crudely, as hard on behaviour, but soft on lifestyle, i.e. I support tough measures on crime but am totally pro gay rights.

This is consistent with my long post about Labour - he's defending oppressed groups but not individuals. So this is about ideology, not fact. But Tony would like it to be about fact:

But the 'rules' are becoming harder to enforce. Antisocial behaviour isn't susceptible to normal court process.

Because people never littered, spat or otherwise behaved badly before 1997... Or committed violent organised crime:

Modern organised crime is really ugly, with groups, often from overseas, frequently prepared to use horrific violence.

So given the world is more dangerous than it ever was in any historical period in the past:

traditional court processes and attitudes to civil liberties could work. But the modern world is different from the world for which these court processes were designed.

Example - Trial by Jury. This is a namby-pamby bit of court process, unsuitable for the dangers and rigors of the modern world. Because Britain was such a peaceful place in 1215 (and that's only when it was enshrined in law) where everyone grew ickle flowers and kissed bunny rabbits to sleep. Family ties were incredibly strong, there was no upheaval, no violence. It was idyllic. You can tell Mr Blair didn't read history at university...

People should be prevented from glorifying terrorism. You can say it is a breach of the right to free speech but in the real world, people get hurt when organisations encourage hatred.


  • There is no legislation currently to prevent people inciting violence
  • Saying nasty things produces violence in the absence of any other contributory factors
  • Stopping people saying nasty things immediately stops people thinking them
  • Legislation is only going to be used in the exact circumstances Mr Blair is thinking of and nowhere else
  • It's very straightforward to define what is 'freedom fighting' and what is 'terrorism'
  • Banning groups immediately stops them existing
  • No group can restart up under a different name once it's been banned...

No? May I humbly suggest, Mr Blair, that it is not 'a refusal to understand the modern world' that drives your critics but a genuine difference of opinion driven by a hint of pragmatism and common sense. Likewise:

On ID cards, there is a host of arguments, irrespective of security, why their time has come. Most people already have a range of different cards, for workplace, bank or leisure. And, contrary to what is said, it will not be an offence not to carry one.

It may not be compulsory to carry one, but you won't be able to get a passport otherwise... People may hold a range of different cards, but they don't potentially cost up to £300, contain biometric info or be held on a centralised government database (which is bound to go wrong or overspend as have other government computer systems).

In summary - if it looks like an authoritarian... and it sounds like an authoritarian... then it probably is an authoritarian. You've not convinced me, Mr Blair.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The 5-minute blog break

Peter Hitchens argues with (and writes) his own Wikipedia entry.


Will hopefully get the chance to attack this Observer article this evening - it's not everyday you get to fisk the Prime Minister. But then, he's asking for it:

There is a charge, crafted by parts of the right wing and now taken up by parts of the left, that New Labour is authoritarian

No?! Never?!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dreaming up the police-state in the bath

Great minds think alike and apparently so do I and Matthew Paris... We both think Labour ministers invent their proposals in the bath. He writes:

Here in no particular order is a selection of horrors of which a handful — unbelievably — have made it on to the statute book (and sunk into oblivion), a handful are bogged down in the House of Lords, and the rest have simply disappeared into an embarrassed silence. The point about all these is not that nobody should even have dreamt them up in the bath. Many brilliant ideas start in the bath, but so do many idiotic ones. The point is that none should have survived beyond the final gurgle from the plughole.

But is all the truly silly legislation Nu '1984-lite' Labour have thought up really getting bogged down indefinitely or disappearing without trace? And is the thinking behind it having no real-world manifestation other than the occasional press release and newspaper article? Not really.

Without sounding alarmist, we're lazing dreamily into a worryingly authoritarian place. Yesterday, the Independent reported on Nu '1984-lite' Labour's human rights record abroad.

But the state of our domestic political and social freedoms is shakier than I'd like. There's a wonderful article in the Grauniad this morning (I never thought I'd say that) about the rise in petty officialdom and less than a week ago, a teenager was fined for swearing.

It's a very English form of authoritarianism - legitimised as a challenge to unrespectable behaviour and making a fuss. But sometimes all of us have to or want to be rude, loud and/or challenging (the editors of F&M are ALWAYS rude, loud and challenging), and it's only then that 'respectable' people realise that what applies to 'yobs' can also apply to them...

Paranoid theory of the week: The Avatars in Charmed are actually a US parody of NuLabour. The parallels are obvious.

Friday, February 24, 2006


This is absurd.

Basically, a bunch of unelected lackeys (incidentally, given that they are a government body, why is their preferred internet domain a .co.uk?) accountable only to London's Scottish colonial rulers have decided that the elected mayor of London has to spend a month on gardening league, to punish him for insulting a journalist.

Nobody voted for the Standards Board for England - they were appointed by the Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer.

Nobody voted for Charlie Falconer, he was appointed (and ennobled) by Tony Blair.

Nobody in London voted for Tony Blair because he represents a constituency in County Durham.

685,541 Londoners voted for Ken Livingstone as their mayor. We did so knowing that he was the kind of person who insults journalists. If we later decide that this was a mistake, we can vote him out.

I can just about see the case for a body to deal with corrupt local officials, although I am assured by the Councillors I know that the eminently non-partisan police, Crown Prosecution Service, and Courts are quite up to the job and that the Standards Board is unnecessary. The only body to punish rude local officials should be the electorate.


Roll up, roll up...

Get your United 4 Belarus blog banners and link buttons here. 3 sizes available.

Why Holocaust Denial is a silly crime...

Eaten by Missionaries has written a post about David Irving and raised some questions in my and LibertyCat's comments boxes.

I think Holocaust denial should be legal in Austria. My reasoning runs as follows:
  • Making Holocaust denial a crime is bizarre because it ignores other instances of mass murder such as those carried out by Mao or Stalin. This helps perpetuate the myth that there is something uniquely bad about the far right which assists apologists for the authoritarian left
  • Given the Holocaust did happen and historians find this easy to prove, then it would be better to show Irving to be the idiot he is. If someone is paranoid enough to believe that the Jews are making up the Holocaust then throwing Irving in jail to shut him up is only going to encourage them

It Holocaust denial is viewed as merely a sub-set of incitement to racial hatred then there's still problems. Which is why I'm not in favour of legislation criminalising incitement to racial hatred. Several reasons:

  • The intent of this legislation may be to "prosecute what are seen to be 'ring leaders' in the event of any outbreak of racially motivated violent crime" but intent is different from application of legislation. Anti-terror legislation was not intended to harass ID card protestors and aged hecklers
  • Incitement to racial hatred is only indirectly linked to violence. If David Irving visits Oxford and a week later there is anti-semitic violence - is this due to David Irving or some other factor? If Nick Griffin talks to a group of BNP supporters - some of them may have committed racial violence even if they hadn't attended (you must be either negative about ethnic minorities or an undercover reporter to want to attend a private BNP meeting)
  • It's difficult to prove intent where there is no clear threat of violence. How do you prove David Irving was intending to incite racial hatred and not just to rehabilitate Nazism?
  • Once you try to criminalise some expressions of opinion then you've got to keep on plugging legislative gaps. Blair tried to criminalise incitement to religious hatred because racist groups kept using religion as a by-word for race. Why is it illegal to incite hatred against racial groups but not against, say, women? What counts as a 'race' anyway? If it were illegal to say anything that may cause someone to hate some group who are the subject of a social stigma, no one would be able to say anything. If I directed you here whilst pointing and laughing, I could be the subject of a court case. But it's illegal to swear nowadays so watch this space...

Oh, why can't we just stick with Mill...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

David Irving

David Irving, holocaust denier and general idiot, gets three years in the slammer under Austria's holocaust denial law. While I find it hard to feel sympathy for a man who travelled to Austria knowing that he was a wanted criminal there, he doesn't deserve this.

This isn't a legal point. There is no doubt that he violated the Austrian law. And there is essentially no doubt that this Austrian law complies with article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights governing freedom of speech - the European Court of Human Rights has consistently held that laws against holocaust denial fall within the permitted exceptions to free speech under article 10.2. Even in the U.S. a holocaust denial law would probably be constitutional - the first amendment does not protect false statements of fact made with "actual malice".

Even if human rights law allows laws against holocaust denial, they aren't necessarily a good idea. The purpose of the false statements of fact exemption isn't to allow the government censor to serve as a Platonic guardian of the truth: it's to punish things like libel, fraud, and perjury - falsehoods which cause identifiable damage to specific people.

Liberals then to believe in a maximalist conception of free speech. Deborah Lipstadt, the victorious defendant in the notorious Irving libel trial explains more eloquently that I could why this is.

Moreover, I don’t believe censorship is efficacious. It renders the censored item into forbidden fruit, making it more appealing, not less so.


While it is legitimate to argue that there is a difference between cartoons and the murder of millions of people, it is hard to argue for laws against Holocaust denial but demand that the Danish cartoonists’ freedom of speech be protected. It suggests a double standard.

This is vitally important. Censorship envy is a legitimate grievance which we are handing Muslim troublemakers on a plate. All demands for censorship are reasonable to the people making them - the only answer that we can expect other people to accept is "Nothing we can do, it's a free country."

When David Irving forced me to go to court to defend my freedom of expression, my most important weapon was the historical truth. We have truth and history on our side.

Quite. The libel trial involved a team of expert historians showing David Irving's to be false with meticulously detailed evidence, all of which is now on the record. This criminal trial involves the Austrian State declaring them to be false as an act of raw power. Show, don't tell.

John Stuart Mill devotes the first half of On Liberty to analysing the case for free speech. He explicity points out that free speech should extend to false statements of fact. Firstly, this is because our understanding of truth gains depth through conflict with falsehood. If Irving had been silenced by force on "day 1" then the evidence that Lipstadt and her team of lawyers and historians produced would not have been produced. Secondly, there is always the outside chance that we might be wrong. At the time On Liberty was written, both Mill and his political opponents were as certain that God existed as we are that the holocaust happened. Mill argued that atheists should nevertheless not be punished for advocating false beliefs.

Mike S at Harry's place commented

The fact that the bastard has now been forced into making a mealy-mouthed recantation of many of his lies has made the whole affair a success in my opinion.

I imagine the Catholic authorities thought the same thing about the mealy-mouthed recantation of his "lies" that they extracted from Galileo.

Prosecuting Irving is not a victory against far-right holocaust deniers, who are a joke anyway. It is not a victory against Arab holocaust deniers, who operate from countries where the State actively promotes their sick lies and suppresses the truth. I don't know if Irving was set to give a major speech at Iranian president and dangerous lunatic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proposed holocaust denier's conference. I do know that the keynote speech will include something like this:

The Jewish-controlled government of Austria acknowledged that it was unable to refute David Irving's ideas when it chose to jail him rather than arguing with him

It is interesting to look at the US reaction. This excellent blog post suggests that for most Americans there is a visceral tendency to defend free speech, even for idiots. While we can wonder if this is universally true given that a majority of Americans support flag-burning laws, it is certainly true of the American political elite.

If this had happened in America, then the American Civil Liberties Union would have taken up Irving's case. Over here, the general reaction even among friends of free speech is "I know he shouldn't be in jail, but he is so odious that I won't spend my time or money trying to get him out." The ACLU are to be commended for this attitude.


United 4 Belarus

The United 4 Belarus campaign launched today.

Belarus is Europe's last dictatorship and has Presidential elections on 19th March. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and promote liberal democracy in Belarus.

You can find out how to get involved here. It's a Lib Dem campaign (actually, a Lib Dem Youth and Students campaign) but should be of interest to anyone, of any political persuasion, who is interested in democracy on our geopolitical doorstep.

[NB: I've just recommended that they produce a sidebar linky thing so you can support the campaign from your own blogs. It should be up by tomorrow]

Fukuyama recants - the feline view

First point: Fukuyama's Guardian column is a cut-down version of this extended New York Times piece, which explains why it is above the Guardian's usual standards. The whole thing is well worth reading, along with some of the US blogospheric reaction - since this is a British blog I will give special note to Brit-in-America Andrew Sullivan (Fukuyama posts about 1 page down) and Yank-over-here Greg Djerjian. What Fukuyama hints at but does not say (and Djerjian makes explicit in his commentary) is that part of why "neoconservatism" "failed" in Iraq because the neocons were played by a Bush administration that is not neoconservative.

The neocons were a useful bogeyman for the anti-war left (which is typically anti-American and anti-Israel as well) back in 2002 because the involvement of a secretive group of mainly Jewish intellectuals could be used to imply that the Bush administration's real motive for invading Iraq was to support Israel. But the most prominent neocons were either in second-rank positions in the Bush administration (Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith), advisors with influence and no real power (Richard Perle), or sympathetic academics and think-tankers (Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Fukuyama himself). The most important foreign-policy thinkers were Cheyney and Rumsfeld, both of whom cut their foreign-policy teeth in the Nixon administration and had received intensive instruction in the black arts from war criminal and fugitive from justice Henry Kissinger.

The Kissinger worldview, to which Cheyney and Rumsfeld appear to subscribe wholeheartedly is that

  1. The U.S. is engaged in a titanic struggle with the "bad guys" (communists in Kissinger's day, now Islamic fundamentalists), who want to destroy it.
  2. All other goals of U.S. foreign policy should be subordinated to the need to defeat the bad guys, and therefore ensure the continued existence of the U.S.
  3. The bad guys are so evil that otherwise wicked behaviour (including torture and murder) is justified if it advances the campaign to defeat the bad guys.
  4. In particular, military action against any bad guys who do not have a nuclear deterrent does not require any particular justification except their bad guy status.
  5. Anyone else who is against the bad guys is our ally, no matter how unsavoury they are. If Osama bin Laden is against the Soviet Union, he deserves American support.
  6. The U.S. must maintain complete freedom of action to fight the bad guys. International law, domestic law, allies, and the UN should not be allowed to get in the way of this.
  7. It may be necessary to conceal the more disreputable acts we take against the bad guys from the American people. Vietnam was lost in the media, and this should not be allowed to happen again.
This has very little in common with the neocon worldview, which was based on imposing American values (notably democracy) abroad. To make matters worse, the ultimate decision taker was President Bush, who knows nothing about foreign policy and either knows or was told by Rove that his base includes Christian fundamentalists, anti-Arab racists, and patriotic conservatives in the Jacksonian tradition, all of whom would support a war against people who had the same religion and skin colour as the 9-11 terrorists. And all of whom felt more comfortable killing these people than spending blood and treasure giving them democracy. It is no surprise that these people screwed up the postwar occupation - they didn't care.

Nevertheless, the neocons entusiastically supported the Iraq war. They thought that the positive view of American military power which they shared with the more traditional conservatives meant that they were on the same side against John Kerry, Jacques Chirac, the European Union, United Nations, and anyone else who thought that aggressive war was never acceptrable. Once again, someone thouroughly compromises their moral position by assuming that sharing a common enemy makes you friends.

The lesson of Iraq that Fukuyama discusses, and it is an important one, is that democracy-promotion is harder than he thought. A corollory of this is that the U.S. (and the neocons in particular) has a lot to learn from the European Union, which has brought democracy to about 300 million people over the last 50 years, and that Kagan and Kristol's thesis about American virtue and European wussiness in "Paradise and Power" needs rethinking. To their credit, Kagan and Kristol (who are academics, and therefore have to be reality-based) have done some of this rethinking themselves.

The lesson that Fukuyama does not discuss, but had almost certainly learnt given his shrill opposition to the Bush administration's abuse of his ideas is simpler: He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.


Neo-conservatives get the plot... slowly...

I found Francis Fukuyama's comments in yesterday Grauniad about neoconservatism a step above the usual Grauniad dross, esp. since he's apparently associated with the neoconservative movement* ^.

He argues that the neo-conservative movement was about benign idealistic inteventionism, he fears the neo-conservatives have lost the plot and the backlash against them will drive the US back to isolationism and realpolitiking with dictators.

My main reaction to his article is 'why didn't you realise this sooner?' or rather 'why didn't your compatriots in the US administration realise this sooner?'

It was obvious to me before the Iraq War that:

democracy was [not] a default condition to which societies reverted once coercive regime change occurred [but] rather... a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

...in countries (and a region) where the people have had little experience of democratic structures and practice during their lifetimes. Russia was a different case - it was not bombed to dust by an outside power, the structures changed gradually, at no point was there a complete power vacuum. Dropping bombs on people to remove their dictator and then telling them (pretty much) "go and be democratic" seems to me beyond crazy. Francis Fukuyama is self-justifying here - there really was no excuse.

And as a liberal who resents concentrations of power it also seems self-evident that people would worry about US power when there was no longer a counter-balance from the old Soviet Union. Especially when that power is under the control of George "Dubya" Bush. I was living in an annexe with predominantly US Democrats when he was elected the first time - I remember them crowding the TV set with long faces. I also remember the Sun front page with a picture of Bush surrounded by all the people he'd sentenced to death whilst governor of Texas. I didn't think we'd manage 4 years without him doing something daft... isn't it great being right. So even if 'benevolent hegemony' could be accepted, it wouldn't be under someone using Bush's sometimes alarmingly unnuanced and absolutist language:

"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Francis Fukuyama writes: A Wilsonian policy that pays attention to how rulers treat their citizens is therefore right...

but it needs to be informed by a certain realism that was missing from the thinking of the Bush administration in its first term and of its neoconservative allies.

No s**t, sherlock!

After he's apologised for the Bush administration, I'm somewhat more convinced by some of his conclusions. He writes:

Meeting the jihadist challenge needs not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world.

The US needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world lacks effective international institutions to confer legitimacy on collective action. The conservative critique of the UN is all too cogent: while useful for some peacekeeping and nation-building operations, it lacks democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is to promote a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions organised on regional or functional lines.

But can't wholeheartedly agree with him because I'm not entirely sure what form he's suggesting revised US foreign policy takes. He writes:

Promoting democracy and modernisation in the Middle East is not a solution to jihadist terrorism. Radical Islamism arises from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalisation and terrorism. But greater political participation by Islamist groups is likely to occur whatever we do, and it will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities. The age is long gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations.

So should we be promoting democracy and modernisation or not? Is he suggesting that we should be promoting modernisation but accept that it won't have any influence on reducing Islamic radicalism and, in fact, the opposite? His conclusion:

What we need are new ideas for how America is to relate to the world - ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of US power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

Suggests he doesn't know either and is open to offers.

I believe that the international community should be promoting democracy, free speech and universal human rights, and intervening if necessary. To claim otherwise places the illegitimate sovereignty of dictatorships above the rights of individuals and falls into the trap of cultural relativism. The US is hugely influential and the last remaining superpower - to suggest the US keeps out is unrealistic and counter-productive. But wading in with opaque Ray-Bans and a big gun has never been the best way to go about promoting peace and good citizenship. And you really need to get your own house in order first if you want to avoid looking hypocritical. Alliance-building, promotion and assistance to opposition groups and propaganda are far better ways of proceeding. It's also useful to have a plan and comprehensive intelligence. This seems obvious and I know nothing about foreign policy. Hopefully the US neo-cons (who do know about foreign policy) might be able to grope their way to this conclusion eventually too.

* Link from Blogcode. I've had my customary difficulty placing Mr Eugenides on my sidebar... He has a lot of left-wingers commenting and linking. But he isn't so keen on assaults on civil liberties and George "Moonbat" Monbiot. So maybe I should split lefties into 'sensible' and 'insensible'. Where insensible lefties quote admiringly from articles by Gary Younge and/or from articles I can imagine written by the idiots beautifully lampooned in Kathy Lette's Foetal Attraction (what a waste of a satire of the lefty intelligentsia - focusing the book on affairs and childbirth instead. I'm fascinated - do the neurotic, overly politically correct, new-agey idiots she describes exist? Do they really deteriorate THAT much post-Oxbridge? And then I read the Grauniad and start worrying like h**l that they do).

^ When I say 'above the usual Grauniad dross' I mean that I found his article interesting and am responding to it as a reasonable human being... rather than just being incredulous and then laughing hysterically. I remember enjoying his book Our Posthuman Future although I sadly recall little else about the book - it was a while ago.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Journalistic jewel of the week

This Grauniad article is full of gems...


Such as this mildly naive Lib Dem Councillor:

Councillor: "People who go into politics and get to high office are not, on the whole, what you might call normal people... You have never seen such a collection of geeks and oddballs."

Grauniad: "Doesn't that also apply to the Lib Dems?"

Councillor: "Not quite so much. With one or two exceptions, most of them come across as far more normal human beings"

[Evidently a lady whose never been to a party conference... but as a self-declared geek and oddball myself, I think it's a wonderful thing - safety in numbers and all that... and whoever put 'no one shall be enslaved by... conformity' in the preamble was just asking for it]


Craig Card runs a printing business in Farnborough... he also sees to an organisation called Liberal Image, which supplies the Liberal Democrats with a range of T-shirts, clipboards, umbrellas and [posters of Charles Kennedy which he's now probably stopped selling. I always wondered who bought the things - do the Lib Dems really have party members (or even local parties) who want a picture of their leader stuck to the wall a la Mao?!]


He [Huhne] has New Labourish behavioural tics: a fondness for accompanying his speeches with gestures that look like a polite form of kung-fu and Alan Milburn's habit of asking himself his own questions if the interviewer's don't quite suit. Outwardly, he would fit snugly into the Blair cabinet; indeed, he had a youthful spell as a student Labour activist.

Because anyone who was a Labour activist as a student (which for Mr Huhne was more than 25 years ago) must have a latent affinity with the Labour party, esp. behavioural tics.


[The Grauniad] ask[s] him [Menzies] if he buys CDs.

"Ah, no. I listen a lot to music. Not very highbrow, I'm afraid. Classic FM."

Yes, that well-known low-brow radio station, Classic FM... Listened to by reality TV contestants everywhere. Had the Grauniad been doing their investigative journalism correctly, their next question would have been: "So Menzies, what do you think is high-brow these days?"

5-minute blog break

Is it 'cos I is a lawyer? [well, I'm not a lawyer but Cheney's pal was]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife

No sooner have I written a dirge about parenting and women than this appears and makes my blood boil. It's unsubtly advancing an agenda and I'm not convinced by it. It's unquantifiable - all 'more and more twentysomething women' and 'increasing numbers of women' (each with a interview sample of one).

I accept that there are women who genuinely "earn money to have a good time, but... [are not] really interested in the career ladder" and who gain fulfilment through childcare. But what annoys me is when it's assumed to be all women (the new role model for aspirational women) and only women. When did you last see an article where a male account manager for a leading brand consultancy waxed lyrical about how he "found the whole corporate thing boring and scary" and "always knew I wanted children and I didn’t want to work when I had them, although whether or not I’d have the financial means to choose was another question."?

In ye olde days when women were assumed to be mere animals and prone to fits of the vapours then being a kept woman was entirely [socially] justifiable. But women have proved they can compete on par with men and thus relationships are a partnership between adults. Which is why I find some bint dribbling on about how she:

married Fergus, a banker, with a salary large enough for both to live on. Just before the wedding Helena resigned from her job and when she got back from honeymoon did a course in jewellery-making

Annoys me so much. Just think about poor Fergus for a minute. He married a go-getting account manager. The minute he agreed to marry her, she promptly decided to leech off him financially, slob about making jewellery and rave to the Telegraph about how shoving chicken puree into the mouth of her drooling brat gave her a major buzz. If I were him, I'd think she wasn't pulling her weight and she married me for my bank balance.

She stirs her tea. ‘On the other hand, I really don’t want to come across as some lucky, rich mother. I feel so guilty when I compare myself to other women who’ve had no choice but to go back to work.’

Don't worry, missie, because when you find Fergus has run off with someone from work (whose conversation extends beyond ironing) or just treats you like the dependent child you are then the laugh is going to be with your (still working) friends.

Just a few years ago women like Blackstock would have been figures not of envy, but of scorn.


All too many young women have seen the present – and not liked what they’ve seen. They have sat at their desks, and been repelled by the sight of frazzled thirtysomething colleagues arriving flecked with baby sick, doing their supermarket shop on the internet in their lunch hour and feeling guilty at having left their feverridden children in the hands of a costly au pair.

Grrrrrrrr... Aggghhhh... Yes, but do you hear about male captain's of industry stressing about the sacrifice they're making not being able to collect a few bottles of pureed avocado or stay with their sick offspring? No? It's always women. Perhaps this is because these women don't 'have it all' at all.

And many young women find themselves irked by the idea that the suffragettes fought for women’s rights only to find that these have amounted to little more than the right to spend long hours commuting and barking orders to a childminder down a mobile.

No. The Suffragettes fought for votes for women. Sensible childcare arrangements treating men and women as partnerships of equal adults hasn't really happened yet. This doesn't mean that intelligent women should all return to baking cakes. Having intelligent people in your country doing intelligent people's jobs is good for the economy. Having them dusting and feeding ducks is not - you can give someone less skilled that job.

The consensus was that going to Cambridge was as good as it got,’ says Kadir. ‘The idea of becoming someone like Cherie Blair, juggling a career and family, was too much. Most seemed to think they’d have a tight period of work and creativity for five to ten years before giving it all up for good.’

What a great use of an Oxbridge education! What a brilliant application of government money!

She’d realised too late that... you had to devote as much time to finding a husband as to a career.

Yet men don't seem to have similar problems finding a wife. Odd that... It gets worse:

‘They were only 18 or 19,’ says Kadir, ‘but they were all petrified that they were going to end up highly educated but without a boyfriend.’

Do you see men doing that? Fretting that their education is going to make them unappealing to women. Implicit suggestion - men don't like educated, intelligent or spirited women. Which is balls. Even when women were confined to the domestic sphere, women like Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire had a monopoly over male attention. Only dumb guys are intimidated by spirited women... but I suppose if you want a sucker you can live off [leaves it hanging]

From that time on, Jennifer (who insisted her name be changed in case it put off potential suitors) has vetted new boyfriends ferociously. ‘There was one I really liked but he was a musician, a bit of a drifter, with no way of getting a mortgage, so I dumped him. Now I’m seeing a guy who’s 32, and a lawyer. I think he’s getting ready to settle down.’ She smiles.
‘In fact, I’m hoping for an engagement ring soon.’ Marriage is also, of course, a possible route to a gilded cage. Even Jennifer recognises this.

So guys - when you get a high powered job and meet the girl of your dreams... if she suddenly starts expressing an interest in pottery-making, design and baking little dinky buns then you know she's with you because she wants you to support her and her macrame habit. Run! Run for the hills!

Yet once life as a housewife has been embraced, it can be hard to shake it off – or to want to shake it off.

That's because it makes you unemployable because you've had a work gap. So all you have to look forward to is becoming just like Doreen Davis. Revolutionary? Reactionary more like.

Further on freedom

What do David Irving and Stephen Gough have in common?

Both should never have been jailed... The best way of dealing with Holocaust deniers is demolish their arguments. The best way of dealing with naked ramblers is probably to admire their courage (and their frostbite) since it's February.

A crying shame

Yet another article about the 'baby shortfall'. I blogged about parenting a while back but some of the arguments are worth repeating.

Women do still want to have families but don't feel able to do so in their twenties (or at all) in sufficient numbers. Meanwhile, the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe whilst the Blairs have four children.

Caring for children has a high economic penalty (as per the article) and a penalty in reducing the prospects for promotion and career success. A disturbing number of women are downgraded or fired when pregnant and many are forced to take lower skilled jobs with shorter hours to fit in with child-caring. Child-care is expensive and mothers worry about the effects of nursery care on their children.

Lower skilled women and teenagers with low aspirations are less bothered by limited career prospects - childcare is often more satisfying and fulfilling than a low-skilled job (I'm ignoring the problem of able women with low aspirations sacrificing their potential by having children. From their position it's a 'rational' trade-off). Low skilled employed women have to decide if they can afford to choose their dream of home-making, although they often want to return part-time to maintain social contact with work colleagues. Low skilled women are generally less geographically mobile than university educated women and are more likely to have relatives nearby who can take over part-time childcare duties.

Mrs Blair, Mrs Cameron and Nicola Horlick don't clean up their children's sick. They pay someone. They are paid enough to 'have it all' - work long hours, achieve career success AND have children. It is unsurprising that they have several children. Women like these have never been enslaved by motherhood - Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was politically active because she did not have to look after her own children.

This leaves women 'in the middle' and these are the women who have the strongest incentive to remain child-free because they have to choose between having a child or having a career. They have been competing on par with men all their lives - they do not want to be reduced to a dependent 'Stepford Wife'. Their jobs are sufficiently interesting that they derive self-esteem and purpose from their career. Their wages give them economic and personal freedom. Unambitious mid-skilled women and those with a romantic notion of homemaking will still choose full-time childcare or the 'mummy track' of part-time work and limited promotion... but may not be able to afford children. Many of this 'middle' group have been to university which saddles them with debt and delays their entry into the workplace.

In the 1950s women saw self-sacrifice as a duty - it is something to celebrate that women no longer feel obliged to sacrifice their own career potential to care for children (a low-skilled job). It is NOT something to celebrate that many career-orientated couples have to make an either/or decision since most women can't 'have it all'. Perhaps this will be something of a solution. Perhaps we could encourage the aging population to contribute by paying them to take on some childcare duties. The one thing we musn't accept is that all women who want children should be in the domestic sphere... unless they want to be.

[Word-soup thanks to Antonia's blog]

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Go home and sleep on it...

Scientific proof that when I told my second supervisor that my preferred method of problem-solving was "go home and wait for the answer to come to me", I had a point. It sounds a recipe for procrastination but it does work.

I was watching Austin Stevens in Peru last night and was somewhat amused and perplexed by his unconventional way of passing a herd of llama down a narrow alley: the llama herders didn't look entirely convinced by it either. He certainly has courage - I wouldn't fancy charging a herd of llamas or vaulting/hurdling over them. But it would have been much simpler to have flattened himself against the wall and let them pass single file... although not as dramatic. Anyhow - I was reminded of this and decided to share (WARNING: the tune's catchy).

Friday, February 17, 2006

More Guardian stupidity

Martin Jacques, a "senior visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore" or, to put it into English, a paid shill for not-a-hereditary-dictator-but-looks-and-quacks-like-one Lee Kwan Yew, has a column in today's Grauniad that demonstrates such an extraordinary degree of self-loathing that charity forces me to assume that he doesn't really believe it.

Europe's contempt for other cultures can't be sustained: A continent that inflicted colonial brutality all over the globe for 200 years has little claim to the superiority of its values.

What we were doing 200 years ago has no relevance to the moral value of what we are doing now. Heck, none of the people now making European policy were alive 200 years ago. In case you haven't noticed, Europe has changed its core values quite dramatically over the last 60 years.

Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech? Even if we believe that free speech is a fundamental value, that does not give us carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequence or effect. Respect for others, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, is a value of at least equal importance.

If free speech is a fundamental value, then speech is free. That is what "free speech" means, moron. The argument over the Danish cartoons became a matter of free speech when the other side decided to take their anger out on the Danish government for allowing the cartoons to be printed, rather than Jyllands-Posten for printing them. And I won't adopt "respect" as a value until you tell me what it means - after being dragged through the mud by the George Galloway Treason Party and the Jail All Teenagers Party the term has become somewhat debased.

Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe's omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been.

On the contrary, the fact that Europe had large numbers of people on the ground actually governing these countries made it absolutely necessary to take such things into account. Where Europeans did not, the results were pretty unpleasant - see for instance the 1857 Indian Mutiny, provoked by a lack of respect for the dietary taboos of the local religions. There is a monument outside my school with the names of old boys who lost their lives as a result of that screw-up. Damned right we learned the lesson. If we had followed the US model of foreign aggression and dropped bombs from the safety of 30,000 feet we might not have done - the Americans certainly haven't (see Iraq).

On the contrary, European countries imposed their rulers, religion, beliefs, language, racial hierarchy and customs on those to whom they were entirely alien. There is a profound hypocrisy - and deep historical ignorance - when Europeans complain about the problems posed by the ethnic and religious minorities in their midst, for that is exactly what European colonial rule meant for peoples around the world.

This is an example of the tu quoque fallacy. Whether European imperialists undermined African and Asian cultures is irrelevant to the question of whether immigration is undermining European culture. 21st century European culture and the heritage of freedom which underlies it is worth defending, and if Hamza the Hook is a threat to it then we should deal with him, regardless of what happened in Cawnpore in the 19th century.

With one crucial difference, of course: the white minorities ruled the roost, whereas Europe's new ethnic minorities are marginalised, excluded and castigated, as recent events have shown.

Which recent events? I seem to remember the people we castigated were the ones holding placards saying "Death to those who insult Islam" and other rather unpleasant things. Part of living in a free society is that people who want to mock your religion can, whether you are marginal or not. While a right-wing paper with a largely Christian conservative readership like Jyllands-Posten does not print cartoons mocking Christianity, there is no shortage of them out there.

If Martin Jacques wanted to talk about the more general problem that European societies have with integrating recent immigrants, he would at least be right. But "poor, and occasionally beaten up by a small number of nutters on the lunatic fringe who then get sent to jail for a long time" doesn't quite have the ring of "marginalised, excluded and castigated".

But it is no longer possible for Europe to ignore the sensibilities of peoples with very different values, cultures and religions. First, western Europe now has sizeable minorities whose origins are very different from the host population and who are connected with their former homelands in diverse ways. If European societies want to live in some kind of domestic peace and harmony - rather than in a state of Balkanisation and repression - then they must find ways of integrating these minorities on rather more equal terms than, for the most part, they have so far achieved.

Looking at the society that has been most successful in integrating immigrants, the United States, it seems that this will involve selling them on our founding values of freedom, tolerance, and respect for the rule of law. To do so we will have to be more, not less, willing to boast about things like free speech.

That must mean, among other things, respect for their values.

Respect for the values of cartoon-banners and embassy-burners is incompatible with upholding our own values. We've been here with Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Quakers and diverse other supersitions already: what works is mutual respect for the shared values of a liberal society, not forced respect for the Flying Spaghetti Monster or other equally silly beliefs that various other people may choose to hold.

Second, it is patently clear that, globally speaking, Europe matters far less than it used to - and in the future will count for less and less.

Only if we want it to. I support the European Union precisely because I believe Europe can and should matter more. I believe that a world in which Europe matters more is a better world precisely becaue the founding values of the European Union are good, whereas the founding values of Bush's America, Red China, and Wahabbi Islam are evil.

We must not only learn to share our homelands with people from very different roots, we must also learn to share the world with diverse peoples in a very different kind of way from what has been the European practice.

And one of the best ways to share the world peacefully is for more nations to adopt the values of 21st century Europe, which have done a surprisingly good job of stopping stupid and pointless wars among a group of nations who used to invade each other every 25 years. If "what has been the European practice" is code for aggressive war and imperialism, then that is no longer the European practice. It is, on the other hand, the American and Red Chinese practice.

Europe has little experience of this, and what experience it has is mainly confined to less than half a century. Old attitudes of superiority and disdain - dressed up in terms of free speech, progress or whatever - are still very powerful.

Sometimes free speech is just about freedom. Actually, all the time free speech is just about freedom. I belong to a political tradition that was against imperialism and in favour of free speech (for much the same reasons as 21st century Europe) back in the 1860's. Don't tell me that my support for free speech is about superiority and disdain, because it isn't. Of course, being a paid shill for the Republic of Singapore, you aren't allowed to know what free speech is.

On the contrary, racial bigotry is on the rise, even in countries that have previously been regarded as tolerant. The Danish government depends for its rule on a racist, far-right party that gained 13% of the seats in the last election.

And this type of far-right party is gaining support precisely because far too few people on the left (or, for that matter, the sane right) are prepared to defend European values against cartoon-banners and embassy-burners. Telling people that their white skin and European heritage makes them morally inferior to the wonderfully anti-imperialist scumbags (read the placards) who are driving the outrage over these cartoons is precisely the way to get them to vote nutter.

The decision of Jyllands-Posten to publish the cartoons - and papers in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere to reprint them - lay not so much in the tradition of free speech but in European contempt for other cultures and religions: it was a deliberate, calculated insult to the beliefs of others, in this case Muslims.

We've been here before. The decision of Jyllands-Posten to comission the cartoons was a response to a specific incident in Denmark, and the decision to republish them (including in a number of lefty papers which have no time for random racism and xenophobia) was a response to an unprecedented global attack on free speech.

This kind of mentality - combining Eurocentrism, old colonial attitudes of supremacism, racism, provincialism and sheer ignorance - will serve our continent ill in the future.

Which kind of mentality? Defence of free speech will not serve us ill in the future, or indeed the present.

Europe must learn to live in and with the world, not to dominate it, nor to assume it is superior or more virtuous.

But where we are more virtuous, we shouldn't be afraid to say so. Democracy and freedom need defending, and are worth defending.

Any continent that has inflicted such brutality on the world over a period of 200 years has not too much to be proud of,

What have the Romans ever done for us? Apart from democracy, modern science, modern medicine, market economics, Shakespeare and international human rights law, I fully agree that Europe has not much to be proud of from history. We can, however, be proud of what we are doing now: we have built a community of 450 million people living together in peace, freedom and prosperity under the rule of law, many of whom had no experience of these things until their countries began the EU accession process.

and much to be modest and humble about

Europe also gave the world facism, communism, and imperialism. Apart from the "People's" "Republic" of China which practices all three from time to time (and which Martin Jacques and his paymasters are awfully sympathetic to), these things have all but vanished. Mostly because of the work Europeans did in getting rid of them.

though this is rarely the way our history is presented in Britain, let alone elsewhere.

Well, British history as taught in schools is entirely about Hitler and the brave British soldiers (not forgetting the women who built the bombs) who defeated him. I don't know whether that counts as presenting "Europe" as good or evil.

It is worth remembering that while parts of Europe have had free speech (and democracy) for many decades, its colonies were granted neither. But when it comes to our "noble values", our colonial record is always written out of the script.

And if I wasn't already aware of this, the fact that you can't turn around nowadays without someone like Martin Jacques or Robert Mugabe lecturing you about the evils of European imperialism would make sure I was. The noble values of the Enlightenment are still noble even if the Europe of the 19th and early 20th century honoured them more in the breach than the observance. They won't be honoured at all going forward if Jacques (and Mugabe, and indeed Lee Kwan Yew) are successful in blaming the dishonourable acts of imperialism on them.

This attitude of disdain, of assumed superiority, will be increasingly difficult to sustain. We are moving into a world in which the west will no longer be able to call the tune as it once did. China and India will become major global players alongside the US, the EU and Japan. For the first time in modern history the west will no longer be overwhelmingly dominant. By the end of this century Europe is likely to pale into insignificance alongside China and India. In such a world, Europe will be forced to observe and respect the sensibilities of others.

India is developing an information-age economy precisely because it has adopted the (originally European, now universal) values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. If India was still a society that took sacred cows seriously enough to demand that we respect them, it wouldn't be a threat. China is an economy based on sweatshops building Barbie dolls - they bought Rover for its "advanced technology" even though it was fifteen years behind the best Western car companies. Even if they do become a major world power, there is no need to respect their values any more than we respected Soviet communism (and we shouldn't).

Few in Europe understand or recognise these trends. A small example is the bitter resistance displayed on the continent to the proposed takeover of Arcelor by Mittal Steel: at root the opposition is based on thinly disguised racism.

Or, more obviously, a general distaste for foreign ownership of "strategic" industries. The Chinese don't let foreign companies own steelworks in China either. The German government tried to stop Vodafone buying Manessman - was that motivated by thinly disguised contempt for beef-eating and discussing the weather?

But Europe had better get used to such a phenomenon: takeovers by Indian and Chinese firms are going to become as common as American ones.

Both are and will be welcomed by liberals and opposed by nationalists and socialists. The race of the acquirer doesn't come into it. We occasionally need to watch out for Chinese companies which are front organisatiosn for a communist dictatorship, of course. But the people opposing the Mittal-Arcelor deal don't like the Americans either.

A profound parochialism grips our continent

And the other five (Antarctica is an exception). Europe, with its tradition of intellectual and economic freedom, is more open to foreign ideas than the Chinese or Islamic cultures which Jacques is so fond of. That people have a deeper understanding of and sympathy for their own culture than for others is part of the human condition.

When Europe called the global tune it did not matter, because what happened in Europe translated itself into a global trend and a global power. No more: now it is simply provincialism.

I don't actually see this provincialism. Europe at both the community level and its individual member states puts huge amounts of effort into engaging with other cultures. Quite often, we learn enough to know that the culture in question is barbaric and does not deserve our respect. Subjugating women, persecuting gays, and parading through the streets with placards saying "Freedom Go to Hell" are all bad signs on this front.

When Europe dominated, there were no or few feedback loops. Or, to put it another way, there were few, if any, consequences for its behaviour towards the non-western world: relations were simply too unequal. Now - and increasingly in the future - it will be very different. And the subject of these feedback loops, or consequences, will concern not just present but also past behaviour.

Something that we are well aware of, which is why Europe does not, as a whole, support stupid and pointless wars of aggression in the way that the United States does. Since we can't change our past behaviour, there is no point in agonising about it.

For 200 years the dominant powers have also been the colonial powers: the European countries, the US and Japan. They have never been required to pay their dues for what they did to those whom they possessed and treated with contempt. Europeans have treated this chapter in their history by choosing to forget.

Actually, we saw the consequences of imperialism quite plainly - imperial rivalry was one of the main things that led Europe into a disasterous century of blood-letting and nuclear terror from which we are only just emerging. We treated this chapter in our history by building a set of institutions which ensure that it will never happen again, of which the European Union is the most successful.

So has Japan, except that in its case its neighbours have not only refused to forget but are also increasingly powerful. As a consequence, Japan's present and future is constantly stalked by its history. This future could also lie in wait for Europe.

What future? Civilised countries such as South Korea respond to Koizumi's war-criminal-worshipping shrine-tomfoolery with mild tut-tutting, because it isn't in their interest to upset the system of peace and free trade that binds all civilised countries. Uncivilised countries like China and North Korea respond with abusive tut-tutting because that is all they are capable of. Neither is a threat to Europe, as long as we remain confident of our own values.

We might think the opium wars are "simply history"; the Chinese (rightly) do not. We might think the Bengal famine belongs in the last century, but Indians do not.

Well, "history" seems to be the obvious term for something that happened 150 years ago between two societies both of which have reformed themselves to the point where the ruling classes that fought the original war (on both sides) no longer exist. If China becomes a civilised society, then it will be about as relevant to Sino-European relations as the Napoleonic wars are to modern Anglo-French relations - i.e. something trotted out for PR purposes when we go through a spat, but no bar to friendship if friendship is in the interest of both sides (as it usually is). If China remains a dictatorship, then the opium war will be used to drum up nationalist fervour when the dictator is unpopular at home. They don't need something that actually happened to do that, lies would work just as well (see the depictions of Jews in any Arab state-owned newspaper).

The Bengal famine is an even better example. It belongs to ancient history precisely because India is now a civilised society. Based on both British and traditional Indian precedents, they have built a set of institutions fully capable of ensuring that nothing like the Bengal famine will ever happen again. (See Amartya Sen's work on famine and democracy for the details.) The computer programmers of Bangalore are unlikely to want to emphasise a past where this was not the case.

Europe is moving into a very different world. How will it react? If something like the attitude of the Danes prevails - a combination of defensiveness, fear, provincialism and arrogance - then one must fear for Europe's ability to learn to live in this new world. There is another way, but the signs are none too hopeful.

Well, actually I can think of two other ways. There is the way Jacques advocates - Europe can sink into a funk of self-hatred, accept its deserved irrelevance, and allow Bush, Bin Laden and Beijing to determine the future of humanity. The right way is to continue with the European project of the second half of the twentieth century.

The values Europe now stands for are universal values. The Muslim population of Turkey are banging on the EU door because they have chosen to adopt freedom, democracy and the rule of law in preference to Shariah, sexism and homophobia. The Chinese students gunned down at Tienamenn Square were part of a tradition that began in Athens and runs via Runymede in 1215, Paris in 1789, and Berlin in 1989. We should defend our values at home, and use our considerable soft power to spread them abroad. The fact that we did the wrong thing in the past is all the more reason to do the right thing now, not a reason to do nothing.

Liberals know this in our bones. The self-interested opposition of the dictators, theocrats and mass murderers of the world make achieving our aims hard enough. The opposition of our own right-wing clowns who think that the West is about whiteness and Christianity, and that brown people and Muslims don't deserve freedom, makes life harder. The misguided opposition of left-wing clowns like Jacques who think that the West shouldn't dare defend freedom out of respect for the cultures which the dictators, theocrats and mass murderers claim to speak for is inexcusable.

If I didn't believe in free speech, Martin Jacques would have been blogged as "Traitor of the Week". Fortunately for both of us, part of living in a civilised society is that the only sanction for sounding off like an idiot is public ridicule. That is why the West should stand up for itself.

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And the rest...

Cheney accident quibs by US TV comics (just to make the disclaimer I hope his friend feels well enough soon to be able to laugh about it too). More about Quailgate here.

Grauniad writer loses the plot (is that news?!) in several main ways (so far as I could make out):
  • Women are animals. Animals display to get mates. If women have new opportunities to display to mates (e.g. silicon implants) some will take them
  • These developments don't just apply to women. There are male strippers. Women's magazines are full of 'hunk of the month'. My hotmail inbox is spammed regularly with advertisements aimed at men who want to *improve* other parts of their bodies commonly linked to visual sexual display. We live in a very visual culture - both genders are adversely (and otherwise) affected
  • Just because women are stripping and dancing raunchily doesn't mean that they are JUST displaying visually and not partaking in other (potentially sexy) non-visual activities. There are female comediennes. There are women that are 'hot' as a result of having power (think Maggie T). But female comediennes aren't part of 'the sex industry' because the sex industry is defined as displaying genitalia and stripping off. Other forms of human sexual display such as art or witty discourse are not regarded as being *just* about sex (although they are to some extent about sex) . Oh, and Maggie is disowned by feminists...
  • Po-faced, bra-burning radical feminists made 'feminism' unfunny, ugly and unfashionable. It condemned women for wanting to display visually to whatever gender took their fancy. Extreme feminism told heterosexual women they were betraying the sisterhood by wanting a bit of the other with a guy. It told bi and gay women that wanting to gape at other cute women was a bad political thing, rather than a natural biological thing. So this is a backlash - women are watching pornography to rebel against Germaine Greer, not patriarchial oppression

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Out of your most paranoid nightmares...

Or as Daniel Finkelstein writes:

In my nightmare, Tony Blair finally decides that he is fed-up with putting Bills before Parliament... He decides to put a Bill to End All Bills before the Commons, one that gives him and his ministers power to introduce and amend any legislation in future without going through all those boring stages in Parliament.

When I read this, I thought he was joking... But apparently - he isn't.

Some new blogs

Blogcode is generating a number of interesting links. I point you to A Fistful of Euros and An Insomniac.

He beat me to it!

I was going to comment on Simon Mollan's post about Chris Huhne and the Institute of Fiscal Studies but I'll just direct you to Jock's blog which has it covered. I don't like ecotaxes. I prefer cap-&-trade, etc. Ecotaxes give the government a financial incentive to maintain levels of pollution - Chris could have discovered this by reading the relevant chapter in The Orange Book. But at least he's talking radical policy ideas, which is better than the other two.

[Hmmm, that kitten looks a lot like LibertyCat when he's cross/tired]

Authoritarian f***wittage of the day

The passage about 'glorification of terrorism' .

The justification given is to prosecute the bearers of those offensive placards, despite threatening to kill people being an offence under existing legislation. My original post on this topic is here (but this just keeps on coming back up... like a bad curry). The government also intends to ban groups who glorify terrorism. Unless you're not a Muslim and glorify terrorism at which point it's still ok to form a group to glorify terrorism... like in Northern Ireland.

The legislation also allows successor groups to be banned to overcome the problem of organisations that simply go underground by changing their names. Rather than groups who don't call themselves anything at all and just meet informally (although if they meet in a pub they won't be able to smoke during their meetings). But I want to know - how will the government prove they're a successor group? For example, if Hizb ut-Tahrir disbands but a number of members form the Finsbury Park Mosque Stitch n'Bitch circle will that get banned? Just curious... [serious point: how many members of the old group need to join the new group, and how close do the aims of the new group have to be to the old one?]

Thoughts on the Cambridge leadership hustings

I spent tonight watching the three leadership candidates at the hustings in Cambridge. This wasn't as much fun as leadership events should be, because all three candidates agreed about everything. There were some significant differences in tone though, which can be summed up by looking at what each candidate started their speech with:

Simon Hughes began with a history lesson about how the Liberal Democrats almost disapperared and fought our way back by hard work and local campaigning.

Chris Huhne began by talking about the big ideas he wanted to focus on: protecting civil liberties, sustainability, and decentralisation.

Menzies Campbell's first substantive point was that we needed more women candidates. He then spent about half his speech talking about his career and the varied experience he would bring to the job.

This just confirmed the conventional wisdom that Simon is the Focus-freaks' candidate, Chris the intellectuals' candidate, and Ming the establishment candidate with the golden CV.

One advantage of seeing all three candidates together like this was that it gave you a good idea of their relative talents. Simon Hughes is by far the most charismatic of the three, both at the rostrum and when you bump into him in the foyer. I'm still not voting for him - there is too much of a danger that a Hughes-led Party would stop being Liberal and become the Post Offices, Local Motherhood, and Community Apple Pie Party.

The other thing I noticed that surprised me is the degree to which Ming is tacking left. He devoted a large part of his speech to the need to reduce poverty, certainly more time than his relatively standard policy positions on the issue merited. In response to questions about the public services, Ming (who has the support of most of the Orange Book crowd) was careful to say how wonderful public servants are, and how good it is that Brown has spent so much money on them. Chris Huhne is less afraid to sound right-wing (althouh he actually agrees with his opponents on most policices) - particularly when he was saying that most of the new money in public services has been wasted.

All in all, nothing much unexpected, and certainly nothing that would make me reconsider my support for Chris Huhne.