Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Some Bits and Pieces For 2004

Here are a few interesting little factoids picked up from the news this year, some of which show serious problems in society, some of which are just pointless!

  • Brazilians are the nationality most likely to read spam.
  • Some pigeons follow roads and turn off at motorway junctions to navigate their way round.
  • The opening lines of the Communist Manifesto - "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism" - were initially translated as "A frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe".
  • Up to 65% of children with a father in jail get imprisoned themselves, according to Home Office figures.
  • Having breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone may seem cutting edge, but the Daily Express pioneered the service back in 1914, offering personal war updates via telegram for a shilling each.
  • The bookmakers William Hill loses 80,000 little pens a day - the sort used to fill out betting slips.
  • "Square eyes" might be real - Australian researchers have found that children who spend a long time inside watching television or on computers become more susceptible to short-sightedness.
  • Poets die young... "On average, poets lived 62 years, playwrights 63 years, novelists 66 years and non-fiction writers lived 68 years," according to California State University's James Kaufman.
  • In the past decade, four people in the UK have died in cemetery accidents, crushed by falling tombstones.
  • There are a third more children at grammar schools now, under Labour, than there were 10 years ago under the Tories (150,750 now compared with 111,846 in 2003.)
  • Matt Groening's father - the inspiration for Homer Simpson - has only complained once about his alter-ego's actions. It was an episode in which Homer badgered Marge into walking some considerable distance on a hot day to fetch him something.
  • One in four 16- and 17-year-old girls in the UK is on the contraceptive pill - more than ever before.
  • Bill Clinton sent just two e-mails while he was president.

    Thanks to BBC News Online for these interesting bits and pieces. You’ll find many more on their site.

    Here’s to another year of pointless information in 2005!

    • Thursday, December 30, 2004

      Iraqi Elections Mustn't Be For Propaganda

      Baghdad's envoy in London says that the rising tide of violence in Iraq will not stop the long-awaited elections from taking place at the end of January.

      Regardless of the debate over whether there was any true justification to go to war in Iraq, we should all be hopeful that this is true. There are still many people who use the apparent lack of justification to attack the government from all sides of the political spectrum. But that kind of behaviour will not help solve the problems the people face in Iraq.

      What is important now is that processes take place to bring the rule of law and some sense of stability to the troubled country. Elections are one step on that journey of a thousand miles.

      But, considering some of the mistakes made by the coalition in Iraq, I do hope that these elections are not simply propaganda instruments for the west, and particularly the US. We have all been practically instructed to herald the arrival of these elections as a great turning point. Whenever the Americans have been challenged for failing to defeat terrorist cells in Iraq, their response has been to say, 'Well, at least there will be elections soon'.

      Whilst they are important, what is imperative is that the west or any other power does not use these elections in order to prove themselves. These elections are to bring some order to a country in a state of anarchy. We must be very careful that the western powers in Iraq do not use them as proof that they know what they are doing.

      Wednesday, December 29, 2004

      What The Gov't Won't Tell Us

      It turns out that the government is not going to tell the British people how many escaped convicts are still on the run. The number is on the rise, but we are not to be told exactly what the figure is.

      We are left merely to guess at how many criminals are on our streets, running away from the law, and doubtless capable of committing crimes now that they're out of their cells.

      It is dreadful that over 1,200 criminals escaped last year, and surely inevitable unless stringent security measures are put in place in all prisons - and that does NOT involve giving prisoners greater freedoms as some liberals might have you believe. That is a contradiction in terms!

      What is just as dreadful is this government's blatant refusal to put this information into the public domain, or even to simply acknowledge that such a problem exists.

      Let us hope they take the two issues at the crux of this matter - the problem of prison security and the problem of freedom of information - a little more seriously in the future.

      Tuesday, December 28, 2004

      What The West Must Do

      Gordon Brown has said that the coming year offers a 'once-in-a-generation' chance to eradicate global poverty. He says a new approach is needed to improve aid. Britain takes the presidency of the EU and G8 in 2005, and he wants donor countries to double their international aid budget and to eliminate the debts owed by the poorest nations.

      Despite all the sweet sentiments and the high-minded rhetoric, the Chancellor has a big task ahead of him if he wants to Make Poverty History, as one umbrella group committed to ending global poverty call themselves. Even if his idea of progress is to eliminate debt and to offer charity to the poorest of the world, he must realise that that alone is a policy that would set the poverty-stricken up for a fall.

      What is imperative is that poor nations and poor communities have the means to help themselves, not just to be helped for evermore by the rich nations and the rich communities. An individual does not get rich through charity, but only can stay poor. The same is true of these poor nations that the Chancellor talks of.

      I would like to quote a passage from Niall Ferguson's recent book 'Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire':

      "Most poor countries stay poor because they lack the right institutions - not least the right institutions to encourage investment. Because they are not accountable to their subjects, autocratic regimes are more prone to corruption than those where the rule of law is well established. Corruption in turn inhibits economic development in a multitude of ways, diverting resources away from capital formation and the improvement of human capital through better health care and education. According to the African Union, the costs of corruption are equivalent to around one-quarter of African GDP. Moreover, poor countries are more likely to succumb to civil war than rich ones, making them poorer still. In the absence of nonviolent means of bringing dictators to account, political violence is of course more likely to occur... Besides extreme poverty and (in nearly every case) average life expectancy of little more than forty years, all these countries fall far short of being liberal democracies, and all have experienced in the recent past, or continue to experience, some form of war. In most cases, their only hope for the future would seem to be intervention by a foreign power capable of constructing the basic institutional foundations that are indispensable for economic development."

      This passage explains not only the real background to this huge problem of international poverty but also the daunting prospect of what the west may have to do one day to bring hope to the poorest of the world.

      Monday, December 27, 2004

      Any Hope For Ukraine?

      Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has won the repeated presidential election in that country by a clear margin, according to election officials.

      Let us now hope that this brings the whole charade in Ukraine over. Somehow, I am doubtful of that.

      The situation they now have in Ukraine is less than promising. They may have a pro-western, democratically-elected leader, but if you were to look at a map showing how the votes have been cast, there is a straight split down the middle between those areas of the country which voted for Yushchenko, and those which supported the pro-Moscow candidate. In a country which has seen all this mess in its election; and in a country in which the other half of the population now feel duped; and in a country which is in danger of being torn apart in some post-Cold War fight between Russia and the West, the chances of political stability are slight at best.

      Sunday, December 26, 2004

      One Small State for One Great Nation

      The Conservative Party say they would cut the number of MPs by about one-fifth if they were elected. This policy will form part of a series of proposals designed to bring down the size of government, to be unveiled later this week.

      In short, I believe this is a good thing. The cynics argue that MPs are self-seeking, self-serving, irrelevant windbags. I'm sure we could do with a few less of those. Even those who are less cynical believe it is necessary to reduce the unnecessary and costly interference in people's lives that the State is the perpetrator of.

      Other initiatives would be to iron out the unfairly high distribution of Westminster seats to the Scotland and Wales in particular. The average size of an English constituency was 70,000 people, Mr Howard said. In Northern Ireland it was just over 66,000, in Wales just over 59,000 and in Scotland 53,000. And the fact that this is the truth is odd when the latter three Home Nations have their own democratic forums - something that England, with its 70,000-strong constituencies doesn't have.

      All parties these days are committed to reducing the number of civil servants, but what distinguishes Conservative plans are that they would bring down the numbers of ministers, parliamentarians and political advisors.

      And finally, a referendum is promised for Wales to decide whether or not to scrap the Welsh Assembly. The New Labour product of devolution has been one big costly flop in all the places where it has been introduced. It is time to stem the tide and to return Britain its status as a political entity, and not a tiny federation of seperate entities. We are a small island, 'slightly smaller than Oregon' according to the CIA World Factbook. We should not make ourselves smaller. Of course, we should embrace our own local customs and values and identity, but we must not divide Britain any more.

      To divide an island the size of Britain is like trying to cut up a mince pie into small pieces. It's certainly far easier to cut up a huge wedding cake than it is to cut up a mince pie.

      Saturday, December 25, 2004

      Merry Christmas

      I would simply like to take this opportunity to offer you all a very merry Christmas, as well as a prosperous and happy New Year.

      Friday, December 24, 2004

      Give Parliament Its Relevance Back

      It appears that Tony Blair has attended only 6% of House of Commons votes in the last parliamentary session, giving him the poorest record of any previous prime minister.

      This serves as proof if proof were needed of this government’s shameful approach to parliament and the legislative process. This government has such a large majority in the Commons that it has felt it didn’t really need to take the opinion of parliament seriously. Perhaps they felt our representatives would always be there for them.

      Downing Street defended the Prime Minister, making the point that Mr. Blair has done a great deal to place parliament at the centre of things. He was the first prime minister to appear before the Commons liaison committee, made up of select committee chairs, to face questioning. And he makes more statements on government business than either John Major or Margaret Thatcher ever did.

      Am I wrong in noticing that these two points are characteristic of the kind of activities undertaken by a president, and not a prime minister?

      And of course it is an accepted fact that the more high-profile MPs have other business to attend to, and therefore they often can’t make it to as many Commons votes as they’d like. But having said that, the man is living just down the road and can make it to the chamber and get back home to dinner pretty quickly if he really wanted to!

      This government could be doing a hell of a lot more to stand up for the needs and desires of parliament. But all governments have had a fairly poor track record in doing this.

      Maybe it’s some sub-conscious fear our political leaders hold that if they devolve too much power to our members of parliament, then our representatives will just turn back round and stab them in the back.

      One day, a government is going to get over that fear and give parliament its relevance back.

      Thursday, December 23, 2004

      Fox Hunting: What The State Let Itself In For

      The government says it would not oppose the Countryside Alliance if it seeks a court injunction that would delay the ban on fox hunting.

      Of course, the government has shown quite a spineless attitude towards the whole issue of the ban. The cynics argue that their only justification for the ban was that they needed to pacify the left-wing class warriors on the Labour backbenchers, and that view is gaining ground all the time, especially now that it seems the government will not stand up for a law that they have enacted.

      It's quite embarrassing really that that is how our government behaves. But it appears we're stuck with them.

      Those who are opposed to the ban have certainly mounted a clever and concerted strategy, despite one or two tactical mistakes (the protests outside Westminster earlier this year being a case in point). Their campaign is a testament to 'people power'.

      I have always been against a ban on hunting for four reasons, some of which are rarely considered in the debate, some of which are considered a little too much:

      1) Biological - it is a bad thing when an outside force begins to meddle with the food chain.

      2) Agricultural - foxes are a menace to our farmers and so they must be dealt with somehow; there is nothing wrong with letting people make a sport out of this activity.

      3) Libertarian - quite honestly, what is wrong with letting people have their fun?

      4) Social - whenever the State begins to interfere with the way of life of a group of people, only danger can breed.

      The social argument has always been the most controversial argument I have presented on this matter. But the social force is what is behind this issue whenever it is debated. It is usually the socialist 'class warriors' who want it banned, and the upper-class 'toffs' who take part in the sport (barring some anomalies!). There is a social argument behind this whole thing, but usually that argument is working in favour of a ban.

      Before slavery was abolished in America in the 1850s, after the States fought a war amongst themselves for it, the slave-owning South was rich and prosperous. Of course, the situation was hardly desirable but the South was a land belonging to a rich gentry. But now, the South is associated with terrible poverty - not just for the blacks whose ancestors were slaves, but for the slave-owning whites too.

      It is hard to see what slavery in America has to do with fox hunting. Certainly, I am not arguing for a return to slavery! But this is an extreme example of what happens when the central State meddles with the affairs of people it has little clear idea about.

      This State of ours has meddled with the affairs of people it has little clear idea about, other than the puerile prejudices of its political supporters. This State does not know what it let itself in for.

      Wednesday, December 22, 2004

      Real Peace For Israel

      The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one far too complex, difficult and sensitive to be glossed over in bland, mediocre statements. But, alas, that is all I can do.

      Tony Blair is in that part of the world today in another push for peace. Of course, the kind of peace espoused by him and all the other leaders of the globe is the practical, glued-together kind which involves States and governments, but too often forgets real people. His kind of peace might involve redrawing the odd border, conceding a minor territory or the rights to one oilfield.

      But real peace is the harmonious conclusion to a war, with all sides joining together in a promise of solidarity and accord. Real peace makes the enemy war, not people.

      I am certain that the kind of peace we all crave for all the wars that plague this earth is the real peace, not the manufactured peace.

      But can we make real peace in the Middle East? Firstly, we need to know whom we are dealing with.

      The Israeli government has behaved horrendously in recent times. The attacks against Palestinian land and property as well as their pure determination to make daily life as difficult as it can be for the ethnic minority living under their auspices would have been condemned vehemently anywhere else.

      Yet the Palestinian leadership’s inability to take any action, not least condemn terrorists claiming their cause as their own is dreadful. Yasser Arafat was a terrorist, and his death has been recognised as a point of hope for the whole peace process.

      So, in short, we find ourselves with the government of one side behaving like terrorists, and the government of the other allowing others to be terrorists.

      These are the people who are trying to make real peace: ‘the harmonious conclusion to a war, with all sides joining together in a promise of solidarity and accord’.

      There is some room for hope in the Middle East. The fact that some kind of peace is the desired option is a good thing.

      But real peace requires effort by both governments and both peoples. Real peace is what is needed. If real peace is bred from this war, it shall serve as a beacon to all people that real peace can be achieved. Real peace.

      Tuesday, December 21, 2004

      The Legacy of Blunkett

      Ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett has been criticised by the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee for giving a free rail ticket intended for MPs' spouses to his ex-lover Kimberly Quinn. He has already apologised for making a 'genuine mistake' and has paid back the necessary cost. A quick slap on the wrists for Mr. Blunkett by the Committee, who say he should have known the rules.

      In a Home Office inquiry into whether Mr. Blunkett fast-tracked a visa application for his lover's nanny, a 'chain of events' is found linking him to the speed-up of the application, but insists there was no cover-up. The inquiry was "unable to determine whether Mr. Blunkett gave any instructions in relation to the case".

      So it's a mild schoolboy's telling-off and a reserved, uncertain kind of castigation for the man who lost his job for love.

      Despite a somewhat undignified portrayal of himself as the victim in this whole saga (partially true) David Blunkett deserves some praise for his quick and unfussy resignation. I believe a lesser Cabinet minister would not have gone so speedily, and would have held on to the bitter end - the ultimate shame, surely. (It is a sad reflection on British politics that there are so many in Parliament and in the Government who would take the shameful, undignified option!)

      David Blunkett has had a tough time during his years as a Cabinet minister. In education, he failed to live up to Tony Blair's bland promise of 'education, education, education'. And at the Home Office, despite his tough talk on crime and terrorism, he failed to match his words with actions.

      Blunkett lost the Left with his intention to take the harsh approach, and the Right with his failure to take the harsh approach. He lost friends in Cabinet over the whole mess as well, what with the destructive comments he made about his colleagues to his biographer only recently.

      Some say that they believe he should be back in the Cabinet at the very earliest.

      I myself do not. He has been a consistently poor Education Secretary and Home Secretary. He was once renowned for being a fiery socialist and is now renowned for talking like a fiery conservative.

      A populist talker, but a weak performer - that will be his legacy. But I'm sure he is to be congratulated for giving up his job in the manner he did: a rare example of dignity and honour in a politician.

      Monday, December 20, 2004

      ID Cards For The Transfer List?

      Tonight, the House of Commons will vote on whether to let the government carry on with its attempts to introduce a compulsory identity card scheme in Britain.

      The whole issue has been discussed all over the place for months and even years now. I for one have heard most of the arguments either way, and can't help but come away with a complete lack of clarity about where I stand.

      I hear those in favour of the scheme talking about reducing crime and terrorism, which of course could happen provided it is all done properly and provided the authorities actually gave any credence to identity cards when a scheme is introduced. But don't they understand that if society introduces a tool designed to destroy these vices, the perpetrators will only find methods of making the tools obsolete.

      It will not be difficult to create a fake card, will it?

      Well, actually, perhaps it will. The biometric technology to be used does offer significant benefits to identify individuals to be who they claim to be, with the ability recognise an iris or a palm, as well as all the other fancy party tricks they'll be able to do. But this function can only work properly if we have a database of these physical features unique to every individual which is stored centrally and exploited by the authorities.

      Basically, the card is free from counterfitting if the State has all your private details first. The proponents may argue against that, but the opponents will spin towards that.

      What really turns people off is not the inability of the card to have one concrete function that no other device has, is the cost. According to the Home Office, the whole scheme would cost the taxpayer £186 million over the next three years (that is, just to set it up). Other estimates go for around £3 BILLION! An individual Briton will pay £77 for a combined passport/ID card. An identity card by itself will cost £35. Under-16s and retired over-75s will not have to pay, and low-income individuals will pay a reduced cost of around £10.

      This is a scheme that will hit the pocket of every single British citizen, not only through taxation but through the cost of the little laminated bit of card itself.

      Considering the numbers who always complain during a war about how much it costs to make a stealth fighter and how that money could have been spent on textbooks or on hospital equipment, I am sure that these complaints will be repeated when the full cost of this scheme becomes evident.

      So this is where we are: identity cards are our centre-back in the fight against crime and terrorism, yet they're rather prone to injuries and we can't afford their wages. It's time, I think, to put compulsory identity cards on the transfer list.