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.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Lessons Of History

Prince Harry's decision to sport a swastika on his arm at a fancy dress party earlier this week will go down in common memory as a silly mistake by a boy who could do with a good kick up the back side. Yet the legacy of these silly mistakes could well be devastating.

The European Union may well decide later this week to introduce legislation throughout the community to ban Nazi symbols. Considering that EU justice ministers meet on the 27th (Thursday) and considering too that on that day 40 international leaders will be gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate the liberation of that concentration camp in 1945, the chances are that a grand gesture may be made to seize the opportunity.

There are some obvious problems with any such law. For example, where do you draw the line? Do we ban symbols, or do we ban the claims of modern-day fascists that the Holocaust never happened? If we ban symbols, then in what context? Do we ban people from sporting symbols in public? Do we ban symbols in history books? And if we ban the Nazi swastika, then why not ban the Communist hammer-and-sickle or the fascist insignia of other Fascist movements?

If some kind of ban on the swastika is presented, then the immediate reaction of the opponents will be to cite freedom of speech as a key right that we have in today's society, and something that the Nazis tried their hardest to destroy. They will say that it was the Nazis who tried to dispose of anything from their history that they didn't like. They will say that we do not ban a symbol, no matter what it represents or what it represented.

There is also the point that the Nazi swastika is a part of history, and history can not be changed. And there is the argument that a ban on the swastika should not be imposed on other nations who have little or no connection with Nazism (other than that they tried their hardest to destroy it). Why should Britain be forced to ban the symbol of a regime they helped destroy?

It is hard to see where the justification would lay in a ban like this. Is it because Nazi symbolism is offensive to those who suffered because of the Nazis? Yet surely it is not the symbolism which offends German people, Jewish people and the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe, but the actions of the Nazis. I find it difficult to accept that the swastika brings more painful emotions to these people than the words of fascists who condone the murder - the genocide - perpetrated by the Nazis. Is a Jewish man today more horrified by a flag than by the certain knowledge that a group of people wanted his kind dead just sixty years ago?

On reflection, it is understandable if some people are deeply offended by the sight of the swastika. But surely they must be able to accept that it is an insoluble part of modern European history and can not be thrown into the dustbin. I would hope that the people of today's Europe would learn the lessons of that part of our history than simply ignore them.

So in short, history is something that can not be ignored. History tells us something about ourselves. History tells us where people went wrong. History tells us how we can do it better. If we go through the excrutiating process of banning a symbol of history, we are in danger of failing to learn these lessons.

As fascism, in its various forms, rises in voice and stature throughout Europe and the rest of the world, a ban on Nazi symbolism appears to have some justification. But one danger we must face is the certain knowledge that no fascist movement is going to copycat the symbolism of the Nazis, even though they may have ambitions of copycatting the brutal, murderous, genocidal actions of those awful people.

Abolishing this apparent last strand of Nazi history may make us slip into a false sense of security. It may make us think subconsciously that fascism is something that belongs in a textbook. It is not. Fascism is still around, and it is rising again. The British National Party say so. Jean-Marie Le Pen says so. Anyone who has seen nationalist rhetoric emblazoned on derelict estates says so. If the peace-loving democrats suddenly start to believe that fascism has gone, then we are in danger of ignoring the worrying return of racism and bigotry.

The next time a despotic fascist begins to threaten the peoples of Europe, he will certainly not be wearing jackboots on his legs and the swastika on his arm. But he will most likely be preaching the same values of that odd little Austrian with the square moustache! And we should be ready for him with a collective knowledge of the vile brutality of his doctrine.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Labour's Self-Congratulation

This comes from this week's edition of 'The Economist' and it certainly proves a thousand and one points about how Labour continues to get it wrong.

"GORDON BROWN joined forces with Alan Milburn, Labour's campaign supremo, and John Prescott, the deputy prime minister to unveil on January 11th Labour's poster campaign for the general election expected in May. He was there not just because the government wanted to pretend, after a week of feuding, that everybody was friends: the purpose of the posters is to boast about how well the economy has been doing with him in charge.
There are four claims. All are striking—and, in varying degrees, dodgy.
  • Britain has had the longest period of sustained economic growth for 200 years. Labour neglects to mention that this period started in 1992, when the Conservatives were in power. The claim relies on quarterly GDP estimates. Annual figures show unbroken growth between 1949 and 1973—much longer than the eight years this government has been in power.
  • Unemployment is at its lowest for 29 years. That's true of the official unemployment figure, which stands at 4.7%. But it is a tiny part of the employment picture. The posters are silent about the economically inactive, who are not included in the labour force and therefore not counted as jobless. Since 1997, inactivity has stuck at just over a fifth of the working-age population.
  • Inflation is lower than at any time since the 1960s. It is certainly true that RPI inflation fell to just 0.7% at the end of 2001, the lowest since early 1960, but it currently stands at 3.4%, the highest since mid-1998. Anyway, since inflation has subsided around the world, Labour should not get much of the credit.
  • Mortgage rates are lower than they have been for 40 years. True, but low inflation, not Labour, is the reason. For most of Labour's time in office, real interest rates have been around the level they were when it came to power.

The economy has certainly been doing better in the past few years than it was doing earlier. But the turning point was not in 1997, when Labour took office, but in 1992, when the Conservatives adopted an inflation target."

Friday, January 14, 2005

Euthanasia: This Century's Big Question?

A retired policeman who killed his terminally ill wife and then tried to kill himself has been spared jail. Naturally, this will probably reinvigorate the whole long and drawn-out, ethical debate over euthanasia (and the debate will be conducted with the same poor, uninteresting soundbites we're used to).

It is an awesome challenge to try and comprehend the virtue of endowing a human being the right to his or her own death. Certainly, I am nowhere near reaching a conclusion in my own mind to whether euthanasia (even for the most chronically ill patient whose family and whose doctors agree that their life is not worth living) is a good practice for a society to conduct.

Perhaps one day we will all reach a conclusion. Certainly, after today's news it appears the law courts are beating the rest of us to the answer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

RIP The Legacy of Tony Martin

We have been told that laws on the amount of force a homeowner can use against trespassers will not be changed. I am undecided about this whole question, which has gained steam ever since one evening several years ago when an intruder was killed on the Norfolk estate of farmer Tony Martin. On the one hand, a property owner should have strong rights to defend their property. But such strengthenings of the law might well have very negative social consequences.

For a start, this kind of law would be very difficult to draft (would you be allowed to use a knife, or a gun; if not, why not?; when would you be able to use this force?). It would also be difficult to enforce, as the police could probably only act on any case that involves such a law once someone has actually been injured, or worse killed.

What is more important than this is the very dangerous suggestion that people can take the law into their own hands. The law should generally not be enforced by individuals, as individuals are much more likely to get it wrong than our police forces. If the law is enforced by individuals, they usually turn into a kind of vigilante mob, which is a state of affairs that would be very unfortunate for society.

Of course, if our police force was given the ability to leave their paperwork and to get back on the streets, this whole problem might largely disappear.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Grow Up, Boys!

A very short post tonight.

The leadership quarrels between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are doubtless unsettling to everyone involved, not least to those few dozen million people whose government is led by these two men.

In simple terms: grow up, boys!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Why We Should Care

In the last few days there has been only what I can call some 'Scrooge-esque' criticism of the response to the Asian tsunami disaster. Why did we have a three-minute silence for this tragedy, but not for other past tragedies of this scale? Why is this so important? Why is everybody so bothered about something going on in a distant part of the world?

These criticisms do not deserve much credence. Certainly, I believe we have now found the clinching argument against these criticisms with the news that the number of Britons killed in this quake could very easily end up as the largest in a single event since the Second World War.

That is why we should care.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Education Belongs Elsewhere

Ruth Kelly, Britain's new Education Secretary following Charles Clarke's recent promotion to the Home Office, says that parents are at the centre of a child's education.

It is wonderful to finally hear such a true statement from a government minister responsible for the welfare of British youth.

Mark Twain, I believe, once said, 'I never let my schooling interfere with my education'. It is a philosophy on education I truly believe in. Schools in Britain have become, for the most part, glorified daycare centres - nurseries for the slightly older. We all have idealistic visions of a perfect school, whether that vision is of a strict, authoritarian regime or of a free and liberal workplace for tomorrow's adult. But the real fact is that the young do not receive their 'proper' education in a sweaty classroom with thirty other disruptive clowns and show-offs. They learn what they need to learn from their family, from their friends (though the latter is sometimes a less fruitful lesson). And anything else they want to learn, they read about or learn about by themselves, with only very limited interference from anyone else.

School has always been regarded as the centrepiece to all education. It is not. Education is something that can not be truly acquired at school. Education belongs elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Politicians: Losing The Faith?

The Conservative Party say they will stand up for the ‘forgotten majority’. Michael Howard argues that there are many people who feel let down by Tony Blair, and who share the values of the Conservatives. In the foreword of the party’s election manifesto published this week, he promises to focus on restoring order, trying to lower taxes and returning power to the people.

It is a worrying fact when we can muster up no trust at all of the word of a politician. After years of spin and soundbites, yet no substance, from New Labour, it is so easy to lose trust or hope or faith. We must pray that Michael Howard does not join the list of reasons to distrust politicians.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Alcoholism Needs To Be Destroyed, Not Fuelled

The Royal College of Physicians say plans to allow 24-hour drinking will increase the £1.7 billion spent by the NHS every year in treating alcohol-fuelled harm. They say the plans ‘fly in the face of common sense’.

The changes will be made next year as part of a complete overhaul in licensing laws. It is hoped that allowing pubs and clubs to stay open all day will stagger closing times and avoid drinkers spilling onto the streets at the same time.

The very fact that the government believes this move is necessary for that reason is proof that people are far too dependent on alcohol these days. Pubs are not just there as a social centrepiece any more. They are there to fuel the dependence of an alcoholic society.

A drastic social change is needed to solve this problem - and perhaps we could smash a few alcoholic heads together to get us out of the mess.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Asian Tsunami Appeal

The United Nations is saying that areas hit by the appalling tsunami in south Asia could take up to a decade to recover. This is quite honestly a frightening prospect, but it is a prospect we simply have to live with now.

It is time for western nations and western people to do all they can to help the people of this shattered region.

The Japanese government is to send £260 million in aid; the Americans are to send £182 million; the British are promising £50 million. The nations of the west are doing a great deal, and there is probably very little else they can do.

It is probably an unfortunate thing when a society can only offer money to another group of people that have been destroyed in all ways. But so long as that is all the people can do, I urge anyone who feels so inclined to get out their wallets and purses and see what they can give.

The British people have a fine tradition for supporting those less fortunate parts of the world. It was a principle on which we built an Empire (though many tend to baulk at proclaiming such great things about the British Empire). Let us see if our international conscience is still with us.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A Better New Year?

It's the first afternoon of a brand new year. It's the time when the last dregs of idealism from the night before have all but faded away. It's the time when the resolutions begin to falter (or rather, when the people who make them begin to falter).

I don't wish to be too pessimistic, but I do wish to be a realist. To all of you out there who have given something up or have promised yourselves that you will be in a far greater state of affairs come this time next year, I offer the very best of luck.

I myself have made a series of rather vague promises to myself, some of which might be fulfilled, the rest probably won't.

My message is this: let 2005 be the year when, once and for all, we do not let ourselves be guided by our hopes. Instead, let us guide our own hopes. Let us be the masters of our own destiny, not vice versa.

I have a huge tendency to think about the future a lot. What it might hold. What good may come. And what bad. I am starting to worry that whenever I have high hopes about the future, they fail to be fulfilled. Perhaps that is because I have got my head stuck in the clouds, rather than down on the ground where I should be.

In short, my message is this: let's control ourselves before we make 2005 another of those years in which we wanted so much, but earned so little.

A very happy new year to all.