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.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Trade Union Reform (With A Difference)

In the last few weeks, I've offered a vision for 'true' democracy, sounded the rallying cry for the defeat of the Fabian philosophy and proposed suggestions to amend the government's plans for a scheme of national road pricing. Now I'm going to push the boundaries of my ideas even further, by proposing a radical reform of the structure of trade unions.

Nowadays, a Tory without the heart and stomach of a lion would baulk at the idea of taking on the unions once again. They would expect huge strikes and demonstrations, and even if the politicians won, most of them would be rendered evil throughout the country. But I propose union reform with a difference: reforms which will be good for the unions, and which will cement their place as an insurmountable facet of a civil society.

Is it really possible? Provided both the politicians and the growingly elitist union establishment have the bottle to go for it, then it can be done. Let me explain how.

The crux of my idea is that the trade unions should become friendly societies, like the kind that were commonplace in the Victorian era. These were essentially a form of welfare - that much-loved 'safety net' - which preceded the Welfare State. People would join a small friendly society and pay a small amount of their income into the society on a regular basis, so that whenever one of its members became unemployed or suffered illness, the society would assist in paying the cost. As they were intimate groups with close contact between the members, they became a better means of pursuing social and moral betterment than State dependence, as most friendly societies also sought to ensure their members were good citizens, leading decent, honest lives, within the law and away from danger. Friendly societies were a key part (some say symptom, some say cause) of the Victorian emphasis on self-reliance and personal betterment. Yet they have declined, ever since the Welfare State crippled philanthropy and self-help, not only under Clement Attlee in the forties but by Churchill and Lloyd George decades before.

The trade unions, I feel, are better placed than any other institution in Britain, to offer the kind of social change that friendly societies helped to bring in the Victorian age. Under the O'Brien Plan for the unions, national unions would be 'banned'. Instead, the would be required to operate on a county or municipal scale. By that, I mean the National Union of Mineworkers would become the West Yorkshire Union of Mineworkers or the Ebbw Vale Union of Mineworkers. Obviously, they would have to operate on a large enough to scale to be able to seek redress of grievance in case of employment disputes. The last thing I want is to emasculate the unions, like many of my political persuasion. Rather, I seek to give them power.

The unions would then provide welfare in place of the State, just like the great friendly societies.

Yes, my scheme has its impracticalities. Nowadays, in the age of the free market, people move around for work and do not necessarily settle in one area long enough to keep their livelihoods there. What's more, it may be economically unfeasible for unions to provide that kind of welfare. Imagine if some kind of Birmingham Union of Automobile Manufacturers were faced with providing support to the masses of workers made redundant by the collapse of Rover. The union would be faced with economic disaster (and would probably need the government to bail it out!).

Nonetheless, I do feel that reforms which take welfare out of the hands of the State and into those of small communities and charities is what we should aspire to in the new century.

The trade unions could be pioneers. I bet you never thought you'd hear a Tory say that!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

We Must Destroy The Fabian Slavery

We see socialist propaganda all around us. We’re taught in our schools more and more that competition is akin to evil. We hear it in conversations which conclude when one person says, ‘Why can’t the government do something about it’. And sometimes it comes with enduring images like the Tale of the Two Donkeys which is supposed to show us why it is good to co-operate.

I was thinking about this cartoon - which I’m sure many readers will have come across in their time - and I suddenly realised what the capitalist, the libertarian and the conservative solution to the donkeys’ problem was.

The two donkeys should not have kept on pulling in opposite directions to reach their food. Instead, you have to ask why it is that they were tied together in the first place. This shows the socialist ambition for people: to control us and tie us together so that all our spirit and all our creativity is drained away and so that we will just follow their ideals without question. The best way for people to work - and the best way for the two donkeys to be fed - is to release them, to give them the freedom to roam and to seek their own nourishment, to chart their own destiny.

I do not believe that this is the capitalist way, the libertarian way or the conservative way. I believe it is the way any man or woman with respect for the freedom of every individual, family and community would consider the right way.

And perhaps it is unfair to label the other way as the socialist way, when many of socialist leaning do not condone the rule of the State in every aspect of the lives of we, the people. Perhaps it is the doctrine of the Fabians which we should rise up against, as their ideas are the very cornerstones of our broken society. The Fabians believed fundamentally that scientific answers were the only ones which could solve social problems. They believed that some distant, omniscient expert could reach the right answer to our problems, not the citizen. They believed that the answer to the complexity of modern society required central planning for it to avoid implosion. And they believed that democracy was a social bad, because they assumed people would happily agree with the logical results of social scientists without objection.

The Fabian way is sinister and basically evil, yet it is the basis of British governance today. Decisions are made about our schools, our hospitals and every aspect of our lives by ‘experts’ in government departments. We, the people, are ruled from afar, with only the limited freedoms that have been won back by political leaders with the guts to stand up and say ‘no’. We are treated with contempt by the ruling elites, who expect to have the first and last say on our lives. We are not a people at freedom, but suppression.

The challenge of the twenty-first century is to destroy the Fabian orthodoxies that have drained the spirit of Britain and that have turned us all into subjects of the State, not free citizens. The challenge of the twenty-first century is to fundamentally and radically change British society so that we take back our liberty and become great again. The challenge of the twenty-first century is to cut the rope that keeps the donkeys from deliverance.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

How awful!

The European Union screws up once again

Oh dear! What a shame!

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Vision For True Democracy

Some of the brightest younger Conservative MPs and activists have written a new book called 'Direct Democracy', which is a critique of some of our society's biggest problems, and the remedies they feel are needed. You can find out much more about all of this here.

So whilst Conservatives are beginning to embrace a full programme for a radical future government, I today proclaim my own vision for true local democracy.

Parish Committees
Every neighbourhood, consisting of around 200 households, would elect a very small number of non-party councillors. One of these would be appointed to be Chairman of the Committee. The committee would then exist as a generally informal forum but with some fund-raising and decision-making powers. Each committee would receive £2,500 per year from local taxation or subsidies (it is, of course, preferable for local taxation to be collected, as this would bring a truer sense of local identity). This money would be spent on their local area, creating a kind of city village.
The committee would meet frequently and its discussions would be held for public viewing. On matters of expenditure, the committee may propose investment ideas, and it would be the duty of the larger populace to vote on such matters. This would bring an almost classical direct democracy to local people.
These neighbourhood committees would have various local responsibilities, including the upkeep of parks and recreation, the state of the local environment and maintenance of public buildings. They would also have a large role in planning. Neighbourhood committees may also have a role in welfare provision. Placing welfare at such a local level would boost the idea of mutual support at work.
Members of the committee would be elected every four years, at the same time as council and national elections. Different committees would have different numbers of councillors. Most councillors would be elected to represent the entire parish. Only if there are more candidates standing for election than there are seats on the council would an election be held.
Each parish would create its own charter, directly establishing its status and its powers. Parish committees would exist much in the same manner as parish councils presently do. Every square inch of British soil would be divided up into parishes, so that these committees would be open to all, regardless of their historic status.

General Councils
General councils would serve as the next tier of local government, above parish committees. A number of parish committees shall be ‘merged’, from which a non-party councillor would be elected. One councillor is appointed Chairman of the Council, and takes the term ‘Mayor’. The Mayor appoints a small executive to discuss local issues, and to show leadership, like a Cabinet. The general council would received income through a universal local sales tax, and should be far less dependent on state finance.
These councils would be responsible directly for local environment matters such as refuse collective and environmental health, and many matters which are too large for parish committees but too trivial for national government. These councils primarily provide local leadership.
One important role for the general council is the maintenance of its very own community hall, which would serve the people in many important ways. The community hall would contain premises for community and not-for-profit organisations and shared support facilities for such groups; location for job centres, including national electronic search facilities; public access to other key databases, such as housing vacancy lists; free-to-use meetings space for community groups; location for local councillors’ drop-in clinics; public display of all planning notices, etc.; exhibition space; small police stations; food and drink and other retail concessions, leased to the private sector. These community halls must be elaborate and ornate buildings, in order to foster a greater sense of local pride.

Public Service Commissioners
I have already written on this site of the need for Transport Commissioners, to take control of local matters in that field. In addition to this, Commissioners would be elected to cover other areas of policy. The most obvious case would be policing, with Commissioners elected to serve the public in that field. However, a Commissioner may be elected to serve as the guarantor of 'public services' within a local area. As I am an advocate of school vouchers and true independence for all schools, that may make Educational Commissioners unnecessary. But as proponents of school vouchers argue that light touch regulation is needed to ensure all children have access to a school, perhaps this could be done at a local level. Educational Commissioners might also serve as a powerful mechanism for the redress of grievances if parents are very unhappy at the policies and practices of schools.
Commissioners would set the priorities in their field and direct expenditure around their own service. The role of national government would be to act as guarantor of the service and keep an overall check on the national picture. If locals are dissatisfied with the performance of their Commissioners, they would have the right to demand the resignation of the Board in a recall election. Elections would be held regularly and the Commissioners would be clearly accountable to people.

In short, this means true local democracy of a style never before dreamt of in our modern world.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Britain's EU Budget Rebate

Tony Blair has told MPs that there is no question of Britain giving up her rebate from the European Union budget, as pressure from the continent mounts for the Prime Minister to be more open to negotiation. It is thought that a compromise might be reached so that the scope of the EU's cripplingly protectionist agricultural subsidies may be cut in exchange for the abolition of the rebate, won by Margaret Thatcher back in 1984 after the UK had been paying well over the odds for too long into the Community budget.

The emotional connection we appear to have in Britain to our rebate is doubtless perpetuated by the tabloid press and by the everpresent feeling that we are always being well and truly screwed by the Europeans (if you pardon my language). But I am willing to be more conciliatory about this issue. We got our rebate when our economy was in a bad state and when it was entirely unfair that Britain should pay as much as it did. But now, thanks to the long-term effects of Thatcher's reforms and the short-term effects of reforms under John Major's government - and NO THANKS to the tax and spend policies of Gordon Brown - our economy is in a better situation. We are now stronger than our EU partners, who are in a state of perpetual decline, for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps on that count we could be willing to negotiate a settlement. Doubtless Blair and his team would spin it and the message would become something like: 'Look how great we're doing: we don't need our cash back from the EU when we're doing so well by ourselves'.

But if the rebate is abolished, then it is right and proper that we should get something in return. The abolition - or at the very least the phasing out - of the subsidies we pay to inefficient farmers, particularly in France would be a great thing. It would tear away a key strand of continental protectionism and would be a significant step in bringing down the poverty of the Third World as it would let farmers sell their products in our markets. It would cut supermarket prices by a third, some estimates suggest, and that is no small measure when you consider the difficulties those earning a pittance for their hard work and those getting by on the state pension have in buying food. The end of the Common Agricultural Policy would be a tremendous achievement, and we should be eager to move towards it if Her Majesty's Government took a leap of political faith and ended our budget rebate.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The European Union: A Tryst With Folly

The House of Commons has been debating the crisis with the European Constitution today. It has been interesting to watch how this has become a debate in which we can all merely shout out our complaints about the practices and the policies of the European Union. Bernard Jenkin (Conservative) has been rubbishing the idea of a European common defence and foreign policy. Jeremy Corbyn (old Labour) has complained about how the constitution may have, in its old state, been harmful to social welfare throughout the continent. The Liberal Democrats have been persistent today in calling for greater transparency over how the EU works and operates.

Debates over the constitution have always been and are always going to be about our biggest and heaviest gripes with the European Union. Considering that we know so little about how it works and who does what and why, it is unsurprising that the EU gets a bad press here in Britain. And let me say, the number of times I have heard people say the words 'when we go into Europe' in the last few weeks has been astounding.

But it's not as though I'd ever have it any other way. As an ardent and self-proclaimed Eurosceptic, I am delighted that the popular view of the EU is of a bloated bureaucracy doing nothing at all except shuffling papers and regulating the size of bananas. But if we really intend to debate our place in Europe, then we all need to have a much greater idea of where our place is now, and what it is that we want or don't want a place in.

However, if the European Union remains a club for the continental political elites to get what they want; if it serves for the French to get their farm subsidies, for the British to hang on to its last slice of power in world events; if its opponents pick and mix everything they don't like about it, whether that is its alleged attempts to bring about a common foreign policy or its failure to bring about a common foreign policy, or its leaning towards the free market or its failure to lean towards the free market enough; if Europe can not work together, then the Union deserves to perish.

Unless the continental elites secure that glued-together alliance they hunger for, then the Union will perish, and I shall be the first to celebrate the end of this tryst with folly.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Road Tolls & The Need For Transport Commissioners

The government is planning the introduction of a nationwide scheme of 'pay-as-you-go' road charges, aimed at cutting congestion, and which would ultimately replace road tax and petrol duty.

I am strongly in favour of a system of road pricing, which would be much fairer on motorists than the present charade we have with various taxes and duties. What's more, road pricing is based on how far you travel, not merely whether or not you own a car or how much gas it guzzles.

But what is imperative is that road tolls do not merely become another source of revenue for the government but rather that the profits are directly returned to the transport infrastructure.
Statistics from the year 2000 told us that motorists raise over £36 billion for the Treasury but receive back only about £6 billion of investment in the infrastructure. Therefore, to see that costs levied on transport users go back into a better transport network I would also like to see the creation of elected transport commissioners throughout the country. These commissioners - who would not be party political but independent-minded - would set the tolls and take the receipts and then spend them on boosting our roads, railways and ports, with no interference at all from central government.

What's more, this would be true democracy in action. The idea that one day we humble voters might be able to just walk down the road and cast a vote to decide who should run our roads and railways, and then go into the town centre to have a chat with the commissioner about a pot-hole that needs fixing down our street or how difficult it is to get into the flow when we're coming out of the drive - that idea fills me with a sense of optimism about local democracy.

Transport is the traditional kitchen-table issue. It might not win a party any votes, but it certainly gets people talking. But wouldn't it be a refreshing change if transport was no longer a matter for politicians far away, but for we, the masses. It's an inspiring thought!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

What Is So Unendearing About Politics

What is so unendearing about politics, as conducted in the modern era, is that it has become the sport of aberrant men and women, in which points are scored and victories earned if the participant succeeds in making a sly or ironic remark, which is usually at best remotely amusing, at the expense of his or her opponent.

Readers will either be utterly shocked at such a bold assertion, or they will shrug and ask, "What's new?"

But it truly disturbs me that political debate today is about futile point-scoring. It probably comes from the top. As political campaigns are conducted in such a way where public criticism of our leaders is prevented sometimes with force, and as debates become based around simple soundbites rather than clear and cogent arguments, then it is inevitably going to be the case that the winners of the public debate are the ones who think up the witty one-liner rather than the ones with intellectual clarity and a purposeful vision for society.

My words, I realise, make me sound scornful of all those people who are better with the witty one-liners and the soundbites than I am, but I still find it dangerous that debates are conducted like this. It's just another part of the systematic dumbing down that has been going on for such a long time in our society.

But it doesn't stop there. A consequence of this dumbing down is that our political leaders and elected representatives are themselves 'dumbed down' as part of this process. And what this leads to is a society where people in power are no longer people with a great vision for their country, a view of a new utopia, but who either serve as lobby fodder for our ultimate rulers or simply as robots and hacks.

Am I alone in seeking a return to a society where politics is where we look to for our source of inspiration, where the masses look for greatness? The politicians of yesteryear were different to the ones of today. Even our Prime Ministers were different. In the past, we had leaders with such diverse visions for society as Margaret Thatcher, Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill. Yet each one of those had their vision for society. They all knew what had to be done to make life safer and happier. They had personality too. They weren't afraid to utter the unpopular word or to think the daunting thought. They would speak out if they didn't like something. They were true leaders.

But today we are left with leaders like Tony Blair. Today, we have men and women who won't go anywhere near the unpopular, because they're too afraid that the next batch of opinion polls will go the other way. Today, our leaders have no concept of 'right' and 'wrong'. Today, they have no vision for a better society, because they are too afraid that a vision might alienate certain groups in their society. So instead they offer kind words and a few pennies to people in the vain hope that they'll still be popular at the end of the day.

I look to a future in which society is much different, where we return to the days when leaders had values and principles which they weren't afraid to be martyrs for. I look to a future of great men and great women, not merely feeble hacks wandering through the electoral desert scouring for another drop of popular water for their survival.

I look to a better future where men and women go into politics with great aspirations and come out with even greater achievements.

Friday, June 03, 2005

David Willetts: A Mountain Mover or a Spectator?

It appears that David Willetts has emerged as David Davis's principal rival in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party. This week he has been on the circuit with an article in the Times about the need to lift the poorest parts of Britain out of the pit of despair, and with a speech to the Social Market Foundation declaring that ours has become 'the sick society of Europe'.

With his talk about the need for greater school choice, for the kind of policing that has brought peace to the streets of New York and for serious welfare reform, he certainly has the intellectual credentials to be leader. A piece by Peter Oborne in The Spectator gives Willetts some credit for refusing to follow the lead of other Tories by plotting their way to the crown. Instead, he is the only one doing some serious thinking. And now this morning The Sun says that he looks set to be the candidate who will call on Conservatives to 'reclaim the centre ground'.

But I worry that David Willetts is too much of a nice man for the job. He doesn't have the fire in his belly that's been absent from Conservative leaders for a long time, and which I believe would make a refreshing change from the conceited arrogance that's hidden underneath Tony Blair's folksy exterior, as well as the sheep-like attitude of Charles Kennedy. I would like a leader with spirits and guts. I would like a leader who does not talk about Conservatives being ready to 'reclaim the centre ground', but a leader who goes out and takes the centre ground for himself. I would like a leader who will move mountains, not just admire those who reached the top of them first.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The 'Radical Liberals': Enemies of Freedom

According to today's Guardian a roving band of 'radical liberals' to the left of the Liberal Democrats are growing evermore voluble in their attacks on the leadership for their unimpressive performance in the election. They say that claims that the party failed to do better because it was too much to the left is 'the first big delusion'.

I had a chuckle to myself when I saw this. Who exactly are these 'radical liberals'? These people are cranks and goofballs. Do they have any representation in Parliament? If so, why?! Can you imagine what would happen if the Liberal Democrats went even further to the left to please these 'radical liberals'? We'd have State ownership of everything yet again. These people are enemies of freedom, and anybody who wants to start a witch-hunt against them has my personal backing!!

2001: The Bad Old Days

An opinion poll has been carried out which shows that 54% of Conservative Party members would support David Davis as Leader of the Party. But this was never really in doubt, was it? Of course the Conservative Party would back David Davis, which is precisely why the leadership wants to take away the remaining powers of the grassroots in elect a leader. The worst thing about polls like this coming out day after day is that they get the press, and thus the people speculating about the future leadership, even though the contest has not even begun yet. This Phoney War is not only frustrating and pointless, but will only damage us. Michael Howard has announced he shall resign soon. He can't go back on that, so now he must do it soon so that we can get this leadership campaign over with quickly and then mount an almighty fight to get back into government and do great things for society.

The last leadership election shall be remembered as one of division, tearing our party apart, not just over trivial policy areas, but over principles too. The Conservative Party - the most unified mainstream party in Britain, full of men and women all devoted to the cause of freedom of the people against State supremacy - was in seriously danger of drifting into the abyss, of becoming destroyed by an earthquake made at a fault line that MPs, activists and the press had imagined and which was never really there. 2003 was a watershed, as it marked a turning point. The whole party united around a leader so remarkably that there was no need for a conventional election process. 2005 should not be the year when we go back to the bad old days of 2001 and beyond.