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, July 31, 2005

Happy Slapping And The Permissive Society

An excellent post on the horrors of happing slapping is to be found here by Peter Cuthbertson at Conservative Commentary.

Regular readers will remember similar posts on this blog on disrespect and associated matters from May 13th and May 29th earlier in the year.

Yet all these words are unnecessary. It would take a lot less for a man to reach the inevitable conclusion: our society is in a mess!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lay Off Prince Charles

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is lashing out at the Royal Family yet again. This time, Prince Charles is being criticized for managing the Duchy of Cornwall, the estate which provides his main income. As ever the tax issues involved are complicated (we do have a Labour Chancellor at Her Majesty's Treasury!) and too complex for me, as a normal person, to understand.

But what I do understand is this: Prince Charles is a devoted and dedicated philanthropist and a pillar of our society. In 2004, he helped to raise £109m for charity. He is the President of the Prince's Charities, an organization which comprises the Prince's Trust, the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust, PRIME and PRIME Cymru, the Prince's Drawing School, the Prince's School of Traditional Arts, the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, the Prince's Regeneration Trust, Business and the Community, Scottish Business in the Community, the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum, the Prince of Wales's Business & The Environment Programme, In Kind Direct, Arts and Business and the Prince of Wales Arts & Kids Foundation. He serves as the Patron or President of around 360 different organisations, including ActionAid, Help the Aged and the Royal Academy Trust. What's more, he already pays income tax voluntarily on what he earns.

For a group of MPs to take a swipe at the Prince of Wales about the danger of his role leading to a 'potential conflict of interest' (not even a real, concrete one yet!) is unbecoming of them. The Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate, and under the Prince's control it has appreciated in value by 80 per cent in the last six years alone. He already pays hefty taxation on the estate, but many want him to pay even more, despite the fact that the Prince's money goes much further in his hands than it ever would if it were in the Exchequer's.

Prince Charles deserves far more credit than he receives. He is a dedicated philanthropist, a capable leader and a vital cornerstone of the society in which we live.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Social Conservatives State Their Case

Edward Leigh and a group of two dozen socially conservative Tory MPs have put together a pamphlet which urges a move towards a more strongly conservative platform which the Party, they feel, should stand on come the next general election. It is neatly encapsulated with the terms 'Faith, Flag and the Family'. It is based on bringing back a greater sense of morality to our society, as well as strengthening our patriotic instincts and cutting short the decline in the institution of marriage and the family.

As far as I am concerned, as an individual, it hits all the right notes. I feel marriage is the best basis for a couple to live happily. If I were being technocratic, I would have a mountain of statistics on my side too to prove it. I feel the rebirth of the traditional family would be a great thing for our society too.

However, there is one vital political difference that I have with the considerable number of MPs who would support Mr Leigh's prescriptions. He wants to legislate heavily in favour of marriage and the family. All I want to do is take away the disincentives to marriage, even tear away the apparatus of the State so that we no longer have a situation where people are subsidised by the government for pursuing any particular lifestyle, but where men and women as individuals are taxed a little for what they earn and what they buy, with very limited benefits and no more tax credits. In short, I fear that Mr Leigh wants to use the labyrinthine system that successive governments have set up in order to pursue their own brand of social engineering. His group wishes to use that system to engineer our society towards more traditional instincts. I, on the other hand, would want to tear down that system and instead allow people - which they usually would - to marry and start a traditional family without any constraints against it or compulsion for it. And, alongside that, my way would ensure that anybody who pursued an alternative lifestyle would not become a victim of the government or society.

I have a lot of time for the social conservatives. I believe in faith, flag and the family as a great goal for our society. But to use the apparatus of the State to compel its citizens to follow their line goes against the root value of all conservatives - freedom. What's more, if we were to use the apparatus of the State to press the case for faith, flag and the family, there would be nothing to stop a succeeding Labour or - heaven forefend - Liberal Democrat government using the same structures to push the case for something markedly different.

If people were free to pursue their own lifestyle, with no incentives or disincentives either way, I am convinced the vast majority would opt for the traditional lifestyle. However, our people are not free to pursue their own lifestyle. Marriage and childbearing in the traditional way have been penalised financially - and socially, perhaps - over the years. Mr Leigh wants to counter this trend by potentially making the State even more powerful. "The Conservative Party should not be afraid to stand up for the traditional family," he writes. Yet the Conservative Party is a political organisation. The only ones who can stand up for the traditional family, are me and you, by marrying and raising children. All that the Conservative Party can do - and should do - is take away all the disincentives that make it such an arduous task. I do fear that Mr Leigh would seek to go much further than that. Whilst my personal philosophy is greatly in tune with that of the social conservatives, my political philosophy is far too libertarian for me to commit to their cause.

Now it's time to see what the Notting Hill set can come up with...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shoot To Kill: The Defence

It was bound to happen... and it has!

The political elites are in a frenzied debate about the police's 'shoot-to-kill' policy, by which any potential suicide bomber is, as the word suggests, shot and killed. It was this approach that killed an innocent Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, at Stockwell station last Friday.

Notably, the Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' terrorism committee, Ken Jones, has denied that the police operates a 'shoot-to-kill' policy.

And he's right. He says, rightly, that any steps that can be taken in that series of split seconds before a suspected suicide bomber could be set free to unleash devastation should be taken. "Everything else must be tried first before we consider taking life to save life. However, if we get to the point of no return as it were there's a moral duty, if not possibly a legal duty, on us as police officers who are armed and able to perhaps deflect an attack to take life to save life."

If a police officer suspects a man with dark skin might be a suicide bomber just because he is carrying a rucksack into a Tube station, then he would be treading that fine line between protecting the safety of the community and downright racism. But if a small force of police officers on the ground, as they were on Friday, become suspicious of the same individual; if they pursue the man on foot as he runs away from them; and if they shout 'stop, police' yet still the individual runs away, those officers would be quite right to pursue.

On Friday morning, Jean Charles de Menezes was running away from a number of armed police officers who were suspicious of him. For some reason, he didn't stop. Instead, he continued to run. You might say that he was running away because he was scared, or maybe as the officers were wearing plain clothes, he thought they were some kind of gangland thugs! But if I were a police officer on duty last Friday morning, and a suspicious man was heading onto a Tube platform, before running away from me as I tried to approach him, I would have shot the man and I would be standing by my decision today.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see that the man was innocent. Yet on Friday morning, by running away from the police after acting suspiciously, Jean Charles de Menezes was the biggest threat to public safety for those officers on duty.

The 'shoot-to-kill' policy is a necessary evil. Unfortunately, on Friday morning the approach caused one death. But when you look at the story of the events as they unfolded, it's not hard to see why that death occured. And the blame for the death can not be placed squarely onto the policy.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Countering A Homegrown Threat

A series of failed terror attacks on London's transport network yesterday followed by a series of arrests of suspects today has reminded us suddenly that the terrorists will not simply back off into the mountains of Tora Bora after every infrequent attack. The people who want to destroy our way of life are here, living and working in our own society. And they will be here, their activities gone unabated until the next attack, and the next attack, and the next attack.

In order to deal with our homegrown terrorists, we need to have a strategy; a clear plan of action to counter a truly dangerous and unparalleled threat to our peace.

Our security services have a clear knowledge of who those individuals are who pose the greatest threat to our safety here in Britain. If I am wrong and they don't, they are guilty of criminal negligence. But if, as I am confident, they do, then the police should be unrepentant in catching them instantly, before we lose trace of them and before they are allowed to plan and perpetrate their acts under a shroud of darkness. Those terror suspects whom we do catch should have serious limits imposed on their 'human rights', no matter what the lawyers like Cherie Booth, with their vested interests at stake, have to say. This should include, as it does in France, the interrogation of suspects without a lawyer present, lengthy pre-trial imprisonments and the use of evidence acquired in questionable circumstances. This might include too the extradition of wanted operatives to countries we would otherwise find it morally difficult to do business with. The security services too should have no fear of developing a stronger presence in those trouble spots where Islamic fanaticism have their roots.

However, any anti-terrorist strategy must not be allowed to mutate into a campaign to tear away the rights and liberties of the law-abiding majority. That is why I am still wholly opposed to the introduction of identity cards. And it is why I am still wholly opposed to the idea that the political Home Secretary should have the same powers in these matters as a judge or a jury.

More importantly in the long run than these simple initiatives is to tackle the roots; to address the 'causes' of homegrown terrorism (even though I am reluctant to use the word 'causes', considering its political history). We must note that young Muslims are being drawn into the snare of wild but cowardly masters; clowns like Abu Hamza who preach filth but expect the young and foolish to do their bidding. We must address those factors in the lives of young Muslims which push them over the edge and into terrorism. The poverty and the lack of opportunity, and the despair which are a fact of life in those places where today's arrests took place are surely not just coincidental. They are often a root cause in pushing the homegrown villains over the edge.

But that is no excuse for perpetrating terror on the rest of us. There is poverty of all kinds throughout Britain. But if the rest of us used that as an excuse to leave bombs on buses, we'd all be dead by now. The fact is that young Muslims in Britain can not claim to feel any sense of belonging in British society, precisely because it means very little these days to be British. That is not, as the racists would say, because of the Muslims and the other cultures in our society. That is because we have given up on feeling any love for our country. The British should not be afraid to show patriotism and to cherish everything about Britain that is great. That is why Liam Fox is right to say the Union Jack should be flown outside schools. That is why Trevor Phillips was right last April to say the conventional multiculturalist policies of the political elites are misguided. If young Muslims were encourage to integrate more into a society which is at ease with itself, not apologetic about itself, then there would be no opportunity for anyone to fall into the grip of the extremists. This does not mean that the 'native Britons' (whoever they are) have to go out of their way to accomodate an alien people. Rather, it means that we acknowledge all the good that immigrant cultures can bring, but at the same time hold dear our own traditions, institutions and our pride in ourselves, and what's more, we should teach all our young the importance of all of this.

We can still capture the hearts and minds of those young men who are on the brink of the abyss, with the evil of terrorism in front of them. We mustn't feel, however, that all that is left to fight them with is the bullet and the bomb. We can yet, and we must, capture their souls for deliverance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Blair's Slack Way Of Tackling Terrorism

I came across this article by an American writer today who says that regardless of all our bravado claims about standing shoulder to shoulder with America, particularly over Iraq, Britain has shown itself to be very weak and impotent in the face of Islamic extremism. Conversely, countries like France, who have been diametrically opposed to the American position at times, are standing up to Islamic extremism.

More and more, it is hard to condone the approach that the British government takes towards terrorist suspects. On the one hand, they seek to craft a society in which other cultures are effectively discouraged from integrating into our society and in which the home culture has to move mountains to integrate others. This is so devastating particularly in areas like Beeston in Leeds, where the terror suspects came from, because all sense of local community has been so destroyed over time that talk of integration is silly - there's nothing to integrate with!

And on the other hand, the government seeks to look tough by taking away more and more of the ancient civil liberties of the law-abiding majority and giving the incompetent and political Home Secretary the right to lock suspects up and not the right-minded (usually) and impartial judiciary.

The Prime Minister, it appears, has earned some credit for the handling of the terrorist attacks in London this month. But in truth, his government's position on dealing with terrorism has been consistently slack and misguided for years.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Challenge For Tomorrow's Radicals

The post-war consensus was established by the Labour government in the late 1940s. This said that it was the role of the State to take control of the great industries, of utilities and of public services. This consensus went largely unchallenged by successive Conservative governments, particularly that of Harold Macmillan. It then became the accepted belief that the duty of Conservative governments was to make socialism work more efficiently. It took nearly forty years for this consensus to be finally grappled with. In Margaret Thatcher's premiership, in the 1980s, the rule of the State was torn apart across industry - so much so that Britain now enjoys its status as one of the world's most free and most competitive economies (status which is slipping now that Gordon Brown has ensured one in five people take their pay-cheque from him).

The 21st century consensus is a slightly different one, but it still is based on the idea that the political elites deserve control over our society, and not the individuals, families and communities who make up society. The 21st century consensus is based on the idea of the nanny state. It says that healthcare and education are matters for politicians, not patients and parents, or doctors and teachers. It says that everything we can and can't do must be stated crystal clear in legislation. It says that freedom is the freedom to do what little the State will let you do, or emigrate.

It is a depressing thought, but perhaps it might take us forty years again to challenge this consensus. Just like the Conservative Party broadly accepted the post-war consensus, maybe we will lay down and take the 21st century consensus. This seemed apparent in the last election when the best the Tories could offer was more rises in public spending, but at a slower rate than Labour or the Liberal Democrats. This consensus may well prevail for decades. The next forty years of parents will be told how to parent; the next forty years of doctors told how to doctor.

It may take forty years for the first Prime Minister to challenge this consensus to come along, but when he or she does, the fight will be much tougher than it was in the 1980s. The fights will not be with the miners' unions, but with the educational and healthcare establishment, all of whom have a vested interest in State domination of society. The fights will be much greater, because State rule has been growing in perpetuity for so long, and it will take an almighty challenge to roll back the frontiers in our society. The solutions will have to be far more radical again than privatisation or deregulation. It will take the abolition of every aspect of the Welfare State, and the formation of a welfare society to win the war. What's more, the fruits will be far richer too, for we will come to live in a great society where all people, rich and poor, work to the best of their ability, in the firm knowledge that their efforts will pay off, and where each and every one of us will at last be free.

This is the challenge for the reformers of the 21st century consensus.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Britain Fights Back

Yesterday, Britain wept. But today, she roars!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fear, Terror And Panic? Never!

As I write, it has so far been confirmed that a total of four terrorist attacks on London's transport networks have killed 37 people and left more than 700 injured.

An organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack. They call themselves the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe, and they say that 'Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic'.

These people have got it wrong. These people have failed in their reconaissance. For they have failed to recognise that the British people are made of far greater metal than that. In the last century we have fought and won battles against stronger foes than these cowardly men. If these terrorists are so vain that they think they can bring the United Kingdom to a state of fear, terror and panic, then they have got us very badly wrong.

Another Indictment of the French Elites

On the same day that London's soul has been punched, just for a short moment, by cowardly terrorist thugs whose desire is only to harm their fellow man, the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, has accused the London team of dirty tactics in the run-up to yesterday's vote which brought the 2012 Olympic Games to one of the greatest cities in the world.

"I am simply not sure that we behaved in the same way as regards the rules of the competition," he told Le Figaro newspaper. "Our bid was excellent. Our state of mind was really appropriate to sport and the Olympic spirit. Other things brought London victory and I am not sure they are to do with sport."

In a startling testimony to bad sportsmanship and being a bad loser, the French media have been unashamedly ruthless in their accusal of the London team, claiming that Britain had employed her secret services in some way to help the bid.

France deserves to be shamed. The third failed Parisien bid in twenty years is proof that a country of remarkable prestige such as theirs can fall to a new low when it loses its way. All the Frenchmen and women I know personally are delightful people. However, their nation has become stifled with another bout of self-loving and arrogant self-comfort in the wake of another defeat.

But that Olympic verdict must not be the last defeat to cripple Monsieur Chirac's ego and that of the French Establishment. It is time for the Franco-centric European Union to, as I have already said time and again - but most starkly of all in the early hours of this morning - reform or be destroyed.

The sickening behaviour of the French in the wake of the Olympic verdict is a damning indictment of a great country. Her people do not deserve to be thought of as so rude and villainous.

Terror In London

A city of streets paved with shining gold can never have its soul destroyed. All we can do is remember the spirit of the Blitz and fight with all our heart and our stomach against the threat which will be there for the many long hours and trials ahead.

I Hereby Announce My Defection...

Over the last few weeks, months and years, my never particularly strong support for the European Union has been waning. It has declined in my estimation so far that now the only defence I can muster is to argue that it is a part of the myriad of British influence in the world: we are the only country which can claim to be a G8 leader, to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, to be at the heart of the Commonwealth, to be a founding member of NATO, and to be a net contributor to the EU. Britain, I have told myself for too long, is the keystone of the global community. However, after glancing through Vernon Coleman’s book ‘England Our England’, subtitled ‘A Nation in Jeopardy - Sound reasons to reject the euro and the EU’, I have become convinced that there is no longer any defence for the great European project.

Taking just a sample of paragraphs from the short and concise, yet extraordinary book is enough to deal the fatal blow that the European Union deserves. If you read this book, you will discover that:

  • People will soon swear an allegiance to the European Union.

  • Political parties of which the EU disapproves may be banned under legislation to come into effect soon.
  • Members of Europe's official police force Europol can beat you up, smash your property, rape you and kill you for no reason at all and will be immune from prosecution.

  • £600 million is spent by the EU to hire university professors who will teach students the importance and greatness of the Union.

  • The EU wants to abolish habeas corpus in favour of a continental system called corpus juris. The lay magistrates will be abolished and trial without jury will be introduced (as has already been put to the House of Commons by a man who is sadly my near-namesake, Mike O'Brien).

  • The Deputy Prime Minister's regional assemblies aren't true devolution but will create a myriad of small subsidiary regions which will make up the European superstate.

  • As a result of EU regulation and the Common Agricultural Policy, the average British household spends £1,000 more on food every year.

  • Europol has set up files holding at least 56 different types of evidence on people it suspects may commit crimes against EU law in the future.

  • The EU will soon be able to ban books (and probably weblogs!) which are critical of the Union.

  • Talking or writing about the possibility of leaving the EU may soon be illegal.

  • When Edward Heath signed up to the Treaty of Rome which took Britain into the EU, he knew it would lead to a European superstate, but he denied this to the British people.

This disturbing mixture of economic, political and social reforms, coupled with the undertones prevalent in them all show that the European Union is an institution founded on the basis of taking freedoms away from we, the people. Not only do the European political elites seek to create a new European State. They want it to be so tyrannical and so oppressive and so brutally intrusive that the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany alike would have been impressed.

These can not be described as the ramblings of silly, eccentric men dreaming it all up. That would doubtless be the rebuttal of the European Establishment, who are precisely the people who want to take our freedoms and create their basis for power.

We should seek to craft a European Union which respects and preserves the identity of its member nations, not one which glosses them over so that we may all conform with the perverse fantasies of our leaders and see the creation of one European nation. We should seek a Europe on the model of the Commonwealth - an institution for trade, to bring together nations in harmony, not in Statehood. That would require the abolition of all the trade barriers in Europe, all the regulation and directives created in the name of harmonisation, and all the institutions of Statehood, from the Parliament to the Commission. And if we fail, then Britain should no longer attempt to justify her place in the European Union.

It is for all these reasons that I, Mark O'Brien, hereby declare that it is my fervent wish to see Britain leave the European Union and become great and free once again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


LONDON 2012!!!

Let's show 'em how it's done!!!

Live 8 And Making Poverty History

Whilst it is admirable to see the modern-day Good Samaritans like Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis raise awareness of some of the most awful problems in the bleakest pockets of the globe, one can't help but feel that their respective campaigns are fundamentally misguided.

Their insistence that more money will solve Africa's problems is at best a dubious claim. As Moeletsi Mbeki - brother of South Africa's President - has written, offering hand-outs to Africa breeds a lack of accountability on the part of governments to their people. What's more, aid is a disincentive to prudent financial management. The only problem for me is that those two counter-arguments are just not very nice. Imagine if 'The Girl In The Cafe' gave a lecture to AU leaders about the importance of cautious and sensible fiscal and monetary arrangements within a framework of accountability, so that investment and trade may follow. It's just not as sweet and fluffy as Richard Curtis's offering, is it?!

I remain convinced that free trade on the global stage and democratic accountability at home will bring prosperity to Africa. Of course, Africa is a continent of deserts and mountains; of drought and flood. Africa does not have the paradise of resources that have tilted the balance of global power westwards. But if we brought their people out of the cesspit of dependence and dictatorship, that would be a step in the right direction.

Sadly, I can't claim to have heard Pink Floyd or Sir Paul McCartney bound on to the stage in Hyde Park with a homily on the importance of trade without barriers or democratic accountability. Instead, they want us to sign a petition calling on the G8 leaders to double their aid to Africa.

The biggest opinion formers on the issue of global poverty have, I'm afraid, got it wrong.

No Smoke Without Fire

Last week there was renewed talk of a ban on smoking in public places to be introduced in Britain. After contemplating all of this, I've found myself taking a rather unusual and unexpected position on the issue. I am the kind of person who truly detests smoking. Words can't express my disgust at the habit. Yet I am ready to become the smokers' champion. Not because I want to defend their rights, but because I want to instill their responsibilities.

I've realised that a ban on smoking would take away any responsibility on the part of the smoker to ensure that his habit does not impinge on the quality of life of any of those around him. It is the smoker's duty, not the State's, to protect his health and the health of those passing by. To ban smoking in public places would take away that responsibility.

A ban on smoking in public places would be another step in that shortening journey to crafting a nation of people who have no responsibility to themselves or their neighbour, but who will look first to the State to solve their problems. A smoker should not look to the authorities to let him quit his habit; that should be his prerogative. A smoker must not be bound by law to protect passers-by from his habit; rather, he should be bound by his sense of duty to his fellow man.

Identity Cards And All That

The last time I wrote on this blog about identity cards (December 2004) I seem to remember that I was rather indifferent. Personally, I have flipped and flopped on this issue from start to finish. When they were first mooted, days after September 11th 2001, I thought they'd be useful, but not to combat terrorism. Then I became more opposed to them; then I subsequently started to favour them again. But now, there can be no doubt: I am firmly and unequivocally opposed.

As Peter Lilley wrote in a report for the Bow Group earlier this year, they are supposed to combat terrorism, benefit fraud and illegal immigration, yet they are bound to fail in each respect. Terrorists don't conceal their identities but their intentions. Benefit fraudsters don't conceal their identities but their circumstances. And illegal immigrants can already claim asylum through a system which requires them to have an identity card.

The inspirational speech from Charles Clarke to bring we, the people, round to this authoritarian idea is yet to be given. We have not heard any reasonable justification for an identity card system, only some half-hearted rebuttal to its opponents. Let us not forget too that Mr. Clarke does have a background as a Marxist in his student days, so perhaps this disdain for liberty is not so stunning.

The Second Reading of an enabling Bill for identity cards is through (and let us not forget where we've heard the words 'Enabling Bill' before!). It can be chopped and changed, nipped and tucked through committees and the Lords, but it won't be destroyed. Now that Parliament has forgotten its duty to the people, and as the Labour MPs have been dragged like lobby fodder through the 'Aye' lobby, it is up to the people to fight back.

Identity cards are not an idea whose time has come. They are a depressing example of the new consensus of State power shared by the British Establishment. They must be destroyed.