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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Enter Clarke

Posting on this blog has dried up of late, but that will likely change soon with the entrance in the Conservative leadership contest of Kenneth Clarke. Despite two failed attempts to win the leadership, and despite being thought to be very unpopular with activists (not to mention behind with the bookmakers), Mr. Clarke has pledged to stand. In an interview in the Daily Mail, he dismisses fears that he is too much of a Europhile, promises to give up his significant lucrative directorships if elected and gives hints that an alliance may be in the making between him and David Willetts, whose endorsement would be likely to hand the leadership to whichever candidate took it.

Commentators agree that Clarke's entry into the contest has sparked it up, even though I myself have not been particularly impressed with the consistent 'will he? won't he' which has been going on since May about whether he would actually stand. It is good to see that that is over now and that the leadership election can actually press ahead.

It will be interesting to see how Mr. Clarke's bid will turn out. Will it be the desperate last gambit of a man desperate to be the leader? Or could he be the one to revitalize the party and get us back on track to victory at the polls and bold, visionary reform of our society?

It will certainly be an interesting few weeks from now on!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Respect The Press; They'll Respect You!

As the Prime Minister takes his vacation in Barbados, I can't resist this.

In her book, 'The Goldfish Bowl', which is a series of portraits of the spouses of the prime ministers of our country since 1955, Cherie Booth writes the following on Mary Wilson, the wife of Harold:

"Mary's real solace was their family holidays in the Isles of Scilly - in summer, at Easter and New Year. The press came for one day only for interviews and photographs and then left them in peace, a convention which sadly is no longer respected on prime ministers' holidays."

I wonder if the Blairs had actually told the press where they were going on holiday, and then let them have the briefest of interviews on location with them, and actually treat the media with an ounce of respect, her own experience of 'media intrusion' might be a little less horrific.

Treat the press with some respect, and your privacy will be respected. It's not a bad approach. Mrs. Blair (or Booth, depending on how popular her husband is at the time) should try it out some time.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Self-Help & Philanthropy

In 1859, a man called Samuel Smiles wrote that, ‘The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual’. One century, two score and six years later, his message remains just as important today for us all as it was in his time, when man achieved great feats, and was rewarded for his own merits and his own strife, and not funded for his own dependence or sloth.

Yet no matter how important his words are today, there can be no escaping the reality that in his era, it was far easier for the individual to live out the true meaning of that creed. His contemporaries were not strained by the pressures of high taxation.

The poor in his society had a reason to live. They grew up knowing the importance of hard work, independence and self-help. They believed in their own strengths. They were not patronised by their government, told day in, day out that they were incapable of leading their own lives, and making their own decisions. They were free to thrive.

And the rich of his society believed that they had a moral duty to protect those who could not protect themselves. They knew the virtues of philanthropy. They knew that they had a responsibility to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless.

Today, however, Samuel Smiles would be ashamed that his belief in the importance of self-help and the duties of the rich has been forgotten by the ravages of time. Nowadays, when the working man earns five pounds, he has to hand over one pound to that bandit Gordon Brown, no questions asked. And if he drives a car, buys a packet of Marlboros or a four-pack of Carling, he has to hand over at least another pound too. How are we supposed to make work preferable to welfare and encourage the poorest in our society to look to their own efforts for the betterment of themselves and their families if a minimum wage family has to hand over its pay packet to a government whose only desire is to patronise and dictate, not let the very same men and women it seeks to protect thrive?

Today, Samuel Smiles would be ashamed by the rich too. In his era, the average middle class family gave 10% of its income to charity. He lived in a society of philanthropists, where the affluent believed that they had a duty to protect those less fortunate than themselves: those who worked hard but still had to struggle to support their families, and those who were too vulnerable to defend themselves. He lived in the same society where Dr Barnardo set up his homes for orphan children, where Thomas Armitage created the National Institute for the Blind, and where any social problem had not an armful of government initiatives to solve it, but dozens of charities, small and large, working to protect those who suffered and to bring an end their problems. He lived in a society where the homeless were protected by the SOS Society, by the Fellowship of St Christopher, by the Society for the Relief of the Houseless Poor, by Homes for Working Boys in London, by the Embankment Fellowship Centre, by the Morning Post Embankment home and by the Wayfarers Benevolent Association, not to mention a tonnage more in the same sphere of social work. He lived in a society where each and every moneyed family lived by the rule that charity never faileth.

And yet the rich of today, of which there are many more who are much richer, are stolen from by the State. They are robbed of their money, because the politicians think they can’t be trusted with it. How is a rich man expected to care for the poor, when the old-fashioned socialist system we have endeavours to make it hard for the rich man to take care of himself? The rich of yesteryear were the landowners and the gentry. They were the self-made men who rose from nothing and worked their way up through the ranks of society. In their place, today’s rich are the multi-millionaire footballers, the actors, the actresses and singers who, often at a tender age, have a profound influence on the next generation of leaders in our society. But if you can find me a Premiership star earning upwards of fifty grand every week of the year who offers the lion’s share of his ridiculously high salary to charity and to the protection of the vulnerable, I will be amazed. Today’s rich waste their money on expensive cars and cheap women. Charity and philanthropy are dirty words; words which many of them might struggle to pronounce. In a Conservative society, the onus must be not on the State, but on charitable, humanitarian individuals to protect the vulnerable. And politicians must not legislate to tell the rich how to protect the poor. All they will be able to do, and all they should do, is let them be free to do so.

It is the duty of the next Conservative government to free the working man, and craft a civil society where individuals, not the State, protect the vulnerable. That should be our ambition.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Bad Time To Be A Copper

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes now say that Sir Ian Blair has tried to buy their silence with an offer worth around £560,000 of compensation.

As someone who privately suggested that Sir Ian Blair should give money out of his own salary to pay for the cancer treatment of Mr de Menezes's father (and on this blog in a comment just days ago) my suggestion should, according to the family, have been treated as 'blood money'.

It appears that the family now want to drag this on and on. They say that all they want is to ask Sir Ian why he has told lies about the young Brazilian, which is not unreasonable. I just wonder when the family will let it rest. Sir Ian Blair's resignation should by now be inevitable (and greeted with a reserved, if slightly ashamed because the man does represent Britain for the Brazilian people, kind of joy on this blog). If that is achieved and they 'get their answers', will the family finally let this embarrassing affair lay to rest. Or do they want to make this go on and on so that nobody has any trust in the police any more?

On the Samizdata blog, meanwhile, I mooted a suggestion that the next Met Chief should be elected, and not appointed from the shadowy policing Establishment. After all, it works elsewhere in the world, in places where the politicians and bureaucrats and elites actually have some faith in the power of the people. The suggestion was met with a divided response, and the main arguments against it appear to be that we supposedly politically literate people can't trust the unclean masses to understand the issues or take it seriously.

Welcome to liberal Britain in the twenty-first century!

(EDIT: I don't know what and who to believe any more, but it now appears that the first paragraph of this article is not true, and the Brazilian family have not been offered compensation money.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Civil Service: Enemies of the People

I've written here twice before about the flat tax revolution. The flat tax is a single rate of income tax, set at a low level, and preferably with a generous personal allowance. To those who have taken as little as a passing interest in the subject, it looks inevitable that some day soon we will adopt it here, and its proponents (of which I am proud to call myself one) argue the sooner, the better.

But Her Majesty's Treasury disagrees. Treasury officials have doctored a memo ('sexed down' perhaps) on the subject which proposed the introduction of this flat tax so that it gave a much more discouraging impression. Of course, we're used to this kind of stupidity from the State machinery. Perhaps they felt defensive because flat tax would significantly reduce their power. Perhaps it's because they knew a low flat tax would initially require savings in public expenditure. Perhaps it's just because it wasn't their idea!

What the Treasury thinks, doctored or not, has never been particularly important to me; not when our economy is sinking under the weight of tax and regulation, and when some of our poorest people are robbed of their hard-earned money to an incompetent Chancellor. If the elected part of the government really is interested in flat tax, then all they had to do when reading this doctored report was to say to their officials and advisors, "Get out of my office!"

But more important than the question of how many independent thoughts there are in Gordon Brown's head is the question of the Civil Service. The Civil Service has become renowned as a bloated institution, stuck in the past not just in its practices but in its elitist, Statist beliefs too. Any administration with the inclination has to shake up the Civil Service from top to bottom, and root out the prevailing patronising nature of its big government style, tearing down the structures which make politicians and bureaucrats the most powerful people in our society and which stunt the qualities and clog the capacity of the British people.

An end to massive government means the slow decline of the Civil Service as we know it. Therefore, let's speed it up by rejecting the still-prevalent post-war consensus and bringing about a radical reform of every part of our society.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

School Examinations

The country's A Level results came out today, bringing joy and relief to those leaders of tomorrow who never really had any need to worry about their future, and bringing nothing but indifference to those who have, during their years in school, become disillusioned with most of life, rendered 'kaput' on the scrapheap of society. In a week's time, the country's GCSE results will be announced, and doubtless similar coverage will be granted then.

True to form, according to the stereotypes held against my generation, I was too lazy to write any significant post unique for this blog today on this or any other matter. However, I did write a rather long comment on the matter on the Adam Smith Institute blog which I have published on this site.

"As a teenager who has completed one GCSE in French which I took a year early (I receive the result next week) I have a lot riding on my answer to the question of exam standards? On the one hand, do I degrade my own efforts and those of my friends? Or do I tell the truth? Fortunately, for me, the answer is straightforward.

"It is undeniable that education has changed in recent years. In history, whilst once factual recall was imperative, nowadays more emphasis is placed on source analysis. In English, whilst once a student had to be have a full knowledge of a text, today he might only have to understand the broad themes of a novel or other work. What is demanded of us has certainly changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean standards have fallen.

"I'm a private school student, therefore have an academic advantage over many (that's not snobbery; it's the truth!). But the facts are staring us in the face, and those are that educational standards have fallen over time, and it's not just affecting the life chances of today's teenagers, but has been affecting all of us since education became the prerogative of the State. One in five of school leavers, and doubtless one in five of the rest of the population, should be classed as 'functionally illiterate': in other ways, they struggle to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages or they can't decipher a simple supermarket receipt. Pupils at a primary level struggle to spell the words 'environment' and 'necessary' en masse. Surveys by international organisations consistently place Britain below other nations who (for reasons more than pure xenophobia) we should be thrashing, like New Zealand and Hungary in maths or science teaching. And, at the crux of the matter today, A Levels are in truth very easy compared to what they once were. I see the kinds of questions students my age were faced with just fifty years ago and die a little inside, not just because I have not been taught that particular mathematical formula or linguistic structure, but because it's do damn hard!!

"The problem with education in Britain is that politicians are in charge of it. I don't need to explain why that's true - I'm writing on the blog of the Adam Smith Institute, so you know that it's true! Therefore, any decisions that are made about our education and examinations are political decisions. As soon as we change that, and tear shift the centre of gravity from the Department of Education and Skills to every classroom in Britain, examinations will finally be made which challenge students appropriately, not according to some flash new idea which appeals to nobody outside the cafes of Islington or Kensington, but according to the wishes of teachers and parents.

"But I feel that the question which doesn't get as much attention as it deserves at this time of years is what is the point of these exams. Why put a kid through school from the cradle to the academic grave when it would be much more valuable for most teenagers not to be stuck in a classroom hearing ('listening to' or 'learning' imply too much activity) a teacher try to teach the intricacies of something which will never matter to them in the slightest, when they could be out of that classroom and in the real world, learning something that they can put to use throughout their whole life. Why should a teenage student, poor in aspiration and disillusioned by the status quo, be required to follow the exploits of Shylock and Antonio or solve quadratic equations when he could be learning a trade, acquiring the manual skills that once made Britain great?

"More pressing than this futile debate about examinations is the debate that we're ignoring: what is the purpose of education? How do we shape education? Where does education belong? And how do we legislate towards better education? For me, we need to devolve all powers over education to teachers and parents, through the abolition of the State structures which hold together the system, and empower parents, through, I would argue, school vouchers. And then, over time, education would be revolutionised. Schools would no longer be forced to adhere to some strict code or government diktat. Parents would be put in charge of their children's education, taking responsibility for their progress and for encouraging their success. And we humble students would not trundle through adolesence as part of the system, thrown in at the start and spat out at the end. Rather, we would learn all that we need to live a successful life, all we need to work and to earn, and all we need to have strong and noble character.

"There is a big debate to be had about education, and I've already decided where I stand. The problem is that all the people who claim to be looking out for the welfare of me and millions of others are determined to have a different, less challenging debate!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This Bull Is Shifting

When the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell tube station in London just weeks ago, I put forward a bullish defence of the 'shoot-to-kill' policy which took his life. I argued that police have to be trusted, that they should not be emasculated as they seek to protect our lives and our society and that that young man, according to the official account of his behaviour, posed the greatest threat to our safety on that day.

Well, this bull is shifting his ground. It appears now that the events of that fateful day were not quite so clear-cut as we have been led to believe. Jean Charles de Menezes, it has been said, was not running away from police. He was not quite the threat the police on the ground thought he was.

Perhaps we will never find out the full truth about what happened. Perhaps we might not like to hear it. But there are some serious and important lessons to learn from that tragedy about how to employ the 'shoot-to-kill' policy.

I still support the policy as a necessary evil, to be used only in extreme cases, and with all the necessary caveats attached. Only certain types of officers should be allowed to use the policy, and only when they are wearing uniform, and only when all other available and appropriate forms of restraint have been exhausted.

The family of the young Brazilian who was shot want the policy suspended, but that could prove to be disastrous for the safety of Britain. I believe the policy needs to stay, as unfortunate as it is to conclude that the police need to be heavily armed to defend our country, but only with the strictest conditions attached.

After my hurried, hard-faced and single-minded assessment of this shooting, I have, through this latest post on the issue, reverted to a more conciliatory tone. The bull has shifted.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Peace In Israel: If It Can't Be Achieved, Just Stop Trying; If It Can, Let's Start!

As the Israeli government forces Jewish settlers out of their homes, pleading that this is the only way to actively pursue peace in the Middle East, the trenchant opposition of the Israeli people goes a long way in proving my long-held suspicion that the creation of a Palestinian state in the Middle East which would displace many Jewish communities would only replace Palestinian terrorists who feel as though they have been treated like dirt, with Israeli terrorists who will soon come to feel exactly the same.

There is so much to reflect on when discussing the state of Israel and Palestine as we march on through the twenty-first century. But one truth that comes to the surface all the time is that all the progress towards a Palestinian state amounts to more neglect of the wishes of the people of Israel themselves.

Don't get me wrong: throughout my whole life, I have taken a studied neutrality on the whole issue of Israel and Palestine. Whilst I could consistently peddle rhetoric opposing the brutality of the Israeli government in defending her nation, or the history of the Palestinian leadership in sponsoring terrorism, I have instead opposed both. Neither side ever endears themselves to the opinion of the global community when they talk of seeking peace, but act in an evermore aggressive manner.

I have written before on this blog about how we must pursue real peace in Israel, not some fabricated, glued-together peace, which can be secured by trading some acres here or some resources there. Real peace is not in the hands of the politicians and military men, but in the hands of the Israeli and Palestinian people themselves. It is they and only they who can prove to the world that they are capable of living and working together, side by side, in harmony, not in competition or aggression.

Of course, it will not be as easy as that. The conflict in the Middle East has many roots, all of which are very deep: not just race or religion, but poverty and society too. So long as Palestinians live in poverty without anything to their names, peace can not be achieved. And so long as Israelis complacently oppose any attempts to show more friendship and harmony to the Palestinians, peace can not be achieved. And if the only conclusion we can make is that peace really can not be achieved, then I see no point in even trying.

One of the most important conclusions any philosopher has made was when Immanuel Kant wrote that perpetual peace could only come about either through the careful prudence and foresight of leaders and people, or after the destruction of our whole planet so that nothing is left. Whatever the closing words of the history of this age-old conflict may turn out to be, Israel may be the first opportunity we have to test that theory to its conclusion.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Conservative 'Three-Point Plan'

An interesting 'ten-point briefing' at Conservative Home on the Tory Party's electoral problems and varying theories on how we can move forward in the future. I wrote a comment on the site about what I felt the Party needed to do to win an election. My own 'three-point plan':
  1. Develop a platform of radical policy ideas to reform every aspect of society, from health and education to policing to welfare to local democracy. The right-wing is full of ideas which, if implemented, could breed a great era of free enterprise and the development of a civil society.
  2. Use compassionate words. I am a compassionate conservative in the sense that I want tax cuts first and foremost for the poor, not the rich (although the rich wouldn't be made to pay billions, as that has a devastating impact on the economy too). We should not seek to be thought of as a nice party, but as a party which stands up for the poorest, not let them fend for themselves. "I believe that people should work for themselves and look after their own lives and their families without help for the government." That is the first and last statement for the Bible of libertarian conservatives like me, and anyone else who believes in free enterprise. A party which developed a more compassionate spirit would not put it like that, but would say, "I believe that people should be free to keep their own hard-earned money, without let or hindrance from the State, and that the affluent should seek to protect the vulnerable themselves, as philanthropy will always triumph over the will of the State." Perhaps changing words like that is simply Blairesque spin or semantics. But the right-wing has always had a problem with communication. That needs to change, and with the right words it should be very easy.
  3. To fulfill these goals and ultimately to bring our party to power, we need to have what is known as a strong 'grassroots army' to support the campaign. Every day should be treated like a campaigning day for senior Conservatives in a new Shadow Cabinet. The new leader should draw up a rota for his team so that each weekday of the parliamentary year, one or two shadow ministers are out in a particular consituency putting the case for our radical vision, canvassing along the main street, speaking to the local press, and making sure people see their faces! We also can't be scared of making our faces seen and our voices heard in those parts of the country where the masses would spit on you if they knew you were a Conservative. Whilst we should privately develop a carefully choreographed and targeted strategy for winning an election, in public we should be bold and declare that we are fighting for the rights and freedoms of all people, most of all the poor in the inner cities of the old industrial heartlands: the places we have a moral duty to act, not just a political one. I read a piece in The Times today which showed how parents desperate to get their children into decent schools are in uproar against the Labour-led council in Reading. I would have my Shadow Education Secretary in the town tomorrow, stating the case to any and all who will listen about the virtues of school vouchers, how the Conservatives want to liberate parents and how the Labour Party has a proud history of treating the wishes of the citizenry as secondary to its ideological dogma. What's more, I am convinced that when he comes back from the town, the Shadow Education Secretary would declare that he had Reading's two Parliamentary seats in the bag! We have to put forward our message every day of every week of every month of every year between now and the next general election, because I am convinced that the greatest election victories are won well before the Prime Minister drives up the Mall to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Want To Know Something Interesting...?

Did you know that today (August 14th) in the year 1040, King Duncan I of Scotland was killed in battle by Macbeth?

I didn't, and I still wouldn't if it weren't for the fact that I haven't made a noteworthy post on this blog for a very long time (funny or clever people would argue I've never made a noteworthy post, but fortunately I'm neither!).

So I hope you commit that piece of trivia to memory. I know I will.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Robin Cook

Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons, who resigned honourably from the Cabinet when he objected to the invasion of Iraq, died suddenly yesterday after collapsing whilst climbing in the Scottish Highlands.

Aside from his inevitable resignation over a matter of principle, Mr. Cook will be remembered for his great ability as a parliamentarian and for his efforts as Foreign Secretary to achieve an 'ethical dimension' to our foreign policy.

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk which he gave at a bookstore in Leeds to discuss his memoirs around two years ago. And whilst I personally disagreed with almost everything that he stood for (from some of his efforts to modernise parliament to his position on Iraq) I have always been struck by how Mr. Cook, despite the very nature of his profession, has stayed forever true to his principles and kept his honour. That is what he is admired for, and rightly so.

He will be dearly missed.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I Hate Life

I just spent fifty-six minutes writing an article criticising the claim that Britain's is an example of the liberal model of a Welfare State. But then I accidentally tried to copy the text, and doing so caused it all to be deleted.

So just to avoid logging off and feeling miserable all day for not publishing my rant, I'll say this: Charles Murray once said, 'When meaningful reforms (to the Welfare State) finally do occur, they will happen not because stingy people have won, but because generous people have stopped kidding themselves.'

(My lost post was better!!!)