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Liberty in Britain and Australia – a reply to John Galt

On Monday regular commenter John Galt left a comment on the female bishops post after I’d replied to someone else saying that despite everything I still feel that overall Australia is a marginally less illiberal country than the UK. Not in all respects to be sure, and I’m not denying that Australia is a slightly worse place to live than the UK if you are, say, an overweight smoker who likes a beer while getting a suntan. And I emphasise that I think it’s only slightly worse. But more than once I’ve expressed the thought that if I were to grade all aspects of life in both countries from a libertarian perspective and come up with an overall score then Australia would come out a bit ahead. When I first said this I also said that I thought Australia was probably only five years behind the UK, but I’ve been for longer than that now and it still doesn’t feel quite as under the government’s heel as the UK did when I left it.

But in a short comment reply there wasn’t room for that kind of detail so all I said was that for all that Australia can be pretty illiberal I maintain that in a broad sense the UK is worse, though like most of the nominally free world both nations have got noticeably less free in recent years. To which John Galt said:

Obviously you’ve not bought any cigarettes in Australia recently.

Not to pour scorn, I expect the same bollocks in UK by 2015.

True, I haven’t bought cigs lately, though both my regular readers (hi, Mum) will know that I have watched and blogged on the topic over time. For example, this time last year I blogged on how the smoke ban has led to notices outside doorways claiming to extend the property rights of building owners ten metres out into the street. At least that’s how far away from their doors they say smoking is banned, and of course that includes part of the road and any private car that are on it too. I’m pretty sure I’ve also mentioned that the tobacco display bans contained an exemption for tobacconists in most places, but not in the ACT where they are mad and insisted that even shops that sell little else but tobacco hide the products behind cupboard doors even though you have to open a door on the street to get in there in the first place. I have not mentioned that just a week or so ago I saw what I assume is an infringement of the tobacco display ban in an outlet somewhere in Victoria – I’m not saying where – and nobody seeming to give much of a shit about the smokes being >sharp intake of breath< visible to anyone who happened to look over the counter.

But yes, of course I realise that anti-smoke nannyism is rife here and exceeds that of the UK, and as I touched on at the top other forms of nannyism such as alcohol, drugs, healthy eating, tanning beds and so on are as bad or worse than in Britain. I've come to believe that lobbyists and politicians here are actually addicted to telling other people off about their assumed addictions.*

But there are a few other points to consider here, which taken together are why I say that overall the UK is less free. Firstly, some of the disposal of individual liberty has been done by Australia to keep up with other nations doing the same thing, and some has been done first for the sake of not wanting other countries, including Britain, to be the first to do it. In the case of plain cigarette packs this has been stated openly at least once. I think it was then Health Minister and current AG Nicola Roxon and it was words to the effect of "If we don't act now and bring in plain pack legislation there is a real danger that the UK will beat us to it." I really should have that in the bookmarks because it shows it to be less about health and more about political vanity (and possibly some lingering pain over losing the Ashes).

Yes, doing something to be first to do something is a moronic reason to have a policy, but with so much of western politics revolving around vainglorious dickheads talking about how under their leadership their country is leading the world it's neither a surprise nor unique to Australia. Britain is leading the world with CCTV monitoring of its citizens, the US is leading the world with making flying anywhere less fun than being waterboarded between episodes of The X Factor, Australia are leading the world with nonsense about plain tobacco packaging, and so on. I never claimed that Australia's government is leading the world in minding its own fucking business, just that I think its current obsessions are less intrusive and illiberal than those of its UK counterpart.

The second thing I want to point out is that Australia has no relationship with an external body along the lines of the UK's relationship with the European Union etc. The relationship of the states to Canberra may be a bit similar but Canberra is still in Australia and Australians vote for the federal government there. A convicted criminal such as Haigh can appeal his case as far as the High Court of Australia and no further because there is no equivalent of the ECHR to which Australia has given the power to overturn domestic laws and legal decisions. There are still lingering ties with the UK that are kind of similar but seem mostly to revolve around Mrs Windsor being queen of both countries.

I suppose it could be argued that UK law would therefore take precedence over Australian law if, say, a change from male primogeniture to unisex primogeniture was desired by one country and not the other. "Sorry, colonial types, but you've agreed to have our Sovereign as your head of state too, and if we say boys take precedence and you don't like it or vice versa then you have to put up with it." But despite the current news of buns in ovens (I was determined not to say any more on that than I've said already) that's all theoretical at this point. If Kate does have twins and if there's one of each flavour the future head of state could be decided by the handful of people in the room at the time and whether they agree to tell a porky about who emerged first – all aboard the tinfoil hat express but remember I have first dibs on this particular conspiracy theory.

In any case it's not in the same league as having daily influence over domestic law. Britain does not, for instance, tell Australia whether its supermarkets can sell produce in grams or ounces or how long the employees of those supermarkets may work each week. Such things are decided in Australia, end of. The head of state stuff can also be done away with as soon as enough Australians want it binned and some Oz only arrangement made instead. I'm still hoping for Her Royal Australian Highness Queen Kylie the First, because why the fuck not.

Then there's the issue of economic liberty. Like the governments of all nominally free countries both the Australian and UK governments do not allow any but a handful of their citizens the freedom to keep all the products of their labour. In Australia this is currently anyone who earns less than $18,000 or so, which I'mtv sure isn't very many people but I'm equally sure is probably a hell of a lot more than the number who earn under £8,105 in the UK. Beyond those thresholds both governments feel that they and not the individual who earns it have an increasing right to the product of labour. Further, a comparison of Tax Freedom Days shows that British residents work for the state for 150 days a year while Australians only work 112 days before earning for themselves. I’m pretty sure this is before considering that all governments also agree that states have the right to run up massive debts and unfunded liabilities on behalf of their citizens, and the relevance to a discussion of liberty in the UK versus liberty in Australia is that British governments have lately been considerably more profligate than even the most spendthrift Australian ones. In other words 150 days and 112 days of working for the respective states are probably both underestimates, but when considering the size of Britain’s debt, unfunded liabilities and continued deficit the former is probably a larger underestimate than the latter.

Then there are those laws I mentioned. If he felt like it David Cameron could suspend almost any UK law, up to and including habeas thanks to Blair-era legislation that neither Cameron nor anyone else in politics seems remotely interested in repealing. Despite my low opinion of politicians I think that most or all of the ones in Westminster now can be trusted not to abuse this power, but since the future is always unknown I maintain that this is a power that no government should ever have. Other powers the government granted itself and its successors in the Blair days have already been extended beyond their initial intended remit and, predictably enough, abused to the detriment of individual liberty in the UK. I’m not aware of similar ‘mini-Enabling Acts’ (h/t to the sadly closed Devil’s Kitchen blog for that term) in Australia – yet.  I’m no lawyer so for all I know there could be something, but if so I’ve not heard of it. And I’d have expected Australian libertarians who know far more about Aussie law than I could ever hope to learn to have made enough noise that I would have heard about it if habeas corpus could be suspended by ministerial fiat here the way it can be in the UK.

And while we’re on the topic of illiberal laws in Australia, and coming somewhat tangentially full circle back to anti-smoking laws and similar nanny state legislation, there’s the point that I’ve made once or twice before that no matter how under Nanny’s thumb people who live in Australia’s cities might be this becomes increasingly theoretical as you get into more rural parts of Australia. I’m not saying that everything is different there but as a practical matter enforcement becomes harder in the more remote parts of the interior. When the nearest cop, local government officer concerned with tobacco legislation, or just baccyphobic busybody might be hundreds of miles away what the law says people may do and what they actually agree between themselves might be different things. It’s not unlike the old traditional ‘lock in’ that went on in many British pubs who were prepared to quietly ignore the then law that said no drinking after 11pm, except that I expect local law enforcement often knew about the lock ins and turned a blind eye provided nothing too blatant went on. Is there scope for for those who’d cock a snook at an unnecessarily intrusive and illiberal law to an even greater degree in those parts of Australia where hardly anybody lives?

Let me me put it like this. Back in 1993 something strange happened in Western Australia about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. Just after 11pm on 28th May there was a large ‘seismic disturbance’, and the handful of truckies and gold prospectors in the area at the time reported seeing what was described variously as a flash or a fireball and hearing a distant explosion or a low frequency rumble. It was found to be way too large for a mining explosion (which wouldn’t take place at night anyway) but it was consistent with seismic activity in region, though of course that wouldn’t explain the flash. A meteor would but there was no sign of a crater so flashes notwithstanding it was put down to an earthquake. And for a while nobody thought further of it until a few years later when someone investigating the Aum Shinrikyo nutters who’d attacked the Tokyo metro with sarin gas noticed that the cult owned Banjawarn Station, a sheep station of half a billion hectares about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. And which sat on a uranium deposit. Suddenly people looked at the mysterious seismic event with flash and explosiony sounding rumble again, and there was serious speculation that Aum Shinrikyo had actually tested a small nuke of a couple of kilotons or so in Western Australia. Right under everyone’s noses, only not really right under everyone’s noses because the only noses anywhere near were those of Aum Shinrikyo.

Now it has to be said that they probably didn’t. I can’t find anywhere that’s positively identified exactly what the event was but the AFP investigated Aum Shinrikyo and the bottom line is that there’s no evidence that they tested a nuke there. All the same, something bloody big happened and almost nobody noticed. As Bill Bryson wrote about it much later:

This is a country […] so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world’s first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.

So if an event on a similar scale to a 2 kiloton explosion can go almost unnoticed for two years and its cause not completely settled to this day, I reckon you could say hang what the law says and hold a gay wedding indoors with the entire party smoking cigarettes from Marlboro branded packets with no health warnings.

And Canberra might never know.

* This is based on what appears to be the neo-prohibitionists’ definition of addiction, which is any activity, pastime or habit that gives some people any kind of pleasure or enjoyment. And since so many neo-prohibitionists have such a massive hard on for telling everyone else to stop doing things they like doing I can only assume at this point that the nannies themselves are, ipso facto, addicted to nannying.**

** I concede that more research is probably needed into this apparent addiction, and if the federal government would like to give me a multi-million dollar annual budget I’ll be all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake.

Nothing else will happen this week, and nothing at all for several weeks round next June

In the same way that I didn’t care about two people I’d never met and and am not likely to meet getting married and was really quite sick of hearing about it by the time it actually happened, I don’t care that they’re now expectant parents. I’m not being curmudgeonly here. I’m delighted when people I know break the happy news that they’re having a baby, but I manage the disappointment of not hearing about it from the >99.9999% of the world I’ve never met and am overcome with indifference when it’s a sleb. What I said of the weddingathon is just as applicable now:

Despite my long standing republicanish tendencies I don’t harbour any ill will towards William and Kate. Okay, it does annoy me slightly that unless Australia ditches the monarchy he’ll be ‘my’ king one day, but that’s not his fault. The poor bugger never asked for the job and for all any of us know may turn it down when the time comes. So no, I have nothing against them, but I don’t know them and they don’t know me and it’s vanishingly unlikely that that will ever change, which means I have nothing but indifference towards them either. Sorry if this isn’t entering the flag-waving spirit that seems expected of everybody British born, but I’m just not prepared to jump on the bandwagon and sit here pretending that it’s in any way meaningful to me.

And there’s no reason anyone else should apart from the fact that millions are adherents of the cult of celebrity, of which the British Royal family is very much a part. Somewhere in Vietnam there’s probably a Mr and Mrs Nguyen who are also expecting their first child, and the indifference of rest of the world is such that not only does it not care, it doesn’t even know whether or not Mr and Mrs Nguyen exist. Worse, parts of it are probably only dimly aware of the country they live in because some good movies have been made about a bad war there.

Putting it another way, have a look at this screencap of a Google image search.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 11.14.00

Do you personally know any of the people in the images? Do you feel the need to express joyous feelings towards the ones you don’t know? Obviously you hope people’s pregnancies go well because you’re a weapons grade shit if you sit there wishing all the various horrible pregnancy complications on someone, but do you feel like e-mailing photo libraries asking for your congratulations to be passed along to any of the couples in the images? No? No inclination at all? So why will millions be mailing St James’ Palace?

This is something that happens to most people sooner or later and I don’t get why I should be expected to express happiness, or any emotion at all, for Wills and Kate when nobody thinks I should for any of the other 7 billion people who aren’t in my own social circle. I do get that it’s welcomed by some who can expect to get away with releasing bad news while most of the world and media are distracted for several months, and I do get that it’s welcomed by the media themselves who can milk it thoroughly for cheap news of poor Kate’s latest bout of morning sickness.

But I don’t get why it’s of more than academic interest to the rest of us and why any couple expecting a child should also expect to have to release images of the fucking sonograms to the press. Or for that matter break the news much earlier than planned because a hospital admission would only lead to press speculation otherwise.

So now we all know, okay? Any chance we can leave it there and just have the one day of multi-page coverage when the royal sprog/s is/are dropped? I ask in hope, but no real expectation, of not seeing the news filled with speculation of the baby’s name, sex, weight and eventual height and fashion preferences for the next several months.

On faith, freedom and female bishops

So the Church of England has debated the issue and ending up saying no to the idea of women bishops. This, we’re told, is a final no, but it strikes me that at some point in the past it was probably almost equally definite that there would no be women vicars, and yet today the Anglican church both in and outside of England has plenty of women priests who are not Dawn French. The article even says that it’s killed the prospect off for at least five years, which doesn’t sound all that final to me. For now though it does look like this has put the kybosh on the idea in the CofE.

And I say this: so bloody what?

There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s exemption from equality legislation — effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops — to be removed, opening the way for women to bring a legal challenge.
Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour minister, said: “This means the Chruch is being held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics.
“This will add to clamour for disestablishment, there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act.”

Look, it’s their religion and if freedom of religion is to remain in Britain then we all have to accept that practitioners of a given religion can run it however they like providing it doesn’t actually harm anyone else. And no, not providing an opportunity to be bishops is no more harming women than the lack of opportunity in Britain for people of either gender to become astronauts. The bottom line is it’s their god-club and their rules, and whether the first rule of god-club is not talking about god-club or no mitres are men only or no gay weddings in our buildings it’s still their rules. I’m for gay weddings if gays want to marry and I’m for female emancipation and the opportunity for the girls to seek any work they choose up to and including that of sperm donor. But as with the obvious case of sperm donation, freedom to seek doesn’t mean that there must be a guarantee that the position must be made available to women.

Is it silly that women shouldn’t be bishops? Yeah, I’d agree with that, but I’d add that I find it no more so than many other aspects of religion in general and Anglican Christianity in particular. If it’s sillier I’d say it’s only because some other parts of the Anglican Communion have gone ahead and allowed female bishops. But is it unreasonable? Should the CofE be compelled by secular law to allow female bishops? No, I don’t think so. If you want to remove the exemption on the principle that all are equal before the law I’d be all for it, though I’m really for laws that dictate and restrict how one is allowed to think and choose to be ditched as fundamentally anti-liberty. And if you wanted to disestablish the Church on the grounds of separation of Church and State I’d support that too. But this isn’t about applying the law equally or any such noble notions. This is just punishing a religious minority (I’m guessing CofE regulars are in a minority these days?) because their world view isn’t modern enough for you.

It’s a religion, yes? An unscientific and untestable faith in a 14 billion year old entity as explanation for literally everything? It’s not supposed to be modern, surely? So let them have their rules, outdated as some of us may think they are, and let those ladies who want to be bishops apply to those parts of the Anglican Communion that are open to the idea. Or start their own church if competition for positions is too intense in Scotland and visas for anywhere further are too much hassle. If, as we’re told, the big worry for the Church was a schism with traditionalists and evangelicals leaving then why don’t the pro-female modernisers leave instead. This is how freedom and tolerance actually works, you see. Their god-club means their freedom to set their rules, as I said before, and the rest of us tolerate that since we know that freedom also means that nobody who disagrees has to stay in the god-club.

Or are we admitting that Britain isn’t a free country after all? If so that might be a start toward becoming one.


PS A brief apology. Obviously I intended making a joke about bashing the bishop but I just couldn’t think of one. To anyone who is offended by this oversight, please take 50¢ and phone someone who gives a shit.

Savile row suit

Whatever we all know, think we know, suspect, believe, saw something on the web or have heard about the late and now (then, now then) largely unlamented Jimmy Savile I can tell you two 100% incontrovertible facts about him:

  • He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
  • He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.

Personally I wouldn’t be all that surprised if there was something in some of the allegations. I’d heard there were rumours about him and I remember watching that episode of HIGNFY in which Paul Merton seemed pretty off toward Savile, though not to the extent claimed in the debunked but still occasionally mentioned hoax transcript – come on, everybody, you can’t seriously believe that if all that had been said in front of a studio audience of several hundred or more back in 1999 it wouldn’t have been all over the papers and Savile tortured to death by the Paedofinder-General long before now.

Jimmy Savile, by the Power vested in me by what’s been trending on Twitter, I find you GUILTY of PAEDOPHILIA.

It’s the BBC we’re talking about here, not the CIA. And even the CIA would have found that impossible to keep under wraps unless they’d borrowed some memory erasers off of the MIB. So I’m prepared to believe that what happened at the recording wasn’t vastly different from what was broadcast, which if you look for it online shows Paul Merton largely being his usual self. I remember at the time having the feeling Merton didn’t particularly like Savile but funnily enough there’s far less hostility than I thought I remembered. BBC cover up or just influence of that hoax transcript? And even if Merton was a bit offish was it because he knew, as many in the BBC are now claimed to have known, that Savile was a nonce but for the sake of his own job was keeping quiet about it beyond a couple of snide remarks? Or was it just because he didn’t like him much? Or, again, am I reading more into it than there ever was?

Certainly there’s a fair amount of reading stuff into things. Take something Savile said on that episode of HIGNFY that has been repeated a lot lately.

“I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.”

The subtext of which, parts of the interwebs now tell us, is that Jimmy was boasting that he liked to screw schoolgirls. Which is a strange response given that the conversation actually goes like this:

Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.
Audience laugh
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.

So let’s replay that with the interwebs’ alleged subtext in place.

Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I like to screw schoolgirls.
Audience laugh
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.

Bit of a non sequitur, isn’t it? Whatever we might suspect about Savile – and as I’ve said I wouldn’t be surprised – this isn’t any kind of evidence, much less proof. It doesn’t look like he was saying he was feared in every girls’ school because he was a 72 year old nonce with wandering hands but that he was such a shit wrestler that a girls’ school was the only place he had a chance of winning a wrestling match (and during the show Deayton does mention that Savile lost nearly every match).

But this and just about everything else he’s said, everything he’s done, every event in the man’s life is being seized upon and examined to see if there’s any possible way it can be interpreted as being an indicator confirming what we want to believe: that Savile was a pervert who’d do anything to anything. Visit to Broadmoor? Well, he liked to fuck mental patients, innit? Went to a funeral in a nice suit? Of course, Savile was a well known (to everyone but the person being told) necrophile and he always liked to dress well for his dates. Stoke Mandeville? Ah, spinal injuries patients can’t run away.

If all the rumours (and even some of the allegations) are to be believed Savile wasn’t merely a common or garden nonce but some-kind of überdeviant whose tastes in perversity went beyond pubescent girls but also included pederasty and necrophilia. Look, he was certainly a creepy old bastard but – and apologies for bringing up the Paedofinder-General again – I think we’re getting into exactly the kind of incessant hunting for evidence to the point of out-of-context twisting of things that Monkey Dust was satirising.

Was he a pervert? Was he smart enough to pick victims that were easier for the BBC and police to ignore or dismiss as unreliable? Did the police fuck up investigating the complaints that were made and, with no police action ever being taken, did an in denial BBC persuade themselves that there was nothing to the rumours? Did some at the BBC even turn a blind eye? I’m prepared to believe it’s possible, and Christ knows there’d be enough even if half of it’s true, but I’d be lying if I said I knew. And in a strict legal sense we’re never going to know because, as I said at the beginning, there are two facts that are beyond argument.

  • He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
  • He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.

The former can’t be changed, and it’s very much to be hoped that nobody starts talking about the latter so that the allegations against Savile can be turned into formal charges and he can be tried in-very-permanent-absentia. A world in which someone can be convicted when they’re unable, rather than merely unwilling, to appear in court to defend themselves is far nastier, more frightening and dangerous to contemplate than one in which a combination of celebrity, value to a national broadcaster and police incompetence can shield a pervert. If it can be done to a dead man then why can’t it be done to someone who the police just can’t be arsed to go and find. Unless we’re crazy and knee-jerk prone enough to change that legal principle there will never ever be a trial in which evidence against Savile can be tested.

That ship has sailed, the chance for justice to be done and seen to be done lost forever. You will never read of Jimmy Savile the convicted child molestor because under any sane legal system – and for all its faults ours strives to be at least relatively sane – a conviction is now impossible. Even if it was legally possible it’s still pointless as even Hitler became untouchable once the son of a bitch was good and dead. His works have been torn down, he’s a near universal hate figure, his memory is reviled and his name spat upon. And he doesn’t care in the slightest. Death is the perfect statute of limitations.

We can, however, bring a civil suit against those who are said to have been involved in something, in this instance the BBC for allegedly sticking its corporate head in the sand (or worse) and letting him carry on and the NHS for letting him into Stoke Mandeville and other hospitals (I’m not clear on whether they knew anything or not makes much of a difference).

Liz Dux, a personal injury lawyer who has acted for people with severe spinal injuries and amputees, has been contacted by several woman who want to sue over the Savile allegations.

She is preparing cases against the BBC and the hospital on the grounds that they both have a duty of care to anyone who came into contact with their staff or agents.

“The case would be against the BBC or the hospital because they would be held vicariously liable in law on behalf of someone like Savile who was acting as their agent,” Dux told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday.

“So in the case of the BBC where he abused people through his connection with programmes, for example the case about the girl who alleges she was abused in his changing room, then because of the close connection with the BBC, the BBC would be what we call vicariously liable in those circumstances,” she added.

“Likewise in the hospitals. He may not have been paid by the hospital but he’s there as their agent, then they owe a duty of care to those he abused.”

I’m not saying that those who say they were attacked have seen potential pound signs and have gone out shopping for a decent ambulance chaser to get some compo. If they were assaulted and someone deliberately or otherwise protected the assailant then they deserve some kind of reparation. But more than that they’d deserve some justice, and though anyone who was assaulted would probably feel some comfort through finally being believed (unless they hand’t ever said anything) what I am saying is that actual justice ain’t going to happen.

We can also say what we like about even the most wealthy and powerful dead people without fear of libel, which is why it’s not surprising that unpleasant stuff about such people can fail to emerge until too late. Alive, they’re intimidating: they can fight back, and in the form of expensive lawyers they’ll probably be able to hit harder than anyone who feels they were wronged. Not unreasonable, then, that many of Savile’s alleged victims have waited until now. But it is unfortunate because had those who complained at the time only to be brushed off been joined by enough other voices then perhaps it might have been possible to bring a criminal case against a living man. And maybe then he’d have been found guilty, but then again maybe he wouldn’t have. But assuming for the moment that he would have then I have to ask if someone who’s said nothing until now also failed those who said something at the time? Yes, silence is understandable, but if it’s true that even one investigation stalled through lack of evidence then any corroborating accounts that were never given…

Academic now: as I keep saying, we’ll never know. While we can call him a paedo, nonce, kiddy fiddler, wrongcock etc. we will never be able to call him a convicted sex offender. Jimmy Savile won’t care. Depending on whether he was guilty or innocent he went to his grave either unaware that his name was about to be blackened or aware that he got away with it. He is beyond justice, both the kind that exonerates the innocent and the kind that punishes the guilty. Apart from making everyone in the UK pay a little bit more for the NHS and the BBC than they do already (or take some of what’s already been taken – take your pick) all that we’re left with is, well, this.


Feel the tobacco control stupid – words fail me

As at time of blogging – click for linky

Oh, for fu… Yeah, okay, baccy control idiots. Whatever you say. Sure, his name really is shared with a medieval merchant and jewel thief, and I also happen to know that curiously enough Dick Puddlecote has also been executed and buried in five graves, which I believe makes blogging something of a challenge for him. And in case I ever get added to the list, though maybe there’ll be a separate list of heretical non-smokers who support smokers, my family name really is Exile and in the early 70s Mr and Mrs Exile Snr took their wailing infant son along to the local sky pilots in order to have the little nipper christened ‘Angry’. Honest.

Because nobody on the blogosphere ever chooses to adopt a nom de blog.


Tip of the akubra to Chris Snowdon on Twitter.

Ah, this’ll be those not-at-all-nanny-state Tories, will it?

Jesus wept. I know I’ve said this about eleventy squillion times already, but it really is like Labour never left office.

Children who appear on television talent shows or reality TV programmes will have to be licensed under Government plans to prevent them being exploited for ratings.

Anyone under 16 who appears in front of Simon Cowell and the other judges on Britain’s Got Talent will have to be cleared in advance by their local council under an overhaul of rules on child performers.

The local council. Well, that’s a relief. I was worried that the job might get handed to a bunch of witless, rubber stamping, chair polishers who’d just cash the cheque and send back an approval or a rejection depending on whether the requisite number of boxes are ticked. But if it’s going to be the councils, the same mobs who’d reject a planning application on the grounds of a Tree Preservation Order on a tree that isn’t actually going to be cut down, then I’ve clearly been worrying for nothing. Yeah, I can’t think of anyone better to take up the new and hitherto unneeded role in deciding whether an under 16 can appear on Simon Cowell’s freak show than a bunch of local government officials who don’t know the kid from Adam.

Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, said on Thursday that the current rules, drawn up more than 40 years are no longer “fit for purpose” in the era of reality television.

Ironically “not fit for purpose” has become such an overused phrase in politics, and has whored itself to promote new legislation that some government shitwit deemed desirable so fucking often that it itself is no longer fit for purpose. When you hear “not fit for purpose” the subtext is usually “we’re going to make a pointless change that will expand the size and role of the state and its ability to interfere with your life, and we want you to think that it’s necessary because one politician once said ‘not fit for purpose’ about something that really wasn’t”.

Tim Loughton, incidentally, is allegedly a Conservative. To be fair to him he probably believes he is, and since the Tories have a long and less than illustrious history of being paternalist bastards this might even appeal to him as a Conservative. But the people who run the government department that he’s the nominal head of probably aren’t and since they were there for the last lot and will mostly be there for the next lot, whoever the next lot turn out to be, you have to wonder whether this is a Conservative/Cobbleition policy or a policy of the real party of government, the Civil Service. And you also have to wonder if they have to do much more than dream up some shit, plonk the draft policy in front of the minister, and give a nice, long pull on the talk cord in the back of his head.

“New policy needed… no longer fit for purpose… I love you, mummy… let’s play…”


Boris Johnson – illiberal twat

I still have lots on my plate but I can’t let this pass without comment.

Boris Johnson faces being drawn into a bitter dispute over homosexuality after banning advertisements on London buses promoting the idea that gay people can be “cured”.

Transport chiefs stepped in on the Mayor’s orders to block the posters, faced with a the prospect of the argument being played on the streets of the capital next week with rival advertisments.

Two Christian groups announced on Thursday that they had booked advertising space promoting the idea that people can become “post-gay” through therapy.

Anglican Mainstream, a traditionalist Christian coalition, and Core Issues Trust – a counselling group which practices controversial “reorientation” therapy – wanted to place full-length banners reading: “Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get Over It!”

They are a direct response to advertisements taken out by the gay rights group Stonewall earlier this month as part of the campaign for same-sex marriage reading: “Some people are Gay. Get over it!”

So Stonewall get to place their advert sending a message I don’t particularly care about one way or the other, yet the god squad groups are banned from responding with their claim that gayness is something that can be (not, it would seem, necessarily should be) cured. Personally I think it’s a stretch to claim that someone can be prayed straight or whatever the details are and I’m not sure how you’d distinguish between someone who’s gay and been cured and someone who’s gay and been inspired, persuaded or brainwashed into sticking a crucifix on the closet door and climbing inside. Seriously, how would you test that, and even more seriously why would you even bother? I don’t care that if someone is gay and I equally don’t care whether they were and have been cured through prayer or if faith is leading them to live a lie. As long as neither one is proselytising and/or shagging me their sexuality and religious beliefs are a matter of supreme indifference.

I also don’t care if they talk about it. I don’t have to read what they write and I don’t have to listen to what they say. I can walk away from either of them at any time so as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason why they shouldn’t both be free to say their piece. The Christians’ may be saying something that sounds like complete horseshit to me but if we silenced everyone for spouting horseshit politicians would be silenced almost forever. And no, even that’s not a good reason for doing it because freedom of speech is an absolute – if saying even just one thing is off limits then ipso facto speech is restricted and everyone is fair game. This is the reality, and I fucking hate it, and I hate it that fuckwit right-on politwats like Boris ‘The Ban’ Johnson – he has form in this area, remember – take huge, steaming shits on liberty in the name of fairness and sucking up to minorities.

“It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”

So it’s offensive? And what, Boris? That I think these Christians are deluding themselves and that their gay cure is at best mind games and at worst purest snake oil would probably offend them, so can I say it or not? That you’ve decided they can’t say it almost certainly offends them, so can you say that they were being offensive or would that cause enough offensive for you to have to censor yourself? Or is it simply a case of offending them is okay because fuck Christians, but not the gay rights groups? I rather suspect it’s the last one.

Look, if they’re selling a cure, as in for money, then by all means ban it on trade descriptions grounds for claiming something that’s fundamentally unverifiable, but it sounds rather like the usual kind of religious claim that we all accept as stating beliefs rather than making actual claims. I mean, nobody has verified eternal life after death, but we don’t have mayors of major international cities in the supposedly free world demanding that all those churches with John 5:24 on big boards outside take them down.

So, Boris, here’s my suggestion: let the gay groups say their bit and the religious groups say theirs, and let both of them get as offended by the other as they fucking please. There is no right to go through life not being offended by anything, and if you suggested that there should be I for one would be extremely upset, and deeply offended, by the implied loss of the liberty to speak one’s mind.

Europe giveth and Europe taketh away

On the plus side of the ledger this time Europe, or to be precise the European Court of Human Rights, has givethed ith blething… sorry, its blessing on the extradition of Abu Hamza to the United States.

The judges gave a final ruling on six extradition cases in a verdict which effectively passed judgment on whether America’s treatment of terrorist suspects amounts to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in breach of the European human rights code.
They decided it would be lawful for five of the six to be jailed for the rest of their lives in a so-called ‘super-max’ prison.
The ruling stated that the five, including radical preacher Abu Hamza, would not be subject to “ill-treatment” at ADX Florence, a so-called ‘super-max’ prison. The court adjourned its decision on Haroon Rashid Aswat pending consideration of further complaints lodged by him.

So a win, or at least most of a win.

The ruling granted the men the right to appeal to the court’s Grand Chamber, meaning any extradition could be some time away.

A wi?

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “very pleased” by the ruling.

Really, Dave? If I had your job I’d be fucking ashamed that it’s up to a bunch of judges in a foreign court at all as well as the fact that this result doesn’t even address the whole question of it not being up to the United Kingdom to make that decision internally anymore, so if you’re satisfied with the odd decision going Britain’s way I guess we can add ‘easily pleased’ to the increasing list of your faults.

And of course there’s the takething away part that I was coming to, though it’d be more accurate to say that this is giving something that really isn’t wanted.

In Britain, even the most minor convictions for student pranks or breaches of the peace can come back to haunt jobseekers years later if they apply for positions as teachers, policemen or other “sensitive” roles.
But migrants from EU countries applying for the same jobs will be given a clean bill of health, even if they have similar convictions, because other countries either wipe the slate clean or do not keep records of low-level offences.
The problem also applies to British workers trying to get jobs in other EU countries.
Britain’s rigorous Criminal Records Bureau regime means that even convictions classed as “spent” remain on file for life and can be thrown up during background checks by potential employers anywhere in the EU.
In stark contrast, countries such as Belgium and Germany routinely destroy after just three years records of convictions resulting in prison sentences of less than six months or fines of less than 500 euros.

However, in fairness to the Europeans it must be said that this problem is entirely self inflicted. Only in Britain are there Bottom Inspectors looking forward to the day they can create lifelong criminal files on people for farting without being in possession of Class II Intestinal Waste Gas Evacuation Certificate (Adult – Unsupervised, Home/Workplace) because just about every other possible thing has been covered by legislation and can already fuck you up on a CRB check for the increasing number of jobs that seem to demand one.

May not be real.

Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “The amount of information retained by the British police is hugely disproportionate compared to other European countries and this system will mean the serious flaws of the CRB system are exported to haunt British citizens wherever they may be in Europe.
“The huge amount of data held, often without any criminal conviction, has been a civil liberties concern for many years and yet the Home Office continue to fight to retain details of every minor misdemeanor indefinitely.”

Quite. I wonder if David Cameramong would say he was very pleased by this as well. More to the point, I wonder if the useless wanker will take his hand off it long enough to do anything about it.

In which I find myself agreeing with Sally Bercow

Over at The Teletubbygraph I see this:

Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons Speaker, caused a fresh row after suggesting people might be tempted to rush out and buy the latest “legal high” before it is banned.

The Home Office announced methoxetamine, or mexxy, will be the first substance to be prohibited under a new power to impose immediate temporary bans on new legal highs.

It will illegal by next week and follows concerns that two people whose bodies were found in Leicestershire in February may have taken some form of the drug after buying it over the internet.

But within moments of the announcement, Mrs Bercow told more than 45,000 followers on Twitter that the ban made her tempted to try mexxy before it was too late.

She wrote: “Am I the only one now slightly tempted to try mexxy before it becomes illegal? I won’t, obvs.”

Later, she added: “Oh, the mexxy ban is only ‘temporary’. What’s that all about? (Am now obsessed with the stuff, despite never having heard of it 1/2 hr ago)”

I’m not a fan of Sally Bercow (or her hubs, the Squeaker) and in fact I’d say I’ve had cats that seemed less self interested and found brighter things in bags of supermarket salad, but in this case I can’t see what the problem is. She seems to be highlighting the problem with forthcoming bans driving sales of the to be banned product up, as well as noting that banning something only temporarily is just odd. Obviously I’m disappointed that she’s not asking what the fuck it’s got to do with anyone else what someone chooses to put into their body, or noting that it’s an alternative to ketamine which in turn is a medical and veterinary drug that people began to take because it was legal and their preferred highs weren’t. This kind of pattern so badly needs pointing out by someone in the public eye, perhaps with 45,000 Twatter followers, that I’d happily retract that comment where I compared Sally Bercow to supermarket salad if she was the one to do it.*

Not that I’d expect it to change much. It’s likely that this low level but widespread puritanism of disapproving of those who want to get high instead of pissed will continue for the time being, especially when even more widespread puritanism with regards to tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar, fat, sunshine and failing to take however much of whatever kind of exercise the puritans deem appropriate for you.** And even more so when the lamestream media so readily print uncritical bollocks on the subject of the ‘war’ on drugs – which is a war from much the same perspective as the Korean War is for the Democratic people’s Republic, i.e. no surrender has been offered but for all practical purposes it was lost a while back – and have a knee jerk tendency to bag anyone who dares draw attention to the problems with drug policies.

Even if it is Sally Bercow.

* I’d say seasonal salad vegetables served at a 4 star restaurant. At the very least.
** More on that later.

Odd coincidence

Something I mentioned in passing on yesterday’s blog about red meat healthism, with a little emphasis:

Getting the hump because some people cark it before contributing all the tax they might have done, which will happen more once economic pressures force the retirement age to be revised upwards, is almost the same thing.

I mention it again only because of this.

Click for linky

If it’s broke fix it with the thing that broke it*

Both my readers (hi Mum) will recall that since the UK election nearly two years ago I’ve often said that the Cobbleition government really doesn’t seem all that different from the Labour government that preceded it. I can’t be bothered to look back and see when it was that I began saying that it was like Labour had never lost the election but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t long. However, I can recall exactly when I said that the country may as well bring back Gordon Brown, which was late last November, my reasoning being that if all politicians who can attract enough votes to win power are hell bent on wrecking the place then real change can’t happen until things have got so bad that the people who voted for them can no longer ignore it, so you might as well have the worst of the bunch in charge so as to get the painful wrecking part of the process over and done with quickly. Not a new argument – Obonoxio the Clown was saying something similar even before the election, and I don’t think he was the only one. But what persuaded me that the current incarnation of the Tories, which at its best has only ever been a party that likes to boss people around about different things from those which Labour likes to boss people around, really are doing nothing more than prolonging the agony was Camermong’s announcement that he was going to fix the economy with the very thing that, in America, fucked the economy right in the eyes.

The Prime Minister and his deputy, Nick Clegg, will unveil proposals to help first-time buyers of new homes by carrying part of the risk of their mortgages.

Dave, Nick, say it ain’t so. Tell us that even you aren’t so monumentally stupid that you can’t see that it’s precisely this kind of policy – using taxpayers’ money to underwrite loans for overpriced housing to people who are at higher risk of being unable to repay them – that led with grim inevitability to the fucking subprime mortgage crisis in the fucking first place. And what did that lead to in its turn? Oh, yes, that’d be adding to an unsustainable bubble with a bonus prize of a banking crisis, wouldn’t it? And you two freak shows are now standing here telling us that you want to fucking do it all over again in the deluded belief it’ll get the economy moving. Folks, I think this year’s Jeff Buckley Award for being the Public Figure Most Hopelessly Out of Their Depth may end up being shared.

But no, they did mean it. And today it turns out to be even worse.

Up to 100,000 people will get Government support to buy homes worth up to £500,000 in a Coalition move to revive the middle-class dream of home ownership, ministers will announce.

I just want to draw attention to the maths here. £500,000 times a hundred thousand people is fifty fucking billion pounds. Fifty billion! Has the country that’s recently fallen behind Brazil in the ranking of world economies actually got fifty billion to spare? Without adding to the already mind-fuckingly huge debt that’ll need to be repaid by future taxpayers?

The guarantee will allow people buying new-build properties to borrow up to 95 per cent of the value of their new home.
Since the credit crisis that began in 2007, most people seeking to buy a newly-built property have been able to borrow no more than 80 per cent of the sale price.

Can someone explain to me why this is necessarily a bad thing? Surely if you’re borrowing less then your ability to repay is easier, giving you either a cushion or the option of early repayment or more disposable income. And if being able to borrow less means you can’t afford it at all, couldn’t that possible indicate that despite adjustments property in Britain is still too fucking pricey by far?

Some estimates suggest that the average deposit required for a mortgage is close to £38,000.

This is telling. When I bought my first house, which was back when the housing market was only silly and not outright batshit insane, I think the rule of thumb was being able to borrow triple your salary. The thing is that a little googling finds that the median UK salary is in the mid £20K area, meaning that a median salary earner needs either to scrimp and save or borrow about 50% of their salary just to get the fucking deposit together. Not the mortgage, the bloody deposit. Surely that screams ‘over priced housing’, and surely this move of Cameramong’s is only going to exacerbate it. I’m no economist but I seem to recall hearing that encouraging too much money to chase too few goods is inflationary.

Though of course it might not be in the longer term if it means loans being made to people who can’t afford to repay them.

… it could also raise fears that the State could end up guaranteeing more risky borrowers.

Quite. Because that’s exactly what happened in the US to spark the whole bloody GFC off in the first place. Put a big government made and taxpayer funded safety net under businesses and eventually some of them will forget to take as much care as they should, and so inevitably banks made bad lending decisions while feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac would take care of things if they went tits up. Can someone tell me how what Cameramong and Cleggie are doing is fundamentally different?

Formally launching the mortgage guarantee today, the Prime Minister will today pledge that the NewBuy scheme will help repair a “broken” housing ladder.

“It’s no good hoping people will climb the property ladder if the bottom rung is missing. Affordable properties and available mortgages are vital,” he will say.

You’re not repairing it, you tool. You’re fucking extending it and weakening the remaining lower rungs still further. Oh, and that name? Sounds a little familiar. Not thinking of yourself as an English Roosevelt, are you? I ask only because among other things FDR’s New Deal created Fannie Mae. If you mention the hand of history I swear I’ll get on a plane, come over there, and twat you heavily about the head and neck with Tony Blair’s autobiography.

And your drones are just as moronic, by the way.

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, said the guarantee scheme will help unlock a housing market where for many people, owning a home is “no longer a dream, but a distant fantasy.”

Turning it into a fucking nightmare should fix that.

“We want to help everyone achieve their aspirations, and feel the pride of home ownership. The NewBuy Guarantee will give thousands of prospective buyers the chance to buy a home with a fraction of the deposit normally required.”

Yeah, because you wouldn’t want to let a market of an overpriced good fall to a natural level. Oh, no. Far better to keep those prices unnaturally high by pulling magic money out of your arse with one hand while writing out “IOU – We’ll pay for everything no matter what it eventually costs. Love, the Taxpayers” with the other. Have none of these self described conservatives thought that maybe if they didn’t keep interfering with markets and pushing up prices as well as adding to the taxpayers’ bills then maybe those same taxpayers would have a better chance of being able to afford these things without help?

And this kind of shit is why this blog is beginning to swing towards overt support of Labour. Not because I have any respect or faith for that party, and certainly not in the expectation that they’ll be a significant improvement on with the Cobbleition or either of the parties in it. In fact I expect Labour to be even worse and possibly to have the capability virtually to destroy Britain even more quickly than the other two. And I’m coming to believe that virtual destruction is not only inevitable but is necessary to wake up the majority of the 26,146,419 people who voted for the Big Three for no better reason than their family has always voted that way, or because they didn’t want the other lot to win, or because they’d vote for fortnight dead roadkill if someone dropped the right colour rosette on it. It’d be far better if they’d realise the damage they’re doing by prolonging the paradigm of incompetent and destructive politicians and just start voting for someone else (though I still have concerns about them UKIP is currently my least worst option, but Christ’s sakes, anyone but the Big Three really) but I’m afraid that the majority of those 26,146,419 will carry on as they have been doing until one day dawn breaks on a Britain that is completely bankrupt, probably in more than one sense.

Only then will those destructive political parties be destroyed themselves, or at least made electorally irrelevant, because all will finally be clear and in the wreckage there will be very very few who will ever forgive the Big Three. What will happen then is anyone’s guess, but I’d very much hope it’ll be the beginning of several generations with an inherent distrust of government and big stater solutions. I can’t help but feel that if destruction is indeed a necessary condition for recovery then why put it off by voting for someone marginally less catastrophically incompetent?

That said, if destruction can be avoided altogether it goes without saying that we should, so although I’m pessimistic I really hope an alternative presents itself. Besides, voting Labour would make me want to go home and wash for about a month.

* Title from The Daily Mash.

2012 sees fiercest ever competition to be offended by Jeremy Clarkson

The annual competition to be outraged by something that Jeremy Clarkson said is shaping up to be hotter than ever this year, according to both organisers and participants.

First out of the blocks has been the Society for People with Lumpy Faces, whose complaint to Ofcom regarding Clarkson’s comment that a car with a bulge on the back looked like John Merrick and would be ignored by other cars at a party was timed almost perfectly, allowing most people to have forgotten whatever it was he said to upset the Indians. It’s expected that they’ll be followed swiftly by the usual complaints from short people that Richard Hammond never gets to drive the really good cars and shout “Power” a lot.

Adding to this year’s contest for the first time are some of the older and better known charities, who’ve begun to realise that for some years they’ve been neglecting the valuable source of publicity that the annual Clarkson Offence Competition has come to represent.

“Frankly, we’re kicking ourselves,” said Jacquie Russell from Battersea Dogs Home. “All these years Jeremy Clarkson has been describing shit cars as dogs and it didn’t occur to us to say anything about it. And now we find out that we’re too late this year because the RSPCA, Blue Cross, PDSA and Guide Dogs for the Blind are all ahead of us in the queue to complain if he says it again this season. We’re hoping he might say something rude about SW11 and we can join in local offence taking about that instead.”

Meanwhile the Cats Protection League are expected to do poorly with their complaint to the BBC about being marginalised in the competition due to the lack of offensive Clarkson remarks about cats. “It’s completely racist,” said a gorgeous little tabby kitten that you’d need a heart of stone not to adore.

Bookies have said that it’s early days and that there is no clear favourite as yet, while at a press conference the Top Gear producer and representatives for the BBC all insisted that the lucky winner will not be announced until the Christmas Special as in previous years.

“It’s like an elderly gypsy’s incontinence pants,” said Mr Clarkson at his home yesterday.

Thanks to Kate Green everyone wants to get their hands on Top Totty

Just by having a public PC whinge about it she’s helped sell a lot of extra Top Totty beer.

Family-run Staffordshire brewer Slater’s revealed it has seen sales jump since one of its ales upset a MP Kate Green and attracted headlines around the world last week.
Slater’s sales director Fay Slater announced that the firm has been bombarded with phone calls and emails from landlords wanting to get their hands on barrels of Top Totty.
The welcome boost for the popular ale comes after the four per cent beer was removed from sale at the Strangers’ Bar, in the Houses of Parliament, after shadow equalities minister Ms Green said the pump clip, which features a half-naked lady, was offensive.
Now Slater’s says it has sold around 50 more barrels than it shifts in an average week, with around half a dozen pubs saying they want to start selling the controversial ale too.

Another pollie who’s knowledge of the Streisand Effect is sadly, or perhaps happily, lacking.

Your good health, Kate, and despite the po-faced wowser motive behind it congratulations on doing more for British business than the Prime Mentalist or that claymation figure leading your own party. May you do it again to something else you disapprove of very soon.

Resisting the Nanny State, Scottish style

Words cannot express my admiration.

H/T Skepticlawyer.

It’s better to give than to receive

That’s what they say, and they say it often enough for John Lewis to have made it a theme for their Christmas ads. I think there’s some truth in it too. Now obviously this doesn’t apply so much when it’s socks, jocks and chocs or when you’ve just ordered something off someone’s Amazon wish list, but when I’ve bought someone something that I know will be a hit but is completely unexpected I really look forward to watching it being unwrapped and that little ‘Wow, where did you find this?’ moment. And maybe countries get it too, which could be the reason for this.

Pranab Mukherjee and other Indian ministers tried to terminate Britain’s aid to their booming country last year – but relented after the British begged them to keep taking the money, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.


According to a leaked memo, the foreign minister, Nirumpama Rao, proposed “not to avail [of] any further DFID [British] assistance with effect from 1st April 2011,” because of the “negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID”.
But officials at DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, told the Indians that cancelling the programme would cause “grave political embarrassment” to Britain, according to sources in Delhi.
DFID has sent more than £1 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to India in the last five years and is planning to spend a further £600 million on Indian aid by 2015.

Okay, it’s not quite the same as someone’s mum opening a box of After Eights for the 22nd straight year and having to feign delighted surprise – again – to spare feelings, but it kind of seems that way. I mean, India doesn’t need the money. It doesn’t. Its GDP (price parity) is nearly twice that of Britain’s, it has nuclear weapons and power generation, and India’s researching new nuclear power stations using the thorium fuel cycle in order to exploit its own large natural reserves of the stuff. Now it’s true that Britain is also a nuclear power, even though it leases the missiles from the Yanks, and of course has a vastly smaller population so that GDP per capita (nominal or PPP) ranks it a hell of a lot higher, but I hadn’t quite finished. India also has a US$1.5 billion – yes, billion – space program, which is something Britain only has to the extent that it participates in the ESA.

I repeat: India does not need the money. Yes, there are still many people there living in abject poverty, but the point is that despite its poor people India is not a poor country anymore. It’s big enough, old enough and, most importantly, wealthy enough to begin taking care of its own problems. In fact it seems India even feels able to assist less well off countries itself.

In April 2008, in New Delhi, India launched its own Africa manifesto – the India-Africa Forum – promising, like China, credit lines and duty-free access to Africa. Specifically, India would double its credit lines to Africa from US$2.15 billion in 2003/2004 to US$5.4 billion in 2008/2009.

‘Dead Aid’ (Chapter 8) – Dambisa Moyo

Of course it’s clearly intended that India benefit from it as much as African nations, but is it any wonder that the Indian Finance Minister described UK aid as ‘peanuts’ when his own nation has offered about ten times that much credit to developing nations? It is kind of like giving your mum a box of After Eights when she’s given your kids a 50 quid HMV voucher each.

And while certainly pretty bloody poor by any standards India’s poor may not be quite as poor as we might imagine. Dambisa Moyo in the following chapter of Dead Aid (incidentally, worth a read if you haven’t already).

By some estimates as much as $US200 billion worth of untapped investment potential is privately held in gold in India. In 2005 India introduced a policy which allowed Indians to exchange these physical gold holdings (often held in jewellery and coins) into ‘paper’ gold in denominations as low as US$2. Estimates suggest that this policy unlocked as much as US$200 billion worth of untapped investment potential privately held. The initiative promised to bring the poorest 700 million villagers, who purchase about two thirds of India’s gold, into the more formalized banking system.

Read that last sentence again – the poorest 700 million people in a 1,000 million strong nation buy two thirds of the gold. Knocked me for six when I read that (which is more than the Indian cricket team have been doing here lately). Ms Moyo adds that this gold policy added more money to India’s economy than all the foreign aid of the previous year.

So why is the Britain’s DFID still offering, no, not offering, insisting that India takes the £280m or so of its own taxpayers’ money (and/or adding to the debt bill those taxpayers or their children will eventually have to pay) when it’s a small fraction of the amount of credit India itself extends to African nations? Embarrassment was mentioned. Could it be like that thing you sometimes see with old ladies taking afternoon tea together? You know: ‘I’ll just go and settle u…’ ‘No, Gladys, I’ll take care of it.’ ‘Oh, but you always…’ ‘No, put your purse away, dear. I won’t hear of it.’ ‘But y…’ ‘ You wouldn’t want to embarrass me now, would you?’ ‘No, Gladys.’

I’d like to think it was, really I would. I’d like to think of my native land as still being so entertainingly barmy that that would be a significant factor in a decision to carry on racking up the spending and indebtedness at a rate even faster than that of a government lead by one of the most profligate shitwits in living memory in preference to the embarrassment of being seen as unable to. Still utterly and unforgivably mad but at least you could get a laugh from it, albeit a bitter one.

I think there’s probably a bit more to it than that though. It might be part of it, and the way the Cobbleition ruled out cuts to foreign aid early on and at the same time as promising not to touch the NHS too does suggest that the politicians want to maintain that appearance of munificence, even if it’s a veneer that’s eroding fast and approaching angstrom thickness. But I suspect that in addition there’s this bloody national guilt that the whole UK is supposed to feel over the Raj. Yes, maybe some shitty things were done and maybe the whole White Man’s Burden attitude was a pretty racist approach to a culture whose recorded history began more than a thousand years before some Italian builders suggested that what Britons really needed was a wall running from Carlisle to Newcastle and a bloody good wash. Okay, I can understand that, but for Christ’s sakes the Raj ended in 1947. It’s not ancient history, but it is still history. 65 years – how long’s enough, guys? And don’t you think that insisting that India needs Britain’s help not only when it’s able to do things that Britain can’t but when it’s saying that actually, no it doesn’t need help anymore, thanks all the same, is a similar kind of paternalism to White Man’s Burden? Would insisting that what’s becoming a middle income nation can’t manage without British help make the DFID’s attitude right at home during the Raj?

Or am I reading far too much into things? Is there an even simpler explanation? Could it be that the DFID fears that if supposedly poor countries begin rejecting British aid because they feel they don’t need it anymore then it will begin to struggle to justify its continued existence? I mean, look at that £280 million given to India. Cui bono?

Well, it’s not India, is it?