Tag: UK-Conservatives

Its unthreatening new Chairman is not about to rock the BBC’s boat

Boris Johnson’s backsliding on his 2019 election pledges about BBC reform means it has a new Chairman who is unlikely to threaten it even with any significant reform, never mind the radical revolution which its illiberal funding model and institutional bias both demand

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 15 January 2021.

In many fields, for the new Chairman of a major public corporation to be generally welcomed by the commentariat as a safe pair of hands should be reassuring for its stakeholders and customers. It would indicate the appointment of someone who could be trusted to do an important job well without making any serious mistakes, and who would not embark on a major upheaval.

The BBC in its current state, however, is not an organisation suited to such an appointment. It’s in serious trouble; arguably, even in crisis.

Strategically, as the Adam Smith Institute’s Madsen Pirie explains, it long ago deliberately abandoned its remit as an impartial public service broadcaster, both when it opted to pursue high ratings figures to try and justify its receipt of public money, and when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than a reporter, but with an internal culture of left-leaning metropolitan hyper-liberalism, projected by personnel who think their own views are the only “reasonable” ones to hold.  

Practically, nearly two-thirds of its captive paying customers are dissatisfied, not only with the coercive way it funds itself, but also with how it subsequently spends the money which it thereby extracts from them. No fewer than half of them say that it now neither represents their values, nor shows the impartiality required by its Charter which bestows such privileged status on it.

For all his manifest qualities, its newly appointed Chairman Designate, Richard Sharp, judging by the overall tone of press comment on the news of his appointment, appears unlikely to favour the radical, even revolutionary, approach to reforming the Corporation that its deep-rooted structural malaise demands.

That ‘senior BBC figures expressed relief‘ at the appointment, interpreting it as evidence of Government intent to pursue a policy of reform rather than revolution‘, speaks volumes. That Sharp is reportedly seen essentially as ‘bipartisan rather than a culture warrior‘, and is described by his ‘allies‘ (may we be permitted to know who they are?) as likely to be ‘a tough friend‘ of the BBC, gives little confidence that the behemoth is seriously threatened by the kind of institutional shake-up which its captive funders clearly believe it needs at the top.

That the BBC’s senior executives apparently feared the appointment of an arch critic such as Lord (Charles) Moore, and Sharp’s own reported opinion that ‘the BBC is at the heart of British cultural life, do not exactly presage a complacency-upending zeal. The comment attributed to Sharp’s ‘friends’ (once again, are we allowed to know their identity?), that he was ‘unlikely to push for a radical overhaul of the broadcaster‘, do not suggest an imminent change of focus away from the preservation of producer interest and towards more customer satisfaction.

The early signs from Sharp himself aren’t encouraging. At his pre-appointment hearing on 14 January before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, he described as ‘the least worst option‘ and as ‘terrific value‘ the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’, and declared himself ‘not in favour of decriminalisation‘ of its non-payment – thereby pre-judging, even before taking office, the outcome of the review of BBC funding which as Chairman he’s supposed to lead.

On the BBC’s unconcealed political bias, especially among its prominent current affairs presenters, and despite the new BBC Chief Executive Tim Davie’s instruction to them to curb it, it’s already apparent from, for example, Emily Maitlis’ continued blatant editorialising, that Davie’s executive writ barely runs as far as his own office door.

Sadly, the BBC’s new Chairman looks unlikely to change that. Quizzed by the select committee on the Corporation’s notoriously pro-Remain, anti-Brexit bias in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, he condescended to admit that ‘Question Time seemed to have more Remainers than Brexiteers‘. In fact, there’s no ‘seemed‘ about it: the News-Watch survey on this specific issue established that it was skewed by a factor of 2:1 or more in favour of Remain as part of a “massive, consistent and overt bias over decades. Yet, the BBC’s overall coverage on Brexit, asserted Sharp, had been ‘incredibly balanced‘.

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant, reporting perceptively on the select committee’s not so much grilling as gentle thawing of Sharp, and summarising, correctly, that the BBC will be in what it would regard safe hands with this doughty defender of the status quo,  noted wryly how he “fluently deployed trendy corporate jargon and phrases like ‘matrix of diversity‘”, which doesn’t exactly indicate a challenge to the BBC’s obsession with Woke culture any time soon.                    

If all these indications are right, then the blame for what looks likely to become a total failure to call the partisan, bloated, smug, contemptuous of its financially captive audience BBC to account will lie, not with Sharp himself, but with those who took the decision to appoint him BBC Chairman. In other words, the risk-averse, pusillanimous, allegedly ‘Conservative’ government led by the politically invertebrate, pledge-reversing, all-bluff-and-bluster Boris Johnson.

It was only just over a year ago that Johnson rode into No 10 Downing Street, mainly on the back of his promise finally to deliver the Brexit which the British people had voted for a full 3½ years before – and how quickly the wheels are already starting to come off that particular wagon – but partly on the back of his hints about abolishing the illiberal BBC ‘licence-fee’, or at the very least decriminalising non-payment of it. For a time, on his instruction, ministers even boycotted the BBC’s political coverage because of its consistent left-‘liberal’ bias.

How distant that now seems. The signals indicating the government’s abandonment of its pledge and its eventual capitulation have been discernible for the last six months or so, not least in Johnson’s and his ineffectual Media and ‘Culture’ Minister Oliver Dowden’s hesitancy and equivocation in condemning the BBC’s increasing doubling-down on the contempt it clearly feels for its audiences.

Confirmation duly arrived just before Christmas when, conveniently amid the furore over whether we would be allowed to celebrate it at all, Johnson was revealed to be ditching plans even to decriminalise non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, never mind consider its outright abolition.

That was followed by a volte-face – one remarkable even by the standards we have come to expect from Johnson – when, deploying his usual compulsive hyperbole, he entrusted to the “fantastic” BBC responsibility for providing online lessons during his latest Covid-19 lockdown to children who are currently being denied their education mainly because of his own reluctance to take on the militant teaching unions obstructing the re-opening of schools and resumption of classroom teaching.

In little more than a year, therefore, he has gone from ordering a ministerial boycott of the BBC because of its political bias, to handing it a virtual monopoly on online teaching, despite half of Britons thinking it reflects their views and their values either fairly badly or very badly.

The government’s comments on Sharp’s appointment strengthen the impression of a backdown and its acceptance of modest change only. “Exactly the chair the BBC needs right now“, purred Dowden, going on to intone the now customary mantra of a BBC “central to British national life in the decades ahead, while anticipating only reforms to the BBC” which hardly appear to be a threat.

Tellingly, nowhere in any of the political announcements or mainstream media coverage of Sharp’s appointment is there any recognition of the fundamental iniquity of a funding model reliant on an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion, even by people who don’t wish to consume the product which it funds. So much for the ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson which we keep being assured, with fast-diminishing credibility, really does exist.

In contrast to its overwhelmingly favourable, even fawning, reception, the most apposite comment on Sharp’s appointment perhaps comes from former BBC journalist and author of “The Noble Lie: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda“, Robin Aitken. The salient point of his trenchant critique of the appointment is worth quoting in full:

In choosing Mr Sharp, a walking caricature of the Establishment, the Johnson government is signalling that it’s opting for a quiet life rather than conflict with the BBC.   

It is no criticism of Sharp’s qualifications and suitability for the role to say that he appears to be first-class choice – but for the next-but-one Chairman of the BBC. He would be an ideal candidate to steady the ship and settle it on its new course, after the difficult passage through the rough, rock-strewn seas that it absolutely must complete if it’s ever to emerge eventually into the calmer waters of firstly, a new funding model acceptable to its customers, and secondly, the trust by a majority of the public, in both its reflection of their values and its scrupulous adherence to impartiality, substantially restored.

But to command and navigate the lumbering BBC vessel successfully though that tricky passage requires something other than a gradualist or consensualist with insider connections to the government machine. It needs a radical, sceptical outsider, a disrupter, an unbeliever in the BBC’s specious claim to a ‘unique and special position in our national life’, unafraid to challenge and overcome the innate resistance to change among its self-referential senior executives and presenters.

The BBC behemoth needs a Chairman committed to demolishing its institutional groupthink; one willing to make life thoroughly uncomfortable for its senior cadres, to force on both it and them the changes necessary to transform it into a provider of product satisfaction and value-for-money to voluntary customers, not a pillar of the Left-‘Liberal’ Elite-Establishment exploiting its privileged position and guaranteed revenue to promote assiduously an ideological agenda unwelcome to most of its captive funders.

It isn’t going to get one. Thanks solely to the shameful timidity and duplicity of Johnson and his flaccid government, the BBC’s boat is not about to be rocked.

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Johnson poll-axed by the Tory Red Wall

If the Tories are pinning their hopes of re-election in 2024 on retaining the Red Wall seats they wrested from Labour in 2019, at least one opinion poll suggests their efforts are already doomed to failure

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 06 January 2021.

In folklore and mythology, the Grim Reaper appears wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself. In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit or skinny jeans, and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results.

Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January.

Reported and analysed in The Sunday Times, the poll’s findings were startling. They showed that, were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority which they secured only just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour/SNP coalition government.

The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal; and yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election.  All the same, for Johnson, in a mere 12½ months, to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage point vote loss shows.

Significantly, however, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern Red Wall seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative either for the first time in decades or in some cases for the first time ever.

Perhaps, though, one should not be too surprised.

Three months ago, I argued that the bricks were already falling out of the Tories’ Red Wall, citing both evidence that voter opinion in those seats was already turning against them, and a growing body of opinion that those constituencies’ Tory MPs should recognise the extent to which their newly acquired support was already becoming restive.

If, as the  Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.

It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid. An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the government’s lockdown response. High-Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.

Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower-middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.

Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using a laptop in the kitchen and communicating with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions, while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online. If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay, those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.

At the same time, their children are more likely to be among those harmed by the growing educational inequality caused by the continuing school closures so insisted upon by the teaching unions, most of whose full-time members have continued to receive full pay, or even an inflation-busting pay rise, in return for not teaching.

In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day. They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.

A half-generation of children is having its education blighted, with dire consequences for its future employment prospects or social mobility.

No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their opinion-polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, what do they see the same PM to whom they lent their vote in a leap of faith doing when – apparently mesmerised by the lockdown enthusiasts who ruefully but mistakenly thought they’d never get away with imposing in Europe the authoritarianism of a communist one-party state – he’s not levying on the economy and society draconian restrictions unprecedented in peacetime?

They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – and make no mistake, his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better‘ slogan is a dead giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatism benefiting boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its malign agenda.

No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural marxism and anti-white racialist identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.

As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity-politics intent on trashing their culture and national history, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely only to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.

As long ago as last mid-October, I remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to re-align UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. This now seems to be the verdict also of the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.

If the Focaldata poll over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January turns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall voters have already pre-empted them. And who can blame them? Johnson’s obsessive adherence to the SAGE-authoritarian and Green eco-globalist agendas respectively is repelling his new Red Wall voters, and he doesn’t seem to care.

On past form, the Tories’ most probable reaction will be an arrogance-driven either dismissal, complacency or condescension, but they should resist the temptation to indulge in either. A hint of the latter has already been seen in the patronising assumption that those votes can in effect be bought back merely by throwing taxpayers’ money at the areas concerned, but the reasons for voter dissatisfaction discussed above appear too deep-rooted to be amenable to that convenient solution.

Relying on upcoming boundary changes to deliver extra seats to compensate them for any loss looks unlikely to be enough, with only ten additional seats in prospect. Moreover, the vote boost gained from former Labour voters in those Red Wall seats being repulsed by the leadership of hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn should be regarded as a one-off phenomenon. For all his flaws and inadequacies, its new leader Sir Keir Starmer is considerably more electable.

It’s even possible that the revolt will expand and intensify, once greater awareness of Johnson’s failure to curb illegal cross-Channel immigration spreads, and the flaws which lie in his Barebones-Brexit deal, despite his hyperbolic spinning of it, finally become more and more apparent.

Polls are, of course, inconsistent and unreliable. The first full test of electoral opinion in those Red Wall seats should be coming at May’s 2021 local elections, including the local elections postponed from 2020 because of the first Covid-19 lockdown; “should”, because both now look likely to be delayed. Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ seem to be keen to put off an encounter with the electorate for as long as possible. Perhaps their private polling is closer to that Focaldata poll result than they care to admit.

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Theresa May’s Unconvincing Epiphany

Despite the near-universal praise it attracted, the former PM’s intervention in the latest Commons lockdown debate arguably owed more to low politics than high principle

Note: (Slightly) longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 10 November 2020.

Credit where credit’s due. In contrast to her usual Maybot-style wooden, robotic, delivery of leaden, uninspiring content, former PM Theresa May’s speech, delivering a scathing criticism of aspects of the Johnson Junta’s second Covid lockdown, in the House of Commons’ debate on the afternoon of Wednesday 04 November, was, for once, uncharacteristically good.

Moreover, its impact was enhanced by PM Boris Johnson’s somewhat boorish reaction to it. By ostentatiously walking out of the Commons Chamber, to the audible disapproval of his MPs, just as May began to speak, Johnson not only demonstrated a puerile petulance but also demeaned both himself and his office.

He later apologised, apparently, pleading the need to attend a meeting. Well, maybe; and should not May, out of office now for only 15 or 16 months, also not have realised from her own experience that a PM necessarily has a very busy schedule? All the same, and though I’m no fan of May, she is after all a former PM, albeit an especially dire one, so was surely entitled to be listened to for four minutes by the present incumbent, if only out of courtesy.

Anyway, near-universal acclaim, some of it verging on the hyperbole, greeted May’s speech. According to the Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, it was a case of “May leads the charge” against Johnson’s second coronavirus lockdown. This was intriguing, to say the least, to those, like me, who have long felt that leadership, on the one hand, and the notoriously uncommunicative and taciturn Theresa May, on the other, are such mutually incompatible concepts as to constitute an oxymoron.

She had become the unlikely “Joan of Arc of lockdown scepticism“, in the eyes even of former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips, who was at least discreet enough not to mention that Jeanne d’Arc ended up taken prisoner by her own side before being burned at the stake by the English.

Prominent and respected political tweeters were effusive in their praise.

But, watching and listening to May’s speech live, I had some niggling doubts, and then especially later when reading it on Hansard, I found myself starting to wonder: just where had this apparently quasi-libertarian Theresa May, suddenly concerned about the loss of Britons’ economic and societal liberties as a result of Lockdown 2.0, sprung from?

The Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship….sets a precedent that could be misused by a Government in future with the worst of intentions.

Very true. But was this the same Theresa May who, as a reluctant-Brexiteer PM, unnecessarily pledged to keep the UK within the scope of the illiberal, authoritarian European Arrest Warrant, despite its jurisdiction expiring on Brexit? Was it the same Theresa May who, as a closet-Remainer Home Secretary for most of the relevant period, had presided over the UK executing more EAWs than any other EU country?

For many people ​it looks as though the figures are being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures. There is one set of data that has not been available throughout.

Again, very true. But was this valid criticism about the lack of both published data and transparency really coming from the same Theresa May who, again as that reluctant-Brexiter PM, presided over the covert No. 10 operation to collude with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her infamous Chequers Plan for an ultra-lite BRINO, keeping it secret from her Cabinet, the Brexit Department, her MPs, her Party and the British public, and bounce it on to her Cabinet on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis with barely an hour’s prior notice?

Were we really seeing a new, changed Theresa May?  No, alas we weren’t. Because at 10.30.am last Wednesday, a mere 3 hours 8 minutes before she rose to speak in the Commons at 1.38.pm, May had tweeted thus:

This, I suggest, was, and is, the authentic voice of Theresa May and the one with which we’re more familiar. Her instinctive reverence for unaccountable supranationalist bureaucracy self-insulated from the need to secure democratic consent. Her disregard for the astronomical cost to Western economies, energy users, and taxpayers of a predicted reduction in temperatures of a mere 0.05°C, and then only by 2100.

Her arrogant presumption that truth on ‘climate change’ is something to be negotiated via political consensus rather than discovered by strict adherence to Popper’s scientific method. Her delusion that challenges like a global pandemic and economic downturn, burgeoning government deficits and debt, and Islamist-Jihadist terrorism somehow pale into relative insignificance alongside a gentle 200-300 year recovery in temperatures from the nadir of the Little Ice Age.

So why the quite remarkable contrast between the allegiance to anti-democratic globalism confirmed by May’s 10.30.am tweet and her professed deep concern for personal liberty and government transparency expressed in her 1.38.pm Commons speech?  Let me suggest a two-word solution: Boris Johnson.

I suspect May’s Commons criticisms, entirely valid though they conveniently were in context, originated not so much from principle or genuine ideological conviction as from a long-simmering personal pique at her 2019 forced removal from office, which she still appears to think was an unconscionable injustice and thus still has some scores to settle.

After such a focussed, if richly hypocritical, attack on the Johnson-led Cabinet, one might have expected May to join the rebels who voted against the Government’s second lockdown. Curiously, in the event she didn’t, but merely abstained.

Was she anxious to spare the Government from the political embarrassment of a former PM joining a backbench rebellion? Unlikely, surely, after roundly criticising it from the green benches. Was it too much for her inherent authoritarian-statist instincts to side with the lockdown sceptics in favour of freedom? Or was it just a case of wanting to wound, but afraid to strike?

Whichever, Hell, it would seem, still hath no fury like a former PM scorned.

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Honour The Military Covenant!

MPs debating the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill extending the protection of former Armed Services personnel from malicious historical prosecutions should honour the Military Covenant, not find grounds to wriggle out of it

I suspect few people will have heard of a gentleman called Dennis Hutchings. Those who haven’t should rectify this gap in their knowledge because, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re indebted to him and to thousands like him; but the Government and MPs which they, and we, have entrusted with the responsibility of discharging that debt on our behalf are resiling from their obligations and shirking both their duty and their own and their predecessors’ implied promise to him.

Mr Hutchings is one of those referenced in the quotation whose both origin and precise words are disputed, but is attributed variously to Kipling, Orwell or Churchill:

We sleep easy in our beds because hard men stand ready to risk their lives on our behalf, to inflict violence on those who would do us harm.

In Mr Hutchings’ case, “those who would do us harm‘ were the IRA, at the height of their murderous campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland, to try and achieve violently via the bomb and the bullet what they were unable to achieve peacefully and democratically via the ballot-box.

In 1974, while a serving soldier in the Life Guards, he had to make a split-second decision, under stress, whether to allow what was thought at the time to be an IRA suspect to run away from a patrol in County Tyrone, or follow standing orders and open fire. He insists, as he has done for the last 46 years, that he fired only a warning shot in the air. Another soldier, now deceased, also fired. The suspect was killed, but Mr Hutchings, now 78 years old and progressively dying from kidney and heart failure, is before the Northern Ireland courts charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.

This is happening even as the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is wending its way through Parliament. Its purpose, in the wake of British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to better protect former members of the Armed Forces from politically motivated lawfare conducted by mainly leftist human rights lawyers, in the form of (frequently found to be un-evidenced, or entirely without foundation) specious claims of unlawful detention and maltreatment.

In this respect, many readers will recall the notorious and now thankfully struck-off Phil Shiner, doyen of ambulance-chasing Yuman Rites parasites, but senior Labour Party politicians have by no means been blameless. Many readers will also recall Emily Thornberry going so far as accepting Christmas hospitality and a donation from Leigh Day, the legal firm accused of pursuing false torture claims against British soldiers, even while serving as Shadow Defence Minister.

Crucially, though, the current Bill as drafted would apply only to overseas operations, so would thus exclude Northern Ireland, despite The Troubles having accounted for 722 British military deaths resulting from hostile paramilitary activity, compared with 454 in Afghanistan and 226 in Iraq during both Gulf Wars.

Axiomatically iniquitous as this should be, almost no objection to the Government’s exclusion of military service in Ulster from the scope of its immunity from historic prosecutions Bill appears to have been raised during its so-called ‘scrutiny’ by ‘Conservative’ MPs. Why not? Was being shot at or bombed by the IRA or Loyalist paramilitaries somehow less risky than being shot at or bombed by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Taliban?

Where in particular was any protest from that formerly self-appointed champion of our military veterans and now a Junior Defence Minister with the same responsibilities, Johnny Mercer MP, from whom, having served in Afghanistan himself, one might perhaps have expected more?

Especially as in May 2019, he had pledged not to support the Government’s legislative agenda until it ended historic prosecutions, including any relating to Northern Ireland? And as his brief from newly-appointed PM Boris Johnson on his promotion to junior ministerial office, a mere two months later, specifically tasked him with ending the legal pursuit of former service personnel, especially those who had served in the Province?

If only Mercer were now displaying in that cause the same zeal with which he leapt aboard the Woke-Left bandwagon to condemn England’s foremost philosopher of conservatism, Sir Roger Scruton, without bothering to check the veracity of the accusations against him, when Scruton was viciously traduced in a blatant partisan hatchet-job by the New Statesman‘s left-wing hack George Eaton deploying deliberate misinterpretation and highly selective quoting.

The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill’s scope becomes even more egregious, given the shameful exoneration and immunities handed out to former IRA paramilitary terrorists by Anthony Blair, despite the fugitive recipients of his notorious ‘letters of comfort’ being linked to some 300 killings. 

Mr Hutchings is therefore in the invidious position of being dragged through the Criminal Courts after 46 years, in probably the last few months of life, while his erstwhile IRA adversaries enjoy the protection of the same immunity of which he is somehow deemed unworthy. No wonder he feels aggrieved: he has more than adequate reason to do so, and we should feel similarly indignant on his behalf.

Incredibly, it gets even worse. Some MPs, Mercer not unsurprisingly to the fore, now appear to be objecting to the very principle of such a Bill at all, claiming, despite it always having been intended that immunity from prosecution should never extend to torture, murder or genocide, that the Bill will create a presumption against prosecution for lesser alleged crimes, would hinder repeat investigations, and would enable ex-soldiers to ‘escape justice’.

Britain’s soldiers, it seems, can never be hung out to dry enough to satisfy the demands of, not only the politicians who commit them to action in the first place, but even their own senior commanders and political heads, for whom ‘diversity’ now ranks higher as a priority than equitable treatment or military effectiveness.

Until two decades or so ago, the Military Covenant did not figure much in the public consciousness, nor was it much discussed, despite its 400-year history. Neither enshrined in law, nor conferring contractual obligations, nor even enforceable, it was nevertheless understood to be an informal but morally binding agreement on their relationship between the State and those who voluntarily sign up to put their lives on the line to defend their country and its people.

Visible change commenced under Cameron when his Coalition government, rowing back from his previous commitment to enshrine the Covenant in law, proposed merely to publish an annual statement of how it was honouring the Covenant – or rather, as is so often the case in such public-relations driven exercises in self-congratulation – ostentatiously pretending to honour it while starting to chip away at its unstated commitments.

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is being debated in third reading in the House of Commons today. Rather than searching for weasel-word sophistry to justify hanging ex-soldiers like Mr Hutchings out to dry, it is high time the political class reverted to honouring the Covenant in full.

A full 130 years have now passed since Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in which it appears, but apparently, very little has changed that would either undermine or in any way invalidate the message contained in its couplet:

It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, and ‘Kick ‘im out, the brute!’ But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.

Honour the Military Covenant, Fake-‘Conservatives’, or forever hang your heads in eternal shame. And as a proud military parent, never again would I waste my precious vote on you.

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Are we heading inexorably towards a Great Boris Betrayal?

Misgivings that Boris Johnson, across several policy areas, is in the process of betraying many of the promises he made or implied in both his party leadership and general election campaigns, are growing

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 16th October 2020

Straws in the wind?  Maybe.  An overdeveloped sense of cynicism and scepticism on my part, laced with premonition?  Perhaps.  But the past few months have given enough indications to justify misgivings that, on several pressing issues of contemporary policy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is progressively abandoning the positions on which his General Election campaign was based, less than a year ago.

On immigration, both legal and illegal, election pledges are going significantly unfulfilled. Johnson has failed to withdraw Britain from the UN Global Migration Compact signed up to by Theresa May – a withdrawal which would surely have given us considerable leverage in our negotiations with the EU over our future relationship – and which I suggested in July 2019 should be one of the eight key tests by which we could judge whether as PM, Johnson would delight or disappoint us.

The promised ‘control’ of illegal cross-Channel migration and people-smuggling has not only not materialised, but numerically has worsened. Operationally, it has descended into farce; if deploying an Airbus Atlas A-300M transport to conduct low-level Channel surveillance patrols wasn’t a desperate enough ploy to try and convince a sceptical population that action was being taken, how about the idea of deploying nets to catch boats ferrying illegal migrants? [Applications from unemployed lepidopterists welcome, presumably.]

The points-based assessment system following the Australian model looks reasonably robust – if and when it ever goes into practice – but the legislation faces defeat in the overwhelmingly pro-Remain House of Lords. Meanwhile, attempts to deport illegal migrants and asylum-seekers whose claims have been rejected are regularly being thwarted by ‘liberal’-left open-borders activist human rights lawyers. Yet, in the EU negotiations, possible concessions over free movement and/or the continuing jurisdiction in Britain of the European Courts frequently pop up on the radar.      

If pre-election Boris was suspiciously susceptible to the blandishments of the eco-lobby, then post-election Boris appears in total thrall to the Green Blob. Scarcely a speech passes without some hyperbolic reference from Johnson to how Britain’s economic recovery from Covid19 will be built on a ‘Green’ energy investment and production bonanza, despite its so far unmitigated expense, its continuing reliance on fossil-fuel powered back-up to cope with the intermittency problem, and its still relatively low contribution to the total energy output.

Consider for one moment the Britain in prospect under the rolling Covid-19 lockdowns to which Johnson appears irrevocably committed, despite the increasingly powerful and widespread arguments for a different approach, less damaging to our economy and society.

Whole areas under virtual house arrest. Travel, especially aviation, severely restricted. Rising energy prices. An increasing role for the State in the economy, needing to be financed of course by higher taxes, especially enviro-taxes. Unemployment growing, and business collapsing.

Johnson and Hancock’s policy response to Covid, imposing serial lockdowns in slavish deference almost exclusively to the doom-merchants among the medico-scientific advice available to them – despite a growing body evidence favouring a different, less economically and societally damaging approach – is certainly killing ‘Business As Usual’ for many firms, and their employees.

Tell me how this doesn’t go a fair way towards meeting many of the strident demands of the hard Green-Left, anti-capitalist, eco-totalitarian Extinction Rebellion? And if so, why? Undue influence from the distaff side, perhaps, or……what?      

Johnson’s condescending assurance to newly Tory-voting electors in the Midlands and North, worried about losing their jobs in the developing economic fallout from lockdown, and apprehensive about whether they’ll be allowed to set their relatives at Christmas, that they’ll eventually be able to boil a kettle from ‘renewable’ energy – provided, of course, the wind is blowing hard enough (but NB, not too hard) at the time –  is unlikely to retain their loyalty. And who can blame them?            

The allegedly ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson has not been much in evidence during 2020’s explosion of leftist Wokery at not only street, but also at political, institutional, media, cultural and academic, levels. He has been reticent, to say the least, in robustly defending free speech, and has largely refrained from unduly criticising egregious instances of corporate Wokeness.

Particularly unedifying was the image of him, bunkered and mute in Number Ten, while hard-Left Black Lives Matter / Antifa protestors violently trashed the Parliament Square statue of his supposed hero Churchill, Johnson finally emerging to comment only after the statue had had to be boarded up for its own protection. We appear to have elected a Prime Minister reluctant to defend our history and heritage when both are under (literally) physical assault.

On Brexit, in recent weeks my colleagues Adrian Hill and Tim Bradshaw over at The Conservative Woman  have done a sterling job of chronicling in detail the twists and turns of the tortuous negotiations with Brussels over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. To repeat many of their arguments would be superfluous, so that here I merely need to summarise and comment.

Despite Boris’ tough talk for public consumption, it’s been possible to detect potential harbingers of compromise and concession. While the EU’s, and Barnier’s, intransigence continues virtually unabated, there has been talk of the deadline being extended to ensure Britain doesn’t leave without a trade deal, within which it would be surprising if some concessions were not made.

Pressure for compromise and concession to ensure No-Deal continues to come from parts of the financial marketsbusiness sectorsand lobby groups. Some of the direst security warnings of Project Fear are being dusted off and regurgitated. Meanwhile, the EU still insists on retaining enforcement powers in any UK trade deal, while rumours circulate that an accommodation will be reached on the continued jurisdiction, after the end of the Termination Period, of the ECJ on business regulation.

On fishing rights, if arguably not the most economically significant issue, then certainly the most politically totemic, can we be sure that a government seemingly powerless to stop rubber dinghies full of illegal migrants crossing the Channel has the determination to resist, whatever it takes, the threatened ongoing predation on our sovereign fishing grounds? The likelihood of compromise to avoid confrontation surely can’t be ruled out.

For a PM who prioritises being liked over being feared and respected, his record of resiling from previous commitments since last December’s election, and his evident susceptibility to pressure, cannot but produce apprehension that potentially damaging last-minute concessions will be made, purely to avoid No Deal.   

On relationships with our natural Anglosphere allies, Johnson has, according to The Times, ordered the No 10 team and key government departments to establish links with the Biden campaign team, citing private polling telling him that Trump is unlikely to be re-elected.

It isn’t hard to see where this could be going. Are they hoping to use the anti-Brexit and EU-favouring Biden’s hostility to a good US-UK trade deal as an excuse to make last-minute concessions to Brussels, and thus be ‘forced’ to concede a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU?

On the other hand, if Trump does win, he’s unlikely to thank Johnson for cosying up to Biden in mid-campaign, and will be less inclined to give us a good US-UK trade deal. This, of course, can be also be used as the excuse for making last-minute concessions to Brussels and thus retaining a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU.

All this will inevitably have electoral consequences. I warned about it on 7th October, but mainstream media commentators are now cottoning on to the prospect of Johnson’s Red Wall crumbling fast.

As Rachel Sylvester points out in The Times, backbench pressure from Tory MPs worried about retaining their seats is starting to crystallise. Johnson’s apparently cavalier attitude towards the travails his lockdowns risk inflicting on the North can only revive the tropes about the ‘Conservatives’ being solely a party for the affluent South, predicts Nick Cohen at The Spectator.

Seldom in modern political history can such a newly acquired electoral advantage have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. Whether it’s deliberate, accidental, or, as Mary Harrington argues persuasively over at UnHerd, Boris hasn’t recovered from Covid and, notwithstanding his colourful ‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog‘ metaphor, is actually suffering from Long-Covid, leaving us effectively leaderless, is a moot point.  

However,  I don’t believe Johnson cares overmuch about the potential electoral impact of all this on his party.  I suspect he’s discovered that,  in contrast to becoming PM, he doesn’t very much like actually being PM, because the job is too much like hard work, often involving having to choose that which he must judge is the least bad from several equally unpalatable and unpopular options.  

Boris, on the other hand, as the only just released new biography of him by Tom Bower reveals, is not so much fundamentally lazy as chronically ill-disciplined and temperamentally disinclined to immerse himself in details. It’s easy to conclude that his innate desire to be popular rather than respected makes him find the stimulus and hyperbole of campaigning in purple poetry infinitely more agreeable than the more humdrum yet far more complicated business of governing in grey prose.

Moreover, he’s allegedly already complaining to friends about money: that becoming PM has left him significantly short of the income he needs to meet his ongoing financial liabilities which are the consequences of his louche, priapic, chaotic personal life. He knows he can make considerably more money as an ex-PM and journalist than as an incumbent PM. Presumably, he’ll claim ‘family reasons’ or something similar at the opportune moment.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But I fear we are about to be royally shafted on Brexit, just as Johnson is currently doing on Covid, immigration, Woke-ery and Green-ery. Messing up Brexit could even be his crowning excuse, and his chosen route out.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, in a development as surprising as it was welcome, Johnson announced that, unless the EU fundamentally changed its previously intransigent and uncooperative negotiating approach, Britain would conclude there was no prospect of an acceptable deal being agreed, and would therefore trade on WTO terms with effect from 1st January 2021.

If he means it, and sees it through, then I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong on this point.

However, the worry is that, despite it undoubtedly being the right thing to do, it might not be a statement of irrevocable intent by Johnson, but merely another negotiating tactic by a PM who has already allowed three deadlines he set to over-run without consequence, to be eventually diluted or discarded if it persuaded Brussels to return to the negotiating table in a more amenable frame of mind.

However, the likelihood of that diminished somewhat on Friday evening, when it was reported that our chief negotiator David Frost had told the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier not to even bother coming to London for more talks next week.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asserted, in The Sun on Sunday 18th November, that ‘Boris isn’t bluffing; that he really will go through with his threat to abandon negotiations and go for WTO on 1st January 2021 unless the EU grants Britain the same comprehensive free trade deal that it granted Canada.

Well, we shall see; after all, Johnson has bluffed for much of his life. Let’s hope this time he isn’t, and really means it.

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The Tory Red Wall is Losing Bricks Fast

Complacent Tories are already behind the curve in recognising increasing disaffection among their new Red Wall voters in the North

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 06 October 2020

As ever more draconian, but in practice substantially unenforceable, restrictions were last week imposed by the Johnson Junta on our liberties via Lockdown 2.0, the mooted opposition to them from within the ranks of the supine, compliant, party-before-country, time-serving, careerist lobby-fodder which makes up the majority of the ‘Conservative’ Parliamentary Party collapsed.

The incipient ‘revolt’ on Wednesday 30 September by no fewer than a threatened eighty melted away to a mere seven, on nothing more than a vague promise to consult them in the future.

Although Hancock was reported across most of the media as having promised a Parliamentary debate on the next occasion, this isn’t borne out by his words spoken from the Government front bench as recorded by Hansard:

Today, I can confirm to the House that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament; wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are ​needed to control the virus and save lives.

This is no concession at all, much less a promise. First, it would apply only in the case of a proposed country-wide lockdown. Second, Hancock pledged the Government only to ‘consult’ Parliament, not initiate a full debate – in contrast to the paltry 90 minutes allocated last Wednesday – ending in a vote which might deliver a Government defeat. Mere ‘consultation’ in no way obliges the Government to any notice whatsoever of the expressed opinion of the House.

Third, Hancock added the rider ‘wherever possible’; it isn’t hard to imagine how the Government would claim it was impossible. Fourth, Hancock reserved to the Government the right to act unilaterally anyway. Yet to this blatant procedural chicanery, barely a squeak of protest was raised, apart from during speeches made by the seven eventual rebels.

Not for the first time, Tory MPs sojourning comfortably in their gilded bubble, banking on the four years before the next election dulling the electorate’s memories, are behind the curve at recognising the disillusion and contempt growing among their erstwhile most loyal supporters at their failure to challenge the Johnson Junta’s headlong embrace of economically and societally damaging illiberal authoritarianism, based on increasingly highly questionable scientific advice.

But outside the MPs’ cocoon, the patience of even their formerly most long-serving members appears to be waning fast. As I found out in microcosm a few weeks ago, from my BFF’s mother, down from the Red Wall North for a few weeks visiting her daughter on the South Coast.

Although Violet (not her real name) is in her mid-80s, she’s impressively – almost frighteningly,  truth be told – switched on politically, with a mind like a razor.  To give you a flavour, last Christmas Day, after I’d been asked by her daughter, my lunch hostess, to keep off politics for the day as her Mum had that year been widowed, she greeted me with –

Mike!  Happy Christmas!  Now tell me: were you still oop on Election Night when that dozy Swinson lost her seat? Wasn’t that great?

She and her late husband were loyal stalwarts, even officers, of the local ‘Conservative’ association in their part of the North until, as she puts it, even they could stomach Cameron and his Notting Hill metropolitan-‘liberal’ dilettante chums no longer and resigned. She even attended the infamous Tory Party Conference of 2002, being in the audience when the then Party Chairman, one Theresa May, scowled at the assembled delegates as only the surly daughter of an Anglican vicar can, and scolded them that they were, in reality, the Nasty Party.

Violet’s opinion of the MayBot is, shall we say, not high. She met May when the latter as Party Chairman visited that particular Constituency Party Association, and she claims never to have encountered anyone so taciturn, uncommunicative, and non-committal, especially when supposed to be boosting morale among the party in the country and rallying the local troops to greater efforts. On the evening May was appointed Home Secretary by Cameron after the 2010 General Election and its subsequent days’ horse-trading with the LibDems, Violet telephoned me with this gem:

Theresa May? Home Secretary? Theresa Bloody May? She’ll be a disaster!

By ‘eck, she weren’t half right, were she?

The Northern constituency Violet lives in is one of those Red Wall seats which went Tory for the first time in decades last December. However, the local council in the biggest town, on the outskirts of which she lives but still just within its local authority area, is solidly Labour, and very concerned not to offend, and even to appease, a large and growing “Asian” population, on which specific demographic it increasingly depends for votes.

That “Asian” community is disproportionately concentrated in one locality and is characterised by large extended families, a high occupancy rate per home, a high degree of social interaction, and a reluctance to abide by local laws and regulations where they conflict with or impede the community’s religio-cultural practices.

Particularly during Ramadan, which this year ran from 23 April to 23 May, much socialising was allegedly prevalent in the local parks and open spaces for the post-sunset Iftar fast-breaking evening meal during the comparatively light and warm evenings, with not only scant regard for social-distancing guidelines but an indulgent, hands-off, non-interference policy from the local constabulary, in contrast to the heavy-handed authoritarianism with which separation was policed in other parts of the country.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that that specific locality emerged as the area’s coronavirus hotspot during the late-March to early-July lockdown. The problem arose and disaffection set in, Violet averred, when it became apparent that, while the remainder of the area was nowhere near as affected by Covid-19 as the hotspot, the entire wider community nevertheless had to suffer the economic and societal consequences.

Interestingly, this is starting to be recognised by some Tory MPs who are arguing instead for finely targeted local lockdowns where, and only for so long as, necessary, in contrast to the Government’s omnipotent-State, blanket-ban approach. But no-one in No 10 is listening.   

To say that the Tory support, which rallied to the ballot-box only ten months ago, is disillusioned with the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic would be an understatement. According to Violet, the blame is being heaped more or less equally on Johnson and his Cabinet for slavishly following ‘the science’ which has turned out to be questionable if not flawed, and on the local council for not making a case for exempting the non-hotspot part of the area from the full panoply of lockdown.

In short, the locals who, for the first time in decades voted for the Tories last December, think the Tories have made a mess of it, and furthermore, have little understanding of, let alone sympathy for, the plight of people in the medium-sized Northern towns. December’s ‘Conservative’ vote was probably a high-water mark never again to be achieved.

Now, it might be tempting to write this off as purely anecdotal; but increasingly it appears to be backed up by empirical evidence.

Regular pollster (Lord) Michael Ashcroft’s recent survey of voter opinion, “A New Political Landscape, has found that, although all isn’t necessarily lost for the Tories, voters have definitely turned.

In the Daily Telegraph, Big Brother Watch’s Silkie Carlo states that last week’s Parliamentary’ revolt’, although it degenerated into a damp squib, ought to be taken by the Tories as a warning that its public is growing restive.

In The Times, the experienced pollster Deborah Mattinson has described succinctly the reservations which newly Tory-voting Northern Red Wall constituents are already having about the direction and style of Johnson’s government, and cautioned that the Party needed to use the opportunity presented by its online party conference to reassert some grip.

At UnHerd, Ed West, author ofSmall Men on the Wrong Side of Historyexplaining the ‘Conservative’ Party’s looming electoral decline from both demography and (ironically) its own Leftward drift, warns that the Tories are running out of both time and voters.

Again in The Times, Rachel Sylvester cautions that the way in which managerial incompetence and economic credibility have both been thrown out of the window by the Tories in their authoritarian approach to the Covid19 crisis will not go unnoticed by their newest supporters who are those likely to be the hardest hit by it.

But the Party hierarchy, in contrast, remains complacently behind the curve. Only days ago, Party Chairman Amanda Milling MP announced with a fanfare that, to show their commitment to, and cement, what they now presume to call their ‘Blue Wall’ seats, the ‘Conservatives’ would be opening a second Party HQ, in Leeds, in 2021. Milling also confirmed that Tory MPs in those seats were to be offered a funding ‘war-chest’ to help them hold on to them.

But if the Tories fail to deliver on Brexit, as they have so far failed – and are still currently failing – to deliver on coronavirus, controlling illegal immigration and defending our history, culture and heritage from the cultural-marxist Woke-Left’s assault on them, it will all be too little, too late, and a waste of time, money and effort. Because the Tories’ Red Wall votes will have gone.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 15 August 2020

Beware the siren song of Brussels on Defence and Security issues. Like that of the original Sirens of Greek mythology, it is designed to lure us into a trap.  

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 13 August 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length piece in response, nevertheless warrant a few paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines. 

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

Boxing Clever with the Withdrawal AgreementBriefings for Britain

Last week’s minor furore over the demand made by some Tory MPs for the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to be re-negotiated produced a response which concentrated overwhelmingly on the political fall-out.

The predictably indignant among the ranks of the Continuity-Remainers and Aspiring-Rejoiners chuntered censoriously about the abrogation of an international treaty.  Others noted acidulously that some of those Tory MPs had themselves voted for the Withdrawal Agreement, a criticism which at least had the merit of being valid.  Few bothered to consider whether the aims behind the demand might be achieved without a formal re-negotiation.

However, there’s more than one way to bake a cake, and regular Briefings for Britain contributor “Caroline Bell” has come up with a different method. Instead of provoking what she accurately describes as the ‘Remainer Undead’ into a fresh bout of parliamentary warfare and judicial lawfare, she shows how a combination of smart domestic legislation, leveraging the ambiguities so beloved of EU agreement-drafters, and adopting a strictly third-country approach in all our dealings with the EU, could achieve the same desired result. 

 

Our sovereignty on defence matters will mean nothing if we are drawn in by EU’s siren songDaily Telegraph (£)              

For those inside the UK Government machine, whether politicians in Westminster or officials in Whitehall, who are determined surreptitiously to keep post-Brexit UK within the EU’s ambit as much possible, the inept handling of both the Covid-19 crisis and the surge in cross-Channel illegal immigration provide a useful smokescreen.

The campaign group Veterans for Britain has long been at the forefront of publicising, not only how the EU’s desire to create a military capability independent of (or as a potential rival to?) NATO remains undimmed, but also how elements within the Ministry of Defence, notwithstanding unconvincing ineffectual protests to the contrary by Defence Secretary (and Remainer) Ben Wallace, continue to beaver away below the radar to make it happen.

The warning from Major-General Thompson is thus timely. He shows how accepting the superficially tempting offer of EU participation in the funding of UK Defence projects invariably comes at the heavy price of inextricable entanglement in an interlocking web of ‘in one automatically means in all’ commitments, which have pan-European political integration, not military or defence effectiveness, as their overriding purpose.

 

Italy and France confirm Euroscepticism is a growing threat to EU’s existence BrexitWatch.org

Making Brexit as difficult as possible for Britain must seem almost literally an article of faith to the Europhile member-state leader or Brussels Eurocrat who sees it, not as a friendly country merely opting democratically for a different relationship, but as an irredeemable heretic deserving of punishment for resiling from the supranationalist religion.

Such uncompromising dogma, however, can be counter-productive.  The more harshly the British apostate is treated, the more likely it is that other member-states may start to question whether their best interests are served by remaining part of such a doctrinaire, illiberal and vengeful institution.

Recent polling data reveals signs of this starting to happen, especially in Italy – which perhaps isn’t surprising, given the suffering its population and economy have had to endure under successive Pro-Consuls appointed by the Brussels Imperium over the heads of the leader which Italian voters chose – but also in France, which is more surprising, despite the widespread disillusion with ostentatiously pro-European Macron.

Notwithstanding the continued, albeit softening, reluctance to contemplate leaving the EU or the Euro, the poll finding that over 40 per cent of both French and Italian people believe Britain will actually prosper by leaving the bloc is a potential challenge to their leaders’ ongoing Europhilia.  It could explain why Macron is being so uncooperative and intransigent about curbing the illegal cross-Channel migrant-smuggling.

 

Farage predicts that what Brexit will look like on 1 January 2021 will anger Leave voters – Daily Express

Following the warning to MPs that Britain should not realistically expect to achieve more than 60 per cent of its negotiating objectives in the talks of our future trading relationship with the EU, Farage’s prediction cannot be easily dismissed.

In previous articles in this Brexit-Watch series, I have expressed reservations at Boris Johnson’s stated intention to get more personally involved in the Brexit trade talks, not only because of his notorious lack of attention to detail and justified fears about his desire for a deal at all costs, but also because of his erratic and diminished performance since recovering from his bout of Covid-19.

So the news a few days ago, that David Frost would stay on as Brexit negotiator, in addition to his new role as National Security Adviser, if a satisfactory deal is not agreed by September, was, on the face of it, reassuring. Except that it was Frost who had delivered that ‘no more than 60 per cent of negotiating objectives’ warning to MPs.

Is it possible that Macron is ramping up his intransigence on curbing cross-Channel migrant-smuggling, knowing the extent of public anger that the Johnson Government’s apparent inability or unwillingness to prevent it is creating in Britain, to incentivise the UK into making concessions on fishing rights and continuing EU financial obligations, in return for more French maritime ‘co-operation’?  If so, and the over-eager Johnson falls for it, then Farage may well turn out to have been correct.

Update: on Friday 14 August, the Financial Times hinted strongly that such a stratagem might indeed be on the cards.  This was so predictable.  It isn’t especially hard to see what Johnson’s tactics might be here.

Via deliberate inaction, let the anger about the failure even to reduce, never mind stop, the illegal cross-Channel immigration traffic build up to such a pitch that making concessions on continuing French or EU fishing access to UK territorial waters will seem an acceptable price to pay in return for a French promise to curb the boats.  Which of course would not be kept.

They take us for fools.

 

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The Partisan Mainstream Media, and Bias-by-Omission

‘Tory rapist’ allegation: how hypocritical, virtue-signalling, point-scoring MPs and a selectively reporting, biased, partisan media combined to undermine further both the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Sunday 09 August, 2020

Despite a plethora of stiff competition, ranging from Covid-19 to the post-Brexit trade talks and beyond, there really was only ever going to be one contender for the lead story on which our fearless Fourth Estate turned its forensic, objective and impartial gaze last weekend.  And that was the Conservative MP arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault.

Although it ought to be axiomatic, I suppose that in the current atmosphere of febrile, intolerant, censorious Wokery where silence is automatically deemed to be conclusive evidence of acquiescence, I must for the avoidance of doubt declare right away an absolute abhorrence of any kind of unwanted sexual assault, or even attention.  Particularly in the workplace context of boss and subordinate, it’s often not so much an expression of sexual interest as an exercise of presumed status or power.  So, for the record, if the arrested Tory MP is eventually found guilty by due process of law, I want him both expelled from the Commons and imprisoned.

But equally, that should in no way impede the expression of legitimate reservations about how his arrest has been reported and subsequently treated.

Tory ex-minister arrested over rape‘ splashed the Sunday Times, notably omitting the word ‘alleged’ from its headline, and helpfully informing us firstly, that the man was an ex-minister and secondly, that the alleged assaults took place in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney – both of which might be interpreted as narrowing the possibilities down somewhat.

From the Sunday Telegraph‘s headline, we learned, further, that the man was a ‘senior Conservative‘ – whatever that means these days – and was in his 50s.  It then took me only approximately 10 minutes to establish there are 89 male Tory MPs currently ‘in their 50s’, i.e., born between 3rd August 1960 and 2nd August 1970.  Without laboriously checking the parliamentary careers of each, to anyone interested in contemporary politics, it was obvious just from the list of names that not all were ‘former ministers’ by a long stretch.  One was, therefore, probably looking at a shortlist of no more than 30 possibles.  So much for anonymity.

Already, the Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Times were either demanding that the Tory MP in question be named, suspended, have the whip removed, or even sacked, or going further by additionally criticising both the party (and by extension the Government), for not having done so immediately.

This pressure intensified over the following days. ‘Row grows over failure to suspend Tory MP accused of rape‘, protested the Times.  ‘Tory MP arrested on rape charges should have whip withdrawn‘, scolded the Guardian, purporting to report the words of Labour MP Jess Phillips. ‘Tories criticised for not taking sexual misconduct claims seriously‘, chided the Financial Times. 

On Monday 3rd August’s edition of BBC Newsnight,  the ever-willing rent-a-quote Phillips let rip.  Living up to her uncomplimentary – but not entirely inaccurate – ‘Midlands Motormouth’ sobriquet, she condemned the Tories’ failure to name and suspend the accused MP, and declared Parliament was not doing everything it could to make itself a safe workplace.

Chief whip defends lack of action against Tory MP accused of rapefollowed in the Guardian on Tuesday 4th August.  As did the predictable call from ‘a coalition of women’s charities and unions‘ for the accused MP to be suspended while facing investigation, on the grounds that failing to do so represented ‘another example of minimising violence against women‘.

Then, on Wednesday 5th August, it was the turn of the Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman, with an implied criticism of the Tories’ parliamentary whips as ill-suited to deal with disciplinary issues like misconduct, particularly of a sexual nature.

Finally, on Saturday 8th August, the Times‘ Esther Webber contrived to add a bit more unsubstantiated innuendo to the pot, suggesting that the Conservative whips’ office had been aware of concerns relating to the alleged behaviour of the arrested MP dating back to 2010 – which would, of course, narrow the range of possible arrestees down even further, in excluding by definition anyone not elected before 2015.  So much for anonymity.     

However, there’s one rather large elephant in this particular room-full of indignation; one which both protesting politicians and harrumphing hacks alike overlooked, or perhaps more likely, chose to ignore.  It was hinted at early on in the imbroglio by Tory MP Michael Fabricant, but seemed to gain no traction whatsoever.

It is that, on 10th February 2016, the House of Commons itself voted to change its procedures so that any arrested MP would not be named or otherwise identified (which either suspension or removal of the whip would undoubtedly do).  Moreover, the proposition was passed with only one vote against (the then Labour MP and now recently ennobled John Mann), which implies that among those voting for the change was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Labour’s current Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, one Jess Phillips MP.

Although the Commons’ decision to abandon naming an arrested MP appears superficially to confer on MPs rights which are not available to others, it’s easy to see the logic behind it.  Once the arrested MP was named and suspended, in such a relatively small workplace, the identity of the alleged victim would quickly emerge.  Is that what the ardent namers and shamers in Parliament and the Press want?  Or are they happy to throw the victim’s anonymity under the bus for the sake of some political point-scoring?  So much for anonymity.

Nor should it have gone largely unremarked that some of the MPs who were shouting the loudest for the accused Tory MP to be named and shamed are also usually among the first to argue for anonymity for alleged rape victims in other circumstances.  The double standards on display are nauseating.   

Yet not only did the Newsnight presenter not challenge Phillips with this inconsistency, much less suggest that, by condemning the application of the very procedure for which she had herself voted, she was guilty of both rank hypocrisy and blatant political opportunism.  From what I can see, in the reportage contained in all the supposedly ‘quality’ press articles linked to above, that 2016 decision of the Commons itself, to prohibit the naming of an arrested MP is mentioned nowhere.

To assume that every single political reporter or lobby correspondent involved in the production of all this material would have either been unaware of that 2016 change or had forgotten about it, especially on such a clearly sensitive subject, seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limit.  It’s hard, therefore, to dispel the suspicion that it was specifically and deliberately not mentioned, because that would have diluted or negated the narrative which the media wished to convey.  In other words, bias by omission.

Not that the media alone are deserving of criticism.  The ‘Conservative’ Party, which currently appears to be frightened of its own shadow, reacted by giving its now-familiar impression of a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and allowed the opportunistic ‘Liberal’-Left a virtual monopoly of comment. 

Where was any immediate statement to the media by any Tory MP that, with a police investigation under way, the matter was effectively sub judice, and that excessive both public speculation and premature assumptions of guilt could jeopardise a successful prosecution?  Were I the accused MP’s lawyer, I would have been screen-grabbing every tweet issued taking his guilt as a given and demanding his head, and compiling a portfolio of them to present as evidence prejudicing the possibility of a fair trial.

Why was four days of Trappist silence allowed to elapse before Boris Johnson managed to deliver a semi-apology for his party neither identifying nor suspending the arrested MP

Where, also, irrespective of the details of the present case, was any forceful riposte that the non-naming of any arrested MP is specifically the direct consequence that 2016 House of Commons decision for which many of the zealous self-appointed Pestfinders-General themselves voted?  Not to mention a sharp reminder that the presumption of innocence still applies until a guilty verdict by a jury?   

Which leads to another point worth making: that the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence is so readily either disregarded or dismissed is an increasingly disturbing feature of the Woke witch-hunt.

Ever since the advent of the #MeToo movement, no longer are the finger-pointers content to wait for due process to take its course; they demand instant condemnation and punishment of the presumed guilty perpetrator based on (often one single) accusation alone. Woe betide he or she who objects, especially if facing the likelihood of a viciously aggressive social-media pile-on. 

Is it too fanciful to suggest that the prevalence of the New Puritanism is conducive to the mainstream media feeling it can abandon impartial and accurate journalism for partisan activism with impunity?

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Who Best to Spy on the Spies?

The background to the Lewis-Grayling Commons Intelligence & Security Committee chairmanship imbroglio, and some possible reasons for what really lies behind it.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17 July 2020

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It’s one of the oldest questions in the world, relevant in dictatorships and democracies alike.  Literally meaning “Who will guard the guards themselves?“, it voices the perennial dilemma; who can best be trusted to watch over those whom we in turn trust to watch over us so as to keep us safe?

Now, you might think that someone who successfully ran an undercover operation to get elected as Chair of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security scrutiny committee – thus defeating in the process the reliably compliant stooge whom the Government had hoped to shoehorn into the post – without anyone from the Government knowing or its parliamentary whips finding out, thereby demonstrating both a fine understanding of intrigue and the ability to keep a secret, would possess the ideal qualifications for the job.

Boris Johnson’s Government, however, disagrees.  Because its reaction to New Forest East Conservative MP Julian Lewis’s securing the chairmanship of this important and influential scrutiny committee, by secretly nominating himself and then caucusing with Opposition who subsequently voted for him, was petulantly to accuse of him of duplicity and even withdraw the Tory whip, thus effectively sacking him from the party.

What could have prompted such a fit of childish pique?  Resentment at having been outmanoeuvred, coupled with a sense of entitlement that such a key chairmanship ought axiomatically to be in government hands? Perhaps. Exposure to public view of what was clearly a massive failure of parliamentary management?  Maybe.

Or was it frustration because the unsuccessful government nominee, Chris Grayling, widely known as “Failing Grayling” for being unusually accident-prone and for an unimpressive record both as Transport Secretary and Justice Secretary, but who was also Boris Johnson’s campaign manager in his party leadership bid, had been impliedly promised the chairmanship as a reward?

It can’t be a matter of much dispute that Lewis is eminently more qualified for the role than Grayling, who has been criticised for his lack of experience of Intelligence and Security matters by even his fellow Tory MPs.  In contrast, Lewis, in the manner of Right-leaning long-standing backbenchers whom the Conservative Party’s ‘liberal’ hierarchy finds embarrassing and routinely keeps hidden on the back benches, has tended to make Defence, Intelligence and Security his specialist subject.

Lewis is also a confirmed Eurosceptic and Brexiteer, which may also be a clue as to why his chairmanship seems to be so discomforting to the Party hierarchy, as will be explored further below.

Julian Lewis

In the immediate aftermath, the ‘Conservative’ Party’s anger shows no sign of abating. The much-diminished Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused Lewis of ‘playing ducks and drakes’ with Labour MPs – a curious charge if Number Ten still denies any intention to shoehorn Grayling into the Committee chairmanship – and yesterday refused to rule out the Government blocking Lewis ascension to the role.

Johnson has been warned by senior Tory backbench MPs not to try and remove Lewis from the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, or even from membership of it. Clearly, their rebellion earlier this week against the Government for not going either far enough or fast enough on the removal of Huawei from our telecommunications infrastructure has emboldened them.

In the meantime, Lewis has provided his own version of events, stressing that-

  1. the chairmanship of the Committee is a parliamentary appointment and not within the gift of the PM:
  1. he did not give any undertaking to support Grayling: and
  1. contrary to Number Ten’s denial of any interference, it evidently preferred to have Grayling as Chair of the Committee, as Lewis himself received a text asking if he would vote for him.

And as he wryly observes, if it wasn’t the Government’s intention to parachute Grayling as its preferred candidate into the chairmanship, then its decision to deprive himself of the Tory whip for not voting for Grayling looks like a massive over-reaction.

2020.07.16 Julian Lewis statement

So what’s going on?

Well, Eurosceptic and Brexiteer Lewis, I suspect, would be far more likely as Chair to probe and interrogate the Government on the security and intelligence implications of any continuing below-the-radar co-operation and tie-in to with the EU.  And that, of course, might lead to similar probing on any continuing below-the-radar tie-up with the EU’s developing Defence Union and the PESCO mechanism.  Perhaps Grayling, having been rewarded for running Johnson’s successful leadership campaign, could have been trusted to ensure the Committee did not enquire too closely into such matters?

Grayling had also been thought to be much less likely to pressure the Government for an early public release of the 2018 report on alleged Russian interference in British democracy, (although personally, I’ve always suspected this allegation to be yet another desperate attempt by the anti-Brexit, Continuity-Remainer faction of Britain’s political and media establishment to delegitimise both the vote for Brexit and those of subsequent general elections confirming it).

However, the fall-out in that direction from his failure to secure the chairmanship has already started.  In what’s possibly a pre-emptive move, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday accused the Russian State of hacking UK vaccine research and attempting to influence last December’s general election.

Theoretically, the ‘Conservative’ Party might possibly try to thwart the Lewis chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on the spurious grounds that for such a pivotal appointment to be held by an Independent MP not affiliated to any party, much less the governing party, is inappropriate.  In doing so, however, it would risk making itself look even more petulant and dictatorial, as well as making others wonder just what it might be trying to hide.

Its best course would be for the Government to accept a self-inflicted defeat, for MPs to press for the restoration to Lewis of the whip, and for the party console itself that a key Commons committee was in the hands of the MP best suited to the job.

Homo scit exterriti custodes spectemus – only a man who knows guards can watch the guards.

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If Not Now, Then When?

How many more instances of the out-of-control BBC’s blatant bias does the Johnson Government need to make it finally resolve to tackle it?

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 02 June 2020   

In an excellent article on 21 May at The Conservative Woman, News-Watch’s David Keighley forensically demolished, point by point, the bias-driven inaccuracies and assumptions in the BBC’s now-infamous 27 April edition of Panorama.  He correctly located the programme firmly within the Coronavirus iteration of Project Fear which the Corporation had been running, and still was – or even still is. 

Anyone who watched it will remember how every failure by the NHS, and even by its semi-autonomous linked agencies, in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic was invariably deemed to be exclusively the fault of the Government – even where it had no direct control or even involvement – in what was in effect a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party

Which makes the Government’s over-timid response, understandably touched on only briefly in David Keighley’s article, all the more deserving of criticism.  It could manage little, if anything, more than a half-hearted squeak of protest delivered by Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden, whom I’ve previously criticised as an ineffectual, paleo-Cameroon careerist, and who increasingly comes across as a twerp to rival even his (politically) late and unlamented namesake Oliver Letwin.

MoS headline Sun 03-May-2020 Dowden-BBC

In the light of subsequent events, it’s worth re-visiting and analysing Dowden’s weak, anodyne and platitudinous admonition to the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall in more detail.

First, there’s the excessive “Dear Tony” familiarity; at the risk of being stuffy, I’d suggest this is singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances, and does nothing to dispel the impression of what ought to be a formal arm’s-length relationship in the public interest being conducted more like a friendly exchange between fellow-members of the same like-minded elite.

Dowden urges Hall to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality‘.  At the risk, this time, of being pedantic, the use of ‘uphold‘’ here implies that those ‘highest standards of integrity and impartiality‘ are in fact the norm from which the Panorama programme was merely an isolated, uncharacteristic, aberration.  That might come as a surprise to the 69 per cent of respondents to the late December 2019 Savanta-ComRes poll who said they trusted the BBC less even than ITV News on impartiality and accuracy.

Dowden concludes by referring to the need to maintain ‘public confidence‘ in ‘the BBC’s long-standing reputation for fair and balanced reporting‘.  That, in turn, might come as a surprise to the 75 per cent of respondents to the (also late-December) Public First poll supporting abolition of the ‘licence fee’ outright, and the 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment.

As for the Mail‘s headline, Dowden’s pleadings represented, not so much a ‘blast’ as a half-hearted pretence at a gentle rap over the knuckles.  They virtually invited a contemptuous response from the BBC.  It has not been long in coming.

The Corporation remains unapologetic about its practice, especially noticeable in that edition of Panorama but by no means restricted to it, of habitually presenting as ‘impartial’ ‘experts’ people who turn out on closer investigation to be fiercely partisan, hard-Left, committed anti-conservatism activists with a distinct political agenda. Even Sky News has been shamed into improving itself a little on this score; but not the BBC. 

It participated enthusiastically in, almost to the extent of heading up, the media lynch-mob in its witch-hunt against Dominic Cummings.  Acres have already been written on this, to which I don’t propose to add; except to point TCW readers to former BBC staffer Robin Aitken’s excellent Daily Telegraph article. summarising the underlying background.  Two statements, in particular, stand out, and they explain a great deal:

he is the BBC’s single most dangerous opponent, because he is one of the very few people on the Right who clearly understands that the BBC presents an obstacle to everything that conservatives believe in

and

the BBC hold Cummings and the Prime Minister responsible for Brexit, which for an organisation that led the battle to prevent the referendum result ever taking effect (and very nearly succeeded), is a very bitter charge indeed.’

Which brings us to L’Affaire Maitlis. This has also not lacked for apposite comment.  Like David Sedgwick’s at Comment Central, Charles Moore’s analysis at the Daily Telegraph could leave even the most sceptical reader in no doubt that Maitlis’ partisan monologue at the start of Tuesday 26 May’s Newsnight was a gross breach of BBC impartiality, (and so presumably must also have been a gross breach of her contract of employment?)

As Moore suggested, there was a dual purpose to Maitlis’ diatribe, which incidentally can’t be explained away as spontaneous: it was read from a teleprompter, so must have been pre-scripted, which therefore also means it must have been subject to BBC editorial control.  The first aim was simply to hector the audience, but the second, ancillary aim was to virtue-signal to Maitlis’ like-minded professional and social milieux, to reassure them that she too holds the ‘correct’ metropolitan left-‘liberal’ opinions prevalent in their circle.  

Less remarked on, though, was the hint of deception, or at least complicity in deception, by Maitlis’ colleagues and therefore, by inference, the BBC itself.  Remember, Maitlis had signed off from the Tuesday edition with the promise See you tomorrow‘; but, as speculation over the reason for her non-appearance on the following (Wednesday) evening’s edition grew, her Newsnight friend, colleague and Editor Katie Razzall tweeted thus:

But by 9.32.pm on that Wednesday evening, Razzall as Editor must surely have known what we the audience then didn’t, because it emerged publicly only on the Thursday morning: that the BBC, far from ‘suspending’ Maitlis, had in effect surrendered to her imperious demand to be given a night (in the end, two) off, because she was ‘furious’ at it for having the cheek actually to reprimand her, however gently (and inadequately), for her blatant breach of its impartiality requirement as her employer.  Razzall, therefore, looks to have taken the opportunity to appear supportive and principled, but in reality, was arguably just being disingenuous, if not two-faced.

As might have been predicted (and was probably inevitable), the ineffectiveness of the BBC’s excessively kid-gloves response was shown starkly only a few days later when Maitlis, far from being chastised, doubled-down and offered a repeat performance.       

Taking everything into account, the tweet below is hard to find fault with.

When Number Ten is reportedly ‘incandescent’ over Maitlis’ diatribes,  and 40,000 people went to the trouble of lodging a formal complaint about it with the BBC in a mere two days, it’s hard to imagine just how much more provocation Johnson’s Government actually needs before finally resolving to address the BBC question.  Yet, judging by Dowden’s limp reaction earlier in May, the answer seems to be: ‘quite a lot’.

At least on the timing of any action, a decision to keep the powder dry for the moment, looks sound.  It makes sense to keep the file labelled ‘BBC’ in the pending tray, albeit at the top, until COVID19 and Brexit are safely out of the way.  But then. . . .

Tactics, though, are all-important.  It was both misguided and inept of Dowden to restrict his remarks to the issue of lack of impartiality; the ‘bias’ allegation is by definition inherently subjective, and the Corporation has a range of strategies for deflecting and then smothering it, including enticing its critics into an endless ‘he said, but we said’ squabble, which ultimately gets nowhere.  For the Government to try and upbraid the BBC for its political bias is the non-military equivalent of fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.

Had the hapless Dowden been more astute, and even remotely serious, he would have threatened ‘Dear Tony‘ with immediate decriminalisation of non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, or even an urgent, unscheduled mid-period Charter Review to abolish it.  Instead, his entreaties were all smokescreen and displacement activity.

There is a much better route, and much stronger case, available based on the BBC’s iniquitous compulsory ‘licence-fee’.  It’s true that much of  the UK’s mainstream media, whether broadcast or print, is biased.  But the BBC is uniquely egregious on that score because we are forced on pain of fine or imprisonment to pay for it regardless of whether we want to consume its output or not: unlike, say, Sky News or The Times, where we can simply choose not to purchase their product, or cease subscribing to it.             

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant hit the nail on the head in linking the two, correctly saying that, unless the BBC rapidly both repudiates and eliminates the shamelessly partisan personal editorialising of the type epitomised by Maitlis on Newsnight, it cannot continue receiving any kind of coercive funding.  

Time, though, is running out.  On Monday 25 May, The Times reported the BBC’s proposal that the wealthy may in future be charged more for their TV licence.  This is outrageous, in the sense that no-one should be coercively charged anything for a product they don’t wish to consume, especially the deceitfully mis-labelled ‘TV-licence’ which is, in fact, a regressive poll-tax; but making ‘the wealthy’ pay more for it both reduces its regressivity and plays to class-envy, thus taking some of the sting out of the criticism of it as a concept.

The Maitlis episode as culmination of ever more flagrant BBC bias has given Johnson ample justification for pushing ahead with decriminalising non-payment of the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence fee’, on the wholly legitimate grounds that people of whatever means should not be forced to pay for this. With trust in the media being significantly lower, rarely can the circumstances have been so propitious.

But so they were, almost as much, over the period of the General Election and then formal exit from the EU in December and January.  Despite all the anti-BBC Boris-bluster then, nothing has actually been done, the ball has been dropped, and it needs to be picked up again. Don’t hold your breath, though. The danger has to be that, once again, the faux-‘Conservatives’ will back down.

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