We Must Re-Create The Brexit Movement

The Brexit Movement, prematurely wound down after the EU Referendum, needs re-creating to continue making the case for it, so as to keep pressure on the Government to deliver it.

Note: this is the long (and updated) version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17th November 2017.

Like many ConWom readers, I suspect, I spent the early dawn hours of Friday 24 June 2016 in a state of ecstatic semi-euphoria that the British people had ignored the pro-EU hectoring of the massed ranks of the New Establishment and their globalist backers, and had voted to leave the EU. It didn’t last very long.

Such was the furious reaction of the Remainer-Elites and their compliant media courtiers to their unexpected defeat that, before the day was out, I’d become convinced that while we had won the Referendum battle, we certainly hadn’t yet won the war, and that the celebrations of some, on the assumption that all that was needed to achieve Brexit had been done, were hubristic and perilously premature.

I even tweeted as much, as this selection from my Twitter timeline between early that Friday morning and late that evening shows (with apologies for the profanities…)

But sadly, this is precisely what happened after the Referendum. The Vote Leave campaign wound down: its principal Conservative politicians dived headlong into the internecine strife within their party from which its Remainers emerged predominant, while its successful CEO, Matthew Elliott, decamped to the Legatum Institute.

On the Leave-EU side of the Brexit movement, an insufferably bombastic and complacent Nigel Farage resigned as leader of UKIP to forge a new career in the media as the man who won the Brexit that hasn’t occurred yet. UKIP meanwhile has collapsed into virtual irrelevance after the two most credible replacements were seen off by the residual Farageistes, is now led by a non-entity, and is near-invisible. 

A couple of pro-Brexit campaign groups persist, but active mainly on social-media only. One of them, connected to the Leave-EU movement, has a website where it’s comparatively rare that the space taken up by the text of a blogpost actually exceeds the space taken up by images accompanying it. 

In effect, the loose coalition that delivered that historic vote by 17.4 million people to retrieve their sovereign nation-state popular democracy from supranational unaccountable-elite technocracy, and the communications infrastructure that made it possible, has all but dissolved.

It’s this article’s contention that this has been a catastrophic error: that developments,  not only since the Referendum generally but specificially more recently, are placing Brexit in ever-greater jeopardy: and that the Brexit movement needs to be re-constituted and go back on to a war footing, to fight for what the British people voted for, and even contest if need be the second referendum which I personally believe to be the Unreconciled Remainers’ end-objective.

Although the Leave coalition subsided, the Remain campaign never ceased. Unlike Vote Leave and Leave-EU, the pro-Remain Open Britain campaign has never wound down, and continues to make the anti-Brexit case.

Readers will recall the ugly post-Referendum orgy of anger and hatred directed by ‘liberal’ Remainers and their cheerleaders at Leave voters, the constant attempts by the academic and judicial elite to delegitimise the Referendum result, and the sometimes near-hysterical anti-democratic polemic of, to name only two egregious but typical examples, the philosopher A C Grayling and Labour MP David Lammy, so I need not reiterate them.

It intensified once again during the Gina Miller litigation designed to facilitate a majority pro-Remain House of Commons vetoing the Government’s Article 50 notification. But it lessened somewhat after Parliament voted by 494 votes to 122 to authorise the triggering of Article 50 by 31st March, and matters reached a sort of uneasy equilibrium.

But then came May’s ill-advised, mismanaged General Election. When she and the Conservatives were returned drastically weakened, the Continuity-Remain movement was re-invigorated and its political, civil service, media, academic and judicial channels have visibly stepped up their campaigning by several levels of magnitude. They’re making the running: they look increasingly confident that Brexit really can be stopped and the Referendum reversed, and a majority-Remain Government seems at best half-hearted in response.

Now the fight is intensifying even more with the tortuous passage through Parliament of the EU Withdrawal Bill. The parties of the pro-EU Left have made clear their intention to conduct a guerilla war against it, voting against even the clause setting out its overall purpose, aided by 15 or more Unreconciled-Remainer rebels on the Tory back benches, some with considerably less honourable motivations than others.

In passing, let’s dismiss the disingenuous platitudes so many of these utter about wishing to do no more than “improve” the Bill. In many cases, it’s self-serving cant. They want to keep us in the Single Market and Customs Union, and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice,  not out of genuine concern for our post-Brexit trade prospects or the position of UK-resident EU nationals, but to engineer either a Brexit-in-name-only, or one which is so close to EU membership that re-joining would seem like a logical step.

Many remain unreconstructed supporters of the EU Project and Britain’s submersion in it. It’s long been clear that, for them, the prime attraction of EU membership lies in is its very anti-democracy: it enables them to put as much policy-making and as many decisions as possible beyond the reach of what they see as the capricious domestic democratic process and an electorate whose views they by-and-large do not share and for whom they harbour a visceral contempt.

If some of the amendments being proposed already seem very technical and legalistic, be prepared: worse is yet to come. In this very detailed long-read published on 12th November at Brexit Central, Professor David Campbell of Lancaster University sets out how the legislative process of Brexit could become almost impenetrably bogged down in the morass of a quasi-constitutional conflict over the supremacy of the Judiciary, or Parliament.

It doesn’t look impossible that it could establish the supremacy of the Judiciary over that of Parliament. Just think what that would do to the prospects of Brexit happening at all. That partly explains, in my view why such an ardent anti-Brexiteer as Labour’s Keir Starmer is so keen to maintain the jurisdiction in post-Brexit Britain of the European Court of Justice.

Professor Campbell concludes that we may need an Assertion Of Parliamentary Sovereignty Act to make Brexit tamper-proof from judicial-activist usurpation of the powers of Parliament to implement the express instruction of the electorate.

If the EU Withdrawal Bill is set to have a rocky passage through Parliament, imagine how difficult it would be for a minority Government to push legislation, whose effect would be to prevent the pro-Remain Judiciary from blocking Brexit on constitutional grounds, through a marginally pro-Remain Commons and a majority pro-Remain despite unelected Lords.

Another potential complication emerged on 14th November, with a European Court of Justice ruling that EU citizens who become British do not lose the right to bring a non-EU spouse from a non-EU country to live with them in the UK. The continuing post-Brexit application of ECJ human-rights rulings is figuring strongly in debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill, so this is a further area where continued pro-Brexit advocacy is lacking.

May herself arguably opened a new front in the anti-Brexit campaign with her speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday 13th November. Yes, it is possible to interpret her remarks on Russian interference in Western elections as a desperate ploy to divert attention from her domestic travails: but it’s also possible to interpret it as a fresh attempt to de-legitimise by association the entire Brexit vote, especially the evening before the EU Withdrawal Bill was re-introduced into Parliament, with every prospect of the Unreconciled Remainers on her own back benches determined to vote it down on any pretext?

The signs are ominous. The EU is refusing to move on to talks about a post-Brexit trade relationship unless its exorbitant financial demands are agreed. Each UK concession on these is banked, not reciprocated, and met with merely a request for a larger sum. On 20th November, it even had the temerity to demand in effect an EU veto on UK domestic tax, environmental and business-regulatory policy after Britain has left the EU.    

Its intransigence is being encouraged by a UK media overwhelmingly hostile to Brexit and resolved to paint it in the worst possible light. Sir Humphrey, for whom Britain’s EU membership has been axiomatic for 40 years and thinks Brexit a monumental folly of crude populism-appeasement, is dragging his feet.

The Government is being forced by its weakness and wafer-thin, DUP-dependent, majority into unwanted concessions. It’s conceding votes in Parliament on aspects of Brexit which, with the clear instruction delivered by the Referendum result, should no longer be in play at all. In these circumstances, that it might, to win a crucial vote, concede a second Referendum, either on the terms of our exit, or even on the decision itself to leave, can’t in my view be ruled out.

If that comes about, the Remainers will have achieved what has been their prime objective – and also the EU’s, for it has an unsavoury record of ignoring plebiscites with unwelcome outcomes and requiring electorates to vote again and again until they come up with the “right” answer.

And then what? Unlike Vote Leave and Leave-EU, the pro-Remain Open Britain campaign has never wound down, and continues to make the anti-Brexit case. Continuity-Remain could gear-up for a second EU Referendum comparatively quickly. The money would come flooding in.

It’s victory, though, would be far from a foregone conclusion. Since June 2016, the electorate has seen the EU moving faster towards ever-greater integration and centralisation in ways the Remainers denied were even being contemplated. It’s seen how so many of the scaremongering predictions of Project Fear failed to materialise. A second Referendum could be won with another Leave vote.

But not without a campaign organisation. Even without a second Referendum, Brexit feels in enough danger to justify the reconstitution of the Leave coalition, if only to continue to make the case it made so effectively in the first half of 2016, and hold the Government’s feet to the fire. The Brexit movement needs to be re-created.

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The Academics and Socialism

Indoctrination of the university student and graduate population with the predominantly left-wing political attitudes prevailing in higher education has a growing effect on British elections

Note: this is the longer version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on 2nd October 2017.

Why”, asked Laura Perrins, Co-Editor of The Conservative Woman on 22 August, “should you risk sending your children to university for a full three years of left-wing propaganda?

For the parents of any young adult raised in a household even moderately inclined towards social conservatism, EU-withdrawal, a smaller state, lower taxes and free-market economics, this is an increasingly pertinent, even worrying, question.

Because, as Laura pointed out, after three years at an educational establishment which institutionally not merely disagrees with your views, but positively hates them and thinks they (and consequently you) are evil, your children will more than likely emerge from it thoroughly marinaded in left-wing thinking (and hating you in their turn).

The young’s voting patterns in recent election results certainly seem to bear this out. The YouGov analysis of voting by age group in the 2017 General Election shows that, in all three age-groups spanning the ages from 18 to 29, the Labour vote was over 60%.

Higher Education and Academe as a bastion of left-wing indoctrination is an impression that’s widely held. But to what extent is it true?

Fortunately, we have some empirical data from within the last two years. The chart below shows the results of a poll taken shortly before the 2015 General Election, asking for the voting intentions of UK University academics.

The responses leave little room for doubt. In no discipline did the intention to vote Labour drop below 40%, while you have to go as low as 20% in every academic discipline before encountering a voting intention other than Labour or Green.

Overall, the academics’ voting intention went 83% to the four main parties of the Left (Labour, LibDems, SNP and Green), while in the General Election proper, their vote share was only 47%. In other words, university-tenured academics inclined towards parties of the Left at a frequency nearly double that of the electorate as a whole.

A similar poll of UK academics’ voting intentions was conducted in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, by The Times Higher Education Supplement. Here, the results were even starker.

In no discipline was the intention to vote Remain below 80%, while in only one discipline, Engineering and Technology, did the intention to vote Leave break through the 15% threshold. As everyone now knows, the result was 52%-48% for Leave. Once again the academics leaned Remain-wards at a rate more than 1½ times that of the voting population.

So, on the face of it at least, the perception of the University experience as being an academic indoctrination process in Europhilia and Leftism has some evidential support. If you have the impression that your child has emerged from University brainwashed into an ardently-Europhile Leftist who hates you and everything you stand for, you’re probably right.

But what seems explored much more rarely is: why this should be so? Why should the supposedly academic and intellectual elite overwhelmingly incline towards leftist and statist parties and policies that concentrate decision-making power in bureaucracy rather than democracy, and reject those which favour liberal-individualism and free-market competition? And do so, moreover, at a incidence nearly double that found in the adult population as a whole?

Well, the first thing to remember is that this phenomenon isn’t new. Hayek analysed and excoriated it decades ago in his “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, famously referring to “the professional second-hand dealers in ideas”.

Politically, the Academic and Intellectual Elite has an aversion to capitalism and free-market competition because, being a system based on voluntary exchange reflecting consumer preferences, it doesn’t confer on them either the superior societal status or the monetary rewards to which they consider themselves entitled because of their (assumed) far superior intellect.

Arguably, Robert Nozick put it even better in his 1998 essay Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

“Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit.”

This is especially marked when they compare themselves with people successful in what, to them, is the rather grubby business of designing, producing and marketing products that people will voluntarily part with their hard-earned, post-tax cash to own. Think, for example, how much more popular in the public mind James Dyson is than A C Grayling. The old disdain for “trade” has crossed over from the Aristocratic Landed Elite to the Intellectual Academic Elite.

Consequently, the academics and intellectuals incline, politically, away from free-markets democracy towards the more collectivist politics of markets-averse, leftist-statist bureaucracy. Not only does it value them more than competitive free-market capitalism does: but it can also use the coercive power of the State, manifested via the taxation system, to enforce on wider society at least a financial recognition of their assumed superior intellect and desired superior status.

This also explains their near-homogeneous support for remaining in the European Union. Yes, academics and intellectuals do favour the EU as an additional source of funding. But because the EU is an essentially socialistic, authoritarian, top-down bureaucracy, they also view it as a means to impose on the UK the kind of Leftist policies which they themselves are attracted to, and without the necessity and inconvenience of obtaining popular democratic consent. Remember, as we saw in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, their opinion of the demos borders on contempt.

This leads to the next question. For how long do the academics’ and intellectuals’ pro-Left, pro-EU biases continue to influence their recipients’ voting behaviours after inculcation?

Conventional psephology held that most had grown out of their youthful flirtation with socialism by about 30, by which time advancing careers, along with marriage, family and mortgage responsibilities, had altered their perspective. Indeed, as late as April this year, a YouGov poll suggested that the Left-Right crossover point comes roughly at age 34.

However, the results of the 2017 General Election have forced a re-evaluation of that hypothesis. It seems that the Labour/Left voting tendency now persists for at least a decade beyond that. As the Ipsos MORI chart below shows, the phenomenon now extends well into the 40s, and that it’s only after 45 that a Conservative-leaning tendency starts to prevail.  

This seems to bear out what Iain Martin has recently written on “the widespread assumption among those aged below 45 that Tories or pro-market people are an inherently bad bunch with motives that are inherently evil”.

Perhaps, though, it could have been better predicted. Because the age distribution of voting patterns in the 2016 EU Referendum shows a similar pattern. Once again, it’s only at the 45-54 age group does Leave start to prevail over Remain.

Neither does this look to be a temporary aberration, attributable to the more fractious political atmosphere before, during and since the EU Referendum. The pattern seems to be persisting, and hardening. The Remain=Labour and Leave=Conservative assumptions are by definition somewhat crude proxies, but it does appear that an overall shift in age-related voting patterns may be taking root for the short-to-medium term at least.

As far as countering it is concerned, the first thing to remember is that this may not, after all, be so historically unprecedented, and so in the end be so permanent, as excitable media comment suggests.

Albeit not of the same magnitude, there have been similar trends observed before, as the chart below of under-30s percentage voting patterns in General Elections since 1964 shows. The under-30s Labour vote almost halved between 1964 and 1983, and again between 1997 and 2010.       

Under 30s support Lab & Con since 1964

However, that might be where the optimism ends, at least for the time being.

In 1983, the Conservative Party, though faced with a Labour opposition similar to Corbyn’s in its socialist programme, was itself ideologically committed to a smaller state, free markets and capitalism, and unafraid to take on its opponents publicly in the battle of ideas. In 2010, it benefited from a widespread disillusionment with the dysfunctional Brown government after 13 years of increasingly tawdry New Labour.

Today’s circumstances, however, are nowhere near so propitious. First, no-one under 50 has much, if any, memory of what life in Britain was like under the last real even semi-socialist government: and given the prevalence of left-wing attitudes in higher education, they may well not have been taught an accurate history of it. To under 50s who lean Left-wards, therefore, Corbynism, however flawed, can seem fresh and exciting. 

Far worse, though, is that, as has been so starkly shown this past week, the Conservative Party is mired in intellectual atrophy, apparently completely incapable of unashamedly making the case against state-socialism and for a lower-taxed, less-regulated and more entrepreneurial economy, capitalism and free markets. So ideologically-sapped, and so devoid of confidence, does it appear, that it is reduced to offering, almost apologetically, diluted versions of previous flagship Labour policies.

Unless the Conservative Party is jolted from its torpor by the prospect of impending ejection from office and replacement by the most disastrously socialist government since the Labour Party’s formation, then the left-wing ideological indoctrination of the young via higher education – and Laura was surely right in her original 22nd August article to suggest that one of Blair’s motives in greatly expanding university access was to expose more to it – will yield results, with dire consequences, not least for those welcoming it.

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The Tories Don’t Deserve To Win – Labour Deserves To Lose

Neither the Tories, with their statist, triangulating Manifesto, nor Labour, with its destructive socialist vision, deserve victory in this General Election

In a few hours, this General Election will be all over bar the results and their consequences.  Yet the usual anticipation of Election Night is muted by an almost palpable sense of relief at the approaching end of a campaign offering such a lacklustre, uninspiring choice.

For Theresa May and the Tories  it was supposed to be the Brexit Election: where, wanting both a bigger Parliamentary majority and her own popular mandate to implement it, she would offer a vision of a Britain mitigating the risks but also exploiting the advantages from recovering political and economic sovereignty.

Both, paradoxically, dictate some loosening of State and regulatory shackles on the economy, a facilitation of innovation and entrepreneurship: especially as the economy inevitably goes through a period of uncertainty and flux as powers are repatriated and trading relationships either reset or forged from new. But that isn’t what we’ve got.

The first intimations were reasonably heartening, But then came the Manifesto.

2017 Manifesto on Core Beliefs

Disparaging talk of “untrammeled free markets”, belief in “the good that government can do”, and abhorrence of “inequality”. The context leaves little room for doubt that the offer to voters is one of an interventionist State, concerned not so much with opportunities, but with outcomes.  

Further on, we are promised an Industrial Policy, a National Productivity Investment Fund, worker representation on boards, and a commitment to continue spending 0.7% of GDP on virtue-signalling foreign aid.

Finally, we get to this Greenery-gullible horror. Yet it accompanies a pledge to give British voters “the lowest energy costs in Europe”, notwithstanding that those two aims are mutually incompatible.

Worse still, it’s to be achieved, not by slashing Green taxes and encouraging more competition among energy providers via supply-side measures, but by capping prices: the same policy that, as recently as 2015, the Tories rightly damned as economically-illiterate when included in Labour’s election manifesto by Green-Left Red Ed Miliband.

So, in aggregate, a largely social-democratic policy programme, advocating a version of active-state Rhenish corporatism that would not look out of place in the manifesto of any milquetoast European Christian-Democratic party.

One can speculate endlessly on the reasons why. Possibly they lie in the fact that May is an instinctive paternalist (should that be “maternalist”, I wonder?) technocrat who’s unconvinced of, as Martin Durkin puts it, the potential of free markets to liberate and enrich.

Perhaps, because Labour has gone so far Left, she was persuaded that a Clinton-Blair style triangulation, with the Tories parking their tanks on “moderate” Labour’s lawn, would work electorally. Maybe she was afraid of frightening off the 2 or 3 million Labour voters who voted for Brexit and want to see it happen, and also the One-Nation tendency in her own party still looking for any excuse to derail Brexit. Who knows?

Then there’s been the campaign itself. May  – and it has been almost exclusively May, from battle-bus, through campaign literature, to media, and all points in between – has come across as by turns either robotically evasive, or uncomfortable and unconvincing when pressed on detail.

The forced U-turn on Social Care brought her campaigning deficiencies into sharp focus, but combine that with her natural somewhat leaden, flat-footed demeanour, plus a requirement to face an inquisitorial public & press far more often than she’s ever had to do before, and the result has been, not failure, but certainly sub-par performance.

Both she and her Party, have emerged from the campaign diminished, and not just in opinion-poll ratings, either. “Strong and Stable” has become something of a stick to beat her with. The whole thing has been rather insipid, disappointing, and very far from enthusing.

Consideration of Corbynite-Labour’s hard-Left manifesto need not take us as long. “Insipid” isn’t a description that could remotely be applied to it: “terrifying” or “economically-catastrophic” hardly begins to cover it, such is the red-in-tooth-and-claw programme that unrepentant socialist Jeremy Corbyn has in mind for the country.

The appalling consequences of a Corbyn-led Labour government have comprehensively dissected, with this by Andrew Lilico being merely one of the latest.   

As Lilico points out, fiscally and economically Labour would impose on Britain the highest level of taxation since World War II: the nationalisation, almost certainly without compensation, of the most important industries: a return to widespread (and excess) unionisation: deliberately punitive taxes on financial services designed specifically to deter private capital: and the effective collectivisation of private business property through imposing public interest duties inimical to both private property rights and commercial interest.

Moving from the general to the particular, just one example can suffice to show hard-Left Corbynism’s economic wrong-headedness. Despite favouring continued uncontrolled mass immigration, Labour proposes to deal with the housing shortage by a price-cap on new houses.  

All that that is likely to achieve is a shortage of new houses. If Labour really wanted to boost the supply of low-cost new houses, it would pledge to ease planning restrictions, not threaten to impose State price and even purchaser – priority to State employees, naturally – controls on builders. 

Non-economically, a Corbyn-led Labour government would see restrictions on the police, the reduction of the Army to a notional force only, and the withdrawal of Britain from its role in international security.

And this before even considering the implications of Corbyn’s 30+-year record of not only sympathy but vocal backing for all manner of anti-British, anti-Western groups, including those engaged in active terrorism, even on British soil.

And thus we come to the end of a singularly uninspiring campaign on what should have been the most important election in Britain for decades. The great issue for which it was ostensibly called to reinforce has been barely discussed beyond trite soundbites and banal generalities.

Hard-Left Labour certainly deserves to lose this election, and lose it heavily: but the Conservatives, on their manifesto and especially on their stuttering and lacklustre campaign, really don’t deserve to win it, either.

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From Shoe-In to Toss-Up

Via the ineptitude of its candidate, and hostility from its residual Farageistes, UKIP has managed to convert the Stoke Central by-election from a virtual one-way shoe-in into an uncertain three-way toss-up.

On the face of it, UKIP’s choice of candidate to contest the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election caused by the resignation of Labour’s Tristram Hunt should have been obvious, and uncomplicated.

Here was a constituency where, on the best available estimate, the Leave vote in the EU Referendum was a massive 69.4%: where the voters hadn’t returned a Conservative MP in decades: where there was widespread disaffection with a Labour Party dominated by London-centric Metropolitan New-Leftism rather than traditional working-class empathy: and where UKIP put up a very creditable showing at the 2015 General Election.

stoke-ge-2015-results-pcsIt’s worth examining that latter result in more detail. UKIP came from 5th in 2010 on a measly 1.1%, to 2nd in 2015 on 22.7% with an 18.3 swing to it. In a General Election where the Conservatives achieved among their highest-ever number of seat gains, they didn’t even manage to come 2nd in Stoke Central, being pipped by UKIP into 3rd place.

This surely should have suggested UKIP re-selecting its 2015 candidate, Mick Harold, to contest the seat. As a Stoke Councillor, Chairman of UKIP’s Stoke branch, and Deputy Chairman of its Staffordshire County Committee, he appeared to have experience plus an established public profile, in both local government and local party, strong enough to stand a real chance of taking the seat from Labour.

And a real chance, moreover, not only on his own merits. Because Labour had selected, to try and retain its Stoke Central seat, the execrably foul-mouthed, mendacious, misogynistic Gareth Snell, most notable, among a string of other gaffes, for describing Brexit as “a pile of shit” to his own Brexit-voting constituency, and arguably the most repellent Labour candidate that even seasoned commentators can remember.

snell-stoke-tweet-gaffes-compEnter, however, UKIP’s recently-elected new Leader, Paul Nuttall. Already an elected UKIP MEP in the European Parliament, it’s an intriguing, albeit ultimately futile, exercise to speculate on what Nuttall’s real motives were.

Perhaps he genuinely felt the party leader belonged in Westminster, not in Brussels/Strasbourg. Perhaps he wanted to show that, within only months of being elected, he could do what Nigel Farage never managed to do in all his years as Leader, namely, win a House of Commons seat. Perhaps he saw a Westminster seat as a convenient replacement for his Brussels/Strasbourg one when the UK exits the EU before the next European Parliament elections in 2019. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, though, Nuttall decided to seek UKIP’s candidature, and was duly selected. Whether Harold was “persuaded” to stand aside, or did so entirely voluntarily, as his statement on it insists, is perhaps another intriguing subject for speculation.

Nuttall, though, is a clown. It didn’t take long for the first evidence to surface, in the shape of the now-infamous Hillsborough imbroglio, when Nuttall claimed to have lost “close personal friends” in the disaster. 

nuttall-hillsborough-website

Had the final paragraph merely read “…when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.”, his statement would still have been – and rightly so – a searing condemnation of the Government’s obfuscation of key facts relevant to determining blame. It did not lack power. It did not need the addition of the “including close personal friends of mine” to give it extra force. So whatever persuaded him to add such an unnecessary, self-serving, and easily-verifiable-as-untruthful embellishment? As so often, over-egging the pudding merely leaves the chef with egg on his face.

Following that, we had the “new address” fiasco. Even if, as claimed, Nuttall’s original move to Stoke was delayed because of a vacancy / chain issue, why was the necessity for a Stoke address not resolved the minute Nuttall indicated an interest in the constituency? Is it such a rental hotspot? And how inept is it to allow one’s self to be photographed quite clearly camping out in a hastily newly-acquired “home”? No journalist worth their salt, however un-biased, could fail to run with a “carpetbagging” narrative in those circumstances.

nuttall-bolton-2017Then there’s the missing weekend. Despite it being the last weekend of campaigning before the Thursday 23rd February polling day, Nuttall was apparently AWOL from Stoke for most of it, attending the UKIP Spring Conference in Bolton, where he made a somewhat bizarre “They will not break me”-themed speech.

Was his attendance in person really necessary, Party Leader or not, on the last weekend before a crucial by-election? Could a speech to Spring Conference via video-link not have been arranged? Or was it vital, despite the risk to the by-election campaign, to prevent Farage in effect taking over the Conference? 

To be fair, it hasn’t all been of Nuttall’s own making. Most of the so-called “independent” Press has been its usual homogeneously ‘liberal’-left biased, pro-EU self, determined to report in a bad light any policies, or parties, outside what’s deemed to be the acceptable Overton Window of British politics. But it’s also inescapable that the inept, bumbling Nuttall has given it a cornucopia of material to work with.

There is, however an additional factor. The friendly-fire, the blue-on-blue incoming from the Farageiste Falange.

2017-02-22-banks-hillsborough-compThe “Hillsborough” furore had largely died down by last week, the narrative having run its course and the last drop of press mileage having been squeezed out of it: until, that is, Arron Banks, major UKIP funder but also, I’d suggest, eminence grise of the Farageistes, tweeted a reference to Hillsborough having been an “accident”.

Whatever Hillsborough was or wasn’t, it certainly wasn’t an accident: and though subsequent Banks tweets have correctly referred to it as a disaster, that has been enough to revive the entire controversy to Nuttall’s detriment: as have the allusions to Banks being “sick of hearing about it”. Given Nuttall’s Merseyside origins, it’s difficult to believe the choice of the word “accident” was itself accidental.

Hard on the heels of that, at UKIP’s Bolton Spring Conference, came Farage’s “helpful” intervention that “Nuttall must win Stoke”, and that a win in the by-election there is “fundamental to the party’s future”. You might think this is a bit rich coming from an ex-Leader who serially failed to get elected as an MP, but we’ll let that pass.

What it does, of course, is to make Nuttall’s position as Leader hostage to electoral fortune, and imply that, should he fail, his leadership is inimical to UKIP’s future electoral prospects. Or, put another way: all other candidates having now been eliminated, Farage fancies yet another crack?

So what has been the cumulative effect of all this? As of early evening Wednesday 22 February, and per Ladbrokes, Labour are back as 4/7 favourites, despite having been seemingly been behind for much of the campaign: UKIP have drifted out to 2/1, having previously been favourites: and the Conservatives have come from nowhere to be at 7/1 and talking up their own chances of pulling off a surprise . Yes, in Stoke.

stoke-odds-1838-wed-23feb17Quite how UKIP has managed to achieve this, after starting out from a position of apparently unassailable advantage, almost beggars belief. In the space of a few short weeks, and having been initially blessed with what were, for it, virtually the most favourable circumstances imaginable, it’s converted what should have been a foregone conclusion into a very close-run thing.

That Labour could pull it off, with a victory for by far the foulest candidate, standing for by far the least-deserving party, is an appalling prospect. But if so, UKIP will have no-one to blame but itself.

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I Wasn’t Wrong. I Just Underestimated.

In my March 2015 prediction of the tenor and conduct of the EU Referendum, if anything, I underestimated just how dirty it would be.

Back in March 2015, I wrote an article for fellow-Brexiteer Ben Kelly over at The Sceptic Isle, on how the EU Referendum, whenever it came, would play out. (Ben has archived it, so I can’t link to it, but fortunately I kept a Word copy of it).

The first part of the piece was a prediction of how the referendum would be conducted. Here it is:

“Whenever it comes, the EU Referendum campaign will undoubtedly be the dirtiest and most deceitful plebiscite ever seen in Britain. For the EU-enthusiasts disproportionately represented in opinion-influencing circles, there is simply too much at stake for it not to be.

For them, an OUT vote means a popular re-affirmation of the democratic, sovereign nation-statehood they have spent almost their entire adult lives repudiating. It means a national rejection of the centre-leftish, universalist, democracy-bypassing supranationalism of unelected elites, which they believe is the necessary civilising antidote to the unpredictable caprices of robust, accountable one-country pluralism.

The overwhelmingly EU-phile politico-media establishment, including the three main legacy parties, will exaggerate the supposed benefits and advantages of EU membership, and simultaneously downplay or suppress its drawbacks. There will be massive scaremongering to overstate, in wildly dramatic fashion, the alleged risks of exit, whether to UK jobs, economic growth, ease of travel, or even our much-vaunted but much less evident “influence”.

Even in the 2014 EU Parliament elections, we saw the readiness of the EU-phile movement to retail the risible “3m jobs at risk” meme, and the media’s willingness to boost it, despite its evident falsehood. The personal smearing of advocates for withdrawal will be constant, and vicious. It will be a media negative-propaganda campaign such as we have never before seen.

Hand-in-glove with the media will be what will be trailed as “the voice of business” – more accurately, the voice of big business and its representative organisations like the CBI, which benefits most from the crony-corporatism that the EU exemplifies. Big business values the EU for the competitive advantage it brings: large firms have sufficient size and economies of scale to absorb the mountains of EU regulation and attendant compliance costs that both deter new entrants and cripple their smaller, nimbler competitors. They will do everything to maintain that advantage.

Meanwhile, pro-EU campaign groups and third-sector “charities” and quangos will be vocal in support of EU membership and its alleged benefits as never before. Our emotions will be assaulted by heart-rending warnings of hardship and unfairness to recipients of charity if EU regulations cease to apply on exit.

The anti-exit movement will be backed by massive financial support, not least from the EU itself. For the EU, the stakes in a UK exit referendum being held at all are huge – remember, the entire European super-state project is predicated philosophically on the historical inevitability of ever-closer union – but the risks to the EU from that referendum delivering a UK exit are incalculable.

Britain would be the first major country, and economy, to resile from the project. Not only would it take its contributions with it, but it would almost certainly tempt others to follow. The possibility of it being the thin edge of the wedge, and the first step in the breakup of the entire edifice, could not be discounted.

The extent of EU funding which has been funnelled to the BBC and the CBI is well-known.

BBC CBI comp

But the EU has also been quietly suborning civic society, and even local government, with EU funding, for many years. The recipients cannot be expected to do other than campaign vociferously for its continuation. The EU will pour money into the pro-EU, anti-exit campaign – because its own very survival could be at stake.

History shows, too, that the status quo exerts a strong voter pull in referenda, and that voting intention in favour of the status quo actually hardens as polling date approaches. Dangling before the electorate the idea that the intended change represents a risky leap into the unknown unfortunately works.”

The purpose behind this quick post isn’t to gloat, or to say “See, I told you so!” I’d much rather I’d been completely wrong, and that after a robust but more-or-less civilised campaign on the substantive issues, Britain was now irreversibly on course for a Brexit vote.

It’s just to record ruefully, not that I was right, but that I underestimated the depths to which the Government, the mainstream political parties (albeit with some honourable exceptions within them) and the Remain Campaign would sink – or perhaps that should be dive.

But the cynical, shameless exploitation, by all, of the MP Jo Cox’s murder, culminating in what Conservative Woman‘s Laura Perrins rightly calls something that should go down in the political handbook of infamy, plumbs depths of ethical depravity and turpitude even I could not have imagined.

That Britain now seems about to commit what will arguably the greatest act of national self-destruction of the Modern Era is bad enough. That it should do so as a result of being susceptible to baseness of this magnitude is profoundly depressing.

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Why The Red Lights All Show Green

In theory, Environmentalism ought to be a conservative, or at least apolitical, philosophy: but, in its politicised Climatism mutation, it’s been captured and exploited by the Left and Centre-Left, as a means to pursue Leftist ends 

Between small-“c” conservatism, especially in its classical Burkean tradition, and environmentalism in that word’s true, literal sense, there should, on the face of it, be a natural philosophical affinity.

Burkean conservative thought holds that society makes better progress, and simultaneously better preserves its legacy for future generations, not by the tearing-down of its structures and customs in orgies of radical, revolutionary fervour: but by preserving and perpetuating, though also adapting, established social, political and cultural institutions that have stood the test of time.

Englands green & pleasant landIt contends that the environment in which we find ourselves, not only the social, economic and cultural but also the physical, is not ours exclusively to re-make afresh solely out of desire to indulge the narcissism of the immediate, or even just to satisfy present needs; that we are not its absolute, unfettered owners, but trustees, stewards and custodians: that the corollary of societal betterment is an obligation to safeguard for those who have gone before the inheritance which they bequeathed to us, and in turn to pass it on as our legacy to generations yet unborn.

On this argument, then, environmentalism – in that word’s true, literal, sense – should be primarily a concern of philosophical conservatives – even its “conservation” synonym suggests as much.

Yet, because of the well-documented hijacking of the environmental movement by the hard-Left following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s now across that part of the ideological spectrum that spans from far/hard-Leftism to Cameroon ‘Liberal’-Centrism where the new politicised Environmentalism predominates.

cover climatism steve gorehamA better name for it than “Environmentalism” is Climatism, after Steve Goreham’s excellent book of the same name, debunking its dubious scientific claims and political prescriptions. It bears little resemblance to Environmentalism in its original, true, conservation-oriented roots: Climatism is its mutation into the more familiar, stridently-collectivist, statist, anti-capitalist, intolerant-of-dissent, authoritarian secular Green Religion – eco-socialism, eco-fascism, eco-communism, or whatever specific eco-variety of Leftism one cares to assign it.

And so, unsurprisingly, it’s politicians ranging from Hard-Left to ‘Liberal’-Centre – perhaps we should just call them Climatists as convenient shorthand, to save time agonising over whether they’re eco-socialists, eco-fascists, eco-communists, or just eco-opportunists – who seem regularly to place the most reliance on it, to justify almost anything. As can be seen from merely a quick selection from the UK political scene in the last month or so.

natalie bennett green party spring conf 2016First out of the traps, as you might expect, are those über-Climatists, the Green Party. In her keynote speech to its 2016 Spring Conference, leader Natalie Bennett employed well-worn Climatism-misanthropic memes to bemoan both the availability of relatively-inexpensive, reliable energy, and the greater mobility and travel opportunities which our 21st century prosperity has brought within the reach of vast numbers:

“The government is encouraging, subsidising, the frackers, the oil-drillers, the destructive open-cut coal miners. It’s promoting new roads and new airport runways”

Not content with that, Bennett went on to propose in effect  State control, not merely of monetary policy, but money creation itself, and also its deployment into the economy:

“We must build a future with a new system of money creation that puts resources into the real economy rather than casino finance”  

Red Ed pro-EU speech Mar 16But here, for example, adducing Climatism to advocate Britain’s continued membership of the EU, is Labour’s Red (or rather, Green-Left) Ed Miliband – progenitor of arguably the most damaging piece of legislation ever passed by Parliament, and written at his invitation by Friends Of The Earth’s deep-Green ideologue Bryony Worthington, the 2008 Climate Change Act – in his recent pro-Remain speech:

“That’s why we need to be in the European Union. Take the most important threat of all: climate change. It just isn’t realistic to think one country can do this on its own. It’s only EU legislation that is forcing any action from this Government”

There are, incidentally, at least three blatant falsehoods contained in those short four sentences, but for the purposes of this argument, we’ll let that pass.

Jezza Corbyn straight talkingHere too, this time enlisting Climatism in the cause of State-directed investment, control of markets, and curbs on business freedom, is Labour’s Hard-Left leader Jeremy Corbyn:

“We need a state that invests. This means we can shape markets and shape the goods they produce. All of this must be driven by democracy in the production of energy.”

Tim Farron Spring Conf 2016Now, also embracing Climatism to justify a vote to stay in the EU, comes Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, in his speech to the party’s Spring Conference:

“We face vast international challenges: climate change, the refugee crisis, a global economy. Do we best tackle these together or on our own? We are stronger together. We are Stronger In.”

aileem mcleod snp spring conf 2016Next up, citing Climatism as justification for greater wealth redistribution and overseas aid, administered and dispensed at one remove from full democratic accountability and control, is the SNP’s Scottish Government “Climate-Change” Minister, (suitably-attired in Green, naturally) Aileen McLeod:

“We have doubled the innovative Climate Justice Fund, a global first that is supporting some of the world’s poorest communities to deal with the impact of climate change”

Nicky Morgan 4

Finally, impeccably metropolitan-Cameroon ‘Liberal’-Centrist Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, blatantly and desperately recruiting Climatism as a helper to try and win over the self-appointed trendy and the youth vote in the Government’s increasingly flailing and fear-mongering campaign to keep Britain in the EU, in her pro-Remain speech of 29 March:

“Whether it’s tackling poverty or protecting the environment and tackling climate change, young people know that our voice and impact are magnified by playing a leading role through the EU” 

It’s nigh-on impossible not to be struck by the remarkable, and consistent, similarity between many of the prescriptions advanced by Climatism and the Climatists, and policies that are recognisable Hard-Left, Centre-Left and even ‘Liberal’-Centrist shibboleths, but for which they struggle to gain popular consent if advanced openly via the normal democratic process. To document the main ones:

Democracy-bypassing supranationalism.

Unlike UKIP and the Conservative Right, all the parties referenced explicitly favour removing swathes of public-policy decision-making away from domestic dependency on voter consent to mainly unelected, unaccountable, anti-democratic supranational bureaucracies.

The SNP knows its peculiar variety of nationalist state-socialism, while presently-dominant in Scotland, has minimal, if any, political traction south of the border. The LibDems and the Greens are psephologically near-irrelevant. Labour, in its post-Blairite iteration and despite its lip-service platitudes, has never really trusted democracy to back its policies since its three successive shattering defeats of the 1980s. The currently-reigning social-democratic, paternalist, ‘liberal’-Cameroon wing of the Conservatives openly disdains the Party’s robust classical-liberal pluralists.

Club of Rome New Enemy quote

To all of these, the attraction of ensuring the implementation of electorally-unobtainable policy, by re-locating its origination and direction well away from vulnerability to democratic rejection, is irresistible. And what better ostensible justification for it could there be than the supranational regionalist or even globalist eco-stewardship they assert is inseparable from Climatism?

Thus, their near-unanimous support for, in particular, Britain’s continued EU membership, with its incipient pan-EU supranational energy-union and emissions-trading scheme which Green campaign groups still insist is not climate-policy at all, but a neo-industrial policy.

Greater State control of monetary policy, economy and markets.

Hard-Left Labour and the Greens are at least quite open about it. Between them, they overtly intend, in the name of Climatism, a much more economically-interventionist and controlling State: one that not only usurps control of monetary policy from an independent central bank, but also inclines towards almost directing producers what to produce and even consumers what to buy. As near to Soviet-style central planning, in fact, as the West has seen since that model’s deserved ignominious collapse in failure in the 1980s.

But they’re by no means alone. All the featured parties favour more State involvement in the economy to some degree or other, and in some way or other. Think of the LibDems’ Green Investment Bank: the Cameroons’ risibly ill-designed and ill-fated Green Deal: and the eco-benefits claimed by Osborne to justify his ludicrously-expensive and crony-corporatist deal with EFD and China over the Hinkley Point nuclear power facility.

Higher Taxes.

Climatism offers ample opportunities with which to justify the increase in the State’s overall tax take, and therefore its share of national GDP, that so beguiles the hard-Left, the Fabian “Progressives”, and the paternalist ‘Liberal’-Centrists alike. Beguiles them, because common to them all are the Left-ish –

  1. assumption of the State as indispensable and irreplaceable enabler:
  2. conviction that the State really does know better than the citizen how his money should be spent: and
  3. innate distrust of leaving wealth, as Gladstone put it, to “fructify in the pockets of the people”.

Higher eco-taxes on petrol and diesel, in addition to excise duty and VAT, which mean that tax of one kind or another accounts for up to 70% of the pump price. Green levies and taxes aimed at “carbon” reduction, to be recouped from domestic consumers, and which load their energy bills by up to 15%. Environmental obligations imposed on businesses, but which inevitably have to be passed on to the purchasers or consumers of their products in higher prices. Air Passenger Duty, supposedly a targeted incentive for reduced “carbon” emissions, but in reality an indiscriminate, scatter-gun, catch-all tax on overseas holidays and business.

These aren’t direct taxes, in the sense that they’re visible deductions from monthly or weekly pay-slips: they’re more insidious, in that they’re indirect, or hidden, secondary-effect, stealth taxes. But here’s the sting – they still come out of the poor taxpayer’s same wallet or bank account, and they still wind up in the same Treasury till for disposing by the State that, remember, knows best. Leftists of all persuasions love that.

Forced Income and Wealth Redistribution.

Climatism’s high apostles make no secret of the redistributive aims of the secular Green Religion. Here, for example, are Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, and former Canadian Environment Minister, Christine Stewart: they make no attempt to conceal the true, socialist-redistributive objectives of globally-directed, nation-state democracy-immune Climatism.Edenhofer-Stewart comp 2

It doesn’t require a great leap of the imagination to discern the same sentiments in Bennett’s “putting resources into the real economy”, or the SNP’s “Climate Justice” Fund: as Friedman, especially, shows us, any movement with “Justice” as its suffix is almost unfailingly in reality a campaign for wealth/income abstraction and redistribution via State-coercion. And the universal support among our chosen Party luminaries for Britain’s continuing EU membership is a pointer, too: the EU seeks ever-more control over member-states’ economic and fiscal policies, with greater distribution explicitly included in its aims.

Curtailment of Personal Freedom.

The broad church that constitutes the Left in its widest sense distrusts individual liberty: philosophically, it remains in thrall to the Rousseauian concept of the human born pure but corrupted by his surroundings: to the inherent perfectibility of human society, given only sufficient power residing in the hands of the State. Climatism furnishes myriad openings to justify the extension of restrictions on personal freedom – and in how noble and incontrovertible a cause! – nothing less than the salvation of the planet itself.

Thus the increasing exhortations against flying (remember the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, equating flying to Spain on holiday with murder by stabbing?), and the public implicit shaming of those whom the self-appointed arbiters of eco-propriety deem to have exceeded their allocated entitlement: the vocal disapproval of food choices on the laughably-flawed “logic” of grazing-space or food-miles: the drive to install smart-meters or third-party control systems into private homes to monitor, and even remotely-curb, energy consumption.

 Intolerance and Suppression of Dissent.

Few political movements have exhibited the vicious intolerance of dissent from the Green orthodoxy for which Climatism is, rightly, reviled – with the possible exception, that is, of those found in totalitarian states.

Dispute the received wisdom, that the mere 3% of atmospheric CO2 that results from human activity is catastrophically dangerous while the residual 97% that results entirely from natural climatological phenomena somehow isn’t, and you will be met, not with an attempted explanation (because there isn’t one, apart from the basic premise being wrong), but ad-hominem abuse, usually including an adverse judgment or three disparaging your moral worth as well as your motives.

Challenge why global average temperatures have been flat for 19 years despite continued rising atmospheric CO2, and you will be called, not an adherent to Popper’s Scientific Method, but the catch-all insult of “denier” – which is quite rich, considering that Climatists, to cling to the Green Orthodoxy, are themselves forced to deny 4½ billion years of more or less constant climate change, ever since the Earth’s formation, and often far more dramatic than any over which Climatism professes to agonise.

Confront the quaint notion that increased floods from (entirely natural) climate change are better prevented, not by improving flood defences but subsidising inefficient, expensive renewables off the backs of the poor’s energy bills, and you will be treated, not with discussion but with ferocious scorn and derision (but little else).

This is pure Leftist technique, the late 20th/early 21st century manifestation of what’s in Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals (from which Obama, incidentally, draws so much of his inspiration). “Your views are so self-evidently morally-repugnant (alternative: “driven solely by greed“)”, goes the Leftist narrative, “that they absolve me from any obligation even to debate the issue with you at all, especially as my aims are noble and altruistic, so that their ends in any case justify whatever means are required to realise them“. It’s called Shutting Down The Argument. Leftists (and Climatists) deploy it routinely.

None of this multi-faceted consistency of aims and policies between Leftism and Climatism should surprise, given the historical circumstances in which they came together. The 1989 collapse of Soviet-style communism and the end of the Cold War deprived the Left almost overnight of the models – economic, cultural, societal and geo-political – which for 70 years it had revered as inspiration for and validation of its state-authoritarian, collectivist, anti-capitalist, anti-Western philosophy.

The nascent environmental movement was the ideal candidate to replace it. It offered, not just an alternative justification for totalitarian-inclined, anti-capitalist, anti-Western, anti-freedom disaffection, but one with an even wider potential: this time, the oppressed victims, deemed to be in need of salvation from exploitation and subjugation by liberty, capitalism and free-markets, were not merely the downtrodden working-class masses: they were humanity in its entirety, and even the Earth itself.

Green New Red 3As described and referenced above, the takeover of the environmental movement by the hard-Left proceeded over the next 10 years or so, and it continues to this day, to the extent that Green and Socialist policies and outlooks are now virtually indistinguishable from each other on the Left of the politico-ideological spectrum.

It’s why the prescriptions advanced by and in the name of the secular Green Religion of Climatism bear such an uncanny, but strictly non-accidental resemblance to what Leftist political-economy has long advocated. Green really is the New Red. The red lights of politics, from the palest tinge of pink to the deepest shade of crimson, are all showing Green.

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The Heseltine Fascination

Chancellor George Osborne’s enduring deference to Michael Heseltine’s 1970s model of state-crony corporatism will lead to poor policy, regionally and nationally

Osborne budget boxUnderstandably, most of this week’s post-Budget reaction focussed on two things – Osborne’s continuing failure to ameliorate Britain’s worsening structural fiscal position, and the introduction of the illiberal (and almost certain to be largely-ineffective) sugar tax.

Less noticed, however, was how two Osborne announcements reveal, not only his ongoing attachment to the 1970s-style state-crony corporatism epitomised by (Lord) Michael Heseltine, but even his enduring fascination for Heseltine himself.

The first instance came just after Osborne’s reference to the Greater London Authority moving towards full retention of its business rates. He added:

“Michael Heseltine has accepted my invitation to lead a Thames Estuary Growth Commission and he will report to me with its ideas next year.”

To anyone familiar with the history of Heseltine’s political-economy, this should have rung warning bells. First, the very name “Thames Estuary Growth Commission” itself carries connotations of the semi-bureaucratic, state-interventionist, “Government picking winners” model of infrastructure development that Heseltine has long so admired (and of which more later).

ebbsfleet-map 2014 v3Second, it recalled Osborne’s previous, and underwhelming, foray into Thames Estuary development. In the 2014 Budget, he announced, to the now habitual fanfare, that “Britain’s first Garden City in 100 years”, including 15,000 houses, would be built at Ebbsfleet. Critics, however, soon pointed out that a mere 15,000 houses hardly amounts to a Garden City, plus the inconvenient fact that Ebbsfleet itself, sitting on a flood-plain with an average height of just 2 metres above sea level, bordering the Thames Estuary, might be a, shall we say, less-than-ideal site for a new Garden City.

 Two years later, just 65 of the planned 15,000 houses have been built.

Then, shortly afterwards, Osborne named-checked the National Infrastructure Commission (beginning to sound familiar?) which he’d established under the aegis of the Treasury last year, and proclaimed the following:

“They recommend much stronger links across northern England. So we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds”

HS3 would, of course, be an extension of HS2, which is itself far from certain to go ahead, being mired in controversy:

  • Its projected cost has risen inexorably from even the risibly-low estimate of £50 billion once peddled unconvincingly by the Government, which, astonishingly, excluded off-balance-sheet costs.
  • It would have to be funded almost exclusively by borrowing, when the National Debt is already £1.5 trillion and rising.
  • HS2 IEA WellingsIts claims for economic regeneration of the North are dubious.
  • It is, and is likely to remain, beset by planning approval disputes and housing-blight claims, for years.
  • Its claimed service improvements could be met by lower-cost alternatives.

HS2’s flaws were comprehensively and forensically exposed by Dr Richard Wellings’ 2014 paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Heseltine Infrastructure CommissionTurn now to Osborne’s National Infrastructure Commission itself. Who does one find adorning the ranks of its Commissioners? Why, none other than ……. Michael Heseltine.

Heseltine was recruited into the Treasury, with Osborne’s approval, to “advise” on infrastructure development and urban renewal, because of his 2012 report “No Stone Unturned In Pursuit Of Growth” that purported to be a putative blueprint for stimulating economic growth.

In its 89 recommendations, however, over 80 of which the Coalition accepted, it presented in miniature a picture of the interventionist-government corporatist state of the 1960s and 1970s: the decades in which Heseltine cut his political teeth, and for which its practitioners could, despite its manifest flaws, conceive no alternative.

It showed that Heseltine remains an unrepentant apologist and enthusiast for Big Government: that his vision for stimulating economic growth is one of national industrial policy, governmental top-down oversight, regional-quango consensus investment, local council-level enterprise partnerships with spending grants. For Heseltine, Adam Smith’s invisible hand must, it seems, be subsumed within multiple layers of statist-corporatist glove.

Heseltine no stone unturnedHis is an approach that instinctively eschews solutions based on economic liberalisation, deregulation and free markets: like regional pay to mitigate any crowding-out effect of nationally-set pay rates, especially in the public sector, on local job opportunity uptake: like encouraging more non-State free schools and academies, with the freedom to adjust their curricula to make them attractive to students who will be seeking employment in the area: and like, above all, unblocking the planning process in which so many developments can get bogged down.

He appears to favour what he termed “growth funds” being allocated through new Local Enterprise Partnerships. But given that the money would come from people and businesses via the tax system in the first place – Government has no money of its own – quite why government and the local quangocracy would be better judges of investment potential than savers, investors and businesses themselves was not explained. Not much of Gladstone’s enjoinder to let money “fructify in the pockets of the people” there.

Heseltine’s recommendations were roundly criticised at the time by a Professor of Economic Geography at the LSE(!), no less, as “a return to policies, many of them not particularly successful, that were developed in different times, to tackle different challenges”. It’s difficult to suggest these words don’t equally apply in 2016.

The FT’s Janan Ganesh wrote in late 2012 that Heseltine’s prescription for encouraging infrastructure development was very much a Gaullist vision. This still resonates: Heseltine’s vision is more akin to France’s state-dirigisme of Les Grands Prôjets: yet it’s in France where the State’s share of GDP persists at an unsustainably-high 50+%, unemployment is at levels not seen for two decades, and competitiveness continues to fall.

osborne delivers budget 16mar16Osborne’s reverence for Heseltine is misguided, and counter-productive. To stimulate the infrastructure growth of the future, Britain needs, not reheated 1970s-style regional industrial policy predicated on state-interventionism, but a comprehensive supply-side revolution. We need a smaller state, lower, simpler and flatter taxes, less-onerous workplace regulation, a freer and more responsive education system, and a major reform of planning law.

Sadly though, while we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer so ideologically in hock to Heseltine’s state-crony corporatism, that will remain an impossible dream.

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The Incredible Shrinking Chancellor

Formerly seen – not least by himself – as a master strategist and astute political operator, George Osborne’s authority is eroding before our eyes

“Events, dear boy, events”, former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is reputed to have replied when asked to predict the factor most likely to derail his political plans. He meant “the unexpected”: in modern political parlance, the “unknown unknowns” that can, and almost always do, erupt, unforeseen, seemingly out of nowhere, to blow the most carefully-crafted plans off course.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne could be forgiven for spending more time than usual ruefully recalling Macmillan’s remarks at the moment. Because, since the start of 2016, his plans for his own political advancement have been derailed spectacularly, to an extent which, on 1st January, he can surely scarcely have imagined. Yes, partly by some of those unknown unknowns: but, ironically, also by his own blunders. His stature and authority are crumbling astonishingly, virtually on a daily basis.

Osborne with shadesYet, contemplated from Osborne’s New Year’s Day breakfast table, 2016 must have looked satisfyingly promising. First, Budget Day on 16 March would give him the opportunity to continue the centre-leftwards tack started in his 2015 Autumn Statement, designed to capitalise politically on Corbynite Labour’s charge towards hard-Leftism, by hoovering up disaffected Blairites and Labour moderates into the Cameroon social-democracy-leaning Big Tent.

Second, David Cameron would round off his tour of European capitals pressing for EU reforms at the Brussels EU Heads of Government Summit over the weekend of 19-21 February. True, he’d return with only trifling and essentially cosmetic reforms. But, accompanied by some lurid Brexit-alarmism, a Cabinet united in campaigning for Remain, and a “helpful” media narrative, they should be just enough to persuade a risk-averse British electorate to vote to stay in the EU. Clearing the way for Cameron to resign in triumph as Prime Minister and Party Leader some time in 2017 or 2018, and leaving Osborne in pole position to see off any  challenge and ascend to No 10.

Except it hasn’t quite worked out like that. In fact, it’s rapidly going pear-shaped. “Events, dear boy, events”.

Take the EU “re-negotiation”. Yes, Cameron did indeed return from Brussels with a “reform” deal: but one of such abject and transparent paucity, ineffectiveness and unenforceability, that it had unravelled, and been both rightly exposed and excoriated for it, within 72 hours. And to such an extent that the Government’s official Remain campaign strategy adopted, almost from Day 1, what had been hoped would be the back-up strategy of Project Fear. Any plausible pretence that there is a “reformed” EU at all has been dropped. Brexit-scaremongering Project Fear, to all intents and purposes, is the  Remain campaign.            

Conservatives - Careers before countryThen, from Osborne’s point of view, came the bombshell. He must surely have reckoned that both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would be reliably on side, fully signed up to the Government’s official position, as fellow-advocates for Britain staying in even the risibly non-“reformed” EU that was on offer: Boris because of his general pro-EU and internationalist outlook, including a desire to see Turkey in the EU, and Gove because of his personal loyalty to Cameron. Before the Brussels summit of 19-21 February, even this political cartoon was circulating: the Party heavy-hitters, including Boris and Gove, lined up, Dad’s Army style, in Captain Camwaring’s pro-EU Home Guard platoon.

Not any more. Because in fact, the opposite happened. Boris, after much public and private agonising, declared for Leave, and Gove, with what must be one of the finest personal statements to grace British politics for a very long time, did the same.

Those two “defections”, I suspect, rocked Osborne back on his heels: not just on account of their unexpectedness, but also because of their implications, both for the EU Referendum itself, and consequentially, for Osborne’s own political future. On the Leave campaign, to Boris’ public appeal is added Gove’s principled integrity and intellectual heft. They make the outcome of the Referendum far closer and far less predictable: that the Government and Remain could actually lose it, and that Leave could triumph in a vote for Brexit, really isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

If that happens, despite his bluster, Cameron would, politically, be Dead Man Walking: and given that their political ideologies and fortunes have been so inextricably linked for 25 years, that means Osborne would too. Even with a wafer-thin Remain win, Cameron’s credibility, and thus Osborne’s, will be seriously damaged: the latter’s, possibly fatally, with intra-Party talk already being that the next leader will almost certainly have to come from the Party’s pro-Brexit wing.

osborne looking grimNo wonder Osborne has suddenly seemed such diminished figure, thrown off balance, ever since. His prospects of following his planned and mapped-out route of a smooth ascent to No 10 in the wake of a benignly-departing David Cameron have suffered a severe blow: they may even be receding, a victim of Boris’ burgeoning popularity with Party members and activists since his ostentatious and publicity-maximising conversion to the Brexit cause.

And it gets worse. Because, intriguingly, in only the barely three weeks that have elapsed since the denouement of these events, a gaffe-prone Osborne has been either been caught out and had to retract hubristic claims, or forced to execute a sharp policy U-turn in an humiliating climb-down, or experienced an open challenge to his authority and rebellion from his own backbenchers, on no fewer than seven separate issues.

First, the Google tax deal. A clearly pleased-with-himself Osborne made extravagant claims for the £130 million agreement he had reached with Google, presumably on the calculation of reaping political capital from the vocal lobby opposed to any (entirely legal) tax-avoidance by multinationals. That soon unravelled, however, with the revelation that it covered a full 10 years of back taxes and amounted to an effective tax rate of only 3%, against the UK standard corporation tax rate of 20%. It concluded with scathing criticism of Osborne from his own backbenchers, both the Commons Public Accounts and Treasury Committees launching separate inquiries, and both Google and HMRC being asked to re-appear before themGoogle, meanwhile, are reportedly furious with Osborne for making self-aggrandising claims which have given them additional poor publicity.

Second, the claims of extra tax revenue from the lower top rate. Osborne boasted  that an additional £8 billion in tax revenue had been generated from the reduction in the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%, attributing the entire amount to the rate change. Unfortunately for him, that was quickly challenged as “precarious” by none other than the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on the grounds that it ignored any deferment factor and was more a one-off gain than a systemically-permanent windfall. We have heard no more about it.

Third, the planned tax-raid on pensions. Osborne had been planning a very Gordon-Brownian stealth-tax: to abolish higher-rate tax relief on pensions, and lower the threshold at which money invested in a pension pot starts to attract high, almost penal, rates of tax. The entirely predictable backbench uproar duly ensued, with Osborne’s plans being rightly denounced as simultaneously both economically-incompetent – disincentivizing prudent retirement saving – and politically-inept – targeting a natural Tory electoral constituency. They have been dropped.

hinkley Point comp 2Fourth, Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station. This was announced with much fanfare by Osborne on his September 2015 trade visit to China. The deal, was, though, subject to a £2 billion taxpayer guarantee to EDF, without which they would have struggled to secure project finance, and immediately attracted informed criticism because of its capital intensiveness and cost per MWh of output. It’s now emerged that the building cost has roughly trebled, the strike-price per MWh for its output has doubled, and the start date has been put back 8 years: all within 6 months. The calls for it to be scrapped as an expensive and uneconomic white elephant are growing.

G20 vs EU How Do They Cope via Julia H-BFifth, the G20 warning against Brexit. At Osborne’s initiative, the plan was for the G20 group of advanced economies to warn Britain against exit from the EU. That quickly collapsed, to widespread derision, when commentators pointed out the inconvenient fact that 16 of the 20 G20 countries are actually outside the EU, yet self-evidently still manage to be in the top 20 economies globally. Prompting the question: how could they then credibly warn Britain, the 5th largest, that it must be inside the EU to ensure its very survival? Silence.

Sixth, this week’s Sunday Trading liberalisation débacle. Despite being warned of the likelihood of both the SNP yet again ignoring their pledge not to vote in Westminster on what are devolved matters in Scotland, and an incipient Tory backbench rebellion, Osborne nevertheless determined to push the Bill through the Commons. When it became apparent that the SNP and Osborne’s own backbenchers would indeed carry out their threats, there was a ham-fisted attempt to water down the Bill’s provisions, culminating in an humiliating rebuff from the Speaker who refused to accept a related Motion.  SNP MPs duly supported Labour, the Tory rebels duly rebelled, and an embarrassing defeat for the Government, plus the loss of the liberalisation measures, was the outcome.

Seventh, another Tory backbench revolt, against another Osborne tax rise, this time on motor fuel duty. Despite 74% of the pump cost of a litre of diesel or petrol now comprising tax, Osborne, it appears, had planned to use next Wednesday’s Budget to increase the duty even further. Cue the now normal resistance movement, by up to 150 MPs, and the plans for a hike in the duty are reportedly being shelved.

These kinds of setbacks aren’t unprecedented: Osborne has had wobbles before. Think of the Pasty Tax in the 2012 Omnishambles Budget: a previous attempt to raise fuel duty with effect from January 2013 which similarly had to be abandoned on backbench pressure: and the tax-credits imbroglio of 2015, when an Osborne converted, we were told, to “listening mode” was equally forced into an embarrassing retreat.

osborne looking grim 2But Osborne’s present troubles look and feel different, quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, because they’ve been coming thick and fast – no fewer than seven, and in just three weeks, which, I’d venture to suggest, is unprecedented. Qualitatively, because they contain an element which hasn’t been present in earlier iterations – a ready willingness, particularly among Tory backbenchers, not merely to voice misgivings, but vocally and robustly to resist, rebel, criticise and take to the media to denounce the Chancellor’s proposals in no uncertain terms, both as economically-disadvantageous and politically-inept.

The latter charge being especially ironic, and wounding. Because Osborne is, above all else, a Political Chancellor, far too prone to seeing virtually every aspect of economic and fiscal stewardship through the prism of partisan political triangulation. The shameless stealing of Blairite clothing in the form of a National Living Wage (aka, arbitrarily raising the floor price of labour to employers by State diktat) is but the latest example.

Osborne has long been lauded – not least by himself – as a political master-strategist. But, in truth, his excessive concentration on it, to the detriment of his economic and fiscal stewardship, has had decidedly mixed results. He’s been allowed to get away with increasing the National Debt by more in five years than even that preposterous antithesis of fiscal rectitude, Gordon Brown, managed in thirteen, largely because, when only 6% of the population know the difference between deficit and debt, few votes were risked by it.

Yet being master-strategist for two elections, 2010’s not won, even against Brown, and 2015’s, not expected to be won, but won mainly out of voters’ fear of a Labour-SNP government, tell a different story. As does the prevalence of the “austerity” narrative, despite the lamentable pace of deficit reduction. During the 2010-2015 Coalition, the overall rate of public spending reduction was a miserable 0.4% pa in real terms: supposed political master-strategist Osborne, however, succeeded in being portrayed as the heartless architect of Victorian-workhouse austerity, for the macro-fiscal equivalent of reducing a weekly £200 shopping bill by 80p.

So the last month’s acceleration in the decline of Osborne’s standing is partly an overdue reckoning: but its litany of serial hubris, politico-economic miscalculation, U-turn and climb-down, in just 20-odd days since the shock of Boris’ & Gove’s defection to the Brexit cause, have notably exacerbated its visibility. The wider appreciation of his Brown-like inveterate political-meddling and fiscal neo-Keynesianism, stealth-taxes and all, mean that the “Osbrowneomics” and “Osbrowne” memes are gaining wider currency.

osborne looking hauntedAs each successive Tory backbench anti-Osborne rebellion yields results, his critics are becoming more emboldened. They’re getting a taste for it, scenting blood. Osborne suddenly looks at bay, haunted, error-prone, wan, vulnerable, yesterday’s future, a fast-diminishing figure, in a way few can have predicted on 1st January.

He really is The Incredible Shrinking Chancellor, his stature and authority crumbling daily before our eyes.

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Does Democracy End At Dover?

To support English Votes For English Laws, yet argue that the UK should stay in the EU, isn’t merely politically inconsistent, but intellectually incoherent

Conservative Party MPs, coming as they do overwhelmingly from English constituencies, have discovered a new enthusiasm for more representative democracy in the current Westminster Parliament. Whether this is solely out of high-minded philosophical principle, or from rather grubbier psephological considerations, one cannot say: but that the election to Westminster, at the May 2015 General Election, of 56 Scottish National Party MPs has re-awakened awareness among English MPs of the iniquities of the West Lothian Question is an indisputable fact.

SNP MPs HoC May 15To their credit, they’re right to be concerned. Despite the SNP’s pre-election pledges that its MPs wouldn’t use their votes in Westminster on issues affecting England which are devolved matters in Scotland, it wasn’t long before those promises were being broken. Scottish MPs have been inventive – some might say speciously so – in deploying a tortuously-constructed argument, that policies intended to apply only in England can somehow also have unexpected and (conveniently unspecified) adverse knock-on effects in Scotland, as a rationale for resiling from their prior commitment.

And so the issue of an exclusively English Parliament, or English Votes for English Laws, has come back into prominence. Irrespective of the precise method that will eventually be chosen to implement EVEL, English MPs are rightly re-asserting a fundamental principle: that the laws governing the citizens of a polity can legitimately be those, and only those, made by, and only by, the representatives directly elected by the citizens of that polity, and whom they can remove from office via the ballot-box at the next election.

So far, so democratically-exemplary. But after this point, things start to get more tricky. Because many of those English MPs have also declared that they will both campaign, and vote, for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. And the EU, as a polity, is a very, very long way from being democratically-exemplary.

To understand why, we have to consider the very concept itself of the demos. The collection of people, almost always most-definable territorially, whose citizens – even when not mutually-acquainted, or ethnically-homogeneous, or religiously-affiliated – nevertheless feel that they do share enough of a common identity, set of values, and sense of being (even distant) co-partners in a joint enterprise, that they will accept one legislature, and one body of laws, as being legitimate to govern them all.

There’s undoubtedly a strong English, and even a strong British demos. Superficially, I might not appear to have much in common with someone of a different ethnicity in Birmingham, or a different religious-affiliation in Bradford: but the point is, I do feel sufficiently like them, and sufficiently part of the same collective political enterprise with them, that I’m prepared to live politically-alongside them, under a democratically-elected government chosen by us all, and a body of laws, made only by that government or its similarly-elected predecessors, applying equally to us all. Even to the extent of consenting to part of my income or wealth being abstracted by a government which we have together elected, and redistributed to them if they’re in need. That’s what the demos means.

But there’s no EU-wide equivalent of this. I don’t feel remotely xenophobic or hostile towards someone in, say, Bialystok, or Bologna, or Bilbao: but, crucially, I also don’t feel anything remotely approaching such a sufficient degree of affinity, or sense of co-partnership with them in a common “European” political enterprise, that I want or am prepared to consent to be part of the same pan-European political space, under the same pan-European government, and the same pan-European body of laws.

There is little evidence of such unwillingness being anything other than strongly reciprocated, among hundreds of millions of people, all over Europe. That does not, as the EU likes to pretend, equate to “xenophobia”, or “nationalism”. It means merely that the criteria which must be fulfilled for a democratically-legitimate polity encompassing all 28 EU member-states to emerge and subsist aren’t capable of fulfilment by popular consent.

The ineluctable conclusion, therefore, is that, as history has so often proved but the EU is philosophically-resolved to ignore, the territorially-defined sovereign nation-state, governed exclusively by its own legislature that is democratically-elected by universal suffrage, is the largest political entity in which the pre-conditions required for a politically-legitimate demos can be fulfilled. To emphasise, there is no “European” demos.

So, I contend, the European Union is democratically-illegitimate as a concept at the fundamental level of political theory, even before we confront the physical democratic deficit of the European Parliament as its purported legislature.

Interior EU Parliament

To start with, even the basic numerical comparisons are strikingly unfavourable. The entire aggregate UK electorate elects a full 100% of Westminster MPs: but no more than a mere 9.7% of MEPs. The average number of electors represented by a Westminster MP is c.68,000: but for each of the UK’s 73 MEPs, that figure is c.840,000. (Intriguingly, the equivalent Luxembourg figure is c.77,000). How any UK MEP can properly represent and address the EU-relevant concerns of nearly 840,000 constituents is a moot point. But an irrelevant one: because even their theoretical ability to do so is so severely constrained by the democratic deficit of the Parliament itself.

EU Parl processMembers of the European Parliament, despite being elected, must be among the most politically-emasculated and impotent legislators in the democratic world.  MEPs, whether individually or collectively, can neither initiate, propose, reject outright, or repeal EU legislation. Those are all rights reserved exclusively to the unelected, and therefore both lacking-in-mandate and democratically-unaccountable, members of the EU Commission.

In the European Parliament, it’s the appointed, not elected, members of the European Commission, meeting in private, who have the sole right to propose, repeal or amend the corpus of EU laws, directives and regulation that constitute up to 70% of the new legislation having application in the United Kingdom. As the graphic shows, the Parliament’s role is barely even consultative: its legislative influence, I’d suggest, is, in practice, negligible.

Contrast that with the Westminster Parliament, where any MP may introduce a Private Member’s Bill, and moreover, via one of no fewer than three different methods available. Two of the greatest social reforms of the last 50 years – the decriminalisation and legalisation of both homosexuality and abortion – were both the outcome of Private Members’ Bills.

To pretend that this sham legislature somehow equates to, or confers on the EU, any democratic legitimacy whatsoever, is little short of a linguistic travesty. It is truly a Potemkin Parliament, rendering the European Union democratically-illegitimate in practice.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest, yet most perverse and least-deserved achievements of the EU is somehow to have convinced so many citizens of its member-states that, while, yes, there may be an element of democratic deficit about it, this is:

  • just an accidental by-product of the EU fulfilling its main aims of friendship and trade via economic co-operation; and/or-
  • regrettably necessary anyway to ensure the smooth functioning of the trading bloc.

To propagate this myth is a grotesque lie, and is cynically to stand both history and truth on their heads. For, as anyone with knowledge of the EU’s founding and history knows, not only was the EU primarily a political-integration project right from the start, with trade and economic convergence being merely its ostensible purpose to conceal that: but it was also deliberately conceived, designed and constituted specifically to be, not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic.

The EU’s founding fathers, particularly Monnet and Spinelli, were profoundly distrustful of voters, and viscerally antithetical to nation-state democracy. Building on original semi-utopian pan-European ideas circulating in the 1920s and 30s, they drew from the two World Wars the wrong conclusion: that it was the mere existence of nation-states in themselves, rather than the emergence within some of them (and only some of them, remember – when did Switzerland, Luxembourg or Norway last launch an aggressive war?) of fundamentally bad ideas like aggressive Communism, Prussian-Militarism, or Fascism, that inevitably led to war. It is this same self-delusion and deception that today leads the EU to claim implausibly that it, rather than NATO, has been and is the guarantor of a Europe at peace.

Monnet on subterfuge 2They set out, therefore, to promote the creation of a supra-national political entity in which the decisions and preferences of the citizens of sovereign democratic nation-states, expressed through the ballot-box, would be bypassed, ignored and ultimately superfluous, enabling rule by an appointed class of technocrats-bureaucrats, immune to the caprices of voters and the need to obtain their consent.

That ethos still prevails in the EU of today. It isn’t even particularly concealed or denied. It was expressed perfectly by the former President of the European Commission, the Maoist Jose-Manuel Barroso when insisting only a few years ago that “democracy is dangerous”. The EU’s democratic deficit is neither accidental, nor incidental. It is deliberate and fundamental to it, and was designed-in from the start.

This, then, is the gimcrack-polity, demos-lacking, democratically-flawed in both concept and practice, artificially constructed and imposed top-down by successive cadres of an unelected, unaccountable, largely self-selecting, pluralism-contemptuous, voter-consent-averse, bureaucratic-technocratic elite, and maintaining a near-powerless Potemkin Parliament as a sham legislature to provide a wholly unconvincing facade of democratic legitimacy, inside which so many of those English MPs who enthusiastically support EVEL – ostensibly in the name of representative democracy, remember –  nevertheless fully intend to vote to keep the United Kingdom locked..

F Scott Fitzgerald speculated that the ability to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time and still function was the mark of a first-rate intelligence: Leon Festinger suggested, on the other hand, that it was a strong indicator of cognitive dissonance. As far as those English MPs simultaneously supporting both EVEL and the UK’s continued membership of the EU are concerned, my inclination is to regard Festinger’s explanation as the more likely. Because their stance isn’t merely politically inconsistent: it’s also manifestly intellectually incoherent.

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