The Jungle Book

Many years ago, I designed a new web site for the Adam Smith Institute and they were slightly bemused by my choice of the jungle theme: “It’s a jungle out there,” I explained. And indeed it is, but that’s lucky for us because a jungle with one species of plant and one species of animal would soon become a very unhealthy place to be. Plus boring. A diversity of species and, crucially, the opportunity for new species to emerge and either thrive or fail is healthy for the jungle and everything in it. Everything in it improves over time.

A case in point would be the Royal Mail. A once state-owned inefficient monopoly it is still state-owned but now struggling against a field of private competitors. But it’s an uneven competition, it’s like you’ve taken the king of the beasts and wired his jaws shut. It is burdened with obligations which its private competitors are not and I think that’s unfair, the law of the jungle should apply to everyone equally otherwise it’s not the fittest that survive. However I think one of their newer competitors is worth a closer look. I’ve used Home Delivery Network several times recently and I have to say I’m impressed with what they do. They took a lot of stick in their early days, poor levels of service and lost or damaged parcels, but they’ve really got to grips with that. And that’s what the jungle does. You improve or you die. Any new organisation has teething troubles and they’ve dealt with those, one of which I’m sure was allegations that Royal Mail staff were kicking and damaging HDNL parcels whenever Royal Mail got to handle them. My latest accomplishment was to buy a new book on Amazon one Sunday and have it delivered the next day for a total cost of £4. Including the book.

Adam Smith might have recognised the jungle analogy. He might have called his book “The Jungle Book”. He warned against monopolies and how bad they were and we know all too well today how a monopoly will abuse its market position to stifle competition with predatory pricing or putting pressure on suppliers. We read about these tricks all the time. Adam Smith offered an alternative which was an “invisible hand” guiding the free market through the self-interest of all those active in it. The difference is that a monopoly has all the power, the consumers have none – it can pursue its self-interest while the consumer is powerless.

I would recommend Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations” except it is heavy going with a lot of examples couched in 18th century trade terms. Far better, I suggest, is Eamonn Butler’s “Adam Smith: A Primer“, and this is the blurb for it:

Despite his fame, there is still widespread ignorance about the breadth of Adam Smith’s contributions to economics, politics and philosophy. In “Adam Smith: A Primer”, Eamonn Butler provides an authoritative introduction to the life and work of this ‘founder of economics’. The author examines not only “The Wealth of Nations”, with its insights on trade and the division of labour, but also Smith’s less well-known works, such as “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, his lectures, and his writings on the history of science. Butler therefore provides a comprehensive, but concise, overview of Adam Smith’s intellectual achievements. Whilst earlier writers may have studied economic matters, it is clear that the scope of Smith’s enquiries was remarkable. In relating economic progress to human nature and institutional evolution he provided a completely new understanding of how human society works, and was very much a precursor of later writers such as Hayek and Popper. Indeed, with poor governance, protectionism and social engineering still commonplace, Smith’s arguments are still highly relevant to policymakers today. “Adam Smith: A Primer” includes a foreword by Sir Alan Peacock, an introduction by Gavin Kennedy and a commentary by Craig Smith.

It’s a free-market trifecta – Eamonn’s book; from Amazon; delivered by HDNL – you can’t lose.

I can’t believe what pillocks the Lib Dems are

Once more, the Car Parking Tax is rearing its ugly head as councillors on Bristol City Council plan to introduce a pay-as-you-park levy. All the entirely obvious and predictable issues are being aired and in the face of all logic that says “don’t do it” Lib Dem councillors who form a minority administration in Bristol are forging ahead.

More Motorists Face Work Place Parking Charges

I’d like you to read what I wrote about this eighteen months ago, you won’t believe just how many possible problems there are with such a scheme and I’ve tried to list the more obvious ones. For starters, will Bristol City Council charge its own employees? And if an employer does not pass the charge on to its employees is it a taxable benefit in kind? What if you’re off sick or on holiday? Is the tax payable on visitor spaces? Can a company eliminate all this nonsense by grassing-over its car park? It is a long list.

Car Park Tax – A Jobsworth’s Dream

The Artist vs The Iron Lady

It’s the Oscars again and this is what I think of the main contenders.

I can understand why some people walked out of early screenings of The Artist not understanding it was intended to be a black and white silent movie. The reports seem to blame the audience for being ignorant and philistine. Well, I nearly walked out too. I found it intensely tedious for long stretches, only occasionally leavened with humour or real artistry. There is a reason silent movies died out – sound adds a significant extra dimension and it really isn’t true that if you lose one sense it heightens the others. The point was rather proven when after being told that sound movies were the future, Valentin(o) returns sullenly to his dressing room only to startle himself when he puts down a glass with a clunk which we all hear. Cute, but makes my point.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Iron Lady and while I do have some Tory friends who hated it, I found Meryl Streep’s portrayal sympathetic and utterly convincing. The film gives her due credit for blazing a trail for women in British politics. A nice scene has her standing in an all-male audience listening to her father on stage giving a political talk. A lady sidles up to her and hisses that she is supposed to be collecting tea cups, not standing listening to the debates. The camera pans back to show the kitchen at the back of the hall filled with ladies busy washing up. That part is still true in my recent experience, but at least now the audience and the speakers are likely to be an equal balance of men and women. Margaret Thatcher did that much. I loved the little vignettes of her and Denis enjoying breakfast together, or an evening drink, with Denis only visible to Margaret as he had long since died and she is reported to be suffering from dementia. If she is and that’s what it’s like for her, is it wrong to be happy for her? A little unsettling were the frequent flashbacks of angry mobs assailing her in her prime ministerial car, without any explanation in the film. There were a few highly risible scenes where she is seen sitting imperiously in a comfy chair while all her ministers stand uncomfortably in a huddle before her. That just doesn’t happen.

My special subject is the Falklands War and in that respect I have to say this film traduced her reputation. The scene we are shown where Lord Lewin is telling her he can have the fleet ready to sail in 48 hours doesn’t tell the whole story, and it should have done. All her ministers were telling her there was nothing we could do, that we should roll over and forget the Falklands, the Argies had captured them and it was all over. In walks Lewin and changes history. Yes we can get a fleet to sea, yes we can recover the islands, yes we can liberate the Falkland Islanders. That was just what Thatcher wanted to hear. But my blood boiled over in another scene where we are shown a mock military command centre and everyone telling Thatcher the Belgrano is sailing away from the fleet and heading back to port. This point is laboured in the film in order to add impact to a close-up shot of Thatcher literally snarling “Sink her,” seemingly against all the advice she had been given. The fact is, we knew what the Belgrano was doing, we knew it was a real threat, that it was intending to form a pincer movement with the Argentine aircraft carrier and attack the fleet. We knew it, and the Argentines know we knew it. But that didn’t stop Tony Benn and the rest of the left-wing intelligentsia from immediately then and to this day calling it a war crime. The Argentines never have. I shared a taxi across London a few years later with the gunnery officer who was on board the Belgrano when she was sunk, he never called it a war crime. Meryl Streep should apologise to Margaret Thatcher for that shameless left-wing piece of hate propaganda.

On balance, you would think The Iron Lady should walk away with best film because it is the better of these two. It stars the darling of Hollywood’s left in a film about the darling of Hollywood’s right. It’s like Charlton Heston playing Mahatma Ghandi. But modern Hollywood loves novelty and as we haven’t had a silent movie for almost a century I think on that score The Artist will win out. Next year’s best film will go one further, it will be a tape recording of an old man talking. Actually, think about Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast, now that’s gripping entertainment and it was all sound. That worked far better with sound but no pictures than The Artist did with pictures but no sound.

The Problem With Getting Things Done

Madsen Pirie, president and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute has written a book about how the think tank was founded. Possibly a dull topic, you might think and you’d be wrong. Founded in 1977, I’ve been a fan of it since at the latest 1986 and possibly earlier because of the influence it had on Margaret Thatcher’s government. She was doing all the right things but I was unaware at the time where some of her best ideas were coming from. I came to understand that in 1986 when I met Madsen.

The value of this book isn’t so much that he tells you how they did it as by reading it you can learn how you can do it yourself. All the obstacles Madsen and his co-founder Eamonn Butler had to overcome are still out there today, throwing a spanner in the works of anyone aspiring to influence government policy. I’m sure David Cameron knows the truth of that all too well. The vested interests, reactionary forces, the not-invented-here syndrome, and sheer inertia, all play a part now as they did back then.

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) is not what’s known as a “hand shaking agency” that effects introductions for a fee, or what I call a “dating agency” which enables business leaders the opportunity to meet the government minister of their dreams. It’s a policy generator. And it’s unashamedly libertarian, so you know which direction they want to see the country go: less government and more free trade. Less Big Brother and more civil liberty. In short, they want more power for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.

You need to start with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and focus on that. Don’t get bogged down with the obstacles negative people put in your way; that’s what negative people do. Don’t go straight to government and say, “Hey, this is what you should do.” Instead, identify problems and work out solutions. Do your research and publish reports and papers of high academic standard. Draw people in, attract academics and subject specialists, engage with the media and help them do their job, stir up public interest and create a tide of opinion in favour of your proposals. Present them to government as an already popular solution, even if they didn’t realise they had a problem, and do it in such a way they can claim credit. Remember, this isn’t an exercise in vanity, you don’t want the glory, you just want your policies implemented.

I highly recommend this book to you: Think Tank: The Story of the Adam Smith Institute

In Defence of Our Defenders

I’m not happy about the swingeing cuts being imposed on the military. It’s sad to see so many servicemen and women being sacked, especially those on the front line, and I’m sure it’s not necessary. I’m also sad about equipment cuts, particularly those that leave us with no maritime air power, I’m sure they are all harmful to our interests. I’m sad too to see the open squabbling between Defence Secretary Liam Fox who is ordering the cuts and the top service chiefs who are protesting against them.

It’s not a tough call to decide who’s side I’m on. It’s easy in fact. I’m on Liam Fox’s side. I’m not on the side of the pultroons who caused the problem by years of sheer incompetence and infighting. The admirals and generals and air marshals cannot say it’s all the fault of the politicians. True, Labour had some of the most useless defence ministers in the history of the department, but what did the top brass do? They went along with that circus of madness, they were and they remain part of the problem.

Quite frankly, now we’re facing up to reality again I would be quite happy to see everyone of two star rank and above made redundant. I know there will be many highly capable officers lost in the process, but the same can be said of sacking hundreds of lower ranks, we will lose a lot of talent there too. At least by sacking the upper echelons en-masse we will expunge the old attitudes that led to the present difficulties and we will create wonderful opportunities to promote fresh talent.

The truth is, Liam Fox hasn’t singled out who gets the sack and who doesn’t, it was the senior officers who are now hypocritically complaining about the cuts who made the choices.

I think we’re getting rid of the wrong people. We threw out all the useless politicians a year ago, now we must complete that process and throw out all the useless generals. All of them. I have no confidence they’ve learned what went wrong, and I’m more worried that the next level of top brass have all been selected and schooled in the same dysfunctional ways. We have institutionalised incompetence and as the present outbursts show, we reward in-fighting. Bin Laden probably died a happy man.

So that’s what they mean by counter-intelligence

Winston Churchill: “We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

I wonder what he might have said about the government’s wish to have more police on the streets coupled with their determination to press ahead with sacking thousands of them.

I’m sure George Osborne can do the maths, he’s an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer, but are David Cameron and Theresa May really that innumerate? Some things are counter-intuitive, like taxes. Cutting the top rate of income tax results in more tax being paid. Raising the top rate of income tax results in less tax being paid. This was the message Churchill was trying to get across: that trying to boost the economy by taking more out of it is self-defeating.

As is trying to boost the number of policemen by sacking them.

Is it possible that the party of hunting, shooting and fishing applies the same philosophy to all walks of life? Understanding the need to cull deer to ensure a thriving herd, or the need to hunt foxes for their own good, perhaps they see a need to cull some police for the good of the herd? Except of course the police aren’t a herd and aren’t breeding more police to the point where they’re in danger of overwhelming their natural environment. In reality they are highly trained and motivated people and indeed we do want enough of them to overwhelm crime and lawlessness.

Here’s a thought: Cut the amount of government there is running our lives and see how much better it gets.

Riots: The result of thirteen years of Labour misrule

One of the things that struck me while listening to a reporter on the radio conducting interviews after the latest night of rioting was how eloquent the people were who had been trying to protect their communities and their property. The Turkish shopkeepers spoke perfect English and had no trouble expressing themselves, as did the Bengali Moslems who had been in their mosque that evening after the end of their Ramadan fast. Then the reporter interviewed a couple of the rioters and they had the greatest difficulty stringing a sentence together. Words and part sentences were repeated while the speaker was evidently struggling to finish the thought, and often failing. They spoke a kind of “gangsta” language but not very well, even they had trouble with it. Clearly there’s a whole sub-culture here that is completely isolated from mainstream society.

However, the photos of the looting show another aspect. Along with the young disaffected people just out to make mischief are a surprising number of other people out for some astonishingly petty thievery. A young woman with a scarf across her mouth that barely conceals her identity is seen chatting to a friend while holding two bottles of wine, one red one white, a bottle of sauce and a small packet of something. Obviously she’s expecting guests for dinner later. As well as the more obvious targets such as mobile phone shops (where everything on display is a non-working replica) the rioters are also looting charity shops (where donated items are sold cheaply to raise funds for charity) and Poundland stores (where everything is on sale for a pound or less). You can almost imagine the cry going up, “They’re looting Tesco!” and someone thinking, “Great, I’ve just run out of washing up liquid”.

Meanwhile, what are our leaders doing about it? They’re planning to talk about it. But not until tomorrow – five days after the riots broke out. Labour are meanwhile starting to put their argument together, which is that while properly condemning the violence in no uncertain terms, they put the blame squarely on the government’s cuts. For that argument to work we have to believe that on the day the Labour government left office there was no underclass, there were no disaffected youth, there was no economic crisis. We have to believe all that sprang up in the last year or so. We have to believe that a generation that left school educated and articulate suddenly became the mindless rabble we’ve seen rampaging in our city centres. No, the problem we’re seeing isn’t caused by this government, it was caused by thirteen years of a lying, deceitful, morally corrupt government that practically bankrupted this country.

This government, the coalition, has to pick up the pieces. The first thing they have to do is reverse the police cuts and re-employ all those experienced officers who have already been sacked. The second thing they have to do is issue new guidelines to the police for more aggressive action – it is okay to hit a rioter with your baton, that’s what it’s for. The third thing they have to do is get emergency legislation rushed through to protect the police from malicious prosecution as a result of doing their job. The fourth thing they have to do, and this will bring maximum squealing from Labour, is to reintroduce corporal punishment in schools. We’re not going to re-educate or discipline the current underclass but we can at least try to ensure they are the last of their generation because we can be pretty sure they will not raise their own kids to be decent and respectable members of society.

All this is necessary because over thirteen years the last Labour government abdicated all responsibility for governing. They passed ridiculous laws that favoured the criminal over the victim, even foreign murderers cannot be deported back to their own countries; they conspired to allow city high-flyers and bankers to legally loot their companies with unearned and undeserved bonuses; they presided over a culture of rewarding failure where in some high-profile cases senior council officials walk away with massive pay-offs after spectacular failures. The list is long. What example does any of this give to the rioters on the streets over the last few nights? What is amazing is how many decent people there are out there, such as those Turkish shopkeepers or the Bengali Moslems, and everyone else who is standing up for their communities and for law and order.

Labour haven’t completely ruined us after all.

Oh what a lovely riot

Who are the rioters? Bored youths.
Why are they rioting? Because they can.
What are they rioting about? Nothing in particular.

Let me take you back a few years, back to the 1980’s and Thatcher’s Britain. Massed pickets had become an industrial weapon used to close factories and impose the will of union leaders on employers during the 1970’s, but Thatcher resolved to bring back the rule of law. The police were given new equipment and training in dealing with large numbers of people to clear safe passage for employees who wanted to work and for delivery trucks to get in an out. Rioting as such wasn’t an issue although it became one as frustrations and tempers rose on both sides once they were in close physical contact.

One thing stands out in my memory from that era. The police took to drumming their truncheons in unison on their riot shields, like scenes from “Zulu” where long lines of warriors would pound their shields with assagais to intimidate Michael Caine and his few red coats. Amazingly, it wasn’t throwing bricks or bashing someone over the head with a truncheon that aroused public ire, it was that. The drumming. As tough as the striking miners were, and they did have hard physically demanding jobs, it was absolutely beastly to make them hear the drumming and after many complaints it was banned.

And it’s gone downhill since. The police are hamstrung because anything that is effective in managing large numbers of angry protesters is ruled out because innocent people often get caught up during the event, and rioters know how to exploit human rights legislation after the event. Anarchists have learned how to use peaceful demonstrations either to assemble under their cover and break away to riot, or use them as human shields. And we come down hard on the police. Certainly there are some bad apples for whom the full process of the law must apply, but we shouldn’t demonise them all.

These are not genuine protests and these are not innocent people exercising their democratic rights. This is sheer lawlessness by a violent minority that deprives the majority of honest law-abiding citizens of their own rights and opportunities. And we’ve gone soft on them. We try to police a riot with tenderness and it is the police themselves now who are usually intimidated. The slightest misbehaviour on their part and they feel the full force of the law while we provide the rioters with lawyers at public expense to get them off any charges and win compensation. The system has turned topsy-turvy.

I have a vested interest: it’s not inconceivable that I might be a peaceful protester one day. We’ve all got something to be angry and protest about. For example, I’m angry about the way the banks rip us off, and when they run into financial trouble themselves we have to bail them out with public money, and then despite having run their banks practically into the ground the top directors still pay themselves colossal bonuses, only now in order to make the balance sheet still balance they sack thousands of employees and increase bank charges. But it doesn’t make me angry enough to go out and riot.

Another thing I’m angry about is what has become of our police. The Bobby on the Beat was an enduring icon of British civilisation, but a generation of jobsworths with little front-line experience and plenty of office politics skills have risen to the top and ruined all that. They’ve built empires of pen-pushers with layers of management and turned the police service into a quagmire of red tape, driven by targets and quotas. And with the economic crisis brought about by New Labour and the need to make serious cut-backs, who gets the chop? The Bobby on the Beat. Thousands are to be made redundant.

We need new leadership for the police service and a renewed sense of purpose. And we need to keep every copper we’ve got.

We also need to remind ourselves what is important. These are difficult times and there are millions of ordinary people who have genuine grounds for grievance. Their right to complain and their right to peacefully protest is important, and that right is being put at risk by these rioters. People are being put out of work, small business owners are being put out of business, and communities are suffering. Our rights far outweigh those of the rioters and we have to give the police our complete support in dealing with them. 


You know, if I had my own terrorist organisation I would be fabulously rich. And I wouldn’t have to hurt anyone. I’d just recruit a few people with British citizenship, send them on holiday to north west Pakistan for six weeks (it won’t be necessary to train them to shoot guns and make bombs), then have them arrested. If I can get them arrested by the Americans, I’ve hit the jackpot. The Americans will rough them up a bit (you know, by not reading them bed time stories, giving them cold cocoa at night, not fluffing up their pillows, that sort of thing) and then when they get released and sent back to Blighty they can slap in a claim that their human rights were abused. And our government being so hide-bound by mostly EU-originated laws and an astonishingly simplistic world-view will pay them a million pounds each. I will have had contracts signed with these guys beforehand to split the proceeds 50-50, so ten of them will net me £5 million, fifty will net me £25 million, and the sky’s the limit. What will I call it? Al-Cashpoint sounds good.

MI5 and MI6 pay out £12m to Britons held in Guantánamo

Of course, there is no suggestion these guys were actually involved in terrorism, but if I were a terrorist it would be a great inspiration to me.

Here are some earlier posts by me on the theme of how we treat enemy combatants and conduct the war on terror generally:

How goes the war on terror? A round up of recent news
What part of “We’re at war” do you not understand?
The problem with treating enemy combatants as civil defendants. It doesn’t work.

Justice delayed is justice denied

We do not need another “Bloody Sunday” inquiry that will take years and cost millions, Lord Saville spent twelve years and over £200 million to accomplish nothing. The phone hacking scandal, which may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of lawbreaking and misconduct by the media, requires new laws to be introduced at the earliest opportunity. At the very least we want tough new guidelines and sharper teeth for the complaints handling process immediately.

We are not going to get satisfaction from a ponderous inquiry. We want action.

If Lord Leveson cannot undertake to complete his inquiry within three months, he should step down now. We should instead put it out to tender. We should invite commercial bids to conduct the inquiry from suitable organisations. Interested parties submit sealed bids outlining their capabilities and setting out how they would conduct the inquiry. The government then appoints the most competent and cost-effective contractor to do the job. And of course, there must be a penalty clause for late delivery.

Should Lord Leveson get to drag his inquiry out as he plans, time will have moved on, dirt will have been brushed under carpets, excuses will be fine tuned, and we’ll all forget why this is such an important issue. The guilty will escape jail, they’ll carry on making money and eventually retire in ill-deserved comfort. And after a suitable interval we can be sure everyone will be back up to their old tricks again, write best-selling memoirs telling all and have the last laugh at our expense.

And there will have been no justice done.