Monday, September 23, 2013
'Führerprinzip’ is killing off genuine debate
The balance between state power and free markets needs to be constantly discussed, says Janet Daley -- using a Nazi expression (Tr. "leadership principle") for the undemocratic state of Britain's political parties
I can remember Labour’s first party conference under Gordon Brown’s leadership being the most stupefyingly boring political event I’d ever covered. Not only were the official platform performances timed to the second and managed to within an inch of their lives, but even the fringe events were populated by blank-eyed Brownite zombies. It was, I jokingly reported, positively Stalinist in the obsessive control exercised by the leadership. Some joke.
Not being one of those journalists on intimate terms with Labour’s inner circle, I was unaware that the prime minister’s fanatically loyal team were stopping just short of murdering their enemies and expunging their images from the historical group photographs. The gothic-horror tale of the Blair-Brown years – complete with repentance and public rending of garments – will now play itself out in confessions of competing repulsiveness. Damian McBride’s self-flagellation will alternate with the Blairite army’s “we did what we had to do” (because, after all, we were up against a crazy person) admission of a kind of guilt. And all this during the week in which the hapless Ed Miliband was supposed to be restoring his party’s sense of honourable purpose.
Not wishing to detract in any way from the righteous delight of those who are not Labour supporters, I have to say that there is a warning in all of this for everybody in political life. The “devotion” and “love” that Mr McBride expresses for his leader – which were not unlike the testimonies of undying fealty offered to Tony Blair by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell – sound creepy and rather weird in the horribly cold light of morning.
But are they so very different from what all parties are now expected to provide for their leaders? Maybe not love – in what appears to be the almost libidinous sense implied by Labour acolytes – but certainly obeisance and utterly disciplined fidelity.
Nick Clegg was judged last week to have had an amazingly (or surprisingly?) successful conference because he effectively suppressed any possible threat to his personal ascendancy. His judgments went without any effectual challenge, even from the previously dangerous Vince Cable. He managed to do what the Westminster elites always believe to be critical for a party leader: he “stamped his authority”, as the lobby correspondents say, on his party. All dissidence was eliminated. Any potential challenge to Mr Clegg’s judgments – however bizarre and voter-repelling they were – had “disappeared” in the great tradition of Latin American dictatorships. So Mr Clegg had a “good” conference.
This week, Mr Miliband might end up having as good a conference as could be expected under the circumstances if – what? He succeeds in a stupendous act of repression which effectively silences his critics. If there are no restive outbreaks of rebellion or discord on the fringe, and no treacherous briefings from shadow-cabinet colleagues to the effect that Mili Minor does not have enough to say about issues of national concern such as education and welfare, and no audible dissatisfaction among the rank and file – then Ed will be judged to have “proved himself” as a leader.
The week after that, it will be David Cameron’s turn to “stamp his authority” on his party. If he can suffocate any querulous objections before they reach the public ear, clamp shut the mouths of his most dogged backbench critics, and impose a monolithic message on the party rank-and-file, then he, too, will have a “successful” conference that will ensure his credibility, blah-blah. In other words, the test of whether political leaders are fit for purpose is how effective they are at shutting down argument.
Why? Are we all fascists now? When exactly did this Führerprinzip take hold in British public life?
I have always assumed that the right to express differing opinions and debate ideas was the great virtue of democratic politics, not just for the sake of abstract freedom but also because it is through the process of critical argument that we arrive at the best solutions.
It seems tragic to me that ordinary voters seem to have developed such an aversion to the very idea of disagreement between politicians. Like children who don’t want to hear Mummy and Daddy arguing, they say, “Why can’t they just get together and agree on what to do?” – apparently forgetting that any such comprehensive agreement between parties would leave them without a choice, and thus without a voice, in how they were governed. (Oddly, this desire to have decisions taken out of their hands coexists with a record amount of dissatisfaction with politicians themselves.)
In fact, Mr Clegg espoused precisely this childlike ideal of politics last week: in which the power elites of the nation trade off their various contradictory principles until, like “reasonable people”, they reach an accommodation they can all accept. Quite apart from the fact that this model leaves the voter nowhere in the picture, it rests on the assumption that there must be a solution to every political dilemma in the negotiable middle: that there are no values and principles that are flatly irreconcilable with one another, about which we must argue and debate until we put them to the vote of the people.
The Big Argument of the 20th century between socialism and capitalism is finished. So the public debate is now over fine distinctions about how much or how little government we need, about levels of taxation and public spending and how they affect individual lives. But because the disagreements are more subtle and detailed, it is all the more important that they be openly discussed and disputed. The balance between state power and free markets will never be definitively settled. The conflict between individual rights and social cohesion will need to be reassessed and revisited constantly. These debates will never – should never – end. Between and within parties, passionate disputation should be seen as a source of strength and vitality. A party that is mutely united must be either brain-dead or terrorised into submission.
Of course, if parties are existentially divided within themselves to the extent that they are paralysed, then they cannot govern. If Labour is unable to decide, for example, whether it is a sectarian interest group or a national political force, then it will have to argue itself hoarse until it reaches a conclusion.
But if its conference fringe is full of fury and angst, that will be a sign that it is engaging in just that process, rather than stamping it out and drowning anyone who stands in the way.
As Nigel Farage put it in his sweaty speech to Ukip’s fledgling party conference, people aren’t turned off by politics – they are turned off by the political class who won’t permit “open and honest debate”. That observation may turn out to be his most important contribution to public discourse.
'Apartheid would be wrong here': Labour Party mayor bans foreign newspapers and cuts to translation services to encourage integration
A Labour mayor is under fire after banning foreign newspapers from libraries and cutting translation services to encourage immigrants to speak English.
Sir Robin Wales claimed he was trying to prevent ‘apartheid’ in the London borough of Newham. He has invested public money in English lessons and refused to fund events which are only aimed at one section of the community.
The Tories accused Sir Robin of trying to suppress diversity in one of the country’s most diverse areas.
Critics also claim the cuts are designed to attract more white working class people into the area. Around 139,000 of Newham’s residents were born in England, while 130,000 were born outside of the European Union.
Sir Robin told the BBC Asian Network programme: ‘I’m very strongly of the view that if you try and segregate people into different groups and try to keep them separate, that’s not only bad for everybody [else], it’s bad for the particular community you do it to. ‘Apartheid was wrong in South Africa, it would be wrong here.’
He went on: ‘Far from suppressing diversity, we respect and champion it. We are the most ethnically diverse borough in Europe and the evidence proves our approach of bringing our residents together is the right one.
‘Almost 90 per cent of our residents say this is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. We bring people together in a large number of ways including a range of annual free community events - attended by almost 100,000 this year.
‘It is absurd of anyone to say I dislike Newham. I love the borough, I have lived here for 35 years and I am proud to call it my home. We are building on everything that is great about Newham to make it a better place for everyone who lives, works and visits here.’
The council has begun giving £250 grants to street parties involving all but declining to support ‘single community’ events.
In the last year it has also rejected an application for a 'super mosque' in the borough.
Andrew Boff, Leader of the Conservative group on the Greater London Assembly, said: ‘I don’t think [Sir Robin] actually likes Newham. I think he wants to change it to some other borough. I think he’s a bit ashamed.
‘Integration is either respecting diversity or trying to suppress it and I think there’s more suppressing going on. ‘What’s happening in Newham is a big backwards step.’
Labour (and the Lib Dems) are bringing back the politics of envy
Britain needs wealth creators to compete in an unbelievably tough world - but what does the Labour Party want to do? Penalise them.
To succeed as a nation we need thriving businesses, new technologies, people who want to take a risk with a chance of succeeding, people who believe they can get on in life.
This week at the Labour conference in Brighton we’ll hear all the old rhetoric again. Squeeze the rich. Bosses bad, workers good. More welfare. More government interference. A complete lack of understanding of the world. It would be disastrous for Britain if Labour ever got the chance to make it a reality.
The truth is that the world has become unbelievably tough. To succeed as a nation we need thriving businesses, new technologies, people who want to take a risk with a chance of succeeding, people who believe they can get on in life. So does every other country. And the truth is that many are transforming themselves at an extraordinary rate. Increasingly, it’s not European and American companies that dominate internationally, but Asian ones.
Africa is transforming too, backed by Chinese money. Fewer people are living in poverty, new infrastructure and employment is growing up, but it’s other nations doing business there who often call the shots. We’re in a global race and there is no certainty that we will win it.
Just think of the people we will need to win that contest. There’s the entrepreneur, who mortgages the house to invest in building a business. It’s a hell of a risk. You don’t know if you will succeed. And if you don’t, you could lose your home and put your family under pressure. But the prospect of building a real success is too alluring. And so that entrepreneur takes the risk, works seven days a week, and slowly, step by step, builds a success – that creates jobs, wins business from overseas and creates wealth that will pay for public services and support for the vulnerable. There is no other way of earning money for Britain. It’s no different to a household. If we don’t earn our keep in a competitive world, we can’t pay the bills for the things we want to do.
So, what do Labour want? To penalise the wealth creators. Higher taxes for the rich. To pay for what Labour really desires – an ever bigger welfare state. The Lib Dems do, too. One of the big themes of last week’s conference was higher taxes. They too want to penalise the wealth creators. Both say it’s a red line for any future government.
Conservatives want to support wealth and job creators. That’s a red line for us. The Left, when they talk about wealth taxes, always single out the bankers. But most of those who would be penalised by these new assaults on the rich are the people who sweat to create the jobs we need for the future. If success means giving all the proceeds to a Labour government, why would you try? And if there are fewer jobs, then it is the poorer members of our society who are the real losers.
Some years ago I visited a big US computing firm at its European headquarters. To my surprise, it was at the far end of a valley in Switzerland. Why, I asked? Because the American businessman who set up the operation wanted to live there.
It’s often those personal things that decide which country gets the investment and the jobs. If you have money to invest, why would you take it to the place that is going to charge you punitive taxes – whether on a mansion or wealth. If we clobber the rich, the jobs will go elsewhere.
I spent two-and-a-half years as employment minister. Each month there was a moment of trepidation when the unemployment figures arrived on my desk. High unemployment is bad for all of us. I want to see it come down and down, and I’m proud of the nearly one-and-a-half-million private-sector jobs created in Britain in the past three years – and the big fall in the number of workless households. We have to keep driving forward to make sure that trend continues.
But this week will be more of the same from Labour. Bash the rich. Oppose wealth creation. More welfare, please. And they’ll accuse us of only being on the side of those with the money.
It’s complete nonsense. We’re on the side of wealth creation. On the side of those who work hard and want to get on in life. Those who want to succeed. And we’re on the side of those who create jobs for our people, and the wealth that pays for better public services.
We live in the real world. Labour and the Left live in an outdated world of an ideology that would do real damage to Britain. They haven’t changed at all.
We cannot afford to lose the global race – and we certainly cannot afford Ed Miliband’s Labour.
Is Britain's health care the envy of the world?
It has come as a bombshell to many Brits, but it seems that socialised health care doesn't work very well after all.
Ever since the National Health Service was established after World War II, politicians have been assuring the British people that their health care system is 'the envy of the world.' Up until now, the population has believed it.
Remember last year's London Olympic Opening Ceremony with hundreds of NHS nurses dancing around NHS beds? Danny Boyle, the producer of that fantasy, was knighted by the Queen for his efforts. In a country which (its ethnic minorities aside) has largely forsaken religion, the NHS has a sacred, totemic status making it immune to criticism or radical reform.
But recently, public faith in this national religion has been sorely tested.
In February, a public inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust published its report. The Inquiry was sparked by concerns that death rates in Stafford Hospital seemed remarkably high. What it discovered was a history of 'appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people.' Soiled beds were left unchanged with patients lying in their own urine and faeces. Requests for water went unheeded, so patients had to drink from flower vases. Cries of pain were disregarded, patients were given the wrong medicine, and vital equipment was turned off because nurses didn't know how to operate it.
When patients or their relatives complained about this nightmare neglect, they were ignored. There was no effective accountability in the system, and when problems came to light, everyone closed ranks. Incompetent staff were not disciplined or dismissed, but promoted.
It swiftly became clear that these were not the unique problems of one area, but were common throughout the system. In July, a report on 14 NHS Trusts found that 11 were so bad they had to be placed in special measures.
Then last week, the NHS suffered a further blow when statistics were released showing that English hospitals perform far worse than those elsewhere in the developed world. England's hospital death rates are 22% higher than average. Particularly devastating, given years of negative propaganda aimed at the American private health care system, was the news that you are 58% more likely to die in an English hospital than in an American one. Deaths from pneumonia in English hospitals are a staggering five times higher than in America.
The problem is not lack of money (NHS spending increased in real terms by 7% per year under Blair, NHS employment rose from 1.06 million to 1.44 million as more bureaucrats were recruited, and doctors' salaries went through the roof). Nor is it lack of training, for nursing is now an all-graduate profession - they may not change soiled bed sheets any more, but nurses know all about sociological theories of labelling and the latest ideas in public administration. The problem lies in the core structure and culture of a socialised health care system where nobody takes responsibility and there is no effective consumer voice.
Whether the British electorate is ready to learn this lesson and support fundamental NHS reform is, however, questionable. Official state religions take a lot of shifting, and even as disconfirming evidence piles up, those with faith are generally loathe to abandon their familiar gods.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.