Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Tory aims and values document

As a member of the Conservative Party I will be receiving a document containing David Cameron's aims and values for the Party. I will be asked to vote on it.

A copy of the document can be seen here but I have reproduced it below with some thoughts that occur as I read through it.

Our Aims:

To improve the quality of life for everyone through: A dynamic economy, where thriving businesses create jobs, wealth and opportunity. A strong society, where our families, our communities and our nation create secure foundations on which people can build their lives. A sustainable environment, where we enhance the beauty of our surroundings and protect the future of the planet.

A nice opener which could grace the preface of almost any Party's promotional documentation.

Our Values:

The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become. We're all in this together - government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.

I agree with this. I think it separates us from Labour because it acknowledges the simple truth that people left to do things their way do a better job than the state or its various quangos. However, we are not libertarians and we recognise that the state ought to reflect the way of life of its people and support them where individual effort is not sufficient.

I would like to know Mr Cameron's view on the nature of the balance between state and individual in this shared responsibility.

Our Party:

We are an open and inclusive Party. We will act to ensure that our Party, at every level, is representative of modern Britain.

Good. That's how it should be. But this bit concerns me a tad:

We will act to ensure...

How will we 'ensure'? This might be an unfortunate choice of words but it sounds like the issue will be forced and feathers will be ruffled.

What we're fighting for:
1. A successful Britain must be able to compete with the world. We will put economic stability and fiscal responsibility first. They must come before tax cuts. Over time, we will share the proceeds of growth between public services and lower taxes - instead of letting government spend an ever-increasing share of national income.

It seems that the accepted wisdom is that you have tax cuts or economic stability. What about the idea that tax cuts lead to economic growth and stability? Have we adequately refuted this theory? We need to have because if we have not then we might be wrong-footed - in public - by people who know otherwise.

And we need to clarify, perhaps, that you don't just cut taxes on a whim; you stop the state from doing those things it does badly and at great expense and then cut taxes with the savings. It works in that order.

2. There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich. We will stand up for the victims of state failure and ensure that social justice and equal opportunity are achieved by empowering people and communities - instead of thinking that only the state can guarantee fairness.

Well, the 'we' that is going to do the empowering is the state, I assume. I tend to think that the state does not often empower by doing things but by not doing things. But he's right - there is such thing as society (and Mrs Thatcher knew that too - she is being misquoted when it's suggested otherwise). But whether the right test for us is when our policies help the most disadvantaged is questionable: is personal 'failure' - laziness, dishonesty, lack of confidence, lack of inspiration, preference for a measure of success based on some other criteria - usually the result of government policy?

3. The quality of life matters, as well as the quantity of money. We will enhance our environment by seeking a long-term cross-party consensus on sustainable development and climate change - instead of short-term thinking and surrender to vested interests. We will support the choices that women make about their work and home lives, not impose choices on them.

The quality of life matters, as well as the quantity of money. I agree with this a thousand per cent and I do believe that truly conservative people recognise that contentment and satisfaction in life are rarely provided by things that can be purchased. I will have to wait to see if Mr Cameron thinks the same way; he is evidently using this phrase as an introduction to his environmental ideas. I regard looking after our environment as a patriotic duty so am pleased with his attention to this issue.

I want to be assured though that he is not lining himself up with those who like to bash 'big business' because of their brute opposition to capitalism. And I at least want to hear Mr Cameron state that, having looked at all the evidence, he believes the most dangerous contribution to global warming is the man-made one. I am not asking whether he is right or wrong - I personally do not understand all the issues. But I do want to know that he has examined the arguments carefully and then taken a sincere position rather than leave himself open to the accusation that he chose a fashionable one.

4. Public services for everyone must be guaranteed by the state, not necessarily run by the state. We will improve the NHS and schools for everyone, not help a few to opt out. But public services paid for by the state don't have to be run by the state. We will trust professionals and share responsibility - instead of controlling professionals in state monopolies.

If he does not want to control professionals in state monopolies that is good; it suggests professionals will be left alone and, more importantly, the state won't be a monopoly provider of services. But we need clarification on whether Mr Cameron will embrace free-market solutions along with centrally planned ones.

5. It is our moral obligation to make poverty history. We will fight for free and fair trade, increase international aid, and press for further debt relief. But this is not enough. We will also take action to build those institutions - like the rule of law and property rights - that support development.

Regardless of whether it is our moral obligation to make poverty history is this an aim we alone can realistically achieve? The most we can do is enter into some sort of partnership with countries, partnerships where both sides work for a common outcome. The poor countries - their leaders especially - have the final responsibility because they have the advantages of governance.

6. Security and freedom must go hand in hand. In fighting crime and terrorism, we will be hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security. We will ensure strong defence and the effective enforcement of laws that balance liberty and safety - instead of ineffective authoritarianism which puts both freedom and security at risk.

So we will hopefully use, to the full, laws we already possess. Will we build new prisons? And will we actively seek to punish, educate and reform wrongdoers?

7. We understand the limitations of government, but are not limited in our aspirations for government. We believe in the role of government as a force for good. It can and should support aspirations such as home ownership, saving for a pension, and starting a business. It should support families and marriage, and those who care for others. And it should support the shared experiences that bring us together - such as sport, the arts and culture.

As far as it goes this is good stuff. Government should reflect rather than direct the civil way of life. Good government knows when to be involved and when to stay out. I hope this is not a nice way of saying we will expand the welfare state.

8. We believe that government should be closer to the people, not further away. We want to see more local democracy, instead of more centralisation - whether to Brussels, Whitehall or unwanted regional assemblies - and we want to make the devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales work. Communities should have more say over their own futures.

So are we leaving the EU then?
Is England going to become an independent country?

(That's me off the candidate list...)


The main shortcoming with this document is its lack of substance. This is not necessarily a criticism since its aim is evidently not to present policy but flavour. But it's difficult to vote on a flavour because we do not really know what this will all mean when we come to form a government. I will vote for it without knowing really what it is I am voting for (or even why we are being asked to vote in the first place). I am impatient for substance though. I hope it will start trickling through sooner rather than later.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

March for Free Expression

This is an interesting idea: a rally to take place at Trafalgar Square on 25th March. Simultaneous rallies are planned in other countries. The organisers have a blog and a mission statement:

The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time.

The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock.

We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same.

We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.

The blog is new and I'm hoping to find time to read the few posts already written. This could be a nice idea...

[Source: Making Headlines blog]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Iraq: The Conservative Party's Clause 4 moment

One of the reasons given for New Labour's revival in the mid-1990s was that the Tony Blair made some meaningful - and very public - breaks with his party's discredited socialist past.

The most often mentioned break was his tearing up of Clause 4 of the Labour Party's constitution which, basically, stated the Party's commitment to state ownership of the means of production. The British public was convinced that the state should own as little as possible and Labour had to show they were in tune with this sentiment. So they removed clause 4.

Since his election as Conservative Party leader, David Cameron has been looking for a similar symbol of his 'changed' Conservative Party. He too needs something to tear up in order to provide symbolic - if not actual - evidence of the Party's transformation into something we think the public will vote for. He needs a Clause 4 moment.

Here's an idea for one:

The attack on Iraq was in many respects a deeply un-conservative action. The country had nothing with which to threaten us - or, at least, it possessed little if any more than any other unpleasant dictatorship and considerably less than some others - and its people operated in a religious and social environment that had evolved over the centuries and which was familiar, comfortable and right for the people who were born into it.

The war showed no respect for the settled life of a proud people nor did it acknowledge the sanctity of national sovereignty - two standard conservative values. The intention of the war - to remove an oppressor in order to force onto an unwilling population an alien political creed called democracy - renders our high-minded rejection of armed incursions - by others - into other states meaningless.

Leaving aside the escalating failures of the project (inevitable partition of the country, religious sects' use of the democratic tool of voting as a means to instil non-democratic theocracies of their own particular flavour, usurping of coalition authority by the tribes and the appalling possibility of another Islamic theocracy) we have, hand in hand with the war, the shame of Guantanamo, a place where our belief in principle, justice, law, and fair play could be easily construed as sham, as little more than an affectation.

Of course, one must be pragmatic and pragmatism does not sit easily with solid principle. Principles do have to have exceptions because complex life simply cannot be lived in accordance with immutable law. But the Iraq war and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay are not regrettable but necessary - and temporary - bendings of established principle. The prosecution of these projects by countries with huge resources and a willingness to continue for years amounts to overwhelming evidence that our belief in western values is one of convenience and that the values that mark the civilised west from the barbarian wherever have been shed wholesale and without shame in pursuit of something we are not especially clear about but which is deemed to be more valuable than living a clean and honourable life.

My suggestion to David Cameron is that he give deep consideration to his stance on the war and ask himself some searching - and difficult - questions. Leave aside (for now) the suffering of those on the receiving end of our actions in Iraq and, instead, let us ask ourselves: Who are we as a country? What do we stand for? What do we regard as right - as opposed to easy? What do we believe in?

Better still, let the Conservative Party lock itself away in a quiet room for a couple of days, remove - for now - from their thoughts the reality of the world outside and spend some time answering questions like those. Let them form a view of themselves and of their country that they find pleasing and which they can comfortably and calmly describe, promulgate and defend. Let them be idealists for a while, purists even. Let them be fantasise about how truly good a country like England could be if they only put their minds to it.

Then David Cameron will find his clause 4 moment. Because he will not be able to defend the indefensible and he will not have to try to make good out of something clearly not good and he will not have to try to appear principled in relation to a project that contains barely an ounce of principle.

Let him dissociate the UK from the Iraq war (although, for pragmatic reasons, not necessarily withdraw troops). Let him demand the Americans subject the Guantanamo detainees to standard US law. Let David Cameron show he really is different, that the Conservative Party really has changed by being bold and brave and speaking up for right over wrong. If David Cameron can think openly and clearly enough to realise the war was wrong and if he stated publicly that the war was wrong then the Conservative Party's dissociation from the project would give him his clause 4 moment and might show the British public that he might just be the man he wishes to be seen as.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Spot the difference

If I create insulting cartoons about the Muslim Prophet I am exercising my right to free speech.

If I decide the Nazi holocaust did not take place I go to jail.

I realise double-standards are an unavoidable fact of life - and often not intended - but as I ponder the attempts to export revolutionary democracy to Iraq and the positively Middle Eastern standards of justice and treatment in Guantanamo I wonder, at times, if we in the west need sometimes to take a look in the mirror before pointing the finger elsewhere.

So take your pick:

There is no difference between David Irving's views on the holocaust and the cartoonist's views on Mohammad.


There's no difference between the people seeking to oppress Irving's expression regarding the holocaust and those seeking to suppress the cartoonists'.

We're nothing if not inconsistent, eh?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Church apologises for slavery

The Church of England last night said sorry for the role it played in the 18th century in benefiting from slave labour in the Caribbean.

Rowan Williams, the archbishop, told the synod that the church ought to acknowledge its corporate and ancestral guilt: "The Body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time; it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors, and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the Body of Christ, is prayerful acknowledgment of the failure that is part of us, not just of some distant 'them'.

[Source: The Guardian]

One can perhaps justify an apology by an institution for sins committed within living memory - perhaps on the basis that some of the perpetrators currently active in that institution may well have been active in the wrongdoing itself; and also, maybe, because the victims of that sin may be alive or, at least, able to tell of their suffering to their relatives.

Here though we have people who have never traded in slaves apologising to people who never suffered from that trade.

This move seems to support the idea that a person can be a victim of something that happened not to him but to ancestors - of whom he possibly has no knowledge - many generations ago. Suffering - and, presumably, the indignation, sense of injustice and, maybe, desire for revenge that often accompanies it - can be handed down from generation to generation and treated as if it were a recent occurrence.

And guilt for the trade should not, it seems, be confined to the Church:

The Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, told the synod: "The profits from the slave trade were part of the bedrock of our country's industrial development. No one who was involved in running the business, financing it or benefiting from its products can say they had clean hands.

Imposing collective guilt on white people - most of whom abhor such a trade and would take to the streets in protest if it were carried out in their name - is patently unjust and is not going to bring the races together. Making white people stand-ins for slave traders and black people stand-ins for victims would more likely foment resentment - on both sides - than engender unity.

But since slaves were actually bought from African slave traders it seems possible that, if we pursued this apologising idea to its final conclusion, the 'victims' of the trade might find themselves having to also apologise for 'their' part in it.

Generally, people apologise as an act of taking personal responsibility, as an admission of their wrongdoing and as a way of making peace with somebody they realise have hurt. The recipient of the apology can accept it on the basis that the guilty party feels genuine remorse or regret for what they did. Both parties play a meaningful part in the process and something good can come of it.

The Church's move is not founded on any human understanding of offence, guilt or remorse and so can achieve none of these outcomes. Instead, this act is in keeping with the general tendency to redefine right and wrong, good and bad, up and down - anything and everything - to match an artificial worldview of man and the world he inhabits. As such, the blurring of the lines demonstrated in this apology is similar to the Church's general blurring of lines in its moral stances. The Church has merely succeeded in further confusing society's deteriorating belief in the correctness of personal responsibility.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Class is good; class works...

(With apologies to Gordon Gekko...)

Are we now sophisticated enough to realise that a class system can provide us with standards to aspire to, act as drivers to improve behaviour, education, income, manners and so on and is a way of avoiding grinding uniformity of the most levelled down kind?

Or are we still petty and so lacking in confidence that we are convinced that those 'above' us are looking down and sneering at us with the same contempt and prejudice that we below regard them?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The fundamentals of life

What are the fundamentals of life, the base requirements, the genuine needs (as opposed to desires) of human beings? If society is to be basically happy - content, perhaps - then what are the basic ingredients needed to bake that cake? Here's my attempt to list them:

Personal happiness is, I think, one of the bases of a contented society and I think my list contains some of the more important contributors to personal happiness. Feel free to differ.

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