Friday, 25 October 2013

Nimbyists of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your reputation with politicians!

Two interesting publications have recently come about.  One is the much-publicised report by the Office for National Statistics suggesting that people are happier in rural areas and small market towns, while they are unhappiest and most anxious in urban areas.  The other is a book by developmental economist, Paul Collier on the impact of immigration, called Exodus:  Immigration and Multiculturalism in the Twenty-First Century.

While Collier has previously focused on the impact of a lack of common culture in African countries, he has now turned his attention to the impact of immigration in the developed world and the erosion of mutual regard.  Mutual regard is lost when people have very different cultures – whether that be tribal differences in the modern African state or multiculturalist divisions in Western countries.  Collier appears to realise what politicians do not: That concern about immigration has much more to do with a loss of a common understanding of norms of behaviour and values, than economics alone.  Diversity has a corrosive effect on a shared identity and therefore undermines trust in a society.  This has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with the damaging doctrine of multiculturalism and the sheer scale of immigration in recent years.

The ONS report on the other hand makes clear that we are less lonely and less anxious when we live in more local communities – the market town in particular stands out as an ideal form of community.  Of course what holds the market town or the village together is that people know each other – they are not strangers in their own community.  People have a common understanding of norms of behaviour and shared values. 

The common thread to these two publications is a fact that might be blindingly obvious to the man in the Dog and Duck, but is rarely articulated and completely misunderstood by the political class.  That fact is surely that what strengthens community is the local and the cultural things held in common.  We all need to belong to community to feel fulfilled and we need to share common values, manners and standards with our neighbours.

The way to achieve this goal of the happy society is to live in smaller and more homogeneous communities.  This is directly contrary to all recent governments’ agendas, which have pressurised local authorities to build more and create larger and less homogeneous communities.  Indeed in the blogger’s own home district, a recent report has shown that the primary cause of housing demand is immigration. 

This leads to two negative effects: It undermines the smallness of the community and makes it more diverse.  This is not at all good for general wellbeing.  It must be right to recognise that a healthy society is not only about how economically rich it is, but how happy people are.  We can be materially wealthy, but spiritually poor.  The latter poverty is far more serious.

This blog is not arguing that we should close the doors on everyone, rather the argument is that a society can deal better with immigration, maintain its own wellbeing and make the immigrant more welcome, when people are better assimilated.  That requires a strong community into which the immigrant can be absorbed.  Otherwise we all end up as lonely atoms randomly bouncing around a bleak and urban world.

The Government is looking closely at how to increase general wellbeing.  Surely, the lesson from these recent publications is that we need less development in our small towns, more controls on immigration, protection of our nearby green spaces.  It is time for the political class to acknowledge that concern about these issues is not only about house values, but is a valid concern about losing something far less tangible but far more valuable - our wellbeing.  It is time to start listening to and stop dismissing the so-called Nimbyists!   

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why Socialists don’t understand Conservatives

The Socialist sees politics as being about systems, economic systems to be more specific.  He regards anyone who does not support his agenda for systemic change as a partisan for all that is wrong with this imperfect world. 

The true conservative is not an advocate for usury or capitalism.  He is rather distrustful of systemic and revolutionary change as advocated as an alternative to capitalism.  He does not see life as being all about economic systems.  For him life is about values and he is sceptical of radical change, because in the attempt to create the perfect society much that holds society together is swept away.

Conservatives are at risk of falling into the elephant trap the Left set, once they see themselves as being ideological advocates for an economic system such as capitalism.  Rather the best rebuttal to the Left is to make clear that living morally is not to rant about changing economics, but to do your best in your own society – join the little platoons to make life better for your neighbourhood.

Of course there is greed in our present society, of course there is ambition.  There would be just as much greed and ambition in a society dominated by the state.  The ambitious individual would simply be sycophantic towards the chief bureaucrat in a socialist system instead of the corporate boss. 

Conservatives are strongest when defending a free society based on private property.  This is different from advocating capitalism red in tooth and claw.  When people can own their own property, separate from the state, they gain independence.  They could even pool their property and set up their own communes, opting out of capitalism if they so choose.  It is the tradition of freedom under the rule of law, not so much the market that conservatives should be defending.  Capitalism is a consequence of  a free society, not the be all and end all!

For too long conservatives have allowed the Left to define the parameters of debate.  It is time to start arguing that the solution to many of society’s ills lies at the local and neighbourhood level.  It is about individuals themselves, not political or economic systems being changed.

This is not a philosophy that is about resigning and abdicating one’s responsibility to others, rather it is the very opposite.  It is about taking responsibility as an individual for one’s neighbour.  The true abdication of responsibility is to claim the solution to the problems around me is political and that it is all the system’s fault. 

It is no accident that the famous quotation “For evil to triumph it is necessary only for good men to do nothing” was first uttered by that conservative thinker, Edmund Burke.  It goes to the heart of conservative values.

The Left seems to distrust anything that puts responsibility back onto the individual.  An example of this is the Left’s distrust of religion.  Religious belief identifies the real need for change as lying within the soul of the individual, not within political systems.

It is completely possible to be conservative and dislike the consumerist society, casino banking, the soul-less shopping malls and the greed around us.  Indeed it is consistent with conservative thinking, if by conservative we mean placing emphasis on time-honoured customs and values, such as patriotism and faith, rather than materialism.

As individuals move away from such values towards materialism, the solution is not political, but social and spiritual.  The onus lies on us not the state, to ensure we uphold our Christian values and sustain a more meaningful way of life.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Trafalgar Night reminds us . . .

When a parliamentary candidate the blogger was pleased to partake in the local Conservative Association’s annual Trafalgar Night dinner.  It is understandable that Plymouth Conservatives in particular should want to keep alive the immortal memory.  In Plymouth the memory of our Naval history is very strong.

Admiral Horatio Nelson’s defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet was a story both of superior Naval discipline and daring tactics.  Indeed the national celebrity that the one-eyed, one-armed admiral was becoming had a history of daring risk taking and ignoring orders since his teenage years as a midshipman when he allegedly attempted to hunt a polar bear.

The Royal Navy’s victory at Trafalgar, which confirmed Great Britain as the supreme naval power in the world, was part of a pattern and should remind us of that pattern.  Throughout history it has generally been the free societies that have won wars.  Whether it be the Ancient Greeks defeating the despotic Persian Empire or the British defeating Napoleon’s republican empire, the free polities win.  It seems generally societies less militaristic and less organised defeat their more ruthless and apparently more organised enemies.  In the early Nineteenth Century Great Britain, an old and free country governed by unplanned institutions that had evolved almost accidentally, defeated republican and imperial France – organised and planned on a war footing, where the whole society was galvanised to achieve an overriding ideological goal. 

Whatever people might assume, chaotic democracies do better than centrally-planned regimes.  Often voices in democratic societies have asserted we need to become more like the planned societies of the East, whether it be the Soviet Union in the Cold War or the Persian Empire.  In fact, history and the empirical evidence teaches us that free countries survive their despotic opponents and they survive, this blogger believes, precisely because they are not restricted by planning.

Let the dictator in the bunker micro-manage the war and his own flawed and limited understanding will lead to disaster.  Whether it was Napoleon or Hitler, hubris led them to attack Russia too early.  Because they were dictatorships, there was no alternative view.  The centralised planning in those regimes eventually led to their downfall.

Much as centrally-planned economies lead to disasters, where thousands of toothbrushes might be delivered when there is an overwhelming need for bread or other ridiculous situations arise, so dictatorial regimes cannot adapt in the flexible way they need to, to survive.

True democracies can seem to be bickering and short-sighted places – one thinks of the recent crisis in the politics of the United States, with a dictatorial China looking on as American government shut down.  However, for all their bickering, free societies ensure an alternative view can be put, which might have been overlooked.  Free societies allow individuals who think in a different way from the norm to succeed and bring their genius to the situation. 

Trafalgar Night should remind us; there would have been no room for someone like Nelson in the regime of the Little Corsican – and that is precisely why we rather than France won!   

Monday, 14 October 2013

Is a Privatised Royal Mail an Oxymoron?

In the debate about the recent sell-off of the Royal Mail, there has been far more attention on the price of shares than the fact that the ownership of the “Royal” concept is in private hands.  The greatest privatising prime minister of them all, Margaret Thatcher, held back from privatising Royal Mail precisely because she recognised the sensitivities over selling off not simply a nationalised company, but an institution linked to the monarchy.

Conservatism is not just about economics.  Perhaps the way to differentiate between conservatives and the Left is that conservatives take into account more than the dismal science – as Thomas Carlyle described economics.  For a conservative, concepts of patriotism, tradition, religion and the family are what make society function too.  We are not simply defined by our economic class and our economic needs.

It was an ideology (Socialism) that defined people simply by their economic interest and ignored custom and tradition that led to the dire national crisis of the winter of discontent in 1979.  When people began to regard themselves as fighting an economic war against the ruling class, rather than being part of a nation with shared customs and traditions, conflict and instability were the outcome – as demonstrated by militant trade unionism.  If the modern Conservative Party only relies on economic arguments and forgets those values that are fundamental to conservatism then it has already given up the fight to economic rationalists and socialists.

A conservative should be able to say with conviction that the Queen’s head being on the stamp, the Royal epithet to our postal service, even the red pillar-boxes have a meaning that is not necessarily economically quantifiable. 

Conservatism recognises that emotions are often more important than the bottom line.  Monarchy, the established church, the House of Lords are there not because they are economically efficient (although the suggestion they are costly is a misconception put across by left wingers with an agenda); rather, by preserving and protecting these institutions we recognise that the commonwealth is more than an economic polity and is held together by qualitative rather than quantifiable values only.

If the debate about privatisation of Royal Mail only focuses on the cost of the shares and not on the importance of Royal symbolism then sadly it is the Whigs and not the Tories who have won the great debate about the spirit and soul of our nation.

Friday, 11 October 2013

My latest blog for the British Monarchist Society

. . . can be found here:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My latest blog for the British Monarchist Society