I haven’t been blogging much recently. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the attraction of Twitter – putting one’s views in a short, easy format, and getting the immediate support of, oooh, six readers. Another is the feeling that much of what needs to be said falls into John Cleese’s category of “Master’s Degree in the bleedin’ obvious”:
- (Guess which week this was written !!) Liz Truss isn’t up to it. She is helping a disease that infected us from America and Australia – the idea that political success is made by seeking out enemies and demonising them, by splitting the country into mutually hostile factions and sects, rather than bringing people together and improving life for the many.
- The growth the UK economy needs will not be delivered by any of the measures advocated by the current government. What is needed is greater private sector investment, better public infrastructure, improved management and an emphasis on lifelong education and training. We are getting none of them, and there is no evidence that tax cuts/free ports/cutting red-tape (whatever that means) will help in the slightest.
- People in rubber dinghies in the Channel are not illegal immigrants. They become so only when a proper evaluation has been conducted. As it is, 60% or so pass the government’s own assessment of their case.
- We are an unequal society, and those of us wanting to see fewer children hungry or adults cold are not Venezuelan revolutionaries seeking the King’s head on a spike. Hardly anyone wants absolute equality, but 99% of us would benefit from greater equality than we have at the moment. There’s respectable evidence that it is good for the economy – see “The Spirit Level”.
- Explaining where the money came from to build stately homes (something, actually, that has always fascinated me) is not “woke nonsense”. It’s our history.
- Grammar schools don’t raise standards, and there is no need for any emphasis on more academic sixth forms (least of all, helped by private schools seeking to improve their reputation). If any, we need fewer.
You know all of that. If you didn’t, there are better people than me to explain them all.
No doubt I’ll leap back in now and again, but I thought what I’ll do now is reflect on my own record on this blog. It’s been going for more than ten years, and some items have been brought forward from (can’t work out whether this sounds good, or bad) the last century. I’m pretty happy with most of it. In the modern cant, I’ve got the big calls right, and (preen, preen) most of the small ones. I’ll happily defend everything I’ve written on education policy, economics (bloody Laffer curve, bloody balanced budgets), inequality, growth and productivity, history (I might do some more work on the misuse of WW2 in British politics), and so on. Plain that Conservative governments have been, overall, bad for the country, and austerity particularly. I didn’t expect Brexit to be quite the disaster it’s turned out to be, but that was because I couldn’t believe it would be quite so badly implemented: nevertheless, I voted remain, and become fiercer about this as time passes. I saw through Corbyn. I’ve regularly written on bogus quotations, and there are others rallying to that cause: not earth-shattering, but (as Orwell did say) political language matters. I remain pro-Israel – a Zionist moron, as a Twitter correspondent described me – though the actions of the current leaders of that country can make it hard.
Where have I gone wrong ? Looking back, there’s a 2014 item about the toppling of the pro-Russian Ukraine president that I thought was undemocratic, and would lead to trouble. Not sure how that sits now: it reads a bit more like realpolitik rather than prescience.
Further back in my life, I opposed joining the EEC in the 1974, talked at various meetings, wrote articles from what would today be called a Lexit perspective. I still think I was right about not joining the Eurozone – saw it coming, explained why it was a mistake – but broadly, partnership with Europe has proved a good idea. The idea that membership was ill advised because it would prevent a progressive British government introducing radical reforms was followed by ten years of Thatcher. And look what’s happened now we’ve tried a different path. I was a sceptic about the power of the internet, and pooh-poohed the idea that a substantial part of our purchases would be made on line: Amazon was making big losses, and wouldn’t last long. That change in our habits came later than predicted, but it happened, and the owners made fortunes. I thought budget airlines were a bad idea that would end in smoking crashes as companies cut maintenance costs: now I lament Ryanair no longer flying to Dinard. Can’t remember last time I flew on a mainstream airline. I couldn’t see the point of gay marriage until a friend had to buy back half his London flat when his partner died. Going back a long way, in the 1970s I thought publishing school and college inspection reports was a dreadful idea: can’t remember why. On the other hand, I can claim some long term and slightly unpopular wins. I’ve always been in favour of nuclear power, for example. Can’t see how we can save the planet without it. And history reveals that I was right to to be sceptical about the simplicities of the Vietnam War and Cuba. A conflict we were told was a peasant uprising ended with troops from a one party state riding into Saigon on tanks: Cuba probably imprisons as many dissidents now as Batista every did, even if the government is now an inefficient tyranny rather than a corrupt one.
Of course, there’s a difference between value judgements and facts. You can say Britain is more or less unequal than another country – that can be confirmed by data – but saying you’re in favour of, or against more equality is a matter of preference. The boundary can be blurred (the idea that inequality improves economic growth is discredited) but it’s a view. You can say you think people should keep more of their income rather than pay additional taxes, and that’s a respectable philosophical view. What you can’t say is cutting taxes increases the government take, because it just doesn’t. You can prefer ski holidays to hot holidays, but you can’t say there is more snow in summer. That may be a silly example, but we have people who want to avoid vaccination because they feel they have the right to determine medical interventions (OK) but that doesn’t mean they are correct in asserting that Bill Gates is trying to insert computer chips in your blood.
The thing to look for is people who accept inconvenient facts. You can say that Brexit is important for national autonomy. What you can’t say is that Brexit will improve our economy or overseas trade. Another sign of honesty is having unmatching views. The curious thing is how many current political views are accepted in overlapping clusters. People who deny the effectiveness of vaccines are likely to be pro-Brexit. People who want lower taxes will say grammar schools help raise standards. People who want more nationalisation are pro-Palestinian. There is no connection between these pairs of views. In some cases, cluster views are contradictory. I suspect most “pro-life” Americans are in favour of the death penalty, which is odd. These pairs seem evidence that political views are a signal of position, rather than a developed and evidenced stance.
One thought on “Looking back and forward”
Yep. I share your curiosity about the construction and financing of châteaux and stately homes over the centuries. The economics behind all of that is a subject that is rarely developed in any detail.