Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A seething cauldron of hate in the British Labour Party

One of the mysteries of history is that no documentary record exists of Adolf Hitler ordering the extermination of the Jews of Europe. This led some historians to question even whether the Nazi dictator really knew about the Holocaust.

Twenty years ago, Britain’s most acclaimed biographer of Hitler, Sir Ian Kershaw, addressed this question in a now-celebrated essay, Working Towards The Fuhrer. Kershaw argued that Hitler’s aides, seeking to gain his approval, would initiate actions which corresponded to what they knew to be his wishes and interests. Thus it was not necessary for the Fuhrer to write to Himmler, the head of the SS: ‘Dear Heinrich, please could you gas the Jews, every last one of them. All the very best, Adolf.’

Without wishing in any way to imply moral equivalence between mass murder and New Labour’s dirty tricks, I propose the same theory to explain the central question raised by the Daily Mail’s serialisation of Power Trip, the extraordinary political memoir of Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, Damian ‘Mad Dog’ McBride.

That question is: did Brown know of or authorise the vicious briefings McBride gave to the press, trashing the reputations of any and all who were perceived as threats, first to Brown’s ambition to become Labour leader in place of Tony Blair and then later to his remaining in charge.

McBride himself summarises his actions as follows: ‘Everything I did as Gordon’s spin doctor, I did out of devotion, out of loyalty and out of some degree of love for the greatest man I ever met ... my attack operations against his Labour rivals and Tory enemies were usually both effective and feared, with me willingly taking all the potential risk and blame.’ Well, that’s certainly more honourable than the Nuremberg defence (I was only obeying orders).

But it does not satisfy the victims of these ‘attack operations’. At the weekend, the former Labour Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell said that ‘Gordon is not an innocent; it is inconceivable he did not know what Damian was doing’. It is worth recalling exactly how vile those attacks could be and just why, as McBride boasts, they were so ‘feared’.

In 2009, he was found out sending emails from No. 10 to that sleazy New Labour figure Derek Draper, encouraging him to put online stories McBride knew to be untrue, that pictures existed of George Osborne ‘posing in bra, knickers and suspenders .... with  his face blacked up’, and that David  Cameron suffered from an embarrassing medical condition.

The myth has grown up that Brown instantly sacked McBride. In fact, the PM spent many hours trying to save his fellow Scot’s job, on the spurious grounds that these email slurs against Cameron and Osborne were never intended for publication.

It was the insistence on the part of senior figures within the Labour Party — who had bitter experience of the terror of McBride’s methods — that forced Brown to cut his acolyte loose, with a memorably paradoxical statement: ‘I take full responsibility for what happened, and that’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.’

I’m prepared to believe that Brown did not know about the muck that McBride was trying to spread all over the personal lives of Cameron and Osborne. But this was still ‘working towards the leader’, in Sir Ian Kershaw’s phrase.

The thing is that Brown did not just see the two Tory chums as political rivals.  He hated them; really, hated them — and McBride would have known that better than anyone.

Part of this might have been a kind of class hatred: for the puritanical Scot Brown, their former membership of Oxford University’s braying Bullingdon Club consigned them to the darkest circle of Hell.

But there is a wider point, I think. It is one of the factors tending to distinguish the Left in politics from the Right, that the former frequently regard the latter as actually wicked, if not evil; whereas most Tories tend to regard the Left as just misguided.

This was explained by a Labour-voting friend who told me ‘the Left are principally concerned to feel good about themselves, so the worse they can paint their ideological enemies, the better they themselves must be. Perhaps it’s even based on a psychological fear of their own dark side’.

Once that mind-set is established, it’s quite easy to see how someone with the brooding nature of Gordon Brown could apply this Manichean division — ‘Us good, them bad’ — to perceived opponents within his own party. Thus McBride felt licensed to leak unsavoury details — true or false — about the personal lives of Brown’s alleged critics within the Labour government.

By contrast, look at those two most politically opposed of Conservatives, Michael Howard and Kenneth Clarke. They have been rivals in every sense since they were officers of the Cambridge University Conservative Association more than half a century ago.

It is not just that they on two occasions contested each other for the leadership of their party. They disagree bitterly on policy from Europe to prisons. Yet they have always managed to remain personally friendly, with each — to this day — attending the other’s annual summer drinks party.  There is a word for this: civilised.

It is not a word which is easy to attach to Gordon Brown, as described so memorably in McBride’s book (whatever you may think of his deeds, he is undeniably a superb writer). So, if unsatisfied with the nature of any radio interview, after it ended ‘Gordon would unleash a tremendous volley of abuse — usually a stream of unconnected swear words. I’m convinced he didn’t care that the BBC were still recording at the other end; he actually wanted them to hear’.

I’m tempted to add that the German Fuhrer was also prone to tantrums that terrified his aides and made them all the more anxious to do whatever it was they thought he must want. But it would be in the worst possible taste to compare Brown’s character with that of the Nazi dictator. Brown had — has — some admirable characteristics, and his concern for the disadvantaged and disabled was genuine and heartfelt.

My wife served on the Diana Memorial committee chaired by Brown when he was Chancellor, and she would often tell me how sensitive and charming she found him. I would invariably reply: ‘That’s because he does not see you challenging him for the leadership of the Labour Party, darling.’

For the Labour Party, indeed, the Caledonian blood feuds of Brown and his tribal vassal McBride are all too fresh in the memory; but at least they now have a balanced leader who does not see disagreement as betrayal.



Perhaps government regulation isn't the way to go then

That something must be done is sometimes true: that that thing must be done by government regulation might also be true at times. But I have a very strong feeling that the majority of times when something must be done doing it by any method other than government regulation would be a good idea. Just three examples from around the place just recently.

Auto-enrollment in the new compulsory pension schemes that the UK government is just introducing. Reports are that this is going to cost firms £15 billion just to fill out the paperwork. Money that, call me misguided if you wish, would probably have been better spent on being put into pension funds for those workers.

The Dodd Frank regulations on conflict minerals. Stopping slave labour at mines in The Congo is a good idea: we were originally told by the Enough Project that the checking system, to make sure no minerals from those mines entered the supply chain, would cost some $10 million a year. The SEC now estimates the cost of doing the paperwork at $4 billion.

The FATCA regulations to stop Americans hiding money abroad, away from the prying eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. This is expected to bring in a few billions a year in additional tax revenues. One estimate I've seen of the cost of compliance with these rules is $1 trillion.

The one thing that is common to all of these cases is that the bureaucracy set up to adminster each scheme has not had to consider the costs to other people of said schemes. That cost of bureaucratic regulation is, if you like, an externality to the legislative system. And as we all know from our studies of climate change externalities must be controlled. The polluter must pay is the most common catchphrase here.

So, to repeat a suggestion I've made before. We need to change the system so that those externalities are internalised, are made part of the legislative and decision making process. The most obvious method of doing so is that we get to charge the government for the time they make us spend on paperwork. They want us to fill out a complicated form? Great, that'll be £75 an hour (a reasonable semi-professional rate that) for the time it takes me to fill out said form.

That'll stop the little buggers in their tracks.....



The religion of peace again

A LARGE explosion rocked the Kenyan mall where Islamic extremists are holding hostages and killed 68 people. including an Australian.

Kenyan troops launched an assault on cornered Somali militants holding hostages inside a Nairobi shopping mall to end the deadly siege.

"Godspeed to our guys in the Westgate building," Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre said in a message on its Twitter site. "Major engagement ongoing."

The number of people killed in the ongoing siege, which began on Saturday, is feared to rise sharply from the 68 people confirmed dead, police sources said after entering the building.

Israeli forces have joined Kenyan efforts to end the deadly siege, a security source said.  "The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured," the source said on condition he not be named.




CA: State adopts regs for ride-share services:  "Ride-sharing companies like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX will have to obtain state licenses and put their drivers through training under rules passed Thursday by state regulators. The California Public Utilities Commission approved 28 regulations that are designed to ensure the safety of a relatively new and increasingly popular transportation service in which riders and drivers connect through smartphone apps. Critics had voiced concern that the industry didn't face the same standards that traditional taxi companies face." [Comment:  This one, being an Internet service, is easy to avoid -- just move the companies and their servers out of the state, maybe even out of the country]

House votes to cut $4 billion a year from food stamps:  "The House has voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation's main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans. The 217-210 vote was a win for conservatives after Democrats united in opposition and some GOP moderates said the cut was too high. The bill's savings would be achieved by allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and to test applicants for drugs. The bill also would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely."

US House conservatives submit bill to replace “ObamaCare” amid “defund” fight:  "A group of House conservatives introduced legislation Wednesday that members say will replace ObamaCare and its 'unworkable' taxes and mandates with a plan that expands tax breaks for Americans who buy their own insurance. Under the proposal endorsed by the 175-member Republican Study Committee, Americans who purchase coverage through state-run exchanges can claim a $7,500 deduction against their income and payroll taxes, regardless of the cost of the insurance. Families could deduct $20,000."

What if hospitals treated “customers” not patients?:  "One of my many faults is a total lack of patience. I am not patient in part because I am compulsive about being punctual. All this is relevant because I have recently had a lot of quiet time, sitting in several hospitals while being treated for a newly discovered malignant tumor found to have invaded my bladder. The urologist who announced the invasion to me also proclaimed -- 'It is no big deal.' Yeah, but to me the first time I am told I have cancer is a very big deal. ... I began to wonder at the irony of being called a 'Patient.' I suggest hospitals should begin to use the proper term: 'Customer.'"

There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


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