Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 130
16th February 2005

What's Wrong With British Conservatism?
Text of a Speech Given By Sean Gabb
at The Royal Society of Arts,
Tuesday the 15th February 2005

On Tuesday the 15th February 2005, I spoke at a conference organised by the Royal Society of Arts in London. The subject was “What's Wrong With British Conservatism?.” According to the official notification of this debate:

While American conservatism is in such apparently rude health, its English cousin appears terminally ill. The British Conservative Party used to be the biggest political party in the West, but is now a shadow of its former self. What happened to the social base of the British Conservative party? Can the British Conservative Party learn any lessons from America?

The speakers were:

  • Boris Johnson, MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator;
  • Dr Irwin Stelzer, Director of Economic Policy Studies, The Hudson Institute, and editor of Neoconservatism;
  • Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex;
  • Dr Sean Gabb, Director of Communications at the Libertarian Alliance.  

The Chairman of the debate was Samuel Brittan, a writer for The Financial Times and author of Against The Flow

It was a most interesting debate, and I am glad that so many of my friends were able to attend. I am obtaining a recording of the event, and will place this on the Libertarian Alliance website just as soon as I can find time for the necessary conversion and html coding. In the meantime, here is a brief record of it.

Dr Irwin Stelzer spoke from an American perspective. He said that the British Conservative Party needs to learn from the Republicans. He made several good points. But since the American Republicans are not really concerned with liberty, or with any type of conservatism relevant to the English tradition, his advice was of limited use.

Boris Johnson gave his usual good and enthusiastic performance. Though I had a rather bitter dispute with him in 2001, I have come in recent years to think more highly of him. He is easily the most interesting and clever Conservative politician in the public eye. If only he were less immediately ambitious and were willing to wait another five years or so for a chance of real power, he might look forward to a very successful career. As it is, he feels too constrained to follow the existing Party line, and this diminished the impact of what he had to say.

Paul Whiteley ran through various polling statistics that showed the Conservatives to be not entirely without hope of winning the next election. While the main opinion polls put the Government ahead, this lead vanishes once the likely turnout is considered. Labour support is melting away in much of the country, while the Conservative core vote is largely holding together. While I am not sure what sort of mandate might flow from an election won on the basis of whose vote collapses the least, I do grant that Mr Blair may be in serious electoral trouble. 

Now to my own speech. I do have a strong prejudice against reading from a prepared text. The ancients never did this – and whatever they did in the arts is a model for all eternity. There used to be rules in the House of Commons against even notes. And the soporific effect of a read speech entirely cancels the effect of the best preparation. On the other hand, I had only eight minutes for my speech, and I wanted to ensure that I made every point I had in mind. So I wrote a speech last Friday, and spent the next few days thinking about the balance and spoken emphases of the sentences. I did think to have the text in front of me as I spoke. Fortunately, I was unable to find this in my bag, and so had to speak from memory and momentary inspiration.

I shall never be a really good public speaker. My voice is too flat, and I never think to smile at an audience. But I can be effective. I spoke clearly and grammatically last night, and I said everything I wanted much as I had wanted. I may even have made the best speech. Here it is:

The central question of this debate, ladies and gentlemen, is what is wrong with British conservatism?  My answer – and I speak for many other people, both in this room and beyond – Is hardly anything at all. From Europe to tax to immigration, conservatives are beginning to set the agenda of public debate. Forget the largely mythical threat of Islamic terrorism: it is against conservatives that laws like the Civil Contingencies Act have been made. Whole stretches of popular culture – the comedian Jimmy Carr, for example, or BBC satirical programmes like Monkey Dust and Little Britain – are objectively conservative. There is now in this country a conservative movement – and I include libertarians in this movement – more passionate and more agreed in substance on what needs to be done than I can recall. All that is wrong with British conservatism is that it lacks a conservative party. The Conservative Party has been out of office now for almost eight years; and even against a Government that, for corruption and incompetence and petty tyranny and high treason and utter discredit, is unprecedented in our history, it is unlikely to win the next election – or perhaps the one after that.

The problem with the Conservative Party and its associated media is that as long as I have been alive, its function has been less to advance conservative interests than to neutralise conservative opinion. This country is ruled by the left. The left dominates the administration and the media and education. Its aim is to construct a new order in which – whatever its proposed merits—we shall have been stripped of our historic liberties and our national identity. The left continues to rule by ruthlessly destroying anyone who challenges it. Even so, it must rule a nation that, so long as it remains a nation, is strongly conservative. The solution is a Conservative Party and a Conservative media that many of us increasingly call the Quisling Right.

A Quisling Rightist is someone who calls himself a Conservative. When standing for office, he implies promises without making them. If pressed, he will make promises that he has no intention of keeping. If elected, he will make firm declarations of principle and argue over inessentials. His conservative politics are purely symbolic. Where essentials are concerned, he will do nothing to challenge the continued domination of the left. In return for this, he will be invited to the best parties, and allowed endless time in the media. When he leaves politics, he will become the Warden of an Oxford college or the Chancellor of one of the new universities. He will be allowed income and status. He will earn this by systematically betraying those who trusted him to stand up for all that they held most dear this side of the grave.

There was a time when conservatives were not able properly to discuss what, on a candid review of the past half century, is hardly worth contesting. Conservatives generally came together only within the institutional structures of the Conservative Party – a rigid, centralised organisation, as able to suppress internal dissidence as the old Communist Party. But the Internet has now brought thousands of us together in places far beyond Party control. And if we argue there over many things, we agree on many others. And what we are coming to agree most firmly is that there is no point in working for a victory at the next election of the Conservative Party.

What would happen, we ask, if, by some miracle, the Conservative were to form the next government? Our answer is that they would do nothing substantial. At the end of five years, there would have been much political excitement and much appearance that something was being done. But there would, at the end, have been still fewer of our historic liberties and still less of our national identity. The project of the left would have moved forward as if Labour had never left off ice.

Why then vote Conservative? For myself – and for most of my friends – if I must be destroyed, let me be speared in the front by someone who looks me in the eye and calls himself my enemy. Far better this than be garrotted from behind by a supposed friend.

Until recently, this line of thinking could often be checked by the approach of an election. The Conservatives are dreadful, we would say. They have broken all their promises so far. But Labour is dreadful too, and these Conservatives might this time do something half decent. But this check no longer applies. The present generation of the Quisling Right is so ineffective that it cannot even tell a straight lie. It will not win the next election. This being so, we in the conservative movement might as well vote for a party that says what we believe. That party will not win either, but at least our votes will be counted and recognised as a clear statement of opinion. What party will this be? It might be UKIP. It might be Veritas. It might be some other party yet to be formed. It will not be the Conservative Party.

Let me end where I began. The conservative movement in this country is in enviably good health. All we need to take power and dismantle the project of the left is a conservative party that is at heart conservative. All that holds us back is that we are stuck with the Quisling Right. 

I could have elaborated on these points. But I made them well enough.

Afterwards to dinner with Dr Tame, David Carr, Bruce Nichol and Paul Staines. We agreed that there was a comfort in despair. Now that the Conservatives have made it clear that they have no intention of rolling back the New Labour revolution, and now that they have ensured they cannot win the next election – as opposed to watching Labour lose it – we felt content to watch the downward course of events, while continuing to prepare for some eventual reaction. 

As said, I will in due course publish a sound file of the proceedings, and will also get copies of the various photographs taken.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 143
22nd January 2006

Mark Oaten, Rent Boys and the Secret Police:
A View of How England is Governed at the End of its History
by Sean Gabb

At a dinner party last Wednesday, I fell into conversation with a friend who is also a friend of Mark Oaten. He—for those of my readers who do not live in England or in the present—was at the time the home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party, and was standing for the leadership of his party. I heard from my friend that Mr Oaten's office had just been burgled. We passed an interesting ten minutes speculating on which of his rivals had commissioned the burglary, and what might have been found. We agreed on looking forward to Thursday morning for the newspaper reports.

Except for a paragraph in The Guardian, there were no newspaper reports of the burglary. The big news instead was that Mr Oaten had withdrawn from the leadership contest. The lack of coverage of the burglary, together with concentration on its probable effect, suggested some involvement by the secret police. But why should it matter to them, I asked, who led the Liberal Democrat Party? And what was the nature of the dirt they had found in his office and used against him?

The second question was answered this morning by The News of the World. This revealed how Mr Oaten had been consorting for some time with male prostitutes, and that these had on at least one occasion been paid to humiliate him with what the reporter described as "a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe". Bearing in mind what sexual acts do get routinely described, and even shown, in the British media nowadays, the mind reels at what Mr Oaten must have been doing. Not surprisingly, he had already resigned from the Liberal Democrat front bench, and his political career is probably over.

I turn now to the first question. Why should the secret police take any interest in fixing the election to lead the Liberal Democrat Party? Why destroy Mr Oaten? His views, after all, were about the closest of any of the candidates to those of the other party leaders. He would in no sense have promised any radical departure from the consensus. Yet he has been destroyed, and with a memorable brutality. Why?

My answer is that Mr Oaten was destroyed because he was foolish enough to stand in the way of the latest stage in the reshaping of our politics. He fell victim to a conspiracy.

I grant—I have no factual evidence for what I am about to say. No one has taken me aside and whispered into my ear, or given me classified documents. Aside from having heard about the burglary last week, I have no more information than anyone else. This being said, the facts as we have them do suggest a hidden cause. I could state the facts and reason back to this cause. However, I am not writing for some learned journal, and I find it more entertaining to assume the cause, and then show how it provides a scheme of explanation for the facts.

I assume that the ruling class of this country—or a significant group within it—has lost confidence in Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and in the Labour Party as a governing force. This, if true, is the main fact in our politics. Indeed, it has become the connecting thread for the whole present narrative of politics in this country.

Now, some of my friends—and one was with me at that dinner party of last Wednesday—believe that there is something called "The Blair Project", and that the content of this is determined by and connected with nothing more than the momentary electoral convenience of Mr Blair. They laugh at me if I insist that there is any more significant connecting thread for events.

For all they laugh, they are wrong. It is possible to see, during the past 25 years in at least this country, a movement towards a new settlement in politics. This movement has continued regardless of who has occupied which office, and regardless of what party has won which election. It is clear that the ruling class—or that loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, and media and business people who derive wealth and power and status from an enlarged and active state—wants an end of liberal democracy. The desired new settlement is one in which those at the top or with the right connections can enjoy the most fabulous wealth and status, and in which their enjoyment of these can never again be challenged from below. We, the ordinary people, are to be stripped of our constitutional rights—no freedom of speech, no personal or financial privacy, no procedural safeguards in the criminal law. We are to be taxed and regulated to what counts in our own culture as the edge of the breadline. This is on the one hand to provide incomes for clients of the ruling class, and on the other to deprive us of the leisure that might allow us to understand our situation, and of the confidence that might allow us to challenge it. In any event, every organ of the ruling class is at work on promoting ideologies of boundless submission to the new settlement.

At the same time, structures of accountability that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries are to be deactivated. Their forms will continue. There will be assemblies at Westminster. But these will not be sovereign assemblies with the formal authority of life and death over us all. That authority will have been passed to various unelected and transnational agencies. And so far as the Westminster assemblies will remain important, our votes will have little effect on what they enact.

We are passing into the sort of world that existed in much of Europe before the French Revolution—a world of diverse and conflicting sources of authority, all equally unaccountable. The great simplification of authority that happened in Europe after 1789, and that had happened over two centuries earlier in England, was a product of nationalism; and simplification was followed by accountability and then by liberalism. This sort of reaction is in future to be made impossible by promoting movements of people so that nations in the old sense disappear, and are replaced by patchworks of nationalities more suspicious of each other than of any ruling class.

The progress of this counter-Enlightenment can be seen in the statute book— from the removal of the unanimity rule in jury trials in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, to the European Communities Act 1972, to the subsequent Criminal Justice Acts, to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to the Civil Contingencies Act and the Terrorism Act 2005. In these, we have a clear movement towards despotism. This movement did not begin in 1997. The Election of the Blair Government marked no change of direction—but only of pace. The policies of state we have at present have not been set because they suit the electoral convenience of Tony Blair. Mr Blair became Prime Minister because he seemed at the time best suited to carry forward policies of state set by others.

But his usefulness is at an end. He is no longer wanted by those who matter, and his party is no longer wanted.

Therefore, the Conservative Party has been brought back from the dead. It has been given a leader who has accepted almost everything done by Labour since 1997, and whose objections are confined to those areas within which the ruling class is itself divided. Because of what he is—or of what he says and does— Mr Cameron has been cried up by our controlled media as a man of outstanding charm and vision. In contrast, the Government is every day reviled in the media for some new dereliction—alleged "paedophiles" allowed to teach in schools, or complicity in the use of torture by the Americans, for example—that would once have been discussed in terms too restrained to cause instability.

My advice to anyone who likes to gamble is to bet on a Conservative victory at the next election. Do not suppose that this will be a government of conservatives. Just as the Labour victory in 1997 caused no break in continuity, so the replacement of Labour will in turn change nothing fundamental. But there is to be a change of faces at the top.

All that stands in the way of a Conservative revival is the effect on our electoral system of the Liberal Democrat Party. This has benefited since 1997 from the oblivion to which the ruling class and its media condemned the Conservatives. It holds several score seats taken from the Conservatives, and splits the anti-Labour vote in scores of other seats.

Therefore, Charles Kennedy was forced earlier this month to resign as Liberal Democrat leader. The cover story was that he was a drunkard and had been useless in his position, and that the challenge came from Menzies Campbell. So far as I can tell, he had been pretty effective—more so than most party leaders. As for Mr Campbell—let us, by the way, stop recognising the titles handed round within the ruling class: now that our Constitution is no longer liberal or democratic, its honours are to be regarded again as mere feudalistic baubles—I doubt he is bright enough to tie his own shoe laces. Mr Kennedy was forced out because he was too effective as party leader for the Conservatives to recover. He was threatened with a personal destruction so horrible that he resigned on the spot and was glad to call himself a drunk in public. Mr Campbell was then told to get ready to preside over the electoral collapse of his party.

Then Mark Oaten announced he would run for the leadership. Given his public views, he might have thought himself the preferred candidate of the ruling class. He misread the situation. He was probably warned, in the usual elliptical way, that he should withdraw from the contest. He did so too late. The reporters had already been briefed, and the front pages cleared. By then, he had been too much of an irritant, or was too unimportant, to save.

The nature of his sexual tastes had no bearing on the decision to break him. I have never met a Member of Parliament who was not obviously into drink or bribes or unconventional sex. The secret police make sure that no one who cannot at the right moment be pressured into conformity will come close to being elected to Parliament.

Nor have the Liberal Democrats been the only minor party targetted for destruction. The UK Independence Party is dead as an electoral force. There is a limit to how much infighting a political party can survive. UKIP has been torn apart by agents of entry and of provocation, and is headed for collapse. Because of its authoritarian structure, the British National Party is less open to such attacks. Therefore, its leader has been put on trial for political offences that carry a maximum sentence of seven years. Since I believe Mr Griffin is himself an agent of the secret police who has gone beyond his brief, I suspect the present trial in Leeds will end in a compromise. Do not expect the BNP to continue offering in future the sort of challenge to the new settlement in our politics it seemed until recently on the verge of offering.

So, lucky Mr Cameron. All he has to do now is ensure the ruling class remains disenchanted with the present Government, and hope that enough of the electorate fails to see what is being done to the country and will continue to legitimise a settlement that in its sordid authoritarianism taints the preceding thousand years of English history.

But if what is happening in England now is distressing and even shameful, it is also compulsively interesting.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 148
14th June 2006

The Inaugural Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society:
An Incidental Record
by Sean Gabb

The Property and Freedom Society was set up in August 2005 by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Its Opening Declaration reads as follows:

The Property and Freedom Society stands for an uncompromising intellectual radicalism: for justly acquired private property, freedom of contract, freedom of association—which logically implies the right to not associate with, or to "discriminate against," anyone in one's personal and business relations—and unconditional free trade. It condemns imperialism and militarism and their fomenters, and champions peace. It rejects positivism, relativism, and egalitarianism in any form, whether of "outcome" or "opportunity," and it has an outspoken distaste for politics and politicians. As such it seeks to avoid any association with the policies and proponents of interventionism, which Ludwig von Mises had identified in 1946 as the fatal flaw in the plan of the many earlier and contemporary attempts by intellectuals alarmed by the rising tide of socialism and totalitarianism to found an anti-socialist ideological movement. Mises wrote: "What these frightened intellectuals did not comprehend was that all those measures of government interference with business which they advocated are abortive...There is no middle way. Either the consumers are supreme or the government."

As culturally conservative libertarians, we are convinced that the process of de-civilization has again reached a crisis point and that it is our moral and intellectual duty to once again undertake a serious effort to rebuild a free, prosperous, and moral society. It is our emphatic belief that an approach embracing intransigent political radicalism is, in the long run, the surest path to our cherished goal of a regime of totally unfettered individual liberty and private property. In thus seeking a fresh and radical new beginning, we are heeding the old but frequently forgotten advice of Friedrich Hayek's: "We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a programme which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty..., which is not too severely practical and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are prepared to resist the blandishments of power and influence and who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote�..Unless we can make the philosophical foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost."

When I read it, this struck me as a fine declaration of intent. Here was a new international libertarian movement that promised not to descend into a clique of efficiency experts for the State, and not to accept the narrowing of the boundaries of debate that is the deal many libertarians strike with our politically correct masters. Even finer perhaps was that I was invited to attend and speak at the May 2006 inaugural meeting in Halicarnassus, otherwise known as Bodrum.

Except I once spent an hour on a runway in Constantinople, I had never visited Turkey, and I was interested to see the country. I was interested because, together with Athens, the Ionian coast was the cradle of our civilisation, and its ruins, I have always read, are a wonderful sight. In particular, Halicarnassus must always be of interest to the historian, as it is where Herodotus was born.

I was also interested because I grew up with a strong prejudice against the Turks. They were the leading representatives of The Other. They had nothing to do with the first explosion of Islam that took Syria, Egypt and North Africa from our civilisation. But they did, from the eleventh century, swallow up all that remained of the East Roman Empire. They took Constantinople. They took Greece. They got twice to the gates of Vienna. They were, until they declined and we progressed beyond all hope of competition, a continual standing threat to Christian Europe. Mention the Turks to me, and I tended to think of the Crusades and the siege of Constantinople, and the Battle of Lepanto, and John Sobieski. I thought of oriental despotism, and bottomless decadence, and Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. As a European, I thought, and I shuddered.

And I shuddered because the Turks were a threat not in the sense that the Mongol Hordes or the Soviet Empire were threats. They were so threatening because what they had to offer was often so very attractive. They were relaxed in matters of nationality, and they were tolerant in religion. So long as the appropriate taxes were paid and respect given, they allowed each ethnic and religious group to govern itself. That last, heroic defence of Constantinople was undercut by the unwillingness of many Orthodox Christians to pay the cost of remaining in Christendom. I am not sure if the Western powers were able in the fifteenth century to give the effectual help the Byzantine Government was so desperate to obtain. What I do know is that the price of any support was too great for the Orthodox—involving as it did submission to Rome in all matters of doctrine. It was Lucas Notaras, the last Byzantine Grand Admiral, who said "Better the Sultan's turban than the Cardinal's hat".

Under the Turks, the Greek Church remained free to continue its own doctrinal evolution. The modern Greeks tend to emphasise how they suffered under the Turks. They say nothing of how they collaborated with the Turkish invaders against the Venetian rule of Crete. Even the fairly neutered Inquisition allowed by Venice was worse than some Pacha who cared nothing either way about the Filioque. Indeed, one reason why Hungary is the only country in Central Europe that has a large number of Protestants is that it was only recovered by the Hapsburgs from Turkish rule after religious persecution had begun to go out of fashion.

What ruined Turkey was partly the Scientific Revolution and the general miracle of Western Europe, and partly the defects of oriental despotism. Given a bright, energetic Sultan in Constantinople, the wealth and power of Turkey were at once a marvel and a terror to European travellers. But there was none of the constitutional order that sustained Byzantium until the end. Let a fool or a weakling rule in Constantinople, and all security for life and property was at an end.

I knew that the Turks had made an admirable recovery after losing the Great War. They had reformed their laws to imitate the West, and had made a determined—if neither right nor wise—attempt to impose an imitation of Western manners on the people. The Turks I had known in England were generally fine people. And for all my impassioned Hellenism, I had come to despise the modern Greeks—a shifty, disreputable people, like a beggar in the street holding up their often self-inflicted sores for pity. Their constant whining about the Elgin Marbles, and more recently about the Turkish revenge for what they did to the minority in Cyprus, disgusted me. They have turned Athens into a sewer, and seem to derive much of their national income from frauds on the European Union. In London, even the kebab shops are better when run by Turks. One day, I shall consider giving up what is now the affectation of using the Greek names for Turkish places.

But Turkey was The Other. I set out on my journey there with mixed feelings that I have only partly described above.

My first impression of the Turks was decidedly good. In Heathrow, as I was disrobing and feeding my hand luggage through the scanners that are supposed to protect us from terrorism, someone stole my wallet. Since this contained £300 in cash and all my credit cards, I was more than usually agitated. The security staff muttered into their radios and looked panicky, but showed no inclination to do anything for me. It was the Turks also queuing for the flight who jumped into action. Within a minute, they had caught the thief and recovered my wallet. Left to their own justice, they might have kept the lower class Englishman who had "mistakenly" acquired my property and beaten him to jelly. Instead, they handed him to the security people, who promptly let him continue his own journey.

However, for all their supposed thoroughness, the security checks in Heathrow overlooked a certain item I had forgotten was in my camera bag. This should have been apparent to the most casual glance at the scanners. But I managed to travel with it unchallenged all the way to Constantinople. There it was discovered. As the official there pulled it from my bag with a flourish and a twirl of his moustache that reminded me of Hercule Poirot, I nearly fainted with horror. I wondered how many years I might spend in a Turkish prison. Instead, the official took the item, filled out a form, got me to sign it, and sent me on my journey to Halicarnassus with detailed instructions on how to recover my property at the airport there.

As I came through security, I was met by a young lady who had my property for me in a paper bag. She got me to sign another form, then handed it over with a reminder that I should consider packing the item in my main luggage for the journey home.

So much for all that intrusive and expensive security. The only reason, it is clear, why no one hijacks aeroplanes out of Heathrow is that no one particularly wants to.

I could mention that the Turks mislaid my main luggage in Constantinople, and I had to wait for it to come down on the next flight. But these things happen everywhere, and I was filled during my fairly short wait with about a gallon of Turkish coffee while an old man in the airport security told me stories about his grandfather, who was a private soldier on the Ottoman side in the Gallipoli disaster. The only point of difference between us there was that he thought better of Winston Churchill than I did.

The drive down to Halicarnassus took about an hour and was of great interest. Looking out of the window of the special car sent to collect me, I could see the coastal terrain of Asia Minor. I had never realised how mountainous it was, and how relatively easy it must have been for the coastal cities to defend themselves against the larger continental powers inland. Otherwise, there was Don W. Printz, a retired dermatologist and longstanding friend of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. We spent much of the next week together, and our conversations on history, economics, syphilis—he used to be an expert on sexually transmitted diseases, in which I have some academic interest—and related matters, all began on that drive through the dramatic landscape.

Except it is prettier and more relaxed, Halicarnassus looks like any other resort on the Mediterranean coast. Whatever may be their race or religion or general manners, the various nations looking out from the shores of that remarkable sea all seem to possess a similar culture. And it is a most attractive culture—or so it is to an outsider—with its wine and salads and tobacco and relaxed view of life. In this, the coastal Turks are the same as the Spaniards, the Italians and the Greeks. I am told that travelling inland, past those mountain ranges, you will find a progressively alien world. But Halicarnassus might pass for a gentler, more tasteful Hagios Nikolaos. My only reminder of being outside Europe was that I was, for the first time since 1991, in a country where I could not understand the local language.

The conference was to be held in the Hotel Karia Princess. This is owned and run by Gulcin Imre, whose doctoral thesis was on the economics of Ludwig von Mises. The hotel is a splendid place—luxurious yet welcoming. Mrs Imre is fluent in both English and German, and has a good line in intellectual conversation. And I would say this even if she had not been kind enough to buy one of my books and praise it. Her Head of Public Relations, by the way, is a Slovak. A shame Mrs Gabb was unable to attend. She would have loved every minute.

What can I say of Professor Hoppe? Some call him the greatest libertarian philosopher of our age. Others shudder at the mention of his name. Many, I have no doubt, manage both. I had read and admired his book, Democracy: The God that Failed, and many of his articles. I like his general vision of a libertarianism made compatible with the conservatism of the English world— after all, what is libertarianism but a systematisation of the English Way? I am less convinced by the philosophical rationalism he shares with von Mises and others of the Austrian tradition in social thought. I am too immersed in—or perhaps was too early corrupted by—the thought of David Hume. But I found him a charming and tolerant leader of the Property and Freedom Society. And he is, like most foreigners who learn our language, one of the few people who can speak fluent, grammatical English. With a cigarette between his fingers—and they are dirt cheap over there—he is a first class raconteur.

I am aware that I ought now to move to a detailed account of the conference. It was a good one, and I particularly enjoyed the speeches of Paul Belien and Paul Gottfried. Even the short contributions of the panellists told me much of interest about property rights in other parts of the world and about the contributions, actual and potential, of religion to the institutions of civil society. I learnt that, in spite of all I read in the newspapers, Turkey can be expected to become a more truly liberal place for the return of Islam to its politics. But the surroundings were so overpowering, and the conversations over dinner and on the various trips were so interesting, that my enduring memories of the conference have been overlaid by these other things.

I have already mentioned Dr Printz, whom I look forward to seeing again. Then there was Paul Belien, there with his wife Alexandra Colen and two of their children. Dr Belien founded the Centre for the New Europe, which was until recently run by my friend and partner in the Libertarian Alliance Tim Evans. Dr Belien is a Flemish nationalist and his wife sits in the Belgian Parliament. Just before leaving Belgium, Dr Belien was hit with a major smear by the Establishment of the country. he had written the sort of article about the right to keep and bear arms for defence that I write every year or so. Where my articles in England simply get me on the wireless and into the newspapers, this got Dr Belien into potentially serious trouble. Some youth had got a gun and gone on a killing spree, and everyone in politics and the media had decided that Dr Belien was somehow to blame. He had been forced to take the article down from his website, and was now facing the threat of criminal proceedings. I listened to the story with incredulity. I thought England had gone rotten. I was not aware that Belgium was more rotten still. With its laws against free expression, and its systematic discrimination against its most enterprising nationality, the country hardly ranks as a liberal democracy. For what little it may be worth, Dr Belien has the full support of the Libertarian Alliance in defending his right to freedom of speech.

Then there was Paul Gottfried. His speech was a denunciation of the American conservative movement very similar in tone and content to my own of the Conservative Party. We agreed on loathing Tony Blair as a worthless and malevolent creature. Over lunch one day, he expressed a certain impatience with "victim nationalities". He mentioned as examples of these the Irish, the Greeks and Jews of East European origin. His admiration is for strong, self-confident peoples for whom past misfortunes are not the material for present obsessions. No wonder, he has little time for the modern English and Americans. He also gave me what seemed a penetrating insight into the mentality of the Jewish neoconservatives in Washington. I was wrong, he told me, in thinking that these people had any dislike of Islam. They actually felt closer in their general outlook to Moslems than to the Christian Zionists, who are the real authors of the catastrophe that is American policy in the Middle East. The latter they regarded, he said, as "stupid gentiles". Their one point of difference with the former was the existence of Israel. Let that be settled, and the serpentising televangelists might continue baying for a nuclear Armageddon followed by the Second Coming. But the flow of coherent Islamophobia would be turned off like a redundant bath tap.

Then there was Stephan Kinsella, who subjected me during a boat trip around the Ionian coast to a friendly but probing examination of what I thought about Ayn Rand and epistemology. I am not sure if he approved of all I gave in answer. Even so, the surrounding conversation was enjoyable. He was scathing about Objectivism. He noted that David Kelley is an improvement on the official movement. "But when someone has to write 15,000 words on why it is permissible to be nice to others, or to tolerate disagreement" he said, "there must be something wrong with his underlying philosophy".

Then there were all the old friends who were also there—Frank van Dunn, Christian Michel, Josef Šima, Robert Grözinger, and others. But I will not give a full list: it would be the whole conference programme. I say this even though Christian gave one of his most polished and elaborate speeches. I hope he will publish it, as I can recall only its main heads.

Nor will I say much about my own speech. It was my usual idle effort. Until five minutes before I was due to start, I had no idea how to start. Once I had started, I had little idea how to continue. As ever, despite the uncertainty, I kept up a logical flow and finished on time. What I said went down well, and I suppose it was fair enough. One of these days, I am assured, my reliance on inspiration will fail me. I shall stand up, my mouth will open, but nothing coherent will come out. Fortunately, that did not happen in Turkey.

Professor Hoppe gave the closing speech. He explained that he had started a movement that would meet every year, and that would push the libertarian movement towards the open discussion of issues presently thought too controversial to discuss. Obviously, there is the question of border control: is this another statist intervention as harmful as price control? or would the movement of peoples be so free of internal cost in a world without states as it now generally is? Then there are the revisionist histories of the Great War: even today, nearly everyone looks at the events of 1914 as if it were still 1945. Or there is Hitler's War. How monolithic was his dictatorship? How much was its more notable beastliness personal to him and a few colleagues? Would that beastliness have survived him had he lasted until about 1950? Might it have been restrained had there not been that war of attrition with Soviet Russia? Then there is so much about contemporary politics and economics and sociology and religion that is worth discussing in places where the Thought Police do not operate, or where they have other concerns.

After this, there was the boat trip already mentioned. I was told the Aegean was cold in May. But I am a strong Northerner, accustomed to walking out of my house in summer to swim in the English Channel. I threw myself bravely into the clear waters. It took only a week to recover from the sunburn. In the evening, we had the belly dancers. I have a video record of Professor Gottfried dancing along topless. I have none of me. I remained fully clothed—but, having no notes to give her,  fumbled most embarrassingly to fit £7 in change into the dancer's bra.

That is all I will say. The next conference will be in Halicarnassus next May. I hope for another invite. I enjoyed this one, and I regret not being able to visit the ruins of Ephesus or spend time in Constantinople. If you are interested in attending, or in supporting the work of the Property and Freedom Society, you should contact Professor Hoppe—and do so quickly, as the conference is already being planned.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 181
16th February 2009

Text of a Speech to Conservative Future,
Given in The Old Star Public House, Westminster,
Monday the 16th February 2009
by Sean Gabb

I want to begin by praising your courage in having me here tonight to speak to you. I am the Director of an organisation that tried hard during the 1980s to take over the youth movement of the Conservative Party. The Libertarian Alliance provided a home and other support for Marc-Henri Glendenning, David Hoile and Douglas Smith, among others, when it looked as if libertarians might do the same to the Conservative Party as the Trotskyites nearly did to the Labour Party. Sadly, our efforts failed. Since then, the Conservative Party has become more watchful of people like us. It has also, I must say, made itself progressively less worth trying to take over.

I did say that I would come here and be rude to you. But that would be a poor thanks for your hospitality. Besides, while your party leadership has consistently ignored my advice during the past twelve years - and has, in consequence, been out of office during this time - there is no point in dwelling on what might have been. We are where we are, and I think it would be useful for me very briefly to outline my advice to a future Conservative Government.

Now, this is not advice to the Government that looks set to be formed within the next year or so my David Cameron. I may be wrong. It is possible that Mr Cameron is a much cleverer and more Machiavellian man that I have ever thought him, and that he plans to make radical changes once in office. But I do not think he is. I think what little he is promising to do is the very most that he will do. In any event, he is doing nothing to acquire the mandate without which radical change would lack legitimacy. And so this is advice that I offer to some future government of conservatives, rather than to any prospective Conservative Government. It may even be a government formed by the people in this room.

My first piece of advice is to understand the nature of your enemy. If you come into government, you will be in at least the same position as Ramsay MacDonald, when he formed the first Labour Government in the 1920s. He faced an Establishment that was broadly conservative. The administration, the media, the universities, big business - all were hostile to what it was believed he wanted to do. The first Labour Governments were in office, but not fully in power, as they were not accepted by the people with whom and through whom they had to rule the country. To a lesser degree, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson faced the same constraints. A future Conservative Government will find much the same.

Over the past few generations, a new Establishment or ruling class has emerged in this country. It is a loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, media people and associated business interests. These are people who derive income and status from an enlarged and activist state. They have been turning this country into a soft-totalitarian police state. They are not always friendly to a Labour Government. But their natural political home is the Labour Party. They will accept a Conservative Government on sufferance - but only so long as it works within a system that robs ordinary people of their wealth and their freedom. They will never consent to what should be the Conservative strategy of bringing about an irreversible transfer of power from the State back into the hands or ordinary people.

A Cameron Government, as I have said, seems willing to try coexistence with the Establishment. The Thatcher Government set out to fight and defeat an earlier and less confident version of the Establishment - but only on those fronts where its policies were most resisted. It won numerous battles, but, we can now see, it lost the war. For example, I well remember the battle over abolition of the Greater London Council. This appeared at the time a success. But I am not aware of one bureaucrat who lost his job at the GLC who was not at once re-employed by one of the London Boroughs or by some other agency of the State. And we know that Ken Livingstone was eventually restored to power in London.

If you want to win the battle for this country, you need to take advice from the Marxists. These are people whose ends were evil where not impossible. But they were experts in the means to their ends. They knew more than we have ever thought about the seizure and retention of power. I therefore say this to you. If you ever do come to power, and if you want to bring about the irreversible transfer of power to ordinary people, you should take to heart what Marx said in 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution….”

The meaning of this is that you should not try to work with the Establishment. You should not try to jolly it along. You should not try fighting it on narrow fronts. You must regard it as the enemy, and you must smash it.

On the first day of your government, you should close down the BBC. You should take it off air. You should disclaim its copyrights. You should throw all its staff into the street. You should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of your enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. You must shut it down - and shut it down at once. You should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection - I mean much of the public sector - these should be shut down. If at the end of your first month in power, you have not shut down half of the State, you are failing. If you have shut down half the State, you have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.

Let me emphasise that the purpose of these cuts would not be to save money for the taxpayers or lift an immense weight of bureaucracy from their backs - though they would do this. The purpose is to destroy the Establishment before it can destroy you. You must tear up the web of power and personal connections that make these people effective as an opposition to radical change. If you do this, you will face no more clamour than if you moved slowly and half-heartedly. Again, I remember to campaign against the Thatcher "cuts". There were no cuts, except in the rate of growth of state spending. You would never have thought this from the the torrent of protests that rolled in from the Establishment and its clients. And so my advice is to go ahead and make real cuts - and be prepared to set the police on anyone who dares riot against you.

I fail to see how you would face any electoral problems with this approach. Most Conservative voters would welcome tax cuts and a return to freedom. As for those who lost their jobs, they do not, nor ever will, vote Conservative.

Following from this, however, I advise you to leave large areas of the welfare state alone. It is regrettable, but most people in this country do like the idea of healthcare free at the point of use, and of free education, and of pensions and unemployment benefit. These must go in the long term. But they must be retained in the short term to maintain electoral support. Their cost and methods of provision should be examined. But cutting welfare provision would be politically unwise in the early days of our revolution.

I have already spoken longer than I intended. But one more point is worth making. This is that we need to look again at our constitutional arrangements. The British Constitution has always been a fancy dress ball at which ordinary people were not really welcome, but which served to protect the life, liberty and property of ordinary people. Some parts of this fancy dress ball continue, but they no longer serve their old purpose. They are a fig leaf for an increasingly grim administrative despotism. I was, until recently, a committed monarchist. I now have to admit that the Queen has spent the past half century breaking her Coronation Oath at every opportunity. The only documents she has ever seemed reluctant to sign are personal cheques. Conservatives need to remember that our tradition extends not only through Edmund Burke to the Cavaliers, but also through Tom Paine to Oliver Cromwell. We live in an age where it is necessary to be radical to be conservative.

But I have now spoken quite long enough, and I am sure you have much to say in response. I therefore thank you again for your indulgence in having invited me and the politeness with which you have heard me.

[A combination of silence and faint applause]

Comment 1: You accuse the Conservatives of having ignored you for twelve years. From what you have just said, it is a good thing you were ignored. Under David Cameron's leadership, we have a Conservative Party that is now positively desired by the people. Your advice is and would have been a recipe for permanent opposition.

Response: I disagree. There is no positive desire for a Conservative Government. If there were, the polls would be showing a consistent fifty point lead or something. What we have is a Labour Government that is so dreadful that I have trouble thinking what could be worse.

[In a private conversation before my speech, I said that the Labour Party had turned out to be about as bad in government as the Green Party or the British National Party or Sinn Fein.]

There are two ways of doing politics. One is to listen to focus groups and opinion polls, and offer the people what they claim to want. The other is to stand up and tell them what they ought to want, and to keep arguing until the people agree that they want it, or until it is shown not to be worth wanting. I think I know what sort of politicians will run the next Conservative Government. What sort of politicians do you want to be?

Comment 2 [from an Irishman]: What you are saying means that the country would be without protection against obvious evils. With no child protection services, children would be abused and murdered. Without planning controls, the countryside would soon be covered with concrete. Without planning controls, cities like Manchester would be far less attractive places.

I will also say, as an Irishman, that I am offended by your reference to Oliver Cromwell, who was a murderer and tyrant. You cannot approve of this man.

Response: You have been taken in by the Establishment's propaganda. This is to insist that we live with vast structures of oppression, or that we must accept the evils they are alleged to curb. I say that that these structures do not curb any evils, but instead create evils of their own. We have, for example, seventy thousand social workers in this country. They appear to have done a consistently rotten job at protecting the few children who need protecting. instead, they are taking children away from grandparents to give to strangers, and are setting the police onto dissenting ministers who allow their children to climb onto the roof. None of this should be surprising. The Children Act and other laws have created a bureaucratic sausage machine that must somehow be filled. I say let it be destroyed along with all else that is evil in our system of government.

[What I might have said, but was too polite to say: As for Oliver Cromwell, he was one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived. It is partly thanks to him that we have just had around three centuries of freedom and political stability. When you refer to his actions in Ireland, you are repeating Fenian propaganda. What he did in Ireland has been exaggerated by the enemies of England, and in any event was in keeping with the customs of war universally admitted in his own time. If you want to throw an offended fit every time an Englishman in London praises an English hero to other Englishmen, you should consider moving to Dublin where all the letter boxes have been painted a reassuring green, and your own national sensitivities never need be offended again.]

Comment 3: All you speak about is winning and the destruction of enemies. Yet you are willing to consider keeping the welfare state. You are nothing but an unprincipled trouble maker. Thank God the Conservative Party no longer has any place for people like you.

Response: If we were facing the sort of Labour Government we had under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, you would be right. However, we have an Establishment that has already given us the beginnings of a totalitarian police state. Today, for example, the authorities will start collecting details of every telephone call, text and e-mail sent in this country. Children are about to have their details stuffed into a giant database that will enable them to be monitored by the authorities until they are adults - and probably through their entire lives. We live in a country where privacy is being abolished. Speech is increasingly unfree. The police are out of control. Everything is getting rapidly worse, and it is easy to see the end state that is desired, of total control.

If a government of radical conservatives ever does take power, it will have one attempt at saving this country. That means radical and focussed actions from day one. Anything less than this, and it will fail. I am suggesting a revolution - but this is really a counter-revolution against what has already been proceeding for at least one generation. If we are to beat the heirs of Marx, we must learn from Marx himself.

Comment 4: You are wasting our time with all this radical preaching. People do not want to hear about how they are oppressed by the Establishment, and how this must be destroyed. What they want to hear is that taxes are too high, that the money is being wasted, and that there are ways to protect essential public services with lower taxes. That is why the Taxpayers' Alliance has been so much more prominent than the Libertarian Alliance. We must have nothing to do with the ranting lunatics of the Libertarian Alliance.

Response: You may have a desire for electoral success that I do not share. But I am the better politician. All debate is perceived as taking place on a spectrum that has a centre and two extremes. If the Libertarian Alliance did not exist, the relevant spectrum would simply reconfigure itself with the Taxpayers' Alliance at one extreme, and the centre would be still less attractive than it now is. Since most people consciously take centrist positions, it is in your interest - regardless of whether I am right - to say what I do. It makes you and your friends moderate in relation to me.

[At this point, some unfortunate woman began screeching that I was a fascist, and the debate came to an end.]

[I normally like to comment on these events once I have described them. I think, however, the above stands by itself.]

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment published on the Internet
Issue Number 27
26th January 1999

Nelson's Second Death
by Sean Gabb

"Who controls the present controls the past.
Who controls the past controls the future."
(George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four)

The National Maritime Museum is housed in a line of buildings that stand in South East London, separating Greenwich Park from the Thames. I first went there when I was ten, and have revisited on average once a year ever since. It has the fullest Trafalgar exhibition in the world—including Nelson's last uniform complete with bullet hole. It has displays about Francis Drake, Captain Cook, and Fisher and Cunningham. It has thousands of scale models and paintings and other images. In short, it is a museum that tells the story of England's great age as Mistress of the Seas.

Out With the Old, In With the New

I now read in The Daily Telegraph (25th January 1999) that the Museum is to be "modernised". Richard Ormond, the Director, claims that it is "old-fashioned" and must change with the times. He explains:

We're not spitting in our predecessors' graves, but when this museum was created the Red Ensign ruled supreme and as a maritime nation we were on the crest of a great wave. We are in a different world today.... Unless we find new intellectual purpose and bring home to people that the sea is still central to our lives, we will become a sideshow museum dealing with traditional artefacts to an increasingly limited market.

Out, therefore, will go most of the paintings and scale models - out too most of the displays about battles and exploration. In will come exhibitions about slavery and history "from the position of the colonised". One display will show a white woman in eighteenth century costume with a manacled black hand reaching out to her. Mr Ormond's suggested text for this is: "The slave trade was driven by the need for an English cup of tea".

There are also to be large displays about global warming, damage to the ozone layer, marine pollution, threatened fish stocks, and the "danger of rising sea levels". Commenting again, Mr Ormond makes no apology for the change. Care of the sea, he believes, is a "number one international issue". It must be brought to our attention even if it means reducing space for exhibitions about the past.

On top of all this, we are promised a sprinkling of new works from something called the Sensation Generation of Young British Artists. Tacita Dean has been commissioned to make a "video sculpture" about the sea. Stefan Gek has already made a sculpture by crushing a buoy in a diving chamber.

There is to be a "Caribbean folk sculpture" suggested by the floats in the Notting Hill Carnival. And a video about weather forecasting is to use poetry and "talking fish".

These changes have been unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees—one of whom is the Duke of Edinburgh; and the museum is to be "reopened" by the Queen this coming 31st March.

Cultural Vandalism

Now, why this act of cultural vandalism? The claim that the Museum needs to be saved from "an increasingly limited market" is a falsehood. Every time I go there, the place is crowded—and crowded with people of all ages and all colours. If Mr Ormond believes that more people will want to look at his talking fish than at the bullet hole in Nelson's uniform, he is a fool. There is no need for the Museum to be changed, and the changes that are to be made will actually repel visitors once the word gets round what has happened.

Nor can we fall back on platitudes about trendy museum directors and "political correctness gone mad". The changes involved more people than Mr Ormond; and they are not isolated acts. They are part of a consistent pattern that has been applied and will be applied in many other places. The true reason for the changes is not to get in more visitors into the Museum, but simply to stop it from being what it was. Let me explain.

The New World Order

During the past generation, a new Establishment has grown up in England, in America, and in some other countries. Its ultimate ambition is a world government. I am not talking about a grand conspiracy. There is no central direction. Here in particular, the groups making up our Establishment are split—some wanting an interim merger with Europe, others a direct jump to world government. Even so, they are all agreed that their often different ends are best served by transferring sovereign power out of the country.

This new Establishment's success is already apparent. The world government exists in outline—as a web of treaties and international bodies that constrain national sovereignty in ways that most people still do not understand. This country cannot, for example, legalise cannabis and heroin, or roll back the financial police state that has been created to fight the "war" against money laundering. It cannot allow a whole range of industrial processes to take place within its jurisdiction. It may soon not be able to tolerate the sale of high potency vitamins or the publication of unfashionable opinions about race. Even if a democratic majority could be found in favour of these things, doing them would involve breaking all manner of treaty commitments. And to break these would bring on us the condemnation of the "international community".

London is unlikely ever to be bombed as Baghdad is now being bombed. The pressures on us for stepping out of line would be more subtle—a matter of hard things said against us in all the usual international gatherings; perhaps a few expulsions of our representatives from sporting bodies; perhaps one or two threats of sanctions; and always a general barrage of disapproval and smears from our own new Establishment media. It took just thirty years of mostly uncoordinated pressure to beat down a grimly determined South Africa. Under more coordinated pressure, Israel may last another decade in its present form. I doubt if a democratic reaction against the New World Order could survive more than two years once we are properly into the next century.

The ambition is one world of serfs—spied on, brainwashed, perhaps one day genetically engineered, by one worldwide Establishment. It may be claimed that the New World Order is about liberty and democracy. But no one who has read the international treaties and "human rights" documents on which it is based can honestly believe a word of this. They do not guarantee freedom of speech, or the right to trial by jury, or the right of self defence. The limited rights on offer are better described as limited and easily revoked privileges. Whatever may be quoted at us by the media, the small print in these texts is always about control and arbitrary power.

Patriotism and the Defence of Freedom

All that stands in the way of this is the desire of most people for it not to happen. General ideas about freedom and small government—the sort of thing Libertarian Alliance authors write about—are important but relatively weak as a barrier. In the first place, they hardly ever command self-sacrificing commitment. I believe, for example, that the principle of comparative costs is an almost indisputably valid argument. But I would never let myself be burned at the stake for refusing to recant this belief. In the second place, intellectuals are very easily deceived. I know at least two libertarians who think the European Union is a good thing for liberty. In the past, there were liberals who believed, against all the evidence, that Soviet Russia was home to a progressive experiment that deserved a chance to work.

What really sustains opposition to the New World Order is patriotism—an absolute attachment to the customs and institutions of one's own country. People will die for that. They will march across a field and be mown down like hay if they can believe it is for their national good. They will stand up for their native liberal institutions even when they are not very liberal themselves. Patriotism is a barrier against world government that cannot be directly beaten down.

Playing the Race Card

And so patriotism must be undermined until it collapses. That has been the big Establishment project during much of my lifetime. Patriotism has been made so great an object of satire that patriotic words and deeds have come to be seen as faintly ridiculous. At the same time, it has been ruthlessly confused with ideas of racial nationalism. In a country that has received several million coloured immigrants, many of whom have been positively discouraged from assimilating, this is a powerful weapon: appeals to national pride can be smeared as coded appeals for ethnic cleansing.

See, for example, how cleverly many of the old naval exhibitions in Greenwich have been replaced by exhibitions about black people. From what I am told, these will be unbalanced in the usual way. There will be much dwelling on the commercial interests that benefited from the international slave trade, but hardly any on the unique importance of the Royal Navy in suppressing that trade—or on the uniqueness of England as the first country ever to abolish slavery by law. But the desired effect of these exhibitions is not really to convey information, whether true or false. It is instead to use race as a means of frightening people from complaining about their loss until what they have lost has been forgotten.

The War Against the Past

This returns us to the subject of the Museum. A nation is not merely the population of a territory. It also exists in time. People identify with each other partly because they live together and speak the same language and have similar customs and beliefs, but partly also because they have a common historical memory. Wiping this memory —as if it were a length of video tape—has become the priority of our Establishment. Great anniversaries from before 1914 are almost ignored. History in the old sense is no longer taught in state schools. The weights and measures have been changed by force. The House of Lords is being abolished. National and regional devolution is blurring the old constitutional landmarks. The stated justifications are all threadbare. No intelligent person could advocate them except as a means of turning the past into a foreign country.

Museums must be a primary target in this war against the past. They contain physical objects that real people once made and used. They help to tell us who we were and what we might be again. This is particularly so with the National Maritime Museum. That is why it has been destroyed. The new Museum will remove this physical link. True, Nelson's uniform will remain on show. But it will have been removed from the full context that gave it meaning. As the centrepiece of a museum filled with guns and scale models of Dreadnoughts, it was the secular equivalent of a saint's relic. As an appendage to a PC circus of modern art and moans about racism and the environment, it becomes at best a piece of blue cloth with a hole in it. At worst, it becomes tainted with all the sins alleged against our history.

Do this, and opposition to the New World Order will crumble. Strip us of our national identity, and we defend our freedom with all the confidence and determination of an animal dragged from its lair.

Of course, the destruction of national identity will not make humanity love one another. We are pack animals, and group loyalties will always survive. Destroy the customs and traditions that bind a people together, and a new cement of shared blood will rapidly emerge. Skinheads are not integral to national pride. They are part of what replaces it. Until we can have our group loyalties bred out of us, the New World Order will be a place of wild ethnic hatreds.

Then again, I am sure this is realised by at least some within the Establishment. Turning the world into one great Bosnia will be a prime excuse for world government. It would not be the first time that politicians had written themselves into apparently essential solutions for problems of their own creation.

I used to think that the old Establishment might save us from all this. I am no longer so sure. The Duke of Edinburgh—a former naval officer—has consented to the changes. The Queen is to reopen the Museum. They seem not to notice or to care that they are serving an agenda from which the continuation of monarchy is absent. I do not like to criticise the Queen. At the same time, I do believe that her reign has been one long surrender to the enemies of everything she swore at her coronation to uphold.

For the moment, though, the practical cause for regret is that we have lost a glorious museum. I come from a naval family. One of my great grandfathers managed the Ropery at Chatham Dockyard. One of my grandfathers went down with his ship at the Casablanca landings. I sit and wonder what they would have thought of all this—how their efforts did not save the nation for their posterity. But they at least left me enough for me to notice its loss. What will my children have?


28th January 1999

Before writing the above, I decided to check the story with the National Maritime Museum. Telegraph journalists are notorious for their inability to check the truth of the stories they are fed; and I could easily imagine a credulous hack taking the whole story over the phone from someone claiming to be Mr Ormond. No one could really have names like Tacita Dean or Stefan Gek—or at least not be called that and be modern artists as well. But a conversation with Michael Barratt, who works in the Museum's Press Office, confirmed that the story was true—even down to the names of the artists. I said some very hard words and put the phone down.

A while later, I was called back from the Press Office. Mr Ormond, I learned, had been invited to explain his changes on the BBC Radio Four Today Programme, but could only go on if there was someone to oppose him. Neither the Museum nor the BBC had been able to find anyone willing to say a word against the changes. Would I go on air to do so?

Of course, I agreed. This morning, I argued with him in a White City Studio while James Naughtie chaired the debate. Mr Ormond turned out to be as silly in the flesh as he had been quoted. I always know I have won a radio debate when the other party spreads bits of paper on the table in front of him: the best knock down arguments are unscripted. Mr Ormond's notes were filled with waffle about making the Museum relevant for young people in the new millennium; and he read from these rather hesitantly.

I made a much simplified version of the case given above, and won the debate. I know this from the mass of telephone calls and e-mails I have received today. I do not think Mr Ormond had imagined he would be called a traitor on a programme more used to evasions and PC banalities. As when I go on air to defend guns, I was making points too far outside the normal bounds of debate to be dealt with in the usual way.

I am pleased with myself. On the other hand, I have not saved the National Maritime Museum. And I have been sharply reminded of the correlation of forces in the war for liberty and national independence. Why was I the only person available to argue against Mr Ormond? Where were the Tory MPs? Where were the maritime historians? Where were the retired naval commanders? Skulking in their clubs, I have no doubt—terrified to oppose the prevailing opinions, and hoping those opinions would not fully prevail while they were still around to suffer the consequences.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 41
25th July 2000

Jack Straw, Corruption,
and the New World Order
Sean Gabb

For the past month, I have been brooding over an article I found in The Guardian newspaper of last 21st June. "Straw declares war on corruption" the headline reads. It tells how, pressed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the British Government is planning a new law. Bribery is to be made a more serious offence, and its legal definition widened to cover acts not previously criminal. The most important new offence will be bribery of foreigners committed by British citizens abroad. It will be illegal, for example, for British companies to offer bribes to get export orders, or for British individuals to bribe their way out of foreign trouble. To enforce this law, the authorities will use their existing or yet to be created powers of surveillance—telephone tapping, burglary of houses and planting of listening devices, monitoring of e-mails, and so forth.

Announcing the proposals in the House of Commons, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said: Corruption is like a deadly virus. It has no boundaries. We need to fight it wherever it is found.

For too long dishonest individuals have profited at the expense of undermining the integrity of professional and public life in this country. A few Conservatives, I imagine—though without Mr Hague's encouragement or support—will oppose the Government on purely commercial grounds. They will explain how in many countries, doing business is inseparable from dealing with a swarm of ministers, officials and well-connected businessmen, all holding their hands out for a bribe. Making it criminal here to put money into those hands will hurt our export trade. At best, companies will relocate their headquarters to other countries where they cannot be prosecuted, or where similar laws are less fully enforced. In any event, British workers will suffer.

This is a true objection, and I hope it is pressed very hard - such being the best the Tories have to offer nowadays in defence of freedom, and to be fair such being the argument most likely to have an effect on the Government's legislative intentions. But it is not a full objection. It does not sufficiently explain what is at once so dangerous and arrogant about the proposals. And so I will make my own comment on them. In particular, I will discuss the following issues: the blurring of jurisdictions; the hypocrisy of our political masters; and what motives can reasonably be ascribed to them.

1. Blurred Jurisdictions

Part of what makes our civilisation so unlike all others is that it has never—or not since Roman times—been ruled by a single government. Instead, power has been divided between many states, each able to make whatever laws it pleased, but not on the whole to enforce these outside its own borders. Roman law and the various European systems that derive from it do assume a right to punish for crimes committed abroad. But this has not been a right much insisted on. States have usually followed the English practice of exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction only where vital interests are threatened, or to punish horrible crimes that would otherwise go unpunished.

Because power has been divided, it has been a less effective tool than elsewhere for preventing the happiness and progress of mankind. It has been possible for states to compete not just in war, but also in their internal arrangements, and for those most successful at enabling happiness and progress to gain at the expense of the others. Think of the Huguenots who took themselves and their capital out of France, to the enrichment of England, Holland and Prussia. They went to countries similar enough to their own for them to assimilate without trouble, but with very different religious and commercial policies. Fears of a similar loss kept the French State under control for the next hundred years. Or think of those who have become temporary refugees, able to indulge their tastes abroad without risk at home. Think of Voltaire. He lived in Geneva, where he could write as he pleased, but crossed into France whenever he wanted to see a play—this being a pleasure banned in Geneva. Think of A.E. Housman, who went every year to Venice to avoid breaking the British laws against homosexual acts. Think of the millions of young people from all over Europe who go nowadays to take drugs in Amsterdam and return home to no penalty. 

This diversity is now threatened. The proposed new law on corruption is not an isolated disturbance of national sovereignty and limited jurisdiction, but a stage in their destruction. For us in England, the European Union is the clearest and most present threat to diversity. But there are dozens of other bodies set up by treaty and working towards a common juridical space. Those concerned with the "war" against drugs and money laundering are standardising laws throughout the world, with the eventual aim of a single enforcement. Those concerned with "crimes against humanity" are already acting under a universal jurisdiction. There are proposals for similar laws to protect the environment and to disarm the human population. The corruption law is part of this tendency. It is to be an extension of earlier precedents, and is to be the precedent for other acts of the same kind.

The natural result of these acts combined will be a world government. On account of its growth, this will not be a democratic government. In form, it will be a web of supranational institutions, all exercising powers delegated by national governments. In substance, it will be a reasonably united élite, giving orders to more or less disunited nationalities. There will be occasional dissent, as one nationality tries to exercise its theoretical sovereignty. But as in the Habsburg Empire, this will be first contained and then crushed by a directed coalition of the other nationalities. Nor will it be desirable for such a government to be democratic so long as the majority of its subjects are semi-literate paupers with nothing immediate to lose from a redistribution of wealth.

It will not be a particularly liberal government. In some places, it will impose better standards of civility and due process than currently exist. But for the more civilised portions of mankind, there will be a perceptible levelling down. We can see this with the Corpus Juris, which is a proposed criminal code for the European Union. Regardless of the smiling assurances about human rights protection, its procedural safeguards do not include trial by jury, habeas corpus, or a meaningful rule against double jeopardy. We can see it in the international treaties against drugs and money laundering. These all require signatory states to reverse the burden of proof in criminal cases, to enact arbitrary confiscation laws, and to abolish banking and other financial privacy.

It is reasonable, moreover, to suppose that a world government would be open to capture by any number of powerful interest groups; and the lack of external competition would ensure that mistakes become not only general, but also irreversible. The closest comparison I know is to the world of late antiquity, when all the Greek and Italian city states and all the surrounding kingdoms had come under the domination of Rome, so that one civilisation had just one government. This was the world of Commodus and Diocletian and Constantine, of civil tyranny and grinding taxes and religious persecution, where an oppressed citizen had no refuge but in suicide or flight to the savage realms beyond the frontier. This kind of world will not come again in our lifetimes. Nor might the common people be quite so impoverished next time. But the fairly liberal world in which we do live is not the automatic product of time. It rests on foundations that are being undermined one stroke at a time. The proposed new law on bribery is one of these strokes.

2. Labour Hypocrisy

Let us, however, return to Mr Straw's words in Parliament: Corruption is like a deadly virus.... We need to fight it wherever it is found. Brave words, even if dangerously mistaken. They must be read, however, with certain implied reservations. For all they will be used to enslave us, they are not intended to apply to Labour Ministers or their relatives or friends or bed or business partners. We know this from the following cases:

First, we have Peter Mandelson. Shortly before the 1997 general election, he borrowed £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson, a fellow Member of Parliament on the Labour Benches, and put this towards buying a house in London. The loan was arranged in secret, the contract being drafted by a friend; and it was not entered in the Commons register of interests. It gave Mr Robinson the right to impose a charge on the house if repayments were not made in good order.

This loan arranged, Mr Mandelson then obtained a mortgage of more than £100,000 from the Britannia Building Society. According to various newspaper reports, he neglected to mention the Robinson loan. Since building societies do not generally lend on property over which there is or might be another charge, it is reasonable to suppose that he was obtaining goods and services by deception and committing various other offences described in Theft Acts.

These facts placed him into Mr Robinson's hands: one word and he might be ruined. Suspicion is also reasonable, therefore, when on becoming President of the Board of Trade, Mr Mandelson appointed Mr Robinson as one of his ministerial deputies—a first promotion after 20 years on the back benches.

Was this not one of those "dishonest individuals [who] have profited at the expense of undermining the integrity of professional and public life in this country"? Evidently not. When his conduct was discovered, Mr Mandelson resigned from the Government. But there was no police investigation into his behaviour. Today, he is back in the Government as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland —a post that carries responsibility for law enforcement in part of the United Kingdom. It is said that he owed this easy treatment to certain intimacies that he once enjoyed with the Prime Minister - intimacies that might be embarrassing if ever made public.

Second, we have Mr Straw himself. On the 14th March this year, his brother William went into a Nottinghamshire police station and confessed to assaulting a 14 year-old boy. According to accounts published just after on the Internet, the boy was his son and the assault was sexual. He was not charged, and no further investigation was ordered.

Not a word of this alleged offence appeared in any of the established media until the 5th April, when Punch carried a long but guarded report on how the Government had leaned on every newspaper editor in the country not to cover the story.

William Straw was eventually charged with a later common assault on a 16 year-old girl. This gained a few column inches in the newspapers, but no further comment was made when all proceedings were dropped on the 19th July.

Jack Straw is not responsible for his brother's real or alleged acts. But he is responsible for the media blackout on reports about his brother. And there is natural reason to believe that he obtained or tolerated preferential treatment for his brother after the March confession. According to a senior police officer quoted in the Punch article, "it would be a very brave custody sergeant who would release back into the community a man who had confessed to [such a] crime".

We have here a case on first appearance not of financial but of political corruption. Will Mr Straw order an investigation of his own actions or of what was done in his name? Probably not. Nor did he order any investigation of the leniency with which his son was treated after pleading guilty to supplying drugs early in 1998. Nor, I am certain, will he insist on proceedings against himself for having recently ordered his chauffeur to drive at 103mph to get him on time to a political meeting.

Nor will there be any meaningful investigation of the claims that Tony Blair's father in law has been fraudulently obtaining welfare benefits, or that Gordon Brown bought a flat in London under suspicious circumstances. Nor will there be even a mention allowed in the established media of the still more alarming claims about the Cullen inquiry into the Dunblane shootings, or of the claims about a guilty plea made at Bow Street Magistrates Court back in 1983 by a person now of the highest importance. Nor will it be discussed how the Government is using the security services to promote its own electoral advantage—something the Conservatives did only occasionally and then always as a byproduct of fighting the Cold War —and how individuals like Robert Henderson and Greg Palast have had their lives turned upside down for the crime of upsetting senior members of the Labour Party.

All the above facts, and many others beside, can be explained only on the assumption that our new political class thinks itself above the law. It is no more than a matter of time before these people start murdering their opponents.

A Question of Motives

I do not think it can be denied that we are ruled by a more than usually scummy set of politicians, and that these are presiding over a steady collapse into despotism. The only question worth asking is whether they are responsible for this collapse in more than the purely formal, constitutional sense—whether people like Jack Straw and Tony Blair really can be supposed to want an international police state in which actions and speech, and even thought, will be controlled by a masterclass made up of people like themselves and their friends in big business. In short, I am asking whether I can use that unfashionable and greatly misunderstood word "conspiracy".

Aside from fears of being called a crank, there are two main objections to speaking about conspiracies. The first is that conspiracy theories are to politics what creationism is to biology. They raise hypotheses not needed to explain what is being studied; and they prevent a full understanding of the causes that are most likely have brought about what is being studied.

Look at the money laundering laws. It is unlikely that anyone wanted these simply because they were an engine of despotism. Police forces wanted them because they opened a new and possibly more successful front in their notoriously lost war on drugs. The big banks wanted them because their complexity could be used to put smaller competitors out of business. Administrators, both national and international, wanted them because they opened a new area for regulation and thereby opened new opportunities for status and promotion. The tax authorities wanted them because they made it easier to detect and punish evasion. The politicians wanted them because all these others wanted them, and because nobody made a big fuss against them.

Where any attack on freedom is concerned, there are sectional interests that benefit without having an overall agenda of control - and that may even oppose other attacks from which they do not benefit. The proposed new law on bribery and others of its sort can be better explained by a public choice analysis than by claims of some grand conspiracy. If these new laws are coming faster now than in the past, we need to bear in mind that the techniques of control are better developed now than in the past. Modern information technology enables sectional interest groups to push for modes of surveillance and control that once only existed in the minds of dystopian science fiction novelists. 

Yet, but all is being said, a purely institutional analysis can be pushed too far as explanation. It is a necessary condition, but is not itself sufficient. Just because some people have an interest in promoting a bad law, and because that law is technically possible, does not mean that it will automatically be made. It must also be thought right and proper by those with the power to make or refuse it.

For example, there were strong commercial interests in Victorian England that would have gained from a return to protection after about 1870. In Germany, in America, and in other countries, these interests prevailed. Here, they did not prevail until 1931. The reason was not entirely the strength of opposing commercial interests. It was also an autonomous belief in the moral rightness of free trade. British manufacturers did not put as much as they might have into "fair trade" campaigns, in part because they thought it a rather shameful cause: and others campaigns that were funded had no success against a political establishment unwilling to listen to any case for protection. 

The public choice analysis, then, can be used to explain how bad laws are made. But it cannot by itself explain why some are made and others are not. This throws us back to looking at the character and motivations of those in power. Doubtless, there have been sectional interests hard at work on persuading Jack Straw to make bribery an extraterritorial offence. But why is he willing to do that, bad as its consequences will be, and when he would scornfully reject equally strong pressure, say, to bring in the death penalty for racially motivated murder? The natural answer is that he approves of that particular law. 

Here, though, we come to the second objection to claiming that Jack Straw and his colleagues want a new despotic order. This is that they are not self-consciously wicked people. Brian Micklethwait has been arguing this point with me for over a year now, and I have no doubt will continue arguing it for some years to come. His main point is that while our rulers are doing things that will have bad consequences, they cannot reasonably be accused of wanting these consequences. If they are working to destroy our national independence, it is because they believe that the resulting international government will abolish war and tyranny and poverty.If they are destroying our liberal institutions, it is because they believe these to stand in the way of their grand objectives. Their ends are good, Brian says, but they are ignorant of how their chosen means will not achieve these ends. His conclusion is that rather than accuse these people of conspiring against liberal democracy, we should sit them down and patiently explain to them the facts of which they are currently ignorant.

Assuming that I understand Brian correctly, there are two counter objections. First, he seems to have an unreal conception of wickedness. Before attaching moral blame to our rulers, he wants to see them behaving like pantomime villains—twirling their moustaches as they confess their true intentions in whispered asides. But excepting a few followers of Nietzsche or the Marquis de Sade, nobody is wicked in this sense. Whether or not he deceives the world, every villain deceives himself. Hitler and Stalin did not think themselves bad men. Though they committed atrocious crimes, they claimed—and sincerely believed—that what they did was right, or at least was the best that could be done in difficult circumstances. Thieves universally demonise their victims as people who have gained unfair advantages and who therefore have no right to their property. Most murderers look on their victims as human trash who are better off dead. Those criminals who do not blame their victims take refuge instead in some sociological cant about the force of upbringing or other external circumstances.

Of course, our rulers do not consciously intend to do evil. On their lips and in their minds are only the fairest intentions. And they believe in their own essential goodness in exact proportion as they enrich and privilege themselves by trampling on the rights of others.

Turning to the second counter objection, Brian seems not to understand the nature of ignorance as a defence to charges of wrongdoing. Both lawyers and moral philosophers make a distinction between innocent and culpable ignorance. The former is a good defence, the latter not. Suppose a very young child picks up a loaded gun. Waving it around, he kills someone. Treating the child as a murderer would be absurdly unjust. He cannot be presumed to understand what he was doing, and so cannot be held responsible. This defence would not be open to an adult in the same circumstances. Because he knows—or can reasonably be presumed to know—that pointing a loaded gun at someone is dangerous, ignorance will be no defence. Even if it is accepted by a court, its only effect will be to reduce a murder charge to one of manslaughter.

We can apply this distinction to politics. In living memory, our rulers have committed two main derelictions. Before 1979, they acted on the belief that unemployment was caused by a shortage of aggregate demand, and that it could be cured by monetary expansion. They were wrong, and they created a set of economic problems that nearly bankrupted the country and that have taken a generation even partly to solve. But the politicians in charge of economic management cannot be held responsible for the outlines of their policy. They were busy men, without time or inclination for subtle speculations of their own. They were advised by men who were generally accounted the best economists of the day. They looked at the Phillips Curve and heard all the talk of multipliers, and were convinced by the analysis. Moreover, they had what they believed were solid practical demonstrations. They thought they had seen the failure of preKeynesian economics in the Great Depression. They thought they had seen the success of Keynesian economics in the age of full-employment and prosperity that had followed the War. No one can reasonably blame them for not having read the works of Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek. These works were derided by the mainstream economists when given any attention at all. For all they presided over an economic disaster, the politicians of the day cannot be personally blamed for what happened. They were ignorant, but innocently so.

Since then, however, the politicians have turned from wrecking the economy to abolishing our rights and liberties. If this is the effect of ignorance, it is culpable ignorance. Economics is a difficult subject for most people, and there is much plausibility in the Keynesian analysis—I know because I teach it. But only a very common education is needed to know the probable effect of diluting the double jeopardy rule or reversing the burden of proof in criminal proceedings, or limiting freedom of speech and association, or handing effective power from national and democratic institutions to unaccountable foreign bureaucrats. Economics is not part of the standard curriculum that our political class follows at university. But law and history are part of that curriculum. Any politician who claims not to know the nature of what is being done to us is either stupid or guilty of a self-deception that would not stand up five minutes in a criminal trial.

And so it is legitimate to presume that Jack Straw and his colleagues desire the natural effect of their actions. They do want a world in which they are masters and we are slaves, even if they prefer to cover this with fashionable euphemisms. Mortgage fraud and protecting their relatives is only the surface of their guilt. Since the Glorious Revolution, the custom in this country has been to work for the downfall of bad rulers, but otherwise to leave them unpunished. The custom on the other side, however, has been that the rulers should observe certain limits to their misgovernment. These people have broken through the restraints of custom. I see no reason why we the people of this country should not also drop that restraint.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 47
22nd January 2001

How to Destroy the Enemy Class:
A Manifesto for the Right
Sean Gabb

The purpose of this manifesto is to discuss how England might be taken over and indefinitely held by the political right.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 58
11th November 2001

"Uniting Europe without the Union"
A Conference in Prague
2-5 November 2001
A Brief Record of Proceedings
by Sean Gabb

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 68
2nd July 2002

Return to Sanity?
More on the Tory Recovery
by Sean Gabb

Last night, Oliver Letwin, who is the Conservative home affairs spokesman, gave a lecture to the Adam Smith Institute in central London. I went along to it reluctantly, only there because I had promised to accompany one of my students and to introduce him to a few people. I had in my mind the recollection of a speech given there, I think in 2000, by Francis Maude. This had been a performance of mind-rotting dullness—an hour of weasily posturing, read in a monotone and with no questions allowed from the audience. This, however, was a performance of an entirely different kind. For sincerity and originality of thinking, and for its radical challenge to the consensus, there has been nothing like this from a Conservative politician since the great days of the 1970s. I have said some cutting things about Dr Letwin. Having paid close attention to him for an hour last night, I now believe that I have misjudged him. If this is not part of a Conservative recovery, I have learnt nothing from the past 25 years of fringe political activity.

Before moving to a proper analysis, though, let me repeat as much as I can recall of his lecture. He began with a defence of Margaret Thatcher's alleged claim in 1988 that there was "no such thing as society". This was misrepresented—probably knowingly —by the left as a statement of atomistic individualism. In fact, it was an attack on the habit of ascribing moral agency to an abstract noun. There was no such thing as Society, she said—there were simply individuals and families, and these were the real agents of moral responsibility and the real source of strength or weakness in a nation. Given this limitation, Dr Letwin explained, conservatives do believe that society exists. What makes it so hard for non-conservatives to understand this belief is that when conservatives talk about society, they do not mean—as does New Labour—the State, but the millions of individuals in a nation and the complex web of customs and institutions that bind each individual to the others.

The State, he continued, has a role. But this is to support the institutions of society, not to manage or to try to replace them. Here is the new threat, he said. Before 1979, governments had tried to replace the complexity of the market, and had brought the country close to economic ruin. The Conservative reforms of the next 18 years did much to restore the self-correcting harmony of the market. New Labour has accepted most of these reforms, and has avoided the cruder interventions of the past. But it is still crudely interventionist in its social policies, believing that central control is better than self-determination. The Conservative task now, he said, is to produce a new consensus on social policy that supplements the consensus on economic policy produced by Margaret Thatcher. This Conservative thinking on society can be explained in terms of four propositions familiar from environmental science. These are:

1. The real world is irreducibly complex. Illustrating this, Dr Letwin took scientific arrogance about genetic research. Scientists have identified 30,000 genes in the human body. This is a very large number. But the number is indefinitely magnified by the complex interactions between these genes. It does not seem to be true, as some claim, that each gene has one function, and can be modified to change only that one function. Any one change may bring an unpredictable number of changes in other functions. So it is with society. There are 60 million people in this country, and the interactions between these people are immensely complex. Just as we have legitimate worries about genetic engineering, should we not still more worry about the effects of social engineering?

2. Simplistic targets can be exceptionally destructive. The illustration here was the "Great Leap Forward" imposed by the Chinese Communists in the late 1950s. They noticed that the rice harvest was being reduced by the predations of sparrows. So they announced targets for the eradication of sparrows from China. Over the next year, millions were killed. The immediate result was a larger rice harvest. The Communists had not noticed, however, that sparrows ate insects as well as rice. Without the sparrows, the insects multiplied without limit, and the next rice harvest was eaten by great clouds of locusts. New Labour targets are not so destructive, but have, even so, caused deaths. He gave the example of the waiting list targets in the National Health Service, where an obsession with reducing overall waiting times for treatment had led to an emphasis on treating simple complaints at the expense of the more difficult.

3. Crude intervention damages natural regeneration. A society, like any other organic structure, is a self-sustaining web of interactions. Intervene, and the balance may be destroyed. My recollection here is uncertain, but I think the illustration was welfare policies that destroy family structures and communities, thereby turning individuals into despairing clients of a distant and uncaring state.

4. Natural systems are able to absorb limited disruption, then degrade irreversibly. They can take many interventions without apparent damage to the whole. Eventually, however, there is a "tipping point", where just a few more—apparently unexceptional—interventions bring about a general collapse. The illustration here was soil erosion in the Amazon basin—where cutting down forests had created giant deserts.

These, said Dr Letwin, are a summary of Conservative thinking on social issues. He was not willing to talk about specific policies. These would be developed over the next few months and years, and would be announced when the details were able to stand hostile analysis and attack. But, when announced, they would be clearly based on the principles just outlined. They would require a dismantling of "one-dimensional interventions by big government". They would enable the recreation of "self-sustaining relationships within communities". They would be about decentralisation, about trusting the judgement of individuals and local communities. The State would be there, but would not try to be omnipresent and omnicompetent.

I hope the full text of the lecture will be published on the Internet. My own summary, though fairly accurate, is a very dim reflection of the most sophisticated and clever performance I have heard from any politician, with only the possible exception of Enoch Powell. There are two reasons that make it so important.

First, there is the content. The Conservative Party spent the whole of the last Parliament waiting for Labour to start copying the economic policies of Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. This done, the economy would collapse, and the Conservatives could come back having learnt and forgotten nothing from their previous time in government, and without having to make any policy commitments. The strategy failed. In economic issues, Labour has been broadly competent. On those issues where it has most obviously failed—social and legal and constitutional—the Conservatives spent four years saying nothing of any interest. This failure is now being addressed. Of course, I would like to see a fully detailed manifesto. But this is not something to be pulled out of a hat. The William Hague approach of making up policy on the spur of the moment—without principled thought or even political coordination—has been abandoned. In its place, we have a slow but perhaps steady advance.

Second, there is the manner of presentation. What Dr Letwin said last night was pure English conservatism. There was nothing that would have raised objections from Burke or Hayek or Enoch Powell. But it was all dressed in the language of environmentalism and communitarianism. There are two ways to challenge a consensus. One is to reject both it and its language, and to put something else in its place. The other is to adopt its language and turn it against the consensus. The first, I confess, is my own preferred approach. However, we are dealing with an enormously powerful consensus that will not easily be beaten down by a frontal attack. This approach could take years, and we probably do not have years. Certainly, the approach is worth trying, but the other is not thereby ruled out if others want to try it. Assimilating the language of the consensus involves a certain risk. In unskilled hands, it can simply amount to accepting all the assumptions of an opponent, and then arguing over the details. The result is a set of compromises each one of which is a further surrender. In skilled hands, though, it can bring about large changes of opinion. It can confuse opponents by turning their own principles against them. It can even convert opponents by persuading them that the applications of principle for which they have been arguing are not the right ones.

Now, Dr Letwin does not seem unskilled. Much environmentalism strikes me as nothing more than a dislike of modern civilisation dressed in the language of bad science. Equally, much communitarianism strikes me as socialism in camouflage. But some of it is about preferring evolved, self-sustaining orders to orders imposed from outside. What was said last night will not just be reported in the plodding, ever-faithful Daily Telegraph. It will also have to be discussed in The Independent or even in The Guardian.

What I will also say about Dr Letwin is how impressed I was by his apparent sincerity. For years, I have been listening to politicians as they read their speeches from an autocue. The speeches have been written by others, and all content has been carefully drained from them, leaving a more or less connected set of sound bites when can then be explained through unattributed and often inconsistent media briefings. What I heard last night was a real speech—the sort of thing I last heard from Conservatives in the early 1980s, or from Labour before the rise of Tony Blair. Dr Letwin made a statement of principle, and then answered questions from the audience. It is not necessary that I should be happy with all that he said. For instance, he opposed the legalisation of drugs during the question and answer session. I think his grounds for doing so were silly. But, again, he plainly believed what he was saying. In an age when drug legalisation is being urged by judges and police chiefs, and when increasing numbers of ordinary people no longer believe in prohibition, it would have been easy to work the usual political trick of giving five minutes to saying nothing at all. Instead, he said what he thought. He seems, by the way, always to have thought this. In 1990, I asked him at some Conservative youth gathering what he thought about drug legalisation, and he raised a big laugh against me by accusing me of wanting to "make England into one vast Malay opium den". I mention this not with any bitterness—twelve years is a long time - but only to show his consistency even in being wrong.

So, the Conservatives are on the road to recovery, and the recovery is of a kind that will be more friendly to liberty than Labour has been—or than the last Conservative government was: I will not more than mention that most of what Dr Letwin said about New Labour's centralising mania also applies to the Thatcher and Major governments. This recovery is to be welcomed. The only problem I now face is what to do next. I have made myself moderately famous over the past ten years by denouncing the Conservative Party and all its works. The Candidlist was only the most successful of my efforts. That phase of my career may now be over—though do note the "may" in my statement: anything can happen between now and the next election—and I shall need to think what else to do. Doubtless, I shall find something. In any event, I would not be unhappy if I were to become a redundant critic.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 107
5th June 2003

Farewell to the Lord Chancellor:
A Brief Comment on the Continuing New Labour Revolution
by Sean Gabb

Brian Micklethwait has suggested that I should comment—no matter how briefly—on the announced abolition last week of the office of Lord Chancellor. Being the resident Jeremiah at the Libertarian Alliance, I suppose I have a duty to complain. So I will.

Last Thursday, Tony Blair reshuffled his cabinet. Those Ministers who had performed badly by his standards were dismissed. One of his main loyalists resigned under circumstances that have given rise to much private speculation. Mr Blair then moved some of his remaining Ministers around, and appointed a few more to fill up the gaps.

This is normal practice for a government as old and strained as this one now is. I have lived long enough to see it happen many times before. What makes it worthy of comment is the unexpected changes to the way in which the judiciary is managed. The Lord Chancellor was dismissed, and instead of being refilled, his office has been announced for abolition, its main functions being put out to commission or being eventually regathered into a Ministry of Justice. At the same time, the senior Judges are to lose their seats in the House of Lords and will be given their own Supreme Court over which to preside. The immediate reason is a political crisis for Mr Blair. I cannot know the details, but it is obvious that he is under severe pressure; and the changes may have been meant to draw attention away from the sorry fact that he is running out of loyalists, and that those he has are not very good.

The principle of the changes, though, is not bad in itself. In standard constitutional theory, the Lord Chancellorship is an anomaly. He is a Judge. He appoints all the other Judges. He is the Speaker of the House of Lords. He also sits in the Cabinet as a creature of the Prime Minister. The modern doctrine of the separation of powers—as most notably expressed in the American Constitution - was derived in the 18th century from observation by Montesquieu and de Lolme, among others, of the British Constitution. They plainly did not observe very well.

Of course, there is no reason for correcting an anomaly simply because it is. There is no reason to suppose that any of the potential conflicts of interest for a Lord Chancellor have produced actual evils. Even Lord Irvine, the last holder of the office, was never accused of political bias in his legal functions. He appointed judges with the traditional impartiality, and defended them against attack by his colleagues in the Cabinet. He was similarly impartial in his judgments.

This being said, the potential for conflicts of interest has been greatly increased in the past few years. The steady growth of judicial review since the 1950s, plus the Human Rights Act 1998 - plus the seizure of review powers over primary legislation in the Thoburn case of last year—have transformed the judiciary. Increasingly, the Judges of the civil law are no longer mainly doing justice between subject and subject, but are ruling on the legality of executive actions and even now on the constitutional validity of Acts of Parliament. Leaving the Lord Chancellorship untouched might be dangerous. Evils that in the past were potential, and that as such gave no reason for change, might easily soon become actual. Now that the evolution of our laws is taking us towards a Supreme Court—and bearing in mind that this is an entirely welcome evolution on liberal grounds—the time may already have come for making the Lord Chancellor into something less of a constitutional hybrid. I say this, even if it seems that the present changes have not received proper consideration.

My objection is not to the principle of reform, nor even really to its attendant lack of consideration—this lack can be supplied given reasonable discussion. My objection is to the change of names. There was no good reason to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. The most fundamental legal reforms in English history were carried though during the third quarter of the 19th century. First, there was the fusion of law and equity. Then there was the setting up of a proper system of law reporting and the movement of the civil courts from Westminster Hall to the New Courts in the Strand. Then there were the Judicature Acts of the 1870s. These abolished the jumble of competing jurisdictions inherited from the middle ages that had made justice into an expensive lottery, and replaced them with a single High Court of Justice divided in its business on rational lines and with a codified procedure. In its substance, what the Government announced last week is nothing compared with this.

Yet, for all its radicalism, the Victorian reformers did all they could to preserve the old associations. Even if the substance was entirely replaced, the names of Queen's Bench and Chancery were retained. The New Courts were built to look old. Within a generation, I doubt if anyone but a legal historian really noticed what had been done. The present set of reforms is quite different in its regard for old associations. A few years ago, writs became claim forms and plaintiffs became claimants. There are proposals to stop the Judges from wearing their horsehair wigs. Now, there is to be no Lord Chancellor. The office has existed in England for at least 800 years, and began as a sort of secretaryship to the King. It is older than Parliament. Thomas Beckett was Lord Chancellor to Henry II. Thomas More was Lord Chancellor for Henry VIII. The office was satirised in Iolanthe. It has always been around in English history, and its holders have been some of the great men of English history. Even before the proposed abolition, the cumulative effect of these reforms has been to advertise a break with the past. Let another generation go by, and only a legal historian will be able to understand the mass of obsolete words contained in law reports from before the present century. Threads of continuity will have been snapped. The past will seem more of a foreign country than is needed.

That is my objection. It may seem trifling to argue over words and appearances, but these are part of our national identity. These are part of what of what it means to be an Englishman. They help to tell us who we are and what we were. Had our history been as unfortunate as that of most other European countries in the 20th century—and usually before—it might not be bad to advertise a break with the past. Throughout the old Soviet Empire, for example, I can think of no objection to the renaming of towns and streets during the 1990s, to the pulling down of statues and to the restructuring of the functions and the names of political institutions. But, as I keep insisting, the most important protection of English liberty is the apparent continuity of our institutions. Take away our grounds for conservatism, and we are left with a set of new institutions that may have a splendid future, but which are now too evidently new to attract the unthinking loyalty that is their surest source of strength.

I could be wrong, but I believe there is a conspiracy among our political masters to destroy our national identity and with it our ancient freedoms. I say I could be wrong because I remember the absurd conspiracy theories put forward in the 1980s by the opponents of Margaret Thatcher. Socialists like Ruth Levita and Martin Jacques claimed there was a coherent project to bring about a "free market and a strong state". Except there was little actual freeing of markets, this was an accurate description of what happened in the 1980s. It was, however, an unintended consequence. Thatcherism was never a coherent ideology, but was instead a muddle of quite separate ideologies. There were the free market libertarians, the traditionalist conservatives, the middle way social democrats, the social authoritarians. These all got part of what they wanted, though in a pretty random way, and the result was the toughened big government machine that New Labour eventually inherited.

Perhaps the same reductionist analysis can be applied to all that has been done since 1997. Perhaps there is no New Labour project. Certainly, there is no unity within the Government on the main issues of the day. We have seen them fall out over the war with Iraq and the Euro.

But while I could be wrong, I do believe there is more here than just a set of unintended outcomes. This is a government above all of philosophes. For all it has put up taxes and increased the burden of regulations, this is not a socialist government. Considered in themselves, many of its acts have been rather liberal—always granting that many other have not. It passed the Human rights Act. It accepted the judicial coup announced in the Thoburn judgment. It has been no more friendly in practice to the claims of the European Union than the Conservatives were in office. It has tried to reform the public services on market principles—and if it has failed in this, it is because of a deference to vested interests and a lack of economic understanding for which it may be fairly blamed but not denounced.

The general problem is that the New Labour turn of mind is frankly contemptuous of the past. Mr Blair's "forces of conservatism" speech in 1999 was an accurate expression of how these people regard the English past. They want a New Britain, and regard all that is left of old England as an embarrassment to be cleared away as soon as possible. Some New Labour people, I accept, have the fairest intentions. I have eaten with these people. They often have more sympathy for libertarian concerns than Conservatives have ever had. But many of their seniors are malevolent. They have no liking for liberties whether ancient or modern. They want a politically correct police state and a corporatised economy. Ordinary people are to have the appearance of freedom, but little of its substance, and the world is to be made safe for an elite of politicians, big businessmen and their pet intellectuals. What joins these different factions is their contempt of the past. And this is fatal to the benevolent strain within New Labour. By ripping up every old association on which they can lay hands, our masters are turning a nation into a frightened mob. They may be doing to us what the revolutionary governments did to France after 1789. And, while the men of 1789 had some excuse for not understanding the consequences of their remodelling, their modern successors have no excuse.

I note with surprised approval that the Conservatives have rejected the abolition of the Lord Chancellorship. They have decided to leave their existing system of shadow portfolios, complete with a shadow Lord Chancellor. They seem committed to undoing the abolition once they are back in office. I am glad. Generally speaking, I have been reasonably impressed by the Conservative performance over the past few months. The strategy of revival that I thought I could see in the spring and summer of last year has re-emerged, and this time in opposition to a much weaker and more discredited Government than was the case last year.

But this is another matter.