Abu Hamza: the trouble with believing in freedom

Hmmm, not sure how I feel about Hooky Hamza being extradited to the USA.

An appalling little toad defined by hatred and bigotry? Yes; his “sermons” have turned many young British muslims into jihadist scum. A failure as a man? Yes – five of his wastrel sons are convicted fraudsters. A workshy shirker? Yes – his huge family lives on benefits. A costly nuisance? Yes – he’s cost the British taxpayer about £3m.

But… all his crimes so far (for which he’s been held in prison for years) are for what he says or thinks or reads… not acts of violence he’s actually committed. (If there’s a case for these extraditable crimes of actual terrorist involvement, why isn’t he being prosecuted in the UK?) Being an unpleasant little fucker isn’t a crime; if it was, we could empty a fair few buildings in my neighbourhood into the nearest jail.

What it comes down to is this: in the mother of all Parliaments, the cradle of law and human rights, we are arbitrarily detaining someone without trial for … holding unpleasant opinions. If we truly value freedom of speech, we must be prepared to defend it at its least savoury edges. (For this reason, “incitement” shouldn’t even be a crime. “I did it because he told me too” isn’t a mitigating defence; Nuremberg established I was only following orders isn’t an excuse, even under compulsion.)

Sometimes, believing in freedom of speech leaves a very bitter taste.

Let’s look at what he’s spent years in jail for. Owning a “terrorist manual” – i.e. a book. “Preaching prejudice” – i.e. speaking freely about his beliefs. “Inciting hatred” – i.e. talking to a willing audience.

There’s a case for saying we shouldn’t extend tolerance to those who are themselves intolerant, and treating this guy humanely is perhaps not the way natural justice would have it. (Many men in Britain would enjoy ten minutes in a locked room with this beardie weirdie.) But if we believe in democracy and the rule of law – that we subsume some of our gut feelings to a system evolved over centuries, a system that tries to treat everyone as having equal rights – it’s legally very troubling.

Not that I’ll be queueing up outside Belmarsh crying miscarriage of justice – he’s stolen enough from the UK taxpayer to deserve a life in the American prison system, and good riddance. (Extradition fully concords with my personal sense of justice, but that’s not the point I’m making here.) But ultimately, being civilised requires us to think carefully about these things.

Otherwise, all we have is what the muslim world suffers from – the rule of a thuggish mob too feeble-minded to negotiate the modern world. And I believe we are better than that.

Attending a naughty boys’ course

Despite my car’s oversized engine, I’m not a speed freak: I’ve had a license over two decades and my motoring offenses comprise precisely two parking tickets. Until last month, when a camera clocked me at 39 in a 30 zone.

Like everyone who gets one, I felt unfairly victimised. It was just off the M4 so was still in a motorway mood… and why should I get penalised when cars were passing me as it flashed? (The answer: they got Fixed Penalty Notices too.) But the fine sheet had an interesting option: avoid points on my license… if I attend a “Speed Awareness Course” for first offenders. The shocking thing: it was actually quite good.

The first entertainment value came in the names of the presenters: Mr Neophyte and Miss Lightning. (You take all the laughs you can get at 7am on a damp Friday.) Despite his name, Mr Neophyte was an experienced driving instructor odd-jobbing for the Met, and his attitude was ideal. Whereas a Met man might’ve adopted a finger-wagging you-naughty-people approach (the attitude that’s led to a majority of white middle-class Londoners quietly withdrawing their support for the police) Neo prefers a regular-guy persona: I Understand, You’re Here to Avoid Points on your License. Which we are.

“We” are a bunch of 18 people. Most are from ethnic minorities; nearly all are male. But at this time in the morning, it’s probably the “professional” bunch: the folk who have jobs to go to. It’s good-humoured considering nobody wants to be here. But the mood is managed with skill.

First up’s a recap of things many of us haven’t revised in years: the Highway Code. Speed limits on Britain’s various road types. I get them all right but learn something too: do you know that if you see street lights without a sign indicating the limit, you assume it’s just 30mph? Interesting. Access roads to service stations count. Then comes the real stuff: the justification for why travelling at 35mph in a 30 zone can cost you your license (if you do it four times in four years

It’s all about curves, and I’m not talking rural roads here. If you hit a pedestrian below 30, they’ve got a high survival rate – over 80%. But for every mph above that, the chances they’ll die shoot off the scale – the graph’s like a hockey stick. By 40mph, you’re a death sentence for basically anyone you run into. And that’s the zone where most fatalities happen: on motorways you’re travelling much faster (70mph) and breaking the limit much more frequently (80-90mph) for far more miles… yet barely 6% of accidents take place on them.

So: for a course you don’t want to attend and feel victimised for being asked, the output’s not bad. I find I am thinking about speed more often, and paying particular attention when people are around. All in all, not a bad result.

Riots? Blame New Labour

Walking around Deptford last night, I felt the troubles hit some some of tipping point around 2am; tonight I expect them to start fizzling. (Partly because there’s only a finite number of Currys and JD Sports left to loot.) It’s been an interesting week so far. But what caused it?

There’s been a lot of talk over what really caused the riots spreading across London. Blame poverty, blame race, blame lack of male role models, blame the Met’s appalling PR after the trigger event. (At least it seems the guy was, indeed, carrying a gun.) But for me, the attitudes of today that led to this week’s rioting have one core driver: the 13 years of New Labour government.

It was Blair, after all, who coasted in on a promise of “We’ll take care of you.” And Brown who hosed billions at the public sector as it added today’s millions-strong hordes dependent on the public purse. New Labour was all about giving a man a fish – never teaching him to fish for himself.

And that’s why it’s all New Labour’s fault. It created a class of people with no sense of ownership in society; people who think everyone else owes them a living. The looters are one example – but they share space with striking unions (like the one led by Bob Crow, whose Tube chaos has cost Britain about £500m so far) and the pension-guzzling parasites of the public sector, who can’t understand why we don’t all support their bid to keep their pensions three times as generous as anyone else’s.

Under New Labour, these people were made to feel special. To feel that drawing your income from the State was somehow more admirable than being a wealth creator. (It is, at best, its equal – never its better.) And on the back of these views arose a complete contempt for the private sector. Blair and Brown’s disdain for those who create the wealth of nations – as opposed to those who merely spend it – was near-total. Private business, under any Labour administration, is simply an ATM dispensing limitless green notes to fund the socialist dream.

Well, where has it got you, socialist scum?

The Big Lie of the Left – an unwillingness to comprehend that wealth must be created before it can be spent –  has led to millions taking to the streets, in demos, strikes, and riots. All trying desperately to ignore that fundamental truth. The account New Labour wrote its cheques from went so far into the red that the UK now pays a billion pounds a week in interest on it.

And the rioters are wrapped up in the same mistaken belief Blair and Brown were. Partying against the darkness, trying to ignore what’s in plain view.

The next few years are going to be hard. And I doubt this week’s flare-ups will be the last. But we need to return British society to where it once stood – a land of fundamental rights balanced with fundamental responsibilities. Where there’s an understanding that the person most capable of changing your future for the better is the one in the mirror.

For years, people like me at least gave the Labour rabble a chance; lefties make better constituency MPs, after all, because that’s a job well suited to little thinkers. But we were wrong; we should have been clamping their thick skulls in vicegrips until they understood. Because they were – as always – just plain wrong. And now the gloves have to come off. People must be made to understand.

We will hurt you, Labour voters. And we are not sorry. There’s simply no other way.

Public sector workers are the all-singing, all-dancing, thieving scum of the world

My word, public sector workers really are the all-singing, all-dancing thieving scum of the earth, aren’t they.

750,000 of the bastards out on strike on June 30th – again. All because the public sector thinks it deserves the right to be insulated from economic conditions. That it has the right – unbelievably – to dip its hands into someone else’s pocket, every year, because it thinks its members are somehow “special”. For special, read: better. They honestly believe – work-dodging, early-retiring, disability-benefit-seeking all of them – that they shouldn’t be subject to basic rules of society. That they should somehow float above it all, protected from reality, and taking money out of the economy they never created in the first place. Just because they work for a jobsworth-employing local council instead of an enterprising private company.

I’ve tried to hold back on this, but there’s no fight left in me. Public sector unions, you are scum. Andy “Serwotka”, you are scum. The 32% or so of his union that actually bothered to vote (if they were in favour of striking): you are scum. Merrily taking money out of the taxpayer’s pocket, never comprehending that all that money has to come from somewhere. To me, you’re thieving scum; to a large number of private sector workers, you’re thieving scum; to an ever-larger percentage of the British taxpaying public (admittedly, a smaller class these days) you’re thieving scum. Fortunately, in the next difficult couple of decades, you’re going to realise just what that means.

This way lies disaster: the disappearing middle classes

The HBR on a subject I’m concerned about: the hollowing-out of the middle class. A problem large and growing – unlike the middle classes themselves.

In the American idiom “middle class” equates to “middle income” – perhaps a better definition than in the UK, where medicine and the law are middle-class. But the principle’s the same: the middle section of society – the part that has most stake in the rule of law and economic growth, the part that pays its own way through life and doesn’t expect or get much from the State – is disappearing, all over the Western world, just as it’s growing massively in the BRICS and beyond.

In the UK, the squeeze on the middle was largely driven by politics, not managers – the last government despised anyone able to stand on their own two feet; much easier to control ’em if their source of income comes straight from the Treasury. Tax credits, income support, means-testing, and the endless hordes of new public sector workers were the results of this mindset. (People think Gordon Brown was a complex character. He wasn’t; he was a simple, unreconstructued socialist, believing people should be kept on a leash for their own good.)

It led, of course, to today’s problematic public sector and appalling public finances – but at least the masses were controlled! For their own good! And that’s all that matters to a socialist; forget the money stuff; we can always print more.

To be fair, there are controllers on the right too. But Tory control freaks (I was sure George Osborne was one, but the guy’s grown on me over the last year) promote their authoritarianism through rules and regulations rather than the bread and circuses of discredited New Labour – and rules can always be gamed somehow, even if the winning move is not to play.

So 17 million Americans are doing jobs below their skills level, with another 8-10m unable to get jobs at all. 10% of the population. That’s a lot of people to annoy. Especially when those people are articulate, educated, responsible individuals, most of whom believe at heart in fairness of opportunity and personal responsibility.

I’m not counting the working poor or the low-skilled unemployed here; many of them are good people, but they’ll never be genuine contributors to society – through no fault of their own, they’ll never be able to pay enough taxes to cover the public services they draw.As a result, they’ll always hold the view that the State owes them a living; takers rather than givers. This is not a negative on low-skilled people – I hugely admire people working their asses off in restaurants and farmer’s fields – but it’s hard for them to join the middle class and take up a contributing role in civil society. We’ve got a general view in the UK that the NHS – a government-funded monopoly, for crying out loud! – should be the only provider of healthcare available to anyone. An uninformed viewpoint – but that’s what happens when the middle class disengages: public opinion is formed by the uninformed. Less civil society, more mob rule.

The middle classes are the backbone of any civilised society. They pay the taxes (because there are many of them); their views shape policy (because they read the newspapers and vote) and they instil values into their children, connecting across the generations. These things together form something called “society”.

And without a middle class – or worse, a middle class that feels hard done by, as in Britain today – we are truly lost.

And Dunkirk spirit died a little more

People warned off from clearing the snow outside their homes. A murdered man is criticised for chasing thieves who then stabbed him. And a musician gets a warning for scaring off intruders.

It’s obvious what’s happening here: Britain’s nannying Police State gets really, really worried when it hears about people fending for themselves. All these puffed-up functionaries in our bloated public sector – all desperate to demonstrate their little bit of power is really, really important and you should really take notice of them – are driving Wussy Britain ever-deeper into the morass of mediocrity and blame culture that’s characterised New Labour’s time in power.

It’s the basic subtext of any Labour government: We Are The Only Ones Who Can Help. We, the State, will protect you; we will define your rights; we will look after you. You have no responsibilities except to us. In return, we only ask that you give up every last detail of your private life, that you abrogate any right to decide your own destiny to us. For you, people of Britain, understand that your neighbour is not your friend, every hedge contains a pervert and every action carries legal consequences. There is Us. Only. Us.

Where’s the punishment? Where’s the deterrent? Where’s the acknowledgement that the bagsnatchers and burglars might, just, have second thoughts about doing it again? That’s what these stories are about. Dunkirk spirit, and how the UK State discourages it.

And to the health & safety idiots, misguided cops, and owlish government ‘advisors’: grow a pair.

There ain’t no justice

The frothing-mouthed Daily Mail does raise sensible issues occasionally, and this is one of them.

From a legal viewpoint, what the homeowner did was indeed against the law: chasing down a housebreaker after gaining the upper hand, then giving him a good kicking. Good on yer, Mr Hussain. But the judges weighed the application of the law, versus the prosecution of justice… and decided on statute rather than circumstances. Which is wrong.

Since we know the law is not a perfect model of justice, and judges are by definition supposed to dispense justice (and have great leeway on sentencing), can judges not be given the leeway to ignore the law in such circumstances?

Just how far should we follow the rules, when dealing with people who have no sense of feeling bound by them?

It’s a dilemma mirrored in every terrorist case, every ASBO, indeed every middle-class person’s interactions with the Police State the UK is fast becoming. If you can’t win by playing by the rules, what’s the point of having rules?

Well, the attackers went into someone’s house armed with blades and ropes. By any moral standard, such individuals have signed away any right to be treated fairly. Mr Hussain did what most men would do in such a threatening situation: HE WHACKED THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF THE BASTARD. Sorry, but that’s what real justice is.

(I’m not sure how, exactly, the attackers got off so lightly. Any crime involving a blade is supposed to be a 2year minimum sentence these days. But that’s another matter.)

I hope Mr Hussain gets out of jail quickly. And his attackers do something else soon that puts them inside. But beyond that, I hope this makes judges take a second look at what they’re really there for. Justice ain’t law.

Police State Britain: cops tool up

Hmmm. Armed police patrols in London’s residential areas are to become routine, for the first time. And the unit concerned apparently didn’t feel this was the sort of thing it should have told its chief (or the mayor) about.

It’s driven by a “rise in gun crime”. But this isn’t about gun crime; it’s about drug crime, drug dealers killing each other, not threatening the mainstream population. These guys aren’t getting into gun battles with the cops, or waving guns around on the High St.

And if you are in a gun battle with innocent bystanders around, what the hell use is a bloody spray’n’pray submachine gun?

So tooling up for routine patrols is just yet another example of the Met – one of Britain’s poorest-performing police forces – thinking uncritically. The force, using New Labour’s culture of dependency and authoritarianism as its excuse, is truly out of control.

It takes nine of us: the (lack of) value of a public servant

My three Big Problems with New Labour’s Britain – its nannynagging Police State, its increase in red tape, and public sector bloat – became even sharper when I ran a few numbers about just how under-delivering our public sector is.

For centuries, we who create wealth (business and taxpayers) had a deal with civil servants: work diligently for a living wage, and we’ll forget about your immense job security and gold-plated pension arrangements. New Labour broke that agreement: Britain’s public servants are now among the world’s best-paid – now earning more than an equivalent private sector role.

(Some senior civil servants are on record as thinking they should be paid as much as a FTSE-100 CEO, simply because the same number of people work for them.)

At income parity, that means it takes three private sector workers to support one public sector worker. (There are about 20m private sector workers in the UK and over six million public sector workers, an 800K increase under Blair and Brown.)

So far, just about sustainable – over three privates for one public. But let’s think about this for a second.

All of the civil servants get paid directly from the public purse – i.e. from the taxes of others. Meaning they contribute nothing to the Exchequer at all. So the ’employers contribution’ of NI taxes, for public servants, means nothing – it’s just making these people 11% more expensive. So a public servant has to be 11% more productive just to justify his job.

But there’s more. Public servants enjoy final-salary pensions – something very rare in the private sector. (And even where they exist, they’re subject to risks, like the providing company going bankrupt, that don’t exist in the public sector.) So a public sector pension, even compared to a final salary private one, is massively more advantageous – a discount factor of zero.

Now, a man retiring today spends on average a decade in retirement, and often much more. With a final salary pension, say a third of his total lifetime costs are taken up by his pension. But public sector pensions can often be passed on to spouses – and women marry younger and live longer, about 7-9 years’ difference on average. So overall his lifetime costs will be about twice as high as a private sector worker, who have to contribute to (and live within) their own pensions.

But wait. Public sector workers retire younger – often very much younger. (Why? Because they can.) 55 is common; 50 is not rare. And for certain sectors – like policemen – it’s normal to then take second jobs, again in the public sector, without forgoing the pension from the first. That effect is small but significant – let’s say 10%. A public servant now has to be 2.1 times as effective as a private sector worker to be worth the money. (Unrealistic to say the least.)

However, we’ve not yet dialed in the difference in salary it’d take to bring private sector pensions up to high public sector standards. A reasonably senior civil servant – say, someone equivalent to me but in the public sector, perhaps leading a small team and handling a local departmental budget by his late 30s or early 40s – gets a rock-solid, gilt-edged final salary pension equivalent to a pot of over £1m on the day he retires.

To get the same, I have to contribute approximately £3000 a month to much riskier private schemes from age 30 or so to have a reasonable chance of the same outcome – not far off having to earn another salary on top of my own.

To normalise this data, we’ve got to increase the civil servant’s costs again, to about 2.9 or so. A public sector worker has to be almost three times as productive as a private sector worker to add equivalent value.

On top of this we’ve got to apply a discount factor, because of the increased risk a market-based pension carries. (Bad times are not balanced out by good times in the world of corporate pensions – companies prefer to take ‘contribution holidays’ when the funds are growing strongly, without the necessity of catching up when growth slows.) Let’s say 15% or so discounted to the present day. Not far off a quarter million pounds, so we have to add that quarter mil to the public servant’s costs to be consistent. Another 10% or so on total lifetime costs. 3x.

So in Britain today, a public servant costs three times as much as a private sector one.

With taxes at a third of income, that means it takes nine private sector workers to employ just one in public sector.

And in Britain today there are a lot of public servants.

(All this, of course, is without mentioning the source of those funds. In the private sector, workers are paid from profits made; public servants are paid directly from state coffers and make no contribution in tax themselves. They’re wealth consumers, not wealth creators.)

Ridiculous.

Look in the dictionary under “unsustainable” and there’s a photo of Gordon Brown.

Get back in your cell, or I’ll hit you with my certificate

Now this was funny. A charity thinks all prison officers should have degrees. These guys are living so far from the real world it’s awesome.

I know a couple of prison officers, who work in a Cat B jail – one notch below the worst of the worst. They’re not what you’d call intellectuals – but what they ARE is the salt of the earth. Ex-army, cheerfully competent shaven-headed guys who let the stresses of dealing with the hard nuts wash over them. They’re precisely the sort of people you want in charge of prisoners.

Imagine the picture. Some snot-nosed sociology graduate thinking he can command respect out of 600 badasses by waving his degree certificate at them. Doesn’t quite work, does it?

Obviously some prisoners respond to counselling, but for psychological or OB methods to “take” there’s got to be some minimum level of understanding between trainer and trainee; you can’t talk if you’re on different planets. Without making any judgement on the causes of crime, the average reading age of a British prisoner is 7. By the time someone hits jail, the sad reality is that they’re lost. The game is to control and secure them, not surround them with bloody New Labourites filled with that most dangerous of beliefs: that We Can Make You Better.

The average reading age of a British squaddie – the profession most likely to appear on the CV of a prison officer – is 11. To make a sweeping generalisation, they’re people from the same social conditions as prisoners… who had the guts and character to make better choices in life.

I’m all for education, but make it the right kind of education. This “Howard Charity” may not be government, but it’s almost certainly funded by government, and it’s obviously picked up some of the current administration’s more dangerous traits.

New Labour drops ID cards

Not before time, Alan Johnson has signalled an end to the ID card programme. It’s a mark of just how low my expectations are of Britain’s awful government that I’m happy it’s only wasted… £2bn or so on the madcap scheme.

Three reasons why it was fundamentally flawed:

At base level, it wouldn’t have worked. Governments have no ability to make large IT projects give value; it would have cost countless billions over the billions budgeted – which, thanks to New Labour’s existing profligacy, the UK hasn’t got.

A level up, though, are the technical difficulties: sixty million people and a hundred bits of information for each. The law of large numbers states that errors in the database rise exponentially as the amount of information rises linearly – not due to bad design or physics, just the way large and complex systems tend to operate when multiple parties have access to them. Nobody’s record would have been accurate. And when databases are already taken as gospel by police and social services irrespective of whether they’re correct, the opportunities for inadvertent incrimination would’ve been huge.

At top level, though, comes the biggest issue of all: it was never an ID card scheme. New Labour cleverly positioned the debate to be about a card in your wallet. It wasn’t; it was about interconnecting multiple databases from multiple government agencies, and giving a very wide variety of civil servants access to your life they never deserved. The database would have been ripe for fishing expeditions by the cops, intimidation tactics by local governments, and – just as bad – create commercial pressures for release of data.

ID cards were a bad idea: expensive, badly planned, and impossible to implement. (All the hallmarks of New Labour.) It took a recession to get rid of them, but now they’re gone. Let’s work to keep them off the agenda forever.