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Separate But Equal, Part 1

Instituting a new series to examine disturbing cases of deliberate self-segregation of “marginalised” communities carried out in the name of social justice

Forget “the only gay in the village” – Manchester City Council is putting forward plans for a majority-LGBT housing community for people aged over 50. In this socially engineered ghetto, eligibility to live would depend not on one’s ability to afford the rent but one’s ability to satisfy the diversity checklist of a local government busybody.

Once again, the best intentions of the social justice community result in the most extreme and counterproductive of solutions.

From the Guardian’s report:

Manchester city council has announced plans to create the UK’s first retirement community aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

According to the local authority, the city is home to the country’s largest number of LGBT people outside of London and is due to see a rapid growth in the number of LGBT residents over 65 in the next two decades. More than 7,000 over-50s living in Manchester identify as LGBT.

A recent report by the Manchester-based LGBT Foundation, commissioned by the council, revealed that older LGBT people experience higher levels of loneliness and isolation.

Many were fearful of discrimination in existing accommodation and there was a desire for affordable LGBT-specific housing where people could be open about their identity in later life.

The extra care scheme – a targeted development for older people – will house a minimum of 51% LGBT residents, but heterosexual people will also be welcome to apply to live in the accommodation.

The housing will have specially trained staff based on site and pets will be welcome. As well as the LGBT Foundation, the project is being supported by Stonewall Housing and the Homes and Communities Agency.

As one sceptical interviewee in the BBC report wisely asks:

The issue we are going to come up against along the way is that we’ve fought for equality. Do we need a separate space?

Quite.

Of course, the gimlet-eyed do-gooder at Manchester City Council responds, patronisingly:

It’s not necessarily about ghettoising particular communities. It’s offering people who want it that opportunity to spend their time with people who they know will understand them.

Ah well, that’s fine then. If people want to withdraw from wider society into strongholds (weakholds?) where fragility is pandered to rather than resilience developed, of course it is the sacred and noble duty of local government to assist them in their folly at every turn. Who are the guardians of the public purse to question the latest social justice orthodoxy?

Some may say that this is a local decision for local communities, and ask what standing a writer from London possibly has to weigh in on a decision made by Manchester City Council? And I would be amendable to that argument if it were actually the people of Manchester on the hook for this experiment in social divisiveness. But of course they are not.

In overcentralised Britain, the dominant single source of local authority funds – 40% in the case of Manchester – are disbursed by central government after having been raised through general national taxation. And besides the obvious social folly inherent in creating fragile, unresilient and homogenous minority communities in the name of social justice, the fact that all British taxpayers are funding this folly makes it directly my concern, and that of everyone else.

If a private developer wants to create an ethnically, gender or sexuality-based homogeneous environment for private tenants or homebuyers then that is a separate discussion fraught with its own parallel legal questions about discrimination and equality. But in the case of a public initiative and social housing, the government has absolutely no business discriminating along these lines, setting quotas or engaging in any other form of naked social engineering.

We should not be unsympathetic to some of the stories of older LGBT people featured in the BBC News report – being ostracised by friends and family of one’s own generation after coming out must be incredibly hard, particularly in older age. But it should be for institutions of civil society to step in to address these real social problems, and we must get out of the habit of immediately pivoting to local and national government for a solution to each and every problem – especially where the mitigation involves the use of general taxpayer funds.

Heavy-handed governmental interventions such as this only serve to crowd out independent solutions from civil society, and reinforce the expectation that government must play an active, watchful part in nearly every area of our lives. And no matter how well-intentioned individual schemes may be, British taxpayers should not be left on the hook for implementing a social justice revolution in Manchester or anywhere else.

 

Separate is NOT equal - Stonewall - segregation - LGBT

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A Third Runway At Heathrow Or Fixing Potholes In Roads? We Need To Be Bigger Than This In The Age Of Brexit

aviation-airplane-on-tarmac-at-airport

It is Westminster politicians and journalists, not Brexiteers, who have been short sighted and parochial

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup poses an interesting question about the expansion of Heathrow Airport and other national political priorities in the post-Brexit world:

Almost 70 per cent of commuting is done by car so roads are clearly of interest to voters, never mind the wider economics.   But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that big shiny infrastructure projects like runways and high-speed railways are simply more glamorous and interesting to politicians and, yes journalists, who spend more time in London (where most people commute using public transport) than stuck at a roundabout trying to get onto a bypass.

Airport expansion is about international trade and competitiveness, our national self-image and our global role. All the important things that important people in London spend so much time talking about, in other words.  And rightly so. We should have another runway at Heathrow, and one at Gatwick, come to that: the more competition the better

But then our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes.

Earlier this year, the Treasury gave councils £50 million extra to fill holes in roads. Councils reckon they need £12 billion more to fill them all. That’s close to the £16 billion that might need to be spent on new roads around an expanded Heathrow. Which would voters choose in a referendum?

Read the whole thing – it is a thoughtful piece. And of course James Kirkup is right to point out that key national infrastructure projects and local community investment need not be mutually exclusive.

Personally, I make no apologies for firmly supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as well as new runways for Gatwick Airport any any other airport which wants to expand to the benefit of our aviation sector.

As this blog previously ranted:

Air travel is great. It takes rich tourists from wealthy countries and brings them to poorer countries where they boost the local economy with their money. It keeps the wheels of business turning, from the CEO flying from New York to London for a meeting, the office worker commuting to Berlin every week for a project, to doctors and scientists gathering for international conferences.

Air travel bridges the distance between our towns and cities and helps knit the planet together through a web of far-flung family members, friendships and business relationships. And in doing so, the aviation industry helps to foster trust and understanding, bridging cultural divides and doing more to affirm our common humanity than any third-sector institution or political movement.

And yet we seem intent on attacking aviation, thwarting its growth and choking the life out of the industry with punishing airport taxes and insurmountable barriers to expansion. And for what? So that human beings can creep meekly across the surface of the planet, apologising for our very existence and ostentatiously offsetting the carbon dioxide we emit whenever we open our mouths?

But I must admit to bristling a bit at Kirkup’s analogy comparing Brexiteers to downtrodden locals worried only about potholes in their roads, while the Remain-supporting establishment are cast in the role of far-sighted metropolitan elites who alone acknowledge and face up to the long term problems facing our country.

If anything, it is actually the other way around. By continually divesting Westminster of more and more decision-making authority through successive EU treaties and agreements, it is the British political class who effectively dragged the level of our political discourse down to the level of squabbling about NHS waiting times, train delays and potholes in the roads. When all of the consequential decisions – like trade, and increasingly foreign relations – are taken at the European level, all that’s left for British politicians is to squabble about whether the BBC should be forced to up its bid for The Great British Bake-Off.

That’s why we now have a wishy-washy parliament and civil service which is having to rebuild atrophied trade negotiation competencies almost from scratch, while we look to our prime minister less as a world leader or person of real consequence, and more as a glorified Comptroller of Public Services, someone to moan about on social media when the local library closes or the street lights don’t get repaired quickly enough.

The British people instinctively realised this, too, when they voted in the EU referendum. They realised that they only way to even begin to regain control over the full range of domestic and foreign affairs which trickle down to impact their lives was by leaving the failing supranational, federalist experiment known as the European Union.

Kirkup suggests that our leaders “our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes”. Well excuse me, but I specifically do not want the prime minister of my country to be wasting her time fussing over potholes and traffic jams. I want the political leadership of this country to set its sights on higher matters for once. In fact, the rule of thumb should be that Westminster only takes an interest if a decision cannot be fairly and responsibly made at a lower level.

And as for Kirkup’s fact that £50 million was given by the Treasury to local authorities to fill in potholes, this is simply more evidence that all government in Britain is vastly overcentralised – that the work of constitutional and governance reform must continue well beyond Brexit. Why not vastly reduce the amount of personal income tax or VAT claimed by central government, and devolve increased tax-levying powers to the counties instead? That way, the people of Liverpool and Bristol can pursue policies which work for them, while the people of rural Essex or Cambridgeshire can do likewise – whether they choose to prioritise filling in more potholes or attracting new investment by slashing taxes or offering incentives to business.

The real danger of Brexit is that nothing much changes and we fail to rock the boat; that we fail to properly grab this once-in-a-lifetime chance to critically re-examine the way in which we govern ourselves and make important decisions at a personal, community and national level. Securing an economically stable secession from the European Union should be the minimum requirement, not the grand prize. Why go to the effort of leaving the EU simply to return to being governed by the same set of domestic institutions which orchestrated our national decline prior to joining the European Economic Community, and then gave away more and more power to EU institutions once we were inside?

Ultimately, the media does us a disservice by framing idiotic questions and false choices like whether we would prefer a new runway at Heathrow Airport or for the potholes on our road to be fixed:

third-runway-at-heathrow-airport-or-no-potholes-on-my-road

Ask your average group of people whether they want to see enacted a policy which benefits them personally or one which has larger but more disparate benefits spread among a much larger population, and a majority will vote with their own immediate self interest – 67% to 33% as it currently stands on the Telegraph’s online poll.

Does that mean that this is the better policy? Absolutely not. There are times when we are one nation and must subordinate the narrow interests of certain interest groups in order to further the national interest, and there are many other times when we should be able to organise ourselves as communities and regions without the heavy-handed interference of Westminster. And while central government should absolutely be rolled back in many areas, subjecting new airport runway capacity decisions to a citizen’s pothole veto is precisely the wrong way to run a country or frame important strategic decisions.

We need to up our game. Politicians, journalists, ordinary citizens alike, all of us need to try harder to live up to the momentous times in which we find ourselves.

If we stop shooting for the middle and actually try to make the most of the historic opportunity afforded by Brexit then in a decade’s time we might witness a rebirth of local democracy and improve citizen participation in the democratic process at all levels. Better still, we might stop behaving like such dependent children, looking petulantly to Westminster for solutions to every issue we face. And if we stopped demanding that the same people who deal with matters of war and peace and the economic stewardship of the country also ensure that the Number 12 bus runs on time then maybe, just maybe we might improve both the quality and speed of critical decision making in this country.

And yes, maybe then there will finally be a gleaming new runway at Heathrow Airport, and at Gatwick too. Because voting for Brexit was the far-sighted, responsible act of enlightened citizens, not grumbling, parochial NIMBYs. And it should be the first of many such acts, not the last.

 

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Top Image: Michael Gaida, Pixabay

Bottom Image: LadyDisdain, Pixabay

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How The Corbynites Would Behave In Government – A Lesson From The 1980s

Conservatives should not feel smug about the hard left takeover of the Labour Party. History shows us that these people are tenacious and capable of inflicting real damage on people and communities in pursuit of their warped ideology, from the lowest seats of power

What would Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left of the Labour Party do if they actually gained political power? It is a question we tend not to ask ourselves or discuss, the possibility seeming so laughably remote that we naturally fixate more on what the Conservative Party is likely to do, given a small majority in government but no real organised opposition.

But it is a question that we should ask ourselves. This blog has been unashamedly supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, not because I agree with his ideology or any Corbynite political positions but because Corbyn represents (together now with Brexit) one of the only agents for breaking British politics out of its current stale, centrist consensus.

The managerial, technocratic politics of the last twenty years has alienated people and drives them away from political discussion, essentially boring them to death while the two main parties squabble over relatively trivial differences in attitude toward taxation, regulation, culture and foreign policy. The 2010 general election, taking place at the height of the Great Recession at a time when bold and original thinking was most needed, hinged on a puny £6bn difference in big spending commitments between Labour and the Conservatives. And though the EU referendum and the subject of Brexit divided the country in half, every political party but one came down hard on the side of remaining in that sclerotic and anti-democratic union.

There is not nearly enough choice in British politics. Being a centrist Labour MP today means broadly accepting the status quo on nearly all fronts while droning on continuously and sanctimoniously about “equality” and “fairness” to anyone who will listen, while being a typical Tory means waxing lyrical about personal freedom and responsibility while doing nothing to shrink the state or bring an end to government paternalism. Even the third parties, so long a pressure release valve, tend to fall in line with the consensus. The SNP is nothing but a slightly more authoritarian and social democrat-leaning Labour Party with a sprinkle of anti-English resentment, while UKIP seems to have betrayed its roots as a radical right-wing party in favour of appealing to disaffected left-wing Labour voters.

In this bland, homogenised context, anything which offers people real choice – a real varied palette of political colours to choose from – can only be a good thing, if for no other reason than that bad ideas will fester and grow out of sight of the country at large unless they are regularly expressed, challenged and defeated. So for all of these reasons, having a genuinely left-wing leader of the Labour Party again is not only jaw-droppingly obvious, it is also essential for the renewal of our democracy.

And yet…

One must also consider what ideologues actually do when they are in power. The Left in particular love to use the Thatcher government as a bogeyman and an emblem of everything evil about conservatism as an ideology, while conveniently glossing over the fact that Britain was a terminal patient receiving half-hearted palliative care before Margaret Thatcher gave the economy and the country some painful, revolutionary but absolutely necessary shock treatment.

But what do the ideological Left do when they are in power? Well, thankfully they have never grasped the reins of national government – the suffocating bipartisan post-war consensus was bad enough. But the hard left do have a track record in local government, and it is not a pretty one.

And that’s where this video comes in – kindly shared with me on Twitter by @eddiecoke. It is about fifteen minutes long, and well worth your time. The video is an excerpt from a 1980s American documentary about the behaviour of the hard, ideological (or “loony”) left in British local government. And some of what you see is quite shocking.

Of course, I knew about all of this in theory. Writing daily about politics, one hears about Red Ken and the GLC, or Derek Hatton and Liverpool City Council. But for early millennials like me, born when Thatcher was already in power and coming of age during late Blairism, the antics of the loony left are often now understood only in theory, while it takes seeing them in practice for the mind to recoil.

Watch the whole video.

What do we see?

Council censorship committees literally going through library books and purging those which do not convey a Social Justice message (in one case a picture book is banned because a white girl character has the temerity to tame a black horse with the aid of sugar cubes).

Snow White and Dr. Doolittle similarly banned.

Beauty and the Beast, Rupert Bear and Thomas the Tank Engine, too.

Replaced by books which go far beyond encouraging tolerance and equal rights, with one book for five-year-olds featuring a section entitled “Masturbation (Touching Yourself to Feel Good”.

The phasing out of competitive sports at school, replaced with open-ended games in which there are no rules, no score is kept and everybody “wins”.

Emboldened Marxist history teachers indoctrinating children with unashamedly pro-communist, anti-American diatribes.

The Brent African Women’s Council being invited to suggest changes to the school lunch menus, and then filibustering a meeting when okra soup and plantain were found not on the menu every single day.

A school governor bragging that he has effectively banned the police from setting foot on his school campus by threatening the headteacher’s job.

Social Justice pantomimes, with the traditional stories modified to shoehorn in messages of liberation and equality (because leftists can’t leave a good story unmolested).

Efforts to get schoolchildren to draw comparisons between the introduction of legislation to crack down on militant trade unionism and the Holocaust.

Viewing this litany of crazy, authoritarian leftist social engineering programmes run amok is quite sobering. And it does make one reconsider whether supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the ascendancy of the Labour Left is the right thing to do. After all, they have unleashed horrors like this on ordinary citizens while controlling only local authorities – how much more harm could they do if unleashed again, or (heaven forfend) on national government?

The answer: a lot. They could do a lot of harm. But that is no reason to recoil in horror at a democratic decision made by ideologically fervent members of the Labour Party. The correct reaction is to ensure that conservative thinking is similarly renewed and emboldened so that it presents an attractive alternative to voters.

Conventional wisdom says that this is already the case – that the UK electorate would pick Theresa May to stay on as prime minister over Jeremy Corbyn in a heartbeat, and that all the Tories need to do is remain as blandly inoffensive / desperately boring and unambitious as possible, so as not to spook voters into reconsidering.

I think this is dangerous complacency. After the past year in politics (on both sides of the Atlantic), nobody has any business making confident predictions about what will or will not happen, or to declare the status quo to be a cast iron certainty forever. Politics at its inclusive and inspiring best is about convincing people to consider new or different ideas, including ones which they had previously rejected. The Leave campaign would never have prevailed in the EU referendum had many people who were ambivalent or even warmly disposed towards the EU persuaded that Britain’s future would be brighter outside. Jeremy Corbyn is asking the British people to consider a radically different political settlement too, and while it is highly likely that the people will tell him to take a hike, it cannot be guaranteed.

Smug right-wing columnists may chortle that Jeremy Corbyn will never see electoral success, but they don’t know what economic or geopolitical shocks lie in await around the corner, or how those will impact British politics. Neither can they guarantee that the British political Right will not undergo a similar schism as is now taking place on the Left, instantly making everything competitive again.

It is not enough for small and large-C conservatives to sit back complacently and laugh at the Labour Party’s turmoil, while doing absolutely nothing to revitalise our own thinking and policymaking. It is not enough to assume that the country knows that conservative solutions are inherently better and more in tune with human nature than socialist dogmas.

If we really are about to enter a new political age where ideology actually starts to matter again, then conservatives should be worried, because we have been caught by surprise. The left’s answer was clearly to re-awaken the socialism of the 1980s and the GLC. What is our answer to be?

Hopefully Theresa May will spell out some broad strokes during the upcoming Conservative Party Conference. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope – the government has its hands full trying to deal with Brexit, and Theresa May’s reputation is that of an authoritarian traditionalist, not a small government, pro-market radical.

And until we conservatives can come up with a coherent and appealing vision for what small government conservatism should look like in 2016 (rather than the post-Cameron fudge we are currently presenting to the public) then our best defence – our only defence, really – against the Corbynites will be their own appalling record in government, going back some thirty years.

 

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What Conservative Government? – Part 1

David Cameron - Conservative Party - Tree Logo - Coke Zero Conservatism

The Left may love to rail against the Evil Tory government inflicting untold harm on the defenceless people of Britain in service to their extreme, worse-than-Thatcher ideology. Of course, it’s all just hysterical, hyperbolic nonsense. This “What Conservative Government?” series will highlight multitudinous examples showing that David Cameron’s rootless, centrist Conservative Party is an authoritarian, Big Government carbon copy of Tony Blair’s New Labour.

Last week, I had the opportunity to debate the Conservative Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, on the infantilisation of today’s students and their ludicrous demands for trigger warnings, safe spaces and the suppression of free speech.

This week, Vaizey pops up in Conservative Home, defending the government’s record on public libraries from left-wing attack (my emphasis added):

When I first became a Minister, we abolished the libraries quango and moved responsibility to the Arts Council.  We wanted to join up our cultural strategy with libraries.  This decision has been thoroughly vindicated.  The Arts Council has made £6 million of new Lottery funding available to libraries to host cultural events and realise their role as important community spaces.  Yesterday, they announced a further investment of more than £1.5 pounds, which will help library authorities work better together, and will support a range of national initiatives covering reading, digital literacy and health.

[..] Councils have a legal obligation to provide comprehensive and efficient library services, and must consult with the local population on plans. We are the first Government to review every closure. Central government can and will intervene if a council is planning dramatic cuts.

There is a serious point here, which is that the Labour Party are utterly disingenuous to attack the Conservatives for library closures, when only 11 of 79 library closures in the past five years have been ordered by Conservative councils. And there is probably merit to the implied suggestion that left-wing Labour councils are publicly rending their garments and spitefully shutting down high profile services as a kind of self-immolating protest against the Evil Tories in Westminster.

But what kind of conservative government obsesses about the “national initiatives” feeding into their “cultural strategy”, and watches over the shoulder of every local authority in the country, demanding the right to sign off on every single building closure? Certainly not any government that truly believes in smaller, leaner government or a renewed emphasis on localism and individual liberty.

Now, this centralise-first instinct in British politics is not new. And ironically, it is partly the legacy of the Thatcher government, which faced implacable resistance from rabidly left-wing local councils and believed that the only way to implement its agenda was to circumvent and/or neuter local authorities. But the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did nothing to reverse this process, and David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservatives are in no hurry to undo the process.

But the over-centralisation of government is one of the biggest problems in British politics and civil life. It kills any attempt at radical experimentation or bold new policy initiatives in the crib, since everything must conform to the same national standards, either by legal requirement or the fear of endless angry “postcode lottery!” headlines in the press.

Why should the four home nations of the UK not have the ability to vary tax rates and bands as they see fit, according to local priorities, so long as all four pay the correct proportional share of their revenue to Westminster for UK-wide shared obligations such as foreign policy and defence?

Why should local authorities not be able to raise (or lower) sales taxes autonomously, in place of a fixed (and brutally high) VAT rate of 20%, returning funds to taxpayers or spending the revenues as local communities see fit?

Why should city councils not be permitted to implement hotel room taxes, as in nearly every major city around the world outside the UK, and use the revenue to promote local tourism in the provinces and regions?

(The one policy standing in David Cameron’s favour is the creation of local Police and Crime Commissioners – though it has been hard to generate any real enthusiasm for this form local control when it is not replicated in other areas of our lives).

A truly radical, campaigning conservative government would be asking these questions, developing policies to answer them, and then boldly implementing them across the nation. And now, after five years of Conservative government, Britain might be starting to feel the benefit of re-embracing liberty, individualism, localism and regional variation.

But of course, all of this would require the Conservative Party to actually govern like a conservative party.

 

Conservative Party Logo - Cameron - Oak Tree

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