What Conservative Government? – Part 8, Theresa May Is Wrong To Embrace Socialism In Defence Of The Nation State


By openly declaring war on the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party, Theresa May reveals that she cannot tell the difference between defending the nation state (good) and shoehorning the state into every aspect of citizens’ lives (bad)

Why does British politics suffer from the scourge of unambitious, technocratic centrism which does more than anything else to drive voter apathy and disengagement?

Largely because of the enthusiastic and approving reception that such acts of ideological cross-dressing as we saw from Theresa May at Conservative Party Conference yesterday receive from Tory-friendly Westminster journalists who seem to care far more about whether the Conservative Party gains and keeps power than what they actually do with that power while in office.

From Matt Chorley’s Times Red Box morning briefing email today:

Theresa May used her impressive speech closing the Tory party conference yesterday to make a direct appeal to the Labour voters which Ed Miliband used to think he could count on.

Perhaps she just forgot but it was quite something from someone who had been in the cabinet for six years to suddenly declare herself the agent of change. (She used the word 29 times).

The PM promised to go after rogue bosses, tax dodgers, rigged markets and powerful companies giving people a bad deal. “I’m putting you on warning. This can’t go on any more.”

She boasted that the Tories were now the party of workers, the NHS and public servants, claims which would have had Labour HQ spluttering on their lattes. The call for state intervention where government can “do good” will have brought some Tory traditionalists up short too.

The high-wire act was all the more impressive because it also had Ukip fuming about her stealing all of their ideas too. Much of the language might have been to the left but the policy, including grammar schools and tackling immigration, was lifted from the right. May ranged across the political spectrum. Because she can.

While Times columnist Philip Collins notes:

This is a clearer endorsement of state activity than David Cameron would ever make. Throughout the speech there are paeans to the power of government to make the world better which makes for a paradox. “The elite” politicians have featured early on as the problem yet here, ten minutes later, they turn up as the solution.

Typically, political journalist types are impressed with – and subsequently choose to focus on – what they see as clever political manoeuvring rather than matters of substance. They are interested in the game of politics, not its higher purpose.

So never mind that Theresa May’s rhetoric and wholehearted embrace of the state effectively puts the final nails in the coffin of Thatcherism, the ideology which saved this country from previous national decline – instead we are to fawn over the new prime minister for spotting a wide open political goal in the absence of an effective Labour opposition and deciding to shoot left instead of right.

And “semi-socialist Tory” Tim Stanley immediately proceeds to do so:

May understands what Corbyn understands, that people want to be a part of something. Oh the capitalist gifts of a Starbucks mug and a cheap flight to Ibiza are nice, but what about identity? Community? The most appealing parts of Labour’s programme reach back into folk memories of Attlee and the world of unionised factories.

[..] But her sympathies do lie with a Britain that is more suburban or rural than metropolitan, more ancient than contemporary. What is wrong with this? Often I’ve heard Remainers – who will be as irrelevant in a few years’ time as Corn Law advocates or the NUM – saying that Britain risks becoming smaller in outlook. Good! There have been too many wars. Too much hypercapitalism. Too little of the local, of the familiar, of building the kinds of bonds that you get when people know each other and take responsibility for each other. Far too little Christian socialism – which, in the British context, was always more Christian than socialist.

How utterly depressing. It is entirely possible to promote that sense of community and belonging for which people yearn by doing a better job promoting British values and the cultural integration of thousands if not millions of people who have made their homes here yet have no intention of regarding themselves as “British”. Wouldn’t this be a good place to start, rather than responding to the Brexit vote by co-opting Labour’s collectivism and elevation of the state?

As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Chris Manby laments in his new blog:

Mrs May wants the Tories to be the party of “ordinary working-class people”. That is an admirable ambition, one best delivered through a strong economy.

Libertarians hate poverty too. But we know it is not government that creates economic growth, jobs, and prosperity. It is the actions of millions of individuals living in a free society under the rule of law. Want to eliminate poverty? Free up markets, cut taxes and enforce the damned rule of law.

We’ve been down this road before. The social-democratic consensus of the postwar years left British industry stagnant; British democracy under siege from militant trade unionism; and the British economy a high inflation, high unemployment laughing stock. It took Margaret Thatcher’s hard-fought revolution in the 1980s to restore national confidence. That revolution was left half finished.

The government already does far too much. We pay nearly half our income in taxes. Britain’s tax code is so long and complicated it rewards big business who can afford to pay shrewd accountants and lawyers. Planning restrictions and cheap money drive up the cost of housing and penalise saving. State investment in renewables drives up energy bills. Government borrowing is still out of control.

The problem with staking out the “centre ground” of politics is that you allow your opponent to control the terms of debate. There can be no compromise between good ideas and bad ones. The last female Tory Prime Minister grasped this point. I fear that Mrs May does not.

While Allister Heath warns:

Thirty years [after Thatcher and Reagan] free-market ideas are in retreat. The drift began well before the financial crisis, and was at first camouflaged by the ongoing march of globalisation, technology and consumerism. New Labour increased spending and intervention; likewise George W Bush, who also subsidised sub-prime mortgages; central bankers injected moral hazard into everything; and David Cameron introduced new workers’ rights, property levies and environmental rules. He increased far more taxes than he cut and bashed bankers. Sir John Major’s government was the last to make, if falteringly, the case for markets, competition and choice; and Michael Howard was the last Tory leader to advocate capitalism.

It is in this context that Theresa May’s speech needs to be understood. It was as emphatic a repudiation of the Thatcher-Reagan economic world-view as it was possible to get without actually naming them: time and again, she said that government was the solution, not the problem. She took explicit aim at small-state libertarians: the subtext was that collectivist, paternalistic Christian Democrats, not individualistic classical liberals, are back in charge of the party. She believes in a large, powerful, aggressively interventionist state that can, she feels, regenerate the country and protect ordinary workers. It will have helped Lord Heseltine get over Brexit; ironically, her vision of conservatism is very continental.

And makes an important and welcome rebuttal to Theresa May’s declaration of war on the libertarian wing of her party:

Yet the speech went further than toughening language or extension of policies. Cameron’s Big Society was based on the correct notion that society is separate from the state; May blurs those concepts. Classical liberals and libertarians believe in voluntary action; they believe in the family and communities, in charities and helping those who cannot help themselves. It is a basic error to confuse their philosophy with atomism or extreme selfishness.

Peter Oborne, though, sees Theresa May’s speech in an altogether more positive light:

Here is another, crucial difference between Mrs May and her predecessor. David Cameron was, in essence, a liberal prime minister. Mrs May marks a reversion to traditional conservatism.

She intends her premiership to challenge the liberal internationalism of Cameron and Blair. They assumed that nation states — including Britain — count for less and less in the modern world.

They accepted the liberal dogma that nations are essentially powerless against huge international corporations, mass immigration, the relentless advance of communications, and untrammelled free movement of international capital — the cumulative process often known as globalisation.

But now Mrs May has rejected this consensus, and in doing so she is attempting to define what it means to be British. Her speech amounted to a passionate statement that she believed in the nation state, and she spelt out her reason: that it has a fundamental role in supporting the weak and vulnerable.

I’m not unsympathetic to a lot of what Oborne says. This blog has been banging on about the need to defend the nation state as the primary guarantor of our fundamental rights and freedoms for years now, and I’ll take no lectures in that regard. But supporting the nation state and acknowledging the negative effects of globalisation does not inherently require adopting more left-wing, interventionist policies. Supporting the nation state should not mean advocating for its involvement in every aspect of our lives, especially when small government conservative policies have been proven time and again to be a much better generator of wealth and better for working people.

Furthermore, a full-throated embrace of capitalism needn’t be at odds with the politics of community and national identity. Just look at the United States, that exemplar of capitalism, where small government is celebrated (in theory if not always in practice) yet there is open pride in the flag, the national anthem, the military and shared national holidays and traditions which transcend ethnic or religious lines.

Americans embrace capitalism and have an inherent cultural distrust of an overbearing centralised state, yet they also stand and pledge allegiance to the flag at school, stand for the national anthem before even school sports events and celebrate Independence Day together whether they are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist. And one of the reasons that the American national identity is strong is because the state does not insert itself into every aspect of life, meaning that there is then more respect and appreciation for the state where it is visible.

What a devastating pity that Theresa May seems (from her hugely concerning conference speech) unable or unwilling to reconcile support for markets and capitalism with support for community and identity. She is turning British politics into a zero sum game, forcing conservatives to choose which core principle – economic freedom or a strong and cohesive sense of nationhood – they wish to preserve. And many voices in the conservative-friendly media seem more than willing to enable the prime minister in her destructive, short-termist scheming.

No good can come of forcing conservatives (or the wider country) into making the arbitrary and entirely unnecessary choice between a strong nation state and freedom from the state in our personal lives – and Theresa May is making a grave mistake by interpreting the Brexit vote as a call for bigger government.



Top Image: Carl Court / Getty Images, International Business Times

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 1 Summary

RNC - Republican National Convention - Cleveland - Quicken Loans Arena Floor

As the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, it is hard to recall a time when American conservatism has been in so parlous a condition

Andrew Sullivan (in a most welcome return to political live-blogging) captured the ugly essence of Night 1 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio:

Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.

If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.

Well, quite.

What struck me most from the first night of the Republican convention, as speaker after speaker stood and railed against President Obama, called for Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail and led the delegates in endless chants of “USA! USA!”, was the fact that these people were all scared. Scared of the future, scared of their economic prospects, scared of Islamist terrorism, scared of national decline.

Rudy Giuliani, appearing a very shrunken figure since his glory days in the late 1990s and during 9/11, sounded like a fearful pensioner shouting at the television when he gave his barnstorming prime-time speech. Where had his America gone, he shouted, and who would keep them all safe in these dangerous times? The answer, of course, was always Donald Trump.

We know that some American conservatives have skipped the convention entirely in disgust – and who can blame them? But of those in the convention hall – or the Quicken Loans arena, to give its full title – the vast majority seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid, or have at least reluctantly reconciled themselves to the fact that Donald Trump is their presidential nominee.

Something has changed in the soul of the Republican Party. One can argue endlessly about the reasons why – this blog believes that the continued failure of Republican government to benefit the struggling middle classes, the failure of the Tea Party to make a positive difference despite its loud rhetoric together with the ill-fated adventurism of the neoconservatives, has done much to alienate working class Americans from a conservative political class who have little to offer them but shallow patriotism.

Of course, Donald Trump offers shallow patriotism too. But he is also a strongman. Where President Obama wrings his hands and attempts to explain the complexity of the world and the problems facing America – often to excess – Donald Trump offers clarity and bold, oversimplified solutions. ISIS can be defeated without putting American boots on the ground, just by America deciding to “lead” again. Semi-skilled manufacturing jobs can be repatriated to America simply by “standing up” to nefarious foreign countries like China and Mexico. And apparently, after having been ground down by two stalled wars and a financial crisis, American conservatism was sufficiently dejected and debased to pick up that message and run with it.

I came of age (and became aware of American politics) in the late 1990s, in the tail end of the Clinton presidency and into the George W. Bush era. And in that time, in books and speeches by prominent conservatives, American conservatism was clearly dedicated – in rhetoric, if not always in practice – to advancing freedom. Freedom for the individual in America, and (sometimes disastrously) freedom for people in other parts of the world.

But the Republican Party of 2016 barely talks about freedom at all. On the first night of the RNC in Cleveland, speakers and delegates gathered under a massive sign proclaiming “Make America Safe Again”. Freedom has apparently gone out the window completely – why else would Republicans nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump, a man who expresses contempt for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and human rights? And in freedom’s place comes the soothing, reassuring, beguiling promise of safety.

The America I now see through the prism of the current Republican Party – thankfully quite a distorted prism – is one where the American Dream has died for millions of people, or is at best on life support. The Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly voted to make Donald Trump their presidential nominee, and who are now gathered in Cleveland for the quadrennial party convention, were motivated by not by a sense of opportunity but by fear. Fear for their physical safety from terrorism. Fear of economic instability. Fear of relative decline.

Tim Stanley agrees:

Note: preserve. Not build more, not expand, not create – but preserve. You might argue that Trump is conservatism in its purest sense, the sense of being about conserving the best of the past. You might also argue that this represents a break from Reaganism, which is optimistic and about growing the economy to the advantage of the individual.

I’ve been a US conservative convention goer for eight years and I can tell that a change has come over them. You used to hear a lot about defending the Constitution and shrinking the government. Not so much anymore.

The people who are interested in those things are here. On Monday afternoon, God bless them, they tried to kick Trump off the ticket with a rules challenge on the convention floor. They failed and stormed off. They never had the numbers necessary to do it and the Republican establishment has reconciled itself to Trump anyway – so no dice.

And that’s the most depressing thing of all – there is no longer a major political party in the United States remotely dedicated to expanding freedom for the individual and defending against the encroachment of the state.

Lord knows that the Democrats will not be championing liberty now that they are led by Hillary Clinton and nearly entirely captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. For small-c conservatives, libertarian and conservatarians, this election is very much a case of pick your poison.

Andrew Sullivan is quite right to highlight the lack of any serious policy discussion on Day 1 of the convention (and if you don’t get any on the traditionally less TV-worthy opening days then you won’t get any at all). Trumpian conservatism clearly is not interested in solutions. Like their strongman hero, the Republican Party of 2016 has decided that the difficult, intractable problems of Islamist terror, deindustrialisation, global competitiveness and social mobility can be solved simply by willing them away, by “standing up to America’s enemies” and being swept along by Trump’s strong leadership.

Maybe it will take defeat in the 2016 presidential election for the Republican Party to be shocked out of its current stupor and invigorated to find a way to appeal to Trump’s broad coalition of voters with a more optimistic, pro-liberty message.

The nightmare scenario, though, is a Trump victory, which would gild this fear-based, revanchist form of conservatism with the prestige that comes with winning (never mind posing a serious threat to the American republic) and has the potential to transform Donald Trump from an unfortunate blip on the political landscape to an early 21st century Ronald Reagan.

In short, it is hard to see any grounds for hope at all going into this Republican Party convention. But this blog will continue to watch and hope for the green shoots of a future conservative revival, something better to come once this Trumpian nightmare is over.


Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

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Cameron’s EU Deal – Reaction


Didn’t he do well?

As our victorious prime minister returns to London to chair the fateful cabinet meeting which will now likely set the wheels in motion for a June referendum, it’s worth taking a brief survey of how David Cameron’s deal – essentially an embossed, artfully decorated statement of the status quo – is being received.

The division between those who are angry or depressed and those who are buoyantly cheerful really tells you all that you need to know.

Toby Young bristles at being asked to greet the status quo like a shiny new present, but recognises that such a devoutly europhile prime minister could scarcely be expected to to any better:

The attempt to spin this deal as a great victory, which grants Britain a “special status” within the EU, is unlikely to win the Prime Minister many friends. On the contrary, it may end up alienating people who haven’t yet made up their minds who will feel they’re being taken for fools.

[..] Crucially, the EU leaders made it clear that there won’t be any further reforms, at least none that will mean a transfer of powers away from the centre. So Downing Street won’t be able to spin this agreement as the beginning of a reform process rather than the EU’s best and final offer.

Many of the “wins” Cameron boasted about in his speech were just assurances that the EU isn’t going to take away the protections for Britain already won by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. We won’t be forced to join the euro! Whoopee doo.

Tim Stanley channels his inner Tony Blair and declares Cameron’s pitiful outcome to be “weak, weak, weak”:

David Cameron’s deal with Europe is weak, weak, weak. It could never be anything but. Why? Partly because the Prime Minister is an inveterate Europhile.

He approached these negotiations from the stance of someone who ultimately wanted to stay in – and how could he negotiate from strength when everyone around the table knew that he was bluffing? More importantly, the idea that Britain can build for itself a “special status” within Europe is pure fantasy.

The EU cannot be decentralised; the UK cannot prosper on its fringes. The only real choice is between the status quo and Brexit.

[..] The Europeans made it clear from the outset that there would be no rewriting of the fundemantal principles. Rightly so: one country cannot determine the direction of travel for the entire continent. And if one country gets to pick and choose its own rate of integration into the new super state – why, everyone else will want to do the same.

So Cameron could never have been given substantial reforms because just putting them on the table would have jeopardised the grand European project. We have reached a point in the history of the EU when what Britain needs and what Europe wants are no longer compatible. The only logical thing left to do is to leave.

Paul Goodman compares David Cameron’s loftily declared original list of renegotiation objectives with the limp and shrunken prize he now holds in his hand – and he makes the choice facing Conservative MPs crystal clear:

Many Conservative MPs told their voters and Associations at the last election that Britain’s relationship with the EU cannot go on as it is.  They are fully entitled to say now that they have changed their minds.  That they have been persuaded that Britain’s future is brighter as an EU member state.  That they will swallow any misgivings they have about the deal, and back their Party leader – who, after all, is on some measures the most successful Conservative leader of modern times bar Margaret Thatcher.  That this is no time to campaign for a referendum result that would turn an election-winning Prime Minister out of office, and destroy the reforming work of the first majority Tory Government in over 20 years.

What they cannot say, if they have declared that Britain’s relationship with the EU must see real reform, is that this deal makes a difference.  And if they want to see such change, the lesson of this summit is that it isn’t on offer.  Which leaves only one option open to them, and to Party members of the same mind – to back Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Guardian is priming its core audience of nodding-dog virtue-signallers with key arguments to use against Brexiteers, and confirms what any thinking person knows – that the ultimate decision has nothing to do with David Cameron’s non-existent concessions from Brussels:

First of all, the details of the deal are not the crucial issue. Months ago, when David Cameron revealed his renegotiation agenda, it was already clear that this was not going to be a fundamental redefinition of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Nor would we suddenly find ourselves in “a reformed Europe”. On this, Eurosceptics are right: Cameron’s demands were less than he pumped them up to be, and inevitably, given that 27 other European countries had to be satisfied, what he achieved is even more modest. But it would be madness to let a decision about the economic and political future of Britain for decades ahead hinge on the detail of an“emergency brake” on in-work benefits for migrants.

New Europeans – that pressure group of proto-EU citizens waiting impatiently for the new  European that they crave to finally hatch – are happy too:

The Prime Minister has secured his so-called “emergency brake” on in-work benefits paid to mobile EU citizens coming to Britain. However, it will not be his hand that is on the brake, despite his announcement to the contrary.

The brake is in the hand of the Council.  The Council may be ready to pull the brake for the UK already – but it is still the Council’s hand on the brake. The European Parliament would need to pass the necessary legislation.  So the earliest the legislation could be in place is 2017.

The emergency brake will operate like the transitional arrangements – after 7 years it will drop away. In the meantime, very few people will be affected because mobile EU citizens rarely apply for in-work benefits in the first four years. There is very little evidence to show that EU citizens are claiming in-work benefits on arrival in Britain.

[..] The potential savings from David Cameron’s “clamp down” on other benefits for mobile EU citizens are trivial and petty in the context of the national accounts. They amount to about £30m on some estimates. This is less than what it costs to run the Royal Opera House.

And they are right – the main “headline concession” that David Cameron managed to secure from Brussels remains entirely in the hands of the EU rather than Britain, and would make absolutely zero tangible difference to anything whether it is ultimately pulled or not.

These people have no reason to lie. They are the people who were potentially most affected by any major changes that David Cameron might have negotiated, so their relief (bordering in crowing) is absolutely genuine – and utterly damning of Cameron’s claim to have fundamentally changed our relationship with the EU.

Back to Tim Stanley for another eloquent denunciation of this brazen establishment stitch-up:

There are a million reasons to hate politics: the groupthink of the establishment is one of them. Cowardice is another. It’s like being governed by jellyfish: spineless synchronised swimming in one terminal direction.

For years Tories have used the issue of Europe to win votes, promising us either serious reform or a campaign to leave.

But not only was David Cameron’s renegotiation effort a paper tiger (Francois Hollande: “Just because it lasted a long time doesn’t mean that much happened”) but now the Cabinet has largely decided to follow its leader and back the In campaign.

[..] The entire weight of the state, media and big business will fall behind a campaign saying that Europe is good for us even if, from a distance, it appears to be a giant ball of flame hurtling into an abyss of despair.

Against this confederacy of dunces stands a small number of politicians brave enough to risk friendships and careers to tell us the truth – that this deal is a sham, the EU is dying and Britain is better off out.

I myself have nothing to add at this time. Others have already encapsulated what I feel, and said it better than I could – most notably Dr. Richard North at eureferendum.com, who echoes my reference last night to Neville Chamberlain:

Mr Cameron may have in his mind’s eye the image of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich in 1938, triumphantly waving his “piece of paper” at Heston Airport (where the M4 service station now stands), but at least Mr Chamberlain’s “deal” bought us critical time, allowing us to re-arm sufficiently against the Nazi menace.

But this piece of paper is nothing but a fraud – a pretence. This Prime Minister has brought nothing back, nothing of substance, and is now intent on using is as the basis for a referendum where he is intent on selling his snake-oil “special status”.

Yet, all the time, Mr Cameron’s efforts have been a sideshow besides the main event – the real renegotiation under way to transform the 19 members of the Eurozone into a single state. That is the EU real agenda not the stage-managed drama of the Prime Minister emerging blinking into the light and announcing he has secured our future for a generation.

Nor should we assume that the Brussels barons will treat us kindly if we vote to remain in the EU. They will brush aside future British protests, telling us that we have had our chance to do things our way and rejected it. Our prospects sitting uneasily on the margins of the emerging superstate will not be promising. Unloved, ignored and marginalised, we face an uncertain, even risky future, on the outskirts of the new European empire.

But I, and this blog, will have much to say as we now fight onward to the 23 June referendum date. And those politicians who built their jealously-guarded careers and reputations on what turns out to be paper-thin euroscepticism should expect no understanding and no mercy.

The divided Leave camp has been caught napping – Cameron is going to the country with a desultory deal, entirely based on the belief that we are so divided that we will not be able to mount an effective Remain campaign – and by publicly embracing people like George Galloway, it seems that some of us are determined to prove him correct.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, or have only half tuned in, then now is the time to perk up and fulfil your duty as an engaged citizen. We have just four months to win our freedom from the European Union and, if we succeed, potentially spark a renaissance of real democracy through Europe.


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Paris Terror Attacks: The World Turns On Its Dark Side

Paris Terror Attacks - Eiffel Tower Dark - 2

Our hearts break for Paris and the French people. For the sake of the victims and their families, our response to these latest terror attacks must be more than the standard denial and clichéd mistakes

Since awful showpiece terrorist attacks like those that tore through the heart of Paris last night are becoming a regular occurrence, it is worth reminding ourselves of the standard political response in their aftermath. It goes something like this:

Day 0: Expressions of shock, sorrow, anger and solidarity

Day +1: Insistence that now is a time for mourning, not asking difficult questions about how or why the atrocities were committed

Day +1, later: The first difficult questions are asked, particularly of the government and security services

Day +2: The intelligence services dust off their wishlist of draconian new powers, and strongly suggest that if only they already had these powers, the attack could have been avoided

Day +2, later: Some brave soul pokes their head above the parapet and tries to start a discussion about the link between unlimited multiculturalism and homegrown extremism, to near universal c0ndemnation

Day +3: The official narrative is established – “we will defeat this terror by giving our intelligence services the tools they need, and making radical or hateful speech illegal”

And so, within a week, the status quo reasserts itself. More civil liberties infringements, more free speech crackdowns, more government surveillance – and then more terror attacks, weeks or months later.

The status quo is not working. As this blog noted shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Attempting to start a meaningful conversation about the root causes of Islamist terrorism is, apparently, highly unseemly and inappropriate so soon after an attack. And yet those who make this claim never explain why talking about the root causes of Islamist terrorism in its immediate aftermath is opportunistic and wrong, while conveniently it happens to be the perfect time for governments to demand sweeping, draconian new powers. And that is exactly what we now see.

One thing should now be absolutely clear, though apparently it needs constant restating: There can never be enough surveillance, never enough restrictions on movement, never enough laws banning hate speech to prevent a small number of determined, radicalised citizens – and likely non-citizens who have taken advantage of Europe’s loose borders – from going on the rampage and causing the kind of bloody mayhem that we now see, again, in Paris.

With the exception of the Stade de France, these were soft targets. It is simply not possible to protect every restaurant, every corner bistro or every theatre from a jihadist army of two who turn up in a car, spray innocent people with bullets and speed off to their next target. Concrete road blocks, razor wire, metal detectors and CCTV are of no use against these nimble threats.

So whatever else is said in the aftermath of these latest Paris attacks, let no one pretend that more government surveillance and more draconian crackdowns on free speech – either that of the Islamists or the Islamophobes – are the right answer. At best, these policies – favoured by the French and British governments – are a sticking plaster on an open wound, addressing the symptom but not the problem.

And that problem is the same as it was on 7 January, when Islamist gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, massacring journalists and shoppers at a Parisian kosher supermarket. The problem is that there are people living among us – a very small, but determinedly growing number, either citizens or recent migrants – who may hold the same passports as us and walk the same streets as us, but who feel no connection with us.

Those who propose nothing but even more security would apparently be content to live in a society where a small, segregated minority still hate us, but are thwarted in their attempts to kill us by omnipotent security services. They would be happy to live in a divided, ghettoised, multicultural dystopia, so long as the terror plots are always successfully thwarted.

Those of us who believe in the western and enlightenment values of freedom and individual liberty should not be satisfied with this goal – which is unattainable anyway, since perfect security can never be achieved. We should want a society which is open and welcoming to those who wish to come and contribute, but not credulously undiscriminating in accepting everyone. We should want a society where people feel bonds of kinship and affection which transcend racial and religious boundaries, where a healthy sense of patriotism ensures that there are common shared values which unite us all. But when patriotism and a robust defence of western values is seen as gauche, unseemly and culturally insensitive, there is no way to transmit these essential values to those who most need to receive them.

No government action taken by France in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks could likely have prevented these new attacks on Friday 13 November – simply not enough time has elapsed for any bold new government policies to have taken effect. But appallingly, neither have any bold new government policies been proposed, let alone implemented. France still struggles with the existence of economically deprived, socially isolated immigrant communities who feel no allegiance to the country where they live – people who often feel more Muslim than French. Weak to nonexistent border enforcement makes it impossible to properly who control who comes and goes.

Meanwhile, the West – and Europe in particular – is in the midst of its own identity crisis, increasingly uncomfortable defending the principles of liberal democracy, free speech and tolerance. Many would rather bury their heads in the sand and deny the existence of the problem than insist that everyone abide by certain values and standards of behaviour. Too often, a warped strain of Islam has been allowed to run side-by-side with Western culture in a dual, effectively segregated society. And the growing Western culture of victimhood only adds fuel to the jihadist fire.

As Frank Furedi wrote on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings:

The redefinition of terrorism as an ideological competitor is linked to the decline in the self-belief of the West. Even before the events of 11 September 2001, never mind 7 July 2005, there was more than a hint of defensiveness about the ability of Western values to prevail over those of their hostile opponents. One conservative American observer gave voice to this sentiment, and concluded that ‘protecting Western culture from foreign assault requires domestic revival’. A decade before 9/11 he warned that ‘the 21st century could once again find Islam at the gates of Vienna, as immigrants or terrorists if not armies’. Today there is little evidence of a domestic revival. Indeed, Western governments are sensitive about their very limited capacity for inspiring their own publics. The problem of engaging the public and gaining its support is one of the most striking features of the post-9/11 political landscape.

[..] There are signs that, in the decade since 7/7, some sections of the British establishment have woken up to the fact that what drives homegrown jihadism is the failure of society to clarify its values and way of life. The constant calls from Cameron and others to teach British values in schools represents an indirect recognition of the absence of such values from young people’s lives. But the values that inspire must be lived; they can’t be recycled through a shopping list of good intentions. Until there is a more courageous attempt to address this problem, tragedies like the London bombings of a decade ago will always be a possibility. The real threat is not the poisonous ideology of Islamic State, but Western society’s failure to live out and stand up for the principles of liberal democracy.

As it is in Britain, so it is in France. Neither country has done enough to tackle the sense of alienation or the crisis of British / French values which make radicalisation possible.

Tim Stanley touches on these points in his moving tribute to Paris in the Telegraph following yesterday’s terror attacks:

The brutality of this attack shows that we are not dealing with an enemy that can be negotiated with, only confronted and beaten. Perhaps that confrontation will be existential. Are we doing enough to integrate everyone, enough to fight poverty, enough to eradicate prejudice? Are we confident enough about our own values to teach and promote them? Are our security measures appropriate? Do we all have to come to terms with living with permanent anti-terror measures (I hope not). And what will our society look like as a consequence of this conflict? Less free, perhaps?

Are we doing enough to integrate everyone? I don’t think that any French or British politician could say that enough is being done. Worse still, it isn’t even a top priority at the moment.

Are we confident enough about our own values? Clearly not – in many cases, we have so little confidence in our own values that we fail to insist that others (recent immigrants and segregated communities) abide by the enlightenment values which have served us so well. In fact, sometimes we make an ostentatious virtue of parading our tolerance of thoroughly anti-enlightenment values, in warped service to “multiculturalism”.

Are our security measures appropriate? Our intelligence services will walk a tightrope here, insisting that they do everything they can to keep us safe, while making clear that if we do not grant them additional powers, any future blood spilled will be on our hands.

But Tim Stanley’s final question is the most pertinent: Do we all have to come to terms with living with permanent anti-terror measures?

That question is best answered with another question: What concrete actions are we taking that might feasibly lead to the rolling back of the semi-permanent anti-terror measures and powers which are now a depressingly familiar part of life? What one single thing are we doing that might mean we need less security and less surveillance a decade from now?

The regrettable answer is that we are doing virtually nothing. The world continues to turn on its dark side, and we can reasonably look forward to a future of more random terror, more sombre presidential addresses and the familiar sight of militarised police SWAT teams crawling over our major cities. This is the new normal, and nothing we are presently doing is going to change that fact.

It is now Day +1. This time, can we break with rotten, failed convention and actually talk about root causes?

Paris Terror Attacks - One World Trade Center - New York

Top Image: Eiffel Tower, darkened after the 13 November attacks: Auskar Surbakti Twitter feed

Bottom Image: One World Trade Center, New York, lit in French colours: Jon Swaine Twitter feed

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