Thursday, April 30, 2009

Living in London

It seems to be that living in London is as costly and awkward now as it was some 150 years ago. In those days, young MPs from the provinces benefitted from the hospitality of generous benefactors. Indeed it was necessary to be a gentleman of independent means in order to sustain a career in parliament.

On this occasion, as on others, it is necessary to note that times have changed. Not only are members of the Commons no longer required to support themselves, many, it is apparent, are unable to do so without recourse to the public purse. Indeed through public benefaction, MPs appear to exercise patronage, hiring secretaries and bag-carriers and charlies-of-all-trades and nieces and nephews as if they were a wealthy man of business. The exchequer is also required to provide each of them with a home - although the exchequer appears in no sense to exercise ownership of these properties nor the ability to realise the capital value.

The Queen's ghillie, mindful of his diminished reputation and that of the labouring MPs, has sought to make reforms. Today in the Commons some sensible measures have been approved; no doubt the Prime Minister, as is his wont, would hope this would lay the matter to rest and that there will be no further need for reform.

Yet his reforms are limited in scope. They will remove some unwarranted powers of patronage from MPs, requiring their bag-carriers to be employed by the exchequer. Those who are within a short train-ride distance from the House will no longer be entitled to maintain two homes at public expense in the Capital. A further measure, which to me is puzzling, will require MPs to state their earnings from other employment; it is my presumption that those who are successful in supplementing public payments will earn high praise and those who subsist on government hand-outs alone will face ignominy: it is possible I misunderstand the proposal however.

There are no proposals here that will recover for the Exchequer the public investment that it puts, it seems, into many hundreds of properties occupied in the capital by MPs. It is perhaps time that some enterprising journalist calculated the value of these properties; if it were some 500 properties each amounting to half a million pounds in worth, the total would amount to some £250 million of capital assets in which the state has invested.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Big day

A budget debate in the parliament of Great Britain is always a great occasion and, as I observed last year, it is flattering that my red box continues in use. If I were there today, I would rather be in the shoes of Mr Vince Cable than in those of Mr Alistair Darling, who has a task as unenviable as it is invidious. It is apparent there will be no answers and that the ship of state would be heading towards bankrupcy were the rest of the globe not equally afflicted. Spending by the State is too high but to reduce it now will cause additional misery. Taxes are too high but cannot be reduced and indeed may be in need of increase.

For the sake of the people, I pray to the Almighty that Mr Darling might be granted a little wisdom, but not so much that due judgement on this faltering Government is not delivered.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Shades of Peterloo?

It is my recollection that even as a schoolboy in the privileged cloisters of Eton I was disturbed by news of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester; later in life I considered it a special honour to speak in the Free Trade Hall in remembrance of those much-maligned agitators for democracy.

Indeed a poet coined these words:
Shades, that soft Sedition woo,
Around the haunts of Peterloo!
That hover o'er the meeting-halls,
Where many a voice stentorian bawls!
Still flit the sacred choir around,
With "Freedom" let the garrets ring,
And vengeance soon in thunder sound
On Church, and constable, and king.

I confess - there were my own juvenile scribblings. Later in life I rose to condemn an equally appalling massacre in Ireland.

My recollections are stirred as fresh news seeps into the British consciousness daily of the G20 horror, to which I referred briefly previously, - it cannot thankfully be termed a massacre - in London, a disgraceful attempt to suppress the liberties of the people, even as America's new young liberal president visited our nation for the first time. President Obama cannot but have thought the British soul has not moved on from the dying days of imperialism had he heard of these events.

It is gratifying to see that my successor Mr Nick Clegg continues to uphold the banner of liberty and has even now been commended by conservative writers for his foresight.

Indeed just as I write I hear that the victim of the G20 horror died not from failure of his heart but from injuries caused by assault. The matter becomes more serious by the day.

Sadly it cannot be hoped that the Queen's ghillie will in any way seek to restore liberties to this nation. Whether tainted solely by power or by the collectivist spirit of socialism, he appears to operate in the shadows, deploying, with increasing ineffectiveness, his forces to suppress the people and malign his opponents.

President Obama in contrast is to be complimented for exposing the corrupted advice that led to his country's agents indulging in torture of suspects. It is to be hoped that in his desire to lay the past to rest he does not allow the guilty to escape free.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Appalling headlines

A delightful English spring, best viewed from indoors in view of the light drizzle permeating the nation. I had planned a gentle Easter dozing in front of an English hearth, in the words of the poet, throwing another log on the fire, Thaliarchus, and pulling out a fine Sabine wine.

Sadly I have been jolted awake by the headlines in the news bulletins issued by the state-funded broadcaster. I am appalled.

It is not appalling that the police have performed their role and made some arrests of suspected anarchists - even though it appears that a measure of incompetence hampered the efficiency of the operation from the beginning.

It is appalling that information about the suspects has been imparted as if it were fact; and that the Queen's ghillie, her most senior minister, has seen fit to pass comment on the issues. English law or Scottish law requires individuals to be put on trial and not to be judged guilty, nor their associates to be judged, until a jury has returned a verdict. I am a little old-fashioned but it is my belief that this is the law and that the time of arrest is not the time to stir up political campaigns.

Yet we are informed these are young men from the nation of Pakistan who have travelled to Great Britain as students. The Prime Minister is quick to inform us that this should not be allowed - and yet it is his government that has allowed it. He is then equally quick to inform us that the nation of Pakistan is responsible for these young men. And, as I observed a few days ago, it is our foreign policy that stirs up young men in this nation.

A summary of the BBC reports can be read here. It appears that no explosives have been found, that the alleged plot was merely at an "aspirational" stage.

So why the haste to make arrests? It was we are told because a senior police officer allowed cameras to film his secret plan. As if by coincidence this all took place within hours of the dark underbelly of Mr Brown's attempt to strut the world stage being revealed to all; for it seems these self-same police forces had been deployed to suppress dissidents during this gathering of world leaders.

Indeed such was the overwhelming nature of the evidence gathered by the independent broadcasting companies and submitted by other witnesses, that a "criminal investigation" was announced into police activities. Lest it be forgotten, I will insert some moving pictures of the death of poor Mr Tomlinson, who, it seems, was not even a participant at this rally.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Khyber Pass

The Queen's ghillie would commit several thousand more troops to the troublesome Pathans. For what purpose?

It is a sound principle of foreign policy that a nation should be reluctant to join itself to an ally that oppresses its own people. It was once the case within this century, I am told, that the conquest of Afghanistan could be claimed as a liberation, and a necessary liberation as the country harboured those who had made war on America and other nations.

Events have moved on in eight years. It is certainly true that President Obama seeks to rectify the mistakes made by his predecessor in full recognition of two clear facts: that the pacification of Afghanistan should never have been assumed to be complete and troops should never have been diverted to Iraq; that without Iraq the international effort within Afghanistan might have been more united and determined.

Yet, in his youth, the President hurries; and Mr Brown hurries in his despair to be obedient, just like his predecessor. There is no special relationship here, no wise counsel between friends, simply Prime Ministers of the British Queen hanging on to the strength of America to enhance their failing reputations.

Both leaders would have been wise to take stock of the situation in the Pathan territories. For it is apparent that the present government of Afghanistan is intent on oppressing 50 per cent of its population: I refer to laws that are proposed that would specify female marital duties in a way that Pope Benedict himself would never contemplate. That such laws would apply to a single religious minority compound the crime of the legislature - for the law should apply to all or to none at all.

The second and urgent practical problem that needs to be considered is the spread of violence by religious extremists into Pakistan, which has ventured boldly once again into the warm waters of democracy. This displacement of extremists appears to have been aggravated by the allied actions in Afghanistan - and will not be solved by the destruction of insurgents in the northern nation.

The consequence is that success in Afghanistan will not calm Pakistan, nor will it calm Iraq. It will certainly lead to the loss of the lives of many more hundreds of soldiers in the most brutal and lonely of circumstances, and may indeed leave a legacy of bitterness and hatred amongst the Pathans lasting longer even than the incursions through the Khyber Pass of our own expeditionary forces.

For the only conqueror who has ever been welcomed and celebrated in that nation would appear to be Alexander the Great, as on occasion I was at pains to remind our Queen. "Yes indeed Mr Gladstone", she would invariably reply.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Risks in political economy

There are many things to be said about the present financial crisis; much has been altered in our knowledge of political economy since the writings of Mr Adam Smith.

I note that Mr John Maynard Keynes was a great liberal and that his analysis of a great financial collapse some 80 years ago influenced much of the last century. Indeed I hear he continues to influence the present British Prime Minister and the new, young president of the United States.

It is felt I might be inimical to Mr Keynes' ideas in that they envisage the government spending large sums in an attempt to redress financial collapse. I have spent a little time studying his writings and I do not reject them; I do urge they be approached with caution.

For it is apparent that Mr Keynes wrote eloquently about the cause of the great problems of his era; and indeed some that bedevilled my own age. When the world sailed into further storms some 30 years ago and millions more were thrown on the mercy of the State, his solutions proved inadequate and were replaced by those who claimed to be heirs of Mr Smith, notably Mr Milton Friedman.

I would therefore proffer some cautious thoughts on the present crisis: it may be unlike the crisis of 80 years ago and also that of three decades ago; it may have points in common with both and points of difference with both.

Mr Gordon Brown places his faith in "fiscal stimulus" but also in the expansion of the money supply. The latter is a ploy I used myself on occasion to good effect. The expectation is that demand will bring forth supply; for Mr Keynes' insight was to recognise that when industries lie idle it may be because the flow of money has ceased.

It is assumed that because the banks have ceased lending, because businesses cannot draw on their credit, this is the problem; yet it is also the case that reductions in the rate of interest, small reductions in tax and substantial reductions in the price of fuel have placed money in the pockets of many. It is said money is not flowing from these newly enriched people because they have debts to eliminate and remain uncertain about the future.

Yet it is not apparent that the flow of money into the pockets of individuals has enabled them to purchase more. For I hear that the rate of increase in prices, certainly in Great Britain, has not necessarily slowed to zero.

This was the discovery made in the latter half of the last century; that even by increasing the flow of money you may not bring forth supply. You may bring forth increases in prices. It is therefore alarming if the increase of prices in the shops has not ceased but continues to proceed at a steady rate.

It was always my habit to continue to pay heed to the great merchants of Liverpool; it is by talking to business people in amiable settings that one understands the state of the political economy. And I hear that in business at present merchants and manufacturers are not necessarily able to take advantage of cheap prices; and that this may be a problem that is peculiar to this century.

For if a supplier offers a low price, the purchaser faces particular risks, especially if the product embodies a high level of intellectual knowledge. It is possible in conventional circumstances to protect one's contracts; one does not pay for widgets until they are delivered; if they are not delivered one merely approaches another company to provide substitutes. But the more complex the item, the more expert the supplier, the more time and expense is consumed in establishing a contract.

It is therefore necessary for purchasers to be cautious about suppliers and not to commit themselves to contracts that may not be delivered. The result is to increase the price of contracts and to, as an unfortunate consequence, reduce the number of suppliers.

There are therefore new risks entrenched in the political economy of the 21st century that may be preventing the free flow of money and the necessary fall in prices. It is said that the banks can alleviate this by lending more freely to businesses. This is a possibility; for it is difficult to think of other solutions that might not simply lead to general increases in prices rather than in productive activity.