Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Music to relax after campaigning: A Vivaldi Concerto

We have a by-election for Cumbria County council this Thursday in the Howgate division, so here is some music for our campaign team (and anyone else) to relax to after campaigning ...

Project Fear II

I am still desperately clinging to the hope that those campaigning on both sides for the EU referendum will manage to articulate a positive vision of the Britain of tomorrow and explain how their proposed relationship with the EU supports that vision.

And refrain from "Project Fear II" scare stories - on both sides.

The signs are mixed.

According to the FT here the "IN" campaign launch did stress the positive and patriotic case for membership, which is a pleasant change from "We won't invest here if you leave the EU" from companies who previously said they would not do so if we didn't join the Euro.

A lot of the early campaigning has been negative and dominated - again on both sides - by scare stories.

Part of the problem is that until we know what the "Out" campaign is actually proposing, and what comes out of David Cameron's renegotiation, it is actually very difficult to have much of a debate.

There are some people who think that the EU is about Brussels telling everyone what to do and making decisions which should be made in Britain. To those people the whole concept is fundamentally wrong and many of them would want to leave whatever the cost. That is a point of view, and you can argue for and against it on the evidence already available, but there is not a lot of point either side trying to sway those voters - they're already voting OUT under any circumstances.

There are others - it used to be the establishment view, but it appears to represent about 20% of the electorate now, though still well represented in the media, (particularly the BBC and newspapers like the Guardian) major businesses, and the parliamentary Labour party - for whom it is an article of faith that ever closer Union with other European countries is the wave of the future, the best hope for security and greater trade. Those people have been making that case whenever they think anyone will listen for as long as I can remember and they're certainly not going to stop now that we have a referendum which might realise their worst fear.

There's no point trying to sway those people either - they're voting IN.

But there is a group in the middle, which is almost certainly larger than either the hardline "Out" or hardline "In" groups, and probably close to a majority of the electorate, who are more interested in what benefits and costs EU membership will actually deliver for Britain, who think it does make a difference what terms are available and exactly what is proposed.

Those people will determine the outcome of the referendum and the rational people on both sides are trying to woo them - or rather us, as I come in this group myself.

The problem is that until we know exactly what both sides are offering, it is extremely difficult to put a positive case to the middle group - but less difficult to raise threats which may or may not be justified.

Let's take, for example a quote from Karren Brady's "Britain stronger in Europe" message in The Sun this week.

She wrote

"Europe is our largest trading partner. 45% of our exports go there, worth £226 billion last year. 200,000 businesses trade with Europe. European trade supports millions of British jobs. £70 million of investment come to Britain from Europe every day. And a bigger market has driven down prices for consumers, for example cheaper flights."
"Why put all this at risk?"
The first paragraph is all true of course. If the question which followed had been replaced by something like "The Out campaign must explain what their alternative to EU membership is and how they can ensure that this is not put at risk" that would have been 100% fair.
The problem is that until we know what the "Out" campaign is actually proposing instead we don't know whether and to what extent they would put our trade with Europe at risk. There are solutions which certainly would: there are others which would not, although they have other drawbacks.
But it's not just the "In" team who can be accused of scaremongering. Today I saw a message from Farage's friends in the "Leave.eu" campaign.
It reads
"TTIP means the EU can sell off the NHS to the USA without ANY UK involvement."
This grotesque and ridiculous piece of scaremongering, designed to suggest the preposterous scenario that Brussels could sell the USA our hospitals without consulting anyone in Britain, is a dramatic exaggeration of an argument against the transatlantic trade deal usually put by hard-left anti-globalisation protestors.
They have argued that the NHS should be exempt from the international trade deal TTIP because  fear that if a future British government ever wants to reverse any contracting of health services done by a previous British administration, and the contractors losing business are or buy from American suppliers, they suggest that any American companies that lose business as a result could sue, using those controversial provisions for foreign investors.
I don't want to get into the argument here about whether the NHS should be excluded from TTIP (which might yet happen,) although I note that the EU's chief negotiator, Ignacio GarcĂ­a Bercero, has dismissed those concerns, saying he was confident the health service would be "fully safeguarded".
He added: "If a future UK government, or a public body to which power has been devolved, were to reverse decisions taken under a previous government, for example by discontinuing services provided by a foreign operator, it would be entirely at liberty to do so. However, it would have to respect applicable UK law."

So the point about "no UK involvement" is a direct lie - we are only talking about services outsourced by a previous UK government.

The point is that even if the anti-globalisation lobby and trade unions are right, strange bedfellows for though they are for a campaign which mostly criticises the EU for not promoting free trade strongly enough rather than the reverse, the words of the Leave.eu advert are still ridiculous scaremongering which would certainly be struck down by the ASA as misleading if normal trade advertising rules applied to political campaigns.

A word to both campaigns from someone who is currently in the very unusual position for me of being a floating voter - this kind of lie and scaremongering will not make you more likely to win my support. It will make it much less likely. And I'd like to think the majority of the British electorate has shown itself intelligent enough that lies and scaremongering won't impress them either.

Of Referenda and Railway timetables

Robert Colville has an excellent article here about why lots of people on both sides have been pre-judging the results of David Cameron's re-negotiation of British EU membership in advance of the EU Referendum.

I've noticed signs of this for a while, particularly on the "out" side.

I must admit my immediate interpretation was that people who despise the EU so much that they would still vote to leave if DC negotiated a deal which included complete independence and autonomy for Britain on all the contentious issues, and a £1000 bonus from the EU for every family in the country, were doing the groundwork in advance to be prepared to rubbish the results of the deal whatever comes out of it.

Apparently there is a bit more to it than that. Electoral Commission rules appear to have forced people who would have likely to see what came out of the negotiation before condemning it to come off the fence now.

Robert argues that people who expect to be campaigning for Brexit but had until very recently intended to wait to see if anything worthwhile came out of the negotiations, have instead been forced to come off the fence because if they didn't start putting an "out" campaign together now, the Electoral Commission was likely to hand the position of "Designated Lead Campaigner" (e.g. the public money, TV broadcasts, etc) to Arron Banks, Nigel Farage, and the kind of "Out" campaigner who is a huge asset to the "In" campaign.

Hence we have got ourselves, thanks to Electoral Commission rules, into a position when any concessions David Cameron negotiates have even less chance than usual of being assessed on the tangible benefits they may actually bring.

"Rather than being assessed on their own merits, each of the concessions he secures will be cheered by one side and howled down by the other without any regard to their actual merit." he writes.

It's all rather like historian AJP Taylor's opinion about the causes of the First World War.

Robert Skidelsky once attended a lecture in which Taylor considered and dismissed one theory after another about why the war had happened.

And then "After exactly one hour, he said: ‘Well, there’s one last thing. The chauffeur of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand did take the wrong turning in Sarajevo. Had he not, the Archduke would not have been killed. Had he not been killed, there would have been no war in August 1914’. With that he sat down."

His better known theory is about the railway timetables and plans for mobilisation: AJP Taylor made a surprisingly convincing argument that the railway timetables for the plans the great powers had to mobilise their conscript armies in the event of a crisis, and particularly the plans of the German General Staff, were sufficiently inflexible that, should a diplomatic crisis lead to the great powers mobilising their armies, it would be extremely difficult to prevent war from following. There is a summary of the argument here.

It seems remarkably similar to what Robert Colville argues has occurred in the bid for the leadership of the "out" campaign

Quote of the day 13th October 2015

"The more I read the book, the better I thought it reflected on the Prime Minister. To have ditched Ashcroft suggests sound judgement, and to have done so with such light collateral damage required some political skill."

(John Rentoul, from his review of the Ashcroft unauthorised biography of DC)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Apparently the PLP has been fractious ..

According to this column in the New Statesman there has been a very acrimonious meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party.

It is beginning to look as though Labour might be able to make a serious challenge to UKIP in the "Imitating Ferrets in a Sack" competition ...

Congratulations to Angus Deaton on winning the Nobel Prize for Economics

Angus Deaton, who was Professor of Econometrics and chairman of the Economics department at the University of Bristol when I was reading that subject there, and who taught me Econometrics, has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Economics.




Very many congratulations to him.

A Labour A to Z

There is a very amusing piece on the moderate "Labour uncut" website - to the authors it is undoubtedly gallows humour though if you are a Labour moderate at the moment that's probably the main form of humour you are currently using to keep yourself sane -  with an

A to Z of Corbsplaining

to let new members know what common phrases used by the Labour leadership and their supporters actually mean.

I particularly liked

SmearThe journalistic practice of reproducing past statements by the leader and shadow chancellor, then asking them whether they still hold these views

Red Tory – Honorific, often suffixed with the word “scum.” Applied to anyone in the Labour party who does not have a “Jez We Can” twibbon on their Twitter profile.

Campaign Group – A group of MPs who do not campaign but do tweet a lot.

The Prime Minister – What the leader of  the Conservative party is called until at least 2025.

Andrew Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party, writes


David Cameron issued a rallying call in his Conference speech, to everyone who wants to build a Greater Britain.
While Labour have chosen to abandon the working people of Britain, the Conservatives are staying true to our values and the values of the British people.

An economy that rewards those who work hard and do the right thing, a society where everyone has a fair shot at success, and a government that maintains a strong defence to protect its people.

If you believe in those values too, please join the Conservative Party today - and join us in building a Greater Britain.


Thank you,
Andrew Feldman
Conservative Party Chairman

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Quote of the day 12th October 2015

"'It's not where you're from,' Ian Brown, front man of the Stone Roses and one of Manchester's favourite sons, once reminded us. 'It's where you're at.'"

"So intoxicated are the now dominant wing of Labour by a rediscovered passion for protest, that the deputy general secretary of Communication Workers Union, Terry Pullinger, happily announced that Corbynmania 'almost makes you want to celebrate the fact Labour lost the Election'.
That's right. Under the starry-eyed terms of the 'new politics', it's now permissible for Labour to talk about celebrating losing a General Election. Good grief."
"In the space of a few months we've gone from a party preparing for government to one indulging in pointless, lazy opposition. Where once we were a genuine threat to David Cameron's Tories, we now continually shoot ourselves in the foot and commit political hara-kiri."

"Inside the conference hall – and it pains me to say this as a Labour MP – David Cameron and George Osborne were proving Ian Brown's old adage to a tee. They may be extremely privileged public schoolboys who probably think 'blue collar' is a type of low-rent aftershave, but they're now closer to the concerns of most working-class people than Jeremy Corbyn is. From defence and patriotism to entrepreneurialism and immigration, they're saying what people want to hear."

(Simon Danczuk MP in a Daily Mail article entitled

"My party is now a cult locked in a trance, and the bigotry of the past")

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Now this is a really nasty political tactic ... (Irony alert).

Mhairi Black, the SNP Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, has complained in a Guardian interview that many Tory MPs stopped looking her in the eye after her maiden speech and a lot of Labour MPs would never look her in the eye in the first place.

This seems to have been headline news in The Independent. Must have been a slow news day.

Hmm. If she thinks that is a serious example of rudeness towards one's political opponents in general and of patronising younger female political opponents in particular, perhaps we should have invited her to attend Conservative Conference 2015 in Manchester and find out what ordinary Conservative party members - not to mention journalists, cleaners, caterers and guests - at our party gatherings had to put up with this year.

Occasional Sunday music slot: Finlandia by Sibelius

For this week's Sunday music spot, here's Jean Sibelius's brilliant symphonic poem composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It is the last of seven pieces, each originally performed as an accompaniment to a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history.

A recurrent joke within Finland at this time was the renaming of Finlandia at various musical concerts so as to avoid Russian censorship. Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous, a famously flippant example being Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring.

Most of the piece is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. But towards the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard.

And by the way - we still need consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital, so #SupportOption1

Comic picture of the year

"I may have given money to the Galactic Empire but I wasn't aware of what they did to Alderaan ..."

Doubtless Copeland's Jedi MP, a huge fan of Mr Corbyn, (irony alert!)  will appreciate this

Hat tip to @GeneralBoles, retweeted by Iain Lindley

Psychological warfare

I have seen it suggested that fighters for DA'ESH (the self-styled "Islamic State") believe that if they are killed by a woman they will go straight to hell.

(Do not pass Go, do not collect 72 virgins.)

A Kurdish commander who has a unit of Kurdish women soldiers under his command, Dalil Derki, has told Western media that the unit strikes terror into DA'ESH militants, who have “twisted Islam.”

“In their philosophy women don't have their own role in society. Their philosophy and culture is that they believe that if they are killed by a woman they won’t go to heaven. Instead they will go to hell,”

he explained. More details here.

This presents an opportunity for the West to further discourage people from joining the enemy.

Are any of our drone pilots women? If so we should let that fact be known.

Even where a drone is being controlled by a man, if we do have to use them to make further lethal attacks - and don't get me wrong, that should only happen when absolutely necessary, when there is legal justification and appropriate oversight - it would not be that difficult, surely to have a female officer push the button to discharge whichever weapon the drone will be using, and then publicise the fact that DA'ESH militants who are killed by a drone will have been killed by a woman.

If there is a Hell these people are very likely to be bound there anyway - even more so under real Islamic theology than under the Christian one. But anything which discourages people from joining the militants will save both lives and souls.

Nick Cohen on Labour's new Deputy Leader

All credible evidence that someone has been abusing children should be carefully investigated, whoever the alleged culprit may be.

But it is also the invaluable tradition of this country that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty and therefore the greatest care should be taken not to trash the reputation of innocent people by publicising claims which have not been proved.

If anyone has evidence of child abuse or any other horrible crime, they have only one prudent course of action, and that course is NOT to publicise it through the press. It is to take it to the police to be investigated.

And yes, the police are mortal human beings who will sometimes get it wrong. But they are more likely to pursue the guilty and drop charges against the innocent than any amateur.

Nick Cohen has an excellent column in the Guardian here about one politician who would have been wise to pay more attention to this principle.


Here is a link to the recent Panorama programme, which in my opinion made every effort to argue that we should listen to those who come forward saying they are victims without trampling on the rights of accused people who have not yet been proved guilty.


Project Fear - lessons from a referendum

Iain Dale's Biteback publishing group brought out two books shortly before Conservative Conference which have received significant attention.

One in particular made me sick to my stomach - but you should read it anyway, especially if you are planning to take part in the EU referendum campaign.

"Project Fear" by Joe Pike is about a referendum campaign which went wrong. I knew before I read this book that both sides had messed up during the Scottish Referendum battle but until I read this book I did not realise how badly.

Ironically we find out from the book where the expression "Project Fear" came from - it was coined within "Better together" not as a description of the campaign they wanted to fight but as how they thought the "Yes" campaign would try to paint them. The irony is that the term leaked and of course the SNP were delighted at the chance to do exactly that.

The first thing which horrified me about this book was how the divisive nature of the campaign, the lies told by the Nationalists and over-concentration on negative arguments by the unionists, have left a legacy of distrust and anger which will scar Scotland for years.

The second thing which horrified me was the dawning realisation of how easy it would be for each side in the forthcoming European referendum to repeat the mistakes of one or both sides.

One side failed to do the heavy lifting of working out exactly how an Independent Scotland would work - the SNP's 650 page manifesto for a Scottish nation contained just one page of costings and their proposal that an Independent Scotland could keep the pound was, as Labour's Scottish leader rightly described it, like someone initiating a divorce but wanting to keep the joint bank account.

The other side failed - until, arguably,  shortly before the end of the campaign - to come up with a compelling positive vision for Scotland within Britain and made far too much use of negative warnings about what could go wrong with Independence - many of which were, admittedly, entirely justified but of course some could be (and were) easily made by the SNP to look extremely petty.

The campaign was also disfigured by highly abusive campaigning from some quarters: there were people on both sides who rose above this but others on both sides who did not and the manner in which the worst offenders on both sides, particularly some "Cybernats" went out of their way to make life hell for those they disagreed with and regarded as traitors was incredibly harmful and counterproductive: had they succeeded the new nation they created would have come into being in an atmosphere of intolerance and hate.

It is painfully obvious from some of the internecine battles within UKIP about which of the rival "out" campaigns to support that those who wish to leave the EU could all too easily fall into the trap of repeating many of the mistakes that the "Yes Scotland" campaign made.

It is equally obvious that those who want Britain to remain part of the EU will have to raise their game dramatically if they want to avoid becoming Project Fear II - especially as some of their most powerful negative arguments about the economic risks of not being EU members have been weakened when the pro-EU lobby "cried wolf" about the consequences if Britain did not join the Eurozone.

Companies which threatened to stop investing in Britain should the country not join the Euro, and did not carry out the threat when Britain kept the pound instead, are unlikely to be believed if they repeat the threat, this time as an indication of what they will do should we leave the EU. It doesn't matter whether they are telling the truth this time - because they cried wolf before they will not be believed.

If the "Out" campaign is characterised by the sort of wilful failure to spell out what a "leave" vote actually means combined with the sort of narrow and often spiteful nationalism which sadly characterised "Yes Scotland" they will deserve to lose.

If the "In" campaign run a campaign based on scaremongering and lacking a positive vision for the benefits of Europe in Britain they too will deserve to lose,

Britain, however, does not deserve that sort of choice any more than Scotland did last year. 

Quote of the day 11th October 2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Geoffrey Howe RIP

Lord Howe of Aberavon, who I will always think of as Sir Geoffrey Howe, died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 88.

He was Chancellor during the first and most difficult period of Mrs Thatcher's government and although his tough policies to bring down the budget deficit were unpopular at the time he laid the seeds of future economic growth and stability, and, as he said in the resignation speech below, he and Margaret Thatcher worked together to reduce inflation from 22% to 4% within four years.

He subsequently served as foreign secretary, leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister and was the longest serving minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.

It is supremely ironic that he should have died within a few days of his opponent and friend Denis Healey, who he faced over the despatch box many times as they were Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor, with each man holding each position in turn, for six years. Denis Healey once described being criticised by Sir Geoffrey Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep."

After watching the devastating attack - which brought down Mrs T - in the resignation speech below, I commented to friends that if this was what Denis Healey thought being savaged by a dead sheep was like I would give any dead sheep in Leeds East (Healey's constituency) a very wide berth indeed.

It is strange to watch that speech now given the degree to which the debate on Europe in general and on European monetary integration in particular has moved on so much in the meantime: he was speaking at a time when the Euro had not yet come into existence and there was still fierce argument not just about whether there should be more monetary integration but also about the form and such integration should take.

Consequently both some of the views expressed in Geoffrey's resignation speech and some of the opposing views with which he respectfully disagreed seem now like something from a former age.

Given that this is an obit post I am trying to say a few words about this without criticism of any of the parties involved. With hindsight we all know that the Exchange-rate mechanism of the European Monetary System went catastrophically wrong for Britain two years after this speech.

It would also be easy - but facile and wrong - to draw conclusions from the subsequent history of the Euro about whether either side of the debate which led to first Geoffrey's resignation, and shortly after the defenestration of Mrs Thatcher, has been "proved right" or "proved wrong."

However, he was talking about the position before the Euro was created. At that time John Major, then the Chancellor, was promoting a much more market based Common currency proposal called the "Hard ECU" as an alternative to the Delors plan for a Single currency which was to be adopted and became the Euro. The trigger for Geoffrey Howe's resignation was the belief that Mrs Thatcher's style and comments had doomed any chance of persuading the European Union to adopt the "Hard ECU" plan by giving the impression that it was being put forward as a wrecking or delaying tactic rather than a serious alternative proposal.

In any event the Hard ECU was not adopted, so we will never know whether it might have been more successful than the Euro as I suspect might well have been the case, so on that point none of the participants have been or can be proved right or wrong.

What is beyond doubt is that Geoffrey Howe served his country for many years, sometimes doing very difficult jobs in very difficult circumstances. However memorable and historically significant the resignation speech that I included above, this should not obscure the fact that he worked closely with Mrs Thatcher for ten years and in my opinion their partnership did a great deal of good for Britain.

The usual obit rules apply to this post and any comments attacking the deceased will be deleted.

Rest in Peace.

The politics of Nirvana

Interesting article here on the politics of fantasyland.

Key extracts:

"In a paper from 1969, the American economist Harold Demsetz distinguished between two approaches to public policy: the “nirvana” approach, and the “comparative institution” approach. The former presents the choice as between an ideal norm and the imperfect existing arrangement; the latter as between alternative, real world arrangements, imperfect and less imperfect"

"Ideals are necessary, but so are plans, and the most admirable idealists are also cold-eyed realists. Abraham Lincoln didn’t think it was enough, as some of the abolitionists of the north did, merely to shame the slavery-supporting politicians of the south. He trimmed and hedged and compromised his way towards abolition. Martin Luther King was not the airy figure of myth, but a highly astute politician and campaigner who out-thought and out-manoeuvred his opponents. He had a dream, but he wasn’t content to live inside it."

A montage of how anti Tory protesters behaved this week

This four minute Youtube clip shows the way that many anti-tory protesters behaved this week and also how some Labour and Trade Union leaders behaved in ways which failed to distance themselves from encouraged such behaviour.

Those watching this clip who follow British politics more closely than the demonstrators concerned will recognise one of the people jostled and spat on as an investigative journalist who has done more damage to certain Tory politicians than every protestor in Manchester put together. Not that their behaviour would have been justified if he actually had been a Conservative delegate.

A 21-year old female Conservative student who is 5 foot three inches tall was threatened with rape by left-wing demonstrators as you can read here.

There are plenty of decent Labour people who were horrified by the behaviour of some demonstrators and more than a few who spoke out against it. But until the Labour party manages to make very clear that they are a party of such decent people and of grown-up politics, and not a vehicle for the politics of hatred and mindless "stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off" protest, they will not get remotely near to winning another election.

Quote of the day 10th October 2015

Friday, October 09, 2015

A red line for the EU Referendum

I have been thinking about how to vote in the EU referendum

It is very unusual for me to see a massively important vote approaching and not to be involved in a campaign on one side or the other or to know how I am going to vote.

I did sometimes get asked about this as a European candidate in 2014: at the time I could and did say that the first thing was to get the referendum, for which people had to elect a Conservative government, and then we would see what came out of negotiations.

But now the first part of that has happened, we need to start thinking about what we want to see.

I hope that both "In" and "Out" camps will fight a positive campaign around a clear view of the sort of Britain they want and learn lessons from the mistakes made by both sides in the Scottish Referendum campaign. Much more on that subject in a separate post at the weekend.

But we also need to identify the objectives which we want to be delivered for a Britain in the EU or one outside it.

One "red line" for me has become clear this week: if the EU's egregious Justice Commissioner makes any progress in her apparent wish to make the EU more of a force against free speech, I will be voting to leave.

Vera Jourova, the European Union commissioner for Justice, made a speech on 2nd October at the conclusion of a European conference on Fundamental rights which you can read here.

She thinks it is "disgraceful" that it is a criminal offence in only thirteen of the 28 EU members states to deny that the holocaust happened.

She also said that

"If freedom of expression is one of the building blocks of a democratic society, hate speech on the other hand, is a blatant violation of that freedom.

It must be severely punished."

There is a solid critique of her position in The Economist here

Let me declare an interest: I am a member of one of the groups which Hitler and the Nazis hated and targeted for mass murder in the 1940s.

Of course the Holocaust happened. Every person who denies that and of whom I have any knowledge is at best catastrophically ignorant and more likely either a liar and fraud or a fantasist and fool.

However, although I agree that it is a shame that expressing that opinion is a crime in thirteen member states, that's because for me it is thirteen too many, not fifteen too few.

It is instructive to compare the impact on the reputation of the historian David Irving of his collisions with the law in Britain, where Holocaust Denial is not illegal but lying about someone can have serious legal consequences, and in Austria where it is against the law to claim that the Holocaust did not happen.

When David Irving was sentenced to three years in jail by the Austrian courts in 2006 for denying the Holocaust in a speech made in Austria in 1989, he was seen by some people's as a martyr and a victim.

By contrast, when he sued the American historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel in a British court after she had written that he was a holocaust denier, his arguments and what was left of his reputation were forensically destroyed in court, and the judge ruled

"Having considered the various arguments advanced by Irving to assail the effect of the convergent evidence relied upon by the Defendants, it is my conclusion that no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews,"


"it follows that it is my conclusion that Irving's denials of these propositions were contrary to the evidence."


"the allegation that Irving is a racist is also established."

Deborah Lipstadt's comment when Irving was prosecuted in Austria was

"I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don't believe in winning battles via censorship… The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth."

If by "hate speech" you mean incitement to violence or words which are likely to cause a breach of the peace, then of course incitement to criminal activity or conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace is and should be illegal.

The problem is that expressions like "hate speech" can all too easily, unless they are tightly defined, be used to suppress opinions that someone doesn't like. We've seen that time and again on British university campuses. We saw it with the clause of Section 5 of the Public Order act which made insulting people a criminal offence until the relevant words were taken off the statute book last year.

We've seen that a strong expression of disagreement with the truth of a particular religious faith may well be regarded by some of the people who believe in that faith as blasphemy and "hate speech" and if given the least encouragement they will try to use the law to stop it.

If I wanted an easy life for myself, I would be supporting Vera Jourova: after all, if you worded the law the way she appears to want, if would be much more likely that the people who were shouting "Tory scum" or worse things at me and everyone else who went into or out of the Conservative conference prosecuted.

Now I do think that those who spat on or threw eggs at people attending the conservative conference should have been prosecuted, and the people who shouted "We're going to rape you Tory whore" at a young female delegate were close to if not over the line between peaceful protest on the one hand and violence and intimidation on the other.

But people who merely shout insults - and in the process probably reduce the Labour vote further - should not be prosecuted.

It's all too easy for the category of targets for her "severe punishment" to grow to anyone the prevailing mood doesn't agree with.

As Nick Cohen recently wrote, and I make no apology for repeating this quote,

 "Censors never confine themselves to deserving targets. They aren’t snipers but machine gunners, who will hit anything that moves. Give them permission to shoot, and one day they will hit you."

An intelligent left-wing view of Manchester

A great deal of ink has been spilled about the events of Manchester.

The majority of commentators, including many on the left, have suggested that David Cameron and George Osborne have made a shrewd pitch for the gigantic area of political space in the centre which Labour is visibly vacating.

Some on the left have taken a cloud cuckoo-land view, as with the comment by Polly Toynbee which I referred to last night that David Cameron is supposedly more right-wing than Margaret Thatcher.

Others on the moderate left, like The Times journalist Philip Collins, have turned their guns on their own side - if you obtain the pleasure of schadenfreude from watching internecine warfare among socialists, Mr Collin's "Guilty Men" diatribe against Gordon Brown, Tom Watson and Ed Miliband in today's Times is a classic.

A more intelligent and entertaining left-wing view of the conference was presented by John Harris in the Guardian at


He points to the disconnect between a Labour party which seems happy to become a party of protest rather than one of power, and a Conservative party which is making a grab for the centre ground.

The film clip showing him interviewing both protestors and delegates is more nuanced and interesting still, and he points to the biggest problem the Conservatives have - the fact that we need more members and particularly more younger members.

However, the reality is that this is a problem for the other parties too - and will remain so unless they can turn the legion who joined by paying £3 to vote for Jeremy Corbyn to become activists willing to do the hard work on the ground in the constituencies - and I mean the real bread and butter work of politics, not going to Manchester to shout "Tory scum" at cleaners and journalists - Labour will not have solved it.

More reasons for DC's success.

To listen to some people you would imagine that the present government loves kicking the poor and is interested only in helping the rich.

It is of course rubbish: the biggest tax cutting programme under both the coalition and the present Conservative administration has been increasing tax thresholds, which particularly benefits low-paid workers. And the combination of this policy and attempts to reform welfare, however imperfect the implementation of them has sometimes been, are two of the reason David Cameron has been more successful at creating jobs than any other recent Prime Minister.

And contrary to what the left would have you believe, tax policy over the last few years has not reduced the share of tax paid by the richest people but increased it. Provided most people pay their taxes, reducing tax rates does not always cut the total tax paid.

These two graphs came from an excellent article by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator which points out six ways in which the Conservatives have done more than Labour to help the poor.

Trains disrupted in West Cumbria this morning

Rail commuters in West Cumbria have had serious problems on the trains this morning.
A signal problem in the Sellafield area meant Northern Rail was forced to cancel all services between Millom and Whitehaven shortly after 6am.

The signal problem was revolved by about 7.50am, but knock-on effects have continued to cause problems for rail users.

A number of earlier trains were cancelled, while others have been delayed by up to an hour.

The secret of DC's success

A great article in the Economist on why David Cameron has been so successful at winning votes, which compares his appeal to that of "The Great British Bake-Off."
I don't believe that anyone, no matter how good they initially were at the job, should stay PM for more than ten years so however much flak David Cameron got from the political class and press for saying he would step down at the end of this parliament it was the right thing to do and we should not try to persuade him to change his mind.

But if he does leave by his own choice on that timescale I think many people, including some of his critics, are going to miss him when he's gone.
You can read it here.

Quote of the day 9th October 2015

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Britain is not Twitter

One of the things the PM said in his speech was that "Britain is not Twitter."

Some proof of that today on twitter itself.

Tim Mongomerie had tweeted that he enjoyed doing Newsnight and had been amused by the fact that Polly Toynbee thinks David Cameron is to the right of Mrs Thatcher.

I was amused too - after all, even Ed Miliband approved of two of the policies for which David Cameron will be remembered. During one of the GE15 leader debates, when each of them was asked to identify two things about the other which he approved of, Ed Miliband's reply was that he respected what David Cameron had done to legalise equal marriage for gay people and that DC had kept the promise to spend 0.7% of Britain's GDP on foreign aid.

Frankly, the idea that the Prime Minister who put equal marriage onto the statue book is more right-wing than the one who put section 28 on the statue book is just plain bonkers.

But the responses to Tim's tweet were interesting. One from a Daniel Booth suggested Polly T's comment "sort of implies that Ed Miliband was more right wing than Thatcher too as the PM has nicked all his policies."

Others shared Tim's amusement.

But the majority of responses came from people who either shared Polly Toynbee's bizarre opinion, or from people who went to the opposite extreme, e.g. suggesting that David Cameron was on the left, not really a Conservative, adopting the policies of a looney left wing council, or is to the left of Tony Blair.

Actually the person who made the Tony Blair comparison might have had a point, but the rest were over the top.

Just goes to show that social media can produce a race to express the most extreme idea.

Opinion Polls: does the emperor have no clothes?

While I was at conference in Manchester, Antifrank published an article on Political Betting oin whether we should believe opinion polls which you can read at


This in turn referred to the recent Sir Michael Lyle memorial lecture by Sir David Butler which you can read at


In particular, Sir David poured scorn on the record of pollsters: you can argue about details such as how many people were surprised by the hung parliament in 2010 or the Labour landslide in 1997 but there is not much room for debate that Butler was right on the overall picture when he said that ...

"It is worth remembering that unexpected results have been the norm rather than the exception. We shouldn't have been so surprised by how surprised we were this year.  In twelve of the last twenty general elections the outcome has defied the prophets – and the pollsters.
  • In three elections ('45, '66 and '97) there was a Labour victory of totally unexpected proportions.
  • In three others ('50, '64 and October '74) an expected Labour victory was achieved by only a single-figure margin.
  • In four contests ('59, '70, '92, and 2015) there was a Conservative victory that was either totally unexpected or of unexpected scale.
  • And in two elections (February '74 and 2010) there was a hung parliament that few anticipated.
The lesson from these outcomes is perhaps that political science is even less of a science than we thought it was. Voters routinely defy our expectations, perhaps even misleading themselves when they answer opinion pollsters."

Quote of the Day 8th October 2015

"When England were doing really well in a World Cup, they were due to play France and I thought I just couldn't bear to watch this English victory in an English pub with Englishmen who would be gloating at the end.

So I got on a train and went to the first bar I came to in France to watch it there.

England duly won and all these Frenchmen stood up and formed a line to shake my hand in congratulation. I'd been mistaken for an English rugby supporter. How bad can it get?

What is the French for: 'No. No. I wanted France to win. I'm not English'?"

(Stephen Evans, the BBC's "From our Own Correspondent" slot, from the viewpoint of a Welshman who likes the English most of the time but says "I can never support England on the sports field.")

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

On Freedom of Thought

Last week Nick Cohen took a lecture he had given at the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries, and posted a version of it at the Spectator:

I described it as one of the best articles in favour of freedom of expression I have ever read.

This week he has done a piece on his own blog on how The PC revolution devours its' own which also appeared in shorter form in Standpoint. The second article presents the case for freedom of political thought in the same way the first did for artistic thought.

For two centuries people in the West have enjoyed free speech. But it seems that the fight to keep it needs to be waged again in each generation.

Let's not get into the argument about who first said that "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

The point is that it's true and we need that vigilance now as much as every. Including against our own worst instincts, because all of us need to resist the temptation to ban ideas we don't agree with.

This week I had to repeatedly run the gauntlet on my way into and out of Conservative conference of anti-tory protesters, some of whom were saying or shouting extremely offensive things, and not just at Conservative delegates but at journalists and anyone else entering the conference.

Including, for example, a wheelchair user who is not a Conservative but was there to chair a discussion on disability organised by a charity, and who was vilified both by other wheelchair users and able-bodied protestors for trying to persuade the government to modify its' policies inside the hall instead of being outside shouting abuse.

I had to repeatedly remind myself that the protestors have as much right to their opinions as I have to mine and, no matter how stupid I find their behaviour, they should be entitled to express their views as long as they stop short of obstruction, intimidation, or violence (which most, though by no means all, of them did.)

In fact, and this is a huge irony, until last year the actions of many protesters at this year's Conservative party conference might well have rendered them liable to prosecution under Section 5 of the Public Order act under which "Insulting words and behaviour" could be criminalised - a law which I and many other people campaigned successfully to repeal. The campaign was called "Feel Free to Insult Me" and I am still proud to have backed it. If some demonstrators took me up on the invitation this week, well so be it.

Please take the time to read Nick Cohen's article here: it is important that we understand how much the principle of freedom of speech is under threat.

Here is a quote from the article which makes the point:

"When I argue for freedom of speech at student unions, I am greeted with incomprehension as much as outrage. It’s not only that they don’t believe in it, they don’t understand how anyone could believe in it unless they were a racist or rapist. The politicians, bureaucrats, chief police officers and corporate leaders of tomorrow are at universities which teach that open debate and persuasion by argument are ideas so dangerous they must be banned as a threat to health and safety. Unless we challenge them in the most robust manner imaginable, whatever kind of country they grow up to preside over is unlikely to be a very free one."

Second quote of the day 7th October 2015

"Censors never confine themselves to deserving targets. They aren’t snipers but machine gunners, who will hit anything that moves. Give them permission to shoot, and one day they will hit you."

(Nick Cohen, from a brilliant article on Free Speech which you can read here.)

Highlights of Boris Johnson's Speech at CPC 15

David Cameron writes about building a Greater Britain

I believe we’re on the brink of something special in our country.
This year, we’ve seen more people in work than at any time in our history; more of our children starting university than ever before; more British entrepreneurs setting up shop than anywhere else in Europe.
Wages are rising. Hope is returning. We’re moving into the light.
But we’re not there yet. We’re only halfway through.

We can make this era – these 2010s – a defining decade for our country: the turnaround decade.
And our goal is a Greater Britain.

With strong defence and a strong economy.

An NHS that there’s for everybody, and schools that stretch our children.

And over the next five years we will show that the deep problems in our society are not inevitable.

That a childhood in care doesn’t have to mean a life of struggle.
That a stint in prison doesn’t mean you’ll get out and do the same thing all over again.
That being black, or Asian, or female, or gay doesn’t mean you’ll be treated differently.
A Greater Britain – made of greater expectations.
Where renters become homeowners, employees become employers, a small island becomes an even bigger economy, and where extremism is defeated once and for all.
A country raising its sights, its people reaching new heights.
A Greater Britain – made of greater hope, greater chances, greater security.
So let’s get out and make it happen.
Please contribute to our campaign today, and together we can build that Greater Britain.
David Cameron (Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party)

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Conservative Conference Quote of the day 7th October 2015

"There is something that we need to be brutally and uncomfortably honest about.

There is more we need to do to tackle the excesses and abuses of capitalism:

 abuses which undermine the system that generates so much growth and opportunity."

(Michael Gove)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2nd Conservative conference quote of the day 6th October 2015

"The Ed Stone was the heaviest suicide note in history"

(Boris Johnson)


The magnificent £90 new hospital buildings at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) in Whitehaven are now open and have treated their first patients.
Some services have already now moved into the new hospital, whilst other wards and departments will transfer throughout this week

More details on my hospitals blog at


This is fantastic news for the people of West Cumbria

Of course we must continue the fight to support and maintain our hospital services and ensure there is a good range of services at the hospital. For that we need to recruit and retain staff. Which makes it important to keep up morale and celebrate the positive things about the hospital such as

* a great team of caring staff

* and now wonderful new hospital buildings

Three kinds of protestors

At the times I was going in and out of the Conservative conference I have at no time felt physically threatened, though some of the abuse which has been directed at people coming in and out of the conference has sometimes been seriously OTT.

("Tory scum" was actually the mildest of the insults which was hurled at people by a certain lunatic fringe.)

On the basis of what I saw the substantial police presence were doing an extremely good job trying to keep everyone safe and able to go about their lawful business. But apparently at other stages things went well beyond shouting.

At least three journalists were spat at or subjected to very threatening behaviour.

One of the journalists who was spat at by anti-Tory demonstrators was Channel Four news correspondent Michael Crick.

And anyone who doesn't know who Michael Crick is, or that he's done more political damage to certain Tory politicians such as Jeffrey Archer than every anti-Tory demonstrator in Manchester this week put together, has not been paying much attention to the news for the past couple of decades.

Protestors also spat on the Huffington Post journalist Owen Bennett and both he and Telegraph journalist Kate McCann were then backed into a corner by a crowd of demonstrators shouting that he "deserved it."

Of course I entirely agree with those including fellow journalists and TUC general Secretary Frances O'Grady who condemned the treatment of Michael Crick, Kate McCann and Owen Bennett. I am disappointed they didn't also make the point that it would have also been unacceptable to threat these journalists in that way if they had actually been the delegates to the conference that those who attacked or threatened them presumably thought at first them to be (although they continued to abuse the journalists after finding out that's who they were).

I found the twitter feed of the Guardian's North UK editor, Helen Pidd, to be quite interesting reading. An elderly gentleman advised her to remove her Conservative conference lanyard because "Please, you won't be safe." She refused because she would not be threatened in her own city.

Shortly afterwards she was called "Tory Scum" by a protestor, and after explaining that she was a journalist the protestor replied "Journalist scum, then."

She also responded "there is a certain irony" to someone who had tweeted to her "So Tories accused of ignoring the North but when they turn up they are told to ****** off? Must make sense to someone I suppose."

I called this post "three kinds of protestors."

The first and worst category, who I personally have so far been fortunate enough not to encounter, have been those who are willing to descend to violence and downright intimidation. They are the minority but there are people in this category here.

Many of them appear to call themselves Anarchists but ironically, given that one of their chants has been to compare their opponents with Nazis, they do not appear to have considered how similar their treatment of their opponents is to that of the Sturm Abteilung.

The second category are those whose conduct falls short of violence but who clearly prefer insult to debate, whether it is chanting "Tory Scum" (or worse), or wearing pig's head masks. One could be forgiven for getting the impression that these people are the majority of demonstrators.

The third category are those who came along to express concerns or make a point in a perfectly polite and civilised way. Sadly these people were largely eclipsed by those who were in Manchester to shout, bully and heckle, but they were here too. I tried to speak to as many such people as I could on my way into the conference and took every piece of literature which was offered to me. You never know when someone might be asking you to take something which is worth reading.


On the rare occasions when Yasmin Alibhai-Brown gets something right she can be magnificent, as was shown by her "Dear Auntie Yasmin" article in the Sunday Times which I wrote about here. An example has been her support for victims of Female Genital Mutiliation or FGM.

One of the meetings I attended yesterday was a very harrowing presentation on Female Genital Mutilation, a meeting organised by Conservative MEPs and chaired by Julie Girling MEP with the Solicitor General (Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon) among the panel, along with a community midwife who has had to deal with the consequences of this form of ghastly abuse and an FGM survivor. This was the meeting at which Robert made the statement which I have down as my quote yesterday.

This abhorrent crime has no place in the 21st century world.

Conservative Conference quote of the day 6th October

"So to these working people who have been completely abandoned by a party heading off to the fringes of the left, let us all here today extend our hand."

"Do you know what the supporters of the new Labour leadership now call anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy, and the country living within its means?

"They call them Tories. Well, it's our job to make sure they're absolutely right."

(George Osborne)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Conference Quote of the day 5th October

"It's not about cultural differences, it's about child abuse"

(Robert Buckland MP, Solicitor General, referring to Female Genital Mutilation at a conference fringe meeting today on that subject.)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Conservative Conference Diary 2015 - as the conference is about to begin

Setting off at 7.15 am this morning to drive down to Manchester.

I gather that there will be even more demonstrators than usual - not that we have not had to accept and get used to a fair amount of that over the years, even when not in government - and there was some material about this on social media yesterday before the conference has even started.

Ralph Buckle who attends all the party conferences on behalf of Dodds and has been to five each of the Conservative, Labour and Lib/Dem gatherings, three UKIP and a Green conference tweeted his concern at the level of vitriol and hate shown by protesters outside the Conservative conference. A couple of years ago he saw a protestor shouting "Tory Scum" at people going into the hall where the Conservative conference had not yet started. He pointed out to the gentleman that the delegates had not arrived yet and the people he was shouting this at were mostly minimum-wage cleaners, caterers, stage assemblers and the like. That time the protestor had the decency to look ashen faced.

This year the Ralph tried again, making the same point yesterday to people who did not appear to realise that the conference did not start until today, the delegates were not in Manchester yet and they were shouting "Tory Scum" at cleaners, caterers, etc.

This lot had even less cerebral capacity than the gentleman two years ago: they told Ralph that he was full of an unpleasant substance, and added that they could "spot a Tory a mile off" with a wave at a random passer-by wearing a suit.

A friend of mine who the lefties did correctly identify as a Tory (not sure what he was wearing) and who was in Manchester because he lives there tweeted that he had been told to "Go Home" by people with Southern accents.

I don't think any open minded person could dispute that there have always been clever people and fools in every part of the political spectrum. Both right and left have at various times had the intellectual ascendancy. 

In one period when the left was less intellectually bankrupt than it is today, John Stuart Mill, one of the cleverest human beings who ever lived, said in a debate

"I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative."

I don't think the left has the kind of intellectual ascendancy today which made such an opinion so obvious and undeniable to him. I wish John Stuart Mill were alive today as I would love to be able to show him the demonstrators outside the Conservative conference and ask if he is quite so sure: it would be fascinating to hear his response.

Quote of the day 4th October 2015

"Occupy the centre ground. Own it. This is good politics because it is where the voters are. But it is great strategy because it sends the other side demented. In the grief of election loss, parties all too often blame the voters. This is psychologically understandable, but politically stupid.

"The truth is that the voters are never wrong, and even when they are, they're still not wrong."

(John McTernan, from a  Telegraph article with some advice to the Conservative party)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Denis Healey RIP

Former chancellor Denis Healey has died at the age of 98.

Of course I strongly disagreed with many of his political opinions and actions but I always had the impression that he was a great human being.

Before his forty years service to his country in the House of Commons and twenty-three in the Lords, he also fought in World War II,  was the military landing officer for the British assault brigade at Anzio, and was made an MBE for his military service in 1945.

Rest in Peace.

The End of Mobile Roaming charges

Declaration of Interest  - I have worked in a wide range of management roles for various companies and divisions within the BT group for thirty years this November, and am currently employed in Openreach. I also stood for the European parliament last year. I don't think this is biasing my opinion about mobile roaming charges but I declare it so the reader can make your own judgement.

The European Union has been taking action for the last seven years to cap mobile phone roaming charges, and most recently the pressure has been on to abolish them. On Thursday a Conservative government minister, Lady Neville-Rolfe, tweeted favourably about a recent EU Council resolution aimed at doing so. My fellow North-West Conservative Sajjad Haider Karim MEP is one of the people who has done excellent work pushing for this.

This has not been popular with all Euro-sceptics, with Dan Hannan MEP attacking the change, tweeting the effect of the policy would be

"Forcing phone companies to raise tariffs and so obliging travellers to subsidise non-travellers. Great news for MEPs."

That is a potential - repeat potential - outcome of a ban on roaming charges, though not an inevitable one, so this is an entirely legitimate argument, but let me explain why on balance I think the mobile roaming charges ban is likely to do far more good than harm.

First a word on the context. In the past, starting in the days when national monopolies  known as PTTs dominated the telephone market, there were massive mark-ups on all international telephony charges, generating enormous profits were used in all countries either as a cash cow for PTTs (and/or the governments which usually owned them) or to subsidise the rest of the telephone industry.

These huge profits were only possible as a result of monopoly and incompatible with the growth of telecommunications as a leading edge part of global business and trade.

With the growth of competition and a more consumer-oriented approach to telecommunications a combination of competition and government regulatory action - with competition by far the more important of the two - dramatically reduced both prices charged to the customer and percentage profit margins.

However - and this is the key answer to those like Dan Hannan who argue that the end of mobile roaming must inevitably clobber non-travellers - the wipeout of monopoly-level profits on international calls and services did not wipe out the global profits of all companies carrying international telephony traffic. Of course some of the more dinosaur-like companies lost out very badly and some former giants even went to the wall but more nimble companies including start ups did very well, thank you, because total international telecoms traffic increased enormously.

As global telecoms profits crashed for completely different reasons in the first five years of this century, it is impossible to say what the net cut in profits to phone companies as a result of the reduction of these massive markups was - or even whether there was such a reduction at all.

What we can say for certain is that although the price of international calls fell off a cliff, and thereby generated a world in which far more people and businesses could take advantage of international telecoms, this in itself neither crucified telephone operators nor causes an increase in domestic telephone charges. Quite the contrary, the real price of local and national telephone services in the UK continued to fall while international prices were collapsing.

I know exactly who I blame for the difficult time which many telephone companies have been through in the past fifteen years or so - the worst single culprit richly deserves the 25-year prison sentence he is currently serving at Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex in Louisiana - but it was not down to the elimination of monopoly profits for international phone calls.

Let's turn this argument to the issue of mobile roaming.

Mobile phone companies took off in a big way after the fall in international call prices had begun but well before it had been completed, so international calls to and from mobile phones started off in the era of big international markups.

It took a while to sort out the technical issues around international use of mobile phones and in the interim, mobile phone operators were able to, and did, charge high prices with the sort of markups which had been associated with international calls to and from landlines.

What is far worse, many of the charges for international calls to and from mobile phones were not always immediately obvious to the person making the decision which leads to the charge, and were not always paid by that person.

People ringing a number which turned out to be a mobile in another country were not, in the past, always aware that they were phoning a mobile or paying a premium to do so - until the bill arrived. People who took a mobile phone with them on holiday "just in case" and left it in their bag the whole time arrived home to find that they had been charged for data roaming services they had never used just because the phone itself had moved between countries.

The reason these rip-offs were unfair and bad for the consumer is obvious, but they were also bad for the industry and for the business world in general because the uncertainty they created made people less willing to use international mobile services. People afraid of being ripped off made the perfectly rational decision to leave their phone at home.

Frankly, in my opinion it would have been better for everyone including the mobile phone companies if the telecommunications industry had come together at a global level and sorted out these issues themselves without waiting for the regulators to do it, and some of the problems I have described above have already been mitigated either by the companies themselves or by the regulators, but not all of them. Hence the action of the EU to first drive down mobile roaming charges and now hopefully to scrap them from 15th June 2017, is reasonable and proportionate.

Let's put a figure on the sort of cost we could be talking about. I have seen estimates that removing roaming charges might cut the revenue of mobile operators by all of two percent - and even that might not materialise if the increased usage from people who are no longer so afraid of unexpected billing shocks is greater than expected.

The EU proposes to apply safeguards to limit the recovery of this lost revenue by mobile operators: they also propose to allow roaming providers will be able to apply a 'fair use policy' to prevent abusive use of roaming. This will include using roaming services for purposes other than periodic travel. For roaming that goes beyond fair use, a small fee may be charged. This fee cannot be higher than the maximum wholesale rate that operators pay for using the networks of other EU countries. The limit for fair use will be defined by the Commission by 15 December 2016.

Sceptics like Dan Hannan are right to ask what the knock-on effect of ending roaming charges should be, because the law of unintended consequences can apply whenever a regulator interferes with the free market.

However, I believe that any well-informed person who thinks all the consequences through is likely to conclude that by increasing certainty and transparency, and reducing the fear and reality of unexpected bills, the abolition of mobile roaming charges is likely to do much more good than harm for everyone concerned, including ultimately the mobile phone industry.

A brilliant article on Freedom of Thought

No apologies for returning to the subject of freedom of speech and expression.

Nick Cohen gave a short speech recently about censorship to the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries.

He has summarised the speech in an article for the Spectator which you can read here and which is exceptionally good.

In fact I think it's possibly the best expression of the case for freedom of thought which I have ever read.

He starts out by highlighting the problem that political correctness itself, very frequently, fails to be politically correct. As he writes, many, though not all, writers and speakers who would think of themselves as progressive

"have twisted themselves into the position where they cannot condemn sexism and homophobia in ethnic and religious minorities for fear of being racist."

"Artists, writers and comedians therefore do not cover one of the great hypocrisies of our age; a hypocrisy which is genuinely racist if you think about it: for how else would you define an idea which holds that equal rights for women are the birthright of white-skinned women in the rich world but not of brown-skinned women in the poor world?"

He goes on:

"Political correctness has an obsessive belief in the power of language to reveal hidden wickedness."

One ‘inappropriate’ remark, one slip, uncovers vast prejudices hiding behind the masks of repeatability. Hence the ‘twitter storms’ about ‘gaffes’ or ‘misspeaks’ which fill the papers in the absence of news. Hence the academic analyses of this novelist or that film maker’s hidden biases.

Then he sets out six ways in which politically-correct ideas are not true:

"It is not true that oppression only emanates from white western elites.

It is not true that conservatives are always wicked.

It is not true that those who oppose conservatism are always good.

It is not true that artists with admirable sentiments must be able to produce great or even tolerably good work.

It is not true that artists with conservative or indeed reactionary sentiments must produce bad or terrible work.

It is not true that you can change the world by changing language. Indeed the desire to police language is an easy substitute for the hard work of political campaigning."

He then argues that the pressures which lead people to think like this are likely to get worse in terms of how to deal with them, he concludes:

"The first step is easy to recommend and hard to follow. I know it is difficult when you fear Islamists may kill you, or the police won’t protect you, or demonstrators may close you down, or the government may accuse you of promoting terrorism. Nevertheless your automatic response to a demand that you change or pull a work for anything other than artistic reasons, should be:


The article is well worth reading in full.