Different-sized Cs

The British Conservative Party supported the war on Iraq – but a lot of British conservatives didn’t. The Stop The War march in February was one of the most socially inclusive demonstrations ever (it featured 2% of the population – more importantly, it wasn’t just made up of students, pullovered leftists and Muslims).

More statistically, only 57% of Tory voters polled in July said they thought the war was justified – well behind Labour voters. And meanwhile, the Daily Mail is backing its normal arch-nemesis the BBC in its coverage of the almost endless Hutton Inquiry. The Mail, for all its vices, knows its readers and doesn’t take lines they don’t like – so it’s hard to characterise this as just a Mail vs NewLab scrap.

What’s going on here then? It looks like a clash of two traditions that often overlap, and therefore often get confused. Effectively, it’s a clash between the Tories and the conservatives who generally vote for them.

Broadly, the Tories are the party of aristocracy and empire; their chief change in recognition of the collapse of the traditional British class system has been to substitute accent, education and money for breeding. While this has almost certainly improved the average top Tory’s IQ, it has done little to change the party’s attitudes.

Tory voters, however, tend to be Middle England’s middle classes: the conservatives. At times (Thatcher’s landslides) some DEs also vote Tory because they think anything else would make them noticeably wore off. At times (1997-2002), some conservatives vote Lib Dem or Labour because they think the party has lost its way.

Despite the difference between the groups, people tend to view conservatives as Conservatives and vice versa – and Iraq is an excellent example of why this isn’t right.

Tories like empire. They’re disappointed we had to give up the last one. And it’s not all in a bad way… they like the way that the empire spread education, railways and cricket across the world. So do I, come to that. Small-c conservatives, however, don’t like being killed or impoverished to pay for killing. If the alternative to these is the risk of being killed, they see the point – so WWII was fair enough. But if the alternative is the certainty of some non-English people in Iraq being killed, they don’t. Education, railways and cricket are all very well, but we shouldn’t spend money or lives in order to bring them to foreigners.

Hence the rise in Lib Dem support: not only is the conservatives’ traditional party supporting the war, so is the New Labour party that they deserted it for (especially since people who identify as “conservative” view the Lib Dems as to the right of Labour – but that’s another story).

As a liberal, I believe the Tories are right and the conservatives are wrong. We do have a moral obligation to bring education, railways and cricket to the world’s oppressed people, or die in the attempt. We’ve got a responsibility to help other people, irrespective of their or our nationality. This is a fairly standard liberal view; I entirely understand that conservatives disagree. Maybe one day they’ll get over the class bloc thing and start voting for conservatives instead of Conservatives…

Final thought: the left’s attitude to the war is almost the same. Tony Blair, David Aaronovitch, and the large numbers of other nominal leftists who supported the Iraq war are being Tories here; the leftists who didn’t are being conservatives -“not in my name” means “I don’t want to get bloody hands even if it saves Iraqis from much worse horribleness”. And the Lib Dems, although arguably being more democratic, are taking a less liberal position than either of their mainstream rivals.

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Sometimes it’s hard to be a scathing political wit

It’s hard to deny that the police have a hard job to do, dealing with some of the scummiest elements in society and putting their own lives at risk to save people from serious harm.

Which probably explains why most coppers prefer to avoid such dangerous situations, and instead arrest non-scummy people for entirely harmless drunken idiocy. After all, unarmed, non-driving middle-aged professional types who’ve had a few pints are unlikely to do you much harm, beyond possibly hurting your feelings when they’re arrogant at you.

The drunken judge in this particular case would have been better advised to avoid the “do you know who I am” / “my cousin’s a QC” routine. But I can’t help thinking the main issue here is one of the relevant policemen being idiots, trying to get one over on people who they perceive as their ‘superiors’, and utterly mishandling the situation.

Of course, this may be more of a reflection on the characters of some of the uniformed policemen that people of my acquaintance and I have met, rather than an entirely reasonable assessment of this particular case.

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Anything you can trivialise, I can trivialise better

In hawk world, anyone who criticises Israel is an anti-semite, even if they’re Jewish. And these anti-semites probably deny the holocaust too. After all, Arabs often deny the holocaust, and these evil types don’t want to bomb the Arabs, so they’re just as bad… I’m not even going to mention equating “understanding the motives behind left wing terrorism” with “being a fan of the murder of Jews” – oh, apparently I just did.

Anyway, the latest expansion of this trivialisation is even bizarrer. I admit, you can’t expect a satirist posing as Allah to be particularly subtle in his politics (and his site is generally quite entertaining). But if there is a serious intent behind this post (as at least one rightist commentator seems to believe), then it’s now legitimate in the eye of the hawks to equate comparisons between George W Bush and Adolf Hitler with holocaust denial.

I’d be the first to admit that most Bush/Hitler comparisons aren’t terribly edifying, in that Mr Hitler was a mass-murdering, hatemongering tyrant, whereas Mr Bush is merely following in the glorious traditions of corrupt presidents with scary advisors. There are some entirely legitimate parallels: the most obvious is that the (broadly but imperfectly democratic) ascent of both leaders highlights deficiencies in the political system before they came to power.

If there were no sensible analogies at all between the two, then equating them would be an entirely nasty personal attack on Mr Bush, who is clearly not a mass murderer. Under English law, it would almost certainly be libellous (under American law it might be OK – although I’m neither a lawyer nor play one on TV). It would be roughly equivalent to equating Mr Bush to Charles Manson, Fred West, or some other Unequivocally Bad Man.

Yet to equate Mr Bush to Mr Manson wouldn’t be to deny the murder of Sharon Tate. If I say “Bush is as bad as Manson”, then the implication is “I know Manson had tens of people murdered; I believe Bush has murdered or ordered murdered just as many”. If I say “Bush is as bad as Hitler”, then the implication is “I know Hitler murdered six million Jews and started a war that killed another 20 million people worldwide. I thnk Bush has done or is about to do the same.” Both points would be stupid – but neither point would be denying the badness of the person to whom Mr Bush is being compared.

It’s forgiveable (and sometimes even correct) when the state of Israel and its friends trot out anti-semitism as an answer to critics – they’re justifiably worried about anti-semites wanting to destroy their country and kill them all. But when the same criticism is used to defend a WASP whose ancestors traded with the Nazis, it looks more than a little ridiculous.

Ho hum. According to the definitions used by the neocons, I probably ought to display this disclaimer at this point:

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Tough on education, tough on the causes of education

Everywhere I look this week, I find arguments on education funding. From legitimate political organisations to tasteless and puerile satirists, everyone’s talking about how to pay for education.

Now, “choice” in education (other than adult education) is patently a nonsensical concept – the consumer, being a child, can’t make a rational choice. This is why the state needs to be involved.

Any economically rational person would take the amount of education required to give them basic reading/writing/numeracy skills; the vast majority would take more. Unless a person was an extremely proficient sportsperson or skilled manual worker, they’d be willing to pay a great deal for this.

Since children aren’t economically rational people, this doesn’t work. And while their parents may be rational, it’s not clear that a parent’s interests in this sphere are necessarily exactly in line with the child’s. Many – indeed, most – parents both understand the value of education and are willing to make major sacrifices to ensure their child receives it. But not all.

This means that in the absence of external intervention, any education system will benefit children whose parents meet the “value” and “sacrifice” criteria above far more than those whose parents don’t. Assuming a lack of perfect capital markets, parents with ready cash will also have advantages (you can’t borrow the fees for Eton – or to hire a private tutor – using your child’s prospective earnings if they become an erudite merchant banker as collateral).

So state intervention in education has two important functions: to force reluctant parents to invest in their child’s education; and to permit parents who wish to invest in their child’s education but are restricted by financial constraints to do so.

The most efficient way to ensure this happens is to:

1) establish an enormous centralised bureaucracy to run all schools
2) ensure that parental income, above any other consideration, is the main determinant of education quality
3) ensure that the system’s biggest beneficiaries are parents who both wanted to, and were able to, fully fund their child’s education anyway

Wait, no. That’s just what actually happens in the UK and (+/-) the rest of the developed world. Maybe that’s why this is such a hot issue…

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…and continuing the Cold War sex angst theme…

This has been around for a while (on NTK, which I’ve long read quasi-religiously), but I haven’t spotted it before:

It’s a shame I didn’t see it when it was originally posted in February 2000. In February 2000, I was busy trying to cram for university finals, spend a week snowboarding, and deal with an ultra-recently-ex-girlfriend (who’d managed to break her collarbone while spending said week snowboarding, and blamed me, obviously). So I needed, my God I did, all the light I could get…

Update 29/09/03: Chris Lightfoot points out that this is a fake. Sad news indeed…

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Evil sex angst

It’s pretty much a truch universally acknowledged that Ronald Reagan was “a little odd”. Many also believe that he had little impact on government policy, leaving that to professionals like David Stockman.

Judging by the latest news, the latter is probably just as well. However, I hadn’t realised the old man was capable of quite such feats of humour.

He said he had told Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that “if and when we had [a Star Wars missile defence system]… we’d share such a defence with them”. “I don’t think he believes me,” he added.

I wonder why?

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