And now let us praise the police

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Yes, I know, in the wake of Ian Tomlinson´s death praising the police is not all that fashionable an occupation. However, just as we should and must point to the failures and perversions of what policing should be, so must we point to those instances where the very highest standards are indeed maintained.

John Vidal doesn´t seem to see this the same way that I do but then he writes for The Guardian:

It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny morning in April 2005. At 6.30am the environmental group was just minutes away from its target – a Land Rover factory in the Midlands. The meticulously planned action involved people bursting through the perimeter gate, past drowsy guards and occupying the factory line. Little did they know that almost 50 policemen were already there, drinking cups of tea and waiting for them.

Fortunately for the activists, an advance guard spotted the helmets and the bus carrying the climate change protesters was turned round. It was obvious that someone had tipped off the police. There was simply no other explanation.

From the Peelian Principles about how the police should act and react:

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

The presence of the police at that factory that day did indeed precent crime and disorder. How wonderful. Back to Vidal:

This week it was almost certain that the 114 people arrested outside Nottingham were also shopped by an informer. Nearly a week before the action, police warned all power companies in the Midlands and the north that a major action against a coal-fired power station was likely and told them to increase security.

Peel again:

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

I agree that not all of the nine principles are observed in each and every police action, but as I say, we should celebrate and point to those times when they are. Here we have two incidents where the police were able and willing to prevent crime and disorder, without the use of physical force, with nothing in fact more than simple information about what the potential criminals intended to do and being there to stop them doing it.

Now to work on principles 2 through 8 perhaps....number 6 seems to be being breached regularly enough.

Society of snoopers

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Finally and belatedly the Home Office is to investigate the use of surveillance by local authorities for trivial offences.  The thinking is that there has to be "proportionality," and that approval for surveillance must be attained at "a sufficiently high level."  As we have repeatedly pointed out, if these people are given powers, they will use them.  Even if surveillance is approved for high crimes and misdemeanors, it will be used to check that people are clearing up dog dirt and closing the lids of their garbage bins.

The first step is to deny surveillance powers to any authority except police and security services.  It is all right for private firms to use CCTV to guard against burglary, but it is not OK for non-police officials to use them to ensure compliance with their regulations.  Even this is only a first step, given the major and chronic abuse of police powers revealed in recent cases.

The second step is to pass an act limiting the use of anti-terrorist powers to cases of suspected terrorism.  It is fine to use them to stop people blowing themselves up in shopping malls, but not to stifle legitimate protest or free speech.  It sounds so obvious, in that this is why these powers were originally given, but it needs to be spelled out.  If they have these powers without limited use, they will use them in unlimited ways.

After the first and second steps, we need to examine the case for a consolidated repeal bill that can restore en masse the liberties lost by 12 years of erosion by governments that have shown no understanding, feeling or sympathy with the principles that have helped define our national identity.  The Prime Minister talks of "Britishness," without grasping the most basic essential that it has been and ought to be a free country.

What to expect in the Budget

Dr Eamonn Butler looks in to what may come from the Budget 2009 and what effect it will have for the country and party in power in the long run. 

After a decade of reckless spending, the government’s kitty is bare and its debts are mounting. In November, Alastair Darling said the economy would shrink just 2%, but predicted, Micawber-style, that it would turn up in mid-2009. Well, the economists’ consensus is that it actually shrank 3.7%, and that it’s hardly going to turn up this year at all.

Unemployment’s already 2 million, heading for 3.2 million. That’s a lot more people drawing benefits and not paying taxes. And there’s those expensive bank bailouts to pay for. So the Chancellor is borrowing wildly. Again, the economists’ consensus is that he borrowed £160 billion in 2008-09 and will need another £167 billion this year. That’s a whopping £100 billion more than he anticipated in November. It’s borrowing on a scale not seen since World War II. Then, we were fighting a war. Now, we’re just borrowing to pay off our debts.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the national debt could climb to 73% of GDP – 84% if you add the bank bailouts. That’s scary (scarier still if you include the future costs of nuclear decommissioning, PFI schools and hospitals, and civil servants’ gold-plated pensions).

Getting out of debt like that will take years – even if spending is cut back. But with places like Derbyshire putting their council tax up 8.7% and Whitehall’s generous budgets being set until 2011, there’s scant chance of that.

Still, after June 2010 it will be the Tories’ problem, so expect Darling to announce giveaways and gimmicks (like electric cars) now, and large tax rises that bite after the election. But what we really need is to slash regulation and tax on the people who, unlike politicians, can really create jobs – investors and employers.

Dr Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute and author of The Rotten State of Britain.

Published in the Spectator here

Blog Review 934

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But what if we did leagliase drugs? What calamities might befall us? Erm, it looks like HIV infections would fall, overdoses would fall, crime would fall....can´t allow that to happen now, can we?

Why is it that being a poltician equates to an inability to speak the English language?

Heresy I know, but a cunning plan that might actually make the BBC´s licence fee worth the money.

This is how the lobbying for our money as laundered through government game works.

And this is how the game of that government taking ever more power over our lives game works.

It´s not just Dolly Draper and the emails you know. The lefty side of the blogosphere seems to lack some basic reading comprehension skills too.

And finally, yes, this would work in the US.

Privacy and the state

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David Goodhart's article in the Sunday Times makes me want to throw up. His basic argument is: Let's face it, we don't live in a police state – this isn't Nazi Germany or Stalin's USSR, you know – and giving up a bit of your privacy in return for all the benefits that the state provides you isn't so terrible.

Yeah, right. Well, in the first place, I don't actually want to be part of this 'privacy for state services' exchange. The TV Licensing bunch advertise brazenly that our details are 'all in the database'. Oh, great, so I'm giving them all my details for the privilege of paying £142.50 per year to the government so I can watch the State Broadcaster? They should be paying me. Sure, I hand over my address and my cash to Sky, but I had a choice about that. If I want to watch Sky, or any non- BBC broadcaster, I still have to pay and hand over my info, whether I want Auntie's pompous, skewed, dumbed-down 'news' and 'entertainment' or not.

And there are plenty of other bits of the state services 'bargain' that I'd prefer to opt out of, and keep my privacy. Like the local authority which now only collects my rubbish every two weeks, and if I sort it into some arcane categories. Frankly, I'd prefer to hire a private firm. But of course I'd get thrown in jail if I refused to pay the state for its 'services'. As a liberal, I believe people should have choices, and that sort of coercion sickens me. I have the choice of telling Sky to get stuffed, I'm not going to give them my address and bank details. I can't do that with the BBC or my council refuse department.

Meanwhile, under a new EU ruling (which the UK supported and promoted, of course) internet carriers now have to keep all our emails and internet visits in case the authorities demand them. And, of course, they will. They just have to run a search program on our data log and it's an easy cop. They won't be able to resist. They'll pick you up for dropping an apple core, and – just in case this is a sign of much more malicious intent – take a fishing trip through your electronic records. That's the sort of 'privacy must be sacrificed for utility' arrangement I find terrifying.

Eamonn Butler's latest book, The Rotten State of Britain, is available to buy here.

The “revenue stream” of alcohol

Email sent to the Treasury

I am writing to express my extreme concern that you wish to raise the price of drinks in the Budget, by increasing tax on alcohol.

During these economic times an extra tax on those who are dealing with increased prices, from basic necessities to those nonessential items, is the wrong answer.

Furthermore, given the potential jobs which can be targeted by an alcohol tax hike, it is appalling to think that the government wishes to place nearly 75,000 jobs at risk for a profit from this particular tax. In fact, your own Angela Eagle has stated that the government sees this tax increase as a "revenue stream", however there are more wise approaches to the budget which should be addressed. These approaches can include, but are certainly not limited to: public workers and government taking pay cuts, as many citizens have been forced to do; or correcting the unfair welfare state and requiring individuals work for part of their welfare - saving Britain money whilst preventing the loss of jobs to foreign workers. Following the smoking ban, which has already hurt the British pub institution, increasing taxes on alcohol will further drive the knife into the local pubs and lead to more closing on a daily basis.

I ask you to protect ordinary people like myself, who are already struggling with rising prices in this downturn. Also, I would ask for your support in protecting businesses in Britain, many of which may suffer unnecessarily if drink prices are raised further.

All of us are aware that there are a small minority who misuse alcohol but it is not fair if all of us are punished.

I ask you to put pressure on other Government departments to ensure that existing laws to crack down on problem drinkers are enforced. This is far better than pushing through a blanket measure that will only sting ordinary drinkers and do nothing to tackle alcohol misuse.

I look forward to your reply.

Thank you.

Generated Response

Thank you for your email.

The alcohol duty increases announced at Budget 2008 and in the Pre-Budget Report were not designed to tackle problem drinking but they will play their part in ensuring we can continue to fund the Government’s spending priorities.

Alcohol duty is an important revenue stream for the Government and there are currently no plans to change what was announced in the Budget and Pre-Budget Report 2008, though as with all taxes, alcohol duty rates will be kept under review.

Your email also mentions enforcement of current policies to deal with irresponsible drinkers. Whilst the vast majority of people consume alcohol responsibly there are undoubtedly some individuals who cause problems. The Government takes the problems associated with alcohol misuse seriously and has an important role to play: in making sure people are able to make informed choices, and encouraging drinkers to drink responsibly; in making sure businesses sell alcohol responsibly; and in making clear that individual choice is never an excuse for causing harm and distress to others, and that the police, local authorities, and others have the powers to stop this and are encouraged to use them.

regards

Enquiry Unit

H M Treasury

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This week, I was sent an email from Drinker’s Alliance, reminding me of the upcoming Budget which Mr. Darling will release on 22 April. In the past, Drinker’s Alliance encouraged people to write to their MPs in favour of scrapping an increased alcohol tax, sign petitions, spread the word, and more. This time, however, they included direct links to both a pre-drafted email to the office of Alistair Darling, (which you can modify if you wish) as well as the phone number to the office (with a form to report back the office’s retort).

As I am opposed to this rise in taxes, I sent an email (highly modified from the form), and the next day received a generated response from the ‘enquiry unit’. I was told the alcohol duty increases “were not designed to tackle problem drinking" and instead were “an important revenue stream" for the government. Finally they finished off their response with “the police, local authorities, and others have the powers to stop [those abusing the right to drink] and are encouraged to use them." What exactly they mean by ‘powers’ for ‘others’ I am quite unsure of, and am inclined to ask for further clarification. The justification for their increase the alcohol duty is tenuous, rude, and most of all – unfair. The government should be looking for ways to decrease wasteful spending and stop punishing the citizens of Britain for the government’s mistakes. [Click 'Read More' to view the email exchange]

Brown’s Britishness

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In case your ears have glazed over since he came to power, Gordon Brown has been talking about Britishness quite a lot.

On Britishness, Brown has said: "being British is, in a sense, about subscribing to these values that have endured." His government compels; we do not subscribe. The latest move to be framed in the verbal diatrbe of British values is his adoption of a policy the ‘nudging’ Conservatives were mulling over in 2007. It amounts to signing our youth up to part-time slavery.

The rulers of countries have had an impact on national values. Almost always this has been to the severe detriment of the people. On the rare occasions when the state has had a positive contribution in this area, it has been through breaking down the ties that bind the people’s liberty to the state.

Unlike Blair, Brown has built his political philosophy on the works of thinkers on the left. As such, he is unable to think outside of a world in which the ruler distributes private property for the ‘public good’. With the triangulation that came with the creation of New Labour, Brown is left with little of substance on which to stand. As such, his digression into the world of British values is unsurprising if faintly ridiculous. Blair and Obama can somehow be forgiven by the public at large for speaking with vigour on meaningless platitudes, from Brown it just doesn't work.

Brown’s premiership will be noted for its lack: its lack of leadership, direction and policies. Despite his exhaustive efforts, he will never pin down the values of Britishness; this is because such talk is was best discussed over a couple of pints, a pack of cigarettes and a couple of packets of crisps in your local pub. The Heresiarch over at Heresy Corner hits the nail squarely on the head:

All that the state should require of its citizens is that they pay their taxes and obey the law. Beyond that we are in the realms of propaganda and indoctrination, neither of which strikes me as being particularly "British".

Farewell for now: Back to the US of A

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Today will be my final day as an intern for the Adam Smith Institute. Working here has been an enlightening experience in allowing me to expand my understanding of economics and British policy through independent research, meetings, and events. Since I started in mid-January, through the excellent events and meetings I met Lionel Barber, Guido Fawkes, and many members of parliament. But in the meantime I kept myself busy researching everything from tax policy to bailout plans. I have written a slew of blogs and a report that will be out later in the year.

But besides the allotment of knowledge on policy I have procured, I also learned a few other useful tidbits regarding British culture. For instance, that drinking cold tea is “borderline criminal" and that travelling south of the Thames is a risky business.

Overall, interning at the Adam Smith Institute has been a great experience and I would recommend it to any student of politics or economics. I hope to contribute blogs from the United States every once in a while, so you certainly haven’t heard the last of me.