Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rowan Williams and Free Speech

Gracchi criticises the right, and me in particular, for calling for Rowan Williams to resign. He makes two key arguments: First, that the Archbishop has raised, and regularly raises, interesting issues and we should appreciate that. Second, that we are failing to stand up for free speech and what he has said does not relate to his job. I'll deal with these in turn.

Even though he's wrong in this case he raises interesting issues

1. I'm not sure he does. Laws against offending the religious were already being proposed by Government before he supported them. Islamists have been demanding a greater role for Sharia within Muslim communities for some time. I don't honestly think that either of those issues were raised or really advanced theoretically by Williams.

2. His role makes him poorly placed to raise issues. If Gracchi himself, for example, had said what Williams said the debate could have been far more relaxed and open. When someone at the head of an established Church says something their words have real power. That means that what follows can't be an entirely dispassionate debate - too much is at stake. Douglas Murray highlighted one of the consequences of the Archbishop speaking out on this issue:

"I've just been speaking with a Muslim friend who has always opposed sharia law. 'Where does it leave me', he asks, 'when the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling for sharia?'"

Do you think anyone would be asking the same questions if you or I had called for Sharia? Of course not. This whole mess has demonstrated why the Archbishop of Canterbury's place is not to raise issues. His place in our national discourse is not as pioneer or radical - that's for those in more junior roles.

He deserves his free speech - this wasn't relevant to his job

1. This is absolutely relevant to his job. Do you think there would have been anything like the same furore if some university professor had come out with this? He is the head of the UK's established church and a senior member of the English establishment. That means that if he says something like this and there isn't an absolute stink that has a powerful normalising effect on what is and should be a very radical proposition.

2. He is letting down his Church. The Anglican Church has seen, according to Fraser Nelson, attendances fall by 20 per cent in the last eight years. If you or I say something that is radically out of tune with the majority of Anglicans there is little consequence. He should either quit as Archbishop and say what he wants or keep his mouth shut to avoid continuing to convince ordinary Anglicans that their Church's leadership believes in nothing they do, or nothing at all.

3. As a senior member of the establishment his signalling that they will appease radical demands for Sharia has a directly harmful effect on community cohesion. Extremists will be emboldened by this sign of weakness. This is probably the greatest harm that Williams' statements have had. He has a responsibility to show some backbone and conspicuously failed.

4. Positions of responsibility to do limit our free speech. A random blogger should be quite free to say "Putin's a twat" loudly a proudly. If Gordon Brown did that there would be consequences and he would be failing to do his job. Even more minor jobs like mine do place some limits on what I can freely say without consequences. Speech, for an Archbishop of Canterbury, is not and should not be free. Anyone with that kind of seniority should consider what they say carefully and use their words wisely as their position gives those words power.


Gracchi is judging Williams by criteria that would be appropriate for a university professor. That might be the job Williams is best suited for, he is completely failing to handle the job of Archbishop of Canterbury and should resign. I'm not the only one who sees it in exactly this way:

Col Edward Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, was among those calling for Dr Williams to step down: "I don't think he is the man for the job."

He said: "One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas."

The Beth Din Backpedal

The Telegraph reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is today defending his remarks and insisting that he has been misunderstood. Apparently all he wanted was to explore "ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience". I'm calling this the Beth Din Backpedal - the insistence, expressed more clearly elsewhere - that all he was really calling for is the extension of the rights accorded to the Orthodox Jewish Beth Din courts to Muslims.

Now, there are implications to the creation of Islamic equivalents of the Beth Din courts. There are legitimate concerns that the rights of women will not be properly defended that led to demonstrations in Ontario when a similar change was proposed there. People can be pressured into accepting arbitration at a sharia court that will not treat them properly. All of the problems I discussed in my initial treatment of this subject still apply. However, I don't think that the Archbishop's proposals were that moderate.

Let's examine the claim that he was calling for an Islamic arbitration service analagous to the Beth Din courts using a series of quotes from his lecture (PDF):

"They relate both to the question of whether there should be a higher level of attention to religious identity and communal rights in the practice of the law, and to the larger issue I mentioned of something like a delegation of certain legal functions to the religious courts of a community; and this latter question, it should be remembered, is relevant not only to Islamic law but also to areas of Orthodox Jewish practice."

Legal functions are not delegated to the Beth Din courts. They are used as an arbitration service just like many similar secular services. Williams is talking about something more.

"There needs to be access to recognised authority acting for a religious group: there is already, of course, an Islamic Shari’a Council, much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK; and if we were to see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity, we should need a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resource and a high degree of community recognition, so that ‘vexatious’ claims could be summarily dealt with."

So, the Islamic Shari'a Council are already much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK - this is very similar to the function of the Beth Din. Yet, Williams expects, and it is implied wants, to "see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity". That implies going beyond the arbitration role of the Beth Din courts.

"The second issue, a very serious one, is that recognition of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women."


"Recognising a supplementary jurisdiction cannot mean recognising a liberty to exert a sort of local monopoly in some areas."

Who would describe an arbitration service as a supplementary jurisdiction? Clearly we're talking about something new - providing for a Sharia jurisdiction within the UK. Whether it is termed supplementary or parallel.

"...but I want to move on to the third objection, which grows precisely out of the complexities of clarifying the relations between jurisdictions. Is it not both theoretically and practically mistaken to qualify our commitment to legal monopoly? So much of our thinking in the modern world, dominated by European assumptions about universal rights, rests, surely, on the basis that the law is the law; that everyone stands before the public tribunal on exactly equal terms, so that recognition of corporate identities or, more seriously, of supplementary jurisdictions is simply incoherent if we want to preserve the great political and social advances of Western legality."

Williams is setting up this defence of equality before the law in order to go on and challenge it. Why would he challenge the concept of equality before the law if he only wanted a greater freedom for arbitration services that do not undermine that concept?

It is, of course, better that the Williams should backpedal than that he should stick to his guns. An Islamic Beth Din court would be less of a sacrifice than really incorporating Sharia into English law.

However, to call those of us who opposed his call for the establishment of Sharia Islamophobic and ignorant for responding to his initial position, rather than the result of his backpedal, is disgusting. Equally, in such a position of responsibility Williams cannot throw these ideas around without consequence. He has given new confidence to radical, separatist Islamists pushing for Sharia as a parallel (supplementary?) jurisdiction within the UK and done real harm to the defence of our most treasured values. The extent to which that harm can be undone is very limited, particularly while he refuses to accept he has done anything wrong. He should resign.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Another post on the Archbishop of Canterbury

Hello visitors from The Corner. There are a series of posts below this one setting out my views on the Archbishop's speech and linking to the work of others who set out the legal context. Read those for background on the issue and why anger at his statements isn't just a shallow response to the headlines.

There have been a few good articles and interesting developments on this issue in the last few hours. First, the Times reports calls from senior members of the Church for his resignation:

"A senior Church of England clergyman called today for the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, over his remarks supporting Sharia in England.

The call, from a long-standing member of the Church's governing body, the General Synod, demonstrated the strength of the backlash Dr Williams that faces from within his own Church — as well as from political and other faith leaders."

It's great news that someone is standing up to this lunacy at the top of the established Church. There is another gem in the article:

"Virtually the only organisation to have come out on Dr Williams's side of the debate was the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which said that the media response to the Archbishop's speech could "only be described as a fanatical and emotional outpouring of exaggeration, misrepresentative statements, untruths and sometimes vitriolic hatred"."

Hizb ut Tahrir have come very close to being banned as dangerous extremists. If they are "virtually the only organisation" to have come out on his side he really has fallen into sorry company.

Douglas Murray, of the Centre for Social Cohesion, echoes calls for Williams' resignation and points out one, terrible, consequence of the Archbishop's comments:

"I've just been speaking with a Muslim friend who has always opposed sharia law. 'Where does it leave me', he asks, 'when the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling for sharia?'"

The many moderates within British Islam are being abandoned once again by an establishment enthusiastically giving succour to radicals.

Finally, the Telegraph's "Holy Smoke" blog points out the international implications:

"For years, African Anglicans have been threatening to blow the "Communion" to smithereens unless Rowan Williams follows their line on homosexuality. He has duly fallen in with their wishes, despite his long (and, in retrospect, phoney) record as a defender of gay rights. But now that Williams has said nice things about Sharia, his credibility in Africa will be destroyed.

Anglicans in parts of Nigeria live under what is, in effect, totalitarian Sharia. It goes without saying Williams does not defend the stoning of adulterous women and other charming Islamic practices. But, in his interview with the BBC, his condemnation of "bad" Sharia is deeply buried in acres of Vichyite waffle about the need to see Sharia "case by case within an overall framework of the principles laid down in the Koran and the Hadith"."

Williams should resign.

Daily Mail polling

I think there is a slight philosophical problem with this poll:

It assumes that you can separate the threat to Britain's way of life posed by Abu Hamza and the Archbishop of Canterbury, that they are independent variables. I'd think an accurate picture would recognise that Abu Hamza is only a serious threat because the establishment respond to intimidation with appeasement and the Archbishop is only a threat because of extremists he won't stand up to. As such, they cannot be properly understood separately so their influence can't be meaningfully compared.

This poll avoids that problem, although it might raise as many questions as it answers:

More on the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for Sharia

Two excellent articles, from Michael Roffen (DOC) and James Behrens (RTF), on the legal implications of the Archbishop of Canterbury's proposals, via Ruth Gledhill. They set out the legal detail that establishes quite why this goes beyond the precedent set in other areas and strikes at our fundamental values and constitutional settlement.

I think some people are giving the Archbishop of Canterbury an easy ride because they assume that if you were able to see through the fog of dense language he would be saying something sensible. The articles above, and hopefully my own analysis, show that is not the case. This isn't just PR naivete but a genuine and horrific failure of judgement. Beyond that, we need to stop seeing dense language as a signal for intellect and deep thinking. The clarity of expression in Roffen and Behrens' articles demonstrates far greater insight and subtlety of thought than the convoluted imprecision of Williams' speech (PDF).

For a, much needed, lighter note the Daily Mash is excellent.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's call for Sharia

My first reaction, when I saw the BBC reporting that "[the] Archbishop of Canterbury says the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable"" and "Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion" was that Williams could fuck off. Another pillar of the establishment trying to disestablish British culture and laws and paint those who disagree as vain reactionaries fighting the inevitable.

However, I do like to look beyond the headlines, this is supposedly an analytical blog and I wouldn't want to upset Matt Wardman so I've taken the time to listen to and read Williams' interview with the World at One, read the speech (PDF) he made at Temple and have a good think about it all. I'll summarise my thoughts here. This is going to be a long post and I'll touch on a number of problems but what is interesting is that I've actually become more, not less, angry. The fact is that Williams isn't just another tranzi trying to undermine the British nation. He is also an idiot who cynically substitutes an excess of terminology and a quiet voice for a coherent and consistent argument.

1. Vagueness

This is about as clear as Rowan Williams gets about what his proposal would actually entail:

"I’m simply saying that there are ways of looking at marital dispute for example within discussions that go on among some contemporary scholars which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate."

Now, in his speech he spends a lot of time talking about how the legal system should take more account of cultural and religious traditions. He also mentions that sharia is already practiced in the UK on a non-legal basis, with the Islamic Shari'a Council much in demand. Therefore, he clearly means for Sharia law to be given some kind of legal force. The extent of that force and at what stages people can opt out after they've opted in is left undetermined.

We are left to fill in the blanks, try to work out exactly what he wants to do and wonder what other issues Sharia is to be allowed to decide as well as his "example" of marital disputes. If his thinking is really so poorly developed that he has no answers to any of these questions then he shouldn't be trailing a speech with an interview on Radio 4. It looks like all he's trying to do is decontaminate the idea of Sharia in Britain which will make it far easier for all manner of illiberal bigots to push their own separatist schemes.

2. Missing the point on 'choice'

I can't think of any public intellectual I've encountered who has less respect for methodological individualism than Williams. He rarely gives more than momentary thought to individual people at all and leaps straight to communities. Even when he is supposedly thinking about how people will interact with this system he never really considers the pressures they have to live with.

This intellectual approach leads to some massive failures of analysis. One of Williams' fundamental objectives, coming out of the BBC interview, is to avoid people having to choose between their faith and their state:

"He says Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty"."

At the moment we don't give them that choice. Their first duty must be to the law or they will be put in prison. However, in another part of his interview we learn that giving them that choice is exactly what he means to do:

"It’s very important that you mention there the word ‘choice’; I think it would be quite wrong to say that we could ever licence so to speak a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general, so that a woman in such circumstances would have to know that she was not signing away for good and all;"

Complete contradiction. Williams has people choosing whether to call upon their Sharia or British rights.

Because he doesn't think in terms of individuals Williams shows a brutal lack of concern for what that choice would mean for them. Too many people will face a choice between the legal code sanctioned by their religion, family and community or British law. Williams' scheme will validate the idea that Sharia is the legitimate law for Muslims in Britain - that British law is and should be foreign if you subscribe to Islam. This will enable those who seek to use intimidation and social sanction to enforce Sharia on their own initiative. It will mean that more people have to choose between exercising their legitimate rights and being shunned by family, friends and community.

3. Never asking 'what happens next?'

Williams acknowledges that a crucial difference between even the most liberal Sharia law and Western post-Enlightenment law is the appeal to revealed knowledge:

"On the one hand, sharia depends for its legitimacy not on any human decision, not on votes or preferences, but on the conviction that it represents the mind of God; on the other, it is to some extent unfinished business so far as codified and precise provisions are concerned."

He wants to give the authority for interpreting Sharia and reconciling it with modern life to some kind of authority. Probably modelled around the Islamic Shari'a Council that he mentions. He then repeatedly assumes that Sharia will be okay because there is a possibled liberal interpretation. At no point does he discuss why we should expect that the liberal interpretation of Sharia will be the one that such a council puts in place and what we do if they choose a more authoritarian interpretation.

After all, it isn't just most Westerners that see the true face of Sharia as "what we read about Saudi Arabia or wherever". If those liberal voices Williams cites lose out in the debate among the Muslim community and we've accepted that Sharia is a legitimate source of laws what are we going to do about it? What legitimacy do we, not even Muslims, have to insist that any reading of Sharia is the 'wrong' one?

If an authoritarian reading of Sharia remains the dominant interpretation within Islam at large then recognising Sharia would almost certainly mean accepting that Sharia in Britain will steadily move towards that authoritarian norm. Williams may have a doctorate but his grasp of unintended consequences is rather lacking.

4. Smearing those who believe in equality before the law as extremists

This comes up time and time again during his speech. What he does is cite examples of where radical equality has caused problems (seventies China for example) and then draw absurd parallels between that and the present day. The idea that just because we want to have a single legal code we will not tolerate religion playing a part in public life is obviously a complete non sequitur.

His constant refrain of "and orthodox Jews" grates after a while. I don't know an awful lot about the orthodox Jewish courts but I don't think the analogy is very strong. My understanding is that the Jewish courts' opinions aren't recognised by the mainstream legal system but also the two communities are so different in size and consequence that sacrifices of principle in one case might be incomparably more troubling.

5. Conclusions

Williams' idea is a hideous one and expressed in terms that are insulting to those who believe in the highest Western principles. He is abusing his position in the British establishment to normalise an agenda deeply hostile to our most important values. He is not fit to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dealing with the SNP

Great point from James Cleverly, via DK, about the Lib Dem response to the SNP budget deal:

"The thing which strikes me is the Lib Dem reaction to these negotiations. They are calling it "back room dealings" and seem genuinely upset that a minority party (us) are negotiating with the government (SNP).

Well that is how PR government works! If you don't like it, stop calling for it."

Norfolk Blogger's argument that this deal constitutes a betrayal of unionism is silly. The budget freezes council and business tax and increases police numbers. Unless those police officers are going to form the core of a new Scottish army this budget isn't an attack on the union.

Had the budget failed and new elections been called that wouldn't have been a serious setback for the SNP's broader aims - they'd have gained in popularity if popular measures had been blocked and done well at new elections. Had all the unionist parties been united in opposing those popular measures that might actually have done some slight damage to the unionist cause going forward.

Rowan Williams wants Sharia Law in the UK

More on this later.

Public sector staff shortages

The Guardian reports on threats of a teacher shortage:

"Schools will face a shortage of maths and English teachers next year, new figures reveal. They show a dramatic drop in the number of teacher trainee applicants.

The number of applicants to start postgraduate teacher training for primary and secondary schools this September has fallen by 9% compared with this time last year, the figures show.

The most dramatic falls are in physics (30%), maths and English (15%), information and communications technology (16%) and geography (14%)."

There have recently been similar stories of staff shortages in the armed forces and the health service - with GPs threatening to leave the country. Is there a common reason why the public sector is finding it so difficult to recruit necessary staff?

A lack of professional autonomy is widely understood to be a major source of workplace stress, from BusinessLink:

"Where possible give employees more autonomy, allowing them to plan their work schedule and decide how to tackle problems."

Working within the bureaucratic public services people have far less autonomy. Accountability to customers or specific objectives is replaced with hierarchical control. “Good people, good systems: Former public servants talk about delivering public services in the private sector” from the Serco Institute contains plenty of anecdotal evidence on the difference:

"‘Implementing change is much quicker. In the private sector, you have the capacity to change quickly and to react almost instantaneously. But it is left to individual [contract units] to react to the changing pace of the [customer] – head office is behind on these development most of the time.’

‘In the public sector if you wanted to change something, you would have to put forward a business case, which would then go to [the public sector organisation] board level and then be negotiated with the union. It would take a long time.’

‘I am free to manage with greater autonomy, most certainly. But that freedom comes with a price. If you get it wrong – I’ve always accepted that if I’ve made a mess of my job I will be called to account at some stage. It doesn’t have to be a nasty falling out; it’s just that if I run this contract and it doesn’t go well – either because we lose a lot of money, or the client is permanently unhappy with us, or we have a terrible safety record – it’s quite right that I should be called to account.’"

If public services can be freed from political management then not only can those services improve but staff can be better off - enjoying greater autonomy to get on with their jobs. We will all benefit if that makes recruiting quality staff to the public services easier.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

John McCain

Many voices in the UK media are suggesting that McCain didn't do enough to sew up the Republican nomination. That he has merely "moved closer" to securing the Republican nomination. They're wrong:

"It's virtually impossible for Romney or Huckabee to be the nominee just based on the arithmetic."

-- McCain adviser Charlie Black, quoted by NBC News, noting that McCain has 775 delegates, Romney had 284 and Huckabee has 205.

Added Black: "It takes 1,191 to clinch the nomination. There are 963 left to be chosen, so Romney or Huckabee would have to have all of them -- all of them -- to get to 1,191. Now you can't do that because a majority of those 963 are chosen in proportional primaries, which means you'd have to get 100% if the vote to get them all."

It's over. McCain is the Republican nominee. The media and other candidates just aren't quite used to the idea yet. He's done incredibly well despite huge opposition to his candidacy in the conservative establishment and a near collapse of his campaign - money nearly gone and staff leaving - just a few short months ago.

I don't agree with McCain in many areas of policy but it would be great to have an experienced hand on the foreign policy rudder. Beyond that, I think McCain's character and evident substance might really help to repair America's image. You only have to read the story of his captivity once to come away with a lasting respect, if you don't know the details go read up on Wikipedia.

This advert actually misses many of the most salient facts but gets the spirit just right:

Obama's inexperience, foreign policy gaffes and very left-wing voting record worry me. I really do look at him and see another Jimmy Carter in the making. Clinton worries me less. I reckon she'd do a pretty reasonable job but little about her candidacy has been at all inspiring. McCain is the man. As things stand I think he's the best candidate for President of the United States.

Poverty doesn't cause civil wars, a weak defence of property rights does

Facinating paper (PDF) out from the World Bank today. Here's the abstract:

"Abstract The dominant hypothesis in the literature that studies conflict is that poverty is the main cause of civil wars. We instead analyze the effect of institutions on civil war, controlling for income per capita. In our set up, institutions are endogenous and colonial origins affect civil wars through their legacy on institutions. Our results indicate that institutions, proxied by the protection of property rights, rule of law and the efficiency of the legal system, are a fundamental cause of civil war. In particular, an improvement in institutions from the median value in the sample to the 75th percentile is associated with a 38 percentage points’ reduction in the incidence of civil wars. Moreover, once institutions are included as explaining civil wars, income does not have any effect on civil war, either directly or indirectly."

The implications of this are huge and it looks like the researchers have been pretty careful about putting the right controls in place. The case that a robust defence of property rights, and other liberal economic institutions, should be a priority for developing countries has always been strong thanks to the clear connection to economic growth. However, now we have good reason to think that such institutions aren't just the best route to greater prosperity but also independently prevent the tragedy of civil war.

If we want to help foreign countries encouraging the development of institutions and the defence of property rights is the way to go. Development aid and other international interventions won't encourage peace and stability if they don't come with pressure to put the right institutions in place. This report provides a powerful case for conditionality.

Given the greater effectiveness, in encouraging stability, of institutions inherited from the British Common Law tradition, a factor mentioned explicitly in the full text linked above, this report's findings even strengthen Niall Ferguson's case for the British Empire in Empire.

Nemeses and archenemies

This, from Chuck Klosterman, is brilliant. Its tone is almost Mencken-like. I'm currently trying to work out how it applies to my own life, these paragraphs are the stars but the whole thing is amusing:

"It's not what you know," they say. "It's who you know." We have all heard this sentiment, and we all reflexively agree with it. This is because "they" are hard to debate, especially since "they" never seem to be in the room whenever anyone makes reference to them. Yet they have a secret shame, and it's a shame they can't deny: They are losers. They are failures. They don't realize that life is—almost without exception—an absolute meritocracy, and everyone who succeeds completely deserves it.* The only people who disagree with this are people who will never succeed at anything. You see, "they" want you to believe the passageway to power is all about cultivating allies, so they spend all their time trying to make friends and influence people. And this is why they fail. It rarely matters who is on your side; what matters is who is against you. Unlike Gloria Loring, you don't need a friend and you don't need a lover. What you need is a) one quality nemesis, and b) one archenemy. These are the two most important characters in the life of any successful human. We measure ourselves against our nemeses, and we long to destroy our archenemies. Nemeses and archenemies are the catalysts for everything.

Now, I know that you're probably asking yourself, How do I know the difference between my nemesis and my archenemy? Here is the short answer: You kind of like your nemesis, despite the fact that you despise him. If your nemesis invited you out for cocktails, you would accept the offer. If he died, you would attend his funeral and—privately—you might shed a tear over his passing. But you would never have drinks with your archenemy, unless you were attempting to spike his gin with hemlock. If you were to perish, your archenemy would dance on your grave, and then he'd burn down your house and molest your children. You hate your archenemy so much that you try to keep your hatred secret, because you don't want your archenemy to have the satisfaction of being hated.

Police paperwork cuts - believe it when you see them

Policecar The Telegraph reports on a leaked draft of a report that will call for significant cuts in police paperwork:

"An official review by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of constabulary, says police have become ''slaves'' to rules and regulations and are ''strait-jacketed by process". His report was delivered to the Home Office on Tuesday night and a leaked draft shows ministers are preparing to publish plans for reducing the paperwork that has overwhelmed the police in recent years.

They will include abolishing the ''stop and account'' form that takes 10 minutes to fill in. Instead officers should hand a business card or something similar to the person they have stopped ''as a record of the encounter''.

Personal details of anybody they stop and search could be logged on hand-held computers and sent directly to the police data bank.

Sir Ronnie says his ideas could save up to six million hours of police work a year."

Sounds like pretty good news, doesn't it?

We'll believe it when we see it. So long as the police are accountable to politicians in Whitehall rather than the people in their local communities there will be a powerful incentive for them to engage in bureaucratic box-ticking. Creating a statistical illusion of activity to keep politicians happy rather than deterring and combatting crime. We might well find that abolishing the stop and account form just gives police officers more time to spend pursuing nonsense cases to keep their numbers up - see PC David Copperfield's book Wasting Police Time for more details of how that fudge works.

One warning sign that the report might not be quite as revolutionary as it sounds is the claim that it will "free 3,000 officers for front-line patrol duties". That would certainly be good news but there are 140,500 officers across the country. There is also evidence that time is being wasted on a massive scale at the moment, last year the Telegraph reported that only around 13 per cent of officer time was spent patrolling the streets while 20 per cent was spent on paperwork:

"In 2006/2007, the average police officer in England and Wales - including beat Pcs, traffic officers and detectives - was out on the streets for 13.6 per cent of their time, while paperwork accounted for 19.7 per cent, with 11.4 per cent of that taken up with "incident-related" forms.

The balance has deteriorated since 2004/2005, when patrol time was 15.3 per cent and paperwork was 18.4 per cent, including 9.9 per cent spent on incident-related bureaucracy."

If you cut the amount of time spent on paperwork in half - 10 per cent of their day is still a lot of time for form-filling - you could save 10 per cent of total police time. That would be the equivalent of freeing 14,050 full-time officers for front-line patrol duties. Hopefully when we see the final version of Flanagan's report it will be that ambitious.

Photo by Flickr User hugovk used under a Creative Commons License.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

Another country quits Durban II

Now the United States has followed the Canadian example and pulled out of the illiberal, anti-semitic and vitriolically anti-Western Durban II "anti-racism" conference. The UK should do the same.

Will big business leaders defend economic freedom?

Chris Dillow reckons they often won't and uses Mark Moody-Stuart's desire to ban high emission cars as an example. I think Chris is right. Bosses don't present the same danger to economic liberty that Government does - Moody-Stuart cannot actually do the banning. However despite being in a fine position to understand the benefits of a liberal economic order - their capital will chase less regulated, low tax economies - they're clearly very unreliable allies for economic liberals. Why?

I can see two key reasons.

1) They're facing a prisoner's dilemma. Firms face a host of different groups trying to lobby them to accept various curbs on economic freedom - greens, animal rights activists, safety bores and innumerable others. Few of them have much political clout but it doesn't matter. Each company faces a simple choice:

The firm can concede the argument to those pressuring for economic illiberalisms: that brings political kudos for being the good guys if your competitors don't follow suit, if they do then at least you won't be singled out for abuse. Or, our firm can choose to resist calls for coercion: if all the others do the same then everything's fine - they'll fight the good fight - but if other companies don't follow suit our firm risks ExxonMobil's fate - being singled out, boycotted and hounded at every turn. The rational choice is obvious isn't it? Give in.

Everyone will make the same decision if they're behaving rationally and the bosses won't stand up for free market capitalism.

2) Incumbents can be defended from new entrants by regulation. Most bosses, unsurprisingly, work for companies that already exist. Regulation can increase the cost of starting a new business or make it hard for some companies, with smaller margins or capital constraints, to stay in business. If a big business can get rid of some or all of its competition by encouraging new regulations then it could easily be better off even if the regulations increase its own costs somewhat.

An international coffee cartel was maintained for some time thanks to America - the coffee growers' biggest customer - agreeing to act to enforce the agreement by freezing those who welched on the deal out of the market. Big coffee roasting companies in the States used their political influence to encourage the US Government to take up this role. The new cartel would cause their smaller rivals far more trouble than it would them, might put many out of business, and reduce competition.

Bosses are human. If they have every incentive to kowtow to the anti-capitalist tendency then many will do so. We shouldn't rely on them standing up for the free market.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Should taxpayers care about other people's obesity?

In a debate over anti-obesity policy at CentreRight.Com Peter Franklin argued that the problem of obesity cannot be ignored because of "the long-term consequences that will be visited upon the taxpayer for decades to come". Peter Cuthbertson responded that, although he also thought tackling obesity would be great, he didn't think Government intervention stood much chance of success. He also noted that obesity might not cost the taxpayer at all according to new research quoted in the Telegraph.

The new research suggested that the obese actually save health services money as they die earlier and from less lingering diseases than Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - which create far more expense.

In response, Peter Franklin argues that "these sort of studies are as selective as they are cynical", "did not take into account the social and economic costs of ill-health in younger people" and even "the Dutch academics who authored the study [in] question admitted that "their research did not look at the total costs of obesity and smoking, just the narrowly-prescribed health costs.""

He's utterly missed the point. If the Dutch academics are right that health costs are not increased by obesity then his original contention that there are consequences that will be visited upon the taxpayer is massively undermined. The social and economic costs that the Dutch academics did not cover are mostly not costs to the taxpayer." Absences from work due to illness and employment difficulties" are important but apart from a pretty marginal effect on economic growth their cost to taxpayers will be minor.

While I'm sure obesity is a very bad thing, thanks to those other costs, if taxpayers aren't going to foot the bill an appeal to their interests should not be used to support government lifestyle interventions.

Jeremy Leggett attempts to bend the logic of peak oil to secure more subsidies for renewables

OilderrickThe Guardian are still allowing Jeremy Leggett space to lobby on behalf of his industry - those renewable companies making big profits on the back of the Renewables Obligation that pushes up energy prices. His new article is about peak oil.

First, he accuses oil firms of profiteering because Shell and ExxonMobil are making big profits. That's a bit rich coming from a renewables executive (see link above) and only part of the picture. Not all big oil companies are enjoying soaring profits. Just today British Petroleum announced dissapointing figures. That means all the rest of Leggett's rhetoric about oil firms pocketing the cash rather than investing in new exploration is a little empirically weak.

From then on he starts arguing that peak oil is going to ruin us and lambasting complacent economists:

"Economists tend not to see the problem. As the oil price goes up, they assume more cash will be available for exploration, the oil majors will duly explore, and they will find more oil."

It is reasonable to assume that oil exploration spending will increase with a higher oil price - and that does appear to have happened. In just one year, from 2004 to 2005, oil exploration budgets increased by 31 per cent. Leggett argues this kind of statistic is misleading:

"Moreover, the International Energy Agency has described recent apparent increases in exploration spend as "illusory" because of inflation in costs in the far-flung places where the industry is now forced to look for new oil."

So they are spending more money looking for oil. It's just that those colossal amounts of money are being spent to find oil in increasingly remote and challenging places to drill, where oil production hasn't been nationalised - most of the world's productive oil fields are off limits.

Of course, oil won't magically appear from the ground when the majors increase investment. While there is still a lot of oil there - rising prices are still dependent upon OPEC holding down supply - it will be increasingly difficult to meet rising demand. While that contradicts the straw man assumption set up by Leggett - that economists think oil production will always rise to meet demand - it doesn't really create the need for panic he seeks to establish. The economy is filled with rational actors who don't want to pay higher energy bills who have plenty of other ways to respond to rising fuel prices.

If incentives to discover more oil - high oil prices - don't create an increased supply then resulting high energy prices will create other incentives. Incentives to use energy more efficiently; to seek out new economical sources of power; to shift towards other existing sources of power such as nuclear. All this will be done without subsidy. That means there isn't a need for new taxes and Government attempting to pick winners. Shortages in a particular resources encourage innovation, economy and substitution. That is why economists do not expect high oil prices to create a long term crisis, although there may well be costs in the short term.

Those short term costs will be larger if the rise in energy prices is faster and smaller if it is slower. It is more costly to adapt to rising prices more quickly. What that implies is that the correct policy response to peak oil would actually be to do everything we can to slow rises in energy prices - and give the economy longer to adapt - that would imply dumping measures like the Renewables Obligation. That way we could replace subsidies now with a more gradual rise in energy prices. That would allow time for market incentives to encourage investment in alternative sources of energy that aren't subsidy junkies like wind farms.

Not quite the policy conclusion Leggett had in mind?

Photo by Flickr User neilharmer used under a Creative Commons License.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Chaos in China

The pictures coming out of Guangzhou and the rest of snow-bound China are incredible. They're a reminder of how - for all its newfound strength - modern China is still very fragile.

Infrastructure is stretched to breaking point. Families have become thoroughly disjointed as opportunity only knocks hundreds of miles away from remote rural villages abandoned to children and the elderly. For a country that appears to have such a bright future I found, when I was in Beijing, a lot of anxiety among young people worried about their prospects.

It should come as no surprise to see China's fragile side. It is attempting to industrialise at an incredible pace and with a lot of very shaky institutions. Internal economic migration weakens the social structures that can keep communities together in face of hardship. With so many people seeking to get ahead there will be a lot of frustrated ambition.

I don't think its a bad thing that we should be occassionally reminded that, while China is a powerhouse, the Chinese are having to work very hard just to keep the trains moving, maintain social stability and ensure a basic level of political and cultural harmony. That knowledge is a tonic to an melodramatic fear of China the dominant, the superpower. When you realise China's vulnerability you realise that the Chinese actually have every reason to want to cooperate with, rather than confront, us.

The human cost of wind power vanity projects

Windturbine_2Today the Financial Times reports on the poor performance of the Renewables Obligation in encouraging wind farms: "The amount of new wind capacity added in 2007 was less than three-quarters of that built the year before." This is despite subsidies that make wind farms massively profitable:

"Under the current regime, and thanks in part to high power prices, wind turbines can pay for themselves within about five years, out of a working life of at least 20 years.

In its energy white paper last year the government described the RO as the “primary mechanism” for meeting its goals of reducing fossil fuel dependency. However, Andrew Wright, managing director of markets at Ofgem, the electricity regulator, told the Financial Times: “The RO is a very expensive way of providing support for renewables.”

Peter Atherton, head utilities analyst at Citi Investment Research, said: “It’s a bonanza. Anyone who can get their nose in the trough is trying to."

The problem is that wind farms are getting stuck in the planning system. Now, it is important at this stage to note that they aren't just facing the same "not in my back yard" opposition that many industrial developments do.

Part of the problem with windpower is that each turbine has a very low capacity and, as such, you need massive numbers of them - covering a huge amount of land - to get the kind of power you would get from a small number of conventional or nuclear power plants.

As such, wind farms are poor value in two ways: They are poor value for money as you need to provide a lot of subsidy to produce a relatively small amount of capacity. However, they are also poor value for environmental disruption as you need to ruin a lot of landscapes in order to produce a relatively small amount of capacity. The Government have offered a massive subsidy that has meant it is unnecessary for wind power to offer good value for money. However, they have not found a way of absolving wind farms of the need to provide good value for their geographical footprint - because of that large footprint the planning system is proving particularly difficult to traverse for wind power.

It would be bad enough if the Renewables Obligation, the largest source of subsidy to wind power, were merely expensive - a waste of every taxpayers' money. However, as it functions by obligating energy companies to obtain a certain share of the energy they provide from renewable sources - thereby increasing the cost of electricity - it has particularly pernicious social consequences. The poor spend a significantly larger proportion of their income on electricity than the rich (graph from the TaxPayers' Alliance report The Case Against Further Green Taxes):


The poor could, in theory, be compensated for the additional bill created by the Renewables Obligation with some sort of additional benefit - an increase in the Winter Fuel Allowance, for example. However, benefits are a poor subsitute for keeping your money in the first place. When a Government policy creates an uncertain burden - it is hard to know exactly what the Renewables Obligation will cost people, how much it will raise utility bills - compensation will often be insufficient, slow to arrive and otherwise poorly targetted.

In this particular case the burden of regulation is likely to be not just unwelcome but actually lethal. In 2006-07 there were 23,900 excess deaths in the winter (PDF). These are predominantly the elderly suffering in the cold and making it more expensive for them to keep warm seems almost certain to increase the number of deaths. Poor pensioners - forced to try and cut corners by, among other things, higher council tax bills - should not be forced to choose between a more pressing struggle to make ends meet and the dreadful risks of living in a cold home.

An additional financial burden upon the poorest and deaths among the elderly are a high price to pay for a failing attempt to encourage slight increases in the amount of renewable power we use.

Photo by Flickr User wdrwilson used under a Creative Commons License.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

Britblog Round-Up

A fine Britblog Round-Up is up at Westminster Wisdom. Lots of blogs well worth reading.

The Superbowl

I just watched my first American Football game. It was superb. Great fun, really tense at the end. Fortunes shifting and more than one comeback. A shame for the New England Patriots that they couldn't complete their record breaking run but a huge achievement for the New York Giants with their incredible underdog win.

I like the sport. I'm going to watch some more of it and, next time I get over to the States, might see if I can see a game live.

A happy second birthday for Sinclair's Musings!

As of today this blog has been going for two years. I started it in order to make sure that I kept in touch with a broad spectrum of issues - didn't get stuck in an intellectual niche. That objective has been more than met. This blog's archive covers a range of issues from Islamism to climate change to the philosophy of social conservatism to foreign policy, particularly with regard to China and Pakistan, to public service delivery to transnationalism to economic and trade policy.

Beyond that, I've taken a huge amount from engaging with other bloggers. A lot of really brilliant people bringing unique perspectives to the world through their blogs. I won't name any names to avoid embarassing late night omissions. You know who you are - thank you.

I'm proud of this blog and I've taken a huge amount from the experience of writing it. Thanks for reading - your comments and eyeballs make blogging so much more rewarding. Here's to another two years.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Born in Reading, Berkshire in 1983 I grew up in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. I then went to the London School of Economics to study Economics and Economic History BSc and then Economic History MSc.

While at university I wrote for the LSE student newspaper, the Beaver, and did a lot of debating. At the Beaver I became a rather successful editor of the features section and a rather mediocre managing editor. In debating I reached the grand final at Oxford and won the University College London and Manchester Intervarsity and World Masters' competitions.
In breaks from university I worked for a life assurance company based in Birmingham, travelled to China to make a start at learning Mandarin and ventured to Siberia to investigate Lake Baikal.

Over the last year I've been working at the TaxPayers' Alliance as a Policy Analyst - focussing mostly on public service delivery and environmental policy. In my spare time I've been writing this blog since 2005. It has covered just about every issue imaginable and was nominated for the Conservative Home Best Young Conservative Blogger award.


I can be reached by e-mail here.

Research work

TaxPayers' Alliance research is invariably a collaborative effort and I am neither claiming sole responsibility for these reports nor suggesting that I'm not proud of the part I have played in the other work of the TPA since I started there last May. However, these are the studies that I played the most central role in producing:

The Looming Winter of Discontent, May 2008: This report sets out how Britain faces a looming winter of discontent as public sector pay costs have increased massively in recent years, leaving little money left, and public sector staff are going on strike far more frequently than their private sector counterparts.

The Cost of Crime in London, April 2008: The report presents the first estimates of the cost of crime in each of the 32 London boroughs. The total cost of crime for London was £3 billion or £400 per person last year.

The Economic and Political Case Against Higher Fuel Duty, March 2008: The report shows that people living in marginal constituencies are more likely to drive to work and how motorists are already paying too much tax. It calls on the Government to abandon the 2p rise in Fuel Duty set for April.

Budget 2008 Report, March 2008: The report shows how higher spending on public services has failed to deliver results and how controlling spending and reducing taxes could deliver significant economic benefits. It also sets out the savings from not rehiring the quarter of civil servants due to retire over the next decade.

Wasting Lives: A statistical analysis of NHS performance in a European context since 1981, January 2008: The report sets out the ongoing failure of the NHS to match European levels of healthcare performance and the inability of new money, since 1999, to rectify the situation.

Funding Hate Education, January 2008: In the first of a series of papers analysing the effectiveness of expenditure on overseas aid, the report reveals disturbing evidence showing how British taxpayers’ money has been spent helping to fund hate education and promote violence in the Middle East.

Rewards for Failure: Hospital Acquired Infections, December 2007: Presents a list of the 25 NHS trusts with the worst C. difficile hospital infection rates and compares these infection rates with the pay of the trusts’ Chief Executives.

Response to the Conservative Quality of Life Policy Group Report, September 2007: The TPA attacks the intellectual assumptions behind the report and argues that the Policy Group’s recommendations would lead to more tax, regulation and bureaucracy, would curb vital infrastructure development and would undermine free trade.

The Case Against Further Green Taxes, September 2007: The first comparison of official and academic estimates of the social cost of Britain’s carbon emissions with the revenue raised from green taxes shows that environmental taxation is already above its optimal level. The report also presents an audit of current green taxation, showing that each green tax has major flaws.

Green Tokenism: Government Cars, August 2007: The research note finds that if the Government had not bought hybrid cars, it could have planted 74,000 trees with the money saved, a far better environmental move.

Effect of the 2012 Olympics on Construction Inflation, August 2007: The research note calculates that the London Olympics will add £4 billion to construction inflation in London and the South East.

The Global Warming Industry in Local Government, July 2007: The research note gives details of employees working to reduce carbon emissions in a random sample of 25 local authorities.
Beyond the Dome: Government projects £23 billion over budget, July 2007: A systematic investigation into cost overruns in over 300 public sector capital projects over the last two years reveals a £23 billion total.

Ignore me...

Needed these two images online for use in the redesign.

Redesigning Sinclair's Musings

As you can see the site is undergoing something of a redesign at the moment. With its second birthday coming up it seemed appropriate to clean up the blogroll, there were a number of dead links and duplications, and see if I could make the look of the site a little more interesting and inviting. The picture is a landscape by Salvator Rosa, the same artist whose work formed the backdrop to the old logo.

Next step is to add new sites to the blogroll and then set up some pages that collect my favourite Sinclair's Musings posts on a series of the topics that it has discussed most.