Tag Archives: freedom

How the rich and powerful get away with murder: a look behind the elite veil

Robert Henderson

The cataract of misbehaviour by those with power, wealth and influence flows ever more freely into the British media.  Presently  we have the  ever expanding Jimmy Savile paedophile revelations – especially with reference to the BBC – and the drug taking amongst cyclists headed by Lance Armstrong hogging the headlines.  Following the nationalisation of  Northern  Rock in 2007  there has been  the never ending story of  recklessness, greed, selfishness and outright criminality of  bankers and their close cousins in the finance industry.  For the past year the Leveson Inquiry has been  turning over the stones hiding the  immoral behaviour of those in the British press and the collusion between the press and the police, most notably in the supply of information  by the police to the press  (and doubtless  to broadcasters as well). The scandal of greed and in some cases outright criminality of British politicians, both elected and unelected, in filling their pockets  from the public purse for bogus expenses continues to this day with the revelation that some MPs are claiming expenses for London accommodation when they already have a property there and then renting out one of the  properties  to other MPs , a fact that they tried with the Speaker’s support to censor, while the one-time Labour minister Denis McShane  has been caught forging invoices from a non-existent organisation which he submitted to the taxpayer for payment.   To all that can be added a practice which effectively legalises corruption, namely, the allowing of politicians and public servants to take well paid sinecures or act as lobbyists for organisations which seek government contracts and other favours such as amending legislation to make it more favourable or dropping proposed legislation within two years of leaving office or public employment.

It might be thought that all of the serious scandals have been  brought to  public attention.   Not a bit of it.  Those with [power wealth and influence in Britain  routinely manage to escape the consequences of behaviour which if committed by the ordinary man or woman  would result in the loss of their job at best and criminal charges at worst.  Frequently not only are the consequences of immorality avoided by the powerful and influential, their behaviour is hidden from the public because they never make the mainstream media.  In addition,  they suppress stories which do not involve their own misbehaviour but  are embarrassing to them or  damaging to someone associated with them.

To take a few examples from this website of stories involving the powerful and influential which have never made it to the mainstream media.  There is the  attempted suicide of Tony Blair’s daughter in 2004,  the refusal of Lord Leveson to investigate  Piers Morgan’s admission in a letter to the PCC  of having received information from the police in circumstances which can only have been illegal and Gordon Brown’s illegal interference when prime minister with the bidding for a prime piece of  publicly owned  London land . These stories can be respectively  found at

http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/the-blair-daughters-attempted-suicide-and-the-publics-right-to-know/

http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/piers-morgan-perjury-the-police-the-leveson-inquiry-and-denis-macshane/

http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/the-new-leader-of-the-greens-knows-how-to-keep-mum/ )

But the most dramatic story on the blog which has been suppressed by the mainstream media is Tony and Cherie Blair’s unsuccessful attempt to have me prosecuted during the 1997 General Election Campaign and their subsequent use of state power to harass me.  The details can be found  at http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/when-tony-and-cherie-blair-tried-to-have-me-jailed/.

But it is not only the media who are complicit with the powerful.  Politicians, those supposedly responsible for upholding the law – the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and judges –  and the various bodies and individuals employed to enforce codes of practice all engage in behaviour designed to prevent the powerful and influential being brought to book. Time and again members of the British elite have well documented  cases of  criminal behaviour referred to  police and they do result in prosecution.  Time and again misbehaviour, whether criminal or simply immoral, is referred to bodies such as the Standards and Privileges Committee . The cases of Adam Werrity (who falsely represented himself as a special advisor to the then defence minister  Liam Fox (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20159699) and the previously mentioned McShane (whose behaviour was deemed not to be criminal by the police despite his forging of invoices to gain thousands from the taxpayer) are good recent  examples of these types of behaviour and the refusal of the Metropolitan Police to investigate Peter Mandelson’s  false declaration on a mortgage application form a particularly blatant example from the past (http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/laws-are-for-little-people-the-mandelson-mortgage-fraud-cover-up/).

The public rarely gets to see behind the scenes to see the mechanics of how things are fudged and covered up.  I can lift the veil a little from direct experience. In 2000 I spent more than an hour with the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Elizabeth Filkin.  The interview was recorded and a transcript is below.

I made a number of complaints to Filkin regarding the Blairs and  my MP Frank Dobson’s response to my request for  assistance after Blair had tried and failed to have me prosecuted.  (I also made a detailed submission to Filkin regarding Mandelson’s mortgage application).  Filkin was absolutely determined not to   get involved with the Blair and Dobson complaints and tried to prevent the meeting at the last minute as you will see from the telephone message above the transcript.  Nonetheless I did manage to work the subject of Blair into the interview  on the question of the Code of Conduct for MPs. In the end Filkin was reduced to saying in effect that she did not hold MPs to the standards of the Code of Conduct and the interview generally shows how impossible it is for someone without power, wealth or influence, in this case me, to get any action taken over elite misbehaviour.

Robert Henderson 5 11 2012

————————————————————————————————————————————

Telephone message left on Robert Henderson’s answerphone 2/5/2000 by Mrs Elizabeth Filkin, The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

EF: Good morning Mr Henderson. It’s Elizabeth Filkin. You may like to return this call. I am happy to meet you tomorrow as I have agreed, but I am not happy to discuss any of the matters that are in your letter of the 24 of the fourth which I have received today. Those are all matters that you have written to me about, that I have considered and I am not willing to take further. If you have got other matters to talk about you are welcome to come tomorrow, but if these are the only ones that are outstanding, I am afraid there is no point in meeting. Perhaps you will let me know.

Interview between Robert Henderson and Miss Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in Public Life on 3rd may 2000. The interview began at 11.01 and ended at 11.55 am. Mrs Filkin was aware that the recording was being made and agreed to it being made.

RH: I will send you a copy of the tape afterwards, obviously. Now, as we didn’t speak yesterday Mrs Filkin, I am a little bit in the dark about exactly what the problem was with discussing the other matters. I haven’t come along to break my word and say I am going to try and raise those matters, but if you can just clarify exactly why you won’t discuss the matters which I have already raised with you.  I…go on, sorry…

EF: Let me say immediately, I am happy to discuss anything, but I am not happy to re-open and waste your time with a discussion of whether I’ll look into the complaints that I have  already looked at in great detail from you and decided that they aren’t things that I can look at. And please be clear about it, I am not in any way saying that I am not sympathetic and I am not in any way saying that it might be that some of the these other matters ought to be looked into by other bodies. What I have said are that they are not matters I can look into. What I didn’t want to do is, obviously, to waste your time, so that’s why I informed you and that’s my position.

RH: Right. I presume that if I have got new evidence on these matters you wouldn’t say automatically you wouldn’t look at the evidence.

EF: No, of course not. If you have new evidence you should write to me and put that to me.

RH: Well, I will do that obviously.

EF: And, of course, as always I will happily look at it. But if, as numbers of your complaints did, they relate to peoples activities as ministers or prime ministers, they are not for me. I cannot look into those things. I have no mandate to look into those things.

RH: That is one of the matters I want to discuss with you this morning,  that is the question of the Code of Conduct of members, because I don’t want to waste your time anymore than you want to waste my time. Now, as I understand it, correct me if I’m wrong, but  the Code of Conduct for members comes within your remit, yes?

EF: That’s so.

RH: Right. Now you see this is where I have a big difficulty with you, and you know I have asked you the question over and over again, it’s on this particular one []and there are several parts of it, but on one particular one – it’s the “Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust etc.” All right? Now, could you give me some sort of guidance on what you think that particular part of the Code of Conduct would actually cover, I mean if it doesn’t cover going to the police and making allegations which they must have known were bogus, I can’t see what purpose it serves.

EF: I can’t tell you what the House, the people who made those decisions, what they meant by their Code of Conduct, should mean. All I can do is say to you is that I have a job which is if I get a complaint from…about a member of parliament’s conduct I have to look at it against that Code of Conduct and I have to make a judgement as to whether – the first thing I have to do is make a judgement as to whether what the person has done is in any way in relation to their [duties] as a member of Parliament. And then of course I have to make a judgement I believe that they have acted in good faith or not.

RH: Can I just butt in there because it does seem to me that – to be honest with you I don’t envy you having to try to sort the bones out of it because a lot of this is simply unrealistic and if was actually put in to operation the whole of the House would come to a dead halt. But at the same time you will see from my own point of view that I must press it, even though I may realise, as an ex-civil servant, that it is not the easiest thing…

EF: I totally understand that if as you say anybody has made bogus allegations about you or about anybody else that is awful and it’s very distressing.

RH: But, it is particularly dangerous when it is the Prime Minister and his wife.

EF: Well, I don’t want to get into individuals..

RH: Well, I…

EF: I am not going to get into individuals.

RH: These are the complaints I have…

EF: I am not going to get into talking about individuals. What I am saying to you …I fully understand that it is very distressing, and it happens to a lot of people in public life and it’s very distressing, but it seems to me that.. there isn’t something that I need to look into.

RH: But surely it would breach that particular …

EF: Just let me finish. Because if a person, whoever they are, makes an allegation to the police, it seems to me that the police then have, as the properly constituted authority, whose job it is to look into it the complaint and dismiss it if there is nothing there, which they do every day and therefore it is no task for me to re-enter that and if a person has raised an allegation about you and the police have looked into it, and [dismissed it], as far as I am concerned that’s the end of the matter. I am not going to double track other authorities or other bodies who have powers and activities to carry out these investigations.  So I am not going to get into that.

RH: Well, you see there is the non-legal point about this. You have got the man who is the prime minister – and I can’t avoid raising his particular name  or position  simply because he went to the police and he did so in his position as leader of the opposition and also in his position of prospective prime minister and he did that in the first week of the election campaign and he tried to get me put in prison. Now, the fact that he is also a barrister and his wife is a QC, seems to me to suggest that they should have been in the position to know – well you’ve read my letters to them – they should have been in a position to know that in fact my letters could not possibly have constituted any criminal offence  whatsoever. All right?

EF: That’s a matter for the police and I leave it to them.

RH: It comes into conduct as well, because it is obviously sinister if you have got a senior politician attempting – because he only went to the police after I had circulated my letters to the media – it’s very sinister just as behaviour to try to go to the police to get me prosecuted on charges he must have known were bogus in an attempt obviously to both discredit me and silence me is sinister. Now, there is also the fact that – I don’t think you have ever seen the original stories [RH produces Mirror and Daily Record stories] – but in fact two weeks after, or slightly less than two weeks after these were published – that was on the front page and that was the actual story. Now, I really do not believe the Mirror would have published a story like that without Blair’s say-so and every single journalist I have spoken to has fingered Alistair Campbell for it, all right? Now,  you have read the text of that because you have read “The  criminal acts of Tony and Cherie Blair. This also appeared on the same day in the Daily Herald, all right, sorry the Daily Record up in Scotland which is the Mirror’s sister paper. Now that again isn’t criminal behaviour as such unless you want to call it criminal libel which I would, but it again would come within the ambit of this “member shall at all times conduct themselves in the manner.”

EF: Mr Henderson, I fully appreciate your point of view. Don’t think that I don’t understand, I fully understand and I understand your distress. I have no issue with you about that. What I have said to you that I am not going to investigate this and I say it to you again, I am not going to investigate this – you can go talking about it if you want to – but I am not going to investigate again, you can go on talking about it if you want to – but I am not going to re-open any investigation, which has already been looked at by the police. That is not my job.

RH: I am not actually making a complaint about the police here, I am making a complaint about his [Blair's]  general behaviour of attempting, as a senior politician, of attempting to stifle debate by going to the police, because,  as I say,  he only went  to the police  six weeks after my last letter to him. So he didn’t go there because he was frightened of what the letters were, he went there because he wanted to discredit me and,  when he couldn’t get the police to do his dirty work, or the CPS , he got those out into the public fold [in the Daily Herald] and the Mirror, which as I will show you in a letter in a moment which you haven’t seen before, actually admits that they never saw the letters before they published that story.

EF: That’s an issue for the [Press] Complaints Commission.

RH: Well, again you can’t divorce the story from Blair, because as I say to suppose the Mirror would have published [on their own initiative] that story at that time when Blair was enduring the six most important weeks of his life is plainly absurd. But I don’t want to get too sidetracked into that. I still cannot see for the life of me how Blair’s behaviour in going to the police and then putting that out – I don’t think anybody you know who was a disinterested third party would have much doubt that he was involved in that. Then, on top of  that, having moved the security services to open up a file on me and keep me under surveillance – they’re still doing it because I have got the evidence from the post coming through the door. All right? Now we are talking about three years afterwards and they are still doing it, and I  suspect that they are tapping my phone as well.  I can’t actually prove that because the modern means of phone tapping are so subtle that you just haven’t got a clue whether they are[tapping]  or not. But if they are opening my post three years afterwards, I have got to assume they are doing that and I have got to assume that they are also reading all my e-mail traffic Now, again, that is only something which is being done on Blair’s say-so. Blair could stop that tomorrow just by issuing an instruction, but he is not doing it. And again that would come, I would argue most strongly, within this “Members shall at all times…” etc.

EF: Well, I understand your point of view.

RH: But what I have never had from your letters is a detailed explanation of why you do not think that covers not just Blair’s [behaviour] but also all the others [of whom I have complained] . Don’t think  for a moment that I am only interested in Blair, I am also interested in all the other ones including…

EF: I am afraid you are not going to get a general explanation, because it’s not mine to give you. That’s the House of Commons’ responsibility.

RH: Yes, but you have to interpret it, don’t you?

EF: My job is to look at individual complaints and decide whether there is anything in there which I should properly investigate and if it befalls to investigate it and which as you know I did in relation to and I shall do so again if I believe it comes within my remit and I shall do it as vigorously as I did that in that case. So there is no issue as far as I am concerned I am not of the view that a member of the public or a member of the cabinet, or the leader of the Opposition, or the prime minister or anything else going to the police and making an allegation which may be totally untrue and regrettable is in itself something which I should look into because I believe…

RH: How does that not bring the house into disrepute?

EF: I don’t think it does. That is a job for the police to get involved in, and if they find the complaints are bogus the person concerned if they wish can have a [summons issued] But it isn’t for me to look into and I have to say to you again I am not going to look into that. I have to say to you again that I am not going to look into it. It isn’t something for me.

RH: What about the newspaper stories?

EF: The newspaper stories are not for me, You have not produced any evidence that any member of Parliament has been putting out newspaper stories improperly.

RH: What about evidence which I think I have already given you but I will refer to it again, of Blair making inflammatory statements about me to the police? He describes me as…

EF: That’s for the police. That’s not for me to investigate.

RH: Well, again that’s his misbehaviour rather than the actual complaint.

EF: Well, I…

RH: Sorry, go on. I am just going to get something to show you.

EF: I can’t, I can’t say strongly enough that I understand the distress you feel about this matter.

RH: But it’s not just distress, I am still in danger because he can at any time have me arrested on a trumped up charge or whatever.

EF: I’m not in any way trying to belittle that, in any way, but I am saying firmly to you that it is not a matter for me and I am not going to investigate it and I am not going to comment further on it to you.

RH: Well, here’s some new evidence which you said you would look at if I wanted. Now that’s something I’ve got using the Data Protection Act. That’s a log from the CPS. Have a look at the line – I have put a asterisk against [it] ” – agreed a line to take with Mr Henderson”. This was when I was querying what the Blair’s were doing making complaints. Now as an ex-civil servant I know what “agreed a line” means and I am sure that you know what “agreed a line means”. It means we will concoct a story, quite often an outright lie, to tell to the general public or whoever is making the enquiry. And I’ve got lots more like that. []  I haven’t come along here to flood you with paper today because that would be unproductive, but again just one or two other documents, the Mirror – they admit they have had no…

EF: That’s a matter for them. It isn’t a matter for me. It’s a matter for the Mirror or the …..

RH: OK what about the [CPS]? Would you comment on the CPS?

EF: That’s entirely a matter for the police. If you think the police have acted improperly, i.e. that they have concocted as you think a statement with anybody improperly then take it up with the police complaints authority. It is not a matter for me.

RH: Shall I tell you what the complaints authority say. I did of course make a complaint, as you might well imagine, about all of this – well what I would describe it as a straightforward perversion of the course of justice – and what happened was the head of the complaints department, Commander Quinn, said he would not record the complaint. I then made  a complaint to the PCA. They say unless he records the complaint they can’t proceed with it. So we are in a ridiculous Catch 22 situation whereby all the police have to do to get rid of a complaint is not record it.

EF: That isn’t a matter for me.

RH: No, I am merely answering your question. What I am saying to you here, is that I have made a whole series of complaints at various times – about six on specific matters including the Blairs’ attempt to pervert the course of justice – and on every single occasion I have had the same response. They will go through the motions. They are frightened enough to send down a Det. Superintendent to take a statement from me in my flat, from Scotland Yard this was. Now, if you know anything about the police you will realise that to get a Det. Superintendent out on anything is very difficult and to get him to come out in person to take a statement is virtually unknown. So they are worried enough. So they go through the motions, but they will go never ever give me an explanation of why they will not proceed, even though,  in the case of the Mirror,  I have given them a copy of the particular letter which I showed you [] which actually says  that they got the information from a serving police officer in circumstances which obviously could only have been illegal , but they still will not go and investigate it. Now I am not saying that goes directly against Blair other than to show that for me to go and make complaints to the police is pointless.  I do make them because it is on the record then. But effectively what happens is that whenever a complaint is made involving Blair or someone peripheral to the Blairs they won’t investigate it honestly. Sometimes it’s as corruptly done as Quinn did it, other times they get to the stage where they are worried enough to actually send people out to take statements, go through the motions then do nothing. All that happens is that you get something back from the CPS that says we are not proceeding for lack of evidence, which of course they will never actually elaborate on. So what I am saying to you is essentially unless I can get Blair out into -the Blair story out into the open, I am in danger, because I have got no protection, the police won’t protect me.

EF: I understand your position.

RH: I cannot even get a lawyer.

EF: This isn’t something I can take up.

RH: Well I would say that it…Ok, I will not belabour the point.

EF: I can understand your point of view, but it isn’t a matter that I can, I am, going to investigate. I am not going to investigate it.

RH: All right, as I say I am not going to belabour the point because there are other genuine matters I want to raise today as well.

EF: Fine, let’s move on shall we.

RH: I do think I still haven’t got an explanation of why – I know I keep coming back to this but is really the heart of the matter – why the sort of behaviour I have been describing this morning and also the behaviour of Dobson my MP as well [is not within your remit]… I mean that again is surely something which comes within the Code of Conduct. Actually there is another point isn’t there which actually puts [RH refers to Code of Conduct] right, ” members have general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole and a special duty to their constituents”. How has Dobson done that when he won’t actually investigate my complaint when I take the Mirror story to him?

EF: It isn’t my job to look into how a member of Parliament deals with Individual constituents.

RH: Well it says differently there. It says a special duty to his constituents.

EF: Yes, but that is not part of what I am required to do.

RH: Sorry, how would you interpret that statement then “a special duty to their constituents.

EF: This is a general, if you like, entreaty that they make to their own Code of Conduct to there members about the sorts of behaviour they would expect of an MP and those things are in writing in those terms. But the individual – how a member of parliament a decision on an individual case to pursue matters a constituent or not is up to the MP and I am sure you can understand that. Members of Parliament have whole range of different constituents, with a whole range of different views and a whole range views and a whole range of different things and they have to make judgements all the time about what they do or not pursue.

RH: I can accept your explanation [in as much as ] I am quite sure that is how MPs would like the system to work.

EF: All I can tell you is that my remit does not run to investigating these things.

RH: So,  effectively, your remit doesn’t run to the code of conduct for Members of Parliament?

EF: That is not true. I use the Code of Conduct against which I judge whether or not Members of Parliament have acted Parliament wished them to do. I ideally use it as my guide as though I …

RH: It does say special duty.

EF: … Is how members of Parliament have dealt with individual requests from individual constituents. I have to say that sadly to many members of the public daily because of course many members of the public come to my office with concerns about how their member of parliament has proceeded and that isn’t something I may look into.

RH: Well, again…. OK you use it as guide. Now, it doesn’t say a general duty in that particular part of the Code of Conduct, it actually says they have a special duty to their constituents. I mean, how would you honestly interpret that? I am still not clear how if you are using it as a guide…

EF: I am not happy with this conversation.

RH: Well…

EF: I am trying my best to answer your questions. What you are then doing is saying you disagree me. I understand you that you disagree with me and I respect your disagreement, but I don’t then have to say anything different.

RH: Well, I’m asking for clarification.

EF: I’m sorry, I have got nothing further to say on that. I have done my best to give you an answer.

RH: OK. Fair enough. I mean a non-answer is often more useful than an answer as such.

EF: I resent your calling my description…

RH: Well, I have asked you…

EF: of what the standards and privileges committee made clear to me which is that I do not investigate complaints about how an MP treats an individual constituent as a non-answer.

RH: No, no, I wasn’t saying that was a non-answer.

EF: It is a non-answer it is not a non-answer. It is an answer.

RH: No, no, I wasn’t saying it was a non-answer to that. It was my next question of how you would interpret the phrase “special duty to their constituents”.

EF: I interpret that as I already as I have already explained that members of Parliament do of course have a special duty to their constituents above other people in the country and that’s generally accepted.

RH: Right, so again – I am not going to belabour it if you don’t want to answer – but if they have got a special duty to their constituents that must mean they must act reasonably towards those constituents. I think that would be inherently implied. Would you disagree with that?

EF: I am not going to continue with this.

RH: No OK, if you don’t want to answer…

EF: It’s a waste of time.

RH: OK. I did preface my statement with the fact that I wasn’t going [further] if you do not want to answer the questions – I won’t be going to press it. Now, I have got quite a lot of stuff being passed to me by MPs at the moment, but  as you only came back to me yesterday with the statement that you weren’t willing to discuss the letters, sorry the complaints, I had already put in, as you will appreciate,  I did not have time to amass a great deal of [new] stuff.  However,  I will go over one or two things with one of them is [already] public. Now,  you have probably heard the story of Jack Straw’s brother William?

EF: Yes…

RH: OK. He was arrested or went to a police station and made a confession concerning some illegal sexual acts with his son, all right?. Punch has actually published the basic details of it. Now this is the second time that – and the scandal here is that, or possible scandal, is that in fact he , that is the brother, has not been charged with anything, all right, even though he’s made a confession of serious sexual misconduct with his fourteen year old son. That’s all in the story, it’s not just me [saying it] . I originally came across it on the internet and then about a week or so afterwards Punch published it. Now I have written twice to Jack Straw and if you have a quick look through there…..

EF: That is not for me.

RH: Well hold on, let me finish what I am going to say. I have written twice to Jack Straw asking him to clarify that particular story because what the story is suggesting is that he, Jack Straw, has interfered with the normal police process.  I don’t think you can possibly say [that] didn’t fall within your remit.

EF: I have got no evidence. You have given me no evidence of that anyone has interfered with anything….

RH: I have…I have, because there’s no denying that Jack Straw’s brother has been to the police, right? This is part of the story. They have got quotes from the police, they have quotes…

EF: I cannot…

RH: Just one second. They have got quotes from the police, they have got quotes from the press office all right? And there is absolutely enough for you to start thinking about it, because…

EF: I’m not interested.

RH: Well…

EF: I cannot be interested. The Code specifically forbids me, I cannot be interested in what is a newspaper article. I have to have evidence, and, I’m sorry, I have to have evidence – that is required by the code before I can take an interest in investigating a complaint.

RH: What about Ken Livingstone? You did that purely on newspaper cuttings.

EF: I did not.

RH: The person who wrote to you supplied newspaper reports. That’s where he got his information from.

EF: I know, but people have to provide other evidence then.

RH: What other evidence could he have provided?

EF: I’m sorry I’m not willing to discuss [the] case.

RH: I am not talking about here – I’m not asking you to disclose anything confidential, what I’m saying to you is that the evidence was the newspaper, right? Plus obviously [details] in the published accounts.

EF: Sure.

RH: With this again I can understand it, Mrs Filkin, in a way,  and also why you are not acting on this, but I put it to you not just with Jack Straw, but with the Mandelson thing, with Robinson – I mean Robinson has been accused of the most fantastic fraud which you have already got details of in that EuroBusiness article. He has taken no legal action. Now,  there does come a point where one has to ask, you know, what exact evidence does one have to produce;  I mean, there you have got the fact that Straw is not denying his brother went to the police, right? He doesn’t deny it?

EF: There is nothing improper with people going to the police.

RH: No no, what I’m saying is that he does not deny that his brother has been to the police and has made a confession.

EF: Well, what’s wrong with that? If that’s the truth why shouldn’t he go?

RH: Because you then have the question of perverting the course justice. You’ve got to ask why hasn’t he been charged.

EF: Well, there are a hundred reasons why people are not charged I have no evidence of an improper reason.

RH: I will put it in writing to you and you can have a look at it at your leisure. These are all massively important accusations of misbehaviour. There is not one [which is trivial],  even the one about Gordon Brown. That is a serious piece of misconduct if it’s true. But some of the ones I have given you, particularly the one concerning Blair obviously, but again with somebody like Straw [it is important because of their positions]. It’s the Home Secretary; we are not talking about Joe Soap in the street , we are talking about the man who actually has  responsibility for law enforcement in this country. Now, it does seem to me reasonable that if the brother of that man is taken in, or goes to the police whichever it was, and makes a confession of a serious crime and no prosecution occurs or he is not even charged, then that in itself is a matter of public concern.  I mean not just of concern to me but of public concern.

EF: Yes, but is not anything I can deal with .

RH: Well, again,  I am not going to belabour the point on the code of conduct because you have already made clear what your position is on that. The only things I would ask you to reflect on after I’ve gone are these:  (1) what a general member of the public would think after they had read the Code of Conduct and then compared it with the action you are or are not taking, and (2), how it would be dealt with under judicial review. I know that this is a very difficult constitutional position because it’s only a motion of the House of Commons, which has set it up rather than a statute. Right? That’s correct isn’t it, the Code of Conduct is merely a motion of the House of Commons?

EF: The Code of Conduct and my office is not open to judicial review.

RH: Right, well, when you say that’s not open to judicial review I cannot necessarily see how that can be so as it’s not a statute. Because, all right, I can argue the constitution position…

EF: Do try and pursue a judicial review case if you want to. All I can do is give you the information which I have just given you.

RH: You see if it is only a motion of the House…

EF: I can’t get into this. I’m not a constitutional lawyer I’m not going to make any comment on it. I have just taken advice on that and I understand that is the situation. But you are welcome to challenge it.

RH: Right. Backing up the sort of thing which goes on in terms of not pursuing the law when it happens to be someone in the position of political authority, we have also got that – [copy of NoW story dated passed to Filkin] again that’s Blair’s father-in-law. He was nabbed for defrauding the Benefits Agency, defrauding the Child Support Agency and housing benefit. He wasn’t prosecuted. He had £10,000 in a Swiss bank account and he was also working at the time, right?  Now, as ex-Inland Revenue person I can tell you that meets all the criteria for the DSS to prosecute. OK?

EF: That is not a matter for me. If you think the DSS is acting improperly should prosecute there is a perfectly good way of getting that [ ] and you should do that.

RH: Well again it’s behaviour which is suggests that there is some political interference here.

EF: I’ve got no evidence to suggest that. What you say is that you have evidence that the DSS has acted improperly and if they have you should take it to the Ombudsman.

RH: Right. Now, we’ve got Mr Sheldon who is the chairman of your particular committee you report to, right?  Now, suppose I make a complaint about Mr Sheldon not disclosing some of his interests on the Register. How – what is going to be the position – I won’t go into any great detail today – what is actually going to be the position Mrs Filkin if…

EF: Everyone in the House of Commons is treated by me exactly equally and any member of any committee, any senior politician – and I would have thought by now that you would be aware of that from my published reports – they are all treated exactly the same with absolutely no fear no favour …

RH: I couldn’t agree with that in the case of the Mandelson report which I know intimately, but anyway go on.

EF: All I can say is you haven’t read it.

RH: I have not only read it, but I’ve written a substantial article which I sent you.

EF: Yes, you obviously haven’t read my report, properly, and… but what I assure you – I would have thought that the evidence was there but you disagree with it – but if I have any complaint about anyone whoever they are, whatever their position, of course if there is evidence to support it, then I will look into it.

RH: Right, but what about Mr Sheldon’s own position on the committee?  He can scarcely sit as chairman.

EF: That’s a matter for the committee and it’s a matter for the House. It is not a matter for me. My reports are written totally independently, totally independently. They are presented to the committee and the Committee would have to always make the decision about any complaint about any member of that Committee about what that person would do and would not do the committee would have to deal with it. And I have no doubt that they would deal with that absolutely properly.

RH: What would you consider to be absolutely properly.

EF: That is for them not for me. They would deal with it absolutely properly. Where anyone has the slightest influence in any matter, whether they be friendly or know anybody or whatever, they always declare it and they withdraw if necessary. So, there isn’t an issue about that. They are scrupulous about it. I and I have no doubt they would be scrupulous about any complaint about any member [inaudible three or four words lost].

RH: Well I heard you on the radio saying that you weren’t happy about the fact that Mandelson did not make an apology to the house.

EF:. That’s not what I said.

RH: Well, that was my interpretation.

EF: Well, it might have been.

RH: Well, you were obviously cautious being a public servant, but, nonetheless…

EF: That’s not what I said.

RH: How would you interpret it?

EF: I would not interpret it at all, I certainly didn’t say that.

RH: Suppose for example an hypothesis;  suppose the Standards and Privileges committee allowed Mr Sheldon to sit as chairman whilst considering your report on him. Would you consider that to be a resigning matter?

EF: I have no comment to make on hypothetical situations.

RH: All right. Now, I will just ask you one or two questions about…

EF: But do let me be clear, if you have evidence of any member of Parliament not registering interests which they should have registered, would you kindly let me have it. I would be pleased to have it and I will investigate if that is the case.

RH: Now one thing – you appreciate that I haven’t got the details of exactly how you operate.

EF: I will gladly tell you.

RH: But suppose… this is purely technical what I am asking you now. There is nothing contentious at all. But, suppose for example someone set up a couple of companies, all right, and those companies shall we say have dealings with other companies of which the first person isn’t a director – he is a director of the first two companies but not the other companies. But shall we say his wife was a director of the other two companies. Would that count as a beneficial interest?

EF: It depends on whether she has a shareholding. If she has got a shareholding that’s more than 1% of that company, yes, but not otherwise. The rules are very interesting as you will have seen from [] There are some things which members are required to show a spouse – that’s the word that’s used – but most of the items they are required in fact to disclose either spouses or partners interests.

RH: I appreciate again that it is difficult thing to administer because it’s a question of how long is a piece of string – up to a point. OK. But  there wouldn’t be any question if a person was an actual director of a company and hadn’t registered it, that would be I presume be just a straight open and shut case?

EF: Well, if a person is remunerated director then they are required to register it.

RH: Right, but if they are not a remunerated director then they are not? I can see the possibilities of lots abuse there but still. Someone else gets paid, it’s as simple as that.

EF: That’s what the rules are about, about financial probity.

RH: What I’m saying to you is that… I think you used to have some dealings with the Revenue, you were head of their…

EF: I was their adjudicator.

RH: That means that …the easy way to get round that is if the MP is unremunerated then someone else gets the payment.

EF: Well, if there is evidence, of course if there’s evidence of jiggery pokery to get round the rules on a technicality, then that’s, I, of course I would look into it.

RH: Well, I mean, if for example say a relative was being paid and the MP wasn’t being paid and both of them are directors, would you consider that prima facie evidence of possible misdoing?

EF: Not necessarily, no. You would have to find out whether the person who was getting paid was doing the work which they might well might.

RH: Right. Then I presume you would be willing to put the usual Revenue test of whether in fact whether the remuneration was in fact commensurate with the work they were doing.

EF: Well, if there was a Revenue issue. I would put it to the Revenue to look into.

RH: I wasn’t meaning that there was tax avoidance or anything like that. What I am saying to you is that what the Revenue commonly does is…

EF: Don’t worry I do know about that.

RH OK. What I am saying to you…

EF: What I would do. I am not willing to talk about a hypothetical case for fear of being misinterpreted. But I don’t wish to…

RH: Well……

EF: No, be very careful. What I would do if you provide me with any evidence that the rules may have been broken – it must be what I [inaudible word] – then I will look into it and if the evidence appears to show that people are getting round the rules in some technical way of course that would be against the spirit of Code and I would look into that. But I don’t then make an assumption that any individual is necessarily doing anything wrong. I would only come to that conclusion on the facts.

RH: You see what I would worry about here is, I mean purely from your own point of view rather than mine, is that if an MP isn’t remunerated but someone close to them is  remunerated, it would seem to me that that’s a prima facie conflict of interest there, because  he may well argue that he is pure as the driven snow and all this sort of thing, but if somebody as close as his wife,  just to take one example,  is getting substantial remuneration from the same source, or maybe even not as a director, he doesn’t even have to be a director, I mean, it’s one of the oldest scams in the world to put your director’s wife…

EF: it is also perfectly possible that it can be a perfectly legitimate business arrangement if you have two people who happen to be married to one another and working for the same business, one of whom decides that they want to be remunerated for a job, someone else who may well be in a job may not wish to take pay for it. That is a perfectly proper arrangement. What one would have to look at in any individual case whether or not it was proper.

RH: I would agree in normal circumstances that you could have a perfectly proper arrangement, and I’m not suggesting that there is any financial irregularity or tax avoidance, this is not what I am suggesting. What I’m saying is that in the context of the MP being an MP is there not a conflict of interest there? I mean…

EF: Well there may be, if you produce evidence that there is I’ll have a look at it.

RH: No, sorry, I’m obviously not making myself clear.

EF: You are making yourself totally clear. I am absolutely clear about what you are saying.

RH: What I’m saying to you is that regardless of any other evidence isn’t the mere fact that an MP has his wife…

EF: No.

RH: Then effectively it’s a dead letter..

EF: No, it’s not a dead letter, of course it’s not. If there is a situation in which two people married to one another or partners are working for the same business, one is receiving remuneration and one is not, if there is any evidence that there is [inaudible] bring it to me I will look at it. If there isn’t any evidence then I won’t be able to look into it.

RH: Yes, well again without belabouring the code of conduct, I would have thought, actually, that where you have got that close link …if someone is actually working for that company it would be relevant].   I’m talking about the wife or whoever is the non-MP, is working for that company and being remunerated by that company. I would have thought, that you know, that was a conflict of interest or a possible conflict of interest which needed to be declared.  All right, you may say that it is not within the…

EF: There are many conflicts of interest which you can have that the rules that parliament has laid down do not require to be registered. There are – you will know from your Civil Service experience – as a civil servant one has to declare many possibilities of conflict of interests which aren’t required of MPs. What’s required of MPs is what’s in that Code of Conduct. Those rules are very much about who pays the MP. Not about other monies that a person may have coming into their family or that other members of that family may have. That’s not what they are about. Now, you may think that the rules are no good and therefore you should be putting that point.

“RH: Well, actually, I think they are admirable rules, but it is just unrealistic to expect politicians to be actually bound by them. It’s like Chesterton’s old saw…

EF: No, well, if you think MPs ought to declare what their partners or spouses [have], then you ought to be putting a case to he Standards and Privileges Committee or to Lord Neil. They are the people to make that to.

RH: Yes, well, I shall doubtless do that in time when I get round to it. It does seem to me that is so broadly drawn as I said when we started off, I can see the problem from your point of view you of trying to enforce it, but it would seem to me…

EF: it’s not my job to enforce it.

RH: OK, be guided by it or whichever way you want to put it. The thing is, if that comes within your remit or guidance or whatever you want to call it, nonetheless it is so broadly drawn, I mean, it would cover well, well I mean, an unending multitude of sins.

EF: Absolutely, and indeed this is why the House agreed it in those terms so that the Committee if it ever decided could look into a wide range of things. What I am saying to you is what I interpret to be the wishes of the House in terms of what I should look into myself. I can only tell you that as best I can.

RH: Yes, I mean if it’s not confidential, I mean, have you had apart from the stuff you sent me, have you had any other written sort of guidelines or anything like that?

EF: Written guidelines?

RH: Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. I mean have you had … maybe you sought some guidance from the committee, or something like that and they have given you guidance on how to interpret the Code of Conduct for example?

EF: Well, there are the odd occasions that you will know well. One of the complaints I had early [on] was about Mr Mandelson. When I read the Code of Conduct- and I had other complaints about him as you know from other people – when I read the Code of Conduct I was of the view that loans, concessionary loans between members, were not exempted from the Register. Many Members of Parliament, including Mr Mandelson believed they were and that was his reason for not having registered that loan. I said I can find no exemption in the rules. But I said to the committee you need to tell whether my interpretation is correct because I have been told by a lot of people and Mr Mandelson himself that I am wrong, that the House meant to exclude the registration of concessionary loans between members. The Committee said – and I read it carefully – members of the Committee said, Mr Mandelson’s quite right. We all think we don’t have to put that in. So I said, well please read the rules very carefully and they read the rules very carefully register and they said, Commissioner you’re right, they are not acceptable and so that is why they then followed my view on this on the matter. So there are a lots of situations in which I make an interpretation of what the rules say and then I say to the committee but you need to tell me if I’ve got that right or wrong. We have had a recent case as you well know in the press in which my reading indicated that..what Mr Livingstone’s situation is now in relation to speeches he was now making did require him to deposit [details in the register], that his circumstances had changed from when he was he just doing [inaudible] speeches and that he did now need to do so. That was a judgement and so I said to the committee that’s my reading of the rules and that’s my reading of Mr Livingstone’s situation. You have to tell me whether you think my interpretation is correct. And they looked at it and they were surprised about it, but they said you were quite correct. And, so there are lots of occasions on which I have to do the best I can and make an interpretation and the committee may not always agree with it. But that’s my job. I don’t it the other way round, I don’t say would before I look into this complaint I would you like to tell me what your view is. I don’t do it that way.

RH: I’m only asking these questions because I want to try to formulate any future complaints I may put in [to you] in a way which will be most accommodating to how you are working. Now,   have you as a matter of interest….you have been in office for just over a year is it?

EF: That’s right.

RH: Have you actually been sort of conducting your self on the same lines as your predecessor or have you made any great changes?

EF: In what way?

RH: Sorry, I am just asking generally,. I hadn’t nothing particularly in mind. I mean, have you changed your tack would you say from your predecessors in terms of how you decide to…

EF: I leave that to other people to decide. Lots of people say that it is the same, but it is entirely up to the people who observe it [to decide].

RH: Right, well, now I would just like to ask you one or two other things …not taking up the complaints again…..Now, you’ve read my letters to Blair? I judge Mrs Filkin that you’re probably the sort of person if someone sends you something, assuming its not horrendously long, you probably read it. Would I be right?

EF: You should judge that I read things however horrendously long.

RH: Yes, right, I rather took it that this would be the case.

EF: I don’t think I can do this job properly unless I attending to what the public decides to send me..

RH: But there are limits just in terms of time.

EF: I’m very bogged down at the moment. I have a large number of complaints, but I’m not treating them any differently. I am treating them just as assiduously.

RH: But having read the Blair letters – just your own personal opinion, I’m not even asking you necessarily in your capacity as…

EF: I’m sorry, I am not going to comment.

RH: Well, all I was going to ask you was well did you find any gross racist abuse?

EF: I’m not going to comment. It is not for me. We are going to have to draw to a close.

RH: I know, I fully appreciate that, I fully appreciate that. To be honest with you I have really covered most of the ground I wanted to.

EF: Well, I am glad to meet you and I hope that you will provide me with evidence about any of the complaints that you are concerned about and if you do I shall look into them.

RH: Could I just ask you before I go. There is one complaint you are still waiting for investigation by I think its The Board of Trade which is Robinson, that’s right isn’t it? Is there any movement on that at all?

EF: I have heard nothing further.

RH: These things can drag on for yonks so its not that surprising. Well look Mrs Filkin I appreciate you seeing me and we will see if we can progress it in the future.

EF: I’m sorry you have had such – obviously an unsatisfactory…..

RH:  To be honest I do this for two reasons, one is protect myself quite frankly, because I think you will appreciate that anybody who has been the subject of the attentions of the Prime Minister in the way I have been the subject of the attention of the Prime Minister, might have some slight cause for concern shall we say, all right? But the second thing is  it’s just the fact that this is corrupt politics as well. I don’t just mean Blair, I am talking about Robinson and co. I am talking about Mandelson also. So don’t think I am progressing complaints which are non-Blair related simply because I’m trying to get at Blair, because that isn’t my purpose at all.

EF: No. I understand that. Some of the matters you have raised with me are not in relation to this [The Blair Scandal]

RH: Well exactly.

EF: Don’t forget your recorders.

RH: The most valuable thing in the bag. Right, ok, we are ending the meeting now at 11.55.

The Leveson Inquiry – Robert Henderson’s evidence still being considered

Miss Kim Brudenell

Solicitor to the Inquiry

Leveson Inquiry

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand

London WC1

14 February  2012

Dear Miss Brudenell,

Confirming our telephone conversation of 14 February, you stated:

1. That my email to you of 27 January was received despite no acknowledgement being sent .

2.  That my various submissions to the Inquiry are currently being reviewed.

3.  That no decision as to whether I will  be called as a witness has been made.

4. That it is probable that  you  will write to me with answers to the questions  raised in my email of 27 January  within 14 days.

We agreed that if I have not received a written reply from you within two weeks I will  phone you again.

I think it would be useful if  we have  a meeting to allow me to explain fully  the extent of the  press abuse I have experienced,  the blatant failure of  the PCC to act even when presented with the most persuasive evidence of breaches of the PCC  Code of  Conduct and the shameful  refusal of  the police to meaningfully investigate instances of the press receiving information illicitly from the police which I have referred to them.

If I am not called to give evidence  it will be scandalous. Not only  am I an exemplary witness for all of the abuses the Inquiry is investigating bar phone tapping, but I have provided you with a letter from an editor  to the PCC admitting receiving information illicitly from the police. As that editor has already appeared before the Inquiry and under oath denied any knowledge of receiving information illicitly from the police, that constitutes an  unambiguous act of perjury.

Please acknowledge receipt of this email. You might like to note that I have yet to receive an acknowledgement  at the first time of asking for any of the emails I have sent to the Inquiry.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

See also http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/leveson-inquiry-robert-hendersons-application-for-core-participant-status/

The complete “The wages of Scottish Independence”

I have  completed a  series on the implications of Scottish  independence in the Calling England blog. They cover all the important ground
relating to the question:

In
the matter of Scottish independence, the British political elite and the
Scottish Numpty Party (SNP) are flatly  ignoring the interests of the English,
Welsh and Northern Irish.  This is unreasonable for two reasons: firstly, the
granting of independence to … Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – If Parliament says NO

Whether
or not Scotland would vote for independence is debatable.  Polls consistently
show a majority against, although there are always a substantial number of
“don’t knows”.  In a  referendum held only in Scotland with the YES campaign
headed by the … Continue reading →

 

Geographically
Scotland is very isolated. It is a stranded at the top of mainland Britain with
a single land border with England.  Any goods or people coming and going to
Scotland have a choice of independent access by air and … Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – a divided country

The
divided country is not the UK but Scotland. Its divisions are cultural,
geographical, religious, demographic and racial. Demographically Scotland is a
most peculiar place. It has a population estimated at 5.2 million in 2010
(http://www.scotland.org/facts/population/) set in an area … Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – membership of the EU

The
Scottish Numpty Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond has a dream; well, more of an
adolescent  fantasy really. He imagines that an independent  Scotland  would
immediately be embraced enthusiastically by the EU. In the more heroically
bonkers versions of the fantasy, … Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – The monarchy

The
Scottish Numpty Party (SNP) has committed itself to the Queen being Scotland’s
head of state should independence occur.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/wintour-and-watt/2011/may/25/alexsalmond-queen).

As with so much of the SNP policy towards independence this presumes something
which is far from self-evident, namely, that …Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – immigration

The
Scots Numpty Party (SNP) fondly  imagines that  an independent Scotland would
continue to have free access to England. They recklessly  assume Scotland’s
position would be akin to that of the Republic of Ireland. However, that
assumption rests on   a …Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – Public Debt

One
thing is certain about an independent Scotland: it would begin life with a
massive national debt. Exactly how much is problematic because  the Scottish
referendum on independence will probably not be held until 2015. The Scots
Numpty Party (SNP) …Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – the currency problem

The
most problematic  decision for an independent Scotland is the currency.  There
are three choices: to keep using the pound, join the Euro or create their own
currency.   If they choose the pound or Euro they will not be truly … Continue reading →

One
of the most complex aspects  of disentangling Scotland from the rest of the UK
should  Scotland become independent is defence.   It is complex because of  (1)
the siting of the Trident submarines and other major ships at Faslane; (2)
Continue reading →

The wages of Scottish independence – public sector employment

One
of the many major issues which an independent Scotland would have to address is
the extent to which the Scottish economy is  dependent on public spending and in
particular the number of public sector jobs which would be  moved … Continue reading →

These posts also address the
same subject:

The
Scots Numpty Party (SNP) bases its case for the viability of Scotland’s
independence  on the idea that wicked England has been “stealin’ ouir oil” and
that  if only they had control of the tax revenues from UK oil and gas … Continue reading →

Make sure the costs of Scottish independence get into  the media

The
letter  below was published in the Times 10 May 2011. It is extremely important
that the debate on independence for Scotland  is conducted on the basis that
Scotland will not be allowed to walk away from the financial obligations … Continue reading →

Scottish independence? Yes, but only on these terms

The
Scots Numpty Party (SNP) has managed to defeat the  attempts of the unionists
who deliberately devised the electoral system to thwart single party government
(and hence leave independence off the practical political agenda) and get a
majority in Scotland.  The …Continue reading →

Means subverting ends – The fatal flaw at the heart of libertarianism

Ends not means

A political philosophy should be about ends not means because there is never a single certain way by which a political end can be achieved and the interpretation of what constitutes the attainment of an end is subjective. Moreover, the prescription of means may subvert the desired ends, the most common example being the corrupting nature of violence used to gain that which is morally desirable.

Where a political philosophy hardens into an ideology (a menu of ideas which supposedly acts as a sociological algorithm to answer all political questions), the individual who accepts it unconditionally has given up his or her personal autonomy and has moved from rationality into the realm of religious belief. This is pernicious because all ideologies are inadequate descriptions of reality at best and contain internal contradictions at worst. These deficiencies mean that any attempt to rigorously apply the tenets of an ideology leads to outcomes which are damaging because they conflict with reality. Sadly, many libertarians have crossed the line between philosophy and ideology.

An example of rigidly inappropriate adherence to ideology is the distinction being made between depositors and shareholders in the present banking crisis. The argument that shareholders by definition take a risk while depositors do not looks attractive at first glance but has no logical substance. Any arrangement an individual or corporate body makes with a private company other than a bank has exactly the same status as the relationship between a bank and a depositor. For example, if I put down a deposit on a fitted bathroom and the company liquidates before I receive the goods I have almost certainly lost my deposit. That is exactly the same situation as a depositor who has placed their money in a bank which then finds itself insolvent. The depositor has provided the bank with his or her money to purchase banking facilities and possibly interest on the money deposited.

A rigid follower of laissez faire would say let the depositors lose their deposits, arguing caveat emptor and suggesting that depositors had only themselves to blame if they failed to take out insurance to guarantee their deposits. This is correct in logic if you accept the premise that what primarily matters is maintaining the principle of personal responsibility, a “let justice be done although the Heavens fall” approach. If it was their own savings at risk, the odds are that no libertarian would be arguing that the depositors should be left to stew in their own responsibility. Moral: don’t subscribe to a philosophy which is too demanding.

The sane and practical way for libertarians to proceed is to identify their general ends and then look at what type of society will bring them closest to those ends. This assessment should into account human psychology and sociology, for any system of thought which is incompatible with human nature or its sociological expression is at best futile and at worst destructive. Because of the emphasis on personal freedom and responsibility, the danger for any libertarian is that they concentrate so much on the individual that they recklessly neglect the fact that Man is a social animal. Where that happens, their vision of what a libertarian society should be becomes utopian and consequently unobtainable.

There is plentiful evidence that the extent to which human beings will behave badly or well is to a large extent determined by their circumstances. As a general rule those with power, wealth and influence will behave with less restraint than those who lack such advantages. The reason for this is easy to see: power, wealth and influence remove the social restraints which keep most people within the bounds of reasonable behaviour. The powerful tend to believe they are beyond criticism or punishment; and think they do not need the voluntary help of others because they can purchase what assistance they require, while those without power fear retribution,, for bad behaviour and recognise that they need the voluntary assistance of others. The lesson for libertarians is that their philosophy must be designed to create a society which produces not complete equality of circumstances for all its members but enough similarity between each to prevent significant abuses of power.

What are the general ends of libertarianism?

All libertarians support the idea of laissez faire (generally, not only in economics), although they vary considerably in the role they allow the state, They are united in their desire to see as much as possible of social interaction left to voluntary agreement between individuals,. They wish, if they wish for a state at all, for it to be the absolute minimum required to provide the necessary framework around which society can coherently form and survive. They are strongly opposed to the state intervening in the decisions the individual makes which are private to
themselves.. They wish to see human beings living lives in which the individual takes, as far as is possible, responsibility for his or her life and for any dependants. They expect to provide voluntary aid to those in need.

Perhaps most importantly libertarians give a central place to the notion of property, a word which in libertarian thought has a connotation which extends far beyond its commonplace meaning of the ownership of physical objects to such things as a man’s labour and his very body.

Varieties of libertarianism

The most unblemished libertarians favour a world in which each individual provides for and protects his own family and property, a world in which voluntary aid from relations and friends are the bulwarks against misfortune or incapacity, a world in which everything, including the right to property, is governed by personal relationships and behaviour is moderated not by laws or official force but the moral context in which people live, with good and bad behaviour being rewarded and punished by the informal responses of others.

Most of those who call themselves libertarian would subscribe to something a little less demanding of the individual. They want a world in which the state interferes with their lives as little as they deem practicable while providing a secure social structure comprised of defence, diplomacy, justice and policing to protect both their persons and their property. Some libertarians such as Hayek would go beyond the routine minimalist state and allow a basic welfare state.

The problem for libertarians, whether they be those who want no state or those such as Hayek who would allow quite a large role for the state, is that there is no instance in human history of a single community which has corresponded to any of the envisioned societies or even come close to it.

Where there is no formal authority the societies which result invariably lack the qualities which allow libertarian ends to be attained: property is not respected, there is no system of law to which individuals can appeal, the strong dominate the weak simply by their power. No state has ever concentrated solely on those items which are considered to constitute the minimalist state. Even the enhanced minimalist state of Hayek has never been realised, although it is comes closer to reality than the others. Societies which has never existed may reasonably be
assumed to be incompatible with being human. Libertarians need to accept that fact and ask what else is needed to produce the ends they seek.

What is missing from most libertarian thought is an understanding of the need for positive as well as negative freedom. Most human beings are not and never will be thorough going libertarians even in theory. That being so, libertarians need to re-configure their philosophy to aim for a society in which those libertarian ends which are most widely shared throughout society are best achieved. The ends which are most widely consciously shared, are those which relate to the state not intervening in private lives in matters such as raising children. .
In addition, libertarians need to understand that the intervention by the state to create material conditions which produces a rough equality of power and opportunity between individuals promotes the ability of all to take responsibility for their own lives.

The money problem

Money is the elephant in the minimalist state room. This is unsurprising because it presents a tremendous problem for all libertarians except those who would be satisfied with a society based on barter for if the state controls the money supply it has immense power., Hence, libertarians prefer not to mention it if they can possibly help it. But it cannot be ignored because it is the oil which drives the entire economy. If a currency fails general economic disaster ensues in an advanced economy. It is not just another commodity.

The record of state control of money (state being defined as a central controlling power) is not encouraging, history telling us that it has commonly resulted in the debauching of currencies through the diluting of precious metal content or by recklessly printing money and expanding credit in the case of a fiduciary currency.

That might seem an excellent reason for not trusting the state with administration of the currency and leaving the matter to private initiatives. The problem is that experience says that private initiatives to produce and maintain fiduciary currencies are vastly riskier, the record of private banks failing being legion. The current credit crisis is a prime example of the dangers. Governments in Britain and elsewhere have allowed banks to expand the money supply vastly through promiscuously granting with the consequence that is now upon us, a freezing of credit to the point where most, probably all, British banks are in reality insolvent, their insolvency only being hidden by the lines of credit and guarantees offered by the British government.

By allowing private institutions to inflate the money supply governments to their hearts’ content , governments have effectively privatised monetary policy. When currencies were based on precious metals monarchs and states debased the currency: now it is the financial institutions which achieve the same effect. An analogy would be with a government with a currency based on gold minting coins of a standard gold content whilst allowing private mints to produce coins with whatever gold content they chose.

Some libertarians hanker after a return to a currency based on a precious metal such as gold. This would be completely impractical in the modern world, not least because the amount of gold available is merely a tiny fraction of that which would be needed to be held to make the currency fully convertible as it was before the Great War.

The dominance of economics

Much of the difficulty with libertarian thought lies in the central position given to laissez faire economics., a system of thought which is intellectually incoherent and impossible to defend at any level other than that of emotional exhortation and has consequences which lead to non-libertarian ends.

A truly free market by definition must be one in which no artificial restrictions exist. Yet the so-called free markets we have rely on the most fundamental restriction of all, state-regulation to prevent the natural workings of a market.

How unnatural the idea of a “free” market as (defined by laissez faire economics) is can be seen by the complete absence of such markets throughout history. Economic history is a record of men attempting to reduce competition.

But the intellectual incoherence is not the main problem with laissez faire. The major  problems lie in its practical effects. These are to create greater wealth divides and produce regular bouts of serious economic instability. This has been true since its first real trial in Britain from the 1840s onwards (Trollope’s great political novel The Way We Live Now was an early critique of its effects), the bank crises of the 1890s, the banking crisis of 1907, the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression and currently the credit crisis the world is presently undergoing. These crises have all occurred during periods when laissez faire has been the dominant economic credo of the most powerful economies in the world.

Contrariwise, the period from 1931(when Britain came off the Gold Standard) and 1979 saw state intervention in the economy and protectionism re-established. During that time no major banking crises occurred. There were of course other financial problems, most notably the defence of the pound and a period of high inflation in the 1970s, , but the period overall was remarkably stable and there was nothing as dangerous as the present situation. Draw your own conclusions.

Plutocracy and the quasi-state

The central position given to property by libertarians , including the unfettered right to inherit, subverts the ends of libertarianism. Even in a society which starts out with a large degree of democratic control, the inevitable outcome of unhindered passing down of wealth through the generations is the rapid formation of a plutocracy. Such a society is a form of  authoritarianism, and arguably the most potent form of authoritarianism because it is not the direct and overt consequence of an elite which has seized power at a given point and
wielded it unashamedly for its own advantage. Rather, it is a social state which develops organically and is all the stronger for that.

There is no obvious villain for the have-nots to attack for there is no monarch, no party, no dictator to direct anger at, merely a group of the privileged who colonise and control the political system, reducing the democratic process to an pantomime of elective oligarchy in which parts of the elite compete for formal power.

A plutocracy also passes its power and privilege down the generations through inheritance, the importance being in the inheriting as a class rather than as an individual.  This avoids the habitual cause of failure amongst authoritarian regimes, the problem of succession.

Once a plutocracy is established , the state becomes less important because the elite have power which is not solely dependent on the formal positions of power as it is in states such as the Soviet Union. The elite’s power ultimately flows from the wealth they command, which allows them to effectively buy the command of society, both formally and in their relations with other individuals.

Wealth, as my old history master never tired of saying, is power. The consequence is that substantial differences in wealth mean that those without wealth are left in a grossly subordinate situation which undermines their ability to attain libertarian ends. Inherited wealth reinforces and amplifies these power relationships and very rapidly produces a plutocracy. a social state utterly at odds with the ends of libertarianism.

How to judge an ideology

A good way of testing the moral nature of an ideology is to ask what would be an honest election manifesto for a party adopting it. In the case of most libertarians it would be this: We shall pursue a policy which will make around a third of the population richer, leave a third of the population as they are and make a third poorer. There will be great differences in wealth which will increase with every generation. Wealth being power, this will mean those born to wealth and high social position will be able to exercise authority over those who are significantly poorer than themselves. Those who through incapacity or misfortune cannot support themselves will have to rely on the charity of others to survive at worst or on a meagre subsistence at best.  Society will not be a race in which everyone starts at the same point but a handicap gallop with the handicaps being decided not by Nature but by man made laws and customs. Would any libertarian be comfortable standing on such a political platform?

Libertarians also need to ask themselves whether they want the world reduced to the banality of a system of economic relationships, ironically exactly what Marxists do, That is the danger with making a god out of property and laissez faire economics.

It is a singular fact that I have never come across anyone who was poor, either through knowing them personally or through their writings , who was a libertarian or even just a supporter of laissez faire economics. That tells its own story. Only those who feel themselves beyond the reach of poverty or unemployment are comfortable with the idea that everything will work out in the end for the best aggregate result.

Voluntary action is simply too unreliable an engine to drive and maintain a society. For example, to argue that private charity will make good that which is provided by the welfare state is simply to go against all historical experience. There has never been a society in which private charity ever came close to meeting the needs of the incapable or the misfortunate. America in the Great Depression is a classic example of what happens. Until then the USA had been a society in which welfare even art the local or state level was very limited.

If libertarianism is to be more than simply an ideology for the haves, whether through their own efforts, luck or the accident of birth, then it must take into account the way societies actually work and cater for the wide range of ability, personality and personal circumstances which always occur. That can only be done if the positive freedom side of the liberty equation is given equal weight to that of the negative freedom side.

An ideology which unwittingly subverts its ends is worse than useless; it is absurd. That is what the libertarian thought does all too often through its emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the social nature of human beings.

Is a libertarian party a contradiction in terms?

The short answer is yes.  Political parties can exist under two general conditions: they can be based on a well-defined ideology or be coalitions without any rigid ideology, which at best are driven by an unfocused desire to “improve things” and at worst are primarily vehicles for the careerism of politicians. All modern British Parliamentary parties fall into the latter category, which might be best described as parties of vague expediency.

 Libertarians are excluded from the ideological category not because they lack ideology  but because libertarianism it is not a neat, single set of ideas. It is not even, as Marxism or Christianity are, a system of thought which has started from a central point of authority and then worked itself into various forms. Rather, it is a multitude of  different and frequently contradictory ideas which arise from the simple human aspiration to take responsibility for your own life whilst living as free as possible from the suffocating attentions of both the state and overweening private authority . In all its forms libertarianism is the pursuit of the ideal of freedom not the mechanistic working towards exact ends such as is found in Marxism.

Because freedom is essentially subjective – one libertarian’s negative freedom may be another libertarian’s positive unfreedom and vice versa. – and because the means by which even a defined and agreed free end may be realised is uncertain, the variety of movements which fall within the libertarian fold is legion. To take only the major divisions, there are the  rights theorists (who eschew force) and consequentialitists (who permit it), the Right and Left Libertarians who dispute over property, minarchists (minimalist state) and anarchocapitalists (no state), those who call themselves libertarians and those whom others call libertarians but who repudiate the term themselves, most notably Objectivists.

Any ideological libertarian party would be faced with two choices: either produce a mish mash of ideas which wholly satisfied few if any libertarians or  allow itself to be captured by ideologues who would tolerate only their form of libertarianism, which behaviour would be the antithesis of libertarian ideals.

 The reason why libertarians cannot go down the road of vague expediency is simple: libertarianism is the pursuit of an idea, the ideal of freedom. A party which did not have that ideal at its heart, which did not frame its policies with the intent of realising that ideal, would by definition not be a libertarian party.

There is also the nature of those who are attracted to libertarianism . As a philosophy (in all of its strains) it will tend to attract those of independent character, people who are naturally unwilling to compromise their beliefs and will tend more than the ordinary run of humanity to want their own way even in non-ideological matters such as party organisation. . The propensity for fission within a libertarian party would be great and this trait, together with the diverse nature of libertarian ideas, make it probable going on certain that if one libertarian party was formed others would arise to compete with it.

Still not convinced? Very well, let us suppose that a libertarian party was formed. On what policies would the party run for office? Well, a “pure” libertarian party could seek power with the intention of disbanding the state entirely. A middle-of-the-road  libertarian party would remove from the state responsibility for health, the provision of benefit for disability and employment, education, the roads and railways, power generation. All that would remain is a minimalist state providing police, a justice system, armed forces and possibly a skeleton diplomatic representation. A moderate libertarian party would accept the minimalist state and in addition attend to basic infrastructure such as roads and take the Hayek line on subsistence support, viz.: “We shall again take for granted the availability of a system of public relief which provides a minimum for all instances of proved need, so that no member of the community need be in want of food or shelter” (The Constitution of Liberty Routledge pp 300-301).

The implications of having no state or even a minimalist one would seem to most Britons to be at best dangerously naïve and at worst a philosophy designed to promote the interests of haves. (A thorough-going libertarian party would be asking the British electorate to go into the unknown because no such party has ever obtained a seat in the Commons let alone formed a government). It is unlikely any party putting forward no state or a minimalist state would be treated as anything other than political eccentrics.

Even what I have defined as a moderate libertarian party would tend to scare the electoral horses. The public would be asking what would happen to the poor or the unfortunate? Who would pick up the social pieces in an emergency? What would happen if parents cannot afford to pay for their child’s education? Doubtless when pressed during an election representatives of a moderate libertarian party would say, because no electorate would begin to listen to them otherwise, “we would not be so extreme, we would take care to ensure that a bare minimum of welfare was available to stop people starving or dying from cold, we would not allow the infrastructure of the country to be left at the mercy of market forces, we would ensure every child was educated“.

The problem with such responses from libertarians is that they sell the pass on the minimalist state. Instead, they have become part of the mainstream political debate. The only question left for them to dispute is how much should be spent on welfare, education and so on. The argument that there should be nothing spent by the state, that it should all be left to private charity, has gone.

Democracy presents an insoluble problem for libertarians because most people are not wholehearted libertarians. In fact, most people are anything but libertarian, hence the depressingly frequent polls which show large majorities in favour of identity cards and CCTV, the banning of personal weapons, restrictions on free expression and  ever more draconian restrictions on drugs. But the reluctance to embrace libertarian ideas goes far wider than those iconic libertarian issues. . Most people in Britain enthusiastically approve of the Welfare State; and it is a fair bet that most would approve of protectionism and closed borders. if they were ever asked to vote in a referendum on such matters because it is a natural human instinct to protect one’s own territory and “tribe”.

There is also the practical difficulty of a new party succeeding within the British political system. In the three centuries or so in which parties have existed in the modern sense only one new party has managed to form a government, the Labour Party. Moreover, they managed it in the highly unusual circumstances of the aftermath of a World War in which members of their Party had been co-opted into Government and thus gained a public profile. It is noteworthy that no new political grouping since the extension of the Franchise to universal manhood suffrage in 1918 has succeeded in gaining permanent representation in the Commons. It is most

 In opposition the position of the party would be simple: it could act as a platform for disseminating libertarian ideas: in power it would have to deal with the ugly realities of making decisions. It would have to force those who are not libertarians to live in a libertarian world., thus negating the idea of libertarianism being built on voluntary association. The fact that governments of a different colour force libertarians to live in ways they do not wish to live is neither here nor there, for that is something done to libertarians by those who are not libertarians. Libertarians cannot respond by treating  non-libertarians in a non-libertarian manner for that would negate their libertarian ideals.

Does this mean that libertarians should eschew political action? Not a bit of it. They should make every effort to promote libertarian ideals through other parties, especially the existing mainstream parties which have a chance of power. They should join such parties and argue from within and lobby individually and as groups. They should try to obtain jobs in the mainstream media. They should lobby the mainstream media. They should In short, they should attempt to do what the liberal internationalist left has done over the past sixty years, infiltrate the positions of power and influence.

Being a libertarian should be about ends not ideology because what the libertarian wishes to achieve can be reached by more than once means. Any person who imagines there is a set of objectively necessary ideas to be a libertarian is by definition not a libertarian because they wish to reduce the world to their black and white version and exclude all other voices. The sort of self-described libertarian who believes such a thing is the type of person who can be heard wondering to themselves “what is the correct libertarian position on this?” sadly oblivious to the fact that they echo the mentality of the Marxist.

Even amongst those who describe themselves as libertarians there are few  who subscribe to the “pure” libertarian menu. Most recognise that a minimalist state is necessary, that society cannot be left entirely to voluntary association and agreement. Many go further than the absolute minimalist state and recognise that some state intervention beyond the basics of defence, justice, policing, public health and sanitation and foreign policy is necessary for the maintenance of a stable society.

Most libertarians have something in common with the mass of humanity: they are libertarian on some issues and not others. Let me take myself as an example. I am pure  libertarian on issues such free expression (no censorship at all because it is an absolute: you either have it or you do not), drugs (legalise them all), the ownership and carrying of weapons (you should be able to buy a gun as easily as a pound of carrots) and self-defence (you should be able to use whatever force you choose if attacked), public surveillance by the state or others (an outrage), petty state interference with private life (an absolute no, no).

On other issues such as immigration and free trade I take a non-libertarian position because I believe the ultimate consequences of these  policies is to undermine the ends which libertarians seek because they create circumstances of pernicious competition, both ethnic and a simple scramble for scarce resources. The more fractious a society is the less libertarian it will be because when a society becomes more disordered those with power seek ever more authoritarian means to control the disorder. Libertarians may wish this was not so but it is a contingent fact that it always happens. .

These views provoke a considerable variety of responses from those who call themselves libertarians. Nor is the response of any individual libertarian I have ever encountered consistently libertarian. . One person may disapprove of drug legalisation while being utterly opposed to surveillance; another be in favour of free trade but against open border immigration. Interestingly, the most general resistance I have encountered is on the issues of freely available drugs and weapons, support for which one might have imagined would be naturally close to all libertarian hearts. .

The fact that few libertarians do follow a wholeheartedly libertarian ideological line means that most will not find it emotionally impossibly to engage with other parties. They will have even less difficulty with single issue movements. The individual libertarian will be able to pursue his or her particular libertarian passions within such contexts.

Should libertarians be downhearted at the idea that there should be no libertarian party or any likelihood of a full-blooded libertarian programme being brought to reality? Most certainly not, in fact, they should rejoice. Libertarians should never wish for a perfect libertarian society because one could only exist if all other competing forms of political thought and action were suppressed by authoritarian means, for it is certain that never would there be circumstances where most let alone all would subscribe to the full gamut of libertarian ends. That inescapable authoritarianism would undermine the principle at the heart of libertarianism: voluntary association. All that would exist would be a perfect libertarian society in form not content and even the form would be ephemeral for all tyrannies fall sooner rather than later.

What is Libertarianism?

Ends not means

A political philosophy should be about ends not means because there is never a single certain way  by which a political  end can be achieved and  the  interpretation of  what constitutes the attainment of an end is subjective.  Moreover,  the prescription of means may subvert  the desired ends,  the most common example being the corrupting nature of violence used to gain that which is morally desirable.  

 Where a political philosophy hardens into an ideology (a menu of ideas which supposedly acts as a sociological algorithm to answer all political questions),  the individual who accepts it unconditionally has given up his or her personal autonomy and has  moved from rationality into the realm of religious belief.  This is pernicious because  all ideologies are  inadequate descriptions of reality  at best and contain internal contradictions at worst.  These deficiencies mean that any attempt to rigorously apply the tenets of an  ideology leads to outcomes which are dmaging because they conflict with reality. Sadly, many libertarians have crossed the line between philosophy and ideology.

 An example of  rigidly inappropriate  adherence to ideology is the distinction being made  between depositors and shareholders in the present banking crisis. The argument that shareholders by definition take a risk while depositors do not  looks attractive at first glance but has no logical substance. Any arrangement an individual or corporate body  makes  with a private company other than a bank has exactly the same status as  the relationship between a bank and a depositor.  For example, if I  put down a deposit on a fitted bathroom and the company liquidates before I receive the  goods  I have almost certainly lost  my deposit..    That is exactly the same  situation as a depositor who has placed their money in a bank which then finds itself insolvent.  The depositor has provided the bank with his or her money to purchase banking facilities (and possibly interest) on the money deposited.

A rigid follower of laissez faire would say let the depositors lose their deposits., arguing caveat emptor and  suggesting that  depositors  had only themselves to blame  if they failed to take  out insurance to guarantee their  deposits.   This is correct in logic if you accept the premise that  what  primarily  matters is maintaining the principle of personal responsibility, a “let justice be done although the Heavens fall” approach. If it was their own savings at risk,  the odds are that no libertarian would be arguing that the depositors should be left to stew in their own responsibility. Moral: don’t subscribe to a philosophy which is too demanding.

The  sane and practical way for libertarians to proceed is to identify their general ends and then look at what type of society will bring them closest  to those ends. This assessment should  into account human psychology and sociology,  for any system of thought  which is incompatible with human nature  or its sociological expression is at best futile and at worst destructive.  Because of  the emphasis on personal freedom and responsibility,  the danger for any libertarian is that they concentrate so much on the individual that they  recklessly neglect the fact that Man is a social animal.  Where that happens, their vision of what a libertarian society should be becomes utopian and consequently unobtainable.

There is plentiful evidence that the  extent to which human beings will behave badly  or well is to a large extent determined by their circumstances. As a general rule those with power, wealth and influence will behave with less restraint than those who lack such advantages. The reason for this is easy to see: power, wealth and influence remove the social restraints which keep most people within  the bounds of reasonable behaviour. The powerful tend to believe they are beyond  criticism or punishment; and  think they do not  need the  voluntary help of others because they can purchase what assistance they require,   while those without power fear retribution, for bad behaviour and recognise  that  they need the voluntary assistance of others. The lesson for libertarians is that their philosophy must be designed to create a society which produces not  complete equality of circumstances for all its members but enough similarity between each  to prevent significant abuses of power.

What are the general ends of libertarianism?

All libertarians  support  the idea of laissez faire (generally, not only in economics), although  they vary  considerably in the role they allow the state, They  are united in their desire to see as much as possible of social interaction  left to voluntary  agreement between individuals,. They wish, if they wish  for a state at all, for it to be the absolute minimum required to provide the necessary framework around which society can  coherently form and survive.   They are strongly opposed to the state intervening in the  decisions  the individual makes which are private to themselves..  They  wish to see  human beings  living lives in which the individual  takes, as far as is possible,  responsibility for  his or her  life  and   for  any dependants. They expect  to provide  voluntary aid  to those  in need. 

Perhaps most importantly  libertarians  give a central place to the notion of property, a word which  in libertarian thought  has a connotation  which  extends far beyond its commonplace meaning of the ownership of physical objects to such things as a man’s labour  and his  very  body.  

Varieties of libertarianism

The most unblemished libertarians favour  a world in which each individual provides for and protects his own family and property, a world in which voluntary aid from relations and friends are the bulwarks against misfortune or incapacity, a world in which everything, including the right to property, is governed by personal relationships and behaviour is moderated not by laws or official force but the moral context in which people live, with good and bad behaviour being rewarded and punished by the informal responses of others.

Most of those who call themselves libertarian would subscribe to something a little less demanding of the individual. They want a world in which the state interferes with their lives as little as they deem practicable while providing a secure social structure comprised of  defence, diplomacy, justice and policing to protect both their persons and their property. Some libertarians  such as Hayek would go beyond the  routine minimalist state and allow  basic welfare provision.

The problem for libertarians, whether they be those who want no state or  those such as Hayek who would allow quite a large role for the state, is that there is no instance in human history of  a single  community which has  corresponded to any of the envisioned societies or even come close to it.

Where there is no formal authority the societies which result invariably lack the qualities which allow  libertarian ends to be attained: property is not respected, there is no system of law to which individuals can appeal, the strong dominate the weak simply by their power. 

No state has ever concentrated solely on those items which are considered to constitute the minimalist state.  Even the enhanced minimalist state of Hayek has never been realised, although it is comes closer to reality than the others.

 Societies which has never existed may reasonably  be assumed to be incompatible with being human. Libertarians need to accept that fact and ask what else is needed to produce the ends they seek.

What is missing from most  libertarian thought is an understanding of  the need for positive  as well as negative freedom. Most human beings are not and never will be thorough going libertarians even in theory. That being so, libertarians need to re-configure their philosophy to  aim for  a society in which  those libertarian ends which are most widely shared throughout society are best achieved. The ends which are most widely consciously  shared,  are those which relate to the state not intervening in private lives in matters such as raising children. . In addition, libertarians need to understand that the intervention by the state to create  material conditions which  produces a rough equality of power and opportunity  between individuals promotes the ability of all to take responsibility for their own lives.

The money  problem

Money is the elephant in the minimalist state room. This is unsurprising because it presents  a tremendous problem for all libertarians  except those  who would be satisfied with a society based on barter, for if the state  controls the money supply it has immense power.,  Hence, libertarians prefer not to mention it if they can possibly help it. But money cannot be ignored because it is the oil which drives the entire economy.  If a currency fails general economic disaster ensues in an advanced economy.  It is not just another commodity.

The record of state control of money (state being defined as a central controlling power) is not encouraging,  history telling us that  it has commonly resulted in the  debauching of currencies through the diluting  of precious metal content or by  recklessly   printing money and expanding credit  in the case of  a fiduciary currency.

That might seem an excellent reason for not  trusting the state with administration of the currency and leaving the matter to private initiatives. The problem is that experience says that  private initiatives to produce and maintain fiduciary currencies are  vastly  riskier, the record of private banks failing being legion.  The current credit crisis is a prime example of the dangers. Governments  in Britain and elsewhere have allowed banks to  expand the money supply vastly through  promiscuously granting  credit with the consequence that is now upon us, a freezing of credit  to the point where most, probably all,  British banks are in reality insolvent, their insolvency only being hidden by the lines of credit and guarantees offered by the British government.

By allowing private institutions to inflate the money supply governments to their hearts’ content , governments have effectively privatised monetary policy. When currencies were based on precious metals monarchs and states debased the currency: now it is the financial institutions which achieve the same effect.  An analogy would be with a government with a currency based on gold  minting coins of a standard gold content whilst allowing private mints to produce coins with whatever gold content they chose.

Some libertarians hanker after a return to a currency based on a precious metal such as gold. This would be completely impractical in the modern world, not least because the amount of gold available is merely a tiny fraction of that which would be needed to be held to make the currency fully convertible as it was before the Great War..

The dominance of economics 

Much of the  difficulty with libertarian thought lies in the central position given to laissez faire economics., a system of thought which is intellectually incoherent and impossible to defend at any level other than that of  emotional exhortation and has consequences which lead to non-libertarian ends.

A truly free market by definition must be one in which no artificial restrictions exist. Yet the so-called free markets we have rely on the most fundamental restriction of all, state-regulation to prevent the natural workings of a market.

 How unnatural the idea of a “free” market as (defined by laissez faire economics)  is can be seen by the complete absence of such markets throughout history. Economic history is a record of men attempting to reduce competition.

But the intellectual incoherence is not the main problem with laissez faire. Those lie in it Its practical effects. These are to create greater wealth divides and produce regular bouts of  serious economic instability. This has been true since its first real trial in Britain  from the 1840s onwards (Trollope’s great political novel The Way We Live Now was an early critique of its effects), the bank crises of the 1890s, the banking  crisis of 1907, the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression and currently the credit crisis the world is presently undergoing.  These crises have  all occurred during periods when  laissez faire has been the dominant economic credo of the most powerful economies in the world.   

Contrariwise, the period from 1931(when Britain came off the Gold Standard) and 1979 saw  state intervention in the economy  and protectionism re-established. During that time no major banking crises occurred. There were of course other financial problems, most notably the defence of the pound and a period of high inflation in the 1970s, , but the period overall was remarkably stable and there was nothing as dangerous as the present situation. Draw your own conclusions.

 Plutocracy and the quasi-state

 The central position given to property by libertarians , including the unfettered right to inherit,, subverts the ends of libertarianism.  Even in a society which starts out with a large degree of democratic control, the inevitable outcome of unhindered  passing down of wealth through the generations is the rapid formation of a plutocracy. Such a society is a  form of  authoritarianism,  and arguably the most potent form of authoritarianism because it is not the direct and overt consequence of  an elite which has seized power at a given point and wielded it unashamedly  for  its own advantage. Rather, it is a social state which develops organically and is all the stronger for that.

There is no obvious villain for the have-nots to attack for there is no monarch, no party,  no dictator to direct anger at, merely a group  of the privileged who colonise and control the political system,  reducing the democratic process to an pantomime of elective oligarchy in which parts of the elite compete for formal power.  

 A plutocracy  also passes its power and privilege down the generations through  inheritance . This avoids the  habitual cause of  failure amongst authoritarian regimes, the problem of succession.

Once a plutocracy is established , the state becomes less important because the elite have power which is not solely dependent on the formal positions of power as it is in states such as the Soviet Union.  The elite’s power ultimately  flows from the wealth they command, which allows them to effectively buy command of  society, both formally and in their relations with other individuals.

Wealth, as my old history master never tired of saying, is power. The consequence is that substantial differences in wealth mean that those without wealth are left in a grossly subordinate situation which undermines their ability to attain libertarian ends. Inherited wealth reinforces and amplifies these power relationships and very rapidly produces a plutocracy. a social state utterly at odds with the ends of libertarianism.

How  to judge an ideology

A good way of testing the moral  nature of an ideology is to ask  what would be an honest  election manifesto for  a party  adopting  it. In the case of  most libertarians   it would be this: We shall pursue a policy which will make around a third of the population richer, leave a third of the population  as they are and make a third poorer.  There will be  great  differences in wealth which will  increase with every generation.  Wealth being power, this will  mean those born to wealth  and high social position will be able to exercise  authority over those who are significantly poorer than themselves. Those who through incapacity or misfortune cannot support themselves  will have to rely on  the charity of others to survive at worst or  on a meagre subsistence at best. .  Society will not be a race in which everyone starts at the same point but a handicap gallop with the handicaps being decided not by Nature but by man made laws and customs.  Would any libertarian be comfortable standing on such a political platform?

Libertarians also need to ask themselves whether they want the world reduced to the banality of a system of economic relationships, ironically exactly what Marxists do. That is the danger with making gods out of property and laissez faire economics.

It is a singular fact that I have never come across anyone who was poor, either through knowing them personally or through their writings, who was a libertarian or even just a supporter of laissez faire economics.   That tells its own story. Only those who feel themselves beyond the reach of poverty or unemployment are comfortable with the idea that everything will work out in the end for the best aggregate result.

Voluntary action is simply too weak and  unreliable an engine to drive and maintain a society. For example, to argue that private charity will make good that which is provided by the welfare state is simply to go against all historical experience. There has never been a society in which private charity ever came close to meeting the needs of the incapable or the misfortunate. America in the Great Depression is a classic example of what happens. Until then the USA had been a society in which welfare even art the local or state level was very limited. 

If libertarianism is to be more than simply an ideology for the haves, whether through their own efforts, luck or the accident of birth, then it must take into account the way societies actually work and cater for the  wide range of ability, personality and personal circumstances which always occur. That can only be done if the positive freedom side of the liberty equation is given equal weight to that of the negative freedom side.

An ideology which unwittingly subverts its ends is worse than useless, it is absurd. That is what the libertarian thought does all too often through its emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the social nature of human beings.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 208 other followers

%d bloggers like this: