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Lettuce celebrate the work of Sir Malcolm Bruce

By Leslie Clark
June 8th, 2013 at 5:23 pm | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Nannying

Scottish Liberal Democrats held a dinner last night to celebrate Malcolm Bruce’s thirty years of service as MP.

In light of his recent comments on the need to eat less meat, did the distinguished member for Gordon take the vegetarian option?

I think we should be told.

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Lads’ Mags: Ridicule, Don’t Ban.

By Leslie Clark
May 27th, 2013 at 6:08 pm | No Comments | Posted in Nannying

As reported over on LDV, a new campaign has been launched to remove lads’ magazines from UK retailers. Lose the Lads’ Mags, headed by UK Feminista and Object Update, claim:

“Lads’ mags promote sexist attitudes and behaviours. They normalise the idea that it’s acceptable to treat women like sex objects. Yet despite widespread criticism over the years, high-street supermarkets and newsagents have continued to display and sell these degrading and harmful publications.”

The crux of their argument is displaying these magazines may contravene sections of the Equality Act of 2010.

Sexist attitudes are still too prevalent in society but as a liberal, I abhor the idea of censoring or removing material because another individual deems it offensive or degrading. In the same way we won’t ban ourselves to better health by promoting plain packaging for cigarettes, we won’t become a more equal society by hiding away Nuts and Zoo. However, this campaign actually wants to go one step further: it isn’t about shielding sleazy magazines from the view of kiddywinks – as most retailers have already done – but removing them in their entirety.

People who are sad enough to read such publications ought to be ridiculed and sniggered at. In many ways, you are what you read: if you like reading a blokey wank-rag, you’re almost certainly a wanker. Sales of magazines like FHM, Zoo and Nuts have been falling dramatically, so perhaps the message is already getting through.

Interestingly, the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign was launched in the same month as it was reported in Saudi Arabia that a Salafist-Wahhabist cleric declared women should be prohibited from using air-conditioners in the absence of their husbands. Kinda puts it all in perspective.

Does feminism stop at the UK border? UK Feminista, an organisation supposedly helping “people to campaign for a world where women and men are equal” seem remarkably parochial and misguided in their sense of priorities.

UPDATE: On a boring semantic point, the title may mislead you into thinking the campaign wants to ban all lads’ mags. As covered in the article, it is about removing such publications from retailers. It would still be possible to procure such quality titles from elsewhere so it is not a ‘ban’ per se. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Gordon Brown: Long Time No Speak

By Leslie Clark
May 13th, 2013 at 8:07 pm | No Comments | Posted in Labour, Scotland

‘Hey stranger! What you have you been up to? I’ve heard you made an important speech on Scotland’s constitutional future today’.

Gordon Brown replied:

In the last few years I have had time on my hands, time to reflect, courtesy of the British people, and I want to put the positive, principled, forward-looking case for a strong Scottish Parliament inside a strong United Kingdom.

Ask any best man and they will tell you it can take a long time to prepare a quality speech, including the tricky opening icebreaker, but Gordon’s life has been far from hectic of late. As revealed by Guido Fawkes back in February, Gordon Brown went TWELVE MONTHS without speaking in parliament.

With his ample preparation time, his speech on preserving the political marriage between Scotland and the UK ought to be something special.

I’ve not seen the full-text his speech but from the snippets I’ve heard from various news outlets, it appears to be the usual mixture of Nat-bashing, sentimentality and platitudes. In other words, exactly the same speech Gordon Brown has made on the Union over the past two decades.

Boredom is often a key reason for divorce.

There is still no economic liberalism (despite Mrs T’s efforts)

By Leslie Clark
April 11th, 2013 at 12:28 pm | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Is it safe to go on Twitter yet? Has the 24/7 reporting of the death of an octogenarian ceased? I’m sure the whole population of the UK, including the late Prime Minister’s most ardent supporters, have reached Thatcherisation point. But amongst the litany of tributes and critiques, a lot of the comments surrounding the Government of Margaret Thatcher are clouded in myth. Both left and right share in the mythology of Thatcher as some sort of economically liberal Boudicca who challenged the prevailing economic orthodoxy and shrank the size of the state. If anything, Margaret Thatcher was insufficiently liberal.

The Mythology of Left and Right

In the spring of 1986, Jo Grimond penned an article for the IEA entitled ‘Still No Economic Liberalism’ in which he argued:

Statism, though dented, remains the dominant political and economic philosophy in the UK…we live in a corporate state in which the organisation has become more important than the individual. Government takes a higher proportion of the national income than ever…The flood of legislation and government expenditure is out of control…So we who hoped for radical measures must be disappointed by acts and omissions.”

Whilst there were many positive liberalising measures such as privatisation, curbing the over-wielding power of trade unions, her signing of the Single European Act, the sale of council houses (MT was initially sceptical about this measure and was persuaded of its merits by the decidedly ‘wet’ Peter Walker), statism did indeed remain dominant:

  • Government expenditure rose throughout her premiership, standing at 41.5% of GDP in 1991-92. In his book Paradoxes of Power, Alfred Sherman, a former adviser, aptly named the Thatcher period as an ‘interlude’, with the post-war consensus largely remaining intact: “we are back to where we started”.
  • State monoliths like the NHS were safe in her hands – spending on health increased 32% in real terms.
  • In the aforementioned article, Grimond lamented the lack of choice in education and social services. For all the talk of radicalism, there were no moves toward education vouchers advocated by Liberals such as Arthur Seldon, Professor Alan Peacock and John Pardoe MP.

In many ways, Margaret Thatcher was a pragmatic conservative. Heath’s 1970 Manifesto was far more orientated toward the free market than Thatcher’s in 1979 and for someone who was so set against ‘consensus’, her first Cabinet looks remarkably conciliatory with its balance of ‘wets’ and ‘dries’. Moreover, the doctrine that became known as ‘Thatcherism’ owed more to Conservatives like Enoch Powell (who questioned if Thatcher actually understood monetarism) and Keith Joseph than liberals like Hayek. Margaret Thatcher allegedly slammed a copy of The Constitution of Liberty on the table proclaiming ‘This is what we believe!’ but there is precious little evidence of Hayekian thinking making its way into policy, especially in monetary terms [The Denationalisation of Money anyone?]. Presumably she skipped ‘Why I am not a Conservative.’

For all the bluster of many supposedly ‘economically liberal’ Thatcherites, liberalisation certainly did not extend to sexuality or race. Today, many self-proclaimed Thatcherites will rail against state spending whilst championing wasteful defence spending and Château Lafite options like Trident. Then as now, they lack consistency.

Economic Liberalism Beyond Thatcher

The disappointing record of the Government has quite wrongly been seen as discrediting these [economically liberal] doctrines. There is a feeling that liberal political economy has been tried and failed. That is not true.”

Grimond’s words in 1986 were as true then as they are now: in 2013, there is ‘Still No Economic Liberalism’. Contrary to popular perception, public expenditure is rising not falling: like with Thatcher, we are merely controlling the rate in which it is rising. Despite the birth of free schools, there is still insufficient freedom and choice in many public services.

As David Laws wrote in the too often misunderstood ‘Orange Book’, Liberal Democrats need to reclaim economic liberalism (the Conservatives merely embraced the language and some of its substance) and our Liberal heritage. The likes of the Jeremy Browne and Liberal Reform fighting for a genuine four-cornered liberalism offer me hope of a more liberal future.

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In Defence of David Ward

By Leslie Clark
February 7th, 2013 at 5:52 pm | No Comments | Posted in Opinion

There’s been an ongoing furore over remarks made by Lib Dem MP David Ward on “the Jews.” As the Commentator reports, he hasn’t really shown much remorse and has kept on digging.

I would like to offer a belated defence of Mr Ward: at least he’s not as bad as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.*

Evidence has recently emerged on Youtube of Morsi describing Jews as “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs” during his time as an opposition MP. Morsi now claims he was quoted out of context – he was referring to Israelis, okay!?! – a similarly lame excuse to that offered by apologists of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his pledge to ‘wipe Israel off the map’.

Alongside Morsi’s seizure of powers and other repressive measures, all the triumphalism surrounding the so-called Arab Spring – including utopian drivel that Facebook and Twitter somehow spurred on social revolutionaries – looks incredibly naive from the perspective of February 2013.

(*It could also be that Morsi is more up-front and honest…)

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