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A libertarian guide to Valentine’s Day

By Andy Mayer
February 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, Satire

It’s that time of year again when every economic liberal can celebrate the reduction of our highest emotional connection with another human being by supporting the greeting card, floral and sugar processing industries, whilst ignoring the troubling history of the festival.

The original St. Valentine, about whom little is known, is claimed as a  priest martyred in the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II (@270 AD). His principle crime was helping Christians marry, the pre-medieval equivalent of birth control.

His doom was only confirmed after arrest when the pagan Emperor tired of his endless attempts to convert him, and romantically sent him clubbing with his mates; where upon he got hopelessly stoned and entirely lost his head. He was reportedly buried on February 14th.

The Saint’s Day itself was inaugurated in 496 AD by Pope  Gelasius and may have been a direct replacement for the Roman Festival of Lupercalia. A thoroughly unpleasant 3-day rite that began with animal sacrifice, involved young nobles running around town naked, and concluded with the beating of women with whips in the hope of improving their fertility. A tradition continued today by young British holidaymakers throughout the summer.

There are references throughout history after that including the acres of greeting-card quality poetry in the age of courtly love; Shakespeare’s cheery musings in Hamlet; up to the modern reinterpretation of the Valentine ode “Roses are Red, Violets are blue” by the balladeers of Aqua.

Why should libertarians care about this festival?

First it  despised by anti-consumerist elements on the left. Antivalentinism detests the crass commercialism of the festival and worries it distracts attention from the true joyless collectivist meaning of love, something unfairly distributed and horded by those rich in social skills and good looks in the capitalist system. Besides which they harbour strong suspicions that Kraft and Hallmark could pay more tax.

Second it is loathed by authoritarians. Saudi Arabia occasionally  bans it as a Christian holiday, and consequently enjoys a black market in roses. Gay rights campaigners in China use the day for protest marches. Nationalists in India threatened to shave the heads of  celebrants in 2004.

That cheesy card you send extolling the virtues of your dear one beyond any actual qualities they might have is a direct snub to dictatorship.

Third the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a direct consequence of prohibition, and the gangsterism it encouraged.

Fourth it’s not a state-approved official holiday. Whether or not you participate is up to you.

So whilst sitting in an over-priced restaurant filled with over-perfumed couples anxious about whether or not to reciprocate a relationship status update on Facebook, might not be your thing… it is surely your duty to support the cause of global freedom today by buying your loved one a walnut whip. Or not.

Enjoy the freedom to choose.

'

Christmas guidance for party factions

By Andy Mayer
December 23rd, 2010 at 6:14 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Satire

Snippets of the latest ALDC handbook on how to enjoy a Liberal Democrat Christmas, have found their way to Liberal Vision. We are particularly impressed by the new focus on micro-targeting to the specific needs of different audiences.

Social Liberals

Christmas can be a troubling consumerist time of year. However don’t let this dishearten you from focusing on the needs of others and equal enjoyment of the festive spirit. Please first remember to distribute at least 0.7% of your children’s presents to an international development charity. Next bear in mind it is relative, not just absolute differences that will drive your offspring’s happiness. In this respect you will be better off buying them all exactly the same presents rather than risking upset through some kind of parcel lottery.

Economic Liberals

Whilst it is traditional in this country to enjoy the dissemination of presents from a centralised tree bureaucracy, often carried by a wise servant of the Christmas spirit, experienced in spreading joy and happiness for little personal gain, do not let this distract you from what is a neglected opportunity for experimenting with market mechanisms. Imagine your family’s sense of thrill and fun when you introduce access charges for presents and a competitive tendering process in order to ensure the most efficiency distribution of scare wrapping materials. Localised stocking distribution hubs can ensure a more personalised service and whilst this might invariably mean the same orange, walnuts and a bag of chocolate coins as last year, the principle of choice will be firmly embedded in their young minds.

Liberal Socailists Social Democrats Richard Grayson

Christmas can be a deeply lonely time of year, particularly for those made recently homeless through no fault of their own bar a disagreement with their current landlord. Happily a warm welcome awaits for you at the lost liberals shelter (current propriators E.Miliband and L.Byrne). For the small price of selling your ideas and former housemates down the river you can enjoy a leaky roof and occasional bowl of weak soup to nourish you through this time of hardship.

Liberal Libertarians

Christmas runs the risk of creating a sense of entitlement in your offspring that should be avoided at all costs. Rather than encourage such leanings consider the benefits of employing your children as helpers this yuletide and letting their natural creative tendencies in the kitchen produce a delightful feast untrammelled by irrelevant health and safety laws or the minimum wage.

Local Campaigners

You need three simple messages this Christmas, peace, understanding and winning here in 2011. Put these messages consistently into your Christmas cards, with blue-inked signatures, a bar chart, and a personal message written by your 14 year old cousin,  and you can save Santa’s Grotto from the vicious cuts your local MP has just agreed to pass into legislation with the Conservatives.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

EMLD would like to express their outrage that ALDC have once again produced a campaign handbook focused on a Western Christian celebration that entirely ignores the campaigning needs of the wider festival community. As a consequence we are demanding that Nick Clegg immediately set up a Fairer Festival Fund and employ an intern to investigate the institutional barriers to acceptance faced by under-represented forms of merry-making.

Lembit Opik

Just because the job entails holding a steady hand on the tiller of  sleigh pulled at 6,000 mph by genetically modified reindeer whilst being resolutely focused on the distribution of presents to children, rather than appearing in the latest copy of Heat magazine; do not let this dissuade you from running for the job of Santa Claus. Victory is within your grasp.

Coalition Ministers

Please ensure you arrive at the Palace of Westminster in good time to learn this year’s selection of tunes for Christmas

  • Silent Night
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
  • The Man with all the Toys (cut)
  • Once in Royal David’s City
  • Little Saint Nick (revised)
  • Go tell it on the mountain (but not to the Telegraph)
  • All Alone on Christmas
  • Silent Night (reprise)

Cowley Street

Traditional festive treats such as phone canvassing and preparing the artwork of Phil Woolas smearing a snowman, have been laid on at the Mill Gate campaign headquarters in Oldham. Your families will be able to dial in to speak to you for five minutes at some point betwen the Great Escape and Queen’s Speech, where upon you will be required to deliver leaflets in Sholver celebrating the Coalition’s plans to improve your right to a work-life balance.

MEPs

Please note this year’s campaign, Accession for Turkey, is not a parody.

Dangerous Liaisons

By Andy Mayer
December 17th, 2010 at 11:34 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Labour, Liberal Democrats, Satire

Roy Hattersley, writing in today’s Guardian, captures well the confusion in Labour about how to tempt Liberal Democrats into their camp. Entitled:

“Radical Lib Dems must revolt – or lose everything”

He opines that the corporate myth of a progressive alliance on the left is dying (if only); and in order to keep it alive, the traitors to this cause or ‘so-called progressives’ within the Liberal Democrats, should prove they are not traitors, by treacherously undermining their own Leader (who apparently is a “conservative”) at every turn.

Comrades! Prove your loyalty through disloyalty!

Then, and only then, if they are lucky, might the Labour party forgive them and consider some kind of partnership.

It is somewhat reminiscent of the plot of the Dangerous Liaisons, where the Marquise de Merteuil invites her ex-lover and rival Valmont to corrupt her enemies in order to get another shot with her.

He does so, against his better judgement and finer feelings, and they all end the novel dead, disgraced or disfigured.

A modern American remake of the French book, Cruel Intentions, charmingly summed up the reward on offer as “you can put it anywhere… “. Their Valmont gets run over.

Hattersley's vision?

Hattersley’s vision?

 

Roy Hattersley and the Labour party sadly lack the more obvious charms of former Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar, from any angle. And the left of the Liberal Democrats are not hormonal teenage boys with troubling fantasies; well mostly not.

But the implication and outcome would be the same. Destroy what you have for the promise of a former tease who proved entirely fickle and unfulfilling for the previous 13 years they could have made your dreams come true.

Which is the root of Hattersley’s delusion. If there ever were a prospect of a genuine progressive alliance, Labour could have easily delivered it in office. Particularly in 2005 when their 35% vote share made any pretence to a mandate or future majority risible.

Instead as with the Project, the Cook-Maclennan commission, Britain in Europe, and a host of other common platform collaborations, Labour persistently used pluralism as a mechanism for marginalising opposition not delivering common goals…

But this time…. this time… it will all be different…

‘you can put it anywhere…’

Tempted?

Lib Dem MP ‘responsible for losing world cup’

By Andy Mayer
December 5th, 2010 at 8:53 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in National Security, Satire

katya-zatuliveter-and-lib-dem-mp-mike-hancockMight be one way in which the BBC show Spooks could spin today’s revelations that assistant to Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock, Katya Zatuliveter, is facing deportation as her presence is deemed “not conducive to national security”. This based on an implication she and Hancock vigorously deny, that she is a Russian agent.

All the ingredients are there. The glamorous Russian assistant. A Coalition government MP who looks like a cast extra from Fiddler on the Roof, already compromised by arrest on unrelated allegations, serving a City whose struggling football team was once owned by a Russian oligarch, and still owes him money. The episode might close with the Home Secretary ringing her Russian counterpart saying:

“You may have won a £5bn tournament, but we are not powerless, see we have already expelled your work-experience placement student.”

Or is it all an elaborate conspiracy to eliminate a crucial no-vote against the government’s tuition fees policy and secret leader of student agitation in one foul swoop…

Outside the realms of fantasy, the serious side to this story, true or not, apart from the personal devastation to the individuals involved, concerns knee-jerk calls to examine the way MP’s interns are vetted.  Already subject to enhanced criminal record checks the implication appears to be that people who largely spend their time reviewing publicly available Parliamentary documents and handling constituency casework on drains should be treated like recruits to GCHQ.

This is bonkers.

The first and most obvious point is that MPs should not be sharing sensitive documents pertaining to national security with anyone unauthorised, let alone their researchers. That the last government made a case for war using a graduate’s thesis somebody found on Google, might suggest such malpractice is commonplace, but that is the issue, not a failure of external oversight.

Second it is hard to know what additional vetting would reveal. Either MI5 know someone is a security risk or they don’t.

If they do, we’d like to think they’d act as they now have. If not, they’re hardly resourced to start running case files on an endlessly rotating group of over a thousand young professionals across the Parliamentary estate, on the off chance one might take a suspicious holiday in Cuba and come back with more than cigars and a tedious tale about not seeing any poverty and how great the hospitals are.

Third, in the case of the accused, her pro-Russian sympathies were hardly concealed, she had already written a think-tank piece critical of NATO and pro-Kremlin in respect of the South Ossetia dispute in 2008. Agent Triple-X she is not.

The story gives the life of politicians far more glamour, power and prominence than is actually the case. No change of policy is required, just the drudgery of good old fashioned intelligence work, and MPs following protocol.

Nudge Dredd

By Andy Mayer
December 4th, 2010 at 1:04 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy, Opinion, Satire

dredd

Professor Richard Thaler, Chief Justice of the Nudge movement sweeping politics, is back in Brit-Cit this week to advise the government on using his analysis of irrational behaviour to design non-coercive policies that encourage individual choices for longer, healthier and better lives. A philosophy he calls libertarian paternalism.

Underlying libertarian paternalism is a truth, that all of us frequently make ‘bad’ choices that do not extend, improve or enhance our lives; and a conceit that the state is always good at knowing what the best choices might be, that they are good at nudges to help us get there, and the nudges do more good than harm.

In the first part some ‘good’ decisions (by Thaler’s criteria) are obvious or evidence-based. Don’t smoke, drink in moderation, eat a balanced diet and do some exercise. Others are entirely subjective or moral choices. Be a player or a priest, experiment with soft drugs, go to church, and so on. Others have unclear implications with risks both ways. Play sports with a high risk of serious injury, let your kids watch commercials, cycle to work. Other choices like giving to charity may be bad for you and good for society.

What outcomes the state judges is good, with what priority, and what choices lead to those outcomes is largely a matter of politics. It is not obvious though there needs to be a political consensus on right and wrong in any electoral cycle, or that the ‘state’ view should be a monopoly. Liberal scepticism of monopoly should apply to edicts of certainty, whatever their source. And where good choices are clear, there are usually many more actors than the state involved in saying so, leaving it unclear why the state should expend treasure as one more voice. Is there any reason at all for example why GB plc is running five a day commercials alongside all the other exhortations to eat better?

Who is better at nudges, the private or public sector? I’m not sure there is a sensible answer to that question, or at least not a short one. Private companies looking for the next dollar can encourage bad choices, but equally can make good choices much easier through lifestyle marketing. Government marketing and opt-in/opt-out laws can make a difference, but when the government gets it wrong, for example with stakeholder pensions and nannying on trivia like stand-by buttons, the cost is large.

The wider libertarian movement suspicion though that nudges increase the scope of government to interfere in private decisions rather than make it less coercive is a reasonable worry. Are opt-out organ donor schemes a nudge or coercion? Is compelling companies to plain package cigarettes a nudge or heavy-handed regulation? What about all the perverse nudges and incentives to make bad choices in the welfare system?

In brief nudge policies are a broadly welcome alternative to some types of government intervention. They might be used to ‘nudge’ some politicians away from the jackboots to the nanny-shawl in the political dressy-up box; or leave it alone entirely. But there is a risk in the hands of Mega-government and protean Nudge Dredd politicians helping us for our own good, that what you actually get is something like

“you want choice citizen, I am the choice, prepare to be nudged”