Thursday, 28 May 2015

on the Psychoactive substances bill

America has a law called the "Federal Analogue Act" which attempts to do what the Conservatives are planning to do with the Psychoactive substances bill in the Queen's speech. It didn't work in the 'States, and it won't work here. It's vague: What does "substantially similar" mean. How can you prove it's for human consumption? As a result, it's hardly been used. 


Worse than it being pointless, what it is trying to do is dangerous.

"Designer drugs" are dangerous: they're untested, the side-effects are unknown and the metabolism is often slow. People have died, because they don't know how, or how much to take of any substance, which may be highly toxic. Why then do people take them? Because they can't get the stimulant, Cocaine; relaxant, Marijuana or the Halucinogenic, LSD or Psilocybin they want, and these "designer drugs" are "legal" and therefore thought by users to be safer than the "killer drugs" that have been banned.

People have been told "drugs kill". But we know what the lethal doses are for LSD, Psilocybin, THC and Cocaine hydrochloride. There isn't one. (It's about 6 litres for water, and about 300ml for Alcohol by comparison). These compounds aren't "safe", and have deleterious effects on physical and mental health, especially with long-term use. But their dangers are a known quantity, just like they are for alcohol. People have been smoking Marijuana, and eating hallucinogenic fungi for millennia. These, really should be considered no different to alcohol. Chewing Coca leaves is a prophylactic against altitude sickness, and a stimulant effect a bit stronger than coffee and are legal in much of South America. So why are they banned here? 

Habit.

And the prohibition of stimulants and psychoactive substances has led to exactly the same death and carnage that prohibition of alcohol did in the USA. A business of enormous profitability has been gifted to criminals. Billions have been spend interdicting supply rather than taxing use and profits from the recreational drug business. This is stupid.

And now, any Chemistry graduate can synthesise novel chemicals, and sell them as "plant food", and people will try to take them to get high. This only happens because reasonably safe compounds are banned, and the ban enforced with all the power the law affords.

This habit is INSANE, and it's only supported because the scientific literature is focussed on how to make the drug war work, rather than on working out what and why drugs do what they do, and what to do about it when people take them. All "experts" are from the Law Enforcement/Medical prohibition complex. Banning more substances is just a regulatory whack-a-mole with cis/trans isomers, making matters WORSE not better.

Instead of assuming all drug use is bad, accept that people have always, and always will, like to get off their tits from time to time. Sure, tax the products, like alcohol and tobacco, through the nose if necessary to cover policing costs, quality control and healthcare. Most people will treat Marijuana like they do Merlot: something pleasant to have at the end of the day. Cocaine: A bit like they do Tequila: Something to put rocket-fuel into a night out. A few will become dangerously hooked, as they do right now with alcohol.

My guess is that were recreational narcotics legal, there would be more Marijuana and Cocaine use, and less Alcohol and Heroin. LSD and Magic Mushrooms are not seriously habit forming. They weren't a problem when Psilocybins cubensis could be bought openly in Camden head shops pre 2005, and they won't be a problem after they're made legal again. The harms from all drugs would probably go down thanks to a safer supply chain, and the tax revenue would help the Government balance the books. All those drug-warriors in the police could be re-deployed to something socially useful, like enforcing parking offences or stopping littering.

No country to liberalise drugs laws has seen any major problems, despite heroic efforts of the bansturbationists to manufacture evidence to the contrary. Yet the major problem with prohibition: an illegal and unregulated supply chain remains in place. Imagine the good that could be done were the criminals, and their profits removed from the business.

You want to stop dangerous "designer drugs"? Legalise and regulate the relatively safe stuff that's currently banned.



Monday, 25 May 2015

On bad Left-Wing Arguments

Elections are won by the side that can reach out beyond their core supporters and persuade a plurality of voters that theirs are the best policies. What is striking at the moment, is how completely the left have failed to understand their opponents' beliefs and motivations. For this, I blame the echo-chamber of social media, and I think lefties are far, far more prone to this running down idealogical rabbit-holes than their opponents. Anyone debating lefties on Twitter will very quickly find utter incomprehension that anyone could think like that, and then get blocked. Labour is using social media to talk to itself, and therefore gets stuck with some really, really bad ideas.


I was arguing with a left-wing activist last night and I was put in mind of this great post from Fifty Shades of Dave. For her it was simply inconceivable that anyone could object to high marginal tax-rates on "the rich", as soon as they had "enough". "Enough" in this context was enough for a small flat. Taking more and objecting to paying eye-watering taxes in this world view was immoral, and utterly, incomprehensibly greedy. I tried to explain that someone on the higher rate tax was by no-means "rich", that a 40% income paid at some point by nearly half of the population, and that going higher, on the additional rate tax-payers, didn't raise much money. There was no acceptance that perhaps, if you're going to levy a tax, the opinions of those who might actually have to pay it, are relevant. But to no avail. This moral view of taxation, and the view that the high-paid are simply immoral is deeply entrenched on the left.

The problem for the left create for themselves with this world-view is this: Poor people do not desire, or even expect to remain poor. For most "young families" "poverty" as defined in relative terms by the left is a phase. You're poor when you're setting up home and building a career. Poverty for me was a phase. It was for my parents, and indeed my Grandparents. Money was a struggle. And then for most, it ceases to be as debts are paid off, and income rises. By your middle age, you're no-longer struggling for money. You've worked hard, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labours. If that's a nice car, a bigger house or simply not worrying about having another pina colada on holiday, it's no matter. Most people who've worked hard and paid their taxes, see these comforts as the just deserts of 'knuckling down'.

Labour's rhetoric during the election campaign instead thought of poverty as a Caste. Poor people who're totally dependent upon the state for their very survival, who lack any agency to better their condition. And this world-view can only come from the Milibands of the world, who're born into money, and for whom concern for the (abstract concept of) the poor is a form of value signalling. The only poor they've met are wheeled in by party activists for photo-ops. They are completely out of touch. in this they're supported by professional farmers of the poor, whose interests are best served by keeping their flock servile and dependent.

But the poor, by and large, do not resent the successful middle aged plumber/businessman in a nice car. Especially if that person is a neighbour who represents a route by which the apprentice plumber can get to the comforts of a decent income, and the self-respect that comes from hard work. Labour was telling these people that they were too stupid to make it. That they were without hope without state help. And that if they did "make it" they were selfish and wicked, and would have it taxed off them. David Cameron is no less out of Touch of the poor than Miliband, but unlike Miliband Cameron is not pretending to be something he's not, and much as Miliband would like it to be otherwise, the people don't really hate and fear the Toffs as much as Labour think they ought. Indeed people often would quite like to BE a toff one day.

The left assume the poor will always remain poor and so would always support punitive taxation on "the rich" because only 20% of the population pay higher rate tax. But nearly 50% do AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES" and even more aspire to. Fewer will get to the £100,000 62% marginal rate, but a good many would like to. Very, very few Tories utter the word "scrounger", the Newspaper which uses that word most, is the Guardian, whose columnists put the word into Tories' mouths, a comforting straw man, the right-wing ogre who hates poor people and wants to hurt them. And because they're arguing, to applause from social media, against a figment of their own fevered imaginations, they're ignored.

High marginal rates of taxation simply don't raise much money. Yet this is now the moral shibboleth of the left, but this signals the hostility to "aspiration" that is crippling the labour party. No-one aspires to a better life on benefits, yet this appears to be the left's offer to the poor. Tony Blair was relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Life on benefits is supposed to be a bit crap and limiting. If it wasn't, there'd be little incentive to work. Now it is the Tories who're saying "here's the route out of poverty, we'll smooth the road, and get out of your way". Millions of new jobs, admittedly some crap, means millions of people, some of whom formerly existed on benefits, now have a wage. And that some of these wages are topped up by in-work benefits is a feature, not a bug of "making work pay" through the Universal Credit. There are no longer any people facing marginal tax/benefit withdrawal rates over 100%. There were in 2010. And wages rise through people's lifetimes. People know this, it seems the Labour party don't.

People didn't vote Tories because they hated poor people, or the NHS, or were stupidly voting against their interests, as the great wail of pain and confusion from the left on Social media would have it, but because the Labour offer to people was utterly ghastly. Labour's offer consisted of rich, Oxbridge people saying "Have some more benefits, you worthless pleb, you'll never make it. And if you don't like it, you're evil, and we'll tax you." Is it any wonder Labour lost? David Cameron may not have successfully reached far beyond his base, but at least he's trying. 

Just as Tony Blair had to smash it into Labour's thick skull that nationalisation of the means of production was a bad idea to win an election, the next Labour Prime Minister will not come into office threatening anyone with a 50p tax. 



Friday, 15 May 2015

On First Past the Post

The purpose of democracy is not to conduct a tribal headcount, but to allow the people to chuck the rotters out from time to time. Does anyone think 1979 or 1997 didn't accurately reflect the country's desire for a change?

No electoral system is perfect. List PR gives parties an accurate number of seats to their vote share, but then forces them to govern according to the necessity of coalition-building, not their principles or manifestos. It also insulates those grandees who make it to the top of the list, ensuring no Portillo/Balls moments when a top flight MP feels the wrath of the electorate. It is important to decapitate a senior MP from time to time "pour encouager les autres". Under proportional representation, patronage of party elites to put people in order on the list, distincentivises individual MPs from exercising their conscience in the legislature. We'd have fewer rebellions, and a stronger executive. List PR is what a political obsessive who identifies wholly and completely with his party thinks a "fair" system, but it has negative effects on the behaviour of MPs and concentrates power in a few hands who exist completely away from democratic oversight. I feel about list proportional representation the same way I think about the UK joining the Euro. I'd stop it, any way I can, for the  system is wholly toxic. I don't want a PR Lords.

I want PR to go away, and never be spoken of again. Likewise "top-up" regional lists and so forth are fart-arsing about to please political wonks, to little benefit and create two classes of MPs.

On the other hand, First past the post gives a local MP a chance to build a personal following. His or Her standing may be enhanced by selective rebellions against the party whip on certain issues. MPs with a conscience and principles are respected by the electorate. An MP who is caught doing something the electorate don't like, like Neil Hamilton in Tatton, will be out on their ear, safe seat or no. On the other hand, a diligent and thoughtful MP who works hard, like Nick Clegg can buck the trend of a national wipe-out for their party.

Under first past the post we vote for PEOPLE not PARTIES. It's noticeable that the thoughtful, consistent, intellectual, honest and hard-working Douglas Carswell got re-elected relatively comfortably, but the opportunistic Judas, Mark Reckless was out on his ear. The voters of Rochester and Strood spoke. Likewise the voters of South Thanet decided that they'd rather not send Nigel Farage to represent them in parliament. This isn't about UKIP, as Douglas Carswell showed, but about Nigel. I have voted Labour in the past. Yes, me, voting Labour, when I lived in Vauxhall, I was pleased to vote for Kate Hoey in 2001, as she's anti-Euro and pro-Fox hunting (though definitely unsound on Cycling).  This is a strength of First Past the Post.

I'll say it again: Voting isn't a tribal headcount, because most people don't think like we political obsessives. They think about the government they want, what's happening in their constituency. You're a socialist, but Labour can't win here? Might as well vote Green to send a message, or Liberal Democrat to keep the Tories out. You're a thick, bigoted Moron? You vote UKIP whether or not they can win, and you're rightfully ignored. You don't think the Labour leader is up to the Job? You vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour guy, whoever you notionally support. In an electorate of forty million or so these choices usually deliver a result that delivers an executive with a clear mandate. To imagine everyone would vote the same way under different systems is absurd.

The result is a system that sets the bar very high to secure representation. UKIP, mostly failed to meet the required standard, and suffered at the hands of tactical voting. Where it looked like they'd win, the people coalesced around the candidate most likely to beat them. That is a valid democratic choice - the electorate expressing its will clearly that while there are 4m people who like the Toxic yahoos. There are probably 8m people who'd move heaven and earth to keep UKIP away from power. Lots of people can like you. But you also have to have lots of people to not HATE you too. And where the candidate wasn't obviously a bigoted git who looked like a shaved chimpanzee in a suit who's just ranting Farage's morning brain-fart, Clacton, UKIP won comfortably. There's a lesson there.

Would the country really be better off with 83 grunting ignoramuses from UKIP in coalition, demanding David Cameron send the navy to Machine-gun migrants in the Mediterranean (which they'd in any case already demanded be sent to... um... Nepal) and the RAF to bomb the Strasbourg parliament? What purpose would a dozen hippies from the Green party, demanding the immediate closure of Nuclear power stations, and the shrinking of the UK economy serve apart from to make the business of Government more difficult.

There is a case for some electoral reform, but it's not strong. Multi-member constituencies (I favour the counties sending 1 to 10 MPs to parliament depending upon population). AV or STV have their adherents, but these systems may serve to exacerbate the swings in a big move, and deliver even more overwhelming majorities to a single party or give overwhelming over-representation to everyone's second choice. I'm not clear this is any better than the system we have now.

The First Past the Post system isn't broken, and certainly no worse than any other. Landslides like 1983 and 1997 are rare. Yet the government changes when the mood of the country changes. The people aren't clamouring for a change to the system, the losing parties are. But the rules are the same for everyone. The losers should just work harder in their target seats and shut up.



Monday, 11 May 2015

The Euro Referendum, Scots Nationalism and Tory Wars

I went drinking with a nest of pinkos at the weekend (the collective noun for lefties is "nest", everyone knows this). What struck me is their constant refrains: "Tories should want Scotland to become independent", and "Tories will implode with over the referendum". The Tories ossified in their minds in the same way one's music taste does somewhere between leaving school and getting a mortgage, in our cases some time around the turn of the millennium. Very few people in the media on the left understand the Conservative party or the Conservative mentality.

The Conservative party is an ancient, many-headed beast. It does contain English nationalists, but these are a small minority. The vast majority of Conservatives would take another 20 years of opposition rather than see the Union break up. As it is, for now, Labour has been slain in Scotland. The Tories have as much Westminster representation north of the Border as Labour or Liberal Democrats. This leaves an opening. 15% of Scots voted for the "hated" Tories, and the party came second in a dozen seats. As a major party of Government, I suspect the "hatred" is more media habit, than real. There is a good chance of a comeback in Scotland - remember the Party was once as dominant in Scotland as the SNP is now. No political hegemony lasts forever, especially it seems in Scotland, and the SNPs will be no different. Expect there to be one remaining ranty Scots Nat holding a Glasgow seat in following the 2040 election as some other party sweeps all before it. Securing the long-term future of the Union, however will be David Cameron's main project as Prime Minister.

Which brings us to what commentators are confidently saying will be the centrepiece of this parliament - the EU referendum. Next to the Union, the EU referendum is now a trifle for the PM. Let's be clear. There is absolutely no way 'out' will win. It's major cheerleaders are too toxic. When the leadership of Labour, Tory, SNP, Plaid etc, as well as almost every major businessman, sports people, celebrities, The Sun, The Times, The Mirror, The Guardian and just about anyone else who matters lines up saying 'in' and UKIP with a handful of the Tory awkward squad and the Daily Express are for 'out', the public will notice. The vote will be 2:1 for 'in'. For this not to be the case, UKIP, and the Tory right needs to lead a remarkable, energetic and subtle campaign nationwide, starting now. Yeah. Right.

So the result is a foregone conclusion. The nest of Pinkos assume the awkward squad will then all chuck their toys out of the pram. The fact is, for most of the Tory party, Europe is no longer a burning issue. We'd all go man the barricades should it look like we join the Euro, but we won that argument pretty comprehensively. We are not Euro enthusiasts, and look at Brussels with scepticism, relishing every opportunity to slap interfering eurocrats down. But we're mostly grumpily in favour of staying in the project because ultimately the Tory party is the party of business.

So here is an opportunity for a Conservative prime minister to go to Brussels from a position of strength, and demand concessions. And we will get them. There is no way the EU felt the need to negotiate while it looked like the last Labour leader, Edmund Mili-something (I've already forgotten), was going to be PM. But now they need to consider a Generous offer - Germany cannot afford Brexit and Merkel will ensure enough is given to ensure the UK remains Germany's bulwark against French economic dirigisme.

The point is, everyone's already made up their minds how they're going to react. The few headbangers will headbang about it being a "betrayal", whatever Cameron brings back. They will be few in number. Half a dozen at most. There will be a large contingent who'll take up the opportunity to campaign for 'out' but take great care to do so without being disloyal to the PM. The rest will slide in line behind the Prime Minister, hailing a great transfer of powers back to Westminster by an all-conquering leader. (Whether this is the case, is irrelevant). There will be few doing so enthusiastically, and a great continuum of gritted teeth lining up behind the PM. But Cameron has won an election. And that, for now, means his authority over his party is absolute. That is why he wants to accelerate the negotiation - get the major hurdle out of the way early.

The Tory party has made its peace with its Euro differences. The referendum has been delivered. The Euro "bastards" are not going to do to Cameron what they did to Major, however much the Labour party, nests of my pinko drinking buddies and the Media will be trying to replay greatest hits of the '90s.



Saturday, 9 May 2015

An Election Result

Few expected a Tory majority until the Exit poll. I didn't dare hope until about 2am.


In Eastern England, a Region with a bigger population than Scotland, The Tories' hegemony is greater than that of the SNP's in Scotland, yet no-one is going to give these voters the indulgence which will be afforded to the SNP. Here, The Tories secured 50% of the vote, and all but one MP. The one non Tory MP was a Tory until less than a year ago. The Labour party lost ground everywhere, except London.

15% of Scots voted Tory, equivalent to the national UKIP share. No-one is talking about their "disenfranchisement". There are now as many Tory MPs in Scotland as there are Labour or Liberal Democrats. The Tories advanced in Wales and devastated the Liberal Democrats in the South-West.

Looking at a map, Labour is reduced to inner London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Liverpool and Leeds. Scotland is monochrome SNP, and the rest of Great Britain is Tory Blue. The Tories' closest allies, the Ulster Unionists did twice as well as expected in Northern Ireland. 

So. What happens next?

First of all, elections are won by parties with the positive vision for the country. The SNP has a vision of Scotland that resonates with Scots, if not with reality. That 8% deficit limits how "full" their fiscal autonomy can be. I can take Sturgeon at her word, that independence remains off the cards for the time being.

Labour on the other hand, spent the election campaign telling the country it was broke, divided, poor, unequal and some vision of victorian workhouse hell, lorded over by a "rich" elite. Given that inequality fell and "the rich" are paying more tax than ever before over the past 5 years, this clearly didn't ring true. The Tory message: let us finish the job, resonated with England outside the big cities.

The economy is largely sorted. The coalition undid much of the glue Labour poured into the labour market. The self-employed who paid tax on earnings in 2013/14 paid more than expected. Their earnings will accelerate, and the deficit will close faster than expected. I expect there will be more money for Cameron's second term. 

Cameron's biggest challenge will therefore be constitutional. What to do with Scotland, giving the SNP as much of their demands as possible, without alienating England. His job is to come up with a lasting constitutional settlement. Constitutional settlements tend to be more lasting and stable when done under Tory governments, as unlike labour's devolution in the 90's there's less short-term gerrymandering for party advantage. This will involve house of Lords reform, though I would regret this. The mountain of cant spoken about English Votes for English Laws comes from people who've got used to imposing the will of the Celts on the English, who've long voted solidly Tory. It's likely there will be a more Federal UK. The community of the Isles is being tested more strenuously than at any point since Irish independence.

There will be a lot of nonsense spoken about the upcoming EU referendum, set for 2015. UKIPpers will not believe Cameron will deliver it. They can be ignored. The fact is, the UK will vote by 2:1 to stay in. Cameron will walk tall having secured an unexpected majority. The Eurocrats will have to give something for Cameron to take back, and Merkel has already said what's on offer. 

Whatever the offer is, it will be derided by UKIP because free movement of people is a red line that will not be on offer. And quite rightly so. The crucial reaction will be the Tory right. Will they 'rebel' and make Cameron's life a misery like the post 1992 "bastards". My guess however is that Cameron has answered his Tory critic's main charge: that he couldn't win an election. This will mean this election has more in common with 1979 - the first majority after a period of unstable minority, than 1992, an unexpected victory by the fag-end of an administration. 

Labour, for its part, must find a narrative after a period of re-building. They must work out what they are for. If they can make peace with business, and more importantly, markets, then they can come back. Social democracy has a future in the UK, but not Socialism red in tooth and claw. Miliband was in this regard, a last hold-out in the jungle, still fighting after the total victory of Thatcher. Whatever happens, such is the scale of their defeat, especially in Scotland, the next labour PM will probably be beholden to the SNP for any majority.

This is the Second or third time the Tories have destroyed the Liberal party, and absorbed its supporters into the broad Conservative church. Perhaps the Tories should make an offer: Fight elections as the Conservative, Liberal and Unionist party? The liberal democrats had the naive belief that somehow being right, for example on Land taxation by council tax revaluation and extending the number of bands, will somehow translate into votes. There is a place for such a party, and I hope they come back. But this will be a generational project. 

Each of these issues will be the subject of a post in the future. We live in interesting times. Cameron has an enormous, difficult and delicate job. He can be the man who either presides over the destruction of the UK, or go down in history as the man who built the lasting constitutional settlement. He's been underestimated by most. He has an enormous responsibility. But I am optimistic he's up to the job. After all, he's been quietly right, calmly ignoring his critics, and content to let his record speak for itself despite the hysteria of lesser characters. He's steady under fire, to the point of insouciance. I like that in a leader.

Cameron is now proven winner. Holding the coalition together was a remarkable political feat, for which Nick Clegg deserves enormous credit too. And like Napoleon's generals, Cameron's lucky. So Far.



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Prediction

I think the bottles of port, beers and cases of wine I've bet with twitter correspondents, friends and colleagues are going to bankrupt me if Labour win, and give me alcoholic liver disease if the Tories do. So, hot on the heels of my correctly predicting the outcome of the Scottish Referendum, AND the EU elections; I, the UK's own Nate Silver using little more than reading, wishful thinking and guesswork am going to tell you what's going to happen over the next 36 hours.

David Cameron will still be Prime minister, probably with help from DUP, and the remaining Liberal Democrats. The alternative, Prime Minister Miliband is too grotesque to contemplate. Tories will probably be quite comfortably the largest party; here's why:

  1. Miliband is obviously a helpless, flailing git. In the privacy of the polling booth, this will matter, leading to
  2. The usual Tory out-performance of their polling, and labour underperformance of theirs.
  3. The polls are currently showing a small Tory lead.
  4. The polls may well be wrong, on a scale not seen since 1992, because the polling methodology hasn't been tested with the rise of UKIP, the collapse of the Lib-Dems and the rise of the SNP.
  5. Labour will do a bit better than polling suggests in Scotland, as will Tories (but to little avail in seats)
  6. Liberal Democrats will retain 25 seats
  7. UKIP will have 3: Clacton, Thurrock and one other. Neither Mark Reckless in Rochester, nor Farage in South Thannet will be MPs on May 8th.
That is my prediction with my sensible trousers on. But I think a small Tory majority is possible. That this is wishful thinking cannot be discounted, but the polls have so many moving parts in this election, methodologies are likely to be strained. In particular, spiral of silence adjustments to take into account the 'Shy Tory' effect have been getting larger. Yet Tories ALWAYS seem to outperform. In addition, the late swing seen in 92 may just be even later this time.

I would like the Coalition to continue. But I'll settle for a Tory majority and consider emigration should the emetic Mr. Miliband be Prime Minister.




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