Chapman’s News & Ideas

Reflections on the Revolution in England (and, oh, yeah, Scotland)

Our friend A. M. Radcliff offers this amusing assessment of the recent election. It is rendered even more delicious when one realizes the serendipity of yesterday’s Gospel reading in the Church of England (and throughout much of the liturgical Christian world) was John 15:13.

Greater Love

“Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay the down the lives of his friends for his own”.The words were famously used in the House of Commons to taunt the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1962 (when, in an episode later called “the night of the long knives’, he suddenly sacked seven ministers in his cabinet in an effort revive his faltering fortunes).

There is now a peculiar spice to these words, not only because they were delivered by the late Jeremy Thorpe MP. (Who, as it happened was later accused and put on trial for attempting a real murder of which he was ultimately acquitted). But also, because he was speaking as a Liberal MP, and taunting the then Conservative Prime Minister. This resonates now, as it can well be argued that the current Prime Minister –again a Conservative— has just won his election victory at the cost of sacrificing some 49 former friends. Only this time, the victims were not fellow Conservatives but rather his former coalition partners in the Liberal Democrat Party.

Having gone into coalition with the Government for five years, the party has now been savaged by the electorate, which reduced their number of MPs from 57 to 8 (even though they got 7.9 % of the national vote while the UK Independence got 12.6% but only one seat as their vote was too widely but thinly spread). It may seem a cruel paradox that the electorate penalized the Liberal Democrats for propping up the last Conservative government while increasing its support for the Conservatives themselves. This points to a critical error of judgment by the Liberal leader Nick “calamity” Clegg (as he was once known and will no doubt be again hereafter). After all, if you have been part of a government it is hard to run in the subsequent election a campaign attacking it. Was it not predictable that the electorate was likely to conclude that if you are going to support a Conservative government you might as well be a Conservative and so preferred to vote for the real thing instead?

The Liberals tactic of suggesting that their future role could be to mitigate the extremism of either main party, with whom they were however open to negotiating a new coalition, inevitably ran the risk of seeming unprincipled. Their moralizing tone was also undermined by Mr. Clegg’s infamous willingness to abandon a pledge, made in the 2010 election campaign, to scrap all tuition fees for students, since, once in government, he agreed to charge them up to 9000 each a year instead. His suggestion that his party could give a heart to a future conservative administration or a mind to a Labour one, now looks unfortunate, for the electorate as it turned out wanted neither, though in a rather different sense it did claim his head, since Mr. Clegg has now resigned, just like Mr. Milliband the leader of the Labour Party and Mr. Nigel Farage that of UK Independence Party who failed to win his own seat.

The larger story is, however, that of the Labour Party and the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). For here again, it was a coalition, or rather the mere idea of one, that proved Labour’s undoing. Historically, the Labour party has for many decades been disproportionately strong in Scotland, which, like much of Wales was seen as a Labour heartland. Indeed, without Scottish Labour MPs, the Labour Party could not have formed governments in the past. And here, David Cameron’s ill managed entanglement in the snares of the Referendum in Scotland, has born unexpected fruit, for the electorate it seems had grown tired of being presumed upon by a Labour party which they saw as very London based. While many leading Labour figures, such as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have founded their careers in Scotland, the impression was allowed to grow that their main focus was in the south. Despite losing the Referendum, the SNP gained massively from its campaigning and publicity and thus became a natural home for those who wanted to protest. Moreover, it preached a siren message that it would extract ever more funding from England in return for supporting a Labour Party which could no longer take power without it. This was doubly lethal for Labour, as it encouraged its former supporters in Scotland to leave while frightening English voters back to the Conservative party for fear that they could otherwise end up with a government effectively controlled by a small minority of Scottish Nationalist MPs.

Ultimately, the Labour party ended up routed in Scotland while also losing any claim to be a national party in the rest of the UK, where its support is now limited to the north and certain urban areas. Many forget that from its origins the Scottish National Party has had roots in the extreme left, so it was only natural that they would see their best ally for a coalition as the Labour Party, in what they described, with joyful anticipation, as a unity of progressive politics. They failed to see that this would be a hug of death for the Labour Party nationally.

The problem now for the SNP is that, while they have 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, (with just 4.7% of the British vote) without a coalition they can make much noise but wield no power. And they do not seem to want another Referendum yet, which might in theory secure such power, as they realize they would probably lose it. So the only way now for them, in terms of popular support, is probably down, since they face massive expectations upon which they simply cannot deliver. Yet, over the long term it has to be a danger to the Union if they are enabled only ever to complain and never be held responsible for the politics of grievance which has served them so well.
Nonetheless, since they won such a high percentage of the Scottish vote, they will be a problem for Mr. Cameron, who may be faced with the temptation of having to give Scotland even more autonomy than he promised in an ill considered panic in the last days before the Referendum. The danger here is that, if he gives full fiscal independence and removes all the subsidies from England he will be seen as exacting revenge, and will thus fuel secession, but he cannot be put in the position of being blackmailed into writing the Nationalists a blank check. Perhaps however, it was a telling image the day after the election when, in an official ceremony to mark VE day in London at the Cenotaph, the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, lined up dutifully with all the other party leaders to lay a wreath. Does this evidence, even now, the power of the “Establishment” to subsume those who would repudiate it? It is rumoured that Mr. Cameron has already been on the phone in extensive conversations with Mrs. Sturgeon, but she may be wise to beware his bearing gifts, after all, look what happened to his late liberal friends…

Mr. Cameron, however, clearly does face major problems. He is committed to a referendum on the European Union, but hopes it will leave the UK still a member. Given his shaky recent record with referenda, there has to be some doubt as to whether he can easily achieve this. And one of the reasons that the EU views such votes with disapproval is that, when asked, European electorates have a disconcerting habit of voting the “wrong” way (As the saga in Ireland when they had to keep on holding referenda until the Maastricht treaty was finally approved illustrated.) The European establishment is also disinclined to make concessions, in return for a reluctant UK membership, but without them Mr. Cameron will lack the basis upon which to argue that we should stay.

Domestically too, the Tory reputation for managing a sound economy means that many of the cuts needed to reduce the dangerously high level of national debt will now have to be implemented. Yet during the election campaign, in response to ever more rash pledges by Labour to protect spending, the Tory Party also “ring fenced” all manner of budgets. So where are the cuts to be found, unless the areas that remain unprotected are to be utterly savaged in ways that are politically unfeasible? This connects closely to one of the subjects most notable by its absence from the campaign, which is that of what Britain’s future place in the international polity of nations should be. Read More ›


An Untrained, Mis-Trained Generation

From the riots in Baltimore to the ballooning food stamp rolls, we witness in human terms the feebleness of the economic recovery. In front of the government and candidates for office should be the question, how to find good paying jobs and lifetime careers for people who have been socially promoted through public schools and maybe even college and now find themselves unemployed or under-employed? There are 92,000,000 unemployed adults in the country, many of them young, who have just dropped out of the economy. They may have few skills that employers need. Or they just never did very well in obtaining contemporary work skills, so they are not competitive with, say, highly motivated tech workers from overseas. At Microsoft the bosses expect excellence, not just good-enough. If you don’t make the cut, the job goes to someone in India or from India. Either way, many Americans lose.

Or, again, we encounter the really nice, smart, self-directed young person who was told to follow his or her bliss and then took the college courses that sounded cool, rather than those that would prepare them for the hard-knocks-life after school and when the tuition loans come due. They are looking around now, stuck and bewildered.

Those in the tech world, such as our former colleague Bret Swanson, writing for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce foundation, are absolutely right to insist that the slow growth economy will not lift the society as a whole. What Mitt Romney and the GOP was trying to say in 2012 was that encouraging entrepreneurs would create the new businesses, and hence opportunities, to help tighten the labor market and raise wages. Speaking yesterday at Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank conference in Bellevue, WA, venture capitalist Matt McIlwain of Madrona, LLC in Seattle described the folly of enacting “net neutrality,” effectively a government take-over of the Internet. The free Internet may have killed some jobs, but it also has been the greatest source of new jobs in the past generation. Imagine if the government had regulated it as it has done the phone companies!

The Wall Street Journal editorial page today (behind a pay-wall) is also right in observing that the people making money in this economy of low interest rates and high regulatory barriers to innovation are largely in the financial world,lawyers doing mergers and deal makers with government contacts.

Such is the real rigging of the the economy, and it causes the very inequality that the left uses to demand more leveling. In reality, the real problem with inequality is not too many real business people getting rich, but that we have a lot of people who are not getting ahead because they have arrived in their ’20s with slim prospects or have lost jobs and are unable to match the requirements of new ones. Yes, there are minimum skill jobs opening in food, entertainment, health services (from massage therapy to senior care)–in short, anything that can’t be handled cheaper and better by lower price workers overseas or by a robot in America. But there aren’t enough of those jobs. Read More ›


It was a Happy VE Day!

My brother Howard Chapman, lawyer, philanthropist, author and honorary fellow of Discovery Institute, wrote the following recollection from the day the Germans surrounded in World War II: <a href="“>http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/columns/WAR-AND-REMEMBRANCE-6467717


Summarizing Global Warming–Update

Some people thought Pope Francis was going to pull an Al Gore last week and denounce global warming. A number of climatologists did go to the Vatican and the Holy Father did speak in general terms about the subject humanity’s responsibility for nature. But maybe he had second thoughts after reading an open letter from a number of Catholic scholars on the topic of warming who think the issue is either over-stated or mis-stated. Sometime this summer he may have more to say on the topic, but it is hard to see how he might leap into a subject where, let us say, expressing climate alarm would win him praise mainly from people who disagree with him on everything else. Read More ›


From the Folks Who Brought You Camels and Lucky Strike: “Consensus”

Spend some time with old Time Magazines or Look circa 1950 and you’ll find ad after ad touting the doctors who smoke Camels or Lucky Strike. The PR agencies surveyed the doctors, sometimes counting hundreds of thousands of them, then advised readers that such and such brand was “not irritating on the throat”, was “soothing” and other euphemisms for scientific approval of what turned out to be a deadly product. Most doctors smoked in those days. There was a kind of consensus that smoking was okay, especially if you bought a particular brand, one with filters, perhaps. That the incidence of lung and throat cancer was rocketing up didn’t register fully on medical practitioners for a long while. The connection Read More ›


Tech “Elders” Oppose Obama Internet Grab

Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder and other “elders” of the privatized Internet era expressed their alarm over drive by the FCC and Obama Administration to put Internet innovation under federal regulation in the name of “Net Neutrality”. They want an “open Internet” instead.

The Daily Caller said, “Tech elder George Gilder, a futurist author and co-founder of the Discovery Institute, told TheDCNF that businesses have no incentive to interfere with Internet freedom. ‘Their interests are aligned with an open Internet,’ he noted, ‘and the idea that Title II can impose an open internet is just quixotic.'”

A sizable media contingent covered the “elders” presser, and noted the significance of leaders such as Bob Metcalf, John Perry Barlow, Mark Cuban and Scott McNeilly, among others, speaking out on a controversial subject. Daniel Berniger organized the event.

George Gilder advised me today that the Internet companies now represent almost half the value of the NASDAQ and that putting the FCC into the role of regulating them–using the old telephone company model of 1934–could greatly damage economic growth. “It’s Obama’s biggest socialist grab so far,” Gilder said. Read More ›


Corker Bill is Still Best Hope Against Bad Iran Deal

Originally published at The Stream.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next week on the Corker/Menendez bill to require a subsequent vote on any Iran deal that the Obama Administration completes by early summer. There is great uncertainty about everything involved, however.

To start with, the Iranians and the American Administration are saying contradictory things about what they have “agreed” on. Increasingly, as the Israelis have figured out, Obama and Kerry are so eager — or is it desperate? — to get something, anything, they can call an accomplishment that they will concede practically everything other than a useless promise not to build a bomb. And maybe even that. Read More ›


Obama’s Dead End on Iran

Originally published at The Stream.

In the late 80s I was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna, which included the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Even then the Iranians were known to be working toward a bomb — and stonewalling the IAEA’s inspectors. They have been building—and stonewalling — ever since. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration in recent years has been enabling rather than thwarting the Iranians’ deceptions. Read More ›


Iran: Sen. Corker Plays His Hidden Hand

It’s the equivalent of a domestic diplomatic coup.

Many people have been frustrated with the Republicans in Congress for not “doing” anything to prevent a ruinous nuclear agreement with Iran. Sen. Tom Cotton did get 47 GOP signatures on a statement warning that a Presidential agreement without Congressional approval could be over-turned easily by a new President (in less than two years). And that did sober up the Iranians. But it was still only 47 senators. Why were so many Democrats silent, and where was the GOP Leadership?

Well, the answer is, they were biding their time. Whereas the Administration’s diplomacy has been conspicuously clumsy and wrongheaded, Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been exceeding diplomatic–in the best sense. The result is today’s triumphant bi-partisan committee vote to require Congressional approval of any agreement between President Obama and the Iranian regime. This probably will come as a shock in Tehran. But there still appears to be a bi-partisan majority in Congress for clear headed foreign policy.

Sen. Corker deserves credit for the way he managed this elaborate process. Omri Ceren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who keeps a listserv well-advised of daily developments of the Iran nuke story, covers today’s exciting developments in the message below. The best part is the collapse of White House resolve to veto a bill once it was clear the veto would not be sustained. At last! Read More ›


Valuable, Under-Reported Protection from Nuclear Attack

You have plenty to worry about, don’t you, without turning your anxious eyes to the problem of possible nuclear attack on the U.S. Even less worrisome for most people is the chance of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would close down electricity, computers–everything but pre-modern infrastructure–for half or more of the country. Both kinds of danger have been described eloquently by Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter (Sleepwalking with the Bomb), among others.

Yet the possible can become the probable without preventive measures. The point of missile defense is to make it clear to adversaries that an attack is likely to fail and to lead to a very successful counter-attack. The good news that is not being widely reported is that the military is doing something about it–finally.

Former Ambassador Henry Cooper and his High Frontier group are hailing the Pentagon’s $700 million investment in a hardened nerve center inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. That is the most serious first step in upgraded U.S. deterrence. Note Amb. Cooper’s warning that without greatly improved anti-ballistic missile protection from the middle or south of the globe, assaults still can come. So we are a long way from the kind of shield that will a) protect our homeland; and b) serve to deter aggression by North Korea, Iran or, for that matter, something like ISIS. But we at least do have a military command, Congress and–presumably, an Administration–that is preparing to do what is necessary. Read More ›