15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn the new communist Leader of the Opposition

Ed Miliband's greatest failure as former leader of the UK Labour Party was not losing the 2015 election worse than Gordon Brown did in 2010, but in leaving it a new process for electing leader that has helped ensure that one of the least appropriate MPs in the House of Commons, now leads the Opposition.

To make it clear, Jeremy Corbyn has, for decades, been a bit of a joke.  One of the handful of MPs on the Trotskyite extremes of the Labour Party, who has never held any office in the Labour Party shadow cabinets, nor in government.  Not only was he never a parliamentary undersecretary under a Labour Government, but he was never a shadow spokesman either.  His views are not only well to the left of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, but also Neil Kinnock and arguably also Michael Foot - whose 1983 election manifesto was famously the "longest suicide note in history".

As Conservatives guffaw at him becoming leader of a party, that only months ago it feared losing to, it's worth remembering some of his positions, but also the context within which "Corbyn-mania" has appeared.

Corbyn believes there is nothing worth doing that shouldn't be managed by the government.  He believes that education should be under the control of a National Education Service, wants all public schools under central control and would strip private schools of their charity status (and would prefer if they all closed down too).  He wants to abolish tertiary tuition fees and to guarantee all graduates a job.

He wants the multiple private railway companies and the gas and electricity companies to all be nationalised, without compensation to the owners.  He opposes "austerity" and is open to printing money to pay for large government infrastructure projects, mostly around more state housing and public transport.  He wants higher taxes, higher welfare payments and a massive programme of building council houses, and to introduce rent caps on the private rental sector.

He wants to reopen coal mines, ban fracking and wants a new "Green economy" funded by taxpayers. Yes, he believes in the environment and coal mining.

Suffice to say that a man who thinks Venezuela is a shining example, is an economics moron, but it is much worse than this.

Corbyn's approach to foreign affairs can be summed up by three points:

-  The Western world is the source of all of the world's ills;
- When other countries have dictatorships or wars, it is probably the fault of the Western world somehow;
-  Israel is the source of evil in the Middle East, or it is the USA.  Take your pick.

He says "the survival of Cuba since 1979 is an inspiration to the poorest in the region", forgetting of course that this is done on the backs of an authoritarian one-party state that imprisons and tortures opponents.  What else can be said of a man who called the murderous Sandinistas heroic?

What of his welcoming members of the IRA to the House of Commons weeks after the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton, killing five people in 1984 (attempting to kill PM Thatcher)?  What of his colleague John McDonnell saying it was time to honour IRA bombers, because it was they who gave up the war and created peace?

He believes the UK should abolish its independent nuclear deterrent because it would "set an example" to countries like north Korea to disarm.  Is he stupid, or does he simply think that totalitarian socialist states have some good in them that can be appeased?

He talked of his friends at Hamas and Hezbollah, justifying it saying he calls "everyone" he meets friends and it is important, when seeking peace, to talk to all sides (the same excuse he gave for meeting the IRA).  He has yet to meet anyone from the Israeli Government of course (nor Ulster unionists, let alone paramilitaries).  Then again, he also donated to Deir Yassin Remembered, a campaign run by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.  Corbyn vehemently rejects anti-semitism, and I believe he is genuine.  However, he associates and gives succour to anti-semites and those who want Israel "wiped off the map".  It's difficult to see how he reconciles this.

He would like the UK to withdraw from NATO because he opposes its "eastern expansion", ignoring that a key reason for that expansion are former satellites of the USSR keen to be protected from their former imperial master.   However,  he doesn't see Russia as being so bad.  Indeed, he thinks NATO has provoked it, by talking to Georgia about membership (of course it didn't happen, and part of Georgian territory is now Russian occupied), and Ukraine (ditto). 

He rails vehemently against Western imperialism, which means any military action by the West or Western states, but he never protests such intervention from Russia or Iran or China.   He opposed the UK defending the Falklands from a military dictatorship, indicating that in any conflict, he will tend to take the view that the "other side" probably has a point, and the UK (and the West) should relent.   

Of course, none of this is new, he's been a Marxist rebel for over 30 years, but he has backing, from a solid core of old-fashioned communists, who miss the USSR (think George Galloway, Ken Livingstone), and a new generation of airhead Marxists, brought up on the class, race, gender consciousness of identity politics in schools and universities, and using the internet to spread their hate filled ignorance.

Don't forget at the height of the Cold War, this sort of politics did gather nearly 28% of the vote.  For those joking that Corbyn and his views are "unelectable" consider what is in his favour that was not the case in 1983:

- Thatcher had barely won back the Falkland in a big show of patriotic success, which Labour had opposed.  There will be no winning war likely in the next few years;

- The Liberal Party was in a position to ally itself with a breakaway party from Labour (the SDP) and had been on the resurgence.  By contrast, the Liberal Democrats were almost wiped out at the 2015 general election and are moribund, and unlikely to present a credible alternative;

- The anti-NATO/anti-nuclear campaign in 1983 was in the context of taking on the USSR, which no longer exists as an example of "what socialists really want".  A whole generation of airheads have no idea about what life under the jackboot of Marxism-Leninism really is like;

- Far left voters partly drifted to the Greens and SNP in the last election, if Labour pulls back many of those voters, they will come close to the Conservatives in share of the vote - but with First Past the Post that might be plenty to win a majority;

- The demographics of the UK have changed, with more immigrants and ethnic minority voters who tend to support Labour, although that relationship is not as tight as Labour would hope, it is one reason Labour did relatively well in London at the General Election.

So don't rule him out completely, but then I fully expect the Conservative Party to not take advantage of this move to the far left, but rather engage in a sopping wet contest for the middle muddle ground of mediocrity.  It already has with its commitment to raising the minimum price of labour to the so-called "living wage" level (with some retailers already warning about how inflationary that will be, which will make the "living wage" even higher and so on).  It continues to engage in totemic wasteful projects like HS2, and a massively subsidised nuclear power station, whilst worshipping the NHS religion and playing corporatism and central planner with multiple sectors.  Too many in the Conservatives would rather win a massive majority for the sake of power than actually reverse socialism and state privilege wherever it may be.

With David Cameron standing down before the next election, is it too much to ask for a Conservative leader who actually is opposed to not only the policies, but the principles and rhetoric of the new Labour leader?

10 September 2015

Farewell Air NZ 737s - the noisy revolutionaries

On the 6th of September, NZ557 from Christchurch to Auckland marked the end of Boeing 737 service for Air New Zealand.  This was barely mentioned by the press, but there is history behind Air NZ (and its predecessor NAC) flying Boeing 737s, because they truly revolutionised travel within the country in the 1960s and in just over 10 years or so they had seen off the end of the Wellington-Lyttelton overnight ferry, the Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill overnight train and one of the two Auckland-Wellington overnight train services - despite best efforts by politicians to prop the latter three up with subsidies.

Before aviation enthusiasts jump on me, yes, I know the Boeing 737-300s that have been flying the last decade and a half are not the ones that started flying in 1968.  These were the 3rd generation of the type NAC first flew on the "main trunk" Auckland-Wellington-Christchurch Dunedin", and yes there is now a 4th generation (which are the types flown by the likes of Qantas and Virgin Australia to NZ today), but the basic design retain a lot of commonality.  Besides, I like an excuse for a bit of history, and this one contains a political element that demonstrates, once again, how "democratic control" of a business can so easily sow the seeds of failure.

NAC was wholly owned by the Government and had virtually a statutory monopoly on domestic air services.  Other airlines did provide services, but they had to prove to the bureaucracy that there was demand for the service (heaven forbid a business start up service risking it might not have customers!) and prove it would not interfere with the services provided by existing operators.  So NAC had a legal veto over competition.  Nevertheless, it almost always operated profitably overall, although the reality was that the "main trunk" was gouging passengers and making high profits, whereas services to provincial airports like Kaitaia, Gisborne, Oamaru and Westport were unprofitable, but considered politically important (unlike today, with Air NZ which is profit focused across the network).   Still, NAC, as government businesses were at the time, was run by aviation professionals and as the jet age started in the 1950s, by the early 1960s it was becoming clear that the next revolution in air travel would be pure jet travel.  It gained Government permission to go to tender for jet aircraft to fly domestic services in 1965.

The three main manufacturers at the time, Boeing, Douglas and British Aircraft Corporation all were shortlisted.  Boeing with its, as yet unflown, 737. Douglas with the DC-9, and BAC with its BAC 1-11.  NAC's criteria for the aircraft to choose included speed of turnaround, fuel efficiency and ability to manoeuvre safely and reliably at Wellington Airport (which had a runway even shorter than it has today).  Herein comes the "democratic control" element.  The then Holyoake National Government wasn't impressed by the conclusion of NAC's analysis, that the Boeing 737 was the best aircraft for the job.  It was more interested in international trade diplomacy and winning the support of the British Government in securing favourable trade access when it would eventually enter the EEC.  It insisted that NAC "look again" at its business case, delaying approval for its capital investment in the 737.

NAC did, and once again made it clear that the 737 was the right plane for the job, and so it proved to be.  Over 8,600 Boeing 737s have been built (and are still being built), of the four generations of the original design (and a fifth generation is being developed).  The BAC 1-11? 244 and production ended in 1982, although Romania's Ceausescu regime was licensed by the Callaghan government to produce 22 it struggled to complete 9 by the time the vile regime was overthrown in 1989.  It was not the last attempt by a New Zealand Government to intervene commercially in the decisions of its airlines, but fortunately the airline won and so NAC was one the earliest operators of the Boeing 737 (Lufthansa was the first), the plane that (after some slow years) would be Boeing's biggest selling variant ever.

So what was the result? It cut travel time on the routes it serviced by nearly half, and it was 50% faster than the Vickers Viscounts it was replacing, so one Boeing 737 could fly around twice as many services a day with 50% more passengers, saving them a considerable amount of time, but also enabling airfares to be more affordable, particular for growing business traffic between the main centres.   As a result, the competing modes were increasingly hit hard.

02 September 2015

Emotionalism - the new post-religious puritanism

Forgive the length of this piece, but this is a very big issue that should concern not only those who embrace academic freedom, but also more generally individual freedom and the importance of reason.

As Mary Wakefield in The Spectator last week put it:

Back in the 1990s, PC students would stamp about with placards demanding equal rights for minorities and talking about Foucault. This new PC doesn’t seem to be about protecting minorities so much as everyone, everywhere from ever having their feelings hurt.

The illiberal left (and I am not being pejorative here, but believe that despite their claims, these are people who are as illiberal as any hardline social-conservatives, in their own way) regard the term "political correctness" as a reactionary pejorative label against "liberation" movements that seek equal treatment of people based on a whole set of agreed identity politics based categories.  It is swiftly dismissed, rather than the key arguments behind it tackled, not least because, unfortunately, so many who claimed "political correctness gone mad" (as if it was ever sane) were themselves not particularly articulate about their concerns, or (if you scratched the surface) racist, sexist and homophobic.

Today the illiberal left (yes there is a genuinely liberal left) have moved on, into what I call the new tyranny of emotionalism.  It is the belief that if something someone says or gestures or does, hurts your feelings, the person who says or gestures or does whatever, should refrain from doing so, to protect the hurt feelings of the "offended".

It is seen in the reaction of illiberal left to the Charlie Hebdo murders by Islamists - after a cursory expression of horror, their first reaction was that nobody should say anything to upset Muslims, by taking on the tyranny of those seeking Islamic blasphemy legal principles to apply to the free world. Then it went much further, with television in the UK refusing to show the cover of Charlie Hebdo magazine, because it might offend a tiny minority of viewers.

It is seen in the anonymous vitriol poured out by those offended by an article published in a newspaper that was neither illegal, nor gratuitous (but the newspaper was from the spawn of the devil - being The Times, owned by the illiberal left's own pantomine villain - Rupert Murdoch - whose main crime has been to establish or buy media outlets that express views they not only disagree with, but importantly disapprove of).   It saw the newspaper pull the article because of the angry mob.

It is seen in the complete absurdity of a UK National Union of Students Women's Conference asking delegates to not applaud speakers because it "triggered" anxiety for some students.  So "Jazz Hands" were suggested instead.  The language used by one of the advocates for this hyper-emotionalism responded by saying: