The Ideological Rot That Is Destroying English Conservatism

Letwin: let them holiday in Bognor

Letwin: let them holiday in Bognor

One of the greatest advances for personal freedom in the last twenty years was the rise of the low cost airline. Suddenly, thanks to Ryanair, Easyjet and their many imitators, European travel was transformed from the rare luxury of the few into something almost everyone could enjoy, often two or three times a year. The range of destinations opened too, as smaller airports Bydgoszcz, Montpellier, Beziers, Wroclaw, Kaunas, Riga became part of regular flight schedules. This in turn enabled people to buy properties in parts of Europe which, hitherto, they had barely realised existed. And with flights so cheap they could visit their second homes regularly, enjoying with their family and friends the glorious escapism which comes of owning your own special realm in another country remote from the cares of quotidian existence.

Sure the cheap travel boom had its downsides, for no social and economic advance is without its side effects. Obviously Prague, Riga and Wroclaw could live without the drunken stag parties (though possibly not without the boost they have afforded the local economy); and no one is pretending that Ryanairs Michael OLeary is Mother Teresa, nor that a crowded EasyJet flight is the last word in sophistication. But you would need a really warped sense of priorities to argue that the disadvantages of cheap air travel outweighed the advantages, let alone that it is something which should be actively discouraged.

Yet bizarrely, disgracefully, this is exactly what one of David Camerons ministers is reported to have proposed. According to the excellent Iain Martin (formerly of this parish), the minister in question is Eton-educated former merchant banker Oliver Letwin. And his remarks have prompted a row with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson has had a blazing row with a Tory Cabinet minister who privately told the London Mayor that the Government doesn’t want people flying abroad on holiday.

Johnson told a ‘People’s Question Time’ event: ‘I was absolutely scandalised the other day to hear a government minister tell me he did not want to see more families in Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays.

Absolutely disgraceful, a bourgeois repression of people’s ability to take a holiday. It is a matter of social justice.’

Who was the Tory minister concerned? Impeccable sources tell me it was Oliver Letwin,  the Hampstead-born minister of state at the Cabinet Office, ‘leading Cameroon thinker’ and former investment banker.

Once again we see Boris positioning himself as the ideological conscience of the Conservative party. Im not suggesting he doesnt also believe this stuff: Im sure he does, with a passion. But politically it makes sense too for Boris understands clearly, as his party leadership apparently does not, the Conservative party in Britain is in dire, dire trouble. And the root of this malaise is precisely this mix of snooty remoteness, intellectual woolliness and odious wetness exhibited by senior party figures like Oliver Wetwin.

Wetwin, let it not be forgotten, is not some random pillock on the fringes of the Tory party. He is the Prime Ministers key policy adviser. If somebody that influential cannot understand why trying to clamp down on cheap holiday flights (as indeed the government is doing: through the swingeing eco-taxes imposed on air travel) is inimical to Conservatism, then truly the Tory party is doomed.

One of the reasons Margaret Thatcher was so successful was that she understood what it means to aspire to a better life. If youre Oliver Letwin (or indeed a baronets son like George Osborne, or indeed David Cameron) you dont need to worry about such things: youve had it all handed to you on a plate already. But to Thatcher, the kind of snobbery that suggests that only people with chalets in Gstaad (like Nick Clegg) or homes in Tuscany (eg Polly Toynbee) should be able to afford to fly abroad regularly would have been total anathema.

One of the key tenets of Conservatism is a desire to set people free: free of the shackles of the state, free to forge their own destiny, free to spend their money on as many exciting new opportunities as a burgeoning market is prepared to offer them. This is also how economies grow: by harnessing the mightily powerful urge most people have to improve their own lot and create an even better world for their children.

Oliver Letwin is not the only senior Tory who completely fails to understand the point of conservatism, but he is probably the most egregiously misguided.

The only consolation here is that David Cameron is unutterably ruthless. If he believed for one fraction of a second that his political survival lay in ditching the wets in his party and rediscovering his true inner Tory, he would do so in a trice.

As Martin argues earlier in his article, while Cameron is busy grandstanding over Libya, his domestic policies are falling to pieces. Not only is the Coalition under threat, but Camerons brand of managerial, Heathite faux-Conservatism too. I still fancy Camerons chances because, beneath that plausibly charming veneer, hes a principle-free thug. Thats why, I suspect, sooner or later hes going to be forced to do the right thing.

And one of those right things should definitely be this: sack Oliver Letwin.

Related posts:

  1. Cameron’s coalition of liars, trimmers and charlatans are destroying Britain’s landscape
  2. A refreshing weekend of real conservatism
  3. Cancun suffers its final indignity: a visit from ‘Two Jags’ Prescott
  4. ‘Compassionate’ Conservatism isn’t Conservatism

16 thoughts on “The ideological rot that is destroying English conservatism”

  1. Martin Lack says:3rd April 2011 at 3:14 pmSorry to be so outrageously predictable but, the main disadvantage of cheap air travel is that its cost does not reflect the environmental damage it is causing: Being of the same generation as you, James, I too benefited greatly from the expansion of affordable air travel in the 70s and 80s. However, back then, our parents could be excused their self-indulgence on the grounds of ignorance. Today, the situation is different in that we now know what damage is being done (and most of us are even willing to acknowledge it). Therefore, armed with this knowledge, to carry on taking advantage of cheap air travel is selfish. However, as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) observed, such is our “state of nature” – and such is the truth of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” – that we do indeed need governments to make some anti-libertarian choices for us.
  2. Nige Cook says:3rd April 2011 at 7:42 pmWhat “environmental damage” is air travel causing, Martin? Aircraft release just 3% of total CO2 emissions.
  3. Velocity says:4th April 2011 at 1:38 amHaving sold up in the UK and moved to The Med i’m not up with UK politics much, especially as the BBC, ITV and SKY News is totally unwatcheable mind-numbing dross (is it made for patronising 13 year olds?). So i’ll take your word for it James that Tory policies are falling apart at the seams.
    This is what i told your ‘small Govt’ mate Daniel Hannan would happen. If the Tories were piss poor in opposition they’d be even more shambolic in Govt faced with real (as apposed verbal) challenges.
    But forget re-arranging the deckchairs, or in Oliver Letwins case he’s the trash in the bin, on the Titanic James.
    The real iceberg is the economy. Everything else is bunting.
    Housing, consumers and retail have all just started tanking again.
    When the economy rollercoasters down into its 2nd Double-Dip the public, the real ones not the current bleating pigs of the public sector, will (finally) lose their rags and (finally) kick off into the streets (Circa. 2012-2014)
    The current Lib-Con jokers will find a hell on earth and at last awake from their cushy elite educated socialist slumber ….welcome to reality retards
  4. Martin Lack says:4th April 2011 at 8:29 amNige, that is just yet another “and who is my neighbour” excuse for taking no action!
  5. Nige Cook says:4th April 2011 at 11:30 amMartin, you’re ignoring the NOAA data from 1948-2009 and supposing that humidity isn’t falling to compensate for greenhouse CO2 emissions (negative feedback), but even if you did have your facts right, your “action” is wrong because it will have no significant effect on the problem, yet will have a very significant effect on the global economy, on people’s lives, etc. If you really care about making a brighter future, I suggest you join the “big society” bandwaggon and consider complaining about the marketing of popular poisons like alcohol and pseudo-science.
  6. Martin Lack says:4th April 2011 at 6:17 pmAlcohol is not a poison, but it is a socially-acceptable-yet-highly dangerous drug.As for pseudo-science, I complain about what you say almost every day but will you shut up. Not a chance.

    But, since you still have not invalidated his argument, I return to the central point made by Greg Craven, that we should stop arguing about the science and start debating about the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of whether or not we should take action to mitigate the potential consequences of AGW being/turning out to be true.

  7. Nige Cook says:5th April 2011 at 9:57 amMartin: you’re missing my point. The analogy of alcohol to pollution is very important. Pure alcohol is a poison: it’s taken up like water but doesn’t perform the same functions, dehydrates the brain, damages the liver. Diluted sufficiently, it is less toxic but it is still a poison.Saying “Alcohol is not a poison, but it is a socially-acceptable-yet-highly dangerous drug,” is wrong. Every poison has a lethal dose, and well below that dose, the effects are mitigated. Alcohol is an addictive poison. CO2 and radioactive pollution are not addictive poisons, and even if they were, the bigger problem is the natural level of each, which is way bigger than human emissions. All of these scare mongering scams rely centrally on the ignorance of the public to the lies being used for political ends, to suck away taxpayers money under false pretenses, etc.

    Feynman came up against this in the 1960s with radioactivity. He found the natural background radiation in Denver is double that at sea level altitude cities (on account of the extra cosmic radiation at altitude). Then he noticed people protesting about a 1% increase in radiation due to nuclear tests. Why, he asked, were the people not protesting against the much bigger radiation, the 100% increase in sea level radiation from living in Denver? Why not protest to have such cities closed, if you claim a hazard exists?

    Feynman classic repudiation of 1960s radiation lies for political scaremongering:

    Richard Feynman, This Unscientific Age (Danz Lectures, April 1963):

    You can play games and show that you will kill 10 million people in the next 2000 years with it. If I were to walk in front of a car, hoping that I will have some more children in the future, I also will kill 10,000 people in the next 10,000 years, if you figure it out, from a certain way of calculating. … How much is the increase in radioactivity compared to the general variations in the amount of radioactivity from place to place? The amounts of background radioactivity in a wooden building and a brick building are quite different, because the wood is less radioactive than the bricks.

    It turns out that at the time that I asked this ques-tion, the difference in the effects was less than the dif-ference between being in a brick and a wooden building. And the difference between being at sea level and being at 5000 feet altitude was a hundred times, at least, bigger than the extra radioactivity produced by the atomic bomb testing.

    Now, I say that if a man is absolutely honest and wants to protect the populace from the effects of radio-activity, which is what our scientific friends often say they are trying to do, then he should work on the biggest number, not on the smallest number, and he should try to point out that the radioactivity which is absorbed by living in the city of Denver is so much more serious, is a hundred times bigger than the background from the bomb, that all the people of Denver ought to move to lower altitude. … I ask you to ask that question to get some idea whether you should be very careful about not walking into a brick building, as careful as you are to try to stop nuclear testing for the sole reason of radioactivity. There are many good reasons that you may feel politically strong about, one way or the other. But that’s another question.

    What depressed me what the way this argument of Feynman’s was ignored by reviewers in science magazines when the essay above was republished as part of the Feynman book The Meaning of it All. I recall that one reviewer, probably in New Scientist wrote that Feynman’s views of radiation risks were outdated and shocking to readers: he made no mention of the point Feynman was getting at, which is the lying and deception. Yes, Kennedy signed the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty on 5 August 1963, four months after Feynman’s lecture. But it had a terrible price in “justifying” pseudo-science.

  8. Martin Lack says:5th April 2011 at 1:53 pmYour attempt at obfuscation by means of a lengthy digression regarding radiation will not deflect me: You say “CO2 and radioactive pollution are not addictive poisons, and even if they were, the bigger problem is the natural level of each, which is way bigger than human emissions.” However, the human race is addicted to fossil fuels, the waste product from combustion of which is most definitely polluting our environment. Yes that’s right, CO2 is an atmospheric pollutant because it is now being generated faster than the environment can assimilate it. For the same reason, we can enjoy drinking whisky but not pure ethanol; and above a safe level of consumption even whisky is poisonous.I am not too proud to admit I mis-spoke earlier when I said “alcohol is not a poison“; clearly it is – or people would not die of alcohol poisoning (silly me)! However, will you also admit you are wrong to deny that CO2 in the atmosphere can be – and is – harming our environment (i.e. the defining characteristic of a pollutant)?
  9. Nige Cook says:5th April 2011 at 5:32 pmMartin: I am grateful to you for stimulating me to complete my paper which debunks the basis for your CO2 scaremongering:’s only 8 pages long, and compiles the latest key facts debunking AWG.
  10. Martin Lack says:5th April 2011 at 10:50 pmInteresting stuff but, unfortunately, the entire premise of your crusade is wrong because AGW is not an “anti-capitalist conspiracy“: If it was, it would be an entirely motiveless crime, whereas AGW-denial has a very clear motive, which is to justify the continuance of “business as usual” and the maintenance of our “hydrocarbon habit“.Furthermore, with regard to water vapour, it does not matter how many times you, he, or anyone else repeats the flawed water vapour hypothesis, it does not negate the extremely high probability of the correctness of the scientific consensus.

    Unfortunately, while denialists prevent more effective mitigating action being taken, the climate is changing (as Greg Craven would say, “the experiment is running and we are in the test-tube“); and the time lag between cause and effect means that by the time this mad “debate is finally over, the cost of preventing significant change will have escalated enormously because, as Nicholas Stern has pointed out:
    This is not an investment project like a new road or a bridge. The costs and benefits of such projects can reasonably be understood in terms of a marginal change, set in the context of a given growth path for the entire economy. What we are discussing with climate change are strategies concerning patterns of growth, or possible decline, for the world economy as a whole in the context of uncertain outcomes. The analytical tools and policy constructs must be capable of taking on these issues directly. All too many discussions – and it is astonishing that they have done so – see policy on climate change as a single-investment decision, analogous to a new bridge. Standard or marginal cost-benefit analysis is appropriate for the latter kind of decision. For climate change, however, the relevant economics are much more difficult and profound“.
    Page 13 of “A Blueprint for a Safer Planet” (2009).

    In other words, Stern was right the first time, the longer we delay taking action, the more expensive it will be to take action that achieves the same result. The fact that the libertarian ideologues at the Institute of Economic Affairs do not accept this just shows how blinded they are by their idolatry of the free market. Again, Stern was therefore also correct to conclude that AGW is the biggest market failure in human history.

  11. Richard Treadgold says:6th April 2011 at 6:21 amMartin Lack:You ask:

    However, will you also admit you are wrong to deny that CO2 in the atmosphere can be – and is – harming our environment (i.e. the defining characteristic of a pollutant)?

    Please describe the harm you say CO2 is causing. Remember, as you describe it, that CO2 is emitted by natural processes, such as by animals breathing, and that it is the single most important plant food, even for aquatic and oceanic plants.

    I am interested to hear what harm this natural ‘pollutant’ causes to our environment.

    Richard Treadgold,
    Climate Conversation Group.

  12. Nige Cook says:6th April 2011 at 8:29 am“Furthermore, with regard to water vapour, it does not matter how many times you, he, or anyone else repeats the flawed water vapour hypothesis, it does not negate the extremely high probability of the correctness of the scientific consensus.” – MartinWhat “high probability of the correctness of the scientific consensus”? It’s a fact, not a hypothesis, that heated moist air rises, just as hot air from politicians/BBC correspondents/Dr Phil Jones rises to form an effective “smoke screen” called cloud cover. The bouyancy of warm air is a fact that at an equilibrium of pressure (pressure equalizes quickly), warm air has a lower density than cold air, causing it to rise like a hot air (or helium) balloon. When warm moist air rises, it expands as the ambient pressure falls, and the expansion causes the moisture to transform from a greenhouse gas (H2O vapour) into small droplets which form a white reflective cloud, cooling the air and surface below.

    No amount of consensus based on ignoring the facts can ever be science, it must be called pseudoscience.

    The page you link to, states the old positive-feedback IPCC hypothesis (used in every IPCC model) that sunlight warmed water vapour doesn’t rise to form clouds in the low-pressure at thousands of feet above air pressure.

    The positive feedback hypothesis is disproved by the data in my paper, and what we’re dealing with a socialist conspiracy called popular fashion, which is the most prevalent conspiracy you can find, even sucking in “conservative” nutters like David Cameron!

  13. Nige Cook says:6th April 2011 at 9:55 amSee also the new paper, Lutz Bornmann and Werner Marx, ” The Anna Karenina principle: A mechanism for the explanation of success in science”, (5 April 2011):

    The first sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina is: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Here Tolstoy means that for a family to be happy, several key aspects must be given (such as good health of all family members, acceptable financial security, and mutual affection). If there is a deficiency in any one or more of these key aspects, the family will be unhappy. In this paper we introduce the Anna Karenina principle as a principle that can explain success in science. Here we will refer to three central areas in modern science in which scarce resources will most usually lead to failure: (1) peer review of research grant proposals and manuscripts (money and journal space as scarce resources), (2) citation of publications (reception as a scarce resource), and (3) new scientific discoveries (recognition as a scarce resource). If resources are scarce (journal space, funds, reception, and recognition), there can be success only when several key prerequisites for the allocation of the resources are fulfilled. If any one of these prerequisites is not fulfilled, the grant proposal, manuscript submission, the published paper, or the discovery will not be successful.

    As I’ve written before, I was pushed into statistics before mechanical applications of mathematics. Suppose you toss an unbiased coin, observe how it landed, but don’t tell me. From my perspective, I still have to assume that there is 50% probability of heads or tails, even though the event is done and dusted, and you know the result with 100% accuracy. In this case, probability is just is a measurement about how ignorant you are of the facts. As soon as you have the facts, probability ceases to have values between 0% and 100%, or 0 and 1, yes and no. There is no fuzziness, no probability in the real world. Probability is just a subjective measure of ignorance, varying from person to person, depending on the knowledge available to that person. It’s subjective, not objective.

    What you’re trying to do, Martin, is to ignore the fact the coin has landed tails up on the AGW controversy, by asserting that there is some probability that warm moist air doesn’t rise. This reminds me of the fallicious argument that there is some small probability that all the air molecules will cluster in one corner of your room, suffocating you (or causing you to explode in the vacuum thus formed around you).

    It’s fallicious because although it looks like solid “probability theory”, it violates the conservation of energy, the third law of thermodynamics, etc., like the “probability” that a ball will roll uphill of its own accord. As soon as any slight pressure enhancement in one place arises, that air expands, physically re-establishing an uniformity of pressure. To get all the air molecules in one corner of your room would require a lot of work energy to be expended in greatly compressing (and thus heating up) the air into a corner, and that large amount of energy needed to reduce the entropy of the gas is simply not available. Even if you assume that quantum field vacuum energy is “borrowed” to power a temporary re-arrangement of air molecules in your room, you find that it is impossible to achieve because the amount of borrowed energy (Joules) = h-bar/time (seconds), so the time taken by 500 m/s air molecules to all reach one corner of your room prevents enough energy being borrowed to compress that that air.

    So in the real world, things are impossible, contrary to the popular fashion that probability is a statement of reality. Furthermore, the “self-fulfilling prophecy” principle is alive and well in “science”, well explained by Shaw:

    The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    – George Bernard Shaw

    The tolerance of criticism and the need to debate openly is the definition of progressive libertarian freedom. The pretense in mainstream physics that science is a “consensus of experts” is useful in showing such mainstream physics to be politically defended. Democratic politics, where the “consensus” is supposedly established every four years by elections, shows some of the problems with such consensus.

    First, a consensus means nothing where everyone has been misled by liars. Second, a consensus can form behind a liar who makes false promises that people want to hear (vote for Nige Cook, I promise everybody I’ll cut tax and provide millions of new public sector jobs, and better services for everyone). Third, nobody decent and moral and uncorrupted by the sewer smell of power wants to go into politics any more that they would want to board the Titanic while it was sinking, because they can see the country is bankrupt and there is nothing that can be done without money. So the consensus of liars ends up attracting more liars to it, just as overripe fruit attracts flies until they become very unattractive. At this stage, it’s too late for would be critics, because there’s a supercritical mass of bullshit exploding.

  14. Nige Cook says:7th April 2011 at 9:14 amMy paper compiling the negative-feedback evidence is now hosted at the preprint server
  15. Martin Lack says:7th April 2011 at 9:23 amApparently, the US Congress has recently repealed legislation that recognised the danger of AGW. In an editorial piece entitled “Into ignorance“, this is what Nature had to say about it:
    It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long. Global warming is a thorny problem, and disagreement about how to deal with it is understandable. It is not always clear how to interpret data or address legitimate questions. Nor is the scientific process, or any given scientist, perfect. But to deny that there is reason to be concerned, given the decades of work by countless scientists, is irresponsible“.
    Nature 471, pp.265–266, 17 March 2011.Is this how you want your children to remember you?
  16. Nige Cook says:7th April 2011 at 10:02 amMartin, duplicity is the word for the decades of work by countless self-deceived groupthink apparachiks who are paid to tow the party line (thus having a vested interest in continued lying scare-mongering) by sneering attacks on genuine evidence that debunks their lies.The editorial in Nature shows how far the smell of money has corrupted not just research but the definition of science itself, which is morphing away from the idea that facts override prejudices, into the ancient idea that superstitions override reason, because it uses “decades of work by countless scientists” as an argument, forgetting it can apply that deceitful “majority is right” lie to Piltdown Man, centuries of work on Ptolemies epicycle based earth-centred universe, Phlogiston, Caloric, etc. Do you want your children to remember you as someone whose support of money wasting for a lying “ethical” scam increased their debt burden, and reduced the ability of governments to spend money on real human needs?

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