Quacks and Snobs: Brtain’s response to the Grenfell fire

Almost two weeks have passed since the tragic event in Kensington that has taken many lives and left even more unaccounted for.

Since the fire engulfed the 24 storey tower block in a wealthy area of West London there has been little in the way of sober and sensible reaction to the calamity.

It has not been lost on the country that the victims of this disaster were mostly poor social housing tenants. The response of the local council was predictably appalling. The families affected by the incident were left clueless for days about where they would be accommodated and what provision was open to them to meet their basic needs.

Equally dire has been the reaction of the government. There was no meaningful response to the fire until well after the flames had died down.

Yet the tragedy does not stop there. The media hype surrounding the inferno has been very difficult to stomach. I have split the coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire into two categories; the quacks and the snobs.

On one side we have the quacks. They had been loud and proud in declaring why the fire occurred and how to stop furthers incidents like Grenfell. But the quacks don’t mention fire resistant cladding, structural modifications or a more robust maintenance procedure. The quacks have been in overdrive explaining how the tower went up in flames as a result of right-wing malevolence.

The reason the fire happened, they proclaim is because nasty Tory politicians don’t care about the poor. Many even claimed that certain sections of the Conservative party hate the downtrodden so much that they somehow allowed this to happen. It wasn’t long before people were highlighting that private companies being able to assess council run properties are a new phenomenon and if we just left things to the council then everything would have been alright.

There have even been suggestions that given the suffering that the UK’s poor face on a daily basis, the Grenfell fire is not even that terrible.

One quack interviewed on LBC even went the whole hog and blamed the Grenfell Tower fire on Margret Thatcher.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the snobs. Broadly speaking these people seem to think that somehow the Grenfell residents only have themselves to blame for the fire. One newspaper quickly exposed the perpetrator as a beer swilling foreigner.

The snobs really came into their own in the aftermath of the fire. I am as convinced as anybody that state procurement of private property is a bad thing. But the suggestion that the Grenfell residents don’t deserve rehousing because they are dirty, lazy, unproductive, drunkards etc. should leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths.

The idea that giving no assistance to the Grenfell families will somehow further the cause of freedom is obviously a ridiculous idea.

But the snobs don’t stop there. Some have even claimed that the victims deserved their fate. Facebook comment sections and Twitter feeds have been crammed with suggestions that ‘if the Grenfell people cared about their families they would have moved out of social housing’, ‘they should have had home insurance’ and ‘social housing should be dangerous so people are incentivised not to live there’.

Lambasting people who have very little breeds resentment rather than ideas on how to alleviate suffering.

Poverty is the perennial question of modern politics. But let us not lose sight of what poverty is. It is a condition that some find themselves in at points in their lives and not a moral failure. Like poverty disasters such as Grenfell play a devastating role in people’s lives occasionally.

Although engaging with ideology is worthwhile in many ways we should not let it totally cloud our judgement of what we perceive in the real world. It appears that for some people the tragedy that has dominated the news over the past couple of weeks has an opportunity for individuals to flex their doctrinal muscles.

When people are made out to be pawns in an ideological power struggle they become dehumanised. I very much doubt that either the quacks or the snobs appreciate this. At times like these there is a lot to be said for good old fashioned common sense and sympathy rather than grandstanding.


Liberal Celebrates Regulation, Calls It Deregulation

A month ago I honestly had no idea what LIBOR was. When the scandal at Barclay’s broke, I had people asking for my opinion on the matter. When that happened, I did something the left should consider doing now and should probably have been doing since the beginning. Something that may seem completely out of the ordinary for them.

I calmly explained I was not the person to ask, that I did not know what LIBOR was or what specifically had taken place at Barclay’s and that they should ask someone who was qualified to do so. I did not run my mouth spurting abject nonsense about something I had no knowledge of.

This concept of not simply shouting out the first thing that passes through your frontal lobe, without any thought or semblance of rational analysis, seems to have gone unheeded by Kevin Drum, regular contributor over at Mother Jones, a liberal leaning American periodical. Whilst this is certainly not the first piece of questionable content to spew forth upon the world from this publication, Drum’s latest article stood out, making me genuinely question what the balance is in liberal media between simply delusional or intentionally deceptive content. In this case it’s genuinely hard to tell and I’m having trouble deciding which one I’d prefer it to be.

In an article entitled ‘Today’s Geeky Financial World Excitement‘, which should have been called ‘Today’s Bureaucratic Financial Regulation Misery’, Drum opens with:

yesterday we got a bit of deregulation in the financial world, and it’s a bit of deregulation that I’ve long wanted to see. So now I get to find out what happens.

When a liberal celebrates deregulation, I hear alarm bells ringing and can smell either fish or rat. As this article goes on, rat became more prominent.

So what was the deregulation that got Drum so excited?

In 2005 an anti trust suit was brought against MasterCard, Visa and a number of banks for contractually prohibiting merchants from charging swipe fees on card uses. On Friday, the banks and card companies settled to the tune of more than $6 billion and are no longer allowed to continue the practice.

Erm. What?

No really, this is basically the entirety of what happened. According to Drum though, in a stunning case of Newspeak, deregulation here means the government telling companies that they cannot privately, contractually, voluntarily agree to how fees will be handled between the relevant parties. To anyone with sense this an INCREASE in regulation. Further, any rational being will also realise anti-trust and anti-competitive laws are utterly absurd to begin with.

So after listing the benefits of credit cards everyone over the age of 11 has long figured out, Drum then makes a sweeping general statement, something I consider the bastion of liberalism. Hey, it’s not an article by a liberal until they’re making subjective value judgements for other people without any knowledge of individual circumstances or desires.

Maybe a 2.5% fee is a reasonable price for those benefits.

How about we leave it to the individuals in the market to determine what is a reasonable swipe fee, rather then having the government dictate what is acceptable or in this case requiring Visa & Mastercard to declare their policy in a disputes settlement that is generally irrelevant to the average consumer?

It’s quite clear however that Drum doesn’t consider this for a second. Instead, he spends the next 2 paragraphs stating how wonderful it will be to let his Newspeak version of a market decide these things.

So after all this, he finishes up by making some predictions about how he expects his government intervened, more regulated market to respond to his latest decrees. In contrast to his rose tinted possibilities of things at worst staying the same, I’ll weigh in with some of my own, less positive but more realistic predictions.

Small business owners operating on already tight margins, who had sworn off using credit cards so as to offer their goods at a lower price to more fiscally tight consumers are unable to compete with the likes of Wal-mart who are now able to enter this surcharge free market as they are no longer contractually obligated to add the swipe fee across the board.

Competition in the credit card market will be reduced, further entrenching Visa and Mastercards regulatory monopoly. With the niche of not obligating companies to apply fees to cash transactions illegal, the state has removed one more opportunity for a competitor to emerge.

Was this intentional?

Aside from abusing the word ‘geeky’ like it was going out of fashion, I found this entire article disturbing. It feels perfectly designed to appeal to the left without actually saying anything of value.

Looking at the comments on Mother Jones, only a single person of the 50+ has pointed out that what Drum describes is not deregulation. The rest of the comments are largely by the kind of people you’d expect to find at the Occupy rallies, who are more then happy to weigh in, pondering the advancement of a state run scheme in one instance.

This article, to me, represents Liberalism today perfectly. Highly educated people who then feel they are qualified to go on and talk about that which they have absolutely no understanding of but then can’t understand why we mock them. Meanwhile, a flock of blind fools throw themselves on the issue as if there was nothing else to live for or questions to be considered beforehand.

Knowing this, is it too difficult to conceive that Drum could have intentionally mislead his audience? We regularly discuss how free markets are blamed for the acts of governments and this article seems to be the perfect set up for such an attack. Completely superfluous, logically and factually flawed, but with a film just thick enough to ensure that those who never stop to really ask what road they are currently travelling on will ever find their curiosity peaked to do so.

I would normally hope for a response from those I critiqued, but further feeding my feeling that there’s something off in the way Drum works, he has made clear in the past he feels people should not defend their positions.

Let’s talk strategy

Things have been going well for Libertarian Home lately. Off the shoulders of Andy Janesrabble rousing and letter writing we had a successful day’s leafleting. This was featured in City AM and was tweeted by Old Holborn (who has been up to mischief again today, by the way) and this brought a lot of new faces to the twitter feed.  We had a great time at the Liberty League Conference, where we met Brian Micklethwait. His attendance brightened an already well attended Southwark drinks and his attention to this parish has led to an even larger influx of new visitors. All this attention is flattering, but it means nothing at all unless it turns into action and I’d like to try and make that happen.

One of the themes of the Southwark drinks has been to talk wistfully about all of the different things we might do to change the world, which ones would have the most impact, and what particular kind of bureaucratic structure would be best to make that happen. Thursday night, things took a steer in a much more practical direction when Pavel asked thoughtfully:

So what would be the easiest thing to change?

What an infuriating question! It’s one that has been bothering me ever since it was asked.The reason I find the question exciting is that it forces us to consider first the practical matters and then the impact the change would have. For a group that hasn’t really had much practice working as a team doing the easiest thing first makes sense. The military strategist Colonel John Boyd observed that processes that iterate and  incorporate feedback quickly do better. He called it Boyds Law of Iteration:

  speed of iteration beats quality of iteration

Literally, you can win more battles if the process of winning battles takes less time to execute. We can practice our skills on easy targets, learn from our mistakes and get feedback quickly then do better at affecting change the next time.

So I suggest we follow John Boyd and Pavel Reich and focus on easy wins that can be achieved simply and quickly, perhaps two to five policy changes a year, depending on what actions we find are necessary to do that.

There are so many factors that would make an action easy:

  • Populist support
  • Compatible with different ideological stances
  • Small scale
  • Funding availability
  • Amenable to actions that we:
    • have the skills to carry out
    • can afford
    • have time for
  • Can be changed predictably
  • Can be measured
  • etc

These are few factors that we might consider when deciding what is easiest, but they must be applied to a set of ideas and a set of actions  that all make sense tactically etc before we can even assess them for simplicity and speed.

So, I propose another get together. A shorter and more structured affair than the drinks with white boards and post-it notes to brainstorm, plot and derive a set of two or three targets that constitute the easiest things we could change. By the time we get to 2012 we should be able to start on the first of them.

Please send expressions of interest via twitter @LibertarianHome or to me by email.

Stand up for yourself. What’s stopping you?

© Anonymous9000

The ongoing controversy with LPUK has raised the question of what else we could be doing to move forward towards election victory?

There is always the option to engage with the libertarian wing of the Conservatives or Liberal Democrat parties. The number of keen libertarians I met at the recent Adam Smith Institute drinks hints at a good level of support and companionship being available there. If you can stomach supporting a brand which endorses economic or social authoritarianism in order to advance liberalism on the other axis then this is fine. I am not so tolerant of compromise, and like many I believe a consistently pro-liberty platform is a minimum requirement.

On the other hand Gavin Webb’s excellent third place, while being actively excluded from party membership, has amply demonstrated that you don’t need to engage with a party at all in order to perform well. Gavin achieved his result by treading the pavements to distribute a leaflet to every household in his constituency, and knocking on doors and speaking with hundreds of locals to ask them their opinion and to give them his. He did not have much help (I think Stuart Heal went to assist him) and beat the UKIP party machine into fourth.

There are two obvious issues with Gavin’s story which are familiar from earlier reports from LPUK candidates:

  1. Not everyone has the time to tread pavements for hours – most libertarians are hard working people who, through their working life, know exactly the burden placed on the private sector. We must recognise we all already suffer a huge burden and must help each other to fight effectively for it’s reduction.
  2. Not everyone has the money for campaign literature – Gavin runs his own print company but still asked for £250 of financial support for his campaign. He got £66.96 after Paypal fees. In a national election, there would have been a large deposit to pay on top of this. These sums are obviously large enough to present a barrier to participation, let alone success.

My question to Pavel, which I will repeat, is what other challenges prevent you, dear reader, from standing on your own behalf to fight a campaign? Is it the absence of a positive Party brand? The official paperwork? Publicity? Is it solely a lack of resources such as time and money?

My intention is to provide as much practical assistance as possible. The goal of this website is not to talk about LPUK or libertarian politics, but to actually help create professional libertarian politicians. That means identifying and helping to solve the challenges faced by people on that road. So tell me, what’s stopping you?

Party reform round up

The first short-term goal of Libertarian Home was, and for the time being remains, to facilitate discussion of a specific set of proposals put forward by Max Andronichuk and Gavin Webb and Party re-organisation in general. Time has moved along and those articles are falling slowing off of the front page and down into obscurity. I thought it might help to roll those articles up into a useful index:

  • The Fear of Freedom – examined the parties attitude to debate and called for additional devolution.
  • Breaking up the Party – advocated a “free-market” affiliation based membership model and rejected the traditional manifesto.



This post is illustrated with a recoloured version of an image by by dynamosquito, which you are free to use under the terms of cc by-sa.