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A war where one side has no dead is no just war

5 Jun

Obama’s drones: giving folk a fair shot

Imagine a future where men do not fight and all wars are waged by robots. The robots would be controlled by government functionaries secure in Whitehall or Washington. They could strike foreign enemies – terrorists, militants, suspect Islamists – with pinpoint accuracy. There would be no need for the costly training of soldiers, no state remembrance of the dead, no tabloid cries to “Bring Home Our Boys”, no boys at all in fact; no coffins, no plaques, no graves, no marches, no medals, no prayers, no tears, no tears, no lists of dead reverently and quietly read.

It would be a kind of utopia. The dreams of widows of WW2 would finally be realised: no more lives would be lost.  For the West, at least. The veiled citizens of the Middle East – or of, who knows? Africa? East Asia? Eastern Europe? – would have to bear occasional blasts from clear blue skies. But if we tally up the dead from these blasts, against the potential dead from foiled terrorist plots, we can sleep easily at night. Far more would die if the West hadn’t acted.

Machines waging war. It sounds like something out of the Matrix. But it is steadily becoming true. Unmanned drones like the one above are deployed in Afghanistan (where we are at war), and Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (where we aren’t). Like toy jets, they are flown by US government officials thousands of miles away. The President authorises them to strike individuals or crowds of suspected terrorists (called “militants”), based on CIA intelligence.

President Obama relies on them far more than Bush did. Between 2004 to 2008, Bush authorised 42 drone strikes. Obama has authorised more than 300, sometimes up to thrice a week. No trial is conducted. No proof is needed. We rely on Mr Obama’s judgement that these men are terrorists (sorry, “militants”) and they are shot dead.

It would be easy to conduct all wars like this. Is not drone warfare the ultimate counter-terrorism policy? If we had pursued Obama’s approach for the last 10 years, instead of bogging ourselves in two horrific ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Bush did, we would surely be in a happier place. If we had assassinated the Taliban, Osama and Saddam by drone, we would not still be at war now.

Is war by robot the future? I should hope not. It would be the culmination of the machine age. We have been told for the past few decades that everything is better and everyone is freer, as a result of machines. Machine warfare, men would argue, would make things better  – our soldiers need not be slaughtered – and would free men from military labour. What possible complaint is there?

Perhaps this is a strange argument, but there is a question of virtue. How honourable would war by robot be? Robots need no courage, no discipline, no military strife. There would be no military virtues to praise, if war was waged at the push of a button. Have we then missed the point of war? A fundamental part of military service surely is a citizen’s will to die for his country and the rituals that come with it. If we have no rituals of war, no honours, no respect, no cause for reflection, where would be the humanity? When would we stop?

Foreign baddies would be massacred without any of our men dying. Should America go that way? It recalls the last days of the might of the British Empire, in all its futility, when battles were fought with superior technology and no moral qualms, against African spearmen. The Battle of Omdurman of 1898, waged against suspected Islamists, left 10,000 “militants” dead and 13,000 injured. Only 47 British died. This is no just war.

The numbers are far fewer today. The New American Foundation reckons that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1800 and 2800. We rely solely on reassurance from the US government that most of these Pakistanis are “militants”. Nevertheless no American soldier has died in a drone strike. The Pakistani government has not authorised attacks on its civilians. We are technically on Pakistan’s side in the war in Afghanistan.

One last moral question. If we can do it there, why not here? Britons have the same rights as Pakistanis. So why not quietly gun down that suspicious-looking Muslim at number 23? If we can bump off “militants” in the middle of the day in Waziristan, why not Wolverhampton?

Mr Obama can keep killing Pakistanis (with whom, I repeat, we are not at war). The only reason he can do so without much criticism is, bluntly, they are foreign. News does not pay much attention to foreign deaths in foreign fields. Were Abu Qatada to be assassinated, there would be uproar. Yet Middle Eastern civilians – be they terrorists we do not know – are killed almost weekly with little attention. 17 died in a drone strike on Monday. This is still yet to be printed by The Times. (In fairness there are 13 jubilee articles to write up.)

“To drone”, meaning to witter on monotonously about dull platitudes, or to kill foreigners by unmanned planes. This could be the word that defines the Obama presidency. In his inauguration speech, Mr Obama said: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” The ideal of a just war still matters. A war where our own men do not risk their lives has no honour or justice. There is no humanity in war by robot.

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Business Sec laments Bank of England independence

31 May

Vince Cable at Leveson, on power and whom it should lie with

Since no FT journalists were at the Leveson inquiry yesterday, this off-hand comment has gone unreported. But it is interesting and further than a Secretary of State has gone before in questioning Bank of England independence.

What powers should politicians have? Are politicians by necessity too partial to decide on media ownership? Or is media ownership, and should it be, a political question? This was the line of questioning Lord Leveson put to Mr Cable. Here is Vince’s reply:

I know this is taking the conversation in a slightly different direction, but the major area where I’ve had to confront the dilemmas you describe is in terms of economic policy and whether or not the Bank of England should be an independent body, separate from politicians, determining interest rates, and I was one of the people who argued for that independence when it was established 12 years ago.

But I think what we are now discovering is that there [is] – you know, a very different economic environment, that there are very big decisions which probably are political rather than technical, which the politicians are no longer able to make, because they have handed over decision-making to an independent arbiter constrained with rules, which were devised, as you say, to reflect the policy environment of that time.

This is the furthest Vince has gone. Mr Cable has always maintained that the government should not compromise Bank of England independence: he said so in 2008, and it is Lib Dem policy.

But since the downturn, he has started questioning orthodox Bank opinion. In October 2008, he urged the Chancellor to call on the Bank to cut rates on an emergency basis. In a leaked letter to David Cameron, he called for state banks. In March, he said he was in favour of redefining the Bank of England’s mandate. He said he was “attracted by”  targeting money GDP, over the Bank’s current inflation-targeting policy. When Observer columnist Will Hutton put the benefits to him, he replied:

One of the boring things being a cabinet minister is that the following day the Guardian says, “Minister instructs Governor of Bank of England to do X or Y”. […] The economic logic you set out is impeccable, let’s leave it at that.

Vince has turned from a sensible, tutting bank clerk of an economic pundit to a free-thinking druid tied back by a Witenagemot of fusty statesmen. Day by day he is realising, like King Cnut, there is not much he can do. The tide of financial wreckage is rising by the day, and he must sit in his throne and watch. It is no wonder he has started mining the depths of economic possibility.

The market, temporarily, has failed. Banks are not lending. Shoppers are not buying. Money printing has served only to better the balance sheets of the banks. The purses of Whitehall are empty. What can be done? Create state banks? Ignore inflation targets? Anything, Mr Cable would like to say, to get banks lending to businesses again.

It is in his frustration, in his impotence, that Cable has turned on the Bank of England. I have argued before that power has drifted from the politicians in Whitehall to central bankers across the world. Cable clearly agrees. The ECB is preventing recovery in Europe and the Bank of England has more levers of control than any cash-strapped government department.

Giving the Bank independence was broadly for the best. It was the last stage in Mrs Thatcher’s quest to conquer inflation. Inflation and its volatility have come down with no cost to employment or growth. But to ignore that this came with a surrender of political power is self-delusion. King is still King.

Blair at Leveson: Blair never caved in to the newspapers; Brown did

28 May

Blair’s ghost: the medium on media

Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus tells of the fall of a talented man driven mad by his own passions and desires for riches and glory. It is the story of Mozart’s rival and lesser musician called Salieri. In the final scene, we see a broken man who gives his last speech:

Now I go to become a ghost myself. I will stand in the shadows when you come to this earth in your turns. And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failures – and hear the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God – I will whisper my name to you: “Antonio Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!”

Today we saw a ghost who has been lurking in the shadows for some time, about whom only a few wizened and whispering old hacks care. It is Antonio Blairi, the Patron Saint of Mediacracy, come to prove that he had no interest in the media, media barons or media ownership.

The central charge against him: he was too fixated on what the newspapers thought. He denied this. When asked if the media ever distracted him from his job as PM, Blair said they never distracted him from “the main issues” of the day.

The misfortune is, “the main issues” were media-driven. To manage “the main issues” – be it a silly comment made by a minister, or the latest media panic – you need a media officer. Blair had a dozen: a Chief of Staff, a Communications Director, a Deputy Communications Director, a Director of Government Relations, a Strategy Adviser, among pointless others.

Alastair Campbell was Blair’s closest lackey. A cursory glance at his diaries show the trivia he dealt in. One can’t help think, reading the diaries 15 years later, why did this matter? Why did they care so much? On the one hand, listening to the media is good – in fact, healthy for democracy. The latest U-turns on planning reform and secret courts – in the face of media pressure – not only make for better legislation; they make democracy a more active thing than simply the process of voting every 5 years.

On the other hand, spending a large chunk of the day reading the newspapers, worrying about the angle, phoning Tony to discuss the narrative, phoning up hacks to berate them or toast them, checking on the 24-hour news channels – one can’t help but ask, what was the point? Here is a fascinating clip of the team, Tony and Alastair, in action (12:10). Watch the frozen look on their faces as they realise they are being filmed. It is like watching two schoolboys being caught up to no good.

We go too far, however, if we say Blair caved in to the newspapers. His aim was to manage the media, not to let them direct policy. We kid ourselves if we say Blair kept the Thatcher reforms on unions, on privatisation, on tax because of Rupert Murdoch. The truth is, Blair really was that rightwing. On vast areas of policy, from Europe to Iraq, he stayed the course despite a hostile press.

He did things Murdoch hated. He stopped BSkyB buying Manchester United and ITV. He introduced TV regulator Ofcom. He granted the BBC digital channels and a news website. He raised the BBC licence fee 14% above inflation, from £91.50 to £135.50.

The MMR uproar is a case in point. Despite a media frenzy after a report suggested an MMR vaccine caused autism, Tony Blair rose above it, saying:

On the contrary, the vaccine which [sic] is used throughout the world, helps prevent the spread of diseases that can, if contracted, cause very serious damage to children. [Parents can rely on] overwhelming research that has found the alleged link between autism and MMR to be unfounded.

It was Gordon Brown who caved in to newspapers. When he became PM, he set up a TV that screened rolling news all day in the office. Staff said he would shout at it when he was particularly incensed. Even on planes he would want to know the headlines. According to Andrew Ransley, he would badger aides: “What’s the story? What’s the story?” On a trip to the Vatican, an aide said: “Prime Minister meets Pope. Why doesn’t someone tell him that’s the fucking story?”

There is good evidence to suggest he let the media direct policy too. Blair had downgraded cannabis to a class C drug, something Brown had accepted as Chancellor. As PM Brown reclassified it as Class B, despite expert advice and a fall in cannabis use. Second, it is curious that despite Brown’s avowed love for the BBC, the license fee was frozen in real terms. Third, Gordon Brown wanted it to be legal to detain a British citizen without charge for 42 days on suspicion of terrorism. This was explicitly done to charm Murdoch. Brown’s most trusted aide Ed Balls told Anthony Seldon:

 Blair made it very clear to Gordon that he had to come across as tough; the News International people would worry if he was not. That is why he did 42 days.

This is one of the foundations of English liberty: the right not to be held on unknown grounds by the state. Gordon Brown acted like a reverse King John, coaxed by a baron to get rid of a freedom enshrined by Magna Carta. This was a clear contravention of his speech on liberty at the start of his tenure, in which he even hailed Magna Carta as the glorious start of British liberty. This is the man who would say anything to curry favour with the Tory press.

On reflection it is easier to cast Brown in the role of Shaffer’s Salieri. Jealous at a better man’s talents and popularity, he decides to make a pact with God. Salieri will do as God pleases if only He looks kindly on him. When it becomes clear Amadeus (“Beloved of God”) is the favoured one, and God has not kept his side of the bargain, Salieri declares war on God:

So be it! From this time we are enemies, You and I! I’ll not accept it from You – do you hear! They say God is not mocked. I tell you, Man is not mocked! I am not mocked! […] (Yelling) Dio ingiusto – You are the Enemy! I name thee now – Nemico Eterno! 

I can hear the mobile clatter across the room.

Murdoch’s power solely lay in convincing leaders of his power

3 May

Newspapers have little power influencing public opinion. A gung-ho Sun that savaged Brown everyday failed to get Cameron a majority. An anti-Livingstone press didn’t stop Londoners voting Ken in twice. The truth is, more Brits tune in to TV and radio bulletins than read newspapers. And many tabloid-readers are often more interested in gossip and sport than political essays.

Politicians don’t believe this. They believe tabloids are decisive in winning elections. Forefront in Labour minds in particular is the 1992 election. After 13 years of Tory rule, Labour’s Neil Kinnock was certain he would win. But Murdoch’s Sun launched a vicious campaign against him, culminating in an election-day front page. “We don’t want to influence you in your final judgement,” it said, “but if it’s a bald bloke with wispy red hair and two K’s in his surname, we’ll see you at the airport.”

The front page that won an election?

Two days later, the paper announced “It Was The Sun Wot Won It”. This was sheer hubris. The wit of a headline-writer did not and cannot make a reader change his vote. The greatest thing the front page could have achieved was a chuckle. If you liked Kinnock, you’d have probably stopped buying the Sun by now. Murdoch’s power lay not in persuading the public, but in persuading politicians.

1992 convinced Labour that Murdoch was all-powerful. A new generation of Labour politicians, led by Tony Blair, set about winning over the man. In 1995 they jetted halfway round the globe for a private audience with Murdoch. Blairite fantasist John Rentoul explains it was not a bootlicking session at all; this was the speech where he stood up to Murdoch. Campbell’s diaries expose this as the fantasy it is. Campbell, writing the speech on the plane, says:

I was a bit fearful of the potential political downside of appearing to ignore the Murdoch/right-wing agenda, so I persuaded [Blair] we had to challenge that agenda further. […] The party would instinctively not like it.

Any anti-Murdoch stuff in the speech, Campbell confirms, was just to please the party. The speech was designed purely to butter Rupert up. Campbell told Murdoch they had put more into it than any speech outside party conference. Murdoch walked away happy. When Campbell returned home, Neil Kinnock raged at him. “You imagine what it’s like having your head stuck in a fucking light bulb,” he said.

All harmless pandering, you might think. But Murdoch’s support at the 1997 election came with tacit caveats. Campbell’s former deputy Lance Price said, “No big decision could ever be made inside Number Ten without taking account of the likely reaction of three men — Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch.” He was the 24th Cabinet member, according to Price.

Rupert would take care of an unfounded drugs policy, vast areas of law and order, anti-terror, anti-paedo and anti-asylum policy. All ministers who made liberal noises on these policy areas would be kicked back into line, out of fear of what Rupert might think. He would be a sort of permanent Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs. Meetings and phone calls with Rupert also forced Blair to U-turn on a referendum on a new European constitution (which unfortunately came to nothing after French voters said no).

But the greatest offence is this: those in office helped him expand his business empire. It happened under Thatcher. After he had lunch with her privately (something revealed by recent documents but denied by the official history of The Times), Mrs Thatcher let him buy The Times in 1981 without referring the takeover to the Monopolies Commission. It is said, when Thatcher again let Murdoch acquire Sky, she sent a draft of the Broadcasting Bill 1990 to his lawyers so appropriate deletions could be made.

Blair showed a similar friendliness to Murdoch’s business plans. At a private dinner in 1994, according to Andrew Neil, “Blair indicated that media ownership would not be onerous under Labour; Rupert that his newspapers were not wedded to the Tories.” A Communications Bill promised to relax rules on cross-media ownership.

It was only a Labour peer‘s late amendment to the Communications Act 2003 that allowed politicians to stop a media takeover on the grounds of public interest. Without this Murdoch could have bought off BSkyB in 2010 with no objections. Murdoch could not turn Sky into a partisan Fox-Newsesque channel under Ofcom rules. But we know Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had plans to overhaul the Communications Act 2003, which established Ofcom as a regulator. In 2011 he said the review to the Act would be “thorough” and he was “prepared to radically rethink the way we do things”.

Were this any other business than a media organisation, our politicians’ dealings with Murdoch’s companies would be slammed as corruption – the same corruption that blights Indian politics, one that makes us call the political system there “dysfunctional”. But because he owns the media, there is still a well-paid commentariat that defends him.

The EU has outlawed Keynesianism. Why?

17 Mar

No! No! No!

Not long ago in British politics, Leftist antipathy to Europe was the norm. Prominent Labour figures were convinced that the European project was an anti-democratic, anti-socialist, free-market stitch-up. Gaitskell said membership would mean “the end of a thousand years of history”. Wilson mocked the marginal advantage of “selling washing machines in Dusseldorf”. And why did the Attlee government refuse at the outset even to mull it over? “The Durham miners won’t wear it.”

Today Labour has decided not to make the EU a political issue. Far better to make lazy attacks on health reforms and take opportunistic stances on spending cuts. Not one leading Labour member has spoken out against EU politics: no-one in the shadow cabinet, and no big beast from New Labour. There are no Foots, no Benns, no Barbara Castles.

And yet the EU is more anti-democratic and ideological than it has ever been. Its newly-drafted fiscal pact is a case in point. The pact states that eurozone members should not under any circumstances have a budget deficit higher than 3% of GDP. There will be “automatic consequences” if this is breached. Budgetary measures put forward by the Commission – the unelected European Commission – must be accepted by the nation state (point 5).

It is Hooverite; there is no other word for it. As if this isn’t enough, the pact decrees that “1a. The budgetary position of the general government shall be balanced or in surplus” (Article 3). This is the default position. It is as if the Keynesian revolution never happened. The pact specifies this means a democratically-elected euro state cannot have a structural deficit higher than 0.5% – or, if the state is judged to be financially prudent enough, the EU will allow 1%. How generous.

This is the pact that David Cameron tried to veto last December. Of the 27 EU countries, only the Czech Republic and Britain refused to sign it. Cameron said he didn’t like it because the interests of British banks were threatened. Mr Cameron missed the pact’s far greater implications: it essentially outlaws Keyenesianism.

For 30 years or so, from Attlee’s post-war government to the middle of the Callaghan administration, this was the doctrine that dominated British economic policy. Keynesianism cast aside the straitjacket imposed by balanced budgets, saying that the government should spend in a downturn and save in the good times.

The EU has abandoned it. Take the example of the Dutch. After two quarters of negative growth, the Dutch are currently in recession. The Keynesian response would be to boost spending. Slash taxes to get consumers spending, or even better, let the government step in where businesses won’t, to create jobs in the short term. One problem. The Dutch government is forecast to have a deficit of 4.5% in 2013. On Keynesian terms this is predictable and necessary. On Eurofanatic terms this is unacceptable.

The Dutch are hardly profligate by Mediterranean standards. While Gordon Brown and much of Europe threw cash in every direction, the Dutch ran a balanced budget in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. A Keynesian response to recession is entirely sensible.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a nationalist Muslim-basher who keeps the minority government in power, calls planned cuts “numbers fetishism”. He is right. A 3% limit is entirely arbitrary. What will the European Commission do if he stops the Dutch government from cutting spending? Will the Commission, as decreed in the fiscal pact, trash the plans of a democratically-elected state and drive through cuts against the will of the people?

This has been the EU’s attitude to the profligate periphery. It has acted with disdain towards the idea Greeks should consent to cuts through a referendum. It has wept not one tear when an entirely unelected Cabinet was imposed on an Italian nation. So long as cuts get through, the mandate of the people does not matter.

What is worse is when this attitude is directed towards thrifty polities. The Dutch need no fiscal discipline. Mr Wilders should – like that cocky Dutchman Erasmus did to the Catholic church – stand up to the hubris, the dogmatism, the autocracy and the ever-increasing powers of the European Union.

And the British left should join him. It was not so long ago that Tony Benn stood up to the anti-democratic centralism that is linked by necessity to a single currency. He was convinced that the powers of national Parliaments would be sidelined. How right he was.

You can find his speech addressed to Mrs T at 7:45. I have re-printed it below.

Is the Prime Minister aware that what we are really discussing is not economic management, but the whole future of relations between this country and Europe? This issue is not best expressed in 19th-century patriotic language or in emotive language about which design is on the currency.

The real question is whether, when the British people vote in a general election, they will be able to change the policies of the previous Government. It is already a fact, as the House knows full well, that whatever Government are in power, our agricultural policy is controlled from Brussels, our trade policy is controlled from Brussels and our industrial policy is controlled from Brussels.

If we go into EMU, our financial policy will also be controlled. It is a democratic argument, not a nationalistic argument.

The New Elizabethans: 60 men who define our age

3 Mar

The BBC has set out to find the 60 men and women who define the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Which icons should we remember? Who are the diamonds in ER’s crown? The sixty need not be famous but they must be remarkable. They might not hail from these isles but they must at least have lived in Britain for a number of years. They can have changed modern Britain for good or for ill.

I – I’m not sure why – have set myself the task of drawing up a list. It’s no easy job. I am struck by two things. First the task would be a hell of a lot easier if I could include heroes from the Forties. A lot of my heroes achieved greatness in those years: Churchill, Orwell, Coward, Keynes, Attlee, Bevan, Beveridge, Turing, Popper, to name but a few. I am quite content to say that between them these nine men are greater than every other New Elizabethan combined.

That is the second point: how much greater are men of other eras! How much easier it would have been to list 60 Victorians. In art, literature, engineering, science, exploration, they outshine all I have listed below. Who is our Shakespeare? Who is our Dickens? O if only I could have Orwell.

I have listed my choices below. It is subject to the prejudices of the writer, as all these lists are. Some I have not included either because I do not like them (Simon Cowell, David Beckham, Richard Branson) or because I think more remarkable men represent a similar idea. So Diana is there, but Jade Goody isn’t. So Nick Leeson is there, but Mr Goodwin isn’t.

These are our diamond geezers:

POLITICIANS.

Our Earl of Essex?

1. Mrs Thatcher
2. Roy Jenkins
3. Enoch Powell
4. Tony Blair

SCIENTISTS.
5. Rosalind Franklin
6. Stephen Hawking
7. Richard Dawkins

Our Bacon?

ENTERTAINERS.
8. Jimmy Savile
9. Kenneth Williams
10. John Cleese
11. Bernard Levin
12. Sir David Attenborough

Our Jonson?

THINKERS.
13. Isaiah Berlin
14. RD Laing
15. James Lovelock
16. Friedrich Hayek
17. Germaine Greer

WRITERS.

Our Spenser?

18. Betjeman
19. Larkin
20. Kingsley Amis
21. Anthony Burgess
22. le Carré
23. Ian Fleming
24. Pinter
25. Plath
26. JRR Tolkien
27. Roald Dahl

OTHERS.

Our Drake?

28. Nick Leeson
29. Myra Hindley
30. Lord Bingham
31. Princess Diana
32. Tim Berners-Lee
33. Shirley Bassey
34. Christine Keeler
35. Mary Whitehouse
36. George Best
37. Mo Farah
38. Lucian Freud

Our Marlowe?

MUSICIANS.
39. Lennon
40. Jagger
41. Bowie
42. Britten

OTHERS.
43. Mary Quant
44. Charles Saatchi
45. Richard Beeching
46. Alec Issigonis
47. Stelios Haji-Ioannou
48. Jack Cohen
49. Loyd Grossman

Our Dee?

50. Robin Day
51. Richard Ingrams
52. Leo Baxendale
53. Chad Varah
54. Andrew Wiles
55. Arthur Scargill
56. Ian Paisley
57. Alex Salmond
58. Nick Park

Our Queen of Scots?

Our Queen and foreign emperor.
59. Rupert Murdoch
60. Queen Elizabeth II

God! Save us King!

16 Feb

Mervyn King: “Right chaps. What d’you say we chuck money out of helicopters?”

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the government did something stark-raving nuts. If, say, RAF helicopters were ordered to sprinkle billions of banknotes all over the country. The dosh would be fresh from the printing press and would be designed to disintegrate within six months. What would actually happen? How would serious broadsheets actually react? Would they tut at or cave in to the populist glee that a shower of gold will descend from the heavens on to Burton-on-Trent?

This is the scenario painted by ex-editor of The Times Simon Jenkins. It would get consumers spending, add not one penny to the national debt and – the most brilliant thing of all – it is utterly bonkers. How workable it is, I am not sure: were fights to break out on Britain’s high streets, the tabloids would tear the coalition to shreds. It is a reasonable concern: we saw the avaricious abandon of Brits in the riots last summer. But the idea is the point: it fuels cash to the most desperate of consumers, those most likely to spend the money; it will earn huge publicity, providing grounds for a great shift in confidence; most importantly, it will get money flowing back round the system.

Helicopter money: let’s make it happen! If not this scheme, something like it. It’s either chopper lunacy or cutting madness. I have already written that we can’t spend or tax any more: fiscally-speaking, we’re stuffed. The Left’s indifference to huge debts in a monstrous free market is worrying. The Right’s zeal to cut regulations – mostly green ones, mostly fair ones – won’t come to much. No politician can save us, save Angela.

Our fate is in the hands of a King. An unelected technocrat can bring us aid or, if he so wished, ruin. It is like being under the rule of Robert Walpole. Only Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England, can choose to print more money. He has done so already, under the guise of quantitative easing (QE), a process of buying bonds from banks, injecting money into the banking system. In so doing, we have handed riches to the banks, not the people.

If the aim was to get banks lending again, QE has failed. Last February, red-faced at the paltry levels of lending to small British businesses, David Cameron threatened to hammer banks with higher taxes if they did not lend more. Since then, banks have not lent more. They have lent less. Though banks are awash with cash, bank lending to small/medium-sized businesses has dropped month-by-month. What is the point of injecting all this moolah if the banks just sit on it?

Far better it is for this money to be given to the people in tax breaks, tax cuts, helicopter money, whatever…  We are suffering from a lack of demand. If we cannot boost demand through state spending, we should do it by making Brits spend their money. Let firms be flooded with newly-printed cash and see if it heartens them to create jobs. There is a wealth of skilled, able-bodied Brits to fill these posts. What use is it to anyone for them to be economically inactive?

I can think of no serious objection to it. If it is short-term money, no hyperinflation can result. If money is to be printed, give it to those who will put into circulation: the buyers, not the bankers. This is hardly a radical idea. It simply goes against the past 30 years of economic consensus – and which good-thinking gentleman swallows that?

There are those who thinking printing money, whatever the situation, is the road to Harare. Niall Ferguson has admitted he has these monetariphobic fears. I recall the Spectator bewailing the dizzying highs of, er, 5% hyperinflation – levels that even inflation-conqueror Maggie Thatcher would be pleased with. These fears are irrational, especially since inflation is dropping back to the region of 3%. We should be losing sleep at the lack of jobs, not price rises.

We should put aside these Teutonic-style fears. We are not Weimar Germany. We have more in common with the present despotic regime of Italy. With one exception: we can print our way out of this mess. To refuse this option is to tie ourselves as rigidly as Italy, a technocracy with no control over monetary stimulus. QE2 may not save us, but the King can.