After Rochester.


“I often think it comical,

How Nature does contrive,

That every boy and every gal,

That’s born into the world alive.

Is either a little Liberal,

Or else a little Conservative.”

W.S.  Gilbert – from IoIanthe

Well that was how it used to be. They said that the British “first past the post system” would make the rise of a new party impossible. The two party system was, they claimed- and we all believed- a permanent feature of the British political system. Well, tell that to Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless!RECKLESS

UKIP has arrived. And with it a whole new way of doing politics. Curiously it has taken a party of self confessed Jingoes to introduce continental style multi-polar politics into Britain.  Or perhaps not! The two party system has in fact been in slow decline since the fifties. But even so, the new reality- in which there are now at least four parties with more than five per cent in the polls, not to mention the D.U.P. and S.N.P.-  is going to take some getting used to.

From a conservative perspective there is at least something to be said for a two party system. Professor Chomsky and his friends may sneer about “engineered consent.”  But in fact such arrangements have worked rather well in the past. The British and American systems in which two parties, essentially broad coalitions of centre right and centre left, have alternated in power has  provided both for  gradual change and stability. Not so good perhaps for Chompers and his revolutionary guys, but probably what most of the rest of us want most of the time- at least until now.

But the sceptics about the two party system do have a point- hinted at admittedly in a very different context by W.S. Gilbert above. It does all seem rather a carve up. And it seems rather a carve up because it is to some extent a carve up.  The words define the problem. Phrases such language about “within the beltway” “Leinster House,” and “the Westminster village,” all point to the reality  that from the outside politicians all seem strikingly similar, and all equally out of touch. Remarks heard frequently by canvassers such  as  ” I don’t vote it only encourages them”  “They are all the same” may not be true. But they do undoubtedly have a real popular resonance.

This is for several reasons, not all of which are in any way deplorable. If the country is to be run, the two front benches have to co-operate. Moreover, people brought into close physical proximity within one another- as M.P.s and T.D.s  un-questionably are-  do get fond of one another- and soon it is not just jokes, and  taxis, that are being shared, but assumptions too. The Palace of Westminster, or for that matter  Leinster House, ( “Yes, Deputy” and free parking in central Dublin for life!) can be a very comfortable world in which to live. However from the outside it can look strikingly provincial and often self interested – and that was before we even knew about Duck Island!

But so long as the economy still flourishes, and the level of corruption does not become excessive, the voters, or at least most of them, are prepared to tolerate the situation…but when the scandals become excessive or too widely known, and when the economy starts to go wrong…then the voters turn to the outsiders, and you get..God help us a Gerry Adams, a Marie Le PenMarine-Le-Pen-006 or a Mark Reckless ( whose grandfather by the way was a soldier of destiny and a T.D. from Donegal!)

In practice the election of such figures is of less importance than they claim, or their political opponents fear. But what one does get with their election is complication. Just a de-colonisation meant that the decisions about Africa could not be taken over lunch by diplomats in London and Berlin ( “I know! Let’s swap Zanzibar for Heligoland.” ) but had to be worked through by the people concerned themselves, so the fragmentation of domestic politics will mean the creation of a political universe which has a greatly increased number of centres of power, and these will be more challenging to influence.

National review

The cover of N.R.’s first issue. Note the article by Bill Buckley’s sister!

After the Tories lost the British general election of October 1974 when Sir Keith Joseph decided that Britain needed a far smaller state  ( among other things) all he had to do was to influence The Conservative Party. Likewise in the fifties Bill Buckley and those around him at “The National Review” knew that their project was essentially within the Republican Party ( except in New York City!)

But now…there are economic liberals in the Lib Dems ( assuming that is that there are going to be any left!)  there are free market conservatives, there are free market UKippers, and even in the Labour Party there are those who have long since given up on socialism. All need to be encouraged, all need to be influenced. Similarly in Ireland both the two main parties and some of the independents are equally open to persuasion by a reasoned case for liberal economics.

For us this is a challenge, and an opportunity. It is a challenge because the world in which we operate is becoming increasingly complicated. Take for example he British situation in more detail. Ukip is more liberal than the Conservatives when it comes to regulation from Europe. Whereas greatly to his discredit  Mr  Farage has seen fit to propose a dress code for Muslim women, while on this issue Mr  Cameron’s instincts are sounder and more liberal.

(c) King's Lynn Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Lord George Bentinct, the leading protectionist at the time of the split in the Conservative Party over the Corn Laws.

How then is the economic liberal to navigate between this Scylla and this Carybdis? And it is all the more difficult when one recalls that there are divisions within the various parties concerned. For example Mr Carswell broadly favours immigration whereas Mr. Reckless is against it. It is easy to say that the solution is simply to take the matters case by case. But how does this sit with traditional political involvement? In Britain the right course for the economic liberal has never been more difficult to discern since the break up of the Conservative Party over the Corn Laws!.

But difficult though the situation is, it is also full of promise for the liberal right. Hung parliaments are the delight of lobbyists. And a nightmare for the whips. The more parties there are in Parliament the weaker are likely to become, and hence the more important and potent  a principled case made from outside party political process can be. In a world in which politics has ceased to be a hereditary matter or one crude brand loyalty, and become instead a reflection of conviction the importance of ideas will tend to grow. The break up of the once great political machines fuelled as they have recently been by focus groups is not then something which we on the liberal right should much regret. There is work to do.



After Kilkenny .

These can be dispiriting times. A war is being fought, figuratively so far , on the streets and in the media about water. As always in war the first casualty is the truth. We have we are told a right to water. Water must be free. The state must have a monopoly on the provision of water. Indeed we should have a referendum to nail down the ownership of Irish Water constitutionally to avoid wicked capitalists one day being given the chance to exploit the workers and extort huge sums in return for a cup of water.


The return of so many economic nonsenses that we had hoped had been consigned to the dustbin of history with the fall of The Wall is frustrating. The persistence of lefty magical thinking and the invincible ignorance of many who refuse to learn the clear writ lessons of history may baffle. Yet there is cause for hope.


Kilkenomics came into being on foot of the implosion of our economy. It was a mad idea on the face of it. Economics seminars mixed in with comedy does not seem like a winner; yet it worked. It worked and works because the one of the responses to the crash was a desire to understand. The crowds of mostly young people who pay good money to fill the theatres and venues in Kilkenny are there because they want to understand the dismal science.

Most of those I spoke to were not in any way connected to economics or politics academically or professionally. They were curious and engaged citizens who wanted to understand how the machine works, how the sausage is made, and why sometimes the machine blows up.

The standard of the panels was very impressive as was the level of engagement of the listeners. Moreover bar the odd Keynesian or Neo Chartalist the tenor was very freedom friendly. Statist myths were being exploded all over the place with old fashioned empirical wit and wisdom.

Certainly for a proportion of the population the state will always be seen as the magical provider of all things good, but never enough. Sure we will have politicians who preach class hatred and envy and call it philosophy. But as long as we have enough folks willing interrogate, investigate and self educate then there is a chance, a good chance, that we will not end up as Venezuela by the Liffey. To those who bring us every year this weird hybrid festival we at the EBI say Kudos .

Equality In Kilkenny


ECONOMIC EQUALITY: A MEANINGLESS BUZZWORD OR ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS? is the title of one of our fun events and the first that really piqued my interested.

  • The notional kicking off point was the success of Mon. Picketty’s book and that this demonstrated a new and deep concern for equality . The discussion was more than lively with the excellent Vikas Nath insisting that Quality not equality was the important thing and the huge numbers of people pulled out of poverty in the last 30 years was the big story no any supposed growth in inequality. Ably supported my the marvellous Chicago school Deirdre McCloskey and our own Cormac Lucey the wondrous power of the market was vigorously proclaimed.
  • One of the speakers more concerned with equality was much enamoured of the idea of a public bank and giving everybody 12.000 dollars a year , all of which would return to the exchequer in taxation having passing through the hands of seven people. It may have been a rather strong lemonade I had with some young tory types earlier on in day but it all sounded rather magical to me.
  • Two quibbles I have with an otherwise fun do were the fact that no one considered the possibility that it is precisely the well intentioned interventions of the state that make and more importantly keep people poor. The other is that none of the economists adverted to the fact that there might be an ethical or moral problem with the state expropraiting the property of the one or ten per cent in order to pursue its social aggenda.


After some light socialising, all in the name of the cause, off I heigh to the late night session on the subject of sex drugs and rock and roll. The meat of the night was spent dealing with the efficacy of drug prohibition and its consequences. Tacked on as an after though really was the legality or otherwise of prostitution.

What really hit home was the total agreement across the board. All the economists to person held that not only was prohibition failing to achieve what it intended to but that the unintended consequences were catastrophically bad.  The point that was constantly returned to was that those issues that stir up so much anti drug hard line rhetoric, are in fact the result of criminalisation not drug use.

Especially strong on this were the always good value Constantin Gurdiev and the wonderfully subversive Peter Antonioni. They hammered home the message all (virtually) the hard empirical evidence pointed out the failings of prohibition, and there is a mass of work done on the subject going back decades. Which lead your correspondent to a rather depressing thought. There is zero chance of our policy makers paying a blind bit of notice to anything this panel might say or worse that the empirical evidence might demonstrate. Perhaps that is a question that needs more airing. Why are politicians so much more ready to be driven by what sounds good, rather than what actually works ?






“Ready to pounce” ?

By Richard Miller.

Our friends on the left often say that they don’t know what we mean when we say that the mainstream media is biased in their direction. And sometimes it is difficult to document. It Is often a matter of mood and tone. And these are difficult to demonstrate. But, for once, I have a perfect example of what we on the right are talking about.

sam bBut first some facts. Governor Sam Brownback the conservative Republican Governor of Kansas  was recently in a hotly contested race for re-election against his Democratic opponent Paul Davis. About a week before the election the polls narrowed, and it looked as Davis, who had attracted the support of some moderate Republicans, and was obviously a competent player, was going to win. Here was an interesting story especially as Brownback had for several years been a conservative standard bearer with presidential ambitions.

No harm then in the B.B.C. sending a reporter along to cover the events,  as the senate race in the state could also have produced an upset at the expense of the Republicans. But instead of describing the interesting situation, the story which emerged on the B.B.C. web site was an absurd piece of puffery for the local Democrats.

The piece by one Tara McKelvey was entitled “In Kansas, Democrats looking poised to pounce”- and it went on in the same vein with only the most notional nods to impartiality or fairness. In the second paragraph we meet Democratic organiser Joan Wagnon in one of her offices, where she has assembled, to quote McKelvey,  “lawyers, teachers, and others [ i.e. good people ] who have joined a fierce battle to reclaim Kansas from hard-right conservatives.”kansas-location-map [i.e. bad people] According to McKelvey, Brownback, while cutting taxes, has endangered the fiscal position of the state, and “cut spending on schools and transportation.” ( No wonder the teachers are up in arms against him! )

While, I gather, there have indeed some doubts about Browback’s Lafferite tax cuts, it is only in the eleventh paragraph that were hear even the most muted criticism of his opponent Paul Davis. But far from being  a sign that McKelvey is going  to redress the balance of her first paragraphs, her article, then becomes, if that is possible, even more unbalanced. She quotes the views of  a former congressman Jim Slattery ( “with silver-white and brown eyebrows”) to the effect that Brownback “has been a gift to the Democrats in Kansas.” Then she reports how Slattery “strode” [ her verb ] through the headquarters, calling out to Wagnon “I’m feeling good. How about you? I’m feeling good too, says Wagnon who is wearing an argyle sweater and jeans….”

And then there is more of the same, including of brief report of a bizarre interview with a self styled libertarian who says that “I’m campaigning for a Democrat because I understand that every man for himself doesn’t work…I believe government is essential at certain levels.” And all this, when there was a genuine libertarian in the race who got four per cent of the votes…but of course McKelvey doesn’t mention him…or for that matter ( apparently ) know anything about libertarianism in The United States.

It is only in the last paragraphs of the piece that we meet Governor Brownback, who gets only about sixty words to express his views; and nor does McKelvey interview any of his supporters- perhaps because she could find none of them wearing Argyle sweaters, or with sufficiently attractive eyebrows!

Oh and what happened in the election in which according to McKelvey the Democrats were “looking to pounce” ?..

Well, this web site tries not do personal cruelty!donkey


The oddest of our festivals is upon us. Kilkenomics , the weekend where comedy meets economics starts this Thursday, the sixth of November . The Edmund Burke Institute will be present on the Saturday and Sunday in the person of Michael Dwyer . We will be hosting a tweet up on the Saturday, the location of which will be advertised at the various festival locations. If you see Michael please do come up and say Hello. This year’s line up can be viewed here


Our Man In Kilkenny. Say hello to Michael and claim your prize.