This week the retail store John Lewis announced that children’s clothes would no longer be segregated into “Girl’s” and “Boy’s.” There would be one line of children’s clothing and it would “Unisex.” I imagine that John Lewis believed this decision would be met with unanimous praise. I believe they made this decision confident that they would be heralded as ground-breaking by the affluent consumers who shop there for taking the right side in the Gender Studies proxy-war that is contemporary children’s clothing. Instead there was an outcry from parents calling the decision “political correctness gone too far.” This does not surprise me, however, as I have been following the issue for quite some time, and whilst Gender Studies may be big deal to some, outside academia and Social Justice Warriors, it is a niche issue.
It is also a very confusing issue. Campaigners to whom this is a big deal have no one to blame but themselves for this confusion. Gender Theory has done an incredible about-face since its inception in the 1960s as part of second-wave feminist thought. We were told by Simone de Beauvor that, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" – in essence, gender is a social and cultural construct with no objective basis in biology or otherwise. It doesn’t matter if you wear pink or blue, men and women were fundamentally the same underneath the colours and despite their genitals. All gender differences could be accounted for by conditioning, culture and/or society. Men were men, and, women were women, but it doesn’t matter, and if it does – it shouldn’t.
Contemporary activists, like those who would praise John Lewis for eliminating gendered clothing, however, belong to a new wave of thought. Second-wave Women’s Studies (late 50s, 60s, and 70s) has given way to the more recent Gender Studies (late 80s, 90s, and 00s) which overlaps with the even more recent Queer Studies and Trans-activism (00s,10s). Generally these activists would assert that being conditioned as either Gender is physiologically harmful as many don’t feel comfortable with the Gender they were assigned at birth. Suddenly the colours you wear as a child are a Big Deal - fundamental to your development - and by extension, the fabric of our society. This school of thought holds that Trans-individuals are victims of cruel accidents of birth which must be remedied precisely because Gender is important and substantial.
Despite the fact that the former and the latter appear to be related, there are overt signs of conflict and confusion between these two schools of thought. Germaine Greer, who belongs to Second-Wave feminism, caused a furore last year when she asserted that she simply didn’t believe that men who transition to being women were “real women.” This implies that she believes Gender isn’t something you can change by any means. Not surgery, not clothing, not living as women despite your biology. In other words, it’s not a social construct. Contemporary activists were quick to slam Greer, but every other day I see an article praising a celebrity for being ‘Gender Fluid,’ e.g. dressing or behving like a member of the other sex or a mix of both sexes. That tacitly implies that Gender should be insubstantial and you can just switch between the two or be both.
But what about the big bad “B” word? Historically, biology is a bad basis for public policy. Catastrophic, in fact. Policy is best when the State disregards biology (amongst many other things) and treats us all as individuals, but should it be so casually dismissed in academia by Second-wave feminism or treated as it is now Gender Studies majors? Gender activists pick from the aforementioned two theories interchangeably despite the fact that the premises on which they are based are fundamentally diametrical. Whilst Women/Gender Studies activists may be able to treat biology as they please, the same cannot be said for the non-social sciences, economics, and medicine. Transitioning sex is a serious, and by most of the accounts that I’ve read, a painful and unpleasant experience. Shouldn’t activists decide whether Gender is substantial or frivolous before championing the procedure, or even before banning pink/blue clothes for girls/boys?
Either Gender is superficial and fluid, and can be changed on a whim simply by dressing or cutting one’s hair differently. Blue? Pink? Both? It doesn’t matter. Or Gender is so substantial, that feeling as though you have been born to wrong Gender is a living hell on Earth - with the victim being trapped in a fleshy prison they didn’t choose. Gender can not be superficial and substantially important at the same time. This issue is not going away anytime soon, and in many respects they have valid points and commentary. Gender activists also deserve to be called out on their inconsistency and hypocrisies.
In the mean time, however, I strongly recommend living as you want.
The label ‘Apartheid’ is bandied around frequently these days, sadly it hasn’t stuck to the one State who, in my humble opinion, not only deserves it but whose human rights atrocities are routinely ignored and glossed over by the International Community for the sake of not rocking the boat. Unlike other States, whose human rights atrocities are more fashionable as cause celebres, Saudi Arabia’s prolific human rights abuses are ignored for the sake of business as usual.
Apartheid is originally defined as a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. What Saudi Arabia practices is a system of institutionalised gender segregation and discrimination. Feminist psychologist Phyllis Chesler defines Gender Apartheid as ‘practices which condemn girls and women to a separate and subordinate sub-existence…’ These descriptions describe the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia accurately and I’m not the only Arab Woman who thinks so:
Gender Apartheid is the best word to describe the situation in Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe there is any other place in the world where gender decides everything a person does on a daily basis and to the minutest details. To the outside world this manifests in the ban on women driving and the compulsory Abaya. However, it goes much deeper than that in that gender discrimination is institutionalized in every sector of the Saudi government. The majority of government ministries are off limits to women, both as visitors and as employees.
Women in the Kingdom, a 2008 Human Rights Watch report maintains, are infringes on their basic human rights.
In other words, every adult Saudi woman, regardless of her economic or social status, must obtain permission from her male guardian to work, travel, study, seek medical treatment or marry. She is also deprived of making the most trivial decisions on behalf of her children. This system is supported by the imposition of complete sex segregation, which prevents women from participating meaningfully in public life.
I must stress that most Arab countries don’t enforce gender segregation on anywhere near the scale that Saudi Arabia does. In the majority of the Arab nations the headscarf is not a mandatory requirement and women are both welcome and encouraged to be part of civic life. Saudi Arabia is an outlier even amongst Gulf States, and the behaviour of Saudi tars all her immediate neighbours with the same brush. The other Gulf States have become more sensitive to Western criticism in recent years. Most have put a great deal of time, money and effort into upgrading their institutions and legal systems, though progress is painfully slow at times. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, remains deaf to both internal and external calls for reform.
Saudi Arabia practices the most overt, inhuman and unapologetic form of Apartheid on the face of the contemporary world. In comparison to Apartheid South Africa, the Saudi Kingdom has got off easy, with a fraction of the censure from the International Community very little of which has been official. It is time we started calling Saudi Arabia an Apartheid State and giving it the condemnation it deserves. I look forward to the intense reinvigoration of Anti-Apartheid movements with its ire directed at the Saudi State.
For Conservatives For Liberty, March 2017.
One of the most common world views I’ve come across in my time as an activist is the notion that wealth is a noun. The concept that wealth is something you can physically take from someone who has is it, and give it to someone who does not. This is typically a Left-wing view of wealth, but I never cease to be surprised as to how many on the Right view wealth this way as well. The trouble is that the way the Left views wealth is wrong. Conservatives must stop this habit of kicking the ball around on the Left’s playing field. Wealth is a process. It is a verb, not a noun.
A stock broker, for example, may have more money in his or her bank account than a shop worker. You can tax the stock broker and give it to the shop worker, but next month the stock broker will be rich again and the shop worker will be poor. How much money you have in your bank account is how rich you are. It’s not how wealthy you are. The stock broker is engaged in a process that reaps more monetary rewards. The stock broker does something that not everyone can do, the stock broker assumes huge amounts of risk, and the stock broker works eighty hour weeks. Being a shop worker is tame in comparison. It requires no training, no risk, and the skill-set required to do the job is not rare. The process the stock broker is engaged in is what it means to be wealthy; not his bank balance.
Those on the Left will say that this system isn’t fair and it’s not a meritocracy. The smartest people you know are often not the richest. That’s certainly true in my life. What is also true is that those most engaged in the wealth creation process are those who are the wealthiest and this has nothing to do with intelligence or conscientiousness. I bet if you asked anyone, “What does society need more? Teachers? Or coffee shops?” They would probably say ‘Teachers.’ Why does a Teacher earn less than someone who owns a coffee shop? Having worked behind a coffee shop counter whilst I was a student, I can easily see why.
A coffee shop owner has to lay out a lot more capital up front and continuously in the form of supplies - some of which are perishable, they will hire and train staff, they will rent premises, they will take great lengths to manage their business so it conforms with regulations, and over the course of a working day the business will engage with a greater reach of customers than a Teacher will. Adults of all ages buy coffee and cakes, but parents only use schools for a finite amount of time. Running a small business, however trivial it may seem, is a hard job. Just because professions seem valuable doesn’t mean they are assuming the most risk, engaging with the broadest range of customers, or working the hardest.
Another case in point – Two people are given fifty thousand pounds each. The first puts his fifty thousand pounds in blue chip stock. The second puts his fifty thousand pounds in a savings account. Neither of them have done any “work,” yet the first individual who put his money in stock instead of savings becomes richer. That is because his fifty thousand pounds is more engaged. The fifty thousand pounds invested is used by the companies to generate more value ergo more wealth is created and the Investor receives dividends. The fifty thousand invested is also more at risk and less accessible to the Investor. An outward appearance of “work” is not a good indicator of how an individual has engaged in the process or how much risk an individual has assumed.
Social mobility is stagnating because the Establishment keeps trying to “redistribute” wealth to those on the bottom rungs of society, whilst simultaneously erecting barriers to entry to the wealth creation process. Access to this process should be as easy as possible and does more to help poorer people than any redistribution could ever do. Left wing economic policies rarely help the poor, if ever, and this is why. There are taxes and policies that impede this process more than others. The Minimum Wage is one of the best examples of this. The Left love it, but it doesn’t work because it’s a barrier to employment. The Left gravitates to excessive regulation, taxation and one-size-fits service models which don’t enable the poorer amongst us access into the wealth creation process.
The Conservatives, however, aren’t stripping back a lot of this nonsense quickly or effectively enough and one of the reasons for that is they too don’t see wealth the right way. Fiscal policies create an economic environment that can hinder or help access to the wealth creation process. If you want an economic environment that helps wealth creation you need low taxes, rule of law, minimal but sound regulations, minimal but sound barriers to entry to many professions, and a transparent, un-onerous tax burden that rewards economic activity rather than economic inactivity with the burden of taxation shifted away from taxing individuals, income and labour.
Do not make the mistake of assuming Socialists are Socialists because they’re less intelligent. The question of wealth is a question of perception, not intelligence. Socialists are wrong because the way they see wealth is wrong. Often, over-intellectualising the question of wealth skews perception, which is why I think so many “professional Intellectuals” are Socialists. This is the challenge for the Conservatives when it comes to engaging with the Left. The challenge for the Conservatives in Government is to make the wealth creation process as uninhibited and as easy to access as possible.
For Conservatives For Liberty, September 2016.
Of course Grammar Schools should not be banned. It simply isn’t the proper role of the State to ban any type of school, with the exception of terrorist training camps, but to presume that overturning the ban on Grammars is enough to unwed the British education system from its current mediocrity is foolish at best.
What is really needed is genuine school choice and this is how it can be done:
1. Make all schools Independent schools.
Yep. All of them. Yes, I’m serious. Sell them off to education companies, let them be turned into non-profit run schools; it doesn't matter.
2. Each Child’s Parent/Guardian get a state-funded “debit card” for that child, that can be used to pay for educational services.
This includes, but is not limited to, school fees, tutors, and special needs tuition. The lot. It gets topped up every year. Disabled kids, or kids with special needs get extra. What parents don't spend one year rolls over to the next year giving parents an incentive to save and shop around for the best value education money can buy.
3. Stop worrying and learn to love a genuine market in Education.
This is the type of system that they’re trying to bring in Nevada. Massive American public schools mean the needs of disabled or special needs kids just get drowned out and parents are lobbying for this system in order to get a more bespoke education for their children. Only a system which embraces market forces can provide something other than a one size fits all education system. Comprehensives were a backward step, not because they’re undoubtedly mediocre, but because they eradicated the little choice and plurality in the education system the working classes had. Independent schools are not good because they’re richer, they’re good because if they’re not good, no one would choose to send their kids to them. Choice is what’s key.
The problem I have with Grammar schools is that they ensure bright children get a great education, but less able students get thrown on the scrap heap of under-expectation. In reality we should be advocating a system that delivers every child educational excellence (even the thick ones) and only a market can deliver that type of plurality. My ‘Debit Card School Choice’ System effectively creates a market for schooling, but it also delivers a measure of equality by giving poorer children equal access to that market.
Right now, pushy middle class parents monopolise homes in good school catchment areas edging the children of poorer parents out. The type and quality of education should not depend on arbitrary geography. My system harnesses the sharp elbows of the middle classes to make all schools good. If parents want to pay extra for a more expensive school – let them. The goal should be to make all schools so excellent that parents don’t need to buy a house in a different area, or pretend to be Catholic, or to spend thousands on tutors, to get their kids into a good school. All schools should be, and can be, good!
For Conservatives For Liberty, August 2016.
I am now well and truly sick of the housing crisis being described as a “bubble.” Housing price inflation is not just due to cheap credit. In the case of the UK housing market, house price inflation is largely due to a literal dearth of houses to live in. Mortgages are cheaper than ever and houses should be a depreciating asset; the older and more ‘used’ they are the cheaper they should be. New housing is so ugly, so mean in size, and so scarce that older houses are now “character properties” for sale at a huge premium. For some reason people seem to think that the housing market is immune to the laws of supply and demand. Government fiddles with interests rates all you want, introduce ridiculous schemes to subsidise credit like “Help-To-Buy,” and squeeze landlords until they pop, but that won’t solve a problem caused by twenty years worth of missing housing stock thanks to a piss poor planning framework. The government must ensure more houses are built, and a lot of them at that.
Here are the five main reasons why any government must remove all impediments to private house building now:
1. A lack of housing creates the perception that life is getting worse.
Middle class graduates like myself have been left wondering why they cannot afford a home in the modest neighbourhoods their parents could comfortably afford a home in. I’m securely employed and reaching the age where I should be buying a house but I look online at housing in my price range, in the neighbourhood in which my parents own a home in and the choice is painfully thin for miles around. Employed middle class people who would have never had to rely on social housing a generation ago are stuck in it, or worse, in their childhood bedrooms. More pertinently, the homeless, the most vulnerable in our society, risk being pushed further to the edges of our society by a lack of housing. By European standards the UK has a lot of social housing stock. The problem is that people who should not have to rely on it, do.
The perception that I am less well off than my parents is a powerful one. If people can’t even afford the same neighbourhoods they grew up in despite being better educated and employed than their parents, they will start asking questions like, “Why did I bother getting a very expensive degree?” This type of perception matters when it comes to how they vote. In every other sphere of life we are better off than our parents, but not when it comes to housing. Would young people be so in thrall with political “leaders” like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn if they perceived that their lives were getting better? I think not.
2. It’s not just communities of houses that are missing; it’s schools, hospitals and clinics, and transport systems that are missing too.
The chronic shortage of houses means the schools, health care facilities, and infrastructure which would have been built along with them don’t exist either. We have a shortage of primary school places because the schools that would have been build with new homes simply aren’t there. We have NHS hospitals and GP clinics which are struggling to cope with their work load. We also have commuter trains packed to dangerous capacities.
Something as simple as a lack of school places should be easy to solve, but twenty years of inaction on housing has seen a simple problem, like school places, become a crisis. Soon it will become a crisis in primary and secondary school places. It is now a struggle to get an appointment at my ordinary suburban GP clinic with the more articulate and pushy middle class people edging out the less able. It’s not fair on existing services to be serving communities that are becoming relentlessly denser and denser in their populations.
3. The housing crisis is killing off the Traditional Family.
You should be able to buy a family home in the suburbs on a single salary. Both my father and my grandfather bought houses when they already had a child and a housewife to support. Neither of them had degrees. On a single working class salary, my grandfather moved his family off a council estate and into a private home. It was not a particularly impressive home but my grandmother and her two children never wanted for food, clothes, or a roof over their heads. This acquisition of property is effectively what made my family middle class rather than working class. Had my grandfather paid rent all his working life, his widow (my grandmother now in her eighties) would be in a significantly worse position emotionally as well as financially. She would certainly not be sitting secure and comfortable in a chair by the French windows of a house she owns outright.
Single people who are securely employed should have no problem getting a mortgage and having a choice of houses to buy. House price inflation has meant that despite being more impressively educated and employed than their parents, individuals effectively need to be in a relationship and have another salary before getting on the property ladder. If getting a family home relies on two salaries, the option of staying at home with the kids has become a less realistic prospect depriving both women and men of choice. I wasn’t surprised to read this article in the Telegraph, however, emotionally uncomfortable it must be for feminists. Though it proves there are a great deal of women who deeply resent house price inflation as much as I do. Paying childcare fees to another adult – who is only superficially interested in your child – is not a prospect many women look forward to.
4. Divorce and bereavement have been made even worse.
Watching marriages fall apart is excruciating at the best of times. Unfortunately with the added burden of housing costs we are now seeing the rise of the ‘older renter’. Being forced to split the family home in a divorce at the wrong age now means two people never owning a home of their own again. Houses are just too expensive now. If you’re unlucky enough to lose your partner by death or divorce when you have young children, not being able to afford the mortgage on a single salary means the kids lose a garden to play in as the family gets shunted back into a much smaller rented apartment.
5. People are stuck on the wrong rung of the housing ladder.
People don’t just move up the housing ladder, they move down too. My mother has been keen on buying a bungalow for some time now. Despite being surrounded by them, they never come up for sale unless someone dies. Due to the lack of bungalows, not only is my mother less appropriately housed than she should be, but there’s a young couple somewhere missing out on a modest family home because of lack of choice further along the housing ladder. About ten years ago bungalows became incredibly unfashionable, however, fashion isn’t the most important factor if you can’t comfortably climb stairs and hovering a large house tires you out for the rest of the day. Starter homes are not the only houses that need to be built. Homes at every level, from bungalows, to affordable terraces, to luxury flats, must be built to appropriately house the population.
Championing house building must be a priority for a Conservative government. Or government for that matter. Affordable private housing protects the Traditional Family, it protects children, it protects the old, it protects services and social housing from being overburdened; it protects the bereaved and divorced, and it protects the vulnerable who have been rendered homeless by twenty years of bad housing policy. I remain flabbergasted that the issue is still not being taken seriously enough. Rip up the planning framework that is preventing new private housing being built, and build, build, build! The human cost is just too great.
For Conservatives For Liberty, August 2016.
Since the Referendum, I have been dismayed at seeing angry posts on social media lamenting the loss of subsidies from the European Union. One of the reasons I voted for leaving the EU is because of the Common Agricultural Policy and, for me, its demise remains one of the most compelling reasons for dismantling the EU.
The CAP represents the worst of EU excesses. A hangover from the second World War, the CAP is now redundant and unnecessary, yet persists because of the greed of enfranchised special interest groups. Because of the way the French elect their President, and the [over-]influence of the French President in the EU, it is politically unthinkable for anyone seeking that position to consider abolishing the subsidies.
The groups that get subsidies are those who are able to lobby for them. Subsidies go to whomever is rich enough to hire lobbyists. In the case of farmers, that means rich European farmers getting money which allows them to outcompete their otherwise worthy competitors in Africa and Asia. All kinds of subsidies are a triumph of the rich and enfranchised over the poor and disenfranchised.
I can think of few things more immoral than making food more expensive for poor people, and in turn, giving tax payer money to rich, enfranchised group at the expense of poor, disenfranchised groups. So you can imagine my horror at the suggestion that the loss of subsidies are in any way a bad thing. The availability of such subsidies are what made the EU a rent-seekers wet dream.
Subsidies are always bad and always immoral. Subsidies are a triumph of the rich and enfranchised over the poor and disenfranchised. I am proud that Britain will no longer be a part of the EU’s disastrous policy of subsidising rich farmers at the expense of poor farmers. Any political body that takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich, is one I am proud to no longer be a part of!
For Conservatives For Liberty, July 2016.
The Liberal Democrats are relatively good civil libertarians, but when it comes to lifestyle freedoms one wonders how widely a party can interpret the word ‘Liberal.’ There is no branch of Liberal thought that can comfortably justify the high levels of nanny-statism we experience in the United Kingdom. Disappointingly the party that calls itself ‘Liberal’ is now one of the nanny-state’s greatest cheerleaders. After joining the Liberal Democrats in 2008 (I was young. So very, very young…) I very soon realised that the LibDems are not a political party – they are a small clique where ‘Liberal’ is a just term for everything they like regardless of the word’s definition.
The notion that the state should generally not impede the lifestyle freedom of individuals is an idea that Liberal (with a capital ‘L’) thinkers, such as John Stuart Mill, can comfortably lay claim to. This tradition of thought was woven into the Liberal Party of old to some significant degree albeit not without caveats and exceptions. The Liberal Democrats, however, have abandoned this notion almost entirely. Just skim Liberal Dem Voice op-eds over the last few years and you’ll find members happy to promote: the Sugar Tax, Plain Packaging, the Prohibition of Drugs (in its entirety – no, really. All drugs.), Minimum Alcohol Pricing, and much, much more.
By evacuating this political ground so spectacularly, the Liberal Democrats did a number of things. Firstly, they became less distinctive from New Labour. They lost any claim they had to being an ‘anti-authoritarian’ party. This also opened up a massive unguarded front on which their enemies could attack them. By creating confusion about what the ‘Liberal’ in Liberal Democrat was referring to, no one did more to weaken the Liberal Democrats own brand that the Liberal Democrats. More crucially, by departing from this particular piece of political ground, the Liberal Democrats left it open to be assumed by another political party. Enter UKIP.
It is a boon to outsider parties to be considered ‘anti-authoritarian.’ By championing lifestyle freedoms on the side, UKIP hoovered up support from people who had been neglected by the three “LibLabCon” parties. It strengthened UKIP brand as the true outsider party and allowed UKIP to plausibly deny being a one issue party. To micromanage the intimate lifestyle choices of the electorate is to talk down to the electorate. This is not the main reason people are voting for UKIP, it is, however, why UKIP is so immune to scandal. In contrast, the Liberal Democrat’s seemingly endless capacity for sanctimony amplifies their own indiscretions when they inevitably occur.
By transforming into lifestyle paternalists, the LibDems willingly ceded political land that was undisputedly theirs. It was from this political land that UKIP broadened their own support base and strengthened their brand. Much of UKIP’s wider policy remains underdeveloped and strikes me as very ‘Little England’, but by seizing what should have been policy mainstays of the Liberals, they coloured themselves as rebels. This has only been further reinforced by Nigel Farage’s earnest pint drinking/fag smoking image. When I was a LibDem, I remember many discussions about why people who described themselves as ‘liberals’ didn’t automatically vote or identify as Liberal Democrats. For those of us outside the clique, the definition of the word still applies.
For Conservatives For Liberty, June 2016.