Follow Crier in the Wilderness by email

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

An Oxford graduate in Modern History, I worked in the City of London for eight years, for accountants Coopers & Lybrand, merchant banks and stockbrokers before retraining as a journalist at Lancashire Polytechnic. I then became a reporter, working on papers in Lancashire.
I moved to the North East and was business editor on The Newcastle Journal for four years and business reporter for three, with a year as features writer. While I worked for The Journal I was four times named North East Business Journalist of the Year and won the national title for the BT Regional Press and Broadcast Awards in 1998, having been runner up the year before. Under my editorship The Journal was named Business Paper of the Year in 2001. After leaving The Journal in 2002, I worked in PR but returned to writing in 2008. Since then I have spent two years editing North East Contact magazine and BQ2 magazine and have contributed features to regional and national publications on subjects ranging from business to showbusiness celebrity interviews.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Getting Hitched

Christopher Hitchens is dead and the media throbs with glowing tributes.

I find this puzzling.

Why so much attention paid to a man who was, to the greater part of even educated people, so little known and who, in terms of journalism and thought, of such little consequence?

I had heard of him but he did not really attain much public profile until the time of the Iraq War when his support for the Bush/Blair adventure made him a figure of betrayal for the Left.

I admired his principled stand on that issue but, I have to say, I never really got Hitchens. His writing struck me as unremarkable and I always thought the rigour and originality of his thought was only that of a precocious sixth former. His atheism was saloon bar stuff, unleavened even by the entertaining peevishness of Dawkins.

However – and it’s a big however – he was plainly much loved by his many friends in the literary and media worlds who are unanimous in their appreciation of his personal warmth and kindness. That is no small thing. 
In that he reminds me of Samuel Johnson, though, as I have said, in the quality of his work, he was no Johnson.

For example, Matthew D’Ancona in the Telegraph writes:

“As a man of letters Hitch readily acknowledged the importance of this great text (The King James Bible) to the `common store of image and allegory’ without which a culture will be perilously thin’. But he also argued… that this example of scripture-by-committee showed that `religion is man-made with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts.’’

Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! And there was I thinking the Bible was the unmediated product of some divine hand, like that which wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s Feast.

I’m sorry but this devotion to him on the part of his friends and admirers is such that they reverentially elevate the utterly prosaic as though it were some holy relic. Where Hitchens is concerned, they claim the most extraordinary qualities for what is plainly very ordinary indeed. The most staggering example of this is in Andrew Sullivan’s piece in the Sunday Times where he writes: “Hitch was alive when he died.’’

Surely, for any human, that’s as run-of-the-mill as you can get.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Calling a Spade a Spade

ONE of the UK’s greatest enemies in Europe is MEP Guy Verhofstadt. Now the leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, he was prime minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008.
What do you mean, you’ve never heard of him?
He is a keen federalist, a eurofanatic who makes impassioned speeches urging the creation of a true United States of Europe and the abolition of the nation state, particularly the UK.
He has been particularly exercised in recent days, following David Cameron’s veto. I look forward eagerly to his reaction when the wheels come off the Markozy programme and the euro implodes.
Here is Verhofstadt in action.

Perhaps is attitude is understandable. If to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life, then I suppose being born Belgian means none of your numbers have come up.
Monty Python had it about right.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Let slip the dogs of war

Well, the penny has finally dropped – for me as well as others.
For me it happened when I recently interviewed Dr Thomas Renstrom, senior lecturer in economics at Durham University Business School.
In an analysis of the problems currently facing the West, Dr Renstrom pointed out that those problems began with the signing of free trade agreements with various developing nations.
Then we found we could not compete with the wage structures in developing countries which has destroyed much of our manufacturing base, so we now import more than we export and we fill the gap with debt. 
The classic market response would be for wage rates to fall in the West until we can compete again, and they have in real terms, but to nothing like the politically impossible degree required. Even to the modest extent they have fallen, has meant governments stepping in to provide subsidies to the low paid and unemployed and this has had added to public debt.
So the penny dropped with me, courtesy of Dr Renstrom and now it is has dropped with the admirable Jeremy Warner here in a typically well argued piece in the Telegraph: Globalisation Has Turned on its Western Creators.
He doesn’t come to the conclusion that Dr Renstrom reaches, that we must reintroduce tariffs and protect our manufacturing - a conclusion that flies in the face of current orthodoxy.
And it is shocking. After all, wasn’t it protectionism that turned the Wall Street Crash into the Great Depression?
Well, up to a point. In fact Britain did fine from 1933 onwards, with a growing  economy protected by Imperial tariffs. Also Dr Renstrom is at pains to point out that he believes there should be free trade with countries with similar wage structures where the normal trade advantages of specialisation and economies of scale can operate. He also points out that it would be in the interests of developing countries who, at the moment, are running up unsustainable surpluses with us.
This should perhaps give the ultra eurosceptic believer in total EU withdrawal (amongst whose numbers I often count myself) pause for thought. If we are to engage in global negotiations for the reintroduction of tariffs, would it not be better done as part of a larger trade bloc (just so long as trade bloc is all it is)? A trade war is best fought with allies.
The Chinese might kick up a fuss, but what can they really do? After all, we can always default on the debts we owe them.
They, in turn, could always declare conventional war on us, but they’d have to invade Russia to get at us.

Monday, 5 December 2011

An Offensive Weapon

The outcry against Jeremy Clarkson who said that public sector strikers should be shot in front of their families has been taken as demonstrating the Left’s hypocrisy and humourlessness.
And so it does.
It is also illustrative of that great British passion for working oneself up into sense of moral outrage over something that does not come close to warranting it. We are now a nation that loves to take offence.
I used to think that this outrage was entirely spurious. Now I’m not so sure. I remember a teacher once telling me how, in order to keep discipline, members of his profession would fake anger over trivial transgressions such as throwing a paper pellet, but, he was alarmed to discover that, as time went on, those burst of rage became genuine.
This is what has happened with indignation. People pretend to be offended as a way of throwing their weight around, find it pleasurable and it becomes habitual and real.
Another point to make is that Jeremy Clarkson is one of the few conservatives to appear regularly on the BBC. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the BBC has a strong left wing and liberal bias, the science of this is settled.
It does, however, clearly feel the need to put a few token right wingers on the box, but, in order that they will discredit the opinions they champion, it selects buffoons such as Clarkson or David Starkie.
But the Left cannot tolerate even this. Any airing of a contrary opinion is per se a matter of outrage to them and must be silenced.
And that really is offensive.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Chuck it Heffer

Simon Heffer is opining in his new online Mail slot on Osborne’s Autumn statement.
He sets out his 10 point plan to boost British growth. It’s all fairly vintage tax cutting Heffer stuff and unobjectionable, until he starts to give his prejudices their head.

He writes: “Increase taxes on anti-social items such as tobacco and off-sales of alcohol, and on gambling (including spread betting). Norman Lamont justified a tax on mobile phones, of all things, because they were anti-social. Taxing more heavily the drink that people buy in supermarkets - and which too many sit drinking on pavements - or the cigarettes that lead to illnesses which are such a burden on the NHS, would follow a similar principle. There is also no reason not to include a tax on grotesquely inflated Premiership football transfer fees, and on golden hellos and golden handshakes in the financial services sector. Most controversially, VAT could be introduced on foods deemed injurious to health – those with high fat content, for example.’’

I wonder whether Heffer delegated that bit to a trainee or whether he has finally lost it.
He decrees tobacco and alcohol to be anti-social. Well, we’ll be the judges of that, thank you Heffer.
It is a source of international wonder that alcohol is so scandalously expensive in this country, thanks to the extortionate levels of duty already levied on it. Incidentally, the UK ranks 14th out of 20 countries for alcohol consumption, below France and Germany.
Heffer is from Essex, an admirable county whose sons and daughters have achieved much, no doubt due, in no small part, to the strong influence of Calvinist Puritanism on that land.
Calvinism is famous for being an uncompromising doctrine, which takes a dim view of human enjoyment. Now all of us can, at times be irritated by our fellow creatures having a good time – Red Nose Day, for example, brings out the latent Calvinist in me – but it’s hardly reasonable that Heffer’s hang-ups should be translated into taxes on the rest of us.
Apart from a killjoy instinct, a big fib lies behind so much of this health fascism: namely that these vices are a net financial burden on the country. In truth drinkers, like smokers, contribute enough to the Exchequer by way of duty to pay for much of the NHS and, by dying earlier, save the country a fortune in pensions, plastic hips, bus passes, winter fuel allowances and all the rest of the costs of old age health care.
In these desperate economic times smoking and drinking are nothing less than a patriotic duty.