It is with great sadness that I must report the death of David McDonagh. Details are as yet scarce, but I am told that he suffered a heart attack on the 12th June.
I first met David in 1980, back in the days when there was just one Libertarian Alliance. We would attend LA meetings at the Conway Hall in London – I as an earnest student, sat in the audience, he as one of the luminaries of the Movement, sat behind one of those trestle tables that shook every time someone breathed.
When the Libertarian Alliance suffered its Great Schism, I found myself in the Chris Tame Faction. However, though David was part of the other Faction, we remained on friendly terms. We became significantly more friendly after Chris died in 2006, when I became a semi-regular speaker at events organised by his part of the Libertarian Alliance.
In all the time I knew him, David never seemed to change. Except he grew more battered over the years, he wore much the same clothes, and he never changed the style of his hair or moustache. He also never changed his opinions. From first to last, he was a Cobdenite Liberal. There was always something about him of the early twentieth century, when Cobdenism was last a viable movement. He could be irritating in debate – pedantic, repetitive, very much in love with the sound of his own voice. These were traits he carried into his written correspondence. At the same time, he possessed a large fund of simple goodness, and I am not aware of anyone who disliked him. I certainly never did.
Because he had been for so long a fixture of the British libertarian movement, predating even my own involvement, I had retained a young man’s belief that his elders would live forever. His death is a shock to me and a cause of much sadness. I will pay tribute to all that he did to keep libertarianism alive – let us face it, a thankless task given the circumstances of at least the past thirty years. He lived and died a man of immoveable principle and personal decency. We must lament his death, but also celebrate his life.
He will not be forgotten.
Education and the Coronavirus:
A Farewell to Schooling?
19th May 2020
One of my books
See here for details.
Read here for free.
The latest turn in an increasingly dull coverage of the Coronavirus panic is a proposed reopening of the schools. The Government wants them open as soon as possible for at least some of their students. The teaching unions are bleating that no one should go back until their members can be sure of not catching anything. The headmasters are worried about compliance with the social distancing rules. As a conservative of sorts, I think I am supposed to side with the Government and the pro-Conservative journalists – denouncing the teachers as a pack of idlers where not cowards, and insisting that those factories of essential skills must be set back in full production before the summer holidays. Of course, my settled view as a libertarian is that the teaching unions deserve all the support I have never so far given them. The schools must remain closed until no one is in any danger of so much as an attack of hay fever. The schools have been largely closed since the end of March. The longer they stay largely closed, the better. Best of all if they never reopen – or never reopen as they have been since attendance was made compulsory at the end of the nineteenth century. Read more
The Coronavirus and the Conservative Party:
Time for a Refund?
9th May 2020
One of my books. Read here for free, or buy a hard copy here.
Since 1945, and arguably since some time before that, the Conservative Party in government has been reliable for one purpose only – this being to let down anyone stupid enough to vote for it. Last December, I thought it would this time be different. The Conservatives had spent two years under attack by an Establishment openly at war both with conservatism and with the causes of conservatism. They swore blind they would take on that Establishment and give us our country back. That was what they promised. It was in their obvious interest to deliver part of what they promised. So millions of us pinched our noses and voted for them. We gave them their best majority since 1987.
Six months later, we are in week six or seven of a lockdown without precedent. Hundreds of thousands of private businesses have been closed since the third week of March, and many will not reopen. Much of the public sector has been sitting at home on full pay, with all the usual contributions dripping into gold-plated pensions. The National Health Service has been made into a new established religion. The police are so in love with their new powers that they are taking more besides. The public finances are a wreck. We are looking at an internal and external collapse of the pound. Cash will probably be abolished. Our mobile telephones will be repurposed as identity cards. Anyone who fell into a coma just before the last election, might, on waking now, assume a Labour victory, followed by an Enabling Act that had taken us into a kind of Venezuela plus social workers. Instead, we are where we are with a Conservative Government. Read more
The Coronavirus Panic:
Counting the Cost
3rd May 2020
Will anyone be outraged if I say how much I have enjoyed the lockdown? On the one hand, I have the spectacle, as often as I step outside, of fools shambling about in face masks and rubber gloves – all ready to start whining about piffling infractions of the distancing rules, and all doubtless trying to outdo each other in the weekly Two-Minute Love for the NHS. On the other hand, my own life has not been this pleasant in years. Deal is quiet. Deal is clean. Excepting the charity shops, all the establishments my women and I normally frequent remain open. The others were filled with overpriced tat. We never visited pubs and restaurants, and have barely noticed their closure – except in the sense that it has contributed to the present cleanliness and peace. Read more
The Coronavirus Panic:
Pure Waste or Midwife of Progress?
15th April 2020
(Published in The Libertarian Enterprise)
I remain sceptical about the dangers of the Coronavirus. Of course, it is an unpleasant illness, and no one should go out of his way to catch it. At the same time, we are into the fifth month of the panic, and the predicted mountain of corpses has still not appeared. Whether in countries that have imposed a lockdown, or those that have not, rates of infection and of death seem to be reaching the peak of their distribution curves. It may be that the final impact on the health of mankind will be no worse, or not much worse, than that of a severe seasonal flu. Even if, minus the lockdown, the potential impact might have been three or four or five times greater, it may still be worth asking if, on any reasonable calculus of cost and benefit, the resulting slump was worth the small saving of lives. Read more
Education and the Coronavirus:
Trying to Look on the Bright Side
3rd April 2020
Whether the Coronavirus is the Spanish Flu come again I cannot say, and will not try. We shall have some grounds for knowing by Easter, and may have confirmation next year, when the annual mortality figures are published. Something I can say, however, is that the response to the Virus will have large and continuing effects. Many things will return to normal after the lockdown. Much else will not. As ever with those things that change, there will be a new set of winners and losers. And, where education is concerned, I can hope that I shall stand in the queue of the winners – not, I suppose, anywhere near the front, but somewhere in it, modestly and gratefully picking up such additional crumbs as may fall to me in the market where I earn much of my regular income. Read more
A Conspiracy against the New World Order?
20th March 2020
I have no particular knowledge of medicine or the natural sciences. However, I remember the Aids panic of the 1980s, when we were told there would be two million deaths by 1990 in this country alone. I remember the Mad Cow Disease of 1996, when we were told that a million people would turn into zombies by 2016. There have been a dozen lesser panics the details of which I presently forget. The Coronavirus may be a modern equivalent of the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. But I have reason to be sceptical. Indeed, if ignorant of medicine in any practical sense, I do know a lot about the bubonic plague pandemics of 542-4 and of 1347-51. These exploded among populations severely weakened by hunger, following downturns in global temperature. The Spanish Flu took hold because of the dislocations produced by the Great War. The human race now has never been so well-fed and so well-provided with medicine. It seems that most victims of the Coronavirus were very old or already in poor health. I do not, of course, welcome any death. But I shall need to see much higher rates of infection and many more deaths – and much and many more outside those groups presently most at risk – before I regard this as other than some collective madness. Read more