12 October 2022

Some favourites from my old blog

I have been blogging in various forms since at least 2003. In its last incarnation, the blog was called Without the State. It is closed now, but everything on it is still available. As you might expect from the title, there is much on politics, but also on environmental issues, on design and lots of general social commentary. There is a great deal there, that I’m proud to have written. One of these days I might pull some of it together to publish. In the meantime, I’ve picked out a few of my favourites from many years of writing. It isn’t a systematic selection, just those I remember and a few others that caught my eye as I scanned through.


An alternative to Hinckley

representation of the new Hinckley C nuclear power station

I think this one, from 2016, is pretty prescient. Take out the reference to Hinkley and insert one about Russia and Ukraine, and the argument still stands.

All the media coverage of the Hinkley decision is about the so-called ‘gap’ we are facing between the demand for energy and the available supply. Completely missing though is any consideration of the savings that could be made by improving energy efficiency. This is a failure of imagination, but it also masks a lot of vested interests.  Improved energy efficiency and a move away from centralised generation of energy would damage the profits of the generation companies and their partners, the big construction companies. The financial backers also have a lot of money at stake. China in particular has undisclosed political objectives in securing a stake in UK energy, and their potential later involvement in design and construction of nuclear plant raises worrying questions of security.

Follow-up post here: https://www.withoutthestate.com/panchromatica/2019/02/coping-with-climate-change.html


Why is London so dominant?

Queen Elizabeth at Paddington Station on the Elizabeth Line (formerly Crossrail)
Paddington station on Crossrail (Andrew Matthews/Pool via AP)

Another pretty prescient post I think, this time from 2014, looking at what the so-called ‘Levelling Up’ should really be about.

A recent TV program (Ep 1; Ep 2)by the BBC’s Evan Davis asked this question. The answer seems to be that it is successful because it is successful. As it grows, the economic benefits of ‘agglomeration’ accelerate. This term describes the benefits that firms obtain by locating near each other (‘agglomerating’). As firms in related fields of business cluster together, their costs of production decline significantly (firms have competing multiple suppliers, greater specialization and division of labour result). Even when competing firms in the same sector cluster, there may still be advantages because the cluster attracts more suppliers and customers than a single firm could achieve alone. Cities form and grow to exploit these economies of agglomeration. A big factor in this seems to be connectivity. Despite London’s congestion problems, it is still easier to get together with like-minded people within London, than to do so with people in Manchester, Birmingham or Edinburgh – hence the huge investment going into London on Crossrail.

Follow-up post here: https://www.withoutthestate.com/panchromatica/2019/01/crossrail-and-hs2again.html


I wrote two posts about the concept of core housing and adapting it for the UK.

The first, in 2016, looked at the history of the idea, not just in the favela and barrio of Latin America, but going back much earlier to the bastide towns in France and the UK.

Diagram showing the evolution of Nanatucket whale houses over time


The second, a couple of years later, looked at how the idea might be applied in the UK, through the experiences of several very different households.


I proposed an adaptation of the core-housing approach adopted in developing countries, with serviced plots on which would be constructed a basic unit of one living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. The plots would be big enough to allow extensions and additions to this core provision as the owner’s needs grew and changed, without the need to move and incur estate agents and legal fees. The original planning permission for the site would allow for the construction of a dwelling over no more than a fixed proportion of the plot area, without requiring anything other than Building Regulation approval. This would probably be done by creating a Local Special Development Order setting out some basic parameters, such as maximum plot coverage and storey limits, plus perhaps some rules about development at the boundaries.


I avoided writing on Brexit. I found it too distressing to be honest. I did write on the topic a few times though, not on the mechanics of it, but the underpinning illiberal ideas.

EU flag

Free Movement

…the end to free movement cuts both ways. As we stand, anyone in the EU has unlimited ability to trade, work or study anywhere else in the EU – that’s over 500m people and a collective economy worth around $19m representing about 22% of the world economy. The UK economy makes great use of that facility – watch any news item about medical or scientific research, and you will see them. According to a report produced by the British Academy, some 40,000 non-UK EU staff work in UK universities. These people are critical to maintaining the high standard of UK Universities in international league tables. Looking the other way, research by the Royal Society (pdf) indicates that almost 70% of active UK researchers in the period 1996 – 2011 had published articles for which they were affiliated with non-UK institutions, indicating that they had worked abroad at some point during that period. Some of those researchers may have moved for relatively short periods, but UK-based researchers also move for longer periods: 21% of UK-based researchers worked abroad for a period of two years or more during the same period.

All of this is at risk….

I don’t think I was wrong then, and all the current political rhetoric suggests nothing has changed.

Democracy is not a one time event

The idea that democracy stops when you get the decision you like is getting more prevalent, unfortunately. I say that regularly in response to comments on Facebook, although it never seems to get through. Only yesterday, some ignorant low life tried to tell me I’m refusing to accept a democratic decision because I am critical of St Boris. The same low life also told to go to Europe if I didn’t like it here.

I’m 74. I was born here, and I have lived here all my life. My father was born here and served in North Africa in WW2. He was nearly killed in Sicily. In a bizarre way, that could well have saved his life, since his regiment took part in the Normandy Landings. My Grandfather was born here and served in France in WW1. He was injured too but survived. My uncle was born here and took part in D-Day. I could go further back, too, so I’m not going to have some ignorant #### (insert your own choice of epithet – this isn’t so far a sweary blog) try to tell me I don’t belong here.


I’m happy …to respond to those who argue that atheism is a religion with the riposte that in that case, not collecting stamps is a hobby.



Much opposition to the idea of gay marriages is based on the false premise that ‘allowing’ it gives the state the right to enforce it. They are wrong – it isn’t for the state to force, allow or even enable gay marriage in churches. It should simply be something in which they take no interest – which should of course also apply to the CofE itself. Disestablishment would itself be a step towards greater freedom.


Organ Donations

The announcement from Gordon Brown, that he supports the principle of ‘Deemed Consent’ to organ donation has brought out the predictable set of responses, ranging from the demented (New Labour New Cannibalism), through the only slightly less barking (although the discussion remains surprisingly thoughtful in the main) to the surprisingly unthinking.


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