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Report to the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka On a visit to Liverpool to attend the Conference of the Liberal Democratic Party of Britain – 18th to 22nd September 2010.

Liverpool Pier Head

The visit to Liverpool had been arranged by the International Affairs Department of the British Liberal Democratic Party for the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. It was funded by the Westminster Foundation, a cross-party organization intended to promote democracy internationally.

As Chairman currently of CALD, I led the delegation which included representatives of all 9 Asian member parties. In addition to attendance at Conference events and fringe meetins, briefings had been arranged for us with significant individuals, including two Lib-Dem Cabinet members (Vince Cable and Chris Huhne) and their Junior Minister in the Foreign Office (Jeremy Browne), the former leader Paddy Ashdown, and the Head of the Committee on Development Assistance in the House of Commons (Malcolm Bruce). Two of these I had known before, including the Minister for Energy, who was a contemporary at university. Malcolm Bruce had visited Sri Lanka as part of the delegation led by Des Browne which had been sent by the last government, and had in an interview made clear that conditions in Sri Lanka were much better than had been reported in Britain beforehand.

We also attended the International Reception, and were introduced to the Deputy Prime Minister, who spent some time with me as well as with the Acting High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, and who seemed as interested in a new relationship with Sri Lanka as the Prime Minister had been when I met him a few months back. This may not be the case with the Deputy Liberal Leader, Simon Hughes, who had been harshly critical of Sri Lanka previously, but I was able to talk to him at length in a private meeting, and have sent him much material which will I hope convince him that the statements in his current motion on Sri Lanka are erroneous. I was also able to correct some misapprehensions amongst other delegates, including an MEP I had not known earlier. I should note that most criticism, on the part of the Liberals at least, as opposed to more politically biased Labour Party members, was due to a lack of information. The Actg High Commissioner is doing much to correct this by constant engagement with all those willing to listen, and this is certainly the case with the Liberal Democrats.

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Tolkein in 1916

If Enid Blyton’s celebration of the English countryside was in addition to her main subjects, it seems to have been the very stuff of J R R Tolkien’s increasingly celebrated description of a triumph, also of youthful and innocent forces over wickedness, but of a very different sort. His Trilogy of the Ring became a cult when it was published in the fifties, though I must confess I had not heard of it while at school. At Oxford though, where Tolkien spent much of his life as a Professor of Old English, many undergraduates adored it, and were scornful that I knew nothing of the work. Carried away however by other concerns, I only caught up with it when I was back home.

It was a gripping story, in three parts, with a prologue called The Hobbit which introduces Bilbo Baggins, one of the homely race of Hobbits which lived in the shires, clearly meant to evoke England’s green and pleasant land. Bilbo had acquired possession of a mysterious ring, which turns out to be the Ring of Power, sought by the evil Sauron to set the seal on his mastery of the world. Standing against him is the wise wizard Gandalf, who convinces Bilbo that the Ring must be destroyed. Unfortunately it is almost indestructible, and has to be thrown into the fires where it was forged to be got rid of, a task that is undertaken by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo.

The first book in the trilogy is entitled The Fellowship of the Ring, a group that includes elves and dwarfs as well as humans, which allows for some entertainment because of their rivalries. Rapidly however the story gets darker, as Sauron’s power increases, aided and abetted by the corrupted wizard Saruman who has been overcome by a lust for power himself. Though he sees himself as Sauron’s rival, his efforts to get hold of the Ring and destroy the forces of good, in particular Gandalf, increase Sauron’s power too.

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Enid Blyton

A writer of a very different sort who, like Orwell, had begun publishing before the Second World War, but was transformed into a major figure as a result of the war, was Enid Blyton. She wrote for children, whereas his work was emphatically for adults, she was an eternal optimist while he had a very gloomy view of human nature and fate.

My belief that the war served to revitalize Blyton too springs from the oddity that her most successful series of books were started during that very dark period for Britain. She had published quite a lot before then, notably the Noddy books which are thought characteristic of her work as a whole by those who have not actually read and loved her.  Those books are about Toytown, with the lovable little boy having all sorts of simple adventures. Some of them involve hostility from the Golliwogs, a term now considered racist, while an even more modern sensibility feels grave suspicions about Noddy’s relationship with Big Ears, the dwarf who takes Noddy under his wing though it is generally Noddy’s own resourcefulness that resolves any problem.

All that is however light years away from the works that have continued to command the affection of children as they grow up. I refer here to the various mystery books, where small bands of children overcome criminal activities of various sorts. These range from spying and smuggling and large scale forgery to petty theft and even, in one particularly startling insight into domestic problems, the writing of anonymous letters to fellow servants she wishes to get rid of by a cook called Mrs Moon.

Though the subjects sometimes overlap, Blyton’s different groups deal with different types of crime. When I was young my own favourites were the Five Find-Outers, who lived and worked in their own village, and collected clues and drew up lists of suspects after particular crimes were committed, the stealing of a precious cat for instance, or the burning down of a cottage. Their efforts are not appreciated by the village policeman, whose resentment is compounded by the faith in the children evinced by his superior, who rises higher and higher in rank while Goon languishes as a constable.

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The Chamber Door

 

Mr Speaker, 

I am glad to join in this debate today in support of the extension of the Emergency, for I think we can note a sea change in the manner in which the Opposition has approached the debate. It was instructive I believe that one of the Hon Members for Jaffna raised a Point of Order to the effect that this debate was happening too soon. 

In the past Mr Speaker, Members of the Opposition were delighted to use the opportunity of an Emergency Debate to abuse the government, to claim that all sorts of wrongs were taking place under cover of the Emergency. Although old habits die hard, like indeed Emergency Regulations, since we cannot expect total change immediately, today’s debate suggested that the Opposition no longer feels the same sense of urgency, and would have been perfectly happy if this debate had not taken place today. 

Thus the Leader of the Opposition talked about what he sees as erosion of the financial powers of Parliament, he and a Member from Colombo talked of problems with regard to court martials, a Member from Kegalle complained about the 18th Amendment and a Member from Jaffna referred to the situation of the people who had been displaced and abused for the LTTE for so long, and urged that more be done for them. 

And then the Member who spoke just before me joined all this up together, but he rightly drew attention to the excesses of his leader – at least I think he is still their leader – when the Prevention of Terrorism Act was piled on top of the Emergency, when as he eloquently put it, trade union and students were beaten up ruthlessly, when as he seems to have forgotten, Tamils were assaulted all over the country. That style of government led to an increase in terror, terror that lasted a quarter of a century and more, whereas I am sure the Honourable member will grant that this government was actually able to put an end to terror in Sri Lanka. 

But we should be more concerned, Mr Speaker, with the points raised by the Members from Jaffna. These are issues of some importance and could be considered relevant to the Emergency. Their requests for more attention in particular areas were perfectly reasonable, and of course government will do its best to alleviate the situation of those who suffered for so long through no fault of their own. The same indeed is true of the country as a whole and, as we have seen, the development that is happening all over the country, the restoration of confidence, the spread of business opportunities, these are the best remedies that can be provided, laying the groundwork so that our people can help themselves. 

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This exercise is from English, Economics & Management, a book which  is an adaptation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha of the original volume by Gartney and Stroup that presented basic economic principles simply. The principles are essentially liberal, but their universality will be clear in the context of the development of social and economic theories all over the world in the last few decades. 

I am grateful to Michael Walker of the Canadian Fraser Institute for encouraging me to use this text for English Teaching. The book should be used in conjunction with A Handbook of English Grammar (Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press, India). The full text of English, Economics & Management, as well as other  English books and materials that can be downloaded to enhance your English knowledge, can be found on the website of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka. 

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Scarcity, the fact that things are in limited supply, constrains us, that is it places limits on us. One of the most important facts of life on our planet is that productive resources are limited. However, human desires for goods and services are virtually unlimited. Since we cannot have as much of everything as we would like, we are forced to choose among alternatives.

When resources are used to produce good A, say a shopping centre, that action takes resources away from the production of other goods that are also desired. The shopping centre is then the highest valued from the set of goods that could have been produced and consumed for the required cost. The others now must be sacrificed, because the required resources were used instead to produce the shopping centre. The use of resources to produce one thing reduces their availability to produce other things. Thus, the use of scarce resources always involves a cost. To use a common English saying, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Costs play an extremely important function. They help us balance our desire for more of a good against our desire for more of other goods that could be produced instead. If we do not consider these costs, we will end up using scarce resources to produce the wrong things—goods that we do not value as much as other things that we might have produced.

In a market economy, consumer demand and producer costs perform this balancing function. In essence, the demand for a product is the voice of consumers instructing firms to produce a good. In order to produce the good, however, resources must be taken away from their alternative uses—primarily the production of other goods. Producers incur costs when they take resources away from the production of other goods. These costs, what the producers give up, can be represented as the voice of consumers saying that other goods that could be produced with the resources are also desired. Producers have to choose which goods to produce. Naturally they will be strongly inclined, or have a strong incentive, to supply those goods that can be sold for as much or more than their production costs. This is another way of saying that producers will tend to supply those goods that consumers value most relative to their production costs.

Of course, a good can be provided free to an individual or group if others foot the bill. But this merely shifts the costs; it does not reduce them. Politicians often speak of ‘free education’, ‘free medical care’, or ‘free housing’. This terminology is deceptive. None of these things are free. Scarce resources are required to produce each of them. For example, the buildings, labour, and other resources used to produce schooling could be used instead to produce more food, recreation, entertainment, or other goods.

The cost of the schooling is in fact the value of those goods that must now be given up because the resources required for their production were instead used to produce schooling. Governments may be able to shift costs, but they cannot avoid them. The concept that ‘scarce resources have a cost’ applies to all things.

With the passage of time, of course, we may be able to discover better ways of doing things and improve our knowledge about how to transform scarce resources into desired goods and services. Clearly, this has happened over the years. During the last 250 years, we have been able to relax the grip of scarcity and improve our quality of life. However, this does not change the fundamental point—we still confront the reality of scarcity. The use of more labour, machines, and natural resources to produce one good forces us to give up other goods that might otherwise have been produced.

 Questions

 Grammar and Sentence Structure

  1. Identify the nouns and adjectives in the last three paragraphs. Use five of each of them in sentences of your own to bring out their meaning.
  2. Rewrite the first paragraph in the past tense.
  3. Identify the pronouns in the first three paragraphs and say to what each of them refers.
  4. Identify the prepositions in the last three paragraphs and use them in sentences of your own.
  5. Divide the sentences here that are combined with conjunctions into separate sentences.
  6. Using conjunctions, join three pairs of simple sentences in this passage.

Vocabulary

  1. In groups, work out from their context the meanings of the highlighted words, and use them in sentences of your own.
  2. Find words or phrases in the last five paragraphs of this passage that are used to convey meanings similar to the following – Rare, wanted, compels, think of, move, relaxation, face, pay, change, loosen,

Use both the words or phrases in the passage, as well as those given here, in sentences of your own.

Comprehension

  1. Summarize the main argument of this passage in not more than five sentences.
  2. Give arguments for and against the point the writer makes about ‘free’ education.

When I described The Wind in the Willows as about the only book that adults as well as children can read with equal satisfaction, in which the protagonists are animals, I was drawing a contrast mainly with fables. I was implying, perhaps not entirely correctly, that adults would not derive as much satisfaction from fables as children. Conversely, the writer who perhaps made the most effective transition to the world after the Second World War, wrote a book involving animals which was emphatically intended for adults. Children who read it, often as a prescribed text, are in effect being treated as apprentices in the world of politics and social criticism.

I refer to Animal Farm, the allegory about Soviet Communism with which George Orwell made his name in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. He was a strange man, and a strange writer, an Etonian with deep resentment of the British ruling class, a socialist who seemed to look down on the workers and was accused of claiming that ‘the working classes smell’.

The accusation was by the Daily Worker, the communist party newspaper, and arose from the bitter infighting that had overtaken the left, following the split between Stalin and Trotsky in the Soviet Union. Orwell had seen this in its most dramatic form during the Spanish Civil War, when he had gone out to support the Republican forces, and found that their internal rivalries allowed the Fascist forces easy triumphs. He wrote about this in Homage to Catalonia, which was not a success, perhaps because when it was published, in 1938, the dangers of fascism loomed large, and the minutiae of the problems in Spain were of less importance.

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Speech at the Royal Commonwealth Society, London 17 September 2010    

 

Resettled children at school, December 2009

 

I am grateful to the Royal Commonwealth Society for arranging this talk today, at a time when I believe we can be truly optimistic about our country. I say this because I believe we have begun now to move forward in several respects that were inhibited during the long period of conflict.    

Firstly, we have done much more in the last five years in terms of basic infrastructure. While infrastructure alone is not enough, without it there could be no development, in particular in areas deprived of basic connectivity for so long.    

Secondly, we have begun to attract the kind of investment the country deserves, and are able to direct it towards regions that suffered from neglect previously. I mean not only areas previously under terrorist sway, but also those areas full of promise in the south and the northwest that successive governments neglected, because their leadership was immovably urban.    

Thirdly, we have at last begun to implement the provisions about language that were introduced into our Constitution in 1987. We have much further to go, but at last government has had the courage to promote bilingualism by regulation.  300,000 public servants should be bilingual by 2013 in terms of the current training programme, while 500 of the 5000 new Tamil police officers envisaged have already been recruited.    

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This exercise is from English, Economics & Management, a book which  is an adaptation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha of the original volume by Gartney and Stroup that presented basic economic principles simply. The principles are essentially liberal, but their universality will be clear in the context of the development of social and economic theories all over the world in the last few decades. 

 

I am grateful to Michael Walker of the Canadian Fraser Institute for encouraging me to use this text for English Teaching. The book should be used in conjunction with A Handbook of English Grammar (Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press, India). The full text of English, Economics & Management, as well as other  English books and materials that can be downloaded to enhance your English knowledge, can be found on the website of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Economists believe that changes in incentives influence human behaviour in a manner we can foretell. Benefits and costs that affect us influence our choices. If any choice gives us more benefits, we are more likely to choose it. Conversely, if a choice costs us more, we are less likely to choose it.

This basic belief of economics is a powerful tool because we can apply it widely. Incentives affect behaviour in almost all aspects of our lives, ranging from what we buy, what we decide to do at home, how we choose our governments.

When we buy things, the basic economic belief is that, if the price of something increases, consumers will buy less of it; producers, on the other hand, will supply more of it since the price increase makes it more profitable for them to produce the good. Both buyers and sellers respond to incentives. Market prices will bring their actions into a balance. If the amount which people want to buy is more than the amount sellers are willing to provide, the price will rise. The higher price will discourage consumption and encourage more production of the good or service. This will bring the amount demanded and the amount supplied into balance.

Alternatively, if consumers do not wish to buy the current output of a good, stocks will accumulate and there will be downward pressure on the price. In turn, the lower price will encourage consumption and slow down production until the amount demanded by consumers once again balances the production of the good. Markets work because both buyers and sellers alter their behaviour according to changes in incentives.

Of course, this process does not work immediately. It will take time for buyers to respond fully to a change in price. In the same way, it will take time for producers to produce more in response to a price increase or to reduce production if price declines. Still, the effect is clear – market prices will coordinate the actions of both buyers and sellers and will bring them into harmony.

The response of buyers and sellers to the higher petrol prices of the 1970s in America illustrated the importance of incentives. As petrol prices rose, consumers cut down on less necessary trips and tried to travel together in cars. Gradually, they changed to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars in order to reduce the amount of petrol they used. At the same time, petrol suppliers increased their drilling to find new wells, they used a water flooding technique to get more oil from existing wells, and they also looked more intensely for new oil fields. By the early 1980s, this combination of factors put downward pressure on the price of crude oil.

Incentives also influence political choices. The person who shops in a market is the same person who shops among political alternatives. In most cases, voters are more likely to support political candidates and policies that provide them with a greater amount of personal benefits. Conversely, they will tend to oppose political programmes where the personal costs are high in relation to the benefits provided.

The basic view of economics—that incentives matter—applies as much in socialism as it does under capitalism. For example, in the former Soviet Union, managers and employees of glass plants were at one time rewarded according to the tons of sheet glass produced. Not surprisingly, most plants produced sheet glass so thick that you could hardly see through it. The rules were changed so that the managers were rewarded according to the square meters of glass produced. The results were predictable. Under the new rules, Soviet firms produced glass so thin that it was easily broken. You can see then that changes in incentives influence actions under all forms of economic organization.

Some opponents of this view have said that this sort of economic analysis only helps to explain the actions of selfish and greedy people. But this is not correct. People act for a variety of reasons, some selfish and some humanitarian. The basic idea of economics mentioned above applies to both these types of reason. The choices of all people will be influenced by changes in personal costs and benefits. For example, both the selfish person and the less selfish one will be more likely to try to rescue a small child in trouble in a shallow stream than in a roaring river. Similarly, both are more likely to give a needy person their old clothes rather than new ones. Incentives influence the choices of both.

 Questions

Grammar and Sentence Structure

  1. Identify the nouns and adjectives in paragraphs four to six. Use five of each of them in sentences of your own to bring out their meaning.
  2. Rewrite paragraph five in the present tense and paragraph six in the past tense.
  3. Identify the pronouns in the third paragraph and say to what each of them refers.
  4. Identify the prepositions in the last paragraph and use them in sentences of your own.

Vocabulary

  1. In groups, work out from their context the meanings of the highlighted words, and use them in sentences of your own.
  2. Find words or phrases in the last five paragraphs of this passage that are used to convey meanings similar to the following -Affected, In the same way, Different choices, Goes down, Little by little, could easily be guessed, Reduced, Method, React, With greater concern.
  3. Use both the words or phrases in the passage, as well as those given here, in sentences of your own.
  4. Form verbs from the italicized nouns and use them in sentences of your own.

 Comprehension

  1. What is the point of the examples given in the one before the last paragraph? If you were in charge of glass production in the former Soviet Union, what would you have decided to do?
  2. What is the point of the examples given in the last paragraph? Do you agree with this?
  3. Summarize the main argument of this passage in not more than five sentences.

Acts of Faith - Rajiva Wijesinha

This is an extract from Acts of Faith, the novel about July 1983 that was published in 1985 by Navrang in New Delhi. It was reissued recently, along with Days of Despair (1989, about the Indo-Lankan Accord of 187 and its aftermath) and The Limits of Love (2005, about the life and killing of Richard de Zoysa) in The Terrorist Trilogy. This was published by International Book House, and is available from newpet@sltnet.lk or 151A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 7.

 

CHAPTER 2 – Action Stations

What Tom our President was doing when fires began blazing out over the city is not something that can dogmatically be declared. It depends after all to some extent on what sort of a President we want; though we must course also present reasons for the fires being allowed to flourish, for no action being taken so that the mob is permitted to cavort unrestrained through the streets until it reaches Shiva’s place and rushes in, and indeed out again and on and on and on. Let us now therefore picture the President in full control himself of a situation with which he finds nothing amiss, striding in full dress uniform up and down his operation room, leaping at intervals to various multi-coloured telephones to assert his sovereign will. At moments of great intensity he slaps his thigh with his swagger stick, barking into the instrument at anxious army and police officers who ring up for orders, ‘Do not sh-sh-sh-shoot. Everything is safely in my hands. Do not worry, gentlemen. I am in full command of the situation.’

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Kenneth Grahame in 1910

Kenneth Grahame in 1910

It was only a few years after Peter Pan made his debut on stage that there appeared yet another still celebrated children’s book in the mode of fantasy. This was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, again a singular achievement, though he wrote other books too. He also achieved distinction of another sort, in working for the Bank of England, where he rose to the position of Secretary to the Bank, before retiring under not entirely happy circumstances when he was not yet 50.

The Wind in the Willows, published in the year in which he retired, is a woodland tale, with hardly any humans in it, and none of consequence. The animals who are its heroes are unusual ones, not the lion or fox or deer or squirrels that children could admire or love. Rather the book begins by introducing Mole and the Rat he befriends, two apparently settled bachelors, who are quite content to potter about doing nothing, ‘simply messing about in boats’, as they put it, so long as they have enough to eat and a comfortable place in which to sleep. But they also make friends with the extravagant Mr Toad, who lives in Toad Hall, and enjoys nothing better than showing off. The only person who might be able to control him is the wise old Badger, and even he is not always successful.

 

The book is soon taken over by Mr Toad, and goes into a romp. He acquires a motor car which he does not know to drive, since he is under the impression that the purpose of a motor car is to speed along while hooting his horn, so that everyone can see him. This entirely human trait leads to the usual consequences, encounters with the law as well as accidents. Toad’s efforts to escape from prison involve dressing up as a grotesque washerwoman, a travesty that allowed several illustrators a field day. Toad’s effrontery, like Billy Bunter’s, is generally successful, only to be undone by yet another act of boastfulness on his part.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2010
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