Monday, February 28, 2011

This sort of thinking leads to financial crises

The European Court of Justice is about to decide whether British insurance firms will be allowed to offer policies with lower premiums to young women or whether it can be said to infringe that magical concept, equality. This is what happens when business is controlled by people who do not have the faintest concept of basic economics and have never had to deal with any kind of financial issues.

There is a reason why young women get car insurance at more advantageous terms than young men: they are less likely to have major accidents, being more careful and less harum-scarum drivers. D'uh!

While equality is something we must all espouse when it comes to, for example, equality before the law (a concept that seems to be under pressure, as I hope to show in another blog), there is no equality as far as financial or actuarial risk is concerned. None. Insurance companies calculate quite carefully (though, undoubtedly, they sometimes get it wrong) what any individual's risk value is. It is not something that can be decided by notions of gender equality.

Then again, how different is this from our politicians demanding that banks lend money to small businesses regardless of whether they are a good risk or not? Or same politicians planning to set up a bank, using seized property and taxpayer backing in order to lend money to politically approved businesses regardless of their fiscal worth? Or, infamously, mortgage lenders being forced not to "discriminate" against certain applicants for mortgages on the grounds of them never being able to pay back what they borrow?

Yah-boo, I told you so - part 2

Readers of this blog know that I rarely link to the clog (corporate blog) run by MEP, all-purpose Conservative interference runner and Telegraph writer Daniel Hannan but this one might be worth reading if to watch Mr Hannan trying to wriggle away from the facts of his leader's comments on Al-Jazeera about Britain, the EU and that referendum.

Mr Cameron apparently declared:
I don't believe an In/Out referendum is right, because I don't believe that leaving the European Union would be in Britain's interests'.
As it happens I agree with Mr Hannan (hah, didn't expect me to say that, did you?) that it is a little premature to try to guess what the outcome of such a referendum would be. Given that the eurosceptic movement in this country is in a permanent disarray and given that money is spent on pointless campaigns instead of useful things like the spread of accurate information, I would say the result of a putative in/out referendum is seriously in doubt. But that is not the point.

What matters is that Mr Cameron thinks that it might not go the way he wants it so he won't have it. The secondary point is that he does not believe that leaving the European Union is in Britain's interests. Well, yah-boo, told you so. From the moment Mr Cameron became the Boy-King of the Conservative Party the Boss and I have been saying the same thing: he is a big-statist, corporatist europhiliac.

Of course, this statement will lead to a mass exodus of so-called eurosceptics from the Conservative Party, particularly those who told us last year that a vote for their party was a vote for a solution of the intractable "European" problem. The exodus will be led by Daniel Hannan MEP etc etc.

Hmm. Is that a piglet I see flying by?

More, please

UNWatch, an estimable organization has a blog called Hall of Shame and it is uniformly good reading. Their latest entry is on a new report about to be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council that hails Libya's human rights record even though the Council finally voted to suspend the country from its ranks (though whether that was because of Gaddafi's behaviour or because he had been overthrown remains unclear).

The Summary of the proceedings of the review process states:
During the interactive dialogue, statements were made by 46 delegations. A number of delegations commended the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for the preparation and presentation of its national report, noting the broad consultation process with stakeholders in the preparation phase. Several delegations also noted with appreciation the country’s commitment to upholding human rights on the ground. Additional statements, which could not be delivered during the interactive dialogue owing to time constraints, will be posted on the extranet of the universal periodic review when available.
On page 14 of the report one can find all sorts of recommendations by other countries, most of them rejected by Libya as being unnecessary. Here are Libya's own official comments on the subject.

Far from wanting to abolish this sort of thing - some of the most oppressive regimes of the world belonging to the UNHRC - I want to see more of it. Anything that shows up the UN for the sick joke that it is I welcome. Unfortunately, it takes a long time between general indignation and action with a good deal of shoulder-shrugging in between. The same seems to be true about the EU, the ECHR and foreign aid.

Sarko gets tough.

Michèle Alliot-Marie is no longer the French Foreign Minister. She has been forced to resign because of the embarrassing links to the ousted Tunisian regime. Instead we shall have the former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé.

Then he came up with his usual solution to everything:
Speaking to the nation on Sunday, Sarkozy suggested re-launching the Mediterranean Union and called for a meeting of the European Council to discuss Europe's response to the Arab revolutions.
Even though Daniel Korski in the Spectator thinks this would be a good idea, the rest of us and particularly the people of France can merely give a Gallic shrug and murmur plus ça change ... Or as the Independent says:
The whole episode has been highly embarrassing for Mr Sarkozy. His energetic involvement in international affairs, as president of the G8 and G20 groups of nations until the end of this year, was supposed to repair his battered domestic reputation before presidential elections next spring. His long-delayed government reshuffle last November – in which Ms Alliot-Marie became foreign minister – was supposed to create a confident new right-wing government to please his core electoral base.

Instead, Mr Sarkozy stands accused of muffing his response to epoch-making changes in a region in which France claims special historical and economic interests. He has been forced to rebuild his second government after only three months.

The appointment of Mr Juppé as foreign minister would also, in effect, be an admission of weakness or even failure. Mr Juppé, a foreign affairs specialist unlike Ms Alliot-Marie, is closely associated with Mr Sarkozy's estranged former mentor, ex-President Jacques Chirac.

An anonymous group of senior French career diplomats last week criticised Mr Sarkozy's foreign policy as "impulsive" and "amateurish". The Elysée Palace, which has dominated foreign policy-making since Mr Sarkozy came to power, has dismissed the attack. However, the appointment of Mr Juppé implies that control of foreign policy will now shift, at least in part, back to the Foreign Ministry on the Quai d'Orsay
And we thought we had problems with our dim-witted Foreign Secretary. Come to think of it, we do.

Believe it when I see it

Somehow, I cannot work up any excitement over the results of the Irish election. Yes, the destruction of Fianna Fail is a lovely sight but will Fine Gael or whatever coalition that is cobbled together be any better? We do not know and can only wait to see. The Daily Mail seems quite excited. Whether that is a good thing or not is a moot point.

Bruno Waterfield in the Telegraph thinks that the new government will be on collision course with the EU. Ah yes, just as Cameron's government was going to be on that collision course. In fact, the collision course is so crowded all these governments are colliding with each other. What exactly will be the threat? We are not going to take your money. That'll show you.

Another story that makes me say, yes, yes, yes, believe it when I see it is the one about Britain, possibly, deciding to take away aid from countries who are really rather rich now.
Countries such as Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Moldova and Serbia will be stripped of millions of pounds a year, following the inquiry ordered by International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Aid to India - which can afford its own space programme - will also be frozen.
First of all, will be stripped after the report is published and thoroughly discussed is just a little vague. My guess is that in a few months' or a year's time we shall find that there is still money going to all these countries.

Secondly, the list of who are too rich to be given aid is a little eccentric. Is Moldova really richer than India overall?

Thirdly, it is going to make no difference whatsoever. The amount given in aid will be going up; our ability to check where the money is going will remain zero; the various UN and NGO projects will still be riddled with corruption; and, above all, aid will remain a pernicious policy that will keep bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power and prevent poor countries from developing their economies, property rights or good governance.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not the first one to say it

No, indeed. Nick Cohen in today's Observer is not the first. This blog linked to an article by Caroline Glick on a similar topic a little while ago. Nevertheless, Mr Cohen has got there and has done so in elegant prose. Because the obsession with Israel (and pace Mr Cohen, it is more obvious on the left than the right) has been laid bare by events of recent weeks. It appears that the people of various North African and Middle-Eastern countries have realized what a terrible con-trick has been perpetrated on them by their rulers aided and abetted by the Western media and have turned their guns or their mobile phones on those rulers. Sadly, they cannot have a go at the Western media.

While we are on the subject of catastrophic errors, here is an excellent article by James Traub in Foreign Policy: "The End of the Arab Dream".
Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall won't just mark the close of an awful dictatorship -- it will end the Arab world's disastrous half-century-long affair with utopian governing fantasies.
Well, one can but hope. So far, the signs are fairly good - the Arabs of various countries seem to have woken up from the nightmare but will they be seduced by yet another utopian panacea?

As for the obsession with Israel, I predict it will be back within a few months, most noticeable in the Guardian and the Observer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I have discovered another blog

Ruth Dudley Edwards is a very estimable person, excellent writer and a friend. For some reason I have not realized before that she blogged as well but do now and can thoroughly recommend her postings. Well, she has a website as well, which is very grand, but the blog is more fun and has an interesting format: all her posting seem to end with a devastating question. Answer that, if you can, she says.

Unsurprisingly, she is not afraid of difficult topics. She writes about Gaddafi supplying the IRA with arms, a topic that has not been aired enough in recent days; about the aggressiveness of the peace activists (and, incidentally, I was overjoyed to read about the accusations of some Parliament Square campers against others of being agents of MI5); and about Katharine Birbalsingh's talk at the New Culture Forum. As it happens, I was there, too and intend to post about it tomorrow in greater detail.

Yah-boo, I told you so

A kind reader of this blog suggested that I should blow my trumpet more. Other people say that I do too much of that already but they are clearly wrong. What this reader said is that I should remind everyone that I have been saying ever since William Hague was appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary that he would be a disaster. Well, yah-boo, told you so.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not sure I see the point to this

Last year I was in Hungary just a few months before the election that was to give FIDESZ a two thirds majority and heard some worries about the possibility of a new constitution. It now looks like coming to pass.
Hungary’s new government is determined to replace the country’s constitution with a new one as part of its plan to radically change the country. The governing Fidesz party says that, since it has two-thirds of the parliament seats, political stability enables it to draft a new constitution it sees as long overdue.
Naturally, being good Europeans the government will not have a referendum on the new constitution but they are going to have a consultation via a questionnaire, which can be read in this article together with some comments. The one question that is not asked is whether the citizens of Hungary actually feel the need for a new constitution but it is not unreasonable to say that by voting for FIDESZ in such large numbers they approved the proposal that had been there fairly enough. (Unlike, say, the idea of Alternative Voting in Britain, which had not been mentioned even once during the election campaign last year.)

Some of the questions are interesting. I am intrigued by the idea of giving parents of minors votes on behalf of their children. This is a step towards the idea of multiple votes for people who have a greater stake in the country and society, which ought to be discussed a little more openly.

In the end, however, I wonder what the point is. After all, they have the Consolidated Treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon. How many constitutions do they need?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let's not get too excited

UN Watch has condemned the EU's draft resolution about Libya and events therein for not being strong enough, not mentioning Gaddafi's role and for not insisting that the country should be suspended from the Human Rights Council. Of course, we agree with all of that and we the preposterousness of Libya ever being on anything called the Human Rights Council. There is some doubt, though, as to whether UN Resolutions make the slightest difference to anything at all, given the UN's own record in the area of human rights. It is particularly ironic that the EU draft was prepared by Hungary on behalf of the EU. Possibly the Hungarians in question remember or have been told about the UN's complete inaction on their behalf in 1956. Just a thought.

Makes sense to me

Given the past history of various extremely unpleasant totalitarian governments and just plain autocracies getting all worked up about other countries' malfeasances it makes perfect sense to me that Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in whose countries demonstrators are dealt with in summary fashion, has condemned the killing of protesters in Libya. The people he declared ought not to be killed but listened to. Indeed. As they are in Iran, of course.

As UN Watch reports he has gone even further:
“Iran called for the UN Human Rights Council to form a committee to examine [the] situation in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya,” reported the state-sponsored ISNA news agency today.

“The Head of Iranian Parliament Human Rights Committee Zohreh Elahian in a letter to the UN Human Rights Council President Sihasak Phuangketkeow urged formation of a committee to examine [the] situation in Bahrain, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya to find cases of human rights violations. She then demanded that criminals be introduced to the court to stand trial.”

“Fire is opened on people of the countries who are staging civil and peaceful anti-government protests only to revive their natural and lawful rights,” the letter read. “Iranian Parliament Human Rights Committee condemns violence against these people by their rulers and supports certain rights of protestors,” it read.
It is a joy to know that the Iranian Parliament has a Human Rights Committee. Stalin would have been proud of them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An interesting analysis

I am supposed to say this but, actually, I don't want to republish merely to link to an interesting analysis of what is going on in the Middle East and North Africa:

Revolution and the Muslim World is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

It has its rambling aspects but the tenuous parallels with the European revolutions of 1848 (unsuccessful but sowed seeds of later events, not all of them particularly good) and the non-events of 1968 are interesting. In fact, the only sequence of events of this kind that has been successful was the geographically and politically limited activity of 1989. What the article only hints at is that the outcome of the 1989 turbulence - the collapse of the Soviet Union - was, inevitably, going to lead to a prolonged upheaval in the world that would eventually result in the collapse of the order created in the years after World War II. We are witnessing another aspect of it now. Nor is there any mention of the possibility of a domino effect: the coalition invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has, undoubtedly weakened those kleptocratic, oppressive and rather bloodthirsty regimes.

Of course, we cannot tell what will happen. There will be extremist groups waiting to take advantage of the upheaval as, indeed, one should expect groups like that to do. Will they succeed? Who knows at this stage? Even real experts are doubtful about the outcome. In fact, that is one of the signs of a real expert at this point.

Without being an expert I can predict one thing: the idea of all these countries uniting into some kind of an Arab or Muslim empire is piffle. While the national feeling in some of these countries is weaker than in others the notion of an Arab brotherhood or a Muslim Khalifate is weaker still.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Well, what can the EU do apart from emitting hot air?

It goes without saying that I do not agree with those who think that somehow or other the scenes from Libya (or Egypt, or Bahrain, or Tunisia) are an inspiration to us all except to start thinking a bit. No, we are not in the same situation. We elected the shower that is in government here and that is more than the people of Libya etc etc can say. Furthermore, riots are nasty things as some of the stories that have come out prove it. The story of the vicious attack on the CBS journalist has been spun by some as something that can happen only in Muslim countries. Don't you believe it.

There is no real point in my blogging about those exciting events (however they may turn out in the short or longer term) as the media is covering them fairly extensively. No, I have no idea why David Cameron has jetted off to Egypt and why he thinks it necessary to be the first European leader (if one can use such an expression) to talk to the military in charge of that country. I'd like to think that he is there to tell them that the good times are over and they'll be getting aid no more but, somehow, I doubt it. Perhaps, he is negotiating an even bigger chunk of aid.

Meanwhile, there has been a certain amount of brouhaha about some European reactions to events in Libya in this case. EU Observer reports somewhat disingenuously that Italy and Czech Republic back Gaddafi despite bloodbath. Not a particularly wise thing to do as Gaddafi seems to have fled with a very slim chance of ever coming back.

It seems that our old friend the Common Foreign Policy has once again gone AWOL.
The EU is struggling to speak with one voice following a massive loss of life in Libya over the weekend and the regime's vow to fight protesters to the "to the last bullet. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has spoken of her "extreme concern," while Rome does not want to "disturb" strongman Moammar Gaddafi and Prague has warned of a "catastrophe" if he falls.
One can't help suspecting that the catastrophe Italy is talking about is the possible flood of refugees from Libya.

But what of the Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Scwarzenberg? Ought he not speak up against a tyrant and for the people's desires to have freedom? It seems that what he said was something a little different. As EU Observer puts it:
"If Gaddafi falls, then there will be bigger catastrophes in the world," he told journalists in the EU capital on Sunday. "It's no use for anyone if we intervene there loudly, just to prove our own importance."
In other words, Baroness Ashton should stop sounding off on something neither she nor the rest of the EU can do anything about. With which sentiment one can heartily agree.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I am a little more pessimistic than the great Eamonn Butler

Well, the government has done another U-turn, this time on the Forestry Commission, as Dr Butler says on the Adam Smith Institute site, "a conflicted quango, trying to regulate forestry while also being the sector's biggest owner, manager and producer". There will be many more.

Some people are rejoicing and pointing out that this shows the government is ready to listen to the people. Who those people are is hard to tell as they tend to be either those who are somehow going to lose their livelihood if the Forestry Commission goes or those who have not bothered to read the proposals but acquired their information from the BBC. I had an argument on the subject with someone who seemed to think that land owned by a quango is the same as common land.

What it actually shows is that the government has no particular principles and has not the first idea how they would like to see this country run; therefore, at the slightest sign of opposition they turn tail. After all, as Dr Butler says, it was obvious that old cliches would appear:
It's not too difficult to predict that the 'selling the family silver' charge is going to be hurled against any privatization (or in this case, merely leasing-out) plan. That's the statists' nuclear weapon. Most people don't realise that the family silver is already bashed and tarnished – that part of it that hasn't been stolen in a smash and grab raid by the trade unions and the officials in Whitehall who actually run things.
Nor is it particularly difficult that local authorities faced with budget cuts would take the knife to front-line services or anything that might excite opposition, like the closure of underused and understocked libraries. They are not likely to get rid of highly paid bureaucrats in the back offices, are they now? Why, precisely, did the Cleggeron Coalition or the Conservative leadership not realize this and prepare for this?

Dr Butler finishes on a surprisingly optimistic note:
I do hope this government is not going to be like Blair's, tossed on the sea of public opinion as it ditches good policies that don't go down well. My guess is that it will not, and that it has a better sense of direction as to what it wants to achieve and the difficult measures it needs to take to achieve them. But when you know you will face difficulties, you need to prepare well to get through them.
So far we have seen little evidence of that sense of direction. I am a little more pessimistic than the great Eamonn Butler.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some thought processes I simply cannot understand

The Boss of EUReferendum, my erstwhile home, and I do not always see eye to eye. In fact, we disagree on various issues and, let's face it, how could we not? However, there are times when I acknowledge quite freely (OK, get off the phone now, I am acknowledging) that he has absolutely whanged the nail on the crumpet, as Lord Peter Wimsey says in one of the novels.

He has surpassed himself in his posting about foreign aid going to India, the country, we are told, that is developing so fast it will overtake the West any minute now together with China, Brazil and Russia (please stop guffawing at the back). As it happens, India's economy is developing very fast and many millions of people have been able to clamber out of the oppressive and very real poverty (not simply being unable to afford a third holiday in a year). That development is unlikely to be speeded up by foreign aid; to the contrary what foreign aid is likely to do is to make India's worst problem, all-pervasive corruption, even worse.

There is no point in my adding anything to his analysis but I want to open the subject up a bit. On the whole, I can usually understand the thought processes of people I disagree with. I often think that they are wacky but I can understand how they develop.

For example, I do actually understand why real supporters of European integration and of the concept of a single European state think (or, to be precise, used to think since there are precious few real supporters around). Given the fact that in the course of the twentieth century European countries committed virtual political suicide, the idea of a single state rising from the ashes may well have seemed like a good one. It wasn't as it happens but there is logic behind that idea.

There is even some logic behind the idea that one needs proper planning to make an economy work as an unplanned economy is likely to throw up some real surprises, some of them very unpleasant.

The problem with those two is that people might hang on to them in defiance of all historic experience. That is when these ideas become incomprehensible. Why, given the experience of the Soviet Union, would anyone think that planned economies are efficient?

There are, however, people whose thought processes (if one can call it that) are completely incomprehensible. I simply cannot fathom why they should think the way they do and come to the conclusions they do. It's not that they are wacky, they are, in my opinion, completely incomprehensible.

What exactly makes our politicians (for lawmakers they are not) think that giving aid to India is a good idea? What precise process of thinking (if I may call it that) leads them to the conclusion that shelling out money to bloodthirsty kleptocrats in Africa helps anybody to achieve anything? What is behind all that? Is it just ordinary mushy emotionalism? Is it a desire to prevent the developing world from actually doing any developing? Is it a sense of their own superiority? What is it?

Or take another idea (OK, I am using the word very loosely): the Big Society, hereinafter referred to as DC's BS. What on earth makes that idiot the Prime Minister think that organized welfare is any different from big government socialism? Come to think of it, what sort of thought processes fuel his supporters who keep nodding like toy dogs and saying four legs good, two legs bad big state bad, big society good?

Then there is that other cracking idea, the Big Society Bank, which, as far as anyone can understand will take money from all kinds of sources, like the lottery and what politicians call "dormant accounts" and, undoubtedly, something from the taxpayer to set up a state bank to hand out money to socially useful enterprises, particularly, one assumes, those that cannot raise money anywhere else, not being viable in business terms. Ahem, is that not what triggered the financial crisis over on the other side of the Pond? That was just a trial run. We are going to show those Yanks how to create a real financial crisis. But what exactly makes people think this is a good idea?

It's no good. There are certain kinds of mentality that I shall never fathom.

What a good thing we no longer have that crass cowboy in the White House

It is a good thing, isn't it? Isn't it? I mean we have now a smart, sophisticated dude who really knows how to make America and Americans popular. Doesn't he? Well, apparently not.
Amid President Obama's vow to enact "smart diplomacy" and to raise U.S. stature overseas, it's never been more dangerous to be an American abroad. From Tehran to Havana, tyrants are taking U.S. hostages.

One after another, our nation's enemies are moving to make an example of Americans abroad. Ostensibly it's about the rule of law. But with trumped-up charges, these acts are provocations.

It may be because Obama's "smart diplomacy" amounts to shunning friends, appeasing tyrants, deferring to international law and imagining America as no more special than any other nation. Fact is, Americans are being singled out because rogue regimes are confident that they have nothing to fear from us any longer.
Go figure, as they say on the other side of the Pond.

A real liberal

Writing obituaries is a sad business, particularly about someone, in this case Lord Monson, the freedom campaigner, as the Daily Telegraph so rightly called him, whom I knew well and with whom I have worked in the House of Lords.

Melissa Kite's article, quoted above, sums up Lord Monson's activity reasonably well though somewhat superficially. So far there has been no obituary, presumably because active in many different fields, Lord Monson eschewed personal publicity and was not known to many hacks.

Among other things he was a confirmed EU withdrawalist, though he also believed that our own government should also get out of people's lives, a man who opposed surrender to the IRA, a stalwart fighter against the hunting ban, the President of the Society for Individual Freedom, a trustee of the Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies and others, too numerous to mention.

I first met Lord Monson at the very beginning of the Anti-Federalist League, which later morphed into UKIP. We wanted to launch the new party in one of the House of Lords committee rooms and the rule is that such events have to be sponsored by a member of the House who has to be present. For various reasons the peer whom Alan Sked had asked could not attend so he, in turn, asked Lord Monson to do so. Without knowing any of us (though he did recognize my surname and told me that he had read my father's articles) Lord Monson agreed because he believed in the rightness of the cause. Subsequently, in the 1992 election he persuaded a number of people to vote for the AFL as he could not vote himself.

It was Lord Monson who sponsored my pass to the Lords in order for me to do the research and briefs for various peers; he was among the most trenchant speakers in all the debates over Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, the Constitution and Lisbon. Generally speaking, his approach was from the point of view of individual freedom as a cursory glance through his contributions would show. There are not that many people even in the Lords, let alone the Commons, who believe in old-fashioned liberal values but Ivan Monson did. (He asked me to call him Ivan when I first started working with him, promising to explain why and how John had transmogrified into Ivan but he never did, leaving me to guess.)

His other interests were Northern Ireland, Eastern Europe, Turkey where he went frequently and about which he knew a great deal, country sports and activities. I am not sure whether he hunted himself but I do know that he opposed the government's deep desire to control activities in the countryside and took his entire family, including very young grandchildren to the Countryside Alliance march.

My last conversation with Ivan Monson took place a couple of weeks before his death. He was in the Lords (where he had not attended much in recent months, clearly for reasons of health) but on crutches because he had had an operation on one knee and was planning to have one on the other as soon as possible. Sadly, he looked frail and tired but the chat we had was as delightful and invigorating as ever. Among other things he complained bitterly about the number of new peers this government, outdoing the last one, was appointing. They would toe the line, was his opinion. With this lot we probably could not get any Bill of Malcolm Pearson's through the Second Reading, let alone Committee stage. Sad but true.

I shall miss Ivan Monson, a very quiet, gentle but utterly strong-minded man. I am glad to say, however, that arrangements are being made for me to continue work in the House of Lords about which I shall go on reporting on this blog.

UPDATE: A belated and not entirely adequate obituary in the Daily Telegraph.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yes, all right, I'm coming

There are three half-written postings hanging in the air and two planned in my head. I am going to do them. But in the meantime, here is something to enjoy: the great Laurence Olivier as Henry V in that stunning film. St Crispin's Day speech.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why politicians should just butt out

Back in the days I led the Honest Food campaign at the Countryside Alliance every now and then we would have various campaigns to do with small and specialist food producers and retailers. What, people would ask, should we tell the government to do to make things easier for those producers and retailers. My answer was always the same: butt out of it. Best thing governments and politicians can do.

If one reads Allister Heath's list of the real reasons for the financial crisis, one can see that the same principle applies to financial and economic matters.

Gooey trance

Setting aside the excitement about the vote in the Commons on prisoners' voting rights, since we shall not know the eventual outcome till there is a reaction from the ECHR, I thought I'd turn to the film that is described by the more hysterical part of the journalistic fraternity and sorority as a cultural phenomenon or something like that, The King's Speech.

As I mentioned before, I reviewed the film on the New Culture Forum. I thought it was good in the way British films can be good: well acted, well scripted, pleasantly sentimental and accurate in details of period paraphernalia. Not one of the greatest but, given the low standard of film-making in most countries in recent years and even decades, highly to be commended. I also thought the historical research was shoddy beyond belief with just about every historical detail outside the central theme of the Duke of York, later King George VI overcoming his disability were wrong to the point of atrociousness. Other critics picked up on it as well, in particular castigating the change in Churchill's role in the Abdication crisis. As it happens even the central theme played around with some of the timing and details but that is not such a big problem - a film has to have dramatic logic.

Inevitably, I was accused, though not by all, of being nit-picky. At least it shows the monarchy in a good light. It's still rubbishy history, I replied. But if it makes people go back to the actual events and read about the history, it will be worth it. That I cannot argue with. Anything that makes people find out more about their country's history (fairly recent history at that) is a good thing in my opinion.

Sadly, this does not seem to be happening. There is some talk of a new edition of Sarah Bradford's biography of George VI, The Reluctant King, but it remains muted. A few articles appeared about the "real' George VI but these did not tell us anything that was not already in the film. And there was a ridiculous campaign to make George VI out to be a secret Nazi sympathizer; this was, one suspects, motivated by a desire to prevent any Oscars being awarded to the film. The campaign seems to have had no effect on audiences in America, let alone Britain.

For the most part, the historical aspect of the story has been passing the entranced viewers by. The general reaction, as far as I can make out, has been a form of gooey trance with the story seen as little more than a heart-warming, feel-good soap opera plot. History? What history? A pox upon your history.

I suppose it is not unreasonable to see the film as a traditional fairy tale: younger brother (in this case a prince but that is of secondary importance) starts with a manifest disadvantage yet manages to overcome it through courage and persistence and the help of his entourage, acquiring a throne in the process, and proving himself to be worthy of it. Nothing wrong with the plot, especially if it inspires people to think in terms of courage and persistence rather than entitlement. I have seen no sign of that effect either but it may develop. For all of that, it is heartbreaking to see that another chance to learn about the history of Britain is not being taken up through sentimentality.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Look, it really doesn't matter how many reports you produce

Thanks to my daily e-mail from Open Europe I find that there is another time-wasting very important report in existence that proves at great length that it is a waste of time, money, energy and good will on everybody's part for the European Parliament to have sessions in Strasbourg as well as Brussels.

There are two main problems with all these reports. No, make that three because the first and most obvious one is that it is a waste of everybody's time, money and energy to keep producing reports of no significance whatsoever simply to justify an MEP's, his staff's and the Brusssels-Strasbourg Study Group's existences and the funds allocated to them.

Secondly, to argue that there is something wrong with the European Parliament having two seats is to suggest that if that noxious organization did not ever leave Brussels it would be something to love and admire. Wrong, ladies and gentlemen, especially of Open Europe and other organizations who periodically campaign for getting rid of the Strasbourg sessions: the European Parliament has no justification whatsoever, regardless of how many seats it has. Even one seat and set of luxurious offices is too many.

Thirdly, all these campaigns tend to forget that the Strasbourg session and all that it implies are written into the treaties. The provision, always in existence in practice, made its way into theory in the Treaty of Amsterdam as it had been agreed at the European Council at Edinburgh in 1992. Here is what Protocol 8 says
(a) The European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held. The periods of additional plenary sessions shall be held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament shall meet in Brussels. The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg.
See? Nor has that Protocol been deleted from subsequent treaties. It is still there in the Treaty of Lisbon and the Consolidated Treaties, to all intents and purposes the real and present constitution of this country and of all EU member states. Protocol 6 on page 265 repeats the text above. So, the geographically dual parliamentary procedure is part of the treaty and can be changed only through a change of the Consolidated Treaties, which would require unanimity. What are the chances of France agreeing? I think it might be easier to shut down the European Parliament altogether.

ADDENDUM: Edward McMillan-Scott thinks the monthly sojourn in Strasbourg induces stress-related problems in MEPs and the Parliament's staff. Well, diddums!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How dare they kick our boots with the seats of their pants?

Tomorrow morning at the unearthly hour of 6.15 (does it even exist?) I shall be telephoned by the Russian Service Moscow studio (still in existence but only just) and asked whether the expulsion or, rather the refusal to readmit British journalist Luke Harding because of his temerity in publishing matters from Wikileaks that were uncomplimentary to Russia and her rulers will have any effect on Anglo-Russian relations. There are, apparently, dark mutterings in Russia about possible and outrageous British changes in attitude. How dare we kick their boots with the seats of our pants.

As ever, my answer will be that there are unlikely to be changes in anything at all. Britain is unlikely to expel Russian journalists unless some of them do get caught spying. Diplomatic relations will not be broken and business relations are more likely to be affected by the behaviour of the Russian government and its various front businesses such as Gazprom and Rosneft. (Incidentally, my prediction of the most recent BNP involvement is that Rosneft will, indeed, acquire AAA, owners of TNK and BNP will find itself in a very difficult position that will result in the usual mess and another retreat on the part of BNP, all within a couple of years.)

Journalists falling foul of Russian authorities is not a new story. There was a period of openness under Yeltsin but that finished long ago. We all recall similar stories from the days of the Soviet Union. But this goes back even further.

In 1903, as I had occasion to write on Another Blog the Russian government expelled D. D. Braham the then correspondent of the Times. In response the newspaper, living up to its nickname of the Thunderer, declared war on Russia, sending no more correspondents there and reporting, usually in a negative fashion from various countries around Russia. The situation did change eventually and with Harold Williams as the St Petersburg correspondent and Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace [the Wiki entry is inadequate and not entirely accurate but the best there is on line] in charge of the newspaper's foreign affairs, the Times became the most vociferous supporter of the Anglo-Russian agreement. Still, there was that period. What will the Guardian do?

We might know the answer but we are not telling you

So what is the situation with the various aspects of the police and justice provisions that HMG might or might not opt out of or opt into? Not very clear, as readers of this blog who have been following my reports from the House of Lords (too numerous to link to individually but here is the full list) will know.

Yesterday Lord Pearson asked HMG
whether they will exercise their right to opt out of the police and justice provisions of the Lisbon treaty after 2014.
You might think that this was a nice easy question to answer; you would be wrong. This is what HMG in the person of Lord McNally said:
My Lords, the Government are considering carefully the many different factors and implications involved in this decision, which does not have to be taken until 31 May 2014.
Oh goody. And in the meantime? Lord Pearson's supplementary question is worth quoting in full:
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer, which does not quite give the full picture. The Government can opt out of all the 90 or so laws now and, if they want to, opt in to any of them individually thereafter.

Does the noble Lord remember the Prime Minister saying:

"We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over criminal law"?

First, will the Government support that promise in any vote on this matter-in the House of Commons and in your Lordships' House-which, as the noble Lord knows, has been promised down the other end? Secondly, are not the Government faced here with a straight dilemma: is it to be the wishes of the British people or is it to be appeasement?
The Minister was not happy but was not unhappy enough to give a straight answer either:
The answer to the last question is the former. The length and complexity of the noble Lord's supplementary questions indicate why the Government are sensibly taking great care to study and consult on these matters, particularly with the committees of both this House and another place, and as he rightly said, my right honourable friend David Lidington has made it clear in a Statement to the House that when the decision is to be made on these matters, there will be a full debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament.
"Appeasement" is a word that always excites people. Governments, who have behaved far worse than Chamberlain's, whose only sin was to try to prevent a ghastly and destructive war as long as possible, rear up indignantly at the thought of such an accusation being levelled at them.

It also caught the attention of, which gave a very fair write-up, giving Lord Pearson an opportunity of explaining what he meant by his question and the opprobrious word. As the article points out:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch's concerns centre on provisions of the Lisbon treaty relating to policing and justice powers.

Britain can choose to opt out of the measures wholesale without requiring unanimity from the EU's 27 member states. It can then decide to opt back in on individual measures as the government sees fit.

"It's a fork in the road, this one," Lord Pearson told

"It's a very clear choice - between what the British people want and appeasement of Brussels by the political class."
Parliament has been promised a chance of greater scrutiny of European legislation though not the right to reject it.
Ministers have promised a vote in both Houses of parliament on the issue when the government has decided on its stance.

But it remains unclear whether that vote will be whipped, or if the government will view votes as binding.

"The government is not resisting anything in Brussels. It's gone along with the financial supervision of the City of London and all our financial services, by an organisation which hasn't had its own accounts signed off by its internal auditors for 16 years," Lord Pearson added.

"This is an opportunity to get some of it back under the existing treaties without having to negotiate. That's why this one's so beautiful."
The debate that followed Lord Pearson's Starred Question makes it clear that while we are always going to have the usual suspects demanding that the government play an important part in strengthening the EU or making sure that the EU did the right things or just show itself to be "sensible" in its dealings with the EU, ever more peers are questioning HMG's behaviour after all those fine promises.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hmm, let me think

We find from the news that the government has made another step towards abolishing the Royal Navy and opt out of the global fight against piracy and drug smuggling.

Then we have Georgie-Porgie announcing "an £800m increase to the government’s bank levy" purely because he thinks his Shadow, Ed Balls might accuse him of not being tough enough on bankers and because he thinks banks should not have big profits (nobody should have profits according to the Cleggeron socialists), while still hoping to negotiate some deal whereby those same banks will be forced to lend money to small and medium-sized businesses whether they are a good risk or not. (Are we allowed to whisper sub-prime mortgages?) As the British Bankers' Association pointed out, chopping and changing is not exactly the right way to ensure that Britain remains business-friendly. (Though, it is, as they don't say, just the ticket if all you are looking for is another headline.)

Then there is news that HMG will be demanding that universities should widen the social base of their intake if they want to be allowed to have top-up fees. They must limit the numbers they take from independent schools and lower admission criteria for pupils from what might be termed disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course, the obvious way of restoring the sort of social mobility this country had in the fifties and sixties is to restore the sort of schooling that was provided at the time. That, alas, does not appeal to our government of privately educated nit-wits. (This is being pointed out by the Daily Mail and its blogger Harry Phibbs but screaming abuse at universities and demanding that their standards should drop even more is a much easier option for politicians.)

All I can say is that I am very glad that we no longer have an interfering, big-state, socialist government that surrenders our armed forces to the EU. And that would be quite funny if it wer not so tragic for the country and its people.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The expertise is overwhelming

Or not. We still do not know how event in Egypt and other Arab countries will pan out but there is no shortage of predictions and blame being apportioned. Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz blames the West for abandoning their good ally (or so he thinks) Mubarak though it is not entirely clear what he thinks the West could have done. Of course, it could have stopped the phenomenal amount of aid money that pours into Arab countries and Egypt in particular but Mr Shavit does not seem to be saying that. He does think for some unknown reason that Obama's presidency is for keeps (an unlikely notion given the American system) and that power will now move towards such immensely successful states as Brazil and Russia. As ever, "expertise" is easy.

Here is an article by somebody who really is an expert and has been for many years, Amir Taheri. For example, he was the first by some months if not years who started saying that it was not really the Mullahs who had power in Iran but the security services and some parts of the military. He was pooh-poohed by "experts" until he turned out to be correct. His analysis, somewhat more optimistic than that of those self-appointed "experts", of events in Egypt is well worth reading.

It's the economy, stupid

And property rights. In Egypt as everywhere else. In a country where the most enterprising people have no stake in society things are likely to go belly-up as they seem to have. done. Hernando de Soto explains in the Wall Street Journal.

On a related theme: I am rather intrigued by people who are screaming abuse at the United States and the West in general for abandoning their "good ally" Mubarak. In the first place, President Mubarak is not the world's greatest ally and in the second place what exactly can the West do? Invade Egypt? The days of Lord Cromer are long gone. Perhaps that is a bad thing but it is an inescapable fact of life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Meanwhile ... pause for some entertainment

This was sent to me by a reader of the blog who spends a good deal of his time in Brussels. Unfortunately, I cannot understand most of the comments under the video.

Another Tory rebellion (Not!) (Reprise)

There has been a great deal written on the subject of Mr Peter Bone's Amendment to the European Union Bill, which was voted on yesterday in the House of Commons. The Boss added his own inimitable comments on EUReferendum. Others to sigh over the non-performance of the so-called Tory eurosceptics was Mr Hannan, who is reclaiming his position as the pre-eminent eurosceptic after the misjudgement over his and Mr Carswell's call for the abolition of Better Off Out. (Yes, since you ask, the eurosceptic sheeple is once again embracing those two as their spokespersons.)

Now then. Here is the amendment and the debate around it though you do have to scroll down to find the beginning.
New Clause 11


'In order to meet the referendum condition referred to in section 2, section 3 and section 6 of this Act, the Act providing for the approval of-

(a) a treaty under the terms of section 2; or

(b) a decision under the terms of section 3; or

(c) a decision or draft decision under section 6

shall also provide for a further binding referendum to be held on continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union, if the majority of those voting in a referendum held under the terms of the relevant section are opposed to the ratification of the treaty, decision or draft decision, as the case may be.'.- (Mr Bone.)
Mr Bone spoke to the subject immediately after Ms Patel pontificating and expressed his hope that the young lady would join him in the Division Lobby. Alas, that hope was not fulfilled. Ms Patel, as ever, decided that discretion or, perhaps, outright cowardice was the better part of valour and voted with the government. That young lady should go far. She seems to be as good as Mr Hannan at running with the hares and hunting with the hounds and as Mr Hannan's shine rubs off, as it is rubbing off despite the eurosceptic sheeple, we may hear a great deal more about Ms Patel who will talk the talk but will not walk the walk.

So who did vote for the amendment? Well here is the list though, once again, you have to scroll down.


Baker, Steve
Baron, Mr John
Bone, Mr Peter
Bridgen, Andrew
Campbell, Mr Gregory
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Cash, Mr William
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Drax, Richard
Goldsmith, Zac
Henderson, Gordon
Hoey, Kate
Howarth, rh Mr George
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Lewis, Dr Julian
Main, Mrs Anne
McCrea, Dr William
Nuttall, Mr David
Percy, Andrew
Shannon, Jim
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Simpson, David
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Turner, Mr Andrew
Vaz, rh Keith

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Philip Hollobone and
Mark Reckless

I suppose people might like to ask their MPs why they didn't vote for this amendment, particularly if those MPs campaigned on a supposedly eurosceptic platform.

ADDENDUM: Interesting postings by Witterings from Witney on the subject here and here.