Friday, October 28, 2011

What is the point of any of it?

MPs are, apparently, querying the high salary paid to an interim (or two interim, it is hard to tell) finance director of the much criticized and highly inefficient Rural Payments Agency. What is the purpose of the RPA?
The RPA administers an EU subsidy for farmers for maintaining their land which was introduced in 2005 - but delays to payments in England, blamed on computer failures at the agency, cost millions of pounds and were described by MPs as a "fiasco".
In other words, it is really an executive arm of the European Union and of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Caroline Spelman, the relevant Secretary of State, tried to explain that things would be different from now on:
Bronwyn Hill, the department's permanent secretary, said bonuses paid out to RPA staff had fallen - from 100% of staff getting "small bonuses" to 11.8% of staff this year, who were paid a median amount of £893.

But Mr Parish, himself a former farmer, queried the figure of £425,000 - £430,000, apparently paid to a job-share post in the RPA.

"We have had all this mess with the Rural Payments Agency. If I say to my farmers the highest paid person in Defra is an accountant in the RPA, albeit two of them sharing the same job, I think they might be slightly concerned, to say the least." He added: "It's just not going down well, is it?"

Mrs Spelman agreed it was a "very high salary". But the department's permanent secretary, Bronwyn Hill, said it was a legacy of interim appointments - made from the private sector - to fill roles at the RPA. She said the department had been focusing on replacing interim posts with full time, permanent staff to reduce costs.

"This is probably a historic legacy of having to pay people from the private sector to fill jobs which were quite difficult to fill," she said.

"The good news is we have since appointed, in July, the ex-finance director of Defra has moved across to the agency on a much lower salary than that."
That's nice. It does not, however, deal with the problem of why DEFRA exists at all and why it has grown exponentially (together with the various outreach organizations like the RPA) over the last twenty years.

After all, everything DEFRA deals with is now EU competence. It's role is to send people along to the various negotiations to do with environment, farming, food production and rural affairs and then to implement the various rules laid down by the relevant EU bodies either in the form of a directive or, more likely, of a regulation that does not need to go through Parliament at all. Even there, some of that role had been hived off to quangos like the Food Standards Agency (oh yes, it still exists and will go on existing for the foreseeable future).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two of them voted for the motion before they voted against it

On the basis of information received I checked Monday's voting lists again. Sure enough, although Henry Smith MP voted only once this time, two others followed his example and went into both the Aye and the No lobby. They are Iain Stewart MP for Milton Keynes South and Mike Weatherley MP for Hove. All list makers, please note.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are we getting anywhere?

Several people, whose genuine euroscepticism or eurorealism cannot be doubted have said to me that the result on Monday was the best one could imagine. The referendum motion was lost, which is a good thing since we are not prepared for the battle but the issue was raised and dissatisfaction in the Conservative Party was displayed.

I am not so sure. For one thing, I suspect the dissatisfaction had more to do with the accurate analysis that reneging on that cast-iron promise cost the Cameroonie Conservative Party many votes and contributed strongly to their inability to win against the least popular government in living memory. There is dissatisfaction with Cameron and his team, in general and, no doubt, annoyance with his childishly petulant behaviour.

Are the right conclusions being drawn from it all, though. Sadly, no. The Daily Wail managed to interrupt its constant complaints about immigration long enough to have a go (quite justifiably) at the Lib-Dims who were the only party to float the idea of an IN/OUT referendum in the last election and who all but one voted against one now, though with a three-option proposal it was not exactly IN/OUT. But any newspaper that calls William Hague and Michael Gove lifelong eurosceptics has not been attention.

Nevertheless, when the lambasting of our politicians is completed (and I have no arguments with that, as readers of this blog know) the Mail says this:
Let the Mail lay all its cards on the table. This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe — and particularly not at a time like this, when withdrawal would add immeasurably to the uncertainties threatening our recovery and rocking the confidence of the markets.

For the same reason, we earnestly hope EU leaders will find a solution that saves the euro from disorderly collapse.

Inevitably, we believe, this will mean re‑writing the EU constitution yet again, to bring the countries of the Eurozone under a single economic government, with more uniform tax and spending policies — almost certainly to be dictated by Germany.

Whether this can work in the long run is anybody’s guess. The Mail doubts it. But in the depths of this crisis, we see no other way. Herein, of course, lies great danger for Britain. For as a leopard never changes its spots, so the Euro empire-builders will surely seek to extend any new fiscal and regulatory powers beyond the Eurozone, with their eyes fixed firmly, as ever, on the wealth of the City of London.

But here, also, lies a golden opportunity, perhaps never to be repeated, to redefine our own relationship with the EU in a way that sets democracy back on its rightful throne at Westminster.

For what the Mail wants passionately — and we believe the overwhelming majority of Britons share our wish — is to reclaim powers over such matters as immigration, social policy and business regulation, which should never have been conceded to Brussels and which are daily threatening our ability to compete with developing super-giant economies such as India and China.
So that is what the Mail going to be campaigning for: redefining our relationship "with the EU" and reclaiming powers. Oh and for a whole squadron of flying pigs.

What of the Daily Express, the torch-bearer of something or other? Well, they seem to have Britain's withdrawal from the EU as an aim though the words are carefully chosen not to be held against them at some later date:
For Monday’s vote did not mark the end of the matter. The mood of the public and the acknowledgement of that mood by politicians of all parties cannot now be ignored.

There is a growing sense of outrage that Britain’s right to determine its own affairs, unquestioned for 1,000 years, is now being rapidly eroded with every new piece of legislation from Brussels.

Who in their right mind would have agreed to this if we had been given the choice? Who would agree to this if we were given the choice now?

On Monday the motion to hold a referendum was defeated. But it is a defeat that for many will also be seen as part of a process that will ultimately lead to victory for those who want Britain out of the EU.
Not clear what the newspaper would campaign for if there were a referendum. Best leave it that way. After all, you never know. Of course, one could argue that the choice to vote against this is there at every election: there is a party called UKIP and with all its many faults, it stands for withdrawal from the EU. People could vote for it if they really cared about not having a say in the way things are developing.

Finally, there is this Letter to Members of Parliament, though he means Conservative ones, from Glenn Beck. Not sure what to make of it. It's full of errors, the least of which is equating England with the United Kingdom. Many of them Mr Beck obviously picked up from the British media and rather hysterical Conservative commentators. It is all a bit of a muddle with odd references to Tahrir Square and the Occupiers at St Paul's Cathedral and old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. People might want a referendum in general terms but there is no reason to suppose that they will vote in it when it happens or vote for withdrawal, especially if there is that bogus third option.

My biggest problem with it is that Glenn Beck, who is entitled to his opinion though one would prefer it to be better informed, comes perilously close to that idiotic performance by the Guardian when they tried to interfere in the American election by setting up a website to call on people in one county in Ohio to vote against Bush.

So are we getting anywhere? Are we going to use the time we have gained to build up real exit and post-exit strategies and put together real ideas for how to fight for a withdrawal from the pernicious European project and what to do afterwards? Not so that you'd notice. Well, this blog will continue to do its poor and unfunded best to explain the situation and propose some solutions. But we shall not put our trust in kings and famous people.

Someone agrees with me, broadly speaking, and that is Autonomous Mind.

No, that rebellion wasn't up to much either

The rebellion in the German parliament did not amount to much either. Less than ours, in fact.
The German parliament has voted in favor of the controversial leveraging of the euro rescue fund by a large majority, with 503 out of 596 members of parliament backing the motion, 89 opposing it and four abstaining. The outcome is expected to strengthen Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit on the debt crisis in Brussels on Wednesday night.
On with the motley.

This may be of greater interest to Americans ...

... but the OECD's anti-tax competition agenda concerns us all. It's just that we have various levels of government, starting with the EU and going all the way down to our own political establishment who are all anti-tax competition.

The Coalition for Tax Competition has addressed a letter to US Senators and Representatives, calling on them to stop spending American taxpayers' money on this rather unhelpful organization.
Even if we had a balanced budget, OECD funding would be contrary to US interests. The Parisbased bureaucracy increasingly promotes a left-wing economic agenda, despite the fact that US taxpayers contribute nearly one fourth of their annual budget. We have long been disturbed that the OECD has a “harmful tax competition” project that seeks to hinder the flow of jobs and capital to low-tax nations. And since the United States is the world’s biggest beneficiary of international capital flows and tax competition, it is the height of folly for the American taxpayer to subsidize this effort
Quite so.

More on the Suprun trial

Mikhail Suprun's trial is conducted behind closed doors so little is known about the details but it is worth noting what the historian's legal attorney said:
Ivan Pavlov, JD, PhD, IIFD Board Chair and Mikhail Suprun’s legal attorney, stated that the essence of the accusation was not clear to him since one could hardly understand what reasons had there been to define any specific information as personal or family secret. During eight hours of court hearings, neither wronged persons nor representatives of the prosecution could not give the defense a clear explanation.

Moreover, not all wronged persons that spoke in court wished to bring Mikhail Suprun to criminal responsibility. In Pavlov’s opinion, the security bodies really seek not for defense of the wronged persons’ interests, but for a formal basis to close access to their archives for the majority of historians and other researchers.

“At present”, Pavlov said, “even a guilty verdict will be sort of positive result since the case will then get still wider public response, and will be reviewed at the federal level – by the Constitutional Court”.
He is not wrong: the case is all about controlling information, in this case about Russian/Soviet history.

Full vote in Germany over euro fund

Der Spiegel reported yesterday that
Chancellor Merkel's conservatives have bowed to pressure for a full vote in parliament on Wednesday over controversial plans to boost the euro rescue fund. Broad backing would help Chancellor Angela Merkel in EU talks on rescuing the euro, but it's a risky gambit, given the unknown number of rebels in her ranks.
It will be interesting to see whether the rebellion in Chancellor Merkel's own party will be more significant than that in David Cameron's. And she will have the opposition opposing her and her policies. The article gives a good summary of what is at stake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Those votes

I have not yet read through yesterday's debate in Hansard but have looked through the list of how MPs voted. Readers will be glad to know that Henry Smith MP voted only once this time and that was against the Government, for the Motion. Here is the list of both Ayes and Noes. [Scroll about a third of the way down.] Many of the usual suspects but they were joined by quite a few supposed "eurosceptics" like Chris Heaton-Harris and the delectable Ms Patel who do not usually put their heads above the parapet. One can only surmise that, contrary to the media and eurosceptic hysteria, they do not think that there will be many personal consequences to their rebellion.

Peter Hitchens had it right

I must admit I did not think I would agree with Peter Hitchens for all sorts of reasons, not least because I was told that he supported a referendum and was convinced that the OUT side would win. Nothing of the kind. He was very eloquent on the subject of why a referendum now with the forces standing as they are and no strategy on our side we are bound to lose.

Mr Hitchens does not think much of UKIP (and who can blame him?) but thinks that a new party and realignment is needed. The Labour Party, he said rightly, did not just emerge fully formed as the second major party. There was a long period of overlap with the Liberals. At the moment there is nothing that can overlap with the Conservatives. His idea is that the new party should be started by people who split away from the Conservative Party but that, I fear, is a forlorn hope. Maybe some more bullying from the Boy-King will give them a backbone.

Above all, Mr Hitchens thinks, the Conservative Party that has long ago ceased to be conservative has to go. It has to be destroyed. He urged all its supporters to give up on it and feel the liberation of not supporting the No-Longer-Conservative Party any more.

Delenda est Toria Partia he repeated in what can only be described as dog Latin.

Monday, October 24, 2011


The Motion to ask the Government to introduce legislation in the next session of Parliament was lost by 483 to 111. Some of the debate is up on the unedited Hansard. My view is that we while the recriminations proceed, those of us who care about the real issues - withdrawing from the EU, how to go about it and what to do afterwards - must use the time to prepare ideas and strategies. It can't be done without money and most probably the money will once again go towards some half-baked campaign. But maybe, just maybe there is another Anthony Fisher somewhere who understand the importance of ideas and ill donate serious money towards their development.

Tim Montgomerie, astonishingly, analyzes the real malaise in the Conservative Party and that is dissatisfaction with the Boy-King but inability to do anything about him.

Details about debate and votes tomorrow.

Watching the debate

No, I shall not be doing so. I shall read Hansard tomorrow and comment though, naturally, the result will be of interest. However, in case any of my readers want to watch and don't know the link to the Parliamentary channel, here it is. I am off to have some coffee, then London Library, then the Bruges Group meeting. Catch up later.

Goodness, I know how he feels

Sarko, apparently, told the Boy-King
We are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.
Not sure it is true the Boy-King hates the euro but many of us are sick of him telling us what to do.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fifty-five years ago

This is where it started on October 23, 1956 in Budapest. Members of the Budapest university demonstrate by the statue of the Polish General Bem.

Nothing else needs to be said

EUReferendum says it all. (And we have come to the same conclusion about the referendum campaign quite independently.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

And if this doesn't scare you

You do have to click on the picture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Useless Eustice is back

It's really problematic to work out who is more of a useful idiot in this struggle to undermine euroscepticism. At present George "Useless" Eustice is winning. Apparently he was not satisfied with the amount of fudge the original Motion to be debated on Monday included and put down an Amendment:
This House calls upon the government to publish a White Paper during the next session of Parliament setting out the powers and competences that the government would seek to repatriate from the EU, to commence the renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU, and to put the outcome of those negotiations to a national referendum.
In some ways this makes sense. After all, the legislation for a referendum, as proposed in the Motion, will provide for that impossible third option
to re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.
And if you are going to do that, you may as well explain what you are going to renegotiate and then ask the people if they want you to do so. Except that you do not need a referendum for that. The government can produce a White Paper and start renegotiating anyway.

Still, it is interesting to see that the Spectator, supposedly the most eurosceptic of all publications (as long as it does not involve opposing the Tories) and a magazine with a proud history in that respect, seems unable to grasp some obvious facts.

James Forsyth opines (I don't like that word but blathers seems rude):
What’s needed now is some reassurance that the leadership is serious about using any treaty change – and one is likely in the not too future given that Germany wants to give the ‘Stability and Growth Pact’ legal force – to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
Now James, repeat after me: we do not have a relationship with the European Union, we are part of it; and we can change terms of our membership only by a major treaty change, which has to be agreed unanimously. What is going to be offered to the other countries in return?

Can't disagree with this

Whatever one may think of the manner in which Colonel Gaddafi was disposed of, one cannot disagree with this call for the UN Human Rights Council member, Jean Ziegler's resignation for founding the Moammar Kaddafi Human Rights Prize. Nor is there anything terribly wrong about calling
on UN chief Ban Ki-moon and human rights commissioner Navi Pillay to acknowledge the UN was wrong to support Gaddafi by granting him key posts on its most influential bodies.
This blog has discussed the subject from time to time, notably here and here also here and here on EUReferendum. I must admit I do not expect those acknowledgements and apologies to materialize.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lord Willoughby de Broke in the Daily Express

A fine fighting piece from Lord Willoughby de Broke in the Daily Express. He and I have agreed to disagree on whether a referendum is a good thing at this stage and the piece does not mention that the Motion for the debate suggests a referendum of three parts, which makes it even less likely that those of us who want to leave that political construct would get much support.

However, he does have a point that, possibly, the debate on Monday [the Express sub-editors should have changed that in line with the new decision] will cover such important issues as to who actually legislates in this country and where most of our regulation comes from. Whether the MPs will actually speak about this or whether they will drone on about the need to consult the people, nobody has been asked for generations, blah-blah, remains to be seen.

Nor will the referendum be exactly now with legislation being introduced, if the Motion is passed, in the next Session, which will not open till the spring.

I did, however, like these paragraphs:
My own family has had the honour of sitting in Parliament on and off since 1290. In all that time, despite wars, famines and pestilence, this country has never been led by politicians who felt we would be better governed from abroad.

Our political class forgets that it does not have the right to throw away our liberties. They are freedoms that the peoples of these islands fought for over centuries. They are our forefathers’ gifts for us to enjoy and build upon so that we have something to give to our own children and grandchildren.

They are in many ways simple things. The right to vote for and remove your government. The expectation that you will be protected from arrest and deportation to foreign lands without evidence. The right to think that your taxes are spent here in Britain for the benefit of your people, rather than have them thrown away to prop up the failing euro experiment.
Every word of that is true. It's just that many of us think that this Motion is designed to prevent those developments to take place.

Reminds me of something else

Libyan State TV has announced that ex-President Gaddafi has been killed when the last stronghold, Sirte, was captured. Other sources talk of him being captured and/or wounded. On the whole, his death in those circumstances, difficult to disentangle, would not be good news though, obviously, many problems would be solved. It reminds me too much of the hole-in-the-corner "execution" of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day 1989, which was extremely convenient to those who took over in Romania after their deaths. No trial - no chance of inconvenient details emerging. Just a thought.

That debate

It has been moved to Monday. No, I don't think it will make any difference and I still think it would be best if the Motion were thrown out. I am depressed but not surprised at the number of eurosceptics who think this is a good thing for our cause and that the government is in blind panic. Well, I told you so, are words that this blog is quite used to.

Back to reality

It consists of countries where historians are arrested and put on trial for studying important parts of that country's history. I have reported on the case of Mikhail Suprun (whom I met once many years ago when he was researching in London) before: here and here.

Radio Free Europe gives a very good coherent account of the case as it is progressing (and that is not very coherent) and of the actual charges against Suprun.
Four years ago, Suprun and Nadezhda Shalygina, a postgraduate student at Arkhangelsk's Pomor University, started a study on the fate of ethnic Germans deported from Crimea and the Volga region during World War II as "enemies of the Soviet people" to so-called "labor armies" in northern Russia.

One of the goals of the study was to identify those who were deported and chronicle the hardships they faced.

By 2009, Suprun and Shalygina had identified some 20 percent of the ethnic Germans who had been deported to the northern Arkhangelsk region.

Germany's Red Cross expressed support for the publication of "The Book of Memory" based on the results of Suprun's research.

But when the local prosecutor's office announced that the relatives of some deported Germans were suing Suprun for revealing personal information about their families, an investigation was opened.

Dudarev's lawyer told RFE/RL today that on October 17 the plaintiffs gave vague and mutually contradictory testimony.

Dudarev said the plaintiffs reminisced about their own experiences and the sufferings of their relatives between the 1940s and 1960s, but when asked precisely what they are accusing the defendants of, they were unable to answer.
Not surprising that they could not answer - they had not even realized that they had written any complaints. In fact, they denied having done so and were quite surprised that their signatures appeared on the documents.

The trial is, apparently, conducted behind closed doors. But of course.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This would be the best solution

We are told that David Cameron is so worried that the Tory MPs might rebel and vote for a referendum (he can't have been reading this blog or EUReferendum) that he has ordered them to vote against the motion on the 27th. Most will, presumably, obey that instruction and we do not, as yet, know how the other parties will instruct their MPs. That could be the best solution from our point of view.

If the vote is lost, we can throw that one into the faces of the Conservatives (and others) who pretend that they want a solution to this problem beyond things staying as they are. (And, of course, the People's Pledge, which has achieved its biggest victory to date by running the rival EU Referendum Campaign out of business, will continue to receive its handsome subsidies.)

If, on the other hand, the motion is carried, Cameron will find it difficult not to have the necessary legislation for a referendum some time soon though it can be dragged out for a while. As we know (also here on Witterings from Witney), the proposed referendum will not be a straight IN/OUT one. They are not taking any chances though I am near certain that even that one would be lost by our side. No. As the great Douglas Carswell tells us:
This house calls upon the government to introduce a bill in the next session of parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the united kingdom [sic]:

A) should remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;

B) leave the european union; or

C) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.
Bearing in mind all the different forces, which of the three is likely to get most support from the media, so-called eurosceptic politicians, NGOs, almost all think-tanks, old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all? Yes, that's right, the third one, which sounds just right: not extremist like those nasty withdrawalists (yes, yes, I know pulling out will not solve our problems but we cannot begin to address them while we are in the EU); in fact, very rational. It will attract many votes.

The only problem is that it is not possible without pulling out. If the clever-clogs of the East European Furniture Polish People's Pledge and their supporters think that this is a wonderfully subtle way of getting round the problem ("they cannot renegotiate without pulling out so they will have to pull out in order to renegotiate and we have achieved it all by subterfuge" geddit?) they can think again. Our membership terms cannot be changed without the treaties being changed and that can be done only by unanimity. What shall we offer to the others to get their support? I know that many of the thirty-odd speakers at the Saturday victory conference will say that the others will be glad to get rid of Britain as it is the difficult member but that is simply not true. Britain is not a difficult member and has created no obstacles to the project for many years.

So, if there is a referendum and if the third option is voted through, we shall see a few cosmetic "renegotiations" and the cause of sane politics will have been set back by decades. We have done what the people really wanted will be the chant of the politicians and the eurosceptics will be shown up for being out of touch with popular opinion.

All in all, it will be better if the Conservatives obey their leader's command and ensure that the motion is lost.

ADDENDUM: Glancing through the great Daniel Hannan's self-congratulatory piece on the subject I noted something I missed before: the Motion, if it is passed, will call on the Government to introduce a Bill for that three-option referendum in the next session of Parliament. That is not about to start, something that most people have forgotten. The Coalition Government cancelled this autumn's State Opening of Parliament. We shall be lucky to have one next spring.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sure they are committed

Lord Stoddart of Swindong asked HMG:
what is their assessment of the likelihood of the creation of a new European Union treaty within the next two years; and whether any such treaty would require a referendum before ratification.
To which he got the following disingenuous reply:
There are currently no formal proposals for a new European Union Treaty. The EU Act 2011 has now come into force and its provisions apply to any new EU treaty amending or replacing the existing EU treaties. The EU Act 2011 would require that before the UK can ratify any such new EU treaty, a statement relating to the treaty must be laid before Parliament in accordance with Section 5 of the Act, the treaty is approved by an Act of Parliament and, in certain circumstances (for example, if it proposed to transfer power or competence from the UK to Brussels), a referendum of the British people. This Government have however committed to not transferring any further powers to Brussels over the lifetime of this Parliament.
All those financial directives must be a figment of our imagination.

Update on that referendum

Not surprisingly, the debate and the vote will take place on October 27, or so we are told by Douglas Carswell. It's not exactly clear what this debate or vote will decide. Will this be the legislation that will empower the government to call a referendum? Or will some more debating be necessary? If Zac Goldsmith is right then the government is making very sure that whatever happens they and their colleagues in Brussels will win:
Fellow Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith tweeted the question would be in three parts - the UK's relations with EU staying as they are now, the UK leaving the EU or renegotiating terms of membership.
Let joy be unconfined, especially on the europhiliac side.

Romanian justice is somewhat different

Romania, as we know all too well, is in the EU and so its government is also our government. Romania is also in the Council of Europe so its judges who have been trained in a somewhat different system from ours are also on the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions would be adhered to, even if the Human Rights Act is repealed.

The present Romanian member of the ECHR, Corneliu Barsan, has an interesting understanding of his and his wife's position; interesting from our point of view but probably perfectly sensible from his.
Romania's judge at the European Court of Human Rights on Friday (14 October) claimed diplomatic immunity for his wife, a judge under investigation for allegedly receiving jewellery, holiday tickets and expensive restaurant meals for favourable verdicts in the country's highest appeals court.

ECHR judge Corneliu Barsan said prosecutors who searched his home and confiscated his wife's computer and documents violated the Vienna Convention, which covers both him and his spouse, Gabriela.

But legal advice from the country's top magistrate council said the search was legal as immunity is not granted to judges for their own benefit or to hamper the course of justice. A final vote on the legality of the move will be taken by the magistrates' council on Tuesday.
I wonder if he can even understand what all the fuss is about.

Not everyone is happy

But Gilad Shalit is going home. In Israel there has been a great deal of debate about the rightness of the deal with many arguments on both sides. 1,023 Palestinians arrested for terrorism seems rather a large number. Not only is that 1,023 potential terrorists but the whole deal may well encourage Hamas to indulge in more kidnapping of soldiers that was, let us not forget, with the killing of several other members of the IDF. On the other hand, the Israeli government has demonstrated that it cares for every single one of the country's citizens. A hard one to take sides on.

Let's not get too excited

Whoops of joy all round. The excitement is overwhelming. Golly gosh! And words to that effect. As the Daily Torygraph puts it:
A vote by MPs on whether the UK should pull out of the EU could be held within weeks piling huge pressure on David Cameron, it emerged yesterday.
Actually, what emerged yesterday is that the Commons Backbench Business Committee will be meeting later today and will probably demand that the House of Commons have a debate on whether to have an in/out referendum or not. Even that is not certain. What the article says after the golly-gosh introduction is:
The Commons Backbench Business Committee, which can schedule at least 27 debates in the Commons in any parliamentary session, meets tomorrow and is expected to demand a debate on the EU.

One committee source said: “It is almost certain that there will be a debate on this issue and it will be a case of which date is available.”

It could force Mr Cameron to order MPs to vote against any call for a referendum.
Right. So they might have a debate on whether it is a good idea to have a referendum of some kind and Mr Cameron will demand that those who are looking to a career should vote against that idea. How many will defy that vote? Well, we know how many have defied the government in the past from postings on this blog, here, here and here. (Not to mention the strange case of Mr Henry Smith MP who voted on both sides.)

The problem with this vote and the jubilation around it, especially from those campaigning for a referendum is that it is not a very meaningful event (using that much abused word in its true sense).

Some time in the next few weeks there may be a debate in which MPs might vote for an instruction to the government to introduce legislation to have a referendum with an as yet unknown question on it. The "usual channels" who decide on such matter may agree to do so some time in the next few months. There will follow a good deal of discussion as to what that question should be and when the referendum should be held, accompanied by an enormous amount of jubilation.

In the meantime, we shall spend next to no time or energy and, certainly, no resources on lining up arguments, explanations or proposals as to how that exit is to be accomplished and what is to be done afterwards.

The other side will have a great deal of money and will produce a great many arguments because they know to what extent the EU has been controlling life in this country. They will line up most of the media, all the large charities that are really NGOs and a good many think-tanks as well as the usual suspects.

Organizations, such as Open Europe will, reluctantly as they will explain, campaign for a vote to stay in because that is the only way to "reform" the EU. Oxfam will tell us about all the good the EU is doing by way of aid to the Third World (carefully omitting such problems as protectionism, the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy).

People like Bob Crow will be endlessly interviewed by the BBC. Most newspapers will shy away from calling for outright withdrawal. And so on, and so on.

What have we to put up against that? A few pamphlets like the forthcoming one by Ian Milne from Civitas and the odd blog that gets hits that vary from a few hundred to a few thousand a day. The really big blogs in Britain are concerned with the EU only in so far as it affects internal party squabbling. The money, meanwhile, gets siphoned off into the campaign for a referendum for which we are not and not likely to be prepared.

In the meantime, how many votes will there be in the Commons that will agree to yet more integration, yet more EU control of the City, yet more tax money to be handed over to various bail-out funds?

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's Monsieur L'Ordinaire

The Socialist presidential candidate in France will be François Hollande, Monsieur L'Ordinaire himself. It is reassuring to have a Socialist candidate who looks and sounds so like a socialist apparatchiks.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This was somewhat unexpected

On Thursday I participated in a somewhat unexpected event. The Russian Embassy had organized what they called a digital barbeque (though we were assured that the food would be real and very nice it was, too) to which a number of bloggers, diplomats, press officers and people generally concerned with the media were invited. Given past history and my continuing criticism of what happens in Russia, my presence was somewhat fantastic but I went along, carefully letting several people know what I was up to.

The event was actually in the Ambassador's Residence, which must date back to the pre-Soviet days and was certainly there in the Soviet period though heavily guarded at a time when other embassies and residences were not (apart from the Israeli and South African). The reception rooms are obviously meant to resemble the grandeur of the eighteenth century and there is even a statue of Peter the Great in the garden though it is, as I pointed out to the Secretary, too small. He agreed with me. Peter was a giant physically as well as mentally though something of a lout in his behaviour, attitudes and personal hygiene.

Lots of huge and not so huge porcelain pieces and truly dull but grand paintings on the wall. Surely the Ambassador to London can raid the Hermitage or the Tretyakovka and get some better art to hang on the walls. Whoever is in charge of that needs to be fired. I was amused to find the double-headed eagle in pride of place in one of the largest salons. Presumably twenty-odd years ago it would have been the hammer and sickle or a portrait of Lenin.

The two panels were of moderate interest. I now know that Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy is a crashing bore of monumental self-righteousness. He burbled for what felt like hours though was only a deeply forgettable ten minutes about his achievements, the main ones of which were preventing Rod Liddell from getting the editorship of the Independent and ensuring that the News of the World closed down. The first was never going to happen, anyway, and if it did happen it would have made the Indie slightly more viable, and the second meant that there are now fewer newspapers in Britain. Goodness knows what the Russians made of that.

Guido Fawkes, the other panellist (there was a third one, a Russian, who, for some reason did not talk about Russian bloggers laughing at Putin - here and here) made one good point: if you want a thriving blogosphere, he said, do not arrest your bloggers. True enough but it remains questionable whether Britain, where bloggers are safe, has a thriving blogosphere. One can't expect Guido to deal with that issue though he did say that a lot of bloggers have become tweeters, which is a very different kettle of fish.

The second panel consisted of a number of civil servants and one diplomat telling us how wonderfully well the civil service has expanded into social networking, blogging, tweeting, Facebook, what have you and how this helps democracy because people can now write to them directly, engage in conversation, suggest pieces of legislation and so on. When I asked whether this was not simply a matter of handing out the usual propaganda because, in practical terms, getting answers about legislation, regulation and just ordinary facts from the civil service is as difficult as ever if not so, two refused to answer and one waffled meaninglessly. I rest my case.

One interesting fact from the account of diplomats and embassies having websites, twitter accounts and blogs was that the most active site is the Israeli one. The ambassador, apparently, encourages debates and zestfully takes part in them. No kidding, I thought. Why does that accord with every stereotype we have of Israelis who say themselves that if you have three Jews there are five parties.

The food was good, the drink was copious and the blogging section of the audience lived up to its reputation by paying no attention to anything that was going on but constantly tweeting. They let me out, obviously.

Ha! Lots of Astaires puttin' on the ritz

On the whole it was depressing

I went to see the film about Anna Politkovskaya, which, I find, has won the Best Documentary award at the World Film Festival in Montreal. I did not think it was that good as a film but the experience of watching Politkovskaya and her family and friends as well as listening to them all discussing her life and work was fascinating. So, on the whole, I am glad the film won that prize. Perhaps, it means that the distribution will be wider than is usual for documentaries. In December it is due to be shown in Russia.

Of course, Politkovskaya was a courageous, inspiring and highly irritating person. It is clear that many people who worked with her found her difficult and several journalists accused her of being unprofessional in that she yielded too much to emotion. On the other hand, one has to say that she went to all those places, talked to all those people and checked the stories out.

The story is depressing in general and in detail. Her death by violence is appalling and the fact that five years on the investigation is still a mess with no sign of it ever being adequately cleared up (though the culprits are known) is a blot on Russian reality.

A reminder of such matters as the theatre siege in Moscow and the Beslan school siege and their ghastly endings with no investigation of what went wrong each time had many people surreptitiously blowing their noses into their handkerchiefs; the whole dreadful saga of the two Chechen wars and of the atrocities on both sides visited on the civilian population between can never be forgotten. But, worst of all, this was a tale of lost hope for the whole country. We heard a good deal of the bright expectations of the early nineties (why the film had a longish interview with Gorbachev still fighting his battle with Yeltsin is a mystery) and their dissipation. With Vladimir Putin about to become President for another 12 years the sight of Yeltsin winning that battle against the Putschists of 1993 is just too hard to bear.

Some good news

A while ago I wrote about the stalemate over the re-building of a Greek Orthodox Church in Lower Manhattan that had been destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. It seems that the stalemate might be on its way to being resolved.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he, joined by Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, representatives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and St. Nicholas Parish and Majority Leader Dean Skelos, signed the agreement that permits the rebuilding of the Church with a nondenominational bereavement center at the east end of Liberty Park, at 130 Liberty Street. The agreement follows a four-month independent engineering study commissioned by the Port Authority and the Archdiocese, which found that the Church could be built on the site with minor modifications to the original plan and with no impact on the World Trade Center construction schedule.
Next stage: the actual building of the church.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Philip Hammond it is. I am sure EU Referendum will have much to say on the subject, and very vitriolic it is likely to be. Not sure the whole fiasco with HS2 is a recommendation or statements of this kind but there we are. Justine Greening, a brown-nosed career politician if ever there was one, becomes Transport Secretary. I am sure she will do as she is told.

As ever I have been fascinated by people arguing that Fox should be succeeded by someone who has served in the forces, for instance, Patrick Mercer or one of the Stewarts, Bob or Rory. Why, I ask. Would you want teachers running the education department or a tube driver in charge of transport. Ah but they would know the requirements of the armed forces. Well, no they wouldn't as no soldier knows about the navy or the air force or vice versa. Besides, is that all defence is? The requirements of the armed forces and as much money as spent on them as they demand? I think EU Referendum would have a few answers to that.

He's gone

Liam Fox resigns. We shall see whether his successor will understand matters of defence better.

We shall see

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, a man who appears in this blog frequently asked HMG
whether they could agree to an European Union financial transaction tax without parliamentary approval and a referendum.
The reply from Lord Sassoon was somewhat convoluted but it did give hostages to fortune:
Agreement to a directive on a financial transaction tax would require unanimity in the Council of Ministers, giving the UK Government a veto over any such proposal. Therefore such an EU tax cannot be imposed on the UK without the UK's agreement.

While the UK Government are not opposed to financial transaction taxes in principle, the Government do oppose a European financial transaction tax.

Any EU directive on a financial transaction tax or any other tax could not be implemented in the UK without parliamentary approval of the requisite Finance Bill legislation.
But what, I ask myself, if it does not come in the form of a directive.

A somewhat late notice

Apologies for not posting this before but should anyone in and around London and want to be depressed, Pushkin House is screening a film about Anna Politkovskaya this evening at 7.30.

More on those comparisons

Ed Driscoll on Pajamas Media has some entertaining clips and stories about OWS and its off-shoots. But this cartoon from his interesting posting of October 11 sums up much of the American media's attitude. However, given the way stories have developed in the last few years, I am not sure that being praised by the media is necessarily an advantage in the long term.

I wish, I wish ...

... but my wish is in vain, as the old song had it. What I wish for is a media world in which hacks investigative journalists actually produce some data and information to back their shock-horror headlines. Yes, yes, I know that is unlikely. I did say that I wished in vain.

How many headlines have we had about people who were too poor to give their children proper breakfast or evening meal? Too many for me to link to. but here is one. (Here is a link to a blog on the subject but Mum in the Madhouse, which is a great title, does also mention that "£646m is spend [sic] by children on the way to school on snacks and fizzy drinks". Clearly there are no proof readers in the madhouse. And here is a link to a charity that comes up with the usual stuff about pockets of deprivation. As ever, this charity sounds more like an NGO, given their list of supporters.)

What none of those hacks, not even Bee Wilson in the link above, bothers to do is tell us just how much those families get either in earned income or unearned by way of welfare benefits or what the money that comes into the family goes on. Until we know those answers we cannot decide exactly why children go without meals. (And if they simply do not have lavish meals and eat meat maybe only once a week, that is not real poverty.)

For the last couple of days we had other shock-horror headlines. Record numbers of young people are unemployed. The Guardian says: "Unemployment figures show more than one in five young people out of work"; the Daily Wail is also upset:"Record 20% of young people are now unemployed"; the Financial Times concentrates on the figures in London where youth unemployment is supposed to have shot up. We get the usual rent-a-quotes:
Youth unemployment rose by 66,000 to 965,000, its highest since records began in 1992. The jobless rate is now 7.9 per cent, with the rate for the young jobless running at 20.5 per cent.

Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince’s Trust, warned: ‘If we fail to help them into work, it will have a devastating impact on young people, their families and the economy.’

Brian Johnson, of insolvency firm HW Fisher, said it was ‘a modern-day tragedy’ which will have a ‘ripple effect’ for many years to come.
And, hilariously, Richard Littlejohn's somewhat different take on the subject.

Getting away from Littlejohn, I think some questions need to be asked. For years now we have been told that young people in this country are experiencing difficulties in finding jobs (though the real difficulties are experienced by people who are in their forties, fifties and sixties who have lost their jobs mostly through no fault of their own and who are deemed to be "too old" by most employers) because those nasty, pushy, enterprising East Europeans grab them. Why is there a sudden upsurge in youth unemployment or, to be precise, in the number of young people who register for unemployment benefits for how else are these figures obtained?

Somebody suggested to me that the upsurge is because fewer places take interns who cannot sign up because they are not considered to be unemployed. There are problems, I replied, with the internship system, not least in the political and think-tank world where that kind of cheeseparing results in shoddy research and no incentive to improve matters, but the numbers are not high enough.

Cuts in the public sector are blamed. Were all those youngsters who could get jobs last year but not this year going to be employed in the non-productive public sector? Hardly a good idea for the future. Or did these cuts finally get rid of the phony three- and six-monthly training schemes that amounted to little more than keeping youngsters occupied? I recall having arguments about this when I was working in the Great Glass Egg a.k.a. London Assembly.

What, I asked in connection with a report on projects funded by the London Development Agency, was the point of some ridiculous dance training or drama scheme that lasted three months, taught the youngsters very little and gave them the idea that it was easy to break into dance or drama? Well, I was told, it's better than nothing. Really? Possibly, some of the youngsters who would have been off the list of unemployed because they were doing their third meaningless training scheme (and I am not referring here to real training or apprenticeship) are now on that list and that pushes the numbers up. If so, confronting reality as a result of this development might not be a bad thing. I fear, however, that the knee-jerk reaction of "we must help our young people, no matter what it takes" is not going to solve any problems.

James Taranto is right on the money

James Taranto has fun with college students who have once again discovered the evils of advertising but not managed to work out that actually most people see through it and that is why they are losing; also with "former Enron adviser Herr Doktor Professor General Paul Krugman" who seems to have forgotten that part of his career.

What we find fascinating, however, is the degree to which the left seems to be mesmerized by what it views as the dark arts of advertising and public relations. Progressives imagine that advertising works the way Gutting describes it, that their political opponents use the same techniques as commercial corporations, and that their side will enjoy political success if only it learns to do the same.
When that doesn't work, they really get confused. A hilarious example comes from Bob Cesca, a "media producer" who writes for the Puffington Host:

"When I heard President Obama announce The American Jobs Act, I mistakenly thought the Republicans wouldn't dare vote against "American jobs."

For the first time, the Democrats had come up with a title for a bill that borrowed the successful Republican tactic of naming legislation in a way that makes it politically impossible to vote against. You probably remember some of the good ones. The Republicans aggressively triple-dog-dared members of Congress to vote against the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act. After all, who would be idiotic enough to go on record as having voted against the "USA" and "patriotism", especially when it's shouted in all-caps during the aftermath of 9/11? . . .

There it was. The American Jobs Act.

The Republicans didn't just vote against "American jobs," they literally filibustered them. . . .

The ultimate irony here is that, despite it all, the Republicans have a solid chance of winning the White House next year. Obviously they're counting on the collective attention deficit disorder of the American voter who will naturally forget about how the Senate Republicans filibustered the American Jobs Act."

To put it more concisely, the Democrats were counting on the voters to be stupid enough to clamor for Stimulus Jr. because the Democrats had named it "American Jobs Act." But their plan may be undone because the voters are even more stupid and will have forgotten all this a year from now.
A more relevant example to us is one explanation why people might be getting slightly sceptical about AGW (but only one and it is worth reading the whole piece):
In his Times essay, Gutting approvingly cites a classic example of effective public relations:

"In 1982, when seven people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson appealed to its credo, which makes concern for its customers a primary corporate goal, and told the entire truth about what had happened. This honesty turned a potential public-relations disaster into a triumph.

It's not, however, unfair to ask what Johnson & Johnson--or any other company--would have done if there were a deceptive response that seemed likely to prove more profitable in the long run."

Here's an example: Two years ago, a tranche of emails from the University of East Anglia revealed that scientists were engaging in deceptive practices to promote global warmism. A series of "investigations" were undertaken,which turned out to be whitewashes. Now the global warmists are complaining that they are losing the debate.

The efforts to sell Stimulus Jr. and global warmism have been ineffective precisely because the public is smart enough to see through these crude deceptions. The left would benefit politically if it learned to be as honest as corporate America is.
I guess if you want to run successful propaganda you need a man of genius.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Yesterdays Evening Standard tells us that there will be a copy-cat occupation of the City of London, starting this Saturday, to highlight the social and economic injustice of people who work getting more money than those who do not (sometimes). Actually, that is not quite the way they put it but, to be honest, anyone who thinks those occupations are "huge" is not telling the truth. 4,000, the hack tells us breathlessly, have already signed up for the City occupation. Yeah? How many turned up for the Proms every night?

Judging by the various videos and accounts, even the friendly ones, most American cities saw no more than a few hundred. In San Francisco, I am told, there were about 150.

Anyway, people who can plan to spend weeks (assuming the weather stays dry and mild) under tent, living off take-away food obviously do not have to worry about work, study, home, family, children or pets. That puts them into the minority of about half a per cent.

However, this reminded me that I have said nothing about the various occupiers over the Pond. There is, of course, no real need for me to pronounce on every subject and goodness knows there has been a lot of coverage - a good deal more than there was of the Tea Parties until they became a real threat to politicians. The Occupiers at the moment appear to be no threat to anyone except themselves.

I can't imagine it will be any different here. Let us not forget what happened when some of the new protesters tried to re-enact the Jarrow Hunger March.
More than 300 people – and some estimates say 500 – left Jarrow on Saturday, intending to retrace a shortened version of the route in five weeks. However, most of the crowd melted away when the march reached the outskirts of Jarrow half an hour later. Organisers, the trade unions and the Socialist Party (Labour's former Militant Tendency), had intended to keep at least 50 marchers on the road in between the high-profile rallies arranged in the bigger towns and cities. Many of those at the outset already have jobs and were only there as trade union members to make up the numbers.

But as the procession left Ripon for Harrogate to complete the sixth day of marching on Thursday. the "Crusade" had dwindled to just 16 people in 60 miles with 220 miles still to go.
What if we compare the two movements, the Tea Party and the OWS (Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots)? My immediate impression was that there were two main differences - one internal, one external. As far as the Tea Parties were concerned, the aims were quite simple: less taxation, smaller government and an adherence to the Constitution. In practice that meant questioning the politicians on their activity when they went against those simple principles.

The Occupiers appeared to be incapable of enunciating what their aims are beyond a vague desire for change and fairness. With the TPs, it was their enemies who kept harping (mostly wrongly) about who was taking part in the meetings and rallies; with the OWS, it was their supporters who replied to every question with an enumeration of all the grievances that brought so many different people out, instead of enumerating their suggestions. And you can see why, when you read through this very friendly collection of answers with some related photographs.

Some of the ideas and demands have been taken seriously but mostly by their opponents and, as expected, lambasted. I particularly like the combination of extreme protectionism and completely open borders. Do these people think?

The other difference was the attitude of the MSM. While, as I said above, the TP was ignored and only the bloggers paid attention, the OWS was written up and often extolled from the very beginning while the blogosphere took a more sceptical view. In fact, what has been exercising the blogosphere is a very different story and one that the MSM is reluctant to deal with and that is the "Fast and Furious", which has now reached the stage of the Attorney-General (whose memory is strangely faulty) being subpoenaed.

Another curious aspect of the OWS is that it seems to be supported by the politicians against whom these people are protesting, at least some of the time when they manage to work out what is going on. Some Democrats feel that this might give them a much-needed electoral boost; others are not so sure. As James Taranto puts it:
What's their slogan going to be, "Smash the system--re-elect the president"?
Not easy. Here is another agonizing appraisal in the liberal (of the American variety) New Republic.

Meanwhile, the Tea Partiers laugh and scoff. They point to the fact that the Left has been trying to emulate the successful grass-roots movement for some time and has, finally, managed to do something like it though their aims are clearly different.

Some Tea Partiers have decided to invade the rather sparse DC Occupation. The result is absolutely hilarious as this video shows. Sadly, the Occupiers of whatever age, do not come out too well in that, or this collection of somewhat biased photographs.

One could go on and on. It is worth pointing out that a number of people on the right are sympathetic to some of the complaints and demands, incoherent though they are. There is no question about it: something is changing drastically in American politics and the grass-roots are stirring. (Yes, I know that is a mixed metaphor but it is late and I am tired.)

My friend Iain Murray, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was one of those who had hoped that OWS and its off-shoots could be co-opted into the fight against crony capitalism, the enemy of true enterprise. Not so, he thinks now. If the TPs are the descendants of the English Revolutions, the OWS hark back to the French Revolution. Without knowing much about it, they agree, as this video from Occupy LA, in which violence against the bourgeoisie is called for, shows. On the other hand, my co-blogger on Chicagoboyz, Lexington Green, a veteran Tea Partier who sees the connections between the two movements, went to talk to Occupy Chicago and came away with some sadness at the ignorance shown by many participants. His view is that these people are not violent and may well be influenced towards some real thinking. I don't know about Chicago - there the protesters might be different. I do not think that the proposed Occupy the City of London will be susceptible to any sensible arguments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

As planned

All that eurosceptic rejoicing about Slovakia was, as this blog pointed out, somewhat premature. According to Der Spiegel, three of the government coalition parties (minus Richard Sulik's Freedom and Solidarity Party, presumably) and the main opposition, Robert Fico's Smer party, have agreed on a deal. The EFSF will be voted through by Friday and there will be an election in March.
Smer supports the EFSF but refused to back it on Tuesday because it wanted to topple the government. Prime Minister Iveta Radicova's cabinet will remain in office in a caretaker function until a new administration is formed. The next opportunity for the parliament to vote on the EFSF expansion is Thursday afternoon.
Presumably, the new administration will be after the next election, though that seems rather a long time for a caretaker administration.

Spanish practices

I don't really need to blog about this as it is posted over on Fisheries - Truth and Fiction. But as we listen to all the waffle about the CFP reform, it is worth having a look at the reality as far as the biggest and most rapacious of the fleets is concerned.

Slovakia objects - Slovakian government falls

Slovakian Parliament has shown its objection to the European Financial Stability Facility (an enhanced rescue fund) in a slightly peculiar fashion.
Only 55 of 124 lawmakers present in the room voted in favour, while nine were against and 60 did not vote, effectively blocking the fund and toppling the four-party coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Iveta Radicova.

The country's leaders said earlier they would try to pass the EFSF revamp in a repeated vote with support from the opposition, but no date has been fixed for that vote yet.
The opposition is not that opposed to the EFSF but it does want an election and hopes to get enough votes to form the next government.
Slovakia's leftist opposition Smer-SD said Tuesday it was ready to team up with the outgoing government to vote in favour of the eurozone EFSF rescue fund in exchange for a snap election.
Richard Sulik, the hope of all free marketeers, and "the rebel leader of the coalition's minority member, the Freedom and Solidarity Party" abstained.

While this seems to be terribly significant, the likelihood is that it will not be, as the Financial Times explains:
The Slovak parliament will remain in session and is likely to hold a second vote later this week. Three of the four parties in Ms Radicova’s coalition support it and the left-wing opposition SMER party led by Robert Fico – who called the vote a “fiasco” for the government – indicated that it would be prepared to support the measure.

“There is an assumption that, one way or another, the EFSF will be approved by the end of the week,” Ivan Miklos, the finance minister, told parliament during a fiery debate that captured the attention of officials across the EU.
The net result may well be a more left-wing government in Slovakia that will abandon such ideas as the flat tax and is no more likely to stand up to the EU shenanigans than is the present one, with the exception of Richard Sulik.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The EU issues threats

If you ask any Ukrainian or Ukrainian Russian, they will assure you that Yulia Timoshenko, former Prime Minister and "Iron Lady" of Ukraine is probably the most corrupt politician in that extremely corrupt political set-up. (Incidentally, why do we have to go through the farce of calling every emerging female political leader the new "Iron Lady"?)

The story of her involvement with the various gas deals between Ukraine and Russia is murky and convoluted though, undoubtedly, there is a political aspect to her being found guilty of "abusing her powers to criminal ends" and of getting a stiff seven year sentence. All the same, given the various murky aspects of the case, it would have been best for the EU to sit this one out.

Not so, but far from it.
Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, the EU's foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton issued a statement saying: "We are not optimistic about this trial, our impression remains of what I would call a selective application of justice."

In a barely veiled threat to slow the expansion of economic ties with Ukraine, Ashton said: "We also discussed the fact that we are now in the final phase of our negotiations on the Association Agreement with Ukraine and we need to assess the impact of the verdict on that quite carefully."

Several other European leaders likewise indicated their concern in the run-up to Tuesday's verdict. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called it "without a doubt a test for the rule of law" in Ukraine. He added that, were Tymoshenko convicted, "it could have effects on Ukrainian relations with the EU. We reject political trials."

In mid-September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought up the Tymoshenko case with Yanukovych and told him that EU assistance depended on Ukraine's commitment to democracy. And a group of European politicians likewise expressed their concern during a September meeting in Yalta. "I hope we brought to (Yanukovych) very clearly the message that the rule of law is of critical importance," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said following the meeting.
Of course, the Ukrainian government could turn round and say that any agreement with the EU would depend on its commitment to democracy but I don't suppose they will do it. Instead, the likelihood is that they will move closer to Prime Minister and President-to-be Putin's Russia. Somehow, I cannot see what the EU will gain by that.

Down memory lane

The news first seen by me on England Expects that Lord Hesketh is abandoning the Party Formerly Known as Conservative and joining UKIP, coupled with the ridiculous story of Sir John Major, of all people, lecturing us on the subject of how we can repatriate policies from the EU, brought back memories of various kind.

I became involved with the eurosceptic movement at the time of the Maastricht Treaty, its negotiations, Major's "game, set and match", the painful debates in both Houses, the campaign for a referendum on the treaty and the disgraceful shenanigans, which ensured that the necessary legislation would pass. To have the man who could have stopped the whole process after the first Danish referendum but who, instead, insisted on a completely unnecessary Paving Motion, who bullied MPs into passing that, who then used every conceivable trick to get the votes and who ended the process by abusing the concept of "No Confidence", all the while participating in the bullying of the Danish people tell us:
This, he said, was an opportunity for a looser union and for the UK to repatriate control over parts of employment law, notably the Working Time Directive; financial services regulation; and control of Britain's fishing industry. EU leaders had to realise, he continued, that 27 member states could not operate in the same unified way as when there were much fewer members.
does make one feel quite ill when not indulging in mirthless laughter. Incidentally, it was the Maastricht Treaty that finally enshrined the Common Fisheries Policy in treaty, thus making it impossible to change without unanimity. Furthermore, I do not recall Mr Major, as he then was, fighting particularly hard for the repatriation of control over the fishing industry.

Then there is Lord Hesketh. Ah yes, I remember him well. Simon Heffer seems to be very sympathetic to his Lordship's arguments about how bad the EU has been for the working people of this country. He is not wrong. But the same problem applies to him as it does to Sir John Major.

At the time of the Maastricht debates Lord Hesketh was Chief Whip in the Lords and, as such, exerted his formidable array of various weapons to get the legislation through. One sticking point was the question of a referendum. Again, I have to declare interest: I was heavily involved in the campaign to get their Lordships to vote through an amendment for a referendum on what was obviously a treaty that introduced important changes in the structure of what had been known as the European Community.

The motion was defeated. Lord Hesketh made sure by hiring a coach to bring many "backwoodsmen" in from the racing course; two thirds of a very full House voted against the amendment. It is a little odd to find out that one of Lord Hesketh's complaints is that the Prime Minister has ruled out a referendum on EU membership.

In St Luke's Gospel we read:
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
But politics is not heaven. Far from it. So, maybe, we should have a little explanation from Lord Hesketh as to why and when he changed his mind on these matters.

We need people like him

Oxfam, the charity turned NGO but claiming all the benefits of charitable status, is at it again. It is campaigning for the infamous worldwide Robin Hood Tax, a contentious political issue with misleading arguments. How do taxes on banks not affect people who are shareholders or pensioners or, simply, depositors?

One chap in Taunton has decided to campaign against what he rightly sees as political campaigning on the part of Oxfam. The NGO's big charity's answer?
Oxfam is seeking court action to ban a pensioner from one of its shops, and is asking him to pay a £10,000 legal bill.

But Barry Nowlan, 63, of Taunton, says he has a legitimate complaint about Oxfam’s “political campaigning.”

The charity banned the retired bank clerk and Lloyds shareholder from its shop at The Bridge in Taunton after he complained about a poster which highlighted Oxfam’s call for a “Robin Hood” tax of banks and financial institutions.

The charity accuses Mr Nowlan of causing: “great distress” and “harassing volunteers”.

He denies the claims but admits entering the building since Oxfam banned him by letter.

Oxfam says seeking an injunction at county court is a “last resort.”

Mr Nowlan said on Friday: “Oxfam claims its Robin Hood Tax will come from bank profits and bankers’ bonuses, not from the ordinary people”. But banks are owned by shareholders.
Someone pointed out to me that Mr Nowlan is probably a royal pain the derrière. Probably. But we need more of them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Well, who'd have thought it

Questions are being asked about one of the trio of women who shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year. It seems that the party she belongs to in Yemen has some links with Al-Qaeda. Will the Norwegian committee care if those links turn out to be as real as they appear to be?

Meanwhile in France ...

... the turn-out among Socialists in the first round of voting for their presidential candidate was bigger than expected.
Turnout in the first round of voting for the French Socialist presidential contender to take on Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 was bigger than expected , when the first open vote in modern French history allowed anyone on the electoral register to have a say. More than 1 million people voted and the party was hoping for 2 million. The Socialists' interim leader, Harlem Désir, deemed it a "huge success". The Socialist leadership hoped the primary race would help shake off their image as elitist, in-fighting and out of touch.
The Socialists elitist, in-fighting and out of touch? Oh surely not.

The favourite seems to be François Hollande, closely challenged by Martine Aubry, the architect, as the Guardian reminds us, of the 35-hour week.
Ségolène Royal, who was defeated by Sarkozy in the last election, is running again, challenged by two outsiders: the young MP Arnaud Montebourg, who has been fighting a hard-left anti-globalisation ticket, and Manuel Valls, an MP and mayor in the Paris suburbs, considered to be on the right of the party. Jean-Michel Baylet, a senator and head of the small, moderate centre-left Radical Party of the Left is also standing.
Second round is next week-end.

Polish election

I am taking time out from fruitless discussions with members of the Conservative Party who assure me that a referendum on the EU would hurt the country because "it is the economy, stupid". The referendum on the EU, in my opinion would hurt the eurosceptic cause but would hardly affect the country. I tried the bombard them with question tactics: do these people know how much of our economy is controlled, one way or another, by the EU; have they read the treaties and the various directives and regulations; have they understood Qualified Majority Voting; and so on. The response I got mostly was that we are in this and so we had better stay in for the duration (which is what we are likely to do, sadly) and, anyway, the government has the right idea by fighting for Britain's national interests within the EU. I rest my case: we need an in/out referendum like a hole in the head.

Anyway, I am taking time out to survey other countries. First up, Poland, where parliamentary elections are taking place today. Voice of America reports
Opinion polls in the past week showed Tusk's party favored by 31 percent of respondents, and the opposition conservative Law and Justice Party of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski with 21 percent.

Analysts say no party will win an outright majority, and those predicting a Tusk victory say he will likely be forced to form a ruling coalition similar to the one forged with the Peasants' Party after 2007 polls.

Official results are expected by early Monday.

Pre-election polls also indicated that three other parties would also win parliamentary seats in the election. The new socially and economically liberal Palikot Support Movement, the Democratic Left Alliance and the current coalition partner, the Polish People Party.
If Tusk's Civic Platform wins it will be the first time in post-Communist Poland that a party has held power beyond one term.
The BBC thinks that the contest will be fairly close. Reuters agrees. Much depends on the turn-out. According to Polish Radio News things do not look very good:
The National Election Commission has announced that at 18.00 CET, turnout was 39.6 percent, down on the same time, four years ago. Turnout during the 2007 election was officially 53.8 percent.
Polls are about to close, as Poland is one hour ahead of the UK.

UPDATE: Exit polls say that Tusk's party is likely to win though no word yet on the turn-out. Official results expected tomorrow.

A few more updates here. Looks like Civic Platform will be largest party and, probably, the same coalition will be re-negotiated. However, the one to watch is the Palikot Movement that was created last year and has achieved 10 per cent of the vote.
Janusz Palikot, who founded his new party only last year after he left the ruling Civic Platform because he thought they were too socially conservative, was overjoyed at getting 10 percent of the vote, nationwide, according to exit polls.

“This is phenomenal. Eighteen months ago, opinion polls gave the Palikot Movement from one to two percent [in support],” he said tonight.

Palikot has taken votes from socially liberal Civic Platform supporters and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), support for which has fallen to 7.7 percent from 13 percent in the last elections four years ago.
The Catholic Church may well find that these people are more formidable than Tusk's lot.

Welcoming another nation into the Anglophone family

The BBC reports that the newest country in Africa and, indeed, the world, South Sudan has decided to make English its official language, which is a very sensible move for anybody who wants to get ahead in the modern world. One can but hope that they will start adopting other Anglospheric ideas in politics, economics and, above all, the law; ideas that we have, for some reason abandoned in this country.
The colourful banners and billboards hung out to celebrate South Sudan's independence back in July, and still adorning the streets now, are all in English. As are the names of the new hotels, shops and restaurants.

After decades of Arabisation and Islamisation by the Khartoum government, the predominantly Christian and African south has opted for English as its official language.

At the Ministry of Higher Education, Edward Mokole, told me: "English will make us different and modern. From now on all our laws, textbooks and official documents have to be written in that language. Schools, the police, retail and the media must all operate in English."
How can one not be inspired by this story:
Brigadier-General Awur Malual had asked the British Council to teach his soldiers.

The general had grown up speaking his tribal tongue Bor and Juba Arabic, a colloquial form of Arabic, but can now speak remarkably good English.

When I asked him how he had learned it, he told me: "By picking up books in the bush when I was fighting. I read some things about that man Shakespeare."

"What about Dickens or Jane Austen?" I asked. He scratched his head and said: "I don't know them."

I promised to send the general some Dickens.
It is a pity that the British Council director's response was a shade on the mealy-mouthed side:
After 65 years operating in Sudan, the council appointed Tony Calderbank to oversee the spread of English in the new nation.

Wherever Tony went, I saw people approach him, desperate for courses, books, teachers and grants.

"English has become a tool for development," Tony told me, "and, even if the British in Sudan are sometimes seen as colonial overlords, the English language is respected."
Goodness me, the man can barely hide his excitement. Would it not be a good idea for him to learn some of the country's history? For example something about the real oppression the South Sudanese have had to put up with, that coming from their northern neighbour, Sudan, and the Arab slave traders. He might then understand that there are many reasons why the South Sudanese might prefer to have English as the unifying language.

Friday, October 7, 2011

No-one ever accused Hamas of being diplomatic

Ismail Haniya, Hamas Leader and periodic Prime Minister of the Gaza strip, depending on your point of view, has managed to annoy the government of the new country of South Sudan as well as let the cat out of the bag (not that it was ever much in that bag) about Hamas's attitude to Israel and the creation of the Palestinian state.
According to a report published by the daily Sudanese newspaper Al-Ahdath last week, Haniya was delivering a Friday prayer sermon on 30 October when he described South Sudan as a “foundling state” as he strongly advocated the view that Palestinians should seek to establish their state through armed struggle not at the UN General Assembly.

“We have not heard in history that states were established through international resolutions, even this foundling state in South Sudan, which was severed from Sudan’s main homeland, did not come to exist through a UN resolution but rather through fighting and agreements,” he was quoted.

Haniya further said that establishing a Palestinian state with its capital Jerusalem is the goal of all Palestinian people, stressing that it is not acceptable that a Palestinian state be established in exchange for ceding a span of the hand of Palestinian territories.”

“We support the establishment of a Palestinian state on liberated territories but without recognizing the [Israeli] occupation,” he added.

Reacting to his statement, the government of South Sudan expressed regret and denunciation over Haniya’s remarks.

The head of South Sudan’s diplomatic mission in Egypt, Farmina Makueit, described Haniya’s statement as “irresponsible” and called on him to apologize to South Sudanese people.
Will he be criticized by the Guardian? Just asking.

Two interesting takes on Steve Jobs

Although Steve Jobs's contribution to people's ability to express themselves feely and to communicate openly was enormous, I have not written about his death because I did not think I could add anything of real interest or importance to the oceans of coverage the event received.

However, two pieces have caught my attention (yes, all right, they are both by friends even if one of them is a cyber friend and co-blogger on Chicagoboyz merely) that I thought were worth linking to.

Shannon Love analyzes why Jobs should have evoked the kind attention and admiration that is not usually given to entrepreneurs.
Psychologists have long noted that people don’t resent all wealthy equally. People resent millionaire bankers but don’t resent actors, athletes or musicians who make as much or more for less work of far less import. The key differences seems to be that the work of bankers is mysterious and largely invisible to the ordinary person while the work of actors and athletes occurs right out in the open where everyone can see it. People can connect specific songs or other works of art with specific artists. People don’t seem to intuitively begrudge great wealth and power as long as they can “see” the work that created the wealth and connect that to an individual.

When people used a Mac, iPhone, iPad or iTunes, they got an intuitive sense of results of Jobs work. In a sense, they could “see” him working just like they could see the work of an athlete or an actor. When people held an iPhone, they thought, “Steve Jobs created this.”
Though I still find it extraordinary that people should resent the wealth of business people but not that of empty celebrities or lottery winners, I think Mr Love has a point. I am not a Mac user (though I am wondering whether to change) but I can see and understand the achievements of Apple. Those who are users can do so a hundred-fold.

The other piece is by Jim Bennett, the godfather of the Anglosphere as Andrew Roberts put it (I am going in for an orgy of name-dropping today), published on the RFE/RL website.
There are, fundamentally, two subspecies of entrepreneur. One starts from the present, and visualizes the next logical step from where things are now. This type figures out how to make something better, cheaper, or more widely available, and manages to clear the financial, regulatory, and market barriers to getting it into the marketplace. The other visualizes a different world, one in which things are different and better from the way they are now, and then figures out what path of evolution brings us to that world, and, as the last step, what is the least ambitious step possible that will move things toward that goal.

Steve Jobs was one of the latter group, and one of the most successful of his time. It’s common to use the term “visionary entrepreneur” in describing the founder of any successful large-scale start-up business. Yet this term is only really applicable to the latter type. Often, what the former is visualizing is a really large pile of money, which differs from the ambitions of the common man only in the size of the pile. Steve Jobs genuinely merited the title of visionary.
Of course, not all visionaries are successful in implementing their vision and not all visions benefit mankind. Far from it, as the history of the twentieth century can attest. In the case of Jobs, his vision was beneficial and he did succeed in implementing it. Read the whole piece.