Friday, November 21, 2014

Mark Reckless keeps his seat

What with builders working on the back wall and having to read the huge first volume of the latest mammoth biography of  Stalin by Stephen Kotkin in a fortnight when London Library will demand it back, I have found it hard to work up any kind of enthusiasm for the tale of the People's Army's latest recruit who seems to be under the impression that there has been a "real revolution" going on in this country since that day in September when he left the Conservatives to join the aforementioned People's Army. Nor have I been particularly interested in the sad tale of the stupid Labour MP (ex-Cabinet member) who tweeted some kind of an insulting picture and comment about the driver of a white van. (I think I have that right.) If you are that stupid you should not be in politics at all, unless you happen to be defending your seat in a by-election under a different flag against a couple of underwhelming candidates though the Conservative one seemed to be more underwhelming than anyone else. Given that she was an idiot who called for a boycott of Israel (does she actually know what that would entail?) and was generally hopeless at every occasion, she did not do all that badly. The expected 15 per cent margin for UKIP did not materialize.

Reckless kept his seat by 2,920 votes, that is 42.1 per cent of the total vote cast in a turn-out of 50.67 per cent against the Conservatives' 34.8 per cent. Tchah! Stalin used to get 99.8 per cent. Now that's what I call popular support.

The Boss has a highly entertaining rant analysis on the whole subject, which is well worth reading, as alwayHe points out quite fairly that the new UKIP (ex-Conservative) MP is not the brightest person in the House of Commons and has already been caught out in a number of stupid and ignorant comments, particularly, needless to say, to do with immigrants and their status.

Now that UKIP has two MPs the question of whether they understand whereof they speak will become important. It will no longer be sufficient to produce another picture of our Nige drinking beer or wine and grinning happily into the camera. The media might finally start asking about policies and wondering about certain contradictions in them. There will also be, I can confidently predict, a certain tension between the Dear Leader and the two MPs who will now be the obvious sources of information about UKIP and its policies (or some version thereof).

Meanwhile, the BBC, the Telegraph and, indeed, everyone else has quoted Nigel Farage as saying that this will mean dozens of UKIP seats in the next Parliament. The Telegraph, curiously, predicts a nice round number instead of the dozens but then they also predict a sizeable Labour majority, which is not indicated by the opinion polls, all of which show Labour merely 3 or 4 points ahead, a statistically negligible figure while the Thornberry saga and their poor performance in the by-election must give their strategists somewhat gloomy thoughts. In fact, if the Conservatives abandon their candidate in Rochester and Strood and find someone more intelligent (though it is not clear that intelligence is of any interest to the voters of that constituency) they stand a good chance of taking it in May.

The Dear Leader is also quoted as saying (something we have all head recently) that "if you vote UKIP you get UKIP" in response to baseless (in this case) accusations of voting UKIP will get you Labour. In Rochester and Strood voting UKIP got you Mark Reckless, exactly as voting Conservative in 2010 did.

Somewhere in the long continuous Telegraph update there is a mention of some hack asking Douglas Carswell (the previous recruit to the People's Army) about the possibility of more Conservative MPs defecting to UKIP. He snaps crossly that he is completely uninterested in what the Conservatives (his friends and colleagues until August) intend to do. That would indicate that he does not think there will be any more defections as Reckless's victory is not big enough to encourage any more of them.

The Lib-Dims did particularly badly, getting 0.87 per cent, that is 349 votes; they were easily overtaken by the Greens with 1,692 votes, that is 4.22 per cent and another lost deposit.

It is worth noting that in 2010 when Mark Reckless won as a Conservative, the turn-out was 64.9 per cent and Reckless's majority was 9,953, that is he won by 20.7 per cent.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The view from over here - 2

And so to the European Union. Russian aggression would not be so bad, would not even happen if President Putin "not a particularly wise man but not stupid, either" had not sensed a basic weakness in the West and, in particular, in the European Union.

The problem, in my opinion, is one that the good Professor does not want to acknowledge as he cleaves to the US foreign policy establishment's views: weakness is inherent in the European Union because of the way it is structured and because its basic lack of real purpose in the real world. That would never be acknowledged by somebody who thinks it was the American foreign policy's greatest achievement.

Professor Mead's list of specific problems that face the EU was interesting though not every item was exactly new to some of us.

The biggest of all problems has been the shift to information economy, which, together with globalization, put great pressure on wage rates and employment. This has continued through the last few decades and has been affecting ever more parts of employment. Is this actually a problem or an opportunity? That depends on how you identify yourself.

European self-identity, particularly since the Second World War (though that event was not mentioned by Professor Mead) has been what might be termed the blue social model: a stable society, a fair amount of government control of the economy and the existence of national champions, all of which may have looked particularly inviting in the late forties and fifties but has long turned stability into stagnation. (Then again, that is precisely the model that UKIP is promoting in its policies, if one can use that word.)

This model or assumption did not allow and still does not allow for the changes that flow out of technological and informational upheavals; instead people's certainties have been destroyed and the institutions that were supposed to provide them have lost their legitimacy. Well, well, so the European project was predicated on an assumption that did not take into account inevitable changes? How many blogs did I write on that subject? How many articles in such publications as the European Journal? I have long lost count.

The second problem is the demographic transition that will require some rethinking on the subject of the welfare state and care for the old. As a matter of fact, what this does require is some rethinking, particularly in Britain about the employability of older people. While people live longer, are healthier and keep their marbles longer (assuming they had them in the first place and I do not mean the Elgin ones) employers, NGOs that call themselves charities and unions continue to exist in a world of about sixty years ago when anyone who lived for three score years, never mind the extra ten, was to be treated as one who could no longer do anything but doze in the sun.

The third problem is the poor functioning and perceived illegitimacy of the European institutions. They are far too bureaucratic, function poorly and are not well regarded by an ever growing section of Europe's population. (I need not say that this came as a complete shock and surprise to me.) At a time, added Professor Mead when no European country can cope on its own (as when could they?) it is not helpful to have European institutions that actually make that coping far more difficult.

The obvious answer is to start thinking how European countries could create links and alliances with some institutions that would strengthen them and not destroy their economy but this is not an idea that comes easily to someone who really does think that the European project was going to be one that lived by liberal ideas of law, justice and liberty. (I kid you not. That is what some American supporters of the EU quite genuinely think they had helped to bring about. Now they are, understandably, upset.)

Problem number four was that the various shifts in political and, especially, economic structures affect different countries differently. Thus Britain, German and the Nordic countries have done reasonably well while France and the Mediterranean ones have not. These tensions would have emerged even without ....

Problem number five: the euro.

Well, all I can say is d'uh! I mean, no, nobody, absolutely nobody said any of this ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And what did we get in response from the likes of Professor Mead: oh don't worry, it will be fine, European integration is a grand idea, it will be the envy or the world. (NO, do NOT get me on to that subject.)

So, President Putin looked at this seriously dysfunctional structure with political institutions that are not considered to be legitimate and huge economic tensions and thought "hey, I could be President of that easily". No, sorry, he thought, "hey, I can invade anything I like and they will do nothing". And so he did. Well, up to a point. He invaded Crimea and semi-invaded Luhansk and Donetsk. The West did nothing and the EU, in particular, cannot decide what it should do and how to go about doing anything.

Could this have been avoided? Well, possibly, but that would have required an understanding of President Putin's mentality and of Russia's essential weakness. On the other hand, I do not agree with Professor Mead that Putin has inflicted one propaganda defeat on the Europeans and the Americans after another. In what way has he won the propaganda war? In that, apparently, he has continuing support in Russia, no matter what he does? That was to be expected. In that some people, so engrossed in their own little problems that they cannot understand what has been going on in Russia and see Mr Putin as the leader of the anti-Western world thus to be supported? Slightly more surprising but, again, not a huge achievement. But Russia is not exactly a popular country and all suggestions of her allying herself with China and Iran, creating a huge bloc of anti-Western powers fall down, as Professor Mead said, on the fact that China is not particularly interested. An alliance with Iran and what remains of Assad's Syria has considerably less cachet.

Here we should have come to the point of what is to be done with the fact that history has returned and we cannot get away from it. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my first blog, there was no real answer. Apparently, it would be a good idea if the US and the UK would stop criticizing everything those nasty Europeans do and engage in some sort of dialogue to sort things out.

Well, to start with, we are in different positions. When the US throws up its collective hands up in horror, they do so as outsiders who feel that the wonderful structure they helped to create did not turn out all that well and they are going to have to come back to sort everyone out. When the UK .... ahem ... throws up its collective hands up in horror it is with the knowledge that we are part of this whole shambolic structure, that we have wilfully abandoned the idea of our own foreign policy in order to help create a common one, that we are among the most obedient member states.

The problem from the point of view of Professor Mead and the foreign policy establishment in the US is that for some bizarre reason of their own they saw "Europe" or the European project as something they could point to as an example to all and sundry. That makes me wonder whether they actually understand the concept of history at all. It is the history of Europe that makes the European Union an impossible proposition unless, as its founders knew full well, it is imposed rapidly and ruthlessly on the populations; but it is also the history of such areas as the Middle East or South-East Asia or Africa that makes any imitation of what Europe does unlikely. That, dear readers, is what the return of history really means.

Meanwhile, what is to be done (to quote that terrible novel and equally terrible political tract)? Well, it seems that the Yanks will have to come back.

And we won't come back till it's over, over there. 

The view from over here - 1

The lunchtime meeting today had been organized by the Henry Jackson Society, the Left's particular bugbear, in the House of Commons (luckily in one of the committee rooms where the acoustics were good and the mikes worked). The guest was the eminent academic and commentator, Professor Walter Russell Mead and his topic was an obvious riff on a once highly influential book by Professor Francis Fukuyama: The Crisis in Europe: the Return of History and what to do about it.

As one would expect, Professor Mead gave a very cogent and exhilarating analysis of the many problems the world is facing today but, as a journalist from Die Welt pointed out, we have all heard a great many depressing talks and read a great many even more depressing articles of that kind recently. What did Professor Mead think were some of the answers?

Professor Mead's main solution was (and, to be fair, we were coming to the end of the session but, to be equally fair, that was supposed to be part of the presentation) that the US should restore its interest in Europe and re-engage in a dialogue with its European partners. Or, in other words, as he said the Lone Ranger, having ridden away, should now return (no word of how Tonto might feel about  that).

The European Union, Professor Mead explained, was American foreign policy's greatest accomplishment; it had been one of the aims of the Marshall Plan (some stretching of history here), had been supported diplomatically and politically throughout its history but has, to some extent been left to its own devices in the last few years. The US underestimated the difficulties European weakness and lack of cohesion will cause to it. Having, as it thought, defeated the bad guys (twice, presumably), knocked all the European heads together, the US announced that it will do what the European had always said they wanted and that is leave them all alone. Apparently, that is not what the Europeans wanted deep down and it is time to recognize this fact.

We'll be over, we're coming over
And we won't come back till it's over, over there.

Well, that's fine, except that it would appear that it is never going to be over, over here. We saw that when Yugoslavia disintegrated into a series of wars in the nineties, the EU though the egregious Jacques Poos announced that "this was Europe's hour" only to plead with the Americans to come back and sort the mess out after all. It seems that they will have to come back again in the sense of taking greater interest in this pesky little continent and its pesky problems.

Is that really the answer? Obviously, as an Atlanticist and an Anglospherist I want to see a continuation of the existing links between certain European countries and the United States, adding Canada, Australia and New Zealand into that network. But would a greater involvement by the US in the EU's problems really help anyone? Somehow, I doubt it.

Let us go back to the beginning of Professor Mead's talk. We are, he said, facing the greatest geopolitical crisis since the 1960s with President Putin's Russia displaying the most obvious signs of naked aggression since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. (Whatever happened to Afghanistan in 1979 and, more recently, Georgia?)

Facing this growing aggressiveness we have a West that is in some disarray, both politically and economically; in fact, in most disarray since the 1930s.

I have a problem with these shock-horror announcements because they seem to be so wobbly in their evidence. Are we facing the greatest crisis since the thirties or the sixties? Is this the biggest geopolitical upheaval since 1918, 1945, 1989 or last year?

Not long ago Legatum Institute tweeted a link to a discussion by various global thinkers, put together by Foreign Policy whose premiss was that "the world as we know it fell apart in 2014". This was said on a number of occasions at the Institute's events by no less a person as Anne Applebaum Director of Transitions Forum and author, among other books, of an excellent history of Eastern Europe in the immediate post-war period. She has also written about the Gulag. It seems to me that compared to what she described in those books makes the events of 2014 rather small potatoes.

As the presentation went on, Professor Mead narrowed down the time scale and focused on three countries that are unhappy with the world order that was established in 1989 - 91, that is after the fall of the Soviet Union, and are ready to challenge it. So we are really talking about a possible world order that is twenty-five years old. Could it be that there was no world order established in those years but that events were the beginning of the break-up of the post-Second World War order and that break-up is still going on? That is one explanation of events.

The three countries that are challenging the world order, according to Professor Mead, are China, Iran and Russia. Of these China is the most powerful and capable with the greatest long-term potential. It is, however, already interdependent with the existing world order and benefits from it greatly; therefore, its challenge is unlikely to be a particularly destructive one. There are issues on which it feels aggrieved but, on the whole, it has had less effect on the surrounding area than the other two countries.

When challenged on this subject during the discussion by a somewhat long-winded China expert, Professor Mead, defended himself robustly. China, he reiterated, has not made any real changes in the geopolitical structures close to her, partly because she faces stronger countries than Iran and Russia and partly because its leadership miscalculated in  2008 - 9: the US had not been weakened quite as much as they thought and the sudden aggressive reaction alarmed various countries like Japan who now have a far more active foreign and defence policy.

To the point that China was now the second largest economy (that keeps changing and it is never clear to me how these things are defined) Professor Mead replied that the connection between GDP and world influence is not all that straightforward, pointing to the fact that in the mid-nineteenth century France's GDP was greater than Britain's but that did not lead to French domination of the world.

Moving on to Iran, the picture is a little odd. That country has the least long-term potential of the three yet it is the one that has made the greatest changes, in its favour, in the area that immediately surrounds it. When one looks at the situation in Iraq and Syria one cannot argue with that. Turkey, Iran's rival for influence in the Middle East, has retreated. But Hezbollah is, as far as one can tell, not as strong or powerful as it used to be. For all of that, Iran has done well and that is without going into the convoluted negotiations it has been conducting for decades about its nuclear power.

To a great extent the reason is the basic weakness and unsustainable structure of its immediate neighbours (Israel being the one exception but they are satisfied with keeping a watching brief for the time being), made worse by the events of the so-called Arab Spring.

Does this affect the rest of the world? Well, not so that you'd notice at present though that may change if Iran really does develop a nuclear bomb.

That brings us to Russia, which is, according to Professor Mead betwixt and between those two. It ought to be very powerful, in possession of a nuclear arsenal (whose efficacy is not altogether clear) and in possession of a vast reserve of oil and gas. But unlike China, Russia has not been able to use these advantages to strengthen its economic base even if we ignore the various rumours and news items that indicate a greater weakness in the former than has been assumed.

Russia is alienated from the existing world order in a more fundamental way than China and that is despite the enormous efforts made after the collapse of the Soviet Union to integrate the country into that world order: G7 turned into G8, membership of G20, various agreements with NATO, membership of WTO and so on. For reasons that were obviously beyond the scope of the talk Russia has not managed to take advantage of any of it and has returned to her historic distrust of the West.

When one adds to that the obvious fact that most of the countries that border on Russia have weak governments, chaotic economic policies and, for the most party, dysfunctional structures, one can see that Russia is in a better position than China to make geopolitical changes as well as being more willing to do so.

Of course, one needs to add a few points. Russian interference in those countries has contributed to those weaknesses as well as to Russia's own stagnation. Furthermore, not all countries fall to her machinations. The Baltic States are managing reasonably well for the time being and even Georgia has recovered from the last war sufficiently well to look to the West again.

[This is becoming rather a long blog. So, I shall stop here and write up Professor Mead's comments about the European Union in a separate posting.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A little confusing

One gets rather confused with some of the replies HMG produces to questions put down by noble Lords in the Upper House. Take this example: Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 4 August (HL1114) [actually, September 26] about the European Arrest Warrant, whether they consider that habeas corpus can be applied in other European jurisdictions following extradition; and, if so, how.
The last few words seem to be crucial.

HMG, in the shape of Lord Bates replied as follows (and I doubt if Lord Bates fully understood what his officials wrote there):
Article 12 of the relevant Framework Decision (“Keeping the person in detention”) states that “When a person is arrested on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant, the executing judicial authority shall take a decision on whether the requested person should remain in detention”. This obliges the relevant judicial authority to take a decision on whether or not the person should remain in detention, and that must be taken in accordance with the law of the executing State. Therefore, each and every EU Member State must consider carefully whether a person can be legally detained or not. That is in keeping with the intention underpinning the principle of habeas corpus.

The Government has also introduced reforms to the operation of the Arrest Warrant that limit the unjustified detention abroad of individuals surrendered by the United Kingdom. For example, section 12A of the Extradition Act 2003 provides a bar to extradition on the grounds of “absence of prosecution decision”. This means that, in cases where the person is wanted to stand trial, extradition can only go ahead where the issuing State has made a decision to charge the person and a decision to try the person, or that the person’s absence from that State is the only reason for the failure to take the decision(s). This provision ensures that, where a State is simply not ready to try a person, extradition is refused and the person is not surrendered only to spend a potentially lengthy period in pre-trial detention.

Following our reforms, Section 21B of the same Act allows, with both the requested person’s and the issuing State’s consent, for the person’s temporary transfer to the issuing State or for the person to speak with the authorities in that State whilst he or she remains in the UK (for example, by video link). This provision ensures those who are subject to an Arrest Warrant have an opportunity to communicate with the issuing State without being surrendered. In a number of cases this may result in the issuing State withdrawing the Arrest Warrant (e.g. if it decides the person is not the person they are looking for), ensuring the minimum time possible will be spent in detention.
I think he is saying that Habeas Corpus remains important despite the European Arrest Warrant but I am not really sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

There is nothing one can say that would be different from all the many things that have been said in the last few days and at other times. Like so many other people I feel a lump in my throat when I read this and think not only of those who died in that or other wars of the bloody twentieth century but those who died, young and old, men and women, adult and children in the war that the states and ideologies waged on their people. Two days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must remember them, too.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

And the Wall came tumbling down

It was hard to decide which videos of those momentous hours and days to put up but I decided on the following.

One that gives a brief account of the run-up to the day itself, mentioning that the process that led to the end of that Wall and everything it entailed was started early that summer when the still Communist Hungarian government decided to let the thousands of East Germans who were massing on its border with Austria, in effect opening the borders between East and West. I may be biased but I have always thought that Hungary (it was a very popular decision) has never been given adequate credit for that act.

Here is another version.

As befits the BBC the report was given a rather sour post-script but it is true that on that day, twenty-five years ago and in the days to come there was nothing but rejoicing even among people who could foresee many problems.

The Second World War was finally over, the division that scarred Europe was going to be healed and many of us who had grown up, if not in the geographic then in the mental shadow of that Wall, were stunned to see and hear it going down.

One thing is of interest in that report by Brian Hanrahan: he mentions people power. Indeed, it was, just that. The Wall, the borders, Communism itself were all brought down by the people, for once more or less united. That has been the great tragedy of the Left, that is what they have found unforgiveable: that the only successful act of people power was to bring down the system they all thought was not really all that bad at all and was hated only by the rabid right. Turns out it was hated by everyone.

And now, my fellow eurosceptics, let us do a little bit of maths. The Federal Republic of Germany, popularly known as West Germany, became a constitutional democracy in May 1949, that is sixty-five years ago. That democracy was strong enough to take in twenty-five years ago aa section of Germany that had been a Communist country for forty years. Since then united Germany has had many problems (haven't we all?), both economic and political but it has remained a democracy and there seems not possibility of it being anything else. As against that, the Nazi regime lasted for twelve years. That's twelve years against sixty-five and twenty-five. Could we now stop talking about Germany as being always and for ever potentially Nazi?

Let us face it: the European Union will be brought down by Germany not by Britain and certainly not by Greece. But it will have to be a strong, self-confident Germany as the EU exists primarily on German guilt. Any eurosceptic who thinks we should pile on the guilt is playing the europhiliacs' game. But then you knew that.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Still waiting for the Great Pumpkin EU reform

Lord Dykes is indefatigable in his work of producing planted questions about the European Union. Well, if not planted then very useful to the government, any government. (Here is one example.)

He really excelled himself this time:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in European Council discussions on reform of the European Union treaties.
The answer is, as we can surmise, none whatsoever but it would not do for the Noble Minister to tell the truth in that stark fashion. Instead, Baroness Anelay of St Johns said:
My Lords, the UK regularly discusses EU reform with counterparts both in the European Council and bilaterally. We have already made progress. The June European Council conclusions clearly set out a strong commitment to reforming the EU and it needs to address the UK’s concerns. We will continue to work with our European partners to achieve these reforms, many of which can be made right now.
Well, all right. Let us not use nasty expressions like "none whatsoever". How about "not very much at all"? Would that do?

Lord Dykes had not finished. His follow-up question was a masterpiece of superciliousness (I doubt if he understands anything about the EU) and complete irrelevance.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. In the mean time, can I tempt her to endorse the very wise advice of our new British Commissioner, Jonathan Hill, that everybody should calm down and avoid hysteria about the rather technical nature of the budget dues dispute, because our membership of the EU is surely the essential requirement and target, and is much more important than appeasing UKIP and other Europhobes?
HMG in the person of Baroness Anelay simply ignored his question or comment and answered something completely different though not very adequately:
My Lords, the policy of this Government is to argue for the interests of this country. My noble friend is right to point to the very detailed nature of the investigation that must now take place of the demand, out of the blue, for an extra £1.7 billion. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear that Her Majesty’s Treasury will now assess the data in exhaustive detail to check how the statistics were arrived at and the methodology that was used. After all, it is British taxpayers’ money and therefore it needs to be examined in detail and discussed properly by Finance Ministers. That will happen tomorrow.
Then came a great deal of waffle that sort of criticized the status quo but managed to imply that the best way of changing it is by keeping it in place as much as possible.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch managed to upset the apple cart for a short time:
My Lords, assuming that the Government have at last seen through the propaganda that the EU has brought peace and prosperity and is useful for trade, geopolitics and so on, why cannot they also see that the EU is wholly unreformable and that the only sensible thing to do is to get out of it and help to close it down? What is the point of the European Union?
Let it be noted that this is what the noble lord has been saying for many years but it is not, as far as any of us can tell, UKIP's policy, which is merely a demand for a referendum as soon as possible.

Baroness Anelay's reply, as expected, was not particularly informative:
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord still fails to see the benefits that we have achieved by our membership of the EU, but also the achievements that we need to have through reform to make sure that we can continue to be a successful member. That is where we want to be. We want to see the EU reformed with us as a strong member of it, and other countries recognise that it needs reform. As to leaving it—not now.
Still, one must take one's entertainment wherever one can. Baroness Ludford is no longer a highly paid member of the Toy Parliament and will now have to make do with the considerably reduced amount of money she can get in the House of Lords.