Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A big step forward

There were many dark events in the twentieth century, possibly the worst for much of the world in modern history. Some have been faced up to by the perpetrators, some have not. The ones that have not, remain like so many millstones on countries' history. None can move forward until they have faced up to the past.

Serbia appears to have decided to be one of those that will move forward. As the Economist among others reports
Serbia’s parliament had not seen such acrimony for years, but in the early hours of March 31st it passed a resolution condemning the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
The debate and subsequent vote were tumultous and the resolution was passed by the slimmest of majorities, the opposition, clearly belonging to those who prefer a historic millstone round the country's neck.
The resolution passed by the slimmest of margins—only 127 deputies out of a total of 250 voted for it—and opposition parties are furious. It remains to be seen if President Boris Tadic and his government will pay a political price.
Others feel that the resolution has not gone far enough as the crime should have been called "genocide" and no real blame was attached to anybody. The Resolution accepted the 2007 ICJ ruling that the Serbian authorities were guilty by omission rather than commission - they could have prevented the massacre.

Despite these problems the European Union has praised the Serbian Resolution. The Reuters report in the New York Times quotes the voting figures slightly differently:
The measure was approved by 127 of the 149 deputies present in parliament. Some opposition parties left the chamber shortly before the vote.
Those might have been the ones who thought the Resolution did not go far enough or they might have wanted to keep clear of the debate, wondering how things will go from now on.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So who is in charge?

For some time now whenever somebody starts talking about a two-state solution in the Middle East I have felt it necessary to point out that while that might have worked back in 1949 when the Arabs refused to co-operate, we have moved well beyond that in the last 50 years. Nothing short of a three-state solution could work and even that is looking dicy.

News from Gaza City confirms my view on the subject. It would appear that about 10 officers of the Hamas police raided a bank and demanded either 1 million Israeli shekels (c. $270,000) as the Jerusalem Post reports, or 1.5 million (c. $400,000) as Reuters tells us.

The money had been frozen by the Palestinian Authority, nominally the government of Gaza, last July.
The seizure, which Hamas said was backed by an order from a Hamas-run court, was the latest power play by the radical Islamic group, which violently took control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Fatah in 2007. Since then, Abbas's Palestinian Authority has governed only the West Bank. Efforts to reconcile the two sides have failed.

Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussein confirmed money was taken and said a court ruled the block on the funds was illegal.

The funds were intended for an association called Friends of the Sick, which has run a medical center in Gaza for over a decade.

The Palestinian Authority, which used to fund the group, froze the money after the organization elected a Hamas-dominated governing board in July 2009, the group said.

"This was based on entirely political considerations that have no relationship to the association's charitable work," the group said in a written statement.
Naturally, the Palestinian Monetarian Authority (PMA) takes a somewhat different view from the Hamas court and police. According to it, the action was "sinful".
Ehab Al-Ghsain, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said Monday's move was "the implementation of a judicial decision." The association had "resorted to court after the Fatah government froze its account in the bank," he said.
Jihad al-Wazir, the governor of the PMA, has announced that the banks in the Gaza Strip, who are nominally under the PMA's jurisdiction will stage a strike on Tuesday to protest the raid. One cannot help feeling that this is somewhat more serious than the various reasons the various striking unions in Britain produce.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trying to understand what happened in Moscow

It is never easy to understand what happens in Russia and what will emerge in the next few days and weeks may well present us with a very different picture from the one we dimly discern at the moment.

It is not a secret to any of my readers that I do not agree with the knee-jerk analysis of terrorist events in Russia. No, I do not think they can ever be justified but neither do I think they fit into the pattern of some world-wide jihad. Terrorism in Russia is part and parcel of the ongoing war in Chechnya, waged with brutal ferocity on both sides and to which there appears to be no end.

Let us not forget that the second war (the first one was more or less settled under Yeltsin though it was clear to anyone who looked at it carefully that the last word had not been spoken) began in real earnest after a number of extremely suspicious explosions in various apartment blocks that could not be called strategic targets. There were many rather odd circumstances around those explosions and all those who tried to investigate, among them Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, came to a bad end.

It did, however, achieve one thing: it propelled a then little know politician to the top who played the tough guy part with relish and promised in no uncertain terms to sort the problem out, whatever it takes. The politician’s name was Vladimir Putin, who has remained at the top ever since but the Chechnyan situation, alas, has not been sorted out. On the other hand, a number of Mr Putin’s own enemies have had a very bad time, some coming to a very bad end.

So with that background, let us try to look at what might have happened this morning on the crowded Moscow metro. Two bombs exploded, killing at least 37 people and injuring 102. (Pictures on the BBC site.) No organization has claimed responsibility but the immediate assumption is that the attacks were connected with North Caucasian groups.
TWO terrorist bombers on the Moscow metro killed at least 37 people and injured 102 in the morning rush hour on Monday March 29th. The first explosion, which killed 22 people and injured 12, struck just before 8am at the Lubyanka metro station, a few hundred feet from the Kremlin and next to the headquarters of the Federal Security Services, the successor to the KGB. The second bomb went off at Park Kultury, by the main circular road in central Moscow, killing at least 15.

The Russian security services said two female suicide bombers from the north Caucasus were responsible. The bombs might have been operated with the use of mobile phones, which work unhindered in the Moscow metro. Russia’s emergency services appeared to be working in an orderly and co-ordinated way, cordoning off only the areas immediately affected by the explosions. Other metro lines remained open, with trains running regularly. There was a striking absence of panic in the capital, but no immediate sense of public numbness; ordinary commuters went on with their daily routines.
If that account of the immediate after-effects is correct and the pictures indicate that it might be, one can only say that Moscow seemed a good deal better organized and better prepared than London was back in 2005. If memory serves, the whole city came to a standstill for the day, some parts were cordoned off for days and the lines that had been hit were closed for weeks not to mention the disappearance of any mobile telephone communication for several hours.

On the other hand, it is interesting that the security services knew immediately after the explosions that it had been two female suicide bombers (shakhidki), presumably widows of killed fighters. Some reports refer to body parts, which is all we have by way of information at the moment.

The Economist does not deal with that problem but gives a good account of the background, including this:
Russia has grown tragically familiar with terrorist attacks over the past two decades, during which it has fought two brutal wars in Chechnya, in the 1990s. But Moscow has not seen attacks such as these since August 2004, when a bomb on the Moscow metro killed nine people. Last November a bomb on the Nevsky express, which travels between Moscow and St Petersburg, killed 26 people and injured 100.
That story was on the backburner for some time but just recently it was announced that “Buryatsky, a notorious gang leader in Russia's North Caucasus, killed in a special operation on Tuesday, was involved in the derailment of a Moscow-St. Petersburg train in November 2009”.

At the same time ten people were arrested in connection with the explosions. It is to be noted that the operation, which ended with the arrests and the killing of the gang leader took place not in Chechnya but in neighbouring Ingushetiya. That war spread out of Chechnya a long time ago.

As the Economist points out:
Mr Medvedev has described the situation in the north Caucasus as one of the greatest threats facing Russia. Yet corruption and brutality among Russia’s security and military services have undoubtedly contributed to the growth of extremism in the region. In Ingushetia, for example, corrupt officials have paid off insurgents to keep their lucrative fiefs. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Ingushetia’s president, who moved to root out corruption, was almost killed in a terrorist attack last June.
There is, indeed, very little faith in the police or the security services in Russia, in their efficiency or probity. (Despite the apparent efficiency with which they handled this situation. Not the previous ones – the horror of the theatre siege and of Beslan should be seared in all our memories.)

Nor should we forget that the war against terror in Russia has meant the blatant destruction of the independent media and of democratic processes.
Big terrorist attacks have in the past been used by the Kremlin to justify tightening its grip on power and curbing the opposition. The second war in Chechnya, in 2000, which helped to propel Mr Putin into his presidency, was accompanied by a move to bring Russian television under Kremlin control. In 2004, after the school siege in Beslan, in North Ossetia, Mr Putin scrapped regional elections. It would be unfortunate if the Kremlin, rather than overhauling its security agencies and reviewing its north Caucasus policy, opts to act in similar fashion now.
Der Spiegel reports a later piece of news: a third suicide belt was found and defused by the investigators. At this stage it is unclear what happened to the person who, presumably, decided to escape. (There are more pictures on the site.)

Naturally, President Medvedev has promised to deal with those behind the attacks and Prime Minister Putin has interrupted his Siberian holiday to speed back to Moscow. There will, presumably, be reprisals in Chechnya and Ingushetiya and a tightening up of police control in Moscow, especially with regards to anyone who can be described as being from the Caucasus. There are reports of individual attacks on Chechnyans and anyone who can be described as Chechnyan but these cannot be taken seriously: there are constant attacks on the инородцы (inorodtsi) in Russian cities.

The two big questions remain: will the security services establish precisely who is behind this atrocity and will the government come up with any new ideas for dealing with the ongoing problem.

The Greek crisis summed up

While I try to make sense of what has been happening in Moscow, here is a time chart of the Greek crisis, usefully put together by Alex Singleton of the Daily Telegraph. As they say, stay tuned.

Podhoretz on Palin

Norman Podhoretz is one of the best writers and serious journalists around. So I was delighted to see that he turned his attention to the phenomenon of Sarah Palin and the mysterious dislike she evokes not just on the left of the political spectrum - understandable, as she is a terrible threat to their assumption that power and government belongs to them - but on the right as well.

Podhoretz reminds his readers that the right did not support Ronald Reagan at first either for very similar reasons - not one of us socially. He was most definitely not an Ivy League graduate and did not come from the heart of the Republican Party. In fact, he had learned his politics fighting against the Communist infiltration of Hollywood.

Sarah Palin, too, is presented as being dumb and Mr Podhoretz, too, assumes that her IQ and intellectual accomplishments are inferior to those of President Obama's. He just does not think that is so important. As several of the comments point out, we actually have no idea what President Obama's intellectual or academic accomplishments are like as all records have been hidden away not to be read by the hoi polloi. His accomplishments as president are there for all to see and account for his ever-falling popularity; his accomplishments as orator depend heavily on his teleprompter, as has been proved on numerous occasions.
What I am trying to say is not that Sarah Palin would necessarily make a great president but that the criteria by which she is being judged by her conservative critics—never mind the deranged hatred she inspires on the left—tell us next to nothing about the kind of president she would make.

Take, for example, foreign policy. True, she seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership. After all, her rival for the vice presidency, who in some sense knows a great deal, was wrong on almost every major issue that arose in the 30 years he spent in the Senate.

What she does know—and in this respect, she does resemble Reagan—is that the United States has been a force for good in the world, which is more than Barack Obama, whose IQ is no doubt higher than hers, has yet to learn. Jimmy Carter also has a high IQ, which did not prevent him from becoming one of the worst presidents in American history, and so does Bill Clinton, which did not prevent him from befouling the presidential nest.
Many of Palin's ideas are close to those many conservatives, even of the intellectual variety, espouse. So what is it, asks Horowitz, that makes them attack her with such venom?
Much as I would like to believe that the answer lies in some elevated consideration, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers is at work among the conservative intellectuals who are so embarrassed by her. When William F. Buckley Jr., then the editor of National Review, famously quipped that he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT, most conservative intellectuals responded with a gleeful amen. But put to the test by the advent of Sarah Palin, along with the populist upsurge represented by the Tea Party movement, they have demonstrated that they never really meant it.
Setting aside Sarah Palin, whose personality and popular appeal seems to trouble very many people, we are back with the age-old division: the political establishment versus the people. I am reasonably certain that on the other side of the Pond the people will eventually win. Here? Remains to be seen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Unlikely to make all that much difference

At the time of the European election campaign last year I seemed to attend the launch of yet another party every week. None of them, I predicted, would come to anything as none of them had the slightest idea of what it is they were trying to achieve in politics. You do not get votes by not having anything to say, however loud you are in not saying anything (and Declan Ganley was very loud, indeed). I was proved right: neither Libertas nor the Jury Team managed to save a single deposit or come anywhere near it. Libertas is now the stuff of history but the Jury Team is carrying on, still proclaiming the need for ordinary people to become politicians, whatever their views or abilities might be.

We now have a new entrant: the Trust Party, set up by the multi-millionaire former Conservative donor Stuart Wheeler. As parties go, this will have a small presence on the scene. Mr Wheeler is standing against Greg Barker, one of the Boy-King's chums in Bexhill. There will be two other candidates. Even the Anti-Federalist League, the precursor of UKIP managed more than that in 1992.

Mr Barker is, Heaven help us, the Shadow Climate Change Minister but that is not what is bothering Mr Wheeler, who seems not to be very interested in political issues, not even in the EU in any sustained fashion. The issue is expenses.
Mr Barker, the Shadow Climate Change Minister, was accused of pocketing £320,000 from buying and selling a flat he bought with the help of expenses.

He owned a home in Pimlico, near the Commons, for 27 months before selling it and moving back to his old address.
The most cursory knowledge of British history would tell one that the question of fiscal dishonesty in politicians is hardly a new thing. Are these people worse than their predecessors or their colleagues in other countries? I hardly think so.

There are two reasons why this has become such an issue. One is that there is a general disenchantment with politicians, their constant attempts (often successful) to grab more power from people paralleled by their complete inability to manage anything they take over. There is a vague understanding that with the EU and the various quangos real power has been given away at about the same rate that the MPs have demanded money and greater perks. The question of expenses is merely the symptom not the cause.

This was something Libertas failed to understand last year. They were convinced that people were voting UKIP or, perhaps, BNP solely because of the expenses scandal. So they spent a good deal of time trying to prove that UKIP MEPs were no better than the others, ignoring all suggestions that people might decide to vote for UKIP for some other reason. We know what came of it all.

The other reason is a little more complicated. Mr Wheeler and many others keep telling us that they want to restore faith in politics and politicians. Those are two different issues and one often precludes the other.

Certainly, it is time the people of this country grasped that politics is not a spectator sport. If you don't get involved it will come and grab you. This notion that somehow politics has nothing to do with us is a relatively recent one in Britain and has grown in tandem with faith in politicians. Leave it all to them and they will sort it out. Unfortunately, instead of sorting it out the politicians have brought this country to a point of destruction and the expenses scandal was, in a way, a wake-up call for many people not to trust those b******s any longer. In my opinion, that is an entirely healthy attitude. The last thing we want is a return to the somnolent attitude of the people trusting politicians.

So, while I am highly amused by Mr Wheeler's campaign to discomfort his erstwhile party, I shall not be supporting his rather strangely named Trust Party. Not because it bothers me that he is wasting money on a pointless campaign (Jimmy Goldsmith, whom he undoubtedly wants to emulate made no secret of his political views) - after all, it is his money. I shall not support it because I think the whole idea is silly and pointless. If we really do want to have grown-up politics in this country then we must go on distrusting the people who tell us they know best, that is the politicians.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This is too good to miss

We can all argue about it but a Venn diagram on nerds, geeks, dorks and, indeed, dweeps is too good to miss. Enjoy.

Discussions about Chancellor Merkel

So did Chancellor Angela Merkel win over the question of Greece and what to do about it? Der Spiegel is allowing some people to shake their heads more in sorrrow than in anger. Take Werner Weidenfeld, Director of Center of Applied Policy Research (confusingly shortened to CAP) and "an expert on the structure of, and relationships within, the European Union" or a useful sort of bod to have around. When asked by Der Spiegel what he thought of the Chancellor's performance, he gave it a sort of B+.

Helmut Kohl would have done the same, he opined, but the problem with Merkel is that she is not so good at public relations. After the negotiations she will be perceived as stubborn and determined to push through her ideas regardless of the European principle. It is hard to believe that if that is the perception of Chancellor Merkel in Germany that would in any way harm her position.

To be fair to Herr Weidenfeld, he is not over-impressed by the horror of internal squabbling - it was always there - or by the threat of expelling Greece from the eurozone, if needs be. The eurozone needs security and that might mean expelling troublesome members. Furthermore, threats of that kind might have a beneficial effect on other countries who might find themselves in Greece's position. In other words, the PIIS (minus the G) are probably going to be a problem quite soon. Or, at least, they might be a problem. And, whatever the opposition might say in Germany, the people of that country, one assumes, prefer to have a Chancellor who is on their side, instead of paying lip-service to the idea of some putative European harmony.

The German media, perhaps unused to the sight of a German leader who puts her country's interests first, have also been mixed in their reaction. There seems some doubt as to whether the IMF with its strict rules should have been involved though what the alternative might have been remains opaque. It is a blow to European pride and to the whole European project. Well, maybe. But most of us would say that a project that relies on shady accounting (all those countries getting into the EMU though clearly not qualified) and an inability to cope with a crisis has little to be proud about.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A great lady dies

Errm, no, not Lady Thatcher but another great lady, Daphne Park, known more recently as Baroness Park of Monmouth. She died yesterday at the age of 88 after various ailments but it is still distressing to think that she will not be conducting any more of her battles on defence or Zimbabwe or Northern Ireland.

Lives do not come any more exciting than hers did, what with working with SOE agents during the war and reporting back to the Foreign Office (or whoever) from Moscow in the fifties, Congo in the sixties, Hanoi during the Vietnam war and so on. Some of her stories were a delight and many of us tried to persuade her that she should write them down or dictate them to some willing amanuensis. She was sort of thinking about it but I am not sure how far that got.

Let me add that Daphne Park was not just a thoroughly admirable lady but a great friend. I tried to visit her every time I went to Oxford and each visit, when one was plied with coffee, biscuits and a drink before leaving, was a delight - full of stories and discussions. The last time I saw her was just before Christmas when she sat in a room in the Royal Airforce Club, surrounded by friends and admirers and told us about her time in the Soviet Union and Vietnam.

We shall not see her like again. (And I may well write another obituary later on.)

We are nearly there

We have been nearly there before but it looks like this time it will happen: Alexander Lebedev, quondam KGB/FSB agent, present media tycoon and owner of the ever more silly and boring Evening Standard, will, it is said, announce in the next 24 hours that the Independent belongs to him. (The Guardian confirms the story.)

I know the BBC Russian Service gets quite excited about this and interviews me regularly but my responses tend to be quite monotonous (yes, yes, yes, I don't want to hear that): it really does not matter who owns the Independent. There is no evidence that the Evening Standard has become an outlet for pro-Russian propaganda (or an outlet of news at all), whereas the Independent, what with Mary Dejevsky, a much valued member of the Valdai Group, set up by the Russian Government, being its Chief Editorial Writer and Columnist, has been pushing a pro-Putin line for some time.

He is back

That eminent economist, Professor Tim Congdon, has had a complicated relationship with UKIP. Most people do. Back in 2007 he left the Conservative Party with flags flying and drums drumming and joined UKIP, explaining in an article in the Daily Telegraph about all the many things he disliked about the new Cameroonie Conservatives.

Subsequently, there were stories of him being embarrassed by UKIP and rumours (well, one rumour in the Independent) of him rejoining the Conservative Party. Personally, I never believed that last story as Professor Congdon does not make a secret of his political views and he did not mention even once that he had seen the light and it shone out of the Boy-King. [Re-reading that post I notice that I quoted Iain Dale as suggesting that Malcolm Pearson will follow Tim Congdon back to the Conservative Party. I disagreed with Mr Dale on the subject of Lord Pearson, and, hey presto, I turned out to be right. Thank you, thank you.]

Whatever may have happened last year, the news is that Professor Congdon is securely in the UKIP fold: he is the PPC for The Royal Forest of Dean and, presumably, the preferred economic spokesman for the party. (I certainly hope so, given some of the nutty economic ideas I heard at the conference.) He explains his views and reasons on the UKIP website. I'd like to think that this time round the Tories are not going to screech about him being a back number or completely barmy but I suspect that they have learnt nothing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will this be a beneficial crisis?

Readers of this blog will forgive me, I am sure, if I get a teensy-weensy bit suspicious about the oh-so-conveniently timed Cameron baby. This sort of news shocks even me with its cynicism, inured though I am, normally, to the vagaries of politicians.

Enough of British politics. The thought of all three leaders having babies within the next year fills me with absolute horror.

Let us consider the question of the ongoing fiscal crisis in the EU, particularly the eurozone, of which Greece, whose problems remain unresolved, is the most egregious example. The Economics Commissar (well, at least, they don't have one for Heavy Industry, so we ought to be grateful for small mercies), Olli Rehn clearly thinks that this could be a beneficial crisis.

On Sunday he gave an interview to Welt am Sonntag [here it is in German] in which he explained that the Greek debacle has proved that "the European Commission should be more involved in setting member states' fiscal budgets". What a great idea. Let us widen the gulf between government and governed even further. That should make everyone be satisfied with politicians.

When earlier this year I spoke at a conference organized by Euromoney Plc in Vienna against the notion that East European countries should enter the eurozone, my main argument was political. The economic tensions between the core and peripheral countries were too great and the peripheral ones were likely to suffer. In order to overcome this the EU, more specifically the Commission, would have to interfere more and more in those countries' economic affairs, thus widening the political gulf of accountability. The outcome, I said, would not be a happy one in an area where political history has been somewhat fraught in the last century.

Mutatis mutandis, this applies to Greece as well. And, of course, Commissar Rehn would not stop with Greece but move on to other countries with those difficult histories. Just what does he think will happen? Well, of course, he does not care. What matters is the strengthening of the European project.

However, there are stirrings abroad. Well, in Germany who is a vital cog in that machine. As the Financial Times reports, hostility to Germany bailing out Greece is becoming stronger as time goes on (and time is going on with some sort of a decision on the subject due at the end of this week). You can't blame the Germans. When they were herded into the euro and were forced to abandon their beloved Deutschmark, they were promised quite specifically that they would not find themselves having to bail out Greece or Italy. One has come to pass and the other is not far off.

Almost a third thought that Greece should be asked, politely or otherwise, to leave the eurozone. But even worse for the project:
Further highlighting flagging support for the euro, 40 per cent of Germans also thought Europe's biggest economy would be better off outside the single currency - a significantly higher level of scepticism than in France, Spain or Italy.
That's a little coy but we all understand who is meant by "Europe's largest economy" and it is not Greece.

Monday, March 22, 2010

So much for taking on vested interests

The Boy-King's intention of making his party into the anti-establishment one that takes on vested interests for the country as a whole did not last long. Tim Montgomerie, who was so pleased with that development is a sadder and wiser man today, as he reports that CCHQ has confirmed the story in the Financial Times about the putative Conservative government continuing with subsidies modenization funds paid out to unions.

So, let's see, which vested interests are going to be taken on? Not the unions, not the colleagues in Brussels, not the civil service (plenty of unions there); that leaves those pesky bankers who actually bring money into the country and provide a large part of the GDP. Way to go.

As usual ...

... Chris Muir on Day by Day gets it right:

Nobody has a right to freedom - we all have to fight for it.

Are there no intelligent journalists on the Telegraph?

As the late, great Bernard Levin used to say: I ask only because I want to know. The Boss on EUReferendum has a particular dislike for a hackette by the name of Louise Gray (for instance, here) and I think I found another one to match, by the name of Tanya Gold, a lady whose professional career (see that link) does not exactly inspire one with confidence.

Actually, I saw Ms Gold at the UKIP Conference - she was wandering around looking for funny things to write about and she has produced an unbelievably fatuous piece that seems to have had very hostile reception if the comments are to go by.

Readers of the blog, if they can be bothered, will make up their own minds about the hackette's silly gush but there is one point that needs to be mentioned. I did hear the simpering Ms Gold ask Lord Pearson about UKIP having seven leaders in seventeen years and why that was. He dismissed the subject with an airy disclaimer: he has been a member for very few of those seventeen years and knew nothing about previous events.

This point crops up with monotonous regularity. Seven leaders in seventeen years - oh dear, shows this is not a serious party. So, let us see, how many leaders have the Conservatives had since 1993? Major, Hague, Duncan Smith, Howard and Cameron. Dear me, that makes five.

Five leaders in seventeen years is normal for a political party or, at least, nothing to worry about but seven is loony-tunes? What about six? Would that be, errm, half-way between?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No change then

I really was going to leave UKIP alone for a bit, since I have spent rather a lot of blogging time on them recently. Nevertheless, I need to mention UKIP and, in particular, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, if only indirectly. The main character in my tale today is the Boy-King of the Conservative Party who has made another speech today, this time in Putney, in which he has promised to take on vested interests in order to effect change. Like President Obama Margaret Thatcher did.

No, he is not going to cut down on politicians or their emoluments, on civil servants and other regulators and he is, most certainly, not going to take on the colleagues in Brussels. Heaven forfend. He is .... tadaaa .... going to tax bankers more. They must return the money they received in those bail-outs.

Of course, this blog and EUReferendum were against those bail-outs but I do not recall the Boy-King making any kind of forceful comments on the subject. However, taxing banks because they are banks and, just possibly, that will be a popular policy sounds to me like economic ignorance. This country relies rather heavily on its financial sector and banks are rather useful, quite apart from bankers being a heavily taxed part of the community already.

Nor is the talk about world-wide harmonization of taxes on banks gets us anywhere (I am not linking because there is so much of this talk around the place). It all rests on the assumption that there are not many places outside Britain, other West European countries and the United States where banks can go to. Well, I have news for these people: there is the whole of South-East Asia where countries are salivating at the thought of us crippling our financial sector.

Looking at ToryBoy blog today I find there are several interesting postings. One quotes the great Daniel Hannan, soi-disant eurosceptic and would-be leader of a controlled tea-party movement. Hannan is indulging in his usual politicking: he is calling on eurosceptics not to vote for UKIP as only the Conservative Party can possibly save this country from many things, including the European Union. How is that going to be accomplished?
What I’d ideally like – and what I assume my UKIP readers also aspire to – is a situation where UKIP no longer needs to exist: where it can award itself a medal and retire with honour, job done. Obviously, we’re not at that point yet. But I worry that every activist who deserts the Tories for UKIP is retarding the prospects of a Euro-sceptic Conservative Party without taking his or her energies to an alternative party of government.
Indeed. After all, the development of that Euro-sceptic Conservative Party has been so successful. They are really getting there cast-iron guarantee by cast-iron guarantee. What Daniel Hannan would really like is for the Conservatives to swallow and pre-empt any kind of real opposition.

Above that posting we see another rather sad result in the polls for the Conservatives, which makes me laugh as I was told today by one rather pompous member of that party that it is not my vote they are looking for. Change, he added idiotically. I suggested very politely that they might not have had my vote in the last few elections either and added that they appear to be saying that to most people: it is not your vote we are looking for. It appears from polls and local by-elections that the people are giving the response one would expect: fine, you are not getting it either.

For what it's worth I still think the Conservatives will have the largest number of seats in the Commons. But the mere fact that this is now a matter for discussions at the end of the third term of an unpopular and incompetent government shows some kind of political genius on the part of the Boy-King and his courtiers.

Below the Hannan-worship (which is not shared by the comments, incidentally) there are two postings, one by Tim Montgomerie and one by Jonathan Isaby on the Cameron speech. Both emphasise Cameron taking on those vested interests and sounding like the leader of an anti-establishment party. Well, of course the Conservatives are anti-establishment. Did you not know that? Oh you didn't? Well, never mind.

My question is very simple: is it entirely a coincidence that the day after Lord Pearson's well-publicized speech in which he pointed out that UKIP was the only party to stand up to the entire political establishment the Boy-King decides to use the same theme for his own pronoucements? Could they be more worried about UKIP than they admit?

Apologies ...

... for not replying to comments if any replies were needed. I am having problems with opening and reading them. Have contacted the technical staff (North Junior) and I am sure the problem will be solved rapidly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Leader's Speech

While I was catching up with the other reports from the UKIP Spring Party Conference, Lord Pearson's full speech has been published on the UKIP website in a burst of quite remarkable efficiency. It was broadcast in full on Sky News and in part on the BBC. And Iain Dale did not like it. To be quite accurate, he did not like the delivery and had no particular comment to make about the content. When asked about that, Iain gave it as his view that party leaders need to be able to vow the audience and if the audience is turned off then they are talking to themselves.

Well, maybe. But as one UKIP member said to me, they already have a speaker who vows the audience and, by and large, Lord Pearson is an easier brand to sell than Nigel Farage or UKIP. Come to think of it, he is an easier brand to sell than David Cameron because of his innate sense of honour that comes across despite all attempts on the part of the media to rubbish him. The weekly FT lunch interview, published in tomorrow's paper but on the net already is a very good example. One can warm to someone who believes so passionately in doing the right thing and actually going ahead with it (and I speak as someone who knows how exasperating his lordship can be).

Incidentally, Lord Pearson did not make much of immigration control, though he did point out a couple of times that it was an important issue, whcih cannot be dealt with unless we come out of the European Union, something that the main parties refuse to discuss.

Using UKIP's own slogan Straight Talking, he tackled the subject of standing against hard-line eurosceptics in other parties and came down on the side of those who think there should be political arrangements. UKIP, he explained, must be the one party that should not put party above country.

It was typical of Lord Pearson that he ended his speech with a quote from his friend Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
I end by reminding you of the words of my friend Alexander Solzhenitsyn said from the depths of his Soviet prison camp, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us now put those words to the test.
Whether the party manages to live up to that remains to be seen.

And so, rather wearily, I end my report from the UKIP Party Conference and head off back to London where a sandwich does not have to be grated plastic cheese with some tasteless tomatoes in limp white bread at a price that implies something a bit better.

Liveblogging from the UKIP Conference

Welll, OK, I didn't get here till the afternoon session and did not manage to see much of Milton Keynes on the 10 minute walk from the station to Jurys Inn where the Conference is taking place.

The large hall is fairly full, even allowing for people straggling in from lunch. Average age: somewhere around 50 and there were many people I did not recognize, which is a plus.

Gerard Batten speaking on immigration. His full policy document and a 2 page summary on the website and the booklet is on sale. These are the policies the British people have been waiting for.

All the data have been carefully researched from places like ONS. He veers on the side of caution.

Contrary to what we have been told, Britain is not a country of mass immigration; from 1066 to 1945 small numbers and assimilated. Soared since World War II and particularly since 1997 - 6 million came and around 1.4 million left.

Recent revelations have shown that this is a deliberate policy to create a "more diverse" society though the indigenous population [or so Mr Batten describes them] have not been asked.

2.15 pm Sat in on some of the policy Q&A session and could not help noticing that UKIP has now become a grown-up party in that many of the questions to the panel were random in the extreme. Also a lot of people preferred to stay outside, socializing and plotting. At least I hope so.

On the question of involvement in Iraq (no longer an issue as the British were ignominously slung out) and Afghanistan Gerard Batten, who has spoken on defence issues before, got the biggest cheer and applause. He may have thought he was cogent and logical but some of us do not think so.

He assured the audience that UKIP had supported the invasion of Afghanistan because that is where the Al-Quaeda attacks had come from. But we should have moved out of there very quickly. There is no point in trying to impose democracy on what he (somewhat misleadingly) described as a "primitive tribal society". That, he thought, was a politically correct way of looking at things. So we should move out and go back in if there is another attack.

As for Iraq, according to Mr Batten, we should not have gone in without the proper procedures through the UN first. One can't help wondering how a man who is dedicated to the idea of national sovereignty can think of the UN as being the supreme legislator for international affairs. Nor did those who applauded him see anything wrong with that.

3.10 pm Before I go in to hear the Leader's speech I had better write up at least some of what I have heard. It is, in fact, impossible to live-blog from a conference room where there is no separate desk for media, old or new. So I have had to wander in and out of the main hall and the office where my laptop stayed.

So, a bit more about that Q&A session about policies. If UKIP wants my advice (which they never did and are unlikely to do now) they will put Tim Akers, a young policy wonk, formerly of the Taxpayers' Alliance, who can put his ideas strongly and pithily, to the fore. They will not, of course, because they like codgers (old and young) who meander and do not come up with anything even remotely coherent.

Tim, as befits anyone who has worked for the TPA, is good on explaining what the tax and government spending would be like under a UKIP government (there is no point in having a Party Conference if you do not dream of going home and preparing for government): there would be money available for the few things governments have to pay for. That includes, naturally enough, defence, law and its enforcement and, also, doctors and teachers but there will be no money for five-a-day outreach officers and suchlike non-jobs. In fact, anything beyond the core state activity, as much as possible should be hived off into the private sector and the public sector employees will be "encouraged" to move to the private sector. In fact, he added, they will not have much choice.

It was also Tim Akers who answered the slightly odd question about mandatory sex education. Would parent be able to withdraw from it, if they want to, someone asked. With the voucher system we are proposing, said Mr Akers, the issue would not arise. If you do not like the school you child is attending, you cand withdraw said child and the money will follow him or her. I think [I shall have to read through that education policy in more detail before I pass judgement. Anyone can say "vouchers" and assume that all good things will follow.]

3.20 pm The time of the Leader's speech is approaching so I shall merely flag up the next issue I shall write about, which is the inevitable debate (or chasm, as one member described it to me) about whether to put up candidates against MPs or PPCs who have proved their credibility as genuine eurosceptics.

4.20 pm Leader's speech went down a treat. More of that anon. First, that disagreement about whether to stand against known withdrawalist eurosceptics. There is really no getting away from the fact that a goodly part of UKIP are amateurs in the worst sense of the word - they have an amateurish attitude and see political campaigning as little more than an expression of their own personal anger with many things that have gone wrong, in their estimation, with this county. Some of it is justified, some not so much. It does mean, however, that they do not like the idea of political agreements, discussions or even of achieving anything. Those are the people who do not like the thought of not standing against those few, very few candidates in the next election (and that term includes sitting MPs) who have announced that they are definitely for Britain withdrawing from the European Union.

The division line should be very simple - those who have signed up to the Better Off Out campaign, even if it does nothing at all, should be deemed to be useful to the cause. There are, altogether 8 MPs and no PPCs on that list. Yet, when David Campbell Bannerman tried to explain the necessity for such arrangements he met an unfriendly silence punctured by unfriendly mutterings. Mark Wadsworth who said that in the constituencies people saw individual candidates as little more than party machines who would not be allowed to vote on the subject, he was greeted with applause. The fact that those eight probably can get into the House of Commons and thus be in a position to raise the issue there escapes these people's attention.

4.50 pm Two speakers from Young Independence were pretty good and in their twenties. The possibly outgoing chairman, Michael Heaver, stuttered a bit but was full of excitement. In his view, opinions among young people are changing in universities and various educational establishments. He cited several examples of europhiliacs who repeat rather outmoded shibboleths being out-argued by people from various countries. In his view any eurosceptic youngsters are likely to support UKIP, who are leading the debate on the campuses, not the Conservatives. (Well, it would be rather difficult for a genuine eurosceptic.)

He also raised one other issue: education, quoting the results of a poll published in the Daily Mail. According to this 75 per cent of all respondents wanted to restore grammar schools fully but among the 17 to 25 year olds 85 per cent wanted to see their return. If this is an accurate reflection of opinion, it is of considerable interest. The generation that has barely heard of grammar schools, has learned of them enough to realize that their abolition has deprived them of any chance of a reasonable education and subsequent career.

He intoduced the man who was probably the most articulate and passionate of all this afternoon's speakers, a Fellow at the LSE (where, as I well remember, the party actually started all those years ago), Abhijit Pandya.

Mr Pandya swept the audience through a historical tour d'horizon, such as Mrs Thatcher would have been proud of. He spoke of British values being superior to others, of Britain refusing to knuckle under to European dictatorship, whether of the French (cue Nelson) or the German variety (cue Churchill).

Ringingly, he proclaimed himself to be against grand republican projects, which all end in corruption and violence; against utopianism, so close to fascism; against social markets that are the very opposite of free markets; against outmoded socialist ideas; against transnational organizations like the IMF, the World Bank and the EU who rule over people without their consent (though, oddly enough, he, too, excluded the arch-tranzi of all, the UN from his indictement); against the slavery of political apathy and of the status quo.

Equally ringingly he pronounced himself to be happy to be standing with the rest of UKIP in the battle for freedom and for real political change. Only UKIP, he added, can deliver them. He was proud to be on the road to freedom. Needless to say, he got a standing ovation.

Plans for the day

Actually, I am running a little late not least because the internet connection is slower than it ought to be. But I plan to go to Milton Keynes and try my hand at some live-blogging from the UKIP Spring Conference. Might work or it might not be interesting enough.

In the meantime, let me call my readers' attention to this report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee: Press standards, privacy and libel. I am reading it and there will be a full posting on the subject. However, I found this very paragraph from the Summary of particular interest:
We discuss the damage 'libel tourists' have caused to the UK's reputation as a country which protects free speech and freedom of expression, especially in the United States, where a number of states have enacted legislation to protect their citizens from the enforcement of libel settlements made in foreign jurisdictions. We also comment on bills currently before the US Congress which are designed to afford similar protections. We conclude that it is a humiliation for our system that the US legislators should feel the need to take steps to protect freedom of speech from what are seen as unreasonable incursions by our courts. We note that neither the Lord Chancellor nor his officials have sought to discuss the matter with their US counterparts, and urge that such discussions should take place as soon as possible. We further suggest that, in cases where the UK is not the primary domicile or place of business of the claimant or defendant, the claimant should face additional hurdles before being allowed to bring a case.
I am looking forward to reading why the Committee thinks that it is "a humiliation for our system that the US legislators should feel the need to take steps to protect freedom of speech from what are seen as unreasonable incursions by our courts". The reference, I assume, is to the various states passing what is known as Rachel's Law after Rachel Ehrenfeld who started the process when an English libel court found against her for some well documented statements she made in a book that was not even published in this country after her "victim", who does not live in this country, sued. (Full disclosure: Rachel is a good friend and I have followed the case here and on EUReferendum in some detail.)

As I pointed out recently, the Lord Chancellor has set up a Working Group to examine this country's libel laws and to suggest possible reforms. Of course, nothing much has been heard of it since that statement and it is, probably, time to ask a few questions about the progress of the examination.

Meanwhile, other countries might well decide to adopt their version of Rachel's Law. A loyal reader of this blog drew my attention to this piece on EUObserver: Denmark wants Brussels to stop UK Mohammed cartoon lawsuit.

This is not, as our friends on the other side of the Pond, the right way to go about it. For one thing, it consolidates the position of the European Commission as a body that can overrule legal cases and legal processes within member states, hardly a satisfactory position if you believe in an independent judiciary. For another, it is unlikely to work as the Commission tends to believe in legal and political integration at the strongest level.

If the Danish Minister of Justice really does believe that:
But it would be taking it to the extreme if a UK court could rule against the Danish media and then require compensation and court costs to be paid
then Denmark had better start thinking of its own version of Rachel's Law. I am sure Dr Ehrenfeld would agree to be a consultant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interesting data

This was called to my attention by Ian Milne, quondam editor of Eurofacts, and the man who probably knows more than anybody about the fiscal side of our membership of the EU. When I say anybody, I include all politicians and journalists.

The figures are on pp 130 -132 of the 2009 Pink Book. "These figures," - says Ian - "include payments & receipts to & from not just the EU Budget, by & to HM Treasury, but other payments/receipts by other UK ministries (e.g. DIFID) & by private-sector or quasi private-sector bodies."

So here they are for the year 2008:

In £ billion:

We paid gross: 16.4
We received back: 9.8
Our Net contribution: 6.6

In my opinion we should not be looking at net contribution but at gross, anyway. After all, when we pay our taxes we do not say "yes, I paid this much but this much was spent on the NHS or whatever so I need to reckon net amounts only".

As Ian also helpfully reminds us, £16.4 billion divided by 365 means that we pay £45.25 million every day. (To be fair, 2008 was a Leap Year but to be also fair, the figures for 2009 and 2010 will be higher.)

Interview with Nigel Farage in English

With Jerome di Costanzo's permission (and, I hope, Nigel Farage's) this blog is carrying the English language version of that interview.

Nigel Farage MEP, former Leader of UKIP and a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in Buckingham, interviewed by Jerome di Costanzo

Jerome di Costanzo - You have been condemned by the EU parliament to pay 3000 euro and apologise after your tirade against Van Rompuy. Is this the price of free speech in Brussels?

Nigel Farage - Exactly the description I used myself. Very apposite I thought. Comments of the sort I made are commonplace in real parliaments, where passions run high because real decisions are being made. The EU's "parliament", on the other hand, is a rubber-stamp for a faceless bureaucracy. It's not supposed to have its own opinions, let alone to be passionate about them.

JdC - What is your analysis of the after-Lisbon E.U? Is the Lisbon treaty already a total failure?

NF - Success and failure are highly subjective. If success means carte blanche for the members of the EU's élite to do whatever they like, in future, at the expense of the EU's formerly sovereign electorates, then, yes, they have succeeded. Don't let those minor squabbles between the institutions fool you! The EU-imperium has been launched and is stealthily building up steam.

However, from my point of view also, the Lisbon Treaty is a success, because it has demonstrated, more clearly than ever, that the EU's élite despises democracy and suffers from an incurable addiction to power. Some of the EU's most loyal supporters were appalled at the way it was introduced, if not (as they should also have been) by its content.

From every other point of view, the Lisbon Treaty is the worst failure - of political accountability, judicial process, constitutional propriety and governmental honesty - which I have ever had the misfortune to witness.

JdC - Would you say it is dangerous for democracy and the people and, if so, why?

NF - Yes, of course. It provides for ever more policy-areas to be transferred to majority-voting, in the EU-Council, and any remaining vetoes to be scrapped without further treaties. It gives the EU "legal personality", which allows it to become a state, in its own right, usurp the right to diplomatic representation worldwide, field an army and engage in conflicts. It allows the EU to promulgate, and enforce, its own legal code, within, the EU-countries, appoint its own Public Prosecutor, deploy its own Gendarmerie .... All of this means that elections, within EU-states have become even more meaningless than they were before.

JdC - What would your propositions be for changing this situation?

NF - Elections must be made meaningful, if we are to avoid being trapped in a kind of neo-feudal tyranny. This means unseating the pro-EU parties, which are indirectly funded with tax-payers money, and protected by the media (state and private) which are also in the EU's pocket. The extent of the EU's bribery of professional associations, trade unions, academic institutions, churches, charities and pressure groups, is staggering and must be exposed. The EU can then be kicked out of country after country, until we are able to establish a free association of sovereign, democratic electorates. I see no other way of escaping the horrible fate which the EU has designed for us.

JdC - As with the violent reactions against Vaclav Klaus and you now, do you feel that the E.U looks down on anyone who is an opponent of the project? Is it a sign of totalitarianism?

NF - Absolutely!

JdC - UKIP isn’t just a party about Europe, you have recently taken a position on banning the Burka in Britain. Surely that is contrary to the politics of religious tolerance of your country?

NF - Wearing the burkha is not a religious requirement of Islam, but a custom imported from the more backward regions of some Muslim countries. It is intended to be divisive - in terms of gender and ethnicity - and promotes division in society. A senior Muslim cleric said this, only last week, and suggested issuing a fatwa against it.

JdC - What do you think about the result of the Swiss “votation” on minarets?

NF - I applaud it, if only because it is one of the few genuinely democratic decisions, which have been made, in Europe, for years. The public was concerned about a proliferation of minarets. It didn't want this. It voted against it. If the public does not start using its vote, in this way, in more important issues - such as its own right of self-determination - then it will be enslaved. This vote was a good start, but only a beginning.

JdC - In this context what is the difference between the BNP propositions and yours?

NF - The BNP is an exclusive, authoritarian party, which would happily embrace the EU if it could dominate it. UKIP is an inclusive, libertarian party, which will not tolerate undue influences on democracy from whatever quarter. There is no affinity at all between these parties.

JdC - You consider yourself a real liberal-conservative. What do you think of the American “Tea party” movement, which also doesn’t want a “big government”?

NF - From what I have heard of it, I am greatly in favour of it: "no taxation without representation" was the battle cry of the original "Boston Tea Party", and it is ours, in the anti-democratic EU of today.

JdC - From the Battle of Blenheim to the fall of the iron curtain, British European policy has been to preserve the continent from totalitarianism and absolutism. William Pitt the Younger explained this tendency in his quote "Europe will not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example." Are you ready to endorse this historic vocation again?

NF - What else can we do? Moreover, with the help, as always, of our friends on the continent, I think we shall succeed yet again in this endeavour.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Mahalia, the new cat. Called after Mahalia Jackson because she has a loud and melodic purr.

It is all soooo boring

There was some day jobbing to do, so the Boss over on EUReferendum managed to fisk Lord Pearson's article in the Daily Express on UKIP policies before I got anywhere near it. The article is well worth reading as it sets out (mostly) the real political issues in this country, few if any of which are raised by the main parties who seem determined to pretend that the strange Punch and Judy show that passes for electoral politics in this country is all there is. (Yes, I know there is a third party but it is almost impossible to grasp what, if anything, the Lib-Dims are campaigning about.)

Lord Pearson's main point and conclusion is entirely accurate and anyone who really cares about the future of Britain, should pay attention whether they decide to follow his lordship's advice about voting or not:
This election should be about who governs Britain. Should it be politicians elected by the people of Britain? Politicians whom we can fire if they do not perform or prove themselves corrupt and dishonest? Or should it be run by ranks of ­foreign bureaucrats, unelected, unaccountable and immovable? Why shouldn’t it be the people themselves who have the power to govern? To ask the question is to answer it. To answer it is to vote UKIP.
There are one or two problems there, though. The Boss points to an important one:
Sadly, with such emphasis on immigration, many other relevant issues are given short shrift. And there is no specific mention of climate change - only a passing nod at energy policy, with a reference to "the looming energy crisis". Environmental policy is dictated by Eurocrats, we are told.
Mass immigration is an issue but it cannot be expressed in numbers only. Migration, after all, is a normal human instinct and only people who have no imagination or enterprise resent its occurrence. But there are problems around the fact that the government does not give accurate numbers or any idea as to who actually is entering this country; there are problems around welfare, which needs to be reformed in any case; there are problems around the fact that the EU is in control of immigration and, therefore, promises by both parties are worth nothing. The other problems, to do with cultural clashes and attempts to impose Sharia law have much to do with people who are already here and have been here for two or three generations.

Lord Pearson is right - the subject needs to be discussed fully and fairly; but the Boss is right as well - there are other issues and climate change is one of them.

My other complaint about that last paragraph is the emphasis on foreign bureaucrats. As both the Boss and I have written on many occasions, many of those bureaucrats are British and, in any case, the way the EU is structured, its laws are implemented as national legislation. One must make allowances for the fact that this article was written for the readers of the Daily Express. They do not, on the whole, do nuance.

Well, who does govern Britain? How is the EU structured? Can we find this out from the media, new or traditional? Certainly not the traditional, as we read in the Economist:
THE European Union press pack is in free fall. In 2005, the year I arrived in Brussels, there were more than 1,300 reporters with press badges issued by the European Commission: bright yellow photo ID passes marked with a prominent red P for Press to make sure we can be seen from afar as we skulk in the corridors of power. Back then, I remember being told (endlessly) that in numbers the Brussels press corps was bigger than the Washingon press pack, which I had just left. This year (hat tip my colleague Jean Quatremer), just 752 journalists hold EU accreditation. Almost 200 have left in the last year.
Charlemagne then discusses the reasons, coming to the conclusion that mostly they are economic.

However, he also thinks that there is a problem with the EU not being terribly popular.
It is mostly economic pressures that are shrinking the Brussels press corps. But there is a political problem too, as Jean Quatremer and others admit. The malaise gripping Brussels has its echo in a growing sense that the EU project is just not where the action is.

That is true of countries where the EU is rather popular still, such as the ex-communist countries of east and central Europe. With the heady drama of accession and entry now fading into familiarity, correspondents from eastern Europe were already finding it harder to get into the paper before the economic recession hit.

It is also true of Eurosceptic countries, like Britain. When I arrived in Brussels, six daily newspapers from Britain had staff correspondents in town. Now it is three. Part of it is hostility to the EU: to quote one foreign editor, talking of one of his paper's most senior figures: "xxx hates the EU so much he never wants to read about it." Part of it is that too many British newspapers have spent the last five years or so chasing each other downmarket, leaving little room for foreign news that might require readers to engage their brains and think about stories that are important but unsexy, or require empathasing with foreigners (as opposed to gawking at them or gossiping about them). In fact, I think the true situation of British foreign reporting is even worse than it looks: there are still lots of correspondents in all sorts of posts, like Brussels, Paris or Rome, so it all looks reasonably healthy. But ask those same correspondents what sort of political stories they get to write: too often they most easily make the paper with stories about Nicolas Sarkozy's height, Silvio Berlusconi's love life, or how much Catherine Ashton is paid.
There is no question about it: the EU is unspeakably dull; nor can we doubt that editors of newspapers assume that their readers are more interested in politicians' private lives than in the political decisions they make (though the only response to the dumbing down has been an even greater shrinking of the readership).

What all this misses is that the EU is not foreign news and its doings are vitally important precisely for the reasons Lord Pearson set out in his article: it is where the real government is. A large part of the electorate has begun to understand this, which accounts for the general antipathy towards the main political parties one encounters everywhere. There just is no real reason for voting for any of them and bringing Samantha Cameron or Sarah Brown into the public arena is not going to change that.

With the media resigning its responsibility to tell the people what is really going on, it is left to the blogosphere. Here, too, we run into a problem. How many blogs apart from EUReferendum and this one cover the EU at all or consider its doings to be important? There are a few and with various UKIP activists and PPCs setting up their own blogs of varying quality there will be more. But the main political blogs leave the subject severely alone, knowing little about it and not wanting to get involved in understanding.

It is not really surprising that there is a wide-spread feeling of a large vacuum at the centre of the British political process.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why does this not surprise me?

A curious little item on about Norway where the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion (yes, I'd laugh if we did not have similar institutions here) nominated as the 2009 Role Model of the Year a certain Mahdi Hassan "for his tireless work on behalf on indigent local youths". Very admirable, indeed, though one suspects that getting jobs might help some of those local youths out of their indigence. Let that pass.

A far bigger problems is Mahdi Hassan's attitude to homosexuals. According to Norwegian journalist Rita Karlsen
But now comes the news that Hassan isn’t working hard to include everybody. As early as last summer, Hassan told the newspaper Arbeidets Rett that he wants a ban on homosexuality, based on the Koran: “Homosexuality is prohibited in the Koran, and I believe in my religion.”

Now Arbeidets Rett has asked Hassan if that is still his opinion, and it is. The head of the Norwegian LGBT Association, Karen Pinholt, doesn’t thinks this man is a good role model: “It appears as if the Ministry of Inclusion has forgotten to include gay people here.”
He is, of course, allowed to hold his opinions but to have him as a Role Model of the Year in a country that prides itself on its tolerance and open-mindedness seems a little odd. Surely, the Left would have protested as soon as news of this came out.

Not so but far otherwise:
But the head of the Socialist Left Party in Tynset, Stein Petter Løkken, feels that it is just fine that Hassan would like to see homosexuality forbidden: “There is freedom of speech in Norway and in the Tynset Socialist Left Party we consider it unproblematic that Mahdi is opposed in principle to homosexuality,” Løkken told Arbeidets Rett. “It is in accordance with his religion.”
One cannot help wondering whether Mr Løkken's attitude would be the same if it had been a Christian Minister who had expressed those views. Intyriguingly, Mahdi Hassan's views on the position of women is not being quoted. Can't help wondering what that might be.

Friday, March 12, 2010

For readers of French

Here is an interview with Nigel Farage in Ring, a French-language website. The interviewer is Jerome di Costanzo, a writer and journalist of multi-European origins who lives in Yorkshire and revels in the English countryside. An English version is due soon and I shall link to it as soon as it is out.

The first comment by a reader is wryly amusing though not, perhaps, for the poor commenter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are they all in this charade?

No way am I going to write about the Sarkozys' personal life. Or lives. Who cares? However, this story, sent to me by a blog reader is off interest. According to the Guardian President Sarkozy intends to warn the Boy-King of the Conservative Party about European defence. Yes, indeed, I hear you: what European defence? If NATO does collapse, thanks to the EU's shenanigans, we shall be left with precious little defence so let us hope nobody takes offence at us.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, is to deliver a firm warning to David Cameron that the Conservatives risk forfeiting vital French co-operation on energy, defence and the economy if they refuse to engage over the future of Europe.

In an attempt to lure the Conservatives into a friendlier stance, Sarkozy may be willing to offer concessions over the future of the European defence agency, seen by the party as the incubator for a future European defence force.

Sarkozy is due to meet Cameron on Friday after a working lunch with Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Sarkozy has developed close relations with Brown.

The EDA was set up in 2004 to develop European military capability and armament co-operation.
On the subject of the EDA and its surreptitious activity the best person to read is the Boss on EUReferendum. He has written a great deal and there is no need for me to copy any of it.

There are, however, other issues here. In the first place, it is of interest that President Sarkozy thinks it is his job to dictate policy to the possible next government of the United Kingdom. But then, the truth is that it is his job. He is part of this country's government as are all the other 25 members of the European Council. So David Cameron had better listen.

A more interesting question is why does President Sarkozy think it is necessary to warn the Conservatives. Surely he does not think that they are about to turn eurosceptic or try to work for Britain's interests or, even, offer a referendum on anything to do with that noxious organization, the European Union. He obviously has not been in communication with the Shadow Foreign Secretary (and who can blame him for that) who said the following (the Guardian leads on the report and the article gets some incredibly stupid and ignorant responses but then what can you expect from Guardianistas):
The fourth theme of Conservative Foreign policy is the effective reform, use and development of international institutions and here we must start in our immediate neighbourhood.

The European Union is obviously an institution of enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy. The Conservative Party has seldom shied away from frank criticism when we have thought the EU collectively has been getting things wrong but we have equally been the foremost champions of the EU's greatest achievements: the Single Market and enlargement.

If we win the coming general election, it is our firm intention that a Conservative government will be active and activist in the European Union from day one, energetically engaging with our partners. We will be highly active in furthering the Single Market, in promoting European co-operation on the environment and climate change, on energy security, on pressing for freer and fairer global trade that will benefit not just the peoples of Europe but the world's poorest who have not enjoyed the gains of globalisation.

We will uphold our conviction that the widening of the European Union, including to Turkey, is in Europe's collective interest.

The EU's future 2020 strategy on jobs and growth will, if we get it right, have an important contribution to enhancing Europe's competitiveness. The European Conservatives and Reformists Group's submission on the Strategy is a valuable contribution to the debate.
You have to scroll a fair way down in the speech to find this, so it is interesting that the Guardian picked up on that. Presumably they want more votes to go to UKIP.

The point is that it is all the same old blah: co-operation, heart of Europe, reform from within, blah, blah. At the same time, Mr Hague's earlier comments about Britain's relationship with other countries such as the United States, Australia, Russia and China (to pick some at random, which he seems to have done) indicate that he still does not understand what being in the European Union is all about. Well, let us hope, President Sarkozy can set him right.

It must be the water they drink

Do politicians drink water? Is there some special water that is sent round just to politicians, for the attention of? That is what it looks like, I must say.

Take the Conservative Party and its leader the Boy-King (well, OK, I'll take him temporarily). It is perfectly obvious to all and sundry that his personal popularity started plummeting around last November when he reneged on his "cast-iron guarantee" for a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. Yet, all one hears from the self-same Boy-King, his acolytes (of whom there are ever fewer) and other Conservative activists is the same old mantra: the Lisbon Treaty does not matter, people don't care about Europe (I'll blog Hague's speech separately), we are the party to renew faith in politicians' honesty (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Are they listening to themselves?

Similarly, it is obvious to all and sundry that personal attacks on Gordon Brown not only do not work but are, actually, counter-productive. The electorate will listen to attacks on his record as Chancellor or as Prime Minister but finds attacks on him as a man distasteful. It takes some kind of a political genius to make Gordon Brown an object of sympathy but the Conservative strategists have managed it. And yet they continue to attack him manners, his clothes, his behaviour, even his looks. Are they listening to themselves?

It seems that things are no different over the Pond (as if we didn't know). Here is a posting from Glenn Reynolds, which he entitles A CRACK SUICIDE SQUAD FROM THE JUDEAN PEOPLE’S FRONT. He links to an article on Hot Air, which tells us:
Barack Obama hits the campaign trail again this month in support of a tremendously unpopular ObamaCare bill — and his numbers have started nose-diving again.
Any connection there, one wonders. Apparently, yes or, at least, maybe. Another link to Riehl indicates that Obama's arrogance is seen as the problem. In other words, maybe he ought not assume that if HE hits the trail all will be well because that has been counter-productive so far. Apparently, this simple equation has not penetrated the consciousness of Obama's gifted strategists.

It must be the water.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"A chaotic court case"

I bet it was chaotic. On the one hand you have the Russian oligarch and perpetual thorn in President Prime Minister Putin's side, Boris Berezovsky and on the other a Russian TV and Radio Company that had broadcast a programme in which Berezovsky was accused of commissioning the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. The TV company refused to take part and the man who had made the accusation was left to defend his own case. As against that, we had the Russian Prosecutor's office trying to interfere though they had no standing in the case.
The two-week trial was almost anarchic at times as officials from the Russian prosecutors' office repeatedly intervened despite not being party to proceedings. So obvious was their intention that when one of their mobile phones went off in court one day, Browne quipped: "That must be Mr Putin on the line."

At least three Russian prosecutors were in court each day to assist Vladimir Terluk, the man accused of giving the contentious interview about Berezovsky's bogus asylum claim. They whispered in Terluk's ear, passed him notes and smirked or laughed as the evidence was heard.

At one point they asked for the opportunity to cross-examine Berezovsky. "I thought that a step too far," said Eady in his judgment.

Terluk, a Kazakh who came to the UK to seek asylum in 1999, had been left to defend the libel action alone and without a lawyer after the Russian Television and Radio Company refused to take part.

He denied being "Pyotr", the man in the offending broadcast, yet maintained that everything Pyotr said was true, including "that [Berezovsky's] associates tried to organised the falsification of the assassination plot with the purpose of obtaining refugee status by Mr Berezovsky and his associates … and the late Mr Litvinenko himself was the one who was trying actively to implement that falsification".
Unsurprisingly, Berezovsky has won his case.

For those who would like a clear description of a court case that involves Russians at loggerheads with each other and everyone else, let me recommend a brilliant novel: A Bullet in the Ballet by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, the quintessential work of fiction (some think a documentary) for all those who want to know about Russia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"We must not be afraid of speaking up for freedom"

March 5 is an important day in the history of freedom and its slow, very slow spread across the world: it is the anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 and, although the Soviet Union struggled on for some decades, getting itself more and more bogged down in economic stagnation and the contradictions of its own ideology, his death did signal the beginning of the inevitable end. More immediately, his death began the process of release. Tens, hundreds of thousands of prisoners who had been kept in unspeakable conditions in camps, came home to their families. This did not happen as soon as he died. In fact, the first developments were uprisings in the camps, described by numerous writers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, the man I have mentioned in a previous posting, Tim Tzouliadis. The uprisings were put down with extraordinary brutality; people were still murdered and tortured and some never left the camps or not for many years after this date. But the thaw had begun. Indeed, that is how Russians refer to the period immediately after Stalin’s death: the thaw.

So, in a sense, it is right and proper that a man who is fighting what he calls a new totalitarian ideology and is, in many ways, suffering for his courage, should have finally managed to show his film Fitna, address a group of parliamentarians and their staff as well as hold a full press conference on March 5.

Readers of this blog will recall that Geert Wilders, the leader of what may well be after the coming election, the largest party in the Netherlands, was refused entry into the country by the egregious Jacqui Smith, then Home Secretary, on the grounds that other people might protest against his visit and that may lead to violence. Since then the decision was overthrown by an Appeal Court, Geert Wilders came once and was met by a demonstration of bearded freedom-loving individuals who assured us that they had our best interests at heart and to make sure that those best interests were served, they would decapitate us all if we did not submit to their ideas. All that, naturally enough, proved that they did not represent a totalitarian ideology and they were ready to murder anyone who suggested otherwise.

Curiously enough, they were not there on Friday. Instead, the police had to deal with something like a hundred (it was hard to tell as they were corralled on Millbank, just outside the garden, which boasts The Burghers of Calais as well as Mrs Pankhurst’s statue) rent-a-mob creatures who had clearly not been told against whom they were supposed to demonstrate. Whatever happened to Lord Ahmed’s threatened 10,000 warriors? Not one put in an appearance.

I cannot, in all honesty, say that Fitna is the best film I have ever seen, not even the best propaganda film that has ever hove into view in my life. (I have high standards of propaganda and have even written off Richard III, the first Shakespeare play I ever considered to be absolutely wonderful at the age of 10 and undoubtedly Tudor propaganda.) It is, nevertheless, a powerful work and I can quite understand that it has displeased many a freedom-loving individual who does not like attention being drawn to such matters as threats of wholesale slaughter, bombs going off, aeroplanes flying into buildings, women being murdered for going out without their faces being covered and other suchlike utterly unimportant matters.

The links between sundry texts in the Koran, rabid pronouncements by various Imams and actual acts by those who claim that they are committing atrocities in the name of Allah (whether Allah agrees with that or not) do create a disturbing whole, which, coupled with the obstinate reluctance by main-stream politicians and media to discuss undoubtedly serious problems in Europe, particularly Western Europe, makes it important that we should pay attention and, at the very least, talk about what is going on.

After all, as Lord Pearson of Rannoch pointed out to some not altogether friendly journalists at the subsequent press conference, there is a reason why Geert Wilders, an elected member of the Dutch parliament, leader of one of the main parties in that country, cannot walk the streets of any Dutch city (or of any British city, for that matter) freely; he has to be guarded all the time.

There is a reason why our own media, so proud, allegedly, of its history of struggling for freedom, refused to publish those Danish cartoons, whose authors are still in hiding. One of them was recently attacked and barely escaped with his life.

There is a reason why Oriana Fallaci had to live out the last years of her life in the United States, unable to return to Italy. There is a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is permanently guarded. I could go on but my readers must have got the point. Lord Pearson repeated several times that the violence tends to flow from one direction and even the most hostile journalist could merely say that it was unwise to invite someone like Mr Wilders if the intention to talk to “moderate Muslims” was genuine. They would not come to a meeting if he was present. But why not? – asked Lord Pearson. That is precisely what they should do. Answer came there none.

Nevertheless, Mr Wilders’s presence in London was a triumph for freedom of speech as he, Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox, who chaired the press conference, pointed out. He proclaimed himself to be particularly pleased to be able to speak freely in what he, erroneously, called the Mother of Parliaments (it’s England that was described thus) and referred with some emotion to the time when the Dutch, living under Nazi occupation, tuned to the BBC that proclaimed the word of hope and liberty (those were the days). People risked their lives to hear the words: “This is London”. What, Mr Wilders asked rhetorically, will be heard in fifty years’ time? This is London or This is Londonistan?

It is easy with all the media hullabaloo and the personal attacks on Mr Wilders (for instance here and here) to miss what it is he is saying and has been saying for some time. Let us try to sum it up.

His main argument is that he does not consider Islam, certainly not in the form it is propagated by a number of Imams, to be a religion like others, whether Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or such secular religions as Humanism. Islamism, which is what really meant here, is a totalitarian ideology and Mr Wilders could back that argument up by quotations from the Koran but, more importantly, fiery statements by various Islamic religious leaders. Totalitarian ideologies have to be defeated for us to live in freedom; just as Nazism and Communism were defeated (in Europe, anyway), so we must fight against Islamism in order to protect our culture and our values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights, an open society.

None of this is particularly strange or controversial. Even those on the left and the right who think Mr Wilders is an appalling little man who says nasty things about poor persecuted minorities, cannot argue with those points thought they sometimes pretend that these are not values of any importance (except for them). Instead, they prefer not to quote him or to argue with him but to attack him personally.

Mr Wilders’s related point is the need to affirm our values proudly. We must not be afraid of speaking up for freedom, he repeated several times and the truth is that he has shown the way.

Following from that Mr Wilders would like to see the Koran banned in the Netherlands. This is something many of us do not agree with, as Lord Pearson explained to the assembled hacks. Needless to say, a blog called Your Freedom and Ours cannot lend support to such an idea. Mr Wilders’s argument is that as long as Mein Kampf is banned (something the left, misguidedly, agrees with) the Koran should be as well, since many of the ideas it produces are the same. The answer to that is very simple: Mein Kampf should not be banned either. Not now, not in any country, not after all these years. In fact, Germany seems to be coming round to that point of view. (My suggestion would be to force all would-be neo-Nazis to read that turgid text and then ask whether they still wanted to follow those ideas.)

Mr Wilders and his Freedom Party are in an interesting electoral position. They did very well in the recent local elections coming first in and second in the Hague. There is a strong possibility that they will be the largest party after the June election caused by the collapse of the government over the question of whether to continue the deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Mr Wilders’s view is quite interesting. He and his party supported the original deployment and continue to support the fight against terrorism and Islamic totalitarianism, wherever that fight may be. However, he feels that the Dutch, a small nation, have already done more than their fair share and it is time for other NATO countries to shoulder the burden. He did not explain whom exactly he had in mind since Britain, Denmark, Poland and other East European countries are there with as much strength as they can muster.

The system in the Netherlands is such that coalition governments are inevitable and Mr Wilders described himself as a pragmatic politician. His party will not join any grouping, preferring to remain independent but if they are the largest party they will have to try to form a coalition government. It is highly probable that other parties will refuse to join them, thus alienating voters even more. That does not bother Mr Wilders. He is prepared for a situation in which the largest party will be in opposition, watching the coalition government as it tears itself apart.

What are Mr Wilders’s policies? It’s worth asking that question since you will never find out the answer from the main-stream media whose denizens consider the state of Mr Wilders’s hair far more important.

He wants a complete moratorium on immigration from Islamic countries, not because he dislikes the people but because he considers the ideology inimical to what he sees as European (not European Union) values: Judeo-Christianity and Humanism. Mr Wilders is a strong opponent of cultural relativism and considers that the eradication of that pernicious attitude is of the utmost importance. Who can argue with that? Certainly not the people who proclaim the superiority of Islam and of Sharia law. They do not exactly believe in cultural relativism (or open-mindedness).

His party would crack down on crime, no matter where it comes from. It would appear that the problems the Netherlands face are not dissimilar from our own.

What of the Muslim immigrants already in place? Simple, says Mr Wilders. They have a choice: either they conform to our very liberal standards or they leave. That let’s face it, might cause problems. Those who were not born in the Netherlands can be said to have no right to stay there and try to undermine the country and society. But what of those who were born there? Mr Wilders talked of dual citizenship and other suchlike matters but it is obvious that there will be difficulties with those who are second generation immigrants and ought to be Dutch Muslims but prefer to see themselves as Muslims who are out to subvert Holland. That, as Mr Wilders pointed out, applies only to a minority of Muslims, which is true in Britain as well but, so far, only individuals (and very brave they are, too) have accepted the situation and have turned against Islamism. Mr Wilders’s party intends to put surveillance on all the mosques (I suspect quite a lot of that in place already) and close down madrassahs. Will they close down all Muslim schools, even if they accept the curriculum others teach? Will they even be Muslim schools if they accept that curriculum and the duty to teach girls and boys equally? There are many problems here but the general outline is clear. The question is, will the Freedom Party’s opponents argue these matters openly. If they will not, where will the vote go?

On some matters, as Mr Wilders pointed out, his party tends to be somewhat leftish. For example, they intend to put more money into the health service. On others, they are on the right: they believe in smaller government and lower taxes (no, I am not sure either if they have worked their figures out properly). In particular, they want to cut back on child benefit, intending to give it only for the first two children. This, too, is perceived as an attack on the Muslim families as they tend to be larger and claim far more benefits.

Asked about Turkey, Mr Wilders accepted that she is a very good neighbour, being among others, a strong and active member of NATO. However, a good neighbour is not necessarily part of the family. His party would oppose Turkey’s membership of the EU for two very good reasons. Firstly, there is the question of Islamic immigration that cannot be controlled once Turkey is a member state. The second point is a very astute one and had clearly not occurred to any of our own politicians or political analysts. The EU demands that member states should place armed forces under the control of an elected government. In Turkey, however, the army is the guardian of the Kemalist secular politics and the strongest bulwark against Islamism. Therefore, the usual rules cannot apply to her.

If Turkey becomes a member of the EU or if there is any likelihood of it, Mr Wilders will campaign for the Netherlands to leave. That strikes me as an excellent argument for Turkey’s membership as, otherwise, Mr Wilders believes in the EU being radically reformed. This, as Lord Pearson explained to the assembled hacks, is a point of some disagreement between his party and UKIP. It was not clear whether the hacks understood that.

In general, there was an attempt to bring the whole session round to UKIP, despite the fact that it was chaired by Baroness Cox, and independent peer. But bless those little hacks, their minds cannot accommodate too many ideas all at once.

So we come to the question of the legal case against Geert Wilder. As he pointed out, this is a political trial. He is, undoubtedly, being tried for his opinions. Furthermore, he is not allowed to produce adequate defence. Of the eighteen experts on the subject, whose names he submitted to the court, fifteen were rejected for no very good reason at all. The remaining three will not be allowed to give their evidence in public but behind closed doors. It is a sad day for European history when the Netherlands, one of the first countries to accept the notions of free speech and religious tolerance decides to put its politicians on trial for their opinions and to dispense with the notions of free, fair and open.