Friday, April 30, 2010

Only six more days to go - Part 1

It is rather a joyous thought that this election, the dullest and least political of my memory (and being a hereditary political geek I can remember quite a long way back) has entered its final week. It must now be everybody's aim to tell as many people as possible that there is not much to choose between the three main parties or their acolytes and enumerate all the lies they tell. That applies to the party formerly known as Conservative in particular, since they and their intrepid leader, the Boy-King, are positioning themselves as the Eurosceptic party in this election. The one that is never going to upset the colleagues in Brussels. That Eurosceptic party.

I understand that, having produced a list of people who are having a good election, Iain Dale is now looking for suggestions as to names of those who are having a bad one. It seems to me that he is going to be hard pushed to have only ten on that list. More to the point, the possibilities of disasters in the last six days are beyond computation; it is, therefore, somewhat early to start counting who has had a bad election. But, thirdly, I can nominate the Boy-King straight away, whether the Tories win or not.

This was going to be the election, the Conservatives could not lose. The very fact that we are discussing that possibility is an indication that something went horribly wrong and that something was the Boy-King and his team.

In the meantime, I had another e-mail from the Boy-King. We are still on very chummy terms and he is reminding me that he had asked me to join his government. Sadly, he seems to have had not comment from Mr Barroso which means that the offer can be regarded as temporary only. In the meantime, he is offering me a contract. However, there is no mention of such important matters as emoluments, expenses or troughs in the contract so I cannot take it very seriously.
A contract between the Conservative Party and Helen Szamuely

We go into the general election on 6 May with trust in politics and politicians at an all-time low. And I can understand why: the years of broken promises, the expenses scandal, the feeling that politicians have become too remote from the people -they've all taken their toll. That's why I'm making this contract with you.

For too long, you've been lied to by politicians saying they can sort out all your problems. But it doesn't work like that. Real change is not just about what the government does. Real change only comes when we understand that we are all in this together; that we all have a responsibility to help make our country better.

This contract sets out my side of the bargain: the things I want to do to change Britain. But it also makes clear that I cannot do it on my own. We will only get our economy moving, mend our broken society and reform our rotten political system if we all get involved, take responsibility, and work together.

So this is our contract with you. I want you to read it and - if we win the election - use it to hold us to account. If we don't deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years' time.

We will change politics

Our political system needs to change. Politicians must be made more accountable, and we must take power away from Westminster and put it in the hands of people - individuals, families and neighbourhoods.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Give you the right to sack your MP, so you don't have to wait for an election to get rid of politicians who are guilty of misconduct.

2. Cut the number of MPs by ten per cent, and cut the subsidies and perks for politicians.

3. Cut ministers' pay by five per cent and freeze it for five years.

4. Give local communities the power to take charge of the local planning system and vote on excessive council tax rises.

5. Make government transparent, publishing every item of government spending over £25,000, all government contracts, and all local council spending over £500.

We will change the economy

Gordon Brown's economic incompetence has doubled the national debt, given us record youth unemployment, and widened the gap between rich and poor. Unemployment is still rising, and this year we will spend more on debt interest than on schools. We need to get our economy moving.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Cut wasteful government spending so we can stop Labour's jobs tax, which would kill the recovery.

2. Act now on the national debt, so we can keep mortgage rates lower for longer.

3. Reduce emissions and build a greener economy, with thousands of new jobs in green industries and advanced manufacturing.

4. Get Britain working by giving unemployed people support to get work, creating 400,000 new apprenticeships and training places over two years, and cutting benefits for those who refuse work.

5. Control immigration, reducing it to the levels of the 1990s - meaning tens of thousands a year, instead of the hundreds of thousands a year under Labour.

We will change society

We face big social problems in this country: family breakdown, educational failure, crime and deep poverty. Labour's big government has failed; we will help build a Big Society where everyone plays their part in mending our broken society.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Increase spending on health every year, while cutting waste in the NHS, so that more goes to nurses and doctors on the frontline, and make sure you get access to the cancer drugs you need.

2. Support families, by giving married couples and civil partners a tax break, giving more people the right to request flexible working and helping young families with extra Sure Start health visitors.

3. Raise standards in schools, by giving teachers the power to restore discipline and by giving parents, charities and voluntary groups the power to start new smaller schools.

4. Increase the basic state pension, by relinking it to earnings, and protect the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel and other key benefits for older people.

5. Fight back against crime, cut paperwork to get police officers on the street, and make sure criminals serve the sentence given to them in court.

6. Create National Citizen Service for every 16 year old, to help bring the country together.
The trouble with all these offers is that they make very little logical sense. To start with, I cannot see how they can change politics or, indeed, anything else without at least thinking about how to tackle the problem of Britain being in the European union and the fact that a very large proportion (let's not get into the debate of what proportion but even the Boy-King once acknowledged that it was more than half) of the legislation comes from Brussels and cannot be rejected by Parliament even if it goes through that august institution.

Among many other things a Conservative (or any other) government will not be able to do is to cap immigration as they cannot stop people who are coming here from any part of the EU, no matter where they may have originated from. So, what price being lied to by politicians?

Changing the economy by spending a great deal of money on all sorts of benefits and non-existent green jobs while promising to cut down the deficit argues a lack of knowledge of basic maths or an assumption that the knowledge is lacking in the electorate. So what price being lied to by politicians?

Changing society seems to consist of throwing yet more money at every problem, getting the state to intervene in everything and creating unnecessary new organizations at the taxpayers' expense instead of reforming the rules that make it so difficult for the boy scouts, girl guides, cadets and other already existing groups to operate. So what price being lied to by politicians?

On balance, I don't think this is the contract for me. Maybe Mr Barroso will come up with something better.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can this really be true?

This comes under that hackneyed headingof "you couldn't make it up". Following up Roger Simon's somewhat belated blog on the subject I found this article in the Daily Mail.

It seems that the Boy-King turned to President Obama's former aide, Anita Dunn, her who named Chairman Mao, possibly the world's biggest mass murderer as well as a degenerate crook, as one of her favourite political philosophers, in order to spruce up his act and his image. As President Obama's support has been plummeting and the outcome of his various political decisions has been disastrous for all concerned, this proves that the Boy-King and his party are not in the slightest interested in what they will do after they win the election next week (if they do). All they are interested is getting there.

However, looking at the date of the article we see that this momentous decision was taken before the first debate. So we all know how successful Ms Dunn has been in making the Boy-King popular. Perhaps, his image is beyond her help.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That deficit

While the political world is convulsed by the most exciting bit of news since Oliver Cromwell disbanded the Long Parliament that had sat too long, namely Gordon Brown saying one thing to a potential voter's face and muttering something else about her once he turned away, I have been sent an interesting summary of what sort of figures we are talking about if we really do want the deficit to shrink.

This comes from Ian Milne, Director of Global Britain, erstwhile editor of eurofacts, and a man who seems to understand millions and billions the way most of us understand tens and hundreds of pounds sterling.

• Four months ago, in January 2010, Global Britain (in Briefing Note No 57: How Much Should Public Spending Shrink ?) estimated that, in order to return UK public finances to sustainability, public spending needed to shrink immediately by £ 100 billion a year compared to its level in 2009/2010.

• Other serious commentators (e.g. Roger Bootle, Trevor Kavanagh) have also come up with that £ 100 billion figure for the level of shrinkage (perhaps combined with increases in taxes) needed. Damien Reece, in his article on the Institute for Fiscal Studies report in the Telegraph’s Business Section of 28th April, plumps for £ 70 billion per year as the “need for a national belt-tightening”.

• As we know, the three main parties are arguing about “savings” (most of them spurious) or tax increases in single-figure billions, for example (Labour) by increasing National Insurance contributions. We have no idea how the three main parties would achieve reductions of the order of magnitude needed - and probably neither do they.

• Given the already high level of UK taxes – 48 % of GDP in 2009/10 – the argument that even higher taxes will damage economic growth is compelling. Yet, all three main parties seem to think that taxes need to rise.

• UKIP is the only party to demonstrate how savings of those magnitudes (from £ 70 billion per year upwards) can be permanently achieved without increasing taxes: by leaving the EU & freeing the UK economy from its £ 120 billion per year EU-caused burden.

• The UKIP plan would not be realisable instantaneously, since leaving the EU, then unravelling the huge amount of EU-derived legislation & regulation embedded in UK law, would take time: at least two years, perhaps four.

• So in practice, on coming to power, a UKIP government would immediately have to implement public spending cuts of the order of £ 100 billion per year, probably for the first two years of its term. Thereafter, as the savings from leaving the EU began to flow through, there would be room to invest in expanding the armed forces, rebuilding our power stations & restoring & increasing our transport networks as set out in UKIP’s manifesto.

Let me make it quite clear: I claim no credit for any of the calculations. They are Mr Milne's but I thought readers of this blog would be interested in them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Birthday to two of the greatest

A reader has alerted me to the fact that yesterday was Ella Fitzgerald's birthday and on Thursday it will be Duke Ellington's. There is only one thing for it - the two of them together peforming that wonderful number, It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

The Right triumphs

Well, errm, no, not in Britain. After all, we do not exactly have a right-wing party, though UKIP has some pretensions to being one. Certainly, it is the only one that gets anywhere near the sort of ideas any self-respecting person on the Right can agree with. The Conservatives are little more than Social-Democrats these days; indeed, some of the Boy-King's ideas make one think that they have moved even further to the Left. And no, the BNP is not a right-wing party but a socialist one of the national rather than international variety. Don't even bother me with that.

The country I am talking about is Hungary. As predicted, FIDESZ, the right-wing party, has secured more than two-thirds of parliamentary seats, which will enable it to form a government that is not a coalition - a first since democratic elections were resumed after the collapse of the Communist system.

Viktor Orban, the incoming Prime Minister (he has been that once before), as usual, resorted to hyperbole:
"Revolution happened today in the polling booths," said Viktor Orban, the country's next prime minister.

"Hungarian people today have ousted the regime of oligarchs who misused their power, and the people have established a new regime, the regime of national unity."
The extreme right-wing party, Jobbik, has acquired 47 seats, with the Socialists coming second with 59 seats.

For the moment the discussion is all about emblems, with the leader of the Jobbik, promising that he will wear the uniform of the Magyar Gárda, banned because of its references to the insignia of the Nyilas (Arrow Cross) Party, the local wartime Nazis.

At the same time Mr Orban is promising many things that he is unlikely to deliver:
Fidesz, which led the governing coalition in 1998-2002, has pledged to reduce bloated national and local government payrolls, simplify the tax system, grant citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries and halve the number of parliamentary deputies.
If ethnic Hungarians (defined to which generation, one wonders) acquire Hungarian citizenship and decide to move to the country there is likely to be a backlash, especially if the economic problems are not sorted first. Mr Orban will have to make a decision as to what comes first.

Oh and he has been making loud statements about not taking orders from the IMF, the EU or even Hungary's own Central Bank. Then again, what he possibly meant was that his government will seek a partnership with all those organizations. It is really quite hard to tell at this stage but at some point Mr Orban will have to stop grandstanding and get down to some hard work.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

They want secularism in Lebanon

Well, some of them do and quite a few, probably, find it safer not to go out on a demonstration that is demanding that the country be run according to secular rules. The BBC says hundreds, the Washington Post says 3,000. Either way, one has to applaud these young people who are ready to defy various authorities to say that they want "civil marriage not civil strife".


South Park, not a TV programme I am very familiar with but then there are precious few that I can be said to be familiar with, has been censored. "Comedy Central altered a controversial episode of "South Park" that featured the Prophet Muhammad out of security concerns for the show's creators." It seems that as soon as a website, any website, that alleges its spokesmanship for some unnamed Islamist jihadists puts up a threat, the media and the entertainment industry, which usually prides itself on being cutting-edge and controversial just rolls over.

Needless to say the best comment is provided by Chris Muir on Day by Day. Enjoy.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Well, it's a nice long word and sounds better than "I am fed up". Readers of this blog will guess what I am fulminating about: the fact that there are still two weeks of this unbelievably (I really would not believe it if I was not living through it) trite, boring and superficial election campaign.

Instead of the second Leaders' Debate that has sent even more people into a catatonic trance we could have had the election yesterday (well, it was Thursday, after all). There will be nothing new or interesting said by any candidate from any party, big or small, between now and May 6. There will certainly be nothing said by any of the main three parties that could even begin to change anybody's mind about the way they intend to vote. They have nothing to say and neither do their acolytes in the media or the blogosphere.

This morning brought me the leaflet of my local UKIP candidate who informed me that it is the only party to vote for because Brussels now decides on our train timetables (a statement that falls considerably short of the truth) and the world has gone mad, which may well be true but remains irrelevant to my voting intentions.

That is, however, of little importance, compared to the idiocy that is being spouted by the various geeks and so-called analysts. I do not think I have lived through an election that has been so little discussed outside the circle of politicians and their hangers-on. In all this time I have overheard just one discussion about what is happening and a few people, knowing that I, too, am a kind of a political geek, have made polite comments to me. Most of those comments seem to have consisted of the fact that they are bored by the whole thing or, as one young lady put it, supremely unenthused.

The more people switch off the process, the more hysterical the media, old and new, gets. According to some, yesterday's uninteresting and unilluminating debate was the most important political event of modern history. There seems to be some division of opinion about who came out best, in itself a sign that there is not a great deal to choose between the three.

Interestingly, the Conservatives, having spent the last few years trying to lassoo the Guardianista vote, are repeating their manoeuvre of last June's European elections that turned out to be completely unsuccessful. It has dawned on them again that there is a large eurosceptic vote out there, which may not go their way. They must try to capture it and, undoubtedly, they will be using Daniel Hannan MEP in their attempts to do so.

At present, their great tactic is to inform us all that in Brussels they are salivating at the thought of Nick Clegg winning as he is one of "them". The truth is, of course, that in Brussels they do not care who will win as nothing much will change.

Ah but David Cameron, as Tim Montgomerie informed us yesterday [scroll down to 8.14 pm], "is the only Eurosceptic in this debate". The other two are defending the EU. And Mr Cameron is saying what? Well, apparently, we want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. That is Eurosceptic? Mr Montgomerie, who was once a star member of Better Off Out, is easily pleased.
I do not think this will work. It didn't last June and it will not now, despite the dynamic of a general election being different from that of the European one. There will be some people who are so anxious to get rid of Brown and his dysfunctional government that they will hold their noses, grit their teeth and put a cross against the Conservative candidate's name. But I do not think that will apply to people who are even half-way knowledgeable about the EU and Britain's membership in it (an ever larger group of people). They are not likely to be taken in by the Boy-King's indignation about Labour and the Lib-Dims depriving the people of Britain of the possibility of voting about the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty.

So do I really care who wins on May 6. My American friend keep asking me that and the answer has to be not really as it will make precious little difference. A hung Parliament sounds like a good idea because the thought of Ministers having to negotiate in order to legislate and MPs actually doing some work and reading those Bills they usually nod through is an appealing thought. Some people say that a hanged Parliament is an even more appealing thought but I couldn't possibly comment.

The worst possible scenario would be the Conservatives losing because of votes going to the Lib-Dims. That may sound like a good plan to people who hate the Boy-King and all that he stands for but a little thought would make it clear that if the Lib-Dims do well, the chances of a new Conservative Party that actually deserves its name arising from the blood-bath that will follow a defeat, will be slim. The Cameroonies will declare triumphantly that the party lost because the project had not gone far enough and the party will not be able to respond. Cameron might even survive.

A Conservative defeat with no clear majority going to anybody because of votes going to UKIP (despite the silliness of some of their candidates) would produce a better result in the long run. In the short run, of course, none of it matters. Only two more weeks to go and I can spend that time concentrating on real politics.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yes, I missed it again

For all the good these Leaders' Debates will do we could have had the election today (it being Thursday). What exactly are we going to hear from any party, big or small, that might influence anybody?

I did not bother to watch the second Leaders' Debate. The fact that they were discussing the EU under the heading of foreign affairs makes it quite clear that neither the Leaders nor the media has the faintest idea what the situation is. We do not have a relationship with the EU any more than Devon has a relationship with the United Kingdom. We are part of the EU and its government is our government. Any discussion that does not start from that point is a waste of time.

It is probably a good thing that I did not watch it. After all, I might have died laughing when the Boy-King, the only eurosceptic of the three, according to various commentators, came up with that old chestnut of the Conservatives "wanting to be in Europe but not ruled by Europe". So neither he nor his party have learnt anything and have forgotten the little they ever knew. They do not deserve to win. The trouble is, neither do the other two.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spot the differences

This is a little like those quizzes in newspapers that I can never resist: two pictures that look exactly the same but there are five differences and you have to find them. The same can apply to the list of different attitudes to Key EU Policies expressed by the three main parties (the others apparently do not exist) as summarized by Open Europe.

There are, apparently, minute differences - the odd bracelet missing and the handbag has a different clutch. Here and there you get one party being in favour of more integration or partially in favour of more integration or, actually, against more integration but not really knowing a great deal about it.

At the end Open Europe gives its judgement of the differences and try as they might they cannot really show that the Conservatives are that different from the other two. After all, it is only on major transfer of power that they are promising a referendum and nobody can quite define what a major transfer of power is. Nor is it particularly clear how they intend to repatriate powers from the EU. As for the CFP, that all parties wish to reform, the Conservatives had a perfectly good policy that was ditched by the Boy-King as soon as he became leader. It involved Britain pulling out of the CFP and he could not countenance that. In fact, even Open Europe has to admit that neither party advocates withdrawal from the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy. Since wholesale reform is not possible, given its structure, we are at an impasse.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And I blamed George Bush

It seems I was wrong. Bush is not at fault. And neither is man-made global warming or the rise of Nick Clegg as the man the Conservatives love to hate. Nope, not one of them is the cause of earthquakes. Especially not in Iran where President (so-called) Ahmadinejad has predicted one for Teheran.

According to the Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi what causes that and other earthquakes is women not dressing modestly. And before there are any jokes about the earth moving for you, let me explain that he seems to think that earthquakes are caused simply by them not wearing whatever the mullahs tell them to wear by way of black bags all over their heads and bodies. No other action is necessary for the earthquake to occur.

I wonder if this is what they teach in Iranian schools.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A useful sort of garment

News comes from Pakistan that two suicide/homicide bombers disguised themselves in burquas to detonate bombs that killed 41 people and injured 62. As these were people in a refugee camp who had fled from the military offensive in north-western Pakistan, it seems that the murderers must have concluded that they were agents of Western imperialism. What other explanation could there be for such an action?

Is there any point in talking about it?

It is possible that this is the only political blog around that has not mentioned the Leaders' Debate at all, though the Boss reporting on the electricity usage on the night is an interesting way of approaching the subject.

The truth is that numerous debates in the United States have proved that performance in them and immediate reaction on the part of the audience makes no difference to the voting pattern. They are, in other words, an expensive waste of time and, as usual, whenever there is something useless in the American political world, we adopt it. Somehow we never seem to be equally keen on adopting more useful aspects.

So, let me be quite frank: I am unimpressed by the sudden rise in the Lib-Dims' popularity just because Nick Clegg seems to have performed better than the other two on the night. In parenthesis, I might ask, having not bothered to watch or listen to any of it, just how bad were those two. Apart from the blip, opinion polls have been surprisingly consistent with the odd point or two (statistically unimportant) moving this way and that.

Conservatives are stuck around 40 per cent, or just under, Labour around 32 per cent or under and Lib-Dims around 23 per cent. The permutations fall and rise but whichever way one looks at it there is always an unusually large group that does not support either of the three main parties. Astonishingly, Conservative chatterers and analysts who get excited by one point going from Labour to them or back again seem completely uninterested in that group. Yet the election may well be decided by them. Will they stay at home or will they vote for one of the smaller parties? If the latter, which will it be? Will enough of them vote for UKIP to make a difference? These are the only questions, in my opinion, that are worth asking about this incredibly dull election. As for the rest, we could have the election tomorrow or, in order to be traditional, this Thursday. No party is going to say anything we have not heard hundreds of times before and no voter is going to have a sudden revelation.

However, UKIP has come up with an interesting piece of news: Lady Pearson of Rannoch has decided to join the fight more directly. She is standing for Parliament in the constituency of Kensington and Chelsea. One in the eye of Samantha Cameron, I think.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Boss got there first

Iceland's revenge, I thought, as I listened to an announcement on Hammersmith station about that volcanic ash and no flights. Mind you, I could see no ash but that is irrelevant. Then I found that the Boss on EURef already put that posting up and there is nothing more for me to say. Well, apart from pointing out that this revenge is not about to prevent that ridiculous performance by the three muppets this evening. What use is it? Iceland must do better.

The New York Times must be astonished

Far from being knuckle-dragging proto-Neanderthals,
Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
Publishing this must have hurt. Nor can the hacks on the NYT be particularly happy at the thought that 18 per cent of Americans define themselves as Tea Party supporters. That is not bad for a movement that started with a few meetings a year or so ago, sometimes only a couple of dozen people at each; a movement that the MSM did not deign to write about for months on end and if you wanted to know you had to read the blogs.

The poll also says that these people tend to be male, white, married and over 45. That is a little odd, as every picture, including the one next to the article, shows large numbers of women present as well as a reasonable number of black and other ethnic participants. But they might well be married.

No chance of anything like that developing here, I fear. As I wrote at the time, the so-called Tea Party movement in the UK was a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party spring conference, chaired by a Conservative MEP (Roger Helmer) and addressed by another Conservative MEP (who but Daniel Hannan). The attendees with the exception of about half a dozen people were delegates to the Conference and are now busily campaigning for the party. They can't have forgotten what they were told by Mr Hannan: do not expect everything you want to be put into place by a Conservative government but vote for it anyway.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Them are strong words

Not to mention dishonest ones. The Boy-King seems to have waxed indignant over the fact that the people of Britain have been denied their chance to vote on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. Well, Mr Cameron (or Dave, given our amazing new friendship), there is a way of rectifying the situation. It is not unreasonable for an incoming putative Conservative government to call a referendum on that, precisely on the grounds that the people of Britain were not consulted on the subject. In addition, if you announce another cast-iron guarantee (though may I suggest you phrase it somewhat differently) your popularity might rocket instead of staying stagnant.

Apparently, that cast-iron guarantee is not being renewed and the Boy-King is happy to state the fact that the people of Britain have been cheated without offering to do anything to remedy the situation. What he is offering instead is that old chestnut, a referendum if there are any attempts to transfer major powers to Brussels (assuming he can find some more major powers that have not yet been transferred).

This blog has already expressed its opinion of that, giving reasons why that is as fraudulent a promise as the cast-iron guarantee had been.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thanks but no thanks

This morning I received an e-mail from David Cameron a.k.a. the Boy-King of the Conservative Party. No, really. It was addressed to me and began with the words "Dear Helen". To be honest, I was not aware of having ever met the man or even seen in him during my perambulations through Parliament, let alone of being on first-name terms. But, apparently, we know each other far better than I had realized.

The e-mail was nothing less than an invitation. Yes, indeed, I am being invited to join the government of Britain. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Had someone put my name forward to become a Commissioner? Will I get the same salary and perks as the sitting ones do? What will Mr Barroso say about it all? These were the first questions that flitted through my mind.

Answer was there none in the e-mail and, rather rudely, no way of RSVPing to the invitation. After all, how does the Boy-King know that we all want to accept it? There should be a way of being able to respond. Well, of course, there will be on May 6 but, like the long-suffering heroine of Matt's cartoon, I feel the date is moving further and further away.

Anyway, this is what the e-mail actually said:
Next month, you'll get to choose a new government. But don't just choose it, be a part of it. I mean it. We've got big problems in this country and the truth is politicians can't do everything on their own. We need your energy, your ideas, your passion to get this country moving.

That's why this email is an invitation to you to join the government of Britain. It might not be embossed on a thick white card, but it's still heartfelt. If we win this election, we're going to give you more control over your life, more power to make a difference to your neighbourhood, more opportunities to change our country for the better.

Just imagine: a country working together to dig ourselves out of this debt and get our economy moving. A country working together to protect our NHS and improve it for all of us. A country working together to mend our broken society. A country working together to make politics and politicians work better.

So come on then Helen, get involved. The more people join, the stronger the force for change will be. I want millions to be inspired and mobilised to play their part - and that movement starts here. So please, spread the word. I'm asking you to send this invitation on to just three friends, workmates or family members. Get them involved too. Extend the invitation. Together we can build the future.
I think I might have coped with that ridiculous jolly hockeysticks call if the whole missive did not remind me so forcibly of the Young Pioneers.

Let me make it quite clear: this country has had a system in which some, later more and later still all people could get involved in government for some centuries. The Cameroonies did not invent the idea of elections, of local government, of political representatives. We elect a House of Commons for them to legislate and hold the Executive to account. They do neither. Jumping up and down and hallooing for people to get involved in the great movement is no substitute for the fact that our politicians do not carry out their tasks or for the fact that our real government is in Brussels (and a fat lot the Boy-King intends to do about that).

I have no desire to be part of a movement that is organized by a political party, much less if that party is in government. Been there, done that and my parents made enormous efforts to save me from that in the future. I have no desire to protect the NHS and the only way to make it better is to release it from the dead hand of the state not by inviting us all to become part of that state.

Finally, let me point out again: a Big Society that appears to consist of lots of jolly volunteers, compulsorily gathered together by the state should be no part of a Conservative Party's thinking. Leave that sort of thing to the socialists like Barack Obama, whom the Boy-King appears to be imitating both in style and, for want of a better word, substance.

Meanwhile, what of the real government in Brussels?

Monday, April 12, 2010


Iain Dale gets excited about a promise the Boy-King has been making and has repeated in his Sunday Telegraph interview. Cameron, Mr Dale tells us, has committed to early legislation on an EU referendum, telling Patrick Hennessy about his "promise to legislate in the first year if a Tory government on the obligation to have a referendum before any further transferance of powers to Brussels".

Let us not look too closely at the spelling either in the title or the text - even Homer nodded, we are told. Let us, instead, look at what the Boy-King really promised without, this time, giving a cast-iron guarantee:
Among the first things Mr Cameron wants to do, he discloses, is pass new legislation ensuring a referendum will be held in Britain if the European Union makes a major new effort to transfer powers to Brussels.
Uh-hu! And what's a major new effort to transfer powers to Brussels? How does one define that? What about routine transference of powers that is happening all the time under the treaties already agreed to, not to mention other agreements such as the Hague and the Tampere ones that affect immigration, asylum seekers and other domestic matters?

Even if we disregard the Boy-King's word games, what of the powers that have already been handed over, some of them very major, indeed? For as long as I can recall this has been the Conservatives' leitmotif: what's done is done, let us move on to the next issue. There are, as it happens, very few issues left to move on to. That, presumably, is exactly what the Boy-King is relying on as he prefers to make empty promises or cast-iron guarantees to facing up to the reality of our membership of the EU.

Hungary tilts to the right

It was entirely predictable. (Why do I keep saying that about political developments?) In the Hungarian election this Sunday, the right-wing erstwhile youthful party FIDESZ has secured a convincing majority though the final division of seats will not be decided until the second round on April 25.

The probable next Prime Minister, Viktor Orbàn, said in a style that is deeply reminiscent of our own uninspiring politicians:
Hungarians voted on Hungary and Hungary's future. Today Hungary's citizens have defeated hopelessness.

I feel it with all my nerves and know it deep in my heart that I face the biggest task of my life. I will need all the Hungarian people to solve that.
The far-right party, Jobbik, which means those on the right, has secured enough votes to enter the Parliament for the first time since the fall of Communism. Astonishing what EU membership will do for a country. This is a party that is openly anti-Semitic and viciously xenophobic. Its advance cannot be but viewed with some misgiving. And it was getting nowhere before 2005.
Preliminary results indicated that Fidesz had won 206 seats in the 386-member parliament, the Socialists 28, and Jobbik 26.

President Laszlo Solyom said the results had brought a "fundamental shift" in Hungarian politics.

"It is unprecedented... for a winning party to secure such a clear and broad-based mandate that we can see now from the numbers," he told reporters.

Conceding, Socialist party chairwoman Ildiko Lendvai said: "If results do not change materially, then one thing is clear: the Hungarian Socialist party has lost the opportunity to govern.

"But it has not lost, moreover it wants to grasp the opportunity to be the strongest opposition party."
Well, the Socialists do not exactly have many options at the moment but to be an opposition party. If FIDESZ does get the two-thirds majority it hankers after, it may, in theory, be in a position to change the constitution.

Hungary has an extremely complicated electoral system, which involves voting for a candidate and a party in the first round; in the second round there are votes in single seat constituencies where no overall winner was declared or where the turn-out was less thatn 50 per cent and there are various ways of ensuring that parties whose candidates may not have won any single seats but whose votes are above a certain threshold, do get some seats in the Parliament. Thus, even a reasonably clear-cut result needs a second round for final clarification.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Smolensk brings more bad luck to Poles

As Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, put it: Katyn has claimed yet more Polish victims. Just a few days after the two prime ministers, of Poland and Russia, commemorated the dead of Katyn (and other places) thus acknowledging officially that the Polish officers were murdered by the Soviets not the Nazis, President Kaczynski was killed on his way to the commemoration in the Smolensk forest. He, his wife and other official visitors were on a twenty-year old TU-154 when it crashed. There were no survivors. The Telegraph has an obituary.

UPDATE: AP reports that the total number of dead is 96 and describes scenes of national mourning throughout the country. The Russians seem to be in shock and Prime Minister Putin is taking over the investigation personally, which is not usually a sign that anything very useful will be done. This, however, is a huge international event and not the murder of a Russian journalist or human rights activist. It is also a source of huge embarrassment for Russia with the geographic and temporal symbolism of Katyn ever present in everybody's mind.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I am beginning to worry about their sanity

By them I mean the Obama Administration, its Secretary of State and, last but not least, the State Departmen. Roger Simon writes that the last has denied visas to perfectly respectable Israeli nuclear scientists although the people in question have nothing that could speak against them. This comes after repeated hectoring from the President and the Secretary of State, not to mention obviously insulting behaviour on the part of POTUS during Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit (though, given the man's behaviour to other people, that can be put down to just boorishness).

Why exactly are Israeli scientists not welcome? At the height of the Cold War any Soviet scientist or academic who was given exit visa was welcome in the West, though he or she came from a state that proclaimed its intention "to bury the West". Yet scientists from America's ally and the only democratic country in the Middle East are not welcome.

Mr Simon also mentions that Tariq Ramadan of dubious political integrity has been given a visa. I fear it would be hard for me to make comments about that since the soi-disant professor is not only a welcome inhabitant of this country (I would not wish it to be otherwise though I would prefer it that people who praise him for his moderation would make a slight effort to find out what he says in French and Arabic) but also a Fellow of my own old college in Oxford. Now that I object to, not least because he has no real academic qualifications to be a Fellow in an Oxford college.

Apparently Muslim countries can live with it

The Bangladesh High Court has ruled that women cannot be forced to wear the veil in public and instructed the Ministry of Education to ensure that this ruling is obeyed
The historic ruling comes after a dispute between a government official and the director of an elementary school in the district of Kurigram, for which the man later apologised. Arif Ahmed had insulted Sultana Arjuman Huq, director of State elementary school Atmaram Bishweshwar, because she was not wearing a veil. The incident occurred last June, during a public meeting at the headquarters of the Department of Education in upazila (an administrative sub-district of Bangladesh, ed) in which the school is located.

On June 26, 2009 Bangladeshi newspaper Shamokal reported that the man called the school's principal "beshya" - prostitute in the local language -, for not wearing the veil. Sultana Arjuman Huq was deeply affected by the insult causing her to fall into a depression. The woman finally decided to file a lawsuit for injuries. In January 2010 Arif Ahmed apologized to Sultana Arjuman Huq before High Court judges, who then closed the case. The woman, in fact, decided to forgive him.

On April 8, the judges issued the verdict, explaining the reasons for setting veils for women as non-mandatory. "In Bangladesh - write Syed Mahmud Hossain and Syeda Afsar Jahan - there is no established practice that requires women to cover their heads." In recent years, attempts have emerged, "to force" women to this practice "not only at an individual level but also in public offices." The case in hand, they concluded, is evidence of violations of the rights of women and girls "in public spaces, schools, educational institutions and places of public and private education."
So much for the veil being absolutely essential to religious practice.

Suddenly Nigel Farage's chances have improved

The campaign in Buckingham will start in real earnest on Tuesday, April 13 with Christopher Booker and Lord Pearson of Rannoch helping to launch it. Well, that may or may not help Nigel Farage. My own suspicion that the joint personality of Mr and Mrs Bercow will be far more helpful than anything UKIP might come up with.

However, this cannot possibly do any harm: Martin Bell, the self-important hack and electoral loser (also here), has announced his support for another independent candidate, the former Conservative europhiliac John Stevens. The sight of that has-been in his crumpled white suit (surely there must be several or it would by now have become extremely filthy) telling the good people of Buckingham that the Conservatives are not europhiliac enough will send them into the polling booths detemined to put that cross against Nigel Farage's name.

Back from a funeral

Much of Wednesday was spent in Oxford, at the funeral of that great lady, the Baroness Park of Monmouth. It was a very beautiful ceremony with fine readings and hymns, clearly arranged by people who knew and liked her.

Inevitably, however, one spends time thinking about the person who is being buried and eulogized. There was much to think about the great Baroness as the various obituaries (for instance here, here, here and here) made clear. Interestingly, the Russian media went to town on her. Mostly they translated obituaries from British newspapers but, clearly, this lady, so triumphantly British appealed to them. Here was an enemy one could respect and admire.

All of which reminded me of Daphne Park’s wonderful tales of her stint in the Soviet Union in the mid-fifties. In particular, I recall the story of the “people’s spontaneous demonstration” outside the British embassy at the time of the Suez crisis and the Hungarian events. Part of it was related in one obituary but I shall now attempt to recall the whole story.

Demonstrations outside “imperialist” embassies were not unknown and during the Suez events they happened with some regularity. This time round not everything went to plan. Daphne Park’s room was on the ground floor and one of her jobs was to provide the daily digest of the press, Soviet and Western, including the BBC Monitoring Service summaries. She, therefore, knew better than anyone what was happening not just in Egypt but in Hungary.

As the demonstrators approached her window with their slogans, all shouted in unison, and their carefully printed placards, Daphne Park leaned out and asked them in Russian whether they would like to know what is going on in Hungary. Naturally, they would. Some of them would have had sons or other relatives in the army, others had heard vaguely that things were not going according to plan in the previously liberated people’s democracy, a few may have felt uneasy at the thought of those Soviet tanks rolling against Hungarian workers.

So Daphne Park rapidly translated some of the latest news while the demonstrators gathered round and listened in silence. This was noted by the Ambassador who telephoned down to find out how she had managed to silence the people but also by some of those in charge who rapidly shooed people away from that particular window.

After a while the Ambassador became slightly worried. He had a luncheon appointment with one of the Ministers, possibly Yekaterina Furtseva, the only woman Minister in the Soviet government for the entire post-Stalin period. (Under Stalin there weren’t any at all.) Would the demonstrators depart in time to allow the ministerial car in or the ambassadorial car out – Daphne could not recall which way round the visit was going to take place.

The staff who were watching from their windows had noticed a certain gentleman in a colonel’s uniform who was standing in one corner watching the proceedings benignly. At the Ambassador’s suggestion the Military and the Naval Attachés donned full uniform and marched over to the gentleman in the colonel’s uniform. They enquired if he had any idea when the demonstration might end. The colonel looked at his watch and said very firmly: “The spontaneous demonstration of the working people of Moscow will end at quarter to one precisely.” And at quarter to one it ended, the flags and posters were rolled up and the people departed. The Ambassador was free to keep his appointment. One cannot help wondering whether the organizers of that spontaneous demonstration might not have known precisely what was in the Ambassador’s diary.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Well, well, well

Not only is it being officially acknowledged that the mass execution of Polish officers and civilians in Katyn and other places was actually done by the Soviet Union (more of that anon) but it seems that certain FSB documents indicate that Raoul Wallenberg may have been alive after his supposed execution for crimes unspecified.

This is not actually quite as suprising as Bruno Waterfield seems to think but then he, apparently, believes that the Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets because of his supposed involvement with the American wartime secret service. I am not at all sure it has been acknowledged by anybody and the evidence for it is dubious to put it mildly. Could the arrest have had something to do with the fact that it was now the turn of the Soviets to commit atrocities in Hungary (and other countries) and they did not want an honourable witness whose word would be believed around? Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

And they're off

The least unexpected piece of news this morning is that Gordon Brown has gone to the Palace to ask HM the Queen to dissolve Parliament and to call a general election for May 6. Ever since Gordon Brown became Primonse Minister (completely legitimately and according to the British Constitution, despite the various ignorant and hysterical outbursts) this blog and EUReferendum maintained that he, just as his various predecessors in a similar position, will go to the wire. Or put another way, Gordon Brown was not going to call an election until May 2010. As there were local elections scheduled for May 6, it made perfect sense for him to call the general one for the same date and not for last autumn or March 25 or April 1. Nor was there anyh indication that he was going to postpone it this time or declare an emergency situation that would allow him to stay in government for another 2 years.

If Labour's opponents, particulary the Conservative Party, had spent less time on hysterical outbursts and more on producing some ideas why we should vote for them, their electoral position would be a good deal better now. Yes, the opinion polls give the Conservatives a lead but it is a surprisingly small one, considering that we are at the end of the third term of a highly unpopular government.

All opinion polls show that there are around 12 per cent of the population that does not seem to want to support any of the three main parties. Nobody seems to know what will happen to this largish group - will they stay at home, vote for one of the small parties or grit their teeth and put a cross against one of the large ones. Nobody seems that bothered either, with the Conservatives veering between complete smugness about people "coming back" to them and equal smugness about not needing the core Conservative vote.

Meanwhile, the Boy-King tells us that he is a nice man, loves his family, wants to introduce something called a Big Society in Britain and has thought of the possibility fo 5,000 community organizers to ensure that people lead communal lives. Not one of those ideas would make real conservatives vote for him so he and his party have to fall back to their one and only argument: David Cameron is not Gordon Brown. A corollary of that is: Samantha Cameron is nicer than Sarah Brown, a slightly more doubtful proposition, apart from being completely irrelevant.

In the meantime, let us not forget, that the real government in Brussels is not about to change any time soon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

The blog has not been updated as frequently as it ought to have been recently. Much of that has to do with internet problems but all will be resolved, I hope, after Easter. Indeed, maybe before since there are many stories that await discussion, not least the fact that Andrzei Wajda's Katyn is being shown in Russian cinemas and has even been on Russian TV, exciting, needless to say a good deal of discussion.

In the meantime, however, I shall simply wish all of this blog's readers a very happy Easter. And for those who have leanings towards or interest in the Orthodox Church who are also celebrating this week-end: Христос Воскресе.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will the burqua be banned?

The Interior Affairs Committee in the Belgian Parliament has unanimously supported a Bill that would ban the burqua in public. The Bill is now going to a full debate and vote, probably before the end of this month. This may be the first step towards a European country actually banning face veils but there is some way to go.

In the meantime, as the Wall Street Journal points out, there seems to be little fuss in Belgium. Most of the Muslims there are from North African countries where women tend not to be veiled (thus making nonsense of the argument that the niquab is in any way a religious symbol).
Catholic bishops came out against the ban, citing freedom of religion, as did Muslim community leaders. But they were unable to muster a strong enough front—indeed, many of them agreed the ban could contribute to integration.

Belgian lawmakers argued that the veils can hide criminals, imprison women and segregate society. (One backer even compared women who wear face veils to dwarfs subjected to dwarf-tossing.) The ban would prohibit face veils in nearly all public places, except for special occasions such as Halloween. Violators could be fined up to €25 and imprisoned for seven days.
The European Commission
said that they were concerned at the move, but initially it was a matter for member states, but they would be watching the issue and examining any bill put before the Belgian lawmakers very closely as it may fall foul of EU anti-discrimination policy.
Well, we wouldn't want to discriminate against people who prefer gender apartheid to freedom and equality.

In France, where most of the Muslim population are also from North Africa, the debate goes on. President Sarkozy, backed by Prime Minister Fillon, has said that the burqua was not welcome in France. However, there has been a set-back to the proposals to ban this all-enveloping garment:
France's highest administrative body warned Tuesday that a total prohibition on full-body Islamic veils in public risks being found unconstitutional in a setback to President Nicolas Sarkozy's goal of an all-out ban.

Even a limited ban on the full-body veil would be difficult to enforce, the Council of State said in a study of the legal possibilities for a broad application of a ban on burqa-like garments that was commissioned by Prime Minister Francois Fillon earlier this year.

A total ban risks violating the French constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the report said.
Once again, one has to wonder at the mentality of people who solemnly proclaim that the depriving Muslim women of basic rights or even of participation in the society around them is somehow an affirmation of human rights.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Updating the Russian story

It does not get any better. At least 12 people were killed when two suicide bombers struck in Kizlyar in Dagestan, the other Autonomous Republic apart from Ingushetiya that the Chechnyan war spread to a long time ago.
The dead included a number of police officers, including the town's police chief. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, one of the suicide attackers drove a car bomb in the direction of the town center. When traffic police attempted to halt the vehicle, the bomb was detonated. The explosion took place near a day-care center and a police station. The second blast occurred after a bomber dressed as a police officer joined the crowd of investigators, rescue workers and onlookers and then detonated the explosives.
Terrorist attacks are not unknown in the Caucasus and neither are ferocious reprisals by the Russian troops. Normally they are not reported in the Russian media, let alone the Western one but coming as they did 48 hours after the Moscow attacks, these explosions are seen as sinister harbingers of a wider campaign.

There is now a general assumption that the attacks are revenge ones for the military operation in Ingushetiya that I mentioned in the previous posting on the subect.

Meanwhile, President Prime Minister Putin has put on his tough guy act again and using the language he usually employs at times like this has announced that "the accomplices and the masterminds" of these attacks had to be "scraped from the bottom of the sewer and into the daylight". All well and good but as a number of Russian and Western commentators and, indeed, Russian security service spokesmen have noted, the war, which was supposed to be over some time ago is continuing unabated. Gutter language (in this case, quite literally so) has made little difference to reality.

Doku Umarov, a Chechnyan separatist who has proclaimed himself to be a fighter in the global jihad and a firm supporter of Sharia law in Chechnya has claimed responsibility for the Moscow and Kizlyar explosions though, obviously, not personally. It is one of the major tragedies of that twenty-year old conflict (apart from the tens of thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed and mentally scarred on both sides) that what had started as a possibly soluble question of national self-government has been taken over though only to some extent by Islamist extremists. Doku Umarov would not have been given the time of day by the first Chechnyan leader, General Dzhokhar Dudayev, killed by the Russians in 1996 or by Aslan Maskhadov, the last leader to be elected in anything remotely resembling a free and fair contest, also killed by the Russians in

As the same article in the New York Times describes the reaction to the attacks has been quite similar to previous ones. President Medvedev has called for "far more cruel tactics" in dealing with militants. Indeed, the Ministry of Interior will be overhauled with that particular aim in view.
The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service said that authorities knew who planned Monday’s attack and the double suicide bombing on Wednesday in Dagestan that killed 12, and that they were interrogating suspects and carrying out search operations.
This has worked so well before.

Smart diplomacy

Apparently the Boy-King of the Conservative Party is unhappy about President Obama, hitherto the man he admired and sought to emulate, taking, well sort of, the Argentinian side in the latest uproar over the Falklands. Well diddums. I recall large swathes of the Conservative Party drooling over the election of this wonderfully charismatic new personality who was bringing hope and change to ... well, it is not quite clear to whom. In fact, the Conservatives have half-adopted the slogan but they talk only about change, not hope. But let us look at the bright side: at least the Boy-King has noticed that there is something going on in the South Atlantic. I must admit I was not absolutely sure.

On the other side of the Pond they look at these things differently. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds we get a link to an expert filleting by Walter Russell Mead of the Obama foreign policy.
The health care win has given the President his mojo back at home, but things overseas are still looking grim. We are neglecting or quarreling with our friends and reaching out to our enemies — but neither policy is yielding much in the way of results.

The latest case is Canada; on a visit to Ottawa to discuss Arctic policy with Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly criticized the Canadians for failing to invite all eight members of the Arctic Council to the consultation. Iceland, Finland and Sweden were miffed at being excluded. This was all very well and no doubt deserved; the next day, however, the Canadian Foreign Minister rejected Secretary Clinton’s pleas and announced that Canada will be ending its Afghan mission next year.

I don’t blame any American diplomat for seizing the opportunity to criticize Canada for its lack of sensitivity and inclusiveness; they do it to us all the time and I don’t see why the Canadians should have all the fun. Let’s criticize them for riding roughshod over the rights of small countries and native peoples now and then just to let them know how pointless and infuriating that kind of self-righteous and empty posturing can be. Even so, lecturing one day and begging in vain on the morrow isn’t the most dignified diplomatic posture an American secretary of state can assume. And the pattern of poor relations with close allies is disturbing. Currently embroiled in a quarrel with Israel over Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem, the administration recently angered the EU by refusing to attend a summit in Madrid, embarrassed Britain by seeming to side with Argentina over negotiations over the Falklands Islands, canceled an invitation to Afghanistan’s President Karzai, and cheesed off Brazil when President Obama made his last minute, ill-fated dash to Copenhagen to snatch the 2016 Olympics from Rio. And where the administration hasn’t figured out a way to insult an old ally, Congress steps in — this time by passing another version of the Armenian genocide resolution through a key House committee.
Actually, I am not at all sure about that mojo back home. The popularity ratings say otherwise and the fact that the Democrats are spending their time shrilly and viciously attacking the Obamacare opponents instead of explaining what a wonderful development it is do not make one feel that the mojo is at all well. But when it comes to foreign relations Walter Russell Mead is spot on as even our own Boy-king of our own Conservative Party has noticed.

As Professor Reynolds says:
Where’s that “smart diplomacy” we were promised?
Indeed. As the rest of the Mead blog explains, Obama is ending up with many of Bush's old policies as far as Iran, China and Cuba are concerned. One day he might return to Bush's policies towards America's friends as well.